Tuesday, 31 December 2013

"To be an ideal guest, stay at home"

Wise words from E.W. Howe and I shall be following them tonight. It is the traditional time for reflection and so, for the the first time in the history of this blog, I shall indulge myself. [The Rhetorical Pedant is out of the office until January 6th and therefore has no comment to make.] Has it been a good year? Well if I ignore the no family, no home, no job stuff and overlook the bad case of shingles that I had then I can't really complain. As this blog's patron once said "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters" and, let's be frank, on this occasion Epictetus was talking out of his arse.

Anyway, on to a cultural round-up. Highlight of the year was without doubt Leonard Cohen. As I tweeted at the time (@gralhill should anyone be interested) I gave it seven stars out of five, which given that I'm a qualified accountant whose first degree was in maths is a bit embarrassing. Nonetheless it was that good. Theatre of the year was 'Tristan & Yseult' by Kneehigh at the West Yorkshire Playhouse which, I don't mind admitting, made me cry. Which considering that I'm a qualified accountant whose first degree was in maths is a bit embarrassing. [The Rhetorical Pedant's assistant is also on holiday.] Opera of the year is more difficult. As much as I enjoyed the Britten season and Opera North's continuing Ring Cycle, I am going to plump for Handel's Joshua.

Gaming wise it was a bit of a bumper year, both figure gaming and boardgaming. Wargaming wise I got to do a couple of things that I hadn't before - play with James' galleys and take part in a demo game at a show - and even from time to time felt that I had some grasp of the rules being played. My favourite was probably the Italian Wars stuff (Cerignola in fact) leading up to Triples, but it was all good. Boardgaming was always enjoyable although I would like to have played more games at the heavier end of things. Virtually everything I played was new to me and there weren't many that I wouldn't play again. I'm going to go for Love Letter as this year's game - and I know that it is anything but heavy so the Rhetorical Pedant's assistant's assistant can sit down again - because it is so minimalist and yet so good.

It only behoves me to say, once again, Gut Yontiff and to wish you all the best for 2014.

"Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which every man has some." - Charles Dickens

Sunday, 29 December 2013


So, a whole load of nothing been going on here. I hurt my leg on a Boxing Day walk which has rather restricted my movements. I did go to see the new installment of the Hobbit. It's a lot better than the first although still far too long.

I'm sure that I've played more boardgames recently than I've written about here. Anyway, today at the Meeples was Zombie Fluxx, The Manhattan Project and Qwirkle. I promised myself that I'd never play Zombie Fluxx again, but fortunately it was one of the shorter games. Manhattan Project was a two hour worker placement game, but far more enjoyable than that sounds. I won, but then I suspect that I was the only one playing who'd ever dealt in WMDs, or any other sort of arms come to that. My tip: a uranium only strategy.

As the Seven Years War is the wargaming focus leaving the old year and starting the new one, perhaps a quote from Frederick is in order:

"It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country as a consequence. Everybody is using coffee; this must be prevented. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were both his ancestors and officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer, and the King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be relied upon to endure hardships in case of another war."

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. 

            - Derek Walcott

Sunday, 22 December 2013

'There is a danger of changing too much in the search for perfection'

Well, a rare second posting today. This is driven partly by the impatience of my main man Gummy, and partly by the fact that all the transmitters have gone down and there is no terrestrial television or radio in Ilkley. As I don't have access to satellite and I can't be arsed to fix up the computer to the TV set I am forced to answer his question. I promised to answer it in two parts, but he has since posted a follow-up that's longer than the first instalment of my response was in the first place. I have therefore decided to answer it in three bits. This is therefore 'part one, a slight return' and is included not least because it gives me the opportunity to bring you a photograph of Agnetha Fältskog.

The thrust of Mr Highway's question is whether James' preferred method of playtesting rule changes is optimal from the point of view of those playing the playtest games. The thrust of my answer is that no it probably isn't purely from the point of view of playing a game for the games' sake. But if you assume that those playing are also interested in helping to develop the rules then it becomes less of a problem. Also I know that I always refer to the as James' rules, and he does do the editing, collation etc, but you shouldn't underestimate Peter's role. I'm pretty sure that the Punic Wars rules that you praised are co-credited to Peter, and rightly so. The purpose of the evenings therefore is to have fun in the two areas  of gaming and rules developing and scenario designing. To have fun in the three areas of gaming, rules designing, scenario designing and lamenting our inability to speak Latin. Continues ad infinitum...

