I got a copy of One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas a little while back. The idea seemed to fascinate me when I heard about them and I went out and searched for a copy of the rules. I have played a few Two Hour Wargames rules and they simply lie, it's much more like four hours to a game but I liked the general idea. I am not doing much wargaming at the moment and would like to do some more. It has to be said that these rules give me that sort of scope to be able to do that without running out of time to walk the dog or feed the kids.
Essentially there are three bits to the book. Each period has a short description about what warfare was like in that era. It's only a few pages of details but it acts as a raison d'etre for the rules. This is followed by a few pages of rules. Most rules are common to all periods but there is some variation depending on the era. Repeat this for all the periods it covers. After this are many generic scenarios which allow you to run the game. Simple.
The basic idea put forward by the author is that games companies want to sell you lots of stuff and that really, most gamers at least, do not have the space for the table let alone all the figures and terrain. That seems fair and it has to be said that I have a lot of sympathy for this idea. Instead of having massive armies most battles take place with about six stands on a three foot square table. Sometimes there are a few less stands and rarer still with a few more. If you are doing it with smaller scale figures you could probably get them painted up in a weekend at most.
Sadly though I think wargamers are missing a trick as this set of rules does not fit the niche. There are two schools of wargaming as far as I can see. The easiest way to discuss them reduces the ideas down to two basic, reasonably controversial groups, style over substance and substance over style. I know this is a little of track but it will become obvious where I am going in a minute.
Style over substance sounds a lot harsher than it is. Here it's the look of the terrain and the figures that make an extremely visually appealing game is at the core of what these gamers do. Hand made terrain and pro-painted figures are the order of the day. these are the people who will not allow unpainted figures on the board. The rules can be important and in fairness people will usually pick a nice set of rules to. These are not people who like to do things that are not by the (rule) book.The emotional payoff comes from people telling you how beautiful a game it was.
Substance over style is at the other end. Terrain can be quite basic and maybe even symbolic (roads made of of brown paper envelopes as an examples) although it might be purchased it is at the cheaper end of the market or very basically made. Figures are usually painted by the players and will sometimes not be painted at all. These are the people who think they might want to try out a period so buy some airfix or similar kits and just plonk the figures on the battlefield. Rules and more importantly the feel of the game (is it historical?) are what is important. These are the people that like to tinker with the rules and maybe even write the rules themselves. The emotional payoff come from people telling them that they had a good game.
One Hour Wargames is a good solid set of rules and I have enjoyed playing the game. They are great for solo play with limited time and space. It's simple mechanics are easy to pick up and can be played with just about all periods. The trouble is that they do not meet the needs of the style of substance or the substance over style players.
It does not offer the style over substances players the pretty game and it does not offer the substance over style gamer an interesting set of rules. Whilst the rules are basic they cover most eventualities. The system covers a vast range of periods and gives a few subtle ideas for each period. Neil Thomas has tried to keep things simple as he sees it but this means that there are only four troop types per period when in many periods there are clearly more than that. Keeping a common rules framework has the advantage or disadvantage of making the mechanics a little overly simple.
So why do a review of something I don't seem to like? Well the truth is that I do like them. With the absence of a lot of mechanics, you can concentrate on a strategy. They make an excellent solo game as a result. Each side starts out with a simple objective and you can just get at it. Each period is just begging to be tinkered with. Pretty much every gamer I have spoken to who has played them does not like them but wants to have a play about with them to make them better. This is true of most of the really successful wargames rules over the years. People want a game with just a bit more, a ninety minute wargame perhaps? If you have a play about with them, add some more mechanics, some extra troop categories and more units on the table it would become a pleasure of a game.