Saturday, 30 August 2014

Sin titulo

Ignoring all previous experience I have been to the Henry Moore Institute to see their latest exhibition: Line as Object by the Venezualan artist Gego. It is not really my cup of tea, but the galleries of 'negative space' did actually provide an interesting half an hour, so not a complete wasted journey. The Claude Cahun photographic exhibition in Leeds Art Gallery is worth a look as well.

Drawing without paper

The Punic Wars campaign ended with a whimper. It was like a high jump competition where everyone has cleared the same height and the medals have to be decided by some arcane countback mechanism. The decision went in favour of the Carthaginians so congratulations to Peter. This has to be the longest campaign that I've ever played in and I had mixed feelings. I enjoyed both the strategic side and the tabletop games - especially when we switched to straight out of the box C&C - but the two aspects didn't mesh for me.

And finally a quick picture of your bloggist on top of Haw Pike. For the avoidance of doubt that isn't my magic hat.

Friday, 22 August 2014


There are many reasons why I am a wargamer, although being especially interested in war or the military isn't actually one of them. What the hobby does do is reflect a number of other interests of mine. I've always been keen on history; I like playing games; the accountant/mathematician in me relates in the saddest of ways to sets of rules; the hobby is easy to pick up and put down which is handy for my erratic working life; and I really enjoy modelling.

Your bloggist

Note that I say modelling rather than painting. I don't mind the latter, but I have no flair for it or any particular interest in getting any better. My painting style looks perfectly OK from a distance when stuff is on the table and that is more than good enough for me. Nor unfortunately do I possess any sculpting aptitude beyond the odd hat or cloak. What I really like, and think I'm good at, is creating something new from existing figures and bits and pieces. One of the virtues of plastic (the vast majority of my collection is 20mm plastic) is that it's straightforward to chop things up and put them back to together again in a different combination. Or at least it would be if it weren't for my inability to master superglue.

I have never been able to get the stuff under control. Admittedly the belated - to me - discovery that nail varnish remover can unstick fingers eased the level of pain and blood involved somewhat, at least when my daughters had not made of with the stuff for the outrageous purpose of removing their nail varnish. But that still leaves my complete inability to reseal a tube in a controlled manner so it can be used again or not to stick craft knives to kitchen roll or plastic bags.

I am driven to write this by a completely disastrous attempt to fix swords to four Russian Dragoons that represent the second unit of heavy cavalry without cuirasse required by the C&C Napoleonics Russian expansion. The first such unit that I finished contains one figure whose sabre droops in a manner that might be useful if he was trying to gut a fish, but doesn't immediately call to mind a Napoleonic cavalry charge; and which was caused by my turning my back for a nanoscond during which time the bloody thing had shifted and the glue stuck hard.

"We can do anything we want to if we stick to it long enough" - Helen Keller

Thursday, 21 August 2014

I look pretty tall, but my heels are high

It is time to write once again about the Punic Wars campaign. Yet another battle is taking place at the gates of Carthage which if I win will effectively end the campaign.

Even the readers of a blog as loosely related to wargaming as this will have spotted the photos don't quite look right. Well none were taken last night so I shall illustrate with a few from my solo re-fights of the crossing of the Berezina.

So where was I? Ah yes, if I win the battle then I win the campaign. Well, not for the first time, I shan't win the battle - probably about ten minutes from completion when we knocked off last night - and therefore the campaign staggers on. However, it's half way through the last strategic turn and so one way or the other it will end soon.

What actually happened last night was that the elephants suddenly came good and rampaged through my right wing. My cavalry had great success on my left wing so it's fairly close, but not, sadly, close enough.

 As for the Berezina, one resounding Russian victory and one close French victory. And not a line of sight problem in, er, sight.

Friday, 15 August 2014

As ye sow, so shall ye reap

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode? 

