Thursday, 30 June 2016

Charles of Lorraine comes good

There are many reasons why I would have been a terrible general, most prominently my complete unsuitability - both physical and psychological - for being a soldier in the first place. The specific failing that translates most directly to wargaming is my problem with visualising things; my brain simply doesn't work in a way to allow me to readily see things that aren't currently in front of me. This manifests itself in a variety of ways; for example you should see me struggle to assemble slopes and hills out my Hexon terrain. Over the last two weeks, in the Battle of Aussig, it caused me to fail to recognise that my artillery (that's my remaining artillery, having lost one gun immediately we started) was already ideally sited, and thus to wander it about the battlefield to no effect. In the end James - the not entirely neutral umpire - pointed out where I was going wrong, the guns came into action and the game was over shortly thereafter. For the record this in no way implies that I have reconsidered my opinion about the overall quality of James' advice and I shall forthwith revert to my normal practice of ignoring him completely.

I was actually going to win anyway. It had been a good game, really showing off the strengths of the Piquet system. At the beginning of the evening the Austrians looked like the only possible winners, and then a combination  of initiative and luck of the cards swung things back to the Prussians before, just when they were close to an upset, things reverted and the Austrians finally triumphed. My initial set up wasn't so good and my tactics may have been dodgy, but I did get one thing right. Knowing that I had a huge superiority in morale chips, I challenged pretty much every time I caused a stand loss and chewed up enough of the Prussians morale to prevent them from rallying back UI when it really mattered.

This was the first encounter of the campaign and I at least am still getting used to the impact of the campaign rules on the tabletop game. Some aspects were clear, for example there were no cavalry melees as both sides kept an eye on the post battle pursuit phase. Others came more into focus as the endgame approached. The balance between firing early (and therefore inflicting stand losses which will influence the campaign) and not (being loaded and able to opportunity fire is important in Piquet) is nuanced, and one of those judgement calls that it will be very easy to get wrong. I thought that the final stage - the restriction on withdrawing until reaching zero morale and then the option to do so thereafter - worked OK, although I think it perhaps needs more constraint on when it can be triggered.

So, a rare victory for Charles and we move on to turn three.

Friday, 24 June 2016


“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” 
- Winston Churchill

Well I won't be the only person to quote Churchill this morning. One of the difficulties for everyone - even they aren't racist simpletons like fifty percent of the population apparently are - is wading through the various forecasts and deciding which may prove accurate. The one that at the moment seems most likely to me to come true is this from FT journalist Simon Kuper: "In 20 years, impoverished Britons will be smuggled into France in the back of lorries to pick strawberries". I always interpreted Thatcher's aim to be to create a low skill, low wage economy in the UK. Her successors appear to be determined to add 'no jobs' to that list.

Anyway, I started with a quote so let me finish with one:

"Young people, today would be a great day to pay a visit to your grandparents, and give them a fucking slap." - Dan Rebellato

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Wargaming again

Strange day. I voted of course, and got bitten on my leg by something unidentified (but presumably an insect) leading to a lot of blood and a large swelling. On top of which the country I live in may be only hours away from being taken over in a coup by an unholy alliance of the ignorant and the sinister. I shall therefore talk about wargaming.

We returned to the table for the first time in some weeks and it was just as if we had never been away: no one could remember the rules, there was endless debate about what constitutes a flank (or its modern hi-tech equivalent, the beaten zone), and Peter rolled a lot of ones. I won't go into detail about the game because you can read about it here on James' blog. But points to note would be:

  • It only occurred to me shortly before the game that I had never played the Austrians before and, in particular, had no idea how to use grenzers. Following the first night's play I have plenty of ideas about how not to use them.
  • Successful battlefield selection and blind deployment are not intuitive. I like the system, but am under no illusions that I'm any good at it.
  • Ditto for the whole campaign system really. As the Austrians I think one has to be both cautious because one's generals often end up doing nothing, and also opportunistic on the odd occasions when the Prussian generals do the same.
  • The thing that really pissed me off was when I foolishly moved a limbered gun, and invited opportunity fire which destroyed it for the second time in quick succession.
  • The thing that really made me laugh was when Peter managed to fail Major Morale despite only having lost one unit.
Interestingly, Peter admitted to his own loss of painting mojo in recent weeks/months. It's obviously catching.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016



Sand in your fingernails

Sand between your toes

Sand in your earholes

Sand up your nose!


