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Subject: Reading up on wars. rss

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Nathan Milbrath
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So I just started getting into wargames and history. I've acquired a few games that I wish to read about but I have no idea where to start.

So my question to you guys is this: Where do you start when you wish to read up on a war or a specific period? Do you read books about the weapons, the tactics they used, the wars, the leaders, just the time period itself? Do you watch documentaries? Where do you begin?
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Chadgr
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If you're looking for something free and immediately available, you might want to check out the World War II Operational Documents collection in the Combined Arms Research Library: http://cgsc.cdmhost.com/cdm/landingpage/collection/p4013coll.... It has a large number of research papers you can download as pdfs.

I too have recently started down this road and, though I can eventually figure out game rules, my lack of tactical and strategic knowledge is killing me.
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Zhe Leng
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I usually check online first. Sometimes there are amazingly abandunt writings can be found. And then documentary, which is vivid and usually interesting. I only buy books when I do need some very in-depth information about a specific topic. Reading book is alwyas ... time-consuming.
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Welcome Nathan! And good for you.. For me, the game usually follows the book(s) as I want games on topics I'm interested in. Sorta makes me wonder how you chose your games, but whatever....

If you tell us which games you are wanting to explore background knowledge on we can give you specific books and other resources. There are even a few lists that will pair a specific game and book on the same subject.

More generally... Amazon. Type in the name of the battle, war, leader, whatever and you'll be off to a good start.

As to reading up on Weapons, Tactics, Leaders, etc, the answer will kind of depend on the scale you're interested. Reading a book on WWII strategy to prepare for a play of Raid on St. Nazaire (a single, exciting, battle) won't do you much good as it's likely not even mentioned in a book on the whole war. Likewise, even an excllent book like "Shattered Sword" is of limited value unless you're interested in the Battle of Midway...
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Alfred Wallace
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@chadgr: Much praise for the Good Soldier Svejk avatar.

If I were to suddenly need to learn about a war I don't know about, the first thing I'd look for is what we academics call a "synthesis" on the whole war--a book that doesn't necessarily break any ground itself, but takes in the material that already exists and digests it into a single book. For the Civil War, the classic is James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom; for the American Revolution it's This Glorious Cause, there's usually one or more for any plausible war.

That would give me some background--in terms of both the narrative of events and the work that's been written about them when the synthesis was written--to start reliably going deeper. I might want to look at a particular battle, now that I have the context for it; or I might be interested in the soldier experience, or whatever.

Sometimes this doesn't work, or I'm looking at something with a different context in mind (i.e., for what I do for a living I'm interested in military occupations and counterguerrilla/insurgency operations of all eras, so I put books into that context rather than a war-by-war basis). But I think you still need the big picture.

But I wouldn't try to start reading about weapons or tactics or anything detailed before I felt like I had a handle on the whole thing, at least at some basic level.
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aug_aug
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I've had great success simply posting within that particular game's forum, requesting that people recommend books that relate to the game. Often there seem to be books that the game designers most likely read too, covering the exact battles, equipment, etc. seen in the games.

Otherwise there appear to be "period" experts here on BGG that seem to know way too much sauron about the wars of any given period (ancients, Napoleonic, Civil War, etc.).
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Bill Wood
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pickboy87 wrote:
So I just started getting into wargames and history. I've acquired a few games that I wish to read about but I have no idea where to start.

So my question to you guys is this: Where do you start when you wish to read up on a war or a specific period? Do you read books about the weapons, the tactics they used, the wars, the leaders, just the time period itself? Do you watch documentaries? Where do you begin?


Give us a list of specific games and watch this thread explode.
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Hunga Dunga
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My theory is that whether you are playing tactical games or strategic games, it's always good to start with a book that gives an overall history of the conflict.
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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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Heck, it doesn't even need to be a book. I've found that Wikipedia gives nice overviews of battles and campaigns. Just watch for the authorial bias that crops up there from time to time.

Once you've got a good overview of what happened then you can move on to finding more detail on subjects that interest you.
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Nathan Milbrath
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@blockhead - I picked up a few games that looked interesting. I wanted to dive into wargaming and I had no idea where to start with. What war I was interested in, whether I wanted tactical, strategic, grand overview style or troop level. After playing some of the games, I really enjoyed the flavor text and felt like to really appreciate a game I wanted to read into it.

Mainly I'm interested right now into the Punic Wars [Commands and Colors: Ancients] and obviously a much broader and wider subject of World War II [No Retreat: The Russian Front]. I knew next to nothing going into No Retreat blush After watching a good chunk of World War II in HD and starting on The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich I wanted to know more about all my wargames and the rich history behind them. Problem is I didn't know where to start.

