Monday 30 July 2018

(My bad!) I meant I will miss "PoundWorld and the other "PoundWorld Group" shops

They were very good for cheap wargaming miscellany. That means more £1 packets of:
  • Cheap "Superglue".
  • Cheap "PVA".
  • Cheap "DIY lining paper".
  • Cheap "Masking Tape".
  • Cheap "Storage Containers".
  • Cheap "Cable Ties".
There are probably many other things too.
But also, quite a few people (and families) have lost their jobs


Sunday 29 July 2018

Lardistan Battles: Part 4 - Mingling with the Bad Boys

The cautious insurgent commander sends out an armed group, hunkering close to protective (and more importantly disruptive to Line-Of-Sight (LOS). In no way is this meant to "contest" the area with the (heavily armed) ISAF forces. The insurgent agenda is on reconnaissance of ISAF tactics and putting his troops in a position to take advantage of "targets of opportunity". That explains the succession of 'tactical' and 'over-watch' markers (see below): 

The ISAF commander deploys a full team high up on the compound walls to provide a protective fire-base (with its potent arsenal of weaponry). The only thing they need are 'legitimate, clear unambiguous targets'! What they seen seems to be just a normal Lardistan street-scene (see below):

ISAF deploy a reconnaissance team (section) to keep a watch on their right flank (see below):

All looks quiet. A beautiful normal lazy day, but appearances as we know can be very deceptive (see below):

The insurgents keep creeping round using the cover of walls and go into over-watch. This is turning into quite a cat-and-mouse affair (see below):

The result of all this ISAF consolidated deployment is that major the major building is designated as a friendly compound as it is looking securely occupied (see below):

But is anything ever really secure in Lardistan?

Saturday 28 July 2018

Thursday 26 July 2018

CoW 2018 D-Day+2 [Part 3 Sunday (Final Advance and Objective taken)]

Sunday: I woke up again very early [thank you to the morning chorus] and if ever a man was needing a Full English Breakfast it was I. My head was a tad heavy shall we say from the previous evening, the sum was shining in all its brilliance but the rabbits were keeping a respectful distance, perhaps my snoring but methinks they sensed I was very hungry. Again several hard-core wargamers were already up and chatting as I went to shower. By now my fevered eye was taking intense interest in things on the 'bring and buy' stall [I was getting wargaming toy withdrawal symptoms] I had not 'noticed' before (or perhaps the subconscious was working overtime). I acquired during the course of the day some 10mm WW2 British Pendraken Paratroopers from Wayne Thomas [who I only realised afterwards had authored the brilliant Small Wars book available from the History of Wargaming Project] and just to say resisted buying some 15mm WWI Germans and British - the urge was there but the "need" was not there (although my mind was racing to find one). Indeed a large box of 15mm Minifigs ECW was tempting, but I have started a collection of 25mm Plastic ECW and spread over two fronts I felt my (already faltering) progress would stall [However "back in blighty" I remembered a friend who did collect 15mm ECW so I should have given him a ring and emailed a photograph of the hoard. Doh! I was being too self-centered]. The chimes of breakfast called and I was now a much more "bearded" wargamer with heavy grey/black stubble (hopefully not "Stig of the Dump") I sat down with new found colleagues to heartily eat my fill.

Listening to and offering (small) opinion on: Multi-Centre Wargames (chaired by John Bassett). I was intrigues to hear about the previous WD attempts at "Connectivity" between disparate groups of wargamers in a diffuse network. They seemed to range from the ultra slick-professional [US Conference Centre] to mildly cruel (they stuck me in a dark box for three hours waiting for a call that never came but I didn't mind) scenario. The Pol-Mil side of things seemed to rank as more easily achievable than Mil-Pol with coordination of units and sequences of attack. John Bassett quite rightly pointed out (to my philosophical mind-set at least) that the emphasis should be on creating a social event [perhaps with a meal to look forward to at the end of it] with a "game connect" that always holds the potential disconnect, but "the show must go on". My only contributions were (a) to point to a Connections UK 2016 presentation [slide 9] of a KCL Student (Laura Hoffman) on Phil Sabin's MA Conflict Simulation Course where when she 'ran out of friends to play-test he game' she Skyped her "Mum" (that woman is obviously a saint); (b) Games Workshop [please note I was not a player here] through their network of shops "used to" try and link a Saturday/Sunday mega event into a Mil-Pol game. Despite having access to a corporate infrastructure the 'event' (well was reported to me by a participant - sample of one, so dangerous to draw conclusions)  was rather 'vanilla' in texture when scaled up from the local hobby store campaign. They seem to prefer to ship them to Nottingham instead for an aircraft hanger sized game instead. Listening to everybody else's experiences was very interesting though and I would say that I would probably "give it a go" if asked. With that we broke early (two hours is a long tome to talk) and wandered off to see what else was going on (I think I acquired some 10mm British Paratroopers from Wayne Thomas at this point),

Spectating on: Strike! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame (by Michael Young). I had dabbled with taking a pop at this one but it overlapped with a WW2 game session (Open Battles) I was keen to attend. Another DSTL professional offering it was packaged in a serious looking box and there were lots and lots of large chunky counters - two thirds of which seemed to be Russian. I started counting and stopped at one hundred for the Russians, sorry Red Team. Again the intensity was there and it looked like they were going to use every second of their two hours and the next two hours after the tea and cake break coming up. I used a bit of my time here getting a few autographs for my secret artefact [to be revealed later, at the bottom of this article]. I then popped off for coffee and a slice of cake.

