Monday, 9 May 2016

Little sisters

Today will see Russia's annual victory parade, and while this may feel a bit uneasy in the light of recent events, let's focus on events 75 years ago. I spent the last week reading Svetlana Alexiyevich's War's Unwomanly Face. It's been devastating.


The book was first published in dying years of the Soviet Union, but there was still considerable censorship. The translation of a later edition includes more graphic detail. It's not a book for a relaxed read. You will find yourself hit with strong emotions but, thank goodness, also an occasional smile.

There's so much in this book: the naive enthusiasm of the girls to get to the front, their camaraderie and their perseverance. The women are very frank about their experiences. Alexiyevich must have been a very good listener to get these very personal accounts out of these women, while all the focus in (post)Soviet history is on the glorious achievements of the Red Army.

It was tough to be a woman on the eastern front. There wasn't room for female comforts, like there wasn't for male comforts. No extra underwear during periods, but then again, the war ruined hormonal cycles for many women, sometimes for good.

The most gripping passages come from the women that fought behind the lines in the partisan groups. Not only was this the most brutal conflict, it also directly involved family members. The accounts of seeing your own mother being driven before a German patrol is harrowing, and so are those of the woman carrying around her baby and coding machine whilst fleeing for German sweeps. And that's not the worst incident.

Life remained tough when they came back. Just like the men, they often found their homes and families broken up and the environment of reconstruction harsh. Their bodies were broken because they suffered hunger and physical exhaustion during their late puberty. Their chances of finding a husband were smaller because they were not considered womanly anymore.

Remembrance at the Grebbeberg memorial, May 4th 2016

It's been a busy few days remembering the end of World War II and more will follow. But if you can spare a few moments for the little sisters fighting on the eastern front. And if you can get a copy of this book, don't hesitate.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

More Monks

Well... they are not actually new. I think I painted them about 25 years ago, for a big crusade game where I was the pope and needed some emissaries and bodyguards.


They came out of a box a few months ago as I was rummaging for something else. No clue what miniature company I got them from.

But now they can form a gang for Frostgrave, together with my other monks. The good thing about it is that I don't need to paint any new figures, so it doesn't interfere with the AWI project.



I bought the Frostgrave handbook in epub format so I could look at what I would need. This either calls for a thaumaturg wizard, or maybe a sigilist, as I've got the monks for that as well.

Should be up and running soon. Perhaps only two weeks till my first game.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Kicking Off The Essen 2015 Project

So with Essen 2014 project accomplished, we can turn to the Essen 2015 loot. I kept it down to six games.



The Ice and the Sky as well as 1714: The case of the Catalans were already tried in Essen, while Luchador was proofed in the week following Spiel. You be seeing that review in time.

But enough to do the coming months: my game group is clamouring for Pax Pamir, especially since they have good memories of Pax Porfiriana. It can take up to five players so should hit the table some time.

Migrato and W1815 are both two player games. The former for the kids, so should find a spot on a Monday afternoon. The latter looks like it will first need a try out sometime and then get a few more plays as I rope in other players.

Don't worry about me running out of games to play. First objective is to play my Secret Satan gifts before Christmas. That means Knizia's Beowulf, *and* the Remember Tomorrow RPG. I've got a nice job on my hands!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Essen 2014 Update: mission accomplished

After failing to play all last year's acquisitions before the 2015 edition of Spiel, the opportunity presents itself a week after going to Essen. Coincidence? You decide!


Last Friday's meeting we had 9 people turn up so we decided to split in two groups, which allowed First to Fight to be set up. It proved a good game. 

We approached it at first like a cooperative game, but it soon became clear that although all players are officially all on the Polish side, fighting the Nazis, it's best not to let that interfere with winning the game. And that requires you to obstruct the other players as much as possible, although there is occasionnal room for cooperation.

The basic part of the game is that you need Soldiers to complete Missions to score victory points. Every player gets four mission cards at the start of the game, which will last you until halfway through the war. You get a new mission once you complete one, up to a total of seven. Each mission has a date when it will be resolved and if you have the required amount of soldiers in the right area at that time, you successfully complete the mission and gain the VP.

These soldiers are cards that enter the map, can move around the five main areas and can be trained to increase their effectiveness. They can also be wounded when a mission is resolved, and healed if you have Nurses. But quite a few get killed during the game, so don't get too invested personally in any of them.

