Wednesday 3 July 2024

A Savage and Romantic War - the First Carlist War book review

         As wargame guides go this is one of the best in the series by Helion. A subjective assessment yes, but ‘A Savage and Romantic War - A Wargamers’ Guide to the First Carlist War, Spain 1833–1840’ brings to life a brutal, confusing yet colourful war replete with some fascinating characters, a variety of foreign interventionist forces, the pitting of extremism versus ‘liberalism’, the brutality and horrors of a civil war, lots of eminently gameable battles and gorgeous uniforms.

The First Carlist War is a period that to me for a long time hovered on the edge of ‘mainstream’ wargaming, like many post-Napoleonic conflicts and before the widespread introduction of rifled muskets. The author has a lifelong interest in this bloody war, and Conrad Cairns’ previous book on the subject, published by the Perrys many years ago was a pretty groundbreaking venture, one that coincided with, or was the cause of, the excellent and extensive 28mm range of Perry miniatures for the period.

This new book is by no means a simple re-hash of the previous one. It is far more aimed at helping the reader better understand and wargame the conflict, with 13 new scenarios for the gamer to try out as well as a campaign based on the operations leading to the battle of Oriamundi. Of course, there are sections on the background to and course of the war, detailed chapters on the organisation and uniforms of the Isabellinos, Carlists and the British, French and Portuguese interventionist or auxiliary forces (although technically the former were raised by the British and employed by the Spanish crown rather than being part of the British regular establishment) and the aftermath once hostilities had ended.

Conrad has updated his original material where appropriate to provide what is to me essentially a new book with a new focus. The tactical maps that accompany each of the scenarios are excellent, as are the strategic ones. The orders of battle presented for each encounter and for wider operations are extensively researched and detailed, and without doubt are going to be pored over by wargamers alongside the catalogues of their miniature manufacturer(s) of choice. Numerous photographs of the superbly painted Perry Miniatures throughout the book certainly whet one’s appetite to explore this war as a new gaming project. Other photographs depict examples of surviving equipment and weapons, mostly I understand from the author’s own collection.

So, a beautifully presented and clearly written account of the war and how to wargame it from an author who’s enthusiasm for the conflict oozes through the very pages of the book. An excellent addition to the series.

ISBN 978-1-804514-55-9 A4 soft covers, 137 pages.


  1. A must for me, a very interesting conflict and a good one to do wargaming wise as the armies are not too big but plenty of lovely uniforms and odd units.

  2. I always enjoy your reviews. This one I ordered as soon as it became available and read of delivery. I agree it's excellent though for me the maps were a let down - I found them too lacking in detail but at least this gives them clarity. The photos are great though I'm always a sucker for new artwork [at least there's the cover]. I found the book a good edition to my small library for the period.
    Now I've some BAL infantry to finish and I'm prepping some lancers so inspiration is good. I've to decide whether to do the 1st or 2nd Lancers - I guess the latter would be more unusual.
    Perhaps I should try a mini-campaign for SP2 to keep the focus going.
    I once thought the "gap" between Waterloo and the Crimean War was empty of wargame interest but there are conflicts in Europe, India, Africa, China, Canada....for which some figures at least are available [though it would be nice to have more especially for the Polish Insurrection]. I'm also playing with the idea of a Very Victorian Civil War with a disputed succession between Victoria and her uncle who inherited Hanover]. So I hope there will be growing interest in the period.
    Thanks for the review.

  3. I almost started this period back in the day, then Phil beat me to it! Always regretted not diving in, but then I might not have done the SYW...

  4. Thank you for posting this. I ordered a copy which arrived today. It's excellent.