Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Book Review: "One-Hour Wargames", Neil Thomas

[Free review copy supplied by Pen and Sword Books.]

I've had a couple of Neil's books out of the local library - he probably would't mind me saying that in a way he's a bit of a latter-day Don Featherstone, in that his stock-in-trade is the themed book (by period or other theme) with one or more rulesets within it. This one could be seen as filling a hole in the area covered by things like Solo Wargaming, Skirmish Wargaming and similar books, I guess. 

The stated aim is pretty much given away in the title - to provide the time-starved wargamer with inspiration (and rules) to play in the time available. Or perhaps I should say time and space, since the book's longer title probably ought to be "One Hour, One Square Yard Wargames". Neil devotes the first half of the book to 9 periods, from Ancients to WW2, with two chapters to each. The first is a potted history of the period, and a broad sweep through the troop types - Ancients starts with Infantry, Archers, Skirmishers and Cavalry, for example. Obviously it's a gross over-simplification (after all, there's only so much you can do in three or four pages) but he does do his best to capture the flavour. The second chapter of each pair contains the rules which are, again by necessity, a small, relatively simple-minded set, unit- rather than figure- based, with constant size/abilities for each troop type. The nice thing is that the rules evolve from period to period, with extra rules and troop types being added as the book progresses through history.

It is, as I said, very simple-minded (all tanks are the same, for example!), but you do need to remember that the stated aim is to provide a framework for quick, small games for the space- and time-strapped wargamer, not a detailed simulation of each period. I'll be honest: I haven't playtested the core rules, but they look like they'd do the job. They would also, and this is a decent plus, be a great way of drawing younger gamers into the hobby (and teaching them not to be afraid to tweak the rules!)

Neil uses one of my favourite words during the introduction to the book: "context". Have a listen to the first (and sadly only, so far) episode of the Miller's Tale if you want to listen to me rambling on on the subject, but essentially context is the 'why' of the battles we fight. The second part of the book is devoted to providing context for small battles - its a set of thirty double-page spreads which are basic scenarios, ranging from the pitched battle (as beloved of thrown-together club night battles everywhere) to assorted defence, ambush and retreat scenarios - thirty of them. Consider it, perhaps, a light version of Charles S. Grant's "Scenarios for Wargamers" or an extended version of the half-dozen scenarios you find in the back of many rulebooks. If for nothing else, I'll be keeping the book handy for those sixty pages - being able to pull a basic scenario out at random (or to suit a campaign narrative) will actually be really useful.

The book's wrapped up with a set of the usual appendices on further reading both wargaming and historical (with very useful potted reviews - the author does cover most of the wargaming classics), and where to get figures and terrain, which is perhaps inevitably hampered by the delay between writing and print (Warlord are a bit more than up-and-coming, nowadays!), and is a tad incomplete.

In summary? It's not a classic of the genre, though I wanted it to be. The rules are lightweight and appear to have the potential for quick and easy fun, and wouldn't be a bad way to introduce younger gamers to the historical side of the hobby, but Don Featherstone it isn't, though. (But he does use the word 'context' the same way I do, and for that alone he gets points!) The scenario section is the most useful bit of the book, along with the potted reviews of the literature, and for those it's still definitely worth keeping around. There are too few people writing wargames books per se these days, anyway.

It's currently on sale at Pen and Sword, with 20% off, at just over a tenner.

1 comment:

  1. Thats the second time I've seen gamers blog about this book in the last fortnight - thanks for that, I'll check it out.

    So when might we see Episode 2 of The Miller's Tale?
    The 2nd Anniversary of the first episode is coming up!


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