Wednesday, 18 July 2018

My [First] Conference of Wargamers (CoW) 2018 [Part 1: Friday]

The games I played and the "adventures" I participated in, recorded for posterity, so that my memory does not fade:

D-Day - Friday (Hit the Beach):

The Journey: A long affair but probably not as traumatic as Bob Cordery's frustrating experience travelling up from London. Coming South from "The North" has the benefit of a less troublesome route south, the glorious A1 Roman Road by comparison is a far friendlier beast than the deadly M25, sired by the mischievousness thoughts of delinquent Motorway Planners. However the "northern route" still took its time (four hours) and had its own "interesting features". Along with the traditional 'roadworks' there are more exotic 'visual distractions' to the unwary male driver ... did anyone else know that after The Little Chief franchise of "motorway fast food stops" went into liquidation several of the prime sites were 'transformed' into a chain of 'Motorway Sex Shops!' [How did that get through planning permission?] I can tell you that it caused several instances of "rubbernecking and breaking lights quickly going on" by various drivers including myself [the signs were pretty big]. Once was an 'amusing' double-take (far better than a serious crash when traffic usually slows down) but the apparent success of their 'A1 Business Model' made reacting to other drivers an all too frequent a distraction. It left this driver with a strange 'sense of expectation' as unsure of quite what to expect as the next service junction appeared. No secret roadside wargaming emporiums for sure! It has to be said that BP and Shell filling stations looked dull by comparison. Despite these siren-like dangers (and the closure of that silly little bridge next to [the lovely] Knuston Hall, see below) I arrived at 4 pm mightily tired but excited at the thought of the long wargaming weekend to come.


The Welcome and The Wall: As I entered the foyer I uttered a spontaneous comment , "I feel I am in the presence of wargamers!" At home! The force was strong here and thankfully everybody laughed. I turned left to see the smiling face of Tim Gow unpacking boxes of 'interesting' books ... again I immediately felt at "home". There was tea, coffee, biscuits and a "bring and buy stall". Tim gave another newbie and myself a quick tour of the facilities and introduced us to the "focal point" of CoW, the "games signing-up sheet". This is the brain centre where "Gamer's get their game fixes .. if they are quick!" A poster wall of  A4 flyers with "available player spaces" posted alongside or underneath a master time sheet. A cornucopia of fun was to be had for sure. A bit like a box of chocolates (Forrest Gump style), the wealth of selection mixed with the paranoia of sign fast or "you might not get a game at all" [the 'six' Traveller slots were all gone for example]. I was here to fill my boots so I was a keen scribbler! Old hands have no such qualms as they seem to realise like the feeding of the five thousand there is more than enough to go round [all games being good games]. Having 'scribbled' my name to a few games immediately (aka bankers) I turned to the question of 'my accommodation' which meant putting up "The Tent". Which given the windless sunny day was far easier than I expected. I returned to see a much changed "poster wall" - plenty of games already filled up and new ones appearing. My brow furrowed into intense concentration until I was satisfied I had all Friday sorted plus 'Saturday and Sunday' were three quarters full, including two Matrix Games ('A Gathering of Vultures' and 'Save Gordon'). Note: The latter were high on my "list" to get under my belt. I had read the books now it was time to 'walk the walk and tango with the pros'. "All" were called into The Lounge, and "all" were formally welcomed to CoW 2018. The two 'Newbies' stood up [everybody staring at me] and we were individually welcomed [identified to old hands as 'fresh meat' perhaps?] and then we were called to 'dine and sup' in preparation of the festivities to come [PS: The food is first class]. Anticipation was high!

At this point in the write-up I realise I should have taken far more photos but thankfully others have done in my place, so I may direct you to their blogs with the links below, to give a much wider taste and feel of CoW:

http://tgamesweplay.blogspot.com/search/label/COW
http://wargamingmiscellany.blogspot.com/search/label/COW%20%28Conference%20of%20Wargamers%29
http://megablitzandmore.blogspot.com/search/label/COW
http://wargaming4grownups.blogspot.com/search/label/Conference%20of%20Wargamers

After dinner I then started CoW 2018 proper:

Playing: "Out On A Limb" (by Tim Gow) which meant searching many distant lands (in my case mainly South American) as a UN WMD Inspector, and reviewing many 'suspect' terrorist organisations, with various nefarious means of causing mass terror and destruction. Plus interesting "Random Events" (Think Cluedo with several extra interesting dice rolls). The question is which one was the "real true threat"? The answer can now be revealed that it took place in the Library, with a Boardgame and the person responsible was a certain Tim Gow. It was the perfect after dinner game for wargamers although I was glad that far finer minds than mine were sorting through the layers of logical calculations (better knowledge of First Order Predicate Calculus would have come in handy here). My excuse was that it was hot and the alcohol had started taking effect, despite the elaborate clue tracking mechanism I devised which involved a lot of question marks. The ticking clock was winding down to the last few seconds from the set time of 45 minutes (quite appropriate I am sure everyone will agree) when the player to my immediate right announced he had solved the mystery (huzzah) - he made his predictions and was proved right! A well earned round of applause that was cut short by Umpire Tim who announced that as he had correctly identified the threat but remained in the "threat area" (where the baddies were), an assassination attempt must be made and the "winner" in the blink of an eye went to "dead person" very quickly, but the world was still saved. A lesson for us all perhaps there, "Only be brave when you are backed up by a US Armoured Division or equivalent or well away from the area". A really good ice breaker of a game. Clutching a cold pint of beer in hand I went of in search of my Lancaster Bomber "J for Johnny", leaving in the background the dazed UN Charted Accountants holding the UN WMD collective "travel and expense bill" claims.

