Thursday, 27 November 2014

An ant on the move does more than a slumbering ox

The Seven Years War game being played at James' reached a conclusion last night, which he has documented here. To my astonishment it was actually quite a close finish, prompting a bit of reflection on how I could have performed that little fraction better. I'd taken the view that as I was probably going to lose anyway I should issue morale challenges at every opportunity in the hope of the dice being with me. Maybe if I'd been more discriminating and shepherded my morale chips, I could have just edged it? We shall never know; the question is, - how can I put this? - rhetorical. One other thought, there were perhaps eight cavalry melees of which I won one. If I had won four out of eight I'd probably have won overall. Excellent game though, and I still prefer the dominoes to D20s.

In other wargaming news, I continue to paint at an excruciatingly slow pace, which might be acceptable if I was also painting to a reasonable standard. I have completed yet more Roman civilians, including a road building crew and an ox cart, plus a whole four Roman auxiliary cavalry. I've also been working on a scratch-built Roman marching fort to sit on the edge of the table and act as the source of reinforcements in the 'Romans in Britain' rip-off of 'Pony Wars'. I've adopted a prefabrication technique that, on the plus side, has led to relatively quick assembly, but on the down side has led to some parts not being quite as perpendicular as one would wish. Still, in the glorious traditions of wargaming at Casa Epictetus, it will do.

There has been the usual boardgaming, this week featuring Doodle City, Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Hanabi. I can only describe the first by saying that it did my head in. Following half an hour or so of rolling dice and marking up my pad (it's a sort of turbo-charged Beetle Drive), the only thing of which I am certain is that we were all playing by different rules. The second game is one that I have played and enjoyed before and my pleasure this time was heightened by the fact that I won quite handily. The last is a rare creature indeed: a co-operative game that I liked and would play again.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Land of the Free?

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you. 

     - Langston Hughes

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Eight pints and a curry for two quid

Not long ago this blog embarked on a series - admittedly so far rather short - on the great bridges of Wharfedale and the Washburn Valley. It seems that we are now similarly engaged in reviewing the great curry houses of Morley Street in Bradford, because just a couple of weeks after visiting the International I have been to the Kashmir. Neither of these were in any sense unknown to me although the feeling of being sober as I entered certainly was. The Kash has changed very little: new features amounted to a flat screen tv and computerised till (them) and a kindle (me) plus, disconcertingly, it is now b-y-o and people were sitting there with bottles of red wine and cans of Polish lager. I am pleased to report that I only drank from the jug of water kindly provided. Unlike at the International, the Kash's menu is still the same and so keema madras and three chapattis was consumed for the extortionate cost of £5.

Going to the Kash always (a strange word seeing that I haven't been there for forty years) reminds me of Diddy David Hamilton, although that's a dull story, unlike the sort-of-related one about the labrador (or possibly golden retriever - the details have faded somewhat due to the passage of time); in any event I haven't got time for either. I merely bring it up because the only other occasion  that I saw the chap in the flesh as it were, he was playing for Fulham in a testimonial at Griffin Park; I think for Jackie Graham, although that's even less relevant. The actual point of all this is to note the fine 2-1 victory of the Bees over Fulham last night. It was Brentford's 125th anniversary last month and a survey of fans rated the 4-0 win over Fulham in the penultimate match of the 1991-92 title winning season as the best ever match. I was there.

So, why was I walking the mean streets of Bradford again so soon? ["Exactly how mean are those streets?" enquires the Rhetorical Pedant "Isn't the city centre of Bradford actually rather nice these days, especially the lake and fountains at City Park?"] Well, I have been to see Jools Holland and his Big Band at St George's Hall, which was all rather good. Holland's cheery style of bonhomie isn't to everyone's taste, but he can certainly play the piano and has assembled very talented musicians and guest singers. I've seen Marc Almond sing with them three or four times now and he is always good value. He was educated nearby and always speaks warmly of the bands he saw at the venue. He mentioned Marc Bolan specifically and for the first time I wonder if that's where he got his stage name from. It's all a bit self-referential as his biggest hit and major crowd-pleaser tonight 'Tainted Love' was of course originally recorded by Bolan's girlfriend. The other main singer Ruby Turner was also on top form and the set - which ranged from big band standards through Ray Charles, Big Bill Broonzy and the Supremes to Soft Cell's "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" - was a great success.

