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.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Miniature painting projects for last part of 2015

I promised myself two small painting projects for the 2nd half of 2015. I had already compiled a short list of possible projects in the early part of the year.

And then by chance I started off on the 1815 Prussians for the Battle of Waterloo, a game that was put on for the end of August. Somebody put a few batallions up for sale in May and I decided to buy them, including some unpainted stuff, adding up to two batallions of Landwehr. It was a pretty tough job finishing in time for that, but as always a deadline helps.

I've managed to resist the temptation of buying more unpainted lead/plastic, because once this deadline's gone, there's not much chance of me painting it. I bought a bunch of painted limbers and guns and staff officers was offered by someone at the club. Good buy, but it also included a bag of unpainted cuirassiers...

The good thing is that I felt so happy about painting that I picked up another tiny project last Monday, spraying a base coat and putting on three colours on a set of six medieval monks useful for either Dux Brittanniarum or SAGA. And then some more work this weekend! Pretty easy to paint and limited detail, which is good to keep momentum going!

So what after this short project? This is what I'm thinking off:
  • Finish the vehicles for my American WWII Chain of Command force. It will be a bit of glueing, and not too much painting. Mostly spray painting and finishing. It's good to finish a project!
  • Scenery for Dark Ages which will be useful for either Dux Brittanniarum or SAGA

More distant and ambitious projects:

  • Muskets and Tomahawks. I've got Indians, French and Americans, so I can try both French & Indian Wars and American War of Independence. M&T doesn't require many troops, so doable. With an added Maroon project stemming from my interest in slavery in the West Indies. There's also this big project a number of people are starting for a big AWI battle day...
  • I've got loads of Fantasy stuff lying around for some vague project. goblins, skaven, an unfinished batch of bats, and loads more. Tempting. I might also join in the Frostgrave fun, which doesn't require a lot of figures, but with the risk of buying their plastic soldiers set, which will make excellent adventurers...
  • Normans. I bought a good sized army but half of it only in base coating. It's already enough for what I intended with them (SAGA), but finishing the force would give a feeling of completion. It does however pose questions about matching the quality and style of the miniatures already finished. That will be very hard
  • Vikings and Late Saxons. I've got two Gripping Beast boxes of plastics which with some army painter treatment might finish in good time.
  • Welsh. I've got this Welsh starter army for SAGA which can also be used against the Saxons. And Picts. And Normans. And Vikings. And Late Saxons.
  • Samurai and fantasy Japanese. Some lovely stuff from the Indiegogo, and some buildings. It's just that my painting technique is not good enough to do it justice

Oh well... I can still try to get somebody else to paint some of this stuff, which is what I decided on two years ago.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Big Battles, Big Challenges

So last Saturday I could reap the fruits of my hard work on a Landwehr battallion! A very well organised day, with a lavish lunch, good company and a feast for the eyes. It was clear that more talented painters than I had spent more time on building their armies. Mine were swamped a bit, but at least gave a good account of themselves, especially the Jäger.

My Landwehr joining the fray, but outpaced by cavalry

I am very grateful to the guys who made it possible: Patrick for organising, Erwin for writing the scenarios (with a little help), Jelle for selling his troops to me and Peter for lending part of his troops to me for the day.

Black Powder didn't disappoint. After 8 turns, which took us close to 6 hours to play, the Prussian troops had hardly entered Plancenoit. So instead of sweeping changes in the tide of battle, as in 1815, is was now a overloaded table with troops queuing whilst those at the front waited for the dice to roll their way. It made me wonder whether the BP guys that wrote the scenario actually playtested it.

Turn 2: You are almost in Plancenoit!

It's good to have some disorganisation, but you can just expect a 2D6 command roll to fail 4 out of 10 rolls if you rating is 8 and you need to roll that or lower. Which hamstrings most of your commands needlessly and raises frustration similarly. If that happens a couple of times of your 8 turns you play, well...

"This is why I don't play toy soldier games any more" a wise man once said...

