Mark Johnson's irregular podcast about small wargames.
Wargames To Go Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson's irregular podcast about small wargames.
Wargames To Go 23.2 - Spanish-American War (part 2, with Jason Perez)
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For a couple reasons, this episode has been my white whale, almost taking me down. I would certainly understand if any of my listeners gave up on me along the way, thinking the podcast had faded away entirely, or that I wasn't interested in wargaming any more. Not true! Listeners of my other podcast--the longstanding BoardgamesToGo about family strategy boardgames--know that I've still been active. I've even kept the flame of wargaming alive, playing a title here & there, reading history, watching films, and dabbling in online communities like Twitter and Discord. I even spent a weekend with wargame designer David Thompson where he beat me in a hex & counter wargame (not normally his thing, but mine!), showed me the brand-new Resist! game, and I also visited the nearby National Museum of the USAF.
So what was it? What has kept me from closing out this wargame topic for so many months? The first is the topic itself. What started out as a little exploration of a lesser-known, short war with Teddy Roosevelt and his charge up San Juan Hill ballooned into a wider study of America's pivot to overseas colonialism and empire. It involves US national policy, ethical debates over the nature of democracy, a technological leap in naval power, islands in multiple oceans, and millions of other peoples who were fighting for their own American-style independence from foreign empires. That's a BIG topic, and it was the inspiration for my featured interview contained in this episode.
The second reason was simply personal. I've spent most of the last year thinking I was going to be making a big change in my life, relocating overseas to Europe. I put a lot of things "on hold" while I worked on that, but it has ultimately not panned out. Ok, time to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again. Except that it's not really "starting all over," because I've still got my good family, home, job...and wargame podcast.
To a large extent, I simply need to get this episode behind me, which will close out this topic and let me move on to the next. The nature and history of American imperialism is such an enormous topic that I'll never do it justice. It has been fascinating and important for me to learn more about this subject--one of the great joys of my wargaming hobby is how it repeatedly opens up new understandings of history. I'm just going to do the best I can to wrap this up and then get energized all over again by the next topic.
• The War Lovers, by Evan Thomas
• The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and the Dawn of the American Century, by Clay Risen
• Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, by Stephen Kinzer
• How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, by Daniel Immerwahr
• Rough Riders
• Heneral Luna
• Crucible of Empire: The Spanish American War
In addition to my closing comments about the games, books, and films I encountered for this episode, I was motivated to reach out to Jason "Shelf Stories" Perez for a featured interview. Over the summer, as I was thinking about the breadth of this topic, Jason popped onto my radar screen for his work with the thoughtful retheming of the classic eurogame Puerto Rico for its 20th anniversary into Puerto Rico 1897, which keeps the award-winning gameplay but fixes the cultural ignorance of the original. Though obviously not a wargame, it IS more aware of this history into which it is set, something eurogames have not usually done well. Picking the year 1897 reveals a significance to the Sp-Am War that was just around the corner, too. Then I noticed Jason had posted some other interesting videos about the cultural awareness (or not) of wargames. I knew I wanted to interview him for t
Wargames To Go 23.1 - Spanish American War (part 1, with Joe Schmidt)
Now I've gone back to my usual format where I explore a single topic in games, books, films, and whatever else I can find. The Spanish-American War is similar to a lot of topics I've dived into--it's something I felt like I knew something about, but not too much. Also matching the pattern, it's been a subject I thought would be rather small and self-contained...only to find out it has larger implications and resonances to today's world. I swear, that just keeps on happening.
Probably like a lot of people, when I think of the SAW I think of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, "Remember the Maine," San Juan Hill, and Cuba. Other topics might come to me if I concentrated on it, but not as readily: the Philippines, American imperialism, Yellow Journalism, Puerto Rico, and the US Navy. I think Cuba's much longer internal struggle for independence was largely unknown to me.
In this Part 1 episode, I close by giving a quick rundown of the games in my geeklist on the subject, many of which I have played or will play by the time I record Part 2 to conclude the topic. However, the beginning of this podcast features a full interview with designer Joe Schmidt. Joe caught my attention when his little game Kettle Hill was about the Rough Riders' and Buffalo Soldiers' famous assault that was part of the Santiago campaign in the SAW. What's more, Joe won the Charles S Roberts award for the Amateur/Print-and-Play category. As you'll hear, Joe designed Kettle Hill as a PNP title during the coronavirus pandemic as a way of doing something for the hobby. I'm glad the hobby recognized him in return.
