Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Nu couché

I haven't blogged about art for a while, and I'm not really going to do so today. It's just that sometimes one is in the mood for a bit of this:

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Samosa, samosae, samosam

"If anything has happened to one who ever yearned and wished but never hoped, that is a rare pleasure of the soul." - Catullus

I hope that you're all having as good an August Bank Holiday weekend as Epictetus is. Although there were some less happy elements - I was approached about a job which turned out to be in the Falkland Islands and the farmers market ran out of samosas before I got there - most of it was pretty good. There was walking in the dales, the big bouncy woman stopped by to nibble on my biscuits and I even painted some figures. Yes, having had to make some more markers (specifically those reading '3') at short notice the mojo settled on my shoulder and on my soldiers (1) and was inspired to make some progress on the Great War project. So it was with some shock that when retrieving the painting tray from the special drying cupboard under the boiler I discovered that I was in the middle of some Roman legionaries. I forget quite why, but no matter - Romans it is.

As it happens the walk took us in part along the Roman road between Olicana and Virosidum as it rises up out of Langstrothdale. This is precisely where my Romans in Britain rip off of Pony Wars is set so perhaps there is some synchronicity at work. I've been thinking of redoing the rules to make them hex based and perhaps amending the combat rules to steal those in Lion Rampant. Perhaps I'm being sent a signal. Funnily enough I've just been reading Mary Stewart's rather fine trilogy about Merlin and the fort at Olicana plays a role in the development of the plot. Stewart identifies Olicana directly with Ilkley; there is some debate, but I think it would be all too much of a coincidence if they weren't the same place.

(1) I've been listening to Traffic's 'Hole in my Shoe' which uses that very rhyme, presumably because it was written under the influence of drugs

Thursday, 25 August 2016

C&C Napoleonics enflé

Wargaming returned to the annexe last night with a game of Command & Colours Napoleonics enlarged somewhat beyond its normal parameters. That it all worked reasonably well is a testament to the robustness of the original design rather than anything I did. Anyone who's been to business school will be familiar with Mintzberg's concepts of emergent as opposed to deliberate strategy. In wargaming terms I lean to the former, to what Lindblom described as a fragmented process of serial and incremental decisions and what Mintzberg himself defined as the allocation of resources before the explicit espousal of the objective.

And thus has been the journey from small units simply designed as a painting exercise through the acquisition of rules and terrain; it's been a series of opportunistic and ad hoc undertakings. The current such small step is to play C&C Napoleonics on my full table, in terms of hexes that's about four times the size of the playing area for which the rules are intended. We had previously played on wider setups, but this was the first time we would play on one that was deeper as well. I took one of the scenarios from the latest expansion and made most terrain features four times bigger While that felt OK for woods and hills it didn't for towns and so those were fudged somewhat to retain shape and position without each being too large. I doubled the forces, partly with the intention of making more space for manoeuvre, and partly because I started to run out at that point. I left the number of officers the same, on an intuition that doubling them would be too many. The issue which seemed likely to cause most problems was that of movement distances, with units potentially taking too long to come into action and into contact. Here, after much thought, I did nothing at all; often the best option when one doesn't know what's best.

And, as I say, it all worked reasonably well and I came out of it with a number of learning points:
  • It's probably time to say goodbye to the official scenarios. They are not balanced and nor are they meant to be. The intention is that they are played twice with sides swapped, which is clearly not what we're looking for.
  • The ratio of officers to units needs to be higher than the 1:8 or so that we played last night - maybe 1:6. And rather than specific officers for specific commands - which is how we play Piquet for example - I prefer to see the officer figure as being analogous to another Piquet concept. In that game firing (as in rolling the dice and calculating casualties) represents the peak of an activity that is in reality occurring all the time. In C&C (or in my mental model of it at least) the presence of a model of a divisional commander represents a peak level of officering, as compared to the normal level which is going on in the background all the time. It therefore makes sense that the player can switch the models about between different groups of units.
  • The Tactician cards in the new(ish) fifth expansion add to the gameplay, and - given that it is a game - that's a good thing. In particular they give a potential outlet when one's Command cards aren't helping, and there's always the tantalising prospect of being able to string a series of cards together to dramatically change the way things are going.
  • A point that applies to all games under every set of rules: don't start the forces too far apart. One knock-on implication for jumbo C&C is how to define the 'baseline' hex whenever these are referred to on cards. We played two rows last night, but I think that needs to be increased to three.
  • The movement rules possibly don't need adjusting at all. Firstly various new Command cards plus a number of the Tactician cards add quite a bit of movement capability. And then there's the question of style of play. I think that even more than in the original game, one must churn cards that one doesn't need and build a hand for the current specific phase of one's overall plan.
We got perhaps half way through the scenario - the morning of Liebertwolwitz 14th October 1813 - in the evening and the Allies appear to have decided on defence, having come off worse in the early cavalry exchanges and been on the wrong end of what appeared to me to be an optimistic French infantry attack on their left. I'm not sure if we'll finish it; I suspect too much time may pass before we get back together and then we'll need to get James' game for Derby ready. In any event I think my ultimate aim - my deliberate strategy if you will - would be to set these larger C&C Napoleonic games up so they can be completed in an evening.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Beardy Branson is a twat