Beautiful La Haye Sainte Model

On the other three tables they were able to (just about) finish their scenarios in time, but I have no idea whether those games felt historical. Then again, that was not the issue of the day. It was an excuse to paint miniatures and have a nice chat. Both those aims were achieved. I might be tempted to join the project next year if it helps me engage my American War of Independence miniatures. I might even pretend to play Black Powder.

Hougoumont holds out

Some day I will write the ultimate book on how Big Battles should be fought in miniature, but I'll just start with a few rules I've picked up over the years:

  • Rules. Most commercial rules are too complex for big battles. Too many exceptions, too much waiting for other players. But you don't need complex rules with lots of chance (i.e. dice rolls): the decisions of generals should play the main role. So use only the barest minimum of rules
  • Amount of troops. Limit this to about 7 units per player. More than that will mean they have to resolve combat with more than one player which slows resolution down. It also puts a lot of pressure on one player while others sit idly waiting for their troops to enter the table.
  • Time pressure. The big battles I have participated in which gave the most excitement and sense of fulfilment were those with a pretty sharp turn sequence mercilessly enforced by the umpires.
  • Hierarchy. Have commanders and sub commanders. In a tightly run battle, the challenge of command and control is at least as interesting as that of shoving units and rolling dice. It also gives the players the sense of being part of a bigger event.
  • Umpires. Last Saturday was a very pleasant occasion, and rules arguments were few and readily solved. But be prepared for rules lawyers and have umpires to decide calls quickly. The game needs to move on. Also, make sure the umpires have the same interpretation or else the space between them will be exploited by competitive players. Umpires are also very useful in keeping the game moving

Friday, 28 August 2015

The Phases of a Miniature Painting Project

Tomorrow I will be participating in one of four simultaneous battles from the Waterloo campaign. Slight problem is that the rules will be Black Powder for which I have little love, or any ruleset of its ilk. I go there to meet some really nice people. And because I bought a bunch of figures. Which has become a bit of a circular argument.

As I progressed with the painting last weekend, I started to recognise a number of phases in my painting. Whilst I have enjoyed preparing the miniatures and spray painting them, the painting itself became increasingly discouraging. Trying to follow the Army Painter philosophy you should refrain as much as possible from highlighting. I did a few highlights in blue, put a layer of light gray under the white trousers. Once I got to the white leatherwork, the many mistakes started to get me down. Although I persevered in the belief that Army Painter dip would solve all my problems, my religion was sorely tested when a came to the piping of the Landwehr field caps.

My hand may have been less steady, or I was starting to get irritated by not being able to reach the miniatures as easily when individually mounted. I was disappointed in the result and I resolved to go over all the caps again to redress the mistakes. I went over most colours. That made me feel better, but it also required extra time.

But what a difference the army painter dip made. It is very forgiving! By this time I was pretty happy with the look of the miniatures. The hardest part still had to come: basing them. I got a lot of useful suggestions from my facebook friend at Dutch Miniature Wargames, but I was being stupid and didn't have the right tools to hand for applying the plaster, but when I improved a sort of plastic spatula my aggression levels dropped off a bit.

I still believe that basing is the worst kind of job and psychologically at the toughest time in the process as you try to finish the project in time. I also am happy to go on record to say that re-basing miniatures is of the devil and a clean waste of time. No ruleset is worth that kind of shit.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Finding Arthur

Somehow, what started out as an anything-but-Waterloo summer has turned in to a medieval reading tournament. After the wonderful Quest for El-Cid, I turned to Guy Halsall’s Worlds of Arthur. And of course it’s hard not to compare the books.

Essentially the books have a similar approach: to use the story of one semi-mythical character to gain a wider understanding of the time and place they lived in. And they face similar challenges: a flood of artistically and ideologically embellished literature obscuring a dearth of dependable sources.

Rodrigo was retroactively incorporated into the Reconquista propaganda and 19th and 20th century Spanish-Castilian nationalism. Much of the popular image of Arthur is based on 12th century romantic literature, which by the way has strong ideological or at least moralistic overtones, as Halsall points out. This has not been improved by 20th century fantasts who have claimed to have proven certain myths based on very crude and fanciful interpretation of isolated snippets of evidence.