The turn is resolves around a number of action cards that can be taken à la Puerto Rico: every player can use the action on the card but the player who chooses it gets an extra benefit. However, an action cannot be chosen again until a player decides to refresh them all.

Every turn, a card is drawn to determine Nazi activity, which allows them to increase their domination in one of the map areas. In that area it will be harder to complete the missions. At the same time the turn marker is advanced by a random number indicated on the card. All the missions which fall within the time span covered by the turn are then resolved. This unpredictability adds considerably to the insecurity of completing your missions.

There's added chrome and side mechanisms that make the game a bit more varied, but the basics work well. It does help to know what missions there are (so you can try to get others involved in the same area at the time). So looking forward to another outing!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Spiel Essen 2015: … And I Played

This year I played more games than before.



  • The best playing experience of all was Blood Rage. The game has the variety, screwage and unrelenting direct conflict that makes it a thrilling experience. It allows you to profit from defeat and steal the smiles from the victors. Add the visual appeal of the miniatures and components and this has the potential to become an Ameritrash classic.


  • We tried Ships by Martin Wallace and although the game seems to work fine, it really is a development of many other games by his hand. Many mechanisms are familiar, some new and interesting. But in combination with the lack of player interaction, I finally decided against buying it.




  • The Foreign King is an good microgame in the 8 Minute Empire school. Good interaction. Interesting theme of industrialisation of Belgium.
  • Space Cadets: Away Missions proved an interesting game, with great miniatures. I guess the only thing lacking for me was conflict between the players. There’s so many full coop games, that it gets a bit too much for me.



  • At Galeforce 9 we tried the new Homeland, which was quick and an interesting challenge with hidden objectives, but not altogether visually appealing. Then continued onto the Firefly game, which is very much a multiplayer solo pick up and deliver game.


  • If you are hooked on Mad Max, you can’t ignore Waste Knights. The game makes no effort to hide its inspiration. Scenarios and quests make it a kind of adventure game. You want to like it, but there doesn’t seem to be a thread holding it all together.


  • Better in the post apocalyptic genre is Raid & Trade which is exactly that. Your character runs around the board ransacking houses for resources to either turn into useful artefacts or trade with others for resources you need. I think there is a lot more interaction possible than we had, and I think it is better when you go after each other.
  • La Glace et le Ciel (The Ice and the Sky) looks good, but showed some hickups on forst play. Need to try again soon





  • 1714: The Case of the Catalans. Five allied nations face the combined might of France and the Spanish Empire. Don't let the old skool hexagon board fool you: this card driven game is good. Designed by a sick mind, as we have observed first hand. You will learn more about this game when we play it again.



And again it showed what a difference it makes to have good people explain the game with enthusiasm. The guy who taught us Blood Rage and the designer of 1714 both went out of their way to get us going. Likewise the guys at Galeforce 9 and Badger's Nest. It really helps to sell a game. Again the East Asian publishers seemed to fail in this respect. It may not be entirely fair to judge them on lack of language skills, but you only get one shot to sell a game. It's a tragedy if you miss because you can explain it well enough.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Spiel Essen 2015: I came, I saw...

This year's visit to Spiel was the most relaxed and pleasant in years. I hadn't prepared much, I didn't tweet and I didn't feel the need nor urge to play reporter. This meant that I chose my own path rather than to check out what might be hot. My list of games that might prove interesting was even slightly shorter than before. It may also have helped that we went home after the second day which saved us a lot of fuss in buying and preparing games for the second night and third day. 




Tomorrow I'll go into the stuff we played, but let's kick off with the stuff I only saw. Very much first impressions!

