Thursday, December 30, 2004

Blue vs Gray is a unique strategic wargame which I really like. I don't get many opportunities to play it sadly. The Wargamer have only just got around to reviewing it (is it even still in print?) but they seem to like it too: Each card type deals a different ability that ensures that no two games are going to be alike – different maps, different orders of battle and leaders, different effects and bonuses – all makes the Civil War eminently replayable. I can't stress enough how fascinating this is; it's a big draw to come back to this title multiple times.
Does anyone have any ideas for a new strapline? "Boardgame geeks of..." was appropriate when I lived in Salisbury and belonged to a gaming group there, but seems less appropriate now that I am the only living gamer (as far as I know) in Farnham.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | How can religious people explain something like this?: Earthquakes and the belief in the judgment of God are, indeed, very hard to reconcile. However, no religion that offers an explanation of the world can avoid making some kind of an attempt to fit the two together. And an immense earthquake like the one that took place off Sumatra on Sunday inevitably poses that challenge afresh in dramatic terms.
Howls of outrage about the new look to be placed in the comments for this posting. Thanks.

Friday, December 24, 2004

This very useful QuickStart for Brettspielwelt is rather hard to find from the front page - I only reached it with a Google search.
Fantasy Flight's new card game Senator looks intriguing - is this the long dreamed-of playable alternative to Avalon Hill's classic monster Republic of Rome?
I got completely stuffed at Scrabble again by Gavin last night. He was over 100 points ahead of me at the end. Very disheartening - for years I could reliably beat him every time without too much effort. Gavin reckons his new form is the result of 9 months of unemployment spent watching Countdown.
Kris Burm is the designer of Gipf, Yinsh etc and describes himself as the world's only professional abstract game designer. There's an interesting interview with him at MindZine. He sounds discouraged: Often they don't even know how a game works anymore; they just look at the box, turn it around once or twice, shake it a few times and ask themselves aloud: 'can I sell it?'.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

PS I am getting really tired of this template. Look for big changes in the near future.....
Feeling a bit conflicted about my blogroll. I've been freshening up my links a bit today, and decided to split out game-related blogs and websites from the rest. I've always resisted this, on theological grounds. No wait, bear with me. I never wanted to split out links to Christian bloggers and websites because this smacked of putting my faith in a separate box that doesn't connect with the rest of my life. So I decided to leave them all mixed up with the other stuff for people to stumble across by accident perhaps. But now I've split out my gaming links, why not the faith-related stuff as well. The way it is now, doesn't it look as if gaming is more important to me than my faith? Maybe. But this is a gaming blog more than anything else, so I think it makes sense to pull out the gaming stuff in my blogroll. Meanwhile my faith stays mixed up, yeast-like, with all the other stuff. For now.....

Do you think I worry about this stuff too much?
I had an enjoyable gaming session last night with Les, Keith and Trevor. We started off with San Juan, where I got off to a shaky start, investing in violet buildings before I had got my production sorted out, and came in last. Discussing what to play next we discovered that both Keith and I had brought a copy of Amun Re along, so it was obviously meant to be. When we started I felt as if I was making the same sort of mistake all over again - I forgot to buy farmers for my first area, I was so desperate to get pyramids built, and for the rest of the game I seemed to be short of money compared to the others. On reflection I suspect this is why I won - the other 3 were so focussed on making money, which they did very successfully, that they were in danger of forgetting about victory points. It was simple things like getting complete sets of pyramids and winning or at least tying the most-pyramids contests that gave me a big lead by the end. It was a bit of a skinflints' game - again reflecting everyone's financial focus - with generally very low prices paid in the land auctions, and small sacrifices to Amun Re. Great game this, I want to play it lots more.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Possibly the funniest Session Report ever (but you do need to have played Amun Re to get it): The following is a translation of an ancient Egyptian text found in a crude clay pot buried long, long ago on the banks of the Nile. Carbon dating of the ink on the papyrus indicates that this was written sometime in the neighborhood of August 8, 2004 B.C., possibly at 3:15 in the afternoon.

(via Mikko Saari)

Monday, December 20, 2004

ASL Starter Kit 2 is now available for preorder!

ASL Starter Kit #2 - GUNS! features the ordnance and light anti-tank weaponry of the Advanced Squad Leader series. ASL Starter Kit #2 contains the refined rulebook from ASL Starter Kit #1 with new rules added and old rules clearly marked so that no rereading is required!

ASL Starter Kit #2 is a complete game, everything you need to play the scenarios in the game is in the box!

ASL Starter Kit #1 is not required to play ASL Starter Kit #2, although players may wish to own the maps and scenarios from that module.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

moleskinerie: Moles need skins too: A few days ago, I learn of this website, moleskinerie: legends and other stories. I go there, of course. It’s a weird amalgam of images of other people’s moleskine notebooks and huckstering for crap like a clock implanted in the belly of a Buddha. I detect the spoor of an online cult of the moleskine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The gaming situation continues to improve, thanks to the Farnborough group. I met up with them again the week before last to play Modern Art - which was new to me, believe it or not. I got stuffed, of course - this is the archetypal Knizia game, subtle, carefully balanced, deep. Needs lots of play to get good at.

Then last week I met Les at the Plumes in Crondall (excellent pub, lovely beer) to play two-player Euros. We did a couple of rounds of Scarab Lords and then San Juan. Les cheerfully put up with me winning everything. I had played San Juan before at BayCon but thanks to Les's patient explanation I actually started to understand the game this time round.

And of course with Gavin at home for a few weeks I recently received the obligatory Scrabble challenge. The days when I used to beat him every time are well and truly past - I never got a look in this time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

They finally arrived at the weekend - with some birthday money my Mum had sent me I ordered a batch of classical CDs from Europadisc. I am really enjoying unpacking these and listening my way through them:

Bach - St Matthew Passion, Gardiner, Archiv
Brahms - Complete Symphonies , G√ľnter Wand, RCA Classics
Beethoven/Mendelssohn - Violin Concertos, Munch, Heifetz, RCA
Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No.2, Ashkenazy, Kondrashin, DECCA
Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7 - Kleiber, VPO, DG

The Kleiber in particular has lived up to expectations - I knew this recording had a special reputation but Beethoven 5 is so familiar I wasn't expecting too much. In the event it raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

It helps that I have been fiddling with my hifi. One of the (few) advantages of being single is that you can move your hifi when you want to. It is now set up in the optimum position opposite the sofa with the speakers nicely spaced. And it sounds superb. It is getting on in years, nearly 20 years old now, and it still sounds great. Mission CD player and amp, with Ruark speakers, it was a substantial and not very wise purchase when I was a young man with a growing family, but gosh it has given me a lot of pleasure in the years since.

Monday, December 13, 2004

In another conversation at the weekend, Esther was communicating to me her enthusiasm for the School of Theology run by Holy Trinity Brompton. It sounds very appealing, as a follow-on from Workshop, with perhaps a different perspective on the same issues, and I am seriously considering applying for next year.
I have been reading Jim Wallis's "A Call to Conversion", a deeply challenging book which is pushing me to reconsider my aversion to "radical Christianity". At Workshop this weekend Sue pointed me to the Sojourners website which has lots of thought-provoking material. Rather US-centric, but required reading.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Have a look at my new website for Street Children of Peru. I admit the design is not...ahem...completely original, but I think it works quite well:

For a boy abandoned and living on the street there is only one goal - to survive however he can. He will turn to begging, stealing, scavenging and prostitution. Street Children of Peru works with Scripture Union of Peru to break this spiral of desperation.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Rob McGovern has started a new blog called Spiritual Exploration: which I intend to use to look at Church, belief sets and structures of denominations and what can be learnt from them, Church (including looking at house / peace churches), faith, bible readings, religion and anything else that I think fits in that particular realm.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

It's been a bit of a gaming drought for me lately, but last weekend really made up for it - the heavens opened and down poured the rain!

The weekend started on Friday (my birthday) with a trip to Salisbury and a very pleasant lunch with Phil at the Lemon Tree. The food was great and Phil was on good form. Then I picked Dave up from Amesbury and drove over to Cardiff in the gathering dark. Nightmare queueing on the M4 from the bridge onwards, and Nick's directions were only moderately helpful due to his mixing up of "right" and "left", but we reached his flat in the end, only to be immediately dragged out again by Nick to his local pub, where we drank a nice local mild and chatted with a scary Welsh ex-para about rugby and Iraq.


