Saturday, 31 December 2016


At the beginning of the year I thought I'd be clever and keep track of things that happened in a draft blog posting, thus making the inevitable - assuming that the Lord spared me - year end review much easier. Obviously it was too clever for me, because at least twice I accidentally published the draft post before hurriedly taking it back down again. Anyway, for those of you who haven't seen it as we've gone along, here are the highlights of the year:

Opera:  I've seen fifteen operas this year, which is possibly some kind of record for me. I'm going to nominate the one that wasn't really an opera as my favourite, namely 'Into the Woods'; it's my list and I shall do what I want. If one wants to be difficult and exclude it then I would go for 'Aida' in the amphitheatre at Verona; quite spectacular. The least effective moment for me was the title character's backside being flaunted in 'Suor Angelica; quite ridiculous.

Theatre: I've seen twenty seven plays, the best being the revival of 'An Inspector Calls', followed by the charming 'Simply Ballroom' and the RSC's 'A Midsummer Nights Dream'. Worst by some way was the execrable science fiction dramatisation of 'Villette'

Film of the year: I've seen ten of these, which is certainly a step up in number on previous years and, apart from the very average 'A Streetcat Named Bob' they were all excellent. I'm going to plump for Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight' as the best with honourable mentions for Alan Bennett's 'The Lady in the Van' and Jane Austen's 'Love & Friendship'.

Gig of the Year : I've lost count of the gigs that I've been to, and can only say with any certainty that it's more than thirty five. Van Morrison was the best with a shout out for the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band supported by Yan Tan Tether (the night they recorded their live album not the night they sang all the Christmas songs) and also the Jar Family. On a less happy note, for the second year in succession I had a ticket to see Graham Parker and didn't make it.

Book of the Year: The least surprising category of the lot. If you hadn't worked out that it was going to be Heretic Dawn, the third volume of Robert Merle's Fortunes of France series, then you haven't been paying attention.

Walk of the Year: As the big bouncy woman and I didn't get to walk anywhere this year - and how sad is that? - I'm going for a visit to Buckden, Cray and Hubberholme that the elder Miss Epictetus and I made shortly before the onset of adult life proper took her away from me. A Ramblers walk to Crummockdale also sticks in the memory.

Event of the Year: There were many candidates, quite a few revolving around ambulance trips to A&E; the first CT scan that I had was a very odd experience as well. The great base fire deserves a mention as does the time that the kettle exploded; nothing much resulted on either occasion, but they were very disconcerting. The training day before May half term was a real highlight, not least because the rest of the year was crammed with things getting in the way. However, I'm going to choose my 60th birthday when my daughters took me to Whitby for the day, and didn't we have a lovely time.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Luke Chapter 11 Verse 3

And so that was Christmas. The Misses Epictetus bought me a breadmaker. Had I been asked which kitchen device I wanted I would have gone for a deep fat fryer. Fortunately perhaps, my daughters have more concern for the health of their aged parent than he does himself.

I had no bread flour or yeast to hand so I had to have a go with stuff from the cupboard. I made a sort of sweet, oaty brioche which was very pleasant with hummus for lunch. Tomorrow we start in earnest.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

...but friends are hard to find

A couple of years ago I made reference to Kevin Ayers 'Shouting in a Bucket Blues', spelling his name wrong in the process. It's about time I posted a link.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

As-salāmu ʿalaykum

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” 

- Nelson Mandela

Gut Yontiff to you all

Friday, 23 December 2016

Life is like a skating rink

"Since the day of my birth, my death began its walk. It is walking towards me without hurrying." 
- Jean Cocteau

And so to the cinema. I have been to see "Le Tout Nouveau Testament", a surreal and inventive riff on the question of why, if there is a God, there are so many bad things in the world. In this film it's because the almighty is a misanthropic bully who lives in Brussels and spends his days inventing universal rules that make the life of mankind less than optimal. The one that struck the biggest chord with me was number 1522, but they were all recognisable to the audience. His daughter, with a bit of assistance from her brother (you know the chap - it's his birthday soon), rebels and tells everyone the date of their death. Hilarity ensues. No actually it does; the film is very funny.

It's a constantly creative delight featuring Catherine Deneuve, a gorilla, Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a murmuration of starlings and a whole lot of washing machines amongst many other oddities. One character, upon discovering exactly how long he has left alive, decides to spend it making a model of the Titanic out of matchsticks; an idea that is possibly a bit close to home for some of us. The film provokes thought rather than directing in which direction those thoughts should go and I don't think it's disrespectful to religious beliefs. The question of why God lets bad things happen has been asked before; believers must surely have their answer ready by now. It's a sweet and very moral film - for those of us who don't find sex immoral - and, if you don't find it entertaining then I wouldn't bother going to the cinema ever again if I was you.

It also feeds my love of synchronicity by in large part being about whether one would live one's life the same way if one knew how it would develop, the same theme as Arrival, which in other ways could not be a more different film. There is a minor plot point revolving around Proust's 'À la recherche du temps perdu' - a reference to which appeared here less than a fortnight ago - but this time mixed in with a splash of Officer Crabtree.

Oh, and don't leave before the end of the credits.

Law 1522: If one day you fall in love with a woman there's a great chance you will not spend your life with her.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Whatever happened to not wargaming?

When I first started this blog I was intending to write from the perspective of a wargamer who never actually played any games. A lot has happened since then and yesterday I found myself playing two games in different locations on the same day. There's only one sensible response to that, and I shall say it before anyone else does: get a life, sunshine, get a life.

Anyway, before I run off to join the circus, let me record details of what happened. James and I repeated the raid scenario, but in the end decided against using Maurice as on closer inspection it didn't really seem to suit. Instead we used the very simple rules that had been used when James played the scenario with the League of Gentlemen Wargamers (a). These proved to be quite acceptable and served the purpose very well. I actually rather liked the combined combat/morale mechanism which meant that units could be steadily pushed back; it's just a shame that it was mine that were continually suffering this fate. Sadly however, having got a set of rules that worked for the level of game, the scenario stopped working. Given automatic unit activation, an impassable river, the distances from entry points to villages and the timing of the Prussian reinforcements arrival, the Russians could never have achieved their objective. More tweaking required.

Speaking of which, I have reset the Siege of Constantinople game and will be starting again. Having had belated recourse to the higher mathematics I realise that as originally set up it had no chance of following the historical narrative arc. What is meant to happen is that the role of the first wave is to make things easier for the second wave by filling in some sections of the moat, the second wave makes an assault on the walls and by causing casualties among the defenders enables the final success of the Janissaries. Obviously the game should allow for 'military possibilities', as I understand we should refer to them, on either side of that timeline, but there has to be a strong possibility that what happened happens. However when devising the initial forces I had overlooked how hard it was to inflict casualties by shooting; the Azabs looked as if they were not just going to fill in the entire moat, but go on to scale the walls and capture the city themselves. I must confess to having also been a bit disappointed that the Great Gun of Orban had exploded without firing a shot.

