Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Well that passed the time

And so to the theatre. I have been to see 'Waiting for Godot' which I enjoyed a lot, but about which I am not going to pretend to say anything insightful. When I've seen it previously I've seen the central question as: How does Man survive the waiting for death?

“They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.” 

But now, perhaps being in a better place psychologically, I see 'Godot' as hope, and the boy as our subconscious telling us that we can go on, we must go on. Pozzo and Lucky don't really fit into this reading, but that's presumably Beckett's fault.

“There is man in his entirety, blaming his shoe when his foot is guilty.”

 Be that as it may, the hat swap sequence in the first act inevitably leads one to think of two other geniuses:

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Morale chips in Piquet

No one has asked me to explain my exciting suggestions for the way morale chips are handled in Piquet. Presumably my public's apparent indifference is because they expect me to do so anyway, therefore here, as not requested, is the logic behind my proposals.

In setting up tabletop battles we quite rightly prioritise the aim of making it a good game. This usually means balancing the forces in some way; either the same number of units or perhaps one side having more, but lower quality troops. In Piquet the loss of troops means the loss of morale chips at, with minor exception, the same rate whether they are good, bad or indifferent. The side with the greater number of worse troops therefore needs more morale chips at the beginning because they would expect in the normal course of events to lose more units. A balanced game requires a not too extreme split of morale and that's why there is already a minimum amount defined. To balance it 'properly' would require taking account of not just each side's number of units, but also their quality and the ratio between the two sides' strength and quality. This is too complicated to even consider, so why not simply say that each side needs a morale chip level to start with somewhere between, say, once and one and a half times the number of units. This would contain any imbalance while still leaving the existence as a possibility. Too much morale would simply be swapped for new deck cards/ lower morale in a reversal of the current process.

The major morale mechanism that we play was designed by James, makes perfect sense, is rather longwinded and means one inevitably loses the game if one fails it. I have no problem with the impact if one fails it while having no morale left - although at that point the neatness of the design is paradoxically entirely superfluous - my issue is with failing it earlier in the battle. The morale cost (one chip per command) is simply too high a price to pay for one bad die roll given the overall number of morale chips one is likely to have to start with. I would not charge a chip at all when it drops to commands, or alternatively only charge commands which fail.

The features of Piquet that cause most confusion are shooting - which isn't shooting at all - and reloading - which isn't reloading at all. The shooting is best seen as the point at which the effect of ongoing, continuous fire is resolved, and the timing of this is at the discretion of the player, provided certain criteria are met. By extension I would suggest that we should view morale challenges as the point at which the ongoing, continuous test of nerve of men engaged in ranged combat is resolved and that the timing of it is likewise at the discretion of the player, provided certain criteria are met. The concept is that the firing side believe they have caused hurt and, expecting the enemy to falter in some way, issue the challenge. If the enemy do indeed flinch then that reasonably enough is a morale hit to them. If the enemy don't flinch when expected to then the firer/challenger should take a hit to morale because they have done their best and it didn't have the expected results. I have never understood why the challenging side expends morale having undertaken successful fire which has caused both physical and morale damage to the other side. In any event, and as at present, one would not be allowed to challenge when one didn't have any morale chips left.

Now like all variety artistes I usually finish with a song, but it's difficult to find one on the theme of morale, probably because there aren't many words that rhyme with it. I did think of going down the Billy the Kid route (OK?), but I'm in a musical theatre frame of mind and so here's something from 'Guys and Dolls' that has the word morale in the lyric. You'll just have to trust me on that because this is the instrumental version by Miles Davis.


Monday, 28 September 2015

Let it roll, baby, roll

I have been to the inaugural Ilkley Blues Festival, which was ten hours of excellence and, towards the end, endurance. The performers ranged from solo guitarists, through power trios to larger bands and they performed in a similarly broad range of styles. Indeed they drew the boundaries of what might be considered blues rather flexibly. The last song played on the day was 'Johnny B. Goode', but it was preceded by a cover of Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition' and even more unexpected was the very first number of the day, a Captain Beefheart song. I am tempted to list all the bands, or indeed all of the tracks, as I do with boardgames played, but even I'm not that anal.

One of things I admire about musicians is the ability to cover the same song in different ways and make it unique and one's own. This was much in evidence on the day with a couple of versions of 'Smokestack Lightning', a couple more of 'Hoochie Coochie Man' and so on. Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters were probably the sources most referenced overall, although the record for one individual song fittingly went to a Robert Johnson piece, 'Sweet Home Chicago' with three separate acts giving it a go. As always with the blues multiple artists are associated with some songs and 'Walking Blues' is often seen as a Johnson song although originally written by Son House.