Saturday was a gaming epic, one of those occasions that will stick in my mind for a long time. 14 hours of Europe Engulfed, living on breadsticks, wine, and takeaway leftovers, with only a couple of 15 minute breaks. It was marvellous. I took the Western Allies, Nick (newish to the game) was the Russians, and Dave played the Axis. We were playing the 1941 Campaign Game, so Dave had a lot of fun the first couple of turns carving through Nick's army. For some reason he kept attacking all through the mud and snow of winter, severely damaging his own strength without significantly hurting the Russians at all. Nick took his emergency conscription and with the arrival of the Siberian elites started to fight back. He needed a bit of encouragement from me to get aggressive as he was still feeling nervous from his 1941 experience, but once he got going the Germans found themselves in desperate straits.


Meanwhile I was making a couple of strategic mistakes - forgetting my Alexandria income, and as a result not taking my first ASW build, and mistaking the weather in Africa at a crucial point which robbed me of an early chance to clear out the Italians with a Special Action. In the end it took me a whole year to collapse Italian morale. Then we waded ashore at an undefended Salonica, and were within an inch of taking Ploesti before Dave got his defence organized. By 1943 the Russians were pocketing large groups of German blocks on the Polish border, while I exploited Dave's slack defence of France with an uncontested landing at Bordeaux, followed by an armoured breakout which had my units rattling around Germany while his armies in France fought to regain supply.


Exhaustion finally stopped us 12:30 and November 1943, but it was pretty clear by then that Dave had lost.


Next morning we got up at 9, ate an enormous cooked breakfast courtesy of Nick, then played Amun Re. I was really pleased to get a game of this at last, and it lived up to its promise. A really intriguing enjoyable game. Dave won. Then it was Euphrat & Tigris in which I just scraped a win (it went to the 2nd tie-break with Dave). It was 2:30 by then and time to leave the Welsh sunshine behind and drive home into the English rain and another working week.........

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Richard Berg, designer of the Great Battles of History game series, likes the new Alexander movie: The Good News is that the extended Gaugamela scene is far and away the best - and most accurate - scene of its kind I have ever seen on a movie screen. This is a spectacular piece of visual movie making, and also a remarkable attempt to show How and Why things happened in an ancient battle. This, alone, will keep you happy for the next 2 hours . . . Wanna see just how a phalanx worked? Go see 'Alexander'.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Last night I met up with a new and very genial group of gamers just down the road in Farnborough. This contact only came about through nimrods - so this site has been good for something at last. We played Puerto Rico, a game which I enjoy but have never done well at. I came 3rd out of 4 but wasn't too unhappy with this - I was only 4 points behind the winner. Probably my best PR performance ever - that says something doesn't it?

This weekend it's Workshop and tomorrow I am giving (half of) the first lecture of the day. Subject: "Gospel of Peace" which is a bit ironic from a wargamer but hey......

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Neil Gaiman once wrote an essay on cities that became embedded in Sim City 2000: Occasionally I idle time away by wondering what cities would be like, were they people. Manhattan is, in my head, fast-talking, untrusting, well-dressed but unshaven. London is huge and confused. Paris is elegant and attractive, older than she looks. San Francisco is crazy, but harmless, and very friendly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Saturday's party went really well. I spent the afternoon preparing crostini toppings and Caesar salad as guests started to trickle in - Gavin and the Baron arrived first at about 3pm, followed by Nick and Dani who had already made a start on the drinking, as they stopped in at a local pub on their way from the station. By 7pm I had a crowd of hungry partygoers who I finally released into the kitchen with feeble admonitions to "remember there are lots of other people still to arrive!"

I was really impressed with how many people turned up and their willingness to make longish journeys to be there - thanks everyone!

As the normal people gradually left for home we were left with a few die-hard gamers. I retired at 1:30am after a hard-fought game of Perudo, but others went on to play Settlers which only finished at 4am, with a rare victory for Nick!

I was up at 10am next morning cooking breakfast for 8 people, then it was off to the pub for lunch with the last few dregs of the party. What a great, sociable way to spend a weekend, and an effective antidote to 46th birthday blues (which was the intention all along.)

Here are
a few photos of some of the lovely partygoers.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

MMP have done the defensive fire example from the ASL Starter Kit as a very nice Flash demo.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

I have this theory that you can tell a lot about the psyche of a European nation by the shape of its sanitary-ware. Take Austrian WCs for example, with that weird tray which offers up your soilage for examination before you flush it away. And the first thing I noticed whan I arrived here was the shape of the Spanish urinals - two sort-of knee scoops so you can really get up close, and big embracing wings to hide you from your neighbors. Are these seemingly macho Spanish men actually paranoid about letting other guys see their johnson??

And yes, there´s also a lot of other good stuff to see here in Seville apart from the urinals.....

Saturday, October 30, 2004

I'm off to Seville tomorrow with Mum. I can see it all - drunken nights in the tapas bars, crazy flamenco dancing in the small hours, screaming for blood in the stands at the bullring.....

Friday, October 29, 2004

Games: The Cultural Elaboration of Play:

Cultural artifacts, of all sorts, begin at first as 'traditional culture' and, as means of replication spread, eventually become 'designed culture.' Thus, cuisine begins in traditional cusines such as Mandarin or Escoffieresque French, and ends in modern fusion--chefs inventing novel dishes by comining cooking techniques and ingredients in a fashion that would astound and possibly disgust the chefs of the 19th century. The story begins as oral story-telling, and ends in a publishing industry that produces tens of thousands of novels every year (most with scant readers)--not to mention film, experimental theater, and the rest. The game begins with slowly-evolving folk games, and ends with the vigorous spread of innovative game styles. Culture begins with tradition, and ends in a an artistic medium.

So games are cultural artifacts. What basic human trait, then, do they complexify, as all cultural artifacts complexify some fundamental human impulse--cuisine with food, for example?"

Career tip: Don't accuse your boss of nicking stuff.
I played Hammer of the Scots with Neil on Tuesday evening. He was new to the game (and to wargaming generally) but had conscientiously read through the rules 3 times. I warned him how difficult it is for a beginner to win as the Scots, but ancestral solidarity dictated that he play them anyway. Neil is a veteran Diplomacy player so he has a sound tactical brain - that's my excuse anyway for the fact that he won! Right from the start he was very careful to avoid battles unless he had a good chance of winning them. I suffered from Edward's absence for much of the game. Towards the end a "tipping point" was reached where Scots recuitment overtook my ability to march troops up from England every year, and in the final year my position just crumbled. Very enjoyable evening but a real brain-burner - we both reported "hang-overs" next morning.

Friday, October 22, 2004

ScrappleFace: Father of Deconstructionism Dies, If 'Death' Means Anything: In lieu of flowers, friends of Mr. Derrida are urged to devote their lives to convincing at least one young person that there is nothing to which it is worth devoting one's life. (via lollardy)

Monday, October 18, 2004

eBay is weird. I wasn't really expecting much from my copy of Wooden Ships & Iron Men, after all, it is pretty abundant and not that interesting (in my view). Sure enough it sat there on £4.99 until within 2 hours of the deadline, then everyone started bidding at once and it reached £27.70!

Cool!

What can I sell next? I know - Rommel in the Desert. I am aware that Columbia are about to reprint the game, but someone may be happy to pick up an earlier version for a fraction of what it will cost to buy and ship it from Canada.
I am suspicious of the New Revised Standard version, with its determination to render the Bible into politically correct English. (I'm an ESV man myself.) Walter Wink - the eminent theologian - thinks otherwise:

All these excellences (and there are too many to count) will probably be eclipsed in the public mind by the NRSV’s treatment of sexist language. Be ready for the argument that the translators have violated the Greek text in order to curry the favor of feminists. That is all bluster. The care with which this part of the mandate has been achieved is everywhere evident. The fact is that sexist translations are inaccurate. To use "men" when women are clearly included is not just insensitive, it is incorrect.
Finally - FINALLY - after a 2 month wait, I got airborne today. 11 flights, doing progressively more and more scary things such as speed bar, big ears, and - on the last two flights of the day - asymmetric tucks! Now from my reading of the paragliding forum over at Xtreme.com, I have come away with the fixed idea that an asymmetric tuck = death. So imagine how I felt when my instructor (Andy) told me to deliberately induce one.....

But in the event it went surpisingly well. These modern DHV 1 wings are so bomb-proof, it just dropped gently groundwards and swung towards the collapsed side a little, but as soon as I let go of the risers it went "phloop!" and reinflated itself immediately. How could that kill anyone?

Andy told me afterwards he was a little surprised how enthusiastically I went for the tuck and that approx 30% of my wing had been collapsed! Woops - went a bit mental there. But paragliding is like that - you are either totally frozen with fear or ridiculously over-confident. Often experiencing both states of mind in the same half hour.....

