Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Original review of Charles Grant's "The War Game", On Parade from Military Modelling December 1971

On Parade
A review of new books for modellers

The War Game by Charles Grant. 10 in. x 7- in., 190 pp, 25 photos, 35 diagrams. Published by A. & C. Black Ltd. £3.00.

It is possible to quarrel with the title of this book, on the ground that it might be considered more applicable to a general guide to wargaming than to a monograph on 18th century warfare. But this might well be a good thing, if it should wean some young modernists from their grim preoccupation with our present-day instruments of indiscriminate mass-murder to an appreciation of the most 'civilised' age of warfare, which interfered as little as possible with the civilian population, when both sides were composed of professionals anxious to observe humane rules, and even the private soldier when captured was not left to rot in a prison-camp 'for the duration', but could look forward to an early exchange.

Such conditions are of course ideal for wargaming, and we have the additional bonus of concentrated, orderly battles, a really active cavalry, and attractive uniforms. It is small wonder that many years ago Mr. Grant chose this period for intensive study, the results of which are here set down having first appeared in a preliminary form in that very 'glossy' periodical Tradition'. The rules that he evolved are constantly referred to; indeed, they are so likely to intrigue the reader that it seems a pity they are not included as a (very substantial) appendix. That they play well and are in character with the period is widely agreed. If a limitation might be indicated here, it concerns their detailed nature, which adds great realism to the normal-sized engagement between friends, but is less well suited to those gigantic set-piece affairs arranged as Convention spectaculars. For these, of course, the Grant Rules were never designed.

For details: Chapter IV's eminently sensible remarks on cavalry are commended to all readers, especially those enthusiasts whose horseflesh is apparently equipped with internal-combustion engines. One point I missed here was the proviso, which I presume still exists in the Grant Rules, for a six-move interval after a charge to allow for rallying, reforming, and breathing horses. The devastating effect of the knee-to-knee charge of heavy cavalry is mentioned; it would be effective against infantry and light cavalry of the Continental type, who would be sure to flinch from the impact, but cavalry v cavalry engagements are not touched upon. Here it may be pointed out no decision could be expected from a mutual knee-to-knee charge, the horses, being sensible animals, would be bound to pull up nose to nose, leaving their riders with nothing to do but wave their swords and make fierce faces, Chinese-style. In fact, cavalry confident of their swordsmanship would open their ranks to let their opponents ride in, and settle the affair blade to blade. (As I remember, this is covered in the Rules, and might well be mentioned here.) Another point, though an elementary one, is often overlooked, namely that cavalry cannot retire in order; quadrupeds cannot'about-turn' as do bipeds. Hence for every retirement there must be a reforming.

As to musketry (Chapter V) the only criticism I would make is that though the author indicates that the firing for a move may represent one volley or the total of several, according to the time comprehended in one move, the instructions for the two sides' firing are consecutive (i.e. B's casualties are removed before he fires). Very good, if the volume of fire is calculated to represent a single volley, not so, if B has to endure, say, two to five minutes' fire before the survivors may return a shot! Mr. Grant says. 'The firing-first procedure merely accounts for one side firing more quickly than the other'. But unless such an advantage has been agreed upon and compensated for at the start of the game, why should they? And with some time-intervals and rates of fire I have known, B could be blown to ribbons! Surely, if more than one volley is concerned, it is fairer if B fires back before his casualties are removed?

Artillery effects are well taken care of by three devices: the Roundshot Measuring Stick which gives the successive falls of ricocheting shot, the Howitzer Shell-burst Circle, and the Canister Cone. Should one desire to reduce the lethal effect of the first, or be playing on a narrow table, it is always possible to agree on a heavy overnight rain!

Morale is based to the greatest extent on control by officers - very characteristic of the period - combined with losses, and there is a useful chapter on organisation, historically based. Buildings, together with their attack and defence (including bombardment) are dealt with, and there is a very practical discussion on terrain construction, and the effect of dead ground. Engineers and river transport are not forgotten, and there is enough about map-strategy and campaigns at least to start the novice off on this refinement.

No less than three specimen battles are described in most illuminating detail. The photographs (some of them full-page), the work of Kent Photos of King Street, Dover, are about the clearest in detail I have seen, considering that they are not printed on art paper. Mr. Grant's learning is everywhere apparent, yet never oppressive, worn lightly as it is, and his enthusiasm is infectious. The price is perhaps on the high side, even for these days, but the book is handsomely turned out, and should be a wel¬come Christmas present to the younger enthusiast, while his elder will find much both to entertain and to consider carefully.

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