Saturday 24 February 2024


 “This lasted longer than I could describe even if I wrote pages and pages about it.” - C.S. Lewis

Someone has very kindly asked after my health. I am much recovered, possibly up to more or less what passes for 100% with me. The one thing that I still can't do is spend much time at a computer screen so, to everyone's relief, blog posts will continue to be infrequent. In other areas of my life I have thankfully managed to return to full man-about-town mode, including catching the current touring production of 'Oh! What A Lovely War', which I very much enjoyed and highly recommend should it come near you.

A talented group of actor-musicians absolutely nail the production's mix of broad comedy, satire and tragedy. If you've seen the film you'll know that the attribution of blame is not especially nuanced, but sadly what the piece has to say about the futility of war is as relevant today as it was then.

Thursday 22 February 2024

A l’hora del record seràs València

 Or possibly not. It would seem that Valencia was relieved after all because the French marched their entire force of to battle rather than leaving any to man the siegeworks. I can't tell you what that means for the campaign; presumably all will become clear in due course. Anyway, in another part of Spain the French and Spanish are having at it again; we have already had more battles than there were in the whole of the Peninsular war. This time the Spanish force is that of Blake, who has done nothing so far except receive reinforcements. He outnumbers the French on the table at the start and has therefore attacked. As usual I don't know the location at which the battle is taking place. In my defence I seem to mainly view the map upside down and from a distance.

We've only played the first turn of the game so far, so by way of a change here is a picture of the participants. I apologise for the lack of ties; your bloggist was of course wearing one behind the camera.

Sunday 18 February 2024

Was Valencia Relieved?

 Well, was it? I don't think so, but not for the first time the finer details of the campaign seem to be eluding me. More on this later.

I confidently predicted that the Spanish had advanced as far as they could and would be pushed back on the second evening of the game. Inevitably therefore, they kept moving forwards, and it was the French whose units started to rout off the table. However, the French had so much morale left and the Spanish forces were so bad - being largely raw troops who don't fire very often or very effectively (*) - that we collectively called it as draw. As no one won, the situation, I think, remains as it was and Valencia is still besieged.

The campaign rules we are using were written by James, and most enjoyable they are too. Of course, playing through them has led to the odd tweak to improve playability, but nothing especially major. One thing has become apparent though, it has proven rather difficult for either side to land much of a damaging blow on the other. So, we have decided to make the permanent losses incurred by the losing side of a battle greater. The unintended consequence of this could well be fewer battles and more manoeuvre, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing; see previous reports for evidence that I at least have been a bit gung ho in offering battle. The other change we have made is to increase the size of the hand of campaign  cards each player is allowed to hold. This may seem a bit of a technicality, but we think it may lead to forces having their supply lines threatened more frequently.

Anyway, more map moves next week.

* Basically the French rolled very well and the Spanish very badly in the set up, and the reverse happened during the game itself.

Saturday 10 February 2024

Will Valencia Be Relieved?

 The current action in the Peninsular campaign is yet another set-to between O'Donnell and Macdonald, who are having a feisty, but probably irrelevant, private war on Spain's Eastern coast. One of them is besieging Valencia, and the other is trying to relieve the siege; at the time of writing I can't offhand remember which way round it is.

The Spanish army is, even by their low standards, pretty rubbish. That's them above; there's a reasonable number of them, but they're mostly very poor quality. Given that they must attack I - and probably everyone else - thought it would be a straightforward French victory. However, the first night of the game proved both highly enjoyable and surprising in what it delivered. Despite that, I would imagine that the photo below shows the highwater mark of the Spanish advance. Note the French flanking attack at the bottom, which subsequently drove the defending infantry out of the woods back across the stream.

The latest iteration of the skirmish rules continue to work well; no doubt we'll find the flaws in due course. 

Tuesday 30 January 2024


 “People have forgotten this truth, but you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.” 

Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Little Prince

It's been a while since I mentioned the pigeon. "Wait a minute," I hear you say "you've never mentioned a pigeon." Well, actually I have, you just weren't paying attention. A couple of years ago a pigeon with an injured wing landed in my garden and hasn't been able to leave. International Pigeon Rescue let us down by failing to send their operatives and I don't have it in me to wring its neck, so I've been feeding her ever since. My garden is surrounded by high stone walls and is never visited by cats and so she's still here. Last year she attracted a mate and reared a chick. I'm pretty sure I had never seen a young pigeon before. However, tragedy has struck. Her beau - and they mate for life - is no more, seemingly having flown into one of the same walls that has been protecting them. The original bird has gone full Greyfriars Bobby and has been sitting in the spot where he fell (I've obviously removed the remains) ever since. I shall have to put up a memorial to her. As none of the people to whom it is variously attributed once said "Sometimes you're the pigeon and sometimes you're the statue".

I was sorry to see that Tom Priestley, son of the great John Boynton, died on Christmas day. I met him once a few years ago. Most of his obituaries mention the problems he faced in being the son of a distinguished father, but he had great success himself. He was the editor of many films that you will certainly have seen, being nominated for an Oscar for 'Deliverance'. 

My health continues to improve to the extent that I have both been on a demonstration and been to a gig. Here's Brave Rival with 'Bad Choices':

Friday 26 January 2024

Wellington Doesn't Lose

 I'm still struggling to spend much time working at a computer screen so posts will continue to be sparse; rest assured that quality will not rise as a result. As it happens I didn't miss any wargaming whilst AWOL, as there wasn't any. But we're back baby, we're back.

