Tuesday, April 30, 2002

If anyone has been wondering how Steve is these days, here's some news from him:

I have been out of things the last few weeks as I had a leg injury on the team building thing - climbing a rockface in a slate mine - I know it was dumb but everyone else did it, including the girls, so I had to. Well I mean you do don't you. I did draw the line at zipping down a line from a cliff top into a lake (in March in North Wales), so I do have some sense. Anyway I am free for any gaming sessions that are going now.
At Salute I met a friend of James called Derek. He's a really nice guy, but the odd thing was that he has been reading nimrods so, although I didn't know anything about him at all, he knew quite a lot about me. This must be how famous people feel all the time.

My favourite moment at Salute was this announcement over the tannoy:

Would a First Aider go to Reenactment immediately.

Monday, April 29, 2002

Andy Looney's account of how he designed his stunning work of genius. Creating Chrononauts: Late one night last January, I had a vision of a time travel card game that would be fast, easy to learn, and totally fun to play, in which players could change history, explore alternate histories, and bring home souvenirs like dinosaurs and other stuff that doesn't exist anymore.
James ran John and me down to Olympia on Saturday for Salute 2002. We were like excited kids on a day out. 3000 nimrods crammed together in one building for a day! Here are some photos which give you an idea of what we were up against. The "View from the Balcony" is particularly worth a look as it features our very own John centre-frame, deep in conversation with someone.

It was primarily a figures wargaming event, but there were a few boardgame traders there. James and John spent quite a lot of money - James picked up This Accursed Civil War and John bought a large box of model trees. I had a very cheap day out as I sold three wargames from my loft at the Bring and Buy. I took home some 25mm cowboys ("Why?" you may ask) and Chrononauts (which I ran through last night - it is a stunning work of genius).

Got home tired but happy, only to be called by work with a crisis which I didn't resolve until 4am next morning - but that's another story.....

Friday, April 26, 2002

Votes please

Gavin wants to sell me his Playstation 2 for £150. It includes 2 controllers, a memory card, and four games (Tony Hawk's 3, Grand Theft Auto 3, Gran Turismo 3, Wipeout 3). I'm not sure whether to go for it.

Reasons why not:

I hate computer games
Phil would fail his A-levels
Phil would try to steal it
It would stop me developing a social life
I would have to collect it from Bristol

Reasons why:

I love Gran Turismo
It would stop Gavin failing his degree
It would help Gavin out with his overdraft
It could be fun when nimrods come over
It's the sort of thing young people do

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Come along to my concert at the Anvil in Basingstoke on Saturday 11th May. I'm taking part as a member of the Basingstoke Choral Society, and it would be great to see some familiar faces in the audience. It's going to be a terrific evening, with beautiful music by Haydn and Mozart.

See the Anvil website for more details.

Or just call the box office on 01256 844244.
Intimations of Mortality

My eyes ache. This job - working at a computer screen day in day out - makes my eyes ache. Last autumn I had my eyes tested and the optician told me that I needed to consider reading specs. Of course I said that I would wait and maybe think about it next year. Reading specs are a sign of ageing, so of course if I delay the specs I'm delaying the ageing too. That's logical isn't it?

But my eyes still ache at work. So last week - the same week that my youngest son turned 18 - I finally gave in and ordered a pair of reading specs. But in one last futile gesture of denial I chose frames made by Animal - the label beloved of skateboarders, surfers and other young people. Young people like me....

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Noone else should read this ConsimWorld posting please - it's how to win PoG as the Central Powers by one who knows (Stephan Valkyser, ACTS PoG record: 57-9-1).
To Translate a Hero: The Hobbit as Beowulf Retold - this is a pretty technical paper which confirms, though, what I've always felt is wonderful about The Hobbit - the way it starts as a fairy tale yet by its end has become a full-blooded nordic saga. (via OK Calvin)

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Photos from the recent GMT East 2002 convention are well worth a look for the shots of the eagerly awaited Napoleonic Wars being played. (Well, it's eagerly awaited by me anyway.)

Monday, April 22, 2002

James takes the long view in a recent email:

I was taken aback when reading the weblog for Friday when for the first time I realised that you are right and I am middle aged, the worrying thing is I have not played enough games yet....... 30 years left ....a game a week ...only 1560 face to face games...I better be choosey in what I play now.

Friday, April 19, 2002

One year old today!

