Friday, February 9, 2018

Audiobooks & An Osprey Bargain

I've listened to audiobooks for a long time, but I really upped my consumption last year.  I have a couple of avenues for these, Librivox, Audible, etc. But I have been backing a Patreon run by a chap who glories in the name, Felbrigg Napoleon Herriot.  FNH does a mixture of stuff, mostly 19th century fiction, classic sci-fi and military history. I've been listening to Felbrigg's stuff for several years now - probably my favourite piece of work is his recording of Oman's "History of the Peninsular War".  He's currently working through volume 4.  I had read the first three volumes in hard copy.  It was a pleasure to revisit them in audiobook form.  I only regret that I didn't pick up all the volumes of the Spellmount edition when I had the chance, but I am slowly finding them second hand. 

FNH has recorded Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage" and made it freely available on YouTube.  If you'd like to have a listen, click on the image above. If you'd like to back his Patreon, which is less than the price of a pint a month, you should have a look here

If your tastes run to weird fiction, you should have a look at Edward French. He records classic horror and science fiction short stories.  He puts them all up on YouTube and they are absolutely free. French is an excellent reader and you should give him a try. 

Click on the image above to hear his recording of Algernon Blackwood's "The Empty House". 

The Men Who Would Be Kings

The Men who would be Kings by Dan Mersey is an excellent set of rules and we've been playing it for about a year now. I recommend them unreservedly.  They are currently half price (£6)from the Osprey website.  If you've any interest in Colonial Wargaming, they are well worth the money.   

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Aboard the Space Hulk “Memory Lane”

In the grim dark future there are only cardboard dungeons 

Target and Savage came over for a game last week.  We had intended to play "The Men who would be King", but Target's eye lit up when he heard I just gotten my paws on a copy of "Space Crusade". This and Heroquest were firm favourites when we were about 10-11.  So we pulled out the old girl and put her through her paces. 

Savage acting with typical magnanimity after snatching victory from Targets grasp

The result was interesting.  The game is simpler than I remembered, but has some intriguing wrinkles.  I enjoyed it's simplicity and the sense of nostalgia that playing it evoked, but also I liked the situation.  Heroic adventurers exploring a dungeon in space is evocative stuff.  I wish GW would release a game that bridged the gap between this and Heroquest.  The idea of exploring Space Hulks is a powerful one, but could benefit from some more "character". 

Mr Target damning the dice 

We used a mixture of the figures that came in the box and some painted 40k chaps I had knocking around.  One thing that struck me was that the game was quite luck dependent - the lack of an overwatch or interrupting mechanic made it difficult to deal with stuff that wasn't immediately blasted. 

Service in the Space Marines is a grim humourless  affair.

Space Marine Target giving the Chapter Approved signal for 
“Oh Dear, that is a Dreadnaught - isn’t it?”

We played two games in quick succession and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Target reckoned he'd give it another go, but Savage thought that it wasn't a game he would play again other than for nostalgia's sake. 

Lt. Randius Quaidius of the Imperial Fists bites the dust 

The final two marines stalk through the Space hulk before being mobbed by gretchin 

Honours were even between with one victory to the Marines and one to the Alien Commander. My love for the Rogue Trader setting might set me to do something more with the game, but the answer to that question remains a resounding maybe. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

One ping only

I watched this recently with the Kinchlets and very good it was too.  John McTiernan’s submarine thriller is taut and well served by its cast.  Basil Poledouris's score is a joy and I really didn't find Connery's Scottish accent off putting, which I know some viewers did.   Alec Baldwin does a good turn as an unlikely action hero and the supporting cast are uniformly excellent.

All in all recommended.

The Kinchlets wriggled enthusiastically to the music which is also a plus.  But they just seem to like anything that's loud.

An Atlantic Convoy laid out on the board

My pal, Dr. Creaner, has a copy of "The Hunt for Red October" board game released by TSR many moons ago.  I haven't played many naval games, but this one seemed to strike the right balance for me - proceeding at a decent clip, but also presenting some genuine tactical problems.

