Monday, January 31, 2005

Well I just got burned by an Internet scam. I have always prided myself on being too clever for this sort of thing, but I fell for it today. I received an email from EBay (apparently) which started:

In an effort to protect your eBay account security, we have suspended your account until such time that it can be safely restored to you. We have taken this action because your password may have been compromised. Although we cannot disclose our investigative procedures that led to this conclusion, please know that we took this action in order to maintain the safety of your account.

Then it gave me a list of alleged security breaches and asked me to follow a link to EBay where I would reconfirm my account details. I actually got as far as entering my credit card number and security code before I noticed the lack of a padlock at the bottom of the browser. Looked up to the address bar and saw I wasn't at EBay at all - I was at Damn! Just glad I am not so thick that I didn't notice in time to cancel the card before any harm was done. But I still feel stupid......

Friday, January 28, 2005

Enjoyed a Struggle of Empires rematch with the Farnborough guys last night. This time I got completely stuffed, and Keith, who played very carefully, won by a good margin. I'm not exactly sure where I went wrong this time, but here are some ideas that I have been chewing over ruefully:

- I wasn't clear in my mind about whether I was focussed on Europe or the colonies.

- I bought too many fleets and not enough armies. And I lost quite a few of the armies in battle too.

- I let my unrest situation get out of hand. This wasn't intentional, it was partly to do with the number of battles I lost.

- My idea was to let other people do the fighting, and sneak second place in as many areas as possible. I wasn't really allowed to do this, I got attacked on numerous occasions when I was just minding my own business trying to earn a few honest points. These peace-loving Euro-gamers suddenly get very aggressive when you put a few simple combat rules in their hands!

- I didn't make enough use of the tiles. At the start of the game while other players were picking up strategic advantages like Militia or Mercenaries, I was pursuing a few short-term gains.

Great game, very enjoyable even though I was losing - there's always interesting stuff going on and you can always spoil someone's fun a bit with Pirates or Slave Revolt.....
I've been on a course this week (about planning Microsoft networks) at a company called Azlan, which was clearly started by a C S Lewis enthusiast. The classroms are named Octesian, Mavramorn, Restimar, Dawntreader, Cair Paravel etc. Romantic names for slightly soulless rooms where workaday stuff like authentication, remote access, encryption and routing protocols get discussed.

The canteen is not at all your average corporate food outlet. They don't seem to have been outsourced to some faceless catering giant for a start. It is staffed entirely by chubby middle-aged women with big smiles. The food is like your mum used to make. Every break time there is a big plate of freshly baked cakes or pastries or biscuits available, different every time as well. I've been holding out for days, eating the salad at lunchtime and taking fruit for the breaks (chubby middle-aged ladies don't really do fruit) but today I've caved in. I'm sampling all the tray-bakes, and I had fish, chips and mushy peas for lunch. I feel like I'm a schoolboy again.....

Friday, January 21, 2005

My son Phil is back home for a while, using my flat as a base while he looks for a job in London. This means I am slipping comfortably back into a foodie lifestyle which is doing my waistline no favours at all. Yesterday evening was a good example. I was commanded to pick up some tomatoes, some basil leaves, and three sweet potatoes on the way home. From which Phil produced this amazing, delicious dish featuring baked pastry slices topped with basil tomatoes and parma cheese, along with mashed sweet potato and salad, all washed down with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon. After which we sat on the sofa in an alcoholic haze and watched Rick Stein doing more cooking and eating. Don't know how much longer I can go on like this before I a) gain 3 stone b) run out of money or c) go down with gout. But it's fun while it lasts.

And talking of foodies, I discovered a nice blog today called Daily Bread.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Played Struggle of Empires yesterday evening over at Keith's. My initial impressions of this game are very positive. It is reminiscent of Empires of the Ancient World, with its simple map, confusing rules, three turns each divided into several rounds, a generic rather than specific historical situation, and a blending of Euro influence game and multi-player wargame mechanics. I think Struggle of Empires is a significant step forward from the earlier game. In particular, the alliance auction is a very clever mechanic which prevents the game from being a typical multiplayer beat-up-the-leader negotiation game, and pushes it more in the direction of El Grande or Web of Power.

There was quite a steep learning curve - for the first turn (or "War" as the game calls them) we were groping around in the dark. The game felt a lot more complex initially than its 5 page rulebook would indicate. There are an awful lot of options to choose from every time your round comes along, and it's hard to make those choices at first when you have no idea how they will play out. But by turn 2 we were starting to speed through the rounds more confidently, nevertheless time ran out and we had to wrap it up at 11:30 at the end of turn 2.

I was playing Britain and came in first with a big lead over the rest. I think this was partly because I grasped early on that the best way to score well is to come second in many areas rather than first in a few. Ironically the guys in the Farnborough group, who profess not to like wargames, did a lot more aggressive military plays than I did.

The components also endear the game to me, the graphic design gives a nice 18th Century flavour, and I like the simple stylized map where complicated things happen. I hope we will play this one again soon while it is still fresh in our minds.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Phil came over for a visit last weekend. After a classic walk on the Sussex Downs on Saturday, we sat down in the evening to play the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit, scenario S5 - Clearing Colleville. Phil as always played the Americans (indulging his "Band of Brothers" complex). The Americans have overwhelming superiority of numbers in this scenario, and Phil quickly assembled a big fire-group of 24 factors which made a short work of some of my key squads on the outskirts of the town. However they only have 5 turns to clear the town, and I was lucky with some of my rally rolls, and also got my own fire group working on his forward squads, while Phil was consistently unluck with is rally rolls. In the end 5 turns was no-where near enough.

