Lord of the Sword


I generally try not to read more than one book at a time. I don’t have any hard evidence for it, but I feel that I am happier concentrating on a single story or theme until I’m finished, and only then picking up with the next.

I do, by necessity, watch dissimilar television or film while I’m in the middle of reading a book. I struggled a bit while trying to read The Saxon Chronicles at the same time as I watched Vikings and to a lesser extent while playing catch-up with The Expanse books, while still watching the series as it came out. The key here is to try to read something entirely dissimilar that whatever you’re currently watching, whenever that is possible.

Having young children disrupts even the most sincere attempts to follow a life’s plan. This past week, I found myself reading two books at a time and, furthermore, two that would have left me far happier if I had never held them side by side. The first project has me (re)reading The Fellowship of the Ring to my son. We had recently tackled the Harry Potter series and decided to move on to one of its major inspirations. If you can even call it moving on…

Meanwhile, without considering the consequences, I decided to take a break from Chaim Herzog and re-read a book that I enjoyed as a teen. Sometime in the early eighties I read the book The Sword of Shannara. I fairly certain I read all three of the original trilogy, but I can’t be sure. I remember being pleased with the stories, however far I managed to take them.

Reading the two books simultaneously was actually a bit disorienting. The story of The Sword of Shannara tracks so closely with The Lord of the Rings, I would actually get confused, sometimes, as to which of the two books I was reading. The comparison comes out very badly for The Sword of Shannara. Its story is so much shallower than LotR and being able to actually compare the two in a single night makes it that much more obvious. Worse yet, Terry Brooks’ writing just isn’t as good and when set next to J.R.R. Tolkien, it can appear downright awful. Of course, the contrast is hardly fair. Tokien’s prose (and poetry) is a work of art almost independent from the story. Still, there were some parts of the book where I was distracted by the quality of Brooks’ writing; it felt clunky and repetitive. It took more than half way through Shannara, but  I really began to regret rereading an old favorite and in doing so both spoiling my fond memories, not to mention tarnishing my Fellowship of the Ring bonding experience with my boy.

What this misses, though, is the context in which the book was written as well as the context in which I originally read it. The Sword of Shannara was published in 1977. This was at the beginning of a “fantasy” literature wave that was to help shape my youth. I am not to trying imply that the concept of “high fantasy*” or stories about elves and dwarfs were invented in the late seventies. Obviously this is not true. The novels of Tolkien’s Ring trilogy were published in the 1950s and they saw a surge of popularity here in America in the 1960s. The Hobbit was published in 1937. Ursula LeGuine’s Earthsea series began in 1968 and Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber in 1970.

Nevertheless, the 1976-77 was a formative time in the creation of fantasy as its own genre, which was to grow until capable of sporting shelf after shelf of popular and engaging titles. Many of what would come to be recognized as the “classics” of this genre got there start at this time.

1976 saw the publication of the second** Elric novel, Sailor on the Seas of Fate. 1977 introduced us to the The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (Lord Foul’s Bane), the Xanth world was created by Piers Anthony with the publication of A Spell for Chameleon, the first book in a series that is still seeing additions to this day. Although I’ve never read Earthsea nor Xanth, I spend late 70s and early 80s exploring these exotic worlds full of wonder and magic. 1977 also saw the publication of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, a repackaging of the D&D concept into a consumer-friendly product. In the same year, the first of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books came out, the Monster Manual. The Role Playing Game world grew symbiotically with the similarly-themed books, both drawing from them the games’ inspiration as well as inspiring new literary creations. 1977 also saw the posthumous publication of a new Middle Earth book (!!!), The Silmarillion, that turned out to have none of the charm of The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings for the teenaged me.

In other words, we were in the midst of a new literary industry and the beginnings of a deluge of food for the imagination.

It occurs to me that the reasons why I’ve never read Earthsea are actually indicative of the environment in which we found ourselves. I’ve never read it because, circa 1979 or so, the bulk of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy (as it was shelved under at the time) was, frankly, just not that well written. It was also very much a niche offering, so one couldn’t find these books in the neighborhood public library. They had to be purchased (at quite a price for a teen) new from the store, or maybe traded among like-minded enthusiasts. My point being that it was no small investment to take on a fantasy series and the reward was often, like the males’ saidin in The Wheel of Time, tainted.

I can’t remember how I might of ranked the literary quality of The Sword of Shannara when I first read it. I may have been oblivious to its weaknesses, happy to have a story of elves and magic swords to enjoy. I might have noticed and figured it was par for the course; the price to pay to have something to enjoy other than a re-read of The Hobbit. As to comparisons with Lord of the Rings, while Tolkien creates an obviously higher-quality class writing, his works are also a bit more challenging to the teen reader. I recall not being thrilled when wading through page after page of elven poetry or the peculiarities of the Bombadil household. You should remember, too, that while Tolkien’s trilogy was decades older than than Terry Brooks’ efforts, all of this stuff was equally new to me.

Even at the time, the literary world reacted badly to The Sword of Shannara. When the book was published, criticism was a tad harsh. Above all, the complaints centered on its point-by-point theft of the Lord of the Rings story. In a 1978 fantasy anthology book , editor Lin Carter (Conan et al.) declared it “the single most cold-blooded, complete rip-off of another book that I have ever read.”

Brooks wasn’t trying to imitate Tolkien’s prose, just steal his story line and complete cast of characters, and did it with such clumsiness and so heavy-handedly, that he virtually rubbed your nose in it.

Of course, when I quote “critics,” I’m not sure that this novel would have been taken seriously by the mainstream not matter what. “Epic fantasy” was  a subgenre of a subgenre of Science Fiction, a category that itself lacked seriousness and, often, quality. Tolkien’s success notwithstanding (The Silmarillion was on the New York Times best-seller list, ringing in 1978), fantasy books were not expected to be a commercial success. Rather quickly after publication, Shannara sold enough to demonstrate that there was a market out there eager for more of what made The Lord of the Rings so appealing. If it took a pale shadow of The Lord of the Rings to demonstrate that, it nevertheless helped pave the way for all that was to come.

I should probably jump into The Elfstones of Shannara. It might help my childhood memories if I was reminded how Brooks improved with experience. I’m also kind of curious to see how the recent TV series butchered the story, but I have to remember what that story was first.

*A term coined in 1971, for what that’s worth

**Elric himself had been rattling around for more than a decade, but a second novel changed the universe from a collection of (sometimes badly written) magazine submissions to a series of novels.