There are differences too: while Rodrigo can be proven to have lived and the main occurrences in his life are beyond doubt, Arthur’s best bet is that it cannot be disproven that he has existed, but that it is unclear when exactly and where. But the fundamental challenge remains to construct a narrative from very slim and unreliable evidence.

"Indeed, whether or not one of the post-imperial British kings was called Arthur is probably the least interesting question that one can ask about this important period."

Like Fletcher, Halsall is less interested in the main character than in the society that he (supposedly) lived in. Halsall effectively dismantles the 'barbarian invasion' interpretation of British medieval history. But the historical discourse which has replaced it (well presented by Robin Fleming in Britain after Rome), and focusses more on non-violent and cultural domination by relatively small groups of immigrants, also doesn't satisfy him entirely.

First of all, Halsall more strongly emphasises that Britain was not an island but part of a North Sea cultural zone where migration, like trade, was not a one-way phenomenon. This means that cultural change was not the result of conquest, but of interaction and shows parallels on the continent.

Halsall agrees with the new historiography of British decline even before the end of Roman presence and that for a long time the population of Britain saw the removal of Roman forces to the continent as temporary. Also the coming of the Saxons started as allies to the local population some time before the Roman departure. This may have been part of a civil war(s) between Roman competitors.

Finally, post-Roman Britain probably had larger political units than long assumed. Even if not strongly unified, patterns of overlordship by weak states existed, in connection to mainland Europe.

Reading Halsall it is clear that he has a very deep and keen insight into the different material available. His scientific criticism of the written sources is unparalleled and his points out many logical pitfalls in the interpretation of archeological findings. It is clear that what we can infer from them is very limited. So when he keeps open the possibility that Arthur may have really existed this is more from the viewpoint that there is no evidence to disprove his existence, just as there is no proof that he actually did. I think the book is a must read for any serious student of ancient and medieval for its state of the approach and methods.

But in the end, it's the organisation of the book where Fletcher prevails. Halsall's convoluted break up of the development of the 'historiography' of Arthur makes the book tough to finish and the part that is most interesting, Halsall's alternative view of post-Roman Britain, suffers from the reader's desire just to be done with it. Which is a shame.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Zieten's Landwehr To Reach Waterloo In Time

Hurrah for deadlines! Significant strides were made painting my Landwehr. Now preparing to base the minis and allocating magnabase. I might not have to do frantic last minute work on Friday evening...

I've been able to do some painting the last two weekends, so that I got it almost done tonight. All that remains to be done is the drum and the drummer's shoulder wings. I also need to do the shoulder straps of the soldiers. I only decided today what unit they were going to be. I wanted them to be from Zieten's Corps at Waterloo because then they can fight at Ligny as well as Waterloo. Which basically leaves you with Westphalian Landwehr. Not the best of troops, but probably more fun and challenging than the French Guard. I've picked the 4th Westphalian regiment because I like light blue. 

It's not high quality painting of course. But it's fit for purpose and so far within the project constraints. There is still one issue outstanding, though. I still haven't got the materials to base my troops on. I also haven't prepared anything for basing: no flock no other stuff. I might just leave them as they are and just stick em on.

Monday, 10 August 2015

More on the Waterloo front

Although it's gone rather quiet with regards to the battle, it hasn't completely died down. Last week saw the publication of my article in Mars Et Historia, a Dutch magazine on military history.

My bit delves on the loyalty of the Dutch and Belgian troops in the wider context of sweeping political and territorial change in the 25 years before it. In that light it was no wonder that people questioned the allegiance of people living the areas affected. In fact, the armies in which no conflicts of loyalty played a part were the exception!

This Waterloo special also includes articles on the Dutch general staff, Dutch flags during the campaign and a discussion of the role of General Chassé's troops in repulsing the attack of the Old Guard. The outcome might surprise Dutch as well as non-Dutch readers!

