Tuesday, 15 August 2017


Transformed into arrows
let's all soar together, body and soul!
Piercing the air
let's go soaring, body and soul!
With no way of return
but transfixed there
rotting with the pain of striking home,
never to return.
One last breath! Now, let's quit the string,
throwing away like useless rags
all we have had over the years
all we have enjoyed over the years
all we have piled up over the years
and whatever else.
Transformed into arrows
let's all soar together, body and soul!
The air is shouting! Piercing the air
let's go soaring, body and soul!
In dark daylight the target is rushing towards us.
Finally, as the target topples
in a shower of blood,
let's all just once as arrows
Never to return!
Never to return!

         - Ko Un

Monday, 14 August 2017

Broadsword calling Danny Boy

I have been to Austria for a few days, mainly to the Salzkammergut. I have, as this post's title would indicate, been to the castle which features as Schloss Adler in 'Where Eagles Dare'. In anticipation of this I bought a cheap, second-hand DVD and a couple of days before I flew out, after putting it off several times, forced myself to watch it. I would first have seen the film when I was thirteen and seem to remember enjoying it enormously. However, not surprisingly my tastes have changed in the intervening decades and this time round I had to give up 45 minutes in. According to the ever-reliable interweb the film - supposedly referred to by Clint Eastwood as 'Where Doubles Dare' - came about because Richard Burton was getting divorced and, needing some money quickly, persuaded Alistair MacLean to knock something up in a couple of weeks; frankly I'm surprised it took him that long.

The view from the bell tower

Burg Hohenwerfen can also apparently be seen in a much better film, briefly appearing in the background of one of the shots during 'Do Re Mi' in the 'Sound of Music'. The tour guide who told me this went on to complain that the various locations during that sequence were many kilometres apart and that it was physically impossible for the von Trapp family to have got from one to the other while singing the song. I took advantage of the ride up to the castle in the funicular railway to teach her the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic film music. In return I learned that Austrians use a different facial expression from us when showing interest and gratitude. Anyway, mentioning the funicular obviously draws attention to the fact that there are no cable cars. Hollywood lied to us; who'd have thought it?

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Battle of Lewisham

 “If you cannot convince a Fascist, acquaint his head with the pavement.” - Leon Trotsky 

The fortieth anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham, which falls today, has been given some unwanted context by events in the US. I was there of course, and the pictures in yesterday's Guardian and the others I include here certainly bring back memories.

"Are you a communist?"
"No, I am an anti-fascist."
"For a long time?"
"Since I have understood fascism." 

- Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Several Boardgames in July

Before I get on to the games played this month - which will not only show a marked improvement in both quality and quantity but also contain something of interest to those who like Condottiere - there are some other bits of boardgaming news. Firstly, the annual Spiel des Jahres has been announced and the winner was 'Kingdomino'. I've played this a couple of times and enjoyed it. It requires more spatial awareness than I possess to be any good at it, but I'd certainly play it again. The length of game - twenty minutes or so - is very much in its favour.

Secondly, among the goodies that my recent wargaming visitor brought with him was a copy of 'Napoleon in Europe', which he very kindly passed on to me. Let's not kid ourselves though, the reason he has never played it is the same reason that I shall almost certainly never play it either: it requires seven people and takes six hours.

Celestia: An amusing push your luck game with  nice 3D components. We (i.e. the person who owns it) have abandoned the expansion, which change sped things up a bit for no discernible loss of enjoyment.

Condottiere: This isn't the news flagged up above. Indeed, this month's one play of the game was a big disappointment. One player had two keys (there are only three in total), the rest of us couldn't believe he would have the second, and he won in the shortest time for a game that I can ever remember.

Discoveries: This is the dice version of 'Lewis & Clark' and is, in my opinion, the better game.

Elysium: I am glad that this now seems to be getting reasonably regular outings again, battling its way through the cult of the new.

Istanbul: This is another game that I would recommend. As I may have said before, it is rather looked down on by many of those who consider themselves serious gamers, but I'd ignore them if I was you and check it out.

The King is Dead:  This is it. I have been looking around for another game like Condottiere and I think I have found it in one that, interestingly enough for wargamers, is published by Osprey. The obvious similarities are that it's an area control game played on a small map using small wooden cubes of various colours, but it also has that element of judging when to play your cards and when to hold back for a better opportunity. The king in question is Arthur and his demise has led to Britain being fought over by the Scots, Welsh and Romano-British with the Saxons hovering opportunistically offshore. Players seek to use diplomacy - represented by cards - to gain influence over those factions during a sequence of eight power struggles, one for each region on the board. I have only played with three players so far and it's quite possible that the dynamics in the two and four player versions may be  rather different. There is also an interesting solo variant on boardgamegeek, which was very useful for learning the powers of the cards, but which I suspect is actually impossible to win.

The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire: This is another extension of the themes and mechanics in the original game. I rather enjoyed the card re-implementation which did away with the air forces and the bombing. This one does away with building weapons at all, instead of destroying the world in a nuclear conflagration players pollute it to death generating power. It was OK.

Orléans: For some reason I had never previously played this game from 2014, but I can see it becoming a firm favourite. It's a Euro rather than a wargame and the theme is completely irrelevant, but if you like thought provoking, sometimes frustrating games then you'll like this. One of my three plays in the month was of the cooperative Invasion expansion, which to my surprise I enjoyed as much as the competitive version.

Snowdonia: A fine game about building a railway up the Welsh mountain. The interesting - to me at least - twist is that unlike most railway games all the players are competing to build the same track, as indeed is the game's AI, resulting in one's plans constantly being thwarted.

Sol: Last Days of a Star:  "It's physics Jim, but not as we know it." as someone might have said. The game made one of the other players think of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and reminded me of the only Pink Floyd song on which all five members play. However nonsensical the theme - and every physicist from Newton onwards must be turning in their graves; except for Professor Brian Cox, who is presumably on location somewhere exotic - it does add a bit of flavour to what would perhaps be a somewhat dry abstract game. It is however something that I'd like to have another go at now that I know how it works.

Stroop: This a new filler card game based around the psychological effect of the same name. It was quite a funny experience playing it, although I do wonder whether that would fade on subsequent playings. It also may fall into that category of games where a minor advantage in ability translates into a player winning 90% of the time (like 'Panic Lab' for example). Recommended for at least one play though.

Vanuatu: I also enjoyed my first play of this. It's a Euro with a somewhat greater link between theme and scoring than normal, although the mechanisms - which are good - are just mechanisms. What it does have that appeals greatly to me is the ability to dick over the other players; in fact it left me with a burning desire to play 'Survive!'.