Sand in your sandwiches

Sand in your bananas

Sand in your bed at night

Sand in your pyjamas!


Sand in your sandals

Sand in your hair

Sand in your knickers

Sand everywhere!

- John Foster

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Old campaigner

"One of the things I learned in the military is sometimes you don't know what mistakes you make for a long time." - Wesley Clark

I managed to blog every day when it was physically impossible so to do because I couldn't charge the laptop. The new charger arrived I go down with a virus and miss a day. During my very brief absence my order from Warbases arrived and, as predicted, the paintbrushes came out and the new arrivals have been painted green. There as an error in the order - the first time this has ever happened to me when ordering from them - but they have promised to immediately dispatch the correct stuff and told me to keep the incorrect. So once again excellent customer service from Warbases, who I would highly recommend. The mistake related to some stuff for the Great War project, which will hopefully now kick back into gear.

Also upon rising from my sickbed I note that the Seven Years War campaign is about to kick off again. Unlike General Clark we realised our mistakes pretty promptly and are going to have another try. I appreciate that approach won't work in the real world, but after all this is only a game. I shall write about this campaign in due course - James outlines it here - but there have been others; James seems sensibly enough to be working through the periods he collects.

Many years ago now James ran a multi-sided campaign using his Italian Wars collection. I was the Pope, but had little chance to do anything beyond declare myself a Warrior Pope (which actually gave quite a significant benefit) and ally with the Spanish before I had to go to abroad on an assignment. From memory the campaign was fought to a conclusion, but I seem also to remember the consensus was that it went on a bit. James and Peter fought a crusades campaign which is detailed on James blog, which seems to have been very successful, but I wasn't involved so I can't tell you what made it work so well; probably not all the silly names that James invented and that you have to wade through to find out what happened. Then there was the Punic Wars campaign of a couple of years ago. That was also rather extended - a bit of a theme developing here - and in the end was a dead-heat and decided on the tie-break included in the board game used for the strategic rules. The big unresolved issue for me was the translation of the outcome of battles back to the strategic level. I always felt that one was actually handicapped by managing to engineer an encounter where one heavily outnumbered the enemy, where all logic suggested that the opposite should be true. Once again write ups of this campaign are on James blog.

Now, readers of James' blog may believe, based on the steady stream of WWII western desert postings, that we fought Operation Crusader as a campaign . But no. Shane Warne famously said that Monty Panesar hadn't so much played fifty test matches as played the same test match fifty times. We didn't so much refight Cunningham's whole action as plough through Sidi Rezegh fifty times. Wikipedia quotes someone as saying that Sidi Rezegh is 'the forgotten battle of the western desert'. Not in Ilkley it isn't. Anyway, I hope that in due course we perhaps have a crack at the whole thing.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Oh yes it was

Another example of paramilitary inspired drumming in garage rock:

Saturday, 18 June 2016

An intense period of not wargaming

Sometimes, as we all know, one's mojo doesn't work, even in someone as mojolicious as Epictetus. And so it has been with painting and modelling - there has been none. I can feel the start of faint stirrings and so perhaps it won't be long before I begin again, especially if 2016 continues to be another year with no summer.

