Thursday, 30 October 2014


I find it interesting that since I started writing about wargaming again the number of readers of the blog has plummeted; even the Russian spambots have deserted me. Still, I only ever write for myself and of course for Elkie Brooks' greatest fan, so I press on regardless. I like to see myself as a character in Beckett - failing again, failing better.

I am minded to write about the David Cameron incident in the centre of Leeds the other day. My sources watching from the windows of the Civic Hall give a very different description of events to the official version so who knows what to believe? One thing they all agree on is that after the PM had been hustled away there was an immense amount of shouting and finger pointing among those remaining. My own experience over many years of the British security services was that they were spectacularly useless, so nothing about this incident really surprises me.

As I'm in full old-man chuntering mode can I complain about something of even less interest to the rest of you, Radio 2's list of the greatest song covers of all time. Of the top five two weren't even the best cover of that song let alone alone among the best covers ever made. Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' is, in my opinion, not as good as k d lang's, but I'll grant that it's arguable. What is not in the slightest debatable is that the Stranglers take on Bacharach and David's 'Walk On By' isn't a patch on that by Isaac Hayes on his 'Hot Buttered Soul' album. Who are these numpties?

Boardgames played included BakerSpeed (sort of like Panic Lab with a very tenuous Sherlock Holmes paste-on theme), Takenoko and Keyflower. Which just leaves wargaming. I didn't think Fiasco was very good as a show frankly, but we had a pleasant -if brief - run through of Harran. I made the mistake of volunteering to gain revenge as the Saracens, but despite having the coolest named commanders in Jekemesh and Soqman they didn't perform at all. Yet more rolling of ones and failure to turn the Manoeuvre card on my part meant that the Crusaders had the initiative and used it to roll up the infidels. there goes my 100% record in convention games. In another break with recent history I actually did some shopping, buying a bridge for the squex version of C&C Napoleonics and some more bases for Romans in Britain.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Friday, 24 October 2014

Romans in Britain

Not the Howard Brenton stage play which was at the centre of an early manifestation of the social intolerance of the Thatcher era, but rather a bastardised version of the Pony Wars rules. I have mentioned before that many years ago I had a doomed plan to interest my (then) young daughters in wargames by setting up an assymetrical, narrative driven game. I rejected the obvious colonial games such as the Northwest Frontier, Cowboys and Indians, Zulus etc for reasons of political correctness. My own favourite would have been the French Foreign Legion , but given that we lived in Bradford I didn't see any virtue in a game where the baddies were all muslims, or indeed where all the  muslims were baddies. In the end I decided that the period would be early Imperial Roman Britain and that the natives would be the Celts - more specifically the Brigantes of the Wharfe Valley; in other words 'us'. Or at least would have been 'us' had not both my daughters been born in London rather than Yorkshire and if their roots weren't a mixture of Huguenot, Irish, Gypsy and - a guess based on my mother-in-law's appearance and demeanour - fearsome Viking looters and pillagers.

The barbarians sweep past a somewhat battered villa

Anyway, the advent of the wargames annexe meant that this long abandoned project has been revived. After fiddling about with Patrols In The Sudan and Pig Wars I decided that something as close as possible to Pony Wars was the answer. However, I had a difficult time adjusting the rules to deal with the lack of ranged fire. Indeed, having fixed a date for a game I despaired of getting it to work and nearly abandoned it completely and set up something fifteenth century instead.

A formidable host of hostile tribesmen arrives

I didn't in the end and am glad because it turned out to work rather well and gave us an interesting and enjoyable game, narrowly won by the Romans. We treated it as a brainstorming session and refined the rules as we went along. Normally that would have been right up James' street, but he was noticeably tired on Wednesday. Despite that I think we ended up with a useful framework which I shall write up in due course. I also now have a small modelling and painting list to flesh out the game with some more possible events and perhaps make it look a bit better. It feels quite odd to have such a gap (certainly ten years or so) between conception of the idea and doing all the painting and then getting round to actually playing the game; but better late than never.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


The run through of Harran prior to Fiasco came to a conclusion with the Saracens being driven off, unwilling to gamble their last morale chips (can't remember if this bit is in James' write-up) and settling for a simple defeat rather than an overwhelming one. I spoke too soon when I referred to my luck with the cards. I turned a March card with an extra segment for cavalry and then rolled up three segments increased to four by the card. This enabled me to push my flanking cavalry over the river poised to sweep down on the crusaders. Sadly however, that was that. No more March cards were turned leading to the invaders own flanking forces grinding me down in melee (repeatedly because I kept rallying back) until I ran out of morale chips. Naturally James has changed the scenario again prior to the show, but as with any game using his figures it will definitely be well worth coming along to see.

