Background, Beardiness, and The Way We Play...

A recent event I moderated touched off anew the conflicting approaches players take to the hobby of miniatures wargaming. Though there are gradations in every player, most fall to either the 'competitive' side or the 'simulation/storytelling' side. It is worth knowing which way you prefer to play--as very few organized events cater well to both.

This divide in approach is by no means limited to the hobby, of course. It may go by other names depending on the framing event, but virtually anything with a win/lose result sees it: in sports, there is the constant tension between 'winning at all costs' and 'playing with standards,' for example. Whatever the venue, it boils down to whether the participant •most• values 'experience'--the enjoyment gained from actual play--or 'outcome'--the satisfaction derived from triumphing.

Sportsmanship--how a participant comports themselves--is an element of this...but especially as it pertains to the hobby, is something apart, as well, so I will address it independently.

The local event was a tournament--which by it's definition is more attractive to 'outcome' oriented players, as opposed to story- or simulation-driven events like megabattles or campaigns--but which clearly and in advance advertised that it was going to break a few rules in the 'competitive balance' area usually so necessary to such outcome-oriented events. In this case, participants were offered the opportunity to bring units more powerful than standard army composition allowed--but with the caveat that such units might face in-scenario handicaps which would re-level the playing field. The motive was not hidden from participants: the sponsoring venue was new to the hobby, and wished their customers to be able to pick up starter games or starter army boxes and put together a playing force from whatever it's contents were, while also offering veteran players a reason to come familiarize themselves with the new store by picking up a needed unit and knowing they could immediately turn around and use it.

The whole thing was presented from the start as a variation on the familiar tourney scene, the attraction being the challenge of overcoming new threats under new mission conditions. The problem arose amongst players concerned that such powerful units would prevent them from winning. In other words--none of the event's particular appeals, which were 'experience' enhancing, offset the dismay felt by 'outcome' focused hobbyists that their desires would not be satisfied.

The back-and-forth became more heated than it should have, however, because some of the hobbyists either did not know or had not come to terms themselves with which kind of way they preferred to play.

There is not one approach necessarily better than the other, and certainly there is no 'right' or 'wrong.' That is one of the reasons the question of sportsmanship must be addressed separately: there is a tendency to categorize the theme/background/story players as better sports, as hobbyists who 'get it,' and the truth is that there can be 'background bullies' or 'history snobs' who are just as offensive presences in story-based events as 'win-at-any-cost' types can be competitively...and there can be masterfully-proficient tabletop tacticians who are as gracious and fun-to-play as they school you in a competitive tournament as any story-telling opponent can be in a campaign. The whole question of what kind of person you are as a gamer is independent of what way you play.

The danger for an 'outcome' emphasizing hobbyist, of course--as in any competitive pursuit--is that his satisfaction •must• come at the expense of his opponent. One who appreciates the 'experience' may well find moments of enjoyment and satisfaction in the hobby in loss--even in multiple losses--but the further toward the 'outcome' side of the scale a hobbyist veers, the more difficult it can be to be gracious in defeat (and the more difficult it can be to control one's exultance in victory). Asshatdom is only a step away for this gamer (yet another reason recognizing whether this is the way you play is valuable--because who wants to be an asshat if it can be helped, really).

Hobby leader Games Workshop struggled mightily with this issue as their self-run Grand Tournament circuit grew increasingly significant in the late 90s/early 00s. They had always emphasized that the 'non-tabletop result' aspects of their hobby (modeling and painting, composing to the established background, having fun playing) were as important as the outcome of any game...but hadn't worked out with complete satisfaction how to score these more experience-based aspects in a tournament setting. Worse, they kept whatever solutions they had come up with secret. Army Composition scores especially became controversial--pointedly, when a GW official would have a comment become public like the infamous 'perfect space marine army comp is 100 tactical marines on foot' remark--a composition the then-current V3 Codex would not even allow if it •had• been desirable, or thematic, or made sense. Very few hobbyists left GTs of that era happy; experience-based players weren't getting much and stayed away in droves and the outcome-based majority couldn't all win against each other. Fortunately, independent hobbyists recognized the system's failings and undertook to fix them by example, running their own, better events (the Astronomi-con circuit at being the pioneers and still the best)--and GW, to their credit, recognized and integrated many such fixes in their own GT and Rogue Trader Tournament packages first, then began integrating the independent events themselves under their official GT Circuit banner in North America (the current roster is viewable at GW's website and will climax in summer 2011 with winners from all the qualifiers meeting under GW's aegis in Las Vegas for a grand showdown).

But--again to GW's credit--while fine-tuning this tournament circuit to fairly and transparently reflect the breadth of the hobby in scoring, making the tourneys much friendlier to the 'experience' oriented hobbyist, they've further legitimized the 'outcome' element of the hobby community through the creation of the Ard Boyz Tournaments--which are exclusively settled on tabletop results, a 'generalship' equivalent to their Golden Daemon painting championships.

Of course GTs, company-run or independent, are still ultimately competitions, so the competitive player should always feel at home there; and there will continue to be story-emphasis events like campaigns, specific-battle recreations and multiplayer megabattles (including official events which incorporate all three, such as the Apocalypse 'Lucky 13s') for those sorts of hobbyists, as well. Historical miniatures wargamers will find their hobby equally provides broad-spectrum events, from pure recreations/simulations to cross-era competitive tournaments (think yourself a real general--try succeeding against the cannons of medieval Burgundians with your Egyptian charioteers!).

The trick these days isn't lack of events catering to the way a hobbyist plays--it is the hobbyist himself knowing his preference, so he can either gear his available hobby time to sympatico events...or, hopefully, broaden his hobby experience by occasionally tackling an event of a different kind. There is nothing wrong with sticking to what you prefer (though trying to prod event sponsors and/or moderators into turning a given event into something it is not is unwelcome--go make the considerable uncompensated commitment of time, effort and expertise to be the moderator yourself if you feel strongly enough about it to try hijacking someone else's work); it simply means fewer opportunities to play than if your hobby tastes were broader. A fair-minded, 'challenge-me' approach will go far toward insuring you find something to enjoy in any given game, even against a really hard army fielded by an extremely competitive player, or in a background-soaked campaign against someone who knows every fact from every edition of his army's codex (and probably yours).

