The Wargaming Compendium Book Review

By Paul Robinson 12 Nov 2013 0

I?ll come straight out with it, this is a fantastic book! As Charles S Grant helpfully points out in the Foreword a Compendium is ?A book containing a collection of useful tips? and ?A selection, especially of different games in one container?. And never has a book been more accurately titled!  As well as a mass of information about the hobby of wargaming and its history you also get three sets of wargames rules for your money. Now that can?t be bad value.

The author is Henry Hyde, Wargames magazine editor (, blogger (, tweeter (, podcaster and active wargamer! Whilst our wargaming careers have taken somewhat different paths I have to admit that he and I are of a similar vintage and that in parts of this book he could have been describing my early years as a player of ?toy soldiers?!

This is a big book, 517 pages including Index and Afterword, split into eleven main chapters.  However before I go on to look at the books contents I must just describe the book overall.  Basically it is as complete a guide to the hobby of wargaming as you can currently get.  If you have a friend or relative who wants to get into this hobby or has only just got into it then buy them this book for Christmas, their birthday or Easter.  Anyone reading this review who wants to get into the hobby but does not have a club nearby, or anyone else to discuss how to proceed, buy this book.  It will be like having a seasoned wargamer at your elbow guiding you along the way, but making it clear that, in wargaming terms, there are many, many ways to skin a cat.  And if you don?t like the Henry Hyde way, do it your way!  Finally (for this part of the review, which normally comes at the end!) if you are like me a wargamer of some decades of experience then buy this book.  It will remind you why you got into the hobby in the first place, bring back some very vivid memories of ?the early days? and make you look at the hobby afresh.  After reading the section on terrain I went to the wargames cupboard in my house and dragged out some trees that had seen better days and threw myself into a major restoration project. Trees in one hand, the Wargaming Compendium in the other.  So yes I really, really like this book and make no apologies for laying it on with a trowel!

The book starts with an Introduction giving a brief summary of the author?s basic philosophy to the hobby, and a little about his journey in it.  He then sets out in Chapter One what the Basic Concepts of Wargaming are.  He covers figures and figure scales, distances and scaling, the concept of dead ground, depth and widths for basing figures, timescales and how we deal with the unpredictability of the battlefield.  OK for the veteran wargamer this may all seem a bit obvious, but such concepts are always worth revisiting, and the chapter provides some excellent clarity for the newbie. Chapter Two is my personal favourite covering the History of Wargaming-subtitled ?Just how did we get here?.   So as you might expect this covers the introduction of Kriegsspiel, the beginnings of wargaming as a hobby rather than military training, and the birth of modern wargaming in the sixties; this section introduces us to some of the greats of the hobby such as the late Don Featherstone and Charles Grant plus numerous others who developed the early modern rule sets and concepts along with the associated explosion of wargames literature.  Interestingly it also covers the phenomena of (plastic) Airfix figures.  I was lost for quite some time in a reverie of regret at the loss of my collection (which encompassed every set ever made) thrown out when I discovered metal figures.  Now I really am showing my age!  Anyway the chapter brings us up to the present day with discussions about modern sets of rules such as ?Field of Glory? and ?Black Powder?.

Chapter Three takes us into the practicalities; Choosing a Period.  As you might guess there is quick trot through all the mainstream wargaming periods from Ancients to Moderns and Fantasy to Sci Fi.  It is an overview only, but again for someone new to the hobby gives them some idea of the possibilities!  Next we move onto the first chapter really getting into the nuts and bolts; Something to Fight For - Terrain and Scenery.  This really gets into the detail and starts with some of the basic principles of how much terrain and how large an area you need to play on.  It then covers the basic terrain the troops will move on - a simple green cloth or something more realistic.  Then as we move onto hills we get the first practical hints on how to make something.  Similarly with rivers and roads, trees and hedges, walls and fences, bridges and buildings we get very detailed guidance on how to make these for yourself (whilst making it clear these things are available commercially).