                  - Langston Hughes

Thursday, 14 August 2014


The Punic Wars rumble on with the populations of Rome and Carthage, their commanders and, I suspect, the umpire all suffering from war weariness. Last night saw Rome finish off Carthage in the battle left incomplete the previous week, fail to achieve anything while besieging the city itself and then get defeated by reinforcements from Spain. Once again while the battles are fun to play out - and we are definitely getting better tactically at C&C - they don't seem to move the campaign forward terribly much.

I have abandoned the last theory on line of sight using squexes as quickly as I did the previous one; any fool could have seen that it opened up the possibility of two artillery batteries being positioned such that A could fire at B while B couldn't fire at A. What idiot keeps coming up with this dross? Anyway the latest attempt is to go back to drawing a line from centre to centre with addition of one particular circumstance. If the left hand side of a square is part of the same line across the table as the left hand side of the the target square (or the right hand sides of the two squares are similarly aligned) then terrain in any square similarly abutting the same line across the table will not interfere with line of sight. Terrain in squares sitting across the line across the table will still block line of sight as normal. I hope that's clear.

I have seen the future

I am using one of those laser plumb line contraptions (bought cheap during the dying days of Woolworths) to test all this. Unfortunately the process is suffering from the use of doormats as playing surface. One of the benefits of carpet built of man made fibre is that it doesn't reflect the light so that dirt marks - which naturally don't reflect light - aren't obvious. My tabletop isn't therefore showing the path of the light emitting from the gizmo and the whole thing is useless.  

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Mexican Cowboy

So, who spotted the deliberate error in my assertion yesterday that a rectangle with specific dimensions could mimic the line of sight rule on a C&C board? Yes, I can exclusively reveal that it was in fact bollocks. Having revisited my 'proof' it has become apparent that it is only true in the special circumstances where 2=1; which it currently doesn't - not even for large values of 1. Obviously I like to keep an open mind so it's just possible that at some point in the future things may change in the one equals two situation, but until then I advise against rushing off and drawing the grid that I recommended.

It may be that some of you who, only knowing me through the blog, associate me primarily with the Geisteswissenschaften and are wondering what I am doing dabbling in the higher mathematics. Actually my first degree was in Mathematical Sciences, although presumably they'll now be wanting it back. In any event I should have accompanied yesterday's posting with the warning that "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.". Incidentally I have seen that quote attributed to everyone from Karl Marx to Einstein to Yogi Berra, but it was almost certainly the somewhat less famous Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut.

A chap with a beard
So what of the original problem? Well my current theory (stop sniggering at the back) is that one should start at the mid point of the side of the square from which one is firing and take the line between that and the centre of the target space as that on which line of sight is determined.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

"The Spanish fleet thou canst not see because -"

Well, because - in the words of Sheridan - "It is not yet in sight!".

I see no ships

I now quite like the aesthetics (that word rings a bell) of my cheap as chips C&C Napoleonic prototype, but I have been worried about it's utility. Specifically about the impact on line of sight of using offset squares instead of hexagons. In the legendary wargames room of James 'Olicanalad' Roach it is never really a problem because we are playing ancients and virtually all ranged fire is at two squex distance where the concept is intuitive. In Napoleonics however, artillery has a somewhat longer range and the thing gets complicated.

I can see for miles and miles

A quick look at the maths tells us that only a grid of offset rectangles with the width equal to √3 times their height will give the same line of sight result as tessellated hexagons using C&C's centre to centre rule. If I had worked that out before I drew lines on my doormats I might have reflected it in the squex sizes, although (a) it probably wouldn't have looked as good and (b) I didn't have enough mats anyway. I need to come with a quick and dirty alternative to the centre to centre rule to match my quick and dirty playing space.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Critique of Pure Wargaming

I always enjoy the weekly wargaming blog posting by Polemarch, not least because he inhabits the same outer reaches of pretentiousness in which I myself like to paddle. The latest posting leaves his usual stamping ground of the written word for the possibly less fruitful field of aesthetics and the philosophy of the tainted Martin Heidegger, but is thought provoking nonetheless.

