Saturday, April 23, 2011

HBO's "A Game of Thrones"

Come on now. Let's admit it.  If you are a gamer, boardgamer, wargamer, or RPG player, then at some point in your life, if not still, you have had an affinity for fantasy literature.  Whether it was an early exposure to Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings", or episodes of late night D&D dice rolling, you have certainly come face-to-face with more than your share of savage barbarian warriors, magical wizards, or brutish orcs.  For myself, these kinds of fictional novels once played a significant part in my youthful recreational reading, and even though over the years I have migrated to material of a more non-fictional or historical nature, every once in awhile I still delve into a tome of sword-and-sorcery story-telling.  Several years ago, for just this reason, I read George R. R. Martin's opening volume of his best-selling Song of Ice and Fire series - "A Game of Thrones".

I ended up really enjoying the book.  Yes, it is a work of fantasy, but with a really mature, gritty atmosphere that is very "realistic" in its portrayal of the world of Westeros and the complicated motivations of its many multi-faceted characters.  No dancing elves or virtuous paladins contained in its pages, that's for sure.  And rather than digging into Northern European mythology, like Tolkien did, its source inspiration is more the actual history of the Late Middle Ages - specifically that of a thinly veiled War of the Roses.  Because I was so impressed by the novel, and also based on the reviews I had read, last night I found the time to watch the opening episode of HBO's adaption of "A Game of Thrones".

Now, whenever I sit down to watch a film of a novel that I really like, I expect to be at least a bit disappointed, having to make allowances for the consideration that a "movie can never be as good as the book."  But HBO's version, at least based on the opening, is actually really, really good.  It is fantastically cast, the acting is wonderful, and the sets and costumes look almost exactly like what I imagined in my mind's eye.  An awful lot of background was presented in the first show, and I don't know if it would have been difficult or not for someone to follow who is not familiar with the book, but it certainly held my interest while leaving me optimistically anticipating seeing the remaining episodes.  I hear that the show is considered enough of a success that it has already been picked up for a second season (which will adapt the second novel - "A Clash of Kings"), so this a series that I may be able to look forward to watching for quite some time.  Actually, it will be interesting to see if the author - who is notoriously slow at getting a book to publication - can finish the remaining volumes in the series rapidly enough in order to stay ahead of future television productions.

Sword and Sandal followers should check the series out for sure.  It may not be unadulterated history, I know, but its presentation of Westeros is probably closer in essence to 15th Century England than is 5th Century BC warfare as shown during most of the combat scenes in "300" - and most certainly more than the Roman Republic in "Spartacus: Blood and Sand".  We'll have to see how the rest of the episodes are done, but for now, the series is highly recommended.

Now I guess that I'll have to get around to reading "A Clash of Kings" before the second season gets shown some time next year.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Landmark Arrian - The Campaigns of Alexander

I am enough of "certain" age to remember a time when Classical History was still taught in Western Civilization high school classes in the American education system.  In fact, I even took a year of Latin myself, and actually read portions of Caesar's "De Bello Gallico" in the original Latin.  Alas, I fear that those days are long gone, and that the version of Ancient History that most younger Americans are familiar with is probably best represented by films such as "Gladiator" and "300".

I read a lot of Ancient and Medieval history, but mainly from modern, secondary sources.  Browsing through my neighborhood bookstore, my eye happened upon "The Lankmark Arrian - the Campaigns of Alexander", and suddenly seized with a desire to spend some time once again reading the actual primary sources that have been preserved throughout the ravages of time, I impulsively purchased a copy of this 2,000 year old document...and am I glad that I did!

First off, this is just a gorgeous piece of publishing.  I know that we are rapidly moving into a world of ebooks and push media, but at least the hardcover version of "The Landmark Arrian" is a throwback to a rarely seen old school book standard.  The volume has a great binding, clear printing on high quality paper, and a wonderfully satisfying heftiness to it.  The simple act of picking up and thumbing through the pages of this book is a pleasure all of its own.