There has also been boardgaming. A couple of rounds of Blood Bound followed by Dead of Winter. I rather liked the first and rather didn't like the second. Blood Bound is another of the Werewolves/Resistance/Coup type of deduction and bluffing game and works well. At least it does when participants don't do what I did and misunderstand the hierarchy. I sacrificed myself nobly in the cause of our clan only to find out to my surprise that I was in fact the leader. Dead of Winter is a zombie killing game so that's one reason for disliking it. It's semi co-operative and that's another reason. It does have some nice mechanics, especially the Crossroads Cards drawn by one of the non-players each turn which add both uncertainty and narrative context and it passed the time until we all died and the zombies won. But it's not really my cup of tea.

What is definitely my cup of tea is the blues; as in "I woke up this morning, my woman done left me". I have been to see Thieving Lloyd Cole and was very impressed with their delta blues virtuosity, especially the shit hot guitarist. One can't beat a bit of Howlin' Wolf on a Saturday night (and I'm well aware that the above clip is Katchaturian via Dave Edmunds rather than Robert Johnson via Chicago - but it does illustrate my point about their technical ability). If it all seems out of place in a pub in Ilkley one should remember that Jimi Hendrix also played a pub in Ilkley until the Old Bill stopped the concert. True story.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Intertextual frisson

I have been to see Opera North's new production of La Traviata which was simply superb. I learn from the programme (which has risen 25% in price since last season!) that this is the most popular of operas and I am not particularly surprised because it has it all: top tunes, completely bonkers story and a heroine who dies of consumption while singing her heart out. I have a feeling that I wrote something very similar in my review of La Boheme not that long ago and so we shouldn't be surprised to find that work at number three in the same list. When ON get round to reprising Manon and/or Manon Lascaut then I shall write the same again; for some reason TB in kept women tickled the creative juices in composers.

The programme also tells us that, according to Anthony Powell, one of the characters in the background of Béraud's 'La Madeleine chez le Pharisien' was Dumas fils. The relevance of this is of course that his autobiographical novel La Dame aux Camelias was the basis of Piave's libretto plus that the model for Mary Magdalen was a well known grande horizontale herself.

Scorda l'affanno, donna adorata,

So, if Dumas was Alfredo then who are we? I suspect that I spent much of my parental life as Giorgio Germont, but perhaps now in my mid-life crisis I am actually Violetta herself.

Soffre il mio corpo.
Ma tranquilla ho l'alma

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Some gaming - no really

There has been gaming, quite a bit actually. We started playing through the Harran scenario that James is putting on at Fiasco. He has written it up with nice photos so I won't say much except to say that I don't remember that fat, bald bloke being in the room. James rightly draws attention to my consistent rolling of ones and therefore my commands not moving very often. However, on the plus side the second turn ended on a tied dice roll after I had turned all my March cards and before Peter had turned his. In addition on the occasions my horse archers had a shot at his cavalry I rolled very well and he rolled very low and they basically disappeared so I think the luck has evened out so far.

Brigantes, dozens of 'em

One major learning experience from C&C Napoleonics in the wargaming annexe has been that cheap and cheerful prototyping can be an effective way to experiment. I have therefore set up my long-planned, but never played, 'Romans in Britain' version of Pony Wars. The main problem is the lack of ranged fire, but I have some ideas for making melee bloodier (for the Brigantes at least) which I have been trying out with a mish mash of terrain. I think that they will work, but it has thrown up problems with trying to merge the original rules relating to movement in the wild west with my vision of what Wharfedale would have looked like a couple of thousand years ago. Nothing insurmountable though.

