Monday, March 19, 2012

18th Century Wars of Absolutism: Response to Review by Author

Note: I received the following comment notice from Blogger, but it is not showing up in my comments at all, possibly due to length...or likely due to a Blogger bug. I wish to post it here, because it is a response to one of my reviews and I feel the author is fully entitled to have his say. To Mr. Underwood, I apologize that your comment would not post, I haven't the foggiest idea why, and I hope you do not mind me posting it here. I will respond to Mr. Underwood's comments below the quoted text.

The response:

"Justin, may I respectfully make a few comments on your well-constructed review of WOA.

While I understand where you are coming from in deconstructing the rules to see which elements might be useful in other circumstances, I feel that this approach does tend to overlook the stated objective of WOA, which is to introduce players to historical campaigning with a complete and comprehensive set of rules. I wanted to design a campaign system in which map movement, sieges and table-top actions were all linked together. Most wargames campaign rules I have come across tend to recreate ‘wars’ not ‘campaigns’. I wanted to focus on the operational art of the campaigns themselves, not the strategic, political and financial aspects that in my view are best recreated in strategic board games or computer simulations. Thus, rather than cherry pick bits for your own fantasy campaigns, I do recommend that you purchase and play the introductory historical campaign “Mollwitz” to just give it a go. I also suggest that you even give the land battle rules a trial. These were specifically written to enable players to complete a game in a club evening with results relevant to a campaign.

As far as your comments on the structure of the rule sets, WOA was submitted for publication 4 years ago as a single book. The decision to publish it in separate sections was that of the publisher whose judgement I accept and respect.

You make much of the fact that that the table top rule book has no index. TTT7 p70 has the index. There is also a separate laminated quick reference sheet for the table top rules – if one was not supplied then it should have been. I should also add that each other booklet has at least 2 pages of “Contents” and multiple cross references to rule locations to avoid unnecessary rule duplications.
You regret the absence of a campaign flow chart. This is shown in rule 2.4 on page 31.

You say that the pictures and figures are poor and uninteresting.
I feel honour bound to say that the figures were very well painted by Rod Chapman of “The Guards” wargames club in Birmingham, England. The photographs were taken by the highly regarded professional photographer, Jim Wileman. His photographs are regularly used by UK national newspapers. The quality of both has been lost somewhere in the print on demand publishing process. Regrettably this is something beyond my personal control.

That said, the pictures were not intended for “interest” as occurs in many of the glossier sets of wargames rules. Instead they are designed to illustrate particular rule mechanisms and to amplify and clarify the rules. I believe that they do achieve this objective.

Wargamers being wargamers, will never agree on every aspect of our fascinating hobby. I hope that in some, small way, my rules have brought something new to the hobby, or at least shown wargamers how to recreate 18th century campaigns in miniature from the map to the table top. The campaigns in the series will range from the well known (Minden and Zorndorf) to the obscure (the Austro-Turkish War of 1737-9) but each one has been played to a conclusion by me and my playtesters several times (indeed I am playing one as we speak) and I really would recommend you looking at Mollwitz to whet your appetite.

To close, may I say a big thank you for the time spent analysing my rules. Overall, I must congratulate you on a comprehensive, considered and fair review. Well done.
Roger U. "

Mr. Underwood,

First, allow me to thank you for taking the time to respond to my review. This being a small and little trafficked site, as yet, I would hardly expect an author to come by and visit, let alone spend the time to reply.

While I fully appreciate your rule system, and the intentions behind the design decisions, the land battles rules just do not "do it" for me as far as wargaming the period go. I am certain that others may have an entirely different opinion than my own and I am also certain that not all will enjoy the kinds of rules I happen to like to play. That being said, if someone wants a bit more detail in their battles, or if they want the fully integrated system that you have created, then I think they could do far worse than your rules.

Note: I did not receive a quick reference sheet. I purchased my copies of the books through Caliver, btw.

I did end up purchasing the Mollwitz book and was going to post a review addendum, but I will take the opportunity here. The rules contained in that book do lend themselves to helping one to understand how the campaign system is meant to work. However, out of twenty-five pages, eight are tables and two provide historical background, that leaves fifteen pages of designer notes (2 pages) a beautiful B&W campaign map (1 page) and then twelve pages of actual rules for the price. It is here where I feel your publisher did you a gross miss-service as, for the price, I think the non-rules/campaign map information should have been made available online, thus reducing the number of pages and thus the cost of the book. If, due to the vagaries of publishing the actual book price would not have fallen appreciably, then this really should have been included at the end of the campaign book. The Mollwitz book is useful, but in my view, priced higher than I feel it warrants.

TTT7 Pg. 70 is, indeed, a partial index for the system as it only serves as an index for the Land Battles book and is not a comprehensive index covering all the books. But, even as an index, it lacks a better visual presentation that one normally expects from an index, such as the topics are the same format as everything else, thus "commanders-shooting" has the exact same appearance as "movement-pursuit" which is directly below, but the second is not associated with the first, the first is actually associated with other "commander" entries elsewhere in the list. Also, the reference is not to page number, but rather to rule number only. It is only a suggestion, but including a page number in an index would be helpful to a great many readers. Please do not take this as dry wit or sarcasm, it is a genuine suggestion coming from someone who proofs and edits graduate student papers and theses.

Yes, 2.4 on pg. 31 (Basic Campaign Rules) does have a sequence of play but, I do think a visual graphic (flow chart) that comprehensively shows one how a campaign works, complete with siege battles, would really add to the comprehension of the rule system. Perhaps this is something for an online download, perhaps it is a useless suggestion. Whatever is decided, the volume of text spread across three (really four) books serves to disconnect the reader from what is being read.

As to the pictures shown. Yes, I do think the means by which the books were printed did have a negative effect on their final quality. However, 4.8, appear slightly out of focus and muddled, thus taking away from the visual impact. Granted, these are not the glossy photos usually seen in very expensive rules, but in this case, a simple line drawing would have probably served you better and cost less to publish.

4.20.5 at the top of page 30 is poorly lit, reducing its visual appeal and is so far away from the figures that the photo lacks impact. Yes, it is meant to show a possible brigade formation, but what does not draw interest generally gets overlooked or ignored. The photo below it is MUCH better.

4.21 series are slightly out of focus where the eye is meant to be drawn to.

Generally speaking, while the photos may well show what they are meant to show, they distract the eye more than they instruct, at least for me and the dozen or so gentlemen whom I have shown them to. Not everyone will share this opinion, of course.

Yes, wargamers have a wide variety of interests and passions. Your campaign rules have really helped me by providing a much needed frame work, and some rules, that will make my running a campaign for my local club all that much easier, and I appreciate them for that.

The siege rules will be used more or less as written, with slight modification to align the results to the tactical rules and economic model of the campaign.

The land battles terrain tables will be used as is. I may even glue them to cards, so that they may be randomly drawn, instead of chosen, depending upon campaign circumstances.

I again appreciate your time and effort in posting a response here. I am honored that you stopped by and I feel your "decision games" are a fantastic mechanic that can be used for a great many purposes. I wish you much success in selling this system and the future campaign books.


  1. Another great review! And its excellent that the author came back to you with a reply. Well done!!!

  2. Now that is a well detailed, well written review and even made the author sit up and reply, very good work....

  3. To my horror, I now realise that the photographs in question were not from those supplied by Jim Wileman and I therefore appologise herewith to him.

    1. Mr. Underwood, if you wish to add anything else to your words I reposted above, just let me know. I want for you to be able to have a full and accurate statement in support of your work.

  4. Thanks for your complete review, and congratulations to the author too for his own response. Dialogue helps a lot explaining things.