When we left it in December the main British force had decided to accept battle from the combined French forces despite the likelihood of being greatly outnumbered. I may be playing the role of Wellington, but I'm not role-playing the great man. There is no way he would have stood his ground, he would have retreated back to Portugal pronto. Indeed as we eventually got to the table I rather regretted my impetuosity. However I was lucky in that one of the three forces seeking to move against me didn't turn up at all. I was lucky again when the second force seemed likely to arrive quite late in the day. At the start of the battle therefore I had superior numbers. Having found my inner Iron Duke at last I didn't attack, rather I simply skulked behind a handy ridge.

The French moved against a village I was holding, with some initial success before being thrown back out of it. The Light Division saw most of the action and in skirmish formation saw off a formed unit with such ease that it has caused us to make a small amendment to the rules to make sure it can't happen again.

That's the 95th in the wood and that's a routing French unit at the top of the table. Subsequently the bulk of the French forces did arrive and the position looked very different.

But, I won the initiative when it mattered, rolling a timely double six (*) and turning eighteen straight cards of the twenty seven in my deck before the French could say "Zut alors!". The battle was drawn with remarkably few casualties on either side.  Both sides stay in place and all depends on the turn of the next campaign cards.

* Dice have replaced dominoes, but different dice to the ones that were replaced by dominoes in the first place; so far I prefer it.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

A Bad Penny Always Turns Up

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”  - Susan Sontag

What better way to return than with some Rory Gallagher:

Thursday 30 November 2023

The Battle of Cacares

 At least I think that's how you spell it. Whilst here has been no wargaming content on the blog for a while, there has been plenty going on in the background. Over the last three weeks we have been playing out the Battle of Cacares, or possibly the battle of a place which has a name that looks a bit like that. I trust that James will write it up fully in a blog post heavily laden with photographs, but here's a few of my thoughts with only one picture, and that one a tad arcane.

Wellington, having captured Madrid, immediately abandoned it and pressed on to confront Soult, taking advantage of a chunk of the latter's forces being holed up in Badajoz with a Spanish army camped outside.  My strategy, for it is I, is based on an assumption that the underlying purpose of the campaign is to provide us with opportunities to play with toy soldiers, and I therefore seek to bring the enemy to battle if the opportunity arises. Reading between the lines, I suspect that my fellow players feel the same way.

The first evening mostly involved manoeuvre by the Anglo-Portuguese while the French just sat there. I had been thinking for some time that the skirmisher rules were too advantageous to the British Light Division and had in a previous game adopted a particular approach aimed at exploiting what I thought was a loophole, thereby encountering much derision from the others, who didn't agree at all. I stuck with it however and committed much of the initiative which I gained from the draw of dominos to an elaborately choreographed advance by the Lights on my centre right which caused no French casualties and got us absolutely nowhere. Somewhat more was achieved by the cavalry. Most of the French cavalry was on their left, and not wanting this on the flank of my advancing infantry I sent my cavalry to see them off, which they did, ending the night poised to force the French infantry into square. On my left the only action was the playing of an event card by Mark allowing him to carry out a prebattle artillery bombardment. This made such a mess of the 3rd division that they played no further part in the game.

I had thought that the French, who started with more units on the table than the British, would attack on their right and my plan was to bring my reserves on to my extreme left and get behind them. No such attack having been forthcoming I brought the reserves on anyway at the beginning of the second evening and moved forwards. This second evening was marked by a British inability to cause any casualties in combat or indeed to throw anything worthwhile in defence either. This was despite no longer being encumbered with the by now abandoned Epictetus grand theory of how to use Napoleonic light infantry. Far from forcing the French infantry into square my cavalry was blown away by musket fire and the entire division became 'spent'. In fact the French switched their remaining cavalry unit to their left flank, with the clear - if ambitious - idea of seizing the village on the Allies baseline and gaining a cheesy victory that way. The evening ended with the British infantry with charge distance across the whole of the French defensive line.

On the third evening British luck with the dice changed and weight of numbers and, probably more importantly, the quality of their troops broke the French line close to the end of the fourth turn of the allowed five. Thankfully for the credibility of the morale system the French do-or-die cavalry raid, er, died. Permanent losses for campaign purposes were quite high, more so for the losers. The following photo makes clear the method of establishing those casualties.

OK, I admit that it doesn't make anything clear, especially to me. Still, James knows what he's doing, and he says I'm currently leading the campaign scoring track, so all is well.

Saturday 25 November 2023

The Barber of Bradford

 And so to the opera. The last few days have seen the inaugural Bradford Opera Festival, the centrepiece of which was a semi-staged performance of the Barber of Seville, transported to twentieth century Bradford (the sixties perhaps) and with the libretto translated into 'proper Yorkshire'. Naturally, your bloggist was there. Dealing with the last point first, I couldn't help thinking that were I, Heaven forfend, a Yorkshireman then I would have felt rather patronised. However, the packed audience at St Georges Hall, the majority of whom were presumably from God's own county, rather lapped it up. 

I very much enjoyed it: fine singing combined with highly energetic performances combined to easily compensate for the lack of the sort of production values one is more used to. I must, in particular, praise Oscar Castellino who shone in the title role. He has sung with major companies, although I don't think I've ever seen him before. I think I would have remembered an artist whose biography in the programme starts "He was born in a car on a street in Mumbai".

The creators are planning to move on next year to the 'sequel' i.e. Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro'. My main advice to them would be to get some side title displays in so we can get the full benefit of the dialect and the swearing. Oh, and lose the fourth act.