Spectating on: Wuestenkriegkartenblockspiel (by Andrew Rolph). My journey back for the cake was circuitous as I passed an "open door" out in the grounds of Knuston I heard the fateful world tank and was drawn in .. to the "Western Desert". I was immediately intrigued and recognised another close run contender that I almost signed up for. No figures but intense looking charts and play sequences with again that intensity of play that meant they were building up to a big clash of arms. The temperature in the room certainly was setting a Western Desert. This one was another long-runner destined to go past the "cake break" into another session.

Coffee and Cake ... very nice fruit cake!

Player: Open Battles (by Alan Paul). This game has history for me. As an owner of Airfix Battles I was disappointed to see it, or rather not see it, continue with extra modules and extension. I thought this game was going to be a "homage" to the game with figures but to my delight it was more of a phoenix from the ashes, watch this space for more things to come. The battle set-up was twice the size of the normal games I had played using 15mm miniatures recycled from Alan's Mission Command game I had spied yesterday. The games is grid based and card activated (See below, a US [although we used British Troops] on the right advance against the Germans on the left, Normandy 1944):

The Germans were split into two forces of infantry supported by "Yank tank killers" (one got a PAK 40 [75mm] 88mm which is also useful in an AA role, the other a Panzer IVH and PAK 40 [75mm]) plus an additional air asset (the ubiquitous Me109) attached to the PzIVH command. I had suspicions that the German PAK were re-rifled French 75s left over from France 1940. The Yanks were a Tank Combat Team with infantry assets attached and an Armoured Infantry Company with "lots of air assets" (two Spitfires and a P47 Thunderbolt). The first session was setting up, talking generally about the period and a lesson in the Airfix Battles rules and extensions (air power, artillery bombardment and various obstacles [field fortifications, pill boxes and barbed wire]). Note: I thought I was relatively "in the know" with regards to Airfix Battles, but there was one important rule I certainly had forgotten about (it has been over a year since I last played [see these scenarios] and I am getting old, so I do forget things!).

I proposed a simple plan the Armoured Infantry would "pin" German defenders from the crossroads up [mainly with the air power] while I "pivoted" by taking the tanks [ignoring the open terrain at the top of the table - with a clear field of view and PzIVH and PAK 40 waiting plus the other PAK 40 in a bunker looking down the road] and would face off against the 88mm AT/Flak (listen, not as crazy as it seems as I planned to take it out with infantry) and turn the left flank. In addition we had two 105mm [although Alan may have said 25 pounders] artillery barrages landing on each German sector [a five by five square template which was pretty impressive - some good should come of that]. Then we would "punch" down the German baseline (that's what is said to do in the manuals). With that we all went off for our last [sniff] Knuston Hall lunch [again first class - I will certainly miss the food] to return for "an hours play".

Returning I found that the German team that had set-up had disappeared off to hear a talk about "The Battle of Edgecote 1469" and in there place the veteran gamer "Von Curry" (minus a Prussian monocle) had taken command. "Who set this defence up?" was his dismayed tactical appreciation. With typical Kampfgruppe aplomb he got stuck into his task (See below, "Von Curry" is on the receiving end of some rather spectacular Allied attack dice rolling [six hits - but he sadly saved three of them being in field fortifications]):

The plan seemed to be unfolding nicely the 88mm was down to half crew strength and the German right flank seemed to be peeling open. The Allied air power seemed to be causing much grief at the other end of the table strafing the German Ground units, until that is the German Me109 turned up and an "active" dogfight took the attention of all. Meanwhile my attack stalled as I tried to "close assault" [what I thought was a battered but not broken] 88mm with US Assault Engineers [those satchel charges should come in useful]. Sadly the one rule I had forgotten (it was a year ago remember) and jumped over in the briefing was that defenders get a defensive fire, aka only close assault "pinned enemy". Ooops the 88mm went off and spoiled my day "Lt Jaworski and a generation of New York hot dog sellers" fell into the soft Normandy soil never to get up again. (See below, my unit 12 was a crack team of snipers who "shot" to kill, they then bypassed the strong point leaving it for the US Assault Engineers to go in, with hindsight [a wonderful thing] I should have just shot again):

"Von Curry" deftly moved his reserves from the centre village but one squad was caught in the open by a Sherman interrupting his move with an opportunity fire card [a nice touch of the system], which was a rather unpleasant surprise to him. However time was passing, so we got a good feel for the game rather than being played to conclusion and as Airfix/Open Battles goes it was rather a big one to fit into one hour play - I guess we were slow to set-up and absorb the rules. I would definitely play this again and would be keen to hear from Alan Paull on his future plans for the game. We shook hands as respectful enemies and headed to the AGM wrap-up.

Listening to: The Wargames Development AGM (by Tim Gow and Bob Cordery). I could not believe it was already all coming to a 2018 end of proceedings, so soon. I felt I could have stayed for a week. The last forty eight hours had been such an intense dunking in the well of wargaming happiness [and being "well fed" to boot - puddings to die for]. The only other comparison I could make it with is Connections UK and as good as it is (and it is good), CoW beats it hands down. At CoW people bring their games (and WIP half-games for constructive deconstruction and critique) to CoW, while at Connections UK (the majority of) people passively hear about "other peoples games" and "wall-flower" the games that are there, being afraid of "showing themselves up" [I may be harsh here]. I speak purely from a hobbyist perspective and I totally appreciated and respect the needs of the "professional" audience [who have jobs I could not do, and respect to them for that], however I know where the innovation lies. Meanwhile the CoW proceedings 'proceeded' very slickly with good humour and there was a warm glow of anticipation for CoW 2019 by one and all [how many "immediate" deposits did Rob take?]. I felt that the departing wargamers were impregnated with many a "stirring thought" or "new idea" to try out. It certainly does live up to its name "Wargames Developments: Conference of Wargamers". In addition what also caught my heart was support by members of WD give for commendable initiative, the Waterloo Uncovered Project helping veterans with PTSD. Selflessness like that sets WD and CoW apart in my eyes for dare I say "competition gamers" - I never met one of the latter at CoW.

