Further Reading: War Games Theory & Design

I think it’s safe to say that if you’re reading this, you’d likely agree with me that the only thing better than playing wargames, is reading about them. While our previous ‘Further Reading’ entries have been in connection with specific games, the following books examine the hobby from a wider hobbist angle, from the history of simulating battles, design theory, and the benefits of bringing wargaming out of your basement and into your organization or place of business.

So whether you’re a budding designer, leader in the workplace, or simply someone looking to pick the brains of the men and women behind the games, this list has you covered. In putting this list together I looked for books in print and easily attainable as of today’s date, so if one catches your fancy, there’s a good chance you can make it a part of your library with a few clicks of your mouse.

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Zones of Control (2016)

Authors: Pat Harrigan & Matthew G. KirshenbaumPages: 848Buy: Amazon 

From the MIT Press comes Zones of Control, an anthology of writing on both wargame design and theory. Featuring contributions by a veritable who’s who of designers, Zones of Control is filled to the brim with inside-baseball perspectives on aspects of wargaming you probably hadn’t even thought of. As per the MIT Press, “Topics include the history of playing at war; operations research and systems design; wargaming and military history; wargaming’s ethics and politics; gaming irregular and non-kinetic warfare; and wargames as artistic practice.”

With over sixty contributors, you’re bound to recognize at least some of the authors featured. Mark Herman (For the People, Empire of the Sun), Rachel Simmons (Napoleon’s Triumph), Volko Ruhnke (COIN Series), and John Tiller (every game featuring John Tiller in the title) are just some of the big names adorning the inside of this book. If the title wasn’t an indicator enough, this is a book probably best suited for those with some familiarity of the hobby already.

Although with sections on the history of ‘playing war’  as well as general overview of what consims are, patient neophytes willing to jump off the deep end could also enjoy the wealth this text offers.

Wargaming For Leaders (2008)

Authors: Mark Herman, Mark Frost, Robert KurzPages: 264Buy: Amazon

Wargaming For Leaders, written by wargame developers out of consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton, speaks to the utility of playing wargames. Making another appearance on this list, Mark Herman, along with his co-authors Mark Frost and Robert Kurz present a vision of the principles and theory that make wargames what they are, being used to great effect in the workplace. So rather than racing to the Meuse, or playing out the second day of Gettysburg for the umpteenth time, imagine wargame esque simulations that deal with the following:

  • A large equipment manufacturer determined whether making a merger was strategically right for its business growth, as well as which technology investments it needed to drop.
  • An increasingly clogged air-traffic system faced a security-versus-convenience issue determined whether military airspace could be used during peak demand periods.

While this might not be the most captivating subject matter for some readers, others, already familiar with wargames as a means of recreation, and looking to bolster their leadership acumen would do well to check out Wargaming For Leaders.

The Art of Wargaming (2012)

Author: Peter PerlaPages: 364Buy: Amazon

The oldest entry on this list (the original was published in 1990, but there is a more recent 2012 edition available), but still filled with content many of you will find interesting is Peter Perla’s The Art of Wargaming. Covering both the hobby side of wargaming, as well as the professional (i.e.: the military), The Art of Wargaming covers substantial ground across its 364-page run.

The history of wargaming is laid out early on before Perla turns his attention to the use of wargames by the Navy War College.

Another solid choice for budding designers as the book “defines the fundamental principles of designing, playing and evaluating war games.”

War Games: A History of War on Paper (2012)

Author: Philipp Von HilgersPages: 240Buy: Amazon

A dedicated monograph on the history of wargaming, both by militaries and for recreation, 2012’s War Games: A History of War on Paper looks to be the definitive chronicle of conflict simulation.

Von Hilger’s account of the history of wargaming includes rarefied examples of wargaming in the middle ages and Baroque period, as well as contributions to war game design theory by intellectuals such as Wittgenstein, Leibniz, and Von Neumann. Although War Games is ostensibly a history book, the work looks like something that will appeal to grogs with an interest in philosophy, mathematics, and even art history as Dr.Kirschenbaum of the University of Maryland noted in his review of the work:

“Hardly a work for the military fetishist or ludologist alone, War Games should be read and broadly engaged by students of math, media, crisis, and representation.”

Do you have any of your own recommendations for books on wargaming as a hobby? Let us know in the comments!


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