Friday 26 October 2012

Two new books in print

Two new books have just been added to the project.

Donald Featherstone's Complete Wargaming.

As with many of Donald Featherstone's books, there is a story behind the book. The first edition of Complete Wargaming in 1988 was an editorial shambles. The publishers wanted another wargaming book on their lists and so they turned to the author in British wargaming, who duly assembled some wargaming material that had not been used for his previous works. The publishers turned over the material to an editor who obviously knew nothing about wargaming and apparently nothing about history. The ideas, scenarios, rules and historical pieces were assembled into a random sequence that was based on efficient use of the page count; such as putting smaller pieces into the margins of the book wherever they fitted. Unfortunately, the lively correspondence between the author and the publisher as a consequence of this editing has not survived the passage of time. At some point, Donald Featherstone decided it was better to get the let the publisher get the book into print, 'wargamers, being a group of above average in intelligence and endeavour, would uncover the pieces of immediacy and use to them'. Upon reflection, this was probably the correct view.

Over twenty years later, the task of bringing order out of chaos and putting the chapters, sections and notes into a logical sequence fell to the editor with the assistance of Arthur Harman. As a result, the book has been completely restructured.

  Section 1: Introduction, Wargames Rules and General Themes/Ideas, Terrain, Forming a Wargame Club.

· Section 2: Scenarios and Period notes thereon in Chronological Order.

· Section 3: Reference, Bibliography, updated lists of wargame magazines, societies &c.

The second book is George Kearton's Guide to Collecting Plastic Soldiers 1947-87. Collecting toy soldiers in 1/32 scale (54mm) is a large hobby, in the UK, USA and other places. This was the book that was largely responsible for launching the hobby. The book is aimed at the collectors of plastic soldiers. 

Saturday 13 October 2012

The Top Selling Wargaming Books of All Time

The best selling wargaming book of all time is Donald Featherstone’s War Games. At 30-40,000 copies sold it remains at the top of the wargaming book charts. Its key advantage was being the first book which helped launch modern wargaming. 

The second book is probably Peter Perla’s Art of Wargaming. It related the development of the hobby to professional wargaming and contained many insights into how to use wargames for operational analysis and training. It managed to reach a staggering 15,000 copies by being a recommended text book on various American military training programs. 

It is very difficult to work out what is going to catch the wargaming book market’s attention in the future, but the popularity of two titles has surprised me. Paddy Griffith’s Sprawling Wargames is a ‘mish mash’ of a book, a key part of which is describing some very large mega-games for World War II. Paddy Griffith’s work seems to be having resurgence in the US at the moment and the book is being used for undergraduate history classes. They use it as an example to show the different perspectives of each side in war and lecturers are handing out rolls to various students, getting them to make a plan and then the lecturer arbitrates the final result. A sort of one turn free kriegspiel. Must be better than the standard history PowerPoint lecture. 

The other book is the Fletcher Pratt Naval Wargame. My wild guess is perhaps there are 5,000 regular naval wargamers in the English speaking world, but many non-naval wargames are buying it. The game is a lot of fun, suitable for multi-player games and speeds along nicely. The value of the game as a model of big gun naval warfare is a hotly contested subject between those who say it is a model of fleet combat v those who point out the million simplifications that went into the standard rules we can now play. I rarely have a week without an email (or more) about the Pratt game. 

My current thinking is the Pratt book sells as it is a narrative of a game being popular, being lost and now being found again. The controversy over the value of the game seems to be one many wargamers are happy to venture an opinion on. Wargamers like to superimpose a narrative on the sequence of events in their games, to make a chaotic event on the table top into a coherent account, perhaps the Pratt book sells because it is a just a good story and wargamers like a good story. 

My best guess is the Pratt book will, over time, outsell all other wargaming books. Of course, tomorrow a new book might arrive that will take the wargaming world by storm and I will be completely wrong.  

I asked some younger wargamers at my local club for their thoughts on the best wargaming book of all time. They answered it was obviously The Lord of Rings, it is full of Warhammer [Fantasy] battles and had some fantastic Dungeon and Dragons adventures in it. Perhaps they were right.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Book Review of Jon Peterson’s (2012) Playing at the World

ISBN 9780615642048

As the editor of wargaming books (some mentioned in the bibliography), I was asked by the author to do a review of this new book.

The book is Jon Peterson’s magnum opus (great work) about the development of roleplaying up to the 1980s when the roleplaying games started to spread onto various computer platforms. The chapters explore the detailed chronology of wargaming events prior to the publication of Dungeons and Dragons (D+D), the development of the medieval fantasy game genre, the origin of the D+D rules and what happened in roleplaying after D+D was published.

The source of much of the material is various archives of fanzines held in American, publically and in private collections. The list of games and magazines alone covers nine pages in the bibliography. The intellectual effort to pull together this vast plethora of material was a staggering undertaking.

The result is a substantial book at 698 pages, with the section on the development of wargaming rules and their influence in the development of roleplaying games having approximately 100 pages. Due to the length and depth of the book, it is no easy read. Some of the ins and outs of development are covered in great detail, for example the material shedding light and investigating the D+D clerics is eight pages. Saying that, the material is fascinating to anyone interested in the murky origins of roleplaying games.

The book delves into such mysteries as the issues of copyright and intellectual property for the creation of D+D (a most curious tale), the development of the magic user, dungeon settings and role of thieves in the game. It was new to me that Tony Bath, the UK wargamer who started ancient and medieval wargames and was well known for his Hyborian campaign, was given credit by Gary Gygax for the inspiration for his Chainmail rules.

The book also has a most interesting section on early wargames of Hellwig, Venturini, Reiswitz, etc, based on translations of the some of their pioneering work. Some of this work has never, to my knowledge, been available in English before.

With a book of this length, it is not surprising that I have some different interpretations in a few areas, particularly in the discussion about the history of wargaming. Donald Featherstone, one of the dozen or so people who made wargaming a popular past-time, is rightly given credit, but his main job was a physiotherapist. Perhaps I would have included more about the advent of live-roleplaying, where people borrowed the idea from historical re-enactors and started to play out D+D adventures in full costume and padded weapons, but exploring the origin of that subject would have added more pages to this book.

I can say with some certainty that no-one else is likely to write a book about the development of roleplaying that will ever match the scope and depth of this book. Whilst the book is targeted at a specialist audience, if a wargamer is interested in the origins of the D+D genre, this is the book. There is no other to compare.