Friday, December 30, 2005

Christmas stocktaking

Christmas has been good for my games collection - my family seem to have finally woken up to the idea that Peter likes games! and maybe one would make a good gift for him. Now how many years/decades did it take for that little light bulb to switch on?

Zertz: Phil was really excited about presenting this to me on Christmas morning. I love it of course, like all the Gipf games it looks good enough to eat, and the gameplay is as intriguing and fascinating as Yinsh and Dvonn. And spookily it was also on the wish list I gave to my Mum, though luckily she didn't choose it as well. I must have been psychically radiating Zertz-desire for weeks.

Oltremare: Mum phoned Leisure Games a few weeks ago and ordered this for me (having asked me for a shortlist.) She originally thought that Oltremare Zertz Tichu was the name of a single game, bless her. Once that was sorted out she got stung by the new expensive edition of Oltremare (which I wasn't aware of when I made the list) which cost a bit more than I wanted her to spend on me. And then it didn't turn up - a week after Christmas it still has not arrived. The perils of using the post these days. In my day we never had these problems with the post I'm sure. Hopefully Leisure Games will sort me out with a replacement.

Dune: I picked this up on EBay for a mere £22. The auction completed on Christmas Day. Bad time of year for selling games - all the geeks take their eye off the ball for a few days, with the result that there are bargains to be had! It arrived yesterday in great condition and complete. I'm very excited - I've been reading about this game for years.

According to BGG my collection stands at 118 now. Moreover I have a whole load of preorders from GMT lined up for the near future - Battle Cry Ancients, The Burning Blue, Here I Stand, Clash of Giants II can all be expected to arrive on my doorstep shortly. As if I haven't got enough wargames already. So time for another clearout. This is my hitlist:

Axis and Allies: Long and slightly daft. Huge box too.

Battle Cry: Another huge box, and why keep it when I have Memoir 44?

7th Fleet Pretty but complex wargame, when will I ever play this?

Throne World: Looks long and fiddly, ugly components. If I want sci-fi I will play Dune or Merchant of Venus. Or Starfarers of Catan which I may be able to afford after I've sold this lot!

Grand Illusion: More complex than I was expecting from Ted, and the usual issues with post-pub rules changes, which quite frankly I'm getting sick of.

Triumph and Glory: Another one with moving target rules. If I want tactical then This Accursed Civil War looks much cleaner.

The Napoleonic Wars: Great subject, but all those little decks of cards! And the rules are a disaster.

Kings and Things: Never been enthused enough to read the rules. Time to leave, grasshopper...

Slick!: An ancient sibling to Railway Rivals.

Sherlock Holmes (card game): Used to play this a lot, but that was years ago.

Anyone want to make me an offer, or talk me out of the whole thing?


Friday, December 23, 2005

Advent of gaming

Since my paraglider is in the dry-dock for a few weeks after I recently wrapped it around a tree, I have a bit more time for boardgaming. So this week has been good for gaming - last Sunday Les came over to try out War of the Ring. I have been busily painting the figures for a while and had completed the Shadow forces by the time Sunday came. They looked superb arrayed on the board, but badly showing up the Free Peoples in their glistening coats of blue plastic.

It took me about 45 minutes to take Les through the rules. Les was very patient but was starting to look a bit glazed over by the end (especially as he had a hangover to contend with as well!) As the beginner he opted to play the Shadow. We both thoroughly enjoyed the epic struggle that followed. With "Mithril Coat" and "Wizard's Staff" I felt able to push the Fellowship forward twice every turn. Les was a little slow getting his offensive rolling, and also had consistent bad luck on the combat dice all through the game. After about 4 hours of play (plus a break for supper) I managed to get the Fellowship to Gorgoroth with remarkably little corruption. I love the panoramic sweep of this game and its faithfulness to the books - I'm very anxious to play again. Meanwhile the men of Rohan are getting their coat of green paint over the Christmas break....

Then on Monday evening after work it was over to Keith's for my second go at Caylus. I have to admit that my first play a few weeks ago left me underwhelmed - baffled by the rules, squinting at the graphics, dismayed by the playing time, and confused about tactics. But this time around I felt much better about the game. I benefitted from Keith's running through the rules again for John's benefit, plus I managed to keep the rules at my end of the table and took frequent looks between my turns, so I felt much more on top of the mechanics, and I actually started to enjoy some of the decision making. Fairly early on I built a church and enjoyed getting my free prestige point every time someone popped in for a visit. And I was gratified to come in second (but way behind Keith whom we allowed a free hand in the gold-mines for the last few turns). So yes, I now would be happy to play Caylus again, but having said that I would far rather play say Amun-Re, which does the same sort of thing as Caylus but in a much more interesting and elegant way.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I went to see The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe last night - drove all the way to Winchester for the nice independent screen there. It was packed. I was very impressed with the film - with a couple of caveats. Lucy (a crucial role) was just right. The designs were very much based on the Pauline Baines illustrations - excellent. But I was disappointed by the battle - much, much too big and long. Battles in Narnia generally involve a few hundred combatants and last a few (very violent) minutes. So as I feared the influence of Peter Jackson had a bad effect there. I also didn't like the silly frozen river scene. But many, many more good things than bad in the film.

And by the way, this column in the Guardian by Zoe Williams on the subject of the film's "dodgy" Christian subtext is well worth a read.

Friday, December 09, 2005

If there was an award for "Best Game Blog Posting of 2005" (maybe there is? - I'm so out of touch) this would be my nomination: Chris Farrell's tips for getting Civilization back onto the table. This superb article gave me a nostalgic wistfulness for past Civ sessions, as well as an persistent itch to do it again.

Remember that this, along with Francis Tresham's 1829, was essentially the first "big" eurogame. It's a direct ancestor in style to currently popular high-end euros like Power Grid, Age of Steam, Goa, Die Macher, and Puerto Rico. Unlike the Avalon Hill-style games that were then in the vogue – games that tended to make some attempt at simulating something – Civilization is a themed game. That is to say, some stuff in the game may not necessarily make immediate intuitive sense in terms of simulation, but it's in there because the game requires it. Strictly from a systems perspective, this is where Advanced Civilization went awry – it added a bunch of stuff for various reasons of "simulation", but wrecked the finely-tuned underlying mechanisms. This is not to denigrate the theme of Civilization, which is excellent and better than most current euros – but I think it's important to the enjoyment of the game to realize that in many ways this game was way ahead of its time, and is not cut from the same cloth as other Avalon Hill games of that era.


Losing Beowulf

7:30 yesterday evening witnessed me hard at work in my living room with Beowulf and an adjustable spanner. I was setting up a gaming table and then laying out the board and cards etc ready for a session with the Farnborough group. Keith and Trevor were late which was fine, as it gave Les and me time to chat about some of Les's Essen purchases. In particular, I was interested to learn that he picked up the Euphrat & Tigris card game, which I would love to try out

Beowulf only took 10 minutes to explain - the episodic structure of the game helps a lot, as some of the details can safely be postponed. As usually happens when I introduce a game, I got badly stuffed. I committed heavily to several early auctions but lost them all the same. The resulting wound and scratches left me preoccupied with avoiding further injuries for the rest of the game, and I was always short of cards and gold. The final scores were Trevor 33, Keith 31, Les 21 and me 12. When asked what the secret is Trevor replied simply, "I looked ahead." Which on reflection is probably the best piece of simple strategy advice available for this game

We finished off with a fun game of Formula Motor Racing which I also lost hands down. My final card play was a "Charge" which gained me about 5 places before my engine blew up attempting to take the lead! This is a great little game, light, but with lots of interesting tactical choices. More skilful than it looks (and yes, this is from someone who nearly always loses at it!)


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lanzarote Snapshot

Wednesday 23rd Nov, 12:22pm, the Famara ridge

Laying out my glider ready for the next flight. Make sure there are no tangles. Switch on my vario and make a note of the altitude. Switch on my radio and do a quick comms check. Bundle up my glider and walk forward to takeoff. The takeoff at Famara is intimidating. We are standing behind a low tumbledown wall which sits at the top of a 1000 foot drop down to the plain below. It's not a vertical drop, but very steep and rocky, likely to kill someone who fell down it. There is a little cinder runway from the wall down to the edge - 4 or 5 paces then nothingness - a clear view over the plain to the coast about 5 km away, little volcanoes and the beach.

The air is full of paragliders and hanggliders, they appeared seemingly from nowhere while we were driving back from a wild-goose chase to Mirador on the Northern tip of the island. The sun is coming round now and striking the rocky face of the ridge, heating it. Cumulus are building in the blue sky overhead and the wind is nicely onto the ridge and not too strong. The next couple of hours are going to be classic flying conditions.

