Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Valeria Messalina

 I have in the past compared the goings on at 10 Downing Street with scenes from 'I, Claudius' (see here and here). I am going to do it again.

Messalina was Claudius' empress and he was ignorant of, or turned a blind eye to, her ruthless ambition, rampant promiscuity and the fact that her selfish political machinations had caused the deaths of many innocent people. Eventually her faults became so obvious that the Praetorian Guard were sent to instruct her to commit suicide. She couldn't summon the courage and so in the end they did it for her (*).

The bumbling Claudius, elevated far above the level for which his talents and competence befitted him, is represented in this analogy by the Conservative Parliamentary Party. 

* Sorry about the lack of spoiler alert, but if you watch the 1976 BBC series - which you certainly should - then it's best not to get too attached to any of the characters.

Friday, 14 January 2022

Une Bouffée de Fromage

 One thing that often occurs in our small (but growing) regular games group - and I suspect we're not alone - is that when one side announces that things are looking so bad that they are inclined to give up it is immediately followed by the wheels coming off their opponent's master plan and the party of the first part ends up winning. Well, it's happened again; quite astonishingly Vimeiro was won by the French.

"D'you know who's going to win?"

Obviously I was exaggerating for effect when I said in my earlier post that I thought my command would be destroyed in half an hour, but not by much. The morale rules are, shall we say, complicated but what it boiled down to in this scenario was that was either side could win by breaking the morale of two large and one small command group of the other side. Reviewing the table at the start of the second evening's play - whilst collectively laughing contemptuously at the Prime Minister - it was easy to believe that the British would achieve this quite quickly. However, from the off the dominoes, cards and dice seemed to have other ideas, and their progress was slow. It was still progress though and eventually they had broken two divisions and the French commanders (James and I) were moved to launch a number of columns forward into melee just to do something while we were waiting to lose. Perhaps inevitably those forlorn hope charges succeeded and before we knew it we had also broken two divisions. In the end it came down to who was first to cause a couple of UI losses to the other, and it was us. It gave a bit of tension to the evening and one player (no names, no pack drill) got quite excited. For me, it was a bit gamey: in both senses of the word.

However, having said that, let me make two points in favour of the way things panned out. Firstly, there has to be some mechanism for ending the game. If not this one, then what? Secondly, the aim of the rules, and the reason we're doing all the playtesting, is to give victory to those who do what commanders of the time would have done; or perhaps it's better to say that it is intended to deny victory to those who don't do what was done historically. In this case the relevant factor would be cycling spent divisions out and fresh ones in. The British had the chance to do it and didn't do it. From that point of view things worked out appropriately.

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Cast off

 I have been doing some more casting.

The different shades are because the resin has just been poured and is curing. Later on, and for the first time so far, I had a batch not cure properly and have to be thrown away. I suspect that I wasn't concentrating and didn't mix it thoroughly enough. I shall therefore pause and reflect before doing any more.

"Always draw fresh breath after outbursts of vanity and complacency ." - Franz Kafka

Monday, 10 January 2022

Vimeiro, eh what?

 James alternates a bit, when putting on games in the legendary wargames room, between made-up scenarios and historical refights. We have therefore replayed numerous battles from the Punic Wars, the Italian Wars, the Seven Years War and so on, none of which I had ever heard of before let alone knew anything about. Even when we got on to World War II we only ever fought Sidi Rezegh. However, now he has painted up a very large number of Napoleonic units I'm in with a shout. And so we are half way though Vimeiro, sort of. As you will know if you have read his blog he has given the French a chance by allowing all their attacks to go in at once. It doesn't seem to have done them any good, and nor has my knowledge done me any good, but I shall wait until we've finished the game to explain why. What I would say is that his mechanism for forcing the French to attack in the right locations if not at the right times is quite inspired.

The big question was what changes he would have made to the rules, and he didn't disappoint. As a quick summary:

  • The movement rules are far better and lifted directly from Black Powder
  • The morale rules are much better, but I still don't really like them
  • The skirmisher rules are certainly the operationally slickest that we have tried, which is a result in itself.
  • And for no reason that I could establish he has changed all the names of the cards, resulting in much confusion. 
So, we resume again on Wednesday when I might take some photos. I shall have plenty of time because I anticipate my command not lasting more than the first half hour or so. In the meantime if any of you are in communication with James you can get on his good side by asking him which card allows you to carry out a small sapping task and whether it costs any initiative.

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Besieger Gun Emplacements

 There was consensus around a couple of issues following our siege games. One was to make the game a bit quicker by starting with more of the siege works already in place and the other was about how close together siege guns could be. As I think I've mentioned before, the rules are agnostic when it comes to terrain; you play with what you have. The way I did it originally was to cast the embrasure piece separately so it could simply be slotted into trench lines when required. It turned out to be one of those ideas that were better in theory than in practice. As well as leaving the guns a bit too far apart it was quite fiddly to place on the table. So I have decided to cast up some proper gun emplacements.

The trench sections are 10cm long, so my first thought was to make the emplacements 5cm. However that's not quite wide enough for the guns and crew. In addition, I used bits and pieces from the Italeri Battlefield Accessory Set when making the masters for the trenches and saps and wanted to do the same again for consistency. That decision led to 6cm being a more convenient width and so that's what I've gone with.

The only other materials used in the masters are foamboard and Polyfilla, all covered in a couple of coats of wood varnish. I have ordered both silicone, to make the moulds, and polyurethane, to cast up some models, and will crack on when it all arrives. I'm tempted to make a mortar position while I'm waiting.

Friday, 31 December 2021


 I mentioned in a recent post that this is a time of year for tradition. The context when I wrote it was that I found myself, not for the first time, suffering a dental problem at a time of year when one can't get an appointment with a dentist. That has been swiftly followed by my central heating playing up at a time of year when one can't get hold of a plumber, again not without precedent. So, in order to try to keep warm by typing frantically I am going to revive the annual review of the year, which I couldn't be bothered to do last year. There has certainly been a little bit more to look back over this year, and thankfully quality was mostly high even where quantity was not.