The good news is that you can now buy this volume separately online!

In the autumn we hope to fan the flames with a re run of a documentary series on the first three Dutch kings (Williams I, II and III) which also includes the battle. Narrator my friend Jeroen.

Then a documentary on the battle itself based on the recollections of one of the Dutch soldiers involved. Co-narrator my friend Ben.

And also my appearance in the Hoe Heurt 't Eigenlijk? series for which we filmed in June.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Finding El Cid

What a joy!

After a year of almost exclusive focus on Napoleonics I am now returning to the promiscuous reading selection of old. One of the books I had been saving up for this moment was Richard Fletcher's The Quest For El Cid. My interest in The Leader was aroused by my visit to Spain two years ago.

The beauty of the book is that it not only describes the life of The Cid, about whom there is only a limited amount of hard evidence, but also the Spain that he lived in, and also the Spain that turned him in to a crusader saint later on.

The age of El Cid was a fluid one, with disintegration of the old Muslim Caliphate into successor states that were unable to maintain themselves against Castilian expansion. So many of them became dependents, riven apart by internal struggle to be exploited by rising Christian states in the north. However, those fought amongst themselves as well.

Christians, Jews and Muslims lived among each other, just like Spanish born were mixed with Arab and Berber immigrants and descendants. Not that it was a multicultural paradise, but at least a period of relative tolerance (see my discussion of that topic earlier on this blog).

Spain in 1086, just before the coming of the Almoravids

But that was about to change during The Cid's lifetime. On the one hand hard line Christians were starting to build a vision of reconquest, while from the North and South of the Sahara the strict Almoravid sect made rapid progress toward the Mediterranean.

The Cid was always more his own man than a courtly insider after he lost his royal patron early in life. He wasn't particularly liked and easily made enemies, but his skill at leading troops made him very useful to the leaders of his age. He served the king of Castile but also the Muslim leader of Zaragoza. And late in life he primarily served his own interest, capturing Valencia to rule himself.

In the last chapter Fletcher shows how the legend was built on this, partly from a need to attract pilgrims in monasteries and later from a need to build a reconquista ideology, and finally in the modern ago, the need to create a unifying myth for Spain.

Highly recommended, therefor

And yes, this is a perfect setting for a megagame.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

It's My Party...

This is my blog and I brag if I want to

Evert Pater shot this brilliant picture, passing by
The last couple of weeks have been very nice. It all started with the presentation of the book in the Rijksmuseum, together with an exhibition on the battle. I had so many friends and family around it was amazing and I lacked the time to talk to anyone for a sensible time. Not the least because Isabelle was tugging my arm constantly to catch the autographs of my co-authors. But for me it was wonderful to be in the centre of attention. Read a report by Dutch national broadcaster NOS and view the pictures taken by newspaper Parool.

The book has been well received with very favourable reviews in Dutch newspapers NRC (free but registration required) and Trouw (free but registration required) and some historical magazines, such as Historiek, and information vault Kennislink.

Co-author Jeroen van Zanten was interviewed in the Flemish magazine Knack (May 22nd).
Co-author Ben Schoenmaker was interviewed for the Defensiekrant

There have been a number of appearances on Dutch radio and TV:
Ben on Nieuwsuur (June 18th, after 17 minutes)
Me on OVT history programme (June 14th)
Jeroen on TROS nieuwsshow (June 6th) and on Een Vandaag (May 25th)

And we ain't done yet

An article by my hand will appear in the next issue of Mars et Historia, a Dutch magazine on military history, somewhere next month. And I went out on June 19th with a camera crew for the Dutch ironic society programme Hoe Heurt 't Eigenlijk? with dandy presenter Jort Kelder, who proved to be a bit of a history buff. I was bombarded with questions for almost 6 hours straight (except when they were interviewing the Prince of Orange and a few others in the Waterloo bivouac), even when the camera was off. Due to be broadcast somewhere this autumn.

