Friday, 26 June 2015

Oh, it all makes work for the working man to do.

I have been asked why my review of Klute in yesterday's post was so peremptory. Why, people say (possibly rhetorically, who knows?), didn't I bang on about how Bree Daniel's seeming journey of self-discovery only actually reinforces the patriarchy that was doing her down in the first place? Well the simple answer is that, just as I was getting into my critical flow, the plumber unexpectedly arrived. Sadly Flanders and Swann don't mention plumbers, but that's no reason not to listen to this classic.

I have been to see last season's Globe production of 'Comedy of Errors' on the big screen; actually not that big a screen because Otley Courthouse was designed by the Victorians for dispensing justice rather than setting up makeshift cinemas. I have always found this a very funny play, which is not something which one can say about all of Shakespeare's comedies. It's farce pure and simple and doesn't rely on the sort of clever wordplay which would have had the Elizabethans rolling around, but leaves us scrabbling for the footnotes to the script. I have mentioned here before my theory that a good farce requires the appearance of sardines. I may have to extend that to seafood in general, because the director in this case decided that an octopus was the way to go.

In any event it was very good and quite up to the standard of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra which I saw in situ this time last year.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Out of the Hurly-Burly

 "So we had no fire in the range upon that day, and the family breakfasted again upon cool viand without being cheered with a view of the plumber. Upon calling at the plumber's shop to ascertain why he had not fulfilled his promise, I was informed by the clerk that he had returned, but that he was compelled to go over to Wilmington. The man seemed so thoroughly in earnest in his assertion that the plumber positively would attend to my boiler upon the following morning that we permitted the range to remain untouched, and for the third time we broke our fast with a frigid repast. But the plumber and his assistants did not come." - Max Adeler

I'm waiting for the plumber. Now obviously that means I have time to write a novel, if not a series of novels plus the screenplays for the films to be made from them, but I shall content myself with a short blog post.

The tryout of TtS! for WotR was cancelled last night due to a combination of the common cold, decorating and professional cycle racing. (Not an especially odd combination. Earlier in the week in response to news of the death of a university acquaintance I found myself typing a sentence containing the words Diddy David Hamilton, labrador dog and split foreskin.) I'm tied up next Wednesday so I'm not sure when we shall revisit it.

If it's WotR, it must be Tewkesbury

I have watched Klute for the first time - a mere 45 years or so after it was released - and whilst enjoyable as film noir I find it astonishing that it was originally seen as either liberal or feminist.

And coming fashionably late to the whole Waterloo anniversary thing as well, here's a report of the re-enactment from what seems to be an unimpeachable source..

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A Shallot

The full cloves
Of your buttocks, the convex
Curve of your belly, the curved
Cleft of your sex—
Out of this corm
That's planted in strong thighs
The slender stem and radiant
Flower rise.

       - Richard Wilbur

Saturday, 20 June 2015


As well as being behind in reporting boardgames played, I have been remiss in recording my experiments with asparagus. Therefore let me present sweetcorn, sweet pepper and bacon.

Jonathan 'Palouse' Freitag has asked me to justify my assertion that it's harder to get the tactics right in grid based games (as an aside, his blog is well worth a read, with some quite lyrical non-wargaming posts; although those of us living in the 21st century might be puzzled by measurements expressed in feet and degrees Fahrenheit), but I'm not entirely sure that I can. My view is based on the fact that James, Peter and I struggled somewhat at first with C&C and appear to be doing the same with TtS!. Inasmuch as I have a theory, it is that grid based games afford far fewer options, because movement is in discrete  chunks and there are typically fewer range bands. In a traditional game some infantry may be able to move say 20% further than others in a turn; in a grid based game they all move the same or one type can move twice as far. The same goes for differences between weapon ranges. Game designers therefore seek to represent the smaller differences that can no longer be built in to movement distances and ranges by other unit specific mechanisms. It's the use of these rule nuances that I mean when I say tactics.

And here is a photograph of a large Dalek making its way along Kirkgate. There is no panic among the townspeople.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Hot street tongs

So, we had a third game of To The Strongest!, and once again discovered that we hadn't been playing it properly before. Basically it seems to be a well thought through, internally consistent set of rules hidden within a somewhat disjointed and oddly laid out document. Every time we think that something doesn't quite seem quite right as it plays out on the tabletop we dive into the text and discover that it doesn't feel correct because it isn't correct. So far the problems seem to be on our part rather than the rules.
The posh bases are no longer required

Of course one not only has to learn the rules, but also the tactics that the designer had in mind. This seems to be especially true in grid based games (that's a personal opinion, I have no empirical evidence that I could point to). I'm not sure that we are there yet and it took us quite a while with C&C. The first games of To The Strongest! were Punic Wars and this one moved us on to Early Imperial Romans against Celts. With hindsight the best tactics for the latter are hit and run rather than trying to slug it out, with even the ordinary auxiliaries saving on a six. Things weren't helped by the forces being created by using all the Romans that I had and then just adding more warbands to the Britons until the points matched. I also overdid the veterans on both sides, which possibly accounted for the stalemate that ensued along much of the table, and massed the barbarian cavalry rather than spreading them out as disruptive skirmishers. For the record the Romans won in the end.