Opera: I saw nine, plus a ballet, and I'm going to give top spot to Opera North's socially distanced 'Fidelio', in large part because it was the first that I had seen for a long time and because it's about freedom. I must give an honourable mention to 'A Little Night Music' in the year that Sondheim died, plus Mahler's 2nd Symphony. I know that's not an opera, but it's my list.

Theatre: I only saw four plays, and the best was 'Wuthering Heights' by the Wise Children company. I note that I also rated them the best in 2019. This production is transferring to the National Theatre in February; you should go. Incidentally, had I bothered to give my views for 2020 the top spot would have been shared between 'Kneehigh's Ubu' and 'Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort of)'. The former starred the wonderful Katy Owen as Pere Ubu, and she also featured prominently in 'Wuthering Heights'; the latter is also just about to open in London's West End and, once gain, I would urge anyone within striking distance to go and see it.

Music: A paltry two gigs to choose from, and I'm going with Martin Simpson, again largely because it was the first in a long time for him as well as me. There might be more of that line of thought in these lists.

Film: A mere three films in the cinema, and the jury has decided to withhold the prize for this year. One of the three was the Bond film: what a load of old tosh, although I did rather enjoy the action sequence in the Italian village near the beginning.

Talks: Talks mainly moved online, and I moved with them. I saw twenty nine, only two of which were in person. The best I think was one on building ventilation given by a member of the government's SAGE advisory committee; I may live the rest of my life outdoors. On a less gloomy note, I very much enjoyed the Royal Armouries talk on 'The Life and Career of Captain William Dawson RN'. The worst talk by some way was 'The Jewellery of Downton Abbey'; what was I thinking?

Books: I read 118 books, it clearly being something that one can do without leaving home. Books of the year were: for fiction 'The Good Soldier Švejk'; and for non-fiction David Hepworth's '1971' about rock music's greatest year.

Boardgames: Apart from the expansion to 'Maquis' - where I'm sorry to say that the French Resistance is not prospering under my leadership - I have only played two-player games. Of those I played 14 different games 84 times. I think I might do a separate post about which of those I would recommend. The local boardgaming club has resumed weekly sessions, and I trust that at some point in 2022 circumstances will be such that I feel comfortable in joining them.

Wargames: I think there were ten wargames played or umpired, although this seems to be the one area where my compulsion to keep records doesn't apply. They were mainly Piquet and its variants except for one game of To the Strongest! and one of X-wing. I enjoyed them all but probably for me the siege games had the edge; possibly because the rules gave a much more enjoyable game for the defender than I thought they would when I read them. During lockdown I have built up a mighty pile of new, unplayed rules and would hope that: a) I can get one or more of them to table in 2022; and b) they work half as well as these did. It was good to see Mark back on a regular basis as well.

Event of the Year: I am very tempted by the time I saw armed police intervening in a queue jumping dispute in a branch of Greggs, which for some reason I neglected to post about at the time. However, really it has to be the first wargame after a hiatus of more than a year. Just because.

I wish you all love in a peaceful world.

Friday, 24 December 2021

The real part of every non-trivial zero of the Reimann zeta function is 1/2

 Or is it?

Otley, the town in which I live, has almost as many churches as it does pubs; and it has a lot of pubs. Because of this - the church bit not the pub bit - I and my fellow citizens regularly get pieces of paper put through our letterboxes informing us of 'the good news'. Indeed one minor upside of Covid is that the various congregations have stopped knocking on the door to tell me all about it in person. Anyway, today being Christmas Eve, I assumed that the home-printed sheet delivered this afternoon was something along those lines. But no, it was someone living relatively locally announcing to the world that they had proved the Reimann hypothesis, a conjecture which as I'm sure you all know dates from 1859 and is one of the most important unsolved problems in mathematics. Now that is good news.

A chap with a beard

After having a celebration cup of tea and mince pie I started to wonder why the door-to-door delivery had been felt necessary, so I re-read the note. It turns out that the writer was appealing for anyone with a modicum of mathematical knowledge to double check her workings prior to her claiming the large prize on offer, which from memory is US $1 million. Sadly, an unimpressive degree in Mathematical Sciences nearly half a century ago is far from sufficient for me to feel qualified to volunteer. Still, it is the season of goodwill to all men, so I wish her joy in her search, even if her chosen method of making it seems a tad unorthodox. If any reader feels better qualified than me to help, then let me know and I'll put you in touch. In any event, when this auspicious event makes the headlines, remember that you read it here first.

It just remains for me to wish you all Gut Yontiff and a happy, peaceful and, above all, healthy time over Christmas.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Moff Off

 We had a pre-Christmas game of X-Wing last night. I've played it a few times before and always enjoyed it. The rules run smoothly and give a game that's light, fun, quick-moving and - to me at least - completely abstract. I have never seen any of the Star Wars films and therefore know nothing of the setting. That only affects the game very slightly, in that it makes a little harder to keep track of pilots' special abilities etc. But if one just goes with the flow, it passes the time quite pleasantly. Interestingly Mark was playing the game for the first time and also turned out to have no interest in fantasy space worlds, but he seemed to enjoy things as well.

James had written the scenario, which came with a sort of fan-fiction style backstory involving a kidnapped Moff. I shan't pass comment on his prose style - which will in any case be familiar to anyone who's ever read one of his Chronicles of Kermit the Hermit - except to point out that he missed a great opportunity offered by the action described therein to make a joke about Moff balls. It became clear that half the players on the night hadn't grasped the exact significance of the presence of His Moffness aboard the escape pod, so James explained it to us, at somewhat more length than it seemed to me that the subject deserved.  In any event the Rebel Alliance, which was Peter and me, won the day by getting the Moff (I decline to use the surname James gave him) out of the asteroid belt and off the table. 

I've just done some research on Wookiepedia and find that the Grand Moff (how can people say all this with a straight face?) in the original trilogy was played by well-known wargamer Peter Cushing. It's a small world; or a galaxy far, far away; one of the two.

