Through the Looking Glass

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Coming off of Netflix this weekend is JeruZalem. It’s a so-so horror flick, but one that’s notable for a couple of reasons.

The film takes place on Yom Kippur in “the present day.” It is made as a “found footage” piece, but using the main character’s Google Glass glasses as the camera. Given the rather rapid rise and fall of Google Glass as a thing, that dates the narrative to the fall before the film was released (i.e. October 4th, 2014 and July 10th, 2015 respectively). It is part zombie (the capital Z thing) and part religious/supernatural and, as a result, may be a little bit confused about its backstory.

Reviews were generally harsh. One online reviewer calls it Cloverfield, but with poor acting. The comparison is an interesting one. Cloverfield had a production budget of something like $30 million. JeruZalem was made with $160,000, mostly raised by the directors themselves.

In an industry that desperately needs fresh innovation, it is interesting to see an English-language film coming from a different origin, allowing for trial-and-error without breaking the bank or having to run the gauntlet of Hollywood studio approval. Although I’ve not watched to much of it, I have noticed an uptick in product coming out of Israel over the past few years. That said, his movie doesn’t stray too far outside “the formula,” but it shows that an independent production can challenge the studios. The critics, whether online commenters or the Los Angeles Times, judge this movie, not as an indie, film festival project, but as competition for its multi-million dollar competitors in the commercial film market at large. I think that says something.

Honestly, the acting may take a little bit to get used to, but it just isn’t as bad as the complaints make it out to be. I’ll just say that some of the actors are better than others.

 

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Wrong is Just Wrong

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With the book I’ve recently started (more on this later), I became tempted to go back a look at Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves again. Amazon has the extended cut of this film (as well as the original) available for free streaming for Prime subscribers. Finally, not being in the mood for anything else, I decided to watch it again.

It is much worse than I remembered it.

I read in online-review comments somewhere that some of the flaws are typical for 1990s movies. If that’s true, there may be a lot of other movies from that time that need a serious downgrading from how I remember them. I only watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves once before, when it came out on video. I thought it was OK but not great. It was a big-budget title that more than earned its keep at the box office. Whatever flaws there were in the implementation, I felt, were balanced by the big-budget entertainment value. How I ever thought that, I don’t know.

This film is confused. Is it mean to be a period piece, placing the characters of the Robin Hood legend in a realistic setting? Is it meant to be a fantasy/fairy tale? Is it action? Romance? Comedy? Not only am I, the viewer, confused about it but nobody seemed to convey the vision to the actors.

Some of the actors seem to be treating it as a stage play. Others realistic. Some are going purely for comedy, even outside of where “comic relief” would fit into a serious film. Costner himself seems like a high school kid trying to play Shakespeare. Or maybe junior high. He essentially acts as “himself,” but trying to alter his wording so he sounds a little less 1990s California. So all his “can’ts” become “can nots.” Beyond that “Kevin Costner” presence, there doesn’t seem much to his role. A few nice moves by his stunt double aside, he’s not particularly heroic. Nor passionate. Nor much of anything. His “understated nice guy” personality, which may have worked in The Untouchables or Dances with Wolves (do I dare watch those two again, now?), is just all wrong for this character.

Alan Rickman is often cited as the high point of this film (even in the marketing copy on Amazon, I might add), and perhaps he is. But his performance, reviewed today, is not as great as memory would have it. He is capable of portraying villains masterfully, so one assumes that he is going to carry the Sheriff of Nottingham easily. And yet has so much working against him. His looks of evil are overblown by using these ultra close up, fish-eye shots of his face – to make him look extra evil, I suppose. Other scenes have weird jokes tossed in. In fact, several of the most jarringly out-of-place lines I have since read were ad-libbed by Rickman because he thought the script was so weak.

The “extended scenes,” while we are at it, don’t really alter the movie that much. Unlike some other DVD treatments, the extra material doesn’t really alter the underlying story. They add about 12 minutes of the film and augment a couple of themes, but there is nothing revealing here.

That script, as a whole, is such a weird mish-mash of stuff, as I said, I don’t know what to make of it. You’ve got the Marion as Ninja and the Nobel Muslim schooling Friar Tuck and all the other heathen Christians what it means to be civilized. It is an early political correctness run amok, but before the current culture wars made it so obvious. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind a little revisionist exaggeration of the technology and culture gap between the Christian and Muslim worlds of the 12th Century. If anyone is going to lecture us on our Christian bias, Morgan Freeman is probably the one to do it. But this goes beyond the pale. Freeman’s Moor is a jack of all trades and a learned scholar regarding science, religion, medicine and, well, you name it. It’s a MacGyver meets Kwai Chang Caine and then some. These details shouldn’t obscure the holes in the film’s premise. That a sheriff is going to seize the throne from King Richard, who is apparently known to be in France at the time, by gaining the backing of a handful of Baron’s who are into witchcraft? Or something like that.

It starts to become almost painful to think about.

The saving grace was to be the big-budget action sequences. Don’t think. Just watch and enjoy the ride.But even here, time has not been favorable. We’ve entered an era where we expect our period dramas to get that period right, and Robin Hood just seems sloppy to the modern eye. One particular scene that slapped me in the face was where the troops of the Sheriff attack the Sherwood Forrest stronghold of Robin, after he has driven off some Celtic mercenaries. We have some impressive scenes of fire archers and even catapults raining destruction down upon the women and children seek reference among the treetops of the dense forest. So how do you film a company of archers launching flaming arrows through the forest? Short answer, apparently, is you can’t. When the archers are drawn up for the dramatic foreshadowing shot, we see them hidden behind some trees. When they launch their arrows, they are clearly in an open field. Made today, we would have been treated to some CGI magic to fix this. Back then, you had to actually film archers with arrows aflame. These are small complaints, but with this being the only leg the move had left to stand on, it becomes my final straw.

I haven’t even got so far as to see Sean Connery’s cameo, but I think I’m going to try to stick it out until end. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Troubled Waters

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One of the movies coming off of Netflix this week is Shadow Dancer. For what it’s worth, it remains viewable on streaming if you have Amazon Prime.

This is one more movie I probably would not have watched had I not seen Netflix was pulling it. While it was put together with the backing of the Irish government and the BBC, it does use some big name actors (e.g. Clive Owen in the male lead). It made the rounds at some of the film festivals, but I’ve seen little marketing of it for theaters.

The story takes place in 1993, but starts with a flashback to 1973 where we see the death of a young boy which drives the survivors of his family to the IRA in vengeance against his killers*. Forward 20 years, and the his brothers (now grown) are leaders of a Provo cell. We see his grown sister entering the London Underground, intent on placing a bomb. However the bomb doesn’t go off, she is captured, and given an offer that she cannot refuse.

