Tabletop Wargames – A Designers’ & Writers’ Handbook

Tabletop Wargames - A Designers' & Writers' Handbook by Rick Priestley and Dr. John Lambshead is a recent release at Pen & Sword, and I am happy to cover it in this review.

Pen & Sword - Tabletop Wargames - A Designers' & Writers' Handbook

I stumbled over this release on my facebook feed and couldn't wait to get my hold on it. Luckily, it was gifted to my as a birthday present in late september and I read in a day. But before I overwhelm some of the readers with my enthusiasm of this book, let me first explain who wrote and what it is about.

The two authors are well known in the tabletop and wargaming community. Veterans for many years and releases, it is a cooperation of Rick Priestley and Dr. John Lambshead. Mr. Priestley created rules among others for Games Workshop Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 series, as well as historic rules for Warlord Games and the recent Sci-Fi wargames of Beyond the Gates of Antares. Dr. Lambshead wrote for Games Workshop as well and published wargaming books for Osprey. He just finished a Sci-Fi rule set as well, Dr. Who for Warlord Games.

Pen & Sword is a publisher of historical novels and books, of which you might know releases like the Wargaming Compendium by Henry Hyde or the One-Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas. Both of which are part of my personal wargame book collection, if you have any questions regarding these.

Tabletop Wargames is only available in english, is a softcover with 160 pages and has a RRP of 14,99 GBP / 24,95 USD.

What to expect from this book?
Pen & Sword describes it as follows;

Unlike chess or backgammon, tabletop wargames have no single, accepted set of rules. Most wargamers at some point have had a go at writing their own rules and virtually all have modified commercially available sets to better suit their idea of the ideal game or to adapt favourite rules to a different historical period or setting. But many who try soon find that writing a coherent set of rules is harder than they thought, while tweaking one part of an existing set can often have unforeseen consequences for the game as a whole. Now, at last, help is at hand.
Veteran gamer and rules writer John Lambshead has teamed up with the legendary Rick Priestley, creator of Games Workshop’s phenomenally successful Warhammer system, to create this essential guide for any would-be wargame designer or tinkerer. Rick and John give excellent advice on deciding what you want from a wargame and balancing ‘realism’ (be it in a historical or a fantasy/sci-fi context) with playability. They discuss the relative merits of various mechanisms (cards, dice, tables) then discuss how to select and combine these to handle the various essential game elements of turn sequences, combat resolution, morale etc to create a rewarding and playable game that suits your tastes and requirements.

So this is no supplement to an excisting rule set nor a compact rule set like the Osprey wargaming series. This book is all about the "engine" of rules, the interlocking gear wheels of rule mechanics and "meta" layer of those. It reads like a scientific paper, covers statistics and general rules to keep in mind, but in a very appealing way.

The topics are divided into 9 chapters and spread across 160 pages. Inside Tabletop Wargames you'll find the following chapters, along with an appendix of references and index;

  • By Way of introduction
  • A Question of Scale
  • A Language of Design
  • Alea iacta est
  • Presenting the Game Rules
  • Skirmish Games
  • English as She is Writ
  • Expanding the Rulebook
  • Campaigns as Wargames

The authors explain important topics like rules as written vs. rules as intended and the therefore importance of wording, as well how far the consequences of switching from a single D6 to a D20 over to a 3-step-cascaded D6 mechanism go. Some of them may be no novelty to experienced wargamers, but others are quite impressive as they are explained from a different point of view, which is eye opening. For myself, as I have written a large number of reviews over the last years, it was a very interesting read, as it confirmed some of my theories and shed light on some mechanism, that were unclear of where the rule designers wanted to go with.

As for the layout, the font size is comfortable, not to large, not to small and the book covers a lot of images of wargaming scenes along with diagrams and tables to better explain some of the topics like the effects of scale and probabilities.

Who are the readers of such a publication?
As the subheadline suggest, it is targeted at designers and writers of wargaming rules. This is something the book absolutely fullfills, but beyond that, I'd suggest this book to wargaming veterans and / or those fond house rules or home-tweaking of excisting rule sets. It helps to understand the intentions and problems of rule sets, depending what you want from it. So maybe you're playing Kings of War in 15mm at your club, and beside switching - the most obvios - the scale of miniatures, you use the ranges in cm instead of inch, you want to cope with the now maybe larger battles as you have more space on the gaming table and effects of more units to the turn sequence. Reading and applying the content of this book will help you out.

For myself, I am neither a designer nor rule writer, it is still a very stimulating read. With my work on this wargaming blog (and portals in the past), writting reviews and consulting wargaming projects, this books will improve my future work in both fields. And for this I am most grateful, as in the past this experiences, impressions and assumptions, could only limited be discussed due to NDAs, the lack of interest and / or consumer view of fellow wargamers. And for the last part, you can't reproach somebody - most people are absolutely happy with driving a car, without the need to know how it works. Why should this be different in (war)games.

If you are interested in wargame design, the mechanics of wargames and development, there is currently no other book, that covers this topic as specific and extensive as this. You'll find some articles on some of the contents online, on blogs and boards, but a bit of statistic knowledge and having played a few games is no where near the experience the authors share between the two of them. They know what they are talking about, they made their experience with good and bad choices, are part of the "industry" for decades and don't just make assumptions. These are theses and they are verified, by experience, by samples or by explanation.

At 15 GBP it is very reasonable priced and makes a really interesting addition to your wargaming book collection. If you just started gaming or just care about a set of rules or two, this might not be a publication for you. But otherwise, I can only recommend Tabletop Wargames - A Designers' & Writers' Handbook to experienced and open minded wargamers, who write their own house rules and / or want to enhance their eye for new releases of rules.

Link: Pen and Sword

Posted by Dennis B.

Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Looks good. Would it help me with this project?

Leave a Reply

Trackbacks are disabled.