Thursday, 27 October 2011

Count your blessings

That last post was a bit of a moan, really. On balance whilst everything in it is true I probably shouldn’t complain about my lot. I may be spending more time chasing round after my parents than I’d ideally like, but at least I’ve still got both of them so unlike a wargaming friend who was going through the same decision making process I haven’t had to deal with a bereavement part way through the process.

And what’s more Miss T has sorted out her flat rental so we’ll all be off helping her move in over the weekend. Whilst we’ll miss her (she plays a very aggressive and devious game of “Ankh-Morpork” and introduced us to the wonderful “Big Bang Theory” amongst other things) it’s a very proud moment for any parent when their children finally strike out on their own in their first job & first grown up accommodation.

So, really I mustn’t grumble. Sure there’s lots I want to do, but if I finish it all I’ll only just come up with a load more to do as well, and the only person holding me to a timetable is me, so there’s no reason to stress myself out over it all.

You just have to sort what you do out to fit in with the time available. At the moment I don’t have the time to write new rules or put together clever scenarios. All this means for the moment is that we’ll just have to play DBA or similar on Thursday evening until the current issues are resolved.

That does mean that the painting schedule has slipped, and I regret to say that one of the local group may be getting close to guessing what it is. Still, I’ll keep posting the clues as I paint them and block him from commenting on the blog (only joking!)

Anyway, as I said above, Count Your Blessings.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Slight Distractions

You may have guessed from my last post that I haven’t had a lot of chances to do much on the wargaming side of things recently. Total wargaming output in the last week would be:

1)      One playtest game of “Fugitive!” – a partisan hunting PBI scenario now contained in the latest Peter Pig newsletter.
2)      Three Gothic cavalry completed (ie not even painted from scratch, - just highlighted, varnished and based)
3)      Miliput saddles put on 7 cavalry figures for the mystery army because the riders don’t fit.
4)      6 pages of an Osprey book read.

Apart from the game which took an evening I should think the rest is barely 3 hours of activity.

I shouldn’t really grumble, - the whole point of the blog was to highlight the sort of things that get in your way when you’re a grown-up trying to pursue a hobby best suited to teenagers and students with lots of time on their hands.

So in theory I have a lot of material to write up, only there’s not much time available for that either. I’m sort of trapped in the grown-up wargaming blogger world of older parents that sits behind and haunts bloggers more popular than me. Bob Cordery over at “Wargames Miscellany” has been chronicling the trials and tribulations of finding bungalows, homes and warden care for a while on and off now. Since the summer he’s at least been retired himself which makes more time available for solving these issues rather than trying to resolve them all in the evening and at weekends when the appropriate services mostly don’t work. For those of you out there who have parents approaching retirement my advice is that it is never to early to start planning things such as Powers of Attorney or sorting out clutter. I’ve just shredded 5 years worth of unfiled utility bills my father had accumulated in a bedside cabinet.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. Sorting out (with the able support of Mrs T & Miss T) interim respite care arrangements for my father and trying to work out if my mother can stay in the family home. When we say “interim” or “respite” what we mean is care until we all accept the inevitability of where we are.

After all we’ve gone out and bought a TV for his room in the care home, and arranged for his favourite chair to be disassembled and moved. Doesn’t sound very interim, does it?

And because I have the job in Finance I’ve been building spreadsheets with savings and pensions going in one end and care home costs we can afford coming out of the other. On top of that there’s the social workers* to deal with that mean taking a half day holiday to sit with my mother whilst she signs a pile of forms.

When we’ve got this done we’ll then have to sell my Father’s car, as it is unlikely he’ll drive again and as an asset it’s just deteriorating on the drive way. All of this involves a 50 mile, 90 minute round trip on country lanes just as the nights are getting dark after a full day in the office.

Having read that back it all sounds like a tremendous whinge, and I will now reflect on how lucky I am to have both of my parents alive and in their late 80s, and both still compos mentis, thankfully, and able to make decision.

What has thrown me particularly is that I was expecting to be very busy helping Miss T move to the South Coast to take up her new job and move into her new flat. Now what I was expecting to be a major commitment of weekend time is being squeezed into odd corners.