The story takes place against a background where peace is tantalizingly close for Northern Ireland. The 1994 ceasefire is, probably, only months away from the narrative and the Good Friday Agreement is only a few years off. Nevertheless, before peace could come, there was a renewed escalation of violence. While I have memories of this time, including violence in Ireland and in London, it seems out of place when placed with other events of that time. Violence in Ireland seems so 1970s. I traveled to London a few years later, and I remember my traveling companion being terrified of IRA violence. For me, even before the Agreement, it didn’t seem real**.

I don’t know the details of the finances of this film. One presumes that with government backing, commercial success isn’t relevant. I was a little nervous that a publicly-funded film would be rather heavy-handed in its morality. In this case, it is not.

Hollywood likes its IRA dramas to be to be action-focused. This movie is far from it. The closest thing to an action seen takes place so fast and confusingly, it is hard to be sure what you just saw. Just like violent episodes are for most people. Would a larger audience appreciate a movie like this if they knew it existed? Or are my tastes just too far outside the mainstream?

Who knows.

The story in the film comes from a book of the same name. It is written by Tom Bradby, who was a news correspondent for Ireland during the time portrayed in the story. I should probably read it.

*Well, maybe. The film is complex and understated. If you pay attention, you may learn things are not how you thought they were.

**How much of this was simply not internalizing that what was actually happening in Belfast, South Armagh, and London was “real” because it was so remote from my daily life versus a fundamental understanding of the probabilities. Events like terrorism or mass killings are so rare that statistically it is nearly impossible for an individual to be involved, despite the fact that it can feel so personal, seeing it in the news. I’d like to think that this was predominantly me having a realistic grasp on the probabilities, but it may well have been that feeling of invincibility that seems a characteristic of youth.

We Two Kings of Albian Are

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Maurice Drouon writes in The Lily and the Lion, as his introduction to the War of the Breton Succession (or, at least, Robert d’Artois’ part in it), that “there were two Kings of France, each with his own Duke of Brittany, as each already had his own King of Scotland.” The Scotland reference is to the succession to the Scottish throne after Robert I (The Bruce)’s death.

In May of 1328, Robert the Bruce and Edward III had signed the Treaty of Edingburgh-Northampton, which recognized Scotland’s independence from England and Bruce as its king in exchange for a payment of £100,000. The treaty was unpopular, particularly with the group of English nobility whose lands were lost by Scottish decree during the wars and so who became known as “The Disinherited.” The Scottish Parliament, after the Battle of Bannockburn, had passed a law revoking Scottish titles from all those who continued to fight for the English.

When King Robert died, his throne was inherited by his son David, who at the time was only five. Robert had willed that his friend and fellow commander, Sir Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray, be named regent for his young son, who also had the support of those who had put Robert on the throne. It was only a year after Robert’s passing that James “Black” Douglas, another friend and leading Scottish warlord, died. The growing weakness in young David’s court emboldened those who thought that Robert’s claim to the throne was itself illegitimate and that Edward Balliol,  son of Robert’s predecessor as Scottish King, was the true heir. Balliol found common cause with the Disinherited as well as support from Edward III (who had signed the treaty of Edingburgh-Northampton under pressure from Roger Mortimer, at the time Regent of England but since executed for treason). The “Disinherited” were led by Henry de Beaumont, who was Earl of Buchan through marriage to Alice Comyn, daughter to John Comyn. He was a veteran of the wars against the Scots, having fought on the side Edward I.

In late 1331, Beaumont began raising an army for a private invasion of Scotland, summoning Edward Balliol from France to ride with him. In July 1332, Beaumont and Balliol heard of the death of the Earl of Moray (the regent), and sailed forth with their army to Kinghorn in Scotland. The attack by sea is said to be a condition of Edward’s (of England, this time) support, as it technically did not involve an English army crossing the Scottish border, which would have been in violation of the peace. After landing, Beaumont, Balliol, and their small army marched on Perth.

Camping just across the river Earn, to the south of Perth, Beaumont found himself caught between two Scots armies. Across the river to his north was an army under the new Regent of Scotland, Donald, the Earl of Mar. Advancing from the south was a second army commanded by the Earl of Dunbar. Both armies outnumbered his own. In a bold move, he seized the initiative by crossing the river during the night, forcing Mar’s army to attack him on ground of Beaumont’s choosing.

Mar was blamed for allowing his army to be put at a disadvantage and was even accused of treason. To counter this claim, he attempted to charge forward with his men to demonstrate his leadership and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this turned into a competition between the leaders of the Bruce’s army to see who could enter into battle the fastest.

Concordia res parvae crescent

Playing the battle of Dupplin Moor (as the site of the battle was known) in Field of Glory, I started with the Unity version (FoG(U)) and took the side of the smaller, rebel army. Although I knew they were victorious in the real battle, I assumed that the smaller army would put me at a disadvantage. Not so much, though.

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Outnumbered, I wait for the Scottish charge. When it hits, I find that my English longbowmen are quite the warriors and quickly gain for me the advantage.

What I did realize is that playing as the rebels against a royalist AI closely matches the tactics of the historical battle. As I’ve stated before, the FoG(U) AI is considerably more aggressive than its predecessor. Like the competing commanders of old, the Scottish army charged forward while I attempted to maintain my advantageous position on the high ground. Beaumont had chosen to defend on hilly ground deployed in the shape of a crescent, placing his English longbowmen on his wings. These tactics, similar to those which brought victory at the Battle of Boroughbridge, honed the formations that would bring the English victory in the Hundred Years’ War in battles such as Crecy and Agincourt.

In the above screenshot, two out of the three Scottish formations became disorganized as they approached my lines – a historically accurate outcome. I also found my longbowmen to be exceptional at hand-to-hand combat. It’s another bone I have to pick with Field of Glory, although I don’t really know what the numbers are behind it or what would, indeed, make it more accurate. Archer formations aren’t particularly effective at ranged fire. Enemy formations be picked at a few men at a time and occasionally their formation deteriorates somewhat, but rarely does ranged combat seem to have a decisive effect on the battle overall. On the other hand, bowmen often seem pretty good once engaged in hand-to-hand combat against other foot formations and also have movement capabilities which exceed that of mounted troops. By contrast, the real deployment at Dupplin Moor of longbowmen forward and on the wings wound up driving the advancing Scots towards the center of the rebel trap, withdrawing as they went the punishing fire of the English.

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A solid victory for Beaumont and Balliol. It is not terribly off the historical mark.

