Saturday, 31 August 2013

Miniature Wargames issue 365

Well, no sooner have I pronounced portentously that Miniature Wargames is not what it used to be in my day than I find that I rather like the new issue. "Silence is safer than speech." as a great man (that would be me then) once said.

Firstly, I admire the stance that Henry Hyde has taken in his editorial against the use of the swastika as a decorative device. It is a symbol whose political connotations cannot and must not be ignored.


Secondly, there is the article by two Belgian wargamers, Phil Dutré and Bart Vetters, on the battle of Aspern-Essling in 1809. The twist in their participation game version of the battle is that the model soldiers act as the terrain while the scenery provides the playing pieces. I cannot begin to tell you how much pleasure that element of the game design gives me. Whilst you'll need to read the article (i.e. buy the magazine) in order to read the details, let me just quote Goethe (sneaking the pseudery back in there) to wet your appetite: "We will burn that bridge when we come to it".

All the above doesn't mean that there aren't bad bits. Neil Shuck is a columnist whose point escapes me. His view of wargamers is astonishingly simplistic and procrustean. I have a softer spot for Mike Siggins, although I don't know why. His column in this issue reads like, and quite possibly is, a reprint of one that was published in Wargames Illustrated a decade or more ago. He has had some sort of life-changing epiphany, is going to downsize his collection, focus his efforts more and paint more and game less. I'll bet you a pound to a penny that next month he has found a new period to champion - almost certainly with figures sculpted by the Perry twins - and decided that playing rather than painting is the thing. He is, let's be frank, Mr Toad. However, he is not without some charm. I have long suspected that his column is actually the work of Alan Bennett (a man surely never before mentioned in a wargames blog) and you will no doubt be aware that Bennett wrote an excellent version of 'Wind in the Willows' for the theatre. In the film of Siggins' life (already in pre-production or so I hear) he will be played by Thora Hird; and I defy MS Foy or anyone else to tell me that she's dead.
Mike Siggins gives his 'View from the Armchair'

Friday, 30 August 2013

Browning is back! Hello! Hello!

I have been to the new exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute and it is, to use the argot of the professional art critic, pants. The premise of the show, entitled 'Indifferent Matter' is to 'explore how objects resist and are coerced into becoming sculptures' and it does this by including a load of old rubbish - literally in the case of a lump of asphalt, which Robert Smithson wittily named 'Asphalt Lump' when he picked it up from the waste around a steel mill in 1969 and claimed it was a sculpture because he said it was.

That isn't to say that there isn't some nice stuff. There is a Warhol piece 'Silver Clouds' which, if deconstructed could be dismissed as simply some helium filled balloons being blown about by a fan, but which, in place, is actually rather splendid. The best pieces are some exquisite 4,000 year old jade discs from China. They are here because no-one knows their original use, but their effect, far from supporting the exhibition curator's hypothesis, is instead to highlight the importance of craftsmanship. For me the futility of the whole thing is exemplified by the eoliths on display. They are meant to pose the philosophical question as to how there importance has changed now it is known that they are natural rather than man made. Now I, self-evidently, do like a philosophical question, but not one of those for which the answer is bleedin' obvious. They clearly do not now have any importance, except as a minor, minor footnote in the history of how science sometimes gets things wrong.

So why do exhibitions like this get put on? In the words of the Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney whose death has been announced today (1).

'Now, you're supposed to be
An educated man, '
I hear him say. 'Puzzle me
The right answer to that one.'

And on the subject of bad science, this is interesting.

I also attended a lecture on the subject of the Cyclops through the ages, starting - reasonably enough - with Homer and moving via Harryhausen to Spongebob Squarepants. Fascinating.

(1) except of course for the Prometheus in Aspic blog, which announced it some years ago

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Hello, good evening and welcome

This blog has once again doubled its number of followers. Admittedly it can only keep doing this by losing some along the way to religious persecution, but surely it's still worth celebrating. So welcome to MS Foy, author of the always interesting (although not completely trustworthy in matters of literary mortality) Prometheus in Aspic blog.

And it's good to finally have a follower from this country; well, near enough as makes no difference.

