Friday, 31 July 2015

Everything is not enough

"There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love" - Martin Luther King

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Goat's Revenge

James has come up with what seems to be another excellent Seven Years War scenario. Details and photographs are as usual on his blog (although you'll search in vain for a report on the conclusion to the previous Crusades game) so I'll just highlight a couple of points. I'm in charge of the Russians and my first failure was in drawing for morale. My draw was so low that I thought James was joking when he told me the minimum below which I could declare a Mulligan; some serious fiddling had to take place to ensure that we could make a game of it. My second problem has been an inability to get any reinforcements on. My force is split into a higher number of commands and this is therefore a bigger problem to me than it would be to the Prussians if they had it, which they don't.

On the plus side, I got lots of initiative, with runs of 20, 19 and 18 (in that order funnily enough) although looking at the current position you'd never know it as the Prussians have done most of the attacking. And whilst James rubbishes the Cossacks as 'fairly useless' they've actually done rather well. They have destroyed a handily placed Prussian artillery battery and provided a screen that has delayed the Prussian cavalry sufficiently to enable an infantry command to move in force onto the hill on my right flank. 'Fairly useful' I would say.

Anyway, in case there should be any visitors to the blog who are not interested in wargaming, I offer the following cautionary illustration. One shouldn't mess with goats.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

How long must I keep my eyes glued to the door?

I went to see the Gerry McNeice band last night, but it turned out that those playing were actually Nick Hall and the Resurrection Men. Nick Hall is half of Plumhall and the Resurrection Men were basically McNeice on bass and his band's drummer. Rehearsals seemed to have been few, but nonetheless they were terrific. They did a lovely run through "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" with Jon Palmer on guest backing vocals, but the standout was the best version of "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" that I have heard in a long time.

For all the song's obvious connotations of anti-imperialism I prefer to read it as a straight (albeit metaphorically described) explanation of a man's search for salvation through the love of a woman; a woman dark haired like a gypsy who having told him "this ain't a dream no more, this is the real thing",  and urged him to "forget me not" then disappears. Surely even wargamers can relate to that? Here's Willie Nelson and Calexico covering Dylan's classic.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

WWII in 45 Minutes

This blog is about nothing if it's not about cooking, and so I am proud to present your bloggist's lemon and courgette cake.

However, the blog is also about nothing if it's not about listing boardgames that I have played and in which no one else is interested. So here goes for July:

7 Wonders: I like this, especially the fact that it's scalable without slowing things down, but I don't play it often enough to be any good at it.

Abyss: The pasted on theme has something to do with mythical beings living under the sea. It was OK, but of games of this type I'd rather play Elysium.

Chinatown: An area control game involving an auction, a sort of bingo mechanic and inter-player trading. It left me a bit cold.

Dark Moon: A much more sophisticated version of The Resistance, minus the keeping your eyes closed bit. We played with seven and it was good fun. That is the second game was fun, because the bad guys won the first one in about five minutes. I especially liked the opting in and out of each task depending on one's view of who else was going to do what. That's not the clearest of descriptions, but I suggest that you play it find out what I mean.

Francis Drake: Didn't have much to do with Drake specifically, but was about piracy, trading and biffing the Spanish so one can see their point. I was dubious about the two stage turn process when we started, but it grew on me. The chap who didn't seem to understand the rules won fairly easily, which may or may not prove something.

Good Cop Bad Cop: Another hidden identity game, with the added complexity that one's identity can change due to circumstances outside one's control leaving one losing to the strategy that one had oneself devised the moment before. A bit random, but one does get to shoot people with guns, which - as I think I mentioned last month - aren't real.

Hanabi: We played with a neophyte who, understandably enough, almost imploded with the responsibility of remembering what someone had told him thirty seconds before. We still managed to score seventeen.

Machi Koro: A real estate themed engine builder game. I really enjoyed it despite falling so far behind after a couple of turns that I had no realistic chance of getting anywhere. Only time will tell whether this was just my incompetence or a major design flaw that no one else has spotted.