Sunday 19 November 2023

There ain't no goodhats...

 An intermittently recurring feature on the blog has been bands I wish I'd seen forty or fifty years ago, didn't, but now have. Latest to join this illustrious list is Wreckless Eric, a name he spent decades trying to avoid, but has now reclaimed. It was worth the wait:

He was supporting Dr Feelgood, who I probably would have gone to see anyway. The issue of whether I'd ever seen the original line up has now been resolved (although I can still remember absolutely nothing of the event) and this latest gig turned out to be 48 years all but one day since that previous occasion. That, I think is the longest period between my successive attendance at gigs of the same band, always assuming that you count them as being the same band. This lot are a bit of an odd mixture between being a proper band (they released an album of new material last year) and a tribute act (they play all the old favourites), but however you classify them they are bloody good and well worth seeing. Not, though as good as Wilko Johnson, Lee Brilleaux, John B. Sparkes and The Big Figure, so here they are:

Someone else who I've seen live this week is Tom Robinson, who I last saw in either late 1977 or early 1978, so not quite as big a gap. He was also excellent and extremely engaging; his anecdotes being almost as good as his music. I particularly liked the one about the time the Sunday People described him as 'Britain's no. 1 gay' when they 'outed' him for being in a relationship with a woman. Wreckless Eric's best anecdote was about Kevin Coyne, but he was perhaps topped by Maddie Prior of Steeleye Span - also seen by your bloggist with the last seven days; I am ceaseless in my search for material with which to entertain you - whose story concerned both Peter Sellers and his ukulele.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

You can't keep a posh boy down


"Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. First the body. No. First the place. No. First both. Now either. Now the other. Sick of the either try the other. Sick of it back sick of the either. So on. Somehow on. Till sick of both. Throw up and go. Where neither. Till sick of there. Throw up and back. The body again. Where none. The place again. Where none. Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good. Where neither for good. Good and all."

                                             - Samuel Beckett

Sunday 12 November 2023


 And so to the opera. I have been in Birmingham for a couple of days, primarily to take in the Welsh National Opera production of Golijov's 'Ainadamar'. This is an unusual piece, indeed the programme describes it as 'waith unigryw'; I'm not sure about that, although I might go as far as 'gwahanredol'.

The work deals with the assassination of the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and, rather than being told in a linear narrative, unfolds in flashbacks from the deathbed (*) of Lorca's muse, the actress Margarita Xirgu. The music added flamenco, Arabic and Jewish influences and Cuban rhythms to a classical core and was wonderful, greatly enhanced by the dancing which interspersed the singing.

At university in Madrid in the 1920s Lorca was a friend of Salvador Dalí (**) and, as luck would have it, I have been to see 'Daaaaaali!' at the Leeds International Film Festival. This is directed by Quentin Dupieux, whose 'Incroyable mais vrai' I saw and enjoyed last year at LIFF, but don't seem to have bothered to mention here before. In a similar fashion to 'Ainadamar' the film eschewed a single narrative arc in favour of a sort of recursive, Russian doll like series of dreams and films with films; all entirely in keeping with the great (and egocentric) surrealist at its heart. It was very funny, and I highly recommend seeing it should it make it to your local multiplex. The scene near the beginning in the hotel corridor is worth the effort on its own.

* That's how it seemed to me; no doubt other opinions are available.

** And Luis Buñuel.

Saturday 11 November 2023

Battle of Madrid, the Conclusion

 The game reached its inevitable conclusion, although it took a little bit longer than I thought it would. The French had played an event card (*) the previous week which meant that their best division could carry on after its morale was all spent, and carry on they did. Together with one of their cavalry units they caused a couple of British units on the left flank to rout. The focal point was however on the British right flank and there the Light Division advanced steadily and the day was won.

Things I would have done differently include arranging the units of the Light Division differently and possibly continuing the cavalry's move from flank to flank instead of pausing it for a while. I shall have a chance to test the first of those next week, because following another couple of turns of map moves (I think we're now half way through turn 8, but please don't rely on that) Wellington's army will now face off against Soult's.

I know everyone is interested in whatever rule changes occur. This week's related to morale losses following losing a melee. There was a certain amount of robust discussion around this as it seemed to appear from nowhere. James' justification didn't really consist of much more than saying that it was what he had written down and therefore it must be right. Fair enough, that will do me. And it is, of course, the same for both sides.

* These cards are part of the campaign structure. Personally, I'd include them in the base tabletop rules as well. I didn't like much about Soldiers of Napoleon, but I liked the event cards.

Friday 10 November 2023

I Can Still See You

 I can still see you: an Echo,

to be touched with Feeler-
Words, on the Parting-

Your face softly shies away,
when all at once there is
lamp-like brightness
in me, at the Point,
where most painfully one says Never.

                         - Paul Celan

Thursday 9 November 2023

No one shocked as Home Secretary stands on guide dog's tail


"I think there is only one quality worse than hardness of heart, and that is softness of head."

 -Theodore Roosevelt

Friday 3 November 2023

Kern You Believe It?

An unlooked for effect of my visit to Fiasco is that I have got the paints out again. One reason I didn't buy anything much was a nagging awareness that my last big(*) purchase hadn't progressed very far. But I'm pleased to report that the first unit of kern has now rolled off what I amuse myself by referring to as the production line.

Figures are a mixture of Red Box and Tumbling Dice

* Size of purchase is all relative obviously; this wasn't a particularly big purchase by anyone else's standards.

