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.....