Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A pause for reflection

So last Friday brought me to the end of my contract. It's been 12 months since I set out on the self employed route, and became the highly paid contractor that all the permanent staff hate when they turn up in the office and tell you what you already know.

12 months is a decent slug of work for your first contract I'd say, - in fact it was two blocks of 6 months - so no need to complain. It was the best of three contract jobs I was offered at the time. The one permanent job I was looking at the company couldn't make up its mind what it wanted.

So, seeing as how contracting was forced on me rather than being a career move of choice how did it go for me (leaving aside for the moment the commuting aspect)?

I think I'd say that it has been a really rewarding last 12 months. The work has been new and stimulating. It has been very liberating working on a project with no line management strings attached to it. All I had to do was get on with the appointed tasks and deliver. Actually the project was sufficiently fluid that I got to determine a bit of what I did and also help out in other project areas as well. The fact that a lot of what I ended up doing was different to what we talked about in the interview was unimportant.

What I did find frustrating was my inability to influence in the same way that you do when you are senior and permanent. Meetings would be held and decisions made and I'd be thinking why on earth did you do that without involving me? Then I'd remember I wasn't in charge any more and just get on with it. The client is always right and there's no point in dying in a ditch over a point of principle.

I didn't really miss the line management for a lot of the time, - although as one of the more experienced team members I ended up doing a bit of mentoring. I find that side of management the most rewarding so I'm glad I didn't miss it completely. On the other hand sometimes I'd look at the way things were being managed and think I wouldn't have done it like that, - then move on. After all in 20+ years of management I haven't got all my decisions right. It would be good for my next contract to do some interim management.

The other aspect of it has been the chance to work in the City. More than 20 years in a Treasury and I never worked in the City. That has been held against me in the past, but I think I held up pretty well when finally tested. Sometimes it is evident that there's a lot of jobs chasing a small pool of talent. The commuting has been tough but bearable, so no qualms about doing that again.

It is true to say that contracting is lucrative, but when you take into account the extra insurance you need, pension contributions and lack of paid holiday I probably came out not far off square with working permanently in my previous job before tax.

Other positives? Well I got to work with a really interesting bunch of talented people, - clever, intelligent people with very different skill sets. And I got to work in a business stream I'd never even thought of before. The combination of learning new things and applying existing skills was stimulating and invigorating.

And finally, they gave me a really good send off. An excellent turnout for farewell drinks, then an 8am breakfast at Simpson's on Cornhill. And a collection that put enough in my pocket for me to afford a really nice wide angle lens (10-22mm Sigma). A considerably better leaving experience than my previous place where I'd put in nearly 30 years service.

So, all things considered, a rather good year on the work front.

Now it is time to pack our suitcases and go off on holiday for a few weeks. China here we come.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Scratch built M113s

As I was tidying away after the last AK47 game I came across my fleet of M113s.

When I first started playing AK47 I wasn't exactly cash-strapped but there wasn't a lot of money to flash around. I was going to buy some M113's for my regulars, but then, when I looked at them I realised they were actually quite a simple geometric shape. After all they were designed by a fridge company, so how stylish were they ever going to be?

I got hold of photos and measurements and drew up the net of the shape which I then photocopied onto card. The track/bogie assembly was more challenging, but then I found a sideways on drawing of one and photocopied that down to the right size. I then used that as an outline to cut out balsa wood formers for either side. The track wheels I discovered were the same size as the holes on a hole punch, so that did for them. The tracks were made from strips of card, scored to give some more texture.

So, cardboard & balsa wood M113s, then. The MGs on the roofs are a mixture of Peter Pig and some scratch built Brownings made from wire, cardboard and Miliput.

If memory serves me correctly I built most of them (I have 10 at least) whilst on holiday in a caravan in the evenings when our young children were fast asleep. I knew how to live it up in those days.

Some of them got made up as UN, complete with a command vehicle (note aerial wire) and a mortar unit (note base plate on the roof).

If I could find the original net I'd post it here, but it is lost in the depths of time.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

It's my blog and I'll write what I want to.

Totally off topic. Went to see the Counting Crows at Birmingham Academy last Friday with Mrs T.