And there •are• armies out there which are completely legal in composition which are totally geared to maximize tabletop effect. This is simply because some concession must always be given to background in miniatures wargaming--as opposed to abstract 'wargames' such as chess. It is a truth of the hobby that there are units worth more than their points cost (and units worth less) and the 'outcome' based player is going to identify the armies with the most of these and load his composition with them as heavily as possible. This is one of the two ways I have always found best for a player to estimate where he is on the sliding 'experience vs outcome' scale: evaluate every unit in the army you take to a tournament for whether their inclusion is motivated by the models' coolness/your happiness with their painting/how well they fit your force's historical composition/how integral they are to your theme--•or• for how effective they are. Some, fortuitously, will be both...but if you are honest with yourself about why they are there, you can learn quite a bit about the way you play (for the other easiest way, see 'Sportmanship scoring,' below).

I have always found it fairly easy to identify an army composed for as much tabletop effect as possible--and have gotten better at it as I've broadened my hobby experience. Certainly it began as an artifact of competing in over a decades' worth of tourneys and especially GTs: when the GW GT circuit was at it's height in the early 00s, there were a handful of players who traveled to every one (and there were then more than a half-dozen a year) with the hardest possible armies they could compose, their sole goal winning--and remember, in those days, the non-tabletop scores (sportsmanship, army composition and painting) were VERY ancillary and totally •non-transparent•. By sheer circumstance I wound up pitted, in round one of a Dallas GT, against one of the winningest, hardest, most competitive players on the circuit fielding what was then considered among the nastiest possible army builds--the Eldar 'jedi council'--and (largely through a scenario friendly to the numerous Terminators I had brought--and his inability to deal with them since 'no one brought Terminators to a GT'-- and very lucky dice) I defeated him soundly. This unfortunately thrust me up onto the very top tables for the ensuing rounds, where I had to endure the era's other nasty builds (the dark eldar 'all-skimmer/all-dark lance' pt boat army, the 'get first turn and eat you before you move' V3 Blood Angels army and the just-released multi-HQ Black Templars army)--and players who made no pretense about being there for any reason other than winning. One even casually admitted how much he had paid someone else to paint his army so he could max those points. This was the least-fun tournament experience I ever had: no amount of (temporary) excitement at being on the high tables was worth the complete disregard these players had for theme, background or storytelling. I honed my 'army-built-to-win' radar, already reasonably sharp from years of other cons, to a razor edge that weekend and have learned a great deal about the kind of hobbyist I do not want be since (as GW has learned a lot about the kind of events they do not want to sponsor in the intervening years as well, through the example of independent tourneys like Astro or the local Lone Wolf, at which such narrowly-focused gamers and armies would now be very challenged).

It is this ability to 'build to power' that most often accentuates the difference between playing approaches--and leads to one of the hobby's least-attractive habits: the accusation of 'cheesiness' or 'beardiness.' Whining or complaining about another power build isn't an attractive character trait, any more than the building of such armies is (even if you are fairly accurate at identifying such builds). Having events specifically focused on building and playing with such monster compositions, like the Ard Boyz, is a partial solution...but there should be a mechanism for addressing what they are within the broader GT circuit, as well, •if• such events are--as was the event I moderated which began this discussion--intended to appeal to hobbyists all across the broad 'experience-versus-outcome' scale.

One solution is a weighted Army Composition score--such as Astronomi-con's--which imposes minor but increasing scoring penalties as players load their force composition with over-effective choices. So long as these penalties are transparent in advance--again, as Astro's are--allowing a player to build a non-penalized army, they can be effective even though they •are• guilty of forcibly altering a legal army through external arbitration, and require the moderators to make advance decisions about just which units are offensive (something not every hobbyist always agrees upon). To return to the example of the local event, some such notification of which units would be penalized and how was a thing certain of the 'outcome' oriented players wanted from me in advance, if they were to participate.

I prefer to let the players themselves 'level' such matters. This is where Sportsmanship specifically enters this discussion as it relates to our hobby, because many of our events (including most in the GT Circuit) score for it. We differ in this way markedly from other competitive events: most athletic competitions have codes of conduct which players can be looked-down-upon (or even expelled from the sport) for regularly violating--but there are no points added to or subtracted from final scores for instances of either onfield chivalry or jackassery. Chess federations do not invalidate a player's win if he gloats over the swiftness of his successful gambit after. Sportsmanship scoring in GW events stems from the company's insistence from the start that having fun--including making efforts to insure that your opponent has fun--is an essential component of the hobby. I agree with it philosophically, always have--even when what exactly a player was scoring with his Sportsmanship ballot wasn't always clear. From my perspective, so long as an army was legal under a given rules set's composition restrictions, •any• scoring of it should be the province of those who actually faced it in-game--so considering it's adherence to established background or history or theme and relative imbalance toward over-the-top unit inclusion should be considered in the Sportsmanship score. More than simply rebellion at the incomprehensible (and never-revealed) standards imposed by GW from beyond in assessing Army Composition (I lost it with this system utterly one year when a GT awarded Best Comp to a Chaos Space Marine army consisting of three Heavy Support Havoc Squads, a Great Unclean One HQ...and six Troops choices of Cultists with banners giving them Leadership check rerolls, an army which literally sat in a square of hundreds of Cultists with the Havoc heavy weapons firing from within every game--and which, as a 'Chaos Space Marine' army consisted of fifteen actual CSMs; but I digress...), observing armies which are not fun to play against and considering such a build in Sportsmanship scores is something I view as legitimate, have always articulated in rules sets for events I moderate...and which GW adopted eventually adopted in their GT rules packs.

It can be the most telling external analysis to a hobbyist of how they really play, as well: when Sportsmanship scores include assessments by opponents of a player's army build, and a consistent pattern develops, the player may have to come to terms with how important 'winning' really is to him in a way he might not have without external motivation.

Of course, as a balance for the nastier builds which might appear in the aforementioned event, Sportsmanship score penalties were not accepted by some of the objecting players...and the reason why should by now be clear if I've done my job in this essay: Sportsmanship, while not restricted to either 'experience' or 'outcome'' players, is distinctly a part of the experience of participating in the event...and not going to appeal to victory-oriented hobbyists as a tangible equalizer to something they perceived as threatening to their chances of being satisfied by the event.

It bears repeating that we are discussing preferences here; a player whose hobby interest is purely focused on outcome (ie winning) is not 'wrong,' any more than a hobbyist who paints but never fields his minis is wrong, or a hobbyist who immerses himself in the game's background to shape his army composition and tabletop play is right...•but• one conclusion which is inescapable is that in the instance of this event, and those like it, the 'outcome'-oriented player missed out on participating in play.

If he knows what satisfies him in the hobby, knows where he is on that 'experience-versus-outcome' scale, knows how he plays--and decides this wouldn't 'do it' for him--he probably made the right decision...not just for himself but for those he might have faced. But that knowing is important, not just because he may have missed an event he would excel at and be an asset to if he is wrong--but also because without recognizing where one is, in one's approach to how one plays, one cannot change, broaden, expand.

