Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holiday gaming

After a long time of being snowed in, I finally got out and about as of Monday. The snow is still clumped in some areas around beautiful Lynnwood, although to the south, it's much clearer. I live in what's called the "Convergence Zone." This means that whenever the weather is crappy in the Pacific Northwest, it's even crappier in the CZ.

Monday was DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game). Not me Dave, but the other Dave, Dave Schueler. Dave has been running DANG for several years now and I've made it to most of them. It's a biggish event with about six to eight players and a lavish spread of food. Most years it's been a kind of mini naval campaign that generates several actions. This year's event was a single modern naval action set hypothetically in disputed waters between Australia and Indonesia. We used the Harpoon naval rules. I played on the Aussie side and for several turns had the only viable RANS ship in the area. Fortunately, it was an Adelaide class FFG, HMAS Newcastle. The Adelaide is was Oz calls a Perry class frigate. It has a single missile launcher that is capable of dealing a lot of misery in a short time. Only four Harpoons, but a world of SM2s and smaller AA missiles. The Harpoons are the ship-killers, but I had the most effect with the SM2s firing in an anti-ship rôle. 

In the opening phase of the game, the Aussies had to evacuate crews for three oil rigs and get the evacuation force off the board. I'm not sure what the Indonesians needed to do, but they didn't do it in any case. All the crews were evacuated, though we lost a rig tender that had been attempting to evacuate the crew of one rig. The Newcastle shot up two Indonesian gunboats and an Indonesian frigate without loss to itself. It also survived a bombing pass by a flight of Indonesian F-5s taking down one of the attacking aircraft. From there, it proceeded to carry out mission orders to destroy all oil rigs in the area (ours and theirs) and shell a shore installation. At this point, its charmed life ran out--but not before a little more charm came its way.

By attacking the northernmost Indonesian rigs with gunfire, I strayed well out of support range of the three Adelaide class frigates that made up the Australian response force. The Indonesians had their own response force of gunboats and corvettes that popped onto our radar screens just before they started launching volleys of Harpoon and Exocet missiles. I lucked out for one turn when the Indonesian missiles locked onto my escort, the gunboat HMAS Bathurst, and a nearby oil rig that I was attacking with gunfire. Both were utterly destroyed without effect on the Newcastle. Then the shrimp hit the barbie. The next Indonesian salvo was 16 missiles. I managed to decoy or shoot down several, but the several others that got through finished me off with *boom* to spare.

The only thing that spared Newcastle from overwhelming overkill was the presence of my other ship, HMAS Sydney. I sailed north at full speed and caught a salvo from the other batch of Indonesian ships. I was able to get off an opportunity shot of four Harpoons and five SM2s at the Indonesians, but their hits on me were crippling. I managed to sink a corvette and damage another ship, but my sensors were knocked out, so my missiles were out of action. Another small salvo came in and I was sure it was curtains for the Sydney. However, the lovely Phalanx defense system has its own radar and came in to decoy and shoot down every missile in the salvo. That was the last shot for the Indonesians. Out of missiles and with two unscathed Adelaide class FFGs heading toward them, the Indonesians turned around and ran for home waters. The game was declared an Aussie win, but at the cost of one frigate lost and one heavily damaged.

Today, Dave came over and we indulged ourselves with some boardgames. I love boardgames, but I get little opportunity to play. I have several new ones that I was hoping to try.

Game 1 was Texas Glory from Columbia Games. I played the Texians and Dave was Santa Anna and his minions. It's a bit overwhelming to see a juggernaut of Mexicans coming on, but the key to Texian victory is to hold on--or get really lucky and catch "The Napoleon of the West" with his pants down. I lost the Alamo (thanks for tryin' Davey), but I held on at Goliad. The Mexicans were now storming into central Tejas with their bloodlust up, burning towns and committing depredations all the way. Texas Glory uses cards to determine what you can move each turn and some of the cards represent "events" such as the ability to launch a surprise attack or send Comanches at your opponent. I had Sam Houston and a force of good troops, including the New Orleans Grays and a strong unit of riflemen, at the town of Victoria and I had the "Deguello" card to play. The card let me fight to the finish. (Normally, a combat is ended after three rounds, the attacker having to retire if any defenders are left.) My hope was to strike out and eliminate one group of Mexicans. As luck would have it, his nibs the generalissimo/el presidente was there in person. After four rounds of combat, the Mexican force was eliminated and Santa Anna lost, an instant win for the Texians.

Games 2 and 3 were Conflict of Heroes by Academy Games. This is a sort of Eurogame meets Squad Leader. The system is very interesting. It lacks the detail--the excruciating detail--of Advanced Squad Leader, but the play is challenging and focuses a lot more on how you use command resources. You start each turn with a set number of command points and for each unit you activate you get seven unit action points. You use any combination of action points and/or command points to do things with units like fire, move, and rally. That's the simple description. Dave and I both liked the game, so I hope to have more opportunities to play. We played the first two scenarios. I played Russians in scenario one and lost, Dave played Russians in scenario two and lost. I'm not sure if that's a theme that's developing.

