Friday, August 28, 2009

Introductions in book form

A few entries ago I talked about Battle! By Charles Grant. This set the ball rolling on a brief and very successful hunt for the other book I mentioned, ‘Introduction to Battle Gaming’ by Terence Wise. For a surprisingly small price I managed to get hold of a copy via the second hand options on Amazon. Whilst in the same time frame a judicious use of library catalogues allowed me to get hold of two other comparative books: Donald Featherstone’s ‘War Games’, from 1962 and ‘Wargaming, An Introduction’ by Neil Thomas, and released in 2005. Consider this entry a review by comparison of all three.

How does the Terry Wise book compare to my memories of it as a child? I reckon I probably borrowed this from the library only two or three times as a nipper; yet regardless of that I suspect I read it cover to cover a dozen times. On getting hold of my very own copy I did exactly the same again, reading it from cover to cover in an afternoon.

The photos are even more evocative, with a homespun charm that is common to all of the wargames books of the sixties and seventies. As is some of the advice. I remember making my own papier-mâché hills by exactly the fashion Terry shows; whilst buying the same Merit trees he recommended – somewhere they are still in a box of terrain of mine.

Like all books of this type it is centred around a mix of telling readers a little history, advising them on how to collect their army/armies, and of course some simple rules, with examples typified as what we would now call battle reports.

Of course back then figures choices were remarkably limited. A few metal ranges were available, but Terry pretty much exclusively used Airfix figures for the book, managing to convert entire ancient armies out of a mixture of practically every pre-gunpowder set they made. The historical accuracy is to modern eyes laughably absent, but it was early days.

On this front Terry was in a rich position compared to Don’s book; he made his German tanks from Plaster of Paris as no models of them were available! How lucky we are nowadays to be able to buy pre-made resin models of every tank involved in WW2 or metal or plastic miniatures in whatever scale we fancy of any army imaginable. Instead we spend vastly more time on terrain, and painting, something that neither book shows quite the same demand for.

By Neil Thomas’ book, visuals are far more important, the images in the well presented volume are lifted from Miniature Wargames and show many hundreds of well painted figures on attractive terrain in a variety of scales. And as was a feature of MW at the time, a little light photo-shopping has added to the gloss of many of the images.

Then of course the rules are there. Each of the three books contains basic rules for the chosen periods. I have to be honest, Terry’s rules are not great; deliberately simple, being aimed at children, they now seem terribly crude, at the original reading I had little but a passing interest in the Ancient gaming, and none at all in the horse and musket rules presented, but I did try his ‘Modern’ rules, and they only lasted until I read Charles Grant’s ‘Battle!’; a much superior set.

By comparison ‘War Games’ contains rules by Tony Bath for ancient periods, which have several good features, more complex but superior to ‘Battle Gaming’, and still simpler than most modern rules. In passing, I’d say many of their features seem to have evolved in to Warhammer. The book also contains Lionel Tarr’s seminal rules for WW2 gaming, often spoke of glowingly by old-school gamers; and again, short but effective they are. The thing with all of these rules of course being that they will not stand up to brutal points based competitive gaming, and certainly leave a lot of room for interpretation if unexpected things happen.

Thomas’ book too contains rules, simple, effective ones for six different periods; with the added innovation of army lists allowing fairly equal games.

Over the years the format of these books has not changed then, but what one can say is that the frequency of them has. Back in the sixties and seventies, these books appeared annually, and were, can you credit it, reviewed in mainstream literary press – ‘War Games’ was reviewed by the Daily Telegraph, in the way I suppose that a modern Sunday supplement might review a PC battle simulation! Thomas’ book by contrast is probably the first of its’ type for over ten, maybe fifteen years.

The world has moved on, wargaming is one of those hobbies that has gained a new lease of life on the internet; but such changes mean less demand for the simple pleasures of a cup of tea and a good book.

Not that the passing of simple rules and games based on ideas rather than points values has occurred though, and I’m pleased to see groups of old school wargamers faring well enough, even if they tend to be of an older generation.

Any of the books mentioned are worth a read, but to be honest, unless you’ve been gaming for at least twenty years already, you’ll probably be happier with Thomas’ book. All three are intended for beginners; Neil at least has the advantages of glossy production and the wisdom of those who went before him.


  1. Good Review, I got hold of the terence Wise book when it was being sold for 10p by Watchet library, Somerset in the 1970'when I was 10 ish and got hold of a 2nd hand copy again last year for £6 from a local 2nd hand bookshop its on the shelf with Bath, Featherstone, Sanders and Grant. I also have all the Airfix wargaming guides; Napoleonic, Ancient, ACW (By terence Wise)ECW and WW2 these were great and lots of my formative years in wargaming used these rules as a basis

  2. All three of those have a place at present upon my shelves, though none of them factored into my own early wargaming history.

    One other beginner book that did, and also resides on those shelves, is Bruce Quarrie's "Beginner's Guide to Wargaming".