"Well some people tell me that the worried blues ain't bad
Worst old feelin' I most ever had,"

 I certainly recognise that sentiment, as at least one of my readers can testify. Another Son House song, 'John the Revelator', saw the audience demonstrate that blues lovers are as prone to white man clapping as any other music fans.

This being the blues, there was much reference to Gypsy women (hooray) and bad luck (boo). Infidelity loomed large as a topic and my personal favourite lyric came in the old Irma Thomas song "You can have my husband, but please don't mess with my man".

Of those that I hadn't seen before the one that impressed most was the Dan Hudson Band, who played some fine Chicago blues. Mr Hudson also caught the eye of one of my companions (I was surrounded by the usual coterie of women of a certain age) although she attempted to explain it away by claiming that she was merely admiring his stage presence. Such reticence was not for one of the others who, having taken a shine to the lead guitarist of Thieving Lloyd Cole, importuned him for a hug and a kiss; indeed she even got to finger his instrument during an extended workout of the Doors 'Roadhouse Blues'. It was like being on a hen night.

The whole thing was broadcast live on Wharfe Valley Radio, an outfit of which I had never heard despite having lived here for the best part of twenty years. It does occur to me that given the position of Ilkley as a great wargaming centre perhaps the radio station should be approached to see if they want to cover one of our games. One can just imagine the hushed tones of the commentator as he murmurs quietly so as not to break the players concentration. "And Jackson's rolled a one" he might say; or "Roach has banged his head again; he should really know that shelf is there by now"; or possibly "And that's a stroke of tactical genius by Hill, which he's neatly explained with a witty, amusing and interesting aside".  You get the picture.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Another Op'nin', Another Show

And so to the theatre. Opera North are putting on 'Kiss Me, Kate' thereby allowing me to continue my autumn of Shakespeare at one remove.

 "Brush up your Shakespeare
Start quoting him now
Brush up your Shakespeare
And the women you will wow"

At least according to Cole Porter; I couldn't possibly comment. It's not the sort of show I'd have gone to see were it not being put on by Opera North, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless; especially, and to my surprise, the dancing. The company are well known for occasionally updating lyrics to include topical references, but I think the pig's head that appears at one point was probably in the design before the emergence of swinegate (as it surely ought to be known).

In other news I have been to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to see the Wave of Poppies, which is rather lovely. It originally formed part of the core at the Tower of London around which was added one ceramic poppy for each of the fallen. It suits its current setting very well and I can understand why it has proved so popular an attraction. YSP's permanent exhibition includes the work of Sophie Ryder, and one of her very large hares also stands outside Cartwright Hall, the City of Bradford's art gallery.

And, as it happens, I have also been there, accompanied by the elder Miss Epictetus. One of the current temporary displays is the Bradford Open, an exhibition of local artists. My daughter and I were in agreement with the judges and, even more oddly, each other. I particularly liked the enormous painting of Zeus on multi-layered reclaimed cardboard. The permanent collection is fairly wide ranging, moving from the sort of high Victorian bourgeois stuff endowed by nineteenth century wool barons through to Lowery, Lichtenstein and Warhol. And then there is Hockney, as always in Bradford, including my own favourite Le Plongeur. You will recall that Tory and Liberal Councillors recently tried to sell all of the above mentioned works of art plus many others, on the basis that only rich people should have access to art.

The philanthropic founders of the collection - Tories and Liberals to a man - must be turning in their graves.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

We lost

I had a phone call at an ungodly hour this morning - I was still in the shower - asking why my blog hadn't been updated for a few days. That wasn't the main point of the call - the first question asked was about whether I had replied to an email from a third party about the possibility of hosting a game for three people - but it is nice to know that someone reads this.

Anyway, especially for my early morning caller, let me just conclude the report on the latest Seven Years War game we have been playing in the legendary wargames room of...well you know the rest. James' own blog has been even more lacking in new entries than mine, which I can exclusively reveal is because he's got better things to do. Oh, and like all the best wargaming bloggers he hasn't currently got a working camera. The game, which you will recall I wasn't especially enjoying, concluded on Wednesday and didn't really get any better. The evening opened, somewhat symbolically, with Peter rolling a 1 on a D12 and continued much in that vein. We actually got quite a lot of initiative, but the die had been cast the previous week and our right flank disintegrated while the attack on our left looked promising, but never delivered.

So, not a good advert for Piquet. But we've had so many enjoyable games with the same rules that we'll just file it away as an experience and move on. The as-written game has a large number of random elements in its set up and play. On this occasion they all fell one way and broke the game, but that is a very rare occurrence; normally they even out much more to provide games that are unpredictable and different one to another. Should anyone want to try Piquet and not run the risk of an overly unbalanced game, then all they need to do is remove any or all of that randomness, except for the initiative - which is the heart of the game. Unit and commander levels can be preassigned (or all deemed to be average) as can number of morale chips and the content of card decks. Even initiative can be managed - i.e. the size of swings limited - using various alternatives to rolling D20s. as mentioned before, we use dominoes. So, just to repeat, this game didn't show Piquet in its best light, but nevertheless it remains my personal favourite family of rules.

