Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Cabinet change imminent, I see

"I turn over a new leaf every day. But the blots show through." - William Fisher

And so to the theatre. I have been to see Billy Liar, Waterhouse and Hall's 1960 adaptation of the former's novel. The play constricts things to the Fisher's living room (the film - which introduced that great favourite of this blog, Julie Christie - expanded it all back out again). The authors were of course both Leeds boys; indeed Hall lived in Ilkley - epicentre of wargaming in the lower Wharfe Valley - in the years before he died. He also married a 28 year old dancer when he was in his early sixties, which makes one think. ["It does," interrupts an unwelcome voice from the back "but no one else is thinking the same thing that you are."]

I've seen it written that there's a bit of Billy Fisher in all of us - and after all who can truly say they have never pretended to a stranger that one or more close relatives have had a leg amputated? On the other hand I'm pretty sure that I could make a better fist of going out with more than one woman at the same time than he does. Before anyone says anything, I'm not saying that I approve, simply that if one is going to do something then one might as well do it right.

I've also been to see 'Last Laugh', John Godber's new film, which features a working class Northern lad fantasising about becoming a scriptwriter whilst unsuccessfully juggling multiple relationships including one with a woman who makes the break that he himself cannot summon up the courage to do. There is nothing new under the sun. It's being shown along the M62 corridor prior to a full release and I thought it was very entertaining. Godber himself is excellent as the father. In other cinema news shooting has just started on a film called 'Ilkley', a black comedy based in, er, Ilkley - epicentre of wargaming... ["Enough, you've done that one already."] - and starring Sir Derek Jacobi amongst others; no news yet of any toy soldier content.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The best damn police cop in space

And so to the theatre. I have been to see The Pretend Men's hit from last year's Edinburgh Fringe 'Police Cops in Space', where I'm glad to report I laughed a lot. My concerns were not that it wouldn't be intrinsically funny, but more that it would be full of references to films that I hadn't seen; which I'm still assuming that it probably was. However, and despite having not any familiarity at all with the Star Wars franchise, even I could tell when Harrison Ford was being spoofed and a man in his underpants speaking in a Germanic voice can only be one person; for the record, I have actually seen 'Terminator'.

The robot that will take over if he can eliminate all the police cops has an Australian (rather than Austrian) accent, a crush on its same sex colleague and a tendency to stream of consciousness free association as he expresses his admiration. Should any of those be based on films them I'd appreciate being pointed towards them. I won't attempt to describe the rest, but it's worth seeing as it tours around, especially if like me you have a penchant for small casts performing multiple roles and very physical comedy. For some reason I thought the climactic fight for control of the universe being carried out with mops and a harmonica as the only weapons made perfect sense.

Anyway, I have to go as I'm off to the theatre again and it's snowing. I'll be back.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Has my heart gone to sleep?

Has my heart gone to sleep?
Have the beehives of my dreams
stopped working, the waterwheel
of the mind run dry,
scoops turning empty,
only shadow inside?

No, my heart is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
Not asleep, not dreaming—
its eyes are opened wide
watching distant signals, listening
on the rim of vast silence.

                                - Antonio Machado

Thursday, 22 February 2018

God still favours the big battalions

We replayed the Maloyaroslavets scenario and although it was a closer game we got the same result.

The Russians have advanced, but the French still hold the village

The consensus is that the French infantry units being a third larger than the Russians is the key factor, especially when you add on the extra dice in melee against infantry. In a sign that the game has some relation to reality cavalry and artillery have their uses, but you can't achieve anything without infantry to move in and occupy the ground.

Light Infantry aid two units in square using a tactic card

Two differences to the previous game were that the initial Russian assault on the village failed and that the French cavalry charge didn't take out any artillery. Paradoxically I think the failure to capture Maloyroslavets might have helped the Russians a bit in that the French, not having to mass their troops to retake it, rather fannied about elsewhere without achieving much. They were driven out several times, but only once did the Russians get a foothold. That ended abruptly when James once again demonstrated his ridiculous luck with the C&C dice and rolled four infantry symbols out of four. He doesn't have the same good fortune with normal numbered dice, it's just these ones.

