Friday, September 27, 2002

NTL Broadband gets a thumbs up from the BBC! BBC NEWS | Technology | Paying the price for cheap broadband:

I pay £25 a month for my ntl cable modem connection and it is worth it, partly because I can sit there streaming music - in my case Radio 3 - all day while downloading massive files and chatting to my friends.

Selling broadband and then saying but you cannot use it all the time and you cannot do stuff that actually uses the bandwidth is like selling a swimming pool but refusing to fill it with water because it might leak.
Whatever next? - someone is talking sense in the Guardian! Martin Woollacott: Muslim societies must change:

There is a recurring delusion that most problems in the world could be solved quite easily if the west would look beyond its narrow interests, try harder, and make up for the mistakes and crimes of the past. That western countries should indeed try harder, and would make a large difference if they did, is indisputable. Yet to see the exclusive key to a better future in changes in western policies is to ignore the irreducible responsibility of the non-western majority of mankind. If you are a westerner, it is cultural imperialism to suggest that all the critical moral and political decisions are in the hands of the west. But when, for example, Muslims argue the same way, they collude in turning themselves into moral passengers.
Beware - a simple card-game could change your life. Andrew Looney's essay Playing Hearts with Pyramids demonstrates how.

I love Hearts. It's my favorite game for standard playing cards, if not my favorite game of all time (not counting my own). I have played Hearts incessantly throughout my life, and I still can't get enough of it. It was Hearts that inspired the Icehouse set, which in turn launched my professional game design career. I love Hearts.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Ted Raicer has just posted a 1942 scenario for Barbarossa to Berlin. There is also a new version of the living rules available which incorporates all the errata - just after I've laboriously copied them into the previous ruleset. And GMT have buried this excellent Expanded Turn Track deep in their site where no-one will ever find it.

I've got this game set up on the table at home now and am driving into Russia in odd moments between meals, coursework, dusting etc. Really impressed so far - this is a worthy successor to Paths of Glory. Maybe this will be my one true game?

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Interview with Chris Seay author of "The Gospel According to Tony Soprano" (via Relapsed Catholic):

We see Tony Soprano as he really is. He's a sick man, and yet he's a beautiful man. There are all of these things present with him. And I think most characters that we get in popular film and television are not very real to life. Most of the ones that we have emerging from Scripture are very real when you read them in Scripture, but we have distorted them. We've tried to make them into morality heroes, which they are not. These were really broken men and women. They were very messed up, very sinful. The beauty of the story is that God continues to meet them there.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

18AL and 18GA Game Kits are now available again. I played 18GA at ManorCon a few years ago - it was very appealing because it has the authentic 1830 flavour but takes much less time to play. I declined the chance to buy 18GA at the time so may well take this opportunity to set that right.

Friday, September 20, 2002

I've just discovered this marvellous Titan fansite by Chee-Wai Kan. It's got everything - strategy articles, variants, downloads, software, new battleboards and creatures etc etc etc. A treasure trove.

I sometimes envy people who can do this - focus on one game enough to really get deeply into it, exploring the design, mastering the strategies, playing around with variants. Some days I think it would be nice to sell off my collection - all except the one true game that I would devote the rest of my hobby life to. But which one? Which games in my collection are complex and rich enough to reward deep study. ( A few spring immediately to mind - Advanced Civilization, Up Front!, Paths of Glory) And how would I know there wasn't something even more worthy about to be published soon?

Oh well, I know that I'll never do it. I guess I'm doomed to endlessly repeat my cycle of collecting, punching, reading the rules and shelving more games......
Don't really know how I did this but on Wednesday night we played Web of Power again, and I repeated last week's feat of winning the first game and tying the next with John. Unfortunately everyone is now determined to "get Pete" next time we play....
A few comments about the presentation of Barbarossa to Berlin (haven't had a chance to actually play it yet - but very much looking forward to that!)