A few small changes that I would suggest concern morale chips. As well as requiring minimum numbers of chips for an army depending on how many units it contains, perhaps there should also be a maximum ratio between chips and units. Secondly, the current major morale rules (these are James' rather than the published version) cost too many morale chips if failed. I would do away with paying a chip per commander. Thirdly, and most radically, I would make a morale challenge cost only one chip in total; if the challenge is successful the challengee pays it, if it fails then the challenger pays it.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall

                                      "They say, best men are moulded out of faults,
                                        And, for the most, become much more the better
                                        For being a little bad."

And so to the theatre. I have been to London yet again and it goes without saying that my journey was made significantly worse than it needed to be by the incompetence of Virgin East Coast, which resulted in me being so late that I missed a big chunk of why I went in the first place. However, I suspect that you're even more bored than I am with all that so I shall swiftly move on.

It was to the Globe that I went to forget my disdain for beardy Branson and to watch a very enjoyable production of Measure for Measure. This is obviously one of Shakespeare's dodgier plays (I believe that to be the term commonly used in literary criticism) and is perhaps difficult for modern audiences. It's very hard to understand the motivation of anyone among the leading characters (Mariana in particular needs her head examining), or to navigate the path the playwright is weaving through the hypocritical sexual morals of the time. As expected, the Globe - which I enjoy more and more each time that I visit it - takes full advantage of the comic potential with Elbow, Barnadine and Lucio all outstanding (and I do realise that the first two are played by the same actor). The performance was being filmed and I'd urge everyone to catch when it's released; you'll just have to hope they somehow edit out the noise of the helicopter circling during the big scene between Angelo and Isabella.

Bob Dylan wrote a song addressing the same dilemma as that which forms the heart of the plot of Measure for Measure. One of this blog's few readers is a Tom Russell fan - as well as being the world's champion thrower of ones at the wargames table - so here's a cover version by the man from God knows where:

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Exit, pursued by a bear

And so to the theatre. Northern Broadsides have gone for a two Shakespeare in a row strategy, which probably makes sense commercially. No sooner has Bazza given us his Lear than Conrad Nelson (is there a diminutive of Conrad?) gives us his Leontes, narrowly getting the jump on Sir Kenneth Branagh who is just about to do it, alongside Dame Judi Dench no less, in the West End. Now I am loathe to criticise the very talented Nelson, who also directs and writes the music in this production. His Iago to Lenny Henry's Othello was excellent and I fondly remember his Henry V. However, I found him - and only him among the cast - difficult to hear. It is understandably tempting to play Leontes with his head in his hands. He spends the first half of the play in torment because of what he falsely imagines is happening between his wife and his best friend and then he spends the second half of the play in torment because of the consequences of his behaviour in the first half. But, if I may be permitted to offer a word of advice to the Conman, metaphorically; his head should be in his hands metaphorically.

"Ay, but why?"

The production was otherwise noteworthy for the reintroduction of clog dancing. Since 'An August Bank Holiday Lark' - a play actually about clog dancing - the company have eschewed their traditional mid-show knees-up, but now it's back. To be specific the fourth act sees a hoe down followed by an Irish step dance, but given that the geography of "The Winter's Tale" is sufficiently all over the place to accommodate a Sicilian foundling in Bohemia, it can also allow the Munster diaspora to be there as well. As for the bear, it appears projected onto the backdrop.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Dark and full-bodied does it for me every time

A question has been asked regarding yesterday's picture of a pack of espresso beans. And it's a fair cop, as neither photograph nor the bag of coffee shown were large enough.

No sleep tonight I think. Anyway, over to you Steve:

Friday, 18 September 2015

Said, people worry I can't keep you satisfied

Jonathan Freitag commented on my last posting about Piquet. I thought I'd reply in the form of a full blog entry because a) more people will see it, b) it allows me to answer at greater length and c) it saves me having to think of anything else to post about. Win-win-win.

The first point to make is that everything he says is right, except perhaps when he implies that there is too much non-wargaming content on the blog. He obviously doesn't realise that if I lost the non-wargamers then I'd have fewer readers. ["Well," interjects the RP "in fact it is just possible that he might be able to work that one out for himself."] In particular your bloggist lives in constant fear of losing his lone female reader; indeed the thought of it sometimes keeps me awake at night.