We were about four rows back from the front and off to one side a bit. The Crows were superb. Hands down one of my favourite bands. I took some pictures.

'Nuff said

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Three way split

After last week’s walk down memory lane I acted upon Phil’s desire to try multiplayer “AK47 Republic”.

The game ended up being more extemporised than I intended as I spent my free time over the weekend “re-sheduling” than organising the game. My first idea was to have two players a side with 550 points, one run through the political chart for each side on 100 points, and play standard attackers defenders.

As it was we only had three players, with Ian & Phil putting in a showing. I put together my & Ian’s armies, using the Dictatorship list, one with a professional helicopter (Ian took that one, - for all the good it did him).

The table area was about 7’ x 5’, so bigger than normal, but not twice the size. Still big enough to make it worthwhile buying trucks to get about. I decided that we’d all be attackers, with one objective being the road junction in the middle of the table, and two players coming on in corners with the third coming on in the middle of the opposite side. Everyone was happy with the set up as long as there was no ganging up so we all had an interest in the game until the very end.

All things considered it was an excellent evening’s entertainment with its fair share of thrills and spills and outrageous fortune.  Mostly on Phil’s morale dice. He had bought a new pack of Pink Piggy dice at Salute, having been assured by Martin that they were “This year’s colour”. They proved to be a sound investment.
The progress of the game was a bit disjointed in some ways. With three people involved all fighting each other the narrative was a bit disjointed. Even with the pictures I can’t remember exactly what happened. I do know that the objective proved to be a death trap and changed hands three times, finally being held by Phil’s last tank.

Ian's starting units. Chopper & militia - what else do you need?
The game started with the usual arrival rolls. I got on four units as did Phil (my professional infantry didn’t make it) but Ian only managed two, one of which was his helicopter. Phil’s late arrivals were his heavy armoured commander in chief unit.

Traffic jam at Phil's entry point

 Phil was the first to get to the road junction, with his motor cycle cavalry charge. He paid for that by coming under fire from my tanks, - although his cavalry survived as a unit until the last move by a stunning series of morale rolls. My tanks, on the other hand, performed the “Three Ones” morale trick and disappeared half way through, having taken a hit from Phil’s helicopter (which then ran away).

Phil's truck with lots of troops and RCL barrels.
The highlight for me came early in the game as I shot down Ian’s professional helicopter with a militia HMG technical, double 6 v a 2. He then failed his saving roll. That militia unit did really well for me, inflicting damage on anything that came near them and even seeing off a close assault.

Gottim! Ian's chopper starts to smoke

Enough smoke for you?

Tactically the rest of the game was hit and miss. My other truck mounted militia unit barrelled down the road with some high movement dice and did battle for the cross roads, holding it briefly before coming under withering fire and being forced to retire, leaving a fair sample of smoking trucks behind them.

My militia in trucks, tanks and mortars storm forward.
Fight at the cross roads
I eventually succeeded in getting my regular mortars into position on the hill top (rolled a lot of 1s and 2s for movement), - a similar tactic to that adopted by Phil although his were closer to his base line. My shooting was bit better than Phil’s and I did a fair amount of execution ranging across the board. Phil silenced them with an infantry assault across open ground. Mortars without small arms support are a bit vulnerable to that, and my professionals let me down a bit but rolling a series of 1s for movement that meant they arrived too late to save most of the unit. On the positive side it made a change from them rolling the 1s for morale checks.

Close asaaults on Mortar Hill
Phil eventually seized the cross roads with his armour unit. Ian got on all of his reinforcements in the end, but in his eagerness to get into action committed the cardinal sin of bringing his truck mounted infantry into the range of an RCL and suffering vehicle loss from that quarter. His tanks finally got on and in the last move of the game, together with a militia unit hiding in a village rolled a series of 11s to knock out or pin all but one of Phil’s armoured vehicles. 

Phil's armour after Ian's onslaught
 The game ended after eight moves and three and a bit hours of pretty intense combat.

My plucky militia survive a close assault
 For victory points we rolled 3 dice each, and counted the objective as 30 points. We then gave everyone the points for the destroyed enemy units. Phil came out winner and we all congratulated ourselves on an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

If we were to do this again I’d make a few changes, but all things considered not much. 

