Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Lost Battles

Ancient battles are not something that I know a lot about. One of the reasons that I got this book was to better educate myself on the subject as I have become more interested in games that draw inspiration from the era. Games like Commands & Colors Ancients, Hannibal, and Field of Glory. I first became aware of the book as a result of it being mentioned in some discussions on Field of Glory, and when it showed up as a "users who bought Field of Glory also bought this" item when I ordered Field of Glory on Amazon.

One thing that you quickly learn from reading this book is that we don't really know a lot about ancient battles. We know what role they played in shaping the history of the ancient world, but we don't know a lot of the details of the battles themselves. We know what sides participated, but not exactly how many of them there were on each side. In most cases we don't know exactly where the battles took place, only the general area. Primary sources for the battles are few and far between, often contradict each other when there is more than one, and are often written by those who had reason to alter some of the facts.

With this in mind, the goal of the book is to provide a new way to better understand some of these battles using what information we do have with a new tool. That tool being conflict simulation, or wargaming. In order to present this tool, the book consists of three parts. It's one part game, one part game design theory, and one part history.

The game part is fairly short and consists of less than twenty pages of rules that form an appendix at the back of the book. I have not yet tried to play them myself, but based on reading them, they seem to be playable.

The bulk of the book covers the other two parts. Since the game is supposed to help model historical reality, the author goes into great detail in his reasoning behind every element of the rules. This is where the book really shines for anyone interested in game design. This section has to be the most comprehensive set of designer's notes ever written.

The history portion of the book takes the form of a set of scenarios for the game. Each battle represented is discussed in terms of what we know about it and where the game might help to answer questions about what we don't know. Game stats for the sides involved and a diagram of the battlefield are also included. Often there are suggestions on how to alter either the stats or the battlefield to test alternate theories as to where or how the battle was fought.

Overall, I have to say that the book was a rather dry read. If you don't have at least a passing interest in both game design and ancient battles, with preferably a major interest in at least one of them, then this could be a very hard book to slog through. If you do have those interests, then you could find it a rewarding read. For myself, I enjoyed it, but I think I'll probably get more out of it after I've had the chance to do more reading on the period. Once I have, I plan to come back to this book and read it again.

No comments:

Post a Comment