My Problems are Legion


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Post-script: I played the HPS Simulations: Punic Wars version of the Battle of Sentinum twice now and started a third. I keep trying over and over and I just can’t seem to get it right. Maybe I’m not very good at this. Maybe there is something else going on. Maybe it is both at the same time.

At first glance, Sentinum should be an ideal wargame scenario. At least as far as the historical record can enlighten us, the armies were very equally matched. While the narrative does seem to credit Rome with some superior tactical maneuvering which turned the tide, it was Rome who wrote the history books so… well, make of that what you will. Also, as I’ve pointed out, the HPS Ancients series seems to be targeted at table-top fans for play-by-email. Given that, I’d explect ANY scenario in the game be balanced so as to be suitable to head-to-head competitive play.

Nevertheless, when I played the Roman side, I got myself crushed. After only a dozen or so turns, the Republican army was demoralized and the game told me I had earned a major defeat. Frankly, I didn’t think I’d played that badly, although I’ll grant I made plenty of mistakes my first time through. I figured I’d give it another try to see if the result came out more balanced, with the benefit of a bit of hindsight.

After my first attempt, I complained bitterly about the way the game executes turns. If not clear at the time, this game is a “we-go” mechanic; you enter all your orders and then, during the execution phase, movement and combat takes place simultaneously. For a battle fielding two consular armies, said execution takes a considerable amount of time.


If you don’t have all day…

What I failed to mention is that the game does provide options for managing the phase. In the menu above, you can see (highlighted) an option for “Fast Computer processing,” which I have checked off. There is also a “Speed of Action” and “Fast Movement.” Of the three, I found “Fast Computer processing” to have the most impact. What it seems to do is to remove a delay – the purpose of which is to allow a player time to see what happens, as it happens. It seems that movement takes place a little faster, although I’m not entirely sure. The big effect is that after each combat computation (which takes place unit pair by unit pair, several times for each side in each turn), the display of the results is posted and immediately deleted. It is therefore no longer possible to tell how much damage was done during combat, but the turn can be reduced to 3-or-4 minutes rather than 15-20.

I note also it is generally not going to be productive to wait until a turn has executed and then try to look through, formation by formation, what has happened. Given the mechanics and the UI, the original (and slow) method of watching each “hit” as it occurs may be the best way to conceptualize the progression of the battle. On the other hand, one can only take so much of this and I can’t imagine many who could patiently watch 20 minutes worth of execution, turn-after-turn, even if he really wanted to grok all the results. It’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. What I regret is implying that it is unavoidable.

Since I’m in complaining mode, I’ll warn you that, while this is indeed configurable, it is not “sticky.” The option to use “Fast Computer processing” doesn’t save with your scenario, so when you load up a game-in-progress, it flips you back to slow processing. Forget to set it again and you’ve either got a 25 minute wait until the turn finishes processing or you’ve got to kill the game, reload, and configure it properly.

Getting back to the play, my second try at the battle was very similar to the first: a quick and decisive loss. In this case, I really felt I was managing my forces competently. I held my right wing together and was making some progress turning the enemy flank when I got shut down. Major defeat.

To investigate, I decided to give the Italian side a try. The resulting game was something a lot closer to balanced. Despite some initial errors, I saw a quick point grab at start followed by Rome’s catching up. The entire game sat in the “draw” scoring zone.

I do wonder if part of my of my problem isn’t the optional “Routed Unit Points Loss” configuration. The manual helpfully explains, “[t]o count the loss of victory points in the game when a routed unit flees the battlefield the player must tick the [option in the] game start menu,” but I’m not sure quite what it means.  Will using this option imbalance a scenario? Will it cause the game to end sooner by running up the victory points faster? Are there battles where routed units should count towards losses and other battles where they shouldn’t? Maybe I shouldn’t just reflexively play with all options turned on.

Another factor where the manual doesn’t explain. Setting a side to be played by the “AI” apparently gives it certain bonuses. I noticed that when I played as the Romans, I was seeing a lot of Roman units “surrender,” particularly when they were still near full strength. Yet, when I switched sides, the opposite seems true. I also notice that some of the healthier legionnaires that I battle against are clearly larger than the starting-strength versions than I had when I played the Romans. Reading the manual couldn’t find any guidance on the subject and the forum that used to provide user-based support for these games seems to have been swallowed by the ravages of internet-time.

Playing as the barbarians makes for a “better” game in that it is more evenly matched and solid play would seemingly produce victory. However, it fails in exactly the ways that originally piqued my interest. The Roman legions no longer behave like Roman legions. Sometimes they come at me with the Hastati taking the lead, sometimes with Triarii. I also have to wonder about the game’s value as a historical tool if the “balancing” to make the AI viable is as significant as it appears to be in this scenario.

That was quite a post-script. At least its not as long as the original.

I’ve Seen Better Days but I Don’t Care



Nearly a month ago, a post appeared on my Facebook feed. Singer/writer/artist Amanda Palmer jumped on board one of these “challenges” that seem to float around on social media. She leads off:

ok. i never play dumb internet games but everyone is playing this and it’s the apocalypse so ffs, i’ll play. what a fun way to humble brag about the amazing and glittery life i used to have before i just tended to chickens and hung laundry 24/7.

I thought, I could have written that myself. OK, I don’t hang laundry, but tending to chickens can be more than enough to suck up that free time.

I came so close to posting my own version on Facebook but, unlike Ms. Palmer (apparently), I don’t see virtue in humble bragging. Nevertheless, the list has stuck in my brain. It’s the chickens, yes. But it is also the fact that my own life has given me almost exactly the right number of celebrity encounters to make this work.

For those readers who know nothing about me, there can be no bragging nor humility. Of course, using what you know about me to “spot the lie” also becomes impossible. Oh well. The thing is, I don’t think I’ll feel at peace again until I’ve put this up somewhere.

So without further ado, here are 10 Famous people with whom I’ve had a face-to-face conversation.

One is a lie. Guess which one.

  1. Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo, voice of Josey and the Pussycats)
  2. Parker Stevenson (Hardy Boy)
  3. Hervé Villechaize (Da Plane!)
  4. Will Smith (Fresh Prince)
  5. Rand Paul (U.S. Senator, 2016 Presidential Candidate)
  6. Fat Mike (NoFX)
  7. Sean Bean (Ned Stark)
  8. Tom Berenger (Sgt. Barnes, Gen. Longstreet)
  9. Pete Conrad (Apollo 12)
  10. Mat McBriar (NFL Punter)

Since readers may have a very different idea of celebrity than I do, I’ve added in a description of why I believe they are famous. Just in case.


Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I have nobody, real or imagined, in common with Ms. Palmer. However, I can’t be sure, but I think I may have passed Uma Thurman once walking down the street. She waved (I was staring).

A Bit Like You and Me



We may all be inside watching Netflix, but Netflix still has films to remove from their streaming. Disappearing mid-month (among others) was the film Nowhere Boy. The movie is also unavailable on Amazon streaming (independent of whether or not you want to pay for it). Once again, I get a little bit of a glimpse into the economies of streaming services and I don’t understand it at all.

In any case, this is 2009 movie that Netflix has been pitching to me for some time now. It is also one that never manages to jump out of me, so it always remained quite a few titles down on my queue. While it sat there on the list, it never cried out “watch me.” It is a depiction of John Lennon’s late-teen years – during the time when he formed the band The Quarrymen. So he’s the boy. Because Nowhere Man is an autobiographical John Lennon song, but before he was a Nowhere Man he was a Nowhere Boy. Nope. I perpetually forgot who the “boy” featured in this story was and why I had wanted to watch it in the first place.

So after finally recollecting what I was getting into, the film gets off to a really slow start. We know we are watching John Lennon, because all that stuff in the previous paragraph, but we don’t yet know why. Finally, a little ways into the film, John’s mother teaches him how to play the Banjo, an instrument played by both his parents. From that point, the picture starts to pick up.

Perhaps part of what’s going on here is that John Lennon is much like Nikki Sixx (please, bear with me here). We see him deciding to become a “rock and roller” after watching Elvis on screen and admiring the lifestyle. It starts with hair and clothes for him but, then, he realizes that his dream is not to look or act like Elvis, but to actually BE Elvis.

Lennon’s motivation may be the same, but the movie is not. We see the genesis of the Quarrymen and their steady morphing into the Beatles. The film shows this happening, first, driven by John’s drive and personality and then propelled by the musicianship of Paul and George.

This isn’t a documentary. Real people are missing missing from the story while fictional people are added, and scenes are staged which don’t at all match what we know actually happened. It frustrated viewers and critics alike. However, if you either don’t know the details of the early Beatles or can accept that historically-inspired dramas often need to service the drama part above the historical part, you probably don’t mind. Indeed, on the whole, critics appreciated this film for what it was. It was popular enough, inside and outside of the the UK and it made good on its modest budget. By the end, I was glad to have watched it.

I Can’t Get No Sentinum


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Having worked my way through the opening moves of Imperium: Rome, a couple of obvious comparisons immediate demand exploration. The competing efforts behind Imperium and Field of Glory: Empires released games at nearly the same time on the same subject. How do they compare? In addition, given how quickly Imperium: Rome departed from the historical record, does Field of Glory provide a better historical experience? And are there any other option for experiencing early history of Rome at the turn of the 3rd century BC? Read on, my quarantined friends.


Samnite Wars, redux.

One immediate and obvious distinction of Field of Glory: Empires is that it is a much coarser game. The provinces are bigger and the armies fewer and less maneuverable. While different than Imperium: Rome, I’m not sure it is any less valid. When we read about, for example, the Third Samnite War descriptions likely focus on the decisive Battle of Sentinum. Yet that battle was one fight among several during a single campaign season in a war that was already three years old and would last for another two. Does it make for a better game to try to include all the ancillary pieces, or would it be better if we could distill the entire war into that one battle, as the history books often do?

Imperium: Rome, in its way, reproduces the minor engagements and secondary movements that might lead up to that decisive battle. Likewise, once the battle is won, you still have to win the war. A large battle will still be followed by a process of taking territory and running down survivors so as to obtain the most favorable surrender turns. Field of Glory: Empires, to contrast, seems more likely to limit the conflict to that deciding battle. Not explicitly, as you aren’t required to fight one-and-only-one battle. Rather, it is a function of the number of provinces and the “distances” between them. Does it make sense to fight a battle that is less than your best effort to win it? And if you lose after your best effort, there is no room to recover (at least not when the Republic is a mere three provinces).

If you look closely at the screenshot above, you’ll see that I did, in fact, bring less than my “best effort” to the fight against Senones. This was a mistake. I made the same mistake when I first installed Field of Glory: Empires at the end of last year. Last December, I tried out the Pyrrhus Scenario, a mini-campaign included along side the full campaign. In my opening move, I marched my legions south just to see what was up and was surprised by a superior Epirote force (which had been obscured by the fog of war). Field of Glory: Empires‘ limited information means that you don’t see enemy units in neighboring provinces unless you have an army there. That is, owned but unoccupied provinces can’t “see”. Although my mistake is easily avoided, I’m sure I’ll make it again – next time I pick up Field of Glory: Empires after a break.


Losses? What losses? We haven’t even started yet!

As unintended as my move and subsequent battle was, I did draw one thing from it; the detailed battle was was similar enough to the what happened historically in the the Third Samnite War. Granted, the specifics of the tribes are still a little mixed up, but I fought my battle in roughly the historical location using roughly historic force mix. At the screenshot above (taken during the set-up phase for the exported battle) shows, the forces are not close to being balanced. It is recorded that the Battle of Sentinum was very evenly matched, whereas here Rome is at a considerable disadvantage. Imbalance aside, the size of the Roman army is a fraction of the historical force. Rome fielded two Consular armies, each containing two Roman legions plus allied infantry. This is off by a factor of six.

For the auto-generated battle, the roughly two-to-one disparity in forces is more than I can manage, particularly given my lack of skill playing Field of Glory II. No surprise, I lost and that loss fed back to losing the war on the strategic map. However, given that I’m getting close to the historical battle, a battle Rome actually won, I’m kind of in the mood to play that scenario.

The Battle of Sentinum is not one of the pre-made battles in the FoG2 distribution. A little more surprisingly, no user has tackled it yet. While I searched for a downloadable version, I couldn’t find one. What I can and did do was use the quick battle generator create another approximation using FoG2‘s template for the Second Samnite War. After some fiddling, I wound up going with the biggest (Very Large) scenario possible. That gave me a total Roman force of 16,000+ soldiers, still less than half of Rome’s force at Sentinum. Furthermore, the auto-generation doesn’t give set up the two-army force that Rome fielded. More fidelity obviously would require a hand-built scenario.


The Triarii won’t be sitting this one out.

