Saturday, 31 January 2015

We will, we will....

Well, it's a been a disappointing week all round; indeed on first reflection the most exciting thing I could think of was that I had bought a wok for £1.50. However, further thought reminded me that there was the sweet soul music of the Solicitors (the capital letter being rather important in this case) plus some boardgaming at la Toison.


First up was 7 Wonders which I played for the first time with the full complement of seven people. It is a cleverly designed game in the sense that it doesn't really take much longer however many players one adds. That's all I have to say about it and I couldn't see why everyone says that the Tower of Babel expansion improves things so much. Mush!Mush! was as much fun as usual; we played for the first time with the buildings and they seemed to work well. Then I finished with a couple of card games: Family Business and Hanabi, in the latter of which we once again failed to organise the firework display.

Otley in the snow

The game chez moi was once again cancelled due to bad weather which gave me the usual chance to work out that I was short of the necessary figures. I don't actually have any Wars of the Roses cavalry and needing some for the scenario laid out for a run through of 'For, Lords, Tomorrow is a Busy Day' I have substituted some Imperial forces (as in Sigismund's crusade against the Hussites). However, their light cavalry are of the Cuman horse archer variety and don't work at all. I have therefore invested in three sets of RedBox Scurrers. I'm not so keen on the axe wielding figures as light cavalry, but the others will do nicely.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Dove sono i bei momenti

And so to the opera. 'The Marriage of Figaro', described by Stendahl as 'a sublime mixture of wit and melancholy which has no equal' was, inevitably perhaps, superb; although I felt as I always do with this work that it went on a bit. Mozart may have been a genius ["May?" enquires the Rhetorical Pedant, er, rhetorically "Mozart may have been a genius?"], but he needed someone to take him and Da Ponte aside and tell them to drop the fourth act. It was his previous opera that provoked Emperor Joseph II to make his famous comment about there being too many notes, but something similar could be said about this one. As it's an opera it's not supposed to make any sense, but surely the goings on in the garden just detract from what has gone before. I don't believe - plot spoiler alert by the way - that either Figaro would doubt Susannah or the Count and Countess would be reconciled and the wedding (it's really about the 'wedding' of Figaro rather than his 'marriage') has already taken place. And of course an earlier finish wouldn't have caused me to miss my bus.



The set design and staging fully recognise that this is a farce, with plenty of doors and the cast popping in and out of all of them during the overture. The musical highlight for me - and what would have been the winner of the new award that I haven't decided to give out - was Figaro's aria 'Non più andrai' towards the end of the first act, and which has at least some tenuous relevance to wargaming. It's a great tune of course, but maybe it's also the words touching a nerve with this listener:


Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso,
notte e giorno d'intorno girando;
delle belle turbando il riposo
Narcisetto, Adoncino d'amor.



The Manchester Rambler

One hundred years ago today Ewan MacColl (ne Jimmie Miller), the Grammy-winning social activist, was born in Salford. A complex man, with plenty of negatives, one must nevertheless stand back and admire the achievements. As a keen walker I've always enjoyed his song about the mass trespass at Kinder Scout:


And who could resist a song called 'Ballad of Accounting'?





Farewell to you, my love, my time is almost done
Lie in my arms once more until the darkness comes
You filled all my days, held the night at bay, dearest companion
Years pass by and they're gone with the speed of birds in flight
Our lives like the verse of a song heard in the mountains
Give me your hand and love and join your voice with mine
And we'll sing of the hurt and the pain and the joy of living

- from 'The Joy of Living'

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Ain't that mud in your eye

There seems to be a brief hiatus in the sequence of tours by bands whom I haven't seen play for forty years. I have therefore embarked on a brief diversion into watching acts whom I wished that I had seen forty years ago, but for some reason didn't. First up was Nils Lofgren, who on his last visit to Leeds played alongside Bruce Springsteen in front of twenty thousand people at the opening of the arena. On this occasion he had to make do with a capacity crowd of seven hundred and fifty at the City Varieties, but it didn't seem to affect his enthusiasm or energy.