    Graphics discontinuity. The box and card-backs (WW2, military stencil font, serifs, pastel colours) have a very different look to the map and cards (WWII, italics, no serifs, bold colours).

    Signs of a last minute rush, eg the rule about the Mediterranean dead-pile was clearly added after map and counters were finalized.

    Bit dismayed by length of the errata.

    Missing German corps counter - does this often present a problem during play?

    German parachute army - why is it the same colour as the Free French?

    "Repl" markers actually labelled "Reinf", also in the rulebook. Could be confusing for first-timers who haven't cut their teeth on PoG.

    Errata to a card - another sign of hurried production? Will this card be reprinted at some point?

I also posted this on ConsimWorld today. Hopefully it will be taken as constructive criticism (I have the highest respect for GMT and Ted's work in particular). But I suspect I will be hung out to dry for it!

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Have you had a go at this yet? New Scientist tells me I will die in 2034 aged 76. But having sex every day will buy me an extra two years.Yikes! Better arrange that ASAP!
One of my favourite games of all time is the hallucinogenic 1970s weirdness known as Titan. Now reborn as a Java program Colossus.

Colossus is a Java clone of Avalon Hill's Titan(tm) boardgame. Right now it allows hotseat play, play versus a working but not very strong AI, and (new) TCP/IP network play. We're mostly working on improving network play and variants right now. Improving the AI will follow.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Margaret Atwood writes with great insight about Ursula LeGuin and her latest collection of stories - "The Birthday of the World":

The last story, "Paradises Lost," continues the note of renewal. Many generations have been born and have died on board a long-distance space ship. During the voyage a new religion has sprung up, whose adherents believe they are actually, now, in Heaven. (If so, Heaven is just as boring as some have always feared.) Then the ship reaches the destination proposed for it centuries earlier, and its inhabitants must decide whether to remain in "Heaven" or to descend to a "dirtball" whose flora, fauna, and microbes are completely alien to them. The most enjoyable part of this story, for me, was the release from claustrophobia: try as I might, I couldn't imagine why anyone would prefer the ship.

Le Guin is on the side of the dirtball, too; and, by extension, of our very own dirtball. Whatever else she may do— wherever her curious intelligence may take her, whatever twists and knots of motive and plot and genitalia she may invent—she never loses touch with her reverence for the immense what is. All her stories are, as she has said, metaphors for the one human story; all her fantastic planets are this one, however disguised. "Paradises Lost" shows us our own natural world as a freshly discovered Paradise Regained, a realm of wonder; and in this, Le Guin is a quintessentially American writer, of the sort for whom the quest for the Peaceable Kingdom is ongoing. Perhaps, as Jesus hinted, the kingdom of God is within; or perhaps, as William Blake glossed, it is within a wild flower, seen aright.

I was recently bowled over by Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale", and of course LeGuin's work has been a treasured part of my mental furniture for most of my life. (via Nick Denton)

Friday, September 13, 2002

A very thorough and very positive review of The Napoleonic Wars has been published at The Wargamer. Quite a coup for GMT and the design team.
The redesigned Relative Range site is superb, with all sorts of game support material, including a free-for-download version of Ancients, and lots of stuff about Down in Flames and Up Front!. They will also sell you a 96-page digest of Up Front! articles and scenarios.
Talking of winning, we played a nice little game Euro called Web of Power at John's place last night. Very interesting but short enough to play it through twice with time to spare. It's loosely set in the world of medieval monasteries and involves competing for various kinds of networks and territories. Sort of El Grande meets Railway Rivals. I won the first time and tied with John second time. There's a clever little rule about scoring for territories that means it can be a lot better in cost/benefit terms to come second in several territories rather than first in a few. I think I twigged this before the others which gave me a head start in the first game.
Tomorrow I go to Bristol to start work on the Workshop course run by the Anvil Trust. This will take 12 weekends spread over the coming year, as well as time spent on reading and assignments at other times. It covers applied theology, apologetics, ethics, church history as well as other stuff. I'm excited but also quite apprehensive of the commitment in time, energy and extra travelling. I feel that this will be an important step for me - my Christian life has been coasting in neutral for a few years, and I want to use this opportunity to go back to the basics of my faith and have a long hard think - is this really true? do I still believe this? am I living up to it? where do I belong in the spectrum of church practice? how will this play out in the rest of my life?