For those who are unaware - The Hunt for Red October board game is superficially a board game of the book/film.  There are eight scenarios in the box, one of which involves chasing the rogue Soviet submarine across the Atlantic.  Having read it, I'm not sure how much fun it would be.

The other seven scenarios are devoted to naval engagements during a Cold War turned hot. Game play is very simple, the pieces are designed to allow the players to see where an enemy is, but nothing more.  Pieces are rated by type (surface vessel, sub, aircraft, etc), attack value and detection value.

Detection is everything, if you can spot your enemy before he spots you, it is likely going to end very badly for him. There is an old saying, which I am probably misremembering but it goes something like this, "Blessed is he whose cause is just, but three times blessed is he who gets his blow in first." No where is that more true than in submarine combat.

Soviet subs attempting to harass a NATO convoy

We managed to play three games in a very leisurely evening, while learning the rules and I hope that we'll be able to give this another go in the near future.  In our first game, I managed to swarm the USN and RN around Iceland and while my Foxtrots and Alfas were sent to the bottom, the exchange rate in Trafalgars and Los Angele's was equal which was very bad news for NATO.

Admiral Creaner considering his Anti-Sub screen

Sydney and Admiral Creaner played a convoy game which didn't go so well for the Soviets. Penetrating a convoys anti submarine piquet is no joke and we worked out that it was far more useful to work out where the convoy needed to be and then lie in wait for them.  This is slightly complicated by the fact that while the US convoy is slow moving and fairly predictable, they do have Los Angeles class subs attempting to disrupt the Soviet attacks - so a Soviet player who is too cautious could find himself being counter ambushed.

An enjoyable game and at a sufficient level of complexity - actually I think it might be fairer to say - of sufficient simplicity  - to keep my interest while still reflecting some of the problems of naval engagements.  Actually, I came across an interesting idea recently in the work of a Canadian academic called Jordan Peterson, which was the idea of the "low resolution representation".  The idea is that people have cognitive structures that they use to deal with problems - essentially stories that they tell themselves. These stories vary in complexity, but what matters is if they are true enough for the purpose they are put to.  A hydrologist might have a higher resolution mental model of currents and movements of water than a fisherman, but that might not matter to the fisherman who will have to make more decisions much more quickly than the hydrologist.  The fisherman's "rules of thumb" might be inaccurate in some cases, but so long as they as mostly true, most of the time, they serve their purpose.

A good game might need to be sufficiently high resolution to capture some sense of the thing that it is representing, while being of a sufficiently low resolution to be playable in a reasonable amount of time. The appropriate level of resolution will depend on what your goal is. 

My father in law put this together while we were all dying of the lurgy. It's solid, the cover is screwed to the timber underneath and then again to the floor. It's on legs so that Arthur Kinch cannot repeat his trick of building a ramp of cushions against it. Something similar was tried by the Romans at the Siege of Jerusalem I believe. 

Unfortunately the Kinch household is just a riot of chest infections, coughs, spluttering, paracetemol and anti-biotics, so we've had to batten down the hatches. Arthur and Gordon have borne it with remarkable stoicism for babies their age, something I wish I could say about their parents. 

Unfortunately, we somewhat underestimated Arthur's ingenuity.  Within twelve hours, he'd managed to pile cushions against the window and wedge himself against the wall in such a way that he could get up to swipe the little wooden bandsmen that went around the tree. 

Arthur Kinch will be getting this for Christmas.  I may have made a terrible mistake. 

Gordon is getting far more sensible LEGO, which she really enjoys (having played with a friends), but which doesn't make a noise. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Bruneval Raid Documentary

The Bruneval Raid - AKA Operation Biting. 

This is Lewis, who goes by the name of TIK on YouTube.  He got extremely browned off with the sort of nonsense the History Channel were broadcasting and decided to try his hand at making his own Second World War documentaries. 

The production values are very good for a one man band and his presentation is good.  What makes Lewis stand out is that he goes into considerable depth on his subject (the link above is 90 minutes long) and is upfront about his sources (all of which are listed in the video description).  I particularly liked the section at the end of this video where he discusses the discrepancies between his sources and his own interpretation of the evidence. 

