Friday, 31 August 2018

Tonight, Matthew, I am going to be W.H. Auden

And so to the theatre. I have been to see 'The Habit of Art' by the very much alive, alive, oh, Alan Bennett. This production features David Yelland and Matthew Kelly. You may recognise the former as an actor (he was the Prince of Wales in 'Chariots of Fire' - the Nazi sympathising one, not the chap who speaks to plants) more than you do the latter. However though Kelly is perhaps best known for lowbrow television that was always by way of a diversion from his career on stage (*). He trained with Richard Griffiths, much esteemed by this blog and a frequent actor in Bennett's plays and films, indeed he was the originator of the part played here by Kelly.

The play is, of course, very funny and very clever; certainly too clever for me to be able to give much insight in to what it's really about, beyond the imaginary meeting portrayed between Auden and Britten in Oxford some thirty years after they fell out and stopped speaking to each other. The nuances of gay identity examined are somewhat beyond me, although I did get the impression that Bennett is more sympathetic to Auden's more straightforward approach to trade than to Britten's penchant for young boys. There was some discussion of 'Death in Venice' (astonishingly Thomas Mann turned out to be Auden's father in law; much of the surprise obviously coming from the idea of him having been married in the first place) and the judgement on the composer's intention was somewhat harsher than mine. Bennett also finds time, via a play within the play, to poke fun at actors. This mise en abyme - in which the fictitious meeting takes place - is called 'Caliban's Day' reflecting Auden's apparent view that the end of 'The Tempest' could have been improved. Interestingly the way that Bennett chooses to end his play is with what is essentially a quote from Macbeth.

I know it's from Macbeth because I've just seen that as well. I saw the remaining three plays at the pop-up Shakespeare's Rose in York. As well as the Scottish play these were A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo & Juliet. I and the elder Miss Epictetus, on holiday from university at the moment, rather enjoyed them all, although the critical reaction elsewhere was mixed. The place didn't have as much atmosphere as the Globe, but I rather enjoy standing up to watch Shakespeare. If I have criticism it would be that they staged the full version of each play; there is undoubtedly a good reason why an edited text is normally used.

(*) I had only seen him once before, giving his Malvolio to an audience that seemed to consist entirely of me and several hundred convent schoolgirls. It was disconcerting even for someone of my experience and sang froid, but at least I didn't have to queue for the toilet during the interval.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Murad 1 Hunyadi 0

Peter and I had a play through the Varna scenario which has been set up in the annexe for the last couple of weeks. Naturally I hadn't got round to having a solo run through - although I had made a Janos Hunyadi command stand, and a one for King Vladislav while I was at it - but in all worked fairly well. As usual it would have worked even better had we played the rules correctly, but you can't have everything. Amongst the other things that we can't have this week are photographs because I didn't take any. Normally when we play at the Casa Epictetus I umpire, which gives me plenty of opportunity to take some, but on this occasion a a player I couldn't find the time, or find the camera, or something.

It all panned out fairly historically with Vladislav charging the Ottoman fortifications, almost getting across the barricades, but ultimately dying to no effect. I thought it might be a bit one sided as a game, but the crusaders were well-placed for much of the game. The king's demise, which meant the centre was permanently out of command, was really the turning point. Having weathered the storm the janissaries eventually advanced out of their camp and dealt the coup de grace. If I have one regret a the Christian commander it's that I didn't move the wagenburg across earlier to provide cover for the crumbling Wallachians on my left flank to hide behind.

Let's focus on the things that seemed to work:

  • The mechanism for causing Vladislav and the Papal Legate to be liable to move forward impetuously.
  • Classing jannisaries as legionaries in TtS! terms.
  • The markers behind each unit showing commands they belonged to; the reminders of saving throws were useful as well.
  • The new tokens; you can easily see what number they are, they are very unlikely to be overlooked when putting them back in the bag and they don't stick together.
All in all I thought it was a good scenario and I may well get it back on the table again sometime.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Ilkley, the movie

Readership of this blog has fallen to an all time low (and many thanks to both of you for persevering) which may be why no one has asked any questions about the film entitled 'Ilkley' that is being made in Ilkley and is apparently about, amongst other things, Ilkley.