Tuesday, 21 December 2021


 It's at this time of the year that one likes to indulge in tradition, and sure enough one of my crowns has fallen out, just in time to cause me maximum inconvenience over the festive period. On the plus side, someone reading about my camera connection problems using Windows 11 has pointed out that my laptop would almost certainly have an SD card reader. And indeed it has, if one bothers to look for it, so I am now in a position to thrill you with beautiful photos from the annexe once again.

However, instead I think it's about time I posted another random photo of people you don't know or care about, with no explanation:

I lied about the no explanation; the chap in the middle is W.G. Boorer, whose exploits having been shot down over the North Sea were featured previously on this blog.

Friday, 17 December 2021

The Siege Works

 The rules may work, but the link between my camera and my laptop still doesn't. (As an aside, having failed with everything else I have now ordered a new cable. If that does the trick then apologies to Microsoft will appear here in due course.) In the meantime readers are denied the full range of artistic shots that I took and are instead limited to a quick snap on the phone.

The game was closely poised when time ran out. I said that I would finish it solo and, who knows, maybe I will. One thing I rather like about the rules is the sheer variety of things that can happen, and we had a couple of occurrences that we hadn't encountered before. There was an uprising of sorts by the civilians within the town, which didn't amount to much, and then news came that a relieving army was on the way, albeit it turned out to be coming as slowly as it possibly could. 

So, by and large I am happy with the rules, but I think they need to be tweaked to achieve a couple of things: increase the besieger's chances of winning somewhat and make sure a game will finish in two evenings. The main routes to do that are likely to be to start the game with some of the second parallel already built, for it be be possible for siege guns to be placed closer together (either two guns in an emplacement or just making the emplacements smaller), and perhaps reducing the strengths of the walls. The rules as published are necessarily agnostic about scenery definitions, so I think I also need to clarify further what can and can't be done with the pieces I actually have; e.g. how many units can be one one stretch of fortress wall. And I think some escalade rules would keep the defenders on their toes.

In an event, it will be a while before we have another go. I'm going to clear the table - either before or after I finish off the game - and try something else. In the short term Mark has promised/threatened to bring round his classic 20mm Napoleonics (which can be seen here) for some Old School, er, goodness. 

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

I've Killed the Ghost

 And so to the opera. I confess that I wasn't at all familiar with the work of Gian Carlo Menotti, who, despite having been at one point the most performed of 20th century opera composers, hasn't been in fashion recently. However, I have now seen two of his works within a week, performed by different companies. He is obviously having a moment back in the limelight.

The Rough Guide to Opera uses the term 'overcharged emotion' to describe 'The Medium' and I think that's fair enough. Indeed, I might go so far as to say it was melodramatic. A similar question is posed as in 'The Turn of the Screw': are the ghosts real or the product of overheated imaginations? The usual operatic spoiler alert applies - someone dies in the end - and for some reason the director chose to make that a different person than the one indicated by the composer. I overheard someone speculate that we were thereby to assume that the other character had died offstage at some point and become a ghost himself, but your guess is as good as mine. Obscurum per obscurius.

The travails of the composer when faced with theatrical reality and the egos of producers, directors, performers and, above all, funders is the theme of Richard Strauss' 'Ariadne auf Naxos', which I've also seen; or to be precise I saw the Prologue, the first part of the opera, which deals with the backstage shenanigans before the opera - i.e. the opera within the opera - is performed. Think, 'Kiss Me, Kate' or the Mechanicals from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.  It was very well done. I felt that the soprano playing the character of Prima Donna - i.e. the soprano playing the soprano who would have played Ariadne had we got that far - had based her performance on Miss Piggy. My companion for the afternoon demurred on the grounds that she - the soprano - was too young to have heard of the Muppets. Tempus fugit.

The other Menotti piece was 'Amahl and the Night Visitors'. This was a seasonal production as the visitors in question were the Three Kings, bearing the usual gifts plus, a new one on me, a parrot. It was quite charming, although in a world where directors feel free to alter things as they see fit, I might have changed the lyric "Little child, may I touch you?". Tempora mutantur.

Monday, 13 December 2021

Smoke on the Water

 If the Epictetus media empire hadn't been offline thanks to Microsoft then it would have been my intention to mark the 50th anniversary of the burning down of the casino at Montreux on December 4th 1971. Better late than never:

Saturday, 11 December 2021

Turning it up to eleven

 “It was always cheaper to build a new 33-MegaLith circle than upgrade an old slow one.” 

- Terry Pratchett

In my absence from the blog over the last week or so the shocks have kept coming in the the specific fields of politics and cricket: it turns out that the prime minister is a liar and that England aren't very good. However, it hasn't been any amazement which I may have felt that has prevented me from blogging; rather it has been the after-effects of upgrading my laptop to Windows 11. Much driver updating later, almost everything now seems to work. The exception is that I still can't transfer photos from my camera, which is unfortunate because there has been a game in the annexe. 

I have had, therefore, to resort to my phone to record the intricate trenches with which the besiegers have approached the fortress having learned from the mistakes of the first game. The scenario is basically the same, with only some minor tweaks to how the wall strengths are recorded. Once again it proved to be an enjoyable evening, and we shall resume next week with the bombardment proper. My rules for assaults got a run out when the attackers launched a brief sortie against the sappers in the foremost trench. Whilst I hadn't had that specific situation in mind when I wrote them, the process didn't fall over when put to the test; faint praise, but the most that I'm prepared to give.

Here's why 11 is better than 10:

Monday, 29 November 2021

Maquis - New Content

 I have mentioned before that I own a number of solo board games, and also that I virtually never play them; they didn't even get brought out very often during lockdown. Of course that is more to do with me than with any problems with the games themselves, which are mostly clever and challenging designs. That is certainly true of what I think is my favourite among them: Maquis. It's a game that thematically appeals to me as well, as one takes the part of the French Resistance and tries to complete various missions of sabotage, spying, infiltration, propaganda and the like without being caught by the collaborators of the Milice or by the occupying German forces. A second edition has just been published containing additional missions and associated playing pieces. The additional material was also made available as an expansion to those owning the first edition.

