A Wargamer's Guide to World Book Day 2017 [UK Edition]

By Bill Gray 08 Mar 2017 0

The first Thursday in March is World Book Day for the UK and Ireland , so the boss asked me for an article on books for wargamers. Seriously? Given the diversity of historical periods, that’s kinda like asking for the best restaurant – Chinese, German, steak and ale, everybody has a favorite. But I do like getting paid so... [ED: Be prepared for a lengthy metaphor around restaurant courses.]

Appetizer 

Wargamers read a lot, regardless of whether you use cardboard counters, a mouse and pointer or battalions of finely painted miniatures. Every historical wargame will likely evoke interest in the period replicated, while related books can convey tactical advice, or simply give insight into the rules author’s thinking. For tabletoppers, however, the situation is a bit unique. Book reading, and lots of it, is mandatory. Most miniature rules instruct how to play, provide unit and leader characteristics, maybe a scenario or two, and perhaps a separate tome with several readymade battles. Otherwise it’s left to the player to research and translate to the table. There are uniforms and flags to paint, units to organize, deployment schemes, terrain to duplicate and on and on. Add that to the general interest areas noted above and one can understand why the late Bob Coggins, author of Napoleon’s Battles, said “miniature gaming is not a lazy man’s hobby.” Research is supposed to also be fun, and to most it is.

So with that in mind, I offer you my take on the best two military menus around. I won’t guarantee they will satisfy the most discerning palates, but it will be a tasty and filling repast at least. Waiter!

Little Wars

A La Carte

These tomes are individual works that should have an honored spot on every wargamer’s book shelf.

Little Wars, A Game for Boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys' games and books, HG Wells, 76 pp (1911). This book of rules, written by pacifist and science fiction genius HG Wells gave birth to hobby wargaming, miniature wargaming in particular. Wells hoped the game would provide an outlet for the passions of generals so that a military option might not be so important. This version includes the author’s second book on the subject, Floor Games, which is a more whimsical set of rules created for his children.

Kriegspiel:  Instructions for the Representation of Tactical Maneuvers under the Guise of a Wargame, Georg Heinrich Rudolf von Reiswitz (1824). While wargaming ordinated in ancient China, the first modern set produced specifically for military training was von Reiswitz’s famous Kriegspiel. Unlike Wells, who preferred things “happen” vice calculated (he had pellet firing cannon), Kriegspiel is meticulously researched and very math heavy. It also provided the foundation for nearly all wargame rules in use today, both hobby and military.

See my previous wargamer.com review.

Imperial Trifecta. This is not one but three books, all on French Emperor Napoleon I. The US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command defines the military heritage of the United States as Napoleonic, and for good reason. Never has a single individual had such an enduring impact on the conduct of war, from strategy and tactics, to organization, logistics to personnel management. Think not? Consider Vicksburg or Desert Storm next to Napoleon’s operational strategy of the indirect approach, and then grab these three books for a complete baseline package. The books include The Campaigns of Napoleon, the Mind and Method of History’s Greatest Soldier by Dr David G Chandler, 1172 pp (1973) covering the history of the period and Napoleon’s way of war. Then open A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars by Brigadier General Vincent J Esposito and Colonel John R Elting, 400 pp (revised 1999), the perfect companion to Chandler with maps from the cartography department of The US Military Academy at West Point. Finally, another work by Elting, Swords Around the Throne: Napoleon’s Grande Armee, 769 pp (1988), in this case an anecdotally based narrative of the most important aspect of war - the people who fight it. Entertaining yet scholarly, you have to love a book whose intro quote is “The Grande Armee of France fought hard, seldom cheered and always bitched.”

West Point

Makers of Modern Strategy, From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Dr Peter Paret Editor, 941 pp (1986). It should go without saying that works of the great military thinkers such as Clausewitz, Jomini or Frederick the Great should be essential reading. For those not so inclined to go through every one of those weighty volumes, this book is a great substitute. Here Paret assembled a great list of authors, each taking a look at a master soldier and offering their interpretation as to what it all means. This is not light reading so be advised.