Game 4 was Command & Colors: Ancients by GMT Games. We played the Gaugamela scenario from expansion 1 and I was the Macedonians (Alexander) by random choice. I was a little worried about the horde of Persians facing me. However, they were mostly light troops and I had Al and his Companion cavalry on my side. Dave played aggressively and ran his heavier troops out in front of his light troops. This gave me a big advantage in ranged fire with my light troops. He succeeded in eliminating one of my units, but I had a lot of good rolls and was able to do a lot of damage. I think he may have eliminated another unit, so the game ended 7-2 in my favor. We played a few games of Command & Colors earlier and I've come to like the system a lot. It's simple and has enough flavor to be interesting as often as you play it. I have all the expansions now, so I've got around 80 scenarios to play.

This coming Saturday is Drumbeat III. This is a newish event hosted by a long-term NHMGS member (and many-times president) Dick Larsen. It's a one-day miniature gaming event in Seattle. As the "III" might suggest, it's the third year Dick has hosted this. I'll be running a Field of Glory game and, I hope, playing in a General Quarters III naval game in the Morning. So, I still have more holiday gaming ahead.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's the Snowpocalypse!

So, I've been snowed in since Thursday afternoon when the latest episode of our snowstorm hit. Here in the Puget Sound area, it just doesn't snow on a regular basis. In the 17 years that I've lived here, most winters go by without a single day of snow and the years when it does snow, it's usually just a light frosting that melts by midday.

It's quite a shock to be dealing with this for more than a week. The region isn't equipped to deal with heavy and long-term snowfall, so everything just stops, except for the few crazies on the road who think their Subaru is an Arctic tractor. The snow hit last Saturday evening and has been falling intermittently ever since. Monday through Wednesday were three days of slight warming that gave way to a snowfall starting Thursday afternoon that remained pretty steady through Sunday.

I am snowbound. Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. That turned out well.

Evil snowy buildup on the back veranda and hummingbird feeder

My beloved Nissan 350z is a total wanker in the snow. I see my neighbors hopefully digging out their SUVs and AWD vehicles only to have them slip and spin uphill out of the townhome complex wherein Stately Chez Dave is located. The Z couldn't even make it out of the garage.

Digging out the family car--NOT a tradition in Lynnwood

I took advantage of barely drivable conditions earlier in the week to stock up on food, so I don't have to contend with my cats over which of us will eat the other. I am, however, jonesing for a latté and the nearest Starbuck's is too far to walk to. Which is ironic because in the mail that arrived sometime on Friday or Saturday (which I didn't bother going out to pick up until Sunday), I got a Starbuck's gift card that sits here taunting me.

Weather conditions look iffy for the next week. I worked at home all last week and continue so today and tomorrow. Starting Wednesday, I'm off until Jan 5. At this point I don't know when I'll be able to leave the house. I'm almost down to surviving on canned soups and chili. Of course, I have Fritos to go with the chili, so it's not that dismal...

The cats are holding up well. They're indoors all the time anyway, so having me snowbound just gives them more opportunity to pester and annoy me as they demand my obedience to their every whim.

"I don't care if it's snowing, Dave. Go out and get the freakin' marshmallows before the fire dies down!"

I have plans for the holidays--some already dashed, others doubtful. I can stay at home and read or paint. Mostly I post on Facebook about how much I hate the snow.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rhiannon, my sweet pea

Rhiannon is the second of my cats. I adopted her in August, 2006, two weeks after I adopted Grendel. I didn't really start out with the intention of getting another cat. I just thought that Grendel needed a companion to hang with when I was away at work every day. I've always wanted a Manx cat and while Rhiannon isn't a Manx (at least I'm pretty sure she's not), but she does have a stubby bobtail. At the shelter, she was listed as a domestic shorthair (that's cat-speak for mutt). Two things stood out about her: the wee, stubby tail and her sweet nature. Her manner was a bit shy, but she purred up a storm when I was with her in the shelter and figured I had to have her. 

The first surprise came when the shelter staff brought her up from the kennel area. I brought my own carrier and they put her in it while I was at the front desk paying the adoption fees and filling out paperwork. When the shelter worker emerged with my cat, the look on his face was just short of horror and the carrier in his hand shook like it held a wildcat. After he set it on the counter, I had to hold the carrier to keep it from vibrating off the edge. Inside, Rhiannon (still named Coco then) was turning and turning in circles backwards and emitting angry growls. The staff looked so embarassed and someone asked me, before they ran my credit card, if I was really sure I wanted her. I figured that despite this performance, she was still the cat I met in the visitor room. I paid my fee and took her home. Still, all the way home, she turned and turned in the carrier and if I could translate cat, the things she must have said might make even me blush. She only calmed down once I parked the car in from of the house and took her in.

Once home, I thought she'd calm down a bit. Grendel was very curious about the new family member and I thought I'd try to introduce them by a coup de main rather than the slow, gradual introduction method of isolation and limited contact. I set the carrier on the living room floor. Grendel sniffied at the cage door and, from inside, Rhiannon sniffed back. I opened the door to the carrier and out she popped. For barely a second, the two cats stood nose to nose in amity: a touching, tender scene.

Then fireworks.

Rhiannon, I discovered, doesn't like cats. She hissed, growled, swatted, and ran upstairs with Grendel in hot pursuit. So much for the coup de main method of cat introduction. She ran to the bedroom and under my bed, so I got Grendel out, shut Rhiannon in, and let her chill for a while.

