Wargames To Go

Mark Johnson's irregular podcast about smaller wargames

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Wargames To Go 20 - Strategic Air Command

Mark Johnson
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It's been a long pandemic, hasn't it? We've got a ways to go, too. During this strange time I've been working from home, wearing a mask outside, and playing some solo wargames. My regular euro-style boardgaming has dried up almost completely, albeit temporarily. Sure, I play some online versions at BoardgameArena, Yucata, special apps, and others, but it's only enough to keep connections going with my friends. I've enjoyed play-by-web and other computerized versions of boardgames for years, but that's when they were a way to get in extra games during the week. Now that they're the only boardgaming I can do, they just remind me of how much I miss sitting across from my friends on a regular game night.

Wargames are different for me. Though once in a while I'll play a 2-player game across a (real) tabletop, normally I enjoy my wargames solo. Purpose-designed solitaire games generally take a backseat to traditional 2-player games where I just play both sides. Which means that there shouldn't be anything slowing me down now for my wargaming during the pandemic.

"Shouldn't be." And yet, it's still been a bit sluggish. Because everything is kind of a drag now, at least for me. To be sure--lots of people have it a whole lot worse that me, so I cannot complain. My job is still going fine via remote work from home, my family is doing ok now, no one is sick... So you'd better believe I'm not seriously whining about my wargaming hobby. I'm not. It's just a little slow, that's all I can muster right now, and I expect that to continue until there's a good vaccine deployment. It'll happen eventually.

One thing I have managed to do during all of this is get my collection a little more organized. That meant going through all of my wargames, sorting the magazines by type, and setting aside a few mini-collections on topics I want to get into. For this episode it was the Strategic Air Command (next time will be Vietnam). As I've mentioned before on my podcast, my dad served in the USAF from 1953-57, during the heady days of the Strategic Air Command. My dad passed in 2018, and though we talked often, now that he's gone I find things I wish we'd talked more about. Like his military service, and that part of his life. I know he was a J47 engine technician for the B-47 Stratojet. He served primarily at March AFB in Riverside, California (not too far from me now--we visited it together), but once deployed to Upper Heyford AFB in the UK.

The most important part for me was that plane, his beloved B-47. Sandwiched between the behemoth B-36 Peacemaker and the famous B-52 Stratofortress/BUFF, I wondered if any wargames would include the B-47. Yes, there are some! I think I've now played most of them. This is an interesting period for wargaming, because it's all alt-hist for a nuclear WW3 that thankfully never happened. I don't normally explore alt-hist, either, but for SAC, the B-47, and Dad I'd happily make an exception.

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There are several good movies about this period, too. Probably everyone knows Dr. Strangelove, which I've seen before and was happy to see again. But I found several other good ones, and the aptly named Strategic Air Command movie with Jimmy Stewart even featured the B-47! All in all it's been an enjoyable exploration, for the games, the military history, and a way to reconnect with my dad.

Movies & Video
Strategic Air Command
Dr. Strangelove
Fail Safe
The Arrow
Cold War aviation films (per Wikipedia)


Books
Bomber: The Formation and Early Years of Strategic Air Command , by Phillip Meilinger


If you're not a Twitter user, but still want to see my photos and short videos about some wargames, just go to http://www.twitter.com/WargamesToGo. Feedback here or there is always welcome.

-Mark

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Mon Aug 31, 2020 2:40 am
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Wargames To Go 19.2 - Operation Barbarossa (part 2), with Carl Paradis

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Board Game Designer: Carl Paradis
Carl Paradis
Designer Carl Paradis is featured in this episode. Of course I asked him onto the podcast to discuss his landmark Eastern Front game, No Retreat: The Russian Front. Beyond that, Carl has explored this topic in his development of Gary Graber's The Barbarossa Campaign and his own forthcoming Absolute War. That would make him an interesting designer for most wargamers--what makes him special for me is his penchant for small wargames. Even if boxed, with a large map, the counter densities he uses are low, the hexes large, the rules short. Just the sort of gaming I find most interesting, because those designs have to make bold choices & cuts in their simulation modeling.

Now Carl is furthering this design style in his No Retreat Battles series. The first in this new series focuses on five battles from 1942: Velikiye Luki, Stalingrad, Gazala, Guadalcanal, and Dieppe (two of those are solitaire). Small maps, not too many counters...sign me up! (Literally--this game is nearing the cutoff for GMT's P500 preordering system, and one of those preorders is mine.)