Once I started fending off the Scottish advance I rolled inevitably towards a victory. I didn’t quite match that oft-quoted 33 casualties suffered by the rebels but, then again, the “casualties” don’t differentiate between killed and wounded, so I can’t say how far off I really am. As satisfying as that might feel as a historical outcome, I didn’t feel so right as a player. Whupping an AI who can’t quite understand the battle which he is a part of is not so satisfying. Instead, I should have picked the Scottish side to play against the computer. It is, after all, the default set up by the scenario maker.

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For a brief moment, it seemed that it could go either way, but then the Scottish lines began to break.

Unfortunately for the solo player, the game is almost as lopsided played from the other direction. You might see a little bit of my strategy from my minimap in the screenshot above. I could have tried to play historically, but remember I just saw that the advantage in this scenario was with the rebels. I therefore advanced cautiously, trying to keep my lines mostly intact with my army in echelon so that I hit what appeared to be the enemy’s stronger left wing first.

In this second version, their was some more back-and-forth initially. My own forces were breaking at least as fast as the enemies. Of course, I have more units to spare, so I’m not entirely displeased with this result. At some point, a few turns in, the lines settled into a shoving match and I wasn’t seeing units breaking from either side. For a brief moment, I though the AI might pull off something, but then his forces began to break again, while my own began to advance around and then crumble his flanks.

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Switching sides, the lopsided victory switched sides with me. One interesting note is that, even in victory, my losses were more than double that of my enemy.

A Crescent Still Abides

A good part of the AI’s problem was its new-found aggressiveness. One of the keys to rebel victory was the fact that Beaumont held the high ground and forced the Scots to come to him. The FoG(U) AI, however, immediately charges down their hills and into the flat ground to engage me on my terms. I like to hold my formation until contact. The AI has no such desire. This, of course, begs the question – would the old FoG AI, being overall more timid, fare better with this scenario?

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The AI, being more passive, did stick to his high ground. He didn’t like the feel of that crescent formation, however, and worked to straighten out his battle line before I engaged.

I replayed the scenario one final time using the original Field of Glory.  I tried to play my Scottish loyalists much the same as against the FoG(U) version of the AI. The screenshot shows that my far right formation got a bit disheveled during the advance. This was largely due to some UI mismanagement (a frequent problem with the original version of FoG) whereby portions of that formation went other than where I wanted them. Realizing I had a mess on my hands, I figure it is some approximation of that zeal of the loyalist commanders to be first into the fray.

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In the end, the result was much the same. The rebels held out a little longer, likely explaining the higher casualties on both sides of the field.

In an obvious display of the preferences of that AI, my opponent holds his ground, but shuffles his units to form a straight defensive line. The move nullifies the historically-decisive position of the longbows, forward on the wings. As I said above, though, I’m not sure FoG adequately simulates the use of longbows anyway. The end tally was not dissimilar to the results versus FoG(U). The actual details of the battle reflected that very different AI strategy.

Book Learning

Back in the book, Druon obviously intended at the time he wrote it for The Lily and the Lion to be the final “chapter” in The Accursed Kings. We, the readers, rapidly advance from the main events of the series (the rapid demise of all the heirs to Philip the Fair’s throne) into the true beginnings of the Hundred Years War. One piece of the story is tied off with the death of Robert of Artois (with the author is obviously being anguished by this), having thrown the entire Western world into war for, in the end, nothing. Robert died of infection after a wound suffered in a fairly minor battle. He was still an exile and his family imprisoned in France. The other piece of the story ends with the death of Jean I the Posthumous. History itself records that he died in infancy. If once assumes, as the series does, that he actually survived, living in secrecy, then he becomes the last to go of the male heirs of Philip the Fair.

I plan to take a short break before moving on to the final book in the series. I am particularly interested in the change in translator for the final book. Will it still read the same, or is Mr. Humprey Hare’s (I do love that name) voice a critical part of what makes Druon a success in English?

Being, at the time, his final book, Druon seems to have made some extra effort in tying the narrative to modern themes. Early on in the book, he makes a defense (and to me, a surprising one) of individual sovereignty as the basis for the Divine Right of Kings. People struggled, he suggests, with the assassination of Edward II not only because he was ordained by God to be regent, but because if they (the politicos of the Middle Ages) choose to toss their kings aside willy-nilly, it is ultimately the people’s choice to accept the rule of a king in the first place. In other words, to challenge the rule of an individual king was to challenge the rule of all kings.

It is, perhaps, an even more interesting commentary today than it was when he wrote it. In 1960, when the book was published, individual sovereignty as a basis for democracy was hardly controversial. Even in Europe, where the authority of the democratic State often inherited the power of the monarchies which they replaced, the notion of the supremacy of the individual was held in contrast to tyranny.

What a difference a half-a-century makes.

Now, at least in America, a statement about the sovereignty of individuals is likely going to be interpreted as partisan, if not “extreme.” Assuming the appellation of a “sovereign citizen of the United States,” essentially what in 1960 would have been the basis of your rights as a voter, is now as likely as not to get you put on a watch list from the Southern Poverty Law Center as some kind of – well, I’m not sure exactly. A racist, anti-Semite, I suppose.

The statement sourcing the divine right of kings from individual sovereignty is simply stated and, while it doesn’t quite fit with the modern conceptualization of the French, it was written before my time here on earth. It is even more surprising to me to have it stated, as it was so matter-of-factly, regarding the mentality Medieval Europeans. Some further reading showed me that this is a valid claim. Writings from this time do survive and demonstrate Medieval thinkers, themselves extending the principles of Aristotle and the philosophers of Rome, deriving imperial power from the will of the people. Concurrent with the events in these stories, for example, Marsilius of Padua was pushing society’s understand of sovereignty towards something like enlightenment-era republicanism, including concepts such as the right of revolution.

I still have to wonder whether the actual “people,” as opposed to merely those of sufficiently royal blood to actually challenge the authority of kings, really felt that kings ultimately answered to them. It seems more likely that these ideas would be confined to barons and such, outside of the occasional republican governments formed during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The other significant “modern” reference that got me thinking was Druon’s comparison of the massive French loss at Sluys to the French defeat by the Germans in 1940. In both cases, Druon argues, the French had an equivalent if not superior force to work with. In both cases, the French commanders were advised that their choice of strategy was an incorrect one. In both cases, hubris by French leadership resulted in a massive loss that would have a devastating impact on the French nation for years to come. In 1960, people still remembered the military power that France once had. Again, to the modern ear, talk of France’s military prowess often rings false.