There has however been a certain amount of pottering about in the annexe. Since buying the hex terrain we have played C&C Napoleonics games on a 'proper' size board which either looked a bit lost in the middle of the wargaming table or didn't fit comfortably on the dining table. What I really want to do is to use the full space available, which implies four times the area for which the rules are designed. After a certain amount of humming and hawing I have come to the obvious conclusion that in order to know what rule changes might be necessary to cope with this increase is to play a few games with the rules as is and then see what doesn't work. So I have been playing around with converting C&C scenarios to the larger space, immediately running into a couple of issues. I chose to double the force size thereby allowing more manouevre room and tacitly acknowledging the fact that I don't actually have enough figures to increase them any more. Then it became apparent that I didn't have enough of the bases that I use for marking unit type and strength, nor of the cavalry size sabot bases. An order has been immediately dispatched to Warbases. I suspect that on the arrival of the order it will be painting and varnishing those pieces of mdf that is the trigger for moving forwards the nearly complete more complicated stuff that's been sitting there for a few weeks untouched and unloved. I also need some more trees, which I think will be the main purchase at Derby in a few months, and more artillery, about which I am going to do nothing.

Those of you that read James' blog may have noticed a campaign starting, being written about and then disappearing. This deserves its own post and one will follow shortly, laptop charger and nazis allowing.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Morn came and went and came, and brought no day

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." 

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Thursday, 16 June 2016


I have still not received the new laptop charger ordered some weeks ago, indeed it has not yet been dispatched.  I am therefore unable to post to this blog on a daily basis as I would wish. This delay is the fault of - and this is the honest truth - Elkie Brooks. I know that is going to upset her greatest fan and quondam blog reader, but I have to say it as I see it. Ms Brooks is playing the Royal Hall in Harrogate later this year and I think I might have to get myself along there and take her to task about this charger business. In the meantime various other things have occurred.

Somewhat unexpectedly, even to me, I have been on a stadium tour of White Hart Lane. The place does have vague connections - via Harry Hotspur - with things that I am actually interested in, like medieval history and Shakespeare, and I have actually been there before on numerous previous occasions as a spectator. Indeed I have very fond memories of a game against Ipswich (Spurs 5 Ipswich 3) where Carl and I happened to meet two visiting Rhodesian nurses keen to be shown the sights of London. Their country of origin is an indication of exactly how long ago it all was - living in the past, moi? Anyway, I enjoyed the tour more than I thought I would and was rather surprised at a couple of things, notably how small the dressing rooms were and how uncomfortable the chairs in the directors box. I was impressed by the medals won by the incomparable Dave Mackay during the double season of 1960-61 and, to a much lesser extent, by the hideous monstrosity that is the Costa del Sol Cup, a trophy whose size is in inverse proportion to the number of people who have ever heard of it.

"Where's them nurses at?"

I assume that everyone has, like me, been expecting 3D printed figures to become available to wargamers for some time now. I have only just become aware that they are already here (and reviewed here).That link is to the 1/72 page, but there are others, and by the nature of their design and manufacture they are of course easily scalable. They are ridiculously expensive to the point of being completely unaffordable, but what a brave new world that has such figures in it.

Anyway, in tomorrow's non-daily post there will be some non-wargaming news. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

No one is alone

"Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh." - George Bernard Shaw

And so to the theatre. I have been to see the West Yorkshire Playhouse/Opera North joint production of Stephen Sondheim' 'Into the Woods'. The story - an intertwining and extension of several fairy tales - is structured around the quest of a baker to remove a curse. I am an fairly regular baker myself; being not only a lover of cakes and biscuits but also allergic to milk, I find it simpler to make my own. I have just made some rather fine Cranberry and Cardamom Cookies, perhaps a little heavy handed on the spice, but delicious nonetheless. My lengthy conversation with the lady who runs the local cookshop as to the best implements for extracting the cardamom seeds from the pods and then grinding them, left her even more convinced than ever that I am the gayest man in Otley.

I think that it was fair to say that I wasn't the gayest man in the theatre last night. I haven't seen so much outness and pride since Barry Humphries came to town on his farewell tour. The previous evening many of the same people would have taken part in the vigil held in solidarity with those affected by the appalling events in Orlando; hundreds attended as the LGBT area of Leeds in Lower Briggate was closed to traffic. But I always think that while there is a place for specific organised events in these circumstances, that ultimately the best response to those seeking to intimidate us is to carry on our normal daily lives as we always intended to do. And if that involves a love of musical theatre, then so be it.