It has been fun to get the African toys out again and push them around. Phil has also done a bit more work on his army, so perhaps we should do a bit more over the next few months to ensure he gets them finished.

BTW the roads are strips of spare shed roofing felt. Nothing goes to waste.

Sunday, 21 April 2013


Took advantage of the nice weather on Saturday to pend some time sorting Shedquarters out a bit.

The initial installation was done is a hurry, and the table was never exactly where I wanted it. Plus I just chucked all my terrain boxes underneath it. The white garden table I've been using for coffee cups is also a nuisance, being round and not fitting into a corner properly.

Due to it being spring and also because of where the shed is we were doing some other back garden tidying up. We used to have a temporary greenhouse but we have decided not to bother with it any more, so that means the shelving in that is now looking for a new location. It's a bit lightweight, but I reckoned I could attach it to the wall struts and that would keep it in place.

The shelving has gone up just fine, - it's about 12" deep, so takes the terrain boxes sideways on. A bit of chipboard shelving on the top gives somewhere to put coffee cups. Just need to put labels on the sides of the boxes now.

A spare set of cold frame shelves has also come to light for the other corner.

All I need to do now is to sort out whats in what box and label them up properly.

And I've also moved the table into the middle a bit more and centralised it under the lights.

And this morning I laid a bit of temporary block paving up to the door.

It's all coming along nicely.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Doubling Up

Shedquarters goes from strength to strength, this Monday hosting its first double header. As promised in the previous post we had some classic "AK47 Republic" action, and with four of us in attendance we ran two games side by side.

Such an event was not without its teething problems, especially as I haven’t solved the “Where to put coffee cups” problem for the far end of the table. As I indicated in my previous posting this was a bit of a walk down memory lane for us. The “Brixcon” AK47 day in the village hall ran for 6 years and most of the Monday Night Regulars played on most occasions. It was one of the milestones of the year for me, and our local players usually put in a good effort with their imaginatively put together armies. Particularly for Phil & Chris, who are our more ambitious modellers. As they opened up their boxes of toys last night there was a lot of mulling over conversion triumphs and unfinished work. Phil’s motorcycle cavalry looked really good, and are still a work in progress, cut off I fear by the termination of Brixcon.
For last night’s game Ian, with a Religious Army, took on Chris K, also with a Religious Army. This is a high stakes gambler’s army, with everything bet on getting a good turnout from the political chart. Both Ian & Chris did pretty well, and Chris turned out to be the attacker by 2 points. The starting forces were 3 for the attacker and 2 for the defender and after a bit of familiarisation with the rules they set to it.
The outcome was a decisive win for Chris. Two main reasons for this, I think. Firstly Chris is quite a good player and soon recalled all the nuances of the system. Ian is a part timer at best. Secondly Ian didn’t get any reinforcements on, so his box of tanks, professional technicals and upgraded infantry bristling with heavy weapons never made it on to the table. In the end Chris overwhelmed him.
Phil had his super-power backed “PAN-african Treaty Organisation” (PANTO - geddit??) army against my colonial Swamibians. Phil had a bad start to the evening, knocking a box of figures over and then knocking another box off the corner of the board whilst he tried to sort out what unit was in what box. Like Chris he’d brought along an army list last used in 2008, and in deference to my known antipathy to too many helicopters, was pulling out his one list without them.
I defended and got on a couple of enhanced Professional infantry units, and set up defending the two villages. Phil had a fairly chunky militia unit with armoured car support, a regular infantry unit and his C-in-C with two AA mounted vehicles, an APCs and an Armoured Car.
He gamely attacked me and as is the way of these things my professionals blazed away ineffectually and one of them failed the obligatory morale test by rolling a one.
Phil eventually ran out winner, again for two reasons. Firstly I made a serious tactical blunder. I should have just sat in the village template, but recalling that professionals are lethal in close assault I stormed out of the village to see off the militia infantry unit. The unit concerned on my side then proceeded to fire blanks for the rest of the game, inflicting minimal damage on their opponent, before succumbing to massed small arms fire.
The other professional unit held on, whilst both sides poured on reinforcements, with both of us getting all of the toys on in the end. It then fell to two further “1” morale rolls, the last in the final turn, presenting Phil with a whole host of victory points and denying me a victory objective. All of which meant that Phil won by a big margin.
On balance the luck pretty much always evens out in AK47, but some sixes are more important than others. Especially when rolled for militia unit morale tests.

