Monday, 20 November 2017

When is a Scotsman not a Scotsman?

“Ever in the dullest existence there is a sheen either of Inspiration or of Madness” - Thomas Carlyle

Certain things in the life of Epictetus have not been going as one would wish. I have naturally reacted in the manner that befits an eminent Stoic philosopher and have been sitting in a darkened room sobbing softly to myself. I was however roused from this state by the invitation of James to be one of his assistants at a game he was putting on for the League of Gentlemen Wargamers. We therefore screwed our courage to the sticking place and ventured into Scotland. Pausing only briefly at Ecclefechan to pay our respects, it merely took us a very long time indeed to drive to Kirriemuir. 

The view from Venice, with the Alps on the far right

I trust that James will post about the game comprehensively, and as umpire he had an overview and is best placed to do so, and so will others no doubt; indeed the King of France's take can already be found here. I will therefore restrict myself to my own part in proceedings which, apart from constantly asking "Are we there yet?", was to be in charge of the city of Modena (to paraphrase Pope John XXIII: "Wargamers are like wine - some improve with age, but others turn to vinegar"). If I have any complaints about what was otherwise an excellent weekend it would be about the limitations of my geographic position, with rivers on two sides and impassable mountains on a third. However, and this more than compensated, on the fourth side were the forces commanded by none other than Charles S. Grant; and I was privileged to spend a couple of days rolling dice against the author of Tabletop Teasers himself. That won't mean anything to my non-wargaming readers, but those in the brotherhood will recognise that this is a story to tell one's grandchildren.

The photograph above shows a part of the Venetian army as it trailed down past Bologna towards Rome in order to do battle with the Pope, following the King of France's decision to break with the Pontiff. Similar columns from Milan, Ferrara and from France itself also wound unmolested past Genoa, Modena and Bologna. I am proud to say that immediately after they had moved down into Tuscany the three cities previously mentioned all left the French alliance, declared for Spain and moved towards the Po with the intention of rampaging through the undefended territories north of it. I take no pleasure in reporting that we didn't get there, but it was a good plan nonetheless.

"A gentleman is simply a patient wolf" - Lana Turner

Monday, 6 November 2017

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The nine of clubs

"The challenge for Nine of Clubs people is to let go with grace and gratitude... and not fall to the lower vibration of apathy or self-pity."

Last weekend saw Fiasco, the local wargames show here in Leeds, and the passout token for those putting on games was a playing card; the one they gave me was the nine of clubs: so challenge accepted. The show itself was good in the morning and dead in the afternoon. Our demo of Zorndorf went very much with the flow; I don't think we played a turn after lunch. Astonishingly I have seen some reviewers complain that the organisers gave space to a charity cake stall. Fortunately Epictetus is such peak physical shape these days that he was able to indulge himself with a bun or two and I can report that they were rather good; I hope that they are back next year. Other purchases included yet more trees from the tree man plus what is possibly the worst set of rules that I have ever read.

I bought a second hand set of Mailed Fist Wargames group's WWI rules and the best thing I can find to say about them is that it was only £3 wasted, or three cakes worth if you will. I won't take up too much of your time with them, but perhaps the oddest bit is the lack of any rules at all for machine guns because "they [were] a little thin on the ground". The author does however include specific stats for the 420cm L/12, Type M-Gerät 14, better known as the 'Big Bertha', of which only twelve were ever made and whose minimum range is somewhat longer than my table. I am more and more minded to stop buying WWI rules and instead to write my own; I'm envisaging a glorious mash-up of every family of rules that I've ever played plus the added complexity which inevitably creeps in every time that I try to devise something for wargaming use. The one thing that is certain is that the scale of these wonderful - though as yet unwritten - rules will be 12-15 figures per company, which should allow me to play a game of a brigade a side. I have it in mind to name them after one of C.R.W. Nevinsion's Great War paintings, perhaps 'A Dawn', which is just about to be sold for a shed load of money.

