[My sincere apologies for the length of this “diatribe”, as reviewer Dax so charitably puts it (albeit not here). This should be my final post on the matter.]
Every once in a while, you come across an unexpected pearl: a book priced far below its actual worth, brimming with valuable, well-presented information, a joy to read at once and consult at leisure, a book that makes you say you have to keep an eye out for anything else this author/publisher releases.
This isn’t that book.
What this is, actually, is a potentially decent 50-to-99-cent book which, unfortunately, costs over six dollars.
Where to start? Well, how about we start with what’s most important: what information does the book offer?
Actually, it offers very little of a concrete nature. A muddled retelling of local history, following no clear chronological or geographical pattern; a profusion of names, whether of individuals, peoples or places, which aren’t always clearly identified, or with relationships that are sometimes rather confusingly presented; other names that mysteriously switch referents; in short, a jumble of less-than-useful information. And what few historical references are given are not properly identified, making it next to impossible to find and evaluate the context for the original quotes.
Conclusion: as far as the “historical background” part of the booklet is concerned, you’d be better off reading the Encyclopædia Britannica (or even Wikipedia).
The blurb also claims the book “offer[s] up [why “up”, I couldn’t say] some army lists (designed to fit with Impetus rules but easy to follow and equally easily converted for other wargames rules)”.
Now, I’d never heard of “Impetus”, although a visit to their website certainly proved instructive. But “easy to follow and equally easily converted”? Let’s see.
Army lists look something like this [Please note: this was copied “as is” from the booklet, merely for illustrative purposes]:
THE EARLY PARTHIAN ARMY
Average Command Structure
Nr Type M VBU I D VD Pts Notes
1- 6 CM - Hyrcanian and Parthian cav. 10 4 2 B 3* 19
2- 12 CL – Horse archers 12 3 1 B 2 23 Comp Bow B
Good luck with converting that to something you can use: no explanation of what “VBU” means (you have to go to the website and download the free “Basic Impetus” to learn it means something like “Basic Point Value”… go figure!), or whether a “VD” of “3” is better or worse than one of “2”.
Yes, I know I was warned the tables were “designed to fit with Impetus rules”, but, I repeat, the author also claims they are “easy to follow and equally easily converted”, and I beg to differ on that point.
“The third purpose is to provide a simple campaign”. Again, unless you’re familiar with Impetus, I beg to differ: the campaign is anything but simple; rules are ill-presented, unclear, and sometimes self-contradictory. Just trying to understand the “map” is a neat trick in itself: it consists of seven rectangles, numbered in no specific order I can figure out, and each one connected to one or more other rectangles with straight lines. The rules say, “The Parthians can always avoid battle for two turns in Mesopotamia and Iran, but only for one turn in Babylonia.” The problem lies in figuring out where these locations actually should appear on the map.
[NOTE: But see the Late Correction appearing in the Additional Comments, further on.]
So much for contents, then. What about form?
Well, the writing style is… let us call it “casual” and leave it at that. Not that there’s anything wrong with informality, mind you (you should try reading parts of the Licensing Agreement for “A Fistful of TOW’s 3” for an example of a well-written, yet not necessarily very formal text). But such informality imposes certain rules, and one of them precludes the use of allusions such as “returned from his Anabasis”. In any event (but this is only my opinion), someone who can’t tell the difference between an “overview” and an “oversight” (“I’ll give a comparatively swift oversight of the history of the area”) should probably shy away from words like “anabasis”.
Generally, the writing style is extremely confused (and confusing). Part of this is probably due to poor editing. In fact, a passage such as the following, taken “as is” from the booklet, would seem to suggest no one actually took the time to reread the text before converting it to an e-booklet:
“Not long after this Anilai and his men were caught asleep or just drunk, by the Babylonians and were destroyed as a military force and disappeared from history.
which might mean the legionaries garrisoning the immediate area, or might mean local troops raised for the occasion.”
It’s my fault, really, for expecting too much: my first hint should have been the blurb (taken from the Introduction, as I later discovered), which begins with, “The purpose of this guide is two fold [sic].” It then goes on to list the purposes:
“On one hand [sic] […].”
“The second purpose is […].”
“The third purpose is […].”