James and Peter update the quick play sheet

In fact the changing rules wouldn't even be in the top three things that occasionally take the shine off an evening's wargaming chez Olicanalad. Top of the list would be extreme initiative swings. We had some terrible ones whilst in the Western Desert which really spoiled a couple of sessions. The dominoes seem to have improved that aspect of things, and in the Ager series of rules it's not an issue anyway. Second would be scenario defects. These happen, but can't be corrected as quickly as rules experiments. D8 defence dice wasn't working so it was changed for D6. The German infantry attack started too far from the British at Sidi Rezegh, but short of moving the terrain there was nothing we could do about it. We could however change the smoke rules (as in artillery laying down smoke) and so we did. I spent two Seven Years War evenings doing nothing because my troops never arrived. Compared to that the impact of inconsistent rules doesn't carry any weight. Third on my list of downers would be the quality of commanders rolled up. Facing an 88mm with two Brilliant Commander cards is not that much fun; and trying to turn Sapper cards with a Command Indecision in the deck isn't either.

Last minute gift suggestion

"Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen." - Epictetus the Stoic. One of my best I think.

Gut yontiff to you all.


...or possibly synchronicity. Or morphic resonance. Or possibly coincidence. Or maybe just ignorance on my part. I've only just realised that 'Gunny Highway' - the nom de plume of the person asking very sensible questions about rules playtesting - comes from the Hollywood version of the US invasion of Grenada. Although Reagan's real-life version of events didn't owe very much to fact and memorably ended with the US military slapping themselves on the back and giving out awards in a way that would have made even the Academy of Motion Pictures blush.

Gummy talks to the trees

Now I've never seen the film (I have nothing against Clint Eastwood's acting - 'Paint Your Wagon' is a masterpiece), but, as readers probably don't know, I built the airport at Point Salines; the one that caused all the problems. Or at least I was the project accountant. "Hang on a minute" I hear you say "you're not Cuban!" (1). No, and there lies much of my issue with Ronald Reagan's, er, lies. Anyway, the time is not right for me to publish my perspective on 'Urgent Fury'. It's either too soon or too late. The 30th anniversary release of UK government papers on the issue a couple of months or so ago simply led to the press (including very disappointingly the Guardian) repeating the official US version once again. One would think that given the subsequent experience of the deliberate falsehoods promulgated to justify the invasion of Iraq that they might have been slightly more questioning. But no.

"Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to this vice of lying!"

(1) I did once, many years after the events of 1983, win a Salsa dancing competition in Cuba (absolutely true fact) and so won't deny that I have a little of the Latin love god in me.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The sign of noble souls

Regular readers may have seen a comment posted recently that almost uniquely was neither from MS Foy (whose observations are of course always both pertinent and welcome) and nor did it concern the back catalogue of Salford songstress Elkie Brooks (who is always worth seeing; just don’t expect too much from “Pearl’s a Singer” as she rather throws it away). Furthermore this latest comment was a question colligating both wargaming and philosophy: the two raisons d’etre of this blog. [The Rhetorical Pedant cannot resist pointing out that in fact far more of the blog seems to be taken up with poetry, ruminations on goings-on in North Korea, pictures of your bloggist frolicking with the yummy mummies of Ilkley, and pointless interjections from someone calling himself the Rhetorical Pedant.] And so, at last, a proper question that not only deserves a proper answer, but is actually going to get two. Controversially, I am going to begin from the perspective of an ordinary wargamer rather than that of the giant of Stoic philosophy that you know me to be. Readers of an intellectual bent will just have to wait.

