Saturday, 29 December 2012

Festive silence

I've done plenty of reading and gaming this festive season, but haven't had the time to write it all down,.and I won't for.another week.

But you can look forward to reports on the Hobbit, History of the World, Mutiny, Great Dalmuti and a great game about financial institutions!

See you in 2013!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Learning Dux Britanniarum the hard way

I guess I didn´t take the best approach to my first battle of Dux Britanniarum. Although I flicked through several parts of the rules, I hadn´t memorised them too well. Also the night before I didn´t sleep before 4 am and maybe could have left a few beers.

But anyway... I was there! And as I unloaded my troops, Dick and I went through creating my characters (yes, I pre rolled a group, but I didn't have the stats handy yesterday). This resulted in my leader Olwin being very average, and with no remarkable traits. My young noble Stig was an excellent horseman (might come in useful someday) while the other, Klapmund, was a local Briton. Stocky, but athletic.

We then selected the scenario and our points of entry. My raid was aimed at a village at the other side of the table, with Dick's forces entering the table halfway between me and the village. This meant that even if I managed to get past him to the village, I would have to get back through him on the way back. I decided to worry about getting back later.

My archers covering my troops against Dick's fully deployed battle line
So Klapmund with two groups of duguth (warriors) managed to race to the village past Dick's troops, while my other troops covered for them and then retreated back to the village facing of his deployed shield wall, There didn't seem to be a point in rushing at him in his strongest formation, while my troops were divided.

When Dick's milites (regulars) were forced to break up the shield wall to follow me up, I had Stig charge them with a group of gedridht, my elite warriors. This was fairly even against superior forces, but I decided to send in the other group as well to turn the balance in my favour. The milites fell back with some losses and a lot of shock, while I had only lost one man. But I had also lost Stig, who in his youthful zeal had tried to hard to gain his warrior's glory.

Stig leading his gedridht against the milites

Even as my gedridht fell back past the village, my warriors were unsuccessful in looting. And because Dick's elite comanipulares showed up, I couldn't try all the huts. At this point I decided to try to make it around Dick's troops while they were divided. I also hoped to gain a bit more speed.

This didn't work. Although I beat off a charge of Dick's numeri (levies), my gedridht lost heavily. And Dick could bring together his comanipulares and milites in shield wall under his own command. This allowed him to break up the shield wall, move and then enter shield wall again. In this way he could still catch me.

My gedridth exacting fearful retribution from the numeri

Although he received a bloody nose in that last fight, he broke up the last effective forces and my troops returned home scattered and I lost almost half of them in this raid. It will take me two months to build up my force again.

Dick´s losses were as heavy as mine (a monument to the skill and courage of my men, or the luck of the dice), so his victory didn't gain him much, except a bit of loot. Luckily for him, he didn't lose many elite troops nor levies, because these are most valuable.

A few lessons: defense is really difficult in these rules. Many combat cards are only useful in your own turn.

I also didn't have a good feeling for the effect of the combat cards before the game, so I didn't work as hard as Dick to prune my hand for the best combinations. That's something I need to study as well

But the battlefield is the better place to learn how to fight, so I'll just be grateful for the lessons I was taught and trust in better results next time.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Positive reviews have greater influence on ratings

This research concludes that early positive online reviews tend to have more power over your judgement than later negative reviews. Thanks to Nick for pointing me towards it

Conversely, later positive reviews negate earlier negative reviews. So there is a bias among people looking for online reviews for positive ones (confirmation bias?).

This message has already been taken in by advertisers, who know that it is more important to vote early and get their positive reviews in.

It ties in with the cult of the new and amateur online reviewing in hobby games, to create a good deal of hype.

The cult of the new refers to the tendency to keep publishing new games at breakneck speed at the expense of supporting and playing older games. I know this tendency from first hand, because I love to learn new games and see if I can 'get' them. But once you feel you've mastered the game, interest drops.

Amateur online reviews are not unique to games, but are making an ever increasing mark on internet consumption. While amateur reviewers have their advantages, they tend to be less critical of games and less thorough in their reviews on the actual merits of the game as opposed to rules run through and description of components.

In combination, we see a large number of games pass with lots of fuzz caused but not much staying power. Last year´s hits, can we name them?

Friday, 21 December 2012

Special delivery, coincidence and basing

Yesterday evening I was informed my new washing machine would be delivered today. Luckily I could skip today at work, so close to christmas.

This also allowed me to do a small chore I'd been putting off, but which really needs done: putting the magnetic tape on the bases of my Saxons. Tomorrow is their first day in battle! They'll be bled in a Dux Britanniarum battle facing Dick's Romano-British.

You see? Excellent fit!
Started yesterday evening late, to cut up the tape into 19mm squares or rectangles and cutting off the corners. Today's been gluing, with the odd mistake rectified (it does matter which side of the magnetic tape is on the bottom).

But the happy coincidence doesn't end there. So last week I'd ordered these magnetic tape circles to put under the round bases. Because that's a pain to cut yourself. You know what? They arrived just past lunch as well! Got it finished before the guys came to deliver the new washing machine.

I've got my basic army plus some archers ready now, the glue needing a bit of time to dry.

