Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Remember me...

This blog has been rather lowbrow recently and, shock horror, has had quite a high wargames quotient. Apropos of nothing therefore, here is a poem by Christina Gabriel Rossetti.
Remember me when I am gone away,
         Gone far away into the silent land;
         When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
         You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
         Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
         For if the darkness and corruption leave
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
         Than that you should remember and be sad.
Can I point out to any god-botherers still reading this that Rossetti was an extremely devout High Anglican and that she acted as the model for her brother's painting of the Annunciation.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Pot7pouri

  • There is an excellent, well-illustrated write up of a Historicon playtest of Eric Burgess's Vauban siege game on his blog. Regular readers will remember that I am very much looking forward to these being released and intend to expand my WSS set-up in this direction. They will also remember that I don't have anywhere to live and that I haven't done any painting/modelling for almost a year. These are, however, mere details.
  • There was a brief boardgaming session at the White Swan yesterday with a game each of Vineta (oddly not such a good game once you know the rules) and The Three Musketeers which I won as the Cardinal at the last gasp. 
  • I seem to have been transferred to the German side for Wednesday's Sidi Rezegh scenario. As Major General von Rammstein my job is to prove that the British can win during operation Crusader whilst at the same time laying down some Neue Deutsche Härte industrial metal riffs.
 
The second escarpment is mine

 



Sunday, 28 July 2013

Hard fought draw

This didn't happen
The third and final week of the WWII Western Desert game proved to be, for me at least, the most enjoyable. Piquet's initiative swings stayed within the bounds that make it add to the game rather than detract from it and, the game having moved forwards somewhat, we actually had some close fought action between the tanks.

Regular readers will remember that Peter had a plan which hadn't worked very smoothly because he didn't get the right cards, his infantry in particular not appearing very keen to advance towards the central hill. I had a plan which didn't work primarily because it was crap, and in particular because I had brought one third of my armour on in completely the wrong place. I had amended this plan with the intention of concentrating two thirds of the my armour against half of the German tanks. Strangely enough that didn't work either. Plan three was to try to negate the Panzers' superiority by basically charging straight at them; a tactic that has a certain amount of historical validity having been tried in practice by the 8th Army.

This plan actually gained some traction and I manoeuvered myself into a position to launch four close assaults if only the appropriate card could be turned; which astonishingly it immediately was. At this point I had no morale chips left, but Peter didn't have many either so my plan was to win the easy assaults first (tanks vs infantry, Crusaders vs Panzer IIs) thereby moving myself into the position that he was giving me morale chips and press on to destroy his armour. Obviously what actually happened was that despite rolling the higher dice in all four assaults I lost the lot and made the morale position completely safe for Rommel.
This did happen

I was only saved from losing under Piquet's normal rules (lack of morale leading to failing a major morale test) by the specific scenario turn limit. Whilst Peter could destroy/rout any units that I had on or near the central hill I basically had too many of them for him to achieve this in the time available. a draw was called.

I won't comment much on the rule changes because they'll only change again anyway. It was too easy to rally retreating units (it became apparent to me that morale challenging was a waste of time; it was much better to leave enemy units there to be destroyed otherwise they would simply and inconveniently reappear), but that applied to both sides so didn't affect the outcome. I'd rather lost my grip on the artillery and air support rules, but wasn't entirely convinced by how they were working in practice; targeting seems a bit easy in both cases and I wasn't impressed when my air superiority arrived after a very long wait on one card and then immediately left on the following card.

Overall, a good game although I'm not entirely sure one can ever win as the British. If it was revisited I would suggest some sort of Peter Pig style pre-game element so that initial deployments aren't quite so random, but as usual I have no specific suggestions in mind.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Offensive, moi?

Who'd have thought it? Yesterday's post about some late 19th century paintings has caused me to lose 50% of my followers in one fell swoop. I'm assuming it can't be because I was slightly dismissive of religion and those with religious beliefs. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that there wouldn't be any Christianity without persecution. You should be bloody grateful to me for giving you a chance to turn the other cheek.

Today's re-enactor at the Royal Armouries is, for some unexplained reason, a dinosaur.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Myth

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." - John F. Kennedy


I could write a whole blog on the irony of that quote coming from JFK of all people. However, I shall restrain myself and address the subject that I had in mind. Last night saw the Operation Crusader game that we have been playing come to a sort-of conclusion. It ended anyway. I shall write about it in due course as no doubt will James. Between weeks two and three James had, as is his wont, changed the rules, including some aspects of the morale/training classes of the troops. Coincidentally this month's Wargames Illustrated contains an article by Barry 'League of Augsberg' Hilton on the questions of which units deserve superior performance status on the tabletop and how is this attained. As one of his examples he takes the Royal Scots Greys performance at Waterloo; his point being that while they performed admirably, no-one could possibly have known this in advance, and so rather than being rated as superior at the start of the battle they should be average and if the luck of the dice/cards are with them they will live up to their illustrious forbears and if it isn't then they won't. he further ascribes part of any reluctance on the part of wargamers to do that to Lady Butler's famous painting 'Scotland Forever!'.