Second, the content is just fantastic.  Of course, there is the original text, written by Arrian during the height of the Roman Empire, but with a clear, updated, modern translation.  Although I have frequently found Ancient original sources to be very intriguing as reference material, they don't always make for the most exciting reading experience - but not so with this volume, and that is mainly because of the extensive annotations.  Footnotes are frequently interspersed throughout the text, located on the same page, offering a wealth of additional information, such as different descriptions of events from other sources, historical clarifications, definitions, etc.  There as also many maps, placed in the text where the events being described occur, so that it is very easy to keep track of where Alexander and his army are located at any given time.  Speaking of time, there is an useful chronological track running down the side of each page, with summary paragraphs of what is contained at that point in Arrian's text.  Finally, there are illustrations and photographs throughout, even though they all unfortunately only in black-and-white.

Before the main text, there is an Introduction and an Editor's Preface, placing Arrian's text into the content of both his, and Alexander's time.  At the conclusion of Arrian's text, there is an Epilogue concerning the breakup of Alexander's empire following his death, and then a series of informative Appendices covering a wide range of topics from "Alexander's Army and Military Leadership" to "Greek and Macedonian Ethnicity".

So, "The Landmark Arrian" is simply a beautiful book, a fascinating read, and a wonderful reference volume.  And it makes a distinctive decorative item adorning the shelves of the library of any Ancient History buff.  The Landmark Series has also published "Herodotus: The Histories", Thucydides, and Xenophon's "Hellenika".  I hope that someday Polybius makes it into this series, but in the meantime, I have since obtained a copy of Thucydides' Peloponnesian War for my collection that I will also get around to reading someday.

Friday, April 8, 2011

HAVOC 2011 FoG Report

Saturday, April 2, 2011 saw the second annual Field of Glory Tournament at the HAVOC gaming convention.  HAVOC is put on each year by BattleGroup Boston, and it is probably New England's largest all-genre miniature event.  Our Ancients group, the New England Ancient Wargaming Network, takes advantage of this convention for a Field of Glory tournament.  This year, we did another three round, 15mm, 800 point affair, but threw in the new wrinkle of pre-set terrain.  Several of the individuals committed to attending were each assigned a table with a different terrain type to design, and to bring the terrain for that table.  Of the tables types used, we had a forest, a river crossing, a "Hastings" type hill, an agricultural, a developed, and even a steppe type table.  Our motivation for doing this was two-fold: one was to speed up game setup, shortening playing times, and the other was to get a variety of unusual terrain types on the playing surfaces that don't regularly make appearances in typical competition type games.  Players knew in advance that terrain would be somewhat unusual, and were informed that their army lists should be designed taking this into consideration.

For the first round of the tournament, tables were randomly assigned, with the winner of the initiative roll picking which side of the table to deploy their army on.  In the succeeding rounds, the lowest scoring table of a Swiss format matchup got the first choice of table, with the rest of the players next picking theirs in an inverse order to their place in the standings.  For these rounds, the winner of initiative got to pick the table, while the loser got to pick what side to deploy on.  I think that using pre-set terrain was a nice variation on tournament play.  Terrain had a greater impact on deployment and tactics, and armies and list were used that varied from the same-old.  It also seems that at least 30 minutes was cut off each game, comfortably reducing the length of the rounds from 4 hours down to 3 1/2 hours each.  Most of the players thought it was a lot of fun, and for next year's tournament, we are discussing doing the same with a early Medieval theme instead of an open format.

The only negative for the whole event was that the tournament was held in the basement on a cloudy day, so the lightning wasn't very satisfactory.  Not so good for some of our aging eyes, and none of the photos I took really are good enough to post here.  Oh well, not that big of a deal. 

Finally, for anyone interested, here are the results for FoG HAVOC 2011:

Bob Rioux    French Ordonnance 56.3
Matt Iverson    Later Ottoman    49.1   
Justin Tebo    Medieval Northern German City    41.6   
Hal Edgett    Palmyran    37.8   
Peter Celella    Early Successor    37.2   
Scott Kimball    Later Indian North Hindu    35.7   
Paul Georgian    Later Ottoman    29.9   
Matt Fullmer    Swiss    28.8   
Tucker Saglio    Italian Condotta    23.2   
Mike Sammarco    Gallic    18.5   
John Goodman    Early Teutonic Knights    10.3    (2 rounds only)
Len DiBello    Samnite    0.9    (1 round only)
Dean Hollembaek    Late Republican Roman    0.7    (1 round only)

In the middle of the pack once again for me.  Now back to league play as soon as I can get a chance.