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.
I recently offered a menu of Top 5 offerings to Jason and he delivered lists for several. After realizing he and I take solo gaming in different directions I thought it would be a great list to start with.
Jason:When people ask me about solo games, I tend to just think of solo only (or primarily solo) games, rather than games that can be played solo (which to me is basically everything). I also like relatively small games that are easy to play.
When playing solo, I look for a balance between interesting decisions and ease of setup. Which means I can forgive a game that you are only ‘playing’ to check results if it’s fast playing and easy to setup. It also means that Beyond the Rhine didn’t make the cut. Sure I could solo the whole shebang but I’ve got things to do. This left me considering both games designed for solo play (admittedly I don’t play many of those) and games where I play both sides.
Jason:A Week in Hell (Battles Magazine) A Week in Hell is a tiny game, with great components (for a magazine game) about the beginning of the Battle of Hue. You’re clearing out the southern part of the city using your meager supply of Marines, trying to keep infiltrators at bay and hopefully keeping all the bridges intact for future operations. It’s quick, tense and rewarding and is my go-to Vietnam solo game
Matt: Hockey Blast (Plaay) Hockey Blast is a sports simulation game that is very fast to play, and even faster to setup. Set your lines and start rolling dice and consulting charts. The game unfolds by checking for certain symbols and key words that are all easy to identify to keep a nice game flow. This makes this list over something like Sherco’s Grand Slam Baseball because I would only ever play this solo. Fun to watch games unfold but not many meaningful decisions to be made.
Jason:Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid. (GMT Games) One of my favorite things in games is having different ways to play it, and both Enemy Coast Ahead games do that excellently. The Doolittle Raid has you commanding flights of B-52s on bombing runs again Japan near the end of World War II. The latter scenarios increase the complexity by including flight turns, then naval turns and finally the full boat of planning the mission through to the debriefing. It’s a lot of dice rolling, but in a way that to me is more engaging that the “B-17: Queen of the Skies” kind of way and the debriefing after each mission sums up your efforts wonderfully, leaving you celebrated or chastened.
Matt: Pavlov’s House (Dan Verssen Games) Pavlov’s House shares some similarities with the tried-and-true States of Siege system (a pending doom advancing along several fixed tracks) but shines in its wealth of decisions offered to the player. In Pavlov’s House you not only make tactical decisions inside the apartment stronghold but also try and maintain operational command and support. Each section of the game will require tough decisions but you will find that you lack the resources available to do everything you would like or need to do.
Jason:RAF: The Battle of Britain (Decision Games) More air war in WWII! And first things first, this game looks fantastic on the table. The game has you commanding the British RAF fending off German air raiders in the traditional Lion scenario, you can turn the tables and play as the Germans in the Eagle scenario or you can play head-to-head in the two-player game, each with its own rulebook. The game provides you some intel on what is coming, but it is incomplete which gives a great tension as you spread your resources around the home island trying to protect assets and keep the raiders at bay. You get attached to your pilots despite some fiddliness and some rules overhead but the game tends to reward good play and hooks you in.
Matt: Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games) For my tastes, it’s hard to top the chit pull mechanic for solo wargaming. The randomness and bit of chaos helps me play both sides without being able to plan too far into the future. Battle Hymn may have some unintuitive combat but as a whole I still dig the game. Not only are troop command decisions determined by the fate of the chit cup but so is combat which is great for solo (and opposed) play. You might be setting up a great set piece but things can easily go awry if either combat chit comes out too early or too late.
Jason:D-Day at Omaha Beach (Decision Games) The (John H. Butterfield designed) D-Day at… games are fantastic. Through the innovative fields of fire on the map and a purely card driven system there is a lot to like here. Omaha gets my nod, barely, as the top since it was first, but Tarawa and Peleliu are fantastic as well. They are hard to win and grueling when your troops are getting mowed down but so rewarding when you finally start gaining ground and eventually win. Pro tip: snag the flipbooks from the BGG files page and you’re off to the races.
Matt: Thunder in the Ozarks: Battle for Pea Ridge, March 1862 (Revolution Games) Chit pull. American Civil War. TitO checks the right boxes for my type of solo play. The reason Thunder in the Ozarks slides in front of Battle Hymn is I find combat as a process more enjoyable to walk through here. I will say that both are great games and worth checking out even if you can only play solo. The added trick in TitO is the command roll. When a division comes up for activation, before you select a brigade to act, you make a roll and may find that you are stuck with limited activation or can issue a brigade a full command. I and most people I talk to recommend the Blind Swords System.
Jason:Ambush! (Victory Games) Ambush! is a game that couldn’t be made today. The obvious time and testing that went into the game is only realistic in a full-time employee environment. The game is so innovative with its paragraph system that models and rewards realistic tactics. It’s tense and personal and each hex holds so much danger as you creep toward your objective. With a roster of troops, fitting them out with gear, excellent campaign play and a ton of scenarios Ambush! is a treasure.
