Thursday, 29 March 2012

The A to Z of Acacias & Zaribas

In any account of any British campaign in Africa at some point the Empire forces set up a zariba. This is simply described by most writers as being formed from branches of the acacia tree. The acacia likewise turns up in the account of the end of Hicks Pasha as his column forces its way through an acacia forest.

I've had several holidays in Africa, - three in the north and one now in sub-Saharan Africa. When we visited Egypt and travelled on Lake Nasser we saw a lot of acacia in the near distance, but never looked at it close up. In our trip to Tanzania we got up close and personal with our thorny friend.

I mean you read the accounts of them using it to make a defensive screen because of its thorns, but how thorny is it exactly? I mean are we talking roses, hawthorn or berberis? And how big is it as a bush or tree?

The first picture here shows an acacia tree at the edge of a road, near to a patch of such trees. When ever I've seen them they don't grow impenetrably densely. You can walk easily between them if you don't mind the odd branch sticking out. I guess as they grow in fairly dry climates they can't grow too closely together or the root system won't be able to get enough water. This also means that they are not excessively tall, although the spread of the branches can be impressive. The branches aren't that thick however, so it is obvious that you're not building a fence out of it. The business end is clearly the thorn.

So, to picture number two. This shows a pair of acacia thorns in the palm of Mrs T (by the way the little seed pods/galls have a little hole in them. When the wind blows acacia trees “whistle” like a swarm of insects). As you can see we are talking quite a long thorn, - a couple of inches in this case. They're also pretty tough and don't snap easily. And yes, they are sharp, as determined by detailed finger tip examination (ouch!)

So in my view the acacia thorn is quite capable not only of snagging most clothing, but also going through it too and for those without or just dressed in a loin cloth they must have provided a fairly impenetrable barrier.

So, how do you deal with such an obstacle? There's not much cares to take on the acacia in the wild. However I did learn that acacia forms a substantial part of the giraffe diet, which raises the prospect of giraffe mounted stealth units tasked with eating their way surreptitiously into the Empire forces' zariba. It would make a change from those camel units, after all.

Of course the acacia has one last trick up its sleeve. It has a symbiotic relationship with a type of ant which builds nests in its branches. When the giraffe starts to nibble it disturbs the ant which swarms all over the tree. Giraffes apparently don't care for creepy crawlies on their tongues and move on to a less well prepared tree.

The things you learn.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Bumping along the bottom

Just got my mother home after being discharged. It took two attempts, - the first last night when we waited for blood test results that never came, the second this morning when, in a pretty much brand new hospital built out of town, there was no parking.

Anyway she is home, vowing never to go back into "that place" ever again. All I can say is if you can't be bothered to care, don't work in a caring profession. That should be written on the nurses' station in every hospital.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Bumping back to Earth

You will have noticed a lack of postings recently due to Mrs T and me being in Tanzania doing safaris and generally lazing around. There's not a lot for wargamers to get out of the trip (although we saw the grave of Captain Selous who was killed during the "Ice Cream War") and I may have further things to say about African terrain and the use of 4 x 4 vehicles that may be of interest to AK47 Republic players.

This post was going to be about what I read on holiday as I ploughed through 5 books of various types (2 x 9 hour flights, plus a 5 night extension at a beach hotel in Zanzibar gives a lot of reading time) but events as ever overtook me.

When we got off the plane I got a phone call from my father saying he'd been trying for a couple of hours to get hold of my mother but had been unable to do so. Stuck in an airport car park there honestly isn't a lot you can do, so I directed him to my brother. When I finally caught up with him (my brother, not my father) I discovered that my mother had been taken into hospital by paramedics as she was having breathing problems due to a chest infection. From that I could quickly see that my plan to use the weekend putting away holiday things and making a dent into sorting out my 1,000+ holiday pictures, and catching up on some sleep as we've been on the go for over 18 hours was going to need revision.

