Donald Featherstone War Games published 60 years ago this May 1962

Today is Donald Featherstone’s birthday (born 20 March 1918, died 2013).

This is one of two birthday posts I have done for Featherstone’s birthday, the other being on my Man of TIN Blog Two about his views on the ethics of playing at war on the tabletop. https://manoftinblogtwo.wordpress.com/2022/03/20/happy-104th-birthday-donald-featherstone-in-the-60th-anniversary-year-of-war-games-1962/

60 years ago this May 1962, the 44 year old WW2 veteran Donald Featherstone published his first book on War Games.

War Games was published with the background of the Cold War; my late Dad had recently finished amongst the last National Service men as conscription in Britain was coming to an end. The Cuban Missile crisis was only a few months away in October 1962.

In 1962 Featherstone’s own war service as a young Tank NCO in the Royal Armoured Corps in Italy was only 17 years behind him. Since WW2 he had established a successful business as a sports physiotherapist.

The Courier’s Timeline of Historical Miniatures Gaming has an interesting link to this first May 1962 publication, a copy inscribed by Don Featherstone to fellow Southampton gamer Tony Bath.

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~beattie/timeline2.html

Cut this page out and stick this in your copy for inspiration … “Hazardous career”?!?

There is an affordable paperback reprint available from John Curry’s History Of Wargaming Project. Second hand copies of the original 1962 hardback and reprints can be found for reasonable prices online.

I’m sure many gamers cut their teeth on this first War Games volume. I did but it was 15 to 20 years later before I found this first book as a youngster (by then second edition, reprinted many times) in the adult section of my local branch library. I still have this exact well thumbed copy, bought when the library cleared old stock in the 1990s.

I also have a tatty 1962 edition picked up quite cheaply several years ago.

When did you first read or encounter this book?

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Other tabletop gaming events of 1962 from the Courier Timeline.

Added highlights to this 1962 list should be the arrival of an increasingly varied range of cheap Airfix figures from 1959 onwards, according to Featherstone, “the latest and possibly most vital contribution to the wargames world”.

My tatty 1962 edition lists the existing and following figures to arrive in 1962:

Part of what piqued my interest when first borrowing this book from the branch library was seeing these older first version Airfix figures, ones that I had a few of, in use in this ‘grown up’ gaming book. These photographs said to me: I can do this, I don’t have flats or Spencer Smiths, but I have Airfix.

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2021/05/11/final-flocking-and-basing-done-after-thirty-odd-years-some-airfix-and-featherstone-first-versions/

Most of the Wargamers’ Newsletter has now been scanned and is available at https://www.fourcats.co.uk/mags/

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What are your first or early memories of this ground-breaking book?

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Donald Featherstone’s radio talks

Transcripts have been passed to John Curry for future publication; BBC Written Archives do not allow for easy publication on a blog. Some of the early sections of War Games is roughly there:

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/donald-featherstones-bbc-radio-talks-1962-1963/

Thanks Don Featherstone for providing so much inspiration, distraction and fellowship through your “hazardous career” in writing this book and many others.

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 20 March / May 2022

Previous posts: Featherstone’s centenary anniversary 2018:

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/03/featherstone100-donald-featherstone-centenary-20-march-2018/

10 thoughts on “Donald Featherstone War Games published 60 years ago this May 1962”

  1. Thanks for posting, That book stopped me from playing with toy soldiers and started me on “Proper Wargaming.” a hazardous path indeed.
    Now I find I am not a “Proper Wargamer”after all. I play the period, not the latest glossy ruleset.
    Still searching for the perfect mechanisms to reflect the key issues of each period. Without reference to battleboards/charts, chits etc.
    Turns out I am still playing with Toy soldiers.

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    1. A hazardous path indeed! Oddly I think that behind many of the glossy rulesets of “proper wargaming” there is also the counter desire to recapture the simple childhood intensity and heroics of playing with toy soldiers.
      Playing the period not the rule set sounds a bit Lardie ?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes a great inspiration, he had that ability that good schoolteachers have.You know, roughly we teach children to think rather than just learn.And I think that sums up what he, and other pioneers, did.They set you off, on a hazardous journey!But such fun and entertainment,and education.

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    1. Think rather than just learn sums it up well. I agree, that Featherstone as a good instructor or teacher or knowledgeable enthusiast gave you simple rules as a springboard to start with and then left you to tinker and experiment, supported with a regular influx of ideas by the Wargamers Newsletter and his other books as they steadily appeared over time (or in my case 15 to 20 years later as they were returned and resurfaced in the branch library).
      I’m sure the RPG players and games systems rule writers will also claim the same, that a simple starter structure is similar to the Featherstone route, an affordable entry level to a lifetime of “hazardous adventure” (on the tabletop) and a history education on the side as well.

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  3. First saw it on your blog, ordered it from Amazon as an ebook. Thanks for that. Still inspired by the two-page Close Wars which I should probably play or run soonish! I’d found a couple others over twenty years ago in my university library, which gave me entirely the wrong impression of what wargaming in the late ’90s in America would be like… but still got me excited to try it.

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    1. I hope it brings you simple joy as it has to many so far in its 60 year life. It is a lovely simple readability and enthusiasm.
      Close Wars is endlessly variable short rules appendix for natives versus troops from Romans through to future fantasy space marines and aliens.

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  4. I enjoyed this post so thank you. I bought this book in the late seventies. However I was very lucky that I discovered advanced Wargames by don at my local library around 1971? What an introduction to the hobby! Not a set of rules but chapter after chapter of ideas. Utter madness for a beginner. There was no logic and no order. I loved it. It meant from that start my Wargames were unstructured as I just tried random bits of this book. “Battles with model soldiers” by don was my first ever rules book so alas although I eventually bought Wargames – it remains iconic yet not the start of my Wargames book story. My abiding enjoyment for Wargames started with advanced Wargames – and the chapter that go me going was the Franco Prussian advanced guards colliding. In the true spirit of don I have played that campaign scenario many many times yet never using Franco Prussian era……..adapt, adapt, adapt………

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    1. Thank you. I had a similar experience finding F.E. Perry’s Second Book Of Wargames, well before the First (about 35 years before the FIrst). It was written for 54mm figures, I loved the photos, but I couldn’t make sense of the rules without the First Book.
      As you say, “Chapter after Chapter” of ideas though
      I didn’t read or find in the library Don’s Battles with Model Soldiers or Advanced Wargaming until much much later than his War Games, Skirmish Wargames and Solo Wargaming, so I don’t have the same familiar affection for them.
      You are absolutely right, a good scenario can be played repeatedly throughout the ages …

      Liked by 1 person

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