Friday, November 2, 2018

Review: The Barbary Pirates by C.S. Forrester

The Barbary PiratesThe Barbary Pirates by C.S. Forester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Short and lively, this a popular history for younger readers of the conflict between the infant US Navy and the Barbary Pirates of North Africa. The prose is simple and crisp as is usual with Forrester and the narrative gallops along at a satisfying pace. Adult readers will no doubt want something more in depth on the subject as this treatment is necessarily superficial, but even adult readers can benefit from a simple story well told.

Good for younger readers or as an introduction to the subject.

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review: Chaos Child by Ian Watson

Chaos ChildChaos Child by Ian Watson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ian Watson offers my favourite interpretation of the 40k universe, though Dan Abnett is a close second. Chaos Child, the conclusion to the Inquisition War trilogy, is a curates egg - good in parts. Watson's command of description and character is as good as ever, but sadly he doesn't stick the landing.

Plot is not Watson's strong point and he is far better at describing the dream like absurdity of the setting than he is at paying off the story points he's laid down for himself. The book as a whole undergoes a significant tonal shift half way through as the over arching plot he has been playing with for the previous two books is sidelined in the pursuit of what seems like a far more personal quest.

The characters are all still interesting and writing is as good as ever, but ultimately, nothing really changes as a result of the events of the book and that is a shame. If you are a fan of the setting and would like to take a tourist trip through some of its weirder locales, this is a book well worth reading, but if you just want to enjoy a story - there are better uses of your time.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

D-Day Part Two - Sword Beach

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Sword Beach - Someone appears to have removed the artillery from this German emplacement.

This game was played quite some time ago. You can read about the first game of three we played here.   Looking back at my records, we played it in February - which just goes to show how long its been taking me to get around to blogging. 

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But there are still enough troops inside to wreck the Allies day. 

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Sword Beach - the Germans ponder their options.  Beach landing scenarios can be difficult to turn into interesting games because the defender often doesn't have much to do other than hunker down and fire at the closest target.   A good game isn't impossible, but in this case it relied on the Germans having some artillery and some limited reserves. 

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Sword Beach

Now one of the advantages of playing Memoir '44 is that the scenarios are available and lots of folks have played them.  Consequently there are a lot of statistics available on the games as whole.  The British typically win this scenario 75% of the time, but with a far lower margin of victory than the shellacking that the Americans typically get at Omaha.  They win, but they don't win by a country mile. 

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The Allied players were a lot happier with this setup as the terrain wasn't as steep and actually getting off the beach wasn't so challenging. 

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Allied armour charges up the beach. 

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The landing craft are mainly set dressing - in that they don't have a game effect, but we used them to count victory medals.  Each time the Germans scored a point, we added some smoke to "blow up" a landing craft. 

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The British armour is trying for a breakthrough. 

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The British infantry slog it up the beach, forcing a lodgement in the centre, while the German pummel them with artillery. 

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A British commando appears behind the cafe and knifes a German sentry.  This marked an early lead for the British as they stormed up the beach. 

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The German commanders had some tricky decisions to make.  Should they try to contest the allied landing while it is still on the beach, but risk committing their small reserves too soon or should they try and draw them into the close country further up?

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German infantry occupy the town, counter attacking the advancing British commandos. 

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A desperate German counter-attack onto the beach can't save the rapidly collapsing German centre. 

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The Cafe  gets rather crowded as the last few defenders are driven from the beach.  A British victory put the Allies even going into the final game.  We used the 'Allo 'Allo figures as a means of counting victory medals.  Every time the Allies scored a medal, we added another character to the Cafe Rene.

It inspired Edith to give us a bit of a song.

After setting up the next table, we repaired to a local greasy spoon where several mixed grills were consumed.  I had the fish and chips and they were tip top.  Savage joined us briefly for grub, but he'd snorted some absinthe that didn't agree with him the night before and had to head relatively soonish.

Hopefully, I will get to the next post and the end of the campaign before too long, but I'm trying to discipline myself and update J&F at least once a week. We shall see if that lasts. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Back once again...

Looking at my blogging of late, it has been far far too long.  Weirdly, I have a couple of entries in the drafts folder, but I haven't finished them off because I haven't been happy with them.  As perfect is the enemy of good, it just means that I haven't finished any blog posts at all.  I'm back in work full time and working shifts again, so between work and family there hasn't been a huge amount of time for wargaming. 

