Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Cricketing bits and bobs

When there's test cricket on, any hobby action underway at house Prufrock tends to shudder to a halt, and these past few weeks have been no exception. I follow all test cricket - it doesn't matter who is involved - but I get particularly frothy about series featuring the current top teams or New Zealand, and even more so when it's one of the top teams actually playing New Zealand (which doesn't happen very often, and when it does is only for two matches rather than the four or five they routinely play between themselves).

The twists and turns in the test match game are something else. The skills involved, the mental application required to succeed, the need to adapt to the immediate situation - while also considering the overall state of the match, of the series, and perhaps also of the sport itself - always generate interest. To translate it into wargaming terms it's akin to an ongoing, ever-expanding campaign in your favourite period using your favourite armies against your toughest wargaming mates (and their mates, as they get invited in) that actually works, and works for years.

The author of Ecclesiastes would have appreciated test cricket, I think: there is a time for everything, and another for its opposite.

Sadly, with test cricket being a five day game, it is out of phase with the modern world. Marketeers, TV people and administrators want to make money from it where they can, marginalise it, change it, gut it of its significance and replace it with shorter, cheaper, more money-spinning versions where they cannot. Test cricket between, say, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, or New Zealand and the West Indies, has no context, we are told. It's too expensive. No one watches it. No one cares about it. We should play something shorter and more financially rewarding. Leave the test series to the big boys. And so the boards of the smaller test nations are pressured to slowly ease the test form out of the calendar.

Well, that's just rubbish.

Test cricket has no context, they say. Who are they trying to fool? Test cricket always has context, and that is why it has been and always will be the pinnacle of the sport, and to my mind of all sport.

So in the last couple of weeks, for instance, we have seen a batting-fragile South African side destroyed by Australia in the first test of four. In the second test South Africa fought back to win on the strength of a stupendous performance by their young fast bowler, Kangiso Rabada.  In the third test, with the series in the balance, historical records under threat, and Australia's talisman, captain and batting maestro Steve Smith not performing to his usual standards, the team is under so much pressure to claw itself back into the series that certain team-members resort to underhanded methods. The South African camera people however have been told to watch out, and so they catch the guilty in the act, and all hell breaks loose. Elsewhere it's a bit of a joke, but not in Australia. The Prime Minister steps in. Those involved are sent home in disgrace. The best batsman since Bradman is banned for a year. There is no hesitation. The game means that much to them.

The rest of the cricketing world thinks of how they would have acted had it been their boys. They look at their shoes.

In New Zealand meanwhile, after a summer of short form games, the cricket loving public gets to see a major team, England, there for two test matches. England wanted to play three, but New Zealand's administrators have so bought into the "test cricket is dead" mantra that, against the wishes of the players, they reduced the series to two games, and those to be played at the very tail end of the cricketly-seasonable weather.

England is put in to bat, and the New Zealand pacers reduce them to 27/9, which is unheard of. Last wicket heroics see England through to 58, but with a usual first innings score being about 350, New Zealand is in the dominant position. New Zealand bats. Their young captain and batting genius Kane Williamson scores a hundred, and then the rain comes. And it comes for two days. When skies finally clear, there are only two days left in the match. New Zealand bats on, gains a big lead, and then asks England to bat again. Can they survive? They have 140 overs - 840 balls - to negotiate. They bat with dogged determination. The overs are whittled down. New Zealand periodically winkle a man out, but it is hard work. On the final day England must last 90 overs, and they have 7 wickets in hand.

There is engrossing cricket. There are potentially decisive moments (catches not being taken; fine bowling stoically withstood), and actual decisive moments. The English batsmen show grit and determination. The first innings bowlers are blunted, but the New Zealanders have a weapon: Neil Wagner. He is a test-specialist bowler who will never give up. He bowls a fiery spell for close to two hours, whacking the ball in with pace and fortitude, and along with his bowling partner, Todd Astle, brings New Zealand the win.

Wonderful cricket. A wonderful contest. England almost survived that first innings catastrophe, but not quite. And what do we take away from this? England are fighters. They were blown away in the first innings. Did they give up? No chance. They fought all they way, and they almost made it.

