Wargames To Go

Mark Johnson's irregular podcast about smaller wargames

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Wargames To Go 16.1 - D-Day (Introduction)

Mark Johnson
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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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Wargames To Go 15.3 - The Korean War (Conclusion)

Mark Johnson
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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.


[






-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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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.





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.







-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 15.1 - The Korean War (Introduction)

Mark Johnson
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This quarter I finally get to tackle a subject that's been on my to-do list for years: the Korean War. I wanted to this topic because of a connection to my father, and because I previously knew so little about it. Several years ago, when I was just getting back into wargaming after a long hiatus, the military history book club run by Hungadunga here on BGG read The Coldest Winter, by David Halberstam. I was blown away by the story. As the nickname goes, the Korean War was kind of The Forgotten War for me. Except that I'd never really learned much about it in the beginning to forget. Thanks to the book and discussion here at BGG, I learned a great deal.


1st Marine Division at Chosin
Colorized photo from mediadrumworld.com

My dad passed away one month ago, as of the date I'm writing this blog. He didn't share my love of wargames, but he DID instill my interest in military history. We watched many PBS and History Channel programs together, as well as war movies. We talked about history and politics. The Korean War was from his era, when he served as jet engine mechanic for B-47 Stratojets in the USAF. No, those jets didn't fly in that war. They came just after. They were the United States first strategic jet bomber. The momentous first year of the Korean War coincided with my dad's senior year in high school. I'm sure he & his buddies were thinking about their futures as they heard and watched news stories about the retreat, advances, more retreats, and bitter winter fighting for the Army and Marines. A separate USAF was itself only three years old when the Korean War broke out. He went to college for a couple years, then enlisted in that new Air Force. My dad went through basic training during the war's final months, and the armistice was signed shortly after. That makes him a veteran of the Korean War era, rather than the war itself. Instead, he & his generation were the first "cold warriors" of General Curtis LeMay's Strategic Air Command.


My dad, Dale Johnson (1933-2018). Served in USAF 1953-57.

Consequently, besides a long list of games that cover the ground and air war in Korea, I'll also be exploring a couple titles that include the B-47. It was never deployed in combat--good thing since it had been designed for a nuclear WW3--yet there are some alt-hist games that include it. Doing that is a nice way to still include my dad in my hobby, and even share him a little with my listeners. Many of you have probably gone through something like this. In our case, we are fortunate in that it was a peaceful passing, and we had many good years together. I sure miss him, though.


Check out the amazing back & forth swings in territory during the first year of the war.
Historical animation by EmperorTigerstar


The Korean War is hardly forgotten when it comes to wargames and movies, I'm finding. Although there are far fewer games on it than WW2, Napoleonics, or the ACW, there are still many great choices for me to investigate. Besides big games that I won't get to, there are smaller games covering the entire conflict, or individual battles. There are others about the air war overhead. Of course, there are several treatments of MacArthur's brilliant Inchon invasion, as well as his misjudged provocation of Communist Chinese forces. As for movies...well, this is one subject where I cannot even watch all of the choices. There are too many!


At the end of February, I plan to feature an interview with designer Joe Balkoski. I'm also starting to think about who I might get for the final Korean War episode in March. Suggestions are welcome.






-Mark


Movies
Pork Chop Hill
The Steel Helmet
The Manchurian Candidate
Tae Guk Gi (The Brotherhood of War)
Men in War
Operation Chromite
M*A*S*H
Strategic Air Command
The Hunters
The Red Scarf
Battle Hymn
The Bridges at Toko-Ri


Books
The Coldest Winter, by David Halberstam
The Hunters, by James Salter

Other
Korean War Podcast
When Diplomacy Fails podcast

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 14.3 - French & Indian War (Conclusion)

