Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Hooptedoodle #409 - Uncle Scrooge Saves the Planet (again)

 


A few days ago, I received a letter from my supplier of domestic LPG. It told me that, since wholesale prices for gas have increased by 30.8% (hmmm; accurate = scientific), they are going to have to put a major hike on the price of delivered gas, but they can assure me that the price will be reduced again as soon as possible (click here).


Fair enough - not unexpected. I am embarrassed that it should have required the possibility of financial cost, but this has encouraged me to get on with something I failed to do last winter, which is to check the on/off times for our heating system. It turns out that on weekdays it was coming on at 05:30, which dates from the time when my wife had to get up extra early to deliver our son to the school bus, and switching off in the evening at 00:30 - this because the same son used to sit up late playing video games, and liked sauna-like temperatures while he was doing it. Since he is now gone to college, I reprogrammed the timer, and it will now come on at 07:00 and turn off at 22:30, with a sensible off-period during the day.

I estimate I have reduced the "switched on" time for heating by about 34%. Of course, the whole system is subject to thermostatic valves, and we will certainly continue to wash, but I am confident that I have just about cancelled out the expected increase in my gas bills by the simple expedient of being stingy. Excellent, and I am positively glowing with pride at the benefits for the environment.


I realise that a similar approach to offsetting an electricity hike will require dirtier clothes, cold food and more sitting in the dark, but so far so good.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Wargames which Turned Weird - (1) The Surprise Railway


 This follows from an email exchange with a friend - we have got into a discussion of the strangest wargames we've been involved in. His suggestions have been generally more entertaining than mine; most of my own involved grandiose projects - often with multiple participants - sometimes organised by established clubs - for which the average budgerigar could have accurately predicted disaster. Games which could never end, games which were scuppered by the non-arrival of a key participant, one game which was stopped by a burst water pipe in the flat above. You know the kind of thing - all this must be small beer to you veterans.

One game I still remember with trembling was my first attempt at staging a proper miniatures battle. In a big rush (I was looking for a new hobby), I read Featherstone's War Games from cover to cover, plus various magazine articles, and decided that Airfix-based ACW would be just the thing. I had no modelling skills, no knowledge, no idea. I bought the First Bull Run volume from the Knight's Wargame Series, and pored over every word [when you have a minute, count the ways in which this was a very silly approach].


Whatever, I was too busy to do much thinking - I spent about six weeks daubing paint on hacked Airfix troops - boxes of the beggars. In the pub, I spoke of my new project to my downstairs neighbour, Ken, who was very enthusiastic about the idea and offered to help me to get started. He seemed to be coming from the right sort of direction, since he had a large model railway stored away in his cellar, and also had an enormous dining table in his apartment.

Since my own model railway scenery was stored away in a box in a cupboard in my parents' house, in a distant city, I let him persuade me that he would be just the man to host a trial battle - he had plenty of HO-scale trees and stuff, even exotica such as papier-maché hills. If I just brought along my armies and a working knowledge of some rules or other, he would set up the field, and would stock up on beer.

We had some discussion about a suitable scenario. It was obvious that Bull Run itself was well out of scope, but I found a scenario in a magazine which involved a fight around a railway depot. Ken was very excited by this; we scribbled out a rough map, with a little railway and all that, and we arranged that I would bring my soldiers, rulers and dice down to his flat on Friday evening, and Ken would have the battlefield set up, ready.

When I arrived, on the Friday, I was dumbfounded to find that he had totally ignored our sketch-map and constructed a complete loop of railway, with a station and a tunnel, and a couple of little (modern) trains which were going round and round. Have you ever had a moment when the Universe slips a little? My armies were obviously irrelevant in this setting; I realised that this nice man who had invited me to look at his etchings had an evil plan.