There will also be a number of public lectures, with me appearing at Donner book shop in Rotterdam in October.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Shape of things to come

I'm sure you're all waiting for news on how the book has been received etc. This is coming soon but it has been bussyish. However, I managed to buy a spray can and apply some paint.

Yes those are 28mm Prussian Landwehr. And a few Musketeers. Summer project.

Friday, 5 June 2015

A Heartfelt Thanks To You All

I try not to pat myself on the back here too much, but today was a day that brought me enormous satisfaction: I received the first hard copy of the Waterloo book.

Just holding it sends a pleasant chill down my spine and brings a big smile to my face. It feels good, it smells pleasantly and the quality of the illustrations is really good. Even the flat water colours come off admirably.

The past months have not really been frantic, and I've been through tougher publishing processes, but this is much more *mine* than anything previously. Even if I did it with two other guys, who were very good to have around. Co-operating with Ben and Jeroen has been a real pleasure. Their experience saved me loads of time and took away a lot of potential worries.

And somehow it all fell into place. Our chapters linked up with hardly any overlap, our writing styles meshed and the structure afforded by taking a time and place as the starting point of sections of our chapters worked out as well as might be hoped. It is one book, not three parts.

This also a good time to thank a number of people who provided help during the production of this book: Paul Lindsay Dawson and Stephen Summerfield who gave me access to cutting edge literature and together with Erwin Muilwijk and a number of other regulars on internet fora gave me a good idea of where to find the best current research. Jenny Gierveld, Herman van der Haegen, Michiel Schwartzenberg, Arjan de Jong, Barbara Mounier and Jan Kees Mol gave very useful feedback on the text at several stages. Egon Dietz, Mieke Mateboer and Lona Verkooijen made it possible for me to take four months of leave from work. And last, but certainly not least, Kaj Wijmans should be thanked for turning a switch in my head.

And I want to thank all of you: facebook commenters that sharpened my arguments, colleagues that kept asking when the book would be finished, friends that forgave me when I cancelled appointments, family that had to cope with me staring at a screen late at night, and all of you for showing interest and providing encouragement. It meant and means a lot to me.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

First Time As A Waterloo Tour Guide

No not an official, certified one of course. But I took half of a group of historians from the Ministry of the Defence for a long morning around the battlefield. Since they were mostly familiar with contemporary military affairs I could contrast Napoleonic warfare with their knowledge.

The corn was more than knee high 

We did four stops: first at La Belle Alliance, then at the Sandpit to view the attack by French 1st corps and the counterattack, then onto Hougoumont from where we walked to the Butte de Lion. Here we had a peek at the new visitors' centre and finished of with the attack of the Imperial Guard.

My cheat sheet, which I didn't use
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Just blabbing on for ages about the battle and they were asking for more! They group was really kind and attentive. And I was driven there and fed to do it. Does that sound like a good deal or not? I guess there are boons to writing a book.

Makes me look forward to the book presentation in less than two weeks even more!

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Last 90% of Transpiration

It's been rather busy the last few weeks. After the first draft I handed in early March, there followed comments that needed to be processed, a few sources that I was able to includes thanks to ebooks and a kind intervention by professor Stephen Summerfield who sent me something in advance.

Last week I finished the second draft and last revisions, while also contributing to the introduction, work on the illustrations and commenting on a chapter by a co-author. Excitement alternates with menial tasks, like checking spelling and the correct recording of notes.

The guy in the portrait, Hans Christoph Ernst von Gagern, was part of the 10% inspiration. Gagern was the representative for the German interests of Willem Frederik, Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands, at the Congress of Vienna. He formed a team with baron Spaen van Voorstonde, who represented Willem Frederik's Dutch interests.
Gagern's letters to Willem Frederik (some in German, most in French) cover a lot of ground during this period: from the negotiations over the extensions of the Netherlands to the tussle with Prussia over logistics and big power politics. So I used him to explain parts of that to the reader, rather than to tell it myself.

