Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mayhem in the maize

On December 17 Kevin Smyth and I ran another test play of our Quetzalcoatl Rampant variant of Dan Mersey's Lion Rampant skirmish rules. We'd played a game with the other two Daves at Meeples Games in West Seattle in August. Kevin also ran a game at the NHMGS game day at the Boeing Museum of Flight in November. For that game he revised some of the values for the troop types to give the Aztecs a bit more of a fighting chance. In both games the Spanish never even broke a sweat while beating Montezuma's minions like rented mules. After the second game, he revised things further. (I've updated the values in my Quetzalcoatl Rampant blog post.)

Saturday's game was still a bit of a walkover for los Españoles, but that may have been due to my extraordinary dicing--a talent I notably lack in most of my gaming adventures.

Kevin and Bailey played the Aztec horde and I played the Spanish. We each had 30 point retinues. I had one unit of caballeros, two units of rodeleros, one unit of arquebusiers, one unit of war-dogs, one Tlaxcalan skirmisher, and one unit of basic Tlaxcalan warriors. (We're toying with some kind of point limit for Spanish units in "Spanish" retinues to make them use more allies.)

The Spanish deployed, caballeros in reserve
Kevin and Bailey's force, as far as I recall, was maybe four skirmisher units, two basic warrior units, two veteran warrior units, and a unit of fearsome eagle knights.

The terrain was a couple houses, some wooded bits, and some maize fields. The terrain worked against the Aztecs because it let the numerically inferior Spanish dominate in the tight spots between blocking or hindering terrain and kept them from being enveloped by the Aztec horde.

I started out cagey. The Aztec warriors are better in attack than in defense (and the Spanish are correspondingly worse at defense than attack). I wanted to be the one attacking, so I hung back with my rodeleros out of 6" range of his troops waiting for him to move within my charge range. I held back the caballeros as a reserve strike force. I used my arquebusiers and Tlaxcalan skirmishers to good effect. I forced one of Bailey's skirmisher units to run (and keep running) on my first shot. The Aztecs didn't really have much luck with their courage rolls, nor with their own shooting.

Improved fearsome boomsticks of war
In our various combats, I managed to roll 11 hits against units a couple times. Maybe that's not too surprising when I'm hitting on 3+, but it has devastating effect on units with "2" armor. Coupled with poor courage rolls, the Mexica were soon in a world of hurt. The vaunted eagle knights rolled so low on their courage test that they clean buggered off the field.

Successive waves of Aztec nastiness
My war dogs were successful, but they'd lost half their number by game's end. I lost two caballeros and, I think, three rodeleros, and a couple Tlaxcalan skirmishers My arquebusiers and the Tlaxcalan warriors were untouched. (The Tlaxcalan warriors never got engaged, actually.)

My initial thoughts for this variant, as I mentioned in the original Quetzalcoatl Rampant post, were that Aztec numbers would offset Spanish quality. However, the disparity is still too significant, I think. I've been pondering some more things that might boost Aztec performance. In brief, these are:
  • Give the Aztecs (and Tlaxcalans) an 8" movement rate. This change would put the Aztecs in better position to charge the Spanish and get the benefit of their Attack combat value (and reduce the Spanish to their Defense combat value). For example, warrior knights or veteran warriors versus rodeleros would be 4+ Attack vs. 4+ Defend. The sole Spanish advantage is a "3" armor compared to the Aztec "2" armor. Things could get a bit more dangerous for the Conquistadors--especially since the Spanish units are 6 figures and the Aztecs are 12. This change might also prompt the Spanish rodeleros to use their Close Order rule and increase their protection to a "4" armor.
  • Give the Aztecs and Tlaxcalans a 12" range if they take the Atl-Atl option. The option costs 1 point, but is pretty useless with a 6" range. In fact, it's unusable since Aztec warrior knights and veteran warriors have the Wild Charge rule. If they're within 6" they can't shoot, they must attempt to attack.
Our next scheduled game is the Drumbeat game day in Seattle on February 4, but I think I'd like to sneak another game in before then to give these new ideas a try. Our ultimate plan is to run a few big games of this at Enfilade! in May. Until then, I have a lot of painting to do...

Sturm und D.(r)A.N.G.

We met at Dave Schueler's house in West Seattle on Boxing Day for Dave's Annual Naval Game (D.A.N.G.) XV. A few of our stalwarts were absent, but we had a good number on hand, including a cameo performance by Paul Hannah, esq. The game this year was a hypothetical crisis in the Caribbean ca. 1903 where Der Huns are trying to bully a port away from Venezuela on the pretext of unpaid debts. Teddy Roosevelt sends in a few naval units to brandish the Big Stick and warn off the sausage-eaters. What could go wrong?

Dave Creager, Arthur Brooking, and I were the Americans. Dale Mickel, Scott Murphy, and Chuck/Charlie X, were the Germans. At the beginning of the mini-campaign, the Germans had already bombarded some Venezuelan ports and had naval units in Puerto Cabello. The Americans were all up at Culebra in the Virgin Islands. The Germans also had naval units in Port of Spain. The victory conditions were simple and exclusive: The Germans had to gain their coveted port in Venezuela and the Americans had to make sure they didn't.

In the end, the Germans' Drang nach einem Hafen turned into a Sturm auf Zee.

Each side had options they could take. For the Americans, our at-start units were a collection of protected cruisers and gunboats. The Germans had some roughly equivalent ships but also three armored cruisers that outclassed anything we had. Since we had the option to take three battleships (Indiana, Massachusetts, and Texas), we did. What's a naval game without 13" guns? The Germans also had the option to add two battleships to their force, but they would be coming from far off and wouldn't be available until day 6 of the mini-campaign. Being impatient Teutonic types, they decided to go with what they had and forego waiting for the big boys. That was perhaps a mistake.

By day 2 of the mini-campaign, we had one squadron at Puerto Cabello only to find that the few German ships that were there at the start had been reinforced with the rest of the German ships from Port of Spain. Our other squadron, containing the battleships, had made for Puerto de la Guaira to act as a blocking force against the Germans coming from Port of Spain, which, however, had already passed through before we got there.

With our squadron at Puerto Cabello outnumbered and outgunned, we stalled for time and sent a dispatch boat to Puerto de la Guaira to bring up the other squadron. Meanwhile, both the Americans and Germans were pressuring the Italian squadron in the Caribbean. The Germans wanted them to join their blockade of the Venezuelan ports and the Americans wanted them to stay out of it. In the end, the Italians let the Germans lead them by the nose into trouble not of their making.

By day 3, the American squadron was assembled. The Germans had one cruiser and a gunboat in the harbor landing troops. We negotiated to have the USS Atlanta (our slowest ship) go into the port and land some Marines to protect American interests. We later attempted to reinforce Atlanta with a gunboat (USS Concord), but that was turned back when the Germans sent another gunboat to block the channel.

