Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Battle! Practical Wargaming by Charles Grant - Review

So, hot off the press (in 1970 for the princely sum on 21 shillings (£1.05) for those already in with the decimalisation crows), is a handy pocket introduction to the art of Wargaming as described by Charles Grant in a series of articles first published in Meccano Magazine.

Straight forward and to the point.

I was loaned this copy as Andy thought I would find it interesting, and it turned out I did. Not to say the tone of delivery and the content aren't a tad dated - it is nigh on fifty years since original publication - but as someone who wargames out of an interest in history, rather than gaming itself, it is a very useful tome and one that I recommend anyone with even the most basic interest in the hobby to pick up.

Why? Well, it's a combination of a couple of things. Firstly, there is the style of writing, very polite, at times grandfatherly, wordy compared to modern day writers (although that is no bad thing), a nice line in self deprecating humour (such as he forgets to add the Sherman to an armour values column then re-introduces it in the following chapter or headings on a map change between chapters which he puts down to new intelligence gained from the local peasants!) and a seriously fine number of typo's. That last comment aside, I found this quite an easy read although I can see how younger readers might struggle due to the change of style over the years. Me, I was brought up with that so it's a comfortable blanket of written nostalgia. Another nice touch was a comment regarding the initial scenario detailed in the book where Grant asks the reader to let him know how they solved that particular problem. In an age where reader feedback via social media is practically demanded, the request seems almost quaint from an age where communication could longer than a few seconds (as did the thinking process behind said communication).

Next up, the setting and rules. Grant picks WW2 as his period and does a really good job of introducing a fairly simplistic but effective rules over the course of the book. The aim, as he keeps reminding the reader, is to keep things simple so you actually get to play a game. Again, that is no bad thing. This is an introduction after all, but what sells it for me is that he keeps reminding the reader that they can change things round if they want. They can alter, ditch or complicate the game as much as they want as it is up to them how they approach wargaming. Compared to the almost dictatorial rules sets these days, it's refreshing and very much follows how the games we TWATS play. We use a set of rules, see how they fly, then have at them with pen and paper to fit how we play. Which, to those who don't already know, is with an historical bent.

A good example of this, and neatly tying in with Battle, is the currently popular modern wargaming rule set, Team Yankee. Now I like these and, with certain amendments here and there, will happily continue to use them. Movement, shooting and effect are very, very similar between TY and Battle. Not that it should be considered a bad thing, but the similarities are glaring and, given the difference in publishing dates, shows how much does and does not change over time. Presentation is something else, but since you have to read this book rather than just look at pretty pictures, it definitely works for Battle.

Another positive is the attitude of make do and mend. Don't have the correct figures or equipment? Get that modelling knife out and make it yourself. It's meant to be a representation so let's not get too bogged down here. Similarly, measuring devices, artillery plots and firing cones? Acetate. It is the future! Even to the point where he asks metaphorically, what should we do without it? Compare that to the frankly eye gougingly expensive add-ons for Team Yankee and again, we see how things have changed. There is something to be said of Games Designers/Rule Writing companies trying to extract every penny they can out of you.

Negatives - well, as Grant admits, the rules are basic and a tad generic, but since that is the point, I am not counting that as a negative although some might disagree. The lack of LMG's (Bren, MG42, BAR) is a bit more of an issue but, taking a leaf out of the gentleman's book, this can be easily rectified with an additional firing cone, possibly based on rifle range but a wider spread? After all, he's just giving you the ball, how you run with it is your concern.

Air support is not mentioned, although you could use amend the artillery rules for that, and there is an overall lack of polish (the typo's, although amusing at times, do spoil the flow a tad, especially in the later chapters).

Overall though, I liked this book. Yes, it has dated in style, but certainly not in content. The photographs vary from merely ok to almost impossible to make out (but that is down to the technology of the time, so it would be churlish to hark on about it too much). It is by no means perfect and does not set out to be. It leans towards historical accuracy whilst ensuring a game can be played out of it. The overall message of the book - it is your game, your hobby, you need to think how you wish to approach it. Do with it what you will. That is something that I believe has been lost to a degree with quite a few modern day rule sets.

Many thanks to Andy Copestake for lending the book to me, you shall get it back(!).

And speaking of wargaming, I shall be at the Carronade show in Falkirk this Saturday. It's a cracking show and I recommend that if you can, get yourselves there. Now, I just need to finish that play list for Monday's radio show...


  1. I'm glad you found the book entertaining and of interest. When you consder that compared to Flames of War with all its add ons and army lists and Grants repeated advice to actually think for yourself you wonder how far down the slippery slope of BIG BROTHER we have come- and not just in Wargaming
    Sometimes it feels like Dictatorship by commercial pressure.
    I reckon thsat between these and Lionel Tarrs WW2 rules we could get a pretty nice and simple set for Normandy 1944 at a low level of command-so different from our usual CD.
    It is something worth thinking about ....
    Nice review.

    1. Now that is a thought! And thank you! It did surprise how fast and loose the attitude was compared to the current ethos of rule sets. DIY templates? Why ever not!

    2. Freeform wargaming was normal back then. Most people wrote at least some of their own rules or adapted published sets in the light of new information or their own "research" .
      As the 70s and 80s progressed you had more and more product therefore more and more rules therefore more and mor straitjacketing so that that sort of thing is now seen as "normal" and the freeform chaps as a bit odd....

    3. Damn foolish if you ask me! Free form is what makes this interesting!

    4. No argument there ! The drive to make wargaming "gaming" has simply become more pronounced and Game designer driven.
      In the 70s you could just possibly count the number of published rulesets available- somwhere in the dozens perhaps by the nougties you coul;dn't the number was hundreds- now we possibly have the low thousands- many of them the same in a different cover ..... There are 3 rsampants for instance

    5. This was our bible. Played it for years. Yes, there are gaps but discussing and filling those gaps entertained us for hours. On the negative side it generated more arguments that anything but WRG!

      Andy, we don't have low thousands of rulesets!

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