Now, I’ll readily confess English is not my native tongue, but I always assumed “twofold” actually meant “A and B”, not “A, B and C”.
Another oft-voiced complaint of mine regarding many RPG/wargaming books is the twin banes of poor punctuation and poor spelling. In this respect, this booklet is not the worst I’ve read (a sad commentary on the writing skills of many a fellow gamer), but that’s a far cry from saying it passes muster. I mean, really, “Winning and loosing”?
And then there’s the double-take that hits you when you come across something like “Artabanus IInds son-in-law”: forget the lack of a genitive apostrophe for a minute; just tell me at what point Roman numerals started accepting ordinal suffixes.
What I liked: the idea of the book, per se. In reading it, I was forced to consult a number of hard-copy and online references, and I did learn a few things that way, so that’s a good thing. It was also a pleasure to dig out old Tacitus and Josephus (haven’t read those two in, oh, must be twenty years now) and set them aside, so that I can read them again in the coming months. Now that I think of it, I’ll also have to find my copy of Xenophon’s Anabasis.
What I didn’t like: first and foremost, the cost.
Not that I’m one to challenge any author’s right to charge whatever he wants for his work, you understand, but I certainly want to know what I’m buying before I pay for it. Now, had I known that the entire “book” consisted of only 16 pages, including illustrations (plus a cover page and one page of advertisement), I would have questioned how much detail I could expect from something which purported to provide me with historical background, army lists and a campaign game, and whether this was likely to warrant such a relatively high cost (to give but one example of a reference book I recently bought, compare this with the excellent “Red Steel: Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of the Cold War”: well over a hundred pages of background information, hard facts and tables, well written, well documented, suitably illustrated, reasonably well presented, and all for less than 4 dollars).
Nor, do I hasten to add, am I unwilling to pay for quality: merely as an example, Rapid Fire’s “Lightfoot’s Left Flank” and “Lightfoot’s Southern Assault” each cost $4.00 for fifteen very heavily illustrated pages (to the point where they almost look like catalogues for WWII miniatures), while Hurlbat Games’ “Micro Ancients” and “Micro Napoleonics” cost $6.19 each for, respectively, 20 and 24 pages, I believe, of poorly-formatted text. Yet, I was – and still am – glad to have purchased not only each of these booklets, but the entire Rapid Fire series and all of Hurlbat Games’ reprints, at what I considered – and still consider – very good prices.
Actually, I blame the Wargame Vault far more than the author for not providing basic information. Merely noting that a file “weighs” 9.6 Mb is woefully inadequate: the aforementioned “Fistful of Tow’s”, with its 462 pages, weighs less than 7 Mb, while the second edition of “Micro Squad, The WWII 1-1 scale game”, only 48 pages long, weighs in at a hefty 116 Mb. So telling me the file weighs “9.6 Mb”… well, that and a nickel is worth exactly a nickel.
As many will have inferred from my previous observations, I also disliked the jumbled historical account; the limited use to which the army lists can be put; the less-than-clear campaign game; and the poor writing, spelling and punctuation.
Then again, while visually appealing, the booklet is definitely not printer friendly. Not that I intend to print it anyway (I’ve read it, so I know it’s not worth having a hard copy around, but someone else might think otherwise), but its busy borders, its coloured background, its illustrations… all of these are extremely ink-intensive.
How the book could have been improved: aside from the obvious (e.g. some really, really serious editing), I would say the most worthwhile improvements would be:
- the inclusion of a map with, for example, geographical reference points (political borders varied so wildly during the period in question that they would prove of very limited use as references), major battle sites, points of origin of some of the migrant peoples mentioned in the texts, …;
- the inclusion of more in-text references to such geographical markers (such as “[…] the Paropanisadae, the region of the Hindu-Kush in what we now regard as eastern Afghanistan, centered on the cities of Kabul and Kapisa (modern Bagram)”), for roughly the same reason;
- the inclusion of a timeline, to help keep different events in some kind of perspective;
- the inclusion of a simple list of Parthian (and other) leaders, in some chronological order and with whatever dates are available, allowing the reader to figure out who was contemporary to whom;
- the inclusion of some kind of explanation of the army lists’ abbreviations;
- the inclusion of a better-designed, properly-labelled campaign map;
- the inclusion of a printer-friendly edition, for anyone who actually feels the need to keep a hard copy lying about;
Ranking: The booklet gets one star, in acknowledgement of the beauty of the “Menic Ruttimann collection” miniatures, and another star because, let’s face it, there are worse products than this out there. But not by much.