Friday, October 15, 2004

Does anyone want a free ticket to see Siegfried at English National Opera on 27 November? I have decided I would rather spend a weekend in Cardiff playing Europe Engulfed with Nick and Dave than watch the next episode in this incoherent, soulless production. But it may appeal to someone out there! First one to contact me gets it.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Well I'm not sure about this eBay selling lark. My two games went for £23 altogether. By the time I've paid commission to eBay and PayPal, and accidentally undercharged for postage, I've netted about £19. With all the hassle of photographing and weighing them, setting up the sales on eBay (which I admit was quite fun actually), parcelling them up and queuing in the Post Office for half an hour to post them, I'm just about making minimum wage! I've got Wooden Ships & Iron Men up this week, after that I think I will review the games-culling strategy.

I wonder if there is not such a good market for wargames in the UK as there is in the US, so you get an inflated idea of their value if you look at what they are fetching on eBay over there?
Had a great time playing the ASL Starter Kit scenario 1, "Retaking Vierville", with Phil over the weekend. I was the Germans and had a really difficult time against the firepower of the American Airborne. This was a lot more fun than I had expected from reading the rules, which are fairly impenetrable. The rulebook is short however - less than 10 pages - and generously illustrated with very useful examples of play with big full-colour diagrams. The most useful thing was an unofficial play-aid downloaded from BoardGameGeek. So many thanks to "mbtanker" whoever you are - without this we would have really struggled.

Phil - who hated Memoir44 - thought that this was "the real thing". I think we're both in serious danger of getting hooked.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Form an orderly queue please for the first two items in my eBay games clearance: Krieg! and Stellar Conquest.

Sniff. I'm going to miss you two......

Thursday, September 30, 2004

From a state of total ignorance, I have now switched over the last couple of weeks to obsessively anticipating the arrival of War of the Ring, even going so far as to reserve a copy at the Aldershot Games Shop. This is all thanks to a tipoff from Iain C, which just goes to show the danger of reading gamers' weblogs. This game looks like a beautiful presentation, with really clever gameplay features like the way the various free peoples of Middle Earth get reluctantly drawn into the war, and the way Frodo's quest is handled so that his progress is often hidden from both sides. If you're a Tolkien fan it's very hard to read an after-action report like this one without being drawn in - it reads like an "alternative history" of Tolkien's War but nevertheless an exciting and plausible one. And I get the feeling that this game was generated more as a book-spinoff than a movie-spinoff. IT MUST BE MINE!

Friday, September 24, 2004

I am learning the rules to Sword of Rome at the moment and working through the example of play. I'm really impressed so far - this is a 4-player card-driven wargame with very similar mechanics to that old classic Hannibal. The period is very appealing to me. And this level of complexity is just right for me. I got quite disillusioned with Barbarossa to Berlin, a promising evolution of the card-driven wargame, whose rules turned out to be painfully full of fiddly exceptions, and which underwent several major rules revisions in the year or so after it was released. The card deck in my set is liberally plastered with amendments on yellow stickies. No fun.

Sword of Rome was a P500 pre-order from GMT, so arrived on the doorstep as a Christmas-like surprise gift from my months-ago self. P500 is a bit habit-forming. There are some very interesting new titles on the list at the moment, and I have put my name down for 3 of them: Grand Illusion, Empire of the Sun and Clash of Giants 2. This is in addition to Twilight Struggle and Command and Colours: Ancients which I ordered earlier this year. Oh and there's Rommel in the Desert from Columbia too. I'm feeling quite exposed on the preorders front.

Which is why I am contemplating becoming an EBay seller and having a proper clearout of some of my games. Both to generate some cash to fund these new purchases and to clear some shelf space, as my collection has already overspilled its bookshelf into the airing cupboard. And you know I have so many games sitting there that I never play and probably never will again. Why am I hanging onto them?

For your interest here is a list of the ones that I may give the chop, along with my estimate of their resale value and my reason for selling:

The Napoleonic Wars (£30) - always leads to quarrels.
Squad Leader plus 2 gamettes (£20) - too many rules, fiddly bits.
Triumph and Glory (£35) - usual shoddy effort from Berg.
West Front Tank Leader (£10) - just looks shabby by today's standards.
RoadKill (£20) - far too long for a joke game.
Krieg (£15) - will never play again now I have Europe Engulfed.
ThroneWorld (£20) - not sure, maybe should hang onto this.
Advanced Civilization (+ AH Civ) (£60) - I've seen the light. Civ was better.
Vinci (£15) - always ends with recriminations.
Medieval (£20) - another Berg rush job.
Barbarossa to Berlin (£20) - too many errata. EE trumps it.
7th Fleet (£15) - needs more time, table-space and plexiglass than I possess.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Played two games of Memoir44 with Phil this week. I thought he would love it, as he loved Up Front! and has watched Band of Brothers through about 12 times. We played the St Mere l'Eglise and Sword Beach scenarios. However I made the mistake of beating him both times, and I was surprised when he went all nimrod on me, and started complaining about the game being implausible and historically inaccurate. He was particularly irritated by the ability of infantry to pick off tanks at 3 hex range. In my view his defeats had more to do with his habit of leaving his men standing around in the open having a fag-break next door to towns full of heavily armed Germans.....

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Just for the record my recent Hornet Leader campaign ended ignominiously, with me being relieved from command after five missions because I had lost 4 pilots KIA, and their planes as well. How unreasonable! Everyone makes mistakes.

Friday, September 10, 2004

There's a good interview with Ted Raicer over at wargamer.com, where he talks about his latest World War 1 design for GMT, Grand Illusion, which sounds very interesting indeed. At the end of the interview Ted says something I firmly believe myself - we are living through a Golden Age of boardgaming.

Just that I think that our hobby today has a degree of finesse in the artwork and the design, even in the quality of play…some people play these games online enormous numbers of times. I know people who have played Paths of Glory hundreds of times. We talk about the 70’s and the early 80’s as the Golden Age of Wargaming. There was SPI and there was Avalon Hill. Certainly in terms of numbers of people in the hobby and the money involved that was the Golden Age. But I think in terms of the quality of product, the look of the games, and, as I said, the quality of the play, this is probably the Golden Age of Wargaming.
I picked up Memoir44 a few days ago to cheer myself up - this is the benefit/danger of living only 5 miles from the Aldershot game shop. I played solo through the Operation Cobra scenario last night and really enjoyed myself. It was a tense situation with the Americans needing to push forward to get the victory locations, and the Germans slowly pulling back through difficult bocage terrain and hitting back with their elite panzers when able to do so without overexposing them. I loved BattleCry, even though I have no great interest in the ACW period, but I think I will love Memoir44 even more. Can't wait to get a real opponent - Phil is coming home on Sunday in a weakened post-typhoid state, he'll do.

Much as I admire GMT it is a shame that they are sitting on the Command & Colours: Ancients design. Doesn't look like they will be able to publish for a year or two, and then it will be only cardboard standup figures.

I would love to see a Command & Colours: Lord of the Rings game. I wonder if anyone has considered that yet. Or I could just go down to Games Workshop for some figures and design my own...........

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

My Dad died suddenly last Friday. I expect I will get back to blogging again when I am feeling more cheerful, but it will probably be fairly quiet here for a few weeks.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

If I have to visit many more sick family members I think I will scream. First my Dad, then Gavin and now Phil. How come I never get to be the one sitting in a hospital bed getting visitors and sympathy?

Monday, August 23, 2004

Not much gaming news lately. Although my last posting was slightly tongue in cheek, it is true that paragliding has taken over a bit.

Nevertheless, in spare moments I have been indulging in the guilty pleasure of playing Hornet Leader. Why guilty? Well, it's a solitaire game about the Americans bombing things - mostly Middle Eastern things - and I just don't feel very comfortable with that vision of the world these days. But all the same, this is a very fine game indeed, despite its early 90's vintage. I am playing the Iran campaign, and lost two, yes two, of my pilots on the first mission. That left me with a lot of victory points to make up in the remaining 5 missions, but I got off to a good start in mission 2.

You should see the prices that this little classic is fetching on eBay these days. No wonder.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Well after two amazing days I have come to the conclusion that paragliding is bloody dangerous. After about 20 flights dodging trees and fences, and featuring alarmingly hard contacts with the ground, I am convinced of this fact. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. But I am worryingly unworried about it. The incredible, dreamlike sensation of being airborne, inhabiting the breathing silence of the air like a bird, seems to be worth all. In fact, is there anything I would not sacrifice to this new addiction? Safety, life and limb? What good are they if I cannot fly? Money? A useless incumbrance unless spent on flying gear. My job and my home? If they are too far from the best flying sites then I will happily trade them in. Sunday worship? Well, gosh, it depends on the weather. The love of a good woman? If she is likely (as most are) to demand at some point "It's that hobby or me?", then I suppose I'll continue to live alone. My boardgames collection? Well.... you've got me there. But they may be seeing a bit less use than they used to....