Anyway, back to Piquet. As noted above, there's a lot in what Jonathan says. So much so that the current Piquet head honcho, Brent Oman (1) has developed a different, but clearly related, set of rules which addressed a lot of the shortcomings. The original version of these, suitable for horse and musket periods, was called "Field of Battle" and we always refer to this family of games as FoB (pronounced fob; saying F O B always makes me want to add "Scott" or "Virgil" on to the end). The major differences include equal initiative and variable movement distances, plus a series of tweaks to manoeuver, combat and morale. My advice to anyone wanting to try Piquet would be to start with these. Personally, I think that I prefer them to classic Piquet and interestingly the rules that James and Peter have written for the Punic Wars, the Crusades and the Italian Wars are all based on FoB (2), as will be my rules for Hussites should I ever actually do more than talk about it.

"Get on with it, man!"

So what of classic Piquet? Well James' set of big battle Seven Years War rules (provisionally entitled "If You Don't Want My Lemons Then Don't Shake My Tree") that we've been playing a lot recently are clearly based on the original master rules and have stripped out many - but not all - of the Ilkley Lads house rules that had accrued over the years. However they have at the same time added in one or two appropriate elements of FoB such as the ability to rally back stands. As previously mentioned on this blog we use dominoes rather than dice to determine initiative which ameliorates the danger of big disparities. However, it doesn't eliminate it. Peter, and to a lesser extent I, have played many, many games of Piquet. We understand and accept its vagaries and are prepared to put up with them because we think that overall the game is well worth it. But on Wednesday even we were completely cheesed off. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "Nothing is as obnoxious as other peoples' luck".

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while I love playing Piquet, my firm recommendation to those who wish to try (or retry) them would be the newer games within the family (3) and/or be prepared to put in some effort fine tuning them to your understanding of the conflict you are gaming, rather than use the original set as written.

A chap quite definitely without a beard

(1) Brent liked the rules so much that he bought the company. The original author, Bob Jones, has gone on to write Zouave and Die Fighting, both of which I own, but have never played..

(2) I can't for the life of me remember whether their rules for Ancient Galleys or the Western Desert are based on FoB or classic Piquet. In the first instance it's because I haven't played them for so long - hint, hint. In the case of WW2 there really is no excuse as we did the Sidi Rezegh scenario about two dozen times in a row a couple of years ago. I can only assume that the whole episode was so traumatic that I have buried it deep in my subconcious.

(3) Classic Piquet requires the core rules plus a specific period supplement. The FoB type rules are self-contained. I've never played any of the other FoB rulesets such as the ancient version "Pulse of Battle" simply because James and Peter wrote their own version before it came out. For completeness, there are two other games published by Piquet. The first is "Command Piquet", which I liked, but which, it seems to me, requires too much thought to be given to setting up the terrain before one starts. The second is "Jump or Burn", a terrific set of WW1 dogfight rules written by James and which bears no relation whatsoever to any other game labelled as Piquet. We haven't played this for ages as James received an offer he couldn't refuse for all his aircraft and the ingenious stands to which they could be attached.

All this talk of WW1 aircraft and of lemons can only lead in one direction surely:

Thursday, 17 September 2015

An Epictetian 'return'

"Luck is of little moment to the great general, for it is under the control of his intellect and his jusdgement." - Livy

I really like the Piquet family of wargames rules. I didn't 'get' them at all when I first came across the Ilkley Lads playing them at a Society of Ancients open day at the Royal Armouries a dozen or so years ago. Some of it - the missile fire resolution/reload action for example - isn't intuitive. It was von Neumann who pointed out that in mathematics one never understands things, one simply gets used to them, and the same could be said to some extent of shooting in Piquet. However, for flexibility, adaptability across multiple time periods and geographical locations, and fine tuning to one's own view of how things should be they are excellent; they provide a toolbox with which one can let one's imagination loose.

I also like the unpredictability when the game hits the tabletop. The same scenario will never play out the same way twice even if the commanders attempt to do the same thing. There are too many random influences at play. I regard this as a good thing. Over time the luck evens out and in the short term it adds a bit of spice. However, as with any spice, a concentrated amount in one place at one time can rather spoil the taste of the meal. And so it rather proved last night.

We were back at James' for some more Seven Years war action. He was the Prussians, Peter and I were the Austrians. One might suspect that this is where my luck started to go wrong; Peter's wargaming karma is so bad that I've always assumed that in a previous life he must have stood on and crushed a whole regiment of H.G. Wells' troops or something similar. However, yesterday I matched him throw for throw in rolling crap dice. One of my first tasks of the evening was to establish the quality of the commander of our right flank. I threw a one on a D20, he was abysmal, and things went downhill from there. Pre-game preparations left us with less morale than the Prussians, a worse card deck and a plethora of poor units and commanders compared to a range of skilled and superior generals and troops facing us; our artillery is notably bad. Insult was added to injury when James then won all the initiative and advanced across the table and started knocking stands off our infantry line before we'd even turned a card.