A game at that level requires a higher proportion of officers and support weapons than I had previously assumed. I have therefore scoured continental Europe for the out of production HaT German Heavy Weapons set and progress on painting has been brisk. October figures were:

Granatenwerfer 4
MG08/15 4
MG08 1
Flamethrower team 1
Minenwerfer 1
German bombers 4
German riflemen 10
British riflemen 7
British officers 12
Lewis guns 3

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

             - Pablo Neruda

Monday, 16 October 2017

Two Minds

Your mind and mine are such great lovers they
Have freed themselves from cautious human clay,
And on wild clouds of thought, naked together
They ride above us in extreme delight;
We see them, we look up with a lone envy
And watch them in their zone of crystal weather
That changes not for winter or the night.

              - Sara Teasdale

Monday, 9 October 2017

Are we there yet?

I suspect that there are many people saying that they won't be going back to the Derby Worlds show in 2018 if it's at the same venue, and I am certainly among them. From my point of view the distance alone would be sufficient reason. If it takes twice as long to get somewhere from the Lower Wharfe Valley as it does from the Lower Lea Valley then it really can't count as a northern show. The last half hour of the journey was on narrower and narrower, but otherwise identical, country roads with no sense of getting any closer to anywhere worth going. The venue was - and if you follow many wargames blogs you are going to get fed up reading this - far too small for the number of traders and games squeezed into it, and became very noisy and very hot; admittedly the last bit was in contrast to the previous venue being far too cold. There also weren't enough toilets. On the plus side the light was a huge improvement, as could be seen if I had bothered to take any photos.

James didn't win best game this year, but then again nor did anyone else, the new organisers having apparently decided the concept wasn't worth the trouble. The game went down very well with the punters though and so I think he can claim a moral victory. We played it through once each day, with the same result both times - a French victory. Given that the original battle was an overwhelming defeat for the French who suffered forty times the casualties of the Spanish, it would seem that the scenario and/or the rules aren't quite doing what they were supposed to (1). It did make for a good game though.

 There was a small amount of shopping: as usual at shows some trees from Last Valley (only another ten years or so of show attendance and I'll have enough to refight Hanau); Blandford's 'Army Uniforms of World War 1' at a very reasonable price from the Bring and Buy; and a copy of EWM's 'Crush the Kaiser' rules. These last are at a level that appeals to me, but do on first reading seem to have a number of areas which are not spelled out in much detail. However, I do seem to have enough figures to try them out, whereas I'm still way off being able to play 'Square Bashing'.

(1) For what it's worth I think that to make the scenario better reflect the battle (and as a corollary the game less fun to play) the French should be downgraded in some way to reflect their march to the town and their unpreparedness.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017


"The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing" - Marcus Aurelius

Autumn has arrived  in the Wharfe Valley which must mean it's time for the Derby Worlds. As James has written in his blog a highly untrained scratch team will be putting on an Italian Wars game. In Peter's absence the role of crap dice supremo is still up for grabs, but driving duties have been passed my way. The Stoicmobile has seen better days, but with a full tank and some more air in the tyres it might yet get us there and back, wherever 'there' actually is this year; all I currently know is that it's even further away from Derby than ever. Someone more clued up that me tells me that we're 'just inside the entrance to the right' so feel free to come and chat about the impending launch of my new range of gender neutral wargames clothes.

Speaking of toxic masculinity, I have been in a fight (OK, scuffle) for, I think, only the second time in my life (1). I don't count giving the National Front a bit of a kicking from time to time during the seventies; that comes under the heading of public service. Nor do I include the occasion a fellow student thumped me in the union bar; sadly he's no longer with us and, on reflection, he had a point anyway. In this latest incident the owner of the local launderette upon discovering that he had misplaced my duvet lost the plot completely and tried to physically throw me out of the shop (2). A few brief moments of pushing and shoving was only brought to an end by the arrival of another customer. At that point the madman drew out a very fat wallet and started slapping down twenty pound notes on the counter with great force. Showing immense restraint I only took two and then walked around the corner and bought a replacement for £16; the rest is going into the Derby Worlds new toy fund. The whole thing was very funny.

(1) By coincidence one of those present at the first fight - which took place in 1975 and accounts for the shape of my nose - will be helping out with the game on Saturday.
(2) It is possible that I had first expressed my dissatisfaction with the level of customer service in a fairly trenchant manner.