How Men of Quality Resolve Differences

How Men of Quality Resolve Differences
Poodle attacks - an ugly but inevitable part of any 17th C. British Civil War, "Oh! The Shame of it All!"

Saturday, December 31, 2016

"Wargaming: An Introduction" by Neil Thomas - Reviewed

Got this somewhat battered copy a while ago, and have read all the rules a few times. With chatter at the AMW yahoo group and some inspiration from my pal Steve at Sound Officer's Call! about looking for the right Horse and Musket rules, it's time to look into this book.

BLUF: If you're new to the hobby and have some time to invest in thinking before you buy, then BUY THIS BOOK! If you are an old hand at wargaming but beginning to feel jaded OR an interest in design is starting to get a hold of you, OR you are contemplating new periods to get into, BUY THIS BOOK! At about $20, and with all games perfectly playable with cut-out cardboard bits, there's no way to go wrong.

If you want to know more, then read on!


BOOK ITSELF: Soft cover, 178 pp and solidly bound - no complaints there. Further details in Amazon here where it has 4.5 stars and sells used about $20 with shipping.

CONTENT: has a preface that answers the wife or teacher's question of "Why Wargaming?" Iain Dickie of Miniature Wargames magazine starts off: "Life in today's society is hedged about by complex rules and convoluted relationships. Understanding those rules and deciphering the relationships is essential, not just to create a successful career but also to deal with life's setbacks with equanimity." He then posits quite reasonably that the skills one develops on the game table are ones which will help one do well in life, wither starting a business project, job interviewing, moving house or changing partners." Not bad.

Mr. Dickie also makes some great suggestions for the budding wargamer:

  • Buy all the figures you need to get started lest the manufacturer close down!
  • Pick opponents carefully, some to learn from, others to teach,
  • Look for friends and clubs who share and support your interest,
  • Seek to extend yourself by hosting team games and campaigns.
Noting that all these, skillfully done, can become career enhancements, and are in fact used by military staff and some civil governments.

Mr. Thomas kicks off Ch. 1 "What is Wargaming", stating that "the object of the exercise is twofold; firstly, to enjoy a stimulating game and secondly, to allow...wargamers...to appreciate how battles were fought, and why they were won and lost, throughout history." He then gives a history of wargaming from chess to Kriegspiel to boardgames [started in the USA with Avalon Hill and then SPI in the 1950s] to D&D, to miniatures in Great Britain. This he traces from H.G. Wells "Little Wars" to Featherstone, Bath, and the goal of simple, enjoyable rules.

This heads into a quick foray to WRG and some interesting comments along the lines of "less details and modifiers is actually more realism" that hold real merit, IMHO. He puts forward Phil Barker's DBA as a "less is more realistic" design that puts the gamer in the role of General, not Unit Commander. He then leads us into the "DBA wargames revolution" towards simpler rules, putting forward the Games Workshop designs, including Warhammer Ancients" as results of this sort of thinking - fun can be realistic depending on the player's role in the process, and avoiding tedious paperwork. He concludes that his rules have a similar intention: to use simple processes to bring about historically valid outcomes.

I wonder what he'd say about the bloated monstrosity of Games Workshop over recent years, and the collapse of Warhammer Fantasy, 40K and Ancients for similar reasons - unplayable games with too many special rules that drown the player in paperwork! There's certainly something to be learned here, but I doubt that Battlefront is going to learn it.

Mr. Thomas then brings the reader to the purpose of the book - playing wargames. His next chapter gets you started, and then he gets into the six sets of rules - five periods plus skirmish rules - that make up the books wargaming content:

As you can see, the periods are Ancient, Pike and Shot, Napoleonic, American Civil War, WWII, plus a set of all-purpose skirmish rules [that I've played and worked with several times in my Dark Ages blog, "Spear to the Strife" HERE].

These run from about 3000 B.C. to WWII yet all contain certain design concepts, including: casualty point removal leading to morale checks and base losses that result in Unit disintegration and eventual removal or uselessness. The Ancients set has 11 Unit types all explained, followed by explanation of his concepts for Movement, Shooting, Armor [Armour!], and Hand-to-hand combat. 

Victory is obtained through reducing the opposition to 25%, or 2 of the 8 Units all armies start with in these rules. There is an interesting twist with exiting your Units off your opponents board edge - it counts as eliminated but two of the enemy Units are also eliminated as they dash away to protect the camp or just panic! So there's a reward for gaining ground and pushing on, in a 2-1 ratio, exactly.

He concludes that his goal is an historically valid, yet playable and exciting game, and reminds us that game rules are always works in progress that may need to be altered.

Each set of rules has an explanation on basing, altho they are not tied to the basing strictly. The Turn Sequence is always:
  1. Charges
  2. Movement
  3. Shooting
  4. Hand-to-Hand
  5. Morale
One is then brought through the rules which are written in the order of the Turn Sequence above. After the rules are five Ancient periods with two armies each, including the Persian invasion of Greece, Alexander's invasion of Persia, The Punic Wars [plus the Zama Campaign], Imperial Rome, and the Later Crusades.