So, they are definitely good fun, but a final decision on them has to be postponed until we're clear that we're playing the rules properly with at least vaguely optimal tactics. Next up for this period is to buy some more chariots I think. Next up for the rules is to give them a go next week with my Wars of the Roses figures.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

kg m/s

Until yesterday the only thing that I knew about Jean Buridan was that he had a donkey; possibly a dead donkey that had starved to death through indecision, but a donkey nevertheless. Having researched him for the purposes of my last blog posting I now know somewhat more:

  • If you're not careful Google confuses him with the actor chappy who won an Oscar for 'The Artist'. As good as that film was, please don't make the same mistake.
  • He was, apparently, assless. Who knew?
  • He had something against William of Occam. Hiss.
  • He was a crucial figure in the development of scientific thought in Europe, paving the way for Copernicus, Newton et al. In fact he developed a theory of the quantity of motion, which he referred to as impetus.
On m'a promis un âne

It is perhaps timely therefore to report that my own investigations into Basic Impetus have come to a dead halt. They have, as it were, run out of momentum. I didn't get to play through a full test game (and nor sadly have I caught much of what has clearly been an excellent ODI series), but what I did find time to do convinced me that these were not the rules for me. My own interest in wargaming stems from the game part; fair enough I like a bit of visual aesthetic pleasure and also some historical references thrown in, but basically it's a game. And as a game Basic Impetus just doesn't float my boat. The combat resolution seems fine, if a bit dice heavy, but the command and control rules don't match my own tastes, which are for decision making within a framework of constraints. These decisions are not in any way meant to mimic the decisions made by real life commanders, they're just the sort of choices that occur in tabletop games: allocation of limited resources, stick or twist, guess what the opponent can/will do - you know the sort of thing. And because of that, and nothing else, I abandoned plans for a game of Basic Impetus when James and Peter came round last night. Instead I rejigged it into a game of the current new, shiny ruleset 'To the Strongest'. I may, or may not, find time to write that game up in due course, but a good time was had by all in any event.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Hee Haw

I am a bit behind with writing up the boardgames that I have played, and as the latest list of new ones involves rugs and the wild west I shall do so soon. However, I am diverted by the rather tedious game of 'Roll for the Galaxy' that we had on Monday. This is no reflection on the game - which is perfectly good - but rather because one of the players was a bit slow in taking his turn. Afterwards one of the other players, classifying the problem as Analysis Paralysis, asked about research into the issue, whether there were different types, and, most importantly, what could be done to sort it out.

I first came across the term some twenty five years ago whilst doing my MBA. In that context it means specifically the tendency to postpone a decision in order to collect more data, carry out more analysis, discuss things with more colleagues and so on. In boardgaming parlance it can't mean that; and I suspect that it doesn't actually mean any more than that somebody else is taking longer than you would prefer to play their turn without there being any obvious external distraction such as eating, arguing with their spouse or, increasingly, staring at one's phone.

Now the concept of not being able to make a decision isn't new. I was immediately reminded, as no doubt you were yourself, of Buridan's ass, and Buridan lived in the early fourteenth century. Indeed having looked him up to verify the details, the reputable source that I consulted (OK, Wikipedia) says that the paradox never actually appeared in Buridan's writings and in any event had been known to the ancient Greeks.

But in any event, it seems to me that the problem being manifested in l'Arbre d'If the other night wasn't really indecision. If we are to seek the guidance of a dead philosopher - and why wouldn't we? - I think we should turn to Immanuel Kant and his concept of enlightenment as being the emergence from self-imposed nonage. The individual involved had never played the game before, for which we would all obviously cut him some slack. The problem was his reluctance to take responsibility for his own moves outwith the guidance of others as the game developed; precisely, I'm sure that you will agree, the situation described by Kant. So, returning to the most important question raised above - what can be done to sort it out? - we must urge our opponents to heed the advice that Kant gave in 1784 (quoting Horace) Sapere Aude: Dare to Know.

Two further points. Firstly despite having played and enjoyed the game previously, I couldn't for the life of me remember the rules. In my case however the problem is not nonage, but dotage. Secondly, my research into Buridan tells me that what he did write included an attack on the work of William of Occam. Now there I have to draw a line. Occam's Razor remains as it always has been, the single most useful tool of analysis whether playing a boardgame, in business or doing anything else.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

We feed the baby

And so to the theatre. The Royal Exchange in Manchester and the West Yorkshire Playhouse have co-produced a dramatisation of Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina.As with the Keira Knightley film of 2012 - which I liked; it had a Tom Stoppard screenplay after all - it is a stylised rather than naturalistic staging. In the case of the climax (although I'm assuming everyone knows how it ends, I won't spell it out) not reproducing the written word is of course inevitable given the physical limitations of a theatre, but it seemed to me that the director's choice would have left anyone coming to the story cold completely mystified as to what was supposed to have happened.