Reading the programme for the upcoming Ilkley Literature Festival (no surprises that there is a session on J.B. Priestley or that I intend to go) reminded me that the film is supposedly set at the event and made me wonder if they would be shooting at any of the sessions. It turns out that they shot it in February and March and that it is currently in post-production. One can only assume that they are using CGI to add in the vast crowds who will soon flock to the Kings Hall, the Clarke-Foley centre, the Ilkley Playhouse etc etc and who weren't there earlier in the year. In fact if the dates I've seen for location shooting are correct viewers will leave the cinema with impression that there is always several feet of snow in Ilkley in late September.

As well as starring Sir Derek Jacobi, as mentioned in my previous post on the subject, it also features Roger Allam and Anna Maxwell Martin. She at least actually comes from Yorkshire; we shall have to reserve judgement on the others' accents until we hear them.

Still no news of toy soldier content, but it's not looking very promising.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Gong, but not forgotten

Mentioning the inhabitants of Planet Gong yesterday made me realise that I had unaccountably never posted any of their music on the blog. I only saw them once - in Freshers Week; god only knows who thought that was a good idea - and was too drunk to remember anything much about it. According to the Guardian they were not just silly, but 'could groove like mothers', so here they are. For the record the opening to this video is eerily similar to the way in which we commence an evening's gaming in the legendary wargames room of James 'Olicanalad' Roach.

Don't you think the lead singer looks as if he's throwing dice? I'm going to suggest that we get hats like that for conventions. It would be one up on those chaps who wear mess uniforms while refighting the Zulu war, and instead of drinking red wine like them we could drop acid. Just a thought.

I'm off to track down a copy of 'Live in Sherwood Forest'.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

La Princesse Jaune

"There is nothing more difficult than talking about music." - Camille Saint-Saëns

And so to the opera. Taking Camille at his word I won't try to describe the music of his opera 'The Yellow Princess' - although I liked it - but I must say something about the story. When I arrived the young lady on the door confided to me as she took my ticket that "it's very odd". She did not lie.

In one sense it's a straightforward plot: a Dutch girl named Lena is in love with a Dutch boy named Kornelis; Kornelis for his part loves a picture of a fictional Japanese princess named Ming, as you do. Lena realises that the object of her affections is a bit of a dick and stomps off in disgust. Kornelis decides the only thing for it is to take some mind-altering drugs, resulting in a hallucinogenic trip. Lena reappears, at which point he declares his love for her. She's not stupid and after pointing out that, being off with the fairies, he is confusing her with the imaginary Ming she stomps off for a second time. He sings a lot of nonsense including some stuff about a gong (probably not the French prog rock band, although in many ways it would be fitting if it were), and then threatens to kill himself while reflectively stroking his hipster beard (*). At this point the audience are all nodding in agreement that this would definitely be for the best, when blow me but Lena reappears and proves that she is actually stupid after all by saying she'll have him despite everything and they walk off hand in hand. Operas usually end badly for the soprano, and I'd say this one doesn't buck the trend.

The music was nice though.

(*) It's possible that the beard is just in this production and didn't form part of the composer's vision.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Chung Ling Soo

And so to the opera. I have been to see 'The Original Chinese Conjuror' by Raymond Yiu who, along with librettist Lee Warren, was at the performance, which formed part of this year's Left Bank Opera Festival.

Just to be clear, the protagonist of the opera is the not very Chinese at all chap lurking at the back of the photo. The story is that of Chung Ling Soo, real name William Robinson, an American of Scottish descent whose masquerade as a Chinese magician lasted for almost two decades without exposure (to the public at least), until he literally died on stage, and forgot himself sufficiently to expire in English. His father had been a blackface minstrel, and one could imagine all sorts of complex psychological reasons for why the family had a compulsion to impersonate other races; on the other hand perhaps they did it for the money.

