Friday, 31 May 2013

Hercules' choice

There has recently been an astonishing amount of wargaming in this usually only nominally wargaming blog, so to even things out a bit, how about a bit of culture?

The painting above, Hercules Choice by Paolo de' Matteis, shows Hercules deliberating between the louche, superficial attractions of old school wargaming (the flighty, half-dressed strumpet lying down at his feet) and the substantial, intellectually valid, more rewarding modern school of wargames rules (the sober, serious, more sensible and mature woman on the left). It's at Temple Newsam should you wish to explore the allegory further for yourself.

And, Lordy Lordy, this blog has a second follower. Welcome to Prufrock, a man (presumably - apologies if your're either a lady or a different species completely) with whom just by virtue of his name I feel an instant kinship. Do or do not these words sum me up?

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,       
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

We are a crusade or we are nothing

After a brief hiatus to allow James not to win the prize for best display game at Triples, wargaming resumed in his legendary salon des jeux last night. Peter had at some point thrown in the towel on the Punic Wars game that we had been in the middle of; probably wisely as it was looking to be a foregone conclusion. So it was the 1st Crusade and a chance to play another of the sets of rules that James and Peter have developed based on Brent Oman's Field of Battle, itself a development of Bob Jones' Piquet.
Peter Jackson and James Roach
The various rules, covering the Punic Wars, the Crusades and the Italian Wars (there is a fourth covering ancient galley warfare, but I have never played those - hint, hint) are all understandably similar, but also sufficiently different that even James frankly often has no bloody idea what is going on and has to resort to reading them. Among the largest differences is that relating to the death or otherwise of one's commanders, but it's just a question of mechanics; they still die with distressing regularity.

Anyway, James took lots of photos and will no doubt post an episode in the Muppet chronicles. For now suffice it to say that despite having three absolutely, stonkingly good commanders and continually rolling high to deny the infidels the chance to rally, that the defenders of the holy city are making a right pig's ear of it - or whatever the halal equivalent is.
Looking good

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The British Grenadiers

With the drip, drip, drip of a septic...but no. These words spring to mind because this weekend's re-enactors are British troops of the Napoleonic period and include a drummer and fifer amongst their number. sadly, they only appear to know one tune and I don't know the proper words.

There are half a dozen or so of these chaps and I went down to watch five rankers (note to self - check spelling) being ordered through loading and firing drill by an NCO of some sort. It was all very interesting; I'm always surprised by how complex the operation is. The effect was pretty impressive up until the point that on the command 'fire' they all shouted 'bang' in unison. Then they just looked silly.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The return of Albert

I had a ticket for yesterday for the Headingley Test.

And I don't have one for today.

Anyway, Triples - what did I think? I enjoyed it. I like the venue, although a bit more natural light would have been nice. Travel was easy by train and tram and the coffee was drinkable and a reasonable price. I bought two casualty markers from Warbases at 50p each so if everyone else was as spendthrift as me then the traders must have had a belting day out.

While we're on the subject, what do I think of the new Miniature Wargames? It's OK. The editor has made a big play of the layout and it's certainly clear and easy to read. An indicator on the top of each page tells you what sort of article that you are reading: a feature, a scenario an article on modelling etc. In the old, Ian Dickie days they used to have an indicator on the top of each page to tell you what sort of article that you were reading: ancient, medieval, Napoleonic etc. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Old School Wargaming - a clarification

Firstly, an apology to my pining fans for the lack of posts. I have been in London for a few days and they do not yet have the internet there. But now I am back in civilisation normal service can resume.

Readers may remember that in my last posting I reflected on old school wargaming using a variety of philosophical tools. I should have remembered that when push comes to shove there is only one philosopher that we should look to at times like this, and that is my old mucker William of Occam. 'Keep it simple' was his motto and it should be yours too; not mine obviously for without intellectual pretentiousness I have no raison d'etre.

Shortly after penning my last pontification (I am experimenting to see if alliteration could possibly act as a substitute for philosophical pseudery as the backbone of the blog) the new edition of Miniature Wargames arrived. Don't worry, this is not another rant about my subscription, rather it acted as a reminder that I hadn't actually read the previous one. And so I did. And what do I find, but an article by Harry Pearson on wargaming in an olde worlde stylee with 30mm flats in which he uses leather bound books as hills, steel navigational dividers for measurement, bone dice thrown from a Victorian horn shaker and original Edwardian playing cards. And to think that this man used to write for the Guardian. Anyway, suddenly the scales fell from my eyes and all became clear. The reason people indulge in old school wargaming is purely and simply as an affectation. They are cultivating an eccentricity in the manner of countless Englishmen before them.

