Monday, 23 January 2012

Book review: Don Featherstone, "War Game Campaigns"

I was idly browsing Amazon the other day: I have a wish list that covers most of the classic wargaming books I grew up with (usually from the local library), and every so often I check it to see if there's a copy of any of them anywhere at a price that doesn't make me choke.

This time, I got lucky. An original edition of "War Game Campaigns" for less than a tenner. Now, I know John Curry has a reprint out, but it is a reprint, and given the choice between the feel of a reprint and a lovely hardback, I know which I'm going for. Sorry, John! (I also know some of the reprints are available on iBooks for the iPad, but a) this isn't one, and b) while there are some I would buy (and have bought) on iBooks, this one has a special place in my heart!)

It arrived on Friday. Just to even further advance the nostalgia trip, it was an ex-library copy, so not only was it the familiar binding, it even had a library-standard clear plastic film cover over the dust jacket.

I haven't actually held a copy of this book since, roughly, 1980 or so: I can, however, safely say that I must have had our library copy out four or five times during my teenage years, and devoured every page many times. Much like Skirmish Wargaming, I picked it up and flicked through it, and found memories suddenly flooding back: a map here, a chapter title there, a couple of sentences in a battle description, a familiar photo. 

So, nostalgia trip aside, what of it as a book?

Lots of maps, lots of rule snippets and suggestions. The core bits of rules are clearly based on the horse and musket era, although a number of the later chapters cover things outside that period. But, actually, what this book has always been about for me is inspiration. I make no bones about the fact that I'm a historical wargamer, in preference to being just a gamer - for all I play tournament-style WAB encounter battles from time to time, I much more enjoy games where I have context for my on-the-table goals. While Featherstone does devote a bit of time to ladder-type tournaments, the predominant theme of the book is very definitely about ways of giving context and continuity to your battles. Some of the ideas were refreshingly different for their time, for example a Peninsular skirmish campaign that predates Sharpe, and a colonial horse and musket campaign in which each unit represents a company or squadron rather than a battalion. There's also some interesting choices of period, above and beyond the obligatory-for-its-era 18th century horse and musket, that, given the rise of the modern 'mainstream' historical periods, are perhaps even more obscure than they were then. Having said that, there's something about those Warlord and Wargames Factory Zulu Wars figures that's calling to me...

Most of the campaign ideas here aren't as large scale as the word 'campaign' might conjure. They're much more at the Waterloo than Peninsular level, the aim of the off-table actions being to figure out on which particular bit or bits of a moderate-sized area the opposing forces meet, rather than invading whole countries. Much as I like big sweeping campaigns (heck, I'm playing in one!), I can see how these have potential. We're already poaching the 'everyone fields a small force' idea in the club chapters for our club ECW campaign (of which, no doubt, more later). I also note that Big Lee's review of Wargames Illustrated 292 suggests it has a piece on 'one day campaigns', which looks like it might be worth a read as a tie in to some of the things the book covers.

All in all, it's the book I remember. And more, given the much easier availability of figures and rulesets now than back then, especially to a then-impoverished teenager.

That wasn't all that I managed to score on Amazon that day - there was something else even more awesome. But I'll save that for another review.


  1. I have fond memories of getting this out of the library as well as many of his other ones.

    I was reading Solo Wargames on the bus when a rather disreputable figure (Brian) came and sat beside me and asked if I wanted to come along to the local club. That was 1978 and I've been club wargaming ever since.

    Between them Donald Featherstone and Brian changed my life!

  2. Even better than Wargame Campaigns? One of my top five wargaming books of all time??? :o)) Got to be good, but by the by I agree with you wholeheartedly on this book!

  3. I said more awesome :D Not least in terms of the deal I got. But that's for later. :D


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