18 January 2009

Stollenian Errata. . .

Groan -- I had intended to get in several turns with Jonathan. . . er, Major von Hirschbiegel this weekend in our Action at Pickelhaubewicz game, which has been waiting patiently in the next room, to say nothing of the good Major. But, as you know, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions! Still, it has not been an entirely unproductive weekend here in Stollen Central.

The extreme cold has moderated somewhat, so Zum Stollenkeller is less cold that it has been for the past few days, which enabled me to sit at the computer for some time and do some long delayed work. The result of all this has been the introductory section of the slowly developing book, which now has a title I like and an introduction that lays out what the book is about in a reasonably nice way. It fits the rest of the material that I have developed in the last 14+ months pretty well, if I do say so myself. It looks like we are getting somewhere! Bet, admittedly, I have some big shoes to fill -- more on that below.

In addition, "Steve" gave me a hand with getting my counter back up on the blog where it should be (along the sidebar). Don't know why or how I couldn't figure this out myself, but that's what friends are for I suppose. Anyway, thank you again, Steve.

Now, what about those three books I received the other day? The first, Achtung Schweinehund! by Harry Pearson is a title that many of you will be familiar with already. I read this in two nights, and, despite a few points that I didn't necessarily agree with, I enjoyed the book for the most part. In keeping with the tradition of engaging, fun writing that features in so many "old school" titles, Mr. Pearson's narrative and observations about playing with plastic toy soliders, Action Man (a British cousin of the G.I. Joe action figure), and the wargaming hobby made it difficult to put the book down. I'm glad I finally got a copy and read it.

The same cannot be said of the second book that came in the same Amazon.com shipment. The Games of War (2007) by John Bobek, a teacher in the United States, consists of 271 pages of rules for gaming various periods. While the first chapter presents considerable background information that is worth a read, the rules all suffer from far too many numeric modifiers, and the unit sizes suggested are much smaller than my own tastes dictate. That and the few photographs in the book are black and white, and not always of the highest quality. While I respect anyone who can manage to complete and publish a book-length project, the writing is simply not that engaging either. The entire time I paged through this book during two-three successive evenings, I kept thinking to myself, "Well, this is alright, but it just isn't like books by Young, Featherstone, or the Grants." Enough said?

The third and final book in the shipment was The Armchair General (2007) by K. Mike Hill, an ex-military man, which also presents rules for rather fewer historic periods in roughly 200 pages. Without meaning to be unkind, you'll want to avoid this title. It's a boring read. Even skimming through the book a few times was a dull exercise. As Lewis Caroll's "Alice" remarked, "What good is a book without pictures?" And, indeed, there are very few photos present within The Armchair General. Those that are, are poorly focused, and the writing, is, well. . . pedestrian at best. There are even quite a few typographical errors and strangely worded sentences sprinkled throughout the book. And these things contribute to a generally less than satisfactory reading experience. Mr. Hill could have used a better editor to say the very least. Oh, and what about the rules? Well, here again, these are laden with various and sundry numeric modifiers, so they read very much like those by Bruce Quarrie and Barry Edwards. It strikes me that the rules outlined by Mr. Hill (and Mr. Bobek for that matter) might take quite some time to actually use in games and also challenge a memory expert. In general, the rules in each book certainly are not presented in an lively or engaging way. Save your money.

Now, a few things occur to me after I've written these less than enthusiastic remarks about the two rulebooks above. One, take everything I've said with a grain of salt. To some it might seem as if I am on my high-horse. And maybe that's so. But I've read plenty of examples of what works in wargaming literature in the last few years, and now I've examined two examples of what most assuredly does not work. Which, brings me to my second and related point.

In The Games of War and The Armchair General, I've noticed the type of writing -- uninspiring -- to avoid in any piece about wargaming whether you are developing, a set of rules, an article, or a book. It strikes me that maybe, just maybe, British guys tend to do a much better, more engaging, grammatically, and stylistically correct job of writing about toy soldiers. This glaring difference might be the result of history or culture, but it might also stem from the differences between the educational systems of the two countries.

As an undergraduate, I had a wonderful sociology professor, a Trinidadian, who was educated in the British system. Since we lived in neighborhoods that were, well, neighboring, we often bumped into each other on the street, or on the bus, enjoying many interesting, funny conversations along the way. Anyway, when the conversation turned to writing, Dr. Quashie always remarked to me that he didn't bother with essay exams for his various courses because too few American students knew how to write effectively. After reading these two books, I have the nagging suspicion that he might have been onto something there. But that's just me. Ok, editorializing over!