The high water point for the Russians

So, another enjoyable game with a set of rules that seems usually to provide one. We like the tactics cards (although less ambiguous definitions would help) and we like the march moves provided by certain command cards. The rule we got wrong last time about attached commanders being vulnerable after losses swung straight into action when the first two such tests both resulted in double sabres being rolled and the officers dying. This time's incorrect rule was not playing that Cossacks ignore terrain penalties when in woods. In my defence the rules are - literally - all over the place, and we don't play them very often. Our house rule of a minimum of one dice in melee will stay. For clarity, the way we play it is to add up all the factors from unit size, type and any card effects and then if the result is still no dice then they get a minimum of one. Another house rule is on the horizon: I think that we shall try knocking off one dice for infantry fighting out of towns. Every other black powder rule set I can think off penalises troops for being in buildings and it just feels right. One option is only to inflict the penalty when they are ordered; in other words when attacked and battling back they would get the full dice. I shall think about it.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Rattus Norvegicus

“I don't like rats, but there's not much else I don't like. The problem with rats is they have no fear of human beings, they're loaded with foul diseases, they would run the place given half the chance.”
                                             - David Attenborough

The chimneys have been put on the back burner [“Come on,” says an unexpected voice from the past “I know you’re not much of a prose stylist, but even you can do better than that”], because the rats are back. Last time there was an infestation they obediently ate the poison and quietly disappeared. This time they are sticking two fingers up to me by repeatedly moving the bait around the garden just to show that they are on to my game and don’t care. Bastards.

Let’s have some music from the biggest cheese in the rat pack; this will cheer us up:

Friday, 16 February 2018

It's being so cheerful as keeps me going

I have been to see Fairport Convention, in what seems to have become an annual event. Normally at this point I'd start quoting from 'Matty Groves', but that joke has worn a bit thin since last year. The band were, naturally, excellent, but, beyond expressing the hope to see them again next year should the Lord spare us all, I can't think of much to say that I haven't said before.

The support act, Winter Wilson, were new to me and I was rather impressed. I especially liked the following song; indeed it was the lyrics to this that put me in mind of yesterday's poem:

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Ashes of Life

Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike; 
Eat I must, and sleep I will, - and would that night were here! 
But ah! - to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike! 
Would that it were day again! - with twilight near! 

Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do; 
This or that or what you will is all the same to me; 
But all the things that I begin I leave before I'm through, - 
There's little use in anything as far as I can see. 

Love has gone and left me, - and the neighbours knock and borrow, 
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse, - 
And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow 
There's this little street and this little house. 

-          Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

No, no, no

The postman hasn't yet called to deliver all your bloggist's Valentine's Day cards, and research into how to repair chimneys and/or restore flues into use is starting to pall, so here's something romantic to get everyone loved up and in the mood for later on:

Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Sixth Coalition is Postponed

The French won the refight of the battle of Maloyaroslavets last night, the Grande Armée
 was saved, and 1813 will therefore be rescheduled for a later date. 

The battle for the village rages

James, as the Russians, had his usual good results with the C&C dice (he is on a lucky streak at the moment; apparently a gypsy fortune teller has predicted that for every child knocked down by a bus he will find a pound coin), but the cards fell better for Peter and he used them with aplomb.

The Russians are in

However, it turned out that he used them with a little too much aplomb. Rereading the rules I find that only one Tactician Card can be used on a unit per turn, meaning that the heroic charge of the Chasseurs to take out two artillery units would have been ruled out by the video ref had the technology been in use. For the record the other rule we got wrong was not testing for the loss of attached commanders when units took hits without being destroyed; James did draw my attention to it, but I thought I knew better.