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Siberian trooper Carl

Think that a big topic like Barbarossa cannot be simulated sufficiently by a low counter density? They might not be for everybody, but take a look at Carl's interesting designs. Within the context of familiar hexmaps, cardboard counters with combat-move factors, and Combat Results Tables, he takes the epic scope of the Russian Front and does clever things with ZOCs and a counterattack system, not to mention multi-use cardplay. YouTube is full of gamers showcasing this title.

If you're not a Twitter user, but still want to see my photos and short videos about some wargames, just go to http://www.twitter.com/WargamesToGo. Feedback here or there is always welcome.

-Mark






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Thu May 7, 2020 5:44 am
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Wargames To Go 19.1 - Operation Barbarossa (part 1), with Bruce Geryk

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At long last I'm posting my podcast about the Eastern Front in WW2. Except that it's not exactly that, it's Operation Barbarossa. When I started this as a subject, I really didn't know how to parse it, or what my focus would be. Over the past six months I learned to separate Stalingrad, Typhoon, the Soviet counter-invasion, and everything else that is part of so vast a topic. I learned to focus just on Barbarossa. That's a deep enough subject on its own, and I have time in my wargaming future to explore the other aspects.

The centerpiece of this episode is an interview with Bruce Geryk. You know him from his Wild Weasel podcast, and you may also know him from the wargame analyses at his own website, from his Dien Bien Phu video series, or from his other podcast appearances on Three Moves Ahead and Quarter to Three. Bruce is a wargamer from way back, and he thinks deeply about the history and our hobby.

With a subject as monumental as the Russian Front, I particularly wanted Bruce to fill in the blanks of my experience with wargame titles that make up “the canon” for the topic, and especially some of the larger games. As well as being an avid tabletop wargamer, Bruce knows computer wargames as well, and fills us in on that part of the hobby, too.

Movies & Video
ThirEastern Front of WWII animated: 1941
The Great Patriotic War. Operation Barbarossa. Episode 1


Books
Kiev 1941: Hitler's Battle for Supremacy in the East, by David Stahel
The First Day on the Eastern Front: Germany Invades the Soviet Union, June 22, 1941, by Craig W.H. Luther
Blitzkrieg: From the Ground Up, by Niklas Zetterling
Barbarossa: Germany's Assault on the Soviet Union, 1941-1942, by John Burtt


If you're not a Twitter user (or don't follow me), but still want to see my photos and short videos about some wargames, just go to http://www.twitter.com/WargamesToGo. Feedback here or there is always welcome.

-Mark




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Mon Dec 23, 2019 12:35 am
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Wargames To Go 18 - Doolittle, Pavlov, and Sledgehammer

Mark Johnson
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If you need the feed address, it's http://feeds.feedburner.com/WargamesToGo

No episode geeklist this time, just the three games below



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I'll be attending Origins Game Fair this year (June 2019) in Columbus. I've been there before, but only in the 80s & 90s, so I'm sure it's substantially different now. I'll be there Thursday-Sunday, including participating on a panel of wargame podcasters/YouTubers/bloggers Sunday morning. That's listed in the program as shown below. I think it's free, and I hope any WGTG listeners still around that morning will stop by. I don't have anything else in particular planned for Origins. Just want to see the thing, play some boardgames, and enjoy some relaxation. Drop me a note on Twitter or geekmail if you like.

Armchair Dragoons Presents Wargaming Media: State of Play
This panel featuring wargaming media personalities will discuss the current “Golden Age” of board wargaming and what can be done to ensure its survival.
Location: GCCC - Apods - A210
Date: Sunday 6/16/2019 10am (2 hours)



Board Game: Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid
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Board Game: Islands of the Damned: Wake Island and Peleliu


Here's another one-off podcast. I thought last episodes exploration of solitaire games was an exception to my normal wargaming--and it is--but here I am again to discuss three different solo wargames. I swear I'll get to more WW2 East Front explorations sooner or later, but right now I wanted to drop this episode about some other games: Doolittle Raid, Pavlov's House, and Utmost Savagery. The games are all about WW2 topics, and all solitaire systems, but in other respects they're quite different. Their solo rules are completely different, as a matter of fact.