When I came back about a half hour later, she was still under the bed. I figured that trying to coax her out would have the opposite effect, so I just got up on the bed and sat there for a while. In time, I heard a rustling below and from one side of the bed, Rhiannon floated up like a fairy and landed on the bed. She came up to me purring and head-butted and rubbed her face against my hands. She was back the the sweet kitty I knew from the shelter. I left her again for a while. When I came back, she was sleeping and only awoke when I took her picture.

It took about two weeks of isolation with chaperoned visits to get her to stop going crazy every time Grendel came near. Even then, there were moments when Rhiannon would react badly to Grendel's intentions. It didn't stop them from adventuring together.

On day about a month after I brought her home, I was working in my den and noticed an absence of cats. They're always hanging around me wherever I go in the house, so it was odd that they weren't there. I looked out in the hall and on the windowsill above the stairs: no one. Curious, I went downstairs and looked around without sighting them. Now I was really perplexed. I looked behind and under the furniture and in the cupboards. I looked down in the entryway. I went back upstairs and looked in the rooms. By now, I was starting to worry that they had gotten out of the house somehow. They're inside-only cats and I fear that if they were outside they might get scared, confused, lost--or eaten by coyotes. However, I couldn't see any way they would have got out, so I continued to scour the house calling out to them the whole time.

I have three large bookshelves on the main floor of the townhouse. They're six feet tall and I have a lot of pictures and bric-a-brac on top. Finally, en route back down from searching again upstairs, I glanced at the top of the shelves to see two green eyes peering out at me from between some pictures. About a foot away, I discerned a large black and white lump crouched behind some other pictures.

The little furballs had been hiding from me and probably laughing at my antics, if cats can laugh. Despite my annoyance at being made a fool of by critters with brains no bigger than a walnut, I was happy to see them conspire together. It was a good indication that Rhiannon was getting over her cat hatred--at least her hatred of Grendel. By Christmas of 2006, they seemed thick as thieves.

(The introduction of Maebh to the house was a return to trauma and drama, but that's another story.)

She remains the sweetest of my cats--sweet to me, that is. She's always the one who likes to snuggle with me when I'm reading or watching TV. She likes to head butt me when she wants to be petted. There are times when I'm working on my computer, a position not conducive to cat snuggling, when Rhiannon will paw at me to abandon my work and sit somewhere where she can snuggle. At these times she also employs an insistent meowwwwrl that's somewhere between imploring and commanding. She especially uses this vocal skill when it's breakfast time and I have the temerity to want to sleep past 3:00 AM, hence her nickname "Mrs. Grumble."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Somewhere west of the Rhine

Two weekends ago, we played a game of Kampfgruppe Commander that was rescehduled after and earlier delay (thereby preempting my plans to play Field of Glory). Mark Serafin put together a scenario set in France in 1944 where the German forces are in retreat while an American command attempts to cut off their escape routes.

The Germans set up a covering force in hidden positions on board. The American forces started on turn one with a scouting force probing for the German positions, to be followed by stronger forces on subsequent turns. Each turn, someone from each side drew a chit (poker chips with labels) that indicated what comes on board that turn. The options varied widely. Some chits were blank, others were unexciting. 

In the Germans' case, the chits were often for retreating forces like field kitchens, supply wagons, etc. Some combat units were available, but their mission was to retreat unless the German players could pass a test that called them into the fight.

German forces in retreat

The American scouting force performed somewhat dismally. I blame myself and my penchant for rolling 10s in this game. 10s are bad in Kampfgruppe Commander. 10s are never good. I roll many 10s. In scouting, a 10 means not only have you not found the enemy, but you just won't. Ever. This failure meant that for most of the early turns, the Americans learned about the German presence in the good ol' fashioned way: they got shot at.

"Do you see any Germans?" 
"Nope. You?" 

The American forces that came on as a result of chit draws were mostly battalion-level units. For the Germans, the chits draws mostly produced the aforementioned field kitchens, supply wagons, and mobile brothels. This disparity gave the Americans an opportunity to drive hard against the initial German positions and before long the German lines looked like a mini version of the Falaise pocket.

American armored forces attack the lower end of the German pocket

American infantry supported by tanks advances on the other side of the pocket

In response, the Germans moved a Fallschirmjäger battalion down from the top end of the pocket to attack the American flank.

Fallschirmjäger taking up poisitions against the American right flank

However, American infantry moved in to counter the threat.

American infantry moves into position to counter the German move

The Germans forces in the pocket died hard. Fearing destruction, they Germans voluntarily routed some units back, but this proved to be a mistake as American forces attacking other parts of the pocket easily destroyed the routed forces.

As things looked bleaker and bleaker for the Germans, they finally got a good combat unit in the chit draw. Using these forces in a local counterattack, they recaptured a town and forced back, with loss, the American light tank company of M-24s., which were no match for the German Panzer IVh tanks. The Shermans, which had started up to cut off the road where Germans forces were entering, had to be recalled to counter the new threat.

Shermans, supported by an AT gun,  dueling with the Panzer IVs

Meanwhile, the rest of the American combined arms force advanced to cut off one of the German reinforcement roads and survived an infantry counterattack to hold a vital position. The Americans counterattacked to regain the lost town, and the Panzer IVs got knocked about, but not yet entirely destroyed. It was time to call the game.