It's my turn. Andy and Jamie are waiting to give me a hand with my launch. Glider laid out on the cinders behind me. Risers draped over my outstretched arms, brake handles in hand. Check for a gap in the airspace. Andy - "Launch when you're ready." Shoulders forward, I push forward and feel the pull of the wing inflating behind me. Andy and Jamie grab the brake lines and get the wing under control then push me forwards towards the edge. "Run, Pete, run! Brake gently, that's it, keep running!" I power forward down the runway towards the void. As I pull the brakes my feet leave the ground and suddenly I'm out over the ridge, trying to keep running even though I'm airborne, then sitting back into the harness, leaning over to turn right as I join the crowd cruising up and down the ridge.

Andy over the radio - "Good launch Pete! Keep a good look-out." I crane my head around, looking behind on both sides, below, above. Brightly coloured wings all around me. The vario is beeping in the lift coming up the face of the ridge. I carefully look behind my risers then turn left, heading back along the ridge into the crowd. Advice coming over the radio from Andy - "Get closer in to the ridge. Keep plenty of clear space around you. Look before you turn." I'm picking up strong lift from a big eroded gully at the bottom of the face. As I fly past takeoff I'm looking down on Andy and the others, tiny figures looking up at me. I give a thumbs up. I decide not to fly on to the end of the ridge where everyone else is turning, but to turn straight away back into the lift coming off the big gully. I do this for several beats, working this short stretch of the ridge where the lift is concentrated. I'm looking down on many of the other wings now. I must be 400ft above the ridge line, and decide to try a 360 turn in the lift. The wing rattles over my head in the turbulence on the edge of the thermal. I tighten my turn, fighting the thermal's tendency to push me away. The vario is beeping frantically, I keep on with the 360s.

Looking down I notice that I am drifting behind the ridge. Andy over the radio - "Push forward Pete". I point the glider into the wind and grope for the speed-bar. After a few minutes I'm clear of the ridge again and free to seek out more lift. Bumpy air - great! - that means I'm on the edge of a thermal. Turn the wing against the push, listen for the vario, turn, turn, adjusting my outside brake, feeling for the thermal's centre. Lost that one, pushing through sink now, the vario moaning. I see a gull above me, soaring effortlessly. I fly over to investigate, and catch his lift.

The crowd on the ridge has all scattered now, hunting lift out over the plain. Far out to my left a guy on a narrow orange wing is doing acro spirals. Everyone is below me, a couple of hanggliders are exploring my thermal hundreds of feet below me. Andy on the radio - "Pete's been top of the stack for half an hour!!"

Still getting higher. The air is cold, and becoming damp. Wisps of mist all around me. The clouds are beside me, all around me, no longer above me. This is it, cloudbase, I'm 3000ft above sea level, 1750ft above takeoff. I can see clear to the Northern end of the island.

This is the moment. I have fulfilled my childhood dream of flying among the clouds. The dream that prompted me to sign up for paraglider training last year. The dream that drove me on through all the tough days of ground training and getting dragged through the mud on the North Downs at Green Dragons. I finally did it - I flew to cloudbase.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I'm off to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands tomorrow, for a week of paragliding with my club Green Dragons. Packing has been challenging - my wing, harness, boots, helmet and instruments pretty well use up my 20kg allowance, so changes of clothes, washkit and towel are going as hand luggage, and a book to read has to be stuffed into my pocket. Nevertheless I'm determined to pack a game, so the cards have been removed from my Formula Motor Racing box and popped in a little ziploc bag, to be stuffed into my shoulder bag along with the rules and the little cars. Hopefully I will get a chance to try it out with my fellow flyers over a beer in the warm Saharan-longitude evenings.

Tag: ,

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

When non-gamers ASK for a game

Sue's best friend Linda (to whom I introduced Lord of the Rings last year) has recently been demanding another game session. So last Saturday evening she and her husband Balazs came over for a meal with us, and after the dishes were stacked away we adjourned to the lounge for a game of Settlers. Now for years the Settlers rules have been completely internalized for me, so I was slightly surprised by the looks of shocked puzzlement as I gently attempted to explain them to the three newbies. It's easy for us to forget how complex even our "gateway games" must seem to even intelligent outsiders. But once we were under way it all became a lot clearer to everyone. Of course I was so busy shepherding the others through the first few turns that, by the time I began to pay attention to my own position, it was irremediably screwed. Oh well, I suppose we have to make sacrifices for the good of the hobby. Any of the other three could have won, it was very close, but in the event Linda - after building her first 3 villages next to the desert for some reason! - had the edge on us and got the win.

Even Sue seemed to enjoy it, and afterwards she commented on the importance of randomness for her enjoyment of a game - because it makes it feel less like an intimidating intellectual trial. In other words, you can always blame the dice!


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The priceless gift of local opponents

I'm very thankful for Keith, Trevor and Les, my local opponents. When I moved here 2 years ago I wasn't at all sure that I would find a congenial group of gamers to play with. But thanks to Dave Farquhar, who read my blog and contacted me inviting me to visit his group in Farnborough, I found a group of friendly and hospitable guys who have become good friends as well. Tragically Dave died suddenly last year before I got a chance to meet him, but his wife Janet followed up her husband's initial email with another one giving me Keith's contact details.

I've had two good sessions with these guys over the last few days. Last Thursday we gathered at Keith's place to try out one of his Essen purchases - Caylus. I got off to a shaky start with this, struggling to see how it all fits together. Les on the other hand, who likes resource management games, took to it like a duck to water. We wound it up after 3 hours - and we were only about half way down the long and winding road - but Les was clearly in the lead. I'm a bit concerned about the playing time - we need to play again soon before we all forget the rules again - and I was getting a mild dose of that "Princes of Florence" feeling I sometimes get with Euros where fairly complex mechanics don't seem to relate to anything in the real world. But I would certainly give it another go before I formulate a strong opinion either way.

Then yesterday evening Les and I met up in The Fox for a two-player session. We got the usual curious questions from folk in the bar (must remember to take business cards from the local game shop next time) as Les introduced me to Roma, which I liked a lot. Possibly because I beat Les twice at it. It's another Schotten-Totten variant I suppose, very nicely done with lots of interesting interactions between the cards - I like the action dice choices. Both games seeemd to demonstrate the unstoppable power of the Forum card which slightly concerns me. Then we went on to Dvonn, which was new to Les. I hope I didn't put him off the game too much by beating him twice at this one too! I enjoy this game a lot and I love the way the tension slowly builds until the whole position dramatically collapses at the end. I crawled home feeling very tired but happy.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Another great tip for War of the Ring

A penny coin is exactly the right size for glueing onto the bottom of the Nazgul figures to stop them toppling over so easily. If any Americans are reading who do not have access to our royal currency, I will happily sell you some pennies for this purpose, at $2 each plus shipping.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

War of the Rings on the web

A brief guide to useful websites:

Fantasy Flight - beautiful to look at, but also has a wealth of strategy articles, plus the official FAQ, and of course the rules.

A playtester's website - ugly to look at but has some interesting stuff, especially interviews with the designers. It also has card manifests for the Free Peoples and the Shadow - useful to print out for refernce if your eyes struggle with the cards.

So you want to paint your War of the Ring set - a classic BGG article that starts with the immortal advice, "Don’t do it. Really. It isn't worth it. It is a lot of work, a whole lot of work."

An inspirational photo - again on BGG, illustrating what a superb effect can be got from a relatively quick and easy paint job.

The celebrated turn-order summary - again from BGG. To be honest I wouldn't recommend this at all. It's confusing and even a little misleading. Just read the rules.

Chris Farrell - rather damning the game with faint praise, with an interesting discussion in the comments thread.

A more positive review - from the venerable Tom Vasel.

The Festival of War, held at my flat last weekend, was a great success. Estimated casualties were about 15 million, mainly thanks to a refighting of the First World War, but the Third Crusade and the War of the Ring must have added a few hundred thousand each as well.

Quite a few games were played, not all of them out-and-out wargames:

Blue Moon: I taught this one to Dave when he turned up on Thursday evening. I love this game intensely but I suspect Dave was slightly underwhelmed. Not wargamey enough for Dave probably. I even let him play with the Mimix but he seemed blind to their charms.

Wings of War: This got played in the pub on Friday by Dave, Nick and John while they were waiting for me to get home from work and cook their dinner! We played it again on Saturday evening. I thoroughly enjoyed this, reminded me of happy hours playing SPI's Flying Circus when I was a kid. Phil had an amazing comeback, he looked like a dead duck and his partner Nick was already down in flames, but he held out for ages - after I had accidentally flown off the table he was in with a real chance of shooting John down in a final head-on shootout, but lost on the final draw of the card.

Beowolf: We played this on Friday evening, after Simon had arrived, a curry had been cooked and eaten, and significant amounts of booze consumed. It was a lot of fun, especially as Nick managed to find a sexual subtext in just about everything that happened in the game!

Paths of Glory: Dave and Nick spent most of the weekend playing this. Dave was the Germans - of course! - but got off to a slow start as he concentrated on event plays to get to Total War. Later on he broke through into Italy. The game went into 1917 on Sunday when Nick had to leave for his train, but Dave looked like a clear winner by that point.