I was so into what was going on that I only took a few snaps on my smart phone, which are given below.

I think we should try to do this again, especially now everyone is a bit more warmed up on the rules. Phil expressed an interest in trying to do a multi-player game, so that might be an interesting idea for the next week two.

Chris points gleefully at his first double 6 of the evening

The struggle around the station gets intense

One of Chris's Centurions, with his "extra movement" marker

One of Phil's Armoured Car conversions

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Monday Night Preview

Casting around for ideas for Monday Night's game, it occurred to me that I hadn't played AK47 Republic for nearly 5 years.

I know the rules have been completely re-written and reissued as "AK47 - Reloaded" but I still have a soft spot for the originals. In fact I organised an annual AK47 tournament in the local village hall for 6 years from 2003-8 which peaked with about 30 players. It's also the first "period" I did in 15mm.

So, why not a trip down memory lane for Monday? Hopefully we'll have 4 players, so I can run two games on the table. I set these up this afternoon, - choosing types 1 & 4:

Type 1 is to the far end of the table. I discovered when doing this that my table is not the size I thought it was. It's only 11 feet long, instead of 12. Much annoyance and a prompt to sort out the permanent installation this summer, perhaps.

As Ian doesn't possess and army I've put one together for him. He chose, as ever, the Religious Movement:

I maxed it out on the political points, as is traditional in AK47. The basic army is, left to right:

  • 12 base militia infantry unit
  • 4  regular technicals
  • 12 base militia infantry unit
  • 2 regular tanks
  • 8 base militia infantry unit, supported by a technical

If I get to play, I'm using colonials (the Swamibian Defence Force)

The picture is a bit blurry, but again, left to right:

  • 7 bases regular infantry, with RCL on truck
  • 2 regular armoured cars
  • 6 bases professional infantr
  • 2 regular tanks
  • 6 bases professional infantry

Since I last played AK47 I've been to Africa a few times, so the terrain draws a bit upon that experience, as well as the rules descriptors.

Anyway, to round out this post, here are some close ups of the terrain, prior to playing.

The wide, fordable, river, complete with some local residents

The railway station with attendant shops and shoppers

Native village with dried up river bed. Honest.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Will breaks his duck

The last of our regular Monday-Nighters delivered his first Shedquarters session this week, taking as his text "really obscure battles of the American Civil War that I found in a magazine".

Will is doing a 20mm plastic ACW project. He has been collecting the figures and scenery for this for a while, and finally had enough toys to put on a game. For a man who is retired he doesn't get much time to paint figures (grandchildren and stuff and playing wargames are his usual excuse for being tardy with the brush).

Will, being a typical Monday-Nighter, was never going to do anything straight out of the box. His starting point is RFCM's "Civil War Battles" and he has based his 20mm figures up 3 to a 30mm x 30mm base. Very effective I thought they looked too.

The battlefield looked like this:

The Confederate position was on this side of the table. I took over the role of commander of the up-holders of slavery. Phil was awaited as commander of the Yankees.

I had my gun battery on the hill in the middle, and an average  infantry battalion in the central wood the other side of the stream to the left. My other, raw, battalion was in ambush over on the right hand side. Here's a picture of my average battalion lurking in the wood:

The first Union forces finally arrived, being a couple of raw battalions.

They would arrive in dribs and drabs throughout the evening, and would be, eventually, in overwhelming force. The original battle, the name of which eludes me, was a notable Confederate victory mainly because the Union forces got hopelessly lost and muddled and shot each other up.

Alas for me none of this was factored into the scenario as we played it. In fairness to Will this was a first proper play though of CWB for him without someone else running the rules, and the purpose of the evening was to see if they would deliver what he wanted.

Anyway, on with the story.