The original of this is, of course, in Leeds Art Gallery and so I decided to go and take another look at it. Painted in 1881, it has no value as a historical record and is - exactly as Hilton implies - simply propaganda. Furthermore, while current day wargamers may take it as supporting the elite status of the 2nd Dragoons, I suspect that it was in fact simply meant to support High Victorian British Imperialism. The curators at the gallery would appear to think so because it is hung on the same wall as another painting that will no doubt be familiar to readers: 'General Gordon's Last Stand' by George William Joy.

Naturally no-one knows how Chinese Gordon met his death, although even those who point to the negative aspects of his character (his religious views were somewhat odd even by the peculiar standards of those who, er, hold religious views in the first place) don't denigrate his physical courage, so it's all at least possible. It has, in any event, become the accepted version and - if memory serves me right - Charlton Heston's demise in the 1966 film owes a debt to this portrayal.
The imperialist apologia is completed by a third painting on the same gallery wall, the truly dreadful 'Drums of the Fore and Aft' by Edward Matthew Hale, depicting the selfless sacrifice of child musicians in order to rally the regiment.


For those wishing for an antidote to all this there is a sculpture in the same gallery by Bob and Roberta Smith which acts as a commentary on the Joy painting and draws parallels between 19th century and 21st century western imperialism in the Muslim world. For those wishing to be reminded of the reality of war I would also recommend, currently to be found hanging in one of the upstairs galleries while on loan from a private collection, 'Night Arrival of Walking Wounded' by C.R.W. Nevinson, the marvellous futurist war painter who served as an ambulance driver in France during the First World War. That's the truth, rather than the myth.



Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Doors and sardines

And so to the theatre. Last night it was 'Noises Off' Michael Frayn's extremely funny farce about a farce. I think the author's stroke of genius is the structure, which enables him to both have his cake and eat it. The play within the play allows him to incorporate scenes of immense cheesiness which, if played straight, would cause embarrassment to both playwright and actors, but which are nonetheless hilarious. The scenes in the 'real' play allow him to mock the concept of farce through its commentaries on the 'pretend' play whilst at the same time delivering, particularly in the second act, a genuine farce of the highest class. 'Nothing On'. the play being performed by the actors that the actors are playing, falls steadily apart across the three acts from a not terribly good start in the first place. One could put forward all sorts of suggestions as to what that disintegration represents, but given Frayn's well known interest in physics, I would suggest that it is no more than the second law of thermodynamics. Although, on reflection, there isn't actually much more than the second law of thermodynamics anyway.


I mentioned in this blog a few days ago that I was prone to superglue accidents. In 'Nothing On' one of the characters superglues one hand to an income tax demand and the other to a plate of sardines. As Oscar Wilde said "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life".


And yes, trousers are dropped.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Loose Windscreen

And so to the cinema. It was perhaps fitting after the great man's disappointing failure to emerge from the helicopter last week that I should go to see 'Springsteen & I'. I had assumed that it was showing in Leeds because Bruce is opening the new Leeds Arena on Wednesday, but actually it was showing everywhere on the same day. I don't have a ticket for the concert, which is made easier to bear by the fact that they were £75 each.

Anyway, the film consists of interwoven concert footage and fan tributes and rather good it is too. One rather striking element is the astonishing cultural divide between the Boss's European and US fans. One set - you must see the film to find out which - are (mostly) staggeringly pretentious whereas the other lot are somewhat more human and self-deprecating. As a clue just let me say that the British audience that I saw it with laughed at one type of fan and laughed with the other. The biggest idiot was, as it happens, a Canadian; possibly combining the worst of both worlds.
The picture above obviously has nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen, but I thought I'd include it before David 'Posho' Cameron's internet police make posting it a criminal offence.

 И, товарищи, я могу только сказать, что вы поступили правильно, когда вы выполнили вашу королевскую семью. Мы должны сделать то же самое.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Piquet

I have been remiss in posting about Wednesday night's game. Partly that's because not a great deal happened. The anticipated tank carnage didn't happen and will presumably occur next Wednesday instead. Which brings me to the other thing that has delayed me writing about it.