Mark Johnson
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This month's episode brings my French & Indian War topic to a close. As always, it's been very rewarding to dig a bit deeper into a piece of history I thought I knew something about...only to find more layers and connections to the past & present. Even though my time living in Paris is six months behind me, I knew that picking this topic would be a great transition from my somewhat deliberate French-focused outlook of 2016-2017 into the broader world again. That's exactly how it worked. In learning about the F&I War, I chose to focus on the New France part of that story, particular the two centuries of history that came before the Fall of Quebec. I guess you could say I was focusing the "F" in the F&I War. I only scratched the surface of the "I" part. Not surprisingly, the political and cultural history of the native peoples in this region--and their ever-adapting interaction with the arriving Europeans--is a topic all unto itself. Frankly, that's the sort of story that can sometimes be told better by a sophisticated euro, since it involves so much more than military subjects. As far as I know, there isn't a game on that topic, though Mound Builders may be the closest. I own that, and look forward to playing it sometime.


The Victory of Montcalm's Troops at Carillon by Henry Alexander Ogden
(images from Wikipedia)

As for the military history, though, there are many good games on the topic. Typically, I played only a fraction of what I considered when I constructed this episode's geeklist. That's ok--I enjoyed the ones I got to, and will have future opportunities to play some that I missed. (I still wish there was a playably short version of the Battle of Quiberon Bay, though.)


The Battle of Quiberon Bay, 20 November 1759 by Dominic Serres
(images from Wikipedia)

A feature of this episode is my interview with designer Martin Wallace. Probably best known for Age of Steam, Brass, and London, you can tell right there that he's not your average eurogame designer. He's his own thing. Martin's games have always had a heavy dose of history, often political and economic history. It should be no surprise that his designer's eye looks over topics of military history, too. He's now designed a fair number of wargames, all of them innovative and worth a look. His designs don't come from a hex & counter system, a COIN system, or indeed any established system at all. A few of them share common rule systems, but most are unique. Though it's a problematic term (because no one knows exactly what it means), they are often euro-wargame hybrids. Which is right up my alley. When Martin's A Few Acres of Snow was released in 2011, it took a new game design mechanism called deckbuilding and applied to a very specific subject, the French & Indian War. For me, it was love at first sight, and I've never looked back. What a thrill to be able to talk to Martin about it, as well as his general thoughts about wargaming.


Sculptures of James Wolfe and Marquis de Montcalm by Louis-Philippe Hébert in front of Parliament Building (Quebec)
(images from Wikipedia)


Since this is the final episode in the series, I wrap up by talking about the F&I War games I actually played, books, podcasts, and movies. Then it's time to move on to the subject for the next quarter, and planned three monthly episodes: the Korean War.

-Mark


Movies
Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Last of the Mohicans (1920) silent
Northwest Passage more about Robert's Rangers than the passage

Books
George Washington: The Forge of Experience, 1732-1775, by James Thomas Flexner
THE CHRONICLES OF CANADA: Volume II - The Rise of New France, edited by George M. Wrong, H. H. Langton
Montcalm and Wolfe by Francis Parkman
Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Other
Iroquois History and Legends Podcast
Thread: Why did New France have so few settlers?
Thread: Montcalm's early successes

Remember to follow along & chime in on my geeklist/discussion) for all of my French & Indian 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 the Korean War, check out its own geeklist.



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Wargames To Go 14.2 - French & Indian War (Volko Ruhnke interview)

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Two months in and I'm really liking this new schedule of a quarter per topic. Those 90 days feel like enough time to dig into a subject, but also to keep moving so that I get to explore several throughout the year. I'll stick with this for the foreseeable future, and in this episode I share what some of my future topics will likely be.


Plan of Fort Carillon in 1758

The main feature of this episode is another interview with designer Volko Ruhnke. I say "another" because he was on my podcast a year ago to talk about Alesia, while this time he's on to talk about the French & Indian War. Though he's probably best known now as the originator of the COIN system, Volko's first published design was a CDG, Wilderness War. We get to talk about that, as well as an entirely new game system he's working on. I don't know if this is a "scoop" or what because I had not heard of this before, and cannot find anything else about it online. Enjoy! Volko tells about this new system in the context of describing the time he had playtesting games at San Diego's wargaming convention, SDHistCon. I missed going this year...maybe I should make it a priority in 2018?


