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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book about developing your own micro board games,
Book Review of Phil Sabin's (2012) Simulating War Studying Conflict Through Simulation Games
As someone who has edited and written more wargaming books than most, I am always pleased when a new book says something original about wargaming. This book has a message. The message is micro board wargames are good for education and training. This book argues the case that wargames, in particular manual board games, are an invaluable tool for examining tactical and operational military history. The best of these games are worthy of inclusion of any study of military history.
The first part of the book is a summary of the academic potential of wargaming techniques. The value of games to education and training is indisputable in the academic and business world. Phil takes that view and argues that wargaming can be used as tool to understand military history, supporting this with some academic evidence and his own experiences of using games as part of his teaching of military history at Kings College London.
The second part of the book is a straightforward guide to building simple `micro-board games'. These are games that are smaller than even the smallest of commercial `folio' type board games. Small and simple enough to be used as part of a two hour teaching session. Building on the work of Peter Perla's Art of Wargaming and James Dunnigan's The Complete Wagames Handbook, the book offers a recipe for analysing historical conflicts and distilling them into a board game format.
The third part of the book gives a number of worked examples of such micro-board games. It includes games from the ancient world and World War II. There are also two tactical games; one about a battalion attack in WWII and the other about a company level assault on a built up area. The latter is still relevant to modern conflict. Although one could cut up the colour plates in the book to play the games, most people will download the game components from the book's web site and print them themselves or use play them on the computer using the free Cyberbox software.
The book may not appeal to all parts of the disparate hobby of wargaming. Some miniature (figure) gamers are sometimes overly keen with their mental model of wargaming that is based around a game with realistic terrain features using miniature figures to represent every battle. Such miniature wargamers may `scratch their heads' about the large number of references to classic board games within this book.
Board gamers have often spent years developing their skills on a variety of complex simulation and so they may look upon the games within the book as too simple for their own tastes. Personally, I would hope they will be inspired by the book to take their wargaming to the next level and start to develop their own board games. The act of creating one's own game is a very interesting learning experience and one that Donald Featherstone, and the other early pioneers, would all thoroughly approve of.
Professional wargaming, practised by the military, is largely insular and inward looking. Many of these professional wargamers are in apparent ignorance of the wider developments of the commercial and hobby wargaming, so some of these professionals will see little relevance to any book giving examples that are not from the immediate past, current operations or probable immediate future. However, attitudes can change. The British Army has recently started doing study tours of the 1944 Battle for Normandy and the American military has a long tradition of scholarship about military history that is often the envy of other nations. The American armed forces have long placed great value on studying military history as an essential part of the education for their potential senior commanders. Many of the books by recent American commanders make reference to historical strategies which demonstrates they have at least a passing knowledge of military history.
The book is clearly a work of scholarship, but what will the wider academic community make of the book? Phil's writes in a lively accessible way, using many anecdotes from his own experience. This is in contrast to the many academic text books that are written in a style as `dry as dust'. A purely academic book would have had more on games theory (and less on practical examples) and would have included some quantitative studies of the impact of using board games for studying military history compared with traditional teaching methods (supported with statistics and graphs). I have used such games in my own teaching and I have no doubt they encourage `active' and `deep' learning. Many teachers struggle with using games in their teaching. Games are outside their comfort zone, games (especially ones created by the teacher) may apparently `fail' or descend into lively chaos. My own experience is that such failures do not matter, the students always find the games interesting and rewarding, even if the game does not actually work that well. However, this book is aimed at the wider world of wargaming rather than just the tiny world of academic wargames.
I can whole heartedly recommend this new book to anyone who is looking to develop their understanding of wargaming. Developing wargames is great fun and this book will help get started on that path.
John Curry, Editor of the History of Wargaming Project.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delicé aux Guerres,
Phil Sabin has been teaching historical military simulations to students at KCL and in the armed services for many a year. During that time he has not only designed a number of excellent games but also delved into how one might simulate war quickly, effectively and historically. It is no use expecting students to play large professional wargames in a single class session. Even relatively simple hobby games are going to exhaust both time and the experience of the players. If they are so intent on the rules then the historical experience will suffer. Not for Professor Sabin the Rabelaisian feasts of the Naval War College. Even the three-courser Hobby meal is too much. He has to design and teach from an assiette de dégustation; a single plate with all the elements of the full cuisine. This means much must be removed and what remains must be of moment: the essence of history if you will.
The book takes one handily through the limits of this approach, the batterie de cuisine of the designer (which is useful for those designing larger games) and a number of recipes (games Phil has designed on these principles). The games can be assembled from the book or from downloads and range from a multi-year, multi-player simulation of the Second Punic War to companies slogging it out in Normandy in 1944.
I greatly enjoyed the book which has a light style (a true Paul Bocuse) but considerable depth. You may not agree with Phil's design choices but you will be engaged by his processes and his approach. You will not be bored.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good study in wargames and wargame making,
In my opinion this study is not for everyone, not even for all those who like wargaming. It is a serious study although presented in a clear and simple manner (as is usually the case with the author - see Lost Battles), about how one should approach the study of a conflict simulation (wether at the grand, stategic, tactical or other level), how to develop a working module, test it, norture it and finally how to obtain from all this labour a reasonably detailed, accurate and fun to play simulation.
I was a bit disapointed because I was expecting the games components to be better presented (like some sort of annexes) but nonetheles it still is a must have for the gronard wargamers and anyone who may also be a fan of this kind of simulations.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Successfully argues for the utility of war games as tools for the historian,
In this book Philip Sabin argues that constructing a plausible war game requires at least as much research and insight as that required for writing a traditional historical narrative. A war game is presented as an intellectual model in which the designer must completely understand the key dynamics of how the entities in the system interact; if the designer does not understand these relationships then the model is very unlikely to behave in a realistic manner. This exercise of refining models until their behavior corresponds with documented reality is a very powerful intellectual tool and the author is clearly very experienced with the technique.
A successful war game has particular characteristics and advice is given on how to design games that will work well. In particular the secret lies in balancing simplicity and brevity with historical accuracy - as the author explains, this is more of an art than a science.
The other key point he makes is the efficacy of playing these models with students as a teaching technique. In this case the author cites his long experience of playing war games with both military and civilian students as evidence. This is perhaps the most contentious part of the book as war games seldom seem to be used in this context (Philip Sabin is obviously something of a pioneer in this field). However the book also discusses the stigma that has unfairly arisen around war gaming and explains how this has acted to discourage their use beyond hobbyists and a small cadre of professional military designers.
A discussion of published war games points out that academic historians, hobbyists and military professionals would all have different requirements and therefore games designed for one sphere might not work in another context. For example, for teaching purposes the hobby games tend to be far too complicated (without necessarily being better historical models) while professional military games tend to be "command simulations" based on potential future conflicts rather than historical investigations.
I had no previous experience with war games before reading this book beyond popular computer simulations like Total War or Call of Duty (the shortcomings of which are explained in detail). I am now keen to discover more although unlike the author I believe the digitization of these games will ultimately prove completely irresistible so I don't think I'll actually buy any of the physical board games listed in the bibliography.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT,
It is an excellent book for anyone who wants to study the simulation of war. It's easy to read and understand!
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Simulating War: Studying Conflict through Simulation Games by Philip Sabin (Paperback - 10 April 2014)