I pointed out - diplomatically - that this was not at all what I had in mind, but it got rather nasty very quickly. He was obviously as disappointed as I was. Storming out was easy, but he was my neighbour, and he snubbed me for the next two years every time our paths crossed. Fair enough - I snubbed him too. In fact we got into a sort of running contest to see who could get his snub in first. Snub Wars.

My wife and I moved away to another house about 4 years later, and some time after that I bumped into him at a friend's wedding. He was quite affable, and asked me was I still doing the "toy soldier thing"; I admitted that I was, and he said he would like to come to one of my games sometime. Gave me his business card. I flushed it down the toilet approximately 15 minutes later. 

I never go out with men who do model railways on a first date.

I still laugh about this. The wargaming context is almost incidental, I suppose, but it rates as one of my classic Tricky Moments - I was young and awkward enough to be upset by it. Nowadays I'm just awkward, so such things don't bother me. 

Anyone like to offer any horror stories?

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Hooptedoodle #408 - Miles & Omar - Backgammon revisited

 

 
My yuppie backgammon set, from Jenner's, circa 1979. Some nice, turned wooden playing pieces would set it off handsomely, eh?

Yesterday I was sorting out some board games (not of the wargaming variety), which currently live on top of the big bookcase in our sitting room. You need a step-stool to see them at all, since the bookcase is nearly 7 feet high, so this was a serious undertaking. I found some amazing stuff up there, but decided to keep only a very few games: apart from some good sets of traditional dominoes, I'll hang on to my best chess set and board, an old set of Scrabble (essential), the base set of Carcassonne (much loved - with a couple of the expansion sets), De Bono's L-Game, a nice old set of Nine-Men's Morris (Merelles), and - last but not least - my Backgammon set, which I haven't seen for about 20 years, and haven't played for 30. 

I got to thinking about Backgammon, which I used to play a lot, and enjoy very much. It was a game which I knew of as a small child, but only because there was a board marked out on the back of a folding Draughts (Checkers) board I had. Sometime in the late 1970s I became friendly with a fellow named Miles, whom I got to know during my visits to the National Library of Scotland reading rooms, in George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. I used to spend a lot of time at the NLS at that time, because I was studying for professional exams, and if I removed myself from home distractions and babies and suchlike I had a better chance of getting some heavy studying done (though I seem to have read quite a bit of Napoleonic stuff during these same visits, which suggests my dedication was still a bit lacking).

Miles worked as an assistant at the NLS. When I got to know him better I found that he wasn't actually a librarian - he was pretty heavily qualified as an Art Historian, but he seemed to have got stuck in a temporary job in the Library for something like 10 years. They didn't pay him an awful lot, either; he and his wife rented a grim little flat up a tenement stair in Leith - a bit like downtown Beirut. I met him for a beer one evening, and went to his house for supper. Miles produced an ancient backgammon set, set it up, and during the next hour or two he taught me the rules and we played a few games. I loved it. A couple of weeks later, Miles made a return supper-&-backgammon trip to my place, but this time we played on my old folding board, and the game loses a lot like that. Ideally, a proper board should be boxed in, so you can throw the men around and they slide expertly into the corners, and the dice stay off the floor, and you should have a real wooden "bar" in the middle to place pieces on when they are out of play. The sound and the feel of the game are important, so my utility version wasn't nearly so good. Lesson learned.

Next time Miles visited me he promised to bring his old set with him. This had been his Greek grandfather's. His grandfather had taught him the game when Miles was at primary school (in London - the family owned a restaurant), and had given him his old set. The rules Miles taught me, by the way, were what his grandfather had played - I'll come back to this later.


Anyway, on his next visit, he didn't bring his old Greek set; instead, he presented me with a brand-new and rather posh boxed set - all leather and polished wood - which he had bought in the gift department of the old Jenner's store in Princes Street (long gone). I was suitably overwhelmed, but very pleased, and my new, yuppies' backgammon set, which had very little authentic class but was satisfyingly expensive, featured in our fortnightly games evenings for the next year or so. A couple of house customs grew up:

(1) you always knew which end contained the "home boards" - it was the end next to the wine bottle! 