28mm Ancient and Medieval Historicals: A Brief Overview

Since a recent question on the Adeptus North Texas mailing list, several hobbyists have written me privately inquiring further about the current state of Historical miniatures wargaming in our favorite 'GW' scale. I figured I would attempt a quick overview to try to address these questions, and any other unexpressed interest that may be out there. You may have a potential opponent--or interested retailer--convenient to you, awaiting only mutual discovery!

First, I should qualify that my comments will be limited to Ancient and Medieval Wargaming. There are thriving Historicals of every era out there, from ECW (English Civil War) to Napoleonics to the Vietnam War, and WWII and ACW (American Civil War) are probably the *most* currently popular Historical eras being wargamed...but AnM (Ancient and Medieval) most closely resembles GW's Fantasy skirmishes--and I am an Ancient and Medieval history major (albeit now some two decades removed); that's where my interest lies, so that is where I am best able to point you right.

Anyone interested in the state of the hobby should start with the Society of Ancients ( ), whose quarterly magazine, the Slingshot, is a near-perfect alchemy of enthusiast history, wargaming figure/rules reviews, latest historical book reviews, and battle reenactments/scenarios/reports that combine both history and wargaming.

Beyond the SoA, rulesets are the next thing one should explore. Rather than recommend any, I encourage interested hobbyists to get games in with the various systems; there are a great many, and there is no better way to figure out which rules play the way you like than to actually game with them. Moreover, it would do me little good to write about the relative virtues and vices of Armati vs DBMM vs Tactica, et al, if no one local to you plays any of those. I will briefly mention three systems:

•Field of Glory is the most readily available current ruleset commercially, as it is supported by famed military publisher Osprey and available through any retailer which stocks their books. The rules and supplements for specific eras are gorgeously-presented graphically; the game mechanics feel (to me) very--perhaps *too*--traditional. Same-old/same-old syndrome. Your mileage may vary.

•Ancient and Medieval Wargaming is a book format ruleset by Neil Thomas; although it abstracts rather than simulates as a guiding principle, which runs contrary to my traditional preferences, the abstractions are placed, in his book, in the context of specific battles of historical consequence from the Ancient and Medieval world, which serves to thoroughly ground the entire work with satisfying substance.

•Warhammer Ancient Battles (and Warmaster Ancients) are, as the names suggest, adaptations of our familiar GW rulesets for historical armies. In many ways, these might seem the ideal AnM rules, because they are reasonably available commercially, professionally presented, and familiar--and in some cases they *are* nearly ideal (though be warned the basis of the system is 6th--versus 7th--edition WHFB). I am biased against WAB somewhat because (in my view) it critically botches the key army of the Ancient World in simulation, the Roman Legions (though Adrian Goldsworthy's alternative rules in the most recent Slingshot look to have corrected many of the particular issues I have)...but if you play Warhammer Fantasy Battles (and any army *other* than Rome), you probably ought to give WAB consideration.

That business addressed, comes the fun part--the toy soldiers.

There are other scales (Warmaster, in fact, is 10mm, like it's fantasy counterpart) with 15mm, 20mm and 25mm the most popular--but hobbyists having at Historicals from a GW orientation are likely to prefer 28mm--or 'heroic'--scale, as the perfect compromise between figures of sufficient size to capture detail and artistry and still be small enough to simulate battle with on a tabletop.

In 28mm, there are more than a few small manufacturers who cast in metals--Crusader, 1st Corps, Gorgon, Gripping Beast, et al--but the undisputed leader is Wargames Foundry, also known as Foundry Miniatures or simply The Foundry ( ): they have been at it long time, their lines are extensive (and their sculpts often gorgeous) and they are located, conveniently, right near Nottingham, UK, the toy soldier capital of the world. Their proximity to GW means many of that giant's SF and/or Fantasy figure sculptors will work for Foundry when they wish to indulge an historical whim.

Building an army completely from pewter is no small investment, even with Foundry's army bundles and occasional sales...but even if a hobbyist prefers to begin with a foundation of plastic models from manufacturers such as those listed following, rare is the era that will not see it's forces improved in quality and variety by inclusion of models from metal-casters such as Foundry.

And--as of just recently--modelers *can* do 28mm Ancient and Medievals in plastic. This is an enormous development toward potentially broadening the hobby. Just as GW has staked it's future on the reduced cost, increased flexibility and ease of work which comes with modeling in multipart hard plastic, at least two major companies have staked themselves to the same potential, with Historicals.

Wargames Factory ( http// ) is the newest such company, and has generated considerable interest chiefly because of the extremely low retail prices their multipart plastic model sets boast. There have been, in turn, criticisms of the comparative softness of their molding plastics (and how same accepts adhesives) and especially of their sculpts, which appear to vary wildly not only in quality but in dimension (check out the veritable giant helming one of their Celtic chariots for a good example); more than one source has suggested these problems reflect the company's policy of casting directly from computer-modeled images, rather than traditional artists-master sculpts--which is a part of how they are able to offer such prices, to return to the original point. If Wargames Factory can trend further toward the scale model and away from the toy figure as they mature their processes, while keeping their retail prices attractive, their impact could be significant.

Meantime, the field leader, the company that brought the concept of 'mass market plastics' to Historicals wargaming, is Warlord Games ( ), also Nottingham-based, also with deep GW ties (White Dwarf's best editor ever, Paul Sawyer, is one of Warlord's founders). They have an extensive line of pewter sculpts of exceptional quality, some fine resin pieces, as well...but have made their name with multipart hard plastic Historical regiment boxes very like what a hobbyist would expect from a 40K, WHFB or LotR box. Like Foundry, they also offer discounted army bundles--in many cases keyed to building armies to specific rulesets--but because they can create the foundations for these armies from their multipart plastics, building an entire army isn't so daunting a fiscal investment: I've an Imperial Roman army from Warlord more than twice the size of my Post-Roman Briton (Arthurian) army from Foundry and Gripping Beast, PLUS a nice battery of Roman war machines...all at less cost.

Will Roman Legions and Germanic Barbarians clashing in the Teutoberg Forest replace Space Marines and Orks (or High Elves and Orcs) on many tabletops? Unlikely--but then, one needn't necessarily 'replace' the other, so much as complement it. Hobbies are for relaxing, for fun; if you think you might find Historicals fun, the sources listed should get you started.


