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, 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.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fat men and iron

Phil Bardsley and I had our quasi-monthly dim sum/shoot some event on Saturday. For the first time I can recall, we didn't finish everything we ordered at Noble Court. I think this means my stomach may be shrinking. 

At the range, I mostly shot .45 ACP from my SIG 220, but I rented a Kimber Gold Match II to try it out. Phil has a Kimber Eclipse Pro that I've shot a few times. Kimbers are very nice pistols and accurate like anything. I was hoping to see a big enough difference between the Kimber and my SIG to make me want to trade up, but Kimbers don't come cheap and even with a trade-in on my well-used SIG, I expect to pay a lot for one.

I did get to thinking about another cowboy gun, however. I enjoy my Cimarron Arms Model P SA .45 so much that I want to get a companion (or two). After shooting, I stopped off at two places near me: Adventure Sports in Lynnwood and Sam's Gun Shop in Everett. Adventure Sports carries several Uberti pistols and long guns; Sam's carries the Cimarron line. (Sam's is the only Cimarron dealer in WA state.) Cimarron are made by Uberti in Italy, but the lines are actually distinct. There are several models in each range that are not available in the other.

At Adventure Sports, I was looking longingly at a .45 1858 New Army conversion. It's a big gun with a long 8" barrel, but felt surprisingly light when I handled it and it's very nicely balanced. I'm a little hesitant to get another pistol that shoots .45 LC because of the difficulty finding jacketed rounds for it--as well as the expense of even the cowboy action rounds. But I learned from Sam's that they have such faith in the circulation system for their range that they allow shooting lead cap bullets. I've been shooting at Wade's for years, but it's nice to know that there's a place only a few miles from my house where I can shoot my SA even when I can't find jacketed rounds.

At Sam's I found what I'd hoped they'd have: Cimarron's model of the .38 Colt Lightning. It's chambered for .38 special and has a bird's head grip. It's a nice light piece and well balanced. The .38 ammo is much less expensive than .45 LC and is widely available as FMJ, so indoor shooting at any range isn't a problem. They had one with a 5.5" barrel and another with, I think, a 4.75" or maybe 3.5" barrel. The 5.5" barrel is what I wanted and I bought it after only a few minutes consideration (just long enough to let me look over a Cimarron "Yellow Boy" they had on the wall). I don't have a concealed carry permit, so I have to wait for a background check to clear before I can take possession of the gun, but I could have it by the weekend. Also, I can fire it on the premises at Sam's (on their range, not in the shop).

The acquisition of the Lightning gives me a pair that is similar to the pair of pistols that Doc Holliday is reputed to have carried--except that his were nickel plated and ivory handled. Mine are blued with a color case-hardened frame and Tru Ivory grips. I'd love to get genuine ivory or, even better, mammoth ivory; however, it's difficult and expensive to get natural ivory for a SA grip because of the size required. Also, the Colt Lightning that Doc carried was a double action. Cimarron's model is single action. Interestingly, I read recently that the poor operating condition of most of the surviving Colt Lightnings is due to the owner's practice of firing them as single-action pistols, which is what they would be used to. Apparently, the Lightning wasn't intended for single-action use.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

People of Puget Sound, I apologize

A few weeks ago, I went to the Starbucks on 24th Street in Redmond, WA. It was there that I had perhaps one the the tastiest treats ever: a Cherry Almond Multigrain Scone. Since that day, I have asked for the Cherry Almond Multigrain Scone at several Starbucks in the region, only to be told that they are out or that they've never heard of it.

It's the Sullivan Curse™.

I learned long ago to my deep chagrin that I have the power to destroy the best foods and snacks on the market simply by liking them. Several discontinued flavors of Tim's chips? I did that. Larry's lobster cakes? Mea culpa. All those long lost Ben & Jerry's flavors? Mea maxima culpa.

The Cherry Almond Multigran Scone may be yet another victim--at least in my immediate area, which encompasses the Puget Sound area of Washington state. From Everett to Olympia, all along the I-5 and I-405 corridor, the Cherry Almond Multigrain Scone has disappeared. It's all my fault. People of Puget Sound, I apologize.