The night ended with our right flank about to disintegrate. Our one small success, routing some infantry who passed by a village we had garrisoned, was undone when Frederick himself rallied them and sent them forwards again. So, am I downhearted? Well yes, actually I am. Our only hope rests on a spectacular cavalry victory on our left flank and then sweeping along behind the Prussian line. You will recall that I said exactly the same thing about the previous Seven Years War game that we played. It didn't happen then and it won't happen now.

"For this is the mark of a wise and upright man, not to rail against the gods in misfortune." - Aeschylus

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

And at last ends the age of cant

Politics, which was meant to have been driven out by culture in this blog, has obviously loosened the catch on its Browning, because it's back. Two short pieces worth reading about Jezza's victory are here and, er, in the new edition of Private Eye which you'll either have to pay for or read for free in W.H. Smith. If the latter, and you need to find it quickly before the staff spot what you're up to, then it's the first item in the HP Sauce column on page 11.

I don't sing no national anthem

I have been to London once more (it rained) and, yet again, Virgin maintained their 100% record for cancelled and delayed trains, plus sneaking in an extra 'socket with no power' just to pour salt in the wounds. I arrived home in the middle of the night via Derby.

For some reason I have got into the habit of recording boardgames played monthly in arrears. I would like to break that, but time doesn't permit me to do it now. Can I therefore just say that I have now had a chance to try the Air Marshall expansion to Quartermaster General and damn fine it is too. However, my opinion should be viewed with a slight reservation because despite playing twice I never used either of the two newly introduced mechanics. These are unsurprisingly air forces plus Bolster cards, which are essentially Response cards played directly from the hand. But observing others using them and listening to their comments convinced me that the expansion improves an already excellent game. For the record I won once as the Soviet Union (where I did nothing except keep building armies in the Ukraine while the US saved the world) and lost once as Japan (where I captured China, India, Australia and the Middle East and still ended up on the losing side; God only knows what the Germans and Italians were up to).

Now, this is an anthem:

Monday, 14 September 2015


"When small men begin to cast long shadows, it means the sun is about to set" - Lin Yutang

As a addendum to my complaint about the diminishing calibre of UK politicians can I recommend this frankly terrifying comment on their US equivalents.

"Are we like late Rome, infatuated with past glories, ruled by a complacent, greedy elite and hopelessly powerless to adapt to changing conditions?" - Camille Paglia

A bit more more wargaming related is '40 maps that explain the Roman Empire' which is fascinating, although whoever compiled it takes a fairly liberal approach to the definition of map.

And some Stevie Nicks:


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Where was Moses when the lights went out?

And so to the theatre. Greta Scacchi is starring as Amanda Wingfield in Headlong's production of The Glass Menagerie now previewing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. I enjoyed the show very much - the acting was superb - but I did want to grab most of the characters and give them a slap.

The play's most overt theme is dysfunctional families, and there is something sitcom like about the set-up of people trapped with family members who they both love and loath (think Steptoe and Son) and there are some very funny moments amidst the sadness. For me though the biggest resonance was the question raised about whether what ails us psychologically is more devastating than our physical infirmities. Laura's social anxiety is far more difficult to cope with than her mobility problems. As an aside, I didn't care for the way that the director represented the latter; it seemed clumsy and in bad taste to me. I was also in two minds about the colour blind casting of Jim O'Connor. Normally I'm all in favour, but given the piece revolves around Amanda's recollection of her upbringing (it was parodied as 'For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls') I'm not sure that it worked.

The staging was simple and uncluttered, even by chairs; there was a lot of sitting on the floor. Mention must be made of the magnificent hat that Ms Scacchi wears for the visit of the gentleman caller, which even Barrie Rutter in his more flamboyant moments wouldn't have tried to get away with. Speaking of Bazza, the autumn culture fest continues shortly with Northern Broadsides Winter's Tale - the first of a positive splurge of Shakespeare - although sadly I don't think he's in it.

There can be only one musical way to sign off, so here's to the (unseen) fifth character:

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Jez we did

Astonishingly, politics drives away the readers of wargaming blogs even more quickly than love poetry does. Nevertheless I feel obliged to acknowledge the rare occurrence of somebody for whom I voted actually winning something.

 'People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest' - Herman Hesse

Anyway, please don't worry about politics taking over completely, because we're just about to enter a period of intense cultural pseudery - starting with some imminent Tennessee Williams in fact - that will fill these pages to the exclusion of politics, cats, nudity, and in all probability wargaming too. The love poetry stays though; you have been warned.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Love Is woven of waiting and missed meetings

"De desencontro e espera o amor se tece", so wrote the Angolan poet Mário António Fernandes de Oliveir: "Love Is woven of waiting and missed meetings".

