Monday, June 13, 2016

Chips, frites, et poutine

Salut!  I am currently in la belle province de Quebec.   If you don’t know Canada, it’s hard to explain Quebec and its relation to the rest of Canada.   Think of Scotland and England, or Texas and the rest of the US, and you have the general idea.   Quebecois, like Scots and Texans, speak their own language and think of themselves as a nation within a nation.   

Quebecers also like chips, or, as they call them, les frites, and they like their frites drowned in gravy and cheese curds, which they call poutine.  It looks like this.

I had some at a baseball game this weekend.   I’m not sure I would rush to have it again, but it was, as they say here, delicieux.      

I brought some painting stuff to pass the time on course, but since I am teaching the course, I have less temps libre than I would like.  I have however been working on my own chips, for the new edition of Sharp Practice from Too Fat Lardies.  I think you can guess which period I am painting them for.

I would like to post more photos of La Base des Forces canadiennes Valcartier, because there is some cool hardware here.   Sadly, I had to take this photo by turning my Macbook upside down and using the Photo Booth app, since Madame Padre has the family iPhone in my absence. It’s rather sad that there isn’t a military museum here, as Valcartier is an essential part of our army’s history.   Today it’s a vast base, home to a Canadian Army brigade and the famous Vandoos (the Royal 22nd Regiment) but in 1914 it was a sprawling field of mud and bell tents, where the Canadian Expeditionary Force trained in 1914 before leaving for Europe.   More here.

Home this weekend.  Hurrah!


Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Grizzled: An Eerie Card Game About World War One

The Chaplain’s Retreat that I mentioned in my last post is over, and while there the Padre Geek Contingent played a lot of games.   I got introduced to an addictive boardgame called Lords of Vegas, a kind of Monopoly meets craps game where cuthroat intrigue and strategy can stand or fall on the roll of a dice.  There was a game about racing camels that involved shaking bespoke dice out of a cardboard pyramid.  That was fun.   

However, the game that hooked us all was a small card game called The Grizzled, a cooperative card game about soldiers trying only to survive in the trenches.



A game for 2-6 players, The Grizzled (an English translation of the word poilu, the French slang equivalent of Tommy Atkins or doughboy), features poignant artwork and some simple mechanics to create a quickly building sense of doom and menace.   The object is for players to survive a series of missions and come through the war unscathed, so they can all go back to their village where they were childhood friends.   As the missions surmount, players’ characters accumulate psychic wounds, called Hard Knock cards, that make it harder to survive.   Between missions, players can try to benefit one another through kind acts in a phase called the Recovery Phase, to help heal some of these wounds.

It’s a hard game to win.  We played it three times straight, and we lost each time, but there were many theories as to how we could have done better.

There’s a review of The Grizzled here.  One sad thing mentioned in the review is that the lovely art for the game was done by Tignous, aka Bernard Verlhac, a French cartoonist who was killed in the Charlie Hebdou attacks in 2015.  

The Grizzled isn’t a wargame, per se, but it is a very effective way to think about war and to empathize with those who have fought wars, which is one reason why many of us play these games.  Highly recommended.



Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Diplomacy Game Update: Fall 1906 Turn Complete

The Fall Turn of 1906, the twelfth turn of our PBB Diplomacy Game, saw the knives come out as Turkey deftly carved its erstwhile ally, Austria, in half.   While Austria’s new alliance with Germany became apparent on the Warsaw front, the rest of Austria’s forces, committed to Italy, were out of position and unable to prevent Budapest and Trieste from falling.   How much of Austria survives the coming year remains to be seen.

Italy gained a reprieve as it celebrates its new status as a Turkish client state. The ghostly remnant of the Royal Navy haunts the North Sea, now a German lake, but the Turkish seizure of Portugal reduces England to one SC and one unit in the coming turn.

The score at present sees Germany leading with 14 of the 18 Supply Centres required to win,  However, Turkey is close behind with 12, and the endgame looks like a tight race between the two super powers with their respective vassals, who may be used either as battlefield enablers or as protein shakes depending on when their masters need to bulk up.


Fall 1906 Moves

Results for Fall, 1906 (Movement)

General Notices:

No retreating units; retreat phase skipped.Order resolution
completed on 30-May-2016 at 16:46:32 EDT

Order Results:


Supply centers were lost. Units that must be removed: 3.

Austria: F apu Supports A pie -ven; Austria: A pie - ven Failed because Austria: A ven -> tyr failed. 

Austria: A tyr - tri Bounced with adr (1 against 1). 

Austria: A ven - try  Failed because Austria: A try - tri failed. 