Very happy boy. This is the stuff I hate about modelling, so the less time it takes, the better!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Memorial at the Chemin des Dames

For several years I visited the Champagne-Ardennes in France with a bunch of friends for a weekend in summer. We'd travel to nearby sights, and occassionally some battlefield trips. These are pictures of a trip to a French war cemetary and memorial at Cerny-en-Laonnois on the Chemin des Dames battlefields near Laon in 2007. The places on the plaques still resound: Craonne, Hurtebise, Cerny...

The chapel

The  Chemin de Dames offensive in the spring of 1917 was so mismanaged my French commander in chief, Nivelles, that mutinees broke out. Nivelles was replaced by Petain, who then proceeded to rebuild the army.

The cemetary outside

Monday, 17 December 2012

Between the Lonely Mountain and Bree - Middle Earth Quest

Nice tight game of Middle Earth Quest on Saturday, getting us all in the mood for the Hobbit (movie).

Middle Earth Quest is set in the world of Tolkien, between the events described in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In these 65 years the three main wizards of Middle Earth, Sauron, Saruman and Gandalf try to cobble together a set of clues concerning the legendary Ring of Isildur, which holds power over other rings in the possession of Sauron.

All three understand the significance of gaining hold of the ring, but lack vital information. Gandalf knows where it is, but not what it is, while Sauron knows what it is, but not where. Saruman has got hints about both.

In MEQ, this is reduced to a struggle between a group of heroes, friendly to Gandalf and Sauron. While Saurn builds up his power and searches for the Ring, the heroes try to provide Gandalf with clues and thwart Sauron's attempts to cast his shadow over Middle Earth.

The game is made by Sauron. The heroes react. Sauron can choose from three strategies, or combine them: finding out what and where the Ring is, corrupt the Free People or increase his imperium by violent means. All these efforts result in quest for the heroes to resolve.

Rob, typecast as Sauron, slowly but surely managed to establish his dominance over  Mordor and its neighbourhood, despite a speedy start for the heroes. Eleanor (Jur) and Eometh (Paul) quickly resolved their basic quests, with Argalad catching up.

Eometh finishes off the Mouth of Sauron. But loses precious time,
which Sauron uses to good effect
Rob chose the (red) conquest strategy and supported it by employing his minions (first the Black Serpent and the Mouth of Sauron, later also the Ringwraiths) aggressively. In this way he protected his quest very well.

Eleanor´s character sheet, with her unspent life points/combat cards on the left,
cards played for movement on top. Cards taken for damage are place on the right
However, this led to the heroes realising before the end of the game that they wouldn´t be able to win directly, and switched to denying Sauron the possibility of a direct win.

It was very convenient that Eleanor (Jur) had acquired a horse early in the game, as she sped from Rohan, through Rivendel where she concocted a dastardly plan with Argalad (Gerard) to slay Gothmog, onto Gundabad.

Although she was weakened by the conditions there, which were not exactly in line with health and safety regulations, she still managed to put a crossbowbolt between Gothmog´s shoulder blades. He hadn´t recovered from this nasty surprise by the time Argalad showed up and finished the job. Just in time, because it denied Rob the steps on the quest track to dispute dominance as well as his secret mission for the direct win.

Eleanor takes on Gothmog in Gundabad, while Argalad prepares the killing blow
This caused the game to end in a direct confrontation of the Ringwraiths and our brave companion Eometh (Paul). Eometh showed that his inexperience was no obstacle, as he proceeded to cut them to pieces. And so Good prevailed.

Strangely enough I haven´t played this game very often, yet. I love the setting, it works well, results in a tight contest. Somehow the rules kept me back. I will try to play it again soon, so I have the rules fresh in my mind.

Had I played it more, I would venture a more review like post, but right now I'll just stick to celebrating the balanced design, the tough choices for all players and the clever combat system incorporating fatigue/rest, training, wounds/healing, movement  and varied tactical options. Designer Corey Konieczka really pulled off a biggy here. Fantasy Flight's high standard graphic design is also apparent.

The amount of rules is probably as much as Mage Knight, but somehow this game works better for me.

As said, I always saw the War of the Ring, and especially the period leading up to it, as a three-way conflict with Saruman as the dodgy one (in hindsight). These guys are essentially equals (called maiar by Tolkien), the three most powerful beings in Middle Earth and effectively demi-gods, even more ancient than the elves. I know it's unlikely to ever be made, but that conflict would be my grail game. This comes close in scope, however.

The Hobbit is on the programme for next Monday, after we have our Christmas Offensive. There´s going to be seven of us, so the range of games available is limited. My offerings will be: Junta, Struggle of Empires, Civilization (AH) and Arkham Horror. What do you guys think?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Am I A Proper Wargamer? Feedback

Looking back on the Am I A Proper Wargamer posts, I must say that mostly, it gave me a lot of fun. The 6 score questions and some were entertaining and sometimes thought provoking and I had a good time digging up relics from the past, like my Franco-Prussians and samurai ruleset.

And suddenly that question hits you...

Apart from providing good fun, praise should go to Phil for giving a pretty good alround description of wargamers. Most of his question were answered in the positive by the respondents. It was not complete, perhaps, but that was never the point. As said, the list generated quite some discussion, both in the form of expansions and counterlists and even a sermon. Phil has even added another addition to his list recently.