At this point the Italians steamed into troubled waters. Our ultimatum to them was to turn about, which they did at first. Then a German cruiser came to escort them back. We fired a shot across their bows, which set the stage for the ensuing naval action of Puerto Cabello.

We used David Manley's rules Fire When Ready! to play the game. They're a nice, quick-moving set of rules for the pre-dreadnought era. Dave's ship models were all Panzershiffe 1:2400 scale.

Each side organized their forces into three squadrons:

American 1st squadron - 3 battleships, 4 protected cruisers
American 2nd squadron - 4 protected cruisers
American 3rd squadron - 3 gunboats

German 1st squadron - 3 armored cruisers
German 2nd squadron - 3 light cruisers
German 3rd squadron - 1 German light cruiser, 2 Italian light cruisers

Out of the main fight were the Atlanta and the German cruiser and two German gunboats who were baring their teeth at each other in the harbor.

The initiative system in Fire When Ready! has each squadron rolling a D6 and adding its squadron command rating to get a number that could run from 1 (worst) to 8 (best). On turn 1, we had universally poor initiative rolls, but that helped. The sequence of play has the best initiative squadron move last and fire first. Loath to fire the first shots, the Germans, who all had priority to fire before the Americans, passed on shooting. We, having already fired a shot across the Italians' bows, felt obliged to open fire on just the Italians when our turn to fire came. The results weren't spectacular. Only the 1st squadron (Arthur and me) had the range and the concentration of fire increasingly obscured subsequent salvoes. But this meant that things would start to happen.

Turn 2 was equally fortunate for us because we got the higher initiative for our squadrons. The German 2nd and 3rd squadrons aggressively moved in to close the range and get their torpedoes in action. We got to shoot first and walloped them. The USS Indiana blew up the lead ship (Gazelle) in the German 2nd squadron (Dale's) and badly mauled the second ship (Niobe) so that it was a burning wreck. 13" guns will do that to cruisers.

Arthur (running the 1st squadron's cruisers) kept up fire on the German 3rd squadron and continued to hurt the Italians. Dave Creager was engaging Chuck's armored cruisers at a disadvantage, though they seemed to be matching hit for hit--except Dave couold take fewer hits before disaster.

On turn 3, I split the battleships off from the 1st squadron and left Arthur to keep at the now badly hurt 3rd and 2nd German squadrons. I figured the battleships needed to get into action against the armored cruisers. Still in range of the other Germans, the battleships lent a hand as Arthur dispatched the Italians and put more hurt on Scott's remaining German cruiser. Dave Creager got a lucky hit against one of Chuck's armored cruisers (Fürst Bismarck), which left it in bad shape.

By turn 4, the Germans were buring or sinking all over the water. Chuck's other two armored cruisers were in good shape, but the American battleships were already in range and shooting, so there was no need to stay around. The Fürst Bismarck was only making three knots and wound up striking her colors. Dale's surviving cruiser and Chuck's two armored cruisers fled away.

In the harbor, the Germans made a failed torpedo attack on the Atlanta and shots were exchanged, but with the general carnage of the German ships outside the harbor, further German hostility was futile. The German forces in the port laid down arms and prepared to be escorted out.

Without the battleships, the Americans would have been doomed. Had the battleships and armored cruisers engaged right off, the battle might have been less lop-sided, but they were on opposite ends of the table. However, despite being damaged a bit, Dave's protected cruisers fought the armored cruisers to a standstill until the battleships arrived. Only Olympia was much damaged, but not critically (yet).

We speculated after the game that this naval disaster for the Germans might have lead to Germany abandoning its aggressive naval program, which might have averted World War 1 and thereby World War 2, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam...

For another account of D.A.N.G. XV (and piccies) see Dave Schueler's blog Naval Gazing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

We like pike!

After a long hiatus since our last Pike & Shotte game, we played some 30 Years War on Saturday at the Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. Mike Lombardi and Troy Wold provided all the figures. Mike provided the brains, too. The rest of us pushed lead (and plastic) and rolled dice.

Mike wanted to try the Mercenary Captains campaign in The Devil's Playground supplement for Pike & Shotte. The campaign pits coalitions of players in a mini-campaign of four scenarios. At the start of the campaign, the players roll dice to determine the character of their commander and the forces he commands. The commanders start as average, the troops start as a bit below average. As the campaign progresses, the quality of both may rise.

I rolled up a force whose commander was rated as "popular," which modified my die rolls for my troops but also gives my opponents an advantage in their command rolls in the games (although we forgot to do this...). My units came out to 4 x musketeers, 2 x pike blocks, 1 x reiters, 1 x dragoons. At eight units, I had the biggest force on the board—not that it counted for much.

One of my battalia deployed with musketeers forward supported by pikes
There were four forces in the game. Troy and I played one side, Brett and Paul played another, while Mike adjudicated and kibitzed. The object was to hold a small town in the center of the board. The scenario in The Devil's Playground calls for a 4' x 4' playing area. We were on a 6' x 8' area. We started just 12" in from the edge, so we actually had more ground to cover to get at each other. Instead of being just 24" apart at the start, we were 48" apart. The medium guns that Troy and Paul had were out of range on turn 1.

Troy's Bavarian horde on my left
Troy had one battalia of 2 musketeers and a pike block, another battalia of just one musketeer unit and a pike block, a medium gun, and a unit of militia scum. He deployed opposite the town with the intention of rushing in and occupying it first.

Brett countered by charging his cuirassier unit against one of Troy's musketeer units, but just failed to contact. The next turn Troy managed to shoot it up with muskets and close range artillery, which sent it packing when Brett rolled snake-eyes on his courage test.

Bavarians in the village defending against Brett's Proddies
Troy got a musketeer unit into each of the village areas and managed to hold them against attacks by Brett's pikes on one side and Paul's pikes on the other. Troy was helped against Paul by the intervention of his commander who was rated as 'bloodthirsty', a characteristic that gave him extra combat dice.

Troy's 'bloodthirsty' commander inspires his troops to hold the farm
I slowly advanced on the right against Paul's forces. For both Paul and I our command rolls didn't let us make huge sweeping movements. It wasn't until turn 3 that I got into musket range of any enemy, though Paul's gun was popping away (without effect) on my musketeers from turn 2.

The highwater mark of my advance
My musketeers managed to pepper Paul's pike block that had been repulsed by Troy's hedgehog. I pushed him into shaken status, which left him in a delicate state. Shaken, he couldn't do much except sit and take fire or attempt to rally, but that option had its own peril. All our units are rated 'mercenary', which means that a failed attempt to rally from being shaken will cause the unit to retire ("They don't pay me for this!").

While onr village area was secure, Troy and Brett remained locked in combat for the second. Brett lost a musketeer unit in the fight, but his pikes remained stuck in against Troy's musketeers in the buildings.

