In This Review

Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes
Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes
By Martin van Creveld
Cambridge University Press, 2013, 341 pp

Van Creveld is incapable of writing an uninteresting book. His latest provides a history of war games, which he defines very broadly to include almost any activity that links play and conflict, from gladiatorial combat, to jousting, to chess, to hunting, and to all manner of reenactments and simulations. Games can be played for a variety of purposes, from pure entertainment to dispute resolution, and can also represent serious preparation for the main business of war by allowing participants to learn how to use weapons, develop tactics, and understand how to anticipate the way conflicts develop. The book is held together by the richness of the material and van Creveld’s curiosity. Van Creveld is superb on the purposes and practices of gladiatorial combat and fascinating on how planners war-gamed some of the big moves of World War II; the Japanese, it turns out, first war-gamed an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1927. But van Creveld appears less comfortable exploring the world of computer games. And to judge from an awkward disquisition on why women have not been so enthusiastic about gaming, he should stay clear of gender issues.