Crusader Rex: I taught this to John on Saturday, a straightforward task - the rules to this game are so beautifully simple and brief. We drew sides and John got the Franks, a tough side to play on your first time. I managed to split the Christian beachhead in two and after taking Jerusalem cleared the whole of the southern end of the map of the infidels. I think John suffered because he couldn't resist being fairly aggressive early on in the game. This swamped his replacement pool with casualties and made for a long delay before the first crusaders finally arrived. It ended with a sudden death victory for me in the fifth turn.

War of the Ring: Dave and I finally got to play this on Sunday afternoon after everyone had left (apart from John who was snoozing). It felt tricky to explain this, the lengthy rulebook doesn't help and the rules for the companions and the hunt are not simple to convey. But once we got going (with Dave cast against type as the Free Peoples) the play flows very simply and cleanly. The biggest problem we both had as forty-somethings was reading the text on the cards! I enjoyed this a lot, even though we didn't finish. In fact I'm getting faintly obsessive about this game - rereading the rules over breakfast every morning, and planning how to paint the figures, even going so far as painting a trial figure.

Another highlight of the weekend was a trip to the Games Shop in Aldershot where we must have spent about £150 between us, on such goodies as the shop's entire stock of Wings of War expansions, ASL Starter Kit 2, San Juan and Chariot Lords.

A special mention must go to Phil who cooked a glorious four-course meal for us all on Saturday evening. Thanks also to Dave, John, Nick and Simon who made the journey to Farnham. Let's do it again soon!


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Urk.... I'm feeling a bit ruled-out at the moment.

This weekend John, Dave, Nick and possibly Simon, Fiona and Phil are coming over to my flat to celebrate "Nimrods - the Festival of War!" The idea is to spend the whole weekend wallowing in 2-player wargames, with occasional trips to the local game shop or the pub for light relief.

I have lots of wargames on my shelves, but that is not much good to anyone unless I am ready to teach a reasonable number of them to another gamer at short notice.So over the last couple of weeks I've been working my way through them: Thirty Years War, Crusader Rex and War of the Ring have all been set up on the table for a solo play-through, and the rules stuffed in my laptop bag for perusal over lunch. As Friday approaches I'm embarking on the Von Manstein's Backhand Blow job, but I think I've finally run out of steam. I can't seem to get to the schwerpunkt.

After all this reading about it, I'm desperate for the consummation of actually playing some wargames. So it's a good job that the WarFest is nearly here. I'm particularly desperate to play War of the Ring. Dave and Nick have arranged to play Paths of Glory, but Dave is coming over early (this evening) so I think I will attempt to lure him into a game of WotR before Nick arrives....


Thursday, October 13, 2005

I am 46 years old, and over the last few weeks I have found that I suddenly "get" both The Who and Bob Dylan. At the moment I can't get enough of listening to either of them. I guess Live8 and the Scorsese documentary had an effect.

Most of my schoolfriends had already had these revelations before we reached sixth form. I suppose I've always been a late developer.
I'm ashamed to admit that blogging, reading game rules, reading blogs, and planning my next boardgame purchases, were usually done on company time. My new employers ABC Corporation (this is not their real name) are making me actually work for a living, which feels good at the moment. It is satisfying to feel that your skills are useful to somebody. But this is also why I have been a little silent recently. It's not because I don't love you or anything.......

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I went a bit crazy on game purchases last Friday. I had just received an unexpected cheque (just like Monopoly!) and decided to splurge it on games. So I rushed off to the Aldershot games shop after work and had a happy time choosing what to buy. I came away with three games:

Colossal Arena: This looks nice, and the game has a solid reputation that shows no sign of waning. Should be a good one for my next pub session with Les.

In the Shadow of the Emperor: Very impressive. Beautifully produced components, everything really nicely done - the board, the cards, the pieces, the rules, the tiles. They have been very restrained with the size of the box - this is a lot of game in a small package. Looking forward to playing this a lot.

Beowulf: I bought this on impulse without checking BoardGameGeek first. Got home after buying it and found a rather disappointing buzz there. Nevertheless, I'm hoping the initial comments are misleading, and that this will be another good gateway game for me (like Lord of the Rings has been), with its gorgeous graphics, simple mechanics, and strong story-line.


Friday, September 23, 2005

I had a good time last night at Keith's place playing Princes of Florence. It was my first time with this game, and although Trevor Les and Keith had played before they needed a detailed refresh. I was in the lead most of the way through but Keith overtook me at the very end because he had the foresight to acquire a Prestige card.

I very much enjoyed Princes of Florence, but at the same time the theme is at the very limit of whimsyness that I can tolerate. I mean when you look at it in the cold light of day, what exactly am I doing here? Building a lake in order to attract a poet??? Is that really how things worked in Renaissance Italy? I suspect that a more common approach was to contact the poet in question and make him an offer he couldn't refuse. And possibly assassinate his current employer as well!

So I am uneasy with games (like Princes of Florence) that have fairly detailed mechanisms simulating a process that doesn't make any sense to me. On the other hand I can tolerate a lot of abstraction - for example Knizia's Samurai doesn't bother me at all. I am happy to accept this as a highly abstracted story of a struggle for territorial dominance in medieval Japan. Whereas Through the Desert doesn't appeal to me at all, because building lines of camels across the wilderness doesn't seem to be connected to any kind of real or fictional world that makes sense to me.

Having said that, the interlocking systems of Princes of Florence are so interesting in their own right that perhaps I can live with the whimsyness in this case.

It's such a pain sometimes not to be able to get at BoardGameGeek when I'm at work. I've just noticed a new game from Knizia and Fantasy Flight called Beowulf. Looks very much like a successor to Lord of the Rings, one of my favourite Euros of all time. And Beowulf is one of my favourite stories of all time. So I can't wait to get home, and away from the corporate firewall, to check out the buzz - or maybe I'll just go straight to the game store after work and buy it anyway!


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Latest news on my so-called career

Today is a big day at work. A few months ago my previous employer XYZ decided to outsource my department to global IT giant ABC. Our jobs are being taken on by ABC India and I have spent the last few weeks handing over my knowledge to Vikas, a polite and intelligent DBA from Calcutta. Today is our first day as ABC employees. Lots of welcome and induction meetings planned over the next few days, and a shiny new laptop to play with. By November I expect to be working for some other ABC client at some other location - none of this is decided yet, so it's all a bit uncertain and I am aware that I am running at slightly higher stress levels than usual for me. But exciting too - I was getting a bit bored at XYZ and this move is a breath of fresh air for my working life.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I sometimes think maybe I dash around too much. Take last weekend for example. Here are some snapshots from my schedule:

Friday 8:30pm, The Yew Tree Odstock, 5 miles outside Salisbury - meeting Simon, Fiona, Simon's two daughters and their boyfriends for a meal to celebrate Simon's birthday.

Saturday 10:30am, Sarah's nice new flat in Battersea - Workshop Team Day, preparing for this year's course by playing games with string in the garden in the sunshine.

Saturday 6:30pm, London South Bank - wandering with Sue through some kind of festival with lots of stalls, musicians, a boat race on the river, crowds of people.

Sunday 7:45am, St Thomas Church, Farnham - robing up for the first time in over 30 years to help at the altar in the Communion service.

Sunday 4:15pm, Woldingham Valley just off M25 junction 6 - in my paragliding gear, clipping onto the tow line ready for a winch launch. Feeling a bit nervous as we are experimenting with a new method for retrieving the line.

Some time soon it might be nice to just spend a quiet weekend at home.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Last of the Summer Flyin'

It' been a great week for flying. On Monday evening I went over to Green Dragons after work, and got three winch flights in the Woldingham Valley. The launch was from the top of a low ridge so I was being towed downhill, which was a new experience fro me. In practice this just meant that I got higher quicker. The Valley was beautiful in the evening sunlight, but like a guy on a date in a Thai restaurant, my gaze was torn away by the greater beauties that unfolded as I rocketed skywards and a panoramic view of London opened up below me.

I was down at Green Dragons again yesterday evening. This time the wind looked good for soaring. We hung around at the Westerly Bowl waiting for the wind to drop, and by about quarter to 7 it was safe to fly. For once everything came together - the weather, my confidence, reverse launching skills, control of the glider in the air, and slope landing on my feet (not my bum). I got four soaring flights along the top of the ridge. The lift was strong but bumpy, so it was like riding a roller-coaster along the ridge. I got the hang of turning gently away from the slope whenever I hit sink, and on two occasions this saved me from landing in the bushes (but not from scraping my butt through their topmost branches). My final flight was beautiful - the sun had set, and a huge moon was rising over the ridge.

To crown a great evening, Andy signed me off as Club Pilot! So after 15 months of struggle and heartache I have finally completed my training. This means I am free to fly anywhere in the world in a Club environment - I'm no longer tied to the school. Foreign skies are beckoning!