(BTW, if any of you love those nasty pumpkin scones, rest assured. I hate 'em. They'll be available for many years to come.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Painting the Punic pachyderm

I finally finished elephant #1 for my FoG Carthaginian army. I actually finished it last week, but held off posting until I took pictures. This was the first 28mm elephant I have painted. It seemed like a daunting task at first, but I learned a lot in my first try and I expect that elephant #2, which will complete the unit, will go more quickly and smoothly.

As I posted earlier, the Crusader Miniatures model doesn't exactly look like an African elephant should. It's a nice model, as elephant models go, but the round porcine body makes it look a bit more like Shep from George of the Jungle than a real elephant. But I have to say that that's par for the course with elephant models. I can't think of any other manuafacturer's model that looks any more like a real elephant. I also think that if any manufacturer came out with a real-looking elephant model, people would complain that it doesn't look right.

My first task was partialy assembling the model. The elephant itself comes in three parts, the howdah in five parts, and the crew are three figures: mahout and two fighting crew. I built the elephant using the miraculous Gorilla Glue super glue and a bit of ProCreate professional scultptor's putty. The Gorilla Glue is my new favorite. It works great and is impact resistant so you don't lose spears or see your model fall apart on the tabletop after a wee bump. The two-part sculptor's putty is pretty easy to use, but stiffer than I thought it would be. Long ago, I picked up some steel sculpting tools on a whim (I had no idea what I'd do with them, but they were really cheap). I finally found a use for them shaping the putty after I applied it to the assembled elephant model. Then, after the putty fully cured, I carved off the excess with an X-Acto knife and went over it all with a bit of fine sandpaper. The result was a smooth, seamless look.

I left the howdah separate from the elephant for priming and painting. It's easier to work with the parts separately. I didn't assemble the final model until after the elephant, howdah, and crew were painted separately.

In progess: elephant on its base with the howdah being painted separately

I started by painting the elephant's skin and eyes. I used a base color of Vallejo Basalt Gray over which I drybrushed lighter versions of the same color. I used Vallejo Ivory for the tusks and toenails with a dark gray wash around them. While painting the elephant's skin, I could hold onto the blanket part, but I didn't want to grasp any part I'd painted while painting the blanket and howdah straps. So, I decided to attach the elephant to the base for further painting.

The business end of the Carthaginian elephant corps

I terrained the base first using the coarse pumice gel medium. Only two of the four legs of the elephant touch ground and I wasn't sure how sturdy it would be while painting, so I drilled a hole in one of the feet and used a short bit of brass rod to connect the model to the base. I'm not sure how much more secure that makes it, but I thought it would help keep the elephant on the base. I use magnetic sheet on the bottom of the base and line the storage box with metal. It can be a pretty good stick and I fear that pulling the base off the steel may put strain on the model if I pick it up that way. (I'll need to line the box in such a way that I can easily pull the model out by the base.)

The base I used was 80mm square (I'm using bases for the 28mm figures that are twice the dimensions of the 15mm base sizes). Painting the elephant on that base was pretty awkward at times, but I managed. I opted for a yellowish tan for the blanket with a blue border. For the straps, I wanted to use Reaper Paints Oiled Leather, but my bottle had dried out and I couldn't find more anywhere in the greater Seattle area. Instead I used Regal's Realms Leather Work paint. It's not very opaque, so I had to use several coats to get it right. (I finally got the Oiled Leather paint, so I'll use that on elephant #2.)

I painted the howdah's interior Vallejo Dark Red and used Vallejo Red Leather for the exterior. I also drybrushed lightened Red Leather over the exterior to bring out the texture.

I decided to go with a darker flesh color for the crew. I figure the mahout would be Numidian and the crew Libyan (although, really, they could just as well be all Numidians). In any case, I figured they would be darker than Iberians, Guals, Italians, etc. I went with Howard Hues Middle East Flesh as the base coat. I think it turned out OK, but I might have wanted a shade lighter for the Libyans. From what I've read, ancient Libyans were lighter skinned than one might imagine, but not exactly caucasian.

The elephant's crew

After finishing the elephant, I attached the fully-painted howdah and mahout, but not the howdah crew, and gave it coat of polyurethane as a protective coat. It's pretty glossy once it dries and I had to apply several coats of dullcote to tone it down. I sprayed the howdah crew separately with the polyurethane and dullcote. Then I completed terraining the base with the rocks and various layers of Woodland Scenics turf.

