Thursday, February 28, 2002

Don't miss James Lileks angrily deconstructing a sniffily anti-American article in Tuesday's Guardian: Here’s the deal: we don’t need your support. But understand that if Iraqis had flown planes into Big Ben, we’d take out Saddam, because we understand that an attack on you is an attack on us. The West is not defined by Belgian edicts on acceptable levels of tomato sauce viscosity. The West is a set of ideas that need defending.
Another clarity-provoking lead from Relapsed Catholic - How the Church failed by reinventing Christianity: What we are seeing, in fact, is not so much a decline of religion, as religion being reinvented: the word "spirituality" itself is now conventionally applied to ordinary human qualities, such as aesthetic sensation or emotional experience, rather than to communion with the divine.
GMT have done it again! I ordered a copy of Triumph & Glory for Dave last Tuesday (I'm not mentioning the copy of Eighth Air Force for myself - more stuff!) I paid for Surface Mail from the US. It arrived this morning, in perfect condition, just over a week later. Both games for less than £20 each including shipping. Get your wargame-habit fix direct from GMT - highly recommended.
Here's a semi-official example of play for Thirty Years War. Must read this carefully before I play Nick on Sunday - may give me some ideas!

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Well I finally did it - after a very positive experience ordering Triumph and Glory direct from the states, I have preordered a stack of games on from GMT on Project 500. The Napoleonic Wars, Barbarossa to Berlin, Hornet Leader and Medieval. That's $142 worth, phew! Hopefully they won't all be charged at once.....

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Phil has complained recently that he doesn't get enough coverage on my weblog. So I thought I would share the last few text messages I have received from him, to give you an idea of his personality and priorities:

where the hell are you man, and why havent you foned. i am hungry. from phil. (18-Feb 21:11)



Have you spotted the common theme?
Herald Tribune: Deterrence at last: "Meet Don Rumsfeld - he's even crazier than you are."

Monday, February 25, 2002

Nick John Steve and Dave turned up in my living room Saturday afternoon. Not sure who let them in, but they quickly found my corkscrew and my wine stash, got "History of the World" down from the shelf and got started. Of course they made me play as well. Good fun actually - I'm always excited by the audacious scope of this game combined with the simple and fun mechanics. We had a bit of bickering about the Gibson's rules compared with later versions. In fact bickering was a feature of the afternoon - we spent time squabbling about Graham Hancock, joining the Euro, what to play next, and who was providing the next bottle of wine. Anyway, after 5 hours John overtook Steve to rob him of victory at the last moment, in spite of Steve drawing the British in Epoch 7. Steve left in disgust, we had a bite to eat, then settled down to something lighter - two games of Carcassone, both of which were won by John. I think everyone was disgusted by now (except John), and the wine had run out, it was nearly 11pm, so we all went home - except me, I was home already, I just had to clear away the debris and get the vacuum cleaner going (someone has muddy feet)......
InstaPundit on the hidden cost of Europe's current attitude to the US: It is odd that people who worry so much about offending those who, ultimately, don't matter (like Yasser Arafat) worry so little about offending the United States. They've taken our forbearance for granted for a long time, and I guess they haven't yet figured out that it's no longer available.

Friday, February 22, 2002

Warning! If this site - Planet Gaz - doesn't get updated shortly it's coming off my list of blogs.
Stuck at home this morning, taking a half-day's leave to take delivery of a new sofa. Yes, more stuff. It's going to be a long half-day, at this rate it will be 3pm before I get to the office! By rights this should be a pleasant experience - lying in, wandering down town for a coffee, doing some reading, learning a new game - but somehow it feels more like sick-leave - boredom, stuck in the house because the delivery people might arrive, can't start anything because they might arrive soon, bored because they haven't arrived yet!

Still, it will be great to have a new sofa. The old one (Laura Ashley, flowering branch pattern with large oriental-looking birds, circa 1985) is developing concavities and holes that shouldn't be there, places where small guests might slip and fall and emerge blinking years later. It's an old familiar friend, if a grubby and disreputable one, and I'll miss it, but it's going to a better place now - Simon's flat.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Life is just a game? Finite and Infinite Games: A vision of Life as play and possibility. (via Caterina)
GMT's new game of starship combat, Flagship, has its own website. The game is designed by Dan Verssen, who is responsible for such classics as RoadKill, Rise of the Luftwaffe, and Hornet Leader.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Do-it-yourself collectable card games! Dvorak - A Nomic Card Game: Dvorak is a card game where all the cards start out blank; players choose a theme, make up enough cards to get started, then continue to add new cards as the game progresses, provided that the other players approve of each card.

It can be played in two ways - either as a serious attempt to create a card game around a theme (a film, a book, a sport, or whatever you like), or as a ruthless free-for-all, each player pursuing their own particular aims without much regard for fairness or replayability.