This exercise highlights one area where FoG2 seems to be faltering. Out-of-the-box, the unit size/unit count is too small to recreate the pivotal battles of the ancient world. Of course, every part of the scenario creation process is editable. The number of individuals per in-game unit can be set in the script which generates battles, either for quick-setups or as part of a campaign. Compare the size of the armies in the above scenarios with the Battle of Ashdown to see this illustrated.

The obvious implication of this is that the FoG2 is intended to be scale independent. You could have “stands” the size* of a cohort, and this seems to be the standard. However, there is nothing that says you must commit to this standard. You could model the individual maniples, as the HPS system does. You could create individual units that are half or a third of a legion. Tactically speaking, and in terms of combat resolution, each of these systems should behave rather differently. Yet, in FoG2, this would be impossible to account for without a serious rework of the game. So while I could generate a battle between Rome and Samnium where Rome fields two consular armies, having the confidence that would produce a meaningful result is another question entirely. As flexible as this system is, this “cohort” scale seems to be THE correct one.

Going back to the units in the above screenshot, careful inspection reveals something interesting. The Roman heavy infantry is called Hastati/Principes. I think what we’re seeing is a representation of the manipular legion tactics implicit in the unit statistic. Contrast this to the Great Battles/SPQR system where the modeling of the quincunx (checkerboard formations) and its deployment into the battle line are explicit. In FoG2, we need to think of each “stand” as two maniples of hastati backed by the corresponding two maniples of principes. The associated** triarii are represented as independent pieces. Using either the unit size or the unit-count-per-legion, the triarii  seem to represent four maniples rather than two. In game turns, this allows the player to be flexible in his use of the triarii. They could be held as a reserve, used to support their own cohorts, or redeployed as an independent reaction force, all of which was done successfully by one Roman commander or another. Again, contrast with the SPQR restrictions where only Scipio Africanus can use triarii before 200 BC. In all other cases, the triarii are unable to move until “activated” by certain specified triggers.

FoG2 has added (relative either to the original FoG or to Pike & Shot) the ability of skirmishing units to retreat though (and advance through, for that matter) line infantry. Although this isn’t restricted to Roman units, it does provide an excellent representation of Roman tactics, whereby the velites withdrew behind the protection of the heavy infantry after initial engagement. The similar tactics which allowed the principes to replace the hastati as the front line, I think, should be seen as implicit in the stats for the combined Hastati/Principes unit. Within this understanding, the checkboard deployment of the Roman legions in FoG2 is more cosmetic than anything else. At the frontage of four maniples, the Roman configuration would not have appeared to be staggered.

This all left me feeling that something was missing. I could, I think, get the battle set up properly (1200-man Hastati/Principes units might actually work) and FoG2 more-or-less accounts for the tactics, but I’m a long way and a lot of scenario editing from a satisfying representation of this battle.

Feeling disappointed, I began looking for alternatives. Surely someone must have modeled this battle and someone may have even got it right. What pops up foremost in a search is a Commands & Colors: Ancients scenario*** for the battle. There are also plenty of pictures of miniatures recreations of the battles, some using a Commands & Colors ruleset, other using various miniatures systems. I don’t have Commands & Colors: Ancients and I don’t want to be digging through miniatures rules. However, it is a quick indication of what that scaled-up battle that I propose might look like. A little more focused digging reminded me that Sentinum was one of the stock scenarios in the original Field of Glory.


The enemies of Rome advance.

I loaded up the Field of Glory – Unity (FoG(U)) version of the scenario first. The graphics are a little less glitchy in the newer version making it 10x easier to take screenshots. I’ll come back to that decision, in terms of gameplay, in a moment. I chose to play the “barbarians” as this was the “first side”.

The first impression was, again, a failure to engage me with the historical feel of the Roman legions. Yes, I can see that the units are labeled appropriately, but they just don’t act like Romans in terms of doctrine or tactics. You can see in the screenshot that follows; the AI has rushed his principes in ahead of the hastati. If that weren’t bad enough, the AI just isn’t very good. I beat the Romans with little effort.


The Roman AI leads with his Principes. This just is not right.

As usual, I wondered if my experience was made worse by the FoG(U) reimplimentation and, in fact, that appears to be the case. Replaying the scenario from the same side with similar tactics, but in the original engine, resulted in a much closer and more reasonable game. The AI was still not what I would consider strong, but the result wasn’t as completely lopsided. That the original AI still broke the Roman formation and moved his principes to the front, so I’m not saying that this version was good. Just not as bad. It’s so far removed from a historical recreation, that I feel cheated for having taken the time to load it up (strongly suspecting what I had coming).

I had pretty-much despaired finding anything else that even came close when I stumbled across another option, entirely by accident. Given my comments above, I wanted to verify exactly how the units were sized in HPS’s ancients games. Scrolling around in the loaded game, I realized that the Battle of Sentinum is one of the scenarios that came with HPS Simulations – Punic Wars, and that’s a game that I own.


The full array of the battle lines, with appropriate historical detail.

Also surprisingly, this ranks as the best experience that I’ve had with this battle. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably figuring that’s not saying much – which is true. However, Punic Wars gets certain things right – certain things that it handles uniquely. Make no mistake, it also does a lot of things wrong. I feel cheated in that the 3D unit models are all but useless and I’m stuck playing in this low-res, minimalistic 2D view. It’s awful that, despite 25-year-old graphics, the turn resolution is interminably long. The UI interaction is bound to drive up my blood pressure and take a few months off of my life. Get any of the many specific, sequential, and non-intuitive clicks wrong and the whole game is going to lock up on you. But other than that…


Liberal use of group moves makes this game bearable.

The best thing about this game is that it actually simulates the army composition in the realistic way. Obviously, the actual order-of-battle is itself speculative after 2300 years, but the modeling of the proposed forces has a clear basis. Each unit represents a maniple, allowing the model to track very clearly to the Roman military specifications. In the above screenshot, as an example, we see the right wing of the Roman side consisting of one of Rome’s two consular armies. In the bottom right corner is a Roman legion in proper historic formation. Leves are screening the front with a line of hastati and principes following. The triarii and additional skirmishers bring up the rear. For those unfamiliar with this system, leaders (down to a Tribunus commanding each class of infantry) are represented by their own unit, indicated on the screen with a helmet.

