Monday, August 18, 2014

D-Day Landings: Sword & Juno Beach

I actually had to extend the table to get the map to fit.

Last night we got together and played some Memoir '44 D-Day landings. Now there are six very big maps in this particular pack and they can be played in a number of ways. We played Overthrough, a game type where you stick two of the maps together and play them as an Overlord game.  We put the Sword & Juno beach maps together which covered a goodly portion of the British & Canadian contingent on D-Day. 

Landing craft steaming towards the beaches

I didn't take enough photographs to be honest as I was too busy enjoying the game, but it was excellent.  Our main was two pronged, the 6th Airborne on the left were to hit the German artillery positions, while everybody else dashed up the beach as quickly as was humanly possible.  It wasn't a particularly inspired plan, but it seemed to cover the basics. 

General Kerrigan-Smythe-Williams examines some of the German heavy artillery

There were some additional wrinkles in this particular scenario, the number of victory points required was very high, twenty nine in total. However, there were a large number available for different objectives. Each cleared section of beach was worth two as were the German heavy artillery positions. There were also points available for bridges and control of the urban areas.  What was interesting about those from a game play point of view was that because the points were awarded to one side or the other, small moves on a big map could have big effects. This meant that the scores felt sort of "swingy". A small move suddenly take four medals off one side and give them to the other. 

General Du Gourmand studying his cards

I took command of the Allied Forces, wearing a beret plastered with every cap badge I could find, while Du Gourmand took up the cudgels as the vile and evil Hun. 

The Germans commanders study the situation

The Germans had a hard time of it as they were mainly reacting to our moves. The game stalled about half way through, the 6th on the left could not shift the German artillery on the left, while the right was starved of cards.  We were pushing well in the centre though, but it probably wasn't going to be enough. 


This meant that General Von Fatzington was able to get some of his armour reserves into the fight and stoutly contest our advances on the right. Herr General Deegan on the other hand was faced with a more solid advance commanded with commendable aggression by St.John-Boomington. A run of centre cards and a lucky airstriek certainly helped. 

And come to a decision.

One aspect of the game was that a little unusual was a sort of odd Yachtzee style mini game. Each player rolled some dice and was allowed move (but not battle with) a unit for each flag that he rolled. He then had to match the symbols rolled against chart, which granted him a steady trickle of reinforcements. This meant that not only were there new troops coming into play, but that clearing the beaches became a top priority as reinforcements normally deployed in the landing craft, but could also be placed on an uncontested beach. 

Hungarian commander TK studies where he is going to place his panzers

By half way through the game, despite being hammered by Du Gourmand and his pals, we managed to get the assault on the right moving, while St.John-Boomington cemented his gains in the centre. The paratroopers led by Sydney finally knocked out the German guns covering sword beach, but TK had managed to roll up some panzer reinforcements and delivered a brutal counter attack to the scattered paras. 

Du Gourmand delivers a pep talk 

We had been trailing the Germans for the entire game so far, but at this point we began to overhaul them. The centre of gravity of the engagement was beginning to shift - the Germans were beginning to focus on taking objectives from us rather than vice versa. 

Von Fatzington seems somewhat skeptical

Von Fatzington's counter attack on the right was cut off and wiped out by some decisive team work between Kerrigan-Smythe and St.John-Boomington. 

General TK seems unconvinced

TK was doing great execution on the German left as his panzers chased Sydney's paratroopers around the countryside.  They were mostly hunkered down in cover waiting for relief and trying to put some fire on the unstoppable German death tanks. 

General Sydney gets his paratroopers moving, while General St.John-Boomington pours reinforcements into the centre

But while TK was murdering paratroopers, Sydney co-ordinated with St.John Boomington who moved reinforcements in from the centre to allow Sydney to grab several objectives. This meant that they were able to put together a co-ordinated push on the beach. 

The final German bunker on Sword beach falls

The final score was 29-24.  Du Gourmand and Von Fatzington have been playing the maps as two player games and both said that the Overthrough game felt much more balanced as the larger board gave much more scope for the German artillery. We were lagging behind on victory points and only managed to overhaul the Germans by about two thirds of the way through the game. Not including physically setting up the board and a brief planning session (during which I may have described our plan as Operation "Get up the ****ing beach), the whole game took two hours and twenty minutes. 