The central positions at the end of the game

American units in position to cut off German reinforcements

The Americans didn't have a clear victory. They had cut off one reinforcement road, but had not reached the bridge where the Germans were exiting their forces. To get there, the Americans would have a hard fight taking the town in front of the bridge and anything could happen. The Germans mostly got lousy chit draws, but that could change; there were good units that hadn't been drawn. The Americans were pretty lucky in their chit draws and still had the possibility of getting tank destroyers, artillery, and aircraft.

It was a good scenario. The Germans made a decent stand against superior American forces. We especially liked the chit draw as a means of determining reinforcements. We expect to see chit happen in our future scenarios.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Boney at bay

On Saturday at The Panzer Depot, we refought the battle of Aspern-Essling (first day) using Napoleon's Battles and a whole lot of 15mm minis. I haven't played Napoleon's Battles for maybe 12 years and was afraid I'd be out of practice. But as one of my fellow players noted, it's like riding a bicycle. And so it was. Within a few turns I was back in the swing, but I shudder to recall what errors I may have made in my first few "learning" turns.

The scenario leaves no margin for error for the French side. A small force, only marginally reinforced throughout the game, needs to hold its ground against an increasingly larger Austria juggernaut. The French started with two infantry divisions (one each in the villages of Aspern and Essling) and three cavalry divisions (two light and one heavy in the center between the villages).

The French setup

Austrian forces are meagre on turn one, with a division of mixed infantry/cavalry/artillery poised to strike at the French left in Aspern. However, each turn brings on a new corps or two of Austrians. The ratio is roughly 3:1 in favor of the Austrians once all the forces have arrived on the field.

The Austrians attack Aspern

I played the French left under Marshall Massena and Jeroen Koopman played the French right under Marshall Lannes. The faceless Austrian horde was commanded by Steve Puffenberger, Ken Kissling, Mike Kennedy, and the father/son team of Pat and Morgan Clifford.

We opted not to use a previous house rule that limited the effect of firing into a village. The house rule was supposed to minimize the tendency to let attackers shoot a defender out of a village. Not using it in this game allowed the attacking austrians to shoot the French out of Aspern. The one Austrian attempt to take the village by assault met with failure, but they had enough muskets and cannon to make themselves masters of the village after about five turns.

The Austrians overrun Aspern

The French had a few significant counterattacks that staved off an early defeat. At one moment, Jeroen sent a heavy cavalry brigade into the advancing Austrians and in a marvelous string of luck, managed to destroy eight limbered Austrian batteries that were strung out on the march. It ultimately cost him half the brigade when he was counterattacked by Austrian cavalry outside of Essling and routed back behind the French lines to be eventually rallied by Marshall Lannes.

At one point, I was able to repulse two Austrian heavy cavalry brigades with a single brigade of light cavalry (lead in person by General Lasalle). Much action took place in the part of the French line beside Essling. At several points it looked as if the Austrians had a wide open opportunity to drive through the hole in the French center only to be stymied by desperate French counterattacks.

The contested ground beside Essling after the French cavalry counterattack

As French reinforcements eked in from the single road that lead from the bridge to Lobau island, we threw them into line where we could. The division of the Young Guard went to the French right to shore up the open flank beyond Essling. There they were instrumental in defeating a large attack of Austrian cavalry.

The division of the Young Guard advancing in column to hold the French right

After taking Aspern, the Austrians pressed the French left and center and started a division through the marshy land between Aspern and the Danube. The French reinforcements struggled in the restricted area to form from march column to combat formations. The situation demanded that divisions be deployed piecemeal and the French found it difficult to form a cohesive line.

The French reinforcements march on to shore up their faltering left flank

In the final turns of daylight, the French heavy cavalry and horse batteries finally showed up in time to form a solid cavalry force on the French right. However, the French infantry had been badly mauled in the course of the game and had very little that could hold the ground against the Austrians who kept up their inexorable advance despite taking as good as they gave in losses. One heroic French brigade held the line of the sunken road until it finally dispersed as a result of routing a superior Austrian brigade (the "winner's loss" took it to its dispersal level).

Massed Austrian reinforcements descending on Essling - Custer's Last Stand on the Danube

By the end of the game, the French barely held on to a perimeter just below where they started, but they had lost Aspern and would soon lose Essling as well. In his last hurrah, Jeroen made a desperate gamble with a combined arms attack on a brigade of the Austrian grenadiers only to get routed back beyond the town, leaving it wide open for the Austrians to stroll in at night.

French positions at nightfall

Historically, Napoleon held on the first day and only withdrew back across the Danube after a second day of fighting. In our case, Boney et cie. would need to withdraw without attempting a second day's battle.

It was great to play Napoleon's Battles again after such a long time away. Back in the 90s when I played it regularly with my friend Bob Mackler, it struck me as the ideal scale and level of detail for a grand tactical Napoleonic wargame. Unlike Empire, which was also grand tactical, but represented every battalion as well as companies of skirmishers, the play moves very quickly. We started the game at noon and ended by 4:00 having completed all daylight turns in the scenario. There is also never a dull moment. As Bob used to say, it's the fightingest Napoleonics game. The battle can go back and forth several times before a winner can be determined. Even though the French are massively outnumbered with no significant qualitative edge (by 1809 the French were less than they'd been in 1805 and the Archduke Charles had done wonders reforming the Austrian army), they can still perform well at Aspern-Essling.