  • Peeked at Shakespeare, but it looked like any Ystari solo puzzle. Nippon looked good, but also felt more like a puzzle, although I am open to be convinced otherwise.
  • Bloody Inn and Scythe looked promising, but I didn’t get round to trying it or having it explained.
  • I got Euro Crisis explained to me and it really sounds like a good game with the appropriate level of cynicism. As an international bank your goal in the game is to buy up as many national assets (the Akropolis of course!) as possible.
  • I didn’t see Churchill of Triumph & Tragedy played, but they look like a lot of work to get in to.
  • Waterloo: Enemy Mistakes came across like yet another tactical hex & counter game about the battle, with a hefty price tag attached. On the other hand W1815 provides the essentials in a 15 minute game with a refreshing new approach.
  • Lembitu is a cooperative challenge, but the fact that it was advertised on the strength that the wife of the designer was so good at it because she is a mathematician put me off.
  • Celestia is beautiful, but I already had my fix of kids games by the time I saw it
  • Had a quick look at Haspelknecht, which seems fine.
  • Sapiens has some interesting ideas, but the design seems to suggest it’s a kids game. I don’t think that’s the target audience.
  • Bad Medicine is a party game which is more about smooth talking. But the fact that you are a marketer for a major medicine corporation gets you in the right mood.
  • I think I would like Raptor, but too bad it’s two players only
  • Fabulous Beasts was being demoed and looked okay, but I felt the addition of a tablet didn’t fulfil its potential.
  • I was looking forward to the Age of Conan expansion, hoping that it would somehow breathe new life into the game. It was not available for demoing, but it seems to include a number of new miniatures, which were on display
It also dawned on me this time why East Asian designers are unable to conquer the European market on their own. We played a couple of turns of the disappointing Generalship, which remained stuck in abstractions and a generic game board without much added value.


And I would have been happy to buy Tank Hunter on a hunch if vital rules text on some cards hadn’t been in Japanese. To add a sheet of white stickers, which ruin the visual design, is not a solution.

The most promising was the medieval zombie game by the very friendly guys from Hong Kong, which was a whole lot of fuss in the wrong areas. There is no lack of talent and interesting takes on interesting themes, that much is clear, but so far only western editions of East Asian games have been successful.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

From The Vault Of History

Yesterday I had my first public talk as a result of the Waterloo book. I’d done a sort of interview for a historical society in September, but this was my first one that I needed to prepare for. I had decided that I wouldn’t summarise the book as everyone should read it, and that the talk needed a different approach, giving added value.


I had been invited to cover for my friend and co-author at a famous Rotterdam book store, where I often used to go in my school days. So that was an added bonus. The location was really interesting, in the vault of an old bank building where the book shop is housed temporarily. It really added to the historic atmosphere.



There were about thirty people in the audience, mostly above retirement age. The atmosphere was pleasant from the start and I got off to a good start by introducing a picture of a group of youngsters from Rotterdam, recreating the battle in uniform for the jubilee in 1865. That was my handle for explaining that the memory of Waterloo was alive in the Netherlands long after the battle. In fact, Waterloo day was commemorated up to the Second World War. I then elaborated on commemoration in other countries and up to 2015.

I then used Prussia as the story to explain the wider context of the battle. The picture below of king Friedrich Wilhelm III shows how deeply the confidence of even the most powerful monarchs in Europe was shaken by Napoleon, and therefore why they were determined never to let him be that kind of threat again. Then the reforms, 1813 and finishing of with Blücher in 1815.




Blücher was also the introduction to the challenge of being in command of an army (see my original blog post). Of course everybody was interesting in what sex had to do with it. Napoleon’s  troubles with his marshals and what that meant for him politically and militarily rounded off my talk.

I spoke longer than I had intended (an important lesson), but the crowd joined in early on and the questions were very good, ranging from those who definitely knew their Napoleon from their Napoleon III and those who only had their history lessons to fall back on. 


Considering that about a third of the audience then came up with a book to sign or ask further questions, I guess the talk was reasonably successful, also for the book shop. Now hopefully this will result more invitations.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Essen 2014 Roundup - Marchia Orientalis

With Essen nearing and the Essen 2014 list still not complete, in August I managed to slip in a game of Marchia Orientalis, or the Ostmark as the Germans would say these days. The Ostmark was on of the eastern border provinces of the medieval German empire, won at great cost from the Slav population. At Essen I bought the game based on the theme and the low price, considering that even if I didn’t know beforehand what the game would be like, at least I wouldn’t suffer much.



And while this not a bad game, it is also not very good. The low production values that result from the low price aren’t really a problem. The problem is that this game reuses mechanisms from other games, without adding anything interesting. There’s tile laying, with limitations on connecting tiles for which there are then some exceptions. There’s a central market, and some competition for different tiles, but in the end the amount of interaction is low. Worst of all is of course that it has nothing to do with the border struggles Middle Ages. The theme is just stuck on a bunch of mechanisms.