And then they're out again, leaving behind only a forlorn Mother Russia token

I thought the scenario worked. The Russians are handicapped by their lack of cavalry (the official scenario in Expansion 2 gives them some Cuirassier) and because the relative weakness of their units means that they achieve less for each activation,, but their extra artillery can be used to devestating effect. The March Move on certain cards meant that reserves at least had a chance to move forward, although as so often in C&C there were half a dozen units on either side that never saw combat. We shall play it again next week without any changes - other than swapping sides - and see how differently it turns out.

The Russians are pushed back everywhere

The changed shape of the playing area didn't cause any problems. The 'at least one dice in melee' rule only came into play a few times and, to me at least, seemed more natural than the alternative.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Meanwhile I was still thinking (aloud)

I have rejigged the Maloyaroslavets scenario a touch. There are now two flat hexes on from which the Russians can attack the village and one on the French side.

Also we shall play that in melee (or when Battling in official C&C terminology) all units will have at least one dice regardless of other circumstances. This will not apply to ranged combat. All the other ideas will be retained in the 'possible' file.

In addition I have moved all the reserves on to the table. The only real effect of keeping some back was to ensure they got into action in the historical order. Upon considering whether I cared very much whether they did so or not I had to conclude that I didn't.

To recap, the moving up of reserves will hopefully take advantage of the March Move available on some cards. In the original game a card such as, for example, Scout Right Flank was one that you played when you didn't have a better alternative or to thin out your hand. Now, as well as allowing the ordering of one unit, it allows three others to move as long as they don't pass out of, into or through a hex adjacent to the enemy, you get the choice of one of the two next Command cards and you get a Tactician card; all of which when put together seems an effective return to me.

I have also indulged myself and put some weak Russian militia in the monastery .

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Another Vapnartak

I have been to this year's Vapnartak. Dealing with negatives first, there weren't enough games and the ones that there were looked exactly like the ones that were there last year, and the year before, and the year before.... It's a wargaming show that you wouldn't bother going to for the wargames. More happily, it's not too far, it's a lovely venue, there are lots of traders and one generally bumps into people one knows. I picked up some pre-ordered Hexon slopes, bought the traditional five small trees from the tree man, and bought another pack of narrow roads from S&A Scenics. These are not intended as realistic terrain pieces, but rather for the deliberately stylised C&C games.

Speaking of which James came up with a further alternative for the current scenario, namely to make the hill an advantage for the defenders rather than a penalty to the attackers. The downside of this is that it means the French would be rolling six dice against infantry and could expect to roll on average two infantry symbols plus one sabre symbol; in other words an attacking Russian unit would either have to force French defenders to withdraw or face a high probability of destruction when they battled back. I shall continue thinking.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Thinking aloud

"Death and the dice level all distinctions" - Samuel Foote

I'm still pondering the epic fail of the scenario that is currently set up in the annexe. In one sense the problem is entirely of my creation as in the boardgame there is no concept of stacking terrain, except in the very limited case of fieldworks, and in that case the rules quite clearly say that one only counts the highest penalty rather than adding them together.  Another way of looking at it is as a reflection of a couple of differences between C&C and other rules. In Piquet one can never attack with worse than a D4; in Black Powder a natural 6 is always a hit. In C&C - unless I've missed something - a unit that has suffered casualties can easily end up unable at all to attack an enemy with a terrain advantage; certainly that's the way that we have always played it. Similarly in both the other games the concept of support or superior numbers can give an advantage to the attacker in combat, whereas in C&C it doesn't come into effect until considering the need for withdrawal because of flag rolls.

The problem is much more significant for the Russian infantry as they start with three UI; the French infantry not only start at four UI, but get a one dice bonus (regardless of strength remaining) when battling other infantry. Even without compounding terrain penalties Russians only have to lose one UI and they can no longer attack, the French would have to lose three before that applied. Of course the Russian ability to ignore a flag is a compensation for this.