It was an excellent gig, indeed an early contender for the hotly contested and prestigious 'Discourses on Wargaming' concert of the year title. Lofgren of course has not just been a member of the E-Street Band, but also of Crazy Horse and the highlight for me, being as you know somewhat of a pseud, was his explanation of how he had come up with the piano part on 'Southern Man' whilst playing on the sessions for 'After the Goldrush'. The speeding up of the piano during Neil Young's guitar solos apparently owes a debt to the accordion lessons that his parents made him take as a child in Chicago.


Lofgren is as good a guitarist as I have ever seen. Certainly he knocked spots off Clapton's concert last year (and was immensely more personable), and I'd put him up there with Catfish Keith; high praise indeed. He also played keyboards, a harp (I don't mean a harmonica, I mean a real harp) and tapdanced. Sadly a double hip replacement meant that the trampoline has been retired.


Song of the set - not yet a blog award, but I'm considering it - was final encore 'Shine Silently', but he naturally also performed favourites such as 'Keith Don't Go', 'I Came to Dance', etc.



The last song is also by way of a lead in to tomorrow's post.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Bad Boy Modernist

I have been to another remarkably well attended lecture, this time at Leeds Art Gallery, where Sue Malvern spoke about C.R.W. Nevinson.


I have written here before about my admiration for Nevinson's futurist work prior to and in the early part of the First World War. I have also mentioned his switch to a more realistic stance when he became an official war artist and his rather bold decision to display 'Paths of Glory' with a paper sticker bearing the word 'Censored' across the two dead bodies when these were deemed inappropriate by the authorities. However I wasn't at all aware of his later work and so was pleased that this was a focus of Dr Malvern's talk. I was somewhat disappointed however to learn that there was a good reason for my lack of knowledge; namely that his later work wasn't actually very good. The speaker was dismissive of its artistic value and I didn't need her to tell me that what she illustrated with slides was aesthetically unpleasing; much of it hasn't survived, possibly indicating that it didn't sell.


She stressed that at the time Nevinson would have been considered the leading British war artist; as opposed to, say, Nash who might be so considered in retrospect. What then seems to have happened is that he maintained a high public profile - often appearing in the newspapers and socially very active - at the expense of any artistic development. I came away thinking that his ambivalent attitude to the growth of fascism in the 1930s was simply because he couldn't work out which side provided the best opportunity for advancement. Unlike most other first war artists he wasn't remobilised for the second, although he suffered a stroke in 1942 in any event.


So, there you have it, stick to the early stuff.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Can we outrun the heavens?

Last night's game was snowed off, so by way of a substitute for a report on the action here is a photograph of the starting positions:






The command and control rules in "For, Lords, Tomorrow is a Busy Day" seem to be the antithesis of those in Bloody Barons, or indeed Piquet, and I'm looking forward to seeing how we adapt to them. The combat and morale rules also appear to contain some interesting ideas; the key test as usual will be whether the combination of the writing and the reading has communicated the author's intentions accurately.





In the meantime Henry VI prefers prayer. to battle, while Margaret of Anjou looks the other way in disgust. The cleric in the foreground appears to have been somewhat startled by the flash.



Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Pot37pouri

Boardgaming has broken out again, slightly delayed in one of the pubs which hosted us by the barmaid's breathless description of the events leading up to the landlord doing a runner immediately after New Year. These seem to have involved a mass brawl in the car park, alleged extra-marital sex in the saloon bar, an interfering mother-in-law, the landlady clearing an after hours lock-in by throwing glasses at drinkers, the police arresting the victim of domestic abuse instead of the perpetrator and much else. You will understand why most of us paused mid card play in order to get full value from the story. One result was that for the second time in just a few months I found myself in a pub with no beer and a second is that we have to find somewhere else to play next week.