So in brief, I've been mucking about with Game Workshops latest offering "Kill Team" which is rather good.  Kill Team is a small scale game and reminds me very much of  first edition Rogue Trader in that it is a semi-rpg with figures.   I've only played a couple of games, but I've really enjoyed them.  

I've also been playing With the Colours, a solo computer moderated game.  It's free and quite satisfying when played as part of a campaign.  I've been leading Lt. (now Captain) McKinch of the 18th Royal Irish with some success against the Russians, though the Victoria Cross is proving elusive.  You can find a bit more about that in the latest issue of Miniature Wargames. 

I've never  experimented with computer moderated rules before, but these have really kept my attention. They provide a simple objective based game, but one that has plenty of incident and variety to keep it interesting and that still allows you to do your own dice rolling.  

Given that it's free, it is definitely worth a shot. 

The face of disappointment

Life with the Kinchlets is exhausting but rewarding.  The LadyBaby has some full sentences now and the Bear is climbing everything in sight.  

We went down to the park recently.  The LadyBaby was asleep, but the Bear was not.  Unfortunately we arrived just as some construction was under way.  The poor little chap became very upset and spent about ten minutes trying to break in.  He was not successful, but not for want of trying. 

In the meantime, I've been watching this.  This chap is quite entertaining. He reviews films and television programmes that have been adapted from books and critiques how well the adaptation succeeds. It's the sort of thing we all do when we see a film version of a book we love - but Dominic manages to raise a laugh while doing it. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Lead Adventure Pysker

Blind Eyes

There is a small part of me that will always have a soft spot for the dark future of the 41st millennium.  The setting has always been rather better than the games in many ways, but strangely I always seem to find myself coming back to it.  I've never quite managed to recapture the anarchic freewheeling atmosphere games of Rogue Trader that we played using a mix of Heroquest figures and others in the early nineties - but I do enjoy painting suitable figures from time to time. 

From the rear

This lady is a something (I think a navigator maybe?) from the Lead Adventure Astropolis Kickstarter.  She shares a lot of the gothic punk sensibility of the early Rogue Trader figures and I've painted her up as a sort of blind Psychic. I think her cane is a sort of dowsing rod or possibly operates like a lightning conductor by siphoning off excess psychic energy. 

I think the canister on her back is connected to her inhaler which probably contains a bizarre stimulant, something like Semuta from the Dune books, for example. 

The Lead Adventure figures a fantastic and look like they've stepped off the set of a David Lynch film.  I hope to get some more of these painted over the coming months - but I won't rush them. They are a pleasure to be savoured and since I won't be using them for games, there's no rush. 

This lady was a lot of fun to paint, but to be honest I am not entirely sure why she has a brass apron.

But leaving all that grim darkness behind, I saw some lovely new cygnets - at least they were new when I started this blog post, they are probably big boys now.   Watching swans on the canal never fails to cheer me. 

The Kinchlets confront Flashman about his drinking. 

The Kinchlets are well.  Arthur is constantly climbing and the LadyBaby has started talking.  I'm not sure if this bodes well for the future, but her third word was "shoes". She is very fond of shoes, we've learned. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Nostalgic for old telly

Once you saw this, you knew what was coming was good

Like many others I often get nostalgic for the television programmes I watched when I was little. Irish television tended to feature a lot of re-runs of British television from the 1970s. One that particularly sticks in my memory is "Warhammer 40,000 - The Rogue Trader". This somewhat obscure science fiction serial was produced by Thames television between 1979-1983. Younger viewers are probably more familiar with the 2004 reboot, but despite its vastly more impressive production values, I think the writing in the original series was better.

Note: You'll have to forgive me, but most of this is culled from the relevant wikipedia entry and Rudyard Oldman's seminal "Terror in Television: British Science Fiction & Horror progamming 1965-1990. OUP, 2001. Currently out of print, but well worth looking for on Abebooks.

Nigel Kneale - speaking at an interview in 2006

Warhammer 40,000 was in many ways the brain child of two very different men, established science fiction writer Nigel Kneale, best known for The Year of the Sex Olympics and the Quatermass serials, and brilliant newcomer, Richard Priestly, who is acknowledged by most fans as the main creative force behind the show.

Kneale had been approached by producers at Thames Television for a television science fiction serial that would be Thames televisions answer to BBCs Doctor Who and Blake 7. The success of Star Wars the previous year suggested that there was a great appetite for science fiction than previously thought.