Command in War, Martin Van Crefeld, 352 pp (1987). Command and control rules are playing an ever increasing role in hobby wargaming, including tabletop miniatures where the colorful pageantry of the genre should preclude such shenanigans. This book investigates command both on the battlefield and off, noting the evolutionary improvement of each generation over the previous. If you ever wondered why personal intervention by the king-commander was so prevalent in early conflicts or why Frederick the Great’s technique was often called “war by autopilot,” this is the book for you.

Wargames Handbook, 3d Edition: How to Play and Design Commercial and Professional Wargames, James F Dunnigan, 440 pp (2000). Although supposedly covering all aspects of wargaming, the book is really geared towards everything you could possible want to know about hobby cardboard counter wargames (think Panzerblitz or France 1940) but were afraid to ask. And so it should be. The author designed over 100 hobby wargames as editor of Strategy & Tactics Magazine and President of Avalon Hill nightmare SPI (Simulations Publications Inc) out of New York. On that point the book delivers well, but otherwise shows its age. Tabletoppers have their own version, namely Rick Priestly and John Lambshead’s Tabletop Wargames: A Designers’ and Writers’ Handbook, recently published and reviewed by yours truly.

Online

Buffet

Yet as rock solid as they are, the works above have been dethroned by books that aren’t books, but rather compilations. As noted above research is a unique aspect of miniature gaming both necessary and fun. However, in the past research has been very, VERY tough, exacerbated by the many esoteric periods played by pewter pushers. Need information on the 1866 Austro-Prussian War? No problem! The mid to later 19th century saw the rise of official interest in history of conflicts fought as learning tools. Official histories by general staff historical sections became commonplace and contained just the sort of information tabletoppers needed. This includes maps, weapon’s statistics, and orders of battle and so on - if you had access to it. Unfortunately, unless you lived near someplace like the US Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, you didn’t. Even then, trying to check out such documents was tougher than wrestling Hell Spawn with a hangover. The books are rare, old, their pages brittle and interlibrary loan the stuff of unending mirth to librarians.

Then came Google with a whole bunch of technology to digitize the entire Public Domain world. Now you could download the entire Austrian General Staff study on 1866 (five volumes, it’s called Österreichs Kämpfe im Jahre 1866, BTW) as a pdf file in the comfort of your own home. Yes, some were in foreign languages, but the charts were easy to comprehend as a lot of the military terminology was already known to gamers. Plus, many had English translations done by other governments who had a legitimate interest. Need the 1902 ORs (the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, the US official history of the American Civil War in about a bazillion volumes); they are now all online for download, all for free. Even more general histories, such as GFR Henderson’s the Battle of Spicheren, August 6th 1870, are available. It’s really as simple as noting a reference on Wikipedia or in a hardcopy bibliography, then searching for it online.

Prussian

So where to find them? Here are my recommendations, and for those courageous among you, click here (and download if you wish) for just a sample of what I found on the 1866 Seven Weeks War noted above.

Google Books – this is the company that seems to have started it all, with an absolutely huge collection of material.

Internet Archive – this non-profit does the same thing as Google, and in fact uses a lot of Google material, but also has access to other libraries and resources in addition.

Hathi Trust – if Google or the Archive doesn’t have it, it’s likely these guys will. There is a catch, however. The site seems to be the product of a consortium of various colleges and universities and unless your college is one of them, you will not be able to download entire documents. Instead you can download one page at a time, but you can read the entire document online without restriction.

OCLC World Catalogue – this resource tells you which library a work happens to be in and if the document has a digital copy for download.

George Nafziger Order of Battle Library – this was a labor of love by my good friend, colleague and retired Navy Captain George Nafziger, who simply loved to do research on military orders of battle. He sold them for 25 cents a page, but as he became more retired gave the entire collection to the US Army Command and General Staff College where they can be downloaded for free.

There are others of course. The Hessian State Archives in Marburg which has an exceptional map collection, The New York Public Library’s uniform collection or the Seven Years War Wiki which does all the searching for you, but these will certainly get you started.

Haithi Trust

After Dinner Cigar

The bottom line is this. World Book Day in Britain (and everywhere else on April 23d) [ED: we're special like that] should remind all wargamers, players or designers, regardless of platform, of just how fantastic we have it today compared to the recent past. The information available now, whether hardcopy or digital, is truly mind boggling.  The worst thing you could possibly do is not to use it, and for those who were unaware, the worst thing you can do is not to start.

Now, where is my guide to Fractur script?

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