The Thousand Wars of Old

With Druon drawing his series to an end, even if that end is a false one, I’ll reflect on one more item that I had mentioned up front. The current reprinting of this series comes with an endorsement from George R. R. Martin, where he calls it the “original Game of Thrones.” In that first article, I said that I was pleased that this series is available in a current print run, however that may have come about. The longer this has sat with me, though, the more it has soured a little.

Each book in the series has a forward written by Martin. In fact, it is the same forward in every book. As I read through successive books, I come to the realization that this story isn’t A Game of Thrones. Not really. Oh sure, there are parallels. I may even be clear that Martin got some of his inspiration from having read The Accursed Kings, even without his declaration in the forward. But this series is more than A Game of Throne‘s drama, it is historical fiction. While much of Druon’s fiction is speculative, it is strongly anchored in historical fact (supported further by his footnotes and postscripts). It is also a story that focuses on the theme of the small decisions and petty politics that plunged Europe into the Hundred Years War. At its heart, the story is much more of a personal one than the tales of Westeros.

There’s another kicker. While we know that in The Accursed Kings, just like in A Game of Thrones, everybody dies in the end, for The Accursed Kings we could find out at any time exactly when any particular character dies, and how, and under what circumstances. Even if you avoid referencing Wikipedia throughout, there really isn’t any question about who is the real heir to the Iron Throne, um, I mean throne of France. It’s only a question of how the argument plays out. There are no great reveals waiting for us in future episodes of The Accursed Kings.

So it is a very different experience and very different series, as well it should be. I’m glad that The Accursed Kings is so much more than the “original Game of Thrones.” Problem is, I feel a little bit cheapened that it took Martin and that provocative assertion to draw me in in the first place. Let’s be honest, I never would have purchased a 60-year-old series translated from a foreign language without George’s prodding. I wish I was the kind of person that I would have, but I’m not. I feel just a little bit bad about that.

I’m having a similar experience on Netflix at the moment, but I’ll save that unburdening for another day.

The Hour’s Getting Late

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Amazon prime has Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut available on Prime Video as I write this. Actually, it has three different versions of the movie, all on Prime. The Ultimate Cut is the longest, followed by the Director’s Cut, followed by the Theatrical Release. It was the Ultimate Cut that caught my eye. Never having watched this movie (in any version) before, this is the one I went with.

I am not typically a fan of comic book to movie conversions, mostly because I’ve never been a fan of comic books themselves. This one didn’t really speak to me when it came out nine years ago and hadn’t thought much of it since. Over the last couple of years, though, I’ve seen people post the opening credits on Facebook and I really like the look and feel of that sequence. More recently I’ve seen some positive comments (also Facebook) about the film so when it popped up on Amazon, it was on my radar.

As well it might be. The movie starts on October 12th, 1985 in an alternate reality where the U.S. has won the Vietnam War resulting in a nuclear showdown between still-going-strong President Nixon and the Russians over Afghanistan. Much of the details are revealed through flashbacks wherein we come to learn of a post-1930s world infused with masked superheroes. More importantly in 1959, a human achieves godlike powers through a nuclear accident and, via his new persona as Dr. Manhattan, comes to dominate world events.

I struggle with what to think of this film. It is a dark, violent, and explicit version of a superhero tale. Director by Zack Snyder following his success with 300, it is laden with style. I particularly like the soundtrack. The casting also is inspired. Actors bear a resemblance to other, older (80s?) actors bringing in subtle allusions from earlier film and television. In fact, the whole film is interwoven with oblique references. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of concentration, as so much of the film scatters clues for you to pick up rather than being shoving it all right in your face.

But is it just a mesh of pop-cultural snark, ultimately leading nowhere? Or does it all come together to produce something far greater than the sum of its parts? My suspicions are aroused by the decidedly left-wing bent to the whole narrative. Save one, the superheroes of course forgo the use of firearms. The one character who does not, The Comedian, is a rapist and murderer. The dystopia in which the film finds itself has birthed, apparently, from a right wing dream – Victory in Vietnam followed by permanent conservative majority. Is this just a canvas on which to paint a bigger message, or is it itself the message?

The source book was created in, roughly, the same timeframe as portrayed in its story. It was released as a comic book series in 1986 and 1987, using the alternate timeline to portray the recent past as dystopian future. The original series is lauded as a significant work of literature by critics and is credited by the BBC for launching the serious, mainstream appreciation of graphic novels. Given writer Alan Moore’s anarchic leanings, this all would argue for a more nuanced interpretation than the obvious “Republicans are bad” take within the movie’s script. Still, Moore does write that part of his message was to be an attack on the Reaganism of the time in which he wrote.

A film can rarely do full justice to its source material and apparently this holds true in the case of this graphic novel. I gather that the film makes an effort to stay true, particularly with the extended versions. There are some changes in plot. In particular the decision to insert an annoying sub-narrative about energy scarcity and evil automotive and oil companies seems rather childish, given its ultimate irrelevance in the main story. The movie also seems to a flipped history to make the U.S. the aggressor in Afghanistan that (assuming I’ve interpreted it all as intended) in what is an unnecessary jab of anti-Americanism. The extent to which the film follows the comic, in my mind, benefits the cinematic version by being able to draw for meaning on the greater depth of that material.

Regarding this particular version, it is a three hour and 35 minute marathon. It’s twenty-nine minutes longer than the Director’s Cut and just shy of a full hour longer than the theater release version. Having not seen the shorter versions, it is tough for me to really analyze the differences. I have read that between the Director’s Cut and the theater release, the missing material actually changes the story substantially (and that the longer version is truer to the source material). Much of the remaining difference going to the Ultimate Cut is from the inclusion of the cartoon short, Tales of the Black Freighter, interwoven with the movie. This is a graphic novel which a minor character  reads periodically throughout the story. In the theatrical release, the reference to Black Freighter is through a single line which would seem to obscure the purpose of its message relative to the main story. Inserting the story in its entirety is either enlightening or overdone, depending on how critical you feel the short’s message is to the overall interpretation of Watchmen.

In the end, this is probably worth the watch. The bits that show true promise then get stepped on by pieces that muddle and simplify. In the end, it may all well be less than it appears. Getting the viewer to work their way through it all, though, that’s worth something in and of itself.

 

Any of You Sons a’ Bitches Calls Me “Grandpa,”…

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This is the thirteenth in a series of posts on the Vietnam War. See here for the previous post in the series and here to go back to the master post.

The Grandfather of the Vietnam strategic-level wargame has to be the out-of-print monster game from Victory Games, Vietnam 1965-1975.

