Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First Impressions: Battles of Westeros

This is the primary reason why I liked the novel A Game of Thrones:  The world of Westeros is overflowing with wargaming potential. 

I got my first good look at the Battles of Westeros, by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), while visiting my friend Joe.  After checking the ratings on BoardGameGeek, I decided not only to buy the core set, but all the supplements.  These are:  Wardens of the West, Wardens of the North, The Lords of the River and the newly released Tribes of the Vale.

From what I've read, the game mechanics are similar to FFG's Battlelore line of products:

Despite the expense of buying the core set and all the supplements in one, fell-swoop, I'm glad I did.  I finished cutting out all the cardboard terrain and tokens and assembled all the miniatures.  The figures, which represent some unique troops among the warring Lannister and Stark families, along with their allies.  The only issue is the figures have to be mounted on bases which can be a little tricky, since the pegs don't always match the holes.  Based on this warning, I read prior to opening any of the boxes, I didn't think twice about gluing the figures to the bases.

Apparently, there were some complaints about the cardboard flags used to group figures into units often wore out due to frequent use.  So FFG created a box of plastic, deluxe flags (which I also bought), to go with the core game and first two, "warden" supplements.  Newer supplements now come with their own deluxe flags.

I'm looking forward to waging table-top war in Westeros and of course, writing after action reviews on each battle.  Alas, with all my other writing and gaming projects, I don't know when that will be.  In the meantime, Anatoli of Sweden, wrote a short after action review (AAR) of the game's ambush scenario, Battle of the Whispering Woods:

For more information on Battles of Westeros and other games, check out Fantasy Flight Games website:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Honoring Memorial Day

Kristen Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone:  The Writer's Guide to Social Media, wrote a nice Memorial Day tribute on her blog:

(Image by Mike Shelton, published in the Orange County Register, 2003)

Movie Review: Thor

The first person to recommend Thor was my Popular Fiction teacher.  She loved it, especially for the easily identifiable scenes in the typical "hero's journey."  During one session, she discussed the point where the hero transforms from "mortal" to "immortal."  What she meant was, the hero finally learns everything he needs to know to confront the villain.

In the case of the movie Thor, this is a literal transformation, or rather, retransformation, because Thor was cast out of Asgard by his dad Odin.

As a comic book afficionado since my adolescence, I've read Marvel Comics' Thor on occassion, usually when he was teamed up with other superheroes, especially the Avengers.  I even have vague recollections of the 60s vintage cartoon. So I don't have any heartburn about any deviations the movie made from the original comics.

I give this latest comic book  movie a firm 3.5 stars.  While Thor didn't deliver a knockout punch with his mighty hammer Mjolnir, the movie was a solid hit.  Here's what our local movie critic, "Brian the Movie Guy" had to say about it:

One of my sisters is involved in a weekly podcast on a site called Needcoffee.com:

Widget, the site's owner/director, does video movie reviews he calls "Wayhomers," because he's driving back home from a movie he just saw.  Here's his take on Thor, which he saw in 3D:

Wikipedia has an extensive plot summary, along with wiki-entries about the actors and the comic book characters.  Although for some odd reason, the cut & paste function leaves out the last parenthesis.  The link will take you to an intermdiary "Did you mean: Thor the movie" wiki-site.  Just click on the link provided to get to the movie entry:  

Wikipedia's entry on the Thor comic books also requires a two-step process:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review: A Game of Thrones

(Image:  The Iron Throne as depicted in the HBO miniseries Game of Thrones)

If I had only one sentence to describe A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin, it would be this:  Epic fantasy collides with historical fiction. 

And like most accident scenes, the results are often messy.

A Game of Thrones, the first in A Song of Ice and Fire series, hit the bookshelves with wild acclaim 15 years ago.  Books two through four soon followed, but then series petered out in 2005.  Now there's a resurgence of interest due to the debut of the HBO miniseries and with the impeding release of book five, A Dance With Dragons, this July.