Frontline Gamer, in a Sunday Sermon, picked up on the level of elitism that comes with the word 'proper' and which excludes a broad range of phenomenons that are just as wargamy as anything in Phil's list. Why exclude the large tribe of Games Workshop customers and others that play non-historical? In the end Phil and FG agreed that the latter was over-analysing his original post, and FG made it clear that he used it more as a coat hook to hang his argument on.

I agree that in some cases the hobbyist ethic is a obstacle to popularising wargames. FG notes that part of his wargamer values is to paint your own troops. Likewise, in our club, there is the informal ´rubber mallet´ rule that you should play with painted miniatures. In my case and those of others I know, painting and modelling has been a major hurdle to enter miniature games.

Prepainted miniatures could be the way of the future because people like minis, but can´t find the time or feel their skills are below those of the kids in Bangladesh or wherever that do these paint jobs. Maybe AT-43 wasn't the right thing at the right time, but Heroclix and similar games have done well. Look at Fantasy Flight's X-Wing now.

Of course I was very happy to see my posts on Phil's list picked up and to get so much response from a variety of people. That was good exposure for my blog but also an influx of discussion and fresh ideas. Because even though a blogger likes to have an audience, it´s much more fun when they actively engage rather than just read my stuff without comment. I can´t be right that much of the time, you know...

PS for those of you that might be worried, the ´rubbet mallet´ rule has never been enforced

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Welsh starter army for SAGA and Dux Britanniarum

Also in the mail this week: a Gripping Beast starter army. Thanks Arvid!

Usable both for SAGA and  as British opponent for my Saxons in Dux Britanniarum. In that case it will need a few additions, but that's okay. No hurry.

Potential candidate for army painter treatment as well.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Racing through euroland with Hansa Teutonica

Played two games of Hansa Teutonica (or Hanzesteden, as it´s called here) on Wednesday. It's not a bad game, it's well designed. But it is sorely lacking in ideas.

Can you see the difference between this and the Thurn & Taxis board?

The board looks like that of Thurn und Taxis. Not just because it's the same area, but also in design and artwork.

It has the worn out current euro mechanisms and accompanying strategic decisions: economise on your actions or score slowly and steady. Little direct confrontation and no surprises.

If you already own a euro game made in the last 10 years, this one will not offer much more. Which doesn't mean it's not fun to play once in a while.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Prometheus Redeemed in the afterlife?

In June I had this epic rant about Prometheus, Ridley Scott's overpowering Alien prequel. It is a visual and audio spectacle which could keep you glued to your seat by the sheer force speed, light and noise if not for and endless stream of glaring glitches.

Even this Engineer had lost the script

I was exasperated at the inconsistencies, flaws and stupidities in the movie. More so because it is a.spectacular movie in sight and sound, and it poses the interesting questions about the origin of the aliens.

This is by the way very similar to the way aliens have been introduced in Jim Wallman's scifi Universe. Genesplice 9, anyone?

It ripped me up so much I dug in to several theories available online to make sense of it all. This gave some satisfaction, but now finally there is proof, damning proof if you ask me, that everything was there to make this a brilliant movie,.fully consistent and believable. Scott just chose not to make it so.

Comicbookgirl brings together two elements of new knowledge in three youtube videos. They last about 45 minutes in total but are well worth the watch. Start with the first:

First of all, there's a bunch of deleted scenes on the new Blu Ray edition that would have explained a lot about the characters' actions. Much of this is so elemental, you have to question Scott's ability as a director for leaving it out.

Second, the original screenplay has been leaked, and it's very different from the later version. The first version was written by Jon Spaihts, the latter by Damon Lindelof. As Comicbookgirl says, there is a lot to say for the changes in the later script, because they make it a lot more interesting, but the original had more character depth and consistent storytelling. But that would have probably been a bit dull.

At least having the original screenplay around helps understanding the final version.

A different Fifield than we have come to know (and love). A clue to the goo!

For a second I felt this was exactly what Scott had wanted: to release the information necessary to understand the movie bit by bit to maintain the interest (among hardened fans of course, most people will not have bothered with the discontinuities and inconsistencies in the first place). This kind of worked with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, which I went to see twice in two days because I felt the clues were all there and I just needed to pay attention better. Maybe the same was intended for Inland Empire, but that was just so far off I gave up halfway.

So if you still care for Prometheus go and see these videos by Comicbookgirl

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Something for the weekend, Sir?

This is what I hope to do this coming weekend. French WWI colonial troops (tirailleurs Senegalais) in 10mm for Through The Mud and the Blood by Too Fat Lardies. Spent tonight preparing.

Finally fell for the lure of speed and ease that Army Painter promises. Not sure, it'll be the be all and end all, but at least I can give it a try.

And if it works, I have another project up my sleeve for army painter.

Monday, 10 December 2012

If you like miniature battles and if you like them big, the Liphook Historical Wargames group is just what you're looking for. They're objective is to play as many major Napoleonic battles over the course of 2005-2015 and they are very much on course. These wargames will require between 25 and 50 commanders. Battles in the past have included Friedland, Wagram and Borodino.