Brett's pike assail the village
On the other side, my other battalia was advancing towards Paul's gun and militia. My dragoons were on the far left (mounted) with the reiters behind them. There was one point where I hoped to fling the dragoons against Paul's militia, but I failed the command roll (they were at -2 because they were out of range of my commander).

My second battalia and commander stride confidently forward
By now we'd completed six turns: end of game. Starting so far apart kept us from getting at each other sooner. There was also a lot of blocking terrain that obscured fields of fire and hindered movement. On the plus side, I didn't lose any units, which is beneficial to the campaign.

After the game we rolled dice to see how we improved. Because we held the town, we were the winners, which could factor into the results. The three things we checked for were 1) commander upgrades, 2) unit skill upgrades, 3) reinforcements.

I managed to get a commander upgrade that give a +1 in combat to any of my troops within 12" of my commander. All my units got plusses to either their shooting (musketeers) or combat (pikes). My dragoons got increased stamina (I'd rather they shot better). I had a chance at getting up to two more units, but flubbed it on a die roll of "1" and got no reinforcements.

Troy managed to get another gun and milita unit, Brett recovered his lost cuirassiers, but got no reinforcements leaving him minus one musketeer for the campaign. I don't recall how Paul fared. I think at least one player got a command boost to "8" (we all started at "7").

We decided we liked the campaign and we'll stick with it. It's a good encouragement to finish painting my 30 Years War figures that I started nearly a year ago. (Longer, actually, because December is when I completed painting my first batch of figures. I'd started them much earlier than that.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Of all the shelters in all the towns in all the world...

I've pondered the question over the years whether I would adopt other cats after my trio (or any of the trio) died. With Grendel's cancer and death, the question became more acute.

My trio, Grendel, Rhiannon, and Maebh, have been such an intimate part of my daily existence for 10 years (or 9½ considering that Maebh came six months after I adopted Rhiannon) that I could never imagine any other pet situation than them. I figured at first that I would wait until all had died before I reconsidered a new cat (or cats). Then, after Grendel died, I figured I would wait a few months at least.

But like the serendipity of adopting Grendel, it seems that destiny took a hand.

I adopted Grendel from PAWS Cat City in Seattle in 2006. I went to their website to look for information about sponsoring a cat kennel in Grendel's honor. While there, I looked at the adoptable cats (as one must). There I saw a familiar-ish face. One of the cats was a 2 year old cow cat name Onyx, Jr. The face was vaguely Grendeloid, as if he were a son or younger brother. I was intrigued, even if I wasn't ready.

I wanted to stick with my idea of waiting at least a few months (or not adopting at all). I thought the girls might bond better if there were just the two. I wondered too if my career as a standard-issue bipedal humanoid cat-minder unit was on the wane and I should just let it run out. (But then I'd have to rename my blog I Lived with Cats.)

I halfheartedly decided to go down to Seattle on Saturday and take a look at Onyx, Jr. He sounded nice from the description on the website and I wanted to see him, even though I figured he may not even be there when I came.

After mass on Saturday, I stopped by for a bite of breakfast at Alexa's Cafe in Bothell, WA. The shelter didn't open until 11:00 and I had time to kill. While there, a friend of mine from the parish showed up unexpectedly and we ate breakfast together. She commented on Grendel's death and mentioned  her own cats. I didn't know she was a cat person until then. I told her about my intentions and misgivings about adopting again so soon. She provided just enough encouragement to get me to the shelter.

I was not disappointed. Onyx, Jr. was there, but before I could visit with any cat, I had to fill out a form and be interviewed by a shelter volunteer. I told the volunteer about Grendel (and cried), and about my remaining two. Apparently, they found me worthy.

Onyx, Jr. turned out to be a sweet cat. I found him lounging comfortably with a few of his fellow felines in one of the small cat rooms. It was hard. I found myself wanting to take him home, but still conflicted. I wasn't sure how the girls would react to a newcomer, I wasn't sure if I was ready for a new cat, I felt that adopting so soon after Grendel's death might be either a betrayal of him or an impetuous action resulting from my grief (Onyx, Jr. looked so much like Grendel).

I asked if they would put a 24-hour hold on him while I made up my mind. They would and I arranged to return early Sunday afternoon.

I went home and started sort-of preparing my den to be where he'd be isolated from gen-pop while he acclimated to the new home. I was still just 80% sure about this. I also spent a lot of time thinking it through. I was afraid that Rhiannon would go ballistic, but I was also confident that Maebh would love a new pal. She'd been such good friends with Grendel.

After mass on Sunday, I headed back down to Seattle still in my Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes. I went in to visit with Onyx, Jr. a bit more and all doubts were dispelled. He was a sweetheart and I figured that everything had come together so well that it was kismet. Just a short while later and I was headed home with a cat in a box.

I'd been sussing out a name for the new cat. I thought about sticking with a name from medieval literature. I thought about branching out to other sources and considered "Bonaparte" or "Charlemagne," but they sounded a bit hifalutin'. Finally, I decided on "Bogart." It took a few days to settle with me, but it fits him now, even if he still doesn't respond to it.

My fears about Rhiannon proved to be unfounded. While she didn't exactly welcome him, her reaction was more of cool indifference, i.e., no drama. My expectations about Maebh proved to be equally fallacious. She took one sniff of Bogart and deemed him unfit for feline companionship.

I kept him isolated for most of the first few days. Whenever he was out, Maebh would dog him growling and hissing. Her hostility made me wonder if I shouldn't have named him Cú Chulainn. She's come down a bit and Bogart's out in gen-pop now whenever I'm home, but it can still be dodgy.

Otherwise, he's settling in. He's found some favorite places, but he has yet to get cuddly with me, even though he's very affectionate. When I work at my desk upstairs, he loves to sprawl right in front of me in classic Grendel fashion.

He took to the high ground right off and I've fixed him a bed up there.

He's made a pretty thorough inspection of the house. He approves the library.

He loves the big glass door (one of Grendel's favorite places).

His full personality has yet to appear. So far, he's sweet and gentle, but Maebh's hostility has him a bit apprehensive. He loves to play. He tries to make nice with the girls, but so far without luck. He has a quiet little squeak for a meow. Once Maebh has settled down and accepted him, things will move forward. I'm looking forward to how things turn out.

And then there were two...

Grendel died on September 6.

In the six weeks from when his sickness started to his death, my life was in turmoil. Multiple vet visits and attempts at cancer-fighting supplements didn't slow anything down. It was hard to get him to take anything other than his prednisolone, which he eagerly downed in a pill pocket. He wouldn't touch food that had anything added to it and the capsules were too big to make him swallow. In the last days, he wouldn't even take the prednisolone. I had to crush it, liquefy it, and fight to give it to him orally with a syringe.