And for New Zealand? They now have a chance to win a home series against England for only the second time in seventy years of test cricket history. That's right. If they win or draw the second test, they will prove themselves to be one of New Zealand's greatest ever teams.

And they say test cricket has no context.

Away with ye.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rules & music

As I expect most of us are, I am a bit of a music fan. I vividly recall the thrill of going into town on a Saturday morning after a week of uni to check out the secondhand record stores and see what I could find. You'd have ten or twenty bucks to spend, you'd pick up an album, head home, put it on, and really listen to it. You'd play it again. Then again. You'd play it over a couple of riggers with your flatmates. Then you'd play it again when you went to bed.

You'd get news that a new album was coming out, you'd get the date, and you'd go and line up outside the record store to make sure you got a copy. There was camaraderie. There were conversations. You could make friends based on a person's taste in music.

There were milestones. The first time that you heard something on a really decent stereo (INXS: The Swing). The first time you heard something on good headphones (Genesis: Genesis). The first time you bought an album (INXS: Kick). The first time you realised that you could say you liked certain albums and that would not be cool, whereas if you said you liked others it would be (Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms; Def Leppard: Hysteria).

Then there was the musical awakening, when you found something that made you go 'yeah!' (Deep Purple: Machine Head). Then you found something that made you want to tell everyone you knew about it, and lend it to them (Deep Purple: Made in Japan). Then you found something that made you realise music could lift you onto an entirely different plane, even if you didn't quite understand it (Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy). Then you find something that made you want to become a musician (Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here).

And then you discover parties, booze, smokes, new mates, girlfriends, pubs, student flats, car stereos. You find something that you'd learned to play, and discover other people who'd learned to play that too.

Of course, when you buy, you buy vinyl.

And it's really good.

And then you get older. You look for a job. Hopefully you get one. You get married or settle down. You have kids or pets, and slowly music stops being the priority in your life. You still buy, but you listen in the car. You play a bit, but you're rusty, and you don't like the way you sound. You buy CDs. You use the skip button, which you never did before. You couldn't recite the track list of the last album you bought. In fact, you may not even remember where you got it, how much it cost, what else it was in competition with that day, where you'd heard of it, which of your mates would also like it, or its title.

It all gets a bit sad. Music is important, but it's those older albums you remember. You get a bit funny about some songs now. They make you think of people gone. You revisit scenes from your past. You muse over old times and old actions. You wonder if you were really the person you thought you were. Then you find there's some music you can't listen to in company. My uncle? Yeah, you met him at my wedding. Yep, he did love Pink Floyd. Saw them in London, you know. Yeah. He did. It was unexpected. Yeah, thanks. It was just one of those shitty things.  And now you can't listen to Comfortably Numb or Shine On You Crazy Diamond or Sorrow around other people anymore, and there's no way you could get all the way through Wish You Were Here on acoustic guitar for your kids.

And you know, wargaming gets to be a little bit the same. Not quite at the same intense level - there's no passion like teenage passion for music, after all! - but  the same general trend is recognisable. There is an introduction, a fumbling around, then growing certainty. There are significant books, rules, armies, games, people. You buy, read, play. You buy, you read, you might play. You buy, you intend to read, you don't. You buy. You stop buying.

But man, that game. I can't be sure what year that was now. Remember when that happened though? Remember, man? Remember that? That's what wargaming is all about.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

And now for something completely different

Regular readers may wish to avert their eyes at this point.

Yes, Warhammer Orcs. Although this revelation is not going to cause any Katie Perry level 'I Kissed a Girl' excitement, I did kind of like it!

These will have proper painters appalled by the rubbish paintjob, but after doing a big bunch of black undercoated 1/72 Confederates recently I thought I'd try the same approach with some fantasy figs I picked up ages ago and see how they came out. 

Not flash, but dip can hopefully hide a multitude of painting sins, and Dragon Rampant games become a little closer to reality...

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dux Bellorum battle

I was lucky enough to have Luke U-S venture down to these parts today for a spot of miniatures gaming. He'd recently taken (re)possession of a shipment of 15mm Late Romans from the homeland. As he hadn't played with them for 18 years, it would've been rude not to get them to the table.

