Ashford Wyrd (wyrdsatyr) wrote in vandree,
Ashford Wyrd

War gaming and RPG department. (reviews)

In the last decade of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th, several well known authors and their families would sit around sand tables, playing out battles using 40mm soldier figurines. Robert Lewis Stevenson and H G Wells are the best known of these, and can be thought of as the grandfathers of the hobby war game. This hobby had an initial surge, then all but died off for almost 50 years. Jack Scruby's War game Digest rekindles interest. The scale of the figures now has shrunk to 20mm (HO scale for model railroad enthusiasts) but would slowly grow back to 30mm over the next decade.

In 1966 Leo Cronin published rules for the first fantasy based war game, based on The Lord Of The rings. The next year, Strategy and Tactics Magazine published an article (Siege of Bodenburg) promoting Estolan's brand of 40mm figures. This lead to the work of one Jeff Pernin, a member of the Castles And Crusades Society, who sent a few pages worth of rules to a certain Earnest Gary Gygax, publisher of the C&Cs's newsletter, "The Domesday Book". Gary added some pages of his own, and this became the LGTSA rules for medieval miniatures.

Jeff and Gary continues to polish their collaborative rules, adding rules for man to man combat, and jousting. In 1971, they published their game through Guideon Games as "Chainmail, rules for medieval miniatures". A second edition of this game added rules for fantasy battles.

When Gary and Don Kay formed Tactical Studies Rules in 1973, Chainmail got yet a third revision, to be published as the premiere vehicle for this new company. This is the game I will be reviewing here.

When I first looked at the folio that is the rulebook for Chainmail, I was impressed by the clean and uniform layout. There were no more illustrations than were absolutely necessary to explain concepts visually. Most of the folio was filled with various charts, which would prove quite useful. The one problem I had was the apparent lack of organization. This illusion was shattered when i read more carefully. The visual cues to signal the end of one sub-chapter, and the beginning of the next were not very clear, which is what gave the illusion of disorganization.

Beginning with the basic rules, The game is designed for 40 mm figures (with 20mm for hobbits and 30mm for dwarves apparently) and each figure represents ten soldiers. An inch on the tabe represents ten yards of in game distance. So far so good. The charts lest movement rates and ranges of missile weapons in inches, which makes sense as you do not have to worry about conversion. Eventually, i begin to realize exactly how involved these rules are, when I see Pythagorean thrum used to explain how far a trebuche can fire.

All right now.... Lets look at those man to man rules, and the fantasy supplement, as those are what eventually became Dungeons And Dragons the next year (Thanks to input from David Arneson)... Looking at the Man To Man section, most of the rules referred directly to the main section, rather than repeating anything, thus constant cross referencing would be needed to play a simple melee encounter. The fantasy section is mostly a number of charts with descriptions of advantages and disadvantages of the various fantasy races (elf, dwarf, hobbit, as well as a few monster races) and unit types, including the mage type, which gets a list of spells that looks quite familiar to someone who grew up playing D&D in the 70s.

Overall this looks like a heavily involved game, and most likely would need heavy editing before it was ready for most later generations to play without complaint. I personally find the detail incredibly interesting, from a knowledge standpoint, but not very playable as a game. This is a great piece of history to know and understand, especially if you like to know where popular ideas come from.

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