I like the idea of the grand overview of a war though that alfredhw suggested. I think that may be a good starting point.
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jumbit
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For WWII, I think the best source on the net is Hyperwar. Tons and tons and tons of stuff. You pick the theatre, and start reading until your eyes bleed. Entire books, written by the men who were there. This, I think, is one of its greatest strengths: Hyperwar uses source documents to show you what people were thinking at the time, and why decisions were made the way they were made. Too much WWII history uses 20/20 hindsight and merely reinforces postwar narratives. Moreover, Hyperwar delves into the "forgotten" parts of WWII, such as the Winter War, Norwegian campaign, merchant shipping, Axis minor powers, the American home front, forgotten operations that were cancelled, and so much more. Get the real source documents, they really help to open your mind. A far cry from the typical Pearl Harbor->Guadalcanal->Normandy histories we all know. You can spend days reading about Poland 1939, which due to Hyperwar has become one of my favorite WWII subjects, despite the single paragraph it gets in most historical accounts.

Hitler's message to his people regarding the invasion of Poland. "In the last few days I have increased these warnings. I informed the Polish Ambassador three weeks ago that if Poland continued to send to Danzig notes in the form of ultimata, and if on the Polish side an end was not put to Customs measures destined to ruin Danzig's trade, then the Reich could not remain inactive."

The War in French Indo-China "When France collapsed in 1940, it was not as a casual onlooker that Japan viewed the debacle. Japan saw (with the clarity of insight of an Al Capone) that French Indo-China would need “protection” if it were to remain secure against the designs of unprincipled foreign powers who might seek to take advantage of France’s plight. Zealously intent on her professed role of protector of the weak, she brushed aside the feebly conventional protests of the Vichy-appointed Governor General (Vice-Admiral Jean DeCoux) and began pouring in “protection” in the form of Japanese troops—to the eventual total of seventy thousand."

Defense of the Americas "The defense of the Americas was the longest, most uneventful, and least heralded military campaign the United States conducted in World War II. Yet it was fundamental to Allied victory against the Axis coalition, for it guaranteed the security of the base that President Franklin D. Roosevelt earlier termed the "arsenal of democracy."

United States Government Manual, 1945. "The United States Government Manual, the official handbook of the Federal Government, is published by the Division of Public Inquiries of the Special Services Bureau of the Office of War Information. The Manual contains sections dealing with every agency of the Government in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Each of these sections is an official statement covering the organization and functions of an agency and has been approved by the department or agency concerned."

Soviet Declaration of War on Japan "Taking into account the refusal of Japan to capitulate, the Allies approached the Soviet Government with a proposal to join the war against Japanese aggression and thus shorten the duration of the war, reduce the number of casualties and contribute toward the most speedy restoration of peace. True to its obligation as an Ally, the Soviet Government has accepted the proposal of the Allies, and has joined in the declaration of the Allied powers of July 26."

Hirohito's message to his subjects informing them of his decision to surrender. "Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."

There are some broken links in Hyperwar as the author is deceased and not around to run the site any more. But who cares, there is so much material. One thing you might want to do is use CTRL-A to select all the text of a book, then CTRL-C to copy and then CTRL-V to paste into the reader of your choice. The site uses plain HTML which can get hard to read after a while, the lines are too long if you have a wide screen like me.

I also like Mitch Williamson's sites, he's a historian who writes about all sorts of topics from ancient to modern, most of them delightfully obscure. By that, I mean it's all new because you haven't read it to death a thousand times already. He's a wargamer, too. My favorite site of his is The Third Reichs Eastern Legions and POWS which deals with the topic of Eastern Europeans who served under the Germans.
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J Macc
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pickboy87 wrote:
So I just started getting into wargames and history. I've acquired a few games that I wish to read about but I have no idea where to start.

So my question to you guys is this: Where do you start when you wish to read up on a war or a specific period? Do you read books about the weapons, the tactics they used, the wars, the leaders, just the time period itself? Do you watch documentaries? Where do you begin?

Welcome to the hobby!
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J Macc
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pickboy87 wrote:
@blockhead - I picked up a few games that looked interesting. I wanted to dive into wargaming and I had no idea where to start with. What war I was interested in, whether I wanted tactical, strategic, grand overview style or troop level. After playing some of the games, I really enjoyed the flavor text and felt like to really appreciate a game I wanted to read into it.

Mainly I'm interested right now into the Punic Wars [Commands and Colors: Ancients] and obviously a much broader and wider subject of World War II [No Retreat: The Russian Front]. I knew next to nothing going into No Retreat blush After watching a good chunk of World War II in HD and starting on The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich I wanted to know more about all my wargames and the rich history behind them. Problem is I didn't know where to start.

I like the idea of the grand overview of a war though that alfredhw suggested. I think that may be a good starting point.

And for catching the history bug.
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Lance Runolfsson
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Where to start reading up on wars? Reading about war is sort of part of my DNA I've just always been doing it. Yet I find most campaign analysis very dry and for the most part I have a lot of trouble relating the narrative to the maps (assuming they bothered to put any in). So I t6end toward reading books that lean on the personalities and experience of war. But I think a good place to start would be with some book that gives an overview. Of a number of battles campaigns or wars. One of my favorite books of this genre is "From the Jaws of Victory"
http://www.amazon.com/Jaws-Victory-Charles-Fair/dp/029799505...
The section on the Great Northern war alone is worth the price of admission.

Another good one might be something like "Battles that Changed History" By Fletcher Pratt.

Books like this also have the advantage that if a chapter does not seem to grab you you can just kind of skip on to the next. And eventually get an idea of what periods of warfare Squeak your Bippy.