The namesake of Monsieur le Général, a man who literally fought from Valmy to Waterloo, suggests that I am not keen on readers. I don't believe this to be true.  I basically write for myself, as a sort of therapy. Being creative - no, seriously - is, like taking physical exercise, a method of remaining grounded when all is otherwise not well. I also write a much more serious, work-related blog which gets more readers and in which I have to be more concerned with who those readers are. Here, as long as I don't insult anyone (apart obviously from James, Peter, Mark, Tim, Ken, Euan and any passing god-botherers or Tories) then I don't care.

Salut.



Sunday, 25 August 2013

More meeples

It was Leeds Meeples at the Victoria Hotel today with a very large and very noisy turnout. There must have been thirty people at the peak, which the room coped with mainly because we were able to open the fire door. I'm not sure what would happen in the winter. Like many things the group seems to be a victim of its own success.

Anyway, games played were King of Tokyo, Citadels, Alhambra, Pandemic and a quick couple of rounds of Uno just to finish off. Of the two that I hadn't played before Kings of Tokyo is a very light, but highly enjoyable nonetheless, dice game. Yahtzee with monsters as someone described it. And what's not to like about giant monsters fighting in the middle of the Japanese capital? And I won; as opposed to Alhambra in which I came last by a considerable margin.

Pandemic is a co-operative game, and I'm not especially fond of those, but this wasn't so bad. I'm not sure whether that's despite the fact that we lost and humanity was destroyed by infectious diseases or because of it.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

попурри 10

If there are two certainties about this blog they are that the readers don't like posts about politics and that I don't like Margaret Thatcher. The third of the two certainties is that it's my blog and I'll write what I want and if you don't like it you can sod off. Except of course for the Russian spambots who I would be very sorry to lose as readers and to whom I say "Да, пожалуйста, я хотел бы больше пенис".  Anyway, I have been to an exhibition of cartoons about Thatch which was interesting rather than enjoyable.One observation I would make is that even those cartoonists who might count themselves on her side didn't actually like her, and the others positively hated her.
Re-enactor action at the Royal Armouries has been very medieval during the school holidays, in support of the jousting tournament. This continued today with amongst others a minstrel chap wandering round in silly trousers playing a mandolin type thingy. However, even before the place opened it all seemed rather different when residents were awoken by brass instruments playing raucous, almost military music accompanied by much shouting. It turned out to be an Indian wedding procession making its way across the canal bridge on the way to the Mumtaz. This took a long time because it was apparently against the rules to go more than a metre or so before the men in the party launched into a new highly energetic dance. The climax, on the steps of the restaurant, was a frenzied solo performance by the groom who was whirling in a positively berserk fashion to great applause both from the wedding party itself and the large crowd of onlookers which had been attracted by all the excitement. The bride was, of course, nowhere to be seen. Presumably, wherever she was, she was hoping that the husband-to-be would have at least a little bit of energy left when it was all over.


Like all gamers I have an unhealthy interest in dice. For example there are the non-transitive dice, currently with James Roach who is, no doubt, just about to unveil the use both apposite and elegant use that he has worked out for them. So I am delighted to be able to refer to you these:
Full details are available here; well worth visiting for dice-heads.

 до свидания

Thursday, 22 August 2013

88mm in the a/t role - was it really that good?

I wrote a while ago about the question of whether units that historically performed well should be rated in such a way as they are guaranteed to repeat those exploits or such that it is merely possible that they may do so if the gods are with them. The issue arose again last night when, once again, Rommel's small quantity of 88mm a/t guns rather wiped the floor with the British tanks. I have no in-depth knowledge of the period and can't really comment except to say that it does rather detract from the game. It probably wouldn't be so bad if the British had the better tanks and the 88's strength was just some sort of compensation. But the Panzer IIIs have a better range, they are backed up by Panzer IVs that act as very effective self-propelled artillery against the British anti-tank gun line and then there are all the other, quite handy, German a/t guns.
I had a few of these when I first started wargaming

