Saturday, 23 July 2022

Wargaming Campaigns

Henry Hyde writes very big books. No sooner have I caught up with the Wargaming Compendium (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2011) than another whopper lands on my front doorstep. This one is Wargaming Campaigns (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2022). The compendium ran to 520 pages or so, all told. Campaigns run to 526. Wow.

Now, I really want to like the book, let me be clear. I am, as the blog posts might well affirm, a fan of wargame campaigns although I, like many others, struggle with the detail that some wargamers manage to get into their activities. Here, it seems to me, is the rub of wargame campaigning: we have a tendency to get bogged down. It is a problem that HH is well aware of, fortunately.

Firstly, a few other observations. If you are expecting as much eye candy as there was in the Compendium you are going to be a bit disappointed. There are some nice photographs of nice troops, granted, but nowhere near as many as in the first book. Of course, the book is about something else, so we should not be surprised. Second, the production values are pretty high. The work was written, HH admits, over a fair few years and some of the cross-references seem a bit mistaken as if something had been written previously but not made it to the final draft. Or maybe it is just such a big book that I could not recall or find them.

As it is, it is a pretty comprehensive account of running a wargame campaign. I do not think that any book could be fully comprehensive. Wargamers are, at the end of the day, a very inventive lot. The book includes HH’s own campaign rules (March to Glory) and considers campaigns of all descriptions including skirmish and role-playing games, sea and air power, brief accounts of some famous wargame campaigns of the past, and a great deal of ‘you don’t have to do it like this’ comments. You can, after all, campaign perfectly happily without a map.

I suppose that if I have to be critical, I felt that the editing was probably not as thorough as I would have liked. I am not sure, for example, that I really needed to know the perceived personalities of the players in HH’s own imagi-nation world and their campaign world alter egos. Some of the writing seemed to this reader, anyway, to be a little self-indulgent. If the aim of the chapter was to show a campaign in progress, well and good, but I got confused as to which player was which character and where they were on the map (bigger maps are on the companion website, I believe, but that is not much good to me in my armchair).

I found similar oddities in the rules chapter, which roll along quite nicely until towards the end when we get a page or two’s justification as to why disease or desertion rules need to be included. If they are rules, stick to the rules. If you need to justify or explain, then do that somewhere else. I tend to try to separate rules from justification.

A few times HH refers to historical accuracy. Granted, disease and desertion are historical. We might wish to include them in our rules, as we might want to add fleeing refugees clogging the roads, scorched earth policies leading to mass starvation, and so on. These things might be important in a staff officer game but, for my taste, I would rather ignore them. I think that it is exactly a matter of taste, however. If it floats your boat then don’t mind me and my opinions.

Another gripe that a stricter editor might have handled differently is the chapter on maps. HH spends quite a lot of time explaining how to use Adobe Photoshop to create and modify maps. Now, perhaps I am too much of a computer geek for my own good, but I think it was largely unnecessary and more of an indication of the author’s interests than something of general use. After all, Adobe products are rather pricey for creating a wargame map. HH has the product because of his profession, I think.

There are, of course, lots of very positive things in the book, as well as oodles of enthusiasm, which is the most vital component. The mapping software products, mentioned at the end of the maps chapter, such as Hexographer, are most useful, at least at the moment (the problem with the web is that it is fluid). Most of the suggestions in the book are eminently sensible, and the encouragement to start small is vital, in my view.

HH’s observation that wargaming is storytelling got a cheer in this quarter, as well. I am not so keen on his tale (twice told, I fear) of tweaking the chronology in his campaign to get wargames at the same time for his players. That sort of thing is not everyone’s cup of tea (what price historical accuracy now?) and not necessary for a solo wargamer, of course, but it does show the sorts of dilemmas an umpire might face. Still, wargame campaigns are bigger narratives where the wargames themselves are now smaller components of the whole. That does make the campaign more satisfying overall if you can come to some sort of conclusion.

As I said earlier, I really wanted to like this book, and I do. Already a map of Jersey complete with hexagons is pinned to my corkboard in anticipation of a return to St Ouen’s Beach in the near future. That has been hanging around on the back burner for a while and would probably have stayed there if I had not read the book. A bit of a shove in the right direction (I would never have found the mapping software otherwise) and a bit of enthusing worked wonders for my get-up and have-at-it quotient.

Overall, it is a great book, but not flawless. I recommend it to every wargamer. You might not want to use all the ideas, you might only pick up a few bits and pieces to add to your already flourishing worlds, or you might be inspired to start campaigning. But it is definitely a worthwhile read.


  1. Excellent review. I enjoyed your thoughts and observations on the book very much. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, you are most welcome. It is a good book. Not flawless, but few are...

  2. Thanks for the review. It makes me more likely to buy it than some of the more whole-heartedly positive reviews out there.

    1. Thank you. I try not to suspend my critical faculty, even where subjects close to my interests are concerned. It is a nicely produced book as well and didn't get the same lip curl as some from the Estimable Mrs P.