[LATE DEVELOPMENT: Subsequent events (see below) really do warrant my stripping the second star. But fear not, the “Alliance” will rally and insert another series of totally justified and well-reasoned five-star rankings.]
I found it interesting that two of the reviewers – first-timers both – should share such similar enthusiasm for this booklet that they would, within an hour, express themselves in virtually the same fashion:
“[…] as a historical wargamer with a decent interest in history, this is pitched just about right for me and as an Impetus player, the army lists are a real joy.”
“As an historical wargamer with an interest in history, this is pitched just about right for me. As an Impetus player it’s excellent value.” (By the way, “Overall verdict - worth a punt.” Exactly what is a “punt” worth nowadays, anyway?)
What I believe needs be addressed, though, is the misconception that might arise from the ill-informed comments of a third reviewer (another newcomer to the community of reviewers, and before I forget, I should dearly appreciate his telling me exactly what “plenty of mini-porn” means – do the border drawings include overly graphic representations of little people doing things they really shouldn’t do in public? – and why this should be viewed as a plus): if I did “take it upon [myself] to write a negative review of a product for a game [I’ve] not only never played, but of which [I’d] never heard”, I should point out – and this can be seen from my previous observations – that I was careful to pass no judgment whatsoever on the game itself.
And, of course, the fact that I’ve never played “Impetus” is totally irrelevant, so long as I limit myself to reviewing this booklet and not the game itself: for example, I’ve never played Green Ronin’s “True20”, but that would scarce disqualify me from heartily endorsing their “Eternal Rome” and “Hamunaptra” (I just might get started on a review for each of those, in fact); I’ve never played “GURPS” either, but I’ve bought, enjoyed and recommended a number of their “settings” books. So I fail to see the sin in writing a review (negative or otherwise) “of a product for a game [I’ve] not only never played, but of which [I’d] never heard”.
What I reviewed here was a poorly written and overly expensive booklet (one which nowhere claims to be intended SOLELY for players of “Impetus”, I should add), a booklet which purports to offer me (a) a historical background of the Parthians, and (b) army lists that are “easy to follow and equally easily converted”. In these twin objectives, as I believe I’ve demonstrated, the booklet fails miserably.
As regards the second comment (which I find more than a tad aggressive), “The fact that the reviewer in question openly admits they have no idea what they’re writing about gives a clear indication as to the value of their review.”, I really must take strong exception, as I admit no such thing.
On the contrary, as explained previously, I took pains not to discuss the game itself, the only part of the book about which I “have no idea”.
I did, however, start wargaming almost forty years ago, and I have been told once or twice that I had more than “a modicum of intelligence” (as another reviewer delicately puts it), so here again, I feel I’m not altogether clueless on the subject and, were the “map” included in the campaign game remotely intelligible, for example, I feel I should be able to understand it.
[LATE CORRECTION: Using my “modicum of intelligence”, I now understand that the seemingly random numbers on the “map” actually refer to unstressed in-text numbers which, in turn, identify specific regions. This means the map is no longer unintelligible, just sloppily designed and improperly referenced. The campaign rules remain slovenly written, but that really doesn’t matter all that much, all things considered.]
I have more than a passing acquaintance with Military History (or so I should hope, having majored in it back in my University days), and this (the actual historical contents) was the very first thing I discussed (and dismissed): this seems to put the lie to the gratuitous affirmation that I’ve “no idea what [I’m] writing about”. I freely confess I’ve read neither Strabo (nor do I intend to, as his reputation as a historian was never impressive) nor Justinus (assuming we’re talking of the Epitoma, the accuracy of which has been questioned to some considerable degree), two authors quoted in the text. But Polybius (whom I’ve never really liked, for some reason), Plutarch, Tacitus, and Josephus – while I may have neglected them for too many years, and questionable as their objectiveness may be – are old familiars of mine.
As to the other focus of my review, i.e. the poor writing and abysmal editing, this was based on my own three decades’ worth of experience making a decent living writing and translating. Again, scarcely a topic regarding which it could justifiably be said I’ve “no idea what [I’m] writing about”.