Despatch: Blastscapes

The online community has reacted with startling harshness to Games Workshop's new Planetstrike!-specific hobby terrain offering, the Blastscape--so I hustled out to grab a bag for myself after the online furor. The pieces in the Blastscape bag are designed to specifically replicate on-table several of the Planetstrike! 'special effects' Attacking armies can unleash upon Defenders in games of Planetstrike!. With it in hand (and having recently painted several sets of the similar Moonscape Craters for various retailers), I can make the following definitive assessments:

1) The Terrain pieces in the Blastscape bag ARE NOT comparable to those shown in the White Dwarf battle report introducing Planetstrike!, the advertising section of the same issue, on GW's website or, in fact, on the back of the Blastscape retail bag, either in substance or detail; those painted pieces appear to be resin, whereas the Blastscape pieces offered at retail are unpainted vacuformed plastic.

2) The vacuformed Blastscapes DO have a damage-inclined area--the high point of one piece strains the bag's ability to protect it in shipping because it is such a prominence, and if it gets crumpled it--like all vacuformed plastic--will deform, stress and break. This is the prominence in one of the earliest online reviews which reportedly punctured; I can confirm mine is broken, too...but should also note that it is only that peak of that one piece that has demonstrated damage in the bag I purchased, or any others I have examined.

3) Those criticisms being acknowledged as valid--I find the quality of the five vacuformed Blastscape pieces is quite good *given the medium*, easily on par with the Moonscape Craters bag (which have seen fine service in MegaBattles and tournaments at several local retailers, now, without any ill effect). If the pre-release pictures used on the website and in the Dwarf (and, probably worst, on the Blastscape packaging itself) did not exist and had not raised false expectations, I do not believe there would be many complaints about these pieces' tabletop utility at all; and

4) The set of five retails for less than twenty bucks US. That is what vacuforming allows. These pieces rendered in more detail in resin would cost at least that APIECE, I estimate. Done in vacuform, a player can easily cover even very large tables with these terrain effects.

The Blastscape bag provides: a terrain piece with multiple close craters, representing a crash or perhaps a multiround solid-shell barrage; a piece with multiple asteroids impacted; the much-talked- about orbital strike seared-lance- of-molten- earth piece (which *is* very cool and should be a great deal of fun to paint); a terrain piece with multiple bits of craft wreckage; and the problem piece, a huge piece of impacted wreckage (which has driven up a high wedge of earth, the topmost point of which is suffering the damage in packaging).

I understand the complaints; GW--intentionally or not, and since I suspect the painted pieces used in the battle report, online and on the packaging are the resin masters for the actual vacuformed Blastscape pieces, I am willing to give them benefit of the doubt on intent here--pulled a bait-and-switch with the Planetstrike! Blastscape terrain, advertising a level of precision and detail in the painted resin sculpts the actual vacuformed plastic retail offering could never match. Given I would not have spent a hundred bucks or more on resin Planetstrike! effect terrain pieces, however, regardless of quality--nor I suspect would many hobbyists--and given the inexpensive vacuformed pieces offer customizing/converting possibilities working with solid resin would not...from my position the Blastscape is a hobby product of outstanding value and utility. If GW would like to make it up to us by offering resin castings of those terrain piece masters at a significant discount--as a gesture of good faith--on the other hand....


Imperial Bastion Planetstrike! Terrain Kit: This is a nifty little thirty-buck model: the floors are modular, so combining kits can render very tall towers (great for Titan-cover in Apocalypse) and nice low shielded bunkers and entrenchment strongpoints (especially when combined with the new Aegis Defensive Walls) as well as the standard Bastion (which, it must be said, is the most common way this kit is likely to be configured, and is perfect for standard games of 40K and Planetstrike!, and pretty applicable for Cityfight and Apocalypse games as well).

Each kit includes considerable parts for customization and personalization, as has become GWs norm: of particular interest are the complete quad gun and lascannon turrets and the communications array, useful little subassemblies which will find their way onto lots of other terrain pieces, I suspect.

GW offers a 'Chaos Bastion' which includes Chaos sprues, and 'orkified' versions using all the bitz from the recent Trukk, Battlewagon and especially Stompa kits will be easy to convert, so the kit has plenty of application.

With a number of floor modules added my Bastion is about to become the basis for a control tower overwatching my in-progress airfield table; I suspect the variations on the basic Bastion will be endless, for terrain-oriented hobbyists. I am looking forward to battling for control of some of them on local tables soon!


Best Books on War

May 25 is Memorial Day in the US. To honour the sacrifice of those with the courage to have served--and with express gratitude--herewith Military History magazine's list of Best Books on War, in the sincere hope that through study comes understanding.

  • THE ILIAD (Homer)
  • ON WAR (Clausewitz)
  • WAR AND PEACE (Tolstoy)
  • FACE OF BATTLE (Keegan)
  • WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE...AND YOUNG (Moore with Galloway)
  • ONCE AN EAGLE (Myrer)
  • GOODBYE, DARKNESS (Manchester)
  • WORLD AT ARMS (Weinberg)
  • PATTON (D'Este)

As MH chose not to distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, I would add Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut), Citizen Soldier (Ambrose), Art ofWar (Sun-Tzu), War and Remembrance (Wouk) and--to round arbitrarily to 25--any history of choice by Walter Lord (my personal military choices would be either Incredible Victory--about the Battle of Midway--or A Time To Stand--about The Alamo; Lord's research may by now be dated but his prose and, especially, sense of the dramatic moment of each chosen story brings history to life).

Mirror, Mirror...

There are good Star Trek movies and bad Star Trek movies.* And there are Star Trek movies the faithful--*we* faithful--like, and that we hate. Relative success or failure can depend upon many things...but it begins with 'Is it Star Trek?'

Star Trek *isn't* Star Wars. It isn't like any other franchise-- science fiction or otherwise--and creators violate it's core tenets at their peril. These can be trivial (expansive, symphonic scoring *is* Star Trek, insipid, folk-rock song ballads are not) or they can be moral/ethical/philosophic (placing others above self *is* Star Trek, personal quests--especially for God but also for family, or revenge, or selfish gain--are not), but whenever creators of big-screen motion pictures or small-screen series have defied them, the result has usually been rejected (and, to the justification of the faithful, has usually been as bad as it has been disliked). And--continuity matters. That has always been a part of the Star Trek legacy. Those behind the final series incarnation, 'Enterprise,' nearly killed the franchise, they broke so many conventions (see 'ridiculous song' above)--but their cardinal sin was rebelling against what they described as slavish continuity restraints so violently that what they created-- whatever it's other merits--wasn't Star Trek.

It is into precisely such peril that creator JJ Abrams steps, in his feature film attempt to reboot the franchise: how do you make something exciting and fresh and new which relies so at its heart upon all that has gone before?