So rather than change the rules I have given the Byzantines an extra unit of Genoese crossbowmen and reduced the first wave to one hit units. To win the Byzantines will have to destroy four one hit units in the first attack and three two stand units in each of the following two attacks. It sounds straightforward, but the attackers will (mostly) get first blow in melee and the Janissaries are very highly rated. And who knows what the Great Gun will achieve? Not Orban, judging by the first run through. James made a number of other suggestions and I shall try them out. The key to the scenario - as in the raid one above - lies I think in getting the balance right; the overall concept is sound enough.

A further word about the Lazer Bond adhesive. I'm still happy with it (apart from the price), but have discovered a bit more about using it in practice. It seems very sensitive to mould release agent on figures, so they need to be thoroughly washed. It is also possible to release it by applying heat; this has both good and bad implications of course. And last, but not least, to use it properly one needs three hands: one each to hold the parts being stuck together and one to hold the UV light. I haven't quite overcome this particular issue yet.

There has been some muttering in the background, asking for evidence that Janissaries used crossbows. Well I certainly don't have any. What I do have is practical experience that converting muskets to crossbows is easier than replacing them with conventional bows. A conclusive argument if ever I heard one.

(a) As the first step in my commitment to getting a life I feel obliged to make an obscure point about something which is none of my business and in which no one else is interested. On his blog and elsewhere James uses 'Gentlemen' and 'Gentleman' seemingly indiscriminately. Barry Hilton always uses the former. Surely only the latter is grammatically correct. 'Gentleman' is here being used as a noun adjunct qualifying the word 'Wargamers' rather than as a noun in itself and, as such, should be singular, the English language having no concept of agreement between adjective and noun.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The first wave goes in

An hour or so of spare time saw the Bashi Bazouks begin their attack.

After the first turn they had reached the moat, but not managed to fill any of it in yet. I have made some changes since the game was originally set up. Both the moat and the wall are now in small squares which can only hold one unit. The use of movable markers to demarcate the grid allows this sort of flexibility.

Good news for the defenders as the Great Gun of Orban blows up on its first attempt to fire, in a straightforward example of the things one takes a long time over modelling and painting being completely useless on the table. Orban also fails his saving throw and dies, which may be an appropriate comeuppance for being a mercenary, but is not going to be a very thorough test of the rules for breaching the walls.

At the end of the third turn the attacking infantry have begun to have success in filling the moat. The defenders suddenly find themselves possessed of an extra unit of Genoese crossbowmen, no doubt rushing from elsewhere in the city in response to the assault; otherwise it looks like they'll never drive off the pesky Azabs. Missile fire is not particularly effective in TtS!. I'll decide later whether they need to lose a unit of Byzantine melee troops to compensate.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Urethane acrylate oligomer

Not to mention N-Dimethylacrylamide, tetrahydrofurfuryl acrylate and a bunch of other similarly named substances (a). I mentioned a couple of years ago here that I couldn't use superglue properly and received a number of sympathetic comments. ["I note," interjects the Rhetorical Pedant "that those comments were from pretty much the same few people who still read and comment on your blog now. Isn't that just a little bit sad for absolutely everybody concerned?"] Anyway, things haven't improved. I am using regular polystyrene cement a lot because the plastic being used by most figure manufacturers these days seems to take it OK. But when trying, for example, to bond plastic to metal the superglue comes out and things still go wrong.

Yesterday, setting up the game in the annexe, it struck me that I could perhaps do with another unit of Janissaries. I have plenty in stock (believe me I have plenty of most things in stock) and so sorted out sixteen to paint. Now the problem is that the figures available in plastic (on this occasion I am going to use these) are for a somewhat later period than I am doing. The uniform is the same, but many of them have firearms and so need converting in some way. I originally went for a 'simple' change, turning muskets into crossbows, but the results were, frankly, terrible. I'll still use them obvs, but there certainly won't be any photos of them on here. Subsequently I have decided to just cut the guns off and add pikes made from florists wire, but that, of course, requires superglue.

Or at least it did. I have, again as you already know, been ill. When I was at my poorliest I could do not much more than sit on the settee and watch television all day, thus being bombarded with adverts for lots and lots of stuff that I only vaguely knew existed before. Now I am never going to buy any sort of exercise machinery, I don't yet require a stairlift or shoes that fasten with velcro (they do look comfortable though) and, as an accountant, I'm not going to touch a funeral insurance plan with a bargepole, regardless of how many pens Michael Parkinson gives me. But I was rather taken with Lazer Bond (don't worry about the spelling - no lasers are involved), the plastic adhesive that only sets when you shine a UV light on it. And so, faced with sticking pikes onto Janissaries I have splashed out and bought some.

At this point you are no doubt waiting for me to say that I have managed to make a mess of that as well. But no. It works a treat. It's clean, simple, and quick. It's a bit like me in fact, except perhaps for the quick bit. Really, it's fine. What it isn't, is cheap. I paid £9.99 for 4 ml. Of course I have no idea how long it will last, or how many little plastic chaps it will stick together, so it may be even worse value for money than that suggests. If I had to guess the order of magnitude, based on remarkably little evidence, I would go for 100 rather than 1,000. But it works. Just maybe one of those exercise machines really would give me a six-pack without any effort on my part.

(a) How do I know this? I read a book: 'All About Glue'. I couldn't put it down.

Monday, 19 December 2016

May 29th, 1453

My plans for the couple of weeks or so - the school holidays in effect - are up in the air for a variety of reasons, so I thought I would set up a solo game in the annexe which I could dip in and out of as time allowed. Something compact and small scale would seem to be in order and therefore I have chosen to have a go at the Siege of Constantinople, which I have promised myself for many years that I wouldn't do. As a digression, does anyone else remember that one of Donald Featherstone's books contained photos of a chap who was refighting Stalingrad at 1:1. Even as a naive and credulous youth I regarded that as a bit of a stretch.

My scenario is loosely based on that in the Siege & Conquest supplement for Warhammer Historical. I've only used one row of walls for no better reason than I've only got enough walls to make one row. My Hexon terrain does however allow for a fairly decent looking 3D moat to be laid out.

The scenario deals with the final assault in the area around the Gate of Saint Romanus. Sadly there is no place for many of my siege related toys such as the Ram, the Tower, the Pick and of course, the Crow. However, I couldn't resist finding room for the Boiling Oil.

