Writing a War Game Book

Some fine background information concerning Morschauser’s book War Games In Miniature; I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

The War Game Digest, winter 1962
By Joe Morschauser

I think every war garner in the world has at one time or another had the idea of writing a new Little Wars. The literature on the subject of war gaming is so sparse, and the ideas which pour into the heads of war garners so plentiful that this resolve is the most natural thing in the world. The trouble is that the majority never gets beyond the idea and most of the rest give up before they have written a page because their rules are “not set just yet” and they are “still making modifications.” Thus for, years Little Wars has remained the one and only bible of the field.

About a year back I resolved to do something to add to war game literature. I put together an outline and some photos and started bothering publishers. I had no success. By the end of the fourth try I was pretty well convinced that no one cared a damn about war gaming except war gamers. The outline and pictures rested at a fifth publisher for months. Then I heard that Don Featherstone was at work in England on contract on a war game book. At this point I gave up the idea entirely figuring it was dead. Two weeks later the fifth publisher contacted me and told me they wanted me to do a book. I warned them at once about Featherstone’s work but they insisted. Apparently the war gaming fever had caught on.

This situation left me in a mess. How the devil could I do a book which was already being done? How could I be sure my work would not be merely a carbon copy? I signed a contract in January of 1962 having not the slightest idea how I could solve this problem. I started to write at once (always a good plan) and turned out a very poor first draft which I slept on and worried about for a month. Then finally through some strange chemistry (which all writers know about but few can explain) a solution to my problem popped into my head (at 3AM one morning believe it or not).

My solution was to divorce myself completely from – almost everything I had read in the past about war game rules. (Of course one cannot make a complete break under such conditions but I speak here of details, not general war game concepts.) Then I set out on my own afresh to make up a completely new system of war gaming based on simplicity, ease of use and still retaining the essential qualities of the activity.

First off I made up my mind that the business of using loose figures in a war game was too tiring, too fussy, on the other hand I did not like the idea of sticking figures on trays with clay or tape for every game as I had done in the past because of the terrible amount of work involved. Then it came to me: why not divorce the actual numbers of figures on the table completely from the actual numbers of men being used in the battle. Thus the Roster System was born. It allowed both an attractive and realistic looking battlefield while at the same time making movement etc. easy.

I reorganized my war game armies on the basis of the Roster System, and then played a number of experimental solo battles to see how well it worked. It did but this was not enough. On March 31st of 1962 I gathered together three other war gamers, two of them experienced men, the third a novice. None had ever played a game using the Roster System nor had any of them even heard of it before that date. In other words they, knew my rules, but they knew nothing about the new system.

Let me explain now that the Roster System is not a new set of rules. I have included rules of my own-making in the book, but the Roster System is a System of war gaming which can be used with about 99% of all war game rules in use today.

On March 31st the Battle of Fashod between the British and the Dervishes was fought south of Omduram. The British were beaten but the Roster System was victorious all the way. I purposely had us use 54mm Britians (the most difficult scale figure to use on a war game table). I also gave each army close to 250-300 figures. A terrible struggle took place which lasted several hours and bib by bit Basic Units (trays) began to disappear from the fie14 of battle as their strength dropped to nothing. Suddenly the Dervish cavalry, until then held in reserve and full strength, charged the British right. This broke, and the cavalry swept round the flank to take and destroy the British supply dumps and wells at their oasis. The battle was over and the system proved.

From here on it was a fairly simple matter (involving only a hell of a lot of work) to touch up the book, rewrite it a number of times. I fought a number of other battles with opponents and each time the system continued to work smoothly with no bugs appearing. I purposely tried out medieval battles and a modern contest or two with tanks etc. as well.

So the book was finished and handed in to the publisher with some photographs of war games and figures. One of the editors was so taken with it he is now a regular opponent of mine. (Jack Scruby’s comment on hearing this: “That’s a hell of a hard way to find an opponent.”) It’s not Little Wars but something better I think though I assure you I am no Wells when it comes to the typewriter.

More I shan’t say for you can find details of all in War Games In Miniature (published by Walker & Company, 10 West 56th Street, New York, NY in Oct 1962). I hope those who get and read the book will find it as much fun as it was to write (despite the work involved with writing). If it makes war gamer’s war games more fun then I shall feel I have done my job.