This was just one of the four tables needed to play Friedland.
There about 30 people involved including 3 umpires

Their programme for 2013 is as follows:

14th April 2013 - Lützen
Fought historically on 2nd May 1813. French v Allies (Prussian & Russian)
Can General Wittgenstein’s Allied Army 100,000 strong destroy Ney’s III Corps before Napoleon can reinforce him?

23rd June 2013 - Vittoria
Fought historically on 21st June 1813. French v Allies (British, Portuguese & Spanish).
Can King Joseph and Maréchal Jourdan with 50,000 and 153 guns in a strong defensive position stop Wellington’s 70,000 and 90 guns from driving them out of Spain?

8th September 2013 - Leipzig
Fought historically on 16th – 18th October 1813. French v Allies (Austrian, Prussian, Russian & Swedish).
Can Napoleon with 177,000 men and 700 guns surrounded at Leipzig defeat the combined Allied Army of 257,000 troops and 915 guns led by Prince Schwarzenburg before it can be reinforced to over 365,000?

24th November 2013 - Nivelle
Fought on 10th November 1813. French v Allies (British, Portuguese & Spanish).
Can Maréchal Soult with 60,000 men defending the Nivelle river line defeat Wellington’s Army?

To get involved email - tmaroney at hotmail dot co dot uk for enlistment papers

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The benefits of Christmas shopping season

Was able to pick up two interesting books today, from the same Dutch publisher (Verloren). Pure coincidence.

First one in the Netherlands during its incorporation in the French Empire (1810-13), because it has stuff on the Dutch army of the period and the implementation of conscription. Published in 2012 & Ideal for my Waterloo interest.

Second is about the war of Arkel. It's a ten year struggle between the counts of Holland, the bishops of Utrecht and the dukes of Gelre over the lands of the lords of Arkel.

It was written in 1990 and one of the first in the Netherlands picking up on new trends in military history. So it has a lot of stuff on the economics and logistics as well.

It's not for any direct purpose, but I might use it sometime in the future.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

An analysis of casualy rates in late Napoleonic battles

A discussion erupted in a Facebookgroup on the battle of Waterloo about the quality of the French army during the Waterloo campaign and the ability of Wellington as a general. I was intreagued when Barry, one of the participants came up with statistics to prove his point that the French army of 1815 was as good as any, or indeed better. On the other hand the French always lost to Wellington. This meant to him that only the superior generalship of Wellington had saved the day for the allies.

Now, the second part doesn´t actually follow logically from the first, but I want to focus here on Barry’s first argument and use of data. Barry put up this database to back up his argument, which is based on Digby Smith´s The Napoleonic Wars Data Book.

Didn´t have a picture of Digby Smith´s book at hand...

There were a few things in Barry´s analysis that had me suspicious. Firstly, his choice of battles for the Prussians seemed like an odd selection to me. At Jena and Auerstedt we are dealing with a different Prussian army than that of 1812-15, while Eylau and Leipzig were fought by multinational armies in which the Prussians had a limited role. This made the comparison look weak.

I am also not keen on comparing ‘Prussian’ battles against battles with Wellington in command. The former were led by 5 different commanders of differing ability on the Prussian and allied side.

But the main issue for me was that Barry only looked at it from the side of the rate of casualties the French had been able to inflict on their opponents. I felt that ignored the fact that this only brings insight when compared to that of the opponent. In a hotly contested battle, on a cramped battlefield, it was logical that casualties would be high for both sides. And so it turned out. In most cases where the French rate of inflicted casualties was high, the allied rate was high too. 

Offering an alternative

The real test of French quality would be how much better the were compared to their opponents. So I chose to divide the French rate by the allied rate to generate a measure of relative effectiveness.

I decided to expand the database with as many battles and smaller clashes from Digby Smith´s book as possible. I restricted my research to 1813-1815 for time’s sake, but I collected more battles and grouped them together. By increasing the number of battles in the analysis I have hoped to reduce the effect of outliers and give a more balanced view of the armies. I have 9 combats for the 1813 spring campaign, 18 for the autumn campaign, 25 for 1814 and 7 for 1815. 

Of course it is possible to challenge Digby Smith's data. For the few battles I’ve checked, the force strengths mentioned in other sources could be off by tens of thousands of men, depending on sources or Smith’s selection of forces he deemed to have been in contact. These choices will undoubtedly colour the outcomes, but for the sake of speed I have used what’s available, rather than repeat Smith’s work.

I have left out the number of prisoners in the losses where possible, because these don’t apply to the killing power of the armies, which is what Barry set out to analyse.

The data for individual battles I have attached here, so you can all check what I’ve done, do your own analyses or add new data to the database.
Now to the outcomes...

The French and allied armies of 1813-1815

I’ve presented the results per campaign in the table below. It shows that during the spring campaign of 1813, Napoleon had an advantage in numbers employed on the battlefield of almost 40%. However, he also suffered 80% more casualties in what was a campaign of moderate intensity.

Together this means that only one in eleven of his men employed for battle killed an opponent. The Russians and Prussians managed to kill a Frenchman for every four of their men employed. This was mostly the result of choosing good defensive positions at Lützen and Bautzen. Napoleon’s lack of cavalry was also a hampering factor in exploiting his victories.