New Salem: No, no, no, no, no! A hidden identity game that goes immediately onto my list of games that have nothing whatever to do with the theme or title.

Pentago: A sort of sexed up Connect Four. I suck the big one at spatial awareness games.

Pillars of the Earth: Cathedral building worker placement game. I liked it when I played it before and enjoyed it second time around. It's accounting, so I won.

Quartermaster General: After a bit of a gap, I played this three times in July and I find it still to be an absolutely cracking game. With experienced players one can, if the cards fall right, play through the second world war in forty five minutes and enjoy oneself enormously in the process. Every game works out differently; indeed in the last one I played the Italians largely won the thing single handed, capturing both the UK and India along the way. They were helped by an odd allied strategy which saw the UK and US abandon Europe and Russia in order to gang up on - and not defeat - Japan. I can't recommend this enough.

Spyfall: A hidden location game by way of a change. It turns out that I also suck the big one at games requiring creativity under time pressure.

Tinners' Trail: A strongly themed game about Cornish tin mining which I really enjoyed and would happily play again. The concept of the water ingress is very good and I liked the fact that there is never enough money to invest. It's accounting, so I won.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Out flew the web and floated wide

I have been thinking about shallots recently: the growing - my sources tell me that they provide a better crop on allotments than do onions; the eating - I cooked some in a rather fine broad bean and bacon risotto last night; and the symbolism - see posts passim.

It was therefore inevitable that on a brief trip to Leeds Art Gallery this morning my eye would be drawn to John William Waterhouse's 1894 painting. Less well known than his painting of the Lady drifting to her doom, I like it because it portrays her at her moment of existential crisis.

 A comparison of Waterhouse's various paintings based on the poem can be found here.

The Lady of Shalott has featured in this blog before, but that was, as it were, before.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Where's the wargaming?

A non-wargaming reader of this blog has observed that there isn't actually that much wargaming content. I would refer any such critic to the very first post in which I explained that I never did any wargaming and could therefore offer a different perspective to those lucky people who did. Subsequently of course, and a result of certain domestic rearrangements, more games have been played. Even during the period when I was sleeping under hedges and eating out of dustbins I managed to get plenty of games in; so what excuse do I - now the proud possessor of my very own wargaming annexe - have for the current inactivity? ["And what excuse," asks the RP "do you have for this appalling prose style where you are constantly asking yourself questions?"]

Simple, it's summer and I'm having 'a blast'. ["Well-a-well-a-well-a huh, tell me more, tell me more"] and therefore have no time. Normal, toy-soldier-heavy, blogging will resume soon. Possibly. Actually the criticism that hurts most is the suggestion that the blog has lazily turned into nothing more than a series of daily music videos. I refute this totally.

From the lining of my sports jacket, I produced a bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Soft kitty

The crusades game at James' finished yesterday in a draw. It was very enjoyable and very close; a well balanced scenario. So well balanced in fact that I suspect that neither side can ever actually win. Possibly the Saracens if they put two commands at the exit point and manage also to get their ambush in the right place. Peter as usual threw a multitude of ones and also spent much of the game handicapping himself by rolling incorrect defence dice. Considering the fact that he co-wrote the rules it's hard to have any sympathy.

Anyway, for the benefit of anyone who is either suffering from migraine or new to the songbook of Leon Russell, here is a little Delaney and Bonnie:

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Moving through the peasantry

"Il n’y a qu’un bonheur dans la vie, c’est d’aimer et d’être aimé." - George Sand

Especially for those among us who weren't there, but wishes that she had been, here is a song from Country Joe and the Fish's Woodstock set. 

And personally, I think the drummer is nothing much to write home about.

Sunday, 19 July 2015


And so to the theatre. I missed 'Beryl' at the West Yorkshire Playhouse during it's first run last year - timed to coincide with the Tour de France - and came within a whisker of missing it again on its revival this year, but just managed to get a ticket for the penultimate performance. As an aside I somehow ended up with a discounted senior citizen ticket. Upon picking it up I tried to pay the extra, but the box office clearly thought I was fantasising about my lost youth and wouldn't take the money.