 "Sob, heavy world
  Sob as you spin
   Mantled in mist, remote from the happy:"

                  - W.H. Auden

The spin that Auden referred to was - at least I assume it was - the actual rotation of the earth. ["I hope," says the Rhetorical Pedant, returning after being far too long absent from this blog "I really hope, that you're going to go off on one about the length of days at the equator again."] But my gripe is with spin in the other sense of Public Relations, or lying as it used to be called when I was at school.

I'm speaking specifically of course of all this guff about Jeremy Corbyn and the train. Now, obviously I have no idea what actually happened and have spent many hours strenuously trying to avoid finding out. As Marcus Aurelius put it "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth". Harry Pearson, wargamer and author of Achtung Schweinehund!, puts it thus: "Claims there were vacant seats on a Virgin train a typical Trotskyite slur on great British entrepreneur and his sales force."

However, of one thing I am, from personal experience, absolutely certain, Virgin East Coast provide a terrible service and it is substantially worse than it was when it was run by the state-owned East Coast Mainline. People do, genuinely and often, have to sit on the floor. The power sockets regularly don't work. The train that I came up from London a couple of weeks ago had one carriage out of action because the doors had jammed and one where the heating was stuck on full blast - on a day when the temperature outside was 28˚C; the main point being that no one was in the slightest surprised. They've just put the fares up for the second time this year. Therefore, whatever the rights and wrongs of that particular train, Virgin Trains have rightly been called out for being useless at what they are supposed to do in return for our money.

And yet their slick PR machine, taking full advantage of the media's existing antipathy to Corbyn, have switched the narrative from one where they are held to account for their performance to one where they are the victims. As Mark Twain never said “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. And all the while the long-suffering passenger longs to see Branson humbling himself in the style of Japanese management as atonement, preferably followed by then ritually disembowelling himself Japanses style as well.

 Before anyone points it out, I know that the line is managed and 90% owned by Stagecoach, but if Branson wants to be the face of the firm then he must take the consequences. Unsurprisingly I would be perfectly happy for Gloag and especially the homophobic Souter to join him. And it's the Stagecoach link I think that explains the attempts to smear Corbyn. A Corbyn government (I shall return soon to discuss whether such a thing is even remotely possible) would not just renationalise the railways, but would regulate bus companies. They're just getting their retaliation in first.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Build barns

Real life has got in the way of blogging for a few days. Can I just say congratulations to the elder Miss Epictetus, who has worked hard, achieved her ambition and will shortly be leaving for a different city. I shall miss her.

"Success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats" - Amos Bronson Alcott

In other news, the great estivation is almost over. I have been happy to make the most of what has by no means been a bad summer's weather, but entertainment options can be somewhat limited in August. Things will start picking up from next week, and I already have tickets for a range of things. You have been warned.

However, there will also be more wargaming. I have even ventured into the annexe for the first time in a while. Notwithstanding the recent heat, it is a tad damp, so a dehumidifier has been set up and hopefully all will soon be well. How long can it be before I'm painting figures again? How long can it be before rhetorical questions start to annoy my readers?

Where's the rum?

 Anyway, damp or not, I have completed the set-up of the C&C Napoleonic game that I almost finished getting ready about three months ago. My declared ambition to double the sizes of the forces in the original C&C scenario to take account of the larger table size hit some snags: I still don't have enough cavalry size sabot bases; one of the Russian infantry units is at paper strength because I didn't have enough 3 markers; and I ran out of both cossacks and Prussian cuirassiers. Still, I think it looks OK.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

You do something to me

In this particular unattended moment I am a Kinks 'B' side from more than fifty years ago.