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A Wargamer's Guide to the Desert War 1940-1943

I was looking forward to reading this book for several reasons. Firstly, I have been a wargamer since I was a teenager, and I have a long standing interest in the British Army of WW2. I also have a family connection to the North African campaign as my father had served in Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and my father in law was an 8th Army veteran, serving with 7th Armoured Division in the desert and NW Europe.

At a first glance it looked promising, neatly laid out and with some excellent colour illustrations. However, I noted that the introduction stated clearly that the book was aimed at wargamers, with the emphasis on the game aspect, and not for the historian. Personally I wanted to enjoy this book but instead I found it to be somewhat disappointing. However there were one or two good points.

The first two chapters cover a potted history of the Desert War and the equipment and organisations of the opposing armies. The rest of the book covers the wargaming aspects of the Desert campaigns and include chapters on how the conditions of the Desert campaigns can be represented on a tabletop using models, a review of some of the manufacturers who make suitable models (in various scales), how to paint and prepare the models for the wargames table plus an overview of some of the most popular commercial WW2 wargame rule sets and suggestions for designing scenarios for the games.

Unfortunately, I thought the potted history was probably the best part of the book, neatly summarising the overall course of the desert campaigns up until the final German surrender in North Afrika in 1943. The history bit was clearly written and easy to follow for a beginner, although I feel that some of the pages of data tables later in the book might have profitably been dropped in exchange for some simple maps to accompany the history section.

The chapter on the wargaming aspects of the campaign also had a few interesting points to raise. However I was particularly irritated to find no less than eight pages taken up with tables of equipment data (including such random information as the muzzle velocity of the various infantry rifles) whereas the subject of logistics during the campaign and how to represent it in a wargame context was disposed of in seven short paragraphs, and the subject of sappers and engineering on the battlefield was barely even mentioned.

As a brief aside, I have never understood why wargamers obsess over such pointless trivia as the MV of infantry small arms? Surely studying the soldiers who carried the weapons would be more relevant to wargaming the campaign? I recall being taught the MV of THAT rifle in my basic training but I never found any need to remember it after basic, and I have never met a soldier who ever bothered about such things.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book may as well have been a collection of articles and reviews culled from the wargames press.

The reviews of the commercial wargame rules were useful, including a basic outline of the gameplay, scales and mechanisms of each rule set, which would give a beginner a good idea of what is available. I was curious to note however that no mention was made of the well known WW2 Spearhead rules, which not only covers the armies of the desert war, but which also has a companion book of scenarios and ideas for recreating some of the well known engagements during the campaign (including specials rules for dust clouds and representing Rommel's leadership style)

The section on advice for designing game scenarios also had some good ideas, but it seemed to have been added as an afterthought tried to cover too large subject in a fairly limited space.

On the downside I felt that there was little that was particularly original and the book doesn't seem to add a great deal to what has been written before. In fact much of the book seems to consist of quotes from other wargame books by veteran wargamers such as the late Donald Featherstone, Paddy Griffith and Bruce Quarrie. Incidentally, of these three authors, Donald Featherstone actually served in the desert campaigns with the Royal Tank Regiment, so he at least can be taken as an authority on the subject.

The section on how to paint the model soldiers and vehicles was also somewhat dull. Similar articles appear with monotonous frequency in the monthly wargaming magazines, and not only showcase a variety of painting styles but are also usually well illustrated, something which is lacking in this book.

The Bibliography is also a bit thin on the ground. No less than 23 of the books listed are Osprey publications rather than primary or secondary sources. For those who are not familiar with Ospreys, the books are fairly slim volumes and are generally aimed at the wargaming and military modelling markets. Although they are usually well illustrated, due to their size limitations they can be somewhat lightweight when it comes to the text.

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Overall, the book might well be of some use to a complete beginner, or to someone new to the North African campaigns, but for the average wargamer it doesn't really have that much to offer. On the other hand, at £12.99 it won't break the bank.

Rating: 2 out of 5
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