Austria: A vie - bud Bounced with gal (1 against 1). 

Austria: A war Holds


Supply centers were lost. Units that must be removed: 1.

England: F bre Holds; F nwg - nth


Supply centers were gained. Units that may be built: 3.

No order for unit at London. Hold order assigned.

F bal - swe;  A bur - par;  F fin Supports F bot - stp/sc; F bot - stp/sc

A lvp - edi; A lon Holds; A mar Holds; A mun - bur; A pic Supports A bur - par

A pru Supports A war; F stp/nc - bar


A gas - spaI; F rom - nap;  F tun - wes; A tus -rom


Supply centers were gained. Units that may be built: 3.

F adr - tri; A alb Supports F adr -tri;
A gal - bud;  F ion Supports F nap - tys;  

A mos -war Bounced with war (1 against 2).

 F nap - tyr; A ser Supports A gal -  bud; F spa/sc - por

 Influence at the end of the F1906 turn.


Supply Center Ownership:

Austria: Venice, Vienna, Warsaw (3 total).

England: Brest (1 total).

Germany: Belgium, Berlin, Denmark, Edinburgh, Holland, Kiel, Liverpool, London, Marseilles, Munich, Norway, Paris, St. Petersburg, Sweden (14 total).

Italy: Naples, Rome, Spain, Tunis (4 total).

Turkey: Ankara, Budapest, Bulgaria, Constantinople, Greece, Moscow, Portugal, Rumania, Serbia, Sevastopol, Smyrna, Trieste (12 total).


Austria: 3 supply centers, 6 units. 3 units must be removed.

England: 1 supply center is, 2 units. 1 unit must be removed.

France: No supply centers are, No units. No units to build or remove.

Germany: 14 supply centers, 11 units. 3 units may be built.

Italy: 4 supply centers, 4 units. No units to build or remove.

Russia: No supply centers are, No units. No units to build or remove.

Turkey: 12 supply centers, 8 units. 3 units may be built. 


Builds and adjustments for the end of 1906.  Germany builds three armies, Turkey hedges its bets between land and sea, while Austria’s military is cut in half.  With the fall of Portugal, the British fleet in Brest scuttles itself, and rumour has it that the last ships in the North Sea, loaded with the Crown Jewels, may make a run for Canada. 


Monday, May 30, 2016

Rocks and the Road: Scenes from a Wargamer's Marriage

There has been precious little painting these last few weeks. A second language course at work has kept me busy, and when I’m not doing French homework I have been helping Madame Padre with a significant garden project.   

Since January it has been a joy to see Mdme P slowly bounce back from the chemotherapy she finished just before Christmas.   Her hair has been slowly returning, and while it’s not growing as quickly as she would like, she looks like a salt and pepper version of Audrey Hepburn in A Star is Born, which works for me.   Since January she has had two blood tests, both of which were very encouraging as they suggested that the chemo had worked and the cancer was pretty much suppressed.   I can tell she’s feeling better, as her energy levels are returning and she has big plans for gardening.   

Among the plans was a new garden for our front yard.  I was first thinking we would dig a little bit out of the lawn  and pop in a shrub or two, but no, Madame has been plotting on graph paper for some months and had a proper geometric garden bed in mind.  Since I have to be away from home for three weeks starting yesterday, that meant I was digging like crazy to do the heavy lifting for her before I had to go, as there are plants on order that need homes.   Here is what we got done, two long sections about 18’ each, and a shorter section of about 10’ connecting them.  Notice our crappy lawn, which needs a lot of TLC.

There is still topsoil to add, and a second row of bricks to bring the walls up to two bricks all around, but Madame chased me away on Sunday, assuring me that she could move and lay the remaining bricks, one or two at a time.  It will be good therapy for me, she said, in a tone that brooked no debate.  I look forward to returning around June 20 to see the garden with the plants she has selected.  Dirt to Mdme P is like a clean canvas to an artist.

All these bricks got me thinking that I could reenact a pretty large-scale siege of Gondor on the front lawn.   I suggested that idea to Madame Padre and she rolled her eyes.   Go, she said.  I left.

I have taken some painting projects with me, and hope to get some hobby time in over the next few weeks.  We shall see.    