I greeted the boys in blue with a salvo from my artillery. They started off as they meant to go on, being spectacularly inaccurate and causing no damage at all. Look nice with the smoke, tho'.

In preparation for the Yankee onslaught I moved my average unit up to the forest edge, in an attempt to create some beaten ground and also so I'd be in pole position to launch a Rebel charge.

Phil obliged by dividing his forces, sending one battalion off towards the wood, and using the other to force the apparently undefended Rebel right wing.

(NB Apologies at this point for the occasional fuzziness of the pictures, - all taken on my smartphone as I'd left my camera in the study)

Advancing on my position, Phil unleashed a less than devastating volley.

I replied in kind:

By the way, the flags are from Graham Fordham's "Fluttering Flags". The smoke is from a bag of hamster bedding.

On the other flank I launched my surprise attack, inflicting a shooting hit, then charging home with a yell.

Phil just held on through his falter test (missed a rout by a single point lucky devil), and we set to it. I out scored him with hits, but he evened it up with saving rolls, which made it a loss for the attackers. I then succeeded in a spectacular collapse in the ensuing morale test and routed.

Phil's men then broke the following turn in their morale test. Alas my unit represented half my army, and Phil's was just one of many (although he didn't know that at the time).

I stopped taking pictures at this point, but the rest of the tale is simply told. I stormed out of the other wood, and despite having an even better chance of winning, broke and ran.

Game over.

There are bits of CWB that I like, and there are bits I don't. Phil & Will are of a similar view, so the next game may have different rules. Will has c70 battles he wants to do, so there will be a next game.

The post game discussion focused on how Will could get more painting done, and if he follows the very sensible advice he was given, we'll soon be doing Gettysburg.

Regardless of my reservations, this was an enjoyable evening's entertainment and passed the time well. I may, eventually, be convinced to give a rat's a*se about the ACW.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Don’ know me own rules….

A Tuesday night this week for a return to “Return to the River Don”. The change of evening meant a slight change of cast, with our two Chris’ swapping over. Fortunately we also had a slight change in the weather and the sunshine during the day had rendered Shedquarters a much more comfortable temperature than previous weeks.

Chris took over from Chris running the Whites, and Will held on to the Reds. Phil swapped sides and gave Chris a hand as he hadn’t played the system before.

The game restarted with a bayonet charge on the stanitsa on the Red’s left by an Officer battalion. This was a brave effort against considerable odds, with a worker battalion already holding the buildings supported by a MG company. After a brief melee the Whites were ejected and thrown back to their start line in disorder.

 After this brief showing from the Whites the Reds continued to dominate the middle of the table, pushing their cavalry forward, supported by their armoured cars with the exception of the Garford:

The Whites were holding that area with their artillery and a number of detached MG companies. Whilst their tchankas lost out overall in the exchange of fire the cavalry lead a particularly charmed life, including one sweeping manoeuvre across the front of a White battalion where they incurred no casualties at all.

Meanwhile down the other end of the table Phil sorted out the tangle that the White cavalry had got themselves into and sent them on a flanking manoeuvre, whilst he pressed his infantry towards the railway station. This wing suffered from one of those periodic passages of fortune where a  series of dice rolls created a narrative. The rear most cavalry unit resolutely refused to take orders for a few turns in sequence and had to be forced forward at pistol point by their officers. They never mutinied to any serious extent, just moved forwards in a most grudging fashion (even down to the order cards they drew).

In total, however, this wing was being handled aggressively by the Whites, so the Reds started to dig in round the station, intent on holding on to their gains.

Back at the stanitsa the Whites were ready for another attempt to take it at bayonet point. This time a few salvoes from the White’s field guns softened up the defenders first and as the Whites poured in over the fences the Reds took to their heels and fled, leaving the Whites in possession, -at least for a while.

Will’s cavalry had now pushed right through the middle of the White line and wheeled onto the deployed artillery, cutting it to pieces before likewise being shot into oblivion by the White MGs.

It was at this point that I realised I hadn’t been playing the rules right and seemed to have ignored the morale rules. 

On the positive side it made the game move along more quickly.

So, we ended the evening with game still in balance. I shall tidy up a bit and then hopefully play to a conclusion on Monday evening.