Grendel was a fighter. The cancer was already terminal before it was discovered. He'd suffered with it for a while without ever giving on that he was sick. Even in his final days, he seemed so determined to carry on as if nothing was wrong. He so wanted to be back to normal, but his body wouldn't cooperate. I thought he'd fade away until nothing remained but a shell, but it was the opposite. Indomitable to the end, Grendel remained strongly present; it was the shell that faded away.

He was terribly bloated from the cancer. He could walk only in short spurts. He lost nearly all of his prodigious appetite; by the end he would only lap a bit of milk from a saucer.

I'd resolved to let him die naturally at home, but by the afternoon of Labor Day, he was hunkered down just under my bed, where he'd been all day. I knew he was in pain. I lay there next to him weeping and praying and found myself crying out to God, "I don't want him to suffer any more." Later that evening I found someone who could come to my home in the morning and put him to sleep. I couldn't bear the idea of taking him away to die on a cold table at the vet's. It was the first time I admitted to myself that he could die.

I awoke Tuesday morning with foreboding. Grendel had gone downstairs during the night. I'd been unsure that he would even live through it. The morning was a bit rainy - weeping like me - and cold. I made a fire and to my surprise Grendel lay down by it for a bit. Maebh came and sat with him for a while. I'm glad they had a chance to say goodbye. She loved him and they often snuggled by the fire.

When the vet, Sarah, came, Grendel had gone down to sit in the foyer. I wept as I carried him upstairs. Sarah asked where I wanted us to be; I wasn't sure. I brought him to the couch where we used to sit together so often, but Grendel crawled back to the fire. I think he chose the place. He loved being by the fire. I have so many pictures of him there.

I wept and held him when Sarah gave him the sedative. I told him how much I loved him. I thanked him for choosing me. I thanked him for all the joy (and trouble) he'd given me for 10 years. When he was out, Sarah gave him the drugs and I held him until his heart stopped.

I can't begin to describe all that he meant to me or the desolation his death has been. I never realized how much he filled the house until he was gone from it. There are memories of him in every room, every nook and cranny. It's no consolation that I can now eat unmolested.

Grendel loved me as much as I loved him. My ex-GF Lorrin told me how he would watch me as I moved around the house and how he'd sit and stare at me while I wasn't looking. When I sat on the couch with my left elbow propped up on some cushions, he would come and curl up in my left arm and purr unceasingly. Those were moments of bliss I'll never forget.

He was always excited to see me come home. He knew the sound of my car and I would often be driving up and see him pop into the window of the den upstairs, stare at me wide-eyed, and then pop down and be at the door three floors below by the time I opened it. Even if I took him by surprise, I'd no sooner step in the door than he'd be running downstairs going, "Wah wah wah wah wah!"

We'd play hide 'n' seek. I'd see him peering at me from around a corner and I'd slowly move towards him until I got close when he'd run off to another corner to hide and peer. I'd do the same with him. When he saw me peering around a corner at him, he'd come running at me.

He gave me presents. I have two cat toys that are long, snaky fabric thingies on a wand. They were the first cat toys I got for him. He'd lost interest in actually playing with them years ago, but he used to carry them around and place them near where I was or where I would be. I could hear him coming to me through the house meowing with one in his mouth. It was a strange, muffled wa-AUUUGH sound that he'd make. All through the years I would come home to find them left at the top of the stairs or I'd get up to find them at the bedroom door or they'd appear outside my den while I was there working.

There was never a cat like Grendel. There never will be again. My world is diminished by his loss.

Goodbye Grendel. Goodbye old friend. You were gone too soon from my life, but you will always be in my heart even as the memories of you grow more distant.


We are again three. Much to my own surprise, I adopted a new cat a week after Grendel died. But that's a story for another blog post.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

And the long goodbye begins...

My world suddenly went turvy last week when my beloved cow-cat Grendel was diagnosed with cancer.

He caught a sudden, severe cold on Sunday afternoon and by Monday he was listless, withdrawn, and had lost all interest in eating.

A few vet trips later, the results of an ultrasound last Thursday confirmed that he had cancer. It's inoperable and untreatable with chemo. The vet said he had maybe a few weeks or few months to live.

I've been devastated since then. I can't imagine losing him. His outsized personality and beguiling charm simply can't disappear forever. I'm not prepared for this and I've had more than a few good cries over it.

Since the diagnosis, he's rallied back. The cold affected him badly; as he recovers from it, he seems as much himself as ever. If I didn't know otherwise, I'd swear he was the vision of health. The old behaviors that vanished last week have slowly come back: He's back on my bed before dawn tormenting me to get up and feed him, he's back to snuggling with me on the couch, he was down at the door greeting the pizza man with me this afternoon, he's pestering Rhiannon, mewling loudly to be let into the garage, etc.

But a lot of anxiety remains. I notice things that aren't quite the same, or maybe just seem not quite the same. I wonder if he always slept so much or that I never considered it before. Is he less playful? Is he less troublesome and insufferable? I don't know, but every perceived change worries me that he's winding down. I expect more of these observations and worries as time goes on.

The vet put him on prednisolone, which is basically a steroid. I have friends who swear it's a miracle drug. One friend's cat was at the vet to be put down because it showed no signs of quality of life. They put her on prednisolone and six months later she's going strong. My vet told me that her childhood dog was diagnosed with cancer and given just a few weeks to live. The dog lived another five years on prednisolone. There's hope.

I took him to the vet this morning for a follow up. She was amazed to see how much he'd recovered from his sorry state last week. We talked about supplements and what I can do to keep up his quality of life. I'll have a plan in place soon.

With Grendel back to normal, more or less, I'm optimistic that he can go on for a long time despite the cancer. I want him to live on with the same quality of life he's always had. But I know the clock is ticking now. I've had to face losing him, which is something I never wanted to face before.

And Grendel isn't my only cat. He's 12 now. Maebh is almost 13. Rhiannon is 15. They're all getting on in years. The girls seem to be in great shape, but so did Grendel. My world can unexpectedly go turvy all over again for them. It seems like only yesterday that I brought the cats into my life, but it's been 10 years. I hope that they'll all live to be 20 or older. I can't imagine my home being home without them. But I know that I have to start preparing myself for losing them.

I don't know if it's possible to love my cats more than I already do. But in the years to come, I will take them less for granted. I'll savor every moment with them and store them in my heart for the years after they're gone. It's a long goodbye that will outlast them and never end until I do.

The days that will never end

Monday, July 18, 2016

Two-dimensional Banzai

I got around a bit on Saturday. I meant to start earlier and be even more adventurous, but this Saturday I needed a little more easing into the day than usual. I'd arranged with Dave Schueler to play Guadalcanal at Meeples Games in West Seattle, starting at 10:00, just when they open. Plan A was to go to 8:00 Mass at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle, then a bagel and coffee at Eltana Bagels. However, I was too lazy to get moving this morning, so I went with Plan B, which involved rushing out the door with barely enough time to get from Lynnwood to West Seattle.