Might mean less time for gaming, sadly. So if I don't turn up for, or invite people round for so many sessions over the coming year, this is the reason. It's not that I'm sulking because you never let me win........

Thursday, September 12, 2002

This is a glorious day!

Another volume of Uncle stories has been published by Red Fox. And if you don't know what I'm talking about here's a page at Infinity Plus that's sure to suck you into the cult:

It's time to rip the lid off a secret cult lurking undetected in the sf/fantasy community ... a cult so obscure that most of its members don't know that it exists. These people are the fans of Uncle.

I discovered this sinister cabal at a post-convention restaurant meal where half the writers round the table suddenly started talking excitedly about the Uncle novels. Neil Gaiman was so boggled to find his enthusiasm shared that he momentarily forgot to look cool.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Sorry (but not very sorry) if you think I'm banging on too much about the war against terrorism today, but this little article at Blogs4God is important. Terrorists, or Suicide Cult? (via Relapsed Catholic)

I truly think if we only approach the likes of the Taliban or Al Queda as terrorists, then we run the risk of merely addressing the effect without cutting out the cancerous cause - in this case, an evil, abusive suicide cult who hate their own lives as much as they hate ours.
Ha'aretz (via Americans for a Third Way):

For the first time since the outbreak of the intifada two years ago, the official journal of the Palestinian Authority last week published severe criticism of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leadership, and the Palestinian public as a whole - for rejecting the proposals that were put forward by former U.S. President Bill Clinton at Camp David in July 2000.
Christopher Hitchens' article A View from the Patriotic Left lays out the issues with plain-speaking intellectual clarity. The whole article is a must-read, not least for his radical questioning of our whole current structure of alliances in the Middle East. (via Nick Denton)

So, as civilians in this war, and therefore as primary front-line targets, we do not need to submit to any culture of trust or loyalty or deference. We have a right to know who is in charge and what policies are being debated and what measures taken. We do not have to agree with the choice of any old ally in this struggle, and we dare not assume that any step taken in the name of the "national security" mantra is automatically OK.

Let me give some illustrations of what I mean: First, I'll take the international front. The most annoying thing, in arguing with peaceniks last fall, was confronting their refusal to see that a wholly new situation had arisen. They would insist on translating the fresh, challenging information back into the familiar language they already knew, of Vietnam or Nicaragua or the West Bank. Well, the same was true of the president's "axis of evil" speech, which attempted to fit the new reality into the reassuring old list of "rogue states" or official enemies. In particular, it seemed insane to include Iran in the "most-wanted" category.
This site is a nice introduction to The UK Amateur Postal Games Hobby. This was how it all started for me - back in the early 90's, buying a copy of Diplomacy from a local toy shop, and finding a flyer inside for the postal hobby. It's been downhill all the way since then....

Monday, September 09, 2002

I just heard (on ConsimWorld) the awful news about the forthcoming "Master and Commander" movie with Russell Crowe playing Jack Aubrey - he's supposed to be a beefy Englishman for goodness' sake! But while investigating I found this superb gallery of Marine Art by Geoff Hunt, which is some compensation I suppose.
This morning's Independent has an excellent rant from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who lashes out in all directions - including her co-religionists. But why don't we hear more Muslim voices saying this sort of thing?

I have had it with apologists who think that Muslims, whatever they do, only do these foul things because they are upset, humiliated, angry, despised and maltreated. There is no excuse big enough to explain the actions of cold-eyed slaughterers who descend on helpless Christians in Muslim states; the men who cut the throat of Daniel Pearl, the young Jewish American journalist; the grisly crowds in Nigeria who want to stone to death a young mother; the gang rape of children which is ordered as "punishment" by Muslim tribal leaders in Pakistan; the people who danced in the streets to see exploded bits of Americans and others.

