Welcome back another guest Top 5. Returning and joining us this time is Jason Young. Jason is a co-host of the Advance After Combat podcast and facilitates all the Alcoholic Adventure Cabal RPG. Jason is also the designer of Wandering Stars, a rules light space wandering RPG.
Rich and I are big fans of non-fiction, especially historical, and will often pair readings with our featured games on History on the Table. Jason is one of the most voracious readers I know so I figured it would be fun to mix up the Top 5 list and cover something else we both enjoy, books. This list isn’t limited to historical non-fiction and both of our lists are presented in alphabetical order by author.
Jason: I’m in the middle of reading biographies of all of the US Presidents and feel really bad that something like Washington or Lincoln or even Hamilton aren’t here, but they didn’t quite make the cut.
When I first cracked this list I was browsing my Goodreads ratings and kept hitting book after book that would be in top 5 and before long I was at 15+ books for consideration. Surprisingly something like War of the Roses by Dan Jones or This Might Scourge by James McPherson just missed the list and I thought they were absolute locks. I’ll be sure to post a full list in the History on the Table Discord server.
Jason: The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
Dan Jones is a treasure. His books on the medieval world are all fantastic and The War of the Roses is my favorite. The writing is tight and entertaining, informative without being overwhelming. In my Goodreads review I said, “It’s like Game of Thrones without dragons. And it’s real.” I stand by that sentiment.
Matt: The Second World War by Antony Beevor
For my tastes, you could plug just about any Antony Beevor WWII book in but I chose The Second World War for the breadth of material covered. Beevor is an extremely compelling author and is beyond capable of weaving in fascinating stories into his books. Beevor doesn’t get lost in the weeds but provides ample detail. Beevor’s books are easily my favorite on WW2.
Jason: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Devil in the White City is a mash-up of a true crime book about H. H. Holmes and his fabled Murder Castle and a historical delve into the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and everything happening in Chicago at the time. It is a gripping read and has something for everyone.
Matt: Chickenhawk by Robert Mason
One of the best memoirs and books covering Vietnam I’ve read, Chickenhawk is the firsthand account of Robert Mason, a Huey pilot during Vietnam. A fascinating read that I couldn’t quit whether Mason was ripping up tree stumps or flying during Ia Drang.
Jason: Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Imagine knowing where everything in the meal you’re about to eat came from. Imagine having a hand in every step of the way. That is what Pollan explores in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Part travel book, part memoir, cookbook adjacent and as a whole an exploration of American consumerism and the business of agriculture.
Matt: The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnanski
This summer one of the biggest past sins of MLB’s Hall of Fame will be corrected when Buck O’Neil is inducted into the Hall. Buck had a chance to go into the Hall of Fame in 2006 with so many great Negro League players when he was still alive but failed to receive the necessary votes. Posnanski’s biography is in part a case for why Buck deserved to go into the Hall of Fame but is more just a great read about Buck’s career, his stories, the story of the Negro Leagues and baseball. Highly recommended for any fan of baseball.
Jason: Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner
This is one of the most upsetting and powerful books I’ve ever read. I learned about it from the Paulo Bacigalupi novel The Water Knife. It deals with water rights, the restructuring of waterways in the US and the Bureau of Land Management and creating cities and farmland where there shouldn’t be. It will make you mad.
Matt: Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor by Clinton Romesha
I found Red Platoon chilling and unsettling at times in the amount of detail poured into the firsthand account of the attack on COP Keating. Riveting is a word that gets tossed around a lot but I have no hesitation using it here. Often times non-fiction isn’t emotional but this certainly elicited more of an emotional response than most non-fiction I read. Can’t recommend it enough.
Jason: Phase Line Green by Nicholas Warr
It was hard to pick between Chickenhawk by Robert Mason and Phase Line Green, both of which I have multiple copies of, but Phase Line Green gets the Vietnam nod here slightly. It’s a memoir of a young lieutenant during the second two weeks of the Battle for Hue during the Tet Offensive. Warr’s writing really highlights the confusion of the soldiers on the ground, the terror of house to house fighting and the frustration of dealing with the bureaucracy of war.
Matt: On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle by Hampton Sides
If these were ranked in numerical order, On Desperate Ground would be ranked Number 1. In other words, this is my favorite piece of non-fiction I’ve read. Chosin Reservoir is already fascinating and heroic but Sides’ story telling is brilliant. Gripping, compelling, entertaining, pick your book review buzzword and slap it on this book.
Please feel free to share your Top 5 non-fiction books below.
If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and thanks to Jason for dropping by.
We are nearly there! Later this week Rich and I will record this month’s episode and go through my top 10. This is the first place in the list where will we see a group of games ranked so seems like a good time to remind you that I combined GCACW, OCS, Line of Battle and Next War into one entry each and considered my top game in each series for ranking purposes.