Friday, August 13, 2004

Thursday 12th August 2004, about 9:30pm, at the Fox in the Bourne, Farnham: the end of a 20-year epoch.

Part of my evil strategy for keeping the boys cowed and submissive was always to play them at games but never let them win. Especially chess. Finally, after 20 years of chess humiliation, Phil has beaten me. Not just beaten me, thrashed me. I tried to warn him about the taboo against killing your own father, and to remember Oedipus, but all to no avail. It's over.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Not so much time then for gaming these days, but I still managed to fit in an epic game of Europe Engulfed with Dave last weekend. We started the 1942 scenario on Friday night, and continued through Saturday. The previous time that we played (at Hay-on-Wye) when my Allies heavily defeated Dave's Axis, Dave was heard to grumble that he didn't see how the Germans could have done any better. So it was very satisfying to take the Axis last weekend and soundly beat him again. Case proven I think - this scenario is balanced!

I kicked off in turn one with a successful grab of the Onega swamps. This of course choked off the flow of lend-lease to Russia, and prompted Dave to switch to a West-first strategy. Denmark was invaded before the close of 1942, but Dave never managed to clear it, and before the end of the game, after many turns of costly conflict, I was able to destroy his beachhead for a victory point. He also came ashore at Calais and later Normandy, but in spite of building fleet points nearly every turn he was hampered by the double supply cost of his Denmark force. In the East I was able to ride out the winter storms and managed to avoid a replay of Stalingrad.

It was really great fun for both of us, and I can't recommend Europe Engulfed highly enough to anyone who is at all interested in wargames.
I've been spending a lot of my free time paragliding just lately - well, not paragliding exactly, more like sitting around in a field under a baking sun, waiting for wind conditions to improve enough to make an actual flight possible. Sigh. Yes, it's a long process, I've actually spent 5 days up at Green Dragons paragliding school now, but have only actually completed about 3 days-worth of training. And several other days were booked only to call in at 7am and find the weather was not right. So - I'm a little discouraged I suppose, but still very motivated to continue, and with luck I hope to complete my Club Pilot before the summer is over.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I've never been to a blogmeet before, but here's one that might tempt me - the Greenbelt Bloggers Gathering.

Monday, August 02, 2004

I've just had an amazing and challenging couple of days at Green Dragons paragliding school. Today especially. The wind conditions were very light, meaning that I hardly got off the ground this week. Potentially a complete washout. But this morning a brilliant instructor called Steve gave me a museum piece to play with - an ancient square paraglider from the early days of the sport. He got me practising reverse launches with this thing, and the simple and forgiving nature of the wing allowed me to really build up confidence. In the afternoon I continued ground-handling practice with a couple of more modern paragliders - ADG Havanes - and found I was getting really confident keeping the wing under control. All I need now is to get back in the air again and my happiness will be complete.

There is something dreamlike about this whole business of learning to fly paragliders. It still seems like an impossible dream - because of the weather conditions I have hardly left the ground so far. But today I really began to realize that I am learning the skills that will very soon make it possible for me to fly properly. There's a combination of fear and intense longing sitting at the bottom of my stomach this evening. I feel like I'm at the threshold of something I have wanted for so long, but never really believed was possible for me......

Thursday, July 29, 2004

OK it's a bit of an extreme way to get an opponent, but Gavin's appendicitis means that I now have a captive gaming partner at home. He can't move very fast you see, because of the stitches. Last night he was unable to get up before I had set up the Icehouse pieces for a game of HomeWorlds. Played it twice, capturing his home system with a big red star cruiser both times, then, desperate for revenge, Gav challenged me to Scrabble. It was a tough struggle - he got an early lead which I clawed back in the middle game, but had it snatched away by a 48 point power-play from Gav. Good fun. No rude words either, unusually.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Gavin got through his latest medical crisis. I spent most of yesterday in the East End of London, sitting beside his bed of pain at Newham General Hospital. After many delays he was finally wheeled into theatre at 4pm, and was out again by 6. What amazed me was how the operation produced an instant improvement - he was almost immediately back to his old chatty self, in spite of having a fresh 2in incision in his abdomen.
 
Full marks to his boozy friends, who turned out in force at his bedside - James, Steve, Nicky and various others I didn't recognize.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Kids! Who'd have them? After an exhausting few weeks I had pencilled in tomorrow as a much-needed day of rest and recuperation. But breaking news: Gavin is having an emergency appendectomy at Newham General Hospital tonight. So my day of recuperation will be spent rushing down to the East End to mop his brow etc.

And the reason I had to look for a new home for my bank details, is that the screen of my Psion 5mx just blew up again - for the third time. Enough is enough. It was a wonderful little machine in its heyday, and looked after me for about 6 years, but I've become become unwilling to shell out another £100 to repair the screen every time it goes. Fortunately it still works if you hold the clamshell open about an inch, which is uncomfortable for prolonged use, but gave me enough visibility to do what was necessary to get my vital data off it.
I know it's very uncool to blow the trumpet for a Microsoft product. But I've just started using Microsoft Money. Within the first week I have been made aware of about £75 sitting in my current account that I was unaware of. I'm still on an evaluation copy, but when I buy it it will cost me about £20. So it's already paid for itself 3 times over.....

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Sitting at work writing scripts, listening to The Huckleberries and feeling homesick for Salisbury.......

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Fantastic post from Maggi Dawn on the Trinity and worship (via Jonny Baker):

If a relational understanding of the Trinity is the context of our coming to worship, there is no longer a need to please or impress God in order for him to bless us with his presence. We do not need to create, as it were, a good enough party to wake God up and make him think he might join us. It's quite the other way around. The Trinity are already having a party of their own. There they are, communicating, loving, worshipping, laughing, dancing, always and forever, without a break. Grace, love and adoration flows constantly between the Godhead. And, if you look again at Rublev's icon, you'll see that there is a fourth, empty place at the table - an implicit invitation. Come and join us?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Here's another gallery, this time some blurry photos of the final afternoon at this year's Workshop. What a lovely bunch of people! Thanks for some great times everybody.
I went cold turkey on my caffeine addiction yesterday. This was prompted by an incident on Sunday - I was taking a breather from Workshop and dropped into the Clapham Junction Costa for a latte. Enjoyed it, but as I got up was hit by a wave of dizziness and nausea that lasted for at least an hour. Not good. Decided to cut the ties.

So I spent yesterday in a sleepy headachy haze, dutifully sipping Redbush or mint tea. Went home, ate, lay down in bed slept for 11 hours. Feel a bit more normal this morning and managed to tough out my breakfast craving for a cup of tea. Hope this will get easier....

Monday, July 19, 2004

ConsimWorld is going to a subscription-based service. I've spent a lot of time over the years reading ConsimWorld postings, and occasionally contributing too, but I'm not sure I want to pay for the privilege. With BoardGameGeek thriving there are other ways to get the game info fix I crave.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Here's a new photo gallery of boardgamegeeky goings on at Hay-on-Wye last weekend.

(Oh great, now they've changed Blogger so that it frigs around with my HTML without my permission! That just about puts the tin hat on it. I hate Google and Yahoo. A plague on both your houses!)

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I used to love my Oddpost account. It was so cool, and noone else knew about it, and it had the best spam-nailing algorith on the planet.

But from now on it's not Oddpost, it's Yahoo. And that's just not cool any more.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Well, NimrodCon has been and gone. Just got back, exhausted, and after gorging on Chinese takeaway food (were we just hungry or did I need to prove to myself that we are really back in a civilized country where you can get food after 5:30pm?) I am now ready to report how it went.

Pretty good really.

There was a strange syndome that affected Simon, Phil and myself, the symptoms of which were, after driving to an adjacent country to meet up with a bunch of boardgamers for a long weekend, the patient finds that he does not actually feel like playing boardgames. Sadly Simon did not recover from this. Phil managed a few rounds of Lord of the Ring: the Confrontation and Railway Rivals. And I confronted my disease head-on by playing Europe Engulfed (1942 scenario) with Dave. Eight hours hard graft, much of which, weirdly, was played before an audience. Quite a few of the company seemed to find it an enthralling spectator sport. At certain key moments, for example my big Summer 1943 offensives that sealed Dave's Stalingrad pocket forever, you could have heard a pin drop. Being watched really added to the pressure, and it was the most intense wargaming experience I've had for a while. Gratifyingly, I won. Launching a 1942 invasion in Belgium seems to be a workable - if hair-raising - approach.

