Review of Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun by Peter (author of SPs Project Blog at link
As I enjoyed my short stint as Napoleon so much in the Pennine Megagame’s Jena 1806 (see an earlier post) I decided to pick up a copy of Paddy Griffith’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun from the History of Wargaming Project. Whilst it is really not my period (other than a fondness for the Ridley Scott film The Duellists and subsequent desire to do a retreat from Moscow skirmish campaign) I was intrigued by the inclusion in the book of high level games hence my purchasing of it.
The late Paddy Griffith seems to have a reputation in gaming circles as something of an iconoclast famously and publicly swearing off miniatures gaming sometime in the 80’s. This book (the HoWP being a reprint) pre dates that proclamation as half of the book deals with miniatures games; that it was republished within his lifetime implies to me that he still saw some worth in what he wrote and he was not as dogmatic as his reputation at times suggested.
As alluded to earlier the book is a compilation of seven rule sets all on the theme of Napoleonic land warfare, they cover different scales of engagement, starting with the skirmish level, passing through, brigade, division and army level, all of which are miniatures games the book concludes with a generalship game, Kreigspiel and advice on TEWTs (Tactical Exercises Without Troops). It was these last three I was interested in. Not that I am giving up on miniatures, I’m still keen on the toy soldiers but for one thing I’ve not got the space for a giant collection in another period. Rather I’m wanting to use the Napoleonic Wars to add a bit of variety to my gaming.
Dealing with the first four sets of rules first they are very straightforward games, interestingly it is noted that apart from a few special circumstances/ theatres there is not that much scope for little actions within the Napoleonic period and even Brigade and Divisional actions are best assumed to be part of a much larger action. Being honest this middle part doesn’t interest me much. My gaming interests lie at either extreme, the larger extreme being adequately covered by the Army game, also the shortest of the four miniatures rules. Indicative of the time it was written perhaps is the fact that you would still have a multitude of little bases to move about. If I were to dabble at this level in 6mm I’d want to have more figures representing a higher formation to speed play. In any event this rules set would form an ideal starting point.
Following on from this is my favourite part of the book: the generalship game. Essentially it is a time management roleplay where you have to plan your day as a general running a campaign against an opponent who is doing the same. I’d love to use this system to re run the Jena campaign, also the example used in the book, I think it is eminently possible, maybe as a PBEM too.
The nineteenth century origins of Kriegspiel are well known enough now for me to not detail them further. Unsurprisingly playing the 1824 Kriegspiel is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but like many things remains on my gaming wishlist Paddy Griffith’s notes and observations makes me want to get organised and put on a game. Any pointers as to where I could get the blocks to play the game with would be much appreciated.
The final section deals with yet another part of gaming that I want to try but have yet to do so a TWET, essential a country walk with a moderated battle taking place in the participant’s mind’s eye(s). It has a similar heritage to the Kriegspiel in that it originated as a training technique for nineteenth century officers, known then as a staff ride. I think how ever I shall wait until someone offers to run one of these locally as I fear any attempt to dive in at the deep end myself and run one would be a little beyond me.
Overall the book is ideal for those wanting a little more from gaming, I think that in today’s hobby market the miniatures rules themselves are unlikely to get any new adherents, the market is not structured in that way. However they still have worth as examples of rule sets written by a professional (i.e., holds a PHD in History) historian rather than an enthusiastic amateur, not to belittle the latter rather I want to highlight the different viewpoint that the (rarer) professional historian who also writes rules brings. In gaming as well as his academic work Paddy Griffith wasn’t afraid to follow his convictions even if they went against the orthodoxy (at this point I’ll recommend his ‘Forward in to Battle’).
Review of Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun by Pierre Corbeil:Simulation and Gaming Review Editor for Simulation and Gaming Journal
Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun. London: Lulu.com. (2008), 171 pages, (paperback). £12.95 from johncurryevents.co.uk
Passed Inspection: A classic of tabletop and outside gaming, re-published to the satisfaction of historical gamers. A return to the roots of the field, providing insight for designers, and a counterweight to programmed games.
Failed Basic: The use of Napoleonic restricts somewhat the historical variables, and the approach is resolutely Anglo-centric.
Book or game ? Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun (PGNWF) is definitely a book – an object of several pages covered with writing bound together – but its principal content is a set of rules for war games with miniatures, or cardboard pieces.