Spring 1813
Autumn 1813
French : Allied strength
138 : 100
67 : 100
78 : 100
72 : 100
French : Allied Casualties
180 : 100
96 : 100
86 : 100
88 : 100
French relative effectiveness
40 : 100
157 : 100
150 : 100
158 : 100
French loss rate
Allied loss rate
Allied Casualties per French soldier
1 / 11
1 / 6
1 / 10
1 / 4
French Casualties per Allied soldier
1 / 4
1 / 10
1 / 14
1 / 6

By the autumn, the tables had turned on Napoleon and on average he was outnumbered on the battlefield by 3 to 2. But this time he managed to inflict slightly higher losses than he received himself. This meant that 6 French soldiers now accounted for one opponent, while 10 allied soldiers where needed to kill one Frenchman. 

The big defensive battles like Dresden and Leipzig weigh heavily in this analysis and the limited use of casualty figures is illustrated by the fact that battles like Katzbach, Kulm and Leipzig were lost with large numbers of prisoners (not counted here) despite favourable rates of casualties inflicted on the allies. So improved relative effectiveness didn’t lead to better results.

The frantic action of early 1814 saw the French with a slightly better balance of forces (3 to 4) and lower casualties than the allies. However, the intensity of the battles seems markedly lower, taking into account the loss rates. This is probably because there were few fights where both sides decided to stick in.

Allied casualties were now one in ten of all French soldiers employed, but it took the allies 14 soldiers to kill one Frenchman. Relative effectiveness of the French was a notch lower than in the autumn of 1813.

Enemy loss rates

In 1815 the French again faced superior forces (2 to 3) on the battlefield, but suffered fewer casualties than their opponents. The losses were heavy on both sides though and this is reflected by the fact that one allied soldier became a casualty for every four French soldiers on the battlefield and in reverse that Allies needed six to kill or wound a Frenchman. 

This means that the French relative effectiveness was as good as in the autumn of 1813. All this despite the fact that the Allies fought all their battles on the defensive. 

The 1815 campaign was the most intensive of the four, with 19% of all participants in battle becoming casualties, with 14% in spring 1813, 12% in autumn and 8% in 1814. 

The Waterloo campaign in detail

The French were almost as effective against the Anglo-Dutch armies as against the Prussians. In both cases one casualty for every four soldiers. The Anglo-Dutch  rate combined for Waterloo and Quatre-Bras was almost as high. The Prussian ability to inflict casualties on the French was lower however, with nine Prussians required to inflict one French casualty.

Enemy loss rates in the 1815 campaign

At Waterloo, the Anglo/Dutch troops did one casualty to the French for (slightly more than) every three of them. Battles with similar rates of casualties inflicted on the French are Borodino and Lützen, like Waterloo defensive battles in strong positions. Both Waterloo and Borodino were small and cramped battlefields. 

However, the French exacted a heavy toll on their opponents in these battles as well. Even against the Anglo-Dutch at Waterloo, the French rate of casualties inflicted was only slightly lower than the rate they sustained. This was on par with their performance at Leipzig where it took a bit less than four Frenchmen to kill or wound an allied soldier.

Battles with high enemy loss rates 

Desperate battles like Kulm and Vauchamps saw the rate between three and four soldiers. At Ligny the rate was better than one in three, at Borodino five French soldiers inflicted two casualties, and around Plancenoit every other French soldier accounted for a Prussian casualty.

The interesting feature here is that some of these actions were offensive, such as Waterloo, Borodino and Ligny. The French were thus able to inflict high rates of casualties even in attack.


All in all this shows that the relative effectiveness of the French army was about the same from the summer of 1813 to Waterloo. Only the 1813 spring campaign shows weak French performance. And with Waterloo only being second to Borodino in terms of crowding and bitterness, high casualty rates on both sides are not surprising.

On the other hand we have also seen that French numerical superiority in the Spring of 1813 didn´t automatically result in great success. Defensive terrain and cavalry shortages stood in the way. French relative effectiveness later also didn´t always win them battles. Other factors might be more important. A crowded battlefield, prepared defenses, artillery concentrations and generalship all play a role. Some are possible to quantify. But without emulating the work of Trevor Dupuy in depth, that´s going to be extremely hard. 

It is clear that the Prussian army wasn´t all that good in 1815, with a pretty consistent but low rates of enemy casualties. These low rates are comparable with the rates in the autumn of 1813 and 1814. The anomaly in the Prussian case, as well as in the French case therefor seems to be the spring campaign of 1813.

This makes me interested in the Russian rates for 1812 and the Austrian rates for 1809. I also haven’t gone into the Wellington comparison here. I will continue with a comparison of battles from the Peninsula and the 1809 and 1812 campaigns, at some later time. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Train station bears the scars of war

This sign at the railway station of Gouda I had not noticed before.

It details two allied attacks on the station on 6th and 26th of November 1944. Gouda is an important railway junction between the cities in the west of Holland with rest of the country, and of course Germany.

Five attacks were made by 138 Typhoons and Spitfires. Despite dropping 44 tons of ordnance, they failed to do significant damage, but you are invited to search for the marks of grenade hits in the steel beams.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Megagames in 2013

Megagame Makers have set their programme for 2013. If you haven't played in a megagame yet, you should definitely try it. These are all exciting subjects and will deliver a momentous experience of time pressure, meticulous planning, courageous leadership and wheeling and dealing.