As well as making your own, you can also play the decks that other people have made, as if they were standalone games - the Deck Archive contains full rules and card lists for a wide range of games, and each set of cards is easily printable.
(via Invisible City Productions)
Phil thinks that my weblog needs a "Discuss" button. Posts like the one about a flow of stuff through my house are crying out for a response, he says. Trouble is, I don't know how to make a "Discuss" button. Any ideas, anyone?

But what does Phil know about the web anyway? He confesses that whenever he dials in he only has time to check his email, look at his brother's weblog and mine, before he is overcome by irresistible ennui - a "What's the point of the web anyway?" feeling - then switches the computer off and does something more interesting. Discuss.
Last chance to pre-order The Napoleonic Wars at a heavy discount - see GMT GAMES: News From Gene: I spoke with Don Greenwood today as one final check that The Napoleonic Wars is ready to enter production. Don says it's ready, so, given its meteoric rise on P500 (and we're STILL counting - the numbers as of today aren't even close to what we have waiting to enter the database), the next charge will be for that game. We'll start charging on February 25 (next Monday). Anyone who orders by the end of February can still get the best P500 price, so if you've been on the fence or waiting for us to commit to print it, now's the time....

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

The Thursday session - coming next Saturday!

I'm not going to manage a Thursday session this week either.Might as well face the facts - the "Thursday session" no longer exists in practise. Maybe it will rise from the ashes, but at the moment there are too many other things going on for me to be able to commit to it.

But I would like to invite you all over this Saturday afternoon (23 Feb, 2pm) for a gaming session. I would like to play History of the World, or perhaps 1851. Lots of wine and pretzels. What do you say? I'll be phoning around to drum up some support.....
Saw Monsoon Wedding last night with Fiona at Covent Garden Odeon. I know it's a bit late to discover this, but this is the most gloriously rich, colourful film! Simple interwoven stories - beautifully told; fabulous camera-work; wonderful foot-tapping music; memorable character acting. Perfect. This is definitely one for the desert island list!

Monday, February 18, 2002

Note to self: No more excuses! This year, you are going to Greenbelt.
Matt Welch defends the French: If the U.S. continues its longstanding policy of deliberately blunting the military ambitions of its friends so it can be the lone superpower, there will be griping and immaturity galore. And some of it will even be justified, unless you believe that power somehow doesn’t corrupt.

Friday, February 15, 2002

USS Clueless - Blind men and the Tiger: Secretary of State Powell has on occasion mouthed comforting words to the Europeans about coalition, but our acts have made clear that the one thing we do not accept is that a coalition should be permitted to prevent us from doing what we decide we need to do. And that is exactly what the European politicians have been hoping that a coalition would accomplish; I have never yet seen any European politician in the last month talk about the coalition except in the context of trying to restrain American actions.
I've been looking back through my weblog. Are too many of my postings about buying things? Books, CDs, games, furniture, blah, blah, blah....... I shop therefore I am?

And postings too about clearing bin bags full of rubbish out of the loft. A steady trickle of parcels from Amazon, BOL, GMT, eBay and The Games Store in through the front door, and a corresponding stream of filled bin bags back out of the front door. And of course this flow of stuff is mirrored by a flow of money through my bank account. Is this what it means to be a consumer? Is this the outline of my life? Feels vaguely shameful, today......

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Superb edition of Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time on Radio 4 this morning, about Anatomy: The Greeks thought we were built like pigs, and when Renaissance man first cut his sacred flesh it was an act of heresy. From the noble ambitions of medical science to the murky underworld of Victorian grave robbing, we trace 2000 years of anatomical study.

Took me back to my year in the dissecting room at Oxford. Apparently there is an abundant supply of bodies for medical students these days, in contrast with the Nineteenth Century when Burke and Hare smothered their guests to sell on to the medical schools.

An interesting fact - the Vatican never opposed dissection of human cadavers per se, in fact they set up one of the earliest institions for the study of anatomy. But you would burn for pointing out the errors in Galen, the classical father of the subject. One of the guests vividly painted a Renaissance anatomy lecture, with the professor solemnly intoning "Note the five lobes of the liver, as in Galen", while his assistant holds up a smooth and lobeless human liver.
Well I received a nice parcel from Amazon today, containing two books. The first is "Uncle Stories" by J.P. Martin, a paperback omnibus edition containing the first two of the Uncle books which captivated me when I was about 10. Marvellous illustrations by Quentin Blake. I urge all the childish among my readers (that's all of you) to splash out £4.99 for this book - you won't regret it, and you'll encourage Random House to reprint the remaining 4 stories.