Thursday 2 November 2023

¡Hala Madrid! ...y nada más

 "I love thee as I love Madrid that we have defended and as I love all my comrades that have died. And many have died. Many. Many. Thou canst not think how many."  - Ernest Hemingway

I said last week that the Anglo-Portuguese
 army attacking Madrid was bigger and better than the defenders. The only hope for the French was to hope the initiative went their way and that they could see out the five turns allowed for the game before losing. In the event the opposite happened, with the Allies, for the second battle running, drawing the consistently higher dominos. At one point I drew the 2:1 domino; surely James would beat that? But no, he drew the 1:0. The very next draw I drew the double one; this time? No, he drew the 1:0 again. You can't help some people. On top of that, there were two double dominos (*), one when the French had all but succeeded in reaching the end of their deck, meaning that we only played one turn in the evening and Peter and I had been through our deck more than twice.

James will no doubt post a comprehensive post, but the evening ended with the French on the verge of losing all their army morale despite much of the British force, including their strongest infantry division and their cavalry, not having done anything at all. I give it half an hour at most next week.

* When both sides draw the same domino all used cards are shuffled back into the deck, but it doesn't count as an end of turn.

Sunday 29 October 2023

We need a man with longer trousers

 I have been to Fiasco for the first time since before lockdown. James had a deal going down and needed some muscle to back him up. Sadly for him he couldn't find anyone, so as a fairly feeble alternative I offered to meet him there while he rendezvoused with The Man . A large wad was passed surreptitiously across, 20Kg of high quality gear was handed over in return and we slipped away quietly. Or perhaps we should have, instead of taking a stroll round, because I'm sorry to say that the show wasn't very good. Obviously we weren't putting on a game, it's not really an option at the moment, and everyone else had clearly decided as a mark of respect that our pre-pandemic mantle of best looking table should be left uncontested.

An exception was the above Venice-based Pulp game, although even there my first reaction was "How impractical is that terrain?". 

Shopping was very limited. When I saw that the Last Valley hadn't sold out already I bought some trees even though I'm not sure I really need any, and that was it. Still, it got me out of the house.

Thursday 26 October 2023

More Map Moves

 Illness having, to some extent at least, abated the group reconvened for some more map moves. I have no idea what turn it is. James has promised a post on his blog covering both the last game and the current campaign phase, so hopefully he'll tell us; always assuming he knows either.

The map moves follow a sort of Too Fat Lardies template, with all commanders having a couple of cards in the deck and being able to move when they are turned, plus various other cards which do specific things including ending the turn. Wellington's lack of activity so far in the campaign has largely been due to his cards never arriving. But all that changed this week, with both Wellington and the Spanish commander Blake activating twice each early on. They used the opportunity to advance on Madrid in a pincer movement from North and South. Wellesley rolled better and it is his forces who will engage Joseph Bonaparte (never, I note, referred to as King Joseph). The French are heavily outnumbered and, probably even more significantly, comprehensively outclassed. They attempted to withdraw prior to battle, but I played a Surprise Attack card and prevented them from doing so. If the gods of the dominos are willing then they will be completely crushed next week. 

The forces have been deployed - see below - with Wellington keeping his plan of attack pretty close to his chest.

Coming back to Joseph, I realised that I knew very little about him and so started to read the article about him on a well-known and highly respected internet resource. I confess that my attention was being rather distracted by the frequent fall of English wickets against Sri Lanka, but I was suddenly interested again when I read that Napoleon's elder brother had married Julian Clary. Obviously this transpired not actually to be the case - even Wikipedia isn't that inaccurate - but it's a thought to conjure with.

Thursday 19 October 2023


I have had Covid again. That's the second time this year, which seems a little self-indulgent for a man my age. I seem to have picked it up at a university reunion, along with more than half of those attending, demonstrating once again the truth of the adage that one should never go back. Prior to testing positive I went to a Fairport Convention gig in Settle; I can only hope that I didn't act as a super-spreader among the, let's face it, rather elderly audience. Now I think about it, that was also the second time I'd seen Fairport this year. Coincidence? Or something more sinister?

Actually, there's been a bit of illness about, causing a pause in the Peninsular campaign. Prior to that occurring I found myself as stand-in commander of - checks notes - O'Donnell's force defending Tarragona against French assault. It was a highly entertaining game, with the final outcome only decided on the very last roll of the very last action on the very last card turned. However, in my opinion although not necessarily that of others, this was entirely down to luck being very much skewed in favour of the Spanish rather than being a positive reflection on the way the campaign rules handle such scenarios. Some changes have been mooted and we shall have to wait to see what effect they have. 

Returning to Fairport, they, playing as four-piece because their drummer Gerry Conway has retired (*), were as excellent as one would expect. Also excellent was Lauren Housley and the Northern Cowboys who I had seen a couple of days earlier whilst I was still bursting with health. Ms Housley mainly performs her own material, but included a couple of covers: Little Feat's "Willin'" and John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery". However, I'm going to include this Fairport Convention song, which they also included in their own set:

* His retirement is of a kind which will not, I expect, prevent him from appearing onstage at a gig which, viruses willing, I intend seeing in a week or so.

Friday 6 October 2023

O'Donald and MacDonnell

 It has been drawn to my attention that I confused MacDonald with O'Donnell in my last post. Very embarrassing, given how one the two names is so clearly French and the other is so clearly Spanish. In addition one of them had a farm while the other has sold 10 million records; so there's no excuse really. There is certainly no excuse for this:

Is that a bandoneon?