ENDGAME - The culmination in North Africa 1943. The follow-up to last year´s anniversary game of the Battle of El Alamein now sees the Axis troops defending their last foothold on the African continent. An operational game that will see you lead the remnants of the Afrika Korps, the Eight Army and motley reinforcements of Italians, Americans and French.
London - Saturday 2 March 2013 

Rehearsal For Armageddon - The Balkan Wars 1912-13. A hundred years ago the powder keg of Europe exploded as the Balkan states turned first on the ailing Ottoman Empire and then on each other. Taste the challenge of marshaling a third rate army to battle or cleaning up the mess at the negotiating table.
London - Saturday 1 June 2013  

Master of Europe 1813 - Napoleon's campaign in Germany: Two centuries ago the three emperors of France, Russia and Austria-Hungary (and the kings of Sweden and Prussia, not to mention a host of minor German princes) slugged it out on the fields around Leipzig to determine the fate of Europe. Tough operational choices for leaders of multinational armies and tough diplomatic shenanigans for diplomats of competing powers.
London - Saturday 21 September 2013 

End of the Beginning: The Battle of El Alamein:  Can the Eight Army emulate its historical success (or avoid Monty's historical blunders, depending on which interpretation you hold)?  
Leeds - date to be announced, October 2013

ALEA IACTA EST ITERUM - Crisis in Rome 60 BC: As the Roman Republic enters its death throes, abundantly talented and abundantly ambitious men like Pompeius, Crassus and Caesar make their bid for the remains against defenders of the corrupted senator class like Cato and Cicero. Epic campaigns across the stormy Mediterranean, through the riotous streets of Rome and the across the clamorous Senate floor.
London -  date to be announced, November 2013

To get into the mood, read this great report of last month´s Urban Nightmare game, which pitted an urban administration against a zombie outbreak.

You can also join Megagame Makers facebook page, and see how the development of these games is progressing or read player´s experiences.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Return to Chaos

Last Friday, just like the inherent tendencies of the universe, we were drawn to Chaos. In the Old World, that is.

Look at those pesky Skaven quietly hiding out in their far corner of the board,
while Tzeentch gets his asked kicked by Slaanesh and Nurgle in the centre.

Fantasy Flight's strategic boardgame based on the Warhammer renaissance fantasy world focuses on the struggles between the Chaos gods (Khorn, Nurgle, Slaanesh and Tzeentch) over control of the Old World. This is the place where the humans live, but they are only a minor nuisance occassionally stirred into action by event cards.

The real battle is between the chaos gods as they try to spread their evil influence over the different regions. Persistent corruption will in time lead to the ruination of the area. For this they need their devoted cultists.

To really wrest control the area from the humans and each other, the gods must send in their warriors and demons. This is harder in strong states like the Empire, Kislev and Bretonnia and easier in marginal areas like the Badlands and Norsca.

There´s two ways towards victory: there's the slow, grinding acquisition of victory points through the conquest or corruption of regions and the faster route where the gods perform certain required actions.

In true Ameritrash fashion, the four gods have their own special powers, which are reflected in the characteristics of the monsters they can summon and the spells they can cast. It also determines their quickest route to victory.

For example, Khorn, the Blood God, has the most powerful troops and most of his spells reinforce his advantage in battle. In terms of getting towards victory, he is rewarded for killing enemy minions.

While Nurgle needs to place multiple corruption tokens in an area 10 times and Khorne needs to kill enemies in 9 different battles, the Skaven and Tzeentch need  to take 8 steps to reach victory, but Slaanesh only 7.

As this was only our second game in about two years, the rules were rusty and we were again surprised by the speed of the game. If a player can go about his business in a quiet corner of the board, he will quickly ratchet up the required steps on the victory dial and win in three turns.

The most important lesson learned therefor was probably to get into close contact from the word go, denying easy dial advances to other players. No time for sitting on the fence.

I think we were all a bit dazed after this quick result so we will need to give it another try real soon.

Ps The Horned Rat expansion adds the Skaven as a possible fifth player and new sets of cards for the other gods. It´s not massive as expansions go, but the fifth player option was very welcome this time.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Lacking in the Force Was I

Wednesday's first try out of X-Wing was fun, but the favourable odds didn't pay off and my x-wing blew up before I could take out the second tie fighter.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Joy and Art of Participation Games

A couple of weeks ago I told you I was excited about two projects which I couldn’t tell about yet. And now I can reveal the first one: we’re going to make an e-book on participation games.

Mummy participation game, 2003. Photo Rob Koppendraier

So who are 'we' and how did this come about? We are wargaming club Murphy’s Heroes from Delft, the Netherlands. In 2014 our club will be 25 years old, no mean feat for any organisation and especially so for one that’s only based on the spare time of its members. So naturally this is something we want to celebrate.