Notwithstanding recently being made into a film by Disney, 'Into The Woods' is a serious and complex work with a number of themes running through it along with a rich vein of humour. On another occasion I might have pondered much on the focus on bad parenting, on which I consider myself something of a self-taught expert. But right now its important messages are surely these: accept who we are and other people for who they are, be careful of the consequences of going into the woods with no clear idea of where the path will take you (are you listening Blair and Bush?), and that it is only by standing together that we can defeat the giant. The show (which, be warned, is very long) comes in two parts: the fairy tale endings we all know and then what happens next. As Orson Welles said "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story".

The production itself was glorious, with top notch singing and music courtesy of the chorus and orchestra of Opera North. The puppetry was a particular highlight, with the Giantess being genuinely frightening despite the mechanics behind it being clearly visible. The staging - making full use of the layout and technical capabilities of the WYP - was also noteworthy. The opening set was a primary school classroom and the characters' journeys into the woods were portrayed as the school trip from hell. Let's hope this isn't an omen for the big, bouncy woman next week.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

What a wonderful night for a moondance

I have been to see Van Morrison, who was simply fantastic, as he was always going to be because he is, after all, Van Morrison. There was a very jazzy vibe to the evening, with the man himself looking like George Melly's less flamboyant younger brother. As with Leonard Cohen he sensibly surrounds himself with first rate musicians, although his bandleading style seems somewhat more like that of James Brown; I wouldn't like to cross him.

I must mention the opening act, the New York Brass Band who were great fun in the style of the Hot 8 Brass Band so beloved of Craig Charles. The rumour is that Sir Van agreed to their supporting him because he believed them to be from Harlem. In fact the name signifies that they are from York and haven't been going very long. Morrison was, let's be blunt, as miserable as sin. But the same behaviour that in Eric Clapton a couple of years ago came across as rudeness and contempt for his audience, somehow seemed just acceptable idiosyncrasy here. It was glorious concert and I'd happily put up with the great man's indifference in return for the sound of his voice every time.

We were treated to many highlights from a great career: Moondance, Brown Eyed Girl, Bright Side of the Road, Whenever God Shines His Light etc. It was all most excellent. Astral Weeks is without doubt my favourite album; a phrase and concept that really date me. Whilst mostly a mystical album - once again we are speaking of Van Morrison here - it is also in part about the Belfast of his childhood. But what really for me has always set Morrision in his time and place is the paramilitary drumming on his 1964 garage rock standard Gloria. If ever there was a song designed for long extended versions it is this one, and it got it here as the last number/encore.

I for one have played Gloria, very badly, in several garages. My favourite non-Morrison version is probably that by Eddie and the Hot Rods, which appeared on their Live at the Marquee EP along with 96 Tears, Satisfaction and Get Out Of Denver. I have a feeling that I might have posted this before, but what the hell - it's brilliant. Get those chairs out of here!

Monday, 13 June 2016

I came along, just to bring you this song

I've been to see Rod Clements, once of Lindisfarne and Jack The Lad performing an acoustic set accompanied only by Ian Thomson on double bass. Clements originally left Lindisfarne while I was still at school and the forming and reforming of these groups is a mystery probably even to the members themselves. I can confidently say that he wasn't a member when I saw them a couple of years ago, although I believe he is now. Thomson is, I think, their current bass player, but whether he was then is another matter.

Clements has a great track record. As well as writing 'Meet Me On The Corner' he has worked with the likes of Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell (he played on 'Streets of London') and, more recently, Thea Gilmore and Nigel Stonier, artists much admired by this blog. Indeed Nick Hall, a local singer/songwriter featured fairly regularly in these pages, was in the audience and was deep in conversation with Clements after the gig.