The Great Gun of Orban naturally features for the attackers.

I'm going to play it using To the Strongest! and you can see the grid laid out using the markers which I use for the purpose. Piquet would normally be my ruleset of choice for solo games, but it's such a faff to prepare the cards decks for the first time, and I just wanted to get on with it and take my mind off things. I do own a copy of Warhammer Ancient Battles, but have never been tempted by them.

The attack will take place in three waves: Bashi Bazouks, Christian allies and finally the Janissaries. Each will continue until they reach the command becomes demoralised (is that the term?) at which point they will be removed to be replaced by the next. I have some ideas regarding crossing/filling the moat, escalade, the role of the Emperor, and not forgetting Hasan the Giant of Ulabad; but the advantage of playing solo is that one can change the rules as one goes along. Oh, hang a trout, that's what we do anyway.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Blessed is the man who will get up and fight

As we look forward to what we must assume will be a truly dreadful 2017, here is a song about a hero from the past who made a stand:

Friday, 16 December 2016

As it is?

And so to the theatre. It is obvious from the comments on my previous post that my readers are a bunch of philistines. Having said that, General Fwa's desire for one of the Trammps' stage suits is understandable, indeed commendable. The subject of dressing up for wargaming has been discussed here before, but going the full disco would be a significant and brave departure. It would, I suggest, work best in multiplayer games where moves, dice rolls etc would be made simultaneously in a choreographed routine by all those on one side of the table, involving a mix of twirls, shuffling feet and syncopated handclaps. This is gold; I haven't been so excited by an idea since the time it was suggested that all competition wargamers wore mankinis.

The relevance of the newly revealed philistinism of you, dear readers, is that I shan't be able to ask you to explain the meaning of Pinter's No Man's Land, which I went to see last night. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but must admit that I have bugger all idea what it was about. Memory perhaps? Aging? Marital infidelity? My accompanist for the evening suggested it was about the inscrutability of women, but I suspect that she was merely trying to appear deep and meaningful herself, and in any case there aren't any women in it. Instead, there are four male actors and the words Hampstead Heath and cottage appear a lot, so I'm going to stick my neck out and say there's a gay subtext that I didn't understand any more than I did the rest of it.

I saw the live broadcast  of the production that has been touring the UK before ending up at Wyndham's Theatre on Charing Cross Road, and which features both Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart. The brief recorded interview with the two shows Picard to be somewhat more of a luvvy than Gandalf, which accords with the views of my ex-wife ( who seems to have suddenly started making a lot of appearances in this blog for no particular reason) who got boomed at by him at a reception when he was Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield. As actors however, I'd give McKellen the edge. One lengthy monologue by Stewart in the second act was completely upstaged by the silent MacKellen simply sitting and reacting; an episode that I think proved again the benefit of watching the cinema version, with its cutting between closeups of actors. Kudos must also go to Owen Teale who made the line "We're out of bread" so full of menace that I was unnerved despite being 200 miles or so away.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Raid, part 2

(Burn baby burn) Disco Inferno
(Burn baby burn) Burn that mother down
(Burn baby burn) Disco Inferno
(Burn baby burn) Burn that mother down 

My ex-wife honestly thought that 'Disco Inferno' by The Trammps was a better track than 'Shame' by Evelyn 'Champagne' King, in what must surely have been her worst error of judgement apart from marrying me. That, on reflection, has nothing much to do with today's subject which is the conclusion of the latest game in the legendary wargames room.

There was a consensus that the morale aspect wasn't working so we switched to the rules obtaining in classic Piquet. One clear purpose of those is the completion of games in a reasonable time frame and that was achieved; we finished things off in a couple of hours. I, as the Prussians, went on to the offensive, looked at one point as if I was going to reduce the Russian forces by sufficient to make the target out of their reach, but then lost a couple of crucial combats, ran out of morale and that was that. Although only three villages had been pillaged and burned by that point, there was nothing much left to defend the others.

I enjoyed the scenario. Inasmuch as I have any changes to propose they would mainly be around the artillery. Perhaps the Russians should have two small units rather than one large making them more expensive to move and use and less effective when they fire. As for the Prussian artillery, something needs to be done to give them a purpose. I like the variability of where the defending forces start and where the reinforcements arrive, and it will certainly make the thing replayable. On the other hand the set up that we ended up with from the turn of the cards and the roll of the dice was possibly among the least interesting of the possible combinations. And, as I put in my previous post, I was too much influenced by James' tale of woe about when he had played it before and should have been more proactive early on.

However, the big issue was the rules. The SYW version of Piquet developed by James and Peter is really for large set piece battles; indeed the driver behind the changes they made is precisely that the original game is for a dozen units a side fought over one evening. But with only five or six units and no real division into commands neither version work well. I've mentioned morale, but there are other considerations. Big swings in initiative (and at one point we went from 20-6 directly to 5-18) have a much magnified effect when one is only seeking to move or fire a couple of units and make the game more arbitrary than seems comfortable to me.  And then there are the opportunity fire rules. I can't decide whether the recentish change to a straight ahead fire zone had ameliorated or worsened the strong advantage that defenders get from opportunity fire, but at least in a large game the attackers can concentrate their strength at one point. In this low level sort of game - which, as I have said previously, I enjoy - one is using manouevre, deployements and fire zones intended for long lines of troops, but with isolated units swanning about on their own.

As a result of all that we had a bit of a cast about for suitable other rules that we owned and which might work better; in the end we came up with Maurice. I bought these as part of the abandoned War of the Spanish Succession project and rather liked the look of them at the time. In any event we thought we'd give them a go on the same scenario next week and see what we think.

Which just leaves room for these two, so that you can make your own minds up:

Everyone is naturally entitled to their own opinion, but if you don't think the second one is better then you're a cloth eared numptie.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Because I Love You

Every December in the UK one is obliged by law to listen to the music of Slade for a minimum period each day. To enable readers to hit their quota, here is Noddy Holder performing an acoustic version of 'Coz I Luv You':

The original of this was released before the big bouncy woman was even born.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016


"Time is a circus, always packing up and moving away." - Ben Hecht

I have been pottering along here at the Casa Epictetus doing nothing very much. I am not retired and yet I don't work. I am in what Dorothy L. Sayers referred to as 'that time of life when a man can extract an Epicurean enjoyment even from his own passions - the halcyon period between the self-tormenting exuberance of youth and the fretful carpe diem of approaching senility'.

