Some time ago when browsing the various wargaming forums, I came across a discussion thread on terrain quality. Some guy asked what people played on, and almost all of the commenters described their custom made boards or battle mats. This was fine and sometimes even interesting. What bothered me, though, was the constant denigration of ‘thoses stupid felt rags’. People seemed to outdo themselves in claiming how they would never play with anyone who used green felt as their gaming surface. Now, as I myself use a green felt cloth, I started to wonder if I should feel bad about it: Am I cheap, lazy or aesthetically challenged? Am I just not getting what wargaming is all about?
In his recent book The Wargaming Compendium, Henry Hyde has the intention of explaining what wargaming is all about. And to come straight to the point: It’s about many things, but certainly not about snobbery.
I first came across Henry Hyde when I discovered Battlegames Magazine on the Ganesha Games website. I got hooked on the style of the magazine and gradually purchased all of the pdf issues. When Henry took over Miniature Wargames, I immediately subscribed. Later, I discovered View from the Veranda and enjoyed listening to Henry (and Neil Shuck, of course) rambling about all kinds of subjects wargames-related. After a long break from gaming, this made for a very pleasant welcome back: I had discovered that wargamers can be fun, open-minded individuals with a wide range of interests and a reflective stance towards gaming and the gaming world.
So my expectations where rather high when the long announced book finally appeared. And they were not disappointed. The Wargaming Compedium serves a double purpose: On the one hand, it is a great introduction to the world of wargaming. The chapter on basic concepts not only covers means of representing troops, the battlefield and chance (dice and cards), but also delivers a thoughtful explanation of scale issues – having never deliberately pondered about that, I found the discussion most illuminating. Another chapter leads the reader through some 4000 years of military history and examines the possibilities of gaming different periods, including fantasy and science fiction. Generally, I very much like the attitude of treating science fiction and fantasy as just another period – as Henry once said, wargaming is a broad church and crossovers between the different creeds have certainly enriched and refreshened the hobby.
The chapters on terrain making and painting are inspiring and full of practical hints and short tutorials. The book even includes three sets of rules: one for duels, another one for small scale skirmishes (gunfights in the Old West) and one for battles in the horse-and-musket era. All this will be of great use for beginners, for whom the book serves as a comprehensive guideline for starting their own wargaming activities. However, the book also addresses the grognard and contains a plethora of information that will fascinate the more experienced gamer. Having a keen interest in the history of wargaming, I found the respective chapter especially rewarding. But there is also a wealth of practical tips that may be new even to the most seasoned hand – and if not, at least here they are assembled in one easily accessible volume. I for one have already stuck a post it to the horse colour plate, which has been consulted many times since. I also very much enjoyed the information on figure sculpting and casting – even if I will never sculpt a figure myself, I still think it is interesting to know how the production side of things works.
This already points to the aspect I enjoy most: namely the approach to the hobby The Wargaming Compendium propagates. Wargaming is described as a low-threshold hobby where hours of fun can be had with a couple of figures and a lot of imagination. What for Henry probably only reflects his enthusiasm for the Old School approach, for me reads almost like a deliberate subversion of the increasing commercialization of gaming. The book promotes a hands-on approach and encourages the reader to get rid of the constraints of integrated gaming systems or the norms set up by glossy magazines and instead to trust in his or her own inspiration. At least for me, this is what wargaming is all about.