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Matching Books And Games

September 25th, 2013 by Troy Goodfellow · 13 Comments · Books, Me

This has been a bit of a crazy summer. Between all the travel, making sure that Europa Universalis IV was launched smoothly (it was a client, and I am thrilled that people seem to like it) and staying on top of everything else in the gaming world – plus having a social life with my circle of interesting friends…

Well, not a lot got written. But a lot got read.


I am blessed and cursed by being surrounded by bookstores. The picture above is Ten Editions Books, which is right in my neighborhood. Like, I pass it almost every day. There are boxes on the floor, used books about almost anything for sale, and if I go in I almost always drop fifteen or twenty bucks on a hardcover something or other. I have no room for the hundreds of books I left in Maryland, but here I am adding a new one every other week…

Over the past four months, I’ve read books about Zulus, Napoleonic diplomacy, Simulating War (that was a gift from a reader) and Ottoman administration at the empire’s peak.

And now I have Massie’s Dreadnought to re-read (it’s been almost 20 years since I last read it) and a history of The Boer War to last me the next little while. Plus assorted things on Mary Tudor, English colonial war, etc.

As I read Washing of the Spears, I did what I often do when I read a really good history book – I thought about whether there were any games that captured what Morris was describing. It’s a big book, and it describes a lot. I mean, there were wargames about Isandlwhana or Rorke’s Drift – maybe even the Siege of Ulundi. But my mind kept going back to King of Dragon Pass; I convinced myself that a game about pseudo-barbarian Viking-ish people was the best game ever made about the Zulu nation. Why? You have small clans that interact with each other regularly, but rarely fight to extinction. Your goal as a player is to turn your tribe into a kingdom, which generally means upsetting the apple cart of harmony somehow. Your economy is measured in cattle and your rule is largely guided by how well you know or can exploit the superstitions and religion of your clan. In effect, you are a white Shaka, though less driven by war and a hunger for revenge – ideally.

I do love when people connect the books they read to games they are playing. Bruce Geryk’s articles on War in the East are only enhanced by his continual references to David Glantz’s amazing books. Well, they are also enhanced by being written by Bruce, but that’s another matter.

I would like to try to draw connections between what I am playing and what I have read like that, but it usually doesn’t work out. My memory is weird and I usually make those connections at odd and inopportune times. However, I am fully capable of reading a book and asking which games it reminds me of. For example, Napoleon’s Wars is all about the international alliance structure of the early 19th century and reads just like the multiplayer games of March of the Eagles that I have played; personal goals, short term alliances, some long term friendships and a lot of waiting for the right moment.

I hope that the more I read and write about what I am reading (I do like to tweet about the books I am reading while I drink a pint and watch baseball), the more likely I am to stay engaged in the gaming side of things. Given how many recipes I have on my desk at the moment, this may mean a Cooking Mama article, at which point you can all leave.

Geel free to suggest books – new or old – but I won’t commit to reading any of them. I already have way too many.


13 Comments so far ↓

  • Tim James

    Tim Stone created a list like this for The Flare Path:


  • Armoderic

    Tale of the Heike (McCullough translation) classic epic of the Japanese literature (http://www.amazon.com/Tale-Heike-Helen-McCullough/dp/0804718032/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1380149856&sr=1-2&keywords=tale+of+the+heike) many of its themes, characters, archetypes became very influential even in pop culture in Japan (from animes, manga and games).

  • Michael A.

    I am so sad that I don’t have bookstore’s like that around where I live… no what am I saying. I am happy. Yes dear wife, very happy that I do not have any bookstores like that within 50km.

    I’m not sure I really buy into the KODP as Zulu nation thing; to me, it is not even a very good example of the development of the Viking nations, despite being sort of based on Viking culture. But then again, I’ve been reading stacks of books on how Norway was formed during the Viking ages (most Norwegian, though, so can’t recommend anything) and the complexities are probably more than any game can ever hope to contain (the fight between royal power and regional lords, the position of the regional thing assemblies, the christianization of the land, etc).

    I’ve thought of doing blog posts on my reading in the past, but just don’t seem to find the time to write anything lengthy about each individual book. But some recent reading:

    “King Leopold’s Ghost” – about the exploitation of the Belgian Congo and the fight to expose it. Chilling reading, but very good.

    “Explorers of the Nile” – been on a bit of a African exploration reading binge recently. It’s a pretty good overview covering multiple of the famous explorers.