Secret Agent: Stalker in search of a Secret Artefact: The Signed Connections UK  2016 Mega-Game Map of Binni signed by the Umpires present at the event (Umpire Signatures: Tom Mouat, Jim Wallman, Bob Cordery, Jerry Elsmore, Rob Cooper). As the Opposition Leader (or should I say more correctly one of the many opposing faction "leaders" - Binni was a country suffering for many an existential crisis, who was the 'opposition' being one) I felt particularly attached to this item (A Player's Map of Binni) salvaged from Tom Mouat's "Free to anyone before I Throw this Away Box". All weekend I had been stalking respectable members of that Connections 2016 Mega-Game "umpiring team" and approaching them when their guards were down and saying "Pssst, I know what you did in 2016, London, Connections UK, Binni - you umpired it, didn't you? Don't try and deny it, I've got photographs!" Their look of fear and alarm dropped after realising that I had not been "harbouring a grudge over an umpire's decision for two years" and now wanted a satisfaction [by pistol duel or dice-off?], so at this point they would quickly sign anything just to get rid of me. Many thanks to these kind gents, golden memories are made of such things (see below, my "wargaming memento", the front):

The back (See below, signatures given under the agreement that this will not be appearing on eBay):

Yes, I claim (happily) to be the saddest wargamer, but very content with the title [a title already bestowed on me by my lovely wife - who when she found out that Tim Gow had been selling off part of his vast book collection she fixed me with a stern look and said "You can take some of your books next year seeing as you are the only wargamer with wargaming models no other wargamer wants!" (reference to my 1:100 "modern" aircraft/helicopters nobody else wanted on the bring and buy stall - but as Jerry said "There must be a game in there". Well I have a year to think on it and many other game ideas)] ;)

Many thanks to all participants at CoW, looking forwards to see you again at CoW 2019. I hope for the people of the "tented city's" sake the weather is as good as it was this year. Regrets none, well perhaps I should have bought more unpainted lead from the "bring and buy stall" ..

Tuesday 24 July 2018

CoW 2018: D-Day+1 [Part 2b continued (Fighting my way Inland)]

Spectating on: Mission Command (by Alan Paull). Sauntering back through the passageways from watching the last twenty minutes of the England v Sweden game I came across a WWII (Normandy 1944 late war era) game. British Tankers and PBI advancing against a ad-hoc German defence backed up with a little armour. This had piqued my interest earlier on but I had to make the call on "A Gathering of Vultures" Matrix Game instead. I am an avid collector of WWII - lots of 20mm (Command Decision - Chain of Command), a tasty bit of early war and some late war 1/200-10mm (Skytrex:Pendraken: Spearhead), 1/300, some 15mm (inspired by CrossFire and "What a Tanker") and ahem some 28mm [a scale I said I would never do for WWII - eating my words here!] for an upcoming Chain of Command "Streets of Stalingrad" Campaign. So I hung around to see what mechanisms were at play. I saw them on sale and hung back from purchasing 'yet another' WW2 rules system (something I am kind of regretting now) but seeing the action unfold it seemed to be playing really well on table. An umpire - hidden movement and placement - a middle battle board (the tactical) that the umpire controls as the players roll across a bigger (operational) map. There seemed to be a certain intensity regarding the players which is always the sign of a good game. Hopefully I should get a chance at this one next year! It looked equally good for my 20mm or 1/200-1/300-10mm collections.

Dinner: First class yet again with a lovely pudding to follow (wow)! An d now for something completely different .. Colonials, virgin territory for me!

Playing: The Relief of Knustonpore (Peter Grizell, Ian Drury, Nigel Drury). This was certainly a "big battle" hoards (literally) of 28mm toys on the table and excellent scenery using Muskets and Tomahawks (extended and revised) rules. I turned up just in time to "acquire" my 'mutinous' (as in playing the side of the Indian Mutineers) command, a rag tag bag of no-hopers who were deemed Mercenary [2] (paid to be here), Mob [1] and Irregular [2], plus a clutch of European "woman" I could use as hostages (interesting). I was also, as per my brief, a reluctant (not monocled) mutineer and only here because my father, a village head-man, told me to do it.

My role was to protect the "stormers" (the better quality Indian troops) from the British relief column just entering the table. I duly positioned my troops with the help of a kindly bystander who I co-opted into helping me (apologies as I cannot remember the name [so many to remember and remembering names is not my best skill] but many thanks for helping me out, it was really appreciated). I manned the fixed defences I was told to and safely holes up with "the ladies" in a strong point. Three units faced towards the relief column and two faced the fort. However I did notice nobody had "joined up with me" and I had rather a "hanging left flank", but the other Mutineers seemed happy and the game started. Down the road cane the British, seeing how many there were and there seemed to be no threat of a breakout from the fort I shifted one unit (see below, red robes and white turbans) out of the inner fort watching to the cover of the corn (see below, the unit to watch out for is the Bengal Lancers, top left):

My small portion of the game. The quality and fire discipline of the British Regulars showed and my best troops were soon hunkered down in a "hiding" state (a bad morale roll). The gap to my left seemed to be all part of a cunning trap. As the first unit of British cavalry (from the second British relief column) moved into it there was a sudden counter move of the Indian Mutineers that resulted in both forces eventual mutual destruction. The first crisis point had passed and the relief expedition seemed to be stalled (for the time being). The sound of the attack on the fort seemed to betray an element of confused haphazardness (partly because of the card driven unit activation system), large booming cannon, staccato musketry and cheers as storming ladders were raised. For a closer description of the "storming" please see Trebian's blog post below:

Trebian;s Blog: The storming.

