Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Caesar and I

The other night as I exited the shower after my evening ablutions, lurched into the living room sweating like a beast and cursed the Japanese late summer humidity, my wife was heard to remark in appreciative tones something along the lines of  "you're a man like a hero of old."

I was quite pleased about that - clearly recent over-eating had been having some positive results - and started sweating a little more in manly pride.

It turns out she was talking about one of the actors in her latest TV drama, but the thought has stuck with me all week: "a man like a hero of old."

Well, wouldn't you know it, but some desultory reading around Caesar has in fact thrown up some pretty compelling similarities between that particular hero of old and my own self. I would enumerate them to my wife, but I fear that just right now the reception might lack a sense of gravity appropriate to the occasion.

Luckily, I have a blog. What's a blog for if not to face facts now and then? Anyway, here are some of the similarities I found. I think people will agree that the resemblance is strong.

By Louis le Grand - own work / Altes Museum Berlin (Berliner Museumsinsel), Public Domain

For authenticity, I will quote the English translations of the original texts followed by Commentaries of my own.

Exhibit the first:

"His baldness was a disfigurement." (Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar, 45.2)

Hardly needs any explanation. Granted, I don't comb forward like he did, and I'm not especially ashamed of imitating a bowling pin, but it is 2018, and expectations have changed.

Exhibit the second: 

"When he was at leisure and was reading from a history of Alexander, he was lost in thought for  a long time, and then burst into tears. His friends were astonished and asked the reason for his tears. 'Do you not think,' said he, 'it is matter for sorrow that while Alexander, at my age, was already king of so many peoples, I have as yet achieved no brilliant success?'" (Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 11.5-6)

Again, no real need for explanation here, except that perhaps in my case I burst not into tears. It was more a sort of mournful grimace.

Exhibit the third: 

"That he drank very little wine not even his enemies denied." (Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar, 53.1)

Very true. That said, it's not so much that I wouldn't drink wine, it's that I prefer beer, gin, or whisk(e)y.

Exhibit the fourth: 

"Many came to see him, and he gave each one what he wanted."  (Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 20.2)

Caesar gave to friends and political allies; I give to various taxation authorities. But the shared devotion to doing one's civic duty is undeniable.

Exhibit the fifth: 

"And the reason that he refused to lead his troops out to battle was not that he did not believe they would win, although they were inexperienced and outnumbered, but he considered that it mattered what kind of victory it would be: for he reckoned it would be a stain on his character if after achieving so many successes, defeating such great armies, and winning so many splendid victories, he was generally thought to have wrung a blood-soaked victory from the remnant of his opponents' forces when these had only been scraped together after a rout. He had accordingly made up his mind to put up with their boastful self-glorification until some of his veteran legions appeared as part of his second convoy." (Anonymous, The African War, 31)

I too wait for the veteran legions, even though I know I would win. It's just a point of personal pride. One must maintain one's standards, even in a foreign country. In fact, especially then.

Well, there's plenty more where that came from - and I could draw from the well all day - but I think I can justly claim to have made my point.

A man like a hero of old. 

I might wait till the TV drama season ends, and then present this evidence to my better half. I'm sure she'll agree with me eventually. After all, Caesar's wife must be above suspicion!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Quick review: Phil Sabin's PHALANX

The other day I had a quick try out of Phil Sabin's early set of ancient rules, PHALANX. They originally appeared in Slingshot as diceless rules for historical battles, but Phil has made a simplified version available on his Lost Battles yahoo group as a free download.

The game is played on a hex grid, nine deep and eleven wide (so you can use a Commands & Colors board, for example). Each side has a baggage base and ten fighting units - seven of hoplites, one of peltasts, and two of cavalry. One hoplite unit contains a general.

Spartans and Thebans!

Units move either one or two hexes depending on their type, and there are some neat little 'Sabinisms' to give unit classes their own character while keeping rules to a minimum (the rules are in fact just one page long).

It's an IGO-UGO game, and deployment (in another familiar Sabinism) is included in the play, with both sides deploying onto the field from their respective baggage bases.

First turn: both sides commence deployment.

There is no luck in the game except in choosing which side goes first. Combat is won by ganging up attacking units on the enemy, so that two attackers will rout peltasts or cavalry, three attackers will rout hoplites, and four attackers will rout a general's unit. The general's unit itself counts as two attackers when on the offense.

Jockeying for position.

When a side finishes its turn and finds itself with four or more of its own units routed, the game is over, and both sides score points based upon how many units were routed during the game.

As you can imagine, with IGO-UGO movement and diceless combat, the game is all about carefully manoeuvring units into position to defeat the enemy before the enemy can defeat you. It's more like chess with figures than it's like, say, DBA.