Chapter Five is about Assembling Your Forces.  Again everything you need to know is here.  Mr Hyde covers the size and cost of miniatures, giving some practical costings so you can work out in advance what the financial damage might be of your chosen figure scale and period.  How figures are designed and made is mentioned, as is how to prepare your figures for painting and then helpfully what paints are available and what you should take into account with the different types.  This chapter also has a useful guide to painting figures (and flags and horses and artillery).  The author makes this a practical exercise in building up the start of two opposing armies (the example in question being Napoleonic French and British).  This part of the book is really great as it shows you can get gaming with a relatively small amount of figures, you don?t have to paint up every unit of the French Grande Armee before you can fight  your first battle!

That theme is carried on into the next chapter, From Small to Large.   At its most basic a wargame can use just two figures.  And here we get our first set of (simple) rules.  In this case for Gladiatorial encounters.  These are a full set of rules, with everything you need to play and the various cards etc required can be downloaded from  I have to say I am dying to try these out.  The chapter then takes us up the levels to skirmish games and to the second set of rules, in this case for a Wild West gunfight!  Again a very simple set but with all you need to re-enact the gunfight at the OK Corral.  Then Mr Hyde takes us to bigger battles and then the place where most wargamers end up at some point; the madness that is the multi player campaign.   We are also introduced to the concept of the imagi-nation.  This is a branch of wargaming where the period being fought is solidly based on real tactics, weapons and uniforms of a particular era, but the nations themselves and their background are made up, giving the gamer full reign to their imagination.  And again the author provides some rules and concepts for when you wish to experience this part of the hobby!

Chapter Seven is the third set of rules; Shot Steel and Stone, Horse and Musket era rules for European warfare 1685-1845.   I won?t comment on the rules themselves as I haven?t tried them out but they look quite thorough and come with the book, so what would there be to complain about!  But as a start they give you a solid grounding in the troops of the period (infantry, cavalry, artillery and light troops) which looked like an excellent piece of work in its own right.  This chapter is also beautifully illustrated with 26 illustrations by Bob Marrion of troops of the period e.g. a Prussian Musketeer of the Frei Battalion Le Noble 1756 and a British 10th Hussar in 1815.  This is a real treat as Mr Marrion?s work is truly excellent!

The next Chapter is an adjunct to the Shot, Steel and Stone rules really, taking you through a small battle using the rules; the sides are two of Mr Hyde?s imagi-nations - Prunkland and Faltenland.  And as I have said repeatedly this is excellent for the newbie seeing how a set of rules are played through, especially if they have no one local to show them whether what they are doing is sound.  Chapter Nine moves us back into more general considerations.  And covers those other aspects and periods of wargaming not covered so far.  Thus we have naval and pirate games, aerial games, roleplaying, pulp gaming and steampunk and the lonely art of solo gaming.  The final two chapters take you away from the gaming itself and into other areas you may not have considered before.  So in Chapter Ten we have a thorough set of photography tips and stuff about the internet (some new phenomena apparently).  While in Chapter Eleven we have a review of the resources available to the gamer-books, magazines, films, clubs, the web museums, figure manufacturers (a very thorough list by the way), shows and conventions etc.

Finally the layout and production values of the book are quite superb.  It is lavishly illustrated with colour photographs which cover every detail discussed by the author.  OK so you?d expect lots of eye candy of games in progress or prettily painted figures.  But we have photos of old wargames books, terrain (including step by step guides to making it), conventions, how to organise your painting space, paint brushes, dice, and more.  I have mentioned the Bob Marrion artwork.  The rules have lots of diagrams and counters as required and there are a number of maps from the author?s campaigns.  It all adds up to a great package.

Don?t waste anymore time and get this book into your life now!

 ?The Wargaming Compendium? available now in hardback from Pen & Sword, normal price £35.00/$60.00 (ISBN 9781848842212)




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