Obviously I don't need to explain to fellow wargamers why I would buy extra bits for something that never hits the table in the first place, and so I inevitably sent off for a copy. The missions in the original had their difficulty coded at one star (easier) or two stars (harder), whereas the new missions are given a rating of three stars. I never found any of the first lot of missions - you have to complete two within the allotted number of moves in order to win - to be easy, and these new ones are as difficult as you'd expect. I have so far failed badly to 'Destroy the AA Guns', the main problem as I see it being that the surest route to get weapons is via an air drop, you can't have an air drop if AA guns are present and you need weapons to get rid of the AA guns. In fairness, the resources available have improved including the availability of forged documents so one can bluff one's way past patrols instead of shooting it out with them. There's also now a 'Fixer' character, who can provide whatever you want, for a fee of course.

So, still highly recommended as long as you overlook the fact that I don't actually play it much myself. Having said that, I shall certainly be giving all of the new missions a go before I put it back in the cupboard. Next up is 'Free the Resistance Leader': 'A resistance leader has been captured and will be transported away from town soon. Free him from the occupiers...or make sure he at least can't tell them his secrets'.

Sunday, 28 November 2021


years of anger following
hours that float idly down -
the blizzard
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh? Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes -
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there -
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.

          - William Carlos Williams

Friday, 26 November 2021

Moys Will Be Moys

 One of my more esoteric medical conditions is that I am unable to be injected in my left arm. Normally this doesn't cause any problems, but yesterday I had both a Covid booster and a flu jab in my other arm, which is now very stiff and painful. Being right-handed this is making typing difficult, which in turn means that the text quality of today's post may be at a level not seen since I used to produce it on a computer missing an 's' key.

So, we finished the second run through of Moys and yet again the Austrians and victory remained strangers. I'm not saying that the events of the two games proved conclusively my hypothesis that they can never win it using Classic Piquet, except of course that is exactly what I'm saying. I've spent more time on that already than is justified by anyone else's level of interest, so I will simply add that the morale rules are also crap and leave it there.

Word of the night was 'snazzy'.

Monday, 22 November 2021

Viva La Revolution, Viva Mexico

 Early last year I mentioned a book  called 'Armies of the Mexican Revolution' by Mike Blake and promised to return with a review. I'm pretty sure that I never got round to it, so let's start today's post by saying that it's excellent. In fact I would go so far as to say that for anyone planning to game the conflict - which obviously doesn't include me - it's indispensable. Partizan Press have followed this up with two further volumes. The first, by Mike Blake and Chris Swan, is the following:

I'm really not sure why the title isn't completely in Spanish, i.e. Viva la Revolución, but in any event, the subtitles sum up the contents better. It's basically a scenario book with a chapter on what rule amendments would need to be made in order to use Black Powder. The scenarios are both historical and imaginary and are easily usable with other rule sets. It's once again an excellent book and worth reading.

The other book, this time by Chris Swan alone, is 'La Cucaracha!', which contains both rules and scenarios for, in the author's words, engagements with small forces. That seems to mean both low numbers of units plus the implication that those units are small enough that key individuals (leaders/specialists/mercenarios etc) would be worth representing both physically on the table and in game terms; a point of reference might be Too Fat Lardies type games. I think that this is my favourite of the three books. In fact I like the look of the rules to the extent that were I intending to start this as a project (*) then I'd give them a go. Including various optional sections they seem to cover pretty much everything from snakes to aircraft. 

Having said that, I'd recommend all three books. The main negative is that none has an index, although 'Armies' has a good bibliography. I got them all from Caliver Books.

* Which I am not.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

The Moys Are Back In Town

 James set it all up again and we had at it for a second time, ending the evening after turn four of the eight which the Austrians have to capture all three objectives. James took some photos of the action and may post them on his blog. I didn't, but did remember to take one of the menu style Quick Play Sheets, which I rather like. What he needs now is a blackboard on which he can write the special rules of the day.

I've always bigged up Piquet for its ability to generate radically different games from the same starting position. However, I think any set of of rules would have done the same here. The scenario starts with three Austrian grenadier units about to storm the redoubt. In the first game some extreme dice results at that point saw that command blown away. Not only was that not replicated, but the Prussians spent all night unable to hit a cow's arse with a banjo. By the evening's end they had destroyed a magnificent total of no Austrian units at all and had lost control of the first two objectives. I think next week may be different though. Not just because I am expecting a reversion to the mean in terms of combat dice rolls, but also because my hypothesis about initiative is just about to be proven. We - i.e. the Austrians - are never going to get to turn enough cards to get all our forces up the hill and drive the Prussians off. We shall have to rely on the Major Morale rules to win. I would explain what that means, but I don't really understand it. It's something along the lines of the Prussians having to multiply their number of destroyed or routing units by the value of π and then roll dice and pay morale chips until James declares the game over. A full explanation will follow should we get that far.

Here's a music video, but not the one you were expecting:


Tuesday, 16 November 2021


 It's been an odd few days, and I am not referring to the truly astonishing revelations that Conservative MPs are a bunch of crooks, that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is full of racists, or that the Pope is a Catholic. The most disconcerting thing that happened to me was that I found myself the only person in attendance when someone had a heart attack. The main learning point from this was that if one has to have a health emergency then it is better to do so in the company of an individual whose qualifications are in medicine rather than in accountancy. I didn't recognise any of the symptoms and only started to comprehend exactly what was happening when the ambulance controller gave me the location of the nearest defibrillator and told me to go and get it. Fortunately for everyone involved the ambulance itself arrived at that point and I was grateful to be able to hand over to the paramedics. I understand that the patient is recovering in hospital; I also needed a long lie down.

Let's cheer ourselves up with a story about both accountants and doctors:

A woman goes to the doctor and after examining her he says "I'm sorry to tell you that you only have six months to live."

She is shocked and exclaims "Doctor, is there anything that I can do?"

"Well," he replies "you could marry an accountant."

"Will that make me live longer?" she asks, puzzled.

"No," said the doctor "but it will seem longer."