Finally, regarding whatever “value” my review might have: personally, if I’ve helped one single prospective purchaser decide to spend his hard-earned money on something of greater worth than this booklet, I will consider my time was well spent indeed.
I suspected there might have been some orchestrated campaign to boost the rating of this insignificant little booklet, and I also wondered why the author himself would not deign respond.
All quotes taken from
http: // impetus.forumsland.com / impetus-about4409-0-desc-0.html and following.
To begin with, I was apparently not the only one with a problem as far as the map was concerned:
[…]; Posted: Thu May 02, 2013 6:51 pm
One question on the campaign - do the numbered areas represent particular areas?
I could not quite work it out
Jim Webster; Posted: Thu May 02, 2013 7:09 pm
Sorry it’s implicit rather than explicit
If you look at page 16 you have the four enemies of Parthia, 1,2,3,4
They start off on the map in areas 1,2,3,4 So if you have Indo-Scythians or Kushans they start off in Area 4
The Parthians have three armies in areas 5,6,7 and they start off in those areas and are created in line with the comments on page 16
[And moments later, a wondrous admission:]
I should have been more explicit, it would only have taken another line
Other interesting comments:
Jim Webster; Posted: Sat May 04, 2013 12:15 pm
So much for great value, according to the reviewer he obvious expects me to pay him to take it away, and he doesn’t seem to be able to cope with the fact he’s never heard with Impetus
[My dear sir, I wouldn’t dream of asking for a refund: you “obvious” need the money more than I do. If I could dare make a suggestion, you might wish to apply it towards the purchase of a good, second-hand grammar book.
As for coping “with the fact [I’ve] never heard with [sic] Impetus”, you may rest assured I am the first to recognise there are no known limits to my ignorance.]
DAX; Posted: Sat May 04, 2013 1:49 pm
Hopefully the review balance has been restored a little by someone who has heard of Impetus and actually read the book...... Did not agree with the first review at all.
[Actually, I did read the book, but…]
Jim Webster; Posted: Sat May 04, 2013 2:04 pm
It’s nice to have someone do a decent review.
[Translation: a “decent review” is one that praises the author and ignores his failings.]
Zippee ; Posted: Sat May 04, 2013 2:39 pm
What a complete **! Shock horror an ‘Impetus Guide’ is aimed at using Impetus which because I’m a complete ignorant pillock I’ve never heard off so this book is a waste of time and money...
I’d really like to meet this ** at a show If only to explain that VBU isn’t “basic point value” - I’m sure that could be expressed through imaginative use of morse code and a toffee hammer and to teach them the actual value of 4 quid in the modern world.
I’ve added to Dax’s review with a more balanced one as well Jim
[To begin with, I don’t know about the people you normally hang around with, but rest assured I certainly would never call you a “complete ignorant pillock” (not even sure what that means, actually, although it sounds more than a wee bit aggressive).
Regarding the VBU, my apologies: according to the November 2008 updated edition of Basic Impetus, “VBU” stands for “Basic Unit Value”. You are correct, of course, to wish to point out the error of my ways (when I wrote “it means SOMETHING [emphasis added] like ‘Basic Point Value’”) with “a toffee hammer”, as “Basic Unit Value” is absolutely NOTHING like “Basic Point Value”, and the abbreviation itself, though obviously from some Latin language (“Valeur base de l’unité”? “Valor básico de la unidad”? “Valore di base della unità”?), should nevertheless be self-explanatory.
Next, in re. the “actual value of 4 quid”: down in Mexico, where I currently reside, 4 quid is more than an honest labourer will earn in one day at minimum wage. (Fortunately, I earn somewhat more than that.)
In any event, do please make an effort to keep things in perspective: 4 quid may be nothing for a good thesaurus (another hearty recommendation, and one that would obviate your need for so many asterisks), but it’s a bit steep for a booklet of matches, wouldn’t you say?
In other words, it’s not the amount per se that matters, it’s what you get in exchange therefor.