                                        And did you get what
                                        you wanted from this life, even so?
                                        I did.
                                       And what did you want?
                                       To call myself beloved, to feel myself
                                        beloved on the earth.

                                                     - Raymond Carver

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Totteridge & Whetstone

"Lo, now my glory smear'd in dust and blood!
My parks, my walks, my manors that I had,
Even now forsake me; and, of all my lands,
Is nothing left me, but my body's length!
Why, what is pomp, rule, reign, but earth and dust?
And, live we how we can, yet die we must."

 So says Warwick Kingmaker at the climax of the Battle of Barnet, at least according to Shakespeare. Like most actual battles in the Wars of the Roses Barnet is both difficult and, in my opinion, unsatisfying to refight. Therefore tiring of Tewkesbury, I stayed in 1471 and set up what is still a meeting between the sons of York (OK, not Clarence) and the Neville brothers, but in a different location and with different forces.

We once again used To the Strongest! with a couple of tweaks to try to reflect how we saw combat of the time. They didn't particularly work so I won't detail them here, but we have another set of house rules ready for next time. The issues are mainly around the transition from opening archery duel to melee troops advancing into combat. We also find longbowmen not as effective in melee as we feel they would have been. It is, of course, all a matter of opinion. I tend to base my views on Goodman and Wadge, which are both excellent books, but clearly half the fun is in the debate.

In terms of the action - no photos for the usual reason - the Yorkists looked as if they were gong to lose inside about ten minutes having come off much worse in the opening arrowstorm, but the crucial factor turned out to be the historically accurate deaths of Warwick and Montague. The rules place great value on commanders, and when they're gone so, pretty much, are one's chances. I think we all also learned that attacking with disordered troops is a bad move, plus some nuances of how to pin units and then flank them. A most satisfactory evening.

I haven't forgotten the planned Hussite action and was able to pick James' and Peter's brains about certain aspects of the rules, so that exercise will continue in the background. This was a brief hiatus in our Seven Years War activities so it will be back to Ilkley next week for some Prussians versus Austrians.

And for those who wondered what the Kingmaker and his sibling did next, here is the answer. They went to Germany and covered Leonard Cohen songs:

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

How to grow tomatoes

The recent uncalled for appearance in this blog of cats and nudity has prompted a rash of correspondence, almost all of which is related to the latter subject. So much so that I am afraid that I must declare this topic closed. I was going to make an exception for the detailed, albeit unlikely, advice which I received as to how best to achieve a growth spurt from one's tomato plants. However, this blog's motto is seeing is believing and in the absence of photographs - of the tomato plants obviously - I cannot in good conscience post anything. Let's just say that I would be surprised if any of my readers had in their possession the necessary item of clothing.

I saw the rather excellent Adrian Byron Burns last night. He has played with regular blog-featured artists such as Bill Wyman and Albert Lee and been opening act for Neil Young among others. How he then finds himself performing in the Junction Inn, Otley in front of fifty people, only half a dozen of whom are paying any attention, was a mystery I pondered as I watched him repeatedly return to the bar for another whisky. A first rate guitarist with a deep, deep voice, his repertoire ranged from Little Feat and Smokey Robinson covers to songs associated with (though not originally by) Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Big Bill Broonzy. Very good, though a little sad. As an aside, of those in the pub who had gone specifically for the music I was the only one who didn't look like Gandalf; my loss I think.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Dando Shaft - a critical appraisal

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I have sunk to the level of the rest of the interweb and posted a picture of a cat. Mea culpa. It has even provoked the leaving of a couple of comments, plus the non-leaving of one by our newly acquired female reader, who cannot deal with the technology of Google usernames and therefore resorted to a text message to tell me that she preferred the naked hippies. Suffice it to say that I wasn't surprised in the slightest.

A second was by Cave Adsum. Now I have come in for some flak in the past about untranslated foreign language phrases and I therefore no longer use them. For those who don't have the Latin I believe we must interpret his Google username as a tribute to the well known soul act Sam and Dave.

Now Sam (or possibly Dave) seems to suggest that cats have very little to do with wargaming, and that the blog is better - or perhaps worse; it's a bit ambiguous - for wandering off topic into other areas. In reply I simply say that playing with toy soldiers and dressing cats as goats are all meat from the same bone. I call in support the distinguished Marxist historian C.L.R. James who, had he been born in Ilkley - epicentre of wargaming in the lower Wharfe valley - instead of Trinidad, would surely have written 'What do they know of wargaming that only wargaming know?'.