Col. Ichiki was not entirely successful

The Guadalcanal scenario we played was the Battle of Alligator Creek. This was the first Japanese counterattack on land in the battle. Japanese destroyers landed an advanced detachment of about 900 men 21 miles east of the Marine perimeter. The intent was to pierce the Marine defenses and overrun Henderson Field, the Marine airfield (completed on what had been an unfinished Japanese airfield) that was the central point of the fighting on Guadalcanal. It had to have been conceived as a suicide mission. There was the whole 1st Marine division ("The Old Breed") landed on Guadalcanal. Even though its 11,000 men were spread out in a perimeter, there were 3000 Marines of the 1st Regiment on point at the Tenaru River. (The Marines names it "Alligator creek" even though it wasn't a creek and there were no alligators in it.)

The 900 men landed by the Japanese navy were supposed to be followed up by another 1200, but the commander of the Japanese troops, Col. Kiyonao Ichiki, was impatient to sweep away the Marines, whose numbers he greatly underestimated. Ichiki was a bit of a fire-eater. As a company commander in Manchuria Manchukuo, he was involved in the "Marco Polo Bridge Incident," which started the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45.

The Japanese attack started at about 2:00 AM with a rush of about 100 men over the sandbar at the mouth of the river. The Marines were dug in on the west side of the river with a 37mm anti-tank gun, well-supplied with cannister rounds for anti-personnel shooting, and a platoon of machine guns. This attack was wiped out by intense Marine fire. A second wave of about 200 men met the same fate.

Attack across the sandbar
At this point the Japanese stayed on the east side of the river and engaged in a firefight with the Marines until daybreak, when the Marine 1st battalion counterattacked in an envelopment that brought them south and east of the Japanese positions. Five M3 Stuart tanks trundled across the sandbar to join the fray and the Japanese troops were pretty much annihilated. In all the Japanese lost more than 700 men to the Marines' loss of 43 men. Col. Ichiki died in the battle, but it's not clear if he died in action or committed suicide because of his failure.

The Tenaru today. No sandbar and the runway of  the Honiara International Airport
 (formerly Henderson Field) extends right up to where the Marines were deployed on August 21.
The attack at the Tenaru was the ground offensive for Operation Ka, which was the Japanese riposte to American seizure of Guadalcanal. It was a complete failure. In his report to higher command, Col. Ichiki's superior admitted only that the attack was "not entirely successful."

The refight

Dave opted to play the Japanese, so I played the Marines. Initial set-up locations were determined by the scenario. The Japanese first wave was massed just east of the sandbar; my Marines were spread out covering the length of the river.

The scenario was 6 rounds with the first three rounds being night. Initial visibility for round 1 was 2 hexes. For rounds 2 and 3, we rolled a D6 with the result being the visibility for that round. I rolled a "1" on both turns. I was frustrated that my visibility was hampered, but the low visibility probably hurt Dave more than me. He had no recourse but to move up close, which gave me an advantage in close-range shooting.

The course of the game pretty much followed the historical fight, except Dave managed to overrun the 37mm gun position that covered the sandbar. I managed to take the position back in the next round, so it was a short-lived triumph. That was with the first wave. The subsequent waves that came on board rounds 3 and 4, did not make massed close assaults. My round 4 reinforcements came on the south edge of the board and by round 5, I had two Stuarts rampaging across the sandbar into Japanese territory.

It was touch and go for a while. Dave made good use of his little grenade launcher units. They don't have much pop, but they negate covering terrain. Combined with other units in a group fire, they can be very effective against units you thought were safely hunkered down in deep jungle. But Marine firepower won in the end. I lost 5 counters (both my 37mm guns plus three rifle squads), while Dave lost all but two of his units. I was lucky in my die rolls; Dave was lucky, initially, in pulling "no hit" counters for hit results, but his die rolls were pure poo.

It turns out, too, that we counted points wrong. The scenario gives 2 points to the Japanese for each Marine unit eliminated and 3 points for possession of each of the control hexes. That meant only five fewer points for me, which wouldn't have changed the outcome

Dave hadn't played the Conflict of Heroes system before. I hadn't played in a few years. Even then, there were some new rules for this expansion that took getting used to. Unlike previous games, the hit counters for the Japanese and Marines are different. The Japanese can have up to five "no hit" counters that do no damage (there were four in this scenario). The Marines have none.

Bushidō points didn't factor too much in the game. Positive points were gained for getting units across the Tenaru river and negative were incurred whenever a Japanese infantry unit started its activation not as part of a group action. Dave gained a few in the initial rounds, but then lost them again after his losses chopped up cohesion. He never fell below his initial CAP allowance because the Japanese don't lose CAP for unit losses, only the Marines do. (Too bad they don't have gung-ho points for the Marines...)

Closing thoughts

I like the nuances to the system for Guadalcanal. It's not a paradigm shift, but there's some adjustment to make if you've been playing previous Conflict of Heroes games.

The scenarios do a good job at making the Japanese behave historically. Had Dave been able to just sit back and engage in a firefight, he might have out-gunned me. But his need to get units across the Tenaru, perform group actions, and take (and/or hold) the control points forces him to move en masse and get in close. The limited visibility of three night rounds also inhibits his ability to sit back and shoot until he's lost enough units to give the Marine's a big advantage after their reinforcements come in. (Also, if he sits in place too long, the Marine artillery barrages can hurt.)

I didn't use my artillery well in the game. The first rounds I either forgot to plot a barrage or the barrage I plotted missed because the Japanese didn't wind up being where I'd plotted the barrage to land. The single success came on round 6 when Dave's remaining units were clustered around the control point in the palm grove on is side of the river.

The 37mm guns were pretty crappy. The game has a cannister card that gives the guns a little bit more effectiveness (but not much). However, the scenario doesn't give them. So the 37mm gun, which is the only unit holding the key bunker/control point has its wee +2 pop. In the hitorical accounts of the fighting, the 37mm guns shooting cannister did a huge amount of damage to the waves of attacking Japanese.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Well, finally

Last week, to my wee, humble doorstep came Academy Games' latest (last?) extension of their Conflict of Heroes series: Guadalcanal 1942 - The Pacific.

I was honestly on the verge of giving up ever seeing this. I'd pre-ordered it years ago, then pre-ordered it again (also years ago), then was contacted that my credit card info was out of date (the card had expired in the interim), then finally heard that it was shipping. Now it's finally in my hot little hands. Whew!

Was it worth the wait? Well, yes, but maybe not worth the anxiety (is anything?).