Nothing distracts a truly dedicated gamer
Anyway, you lot aren't interested in that sort of gossip, you want the games; which were:

Quartermaster General: A second play of this confirmed my high opinion of it. I took the Italians this time and we in the Axis were able to make the world safe for timely trains, although not as easily as the Allies had won the previous week. It did indeed turn out completely differently from the earlier game and, as most of us had now played before, the tactics (strategies?) were somewhat more subtle. I had wondered what the Italians brought to the party, but they have a lot of cards which add value in and around the Mediterranean; all of which makes sense.

Small World: I don't mind this every now and then although its fantasy theme is a little outside my normal comfort zone. I won quite easily by deploying Underworld Trolls, as you do.

Apples to Apples: Which never gets any better

Hanabi: I do like this, but it might suffer from diminishing returns if played too often.

Toc Toc Woodman: Or as it's known in the English version apparently 'Click Clack Lumberjack'. This is a preposterous game in which one chops down a plastic tree with a plastic axe. Jenga is probably the closest game I can think of to illustrate it. I was useless at it, thoroughly enjoyed it, played it four times in a row and must buy it immediately.

London: A bit ho hum. The aim is to redevelop London after the Great Fire, although it involves building underground railways, which I'm pretty sure weren't available to Wren and Hawksmoor. It passed the time, but I won't be seeking it out again.

Red7: A nice, short card game filler. Recommended.

Mysterium: Dixit meets Cluedo; not my cup of tea.

I also discovered that the game whose name that I couldn't remember was a Doomtown themed version of Seventh Hero which came as part of the AEG Black Box. No, I am none the wiser either.

Your bloggist ponders the big problems of the 21st century

I am hosting the Wednesday night game again this week. I have again been busy - another impromptu and last minute trip to London - and so am sticking with the Wars of the Roses. Delving even deeper into my pile of rules for the period I find "For, Lords, Tomorrow is a Busy Day" by Real Time Wargames and so we shall give those a go.

Monday, 19 January 2015

CSI: Bosworth

I have been to a talk entitled "Killed the boar, shaved his head - the violent death of King Richard III" by Bob Woosnam-Savage, Curator of European Edged Weapons at the Royal Armouries. The lecture, lavishly illustrated by Graham Turner paintings as well as photographs, was by way of a fund raiser for Otley Courthouse (Savage is a local resident), but even so I was astonished to see around two hundred people turn out on a very cold and snowy evening. Less surprisingly I was easily in the lower quartile of the age range.


Savage didn't present any new theories (although I was intrigued by his suggestion that it was the dog that killed the princes in the tower), but did give a clear - and very graphic - account of Richard's wounds. He then outlined what he described as the team suggestion as to how events unfolded; having himself became involved after the discovery of the body with the specific task of interpreting the wounds with regard to type of weapon, direction of attack, sequence of events etc. He was particularly keen to stress the sheer unlikeliness of the whole thing. The survival of the grave, the synchronicity of both its discovery and that of the true site of the battlefield, the discovery of DNA and development of techniques for matching it, the identifying of descendants of Richard's sister through the female line before the line died out: any of these on their own were improbable - all together and one is getting close to being able to power the infinite improbability drive.

Zaphod Beeblebrox - long time Ricardian
The gist of the team theory is that Richard charged with his household of around 300 well armoured men in a planned charge, got caught up in boggy ground and unhorsed (no French mercenary pikemen involved) where he was surrounded and beaten down to his knees, his helmet torn off and then he was finished off by the halberd of a Welsh foot soldier. There is naturally a book coming out in a couple of months - just after the re-internment, to which I have unaccountably not yet been invited - and so you can all check my version against the official line at your leisure.





One point of particular interest to me as a wargamer was when he discussed his involvement in the Channel 4 documentary featuring Dominic Smee. Smee has the same type and degree of scoliosis as Richard and was trained to ride and fight in armour to see how the condition might have affected the king. The documentary is well worth watching and is available online so I won't repeat any of it. However, Savage covered some aspects that didn't make the final cut, or at least if they did I've forgotten them. In particular he said that based on measurements of the newly discovered battlefield and on the team view of what happened when Richard was unhorsed, that the charge would have taken four minutes and from the point it was halted to Richard's death would have been a further two minutes. I find that a fascinatingly and poignantly short time.