'Star Trek' accomplishes the dual goal of being good *and* good Star Trek by--as all good Trek feature films before it did--being Star Trek first. There is not a frame of film, not a moment of dialogue, not a chord of music which disrespects what has gone before...and when it indulges it's past most directly, the moment is moving to the brink of tears.

Quibbles are as numerous as tribbles, and enough of these there may be that some faithful will not like the movie; the shape of this Enterprise (likeable in angles emphasizing its 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' esque saucer, awkward when its 'Next Generation' hull and almost ugly when its assymetric, lightbulblike nacelles dominate) is polarizing, whether some of the cast evoke their originals nearly to caricature while others fall hopelessly short of their predecessors' charisma is already a heated is whether the degree to which the film cribs from the series' most successful, 'The Wrath of Khan' (for my purposes--if you are going to emulate something, pick something good).

By the time the last Star Trek film whimpered from theaters, however ('Nemesis,' which had its sentimental adieus but was neither very good nor very Trek) the franchise was at best an irrelevancy, and bordering on becoming a cultural punch line. 'Star Trek' is good enough on its mainstream merits to moot that, to reinvigorate a hopeful, optimistic, bold and smart storytelling vehicle again (at a time when we could all use that kind of bouyancy)--and to set an example in so doing that respecting someone else's sandbox when you come play in it does nothing to diminish the beauty of the sand castle you may create there.

May this Trek universe go on to Peace and Long Life.

*--The 'Good' Star Trek movies, for the record (the specific order is mine, but the consensus is pretty broad):

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek (8): First Contact
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Many would elevate The Voyage Home above The Search for Spock (the one anomalous 'odd-numbered Trek movie' which inarguably defies the 'odd ones suck' curse); certainly, it is the most popularly-accessible and mainstream of the series, but STIII's operatic sensibility has its adherents as well and II, III and IV work best as a trilogy in sequence anyway.

Star Trek (7): Generations also has proponents and is probably the best of the 'not so good' Star Trek movies--but while its dramatic successes are profound and elevate it for those of us who really like it, its failures are enormous and difficult to work past, for those who do not.

Star Trek (9): Insurrection has a nicely-nuanced mature romantic subplot undone by ridiculous villains and a general sense of inconsequence, and Star Trek (10): Nemesis feels uncanonical and indulgent. The less said about Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the better; probably, in light of the evidence of the latter two, 'Enterprise's' ridiculous song and various citable instances from every iteration of each series, any vocalizing in a Star Trek incarnation should be prohibited.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture cannot be discussed objectively here. As noted, there is good and bad Trek and Trek which is loved and hated, and they needn't be the same; so it is that I am emotionally inextricably hung up with this film. It brought my beloved 'classic Trek' back from the dead, in glorious 70mm widescreen with the most soaring Jerry Goldsmith-composed music and the most aesthetically beautiful starship ever designed. It may be slow, even uncinematic, and cerebral to a fault. But I can quote every line of dialogue from memory and will stop-down for it every time I run across it on late- night TV and when the Admiral orders Sulu to take her out I will get a lump in my throat till the day I die. Because it *is* Star Trek.

Two New IG Armies In One...

With the release of the newest edition Codex: Imperial Guard, many hobbyists will be considering how best to begin such a Warhammer 40,000 army. As it happens, GW has provided an ideal framework through a recent Datasheet for Apocalypse: following its guidelines in constructing a starter 40K IG army will conveniently provide a player with an assembled force useable in two different kinds of play, simply by adding the Datasheet's centerpiece Superheavy tank. Let's walk through the process.

The Datasheet in question is the 'Shadowsword Domination Force,' published in White Dwarf (US issue 351). One of the first 'combined arms' Datasheets GW has released for Apocalypse play, the Domination Force assembles a 'Tank Fleet' around a single centerpiece Superheavy model, in this case the wonderful new Shadowsword Titan-killer variant from GW's recent all-plastic modular Superheavy tank release. The Shadowsword itself would be key, for Apocalypse play: these enormous games are magnitudes more fun for participants who bring Superheavies as parts of their forces--and the special rules of this Datasheet address keeping that Shadowsword alive (and thus more fun to have along) as long as possible.

The 'Fleet' the Datasheet provides guidelines for building around the Shadowsword, however, is entirely composed of traditional Imperial Guard elements straight out of the new Codex; following these guidelines through the prism of the 40K Force Organization chart will give the army builder not only an entire, coherent Apocalypse force to bring to the table but--absent the signature Superheavy--a very nice starter 40K army, as well.

The first thing the Datasheet requires (in fact, the *only* requirement other than the Superheavy--everything else is optional) is a minimum of three and a maximum of six Leman Russ Battle Tanks. These act as 'escorts' to the Shadowsword in Apocalypse games; in a 40K Imperial Guard army, they constitute Heavy Support choices, and come in a multitude of variants (seven, largely distinguished by the configuration of their main gun). A standard 40K Force Org allows up to three Heavy Support choices, easily accommodating the three-Russ- minimum the Datasheet requires--but the new Guard Codex allows such tanks to be purchased in Squadrons of up to three, each Squadron taking only one Heavy Support slot, so the Datasheet maximum of six Russes is equally feasible, as well.

The next 'Fleet' option in the Domination Force is the addition of 0-2 Hydra Flak Tanks, to protect the land task force from aerial harassment. Whether to include any Hydras in the starter 40K army needs to be considered from the outset, because they are Heavy Support choices in Codex: Imperial Guard, as well: to select even one, a player will have to devote one of his three available HS slots to it (although both could be taken with that one Force Org slot if any are, as they are available as Batteries), meaning at least one set of Russes will have to be fielded as a Squadron, as well, to get the Apocalypse minimum three on the 40K battlefield. There are advantages and disadvantages to fielding vehicles in Squadrons; for beginning IG players, it is probably most straightforward to avoid placing such 'big ticket' points-intensive models as Leman Russes in Squadrons if at all possible.

The rest of the Domination Force's components form the 'fleet's' pickets--light perimeter assets designed to scout the task force's path ahead and prevent penetration by an enemy to it's essential core. Conveniently, these forces are chosen from desirable elements of a 40K Imperial Guard army.

Every standard 40K mission requires forces composed with a minimum of two Troops slots from the Force Org chart. The Domination Force Apocalypse Datasheet calls for 0-4 Infantry Squads; in IGdex parlance, those are Troops choices. The easiest way to represent the former via the latter is to choose Veteran Squads: each Squad of a Veteran Sergeant and 9 Veteran Guardsmen is bought individually, so selecting two properly composes your 40K army with the two required minimum Troops choices, and you may select as many as two more and remain consistent with the structure maximums imposed by your Apocalypse Datasheet. Moreover, each Veteran Squad is allowed to equip with a Chimera Armoured Transport--another requirement the Datasheet imposes (in order that the infantry can keep moving with the 'fleet').

