Sunday, 31 December 2017


I have had better years, but I suppose I should be grateful that we are still here and that neither the tangerine half-wit or the only fat person in North Korea have yet blown us all to kingdom come. In which spirit I offer you my highlights of 2017:

Opera: I have seen 15, albeit a number of them being single act works in Opera North's latest 'Little Greats' season. Among these was a 'Trial by Jury' which I can honestly say was the first Gilbert & Sullivan that I have ever enjoyed. Am I getting old? However, the best piece that I saw was a chamber version of 'The Turn of the Screw' while other highlights included a wonderful semi-staged Turandot and the first Tosca I have seen where the heroine actually throws herself off the battlements instead of doing away with herself in a manner unfaithful to the libretto, but simpler to portray on stage.

Theatre: I saw 46 plays (including Romeo and Juliet four times) which only included one real stinker (which wasn't one of the Romeo and Juliets), plus a few that I wouldn't bother to watch again (which did include one of the Romeo and Juliets). A few things stand out: 'Twelfth Night' at the Globe, Bazza's farewell, and a very explicit 'Rita, Sue and Bob Too'. I'm going to award two prizes: Best One Man Show which will be shared between 'The Autobiography of Jane Eyre' and James Hornsby's 'David Copperfield' and Best Theatrical Experience That Has Something Loosely To Do With Jane Austen which is also shared, this time between 'Mr Darcy Loses the Plot' and 'Austentatious'.

Films: I saw 15 on the big screen. Of the new ones (I'll exclude Vertigo and The Graduate from consideration) the best was 'The Handmaiden' which I highly recommend, although as I think I said at the time it's best not to watch it with your mother. Honourable mentions go to 'The Death of Stalin' (did anyone else think Jason Isaac's Zhukov was essentially an homage to Sean Bean?) and 'Baby Driver'.

Books: I am bereft. I can find no indication that there is any intention to translate the fourth book in the 'Fortunes of France' series into English, let alone the rest of them. This is a disaster. In the absence of 'Le Prince que voila' I am instead going to go for 'The Song of Achilles' by Madeline Miller.

"Throw me a frickin' bone here!" 

Gigs: I have seen 43 of these with the blues featuring very strongly. Nevertheless Tom Russell, whom I saw twice, has to be the best with honourable mentions for Wille and the Bandits, Devon Allman and Eugene 'Hideaway' Bridges.

Pancho Villa crossed the border...

Wargames: Highlight of the year was undoubtedly the trip to Kirriemuir, the biggest game that I am ever likely to play in, and the chance to roll dice with with Charles S. Grant. It was excellent, but it was a long, long way. Best game in the annexe was, I think, the ersatz Eckmuhl with Prussians standing in for Austrians in an EPIC C&C scenario. Best game at James' was Sidi Rezegh. No, just kidding, it was his Garigliano scenario, especially the four player game.

Event of the year: This is a tough one. Possibly I should just acknowledge the fact that this year I didn't get taken to A&E in an ambulance even once. It's also hard to look beyond the kick-off for the new rowing boats on the river, which was extremely funny and compelling in a 'can't take your eyes off it, car crash' sort of way; the lesson learned being that Members of Parliament shouldn't get in a rowing boat with someone four times as heavy as themselves. However, I'm going to plump for what happened in Knaresborough on May 30th, the significance of which wasn't fully understood at the time, and the details of which I am not going to reveal.

Observant readers may have noted that some of the items mentioned above are making their first appearance here. My diarist's mojo deserted me at some point in the autumn with the one beneficial result being that I have no longer had the compulsion to tell you either what I ate for breakfast (porridge with cinnamon, honey and sultanas as it happens) or every last detail of my ongoing cultural pseudery. Among the other elements of my life to be jettisoned was playing boardgames, hence the lack of reports on those recently. I had become somewhat jaded with it all, but I think a period away has restored my appetite and I expect to pick it up again in the new year. If you're really lucky I'll start writing ill-informed guff about operas again as well.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Her love like the leaves....

I'm building up to a proper post tomorrow. In the meantime we all need cheering up when it's dark and cold so let's see if Hank Williams can do the trick:

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Tobit 8:2

This blog has long had an interest in the movement of the earth around the sun and so it is fitting that as the days start to get longer once again that we find the time for another post. There are many reasons for our absence, and possibly the least among them is that I have hurt my arm dry brushing. There was a level of derision in certain quarters when I passed on that news, but unlikely as it sounds, it's true. Perhaps readers deserve a recap.

When I was last here I was playing through a solo try out of my 'Blue Guitar' company level (or possibly battalion or even brigade level - I'm not entirely sure what the naming convention is) Great War wargames rules, and also providing a much needed running score update of the cricket in Australia. What happened next was that there was a bit of a cold snap in the UK and my enthusiasm for going outside to the annexe to roll dice and push little plastic men around a table rather dwindled. It seemed a convenient point to pause, properly write up all the rule amendments arising from the playtest and start again. In particular as weapon ranges had been shortened during the game the defending Germans had suddenly found themselves isolated from each other and rather easy to pick off, one unit at a time.

