Gaming "The Best of the Rest" - Wargames & Books
Jon
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This is the final installment of my GeekList salute to book/wargame combinations.

In my previous lists, I focused on two of my favourite authors, Barbara Tuchman (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/30443) and John Keegan (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/31079). Without a doubt, these two comprise probably 6 entries in my personal top 10 books. They are the literary giants in my collection.

However, there are others out there that deserve special mention and that is in part the purpose of this list.

The other purpose is to illustrate one of the most important aspects of this hobby for me, and that is to provide another source for my enjoyment of history. If I am lucky enough to be reading a great book while at the same time playing a great game on the same subject, I am in complete bliss. It is this game/book symbiotic relationship what really keeps me in the hobby and is something I have enjoyed for 30+ years now. This time around I will just focus on the books and let the games speak for themselves.

On with the list ...
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1. Board Game: Fear God and Dread Nought [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:5365]
Jon
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The Book - "Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany and the Winning of the Great War at Sea" by Robert Massie

A number of years ago I picked up the prequel to this book called "Dreadnought", which is a fantastic study of the naval building race between Britain and Germany prior to World War One. Full of colourful characters and events, it enthralled me for months (it is thick and I am a slow reader). However, I was left slightly disappointed at the end as it concludes just as the war starts. I was interested to see how the author wrote about the actual use of all of the ships he had been describing. Not to fear as before too long this book came out which does provide said description. And how! Massie's skill as a writer of narrative history is such that he could breath new life into subjects that I had previously read many accounts of (eg. Jutland). These two books together pack quite a punch and I cannot recommend them highly enough to anyone interested in the subject. However, if you just like shoot 'em ups, "Castles of Steel" on it's own will do. Check out the author's other books on Peter the Great and also the waning years of the Russian aristocracy.
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2. Board Game: La Bataille de Mont Saint Jean [Average Rating:7.82 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.82 Unranked]
Jon
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The Book - "Wellington: The Years of the Sword" by Elizabeth Longford

This is the first book of a biographical pair (the other being "Wellington: Pillar of State"). As the title implies, the former describes the years when Wellington commanded in the field. Written in a somewhat anecdotal style that may be off-putting to some (it took me a few tries to get into the book), it is well worth persevering as I have not read a better book on Nosey. A fascinating person who was not the perfect soldier, but he sure was a good one. Hard to argue with the results anyway. Longford's description of Waterloo is not detailed and as such I would not recommend it for the reader who is looking for a descriptive blow by blow account of the battle. However, her style allows one to "feel" the pulse of the battle. At least it did for me. Her description of the charge of the Scot's Greys into d'Erlon's column left a lump in my throat, as just remembering it now does again. "Scotland Forever!" indeed.

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3. Board Game: For the People [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:712]
Jon
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The Books - "The Civil War: A Narrative" by Shelby Foote

One of the first history books that I read was the third entry from Bruce Catton's US Civil War trilogy. I liked it so much that I read the other books in the series (in backwards order I think). So, years later when Ken Burns made his documentary on the subject and used someone named Shelby Foote as an authority for it, I was a bit put out in a naive way. That was until I watched the documentary and was enthralled with his manner of speech and the depth of knowledge that he possessed. Shortly thereafter, his trilogy was republished and I grabbed them up. They sat on the shelves for many years unread as I had been overdosing on the plethora of Civil War books that came out after the popularity of the documentary was established. Eventually, enough years had passed since I last had read a book on the subject that I felt I could start into these. Wow! What was I waiting for? Fantastic narrative history full of interesting anecdotes all played out on a big panorama. He has this great ability to tie in events that happened in different theatres to one another with a writing style that is as elegant, witty and as poinient as were his interviews for the documentary. If you are on a deserted island and have only three books with you, pick these. You will not be disappointed (except, of course, for being on a deserted island in the first place).
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4. Board Game: Terrible Swift Sword [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:2691]
Jon
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The Books - "Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command" by Douglas Southall Freeman

Some of the books taking up my time in between Catton and Foote were these 3 that I found one day in the university library. Now, I should preface this by pointing out that Freeman is not without his detractors (lots of them). As I understand it, this is due to his historical accuracy in that he does tend to focus on Virginian officers to the detriment of others. He has been described as the last of the "How Virginia Won the War" writers that sprang up minutes after Appomattox (he actually wrote this trilogy in the 1940s). Regardless, this study of the general officers of the Army of the Northern Virginia (and it's predecessors) is still a fine read for pure entertainment purposes. I would recommend them for that alone. He has a style that is easy to read and compelling in the extreme. After a while, I started to know these men on a personal level and as the war wages on and their ranks begin to thin, I really felt the loss of some of them. That is powerful writing! I am not sure if I ever recovered from losing poor Pender at Gettysburg ...