As I pointed out before, this series seems to have been designed primarily for playing 2-player over email. Forum comments have long argued that the true purpose of the AI is allow players to learn the rules well enough so that they feel comfortable going head-to-head with other enthusiasts. Within this context, I’d imagine games are played with plenty of house rules in force. A disciplined player can enforce Roman doctrine, even if he perceives that breaking it (within the limits of the rules) would give him an advantage. For example, as the Roman, I could agree not to move my triarii out of formation until the line of the principes breaks – à la SPQR. Taking the Roman side in single player games allows that to work, for the most part, even without an agreeable partner.

But what, you may be saying, about those checkerboard Roman lines and the resultant ability to retreat through advancing formations? Well, like I pointed out for FoG2 above, this isn’t necessary (albeit for different reasons). Punic Wars does not have single-unit stacking within a hex. This makes it feasible to, for example, retreat faltering hastati through the advancing line of principes. The transition between the staggered quincunx and the deployed line of battle is “internal” to a counter representing the maniple. In fact, it is assumed that the the counter is in whatever formation is has to be in at any given time – an assumption that, given the remarkable amount of micro-management already present, is probably a relief. As best I can tell, the game makes no special allowance for unique abilities possessed by hastati and principes. But even if it doesn’t, what is the right way to model this? Should allowing retreating hastati to pass through their lines disrupt principes? Doesn’t that appropriately simulate the staggered deployment of the centuriae or is it better to allow them to pass without disruption? I have no idea, and it isn’t clear from the documents that this has been deliberately simulated or accounted for.


Two legions, engaged in line of battle, attriting one, two, three soldiers at time.

Each turn, in the HPS ancients series, represents 15 minutes of real time. Execution of that turn takes up approximately that same duration on the real clock, although it seems like longer. This means that an 8-hour-plus battle, as this scenario estimates Sentinum to be, will engage you for at least that amount of uninterrupted game time. For me, that suggests weeks of playing one-or-two turns a night. For head-to-head, it probably means aiming for an exchange-a-day. One might also try to replicate a miniatures session, where you intend to spend the better part of a day and evening endeavoring to complete much or all of the battle. It is quite an investment, especially considering that I’d expect to finish the same battle in FoG2 in under an hour.

One dreams of being able to automated some of these functions, to command legions with few clicks, but even manually the experience is worthwhile. Nowhere else could I find a reasonable representation of the circa 300 BC Roman army for the stuck-at-home computer gamer.

*While the roughly 500 men in each unit in the screenshot is numerically equivalent to a “cohort,” this tactical designation was by depth, not breadth. That is to say, a cohort in the early-to-mid Roman legion consisted of the velites, hastati, principes, and triarii which created a frontage of one maniple. Besides the organizational/definitional problem presented in creating 500-person “stands” hastati, 500 principes, etc., there is the implication in tactics and battle resolution. This organization, and this applies to pretty much every Roman Republic game I havev played, encourages non-standard tactics by the way the units are grouped. It makes me wonder if there are any readily-available alternatives.

**The velites are also, obviously, separate stands and, I’m going to assume, less closely associated with their cohort than the line infantry is. Skirmishers were used for functions other than leading the main battle line, including screening and cavalry support. Their disconnection from the Hastati/Principes blocks, with which they share adminstrative organization, probably makes sense. For those with a keen sense of history, the very terminology of velites is an anachronism. In the legion of this time, the skirmishing infantry were the leves. It would be another 80-90 years before including velites in the army would be historically correct.

***The units of C&C:A scaled to a very coarse representation of scale. For the infantry, there are three unit types. Light Infantry (the skirmishers), Heavy Infantry (the Roman legion, including all ranks, and a medium infantry to represent the Allied forces. A Roman legion is represented by two blocks, the skirmishers and the line infantry.

I Misconstrue What You Mean


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I was thumbing through the paper yesterday morning when a headline popped off the page.

War-gaming, The Next Pandemic

Very exciting, except that the article was nothing like what I thought it was going to be. It may have been the way that the “The” is capitalized. It may have been the way the headline was laid out. In print, the headline appeared as three lines – War-gaming; The Next; Pandemic. The comma, of course, was of my own imagination.

This virus has caused more than one such episode for me.

Coronavirus Pandering

I have a colleague who has been posting headlines as captured from his television. When he does so, the view from his chair means that the picture is taken from an angle and is slightly rotated counter-clockwise. The result is that this article, which displayed on TV as “Coronavirus Pandemic; States Ready for Phase 1 of Reopening” came out as “Coronavirus Pandering” to my brain. Repeatedly. Each time I saw his picture, at first glance my mind told me that it was about “coronavirus pandering.” As interesting an article as that would have been, again, it was nothing like what was actually being reported.

I think we could all do with less pandering, but if staying inside meant war-gaming saturated the globe with its madness, that might be a silver lining amongst all of these clouds.

black and white blank challenge connect

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

An Unending Series of Victories Over Your Own Memory


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The term Orwellian gets tossed around quite a bit. As I recollect, it has always been thus. I’ve also always found it to be a bit hyperbolic. Could the Soviet Union, even at its worst, have been as bad as Orwell’s 1984? Does North Korea truly match that today? Does it really make sense to apply Orwell’s template to England or to America because we see some similarities?

Even the worst tyrannical regime on the earth today has subtleties and variations that make it difficult to view them in absolute black and white. This is part of what makes literature, in general, and George Orwell’s dystopian writings, in particular, so important. This distinction became came clear to me this past weekend. Perhaps you saw what I saw. The editorial staff of the magazine Nature penned a mea culpa for engaging in malquoted oldthink. The lead paragraph explained Nature‘s unfortunate situation,

When the World Health Organization (WHO) announced in February that the disease caused by the new coronavirus would be called COVID‑19, the name was quickly adopted by organizations involved in communicating public-health information. As well as naming the illness, the WHO was implicitly sending a reminder to those who had erroneously been associating the virus with Wuhan and with China in their news coverage— including Nature. That we did so was an error on our part, for which we take responsibility and apologize.

If we look at that paragraph without context, is it so bad? Not at first glance. The editorial goes on to explain that in oldspeak it was common practice “for viral diseases to be associated with the landscapes, places or regions where the first outbreaks occurred.” They give a couple of examples that many adults would be familiar with. “Middle East respiratory syndrome,” for example. The “Zika Virus” was named after a forest in Uganda. Self-referencing a bit, “Ebola” is the name of a river near the village where one of the first identified outbreaks occurred in 1976. The river was specifically chosen to destigmatize the name of the village where the disease occurred and to avoid the name of the individual, the village school’s headmaster, who first contracted and subsequently died of the disease. Nature explains that in 2015, the WHO issued guidelines whereby newly-identified* diseases must no longer use, among other things, geographical identifiers in their official names.