This week I am at the annual retreat of the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service in Cornwall, Ontario.  There are some younger padres here who are ardent geeks and gamers.  Tonight they introduced me to a card game called Codenames, which I found quite clever.  Played between teams of two, it’s a word association game that is great fun, sort of a verbal equivalent of Pictionary, where a one word clue will hopefully inspire your partner to identify word patterns in the cards displayed on the table.  Highly recommended.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Some Napoleonic Kindness and Some Classic Rules

Last month and a bit ago I entered Max Foy’s photo competition and was delighted to win my choice of some lovely prizes.   Being late to the whole Napoleonics scene, I opted for a copy of one of the classic rules sets, Empire by Jim Getz and Scott Bowden.   

I have only heard of these rules over the years, never played them.   My understanding was that Empire was famous in its days, and still has some grognard cred.  There’s a good discussion of Empire’s pro and cons by what seems to be a pretty knowledgeable fellow here.  Empire is a gorgeously produced artifact, with the print rules contained in a “Gold Hot-Stamped Imperial Green Leatherette 3-Ring Binder”. and some impressive charts and (gulp) counters.  The level of detail appears to be Grand Tactical, with Maneuver Elements (brigades) forming divisions and even 1 or 2 Corps represented on the table.

I have a bit of a soft spot for the Emperor’s Press logo printed on the box.   My own grognard cred, such as it is, includes a visit to this fabled wargames store in Chicago back in the late 1990s.   I remember driving for quote some time through semi-suburban neighbourhoods that looked like the opening minutes of The Sopranos, to find a store that was large but, even then, appeared to have seen somewhat better days.   I wasn’t touched by the Napoleonic bug then, I wish I had been because I am sure I would have enjoyed the visit more. 

 The other thing that Max Foy kindly included in the gift was an ancillary product, the Empire Campaign system.   This product was released in 1984 and includes a hexmap of Germany and a set of counters for Prussians, Austrians, Russians and French.  The rules include details for supplies, ammunition, sick and wounded, hospitals, and a myriad of other wonky stuff that would make a staff officer happy.   It is certainly a step up from the Scharnhorst system in the Sam Mustafa Blucher rules, that I was experimenting with recently.  It’s a beautifully produced map and counter sets.

I can also see some uses for this system in transposing it to the American Civil War.  That would be fun.


My thanks to Monsieur Max Foy for his generous present.  I will give these rules a good home and may even try them in the near future - I certainly hope so.

Anyone have any experience with these rules?


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Diplomacy Game Update: S1906 Results

The Diplomacy game hosted here and played by email had taken some decisive turns.   To bring you up to date, here are the builds and adjustments at the end of the 1905 turns.   With France’s last supply centre conquered, the French fleet in Englsh Channel that was a bane to the English player for so long disbands, and France is officially out of play.   Otherwise, Germany builds F Kiel and A Berlin and Austria builds A Trieste.    Germany is in the lead at this point with 11 SCs.

A map showing the influence of the remaining powers.   St. Petersburg is still white because Russia is in Civil Disorder and in F1905 the Turkish A Moscow supported Rus A StP, this denying it to the German player.  We shall see how long that lasts but it is clear that the two most powerful players are now throwing down.

Situation at the start of the S1906 Turn.


Spring 1906 moves.

Order Results:

Carnage in Italy!   Italian and Austrian armies are eliminated in heavy fighting up and down the Italian boot.   
In other notable events, Russia is eliminated from play.   The rules for countries in Civil Disorder specify that any unit which if forced to retreat is disbanded, so the Rus A StP is disbanded as StP falls to the Germans.
German troops are now sunning themselves on the Med, and Turkish forces may cause some consternation in Vienna.  


The Army in Rome cannot retreat; unit destroyed.

F apu Supports A alb - nap
 Support failed. Supported unit's order does not match support given. 

A rom Holds  Dislodged from tys (2 against 1). 

A tri - vie;  A tyr - pie; A ven Supports A tyr - pie; A vie - tyr; A war 

England: F bre Holds; F nao -nwg

No order for unit at Prussia. Hold order assigned.
F bar - stp/nc; A ber - mun; A bur - mar
F fin Supports F bar - stp; F bot Supports F bar - stp;
F kie - bal; A lon Holds; A mun - bur;
 A pic Holds; A pru Holds; A wal - lvp

The Army in Piedmont cannot retreat; unit destroyed.
A par - gas; A pie - ven Bounced with ven (1 against 1). Dislodged from tyr (2 
         against 1). 

F tun HoldsI; A tus Supports F tys - romI
F tys - rom

No order for unit at St. Petersburg. Hold order assigned.Russia: 
A stp Holds
Dislodged from bar (3 against 2). 


