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Thursday, 20 July 2017

Reflections on Wargaming Publishing

To the casual observer it looks like 2017 is another golden age of wargaming publishing. Not since the Donald Featherstone era have so many books on our hobby hit the shelves. There are a number of wargaming publishers, all centred on the UK. There are a continual deluge of wargaming books, including many self-published ones. However, the numbers hide a problem; the reality is many of the books are dire.

With the dearth of experienced wargaming editors, the content, history, game system etc. in the books is of variable quality. I bought a second hand book on gaming ancient naval warfare and found the rules were flawed. If you ignore the errors on the picture captions, the book is basic introduction to ancient naval warfare, with some nice pictures, the rules seem to lack play testing. I will give an example. Triremes attacking triremes from the front kill each other on a roll of 2-6 on a six sided dice. This means if you outnumber the enemy you should simply charge the enemy from the front and statistically you will win. E.g. when they lose ¼ of their ships, which is very quick with triremes in these rules. 

Many of the books are far too wide ranging, by authors who lack awareness of developments in the wider wargaming world. They contain the author’s ‘wisdom’ that is either just general knowledge or just wrong. This situation is exasperated by the publishers being forced to keep editorial input to absolute minimum in order to make the books cost effective. 

Of course, there are exceptions. Bob Cordery’s The Portable Wargame is an example of book well written and focussed on a specific theme, games played on small table tops. However, to get to write a book of quality, is the result of writing hundreds of articles over years to develop the craft of word smithing wargaming literature. Most of the new writers arriving on the wargaming publishing block have omitted this literary apprenticeship and it shows. 

What are the potential longer term trends from this? The wargaming publishers are jockeying for brand position, but they are damaging their own name with each publication. For every book such as Frostgrave which succeeds, there are nine more that are not. There are a lot of disappointed authors out there who expected to make substantial income from their pride and joy in print, but are dismayed that the free market is more discerning than they realised.


  1. John,

    I guess you are referring a.o. to the constant stream of Osprey rulebooks?

    1. To me some of the Osprey stuff works and is well received, e.g. Frostgrave, but some is less so. There are a lot of people publishing wargaming books at the moment, but whether they will still be in a few years time is an interesting question.

  2. John, you are probably right - however I think the wonder of the osprey series is that so many of them are so good. I've been very impressed with black ops and the men who would be King.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions, I will look at Black Ops and the Men Who Would be King!

  3. I love a good wargaming book. Ever since Terry Wise introduced me to table top wargaming with his. Especially one that has introductory rules and even better played out battles with them. However it always grates when it becomes obvious the author has never or doesn't use the rules.

  4. John,

    Judging by some of the sets of wargames rules I have looked at over recent years, I think that you have hit the nail on the head. Many of the colourful, image-heavy books seem to place production values above readability and clarity.

    I am very lucky. I have been writing wargames-related stuff since the late 1970s, and learned by trial and error what worked and what didn't. It helped being a teacher in a London comprehensive school. To be successful one had to learn how to communicate complex issues in terms that most people would understand. This sometimes involved breaking things down into simpler step-by-step stages, with each step building on the previous one. This is a great way to learn how to write wargames rules that are easy to understand and that work.

    I am also very lucky to have an excellent proof-reader and editor, Arthur Harman. He is able to point out my typographical and grammatical errors, and to make suggestions as to where I need to clarify what I have written.

    One thing that aspiring wargame writers and publishers need to be aware of is that they are not going to make a living from their activity. When I published my Portable Wargame books I chose to use because it was a low-cost, low-profit option. I did not want to invest hundreds or even thousands of pounds into something that was little more than a vanity project. I expected to sell about twenty copies of each of my books ... and was mildly surprised and very happy when the sales figures rose slowly month by month.

    I hope to write and publish more books in the future ... but dont expect to have to open an offshore bank account at some time in the future to handle the proceeds of my sales!

    Keep up the excellent work you are doing with the History of Wargaming project. You certainly showed me what was possible, and I'd never have published my books if I hadn't had your example to follow.

    All the best,