The name of the game, Piquet, is sort of French(ish). The saga of the Battage competition that I won (boring story - I'll write it up when I'm desperate for something to post about) proved that Americans cannot speak French so I don't want to overdo the language dimension. However, my point is that the French are philosophically inclined to rank theory above practice and these days standard Piquet appeals to me more in an intellectual sense than when playing it. This is probably because I have returned to it from playing several FoB type games, which I greatly prefer.

Jean-Paul Sartre reflects on old school wargaming

On Wednesday my plan - such as it was - didn't happen because I didn't get the initiative and the cards. Peter's plan - somewhat more intrinsically sensible than mine - didn't work either. Although he got the significant majority of the initiative on the night the cards didn't fall in the right order for him and he was disrupted by my artillery. All of that is fine; it demonstrates the difficulties of command and control that Piquet seeks to reflect and is why, at an intellectual level, I like the game. If I wanted to play chess then I would (although actually I'm no good at that either) and the aspect that I really like about games from the Piquet family is the fact that one could play the same scenario dozens of times and the game would never play out the same way twice (1).



But, and it's a big but, it isn't always fun to play. To stand there for 20 initiative points in a row doing nothing more than rolling D6s to defend and D8s against the subsequent morale challenge just gets tedious no matter how well the game works in theory. On Wednesday night I turned just two armoured action cards and one infantry action card in three hours. I did get to blaze away with my artillery a couple of times, but overall it was wearisome. Maybe next week's mutual destruction will be more interesting.



(1) This is of course even before one factors in James' propensity to tweak the rules during games as well as between them.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Pot6pouri

  • I have been looking more closely at the casualty markers that I bought from Warbases at Triples. They are the smaller ones - which is why I bought them - and are numbered up to 6. Mysteriously though, the order of the numbers is 1,2,3,4,5,0,6. No wonder they were on special offer.
  • Miniature Wargames - the verdict. I'm not that impressed. The graphic design is better, but that's basically down to having black print on white pages rather than white print on black pages. I don't think you had to be a genius to work that out. Otherwise the relaunch seems to entirely consist of Henry Hyde getting his dull mates to write dull articles. I don't know what wargaming universe this Shuck bloke lives in, but it bears no resemblance to mine.
  • Brentford 1 Celtic 2 - there's a score you don't see too often. I was in Glasgow last week and about the only shops airside in the airport were for the two football clubs. At 10:30 in the morning I was walking along Sauchiehall Street and outside a kilt shop I saw a woman drinking Special Brew from a can. It only needed a deep fried Mars bar and the scene would have been complete.
  • I was having dinner in a country house hotel a couple of days ago and a helicopter landed on the lawn in front of us. The waitress happened to be serving us at the time and I asked her who it was. "Bruce Springsteen" she replied confidently. It wasn't.


Thursday, 18 July 2013

First blood to the shelf

Most, indeed virtually all, wargamers are as unwarlike as one can get. They do get agitated about historical detail (especially where it is impossible to know the truth either way), about which rule sets are best and, of course, about what constitutes a flank attack. But as a group they are the least likely group of people to ever resort to actual, rather than model, violence.
Wargamers

When wargamers get together it therefore usually falls to inanimate objects to inflict damage. My own nemesis has often been superglue. I will have to leave you to imagine the distress caused by gluing one's fingers together and then realising that one's teenage daughters have pinched one's standby bottle of nail varnish remover. At the legendary wargames room of James Roach the main problem has traditionally been pikes, spears and the like. James finds those provided with the original models too namby-pamby and replaces them with specially sharpened tungsten alloy just for kicks; and very painful it is too. I have always suspected that he dips the ends in poison as well.

Anyway, last night the wargames room had its revenge. The new shelf (which had been updated to an improved version since its first appearance last week - which tells you everything you need to know about the constant quest for perfection that marks out James 'Olicanalad' Roach) lay in ambush and, when James was least expecting it, leapt out and biffed him on the head causing blood to be drawn.
James Roach, on the left, being attacked by the shelf

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Be careful what you wish for

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have had a bit of a yearning to play a more complex boardgame. Today my wish came true and then some as the regular lightweight boardgames session at the White Swan received the jolt of a game of Caylus. I have never seen four more baffled people than those of us sitting round the table as the the fifth - the owner of the game - explained the rules. I use the term 'explained' quite loosely. Several hours of playing later I still don't understand how one can build a castle out of cloth. Still, the board and the pieces are nice.