So far, there is some logic to this – but we can’t look at it in a vacuum.

As the above-quoted editorial suggested, some “news coverage” had been “associating the virus with Wuhan and China.” Not surprising, because the initial human-to-human transmission occurred in China (definitely) and almost certainly in Wuhan. Newsworthy? One would think. However, we are told, doing so was “erroneous.” Further down we come to understand that Nature is very much concerned about the politics. “As countries struggle”, we learn, “a minority of politicians are sticking with the outdated script.” Oh, the horror. And who are these doubleplusungood politicos who would shit all over the suffering of the most miserable nations of the world? So that nobody is unclear, a trio of ungood politicians is named.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly associated the virus with China. Brazilian lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro — the son of President Jair Bolsonaro — has called it “China’s fault”. Politicians elsewhere, including in the United Kingdom, are also saying that China bears responsibility.

Now we have named our enemy and we can take up the sword of righteousness.

If you read the “conservative” press, you’ll find a particular angle from which they raise their objections. You see, part of what’s wrong with this implicit defense of China from politics is that China, themselves, are also politicizing the pandemic. The unpersons whom we have not named in Britain are correct – China does actually bear some responsibility here. Perhaps some responsibility in the original transfer (see footnote), maybe, but definitely some responsibility in the suppression of information and outright misinformation as the virus began to spread within and then beyond China. In other words, they see in this apology active support for the Chinese propaganda campaign that is currently in progress. However, this is an argument that isn’t going to resonate too far outside of the pro-Trump crowed.

To the authors, yes it is about Trump, but just not in that way. In not following the WHO guidelines to the letter and beyond, they inadvertently gave aid and comfort to the great orange devil. This is the sin for which they were required to prostrate themselves on the alter of public opinion. It’s unlikely that simple malquoting would require such a penance.

But back to my original point. Let’s forget the politics and stick with the literature. When Orwell created his dark future, it was one that was unequivocally bad. Nobody, but nobody, could “yes but” over the loss of freedom of conscience and the suppression of human nature. Furthermore, his book quickly became a standard within modern, liberal democracies. Each of us among the enlightened citizenry had read about and, presumably, could identify his indicators of totalitarianism and the ensuing destruction of humanity.

OK, maybe not each of us. We can’t expect everyone in America, or England, to have read and understood every canonical novel**, not to mention their implications. However, for the editors of a major magazine, one would expect them to be particularly literate, particularly well-read. Is it really possible that someone whose living is earned by writing could say “I’m sorry that I ever erroneously associated this virus with Wuhan and China when I wrote that it originated – uh somewhere, I forget where” without remembering their reading of Orwell?


Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

I’m sorry we ever said we were allied with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia, and stating otherwise was wrong. That we did so was an error on our part, for which we take responsibility and apologize.

*Interestingly, they also warn against unduly frighting language when indicating that a disease is, in fact, new. “Unknown” would be forbidden where as the more-academic sounding “novel”, one supposes, is quite alright.


Death Lowered its Eyes


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One of my disappointments with ME67 and its treatment of the Six Day War was that I felt there was a mismatch between Tiller’s Modern Campaigns mechanics and the nature of this war. The Tiller algorithms lean towards a steady attrition in strength and morale and this seems to miss when portraying the rapid maneuver that characterized Israel’s successes during this fight. As a way to explore this potential gap, we might explore tactical-level representations of these same fights.

This my third in a series of posts on the Six-Day War. See here for the previous post in the series and here to go back to the master post.


As before, the starting point for tactical warfare in the Levant seems to be the Avalon Hill The Arab Israeli Wars. I imagine that the extensive order-of-battle research done in the development of the board game is too valuable a resource to not use. Whatever the reason, the availability of computer scenarios seem to flow from that Avalon Hill Rule Book.


The Sh’ot Meteor is the Israeli designation for the British Centurion.

First on my plate is a Steel Panthers scenario which offers itself to be a version of the AH scenario A-4 Rafa. Or, as the scenario text says, it is “inspired” by the AH scenario. A-4 is intended to portray the rapid seizure of Egyptian strong points just across the international border where land meets sea. The setup uses three boards but, in an tA-I Wars twist, the boards aren’t actually connected. The Israelis (and Egypt’s main battle tank force) can move from board to board in a Westerly direction, but not directly. They require a transition turn to bridge the gap between boards.

The Steel Panthers version is different, it explicitly has two axes of attack for the Israeli advance, crossing the screen diagonally from upper right to lower left. My guess is it is an attempt to recreate the first day or two of the Israeli advance into the Sinai in miniature. I’ll not try to back up my speculation, but the Steel Panthers map looks more like the northeastern Sinai than it does the immediate vicinity of Rafah. Based on this observation, I’m going to assume this scenario neither reproduces the board game scenario nor does it accurately simulate details from the June 5th battle. So what does it do for us?


Mile-long shots were pretty effective, circa 1967.

First of all, it shows us the beauty of Steel Panthers when it comes to armored combat in the desert. Sight lines routinely extend for a mile or two and the British 105mm L7 tank can make short work of even a concealed and protected enemy at these great distances. In doing so, it demonstrates the rapidity with which a small mountain of Egyptian armor can be dispatched. It also demonstrates one of the more frustrating aspects of desert warfare in Steel Panthers – the sand. I’m constantly getting stuck in the sand! It feels (I didn’t count) like I lost as much as a third of my armored fighting vehicles to sand-initiated mobility kills. Is this realistic? I have no idea, but if that much armor was really disabled during an attack by nothing more than sand, you’d think it would be notable.

Of course, it could be just bad playing on my part. This is always a distinct possibility. You can see on the screenshots, the terrain is made up of basic desert terrain and “soft sand” (especially below you can see the ripply graphic in some hexes). I tend to be a lot more focused on avoiding mines and vulnerable exposures, so I wasn’t paying close attention, but it would make sense that it is that soft sand that is doing me in. The own-side AI does not seem to consider “soft sand” as a obstacle when calculating your path. If so, game play might require being very deliberate when moving in the vicinity of this hidden tank killer. Maybe next time I can be more observant.


On the other end of the mile-long kill shots.