The Simpletons

The audience asked a number of questions afterwards, most of them complete nonsense. Just to give a flavour, the first asked about the size of the penis on Richard's heraldic emblem of the boar. [As an aside, if anyone can identify the relevance the above - somewhat obscure - picture then there is absolutely no prize whatsoever, but you will be have the pleasure of knowing that you are as pretentious as me.] The whole thing deteriorated to such an extent that the organiser stepped in and stopped it when Savage himself, having squeezed the last bit of fun out of talking about bollock daggers, launched into a bit of a rant about the historian Mary Beard.


Thursday, 15 January 2015

Bloody Barons

Weeks ago now I set up Tewkesbury in the wargaming annexe based on the scenario in the Bloody Barons rule book with the intention of running through it solo. I then discovered that I didn't have enough figures and painted up quite a lot more. I then discovered that I had miscounted and still didn't have enough figures and painted some more. By then it was fast approaching Christmas and we had finished the run through of Marignano so it was decided to play it through as our first game of the New Year. And that, as a result of my second short notice trip to the South Coast, was yesterday; or possibly the day before depending on when I get round to posting this.


Probably the most notable feature of the night was the sheer incompetence of the umpire. I spent so much time getting to grips with the command and control aspects that, as became painfully apparent, I had only the sketchiest grasp of the combat rules, let alone those for morale. We gradually noticed elements on the Quick Play Sheet that we didn't seem to be using and so the complexity level deepened as the battle unfolded. On balance I would not recommend this as an approach.


Any review of the rules by me would therefore be of even less use than usual. What I would say is that that there seems to be an awful lot of dice rolling involved. However, another game - playing properly from the beginning - would be needed before any even vaguely sensible conclusions could be formed.

Quartermaster General

My mention of having played and enjoyed Quartermaster General prompted some interest so I thought that I would expand on it a bit. Demonstrating the degree to which I have my finger on the pulse, I had never heard of the game before arriving in the pub on Monday evening (le Bois d'If, same as every Monday) when a fellow gamer mentioned it. Entirely by chance we found ourselves with exactly six players at a suitable time in the evening and so it hit the table. That encapsulates my main reservation with the game and why I probably won't buy it myself; to play it properly one needs exactly six people.


In order to get everyone to play it we had to overcome the reservations of one of the two women present, who expressed a disdain for wargames. I reminded her of the time we had played Manhattan Project and she had to admit to happily launching bombing raids on her competitors as part of that game (as an aside, on that occasion I won by eschewing the conflict part and sticking to the accountancy); she was also, I think, swayed by QG's co-operative aspects. It's a team game rather than strictly co-operative, with players representing the UK, US and Soviet Union facing off against those taking the part of Germany, Italy and Japan. Turn order is fixed with the Germans starting it and the US being last to join in; so far so realistic. My own dislike of co-operative games is really of those where everyone has the same information, because I find that most players simply end up as being the stooges of the most forceful personality. In this game teams can discuss things, but don't know what is in each other's hands and in any event anything they say can obviously be overheard by the other team, so such conversation tends to be limited.


I have now gone back and read a few reviews of Quartermaster General and most complaints seem to be that one's actions are restricted by the cards currently in one's hand - in particular that one often can't attack when one feels like it - and that on occasions one's turn simply consists of playing a card that will come in handy later on. Now there is no doubt that conflict resolution is perfunctory, not even reaching the levels of complexity seen in Diplomacy, but I found this constraint worked well. The Allies would like to have opened a second front in 1943, but weren't ready so they couldn't; once again so far so realistic. As the name might suggest the game is in large part about supply and about economic warfare. The US have the material, the USSR has the men and the UK has geographic reach through its empire; the Germans and Japanese have the early initiative and the Italians have, well I never actually discovered what they have.