As fate would have it, the task given to me was to defend a community of poor innocent Romano-British whose rights were being trampled upon by a rogue would-be emperor out for plunder.

As to those who spread rumours that a bit of cattle raiding may in fact have been somewhat instrumental in bringing this retribution down upon our own heads, they are not to be believed. There were no cattle, and besides, it wasn't us.

Grand schemes afoot.

The plan was for our centre - shieldwall, three units of ordinary, one of nobles - to claim the central area of the battlefield, leaning upon the hill as needed. Our right -  two units of ordinary horse and a unit of bow-armed skirmishers - were to drive off the enemy horse and thence to harass the open flank of the Roman infantry. Our left - two units of noble horse, one being companions, and some javelinmen -  were to see off the Roman horse and then fall upon the the Roman infantry from this side.

This plan did not in fact commence all that auspiciously. My right refused to move at all, and a petulant unit of foot refused to go up the hill. My javelinmen were eager to advance, but after running into fire from Roman slingers concealed in the wood, it did not seem such a good idea to send them forward after all.

Fortunately, the Romans didn't all do exactly what they were told to either.

It's all a bit hit-and-miss early.

Over the next few turns the situation crystalised: my left would be staying out of range of the enemy slingers until an opportunity presented itself to charge home; my centre would try to engage on the best possible terms; my right would continue with the original plan.

First actions. Circular markers indicate hits; any cubes left indicate leadership points (LPs) we forgot to remove prior to the 
taking photos phase...

It quickly became clear that we were in a precarious position in the centre. We would need to shore up the exposed right flank of our infantry line as best we could while we waited for our still tardy hill-huggers to advance far enough to give us a corresponding advantage against the enemy infantry line.

Fortunately, Dux Bellorum (for those are the rules we were playing) allows a person to do just that: a fellow can load up a unit with leadership points and use these points to cancel hits made upon it [actually, cancelling the hit is not quite true for our game: I feel an auto-cancel is too strong, so we used our defensive LPs to force the enemy to re-roll the successful attack]. Both sides made much use of LPs.

Over the next few turns there were various exciting and potentially battle-defining events. For one, my javelinmen on their hill were massacred from a distance by those infernal slingers in their infernal wood (okay, so I should have kept them out of missile range after all. Shoot me!). For another, the horsemen of my right proved singularly inept at ganging up upon one measly unit of enemy horse. For a third, the use of LPs in the centre kept cohesion losses on both sides to a minimum, which certainly favoured our heroes, given the advantage in numbers and position that the Roman line had.

Wherefore art thou, Romano-British javelinmen?

Come on horsemen, you're supposed to win here! 

Good job, gentlemen and cattle robbers. Hold that centre!

* Soon after this we stopped for lunch. During the break, a look at the rulebook showed that I'd missed a fairly essential rule: we should have been retreating units when they lost a combat. We resolved therefore to put this rule into practice from lunchtime onward.

It was now apparent that our left had to get involved or else we were going to lose horribly. Our noble horsemen therefore charged, and a miraculous result meant that the enemy were eliminated on first contact.

How did that happen??!

Triumph here however was tempered by the fact that we had also lost a unit of horse on our other flank.

You win some you lose some...

With leadership points now at a premium due to unit losses, our ability to influence the outcome in the centre was greatly reduced. Nevertheless, our right finally had success against the horse there.

It's still anyone's game, but our cohesion hits are mounting fast.
Over the next few turns there were more moments of triumph and disaster - but mostly disaster. We lost our leader and his companions; we lost more foot; we killed their skirmishers.

The tide turns against us!

Finally, when all looked grim, we had a 'there's no situation that double sixes can't remedy' moment.  Romans lose their outflanking unit to missile fire. Then, in melee, both central units destroy each other.

A most fortunate result - and the LP re-roll also succeeds!

Both armies have now taken 50% casualties and need to take rout tests. All units rout except for two on each side: it comes down to who has most cohesion points left on table.

It's pretty even!

In the end, I concede. The Roman still has his commander on table and his foot unit is of higher quality than our poor innocent Romano-Brits. We hand over the remaining head of cattle and both sides go home.

It was quite a game, and well done Luke. It was only luck right at the end that kept us Romano-Brits in it, but what luck it was!

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