A taut and challenging game, my thanks to Sydney, St. John Boomington and Kerrigan Smythe for keeping the faith and sticking to the plan and to TK, Von Deegan and Von Fatzington for a stout defence.  Du Gourmand remains, of course, my best of enemies. 

Having played two of the six maps available - I'm definitely interested in trying to whole shebang, though we will need bigger tables. And lots of them. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Honved Hussars

One of the problems of having talented friends is that - well - they are just so damn talented that it's hard to hate and envy them as much as one should.  Our man in Budapest, Krisztian Takacs, has been sculpting a range of 15mm figures for the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.  They are, I think you'll agree, very fine looking fellows - one could almost forgive them for being in 15mm. 

These examples were painted by TK himself and represent Hungarian hussars in the new hussar uniform introduced in 1848. A disturbing lack of shakos I know, but there are some pelisses which is something.  I keep meaning to sit down and draft some scenarios for 1848, but I've been decoyed into the Crimea. 

This picture is probably more useful to those of us familiar with Hungarian currency, but it does give some idea of the size and heft of the figures. You can see some more of TKs pictures here

And for those who do play in 15mm and fancy giving a new period a bash, you can find these for sale at the Hagen Miniatures Store. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Battle of the Alma

The Colours Advance of the Scots Guards at the Alma by Lady Butler

Young Du Gourmand and I have been discussing using Command & Colours Napoleonics to play games set during the Crimean War for years now.  What changed last week was that I finally got off my backside and did something about it.  I put together a draft scenario for the British sector of the Battle of the Alma. Du Gourmand and I played it three times and came to that classic conclusion that crops up in most research be it under graduate or otherwise. 

"More research is needed."

I rated the British infantry as standard Napoleonic British infantry, albeit with three blocks and a three hex range because of their shiny new rifles. The reason for them being reduced to three stands is that the Russians seemed to operate in larger units, so any given acreage would contain more Russians than Britishers.  The British plus one to shooting when stationary also remained. 

The Light Division were treated as British Rifles from Command & Colours Napoleonics.  British generals and horse artillery were also treated as they were in Command & Colours Napoleonics. 

The Russian artillery, generals and cossacks were treated as written, but the Russian infantry began with five blocks and ignoring one flag.  We did not use the Mother Russia rule.  

The important thing to note here is that the British infantry have a range of three hexes and the Russian infantry have a range of two.  This results in a sort of dance where the Russians struggled to get close to the British lines without getting shot to pieces and the British shied away from the Russian juggernaut.  With only three stands, a British unit that was charged by a full strength Russian unit was in serious trouble. 

After the first playthrough, we knocked the Russian infantry back to four stands because five stands was just too powerful. We might play around with the idea of four stand British infantry and five stand Russians, but the game seemed to work with three and four. 

The Battle of the Alma by Horace Vernet 
(note the size and extent of the slope) 

Normally when designing a Command & Colours scenario, hill hexes are only used to indicate changes in elevation, but the problem with the Alma is that the Russian positions are on a slope, which calls for what is effectively a multi-level hill in Command & Colours terms.  This led to the unusual situation that the Russian player was concealing troops uphill from the British player and then counter charging his men as they took the redoubt.  The point is not that that shouldn't have happened, but that the British player should have been able to put those units under fire before hand. 

This is going to prove to be a tricky circle to square - though Du Gourmand rather rashly promised that he would write me a scenario based on the French sector if I manage to get it right.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Heroquest at Targets

For those of us who were born in the eighties and liked a certain sort of game, this advert was a revelation.  I recognise now that in many ways Heroquest hit a lot of sweet spots for my ten year old self.  It was basic enough that I could play it without assistance from my Dad or another adult and short enough that you could actually get through multiple games in an afternoon.  This was a boon and while I always enjoyed playing Aquitaine with Dad; Heroquest was a game that I could pick and play without an adult interpreter.  