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I did some more boardgaming outreach last Saturday evening, playing Lord of the Rings at a dinner party thrown by my boss for his team. Let me hasten to add that I don't normally turn up to dinner parties with a game under my arm - I was asked to bring it along. What was weird was how well it went. We were never under any kind of threat at all and easily made it through Mordor with lots of spare room on the corruption track. Dash (our host) was disappointed after all he had heard about the difficulty of winning the game, and towards the end was actively trying to sabotage our chances to make it more interesting! Everyone enjoyed themselves, and although it was nearly midnight demand was still high for more gaming, so I pulled out Formula Motor Racing which I happened to have with me, which also went down very well. This game is a lot of fun, with many opportunities to do the dirty on people, and is very easy for neophytes to pick up. I won!


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Crusader Rex from Columbia Games arrived on Saturday, complete with a friendly surcharge from the customs man. Fun Tax I suppose. Sue (who is picketing the Docklands Arms Fair this week) said "How can you glorify such a disgusting episode in our history?" Erm.... I don't really know. But just look at the pretty graphics.......


Friday, September 09, 2005

Post-session report

It worked! I won at Taj Mahal last night by a 5 point margin. I followed yesterday's posting pretty much to the letter - dropping out of the first round to pick up three cards gave me an advantage in cards and elephants which lasted well into the middle game. Whenever I had the opportunity to fold with a win in elephants I did so immediately, even if it meant picking up no palaces at all. This meant I was often getting what I wanted from a province for only one or two cards. By about the eighth round I had built up a good points lead, and Keith Les and especially Trevor woke up to the need to give me some competition in the elephants bidding. By that time my hand was shrinking although I had picked up the extremely useful purple special card. I didn't get much from the last few rounds but my lead was just too big for Trevor to catch me up. Over the whole game I picked up 6 province tiles plus one small jewels tile. I don't expect to be allowed to get away with the same strategy next time we play.

One part of my plan that didn't come off was picking up the +2 special card. The courtesan in the yellow dress didn't favour me even once. She was too busy with Les and Keith.....


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pre-session report

Keith just reminded me that we have a game session tonight. Luckily I don't have to worry about reading up on a new game because we will be playing what we always play - Taj Mahal. Last time I managed to scrape a draw without really knowing what I was doing. This time I want to do just as well, not accidentally, but by having A Plan.

I'm thinking I want to go all out for elephants and commodities. I've never yet managed to get a high-scoring network going in Taj Mahal, and it will be a relief to stop trying. I also want to do my best to hang onto the +2 card again, as Trevor and Les seemed quite relaxed about letting me get away with this last time. Hopefully they haven't woken up to the issue yet.

I realize that I will have to modify my plans depending on the cards I get, and what's available in the draw pool, especially in the first round. I'm considering dropping out of the first auction in order to get an initial card advantage.

I know it's risky to publish my planning just before a game session, but hopefully Keith and Trevor will not read my blog before 8pm this evening - they don't seem like the kind of guys who would know about RSS!

I'll let you know how it all turns out.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Paraglider’s Prayer

For thousands of years Lord
People have dreamed of flying
Longing to soar in the windy sky

Thankyou for the privilege Lord
To fulfil this ancient dream
Floating in the company of birds

We don’t presume to ask Lord
For safety in freely chosen danger
But walk with us in grace as we launch

Give us courage and clear heads Lord
And whether at cloudbase or landing field
Thankful hearts that remember You


Thursday, September 01, 2005

I got back into the air again yesterday evening. A 2 hour drive around a jammed M25 gave me a 3 minute flight from a winch-tow at Green Dragons. It was worth it though - the air was so smooth, when I released the tow the glider just sat there pointing into wind, I felt almost as if I was in a balloon, looking down at an awesome view of London with the clustered towers of Docklands and the City pushing up through the distant haze. I flew back down the field for a nice landing near launch, but shortly afterwards Andy called a halt because it was getting dark. Shame, but safety comes first I suppose....

Well I may not have been able to play any games at Greenbelt, but I did get to talk about them. I had a long chat with Vic, who runs the London Mennonite Centre, and who is also a keen Euro-gamer. We chatted about favourites, swapped opinions about recent purchases, and - true to our gender - compared the size of our collections. Vic's is bigger than mine by about 150 to 111, but I know the size of mine more precisely....

As a member of a peace-church, of course, he doesn't play wargames, poor guy. I wonder if the London Mennonite Centre (which runs a bookstore) should start stocking "peace games" that emphasize cooperation and trade over conflict and domination? I've thought of a few candidates: Lord of the Rings, Zendo, Industrial Waste, Civilization (?), Settlers of Catan. Any other ideas folks?

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Greenbelt disappointments:

    Nobody played games with me - Nanofictionary and Bohnanza stayed in their boxes.

    John Bell fulminating about the phrase "Islamic Terrorism". Come on John, are you saying there is no such thing? Let's not lie to ourselves.

    This Greenbelt2005 tagging thing doesn't seem to work for me.
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My Dad died a year ago this weekend - I actually heard the news when I was queuing to get into Greenbelt. So I have had to face a few demons this year. At the Richard Rohr seminar this morning I had the chance when we split into small groups to talk about this with a few other guys, which was helpful.

I really hope all this Christianity stuff is true, and that we will share in Jesus' resurrection one day. I want to see my Dad again........

Here I am at Greenbelt, posting from The Tank, all fired up to do some blogging after listening to Andrew Jones on the spirituality of blogging. This was a real highlight, delivering 10 memes on the subject that will keep me thinking for a long while.

Other Greenbelt highlights:
    The Other Window - first ever gig by this band whose various Tshirts - Ramones and Led Zeppelin - proclaimed their mission to fuse psychedelia with punk. Amazing lead guitarist. Really hope to hear more from them.

    The Proclaimers - barnstorming performance last night, they had the crowd roaring for more. I used to be a fan - had their first album - now I remember why.

    Enjoyed quite a bit of other loud Christian guitar rock from bands like Quench, Superhero and Tree63. But After the Fire were rubbish.

    Richard Rohr - a 3-hour seminar this morning on maleness and initiation. Really thought-provoking window-opening stuff.
I'm struggling with the fact that Greenbelt is nearly over already. I've been rushing about a little too much and not relaxing with friends quite enough. I'm only starting to slow down today. Another few days would be great. But sadly everyone goes home tomorrow.......


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Greenbelt is just 48 hours away now. Since I first attended in 2003, this Christian arts festival has become a major highlight of my year.

So I'm thinking - what games shall I take?

I don't like compartmentalizing my life, building walls between the different things that I do, the different stuff that enthuses me. So when I'm hanging out at Greenbelt with my post-evangelical friends, I'm still a boardgame geek too. And I'm still looking for opportunities to introduce folks to the hobby.

So what would be the characteristics of a "Greenbelt gateway game"?

1) Portable, so I can whip it out of my Timbuk2 bag in the Tiny Tea Tent at a moment's notice.

2) Doesn't take up much space, doesn't need a table - it may have to be played on nothing more than a camping mat sitting on damp grass.

3) Simple to teach - some of these people think Lord of the Rings is complex!

4) Appealing to the leftie Christian hippy peacenik types that Greenbelt attracts. Nothing with Panzers or nukes.

So I'm thinking - NanoFictionary (Looney Labs) or Bohnanza. Any other ideas anyone?

PS I'm really looking forward to The Spirituality of Blogging at Greenbelt on Monday.

PS Greenbelt are running some sort of blogging experiment this year which I don't really understand but which requires me to include this tag:

And another tag:

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Gavin visited for the weekend. My Mum was down too, so it was 3 generations together in one home. Gavin had read my earlier posting about playing 1825 and was desperate to have a go himself. I spent a happy 4 hours on Saturday afternoon fulfilling his wish. In spite of running the Caledonian Railway with frequent payouts and 90% of the shares, I still lost by a small margin (less than £200). Gavin demonstrated how powerful the minor companies can be - he used his NBR to prepare a route for that minor in the far north (I forget its name) so that as soon as it started it immediately had a lucrative route open to Glasgow. Because the intervals get larger as you approach the top end of the stock market track, if you pick a high initial share price and are able to declare a dividend every turn you get a handsome return on your investment. Great fun, I love this game.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Other gaming news:

Last Saturday I visited Simon at his girlfriend's flat in Battersea. A few months ago they bought a copy of Lord of the Rings, but after an abortive attempt to teach themselves had given up. So after dinner I sat down to teach the game to Simon, Simon's girlfriend Fiona, Simon's girlfriend's sister Clare, and Simon's girlfriend's sister's daughter Daniella. (Are you following this?) It went very well - this is an ideal "gateway game" and I find it easy to teach. The structure of the game, with its early stops in the Shire and Rivendell, breaks new players in gently, and because it is cooperative you can introduce rules as you go along and people who don't quite understand what to do can be helped out by the others. Everyone got deeply immersed in the adventure and took it all quite seriously - there were passionate discussions at critical points. We did very well indeed until we reached Mordor, when we hit a patch of terrible bad luck with the event tiles which pretty much finished us off before we got away from the start point. Apparently they have played twice more since I left so I count that as a successful bit of "evangelism".