Ordinary wargamer
So, the obvious place to start is by considering Deconstruction, the literary theory propounded originally by Jacques Derrida. Derrida famously, though not pithily, saidEvery discourse, even a poetic or oracular sentence, carries with it a system of rules for producing analogous things and thus an outline of methodology.” And I’m assuming that no-one is going to argue with that. In this context Deconstruction would lead us to focus on the word ‘ordinary’ rather than ‘wargamer’. Rest assured that I am extraordinarily ‘ordinary’ in my wargaming. I have piles of unpainted figures, many volumes of unplayed rules, a collection of odd shaped-dice, am a white male of a certain age with a bit of a belly, and am rather reticent when asked by the yummies what my hobbies are. I rarely put on my own games (although, as will be appreciated, this is not unrelated to not actually having anywhere to live), but am always happy to turn up when anyone else puts one on.

James ‘Olicanalad’ Roach, on the other hand, is a professional. He is an award-winning painter, a published rules author and the owner of a legendary war-games room. In fact the only thing he shares with us ‘ordinary wargamers’ is a pronounced glabrousness. Since moving to the vicinity of Ilkley – wargaming epicentre of lower Wharfedale – I have been very grateful to play in games hosted by Mark, Ken and Tim as well as, many years ago, actually hosting one myself. But I’m sure that none of the others would quibble that James’ set-up is the dog’s bollocks. That last phrase would no doubt have given Monsieur Derrida immense pleasure, but I think we can be equally clear that he would have followed it up with a question. “What” he would have pondered “has any of zis got to do with ze price of fish?”.

And the answer is plain and straightforward; qualities always much admired by French philosophers. It is such a pleasure and a privilege to be able to play wargames at James' house, with his beautifully painted figures on his equally fine terrain, that he can change the rules as often as he likes; I just don't care.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

"The Prussians are in the woods"

I am rather enjoying the series of Seven Years War games that James is hosting at the moment, despite my pretty poor performance at bridge blowing. The latest scenario is detailed and illustrated on James’ Olicanalad blog so I won’t say much about it here. It’s playing out rather nicely after one evening and seems reasonably balanced. Given that the Prussians are expected to attack from the off I might be tempted to find some way of giving them the chance to move first were you to play it. Having said that, last night’s game started with the Russians winning a long run of initiative and getting their main force onto the table quite quickly but the Prussians still seem likely to take the large hill which was their first objective.
And they're wearing bearskins
I am the Prussians and the relative success of the infantry attack has rather surprised me. The attack saw a sustained firefight with not that many casualties. In the end it was a flanking force of grenadiers that did the damage, although they miserably failed to win a melee when attacking from the side a battery of guns that had already lost a stand. In part the attack’s success has been due to drawing an up 1 for line infantry morale card, thereby making them somewhat more resilient to being morale chipped, and having a superior commander and therefore a Brilliant Leader card hasn’t done any harm either. I also drew an extra Artillery Reload card, but the effect of this was somewhat lessened by both batteries rolling up poor. I’m still optimistic though that once they’re up on top of the hill they will prove very useful.

The firefight rages
I know you will be keen to understand the latest rule changes. They are reduced morale chip losses due to combat thereby leaving more chips for challenges – seems to be working so far, although possibly the minimum morale should be set at one per infantry and artillery unit and two per cavalry unit. Dress the Lines cards only appear now when an officer is lost – the jury’s out on this one, but last week we had so many between us that there was a run of fifteen initiative spread between both sides where nothing whatsoever happened. The newish morale challenge rules (requiring a stand loss) seem better to me and I also like the no negative effect for reactive fire. The movement of reserves into the line on a Deploy card also worked although I notice that it hasn’t made the Russian main force take up two lines as they debouched from the town.

It was also good to see the return of a pointless argument on a subject that no-one knew anything about. The orbit of the earth around the sun having been exhausted – at least for now – our thoughts turned to what name the Romans used for Hades, as in the underworld. My money’s on it actually being Hades, but why spoil the fun by finding out.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

You won't have met me, and you'll soon forget me

I seem to have been attending concerts by wrinkly rockers regularly recently. [“Tell me,” the Rhetorical Pedant asks “if you did that deliberately; because it’s not big and it’s not clever.”] Last night at the Royal Hall, Harrogate it was the turn of Lindisfarne, or at least of Ray Jackson masquerading as the whole of Lindisfarne. He did have with him five other musicians who had previously been members of the band at various stages over the last forty years, but only he was there during their first four albums and Top of the Pops phase. The seventh person on the stage was the Great Paul Thompson, previously the drummer of Roxy Music.