There has been a low level of wargame related activity. I have established that with a couple more trench sections - junctions specifically - I can play the second scenario from the Stout Hearts book. I have come to two conclusions: that I can't be arsed to build them myself and that the first game was successful enough to warrant the investment of a few quid more, and therefore I shall place an order for said trench sections to be collected at Vapnartak. On the painting front I have completed more casualty markers for To The Strongest and quite a few light infantry and Commander/Hero figures for the Ancient Britons that I don't actually need. I also did a couple of the druids from the Hat Gallic Command pack which inevitably led me to consider whether it was time to revisit the Pony Wars rip off rules and convert them to hexes. I don't currently have enough Hexon hills to put on a game, but I don't think they are going to find their way into this order.

On the music front I've watched quite a few local bands in pubs ranging from the blues of the ever reliable Dr Bob & the Bluesmakers, the excellent soul covers of the Solicitors, the poppy folk originals of the Ale Marys and the zydeco of Bayou Gumbo. The last of those seemed to rather misjudge their audience. The lead singer introduced one song with a joke that made perfect sense if you were familiar with 'À la recherche du temps perdu'. The Frenchness so eagerly embraced by Otley in the days of la Tour de France has obviously dissipated, and the Tuesday night crowd in la Jonction had clearly not got round to reading their copy of Proust's masterpiece quite yet.

Speaking of reading, I have been doing quite a bit. I have just started on Jonathan Sumption's history of the Hundred Year's War. It's a big book (and that's just the first volume) and so it's left at home rather than being taken about with me. That's probably for the best because of course he is one of the members of the Supreme Court hearing the appeal about triggering Article 50, and presumably when the judgement goes against the government even the sight of his name on a book cover will be sufficient  to provoke anger in the streets. When I do venture out I rely on my kindle. Recently I have read Priestley's 'Bright Day' (which, given my love of coincidence, I was pleased to see includes a trip to a thinly disguised Malham) and McBain's 'King's Ransom'. The latter has found a place on the - very short - list that I keep of books where part of the plot turns on a cost accountancy issue. I accept that this is perhaps a niche interest, but it appeals to me. Should you wish to read them, the others in this limited category are 'The Rise of Silas Lapham' by William Dean Howells and 'Angel Pavement' by, coincidentally again, J.B. Priestley. I omit Eli Goldratt's 'The Goal' and Roger Jones' 'The Carpetmakers' for reasons which I'm sure will require no further explanation.

And finally I was sorry to hear of the death of former cabinet minister Jim Prior. As I think I have mentioned before he was the only Tory MP or former MP that I have ever met. I had dinner with him twenty years ago in Abu Dhabi while we were both selling weapons of mass destruction to Johnny Foreigner. He was very, very drunk. We discussed a number of relatively trivial things including the recent giant killing exploits of Brentford (my team) over Norwich (his team) in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, but I can remember that we also touched on one of the big political issues of the day -  the proposed third runway at Heathrow; plus ça change.

Monday, 12 December 2016

He should know

"Real love is the kind that sometimes arises after sensual pleasure; if it does it is immortal; the other kind inevitably goes stale, for it lies in mere fantasy."

 - Giacomo Casanova

Friday, 9 December 2016

Pillage and Loot

"Pillage, rape, and loot and burn, but all in moderation.
If you do the things we say then you'll soon rule the nation.
Kill your friends and enemies, and then kill your relations.
Pillage, rape, and loot and burn, but all in moderation."
- to be sung to the tune of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious 

According to the interweb to loot means to steal, especially in time of war, whereas to pillage means to loot, especially in times of war. The war James chose for the pillaging and looting in his game this week was the Seven Years War, but sadly it could have been any of them.

I do like a small scale game; we played a very interesting game set around bridge demolition - also in the eighteenth century - a while ago and also a couple of fifteenth century games using Lion Rampant. These latter suffered a bit because lack of familiarity with the rules adversely affected the translation to the table. No such problem here: James makes the rules up as he goes along anyway, and the scenario was designed by one of the Charles Grants; I couldn't offhand tell you which one. I'm not entirely sure that the Prussian artillery are much use, but otherwise it all seems to work to me.

I am playing the Prussian defenders - we are half way through - and may have been overly influenced by James' description of how, when playing the same role, he ended up with no forces at all for several turns. I adopted a rather cautious strategy until my reinforcements turned up. However they are here now and so the Prussians will be need to be on the offensive a bit more next week. I wasn't helped by being short on initiative early on, but I did get the luck of the cards when a Heroic Cavalry Move allowed me to charge and see off the Russian's only line cavalry unit.

That's the only routed unit so far, which brings me to my main point. The rules could probably do with some adjustments to allow for the smaller scale of the action. The standard Major Morale test doesn't make any sense at all. Peter failed when he rolled a one on a D20 - such a common occurrence for him that no one even batted an eyelid - but James' explanation of what that meant in the circumstances didn't seem to convince even him, let alone Peter or me. My other suggestions ["Hang on," interjects the Rhetorical Pedant "you haven't made a suggestion in the first place."] are allowing an automatic rally attempt on an Officer Check regardless of where the officer is and allowing wider options on move cards. I'd be happy to expand on my logic, but most people don't know the rules we play and James never reads my blog anyway.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

There are no new steps

"Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias"

I have been to see 'Strictly Ballroom', the stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's charming 1992 film of the same name, and very entertaining it was too. It is camper than a row of tents, but then I think we'd all be disappointed if it wasn't. Luhrmann (1) participated in the development of the musical and much of the dialogue is repeated word for word. It's about half an hour longer than the film; the difference being made up of more dancing and, it seemed to me, a greater prominence given to Fran's Spanish background. The show is stolen by Fernando Mira as Fran's father demonstrating how to dance the Paso Doble; now that is dancing.

Reviews in the media have been somewhat lukewarm, but the audience - including me - lapped it up and, given that this is self-evidently an out-of-town trial, I would expect this to be in the West End in due course. The new songs are never going to become classics, but those from the soundtrack to the film are sensibly retained. It's hokum, but it's great fun.

(1) Luhrmann is credited by the West Yorkshire Playhouse as the creator (sic) of this and Moulin Rouge, which seems fair enough, and also of Romeo and Juliet and The Great Gatsby, which doesn't.

Monday, 5 December 2016

And so this is Christmas...

 "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." - Charles Dickens

Or, to be more precise, it isn't Christmas yet. It is a well known phenomenon that the onset of the Christmas season gets earlier each year. In Otley it starts with firstly the turning on of the lights which was last week - I didn't go - and then with the annual Victorian Fayre, as the Victorians almost certainly didn't spell it. I mentioned last year that I normally choose that staple of the nineteenth century working class festive fare, the samosa. However, and shockingly, there weren't any this year. I therefore opted for a potato and coriander pattie from the vegan street food stall followed by a Malaysian chicken wrap. We do things in the old fashioned way here in the West Riding. There was also once again no reindeer, but there were owls and donkeys, which had to suffice.