As committee of the club, but more so because most of us have been a member of this club from the start, or a very long time at least, we wanted to do something special. Something that:
  • we could give to he members to celebrate this milestone
  • we could give to non-members to show what an awesome bunch of people we are
  • would show our creativity and the things our club is best known for
  • would engage lots of people in creating it

A-Team participation game, 2010

We came up with participation games. The club has a long tradition of games designed to attract strangers to our tables and engage. This made us a well known presence in the Dutch and international gaming scene and a welcome guest at shows of other clubs. It is also a source of great pride.

Participation games are different from just demonstration games because they don’t focus on the beautiful terrain and miniatures (although that can also be an important part) but on getting people to join in and experience the fun of playing. This requires an extra effort to design rules and make them work towards speed, action and fun.

But while staging a participation game is fun and rewarding, we feel it would be even better if we collect our experience and give it away, This will not only remind people of what we’ve done, it will also encourage them to join in. Because that is what we want to do the most: persuade people to do participation games themselves.

FRAG participation game, 2005. Photo Rob Koppendraier

So in 2013 we want to create Murphy´s Heroes Cookbook for Participation Games. We want to do this with our club members, but also with those from outside. Many clubs have designed successful participation games and we would like to include that experience and those examples into the cookbook. For example, I´m thinking of the legendary Breakfast at the Bastion game that was based on a scene from the Three Musketeers and which the Pike & Shot Society used to run,.

I hope that those of you that follow this blog and have experience with participation games are willing to come forward with examples, ideas, experience or even gaming materials and pictures of games they’ve designed and run. Or the games that you will design this year out of inspiration.

It is our intention to collect these throughout 2013 and publish the full version of MHC around May 2014.

Maybe you can understand now why I was so excited.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Five Blogs For You To Enjoy - and a few more

It's always nice to be recognised for your efforts and so I'm very happy that Aaron Hunt of the Dulce et Decorum Est blog gave me the Liebster Blog Award. Especially for the kind words he used explaining his decision. That means a lot to me.

The further advantage of the Liebster Award is that I get to point you to other blogs that I enjoy reading. These are the rules of the Award:
  • Copy and paste the award on your Blog linking it to the blogger who has given it to you.
  • Pass the award to your top 5 favorite Blogs with fewer than 200 followers by leaving a comment on one of their posts to notify them that they have won the award
  • List your nominations (complete with links) on your own Blog.
I think I can do that. I gave a short list of my favourite blog wrecks a few months ago of blogs that I would like to see resurface again. But this is a much tougher challenge. To make my job a bit easier, I won't give the award to blogs that I know have already received the Liebster and to those that I've discovered only recently as part of the Am I a Proper Wargamer discussion, as I haven't had time to take them all in.

Furthermore, I will try to pick the best entries in five categories. Because Liebster is primarily a miniature wargaming meme I will focus on that. And as the Frontline Gamer once put it so well: there's really three sides to (miniature) wargaming. There's the modelling and painting, the gaming and the background study. So these will make up my first three categories. But because I don´t see a big gap between miniature wargaming and board gaming there will be a boardgaming blog as fourth category and finally an extra category to keep my options open.

Front page of one of the Squadron Forward rules, available through Too Fat Lardies

The first section is that of those whose creativity is focused on the rules of the game. The first winner is Joe Legan, whose development of campaign settings for all sorts of miniature rules at Platoon Forward  I think is a fantastic service to gamers. Campaigns are the best way to enjoy gaming. Other contenders in this section are the reflections on Wargaming4GrownUps and David Crook of Wargaming Odysee has been steadfast pursuing his block rules.

Screenshot from Dark Age Wargaming

In the military history section, Dark Age Wargaming by Historian On The Edge comes out on top as it has some of the best articles on the subject and has been inspiring to my Dux Britanniarum endeavours.  Also highly recommended comes Midlist Writer by Sean McLachlan for exotic travel with a wargaming theme, like Iraq and Ethiopia.

Out of contention: Bob Cordery of Wargaming Miscellany and Big Lee Hadley often make me jealous of their trips to historical sites and museums. Jim Hale of Arlequins Worlds has these really deep backgrounds on many wars. Both Bob and Jim actually have a big part of rules development as well, so transcend the categories.

Pijlie's scratch built inn, as photographed by himself
The modelling and painting category goes to Jan-Willem van der Pijl's Pijlie's Wargame Blog. Excellent painting and modelling, especially his 17th century inn. Other Dutch blogs worthy of mention are René van den Assem's Paint-In and Michael Fisher's MiniStories which show the high quality of painting around here.

Other favourites like Analogue Hobbies (I love the WWI in Grayscale), Trouble at t´Mill and Sidney Roundwood are out of contention. Furthermore, Musings of A Frustrated Wargamer, Tales of a Tabletop Skirmisher and Frontline Gamer have been excellent in pointing me towards new miniature companies and kickstarters. Even though I haven't fallen for any of it, it's still great to enjoy the eye candy.

Jeremiah's excellent design of graveyard tiles for Zombicide

My award to Front Towards Enemy in the Extras category is based mainly on Jeremiah Terry's continued effort to produce new characters, counters, map and other gaming assessories for FFG's Tannhauser and Dust Tactics, as well as Zombicide. He really puts in a lot of skill and effort and I think all gaming companies should encourage fan contributions, especially of this high quality. Other extras are Savage Tales, for my dose of high quality pulp.