The Heroes knee deep in adventure
(our Wizard has been slain and can be seen lying on his side)

Target got a copy of Heroquest for Christmas last year and we've been meeting at his home to play the occasional game over the last few months. So far it has proved excellent fun and I've thoroughly enjoyed it, leaving Evan the Self Hating Elf to victory on several occasions. The game is simple enough to be picked up quickly with enough variety in the scenarios to keep things interesting.  One change that Target did introduce was using a print out of the American rules for the monsters, which were tougher than those in the UK version. This has added a frisson of extra danger to the play so far. 

The Dwarf and the Barbarian bravely take on the Witchlord
(while I bravely hide with only two body points) 

We played through three scenarios in an evening, made all the more pleasent by Targets cheese board and excellent whiskey.  Show me a man who plies his guests with Crested Ten and I will show you a man who will find me returning to his home with monotonous regularity.  The games we played formed part of the Witchlord campaign.

Target shows his usual restraint and magnanimity 

In the Witchlord campaign, we bravely broke into the Witchlord dungeon, murdered his friends and stole his house hold goods. Once that was done, he rose from the grave to smite us and we had to run away as we discovered that he could only be slain by the Spiritblade. We then toddled off, got the Spiritblade, came back and hit him for six. It is was splendid fun. 

Target also cackled rather spectacularly when Jon's Barbarian was killed by an Ork and Liz died when rocks fell on her head.  I always consider a casualty or two the sign of a good dungeon crawl, as Lady Gaga eloquently put it in her anthem for Heroquest GMs everywhere Pokerface, "...if it ain't rough it isn't fun."

Evan the Self Hating Elf 

On examining my character sheet, I have discovered that Evan the Self Hating Elf has survived quite a few dangerous encounters (six in fact) and it looks like we are going to have to embark on "The Return of the Witchlord" campaign (apparently we wasn't really dead...or was that undead?) 

An impressive piece of cutlery

Target picked this up recently.  It doesn't appear to be sharp, so I suspect it is a wall hanger, but still very nice to look at.  If it is a wall hanger, I think it's an oldish one.

The full thing

Given that those who read J&F are often interested in swords, I thought I'd take a few pictures. If it does strike a cord of recognition with anyone, I'd be interested to know. 

Detail on the hilt

But on the whole, a good night was had by all and I shall look forward to the next one. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review: Treasure Island

Cover by NC Wyeth - possibly one 
of the most wonderful illustrators that has ever lived. 

Treasure Island is a great book and like many great books, grew out of a small act. Stevenson's step-son was drawing one day and his step-father looking over his shoulder, saw that he was drawing a map. They spent the day naming the places and colouring it. And from the map came the book.

It is a simple story told by a boy on the cusp of manhood and therein lies its power. Jim Hawkins is a boy telling a story to other boys and his nature is reflected in the telling. There is no navel gazing or reflection in him, he doesn't agonize over killing or worry about the morality of taking buried treasure. Unlike his contemporaries in Victorian fiction, whose scruples often verge on the priggish, Jim's moral compass is personal, his loyalty to his mother and to his friends. His is a conscience rooted in the eighteenth century, his goals are clear and their simplicity and single mindedness drive the story forward.

Wyeth again - when I was a small boy, this image filled me with indescribable dread. 

But even in this celebration of the 18th century love affair with laissez faire capitalism, Stephenson finds a place for evil. It is a grinning, grubby, chatty evil, far removed from the starkly painted moral monsters of children's fiction. Long John Silver is a murderer, a pirate and a scoundrel, but he is also charming, capable and a leader of men. Jim enjoys his company despite himself. Though Jim hates Silver for his cruelty, he admires him for his daring as all boys admire those who defy parental or scholastic authority with panache. In some ways there is little to choose between Long John and Jim, both pursue the treasure, Long John is simply willing to use brutal means to obtain it.

The Jim we meet at the beginning of the novel is a boy, bound to his mother and weighed down by childish things. By the end, he has encountered dangers, both moral and physical, and survived. He has mastered new skills and entered man's estate. For the rest of us, reading Treasure Island could be considered a vital part of that passage.