Where will it all end? I can’t say, but on the evidence of it so far it isn’t going to end up with a finished army in time for my annual SoA championship game with Phil.

*In fairness I’ve had to deal with two social workers over this. One was good and the other was excellent. This may have come as a shock to my parents who read the Daily Mail.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Off Topic

This isn't a wargaming blog, but stick with it if you want to improve your street cred.

As some of you may know Master T is a music journalist. He sometimes gives me stuff and tells me I'll probably like it. Sometimes he really gets it right. One of his best tips ever was a band called Tellison, - an indie 5 piece guitar band that writes catchy tunes with clever lyrics. 5 young people who are good at what they do and love it too. There's none of that "X factor" rubbish, - these guys should be really big if there was any justice in the world.

I downloaded the latest album "The Wages of Fear" when it was released and have played it to death in the car. This Thursday Tellison played in a local venue, so I convinced a number of people at work to join me for the evening to see if they cut it live.

The venue was the Underground bar in the Roadmender Centre in Northampton. It has a ceiling barely 8 foot high and packed tight it'd be bad news if 250 people turned up. I haven't been in such a venue since I was a student 30 years ago.

I loved it. The beer was rubbish, it was too hot. I was the oldest guy in the room by a long shot, and I didn't care. The band were terrific, playing tunes they wrote themselves on instruments they play themselves. They deserve to be big, - download the album and help them out.

So check them out. I particularly enjoyed the video for Say Silence (Heaven & Earth) which you can see on You Tube, which features the guys apparently blowing up Dungeness Power Station, but the one for Edith on the website is fun too.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Paint from the Past

Just painting some more cavalry like the last batch, and I decided one of them looked a bit regal so I did his saddle cloth in purple.

Which isn't anything remarkable except as I was putting the lid back on the pot I realised this must be the oldest pot of paint I've got.

And it's not just a little old. It is really old.

It's a pot of Matt 5042 Violet Purple. I think I bought it from a shop called Joto in Rugby, which is just across the road from the School (you know the Webb-Ellis-Tom-Brown-Harry-Flashman-A-Bit-of Buggery-Never-Did-Me-Any-Harm school). If I did that means it was probably bought around about 1982 or even earlier.

Strangely enough there's no history of Humbrol acrylic paint pots posted on the internet anywhere, so I can't date it that accurately. I know it was bought to paint some fantasy stuff, and I haven't really done that much since leaving University. It is still half full. There isn't much call for purple on historical figures.

The miracle is that even if I'm a bit out on the timings it's well over 10 years old. Why does it keep going on when other pots seem to dry out overnight?

Answers on a postcard, as ever. Plus any info on the history of humbrol paint pots gratefully received.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Can you tell what it is yet? (2)

Here's the next set of figures in the mystery army  (for the start of this excitement and the original clues as to what's going on see: Can you tell.... ).

There's only one element of them instead of the usual two needed for an Armati heavy cavalry unit as I've cut back on the numbers with the aim of finishing a DBA army on the way to the complete Armati set up. And they seem to have taken and age to paint.

The delay in their production has been two fold. Firstly serious bouts of Real Life have piled in on me, - my parents are getting on and we have reached a can't-really-live-at-home-don't-want-to-move stage, so there's hospitals and social workers involved. Plus there's lots of exciting stuff going on at work. And Miss T has found a flat near her new job (which is miles away) so she is preparing to move out.

The other reason is the change in painting style. These are done with a white undercoat and highlighting and a mix of magic dip varnish, inks and clear varnish to finish them off.

I'm not convinced my eyes are up to this (more Real Life - had to go to the opticians for an eye test today. I now get free tests and a discount on my lenses on account of medical history and the fact I can't see across a matchbox, let alone a room). Plus it is more fiddly to do as there's more layers to be done than compared to the Trebian method. On the other hand I can't argue that the colours are brighter than normal.

So, here we have some Gothic cavalry to go with the Moors. They're a nice active pose, although they are a bit big for the standard 40mm x 30mm bases, and overhang both front and back. They're a bit of an awkward pose to paint as well, once they're glued on the horse but I'm pleased with them.

So, any more guesses?