I cannot stomach Muslim leaders and writers who jump up when there are signs of injustice against us (discrimination against Muslims is a serious problem, no doubt about that) but who never speak out to denounce outright the various discriminations which ruin the lives of non-Muslims, gays, and women in Islamic countries or in communities here.

Friday, September 06, 2002

The Americans have been playing Barbarossa to Berlin for weeks now, but my copy finally arrived today.

I thought I would share with you the experience of opening the box. This is the central moment of a nimrod's existence, the supreme ritual. You are privileged to witness it through the magic of blogging:

    Hmm. Box is a little smaller and lighter than I expected....

    It's shipped from UDG in Germany, not direct from GMT. Not sure if I like that.....

    Let's get my penknife out. Carefully does it....

    Not very well packaged. But miraculously the game seems undamaged.....

    Yuk. The box illustration is bitty. Very bitty! What were they thinking.....

    The back is nice. Maybe I should open the shrinkwrap. Better wait till lunch-time. I'm so excited....

No, I can't do it. Breaking into the shrinkwrap is just too personal, too private. I can't possibly share this online.
The Romans, like others, as soon as they grew rich, grew corrupt; and in their corruption sold the lives and freedoms of themselves, and of one another.

Samuel Johnson

There, that was in my notebook. But that's as far as it goes....
Caterina has produced this list of online sketchbooks. My favourite is John Keegan's.

I keep a sketchbook/notebook myself (a nice Moleskine one), where I jot down quotes, observations, angst, Ceroc moves, holiday journals, and drawings. But I don't think I would ever consider putting it online for the world to nose through!

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

I heard this today attributed to Roger Scruton:

When someone tells you there is no such thing as truth, he is asking you not to believe him. So don't!
The normally deeply annoying Deborah Orr is today deeply satisfying as she lays into the farcical panic measures that have followed the tragedy at Soham:

What all of the fear about paedophiles, and the demands for registers, checks and warnings supposes, is that we can always be made safe from danger. The CRBs elaborate system can only ever warn about peodophiles who have already struck, and the same goes for Sarah's Law. But what those who place their trust in such systems really want is something more foolproof - a cast iron promise that our society is risk-free.

That cannot ever be achieved. But already extraordinary liberties are being taken by a government that actually seems to want to deliver this dream.
Nick Denton has provided this wonderful gallery of imagined cityscapes taken from sci-fi films from Metropolis to Minority Report. Dream.

Monday, September 02, 2002

Maybe I need a break from all this serious simulation stuff - Napoleonic Wars, Paths of Glory etc - maybe it's time for Marvel HeroClix!

This looks really cool actually. I want SpiderMan, obviously, having just seen the film. I like the idea of miniatures with little dials in the base to record hit points, damage etc. Much better than the usual pile of tiddlywinks.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

I've just returned home from a few days walking in the Brecon Beacons. This morning I climbed a lovely mountain without encountering (or even seeing in the distannce) one single other walker. As it was a cloudless Sunday morning in the middle of summer I find this remarkable! Try finding an empty mountain in the Lakes today.

It says something (possibly quite sad) about me that I am blogging before I have even unpacked my bags.

While I was out there I did a little research on the Welsh language. Here's what I learned:

That it is it? = Is there anything else I can get you sir?

Have you payed? = Excuse me. Can I see your ticket please? Thanks.

Teas or coffees is it? = Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?

That's it then isn't he? = I agree with what you just said.

It's 2 pound = That will be 2 pounds please. Thanks.

(On a road sign) M4 Newport = M4 Newport Bristol & London

Chris Dickson posted some nice things about nimrods in Spielfrieks - which accounts for my recent surge in visitors. Thanks Chris!