As well as both Lindisfarne and Jack The Lad numbers, they performed a couple of Jansch's songs, Ledbelly's 'Bourgeois Blues' and, more unexpectedly, the theme from Barry Norman's film review TV programmes which the more elderly among you may remember. He encored with an instrumental version of 'The In Crowd' as originally made famous by Dobie Gray. An eclectic mix therefore, which showed off his guitar virtuosity and demonstrated that you don't have to be a brilliant vocalist to entertain a crowd if you have guitar virtuosity to fall back on.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

We cannot fight for love, as men may do

And so to the theatre. It was Shakespeare's Globe for my second Midsummer Night's Dream in a few weeks. This production featured many of the tropes familiar to anyone who has been to Bankside: music, dancing, humour, the noise helicopters flying along the river, and freezing cold weather whatever the time of year. The production has been controversial, but I thought it was perfectly OK.

One of the changes introduced was that Helena became Helenus and a gay/bi subtext introduced. However, other than a joke when Snug warns the ladies "and you gays" not to be frightened because he (or in this case she) is not a real lion, the characters' gender was no more relevant than their ethnicity. More relevant was the decision to make Puck female, as the character often seems to be these days, because her performance was accompanied by a series of pelvic thrusts that would have been somewhat less acceptable if made by a man.

 The mechanicals were portrayed as the staff of the Globe - which made for some amusing interaction with the audience before the play proper started - and I rather liked Starveling appearing in the final act as a fully suited astronaut, being, as she pointed out, the man on the moon rather than the man in the moon. I wasn't so bothered about the breakdancing of Pyramus; from my perch in the upper gallery it didn't look terribly proficient.

Anyway, all in all I had a good time, and I continue to very much enjoy the Globe despite the low temperatures that seem to be booked in for my visits.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Hokey-Cokey

Readers may have wondered why Epictetus has not yet vouchsafed his opinion on this EU referendum malarkey. Well, partly it is of course because his computer doesn't work. But it is also partly because he can't get too excited about this once in a lifetime event as he has already in his lifetime voted in just such a referendum. For the record on that occasion I voted to leave, which was at the time official Labour Party policy; not to be confused with the official Labour government policy which was to stay in. Aren't you nostalgic for the days when the ruling party used to be completely split on such things?

Others have not been reticent in putting forward their views. Our Luxembourg correspondent has a keen interest in all this, having lived there for so long that he has lost his vote and must now be counted as Johnny Foreigner himself. He has just disseminated to our mutual acquaintances one input from a prestigious trade association which he describes as the clinching argument. Who is to say that he isn't right?

Anyway, back to your bloggist. I shall be voting on this occasion to remain, essentially because I am intelligent and well-educated. This country is splitting itself into two moieties: those who can't read without moving their lips, and those who are somewhat more sophisticated; one doesn't really have a choice as to where one belongs. I shall not address the issues in any depth or attempt to convince anyone of the error of their ways. I am content to simply stand by and mock the presumptuousness of the intellectually limited. If it transpires that the morons do in fact form the majority within the UK then who among us will really be surprised? The mouth breathers are on the march all across the world. I limit myself to the observation that pandering to the prejudices of simpletons may possibly not be the best way to develop public policy.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Proverbs Chapter 19 Verse 21

"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."

I do indeed have many devices, but it would appear that the counsel of the Lord is that the one most suited for writing blog posts should remain hors de combat for the time being at least. In the meantime there has been no wargaming anyway including no painting at all - for a variety of real life related reasons such as birthdays, exams and scorchio - although other activities have continued apace. Prepare yourselves for much cultural related reportage when technology allows. Indeed, prepare yourself for some wargaming related reportage as well because a Seven Years War campaign is scheduled for kick-off next week. The much delayed try of the latest C&C Napoleonics has been, well, delayed. In other printable news, I have made a rhubarb crumble loaf cake that is a triumph even if I say so myself, and also quite painfully burnt my arm. In other unprintable news, a good time has been had by all.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Life isn't like in the movies