The game looks very nice. The artwork on the game components is beautiful, especially the map boards, of which there are four: a coastal board, a river board, a jungle board and a hilly board. There is also a sheet of double-sided overlays for two different river mouths (the Tenaru and the Matanikau), village buildings, jungle patches, and smaller hills.

The hex side markings blend in very subtly with the artwork on the boards. They're easy enough to see if you're looking for them, but disappear enough to give the impression of a free-form kriegspiel.

The counters are the standard big size, die-cut and double sided. The mix is mostly infantry and infantry support weapons. Each side has a few tanks: US M3A1 Stuarts and Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go and Type 97 Ch-Ha tanks. There are also US landing craft and an M3 GMC. Because I pre-ordered (twice), I got an extra set of counters that have the Marine 2nd Raider counters, US Army regulars and National Guard counters, another GMC, and two M2 .50 cal. counters. There are also some Melanesian police counters. The extra counters can be used in scenarios that are downloadable from the Academy Games website.

There was one hiccup in the box. The die-cut counters are easily removed from the frames, perhaps too easily. There were a lot of loose counters in the box. One counter, used to count victory points, got smushed on one side.

A bit worse for wear
Just a touch of diluted Mod Podge with a small brush, press the counter under some weight for a while, et voilá!

All better
The box also comes with an expansive counter tray that keeps everything in nice and snug.

The game is standalone. No previous CoH games are needed. The rules are the same as for the entire series except for the Bushidō rules. In addition to tracking victory points, the Japanese player tracks Bushidō points. The Bushidō rules are intended to encourage the Japanese player to employ historically aggressive Japanese tactics. Each scenario awards Bushidō points differently. For example, in some scenarios the Japanese player gains +1 Bushidō points for every unit he loses in hand to hand combat or to point blank fire. In another scenario, the Japanese player loses -1 Bushidō points for every counter that doesn't start its activation as part of a group move.

The effect of gaining/losing Bushidō points is to increase or decrease the the number of command activation points (CAP) that the Japanese player has available. There may be other scenario-specific affects of having positive or negative Bushidō points. It looks like an interesting rule.

With the amount of time (years!) that it took to get Guadalcanal released, I fear that Acadamy Games has moved on from this series. At one time, there seemed to be many extensions in the works: Normandy 1944, Blitzkrieg 1940, Crete 1941... None of that appears to be on the horizon any more. I'd love to see more extensions to the series, but given the time it took to release Guadalcanal, I'm starting to think I won't live long enough to see them (and I'm only 55).

As a pipe dream, it would be interesting to see Academy Games strike while the Pacific War iron is hot and do a Tarawa 1943 extension. I've long been fascinated by that battle and I think that CoH is a great system for creating some good scenarios for it.

I have yet to play a game of Guadalcanal, but I'm looking for the soonest opportunity (Dave Schueler are you reading this?).

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Battle Beyond the Gates

More than a year now after I started painting figures for Beyond the Gates of Antares (and nearly a year after I completed them all), I managed to play a game. Mike Lombardi and I talked it up some time ago and finally scheduled a game for the end of April.

We managed to get four 500 points forces on the table:
  • Mike ran his Concord, which consisted of two C3 strike squads, a C3 command squad, and a unit of two light support drones. 
  • I ran my Algoryns, which consisted of two AI squads, one AI command squad, one AI assault squad, an x-launcher, and a mag light support weapon. 
  • Troy Wold ran his Isorians, which consisted of two senatex phase squads, a senatex command squad, an x-launcher, and a nhamak light support drone. 
  • Pat Clifford ran John's Boromites, which consisted of two gang fighter squads, an overseer squad, an x-launcher, and a batch of lavamites and their handler.
We just lined up on opposite sides of the table, reusing the terrain from an earlier game of something else. The point of the game was to get a first play of the rules in. Mike and I have played a lot of Bolt Action (which probably hampered us more than it helped) while Troy and Pat were entirely new to the Bolt Action/BTGOA system.

Algoryns ready for battle
Much of the game revolved around control of the hilltop ruins that dominated the center of the table. We each ran our squads right to the hill to get the best position possible.

Running for the hill—Troy's Isorians are apparently drunk
The game was a learning process. Warlord Games took the basic Bolt Action mechanics and supercharged them. Everything seemed to work just slightly different, which made for a lot of confusion. Overall, though, the rules seemed more polished than Bolt Action. There is also a lot more variety and subtle aspects of the weaponry. Beyond far beyond lead bullets and explosive charges, the weapons of the BTGOA system will take some time to learn: mag guns, plasma carbines, x-slings, micro x-launchers, weapons drones, etc.

One interesting aspect of BTGOA are the "buddy drones" that can be used. Buddy drones are attached to a unit and provide a kind of support for it. We only used spotter drones in our game. These drones allow a re-roll of a missed shot and can be used to patch drone-to-drone indirect shooting: basically a drone in line of sight to a target can patch to another drone for a unit that doesn't have line of sight. The chain of patching can go on and on.

Algoryn AI assault squad with its buddy spotter drone
The rules also provide other small drones that provide shielding, electronic camouflage, medic services, etc. There are also probes, that are like drones, which can be used for targeting, scouting, etc. Probes are "sharded" into groups that act independently of a unit.

The game mostly saw Troy and Pat duke it out on one side and Mike and I on the other, though there was some crossover. My initial die rolling was classic. BTGOA uses D10s for its system (rather the D6s in Bolt Action). These allow for a lot more modification of the die rolls and seem to work better—even though I'm still a sucker for the classic D6 in gaming. The thing about D10s is that in nearly every game I play rolling a "10" ("0" on the die) is something bad for me, and I have a strong tendency to roll "10"s.

Troy's rolling was near perfect. I think we were well into the game before he lost a single figure (or maybe he never lost one at all). His shooting was pretty effective as well. He pretty much beat up Pat, who could never seem to do Troy any harm. The Boromite x-launcher (think "hi-tech mortar") either drifted off target or rolled a "10" (which is a dud shot).

The remnants of Mike's Concord; worse for wear, but still deadly
My rolling improved a bit, but I took a beating from Mike's Concord. The Concord have the best technology in the game. The drones were wiping me out at one point, or forcing me to go down (and thereby forfeit an activation for the turn). It wasn't until the last turn of the game that I managed to get enough pins on the drones to render them potentially ineffective. These were only light drones. Some drones are much heavier and would take more firepower than I had to hurt.

Pat ran his lavamites into one of the buildings, but they got no farther. Troy spent most of the game pouring plasma fire into them, which whittled them down, but kept the Isorians in place shooting at the same time. The lavamites hung on 'til the end, even though they were pinned beyond any hope of recovery. Lavamites are rock-eating critters that can spit lava and are mostly effective in close assault.

