One of the things I love about wargaming is the idea of total immersion; not only learning the fluff, and spending hours painting the models; but playing a long game and getting deeply involved in every move, discussing the tactical aspect of potential moves with my opponent, as well as trading the occasional piece of ‘trash talk’ or gentle mocking.
Recently I was sent a review copy of ‘Grand Battery’ by husband and wife writing team Jon Sutherland and Diane Canwell (who you may have seen writing an excellent column in Battlegames magazine).
The book is a standard (novel sized) hardback running to nearly 200 pages, with lots of photographs of models, mostly being used for games. As with all the Pen and Sword titles that I’ve seen, the book is well laid out. My only criticism is that there seemed to be a few spelling and formatting errors, which distracted from the content from the book a little. Anyway, with my history of spelling and grammar errors I’m in no position to get too upset.
The book starts with a very warm and friendly introduction, which immediately puts the novice gamer (or n00b) at their ease, before getting straight into the good stuff. The first half of the book provides the background (what we modern gamers refer to as the ‘fluff’), discussing the history and main battles of the period, followed by a breakdown of the composition and armament of the various forces involves. The second half of the book introduces the rules.
The rules are primarily designed for 15-28mm scale miniatures, but there is discussion of using smaller and larger scales on the table, and I don’t believe that this would impact on gameplay. The game is based around an orders driven system, assigning actions to units in advance, and ensuring that the chain of command is maintained (or else having to send couriers between units to pass orders!). This leaves players having to plan well in advance, fighting against the fog of war which will frustrate players as much as it did their historical counterparts.
There is an unstated assumption from the authors that the two generals reenacting the battle are there to enjoy the gaming experience and discuss potential historical events rather than focus on winning at all costs, or using definitions of the rules that take away from the spirit of the game. The rules are clearly to be played for enjoyment, rather than in a competitive environment, the spirit of the game is on an enjoyable gaming experience, rather than smashing your opponent.
The rules provide a great degree of flexibility which will allow a large number of historical battles to be refought with ease, a number of scenarios are included at the end of the book for this very purpose, though you could easily refight you own particular Napoleonic battle (if you have one in mind).
If I had a friend or older child who fancied getting into historical gaming, or an interest in learning about the period, this book would be an excellent starting point; steering clear of the ‘rules lawyering’ that is present in other systems. Though I wouldn’t attempt to take this along to my local club or try to win over some hardcore 40k players, but that's just me and my group and is no way a reflection on the book.
But the most important question; Is it frugal? Well, yes. If you fancy learning a bit more about the period or historical gaming, this book is reasonably priced and well presented, and will undoubtedly provide hours and hours of enjoyment. Combine it with a couple of boxes of Perry Plastics and you’ve got yourself a fantastic starter set for a really good price. If this sounds like something you'd like to try, I’d certainly recommend picking it up.
The book also hints at future wargaming titles from Pen and Sword, and I’m looking forward to other titles in this series. The website already has ‘Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls: A Tabletop Game of Naval Battles in the Age of Sail’, promising both small and large scale fast play battles, on pre-order and if the quality is as good as Grand Battery, it’ll be a great read.
As is becoming the custom, I’m giving away my review copy of ‘Grand Battery’, no matter where in the world you are. If you’d like to go into the draw simply send me an email with the title ‘Grand Battery Book Draw’ by midnight (British Summer Time) on Thursday 23rd June.