Also played today were Guillotine (in honour of July 14th) and Ice Flow, which has perhaps outstayed its welcome and needs to be stood down for a few sessions.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Crusader Cauldron

James had rejigged the previous week's battlefield, forces, decks and rules. The drink remained coke, although there was an exciting new shelf for the British commander to put his glass on, and it was still the Western Desert in November/December 1941. One thing that hadn't changed much was my uncanny ability to bring my armour on in the wrong place; a trait that actually resonates through the ages because I did exactly the same thing with my Seljuk Turk forces a couple of months ago.
The British commander decides that the Sea of Tranquility is the best place to bring on his tanks

Fortunately, this week the initiative split my way and the armour on the British right flank was able to swing unmolested round one of the three objective hills and is currently racing across open terrain towards one of the two German armoured units. It will shortly (?) be joined by that part of my armour yet to arrive which should sweep straight across the middle of the board between the other two hills. The outcome is, I would suggest, in the lap of the cards. If they go my way I shall be able to concentrate all my armour on half of Peter's and destroy it before the other half gets into the battle, to do which it will have to run the gauntlet of a relatively formidable (for the British) anti-tank gun line. The alternative scenario is that the German's get the initiative and are able to use their technical superiority - especially in tank range and anti-tank guns - to shoot up the Brits in a rather historical fashion. Were I a betting man then my money would be on the Hun, but the Brits are by no means out of it.

There hasn't actually been that much fighting yet. A unit of German motorbike troops has been rather badly seen to - mainly because they never managed to get sufficient initiative to get off their bikes and drink their milk - and my 25 pounders have suffered a bit from Stuka attack. I suspect that next week will see the armour of both sides seriously reduced.
I'm taking these cows to Tobruk and you can't stop me

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

t20

And so to the cricket. Yorkshire Vikings (dreadful name) beat Leicestershire Foxes (somewhat better name) quite easily in the sunshine last night and it was all very pleasant; especially given that it was free. It wasn't quite like the IPL - we are British after all. There were no dancing girls, but the choice of music used to celebrate boundaries and dismissals was rather amusing and biased towards the home team.

The Foxes were basically rubbish, especially in the field. The highlight for me was one of their batsmen stepping outside his off stump to sweep and doing so straight on to his stumps. The Vikings (dreadful name) were as good as they needed to be although they did take one absolutely spectacular catch; the fielder running towards the boundary at full speed and taking the ball over his shoulder.

Nothing pleases me more than blogging about something that is of no interest to anyone other than me and what an opportunity this is. I could write about the last time that I went to Headingley, which must have been the England v Australia world cup semi-final (Gary Gilmour's match) in June, 1975; between the first year exams and the results. If I remember right we just turned up on the day and paid at the turnstiles. Happy days.

But instead I shall write about the last time that I saw Yorkshire play, which must have been in 1977 at Bradford Park Avenue, relatively early in the season as well. Two memories stand out. Yorkshire were fielding and every time that the ball went near Geoff Boycott the old men that made up virtually all the sparse crowd would rise unsteadily to their feet and shout "Mind your hands, Geoff, mind your hands.". The other thing was the presence of Joe Cooke, Bradford City's, er, combative centre forward, as a spectator. He was recovering from an injury and during the periods that the ball didn't follow the great opening batsman the same members of the crowd would turn to Cooke and ask him anxiously whether he would still be kicking people for Citaaay next season.
Joe's the one getting stuck in from behind; he'd play about five minutes a match these days before getting sent off

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Scorchio

It is indeed scorchio in Leeds and has been for some days. Even more astonishingly it looks likely to be so for a few more. Top floor living has come into its own as my apartment is remarkably cool; some sort of recompense for the months being buffeted by blizzards and the tail end of hurricanes. There is one thing that strikes me as being odd though. Why do the young women of Leeds wear more clothes when the temperature approaches 30 Celcius in summer than they do when it is below freezing on a Saturday night in December? I could ask my teenage daughters, but suspect that I would not so much get an answer as abuse. Anyway returning to the unseasonable weather, I seem to have accidentally blagged myself a ticket to the cricket this evening; which is nice.

In preparation for more Western Desert activity tomorrow I have been reading about Operation Crusader. The main criteria for choosing a book were that it had to be on Kindle and that it had to be cheap, so naturally my reading is probably not automatically at the correct level for gaining an insight to a division vs division tactical battle of attrition. The author's view seems to be that the British are doomed, and that it's all Liddell Hart's fault. I knew that it wasn't mine.





Thursday, 4 July 2013

Rommel, my part in his triumph

A welcome return to wargaming after a hiatus caused by various intrusions of reality saw me at James' last night for some WWII action. I don't really like modern wargaming (and if you had grown up playing on bomb-sites as I did then you would also regard 'the war' as modern) not just because it's recent, but because the ground scales are even sillier than other periods and because the combined arms aspects don't really work and because one either has to make everything so complicated that one can never finish a game or so simple that the differences between the sides disappear. And, of course, because the Germans and Japanese were unthinkably evil and many of the rest weren't much better.