Purposive, but without any definite purpose

As an alternative I would draw readers' attention to Kant's concept of teleological judgement, that is a judgment concerning an object the possibility of which can only be grasped from the point of view of its purpose. Kant refers to parts which can only be viewed as part of the whole. Is the object whose aesthetics we are considering the individual figure or terrain piece or is it the fully laid out table? My own answer to that question has significantly informed my painting style over the years.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Otley Rock Oracle

Once I saw a severed head of gold
While walking through West Yorkshire
It spoke a thousand tongues to dust
About what I'd be doing 'ere after

As I walked through Mytholmroyd
Along the cairn covered pasture
Saluting cauliflowered clouds
A message fresh sent from my master

I etched my name on Otley Rock
Along with my desires
They rose like fires in the sun
A bold starry system of fire

My mouth rang out from Otley Rock
With every available answer
Give my words to the atmosphere
But bury my body in Yorkshire

                       - The Trembling Bells

Thursday, 7 August 2014


Amid all the theatre and gallery going some boardgames have been played: Say Anything, Rokoko and Sail to India. The first is even less intellectually challenging than the Meeples' normal starter Apples to Apples. The second however is rather good, as befits a nominee for the Kennerspiel des Jahres. Naturally it has very little to do with the ostensible themes of dressmaking and, oddly, watching fireworks, but it has plenty of decision making and multiple ways to score victory points. Oh, and I won. Sail to India continues to impress, but for some reason we still didn't get the rules right on what is a relatively simple game.

And the Punic Wars campaign has flickered back into life. I'm fairly sure that I never wrote up the previous battle in which Scipio Africanus attempted to march on Carthage and failed, having to retreat to the only area under Roman control in North Africa. Following the summer break the Carthaginians have gone for broke and attacked Scipio. The risk is that while Scipio's army is real, as it were, theirs is just a couple of CUs backed up by allies that only appear for battles. Even a win could see the evaporation of the whole lot. As we left it last night the Romans were ahead, but these things have a habit of changing. If I had to make a forecast I'd say that Scipio's larger hand of cards should see him through. We shall get a result one way or another next week.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

He doth bestride the narrow world

And so to the theatre. I had not yet had my fill or murder and suicide and so it was back to the Globe for Julius Caesar. Where Antony and Cleopatra is about losing power for the sake of love, Julius Caesar is about abandoning friendship to achieve political objectives. As luck would have it both scenarios seem to involve killing anyone who stands in your way and then killing oneself when it all goes wrong.

The noblest Roman of them all

It is reputed that after watching a performance of Antony and Cleopatra one elderly Victorian lady turned to her companion and remarked 'How very unlike the home life of our own dear queen'. It's a shame that these Shakespearean versions of Roman politics are not more unlike the attitudes of politicians in the world today. Sadly the willingness that others should die for their convenience remains the default position of those in power.

Monday, 4 August 2014

'A reminder of the evils of a day that is dead'

I have been to the Imperial War Museum. The big attraction (and cause of the biggest queues) is the new First World War display. I hear that it's very good and do intend to visit sometime, but my destination on this visit was the large exhibition of art brought together for the centenary of the Great War.
'Youth Mourning'

Much of the discussion in the lead up to today's anniversary, both in real life and in the shadow world of wargaming blogs, has been expended on the causes of the war, what started it and who was to blame. Sickert's 'Integrity of Belgium' is perhaps the only exhibit here that speaks to that debate, but even then I doubt anyone would pick up the message if it weren't for the title. There is a welcome nod to the home front and to the munitions industry, but almost inevitably the majority of the art is about the suffering, the loss, the futility.