(2) we didn't use the Doubling Cube. Ever. Miles told me that his grandfather said that it was just a device to make sure the player with the most money won in the end, so it was ignored. Miles and I used to play a-penny-a-point, using his grandfather's scoring system (which, again, I shall come back to).

Then Miles suddenly got a job more in keeping with his qualifications, and moved away to That London to work for The Royal Collections, where his first involvement was the cataloguing of historical drawings and engravings at Windsor Castle. My (first) wife was a little shocked by Miles' new status and evident salary; she classified each of my friends as either "vulgar" or "creepy" (I don't know if anyone made it into both categories - she set very high standards for everyone - apart from herself, for some reason...), and I guess that Miles was probably a creep, since he was a very courteous chap.

So that was my Backgammon career on hold. I missed my friend and our games, but I moved on (as one does). 

One day a few years later my wife came across my trusty Jenners Backgammon Set (probably on top of another bookcase), and brought it to my attention, which astonished me. Normally my hobbies were beneath contempt, but Backgammon was somehow associated with Omar Sharif, which was very interesting indeed. I must explain that my first wife had a thing about Omar from earliest puberty (no - hers, not his - don't be silly). Omar, you had better believe, was neither vulgar nor creepy; she had seen Doctor Zhivago a number of times, and on each occasion she required some days to recover her equilibrium - she had very little idea of the storyline, however, despite all that study. I digress...


Anyway, possibly because of some imagined link with Omar, I was encouraged to find someone to play with, and eventually I talked a work-colleague, Edward, into coming around for a game. I had to teach him my house rules, but we got on very well, and a new fortnightly series started.

Tragically, it didn't get very far. It was my turn to go to Edward's house, out in the suburbs, when I got a message the day before our meeting that his wife had died very suddenly (in fact she had committed suicide, I am still horrified to recall) and that was definitely the end of backgammon until further notice - the clock is still running, awaiting my return. You can see this would be a bit of a trauma. [The poor lady's demise had nothing to do with her husband's new interest in backgammon, as far as I know.]

Back to this week. 

I dug out my old set - cleaned it up (still looks good), and did a bit of online reading to refresh my knowledge of the rules. Hmmm. It seems this is more complicated than I had remembered.

OK - I bumped into the Doubling Cube very early - it states that this is an option, but playing without it is regarded as like riding your bicycle with stabilisers fitted. That's all right - in my book, coolness is not essential. If Miles' version of the game has a long tradition in the village squares and coffee houses of Greece then that has a nobility of its own. I then had a look at scoring systems, and I didn't find Miles' granddad's system anywhere, though I did read that there are a lot of local variations in traditional rules.

Which, at long last, brings me to the point. My compliments to anyone who has got this far (apart from Frobisher, who certainly will not have put up with all those adjectives and stuff). If anyone has any experience of Backgammon (and if you haven't, may I say that I believe it is well worth checking out?), I'd like to run Miles' granddad's scoring system past you. Have you seen it before? It worked well for me for some years, should I be nervous about admitting to this? Are there any ancient Greeks in the house?

The system is:

* The loser of a game pays the winner 1 penny (or whatever) for each of his men (pieces) which is in his own (the loser's) Home Board at the end of the game, 2p for each man which is in his own Outer Board, 3p for each man in his opponent's (the winner's) Outer Board, and 4p for each which is either in his opponent's Home Board or on the Bar.

* This basic total is paid over as it is if the loser has commenced "bearing off" his men before the game ends.

* If the loser has not yet borne off any of his men, the result is a Gammon, which means that he must pay twice the total.

* It can get worse: if the loser has not yet borne off any men, and any of his men are in his opponent's (the winner's) Home Board or on the Bar, the result is a Backgammon, and he pays three times the total.

I think this system does affect the strategy a little, since players will try to minimise the cost of a defeat. If you are interested in the rules of Backgammon, you'll find them here.




Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Hooptedoodle #407 - JFK in Popular Culture?

 Unusually quick and pointless post today. Among the stuff which we inherited from my late mother-in-law's house after it was sold were some bin liners (trash can liners) made by Brabantia, a Dutch-owned company which specialises in household products of decent quality. I realise that this is a very well-worn and childish joke, but I like it, since I am a very well-worn and childish person. 


This will, inevitably, get us back to the eternal debate about whether Kennedy was correct when he said "Ich bin ein Berliner", after peeking over the Wall. My understanding is that, if he had just said "Ich bin Berliner", he would have said "I am [spiritually, empathetically] [a person] from Berlin", which is what I believe he meant.

It is argued that what he actually said, of course, is that he was a small doughnut which famously is a local speciality in Berlin. Obviously that is not what he intended, so the joke is short-lived enough, but people have to show off their imagined superiority, and have debated it ever since. I imagine that actual Germans would not think it was particularly contentious, and probably not awfully funny. It may even be that he could have said either - I don't really know, and stopped caring years ago.

It does occur to me, though, that if he had been visiting a different city, he would probably not have been advised to claim that he was a Frankfurter or a Hamburger.



Thursday, 16 September 2021

Kilsyth 1645: The Game

 Wednesday evening - the days were accomplished; I was host, umpire and General Factotum (gopher) for the Battle of Kilsyth, in the company of my two guest generals, Dave and Dave - all by courtesy of Zoom Video Communications Inc, of San Jose, California, suppliers of state-of-the-art digital enabling systems to the World, and Lothian Broadband, of Haddington, Scotland, purveyors of brave-but-faintly-agricultural rural broadband services to the socially isolated.

There are two sub-themes here which should be identified now, and then we shall speak no more of them. 

(1) The first is that the Broadband Thing did get in the way a bit. We had a number of hangs, and one complete system collapse. During Turn 2, the broadband dropped out completely. This was not one of our familiar local temporary hiccups, which restore themselves fairly quickly after the odd freeze and Dalek impression - this was a full dropping of the Zoom session, such that I had to reboot our hub, start the meeting all over again, and phone my guests to apologise. We lived to fight on - as I suggested at the time, we must be due some bonus points for effort and stamina, and I am grateful to the Daves for their splendid resilience and good humour. Apart from the occasional smell of fertilizer, one other downside of the countryside is that some aspects of the infrastructure would be rejected as unreasonable elsewhere. It is interesting that our big dropout last night was around the time that Lothian Broadband's other customers must all have been hooking up to online coverage of the Champions' League football.

(2) Unlikely dice rolls. It has to be said that, after the Zoom restart, General Baillie had the most phenomenal series of bad breaks I've ever witnessed. Not only were his own rolls very poor, but his opponent, Montrose, also produced a series of spectacularly successful melee results, and the whole thing suggests that a properly audited investigation is necessary. In fact, since I was rolling all the dice, had no particular bias and used the same dice for both sides, I think we'll get through the VAR checks. There was occasional muttering about "Catholic dice", but all in good spirit...

 
General Baillie's personal chaplain, the Rev Dr I M Jolly of Letham, attempting to identify and banish the presence of Catholic Dice - all in vain...

We used the Ramekin modifications to my Commands & Colors-based ECW rules. We also used the Chaunce (event) cards from my base game, to add a little extra colour, but these cards were to be cued by tied (i.e. drawn) Initiative/Activation rolls, and there weren't any (the game only lasted about 8 turns) - so this was a bit of a non-event (so to speak), but in any case the worst powder explosion or unmapped swamp imaginable would have been trivial compared with the broadband risks, so let's not worry about it.

Here's our game map, with the brief explanatory notes I sent to the Daves beforehand:


 FT are Foot, TR are "Trotter" cavalry, HI are Highland levies. MG (confusingly) is Medium Artillery. 