Joe has a few games with a distinct aesthetic, both in small footprint and graphic design. He's also got several other projects in various stages of completion, such as his collaboration with other designers for the French Resistance game In The Shadows, which has already made the cut with GMT's P500 system. There's another title that will be of special interest to fans of the Levy & Campaign series that started with Nevsky. I didn't even realize it until after I switched off the recorder, but Joe was giving me a scoop for his new game in that series! Just like when Volko gave me a scoop for Nevsky back in episode 14.2! Wow, I'm a journalist!
Wargames To Go 22.2 - Summer 2021 Magazine Games (C3i and Panzerschreck)
Isn't it tiresome when a podcaster starts by apologizing it's been so long since their last episode? So I won't do that. Here's the next one.
My plans to spend the summer (now months past!) playing contemporary magazine wargames sort of worked, just more slowly and less completely than I'd originally planned. Whatever--I'm doing this for fun! The truth is, after vaccinations we were able to see some family and do some traveling that had been unavailable during the first year of the pandemic. Wargaming took a bit of a back seat, though I still got some done. Including ON a traveling vacation. (I played two of the three Panzerschreck titles on evenings while visiting Yellowstone National Park!)
This episode features me talking about multiple games in recent issues of C3i and Panzerschreck magazines. The latter is a typically obscure, niche product and series of games that most listeners probably won't know. The former, however, is almost new territory for my podcast: a contemporary release that other people are already excited about, many of them own, and a bunch will have already played. Relevance! What a concept...
I'm not really too concerned about how niche-within-a-niche my hobby is. By now you should realize that about me. Just the same, it was a nice change of pace to be playing and talking about a game, designers, and publisher that others are, too.
Thinking back, I don't know how much I talked about the games themselves. Definitely I don't do a full review. Instead, I talk about my experience and reaction to the game. Especially when I move on to the other titles in this episode, it got me thinking about the nature of these games, what makes some work for me, others not. The final game, most of all, prompts some deep thoughts about what is being simulated in a game, what the role of the player in it, and is it ok? I'm inclined to think almost anything is viable in a simulation game since we are learning more about important history through this medium, but The Fall of Röhm tested the limits of my conviction about that.
Although I'm tying this series off before getting to a couple remaining games mentioned earlier, I still plan to work in Battles Magazine and its Storm over Madrid title sometime in my future. Whenever that happens (no promises about schedule), I'll shove it into whatever my next podcast episode is about, regardless of topic. Because Battles Magazine is really incredible and all wargamers should take notice of it.
You know, there's a good hook between that game and my expected next wargame topic. The "contemporary magazines" topic was fun, but I found that I missed the chance to dig into a single historic topic over multiple games & media, as I've done before. I'm going back to that traditional WGTG format for the next episode, at least. The subject is going to the Spanish-American War, and I've already started a geeklist for it.
• Eastern Front of WWII animated: 1943/44 Fantastic animations of the OOB, deployments, and annotated movements of the WW2 eastern front, covering the period and scale very closely matched to the C3i game
• Episode 31 of the Our Fake History podcast Great milhist summary of the Charge of the Light Brigade
• Charge of the Light Brigade (1968 film) Recommended!
• Tombstone (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1956) Three different Hollywood depictions of the famous gunfight
A couple mistakes/omissions when I talked about the Charge of the Light Brigade topic. Embarrassingly, I think I mentioned the Turkey on the opposing side to the Anglo-French allies. That's exactly WRONG and I should've known it. The Anglo-French were there to help Turkey oppose the Russian Empire. Second, I should've pointed out that the 1968 film I enjoyed on this topic featured some inter-scene animations in the style (drawn from?) Punch magazine. So clever!
Wargames To Go 22.1 - Summer 2021 Magazine Games (1914 Eastern Front)
As mentioned in my last episode, I've decided to do something different this summer. Breaking from my usual pattern of tackling a single subject with multiple games, movies, books, etc., now I'm giving myself a break. I'm just going to have fun playing some of the recent backlog of magazine wargames. I'm sure I'll read Wikipedia articles and such to give myself some historic education about the subjects, but I'm not going to get so deep. Where there are easy info sources such as podcasts and youtube videos, I'll probably take those in, too. As long as it's all fun and doesn't take too long.
One thing I'm keeping going is a geeklist for this episode. It's got all of the magazine games pictured above, listed in the order I think I'll get to them. As I play them, I tend to post a few photos, as well as a link to short (~1 minute) twitter videos of them on the table.
As of this writing, I've actually recorded some thoughts about the first two games played, both on the WW1 Eastern Front in 1914. I may save those for everything to be rolled up into a single, large podcast episode...or else I may space them out as little "mini-episodes" over the summer.