The following day (Saturday) I'm back on the phone to my brother to sort out who is going to see our mother and when, but he has to go out to deal with something. 15 minutes later my sister-in-law is back on the phone in hysterics, - my brother has been hit by a car outside his house and run over. Luckily a neighbour is on hand to tell me what has happened, so we take a quick lunch and get in the car up to the hospital near where he lives (an hour or so's drive away, - delayed by Saturday afternoon football traffic and sat nav issues).

Then we're in casualty looking at my brother who is conscious but looks a hell of a mess, - and also in various restraints to stop him moving as he may have spine injury and he has got a nasty head wound. They're x-raying and CT scanning fit to make him glow in the dark. But as I say, he's conscious and coherent and telling my sister-in-law to phone his boss, and he has feeling in his extremities and can move hands and feet. but he's in a lot of pain. The medical staff are great but the NHS has an elastic definition of "soon". As in "He's going to the orthopaedic ward soon". We're told this at 5pm. At 5:40 I point out that soon clearly means more than 40 minutes. Soon actually finally means 4 1/2 hours. Luckily I made the call to go and get something to eat at 6pm, rather than just wait around. The problem is that you want to be there but there's little good you can do, and all my brother wants is to be knocked out with more morphine.

So finally back home at nearly 11pm, having agreed I need to go and see our parents and tell them what has happened in a way that doesn't precipitate a heart attack or anymore fretting than is absolutely needed.

And that's what we did on Sunday. And listen to my mother being cross with Age Concern as she doesn't want to be in hospital and her home help ratted her out to the doctor. Of course as it's the weekend it's not easy to find out how long she's going to be in (at least until Wednesday we finally learn). Which means as they took her in in nothing but her night cloths we have another hour long round trip to her house to pick up things such as her hearing aid and so on. As for my brother, - well he;'s got 4 - 6 weeks recuperation once he gets out.

Can't see me getting much time to finish that Byzantine Army at the moment.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Full Dress Rehearsal

Following the completion of the Show Qids board as revealed in yesterday's blog an ex-work colleague of mine dropped round for a full dress rehearsal (yes, I worked in a department with TWO wargamers in it! Can you believe it??)

Safe to say the game did not disappoint. We played it twice, with two wins to the Hittites at the upper end of their victory conditions.

Here I am as the Hittites assaulting the camp, with most of Amun having fled. I had a really slow time activating my ambush, so there's only a few chariots involved as the others tackle Pre at the other end of the board.

Pre had got split, with half trapped the other side of the ford. The Hittite chariots in the middle have just wiped out the head of the column. Although we're half way through the game one group of Hittites still haven't managed to get going. Words will be had!

I eventually pulled the game out of the bag by capturing Ramesses in the final turn, to give me a victory of the scale of the historical Hittite win.

The second game did not go well for me as Ramesses.

This is the game in the last move. That's Ramesses standing, on his own, as the Hittites retire back behind the Arantu to regroup and divide up the spoils. I'd lost everything, - not just the baggage, but every unit in the Egyptian army, Nearin included (although half of them didn't make it on to the board, so technically I didn't lose the whole army). This gave the Hittites the most extreme result possible, which is:

"Ramesses barely escapes with his army from the two days of fighting at Qids.  The Hittites retake Amurru and conquer Upi, which causes rebellion against Egyptian overlordship through the south Levantine states.  Ramesses is forced to renounce all Egyptian interests north of Megiddo.  The future for Ramesses, as Pharaoh, looks poor."

Anyhow, my opponent went away happy, declaring it a very enjoyable game. Plus, again, two games that played very differently. I really do hope that Society members get this out and give it a go when it arrives.

Note to self: Task for tomorrow, - burn files to CD for printer.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


The Qids display game is finally finished. All done. Here's some pictures:

 View of the full board, with everything deployed and the temple walls in the distance

Close up of the "Admin Zone" at the end of the board. The Nearin are lined up to move onto the move track when their turn comes. Each player has a combat QRF and an Activation table so they can see when their stuff comes on.