Harry Pearson
 Now, I am in no way judgemental. Live and let live, that's what I say. But, Oi, Pearson! No!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Old School Wargaming: A Phenomonological Interpretation

I've been to Triples over the weekend, and in the tradition of this blog I am not going to write about it just yet; not directly anyway. Instead I shall attempt a brief melete on the subject of old school wargaming. Now, I'm no real fan of the genre; I find it dull and it seems obvious to me why people moved on to more complex and rewarding rulesets. I have no doubt that the grand old men of the hobby - Featherstone, Grant, Young et al - enjoyed themselves and were themselves fun to play with. My own theory is that because they had all seen active service, with all its attendant horrors, they emphasised the game side of things by making the context cartoon like rather than realistic.

Old school and toy soldier style games increasingly appear at shows, or at least the ones that I go to, and always attract a lot of attention and favourable comment. However, I strongly suspect that no-one much is playing them at home. So why the dichotomy? I think we can best interpret this in terms of philosophy. Now you might be surprised at the concept of a two thousand year old philosopher suggesting that we view things philosophically. However, stoicism - which as you will remember is my particular speciality - just won't do in these circumstances. Those proponents of old school behind the display games are essentially taking a Cartesian, reductionist approach to what they are doing. "Old School is best" they chant as they roll their D6, knock over casualties and argue about what constitutes a flank attack; and they believe not just what they say, but that the best gaming experience is objectively determinable.
However, the experience of the show attendee is actually phenomonological. They view the game in the context of their personal Weltenschauung and their life experiences. When looking at the game they are inevitably drawn in to a miasma of vicarious nostalgia, remembering not the games thay used to play themselves, but the games that they read about others playing. They are not so much admiring the game they see in front of them as indulging in a false consciousness of how things 'should be' driven by an illusion of how things in fact never were.

Any of them who watch the game progress or, even more so, if they actually play it quickly find their subjective viewpoint becomes less one of comfortable homecoming and more one of dissatisfaction. They quickly contrast the crude 'roll a 4,5 or 6 and you're dead' bloodbath with the more nuanced ebb and flow of rules designed more recently. Moving single figures palls after the first couple of bounds (as does calling turns bounds) and knocking over figures to show that they are dead rather than removing them causes nothing but confusion every time someone bangs the table. The end result of this is that the observer now recalls that they didn't start playing with nicely painted  Spencer Smith 30mm figures, but rather with unpainted Airfix Romans and Ancient Britons and that the only thing they have in common is that they wouldn't stand up either. They shudder, think fondly of their current set-up and pass on.
Anyone know where I can get a copy of this boardgame? It looks interesting.

Martin Heidegger, a prominent phenomonological philosopher (and Nazi, but best not to mention the war) was clearly in favour of figures being based on stands rather than individually and can therefore be counted as an opponent of old school wargaming. "Every man" he wrote " is born as many men and dies as a single one."

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Oh no, it's politics again

My blog posts about politics are by far the least popular and so it must be time for another one. As it happens I have had a bit of a week for political meetings. First there was a lecture on "The Capitalist Crisis: A Marxist Analysis". Now this was a very insightful run through the events of 2007 onwards delivered in a fluent and entertaining manner. The word Marx was however completely absent throughout as was any sort of Marxist interpretation that I could see. Keynesianism was there in plenty (although his name didn't crop up either), but Charlie didn't surf.

In any society based on the economic exploitation of one class by another, a political struggle between those classes is inevitable

 Subsequently I attended a round table discussion at Leeds Metropolitan University on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Now, she was mentioned, but not very often at all over the course of two hours. Possibly, it occurs to me, the reason for the left's failure to come up with an answer to neo-liberalism is their inability to stick to the matter in hand. The most intriguing idea that came up in the discussion was the idea that the 'state' funeral was the right's response to Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony.

As for me: "I can't go on. I'll go on."

Monday, 13 May 2013

It's the time of the season

I have completed a full A-Z of sixties music in two days. On Friday it was the mighty, mighty Abyssinians and last night it was the Zombies. They shared a number of features: excellent concerts, vocally superb and they looked well old. The St Albans pop band didn't look as bad as the roots reggae stars, but then again they don't come from a third world country and have not, one assumes, smoked industrial quantities of weed over the last half century.

And featuring Guy the gorilla on vox humana
Anyway, musically they were just fantastic and deserved the standing ovation that they got. Colin Blunstone was in simply glorious voice. They played a mix of old Zombies numbers, stuff from Blunstone's solo career, a couple of Argent songs (the bass player had been in that band alongside Rod Argent), a few from a new album and a couple of covers from such as Little Anthony and the Imperials and, unexpectedly, Porgy and Bess.

But what did they look like, I hear you ask. Well the bass player (also ex-Kinks) had decided to go for the Doctor Who look. Not Matt Smith, but rather the Doctor from the time that band was formed.

