Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Copenhagen Interpretation of Galley Battles

We finished refighting Actium last night, or to be more accurate we decided that we didn't want to carry on any further. As I said when I posted about the first night's play I have a nostalgic fondness for a bit of galley action, so it's disappointing to have to report that I didn't really enjoy this game.

On the plus side, I am more convinced than ever that hexes work very effectively for a game that is basically about manoeuvre and contact. A less clear cut question is the use of two hexes per ship rather than one as in the original paper and cardboard version. On balance I think it makes sense - beyond the obvious physical constraints of the size of the models - because not only are ships longer than they are wide, but they also move forwards so during whatever time period is meant to be represented by a turn their path should be harder to cross in a perpendicular manner than it is to avoid them head on.

The command and control also worked reasonably well. I like the random nature of squadron activation including the use of jokers. It may be that further friction could be introduced by adding more tokens to the bag. We didn't really use the double activation option much, so I'll reserve judgement on that.

So what doesn't work? I'm afraid I have a bit of a list:
  • Visual differentiation between ships: This might just be me, but beyond the obvious fact that some are bigger than others I really can't tell the difference between them let alone which ones have towers and engines and which ones don't. The knock on effect of this is just to make every other aspect of the game - moving, shooting, ramming, raking, boarding - painful to calculate. Funnily enough it's very easy to identify crew quality even though crews aren't modelled at all.
  • Shooting: There is far too much of it, and it's far too complicated.
  • Burning: Seems much too easy to set ships on fire and then ships sink very quickly while on fire.
  • Grappling: This seems very difficult to do, although there was a view that I was just rolling badly. In common with everything else in this game, it's somewhat complicated.
  • Boarding: Calculation of casualties is more complex than it needs to be. I also don't understand why it isn't possible to split marines between the original ship and the captured ship, especially as one can split the fire of marines on the same ship between different targets, thereby increasing the complexity if that exercise even further.

James has already made some suggested changes with which he intends to finish off the game solo. These are intended above all to simplify shooting and reduce the number of ships sinking because of burning. Personally I'd go for a bucket of dice approach and get rid of all the tables; the game it most resembles on the table is actually X-Wing, and it works there. Interestingly he has also taken the view that a floating ship is more likely to be able to keep a sinking ship afloat than a sunk wreck is to be able to drag down a floating ship. Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. Perhaps what is actually needed is a quantum approach, a sort of Schrodinger's galley, whereby one doesn't know whether a fouled ramming ship has sunk until it disengages.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Heart of Darkness

Eyebrows have been raised about my suggestion yesterday that the UK faces a future as a colony. I assume that this is in part because, as it's a wargaming blog, my readers associate colonialism with chaps in red coats and sunhats or blue coats and képis arriving and taking over the country. What I was referring to was instead the economic effects of colonisation whereby the local population is obliged to work for low wages with no rights or political power and all profits are expatriated elsewhere; think Britain as banana republic and you're on the right track.

I would point you to Wallerstein's world-systems theory, which posits that the world tends in the long run to a relatively stable set of relations between core and peripheral states, with both the division of labour and the flow of wealth benefiting those in the core. The UK has, or so it would seem, decided to leave the core and join the periphery; a stupid decision taken by stupid people.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Wherefore weep you?

I have been to see the live broadcast of the RSC's latest production of The Tempest. The focus is very much on the magic and on forgiveness, of oneself as much as of others. I wasn't convinced that any real remorse was being shown by Antonio, but perhaps that's the point (1).  The magic however was paradoxically realistic. When watching these live broadcasts I am often left with the impression that the cinema goer gets a better deal than those in the live audience. On this occasion that probably isn't the case. The extensive special effects, especially Ariel's motion capture suit, were par for the course on the big screen, but I suspect would have been astonishing when seen on the stage.
They didn't make much of the political aspects, such as the play as metaphor for colonialism. Perhaps that's a shame. At the time the play was written England (and it was then England and not Britain) was just setting out on establishing a global Empire. And as of today we seem destined to be colonised in our turn. Perhaps a production of Shakespeare's last solo composition in which Caliban represents the English white working class in all their lumpen, unintelligent monstrosity would be very interesting. Subhuman children of the witch indeed (2). For surely what angers Caliban isn't - as it should be - his oppression, but the fact that he is aware - at least subconsciously - of his inadequacies when compared to others, but feels impotent to address them. Oscar Wilde's observation in the preface to 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' has a validity just as relevant to the this century as to his: “The ... dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.”

(1) "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." - Matthew Chapter 18 Verses 21-22

(2) I'm allowed to say this - I am, by origin and upbringing, as white working class as it is possible to be.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Who's Gonna Build Your Wall?

