Sunday, 25 July 2021

Wargaming In History - Featherstone and Grant

It all started with an ebay purchase of a copy of Practical Wargamer. I have a soft spot for this old magazine, and now and then a cover will catch my attention and I will buy a copy. And so, an advert on page 6 of the November/December 1991 issue alerted me to two books by my favourite old school authors (as I originally thought), Donald Featherstone and Charles Grant. However, the publication date of 1991 quickly told me that the 'Grant' book would be written by Charles S. Grant, Grant senior having sadly died in 1979.

The two books were evidently part of a series that seems to have passed me by at the time - the 'Wargaming In History' series by Argus Books. This appears to have been a five book series with titles on the Peninsula War, Waterloo, the American Civil War, 'Goths, Huns and Romans', and the Anglo-Boer War. Donald Featherstone was the author of the Peninsula War title, and Charles Grant had written the book on Waterloo. The authors of the other three books are unknown to me. The series editor was none other than Stuart Asquith, and Argus Books were a specialist company who also published Practical Wargamer.

I decided to take a punt and see what those two famous wargaming authors had to say about Napoleonic wargaming back in 1991. Once again ebay came good and I got both books for a total of £25.

The books are A5 size, with around 120 pages each, and black and white throughout. The intention was obviously to provide a background to the period in question, in terms of a basic narrative of the campaigns and battles involved and the tactical and equipment details that wargamers would want. Each book has a short set of basic rules. There are numerous illustrations and a reasonable number of maps.

The basic campaign detail would still be useful to a total beginner in Napoleonics, but the  tactical analysis in both books is a little outdated now. More importantly, both books are too limited by their small size to do their subject justice, and given the limited amount of space I felt there was rather too much history and not enough wargaming. 

Donald Featherstone provides a set of brief descriptions of the main battles of the Peninsula War, but these are illustrated mainly with old maps of variable quality and usefulness. There are only a couple of maps which show an actual wargaming set up. Charles Grant has a rather easier task with the more restricted subject of the Waterloo Campaign, and good maps are provided allowing the action of the campaign and its battles to be followed.

But the main issue is the very short sets of wargaming rules included, both consisting of only a handful of pages. Both are interesting as far as they go, with both authors (Donald Featherstone in particular) providing quite original rules which diverge from what might have been expected from each of them. But they are much too abbreviated to be satisfactory - an experienced gamer might fill in the gaps, but a beginner could well end up rather confused. Quite a lot of space in both books is devoted to a description and analysis of Napoleonic tactics, but how this translates onto the wargaming table is much less well covered.

Thirty years on, these books are really only of value to someone like me - a collector of old school wargaming books. As such I'll be glad to have them on my shelves. The tantalising glimpse they provide of what could have been two sets of very worthwhile rules is frustrating but still of interest.

A bit more WW2 gaming to come soon, and a new battlemat to review from Geek Wargaming, so stay tuned. 

'Til next time!


WSTKS-FM Worldwide said...

I have the Waterloo title, which, while interesting when I purchased it in the winter of '91, left me wanting more. I should pull it off the shelf this evening and have another look. It has been years.

Best Regards,


Jim Walkley said...

Ah, Practical Wargamer. The only wargame magazine I have subscribed to (apart from Wargamers' Newletter. I have the Peninsula title and the ACW volume. The latter was by Paul Stevenson (or Stevens) I believe - can't get my hands on it at the moment. As I recall he frequently wrote articles for Miniature Wargames. I feel his book was a handy introduction and I still occasionally like to flip through both books.
Best wishes. Jim

Archduke Piccolo said...

I don't have any of the book titles, but do have several issues of PW. I place the most value on a series of wargames scenarios from the 7YW - an excellent resource to my way of thinking!

Phil Dutré said...

PW was indeed an excellent magazine. I'm trying to complete my collection (a few issues missing), but you can find the complete index here:

Keith Flint said...

Thanks for the link Phil - very useful.

Steve J. said...

A good and useful review Keith. I had considered getting these books, but may give them a miss at the moment as other books are higher up on my to buy list.

Elliesdad said...

The dark ages book is by Simon MacDowall and is called Goths, Huns and Romans.
I see, however, there’s also a copy on eBay where the title on the front cover shows as Romans, Goths and Huns.
Whatever the title, it’s a lovely book.

The ACW book was by Paul Stevenson. I seem to recall he did a series of booklets on various ACW battles. ACW isn’t especially my “thing” so I can’t offer any more info. Likewise, the Boer war book was by Edwin (Ted) Herbert who was, maybe still is, one of the guys from the Victorian Military Society.

They’re all decent books, but I especially enjoyed the one by MacDowall.



Independentwargamesgroup said...

A great series. Im lucky enough to own them all, my favourite being the ACW one written by the excellent Paul Stevenson who still games and is still looking for the holy grail of the best ACW rules. I would disagree that they are no longer relevant especially given the clear lack of knowledge of certain groups of wargamers.

Lorenzo Fourth said...

Hi Keith,

Practical Wargamer seemed to me picked up where Battle left off? a magazine interested in the rules as much as gaming and figures etc.

I own the simon macdowell wargaming in history and i found it very useful - in contrast to other books in the series? it gives a range of scenarios with suitable rules. above all it gives you plenty of late roman flavour.

I mentioned the book in this blog post