Here's another of his pieces on Operation Battle Axe.  There's also stuff on Eban Emel, the Soviet Purges and Operation Barbarossa as well as (computer) wargaming. 

Definitely recommended. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Raid on the Safe House

The Safe House

We managed to get another Black Ops game in last week, which was great fun. The game was set in my "London Calling" setting.  It's 1979, the Soviets have rolled across the Central German Plain and it's all gone wrong.  The UK has been invaded and occupied.  Resistance is scattered and disorganised and has only limited contact with the government in exile in Canada. 

This is, of course, an excuse to pit the boys from the Sweeney, the Professionals and various TV favourites against the Soviets in a manner similar to the old Invasion! 2000AD comic strip, mixed with a good dollop of the Garnet books and some Secret Army. 

You can see some more of our London Calling games here. 

The Tooting People's Popular Front

The mission was a joint operation between the Tooting People's Popular Front (a Trotskyite group not popular with the Soviets) and the Baker Street Irregulars (a group of disgruntled former coppers and soldiers).  They had learned that an isolated farmhouse was being used by the MVD to interrogate prisoners and store intelligence. They've had the site under observation for several days and determined that there is only a skeleton crew present as there are no prisoners.  The plan is to get in, destroy or steal whatever intelligence is present and get out. 

The Baker Street Irregulars. 

The Bakers Street Irregulars are a group of disgruntled former police officers (many of whom bear a striking resemblance to a certain programme known as "The William") and army personnel who have decided to take up arms against the occupation. Led by the hardnosed DI Burnside, they approached the rendezvous.  One point which I really enjoyed was that Mr E was bemoaning the fact that he couldn't bring a vehicle on the board without raising the alarm.  We were talking about it and he realised, "Well, I could just turn the engine off, leave off the handbrake and push it onto the board." 

On the approach

This is the sort of semi roleplaying approach to wargaming that I find really interesting, so Mr. E's lads duly pushed the car on, covered it with brush and scoped out the rest of the terrain.  The discovered three things; all unpleasant.  

1. There were a number of blinds scattered around the table and they weren't where he expected them to be.  These turned out to be undergrowth laced with trip flares.  

2. There was a guard tower that wasn't there tree days ago. This was manned by a lad with a PKM.  Anyone who set off a flare was going to have a very bad day indeed. 

But thirdly and most importantly, the Tooting Popular Front hadn't shown up.  Mr E and I were chatting and having some dinner and then we began to wonder where Capability Savage was.  He was an hour late, so I called him to find out where he was.  It turned out that he had been busy with work and had completely forgotten about the game.  He couldn't make it. 

We reckoned that the Tooting Peoples Popular Front had gotten in an argument on the way to the rendezvous and had to convene a full council to discuss the distribution of ammunition to each man ("Or woman." "Thanks Stan, or woman") The result was a long row, they became distracted and didn't make it to the rendezvous. 

Mr. E decided to go it alone. This was an interesting decision as while I scaled down the garrison a bit, I couldn't do so completely.  Consequently, Mr. E ended up taking on more than he'd initially bargained for. 

Raymondo takes up position

I'm afraid I was too distracted playing and enjoying the game to take enough photos.  But you should be able to get some sort of idea of what was going on.  

Raymondo, the Baker St Irregulars sniper, moved forward, while the rest of the team busied themselves identifying and disarming the flares. It was only half way through this process that we realised that without a turn limit (which this scenario didn't have) this was only really a time wasting exercise for the attacker.  I was happy with how the mechanics worked, but I think I will have to think more carefully about how they integrated into the scenario. 

Raymondo took out the sentry in the tower with a single shot.  The attackers held their breath, but while several of the other guards moved in that direction - they weren't certain enough to raise the alarm. 

Burnside and the lads kick the door in

With one side of the safe house temporarily uncovered, the "Spud" and his GPMG team and Raymondo covered the other two sides.  Meanwhile, I moved my sentries around to try and get a bead on Burnside and his team. They decided to take a calculated risk and kicked the door in. They were lucky.  They had located the interrogation room (of which, the less said the better, but I took some inspiration from here) and the filing cabinets.  

