Friday, 27 February 2015

As long as there are games to play...

"As long as there are games to play it's not over" - Sir Alex Ferguson

I have been fortunate enough to be able to play some board games over the last couple of weeks. (And I am still intending to devote a post to the broader subject; as soon as real life becomes a little less complex.)

Lewis & Clark: Everything that I know about the Lewis & Clark expedition comes from the notes on the box of the Imex set so I can't really comment on the theme. It's a worker placement game, but with the benefit of very simple victory conditions; reach the objective first and you win. If this was an Olympic sport it would be the 3,000 metre steeplechase and Keyflower would be dressage. I enjoyed it. For the record, most of my Imex Lewis & Clark set is still unused, but various components are spread between a Celt village, the crew of The Crow (not yet featured in this blog as it hasn't yet appeared on the table in the wargaming annexe) and a unit of Opolchenie.

6 Nimmt: Still completely random, but rather good fun.

Guillotine: Who wouldn't enjoy executing the parasitic nobility of France, not to mention the Piss Boy? We certainly did.

Hanabi: Still a good game, but this run through was a disaster with all the 2 cards being bunched at the end.

Harbour: Apparently this is Le Havre light, but I wouldn't know about that. It was quite enjoyable, and being essentially an accounting game, I wasn't surprised when I won.

K2: I really enjoyed this despite coming last by virtue of being the only one to lose a climber to oxygen deprivation. I was much reminded of the ill fated 1986 expedition to the mountain. The board is very similar to the progress wallcharts that Fullers, Smith & Turner put up in all their pubs so drinkers could monitor the progress of the mountaineers that the brewery had sponsored, while toasting them in the specially created K2 lager. The untimely deaths of so many people rather limited the success of this as a marketing campaign.

R-Eco: I enjoyed a second run through of this although we seemed to be playing completely different rules to last time. The theme is still rather obscure though.

Sail to India: I continue to rate this elegant and minimalist game. I tried a different strategy to my usual and managed to narrowly win.

Richard III: James has gone walkabout so Peter and I decided to dig out this two-player block wargame. I hadn't played it for years and we struggled to get the rules straight at first. It's a fine game, effectively reproducing of the swings of fortune found during the Wars of the Roses, full of decision making and prioritisation and very bloody - especially on the heirs to the throne. Having sussed how it works we shall have another crack next week.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Do trousers matter?

And so to the theatre. "Perfect Nonsense: Jeeves and Wooster" is on tour at the moment and I went to see it in Harrogate, accompanied by my elder daughter who claimed never to have seen the Fry and Laurie version, nor to be familiar with any of Wodehouse's work whatsoever. I blame the parents.

A pig who takes things as they come

The conceit of the play is that Bertie, having seen a couple of shows, decides that acting is easy and that he will therefore recount his latest adventures in this way, assisted only by Jeeves, his gentleman's gentleman, and Stebbings, his Aunt Dahlia's butler. The latter two are called upon to play a host of characters, wherein lies much of the humour. Because interestingly, while the dialogue of the play within the play is lifted directly from the source material (The Code of the Woosters to be precise) the laughs mainly come from the physical theatre.

The small, multi-tasking cast and the creative design of the staging immediately reminded me of the Peepolykus version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and, unusually for me, I was right because one third of the cast - playing Jeeves, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Sir Watkin Basset, his daughter Madeleine and his niece Stiffy Byng - was Jason Thorpe who starred in that production. Robert Webb had the somewhat easier role of Wooster. He was good, but perhaps his television experience was the cause of not speaking quite loud enough for the theatre.

The Cool Person

The third member of the cast - playing Stebbings, Aunt Dahlia, Constable Oates and most memorably Sir Roderick Spode - illustrates once again that this blog is not just thrown together, but follows a carefully plotted narrative arc. Having been steered in the direction of Robert Morley by well-known Scottish mug designer MS Foy, we have travelled via that actor's portrayal of Hamilton Black to The Young Ones film. We now arrive at Christopher Ryan, here giving us a would-be fascist dictator in black footer bags, but perhaps best known as Mike in The Young Ones television programme. No applause is necessary.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Oh, I would, I would, if welcome I were

"Oh, well I like your feather bed
And well I like your sheets
But better I like your lady wife
Who lies in my arms asleep"

Casa Epictetus is once again replete with working laptops and tablets and I can now regale you with all the exciting things that I have been doing; OK, with all the things that I have been doing. Most notable of which is that I have been to see Fairport Convention once again. As one would expect they were excellent and I'm not sure that I can think of anything much else to add. They played a number of tracks from their new album, but while normally that would cast a shadow over the whole experience I can report that, as with Steeleye Span a few months ago, the new stuff was rather good. The highlight of that element was a lovely new song written by Ralph McTell, the name of which unfortunately escapes me. It almost goes without saying that the best moments of the concert overall were the trio of songs from Liege and Lief (Crazy Man Michael, Farewell Farewell and Matty Groves) plus the perennial encore Meet on the Ledge.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Nobody gets justice

