The following review was contributed to PAXsims by Ben Taylor.
Graham Longley-Brown, Successful Professional Wargames; A Practitioner’s Handbook (History of Wargaming Project, 2019). £21.95 paperback. Kindle version also available.
This book is a valuable addition to the professional wargamer’s library. If this was just a compendium of the best practices from the viewpoint of Graham Longley-Brown, master wargamer, driving force behind the Connections UK conference and all-round good egg, then it would be a worthwhile investment. This book is actually far more than that.
The book was written in parallel to the UK MOD’s Defence Wargaming Handbook (reviewed on PAXsims here) with the intention of providing an expanded practitioner’ guide to those tasked with actually designing and delivering games. Wargaming stakeholders who need to know what a wargame is and why they should want one only need the shorter volume. For those tasked with putting the message into practice this new volume rehearses similar ideas and arguments but with more detailed thoughts and copious practical guidance. This common alignment is important because if your boss has a copy of the Wargaming Handbook and is looking motivated to get some wargaming done, then there is nothing in the Practitioner’s Handbook will contradict anything that the boss is expecting!
While Graham Longley-Brown has many years of experience in wargaming with the British military he took the decision to not limit his new book to his own perspectives and ideas. A supporting cast of experts have been included, each making niche contributions. The guest list reads like a who’s who of the core community that the Connections UK meetings are built around. Indeed PAXsims had to really scrape the bottom of the barrel to find a reviewer who was not a contributing author to this volume.
The book is divided into four parts. These address in turn wargaming fundamentals, the conditions for successful wargames, the wargame development lifecycle and practicing successful wargames. In short these combine to illustrate the why, what and how of modern professional wargames. This is very much a resource to dip into, rather than to read cover-to-cover. At over 450 pages there is an awful lot of detail but it is very well structured and set out so that the reader can dive into any section and glean useful advice in support of their own efforts. That said, I did find the layout a little confusing in paces. In some areas there are lots of subheadings, quotes and inset verbatim text from the Wargaming Handbook which make the document feel a little fractured. In addition the guest contributors have contributed a mix of stand-alone paragraphs or chapters-within-chapters which contribute to the sense of fragmentation. Taken as a whole the book is an excellent resource, even if opening to a page at random can sometimes be a bit confusing. Starting at the beginning of a section and reading through the advice that Graham and his guest contributors have assembled on a topic in sequence is definitely the way to go.
In conclusion, this book captures very well the state of the art in professional military wargaming in the UK. If you are interested in designing or running smaller-scale games and/or games outside of the military environment then some elements of the book may be of less immediate value. This is after all the handbook for professionals running professional games. That said, whatever kind of game you design or play you can’t fail to find something insightful and inspiring in this book.
UPDATE. Graham Longley-Brown sent on some comments, which I’ve appended to the review so everyone is sure to see them.
Hi Ben, and thank you for your kind words. I’d like to add a comment and make an offer to anyone wondering whether to buy the book.
First, although the book is inevitably written from my UK perspective, I’ve done all I can to include contributions from around the world, so I’d push back slightly at the implication that the book offers a UK-centric view. Indeed, all contributed chapters were from US folk and a Canadian (Rex 😊). Many of the points I make are indeed sourced from Connections UK, but that conference encompasses a truly international family. I attribute comments where I can, but much else of what I consider to be best practice I have picked up from fantastic international speakers at Connections UK and elsewhere.
Second, I agree wholeheartedly that the book should be dipped in to, but chapters read from their beginning. Respecting all the different perspectives offered by contributors and advice from reviewers and commentators led to a large amount of sometimes overlapping information that could be difficult to prise apart. If anyone asks, I will gladly send them the mind maps I used to structure the overall book and each chapter (or post them here if Rex thinks that appropriate). These show the contents and structure of each chapter at a glance, as you can see below.
Finally, thanks to Ben and Rex for making the – considerable! – time to review the book. Successful Professional Wargames is an attempt to spread best practice and stimulate debate, so it’s great to see it on PAXsims, which is so effective in doing the same thing.
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