I say all the above having once again, due to the luck of the draw, commanded the Germans on the second day of Sidi Rezegh. The terrain had been further upgraded - and looks extremely good; check it out at Fiasco if you can - and the forces were already deployed when we started. The latter at least saving me the embarrassment of bringing my tanks on in the wrong place. The other change was that the British had two commanders with James taking the main tank force which under his leadership didn't actually appear all evening. This change meant that it was, for once, Peter who was the recipient of his tactical advice and as usual it was a) aggressive and b) rubbish. The most egregious example was his urging Peter to put the three companies of tanks already on the table in the place where I immediately, courtesy of the 88, destroyed two of them without actually breaking sweat.
James Roach's tactical inspiration

This time round I did follow Rommel's instructions and attack with my infantry - with mixed results - although I still think that this is the flaw in the scenario. In real life Rommel apparently did this to divert Campbell's attention while the armour arrives on his flank. However, in the current scenario it rather does the opposite. If one is the British then one would rather use any initiative won to fire at things and reload than to turn cards. This is because the British don't want to turn their Desert Rats card until after the Germans have turned their Afrika Korps card (this is all to do with the entry of their respective armour) and so, in my opinion, any attack by the German infantry does the opposite of what, one must assume, Rommel wanted.

The other change was the use of dominoes to generate initiative and, so far, I think the consensus is fairly favourable. Initiative has been reasonably even, but there have been large runs (I got 21 at one point), and yet one always gets some on a reasonably regular basis.
...are OK so far

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

One for the malchicks

 Hello droogs; it's been a while.

James Roach's wargames room from a rarely seen angle
So what have I been doing? Well I went on a walk along Outer Edge from Langsett Barn, which was very pleasant apart from the climb up to the trig point, which nearly rendered me an ex-blogger. Anyway, there were some lovely views, of which this isn't one.

Your correspondent demonstrates his grasp of camouflage

I also went to see 'The Heat'. It's not in the slightest bit original, but I laughed a few times and that'll do me. Sandra Bullock appeared to be intending to enter a Michael Jackson lookalike competition as soon as shooting was over; if you ask me she was a cert to take first prize.

And finally a word about the Guardian. I have long lamented the fact that it isn't anything like the paper it used to be. Only the other week they printed a complete load of nonsense about the US invasion of Grenada, which long-suffering readers will remember is my specialist subject. However, all is forgiven. Yesterday they revealed the scoop that Dante Gabriel Rossetti (whose sister -  those same loyal readers will also remember - appeared in these very pages just a couple of weeks ago) kept a pet wombat, which died after eating a box of cigars. If that's not investigative journalism then I don't know what is.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Sidi Rezaghhhhhhh!

The refight of the second day at Sidi Rezegh finished in the same way that assumes the original did - no-one had the will or the stamina to continue. At the point this occurred I think there was agreement that the Germans would eventually win. Firstly, they still had their armour pretty much completely intact and the British had no way of attacking them. Given the lack of a turn limit the Germans had all the time in the world to use a combiantion of their off-board artillery and Panzer IVs to reduce the British gun-line of 25 pounders and 2 pounder a/t guns without risking their Panzer IIIs. Secondly, they had some morale left and the British didn't. At one point both sides had zero (the British passing a major morale test at this point) and there had been an outbreak of gaminess as both sides sought to destroy stands just to get the morale advantage rather than further any more strategic objectives. The British artillery failed miserably against the German infantry by rolling rubbish as they had done throughout - although in fairness they had had better luck against the German anti-tank guns - while the 88mm made hay against the British tanks - as it had done throughout.

The initiative was fairly even, as indeed it probably was across the whole game. What skewed things was that in the first week, when Peter won all the initiative, he had nothing much to fire at, whereas in the second week, when I won it all, I was able to use it to destroy about a third of the British armour for no losses in return. my two Brilliant Commander cards for being a skilled leader didn't hurt either.There were no rule changes this week, but the terrain had been upgraded with some nice new wadis and road culverts. Brigadier 'Jock' Campbell had obviously got wind of his impending VC as well because he was mysteriously better than in previous weeks.

The main purpose of playing the scenario is to help prepare it for use as a display game at Fiasco. In the light of all the chuntering about my - highly sensible - reluctance to attack with my infantry, the nice wadi in which they were sheltering is to be removed. The extra space is to be used for a wider space between the 2nd escarpment and the airfield which will give more flexibility to the British deployment.

