Sunday, 19 September 2010

‘The Games of War’ by John Bobek: A review

This is one of a pair of wargames books I bought recently. Before I read either of them I had no real knowledge of what they would contain, but as new wargames books – as opposed to wargames rules – are rather rare, I thought that I should buy them and, once I had read them, write a short review. So here is the first of what I hope will be two book reviews …

THE GAMES OF WAR – A TREASURY OF RULES FOR BATTLES WITH TOY SOLDIERS, SHIPS AND PLANES was written by John Bobek, and published by AuthorHouse™ (ISBN 978 1 4343 3028 4). It is a softback book and costs £24.95 in the UK or $32.95 in the USA. It is 276 pages long, and is divided into seven chapters.

According to his biography, John Bobek is a professional educator living in Illinois, and has been a wargamer since 1968. As will become apparent from the review, he has used wargames as a history teaching aid in the classroom, something that I have also done in the past.

I have split the review into eight sections, one for each chapter and one for an overall comment.

Chapter 1: Getting Started
As the title suggests, this chapter is an introduction to wargaming. It covers topics such as scale, umpiring (he calls umpires ‘judges’), game terms (which is a very useful glossary that not only explains the basic terms used in wargaming but which also discusses what would probably be termed ‘wargaming etiquette’), and campaigns. In addition, it examines how wargames can be used as a teaching aid in the classroom and describes three ‘History Labs’ where wargames have been used:
  • The Battle of Chickamauga
  • Over the Top: A First World War trench attack
  • Bloody Tarawa: The 2nd Marine Divisions invasion of Tarawa
Chapter 2: Ancients and the Middle Ages
After a short but interesting series of historical notes about the nature of Ancient Armies (including sections on Campaigns, Sieges, Siege Trains, Politics, and Economics) the chapter includes several sets of rules, including:
  • Ancient Empire: These rules are designed to be used with 2mm-scale figures mounted on stands, each stand representing 1,000 soldiers.
  • We Who Are About To Die Salute You!: These are rules for individual gladiatorial combat.
  • Warfare of the Ancients: These rules appear to be written for somewhat larger scale figures than Ancient Empire and have stands with different numbers of figures on them that represent the different formations used (e.g. Hoplite stands have six figures whereas Phalangite stands have twelve). Each figure represents 20 soldiers.
  • Fealty: Rules for Medieval Warfare: These are designed to be used with figures ranging from 2mm-scale up to 1/32-scale, with one figure representing either one soldier or ten soldiers.
  • Maces High: These rules are designed for individually mounted 1/32 and HO-scale figures, and seems to be inspired by ‘Hollywood’ films about the Middle Ages. They are short and simple … and look like they would be very suitable for people who are not wargamers but who like to play games.
The chapter concludes with a useful bibliography.

Chapter 3: The Horse and Musket Era
The historical notes that begin this chapter cover the development of warfare during this turbulent period of history, and places emphasis on the interplay between tactics and the weaponry that was available. It also includes the following wargames rules:
  • Parliament against the King: Rules for fighting the English Civil War in 6mm-scale or 15mm-scale figures. Each stand represents approximately 100 soldiers.
  • Lace and Lead: 7 Years War Rules: These rules were designed for large-scale battles using 6mm-scale, figures but can be used with figures up to 30mm-scale. Each stand represents 400 infantry or cavalry or an artillery battery of 12 guns and 250 gunners.
  • Regimental Honor: Rules for 18th Century battles: These are an alternative to Lace and Lead: 7 Years War Rules and uses stands that represent approximately 150 soldiers or a battery of 6 guns and crews.
  • One Life to Give: Originally designed for fighting battles of the American revolutionary wars using with 1/32-scale figures, they can also be used with HO-scale figures. Each stand represents an infantry battalion (4 figures), cavalry regiment (3 figures), or artillery battery (1 gun).
  • Ambuscade: These rules cover skirmishes during the Horse and Musket era, and can be sued with both HO and 1/32-scale figures, with each figure representing a single soldier.
  • Road to Glory: The rules are designed to be used to re-fight the large land battles of the Napoleonic era using 2mm figures. Each stand represents 1,000 infantry, 500 cavalry, or a battery of 12 guns with 250 gunners. The rules also contain additional information so that they can be used with larger scale figures, up to and including 15mm-scale.
  • La Gloire de Guerre: These rules are designed for players who want to re-fight brigade-level actions using 1.32 or 1/72-scale figures. Each figure represents 250 to 400 soldiers and each model gun equates to 12 real guns.
  • To Fight for Abraham’s Daughter: These are very similar to One Life to Give but with changes that make them suitable for re-fighting American Civil War battles.
  • We’ll Rally Round the Flag: As the name suggests, these rules were designed in the 1970s to re-fight battle from the American Civil War using 15mm to 25m-scale figures. Each Infantry regiment is made up of six stands, each with 3 figures, whilst the cavalry have four stands of 4 figures. The artillery stand has one gun and 4 crew figures.
  • Who Shall Rule the American Nation?: Originally designed for use with 2mm-scale figures, these rules for re-fighting American Civil War battles can also be used with 6mm and 15mm-scale figures. Each full-sized infantry and cavalry stand represents 1,000 soldiers (half-size stands represent 500 soldiers), and each artillery stand represents 12 to 18 guns.
As with the previous chapter, this one also has an extensive bibliography.

