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.


  1. They're fine books - but they're no Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun!

  2. Any idea how many copies GW have shifted over the years? TBH I don't really class the GW 'hobby' as being part of wargaming 'proper' rather as parallel but separate....



  3. Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic wargaming for Fun was a fine and original book, with many different ideas for simulating warfare. It is one of the best wargaming books of all time. I have started an Innovations in Wargaming Series of books, which Paddy had contributed several chapters to.

  4. I have not yet heard how many copies of wargaming rules GW has sold, I only have figures for some wargaming books. I will find out the WRG sales if I can.

  5. Comment from Ross Maker Discovery Games

    I think there are several reasons that the discussion hasn’t mentioned that Pratt’s Naval Wargame is such a big seller. I’ll list them from least to most important (in my opinion).

    First, Pratt was a talented and entertaining writer and his prose reads well – much better than, say, Barker’s acronym-laden shorthand.

    Second, there existed a large demand for these rules due to the fact that the Pratt Estate deliberately held them off the market for so long, a demand which the unsatisfying (and possibly illicit) Z&M edition did nothing to sate.

    But the biggest factor, in my mind, is Pratt’s standing with both history buffs and, more importantly, science fiction fans. SF fans are collectors, especially of works by their favored authors. They tend to be completists, collecting even works from outside science fiction. I expect that a large proportion of the Naval Wargame sales are to SF fans who will never play the game, who own no ship models, who may, indeed look rather askance at the whole idea of wargaming. But it’s a Fletcher Pratt book they don’t already have on the shelf.

    Keep up the good work. The whole hobby owes you a big round of thanks.

    Ross W. Maker

    Discovery Games