Wednesday, 22 September 2010

'Wargaming on a budget': A review

As I reported in an earlier blog entry, I recently purchased WARGAMING ON A BUDGET – GAMING CONSTRAINED BY MONEY OR SPACE by Iain Dickie. It is published by Pen and Sword Books Ltd. (ISBN 978 1 84884 115 4) and costs £14.99.

I must admit, that this is – to my knowledge – a unique wargames publication. It does not contain any rules (although it does include some rule mechanisms that can be used be for certain specific types of game or scenarios) and is not lavishly illustrated. It is, however, full of interesting ideas and suggestions.

The book is split into ten chapters, and I have attempted to give a flavour of what each chapter covers in the following paragraphs:

Chapter 1: Resources
This chapter looks at the limitations you might have to deal with when trying to wargame on a budget:
  • Space: How much room do you have determines how big a wargames table you can comfortably set up at home
  • Finance: How much disposable income you have will affect what you can afford to buy
  • Materials: Do you have to buy everything that you need or can it be obtained legally at little or no cost?
Chapter 2: Basic DIY
This chapter explains the basic ‘do-it-yourself’ techniques you will need to make some of the items that are covered in later chapters, including:
  • Measuring: How can you make sure that the parts that you are going to make are the right size so that they will fit together properly?
  • Cutting: Using the right saw for the job
  • Joints: The range of simple wood joints that can be used during construction
  • Drilling: Basic techniques that will make sure that when you drill a hole, it will be done properly
  • Nailing: How to nail wood together without splitting the wood you are nailing
  • Planing: How to select the correct wood plane to suit your budget
  • Knots: How to deal with knots in wood
  • Sanding down: Why it is important and how to do it properly
  • Painting: What paint to use, how to paint properly, how to keep your brushes clean, and where to get cheap paint
Chapter 3: Making a table
This chapter explain how to assemble a wargames table that can be stored easily including:
  • The table top: How to make a tabletop from cheap, damaged, or reclaimed materials
  • Painting the playing surface: Painting your tabletop so that it can be used for naval wargames
  • Mounting the table: How to make a set of folding legs for your tabletop and how to mount your tabletop over your spare bed, dining room, or kitchen table
Chapter 4: The Playing Surface
Having made you wargames table, what are you going to use as a playing surface? This chapter covers the alternatives, including:
  • Sand table: Very heavy and potentially very problematical, it is what a lot of wargamers aspire to
  • Cloth: Cheap and usually easy to source but it can look rather plain and artificial
  • Gaming mat: very hard wearing but they can be quite expensive
  • Square or hexagonal expanded polystyrene tiles: Light and ready-to-go, they can be expensive to buy and are prone to damage
  • Hexagonal plastic tiles: Reasonably light and ready-to-go, they can be expensive to buy and can ‘gap’ around the edges if not fixed together properly
  • Carpet tiles: Cheap and easy to keep clean … if you can find them in appropriate colours and textures!
  • Homemade tiles: Cheap, but they can be messy to make, need a degree of accuracy when cutting, and have the same disadvantages as ready-to-go square or hexagonal expanded polystyrene tile
  • Paint: Cheap, hard-wearing, and simple but can look a bit plain and artificial
Chapter 5: Figures
This chapter is firmly back in regular wargame book territory, and deals with:
  • Scale: What size figures are you going to use depends upon the type of wargaming you want to do
  • Figure ratios
  • Lead figures
  • Homemade lead figures: How to start with a ‘dolly’, and how to create moulds using that ‘dolly’ so that you can cast your own figures at home
  • Plastic figures
  • Card figures: An early alternative to lead figures, these still have their uses, especially as they can be very cheap to make
  • Homemade car figures: How to create your own, homemade card figures using simple techniques
  • Bases: using different materials – MDF, Plasticard, plastic floor tiles, cardboard, sheet lead – to base your figures
  • Figures and the for or war: How to conceal what you units are during a game
  • Painting
  • Conversions: How to convert figures so that they represent something that would otherwise not be available for you to have in your model army
  • Movement trays: How to make movement trays so that your individually based figures can be moved ‘as one’ with other figures in their unit
Chapter 6: Terrain
Now that you have your tabletop battlefield and you armies, you now need some terrain. This chapter explains how to make:
  • Grass
  • Bushes
  • Hedges and scrub
  • Trees
  • Palm trees
  • Marshes and bogs
  • Rivers
  • Hills: Including contoured and sloped hills made from expanded polystyrene and papier mâché
Chapter 7: Man-Made features
Besides natural terrain, you will also need man-made features such as:
  • Buildings: Including how to make an ancient Northern European farmstead, ancient Mediterranean buildings, larger settlements, a walled town, a Medieval village, a 5mm-scale city, castles and forts, a semi-fortified manor house, and more modern towns
  • Roads and tracks
  • Field fortifications: Including trenches, temporary barricades, chevaux-de-frise, and twentieth century fortifications
Chapter 8: Ship and Planes
This chapter explains how to make your own ships and aircraft for wargames, including:
  • Canoes
  • Saxon and Viking longships
  • Classical galleys
  • Early sailing ships
  • Seventeenth to nineteenth century sailing ships
  • Transitional ships
  • Iron battleships
  • Planes
Chapter 9: Storage and transportation
Not all wargamers are like me and sit at home a wargaming solo most of the time; some (in fact most) like to join wargame clubs. This means that they will have to both store and transport part or all of the wargames collection at some stage. This chapter explains how to do that, including:
  • Happenchance systems (i.e. systems that are not designed with wargamers in mind, but which can be used and obtained quite easily): Including cotton reel and thread cabinets, office filing cabinets, cutlery boxes, tool boxes, plastic trays, and plastic storage boxes
  • Purpose-built systems: Including wooden cabinets and foam-line cases
  • A home-made cabinet: Including how to design it and how to build it