Anyway, these are a good read, but please treat them with a healthy dose of skepticism (as you should anything you read, hear, etc.).

PS - Is that not the best title for a game ever? Nice one for a book too (one of Catton's).

PPS - One of my best gaming experiences was dorking around with TSS while reading these. Heaven on a ping pong table ...
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5. Board Game: Napoleon's Triumph [Average Rating:7.99 Overall Rank:382]
Jon
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The Book - "A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars" by Vincent Esposito and John Elting

Another university library find and what a gem it is. Blow by blow, map by map account of the campaigns of the little emperor. If you are unfamiliar with Napoleon and are curious as to what all the fuss was/is about, this is the book for you (at least for the military aspects of his career). Maps aplenty back up a nicely written description of his generalship, from the early days in northern Italy to that less than perfect conclusion (for him) at Waterloo. What I really like about this book is that you can get a nice appreciation of the movement of corps for each of the campaigns and then see them coalesce at the critical point for an important battle, whereupon the scale of the maps change to give a blow by blow account of the big fights themselves. It also made me appreciate how the Allies were able to beat him from 1813 onwards. When Bowen Simmons mentioned how he wanted to capture "the Look" of battles found in older books, this book in particular came to my mind. In fact, once I bought this game and had the pieces arrayed on the map, out came this book to act as a reference. A must read in my opinion.
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6. Board Game: The Inmost Sea: The Battle of Lepanto 1571 [Average Rating:6.38 Unranked]
Jon
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The Book - "The Galleys at Lepanto" by Jack Beeching

If you poke around used book stores and library basement sales as often as I do, every once in a while you get something on a whim that turns out to be a fantastic read. I found this on a day trip to Petaluma, California years ago. I had not expected to find a used book store there and I certainly had not heard of this book prior to purchasing it. Glad that I did though. Before too long, I was lost in the politics and military give and take of the 16th century Mediterranean. The author has a great narrative style that kept me interested in a subject that I had barely noticed or given any thought to before. His focus is primarily on Spain and the career of Don Juan of Austria who led the allied fleet opposed to the Ottoman Turks at Lepanto, perhaps the last of the great galley battles ever (speculation on my part). No doubt hard to find, but highly recommended nevertheless.

PS - I had initially selected "War Galley" as the game, but I am pretty sure Lepanto is not included in it ...

PPS - This book is real good.
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7. Board Game: Armada [Average Rating:5.00 Overall Rank:14803]
Jon
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The Book - "The Armada" by Garrett Mattingly

... and now for a entry on a subject somewhat less personally endearing to Phillip II of Spain.

Another master of narrative history, Mattingly sets the stage of the famous clash with an easy yet captivating style. This book was recommended to me by someone who was a fan of Tuchman and I can see why he liked it. I enjoy books that can get my interest in the protagonists without any effort on my part and which can put me in the setting if only for a few hours. You can get a real sense as to why things started to go wrong with this invasion of Britain even from the early planning stages. Yet, despite all that they actually got so tantalizingly close to the point of rendezvous with the Spanish army fighting the Dutch (which would have made up the backbone of the troops landing in England). Would it have really succeeded given a little more thought and effort? Who knows? Well, probably not, but it was great to read about.
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8. Board Game: Pursuit of Glory [Average Rating:7.89 Overall Rank:1585]
Jon
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The Book - "Lawrence of Arabia" by Sir Basil Liddell Hart

No "best of" book list of mine would be complete without a nod to Sir Basil. Opinionated? Often, but they sure are interesting opinions. I have enjoyed many of his books going all the way back to the battered copy of his history of World War II in the library of my junior high school. I chose this biography of T. E. Lawrence for this list as I think that it is the finest book that he has written. I picked up my copy in a little store in Dehra Dun, India in 2001 when we were living there while my wife completed her dissertation research (my story is one of following my wife on her scholastic journey; while she is busy being an anthropologist I am scurrying off to book stores). The chapter on light cavalry "raider" tactics alone is worth the price of the book. It is also a bittersweet portrayal of this complex man written by someone who knew him as a friend (if anyone could indeed be close enough to Lawrence to be considered a friend).