It seems to me that I have quite a few options:
  1. Don't make terrain penalties cumulative.
  2. Define the town as only having a penalty of one dice.
  3. Allow all units a minimum of one dice when attacking or defending regardless of strength and terrain.
  4. Allow multiple units to attack at the same time (this is a big change and I suspect the law of unintended consequences would come into play).
  5. Give units a bonus of, say, one dice for supporting units (presumably those that aren't battling themselves in this turn).
  6. Consolidate Russian units into fewer of greater strength.
  7. Invent a rule allowing consolidation of weakened units during the game (I have thought about this before. The ambiguity of scale in C&C and definition of exactly what a unit represents means that perhaps one shouldn't take the word 'consolidate'; too literally; it's more an abstract representation of continuing capability).
  8. Change the layout of the village terrain to allow some attacking on the flat. 
The minimum one dice option would also address the rare, but possible, situations where a unit could potentially be attacked in the certain knowledge that it would not be able to respond even if it survived.

Friday, 2 February 2018

No dice

"It is the nature of every person to err, but only the fool perseveres in error" - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Did anyone else spot the flaw in the C&C scenario I published the other day? Consider the problems a 3 stand Russian infantry unit (rolling three dice in melee) might have when attacking uphill (minus one dice) against a town (minus two dice). It could be a frustrating night for one of the players.

Back to the drawing board.

While I'm pondering that issue, here's some music from No Dice, a band that always reminds me of late 1977 and the fight that started in the Paradise curry house, subsequently continued outside in a snowy Morley Street, and resulted in Honours Ron receiving a well deserved black eye.

Thursday, 1 February 2018


Has anyone else received an email from Google purporting to explain how effectively or otherwise one's blog is dealt with by their search engine? I didn't really understand it and, let's be honest, I don't care anyway, but one thing did rather leap out from their analysis. Virtually everyone who gets Discourses on Wargaming's url displayed in their search results is actually looking for gay porn. Your bloggist has lost 8 kg in weight over the last year and is looking pretty buff, even if he says so himself; so on balance, well done Google. However, further investigation also points to a single post from almost five years ago about an opera I went to see, Handel's misleadingly titled 'Joshua' (It's really about Othniel - yes, that Othniel), as the source of the traffic. So, today's post should start it all off again; perhaps I should get get some advertising on the site to monetise the upcoming surge in visitors.

Anyway, while I'm here let me bring you up to date on events in January that I have neglected to mention so far:

Opera: I saw Opera North's revival of 'Madama Butterfly' which was as good as I remembered. Anne Sophie Duprels was wonderful in the title role and appropriately enough kept her clothes on this time. I also saw the Royal Opera House live transmission of 'Rigoletto' which proved once again that closeups can sometimes not work to the advantage of sopranos playing much younger parts. Just to avoid charges of sexism, Michael Fabiano may also have been favoured by watching from further away. He was physically a very unconvincing starving poet in last year's 'La Boheme' and here he appeared to be wearing a costume two sizes too small. I have a good mind to email him with my own proven tips for losing weight (1).

Theatre: Speaking of broadcasts I also caught up with an encore of 'Young Marx' from the new Bridge Theatre in London. I nearly didn't bother because it had mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it and can report that it made me laugh. As did Alan Ayckbourn's 'Role Play' which easily delivered its quota of laugh out loud moments and featured some fairly authentic sounding East London accents. Less convincing was 'You're Only Young Twice' which, whilst well performed and mildly amusing in places, seemed to have very little connection to real life or real people.

Gigs: I've written about a couple of these already. The other one that I will mention is Henry Parker, a very good localish (Bingley I think) guitarist in the Davey Graham fingerstyle mode. I'd seen him before and on this occasion was able to buy a live album of a performance at which I was present in the audience; the third such that I own.

I didn't get to ride on the cherry picker and the roof still leaks, albeit not as badly as before.

(1) Diet and exercise; controversial I know, but there it is.