I have also been playing Thirty Years War solo. This card-driven wargame was badly hit on its release by unfavourable reviews from a couple of highly regarded game geeks. I think they were wrong. Not only is this not a bad game, in my opinion it is a very good game indeed. It is simple and quick to play, has bags of historical flavour, and tells a very strong story. The big story arcs of pillage and foreign aid, Swedish intervention, the disappearance of the veterans and death of leaders, the increasing intensity as the players' decks are boosted by Intervention and Apocalypse give a strong narrative drive to the game. By the end, when exhausted leaderless bands of militia and looting mercenaries are staggering through the shattered desert landscape that used to be Germany, you really feel as if you've lived through something.

For the record, the Protestants won, but not by much. The Swedes left it very late to get involved, and when he finally arrived Gustavus lost his first battle, but lived long enough to besiege Munich. Lots of dramatic turns of fate along the way, I really enjoyed myself. Will have to find an opponent soon.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Keith came over yesterday evening for a game of 1825: Unit 3. This one is set in Scotland and is specifically designed for 2 players. Because I opted to spend £220 on private companies, Keith got a 60% share in the Caledonian Railway, which proved to be a real money spinner. Neither of us were very aggressive about pushing the pace, so the Caledonian hung onto its fleet of 2-trains for much of the game, and every time it paid out Keith was getting a 60/40 advantage over me in cash and share price gains too. I got the rules about company offer sequencing slightly wrong - I thought the second company offered had to be NBR which has difficulties getting going until the 3-trains come out. We played for about two and a half hours before we scored up - there was probably at least another hour left in the game. Keith came in about £150 ahead of me. He is far too polite to say but I got the feeling he didn't enjoy the game that much. Keith is a dyed in the wool Euro-gamer, and as we played I tried to imagine how this game must look through his eyes - compared with today's streamlined and polished products from Germany, 1825 seems very old-fashioned. It has lots of sharp edges in the rules - complicated exceptions that don't seem to add much value - you need a calculator to play it, and it's just so long! Nevertheless, I love it. Shame that it will probably stay on the shelf in the absence of local opponents!

Yesterday Keith very kindly presented me with a copy of Nicholas Palmer's Comprehensive Guide to Board Wargaming which he picked up in a second-hand bookshop. What an amazing nostalgia trip! Back in the late 70's I used to borrow this book repeatedly from Oxford library and pore over it. What a pleasure to have my own copy at last.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Great Gaming Venues #2: John's House

Location: 8/10 A secluded leafy corner hidden away off grimy Devizes Road in Salisbury. Beautiful semi-wild garden running away into the trees.

Architecture: 8/10 An interesting old terraced house, I would guess nearly 200 years old. Lots of interesting corners and steps up and down. A fine front room with big sash windows.

Facilities: 4/10 John has no gaming table, so we usually end up sitting on the floor. This makes my back hurt after the first hour or so.

Catering: 5/10 A bit variable. You will usually be offered a huge mug of instant coffee and not a lot else. But occasionally a fine wine gets opened.

Soundtrack: 7/10 Obscure renaissance polyphony or baroque concertos, played on John's impressive B&O system.

Games available: 8/10 John has quite a lot of Euros and wargames available. El Grande, Web of Power, Frag or the dreaded Illuminati would be typical choices. John also occasionally lays on a big figures wargame event. This will be very tense, with limited information, chain of command issues (especially if your CO is Steve!) and a spectacularly laid out battlefield.

Other inhabitants: 6/10 A big nervous fluffy cat that loves to sit in a game box or wander across a board scattering bits with its big nervous fluffy tail.

Drawbacks: Parking issues - it's very easy to park in the wrong place and destroy John's carefully nurtured good relations with his neighbours.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

My life has become an empty meaningless shell......

Yes, I completed Final Fantasy X last night. After a couple of attempts at Braska's Final Aeon, I finally got lucky with Yojimbo who delivered two Zanmato's in a row. I love that guy. But then we had to kill him! Anyway, a visually stunning conclusion to this epic which, nevertheless, left me more confused than ever about what was actually going on! And I'm glad that Steve had warned me to keep watching right to the end of the credits, where a little teaser awaits.

I can't believe I've actually finished this game. I probably started (on a second-user copy) over two years ago, and since then it has consumed about 95 precious, irreplaceable hours of my all-too-finite life. But I don't begrudge it, it's been an amazing ride. This is the first time I have ever completed a computer game - it's very unusual for me to get absorbed in this way.

What next? Well Prince of Persia is sitting there on the pile waiting to be played....

Thursday, August 04, 2005

It's very slack at work at the moment, so I've taken the opportunity to tidy up my list of game blogs. It's really grown! There are a lot of new bloggers talking about games - let's hope a good proportion of them keep going past the initial fizzle-out point and become established weblogs.

I've also tidied up my naming of these blogs, for example, "tajmahalfred" doesn't seem to call himself that any more. But the headline name of his blog "Musings, Ramblings, and Things Left Unsaid" is too wide to fit on my blogroll, so I've just called it musings. In spite of the unwieldy and boring name this is one of the best gaming blogs around.

Of the new boys, pearland and lumbersmiths look especially promising.


Monday, August 01, 2005

I've just had an incredible weekend flying at South Cerney airfield near Cirencester. Andy took a group of paragliding students and club members from Green Dragons up for the weekend. The club flyers took part in the accuracy competition that was being held there, and the rest of us got some excellent coaching from Andy and Pauline in winch launching. Saturday morning was a bit frustrating, as we went though hours of ground-handling to get our forward launches sorted out, but by the late afternoon we were getting up into the air on the winch - at first low flights with no release, but as the sun sank towards the horizon higher flights (perhaps 500 ft? it's time I bought an altimeter!) with release from the towline and the chance to do some turns and look at the view. It was just an incredible feeling to be up there in the wind and the silence and the evening sunshine.

We were camping on the airfield but walked down to the local pub for an uproarious time (3 of the club are ex-paras with a good fund of stories), but I regretted the beers next morning. Beer on an emptyish stomach after a day of dehydrating activity is not a good idea!

Next day the flying was even better - winching up to 700 or 800 feet and doing circuits back to take-off made the headache disappear for a few minutes.

I'm really hooked on this sport now. I shall be rushing round the M25 this evening after work to catch another couple of hours on the winch at Green Dragons, I'm booked for more hill training next weekend, and I'm planning to take my wing to the French Alps in September to take it to the next level!

I also got a game of Lord of the Rings at work on Friday! It was a bit weird how this came about. It's a bit slack at the office these days, and on Thursday a few of us were sitting around in the cubicle chatting about books and films, and we got onto The Lord of the Rings. My colleague Steve immediately brought up the subject of the game, which apparently I had told him about enthusiastically a few months previously (although I have no memory of this conversation), and asked me to bring it into work next day.

So four of us ended up playing at Steve's desk over Friday lunchtime, when everyone else was down the pub. Steve, James and John were all non-gamers basically (apart from Monopoly and Risk, the usual culprits) but the game went really well, with the team getting off to a lousy start but recovering well and managing to score 57 in the end. We whizzed through in 90 minutes, and everyone enjoyed themselves a lot. There is talk of a longer session at my place some time, and they are spreading the word too - another colleague called Matt asked me if he could read the rules this morning! And Steve has bought a copy from EBay!

And so the virus spreads......

Les and Trevor came over last Thursday evening for a game session. A few weeks before I had suggested that we choose a "Game of the Quarter" - in other words a game that we would play every time we meet for a few months. The idea is to get away from the syndrome of playing new games every session, with the result that you never get the "meat" out of a game before you skip off to the next one. So after a bit of email to-ing and fro-ing we settled on Taj Mahal.

I missed the first play of our Game of the Quarter a couple of weeks ago, so I read through the rules beforehand, and Les and Trevor turned up confident that they knew how to play. It soon became apparent that they had missed a couple of quite important rules on their first run-through. For example, they seemed quite surprised when I told them that they were entitled to place a palace whenever they won a vizier, princess etc. They had been playing that only the king places a palace!

Once we had got the rules straight the game whizzed through. Trevor was the elephant man, Les was for networks of palaces, and I'm not sure what my strategy was, other than hanging on to the +2 special card at all costs. In the event I just snatched a draw with Trevor, with Les in a respectable 3rd place.

We still had time for a fun game of Ra - another Knizia bidding game, so not much of a contrast there. But two superb games.

I'm glad we picked Taj Mahal as our first "Game of the Quarter". It's important to choose a game with enough depth to reward repeated plays, and I'm sure that Taj Mahal will deliver this.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Great Gaming Venues #1: Nick's Flat

Location: 7/10 A fairly respectable leafy street in West Cardiff. When I visited I wasn't mugged once and my car wasn't even stolen. Nearby attractions include The Robin Hood (Charlotte Church's local) and an excellent Chinese takeaway.