Next up ...

Playing: "Target For Tonight" (by John Curry aka "Wingo") which meant I was flying "J for Johnny" with my fellow crew member, none other than Martin Rapier (of The Games We Play fame). Two bloggers in a cardboard simulator of a Lancaster Bomber, what could possibly go wrong? .. Nothing except my school boy maths for sure, luckily Martin was the Navigator. "Wingo" informed us that tonight was a 'Maximum Effort' (what another one?) to the industrial city of Koblenz .. collective groans .. Germany and night fighters. When asked if he was joining us on the raid, "Wingo" informed us that sadly no [how he keeps a straight face we don't know] the MO had not yet cleared him for flying active missions again, but he would be 'with us in spirit'. Mutterings from "Q for Queenie" indicated that "Wingo's" maximum effort would be down at the Dog and Duck with Maisey the barmaid again. No chance, since the USAAF were setting up shop in town. Meanwhile "J for Johnny" was stocked with a suitable mix of explosive and incendiaries for the target. By contrast "T for Timmy" (Gow) had chosen "a big B@$T@rD" bomb [aka a Grand Slam] just in case the Tirpitz or a U-Boat Pen had been moved secretly to Koblenz. Everybody made a mental note to be well ahead of "T for Timmy" as that bomb had to be released from such a high altitude (10,000') either the back-blast from the explosion or worse the bloody thing would hit our Lancaster on the way down and knock us out of the sky. Pilot Officer Gow responded to this with a maniacal grin (too many missions). Donning our flight suits we ran through our pre-flight check, revved the engines and took off in such spectacular fashion we were awarded a "green" chit for perfection (the first and last we got all night). Then followed a series of navigation tests that seemed to get increasingly harder (or was it a product of my beer intake?). I think we picked up a "red" poor effort token at some point for navigation, we were sure we were either over Belgium, France or Germany [somewhere]. Martin was up in the "astroglobe bubble" taking celestial bearings [I kid you not this was state of the art navigation in 1942] when we were suddenly attacked by a night-fighter. In traditional WD fashion we successfully evaded it by leaning over suddenly to the right (or rather I let Martin push me that way). We then picked up another "red" poor effort counter when we opened fire and shot down a Mosquito Pathfinder [Note: Not the way we wrote it up in the report though, it came across as a classic Nazi KG200 trick of using captured planes against their former owners - "Wingo" likes that sort of stuff]. Then came the bombing mission and the atmospherics reached an unprecedented high as the pathfinders had lit up Koblenz like a dream. From 5,000 feet it looked like a toy town of little wooden houses illuminated by small Xmas candles [Note: That's exactly what it was]. A beautiful sight in the still night air, then we bombed it, wondering at the same time where the hell was "T for Timmy" with his ruddy great big Grand Slam. Whether it was the fatigue at the length of the flight, my intake of alcohol, the summer heat or the 'pressure' of my first CoW, I inaccurately passed on the bombing data to Martin so we were off by some 180 degrees and consequently released late, probably killing some innocent grazing German cows. The other Lancasters in the stream were more skilful and Koblenz was ablaze, but thankfully we safely returned home, missing out in "the ditching in the sea" by one red counter (the skin of our teeth - saved by a good take-off I think). "T for Timmy" however got rather wet, but luckily for their crew the RAF Rescue Launches (remember that 1/72 Airfix kit) were to hand. This will be much to the annoyance of "Wingo" as Maisey is a sucker for a 'I nearly bought it in the drink story' so I think the crew for "T for Timmy" are in with a chance. Somehow "J for Johnny" was actually awarded a medal .. methinks it was for the (ahem) night fighter we shot down. Pity Maisey doesn't go for medals.

Two cracking games.

The night was yet young as we walked away from "J for Johnny" I had the good chance to run across Bob Cordery "in the mess" and as wargamers do several hours passed chatting about almost everything under the sun - with lots of wargames stuff thrown in. This is what must be referred to as one of the "hidden treasures of CoW". The sheer joy of passing time and sharing ideas with like minded souls. We retired ready for the sun to rise on Saturday's session in all its wargaming glory.

To be continued ... Saturday ...