Chapter 4: 20th Century Land Warfare
The introduction to this chapter is shorter than in the previous two chapters, but as it is a period with which readers are likely to already be well acquainted, this is hardly surprising.

It contains rules that cover all the major conflicts of the 20th century including:
  • Over There: These rules cover the First World War, and are designed for large-scale battles. They can be used with 2mm, 6mm, and HO-scale figures, with individual figure representing 70 to 100 soldiers. Each model gun represents 4 to 6 guns (i.e. a battery) with a similar scale used for vehicles; individual model aircraft represent 1 to 3 planes.
  • Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright: These rules are designed so that divisional-level armour/infantry battles of the Second World War can be re-fought using 2mm and 6mm-scale figures. Stand of 6 to 8 figures represent 90 to 120 soldiers, and smaller stands with 3 or 4 figures represent 30 to 50 soldiers. A model gun equates to 3 to 5 real guns (with a similar scale used for aircraft), and a model vehicle represents 4 to 6 real vehicles. These are by far the most extensive rules in the book, covering as they do twenty-one pages, including six that just deal with weapon and vehicle statistics.
  • Bloody Tarawa/Bocage: These rules are referred to in Chapter 1, and are designed to recreate the intense infantry battles that took place during the Pacific Campaign and the Normandy breakout. Each figure represents an individual soldier. They can be used with either HO or 1/32-scale figures.
  • Cold War, Warm Conflicts: These are a version of Bloody Tarawa/Bocage that has been developed to cover post-World War II conflicts.
  • Combat Patrol: These are not so much a set of rules as a framework that utilises similar mechanisms to those in Bloody Tarawa/Bocage to support a role-play game that covers small unit actions.
  • Southeast Asian Wars: Originally designed for use with 6mm figures, an infantry stand represents a squad or fire team, whilst individual model vehicles and aircraft equate to one real vehicle or aircraft.
  • Blue Vs. Red: Rules for Modern Ground Warfare: These appear to be an updated version of Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, and are designed so that most large-scale modern wars (and ‘What ifs?’) can be fought out on the tabletop battlefield.
Bearing in mind the number of wars fought since 1901, it is hardly surprising that this chapter bibliography is seven pages long.

Chapter 5: Sky Warriors
Considering that air warfare is only just over one hundred years old, it has developed in leaps and bounds in a very short time. The notes at the beginning of this chapter concentrate on the reasons why air wargaming requires different game mechanisms from land warfare and seeks to explain that air warfare can be broken down into three distinct but slightly overlapping periods. Each of these periods is covered by a separate set of wargames rules:
  • Aces High: These rules cover air combat during the First World War.
  • Check Your Six O’clock!: These rules deal with air combat during the Second World War, and include over four pages of data that cover all the major aircraft types from the post-World War I biplanes to the early jet fighters.
  • Jet Jockey: These rules cover air combat in the Jet Age, and also include two pages of related aircraft data.
This chapter ends with a two-page long bibliography.