Chapter 10: The Game
This chapter appear to return to the ground normally covered by wargames books, but does contain some interesting ideas for different types of wargame. The chapter covers:
  • Choosing the army
  • Skirmish games: Including naval actions, aerial combat, satellite chasing, chariot racing, night attacks, garrison duty, indoor and tunnel actions, robberies, trench raids, street fighting, small-unit actions, hunting, and quests
  • Battles: Including solo wargames
  • Campaign games: Including a campaign scenario
  • An epilogue: Which suggest further sources of information that readers might find useful
I must admit, that at first I thought that this book was a case of ‘teaching your grandmother to suck eggs’, but soon I began to realise that it was written for a generation of people who may not yet have started wargaming, or who started when it was possible to buy a lot of what you needed quite literally ‘off the shelf’. Once viewed in this light, this book becomes a very useful aid to wargamers of all ages and experience. Even someone like me – who has been wargaming since the 1960s – can learn something new from this book … and if, like me, your budget is not unlimited, it would be worth giving serious consideration to spending some of you limited supply of wargaming funds on buying a copy. You might find that it saves you more than its cost!


  1. I'm greatly enjoying these book reviews you are posting. They are very informative and are proving a valuable aid in making purchasing choices. I hope that you will post more of them as time and circumstance permit.

    Thanks very much,

  2. Try the Wargaming on a Budget Yahoo forum for similar material. We make our own figures, etc. out of craft materials.

    I have more on my Wooden Warriors blog too.

  3. Thanks for the review on these 2 books Bob. I may not rush out to add this one, but I think I will keep an eye out for it next year when I hit Cold wars. Much of it may be old ground but sounds like their may be material to mine. I consider myself merely a middle aged dog and as such have room for new tricks.


  4. Prufrock,

    I am glad that they are of help to you, and I will certainly be writing other reviews as and when I have the time.

    All the best,


  5. Dale,

    I was unaware of this group and your blog, so thanks for the information about them.

    All the best,


  6. Ross Mac,

    Both books are worth looking at as possible purchases, and I don't feel that I wasted my money buying them. That said, I can imagine that some people would find them not to their taste, which is why I suggest looking at them before buying.

    All the best,


  7. I thought this book was strangely organised - devoting so much space to how to construct a wargame table before discussing choosing period, level and figure scale, which might result in one not needing a large table at all! - and missed many opportunities presented to today's wargamers by the internet &c. For us old veterans it contained little in the way of new ideas; for youngsters starting out in the hobby I think it would not grab their attention in the way that the integrated text and illustrations in, for example, GW publications do, and the lengthy DIY explanations would be a real turn off [I nearly gave up on the book at the end of chapter 2!]. Only the final chapter offered some interesting ideas for games, which I will revisit. The original 'old school' classic introductions [such as Terry Wise's little book] remain much better guides to starting wargaming, IMHO.

  8. Arthur1815,

    I agree that the book's structure is a little odd - almost like it was a collection of magazine articles put together in a book (which I supposed they might have been originally).

    I don't suppose the number of copies of this book that will sell would justify the sort of production values Games Workshop can aspire to, so I looked on it as a product of the wargaming 'cottage industry', and judged it accordingly.

    I must admit that there were some ideas in the book that I had not come across before, and as DIY is not one of my strong points, some of what he wrote in that section was actually of some to use of me!

    All the best,


  9. Bob,
    I'm sure you're right about the likely number of sales - although the publisher has partly created that situation by publishing in this less than inspiring format. But I don't suppose Pen & Sword regard themselves as a 'cottage industry' - wargames or otherwise!

    A far better way to wargame on a budget is to follow blogs like yours, using your rules and following your advice on terrain &c!

  10. Arthur1815,

    I take your point about Pen & Sword books, although I am surprised at some of the book titles that they are currently publishing; I understand they are soon to publish a set of naval wargames rules, written by someone I taught many years ago. Hardly likely to be a block-buster, even though the rules were quite good..

    Thanks for you kind comments; I just try to do my best with what I have, and to pass on anything that I think may be of interest to others.

    All the best,



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