This year the big day was preceded by a Victorian Folk Extravaganza the night before. The performers, though thankfully not the audience, entered into the spirit of the event by dressing up. They mostly went for Thomas Hardy type costumes, appearing to have wandered in from either the set of 'Far From The Madding Crowd' or from a Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance gig according to one's perspective. The always excellent Yan Tan Tether looked like a themed version of the old 'I know my place' sketch that featured John Cleese and the Two Ronnies. Yan was a mob capped indoor servant, Tan was a lady from the gentry and Tether had come as Alfred P. Doolittle. Helen McCreary, who joined the Jon Palmer Acoustic band on 'Meet On The Ledge', was dressed as if she was on her way to cheerleading practice, but she's an American, and maybe things were different over there at the time. But the main honours must go to Jon Palmer himself who gone part Dickens and part Tenniel. He sported a long tailed jacket and a truly magnificent hat. Upon spotting his headgear I reached purposefully into the man bag to fetch out the camera which, as recently advised, now accompanies me everywhere. Unfortunately the battery was flat so I had to pinch the pictures above and below from Twitter.

Musically it was very good, although I could have done with fewer seasonal songs; in fact none at all would have been fine by me. Jon Palmer was as good as ever (the new drummer must be at least fifty years older than the previous one) and I could listen to the unaccompanied singing of Yan Tan Tether for hours, especially as they once again did the Jake Thackray song after which they are not named. New to me was Bella Gaffney, whom I also very much enjoyed. She has a soulful voice for a folk singer, a versatile guitar technique (I was reminded of Catfish Keith himself; there is no finer praise), her between song banter is most entertaining and, according to others who pay more attention to these things than me, is rather easy on the eye.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Follow the bear

I actually made it to Recon in Pudsey this year. I used to go regularly in the days when I did no wargaming, but for some reason the minute I actually got back into the groove I couldn't get my act together to drive less than thirty minutes. It was every bit as pleasant as I remembered and I did my bit to support the hobby by spending a magnificent £1.25 with the traders. I bumped into a couple of people that I know, whom I invited yet again to come round and take a look at the wargaming annexe. Maybe they will, but I'm not holding my breath. I was rather pleased to finally see one of them in his re-enactment finery about which I had heard so much. Sadly, I had no camera to record this. I put it to him that to the causal observer he didn't look terribly physically comfortable. He assured me that he was fine, but did so in a fairly unconvincing manner. He also explained that although he was an officer, he was the sort who wasn't in command of anyone and didn't give any orders; I've had jobs like that myself.

Coming back to the camera issue, I have bought a new one. You may recall that early in my newly single life I bought an excellent camera cheaply in a pawn shop, and then promptly lost it while over-excited by the young farmers ladies tug-of-war at last year's Otley Show. I then bought another from a similar source even more cheaply. This proved to be a disappointment and during the recent festival of online conspicuous consumer consumption I bought a better one at, I think, a reasonable price. Recent photos to appear here have been taken with it and, although I haven't by any means mastered it yet, I am happy enough with the results. The camera being replaced does have one big advantage though, in that it is very light. Given the loss to posterity of my not being able to show the 21eme Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne's least dashing officer on this blog, the old camera has now been placed permanently in the man bag.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Up and 'at em

There isn't much about my wargaming where I have the edge over James, but I'm going to claim a minor victory in terms of speed of project from inception to table. It's only taken ten months or thereabouts since I ordered the figures and there was a Great War game this week.

I umpired and rather enjoyed it all. Richard Clarke states in his introduction to the scenario supplement 'Stout Hearts and Iron Troopers' that the first six scenarios are intended to enable players to both learn the rules and the appropriate tactics. The one we played - the very first - is predicated on the British attacking with full vigour when, or so it seemed to us, their best bet is to sit off and used the Lewis gun and rifle grenadiers to blat the Boche from a distance.

For the record the game ended in a British victory when the German HMG team ran away, having jammed a ridiculous number of times. I think we picked up the mechanics reasonably well, although as one would expect there was confusion and debate about some specifics. The Lardies Yahoo group is a good resource for sorting out these things. As I've said before about other rulesets, I think perhaps the Ilkley Lads house style is a tad gung-ho; for some reason we have a group aversion to voluntarily pausing for breath during a game.

The MG08 is off
I think we'll give it another go. There was a consensus that it's best left until we've just about forgotten how to play it and so that is what we'll do. I have enough forces for the second scenario - they're only marginally bigger than the first - but need to work out how to layout the trench system. Looking ahead after that, I am unlikely to put on the third scenario, which requires half a dozen houses that I don't have, or scenario four, which uses tanks that I don't have either. What I shall do, once the Celtic slingers are finished of course, is start to paint up the forces for scenario five, in which the Germans are the attackers for a change.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Boardgames 11/16

6 Nimmt!: As I have mentioned before there is a strongly held view in certain quarters that playing cards at random is as good a strategy in this game as bothering to give it any thought. I don't agree; the winning strategy is to make sure you get dealt good cards.

7 Wonders: I rather like this game; I am rather bad at this game.

Airlines of Europe: The is mostly Ticket to Ride but with aeroplanes, or possibly Ticket to Ride is this but with trains. It's not as good, but it isn't bad at all.

Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game: Those who have played the original boardgame say this is better. Or possibly they say that this isn't as good; I wasn't really paying attention. I gave it a 6 - 'Will play if in the mood' on boardgamegeek. I confess I was bothered by the blurb describing a game with Burgundy in the title as being about the Loire Valley and, probably more importantly, that the cards are too small to read properly.

Celestia: I gave this the thumbs up last month and enjoyed it just as much on a second play. An expansion has arrived - that was quick - and seemed to add variety without complexity.

Clank!: A deck building dungeon adventure, with the title coming from the need to keep quiet if you want to stay alive. The dragon attack mechanism is very clever, although nobody seemed in much danger in the game I played. I thought it was all inoffensive enough, but had rather switched off because the way the cards played out during the first couple of turns seemed to have put me so far behind that I didn't have a chance. And then suddenly I'd won by a mile; if I knew how then I would pass on a few tips.

Codenames: Excellent game which depends entirely on the person giving the clues. When it was my turn I came up with one for 'Cat' and 'Tail' with which I was rather pleased.

The Dragon & the Flagon: A programming game (think Robo Rally or Colt Express) about a tavern brawl in a fantasy setting, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There is something very satisfying about swinging from a chandelier across the bar and kicking someone off a table. No-one else enjoyed it though, so I suspect that we'll never see it again.