Saturday, 14 July 2018

Data Driven Lives of Wargaming Miniatures (Video)

I am getting more like my kids and this is a good thing. I am learning to use YouTube more. True hours can be whiled away doing nothing particular, but every now and then amongst the "cats" videos something interesting turns up. If I said "The Data Driven Lives of Wargaming Miniatures"; pull up a chair, have a cup of tea/coffee, click on the link and trade 16 minutes of your life for something I found quite mind blowing - but I do have a 'tiny mind' (see link below):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCGQrs3aX8A

My Pondering Thoughts: 
True it makes references the life and times of GW miniatures but "abstracting out" I think it is generic. Where it is going? That I don't know but the research [and research is often an open ended journey] is ultimately looking at generating better User Experience (UX). I found the first couple of slides new, so highly interesting and the "narrative of the object" again an interesting concept. However talking about the miniature without the specific reference to the game [why it is played] lessened the understanding of what [miniature-tabletop] wargaming actually is and that in turn weakened the understanding of the miniature's purpose [IMHO]. If you understand the game [or gaming] better then you understand the purpose of the miniature better; then surely you will be able to design [or evaluate] future 'things' much better. However if can you explain that to a mainly academic and non-wargaming audience in a few slides, then you are a better man than me.

Footnote: Climbing off my virtual soapbox I actually enjoyed the video and was genuinely excited about academics [daring to] create a video/research like this.

The chap who put the video together can be found at:
https://cdt.horizon.ac.uk/dimtri-darzentas-mixed-reality-storytelling/
https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/groups/mixedrealitylab/people/dimitrios.darzentas2

The "Paper" can be found at:
https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~psxdpda/Ddarz_Papers/Paper_2015_CHI15_Data_Driven_Lives.pdf

I wonder if he could be brought into the "historical fold" or venture into Connections UK or Wargames Development/Conference of Wargamers? I would have thought John Curry's History of Wargames web-site may be of interest or 'blow his mind' ;)

CoW 2018 Bloggers: Fine Fellows One and All

http://tgamesweplay.blogspot.com/
https://exiledfog.blogspot.com/
https://wargamingmiscellany.blogspot.com
http://wargaming4grownups.blogspot.com
http://megablitzandmore.blogspot.com/

Monday, 9 July 2018

A Summary of a Summary of CoW 2018 ... and the reason why any Wargamer should want to go to CoW 2019

Best summed up by the Churchillian quote: "The Conference of Wargamers (CoW) 2018 was Blood, Sweat and Tears".

Blood - was all virtual, tiny metal soldiers or cardboard counters taking the brunt of things.
Sweat - the precious hours of "Game Designer Toil", followed by the "Fevered Excitement" of the Player 'decision and indecision' cycle and not forgetting the physical sweat actually caused by the 'Glorious' summer heat (27 degrees C).
Tears - Of "joy and laughter" (I have never laughed so much in ages) as even my numerous wargaming moments of nadir were to be celebrated and fondly remembered. I remember every game ending in sumptuous spontaneous applause.

See below for a flavour of the experience:

Nadir Moment 1: Having effectively lost 100% of my brave but badly lead mutineer Indians against the British Relief Force, I was left to beg and grovel for my pitiful skin. My survival depended on exchanging the European Ladies being kept hostage (and my few remaining working firearms) for a "I'll look the other way" moment from the officer commanding Bengal Lancers - It worked and I ran like the wind back to "my village" (see below, it was a wargaming low achievement high, that I had 'skilfully' deserved):


(Almost) Nadir Moment 2: While commanding the river-bound Khartoum relief force, having successfully forced passage of the Nile cataracts, against a fierce Mahdist skirmishing force all along the banks, I was positioned fortuitously in the province of Berber south of Khartoum poised to "Save Gordon" (which happened to be the name of the game). Then with almost the last fling of the dice (and in the best tradition of Matrix-Games) an outrageously bold abduction plot was hatched to kidnap me from the decks my Nile gunboat by Mahdist player "Lady C". Thus it was argued, the expedition would be thrown into chaos, dooming poor General Gordon. The 'project' was delivered with so much descriptive aplomb and creative ingenuity (to the point where the Umpire, a certain Bob Cordery from Wargames Miscellany, was seen therapeutically banging an empty plastic water-bottle off the top of his head repeatedly to help him make sense of the matter) that it 'might just work'. Knowing my wargaming fate was in the hands of Lady Luck (if I lost this I might as well chose crochet as a hobby) - Lady C was asked to throw two sixes. The resulting slow motion tumble of the dice remains crazily poised in my mind's eye, but only one six was thrown and nadir was turned to triumph, but total respect for the "move of the game" (see below, Save Gordon - the final position):


The best fun I've ever had while keeping my clothes on. My only dilemma is, that if I go around and start telling people how good CoW 2018 was then more people will just want to come to CoW 2019 .. but in that case the organisers would just have to put more games on .. so I guess it's really a WIN-WIN

;)

Are you listening David Crook?

;)

Friday, 6 July 2018

Next stop CoW

In the words of the great, late John Denver: "My bags are packed and I am ready to go."

For those not in the know, check out:
http://wargamingmiscellany.blogspot.com/search/label/COW%20%28Conference%20of%20Wargamers%29
http://megablitzandmore.blogspot.com/search/label/COW