Friday, 14 October 2011

Polemos SPQR Again

The game we tried with Polemos SPQR last week was like many first games with new rules. Quite halting with flicking backwards and forwards to find out what should be going on. So entirely consistent with Black Powder and rules that I’ve written myself sometimes (it is so embarrassing when one of your players finds something you’ve written that contradicts what you’ve just said in a game).

We were sufficiently intrigued by Polemos SPQR to want a further look at it, hopefully with less flicking through the rule book, so I sat down with President Steele on Wednesday evening to give it another go. Between us (well mostly Phil) we’re familiar with a good number of ancient rules sets, - FoG, Armati, DBM, DBMM, DBA, AMW, Impetus, Conquerors & Kings and I think Piquet. That gives us a fairly wide frame of reference for thinking about how it works as a game, which allied to our deep knowledge of the period means we’re perfect to opine on the game system.

We used the Roman and German armies we tried last week (see “SPeaQeRs Corner”) with me taking the Romans and Phil the Germans. The armies have 20 bases a piece and are standard from the Polemos rule book except I don’t have any bolt throwers so I substituted some more archers.

I spiced up the battlefield by putting out a few small woods and consequently I deployed my auxilia as unformed rather than formed troops. This is a nice feature of the rules that enables you to use auxilia either as cheap legionaries or civilized irregulars.

I don’t know what came over me really, but I put auxilia in the woods on the two wings, deployed the archers on the left wing of my legions and held my cavalry back in reserve. Phil put his tribal groups in three central blocks, his skirmishers in the wood on his right and his cavalry on his left.

Being a Roman means that you get a number of advantages if you have the tempo against a tribal opponent. It makes it harder for him to move his units and you have the initiative in combat which often works in your favour. I like the real benefits in having the initiative and going first. This contrasts with my normal favoured set of rules, Armarti, where winning the initiative usually means making your opponent go first.

First move. We're using markers to indicate what units are doing
I got the “tempo” first and moved off mostly along the whole line. My use of too many points to buy the tempo meant I couldn’t move everything. Phil responded with a staggered advance as it’s a bit awkward to get everyone moving if you are an unformed army moving second as it costs you more tempo points. Phil also started his experimental idea of shifting his cavalry into the wooded area “to see what would happen”.

I won’t do a blow-by-blow account of the game, as in spite of my best efforts to take notes and photograph every turn I just got swept up in the game and forgot. Plus, as I’ve said before, I find that type of battle report quite irritating.

Polemos is an odd beast. It is definitely very big picture stuff all along the line, with simple, bold concepts. The move sequence and the tempo bidding rather means you are micro managing a macro picture which feels a bit odd. By this I mean you give a lot of thought to what you are going to do with your tempo points but all foot units moves at the same speed (same for cavalry), for example.

A few turns in. You get the picture.
In the game Phil managed to get to grips with the light troops holding up my left flank even though their shooting and skirmishing had been effective though brief. On my centre right I took the revolutionary step of charging tribal units* with my legions. As a tactic this paid dividends in the end, but it was a protracted slog that ebbed and flowed before the tribal group was finally broken.

The moment just before all my archers ran away
Having disposed of my archers it looked like the German heavy foot was through, so I threw in one of my cavalry units to hold them up, which had mixed effect. i.e. It did hold them up, but they did suffer quite badly. On my right the tangled engagement between auxilia and German cavalry was in the balance, as the auxilia on the left put in a flank charge on a tribal group and caused some serious damage. When we finished the game I was just trying to position my last reserve cavalry group to stage a desperate charge to stop my centre being flanked.

In the balance...who has the advantage?
The second game gives me an opportunity for further reflection. We may not be playing it right still, and I have a number of questions that require me to go back to the rule book when I have more time to think. The game does play differently to the mainstream games such as FoG, DBx and Armati. I had less of a problem with this than Phil who is more deeply steeped in the genre than I am. He remarked on a number of occasions that the rules don’t work in line with how things are usually done. He particularly didn’t like the way a flank attack caused a sideways recoil resulting in a unit being destroyed. The rules indicate that this is intentional and it made sense to me at the time, but I also understand Phil's point that it just isn't done.