Somewhat aerial view of the base

Finally, I put the crew in the howdah. Up to this point, I was never sure they would both fit, so I was very happy to discover that there is ample room for both fighting crew.

I still have to get elephant #2, which John is having a hard time getting from the dustributor. There must be some kind of run on Carthaginians since I started painting my army. I've already talked to three people in the Seattle area who are working on armies. We may have a Carthaginian civil war brewing...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Waiting for XXX Corps

Today saw another foray into World War II gaming in 15mm. Ken Kissling ran an Arnhem game at John Kennedy's Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. We started with the 2nd Para battalion (Johnny Frost and co.) in possession of Arnhem with the 1st and 3rd battalions of 1st Para Brigade coming through Oosterbeek to reinforce them. Ken, Mark Serafin and I were the Brits. John, Chris Craft, and Steve Puffenberger were the Germans.

The rules we used were Kampfgruppe Commander II (KGC, which could also stand for Kirkland Gamers Consensus because of the fluid nature of our adherence to them--although there is often little consensus). We've been playing these rules since the first edition of KGC came out in 2001 and I don't think we've used the same exact rules in any two games. We adopted these rules after playing a bit of Command Decision III because we liked the command/control aspects better, but there is lot of vagueness in the rules that gets compounded by our interpretations and house rules. There are many house rules and they are always changing, often in mid-game. So, a central tradition in our KGC games is the Obligatory Argument Phase (OAP), which precedes play and might recur at random points throughout the game.

I played Johnny Frost and the 2nd battalion in Arnhem. I had three companies of Paras, a recon company, an engineer company, a 3" mortar, a PIAT detachment, and a detachment of 6-pounder AT guns.

Johnny Frost and his hunting horn

Coming at me, commanded by Steve, was the 9th SS Panzer Recon battalion on the south side of the Rhine and, north of Arnhem, some companies of SS infantry supported by a company of Panzer IV tanks.

2nd battalion Paras in Arnhem

Steve started out with an cautious advance over the Arnhem bridge and an attack against the north end of the town. The bridge advance was beaten back with loss by the 6-pounders. The purpose of it was to flush out the defenders from ambush position, which it did, but the loss to the armored recon company that made the advance was never recovered. The attack on the north end of town was supported by the panzers, but after several turns of ineffective firing back and forth, the panzers were badly mauled by the British infantry PIAT detachment.

German attack on the north side of Arnhem

At this point--and after a prolonged OAP--Steve sent in the full force of the 9th SS Panzer Recon battalion, which ended as a spectacular failure, just as the historical attack was. By this time John's forces, more SS infantry, had come up to support Steve's attack. and were nibbling at the east side of Arnhem. However, the Paras held on and inflicted serious damage on two companies of John's battalion. The attack on Arnhem pretty much stalled. The 2nd battalion hadn't lost a single stand or asset and the Germans had wrecked most of three battalions in their attack.

9th SS Panzer Recon in flames on Arnhem bridge

To the west of Arnhem, the fighting around Oosterbeek was going in the Germans favor. Despite a qualitative edge, the Paras were having a hard time dislodging the Germans from their defensive positions that cut off Arnhem. New German forces advancing from the north were coming down to nip at the heels of the Brits as they tried to get into Arnhem.

1st and 3rd battalions Paras advancing through Oosterbeek

Ken, instead of proceeding to Arnhem or helping Mark break through, decided to disobey his own orders and turn up to make a fight for Oosterbeek against Chris' troops. Ultimately, it was a disaster. Chris managed to rout Ken out of the town in several turns of fighting. Meanwhile, Mark was bashing his head against John's other German force, which proved his undoing. There were heavy losses on both sides in the Oosterbeek fight, but the Germans were in position to bag the badly hurt Paras by the time we called the game. I don't think we called a winner and the successes and failures balanced out. Still, from an historical perspective, the 2nd battalion in Arnhem was better off, but XXX Corps was still screwing around in Eindhoven, so the Paras fate was sealed in any case.

The end in the woods outside Oosterbeek

The day's bickerings over rules failed to clarify anything for future reference, so the next KGC game will fight over the same ground, which, I guess, is part of the charm that keeps drawing us back.