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Well I Talk About Moys Now

We finished the battle of Moys (1st run through) which resulted in the Austrians not completely winning as such. There also wasn't much buy-in from the others to my hypothesis that they had been fighting with one hand tied behind their back due to the way that Piquet works. It was pointed out that they had been just as much undone by some brutal dice rolls in the first fifteen minutes or so, which had rather chopped the legs off their attack on the redoubt. And I have to say, that certainly happened. Reference was also made to the foolish commander of the Austrian right having advanced his light troops to harass the Prussians before the rest of the Austrian army had started to move, resulting in their prompt destruction. Reluctantly I have to admit that also happened. In any event we agreed that next week will see the battle of Moys (2nd run through). Will my theory be vindicated?

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Cum On Feel The Moys

 It was very nice to congregate chez James once again, and celebrate our host's restoration to health by throwing some ones and drawing some low dominos from the bag. I trust that you have all managed to read the scenario details on James' blog. If not then I have stolen one of his photos, showing what the table looks like. I don't normally take any photographs whilst in the legendary wargames room, but now wish that I had taken one of the new covers for the quick play sheets. They are repurposed menu covers, and both look and work very well indeed.

Having been given the opportunity to play with James' wonderful toys in a scenario he had clearly spent time devising and setting up, it seems churlish to complain. However, it behoves me to point out - to myself if no one else - that James' rules really aren't suitable for this battle; or perhaps visa versa. The rules are a derivation of Classic Piquet, a set which I very much enjoy. For those unfamiliar with them, players get initiative, which they use to both turn cards which show what actions they can take and also to take those actions by command or unit as appropriate. It's a bit more nuanced than that, but that's the essence. The short term fluctuations in initiative for each side plus the arbitrary order in which the cards are turned, plus the normal use of dice for combat resolution, provide a friction which I know isn't to everyone's taste, but which I like. 

However, at Moys the Austrians had twice as many troops as the Prussians. This inevitably means that, given initiative being roughly equal across the whole game, the Austrians will spend twice as much on actions for commands/units; the corollary is that they must therefore turn fewer cards. This is important because when one side has turned all their cards the turn is over and the decks are reshuffled. In a scenario with such disparity of forces this will always be the smaller force. We therefore end up with the counterintuitive, and I would suggest undesirable, outcome of the defenders being far more flexible and agile than the attackers. I think this is such an intrinsic feature of Classic Piquet that no tweaks could compensate for it in this type of scenario. I stress the Classic bit because FoB, the other main game in the Piquet stable, works in a different way and would be perfectly suitable. 

Tuesday, 2 November 2021


Considering that this is a wargaming blog that's been running for more than nine years, it really hasn't included enough tango. So here's the great Astor Piazzolla:

Wargaming will resume soon; I can feel it in my water.

Monday, 1 November 2021


"Aufersteh'n, ja aufersteh'n wirst du,
mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh'!"

- Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock

Resurrection of the blog? Well, we are starting the new month with a post. Resurrection of wargaming? Perhaps, keep your fingers crossed. But mainly it's because I have been to see a performance of Mahler's Symphony No 2, (known as the Resurrection, although Gustav had a bit of a bee in his bonnet about the life everlasting and kept returning to the theme) and very fine it was. It was very loud too, there were eight percussionists; one can't complain about getting one's money's worth. 

The piece is about ninety minutes long, so I won't include a video. Instead here's Ashton, Gardner and Dyke:

Fun fact of the day - apart from that the band actually had four members - concerns the B side of the single in the US, which was entitled 'I'm Your Spiritual Breadman'. I know, but it was the sixties. In any event, it featured two guest guitarists: Sir Cedric Clayton and George O'Hara Smith, pseudonyms for Clapton and Harrison. Sadly, and despite that added firepower, it's not very good. 

Monday, 25 October 2021

World Opera Day

Lack of wargaming here has been compounded by quite a lot of people that I know going down with Covid plus a large house being rendered totally uninhabitable by a water leak. I haven't been ill and it's not my house - although it used to be - but the knock-on effects have kept me away from my duties as a bloggist. I haven't however been kept away from the opera, and as it's World Opera Day I am minded to catalogue those that I have seen.

The plot of English Touring Opera's 'Amidigi di Gaula' by Handel is a love triangle with added sorceress and knitting. At a key moment our hero shows his friend a picture of the woman he loves, only for the friend to realise that they both love the same person. This trope seemed very familiar and I spent quite some time trying to recollect which other piece of high culture I had seen it in before. I eventually came to the conclusion that I had been thinking of the Laurel and Hardy film about the French Foreign Legion (the name of which escapes me for the moment), in which everyone has joined up to escape a broken heart and are found to  all be carrying a photograph of the same woman. I can't remember whether as many of them end up dead as was the case here.

Death often features in opera, but not usually to the extent of Holst's Savitri where he appears as a character in his own right. In Northern Opera Group's production he comes in through a side entrance and stalks slowly and menacingly through the audience before reaching the stage, being implausibly tricked out of his victim and exiting stage right still singing. I preferred that to the other Holst one-act opera it was coupled with, 'The Boar's Head'. The basis for this was all the Falstaff pub scenes in Shakespeare's Henry VI plays taken out of context and rammed together. I think I'm reasonably au fait with those, but I still couldn't work out what was going on. And for some reason the fact the staging featured a door but no walls irritated me enormously.

Back to death on the stage, although this time in a ballet. Opera North's Bernstein double bill included his opera 'Trouble in Tahiti' coupled with 'West Side Story Symphonic Dances'. In the former no one dies (although perhaps it's true to say that love does), but in the latter, well we all know the story. According to the programme the choreography reflects life in South Africa under apartheid, but it looked like the same old street gangs to me; I enjoyed it anyway.

Friday, 8 October 2021

Vellem nescire literas

 As befits a wargaming blog, no wargaming has equalled no posts. Reasons for not gaming have been various, but this week appear to have been related to a Brigadoon-like canal, which is sometimes there and sometimes isn't. I can't paint either because, whilst my balance problems have largely abated, the remnants make close focus work inadvisable. An ideal time therefore to design some scenarios, knock a few rules into shape (e.g. the hex-based version of Pax Romana) or perhaps even just tidy up the annexe (the mice having ceased to be, I am pleased to say). But no, instead I have been gadding about.