The board from the other side of the Admin Zone, so you can see the advertising hoardings.

I just want to take it to a show now!  However, I've got a playtest with an ex-work colleague next week just to make sure everything works as it should.

The published version for SoA members should be sent to the printers this week,

Saturday, 3 March 2012

More Wargaming stuff and a Reality Update

When I was last unemployed, - during Mrs Thatchers recession, for the sake of clarity - I realised it was important to have a work/recreation balance. Consequently during the week I got up at regular times, made applications for work and tried to do work-like things. But evenings and weekends were my own for gaming, painting and drinking. I'm doing that this time round, much as I can (although with less drinking). So this last week I've redone my CV several times, pursued contacts through Linkedin, finalised my redundancy agreement and reprogrammed all my contacts into my new mobile phone, just to list a few things. I've also made arrangements to be in the City on Monday to talk about some opportunities (apparently people like me don't go for interviews for jobs, - we go to talk to people about "opportunities"). First I've had to book and pay for a rail ticket to London myself for a long, long, while.

Any how, today it's the weekend, so I'm allowing myself some time off to work on some wargaming stuff (although I did clean my old company lease car out this morning as it is being collected on Monday*).

So what did I choose to work on? Well, I thought I'd do some more work on the Call it Qids demo game, so I've spent the afternoon putting together the graphics and stand for the temple walls where the opposing rulers place their tribute to determine who has won.

Egyptian Temple Wall
These are the Egyptian gods. My fellow designer, Ian Russell Lowell, bought the images from an educational company. They're brilliant to work with as I think they're vector based or some such, so they split up into component parts which makes them easy to manipulate and use. Especially helpful as Mut wasn't in the set, so I had to take some other goddess and add the crown using Drawplus.

Hittite Temple Wall
The Hittite gods were drawn by Ian, and I had to do some Photoshop-like jiggery-pokery to get them to work against the stone background. These gods will be a lot less familiar to most wargamers (indeed anyone, really) and Ian has done a lovely job on them. As you can see these are on a granity-grey back ground to contrast with the yellow sandstone of Egyptian monuments. Ian has been to Turkey & visited Hatti and so put me right on the colour.

Each of these is currently attached to some foam board, waiting for the base to glue. The backs of each of them with have the game logo and those of our game sponsors, thusly:

 Hopefully Peter at Baccus and Martin at Warbases will be satisfied with the advertising, - plastered on the outside of a historical monument can't be all that bad!

I also did some work on the move track and started to size up the space for charts and reference tables. It is typical, however, when you're trying to be precise and frugal at the same time that the printer chose to have a blocked nozzle half way through printing an A4 page of photo-quality output. What a waste of photo paper and ink!

* The car collection arrangement is bizarre. I got a phone call from a bloke who works for a company employed by the lease company employed by my ex-employer to pick up the car. So he's two steps removed from the process, and had no idea why he was collecting the car. He then asked how to find my house from the train station in the nearest town. Now I live in a village and my house isn't easy to find, - the post code is wrong in all SatNavs, for example, as the house was built in a different direction to the approved plans. So I recommended he got a taxi. Apparently not allowed, - he has to find me by public transport. So I explained to him which bus he needed to get and the walking route through the vilage (turn up such and such street, cross the stile, walk across the playing field, look out for old ash tree etc, etc). He finally asked if I could drive the car to the bus stop. I said no, for two reasons. One, as stated above, I'm in the City on Monday, and two, I'm no longer insured to drive it as I no longer work for the company.

And to round it off I discovered that he has to get to me from Portsmouth. I live in the midlands. He has a four hour train journey, with either 2 or 3 changes, including crossing London. He reckons he's getting to us in the morning. I reckon he'll be lucky to get here by mid afternoon. It's not his fault. It's not even my ex-employer's fault either. I assume the lease company knows what it is doing.