Saturday 26 March 2022

The Wargaming Compendium

I admit it. I have come very late to the newer wargaming books party. I do not think I have bought a book on wargaming, as opposed to history (military or otherwise), which, as the gentle reader will know, I consume in near-industrial quantities, for a good number of years, probably over a decade.

Still, better late than never, I suppose, and when an advert email came in for this tome at a reduced price

Hyde, H. (2011). The Wargaming Compendium. Barnsley: Pen & Sword,

I kind of leapt at it. I suppose I have been looking for something that might make the creative juices flow a little and grow a bit of enthusiasm.

As probably most wargamers know of Henry Hyde I will not give a thumbnail sketch or try to classify his writing. The book does more or less what I needed: it comes with oodles of enthusiasm. Whether it is quite the ‘wargamer’s bible’ that some of blurb claims might be a bit moot, but it is certainly an interesting book and is a ‘treasure trove’ of advice, examples and vast quantities of eye-catching photographs of toy soldiers, bit and small, in all sorts of wargames, big and small.

There are all sorts of ideas and examples floating around in the book. The introduction is a guide to basic concepts, then there is a history of wargaming. Different periods from ancients to science-fiction are discussed, then making terrain. There is a long chapter on painting figures, the example being some 1/72nd plastic Napoleonic British and French. If I have a criticism here, the quality of the painting would put me off, as a total beginner. While Henry’s tone is that of a kindly uncle all though, with ‘I recommend that you…’ and ‘I would add…’ liberally sprinkled through the text I would feel a bit overwhelmed by the painting guide.

On the other hand I do not have the patience for that level of detail and have never got the hang of  multiple layers of dry-brushing to build up a colour, nor of washes. That is probably just me, and you can tell by the (lack of) quality of even my more recent efforts at painting that I have always aimed to get the toys ready to go onto the table, even if the quantity of wargames played, do not reflect painted solider availability.

Still, minor grips aside, the book then moves on to what to do with the little chaps when finished. Duels are covered with two figures, and there are rules for gladiators. Skirmishes follow, with rules for the wild west. Battles follow, with a digression on military organization and how to reflect real battles, the really big ones. This section comes with some interesting ponderings on the literal approach, with the correct number of units, the bath-tub approach, by scaling the available space to the battlefield and then filling it with appropriate units, and then scaling down to figure size to permit the former to be done in a reasonable time and space.

In the latter bit I am not sure Mr. Hyde goes quite far enough. He recommends 6 mm for big historical battles. Myself, I would probably go for 2 mm for something like Waterloo.  If you scale down to 6 mm size the units can still get a bit lost in the sheer quantity of troops on the table, and the scale of the terrain and battlefield. Still, a minor quibble and a bit of a matter of taste, I suspect.

The book then moves on to campaign games of various forms. HH is clearly an enthusiast for campaigns, and starts with linked battles, so the winning force advances a table and the losers defend that. This would, I think, work well for WW1 or WW2 games, but perhaps not so well for, say, ECW. He then discusses map making, suggesting a Speed map for the ECW, for example (fair enough)  or other tricks like shrinking and inverting Australia (not literally) to be a desert island.

HH’s own preference is clearly for imagi-nations on fictitious maps, and that is fine by me. Inspired by Charles Grant’s The War Game and Tony Bath’s Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, he describes creating an imaginary map and populating it with terrain, towns and personalities. In the latter I have a bit of a gripe, perhaps, in that his personality generator uses d100, which gives a rather startling range of attribute values. According to HH this is how the original D&D did it. Never having played D&D I cannot comment on that, but Runequest used 3d6 to give less extreme results, and I think Tony Bath’s original used playing card. Anyway, each to their own on this one.

The author then shows how to drill down to his own five miles hexes and from thence to a battlefield. He also covers wargame journals. Here, I have to say, the Mr. Hyde’s skills as a graphic designer come to the fore. The maps are depressingly beautiful and the page of his journal showing the uniform of a regiment of imagi-nation infantry are extremely nice and far beyond my abilities. This wargamer, as with the painting and pictures, can only admire and move on.

The campaign rules which end the chapter are fairly straightforward and workable, although they include a bit too much detail for me. HH says somewhere that the wargamer, or the rules writer at least, has to consider what level the game is to be played at. Wargamers have a tendency to swap roles within a game, from general to commander of a wing to brigadier and so on. These rules have a similar feel to them, so I could be the commander of the army (or, indeed, monarch of an imagination) one moment and an individual scout having run into an enemy army group the next. It is great if you have the time, energy and attention to detail he has. I’m not sure, having tried it, that I do.

Next along are Mr. Hyde’s own rules, Shot, Steel and Stone for the Eighteenth century. The introduction is very good, with the troop types and excellent illustrations. The rules, I confess, I have not read, but a sample battle is given which seems to play very nicely.

Finally, more briefly, other aspects of wargaming are covered – naval, air, solo and multiplayer games all get their moment. The last bit is about wargaming in the digital age, followed by appendices on books and suppliers. As HH ruefully admits, this was out of date as soon as the book was published. Still, a good effort.

Overall, an excellent book to lend to someone considering wargaming as a hobby, and a burst of enthusiasm for us jaded old grognards. I did not intend to sit down a read it cover to cover, but I did and I am glad I did. Recommended.



  1. I have a copy which I have read in the past , if it's aimed at beginners I would have made the rules a bit simpler for the Horse and Musket era - something along the lines of Featherston's

    1. I suppose that if there is a criticism it is that the audience is a bit ill defined - is it beginners or the more experienced. And that does reflect in the rules. Mind you, my early experience of ECW was with WRG and Tercio....

  2. "On the other hand I do not have the patience for that level of detail and have never got the hang of multiple layers of dry-brushing to build up a colour, nor of washes. That is probably just me," Not just you :) never understood having to paint three shades of a uniform colour when one will do!

    1. I'm glad its not just me, then. And I don't think my more recetly painted toys look too bad, not to me, anyway...

  3. When i paint which is rare, no washes for me. Put the paint on, then varnish :-) I did try washes years ago for a few figures but it is an extra step and takes longer so don't do it anymore.

    1. That's fair enough by me. The only thing I have done recently is improve the basing, although it is still utilitarian.

  4. I have never read this one cover to cover, and I appreciate your overview. You've sent me running to pull my copy off the shelf to read some sections I have never even looked at.

    I think you are spot on about the painting guide - Featherstone had a much simpler and encouraging one in one of his books, no doubt aided by the lack of pictures. To be fair, most modern painting guides I have seen appear to have been produced by people who value the figure's appearance more highly than those for whom the game is the thing.

    1. Glad you liked the review. I don't want to be negative about the painting guide, the battle or the campaign rules. The latter are a matter of taste, I guess. The former is a bit of a thing about practice as well. No doubt my painting could improve, but beautiful figures are beyond many wargamer's ability, including mine.

      There is an aesthetic pleasure in playing with nice figures on nice terrain, but a degree of realism is also needed. The true pleasure is in playing wargames, surely.