Apparently, there is a third edition that will come out soon from Lost Battalion games. There's no more information about it than a brief announcement that confirms the rumor. I may be tempted to get it, but I can't imagine painting 100s or 1000s of gaudily uniformed 15mm men. Fortunately, I think, there are enough people who have whole armies already.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fat men and iron, Part Deux (Gettin' SASSy)

I went down to Renton, WA last Saturday to check out a cowboy action shooting match at the Renton Fish and Game club. The cowboy shooters there are members of the Renton United Cowboy Action Shooters (R.U.C.A.S.), which is a local affiliate of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). I first heard of SASS and the sport of cowboy action shooters watching cable shows that featured it. When I bought my Cimarron Model P single-action .45 last year, I was sort of embarking on a long road towards getting into the sport.

I come by my interest in cowboy shooting honestly. My family is of pioneer stock. Born in Ireland, my great-great grandparents came West on the Bozeman Trail to Virginia City, MT in 1865. My great-grandfather was the sheriff of Richland County, MT. Like many a good lawman, he considered the line between legal and illegal to be a bit fuzzy where his own actions were concerned. Family legend has it that he and his deputies were stopped from running a herd across into North Dakota by the US Marshall, Floyd Davis--who was his brother-in-law. Family relations were a bit strained for the next generation.

Frederick Daniel Sullivan
Sheriff, Richland Co., Montana

The cowboy action shooting in Renton was very compelling. Despite the rain, the shooters were out there on one of the stages plugging away with rifle, six-gun, and shotgun. I'm eager to get started, but I've got a few things to get first.

So far, I have a very nice CZ Arms coach gun that I picked up used at Wade's. It's a short, double-barreled, hammer-action shotgun with color case-hardened frame and butt-plate, blued barrels and nice walnut stock. I haven't fired it yet. I have the Cimarron Arms .45 Model P SAA that I picked up a year ago and the Cimarron Colt .38 Lightning that I picked up last month. What I lack is a suitable rifle. I have my eyes on a Cimarron Yellow Boy carbine. After hemorrhaging so much cash already, I'm loth to spend another $900.00+ for this. I'm also unsure yet about whether I want to get it in .45 LC or .38 special.  The latter uses less expensive ammo, the former allows for homogenization of ammunition, but I'm already mixing calibers with my revolvers. The SASS shooters in Renton tell me that there are plenty of rifles to borrow for matches, just bring my own ammo.

Things are picking up. Other items I need are suitable cowboy clothing to wear at matches. I don't normally sport cowboy-style wear, so it's not like I have a hat, chaps, boots, etc. sitting in my closet. SASS specifies specific clothing requirements to be worn at matches, so I'm busy collecting these items, too. They are less expensive than guns, but some items are still pricey.

Yesterday, I went to the WAC gun show in Puyallup with Phil. I bought 500 rounds of .45 LC cowboy action rounds from Surplus Ammo and handed off my Lightning to Tru Ivory for custom fitting of grips to match the ones I have on my Model P. I also bought a cowboy hat from a vendor at the show. It's a very nice heavy-duty waterproof beaver-felt hat.

Another recent purchase was a gun-belt and holster for the Model P. I got it from Buffalo Arms, who carry a great deal of cowboy action items including clothing. When I ordered the belt, I fooled myself into thinking I was thinner than I was. However, "Fat men and iron," (a line from True Grit) is no misnomer. I'm a 38" waist, and the belt I ordered (33" - 38") was too small. I need to go to the next size to get the right fit and feel. In any case, the belt and holster are first-rate and very nicely made. Now I just need to get something for the Lightning, but Buffalo's Huckelberry shoulder-holster rig, which looks very nice, is also very expensive. I'll settle for a cross-draw that I can add to my gunbelt, but all of the cross-draw holsters at Buffalo Arms are for Colt SAA clones, like my Model P.

I don't know when I'll do my first match. I've joined SASS, but I'm still gathering the necessaries. However, one of the R.U.C.A.S. members holds Friday night practice sessions at the Renton gun club. I'll need to do a few of these before I'm confident about competing in a match.

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's a Library Thing (you understand)

Despite the fact that my cats are antiliterary, I have collected a great many books, which I often lose track of. On digging through the quaint and curious volumes, I have sometimes discovered that I have two and even three of the same book. Oops. It's kind of forgivable when you consider that I cycle books through a lot. I have a 1350 sq. ft. townhome. There is only so much bookshelf space. I have sold off chunks of my collections at pennies on the dollar just because I couldn't keep them around anymore. In all the confusion, I forget which books I still have. Most of the books I've sold, I don't miss. Occasionally, however, I do and, without digging through the collection, I find and buy another copy (and sometimes another).

I heard about LibraryThing from Kevin Smyth, who has created an online catalog of his vast collection. I started cataloging mine some months back, but have only recently resumed the task. It's kind of addicting. I think it's seeing the number of books grow. Somehow, when viewed as an online list, it's more impressive than looking at the bookshelves.

But LibraryThing is more than an online catalog. It's a place to chat about books with other bibliophiles and to find people whose literary tastes match yours. For each book in your collection, you can see which other LibraryThingers have the same book. Sometimes you may find that your the only Thinger with a particular book; for example, I am the only one who includes H. W. Wilson's two-volume Ironclads in Action in my library. (I have a few other sole volumes as well.)