The game was released in 1984. To get a context of the time, take a look at the Vietnam-themed films that were out before 1984. There was, of course, Apocalypse Now, which isn’t really about Vietnam. There was The Deerhunter, which wasn’t really about Vietnam.  There was also a smattering of “returned vets” pictures and the occasional POW action film, but in general Vietnam was a nasty political mess that we had finally managed to extract ourselves from, and not a suitable subject for entertainment.

The world of wargames was similar. 1984 was the cresting of a decade of plenty in the hobby. The shelves at game stores were awash with games covering the old standbys; World War II, The American Civil War (especially Gettysburg), and the wars of Napoleon. While the success of those games enabled the industry to produce ever more variety in both mechanics (particularly greater complexity) and settings, Vietnam wasn’t really on the table. Part of it was the timing. A game dealing with the strategic-level war in Vietnam couldn’t really have existed* for more than a half-a-dozen or so years anyway, until after the ending of that conflict was known**. But beyond that, the topic remained rather taboo.

All that doesn’t even take into account what might be the greatest problem of all. The war defied the structure that made up most wargames to that point. There were no front lines, no clear demarcation between friendly and enemy held territory. Victory conditions remained puzzlingly elusive. Finally, while the military match-ups did produce expected results (typically overwhelming victories by U.S. forces), those did not translate into victory and loss. As Ho Chi Minh explained to the French, “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.”

Before we get into discussions about asymmetric warfare and victory conditions thereof, Vietnam 1965-1975 does something else that is a little special for 1984. I recall an essay, or perhaps even a video, talking about how to get your friends and relatives to play games with you. It points out that most people’s gaming experience is limited to some “family games” they played as children; the Monopolies and Clues. It set up recommendations by taking things that people like about classic games, and recommending a newish game that has that same mechanic, but implements it better. A point I took away is that the current state-of-the-art in boardgame design tries to minimize the “down time” between turns. Simply waiting and doing nothing while others around a six-seat table play does not make for fun gameplay. Worse yet, being forced to concentrate on how those 5 other players move, because otherwise you might miss something important, is not only tedious but punishes you if your mind starts to wander a little. Giving every participant in the game something to do, even when it isn’t their turn, is a hallmark of today’s game design.

The monster wargames of the early 1980s took this problem to a level beyond anything a family game could even imagine. I recall several rulebooks from the ’60s or ’70s vintage wargames where the opening paragraphs tried to hit some basic concepts. Front and center was the idea that on your turn you could move any or all of your pieces, not just one. The next paragraph using explained the concept of movement allowance; How having elected to move a piece, the moves open to the player also were open to extensive choices (subject to various limitations). This was a key nod towards realism that differentiated Chess from PanzerBlitz. A real army can get all its parts moving simultaneously.

Now, extrapolate this to a monster wargame covering the entire Eastern Front or, more to the point, the whole of Vietnam. Each of hundreds of counters needs to be moved individually by the player, which could take an eternity.

We’ll start with the innovations of Vietnam 1965-1975 right here. Turns are played out as a series of “operations,” which are fairly small and focused engagements between pieces. To simulate the nature of the communist insurgency, they always have the opportunity to go first. Once their operation is complete, the U.S. gets a chance. In this way, getting through “all the counters” is done piecemeal, alternating with a few from each side. Furthermore, each operation is not simply a matter of the attacker counting up points then asking the defender to roll for his defense. Operations are dynamic. Units may retreat before a battle, or attempt to flee after it. As they move across the map, nearby units may join the fray, potentially shifting an attackers advantage to the defender. Finally, on top of all of this, either side may decline to take an operation when it is his chance, letting the other go first. There is a catch, however, that if both sides decline to operate, the turn is over. It is a formula for an extremely dynamic and interesting play where both players are involved throughout the course of a turn.

Another major innovation is the way that the core combat mechanisms of the game were altered to reflect asymetric guerrilla warfare. In your typical game, battles are joined and perhaps after some die rolling to determine victory, the loser’s piece(s) is removed and the winner advances to claim territory. In a more serious wargame, that formula can get complicated. The losing side may lose some, but not all of their forces, included partial losses – frequently flipping over a counter to show degraded functionality. The victor may also see a portion of their forces lost or reduced. Forced retreat of surviving units and mechanisms for the advance by a victorious attacker become part of the odds charts. Vietnam 1965-1975 makes some major changes to this formula. In the previous paragraph, I mentioned that retreat and pursuit is a much more hands on affair, and that is part of it. A bigger change is that, when suffering losses, a player may opt to make good those losses via replacements rather than using any units on board. Overwhelming losses in battle may end up in destroyed units but maybe, if the player so desires and has the resources to back it up, all units will remain intact.

The key is that victory is not determined simply by gaining territory and eliminating the enemy. The course of the game is heavily determined by the tracking political and morale factors, which are impacted by things like the losses taken via reinforcement. This both ties the combat indirectly into the victory system as well as further opening up the tactical possibilities of an operation. In some cases, a particular battle might extend well beyond its initial expectations, with losses being made good through reinforcements and additional forces being fed into the battle through the reaction mechanisms.

Going back to that odds chart, in this also the designer has a methodology I’ve not seen elsewhere. Typically, after some math work to calculate odds, a die is rolled to determine which result (for the particular ratio computed) will be used. It is a little different here. While the die is still rolled, it often feels like a minor randomization of what is mostly a deterministic procedure. The odds themselves don’t give you the results column. They give you another die roll modifier to be applied to the results. It is an interesting twist on what one might have been accustomed from charts in 1984. It is also a lot more complicated that what players of 2018 games are probably used to.

I’ll forgo the urge to hit the features of this game point-by-point. This is a complex game with many and diverse aspects of the war in Vietnam being factored in. Almost unbelievable so. The game gets down into the weeds with the hex-by-hex, unit-by-unit fighting that breath detail into these operations. At the same time, at the other end of the scale, the (U.S.) player must manage the the military leadership of the ARVN. The command structure is bound to become saturated with political appointees, which will degrade the effectiveness of your allied units. Try to weed out all the incompetents, though, and you might trigger a coup, which would also destabilize and weaken the fighting forces. All of this under the umbrella of balancing morale and commitment for the U.S.

The brilliance of this design is in the interplay between these factors. Contrast it to more current implications, and you would expect something like a card-based event system to help drive the narrative. But this is a game that was published almost a decade before We The People. It also forgoes the die-roll based event tables that preceded the more modern card-based events. Instead, the narrative is driven a seemingly simple interaction between the rules. As the U.S. player, you will be forced to ramp up your forces to save South Vietnam from the early advantage of the Viet Cong. But you’ll have to temper your commitment to avoid prematurely crippling your war effort by offending the politicians at home. At some point, they will be fed up with your warmongering, and you must begin withdrawing troops to satisfy the public cry to end the war. Ultimately the game will force a final U.S. withdrawl and compel a NVA/ARVN showdown much like that which ended the war in 1975.