As I said earlier, it was a bit parky so I retreated to the warm to do some painting and modelling of various player aids. I wanted to make some smoke markers and after due consideration decided to make these out of wire wool. (I should mention that the same doubters mentioned above were also sceptical about this choice, given the material's noted flammability and my own equally well documented propensity to set things alight whilst painting them.) One attraction to me was the opportunity to get out the hot glue gun, which I have owned for years, but which never sees the light of day. Inexplicably, but somehow inevitably, despite never using it I had managed to run out of glue sticks, thereby causing a delay while more were procured.

At that point the cold weather gave way to wet and several more days passed before I could take the stuff outside to spray it with primer. I decided to prime in grey, thinking to dry brush over the top in white. This was a mistake. The grey was much darker than I thought it would be - in fact it was almost exactly the shade on the cap of the can; who'd have thought it? - and wire wool is an absolute bugger to dry brush. This coupled with yet another duff decision, namely to model enough markers to make a smoke screen a metre in length all in one go, have given me a painful RSI type strain to my arm coupled with a great reluctance to overbrush with any more shades. So, my advice for anyone wishing to make some smoke is to prime in white and, even more importantly, don't use wire wool in the first place.

In case I should not post again before Christmas - and let's face it, I won't - Happy Yontiff to you all.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, 'The night is shattered,
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.
She loved me, and sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes?
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost
To hear the immense night, still more immense without
And the verse falls to the snow like dew to the pasture.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
That night is shattered and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that is certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes,
I no longer love her, that is certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer,
and these the last verses that I write for her.

                                            - Pablo Neruda

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Never give all the heart

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

                  - W. B. Yeats

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

England batting collapse

That headline has not been at all uncommon during my lifetime and I woke up to it again this morning, along with the smell of fish; I cooked some halibut last night and the aroma has been a bit persistent. Anyway, it has seemed to me that I haven't been very informative in the last few blog posts - unless of course you were using this a very slow way of following the progress of the cricket. In which case Australia won by 120 runs.

Having stumbled into doing the Great War by accident I started small (platoon level trench raids with the Two Fat Lardies), then decided to aim big (a division a side with Peter Pig) and so, inevitably enough, thought why not split the difference and do something at battalion level or thereabouts. I really didn't want single figure removal, nor to worry about looking at individual models to see what weapons they were carrying. I bought a copy of 'Crush the Kaiser', which are at the right level and are full of good stuff, but still - oddly and annoyingly - do both those things.

What was needed, it seemed to me, was a rules root stock onto which I could graft the bits I liked from existing sets plus the bits that I thought others had overlooked. I thought about Piquet, but life is too short frankly. I didn't want a grid game particularly as whenever I get round to it Square Bashing is one of those. We've been playing a fair bit of Black Powder recently - Pike & Shotte to be precise - and they crack along quite quickly to a conclusion so I thought they would be a good place to start. I especially like the blunder rule; it's always easier to represent units not doing what you want than it is to represent them doing what you don't want.

There are however a number of differences between the Great War and the Renaissance ["No shit, Sherlock?"] including not comprehensively and in no particular order:

  • Relative homogeneity of troop types
  • Open formations
  • Importance of cover and therefore indirect fire
  • Ongoing melee not being appropriate
  • Distance not being the prime factor in command difficulty 
On top of that I rather like an element of meta-gaming (think the opposite of 'play the period, not the rules') and have for example often wondered what sort of game Piquet would be if you knew what sequence the next few cards were going to come out in. The shared tableau of cards in the newish 'Epic' rules for C&C Napoleonics is also the sort of thing that I'm talking about; do you take the card you want, or the one you think your opponent wants?

I have therefore been experimenting with all of the above, so far only with basic infantry and medium support weapons. If it works - judgement reserved at the moment; it's easy playing games when you can just change the rules on a whim; are you listening James? - I shall add artillery plus chrome such as German Stormtroopers and, as I suppose I must, tanks. There will be no gas; it might seem an odd line to draw given the overall subject matter, but nevertheless there it is. If it makes the chemists feel any better there won't be any aircraft either.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

442-8 dec and 138 all out; 227 all out and 176-4

So, as Aaron has pointed out, what a difference a day makes. To the game in Adelaide that is; twenty four hours has made remarkably little difference to the ongoing playtest of Blue Guitar. Those who aren't in tune with the rhythm of cricket can sometimes be heard wondering aloud about the nature of a contest played out over a series of five games each lasting five days. Well, what I'm doing seems to have the potential to last longer than the Ashes. However, if I were to be controversial I would say that the case against day-night test matches gets stronger with every game, whereas I am cautiously optimistic about my Great War rules. Except perhaps for their speed. 

