Further Reading: Christmas 2020 books for the discerning wargamer

Ah, it’s that time of year. The holiday season. The hustle, bustle, and rush to get your gifts on time and under that tree. But what to get the wargamer in your life? Err on the side of caution: it’s no secret that wargamers tend to be a particularly well-read bunch of folks.

You can’t go wrong in picking up some more books for the collection. To that end, we’ve thrown together a last-minute list of handpicked recent releases to delight wargamer of every stripe. Enjoy!

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A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II (2020)

Author: Simon ParkinBuy: Amazon

From 1939 to 1945, as the Second World War ravaged the globe, a titanic contest for supremacy was being waged across the dark and unforgiving expanse of the Atlantic. Known as the Tonnage War, this battle was the challenge to keep an island nation fed and fuelled while German U-boats prowled the depths. Beneath this struggle, however, there was a deeper game being played, not on the choppy waters of the Atlantic, but on the linoleum floors of Derby House in Liverpool, where the women of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit played out the submarine war in miniature.

In A Game of Birds and Wolves Simon Parkin, a contributor for The New Yorker and game critic at The Observer, tells the story of the ‘wrens’ of the Women’s Royal Navy Service as they helped to create and run a war game that would be used to devise anti-submarine tactics and train Royal Navy officers for the Atlantic War.

In 309 well-researched and engrossing pages, Parkin delivers a book that will appeal to any grog interested in WWII, submarine warfare, or the history of military wargaming. A Game of Birds and Wolves is available in hardcover, Kindle, and audiobook formats. 

Wargaming Experiences: Soldiers, Scientists and Civilians (2020)

Author: Natalia WojtowiczBuy: Amazon

How does one model conflict in an age when warfare is as much about creating narratives as it is about occupying territory? How should an organization like NATO, designed and structured to fight a conventional peer-level adversary, handle ‘gray-zone’ conflict in a place like Eastern Europe or humanitarian crises emanating from poorly governed states? 

These are the types of questions and scenarios explored in Wargaming Experiences by Natalia Wojtowicz, former head of NATO’s wargaming, modeling, and simulation project. In this lean, thought-provoking guide, Wojtowicz walks through each step of the design process that she used during her time making serious games. While the games she designs – known as matrix games – are a bit more freeform and conversational than the commercial wargamer may be used to playing, this is nonetheless a fascinating and insightful look at the nuts-and-bolts of the design process.

Wargaming Experiences is a slim 162 pages, but my copy is littered with marginalia and highlights. An excellent choice for anyone interested in game design.

Sid Meier’s Memoir! (2020)

Author: Sid Meyer, with Jennifer NoonanBuy: Amazon

Sid Meier is arguably the most recognizable name in gaming. The creator of seminal, genre-defining classics such as Civilization and Pirates!, Meier has been making games in earnest since the early 80s. Sid Meier’s Memoir! traces that circuitous path through his entire impressive gameography, from his days selling flight sims out of the back of a truck all the way to 2016’s Civilization VI, with each chapter dedicated to a game, or games, that Meyer has released. 

The book gives a panoramic view of this Old Master’s subtle movement through both genres and eras. While I wished he lingered longer in some places, this is a delightful read for anyone interested in the peculiar wild west that was early PC game development.

Memoir! clocks in at 304 pages but is an exceptionally breezy read. It’s also available in both Kindle and audiobook formats. A good choice for that one friend who periodically loses whole nights of sleep while muttering “just one last turn” into the soft glow of their PC monitor.

Crusader Strategy (2020)

Author: Steve TibbleBuy: Amazon

Medieval rulers, especially those of the Crusades, have often been typecast as uneducated zealots, guided by blind faith or suicidal bravery. In Crusader Strategy, Tibble takes a different approach: assuming a basic level of strategic competence from his subjects. As such, he examines the Crusader States from their creation after the end of the First Crusade all the way up to their collapse after the disastrous Battle of Hattin, with an emphasis on the strategic situation.

While the Crusader’s lacked the vocabulary to describe their plight, Tibble sees in their actions a series of coordinated strategies pursued by numerous successive Frankish administrations. Breaking down this era into five separate phases – each with a coherent strategic vision – Crusader Strategy examines the Crusader states, and their myriad woes, from a variety of scales ranging from the nitty-gritty tactical to the grand strategic.

Designed for a general audience, his narrative is both cinematic and accessible. Crusader Strategy is 376 pages and is available in hardcover and Kindle edition. A perfect gift for the medievalist in your group.

Legion versus Phalanx: The Epic Struggle for Infantry Supremacy in the Ancient World (2018)

Author: Myke ColeBuy: Amazon

The very premise of Legion versus Phalanx seems to be begging to be played out on the table – and that’s no accident. Cole has a wargamer’s sensibilities because he is one. His thesis, and to a certain extent his methodology, take gaming and re-enactment seriously as a means of understanding, or at least informing our understanding, of the past. With a novelist’s flair and a historian’s depth, he examines six battles in which the two titular formations faced off against each other in order to better understand how the Roman legion came to dominate the ancient battlefield.

Most well-known for his military sci-fi and fantasy, Legion versus Phalanx is Myke Cole’s first foray into non-fiction, but it is a strong one. At once casual and authoritative, Cole has done his homework and his analysis offers some interesting interpretations of not only how the upstart legions overcame the storied phalanx, but also how both formations were reflective of the societies that created them.

Legion versus Phalanx is 288 pages and is available in physical, digital, and audiobook formats. An excellent buy for the ancient warfare fan in your life.

Battle Maps of the Civil War: The Eastern Theater (2020)

Author: American Battlefield TrustBuy: Amazon or Direct

A wargamer is nothing without maps. That irresistible cartographic urge – a compulsion, really – to pour over the small details of a battle and soak in its careful nuance is pretty much universal among those who live and die by hexes and counters. Atlases, especially battlefield atlases, are therefore an object of both reference and reverence.  

The first of two Civil War battlefield atlases released this year by the American Battlefield Trust – the charitable organization responsible for preserving historic battle sites in the U.S. – this slim guide covers the major engagements of the titular Eastern Theater. A second volume, covering the Western Theater, is available direct from the Battlefield Trust website or pre-order from Amazon.

Battle Maps of the Civil War is 112 pages and comes with 70 full-color maps. It makes an excellent reference book for the Civil War-obsessed wargamer.

Ninefox Gambit (2016)

Author: Yoon Ha LeeBuy: Amazon

As far as first novels go, Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit is one hell of an opening salvo. This is military science fiction that feels truly alien in a way that few others in the genre can manage. The bizarre and grotesque empires in this universe wage what is known as calendrical warfare, a type of combat in which the ultra-advanced technology and weapons deployed are fundamentally linked to the maintenance of, and adherence to, a rigidly enforced ritual calendar system. 

If that sounds weird, that’s because it is. Piecing together the book’s esoteric combat is the most fun I’ve had reading military science fiction in years. The setting is absolutely begging for a wargame, which shouldn’t be too surprising, as the author has a penchant for game design. There’s a good reason all three books in the trilogy have been nominated for the prestigious Hugo Award.

Ninefox Gambit is 384 pages and, like its sequels, is available in paperback, digital, and audiobook formats. This is an excellent recommendation for the wargamer who hasn’t read any science fiction since Ender’s Game.

Got any book gift suggestions of your own? Throw them on the pile in the comments below!

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