Thursday 5 October 2023

Map Moves - End of Turn 5/Beginning of Turn 6

 At least that's where I think we are. If I was you I'd rely on whatever James writes in his blog. He has written up the the second evening of the Badajoz game and like me he struggles to make it sound exciting; nice photos though. The following picture isn't terribly interesting either, but it does illustrate a couple of things.

Towards the bottom right corner you can see that Beresford has now retreated back to where he started after his failed attack near Badajoz. The British actually inflicted more casualties on the French than they suffered, which didn't seem very likely when the forces were first set out on the table. Having also seen some men return from being hospitalised with disease Beresford is in a better state than he deserves to be.

At the top is the site of the next battle, Tarragona. Macdonald received some timely fresh drafts of troops as reinforcements - the Spanish get more such opportunities than everyone else - and tried unsuccessfully to concentrate his forces and attack the French. Instead he finds himself besieged in the fortress by a somewhat larger force. The terrain is set out, the units deployed and the game will commence next week. 

Friday 29 September 2023

Boardgames June-September 2023

 This is the usual mix of new-to-me and, well, some not new-to-me at all games:

7 Wonders Duel: I hadn't played this in quite a while. It's a really good two player version of the original, which achieves the difficult feat of replacing the card drafting with something just as good.

Canal Mania: Sort of, but not exactly, Ticket to Ride with canals. There's an added element of pick-up and deliver, which was the bit I failed to get to grips with and so ended up way behind. I'd like to play again, just to prove I'm not completely useless; or possibly just to prove that I am.

Clank! Sunken Treasures: I'd never played this version before, but it was fun, with an 'inability to breathe' twist. I also played Clank! Catacombs, and that's still the one I'd recommend.

Dogfight!: Rule the Skies in 20 Minutes!: Yet another lot of exclamation marks! I'm undecided about this, mainly I think because we made the mistake of playing the introductory scenario too many times without moving on to one of the more advanced missions. It's also fairly abstract.

Earth: Meh. I could see this possibly being popular in a world where Terraforming Mars didn't exist.

Expeditions: I have gone on record as saying how much I disliked Scythe, so I was surprised to rather enjoy this 'sequel'. Of course it's no such thing, simply a different game with similar setting and artwork. I never take any notice of theming for Eurogames so that was fine by me. There's very little player interaction so it can be a bit dull when it's not your turn.

Faiyum: A game of draining swampland as advisors to Amenemhet III. We played it two-player and I'm keen to see how it might differ at higher player counts.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue: I don't generally like cooperative games, but this one's not bad. The roof fell in and killed us all, as it generally does in my experience.

Heat: Pedal to the Metal: I'm going to keep including this one in these lists, just to reinforce how good it is.

Hey, That's My Fish!: What is it with the exclamation marks? I'd never played this filler before, but it's quick and it's fun.

Joan of Arc: A draw and write version of Orléans. After we'd finished we all looked at each other and said "I'd rather play Orléans". Not helped by very small and cramped iconography.

On the Underground: A pleasant game about building tube lines in London, where my local knowledge sadly failed to give me any advantage.

Planet Unknown: Great game, highly recommended. It's basically a multi-player solitaire polyomino tile laying game, except that tile selection is via a lazy Susan meaning that most of the time you have to make do with what you're given. There are more things to concentrate on than you can possibly achieve, so full of choices and decisions.

Red7: This light filler hadn't come out for ages, and to my surprise the group to whom I introduced it treated it really, really seriously and it took forever to play.

Shoot for the Stars: An overproduced little game which exposed just how useless most people seem to be when asked to think about well known things in numerical and quantitative terms. How can anyone not be able to estimate approximately the longest age that a tortoise has been known to live to (*)? I won by a mile.

The End of the Triumvirate: A three player game in which you play Caesar, Pompey or the other one. I really enjoyed its combination of military conflict, trying to raise money and the need to retain political support.

The King is Dead: A very good game which also requires precisely three people and therefore doesn't come out too often. Appeals to players who like to sit there and think "If I do this he will do that, but then she might do this, and then....".

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries: Another three player game; you may be able to guess that the regular group has been a couple of members down for much of the summer. The map was new to me and I liked its tightness.

Truffle Shuffle: The truffles in question are chocolate, but despite that I didn't really care for it.

* As a hint, it is possible, though disputed, that the same individual tortoise was owned by both Charles Darwin and Steve Irwin.

Thursday 28 September 2023


 The latest game in the Peninsular campaign was a battle near Badajoz, brought about mainly by your bloggist neither understanding the rules nor having bothered to take any account of publicly available information about the size of the various French forces. James wrote about the first evening here, and the second evening saw it reach a conclusion.

I, in my capacity as Beresford on this occasion, attacked from the outset, not so much because I thought it was a good idea, but because in the context of the campaign I thought I should. One has to assume that all sorts of things are abstracted in the campaign mechanics, and in this case it was the reason why the British would be the aggressor against an equal force with large reinforcements arriving any moment soon. One must just assume that there was a good reason why they did. 

Anyway, much to my surprise it all ended in a draw with both sides being very low on morale and not being in a position to do much; indeed the last hour or so of playing was rather dull. Whilst the arrival of the French reinforcements was imminent (*), the British were withdrawing steadily and it was by no means clear that the new troops would be able to cause much damage before nightfall. In the end permanent casualties were fairly light on both sides, although the hospitals will be pretty full with those recovering. I left James (no Mark or Peter this week) to do the paperwork, but overall I think I came out of the affair far better than I was expecting. The main reason for that was, it seemed to me, the resilience against morale challenges which the British in particular benefit from in the rules we use.