Meanwhile my wargaming nadir approached at the hands of the Bengal Lancers. My colleagues in the mutiny were forced back due to the prestigious efforts of the British Royal Artillery smashing through a column of our best mutineers. Moral failure and a push back revealed my hanging left flank again, this time the Bengal Lancers were into the gap. They swung a hard right and skewered my hunkering of hiding troops in their defences (see below, the empty redoubt is where my troops used to be) and ploughed next into my Red Robed Irregulars hiding in the corn. They had been forestalling the Regular British Infantry advance and an elite unit of Gurkha infantry (gulp). My troops were dutifully routed as the British spent two turns of [enjoyable?] combat where my only weapon left was to barter for my life, exchanging the European hostages and being called a "scandalous [but alive] rogue" (see below, the end of my command):

Having also lost my Green Robed irregulars in an ill-fated approach to the fort - the wall had appeared unmanned, but it wasn't or rather was quickly manned when I least wanted it, the road to the fort was open, but spiralling columns of smoke indicated that is might already be too late as the gates had been forced and the Mutineers were in fierce "hand-to-hand" combat. The Bengal Lancers and the Gurkha infantry but my "speed bump" had denied them relieving the garrison. Note: I did not personally see much of this as my character was literally running for the hills still clutching a governess's parasol umbrella, thinking what he was going to tell my father the headsman.

Conclusion: 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" (nadir), that I had 'skilfully' deserved. An excellent game. What happened else where others will have to tell.

Next up: Part two of my Matrix Game education ... I have had the DSTL style now it was a 'retro' or 'pure' Matrix Game which relied less on tokens and counters on a clearly defined map, but more on player ingenuity and creativity. I could not wait!

Playing: Save Gordon (by Bob Cordery), What I thought I had learned and now knew from playing the morning's DSTL Matrix Game was nicely contrasted to the more narrative feel of Save Gordon in the evening. There was a strict historical back flavour to the "Save Gordon" (and I must confess mine historical knowledge was limited to a few faded memories of "the film" - please don't judge me) and an emphasis on more believable role play. The game mechanic premise was the same, intended action and three reasons why it could have happened, counter arguments raised by fellow players and the other side, then a judgement call by the Umpire which may or may not involve dice. All-in-all it was a lot more "free flow" which seemed to match the ebb and flow of history better. I was a British general (Sir Garnet Wolesley) trying to 'Save Gordon' by order of the Queen. Sailing from England I stopped in Gibraltar to pick up some extra Artillery and Infantry, the classic "anything but a 1" meant the local ladies of Gibraltar prolonged my embarkation schedule, but thankfully a "send two and four pence I am going to a dance, now!" from my Sudan placed co-rescuer Sir Evelyn Wood, worked a treat to "kick-start" me to the Sudan, Lower Egypt [huzzah]. Please refer to Bob's blog for extra bits and pieces, including photographs from the game.

Mean while "in historical player character" my brief said I had to acclimatise my European troops and insist on a river borne relief force which meant building specialised ships, while treating Sir Evelyn Wood (the in-situ commander I outranked) with contempt (probably something to do with a family feud or Bridge debt or something). I sent him my Lancers (so he could feed them and they were no use to me on the boats - I may have been wrong there?) and told him to get cracking and "Save Gordon", expecting him to take the desert route and not interfere with my (better?) efforts. Other characters had more challenging moments forgetting that they were not in the 'Twentieth First Century' and in the Nineteenth Century. In particular the Madhist player who was charged with spreading propaganda amongst the local inhabitants against the Foreign Infidel, she asked for the AV [Audio Visual] Team to knock something up; presumably a scribe and stonemason set to work - the distribution channel [pigeon?] was also in hot dispute. All-in-all the British seemed to get off to a faster start with Gordon building defences and local morale while two separate relief columns were dispatched: the "desert" one (to which I [Sir Garnet Wolesley] secretly referred to as the 'decoy') and the scientifically proven steam powered "paddle" mode of transport (to which Sir Evelyn Wood secretly referred to as "the Wolesley folly"). 

Sir Evelyn Wood's "Desert Column" fought its way through the desert to within sight of Khartoum but faced a huge dilemma. The Mahdist forces were far too strong for an open battle (a clever Mahdist player, the Mahdi himself incited them to have "religious fervour"  a +1 DRM in this square) so sought a quick way into the city and via Gordon' improvised ingenious boat-bridge it was achieved ..  but at the sore loss of Sir Evelyn Wood and the local Sudanese/Egyptian contingent [controversial as the soak-off was condemned by the Mahdist players as tantamount proof of European disrespect of the worth of locals] of troops (see below, Sir Evelyn Woods "relief force" as they forced an entry of sorts into Khartoum):

The good news was that Khartoum was now too well defended to be 'stormed' by the Madhist forces but it still had to be relieved. All eyes turned to my Nile bound river boat column. The Paddle Steamers having, by monumental feat of military engineering,  had forced passage to Berber over the "cataracts" so were just outside Khartoum. We could see the city walls with Gordon and a lot of British Infantry waving from the battlements (see below, note I have hostiles to the front of me and hostiles to the rear! Nothing beats Colonial wargaming does it! I definitely think I may have been bitten by the bug!)

While commanding the river-bound Khartoum relief force, having successfully forced passage of the Nile cataracts (sorry have I already mentioned that, it was pretty impressive engineering though), against a fierce Mahdist skirmishing force all along the banks [must be some medals earned here], I was positioned fortuitously in the province of Berber south of Khartoum poised to "Save Gordon" (which if you remember 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 (Wolesley) 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 - I have to admit that was a wargaming first for me) was convinced that it 'might just work'. Knowing my wargaming fate was now in the hands of Lady Luck (if I lost this I might as well chose 'crochet as a hobby' - they too have weekend events at Knuston Hall) - Lady C was asked to throw "two sixes" (Christ that seemed all to achievable to my smind at this time of night [teh bewitching hour]!). The resulting slow motion tumble of the dice remains poised crazily forever in my mind's eye, but only(!) one six was thrown (too close a call for my liking) and my 'nadir' was turned to 'triumph', but complete and total respect for the "move of the game" Lady C - just glad it didn't work. 