Once again ASLSK proved to be an accessible and fun intro to the ASL world, with a compelling feeling of realism that gets you imaginatively involved with the game. Looking forward to Starter Kit #2.
I like the look of this (via Jonny Baker who else?) simplechurch: Something is happening across Britain today: a new kind of church is beginning to appear; increasing numbers of christians are starting to gather in homes, colleges and work places. Living out a 24-7 faith, they are missionally focused with a 'go to them' dynamic instead of a 'come to us' invitation. These churches are small, fluid, organic, reproducible and most of all simple; so simple that any believer would respond by saying "I could do that!"

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

There's a new boardgame blog Spiel, which, in spite of the German name, is UK based. Welcome aboard, Garry!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Out of the Wrapper
I have been acquiring far too many games lately. This is partly because of several pre-orders coming to fruition at the same time, and I also blame the GMT sale which was just too ridiculously cheap to turn down. As a result I have a backlog of new games I really want to play but haven't actually got round to reading the rules to yet.
  • Revolution (Phalanx): This was a must-buy, simply because it has the words "Francis Tresham" on the box. The map and components are gorgeous, and the rules do not look too demanding. But I suspect that actually playing the game intelligently will be hugely demanding.
  • Rommel in the Desert (columbia): Another beautiful production. It looks like my ideal wargame - concise rules, great subject, lots of short scenarios, fast moving, high depth/rules-weight ratio.
  • Von Manstein's Backhand Blow (GMT): a traditional hex-wargame with some twists. Another one that I hope will sit within my high-interest/low-complexity target zone. I have fancied this game for a while (in spite of the vaguely obscene name) so I snapped it up in the GMT sale for £15 including shipping.
  • This Accursed Civil War (GMT): I bought this in the sale too, but what actually arrived in the box was Thirty Years War. GMT gave their usual excellent response and are air-mailing the correct game out immediately. I've never found a horse-and-musket tactical game that I can enjoy, but hoping this might be it.
  • Grand Illusion (GMT): I preordered this a while ago, and it is shipping this week. Ted Raicer seems to be incapable of producing a boring design, and he has made World War 1 his very own era. I hope this lives up to expectations, but I'm a bit disappointed to hear of map errata before it is even published.

You would think that should be it for a while, but as you can see my recent acquisitions are all wargames, so to redress the balance here are a few Euros that I still crave.
  • YINSH (Rio Grande): components look good enough to eat, and looks like a deep, fascinating abstract game at a bargain price.
  • 1825 (Tresham): I would like to introduce the Farnborough group to 18xx games and this is probably a kinder gentler way of doing it than taking 1830 along to the next session!
  • Struggle of Empires (WarFrog): we will be playing this on Thursday but I already have a feeling I will love it.

So what shall I put on EBay to make room for all this new stuff?
  • ThroneWorld: I don't like the board or the resource chits, and realistically I'm unlikely to ever play this.
  • Western Front Tank Leader: just looks very old-fashioned these days.
  • Triumph and Glory: I can't decide whether to sell this or give it another try with the new (Borodino) rules. The subject is a major hook, but is it just another Berg fiddle-fest?
  • Thirty Years War: I like this game a lot, but I now have a newly arrived shrink-wrapped copy to sell!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Oh wow,Saba Douglas-Hamilton......what a girl. Look, forget the big cats, just keep that camera pointed at Saba, OK?

Friday, January 07, 2005

Whiskey River is the Most Inspirational Blog of 2004, and well deserved in my opinion. Such a simple format, but deeply nourishing whenever I dip in.
The Astronomy of Middle Earth is a detailed investigation of the astronomy of Tolkien's imaginary world. (via TajMahalFred)

Thursday, January 06, 2005

I've finally updated Member Profile on BoardGameGeek with details of all my games. I think I have included nearly every game I own, and rated everything I have played. Notice the nice bell curve! I have tried not to give everything 7 or above, which means that some games I quite like are only given 6 or even 5. I have also been posting a few game session reports in an attempt to earn enough geek gold for one of those avatar thingies. And yes, maybe I do need to get out more.....

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I had another epic game of Europe Engulfed (1941 Campaign Game) with Dave last weekend. 16 hours in total over Saturday and Sunday - I have to say I was a bit jaded by the end. Especially as I lost.

I was playing the Germans, and I confess I was out to teach Dave a lesson. Last time we played (Dave was the Germans) he let it be known that he thought the game was unbalanced in favour of the Allies. So I had been reading all the strategy tips I could lay my hands on, determined to show him that this much-loved wargame is in fact very well-balanced indeed. I was ready to show him how Barbarossa should be done. Or so I thought....

Hubris and Nemesis. I didn't even take Moscow. And although I got as far as the Don river, that was fairly short-lived. That winter attrition combined with the emergency conscription and the arrival of the Russian elite units is really punishing. And by mid-1942 Dave had got a foot-hold in Pas-deCalais which I never managed to dislodge - and the effort to do so diverted vital troops and WERPS from Russia. (My one real caveat about this game is that it seems strangely easy for the Allies to launch opportunistic "snap" invasions of Europe very early in the war - doesn't quite gel with what I've read of history and the enormous preparatons required for D-Day.)

So yes, I admit it, there is a steep learning curve for the Germans in this game, but I am determined to climb it. A one-map 1941 scenario would help a lot, so that I could practice without setting up the two tables needed for the full game. Perhaps I could adapt Rick Young's 1942 scenario. It's a great game, and although I felt jaded on Sunday, by Wednesday I'm feeling hungry again for the next one.....