PS - Years ago I had a chance to see "Lawrence of Arabia" on a big screen. Ohhhh...
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9. Board Game: D-Day [Average Rating:5.64 Overall Rank:11537]
Jon
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The Book - "Decision in Normandy" by Carlos d'Este

If you are interested in WW2 and have yet to read any of d'Este's books, please do so. They are sure to drum up controversy as he often takes a less than conventional look at various campaigns and events. This book on Normandy is no exception and I was, quite honestly, amazed at some of the things that I read. Not in a negative way mind you, but rather in a "I did not know that" manner. Less narrative history I would say than other entries on this list. More descriptive/analytical. It was here that I first read about the exploits of some of my countrymen in the battles around Caen. Hats off to you boys!

Other books by the author which I have read include similarly detailed looks at Sicily and Anzio as well as a biography on Patton.
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10. Board Game: War Galley [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:3221]
Jon
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The Book - "Cleopatra" by Michael Grant

Now I get to add "War Galley"...

A fascinating book not just about the famous Egyptian queen. It is also had sections on the history of the Ptolemaic dynasty as well as the conflict between Antony and Octavian, placing the latter in the context of a duel between a Roman vision of the eastern Mediterranean and a Greco-Hellenistic vision of same. This book has a lot to offer the reader beyond a mere recounting of the life of one of histories most famous monarchs. One of Michael Grant's best books amongst many titles focused on the ancient world. He writes in a very readable style that is accessible even to dolts like me. If you found this enjoyable, check out his "History of Rome" and "The Ancient Mediterranean", to name but a few.
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11. Board Game: 300: The Board Game [Average Rating:5.99 Overall Rank:8280]
Jon
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The Book: "The Greco-Persian Wars" by Peter Green

Nice book...real nice. Green is one of those rare academics that can write for the general public. What that means is that you get a well researched, highly informative and readable story wrapped up in a nice neat package. This book started me on my "ancients" reading quest and also spurred me to pick up many of the titles in the GBoH series. Not too shabby in my estimation. As the title implies, this is a look at one of the most famous wars in history which just happens to be one of the greatest stories also. I have actually seen the remains of the "serpents" trophy from Plataea (although I did not realize what I was witnessing at the time). Highly recommended.

PS - I have no idea what this game is like. The movie was OK, but not nearly as good as "Sin City".
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12. Board Game: The Kaiser's Pirates [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:3393]
Jon
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The Book: "Graf Spee's Raiders: Challenge to the Royal Navy 1914-1915" by Keith Yates

I have no idea why I like reading about ships since I am quite the landlubber. I suspect that there must by some deeply-buried ancestral memory that draws me to the sea. Anyway, this little book is a real humdinger in my opinion. As I have mentioned, I like my books to teach me something new in an entertaining way. This story follows the exploits of Admiral Graf Spee, who found himself (along with the German Pacific Fleet) in China when World War One broke out. The decision made was to head for home waters on the other side of the earth. A harrowing adventure that I found captivating with every turn of the page. I will not soon forget the description of the fleet as it neared the Falkland Islands, but I won't share it for fear of giving too much away. Again, highly recommended.
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13. Board Game: Red Star Rising: The War in Russia, 1941-1944 [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:3124]
Bill Lawson
United States
Rutland
Vermont
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I'm currently playing this game on vassel and reading "When Titans Clashed" by David Glantz and Jonathan House.
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14. Board Game: Carriers: Battle of Midway [Average Rating:8.00 Unranked]
Marshall P.
United States
Wichita
Kansas
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"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" - Theodosius Dobzhansky
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There is grandeur in this view of life, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
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The Book: Shattered Sword: the Untold Story of the Battle of Midway.

Tells the battle from the Japanese perspective, and gives an indepth analysis of how and why they lost the battle. It concludes that the American's didn't just "get lucky" by catching the Japanese with their bombers fully armed on the flight deck. It was a combination of reckless Japanese aggression and overconfidence, poor damage control on the Japanese carriers, and an almost continuous blundering of American attacks into the Japanese fleet that forced the Japanese carriers to repeatedly rearm and refuel their defensive patrols instead of arming and launching coordinated attacks against the Americans (this was partly a result of their poor fleet defense doctrine).

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15. Board Game: Here I Stand [Average Rating:7.94 Overall Rank:165]
Dave Rubin
United States
Trenton
New Jersey
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"It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater or more lasting effects upon the history of the world.” — Sir George Otto Trevelyan on the Battles of Trenton and Princeton
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The game inspired me to read Diarmaid MacCulloch's Reformation last year. A very satisfying introduction to the period.
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16. Board Game: Age of Napoleon [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:1654]
Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
Scotland
Motherwell
Graduate of Barlinnie
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VENI, VIDI, VISA - my reaction on entering my FLGS.
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The Campaigns of Napoleon by David Chandler. The first one volume (but what a volume) work I ever read on the Napoleonic Wars. He later admitted to falling into the "rate of fire" trap when describing the success of British infantry in the Peninsula but, despite that, you don't get much better. I still have the first edition.

