The Complete Book of Wargames

The Complete Book of Wargames was written in 1980 by Publications International, Ltd., credited officially to "the editors of Consumer Guide with Jon Freeman" and published as a Fireside Book by Simon and Schuster.  The book was released in both hardcover (ISBN 0-671-25374-3) and paperback (ISBN 0-671-25375-1). Also contributing to the book were Richard Berg, Jeff Johnson, Dave Minch, Jim Connelley, John Prados and Tony Sabado.

The book serves as a good introduction to what wargames are, including a brief history of the genre and even an introductory game (no counters or separate mapboard are provided). Several chapters forming the core of the book compare and evaluate existing wargames in several genres - ancient, medieval, pre-Napoleonic, Napoleonic, early modern, First World War, Second World War, modern, science fiction, fantasy, RPGs and computer games.

As an introductory book, the evaluations do not contain great detail but there are interesting comments throughout for students of the history of wargaming itself. A few tactical titles dealing with modern land subjects (i.e. sharing the scope of this website) are rated in the pages of the book. This is how the state of tactical board wargaming looked to veterans of the industry in 1980, and what they thought of the games:

Title Pub Sugg.
Balance Comments
PanzerBlitz Avalon Hill
$12 2-7 hrs Dependent
on scenario

"This was an enormously important game - really the first to break out of the 'classic' Avalon Hill mode. Its success led directly to the popularity of the eastern front, of tactical games, and of innovative designs. It is also a very good game that is fluid in play, exciting, and colorful. It's a good model of combined arms tactics, and it leads players to use historical fighting techniques. Its biggest flaw is a product of the spotting rules, which allowed units to skulk from woods hex to woods hex without being fired on - a pattern known as the 'panzerbush syndrome.' This can be countered by increasing the spotting distance into such terrain. An alternative is an option in later editions: opportunity fire - defensive fire occurring during the attacker's movement phase - considered by some to be essential for simulations at this level. Another complaint is the high - perhaps excessive - effectiveness given high-explosive artillery by the indirect fire rules, a problem exacerbated by the optional rules allowing free spotting. Nonetheless, the units are varied and interesting, and the game remains very popular. Panzer Leader and The Arab-Israeli Wars are applications of the same system to other settings; they are attractive alternatives - but not replacements - for PanzerBlitz."

Soldiers SPI
$12 2-4 hrs Very good

"Soldier is - unfortunately - little noticed now, but as the first of the close-tactical infantry games, it is the grandparent of Sniper!, Squad Leader, and even StarSoldier. It was a breakthrough in design and remains a good game in its own right."

Panzer Leader Avalon Hill
$12 2-7 hrs Generally good

"While the units individually don't have quite the interest of some employed on the eastern front (in PanzerBlitz), there's a bit more variety overall and a bit more realism in this western front version of PanzerBlitz. Choosing between them is little more than personal preference in local and battles."

Mech War '77 SPI
$14 6-8 hrs Generally favours defender

"Mech War '77 demonstrates the lethality of modern weaponry in dramatic fashion. Infantry and even some armored personnel carriers can blow away armored units with deadly consistency (a distinct improvement over the weak infantry of Panzer '44). Tactical finesse becomes important, as direct actions tend to result in great slaughter for the impetuous. On the negative side are teh same written firing plots and the same stupid command control rules of the World War II relative. Mech War '77 was a replacement for the old Red Star/White Star (not to be confused with the new version) and will be phased out in favor of its successor, Mech War 2. (If at first you don't succeed ... ) But it can be fun for armor buffs."

