Thursday, October 31, 2013

A to Z Blogger Book Survey.

This is a chain letter sort of thing that's doing the rounds. I think it's the cut above the usual and worth doing, not least because it's sent me scuttling off to do a bit of re-reading. 

I stole it from Steve over here, who has some interesting answers, though I will have to get that Neville Shute... 

Author you've read the most books from:

I was actually quite torn about this and checked my catalogue to try and work it out. I own more books by Patrick O'Brian than any other author and I re-read them fairly regularly. Conan Doyle seemed a likely candidate, but he hasn't written as many though I've read practically everything he has written.

The answer came from Mrs Kinch who pointed out that Sir Terry Pratchet is the most likely candidate as he has written over sixty books and I've read almost all of them.  Don't own any of 'em though.
Best sequel ever:

I'm wracking my brain over that one. Mrs. Kinch makes a powerful argument for "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."  

Currently reading:

The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien (very funny)

The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov  (heavier than O'Brien, suffers from the target of its satire no longer being with us)

The Wargamers Annual

His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (for the umpteenth time)

Scratching through the American Civil War collection to knock a scenario together.

The Screwtape Letters (very funny)

Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill (shooty-death-boom in spaaace by one of my favourite Scotsmen)

Drink of choice whilst reading:

Coffee. NATO standard. Milk.  Two sugar.

E-reader or physical book:

I used to think that I would never use an e-reader, but sheer practicality means that I can't carry a physical book  with me all the time. The Kindle app on my phone gets a bit of a workout these days - but given the chance, physical book ten times out of ten.

Fictional character you would probably have dated in high school:

That seems awfully unlikely. I suppose that a rather sordid liaison with Ida from Brighton Rock isn't a possibility? That would be fun.  I always had a soft spot for that girl.  

Glad you gave this book a chance:

Probably James Ellroy, who I read when I was a teenager and didn't like. He is a superb prose stylist and his dialogue is fantastic. Also the Harry Potter series, which I read in 2004 when my marriage was breaking up. I love the Harry Potter books, they are well written, entertaining and good books all in one. I was tired of life and tired of reading at the time and they brought me back to the fold.  

Hidden book gem:

Hmm. I'd forgotten this one. H. Rider Haggard is not read often enough, if you ask me.

Important moment in your book life:

There are so many.  I suppose the best would be reading Biggle Pioneer Air Fighter at the age of seven.  I have been able to read for a couple of years, but had no inclination to read for pleasure. During a holiday to Bulgaria in 1987, Mum managed to jolly me into reading Biggles and I got the bug.

Reading Allan Mallinson for the first time was a real adventure and Mathew Hervey's habit of reading the Psalms encouraged me to do so myself. It led me on an entirely different, but very rewarding adventure.
Just finished:

I love Dan Abnett. He is a story teller in the old style and I really enjoy is deftness and lightness of touch.  Unfortunately, his excursions outside of 40K have not been as good, but I'm sure he'll find his way.  A real craftsman who I have never read without pleasure.

Kind of book you won't read:
Um. There are certainly books that I would rather not read, but I can't really think of anything I won't read. Any book is better than no book at all.  

Longest book you've read:

I read some ridiculous Fantasy Door Stops when I was a teenager, but none of them are sticking particularly in my head. I also read some very bad L. Ron. Hubbard, which I recall being very big. I read War & Peace recently, which was big, but not particularly difficult. Ulysses was big.

Probably the Aubrey-Maturiad, which was one novel that happened to be published in 20 volumes.

Major book hangover because of  disappointing endings:
Nothing is springing to mind here.
Number of bookcases you own:
Six or seven, depending on how you count 'em. Plus a couple of hundred books in boxes.

One book you've read multiple times:

Some people say life is the thing, but I prefer reading. An American said that and I'm not sure he was wrong.  As Steve said, books are like old friends, why wouldn't you visit them again?

Books I've re-read recently.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson - A fantastic adventure book.

The Dune series by Frank Herbert - This was a masterful achievement and was the first book that ever managed to communicate the idea of the vast stretch of time to me.

Preferred place to read:

In bed. On the couch. In my armchair. Christmas is a time in my family where we exchange books, so lying on the couch while full of Christmas pudding poring through the latest loot is a definite favourite.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you've read:

"Women are never to be entirely trusted -- not the best of them." - Sherlock Holmes

Words to live by and a phrase that transports me to Baker Street immediately.

Reading regret:
I can't think of any book that I've regretted reading. There are certainly books I haven't finished or books that I didn't think were any good, but there was always something there.