 "Nobody gets justice. People only get good luck or bad luck." - Orson Welles

So, wargaming has taken place. Peter and I played a Seven Years War scenario developed by James, which can be seen on his blog. I drew the Prussians and had to hold two hills and/or capture the road exit on the Russian side of the table. I was keen not to over-think my initial deployments, resulting in a massive under-think, with my units spread rather thinly on the hills and rather too many of them in the central village. The theory there was that they could be switched to either hill as appropriate. I chose the option for extra forces which included the most infantry. Having drawn an additional musket reload card my logic was that I would be more likely to be able to fire when I wanted, plus of course it gave me units with which to hold the ground. I never really had any intention of trying to capture the road exit.

Peter massed the Russians on either flank and attacked through the terrain. On my left I had a small initial success when my Hussars routed the leading unit of infantry in the woods, but they pursued and were destroyed, and that turned out to be the only melee that I won in the entire game. On my right the Russian cavalry quickly crossed the stream and marsh and eventually outflanked and destroyed my cavalry. There was a moment where I had the opportunity to advance my infantry from that hill and, bringing my extra fire power into play, shoot down his cavalry. But I didn't. Nor did I move my infantry in the village to either flank at any sort of early opportunity. In fact I left it until they could only manoeuvre  across the face of his guns or backstep slowly.

So, my set-up was dreadful, my play was appalling, I lost all the melees and on every morale challenge that I issued I rolled a one. How then, I hear you ask, did I win? Luck, comes the answer. I simply won all the initiative, especially on the second night. The Russian progress was slow and made them vulnerable to my artillery, and I drew the necessary combination of cards to speedily retire my best unit (some superior Grenadiers) from one field in front of the village when they came under artillery fire and then miraculously advance them forward on the other side of the road at exactly the right time. We both failed Major Morale twice (a cumulative probability of somewhat less than 0.1% given how few units we had lost) and Peter ran out of morale chips the second time it happened to him while I had only one left myself.

It was a good scenario - although the turn limit was far too small and we abandoned it almost immediately - and deserves replaying sometime, preferably with someone who knows what they are doing in command of each side. Hopefully more photos will appear on James' blog sometime.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

That's no way to run a railroad

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." - Adam Smith

Having pointed out in my last post that I was temporarily relying on a tablet to access Blogger, the aforementioned tablet promptly stopped working. Having eventually figured out how to discuss the subject with Amazon - and given that their customer service is actually rather good, why do they make it so difficult to access it? - I was a bit baffled by their response. They declined to replace the item, which is what I wanted, but instead offered me a refund and asked me to re-order separately. The price has dropped in the six weeks since I bought it, so in effect Amazon have replaced my faulty kit and refunded me £40.

All of which put me in mind of a visit that I made to Sainsbury's last weekend. I bought £20.20 worth of groceries, but had so many money-off vouchers that I only had to pay £1.70. The supermarket is currently running a promotion whereby when one's Nectar card is scanned one can win bonus points. I duly won £5. So, I walked away with stuff to the value of more than £20 and in effect they gave me £3.30 for my trouble.

Seeing as these two large organisations seem intent on giving me things, I shall offer them some free professional advice in return. Speaking as an accountant, the only way to make a profit is to take more money from the customer than you give him or her. That is all.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Nothing's impossible

I am currently restricted to accessing Blogger from a tablet rather than  a proper computer. This is only a problem because of my technical incompetence which among other things is preventing me from replying to comments.

In which context, can I say two things. Firstly that Yuri Gagarin must surely have been among the most famous people in the world in 1961. Secondly that I met Ronnie Cash - author of the rhyme about the first man in space referred to above - about a dozen or so years after 'The Young Ones' came out. Our school was very close to, and had links with, the studios in which the film was made. As a result we did a stage version as our school play with support and input from Mr Cass. Sadly I was too callow to ask him for the secret of his inspiration for songs about cosmonauts.

So impressed was he that we went on to try out a musical version of 'Midsummer Nights Dream' which he had just written and of which he had high hopes of a West End production. Unfortunately for him the new work didn't  prove as robust to being mangled by a bunch of sixth formers as a plot about a youth club putting on a show. And that was despite your bloggist giving the world his Flute the Bellows Mender, in what remains his last stage performance to date.

Friday, 13 February 2015

When the years have flown

Not time for much today, so here is a little clip featuring Robert Morley as Hamilton Black.

