One-Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas

Pen & Sword, 2014

Most wargamers do not own large, well-painted armies, argues Neil Thomas in One-Hour Wargames, nor do they have access to the space required to play the kind of wargames we read about in our glossy wargames magazines. That should be no object though because the essence of wargaming fun does not require elaborate displays. Indeed, a few units charging around on a 3’x3’ board is enough to produce many evenings of happiness. Thomas spends the rest of his book telling his readers how to make that happen.

One-Hour Wargames is split into two sections. The first half of the book breaks military history down into idiosyncratically chosen eras and establishes very basic rules for each. Every part of the rules process is distilled, deliberately, so that there are generally four types of units; a simplified IGOUGO sequence of play; basic terrain features; straightforward shooting and melee procedures; and some minor period variants to add flavour. All units can take up to 15 hits before they are destroyed, and the players have 15 turns to complete the game. The second section contains 30 tactical scenarios that Thomas claims will work for any of his historical periods. Each scenario incorporates the situation, army sizes, deployment, victory conditions, special rules, and a brief sentence or two on Thomas’ inspiration for including the scenario. One-Hour Wargames concludes with short idea sections on playing campaigns and solo-gaming, and an annotated Further Reading section.

The biggest problem with reviewing One-Hour Wargames is determining its audience. I suspect experienced wargamers are well beyond the limits of Thomas’ book, and new wargamers are blessed with riches where choice of resources is concerned and are susceptible to well-marketed and affordable products. Then it dawned that I might be the target audience, or at least my 15 years-old self, thirty years ago. My wargaming generation may have been the last brought up on the Airfix/Hornby diet of products that Thomas recommends, and it seems no coincidence that Thomas cites Charles Grant’s Scenarios for Wargames (1981) so often when that was the book that inspired me and my wargaming friends. Indeed, of the 94 books cited, only 30 were published in this millennium. Moreover, only 16 of his 45 wargaming books are post-2000 and 4 of those were written by Thomas. Thus, this book feels out of date and addressed to an audience that may no longer exist, or has moved on.

As a historian, my brow furrowed at Thomas’ selection of military history eras, particularly the omission of literally a whole 100 Years War with its attendant longbowmen. The non-inclusion of British Victorian colonial warfare also caused some head-scratching, as did the apparent end of military history in 1945 with no modern content whatsoever. Nevertheless, while individual wargamers may not be overly interested in One-Hour Wargames, clubs should add this book to their shelves. It often happens that players are stuck for ideas on what to play, or an opponent has not turned up and some improvisation is in order: Thomas’ book would be ideal for such occasions.

Reviewed by Neil Smith