The play itself is simply wonderful. Given the relative lack of media coverage that Burton got during her life (although I for one had actually heard of her prior to the play being mounted) there was a lot of exposition, but it never dragged or became too much. The four person cast moved as effortlessly through the moods as our heroine moved through the gears; humour was ever-present, but so was a recognition of the impacts on others of her driven personality.  The staging was extremely well done as was the physical theatre. There was a round of applause only ten minutes in for one effect which marked her marriage. The fourth wall was broken a number of times, mostly scripted but also on one occasion to allow a member of the sell out audience to display his knowledge of the main crop produced in the triangle between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. Anyway, I am not ashamed to say that I left the theatre with a tear in my eye.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"

So said Marcus Aurelius. This week I have been, as Blake put it, "he who kisses the joy as it flies", and it caused me a whole lot of angst and more than one sleepless night. Whether "eternity's sunrise" will be my reward or not is, I think, neither here nor there.

                                 Moments of happiness do not come often,
                                 Opportunity’s easy to miss.
                                 O let us seize them, of all their joys squeeze them, 
                                 For tomorrow will come when none may kiss.
                                                   - W.H. Auden

I took refuge in walking and can add another to our irregular series of bridges of the Yorkshire dales. This time it's the seventeenth century Barden Bridge.

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold

- Louis MacNeice

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Tewkesbury recrudescent

I am remiss in posting to the extent that I am playing games faster than I am writing about them. Last night saw some Crusades goodness at James'. The scenario and a brief report of the first night is here so I will say no more than that his conifer anxiety was misplaced.

'I don't share your greed, the only card I need is...'

Last week we gave 'To the Strongest!', the ruleset du jour, a try out for the Wars of the Roses. Originally I didn't have much time to set something up and so by default I went for that old WotR standby, Tewkesbury. This requires modelling both the Yorkist ambush and whatever Wenlock was trying to achieve and the way that either or both of these are handled could, if they don't work, distort the game to the extent that one can't properly judge the rules. However, all the other WotR battles were either completely lopsided or even more dependent on treachery, weather and so on.

Tewkesbury Abbey in the background

Anyway, I'm pleased to say that the rules worked well and, importantly, were quick to play. We were able to run through the scenario twice, the second in particular being a very tight and enjoyable game. The first game ran into a slight problem in scenario design when Gloucester's battle lost all its archers immediately in a sort of longbow armaggedon and was unable to trigger the Lancastrian special move; umpiring intervention was required to get things back on track. In the second game it all worked more smoothly: Somerset advanced, Wenlock didn't and got brained for his pains, with Sir John Langstrother taking over.

Wenlock's prevarication causes Somerset to lose focus

 The rules were voted a success for the period, indeed the consensus is that they work best when both sides have essentially the same troop types. One or two ideas were floated as to how to ensure that commands advanced - or not - together, which we felt would better represent warfare of the time. No doubt we shall try these out in due course. For the record the Lancastrians won both games.

Monday, 13 July 2015

"...boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away"

Shelley, of course. I wonder if Angela Merkel has ever read it.

Anyway, apologies for my absence, which I dare say you haven't noticed any more than I have. There has been board gaming and there has been wargaming, both of which I shall return to in due course. In music I have once again seen the rather excellent Dr Bob and the Bluesmakers.

Sadly it looks more and more likely that the name comes from the fact that one of them is a doctor named Bob, rather than as an homage to Rowlf the dog. For anyone who happens to find themselves in Ilkley (epicentre of wargaming in the lower Wharfe Valley) on September 26th then they are playing at the inaugral Ilkley Blues Festival. Also appearing are the equally top notch Thieving Lloyd Cole and it's only a tenner.