The evening of nostalgia is heightened by my own memories of being a bouncer at a Squeeze concert at St Georges back in the seventies when Holland was still playing with them and they were supporting Eddie and the Hot Rods.

"Cos you look just like a commie and you might just be a member".

Friday, 21 November 2014


Life has become rather complex at the Casa Epictetus, as it does sometimes when I get carried away. However, there has been a certain amount of reportable action including the next installment of the Seven Years War game chez James. More fun, although my success was as limited as the initiative that I won. The low point was rolling a 1 on a D12 when I was plus 5. Still, it wasn't looking good before we started so it doesn't really look much worse as we enter the home straight.

On the boardgame front I played Evolution and Pastiche, both of which get the thumbs up from me, although I really don't understand the relevance of the name of the latter, and being colour blind doesn't help either.

Now, the clicks on the site go down whenever I mention politics, but as they are bumping along at pretty much zero it doesn't matter a great deal. So, weighing in on the controversy du jour, can I say that anyone draping the England flag from their windows is at best a simpleton and at worst a fascist and that they deserve all the sneering they get. The fact that we're no longer allowed to laugh at these racist thickoes is political correctness gone mad.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Ramblings about nothing

"Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it." - Robert Frost

A process of elimination has revealed that the Roman and Celt civilians that I found in the box and have started to paint are by Newline. A dozen of them have left the painting table for the plastic box in the annexe together with ten Roman Auxiliaries and the really naff villa that I've just built. I have acquired some cavalry for both sides and they will be next up.

An entirely gratuitous - and dreadful - picture
We got half way through a most enjoyable Seven Years War scenario at James' last night where I was the Russians fighting off Prussians attacking from all directions. Unfortunately, this being Piquet, I couldn't turn any infantry move or reload cards and therefore had to do it all with my cavalry. I don't rate my chances much when the remaining Prussian reinforcements arrive, but it has been fun. I say that the game was Piquet, but James and Peter's version is gradually drifting away from the original via Field of Battle towards who knows where. It does seem to work though.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Larry the Lamb

Did you know Shari Lewis was dead? No, neither I nor the Rhetorical Pedant did either. And did you know that if you type 'Shari Lewis' into Google it suggests that what you are really interested in is 'Sharia Law'? Bit of a one-track mind there Mr Google.

The irrelevance of this is that in an effort to beef up my knowledge of ye olde Roman times I have been watching a series fronted by Larry Lamb on Channel 5 entitled something along the lines of "Rome: The First Superpower". Now, I can't remember ever having watched anything on Channel 5 before - for the benefit of colonial readers, this is a terrestrial TV channel in the UK that has been owned for much of its life by a pornographer and whose programmes have generally been even more downmarket than that would suggest - but this is actually rather good.

For a glove puppet, Lamb is a pretty impressive presenter, fully engaged with the subject and asking sensible questions of the experts involved. The last programme I saw was on the subject of Tiberius Gracchus, the Tribune who stood up for the poor against the rich, ["Good God" says you-know-who "That's a second link back to the previous post - you're on fire."] and Lamb also showed himself to have his heart politically in the right place. Good stuff.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Going visiting

I have been somewhat restricted recently by the arrival of a client who not only wanted me to do something, but was prepared to pay for it. Wargaming, the opera, other ways that I pass my time that you don't need to know about, they have all had to take a back seat while I have been on the odd day trip to Aberdeen. So, there is little to report, but unfortunately for readers that isn't going to stop me reporting it.

It doesn't look like this

Firstly, I have done a little more on the Romans in Britain game. I have dug into the pile of plastic and begun painting some more auxiliaries. It turns out that some of the plastic pile is lead - some civilians - not sure which manufacturer - have also been mounted and undercoated. I have also acquired yet more bases - from Warbases - on which to mount everything; next time we play there will be even more Celts on the table. and then there is a new villa. The original game calls for several homesteads and for the settlers to move between them for hoedowns; and so more Roman houses were called for. My original villa is an old card model much bashed about over the years. The new one is a card model that I found for free on the internet. Possibly I printed on card that was too thin, but for what ever reason the new one, despite being new, is even more bashed about that the old one. Still, no-one ever suggested that wargames at my house were about the aesthetics.