As for your kind invitation, let me weigh the options: spend a few thousand pesos to cross the pond and be greeted by a person who cannot express himself in a civilised – or even grammatically correct – fashion, but who is overly eager to demonstrate his rather unusual skill of tapping out messages in Morse code using a toffee hammer – OR – stay at home, save the aforementioned few thousands of pesos, make a few extra dollars, and invest them in worthwhile purchases.
What to do? What to do?
Tempting though the first option is, I believe I’ll save myself the time and money, and stay here. But I do thank you anyway for the offer to demonstrate your unique skill, and will gladly receive you in kind should you ever wish to come over. And if you do, please remember to bring your toffee hammer: I’ve never seen one of those, actually.]
FMB; Posted: Sat May 04, 2013 3:37 pm
I just added another rating and review. That first reviewer is a manifestation of the wonders of the internet.
[I’ve been called many a thing in my life, but a “Wonder”? Thank you.]
Moderator; Posted: Sat May 04, 2013 4:50 pm
Sentiment appreciated - expletives deleted.
[Pity! It sounds as if the expletives would be some of the more intelligent comments posted.]
Fenton, Posted: Sat May 04, 2013 5:06 pm
Don’t worry about it Jim you get one person who writes a review like just because they can, they fact he has copied and pasted an army list with points at the end looks to me that he hasn’t really read it.. I cant believe there is anyone out there in the wargaming fraternity whether they like the game or not hasn’t heard of Impetus
[And I “cant” believe there is such a thing as a “wargame fraternity” where one is the subject of such comments. Guess we were both due for a rude awakening.
And, again, “they” fact is I did read the booklet. Twice through, and a third time for the campaign game. How else would I have caught on to the meaning of the map, for example?]
DAX; Posted: Sun May 05, 2013 7:46 pm
... I think the original reviewer has got hacked off that his pearls of wisdom, skills and gravitas have been brought into question - such sensitivity..... But highly amusing - and it is a good book for anyone who likes Impetus!
[“Sensitive” is another qualifier seldom used in reference to me. Thank you.
As for pearls, well… “Nolite dare sanctum canibus, neque mittatis margaritas vestras ante porcos, ne forte conculcent eas pedibus suis, et conversi disrumptam vos.”, as we used to say.]
DAX; Posted: Sun May 05, 2013 8:07 pm
Couldn’t help myself - just updated the review so that the diatribe from reviewer number one wouldn’t be the first thing people saw. Nobody picks on Uncle Jim and gets away with it
[And there we have it: the real reason for most of these posts. But fear not, gentle Dax, this should be my last update. All you have to do is repost and you’ll be “on top” once again.]
Greymouse; Posted: Sun May 05, 2013 8:29 pm
Oh - I just posted a review to kick him from the first place
[Idem. Amazing how honest people will be about their intentions, under the right conditions.]
DAX; Posted: Sun May 05, 2013 8:44 pm
Our alliance will prevail - thwart the forces of ignorance and darkness -well okay, we might hack of a reviewer - maybe - but at least it gives Jim’s book a push
[Really, does this need a comment?]
And one chap whom I would gladly invite to a pint or three (if he could stand being ostracised by his fellow Impetus gamers for fraternising with such a heathen as myself):
PilGrim; Posted: Sun May 05, 2013 9:49 am
Firstly - good job Jim
Secondly lets not get too concerned about manning the barricades on this one hostile review, because I suspect while we may be partizan, there are some valid points and lessons that could be learned to improve for future projects.
Grammar, spelling and punctuation. If there are problems then get some proof reading and a little suggested editing done first - I’m sure someone here can string a coherent sentence together and would be happy to volunteer. Not me obviously - while I am happy to volunteer the first criteria rules me out.
Impetus to other rules conversion. If this is an aim we need a well written explanation of what the army list represents, and how Impetus army lists work, ie the “How to use the lists” section that is on the inside cover of the Extra Impetus books, plus an explanation of the troop types. On the plus side much of this exists already and it will add a few pages to the total for those who measure value by page count not content. The alternative is to state this is for Impetus only.
Map - that’s a good idea if possible
[Can’t help but notice, though, that after 12 hours, the author had failed to address one single point you made, despite having posted two more comments after yours. Goes to show, right?
And, with all due respect, I, for one, do not “measure value by page count not content”; I am quite happy to pay much more for quality. My problem here was attempting to quantify an inherently unquantifiable issue.]