Lots of photos were taken and James will no doubt write it up in detail in due course. When I was originally rolling up my army lists one small crumb of comfort was the inclusion of some extremely feisty heavy cavalry. They repaid this faith by destroying two units of French light cavalry and causing the Polish Lancers to think better of it and withdraw. Let's hope we see more of them during the campaign.

* Fortunately for the British and Portuguese the order in which the cards were turned up in the third turn effectively delayed their arrival for a further turn after that.

Friday 15 September 2023

Thursday 14 September 2023

The Peninsular Campaign - where are we at?

 Over the last couple of weeks we have fought out the second battle in the Pyrenees, at Manresa. James has posted a report on the first night with plenty of photos. That evening's play was as good a game as I can remember, with what ought probably have been a walkover for the French swinging both ways, including a rather feisty counter-attack by the only two average Spanish units (all the others being poor) and featuring a cameo from the militia who, now I think about it, are even worse than poor. The second evening saw the inevitable happen though, with the French finally sweeping all before them. The battered Spanish withdrew down the coast, the winners marched into Barcelona, and James and Mark awarded themselves vast numbers of victory points including some - I kid you not - for refraining from stitching each other up.

We then moved on to the next campaign moves, which saw the end of the turn before anything much had happened. Eventually the British got a chance to move, but sadly your bloggist managed to both misunderstand the rules and misread the likely intentions of Soult. Next week will therefore see Beresford's Portuguese attacking a French force of approximately equal size with an even larger force under Soult himself poised to arrive, although thankfully quite late in the day.  Part of my misunderstanding of the rules has been deemed understandable after all and an appropriate adjustment incorporated therein. Unfortunately my misjudgement of the likely size of the French force remains and next week could be quite hard going.

Friday 8 September 2023

Dorothy de Kansas

 Some scepticism has been expressed as to my reading of Piazzolla's opera 'Maria de Buenos Aries' as being a metaphor for the rise, fall and rise again of tango. Indeed there was one suggestion that I may have spent too long outside without a hat in the unseasonal sunny weather we are experiencing (*).

"What do we want? The free creation of silver money alongside gold! When do we want it? Now!"

In my defence can I point to another example of the use of artistic metaphor. L. Frank Baum's 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' was written as a satire on the presidential campaigns of William Jennings Bryan on a Free Silver platform. The Wicked Witches are the East and West Coast bankers, the Scarecrow represents the farmers who were too stupid to avoid getting into debt, the Tin Man is the industrial workers who didn't have the heart to take action in support of the farmers, and the Cowardly Lion is politicians who were too afraid to intervene. Given that we're speaking of bimetallism the Yellow Brick Road and Silver Shoes need no explanation (**), not does it need pointing out that Oz is the abbreviation for ounce. I am less persuaded of the idea that Dorothy was meant to be Theodore Roosevelt, which seems to have been put forward on the somewhat tenuous grounds that their names are nearly anagrams (***)

* For those who don't me I am, although it is barely visible to the naked eye, starting to go a bit thin on top. 

** I know they were Ruby Slippers in the film, but they were Silver Shoes in the book. The change was made, I believe, to look better in Technicolor.

*** It does, however, allow me to include something tangentially related to wargaming.

Thursday 7 September 2023

Maria de Buenos Aries

 And so to the opera. In my recent review of 'Frida' I forgot to mention that it was the first opera I had ever seen which was originally written for an orchestra which included an accordion (*). I have now seen a second, sort of. In fact Astor Piazzolla's 'Maria de Buenos Aries' was written for the bandoneon, but I defy even the most passionate rivet-counter amongst this blog's readership to spot the difference between the noise made by those two things.

That's an accordion

Obscure instrumentation aside this piece - which I really enjoyed - goes straight to the top of the list as the most bonkers storyline for any opera I've ever seen, and that is of course a very high bar, as realism and opera librettos are often strangers to one another. I shall attempt to provide a synopsis:

Maria is born in the slums of Buenos Aries, but, lured in part by her love of tango, escapes poverty by becoming a sex worker. 

[So far this is is unremarkable, indeed it could be the backstory to La traviata. This section ends with one of the highlights of the whole thing in which Maria loudly affirms who she is, an which is reminiscent in spirit of the party scene in Verdi's opera. However, things are just about to become weird.]

Maria then falls in love with an accordion and yes, I said accordion not accordionist (**). This proves a transgression too far even for those in the sleazy milieu in which she moves, and so they kill her. However you can't keep a good woman down and so she comes back to life, or possibly reappears as a ghostly spirit; it wasn't terribly clear. For reasons that were also somewhat obscure she is taken down to an underground cabal of psychoanalysts. When she escapes their questions - they don't seem to offer much in the way of therapy - she is pursued through the streets of Buenos Aries by three marionettes (***), who have been hired to impregnate her with their seed. This having occurred she gives birth to herself and yes, I said to herself not by herself.

So, what's it about? The director chose to play up the religious elements (she's called Maria, she rises from the dead) and the queer elements (let's face it, there aren't any, but what opera director has ever let something like that stand in their way?). Despite all that it worked a treat. The playing, singing and dancing were all great and, once one gave up trying to follow what was happening, it was a delightful evening.