They played the hits that you’d expect with the late Alan Hull’s part very ably filled by Dave Hull-Denholm (relation). At the risk of annoying Elkie Brooks’ most passionate fan (hello there Maria), Lindisfarne once again complied with my newly formulated rule that acts of a certain age intensely dislike their most famous hit and end up throwing it away as a singalong. Possibly as the exception that proves the rule this happened not just – as one would imagine – to “Fog on the Tyne”, but also to “We Can Swing Together”. In fact the latter also included truly naff harmonica renditions of a variety of Christmas songs plus “Ilkley Moor Bat’at” as a patronising nod to the crowd and “Blaydon Races” as a patronising nod to Jackson himself. Thankfully “Lady Eleanor”, “Meet Me on the Corner”, “Run for Home” (1) and “Clear White Light” were treated with more of the respect that they deserved. The highlight for me was actually Hull-Denholm’s rendition of “Winter Song”.

And every step I take, takes me further from heaven

In their heyday the band played and recorded an eclectic mix of music and so it was at this concert; encores included tracks more commonly associated with Canned Heat and Woody Guthrie. The crowd however were largely drawn from the folk-rock fraternity, although possibly with a smattering of Harrogate pensioners who had just wandered in to get out of the cold. Anyway, like all folkies the audience fondly imagined that they could sing in tune and clap in time when in fact they could do neither. Thankfully, it being folk rock meant that there was a rhythm section to drown them out. As previously mentioned this included the fantastic Mr Thompson who I always admired in the seventies for the solid base that he provided for Andy Mackay’s wavering sax, Phil Manzanera’s soaring guitar and for whatever it was that Eno did.

(1) Surely the only instance in popular music of lyrics containing the word 'buffoon'

Sunday, 15 December 2013

One morn I missed him on the customed hill

I'm afraid that yet another person, having made an appearance in this blog, has subsequently ceased to be. As Thomas Gray said - admittedly in a different poem to the more famous one from which this posting's title is taken - "Alas, regardless of their doom the little victims play! No sense have they of ills to come, nor cares beyond today."

So farewell then Peter O'Toole; and if I was in the blog's list of most featured characters (that would be you then Peter and James) then I'd be arranging insurance and writing a will.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.

Friday, 13 December 2013

"Come, lead me to the block; bear him my head"

Back in 1991 I was privileged to see Sir Ian McKellen give his Richard III at the National Theatre. The renowned Richard Eyre production translated the action to the 1930s with the king as a Mosley type fascist - only somewhat more successful than the leader of the Blackshirts.

I mention this because recent events in North Korea naturally remind me of Act 3 (one of the most historically accurate elements of that play), and the peaked caps point directly to the McKellen version. One can imagine Chang Song-thaek calming his associates with words similar to those of Hastings:

"Where nothing can proceed that toucheth us
Whereof I shall not have intelligence
Tell him his fears are shallow, wanting instance
And for his dreams, I wonder he is so fond
To trust the mockery of unquiet slumbers"

Later of course,as he is being dragged away by the guards, he reflects (in Korean one must assume):

"O momentary grace of mortal men
Which we more hunt for than the grace of God!
Who builds his hope in air of your good looks,
Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast,
Ready, with every nod, to tumble down
Into the fatal bowels of the deep."

The rest of us might be somewhat taken aback by the goings on of the family Kim, but Shakespeare wouldn't have been. Now that's art.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Quintilian may have had a point

"When we cannot hope to win, it is an advantage to yield" - Quintilian

A chap with a beard
The last run through of the Reserve Demolition scenario reached its inevitable conclusion this week. I mentioned in my report on the first session that I had drawn the double blank three times. On this occasion the tone was set when it was the very first domino drawn for the Prussians. The fact that the Russians only drew the one-blank domino was less of a consolation and more a sort of taunting mockery.
The dominoes speak
Mind you I ended in a triumph of a sort, having lost basically every single unit except the sappers who were still there despite having not set the charge nor indeed having received any orders to blow it. Other than that - and a single stand of dragoons who had routed over the bridge at an early stage - they were all dead. Impressive, but pointless.
Good for morale
There was much discussion afterwards about morale chips and that seems to be the area in which the rules will change next time. However, to me the most important issue was my poor commander. The Command Indecision card cost me easily a whole turn through the cards over the two evenings.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


 For anyone who knows an inveterate rule tweaker there is an interesting observation buried in a game report on Trebian's 'Wargaming for Grown-ups" blog. He postulates a cycle in respect of wargames rules like the Five Stages of Grief (Denial, Anger etc). It all makes perfect sense to me.