As for my views on Piquet - I have retrieved my copy of the Master Rules and, I bet you didn't see this coming, I'm actually going to read them.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Pot9pouri

Right, having given Piquet an uncalled-for kicking for a few days, it's time to return to random drivel.
  •  A meagre turnout in the White Swan on Sunday meant a chance to get out Revolver, a two player game that I have owned for a while, but not previously had a chance to try. It turns out to be a cracking little game. Playing as Jack 'the Crow' Colty I managed twice to reach the Mexican border against being once gunned down by the law enforcement forces of  Colonel Ned McCready. Very enjoyable.
  • It was the once a month concurrence of the White Swan on a Sunday afternoon and the Leeds Meeples on a Monday evening. Furthering my aim of playing boardgames rather than card games wherever possible I tried Alhambra for the first time, notwithstanding the fact that although there are several boards involved one actually plays on the tabletop. It was another good game and I cam a creditable second courtesy of achieving the longest external wall during the final round.
  • I found myself watching a documentary about The Eagles a couple of days ago. Despite the undoubted musical talents of Don Henley and Glenn Frey neither of them come across as people in whose company one would wish to spend any time. Anyway, that wasn't wanted the point I wished to make. I personally was more struck by Frey's revelation that the genesis of the song 'Lying Eyes' was in Dan Tana's. Now anyone who spent time at Griffin Park in the 1980s and 1990s - and, believe me, I spent many hours at Griffin Park during that period - will have been aware of Tana. However, while I knew that he ran a bar in LA, I didn't realise at the time that he ran the bar in LA. There's an interesting, if old, article here. Sadly, although I drove past it a couple of years ago the circumstances (long day at Magic Mountain, not yet checked into the hotel) weren't conducive to going in.
And finally, and for reasons which require no explanation, here's a photo of Cameron Diaz.




Monday, 12 August 2013

Dog returns to its own vomit

That's from Proverbs 26:11; further proof that I am in touch with my religious side.

So, following yet more lack of interest in my views on Piquet I have decided to revisit the subject. I think my opinion can best be summed up as:

Piquet works best when
  • the majority of command and control issues (such as force composition and deployment) are carried out prior to the game starting i.e. outwith the card/initiative system completely. 
  • during the game c&c is limited to existing plans degrading - or occasionally working better than expected - or to the impact of local commanders rallying troops, fighting in the front line or, and this is especially prevalent when I play the Italian Wars, dying.
  • units typically use ranged fire independently at targets of direct threat to them
  • melee (or the close range fire simulated by melee in Piquet) is the primary cause of units retreating or worse
  • units with two different weapons - typically a missile weapon and a melee weapon - can use then at the same target; or where units with one weapon can use them against different targets - such as guns firing HE or AP.

It works least well when
  • c&c is a major in-game factor (issues such as enemy dispositions becoming better known , artillery spotting, air support and so on)
  • units fire and move in co-ordinated support of each other and to deny movement and firing opportunities to enemy units
  • where ranged fire is the primary means of attack and where melee/close assault is an exception)
  • where the game is significantly about relative maneouvre (e.g. air warfare or fleets in the age of sail)
  • where units have two weapons designed to be used against different targets - such as tanks with both a main gun and machine guns
 I have contrasted Ancient and WWII applications because they, er, offer the biggest contrast. However some of the problems do crop up in Horse & Musket. Piquet played straight doesn't lend itself to artillery barrages at the beginning of battles or indeed to battalion guns. And then there is the  Napoleonic equivalent of denying the enemy opportunities to move or fire, namely the presence of cavalry forcing infantry into square. Now personally I think that Piquet does deal with this perfectly adequately. If you don't put them into square when you get the chance (in other words when the card is showing and you have the initiative) then you're going to get ridden down and it serves you right. However, it's quite clear that many gamers prefer to tweak it to allow a bit of extra c&c (in the from of 'hasty squares') because they believe there is a flaw that needs addressing.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

20th Century Piquet

Absolutely no-one has asked me to elaborate on my theories about Piquet in the modern world and therefore I feel it is incumbent upon me to do exactly that. For the purposes of the exercise I shall treat all Piquet family games (i.e. standard, Command Piquet and FoB) as the same thing even though they are clearly not. And, of course, it's worth remembering that the only Piquet that I've ever played has been with the Ilkley Lads, both before and after the great Old School schism, and for all I know they play it completely wrong.