The most lucid interpretation that I have subsequently read is that the piece is actually lamenting the decay of tango as a form of music and dance. Having been born in the slums of Buenos Aries, it moved to the mainstream where it was contaminated by the accordion (or perhaps the bandoneon) and other foreign influences; commercialised by the US mainstream (e.g. Hollywood), it was eventually influenced by the Avant-garde and was reborn as nuevo tango, whose prime exponent was none other than Piazzolla himself.

Is this a bandoneon? Actually, I don't think it is: 

* Although, for the record, not the first opera I had ever seen which actually included an accordion in the orchestra.

** Regular readers may at this point be reminded of this post from a few years ago.

*** These weren't real characters in the story played by puppets on stage, they were marionettes in the story played by real people on stage.

Sunday 3 September 2023


 I've been to the Scottish Borders for a few days. I spent some of that time in Berwick-upon-Tweed, which of course isn't in Scotland and hasn't been since Richard of Gloucester captured it in 1482. I was vaguely aware that ownership of the town had been keenly contested for centuries prior to that, but would have been hard pushed to tell you why, beyond the normal willy waving of medieval monarchs. However, as soon as one sees the place, all becomes obvious. Obviously any wargames blogger worth his salt would have taken plenty of photos to illustrate that, possibly featuring how its Elizabethan bastions allow artillery to dominate the mouth of the Tweed. Unfortunately this blog is written by me and all I've got is a picture of a cunningly disguised secret entrance from which the defenders could launch a surprise attack on unsuspecting besiegers.

The town's museum is in the former barracks, which incidentally may have been designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, and had some interesting exhibits. We haven't had a photo of a gibbet for a coiuple of weeks, so let's start with this:

For those of you wondering about the fish, don't - it's a red herring. This rather fine diorama was in a case with, as far as I could see, not much in the way of explanation. It could be Berwick Castle, but there's not much left of that, as the stone was robbed to build, amongst other things, the barracks.

In addition to the town museum, there is a large exhibition about the British Army from its formation to the colonial wars at the end of the 19th century, which was rather well done. I was pleased to see that it included some toy soldiers. My photo manages to include the colour party, but at the expense of showing either of the flank companies or the battalion guns, all of which are faithfully replicated. The 25th Regiment of Foot became, I believe, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, hence their being chosen for the display.

I did venture into Scotland, mainly for a spot of walking. This is what's left of  Roxburgh castle, which I include only because it was here that in 1460 James II of Scotland paid the price for playing too active a part in a siege. 'Haveng sik plesure in discharging gret gunis' he was killed when one of them 'brak in the fyring'.

Wednesday 30 August 2023


 And so to the opera. Earlier in the summer I went to see 'In Dreams', a musical using songs by or associated with Roy Orbison. It was very, very good and I'm not entirely sure why I never wrote about it at the time. It was set in New Mexico and many of the characters were of Mexican origin; inevitably the 'Day of the Dead' loomed large. The reason I mention it now is that I have been to see the first production in the UK of 'Frida', the opera by Robert Rodriguez portraying the life of the painter Frida Kahlo and, sure enough...

photo credit Rhian Hughes

I don't know how accurate the retelling of her story was. I have always taken issue with the widespread assumption that she was overlooked as a painter because she was a woman; given that her husband, Diego Rivera, was a far superior artist (*) it is at least possible that the only reason for her being so well known is actually because she's a woman. Based on the version told in the opera the thing we should most admire her for is the overcoming of innumerable physical disabilities and illnesses. In any event, what happens here - and I've no idea whether it happened in real life - is that her success comes about because Rivera sells several of her paintings to Edward G. Robinson rather than selling his own. Robinson is one of a number of eclectic characters who pop up, including Henry Ford, Nelson D. Rockefeller and of course the Trotskys. The latter give rise to a slightly odd design choice; when Natalia Trotsky first appears she is wearing a fur hat, presumably to underline just how Russian she is rather than it being strictly necessary under the Mexican sun. 

I enjoyed it all immensely. Any show that contains marching soldaderas carrying banners saying 'Tierra y Libertad' and singing 'Long live Zapata' is going to be OK with me. Add on to that a bus crashing into a tram and the assassination of Trotsky and you have all the makings of a good night out.

* In your bloggist's opinion obviously.

Friday 25 August 2023

As not requested yet

"The Pyrenees have stood for ages a frowning barrier, descending toward France on the northern side from gradually decreasing heights - but on the Spanish side in wild disorder, plunging down through steep chasms, ravines, and precipices - with sharp cliffs towering thousands of feet skyward, which better than standing armies protect the sunny plains below.”

Mary Platt Parmele

The Mojo Dojo Casa House Epictetus once again has a functioning kitchen and so, with the aid of tea and biscuits, I can return to blogging. In my absence it would seem that someone has left a message on Mark's Blog asking him to give his version of the recently commenced Peninsular Campaign. I think it's unlikely that he will. No one has (yet) left any such request on this site and therefore, naturally enough, I will. 

First the campaign. The rules - all James' own work - are being played for the first time and are therefore inevitably being playtested as we go along and are even more subject to change than anything else that happens in the legendary wargames room. The attrition rules have, for example, already been somewhat streamlined, on the very sensible basis that simple is usually best. But, overall, they seem to flow both quickly and smoothly, so a thumbs up so far from me.