Architecture: 7/10 A pleasant flat in a large Victorian stone-built terraced house. Nick's enormous collection of history and archaelogy books graces the walls.

Facilities: 5/10 The gaming table is a little too small and has rounded ends. So the corners of the Europe Engulfed map stick out over the edge. Don't bring your own copy - let Nick's corners get bent.

Catering: 9/10 Nick is a genial host and an excellent curry chef. Prepare yourself for heavy alcohol consumption.

Soundtrack: 8/10 Cocteau Twins, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, The Who

Games available: 5/10 Nick has a smallish collection of superannuated Avalon Hill games such as Republic of Rome and Hannibal (which he shamefully fails to look after properly) and a few Euro games like Settlers of the Stone Age and Attika.

Other inhabitants: 8/10 Dani is Nick's attractive and intelligent girlfriend. She is a challenging opponent at Euro games. She is also German so please don't mention the war too often.

Drawbacks: If you even think about stopping gaming/drinking and going to bed before about 2am you will be repeatedly called a "big nonce".

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Workshop finally came to a close last weekend - until we start again in September. Here are some photos from Sunday. It was a happy day, but sad too to say goodbye to all the students.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Just one attack, and it comes very close. I have a friend who knows someone who lost a leg, and another friend has two neighbours who died. What must it be like in Baghdad at the moment, when 800 Iraqi civilians a month are losing their lives in terrorist attacks? What kind of an impact does that have on a society?

The trauma can offer a breathing space; and in that space there is the possibility of recognising that we have had an experience that is not just a nightmarish insult to us, but a door into the suffering of countless other innocents, a suffering that is more or less routine for them in their less regularly protected environments. - Rowan Williams

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I worry that we are being a bit premature congratulating ourselves on our British stiff-upper lip in the face of terrorism. I wonder how stoical and restrained we would be if we were getting about one major attack a week like the Israelis were in 2002?
I went to see Star Wars Episode 3 last night. Portentious, dead-in-the-water script mixed with cut-scenes from a video game. Lots of pretty stuff to look at, emotional involvement nil. The best bit of the evening was the trailer for The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which looks surprisingly promising. I just hope thay don't over-Jacksonize the battle scenes, if you know what I mean. Battles in Narnia are very small affairs, a typical army is a handful of humans and a few hundred talking animals at the most.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Here are some initial thoughts on Empire of the Sun from John:

I have just finished a game of Empire of the Sun with Dave. Worked quite well, though I wouldn't have designed it that way. Some missed opportunities, the cards are more of a random element to a conventional game than the exquisite torture of competing strategic priorities that you get in POG. Plus putting all the cards into one big pot means that 1945 things can happen in 1942, which is a bit odd to those who actually know what is supposed to happen. Can't help but think that PoG plugs a few more of the 'oh I'll just send the complete German Army off to Turkey' type problems. Infrastructure was pretty critical in the Pacific and took time to organise, the length of the Allied supply line to the SW Pacific was phenomenal - 8000 odd miles if I remember correctly.

Good thing though is that it handles the airpower and fluidity of the Pacific theatre well and the one year scenarios are actually playable in an afternoon - well a long afternoon anyway. Japanese tactical victory today, for the 1942 scenario, though they didn't take Burma or the place with the funny name on Java, so the Dutch East Indies were holding out - complete with a poor, isolated US Corps. Though the collective wildlife of the Aleutian islands was learning Japanese and Guadalcanal was safe for Emperor-worship.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Last weekend was the third "NimrodCon", our annual trip to Hay-on-Wye to enjoy 4 days of boardgames, books and beer. It was an enjoyable weekend, with very good weather after a brief initial "Welcome to Wales" spell of rain. Celtic Lodge was more comfortable than ever, with a couple of new sofas in the lounge, and chairs and a table on the new balcony overlooking the garden and the river. We made good use of people's talents - Phil cooked us all a lovely vegetable curry on Friday night, and on Sunday Nick took us to a couple of standing stones up in the mountains and gave us the benefit of his archaeological knowledge. I spent a bit more time in the bookshops this year, picking up two Don Camillo books, John Keegan's "The Face of Battle", and "The Hardest Day" a book about the Battle of Britain. Phil came home with 3 classic cookbooks (Mrs Beeton, Elizabeth David, and Delia Smith). And we made better use of Shepherds as an excellent place to relax with coffee and cake and chat or read the paper.

Oh yes, we also played one or two games.......

Yinsh - I played this a few times with Phil and with John, and Phil taught Nick how to play as well. I wasn't sure that an abstract game would go down well, but everyone enjoyed it a lot and vowed to buy their own copies as soon as possible.

Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation - I played about five games of this with John and with Phil. The good guys won every time. Naturally enough there was a discussion with John about game balance.

Illuminati - I managed to avoid getting roped into this late on Friday evening. Although I quite like the concept and the humour, it just takes far too long for what it is, and in my experience it tends to be a fairly bad-tempered game as well. I think Phil won, but I'm not sure - I was tucked in bed and fast asleep when they finally finished.

Struggle of Empires - as I predicted, this was the big hit of the weekend. Five of us had a lot of fun playing this on Saturday afternoon. It took over 3 hours, partly due to explaining the rules, which was a little too long. I played Spain, but never formulated a clear strategy, instead just reacting to events and accumulating a lot of unrest through loss of armies and fleets, several at sea. Steve (England) seemed to be in the lead until the last few rounds when John (United Provinces) really pulled ahead.

Titan - oh dear! I was actually hoping for a quite 2-player game with Dave, who is a fellow enthusiast. However, when I mentioned this on Sunday morning lots of other people volunteered to play - people I strongly suspected of being Titan-phobes. People can change, I thought, I'll give them another chance. It din't work out. John and Phil got knocked out early, cursing the game. Steve found it difficult to make the many decisions required in Titan within a reasonable time. He finally got knocked out just before our 7pm deadline, leaving me Dave and Nick as survivors. We scored up and I won, but Nick also professed a desire to never play the game again. I was disappointed, but have made a mental note to only play Titan with fellow enthusiasts from now on.

Euphrat & Tigris - playing against Simon, Dave and Steve, who all know the game, was a real pleasure. I felt I was being badly punished by Dave's blitzkrieg tactics, so was surprised and very pleased to come in second.

Zendo - was played in the pub on Friday night. Good fun, but a bit intense with this group of over-competitive gamers!

NanoFictionary - Phil got this out in the pub on Sunday night but it was aborted after a glass of beer was spilled all over the cards. I felt sorry for Phil because a) this is one of his favourites and he was excited about teaching us b) he only possesses about three games, so to see one ruined by beer was a hard blow.

Lord of the Rings Risk - Dave was very excited about introducing Steve, Phil and Nick to this. But sadly it didn't catch anyone else's imagination in the same way. People actually drifted away (bad form), and poor Dave was left on Monday morning completing the game in solo mode.

Finally, here is a link to my photos of the weekend.

Friday, June 17, 2005

This is so unfair! Here I am, aching to go flying again, but stymied by British weather, leg injuries, and my unreasonable manager refusing to give me time off - and what do I see out of my own window this evening? Two paragliders (probably paramotoring actually) happily soaring across the Surrey sky about a mile from my home.
It's been a good week for gaming. I met up with Les on Monday in the Fox to play Blue Moon. I've finally bought my own copy of this excellent game, plus a few extra decks such as the Terrah and those guys with the giant caterpillars (can't remember the name just now). Pleased to be able to report a 2:1 win. Then yesterday it was a game session at Trevor's place, with just 3 of us plus Trevor's boy Oliver, who joined us for the first game - Manhattan. I quite liked this - but very abstract, and needed to go....ahem....a little faster than we actually played it. Still, it's fun to screw over an opponent by stealing his tower at the crucial moment. Then it was on to Medici - I usually struggle with auction type games. I wonder if my wargamer's mind tends to think in aggressive/defensive categories when I'm gaming, which are not much use in an auction. All that matters here is accurately estimating the value of what is for sale. I went for commodities rather than points, which did indeed give me a late surge, but not enough - even so I was pleased to come in second. (I'm pretty poor at other auction games too - witness Ra, Modern Art, Amun Re etc.) We finished with Ave Caesar, a quick fun family game of chariot racing but without (disappointingly) the whips, wheel-knives and hamstringings that I remember from the films....