Tony Kitchen however is more on the money. No such false dichotomy for him. Indeed if you read his blog then you inevitably come away with the feeling that 'The Great Patio War' involved a race of giant cats without whose approval no engagement could ever take place. [As an aside this conflict is one of the few examples where my normal distaste for imaginations is completely suspended.] The same feline involvement can be seen in the blogs of many giants of the wargaming world, for example, Conrad Kinch. Indeed even the legendary wargames room of James 'Olicanalad' Roach has not been immune, to the extent that Mrs Olicanalad forbade the use of cotton wool balls to mark units that had fired, so fed up was she with the cat carrying them all over the house. James decreed that instead we would use barrels, a solution that may even have worked had we not already been using barrels to mark which units had acted on a card. Much confusion ensued and we have returned to 'smoking'. I have no idea whether Mrs O or the cat are in the loop on this one.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Friday, 4 September 2015

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis

"Only man dogs his happiness with care, destroying what is with thoughts of what may be."' - John Dryden

"Sometimes we are lucky enough to know that our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new, and run headlong down an immutable course." - Jacques Cousteau

Thursday, 3 September 2015


I have definitely moaned here before about Virgin East Coast, who are so much worse than the previous state-owned incumbents that one can only assume they are doing it as some sort of gratuitous nose-thumbing. As the service was late the other week I duly claimed my compensation and awaited a letter of excuse as to why I wasn't going to get any; you will recall that on the last occasion they refused it on the basis that there was nothing worth doing in Leeds even if one got there on time. This time the letter agrees that I am entitled to a 50% refund, acknowledges that I have a legal right to receive this in cash, but then states that they are going to pay me in travel vouchers anyway because it suits them better. Further proof of the contempt with which these people regard their customers (see posts passim on BT, EE, First Direct etc).

Your bloggist at the painting table

Anyway, on a different subject, the summer of love is over and a young man's thoughts turn to wargaming once again. We finally finished the mega seven years war battle last night (don't ask) and I found myself slightly embarrassed that I seem to have made no progress towards being able to get my Hussites on to the table. I therefore leaped out of bed this morning determined to crack on. Obviously that initially involved a number of cups of tea, answering emails and a potter round Otley to buy something for lunch. However, I can report that I have subsequently made massive strides.

The intention has always been to base a Hussite game on the set of rules written by James and Peter for the Crusades. Those were in turn based on Brent Oman's Field of Battle, which were derived from Bob Jones' Piquet. The Crusades rules are called Ager Sanguinis (Field of Blood) and I am proud to announce that after careful thought the new Hussite Wars rules will be called Cup of Blood.

Now, a lot of people might have paused there to take stock, before ploughing on further, but I am proud to say that I have also made twenty 'vexed' markers. I haven't actually decided whether 'vexed' status is staying or going in the new rules, but my new watchwords are 'action, action and action'. Action!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer

Writing about boardgame themes reminds me that I have once again let a backlog of games played to build up. Apologies for any repetition from previous reviews.

Abluxxen: Good game, as abstract as they come and proud of it.

Boss Monster: A dungeon building card game that to my surprise I quite enjoyed. Boardgamegeek suggests that the theme isn't so much dungeons and monsters as early videogames, this being sinply a cardgame version.

Click Clack Lumberjack: I love this game; it's a real guilty pleasure. One can't question the theme of a game where one chops down plastic trees with a little plastic axe; well I can't anyway.

Game of Thrones: I really can't speak to the accuracy of this as I have never read the books nor seen any of the television series. We played the A Feast for Crows expansion, which those teaching the game said was the only way to make it playable. The mechanics were clear and made sense, but - driven by the theme presumably - it's asymmetrical. I find it hard to believe that Lannister won't always win.

Hau La: I have a soft spot for three dimensional games (see Click Clack Lumberjack above) and this one is refreshingly based on building up, rather than knocking down. I liked it, but wasn't clear of its replayability. It would be interesting to try with two players to see how it differed from the four player game.

Indigo: My reaction when this came out of the box was that it was like a hexagonal version of Tsuro, and so it is. But it's a lot better, with deeper strategy and more player interaction. I'd happily play this again.

Istanbul: I have mentioned before that I like this game - which has nothing much to do with Istanbul specifically; the setting could be any vaguely Eastern Mediterranean town - but I am beginning to wonder if the best strategy to follow isn't also the dullest and most obvious. I hope not.

La Granja: A new game with an interesting card play mechanism. Every card has four different ways that it could be used, all of which are very powerful, but as it can only be played once many difficult choices arise. I was left rather confused as to which was the best strategy to follow from all those available; those who have played it more often tell me that there doesn't appear to be one. For the record I went for a maximum pig strategy, but didn't win. Good game.

Last Will: A heavily themed game, but not a theme that would have occurred to many people before playing it, unless perhaps they were big Richard Pryor fans. An interesting game, with the turn order/ action scope bidding mechanism working rather well. I was robbed.