So that’s worth something, but fortunately it isn’t all. The Steel Panther scenario list contains another opportunity to compare and contrast different approaches in this battle. The 4th scenario in the MBT package is called Egyptian Armor — Six Day War (see screenshot above). Its the same battle as before, but played* from the Egyptian side. I was surprised to see a scenario designed to be played from the defense. Typically, an AI has trouble handling offensive maneuvers, even when that same AI is capable of reasonably mounting a static defense. Perhaps, in this case, this natural advantage is intended to be mitigated by the fact that the player takes the role of the underdog. We do all remember this was, historically, a lopsided Israeli victory, right?

Despite the differences, it is immediately apparent that I’m playing the other side of the same battle. I start out with a nice array of Soviet armor plus foot soldiers ready to engage the Israeli assault in the open. Much like when I was playing as Israel, there is some initial success as I catch the Israeli armor by surprise. In this scenario it is obvious, even more so than the first time around, that it is the Israeli air superiority that turns the tables. Once the Israeli jets start streaking through, they manage to kill everything they target. And once Israel gets rolling, their armor can maneuver freely and basically take out everything I’ve got. Even so, that only gets them about halfway there.


Dug in at Rafah Junction.

My second defensive line is at Rafah Junction (above), where I’m dug into prepared positions. Naturally, I’m not going to be maneuvering any of these units, so this part of the game is one of waiting until Israel comes in range. There are couple of things to note here. First of all, compare the layout of the map to the original. In particular, notice the mini-map if you can make it out. What you are looking at it a road leading from the international border southwest to Rafah Junction, after which it splits. If you compare this to any of the screenshots from my operational games, you’ll see this is a much more accurate representation. In the first of the two above screens, you’ll also see a black line on the north edge which, when shown in the main view, is not a road. This is the coastal railroad and it is in its historical place. If I had scrolled even further northward, you would have been able to see the Mediterranean Sea on the map. Second lesson from this scenario, and a unique less on at that, is that it demonstrates how the Israelis planned their attack, not along the expected route, but through the open desert. The bulk of my fixed positions in Rafah Junction will turn out to be nearly worthless as the Israeli tanks come at them from the side.

In the end, this scenario was a moderate victory for me giving me the pleasure of bucking history. Unfortunately, the credit goes more to the weakness of the AI than my own tactical prowess. After wiping out my first line, the Israeli’s AI could not quite pull together a coordinated attack within the time limit set by the scenario. By the end, I was still on the losing end of most fights, but the Israeli’s never made it to my defenses. It didn’t help that, once the Israeli Air Force knocked out all of my tanks, they began taking out their own. Clearly the AI isn’t quite up to this challenge. I will take the word of the scenario designer, though, and without trying to play it, assume that the AI would do even worse trying to run the Egyptians.


Recreating the board.

The best version of this battle came from an unexpected direction. I also pulled out Divided Ground: Middle East Conflict 1948-1973. Then I loaded that game’s recreation of said-same board game scenario A-4 Rafa. You might recall the series I wrote about earlier where the The Arab-Israeli Wars scenarios are recreated as accurately as possible by Alan R. Arvolds. In this case, I’ve made no attempt at setting up** the table-top game boards to compare – I’ll take it on faith that the reproduction is accurate. It sure looks right.

One surprising thing here, though, is that Divided Ground has very much the same feel as the WinSPMBT Egyptian Armor scenario. Surprising, for one, because this map (above) is not an attempt to reproduce the area around Rafah Junction – it’s reproducing Arab-Israeli Wars where all of the Middle East is created by four “geomorphic” boards. Nevertheless, I actually do feel that I’m playing the Israeli side of the Egyptian Armor scenario. Second surprise is that I can actually see the AI opponent doing something. In this case, it is retreating, which isn’t exactly “smart, aggressive AI,” but retreating is just what I did when I played the Egyptians. After knocking out some Israeli tanks during their initial advance, the smart move seems to fall back on a better defensive line. I wasn’t very successful with this in Steel Panthers, but the Divided Ground AI seems to be making a decent go of it.

One of the complaints about the scenarios in The Arab Israeli Wars is that they tend to all favor the Israeli player. I would have expected this to exasperated to twice over here. Beyond the original scenario balance, you also have the advantage of playing against a computer AI. Furthermore, it is a situation (including things like AI but also setup and unit mix) that was created for a different gaming platform (the board, the dice, and the odds tables) than how it is being implemented (Divided Ground). Instead, I found myself playing a pretty tough game. I try to advance semi-cautiously, but seem to be failing. It is difficult to cover the board rapidly enough to win and I know in my gut I am moving too slowly but, at the same time, as I venture forward, I’m losing a many a unit to ambushes and long-shot kills. To win (and lets ignore scoring in this calculation) the Israeli has got to traverse the whole map while achieving minimal losses – and that would seem to be quite the challenge.

Israel doesn’t have the massive air power that the Steel Panthers version featured and, unlike in Egyptian Armor, the Egyptians have fairly effective artillery. It’s a debate that is well outside the scope of this post, but there is a greater question of just how effective artillery is and/or was. In Divided Ground, or at least in this here scenario, the answer is that the artillery is pretty durned effect, possibly more so than in alternative engines. Finally, besides the TOAW Sinai scenario itself, this is the only version of this battle that really captures the required speed with which the player must slice across the battlefield. In this, I think it is uniquely (at least, in my trials so far) a key element of this fight and this campaign.

Divided Ground does some good stuff in terms of modeling. It’s use of 3D and sound, dated as it may be, somehow forms more of a connection that so many of the alternatives. It helps that someone has taken the time to convert every one of The Arab-Israeli Wars, making them available for solo play. The drawback is that I’m on an ancient computer (that I shouldn’t even be running anymore) fighting a decades-old user interface. I find myself,once again, wondering if I shouldn’t be springing for the reworked version of Divided Ground.

*That’s not quite right, now is it. In Steel Panthers, all scenarios can be played from either side or as a player-on-player game. Frequently the scenario designer makes a recommendation of how his creation will work best when played against the UI. In this case AIW: Rafa is intended to be played as Israel and Egyptian Armor by Egypt, so I’ll take the liberty as treating them as a playable only from that side.

**One thing I did do was download the Vassal module for the game. It is still quite a bit of work to set up a scenario in The Arab-Israeli Wars with Vassal because most of the scenarios are free set-up. Perhaps is some future post, however, I’ll being inspired to compare directly with the board game version knowing that I don’t have to protect it from dog, cat, and family members while I’m fiddling with my stacks of counters. I have to imagine I’d be a lot happy with Campaign Series: Middle East 1948-1985 installed on my “real” computer. But $40 for a 19-year-old expansion to the 1997 East Front? How does one justify such a thing?