 Background Story:
 
Montrose (red) was originally set up in an approximate line of battle stretching from around D7 and then upwards, off the table, waiting for the Dumb Covenanters to march along the road from Stirling (the road is just off the left edge of the table, and parallel to it). The initial rebel line up was (probably) Highlanders on the left, Irish in the centre, regular Foot on the right, with Horse covering the rear of the flanks.

Baillie (blue) realised there was a trap, so sent his army on a march along the bottom edge of the map, from the left, using dead ground as much as possible, heading to the high ground beyond the mill at Auchinrivoch, which would place him above and behind Montrose's left flank. If Montrose withdrew, or even just sat there, Baillie was happy to sit and wait for a reinforcement  commanded by the Earl of Lanark, which was coming from the west.

However, two things went wrong for Baillie:

(1) it seems that Montrose became aware of the flanking move, and moved his army to face to their left - their positions on the table reflect how quickly the units could move, and where they were starting from.

(2) for some reason, the small Commanded Shot unit (under Maj Haldane), which was to lead the Foot units to Auchinrivoch, and Home's (veteran) regt of Foot saw highlanders on the other side of the little valley, apparently looking a bit disordered, and deduced that Montrose's chaps were retreating over the mountains (north); thus both units stopped marching up to the mill, and turned to attack directly. Baillie failed to correct this, and was obliged to throw in as much as he could to make the best of this premature attack. Game on.

One can only hope that Major Haldane got a severe talking to afterwards - assuming they could find a suitable part of him to talk to.

 The OOB is:

Government Troops (Lt.Gen William Baillie) - total approx 4300 men

Foot

Maj.Gen Sir James Holbourne
Marquis of Argyll's Regt
Earl of Crawford-Lindsay's Regt
Col Robert Home's Regt (veteran)
Earl of Lauderdale's Regt
John Kennedy's Provisional Regt (remnants of the Regts of The Earls of
Cassilis, Glencairn & Loudon)
Maj John Haldane's [combined] battalion of Commanded Shot

Fife Brigade (Maj.Gen John Leslie [Adjutant])
Col James Arnot of Fernie's Regt (raw)
Col John Henderson of Fordell's Regt (raw)
Sir Thomas Morton of Cambo's Regt (raw)

Horse

Maj.Gen Earl of Balcarres
Earl of Balcarres' Regt
Harie Barclay's Regt (Lt.Col Mungo Murray)

Artillery

1 medium gun

Royalist [Rebel] Army (James Graham, Marquis of Montrose) - total approx 4800 men

Foot

Col James Farquharson of Inverey
Strathbogie Regt
Graham of Inchbrackie's Regt

Alasdair Mac Colla McDonnell
Col Thomas Laghtnan's Regt (veteran)
Col Manus O'Cahan's Regt (veteran)
Col James McDonnell's Regt (veteran)

Western Clans 1 (MacLean of Treshnish) (raw)
Western Clans 2 (MacDonald of Glengarry) (raw)
Western Clans 3 (MacDonald of Clanranald) (raw)
Western Clans 4 (raw)

Horse

Viscount Aboyne
Viscount Aboyne's Regt
Earl of Airlie's Regt

Col Nathaniel Gordon
The Gordon Horse

(unless otherwise stated, all troops are "Trained")

Oh yes - 7 Victory Points for the win.