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings,
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

- Pilot Officer John Magee, Spitfire pilot, killed 1941
(via the ConsimWorld forum on GMT's upcoming Battle of Britain game The Burning Blue)
Blogger admin news - I have removed the "legacy" comments from this blog. The code provided by Enetation was producing javascript errors, which seemed to slow down loading of the page. So I ripped it all out. Sad about this, as I have lost a record of your sage comments over the last few years before I switched to Blogger comments. Grrr - Enetation is rubbish, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
Over at GameWire an interesting interview with Craig Besinque, designer of classic wargames Rommel in the Desert and East Front: Currently I am working on Hellas, a strategic ancients game on the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, which will be out this summer. It is based on the Hammer of the Scots/Liberty system, with provision for naval warfare and sieges. The design target is a simpler, faster (12 page rules, 4 hours) but still high-quality game with good period 'feel' on one of the more crucial military struggles in western history.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I am not a huge fan of computer games, but I have been steadily working my way through Final Fantasy X for the last couple of years or so. I don't put in a lot of time - just odd bursts of a couple of hours every few weeks. Then I put it aside until I next get the urge to return to the strange and beautiful world of Spira. Last weekend I breached an important psychological barrier - I finally managed to beat the third(?) incarnation of Seymour on Mount Gagazet. A few months ago I got my ass totally kicked by him, and since then I have been wandering around the Calm Lands levelling everybody up (even the useless Wakka), earning enough money to buy Yojimbo, and gathering my courage for another trip up the mountain. It was a great feeling when we returned to the battle and Yuna unleashed a queue of Aeons all on overdrive attacks, dispatching Seymour to the Farplane in about 5 minutes flat. And as a bonus Phil was there to witness my moment of triumph!

So at last I've reached the ruins of Zanarkand and the end can't be far away now. 80+ hours on the clock - I will be sad to say goodbye to this game. Sure there are a few annoying characters - Wakka, anything to do with chocobos, and even Tidus gets on my nerves sometimes. But I really feel I have lived the story with the characters, and I've been amazed again and again at the incredibly beautiful locations I have visited along the way. It baffles me how all this can fit on just one disk. I wasn't exactly an early adopter - I bought the game 2nd-hand, long after all the PS2 geeks had completed it and moved onto something else. Now it's nearly time to look for the next thing - I wonder what FF X-2 is like?
Less than 3 weeks now to NimrodCon - the annual gathering at Hay-on-Wye with my Salisbury gaming buddies. And the big question in my mind as I'm looking forward to the trip is: what games do I pack?

At the moment my thinking is still gelling, but it will be something like this:

A couple of short wargames - Rommel in the Desert and Memoir 44 perhaps?

A few pub-friendly games - Blue Moon, Yinsh, Lord of the Rings Confrontation

Some really good multi-player games - Struggle of Empires (this lot will LOVE this one), Taj Mahal, 1825, Flandern 1302, Amun Re

And because it's on the Tshirt - Titan

Oh dear, that's rather a lot already isn't it! And I have just received requests from Simon for RA and Euphrat & Tigris to be brought along too. If everyone else brings the same number of games, there's no way we can do more than scratch the surface in four days. And of course there is a lot of walking, browsing of book-shops, and sitting in the pub to be fitted in as well. Maybe we should make it a week next year?!

Monday, June 06, 2005

I wish I had known about this when I lived in Salisbury - apparently there is a game shop in Frome called Wassail Games, which is associated with a group that meets in the Packhorse pub every Thursday, and runs a game convention every July. Sounds like a lively scene over there!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I spent last weekend on pilgrimage, walking the 72 miles from London to Canterbury with about 80 or 90 other folk. As well as a pilgrimage this was also a sponsored walk to raise money for St Martins Connection, a charity that works for the homeless in London. Four days of tramping, starting in Trafalgar Square, toiling down the Old Kent Road in Friday's boiling heat, regularly refreshed with tea and cakes by the WI or the Church of England along the way, stopping overnight at churches or (on Saturday) a priory, having our feet lovingly cared for every day by a team of podiatrists (angels from God!), and finally braving Monday's thunderstorms before our first glorious sight of Canterbury Cathedral in the distance. It was a great trip, and I met lots of great people along the way. My legs are slowly healing up now, and I can almost walk without a limp today. These are a couple of sketches I did at rest stops, and here is my photo gallery of the journey.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

It feels as if I have been spending a lot more time and effort lately reading and memorizing rules and pushing counters around solo than actually playing games with real opponents. Over the last couple of weeks I've been through this process with 3 fairly meaty games: Revolution, von Manstein's Backhand Blow, and Rommel in the Desert. On Saturday all this effort paid off at last when I drove over to Amesbury to visit Dave, and was able to talk him into playing Rommel in the Desert. It was great, a first class wargaming experience. It took me about 1/2 hour to explain the rules - some of the concepts, like the turn structure and the supply rules - are a bit tricky until you see them in action. But once we got going, it flowed really well. We played the Crusader scenario, with Dave as the Germans (as usual!). On the 3rd month I successfully double-bluffed Dave on the Initiative phase, and as it turned out that was crucial - my position was beginning to collapse, but when we counted up our pieces at the end it was an exact draw - that extra card would have swung it for Dave. This is a very satisfying, exciting game, and I hope it won't be too long before I get another chance to play.

Friday, May 20, 2005

This year's award for "Best Description of Mark Herman" goes to Taj Mahal Fred with: "the Zeus from whom whose head the Athena that is card-driven strategy games sprung."

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

In other news - I spent last weekend in London helping at this month's Workshop session. As we approach the last session in July things inevitably get a bit discouraging as the attendance of both students and tutors drops away. Which is a pity as some of the best material comes in the last few months. We had a fantastic day on Sunday with Stuart Murray lecturing on Christendom and Jesus-centred theology, why tithing is pernicious and unscriptural, and why we get far too many sermons in church.

Also on Saturday evening I visited the National Theatre for Henry IV part 2. It was my first time in this ugly but marvellous building. I bought just about the last cheap seats before the show sold out, but they were fine, with a perfectly good view of the stage and not too far away either. Old theatres might more have atmosphere but modern theatres invariably have better sightlines. The production and acting were superb and Michael Gambon of course was awe-inspiring as Falstaff. And Adrian Scarborough as a hyper-frail Silence was hilarious.
Not that much gaming lately. I met up with Les at the Plume of Feathers last week for some 2-player games. I introduced him to Yinsh, then sat back rather complacently to watch him struggle through his first game. Foolish of me - he won! After that we played Blue Moon. Les has a lot of experience at this one - he features in the playtesting credits - so I was delighted to win all 3 games that we played!

I have also been fiddling with Von Manstein's Backhand Blow - you know, that enjoyable time of first making acquaintance with a new wargame, where you punch out the counters, read the rules with growing anticipation (not always, sometimes it's with growing dismay!), spread out the map under plexiglass and play through a few turns solo.

As Swiss Tony would say, it's very much like making love to a beautiful woman.

I'm very impressed with VMBB so far. I like the low counter density and the larger counters. And the rules are simple, clearly laid out, and easy to understand first time through. Even though they are split into Series Rules and VMBB-specific rules, this does not produce an exception-fest as the specific ruleset builds on rather than contradicts the series ruleset. I like the way the Schwerpunkt segments make you focus on accomplishing just one or perhaps two things each turn on the battlefield, and the C3i points which model the way the initiative ebbed away from the Soviets as the battle went on, and the tactical chits which introduce a lot of uncertainty into combat and discourage simple odds-optimization play. I hope I will get a chance to play for real soon (before I forget the rules again!)
Who needs search results? Make a pretty picture instead! Montage-a-google is a simple web-based app that uses Google's image search to generate a large gridded montage of images based on keywords (search terms) entered by the user.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Guardian Unlimited: Ten unmissable examples of New Games Journalism - I momentarily got quite excited about this, until I realized that they were talking about computer games. Still, some fascinating reading here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My team won last night! Yes, Corpus Christi College Oxford trounced University College London in the finals of University Challenge, and today I am basking in reflected glory. The triumphant victors - the bald guy who bounced up and down in his seat whenever he knew the answer, the chinese italian guy who has clearly done NOTHING except memorize encyclopedias since he was 3, the guy with the trendy haircut gone wrong who never answered anything unless it really really mattered, and the guy with floppy ginger hair who just could not conceal his utter joyfulness every time they banged another nail in the coffin of those losers from UCL - these are my fellow corpuscles, and their honour is my honour.

However, watching them did remind me of my time there back in the late 70s, when the place was full of similarly intimidating brainboxes. I arrived at Oxford fresh from the experience of being one of the cleverest boys in my school, to suddenly feel totally out of my depth swimming in this river of intellectual sharks. Along with the glory, watching the winning team last night also brought back some memories of that unnerving time.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I met up with the Farnborough gamers last night, and gave them a good stuffing at Settlers of Catan. These guys are pretty hard-core Euro-gamers - they go to Essen and have their names in the credits for some of Reiner's finest - but surprisingly Settlers is new to them. They even use the wussy setup on the card instead of the random setup. Keith got an early lead until I managed to snatch the Longest Road off him, Trevor was obsessive about Soldiers and Robbers (I swear most of his cards were pinched off Keith rather than earned legitimately) and John struggled on the margins. Everyone was a bit unwilling to trade, but the dice seemed to go my way and after an initial dry spell I was steadily showered with cards.