Wargaming at BGG.con

One of the reasons I didn't make it was that I went to another gaming convention in November, Boardgamegeek's BGGcon. This was my fourth time, having been to the very first (2005), and then three of the past few years (just missed when I lived in France--2016). Although primarily a eurogame event, I'd say perhaps 10% of the gaming is wargaming. Since BGGcon is such a large event (2500+ people over 4+ days), even 10% is quite a bit of wargaming. I did some of that this time, too.


A plan of Fort William Henry, published in 1765

I've got one more designer interview planned for the final F&I War episode, next month in December. At that time I'll also recap the games & movies I've enjoyed. Then we'll put a bow on 2017 and look forward to the new year.

-Mark




Fort Oswego






Remember to follow along & chime in on my geeklist/discussion) for all of my French & Indian 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 14.1 - French & Indian War (Introduction)

Mark Johnson
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In the final quarter of 2017 I'm concentrating on the French & Indian War. This first episode is an introduction, giving me a chance to take my listeners along for this ride in history. Perhaps you'll jump onboard and experience some of these games or movies with me.


Hand-drawn map by George Washington, accompanying a printing of the journal he kept of his 1753 expedition into the Ohio Country.

I realize that what I'm calling the French & Indian War is really the North American theater of the Seven Years War (sometimes nicknamed World War Zero), when France and England battled for global dominance throughout the newly expanding colonial world. There were conflicts in mainland Europe, too. I'm not exploring those--I'm just looking at the conflicts of Quebec, Fort William Henry, the forks of the Ohio, the siege of Louisbourg, and so on. However, my reading about the French & Indian WAR (singular) has quickly reminded me that this conflict from 1754-1763 was preceded by a few other wars between roughly the same sides: English colonies versus the French & Indian-allied forces. I have a suspicion I'll be looking into those, too.



Fun times at GMT’s Weekend at the Warehouse (Fall 2017)

One thing that jumped out at me when I created this subject's geeklist is how many good light/short/hybrid wargames there are on it. From Quebec 1759 (Columbia's first block wargame in 1972!) to A Few Acres of Snow or 1754 Conquest (published in 2011 & 2017, respectively), there are a bunch of great choices for wargamers like me that prefer the lighter end of our hobby. I'm still curious about larger hexmap wargames, and the famous CDG on this topic, too.


Map of Louisbourg and its artillery batteries in 1751.

In the podcast I get to talk about the games I saw & played at the recent GMT Weekend at the Warehouse event, too. This is practically in my back yard (a 3-hour drive), so I hope to continue to go to this event once or twice per year. Next month I'll also be going to BGGcon in Dallas, where I'll be playing both wargames and euros. Hope to see you there! Say hi and ask for a podcast button to display proudly!


-Mark




This 1797 engraving is based on a sketch made by Hervey Smyth, General Wolfe's aide-de-camp during the siege of Quebec. A view of the taking of Quebec, 13th September 1759.


Movies
Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Last of the Mohicans (1920) silent
Northwest Passage more about Robert's Rangers than the passage
Fort Ti I think this is on YouTube
Barry Lyndon I know this is European Seven Year War, but it's also Kubrick





Remember to follow along & chime in on my geeklist/discussion) for all of my French & Indian 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 13.2 - Franco-Prussian War (Conclusion, with Charles Vasey)

Mark Johnson
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It's been an interesting couple months, delving into the Franco-Prussian War, including the events the led to it, and the after effects. It definitely feels like a historical pivot that transformed the Europe of Napoleon's time into the European political landscape that we still know today...and one that had such tragedy awaiting it in the 20th century. However, it wasn't a World War. It wasn't even a war that engulfed most of Europe as the Napoleonic ones had. This was contained, with neutrality and borders respected.

