Cursory glance at sources and then moves on to look at weapons and equipment.
As Told In The Great Hall: The Wargamer’s Guide To Dark Age Britain
Martin Hackett, Amberley Publishing, £19.99
We finally made it: in the last couple of years, Dark Ages wargaming has hit the mainstream of the historical genre. Not least due to the popularity of Studio Tomahawk/Gripping Beast’s SAGA rules, and a smattering of new, good figure ranges, the British early medieval period seems to be more popular now than ever before. And what’s really needed is a solid introduction to the period, outlining the history, the key battles, and the armies involved.
Is this book it? Sort of.
Martin Hackett is perhaps best known for his book Fantasy Wargaming, published back in 1990. It’s apparent that he’s also a hobbyist interested in the early medieval period, especially of the period’s history in the Welsh Marches where he lives. The book begins with a cursory glance at sources and then moves on to look at weapons and equipment. Eyebrows were raised a few times here: too much certainty is placed in the use of crossbows; chariots are referred to as late as the battle of Nechtansmere; and war dogs bound into view. But overall, it’s not a bad summary. Next up, the author tackles the armies: there’s an entry for each major wargame army of the period, covering a brief history and then providing army lists for the author’s own rules (included in this book) and the WRG 6th edition Ancients rules. Once again, these are generally okay, but historically shaky in places.
The next chapters consider some of the era’s major battles, reconstructing campaigns and battlefield tactics based more on guesswork than historical fact – but that’s fair enough as there are precious few ascertained facts for this period and a degree of informed fiction is needed to set up suitable gaming scenarios. The reader should bear in mind, however, that the author’s views are rarely as factually solid as the writing suggests.
Finally, before a list of useful addresses of wargames companies, we are presented with the author’s own rules for the Dark Ages: As Told In The Great Hall. I have to say that I really did not get on with these at all – in my opinion, they are very much a throwback to the 1980s, and not in a good way. Written orders, long lists of modifiers, and table after table. Haven’t we moved on? Of course, your experience or expectation may be different, but I don’t see these rules as a good introductory set for this period.
If you’re looking for a well-researched book on early medieval British warfare that takes into account the latest research and thinking, this is not it. If you’re after a beginner’s guide full of broadly coherent detail to point you in the right direction and lead your own research away from the well-known highpoints of Hastings, Arthur, and the Vikings, this is a reasonable place to start. The rules included in the book are not in my opinion worth your time or investment.