• The Seminal Catastrophe podcast episodes 17-20 are about WW1 Eastern Front, plus the excellent Supplemental episodes
Wargames To Go 21.2 - Vietnam Battle of Hue
Turns out Vietnam is just too big of a subject for a pair of podcast episodes. I decided to limit part 2 to just the Battle of Huế, saving more games & history for a future exploration. There are several reasons this battle is so well-represented in wargaming. In some ways it's the Bulge/Waterloo/Gettysburg of Vietnam. By reading Bowden's book on the subject and rewatching Full Metal Jacket, I felt I had a decent understanding of the history as-examined by four smaller games. Then I came across a wonderful "then & now" YouTube doc that also helped bring everything to life. I've never had the opportunity to visit Vietnam myself, but this looks like an amazing city.
As usual, no sooner did I finish recording that I realized a few mistakes and omissions. First of all, I glossed over the fighting that happened within the city of Paris. How could I do that? One of my favorite places in the world? Well, it certainly wasn't leveled or suffered too many horrors of house-to-house fighting, not like other cities in other wars. But there definitely were tanks and soldiers exchanging fire, as described in the book & film, Is Paris Burning?
Next, I neglected to mention a couple more films about Vietnam that I watched. Sort of. I mean, I definitely watched them...they're just 'sort of' about Vietnam. I couldn't bring myself to watch Apocalypse Now again, so I watched the highly respected documentary about its creation, Hearts of Darkness. Honestly, it drove me kind of crazy. I'm a cinephile and enjoy so many challenging & creative films, but the self-importance behind this film & filmmaker gets in my way. Perhaps if it didn't relate to a vital bit of military and national history (of at least two nations), I could forgive its excesses. But I can't.
And then there's The Deer Hunter. Oof, more of that self-importance, combined with even less respect for the historical setting. I know it isn't ABOUT the Vietnam War, but neither is it inconsequential to the story. It's a deliberate falsification to tell an excruciating myth. I really hated this one. This year (2021) I love the films Nomadland and The Sound of Metal, both nominated for Oscar's Best Picture. So I've got no issue with tough stories of human existentialism. But spare me The Deer Hunter, ugh.
One experience that was better was reading The Sympathizer. This is a completely fictional book about the Vietnam War, one that won the Pulitzer just a few years ago. It tells the story of three Vietnamese friends who grew up in that country, one who became an ardent fighter for the South, another who became a devout agent of the Communists, and one in the middle, a mole for the communists operating within the ARVN. The unnamed protagonist and source of the book's title is the third person. The story has a lot to say about America's confusion with this country and period, too. Not military story, but an amazing human lens through which to examine our shared history. Guess it won that literary award for a reason, huh?
Finally, when I talked about the magazine games I was looking forward to tackling next, I thought the Vae Victis game was about Algeria. Nope, it's Angola. Very different setting and conflict. I've got it now. Remember, these French wargame magazines have English translations of the rules, and all of their recent issues have a standardized small format of 108 diecut counters and an A3 (about 11x17") map size. Perfect for me! Lately I've been using Google Translate to read the accompanying historical article for the issue game. That's not necessary, of course--you can do just as well to read a Wikipedia article--but I like the opportunity to learn/struggle-through some French language.
P.S. Here are a couple twitter videos I did for some of the Hue games I played.
• Hue 1
Wargames To Go 21.1 - Vietnam War (part 1)
My next exploration through smaller wargames is about the Vietnam War. This is something that was almost contemporary when I first started wargaming (1979), so that was too close. I stayed away for years, just as I'm not ready to play simulations about our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now. I need some historical distance in order to process & understand what's going on.
Unlike some other topics I've tackled, there are a LOT of books, games, and movies about this subject. Just knowing I'd eventually want to get into it, I acquired a game here, a game there over the years...and it turned into a large list (see link, above).
• A Bright Shining Lie
• Tet Offensive (S&T Quarterly
• Hue 1968
• Nam Moi
• The Vietnam War (Burns/Novick doc)
• A Face of War
• Sir! No Sir!
• Last Days in Vietnam
• Hearts and Minds
• We Were Soldiers
• Hamburger Hill
• The Green Berets
• Apocalypse Now
• The Deer Hunter
• Full Metal Jacket
• Da 5 Bloods
This was Part 1, and there will definitely be another part. I need to get to all(?) of those other battle-scale games, especially the ones about the Battle of Hue. Is there someone I should seek out to join me on the podcast? I'm open to suggestions.
Lots of good information
I've really enjoyed these podcasts. The discussion of little known facts, films, books, and exhaustive list of games on the topics has been valuable.
If you're a historical boardgamer, I really believe you'll enjoy this podcast.
Wonderful wargame podcast
I love your work, please keep it going!
My Commute Companion
Thanks for rekindling my love if war games.