Of course, Pavlov's House, being about a location in the Battle of Stalingrad, relates to my Eastern Front exploration, albeit at a different scale. Last time I had designer David Thompson on the podcast to talk about the process of wargame design. Now I got to see how one of his games actually worked. The Doolittle Raid is different, something I heard my father & grandfather talk about growing up. They both served in the USAF/USAAF and I grew up with stories of America's famous air exploits. My buddy Brian suspected this game was right up my alley after he'd enjoyed it, so at a GMT Weekend at the Warehouse I bought a copy. As for Utmost Savagery, my interest was sparked by reading Eugene Sledge's outstanding WW2 memoir, which was adapted into the HBO series The Pacific. The Battle of Peleliu plays a central role in that narrative. A look through my collection revealed that I already owned a game on that topic, part of a dual-game within Against The Odds magazine.

It all makes for an unusual collection of titles to discuss together, as well as books & films to take in.

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Movies & Video
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
Destination Tokyo
Pearl Harbor (just the end has Doolittle's Raid)
Enemy at the Gates
The Pacific (HBO) (episodes 5-7 are about Peleliu)
Sands of War (WW2 military short film about the Desert Training Center)


Books
Target Tokyo, by James M. Scott
Enemy At The Gates, by William Craig
With The Old Breed, by Eugene Sledge


My Twitter videos about the games
Doolittle Raid
Pavlov's House
Utmost Savagery

Other
Geeklist of Award-Winning Magazine Games

Next I'm really going to start playing more WW2 East Front games. Besides Pavlov, I've already played Battle for Moscow and No Retreat. I have many more titles to explore which are listed on a geeklist.

If you're not a Twitter user (or don't follow me), but still want to see my photos and short videos about some wargames, just go to http://www.twitter.com/WargamesToGo. Feedback here or there is always welcome.

-Mark




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Sun Jun 2, 2019 11:17 pm
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Wargames To Go 17 - Long Range Desert Group (with David Thompson)

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Board Game: Qui ose gagne
Board Game: Long Range Desert Group: Special Operations Against Rommel 1941-1942


Here's something I haven't done in a while: a one-off podcast. In other words, this isn't the start of a multi-episode, multi-month exploration of one battle/war. Instead, this is a single episode about (mostly) a single topic, WW2's Long Range Desert Group. I vaguely remembered hearing something about history, then earlier this year the French wargaming magazine Vae Victis featured the LRDG in their issue game. It was a small, solitaire design, and I tweeted about how I was intrigued. A friend recommended a book to read about it, and soon I discovered another solitaire game on it. That was enough for me--it sounded like the makings of a podcast episode.

Board Game: Pavlov's House
Board Game: Castle Itter
Board Game Designer: David Thompson (I)

This episode also features an interview with wargame designer David Thompson. He created Pavlov's House and has Castle Itter coming up next, both published by DVG. As you'll hear, he's got some other games on the way from other publishers, too. In fact, his interview is primarily about what it's like to get a wargame published, particularly the part about pitching a project to a publisher. He's researching the LRDG himself for a project, so the interview was perfect timing.



Movies & Video
Sea of Sand
Lost in Libya: In Search of the LRDG
Battlestorm Lite - LRDG (3 parts including Moore's March)


Books
Sand , Wind, and War, by Ralph Alger Bagnold
Incident at Jebel Sherif, by Kuno Gross, Roberto Chiarvetto, Brendan O'Carroll
Killing Rommel, by Steven Pressfield


Discussions
Long Range Desert Group versus aircraft


Next I'm going to start playing some WW2 East Front games. It's an enormous topic, one of the centerpieces of our hobby. My knowledge about it is fairly limited, but I'm learning a bunch already. Also, I've naturally got quite a number of wargames on the topic already. With a subject this large, there are several smaller options out there, just like I prefer. I'm starting with Frank Chadwick's introductory classic, Battle for Moscow. I've started a geeklist about with these games, too.

If you're not a Twitter user (or don't follow me), but still want to see my photos and short videos about some wargames, just go to http://www.twitter.com/WargamesToGo. Feedback here or there is always welcome.





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Sat Feb 16, 2019 5:37 pm
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Wargames To Go 16.3 - D-Day (Conclusion, with Balkoski interview)

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At long last, the interview with author and game designer, Joe Balkoski. He's been on my podcast before, when we talked about The Korean War. At that time we made plans for his return when I dove into D-Day games. Besides designing some notable games on the subject, Joe has had an entire second career (his main career, really) of writing books on the subject. It's no exaggeration to say he is the definitive expert on US 29th Infantry Division and it's actions on Omaha Beach and beyond into Normandy, the rest of France, and Europe.