Pike and Shot brings the rules forwards into the 16th and 17th C. with six Renaissance periods, including: the Italian Wars, French Religious Wars, Dutch War of Independence, Elizabeth I's Irish Wars, the Thirty Years War, and the English Civil War.

The rules then jump forward into Napoleonic Wargaming. [skipping the tricorne period, surprisingly] including all the well-known theaters from the Peninsula War to Central Europe, Russia and even Egypt, and in time from Revolutionary France to Waterloo. Some AARs are over at Sound Officer's Call HERE.

From there it is an easy slide forward into very similar rules for the American Civil War. This has very generalized army lists rolled by periods of the war including 1861, 1862-3, 1864-5, and varying in size from 7 to 14. Unit Morale is also based upon die rolling, which can take place before the game or - more interestingly - during the game when the Unit takes it's first morale test! Altho ACW experts [self-declared as well as military historians] may dispute some of Mr. Thomas' conclusions, there's little denying some generalized truths and lots of difficulties and fun in the playing, I think.

Oddly, the book then presents the skirmish rules, which I think are a very solid basic design, and should be able to cover Ancients to pre-maching guns [there are repeaters and revolvers] with no modifications, altho tricky items like chariots and elephants are not provided! Army lists are for the Queen Victoria colonial era, and include: The Sikh Wars, the Indian Mutiny, the Second Afghan War, Zulu War, Egypt and the Sudan, and conclude with the Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902.

We then returned to unit-based wargaming with WWII. Here we find a very admirable foray into a period that is bloated with more than just the horrors of the actual war - too many wargames are bloated from the horrors of rivet-counters and Newtonian Physics Phans. These come in at only 8 pages of rules! An AAR is HERE. These diverge the most from the previous four unit-based designs which are very similar.

The WWII Turn Sequence is:
  1. Morale
  2. Movement
  3. Anti-personnel firing: small arms
  4. Anti-personnel firing: artillery
  5. Tank, Anti-Tank Gun, and Assault Gun fire
  6. Close assaults
The sequence of fire should be noted as an important element of the design.

There are 15 categories of Units overall, with 8 for movement, 4 for small-arms shooting, 2 for Artillery, 3 Armor and 4 tank gun categories. Still quite a bit for "simple" rules, but needless to say one doesn't need to use all of them in a scenario! There are 39 tanks from 7 belligerents covered. 

Periods for the army lists are Blitzkrieg 1940, Western Desert 1941 [and 1942], Eastern Front 1942-43, Western Front 1944-45, the Pacific 1941-5. There are four scenarios:
  1. Encounter Battle
  2. Frontal Assault
  3. Surprise Assault
  4. Escalating Engagement
each of which has different numbers and types of units shaping the battle.

Suffice it to say, there is much of the "less is more realistic" philosophy in this set of rules, and I have to say that I've quite come around to Mr. Thomas' way of thinking. This is largely based upon a combination of two things - reading memoirs and the limits of my real life time, tolerance and treasure. Both are slowly but surely pushing me into a "less is more" frame of mind, perhaps better said as a "game of mind". When you read how officers are thinking from company commander up, they aren't terribly worried about the nuances of AT rounds and does Pvt. Snuffy have warm boots. They are trying to set up their company to fulfill the mission given, with the resources at hand. A good frame of mind for the gamer, also.

The book concludes with some useful addresses, a short but good bibliography, and - amazingly - an index.

Summary: Almost anyone can use this book, including the wargamer who didn't get "just what he wanted" for Christmas. Grab a copy and become edified, and even challenged, by Mr. Thomas' direct prose and relatively simple - but not simplistic - games. Further thinking on this book is available in these threads at Sound Officer's Call HERE to which I happily refer you since Steve has played more of the games than I have.

Next up - my first foray into the ACW rules from this book, using a OHW Scenario.

4 comments:

  1. What a great post, Alex. This book is a treasure trove of stuff. The rules are all great fun that I've played so far. The Nap and WWII rules are excellent and I am very keen to try out the ACW rules next. My stuff is appropriately based already to play them.

    I think this book ought to be on a gamer's shelf. It's that good.

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  2. having just tried out the ACW rules, and now pondering the tactics of the mechanics, I'm elevating this beyond "great fun" status to subtle genius status! But that's next post...

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  3. I have really had a lot of fun with the Second World War Wargaming with my Flames of War based troops.

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  4. Yeah, I keep meaning to try out these W:AI rules for WWII, but keep getting sidetracked by my ongoing work using the OHW rules. I've been very happy with them - extremely happy, really. Steve from Sound oFficer's Call has played them and really likes them, too. Just need more hours in the day...

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