The first session of map moves saw a French force move towards Barcelona, a Spanish force moved to cut them off and the two met at Vich. This where perhaps our unfamiliarity with the campaign rules became apparent, specifically the means by which map would be translated to tabletop. We ended up, not surprisingly perhaps given that we were in the Pyrenees, with such difficult terrain that it didn't promise much of a game. Common sense once more prevailed and we decided to classify the various terrain features as less onerous than they should have been and carry on regardless. James' report is pretty thorough in terms of the first night, where the Spanish failed to press home their attack because they couldn't get the cards they needed. He hasn't yet written a report of the second night, but the luck was entirely the other way round, with the Spanish getting all the initiative and managing to withdraw and form a new line before night fell. So a draw, with no victory points being awarded to either commander. The Spanish suffered the greater casualties, which was only to be expected because they are mostly rubbish. In theory this is offset by the greater ease in which they will gain reinforcements. We shall see.

Most enjoyable so far.

Monday 14 August 2023

Lard Workshop the Second

 The Mojo Dojo Casa House Epictetus still has no kitchen, and so I have been getting out and about as much as possible. As luck would have it the second Lard Workshop took place in Nottingham on Saturday and gave me the excuse to take a couple of days away. As with last year, I spent an afternoon exploring part of the city, on this occasion the National Justice Museum. I wouldn't suggest making a special trip, but if you're in the vicinity it's worth a look. Like many museums these days it featured costumed interpreters, here seen explaining how 18th century executions worked, including more detail than I felt I really needed to know.

You'll be as relieved as I was when I tell you that the lady above, convicted of stealing some scraps of lace, had her death sentence commuted to six weeks in prison in the nick of time. There was a bit of a theme for the weekend though, because one of the first sights that greeted me when arriving for my first game was this victim of evil Prince John.

We were in the 12th century where I was playing the, previously unknown to me, Sheriff of Lardingham, who was attempting to find some mead to serve to the aforementioned Prince John and to Archbishop Roundwood, the latter appearing to be named after the chap who put on the excellent 'Flashing Blades' game which I played in 2022. Sadly, I managed to get his Grace killed rather than refreshed. However, the forces of law and order captured Maid Marion, eliminated Little John and Friar Tuck, and badly wounded not just Will Scarlet but also Robin of the Hood himself, so came out the winners. The rules used were an amended version of Dux Britanniarum. I'd never played these before, but they were similar enough to other Too Fat Lardies rules to make them easy to pick up, while being different enough that one could still get confused. Excellent fun though.

My afternoon game was once again 'Infamy, Infamy'. When I played it last year my intention was return home and put on a game immediately, which obviously never happened. It's unlikely to happen this year either as we have just started the long awaited Peninsular campaign (see James' blog for full details). But it was a great game anyway. I was one of the Roman commanders, attempting to burn the wagons of some marauding Goths. We had a plan - which we didn't get close to being able to even try out - but, as always seems to happen to me in this game, I got ambushed. I like the rules overall, even if I find the close combat a bit convoluted, and wouldn't mind playing them more than once a year.

I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, apart perhaps from finding my train home full to bursting with disgruntled Grimsby Town supporters, and I am particularly happy to be able to report that Don had arranged for the weather to be much cooler this year.

Tuesday 8 August 2023

The de Brécy Tondo

 Last summer the National Gallery in London held a major exhibition covering the whole of Raphael's career, featuring works loaned by museums such as the Louvre, Prado and Uffizi. Being the cultured man-about-town that I am, I naturally went. Being the slapdash, half-arsed blogger that I am, I naturally never bothered to mention it here. I was reminded of it today, when I went to see the de Brécy Tondo, which has just been authenticated after decades of research as being 'by Raphael', and not merely 'after Raphael'. 

It has first been exhibited, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, at Cartwright Hall in Bradford, the connection being the part played by the University of Bradford in the scientific evaluations which resulted in the authentication. The de Brécy Trust website linked to above gives a reasonable amount of detail regarding spectroscopic analysis carried out on the paint used, which I found comprehensible and believable. It is less forthcoming about the AI led facial recognition analysis, which the signage at Cartwright Hall went into rather more. I must say that, like most things AI related, I couldn't understand a word of what they were on about. Perhaps recognising the likelihood of this there was a little ballot box in which one could post a green slip of paper if one was prepared to believe that a computer could properly authenticate a work of art, and a red slip if one didn't. I never voted; let's be honest with ourselves, the computers have already taken over and it's too late to pretend otherwise. It's a nice painting though.

Thursday 3 August 2023

The Builders Will Always Get Through

 Apologies for my absence, but I have the builders in, with all that entails. 

In my case it mainly entails going out a lot to avoid the disruption, which gives me plenty to write about, but no time to write it. When I was married and the Misses Epictetus were very young we had a large amount of work done on the former marital home, during which I sloped off to Belgium for several weeks leaving the first Mrs Epictetus to cope with the dirt and dust and the small children, all with no kitchen. Did I mention that I was divorced?

On a happier note, there has been gaming, including a welcome return to 'Jump of Burn' and WWI aerial combat.

It had been so long since we played this excellent game that I had forgotten that my British pilot had sufficient track record to qualify for an 'Ace Pilot' card (this is a good thing) and so I flew without it. However, I still successfully completed two bombing missions in the DH4 on the right of the picture above and have now advanced my status sufficiently to qualify for two 'Ace Pilot' cards next time (this is an even better thing) and you can be assured that I shall remember those. Or possibly I won't, because it's unlikely to be any time soon as next week sees the long anticipated kick-off of our Peninsular campaign.