A short firefight with the surprised Soviet occupants generated a great deal of noise and the alarm was raised. 

RIP Chalky

While Burnside and his team were grabbing intelligence files and setting incendiaries on everything that they could not carry, Chalky decided to run to the next section of the safehouse.  Mr. E knew that my Ace (commander figure) was there and had raised the alarm (not hard considering the racket coming from next door) and was now calling for reinforcements. 

Unfortunately for Chalky, he didn't realise that it wasn't *just* the Ace in the radio room and the four guards came as a complete and very lethal surprise. 

With Chalky down and the Soviets on full alert, the GPMG team opened up and poured suppressive fire on that portion of the safehouse, pinning the guards within. Raymondo managed to take one of the guards on other flank, but his mates managed to spot him and return fire. Both sides ducked down and the Soviets made a run for the cover of the buildings. 

The firefight hotted up as the sentries that escaped Raymondo, roused the rest of the garrison. Meanwhile, "Spud" brassed up the side of the house again, pinning the Soviet commander, Major "Zmei" and his bodyguards.  I took a risk and took a hit on "Zmei" so that I could make another reinforcement roll.  I managed to pass the save, but did very well on the reinforcement roll. 

This put me on the horns of a dilemma.  I had done so well on the reinforcement roll that I could call them in now, but it would effectively amount to an infantry patrol.  Probably enough to mess up the partisans day, but not necessarily wipe them out.  However, I had done so well, that if I waited a turn and managed to roll even reasonably, I could call in a vehicle (likely a BDRM) which would be invulnerable to Mr E weapons.  Thinking ahead, he sent Raymondo back to start the car. 

I gambled and Major "Zmei" kept calling for reinforcements, while his escort hunkered down.  

Meanwhile, across the courtyard, a desperate battle was taking place.  The building on the left was occupied by Soviet troops, while the BSI were holed up in the one on the right.  This was really heating up and I was finally able to get my numbers to tell. I was hoping to pin them in place, so that my flanking force would be able to finish them.  Unfortunately, "Spud" and his GPMG team managed to keep up the fire and effectively suppress the flankers. 

Taking their opportunity and as the files started to burn, Reg Hollis threw a smoke grenade into the yard and the team made a dash for the car.  Lofty was hit as they made their escape, Burnside and Reg dragged him out of the burning building as the game entered a new phase.  

The smoke is Teddy bear stuffing with a couple of Euro Shop LED candles chucked underneath.  As we had done justice to the drinks cabinet at that point, Mr E and I decided to see if we could thicken up the smoke with extra cigar smoke.  It seems to have worked. 

At this point, I'm afraid I forgot to take any more pictures because I became too wrapped up in the game.  Raymondo managed to get the car up, while Burnside and his crew jumped aboard.  I rallied the remainder of the garrison and brought on my trump card, a BDRM.  This was where it got interesting.  The turning rules in Black Ops are quite strict for vehicles and what followed was nerve wracking. 

The game turned into an approximation of this scene from everyone's favourite educational programme.  Burnside and his boys struggled to get everyone into the car, while I executed a textbook Soviet forward dash.  The lads ran forward in a rough line, firing from the hip, those that could see shot at the car, those that couldn't suppressed likely escape routes, so that they would be channeled into the waiting arms of the BDRM. 

Reg Hollis was hit as they broke for cover, whereupon the BDRM opened up with it's 14.5 MG, which left the passengers unharmed, but shagged the engine.  Burnside and his team, decamped from the now dead car and ran into the woods.  They were pursued by the BDRM, but managed to lose it in the trees.  With many casualties of their own and with no night vision, the BDRM crew decided that discretion was the better part of valour.   Major "Zmei" was not best pleased. 

Gone, but not forgotten. 

The Baker Street Irregulars had accomplished their mission.  They had destroyed the intelligence cache and managed to escape with some files.  However, it had cost them dearly, losing three, very hard to replace men, Chalky, Lofty and Reg. 