Rick Priestly posing with a promotional "Orc" toy shortly 
before his tragic death in 1982 at the hands of an obsessed fan. 

The genesis of the Rogue Trader project was a meeting between Kneale and Priestly at a parish fete in Nottingham in 1975. Kneale had been asked to judge a short story competition which Priestly entered and though Priestly story was not picked as the winning entry, his tale of an embattled human empire in the far future struck a cord with the veteran scriptwriter. Invited to meet Kneale again in London, Priestly brought his notebooks and according to TV historian, Rudyard Oldman, "...the whole idea of the series was hashed out in two days of intense work." Priestly's original idea of a crusading army, "...which while brilliant, would have proved bloody expensive to film!", was replaced with the idea of a single Imperial troubleshooter and his minions struggling against pirates, heretics and aliens. As Kneale put it in an interview with Oldman in 2006 "Rick had these amazing ideas and they were great, but most of them would have involved recruiting half of Wales as extras and remodelling most of the Lake district."

This was to prove a regular theme in the writing of the show; Kneale attempting to rein in Priestly's ideas and channel them into something that could actually be filmed.

Early concept art by Ian Miller

With the initial draft work done, Kneale took the idea to executives at Thames. The initial brief had changed somewhat - the success of "The Sweeney" had convinced Thames Television that audiences were eager for more hard bitten, less optimistic programming. Warhammer 40,000 - Rogue Trader was aimed firmly at an adult audience and seemed to be exactly what was wanted. This did lead to some clashes with management, particularly when the first run of six episodes came close to broadcast date. Rudyard Oldman qoutes an unnamed former Thames Television editor.

"There were those amongst the commissioning committee who were very uncomfortable with the bleak nature of the programme. The protagonists weren't your classic good guys, one of them is referred to as "A Hero of the Nikemmedian Genocide" in the second episode for example. The advertising guys went crazy about that. They did not like the level of violence present in the show - a lot of Orks got shot, lets be honest about this. They were all played by these Welsh rugby players and there was one shot in the second episode where one of the characters is literally walking over their bodies for a minute or so. Senior management had an eppy about it. if Rick hadn't pulled off his master stroke, it's possible the whole thing would never have seen the light of day."

Terror in Television: British Science Fiction & Horror progamming 1965-1990.

Concept art by Ian Miller for Season 2, Episode 4 "Seven Seas of Rhye". 

Ian Miller, the noted British illustrator and graphic artist, had been commissioned to produce several dozen pieces of concept art and production work. He had completed the commission and delivered copies of the portfolio to Rick Priestly in London. Priestly was having a great deal of difficulty finishing episode three and had taken to wandering London in search of inspiration. It was during one such ramble that he encountered Freddy Mercury in the Tate gallery. The Queen frontman was a regular in the gallery where he often found musical inspiration.


Mercury was completely captivated by Ian Millers concept art, some of which Priestly had with him and was intrigued by the idea of "Star Trek with swearing". Discussing the matter over dinner, Mercury became more taken with the concept and was allowed to take some early drafts of the first script back to the studio where the band were working on a new album. As it happened Mercury was unable to come up with something that he was happy with, but fellow band member Brian May penned a science fiction ballad "39" as an introduction to the programme.

I may if there's interest try and dig through some of my old memorabilia and notes about the programme.

Note: Chaps, my apologies for not blogging more. Work and Kinchlets are consuming most of my time. As for the piece above, I wrote it for a laugh a couple of years ago, but never did anything with it.
The idea came from the fact that most wargamers only have a small selection of models and a limited number of terrain setups. The idea struck me that this was quite like a lot of British television in the 1970s where there was some wonderful programmes that had limited casts and budgets, but made the most of them - the Sweeney, the Sandbaggers, XXY man, Blake 7, Dr. Who particularly stick in my memory - creating huge sweeps of story with a few regular actors and a small selection of locations (industrial area, quarry, country house, etc).  What if rather than this being a result of limited wargaming resources - the ruined cathedral on a golf course/industrial wasteland look of many battlefields is actually merely replicating the locations the source material was filmed on?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Turning the tables

We've had a wedding, a certain amount of professional change and all the drama that comes with that in the last month - so the War Room hasn't seen much use.  I'm hoping to get a game in tomorrow with a bit of luck, but that remains to be seen. 