Series you started and need to finish:
I should really finish reading those Erast Fandorin books that I haven't caught up on.

Three of your all-time favorite books:

The Sherlock Holmes Canon - I read them and re-read them and re-read them.  I can always find something in them.

Lord Jim - It was a toss up between Kim and Lord Jim. Kim is probably the best book ever written (though Beavis by Richard Jeffries is a close second) about being a boy. Lord Jim is one of the finest books ever written about the often tricky business of being a man. I also realised that I hadn't mentioned Conrad yet.

The Book of Common Prayer - There is always something there for me.

Unapologetic fanboy for:

Far, far too many.

Sherlock Holmes -
Aubrey & Maturin
G.K. Chesterton (particularly the Father Brown stories)
Mathew Hervey

Very excited for this release:
Allan Mallinson - get weaving squire.  The history books are very nice, but I would like some more stories please?

Worst bookish habit:
Starting and not finishing books, which results in me reading five or six at a time and never finishing them.

X marks the spot - Start at the top left of your bookshelf and pick the 27th book:

Hussars of the Napoleonic Wars by  Kenneth Ulyat - a book for children that I bought because I liked the pictures.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Honest Kinch & Sons Foundry. Est 1748.

They're never going to win any beauty contests. 

With Gaelcon closing in - it's been a bit of a DIY week in the Kinch household. Mrs Kinch is doing sterling work in the War Room, staining and varnishing her little heart out.  The house reeks of varnish, but the end result looks well and that is the main thing.  I have been going through the box room and various bits and pieces have headed Oxfam-wards.  The multiplicity of small jobs that get ignored during the day to day running of a house have all been attended to. 

Old John of Vintage 20Mil fame will be dropping over tomorrow for Gaelcon.  I always enjoy his visits, though I suspect that my wallet will not thank me as he has told me he is bringing a "surprise". 

Unfortunately, whatever surprise Old John is bringing it probably won't be my guns for Little Wars, which despite having been due for nearly a week, still haven't arrived. I have been able to repair some broken guns and snare a few from other sources, so we should be OK. It did however leave me rather short of mortars, which I need. 

So above you will see the fruits of my labour at Honest Kinch & Sons Foundry. Est 1748. "Suppliers of loud bangs to gentry of three Kingdoms. No money returned." A broomstick barrel with foamcore evo stick'd to the side. It isn't pretty, but it says "Mortar" loud and unequivocally. I'll paint it when the glue is dry. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Prelude to Little Wars II

Infantrymen from the Grand Duchy of Little Siskington and the Bishopric of Gormanstein

In answer to Jerry's question, the troops we'll be using for Little Wars are painted though in a somewhat minimalist style. They take a bit of a beating from NERF pellets and being moved around, so a high speed low drag paintjob is best. These have seen quite a bit of miniature combat as can be seen by the chipping around the bases and the raised areas. 

The Majestic Double Headed Eagle of Little Siskington

Now, these figures have been sitting in bags for quite some time and I figured it was about time that I sorted out some proper storage solutions for these.  Now previously, I had used shoe boxes to move figures around during battle. The idea is that players can deploy whatever troops they like into boxes and then move those boxes at cavalry rate until they are struck by a NERF bullet.  

The Dastardly Fleur de Lis of the Bishopric of Gormanstein

The players can stuff as many figures as they can manage into the boxes and only have to deploy them when they wish to shoot or when the figures have been revealed by an enemy scout. Now as it happened the shoe boxes I had were looking pretty tatty, but I know a woman who is a dab hand at a spot of make and do. Tootsie Royale generally doesn't cater to the wargaming market, but she made an exception in my case and I'm very glad she did. These are light card boxes, covered in fabric, trimmed in ribbon and with a stencil to identify each side. 

A completed box

These boxes will be functional on the battlefield and look rather nice on a shelf, so it kills two birds with one stone. Because they're covered in fabric rather than paper, they'll be rather more hard wearing and I look forward to making sure they get a lot of play over the next few years.

I really enjoy Little Wars or at least my version of Little Wars as I think it's probably one of the purest wargames out there. I've seen all manner of blunders, heroic last stands and tough command decisions taken by players who would never consider themselves wargamers in the first place.  I don't think it will ever be my main wargame, it's a bit too much game, but for sheer fun, it's hard to beat.

Roll on Little Wars.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Preparing for Little Wars

A picture from an earlier game at Dominicon
(you can see more pictures here)

I've stepped up planning for Little Wars as Gaelcon closes in. The figures are ready, but I have some trees to make and I'm still waiting for my cannon and mortars to arrive.  I could get them from the States, but only after paying an arm and a leg for shipping. I found an ebay seller who had them on offer, but there was a problem. The seller would not ship to Ireland. 