Return to the master post for the Six Day War or continue on to the next article.

Empire of Dirt


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The band Mötley Crüe features a bit more prominently in my life than I would ever have expected. Despite being about the right age, I was never into the “hair band” wave of the early 1980s. I liked a few of the biggest metal acts of the 1980s, but they were mostly the already-established big names. Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osborne… these folks were topping the charts and I did dig their stuff. However, for the bands that were multiplying through the eighties and crowding the hard rock/metal field, well, I looked upon the bulk of the genre as gimmicky and unserious. Mötley Crüe seemed to me to be about as gimmicky and unserious as they came.

While I’d no doubt heard and could hum along with a few of their songs, as could anyone who listened to the radio, through the mid-eighties,  I did not think of Mötley Crüe as a major artist. In fact, I can’t say I thought of them much at all. That was to change in the summer of 1987. May 11th of that year saw the release of the single Girls, Girls, Girls. This would be followed, almost immediately, by the release of the album by the same name. The sale of the album was backed by some heavy radio advertising push. At the time, a co-worker and I shared an apartment and we drove into work together. Every single morning we’d hear the pitch and took to feigning enthusiasm at the imminent availability of some new Crüe material.

The album release was accompanied by a summer stadium tour. The show came through Columbus OH in July. My roommate said that we had to get tickets*. I responded that we didn’t actually like Mötley Crüe, we were just pretending. “So what,” he said, “we have got to go and live the experience.” So we did.

Being the music snob that I was, I justified it in part by claiming that my interest was for the opening acts. I did consider the first opener, Anthrax, to be a legitimate artist. Second-bill Whitesnake won my respect by virtue of their connection to classic hard-rock bands like Ozzy Osborne and Deep Purple. But I  was just too good for Mötley Crüe.

I took away two impressions from that concert. First, there were far uglier people in the world than, up until that point in my life, I’d ever known graced this earth. By and large, these were the folks there to hear Mötley Crüe, not Anthrax. Second, I had to admit that the Mötley Crüe show was a well-rehearsed and well-performed piece of entertainment. Up to that point, concerts that I’d seen pretty much consisted of bands playing through their songs while tossing in a little banter in-between tunes. With Mötley Crüe, I felt like everything was calculated to entertain. I didn’t come away from the show liking the band, but I did gain a bit of respect for them.

As I was writing this, I realized that someone videotaped that very concert and it is available on YouTube, both song-by-song and in its entirety. As I read through some of the comments, I gather that I was witness to one of  Mötley Crüe’s better stadium shows of their career. Apparently, on top of the fan-lore, Niki Sixx talks about the show in his book The Heroin Diaries. Now I’m actually wondering if I could actually get a glimpse of myself if I watch the video. I think I should be just to the left and a little forward of the camera. The downside will be I’ll have to make it through the concert a second time. I’m not sure I can commit to that.

Life would soon take me away from Oh-Hi-Oooh and to the beaches of Los Angeles, but it could not take Mötley Crüe away from me.

While living in L.A., I had a friend who was dating a woman who had shared an apartment with Heather Locklear. The gals were still friends and they all would hang out as a foursome, mostly in Palm Springs. I never met either Heather nor Tommy Lee, but I was shown a bunch of poolside pictures. Sometimes it felt like I knew them. I lost touch with all of them by the time Heather and Tommy got divorced.

artist bass close up drum

Photo by JTMultimidia on Pexels.com

So why the trip down memory lane? Well, I decided to give Netflix another chance and watch another one of their “Original Movies,” the biographical drama The Dirt. This was a film that was pushed heavily by Netflix since it came out about a year ago. Unfortunately, the reviews (those few that covered it) weren’t too flattering and I figured to give it a pass. Nonetheless, Netflix kept on pushin’. The other night I was looking at some of the user reviews on IMDB and read one that said, basically, if you like Rock and Roll pictures, you’ll like this one. And I do.

The film is an adaptation of the book The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. This was a collaboration between the band members themselves and Niel Strauss (author of The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists). The book The Dirt spent its share of time on the best seller list and garnered decent reviews. It took a few years before it was marked to be a film project and, although in retrospect that decision seems almost inevitable, it took even longer to get it made.

More than a decade went by before the film project came together. Completing it took Netflix coming to the rescue, buying the distribution rights and funding the movie’s completion. Once again, the band was part of the process and they are listed as co-producers in the credits. That said, the film doesn’t just glorify the band. Mötley Crüe went through some rough patches, albiet almost entirely of their own making. The ugly episodes are certainly portrayed. In fact, the band comes off on screen looking like a******s.

Critical reviews for the film weren’t great, as I said. The timing of the release was such that it was coming on the heels of my own disillusionment with “Netflix Original” material, meaning I was already predisposed to NOT watching it. In this case, now that I’ve seen it, my pessimism was overblown.

Instead, the IMDB commentary was right on. I am one who likes rock biographicals and this is a reasonably-decent example of the genre. I’ve read (somewhere, I forget where) that the dramatization is eclipsed by the various documentaries made about Mötley Crüe over the years. That may be so but, let’s be honest, I wasn’t really so much looking for a documentary about Mötley Crüe as some light entertainment. I’m thinking Marky-Mark’s Rock Star, but with a little more grounding in reality.

Here’s the funny thing. For pretty much any other “rock” movie that I’ve watched, the core of the story is the music. The genius of the writer, the virtuosity of the performer, or the great song that needs to be written. Even when the film fails to achieve this end, I assume that’s at least what they are trying for. Now, it turns out that I knew more Mötley Crüe than I had realized – the music that played during the movie was more familiar than I thought it would be. Even still, there is nothing from the band that I’d admit to being quality musicianship. The film makes no attempt to alter that impression. From the beginning, the concept for Mötley Crüe seems to be build the band entirely around image rather than song.

But so what. Let’s just say there is a reason that the Sex and the Drugs came before the Rock n’ Roll when we engaged in our teen-aged fantasy** of becoming the next… Vince Neil?

*Concert tickets, in 1987, weren’t crazy-stupid expensive like they are now. I bring this up because I remember, that same summer, arguing with my roommate about whether we should pay an extra $2 a month (on top of the already ~$10) for HBO in our cable package. I found the cost extravagant. He thought it would pay for itself if it saved us on a movie rental or two a month. Like with the Crüe show, he ended up persuading me.

**The film has a scene where the band chooses a name for themselves. It shows Tommy Lee suggesting the name The Fourskins. If so, he beat my friends to the idea by a year or two.