The Isorians advance (finally)
I managed to run my AI assault squad into the big building/ruin and held off fire and one assault by Pat's Boromites. Lucky for me the AI assault squad is tailor made for close combat, so I managed to hold on. They had earlier won a shoot-out with another of Pat's Boromite gangs and had survived a lot of shooting from Mike's C3 squads and the nasty weapon drones.

Holding the ruins
I also managed to do some damage with my support weapons. The x-launcher is effective when it hits, though you need to roll "2" or less on a D10 for a direct hit. Unlike, Bolt Action, however, misses drift and can still do damage if their shots fail to drift far enough or drift onto another unit.

We called the game after about five turns. It looked like the Algoryn-Isorian pact would win the day—though maybe just barely. I was pretty shot up, but Troy was looking pretty with no (or almost no) losses. Pat had just his lavamite handler in the ruins and an x-launcher that had so far managed to miss or flub every shot it took.

We all agreed that we liked the game, so my time and money spent painting Algoryns wasn't a waste. I even bought more after the game. Look for a unit of intruder scout skimmers soon.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Je Suis Gobsmacked

I received yesterday an email I had despaired of ever receiving. Years of waiting are nearly over. Fulfillment is at hand. Academy Games is finally—finally—shipping the Guadalcanal expansion of the Conflict of Heroes series.

Although it makes me sound faint of heart, I wondered if the game would ever see production—and please note, it is not yet shipping, only going into printing at this point (and even then, not yet being printed) anything can happen. Shipping is supposed to happen in June...

The first games in the series came out pretty regularly. Each game was an improvement, and at one point, Academy Games provided a whole new counter set for Awakening the Bear, the first game in the series, as part of the third game, The Price of Honor.

I truly do love this series of tactical WW2 games. The games play well and are very engaging. The first two games in the series focus on the German-Russian conflict. Awakening the Bear draws its scenarios from the German invasion of Russia in 1941. The second game, Storms of Steel, focuses on the Kursk offensive of 1943. The Price of Honor is set in Poland in 1939. There have also been some minor releases such as a pack with wreck counters and rules for wrecks, and a set with a lot of heavy tanks for do-it-yourself scenario making.

Guadalcanal was the fourth game in the series and was expected to follow the same regular release pattern. And then...

I don't—nor will I ever, I think—know what happened. Delay this, delay that, etc. Months of delay turned into years. At one point, after years of delay, I pre-ordered Guadalcanal based on the rumor that it was due to ship imminently. That was three years ago.

So I was pretty gobsmacked to get an email yesterday with an invoice for my pre-order. I'll exhale when I have the game in my hands, but it looks promising. Academy has already posted PDFs of the game rules and scenario booklet on their site. They've had images available of the game boards and counters for many, many years.

Counters and map art—beautifully done
I'm glad that Guadalcanal will finally be shipping. I haven't heard anything about whether Academy plans any more releases for Conflict of Heroes. I think a great part of the delay in getting Guadalcanal out was due to expanding their games into other areas as well as an obsession with redoing old games. Awakening the Bear has a 2nd edition release and Storms of Steel is expecting a 2nd edition. Academy also released a solo game system for Conflict of Heroes that—apparently—sucked up years of development work and play testing.

Boardgame Geek has an item for a France 1940 expansion, but the date goes back to 2011. The Academy website has no information about it, so I'm inclined to think it's a dead issue. Ditto for an expansion for Crete 1941. Apart from Guadalcanal and the 2nd edition of Storms of Steel, I think the company is putting Clash of Heroes out to pasture...

Academy once had a Civil War game in the works for Gettysburg. It looked very promising and I pre-ordered that also (YEARS ago). There is no mention of that game at all on the website, although some of the art can be seen as background on the pages. It looked to be the first of a new series of tactical Civil War games. My fear is that the series been abandoned as the company expands into games with broader appeal.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Back in the day, I used to roam broadly over the landscape of Western Washington. Lately, the idea of getting in my car and driving 100+ miles over the course of a morning and into early afternoon is no longer as feasible as it used to be. I've become something of a homebody, rarely going more than 20 miles distant.

However, on Saturday morning I awoke with wanderlust. I had a desire to revisit some of the old haunts down south, so I got up early (actually, I always get up early because of my ravenous cats who  get increasingly frantic for food as the wee hours get less wee), and headed out to adventure.

Soul Fuel

First stop was 8:00 AM mass at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle. It's not my home parish, but I love this church. Blessed Sacrament (B-Sac, to the in crowd), is an old Gothic revival brick-pile that was founded by the Dominican order in 1908. It looks like a Catholic church ought to look. Alas for the iconoclasm of the 1970s that spurred a wave of architectural nullities that are still with us. I'm not sure what the interior of B-Sac looked like 30 years ago, but they completed a renovation in 2003 after incurring damage in the Nisqually earthquake of 2001. My understanding is that the renovation undid most of the desecrations of the 70s. Although the high altar is gone for good, the sanctuary has been tastefully redone and the statues of the saints are all back in their niches. Daily mass there is less intimate than at my home parish of St. Brendan, but it's a nice getaway every now and then.

Road Fuel

Why isn't there one of these in Lynnwood?
After mass I stopped for a nosh at Eltana Bagels. I love this place. It's inconveniently located down in Seattle in the Fremont district where I used to work, so I don't have a lot of opportunity to get there. However, it's just a short drive across the freeway from Blessed Sacrament, so it was the perfect plan. Eltana makes wood-fired bagels that are like nothing else. When I have the chance, I get a poppy-seed bagel with schmear and lox and a cup of coffee. I also buy a bag of bagels to bring home. I'm toying with the idea of a paleo diet, so I've convinced myself that cave-men ate bagels. Otherwise, what's the use?

Brain Fuel

I lived in Tacoma when I first came to Washington (well, I was born here, so that was the first time, but I'd been away for 27 years). Tacoma Book Center is a magnificent used book dealer nestled right next to the Tacoma Dome. 25 years ago, Tacoma Book Center had a large, large collection of books. Now they have even more. They've built out (and up) more shelf space and filled in a lot of the former pathways that got you around the stacks. I was there last year for the first time in many years as was astounded by the growth in collection and all the new dead-ends.

Just one of many aisles—you could get lost in here
TBC is the kind of place you can spend a day at, but I wasn't planning on being there too long. I managed to amass a pile of books in a short while and decided to get out before my pile got bigger. I was looking for books about the Aztecs, since that's my current hot gaming project. I only bought one, but I got a few serendipitous finds as well. I found a nice hardback edition of the Collins and Lapierre book O Jerusalem! about the battle for the city in 1948. I first read this book in the 70s and have re-read it at some point since. When I went to Jerusalem in '81, it was like the book came alive as I saw all the places mentioned as significant in the fighting; even with a lot of post-1967 renovation, they're all still there. I'm looking forward to reading it again. It's also got me wanting to play the John Hill designed SDC game Jerusalem! again. It's a nice game with an interesting combat/movement system. I have the original zip-lock version of the game. It's been years since I played it, but it remains a favorite in my much-neglected boardgame collection.

