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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, 19 Feb. 2012
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This review is from: Simulating War (Hardcover)
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.
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