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jumbit
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LanceRunolfsson wrote:
and for the most part I have a lot of trouble relating the narrative to the maps (assuming they bothered to put any in).

My favorite is when they put maps in that DO NOT REFERENCE ANY LOCATIONS SPECIFIED IN THE TEXT. angry Why, why, why? Here's a map of France, and the villages talked about in the accompanying text are not even listed. yuk
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David
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Thi Military History Bookshelf thread in the general section of the Wargames forum is always a good place to start.

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Roger Hobden
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pickboy87 wrote:

Mainly I'm interested right now into the Punic Wars


I would suggestion this excellent game, Lost Battles, which comes also with a detailed book giving information on all the battles modelled in the game.

The game is presently available through Noble Knight Games ( http://www.nobleknight.com/ ).
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David
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Mallet wrote:
pickboy87 wrote:

Mainly I'm interested right now into the Punic Wars


I would suggestion this excellent game, Lost Battles, which comes also with a detailed book giving information on all the battles modelled in the game.

The game is presently available through Noble Knight Games ( http://www.nobleknight.com/ ).

If you can afford it, this is the best military history game/book package on the market.
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bruinrefugee
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pickboy87 wrote:
So I just started getting into wargames and history. I've acquired a few games that I wish to read about but I have no idea where to start.

So my question to you guys is this: Where do you start when you wish to read up on a war or a specific period? Do you read books about the weapons, the tactics they used, the wars, the leaders, just the time period itself? Do you watch documentaries? Where do you begin?


For a quick overview of almost any conflict, Osprey Publishing's Essential Histories are (usually) a great jumping off point. You can get some very good deals on abebooks.com, they're always 95 pages and usually have good maps and decent bibliographies. While I wouldn't take them as gospel, it's a quick foundation. And they have about 70 books covering about 50 or so conflicts.
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Warren Bruhn
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Time Life series on WW2 can be found in a lot of public libraries. I enjoy these volumes as an easy-to-read light introduction. The Time Life series on the American Civil War is also great, and I've seen that one in public libraries. Unfortunately for the OP, there is probably no Time Life series on the Punic Wars. Generally I suggest public libraries as a first stop before buying books.

www.onmilitarymatters.com is a great online military bookstore located in New Jersey. Love the selection there. Powell's in Portland, also with an online bookstore, has a vast collection of military history books.
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Podcasts can be a great source as well. I'll recommend Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History". He has a 4-part series on the Eastern front that was very well done. There's also good ones on Ancient Rome, strategic bombing, etc...

http://www.dancarlin.com/disp.php/hh

You can find it there, or via iTunes.
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Hi Nathan! You mentioned WWII: Eastern Front as a possible area of interest. It's probably the most popular topic for wargaming. Two books I would recommend to get you started on the background

When Titans Clashed by Glantz and House
David Glantz and Jonathon House have written a lot of books on the Eastern Front and have taken advantage of the opening of the Soviet archives in recent years to present a more balanced story than the typical western authors who were mostly relying on the post-war memoirs of the German Generals. But start with this one for an overview of the whole theater.
http://www.amazon.com/When-Titans-Clashed-Stopped-Studies/dp...

Also, Russia's War by Richard Overy
Another overview with excellent stategic analysis. The same author also wrote a great analytical book called "Why the Allies Won"
http://www.amazon.com/Russias-War-History-Soviet-1941-1945/d...

And while we're talking analytical books, that will get you closer to wargaming tactics, try Robert Citino. I've read the "Quest for Decisive Victory" and enjoyed it, have not yet read his others but think you may like them
http://www.amazon.com/Quest-Decisive-Victory-Stalemate-Blitz...
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Roger Hobden
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This book, Ancient Warfare: A Very Short Introduction by Harry Sidebottom
is amazingly comprehensive for such a small book and packs a wallop of a punch in a puny size (pun intended ).

Available on Amazon for less then ten dollars.

Highly recommended.

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Mo Caraher
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Seconding the post regarding Osprey overviews. Whilst they are really broad overviews, they are quick, easy reads and give you a reasonable base of info from which to either start rolling dice with more than a vague idea of what was at stake in whichever battle or campaign you hope to game, or inspire you to read something that delves deeper into the topic.

For tactical-level conflicts I don't spend a tonne of time reading up on the specifics of the battle; rather, I choose to review the excellent Osprey "Tactics of..." books from their Elite series, as they apply, depending on the scale and/or theatre. If it's an op-level game then I'll try to read as much as I can stand on the bigger picture of that particular battle or campaign. That seems to work for me not only in terms of arriving at the table with some sense of what I want to do, but it also enhances the overall experience. For me, anyway.
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Nathan Milbrath
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I love you guys

I started on the book The Punic Wars from Osprey Publishing. It's reading very quickly and I quite enjoy it. I'll be looking into all of your guys suggestions. I really do appreciate all of the advice and book suggestions I've been getting from here.

What would you guys suggest on Napoleon? I picked up Field Commander Napoleon the other day and while I don't plan on playing it immediately, I would love to also read up on that subject as well.

I feel like a whole new world has been opened up to me. Thanks once again you guys.
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