 
Initial view of the battlefield of Kilsyth from the Southern end; on the right is the Government (Covenanter) army under General Baillie - at this end are the levies of new units raised in Fife (yellow counter means Raw), under the army Adjutant, John Leslie; beyond them are the Foot, under Baillie and Gen Holbourne, and at the far end are the Horse, under the Earl of Balcarres, who are (boringly) doing what they were asked to do, and heading for the high ground beyond the windmill. On the left is Montrose's (pro-Royalist) Rebel force, with highland levies to the fore, at this end they have the "regular" Foot regiments of Strathbogie and Inchbrackie, in the centre are Mac Colla's extremely scary Irish brigade, and the Horse are wherever they can be squeezed in. Montrose's force is hastily shifting to face its left flank, so is not at its most organised

 
And the set-up from the North end - you can see Balcarres with the Government Horse at this end, on the left side, and in the centre of the Government line you can see the small unit of Commanded Shot, under Maj Haldane, and the ex-Irish service regulars of Robert Home, both of which saw the Highlanders across the little valley, assumed the Rebels were withdrawing, and promptly abandoned Baillie's orders to head for the high ground, and took a short cut to attack. You may be able to see some red counters here, which identify Veteran units.

 
Balcarres' brigade of Covenanter horse, which stuck to the script and advanced up to the mill at Auchinrivoch - brave chaps, but they didn't know what the dice had in store for them

 
From behind Baillie's centre, here you can see Haldane's musketeers and Home's Regt heading off in the wrong direction. Why? Interesting - the musketeers were given the task of leading the flanking manoeuvre by Baillie, and possibly felt that a direct attack was what they had been ordered to carry out. Home's boys were old hands from Ulster, and certainly would have viewed the highlanders opposite as beneath contempt, and probably a soft opponent...

After Baillie initially took the high ground at Auchinrivoch, Montrose sent forward some of his Horse to clear away the Commanded Shot from one of the hills. At the windmill, Holbourne has Lauderdale's Foot.


As Mac Colla brings up his Irish brigade behind (red counters for danger...), a vigorous cavalry battle kicks off at Auchinrivoch. Here the Gordon Horse and Airlie's Regt (on this side, under Viscount Aboyne), take on Balcarres with all of Baillie's Horse.

 
Meanwhile, over on Montrose's right, the boys from Inchbrackie head off on their own, looking for adventure, with Farquharson of Inverey having the time of his life. The Inchbrackies had their eye on Baillie's only gun, reputed to be "The Prince Robert", captured by the Covenanters at Marston Moor

Baillie put the bulk of his Foot into a nice, tidy line, facing the Highlanders. At this end are one of the (raw) Fife units (yellow counter), but beyond that the foot are all experienced boys with service in England. [Note the presence of Baillie's Tree - recurrent private joke and Leitmotif]

 
Meanwhile, Murray's Horse and the Earl of Balcarres himself had both been disposed of by the Rebel cavalry, and the VP score was suddenly 3-0
 
 
From the Rebel right flank, we see the Inchbrackies closing in on the Government artillery in the foreground; in the middle distance, we can see that the Highlanders (yellow counters) have restricted their activities to swearing at Baillie's defensive line (in Gaelic), while at the far end the Irish Foot, the Strathbogie Regt and the Horse are chipping away at the Government forces, thanks to outrageous dice rolls [and I said I wouldn't mention them]. If you look carefully you can see the personal standards of Mac Colla and Montrose in the distance. If you can't see them, no matter
 
Below you see the last illustration of evil dice at work (C&C nerds will be interested in this). The unit in the dead centre of the picture is Home's Foot, who had a choice of attacking Airlie's Horse or the Strathbogie Foot in melee. They chose to attack the Horse, at which point Dave Montrose chose to carry out a Retire & Reform manoeuvre with the Horse (the photo was taken after the horse retired, which is why my narrative is probably making no sense), which gives their Foot opponents an unopposed strike in the melee, as the cavalry withdraw 2 hexes, though the effectiveness of the strike is potentially reduced, since "crossed-sabres" and "flag" results do not count in this case. In the event, Home's boys rolled 3 sabres and 1 infantry symbol, scoring zero hits on their opponents. If they had chosen to fight the Strathbogies instead, this roll would have scored 4 hits, more than enough to wipe them out. OK, they didn't, and the dice would probably have been different anyway, but this sets the tone of what was going on! 
 