Anyway, caveated by the fact that I only played it once, I only played one side and I only played about half of the deck (because we had saved the world for democracy by then), I enjoyed it. It's clearly a game about war - with lots of historical reference points - but it's also a game about marshalling resources and prioritising decisions. According to the person who brought it along it has great replayability. I'm not really surprised that the game gets a much higher rating on boardgamegeek than reading the reviews would suggest. But, and it's a big but, you need six people.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

We ought to have a different kind of justice

I have been to another gig in aid of the local food bank. This time Little Rach and the Gerry McNeice Band were the entertainment. The latter is well known in Otley, but it was the first time that I had seen the former, who had come across from Manchester to support the cause. She was excellent - albeit tiny - and you should see her if you get the chance.

And if you wondered why no US political leaders bothered to attend last Sunday's march in Paris, well Robb Johnson's song from 2001 has a suggestion.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Shouting in a bucket blues

I have continued my tour of out of season seaside resorts with a trip to Brighton. Despite the flooding that at one point looked likely to prevent my returning home I will categorically state that Brighton is better than Bournemouth whatever the meteorological conditions. In any event I actually stayed in a pub in a small village in the downs, all wooden beams and open fires; very nice. And then immediately on my return I had to get on a train to London. For those unfamiliar with the geography of the UK just  take my word that Brighton to London via Leeds is not the recommended route. 


Boardgaming has resumed for the year. We started with a light card game that I quite enjoyed, but have unaccountably forgotten the name of. It featured a game mechanic called the 'wandering dude' which on its own would have been good enough for me to give it the thumbs up. Second was Last Will, a game which involves getting rid of all one's money. This obviously rubbed me up the wrong way to start with and wasn't helped by my brilliant strategy being stopped in its tracks by my failure to read my cards properly. Nevertheless I vote this a hit as well.


The highlight of the evening was however Quartermaster General which is, astonishingly and incontrovertibly, a wargame. Now wargames don't get played much at boardgaming meetups for all sorts of reasons: many take far too long, many are two player, they of necessity have a fairly limited range of mechanics etc etc. But last night, finding ourselves with the requisite six people, we re-fought WW2 in an hour and twenty minutes, saving the world quite straightforwardly in the end. I played the US, arsenal of democracy, which must be the easiest role; one just has more of everything than everyone else. It's a card driven game with a map board and pieces representing armies and fleets and moves along very quickly. It's would seem that it would give very different games each time it's played although in keeping with history the Axis probably have to land a knockout blow early if they are to succeed. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would strongly recommend it; providing always of course that one has five - and only five - similarly minded gaming friends.

Which load of nothing just leaves space for some Stone the Crows, with three warnings. Firstly, the song is not that advertised in the post's title (that's by Kevin Ayers anyway); secondly the lyrics are satisfyingly rude; and thirdly the clothes and hairstyles are dreadful - truly the seventies were the decade that fashion forgot.


Monday, 12 January 2015

Hold, Tybalt! Good Mercutio!

"The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury." - Marcus Aurelius




Sunday, 11 January 2015

Les yeux

Bleus ou noirs, tous aimés, tous beaux,
Des yeux sans nombre ont vu l'aurore ;
Ils dorment au fond des tombeaux
Et le soleil se lève encore.

Les nuits plus douces que les jours
Ont enchanté des yeux sans nombre ;
Les étoiles brillent toujours
Et les yeux se sont remplis d'ombre.

Oh ! qu'ils aient perdu le regard,
Non, non, cela n'est pas possible !
Ils se sont tournés quelque part
Vers ce qu'on nomme l'invisible ;

Et comme les astres penchants,
Nous quittent, mais au ciel demeurent,
Les prunelles ont leurs couchants,
Mais il n'est pas vrai qu'elles meurent :

Bleus ou noirs, tous aimés, tous beaux,
Ouverts à quelque immense aurore,
De l'autre côté des tombeaux
Les yeux qu'on ferme voient encore.