Chapter 6; Naval Wargames
The introduction to the chapter on naval wargames covers the development of naval warfare from Ancient through to modern times, and also looks at the variety of different scale model ships that can be used. The introduction seems to concentrate more on the modern era – World Wars I and II – than the earlier ones; however the chapter does include rules that cover the full range of historical periods, including:
  • Ancient Fleets: The rules were designed in the late 1970s, and were intended to be used with 1/660 and 1/1200-scale model ships. As can be imagined, ramming and boarding are covered in some detail.
  • Line Of Battle Naval Rules: These rules were designed so that fleet action in the Age of Sail can be fought out as part of a larger campaign.
  • Cannon and Cutlass Pirates have long held a fascination for people, and these rules allow players to re-enact their fantasies about leading a gang of cutthroats on the high seas. They have a very ‘Hollywood’ feel about them, and I am sure that they would produce a great, fun battle.
  • ”Damn The Torpedoes”: Although mainly aimed at the period of the American Civil War, these rules seem to be suitable for almost all the early naval battles fought during the early days of steam-powered armoured ships.
  • Steel, Steam and Big Guns: The rules are designed to cover the period when the number of pre-dreadnought and early dreadnought battleships were the measure of a country’s power (i.e. from the Spanish-American War up to and including the First World War).
  • Fighting Fleets: Because they cover the Second World War, these rules are rather more complex than the earlier sets of naval wargames rules included in this book. Not only do they include rules for air attacks and air-to-air combat, they also examine the roles of fleets in campaigns.
  • Action on the High Seas: These are a somewhat simpler set of rules for large-scale modern naval battles than Fighting Fleets and have been underdevelopment since the late 1970s.
  • At Periscope Depth: Like air combat, undersea warfare presents the wargames designer with a different set of problems from the normal to solve. These rules begin with notes about the nature of submarine warfare, which lead the reader neatly into the rules themselves.
  • Naval Warfare in the Age of Missiles: These rules combine both strategic and tactical movement, and reflect the long-range nature of modern naval combat.
As with the previous chapters, this one ends with a substantial and comprehensive bibliography.

Chapter 7: Miscellaneous Rules + Bibliography
The chapter contains a variety of different rules that do not fit in elsewhere in the book including:
  • Spears and Spells: This is not so much a set of rules as an explanation about how to run a Fantasy game.
  • Dodge City: Rules For Old West games: Like Pirates, the Old West occupies a special place in many peoples’ hearts, and it is not surprising to see that this book contains rules for ‘Hollywood’-style, Western gunfights.
  • Hot Sand, Hotter Lead: The Colonial period has hitherto not been covered in this book, but these rules – which like several other sets in this book are heavily influenced by ‘Hollywood’ films of the 1930s and 1940s – make up for that deficiency. They are intended to be used with either 1/32 or 1/72-scale figures, with each figure representing an individual soldier.
  • Law and Disorder: This is an interesting addition to the pantheon of wargame covered by this book as it deals with how the authorities deal with civil disturbances. It is intended to by played using 6mm or 1/72-scale figures, and includes rules regarding press conferences where the actions of the authorities have to be justified, and their justifications believed, if they are to win the game.
  • ”Saturn Blocked Our View!”: This is not a definitive set of wargames rules but a series of suggestions as to how space warfare could be wargamed.
The chapter then has a bibliography that includes many wargames titles (nine of Donald Featherstone’s books are included) and miscellaneous books that do not fit in elsewhere. The chapter concludes with Tables of Organisation and Equipment for the World War II armoured formations of the USA, Germany, the UK, and the USSR, and a final set of wargames rules entitled Eagles High. These are a modification of the Maces High rules mention in Chapter 2, and are intended to be used to fight battles during the Ancient era using 1/32 or HO-scale figures.

Overall comments
Doctor Johnson once said of the Giant’s Causeway that it was ‘Worth seeing? Yes; but not worth going to see.’ I feel something similar about this book; it is worth buying if you see it on sale, but not worth going out of your way to buy. That is not to say that it is a bad book; in fact, from the point of view of cost and content, it is an extremely cost-effective book. After all, where else could you buy forty sets of wargames rules for the price?

I bought it, and I am pleased that I did … but then I do buy lots of books, and will always buy a book about wargaming if I see it. The rules that are included are wide ranging with regard to the historical periods that they cover, and the historical notes are well written; however, many of the rules are very much of their time, and wargames design has moved on somewhat over the past few years. That is not to say that they are badly written or will not enable players to have a great time re-fighting battles with them; the truth is, that they are not the sort of rules that I tend to use.

4 comments:

  1. Let me pose a question if I may? How is it that one book can cover 40 different rules sets, yet most mainstream wargame rule (looking at you Battletech) require the same, or more to do one period?

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  2. Paint it Pink,

    One answer to your question might be production values; John Bobek's book has very few photographs, and those that it does have are monochrome.

    Another might be that he says what he needs to say briefly and to the point, and does not burden the reader with lots of extraneous stuff (painting guides, long historical notes etc.) that other books contain.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. So, would you recommend his writing style then? I only say this, because your answer was kind of a given, and I was commenting more on the wordiness.

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  4. Paint it Pink,

    Besides commenting that the book has very few illustrations, what I was trying to say was that I prefer brevity and clarity in the wargames rules I read. I try to bear those two things in mind whenever I write rules – not always successfully – and it is something that I would like to see other wargames designers do.

    In my opinion, Mr Bobek is certainly no more wordy than some wargames designers – and less wordy than many – and I had little problem understanding what he had written. I don’t think that we will be seeing debates about ‘Bobekese’ on TMP anytime soon!

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete