Saturday, 26 June 2010

What I Have Been Doing

In the run up to CoW there's all sorts of odds and ends to sort out in addition to normal tasks and other Real Life things.

So, this is what I've been doing:

1) Last minute play testing of my Russian Civil War game. There's still a few tweaks coming up as being needed during play. I may try to squeeze in another game during the week, as I still haven't had an extended test of the charge and melee rules. Plus I'd really like to run a game with Phil's scratchbuilt Garford-Putilovs (see picture). The photo is staged and not part of the game as the rule Chez Trebian is "no unfinished kit on the table".

2) Drinking a memorial toast to Paddy. We shared a good bottle of 2001 Margaux over Friday night's game. As a noted Francophile and gastronome I hope he'd approve.

3) Trying to remember where I've put all the bits to "The Elephant in the Room"

4) Made a cardboard rifle and "baynot*" for the CoW Plenary Game, which is now a cardboard simulator in honour of Paddy. It's not a very good rifle & I had to use a broken broomstick to keep it together but the "1907 sword baynot" is rather spiffy and also detachable.

5) Produce a sign up sheet for my CoW game. Essential this so that your players know they've got a place & you know you've got a game.

6) Deciding what CoW sessions to attend. There's a bit of an early 20th Century theme developing, and some smashing looking sessions. Looks like I'll miss the Venetian galleys again as it clashes with "Return to the River Don".

7) Leafing through back copies of Nugget to help write my 200 word reminiscence of one of Paddy's games to pin up at CoW. Fatal pastime that. You always end up reading large chunks of them and then wondering where the day has gone!

* a "baynot" is so called because it looks like a bayonet but is not dangerous.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Loss of a friend

Paddy Griffith has died. The statement is true but it hardly covers what has happened. I can’t really summarise how important he has been to me in my wargaming career and also in life in general. Paddy was a man of deeply held convictions, someone not just prepared to sit on the sidelines. He always had to be involved. In wargaming we know this because of his creation of "Wargames Developments", of the controversial views he espoused through the wargaming press and his willingness to challenge. That’s it. His willingness to challenge. Not anything in particular, but just generally. Challenge the way you think, and what you do. Just because someone says that this is the way to do something you don’t have to follow slavishly.

But not just in wargaming. I’d like to think of myself as a friend. After all every Christmas we got a card with his annual update. Unlike everyone else’s not only did it contain family events and holiday news but also covered the latest political campaign he’d got involved in. You never knew until the end of the letter if he’d been arrested or not in the last 12 months. I’m sure life around him was never dull.

As a military historian I tend to feel he’s under rated. Everything I’ve read by him is ground breaking and original. Whether you agree with him or not, he makes you think. Look at the reviews on for his ACW tactics book. Some people really hate it. I’d guess that inside Paddy was both annoyed and delighted in equal measure. His book on British Army tactics in the Great War is sparklingly unique if not well known. But look in the bibliographies of all the recent books on the war, - by Sheffield, Holmes, Corrigan et al. That book is there and you can see its influence throughout.

I resent that I never got round to going to see Paddy in the last year or so. I last saw him at one of his wargaming weekends in his big Victorian house in Manchester which he hosted together with Genvieve his charming French wife. Genvieve even played in one of my games (she got to be Sarah Jane Smith in a completely ramshackle Dr Who game).

That weekend had some highs and lows. I’m really annoyed now that the last of Paddy’s games I played in left me stuck in port (Cadiz, I recall) as a Napoleonic Spanish admiral as contrary winds battered my fleet whilst the French and British crossed oceans and fought numerous fleet actions. Completely realistic, but really frustrating. But that’s what you sort of expected from him. You never knew what you were going to get except it would be different and original. I have some real treasured memories, not least his Great War battalion command games played in his house in Nuneaton, where the day started with corn beef hash to get us in the mood.

I owe him so much. In the 1980’s trying to hold down a new job, live in a new town and start a family it would have been so easy to have let wargaming drop. WD kept me going once a year (and in some years was the only wargaming I did), and my correspondence with Paddy in the days before e-mail, patiently typed out on a portable typewriter was a lifeline. Because of him I made life long friends and met wargaming heroes. Because of him I’m a better human being.

I want to wake up tomorrow and find out this hasn’t happened and he’ll be at CoW.

Please. Someone make it so.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

A task completed?

Last night (that would be Tuesday) I set aside the time to finish off the bits and pieces in my Russian Civil War rules and the various playing aids to go with them. Hopefully this will be the final version for CoW. I've got one last playtest on Friday, so I'd better have got it mostly right. That's not to say you can't take an incomplete game to CoW. After all it's run by Wargame Developments, so why not do a bit of development whilst you're there?

I'd done pretty well with the markers on Monday evening (you know, - order chits, status markers, that sort of thing), and I just had to finish off the Armoured Car "Hit" cards. This is a deck of cards that are used to show what effect the Armoured Car is having on the game, and also what damage it may have incurred. I've got a few decks of blank cards I bought off Martin Wallace of Warfrog games, and I've discovered that 3.5" diskette labels (Avery labels L7666) are perfect for sticking on them. So I had to finish typing in the text on the labels, print them out and stick them on the cards. Then copy and paste the various tables from the rules into a playsheet.

I'd have probably got that all done if young Miss Trebian hadn't phoned me with some car trouble ("Dad...I'm stuck in this village...."). Real Life strikes again, but on the positive side all the driving up and down meant I could listen to the end of the commentary on the England/Australia one day game (that's cricket, BTW, not some weird event at the footy world cup).

Anyway, I managed to finish all of the odds and ends this evening and made a few last minute tweaks to the rules. I've converted them into a pdf and posted it our local group's website for reference.

I even succeeded in getting in an hour's reading on the deck in the late evening sunshine.

Not a bad old life, really.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Nothing Worse Than

I missed the train home by about a minute. Not helped as I came into St Pancras by a different entrance to normal and went onto the wrong platform. Still, only had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. Alas although we're stationary at the moment the broadband signal is poor and I can't even get Google to load. That makes you start to think “There's nothing worse than missing a train and watch it pull out...” and other such trite phrases.
It's a phrase you hear a lot.and in a lot of contexts, so in the absence of an internet connection on the train I started to compile my own list

”There's nothing worse than......”
1) getting to the counter at Starbucks and finding they're out of skimmed milk
2) unpacking your army for a game and realising your elite guard unit is actually sitting on the desk at home with the standard still gluing after the last game
3) turning up to run a game and realise the briefings are on your printer at home
4) putting aside an evening to finish some painting and finding that a key colour has dried out.
5) unpacking and army and realising that you've left some figures with an opponent you're not going to see for 6 months
6) unpacking an army and realising that you've left some figures somewhere and you can't remember where.
7) rolling a double 6 when a simple 7+ would have done (what a waste)
8) varnishing a load of figures then realising you've made a mistake in the original paint job
9) putting a newly painted regiment in the box and seeing it doesn't match the others
10) finding the season finale hasn't recorded because your hard disk recorder lost the settings during a power cut
11) than finding your iPod won't sync
12) 101 other irritating little things

Actually there's loads of things worse than all of that. You only have to turn on the news to realise it. Sometimes we don't know how lucky we are.

Blogging on the move

Finally got round to seeing if the notebook and mobile broadband actually works whilst on the move.

Now clearly this would be dangerous if I was driving so the opportunities have been limited so far (actually is blogging on the move in the car illegal, - it's not like it's a mobile phone is it?) but today I have the great good fortune to have to visit the City, so here I am on one of East Midlands Trains finest heading towards St Pancras at a speed alternating between that of a snail on mogadon and a cheetah on speed.

Initial concerns were whether the signal would be strong enough but switching the dongle from corridor to window side on the netbook seems to have done the trick (oo-er just gone in a tunnel, but still connected)

Little wargaming progress has been made since my last posting. I've started to re-read "Farewell to the Don" a rather good memoir of a British officer trying to help the White Russians fight the Bolsheviks (and not a reminiscence of Bradman's last tour of England). I've always thought it would make a rather super movie as it has everything in it, - exotic locations, action, comedy and a mysterious married Russian Countess that the hero may or may not have had an affair with. It's a shame that the Americans didn't do any intervention in the South or Tom Cruise would be after it like a shot.

For those of you who care (and there's at least one of you out there) I have to report that Suzanne Vega was excellent. Backed by an electric guitarist and a bassist she put on a beautiful show, interspersing her songs with anecdotes and banter with the audience. I had the feeling that she has fallen on hard times as she did plug her new retrospective collection rather hard. I wouldn't be surprised if sales are going slowly, - the songs I love are pretty much in perfect form on the albums I've already got. The only exception is Tom's Diner, which is both perfect in its original form, but perfect in the version she did on Saturday evening accompanied by electric guitar and pounding bass. She could do a whole album of different versions of that song and I'd buy it.

I'm pleased to say that the trainee rock journalist with me seemed to be similarly captivated. I'm looking forward to seeing his photos of the event as he has a real eye for concert pictures, whereas even when mine are in focus they still look a bit rubbish.

Any how, that's an event that's been open for 25 years that I've finally closed off, from the moment when I was stuck in a traffic jam in Bedford with Joe Kelly going to count cash in a branch when I heard the opening lines to "Marlene on the Wall" and thought that's an album I want to own and an artist I want to see live. Well, an awful lot of Real Life got in the way. I was always just missing the tour dates when they were announced, or away on holiday when the dates were playing, and so on. Still, done now and a link set up to the lady's website so I get prior notice of next year's tour.

Right, better get back to working on that CoW session.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Definite Progress

Another good playtest last night which had the added advantage that I didn't have to suffer the England game. With Mrs Trebian out on a Brownie Guide trip today I had the morning to really sort my ideas out.

So much so, in fact, that I even managed to get the cover done. Looks rather spiffy, doesn't it?All I have to do now is complete the playsheet (pages 11/12 of the booklet) and re-do the markers for the game.

Very satisfactory day's work, plus this evening I'm off to see the divine Ms Suzanne Vega in Birmingham with young Master Trebian. That will be an excellent way to round off the day. Only been waiting for 25 years for this.

My, what a short post!

(BTW the cover picture is from the excellent collection of the New York public library, which you can find here: or just put "Russian Civil War poster" into Google.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Pluses and Minuses

Well the playtest last night went down quite well. Didn't get as much played as I'd have liked. Too many toys and too many players for the time allowed. However most of the new bits got tested, even tho' we still haven't had a mutiny despite units overloading with Coercion markers.

You can see a devastated Red Cossack unit in the picture bravely pushing on ("Da!") whilst needing a bit of "help" from their Commissar from time to time.

The players have quite taken to the idea of forcing troops to do things if they seem reluctant, and the activation sequence is hanging together quite well. The firing mechanism is simple but is functioning, - basic roll to hit with a saving roll modified by a few obvious factors. I introduced a "Casualty Clearing" sequence which enables units to reorganise themselves and convert the hits caused by fire/melee to permanent casualties, - the equivalent of rounding up the stragglers and seeing who is actually dead so on. This again seemed to work quite well. As a base can be overloaded and eliminated by basic hits this means that a unit can be "blown away" but that if it survives the initial onslaught the commanders can sort them out and get them back into the fray (BTW stole this mechanism from Chris Kemp's "Not Quite Mechanised")

I've started to work on the morale rules. The first change is to enable a player to delay when a test is taken by applying a bit of pressure (Coercion markers again) so they can either do a reorganisation to give the unit a chance of passing the morale check or try a last ditch attack with them to get some benefit before they all head off for the home farm.

There are things in the rules and the games I'm still not sure about. I had overall commanders on the board but I don't know what they do yet (or even if they are needed) and the rules suddenly had this reference to Pinned and I'm not sure what that's for (or even why I put it there).

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Hot Streak

It's funny how all of a sudden things come together. The Elephant in the Room game went from deciding to do it to finished product in a couple of weeks. The District 9 game had a lot of thought put into it and simply wouldn't work no matter what I did. Never even managed to playtest it as I couldn't even get a draft game to put in front of some players.

The RCW adaptation of Civil War Battles has suddenly just taken off. Rules and changes just keep coming to me when I'm not even thinking about it. So far I've adapted and amended most of the starting point and I'm only left with the melee and morale rules to look at. Of course if I don't fix them I've still got a working game, - just it's less of my game than it could be.

Of course it isn't all going perfectly. I've redone my order chits twice, including laminating and cutting out and then realised when I was driving today that I still hadn't got them right and they need a simple change. I'll over write some of them with marker pen so they're available for Friday night's playtest. Other markers are taken from other games until I'm sure they're what I need.

I'm also looking at the figure scale. The Russian Civil War lacks a lot of consistency across the various actions and theatres. Battalions varied in size from 250 men to 1200. I'm going for a 50 men per base scale so that gives me unit sizes ranging from 5 to 24 bases. Maybe I'll just stick to the small stuff.

I'm not looking to include Armoured Trains yet (although I have a very nice Peter Pig model) as the scale doesn't warrant it. I'm also not bothering with tanks. Armoured Cars, tho, gotta have them.

Must go off now and write "Niet" on the backs of forty 20mm square markers.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Hamlet, the Jester and the Dwarf's Axe

I wrote last month about how I struggle to write completely original wargames rules, but I do a pretty good adaptation of other people's work (the blog's called Hamlet & the Jester if you're new here).

Any how, as you may remember last Friday we were playing a quickly knocked off adaptation of RFCM's "Civil War Battles" to do Russian Civil War. Although I missed most of it the players liked it quite a bit, so I plugged a few of the gaps and we had another go this week. It went pretty well, although I'm not sure the balance is quite there yet. I'm a bit short of pictures as my camera seemed to be set to the video setting for half the evening.

There's a downside to being a Grown Up right there, - you can't work technology after your kids have borrowed it. Still, here's one of the Whites deploying their artillery to cover the bridge into the village as a Brigade of the Konarmy thunders towards it (off picture). This is a real classic, old school photo complete with wargamer's hands and a steel tape measure.

The game featured some notable pieces of action, - in particular the annihilation of some Kuban cossacks when a Red Austin Putilov Armoured Car managed to enfilade them launching a charge. As a group of players we had a long discussion about this, but I think I'm comfortable with the idea of units caught in the open by Heavy Machine Guns having a short shelf life.

As some of the players had an early start the following day to do Games Expo in Birmingham we didn't play to a conclusion. However, we got enough out of it for the players to suggest some changes and to admit they'd happily play some more games over the rest of the summer. Plus Phil S has nearly finished the scratchbuilt Garford-Putilov's, and they look really nice so we need an excuse to use them.

So we're going to revisit the motivation and turn sequence and also look at the combat effectiveness. Some of my recent reading means I want to put in quite a bit more detail around the use of armoured cars, and the card driven damage/event system for armour is working pretty well.

The infantry melee/overrun rules look to need an overhaul, but I've got some ideas for that, and the morale table/sequence will be tweaked a bit more as well.

Which brings me to the dwarf's axe. This comes from one of Terry Pratchett's novels in which ancestral weapons are discussed. Dwarves carry weapons handed down to them by their ancestors. They may replace the handle or the axe head from time to time, but it's still the same axe. Now clearly that isn't the case, and I'm sort of like feeling the same way about these rules. At what point, when I've replaced various bits do they become an original set of rules written by me? Most sets of rules share common features, - measuring distances on a tape measure, hit rolls & saving rolls, and there was a time when EVERY set had one of those figures v factore cross reference tables. How many bits of the rules have to be original for me to claim them for my own?

I'm not there yet, but I'm getting close. I may take this game to CoW, not just to play it, but to have the discussion.

As a postscript here's a picture of Turing's "Bombe" from Bletchley Park. It was taken by young Miss Trebian on a field trip to Blechley Park with the rest of her graduate maths group. I can't help feeling how lucky we all are. In another age some of her group could have been there trying to win the war. Bletchley Park safly is in a bad way, and we should all be doing what we can to help preserve it. Take a visit.