The figures in all these pictures are all (or mostly) from Ken's collection.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I spent the first part of Labor Day playing block games with Dave Schueler. I have a longtime love of board games. Avalon Hill's U-Boat was my first board wargame and I played lots of Avalon Hill, Conflict Games, and SPI games from about age 10 through the time I started playing miniatures wargames. I had several friends from grade school on up who played these games. My friend Richard introduced me to PanzerBlitz, my friend Glen and I played Tactics II until we wore the game out, my friend Chet and I played every SPI game we could get our hands on.

In high school, I played a lot with my friends Ron Towler and Dave Trinidad. One of the games Ron was big on was Quebec 1759 from Columbia Games. Unlike the hex-and-counter games that I routinely played, Quebec used wooden blocks with unit symbols printed on them. Unit strength was indicated by pips that ran on two, three, or all four edges of the block's face. As the unit took hits, the block would be rotated to indicate the strength on the top edge. The blocks were maneuvered on the board with the symbols and strengths facing the owning player so that there was some simulation of the fog of war. Only when battles were fought were the units and their strengths revealed to the opposing player. It was a great concept and we would play back-to-back games for an afternoon.

Quebec 1759 was a pretty simple game system. As Columbia Games went on, they developed more nuanced game mechanics that retained simplicity and speed of play, but added features to the system that made game play more interesting and multi-faceted.

The last game Dave and I played yesterday was Columbia's latest long-awaited release, Athens & Sparta, which portrays the Peloponnesian War. It seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but with each turn we got a better feel for it. It's definitely a game that will improve with more play. The Spartans have a very strong central position with formidable land power. The Athenians have a far-flung empire with very strong naval forces. Game turns represent olympiads and each olympiad consists of twelve player turns (six for each in an I-go-U-go sequence).

I played Athens and adopted a Periclean strategy of an active defense. It paid off in a few occasions. Naupactus was the first big fight. Dave took it early on, but I managed to take it back and hold it. The second big fight was Chalcis where Dave made a major effort to take the city. The superior Athenian naval forces kept the city open to reinforcements and I was able to beat two strong attempts to storm it and persevere through plague and siege attrition losses. After the second attempt, my Macedonian allies came down to wipe out the remnants of the Spartan force after it had expended itself trying to take the city.

We didn't finish the game because of time constraints (I had a dinner party to put on that night), but we got through two-thirds of it. My feeling (and Dave's, too) was that Sparta had shot its bolt and unless I did something really stupid, like invading Syracuse, I would win. I had the luck of getting Macedon and Crete as allies. However, there was still Thessaly and Thrace in play and Sparta gaining them as allies could be a problem, so it was not a foregone conclusion.

We started the day playing a newer member of the block game family, Command & Colors Ancients by GMT Games. This series was released in 2006 and made a big splash among gamers. I bought the first game and the first expansion a while ago, but never had the chance to play them. Most of my gaming time is spent with miniatures and there are few board game players near enough to me that I can connect with.

We played two scenarios from the original game: Ilipa and Castulo. Both scenarios were set in Spain during the 2nd Punic War. I played Carthage in both scenarios (and lost twice). I am very happy with the game system. The rules are straightforward with enough detail to add color to the games. Luck plays a pretty significant part in the game. Card draws determine what actions you can take and the combat dice can roll hot or cold. However, it cuts both ways and Dave and I each had a share of hot dice and cold dice. Even so, good play depends on what you do with what you're given; careful, judicious play is generally rewarded. Commands & Colors Ancients is definitely a system I want to play more of.

The rest of Labor Day went well. I had my mother, sister, and her two sons over for dinner. I made a Mediterranean dish with shrimp and scallops in a spicy scampi sauce over fusili pasta. I made this before a few times and it's a favorite. I cook well, but like most of my endeavors, I throw a lot of money at it, so a home-cooked meal for five tends to cost me as much as I would pay if I took everybody out for dinner and picked up the tab. The meal was topped off by a cottage cheese and nutmeg pie my sister brought. Surprisingly, it was pretty good. It's actually kind of custardy with the texture of cottage cheese. By day's end I was exhausted. Fortunately, I have today off to recover. Also, I've got all this leftover food in my fridge...