On the plus side,  I got a new table in the War Room.  The old one was in rag order and was quite unsteady, a dear friend was getting rid of an old dining table and I managed to snap it up. Unfortunately dining tables don't really come in the sizes needed for wargames, but I've added a marine ply topper which is a respectable six and a half feet long and four feet wide. 

My eventual plan is that we will be able to take the plywood topper off for special occasions (Christmas, etc) and have dinner in the War Room, as the table underneath is rather larger than our kitchen table.   I've also added two flaps at either end which allow the table to be extended to eight and a half feet. These are hinged so that they will hang down when not in use. I've added a baton to either side to give added stiffness. 

The trick was to find a way to hold them up solidly when they were needed.  I used pipe clips and some scrap timber to do the job.  We'll see if they hold up. With a bit of luck and assuming my measurements aren't off, I should be able to play six player Epic Napoleonics games with this setup. 

Study of a sleeping baby.  Oil on wood.  Unknown student of Rembrandt. Circa 1660. 

The Lady Baby has a habit of fighting sleep while her brother starts looking at his watch around seven thirty.  This picture was taken after I got home from work, when she had refused to sleep for her mother.  I'm really pleased with it - though I don't think a computer screen does it justice.  She has a nasty habit of torturing Mrs Kinch and then going to bed, meek as a lamb, when Daddy gets home. 

I must go now! My people need me!

Her brother on the other hand is a bit more active during the day, but perfectly happy to get his head down at night. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Scary Soviets

Elheim Soviet Officers 

Once a year, some friends and I meet up for birthday con, a day of gaming in March or April which is roughly when our birthdays occur. The last two years, we’ve played “Rogue Troopers” - a game set in my Soviet occupied UK setting.  The game follows the adventures of four members of the Parachute Regiment who were betrayed by a senior officer during the Haartz Zone massacre and now resist the Soviets at home. 

No doubt fans of 2000AD are beginning to join the dots. 

Soviet officers

A game like this needs some suitable baddies and Matt at Elheim supplied these guys. They are great, enough detail to be distinctive, but not so much that they over come the figure. 

These were painted with washes and with preference to the photos of painted figures on the Elheim page.  I found it extremely useful to have something to work from as I didn’t have to faff around looking for references and could just get stuck in. 

These guys have a certain something. Matt is really excellent at animating his figures and making something quite small seem alive.

A  more aggressive looking staff officer and a female MVD officer. 

This lady did good service in our last game as a radio operator at a Soviet secret base. One of the rogue troopers turned his back on her and was shot with a concealed pistol for his pains.

These two are my favourites.  The chap on the right is a Soviet Military Policeman on traffic duty.  I used the picture on the Elheim site as a guide, but I believe those details were taken from an Osprey. 

The second chap is Comrade Comissar Hugo Boche,  complete with white gloves and eyepatch, of the MVD (late of the East German military police).  He’s a recurring villain in the Rogue Troopers games.  

His villainy has included torturing one of the Rogue Troopers, assassinating high level members of the Resistance, leading Project Nightwing and very slowly removing his white gloves while delivering monologues. 

During the last game,  the RTs successfully put  a stop to Project Nightwing,  but Boche escaped by leaping out of a window to go get reinforcements. 

Where will he strike next? 

During a trip to the National Gallery,  the Kinchlets stopped to listen to Mr Shaw.  I’m not sure he made a great impression, though the LadyBaby did threaten him with a banana before she fell asleep. 

It is truly inspiring to have a daughter filled with such robust good sense. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Armoured car

I often take the Kinchlets for long walks. One of our regular haunts is Collins barracks which is Ireland’s military history museum.  It is closed on Mondays, something which I had forgotten, but the walk did us good and I had the chance to photograph this AML-90. 

The AML 90 is a French built armoured car with a 90mm low pressure gun.  It has seen extensive service with the French Foreign Legion and with the South African Army.  The  South African version was called the Eland-90.  The vehicle proved very successful in African conditions with the 4x4 providing excellent mobility on plains and the 90mm gun capable of tackling second line armour, albeit at close ranges. 

The light weight (6 tons) of the vehicle meant that it was highly portable and the FFL deployed then directly from aircraft to support parachutists. 

Irish AMLs were used almost exclusively on UN service and were acquired in the 1960s.  They served in Lebanon and saw combat in the confrontation at At-Tiri in the early 1980s. 

The AMLs were retired 2013, which is presumably how Collins Barracks got theirs. 

In other news - I fear we may have been infiltrated by Bonapartists.