I have been to the Nero exhibition currently on at the British Museum, which poses the question: "Was he a young, inexperienced ruler trying his best in a divided society, or the merciless, matricidal megalomaniac history has painted him to be?". I think we all know the answer to that, although the exhibition stressed that he was very popular until he, well, wasn't. I came away conscious that pretty much my entire 'knowledge' of the period comes from watching 'I, Claudius'. Anyway, it's well worth visiting, especially for the Boudiccan revolt section. A bit of rank bad planning meant that I was there the day before the Hokusai exhibition opened, but one could now combine the two.

I also found myself in Leicester, and took the opportunity to go to the Richard III Visitor Centre, which I thought was very well done. The ground floor is given over to concisely explaining the Wars of the Roses, with major figures projected onto the walls and telling us their side of the story. It's a complicated subject, and the museum hasn't got a great deal of space, but they have a reasonable and balanced stab. It's not their fault that pretty much everyone is either called Edward or Richard. The first floor recounts the story of the search, the find and the scientific analysis required to establish that it was indeed him. It's a fascinating story, well told and again worth a visit. One's trip round culminates, as it should, standing by the hole in the car park itself, or more accurately the hole which used to be in the car park.

Yet more bad planning meant that I didn't manage to visit the tomb in the cathedral - it was shut - but while I was in the city I also went to the National Space Centre. It's not Cape Canaveral, but nonetheless was a worthwhile way to spend a morning. It's full of rockets, spacecraft, artefacts etc with plenty of informative and hands-on displays. Visiting the planetarium wasn't perhaps all that advisable for someone suffering from vertigo, but I closed my eyes and it all went away. My companion for the trip crashed in her attempt to land the lunar module, but as I had experienced her driving I wasn't entirely surprised. One of the most entertaining aspects for me was the timeline of the space age (which is almost entirely congruent with my own lifetime) which included many non space-related events, both significant and ephemeral, none of which seem to have happened in the order that I would have said that they did. Memory is a funny old thing.

Thursday, 7 October 2021


What are days for?

Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

             - Philip Larkin

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Hussite Warfare

 It's back to the fifteenth century for a review of Hussite Warfare by Alexander Querengässer, which first came out in German in 2015 and was followed by an English version a couple of years ago.

I say that it is in English, but it's not English as we know it, Jim. Still, lets start with the good bits. The pictures are excellent, especially the newly commissioned illustrations - by Sascha Lunyakov - and the reproductions from contemporary manuscripts. But the text has been translated and proof read by someone with no grasp of idiomatic English whatsoever, rendering large chunks of it unreadable. My guess is that it was done by a bored teenager on work experience armed only with Google Translate or similar. 

The subtitle of the book is 'Armies, Equipment, Tactics and Campaigns' and it is the last of those elements which really suffers. The narrative arc of a campaign description would seem to require a greater fluency than is on offer here. The other sections aren't so badly affected and contain some good stuff, of which I'll pick out just two bits here:

Firstly, the goose controversy. It used to be accepted that the Hussites used the goose as a symbol on their standards because that word in Czech is similar to the name of Jan Huss. It then became accepted that it was the Hussite's opponents who used the goose symbol as a way of abusing the heretics because the word in Czech etc etc. This book has a number of contemporary illustrations showing Hussite flags including geese, which is interesting. It is, of course, difficult to tell whether the manuscripts from which they were taken were written by supporters or opponents of the Hussites and therefore to draw any firm conclusions either way. I modelled my Hussites when the first view held sway and, following my strict principle of no rework or rebasing, they will continue to proudly display the goose.

Secondly, the Hussites' use of artillery. The book makes it clear that notwithstanding their position as early adopters of gunpowder weapons that they, and indeed their enemies, continued to use more old fashioned siege weapons such as catapults, rams etc alongside them. I have quite a lot of those, plus of course a new castle to try out, so what am I waiting for? Many years ago, long before the blog or the annexe, I put on a game loosely based on the battle of Kutna Hora. I need to re-read the scenario notes.

So, the book is probably only for those with a particular interest and not for the casual reader. As I said before, the illustrations are very good, and sit nicely alongside those in the relevant Osprey as a guide to modelling the period.

Saturday, 25 September 2021


 In case anyone was counting, the title reflects the fact that, entirely deliberately, there were two separate PotCVIpouri posts. But it has been so long since I was here that you have probably forgotten who I am. Indeed there have been occasions during the last few weeks when I wasn't entirely sure who I was myself. Way back when, we had played the first part of a siege game. I was unavoidable detained elsewhere for the second part, but it did get played. Whilst I obviously can't give any indication of exactly what happened it reached a point where the participants figures that it was simply a question of luck of the dice as to whose morale ran out first and therefore who won. I think the besiegers were being a bit optimistic because, unusually for Piquet, the defenders can carry on after getting down to zero morale and so would inevitably have won.

We need a debrief, I feel, to see what worked and what didn't. What is clear, though not unexpected is that the rules work a lot better with more than one player. In the meantime there have been a series of Crusades games using To the Strongest!, although I have been unavoidably absent for most of them so once again I can't report back.

What I can tell you about is the new campaign underway in the annexe, to which I have given the codename "Operation Mouse Poisoning"; it's a fight to the death.

Monday, 6 September 2021

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

                              - Matthew Arnold

Monday, 30 August 2021

Supplying War

 It's time for another book review, and this time we have left the 15th century behind. Which is kind of apt because, if Dr van Creveld is to be believed, leaving things behind has been the defining feature of armies on the march from the Thirty Years War onwards.

The author makes the seemingly inevitable claim that he is going to debunk long established myths. I came to this knowing nothing in particular about military logistics and so can't really comment on whether he does so (*). He also claims that he will be carrying out thorough analyses from a new perspective. These mainly seem to consist of the sort of arithmetic problem that Mr Wilkins used to set us in the first year at Boreham Wood Grammar School: if one man with one lorry can move 10 tons for 100 miles in a day, then how far can 5 men with 2 lorries move 15 tons in a week? So not that new a perspective then. In fact it reminds me of the course I got sent on at a time that I was building airports for a living. It was run by a chap from NASA and was billed as 'Advanced Estimating Techniques'. These basically consisted of forecasting how many man hours something would take, how much each hour would cost and then multiplying the two together. Still, they put a man on the moon, so who am I to quibble?