Civilians wait at the villa to be rescued

And then boardgaming. Games played were Mystery of the Abbey, Takenoko, Skulls & Roses and Coup: Reformation. The first is essentially a jazzed up version of Cluedo, but was very enjoyable if confusing. Once again Templars reared their heads and once again I fingered the culprit without being entirely sure how. I also won Takenoko, a very nice little game about growing bamboo for a panda owned by the Emperor of Japan. However I was undone when it came to the two bluffing games that we finished with; I just look too shifty. I'd never played Skulls & Roses before, but enjoyed it despite being bad at it. It is very easy to pick on the weakest player and humiliate and destroy them; I like that in a game. I've played Coup before and found this expansion which introduces factions to be even better. Confusingly, in different printings of the game one faction is alternately named 'Catholics' and 'Loyalists'; not sure which one is aimed at the Ulster market.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

I wish I couldn't write

I have been to the opera, Opera North's production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea; or was it? It seems, according to the programme, that he didn't write all of the music and in particular the best known bit - the duet at the end between Nero and Poppea - definitely wasn't by him. So, school of Monteverdi is perhaps a better attribution. The libretto was apparently all written by Busenello, but this is an English translation in a fairly modern vernacular. Indeed I swear I heard an homage to Hotel California at one point.

tamen vos can nunquam licentia

It's a raunchy production probably best viewed from my post-divorce eyrie in the upper balcony where one got the full flavour of the table-top writhings of the no-better-than-she-ought-to-be Poppea. Even at a distance they were hot stuff; I'm not sure how James Laing as Nero kept in tune with his face in Sandra Piques Eddy's cleavage.

Madame may need an insole

Being from the very dawn of opera as mass entertainment the piece relies on countertenors and women playing men's roles. Indeed it isn't until the arrival of Seneca about forty-five minutes in that anyone sings in a lower register. His arrival is also welcomed by a discerning section of the audience (that would be me then) because he was, as you know, a stoic philosopher of some renown. Neither that nor his broken voice did him any good though because he was dead by the interval.

La mort de Seneque

So, another Roman gore-fest only loosely based on history with people killing each other and themselves for fun. Not my favourite period of operatic music, but well worth seeing - although be warned that the bad guys win.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The reason why I'm wearing it

I have recently been to concerts by a couple of bands and/or artists that I haven't seen for decades. And now I can add Steeleye Span to that list. The previous and only gig of theirs that I saw was in December 1974 at Leeds Town Hall and now the second was in the City Varieties. The t-shirts on sale proclaimed this to be their 45th anniversary tour so I seem to have missed a good chunk of their career.

Ms Prior

I now rather wish that I'd had caught up with them during that time because it was a very good show, notable - in my untutored and amateur view - for very high standards of musicianship. Admittedly Maddy Prior now moves around the stage in a somewhat more stately fashion than she did before her MBE, but her voice is still excellent especially on what for me was the highlight, a cracking version of 'Thomas the Rhymer'.

They played a large selection of tracks from 'Wintersmith', last year's album based on one of Terry Pratchet's novels. Whilst Ashley Hutchings may have founded the band to be more traditional than Fairport Convention they have always seemed to me to be at the rock end of Folk Rock and much of this new material, especially the title track, rather reminded me of Jethro Tull; and all the better for that. In a further nod to Prog Rock their current line-up contains a genuine multi-instrumentalist in Pete Zorn.

Hold that shaft tight

They don't eschew their folk roots however. Not only do they perform 'Blackjack Davey', but one of the songs had a lyrical reference to the blacksmith holding his hammer in his hand; when in doubt stick a cliche in.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

I love everything that is old

And so to the theatre. In yet another attempt to pretend that I don't just make this up as I go along, yesterday's post was headed with a quote by Oliver Goldsmith and today's is about his play 'She Stoops to Conquer'. This is the latest production by Northern Broadsides and unusually, possibly uniquely, for them contains no clog dancing. Their last offering, 'An August Bank Holiday Lark' was of course actually about clog dancing - a subject that Bazza and his men had seemingly been working towards for many years - and perhaps that's it and there will be no more. It does however contain music and director and composer Conrad Nelson has chosen to mimic opera of the late 18th century to accompany Goldsmith's comedy from the same period. In fact on two occasions he directly quotes a short passage from 'The Magic Flute'.

It's a very well structured piece which probably accounts for it still being regularly performed in the twenty first century. And it is still funny, although perhaps not uproariously so. Nelson chooses to portray Tony Lumpkin as very camp rather than the simple but sly rustic that I have seen before and it works well. It's all acted to a high standard as you would expect from Northern Broadsides and I recommend it if the tour comes anywhere near you.