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I had the opportunity to interview Joe, and this time it wasn't at the end of a Skype line. This time I was able to meet him at his workplace, the home of the Maryland National Guard at Baltimore's Fifth Regiment Armory. It's right there on 29th Division Street in downtown Baltimore, and you'll hear what a fortuitous role it played in Joe's life.

With this episode, I'm wrapping up my drawn-out series on D-Day. After the Balkoski interview I talk about some battle games played that were "beyond the beachhead," covering the Battle of Mortain. As well as a few titles that don't have anything to do with D-Day at all: they're in here because my trip to Maryland/Virginia included some local sightseeing and inspired the play of these other games. I've had a little more time to think about what makes or breaks a good, short, small wargame. I'll share my thoughts, and would especially welcome any discussion on that subject.

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I think in my previous episode I toyed with the idea of stopping my podcasts. I no longer think I'm going to do that. Although future Wargames To Go episodes may no longer follow the multi-episode format for a "quarter" (or so) per topic, I'll still do something. I'm still figuring out what. Right now I know I want to play a couple different Long Range Desert Group games I've acquired. Both are solitaire titles. Then it's high time I learned some basics about the Eastern Front, and what better time to try that than in winter. Maybe I want to squeeze a Bulge game in around Christmas, too. Hmmm...

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-Mark



If you're not a Twitter user (or don't follow me), but still want to see my photos and short videos about some wargames, just go to http://www.twitter.com/WargamesToGo. Feedback is always welcome.




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Tue Nov 20, 2018 6:14 am
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Wargames To Go 16.2 - D-Day (Continued)

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A solo episode this time. That interview with author and designer Joe Balkoski is still coming, but not quite yet. He's got the little matter of his own retirement and a well-deserved vacation to deal with first. Ok, no problem, I just recorded this episode to record more thoughts about a variety of D-Day games I've played. Then I get to share my own travelogue from my visit to Normandy in 2014.

Playing those games, it got me thinking about smaller wargames, in general. Every so often there's a discussion posted online (here on BGG, perhaps in the wargaming twitterspace, or something else) where a gamer asks if there are any good, shorter wargames out there. YES! There are LOTS of them. These are the games I seek out. However, they often are less well known, because for many years the hobby has focused on the beefier end of the spectrum when it comes to wargames. It's easier to find monster wargames (see? they even have a term for it) than shorter ones.

Yet the shorter ones are out there. New wargamers tiptoeing into the hobby may ask for them, but just as often it's an experienced wargamer who still wants to enjoy the hobby but cannot host weekend-long setups any longer. Weeknight Wargames is what I tried to call them. Ones you can play in 1-3 hours. Whatever they're called, they can be found. One of these days I need to make my own geeklist with suggestions. When I do, I'll link to it here.

If you're not a Twitter user (or don't follow me), but still want to see my photos and short videos about some wargames, just go to http://www.twitter.com/WargamesToGo.


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-Mark



Remember to follow along & chime in on my geeklist/discussion) for all of my Korean War explorations. If you're a wargamer on social media, follow me on Twitter (@WargamesToGo). Feedback is always welcome.




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Wargames To Go 16.1 - D-Day (Introduction)

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At long last I’m getting to the D-Day episodes. It may seem long to you because I skipped last month (April). But it’s a lot longer than that. I visited the Normandy beaches on vacation back in 2014. I figured I’d record a podcast about that and play some related games soon after. Then when I went to live in France from 2016-2017, I brought a number of Normandy games with me, again thinking I’d get to them. In both cases, other things took their place, and my D-Day podcast was pushed back & back. Now, though, I’m getting to do it, and synced up with the anniversary of the battle. (I always prefer to play wargames around the anniversary of their battles, because the weather outside fits the action on the map a little closer.)

In this episode I briefly mention the books & movies listed below, talk about my recent time at GMT’s Weekend at the Warehouse, then dive into the extensive geeklist of games I aspire to tackle on this subject. I never get to ALL of them, but already I’ve made more of a dent than I’d hoped. It helps that there are SO many D-Day/Normandy games to choose from. That includes some famous biggies, but also quite a number of smaller wargames, as I prefer.

There’s no historical intro to the subject this time—-I’d feel silly doing that, and assume all wargamers geeky enough to seek out my podcast already know plenty about this famous battle. I did, too, but have been very pleased to learn a lot more details that previously escaped me. Especially about the fighting in Normandy to expand the beachhead and create the breakout. Operations Goodwood, Spring, and Cobra are exciting parts of the story I knew less about before this podcast.