"That's one small sum for man"

I assume that Dr van Creveld is American; the book is in American English anyway. Presumably therefore Patton's name is included in the subtitle to attract US readers. In fact George doesn't feature very much at all, the focus in the section on North Western Europe in 1944 is mainly on Montgomery. The American Civil War isn't covered either. Those that are featured include Marlborough, Napoleon, both the von Moltkes and Rommel, the last of whom doesn't come out of it well.

I found it interesting - admittedly from a low knowledge base - and took one point away in particular. The author asserts that in the Horse and Musket era (which for this purpose includes the Franco-Prussian War) the percentage by weight of an army's supply requirements represented by ammunition and powder was circa 1%, hugely overshadowed by food and, especially, fodder. Given the size of the forces involved they could easily live off the land, as long as they kept moving. It was when they stopped - e.g. to undertake a siege - that they had a problem. In the Vauban's Wars set of rules which I have been playing recently the besieger is constrained by his powder supply , but not by food/fodder. Perhaps it should be the other way round.

Having mentioned the FPW, can I draw your attention to a week by week history of the conflict being run on the realtimehistory (all one word) YouTube channel to commemorate the, er, 151st anniversary; as you do. Probably not for those who are experts, but informative for anyone who doesn't already know the difference between a Dreyse and a Chassepot.

* It's worth mentioning that the book was first published in 1977, so they may well be yesterday's myths anyway.

Thursday, 26 August 2021


I had intended to post yesterday about the conclusion to last week's game, to clear the decks ready for this week's return to siege works in the annexe. However, in the circumstances I inevitably spent the day in a self-indulgent Rolling Stones marathon. I'm a big fan, originally I think because the elder brother of the chap who lived next door to one of my best friends at school had all the early albums; and if that's not a good enough reason then I don't know what is. The death of an eighty year old shouldn't come as a shock, but it did because they had always been there and I implicitly assumed that they always would be. RIP Charlie.

In any event, there wasn't much to write about the game because it swiftly ended in defeat when the British Light Division ran away. I had posed the question as to what to do with one unit which was toe to toe with the French, but it was moot because they were destroyed before I had a chance to do anything. I remain a bit sceptical about the rules as they stand, but - and I urge you to suspend disbelief - it is quite possible that I'm wrong. We need to play them some more.

Rules that do seem to (mostly) work are 'Vauban's Wars', which we have now had a chance to try properly. I had set up the game a couple of months ago now, but never played it solo it because it was too hot, then it wasn't hot enough, then it rained, and then I couldn't be arsed. But last night we assembled Peter as the garrison, the Chuckle Brothers as the besiegers, and me in charge of frantically flicking through the rulebook. It all went fairly well and is, as I had thought it might be, a different and better game when not played solo.

The besiegers have thrown up some gun emplacements close enough from which to attack the ravelin in the photo. The first siege guns moved forwards were driven back by counterbattery fire, but were quickly replaced. The numbers are the strengths of the defences, which were established by astute use of the French master spy, who has so far been successful in every mission on which he - or perhaps she - has been sent. The ravelin had an initial strength of 5, but the guns have quickly reduced that. In fact, the attack dice rolled higher than the defence dice throughout the evening, on both sides. The game will hopefully be completed next week. 

Saturday, 14 August 2021


 I have not the least sympathy for these useless and destructive pastimes, football and politics.” 

- César Aira

I shall temporarily make an exception for the first of those.

Premier League table 2021/22

2Aston Villa000000
6Crystal Palace000000
8Leeds United000000
9Leicester City000000
11Man City000000
12Manchester United000000
14Norwich City000000
18West Ham000000

Gaming resumed this week with added Mark. He not only took some photos, but he has also posted them here. Very cleverly he has set it out as quiz, in which you have to guess the order in which they were taken. As a help, let me tell you that the second photo shows the final position on the first evening around the farm in the centre, which has turned out to be the focus of the action, and was taken from more or less where I was standing. The main question in my mind at the moment is how to resolve the standoff between the two units facing each other across the road on the right. Winning some initiative would be a good start.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Facing The Horse's Tail

 The book which I reviewed yesterday outlines several ways in which those who broke the laws of war might be punished. Some of these aimed to humiliate those who had brought disgrace to chivalry: they might be stripped of their spurs, their shield could be hung upside down or they could be paraded through the streets on horseback while facing the horses tail. Now I know that a lot of regular readers have an encyclopaedic knowledge of this blog, so no doubt there are many of you out there saying to yourselves: "Hang a trout, what about that thing you posted on 25th March 2014 about Sir Giles Mompesson? Are you now telling us that never happened?". Well, indeed I am.

Personally I put the blame squarely on those dilettante, liberal, London-based journalists at the Guardian, who one must assume saw the words 'facing the horse's tail' and let their fevered imaginations do the rest. Having now done my own fact-checking I can confirm that Mompesson was almost certainly merely riding backwards. It is hard to be entirely sure though; according to the Dictionary of National Biography the corrupt MP was sentenced both to life imprisonment and to permanent exile, which seems an unlikely combination. He clearly never served either punishment anyway.

In any event that posting from all those years ago isn't a complete write off. I still think a picture of a dog that looks like Hitler has comic validity.

Monday, 9 August 2021

The Laws of War in the Late Middle Ages

 Fate decreed that there would not after all be a game last week. But the upside is that I am free to bring you another review of a book which you will never read. Today we feature 'The Laws of War in the Middle Ages' by Maurice Keen, first published in 1965.