Two further thoughts. Firstly, I see from the programme that Bazza intends to give us his Lear next spring. I for one can't wait, it's a part made for a man never knowingly under-hammed. Secondly, the authors of the two plays I've seen this week also shared an outlook on society. Goldsmith, of course, wrote in his poem 'The Deserted Village':

“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey 
Where wealth accumulates and men decay”

Saturday, 4 October 2014

We live no longer in the dusky afternoon

 “Don't let us make imaginary evils, when you know we have so many real ones to encounter.”
- Oliver Goldsmith

And so to the theatre. This time it is 'The Crucible', undeniably a classic and equally undeniably very long and very heavy, in a new production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The play was of course written by Arthur Miller as a response to the McCarthy show trials at which he and many others had suffered in the, er, land of the free. Current attempts in the UK to improve our human rights by taking them away shows that one can never assume that any society is immune from political repression.

The man was a genius

My own inability, a result of centuries of rational scepticism (1), to empathise with a belief  in god let alone witches rather prevented me from emotional involvement with the characters. As Bertrand Russell wrote "I would never die for my beliefs, because I might be wrong". I remember a similar problem when reading Herman Hesse's 'The Glass Bead Game' with the spurious mathematics obscuring for me the anti-oppression message. Perhaps a simple soul like me needs the directness of Brecht.

(1) And I am well aware that people continue to be executed for sorcery in, for example, Saudi Arabia; a practice and a country which I think rather prove my point.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The world befuddled

As well as boardgaming, my absence has seen actual proper wargaming. In fact this has been going on in the annexe for some weeks as we have worked our way through the Russian expansion official scenarios. It's been a while since I have managed to either take any photographs or to write the games up in the blog. Today isn't much different except there are some photos.


The French
The markers indicate type of unit and current strength
The Russians attack on the right flank with their Mother Russia strengthened units
Cavalry action on the Russian left
The Russian attack develops on the right - they still lost
We've come to the end of the run of games - next week it's back to the legendary wargames room of James 'Olicanalad' Roach for some crusades action - and it's time to take stock. C&C Napoleonics is, unsurprisingly, a good, fun, quick game and probably the best way of making use of my figures. Squexes work fine although one has to refer to the map from time to time to check line of sight. Oh, and there is a tenuous relationship to Napoleonic warfare.

In terms of the rules, we have come up with two house amendments. Ranged fire against cavalry now hits on sabres as well as symbols; a change which has made no difference whatsoever since we introduced it, but makes us feel that game is less biased against infantry. And the Short Supply card is now a reactive card in the same manner as First Strike and can be used to negate one unit's ranged fire.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

National Poetry Day

It is National Poetry Day and so what better to mark it than number forty-three of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Sonnets from the Portuguese'?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

"Darn right, I wanna trade cards"

In my absence from blogging here - although you will no doubt be relieved to hear that my serious, work-related blog has burst back into life - some boardgaming has taken place.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf: This was the first time I had played any of the werewolf games and I think that it will be the last. In order for these type of games to work one has to give a toss - and I don't.

Templar Intrigue: This is a cheap (literally) Werewolves/Resistance/Avalon knock off and is crap. I was King Philip IV and was tasked with unmasking the Templar Grand Master and the Librarian (yes, the librarian - this is a game about living dangerously) which I managed to do without ever understanding how or why.

Phoenicia: A heavier trading game. For an accountant it's a bit of a busman's holiday and I won pretty easily. The game design doesn't make any sense because no-one who could count would ever pursue half of the options; mining and clothmaking are just not value for money compared to farming so why would you do it?

Coup: About the only one of the games in the Resistance universe that I have any time for; it's actually quite good.

Cosmic Encounter: I do like this game, but I have to say that on this occasion I was robbed by a dubious interpretation of the Loser race's special powers when faced with someone who can only play a Negotiate.card. I know that you feel my pain.

Snowdonia: The best of the bunch. One has to build a railway up Snowdon, with the twist being that it's the same railway that all the others are building. It contains the buying special powers mechanism that I increasingly don't like, but also has an intriguing weather changing process that would probably work in tabletop wargaming.