    “The Axe and the Oath – Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages” – Haven’t finished it yet, but it’s a well researched – if not particularly sparkling – discussion of how people lived in the MAs. Research reading for the games I’m working on.

    “The Origins of Political Order from Prehuman Times to the French Revolution” by Francis Fukuyama. Current reading. Hugely ambitious book, but so far very thought-provoking in its dissection of political systems from China to Europe. Definitely recommended.

  • Andreas

    ” I’ve been reading stacks of books on how Norway was formed during the Viking ages (most Norwegian, though, so can’t recommend anything) ”

    Sounds really interesting, do you know if any of them are available in Swedish if not in English?

  • Steven Davis

    My most recommended history of WW2 from an intelligence/special ops perspective -Bodyguard of Lies. Out of print, but you should be able to find it.

    Totally twists the way you look at the war.

  • Michael A.

    Torgrim Titlestad is probably the most prominent Norwegian author on the Viking age; he has some nationalistic bias, but even as a Dane, I’m not too bothered by it. I haven’t seen his books anywhere outside Norway, though and a quick search on Bokus didn’t turn up anything by him either.

    His most recent book is “Norge i Vikingtid”, which is a compact, but very comprehensive and well written discussion of how the Norwegian kingdom and cultural identity was created. It’s available from Saga Bok (sagabok.no), if you are willing to deal with the Norwegian language.

    Apart from that, Saga Bok also has a pretty cool “small book” series with biographies of the Norwegian saga kings (i.e., the ones mentioned in the Icelandic sagas), were they combine the evidence from the sagas with other historical evidence to piece together a compact narrative of each king. They’re a bit pricey, but the ones I’ve read so far have been pretty good.

    Another book I’ve gone through recently is “Vikinger i Krig” by Hjardar and Vike. It’s mostly a discussion of strategy, tactics, weaponry and so on similar to what you’d find in an Osprey, but it also contains several chapters reviewing the high points of the Viking expansion. I’ve seen it in Danish, and according to Bokus should soon be available in Swedish too. Recommended – best book on the subject of Viking warfare that I’ve read yet.

    Any good suggestions for a history of Sweden in the Viking age? I’ve got plenty of good books on both the Norwegian and Danish viking age, and there are some excellent ancient sources in Saxo’s Gesta Danorum and Snorri’s Heimskringla, but lacking a similar source for Sweden makes it hard to get a grip on early Swedish history. Would love a good book to fill out that gap in my library.

  • Andreas

    Michael A. Thanks for the suggestions, I will take a look at “Vikinger i Krig” when it arrives in Swedish, and keep an eye out for the other books. Prefer not to read in Norwegian :)

    Sorry can’t give you any good leads on Sweden during the Viking age, I know that Dick Harrison has written a book called “Sveriges historia: 600-1350” might only be available in Swedish, focuses on more than the Viking age though.

  • Michael A.

    The Dick Harrison book sounds very interesting, and I’m not unhappy to have a middle ages history of Sweden as well, as long as it covers the early years well. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Armoderic

    Another book, also a classic of Japanese culture is the Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji, the Royal Tyller translation is very good) while is most about court life in Heian Period is a good reading for play Sengoku (despite begin a different period) or Shogun 2 (The book event are right before the game event in Rise of the Samurai).

    Along with the Tale of the Heike is a good book to see how much Japan changed form the long peaceful period (Genji) to the turbulent times that was to came (Heike and other wars which followed).

    By the way, I forgot to say: the Tale of Heike is a good reading for playing along Shogun 2 (Rise of the Samurai) and Crusader Kings II, as the themes about families rising and failing sure match.

  • bubblegum casting

    Genji Monogatari – Yes I cant believe you know that book!

  • Jenks LeBeau

    Basing games on books would be awesome- thanks for this actually:)

  • Cameron Moser

    Two great ones to recommend:

    “The Inheritance of Rome” by Christopher Wickham

    Pretty outstanding analysis of the “Dark Ages”. The game I match it with is the heroically ambitious, but wildly buggy, “Great Invasions”. The book leaves you feeling far more complete than the game, and it details both personal life and international links during the period in a way that chase back a ton of the assumptions we bring.

    “Risk – The Science and Politics of Fear” by Dan Gardner

    One of the best books I’ve read in years, by a former policy advisor and current journalist in Ottawa. Strategy gaming is one giant risk calculation, and this book does an excellent job boring down into how we conceptualize, or most often fail to conceptualize, risk. Worth its weight in gold, even if it’s by an Ottawan.