-Mark


Movies
Saving Private Ryan
The Longest Day
Band of Brothers (episodes Day of Days and Carentan)
Storming Juno


Books
D-Day, by Anthony Beevor
Parachute Infantry, by David Kenyon Webster
Six Armies in Normandy, by John Keegan
Beyond the Beachhead, by Joe Balkoski


Remember to follow along & chime in on my geeklist/discussion) for all of my Korean War explorations. If you're a wargamer on social media, follow me on Twitter (@WargamesToGo). Feedback is always welcome.




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Thu May 31, 2018 8:11 pm
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Wargames To Go 15.3 - The Korean War (Conclusion)

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To wrap up my series on the Korean War, I've got a shorter episode featuring just me talking about the games I played. I never get to as many as I'd like--my geeklists are aspirational and for reference rather than predictive!--and the same is true of movies. Nonetheless, my exploration of this subject has been a satisfying one. I went into it not knowing much about the conflict that inaugurated the Cold War, and the defining historical event of my father's generation. Between games, books, movies, magazines, and other podcasts, I now understand considerably more.

What I enjoy most of all is that I feel like I "get" the overall narrative arc of this piece of history. There's the war itself, with its milestone events (invasion, retreat, Pusan perimeter defense, amphibious invasion to the rear at Inchon, reversal of the invasion, Chinese intervention, retreat from the Yalu and escape from Chosin...). There's also the political machinations going on from the end of WW2 to this episode.

Once again, I'm struck by how much I enjoy the old/traditional style of wargaming, with its hexmaps, ZOCs, OOBs, and reinforcement schedules. Even plain, old IGO-UGO rules systems. I recognize those systems have their limitations, but they really help me learn more about a subject. In a related way, I confirmed for myself that I don't really care for tactical systems. When they include the things that are necessary at that scale (LOS, opportunity fire, etc.), I just find that the game rules get in the way of my appreciation of the game and its depictions.


Board Game: Korean War Battles
From gallery of MarkEJohnson
From gallery of MarkEJohnson
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From gallery of MarkEJohnson

Board Game: Holdfast: Korea 1950-51
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Board Game: Corée 1950
From gallery of MarkEJohnson
From gallery of MarkEJohnson





-Mark



Remember to follow along & chime in on my geeklist/discussion) for all of my Korean War explorations. If you're a wargamer on social media, follow me on Twitter (@WargamesToGo). Feedback is always welcome.

And if you want to anticipate my next podcast series on D-Day, check out its own geeklist.



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Wargames To Go 15.2 - The Korean War (Joe Balkoski interview)

Mark Johnson
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Mark Johnson's irregular podcast about small wargames
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Joe Balkoski

Another month into the exploration of the Korean War in wargames, movies, and books. This time I've got an interview with the designer of the definitive game on the topic, Joe Balkoski. As you know, Joe is famous for designing a lot of games, especially the Fleet series and Great Campaigns of the American Civil War. He got his professional start during SPI's glory days, and has since moved on to become a professional military historian and author. Along the way, he designed The Korean War, published by Victory Games. These days he runs the Maryland Museum of Military History in Baltimore.

Board Game: The Korean War June 1950-May 1951
Board Game: The Korean War June 1950-May 1951




Joe has been interviewed on a wargame podcast before, episode 22 of David Dockter's Guns, Dice, Butter. It's an excellent interview that touches many topics that I don't get to in my interview with Joe, so I encourage you to listen to both.



I haven't managed to play TOO many games or watch many movies about the Korean War in February, thanks in part to a 2-week vacation in the middle of the month. But I've done some, and the episode wraps up with my descriptions of them.


Board Game: Korean War Battles
From gallery of MarkEJohnson
From gallery of MarkEJohnson





-Mark



Remember to follow along & chime in on my geeklist/discussion) for all of my Korean War explorations. If you're a wargamer on social media, follow me on Twitter (@WargamesToGo). Feedback is always welcome.




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From gallery of MarkEJohnson
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From gallery of MarkEJohnson
Guild
From gallery of MarkEJohnson
Contact
From gallery of MarkEJohnson
From gallery of MarkEJohnson

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Mark Johnson's irregular podcast about small wargames
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Wed Feb 28, 2018 8:46 pm
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