 
By this time, the Inchbrackies had captured the Goverment's cannon, and now engaged the (raw) boys of Col James Arnot of Fernie, and eliminated them
 
 
Now the Earl of Airlie's regiment of Rebel Horse finished off the Earl of Balcarres' Horse, who went to join their leader in the boneyard. This was Turn 8 (I think) - the Rebels had now eliminated the Commanded Shot, both regiments of Horse, the Earl of Balcarres, the single cannon, the unhappy Fife boys from Fernie and the Earl of Lauderdale's Foot. That's 7-0, folks. Game over.
 
 
A close-up of Robert Home's Regt of Foot, facing up to the Strathbogie Regt. They survived the defeat unscathed.
 
 
The Gordon Horse, with Nat Gordon advising them from the rear. One of the stand-out units on the Rebel side
 
Baillie, who knows that his plan was correct, is right in the foreground (Base #94), with his line of good infantry, still glaring at the distant Highlanders as the rest of his army heads back to Stirling in disorder. He will subsequently write two justificatory letters (which I have here), neither of which, for some reason, says anything about dice

My compliments and thanks to my collaborators, for their company and for braving the realities of Rural Broadband. Thank you gentlemen, very much. Simply because I feel that Chance will even itself out in the end, I am more than tempted to stage this game again.  On the other hand, how would it be if the generals swapped sides, and the luck moved over to the Government side? Hmmm.

Better think this through.

If anyone thinks there is a shortfall here on the background and the campaign leading up to this battle, please look back a few posts on this blog and there is plenty. If you've read through this far, my thanks and my compliments to you as well!

Here's something to think on: the dice had a mind of their own, however, it is worth noting that, with the sides quite evenly matched, the result and the narrative are surprisingly close to history, though in the real battle the Highlanders were more active. Once again, Hmmm...



Tuesday, 14 September 2021

C&C Accessories - Spurious Precision?

 I chanced upon an advert for some custom component racks for Command & Colors, and I realised that I'd always wanted some, so I ordered up the "Napoleonic Starter Set", which I shall describe in a moment.

 
The "Sleeve", with four counter racks in it, and the scenery-tile holder in the foreground 

It came quickly, from "Sally 4th", of Melmersby, North Yorkshire. I realised that it required rather more assembly than I had planned for; that's OK, of course, but I put it away until the weekend.

The Starter Set comprises laser-cut MDF components to make up four counter racks (2 for small counters, 2 for medium), a "sleeve" thingy which the racks slide into, and also a rack to hold scenery tiles.

Background: Though C&CN is my go-to Napoleonic game with miniatures, I've never played the actual boardgame very much - setting out and tidying away the block counters is a pain in the tonsils, to be honest, and, since I store the boxes upright, on their ends, I have had to improvise all sorts of little containers to keep the counters in, to avoid the sort of chaos on opening the lid which would be guaranteed to make me put the lid back on and put the game away unplayed. It's not been a great success - the game doesn't get used, so perhaps the introduction of some better organisation would make all the difference.

I did the component assembly while listening to the Manchester Utd game on the radio on Saturday. Straightforward enough - the tabs are accurate and everything lines up, and I used my standard "Tacky PVA" to stick everything together. All quite straightforward, though one of the parts is a Perspex lid for the "sleeve" unit, which is not glued, but is anchored by tabs which fit into the sides. First problem was that the tabs on the Perspex bit did not fit the holes - quite a lot of fiddling with needle files to improve the fit - eventually I got it together by forcing it in - crude but OK. A couple of days to let everything dry out, and this morning I set about transferring my counters to the new racks.

That was rather less satisfying than I had hoped. The storage cells on the racks hold 4 layers of 3 x 2 (for the small counters) and 4 layers of 2 x 2 (for the medium sized ones), and there really isn't any space. This is glued MDF, not exactly engineering standard, and the counters are really very tight. It's fiddly to get them in and out, and they really don't fit brilliantly. Why on earth they couldn't have allowed an extra mm each way I have no idea. Never mind, I got them stored away, and they definitely don't rattle, though the Perspex lid holds everything firmly anyway, so rattling is not a problem. If I had made these, I'd have made them just a tad bigger - there is some risk of damaging the counters getting them in and out.