So do I want to revise my previous view? Not really. If you want something different and you are interested in Romans & their enemies then give these a go. The turns pass quite quickly, but to my mind “fast play” really comes from familiarity with rules a lot of the time. The battles look like ancient battles, and the units lumber around how they probably would have done. There’s little opportunity for “cheesy” or “gamey” moves, whether intentionally allowed by the rules or by accident due to poorly thought out systems. The system is broad brush and it is best to go with it. As for whether they are a set of rules purpose designed for 6mm, well, they work fine with 15mm and I can’t see why they shouldn’t with my 20mm plastics as well.

I think I’d have to say that we are unlikely to play them a lot more as a group. As I indicated above we do play a few different sets of ancient rules already, so the appetite to learn another set is probably limited. I think that is a shame but we have other projects on the go (including finishing the SNTK/SCW re-write, producing the SCW operational system and whatever goes with the “mystery army”), so fitting them in the schedule will be a challenge.

Finally, however, I hope they find an audience as they are obviously a set of rules and a subject the writer (and Pete Berry) care about and new ideas need to be aired from time to time. A lot of the conventions in modern rule sets were revolutionary once. Go on, club together with your mates and buy a copy or two.

*NB Polemos doesn’t do “warband”

Monday, 10 October 2011

SPeaQeRs Corner

The thing about being an internationally famous blogger with a massive following is that not only does everybody hang on your every word but you also have people give you loads of free stuff.

Or so I’ve heard. Until that happens I’ll just have to put up with Pete Berry of Baccus letting me have the odd thing to look at. At Derby he handed me a copy of “Polemos SPQR” the recently published version of Polemos written to cover wars fought between classical period Romans and their various enemies and of course themselves with a request that I review it for him. I expect he wanted me to put something in Slingshot, which I will do, but the blog allows for almost instant gratification.

This version of Polemos is written by David Headings, who is a co-author of the ECW version, so this is his first solo flight. My experience of Polemos prior to now was limited to the first edition of the ECW rules which I have to admit didn’t go well but that may have been due to the circumstances, - first game, lots of people, one rule book, umpire not knowing what was going on. So I’ve never really gone back to them as an idea in spite of the fact that they are basically Pete Berry’s biggest rules idea since “File Leader”, and I am a fan of “File Leader”.

So I took the book and read it through. In a way it is difficult to know what Baccus think they’re trying to do here. They’ve published a set of rules into a period that is already crowded and in which the established model is to produce rules that cover every war post stone age and pre gunpowder. These cover a restricted period, - probably 300 years at most, and don't cover all the ranges they make. They don't even cover the Punic Wars. No one does that sort of thing anymore, if they ever really did. However this is probably another way of Baccus setting itself slightly apart from the mainstream as its unique selling point. Plus you might actually get a set of rules with some period flavour. After all Baccus publish separate rules for the Great Northern War and the War of Spanish Succession. Best of luck to them all I say.

The rules are cussedly set against conventional rules in other ways. There's no points system, no army lists. The idea seems to be that armies are generated randomly within set parameters. The rules are mostly clear, with good examples, and mostly free of legalese. They also avoid the bloke-iness of Black Powder that wastes space and achieves very little.

So we set up last Friday and tried a game of Romans v Germans. First up everyone had a good time and agreed that the game looked like an ancient battle and certainly had a coherent ebb and flow with thankfully little obsession over small details that bedevil other rule sets. We had a few head scratching moments whilst I flicked backwards and forwards through our only rulebook looking for answers that may not be there. After all we're used to FoG and Armati where you get a lot of rules covering everything and the answer is in there somewhere.

Polemous as a system is different and does play in a different way to most other sets. Some bits of other systems are probably buried in there, but they are mostly original. A complete wargames newcomer with no preconceptions would probably not struggle where we did. Existing fans of Polemos will probably have no issues at all. If you're not familiar with the system then there's a few things to draw to your attention:

Tempo: Control of who goes first ("controls the Tempo") is key to the game. Players have a number of control  or Tempo points each turn. These are used to issue commands and also to determine who goes first. Players make bids to control the turn and these bids reduce their pool of points to make units do things. However, once a unit or group of units is given orders it does what it has been ordered  to do until you give it orders to stop. This gets round the DBA PIP issue where units just stop in the middle of the battlefield completely at random when you roll a one. There's an elegance to the sytem that is quite appealing. The way Tempo points have to be spent force units into certain unit formations and groups and limits their course of action whilst not hamstringing them completely. Ingenious.

Charges: Charging is treated as a type of ranged combat, - ie it is dealt with in the same phase as shooting - as it affects the target from a distance before you get to hand to hand combat.

Base Sizes: Movement is determined in terms of Base Width (BW) & Base Depth (BD) so as long as your stuff is based up consistently it'll work with these. We used 15mm figues on 40mm wide bases and it worked fine.

The rules are sometimes imprecise when describing how things work differently with units, bases and groups (two of these are the same thing, and one is not) so they'll never be used for competitions in their current format but that doesn't bother me.

Last point is on the layout and style. The examples in the rules are very clear, with straight forward diagrams and explanations. They have the obligatory colour photo section, but at least they show figures being used in the game and aren't gratuitous eye candy. They are clearly set out with a good contents list and clear headings so you can find stuff dfairly easily. They retail for £15, which is about par for the course for this size and style of rules.

In all honestly I would not have bought these rules myself, so I'm grateful for the chance to give them a run through. We're intending to have another go on Wednesady, so I'm clealrly favourably impressed. They're definately an interesting alternative to a lot of what is out there, and I'd suggest if you want something a bit different you give these a go.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Spanish Holiday

A picture of the cover, just not the one I own
A while ago I wrote that I had acquired a number of more contemporary books on the Spanish Civil War. One of these was a translation of Andre Malraux's novel "L'espoir", which was published in 1938. In Anglo-Saxon cultures it is much less well known than Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", which was published two years later which to my mind is our loss, both as a culture and as wargamers.

I became aware of Malraux through French Literature A Level as I had to study "La Condition Humaine", his novel about the Chinese Revolution. The difference between the two novels is that Malraux was actually in Spain at the time of the events described.

My translation dates from 1938 and is called "Day's of Hope", so like the novel itself dates from before the end of the war. There is another translation called "Man's Hope", which you may find as a pair with a translation of "La Condition Humaine" called "Man's Estate". The translation I have was obviously done very quickly as it was published almost contemporarily with the French original so some of the phrasing is a bit clunky as it follows the French sentence construction in places.

I may have written elsewhere that I'm not a fan of Hemingway and his novel is of limited use to the wargamer or anyone interested in what actually happened in the war (ie what was it actually like for the people who took part). Neither of those is true of Malraux.

The novel mostly tracks the experiences of a group of airmen in an international volunteer unit (presumably based upon the unit formed by Malraux), but it weaves in the experiences of those in  the militias and also of a young Communist who rises from the ranks to become a colonel and brigade commander. Various other colourful characters appear along the way, - anarchist "leaders" and traditional officers who end up fighting for the Republic.

The book starts with phone reports of Franco's rising, covers the failed attempt to stage the coup in Barcelona and ends up with the Battle of Guadalajara. As such it ends on an uplifting note with the prospect that the Republic might win.

There's lots of little details in the book you might not get elsewhere, - from the way the militias look to the way they and other units fight. There's a lot about conducting bombing raids which will be of interest to those of you who are interested in those sorts of things. Overall, whilst fiction, the book has an air of verisimilitude.

One word of warning, - the book is very "gallic". Characters sit around and discuss philosophy and the human condition a lot and that may not be to everyone's tastes, and I suppose you could easily skip those passages. Internal monologues agonise over the choices of the central players as the go on with their lives or stumble inevitably to their deaths. It is very much of its time.

However I would recommend it to anyone not familiar with Malraux and wants to read about what are in many way personal reminiscences written by someone who could write and clearly cares about the fight against fascism. Find some time in your schedule to read it, - there are plenty of copies for next to nothing on Abebooks or Amazon.

Friday, 7 October 2011

DBAnd I think I’ve lost count

Boy’s night in as Mrs T & Miss T are off to find the latter a flat for when she starts her new job. In the old days we’d probably have got the beer in and had a high old time. Nowadays for those of us who live in villages no one drinks & drives so it was coffee and tea instead of beer and pretzels.