Matt: Arkham Horror: The Card Game (Fantasy Flight Games) Arkham Horror is getting better with time and continued play. When I first played ‘Night of the Zealot’ out of the core box I thought the game was fun enough but Arkham didn’t show its true colors until the Dunwich Legacy expansion came out. Not only is the Dunwich campaign way more interesting but the added cards greatly expand the deck building element of the game. This true of the subsequent expansions which continue to deliver more of a good thing. This is getting a bit of a boost by a recent resurgence in play, both solo and via webcam, but I am so glad to be getting this game back to the table. With creative and tight card play and massive looming threats, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is solid.
If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and thanks to Jason for dropping his Top 5 solo games.
Welcome to the first of hopefully many in our series of guest Top 5 submissions. Following some recent plays of Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles and Commands & Colors: Napoleonics I thought a Top 5 list of the the series would make a fun exercise for the new year. Memoir `44 was one of my first wargaming experiences and it was only in the last couple of years that I discovered just how different each Commands & Colors (“C&C”) could play out.
I’m very happy to have Judd Vance kick off our Guest Top 5 submissions. Judd’s regular posts on BoardGameGeek.com were instrumental in bringing about my passion for the wargaming hobby. I asked Judd to tell us a bit about himself before we get started.
Judd: I gained infamy riding with the rogue gang known as HAMTAG and working as the unpaid PR man for Mark Herman. Interests include history, wargaming, and all things related to the Matrix. Find me at: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/user/airjudden
Here are our Top 5 C&C games:
Judd:Commands & Colors Medieval. Inspired Action tokens and Leadership provide more command flexibility. The parthion shot allows bow-armed units to evade AND fire at the same time. The fact that the game has so many cavalry units and so many bow-armed units in the game creates a whole new type of tactics from other games in the system.
Matt: Memoir `44. Mind blowing when I first discovered it but trending in a direction away from me. If you keep game play short and sweet it is still tons of fun and looks awesome on the table. I’m looking for a lit bit more meat on the bones in my C&C games these days.
Judd:Battle Cry: 150th Civil War Anniversary Edition. It has the best looking plastic of the Borg games. It has a lot (30) of scenarios and it is flexible: you can use the rules as written to have a fine introductory game or you can use the fan-generated rules on BGG to have a more complex game that is more in the spirit of Commands & Colors games.
Matt: Commands & Colors: Ancients. After years of only playing Memoir `44, Ancients is the title that showed me there is more depth to C&C gameplay than I thought. Ancients rewards sound tactical decisions, like keeping units in formation, something that isn’t really present in Memoir. If someone was looking to move from something like Memoir `44, Risk, or wanted to try our wargaming, Ancients is the place to look. Oh, it also has elephants.
Judd:Commands & Colors Tricorne. I think this is the best overall design, but it lacks the raw number of scenarios to be #1. It is the most complex game in the system due to the dice calculations and the routing rules, but it also has the best dice calculations of the various games, especially in terms of dice reduction as it pertains to casualties. The routing rules perfectly capture the history making leadership and mutual support far more important than the other games. Finally, it’s the best looking and highest quality product in the family.
Matt: Red Alert: Space Fleet Warfare. If Memoir `44, is the equivalent of playing with your army men on the table, this is that but with a bunch of awesome space ships flying around. Red Alert is a weird entry in the series but it’s one I enjoy the heck out of. It feels more like Memoir than Ancients but ships that feel different and have different consequences if lost is rad. It unfortunately is expensive and only comes with 8 scenarios. Additional ships are sold in separate ‘escalation’ packs, adding to the cost. I’d love to see other factions with even more unique ships and, more importantly, feel get introduced. Potential here but needs some support.
Judd:Commands & Colors: Ancients. This is my most played wargame ever. It captures ancient combat ideas, such as screening, while keeping a relatively low rules overhead as non C&C games. The best part of the game is the pacing: it moves more slowly and deliberately which forces you to consider your card combinations more carefully.
Matt: Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. My new C&C hotness. The direct impact taking casualties has on your strength really sets Napoleonics apart from other C&C titles. In addition, French and Ally forces have different strengths in combat which means factions feel different. In terms of C&C, Napoleonics offers really deep gameplay that will certainly punish you if you charge forward without much thought. Forming squares also adds a whole new level to gameplay.
Judd:Commands & Colors: Napoleonics.Napoleonics wins because of two factors: The La Grande Battles scenarios are sick fun and because the various army expansions create enough differentiation to force different tactics for each one. The dice reduction is ok, but too punitive, but combined arms and squares were brilliant. The Epics maps and rules look like most double-map Richard Borg games, but La Grande is on an entirely different level from its peers.
Matt: Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles. Samurai Battles rocks. It does so through this sort of meta-currency (Honor & Fortune) and the Dragon Cards. Dragon Cards are powerful cards that require an Honor & Fortune cost be paid as you play them. But you need to monitor your Honor & Fortune because if you lose honor (which you will), you can start losing forces. Out of the box Samurai Battles comes with 40 scenarios in the box so you’ll be plenty busy even without the tons of boxes you can grab for the other titles. I’m hoping that GMT continues to do cool things with this one.
Another thank you to Judd for taking the time to share his top 5 (HAMTAG!) Commands & Colors games.
If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and please let us know what your top 5 C&C games are below in the comments.