Keep an eye out for our next episode that will drop sometime over the weekend.
20. Holland `44
Mark Simonitch has created an excellent series of games using his ZOC-Bond system. The games are pretty welcoming to newcomers and have a nice amount of chrome. Holland `44 doesn’t have the attack limit from Normandy `44 and both sides have a tough puzzle to crack. The German player is on their heels the entire game but still has interesting decisions to make. Great looking game and one of the best in the series, but not the best.
19. Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision 1240-1242
Nevsky is a masterclass in designing operational games. In our most recent episode, we discussed how there was this weird barrier of entry into finally playing Nevsky. If you are like Rich and I, do yourself a favor and download the quick-start scenarios and just start pushing pieces around, you won’t be disappointed. Can’t recommend this game enough and I’m very excited to see where the Levy & Campaign series goes in the future.
18. Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965
Silver Bayonet is surprisingly easy to learn and dive into and is one hundred percent worth it. The game is a blast to play with each side’s tactics feeling different from the other, especially in the campaign game. The individual scenario cards are perfect for setting you up for the full campaign as well and play great solo. The map is gorgeous, the components are top notch and Silver Bayonet is one of the best Vietnam games I’ve played.
17. 7th Fleet: Modern Naval Combat in the Far East
7th Fleet is a huge game covering the Pacific that I’ve unfortunately only played once. That one game experience left a lasting impression on me and still ranks as one of my favorite wargame memories. Once things clicked, I knew that the Fleet Series of games could go down as some of my favorite wargames ever made. Tons of different units with lots of levers to pull. I really hope any revamp of this classic series doesn’t change too many things just for the sake of changing things.
I’ll be the first to admit that the theme of Concordia is pretty soulless but the gameplay isn’t. Concordia is an action-card drafting, hand management game where you expand throughout the Mediterranean region to produce goods Your action cards start out pretty basic but as you acquire new cards you unlock unique actions for future turns. The brilliant aspect of this game is action cards double as victory point cards at the end of the game and can really jell nicely with your overall strategy.
15. Viticulture: Essential Edition
With a great theme and amazing components, Viticulture was one of my first board game loves and still ranks among my and my wife’s favorites. Viticulture is a worker placement game about producing wine, building up a winery and attracting visitors. Efficiency is key and I still can get surprised by a game ending faster than expected.
14. Operational Combat Series
If you are unfamiliar with MMP’s Operational Combat Series (“OCS), OCS is a campaign-level series of wargames where supply management is an integral part of gameplay. Simply put, OCS is one of my favorite wargame series out there. When I first read through the rules, I thought what the hell am I getting into. But once I started to push counters and supply around the maps (all of which are great in this series) the game clicks. The rules surprisingly digestible, probably benefiting from being on version 4.x. OCS can serve as week, month, year long monster game covering a huge campaign or can be play over a few hours on the weekend depending on the scenario. My only knock against the series is the large campaign turns can take a very, very long time to complete and often times the other side is just waiting to do anything. Personal favorites in the series so far are Beyond the Rhine and Korea.
13. Dien Bien Phu: The Final Gamble
First off, whatever say about this game could never really compare to Bruce Geryk’s fantastic video series that concluded with his video titles Dien Bien Phu – The Final Gamble (Legion Wargames) 2014. If you haven’t watched it, check it out. Kim Kanger has truly designed something very unique and innovative with Dien Bien Phu. Supply, combat, encroaching trench lines, even topic are all super interesting and introduce some innovative game designs.
12. Here I Stand
Here I Stand unfortunately has two big hurdles to overcome: 1) you need six players; and 2) you need a full day to play. If you can overcome those two barriers, you are in for one hell of an experience. Here I Stand is a card-driven game with six different factions, most of which feel very unique from each other. It can certainly be a pile on the leader game but that just means you need to politic and choose when to take your shot. I’ve been lucky enough to play a handful of times live over the past couple of years and Here I Stand just gets better and better each time.
11. Le Havre
I absolutely love the tough the decisions in Le Havre. Your actions are actually limited in execution, you either take goods or use a building, that’s it. You do that seven times over a round and then you have to feed workers. But the decisions offered by the piles of goods and available buildings make for extremely tight, difficult and just all around awesome game play. One of the best Uwe Rosenburg games for my money, but not the best…
Games: 10-1 (Coming Soon)
Moving on to the top 50! The difference between games is shrinking as we draw nearer tot he top. Is 49 better than 50, or 38 over 44? Sometimes it depends on the day you ask me. Enjoy!