Once upon a time, a king gave a feast. And there came the most beautiful princesses of the realm. Now, a soldier, who was standing guard, saw the king's daughter go by. She was the most beautiful one, and he immediately fell in love with her. But what could a poor soldier do when it came to the daughter of the king? Well, finally, one day, he managed to meet her, and he told her that he could no longer live without her. The princess was so impressed by his strong feelings that she said to the soldier: "If you can wait 100 days and 100 nights under my balcony, then at the end of it, I shall be yours." Damn! The soldier immediately went there and waited one day. And two days. And ten. And then twenty. And every evening, the princess looked out of her window, but he never moved. During rain, during wind, during snow, he was always there. The bird shat on his head, and the bees stung him, but he didn't budge. After ninety nights, he had become all dried up, all white, and the tears streamed from his eyes. He couldn't hold them back. He no longer had the strength to sleep. All that time, the princess watched him. And on the 99th night, the soldier stood up, took his chair, and went away.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Flat battery

In yet another electrical malfunction at Casa Epictetus sparks and smoke have been seen coming from my laptop's charger. Posts will therefore be a bit intermittent until a new one arrives. What better than to use one of these scarce events to write one of those lists of boardgames that no one ever reads? What better indeed?

 A Fake Artist Goes To New York: Dear, oh dear oh dear. A co-operative/ hidden role drawing game that makes no sense at all.

Agricola: This was nothing like as complex as I had assumed. I enjoyed it, but can't see why people get obsessed with it.

Barony: I'd never heard of this, which at least avoids preconceptions. It's a worker placement game that enables one to attack other people; sounds good to me. I'd play it again.

Codenames: Deservedly nominated for the Spiel des Jahres award.

Condottiere: As seems to be the way with this game it was won by a first time player. Possibly the strategy isn't as deep as I'd been telling myself. It's still a good game though.

Deus: Slightly complicated complicated worker placement, engine building, set collection, area control, you-name-it game not at all about Roman gods (and even less about only one god as the title seems to promise).  I enjoyed it.

Eminent Domain: A pleasant enough deck-builder based in outer space. I'm rather proud to say that I won easily by purely peaceful means.

Greedy Greedy Goblins: Rubbish.

Imperial Settlers: This isn't a bad game although, like others in this list (Deus, Eminent Domain for example), it's very difficult to see what other people are up to.

Inhabit the Earth: Having played this for a second time my original good opinion was reinforced.

Jane Austen's Matchmaker: Theme is often wafer thin in published board, card or dice games. Indeed, knowing anything about the nominal subject can actually often be a handicap, and at best - e.g. in games such as Quartermaster General - it enhances the enjoyment without helping one in game play. This card game based on the characters of Jane Austen fell into that category for me. It doesn't require one to have read the books (although obviously I have). What the game is really about is the seduction of virtuous women by disreputable men. However a lifetime's experience proved not to be sufficient and I didn't win.

Karuba: I rather like this. It's surprising how differently people can use exactly the same resources to attempt to achieve exactly the same objectives. Also shortlisted for this year's Spiele des Jahres.

King of Tokyo: This divides opinion. I take the view that as long as one concentrates solely on biffing the other monsters then it's good enough fun.

No Thanks!: An entertaining push-your-luck game that has suddenly hit the table a few times this month. The best strategy seems to be not to have bad luck.

Notre Dame: This is a return on investment type game with very little player interaction. It passed the time OK, but is a bit simplistic for the accountants among us; and yes, that is a euphemism for me winning without much difficulty.

The Prodigals Club: A development/refinement of Last Will that improves on the original by making players balance two objectives simultaneously. It's also much friendlier to the colour blind. I rather liked it. It has various modules so should be repeatedly replayable.

Red7: A fine filler

Skull: Ditto

Splendor: A really good game, an essentially abstract mix of engine building and set collection.

Stone Age: This is one of those games - Agricola above would be another - that others are surprised to find that one hasn't yet played. Well now I have, and it is a good game. I seemed to be alone at the table in finding it odd that the stone age tribes in the game have access to gold, but that's obviously just another of my thematic hangups.

Sushi Go!: Speaking of themes, we decided to have a Japanese food based sequence of games. This one is passable and quick....

Wasabi!: ...and this one less so. There do seem to be a lot of exclamation marks involved in eating raw fish; actions available in this game include Chop!, Switch!, Spicy! and Stack!. I didn't care overmuch for this game.