This epic covers a dynastic struggle among several noble families in the kingdom of Westeros, an island vaguely similar to the British Isles.  In fact, it's been said, this series is a fantasy version of the War of the Roses.  Wikipedia provides a detailed plot synopsis for the 807-page opening of this saga:

I enjoyed the book for several reasons:  It was well written, while the characters appeared to be fleshed-out, flawed and three-dimensional, not merely caricatures of good and evil.  As a wargamer, what I liked most about this book was the world building. The author did a fantastic job developing a realistic fantasy world that isn't dominated by monsters and magicians.   A Song of Ice and Fire spawned several gaming spin-offs, such as a strategy game, (now, sadly out of print), a miniatures boardgame, a card game and a roleplaying game.

Despite my 4.5-star rating, I do have some reservations about the book and the series as a whole.  First of all, A Game of Thrones is an 807-page tome, which, unless you're a speed-reader, doesn't qualify as "light fare."  Books two through four also weigh-in at over 700 pages each.  On reason for the large number of trees killed to make this book, is there is more than one main story line.  In fact, there are seven.  That's seven people to keep track of, as the story jumps from character to character.  Add in all the minor characters and it becomes difficult to differentiate who's who in Westeros.

For the HBO series, Film Book developed the following info graphic to help viewers figure out who's doing what to whom...

(Image: Film Book's infographic Westeros 101)

My biggest complaint though,  is the story felt inconclusive--even after 807 pages.  This was merely the opening act of a long saga.  And from what I've read on line, the sequels are equally inconclusive.  So I'm not inclined to pick up the remaining books any time soon.  Instead, I'd rather veer off the author's beaten path and wargame my own misadventures with my gaming friends.

My complaints aside, A Game of Thrones is overwhelmingly, but not completely, popular with readers.  Based on Amazon.com's statistics, out of 1,875 reviews, this book 1,332 5-star ratings, for a 70%  approval rating, while 252 readers gave it a 4-star rating (14%).  From here, the percentages drop down into the single digits, ranging from 83 3-stars (4.5%), to 99 2-stars (5.5%), down to 109 1-stars (6.0%).

I find it interesting that more readers truly hated the book than those who merely disliked it, or were indifferent to it.

From reading some of the rants and reviews, one of the tipping points was the setting and tone of the book, or the "world building," I mentioned earlier.  Those who disliked A Game of Thrones, considered the world dark and grim.  I prefer to use the word "harsh."  In modeling the story after the War of the Roses, then it is indeed a harsh and unforgiving world, where life has been said to be "violent, brutish and short."  Which is why I liked it--the story goes against typical epic fantasy tropes.  I suspect, the other readers who liked A Game of Thrones, also enjoy reading historical fiction, like I do.

For now, though, I'm "quiting while I'm ahead" in my feelings towards the series.

For more info on the creator of A Game of Thrones, check out George R.R. Martin's website:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wargame Convention Weekend

Enfilade! is the flagship wargame convention for the Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society (NHMGS) .  With rare exceptions, it's held every Memorial Day Weekend.  For the past several years, the Red Lion Inn, at Olympia has served as a base camp for the gathering of the gaming clans.

There's still time to register, before gaming starts this Friday afternoon:

For more information about NHMGS, check out it's website:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Marriage, Getting Published & Happiness--Not Necessarily In That Order...

(Image:  Laura Munson, the "accidental memoirist")

Our second guest speaker of PNWA's monthly meeting was Laura Munson.  A lively and entertaining speaker, she described her journey from film school to frustrated author of 14 unpublished novels.

(Image:  Laura depicts her initial shyness as a writer through "interpretive dance")

Despite wanting to be a novelist, the girl from Whitefish Montana made her big splash a couple years ago with an essay submitted to the Modern Love section of the New York Times (NYT):

Her article went viral before the end of the day and the virtual tsunami of hits crashed NYT's Modern Love site.  Laura's "overnight" success was the spark that ignited her career as a memoirist.  She never considered writing a memoir.  However, once she realized the protagonists in most, if not all, of her unpublished novels were thinly disguised versions of herself, writing the memoir became easy.  (Well, as "easy" as any writing process is).

(Image:  Laura reads from her book, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is...)

What resonated most with me, was Laura's belief in the power of positive thinking.  Not the sunshiny/Polyanna style of thinking; but rather a realistic assessment of what you can control in your life, versus what you can't, then not allowing the issues you can't control, infringe on your health and well-being.