Apart from the always excellent Morley (not to mention Cliff, Hank and the boys), look out for the strapline that appears at one minute seven seconds. O tempora o mores!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The right time is any time

"Do you know what my favourite part of the game is? The opportunity to play." - Mike Singletary

The amount of gaming rises and falls to its own rhythm and seems to be on the up again. I have just finished marking up my opening dispositions for James' latest Seven Years War scenario, which kicks off tomorrow. Full details are naturally enough available on his blog although you'll have to dig back past the terrain porn. I have also written up a draft set of amendments to 'For, Lords, Tomorrow is a Busy Day', although I imagine that it will be some time before we go back to it. I wish that I had done the same when we had finished playing 'Romans in Britain' as all I have in that case is a set of unintelligible scribbles in the margins of the first draft. Painting has been suspended due to the table being needed for other purposes, but I had completed six stands of 15th century light horse, nine Roman auxiliaries and yet more Roman civilians.

And then there is boardgaming, with yet another new venue making its debut. Games played were:

  • Princes of Florence - a first play for me although it's about fifteen years old. It has many features in common with the much newer 'Castles of Mad King Ludwig'. I thought it was good and I'd play it again.
  • Euphoria - which struck me as being very similar in mechanics to 'Alien Frontiers' although I preferred the latter. The theme - exploitation of workers in a dystopian future - is completely irrelevant and superfluous.
  • R-Eco - another neat card filler, apparently about recycling although one would never guess.
  • Evolution - I enjoyed this yet again, although I really cocked up the last round and suffered my own personal mass extinction.
  • Condottiere - this is a good game that doesn't get played enough and is another with a war theme that go down well with the wider boardgaming community. Oh, and I won.
  • Red7 - we played this a bit more extensively this time round, moving on to the second level of rules which I think made it even better. Oh, and I won.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

A thing long expected

"A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.” - Mark Twain

The bad weather abated sufficiently for us to get in not one but two games of "For, Lords, Tomorrow is a Busy Day". We managed the second because these rules don't mess about. Combat is swift and bloody and the morale rules mean that when one's army starts to go, it won't be long be it disappears completely. For the record the Lancastrians under Somerset won once and the Yorkists under Edward IV won once. In both cases there was a bloodbath of leaders following terrible dice rolling. Indeed in the second game Richard of Gloucester was captured in melee and the the subject of an heroic rescue.

I think that there was a general feeling that the combat resolution rules were nice and simple and contained some interesting ideas. There was also a consensus that while the morale and pursuit rules may reflect reality, their brutality rather detracts from the game experience. We also felt that perhaps a complete absence of command, control and movement rules wasn't exactly to our taste.

So I shall take two actions. Firstly to add some simple motivation rules and secondly to modify the routing and pursuit rules so that they are based around a single modified D10 roll rather like the combat rules. Other than that and I think the addition of a Levy class ( -1 dice modifier) and then they will get another run out. In the meantime it's back to James' and the Seven Years War, where a dice roll on Wednesday means that I shall be commanding the Prussians.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The vasty fields of France?

Boardgaming has returned to l'Arbre d'If (although the venue is still suffering from the hasty departure of the previous landlord - unspeakable things in the kitchen were was what was being, er, spoken about this week) and I played some enjoyable games that I had not come across before.

6 Nimmt was roundly and loudly denounced by one of the attendees who refused to have anything to do with it, but I rather liked it. I had absolutely no idea of how to approach it though, despite having both the 102 and 104 cards in my hand.

Ice Flow was as usual a hit with those who played it for the first time, with it's deceptively deep strategic play catching them out. I am pleased to report a return to winning form for your bloggist, with December's sound thrashing by some random young person being exposed as the aberration it undoubtedly was.

Archaeology was  a rather fine card game filler, one of many that I have come across in recent weeks. I came a fine last, having suffered heavily from sandstorms and thieves and managing only to sell two pieces of broken pot to the museum. Poor stuff.

New game of the night for me was Lancaster. Now this is a medium complexity Euro game with elements of both worker placement and area control, and I wouldn't want to mislead anyone by suggesting that it is anything else. However, within the context of a straightforward mechanic-driven game, the theme manages to come across quite strongly, giving plenty of opportunity to intimidate one's rival barons in early 15th century England by displays of martial strength as well as racing across the channel to fight the French. The fighting was of course very high-level, although it was carried out by pieces reminiscent of a block wargame, but it also allowed stitching-up of the other English barons while one was at it. Indeed I won right at the death when one of my main rival's knights got captured and he couldn't afford the ransom. Shame.

Monday, 2 February 2015


MS Foy has gone all cryptic in his comment on yesterday's posting, but I have decided to interpret it as a request for me to post a link to Talking Heads' "Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town", a song that I'm always happy to sing along to as it contains the line "I'm a know-it-all, I'm the smartest man in town". My grasp of the mechanics of YouTube is somewhat limited and the link below automatically moves forward at the end to another song, but as that is my favourite Talking Heads track "Love ----> Building on Fire" who is going to complain?

Monsieur Foy's own notionally-about-wargaming blog is in particularly fine form at the moment having recently featured the birds in his garden, the etiquette of selfies and motor racing at Aintree.   Really wild general.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

In silence and tears

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning  
Sank chill on my brow--
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell in mine ear;
A shudder come o'er me--
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well--
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met--
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?--
With silence and tears.

                       - Byron