Another startling success of a CoW game (so much so I am thinking of what Colonial figures I should start collecting). In fact I would not object to another Matrix Game at CoW 2019 that focused more on the tactical breakthrough of "paddle force" to Khartoum as I think the game was nicely balanced at a "make or break" point IMHO, if that is Bob was up for it.

Time to retire for the night or not as I flowed into my second unexpected  Wargaming Chat#2 with a chap called Graham (I think). We had shared the Cyber Security (Red Team/Blue Team) game and played on opposite sides at Knuestonpore, but were on the same side in Save Gordon (in fact he was 'Gordon'). Bob said he got to bed after 1pm because the conversation was so interesting, myself was after 2pm as the conversation strayed in the realms of WW2 ANZAC cruisers and German Raiders. The staff at Knuston Hall are saints for putting up with us lot.

Next: Day Three (Alcohol Free Gaming - but there is still a Full English Breakfast and cake!)

Monday 23 July 2018

Sunday 22 July 2018

CoW D-Day+1 [Part 2a - Saturday (up to dinner): Fighting my way off the beaches]

Saturday (morning, very early): I awoke with the birds, lots of them, that is of the feathered kind [they are always a noisy bunch when you are out camping]. The next experience with nature happened when I opened the tent flap and scattered a warren of rabbits that were seemingly taking unusual intense interest in my pitched tent strings. Thankfully the sun was up and it was such a beautiful day (no I didn't start singing [thankfuly]). However I found that I was not the earliest of the risers, as I approached the Hall I heard a "wargaming conversation" was already in progress between two old WD CoW die-hards sitting on the seats at the front of the hall (I think they had been to sleep). Meanwhile I showered, bimbled about [the 'bring and buy' is always a draw] and then followed the orderly queue into breakfast, a full-English is the best of starts to the day [again the food was simply first class, and none of the cereal stuff for me today].

Knuston Hall again (my tent was around the back on their vast 'sloping' lawns, though I did find a flat bit next to a picnic table to pitch up in):

Gametime: Now the first game intrigued me from a purely professional basis [I am in IT, please don't judge, I have to earn a living somehow] so the Red Team/Blue Team was a "must" and had been an early 'banker' on The Wall. Anybody who has been told to read a fifty page IT security document would really want to know if you could translate the process into a practical "active learning" exercise instead, even if for the sake of the amount of trees that had to be cut down to make the paper if nought else.

Playing: "Red Team/Blue Team" (by Mike Elliott). Mike controversially split the IT boys (and there were a few of us here) into one big baddie 'Red Hatter' Team ('V for Vendetta' Hackers). We were asked to play our natural opposites, to actively "hack" and "sin" which is always a good learning experience. Churlishly we met each others eyes and started grinning in naughty school boy fashion. We would get told off for doing this at work. Mike walked away knowingly - he had went through the exact same experience when he played it himself .. he knew we were going to have "fun" (and boy we did). The 'others' (Muggles?) had to protect a water treatment company from any invasive 'hacking' that stopped them functioning or caused distress. I guess they were told to 'be yourself' and go about your normal duties. The game was very realistic IMHO as we had what I call a 'man on the inside' (even though he didn't know it himself), the Finance Director (FD) who didn't want to spend any money on Cyber Security! After the Red Team had gotten over a "storming" phase of name dropping a multitude anecdotes of real-life cyber security "things" (the likes of Stuxnet and "Dancing Pigs") that we all had seen or heard happen, we did a clever thing and actually focused on the game. Our budget was 'our time spent' on what we wanted to do (we had 'three actions' to initiate per turn). The difficulty of these 'actions' progressed from 'Green' (easy, no prerequisites), 'Purple' (slightly harder needing a prerequisite Green action in play to achieve) and the deadly 'Black' (hard, which needs an appropriate 'Purple' action in play first, maybe even 'two' for the real nasty ones). We [Red Team] were hooked. Mike had put on a superb asymmetrical game - it was like watching the history of Vietnam play itself out - two different wars being fought. The 'Company' didn't see things until it was too or almost late and when they stopped one avenue of attack the focus simply shifted to another. One unsavoury finding was that the public perception of compromise was probably deadlier than physical destruction and knowledge (data) loss - you didn't have to do the crime to get the benefits of the crime. The plant was pumping clean water but Social Media was aflame with hacker activist scandal ["we managed to do this" - lists of passwords etc] and defamatory "Fake news" [cholera in the water] and slurs about the companies activities [CEO, MD, FD doing naughty things with company assets - all distractions from the data we were actually sucking out of the company]. In the end we were in through numerous 'open gates' but could also could in theory away to 'similar target' (another company) if the heat turned up too much. In fact we were given several 'blank cards' to devise new 'threat vectors' and ways of attack. That was fun! An unnamed academic (and there was a few of them about in the Red Team) at this point was spinning in a "I want to be able to break something physical" cycle for one last throw of the dice (too many Stuxnet seminars and case studies methinks). It had to be said that we fell short of that objective. Both sides were to be congratulated at the end of the game but I have to say that I felt somewhat 'professionally dirty' in how much fun I had at being 'bad', in doing so much 'pretend' damage 'just for the hell of it'. People will hack because they can. You can blame it on the tight-fisted FDs at the end of the day for simply making it all too easy IMHO.