The heart of almost every Imperial Guard army since the days of the first V2 IGdex has been the Infantry Platoon...and you *can* stay within the structure imposed by the Datasheet and build from a Platoon to meet the two Troops choice requirement of a standard 40K army--but it reduces your options considerably: a Platoon consists at minimum of a Platoon Command Squad and two Infantry Squads, constituting a single Troops choice. In the new Codex each of the three can be given a Chimera, so such a minimum sized Platoon could be constructed leaving a Veteran Squad to be chosen as the second Troops choice (and fourth and final Datasheet Infantry Squad). The advantage of such a construction is the Command Squad, with its junior officer's access to Orders and wargear; the disadvantage is that the two regular Infantry Squads are inferior to the Veterans, that you aren't getting access to some of the best things a Platoon offers an IG player--the optional Heavy and Special Weapons Squads--because they cannot get Chimerae, and that you use up all four of your Datasheet 'Armoured Fist' allowances just meeting the Troops requirements: choosing Veteran Squads instead would allow up to two of those slots to go to such interesting Infantry Squads from the new Codex with Chimera access as Storm Troopers, Psyker Battle Squads and Ogryn Squads. As Company Command Squads are classified as Infantry Squads, the 40K-Mandatory HQ Force Org requirement could even be filled (but see following).

The remaining picket option for the Domination Force is 0-3 Sentinel Squadrons. The '0' means none are mandatory--but any 'fleet' commander who ventured out without at least one of (and likely as many as possible of) these fast, mobile, versatile and hard-hitting Imperial Guard walkers to scout his path and protect his flanks would deserve whatever ill befell him. Sentinels are Fast Attack choices in the 40K Force Org, come in Squadrons of 1-3 per slot, and are available in both Scout and Armoured varieties (the Armoured variant increases Front Armour from AV10 to AV12, adds the Extra Armour upgrade at the expense of the Move Through Cover and Scouts special rules, and adds the Plasma cannon as a primary weapon upgrade). Filling all three Fast Attack slots with full Squadrons of Sentinels is very tempting (especially for Apocalypse play, where the Datasheet's 'Piquets' special rule allows the fielding player to sacrifice the cheaper Walkers for Russes or Hydras--or Structure Points on the mighty Shadowsword itself!).

Unless the player opts to make a Company Command Squad one of his four Chimera-borne Armoured Fists, however, he still has the question of the 40K mandatory HQ Force Org slot to address. In the Apocalypse Formation, the Shadowsword is the command platform of the entire 'fleet,' it's commander the ranking officer of his Domination Force. The Superheavy cannot see the field in a standard 40K game-- but that does not mean said commander must be absent. Imagine the 40K version of this army is the assembled land force, enroute to pick up its designated Superheavy charge: it would not be unreasonable to picture the Shadowsword's command crew alongside them for the journey--in fact, I can picture an excellent themed tournament army being constructed around such a notion, with the battles of each tournament round representing hostile encounters along the convoy's journey, and perhaps with the Shadowsword itself present as the centerpiece of the army's display base--and that leap to provide a single additional element to the 40K version of the army over-and-above the Datasheet's minimum/maximums opens up a variety of juicy extra modeling and gameplay options.

The Shadowsword's command crew could be constructed with the Company Command Squad options in the new IGdex, as above, and given a Chimera of their own, perhaps uniquely decorated as would befit such a 'captain's skiff' (to carry the Domination Force's naval analogy further). This would not preclude the already-referenced Chimera- mounted Company Command Squad, if the player wanted a command structure for his escorting force from their own chain-of-command (and the Force Org Chart allows two). If the player just wanted to add the 'fleet admiral' himself (assuming his crew awaits his imperious arrival at the Shadowsword), he could use the Lord Commissar IGdex entry as a template to fashion a 'counts as.' Or a player looking to make his Superheavy commander and crew play more uniquely might consider building such an heroic figure and his retinue from either of the existing Inquisition Codices. He could even give such an officer a Rhino instead of a Chimera, which the Alien and Daemonhunter army lists allow, if he wanted the Shadowsword proxy to really stand out. Most interestingly, however--if the player showed some restraint in maxing out on those Fast Attack Sentinels, above--would be the option of having the command crew born aloft for the journey above their landbound battle convoy in a Valkyrie Assault Carrier: not only would this add mobility and punch to the 40K force and give the new Imperial Guard hobbyist access to the niftiest new model in the IG army in his starter force--but Valkyries come in Squadrons, too...and what high- ranking 'land admiral' would go anywhere without a couple of squads of highly trained, well-equipped bodyguard squads (Storm Trooper Elites)?

And even though these flyers would exist outside the parameters of the Datasheet for Apocalypse games--the great thing about Apocalypse is that, beyond a chosen Datasheet or Formation's specifics, there *are* no Force Org requirements: a player can add such top cover without issue!

Given the various options outlined above, then, this is one straightforward sample build of a Warhammer 40K army which, with the addition of a Shadowsword kit, would become immediately playable as a Shadowsword Domination Force in Apocalypse events, games and multiplayer megabattles:

HQ1: Shadowsword Command Crew - 110Points: Company Command Squad (Company Commander w/ Power Weapon, Veteran w/ Medi-pack, Veteran w/ Domination Force (Regimental) Standard, Veteran w/ Vox-caster, Veteran w/ Lasgun).

TROOP1: Armoured Fist Squad Starboard - 145 Points: Veteran Squad (Vet Sgt, Veteran w/ Vox-caster, Veteran w/ Plasma gun, 7 Veterans w/ Lasguns; Chimera Transport).

TROOP2: Armoured Fist Squad Port - 145 Points: Veteran Squad (Vet Sgt, Veteran w/ Vox-caster, Veteran w/ Plasma Gun, 7 Veterans w/ Lasguns; Chimera Transport).

TROOP3: Armoured Fist Reaction Squad - 200 Points: Veteran Squad (Vet Sgt w/ Power Fist, Veteran w/ Vox-caster, Veteran w/ Grenade launcher, Veteran w/ Flamer, Veteran w/ Heavy flamer, 5 Veterans w/ Lasguns, Grenadiers; Chimera Transport).

FAST ATTACK1: Sentinel Pickets - 138 Points: Scout Sentinel Squadron (3 Sentinels w/ Missile launchers, Searchlights).

FAST ATTACK2: Command Crew Shuttle - 125 Points: Valkyrie Assault Carrier (Lascannon, Sponson Heavy bolters).