You can also view other people's reviews of books. You can rate each book in your collection and see how other people rate the same book. You can tag books in your collection so that you can quickly retrieve a list of every book you have on, say, medieval warfare (many) or Pictish symbols (a few).

LibraryThing is also a place to share resources such as scans of book covers. There are a lot of these supplied by places like Amazon.com, but a lot of more obscure titles or editions have no images available. With scanner at hand, I'm able to supply previously unavailable book cover scans in just a few minutes.

So now I'm plugging away at the library. At this posting, I have only 83 books recorded. That's a small fraction of the collection and I've got a lot of work ahead. I've added a widget for LibraryThing at the bottom of my blog. It shows a random selection of five books from my library, but also has links to my full library on LibraryThing. I'm pretty sure this won't solve my problem of buying multiple copies of a book, but I may at last have some clearer picture of what I've got on the shelves. 

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Persia triumphant

Today we held a Field of Glory game day at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. Every time I host a game, I think of the old 60's slogan, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" When I arrived at The Panzer Depot just past 11:30 this morning, I wasn't sure anyone else would come. By just after noon, we had eight players, three of whom were new players, so we're generating more interest in FoG.

With all the new players, we broke into two multiplayer games. I ran and played in a game that pitted my Sassanid Persians against my Dominate Romans. We had two brand new players, Chris and Rick, as well as Mike Garcia, my antagonist from last week's Germans v. Romans game. Rick and I ran the Persians and Mike and Chris ran the Romans.

I walked Rick and Chris through initiative, terrain setup, and deployment. We fought in agricultural terrain with some open and closed fields on the Roman left (Persian right),  a vineyard pretty much in the center, a steep hill about in the middle of the Persian deployment area, and a gentle hill off on the Roman right.

The Romans deployed with most of their cavalry on their right commanded by Mike. Chris took the Roman infantry and a unit of Huns on the left.

The Roman deployment

The Persians deployed with the cataphracts, two units of asavaran, the light horse archers and the daylami infantry on the right, commanded by Rick; the remaining asavaran, elephants, and the levy infantry on the left commanded by me.

The Persian deployment

The Romans advanced across their front toward the center of the field. On their right, Mike aggressively pushed forward with the Roman cavalry hoping to strike a blow with his better-armed catafractarii and equites. Chris pushed his infantry forward and moved the Huns around the left side of the vineyard.

I moved my asavaran up to engage the Roman horse with bowfire. On my left, I used the elephants to counter and neutralize Mike's equites sagittarii, which spent the whole game shooting at the elephants without effect. Rick, meanwhile, ran his two units of asavaran against the Huns, who were outgunned (outbowed?) and outmatched by the asavaran, so it wasn't long until Rick chased them off.

In the center, Rick charged his cataphracts against the Roman legionarii, who held up against the onslaught more than once. Each charge, the cataphracts and the legionarii scored the same number of hits or the legionarii won by a single hit more. Mike's cataphracts fell in cohesion once, but were soon bolstered. However, he lost two of six bases, while the legionarii remained unscathed.

The Persian cataphracts smash into the Roman heavy infantry, to no avail

On the Persian left, I engaged Mike's equites Illyricani with bowfire from my asavaran. I managed to kill one stand and reduce his cohesion to disrupted status without any loss of my own. I charged the Illyricani with one unit of asavaran and later brought another up to support it in melee. I expanded another unit of asavaran into a single rank so I could skirmish with Mike's catafractarii. I knew I couldn't take them in a straight-up fight, so I had to get clever.

Cavalry action on the flank

Mike charged his equites against the asavaran unit that was supporting my fight against his Illyricani and charged his catafractarii against my skirmishing asavaran, which evaded. In the ensuing combats, my asavaran managed to rout the Illyricani, but Mike's equites routed the asavaran unit they were facing. 

Mike's catafractarii, continued to press the third asavaran unit, which evaded again and drew the catafractraii deep into the Persian left. Meanwhile, I had another cavalry unit that I had positioned on my far left, which was now in position to threaten the flank of the catafractarii. Also, the first unit of asavaran had broken off its pursuit of the Illyricani, who kept running until they were off the field, and turned back to threaten the rear of the catafractarii.

Impending doom for the Roman catafractarii

I finally managed a good turn of shooting against the heavily-armored catafractarii with my three units with the result that its cohesion dropped to disrupted status and they lost one base. Unable to back out, Mike opted to charge ahead instead, but I intercepted his charge with a charge to his flank and rear. The fight didn't last long. In the impact and melee, the catafractarii were routed and eliminated.

Catafractarii's last stand

Mike's victorius equites had smacked into the Persian levy, which managed to hold on and even inflict a base loss on the much-superior Romans. Meanwhile, Rick's asavaran, had routed Chris' Huns and were banging away at a unit of auxilia palatina that Chris put up to guard his exposed flank. They weren't having much luck, but a second unit was coming up to help in the fight.

Action on the Persian right flank

With his legionarii engaged against the Persian cataphracts, Chris didn't have much else to counter the threat to his left flank. By this time, the Romans had lost three units and the Persians one. On the Roman right, their cavalry was nearly gone. The equites, down to three bases, were stuck into the Persian levy and soon to be taken in the rear by the Persian cavalry that had destroyed the Roman catafractarii. The writing was on the wall and the Romans threw in the towel. Yet another emperor to serve as a Persian footstool!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Particulate matter begone!