Anyway, yesterday we were in the Western Desert. One of my uncles, who died only last year, was a tank commander in the theatre and I have worked with more than one ex-8th Army veteran, including one chap that one had to be very careful from which side one approached him because he had lost an eye at El Alamein. Norman Potter is an exaggeration, but not an invention.
The first president of the Society of Ancients complains to John Alderton about the dreadful behaviour of 5C
All of which brings us to the wargaming. It had been decided that Piquet (the full-on version, none of this lightweight FOB nonsense) would provide insufficient fog of war and we therefore used a playing card driven system to govern unit arrival that was so complicated that even its devisor - the legendary James Roach - was clearly making it up as he went along. It confused Peter 'Rommel' Jackson even more than it did me, which resulted in my brave Brits rushing onto the board to be confronted by basically no-one at all. Eventually, and sheepishly, the desert fox himself turned up with just one battalion of tanks to confront what were essentially an armoured brigade an infantry brigade and plenty of off and on board artillery, complete with air superiority. It had walkover written all over it.
"Wo sind sie?"
And so it proved. The German tanks took advantage of their gun superiority, sat out of range of the British tanks and shot them up. The British advantage in artillery counted for nothing against only armoured targets and by the time the rest of the Bosche arrived it was all over; the panzers were through onto the soft skinned vehicles of the infantry and artillery and it was sauve qui peut.

Other than rather feebly deciding to form a hull down line with one regiment of armour while their sister regiment worked round the German armour's flank I don't think I did much wrong. The flanking movement didn't work because even throwing my snazzy red, white and blue dice I couldn't win any initiative. Standard Piquet can be very cruel sometimes in the way it dishes out the chance to actually do anything; and so it proved last night. Obviously splitting my tanks up so that the third regiment was way over on the right waiting fruitlessly to perform an even grander flanking sweep didn't help. Nor did concentrating my 25pdrs in a grand battery for indirect fire instead of using them to counter the panzers. But it still wasn't my fault. You must see that.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Small things make base men proud

There is an interesting article on the boardgame Kingmaker in the June edition of the Ricardian Bulletin, the magazine of the Richard III Society. It focuses on the Avalon Hill version, which makes sense, but means I don't really know whether I agree with the points he makes. I own, and have only ever played, the original Ariel version.

The article is written for an audience to whom Cluedo is a radical new departure in boardgaming and so is mainly about the theme of the game. In that sense I was a bit surprised that he didn't mention that a couple of years ago two other games with the same theme were issued in quick succession. ‘Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York’ from Z-Man Games is a game for up to four players and ‘Richard III: The Wars of the Roses’ from Columbia Games is a two player game. I have never played the former, but the latter is focussed on the military aspects and runs through a series of invasions by pretenders to the throne; the first such being Richard, Duke of York. The outcome of the opening campaign determines whether York or Lancaster is incumbent or pretender in the second and who has died and who lived determines precisely who the next pretender is. It covers the whole thirty years of the conflict so it is possible that, for example, the Earl of Rutland may end up with the crown for the House of York by counterfactually surviving while others don’t. Certain nobles, including Clarence, Buckingham etc can appear on either side at different times depending on how things pan out.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Пожалуйста, не присылайте мне в Сибирь

Boardgaming seems to be feats or famine with me and so it was that for the second day in a row I retired to the pub for a bit of paper and plastic action; this time with the Leeds Meeples.

First up was some more Ice Flow, which has been a bit of a consistent hit recently. Last night's players made more of the 'aiming the polar bear at your rivals and throwing a fish' mechanism than others and the game was different because of it. It certainly lasted longer.
The actual game in progress; isn't technology marvellous?

Second up was a game of Cosmic Encounter. It was the second time that I had played this and it made slightly more sense this time. I now know that there is actually a back story as to why one doesn't have much control over who one attacks. Obviously this narrative provided by the designers doesn't make any sense, but it's nice to know that it's there. Anyway, I was the Warrior race and used their special ability to rapidly build up a large amount of extra attack strength, only to find that no-one would fight me except the chap with a Loser card (which at least increased my strength even if I couldn't win) and the Pacifists. Now, in what universe should pacifists beat warriors? OK, in every real universe they should; but in what fictional boardgame universe?

I'd have to be a warrior -
A slave I couldn't be -
A soldier and a conqueror,
Fighting to be free. 

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