HEAVY SUPPORT1: Leman Russ Vanquisher - 245 Points (Knight Commander Pask, Hull Lascannon, Sponson Multi-meltas).

HEAVY SUPPORT2: Leman Russ Battle Tank - 170 Points (Sponson Heavy bolters).

HEAVY SUPPORT3: Leman Russ Battle Tank - 170 Points (Sponson Heavy bolters).

At 1448 Points, you may add vehicle options such a Extra Armour or alter weapons kit-out as suits, to reach a standard 1500 Point 40K army.

With the 'Knight Commander Pask' tank commander template character aboard, the Vanquisher is considered the Command tank; it, along with the Valkyrie and the Sentinels are optimized for anti-vehicle/anti-monster duty, with the two standard Leman Russes and the three Chimerae maximized for anti-personnel. The Sentinels' Missile launchers can back up anti-personnel if the opponent is of the horde variety, and the tanks' battle cannons provide additional (if imprecise) anti-armour capability should that need arise.

This force is light on 'boots on the ground' and significant hand-to-hand combat ability; if I were expanding it to 1750 or 1850 Points (or more), I would add a Commissar Lord with a Power fist to the Armoured Fist Squad tooled up for Reaction, and some Regimental Advisors to the Command Crew in their Valkyrie--particularly the two allowed Enginseers, one of which would immediately join the Lord Commissar in the Reaction force (one mechanic for the Superheavy, one for the escorts)--and probably a second Scout Sentinel Squadron; a fourth Veteran Squad Troops choice probably makes more sense than a Chimera full of Ogryn for the last Chimera picket, too...though the latter sure sounds like more fun.

I would start this army with the plastic Battle Force box of choice (either Cadian or Catachan) and one Squad box: that will provide all 35 Guardsmen needed, plus the first Sentinel, for under US$120. An Apocalypse three-tank Leman Russ Squadron box would add the essential mandatory 'fleet' tanks at a discount from buying them individually; the Chimerae, additional Sentinels and Valkyrie will need to be added a box at a time, unless relevant future Apocalypse or Squadron combination releases appear. What vehicle-heavy forces add to outlay, however, they tend to subtract in assembly and painting time; this is a compact, seven vehicle/three walker/35 infantry IG army that should be easy to use (you know what it does well and what it cannot do), especially for the starting IG commander--plus it is easy to transport, fun to start, assemble, paint, finish and play--

And, with the addition of that centerpiece Shadowsword Superheavy tank, beautifully themed...and best of all, ready to bring the might of the Imperium to the enormous amount of fun that is Apocalypse wargaming. Twice the Imperial Guard fun for the investment, by careful planning from the outset.

Good luck, 'land admiral.'

Why War of the Ring?

If you ask a Games Workshop hobbyist to identify themselves with one primary game system, most will come down firmly in either the Warhammer Fantasy Battle or Warhammer 40K camp (various Specialty Games--Blood Bowl, Epic, Mordheim, Inquisitor, Warhammer Quest, Space Hulk--might once have had significant adherents, but it has been so long since any were regularly available on shelves few fans remain active in the hobby who are not first a player of one or the other 'primary' systems). The fact that GW has--and continues to fully support with both new-on-shelf product and regular White Dwarf magazine coverage--a third primary game system is not reflected by the hobby base...something Games Workshop is taking a major step to address.

The Lord of the Rings miniatures game enjoyed huge popularity during the theatrical runs of Peter Jackson's movie adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's seminal fantasy. Some sources indicate Lord of the Rings product outsold Warhammer Fantasy product in the US and Warhammer 40K product in Europe during those years (some sources suggest it outsold both product lines worldwide). Games Workshop took the opportunity to release a basic boxed set with each of the three feature films, including film-specific miniatures and rules-tweaks...then saved the best for last, releasing the game's current basic-box incarnation--which includes beautifully-sculpted members of the Fellowship, goblins and a cave troll all in plastic, plus terrain and the most polished iteration of the rules yet--once the film trilogy was complete. They have continued to support it with marvelous new plastics, highly-regarded pewter sculpts (Peter Jackson himself is a huge and public fan, so much so he included a number of GW sculptors and Studio creators in his final Rings film) and, perhaps best of all, supplemental rules books exploring areas of Tolkien's world and work either in greater detail than the previous general rules allowed, or which were not covered at all by the film series (with miniatures to match). LotR support in White Dwarf by the Studio personnel assigned to the game system has consistently been the best, most creative and highest quality the magazine has offered. In short, Games Workshop has not only *not* dropped the ball in supporting their LotR game line following completion of the three films, they've stepped up their quality of effort, laudably so.

It is just that few hobbyists have noticed.

That doesn't mean the line has been unprofitable; in fact, some sources indicate GW's LotRs miniatures line is still the third-best selling line of games miniatures in the world (behind WHFB and 40K). It simply has gone from being the closest thing the miniatures gaming industry has yet seen to a mass market product, at its height, to the kind of niche product line most other miniatures lines are and remain. And that isn't GW's is simply the nature of being a franchisee of a media phenomenon which has reached its emotional conclusion. Just as Star Wars product fell off the marketing map after Return of the Jedi in 1983 because much of its fandom felt 'the story was over,' so Lord of the Rings toys, costumes, replicas, trinkets, etc have largely disappeared from shelves following Return of the King. GW has soldiered on (no pun intended) with their miniatures game because the line remains profitable, and the system is good--but they would emphatically like to see their models for it not just sold and collected but actually played with.

To that end comes War of the Ring.

The one consistent limitation of the Lord of the Rings system created by GW observed by regular players is that, as a ruleset designed first around the scenarios, settings and adventures of the first film, which were mostly small-unit affairs, it became awkward to handle as the size of the armies and battles increased. GW tweaked this as the scope of the story expanded with The Two Towers, and again to accommodate the vast spectacle of the climactic battles in Return of the King...but at its heart, the Lord of the Rings game was and is at its best, most fun and most playable replicating skirmish-level encounters.

The new War of the Ring game takes the basic LotR rules concepts and mechanics and re-gears them for the monumental.

Now, players will be able to really recreate the feel of the siege at Helms Deep, or the Battle for Pelennor Fields. Vast armies will sweep across tabletops, invest enemy fortresses, or mount massive cavalry charges.

To quote one GW source, 'WotR will do for LotR what Apocalypse did for 40K.'

And, as with the basic Warhammer 40,000 game and its Apocalypse supplement, nothing GW does for WotR will diminish the LotR game: it will remain the choice for best retelling tales of indivual heroes and their warbands on the tabletop, for quick or pick-up games between friends.