Worryingly, Burnside and Chris had been trying to stabilise Chalky before the car was knocked out.  Now all three men had fallen wounded into the Russians hands, which given Major "Zmei"s hobbies was a pretty dreadful place to be. The look on Mr E's face when my troops swarmed the car and I announced that they were going to try first aid on his wounded men was priceless.  Chalky had already expired, the motor riflemen were unable to stablise Lofty, but they managed it with Reg. 

Poor old Mr. E was looking distinctly queasy when he picked up the die to see how Reg fared. Fortunately for Reg, Mr. E rolled a one and Constable Hollis expired peacefully in a hospital bed before the MVD could get their claws on him. 

In conclusion,  this was a tough game for both parties, with wild swings of fortune. The luck was with Mr E for the first half of the game and began to slowly turn against him as things wore on.   I was unlucky not to vaporise the getaway car with my BDRM, but the result was a hard fought and engaging game which resulted in a phyrric victory for the partisans. Looking forward to the next one. 

Your file Sir

One idea that I've used for a couple of games now is the personnel card.  This is a standard 4 by 6 file card with the stats for the unit (in this case a sniper team) written out and the points included. This is handy because it keeps all the stats in one place and you can quickly assemble a force by flicking through a few cards. Tot up the points and you are done. 

An unexpected benefit is that it gives continuity between the games. Each card gets a name and they persist over time, which has led to some interesting moments in play. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Airfix Coldstream Guardsman

The latest arrival from our man in Budapest, an Airfix Coldstream Guardsman.  This fellow is well kitted out and I reckon is probably about to set out to defend Hougomont.  No doubt he would look rather different by the end of the battle. 

Knapsack, all present & correct. 

Some of the old Airfix sets can be quite wooden, 
but the pose works very well in this case. 

The classic Belgic shako shown off to good effect. 

The false fronted or Belgic Shako, I think our American friends call it a tombstone shako, is always evocative of Waterloo for me.   He's a lovely piece of work and is currently guarding the Joseph Roth section of my bookshelves.  Very happy with him. 

The Medicis

Mrs. Kinch and I have been watching this on Netflix and it is really very good.  Mrs. Kinch studied Italian and knows the people and the period rather better than I do, so I cannot speak to its historicity. None of it felt wrong to me and the city of Florence certainly emerges as a character in her own right.  

It is excellent television.  Annabel Scholey is magnificent, while Richard Madden gives a wonderfully nuanced performance.  The development of their marriage over eight episodes is one of the real pleasures of the programme.  But all the cast turn in excellent work - there isn't a duffer amongst them. 

This may sound like damning with faint praise, but one thing that really stood out to me was the quality of the incidental music, most of which is variations on the main theme composed by Paolo Bounvino and performed by a lady called Skin.  It is an ambitious soaring symphonic piece of work that got under my skin in a way that little else has in quite a while. 

Two thumbs up.  I'm looking forward to the second series. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Announcing The Fox Wife's Tail now available

Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys & Girls, "The Fox Wife's Tail" is now published and available both in Kindle and Print editions.

The Kindle edition is available here for less than the price of a pint.

The print edition is available on, and CreateSpace and costs slightly more than the price of two pints.

The pricing is so far as I can manage approximately identical across and .com and Createspace, though I seem to get a much better royalty from CreateSpace.

"In 2005, a dusty collection of papers were discovered in a cellar in Dublin. Untouched since 1860, the papers told the story of Otaro, a Japanese fencing teacher, and Captain Robert Hood, a discharged American soldier. It was a tale of duels, suspense and adventure in a Japan struggling to come to terms with the realities of the steam-powered 19th century.

When the two friends discover a samurai lord murdered on the road and his only son and heir kidnapped, they find themselves drawn into a mystery as baffling as it is deadly.

They will need sharp wits, sharp swords and stout hearts to survive the enigma that is “The Fox Wife’s Tail.”

Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Patrick O’Brian and Agatha Christie will love this old fashioned adventure story."

I am reliably informed* that reading this novel will make walk taller, fill you with a tremendous feeling of well being and substantially increase your chances of making an advantageous marriage.  Studies suggest it improves swordmanship, provokes laughter and gives one a better singing voice.

I certainly enjoyed writing it, I hope you enjoy reading it. Now I'm off to fret about the next one.

*But do not expressly guarantee.