Evolution: Climate: Another expansion that seems to improve things; it's been an unusual month.This one involves the world getting progressively hotter or colder or, in the game I played, neither. This has quickly become the favourite game of one of the hardcore gamers that I know. Still, as his previous favourite was Keyflower that isn't necessarily much of a recommendation.

Flamme Rouge: I did slightly better this time, but still not very well. We played the advanced game this time, adding in the effects of going up and down hills. I recommend it.

Honshu: A map building game where the key factors are winning the turn order that you want - via a meld of bidding and trick taking - coupled with a sense of spatial awareness; the latter I just don't have.

Scrawl: This is to Chinese Whispers as Pictionary is to Charades.

Skull: Always reliable filler.

Village Inn: It's Village, with added Inn. It's a very odd inn as well because you have to first make the beer and then take it with you when you visit the place. Even by the standards of many boardgames that's a thematic oddity. Anyway, it's a worker placement game where your workers have to die if you are to win. The activation mechanism is actually slightly more interesting than the worker placement label would suggest.

Monday, 28 November 2016

The truth in masquerade

"I have always loved truth so passionately that I have often resorted to lying as a way of introducing it into the minds which were ignorant of its charms." - Giacomo Casanova

One or two questions have been raised about the Jackson C. Frank anecdote in the previous post. In response I would firstly say that it seemed to me to be one of those stories which is too good to check, and secondly that I have on a number of occasions pointed out that one would be wise not to take everything that appears here at face value.

And that's a moral that also applies elsewhere. One of my so-called rivals in the world of wargames blogs has, by who knows what photoshop trickery, published a picture which seems to show me using my phone whilst a wargame is in progress, with the implication that I am engaged in some alternative and reprehensible activity instead of focussing on the game. You can be comforted therefore, gentle readers, when I reassure you that I have a hobby that I take very seriously, work at assiduously, give all the attention that it deserves and at which I am very successful.

Anyway, back to wargaming. The game this week is at my house and I don't think it's worth doing any more WWI stuff until we've played this first scenario through and can see where it all may or may not be going. Painting action has therefore moved to ancients, where spurred on by recent To the Strongest! games I am finishing the loss markers for Celts and Romans and painting up a few Newline Celtic slingers, despite the fact that I already have more than the maximum that can be fielded. It's the only way.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Never Any Good

I have been to see Martin Simpson, whom I last saw four years ago. On that occasion he had a couple of accompanists - Andy Cutting on squeeze box if I remember rightly - although my blog post of the time is remarkably uninformative as to what he sang. Simpson, who is above all a brilliant guitarist (as an aside, he performed a couple of songs on the banjo and his versatility almost - almost - made me warm to that instrument), mostly performs interpretations of other people's songs with just a couple of his originals. Highlights for me were 'The Stranger Song', in tribute to Leonard Cohen, and what was apparently one of the English ballad forerunners to St James Infirmary Blues (much loved by your bloggist of course) segueing into Dylan's 'Blind Willie McTell', itself heavily influenced by the blues standard.

“But power and greed and corruptible seed
 Seem to be all that there is.”

As well as a poignant, politically charged and finger-pointing song about Aberfan and, more unexpectedly, 'Heartbreak Hotel' he covered Jackson C. Frank's classic 'Blues Run the Game'. Simpson is good value for patter between songs, mostly both educational and, where appropriate, amusing. I had previously been aware that Frank had been somewhat unlucky in life; what I hadn't appreciated was that the money which he used to record his sole, unsuccessful album came from compensation that he had received for being badly injured when the orphanage in which he spent his childhood had burned down. That is perhaps beyond bad luck as we would normally understand it.

Never Any Good is Simpson's biggest 'hit'. His father - the song's subject - was born in 1899 and was fifty four when Simpson was born. Simpson himself is sixty three and has an eleven year old daughter. My own daughters - ten years or so older than his - could never convince their teachers that they had a grandmother who had been evacuated as a child during the second world war (their classmate's parents typically being a couple of decades younger than me), but even I have trouble with the thought that there is in this country at the moment a primary school child whose grandfather was born during the reign of Queen Victoria and fought in the Great War.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Farewell Fidel

"A revolution is not a bed of roses. A revolution is a struggle to death between the past and the future" - Fidel Castro

Thought-provoking words at a time when we wait to see what sort of revolutions are about to be imposed on us all. 

The subject of Cuba always brings to my mind another subject very relevant to today's world: the lies that politicians tell. It's one thing to suspect that what one is being told is not completely accurate, it's a big step to knowing incontrovertibly that lies are being told based on one's own direct experience. For me that step came with the US invasion of Grenada, when I knew for certain that pretty much everything that Reagan said on the subject was an outright untruth. I've already wittered on about this enough in the past so I won't repeat myself (check out the posts labelled Grenada if you're really interested), and anyway you will all be familiar with the same story behind the more recent and more disastrous invasion of Iraq. But, in a world where truth seems less and less accessible it never does any harm to remind oneself.

The other source of misinformation is of course the media and it will be interesting to see how they report Castro's life and legacy. I've already read one lazily compiled report this morning saying that the US embargo has left the streets of Havana full of 1950s American cars. As anyone who has been there can tell you, the roads in Cuba are full of Toyotas exactly the same as everywhere else in the world. It's always referred to as the US embargo for good reason; nobody else took any notice.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Surely not?

And so to the wargaming table. I can pretend no longer that I don't play with toy soldiers and so need to report on activity in both the annexe and the legendary wargames room. In the latter we have spent a couple of weeks having another stab at Trebia using To the Strongest. James tweaked the scenario and it worked much better, although the Romans are still somewhat up against it. That is of course historical, and we got a more or less historical result with much of the Roman infantry getting away, but a large number of their allies not doing so. Very unusually the elephants were still there at the end.

I continue to enjoy the rules, although rather embarrassingly we didn't play it right in either sense of the word. Despite having played a fair number of times before and James being a confidante of the author, we got a couple of important rules wrong. Commanders died twice as often as they should have - they play a role in the initiative part of the game so that's quite a big deal - and we allowed skirmishers to pin formed units, which they can't. On top of that I still don't think we have the tactics sorted out yet. The Carthaginians had significant cavalry supremacy, but instead of just riding over the Romans I tried a series of ambitious manoeuvres that would be too complicated if performed as part of Trooping the Colour and which achieved nothing. The main issue however, in my opinion at least, is that we never pull units back from combat in order to rally them. One assumes this is what should be done because a) there are no support bonuses in melee and b) it is easier to rally if you can't be charged. Add to that the fact that withdrawal will also require the enemy unit previously in contact to activate twice if it wishes to attack again then it seems the logical thing to do. But we don't.

