Monday, 10 October 2016

One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas - A Review

So what is this One Hour Wargames book and idea all about then? Reading the opening introductory chapter I initially was not that over keen on the philosophy. The argument that war games are somewhat time consuming and require a lot of input did not impress me – as yes, I would agree that this may be true but I did not see it as a bad thing. Weekends playing games, spending hour upon hour painting the figures to refight Gettysburg, to me these were a feature of playing with toy soldiers rather than a bug. Although, when I stopped and asked myself how many actual games I had played in the past year, I did have to admit that Mr Thomas had a point. What with life, a family, job and all that it meant the time I spent playing games was rather small. Especially when measured against the time that I spent thinking about the games that I wanted to play. So, a possible point conceded there. So, I first looked at this book as a set of simple rules to play with my boy - which remains my main motivation, I am now willing to look at them as a set of rules that I could play quick and simple games with.

So, what did I get for thirteen of my English pounds? The book included 9 sets of rules that covered most of history – each with a brief introduction to the period in question. Then a chunky 30 scenarios that can be used with each set of rules. Small sections on campaigns and solo play are also included followed by appendixes on background reading for war games and useful addresses.

Before looking at the meat of the book – the rules and scenarios I will cover the remaining pages first. The ‘useful addresses’ is basically a list of some figure manufactures. This is not really very useful as such things are easy to find on the web, as are forums where it  is easy to get useful recommendations of figures to buy based on any preferences you give on period, scale and sculpting style. This section seemed to me to be included as a self conscious copying of the format of war games books of ‘the good old days’, which always included such a section. In fact the style of the whole book seems to be deliberately ‘Featherstonesque’ (a reference that I am sure any wargamers reading this will understand. If any non wargamers have found their way here through vague interest or mistake, Don Featherstone was a prolific wargames writer from the 60s). This I do not say as a condemnation by the way – I love reading all the classic wargames books, but more to help orientate people to where One Hour Wargames is coming from.

The section on useful books I would rate as well, useful for someone starting out in the hobby, lots of good reading recommendations to get you started.

The sections on campaigns and solo wargames I found to be a bit of a waste of time – far to brief to be useful. Those on campaigns can be summed up in ‘play a few games in a row and the person that wins the most wins the campaign’ with a few more ideas than that – but not many. Funnily enough when I started discussing playing games with these rules with my boy he said ‘the war can be ten battles. Whoever wins the most battles wins the war’ (I managed to haggle him down to five). When a section on playing a campaign is paraphrased by a seven year old with the first idea he has about how to linked battles together this is probably a clue that it is not in depth enough to be worth putting in the book. Far more useful is the recommendations in the appendix on books for campaigns and solo play.

So, onto the reason that anyone is going to buy the book – the rules and scenario’s – ‘are they any good?’ I hear you ask (if indeed you are still reading after all this waffle). Before I answer that I am going to say how I am going to answer it; as I have seen reviews of wargames rules on the web after a read through and before the reviewer has played the game, which seems a bit not useful to me. First I will give a brief description of the rules from a read through. I will then give a brief write up of some games (the five game ‘campaign’ that me and the boy agreed to play) with some thoughts on the game after each one. I feel you need to play a few games with a set of rules before you get properly to grips with it. I will then give my considered view at the end of this. If you are still reading after all that I salute you and welcome your views on the rules as well.
Enough of the blah blah blah – tell us about the rules!

Each set of rules is about four, not very closely typed A5 pages. This makes them short enough to get to grips with easily but makes me suspect that there will be plenty of holes in them for the players to fill – we will find this out as we play the review games. For all the 9 periods of warfare (from Ancient to WW2) there is a very similar format. All the rules have four troop types and each game is played with six units aside. it is how the limited number of troop types  interact with each other that period flavour is attempted to be brought out.  This seems very (to?) simple to give anything other than a generic feel to each rules set but I am willing to reserve judgment until I have played a few games. The rest is fairly standard rules fare, each unit moves x amount of inches, throw a dice to get the outcome of combat yadda yadda. No morale rules – fight for 15 turns or until someone is wiped out. Have no problem with that by the way, with simple rules you have to cut out a lot of complexity and ditching a separate morale system seems like an obvious move. If you want to complain about it I suppose it can be rationalised as a unit being destroyed represents it breaking and running – there you go, morale covered. A unit has 15 hits and is taken of when this amount of hits is reached. OK, got all that and explained it to my boy. We had one very small game for him to learn to the basics of moving and fighting (and the effectiveness of flank attacks) where he had 2 units and I had 1. By the end of this he seemed to have it all more or less down so the rules pass the test of ‘simple enough for a seven year old to understand’. But would they also fulfil my other criteria.

Before getting onto the games and therefore the review of the rules proper I think it may be useful to state  the criteria that I would judge the rules by. After a bit of thought I decided these would be

1.       Does the boy enjoy playing?
2.       Is enough thought required to make the game worth playing on a (semi) regular basis?
3.      Does the game give an impression of being a representation of a battle of the period it is claiming to represent rather than just a generic game (however interesting that game might be)?
4.       Does the game meet my arbitrary, whimsical, undefined and changing ideas of what I want from a game at this moment if time?

This last one is obviously a bit unfair. On the other hand it is a criteria that we all probably apply to the games we play so, yah, life is unfair. I have just realised how much it must suck to be a rules writer some times. So for any rules writers out there that are reading this I would like to thank you for your time and effort in producing rules in what is usually a labour of love – even if I do not subsequently appreciate them.  Will upload a write up and some thoughts on the first game shortly. 

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