Books on Wargaming

My experiences with game-based learning have led me to research, play, and even design a few small wargames. Similar to a previous post I wrote on content curation for the Pacific War, this post will focus on some of the better literature I’ve come across in my study of wargaming. Keep in mind that this post focuses specifically on books and isn’t meant to be a list of recommended wargames. Also, understand that I am not some wargaming expert and this is by no means an official reading list. (It also includes only books and not PDFs.) This is merely my suggestion of starting points for literature on the field of wargaming that will provide the reader with an understanding of the theory and concepts behind the purpose and application of wargames.

So if you want to learn about wargaming, then start reading.

The Theory of Wargames – START WITH THESE!

  • The Art of Wargaming by Peter Perla & edited by John Curry.

    An excellent starting point focusing on the theory and development of both professional and hobby wargames. Not some boring tome on abstract concepts, the book is written in plain English and outlines what wargames are, what they aren’t, and how they can be used practically. The history of wargaming is examined, as well as how wargames can be applied in modern times as a part of a cycle of research. In short, it’s a great book for wrapping your head around what wargames are and how to get into the mindset of playing and using them.

  • On Wargaming by Matthew Caffrey

    Essentially, this is a modern work on the history and theory of wargaming. This book covers the history, jargon, and utility of wargames from their ancient beginnings all the way up to the 2010s. Caffrey ultimately argues that the future of wargames lies in their broad applicability and in their utility to save lives by promoting a more peaceful resolution to conflicts.

  • Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum.

    A big collection of essays written by experts in the field covering virtually every aspect of wargaming (and then some). Included are essays addressing modern computer simulations/video games and how they fit into the world of wargaming. Other essays examine wargames from the perspective of history, game mechanics, literacy, narratives, mathematics, etc. In other words, it’s the BIG BLUE BOOK on wargaming.

  • The Complete Wargames Handbook by James F. Dunnigan.

    An oldie, but a goldie. This book is mostly focused on the hobby side of wargaming, but Dunnigan gives the reader an introduction to what wargames are used for along with some guidance on how to design and develop a basic wargame. Included in the book is the introductory wargame, The Drive on Metz. A very easy game to pick up and play, and it allows the reader to comprehend some of the basic game mechanics (movement, combat, probability, etc.) which are common to many wargames.

Sub-fields of Wargaming

  • Analytical Wargames

    The Craft of Wargaming by Jeff Appleget, Robert Burke, and Fred Cameron.

    More of a serious examination of conducting analytical wargames and their use as tools. This book is specifically focused on developing professional wargames for a sponsor. Containing a series of scenarios around a fictional conflict, the authors take the reader through the steps of developing an analytical wargame and important things to consider during game development, testing, playing, and post-game analysis.

  • Educational Wargames

    Simulating War by Philip Sabin

    Professor Sabin presents a series of separate wargames at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of warfare from ancient history to WWII, with extensive discussion on the benefits and uses of wargames as pedagogical tools. That being said, the application of gaming is limited to Sabin’s discussion on using them in a higher education classroom setting. A very unique book where players are provided with several short playable wargames and extensive notes on how Sabin went about designing them.

  • Historical Research Wargames

    Lost Battles by Philip Sabin

    Something of an earlier companion to Simulating War, Sabin designed a comparative dynamic wargame model that can be applied to the historical study of 35 ancient battles in the book (many of which have little surviving archaeological evidence). The model examines the battles from a grand tactical perspective, and the book mostly functions as notes on the game design. Broadly speaking, this book also discusses the benefits of using dynamic models to study historical conflict over more traditional research or mathematical models.

  • Wargames in the U.S. Navy

    U.S. Navy Fundamentals of War Gaming by Francis McHugh

    An older book, but a good overview of the history wargaming at the U.S. Naval War College. While it doesn’t contain any practical exercises, there is a good discussion on manual games and their evolution into electronic games.

While these books aren’t strictly about wargaming, their topics can help the reader to build an understanding of how U.S. naval fleet exercises factored into the strategic planning for WWII.

  • War Plan ORANGE by Edward Miller

    A history about how the U.S. Navy developed its plans for a (then hypothetical) war with Japan prior to the U.S. entry into WWII. Additionally, an examination of how those war plans compared with the actual course of the Pacific Theater is provided. While this book isn’t strictly about wargaming, the content is useful for those looking to understand the implications of the development of U.S. naval strategy.

  • To Train the Fleet for War by Alfred Nofi

    A history of the 20+ naval exercises (known as Fleet Problems) conducted during the interwar years. Military exercises are distinct from wargames despite many people using the terms synonymously. Exercises involve the movement of actual people and materiel in the field, whereas wargames are traditionally tabletop-only simulations. The Fleet Problems served to give the U.S. Navy more realistic training scenarios in simulated combat at sea with various forces role-playing as hypothetical opponents. Each Fleet Problem is examined and lessons learned from them are discussed.

Military Forces

  • How to Make War by James F. Dunnigan

    A book about the basic capabilities and uses of military forces for the uninitiated. Dunnigan walks readers through the workings of land, naval, and air forces (including some commentary on cyber and space forces). Lots of tables with comparisons between the world’s militaries in terms of strengths and weaknesses in all manner of fields from combat to logistics. Dunnigan provides readers with some insight into how and why he ranked certain forces the way that he did which may give the reader a starting point for developing wargames.

Obviously, this was not an exhaustive list of reading material and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of books and articles out there on wargaming for the reader to find. I’ve merely just scratched the surface. However, hopefully, these books will provide the reader with some starting points for studying game-based learning and the modern applications of wargaming.

Another good listing of books and articles is the research bibliography curated by the smart people over at PAXsims. Check them out for news on wargaming, as well.

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