Monday, January 26, 2009

Samurai Movies

The wife and I watched a couple of good Japanese Samurai films this weekend. Both featured "unconventional" samurai as their lead characters, both ran a little over two hours in length, and both were very good films, but otherwise they were both very different.

The first, and more unusual film, was Hana Yori mo Naho, or Hana: The Tale of a Reluctant Samurai. Set at the beginning of the Tokugawa era, the film follows a young samurai who has traveled to Edo at the instructions of both his clan and his dying father to seek vengeance upon the man who killed him. Short of funds and unable to locate his quarry, the young man has taken up residence in a row of houses occupied by peasants as well as a few other down on their luck samurai, including some of the famous "47 ronin" who are seeking their own vengeance.

The film follows the life of the main character as he comes to realize that the ideals of vengeance and 'death before dishonor' don't really hold much appeal to him. This leads to a very un-samurai like ending and provides an interesting commentary on traditional Japanese values.

The second film, Mibu Gishi Den, or When the Last Sword is Drawn, is set at the end of the Tokugawa era and features a samurai that has left his clan in order to earn enough money to feed his family, and as a result appears to have a very un-samurai like attitude towards the acquisition of wealth. Aside from this rather serious breach of duty and decorum, the lead character ends up upholding the honor and duties of a samurai even more diligently than his companions when things reach a crisis point, which leads to the kind of end typical of such tales.

While a very good film on its own, it was particularly interesting to compare and contrast it to the film Hana which we watched earlier. The protagonist of When the Last Sword is Drawn sees happiness and success when he puts duty to his family over duty to his clan and the samurai code, but sees only tragedy whenever he does as his society calls on him to do. I do not know if the intention of the film was to call into question these classical Japanese values, but when viewed in conjunction with Hana it certainly does so.

As films I have to rate When the Last Sword is Drawn as slightly better overall, mostly due to a rather long digression that focuses on a secondary character in the middle of Hana. I believe the director is trying to use the digression in an effort to show that the role of peasants in the era was not always as simple and lacking in tragedy as the rest of the film portrays, but it mainly serves to interrupt the main story and further slow the pacing.

Neither film is fast paced or "action packed" but there are a number of good fight scenes in When the Last Sword is Drawn. On the other hand, Hana has only two very short action sequences, neither one of which follows the classic samurai format. In just about all respects Hana is the anti-samurai film, while When the Last Sword is Drawn takes a much more traditional approach to the genre.

Both films are worth watching if you get the chance and have any interest in the genre. Hana is available with a dubbed soundtrack, but When the Last Sword is Drawn only comes with subtitles.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Flames of War Fail

I'm thinking about trying to get in some Flames of War soon, if only in the form of a demo game for my local store. So, I've started re-reading the rules. A few pages in I decided I better check on the latest errata. Yes, I'd managed to forget Battlefront's strange attitude towards errata.

If at all possible they want to avoid ever admitting that they make mistakes. They waited until the second printing of the core rulebook to do it for the actual rules, and even then they never issued a pdf, instead having it only as an html post on their website. As far as I know, they still have never issued official errata for the mid-war compilations, or at least I couldn't find any. They have issued pdf errata for their two late war compilations, but you'd never know it by browsing their website. I ended up having to use google to find them!

It's really depressing to see that Battlefront still has this weird attitude towards errata. I had hoped that they had maybe grown into a healthier attitude over the year and a half that I've been away from the game. I suppose the fact that they at least issued errata pdfs for Festung Europa and Fortress Europe can be seen as baby steps towards a more adult attitude to owning up to mistakes, but I'd really hoped they'd come along farther than they have.

A nice contrast is Spartan Games and the way they've been handling Uncharted Seas. Unafraid to issue errata months after releasing the rules, and easily accessible in their official forums. Maybe I'll see if I can interest the store owner in a demo of Uncharted Seas instead of Flames of War...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Uncharted Seas Errata

One of the things that concerned me about Uncharted Seas, but that I didn't want to comment on because I hadn't actually played with them yet, was the Orc fleet. It seemed to me that they had a lot of advantages without that many disadvantages compared to the other fleets. Well, Spartan Games recently redid their point cost system to more easily fit in future releases, and as part of the review they decided that the Orcs had indeed been under-priced under the old system. They've taken the rather unusual approach of giving the players two options to fix this.

The first option is to use new stats that have been redesigned so that the costs and abilities are more in line with the other navies. The result is that they still have fairly powerful forward firepower, although not as much as before, and significantly weaker firepower to the sides. This should lead to a navy that plays quite differently from all the others. The other fleets all generally want to maneuver for a broadside shot at their opponents, but the Orcs are going to want to charge in with their enemies straight ahead. This lets them get in more powerful shots and get in close to ram and board the enemy.

The second option is for players to use the old stats which have had the new point costs applied to them, meaning that they'll end up being outnumbered by their opponents when running a game with equal point costs.

It's good to see that Spartan Games is concerned about balance issues, and continues to address them. It's also good to see that they want to give their customers options as to how to play their game. I actually find the new Orc stats more interesting than the old ones that used a unique firing arc rule, but it's nice to see that they haven't abandoned those players that liked the old system better. I look forward to trying them out once my Orc starter navy arrives.

You can check out the repointed stat cards, including both old and new orcs, here. One side effect of the changes is that the starter navies are no longer exactly even on points, but they are still close enough to be considered a reasonable matchup.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Podcast Update

I want to mention two more podcasts that I've added to my subscribed list on iTunes.

The first is another really good Games Workshop related podcast: World's End Radio. I hesitated to try this one at first because I was already listening to Podhammer, and I figured that met my "Warhammer podcast from Australia" quota. I was wrong.

World's End Radio is now tied with the Order 66 for my favorite podcast, and is the only other podcast besides Order 66 that I have gone back and listened to from the beginning (or at least everything that's on iTunes, I haven't listened to episode 1 yet).

Unlike Podhammer and 40K Radio, World's End Radio is a general Games Workshop podcast covering both 40K and Fantasy, as well as The Lord of the Rings and Specialist Games like Battlefleet Gothic and Blood Bowl. They also have plans to cover Warhammer Historical products like Ancient Battles in the future.

The production quality is high, and the two hosts seem to know what they're talking about. They are both former GW employees, and are very active in their local gaming community going so far as to organize and run tournaments.

The second podcast that I've added is the d6 Generation. This is a general gaming podcast covering everything that the three hosts are in to, including miniatures, board games, and even the ocaisional video game. I've only listened to a couple of episodes so far, but that was enough to add it to my subscribed list.