It is with mixed feelings that I set up my new HEPA air purifiers yesterday. I ordered three Honeywell units to place in various parts of the house. One large-area unit downstairs and two medium-area units in the upstairs bedrooms. I have about 1350 sq. ft. and the combined efforts of these three units should be enough to keep the air sweet throughout the house--despite three messy cats.

Hitch one is when only two arrived. I received notification from the shipper that the units had been sent and was given a UPS tracking number. On the scheduled day of delivery, I was working at home in order to be on hand to sign for the boxes. To my surprise a Fed Ex truck pulled up, a guy got out, dropped a box on my doorstep, rang the bell, ran back to the truck, and sped off down the road. No time to chat, I guess. The box was the one larger-area unit, but where were the other two--and why did it come Fed Ex when I had a UPS tracking number?

I fired off an e-mail to the shipper asking what happened. (I called first, but they were gone for the day.) Later in the day, UPS showed showed up with a single box containing one of the two other units. No mistake, just one box. The shipping label was clearly marked "1 of 1." So, I ground my teeth a bit and, minus a fine layer of tooth enamel, went to set up the units I had.

Hitch two: they're loud. I knew they wouldn't be silent, but I was surprised at the deafening roar the units make on full blast. However, the lower settings produce a tolerable hum and whoosh. For 24/7 operation, low is good enough. I only need high for clearing out a lot of dust or smoke. If I don't catch on fire, I'm good with them on low.

Hitch three: the one large-area unit needs to be placed no closer than three feet from any walls or furniture, so, pretty much smack in the middle of the room. Hmmm. Effective, but a bit of an eyesore and obstacle. I had planned to put it in one nook of the room and now I have to rethink. It's smack in the middle for now, but it's portable enough that I can move it about with ease and put it out of the way when I have people over.

I am relieved that the units don't frighten the cats. In fact, I think they kind of like them. Rhiannon, who's a 'fraidy cat in many respects, cuddled up next to the large-area unit downstairs after hesitantly sniffing the air output and making funny cat faces at it. Maybe the hum seems like mama's purr to her. I'm glad she didn't run under a bed and hide. Grendel and Maebh seem to take them in stride. Grendel is typically indifferent to anything that is not food and Maebh just can't be distracted from the evil plots she's always hatching.

And what of the missing unit? That's hitch four. When the shipper answered my e-mail, they said they were out of the medium-area units and could just send the one. Thanks, but that's the first I'd heard of it. They communicated with me by e-mail to confirm my order, detail the charges and shipping costs, and notify me of the shipping and delivery date. At no point did they let me in on the secret that my order was only being partially fulfilled. There goes another fine layer of teeth enamel.

Now, with the units on low for the last 24 hours, the air in the house is much sweeter. The dense, swirling mass of particulate matter that I could once see in the sunbeams than shone through the windows is gone. That's pretty amazing and exactly what I hoped for when I bought the units. Also, the unit in my bedroom, which doesn't need to be smack in the middle, provides that nice white noise hum that induces sleep.

Now I just need that other unit.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Game Day at TGM

Mid month is always game day at The Game Matrix in Lakewood, WA. For the past few months I've made the 60-mile trek south from my home in Lynnwood to play Field of Glory with the local riff-raff. This Saturday, I took the opportunity to participate in someone else's game.

Kevin Smyth, our intrepid Northwest Historical Miniature Gamer, came up with what will surely be the next big thing in historical miniature wargaming: Kevin does the 100 Years War. Right now they're a home-brew set of rules for fast action set in the 14th-15th century.

French chivalry loaded for bear (unfortunately, they ran into English instead)

Kevin has been big on the 100 Years war for about eight years now. When we started, we were using a set of rules I brewed up as a late medieval variant for the Pig Wars Dark Age skirmish rules. I was going to paint Frenchies and he would paint the "Goddams." Eight years later, I have about a dozen figures painted, about two dozen partially painted, and several dozen raw lead. Kevin has 100s (really, 100s) of painted figures for both sides. I am a slug.

Over the years we have tried various other rules such as Tactica Medieval Siege, Featherstone's rules, and WRG Renaissance rules. We are set to try it again using Terry Gore's Medieval Warfare rules as soon as we--or Kevin--paint and base troops for it. Kevin is actually painting whole new armies rather than rebase his old stuff, which is all singly mounted on 3/4" x 1" bases for foot and 1" x 2" bases for horse. So, to keep the old figures in action, he's written his own rules.

The game represented an English chevauchée returning with it's loot only to be blocked to their front by a force of local chivalry and professional soldiers and harassed on their flank and rear by angry peasants and a force of town milita. The English had to exit a specified location of the board with their loot and points were awarded for losses.

The chevauchée in progress

The game played quickly. The rules were simple enough with sufficient flavor for the period. However, we soon discovered that shooting, especially English longbows, was overly deadly. French units would advance against them only to be decimated by a single volley. Kevin had an arrowstorm rule that doubled the effect of the shooting, which was already deadly. Part of our post-game wrap-up was discussing amendments that makes shooting less devastating.

