Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Solitary confinement, with games and books


Because I write poetry and a lot more fiction than non-fiction it might come as a surprise that I have two degrees in History and Political Science.  As a creative writer I try to make history and the unwritten deeper past come to life.  I might fail, I am not suggesting I am a great writer, but I've always loved history, and this entry to Poplitiko is about solitaire games (either made specifically to be played alone, or those that can be played as solitaire) that reflect and game play battles and campaigns in World War Two.  Alongside the games, I offer you a focused book, that displays and describes great details on the subject.  None of these were provided by the publishers, they came from my home hidden stash of awesomeness.


One thing I love about military history is that you are able to imagine the results as they happened, but, also, you can create the what if scenarios.
History itself is not malleable, but by understanding the event by facts, analysis, and images, you can imagine the entire of the scene.  Even if you are not on the ground in reality, you can see the events again through the facts presented, or playing games that reflect the troops, geography, and layout of the scene.  There are many valid reasons, of course, that one can like military history, but for me being able to try to change the result and thereby the course of history gives me a visual understanding of what happened far better than just books alone. 

Osprey's St. Nazaire 1942 shows the reader the course of the event, the people who fought, on both sides, and more.  Through maps and photos the reader is able to gain a perspective of the event, that most books fail in doing.  But not this.  Osprey works are famous for the depth of detail and the lack of errors of generality over focus. 

My favorite military board game was a solo game, RAID ON ST. NAZAIRE by Avalon Hill.  The elements of time, luck, and strategy all play out and you are able to see just how incredibly difficult the mission was, and you learn how incredible the Commandos were.   I almost never won.  I am not an idiot, maybe the dice were against me, but I truly learned respect for those who actually did it, and for those who planned it.


Flying B-17s over Germany in World War 2 was not easy.  Many bomber crews never returned, some were captured, and the chance that one would reach the magic number of missions to be sent home was very low.  Bombing had grown from the lessons of war in World War 1, and most recently before WW2, in the Spanish Civil War.  Air power was more than fighter dogfights, the ability to effect change in the enemy through bombing was believed to be a crucial part of an overall strategy of winning the war.

Osprey's B-17 Flying Fortress Units of the Eighth Air Force takes a deeper look at the machines of war, and those who manned the controls, navigated, targeted and dropped the bombs, and those who looked through the cross hairs to shoot incoming enemy craft.  The struggle to reach 25 missions  was grueling, and Osprey captures real events and life in the units, while adding to our knowledge of the subject.

Unfortunately, it is rather hard to capture bombing raids and the dangers within by game.  B-17 Queen of the Skies was by no means a bad game, it just didn't feel like you were flying or sending out the missions. However, if one wishes to measure the difficulty of continuing missions, with depleted forces, this game does show you how difficult the mission purpose was to achieve.


When you think of the Nazi war machine in WW2 you definitely think tanks, close air support by the Luftwaffe, and immediate counter attacks to any assault upon their lines.  The strategy was given its most serious test when Nazi Germany invaded with a surprise attack across the entire border of the Soviet Union, and the vast amount of formerly non Soviet territory the Soviets held.  As in the invasion of Poland the first resistance against the Nazi war machine was futile.  Entire armies disintegrated from the coordinated actions of a modern army versus a poorly led army, unready for war.  But eventually, after many losses, the Soviets fought back, and turned the tide.

The book Kursk 1943 by Osprey talks about the battle that saw the tide inexorably turn against Germany.  Thorough in the list of armies and equipment, leaders and tactics, Osprey leaves no stone unturned to find reasons for all it considers.

The game Eastern Front Solitaire by Omega Games is a fast moving, thoughtful game that allows you to simulate the events in the Soviet Union during the many battles and campaigns following the invasion.  It is a very good game, but got even better with the 3rd edition and I found it wonderfully demonstrative of the difficulty even the elite troops of the Wehrmacht would experience, conquering so much territory, so many troops, and facing shortages, and hostile partisans.


The final battles to end the war in Europe in 1945 were brutal, bestial, and deadly.  They came as close to the unraveling of the bonds of humanity as possible, and the results are still visible in select areas of the battles.  The Soviet troops forced their way through Poland into Germany with great casualties, but undeniably great momentum.  By the time the various forces stood facing each other outside of Berlin, no one having imagined the end of the world could say, this was not Ragnarok.

Soviet troops were encouraged to pay the Nazis back for the savage cruelties done to their homeland.  Fear in the retreating Germans was real, and rape, torture, and simply dying were what lay ahead for many in the end that was Berlin 1945.

Battle for Germany now available from Decision games is a revamp of an SPI game of the mid 1970s.  It is fast, furious and easy to engage and understand. When played by veteran wargamers, the game might end in less than 5 hours.  This is considerably better than so many of the great games that took at least that long just to set up properly.

Berlin 1945 from Osprey is a book that could well have been written and illustrated without any sort of degree of compassion.  The tragedies of war by the end, with the death camps being liberated, the massive movements of native populations, and struggle for the claim to be the victors of the greatest conflict ever, all could have made the work one that felt like propaganda or filler.  But the professional writing and meticulous detail shows that this battle, like all before it, was in itself an interesting, important and exciting event.  Why should anyone think anything but that, with Osprey? 

Osprey Publishing
Decision Games

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