Other highlights were enjoying Phil's wonderful cooking, walking the ridges of the Black Mountains in showery weather, and playing Zendo in pub (the excellent Kilvert Arms). Thanks to Dave, Nick, Danni, John, Steve, Robin, Simon, Phil and the Celtic Lodge for making it a great break.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

So now we know what to think about religion too. Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Guide to British religions:

Are you a Zoroastrian? What do Catholics, Sikhs and Hindus believe? Find out with our guide the main religions practised in the UK today. You can find guides, important dates and links simply by clicking on the religions below.

Nice idea, but you might pick up some odd ideas. For example, the Charismatic Renewal are very keen on celebrating Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, and Ascension Day for example. Really?? (Thanks Rob for the link)
Nice review of Memoir 44 at The Wargamer:

Old plastic army men never die; they just get lost under the couch. The army man is a resilient little figure that rarely fails to command the attention of young and old alike. Platoons of plastic have a way of drawing the eye and triggering an urge to make machine gun sounds; it’s practically a reflexive response for some.

It's a pain really - I had decided not to get this for a while in a bid to cut down expenditure on new games. But having read this rave review I've now got the cravings all over again....

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Very interesting review of Knizia's Blue Moon at the Games Journal:

Blue Moon effectively offers a game with the versatility of Magic, but with the wallet-crunching collectibility of those games tempered somewhat. While there has been considerable overlap between the worlds of board gamers and collectible card game (CCG) players, it is probably fair to say that there is a certain amount of antipathy towards trading card games from many players of 'German-style' games. The apparent rule that the CCG player who buys the most wins the most, and the need to purchase and trade to explore certain strategies or tactics, can seem bizarre. While I would argue that there are also many good points to such games, the clear influence of collectible card games on Blue Moon will add an interesting element to the debate, as this non-collectible game comes not just from the workshop of one of the most prolific of board game designers, but a man who is on record as a skeptic of the CCG format for games.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Finally, some substantial gaming to report. Phil came home on Saturday, and we started as we mean to go on with lots of two-player conflict, for example Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation. The Dark side kept winning, until at last Phil figured out how to win with the Good guys.

Then on Sunday I went over to the Alder Valley Games Society where I played some more LotR:tC (shamelessly pinching Phil's strategy insights) until more people turned up and I was introduced to RoboRally. What a great game, a really good idea cleanly implemented. I did terribly, managing to program myself down a ventilation shaft, with no help from my opponents - not once but twice. Really enjoyable fun.

I had much more mixed feelings about Duel of the Ages. Fiddly, fiddly, fiddly! The interlocking map boards were badly warped in David's (new) copy, making the clever jigsaw idea totally unworkable. Trying to manouevre the fiddly little player markers over this warped wobbly and disconnected surface was enough to raise anyone's blood pressure. (Just emphasises to me how far the Americans are behind Germany these days in game production standards.) OK the core mechanics - basically a skirmish wargame - are solid enough, but the weird scenario is very very strange, and seems to be totally unexplained in the rules booklet. What the heck is going on? Genghis Khan running around with a laser rifle taking pot shots at Annie Oakley?? What are these towers? What is going on with the labyrinths? What does it all mean?? Not convinced, though I might possibly play it again, especially if someone figures out how to flatten the playing surface.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Wargameroom.com -- Real-time Internet Wargaming!: Wargameroom.com is a website devoted to the real-time play of sophisticated boardgames over the Internet. Programs now available for BtB, EE, H:RC, PoG, UF, WtP, and WW

I downloaded and had a quick play with the Europe Engulfed module. OK it has a somewhat 1980s interface, but it's pretty amazing to be able to play a complex game like this online at all.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

I met up with an old schoolmate last night, a guy that I haven't seen for oh.... 28 years. We talked about all sorts of things of course, but along the way Laurence confirmed Phil's favourite theory, that "You need to get a dog, Dad. Chicks go for guys with a dog." Ironically Laurence, because he is a happily married family man, is in a position to own a dog, and reports that he has discovered this whole dog-walking subculture which apparently is rich in nice-looking women who think he is a great guy because he looks after his dog. Ironic isn't it that I, who actually need to meet these nice dog-walking girls, am not in a position to own a dog because of my single life-style.
OK I admit it - I've been exploring the Wizards of the Coast website, where I found this article with some good advice that is applicable to all kinds of boardgaming, not just Magic. Forgotten Lore: Mind Over Magic:

The great players all compete with discipline and mastery over their emotions. Any player can win if he or she gets a great draw, or if an opponent is mana-hosed. It takes a great player to overcome a poor draw to claim a victory. Within the playing community, there are many ways to describe various facets of this ability: the Jedi mind trick, the good-player draw, or most often, luck. What is seldom recognized is that good players seem to get lucky more often because of their inner game. First, they build their deck to minimize the impact of a lousy draw. Second, they play with calm discipline even when things aren't going their way. Again, the focus is not on the almighty win, but on being wholly present in the game. The distinction might be a fine one, but I believe it holds nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I only noticed this today, but Jim Dunnigan's classic text The Complete Wargames Handbook is available online.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Once upon a time I loved this house
Now I'm thinking bout burning it down
And I'll be long gone when the fire burns out
On the way to another town


Steve Earle on "Transcendental Blues"

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Also there is a 20% discount on everything at Columbia Games until 5 July. I have never actually bought anything direct from Columbia but have heard nasty rumours that you are very likely to get done for import duty on their games, because they cannot be classed as paper and books apparently. Sadly buying direct is now the only way to get Columbia's latest titles.
If you are at all interested in wargames get yourself over to GMT Games and download their latest flyer. There are some bargains in their sale, and also lots of interesting new titles to pre-order on their P500 scheme. I have voted for Twilight Struggle, a PoG-style game about the cold war, along with Manoeuvre, a simple horse and musket era game, and BattleLine, a reprint of a classic game that I missed first time round.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Just a couple of weeks now until NimrodCon - what looks set to become our annual visit to Hay-on-Wye for books, beer and boardgaming. Pretty much fully booked now with 8 guys signed up, so unless you're a beautiful woman with unconventional tastes you've probably left it too late for this year.

Almost the best fun is planning what games to take along. Here is my current list (but subject to extensive revision over the next fortnight):

Scarab Lords (for the pub)
Finstere Flure (silly horror fun)
Wilderness War (a taste of wargaming that won't take too long)
Hammer of the Scots (another taste of wargaming??)
Euphrat & Tigris (can never get enough of this)
Amun Re (haven't tried this out yet)
Zendo (for the pub)
Memoir 44 (if I have managed to buy it by then)
Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation (oh dear the boot's full)

Monday, June 21, 2004

Just a tiny bit of gaming to report. Simon came up on Friday as he was planning to visit Workshop, and we played a couple of games of Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation. Great fun, always felt like you wanted to try it one more time to see what would happen if you used a different strategy. Definitely one for NimrodCon.
Tiring but very satisfying weekend on the Workshop team. We were desperately short-handed but everything seemed to get done somehow. I invigilated 2 Open Book Reflections (fancy name for exams) over the course of the weekend.

Best moments were both to do with worship....

First was Saturday morning worship done by Nick Fulcher and his group, an alt.worship-style set of installations on the theme of circles. Especially moving was the invitation to paint a circle with kiddie-type paints and then reflect on what your heavenly parent thinks of your efforts.

Then after packing up Sunday night we had a 30 minute wait to kill while the van turned up. We were all feeling pretty drained. Philip suggested breaking bread, Linda and Balacz allowed their shopping to be plundered for wine, and we had a wonderful nourishing time sharing the Jesus meal together.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

As some of you may know, I'm currently on the road back to Canterbury. Today I got hold of Common Worship: Daily Prayer, which is the Church of England's new liturgy for personal use. It's beautifully presented, with red pages marking the sections, and lots of instructions and options and rubrics and tables of dates and seasons and readings. I don't know whether I want to pray with it or play with it. The same part of me that likes writing code or figuring out the rules to a new game enjoys all the technical bits of this prayer book. Slightly worrying? Liturgy for geeks?
You're the only one I want
I've never heard your name
Let's hope we meet some day
If we don't it's all the same
And I'll meet the ones between us
And be thinking about you
And all the places I have seen
And why you were not there


Townes van Zandt
as sung by Lyle Lovett on "Step Inside This House"

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

It's all been a bit of a social whirl the last few days. Thursday was Book Group with Helen in Richmond. (This month's book was Fingersmith. Observation - women feel as uncomfortable discussing lesbian sex scenes as men do with gay sex scenes.) Friday was Scottish country dancing at St James the Less in Pimlico (Rob McGovern who features in my blogroll was there with his wife Roberta). Followed by crashing at Abi and Esther's place in Tooting. Snatched a few hours at home on Saturday before rushing over to Salisbury for dinner party hosted by Catherine and Shaun. Shaun cooks a fantastic curry. Stayed over and visited Harnham Free Church on Sunday morning. Had 20 minutes at home before Dave arrived to complete destroying me at Europe Engulfed. Quiet Monday night, thank goodness (except spending most of it on the phone to Fiona), but off to Salisbury again tonight for a barbeque at Bill and Maggie's place.