Goddams with bows: deadly as sin, even in muddy fields

The game went about three hours. The Goddams didn't get off the board, but hadn't yet lost any loot. Also, most of the French were lying gloriously dead on the field, festooned with arrows. Points were about even by that time, so we (the French players) declared it a French moral victory (not that victory or morality have ever played a big part in French history).

A few tables away, the Puyallup Wargamers were playing a big game of Warhammer Ancients Battles (WAB). It looked to be Macedonians and Carthaginians against Romans and Numidians. Lots of very nicely painted 28mm figures on the board. It's a shame they don't play Field of Glory.

Macedonian phalanx covered by skirmishers (who don't look to be covered by much themselves)

Macedonian Companion cavalry in wedge formation

Hordes of Numidian light horsemen

The Numidian elephant corps with Romans to their right

Monday, September 15, 2008

Caesar and Fritz

On Sunday, I played a game of Field of Glory with Mike Garcia to teach him the rules. Mike played once earlier this year when several of us got together to play some multiplayer games in order to learn (and argue) about the rules. Other than that, Mike has been a DBM player for several years and was feeling that he finally got it--and then everyone switched to FoG.

Mike played an early German army against my Dominate Romans. You can buy a lot of cheap warband scum for 800 points. Mike's army was cobbled together from the DBM-based stands he used for a Teutoburg Forest game. He had several units of warbands and two units of javelin-armed skirmishers, no cavalry, and just two generals (which may not have been a legal list, but who's counting). In any case, there was every freakin' German in Germania on the table facing me. I know how Varus must have felt.

We fought on a field full of difficult terrain. That hurt his warbands, which were all heavy foot and thus would be severely disordered by the steep hills, marsh, and forest. None of the terrain helped me either, but I had three units of medium foot who were only disordered in this terrain. What the terrain really did was break up any cohesive mass of warband battle lines that might come against me. 

The Roman center facing the big swamp

I deployed my heavy foot in the center guarding a gap between a large forest and a swamp that dominated the center of the table. I had my equites sagittarii and Huns on my right supported by auxilia palatina. On my left I had the catafractarii, the equites, the equites Illyricani and another unit of auxilia palatina. My plan was to skirmish on my right with the horse archers and look for a chance to attack a flank with my heavier cavalry on the left. I held fast in the center and waited for him to come to me through all that nasty terrain.

On my left, I faced two smaller warbands (eight bases each) and one unit of javelinmen. I made some good effect against the warbands, but it never lasted. One warband had been worn down to fragmented status, but I couldn't push it to broken and Mike eventually bolstered the warband back to steady.

Horse archers skirmishing on my right

On my left, Mike advanced his other unit of javelinmen against my equites Illyricani. We skirmished a bit until he failed a cohesion test and fell to disrupted. At that point, I charged him and sent him running back behind his warbands. All the while, I was advancing my catafractarii, auxilia, and equites. I figured the catafractarii could take on a whole warband of 12 bases, I thought the equites might need more luck. I worked the equites over to my extreme left, which put them in a position to attack the flank of his rightmost warband if he moved it up too far.

Imminent action on my right

It was here that I got stupid. My equites Illyricani were skirmishing against his rightmost warband. My equites and auxilia were within 4 MUs of the warband when he declared a charge against the Illyricani. I should have simply evaded, which would have drawn out the warband into a position where my equites would have struck their flank. For some reason, which I don't understand in retrospect, I feared that his warband's variable move might take it into the auxilia, so instead I intercepted the warband with my auxilia and equites. I didn't have the flank attack in my favor, so in the impact phase he had the advantage. Both my units lost the impact and following melee combats. However, my cohesion held and I passed my death rolls, so no base loss.

The catafractarii about to go into action

On my next turn, I charged the catafractarii against his other warband and the skirmishers he'd brought up next to them. The skirmishers had to evade and the catafractarii smacked into the hairies in a one-on-one fight. This fight, too, went against me, although without cohesion or base loss.

Now I have to admit that my second stupidity was forgetting the break-off rule. Instead of backing up my equites and catafractarii because they were in contact with steady foot at the end of the turn, I kept them in. This had a double-edged effect. The catafractarii wore down the warband it faced inflicting 25% base loss and reducing them to broken status. However, the equites and auxilia were having the same done to them by Mike's rightmost warband. They didn't lose cohesion, but I lost enough death rolls to lose 50% of my equites and, eventually, more than 50% of the auxilia (both units were rated superior). When the auxilia autobroke, both the equites and catafractarii failed their cohesion tests in response and fell to disrupted status.

By this time, we'd been playing for more than three hours and had to call it. He had one broken unit, I had one broken unit and one unit that was nearly broken due to lost bases. It might have been difficult for me to do more to him. Those 12-base warbands die very hard. On the other hand, for him to get at my main line of legionarii, he would need to plod through marsh and forest getting severely disordered en route, which I don't think he'd do.

I think the game reconciled Mike to the inevitability of FoG taking over the ancients gaming scene. Much of his learning curve has to do with making the paradigm shift from DBM and I think he's well on his way. In our post-game wrap-up, he admitted that there was nothing he disliked about FoG and a few things he liked very much. As he wrote later in an e-mail, "FoG has definitely left a good taste on my palate. I'm eager to play again ASAP." You can't hope for better than that.