There will be no basic boxed game version of War of the Ring. Like Apocalypse, it will be presented in a beautiful, lavishly-illustrated and comprehensive hard cover book. Its comprehensiveness is its signal virtue: every army an interested hobbyist might want to build for WotR is covered in the basic book, along with all of its variants, potential leaders and heroic characters/villains/monsters, and all of the rules one need know to play WotR. Players of LotR will recognize most of the terminology and mechanisms--but GW is treating WotR as a 'start from scratch,' so that no previous familiarity with LotR is required.

And as a new system, everyone will be starting from a level playing field, in building their armies for either fun or competitive play. And their WILL be competitive play: GW has never dropped LotR from its GTs, and expects WotR to generate a resurgence of interest in playing the game tournament-style.

This is a very good thing. I think LotR is GW's *best* game from both the pure 'fun to play' and the competitively-balanced standpoints. Fans of earlier iterations of WHFB and especially 2nd Edition Warhammer 40K are encouraged to give it a look--much moreso than either current version of GW's staple games, the role of singular heroes, and the impact they can have on battles, is dramatically more pronounced in LotR...just as any ruleset replicating a great tale of great heroes ought to be. However, the balance is generally spot-on: Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, Legolas and the Nine *lead* their armies, but are not so powerful as to *be* the army. Sauron and the Balrog approach that level of power...but then, they should, and are distinguished by that singularity. It is an outstanding and evocative system, which moves quickly and feels 'heroic' (so much so, I have adapted the LotR rules for historicals gaming in the post-Roman 'Arthurian' era for personal use, after being repeatedly frustrated at the 'realism' of most historical miniatures rules systems failing to evoke the more mythic feel I wanted, and have been extremely satisfied with the result...and those who know me will tell you I take matters Arthurian very seriously, and with a difficult critical eye to satisfy :).

GW is hoping upping the scope of this game, to recreate the enormous battles which are among the trilogy's highlights, will provide a jumpstart for dormant hobby interest. The War of the Ring ruleset for just such huge battles seems to have retained much of what is so good about Lord of the Rings, added scope, size and spectacle, then leavened with some rules alterations to make so vast a game still proceed at a brisk pace (I particularly like the 'rather than modify results, roll as many dice as possible' approach). And they've added some marvelous lures: the base rulebook is a beautiful thing, as noted, the first new models (especially the plastic Ent!) are likewise--and the movement trays, designed to make GW's round-based LotR miniatures easy to use ranked up, for WotR, are terrific: I suspect 40K players will find them appealing for display and perhaps even play applications, as well as dedicated WotR use.

GW has built it; now, will the players come?

I hope so, for all of the reasons noted above and more. For one thing, discovering GW's line of LotR/WotR miniatures will open up a whole new area of collecting for players who've not tried the system: not just the new plastic Ents or Kingdom of the Dead figures, but the whole catalog of LotR miniatures crafted since the game's inception will open up to--and be 'like new' to--such hobbyists. And there are some wonderful miniatures in that catalog, from both the plastic and pewter versions of the Balrog to the awesomely villainous Sauron to the modular dragon--as well as original creations like Gulhavhar the daemon, which boast a laudable commitment to fidelity with Tolkein's universe.

If War of the Ring rejuvenates hobby interest in the Lord of the Rings miniatures game, such 'new converts' will not be the only ones who benefit: every closet fan of the game who has boxed up their figures for lack of opponents will profit, as well.

I've a vast cohort of valiant Rohirrim waiting for the call from sequester, to ride to Middle Earth's defense, should new Orcs, Olyphaunts or Easterlings appear on the tabletop horizon, because of War of the Ring...

The Illustrated Alamo 1836

In the pre-dawn of March 6, 1836, the fate of an unknown number (but probably around 200) of Tejanos, Texians and American Texas immigrant rebels and an unknown number (but probably in the high hundreds to low thousands) of Loyalist Mexican soldiers was decided at a place almost everyone has heard of...but that almost no one can properly visualize, as it was on the day: the crucible of Texas liberty (and an anvil upon which was struck much of subsequent North American history, from the nineteenth century through the present)—the Alamo.

Artist Mark Lemon has created the most thorough-going visual recreation of the Alamo to date, in his meticulously-researched and skillfully rendered 'The Illustrated Alamo 1836 A Photographic Journey'. From the 1/48th scale model Alamo he bases his work on, to the stunningly evocative photographic work which brings the model to realistic life, to the text analysis of both, including his reasoning behind some of the speculative decisions he had to make, Lemon's work is impeccable...and the result is a fuller understanding of the monumental hopelessness of a few hundred defenders securing so broad and open a 'fortress' against determined assault—and a deeper appreciation for the depth of their conviction to their cause, that nonetheless they tried.

While there are unfortunate errors in editing (Lemon consistently misspells Alamo commander William Barret Travis' middle name, for example), they are rendered inconsequential in contrast to the enormity and thoroughness of Lemon's research. Not only does he cover the physical plant of the Alamo on that fateful day (visitors to the shrine as it is currently preserved in San Antonio unfamiliar with the changes—and in some cases virtual demolition—the Alamo has been subject to in the years since 1836 will be stunned by how different a place it was), Lemon also details virtually everything known of the mission fortress' artillery battery, complete with illustrations of the guns, and provides one of the most cogently-argued analyses of which flag(s) flew over the commandery while it was in possession of the Texians, and why.

That this is a must for the library of every Alamo historian goes without saying. It will probably be of considerable interest to the model-builder and miniature military gamer, as well; though Lemon's triumphs here are ultimately in line with his intentions—to recreate history insofar as possible and do so with an artistry that transcends simple recreation—the stunning package that is 'The Illustrated Alamo 1836' is arguably one of the most beautiful, elaborate tributes to the scale modelers' art, as well, and deserves appreciation for that.

By the time the sun rose on the Mission San Antonio de Valero on March 6, 1836, the thirteen day seige was over. William Barret Travis, James Butler Bonham, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and her other defenders were all massacred (or soon would be, depending on one's fixation with how things for each of them ended, especially Crockett). Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the 'Napoleon of the West,' would dismiss the battle as 'a small affair.' But the most experienced heart of his veteran army lay wounded, dying or dead piled high against the mission fortress' north wall, and dedication to a cause—which was arguably still smouldering in the hearts of many beyond its most ardent disciples—had been fanned to incandescence by Travis' epistolary eloquence, by the band of defenders' courage, by the mercilessness of Santa Anna's massacre. Without the Alamo, there well might never have been a Texas.

Mark Lemon's book finally brings the birthplace of Texas freedom back to life, as it was—and takes us there.