Panzer '44 SPI
$10 3-5 hrs Generally good

"Despite the typically peculiar ratings of games in Strategy & Tactics magazine, this is, if anything, more complicated than its Avalon Hill analogue, Panzer Leader - not less. While the system used is not as tedious as full, written orders for movement and combat, it's unsuited for anything but two-player face-to-face play, even if it's marginally more realistic than pure sequential turns. Adding a massive dose of pure chance, the absurd command control rules cannot be justified on the grounds of either realism or playability. If you must have that sort of thing, using a decimal die or chit set to check each unit's status independently will slow the game even more, but it's preferable to the old method. Despite the offensively useless infantry, Panzer '44 isn't a bad game and when published it represented something of an advance in the state of the art of tactical armor simulations. But compared to its Avalon Hill counterparts, its attractions are few."

Firefight SPI
$14 1-2 hrs
(intro scen)

"Firefight is an extremely professional, accurate, and well-laid-out piece of work. It is, however, a learning device - not a game. FireFight was specifically designed for the U.S. Army to use for training purposes; the aim of the system was realism, not playability. The scenarios that can be played without an enormous investment of time and effort are rather wooden and one-dimensional, and the constraints on the Soviet player make playing that side less than satisfying. Using all the rules and the most complicated scenarios makes a more interesting but also far longer and more complex game. FireFight is possibly the most tedious game on the market; every single unit must check for defensive opportunity fire every single hex on every single turn. If enjoyment is a consideration in your game playing, pass this by."

Squad Leader Avalon Hill
$12 2-7 hrs Fairly good

"Squad Leader was a Charles Roberts Award winner for 1877 - and deservedly so. It is probably the most popular tactical World War II game since PanzerBlitz. The game is exciting, colorful, and almost endless in its variations and scenario possibilities. While the play sequence (complicated as it is) is geared more to fun than to an accurate representation of a squad-level firefight, the game does give the players a remarkable feel for close-tactical combat. Two other factors contribute to its success: the game has been given a topnotch physical presentation by Avalon Hill, and the charts have been kept to a minimum. This allows the players to enjoy the game without resorting to charts and rules at every step. Although clearly intended only for advanced players, Squad Leader is not unplayably long and does reward the time spent learning the rules. It seems to be that rare bird: an instant success with staying power."

The Arab-Israeli Wars Avalon Hill
$12 3-4 hrs Generally good

"This is the second descendant...of the famous PanzerBlitz, and while it is not in some ways as successful or as satisfying as its preeminent forefather, The Arab Israeli-Wars is nonetheless a good tactical game. Many of the earlier rules have been updated and expanded, and play in this game flows much smoother than in PanzerBlitz. The main problem is that the system is becoming a little tired, and players may feel they are just getting some new scenarios for an old game. While some of these scenarios are exciting, many are dull and unwieldy. Moreover, according to many experts in this area, a surprising amount of the hard information is of doubtful veracity. SPI's October War is more accurate and innovative but is, unfortunately, less successful overall."

Cross of Iron Avalon Hill
$12 up to 8 hrs. Very good

"This is designed to be an improvement on one of the best and most successful games around. The new armor rules are far superior to the original ones and add a depth of feeling for the subject that had been lacking. The complexities of the system are effectively summarized on the counters themselves in a masterfully done job of graphic representation. This is the last word - the state of the art - in tactical armor games. With Squad Leader it forms the most complete and realistic playable game system ever published. Newcomers, of course, will have to work their way up to it gradually, but they have a treat in store when they get there."



The Complete Book of Wargames.
Hardcover courtesy of Andrew H. Hershey, softcover from webmaster's collection


Presentation Rules Playability Realism Complexity Overall
The Arab-Israeli Wars VG G G G 7 G
Cross of Iron E E G E 9 VG*
Firefight E VG P E 8 **
Mech War '77 G G F - G VG 8 G
Panzer '44 G R F - G G - VG 7+ G
PanzerBlitz E G VG G 7 VG
Panzer Leader E G VG G - VG 7 VG
Soldiers G G-VG VG G-VG 6 VG
Squad Leader E VG G - VG VG 8 VG

E - Excellent VG - Very Good G - Good F - Fair Complexity - 1 least complex, 10 most complex
*But only for the experienced
**E as a simulation, P as a game 2008-2014    email: The Tactical Wargamer