I really enjoyed the piece, which musically was an effective mixture of the styles of Kurt Weill and Benjamin Britten. And despite sitting rather close to the front I was still unable to work out how the handkerchief turned into a rose and the rose into a walking stick, let alone how he managed to sing in tune at the same time. The ending contrived to be very moving despite the fact that we all knew what was going to happen, and also that the man firing the gun for the don't-try-this-at-home catching-a-bullet-in-your-teeth finale had clearly never seen a rifle before in his life.

There's an interesting discussion of the opera's inaugural production at the 2006 Aldeburgh Festival to be found here.

Thursday, 23 August 2018


Wargaming has been almost as rare a blogging about it, or indeed blogging about anything. (Don't worry though; there's an opera festival in Leeds this weekend.) We did however play a game last week sometime, a second run through of the first game with James' new Peninsular War figures. James has written about it here and Mark here, so I won't say anything except perhaps to point out that I was robbed.

I will say something about the rules though. The previous week we had been somewhat rusty and, while I would not be prepared to put my hand on my heart and say that we had got things completely correct this time, we are clearly moving in the right direction. As with all rules we came across certain things that look peculiar, at least the way that we played them.

James mentions in his blog that the Break Test table seems to omit certain period specific circumstances, which was easily enough resolved. There also seems to be an oddity surrounding defending buildings, which I know I will have trouble expressing in clear terms, but let's have a go anyway. There is - at least in our interpretation - a marked difference in the likelihood of success when defending a town section from an attack from the open compared to defending it from attack from an adjacent town section. The extent of this difference seems to grow exponentially as the size of the defending unit decreases; it is not clear that this is a deliberate design feature. We had a brief correspondence on the subject subsequent to the game and I found myself resorting to the higher mathematics to make my point, which is never ideal for anyone involved.

My main dislike was the cavalry breakthrough charge. This wasn't so much with the concept - lot of rules have it - but with the fact that, if we are doing it as we should be, the rules are written such that there is actually an advantage to the cavalry unit from being on their second round of melee rather than their first. I have to say that isn't an especially intuitive approach.

Perhaps these things will be addressed in the forthcoming second edition, which will hopefully be somewhat more clearly laid out.

Monday, 20 August 2018

As I Walked Out

I have been for a few days walking in the Cotswolds:

The River Severn in the distance

When one stays in a hotel on a Saturday in the UK there is always the possibility of sharing it with a wedding party, which will inevitably be loud, drunk and raucous. On this occasion our fellow guests turned out to be a submariners' reunion, and they were loud, drunk and raucous. Being the Royal Navy there were plenty of beards, tattoos and hip flasks full of rum. And that was just the wives.

A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018


A sadly postponed visit to an exhibition about Noggin the Nog (would I lie to you?) left some unexpected free time which was utilised by having a first pass at setting up Varna. My information about the battle came mostly from the Freezywater publication on Janos Hunyadi, written by Bob Black and available from the Lance & Longbow Society, and from the Warhammer Historical book Vlad the Impaler by John Bianchi, which I suspect is out of print. A lot of online references to the battle seem to be of the lunatic, right-wing, alternate history type, but I thought this blog post from Dalauppror was very useful.

Janos Hunyadi puts himself about

The battle has some resemblances to a couple we have played in the legendary wargames room over the years. Firstly, it occurred during a crusade and, just like their predecessors three centuries earlier, the crusader commanders seem to have been totally inept at manoeuvring their armies.  On November 10th, 1444 they found themselves with their backs to the Black Sea, Lake Varda on their left flank and the impassable Franken Hills blocking the way to their right. The only way home was straight ahead, which was why the Ottomans had placed their army there and built a fortified camp. Secondly, at one point Sultan Murad II was apparently on the verge of doing a Frederick and making a run for it leaving his army behind; unlike the Prussian flautist he stayed put and, perhaps as a result, never became 'the Great'.