In the annexe the latest solo run through of the trench raid scenario ended with the Germans running away before the British got anywhere close. I've probably squeezed as much as I can out of running through it myself. We're going to have a try next week, and hopefully with more player input all will become clearer. Blinds are an important mechanism in the game and they're difficult to deal with if you know what both sides are doing. I have knocked up another couple of machine gun posts in order to give the Germans a choice of where to put things and the latest layout of their trench can be seen above. If I have a reservation about the scenario it is the worry that it might turn into a long range duel between the the two machine guns. Perhaps, in a Sidi Rezegh stylee, the British must be obligated to just get on with it.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Paths are made...

 "Walking is man's best medicine." - Hippocrates

I promised that my next blog posting would be about wargaming; a promise that I never really had any intention of keeping. Maybe tomorrow. I haven't mentioned my illness for a while because all that has been happening is that I have been steadily getting stronger. Although I have to have a follow-up scan in a couple of weeks, in my mind at least I am recovered. To check this out I have been out for my first walk in the Dales for some months. Both my fitness and my thermal base layer passed the test.

Winter is here

Malham Tarn - the highest lake in England

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Rock Steady

The big bouncy woman has been enthusing about Aretha Franklin's 'Rock Steady' (for those who follow that link, my personal dancing style is rather similar to the chap wearing the Rupert Bear trousers - and check out the presenter's tie). I find that oddly enough my own music collection doesn't include the original, but does contain eight cover versions. Here are three of them, with two instrumental takes (Johnny "Hammond" Smith and the La-Mars) sandwiching a reggae workout by the Marvels. Enjoy:

Back to wargaming tomorrow. Perhaps.

Monday, 21 November 2016

What it is

                                             It is nonsense
                                             says reason
                                             It is what it is
                                             says love

                                             It is calamity
                                             says calculation
                                             It is nothing but pain
                                             says fear
                                             It is hopeless
                                             says insight
                                             It is what it is
                                             says love

                                             It is ludicrous
                                             says pride
                                             It is foolish
                                             says caution
                                             It is impossible
                                             says experience
                                             It is what it is
                                             says love

                                                      - Erich Fried

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Diddle, diddle, dumpling

"I would like to sing someone to sleep,
have someone to sit by and be with.
I would like to cradle you and softly sing,
be your companion while you sleep or wake." 

- Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, 19 November 2016

On nous apprend à vivre quand la vie est passée

“It's quite an undertaking to start loving somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment right at the start where you have to jump across an abyss: if you think about it you don't do it.” - Jean-Paul Sartre 

Friday, 18 November 2016

The river and the sea are one

"Let us know the happiness time brings, not count the years." - Ausonius

A joke has been doing the rounds since last week's calamitous events in the US: extra-terrestrials land on Earth and demand to be taken to our leader, but humanity declines their request on the basis that we're too embarrassed. It is interesting therefore that the film 'Arrival' deals not just with aliens visiting, but with the problems that arise from the fact that we have no common leader. When I told the big bouncy woman that I was going to see it she asked why, given my well known antipathy to science fiction. The only reason I could give was one not terribly likely to elicit much sympathy; my cleaners were coming, it was snowing heavily outside and it was what was showing.

However, I must say that I enjoyed it. I make an exception to my dislike of science fiction where ideas about the nature of time are discussed, and that's where this film ends up going. Indeed that's where it starts as well, although - in a meta twist - our own view of time prevents us from realising what we are seeing. One has to persevere though, because the whole first hour or so is a lowest common denominator meld of Jurassic Park and Close Encounters with a dash of Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure. I have seen the director quoted as to his many and varied sources of inspiration in the animal kingdom for the design of the aliens; anyone who has seen the Simpsons may think they know better. And of course on top of that not only is the global phenomenon only viewed through the eyes of Americans, but it follows the classic Hollywood trope of disciplined and ordered process failing, but the situation being rescued by the maverick who breaks the rules. In other words, much of it is bollocks.

And yet; and yet. There is more than enough substance in the question posed by the sub-plot to engage the audience; indeed the main story is in many ways just a framework to enable the central character to ask: "If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?". Knowledge of not just our own mortality, but also that of those whom we bring into the world, is central to the human condition. All of us who give life, also give death.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Still playing with myself

I've been having another go at teaching myself Through the Mud and the Blood. I'm sort of getting the hang of it, although I think it will be much easier with another couple of pairs of eyes to remember things such as checking to see if automatic weapons have jammed. This time the British managed to avoid being machine gun fodder, and at the point I've paused it are ready to rush the German lines.

The rifle grenadiers deployed and immediately took four shock, reducing their number of firing dice by two. As I had forgotten that for their first round of fire they halve their dice anyway, this left them with not many - one to be precise - with which to try to suppress the German HMG.

All the British sections are now deployed. The Lewis gun and MG08 have both jammed, but rifle fire - and some rather flukey dice - has killed the entire HMG section leaving the way open for an advance.

I'm enjoying it, but the rules are as badly written as Pike & Shotte. Important points are dotted all over the place and many terms (e.g. cover, turn, dice) are used very ambiguously. However, movement and ranged combat - haven't tried hand-to-hand yet - are all very straightforward once you get going.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Beating the Boche

I popped in to the WWI gaming day held at the Royal Armouries on Saturday. It wasn't worth a special trip to Leeds, but I think more than justified the ten minute stroll from the city centre if one was there anyway. In fact I spent about an hour at the show playing a couple of participation games and chatting to a few of the demonstrators. Naturally I forgot to take a camera. There were eight games in all including the Jutland game that was at Fiasco, a Wings of War game and a large game by Leeds Wargaming Club that didn't seem to involve any contact between the two sides while I was watching. I had a crack at Villers- Bretonneux (the first tank on tank battle in history), where I routed the Boche with a lucky throw, and a sort of Steampunk take on naval clashes on Lake Tangayanika, in which I routed the Boche with a lucky card draw.

My own WWI gaming exploits continue although I haven't yet got a handle on successful tactics. The photo below has nothing to do with the scenario, instead it's just to see how my new barbed wire looks on the table.

Sunday, 13 November 2016


In my sky at twilight you are like a cloud
and your form and colour are the way I love them.
You are mine, mine, woman with sweet lips
and in your life my infinite dreams live.

- Pablo Neruda

I have had cause to look back at some of this blog's posts from the past; God hasn't the quality declined? Someone who's quality hasn't in any way gone down is Jools Holland, who I have been to see for the fifth or sixth time. Admittedly there isn't anything surprising or novel about it, but what he does, he does well. Other than it being the first occasion that I've seen them since the death of Rico Rodriguez, it was exactly the same and none the worse for that. The guests this time were Pauline Black and Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson of The Selecter.