Bob's Blog caught the game debrief on camera (but for the record I claim to be the 'one true hacker' as I am the only one positioned out of camera shot and so my identity is not revealed):
Read Team/Blue Team Participants - apart from me

End Note: Mike passed on these interesting resources (links) as the game was an extension of an existing Cyber Security game from the University of Lancaster (NOte: We did it without the Lego playing pieces):

Playing: "To Sail The Spanish Maine" (by Sue Laflin-Barker). This was a pleasurable CoW find of a game. One I can take home to the kids [the ship counters used in the game come from "The Battle for Britain - Wargame the Spanish Armada 1588 Peter Dennis" paper cut-out game - which I already have]. I also had the pleasure of meeting one-half of the Barkers and Sue was a delight as an umpire. A fleet (three players, twelve ships, four per player) of merchant ships make their way across the table (or rather Mediterranean) to seek cover of their home port after a long season of trading spices and exotic good for Spanish gold. A (bigger) dastardly Pirate fleet (four players, sixteen ships and again four players per ship) had other ideas, "booty be thar' me lubbers!" (See below, as the game unfolded the "fleets" intermingled and gunshot and cannonade was all heard in the 'minds eye [or should that be ear]"):

Thankfully tides and winds were factored into the game ingeniously, so it was no Napoleonic naval sailing course required before you could play (which is my pet hate of Napoleonic naval). All players had an arc of about 120 degrees in which they (randomly) could travel (1d6) and another (1d6) inches they would go. You could make tight turns but did not know exact;y where you were goinmg to end up. Bumping into somebody from your "own players fleet" (or rock) would mean "death" to you or the other. Line of battle formations it would not be, rather an unseemly scramble for safety. Combat was equally simple as a 1d6 roll higher wins sufficed. (See below, even if two ships "bumped" they fought):

With only one winner (see below):

It seemed we were 'tough' Merchants and they were 'poor' Pirates (just more of them). It also became apparent that the Merchants were up against a Pirate clan, as three out of four of the pirates were closely related (father, daughter) or married into (son-in-law) "the family". This was going to be interesting, either a slick oiled killing machine or internecine bloodshed? On the question of 'Tactics'? Everybody plotted a safe course, only to be confronted with other (friendly) players ships and dangerous reefs. The Merchants all laughed as a pirate ran aground and sank on a reef, but then cried as we "blue-on-blued" one of our own (time to call 'ship-insurance-claims are us!'). The Pirate patriarch reciprocated as he took out one of his son-in-laws (or possibly the 'unrelated' pirate's) ships. By the time the two fleets met four ships had been sunk by "geography" or "friendly bow-to-bow" action. All semblance of coordination had gone from the Merchants and it was "every man for himself". The Pirates were just "Out for booty!" Even stealing off other pirates if need be. By fortunate placement my ships were furthest away from the Pirates, so by fair winds and luck I managed to split the Pirate blockade-line and gain sanctuary of the harbour for the good ship "Henifer"(See below, a blurry picture due to the worsening sea-state, but the top smudge of 'blue' is the "Henifer" running safely to port betwixt and between angry [in the theatrical sense of the word] enemy pirates but under the safety of the harbour's land guns):

I had by the same fate lost my straggler, the little ship "Emma" and her treasure went  to the 'Pirate Queen' who had ran a succession of successful boarding actions. The "Emma's" captain had a brave plan to take the action to the pirates, but fell in battle and handed the Pirates more gold. The "Henifer's"cargo of gold was safely delivered to the port and was counted as nine chests but the Pirates had plundered more than fourteen, with many more valuable merchant ships driven way from port, to be picked off another day or battered by hostile stormy seas. So the Pirates claimed the Seas. I did mention the prospect of a trade agreement to the Pirates at the end of the game, to which the now firmly established Pirate Queen said "Yes, we'll just take what you got! Like it or leave it!" which seemed to conclude matters nicely in time for lunch. Farming seems a much better career prospect in hindsight ;)

Lunch: simply first class (and three courses), by this point I know I am going to be gaining weight this weekend, but I don't care and the deserts were to die for. I did have qualms and a moral dilemma regarding the England  v Sweden Quarter Final (betraying the national trust we were putting on the lads, but there seemed to be only three people who cared) but also I had nabbed a spot at the exclusive Tom Mouat DSTL Matrix Game "Reckoning of Vultures" which I simply felt I could not pass up - at exactly the same time as the game ... I went to the Matrix Game, I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do and the Swedish strikers had been pretty poor.

Playing: A Reckoning of Vultures (by Tom Mouat). Immediately upon entering "the room" I knew that I was in amongst hardened semi-professional players by the poker-faced demeanour and sparkling intensity of the eyes with everybody unconscious smiling in anticipation. Tom's light-hearted ambience was contrasted the seriousness implied by the setting-up a video camera to capture for posterity all the proceedings (I hope subtitles will be added to aid the understanding of my northern guttural accent!). Hmm, my playing field had suddenly been elevated from the Pirate-Merchant "fun" game. The unpacked "DSTL authorised" Matrix Game Kit had lots of bits ([and I mean lots] I could almost hear Rex Brynen's PaxSims voice speaking as the box was opened). We all stared at the rather daunting number of counters. Tom muttered to himself while reading the scenario description from what reminded me of the beloved Command Magazine zip-lock game instruction booklet. Next our roles were chosen at random (though Tom offered freely to let people have their psychological "preferences": Secret Police, Normal Police, Head of Armed Forces, Oligarch and last of all the Union [Toiler] representative - which is a good 'role playing' tip but no one stood up to be type cast). I was assigned "The Toilers" - and by my brief it was made clear to me that everybody thought I was the lowest of the low (fine - I am the newbie after all). Everybody not so much hated The Toilers (aka workers), but as is in this regime rather expected to be able to boss me around. The affront on these people wanting rights and an opinion on matters. Ho hum, I would be "idealistically" pure to the impoverished underclass as everybody else raced for money and power, then possibly sneak a win in through the back door.