One of the few works which directly addresses the act rather than the aftermath of conflict is Sydney Carline's  'The destruction of an Austrian machine in the gorge of the Brenta valley, Italy'. Only the white plane is obvious at first, then the danger from the camouflaged hunters becomes apparent. Even here the viewer's sympathies are manipulated to be with the victim. For those who don't know the work of Carline (Stanley Spencer's brother-in-law) he was an RFC pilot himself and after becoming an official war artist painted aerial combat scenes on the Italian Front and in Mesopotamia. Biggles fans should seek him out.

W.G. Bennett

The three artists most represented are Paul Nash, CRW Nevinson and William Orpen. The last continues the flying theme with three portraits of fighter pilots commissioned by Lord Trenchard himself. Anyone wishing to understand their lives at that time needs just to look into their eyes, powerfully drawn by Orpen.

The Doctor

I have written here before about my admiration for Nevinson's futurist works and they are well represented. However, he became more realistic in his depictions later in the war. His most famous painting 'Paths of Glory' (the title a quote from Gray's 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard') is naturally included in the exhibition; in 1918 it was censored although Nevinson bravely showed it anyway with a strip of brown paper bearing the word 'Censored' across the middle. The Times' art critic is quoted as saying "the censor's aim being apparently to persuade us that only Germans die in this war".

These days paintings can of course be viewed online, but there is still something to be gained by seeing them first hand; sheer scale aside from anything else. In John Singer Sargent's well known painting 'Gassed' the very large original displays a detail that I hadn't noticed before. In the background, behind the crocodile of blind men being led away, a game of football is being played. The viewer, as always, can draw their own conclusion as to the meaning of this.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

How great an ill is love to man

And so to the theatre; the National Theatre no less. I think the last time that I went to a performance there was to see Sir Ian McKellen give his Richard III and that was a long, long time ago. But now it was to see Helen McCrory as Euripides' Medea. Obviously Jacobean tragedy hadn't been bloodthirsty enough for me so I needed a fix of the Greek. You will recall that back in November I saw Il Giasone by Cavalli which also features Medea and Jason, but any resemblance between that story and this one is entirely...well there isn't one.

Nor with this one

 Firstly, I cannot praise McCrory enough for a powerful performance that gripped the audience, she is ably supported by Danny Sapani as Jason and you should see it if you can. And as it's being live streamed to cinemas, you can. Be warned though; it's heavy stuff, dealing with what is possibly the most unthinkable of crimes.

However, I did have some reservations. Firstly, I didn't like the translation. I don't want to imply that I am familiar with the original Greek text - for the avoidance of doubt Epictetus is merely a nom de pseud - but Ben Power's version lacked the poetry necessary to carry it off as Tragedy and relegated it to merely tragic. And secondly there was the music (by Alison Goldfrapp) and, even more, the use made of it by the director. If they were making a music video it would have worked, albeit that Michael Jackson would probably have sued for plagiarism, but in this context it didn't. Disco infanticide, I don't think so.

Friday, 1 August 2014

No tenth transmitter of a foolish face

Today is Yorkshire Day and as has long been my practice I am spending it elsewhere. Despite having lived there for many years I have never reconciled myself to the locals constantly banging on about how good they are, and the thought of a special day when they are officially encouraged to do it even more drives me to despair.

Nonetheless, and despite being a Londoner - indeed a cockney, born within the sound of...well you know what I mean - London is frankly no better. The Evening Standard is a paper every bit as bad as the Yorkshire Post (possibly with fewer reader's letters calling for the return of apartheid or declaring that Pinochet was right) and seems to spend all its time claiming that London gets a raw deal and calling for more investment in transport in the capital. Who are these clowns?

If Scotland votes for independence - and I hope that they don't - then the imbalance between London and the rest will tip even further. The only logic then would be for independence for Yorkshire or preferably the whole of the north. Or perhaps we could ask the Scots nicely if we could join them.

The president and the first lady
And, this being a wargaming blog, someone is bound to refer to the fact that Yorkshire Day commemorates the Battle of Minden. I prefer to cherish the link to the emancipation of slaves within the British Empire on this day, for which we thank William Wilberforce, a Yorkshireman.