This weekend I was able to breathe again, but now it's back to the bibliography (which means I don't have to worry about the indexing!). So any of you wondering about a publishing career, know that the 10% inspiration part is no understatement.

Luckily I have experienced editors before and I was able to make mine a coach rather than an opponent. I've also had great help from my more experienced co-authors, so that I've been relatively chilled out during the process.

My boss at work also has been very understanding of my unpredictable working hours, especially since I created more trouble for myself by diving headlong into the Kingdom of the Netherlands project and some other things. Colleagues have been very supportive all round and I've promised to give a presentation on the book once it's done. Nice opportunity to practice!

It's not done yet. As said, the bibliography needs doing, a well as the last bits of illustrations and then the conclusion and the proof reading. Then there will be the promotional activities, for which the rumours are promising, but nothing definite yet.

Will keep you posted!

Slowly, my mind is able to contemplate a period after the book is finished.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The Story of a Map

One of those instances where work and hobby coincide! A few weeks ago I considered doing a tweet with a thematic map to commemorate the birth of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on March 16th 1815. It is an interesting episode because it happened in the pressure cooker days after Napoleon had returned from Elba and it included at that time most of the area we now recognise as Belgium.

My take was to create a map of the Low Countries in 1815 and link it to data from our historical collection on the 1815 census. I though that sending out a tweet with the map would be a nice gesture and likely to get picked up by the media.

I set out searching for a shapefile (a file that holds the spatial information of the map, like borders of provinces) of the Low Countries in 1815 at the time but found none. Then I thought it might be possible to stick together maps of the north and the south into one map, which is what we ended up doing in two stages. I managed to find a shapefile of the north for 1815, and on the assumption that the current Belgian provinces were much like those in 1815 my colleague in the mapping department stuck  the two together. I was SO thrilled with the result.

And so were some of my colleagues, who suggested not just a tweet but a short article, using more data and adding more maps. I set to work on that, despite the fact that I would also have to hand in my two chapters for the Waterloo book this week. That was pretty stupid.

In my enthusiasm I showed the maps to my Belgian stepfather who immediately spotted some necessary changes: in 1962 a number of municipalities was exchanged between Flanders and Wallonia to conform to the language divide, and in 1920 the Belgian took an area on their eastern border including Eupen and Malmedy from the Germans as a compensation for damages in the First World War. And a few minor others.

Just as I was contemplating defeat, another Belgian connection, a very kind historical geographer from the University of Ghent, stepped in and offered the right historical shapefiles for Belgian provinces in 1815. The colleagues at the mapping department stuck those to the north (and a current shape of Luxembourg) and voilá!

The colleagues also suggested doing a storymap application which has turned out pretty awesome as well.

I struggled through the week, working on the article, the map and the book at the same time. Occasionally it looked like it would fail, but on Friday it all came together in the end: chapters went to the publisher, article was finalised and approved and the storymap finished. Much relieved and tired.

So on Monday: cake for the great people that did the mapping. They are awesome!

Monday, 9 March 2015

NYR for first half of 2015

Seeing the general success of the NYR for 2014, I thought I'd set myself some NYR for 2015. But it posed conflicting challenges, which I finally resolved by making separate sets of NYR for both halves or the year.

So first half of this year is fairly simple: The Book needs to be finished. In June. So that's fine. I need to read some books towards that goal (and no distractions!) and I have allowed myself two blog posts per month. That feels more like a challenge now than I thought it would be a month ago.

But the second half of year should be some kind of happy time where I intend to completely scatter my attention over a multitude of smaller projects. I've set myself the following goals:

  • 2 small paint projects
  • 6 games I own that need to be played
  • 25 games I own need to be found a new home
  • Lead pile must be reduced by 25%
  • 25 books read, 
  • there will no longer be a ban on buying new books
  • 12 blog posts
  • 1 big project to be started
  • Project Essen 2014 (4 games still need to be played)
  • Project Satan (I want the games I received from Secret Satan in 2013 and 2014 played)

Part of the fun in the coming months will be in deciding what the projects will be. I am already drawing up lists!