At this point I made an "informal" player friend as the Head of the Secret Police informed me that his wife would be texting "goals" in the England v Sweden match with a wink (he cannot be all that bad after all, despite the uniform) . At least I had inner peace that I was not totally deserting my country in its hour of need. This game was a Matrix Games (DSTL style) and my first 'raw' in the flesh active (you suffer the consequences of your mistakes) Matrix Game. I had high expectations of Tom and he did not let me down, as what I got was a 'tour de force' of Matrix Game umpiring, seeing a master of his craft at play was enlightening. At first we (the players) jockeyed for power around the ailing dictator (whose health started at 10 and took a 1d6 "dive" per turn, until he flat-lines at zero) showing concern at the terminal signs of departure. The players were given tokens that represented their levers of power. A token was assumed to have "relative equality" those each with intrinsic properties [aka a "Tank" would expect to have strong fighting prowess in an 'open' fight]. You could also undermine other player's tokens by placing your influence tokens on them (a word in their ear, or cash in their back pocket so to speak). Something rather 'sneaky' that all the players liked, even if they would not openly admit it. You could see the players early on try to establish their power base without overt confrontation. The "map" had iconic representations of "power (VP) centres" that could change hands, many times, during the course of play. Trebian has two excellent photograph of the "Chief Toilers" (me) toiling over where to place them to make a mark on the map (the "Toilers" deployed last and their power-base was naturally away from the centre of political power and influence [the political "Ministries" and the like]). Note: In the game the Secret Policeman referred to me as "Mr Hopper" - I was obviously on "his list" of undesirables to get rid of. 

The Photo-shoot: Please see Trebian's site for the pictures of the game in progress (click below to see the "Toiler" (me) placing me initial tokens to the 'folded armed disgust' of the Police Chief and the look of alarm on the Head of the Armed Force's face, the Secret Police Chief (Secret Policeman) is naturally out of picture and the Oligarch is taking the picture with a high spec jewel encrusted camera. Tom is to the far left knowing all will not end well [he's after all read the scenario brief in full] despite the players high-hopes, [Note: Only two 'player characters' will walk away from this one and there are five in the room]:

A better shot of the "Chief Toiler's" cranial dome, the Oligarch cheekily said he had to turn the flash setting off on this one for fear of "glare" (see below):

Back to the game: As stated the power play was 'subtle' (non overt) at first as players tried to consolidate their position quietly and clear out the "bad influences" of other players on their home patch. The Secret Policeman and the Oligarch obviously shared no love for each other and the "kit" of the Head of the Armed Forces had to be respected. The sequence of play went as follows: the active player stated the action/outcome they wished to achieve because of the "rule of three" (antecedent conditions) reasons why it "could" happen. Tom (as umpire) was arbitrator of this reason as the opponents raised objections to the validity of reasoning (ranging from the logical to far-fetched, including some whimsical arguments along the way with a DRM of +3 to -3). Assuming a normal distribution of likelihoods (unless it was a done deal) dice were thrown, following the two standard deviations rule, an unlikely event had to throw high, but even simple task could fail on a low outlier dice roll. Normally (or when possible) you 'stacked' the outcome by throwing in an asset like cash. 

The pedestrian manner was abruptly broken by the Secret Policeman successfully poisoning the Head of the Armed Forces [Ugh? - Cheeky!] and "getting away with it" (very risky as this very overt action took place under the very nose of the ailing "Leader for Life"who liked smart uniforms, shiny medals and tanks). To the Secret Policeman's horror "another" Head of the Armed Forces" [this time the Air Force] took his place - he was hoping to remove the player, no such luck he had just rather annoyed him instead! "No holds barred play soon took over from this point" especially as the ailing Dictator "croaked" on the next turn. The "Toilers" meanwhile let the armed psychopaths "knife fight it in a telephone box" and appealed to God. Well actually we gave the Bishop money to buy influence (Napoleon said always treat the Pope as if he has 100,000 men and given the likely outcomes of this game my player character may need a good word in the afterlife). This stunned the gun totting gamers (does not compute), including Tom. It worked and I now had a direct line to the Matrixian Pope (which could earn an end of game VP according to my brief), the same line (without the money) subsequently worked for the Matrixian Muslim Cleric - will all this faith stuff stop the bullets though? Meanwhile there were tanks on bridges, gunfights in the Central Bank and circulation of corrupted Police away from sensitive areas (the Oligarch's money was a bane to the Chief of Police). The game ticker was also winding down as politicians from other parts of Matrixia headed to the capitol to decide the "Leader for Life" succession. The Head of the Armed forces was alarmed by my quiet seizure [I asked the Oligach's thugs guarding the refinery to go home and they did] of the important Oil Refinery (as well as the docks, road transport and power plant ["Workers of the World unite, our God(s) are with us!"]).