Finally, we come to the issue of illustrations. Now obviously, color photographs raise the production and retail costs of print publications. That much I understand. The Games of War (above), at least, does feature four action-filled photographs on its cover, presumably from some of Mr. Bobek's own games. The cover of The Armchair General displays a more modest watercolor(?) illustration of a pirate aboard a ship with a brass cannon in the background. As I've already noted though, there are very few photographs of figures and games contained within either book. For titles about the wargaming hobby, this strikes me as a huge shortcoming.

Even books published as long ago as Charge! (1967) and The War Game (1971) featured lots of photos. Granted, these were black and white, but they were close-up, focused, well-lighted and some thought was obviously given to the composition of each photograph. And then we have any number of more recent titles that feature a veritable plethora of well- taken B&W and color pictures. Two of the latest works, that many of you have already added to your bookshelves, include The War Game Companion and the Battlegames Table Top Teaser special. The point is, it's vital to have good photographs in any work meant to foster enthusiasm for the hobby. It seems that the authors and publishers of The Games of War and The Armchair General neglected to keep that point in mind. Ok, enough negativity for today!

Otherwise, not too much painting happening here at the moment, something that I hope will change before too many more days have elapsed. I wasted too much time yesterday morning trying to upload our seven demo tracks to The Indras website, but I was unable to get the correct widget to work with the mp3 files. Next, I spent the afternoon and early evening writing, and all of the sudden it was 10pm. And I realized that I had not yet had any dinner! So, the resolution for today is to complete Move Ten with Major von Hirschbiegel, at least start Move Eleven, and do some painting for an hour or two this evening. We'll see how that goes. Right now, I'm off to the kitchen for a mug of hot chocolate or something else warm. Gosh, the pervasive 'Twitter' has already made its presence felt, and I don't even have a membership for that!


Jim Wright said...

Hi Stokes,

You sound a little bummed out today. Weather? Missing the Grand Duchess? Reading crappy books?

As a professional writer and teacher you know better than to let stuff that crosses your desk bother you. You know mistakes when you see them and are smart enough not to repeat them.

"Buck up, old boy." Out with the dice or paint brush. Activity will make the bad taste in your mouth quickly go away.

Speaking of your book and editing, I hereby volunteer to read, read, and reread you manuscript during development. As you have probably found out, a second or third set of unbiased eyes will find things, words, phases, concepts, that have slipped through the cracks. Please consider the offer of help. No consideration of any kind is asked for or expected. It is absolutely free. It is my way of giving back to the hobby.

Thanks for the enjoyment you given me and many others with your Stollen blog.

Jim Wright
Phoenix, AZ, USA.

Stokes Schwartz said...

Hi there Jim,

Right on most counts there! :-) And thank you for the offer to proofread.edit my work. I will definitely keep you in mind once I have a completed manuscript.

Best Regards,


Adik said...

Thanks for the reviews, Stokes! And glad you survived our cold spell here in IL. Today I walked outside, felt the temperature in the low 30s, and thought: "Nice! Warm!" Only in Chicago...

Fitz-Badger said...

Yes, sounds like you could use a good dose of hot chocolate, painting and gaming!

Too bad those books don't seem to be very good. Unfortunately the publishers may decide that if the books don't/didn't sell well enough that the book-buying publuic doesn't want wargaming books.

littlejohn said...

Hang tough Stokes, I know the feeling...the "not so good" is everywhere and fortunately we at least have a few benchmarks to hang on to when it comes to books for wargamers. It's amazing with all the wonderful stuff on wargaming that is found on blogs and websites these days that its so hard to get a basic inspirational book on wargames translated into traditional print.

A J Matthews said...

My fiancée is an author and copy editor and she regaled me with the horrors that cross her desk. ;) Your project sounds really interesting, Stokes. I'm looking forward to it coming out in print.

tradgardmastare said...

The funnylittlewars rules are out soon - I have ordered mine in the hope it will inspire me for alfresco games in 54mm!
I hope you find some reading material more up your street- why not cheer up your spirits with alook at Charge and plan those games ahead in the coming years...

tradgardmastare said...

I just lost my post to you Stokes blogger probs- drat!!
I hope you are feel more enthused today. I am sorry your reading was a disappointment. Why not have a look once more at Charge and daydream of the battles ahead ...
best wishes
p.S The Funnylittlewars rules are out soon-I have ordered a copy in th ehope it will inspire me with regard to alfresco games in 54mm


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