I arrived late to the Dominion party but glad I finally made it. The combos you can develop and strategies you can implement in this classic deck-builder are fantastic. The game play is quick and refined and totally outclasses the theme. It’s one of those games where I asked myself why it took so long for me to play. Nearly 14 years old at the time of making this list and is still one of the best pure deck builders out there. Also the last to crack the best of list.
The open gameplay of Mombasa often leaves me wanting about twice as many actions as I took by the time the game winds down. Mombasa is a gorgeous blend of several different mechanics including card drafting, pool/deck building, and area control with lots of different paths to venture down. The hand/deck management is a highlight here. As you play cards, they are moved to certain discard piles of which you may only pick up one per turn. This means that where you play your cards will determine which cards are available to you for future turns. It’s a great mechanic and just adds to the thoughtfulness of the game.
48. First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express!
First Class is a top 5 game for my wife and certainly a favorite of mine to play with her. It is a card drafting game with each card having different abilities or actions, which may even vary depending on where you place the card. There are several different strategies to draft into, and although some certainly feel stronger than others, exploring all the different paths to victory is a blast.
There was a point in time where our family was playing Spades on just about a weekly basis for a couple years. It’s a trick-taking game without any catchy gimmicks using a standard deck of cards. Players make bids for the number of tricks they will take and you work with your partner to make sure you don’t go under your total team bid. Not a flashy pick but I love a good game of Spades.
46. La Granja
La Granja is a game about playing multi-use cards to your farm and drafting dice to perform various actions, ideally in a manner taking advantage of your played cards. In addition to managing goods, cards and available actions you must manage and keep track of available deliveries (donkeys) and turn order (through taking siestas). A very tight game that can really shine through careful planning and engine development.
Yokohma is another game with great table presence where play matches the shine on the table. Yokohama is a worker placement game of sorts but you may only move your worker (your ‘President’ in the game) to areas on the modular board where you already have Assistants. The amount of Assistants (cubes), along with other items, at the location determine the power level of the action you just moved to. I’m probably not doing the gameplay justice but I find it fascinating and requiring of careful planning to make sure you are maximizing actions.
44. Imperial Struggle
When I first tried to sit down to play Imperial Struggle, I did a quick skim of the rules and figured I’d pick it up as we went. One look at the map (also gorgeous) and I closed the Vassal module and fired up Twilight Struggle. Eventually I circled back and was rewarded with an absolute banger. The rules of Imperial Struggle are straight forward but the game is very deep and an absolute thrill to play. Each aspect and region of the game demands your constant attention. You can’t devote all your attention to one area and you certainly can’t afford to completely ignore any areas your opponent is building their presence.
43. Washington’s Crossing
The activation system of Washington’s Crossing can be a bit unintuitive as you daisy chain through leaders to get your forces in motion. But once I had the basic process down, I found Washington’s Crossing to be my favorite game covering the American Revolution. Once Trenton falls (bound to happy early), strategizing and planning really open up. I love the fatigue system (sharing some similarities to Great Campaigns of the American Civil War) and combat resolution is a fun exercise, which I always appreciate in a game.
42. Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
Ticket to Ride is one of my first modern board game experiences and is still a game I’ll happily play to this day. For my tastes, Pennsylvania is the best game version. In TtR: Pennsylvania players will select a stock share from different companies as they lay routes across the state. At the end of the game, points are awarded to majority shareholders for each company. This provides a straightforward mechanic that doesn’t add a ton of weight to TtR but adds just enough meat to set it apart from other maps.
41. The Last Hundred Yards
The Last Hundred Yards isn’t trying to be ASL light and we’ve applauded it for that on the show. Instead, Mike Denson has developed a game series that stands on its own and offers a different experience to Advanced Squad Leader and similar tactical WWII games. Combat resolution, unit activation and even unit eligibility all take on a different form in Last Hundred Yards. The game plays quickly, differently and still tells the same great stories we love to see in tactical games. Don’t write off The Last Hundred Yards as an ASL clone because you will be missing out on a fantastic tactical game.
Below is a spoiler list for Episode 34 of History on the Table where we discussed our most anticipated games of 2022 (1:22:45). Listen in for details and thoughts on the games.
Let us know your most anticipated games of 2022 below. Anything fly under our radars?
J.D. Webster has released an expansion for the Fighting Wings games system on Wargame Vault: Fighting Wings Expansion – Six Pack #1.
The Expansion includes 6 scenarios and background information and aircraft data cards for the following new aircraft:
1. Gloster Gladiator
2. Fairey Swordfish Mk.I
3. Hawker Hurricane Mk.IA
4. Bristol Blenheim Mk.I
5. Fiat CR.42 Falco
6. Macchi MC.200 Saetta.
I’ll quickly add that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Buffalo Wings last year and can’t wait until I can dive deeper into the fantastic Fighting Wings Series.