This can be a tall order for some of us and even impossible for others to make this sort of tectonic shift of an attitude adjustment.  Laura's story served as an inspiration to a group of authors, most of whom often feel down-in-the-dumps over not getting published.  She reminded us that the publishing business can be fickle and it is an issue we can't control.  Therefore...
(Image:  Laura signs copies books and exchanges stories of hope with admirers)

...the fickleness of the business-side of writing should not affect our work--and our sense of well-being.

You can find out more about Laura from her website:


Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Impaler's Author Confesses

(Image:  Chris Humphreys discussing the cover art of Vlad)

Two days ago, the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association (PNWA) was honored to have two guest speakers at our monthly meeting:  C.C. ("Chirs") Humphreys and Laura Munson.  For this occassion, our asssembly relocated to the University Bookstore in Bellevue, WA. 

Chris Humphreys, is currently on a small book tour in conjunction with running workshops in Portland and San Diego, to promote the American release of his book, Vlad: The Last Confession--The Epic Novel of the Real Dracula.

I read the book last year and posted a review on this blog: 

Chris described his novel as a horror story--but not a vampire tale and it was the darkest story ever written.

Why then, pick Vlad the Impaler, of all people, as the subject of a historical novel? 

Because it's never been done before.  Even though Chris broke new ground in historical fiction, he credited his editor for giving him the idea.  I won't say the idea was the result of a drinking binge; but by Chris's adimission, it did involve the two having lunch at a pub in Soho, London, where two bottles of claret were emptied...

(Image:  Chris reading the opening scene of Vlad)

Chris compared his writer's journey to climbing a mountain, where he as the author, made the first ascent.  The second "climb" was made along with the editor and the final expedition is made by the readers, once the book is published.  While everyone "climbs the same mountain" of the story, the view from the summit can be a different experience for each reader.
(Image: Chris autographing books)

There was a short question & answer period and then Chris was whisked off by Pam Binder, PNWA's president, for another appearance.

Chris's upcoming book, A Place Called Armageddon--Constantinople 1453, is something of a tie-in novel to Vlad, will be released in the UK this July.

For more information on Chris Humphrey's and his books, check out his website:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dusk of the Lead

Good writing can draw a reader into the story right from the opening line.

I was hooked on this after action review (AAR), by "Zombie Ad," after reading the paragraph underneath the first photo of his Midnight Munchies blogpost:


Zombie Ad did a great job of describing an apocalyptic event, along with evoking a sense of despair and grim determination among the survivors.

If I ever make it to the UK for a wargame convention, I definately want to sign up for Zombie Ad's session.

Friday, May 6, 2011

When the Real World Intrudes

On 27 April, tornadoes cut a swath of destruction across the southern US.  Normally, I post disasters such as this on my Station WTFO blog.  I reserve this blog for writing and wargaming--leisurely activities that take place "outside the real world."

Unfortunately, the real world has a way of intruding into our leisure pursuits in a big and sometimes devastating way. 

Earlier today I received an e-mail notice from the game company Avalanche Press, owned by Mike Bennighof, PhD.  Usually, I scan the newsletter for new products and then delete the message.  The "Storm Update" link in today's message, however, caught my eye and I followed it to a post on Avalanche Press's website.

Suddenly, I discovered Avalanche Press was located in Birmingham, Alabama--one of the many communities devastated by last week's tornadoes.

After reading Dr. Bennighof's update, I felt it was necessary to post about it here.  Sometimes we need to be aware of what's happening beyond our game tables.

Best wishes to Dr. Bennighof, his staff and to their families and friends.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Memo to Bad Guys: You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

(Image:  From 5111 T-shirt by Ranger Up)

On May 1st, Usama bin Laden was found hiding inside a mansion compound in Pakistan and killed by members of SEAL Team 6.  I usually don't post current events on this blog, but taking out Al-Qaida's leader and one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks is an historic event and should be noted.

To commemorate this occassion, Ranger Up will be offering T-shirts, which come in three flavors.

5111 T-shirt:

SEAL Memo T-shirt:

Where's Waldo T-Shirt:

Congratulations to the men of SEAL Team 6, our nation's intelligence gatherers and our men & women currently deployed "downrange."