A year ago this weblog started with a description of a weekend Krieg! session, shortly followed by raves about Down in Flames and drooling anticipations of Paths of Glory and Thirty Years War. Well Krieg! hasn't been played since, but we're still raving about Down in Flames, and Paths of Glory has become an old friend.

The thing has broadened out as well, with postings about Ceroc dancing, choral singing, teenage sons, and some ill-advised forays into political comment. But the focus is still the obsessive gaming behaviour of a small group of sad middle-aged enthusiasts in Salisbury.

About 170 different people tune in every month for a read. That doesn't sound like many, but it compares very well with the circulation of your average postal Diplomacy zine. I've no idea why you continue hitting the site every day, but I appreciate your interest. And I've no idea who most of you are either - so send me an email some time. And keep visiting - I'll try to keep it interesting!

Thursday, April 18, 2002

I don't like being a guru. All of a sudden everyone is asking me to solve their problems. They all seem to think I can solve them instantly too, so they hang over my desk waiting for me to investigate, diagnose and cure their intractable chronic database ailments in five minutes flat.

I want to go back to being that overpaid guy in the corner that nobody knows what he does....

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

I am a SQL Server guru......

For the last week I've been struggling with horrendous performance problems on our big production database. Today I rewrote a little Microsoft-supplied procedure. I just popped it onto the live server. Average CPU instantly drops from 70% going on 100% down to 20% or 30%. Blocking locks, which were running at 30 or 40 for the last week, have now dropped down to zero.

I am a GURU!
Nimrods as architects of the 21st Century? Well maybe, if "nimrod" is another way of saying "geek"..... Lord of the Geeks:

Without the lucidly imagined geography of Middle Earth and the archetypal characters Tolkien stocked it with—the grave wizards, stout dwarves, evil orcs, and above all, plucky, permanently adolescent hobbits—geekdom as we know it would simply not exist.

If you feel that's no particularly meaningful achievement, I understand. But maybe you could indulge me and imagine, just for a moment, that the fact that we live in a world increasingly made by geeks actually makes their collective imagination worth understanding. Think about computers, their evolution shaped by a hacker culture that insisted some of the earliest dot-matrix printers be programmed to produce the elvish FĂ«anorian script. Think about the Internet, whose founding architects included the D&D fanatic who created the Adventure, the very first, very Tolkienized online role-playing game. Think, for a moment, about these profoundly transformative technologies. And then consider the possibility that the structures of feeling we inherit from them might just have some intimate connection to the dream life of the people who designed them. Consider, in other words, the possibility that The Lord of the Rings, geek culture's defining literary creation, might just be one of the defining literary creations of our age.

(via Rebecca's Pocket and Great Reads)

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

news.telegraph.co.uk - Blasted to rubble by the Israelis (via Andrew Sullivan)

This horrifying account of the aftermath of battle in Jenin has given me pause for thought - perhaps I was wrong to express unqualified support for the Israelis recently. I still believe that the suicide bomber cult is a great evil which must be confronted and defeated. But this - bulldozing of homes, summary execution of civilians - isn't the way.
Tune into Radio Odstock this afternoon for Phil's regular weekly slot, where he gives a zany, left-field, yoof-centred take on modern culture. Or something. And it's hospital radio so you can't actually listen unless you have an accident or a serious illness. But it's a start anyway.... Isn't this how Alan Partridge got started?
Mmmm, if there's one thing I love more than card-based wargames, it's free card-based wargames!

Cold War Naval Battles was originally published as Modern Naval Battles, a series of three boxed card games for two to six players based on (then) present day sea power with an emphasis on action. It was introduced in the late 1980s by 3W, Inc. of Cambria, California.

The rights to the game's design have long since reverted back to designer Dan Verssen, and Rodger B. MacGowan has always retained the rights to the graphic design. Meanwhile, Alan Emrich, who did the development work and codesigned the series, continued to receive email from its many fans asking if copies could still be obtained (even though it was long out of print).

In their quest for good gaming karma, Dan, Rodger, and Alan agreed that they would re-release the game, renamed (more accurately) Cold War Naval Battles, as a free download for personal use only (i.e., not for resale) on the internet. It is their hope that the fans of this wonderful game series will continue to find hours of enjoyment in it well into the future.