You will find a particularly fine audiobook version of Treasure Island here

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Visitors & Belfast

We were visited by some silly English knig-its!

The last week has been gloriously and very pleasently busy.  We had the pleasure of playing host to a visiting wargamer pal and his lovely wife. I dragged them both dragged around Dublin for a quick tour before returning home to Mrs. Kinch's cooking. Dinner and a game followed.  There was also the intriguing possibility of more games by G+ or other video conferencing, so a success all round. 

Maryville House Tearooms and B&B
(Mrs. Kinch for scale)

After playing host we waddled off to Belfast for a few days away and had a really lovely time. We were a bit confused as the city seemed utterly deserted on Monday, but we had forgotten that "The Twelfth" had been on the 12th and everyone seemed hungover and slightly bewildered.  Though in a rebranding exercise that it possibly the greatest thing since usury became interest, the festival is now Belfast Orangefest.  A bit odd to be sure, but a distinct improvement. So, we went to Belfast on Monday and basically it was shut.  But we were happy to sit and read our books and generally relax - that to be honest was the plan anyway. 

We stayed in the Maryville House Tearooms and B&B, which I recommend unreservedly.  The food was excellent, the room wonderful and the staff uniformly lovely. To be honest, this was one constant of our trip to Belfast, with the exception of two ladies who were very trying (and were from Cork), the people in Belfast were friendly, helpful and couldn't have been nicer. 

Dinner on Monday was French as befitted the occasion and it was really splendid. La Bastille on the Lisburn Road was top notch and we drank the health of the Swiss Guards and confusion to the Republicans in fine style. 

Albert Memorial Clock

For anyone who likes Victorian and Edwardian architecture Belfast is a feast.  My little Iphone camera simply wasn't up to capturing it in all its glory, but for what its worth - here is the Albert Memorial Clock. City Hall was a treat as well and well worth looking at. To be honest, you can't go very far in Belfast without seeing some really splendid architecture.  The late Victorian stuff is a lot fancier than the often quite austere Georgian lines of my own home town.  I don't pretend to know much about it, but it is certainly something to drink in. 

Nelly cooling off. 

Mrs. Kinch was very keen to go to Belfast Zoo.  Now I was a little anxious about this, as Dubliners we have become used to going to Dublin Zoo and Dublin Zoo is world class. With the exception of Longleat Animal Park, it is probably the best place to go see animals that I've ever been.  This does mean that on occasion, we have gone to zoos that didn't met that standard (Berlin Zoo springs to mind) particularly with regard to animal care. Happily Belfast Zoo was top notch and I would recommend it. 

 Two things we noticed while attending.  Firstly, bring good shoes.  The zoo is build on a hillside and there are quite a few steep slopes. Parents might want to consider bringing the sling and leaving the buggy at home. Secondly, most of the animals were asleep - Mrs. Kinch maintains that this was because of the hot weather, I know better.  They were clearly recovering from the after effects of Orangefest.  It's the only explanation that makes sense. 

Ivan the lemur recovering from Orangefest 
"Aspirin...Anne...for the love of God."

William and Ian the lemurs also recovering. 

Cecil the Piglet had been marching with a drum for quite 
some time and was plum tuckered. 
(bowler hat out of shot) 

Yvgenny the Meerkat on post

The Meerkats were quite lively - though I suspect that it because they are Orthodox and therefore did not attend the party. 

Though while we were there, we did run into a get together for the The Miniatures Page Message Boards.

It was just as I remembered them.

Mrs. Kinch looking slightly miffed outside the Crown.

The Crown Liqour Saloon is a famous pub in Belfast that was refurbished in the 1880s.  The job was done as a nixer by Italian workmen who were working on churches in the area at the time.  It sumptuously appointed and the interior is wonderful. 

Photo from

My Iphone camera wasn't really up to capturing the interior due to poor lighting, but as you can see from this shot of the interior - it is really something.  Unfortunately, the sumptuous interior is pretty much where it ends. If you are going to Belfast and would be interested in seeing a particularly fine example of a late Victorian pub, the Crown should not be missed. However, the service was very poor, the drinks expensive and the selection not much better than one would get in the average boozer in Dublin. A bit of a one drink wonder. Go see it - but I wouldn't spend the night there. 

