Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life; currently concentrating on a re-fight of the entire Peninsular War, but with the odd foray into ancient, medieval and WW2 battles.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Neil Thomas' Wargaming: An Introduction - A Review

Wargaming: An Introduction

Neil Thomas sets out to explain what wargaming is and present to the newcomer enough information to get started playing.  He sets out a brief history of wargaming, in which he makes clear his preference for rules using ‘a simple process but (obtaining) historically valid outcomes’. He then briefly discusses which periods of history to play, which figures to obtain and how to paint the figures, and prepare terrain for them to fight over.  All of this is short and to the point.

The author then looks at various wargaming periods: Ancients (covering 3000BC-1450AD), Pike and Shot (covering the period 1450-1650), Napoleonics, the American Civil War, Colonial and World War Two.  When covering each topic, he very briefly describes what he considers to be the main features of the period and the main troop types involved.  He then presents a short, simple set of rules incorporating the features and troop types he has just defined, and finally gives a number of examples of wargames armies set in the period, with the number of units of each type in a given army.

The author rounds off the book with an example game (set in the Napoleonic period), a set of contact details for various useful resources (book sellers, figure manufacturers etc.) and an index.

The rules themselves are short and simple.  Most infantry and cavalry units consist of four bases (some infantry units in various periods may consist of six or eight bases).  All periods share a similar format: a charge sequence, movement, shooting, melee combat and finally morale checks.  There are no command and control rules and the game follow an IGOUGO format.  Movement is reduced in some circumstances, but light troops are more flexible.  There are various special rules for each unit type to give each of them different abilities.  The combat mechanic consists of die rolls against a target number (e.g. 4-6 to inflict one hit), with units getting extra dice depending on the match up (so heavy cavalry fighting light cavalry might get two dice rather than one for each base in combat) and saving rolls to negate that hit in certain circumstances, e.g. if they are wearing armour, or in cover.   Every four ‘hits’ translate into the loss of a base from the affected unit.  Morale is entirely based on casualties: in some circumstances, units roll to see whether they suffer additional losses each time the unit is reduced in strength.  The game is over when either army is reduced to two units remaining.

The sample army lists are simple and are based on an army consisting (basically) of eight distinct units.  These are defined according to the troop types he defined earlier and are also defined by one of three morale classes (Elite, Average and Levy).  For example, the Swedish Army for the Thirty Years War consists of:

3-5 Infantry units (each of 2 bases of Pikemen, 4 bases of musketeers); 1-3 Artillery units (1 cannon); 2-4 units of Horse (consisting of 4 bases of cavalry); 0-1 units of Dragoons (mounted infantry).   All units are classed as ‘elite’.

Thomas also suggests that battles involving them are played on green baseboard with 1-3 terrain pieces placed on it, either hills, woods or rivers.

The Swedes have a special rule to allow for the effect of their battalion guns, and a special rule suggesting that the Swedish player experiment with using an army of six rather than eight units, since the Swedes were often outnumbered.

The rules give a good, fast game – my solo games typically take between an hour and ninety minutes to complete.  They should be understandable by most newcomers with minimal guidance.  The rules are easily modifiable by changing modifiers or adding special rules in accordance with differing views on the period.  For instance, the Napoleonic rules forbid squares to move but I think they should be allowed to advance slowly.  Making the change doesn’t break the rules at all.  The army lists are quite basic and stereotypical and are not particularly balanced in all cases, although the author explicitly doesn’t see this as a problem.  Naturally, they are far from comprehensive but a little research (or alternatively cribbing the army lists found in the free version of DBA) should supply any gaps.  There are no rigid basing requirements so the rules should work with most existing collections and the armies are small, so newcomers should be able to collect sufficient figures easily enough.  So a  Mongol Army for example, could consist of anything between 12 – 48 heavy cavalry figures and 32 – 56 light cavalry figures; a Spanish Napoleonic Army will consist of 80 line infantry figures, 16 grenadiers, 12 cavalry, 12 dragoons, an artillery piece and a general.

So, what are the problems with this book?  The photographs do not match the suggested basing system, they are ‘eye-candy’ culled mainly from the archives of Miniature Wargames magazine.  The rules are easy to follow, but they do allow for the odd situation when the players will have to rule for themselves over a difficulty and move on.  I have played a reasonable number of games but not a vast number – I do have a feeling that someone with enough patience could ‘crack’ the game, at least for certain match-ups.  By the wide-ranging nature of the rules, lots of troop types and areas of conflict are ignored, although the style of the rules allows for easy modification – some players have put on lots of additional information on the unofficial support group. The writing style is generally fine, but does contain sentences such as “It should also go without saying that the desire to abolish slavery gave the USA undoubted moral superiority over the Confederacy” and “Sadly for these lager louts of the ancient world (i.e. Gauls and Germans), personal valour did not fare well against Roman discipline…if being bashed by the Romans becomes too uninviting aprospect, inter-tribal conflicts (generally over such weighty political issues as who spilt whose pint, and who was looking at whom in a funny way) can provide interesting games”, which some readers might find slightly out-of-place or irritating.  The preface by former Miniature Wargames editor Iain Dickie is quite idiosyncratic too.

The rules do not worry about accurate scaling at all, in terms of both figure/man ratios and time/distance ratios.  The author aims instead for a kind of internal consistency, which he seems to achieve.   However, for players of the Napoleonic game, the mechanics, distances and aesthetic resemble a game where every unit is a battalion/regiment/battery; whilst the mechanics of the WW2 game suggest a 1:1 model to man ratio.  In neither case is this explicit though: a ‘unit’ could be anything the player likes.

Neil Thomas has also published books specifically aimed at the Ancient period and the Napoleonic Wars.  The rules are similar to those presented in this book, but more refined and contain a greater number of army lists.  I have played both, and in both cases slightly prefer the rules in the period-specific books.  There is not that much difference though, so if you want to try lots of different periods or are an inveterate tinkerer who thinks the best place for an army list is under a wonky table leg, then you are probably better off with this one.

I’d recommend this to beginners wanting a set of easy, well-thought out rules to begin playing with and to more experienced gamers looking for a consciously simple game.

For an example of the game in action, see here:

Although note that I use my existing single-base units rather than the scheme suggested in the rules and use counters to mark losses in hits and bases.  It works fine.


  1. The rules say that you carry over damage to the next turn, it does not say you carry it over to all turns thereafter.

  2. To which rule in the book are you referring and to which bit of the review, Captain Nolan?