What I came to find...
I also found a nifty book which is a horizontal mapping of the Synoptic Gospels. I have a couple books that use a columnar mapping, notably Kurt Aland's classic Synopsis Quattor Evangelium. This book, The Horizontal Line Synopsis of the Gospels, came out in 1975. The author, Reuben Swanson, wanted a better way to see the similarities and differences in the synoptics. Sorting it out in columns is a bit tough on the reader. Swanson spent 10 years mapping the synoptic pericopes with separate sections that use a specific gospel as the main line, rather than basing the comparisons on just one gospel (like Mark). The passages are all in English from the RSV, but in reading the introduction, I discovered that he planned a Greek version of it as well. He only managed to complete one volume, which uses Matthew as the main line of narrative. I went on Amazon immediately and managed to order a used copy for just $8.00.

I passed on a small book on Q, even though I was somewhat intrigued by it. On reflection, I wish I'd picked it up, even though I'm pretty dismissive of the theory and tend toward answers to the synoptic problem that don't use Q as a literary deus ex machina. The biggest problem with the Q theory is that there is zero manuscript evidence for it and zero references to it in early Christian writing. Yet, scholars that write about Q have theorized whole communities based on it and spun off theologies of Q. This book attempts to recreate the Q source by synthesizing and harmonizing the synoptics, along with the obligatory hypothesizing about the role of Q in the early church.

I also found a paperback copy of Hugh Thomas' Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico. I tend to eschew paperbacks, especially if they're thick tomes: the perfect binding method does not lend itself well to thick books. I passed on it, but it got me wanting to find a hardback copy.

Toy Fuel

After Tacoma Book Center, I went down South Tacoma Way through Historic South Tacoma™ to the Game Matrix. En route, I passed the location of the old Tacoma American Eagles. The location is still vacant after all these years—or at least appears to be. The store name on the awning is painted out and the windows are shuttered. It's sad to see a place that was once a major hub of the Seattle-Tacoma area gaming activity become a wasteland.

I got to the Game Matrix just after it opened for the day. I ran into Dale Mickel and Al Rivers who were waiting for Gary Greiss to show up so they could play some Lion Rampant. We chatted for a while about various things, including our cats (and Dale's dogs). I was tempted to stay and play, but I wanted to complete my wanderings and get home before too late in the day. I picked up some Vallejo Model Color paints and headed back north.

More Brain Fuel

At this point I waffled a bit about what to do. At Eltana bagels that morning, my though was to come back for lunch at the Pacific Inn, which is just down the street from Eltana. I used to go to the PI when I worked in Fremont first at Adobe. It was a favorite after work haunt later when I was a consultant at Sakson and Taylor just around the corner from it. The PI is, to put the best possible face on it, a dive. Everything about it is aged and dodgy. They do, however, pull a mean tap and the fish and chips are the best in the world. Truly. Also, across the street from the PI is Seattle Book Center. This is another old haunt of mine, though it's minuscule compared to the Tacoma Book Center. Sea Ocean Book Berth, a used book store specializing in nautical books, is also there, although, Chris, the owner, now an ancient mariner himself, is not often around much. SOBB had a nice collection of naval military history books, which has been moved to SBC.

However, to make that trip would route me back home the same way I came and I had stops east of Lake Washington to make. So, I forewent my fish and chips and pint of Manny's at PI and headed to Auburn for a stop at Comstock's Bindery and Bookshop. Comstock's is a great place for used military history books. The owner, David Comstock, is a devotee and has a massive collection of books, mostly WW2 and later, but has special sections for aviation and naval that are terrific. I bet on finding my hardback copy of Conquest there and I was not disappointed. Comstock's is much smaller than TBC, which boasts 500,000 volumes on site, but it has developed into the same crowded space. Passageways between stacks are now blocked up by more shelves and books are stacked behind other stacks. It's a place that rewards patient searching and I've never failed to leave without a stack of books in my arms. But, having found what I came for, I browsed around just briefly and made my single purchase. David Comstock is getting on in years and shows it. He was never young in my experience, having a shock of white hair drawn back in a ponytail 25 years ago, but he looked the eyes of age on Saturday.

On my way out of Auburn, I got off the beaten track after making a wrong turn. I went by Emerald Downs race track and got stuck at a rail crossing while a BNSF train a mile long slowly crawled by. I didn't really mind. It's nice to get onto the off roads once in a while. Most of the valley is a place I drive through on 167, but it has a rural charm that you miss while blasting through at 70 mph on the highway.

A lovely day for trainspotting
I get apprehensive about places like Comstock's, Tacoma Book Center, Seattle Book Center, Sea Ocean Book Berth, etc. The proprietors are all old and aging. I wonder what will become of their bookstores once they've retired or passed away (likely the later, since, unlike old soldiers, old used book dealers never fade away, they just die.) Comstock's ex-wife Anita, who appears to be younger than him, might carry on (she's the co-owner), but she's never had an affinity for the military books. In fact, the store is roughly divided between David's military books (70%)  and Anita's literature and poetry (30%).

Comstock's also once had a feline population. There was always a cat or two lounging about. Anita told me they're all dead now, even though the cat furniture is still there.

Gut Fuel
Having completed my book purchases for the day, I headed north on 167 to I-405, to 520, to Redmond where I stopped in at BJs Brew Pub for a burger, fries, and a black and tan. BJs is a nice chain-style brew pub. The food is good and they have an amazing variety. The beer is also good. I'd had a hankering for a BJs house burger, so it was no loss to go that route rather than the fish and chips at PI.

BJs is in the Redmond Town Center mall, so after lunch I stopped at Uncle's Games to get some deck boxes for my Sun of York cards. I've kept the cards for this game in plastic bags up to now, but Uncles sells a lot of deck boxes for CCGs. I picked up a red box (for the Lancastrians) and a white one (for the Yorkists). I haven't boxed the decks yet, so I'm not sure if they'll fit. There's a lot of cards for that game and they're all sleeved.

Postscript: No, they don't fit. I have twice as many cards as I have box to put them in. I'll have to check out getting either two boxes for each deck or a bigger deck box (which they have).

More Toy Fuel
My final stop of the day was at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland. I've been slowly clearing out the remains of John's stock of The Assualt Group Aztecs and Tlaxcalans. I picked up three packs of Tlaxcalans: a crane banner group, a vine banner group, and some warriors with macahuitals. I chatted with John for a while and then back home around 3:00 to confront the cats, who couldn't get fed fast enough.

I didn't track the mileage, but I must have put on 130 miles round trip as I circumnavigated Lake Washington for the day. It was a nice trip and I'll have to do it again soon. It's been too long since I let the day take me where it will.