I also realised that the Large counters need a Large rack unit, but I had enough space to fudge them into the racks I have. Everything goes back into the box nicely enough - I was concerned about the raw MDF wearing the surface of the playing board, so put in some kitchen roll to pack it a bit. The game boxes have gone back onto their shelves with no rattle at all.

So:

(1) is it well made? - yes - it's OK - the MDF is what you would expect; the Perspex lid is not well finished, which turned out to be less of a problem than I thought it might (brawn over brains every time). The design is clever, but making it all so tight is unnecessary and something of a nuisance.

(2) is it good value for money? - it's expensive - I think I paid £28 including P&P for the Starter Set. I was surprised, given the price, that it required so much assembly. It's nice to have racks specially proportioned to hold C&C counters, and to fit in the game boxes. The pay-off is whether it encourages me to use the board game more often.

(3) is it going to encourage me to play the board game more often, then? - probably not, I'm afraid - it's not very quick or simple to get the counters in or out. I'll see how I feel in a week or two...

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Hooptedoodle #406 - Where Were You on 9/11?

 I guess we all have a fairly limited set of major world events in our lifetime - that's almost certainly a good thing. I can remember where I was when I heard of the assassination of JFK (involved in the preparations for a youth club dance, in a church hall in Liverpool - St Barnabas' church - my girl friend suddenly started weeping), I know where I was when the Berlin Wall came down (I was in my house, in Edinburgh, watching it on TV, waiting for the shooting to start), and today I've been thinking of my whereabouts on 9/11. It doesn't really matter of course, but somehow world events seem much longer ago when you think in terms of your own timeline.

My wife and I were on holiday in Tuscany - in fact it was the last holiday we ever had on our own (our son was born a year later). On the actual day we had taken a local bus for a day trip to Siena. It was a very thundery, humid day, and Siena was absolutely packed with tourists, which I guess is not unexpected. The day was significant in that my wife received a call on her mobile phone from a headhunting agency, with an excellent job offer that she had almost given up on; she received the call just as we were going to enter the Duomo - that's the rather odd building in Siena that seems to be made out of liquorice allsorts. Overall our day out was a bit hot and a bit fatiguing, but we took the bus back to San Gimignano in a celebratory frame of mind, with plans for a suitable budget-busting meal in the evening. I have some photos from the day.

 When we got back to our hotel we turned on the TV, and saw the CNN pictures from New York. That put an end to any kind of fun evening we might have considered. Eventually we agreed to switch off the TV and catch up in the morning - really couldn't handle the flow of news that was coming in.





 
Il Duomo


Over the next few days we carried on with our holiday - a bit subdued, of course - and tried not to worry about whether there were going to be any flights home the next week. We visited Perugia, and there and in Assisi we spoke with a number of Americans who were very upset, understandably, and had absolutely no idea how or when they might be able to go home again. The heart seemed to have been kicked out of everything - and I still think of 9/11 as the day the world changed forever. At that time, I was working on some actuarial projects connected with Risk Management, and it was immediately obvious that many of the fundamental assumptions on which our thinking was based had suddenly gone out of the window. The comforting feeling that there was no-one crazy enough to destroy a civilian aeroplane while he was sitting on it was gone, and a whole pile of other bed-rock stuff had vanished. Start again. As I say - nothing would ever be the same again, in many ways.

Anyway, I don't wish to get into a lament about the awfulness of the event - that has been well considered and documented - though it is inevitable that this is the context in which our thoughts should be framed; I spent some time today thinking about my life and my surroundings on that historic day. I know for a fact that I was in Siena, and it rained, and my wife landed a new job. Personal stuff - it's far easier to think about personal stuff.