Books and board games bring military history to life: Read up on paratroopers, then roll the die and beat a Nazi to the draw

Some read a book and then, out of enchantment or simple curiosity, see the movie. Doug Blair reads a book and then… jumps into the board game. “You could say I like to play the books,” he says.

“I don’t know if the books inspired the games in many cases, but what I do feel is the games allow you to participate in the story on a different level.”

Take as an example the classic American World War II military history, Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band Of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne: From Normandy To Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (1992/2001, filed in the Lennoxville Library at 940.54).

It’s filled with the personal stories of enlisted men and the grander tale of the war itself. The soldiers of Easy Company were young, mostly unmarried, and white (because of segregation). They hated their commanding officer so much there was talk of shooting him in the back.

But they also volunteered to become paratroopers (with its $50 extra monthly in danger pay) and became an elite fighting group – one of the most storied, and successful, to ever come out of the US. Successful, that is, in terms of what they managed to do; many of these men died doing it. Band Of Brothers bluntly recalls the very real sacrifices soldiers make.

Blair went from reading about the Band Of Brothers to putting himself in their place (without actual bullets flying): “Combat Commander is a board game that simulates battlefield command in small unit actions, where a playing piece is either an individual leader or group of 5 to 10 soldiers. A game turn represents seconds of real time.”

You make split-second decisions, dig foxholes, toss grenades, receive orders or give them, and hope no enemy fixes you with a gunsight.

Blair reads all the World War II history he can get his hands on. Books like Fields of Fire: The Canadians In Normandy (by Terry Copp, 2003, filed at 940.54).

Even the fiction he chooses to read has historical elements. The novel Last Citadel (by David L. Robbins, 2004, filed in Adult Fiction), showcases the infamous (and real) Battle of Kursk, between the Germans and Soviets, in August 1943.

Now that the Lennoxville Library has DVDs, Blair can start watching a whole new collection of military documentaries and feature films, such as Paul Gross’s 2008 World War I drama, Passchendaele (filed at DW-38).

But not all of Blair’s reading, or viewing, is inspired by the military. “With my passion for games I’m mostly reading for reference (even with fiction). I am always looking for fact, setting and atmosphere that I can reference in my other pastime, table top gaming. Maps, photographs and art are also appreciated in this context.”

He’s a fan of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, an almost 1,000-page saga set in 12th century feudal England (1989, filed in Adult Fiction). There’s family relationships, politics, war, and the real-life power struggle between the monarchy and the church. Follett makes fascinating the evolution of architecture: the story’s about the slow but sure building of a Gothic cathedral. Pillars Of The Earth spawned a game of the same name, filled with workers and craftsmen, seeking to build a grand vision while avoiding financial ruin.

In fact, that’s a popular era for authors. “I also love the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. Just love the history.” These murder mysteries, solved by a Benedictine monk, are also set in 12th century England. (The series begins with A Morbid Taste For Bones, filed in French Adult as 1989’s Trafic De Reliques, and check Adult Fiction English for others.) There does not yet appear to be a game based on the series, but Blair says The Harn “comes very close” in terms of setting. (Harn is an island in a Medieval-type world, but with magic and dragons.)

Blair’s first visit to the Lennoxville Library was back as a youngster of eight or so, and he still loves some of the punny funny reads of his childhood. The first book he recalls is Fox In Socks (1963, available via interlibrary loan). “I’m a big Dr. Seuss fan,” says Blair, who’s also fond of puzzles.

He left the Eastern Townships for a time, but returned (with his wife, also a Townshipper) in 2005, rejoined the library, and now serves on its volunteer board.

“When we came back to Lennoxville we wanted to get involved in volunteerism and were pleased that, with the wealth of experience in the community, we did not have to lead but could follow and learn.”

Blair’s current read is the late Bryce Courteney’s best-known (and best-selling) The Power of One (1989). “The book was recommended to me and although it is outside my usual subjects it is rich in atmosphere and is proving to be an excellent story.” It’s set in South Africa during the 1930s and ‘40s, and follows the life of an English boy in a brutal boarding school with a Nazi classmate. It includes boxing, con jobs, work in the mines, and sweet revenge, and is filled with history.

As for Blair’s favorite book, it’s the three-volume Lord Of The Rings series (beginning with The Fellowship Of The Ring, filed in Large Print and Young Adult). Remember the Dungeons And Dragons game? It’s filled with hobbits, wizards and elves. “It is the ultimate heroic fantasy tale and perhaps why kids started playing heroic fantasy role-playing games in the 1970s.” (And many still play D&D.)

For even more adventure, Blair suggests the Shannara series (Terry Brooks’ 1977 Sword Of Shannara is in Young Adult, as are others in the series), and The Legend of Drizzt, R.A. Salvatore’s tale of a Dark Elf brought up to be a worshipper of a vengeful spider queen and an evil-doer. But Drizzt rebels. He wants to be good!

The first novel, Homeland (1990/2004, filed in Young Adult), profiles young Drizzt’s childhood and education. Exile follows his refusal to participate in his evil society, and Sojourn follows him upside, to visit humans.

Blair has a large personal collection of games: “We know a great book often becomes a movie but it often becomes a game as well.” Or at least, games can be found that reflect both the real and the imaginary worlds of books.

If you like Bram Stoker’s Dracula (available via interlibrary loan or online for free), try the game Fury Of Dracula; Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain (available in French via interlibrary loan) could lead you to the game Pandemic; H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu (interlibrary loan) inspired Eldrich Horror; and fans of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead (interlibrary loan) might enjoy the game Dead Of Winter. (These games can be found locally at Le Griffon, the shop on Wellington Street in downtown Sherbrooke.) Now roll the die and consider your next move…

Fox in socks, our game is done, sir.
Thank you for a lot of fun, sir.

— Eleanor Brown, March 4, 2016

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About BiblioLennLibrary

The Lennoxville Library, in Quebec's Eastern Townships, offers free memberships to all residents of Sherbrooke. We have a great selection of books in French and English, plus books on tape and CD, too! Check out our large-print section, our graphic novels... La Biblio Lennoxville se situe dans les Cantons-de-l'Est du Quebec. Les residents de Sherbrooke peuvent devenir membre gratuitement. Nous avons une grande selection de livres en francais et en anglais. Venez donc nous voir! Hours/Heures d'ouverture: Mardi-Tuesday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Mercredi et Jeudi -Wednesday and Thursday, 10am to 6pm -- 10h a 18h Vendredi-Friday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Samedi-Saturday, 11am to 4pm -- 11h a 16h Pour plus d'info, vous pouvez nous trouver au http://www.bibliolennoxvillelibrary.ca/ Click on the above to get to our website!
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