Monday, April 15, 2002

This photo beggars belief. What kind of twisted notion of fatherhood is this man following? An unidentified Palestinian demonstrator carries his daughter who wears a mock belt of explosives as they protest Israel's military offensive in Palestinian territories in Berlin on Saturday. (via USS Clueless)
Played a very exciting Down in Flames campaign with Dave on Saturday. It was the Schweinfurt Raid operation - I played the Eighth Air Force and managed to lose 5 of my 9 Flying Fortresses to Dave's determined and relentless attacks. I got a real sense of what an ordeal these daylight raids must have been for the bomber crews. The waves of German fighters just kept coming - the only respite was over the target but of course the flak was even worse than the fighters - and the friendly fighter escort was outnumbered and only available for a small part of the mission anyway. We had a bit of confusion about the flak rules but we reckoned that the outcome was probably a draw - although I took heavy losses the target was completely flattened.
The perfect package holiday for nimrods? Tour Spanish Napoleonic Battlefields, August 2002:

Join us on a journey into the history of the terrible Spanish campaign. The routes have been carefully crafted to combine history with scenic appeal. We will follow in the footsteps of the armies, through towns filled with reminders of a bygone age, past forests and streams, old inns and churches standing just as they were in 1808. We will travel at a comfortable pace, taking time to explore along the way. We will meet local historians and enthusiasts who are familiar with the terrain and conversant with details concerning their locality which are often not recorded in the history books. We will lodge in period inns and enjoy home-cooked specialities of the region.

Friday, April 12, 2002

The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity has loads of excellent content , including this article about evangelism in the workplace:

Amongst all the huff and puff, wailings and gnashing of teeth about the state of the church in Britain, one central fact has been overlooked… the bulk of church-generated initiatives have nothing to do with the way people spend their the bulk of their waking hours. That’s why over 50% of evangelicals have never heard a sermon on work… not one. How can we possibly pretend that the Church is supporting its people where they are when the vast majority have no support whatsoever for the way they spend 60 or 70% of their waking lives.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

My thoughts on the Independent's new format which first plopped through the letterbox on Tuesday morning (strange - why not Monday I wonder?)

1) Conflict with Phil is inevitable as my Opinion bits are now in the middle of his News section. We can no longer peacefully split up the newspaper at breakfast as we head our separate ways.

2) The Review section, now that it's lost the leader and comment articles, feels distinctly lightweight and fluffy. More like a weekend magazine - can I face this mix of consumer lists and travel advice every morning?

3) In their manifesto they say they want to make a clearer distinction between news and comment. Does this mean Robert Fisk gets the sack?

4) A lot of their regular writers have had glossy new portraits done. Without exception they have all gained weight. (Anne McElvoy has stuck with the old picture so remains cute in a scarily intelligent sort of way.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Ken Layne has a strangely sensible set of quotes from an interview with that annoying Tariq Ali, for example:

I hope that they are listening. I know that the situation in Palestine [for example] is awful. I have large numbers of Palestinian friends. But I do not like the strategy of using suicide bombers to kill civilians. I think it is counterproductive. I think that the only way the Palestinians can get somewhere is by winning over a sizable core of Israelis to their cause. Which will happen. These killings don't help. You say that and they scream, "You don't live here! You don't know what it’s like!" This is absolutely true. On the other hand, I am not in favor of sending our young people to kill themselves. "They want to do it! They’re despairing." I know, I know. It’s an awful situation.
Richard Berg is very critical of Hegemon, the gorgeously presented game that comes with the first issue of Against the Odds, on the grounds that it is over-complex. As someone who spent many hours struggling to understand Berg's SPQR, and gave up, this strikes me as ironic.

I've been designing games for long enough to have a set of personal rules I apply to almost any design situation. Playing through HEGEMON several of those Rules came to mind.

Rule #1: The more obscure the subject is, the less detailed the game should be.

Rule #2: No one is as interested in what you are saying as you are.

Rule #3: Stay in Focus.
James is raving about Combat Mission. But I say - computer games are for kids. Real men use cardboard.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Happy 18th Birthday Phil!

Yes, today my second big mistake, oops, sorry, I mean't my second lovely son, has safely made it to adulthood. What a strange feeling - both my children are now grownups (officially at least, I mean - I'm 43 and I'm not even sure I'm an adult yet). Sadly the economic dependency is not quite over yet, still a few years to go while Phil stumbles through University in a state of penury, then hopefully they'll both be ensconced in their own homes, cooking their own meals, paying their own rent, and earning their own living......

In the meantime, I'll see you down the pub Phil. (It's your round.)

Monday, April 08, 2002

Sample counters for the long-anticipated WWII: Barbarossa to Berlin courtesy of Mark Simonitch. (Choose "Guest" access if you are not - for some strange reason - a ConsimWorld subscriber.)