The view from the Franken Hills

Having quoted my sources - such as they are - I had better say that I have discounted much of what they write. I take the view that the forces were fairly evenly balanced, with the crusaders claim of being outnumbered three, or even five, to one being by way of an excuse for losing. I also don't believe the assertion in Bianchi's book that Vlad Dracul (the Impaler's father) commanded the Wallachians.

Murad's camp

The letters behind each unit are there to distinguish commands, while the numbers represent the base saving throw of the unit. White beads indicate lances, green beads are heroes, and in due course red beads will be hits. I may, or as so often may not, have a play through solo to see what happens, but there will certainly be a couple of changes. At the moment Zizka is standing in for Hunyadi, but Black's book has a Hunyadi standard and I have a mountain of unpainted plastic so I shall knock out a command stand for him. I also need a couple more stands of horse archers. Apart from that - and as long as one can cope with WotR hobilars as Wallachian light horse - we're good to go.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Explotar el puente

We entered a new era of wargaming - or at least a new theatre - last night when James' long awaited (long, long, long awaited) Peninsular War forces took to the table for the first time. Peter and I had no advance warning of this nor, more pertinently, that we would be playing Black Powder. I'm pretty sure that it was the first time this year that we had played them, and a certain rustiness showed through. James had obviously studied the Napoleonic elements in particular (skirmishers, squares, columns of attack etc), but I think we realised fairly early on that he was in the same boat as us when he tried to slip in a rule that clearly came from Blitzkrieg Commander.

The figures are, naturally, wonderfully painted. They have appeared a number of times already on his blog and I believe that he is intending to put up some more photos following this game. Speaking of which, I think what happened last night best described as exploratory. The rather abstract way that skirmishers are dealt with is much to my taste, but took a bit of getting one's head around. I think we all agreed that riflemen were too much of a super unit (I took out a whole regiment of hussars from great distance with one small group of them) and the next step is to try to incorporate their effect into general skirmish fire rather than having them represented separately. All those years ago when I started wargaming I was at the hyper-realist, rivet counting end of the spectrum; now I lean to as abstract as possible while retaining an acceptable level of recognisable period flavour.

For the record the game, a version of that old favourite the blow the bridge scenario, was not going the way of the British when we called it a night, but I think we had all gained a better understanding of the appropriate Black Powder Napoleonic tactics, not to mention reminding ourselves how the core rules work in the first place.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018


“O Life,
How oft we throw it off and think, - 'Enough,
Enough of life in so much! - here's a cause
For rupture; - herein we must break with Life,
Or be ourselves unworthy; here we are wronged,
Maimed, spoiled for aspiration: farewell Life!'
- And so, as froward babes, we hide our eyes
And think all ended. - Then, Life calls to us
In some transformed, apocryphal, new voice,
Above us, or below us, or around . .
Perhaps we name it Nature's voice, or Love's,
Tricking ourselves, because we are more ashamed
To own our compensations than our griefs:
Still, Life's voice! - still, we make our peace with Life.” 

           -  Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Blood markers

"I learned to play the instruments of war, and paint in blood." - Cassandra Clare

There has been a bit of a conversation between the Don and me about Bill Boorer, which I wouldn't bother with unless you are especially keen to know who said what to whom in our home town forty years ago. Indeed possibly the most interesting thing about it is that he spells the name of the place as one word, whereas I have always favoured two.

However, it reminds me to tell you what happened to the print of a Strike Wing attack that I bought. You will recall that when it arrived it was clearly too large to fit comfortably in the annexe. Having been framed - at great expense - it has been sitting propped up in my living room. After staring at it for a while I have come to the conclusion that it is too large to fit in any sort of aesthetically pleasing way in the house itself. It has therefore, physical constraints notwithstanding, been hung in the annexe after all. I have no doubt that it will feature in due course in photos, looming out of scale over the tabletop. It has subsequently been joined on the wall by a thankfully smaller picture to provide a bit of balance. The only thing the two have in common is they both relate to periods that I don't actually game; perhaps that's the start of a theme.