I've made it a bit harder to blunder although this still hasn't done much for the companies on both the British and German left flanks who both not only failed to respond to orders to advance, but instead moved randomly backwards. The battalion on the British left has also lost its 2-i-c (not to enemy action - one can only speculate as to where he has disappeared to), on top of which the British support weapons have still not deployed. There has however been some combat at last which has highlighted that while the disordered mechanism seems to work I had set the saving throw at too easy a level.

A really obscure view from behind the German left
I remain relatively happy with the shifting turn sequence.

Monday, 4 December 2017

442-8 dec and 53-4; 227 all out

Despite the improvement in the weather in South Australia I was only able to find time for one move in the extremely slowly developing playtest of Blue Guitar. I didn't plan the scenario in any great detail and simply plonked the British on the baseline; indeed at the time the thing that more concerned me was the realisation that there were more bases in each unit than either utility or appearance demanded. I also didn't do the attackers any favours by putting their support weapons in the middle. The one upside is that the time it is taking for the game to progress has given me more chances to tinker (refine?).

The colonel waves his pistol in despair as his men advance the wrong way

The battalion on the British left has been rolling some very odd command dice and as a result its tactics can perhaps be best described as doing the hokey-cokey. The one company that is getting anywhere has entered the woods, and so that's where the German mortar is now targeting.  In the centre the support weapons have been unable to set up despite the best efforts of the brigade 2-i-c who was despatched to sort things out, although the dead observer has successfully been replaced.

On the other flank the Germans have seized the initiative and moved into the woods where all logic suggests they should have been anyway. Their sniper has been moving steadily forwards - the rules as to how he does that have changed several times so far and may well change again - and has picked off one of the British company commanders. That unit will suffer a permanent -1 to their command roll.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

442-8 dec; 29-1

The latest stage in the solo run through of the Blue Guitar Great War rules was somewhat curtailed by the evening rain in Adelaide, to the extent that once again nothing much happened. Things weren't helped by all the companies in the battalion on the British left being sent off in various directions by blunder rolls. The Germans have continued to target the road with their mortar, but the British haven't had the opportunity to move along it anyway.

In the centre the observer for the Stokes mortars was sent forward, but, after some rapid rule writing and a truly terrible throw of the dice on behalf of the British, was caught by machine gun fire and removed from play. Cue some more hurried creativity to work out how a new one can be put in place. On their right the issue was repeated failing of command rolls despite my patent method (essentially stolen from Crush the Kaiser) to reduce the chance of this happening.

The have been another couple of rule changes (enhancements?), but I'll just mention that, notwithstanding what I wrote yesterday, I have decided that what the game really needs is separate 'Command' and 'Rally' phases.

The early finish did however give me a chance to check out the Otley Victorian Christmas Fayre. In addition to buying the traditional festive samosa, seasonal food of choice of the nineteenth century working man, I was rather taken by Hardcastle's Amazing Human Vegetable Machine, which I don't recall seeing before.

Saturday, 2 December 2017


I had an hour so in the annexe this morning while listening to the cricket from Australia and got a couple of turns done. Considering that I wrote the rules there was a surprising amount of checking as to what was supposed to happen next, as a result of which not much actually did. Still, early days.

The brown circle is a rather undercooked marker indicating that the Germans are mortaring the road to deny passage to the British. The 'M's indicate that those support weapons have moved and so cannot fire and the just visible 'O's show that those units are able to use opportunity fire. For those of you keeping track of these things the following is the phase sequence as at the end of turn 2. The 'Rally' phase should probably be called 'Command' phase or perhaps 'Officer Check' for the Piquet players among you.

Friday, 1 December 2017

To lay his brain upon the board

I have previously mentioned that I have been writing my own set of Great War rules; or, perhaps it would be fairer to say that I have been melding together bits the I like from other sets while discarding the bits that I don't. Clearly this may result in a majestic set of rules far superior to anything ever seen on the tabletop, perfectly simulating the battlefield of the period and providing a game both gripping and subtle. Equally, and one must suspect far more likely, it may well be an unworkable and unplayable abomination bearing no relation to the Western Front as anyone understands it. There is only one way to find out and so, after a few small scale and half-hearted efforts, I have set up a larger game for a solo run through of the rules, which are named, for now at least, 'Blue Guitar'.

The is no particular assumed narrative behind this, it's sometime in the middle of 1918 during the German retreat. Two battalions of British plus brigade machine gun and mortar assets have come up against a German battalion covering a bridge.

The only conclusion that I have come to so far from setting it out is that the companies (unit is company, command level is battalion-ish) each have one too many stands, so I shall remove the surplus before beginning the game. It has also become apparent that my recent painting spree did not include enough Lewis guns, that there are not quite enough command and communication markers until the recently arrived order from Warbases is painted, and that some of the other player aids such as smoke and explosion markers will have to wait until I decide what size they need to be. However all of those are really only a question of aesthetics and so tomorrow - or possibly the day after if something better comes up in the meantime - I shall play upon the Blue Guitar.

The starting turn sequence