Legendary:Villains: A co-operative deck building game doesn't seem the most likely game to tickle my fancy and when the theme is comic book superheroes and villains it's probably even less plausible. However, I was enjoying myself, until we were embarrassingly quickly trounced by Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and, worst of all, Ant-Man. Ant-Man! What kind of villain gets beaten by someone whose superpower is shrinking to the size of an ant?

Letters From Whitechapel: This was the first time I'd played the game where Jack wasn't caught early on; indeed he won. Unfortunately the main effect of this was to make the game outstay its welcome, admittedly not helped by an extended break spent looking for a missing piece which it turned out never existed in the first place. I'm not sure what could be done to improve things, which is a shame because when it works, it works well.

Marrakech: A really fun game, although remarkably simple. You need to play the optional rules because the family friendly ones are just bland and boring. This is a reasonably strongly themed game about selling rugs (NB rugs not carpets) including a large number of the playing pieces actually being rugs, but I don't think that I'd actually try selling them this way

Murano: A rule of thumb would be that among every group of people being taught this game, one will have been to Murano. On this occasion it was me. It is with a modest amount of authority that I can therefore say that the theme is completely pasted on and those wishing to learn the finer points of glass manufacture should look elsewhere. It is however a very good game, with the rondel type mechanism causing many intriguing decision points.

New Salem: Here, as I've possibly mentioned before, we come to one of that class of games whose game play isn't so much unrelated to the ostensible theme, but actually pretty much directly the opposite (see Kanban and Evolution for example). Surely the whole point about the Salem witch trials is that there weren't ever any witches? For the record it's another hidden identity game coupled with a bit of drafting and set building. The chap who won neither understood the rules nor grasped the fact of his victory until it was pointed out to him. I think that tells you everything that you need to know.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf: Which I still don't like. Does the theme make sense? Consider the phrase "Insomniacs, wake up." and then tell me.

Paperback: As someone else has already written, this is Scrabble but fun. It's a well designed deck building word game with lots of card selection choices as well as the challenge of spelling. There is a very thin journalistic theme pasted on top, but that still doesn't explain the name. It's a good game.

Splendor: I've owned this for some time, but for one reason or another hadn't got round to getting it on to the table. It's a very good game, almost entirely abstract, well worth playing and also noteworthy for the very high quality of the components

Sushi Go!: I'm warming to this. My pudding strategy was better than when I'd played it previously.

Spyfall: Yet another hidden identity game, but this one involves a free form question and answer mechanism that is as big a recipe for dullness (and stress) as it sounds. Everyone is dealt a card that tells them which location they are all in except for one player who simply gets a card identifying them as the spy. Through questions about their location the spy attempts to identify where they all are while the others attempt to identify the interloper. Why would anyone hire a spy who can't easily spot whether he's on a space ship or the First Crusade?

Viceroy: A tableau building game, where the cards are illustrated with what seem to be completely irrelevant Conan the Barbarian style pictures, but which is otherwise simply a colour matching and set building game. It was OK, but didn't grab me.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Variations on a theme

"If a theme or idea is too near the surface, the novel simply becomes a tract illustrating an idea." - Elizabeth Bowen

That may be true of novels, but surely the inverse is true of boardgames. When discussing wargames with Chris - experienced boardgamer, novice wargamer -  I tried to place the two types of games in juxtaposition to each other. One definition that I've seen (I can't remember where, so sincere apologies for the lack of attribution) a definition of the difference based on wargames being only those which are based on a free form approach to movement and range. In other words C&C would always be a board game even when played with miniatures.

My own take on it is that wargames should be considered a subset of boardgames (remember that the latter term actually covers many games without boards at all), one of whose membership criteria is that theme is very important. In historical wargames (I'm afraid I have no personal experience of fantasy or sci-fi gaming) the mechanics have to give both a game and a representation of warfare of the period which accords with the views held by the gamer. If that isn't the case - even to small degrees - then players will swiftly complain about or tinker with the rules as written. In many (most) boardgames the game derives from the mechanics and the theme is relatively unimportant. Players may suggest that house rules are introduced because they think it will make a better game, but not because it will bring the result closer to the way that people really build railways, collect property portfolios, carry out heroic quests etc. In my analysis C&C moves firmly back to being a wargame.

As ever, the truth is probably somewhere in between and the subset defined above should be viewed through the lens of Fuzzy set theory rather than in terms of Cantor's original version that we all learned at school.


Changing the subject, I was very sorry to hear of the death of Joy Beverley, eldest of the sisters of that name and widow of Billy Wright the former England football captain, and who, like me, came from Bethnal Green. No doubt there will be plenty of chances to listen elsewhere to their (not unpleasant) music, so I'll take the chance to link to some Sista Beverley instead, a track from back when two 7s clashed.