I’ll spare you the details of the rules. Suffice to say that there is an interesting puzzle in there which Gerard managed to maximize. I felt sorry a bit for Rob who had decided straight away that this was game was not worth his time. His plan to sabotage the game was foiled and the variable game ending drove the game to the extreme. But then again, I occasionally sacrifice myself in similar circumstances because others seem to enjoy a game.




The evening was not lost, however. Before and after Marchia Orientalis we played Port Royal, a simple card game that let’s you gamble on drawing a pirate ship type twice. On your turn you keep drawing cards from the deck until that event occurs, or you choose to stop yourself. You can then pick one of the cards and sell it for money or buy it for its special option. The whole game hinges on balancing your need for money, your long term strategy and opportunism. Surprisingly deep for 100+ cards and nothing else. And partially because of the gambling element, a lot of fun too. Recommended.

Anyway, Essen 2015 is on the doorstep and still one more to go. Problem is, it’s a four player game and we didn't have four players on any occasion in the last months. A luxury! So if that’s the reason why I won’t fulfill Essen 2014, well…

Monday, 5 October 2015

Essen 2015 - What I Will Be Checking Out

Okay people,

I got my BoardgameGeeklist of interesting games ready for Spiel this year.




There's a couple of games with interesting (historical) themes: 1714: Case of the Catalans, Apollo XIII, Bloody Inn, Churchill, DRCongo, Foreign King, Germania Magna, Lembitu, Manifest, Nippon,  Race to Berlin, SchinderhannesTesla vs EdisonThunderbirds, Trenches of Hell, Triumph & Tragedy, Waterloo: Enemy Mistakes, €uro Crisis,



A few from designers that I keep an eye on: RaptorPax Pamir, Ships,



Some expansions for games I already have (or other guys in my game group): Age of Conan, Concordia: Salsa, Metro 2033,


Some games which I have heard positive things about and wish to check: Agents of SMERSH, Arctic Scavengers, Battle at Kemble's Cascade, Luchador, Space Cadets,



Stuff that the kids might like (and me!), or some friends: Celestia, Flock, Tank Hunter, Tiger Leader,



Games that attracted my attention for no clear reason: Bad Medicine, Dogs of War, La Glace et le Ciel, Haspelknecht, Predator deck builder, Raid & Trade, Sapiens, Scythe, Shakespeare.

Not all of my interest is serious, and quite a few of them could easily be rubbish or good but not brilliant. However, at least some of this should appeal. Especially not too sure about the games on display for crowdfunding, but I think it is a great development that people can actually try out these games. Too many kickstarters have been sold on theme and juicy bits alone. I'm not sure that many of them have actually made much of an impression in terms of gameplay.



Last year there were a couple of games that were cheap and I bought on a hunch. Not too impressed with most of them, so I might not do that again. On the other hand, I like to have a game ready to play on Thursday night. So some simple game will probably be bought, but I hope to have a better idea of what it will be like.

Only three more nights before the fun starts. I just hope I can sleep!

Essen 2014 roundup - 15 Dias

Well, only a few days left before Essen. As in the last few years, I'm trying to play all the games I bought at Essen before the next issue. A few of these games we managed to play right after the show (Lost Legacy: Starship, Unicum and Auge um Auge. We also had fun with Mat Goceng, Lost Legacy: Flying Garden and Verone.




In July I managed to play 15 Dias. We had six players (it needs an even number from 2 to 8). The game takes the power struggle between the Lerma and Olivares clans on the death of Spanish king Philip III as its starting point. It is quite a complex game for the number of cards involved, and it has a pretty steep learning curve.

The good thing is that it pits two teams (families) against each other, but that players also score individually. So there is an incentive not to use your best cards in the interest of the team.

It also makes both families decide on which type of power they want to contest the other family: through church, bureaucratic or court offices. Hopefully the choice you make is your strongest and your opponents' weakest, but you can't count on it. The third option is then used to decide the contest between individual players. Those good cards you would have liked to spend on your own advancement might therefore be necessary to support the family.

It was a good night that also included Mat Goceng, Love Letter and 8 Minute Empires.