Firstly, however, I had to dash off to sort out some domestics for my parents. My father is in hospital (again) because of repeated falls and we’re trying to work with two teams of social workers as well as doctors to work out what is to be done. That did mean that instead of the gourmet meal I was going to cook for myself I ended up dashing into the local chippy for fish, chips & mushy peas (it must be said the mushy peas were a great disappointment being more runny than mushy).

However the time saved on cooking meant that I had just enough time to clear the dining room table and get the soldier boxes in so there was enough space and figures to play two games simultaneously.

Whilst waiting for the players I sorted out a couple of Wars of the Roses armies as one of our group wanted to see how that would work. Will turned up first so we set to with those. We struggled at first as they’re very similar armies and also despite DBA v2.2 being one of the most successful and commonly used sets of rules ever neither of us is a master of them. Now this was the first of four or five games I played in the evening and in all of the excitement I kind of lost track myself, so I can’t remember if I won or lost it. I think I lost it in very unlucky circumstances. Well you can usually say that about DBA, although as one of the group pointed out, for a game that is so completely based on luck isn’t it funny how the same players win repeatedly.

We were using the army list from the Fanaticus website, home of all things DBAish, which prevents you using loads of knights but overdoses on long bows. We also got the PIP cost for moving artillery wrong. That subsequently became a battle winning weapon.

As that game stuttered along our other two players turned up and had a go with those Arab armies I talked about last time I discussed DBA games. On this occasion the Arabs I used won as opposed to suffering the crushing defeat I went down to, thus proving that it is all about luck. Except when I played I lost to someone I’ve never beaten at DBA, so perhaps they know what they’re doing. As their game ran on Will & I turned to some Romans v Germans. The tightly drilled stomp of hobnailed sandals against the wild battle charge of the semi-naked is always a thrill. Will took the Romans, because he usually does, leaving me with the Germans.

Now I won this game comfortably, in no little consequence of doing a couple of 6 v 1 combat dice rolls. However, I will claim this as a triumph of my intended tactics. Warbands need to be deployed deep to stand a chance against those Legionary blades and to go for the “quick kill”. But that makes the army brittle if they lose the combat as they lose two elements if the front one breaks.

However, the quick kill strategy is the only one if you want to win, but that means you end up deploying fairly narrowly exposing your flanks. My strategy was therefore to engage in the middle asap whilst using what non-warband troops I had to fight slightly forward on the flanks and delay the inevitable encirclement until I’d broken the legions. That meant I didn’t mind losing my cavalry & psiloi if I could get myself stuck into the cohorts.

As a plan it worked out fairly well, topped off by some dynamic die rolling. I was quite pleased with this as Will, whilst not being a DBA regular, is a Roman specialist.

Of course he put it all down to luck, so this being DBA we had enough time to turn the armies round and have another go (meanwhile our two friends are still floundering around in the desert).

So for the rematch I guessed that my opponent would try similar tactics. I therefore sat back deep with my line of legionaries and used my cavalry and psiloi to force the flanks and create an envelopment before moving up and engaging the warbands with overlaps all round. This worked a treat. Will remarked that he’d never seen anyone just not move a DBA army during a game, but I think he missed what I was trying to do, so again I “lucked out” on a win.

There may be another game or two in there, but I remember finishing off with a Wars of the Roses game using the original army list from DBA v1 against Phil. We sort of both went for the Blore Heath/Bosworth option with some mounted knights that in the end became my downfall.

I’d done quite well dragging Phil’s right wing out of position by some wide flanking knights who got me a kill or two as well. My artillery misfired badly, but I managed to get out at Phil’s left flank as well before committing suicide by charging my general and his knightly bodyguard into some longbows. I’d misread the factor table (should have charged the billmen “blades”) and also the results (bows quick kill knights in the first round). Silly me.

So we finished up before midnight, just, having had a few run throughs with a variety of armies. I still don’t find DBA intuitive to play and I obviously need to pay more attention to the detail of the rules. Or at least try to understand Mr Barker’s thinking on ancient warfare.