John Cunningham, dependable as always, for all his protestations of being an evil influence has stepped forward and offered his address a transhipment point for the guns from Germany.  A seller who will ship to Great Britain, but not Ireland, is a baffling specimen in this day and age.  The artillery will be arriving with John, when he arrives for his annual trip to Gaelcon. Du Gourmand is digging out his special drinking trousers already. 

I had been meaning to write a short series of scenarios for Little Wars, but work over the last few days has been relentless and there has been precious little time. Fortunately, Du Gourmand arrived to lend a hand and together we hashed out a short three game series.  I had given that real food, eaten hot at a table had been something of a rarity for the last few days decided to try something differant. 

I dug out my trusty "French Cooking in Ten Minutes" by Edouarde De Pomaine and kept flicking until I found something I liked. "Chicken Marengo", I thought. Perfect. 

The offending article. 
Du Gourmand sat down and had dinner placed before him.  I asked with a knowing smile, if he recognised it. He managed to correctly identify the ingredients, but failed to identify it as Chicken Marengo. I was a bit dissappointed, but told him anyway - to which he responded. 

"Where are the prawns and fried egg?" 

It emerged that the recipe I had followed was a later adaptation of the classic recipe and lacked certain key ingredients. This was apparently a problem that vexed General Bonaparte himself. 

As always on this blog, the result was a triumph of style over substance and lacked proper Napoleonic research.  It was however, if I say so myself, very tasty. 

A much more rigorously researched production

Dinner taken care of, we settled down to the business of the evening knocking a Little Wars campaign together. 

We came up with the following. 

1780: The Bishopric of Gormanstein and the Grand Duchy of Little Siskington are at peace. However, the Baron of the small, but minerally rich, border province of Targentium has died and there is some question over the succession.  The late Baron was a vassal of the Grand Duke as has been the case since the 1640s. However, the Archbishop of Gormanstein, being the shifty, French funded dastard that is, intends to present the Siskingtonian forces with a fait accompli by moving troops into the Barony in support for his candidate. 

Game One: The Gormansteiners advance across the border into Targentium. The badly outnumber Siskingtonians must fight a delaying action to buy as much time as possible for reinforcements to be rushed to the Barony. 

Game Two: The Siskingtonian reinforcements arrive under Baron Von Taffswald and fight a pitched battle with the Gormansteiners led by the notorious Irish soldier of fortune, Marshall Savage O'Lunacy. 

Game Three: The Gormansteiners rush to take the fortress which controls the Taffwalds Pass. With it in their control, they will be able to cut off the flow of reinforcements to the Siskingtonian Field Army and force it to capitulate. 

With each of these games taking about an hour, I think getting the campaign finished in a day is a possibility. We've settled on a very simple system for determining victory. Whichever side wins two out of three wins the campaign.  If either side wins both of the first two games, the players can opt to disregard the third game. We'll see - to be honest it's something that will only become clear with playtesting. It will also depend on how much floor space we'll have available. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The crash of musketry... once again being heard rattling around Chateau Kinch. There has been far too much revving of engines and the wheeze of gasmasks of late. Time to get back to toy war as it was meant to be, with men that dress like peacocks and fight like demons.  

With Gaelcon just around the corner I've been digging out my Little Wars figures. These are 1/32 scale plastics painted in the colours of the Grand Duchy of Little Siskington and the Bishopric of Gormanstein. They're a mix of A Call to Arms American Rebellion sets and whatever cavalry came to hand. My cannon appear to have dissappeared though, which is a little worrying. Hopefully they will reappear before too long. 

The painting as you can see is workmanlike, but these are mass produced soldiers are designed to be knocked over by NERF guns, so any more elaborate would be an extravagance. I haven't played Little Wars in quite some time and I'm looking forward to giving it a whirl again. 

There is still the small matter of those guns though.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Block Mania

Block War

One of the advantages of having married into Old Nerd is that one doesn't always have to provide the game to play. I was lucky enough to get a chance to play an old Games Workshop boardgame with Mrs Kinch's uncle and my old pal Mr Target last week. Mrs Kinch was off at a missionary meeting for the Promotion of Stephen Sondheim to the Underpriveliged and we took the opportunity to get our teeth into some Block Mania. 