The second one is the Everyman's Library edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson. A satisfyingly heavy volume. I have a confession to make - I'm terribly jealous of Nick's collection of books, lots of hardbacks and Folio editions, accumulated over the years. I have lots of books myself - in fact I have been throwing quite a few out and I still need to get a new bookcase (I'm collecting it on Saturday) - but most of them are paperbacks and a bit tatty-looking. I want to go up-market! So I plan to buy one or two Everymans every month to develop a bit of class on my bookshelves.....

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

A quick game report that I was sorely tempted not to post at all. Last Saturday, Paths of Glory, against John - who was keen to learn the game. I should have known better. It's a classic gaming situation to soundly beat the friend who is teaching you a new wargame. I've done it to Nick many times. Anyway, John played the Allied Powers. I started with Guns of August and he met my march into Belgium head-on, with lots of counter-attacks from French and British armies which really marked down my German units. I had about 3 German armies in the dead-pile by the end of turn 4, and pressure was building up in the East too. We called it a day at that point, but I had not made a good start.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Nimrod session - lack of.

This week I shall again fail to host a nimrod session. Last Thursday I was taking Phil off to Gatwick on his holiday, this Thursday he is expected back from Portugal and I want to have a meal with him and hear all his news. I'm busy every other evening of this week, including Saturday, so playing games will have to wait until next Thursday.

Apart from my problems keeping a weekday evening free, we're a bit thin on the ground these days. Nick seems to bring a lot of work home from "the office" these days (it's not really an office, it's usually a hole in a field somewhere), Robin is in lurve or studying, James is being a father (very selfish of him), and Wayne and William have gone East. On the credit side John is back in circulation. So thats five down and only one up. Nimrods - an endangered species?
I went for a long walk Sunday afternoon in the gloriously empty country north of Dinton. After an hour or so I was walking past a tatty, isolated cottage with no less than 4 tatty Land Rovers parked around it. I was just passing the front door when a young man stepped out with a shotgun in his hand - I could see that he was fiddling with a cartridge in one of the barrels. He didn't seem to notice me as I passed, quickening my pace. A small, aggressive dog came blasting out of the gate, yapping after my heels, and at the same moment the young man snapped the gun shut, pointed it skywards and fired.

A nervous moment - if there are two things that make me jumpy it's firearms and hostile dogs.

Still, it's reassuring to see that the countryside hasn't been completely annexed by doctors and solicitors. There remains an old-fashioned rural working-class out there who would rather spend their weekends shooting rabbits than prettying up a suburbanized cottage garden.

Friday, February 08, 2002

THE DARWINIAN UNIVERSE - Isn't there room for God? by John F. Haught: For theology, I believe the only way forward in this discussion is for it to argue forcefully that its own system is wide and deep enough to embrace coherently all of the relevant scientific information from biology, geology, paleontology, genetics, embryology, comparative anatomy, etc., while at the same time allowing logical space for a God who makes promises to be the ultimate explanation of evolution. (via Relapsed Catholic)
An excellent article by Neil Carr on a subject close to my heart - In search of Civ-Lite: Many a gamer has fond memories of this truly epic game detailing the development and rise of ancient civilizations to it's height in essentially the Hellenistic era. It had wide appeal for a variety of reasons. It had elements of wargames, logistics, diplomacy, trading and bluffing. Players were given an open ended system that allowed them to play as they liked and didn't require warfare as the only answer to winning the game. Finally, the system was rather simple and easily teachable.
David Aaronovitch has an angry column on torture in Saudi: Here's a vigorous representation. Saudi Arabia is ruled by a corrupt and stinking government whose interests are no longer synonymous with ours, and from which we should – unless there is a real prospect of internal reform (as in Iran) – disengage. We should not do business with torturers.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

The learned David Porter, whom I have met once in the flesh and quite a few times by UseNet and email, who is a stalwart of l'Abri as well as being a keen boardgamer and a Squad Leader enthusiast, has recently published The Inklings Handbook. It looks like an essential read: A comprehensive guide to the lives, thought and writings of C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield and their friends. The book falls into two parts: the first introducing the Inklings, with the second longer part in dictionary format, with many biographical articles, as well as substantial entries on the Inklings' writings, themes and theology.
Man, I'm tired! I got up at 4am this morning to take Phil and Harriet to Gatwick. I had driven 160 miles by the time I arrived at work at 7am. I'm coasting now, selecting little low-intensity jobs that I can get done without thinking too hard. Anyway, after Tuesday evening's database crisis, when I saved NTL's ass (with an audience of about 15 middle-managers stood round my desk asking me how it was going), I think I'm entitled to a bit of coasting.
Good point from Caterina: Today I read an article on self-esteem in the New York Times, which said certain studies published this year found that having self esteem is potentially harmful to others, as their research showed a correlation between high self-regard and violent or abusive behavior. Which doesn't surprise me at all; what surprises me is that psychologists believe in the concept of "self-esteem" to begin with.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