This is a huge game. It contains complicated calculations that require each player to maintain off-board bookkeeping sheets. I’ve certainly never completed a game myself and I’ve read some speculation on-line how, probably, very few of the copies sold have been played through in an entire campaign game. To do so would almost certainly require having a board setup somewhere for months on end. It would also require having a comrade-in-arms who also enjoys this level of detail and would stick it out until the end. I also suspect that, for almost anyone, a few playthroughs would be necessary to understand the nuances. Practically speaking, it may take years of dedication before diving into a satisfying campaign game.

One complaint (on-line) is about how many operations need to be played through to complete a “turn.” Given the nature of this game and the victory conditions, the operations are needed to feed numbers back to the “big picture,” which is then used to feed numbers back to the “Seasonal Interphase.” Think of this a meta-cycle that occurs every two turns to layer the strategic elements on top of the operational elements. I could imagine that some operations would be very satisfying if the elements of a complex plan come together. For example, using the game mechanics, one could set up a trap where pursuit of a smaller force draws in an attack and then flips the odds on the attacker. There also could be “Hamburger Hill” type operations, where a players wind up creating a mountain from a molehill by continuing to feed resources into what originally was a fairly meaningless battle. I would also think it is just as likely to embark upon fairly routine operations where one side attacks, the other side retreats, and you go through the mechanics to figure out losses.

It’s my Total War conundrum, decades earlier and on cardboard-and-paper instead of on a computer screen. You’ve always got to be putting your best effort into each and every operation, because every little point lost or, perhaps, forgone (if you are in too much of a hurry and just want to get the season over with) might be that point you needed to put you on top in the strategic phase. Although again, thinking of the Total War comparison again, if you see the meat of the game as the operations and the strategic layer as the context to make it all work, then the operational part might feel just fine to you.

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The Operation Starlight (tutorial) scenario is set up as a tutorial in Vassal as well. Vassal further enhances the game by providing tools, such as an order-of-battle viewer and marked hexes for units on patrol. My Marines are closing in for the kill.

To some extent, today’s reality may have saved this game from oblivion. Being out of print and difficult to play would destine it for fond memories from one’s youth. However, the likes of Vassal begin to solve some of the problems. You no longer have to convince a friend to play – you have the whole world over to search for an opponent. No need to keep the board set up and cat-free for the better part of a year – the save file will keep just fine until you are ready for the next turn. As a result, I’m reading descriptions posted to the internet of games which have taken place fairly recently.

Usually being the first makes it really tough to be the best – especially 30+ years on. Once someone has shown what to do and what not to do, future efforts should be able to improve upon that formula. In this case, I’m not sure that anyone has ever attempted something of this magnitude again. If I sift through the board game geek lists, I can find a few attempts that are more focused on individual campaigns. There are also several attempts restrict the game play more exclusively at the strategic level. Noteworthy to me are Victory in Vietnam, a 1999 design that still uses a hex-and-counter view of South Vietnam, but at a much larger scale. 2010 saw a card-driven game treatment with Hearts and Minds. And of course I just wrote about 2014’s Fire in the Lake.

For the computer, a user attempted to port (at least in spirit) the Vietnam 1965-1975 to The Operational Art of War. There have also been several other strategic-level attempts, both for the entire 10 years or smaller portions of them, implemented in TOAW. I am not aware of any PC game that is dedicated to the Vietnam War from a strategic level.

While Victory Game’s Vietnam 1965-1975 may not be among the frequently-played board games on anyone’s list, I’d be surprised if any subsequent designer of strategic and/or operational Vietnam game did not use it as a starting point for their work.

*I make my statements definitive here, but it does oversimplify. They say that “the exception proves the rule,” and one can name exceptions without too much effort. A comprehensive scan of publishing dates shows up to a dozen games that with a Vietnam theme coming out in 1984 or earlier. These include a game printed in 1965 to simulate the war at a strategic level, even as the war itself was only beginning. Jim Dunnigan had some designs contemporary to the battles they portrayed (as is his thing), including a 1972 Easter campaign game released in 1972. Other games focus on segments of the war that were more conventional, such as the Battle of Hue or the more evenly-balanced campaigns of 1972 and later.  Likewise, there were Vietnam movies like Go Tell the Spartans, from 1978, which predated Hollywood’s interest in the Vietnam War starting in the late ’80s.

Return to the master post for Vietnam War articles or go on to the next article, discussing a TOAW take on the entire Vietnam War operation.

**One of the reasons The Green Berets didn’t make it into my list of movies in the previous paragraph is that it came out, not only before the war ended, but before it was even beginning to end.

Abstract Art

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When organizing my previous entry on Fire in the Lake, into my timeline, I mention that it is “one of the few games that begins its treatment of the U.S. Vietnam War in 1964, before direct U.S. action began.” I know this because the manual tells me that it starts in 1964.

From direct experience, however, this can be a hard thing to pin down.

Fire in the Lake is part of the COIN (Counter Insurgency) series of games from GMT. I’ve previously discussed the pedigree of these games that seems to stretch back from various games included in under this banner, to Labyrinth to Twilight Struggle. In turn, the last extends the principles of card driven games as the key play mechanism. Within this group of historically-focused games, the cards introduce into the game various notable, historical events. The cards and their mechanics generally have multiple functions within the game, but put it into a historical context and connect the table-top exercise with the actual history. They can also serve as “wild cards,” disrupting the the otherwise predictable flow from turn-to-turn, creating excitement, uncertainty, and replayability within the games.

Fire in the Lake, and from what I’ve seen* of the COIN series as a whole, is an interesting implementation of this. Unlike the traditional understanding of a “card game”, cards are not drawn and held in a hand to be played by each player. Instead, the cards are dealt face up from the deck and are visible to all players. The cards are also visible one turn ahead, allowing planning to encompass not just the current turn but also the next. This information is equally visible to all players. There is no “hidden knowledge.” Even unplayed pieces are displayed for any player to tally up and consider as needed. Typically two players can take actions in a given turn, so the two-turns worth of cards is also a complete cycle through all four players. The player order is elective, with the right of first refusal being determined by the active card. So you can’t choose what card to play; instead you choose how to play the card in front of you.

