Book Review: Tabletop Wargames

Rick Priestly’s (designer of mega-hit Warhammer) and John Lambshead’s granular exploration of the ins and outs of miniaturetabletop-wargames-cover wargame design will be an utter delight for anyone who enjoys playing at simulated war, whether with miniatures, on a game board, or even on a computer. Although the title indicates that the book is for “writers and designers of tabletop wargames,” even those of us who have never actually played on tabletops or who have no plans to design a game of any kind will savor this behind-the-scenes analysis. If you can imagine a wine connoisseur having fun learning how wine is made, even if he doesn’t care to make his own, then you will appreciate the allure of this beautifully written and lavishly illustrated handbook.
I myself have in fact never played a tabletop wargame per se, and the glory days of my own little armies came back when I was 11 and 12 years old, fighting miniature wars outdoors in the dirt with my buddies. However, as a young military board game aficionado I did even then impose a formal order on our games, borrowing the dice, rules, and hit tables from Avalon Hill’s 1975 tobruk-covertactical classic, Tobruk. I have continued these many years to play military board games (or “historical simulations“) and PC-based tactical and strategic military games. I have even taken my still-growing collection of miniatures outdoors as an adult, either with a nephew or alone — yes, I admit it — and run battles using the rules from the Avalon Hill Squad Leader lineage, which translate pretty well, with the proper adjustments, from a 2-D board to a 3-D play area. If, like me, you have these basic ingredients of miniatures and gaming in your world, you may, like me, find a lot of interest in Tabletop Wargames.
Although I have always enjoyed reading the “Designer’s Notes” sections of the wargame rules I own and was aware of the fundamental need to balance accuracy and playability in a game, I found it very satisfying to discover the more detailed layer of issues that Tabletop Wargames considers as it covers the range of choices that go into any game’s full realization. Topics include game scale, wargame jargon, dice and probabilities, structuring the rules, campaigns and skirmishes, and (one of my favorites) the English language itself. The clever and engaging writing style makes Tabletop Wargames an absolute pleasure to read, and the book itself models the authors’ prescriptions for a well constructed set of rules: chapters are color coded and a generous parade of top-quality photographic examples accompanies the text.
Like some of you out there who might be reading this piece, I have continued year after year and decade after decade to expand my collection of planes, tanks and troops, while most of my childhood contemporaries long ago let the hobby lapse. I am always thinking of it as an army that is meant to battle against someone else’s collection, even if I never actually find the opportunity to make that happen — until my five-year-old son finds himself roped into a garden skirmish or two in a few years’ time, at any rate! For now, Tabletop Wargames has provided an enjoyable new angle on my hobby and a refreshing stimulus to my imagination.
Below are  a few examples I have found of people taking their board games closer to tabletop wargames. I have also included a gallery of my old collection as it was perhaps 30 years ago.
Book Info: Priestly, Rick, and John Lambshead. Tabletop Wargames: A Designers’ & Writers’ Handbook. Barnesly, UK: Pen and Sword Books, 2016.

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