F adr Supports F aeg - ion; F aeg - ion
A alb Supports A gre - ser; A gre - ser
F ion -  nap; A mos Supports A stp; A ukr -gal
F wes - spa/sc

Results for Spring, 1906 (Retreat)

General Notices:

Order resolution completed on 22-May-2016 at 19:52:50 EDT
Order Results:




Russia: A stp Disbands


And finally, the situation at the start of the F1906 turn.  Will Austria turn to its natural protector, Germany, before it is dismembered by the Turkish scimitar?   Will that courageous English Fleet in the Norwegian Sea avenge the fall of London?   Has Turkey overreached?  Will Italy survive?   Where in the world is Miss Amelia Roosevelt?  Stay turned, Diplomacy fans.

Friday, May 20, 2016

More Thoughts On Blucher: The Battle of Karlseck - Kaltenbach concludes

I had forgotten that back in February I was blogging, somewhat fitfully and tediously, about an experiment to set up a solo Napoleonics battle using the battle generator, Scharnhorst, included in Sam Mustafa’s Blucher rules.   You can see the prelude to the battle here.  

In brief, a larger Austrian force of four divisions of infantry and three of cavalry caught a smaller French army of three infantry divisions (as well as a detachment of the Imperial Guard) and one cavalry division.  Archduke Luigi considers the opening attack.  He is famous for his aggressiveness and for his short attention span.  A division of Grenzers is visible on the right, on the way to attach the town of Karseck.   My mistake with this game was making the table too big - I had to lengthen the time scale during the battle once I realized that nobody would be in contact until noon.  In future games of Blucher I will allow all units to move 12 Base Widths a turn until they come within 8 BWs of an enemy unit (the max range of artillery).

Much of the battle happened on the French left.   The French cavalry was committed to delay the Austrian advance until the French infantry could stabilize the line.  They mostly succeeded, but three of the four French cavalry brigades were reduced to 1 Strength Point each and were withdrawn from the battle.  It quickly became obvious to me that an advantage in numbers in Blucher can be at least partially negated by poor initiative dice, leaving some formations sitting idle.  The attacker has some difficult choices to make about which units to activate and where to keep the focus of the attack going.

The Austrians overran and captured the French horse artillery.  Note the miss-mash of numbered chits I am using to track unit strength.   Originally I planned to use the unit rosters that are on the Sam Mustafa Honour website for download, but I found the problem was that I hadn’t identified which units were which.   I will need to make up unit IDs of some sort to go on the units in some way if I want to use the rosters, and keep the number chits off the table.

But the French infantry were able to hold them at bay while their division’s artillery came into action.

Austrian breakthrough seems imminent on the French right wing. 

But artillery and a charge of the last effective French cavalry brigade on the fight saves the flank.  Those four dice you see show a Combat score of 4 - 0 over the Austrian infantry brigade, which started the combat at 4 SPs and was thus destroyed. 


A view of the final battle.   An Austrian division has pushed through half a division of French (the other half were committed to hold Karlseck against the Grenzers) but the Imperial Guard are drawn up on the hill in the French centre.  One of the Advanced Rules I liked very much was that by the time the battle gets to the late Afternoon turns, you can reduce the number of dice thrown to generate initiative points from 3 per turn to 2 per turn.  That reduction simulates the onset of fatigue and the difficulties of keeping things moving as the light starts to fail.  By this point, it was proving impossible to bring the full weight of the Austrian army to bear and it became clear that the French would live to fight another day.


Last turn of the game, the Austrian Grenzers push the depleted French defenders out of Karlseck.   Grenzers can count 1 of the “5”s that they roll as a “6” in fire combat against troops in built up areas, and used their firepower to whittle down the French garrison until they had a decent chance of a successful Combat.

It took me a while but I was able to use Shcarnhorst to set up a battle and play it to a conclusion.   Had this been a battle in a campaign or a linked series of battles, Napoleon would have been forced to retreat.  Even though the casualties were relatively low and equal on both sides, it would be very problematic to resume the fight the next day, though there was a division of heavy French cavalry that never made it to the battlefield.  The smart thing to do would be to abandon the attempt to seize Karlseck, link up with the heavy cavalry, and try to sideslip the Austrian force and keep moving north, which was the objective all along.

One of the things about Scharnhorst that I really enjoyed was the random entry of reinforcements by both sides.   The Austrians got substantial reinforcements of two divisions) in late morning, but they never got into the fight, even if was very worrisome, when I put my French hat on, to see those numbers stacking up on the French left.

I continue to enjoy Blucher for its playability, though I find in a large battle that there is a certain generic feel to it, a trading of Strength Points in a contest of attrition.  It has an abstract feel to it, with very little of the Grand Tactical layers of rules that some other rules have or strive for.


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