And for, I think, the first time this year I bring you a new entry in the series 'Stocks of the Yorkshire Dales'. These are at Nesfield and we are reliant on an image from the interweb because having lost my camera I couldn't take a photo whilst passing.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Die Frist ist um

And so to the opera. Leeds Town Hall is sold out and rammed, it's the hottest day for years, and we're facing two and half hours straight through Wagner's The Flying Dutchman with no interval. But, fortified by a last gasp pint of Tetley's I made it somehow. So, thankfully, did the singers, conductor and orchestra.

It was, as one would expect, simply excellent. The cinematic semi-staging works even better for this than for the Ring and the title character's costume wouldn't have looked out of place in a fully staged version - or in a Disney cartoon come to that. I did wonder why the Helmsman had come dressed like Phil Harding from Time Team, but the influence of television is everywhere these days. Anyway, the chorus and band - the foundation of Opera North's success - were on fire.

As usual with opera one is faced with the question of what on earth it's about. I lean to a theme of Marxist alienation. Die Hollander himself represents wage slaves in the twenty first century, doomed to be tossed about by the storms of the capitalist crisis, unable to find a safe harbour but still naively believing that security, stability and a home can be his one day. Is it a coincidence that he sings 'Die Frist ist um' at the same time as the Germans say exactly that to the Greeks?

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

I Bound the Rose in Sheaves

I have delayed writing about boardgames for so long that I find myself reviewing all June. So, better late than never, here they are:

Colt Express: This game has a three dimensional train and one can shoot or punch people. It works for me. It might not be as good if it was played too often - it's chaotic to the point of being almost random - but will be fun once in a while.

Elysium: Taking the role of Greek gods (easier for some than for others) players employ a novel drafting mechanism involving columns (Doric I think) of various colours to, in effect, play rummy. I played it twice and rather liked it.

Good Cop and Bad Cop: At the better end of the spectrum of 'deduce the hidden indentity' type games and with real guns. OK, they're not real.

Guillotine: As ever, executing the aristos was a pleasure.

Istanbul: I like this more each time I play it; I really don't understand why it isn't all that popular in the gaming circles within which I move.

K2: I managed not to lose a mountaineer to oxygen deprivation this time, but I also didn't manage to climb to the top. Excellent game.

Kanban: The first thing that needs saying is that it has nothing whatever to do with kanbans. In it reminded my of Evolution in the specific sense that the mechanics of the game are pretty much the direct opposite of what the title would imply. Indeed, rather than the pull of a real kanban one quite literally pushed things through the factory. It is a very complicated, but clearly very well balanced, Euro game. It's not in my sweet spot, but I'd play it if it was suggested, certainly in preference to Keyflower.

King and Assassins: An asymmetrical two player game involving, well you can probably guess. I was the king and got assassinated. I knew the chap on the roof was a wrong 'un, but didn't take him out. Big mistake. I'd happily give it another go.

Ligretto: Multi-player patience. Nice enough filler.

Lords of Waterdeep: Worker placement game, but not bad with it. The theme is unbelievably thin, it really might as well not be there at all.

Marrakech: Good game. My street cred was dented when I explained at length why they were rugs and not carpets and how I knew. I played it with both two and three players and the games were rather different.

No Thanks!: Good game of guessing what other players will do. I sucked.

Pandemic; The Cure: Dice based version of the cooperative game rather than the competitive game. The population of the world died a horrible death so early one that I didn't have time to remember that I don't like cooperative games.

Panic Lab: Fun, but it quickly becomes obvious which player has the knack.

Revolver: Another excellent, asymmetrical two player game.

Roll for the Galaxy: This was the game which caused a debate as to what was Analysis Paralysis and what was a failure to understand the lessons of the eighteenth century.

Skull: I'll say it again, this is a great game.

Stuff and Nonsense: Fairly dull set collection game, which caused the only example of ageism that I can ever remember suffering among the boardgames fraternity.

Sushi Go!: At least it's quick.

Zooloretto: If a game involves pandas then it's OK by me. This is fine, if light, but my advice is not to ignore the catering concessions.