Contrast this with Twilight Struggle. In that game, each player’s turn** is conducted with cards from their hand, allowing them leeway in determining which events get played and the order in which they are played. There is the mechanism where, in most circumstances, events for your opponent are automatically executed but, that aside, the players could chose to simply not execute any events. Fire in the Lake also contains a similar method to suppress an event – if you have priority in a turn, you can prevent an event from being played by any other player through curtailing your own actions. However, in Fire in the Lake, events have two different outcomes, each tailored to benefit one side over the other. It would seem to make it likely that play would generally see the events triggered (either in their historical or counter-historical form) for most turns.

It is the cards and their events that propel one through the game’s calendar. The game consists of a number of “campaigns,” which are separated by special “Coup!” cards. The Coup! cards trigger extra resource management and scoring turns and, depending on the setup, mark the transition from one phase of the war to another. The next-to-last card, before a coup, is considered to take place during the monsoon season. The rule book states that each of these campaigns represents 1-2 years of the war. However, other than the effects of the monsoons, there is no other close tie to the calendar. Turns don’t represent (for example) 3 months of real time. Nor are there any seasonal effects other than the monsoon. Two cards played back-to-back might be taking place nearly simultaneously or they might be separated by many months.

I dwell on all this as an introduction to placing the tutorial on the calendar. The events that make up this game are fixed in order (for tutorial purposes, cards are not shuffled) and all taken from the “1964” event set. Some of them have precise ties to an historical date while others are more general, representing the application of various strategy and tactics appropriate to that time.

So when does the tutorial start? If we take a look at the first card, it is a reference to a fixed date event, but one that occurred in 1963. Pictured on the card (“Burning Bonze”) is Quảng Đức‘s death on June 10th, 1963. The problem is, the game also starts out with Dương Văn Minh in charge of the government, which puts us after the November 1st, 1963 coup that overthrew (and assassinated) president Ngô Đình Diệm. The Coup! card which ends the tutorial uses the overthrow of Minh by Nguyễn Khánh. Whether that refers to the replaced of Minh by Khánh the first time, on January 30th of 1964, or the second time on August 16th of the same year, or again in October, is another part of this to puzzle out for the obsessive-compulsive player. Given the intervention of the Gulf of Tonkin incident (the fourth card played) and the Brinks Hotel bombing (the fifth, representing a December 24th date), we should probably assume it is a later date.

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To play through the tutorial, it is easier to set up in Vassal than to clear a table somewhere in the house. Viet Cong have the opening move.

To resolve this, frankly pretty pointless, exercise, I’m going to take a page from the book I’ve recently read. In those pages, one of the main characters witnesses a monk setting himself ablaze during a riot in a scene meant to invoke Quảng Đức’s suicide. However, the narrative of the book places this sometime in the middle of the summer of 1964. It’s purpose in the narrative is simply to show the impact of South Vietnamese instability on the special-forces operations, about which the book is written. Likewise, the play of this event to start off the tutorial drives the game in that it destabilizes the situation in Saigon, forcing the South Vietnamese player to spend his first turn reacting to the event rather than advancing his own plan.

Given all of this analysis, and to put this ridiculous musing to bed, I declare that the tutorial scenario in Fire in the Lake starts on the fourth of July, 1964. I will place it on whatever timelines accordingly. From July 4th to…

Oh dear. While we now have a monsoon season (late May? of 1965?) and a coup (one of three possible dates) to monkey with. What to do?

Return to the master post for Vietnam War articles or go on to the next article for a first look at a 1984 board from Victory Games.

*I also have A Distant Plain.

**I am being imprecise in my language. The Fire in the Lake rules use “turn” to describe the action of the player, “round” to describe the actions of one or more players associated with a single card, and “campaign” to to describe the series of rounds/turns that occur within one “pile” of cards (containing one Coup! card). If you’re familiar with the correct terminology, this might bother you.

Accentuate the Positive

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One of the TV shows coming off Netflix in a few days is called The Assets. This is a made-for-TV mini-series that ABC pulled after only showing two episodes. The series was based on the book Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed by Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, CIA agents who worked on uncovering Ames’ espionage. Grimes is the main protagonist in the TV show.

The show itself was created in (I think) Lithuania by a Latvian/Lithuanian production house. The major characters are all played by British actors, some of them fairly prominent.

When a series is made for British TV, and British actors play the Americans, the American accents can be a mixed bag. Sometimes a regional accent will be used inappropriately. Often the accent is mostly good, but with a few slips that make it obvious its not an actual American actor playing the role. By way of contrast, when British actors play characters in U.S. productions, they can be shockingly good with the accent. I’m thinking, at the moment, of The Walking Dead, where a number of the main characters are non-American actors.

Knowing the provenance of this show, it should probably be judged more as the latter. Nevertheless, seeing the British actors in the cast, I immediately began thinking in terms of the former. For most of the major characters, I had no reason to doubt their American accents. The one exception was Aldrich Ames himself, who occasionally slips into some odd pronunciation. I was about to write it off as an attempt to portray him as a nerdy introvert, but the actor is Welsh, so I don’t know.

A little more jarring is the look of the actors. The one that really hit me is Julian Ovendon, whom I have seen before in Downton Abbey and Foyles War. He plays the non-CIA husband of the protagonist. His looks also scream to me “twenty-teens” as opposed to early ’80s. It’s a contrast to the other period pieces I name here, where it wasn’t so obvious. Part of it is that I remember the time portrayed in this series. Part of it may be these are real people rather than fiction.

I struggled with this as I watched. Why does he look so wrong? Is it just a matter of grooming and makeup, or is it something physiological? Do people, and in this case, men actually look so different in 2018 as compared to 1983. Or is it perhaps a greater divergence between the look of “regular people” versus actors. Part of it may be that he has a particularly British look, but I’m not sure what “Britishness” would have looked like in the ’80s either. It is a look would fit in well in, say, Brooklyn here in America, so I’m not even sure it’s particularly English (or Welsh). It’s puzzle that I can’t quite piece together.

Redeeming himself for his verbal slip-ups, the actor playing Ames (Paul Rhys, whom I haven’t watched much of) has adopted a plausible early-80s look. I wouldn’t say he could pass himself off as the real Ames, but he could pass himself of as a contemporary. I guess the human race hasn’t evolved beyond recognition on the last thirty years after all.

Entwined with this are the ages of the actors. The actress playing Grimes is a few years younger than the real Grimes would have been. She looks, perhaps younger, but definitely a lot more “glamorous.” That’s probably says more about casting of lead females than anything else, although again, she doesn’t really look 1980s to my eye. The actor playing Ames is a half-a-dozen or so years older than the character he portrays. Granted the pictures I’ve seen of Ames are from the time of his arrest, not the time he was spying, but the real Ames looks very much older.

This, I would say, really is a sign of the times. In 1985, a the fifty-something men I knew were probably somebody’s grandfather. Or maybe that coworker getting ready for retirement. In 2018, fifty-something actors seem to be at their prime. I think a lot has changed in just a generation while we weren’t looking.

But what about the story itself?

The show was made to be aired on ABC, but was pulled from prime-time after only two episodes. It was moved to a low-ratings spot on Saturday, to complete the run, but was pulled from there after only two more episodes. I think ABC may have finally showed the remaining episodes in a Sunday afternoon binge run and then passed the show of to Netflix to make what they could of it. Since I don’t follow what goes on in the world of broadcast TV, I knew nothing about any of this until Netflix decide to pull it off of streaming.

All of this would lead one to pretty low expectations.

The show is rather non-conventional for U.S. entertainment. It seems that we, here in American, prefer our spy thrillers to be along the lines of, say, a Mission Impossible. Maybe a bit of intrigue, but mostly carried by tense action sequences and culminating in a final showdown between hero and villain. Even when that hero is an analyst, we’re probably going to expect him to don the mantle of the action hero (think, here, the Jack Ryan series of movies).

Before I looked up the history of this TV show, and its failure on U.S. network television, I actually thought it was made for the British audience. Not only is it filled with British acting talent, but the narrative itself is more in that British style. The tone is more John le Carré than Tom Clancy. Details focus on recruitment and spycraft and the tension is emotional rather coming from physical action. The conflict itself is a mind game. We know that they know some, but not all, of our secrets. What can we tell about what they know by what we know? The Assets uses the analogy of chess to describe the depth of the game of deception and misdirection.

All-in-all, I say this series did an admirable job of dramatizing a historical event to create an interesting and watchable story without hurtling us into a fantasy world. It is a real shame that the television industry cannot properly manage the development and distribution of this kind of entertainment. This is one part of the reason I cut the cable cord and one part of the reason I keep paying Netflix their monthly tribute, despite my issues with them.

Giggity

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A master post for the Vietnam War. The U.S. version. The Quagmire.

After seeing a brief mention of Fire In The Lake in the Wall St. Journal, I picked back up reading We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. From there, I got into looking at all the games/scenarios that take place during America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

The big question, when it comes to Vietnam games, is how do you get this right? What scale or scales were capture the era? How to effectively model asymmetric warfare – either in Vietnam or in general? How do you balance the military portions of the game with the political?

Once upon a time, there was very little to chose from when it came to the Vietnam War. It is still not the most popular timeframe to place a game but, at this point, I would say it has solid coverage. There have been a number of treatments of the war as a whole, including of course the newish Fire In The Lake. Operational level scenarios take on different lengths and sizes as do the tactical games. This goes all the way down to the first-person shooter, with Rising Storm 2: Vietnam being (as of this writing and as far as I know) the most recent addition to the computer games with a Vietnam theme.

As I explore these questions, these games, and read up on the period, I expect I will be writing a lot of posts. This master post will serve as a collection point for them.

Vietnam posts (in order of their appearance) are as follows:

  1. Way back when, I wrote a pair of posts on the French phase of the Vietnam War.
  2. That Wall St. Journal article.
  3. Now in the mood, I again watched Full Metal Jacket to appreciate the recently-passed R. Lee Ermey.
  4. In celebration of Memorial Day, I watched We Were Soldiers.
  5. Skipping ahead, all the way to the end of the war, I watched a PBS documentary on the United States’ final days in Saigon.
  6. I played and critiqued an HPS Squad Battles representation of a pre-Tonkin fight between the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese.
  7. The Gulf of Tonkin incident and a CMANO scenario depicting it.
  8. I also read the book, We Were Soldiers Once… and Young.
  9. A Steel Panthers scenario depicting an early South Vietnam defense against a Viet Cong assault led to a discussion of game design.
  10. I read the book Incident at Muc Wa.
  11. This post, right here.
  12. Another discussion of Fire in the Lake and, in particular, its tutorial scenario. The focus is on the connection between card-driven game events and calendar dates.
  13. The 1984 Victory Games title Vietnam 1965-1975 is, arguably, the grandfather of all current strategic treatments of the Vietnam War in gaming.

In addition to the post, I also created new timeline. My goal with this was two-fold. First, the way I’ve organized my two Cold War timelines, I’ve split the war into two parts. That split doesn’t divide the war evenly or even logically*. A single timeline helps one to see the continuity of the 10+ year period from 1963 or so through 1975.

Second, I needed help organizing all of the scenarios. More than any era that I’ve looked at so far, the Vietnam War has dozens of scenarios from a whole bunch of different games, all scattered across the war’s timeline. It became impossible for me to remember what game to look at to find the next applicable scenario in chronological order. Sorting them all out on the timeline means I can discover various games haphazardly, stick them in their place, and then come back later and see them in the bigger picture.

*As I’ve explained elsewhere, the break in the Cold War timeline was done where it is for two reasons. First, there is a shift in weapons systems between the the more experimental pre-1966 and the structured post-1966 when it comes to American designs. Secondly, at the time I conceived of creating a second timeline, I decided start anew 50 years from the date that I did it.

Bonum Bellum, Vetus Bellum

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I was pleased, and a little surprised to see Field of Glory II being sold on GOG – it not being particularly old. While not the first step in this direction, it seems to be new one for Matrix/Slitherine. The Close Combat series, both the 1990s releases (fitting with the “Good Old Games” theme) and the current series reboot, have been available for a little bit. So has the Panzer Corps base game ($2 as I type this!) and expansions which, being itself a Panzer General clone, would seem to find itself it like-minded company.

Field of Glory II is also on sale as I type this, and I’d probably snatch it up if I hadn’t already jumped on a Steam discount a little bit back. Not only was the discount available (at that moment) only through Steam, but I had been having a little trouble with credit card processing through the Slitherine’s payment systems. Steam, by contrast, always works smoothly.

With Steam, there looks to be a bit of a disadvantage versus buying from the publisher’s web site(s). If you buy through Matrix or Slitherine directly, and have an account with them, you can get your Steam key for free along with a download of the game directly. I don’t think it works the other way (being able to register a Steam-only purchase), although maybe I’m wrong. Whatever the case there, it is definitely true that you cannot decouple your Steam purchase from the Steam system.

I’ve yet to buy any Matrix/Slitherine game through GOG, so I can’t say how that works.

I’ve always been a fan of GOG. Nice to see them gain market power while they continue to sell DRM free games.