Taking History Too Far

Recently, a new miniatures website launched with rules and background info for running alternate history WWII games. And when I say alternate, I mean the occult Nazis with zombie soldiers variety. Although this is essentially a fan site, it’s nicely put together and includes a well-done gallery showing off painted minis and dioramas. In a thread about the new site, one poster on a minis-related forum had this to say:

How historically correct is this? The models in the background are wearing the splinter camo. The troops that were used in these experiments of reanimation were SS troops. Should the undead be wearing pea dot or another pattern that was more associated with the SS?

Yes, it’s very important to get your camo scheme right when playing with Nazi zombies! And people wonder why historical games continue to struggle.

I’ve Got the Funk

The first few months of 2005 have been a weird combination of the very high and the very low. I spun into the year having just finished the biggest and most important game design of my career, but there was unfortunately no time for laurel resting. Due to our schedule, I had to jump into the follow-up products immediately and it’s been another several months of go go go as we finished five (soon to be six) support books and accessories. In the midst of that, I had to go on three business trips and deal with some challenging situations in assorted areas of business and personal life. Really, I can’t believe April is nearly upon us. Where the hell has 2005 gone so far?

The good news is that I think I’ve turned a few corners. For one thing, I’m finally settling back into a productive work groove. I’ve been a bit off for the past few weeks, in part due to illness and in part due to traveling. It’s harder to get things done when your routine is disrupted and you’re being pulled in 20 different directions. Since getting back from GTS, I’ve been working on getting a handle on the madness and I think I’m just about there. I can always tell my state of mind by how many unanswered e-mails are sitting in my box. When it gets to be over 60, I know it’s time to knuckle down again. Right now, there are a comfortable 25.

What I could really use is a couple of months of relative calm so I can focus on all the things that need to get done. I don’t have any trips scheduled until the end of June, so maybe fate will play along for once.

GAMA Trade Show

Well, another March another GAMA Trade Show. For those of you not steeped in game industry doings, GTS is the only real trade show of the business and it’s held over four days in Vegas each March. This year’s show, which I returned from late Friday night, was interesting. Thanks to UPS and the Riviera’s business center, we had trouble getting our graphics case delivered in a timely fashion. The result was that we had no booth graphics of any kind for fully half the show. Arrgggggh. That was quite frustrating. Luckily, we did have advanced copies of things like Blue Rose and the Advanced Player’s Manual to show off, so it wasn’t as bad as it might have been.

Probably the most exciting thing for me was the debut of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, the game I’ve been working on for the past year. Monday night I finally got to hold a copy of the finished game in my hands. It’s really only at that point that you start to feel like all your effort has resulted in something tangible. Simon and Kate from Black Industries were over from Nottingham and they displayed to the book to eager retailers and distributors. The response was fantastic. I lost track of the number of people who said to me, “WFRP looks great and we’re going to sell a lot of it!” The official launch date isn’t until March 29, but getting the book in front of people and seeing their reaction was quite gratifying. On Tuesday Plundered Vaults and the Character Pack, which are shipping at the same time, also showed up and we got to check those out as well. Only a few more days until the worldwide releaseā€¦

The new facilities for GTS at the Riviera were hit and miss. The actual convention facility was great and much better suited to the show’s current size than the Orleans (the show’s previous host casino). However, everything else about the Riv was poor. The hotel part is badly laid out and hard to navigate, the restaurant options are limited at best, and crucially there isn’t a central bar or suchlike for easy meetings and hanging out. For me, the show facilities trump the amenities, since we’re really there for the trade show. Nonetheless, I did find myself missing things about the Orleans, like the Alligator Bar and their oyster bar. On the upside, the hospitality suite was bigger and better this year and had coffee that was actually pretty decent.

I did not have as much time as I would have liked to check out new games, but in my browsing I didn’t see anything that knocked my socks off. I must say I am well and truly sick of collectible games and licenses based on soulless corporate properties. I increasingly wish that stuff would just fuck off to the mass market and leave the hobby market alone.