Anyway, whilst the book has a very famous opening sentence (not present here) and a well-known ending, the meat of the sandwich is, er, well sort of in the middle. Anna trades safety for passion, her husband becomes a Christian and thereby loses the ability to forgive, Vronsky finds that one should be careful what one wishes for, Oblonsky - representing his entire class - sleepwalks towards his doom, and Levin and Kitty learn that true heroism is in the banal daily struggle rather than the grand gesture. All of these themes were sketched out here rather than covered in depth and therein lies the paradox of condensing such a complex novel into a two hour play. In order to understand it one must have some familiarity with the source, but if one does then the precis version can easily disappoint.

Saturday, 13 June 2015


While we're on matters Irish here's a rare second post of the day featuring a shout out of congratulations to Sir George Ivan Morrison:

When I grow up I want to be John Lee Hooker.

Friday, 12 June 2015

I would wish to be less wise

William Butler Yeats was born one hundred and fifty years ago today.

"The years like great black oxen tread the world, and God, the herdsman goads them on behind, and I am broken by their passing feet."

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Testes Thong Rot

We have been trying out the newish 'To The Strongest!' rules with James' Punic War figures, or at least a small subset of his stuff. James has already given them the thumbs up and I would like to concur. We've played twice now and I am happier that we got the rules right the second time through. They are quick, give a fun game with what seems to be a nice balance of luck and judgement.

Command and Colours is the obvious reference point and I think these have the edge. Comparison points would be:

  • Squares are better than hexes, primarily because one can go straight forwards towards the enemy.
  • I prefer having multiple - OK, two - units in a space and for facings to be important.
  • The points above mean that the Roman three line system (which in the manner of the three musketeers seems to have contained four separate elements) can be more effectively modelled.
  • The command and control system means that one could hypothetically order all one's units in a turn, but is very unlikely so to do. I found this less annoying than getting stuck with the wrong cards at C&C. It also made me more prepared to gamble that my opponent wouldn't be able to do what he wanted.
  • The cumulative difficulty effect on activation works well.
  • The rally rules, coupled with the low number of hits that units can take, prompt a cagier style of play involving withdrawing and the re-entering the fray which I found to be to my taste. Of course it makes no difference at all if you are playing the Romans with their surfeit of small units destroyed after one hit.
There are a couple of bits that I'm not entirely convinced by yet.
  •  Shooting seems so ineffective and has such short range that one hesitates to risk the command failing its activation in order to do it. And yet ancient armies were full of troops who engaged in missile fire.
  • Officers are just as expensive to lose as in C&C ancients, are far more likely to be lost than in that game and yet seem to be of much less value while one has them.
  • The logic of the demoralisation rule isn't that clear to me.
  • The victory banner concept appears to have been lifted wholesale from C&C and has all the faults of that system - too few, too arbitrary etc.
For the record the Carthaginians won both times.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

And yonder all before us lie

I have set up a Romans vs Ancient Britons game to have a crack at Basic Impetus. I would like to have taken some decent photographs, but sadly it would seem that my camera is unlikely ever to return. (One which subject, anyone who found it following the Otley Show should understand that all those photos of the ladies tug-of-war were taken in admiration of their athletic prowess and for no other reason) We must therefore make do with some blurry efforts taken on my phone.

The terrain on either side of the battlefield is for aesthetic effect. In particular the river at this end is solely for the purpose of creating a space for the umpire to put his ginger beer and the rules.

Roman ballistae on a precision, laser-cut template which only looks like a bit of cardboard painted green because of the limitations of the photography.

Some Airfix chariots, painted many, many years ago and never before seen on the table-top. Note once again the deceptively cheap looking unit footprint template.

I intend to have a solo run through at some point over the next few days while listening to the ODIs vs New Zealand. In the meantime here is some asparagus with a hash of sweet potato and chorizo.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

They got the boogie band blowin' that's bound for hell

For no real reason let's have some Little Feat:

It's astonishing to to think that Lowell George - who in both videos appears to have come straight from his day job as a painter and decorator - would be seventy by now; less astonishing perhaps that he never made it to thirty five. Don't do drugs kids.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Pursuit check

"There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have some sort of post-viral fatigue thing going on for a while now. It's all been a bit up and down, but I am now feeling a little stronger every day, possibly because the British summer has decided to get its arse into gear. In any event, if I am no longer to be tired then I need to work out where else I fit in.

In the meantime here is a Robert Crumb cartoon.

Presumably no explanation is necessary.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

It is not the healthy who need a doctor

"It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognise that we live not alone, but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body." - Marcel Proust

I have been ill again. I checked my symptoms online and came to the conclusion that I had malaria. Fortunately it can only have been a mild version because after a good night's sleep I am recovered. Indeed I am recovered enough to cook and eat this lot: asparagus, sweet potato and leek hash topped with fried egg, caramelised rhubarb.

I was invited to Headingley by a business contact to watch the cricket, but was equally rapidly uninvited. I wasn't as miffed as I might have been because the weather has been truly dreadful here in what the locals insist on calling God's Own County. If they weren't Yorkshiremen I would suspect them of having a sense of irony.

However, the second test has been the catalyst for my magic hat to be taken down from the peg for its first outing of the 'summer'. It still works.