                                        -  René-François Sully Prudhomme

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO

A short while ago I included in the blog a fictional cover for the equally fictional memoirs of the, well you get the picture, fictional Brigadier Ben Ritchie Hook. The cover was based on that for the actual biography of the very real de Wiart on whom the character of Ritchie Hook was previously based by Evelyn Waugh.

de Wiart is on the far right

I downloaded a copy of de Wiart's autobiography on to my kindle and am about a third of the way through. He is currently in command of an infantry battalion in the trenches and has already lost several body parts, mostly in action against the Mad Mullah. Normally I would wait to review it until I had finished it (hint - it will undoubtedly appeal to all wargaming readers of this blog; Russian spambots and Elkie Brooks' greatest fan perhaps less so), but the BBC website today contains a brief article on the man which I thought I would draw to your attention.


For completeness can I also mention that anyone who hasn't read Waugh's 'Sword of Honour' trilogy in which Ritchie Hook features heavily should also add that to their reading list. If there is a better work of fiction that came out of World War II then I'd like to hear about it (maybe 'Catch-22'?) and it is surely Waugh's masterpiece. The television series starring Daniel Craig overly condensed the story although the BBC radio adaptation of a couple of years ago wasn't at all bad. I've never seen the television version starring well known wargamer Edward Woodward.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Merle!

I haven't been asked by anyone why I haven't chosen a book of the year for last year, but it would have been a good point if they had. I am going to choose 'The Brethren' by Robert Merle (the first book in a saga about French history translated from that language), with a special mention to 'The Iron King' by Maurice Druon (the first book in a saga about French history translated from that language).

Your bloggist ponders French literature
The first of these books is reminiscent of 'The Three Musketeers' and I look forward to the rest of the series being like the subsequent million and a half words leading right through to 'The Man in the Iron Mask'. In any event both are highly recommended. I see that the BBC version of the Musketeers has started again and must catch up with it. I know it bears minimal relation to the books, but I found the first season entertaining enough.

Your bloggist has pondered enough
And sadly the new year brings no relief from the obituary column. We must once again say goodbye to an icon of my youth.

"Well, come on baby....let's wrestle."




Sunday, 4 January 2015

TWTYTW

"Happiness isn't something you experience; it's something you remember." - Oscar Levant

Now I promised a review of the year - no I did, honest - and, da dah, this is it.

  • Gig of the year: Thea Gilmore (not just for the tango on the street interlude during the fire alarm), with a special mention for Fairport Convention
  • Play of the year: 'The Play That Goes Wrong' (absolutely hilarious), with a special mention for 'An August Bank Holiday Lark' 
  • Opera of the year: 'La Traviata' (trite, but the only possible choice), with a special mention for 'The Threepenny Opera' (not actually an opera of course)
  • Film of the year: 'Gravity' (must confess that I didn't actually see that many)
  • Wargame of the year: got to be the opening of the wargaming annexe, with a special mention for James' Seven Years War scenario involving forces arriving from all four sides of the table.
  • Boardgame of the year: Sail to India, with a special mention for Castles of Mad King Ludwig
  • Event of the year: 'Le Tour de France' coming past my front door, with a special mention for actually having a front door to call my own for the first time in years.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Pot36pouri

And anyway the snow has covered all your footsteps
And I can follow you no more 

  • I have been to Bournemouth. It was freezing cold and blowing a gale; it was just like being there in mid-summer in fact.
  • There was a double dose of boardgaming this week, featuring Ice Flow, Gloom, Istanbul and Castles of Mad King Ludwig. I didn't win the first (a noteworthy event in itself), didn't like the second (not helped by the pub being somewhat, er, gloomy thus making the cards unreadable) and won the last two with - if I say so myself - some nifty play. It was the second time that I have played Istanbul and my previous high opinion of it was confirmed.
  • My car has failed its MoT. It's not all bad news though, because it only cost me several hundred pounds to get it fixed sufficiently to pass the retest. Bargain.
  • The change of year requires me to review the old year and look forward to the new. I shall start here: