Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Life Goes On

A dear friend of mine whose husband died of cancer a week before my own beloved Madame Padre passed away last November said something wise to me.   “You and I are still in the land of the living”, she told me, and I have tried to live by those words for the past five months.


 The support of my wargaming friends has been wonderful and I have leaned on several of you, as you know.  Thank you all.  I’m in a better place now, and do indeed want to dwell in the land of the living.  I’m eating well, working out regularly, have lost some of the weight I put on as Kay’s caregiver, and am fully engaged at work and as the volunteer honorary priest of my local parish.  A lovely lady, a cancer widow, has entered my life, and made it much richer.


So my life has changed in many ways, but some constants remain.  I have only touched a paintbrush a few times since Kay’s death, and I have rolled dice a few times.   I am however slowly coming back to the wargaming hobby via my first love, boardgames.  A few months ago I had the opportunity to take a longish drive to buy five boxes of games from someone’s estate.  They almost went to the garbage dump, but someone had the sense to take them to a thrift store, and the thrift store owner knew someone who got the word out into the local gaming community, so that was a close run thing as someone once said.  Here are some of the games, mostly classic Avalon Hill titles.

It me, reading rules.

Besides the AH titles, there were some happy surprises, including seven of Avalanche Press’ Panzer Grenadier series, which looks like an interesting tactical game in the vein of AH’s Squad Leader.   I hope to explore PG in the near future.  

Currently on the gaming table is GMT’s game Churchill: The Struggle For Peace.   I’m playing i solo, as the Americans, and the other sides (USSR and Britain) are played by decision trees or “bots”.   The game is an interesting take on WW2, and certainly works as a history lesson, but not really sure yet whether it works as a game.   More to follow.    Also, my gaming friend James came by recently for a weekend of miniatures fun, in our ongoing OPERATION THUNDERING DICE series of irregular weekends, so I will have a report on that soon.

So it’s good to be back, I hope someone reads this, and I hope to be more active in the hobby again.

Blessings to your die rolls and paintbrushes,





Sunday, October 22, 2017

Quick Update On Madame Padre

A quick update and word of thanks to those of you on social media who continue to reach out and offer their support and encouragement.   As longtime readers of this blog will know, Madame Padre has been fighting cancer for two and a half years now, and has been giving ground grudgingly.   Unfortunately, her cancer has advanced and we and her oncologist are now hoping that we will have some good months remaining.  She continues to inspire me with her resilience and peacefulness, and with her total absence of self-pity.  Our parish friends sometimes speak of her as a living saint, which causes her to gently roll her eyes, but I see their point.

Friends and family are amazing with their support and kindness.  My brother Chris flow out from Vancouver, a five hour flight, just to spend the weekend with me and to help construct this wheelchair ramp which we hope will assist Madame when she comes home from the hospital.

Knowing my interest in all things related to the B17 and to the airwar over Germany in WW2, the kind and eclectic Edwin King put together this B17 gift for me, which arrived in my mailbox last week.  It includes a guide to old USAAF airfields in Norwich, and I hope to tour them with Edwin one day.  

The wargaming hobby is pretty much on hold for me at present.   The only accomplishment I can point to is that I snickered the blocks for the Command and Colors Napoleonic Epic expansion.  Lord knows when I will play it.

I'll leave you with this photo of happier times last August, when Madame was well enough to come to work and be present at my promotion to Major.   We were joined by my ecclesiastical boss, the Anglican bishop ordinary to the Armed Forces.   He used to play Avalon Hill games as a boy, and I've encouraged him to visit this blog and see what a mad padre does.

Please keep Kay and I in your thoughts and prayers and accept my apologies for not visiting your own blogs and projects as they deserve.   Thank you for all your support and encouragement in this hard journey.



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Gaming By Tweet: A Social Media Experiment

Back in July I posted a review here about Target for Today, a solitaire game by Legion Wargames, about the US daylight bombing campaign in WW2.   For now it suits my gaming lifestyle, which has largely had to adapt itself to my primary role as my wife’s caregiver.

In the last few months, a social media project has taken on a life of its own as I have been “live tweeting” missions using my Twitter account (@madpadre1).   It started by putting my Twitter friends into crew positions on “Foxtrot”, our fictitious B17, and seeing if they would survive each mission.   A few folks (Tweeps) seem to quite enjoy the experience, which I have gradually thickened by adding GIFs and period photos to illustrate various phases of the mission.    The cumulative effect is a kind of storytelling by gaming, but it has also fuelled my desire to learn more about the US 8th Air Force in Britain and the daylight precision bombing campaign in general.

This particular project is set in the fall of 1942, following one of the first operational USAAF bombardment groups in England.  It is the same period depicted in the film Twelve OClock High, when the daylight campaign was still very experimental.

I have started collecting the various tweets for each mission into narratives using the online tool Storify.   You can see the results for Missions Five, Six, and Seven if you like.   Now the interesting thing abut the project is to see if Foxtrot can make it through the war, which is no small thing given the high casualty rates among Allied bomber crews.   Already we have had two crew members set home to the States with serious, war-ending wounds, and on our last mission the Bombardier, who had flown six missions already, was killed by a cannon shell from an ME 110.  

In this respect the project has started to incorporate elements of role-playing, and a strong emotional investment from some of the regular players in their fates.  There is also a lot of humour and joking, so it is not a terribly serious venture, but serious enough in its own way.

After our last mission there was some talk on Twitter about adapting the Target For Today game engine to the night campaign of Bomber Command.    Such a project could be done easily enough, but the game would have a different feel, more cat and mouse as opposed to the stoic endurance of waves of fighters by the B17s, which is more like a British square facing repeated attacks in Napoleonic or colonial warfare.   It might be done using some existing titles, such as GMT’s Nightfighter

There are also possibilities for using social media platforms such as Twitter in other games, such as putting people into various roles in a skirmish miniatures game and illustrating the action with photos to explain the action as the game goes along.  This would not be a true gaming experience online, such as tools like VASSAL allow, but rather a type of storytelling.

At any rate, Foxtrot is scheduled to fly more missions, and you are welcome to follow me on Twitter and even fly along.  I look forward to hearing about your own experiments with gaming via social media.

Blessings to your die rolls and watch your arcs!


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Zulus, Mr. Rico! Zillions of 'em!" : A Quick Review of Zulus on the Ramparts by Victory Point Games



“Men of Harlech, stand you …  AAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!” 

Don’t let this happen to you.

If I’m a little bleary eyed this morning, it’s because I was up past my bedtime playing Zulus on the Ramparts, a solitaire game about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift from Victory Point Games’ States of Siege series, designed by veteran grognard Joe Miranda.  In the few times I had played it already I had gotten a quick and unpleasant result, as the Zulu imps almost effortlessly overran my defences and the rifles fell silent.    This game was a different result.  Miraculously the Zulus held off until the defences were reinforced, giving me time to get all my heroes, Bromhead, Chard, Colour Sgt. Bourne, Hook, Hitch, and Ammunition Smith the Padre among others all on the firing line.  When they came on, we let them have it, and while they got close to our final redoubt, it was Steady Lads Steady and Men of Harlech and we dropped them as they came.   All through the night we held, and then the last impi came on like a black thundercloud,  and we were down to our last cartridges, but we held, by God.  It was a Martini Henry miracle with a bayonet and some guts behind it.

Well, as you can see, I enjoy this simple game.  If you’ve played other VPG solitaire games, like Dawn of the Zeds, you’ll recognize the basic idea.   The bad guys (four Zulus impis of various strengths) each start on their own track and their progress is chit driven.  If any one reaches the centre of the board, you lose.   You can help your cause by building two sets of barricades, if you have time, to buy yourself some more space and time to defend. As the Zulus advance, you are drawing cards which allow you to bring various heroes and personalities into play (like Dick, the Surgeon’s dog) and Pvt. Hook, or any of the various volley cards which allows you to engage the Zulus from various ranges.    Each turn you have to chose an action - do you fire a volley, work on extra barricades, pass out more ammo, or get one of your personalities into the battle to use their various abilities?  You have a lot of heroes (all those VCs, after all) which help, but never enough time.

There is a day phase, and a night phase, which is worse because it’s harder to hit the Zulus at night unless buildings catch fire, which they can do.  There are also some random event cards, and some what ifs, like Company G actually showing up and helping the garrison.  If you want pics and more comments, you can find the ZotR page here on BGG.  At $40 it’s at a midrange price for a boardgame, and the components have the usual VPG high quality of treatment - a hard mounted board, professional cards, and thick MDF laser cut playing pieces, so to my mind that’s a good game at a fair price.  While this is a solitaire game, it would be fun to take to the pub/club and play a few times.  A quick defeat can take twenty minutes, but an epic stand might take an hour.  My record so far is one out of three wins, so it’s a challenging game.

 I have this week off, so I’ll probably watch Zulu for more inspiration.

Blessings to your die rolls!




Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Surprise Stuka

Hello all.
Another highly irregular post, just to say hello, really and to acknowledge a lovely piece of kindness.   Recently a box arrived in the post, all the way from California, and inside was this lovely painted 15mm Flames of War Stuka

It was a gift from Dai, the gamer who runs the blog The Lost, the Damned and the Stunted, which I greatly enjoy.   In one of my fitful posts here, talking about my efforts to field an early WW2 Germany army for the Eastern Front, I was lamenting how the Germans fare against the Soviet KV1.   What you need, Dai said to me, is some air support, and I just have a Stuka that is surplus to requirements. So he very kindly painted it, boxed it, and sent it all the way from California to Canada as a gift.   And it is a nice little kit, done up at least as well if not better than I could have managed.

Thank you, my friend, for your lovely and thoughtful gift.   As young Kinch has said, the Freemasonry of our hobby is a wonderful thing, and it makes me feel fortunate to have found this community.
I am hopeful too that this gift might nudge me out of a months long painting and minis gaming slump.   Some of you who follow me on Twitter (@madpadre1) know the reasons why, and I’ll leave it at that for now.  I wish I was visiting your blogs as they deserve, and I thank you of you are reading this post.
Anyway, thanks Dai, you’re a good chap, and I hope to get this fellow into the air soon to clear the road to Moscow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bombers and Builders: Two Game Reviews

Madame Padre and I are on holiday, enjoying the train, the famed “Canadian”, as we roll across northern Saskatchewan towards Alberta, Jasper and the Rockies on our way to Vancouver, where Madame has a bucket list of gardens, parks and other beauty spots to enjoy.   We’re told we won’t see the mountains until early evening, so lots of time to write up some thoughts on a game I’ve been playing for a few weeks now.

Target for Today (TfT) is published by Legion Wargames, a solo game with a tactical focus as you fly a B17 Flying Fortress or B24 Liberator in a campaign of daylight bombing missions over Europe.   The game thus has an ancestry that includes Avalon Hill’s B17: Queen of the Skies.  Solitaire games (GMT’s submarine games like The Hunters are other recent examples of the genre) have good and bad points.  On the positive side, you don’t need an opponent, which is how I do most of my gaming these days.  On the negative side, you are playing against the game, which really means working through a series of charts and tables, rolling lots of dice, and hoping for the best, which can get rather repetitious after a while.

TfT is a very granular game, with charts and stats for early and late models of B17s and B24s as well as the short lived bomber escort version of the B17.  The game features each individual crewman and crew position, and the gun positions that most of the crew members man.  Once your crew is aboard, your mission is determined by a random die roll featuring a list of targets appropriate to the year and month.  Each target, depending on its distance, has a series of zones that most be transited on the route to the target and the route back home.  Zones are rated for being over water or land (which can effect your survival chances depending on whether you ditch or bail out) and the chance of fighter interception by the Luftwaffe.  Depending on the distance to the target, you may have a lot of zones to navigate, which determines the time necessary to play.

A typical zone transit works as follows.  For each zone you first check the weather, which can vary from clear to 100% cloud cover.  Heavy cloud cover can make it harder for the Luftwaffe to find you, but if the target is cloud covered, it’s obviously hard to hit.  Then you roll for the chance (usually 1-3% for B17s, 1-5% for Liberators) of some sort of mechanical failure.  Then you check for contrails, which if formed make it easier for fighters to intercept your bomb group.  The you check the chance of interception, and if unlucky the intensity of the opposition, the number and type of German fighters less whatever your own fighter escort can do) and then the positions of the enemy fighters.

Fighter combat is played out on this battle board.  Depending on which of your gunners have good arcs of fire, you allocate your guns and the type of fire (spray fire is good for forcing fighters to break off, but uses up your ammo faster).  Once your defensive fire is determined, any German aircraft which are not shot down or aborted can make their attacks.  If successful, damage is checked on a series of tables depending on the angle of attack and the parts of the plane likely to be hit from that angle.  

Here is where the game breaks down a little, because by the time you have reached this point, you are moving between three printed booklets, one of rules and two of tables, including one booklet just for hit and damage tables.   Since a zone may have up to three waves of fighter interceptions, each of  which can have several rounds of combat, it can take a long while, especially as the level of damage is quite granular.   While there are several results that can end the game outright (for example, a flak shell exploding in the bombs in the bomb bay), most of the results are non-fatal but have a cumulative effect.

As an example, I took an early model B24 Liberator on a raid in early 1943.  The target determined was an airfield in Cottbus, which is nine zones from the airfield, so a lot of die rolling there and back.  By the time Lucky Lady (as I called her) reached home, she was badly shot up.  One waist gunner was killed, and the other was seriously wounded.  The bombardier was manning a waist .50 cal because the nose gun was knocked out.  Each wing root had taken two out of four hit points (four and the wing falls off, which is bad).  The radio was destroyed, making an SOS rescue call impossible in the event of a ditching. The intercom system was shot out, giving a negative modifier to all defensive fires.   One of the aerlions was shot up, increasing the chances of a crash on landing.  One of the four engines was damaged and racing, but still working.  Both the ball and the top turrets had one of their two .50 calls inoperative.  The navigator’s workspace had been wrecked, meaning that Lucky Lady would have a harder chance getting home if she had fallen out of formation.  Nevertheless, she persisted and made it to Cottbus, dropped her bombs, and made it home, successfully landing on a very tense percentage dice roll.  The wounded waist gunner would survive, but would go home on a hospital ship for the duration.  Lucky Lady was repairable, and the surviving crew could go on to their next mission, with two new waist gunners.  Crewmen who had recorded 5 kills (the top turret gunner) would qualify for an ace positive modifier on defensive fire in future missions.

In return, I calculated that the crew of Lucky Lady had accounted for at least a dozen fighters destroyed, and that many more damaged.  That result seems excessively high to me, but that is only a gut reaction.  I suppose the downside of this sort of game, like a Hollywood film, is that you have to have the perception of risk but the emphasis on the agency of the heroes, otherwise it would be a dull game.

As an extra layer of chrome, there is a sub-game where you can follow the fortunes of the bomb group that your plane is part of.  For each round of fighters or flak the player consults a table to see if another plane in the group is at risk, with the possibility of damage (1-6 points out of 6) or even the plane being destroyed.  This sub game can also interact with random events from the main game, which can result in mid-air collisions among the bomb group or individual cells of planes being temporarily disrupted and more vulnerable to attack.  In Lucky Lady’s first mission, the entire bomb group returned safely, though eight planes had sustained damage, of which three had lost four of six damage points).


TfT is a lot of great ideas crammed into one game.  Some of the systems may need to be discarded or streamlined at the player’s discretion for a faster game.  For example, you may not care that Navigator Bloggin’s left forearm is grazed according to the wounds tables.  It may just suffice that he is lightly wounded.  Likewise, while it may be satisfying after shooting down a FW 190 to check the enemy plane destroyed table to see how it was destroyed, that is the chromiest of chrome and wholly unnecessary.   While there are a host of player logs and damage/ammo records that can be photocopied and used during play, I have found that a running log on a scratchpad saves the aggravation of sorting through multiple log sheets in play. Even cutting a few corners, a long mission can take a long time to play.  It easily took 3 hours of real time to complete the epic journey of Lady Luck and that time cost could be a problem for those looking for a quick gaming experience

For fans of the bombing campaigns over the Reich, TfT may well provide an immersive experience.  However, for a game where the question of interest is, can I survive 25 missions, the player may lose interest before learning the answer to that question.

As a quick bonus review, I had a chance to play a game called Mare Nostrum - Empires at the club last week before going on holiday.  It’s an expansion/reboot of the 2003 Eurogames title, this time published by Academy Games - the kind of game where you expand, build, and maybe fight other players on your quest for glory.  It is very loosely historical, since the empires in play include Rome, Persia, and Atlantis.  Different races have different advantages.  Egypt, being most civilized, can build stuff more easily, whereas Rome is best at fighting, and so on.    The owner of the game picked up this deluxe, extra-large rubberized map, which really shows it to advantage.


Mare Nostrum allows sudden death victory in several ways, such as being the lead on all three of these tracks (trade, civilization, and military prowess) at any time in the game.  The cards above the tracks are various superheroes (such as Penthilsea, the Queen of the Amazons) who can be purchased in lieu of buying temples, cities, troops, ships or other useful things). Again, get enough of these superheroes and you win the game automatically.  


n the one game I played, I was slowly chugging along, trying to expand my little Roman empire.  I had expanded to Sicily, hoped to colonize the legendary city of Syracuse and get a hidden legendary city goody that might help me, while raising some troops to deter my neighbours, who were also slowly building stuff.  The guy playing Carthage had opted to recruit a stable of heroes, but he was two away from winning the game that way, and those last two heroes were pretty expensive, so I wasn’t worried.  Then, the Egypt player, who also owned the game, revealed that he had raised 10 gold pieces that we were totally not tracking, enough for him to buy the Great Pyramids, which was, quelle suprise, another Sudden Death way to win the game.  

Because I had been so invested in the idea of slowly building up Rome the traditional, incremental way, and maybe fighting some battles along the way, I was oblivious to the game as game, and to the various routes to victory that it offered.   I have trouble remembering that games of this sort are, well, gamey, and need to be approached as such.  Instead, I was fixated on the idea that I was playing a more complex, traditional sort of expansion game.   As the victor pointed out, one of the advantages of Mare Nostrum is that it can be played to a resolution in under two hours, which for a club game on a weeknight is a highly desirable outcome.  Nevertheless, I found myself dissatisfied.  Despite the myriad numbers of chrome and levels of complexity in a game like TfT, it offered a substantial experience, whereas  Mare Nostrum was like a delicious creamy pastry, lovely to look at but easily disposed of in a few bites and leaving me wanting more.

If you are on Twitter, I invite you to follow my account, @madpadre1, because I have live tweeted several B17 missions, putting my Twitter friends into the various crew positions for a mission somewhat abbreviated for playability.  It has proven to be a lot of fun, as over a couple of hours you get the chance to risk flak and fighters, with lots of silly banter and some .GIFs along the way.   I try to give folks a few days notice to reserve their spot in the crew, so grab your sheepskin bomber jacket and come along for the fun but be warned, on our second mission we lost our navigator, who lost an arm to a flak splinter, and is now going home.  Maybe you can replace him?

Blessings to your die rolls and bombs away!


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tuesday Night Boardgame (On Wednesday): GMT'S Fields of Despair


I couldn’t resist this title by GMT games - any World War One game generally goes to the head of my purchasing queue, and this one was no exception.    Fields of Despair (FOD) is a strategic scale block game designed by Kurt Lewis Keckley - you can find his blog here and follow him on Twitter at @PhotoAvalanche .  It comes with an attractive hardback folding map, several hundred counters and blocks which need to be stickered (thankfully, for Command and Colours fans, only on one side).  

