Tabletop Wargames – How to Write Rules for Toy Soldier Games [Book Review]
A book review – Jim Wallman
Just reading “Tabletop Wargames – A Designers’ & Writers’ Handbook by Priestley and Lambshead. A well written book with lots of excellent photographs and interesting discussion about how to write better mainstream toy soldier games in particular on structure, presentation, writing style and layout. This aspect of writing rules makes up the bulk of the book.
There is not so much on synthesising military historical sources into clear or elegent rules or game mechanisms, and indeed says little about the historical operational research, finding sources, analysis and playtesting or even the reading needed to write historical wargames.
On mechanisms it has a useful table on some well-known dice probabilities and the book comes down firmly on the side of the current fashion for buckets of dice as a credible game mechanism, which the authors regard as a good thing in game design because fewer dice are statistically too variable and lots of dice are therefore more realistic.
And it does, naturally given what I assume is its intended audience, perpetuate the mainstream obsession with models – the discussion on ‘scale’ is primarily about the scale of the models and how to be able to include all the models on the table without worrying too much about real time or distance.
The bibliography is mainly a list of games written by other people, the only book on the list that, as far as I know, discusses history and implementing it in a wargame is Phil Sabin’s ‘Lost Battles’.
I think this will be an excellent book for someone starting out on their first toy soldier wargame design, but the limited definition of what constitutes a wargame makes it limited to that genre and of less interested in someone wanting to do, for example, historically based tabletop wargames involving maps.
Its sections on writing and layout are extremely useful and definitely cross applicable for anyone writing for other games, game briefings or megagame handbooks.
On the whole well done to them for putting their heads above the game design parapet and write of their views on, and experience in, writing wargame rules for toy soldier games. It is certainly worth a look if you have £14.99 to spare, or have a tendency to be a completeist about owning wargaming books.