Mrs Kinch outside The Aether & Echo, looking distinctly cheerier

In terms of pubs, The Aether & Echo, was our find of the trip. Best described as a "steampunk pub" it comes across as a bit poncy - it's website actually has a manifesto outlining the ethos of the pub - but don't be dissuaded, it is wonderful. A well appointed Victorian interior with plenty of snugs welcomes you as you enter.  The bar staff were extremely friendly and I must say well turned out. Slightly more expensive that the average bar - but the quality of the service was superb and the drinks menu was very impressive. We visited there every day for three days and I didn't manage to try the same gin twice. Top notch.  I only regret that we didn't eat there sooner as the food was superb.  Two thumbs up - we will be returning. 

The Titanic building

No trip to Belfast would be complete without a trip to the Titanic experience.  This was Mrs. Kinch's idea and I'm very glad she talked me into it. The exhibition is very well laid out and covers a great deal of ground. The history of Belfast as a port, Harland and Wolf as shipbuilders, the construction of the ship and the tragedy itself. I found the last bit quite hard to watch - but it was impressive. Mrs. Kinch certainly enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Belfast. It's a little bit of a trek from the train station, so you might be better off getting the bus.

Though to be fair, probably one of the highlights of seeing the Titanic experience was listening to a couple discussing it while we left. One of them said,  "I'm disappointed. I don't know what I expected. I thought there would be a boat."

Words failed me. 

Speaking of transportation, if you are visiting Belfast, I would urge you to consider the visitor pass. It's £14 for a three day pass and allows you unlimited travel on buses and trains within the city.  It also carries with it a number of discounts, so remember to look at the list written on the back and present it when you are buying your ticket. By making use of the discounts at the Titanic and the Zoo, we made back almost half the cost of the two passes that we bought - so it is worth bearing in mind. 

Required reading so far as Kinch is concerned

Once we were done at the Titanic, we returned to the Aether & Echo for some excellent food and to explore more of their excellent drinks menu.  I particularly recommend the No. 47 Monkey gin (both dry and sloe), the Paloma,  the New York Sour and the Alhambra Club Cocktail. 

The loot

Now, no trip to foreign parts would complete without dropping in on a second hand bookshop.  The Internet means that new books in English are pretty much available anywhere, but second hand bookshops still have their charm. We paid a call to the rather excellent Keats & Chapman and emerged with heavier bags and lighter wallets. 

My share of the loot was a proof copy of a Byron Farwell that I had not encountered before, a book on Zulu Kings (always good for a laugh and generally makes the Wars of the Roses look like a school picnic), Memoirs of a British Agent by Lockhart (which I'd heard of, but never read), The Massacre of Glencoe by John Buchan (bought purely for his name, I've no idea what this was) and a relative rarity, a enlisted Sepoys account of life in the Indian army. 

On the whole, an excellent trip and we will be returning.  Recommended. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Soapy's Sci Fi Deck Officers

I wanted some 28mm science fiction figures that weren't waving around swords or giant guns.  These boys can be found manning a Star Destroyer or other vessel in a galaxy somewhere near you. These come from Woodbine Miniatures Science Fiction range.  and I think they're pretty good. Very simple sculpts that painted up nice and quickly.  

To be honest, the most difficult thing about these chaps was picking the right palet
te. They were sprayed grey and then given a wash of black ink. I dry brushed over that with standard army painter grey and then did a few highlights with some grey with a few drops of white. 

The bases were done with pva loaded with sawdust from the shed.  I'm not entirely sure why these fellas are outside on an alien planet, but I couldn't make the base grey as well, it would have looked terrible. Be that as it may, the red base seems to have done the trick. 

I like to think of my Star Ship crew as being the spiritual descendants of these guys. 

Note: Apologies to all those that commented on my previous post - due to my sausage fingered incompetence I managed to delete the comments rather than approving them when they came up on my phone. Apologies again.