The selected boardgaming blog is Fortress: Ameritrash. This site hosts a collection of several high quality bloggers, like the legendary Michael Barnes of NoHighScores, Matt Thrower, Ken Bradford, Sagrilarius, Pete Ruth of Superfly Circus, Matt of Drake's Flames and Nate Owens of the Rumpus Room. All under the ever waking eye of Ubarose.

From a Liebster point of view this is a bit of a dead end, but it will keep you occupied for ages. Reviews but also a lot of reflection on design and popular culture and a kick ass attitude that you won't find on other boardgaming sites. I'm proud to have been following it from the beginning, to have supported it financially and unashamed of using it as an occassional soapbox.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Golden Age of Boardgaming? Maybe, maybe not

Quinns, of the Shut Up & Sit Down boardgaming blog and video reviews recently gave an entertaining if longish talk at the GameCity video gaming conference on the development of boardgames in the last 15 years. He contended that boardgames are now experiencing a Golden Age and argues this mostly on the basis of a marriage of 'German' style mechanisms with 'American' storytelling. This is a story often told in many different ways at Fortress Ameritrash?.

The presentation includes many of the most interesting boardgame designs of the period under review (although War of the Ring is incredibly left out, while City of Horror is included for no good reason). If your not familiar with boardgaming design developments, the whole video is well worth watching, otherwise some of it will feel familiar.

The thesis of a Golden Age of boardgaming only partly convinces. There are many signs of crisis in the boardgaming industry and it is doubtful whether more people are boardgaming these days than 15 years ago. So we should at least differentiate between boardgame design, the boardgaming industry and the hobby.  While I can mostly agree with Quinns on boardgame design going through a strong patch, I have strong doubts about the industry and the hobby.

What I will do today is go is explore Quinns argument on board game design, and then discuss the industry and the hobby on Sunday. Part of that discussion has already filtered into my discussion of brick & mortar game shops in the last couple of days.


Quinn uses the first part of the presentation to show the influence of German style boardgame designs from the 1990s. I’m fully agreed that these designs were more accessible than many older boardgames, and the design built on keeping the race tight until the end. But Quinn adds the dimension of the higher quality of components. On the other hand, theme in most of these games is thin.

By the start of the 21st century these design concepts started to be copied by ‘western’ designers, who mixed them with ‘American’ storytelling. Examples mentioned are Twilight Imperium, Game of Thrones and more recently X-Wing.

Dominion, the start of something beautiful?

To illustrate how quickly innovation is now taking place in design he went over the recent deckbuilding revolution, starting with Dominion in 2008. Thunderstone in 2009 added theme. Puzzle Strike then allowed playing the oppononent’s deck in 2010. And in 2011 A Few Acres of Snow integrated the deckbuilder into a boardgame, modelling the logistics of war.

Quinns actually leaves the two most exciting developments in game design to the end of the presentatio. The Boardgame Remix Kit allows you to combine elements from Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit to ´build the most dangerous things´. Risk Legacy lets players name continents, add new rules and extra information to the board as the result of events during the game. In this way each copy of the game becomes unique, with it´s own history. 

If it weren't for the Halifax Hammer...

While I agree with the general line of his argument I have two questions. On the one hand, we can also see how innovative designs like Dominion are copied and milked by less innovative designers and publishers.  While further developing the deckbuilding engine, are Thunderstone and other deckbuilder derivates actually good games who themselves will stand the test the time?  

You could also argue that most of this innovation is incremental but that these are not game changers. How many people outside, or even inside the hobby niche, will actually notice?  

Boardgames vs videogames

Later Quinns´ presentation becomes an attempt convert video gamers to board games. He argues that the boardgames revival happened because video games lately haven't reached into areas of social interaction, which leaves room for boardgames.

Videogames are versatile, he continues, but they cannot do everything, like talking, bluffing, joking and auctioning. It’s difficult to imagine a paranoid treason game like Battlestar Galactica or The Resistance working in a video environment.

One of the best games of the past decade. It made me watch the series
Boardgames also do stuff that videogames haven’t done yet: like the dungeoneering mega campaigns of Descent. That kind of 'maximalist' game design is not commercially viable in videogames but in some cases in boardgaming.

Most importantly, Quinns sees no real difference between board and videogames. To him they are two sides of the gaming hobby. Board game design principles can provide a solid foundation for video games with the example of  the recent X-Com being designed as a boardgame. The design tools of bardgames are much more accessible, require less investment and are easier to test. 

Paths of Glory, itself a legendary design, is one of the card driven games that can be enjoyed online using ACTS
But as far as I´m concerned the line between boardgames and videogames is already disappearing. Look at the online engines to play boardgames that have become available: ACTS for card driven games, Vassal for wargames, BrettSpielWelt for eurogames and there´s a host of online/browser games from Travian and Die2Nite to iPad versions of many popular boardgames. 

How will this affect boardgames in the future? Will this mean that physical boardgames will disappear and people will play them online with their friends? Not necessarily. The technology to digitalise boards in player mats is already available, which will allow you to play and easily store long playing games for later use.

It will also make it possible to hardwire the rules into the game components, preventing mistakes or cheating, and allowing limited information, hidden movement and administrative chores to be automated, while still retaining the feel of a boardgame