PGNWF is a re-edition, not just a reprint, of a work originally published in 1980 (London, Ward Lock). It is one of several books re-edited by John Curry as part of his History of Wargaming Project. The chapters deal with some basic concepts of gaming, and then progress in complexity from the Skirmish game, through the brigade, division, and army. The scale of movement, armament, supply and command control is paced with the learning curve of the apprentice war gamer, an elegant and effective approach to encouraging effort and progressing through the learning stages of discovery, experiment, mastery, and theoretical formulation. Since Paddy Griffith is a professional historian, and taught for several years at the Royal Military Academy (Sandhurst), it is not surprising that his book should be constructed as a learning environment, although it is not just that.
PGNWF enriches its toolkit for game design with guides for a Map Kriegspiel, an open format in which the participants command from actual maps and an Umpire evaluates results, and a Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWT) played on an actual terrain, outside in the fresh air. The TEWT was used to train officers, and combines the main advantage of a simulation, imaginary damage, with on site training. The TEWT rules entice us to leave temporarily our armchairs, or give us the opportunity, when we shall be old and feeble, to be Wheelchair Generals.
Why a re-edition of a book published in 1980, and why review that book ? Historical gamers are naturally satisfied that such a classic should again be available. But the interest of the book is deeper than that. Originally, the book is a reaction against «the obsession with minor details and mental arithmetic» which plagued game rules at the time. Paddy Griffith set out to create games that were both playable and realistic. The philosophy of games that animates his design, or designs, is that game rules must never be dogmatic, and the author expresses his mistrust of lawyers who play a game by hunting for loopholes in the rules (like W.C. Fields in the Bible).
A read of PGNWF serves as a return to the roots of gaming. All development in a field is the result of roads taken and not taken, and by returning to the roots of a field, it is possible to re-examine the possible roads, and to both understand the origin of the choice and discover interesting paths that could be taken. In design, the past is the future, and a discussion of past issues is a source of experimentation for the present. The model game proposed by Griffith is an open game, in which the participants are partly designers as they work together to inject possible modes and actions into the specific situation. The three variables of the miniature war game are aesthetics, tactics, and command and control. Are they not the basic variables in all games ? A hopeful designer can work through the models and guides in PGNWF and find an approach to his own problem.
The open game concept can also illuminate the present discussion on the limits and usefulness of computer games. These are anything but open, being perforce a series of programme elements, which limit the player to the choices included in the programme. Much of the effort in modern computer game design has gone into detailed reconstruction of the game environment, called graphics, and less on the problem of providing tools for introducing variants into the game. Griffith's open and non-dogmatic games propose a countervailing model to the heavily programmed computer games, a reminder that games are essentially social events, and a philosophy supporting the efforts of modders, who are the principal force behind the creation of enlightening variants of computer games.
Games have certain basic elements, and the game rules that PGNWF proposes are straightforward definitions of those elements: movement, action, modifiers, and results. These game rules make the book a game-designing game, and a human operated game editor. Humans are the actors and the users of games, and games only work if they start from humans and their creative capacities. Already in 1980, Paddy Griffith warns of the sterility of mathematical models, and so his book can act as rudder and a brake for research game structures: he calls gamesmanship the «disease of wargamers who try to exploit the rules at the expense of historical realism and common decency», which definition should be pondered by all those who search for the perfect model.
The only flaw of the book, paradoxically, lies in its historical perspective. The term Napoleonic for the wars of the Republic and Empire (1792-1815) tends to restrict examples to the post-1803 wars. In terms of military history, the first years of the wars, before general Bonaparte played a major role, or roughly 1793 to 1795, were the time of true innovation, and thus the source of instructive variants. The wars in their duration involved the attempt to crush popular sovereignty as a constitutional principle, the attempt to maintain oligarchical governments, and the final chapter in the conflict for naval domination between France and England. The book is also squarely Anglo-centric. That proposed readings should be from English, or English-speaking, writers is reasonable in an English book, but the rare use of French sources is surprising, especially from a bona fide military historian who has published on that period. There is no shortage of books in French on the guerres de la République et de l'Empire. Consequently, the perspective is sometimes curious. Why propose imaginary French landings in England, as a source of possible scenarios, instead of some actual English landings that were a regular aspect of the past Franco-English wars?
The flaw illustrates perhaps the robustness of the work as a technical source, since the design rules make quite possible the creation of scenarios from the early period, or of defense against English landings. PGNWF draws strength also from its affiliation with the History of Wargaming Project, under the guidance of John Curry, who edits the volumes. It is this project that makes available the re-discovery of the classical material and the return to the branches in time from which our gaming world has been created. More material is available from johncurryevents.co.uk and gamers, especially new game designers, will find a rich starting point for their creations or mods, whether they are historical or not. But then, no subject can really be understood or mastered unless its history is known.
Review of first edition in Model Solderi Vol 2 No 11 May 1980 p10