Judge Dredd indulging in a spot of Community Policing

Block Mania is a board game set in the Judge Dredd universe. For those of you unfamiliar with the canon, Judge Dredd is a fictional lawman in the future megalopolis of Mega City One. He was created in 1977 by John Wagner (writer) and Carlos Esquerra (artist), but has been worked on by anyone who is anyone in British comics at this stage. Mega City One is a vast conurbation that has grown up on the east coast of the United States in the aftermath of a terrible nuclear war. Outside the city is an arid wasteland called the Cursed Earth while inside are teeming billions ruled with an iron fist by the council of Judges. 

The thinking behind the Council of Judges is that the population of the city is so vast and the pace of life so frantic that democracy is unworkable and justice is dispensed by the Judges, a (mostly) incorruptible body of lawmen in the style of US marshalls, so called because they are not only police officer, but also Judge and often executioner, enforcing all of Mega-City Ones arcane and hilariously draconian laws.  

The humour is I think one the key parts of the Dredd universe and a part that cropped up rather a lot in the game we played.

Behold Mega City One 

Because of the overcrowding, underemployment and other horrors of the 21st (or is it 22nd?) century, the large housing projects in Mega-City One occasionally suffer from mass outbreaks of civic lunacy called Block Wars. Each Block will turn on its neighbours over some real or imagined slight and attempt to do them as much damage before the Judge turn up to shut the whole operation down. This is the setting of Block Mania, a Games Workshop game from 1987 that allowed up to four players lead their blocks to victory or defeat. 

Blessed is he whose cause is just, thrice blessed is he who gets his blow in first!

Blocks in Mega-City One are named after celebrities, now because the game was written in the eighties, they are things called the Sly Stallone Block. We decided to name our own blocks and so the titanic struggle of the Miley Cyrus Block, Christopher Hitchens Block and the Heston Blumenthal Block began. 

Gameplay is rather random with players getting 2-12 command pips and using those to recruit and deploy units to attack or (if they're not really playing the game) defend. This randomness is a recurring theme during the game, where the successful player is attempting to manage a number of different random systems simultaneously.  This is not an elegant design and I imagine it could get wearing after a while, but as a sometimes thing and as a reflection of the lunacy of the situation, it works very well. 

Above you can see some gallant Juves of the Christopher Hitchens Block attacking the Vehicle Bay in the Miley Cyrus Block.  The resulting explosions were extremely satisfying. 


I settled on a strategy of attack a l'outrance and soon saw explosions and mayhem erupting across both my opponents blocks. Now as it happened this meant that there wasn't much emphasis on defence and Mr Target (the gentleman with the beard) managed to sneak a mob into my block and set fires everywhere. 

My Fast Cavalry

Fortunately, I had a unit of Fatties (pictured above) who managed to get to the fire in time. Then I realised that my heavy weights were unable to fight fires, so they settled for trampling the Heston Blumental blockers into paste.  Twas the stuff of story and song. 

Meanwhile, my PDF (army reservists, poorly trained, heavily armed and slightly unstable) managed to sneak into the Heston Blumenthal Block and use fire bombs to get a conflagration going. This spread in a very satisfactory manner and meant that Target spent most of his game fighting fires while I tried to destroy his sprinkler system. That was of course, before Uncle WestProg started setting cannibalistic alien mercenaries named Kleggs on me. But it was all in a spirit of good clean fun. 

The smoking ruins of the Christopher Hitchens Block

Sadly, the Christopher Hitchens Block was not to prosper. My strategy of all out attack meant that I ignored fire fighting on my door step and soon, they raged out of control.  While using and destroyed units and vandalising civic spaces is all quite good fun, the real key to the game is damaging your opponents block and causing it to collapse. This illustrates an interesting point in the game design, players do not accumulate victory points, but defeat points. He who has the smallest number of those at the end of the game wins. 

I suppose the point being that by taking part, you're already losing. 

Target and Uncle WestProg consider the situation

Once a block has started to accumulate collapse points, there is a (very small) chance that the block will collapse. Unfortunately, that came quite early for me and Target and WestProg continued to blast away at each other for another forty five minutes before the Judges showed up and shut everything down. Mainly through the medium of shooting everyone. 

...they survey the smoking ruins of my once proud block. 

Kinch, I have some bad news.

In brief, we had a lovely evening. The game lasted four hours, rather more than I expected, but I didn't notice the time because we were too busy gleefully blowing things up.  The randomness which has been held against the game is a reflection of the theme, which is crazy anyway, and if the playing time is a major issue, one could simply take more cards out of the Specials deck (which is used as a turn counter).  I think Target won (or at least lost least) by the end, but there wasn't a huge number of points in it. 

Block Mania is probably not a game for the ages, but for an pleasent evening of horrendous civic irresponsibility is your thing, it's a very nice way to spend some time with friends.