I have the pleasure to interview Charles Vasey again for this episode. He designed a game about one of the war's most famous battles--but one that's tricky to treat with traditional wargame design & play thinking. Although now it's easy to find his game in issue #24 of Against The Odds magazine, in the 1990s it was a DTP/PNP title, back when those took more work to find, acquire, and enjoy. Before its time! It was a great opportunity to speak with Charles about his game, and more generally about innovation in wargame design.





As usual, my ambitions to play many games on a topic exceeded my available time. That's ok. Some I played all the way through, others I set up and studied the rules, and some others I merely purchased (or already had)! I remind myself that this is my hobby, not my job. While it would be fun to keep exploring this topic, there are so many wargaming subjects I've yet to explore that I have to move on.

Charles mentioned that there didn't used to be very much literature about the FP War in the English language, but this has changed in the past twenty years. That has enabled a flowering of good games on the subject, too. As for the film, though, the pickings are still slim. On the other hand, that obscurity led me to find different films & formats that were interesting discoveries in themselves.





I think you'll hear in this episode how I'm coming to embrace the fact that the games themselves are a jumping-off point for me for a topic. It was where I started, and the hobby remains the core of my historical interest. However, as I've gotten back into wargaming for the past several years, I'm realizing that I'm energized by learning and thinking about these topics for a few months, exploring them through various "media" (wargames, movies), considering their impact on world history, and then moving on to another subject. Very rewarding.

-Mark

P.S. The first weekend in October I'll be at GMT's Weekend at the Warehouse event in Hanford, California. Later in November I'm returning to BGGcon in Dallas, Texas. If any listeners go to either of these events, too, please track me down and let me know. I'd love to hear what you think. (I may be part of a podcaster panel discussion at BGGcon, too. Details are still being worked out.) I'll have buttons/badges for both of my podcasts that you can pin to your shirt, game bag, or whatever.


Movies (as listed before, plus...)
Bismarck (also on YouTube)


Books
A Day of Battle by David Ascoli




Jump onto my geeklist/discussion) for the next subject of my podcast, the French & Indian War. If you're a wargamer on social media, follow me on Twitter (@WargamesToGo). Feedback is always welcome.







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Wargames To Go 13.1 - Franco-Prussian War (Introduction)

Mark Johnson
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Now that I'm back for good and getting a handle on things, I want to try returning to an earlier "format" I had for the podcast. That is, a small series of shorter episodes on each topic while I'm exploring it. That way, I don't excite my listeners about a topic just as I'm leaving it behind (the way it happens with those longer, mega-episodes). I did this a few times before, and I'm trying it again. I'd appreciate feedback on this approach.

My one "leftover" topic from my time living in France is the Franco-Prussian War. Twelve months ago I took several games on this topic with me overseas, but I didn't get to them until I moved back home. That's not to say that I didn't see a few sites that relate to the war in some way, or didn't think about it while I was there. I did. However, the games I'm just getting to.

The FP War is one of those topics I only had the slimmest of notions about before I became a historical wargamer. I knew the approximate time period, that it led to German taking the territory, and that this also led to the hostilities of World War One. I supposed I'd heard of the Paris Commune, but its connection to the FP War was very fuzzy in my mind. Well, as I always love about this hobby & podcast project, I'm now learning a lot more. Peeling back another layer of the onion of history, since there are always so many connections to events before & after.


The games I'm just getting to, and there are several good ones (large & small) that you may want to explore with me. Books, magazines, podcasts are well underway. Movies...well that's a tough one. In my podcast I forgot to mention Fall of Eagles, a BBC miniseries(?) from the 1970s that includes some of the important diplomatic events. But films that actually cover the war are proving nearly impossible to identify and locate. If you've got suggestions, please let me know.