I have been to Hebden Bridge Trades Club to see the mighty Tom Russell. The last time I visited the town was way back before the floods, when the big bouncy woman and I took a stroll up to Hardcastle Crags one very pleasant October morning in 2015, coincidentally just a couple of weeks after I previously saw Russell in concert. I had never been to the venue before, and found it to be - and I choose my words carefully - atmospheric. It suffered very badly from water damage, being close to both canal and river, but may or may not have been extensively renovated; it was hard to tell. It also made me wonder whether the governments austerity programme has led to a reduction in inspections by the fire brigade. As for the clientele, they were somewhat of a mixed bunch. For the record I am not referring to Peter who, as a big fan of this type of music and Russell in particular, was there; making a rare interface of wargaming and my other hobbies such as music and...well  my other hobbies.  My companion for the evening was a bit disconcerted by the person - neither of us could work out whether it was a man or a woman - sitting next to her. When said person got up to have a wander during the interval he/she left behind on the chair, and in plain view, some money, a phone battery and a condom. I'm not sure what enjoyment one could hope to have without taking those three essentials with you, but perhaps that's just me. In any event the audience was obviously very knowledgeable about the man's music, indeed they appeared to sometimes be shouting out for songs that were so obscure that even he had never heard of them.

But, despite all that, the gig was great. Russell's between song talking is almost as important as his singing. He told various anecdotes about, for example, Johnny Cash and managed to be entertainingly rude about both Torquay and Tromso, showing the sort of cosmopolitan outlook so often lacking in these dark times. There has been a silver lining for him at least, as he was able to report an sizeable uptick in royalties from his song "Who's Gonna Build Your Wall", written a decade ago, but enjoying a new relevance. It was an almost universally excellent concert. One must perhaps overlook the song about Dylan Thomas that was quite clearly "Streets of London" with different words, and most of those either direct quotes from "Do Go Gentle Into That Good Night" or just the names of pubs in Swansea; even one's heroes occasionally fail to meet our expectations. Once again featuring the marvellous Max di Bernardi on guitar, the set list overlapped that of the last time I saw him - he could surely never get away without singing Tonight We Ride and one or two others - but with an extensive back catalogue and a willingness to cover people's songs - a rather fine Johnny Cash medley this time, Warren Zevon's Carmelita last time - there is plenty of variety. He is apparently returning in November and I hope to see him again then.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Truth and roses

"Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship." - Oscar Wilde

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Kow bisa para Kong!

 As regular readers know it is my custom to go to all the exhibitions at the Henry Moore Institute and then come out and say how bad they are; basically I just don't like modern art. However, credit where credit is due; I should have reported earlier that I have been very much enjoying the magnificent five metre tall gorilla that has been standing outside the building for the last few weeks.

I have now been to see the exhibition of which the beast forms part and and can confirm that virtually all of it is terrible. I must be going soft however because I also quite liked this piece by Nigel Hall, although the photo (taken with the camera which I keep in my manbag for just such occasions) doesn't do it justice (you'll have to take my word for the fact that it appears to float in mid air) and nor can I remember its name.

Going back to King Kong (for it is he, sculpted back in the 1970s by Nicholas Monro), the eighth wonder of the world will be on the Headrow for another month or so; well worth a trip.

By the way, neither of those photos is in black and white, which you can verify by enlarging the first and looking at Kong's eyes; it was just a very grey day in Leeds.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Analytical War Engine

"The public character of every public servant is legitimate subject of discussion, and his fitness or unfitness for office may be fairly canvassed by any person" - Charles Babbage

The distinguished mathematician's views are as valid now as they were well over a century ago. However that's not why we're here. I have been reading the newish set of rules published by Osprey: "The Men Who Would Be Kings". They are by Daniel Mersey, who wrote "Lion Rampant", which I rather liked despite being unable to set up a scenario that works properly. These new rules cover 19th century colonial wars, which are very low down on my list of possible periods to spend time and money on. James claims that he's going to do the Sudan at some point, but I'll be long dead by the time he gets round to it. These rules aren't really the sort of thing that I'd be looking for in any case, and can anyone imagine James putting up with only three troop types?

My real reason for taking a look was because the book contains an artificial intelligence engine allowing them to be played solo; this being given the name Mr Babbage, presumably in honour of the man who first proposed the programmable computer (1). My particular interest in this is in it's applicability to my Roman vs Celts Pony Wars rip off and, sure enough, Mersey acknowledges that what he has done was inspired by Ian Beck's original, but that he has purposefully set out to simplify the process. It certainly looks straightforward enough, although, as before, the big difference from what I want is the centrality of ranged fire. I like the dice driven concept for the introduction of new tribal units anywhere on the table rather than just at the edges or at ambush points. It shouldn't be beyond my imagination to work out a way of integrating that with the other elements activated by cards in the current approach. Indeed, it may be time to get out the Romans in Britain rules and take a look, as I now have three possible areas of revision:
  • The AI approach from these rules
  • The melee mechanism from Lion Rampant
  • Hex based movement 
I shall try to free up some time in what is, as you will appreciate, a hectic social life.

(1) I have seen it reported that Babbage wrote a letter to Tennyson complaining that the lines

Every moment dies a man
Every moment one is born

    did not reflect the world's growing population and suggesting that they be replaced with the more accurate

Every moment dies a man
And one and a sixteenth is born

    This is another of those stories the accuracy of which I have no desire to check.