My favourite game and my favourite book. If ever I were to be marooned on a desert island, these are what I would take.


Jim
Est. 1949

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17. Board Game: Pegasus Bridge: ASL Historical Module 4 [Average Rating:8.06 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.06 Unranked]
Andrew C
United States
San Marcos
California
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The book is Stephen Ambrose's Pegasus Bridge. While nothing spectacular, it is a short (maybe 150 pages) and enjoyable yarn. Great book for a couple of hour plane ride.

After getting my ass completely handed to me by goldenboat on ASL's Pegasus Bridge, I have a much better appreciation for just how elite the Ox and Bucks were. To seize both bridges intact, everything had to go right. Tonight we have a rematch and I hope my reading of the book will help me channel the spirit of Major John Howard.
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18. Board Game: Turning Point: Stalingrad [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:1791]
Gordon Watson
United Kingdom
Banstead
Surrey - United Kingdom
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ASL - other tactical wargames call it Sir.
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Always feel compelled to add 'Stalingrad' by Antony Beevor to these type of lists. Tremendous narrative history which reads as horror story. A great book covering the turning point of WWII.
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19. Board Game: The Western Front: 1914 to 1918 [Average Rating:7.97 Overall Rank:4570]
Bill Lawson
United States
Rutland
Vermont
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Jon mentioned how much he likes John Keegan. I also like John Keegan and his books "The First World War" and "An Illustrated History of The First World War". The second book is pretty much the same as the first with the obvious addition of many great photos and illustrations! I recommend these books highly and the game is my latest on my journey through games on the Great War.
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20. Board Game: The Russian Campaign (fourth and fifth editions) [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:2666]
Vincent Waciuk
Canada
Ottawa
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I am currently reading 'Ivan's War: The Red Army 1939-45' by Catherine Merridale.

This book is a fascinating look at the war through the eyes of the common rifleman (стрелок). Her style of writing is very engaging and takes you through the some of the most terrifying moments of the war on the eastern front.

It is not a very large book, but it seems well researched and the author has interviewed many survivors of the Patriotic War.

I highly recommend this book.
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21. Board Game: Fire in the East [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:2931]
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I frequently find myself reading Alan Clarks book "Barbarossa" while playing this game. I'm sure it's not the best history of the Great Patriotic War, but I like it never the less.

I'd be interested in hearing of other excellent books on this part of WWII.
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22. Board Game: The Longest Day [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:2631]
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One of the earliest World War Two books I read was "The Longest Day" by Cornelius Ryan. Ryan compiled the book after interviewing hundreds of people who had actually participated in the invasion of Normandy.

I remember as a young teen being spellbound by the story. Later the movie based on the book was made. Dozens of big named stars were in it. History at it's finest as told by those who were there.

Ryan copied this same style with other major WWII actions. In several cases the same people were able to provide input to more than one book.
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23. Board Game: Air Bridge to Victory [Average Rating:6.30 Overall Rank:6141]
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Another awesome book by Cornelius Ryan was "A Bridge Too Far". Telling the story of Operation Market-Garden.

And again it was done by telling the stories of those who were actually there. In many cases the same airborne troopers who told their stories about Normandy also told their stories about this battle.

The story of the 1st British Airborne Division, particularly the fight of Col. Frost and his men at the Arnhem bridge, is one of those great moments of heroism of the war.
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24. Board Game: Pacific War [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:1740]
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More than 30 years ago I read John Toland's novel "The Rising Sun". The book is written from the perspective of Japanese soldiers and officers, and is based on extensive interviews with survivors and their families.

Toland won a Pulitzer Price for the book. After years of reading about the war in the Pacific from the American (and Allied) views I found the book to be uniquely different. It demonstrates the western inability to truly understand our enemy in that war.

A trait which we, sadly, still suffer from with our current struggles. And one which contributed to our inability to win in Vietnam.
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25. Board Game: Ardennes [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:3060]
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Another excellent book by John Toland was "The Battle of the Bulge".

Once again Toland relied on extensive interviews of actually participants. Soldiers and officers (as well as civilians) of all nationalities. It provided source material for several Hollywood films which followed.
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