-Mark





Movies
Fall of Eagles (also on YouTube!)
La Commune (Paris, 1871)
1864 not even FP War, but the Second Schleswig War between Prussia & Denmark is pretty close
1871 just discovered this is on Amazon Prime
New Babylon silent from from Soviet Union, available on YouTube
Last Cartridges A historical artifact in itself! An 1897 one-minute silent from from Georges Méliès
Field of Honour

I'm also still looking for more films associated the FP War and Paris Commune as identified on Wikipedia.


Books
The Fall of Paris by Alistair Horne




Remember to follow along & chime in on my geeklist/discussion) for all of my FP 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 12 - Hundred Years War

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While living & working in France I tried to do a couple things with this podcast. One was to focus on topics that were most relevant to my new surroundings. The other was to post smaller shows every month. Well, I succeeded at one of those goals. This episode is long overdue, but it's most assuredly about a French topic: the Hundred Years War fought across much of the country against the Kingdom of England during the years 1337-1453.

Over two months ago my assignment in France came to an end, and my wife & I returned to our home in Southern California. It was a wonderful, fantastic experience & opportunity to live over there. I had a day job, sure (one that got pretty intense near the end, which is part of why this episode is late). I had almost all weekends off, though, and we made the most of them. We went on lots of day-trips and a few overnight trips. Lots of them naturally radiated out from Paris where we lived, and that happened to correspond to the "northern theater" for the Hundred Years War. Joan of Arc is a historic figure whose path we crossed more than once. What a perfect topic for an episode! I knew very little about the topic before this exploration, and you know how drawn I am to that aspect of our hobby: learning history through wargames.

As always, the episode is a medley of discussions about the historic period, games I played about, books & movies, and famous sites visited. When another expat wargamer coincidentally tweeted that he was also playing the obscure(?) Against The Odds magazine game about the naval battle that opened the war...the same one I had on my table...I asked him to be my interview subject. Casey Nedry is an American wargamer living in another country, too, only his country is on the opposite side of the world--Japan.

Learning my lesson from the previous episode, I begin this one with a quick summary about the historic event. (In fact, I may later go back to my Spanish Civil War episode and record its own historic intro/overview.) To be honest, I'd feel a little foolish & inadequate doing this about something as well known as the Battle of the Bulge, but perhaps I should try anyway. It's good practice to boil down all of my reading & other research into a few paragraphs, and it helps to catch all of us up to the same understanding. Of course, if you think I've missed something in my overview, please let me know in the comments.

The Hundred Years War was a big deal for western civilization. It took place during (perhaps caused) a societal transformation from warlord-like feudal states and limited warfare into the earliest forms of nationalism and professional armies since the Roman era. It's part of what made England England, and it's definitely what made France France!

Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d'Arc) is a fascinating historic figure all by herself. I admit to having only a vague notion of her before this topic. I think I understood that she was a real person with real facts about her life, not so legendary as...say...Robin Hood. But I didn't really get how much of the exploits in her brief life were definitely documented. That was an eye-opener. At times it felt like our times in 2016-2017 France were crisscrossing those "The Maid of Orléans" nearly six hundred years earlier. Amazing.




-Mark

P.S. If you want to get started on my next topic, it will be the Franco-Prussian War.





Movies
Henry V (1944) with Laurence Olivier
Henry V (1989) with Kenneth Branaugh
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Joan of Arc (1999)
Joan of Arc (1948) with Ingrid Bergman
The Messenger (1999)
Timeline (2003)
Black Death (2010)
Wounded (2011)


Books
A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman
The Hundred Years' War 1337-1453 by Anne Curry
The Hundred Years War by Robin Neillands

Podcast
A History of Europe, Key Battles

Discussion Threads
Longbow "technology"
Political-military strategy of the chevauchée in 100YW



Remember to follow along & chime in on my geeklist/discussion) for all of my 100YW explorations. If you're a wargamer on social media, follow me on Twitter (@WargamesToGo). Feedback is always welcome.




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Mark Johnson's irregular podcast about small wargames
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Tue Jul 18, 2017 1:58 pm
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