As an INFJ I badly need a few days of solitude to re-energize myself....

Monday, June 14, 2004

At last I've found it! Victory in the Pacific - 2nd Edition Rules. My copy of this game is the first edition, with its confusing and misleading rules.

Friday, June 11, 2004

I completely redid my garden this week - which I have been negelecting for months. On Monday I spent about half an hour removing dead plants and completely digging it over. And on Tuesday I spent about £9.50 at the garden centre and 20 minutes planting out my garden. It looks great. Are you impressed? Am I some sort of gardening super-hero? The Charlie Dimmock of Farnham? Perhaps I should mention that my "garden" is a 5'x4' balcony with 3 plant boxes and three terracotta pots. Even so, it's now a very pleasant place to be.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

I'm slowly piecing together a local gaming network for myself. On Sunday I went to the Alder Valley Games Society's monthly boardgaming afternoon. Last time I visited the society I was a bit discouraged to find that they concentrate on RPGs and CCGs. But this time I got to play Battle Cry (lost), Settlers (missed winning by one turn), and Ra (lost badly). Genial opponents, and a fun afternoon. I'm looking forward to the next one.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Ow! Ow! Ow! My shoulders hurt (practice Parachute Landing Falls). My face hurts (too much sun). My upper arms are bruised (riser straps). My thighs and calves hurt (repeatedly walking up a hill). My head hurts (PLFs and dehydration). My feet hurt (running fast trying to inflate the wing). My hip is bruised (PLFs). The back of my neck hurts (PLFs?). The front of my neck hurts (chin strap). My balls hurt (harness).

Yes, you've guessed - I went paragliding yesterday (at Green Dragons). And I just can't wait for the next session!

Friday, June 04, 2004

Looks like a very comprehensive guide to blogging tools at THEOOZE (via jonny baker)
And the Guardian agrees with me! Guardian Unlimited | Arts reviews | The Valkyrie, Coliseum, London: Lloyd's production, with designer Richard Hudson, assembles a muddle of contemporary imagery that adds nothing to Wagner's drama. Why, for instance, is Sieglinde dressed as a muslim woman in headscarf and trousers and her husband Hunding got up in camouflage fatigues? What does that image, with its inevitable suggestions of ethnic and religious conflict, add to an opera in which such themes are absent?

And I was right about the singing: For half of the first act, Per Lindskog was excruciatingly out of tune as Siegmund.

But why am I still so angry about this?

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Amazon.com: So you'd like to... Own The WHOLE Sandman Library.

Well, yes I would, now you mention it. Very much.
Oh weird. I just noticed that my BlogStreet RSS feed is autogenerating. It just takes rather a long time, that's all.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

A good introduction to Go at TradGames.

And Masters Games looks like a good UK online supplier of nice Go equipment.

I played (and lost) Go on BrettSpielWelt last night. Easy to find an opponent with the new BSW interface. But you can only play 13x13 Go.

Next time I might try the Kiseido Go Server instead (as recommended by Mikko Saari).
Actually I was totally unaware of Memoir 44 until I read Chris Farrell's posting. Having looked at the Days of Wonder website I am consumed with geek-lust for this game. It must be mine!
Chris Farrell's KublaCon convention report is well worth a read for his interesting comments on the Europe Engulfed phenomenon, as well as debunking Up Front and giving us some first impressions of Memoir 44 the latest Battle Cry spin-off:

Firstly, I'm glad Europe Engulfed has been successful, but its high profile for a wargame seems to be drawing people who are sort of poking at it rather than taking it seriously. We saw a bit of this with Paths of Glory; many people heard it was great and wanted to try it, but weren't willing to learn the rules or put in the non-trivial effort necessary to learn what is a fairly serious and challenging game. We had several people show up for this event wanting to play, but never having even looked at the rules. This is not the way to go. Europe Engulfed is an absolutely great game, so I recommend that if you want to play, read the rules ahead of time (they're online) and take it seriously. You won't regret it; as I say, it's a fantastic game, and really just not that hard to learn in the main. But you'll get a heck of a lot more out of it by being prepared.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

I went to Camden Lock on Saturday, which was OK, but I did get a bit jaded after a while looking at endless stalls selling crystals, pan-pipes, incense sticks, tin buddhas and other new-age paraphernalia. Found Village Games, which turns out to be about the size of a pantry. Mostly sells chess sets, Go equipment (tempting, but rather expensive) and tarot cards. But does have a few German games (eg Settlers, Samurai) on the top shelf.

Cheered myself up by going over to Playin Games in Bloomsbury, where I picked up a game that I thought was out of print - Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. Cool!

Then it was over to the Coliseum for part 2 of ENO's irritating Ring cycle. I was duly irritated, by the boiler-plate Valhalla, by Fricka's briefcase, by Wotan's desk toys, by the whole pretentious confusing mess. But I was surprised to be irritated by the music as well - the tenor who sung Siegmund, one of the biggest roles, was - I'm sure of it - singing flat. I overheard a guy in the bar who was more charitable about it, said he had an old-fashioned style of singing. I'm not feeling charitable - he was flat.

Friday, May 28, 2004

RSS = Really Simple Syndication. Really?

Nimrods used to have a nice RSS feed provided by a free service called BlogMatrix. When BlogMatrix folded I didn't notice for about 6 months, but I recently got round to setting up a new RSS feed with BlogStreet. It's free, that's plus point. But it's not automatic. In other words, every time I post to the weblog I need to remember to login to BlogStreet and refresh the RSS feed. More often than not, I don't bother for a few days, which means that you the reader get my trivial news later than you need to.

So you geeks out there - if you know of a more efficient alternative RSS provider, please let me know.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

My kids worry - especially Phil - if I don't post so I suppose I had better give you an update. I wonder if anyone has written about this yet - blogging as a way of keeping your family together?

Workshop last weekend was very tiring due to shorthandedness on the team, but very satisfying too. I had to act in a Victoria Wood-esque sketch at one point, and needed to dig deep to find my inner Northennness.

Yesterday Dave drove all the way over here from Amesbury to play Europe Engulfed, the 1942 scenario. I let him take the Germans, of course, and in spite of not knowing the rules he promptly smashed a hole through the centre of the Russian line and took Moscow. By the end of the evening there was nothing much left at all in the way of resistance in central Russia, and I was organizing a scratch defence of Stalingrad and the Caucasus. However the Americans have made their appearance in North Africa so I have at least a fighting chance of conquering Italy by the end of the scenario.

This has happened to me so many times that it's almost a law of nature - if you teach someone a game he will stuff you at it.

Meanwhile at work I seem to have become the department's Excel expert. How did that happen? I know nothing about Excel!

I'm off to the Arts Centre tonight to watch Touching the Void. The sun isn't shining tonight so hopefully there will be less light leaking onto the screen than there was last week!

Sort of looking forward to The Valkyrie at ENO on Saturday. Will just have to shut my eyes and ignore the urban gangster-themed production and concentrate on the music. I am also planning to visit Camden Lock before the performance and seek out a rumoured game-shop in the area.....

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Sign outside the El Greco exhibition at the National Gallery:

"No lecturing allowed in the exhibition rooms"

Nevertheless I overheard several people droning recycled banalities at their politely bored spouses/companions, who clearly hadn't noticed this sign on their way in.

The pictures were overwhelming and stunning. Frankly, the only sensible response to them was awed silence.

Friday, May 21, 2004

I have been soloing Europe Engulfed in preparation for teaching Dave the game when he visits next Tuesday. This is the second time I've had a run through the game and it's starting tio make sense now. I'm playing the 1942 scenario, which is a much better place to start than the full game. Most of the fiddly political rules are all in the past by 1942, so you can concentrate on the combat rules and knocking ten bells out of each other in Russia! I'm also starting to realize how important the special actions are. They can massively increase the dynamism of your war-effort if they are used aggressively. I'm realizing that you should be using them as a matter of course, not saving them for emergencies. They might seem expensive at 5 WERPS each, but a well-timed "retreat from contested area" for example can rescue units that might cost you far more than 5 WERPS to rebuild.