The Yin and Yang of Muay Thai

Recently, I decided to make my own Muay Thai Day, seeing both Thai kickboxing films currently showing in theaters. Of the two, Ong-bak: The Thai Warrior was the more traditional martial arts film. And by and large that was not a bad thing. High-steppin’ Tony Jaa stars as Ting, a humble villager waiting to be ordained in his local temple. He has been taught Muay Thai (AKA Thai kickboxing) by the local priest but enjoined, “never to use it.” Then a thief named Don steals the head of the temple’s statue of local deity Ong-bak only a week before a festival honoring the god that happens only once every 24 years. And there’s a draught as well! Someone must go to Bangkok, kick righteous ass Muay Thai style, and return the head before the wells run dry. With that, the movie takes off, as Ting descends into the hell of Bangkok’s underworld and many heads are cracked. The filmmakers owe an obvious debt the HK directors of the 70s and 80s but the film stands on its own. Sure, you’ve seen some of the chase gags before in old Jackie Chan movies, but what makes it worth watching is the incredible athleticism of star Tony Jaa. Holy crap, does this guy have the moves. He does stunts like flipping his body sideways in between two panes of glass maybe a foot apart. And although Muay Thai is most famous for its kicking, the move I liked the best involved jumping up above an opponent and then cracking the top of the skull with a descending elbow. In short, Ong-bak (and Tony Jaa) deliver the martial arts goods. And while he may beat up dozens of enemies, it’s OK because they are evil and he’s fighting for Buddha. Dude.

The yin to Ong-bak’s yang is a film called Beautiful Boxer. This movie is the true story of a professional kickboxer named Nong Toom, who fought under the name Parinaya. This is one hell of a unique sports story. As a youngster, Toom was a femme and constantly bullied. He always liked beautiful things and was attracted to makeup. As you can imagine, this made life in Thailand difficult. When he realized he could help support his struggling family with prize money, Toom went to a Muay Thai camp and began to train. The bullying stopped as Toom developed amazing kickboxing skills.

One day his coach found him putting on makeup and decided it’d make a good shtick. Toom thus began fighting matches in women’s makeup, scandalizing the boxing community. There was much debate over whether Toom was really a transvestite or whether it was just an act. Toom announced that once he had made enough money for his family, he would save up for a sex change operation so he could finally be a woman. The tag line of the movie’s poster is, “He fights like a man so he can be a woman!” If someone tried to make this up, you wouldn’t believe it but it’s true. Toom became a huge star, fought in the biggest arenas, and won enough prize money for his family and his dream. He got the operation, retired from Muay Thai, and now has a career as a model and actress.

Beautiful Boxer is a much different film than Ong-bak. While it does feature a number of kickboxing matches, the martial arts isn’t the real focus and the fighting in Ong-bak is much better. The story is center stage here, as it should be, and an interesting story it is. Star Asanee Suwan does a very good job with the title roll, believable going from girlish shyness to dominating fighter scene to scene. Beautiful Boxer is far from a traditional martial arts film but it’s also well worth seeing if you get the chance.

Do Books Age Like Wine?

There are certain books that get recommended to me over and over again by different friends. Sometimes, I take the recommendation quickly, like Seymour Hersh’s excellent Chain of Command. Sometimes it takes…a whole lot longer. In January I finally read the Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. I had it in my mind that it had come out maybe 10 years ago. When I was done with it, I looked at the copyright date and saw that it actually came out in 1983, so it took me 22 years to finally read the damn thing (and to the dozens of people who told me I’d like it, you were right). Perdido Street Station by China Mieville is another one. Again, recommendations have flowed in for years. I’ve finally started carrying it around in my bookbag, because I always need something to read on the bus. Well, at the moment it hasn’t tempted me away from Matthew Parker’s engaging history Monte Cassino: the Hardest Fought Battle of WWII, but once I finish that I think I’ll be in the mood for a good novel. I’m pretty sure I can read Perdido Street Station before 2023 rolls around in any event.