In other news, I saw the excellent Becky Mills at a concert in aid of the Otley Food Bank. She did a set of mostly her own stuff plus covers of songs by June Tabor and Hazel O'Connor. There has also been some boardgaming during which I managed to avoid any more dreary worker placement games, but did enjoy the two I played: Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Istanbul.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The wings of a wren

"Break, break, break,
         On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
         The thoughts that arise in me."
- Tennyson

Sharp-eyed readers of this blog ["Oi" interjects the Rhetorical Pedant "everyone knows that there aren't any readers any more"] will have recognised the title of the previous post as coming from Rosemary Sutcliffe's "Eagle of the Ninth".

The original Pony Wars wargames rules were intended to represent a Hollywood wild west and logic therefore suggests that the Romans in Britain rules derived from them should aim for a similar vibe. However, whereas anyone my age is steeped in cowboy films and their heroes - Wayne, Eastwood, Cooper, Stewart, Ladd etc etc - I don't have anything like the same background in sword and sandals. I've never even seen Gladiator. When discussing the issue Peter suggested "The Eagle", a film based of course on Sutcliffe's book. Now that one I have seen, and didn't really care for what I saw as non-historical sentimentality.

"Get off your horse and drink your milk"

With all that in mind I went, as one does, to a lecture on classical Greek and Roman themes in Star Trek. It was fascinating stuff, the main point being that Roddenberry wasn't employing the themes for their literal meanings, but as commentaries on US society in the 1960s. Now the subtexts of TV Star Trek episodes on civil rights, Vietnam etc are fairly blatant so there wasn't much dissension from the audience. One question was raised however as to the morals trying to be made by big screen treatments of Roman history. Most of these were dismissed by the lecturer as simply being pro-Christian  propaganda, but he did have warm words for one film which is, apparently, a spot-on commentary on the war on terror. Starring Channing Tatum and the bloke who played Billy Elliot, it is of course "The Eagle".

"Tea, Earl Grey, hot"

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

As the sea breaks against a rock

We have given another try to the Romans In Britain rules. The combat rules had changed a bit based on our previous game, I had written some notes around the various civilians and road users in the game, and I had bought some more bases at Fiasco to tidy things up a bit.

Once again it was an enjoyable evening in which the Romans slaughtered 250 or so Celts for the loss of a couple of dozen men. I think that we can say that the very simple combat rules work OK. On the other hand there weren't enough vehicles and others passing along the road, so that bit didn't work. And the rules regarding the sheep were somewhat fiddly; less is more, less is more.

Centurion Horatius holds the bridge
In the post-match discussion one common theme to emerge was the conviction that the Pony Wars rules (which both Peter and James played with the authors at shows many years ago) were written before large numbers of modern techniques and accessories in wargames were ever thought of. So, having deliberately tried to mimic the original rules as closely as possible - with some success it has to be said - the time has come to completely revisit them, using elements from current practice, while hopefully retaining the spirit. Funnily enough given my liking for games like Piquet and C&C, the cards will be the first to go.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Chimes of Midnight

I have been to the Alhambra to see the Royal Shakespeare Company's Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. The first was the matinee and the second the evening performance. They were both excellent, but it was an awful long time to sit still, even allowing for the two hour break between. I spent said break having a Lamb Bhuna and three chapatis at one of Bradford's famed cheap and cheerful city centre restaurants. For the benefit of my Luxembourg correspondent, it was the International; no significant improvements to report.

Star of the show in every way was Sir Antony Sher as Falstaff. I wondered whilst watching how he had aged up, but a bit of subsequent investigation showed to my astonishment that he is 65. If he's that old then I must be knocking on a bit myself. Who knew? Anyway, where was I? Ahh, yes, Sher's Falstaff. Obviously he's got some great comic writing to play with, but nonetheless he squeezed every last laugh out of it, and at the climactic coronation scene he was also pitch perfect in his note of pathos.
Diseased Nature oftentimes breaks forth
In strange eruptions.

A special mention should also be made of Trevor White whose fiery Hotspur reminded me at least of Billy Idol.