Well, no-one told me about her
Colin Blunstone seems to have morphed into a slightly more cheerful version of Denethor, son of Ecthelion, 26th Steward of Gondor, but the highest praise must be reserved for Rod Argent. He was rocking the full Camilla Parker Bowles although dressed for mucking out the stables rather than the state opening of parliament.

Hold your head uuuuup

Earlier in the day, I went 10 pin bowling (I won all three games since you ask) and met someone who openly and freely identified himself as a wargamer. I don't think that I've ever met one just in the normal course of social intercourse before. Normally we only reveal ourselves when huddled together for comfort and protection. The UK is obviously becoming a more tolerant and open society. Do you hear that, UKIP?

Saturday, 11 May 2013

We a no warrior

But we a conqueror 
Jah loves u man

I have been to see The Abyssinians. The mighty, mighty, Abyssinians. Looking as if they had stepped straight from 1960s Kingston, Jamaica - except for all being about a hundred years old - the kings of roots reggae were, basically, mighty.

I hadn't seen a reggae band live since the two sevens clashed (cries of "Shame, shame") and one interesting point was that the between song banter had not evolved one bit. It still consists of random and seemingly meaningless combinations of the words and phrases 'Jah', 'Rastafari', 'I and I', 'Natty Dread' and 'Trenchtown'. But communication problems aside it was a great concert; mighty even. And what a mixed audience, containing every possible combination of race and age, although possibly not that many UKIP voters. One other noticeable  absence was the fragrant smell that used to be associated with such events. The smoking ban isn't all good news.

The last reggae act that I saw live was the Cimarons  who supported Tom Robinson at a Rock against Racism gig in the University of Bradford Staff-Student Communal Building, although the students union - being hideously white and middle class - had never heard of them and promoted them as the Limarons. The evening was full of drama including the arrival of what was assumed to be the NF turning out to actually be the SWP. However the bit that sticks in my mind was when BUSWAG (the Bradford University Socialist Women's Action Group just in case you weren't already on top of that one) caused uproar when poor old Tom played 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle' and demanded the right of reply on behalf of womankind. Tom, being Tom, graciously agreed and called for a spokesperson to step forward to the microphone. The dungareed ones put their hands together and nominated Roland Rance, who everyone in the room couldn't help noticing was a man himself.

He used to have a beard
Roland is famous/notorious in some quarters these days although I suspect not to anyone reading this. One of his online biographies states that as a young man he attended the University of Bradford. I would like to put the record straight. He certainly attended the university, but he was never, at any point, a young man.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Elephant man

It seems fitting for this, the one hundredth post, that this blog should feature some wargaming. In order to protect the playing surface ahead of an important competitive fixture, James laid on a Punic Wars game on his current desert terrain. I got to play the Carthaginians because I had never, despite being very old and having been wargaming for more than forty years on and off, played a game with elephants before. Given that, it was inevitable that almost immediately one of my two units of elephants was routed by the skirmish screen of the Romans' Spanish allies and fled the table never to be seen again.

Me in character as the Carthaginians

Anyway, we left the game finely balanced except for the fact that the Carthaginians will win easily. The luck was about even as far as dice rolls went, but my low numbers - including an impressive sequence of consecutive ones - all happened on relatively unimportant occasions whereas Peter's occurred in melees that he should have won. By not doing so his legions were just stuck in attritional combat with my weakest units rather than clearing them out of the way and pressing on. He also failed to get to use his stratagem card which would have allowed him ten extra initiative to represent the historical surprise attack and only won one Lull, promptly turning a Lull of his own which I then won back. All in all it was very satisfactory.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

But boy, could he play guitar

I went to see Albert Lee last night at the City Varieties. Lee came to rock and roll from the country side rather than the blues of most of his British contemporaries such as Clapton. His style is therefore rather different, but the things that he can do with a guitar are just incredible.

While he and the band - Hogan's Heroes; now there's a name to take one back - played a few more modern, self-penned numbers, the bulk of them were old, slightly obscure stuff from Buddy Holly, Everly Brothers, Ray Charles, Glen Campbell and even the Travelling Wilburys. It's not often that one sees a performer who shares his repertoire with Iggy Pop, Rod Stewart, Rockpile and, er, Cliff Richard.

The band were tight and provided a secure platform for Lee's virtuosity. The bass player managed to look like both Jimmy Carter and Lorne Greene at the same time, which was rather disconcerting.

"OK, Hoss, this is a blues riff in B, watch me for the changes..."
The last number of their set, before the encores anyway, was an extended version of Country Boy which seemed to contain a snatch of every well known riff from Smoke on the Water to Nutrocker. Most entertaining.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Bees, Bees, Bees

Need any more be said?