Three units of Theban hoplites attack the exposed Spartan allies (and brace themselves for the counterattack).

It does not work very well as a solo game (for obvious reasons!) but I think it would be quite good against an opponent. I imagine playing a match over two games to allow both players to have a turn moving first and tallying up the total points scored to decide the victor would be nice way to spend an hour or two with a wargaming buddy.

There are some ideas for optional rules on the Yahoo group, and a few others suggest themselves already. Secret deployment would be one obvious tweak, as would some kind of initiative challenge system to potentially change the turn order during the game.

It would be good to look at the historical battle scenarios too, but I'd need to get hold of the Golden Years of Slingshot DVD first to access the original articles, and even then I'm not sure if it will have everything - the rules may well have been included with Slingshot as a separate booklet. I can probably find that out from Phil himself at some point and update this review with that information EDIT: Yes, it has been confirmed that the Slingshot DVD does contain the necessary rules and scenarios.

(Relevant Slingshot issues w. page numbers.)

Anyway, if you have a hex grid mat (or board) and some appropriate figures (or counters), you might like to try it out. It's simple to learn, and the price is certainly right!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Messing about with game design.

When it comes to hobbies, I like to do things because I feel like doing them at that moment, not out of a sense of obligation. This is fine for most things in wargaming (figure painting, blogging, research, article writing etc.) but one thing it doesn't work very well for is game design. Every now and then I come up with a few ideas for a boardgame, campaign rules or a solo AI project, and make a start on it. Soon enough though I get distracted, go off and do something else, and leave it unfinished. Unfortunately, by the time I come back to it, I can't make much sense of what it was I was trying to do in the first place. At that point it either goes back into the folder or I have to start the whole process over again. Usually I can't be bothered.

So my 'it's a hobby man, it's for enjoyment, not work' approach falls down for things which, without concentrated effort - and, yes, work - won't ever get anywhere.

But this last couple of weeks I've had a game come to me almost fully formed. It uses bits and pieces of designs I've messed around with in the past, so somehow or other the ideas must have been quietly brewing (or festering, depending on how you like your metaphors!) in the subconscious, and have decided to force their way out now.

The game is certainly not anything groundbreaking or special. In fact it's quite simple, but it does do what it's asked to do, which is quite rewarding.

Now, I just have to make sure that I do get it all finished before I flit off onto something else!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A (Slightly Revised) Taxonomy of Battle Reports

Although battle reports make up a large proportion of all wargaming writings, it has struck this blogger that there has not perhaps been as serious an investigation into the various types of battle reports (or after action reports, if you prefer) as the subject deserves. Having read and written many reports myself, having criticised and been criticised, having ignored and been ignored, having quietly turned away and been quietly turned away from, I feel I am as qualified or unqualified as the next joe to attempt a Summary of the Topic.  