The Axis are not doing very well so far. They got off to a disastrous start with a failed offensive in Voronezh, lost loads of units, and have been slowly walking backwards ever since. Meanwhile North Africa is almost cleared, although the 8th Army have just had a dismal turn spending 2 special action to eliminate the last Italian unit to no effect!

This is a great game. It's everything I hoped Barbarossa to Berlin would be (but turned out not to be) and more. The only drawback is that it's a two-mapper and so takes up quite a bit of room. Really looking forward to playing a live opponent next week....

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I went to see "Lost in Translation" at Farnham Maltings last night. What a beautiful film, all about ageing and loneliness and longing. Poor old Bill Murray, he meets this beautiful young woman and impossibly, they fall in love. But in the end, all he can hope for is to say goodbye properly. Really sad, and touches me right where it hurts at this stage in my life.......

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Sashinka: The best thing you can learn in the twenty-first century is (1) how to categorise sensibly, (2) how to pack a small bag, (3) how to talk to anyone, (4) how to write a list. Everything else is so much commentary, white noise, ephemera. Do those four things, and you can do anything.

In the same posting she also has a gripe about the new Blogger interface, but I won't quote that for fear of offending some of my readers.....
U2 beat the Hives 3:1 yesterday. Experience shows the youngsters how it's done. I'm still optimistic we're going to see them in the finals.Phil's Spin Off: U2's surprise drubbing of the Hives puts them back in contention in Group B.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Prodigal Sons Update

Gavin is on holiday in Slovakia this week with "the Baron". I expect he is being extremely prodigal over there. Latest text news indicates that "all the women are shit hot".

Phil returned home, as prodigal sons traditionally do, for the weekend. He cooked two fantastic meals for me, drank all my wine, and encouraged me to do a lot of "chilling", which was just what I needed. Only blot on the weekend was that he refused to play any boardgames with me, and stuffed me at Close Combat 2 instead. Highlight - sitting outside the Hawkley Arms in the sunshine with Phil and a pint of Thwaites Mild, two ideal companions.
When Mikko Saari, the Finnish game blogger, has a Weekend gaming session, the activities include a sauna. And who says geeks have poor personal hygene?
Over at LawPundit there's a long rant about how useless the new Blogger interface is. Most of which I agree with, sadly:

The old Blogger interface by Pyra Labs was a work of art which was apparently designed by bloggers, or at least programmers who understood what the needs of bloggers were - speed, efficiency, and simplicity. The old Blogger interface was highly intuitive and simple to use FOR BLOG POSTING, with all the necessary commands - and OVERVIEW - located conveniently on one page. There was no needless clicking and searching.

This morning we were surprisingly and unexpectedly faced with the new Blogger interface being forced upon us, the unsuspecting users ('never ask your users' seems to be in vogue these days). From a practical point of view, this interface is a disaster for blogging. It may be great as the initial interface required by beginners just starting out, but it is nothing for the frequent or experienced blogger, as it takes at least twice as much - valuable - time to do things with the new interface as it did with the old interface.
The flashing of headlights can have so many different meanings:

1) I'm really angry with you, you just cut me up!
2) It's fine to pull out in front of me
3) Thankyou
4) I'm a lorry driver and so are you!
5) Do you realize that your boot is open?
6) There's a policeman with a radar gun up ahead

What is spooky is that you can nearly always tell what is meant from the context. It's like some weird oriental language with only one word, which means loads of different things depending on the way you say it.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Lots of fun going on at the moment over at Phil's Spin Off, where music is being reimagined as football: Yesterday's games in the Music World Cup were both absolute scorchers, settled at the last by a controversial vote by Mr Nimmo. The scores then:

U2 4 - System Of A Down 4
The Hives 4 - Daft Punk 4

The results mean that the group is still wide open.
But I like them. NME: Keane, it's fair to say, are not the reason Hendrix first doused his axe with petrol and frantically soloed amidst a ball of flames. They're not the reason Sid phlegmed up his first ball of gob. And no, Kurt Cobain definitely didn't die for this. To all intents and purposes, Keane represent everything there is to hate about rock'n'roll.
Another very tempting pre-order from GMT. Wellington: In adapting his award-winning* The Napoleonic Wars system for the Peninsula War, designer Mark G. McLaughlin creates a furiously paced, card-driven and battle/siege-intensive strategic/operational game of Wellington's campaign to drive the French from Spain and invade France itself. With a maximum three turns in length, with sudden-death endings possible - and quite common when one side is 'on the ropes' - at the end of the first or second turns, Wellington is a game easily played to conclusion by two, three or four players in an evening or an afternoon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I'm suffering with the opposite of a hangover this morning, whatever that is called. You know, when you don't have anything to drink in the evening and next day you feel lousy. That's probably a really bad sign isn't it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I went to Taunton at the weekend to visit my crazy friend Jo. One of the craziest things he ever did was to start a small charity (in 2000) called Street Children of Peru. Every year he takes a work party of 15 or 20 people to build accomodation at street kids' homes in Lima and Iquitos. I haven't been on one of these trips (yet) because I have a suspicion that swinging a shovel for two weeks in Amazonian heat would probably kill me. But I'm deeply impressed by what Jo is achieving year by year, and my visit to Taunton was for the purpose of meeting the other trustees of SCOP and signing up as one myself.

My first task - don't laugh - will be to redesign their website. I wonder if I can manage that before my 30-day Dreamweaver trial expires?! Or maybe I shall just handcrank the HTML in Notepad. Or maybe I shall pinch someone else's HTML - all in a good cause you see.

The other thing I'm excited about is growing the Education Fund. At the moment SCOP is supporting three ex-street kids through higher education. A degree! What an incredible opportunity for a young man who spent his early years struggling to survive on the streets. And this can be done for such a tiny amount compared to what education costs in the UK. So I would love to see more people sign up as sponsors. Email me for details!
I can't think of much worse than spending a lifetime doing something that isn't what you want to do. --Neil Gaiman

I saw that today on a mailing list, and I thought "ouch!" What an indictment of my life, here I am wasting my life in an office when I should be out there doing something - writing wonderful books for example like Neil Gaiman does.

Then I thought again. Tell that to the refugee, Neil. Tell that to the unemployed guy in Delhi with a hungry family. Tell that to the street kid. There are many things worse than having a dull if comfortable job - not having one for example.

Monday, May 10, 2004

A good way to start a book about web design:

HAVE YOU HEARD of the World Wide Web? If so, your understanding of this exciting new medium has probably evolved somewhat over the past few years. Here is a common evolutionary trajectory:
    1. What is this Web thing?
    2. The Web is just a flash in the pan.
    3. The Web is actually pretty cool.
    4. Hmmm, maybe we can make money on the Web.
    5. The Web is the cornerstone of the New Economy.
    6. There is no New Economy.
    7. What was that Web thing?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Have you ever noticed how strange some women's magazines are? You know, the ones with a photo of a beautiful cover girl with her happy, gleaming smile, and right next to her, in big bold letters as if it's a caption: "I PULLED MY BABY FROM THE WRECKAGE - WITH NO HEAD!"
Multiman Publishing have finally produced their long-promised ASL Starter Kit: ASL Starter Kit #1 is a self-contained module which will let players start playing Advanced Squad Leader almost immediately. A liberally-illustrated rules tutorial teaches gamers ASL using a conversational style to teach the concepts of ASL.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Flumph, flumph. Flumph, flumph. Flumph, flumph.

When I walk nowadays, that sound drifts up to me from somewhere between my legs. It's my new jeans from Next, where it was impossible to get anything less floppy than "Boot Cut". It's the sound of denim flares rubbing together with every step. Last time I heard that sound, it was the Seventies......

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Greg Costikyan feels - quite strongly - that games are not literature: First, it is true that many games are tightly bound to story (I've written on this subject elsewhere), but it is equally true that many games are not. No story in chess. Nor in Europa Universalis, Civilization, or Tetris, not unless you stretch the meaning of 'story' beyond reason. As I have said before, and will doubtless say many times again before I die, games are their own artform, and while analogies to other forms are sometimes useful in understanding games, it is a rank and obvious error to attempt to perceive them solely through the lens used to understand a different form such as, say, literature. To make an analogy to a wholly different form: Music is not a storytelling medium. Many musical forms are indeed tightly bound to story--opera, the musical, the ballad--but many others are not--symphonies, the classic 3 minute rock song, house. Just so with games.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I actually played games with a local group on Sunday. Yes I know the sun was shining like the first day of creation, but I was locked firmly indoors with Neil Duncan - grand old man of the postal Diplomacy hobby - and 5 other people playing boardgames. I got to play Serenissima - which I enjoyed a lot more than first time, mainly because the rules were explained to me properly, and people didn't whine whenever they got attacked - and Vinci - which suffered from less whining than it usually does in Salisbury but still had an overanalysis end-game problem.
I'm not much given to making snap judgements, but the new Blogger interface is crap! Crap! CRAP!
Contact lenses - argh! No! No! No!