Enter the Head of the Armed Forces elite "Matrixian Marines (wearing nice berets) transported on the Matrixian Navy's (one) landing craft to conduct a text book amphibious landing - 'text book' because it was not opposed. The workers looked on, saw the guns and then went home (again to my delight the "soldiers" did not see that simple response coming - workers don't work under duress). Congratulations Mon General you now own one non-functioning, potentially very dangerous (aka read "ticking time bomb"), complex oil refinery with lots of flashing red lights and buzzers going off. To distract the General from this dilemma the Oligarch's elite ex-Spetnaz bully boys (although I likened them more to "night-club bouncers" in sun-glasses) attacked and were unceremoniously repulsed (see, I thought the Oligarch's boys were big sissies in sun-glasses wearing ill-fitting suits). It came to my turn and I played my blinder move [a I'm happy I can go home now move]. I had disposed of my tangible assets with donations to the church but turned to Tom and said "I am going to raise my reserve mob forces [something even Tom had forgotten about - he had to double check my brief], fuelled by anger at the disrespectful actions of the Army [sic Marines] and funded by the Oligarch [to which Trebian went "Eh, OK but only if you attack this turn" damn him, that was rather astute otherwise I would have the biggest private army on the board for next turn] and attack the Marines in the refinery." Even the Secret Policeman and Chief of Police were on my side. "The Battle of the Pipes and Oil Drums" was very short, the tactic of making a lot of noise by clanging pots and pans together and firing shots in air caused the Marines to run away [we've all seen Aliens II - no firing 'hot' ammunition in a refinery full of explosive gases, I can understand it from their perspective]. They even left their pretty "berets" behind in their rush to get away. I was at the height of my success then reports of cavalcades of black limousines full of regional politicians entering the capitol came in. The succession vote counting had already started, damn! [Was this hubris?] This was a turn or two, too early for me, as I had planned a popular uprising at the University and a Demonstration into Parliament on the following two turns as I planned to mobilise the last of my reserve. I had planned to sweep the streets with anarchy, I even had the pamphlets printed. Instead we all had a VP tot up and one of those awful 2D6 dice rolls to make .. unfortunately I rolled low and was eliminated. I held my head up high even when the Head of the Armed Force's (#1) and Oligarch's (#2 [his money saved him]) Death Squads came looking for the Secret Policeman, the Police Chief and the Toiler Chief that night. Another despot Leader for Life assumed power this time wearing an Air Force uniform plus peacock feathered hat.

Conclusion: It was a most satisfying game (I believe several resistance songs have already been written about "The Battle of the Pipes and Drums"), even though my player character was dumped unceremoniously from the dock-side into river in the dead of night, along with the Secret Policeman and the Chief of Police. It was a really, really good game and I felt I experienced a lot. In short a well run matrix game is definitely a strong educational tool as well as being fun. Matrix Games also link strongly to Confrontational Analysis and looking back to the Red Team/Blue Team game, some of its mechanics (a chain of Green, Purple and Black actions) could easily be transported into the Matrix Game framework if you are looking for a more formalised game definition (which I think DSTL are). England 2, Sweden 0: even better no need for penalties, bring on Croatia [Oh!].

Dinner beckoned ... to be continued.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

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

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:

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.

PS: Check out Martin Rapier's Blog for additional photos and commentary [My "Lancaster pilot's bottom" can be just seen next to the Map Table in one]

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):

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:

The "Paper" can be found at:

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

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

Tuesday 3 July 2018


'Nuff said!

Farewell my Airfix Grey Acrylic Primer (01) it looks like the end of a beautiful relationship!

To the tune of American Pie (the Don McLean song, not the movies that is):

"I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd bought the "paint" years before
But the man there said the it wouldn't "sell"

Apparently I was the only one who liked using it :(
Gone even from the Airfix website
The HobbyCraft girl said Humbrol were cutting back on their paint range :(

Monday 2 July 2018

Lardistan Battles: Part 3 - Troop "Deployment or Not" as the case may be

Three "Red" insurgent jump-off markers in play. Two are placed rooftop within a building complex, The third dangerously in an irrigation ditch below the ANZAC ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) building area (see below, top right):

ISAF with their three "Green" [poker-chips underneath the vignettes] jump-off markers; two in the main built-up area (see below, top middle and top right) and a third in the "bushes" to the left of the compound (see below top left):

The "area of contention" (aka the game board) is an "L" shaped insurgent area and a stubby "I" of ISAF, plus an area north (above the top of the photograph below) that nobody seems to care about (see below, the areas of close proximity):

So far you have seen a lot of scenery and 'markers' but not a lot of action. Time to roll the ISAF first Command Dice (see below,"1+2=3" which means a Squad plus NCO is deployed):

Some nicely painted ANZAC ISAF forces deploy (one section up and one section back in rear support), "eyes front"hugging the terrain wall for cover and security. Please note the 'unimpressed' locals in the background (underneath the archway) attending to their daily business. This seems to be a game with 'Blue' (ISAF), 'Red' (Insurgents) and 'Green' (Indigenous) playing pieces. Perhaps we could write in a 'White' (Non-Governmental Organisation(NGO)) also in the game to complete the colour palette (see below): 

Meanwhile the insurgents roll their Command Dice (see below, "4" implies a Senior Leader, "3" implies a 'fighting cell' and '1' implies a "specialist"):

Consequently in cover hidden from ISAF eyes [which is hard to play without an umpire - but as this was a game played amongst 'honour system' friend sit worked] the 'fighting cell' occupied a building. By start contrast the Senior Commander (see below, a single figure with a inconspicuous 'Dice with a 1 on it' next to him) as bold as brass starts talking to some locals in attempt to "influence" their world outlook. More insidiously the ISAF player was told there was a specialist amongst the assumed indigenous peoples on table [Note: Actually ISAF guesses correctly it is a mobile phone "dikka" within their line of sight (LOS)]. With ISAF troops bound by strict "rules of engagement" (not to fire first without clear indication of threat) this is a frustratingly effective tactic. Suspects can in effect just be watched 'until they do something', by which time it may be too late (see below): 

The overall effect of this seemed to be that time played into the insurgents who played a waiting game, collecting Chain of Command points patiently, with an eye to using a Chain of Command Dice to trigger an "Ambush" or create some other nuisance. Already this is not playing like my previous WW2 Chain of Command games. The tension for the ISAF player is palatable and painful to watch.

Next: This "Waiting Game" is Killing Me!