Next I introduced them to Knizia's Samurai, which went down very well especially with Keith. John won and I came in last. I love this game but I'm starting to realize that I have not the slightest clue about what constitutes good play. I need to do some serious thinking and see if I can find some decent strategy articles.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

It's finally happened. I'm in love, head over heels in love - with 25 sq meters of orange and grey nylon. Yes I took delivery of a crispy, shiny new Gin Bolero Plus paraglider on Sunday. Not only is it a thing of great beauty, but it also immediately made my life *much* easier in terms of getting the wing over my head, having it stay there without a struggle, and then getting off the ground. No more exhausting battles with grotty old school wings. And once in the air it was a joy to fly, responding gently to every weight-shift or touch on the brakes. And for the first time I experienced the sensation of lift, getting wooshed up into the air as I rounded the corner of the western bowl at Green Dragons. This happened twice over the weekend. Not sure if it was thanks to the conditions or my growing confidence or my new wing, but it was an incredible feeling, one I could easily become addicted to.....

Thursday, April 28, 2005

At the risk of casting doubts on my sexuality, can I just rave for a moment about Acorn Antiques the Musical, Victoria Wood's new show, which I saw yesterday with my Mum at the Haymarket Theatre. Phil says disparagingly that Victoria Wood is a one-trick pony. Well if that's so (which I dispute), it's a great trick.

It was Julie Walters' bingo night (well that's what the programme said) so we were treated to Ms Wood herself on stage as Mrs Overall. There was so much funny dialogue in this show, which I had expected, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music (which Victoria also wrote) - wonderful bubbly stuff with great tunes. There was even a touching love-song thrown in, delivered absolutely straight by Miss Berta. My favourite was Mrs O's song about her preference for tray bakes over sex (a favourite VW theme) and there was also a great 70's disco pastiche with some incredible crotch grinding dance moves from Duncan Preston.

I love the English quality of Victoria Wood's humour, the use of place names for bathos ("I'm a Brummie - that's God's way of making you live in Birmingham"), her affectionate taking a rise out of nostalgia (in the middle of a conversation about breast enhancement: "In my day we used two Cornish pasties. If he didn't fancy you naked, at least no-one went hungry"), the frequent allusions to the ailments of old-age for comedic effect, the deflating of sex's grand promises, the perfectly accurate capture of regional (especially Lancashire) patterns of speech. It was hilarious, heartening stuff. Among the cast Celia Imrie in particular was wonderful, and only Neil Morrissey grated slightly. I'm very tempted to go back and see it again when Julie Walters is on.
Saudi Police Arrest 40 Pakistani Christians:
Saudi Arabia’s religious police arrested 40 Pakistani Christians while the group met privately for worship last Friday morning in Riyadh. The house church gathering was a joint Catholic-Protestant prayer service held weekly in Riyadh in recent years.

According to a Riyadh source, several carloads of muttawa (Islamic religious police) from the Committee for the Propagation and the Prevention of Vice raided the worship meeting just before noon on April 22.

Surrounding the house, the police halted the sermon ... then proceeded to beat some of the worshippers, upsetting the furniture and breaking Christian artifacts and symbols as they searched through the house.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Google Maps is amazing - only in Beta at the moment and a bit flakey, but already so much more quick and clever than StreetMap and MultiMap. (via Sashinka)

Monday, April 25, 2005

I haven't done that much gaming recently. The week before last I played 80 Days Around the World with the Farnborough group. This was a reasonably interesting but not gripping game - the timing mechanisms are quite clever, but the whole thing is a bit linear with no real strategic decisions to make as far as I can see (but maybe that's why I lost!) And then there is Yinsh, a beautifully produced abstract game, a bargain at £15, which I picked up from Playin Games in Bloomsbury. I've played this a few times with Phil, it's a great way to fill 20 minutes with intriguing tactical gameplay. Excellent.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

- Soren Kierkegaard (via Sojourners)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Today is this weblog's 4th birthday. I find it hard to believe I have been doing this for so long. My 2nd ever post was about which games I was going to sell to make some space. I'm pleased so say that I have indeed sold all those games, but the space problems are still with me. Oh well. My home may be overflowing with games that I never play, but at least I have my weblog......

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I visited the John Virtue exhibition at the National Gallery today. Came out feeling inspired and did this sketch on Jubilee bridge.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I have finally posted a photo gallery of Phil's 21st birthday, which took place last weekend. It was a great time, and I really enjoyed the company of the guests (from left to right): Jo, Nimmo, Will, Famous Jon, Kez, Tom, Gaz, and Ruth. I gamely tried to keep up with them, and I matched beer for beer and bet for bet all through the BBQ and the poker game, but by the time we got to the William Cobbett I only had energy left for one pint before I crawled home in a daze - the rest of them kept going till about 3am, finding after hours drinking facilities at the Art College apparently. Amazing stamina these youngsters have......

Thursday, April 14, 2005

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Lab fireball 'may be black hole': A fireball created in a US particle accelerator has the characteristics of a black hole, a physicist has said. It was generated at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, US, which smashes beams of gold nuclei together at near light speeds.

Are these guys completely nuts? Haven't we got enough problems, without the possibility of a mini black hole escaping the lab and tunneling down to the centre of the earth - then eating the planet from the inside out? Try sending Bruce Willis to nuke that.......

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I don't know if I am losing my stomach for wargames - not the moral dilemmas of sending piles of cardboard to a certain death, that has never given me more than occasional twinges of conscience - the problem seems more that I am losing my appetite for mastering 20+ page rulebooks, punching hundreds of counters (that don't want to be punched, they want to tear, tear!), and assimilating a constant trickle of errata. As a result I have a growing backlog of brand-new wargames that I haven't played or even punched yet, sitting on my shelves and at the back of my mind like an accusation of bad faith. Here is the litany of shame:

Grand Illusion Ted Raicer's latest work on the Great War, this looks very innovative with its enormous hexes and battle board. In my mind at least though Ted is getting a reputation for shipping unfinished work. Barbarossa to Berlin was a major example of this tendency - it has been hugely revised since it was published and can now only be played with yellow stickies on just about every other card to remind you of the changes. But worryingly Grand Illusion has already had one fairly major rule change since release. This sort of thing puts me off making the effort - maybe I should stop reading ConsimWorld?

This Accursed Civil War I have yet to find a tactical wargame that I really enjoy, they are usually fiddly with lots of markers on the map and lots of exceptions in the rules. This one has one big advantage going for it though - Richard Berg was not involved. I have high hopes and would love to refight Naseby, Marston Moor etc. And those double-size counters look so cool. This also has the draw of being the first of an ongoing series so learning the rules could pay off in the future. Must get punching!

Von Manstein's Backhand Blow If tactical is not my thing then I have loved some operational games in the past - Breakout Normandy for example. I was drawn by this game's reputation for simplicity and elegance, and I like the big counters and low counter density. Another one I would love to play but just haven't had the time for yet.

Rommel in the Desert This doesn't quite count as backlog. I have already put a significant effort into learning the rules, and set it up solo a couple of times (although this one is a favourite with the cat - I found a half chewed German AT unit under the armchair the other day). The problem here is finding an opponent - it's a complex game and I'm a bit short of experienced wargamers in these parts. Maybe I can entice Dave over for a day....

Empire of the Sun Alright I haven't received this one yet but it's coming any day. And this game is *complex*, I'm sure of it. The whole Pacific Theatre in card-driven format, by Mark Herman no less. Couldn't resist the premise - having owned and drooled over but never played Pacific War for about a decade - but have I got the stomach to actually play this one?

Monday, April 11, 2005

The weekend's most blatant self-indulgence was these lovely PX200 lightweight headphones from Sennheiser (picked up on Saturday from Basingstoke's hi-fi shop on Feathers Lane). I spend a lot of time at work listening to my CD Walkman while I'm writing code or whatever, and I was getting a bit tired of the cheapo earbud phones that came with it. These new phones are great, they are enclosed so that office noises are excluded and my neighbours don't have to listen to my stray sound, they have much better bass than the earbuds, and I can hear so much detail. For example, I could never make out what was said after the cough at the end of Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying". But now I know.....

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A couple of drawings from my moleskine, from my trip to Austria the week before last:

This one is my usual drawing style - fairly delicate, just trying to register what I'm seeing as accurately as possible. It was done from the Kristallhutte cafe on HochZillertal during one of my frequent coffee breaks.

This one is my other way of drawing - more focussed on the drawing than what I'm seeing, using heavier pen marks and using the direction of the marks to build up textures. It was done from a sunny bench outside the hotel in Schlitters, relaxing after a hard day on the slopes.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Am I the only man who does this I wonder? When I am shaving I sometimes run the blade over my ear lobes. It's depressing, but as I get older bits of my body that used to be smooth are now growing hairs. And bits of me that used to be hairy (like the top of my forehead) are becoming less so. Being 46 years old means: having to shave your ear lobes.....