It was OK while I was at home, everything under control, putting them in for an extra 2 hours every day, fine. But as soon as I got to work, I don't know if it was the extra stress, running around talking to people, peering at the computer screen etc but after an hour it was "I have to get these things out of my eyes NOW!"

Sunday, May 02, 2004

I love my digital camera. I love Adobe Photoshop Gallery. And I love my broadband connection. They let me make things like this.

Friday, April 30, 2004

After a traumatic half-hour this morning being taught how to put in my trial contact lenses and take them out again, the optician said "I'll just go off for 5 minutes while you try it on your own." Within about 60 seconds I had managed to lose one. Permanently. I wondered if she would think I had lost the lense deliberately, in order to cut short the ordeal.

"Don't worry" she said in a resigned voice when she came back, "this happens all the time."
Some lovely ideas on this website. I'm thinking of using one of them next time I lead Workshop worship. The Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project: Before you look through the site a few comments: Take your time. Much of the material here is grounded in years of conversation and practice by churches, youth pastors and youth. Try not to 'scan' the site. Notice when a sentence, idea or image catches your attention. Notice what attracts you as you engage this material. Take time to stop and reflect on how God might be seeking to meet you through whatever it is that interests you here. (via Jonny Baker)
From a conversation with a furniture delivery man on Wednesday.

Delivery man: This is a nice flat, very spacious.

Me: Yes, I'm really pleased with it. I've just recently moved in.

Delivery man: Yes, I thought so. I thought it looked a bit unfinished, you know, still lots of things to sort out.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

I am The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis apparently (which is spooky seeing that this is one of my favourite books by my favourite writer!)

You were just looking for some decent clothes when everything changed quite dramatically. For the better or for the worse, it is still hard to tell. Now it seems like winter will never end and you feel cursed. Soon there will be an epic struggle between two forces in your life and you are very concerned about a betrayal that could turn the balance. If this makes it sound like you're re-enacting Christian theological events, that may or may not be coincidence. When in doubt, put your trust in zoo animals.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I picked up Final Fantasy X again recently on my PS2. A few months ago I got completely killed by Seymour Guano and his horrible "aeon", and was so demoralized that I gave it up for months. I just didn't see how he could be beaten. I think part of it was the impact of the graphics - that pain spell is horrible to watch, and the underground hellfire thing, well I'm still haunted by it.

But I had another go last week. Spent a good deal of time buying all the latest weapons, making sure the gang were all properly equipped and skilled up, had the right overdrive settings etc. Saved it all then walked into the hall for the big confrontation. It went like a dream. Went straight in with all 3 of Yuna's aeons, and by the time they were all dead Seymour was only a few big hits away from defeat. Most gratifying.

Now I'm stuck on the stupid puzzle that comes next......
As one of my readers has asked: I am using Norton AntiVirus (only £20 and far too important to leave to freeware) and the XP firewall. Not sure how best to configure the firewall so I just left it to the defaults. Everything still works, but then the door may be wide open for the bad people too. I used to administer a corporate firewall as part of my job but all that knowledge seems to have slipped away in the intervening years.....

Monday, April 26, 2004

This is great! I've just got my wireless ADSL router working. I bought an Ebuyer (ie Origo) router and card and a connection from PlusNet. I set up the router with my laptop plugged in on Friday night - very straightforward indeed. Today I planned to put the wireless card into my PC, but it was with a sense of forboding that this was likely to be the tricky bit. 10 minutes approximately from opening the case to posting to my blog.

Better stop blogging and get AntiVirus and a firewall installed........
The 30th birthday of Dungeons and Dragons makes the front page on the BBC News website! BBC NEWS | Magazine | Whatever happened to Dungeons and Dragons?: In the 1980s millions of teenagers world-wide would battle dragons armed with just a few dice, paper and pens. D&D became part of youth sub-culture but as the game celebrates its 30th birthday - is anyone still playing?

Thursday, April 22, 2004

BayCon last weekend was good fun. Held at a fairly run-down motel 5 miles south of Exeter, staffed by underpaid migrant workers, with crumbling windowframes and peeling decor, nevertheless it offered gaming space and fairly cheap rooms for a large number of gamers, many of whom are personally large as well. Why do geeks always tuck their T-shirts into their jeans, no matter how big the beer-gut?

Anyway, I played lots of games, losing most of them, and failing to get into the top 100 list. At a convention with about 120 attendees, that's a pretty bad performance. Enjoyed trying some new games (new to me anyway) such as San Juan, Alhambra, Medici, Attika, and Age of Mythology. Nick played a 2-day epic game of GMT's Napoleonic Wars. I was woken by him when he finally staggered into our room at 5:30am Sunday morning, only to sit in bed punching out his new copy of Attika!

My favourite discovery of the weekend was a game I had taken along with me but never played - Scarab Lords. A really excellent two-player card game by Reiner Knizia, marred only by tatty American-style production values (how come Blue Moon, another similar Knizia game, which costs about the same money and is manufactured in Europe, has about 10-times better physical quality?)

Talking of Reiner, he was there apparently, but I never saw him. So I never got the chance to do a Waynes World on him ("We are not worthy!")

Monday, April 19, 2004

Nimrods: three years old today!

Ho-hum. Ever onwards, I suppose.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

At last, GMT's sequel to Battle Cry is available to preorder. However, they are setting the threshold quite a bit higher than usual - they need 1250 preorders before they will commit to producing the game. Well, there's one here.

Commands & Colors: Ancients: Unlike its younger brother, Battle Cry by Hasbro/Avalon Hill, Commands & Colors: Ancients is moderately more complex and contains additional historical details without the battlefield clutter. Most scenarios will still play to a conclusion in less than an Hour.
Hmm, let's see, things I have discovered during the last week or so:

1) I am a complete lightweight. I was lured out of my flat yesterday evening by the sunshine, and wandered down to the William Cobbett where I sipped a leisurely pint. One pint. Followed by a large glass of water when I got home. And this morning I have a headache.

2) Shaun of the Dead is a wonderful film. British, very funny, exciting too, and it hasn't got Hugh Grant. The new Ster Cinema in Basingstoke is a lovely cinema, huge screens, steeply raked and very comfortable seating - BUT the sound is so loud that even ordinary dialog sounds like giants shouting. Very uncomfortable, and breaks the illusion of reality as well. Won't be going back there.

3) Axis and Allies: Europe is good fun but flawed. Went to Dave's place on Monday and played it with John. It soon became apparent that the whole game comes down to a titanic struggle between two huge stacks on the Moscow space. It is also a bit weird that the British cannot reinforce Egypt, but that can be easily fixed with a house rule. But basically the game needs completely new victory conditions.

4) It's a pain dealing with BT. I want broadband on my PC in the spare bedroom, so I called BT to get a line extension put in. The girl at the call centre agreed to send an engineer round first thing, so that I wouldn't have to take a day off. But the engineer was actually booked for a 1pm slot. Stuff them. I am going for a wireless router, and PlusNet as a provider. (They do a £19 a month contract with no access to binary newsgroups, which is good for me as it removes the temptation of all those mucky newsgroups!) I'll let you know how this works out.

5) There is some wonderful countryside near Farnham. On Good Friday I drove over to Selborne and walked a section of the Hangars Way, stopping for lunch at a wonderful Free House called the Hawkley Arms. Lovely folded chalky country with hanging woods on the steep hillsides, and secluded little valleys and villages. This is my favourite time of year, the countryside looks so beautiful, but it's almost saying "You haven't seen anything yet! Just wait till the leaves come out!"

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Went (with Nick, Debs, Suzy and others) to see Polly Paulusma play at Bush Hall in Shepherd's Bush last night. She's a folksy-modern singer-songwriter. Thoughtful, melancholy lyrics make a great combination with her sunny, mischievous nature. Nick - who is a creative web-designer type - was more taken with the striking visuals created by strongly coloured spots cutting across images projected onto the ornate plasterwork of the back wall. Wished I'd taken my camera in. A good evening spent soaking up much-needed nourishment from the arts.