The recent outbreak of modelling continues, but hasn't progressed beyond making markers and game aids. Still, one can never have enough of those and so I thought I would make some bead-carrying pins of the type often seen in photos on James' blog. Not only did this involve once again struggling with the lightweight filler, but also the use of superglue. Regular readers will know that for some reason I have never been particularly competent with the stuff; indeed I mainly use the UV hardened alternative instead these days. In this case I thought that the assembly line type process involved meant that superglue was more suitable, but still wasn't surprised when I found a piece in progress attached to my hand. I was somewhat more disconcerted to find that it wasn't because of a chemical bond forming between skin and copper, but rather because I had impaled myself on a carpet tack. By the time these things get used they will have been covered with acrylic burnt umber, but for now one of them is a tasteful reddish-brown.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Sharpie's Triumph

I forgot that I had taken some photos of the Malesov game, so here's one at random:

Spot the drunken hero

James' suggestion - and I know that you have been waiting for it - is to allocate the Victory Medals unevenly, with the warwagons getting the bulk. In order to win therefore the Imperialists will be forced to attack the wagenburg directly; historically accurate and tactically foolish. The sensible thing for me to do would be to try the idea out immediately, but naturally I won't; Varna is a different sort of battle.

One of the practical problems we encountered was the tokens sticking together in the bag as they were being drawn. This is no reflection on Warbases, but is rather due to a dodgy bottle of varnish that I had, which I applied after painting the backs to differentiate the various sets. I have therefore decided to try a different solution, namely Scrabble type plastic tiles:

As you can see the set includes a couple of symbols. I have some plans to use those for some scenario specific rules. The sixes and nines are distinguishable, but not easily without standing them side by side. Here's one bag's worth after judicious application of Sharpie pen.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Hope was but a timid friend

Not that you would know from either James' blog or mine, but there has actually been some wargaming in the Lower Wharfe Valley. Two games in fact, very different in most ways, but what they shared was an eventual winner who had basically given up about two thirds of the way through and only carried on because there was plenty of time left.

The first was the blow the bridge scenario that we had played in the legendary wargames room two or three times a couple of years ago, and a very good game it gives. I was the Russians seeking to prevent said bridge being blown and, not remembering any details from the previous games, chose to bring the infantry on at the road entrance nearest to the bridge with the cavalry arriving later from one end of the table. When this was revealed there was much shaking of heads and sucking of teeth from Peter and James, with the strong consensus being that I'd got it all wrong. As it happens the gods of Piquet thought differently, because in the morale draw at the beginning I drew a Brilliant Leader card plus a Stratagem, which turned out to be basically another Brilliant Leader card for one command. The net effect was that that one infantry command stormed across the table and would actually have seized the bridge had I focussed on the important stuff rather than moving as many units as possible. If you ever play Piquet then that, dear reader, is the golden rule. The converse of having good cards in my deck was that I didn't have much morale. I failed major morale twice, ran out and actually started giving it to the Prussians. That basically means the game is over, but it was only about ten o'clock and my cavalry had just arrived so we carried on. The was nothing to do except act aggressively and damn the consequences; sure enough, from that point on it was a completely one sided affair and the Prussians fairly quickly succumbed.

The second game, in the less than legendary annexe, was the previously advertised Malesov. On this occasion the Imperialists gained an early advantage by immediately getting all their cavalry over the bridge - meant to be a bottleneck - and flanking the Hussites on both sides. With the warwagons' shooting achieving absolutely nothing, the Catholic crossbowmen advanced, fired and as luck would have it, killed Zizka himself; he not just being C-in-C, but also commander of the wagenburg. It didn't look good, but Peter - for it was he on this occasion - carried on because, well, the night was still young. And then, suddenly the wheels came off the Imperialists' caravan. They lost a couple of melees (although James did implausibly draw four tens in a row at one point), did very badly in the ensuing rout tests and, just like that, it was all over. The Hussites had won without moving anything off the table.