I introduce, therefore, A Taxonomy of Common or Uncommon Battle Reports. Note that these are not presented in alphabetical order.
  • The all-action first-person perspective report. Often quite iffy. Will be striking if done well but potentially cringeworthy if not. Can be uncomfortably florid. 
  • The pictorial report. Lots of pictures but often light on details and the reader must fill in the gaps in the tale himself. This may or may not be a good thing.
  • The faux-historical report. Written as if out of a history book. Often dense, may use period language and allusions. Can be very good or very bad.
  • The dramatic, short story report: The 26th of February dawned bright and chill as the aged centurion drew forth his burnished blade and spat upon the ground. "This day may be our last, old friend; but I swear to you on the ghosts of my ancestors it shall not be our least." Plenty of purple prose, misused semi-colons and attempts at soldierly or heroic dialogue. Either inspiring or not.
  • The wargame magazine report. Orders of Battle, terrain descriptions, general intentions, report of the action, thoughts, potential action points for the future. Usually precise, methodical and informative. May include footnotes.
  • The dual/multiple-perspective report. Different participants each put in a report and these are blended together to tell the story from different perspectives. Often very good, but hard to coordinate.
  • The self-deprecating report. Humorous references to how bad a tabletop general the author is, how he misinterpreted the rules, rolled atrociously and lost or - incredibly - snuck a win against all notions of justice. Seems innocuous and good-humoured but may conceal a bitter and impotent rage the depths of which can only be guessed at.
  • The 'got the band back together' report. Here the main focus is on the characters of the wargamers involved, how great it was to see everyone again, how we should do such things more often, how far everyone has driven, how much less hair people have than before, how waistlines have expanded and a few comments about how the traits of the various players may or may not have altered since the last time all were together. Generally closes with "we must do this again, but sooner."
  • The complaint report. Basically a chance to slam the rules or your fellow players.  99% of the time the writer concerned lost the game.
  • The gush report. Essentially a chance to extol the virtues of the rules and/or fellow players. Everything is brilliant, superb, simple but effective, amazingly intuitive, etc. The players are all generous, modest, wonderful painters and very sporting. 99% of the time the writer concerned won the game.
  • The modestly triumphant report. Author provides game background and politely talks the reader through the steps taken to secure victory, commenting on which were successful and which not. Often accompanied by commiserations, praise for the gallant opponent's sportsmanship, and words of encouragement. The reader infers that the author feels his own actions were hugely influential in the outcome. 
  • The revenge report. Author provides meta-history of previous encounters between the players, sometimes including detailed anecdotes illustrative of his former agonies. Goes on to detail his win and key aspects of the turnaround. May linger. May come back later to linger on said lingers. May or may not involve obvious gloating.
  • The game organiser report. Author explains the preparations made, scenario details, instructions to participants, a report, considerations, elements that were successful, and elements that were not. May come with slight overtones of anxiety, relief, smugness or humour depending on the circumstances on the day.
  • The newbie report. Written from a newcomer's perspective. "Go easy on me, this is my first time and first time reporting on a wargame. Gosh, it was a little confusing, but I'm pretty sure it was fun. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I think our team won or lost. Or maybe it was a draw. I sure want to do it again though. If I want to build my own armies, what are the best places to buy figures online, and what scale do you recommend?" etc. May have a euro boardgaming background.
  • The hearty report. Channels the spirit of famous wargame writings past. Will usually feature 18th century armies, imagi-nations, titled officers with Franco-German names, and exaggeratedly polite expressions / slightly bawdy officer humour. Lovely pictures of large battalions made up of one-pose miniatures photographed in their one pose. Game will stop after the 6th turn and report will include conjecture about possible results had the six participants had two or three more days available to play. 
  • The tournament report. Writer goes through a series of games played in a tournament setting. Will likely combine elements of several of the reports above. There might be a pictorial first up when the camera battery was still good followed by a self-deprecatory, a modestly triumphant, and perhaps finishing with an overall 'got the band back together' retrospective, a gush or complaint, or even a revenge depending on how the results fell.
  • The informative report. (NEW!) Talks readers through the game, narrating the action while also informing readers on how the rules mechanisms work. May touch on selected mechanisms; may list the whole lot. Takes up to three cups of tea (or coffee, hot water, warm milk, etc) to read.
  • The solo report. The author writes up a solo game as if it had two or more people involved in it. May adopt a high tone. May be somewhat affected. May even be a trifle precious. May drone on. A specialty of this blog, in fact.
  • The 'what a great game' report. A person writing up a game they've had and trying to convey to others a little of the experience. Honest, engaging, readable, possibly humorous, possibly serious, may involve analysis, pictures, commentary, narrative or bits of the lot. Could be told in any of a number of ways, but the main takeaway is delight in the game and in the spirit of the thing. The oil that brings in new people, spreads the word about new rules, shows off new figures, and keeps the hobby going. Absolutely indispensible.

Of course, this is written with tongue in cheek, but to be serious, please feel free to comment, to agree or disagree, to add ideas of your own, to talk about the kinds of reports you like or don't like, and the kinds you aspire to write yourself. Also, if you want to, please feel free to include a link to a report of your own that you enjoyed writing or are pleased with in some way, and if you would like, a report of someone else's that you think others might like to read. My own view is that battle reports are a wonderful thing no matter how they are written or presented. Each one is an individual's contribution to the hobby, and should be applauded, even though as readers we will naturally have our own particular preferences.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A cricket interlude

As blog readers may know, I quite enjoy a spot of cricket. I've followed it with the kind of sad, all-consuming passion that only a person who in his own cricketing life batted at 9, fielded at long leg and rarely bowled, can.

So it has given me and other cricketing tragics the world over great pleasure these past couple of days to see one of England's greatest but seemingly most underappreciated players, their opening batsman Alastair Cook, finish up his England career by scoring 71 and 147 in his final test, after having struggled to reach 20 in the tests preceding it.

As cricinfo writer George Dobell put it regarding the ovation given for Cook reaching his hundred:

Well done to Alastair Cook for hewing himself two last monuments to greatness, and well done to the crowd for giving him something that no embittered columnist, ex-player frenemy or twitter big mouth will ever be able to take away from him.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Alan Peart, DFC

It was sad to see reported in New Zealand newpapers today that the country's last surviving Second World War fighter ace, Alan Peart, has passed away.

Modest, humane, matter-of-fact, and with an amazing memory for detail, it goes without saying that he must also have been quite a pilot. This video footage of him talking about his wartime experiences is a good watch.

He has a memoir, From North Africa to the Arakan, which I will put on my 'must track down' list.

Sincere condolences to his family and friends, but a man for them to be proud of. May he rest in peace.

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