Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Retro Corner - Operation Warboard

Every so often I manage to pick up one of the classics of Wargaming literature, from the halcyon days of my youth.  Operation Warboard by Gavin and Bernard Lyall is one such book and I had the great fortune to pick up a copy for a mere £5 on eBay a few weeks ago.

Mmmm, seventies paperbacks....
I say good fortune, for this is a book that trades hands for an awful lot more usually; AbeBooks typically offering ex-library copies for £20 or more.  This one was clearly a personal copy and although read, looked to have spent most of its' life sat on a shelf somewhere.  I consider I got a real bargain here.

So far as I am aware this was the authors' only foray into wargaming literature, but unlike most writers in the genre (Don Featherstone excepted really) Gavin Lyall - who certainly appears responsible for most of the writing, if not the rules themselves - has genuine form, having written a number of thrillers prior to this labour of love.  I cannot admit to having read any of those, but the narrative writing within the opening sections of the book gives some credence to the idea of the author as being an actual, y'know, writer.  In fact one thing apart from the clear narrative action and the friendly, breezy style, is the clarity with which Lyall writes.  Phil Barker and the entire writing team for Games Workshop should have taken note!

The book, rather obviously is a set of rules for fighting WW2 wargames, Lyall acknowledges the wider hobby of wargaming, but his interests are fixed to what in the time of publication was still recent history.  The book, as so many of its' period assumes no real knowledge of wargaming as a hobby on the part of the reader, setting aside chapters on procuring models (though not painting them, only the cover photograph suggests such effort), building a gaming space and making scenery.  As for the history, it is from an age before the obsession with pedantic historical accuracy masking simplistic rules (I'm looking at you Flames of War/Bolt Action),  The history is often fast and loose; unit sizes and available military equipment pragmatic based largely on what three or four plastic kit companies deigned to make.  Sure you can squint at a photograph and declare 'that's not a Hanomag' but really it's not the point.

Image result for "Operation Warboard"
Spot the 'Hanomags'

The rules themselves are certainly a product of their time, and anyone with a nostalgia for the older systems will be happy to set to work on complex machine gun and artillery grids to support play, but on other levels the rules show some evolution over simpler precedents.  Lyall's vehicle rules were hugely influential on my own rules as a kid, featuring different armour values for vehicles front side and top armour - with an attack-defence system anyone playing Bolt Action will recognise (Spoiler: Lyall got there first).  There are passable rules for the effect of morale on a force, and other features such as massed fire that speed up play, but in other areas things are very conventional.  Alternate turns, or simultaneous with written orders (very much en-vogue at the time) for example.  Also there are elements that require an honest opponent to really work, visibility rules certainly being left wide open to all forms of abuse.

One of the very best aspects of the rules however, and one more systems should adopt, is the extensive section preceding the rules explaining the logic behind them, what is and is not covered and how to address the unexpected.  Essentially Lyall recognised the need for an FAQ long before other rules gave the need any thought.  This really helps make the games' intent clear and certainly makes it clear the style of play envisioned.  If only more rules did this much.

The Rules were used in an episode of 'Battleground', now lost to the mists of time

Now I can't say I'll be jumping into playing these rules any time soon, but as a blast from the past, these were certainly better to read, and probably to play than many of their brethren.  I could see me electing to use these for a show for example, as a novelty!

Certainly one of the better old sets out there, and the nostalgia value is undeniable.  This copy will be staying in my modest collection of classic wargames books.


  1. It really is the best organized book for presenting rules. As you say, having a explanatory chapter synced with the rules chapter was (is) ground-breaking. If I were to ever write a wargaming book,this would be my model.

  2. A gent at my local club regularly uses these rules. He swears by them and I must admit to enjoying them as well

  3. An interesting read. I picked up a copy for my collection just recently too but have not had a chance to read it yet. I'm keen to do so now having read this.

  4. Lyall's thrillers are very good. I'd especially recommend those - and there are a few - featuring ex-forces pilots eking out a living as freelance aviators in exotic parts of the world. 'Shooting script' would probably be my favourite.