That last point does make me wonder about the quality of the scenario. James came up with a good sounding approach to force the crusaders to attack the warwagons front on, which of course is what they did at the time, but which no tabletop commander with any sense is going to voluntarily repeat. Details will be given in a future post along with those of one or two other changes to equipment that I am going to make to improve gameplay of TtS!. We are back to James' next week, but I think the next game in the annexe will be Varna, 1444. There are still warwagons, but it also gives me a chance to break out the Ottomans. And yes, I do have a Janissary marching band.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Malesov Redux

These are some notes regarding the scenario which has been set up in the annexe for the last month. As I think I mentioned before, one problem with playing the period is that Zizka always won, so this is less an attempt to refight the battle and more using what little is known about events to form the basis of an interesting game.

Malesov 1424

Zizka is trying to reach the castle of Malesov, which is in friendly hands, but is being pursued by Imperialist forces. He draws up his wagenburg on top of a hill and ambushes his pursuers by rolling his supply carts filled with rocks down the slope against the middle battle.

Scenario details:
·         Before the game starts the Hussites get two attempts to hit on 6+ against each unit in the ambushed battle; normal saves and rout tests apply.
·         The Imperialists move first.
·         The Hussites objective is to reach the castle, by exiting their forces off their side of the table through the road square or those either side of it (NB any units leaving the table via these squares cannot return; any units leaving the table via other squares can return as per normal rules (see p42)), while at the same time inflicting some losses on the Imperialists. In addition to gaining Victory Medals for enemy units destroyed they also gain one VM per unit leaving the table as per their objectives. Victory conditions are:
o   Hussites              20
o   Imperialists         15
·         The true cross (*) can move for free with any unit or commander in its square or it can be activated to move on its own by Zizka as per normal infantry rules except that it has no facing. It can co-exist with any number of friendly units and can interpenetrate freely. It acts otherwise as per the rules for standards (ES V6 p5) .
·         If Zizka dies or the true cross is captured then rout tests must be taken as if a unit had been lost.

War wagons:
·         Deep unit
·         Move sideways in either direction – all other moves are double difficult
·         Cannot charge or initiate melee
·         Shooting and ZOC are to the front
·         Have no flanks or rear for melee
·         Regardless of what the models show, they can fire as either handguns or field artillery (NB see ES V6 p2 rule re multiple targets) until they move and subsequently only as handguns
·         Saving throws:
o   +1 vs mounted
o   +1 vs shooting
o   -1 shot at from side or rear

·         All cavalry are lance armed (see p57)
·         Later knights may rearm (see ES V6 p4 – this will be interpreted as requiring a simple activation) once per unit

Mounted Crossbow:
·         These are mounted infantry, but the rule on p57 does not apply; instead:
·         Move as cavalry, but cannot charge or fire
·         Must attempt to evade if charged
·         Must dismount to fire (requires a difficult activation as per rule on p56) and cannot remount
·         Dismounted crossbowmen have pavises

·         River is impassable, but is no impediment to shooting
·         Normal bridge rules (p29) are designed for both rivers and bridge occupying whole squares, not marking the boundaries between squares and so do not apply; instead
o   The square either side of the bridge is normal terrain
o   Only one unit can cross the bridge on each activation i.e. no whole square or group moves; march moves are allowed
o   crossing the bridge is a difficult move
·         Defending against anyone coming across the bridge +1 to saving throw in melee

(*) I claim no great expertise in theology, but it seems pretty unlikely to me that the Hussites would have venerated relics such as the 'true cross'. However, I wanted to give them a standard to reflect their resilience and, to be honest, the true cross is all I've actually got (for those paying attention, it's  another resin model from Valdemar). While I'm on the subject of historical accuracy, I made the standards with geese on them many years ago under the impression that the Hussites used them because it was a play on words - in Czech - on Jan Huss' name. I now think it far more likely that goose was a term of abuse used by the Catholics to taunt their opponents based on the same pun. But I'm certainly not replacing all those flags, especially when this is the first time in about ten years that they have seen the light of day anyway.