William pointed me to this website - South London Warlords - with details of the Salute show in April (anyone fancy going up as a party?), and an excellent selection of links to other wargames websites.
I'm amazed! I ordered Triumph and Glory from the GMT website last Thursday - with surface delivery at $8 - and it arrived yesterday (I actually picked it up from the sorting office this morning.) That's pretty efficient service. No customs to pay either. From a swift decco at lunchtime it looks impressive - nicely produced anyway, looking forward to seeing how it plays.
And this one - Welcome to Uncle - is marvellous, featuring loads of Quentin Blake's wonderful drawings.
Another one - The Uncle books, by J P Martin: Long ago, a small boy got some wonderful books from the local library. Peopled by strange characters like the benevolent elephant Uncle, his nemesis Beaver Hateman, Uncle's companion The Old Monkey, the skewer-throwing Hitmouse and the ingenious American Ira Smoothy, and set in twin strongholds, sumptuous Homeward and squalid Badfort, how could a little kid not be left with a sense of wonder?
Years passed, but the characters remained, reinforced by memories of Quentin Blake's great illustrations. The books are were long out of print, but I'm trying to compile some information to help people find them.
A small fansite for the Uncle books.

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Oh joy! They've reprinted "Uncle": I remember discovering Uncle books in my local library in the early 1970s as a child of ten or eleven, and my memories of the books are very strong still, even though I haven't read them since. Who can possibly forget the extraordinarily vivid cast of rogues, cheats, bores and downright strange characters JP Martin created? He coined some of the best comic names in literature - positively Dickensian inventions, including: Jellytussle, Flabskin, Hitmouse and the Muncle, to name just a few. Or the wonderful brands and products - Black Tom and Leper Jack liquor (staple tipple at Badfort), or Koolvat (refreshing cordial served at Homeward, Uncle's skyscraper-towered castle).
Blogging goes mainstream? BBC News | DOT LIFE | I blog, therefore I am (via notsosoft)

Monday, February 04, 2002

Everyman Classics - strangely absent from bookshops in the UK these days.
Aliataire Cooke's latest Letter from America: And as for the gusher of pious rage that sprang up from the dumb release of that wretched photograph of detainees shackled for a hazardous moment or two, I can only offer the first-hand testimony of a serious and respected British correspondent who's just been done there.
He says, frankly, that what he saw for years in the prisons of Northern Ireland made Guantanamo look like a Holiday Inn.
(via InstaPundit)
They said it would be over by Christmas.

They weren't too far out - in the event it was all done by Spring 1915. Dave played his usual game as the Central Powers - short-termist and ultra-violent, he used his cards almost exclusively as OPS and RPs, with one or two SRs as well. Hammering into France with repeated high-odds attacks, he smashed my fort-line and wheeled clockwise across Southern-Central France. My plan was to use the bare minimum of OPS to stop the situation collapsing completely, play events and get to Limited War quickly, hoping to avoid Automatic Victory long enough for the reinforcements in the LW and TW decks to feed through. I was amazed by Dave's willingness to stay in Limited War for the whole game, recycling the same cards over and over again.

In the event my reinforcements told sooner than I expected. I was able to bring 4 Russian armies on at Petrograd. Dave had totally denuded Eastern Prussia of troops, so in they marched. Breslau and next Berlin fell before Dave realised his peril. By then Paris had fallen and my 5 surviving armies in the west were backed up against the Channel ports. Suddenly the pressure was off as Dave sent armies rushing Eastwards to defend the Reich. At this point he was really hampered by only having 2/2 cards left in his hand. It was too late - in spite of German counterattacks a Russian army marched across Southern Germany to render the whole of Austria-Hungary out-of-supply. Nine armies out of the game! I tried to encourage him to play on but Dave had lost heart and conceded.

I've gone on at length because I really enjoyed this game of Paths of Glory. It was very pleasing to prove that it is possible to counter Dave's notorious "Smash France" strategy, which has claimed so many victims (hi Nick!) A great afternoon of classic 2-player wargaming.

I'm looking forward to the rematch, Dave!

Friday, February 01, 2002

InstaPundit.Com Robert Fisk -- sucking up to terrorists since 1993!
Highlight of last night's Ceroc was living out a fantasy I've picked up from watching too many war films - dancing with a pretty girl to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood". For a few moments, it was the night before another mission in the Memphis Belle......
Makes me wonder why I still buy the Independent - Handy List of Post-Sept. 11 Robert Fisk Headlines Further commentary just isn't necessary, is it? (via Matt Welch)
This is one for the girls really, but it's so funny I just have to blog the Pre-Date Confidence Builder (via lots of people)