Anyway, back to the theory. My view is that in a generic ancient style combat ('sticks and stones' in the words of Mark Dudley) there aren't any real opportunities for command and control. After lining them up it's just really about moving them forwards until the battle lines clash. The card/initiative elements of Piquet work brilliantly at modelling the friction and fog of war. How effective will missile fire be? Will both wings and the centre move together or will one part of the army be more aggressive than the other? In those few circumstances where some sort of coordination is appropriate (e.g. the switching of the Hastati, Principes and Triarii in Punic Wars Roman legions) then one will get the required combination of cards/initiative often enough to make it work, but it's not guaranteed. Oh, and even here the three types of cards (Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery) aren't really enough and one has to add in a special one for Elephants.

Zoom forward to the twentieth century and having only three types of cards definitely don't work - why is an 88mm (or 2pdr) a/t gun reloaded on an artillery card, but the same thing on a Tiger (or a Crusader) is reloaded on an Armour card? - and the command and control which is required to be modelled is of a somewhat higher degree of complexity. In this case the necessary card/initiative combination will rarely, if ever, arrive.

I do have thoughts regarding the Horse and Musket period, but can't be arsed to write them. And naturally I don't have any practical suggestions to address the points that I do raise. Although presumably you are all impressed by me being the only person in the world to remember Command Piquet.


Thursday, 8 August 2013

Sidi Rezegh, the tanks arrive


"I shall never complain about not getting any initiative again." is what I said to Peter as we left James' house last night. The previous week had seen him getting the vast majority of the initiative, but last night I basically got it all. We don't count who gets what so one has to rely on impressions, but I think that we all shared the same opinion. And while it's clearly more fun to turn cards and act on them than not, extreme swings do spoil the game for both parties. As I've said before I really enjoy the Piquet family of games, but can understand why others are put off by this aspect. There were some mutterings last night about trying methods involving dominos and I'd certainly be up for trying an experiment.
'The moon stood still
On Blueberry Hill
Because it didn't win any initiative'


Rather than give a blow by blow account of the battle I thought I'd list some of the other things that I don't like about Piquet or, to be more precise, the WWII version.

  • I don't think the card activation system allows the complex activities of 20th century warfare to play out convincingly. It works brilliantly when there are a limited number of types of troops i.e. when the randomness is about how many times one gets to shoot before melee occurs or whether one gets a chance to rally between combats and so on. To my mind this is OK all the way up to Horse and Musket periods, but WWII (on which I claim no particular expertise by the way) is too complicated to be reduced to Infantry, Artillery and Armour. I have no quibble with the work the rules authors (from Bob Jones original concept through to James' constant tweaking) have done in portraying the effect of individual weapons, but I don't think they work in combination.
  • Scenario specific objectives never seem to work in combination with the base Piquet mechanic of morale chips. It might be heresy, but I'm tempted to do away with morale chips in WWII and reward stand losses inflicted with a gain in initiative and base morale challenges on an initiative pip cost. Given the extremely high level of tank losses suffered in the Operation Crusader battles it's difficult, based on my superficial level of knowledge, to see why morale is such a factor. Instead the issue would seem to have been issues of quality of troops and material (which Piquet models well) and momentum (which I think would be modelled by rewarding success in combat with more initiative, which of course is what Piquet already does in those periods where melee is the main method of resolving combat). It's all hypothetical because I shall never run a WWII game, but it's worth noting that James and Peter came to a similar conclusion regarding opportunity fire i.e. that the core mechanism didn't work in WWII.
  • Taking advice from James. I need to clarify this; James is clearly adept at the finer details of Piquet such as which units to fire in which order at which targets etc and worth listening to at such times. However, on the broader subject of tactics his advice is always to attack and it's always bollocks. The longer this game has gone on the more convinced I am that I was right not to attack with my infantry straight away. This is in large part because of the loss of morale chips involved.
So, a prediction is called for. I think the British will win next week because the Germans are going to run out of morale chips. You heard it here first.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Pot8pouri

