Osprey and the Art of Wargaming

Michael O. Varhola

For as long as I can remember, I have had an avid interest in military history, and for most of those years some of my favorite books on the subject have been ones in the Osprey Publishing “Men-at-Arms” series. Each of these books provided a detailed at particular types of soldiers over a certain period of time or during a specific conflict or related series of them and both encouraged and enhanced the interest in wargaming that led me to start Skirmisher Publishing LLC. What made them especially fun and notable amongst other books on the same subjects was that the photographs and other illustrations they contained were supplemented by a series of beautiful color plates, and it was these that I always turned to and perused before reading anything beyond the title.

I am not sure exactly when I started reading those books, although it would be safe to say it was at least 30 years ago, and it is a testament to the resilience of the series that it is as fun, interesting, and well executed today as it was back then (and might even be a little better). It is also an indication of Osprey’s vision as a publisher that it has added to its portfolio a number of other thematic series that are just as fun and engaging. All are an invaluable and educational resource for history enthusiasts, academics, wargamers, and model-makers, and a great way to introduce kids to history, and some of my favorites follow.

Campaign: This series span military history from the ancient world to modern times and each includes analysis of a specific battle from the Middle Ages, American Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, U.S. Civil War, World War I, or World War II. Each book includes full-color, 3D “bird’s-eye-views” of the battlefields, battle scenes, and maps, along with color and black-and-white photographs. One of the titles in this series that I have recently enjoyed is The Fall of English France, 1449-53 (Campaign 241), which covers the final phases of the 100 Years’ War. 

Command: “Throughout the history of warfare, individual commanders have dominated the battlefield and in so doing decided the fate of nations,” Osprey says of this series. “From the warlords of the ancient world through to the architects of the blitzkrieg and beyond, the Command series looks at how these great leaders adopted revolutionary technology, battlefield tactics and training methods, or simply inspired their troops through their leadership skills to win victory.” Each of these titles focuses on a specific commander, going beyond mere biography and into a critical examination of each leader’s key victories and notable adversaries, illustrating them with detailed maps, tactical diagrams, and artwork. Titles in this series that I have recently acquired include Lawrence of Arabia(Command 19), which looks at British adventurer, archaeologist, and enemy of the Ottoman Empire, T.E. Lawrence.

Duel: This interesting series compares and contrasts in detail two different pieces of equipment — including armored vehicles, aircraft, and warships — from development through combat, from the same theater of conflict, and analyzes the human, tactical and technical elements that ultimately influenced which triumphed and why. Highlights include first-hand accounts from soldiers who used the weapon systems in question, and numerous technical drawings, photographs, and full-color illustrations, including “gun sight views.” I have always been intrigued by World War II’s apocalyptic Battle of Kursk, an Eastern Front armored slugfest between Nazi and Soviet forces, and thus have had a lot of fun with King Tiger vs IS-2 (Duel 37).

Fortress: Each book in this series ranges from ancient times to the modern era and examines the architecture, evolution, history, and natural settings of some of the world’s most significant fortification systems. Highlights include full color cutaway artwork, maps, diagrams, and color and black-and-white photographs. Titles in this series I have been enjoying include Forts of the War of 1812 (Fortress 106) and The Fuhrer’s Headquarters (Fortress 100), both of which feature many sites that I have visited and/or written about over the years. 

Men-at-Arms: “Packed with specially commissioned artwork, maps and diagrams, the Men-at-Arms series is an unrivalled illustrated reference on the history, organization, uniforms and equipment of the world’s military forces, past and present,” Osprey says of this this venerable series, which dates to the 1970s. Forty years after it started this series is still fresh, and recent titles that I have been enjoying include the colorful Roman Centurions, 31 BC – AD 500 (Men-at-Arms 470), which ties in nicely with many of my interests as a gamer, and The Chaco War, 1932-35 (Men-at-Arms 474), which examines the little-known conflict between Bolivia and Paraguay.

New Vanguard: Books in this series cover naval vessels, artillery, and armored vehicles and ranges from the Middle Ages through the Napoleonic era, the U.S. Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Each features art that includes full-color custom illustrations (including cutaway and exploded diagrams) and black and white photographs and diagrams. Titles in the series I have been enjoying recently includeWarships of the Anglo-Dutch Wars, 1652-74 (New Vanguard 183) and Imperial Japanese Light Navy Cruisers, 1941-45(New Vanguard 187).

Raid: This exciting new series — which has quickly become one of my most favorite — looks a surprise military strikes from throughout history and around the world, both those that have been resounding successes and those that have been shocking failures. Each title provides a detailed analysis a particular raid, describing its background, strategy, tactics, action, and level of success. I have recently been enjoying the excellent The Revenge of the 47 Ronin (Raid 23), in which, among other things, I have learned that there were actually 48 Ronin!

Warrior: Books in this series span military history, from the era of ancient Rome to the Vietnam War, and bring to life medieval, Napoleonic, U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, and modern-era warriors. Highlights include full-color custom artwork and numerous black-and-white photographs. Titles in this fun and colorful series that I have been enjoying recently include Pirate: The Golden Age (Warrior 158) andTunnel Rat in Vietnam (Warrior 161).

These series have provided me with lots of enjoyment over the years, and source material for any number of gaming projects, and if you have not yet had a chance to check out some of the titles they include then I strongly encourage you to do so!