I’ve only played FoD solo which is a pity because that is rather like driving a Ferrari in stop and go traffic and never getting out of second gear.  This is a game designed for two players, and the one-sided blocks mean that you never know exactly what is waiting for you when you launch an attack.   I can’t wait to try this game head to head because the suspense would be epic.   The blocks themselves are the heart of the game, reminiscent of the four-sided blocks used in well-known Columbia games such as Quebec 1759 and Waterloo.   Blocks range from 1 to 4 up to 17 - 20 Strength Points, with 20SP blocks representing a multi-corps army.   Most blocks represent infantry, with a few cavalry units given to each side.

In addition, players can commit artillery to key battles (representing strategic artillery assets) and can also commit aerial units in the hopes of forcing the other player to reveal some or all of his blocks before battle.   Aerial reconnaissance is not a sure thing, however, because the defending (or passive) player can throw in his/her air units as well to try and keep the observer planes from carrying out their missions.   Besides his/her own blocks, the defender can try to hold the line with a few key fortresses, such as Verdun, which are very hard nuts to crack.

Here is a shot of the game board in the early stages of the three-turn introductory scenario, set in 1914.  Infantry units move two hexes a turn, and cavalry three, but units have to stop when they enter an enemy controlled hex.  Unless all defending units are removed from a hex, it is considered contested and remains in the defender’s control, so the ownership counters seen here are quite important for deterring victory.

And the same game at the end.  The Germans have taken heavy losses, but have done worse damage to the French, and have come within an ace of capturing Paris before the end of the game, which the Germans won 9-7 based on hexes control.  The British (tan counters) are slowly building up strength, but were separated from their French allies by the German advance.

In retrospect this game might have gone better for the French if played H2H, since playing it solo it was impossible as the stronger German side to hit the French where they were weakest.   There is a slightly intimidating solitaire system for one of the late war scenarios, which I hope to try at some point.  

WW1 fans will appreciate the fact that the game is highly attritional.  While breakthroughs are possible and  can be exploited, they are difficult to achieve and hard to exploit.  Manpower is a very finite quantity in the game.  The Germans have an initial advantage, and their army grows considerably in 1914, but like the other countries the manpower streams dry up later in the war, so every SP lost early in the game is one you won’t have later when you may need it.

There are several economics and technology R&D tracks, where players can put resources into developing new weapons (poison gas, gas masks, better aircraft, tanks, etc) and also put resources into maintaining the Allied blockade vs the German submarine campaign, ether of which can hurt the other side’s resources.    The German player must also think about the second front with Russia, which is represented in a very abstract but effective way.  Don’t put enough resources into the Russian front and you as the German can lose the game.   

While the game does not use a card system like Ted Raicer’s WW1 classic Paths of Glory, it does have a series of technology thresholds that introduces events like aerial combat, the start of trench warfare, as well as political events like the US entry to the war.  

FoD is a simple and highly playable game with enough chrome to give it a good feel for the strategic choices faced by the combatants in the Great War on the Western Front.   Fans of WW1 should check this out.  While it would be huge fun with an opponent, the solitaire mechanism looks promising and there is also Vassal.

Speaking of Vassal, here is some bonus WW1 content.  This is a screen shot of a game that Jonathan Freitag and I are playing online - it is from the introductory scenario of GMT’s 1914: Offensive a outrance, from their operational monster game about the first months of WW1 in the West.  My French divisions begin the war by hurling themselves on the Boche to erase the infamy of 1870 and to recapture France’s provinces.   Latest communiques from French HQ confirm that all is going well.  

The cool thing about this game is that it is a 100% digital version of the real game, and while the going is slow, Jon and I are learning a lot about Vassal in the process.

Good luck to your die rolls, virtual or otherwise.






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