  • Did you know that the length of the day at the equator is 12 hours plus a few extra minutes, these being essentially caused by refraction through the atmosphere and the fact that the sun is a disc rather than a point of light. This length of day is constant and doesn't vary throughout the year. The equator is, of course, the only one of the five major lines of latitude (the others being the tropics and the arctic/antarctic circles) whose position is a) unrelated to the axial tilt of the Earth and b) fixed (all the others are migrating slowly as the Earth's axial tilt varies). It is possible that some ill-informed people may believe that the location of the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn relates in some way to the length of the day at that latitude rather than, as in reality, simply representing those locations furthest from the Equator where the sun can be directly overhead at least once a year. Poor deluded fools.
  • They are jousting at the Royal Armouries at the moment and, almost unbelievably, it continues to be scorchio. I was standing outside the main door this afternoon as one of the participants came past in his armour on his way from the tilt yard, presumably to get changed. I'm not sure that I've ever seen anyone look so hot. He was however accompanied by two buxom wenches carrying all his gear. I'm not entirely clear how authentic that is.
  • My hat with magical properties is proving very useful, especially during the test matches. I get lots of admiring looks, particularly on trains although, as you will appreciate, it doesn't work too well in that environment.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Barbara Hepworth

I have been to the Hepworth in Wakefield; a very pleasant looking building approached across a bridge over the Aire-Calder navigation. It has a permanent collection of items associated with Barbara Hepworth, both finished artworks and examples of the production process, plus various other exhibitions, some visiting and some there all the time.

I've always liked Hepworth's signature sculptures - the smooth ones with the holes - although I couldn't really tell you why and I certainly couldn't give an intellectual justification. And of course anyone growing up in London in the 1960s as I did will have regularly seen her work on Oxford Street. In fact there is a prototype for the Winged Figure on show here and unsurprisingly it looks a lot bigger from close up.

The rest is a mixed bag. One current exhibition is from Haroon Mirza and is frankly rubbish. It is pitched as a successor to Marcel Duchamp's readymades. Now I hold Duchamp in high regard (I bet that makes him rest more easily in his grave) and the more alert amongst you will remember that I included his 'Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2' in a posting a couple of weeks ago. It is indeed the very fact that he could paint that gave him the right to present urinals and the like as pieces of art. Mirza however has given no indication that he can do anything except assemble a load of old tat and surround it with flashing lights.

Of the rest, I liked Michael Andrew's 'A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over' with which I wasn't familiar before. They also have three nice Tissots, a chocolate box guilty pleasure. For those intent on heading to Leeds to look at the Scots Greys and Gordon at Khartoum there is another Tissot on the adjacent wall to the latter. The ones in Wakefield are better, especially 'Portsmouth Dockyard'. For those who need a wargaming fix, the chap in the middle is in the Black Watch.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Sidi Rezegh, day 2, evening 1, part the first

Yesterday saw an enjoyable, if quiet, first night of the second day at Sidi Rezegh - as it were. Not a great deal happened and casualties were light. next week should, one assumes, see more action as more troops arrive, specifically the German armour.

I came in for a certain amount of stick for not having pressed the attack, despite my briefing saying explicitly that's what Rommel's orders to me were. In my defence there were a number of extenuating circumstances:

  • not much initiative - cliched, but true.
  • my mental picture of how my forces would fit into the space available for deployment didn't work, but I set things up according to my plan regardless; I'm not entirely sure why.
  • the initiative that I did get, I chose to spend on artillery barrages which achieved nothing much. On the other hand if one doesn't use the artillery to soften up defended positions before attacking them then what is the point of having it?
  • When I was persuaded to launch a smoke covered attack the relevant rules were changed before I had even moved the troops and it ended badly. Note to self - ignore James' advice.
The Germans drink coffee instead of attacking
 Anyway, whilst my inactivity has allowed Peter to deploy tanks and guns further forward than I would have wanted, all is by no means lost and we shall see what develops next week. I am also, as it happens, a brilliant commander complete with two wild cards. All I need is the initiative so I turn the bloody things.
Rommel sets a bad example by drinking coffee himself