The first thing to point out is that this is a rigorously academic book, whose footnotes are both copious and also often in either Latin or medieval French. I've pulled that trick myself on this blog from time to time, but it must be noted that while it's funny when I do it, it isn't funny at all when others do. Notwithstanding that, it's a very interesting read. Keen describes a world (OK, half a continent - this is entirely about Western Europe) in which there can be overarching 'laws' without any supranational organisation to draw them up, let alone police and enforce them; indeed for much of the time there aren't any nations either in the sense that we would understand them. The context is that all the relevant people (i.e. the warrior caste) consider themselves bound by the rules of chivalry, and it is their sense of honour alone that ensures that fair play is observed even if it is only amongst themselves for some of the time. Because Keen also demonstrates fairly effectively that everyone else - with the possible exception of the church - are protected by no laws at all, and that even those supposedly bound by their code quite often ignore it when it suits them.

I don't think there is much direct read across to the wargaming table, although chapter VIII on sieges is required reading for anyone interested in that aspect of medieval warfare. There is a quite a lot on the role of heralds, and it filled in some of the gaps that I felt were missing from the book I recently read on that subject. There was also an unexpected overlap with another book I have been reading: 'Debt: The First 5000 Years' by anthropologist David Graeber. One small part of that book considers the differences and similarities between 'a debt of honour' and 'honouring a debt', a nuance which turns out to be very pertinent to the medieval practice of ransoming noble prisoners captured in battle.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

A Little Afternoon Music

 Not only have postings been sparse recently, but they have all been about wargaming; and how dull is that? Cultural opportunities at this time of year are always a bit thin on the ground, and this is not, needless to say, the best of times. I have however been to a couple of pieces of musical theatre. 

Or have I? Not long ago I saw a conversation with Stephen Sondheim's biographer in which he said that the composer's view was that if productions were put on by an opera company then his output were operas, but if they were done on Broadway or the West End then they were musical theatre. 'A Little Night Music' was put on by Opera North so, ergo, it's an opera. Either way both I and my companion for the the afternoon thoroughly enjoyed it. I wouldn't be the first reviewer to point out the irony of songs - 'Send in the Clowns' being probably the best known example - which had been specifically written for actors who couldn't sing a note, being sung beautifully by opera singers who could probably have done them without drawing breathe if they had felt like it. The one in the photo above is the illustrious Dame Josephine Barstow.

Equally tuneful were the cast of 'Piaf', an excellent play with songs about the Little Sparrow from Belleville, and that's despite the fact that one of the actors has represented the UK twice in the Eurovision Song Contest. Rather effectively Edith (*) and her associate Toin were portrayed as Cockneys rather than having cod French accents of the 'Allo 'Allo variety. The rest of the actors spoke in what I assume were their natural accents (apart from briefly when the Bosche occupied Paris) and that also mostly worked. The exception was when Charles Aznavour was revealed as being Welsh. Even worse he was facially the spitting image of the chap who used to advertise Curly Wurly.

'Sheeeee may be the beauty, or the beeeeeast'

For the record, Aznavour in real life actually looked a bit like Roberto Mancini. And as even more of a digression, Terry Scott of course played Cardinal Wolsey in the previously-covered-in-this-blog 'Carry on Henry'. Back to la Piaf: she lived a life, as they say, but she regretted nothing. Rien de rien.

* Named after Edith Cavell - today's pub quiz fact.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

I Côa, I Saw, I Conquered

 Another game has been and gone and would be lost to posterity unless I wrote about it. James called it Coa Constrictor, but I wasn't paying attention so I can't tell you with any confidence why. Presumably it's to do with the river and with the British deployment area being a bit, well, constricted. The table looked nothing much like this:

As you will have gathered from the heading, I won this time, when I just managed to achieve my secret victory condition before the wheels fell off. I had had a guess - a wrong guess - at Peter's victory condition and was doing a lot of unnecessary defending. I would never have worked the correct objective out in a month of Sundays because, when revealed, it turned out to be ambitious to the point of impossibility; sensibly enough he was instead trying to win by biffing my forces until they gave up, which they very nearly did.

Even by our standards there was a huge rule change in the middle. Had we played the first night with the rules of the second the French would have won. Had we played the second night with the rules of the first the British would have won by a country mile. I'm not entirely sure we've got it right yet. Anyway, slight gear change and next week will see some siege action in the annexe. 

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

I came, I sawmill, I didn't conquer

 Hot weather normally sees your bloggist too busy frolicking in the sunshine to post here, but in common with many others I am finding the current spell all a bit much, and have retreated indoors. That gives me a chance to say a few words about the conclusion of the game I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago. I didn't take any photos; James didn't take any photos; in fact no one took any photos, so I have stolen the one below from his original post about the scenario.

The only action worth speaking of took place on the hill in the bottom right corner. As I had won all the initiative I was able to occupy it with three units of infantry in line and a gun. The French approached from the general area of the bridge with four units in column of attack, one behind the other. Everything was set up for me to deal with them in piecemeal fashion. I fired the gun: nothing. I fired all the infantry: nothing. I fired all the infantry again: nothing. I fired all the infantry again: well you get the picture. The French kept coming, marched straight through the British line and the game was over.

One can't draw any conclusions about the rules from all this; it was simply a sequence of appalling dice rolls. The consensus was that it must have rained and made the powder wet. Although the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain, on this occasion we can assume it fell on the hill instead. So, we shall have another go this week and try to put into action any conclusions we have drawn from our couple of (or in my case one and a half) games. Back in late 2019 when we first started using Piquet family rules for the Peninsular I wrote that they seemed rather unfair on the French, who always got blown away before making contact with British infantry in line formation. I'd say that the current version leans slightly towards the French. If I understand it all correctly - by no means a given - a French column of attack down to one quarter strength counts the same in melee as a British line with no losses; indeed if it initiates the melee by charging then it has the advantage. 

The other question you are no doubt asking yourself is why the battle was over after just one small element of it was resolved? This has to do with James' period specific adjustment to the morale rules. I've never been a fan of the Piquet morale rules, partly because they are not thematic (they are a mishmash of various unrelated things lumped together in a mechanism to determine both when the game ends and who wins), and partly because I could never see why the process for assigning amounts of morale would necessarily deliver the 'correct' result to make the game work well. James' tweak is certainly thematic (although still perched on top of what I regard as a rackety base), but simply means that the question of 'correct' morale levels now applies four or five times as often as it did before.