Friday, April 05, 2002

Matt Welch has an excellent piece on the "Palestinians have no other choice” argument:

The point is, they do have other choices, and instead, they have chosen a deliberate policy of hatred, lies, and murder of non-combatants. Acknowledging that they have other choices, and condemning the bad choices that they have made, is the first step in treating Palestinians as humans. What about everything bad the U.S. or Israel have ever done? Bring it on! Let’s talk about it. We like to argue about such things, here, because it usually leads to improvements in debate, policy and public morality. And yes, no discussion of the Middle East crisis is complete without a good frank look at the missteps and even crimes by Washington and Tel Aviv.
Long time readers will know that I am desperate to play Gnostica with my Icehouse pieces but reluctant to buy a tarot deck for obscurely religious and probably misguided reasons. Now Looney Labs have produced a PDF of Gnostica Stickers so now in principle I could use blank index cards to make a functional if colourless Gnostica deck. Hmmm. Or maybe I should just get the damn Tarot deck anyway!

Thursday, April 04, 2002

James Lileks: Tonight I listened to Grieg’s Piano Concerto, which for my money defines what it means to be a civilized person, to be human; the sublimity of the end of the second movement stands at the exact & polar opposite of the concept of “suicide bomber.”
Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Animal magnetism: A Kenyan lioness has, for the third time, adopted a young oryx, an animal she would normally regard as lunch. Is she troubled by her conscience? Or plain mad? And what is it about this story that makes hardened cynics go soppy? (via plep)
Bit depressed today. Woke up feeling fine - thought I'd shaken off my cold at last. Now, after a trying day tracking down new performance problems on two different production databases, I'm not so sure.

Also very irritated by our government's wimpy response to the fighting in Israel/Palestine. Talk about double standards! The Israelis are fighting exactly the same war that UK troops are preparing to fight in Afghanistan alongside the US - the fight against the fanatical suicide bombers of Islamo-fascism. They deserve our fullest support.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Jupiter and Saturn have been spectacular in the evening sky for the last couple of months - it's about to get even better!

BBC News | SCI/TECH | Spectacular planet show promised: The five planets visible to the naked eye will line up in the sky at the end of April. Astronomers say the rare grouping of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn may not be seen again for a century.

(But what do they mean, "may not"?)
I've just asked Richmond Bridge Boathouses to send me details of their camping skiffs. Call me a daydreamer, but I really fancy a long weekend sculling down the Thames. A vague memory of this article in last year's Independent, together with today's sunshine, is what has inspired me:

Two men in a boat. The gently flowing Thames. And a grand old lady of the river called Edward. What could be more relaxing than a few days afloat, asks Simon Calder.
Jeff Jarvis: Arafat is looking like a cult leader, pure and simple. He reminds me of Jim Jones in the days before Jonestown, all paranoia and wishful martyrdom
Well the beer ran out last night so Evil Gavin is heading back to Bristol today. Maybe he will start posting to his weblog again?

Have a good term Gav, and good luck with your finals!

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Quite a lot of gaming activity for me over the Easter weekend. Even though most of it consisted of me getting stuffed at various games by different people, it was still a lot of fun. On Good Friday Dave and William came over for a Down in Flames campaign. They played the brave pilots of the Eighth Air Force flying daylight raids in 1942, and I was the evil Luftwaffe. Dave and William drew no less than 3 raids against Cherbourg, but the highlight for me was their trip to Amsterdam when I managed to down 4 Flying Fortresses. Being evil doesn't pay, however, because in the end I came away with a "Dismal Defeat". In spite of losing so badly this was brilliant fun, very fast-moving and exciting play, loads of atmosphere and tension. Excellent.

On Saturday I played Gavin at the Settlers card game. I told Gavin it was a long game we were unlikely to finish - he proved me wrong by soundly beating me in just over an hour!

I also received a playtest kit from GMT on Sunday for Hornet Leader II, a reissue of GMT's classic solitaire air combat game that they are currently working on. I volunteered for the playtest team and duly received a zip file full of PDFs for cards, counters, rules etc. I've printed and made all these up and I'm working through the rules now, setting it up as I go along. It's fun, and a very interesting insight into the wargame development process, but I'm not sure I can keep up with the American playtesters who are already starting to post detailed feedback.
Great news! Mike Nagel's Relative Range is back! Excellent website including extensive support material for two of my very favourite games - Up Front! and Down in Flames.