The angels ponder a D8 defence dice
 I am also most concerned about the fate of Comrade Chang Song-thaek. Apparently his crimes include 'drinking, gambling and womanising'. Frankly if that sort of behaviour is to be held against people then which of us can truly consider ourselves safe?

Your bloggist has left the building

Sunday, 8 December 2013


I went to Recon yesterday, a small show, but one always worth going to in my opinion. I went by train and was pleasantly surprised by how simple that was. I bought nothing (although I am increasingly hopeful that as my elder daughter might say "wargaming shit is gonna get real" quite soon), but had a couple of interesting conversations. One was with a chap who was trying to persuade me that his home grown rules were an accurate simulation of being a tank commander. I wouldn't know either way and nor, I suspect, would he. I also had a look at a participation game of Saga. I didn't join in, but certainly came away with the feeling that as a game - NB not simulation - it might work rather well.

Your bloggist in the centre, immediately before falling over

Today I went walking. Unexpectedly North Yorkshire turns out to be muddy in December. Who'd have thought it? And, in another turn up for the books, it got quite cold by the time we'd finished.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Triple Double Blank (plus one for luck)

"I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." - Ecclesiastes 9:11

It is possible that the unknown author of Ecclesiastes (and let's have a warm welcome for the return of Old Testament quotations to the blog) didn't have Usain Bolt in mind when he wrote those words. But he (probably not she) may well have been looking forward in time and considering early twenty-first century wargamers. (Also making an overdue return, the Rhetorical Pedant asks just how likely that would actually be, to which I reply that it is as likely as any of the other stuff in the Bible. Doh, there go some more readers!). Anyway, despite my tip top infantry and my initial deployment turning out to be not nearly as bad as I thought that it might be, my skill did not find favour to men in the legendary wargames room of James 'end of turn rule change' Roach.

Instead, the fickle finger of fate pointed in my direction and, having pointed, stayed pointing. I was probably already doomed through a combination of poor leader (the Command Indecision card cost me 14 initiative on one occasion) and a fairly low morale chip balance. However, the icing on the cake was some truly terrible domino drawing. We played three turns and I drew the double blank each time. Indeed I also drew it a fourth time causing a certain amount of concern about James' ability to manage the bag of dominoes. It was decided in the end that perhaps it was an unfair responsibility to give to him and he was freed up to concentrate on changing the rules every ten minutes.
A familiar sight to the Prussians

Rules that I didn't like included D8 defence dice which was abandoned after I had done my shooting and just in time for the Russians to do theirs. Rules I did like included not being down 1 for reactive fire, a rule which seems to be still hanging in there for the the moment. Anyway, back to the game. Inasmuch as I had a plan it was to send my dragoons out to defeat the Russian hussars and get on the flank of the infantry. It was possible that given enough time I could have advanced my pokey infantry out and cleaned Peter's up before the second command arrived. In fact, with the previous two evenings having passed with no sign of the Russian strategem card, it turned up second pip spent. The net effect was that my dragoons found themselves facing the Russian heavy cavalry and I had to fall back on plan B which was to, well, fall back. The charge is not set; the orders have not arrived from Frederick; it's not looking good.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

"It always seems impossible until it's done"

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/mahatmagan121411.html#cIZgcoxQzzCaJzcB.99

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." - Mahatma Gandhi

"Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind." - Aristotle

Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/aristotle148497.html#ud5jmKGpIHqpDKaa.99
Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/aristotle148497.html#ud5jmKGpIHqpDKaa.99
Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/aristotle148497.html#ud5jmKGpIHqpDKaa.99