They both sported excellent hats; Hendrickson's in particular causing much envy on my part. If you had asked me before to name a song by their band I would have struggled, but I recognised and enjoyed them when they were being played. The duo also took vocal duties on Prince Buster's 'Enjoy Yourself', a song which always heavily featured Rodriguez. Ruby Turner was, inevitably, the star of the show. Holland seems to put up remarkably well with being upstaged at his own gigs.

Anyway, sadly another great has left us. It's as a songwriter that I think Leon Russell will be remembered. Here are a couple of covers of his songs:

And here he is singing a song by someone else, Nobel laureate Bob Dylan to be precise; and it's a song that has a very real resonance after the other events of this week:

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Take cover

I have a couple of solo attempts of To the Mud and the Blood, taking the scenario which was set up in the annexe through various stages. The first attempt was just to make sure that I understood the flow of each turn, which naturally I didn't. I got particularly distracted along the way by trying to work out the best way to use blinds in the context where one is playing both sides (hint: it isn't to ignore the concept completely).

The rifle grenadiers deploy from blinds in a really stupid place

The second, having reset it all and started again to take account of what had been learned first time round, took me up to the point of doing some actual spotting and firing. What I found out here must have been similar - in a strictly non-lethal way of course - to the insight that commanders gained abruptly when automatic weapons were first introduced to the battlefield. I moved the chaps forward as I had done in countless horse and musket games ready to initiate a firefight, only to find them relentlessly mown down by machine gun fire before they had a chance to do anything of the sort. The moral of which is that the rules encourage coordination of troops, appropriate use of terrain and taking cover for good reasons.

The rifle section have three shock and only one man left; this is not good

I've now gone back to the beginning, with an amended trench layout and will have another solo bash in due course.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Ring the bells that still can ring

"There's a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in"

Innumerable tributes will be written to Leonard Cohen, all far more eloquent than anything that I could say; I suggest you spend the day as I will, reading them all whilst listening to his music. As regular observers will know I like to go to a gig or two. I can say without reservation that the best I have ever been to in the whole of my sixty years was Leonard Cohen in September 2013, which I gave seven stars out of five at the time.

As for the music, let's go with covers by Madeleine Peyroux (who I had always assumed was Canadian, but apparently isn't), Nick Cave (Australian) and k.d. lang (at last a Canadian) and as well as Mr Cohen himself:

"You'll be hearing from me baby
Long after I'm gone"

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Très bien

We reconvened last night in the legendary wargames room after a short break. James had dotted his cloth - it's an old Yorkshire dialect term - and so we had a crack at To The Strongest! for the Punic Wars. The dots were not at all visible to the casual glance - indeed I occasionally found them hard to see whilst actually looking for them - and the combination of unit strength and base size filled the squares to overflowing, meaning it didn't really look like a normal grid game (pictures here).

That link also leads to historical details of the battle in question - Trebbia in 218 BC - and scenario details. Having won the draw to choose sides I went for the Carthaginians because they have elephants. Having now played it I would choose Hannibal again because the Romans are never going to win in a month of Sundays. The elephants, needless to say, did nothing of any value; their only real contribution was to trample one of the Carthaginian commanders as they ran amok after being fatally wounded. The cavalry on the flanks were more successful, and Mago's ambush put paid to any remaining hope the Romans had.

The devil is in the detail in wargames rules. The Polybian Romans seem to cause much angst among those with any understanding (real or imagined) of the period and James had a new rule hot from the author regarding the legionary Hokey-Cokey which is at the heart of the debate. It seemed to my uneducated eye to deal with the issue satisfactorily, and certainly maintained the simplicity of the overall rules while adding a bit of chrome to playing the Romans. It is this simplicity that appeals to me, plus the element of push your luck of course. Like all the best wargames and boardgames the real secret is to discipline yourself to not do the things that don't matter.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

On the rooftops of London

As presaged the other day, I have been to see Mary Poppins, and very good it was too. The musical is based in part on the film - the classic songs are here- but also draws heavily on some elements in the original novels that Disney left out. Mrs Banks gets a much larger part and there are none of the those terrible penguins. In fact, let's be frank, the film isn't actually that good despite having a fair number of magical scenes. I am tempted to digress by relating the story of how my father-in-law, like Dick van Dyke's character in the film, didn't quite get it on with Dame Julie Andrews. However the story, while entirely true and taking place on the Lancashire music hall circuit of the immediate post-war years, probably falls into the category of those for which the world is not yet ready.

But as I say, the stage musical is rather well done, with plenty of spectacle and special effects. Many of those from the film remain - hatstands being drawn from bags, walking on the ceiling, sliding up the banisters - but are more impressive seeing them done live in front of you. Plenty of excellent performances, including the Banks children, and some not too ridiculous cockney accents made an enjoyable evening for both the younger Miss Epictetus and me.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Implausible navette

Not much happening at the Casa Epictetus, which is mainly my own fault, coupled of course with all the rain and cold going on outside that has caused me to dig out the scarf that the big bouncy woman kindly knitted for me. Still, one expects things to improve. As a man with an accent that was apparently supposed to resemble mine once said:

"Winds in the east, mist coming in. 
Like somethin' is brewin' and bout to begin."

James has now posted a review of his game at Fiasco! (and is it me or is one of the reader comments somewhat unrelated to reality?). I note that he doesn't mention how one sided the game was. The useful things that I picked up at the show were obviously the extra Hexon terrain plus the revelation that my washing machine has a 14 minute cycle; who knew? What I forgot to buy were some bases to mount heavy weapons - despite actually going to the Warbases stand to take a look - but the mail order that followed swiftly when I got home has now arrived .This has in turn led to some painting, and indeed modelling. I have made some barbed wire, with which I am rather pleased and which will no doubt feature in photographs soon. I have also painted up a Vickers HMG with which I am rather less pleased. There are two things wrong with it, above and beyond my painting abilities. The first I will leave to see if anyone spots; I think I must have spaced out on the glue fumes whilst putting it together. The second is far harder to notice, but for some reason annoys me a lot more. The chap firing has only got one arm. He definitely had two when I started out, but he's only got one now.

I have read through the Pike & Shotte rules several times, although I'm not sure how much I am going to retain. They really are poorly laid out. Fortunately I only had to read about half the book  because the rest is padding - army lists and general uninformative waffle about various historical periods. Given how many large photographs there are I would guess that you could get all the rules on less than a dozen sides of A4 if one really tried.