Well, perhaps just a little bit more. I had set aside Sunday 19th to go to Triples, but now I am very tempted to go to Wembley instead. Decisions, decisions.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Homo Ferrous

Welcome to another beautiful day in southern California. I have been reliably informed that one of the sci-fi chappies at the Armouries is none other than Iron Man; although naturally I haven't seen any of those films either. If this is true then it means that not only were Jedi knights being ordered about as the building was evacuated, but also a bona fide superhero.

Anyway, it being Sunday, yesterday was boardgames in the pub. Games played were: Zombie Fluxx, Citadels, Plus and Minus, and Survive!. Games won were:.... Well it's the taking part that counts. One of the other groups played War on Terror and it was very funny to watch the other bank-holiday pub-goers reaction to Chris who spent most of the afternoon wearing the balaclava of evil.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Cinco de mayo esté con usted

A bit of a hiatus in blogging has been caused by not much happening that I wished to share. I know that you are all desperate for my views on whether UKIP are nutters and racists (which indeed they are), but I would simply refer you to Marx's theory of false consciousness which sums it up rather well. Although certainly only in the UK could such a pro-state, pro-ruling class bunch be regarded as in some way anti-establishment.

UKIP councillors celebrate

Anyway, what of the re-enactors at the Royal Armouries? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, they have been, I think, Star Wars related this weekend. I say that I think they have because of course I have never seen any of the films and so it is to some extent a matter of guesswork. They have mainly been inside until this morning, rather amusingly, the fire alarms went off and they all got herded outside. Whilst this was inconvenient for me personally because I had to go somewhere else for my morning Cappuccino, there is something brilliantly comical about a man with a light sabre being ordered about through a megaphone by a stroppy woman in a high visibility vest.

"What do you mean, I can't use the lift?"

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Fire and Stone

There is some good news on the wargames rules front. Obviously there can never be too many sets of rules either in one's own collection or in the world at large and so the announcement of any upcoming set is to be welcomed. The set that I am referring to are (currently) known as Vauban's Wars and are being developed within the Piquet rule family by Eric Burgess.

A chap in a wig
Those with long memories and/or no lives may remember that my own personal current wargaming project (as opposed to freeloading on James Roach's hard work) is the War of the Spanish Succession; or at least it would be were not all my figures etc still the marital home, from which I have been excluded due to - well, best not to discuss that. I do retain hopes of at some point in the not too distant future living somewhere with enough room for a wargames table and so keep the flame alive by counting the WSS as my current period even though nothing has been done on it for some considerable time. I started on the WSS project not because of any particular interest in it, but because I was stitched up by another wargamer, whom it would be best not to name, but whom I shall refer to for the purpose of this blog only as 'Mark Dudley'.

I can't say that I wasn't warned
 Anyway, having been persuaded against my better judgement to throw in my lot with the world's leading instigator of abandoned projects I went away and read up on the period. It became apparent that most of the action at the time was in the form of sieges rather than set-piece battles, but you all knew that anyway. Imagine my pleasure then to discover at about that time that Eric Burgess (who blogs here: Din of Battle) was developing a set of siege rules for the period. Now, as it happens, he has also taken a bit of down time from wargaming - it happens to us all - but has recently given word on the Piquet forum that he is back in the saddle and that these rules are likely to see the light of day later in year. If my luck is really in then that will coincide with me having somewhere to play them.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

See The Conquering Hero Comes

And so to the theatre. I attended the opening night of Opera North's new production of Handel's oratorio Joshua. Unusually this is costumed and staged; the ban on the appearance of biblical figures on the stage in Britain having apparently been removed about a hundred years ago. I wasn't familiar with the work before although there is one well-known and rousing chorus. As today's little known fact I can exclusively reveal that the original conquering hero about whom the chorus 'songs of triumph sing' is neither Judas Maccabeus - in whose oratorio it reappeared later - nor Joshua. It is in fact Othniel. Yes, that Othniel.

I'm in the mood for smiting
It was an excellent production. The design theme was, at the beginning, second world war displaced Jews morphing through resistance chic into guerrillas/terrorists fighting to found the state of Israel. The highlight of the show was the counter-tenor playing Othniel, who sang beautifully whilst whenever possible taking his shirt off to show off his torso. In this he was joined by Joshua, who at one point wore a couple of bullet belts slung across a bare chest, looking for all the world as if the Village People had decided to add a Mexican bandido to their line-up. Other design elements seemed to be based on Arthurian legend, the Wizard of Oz and the A-Team, but it all hung together in a remarkably coherent way.

The chorus of Opera North

The chorus paid homage to the work's origins by holding scores at certain points regardless of the staging, but they also spent a fair amount of time singing while brandishing AK-47s at the audience. Other elements that might have not been in Handel's first draft included rather a lot of simulated sex, the previously alluded to gay porn references, and a travelling wardrobe.

Thoroughly recommended.