Saturday, December 27, 2008

Two books, two points of view.

So I hope we all had an excellent Xmas; in the run up to the arbitarilly assigned date of significance I found myself reading 'Achtung Scweinehund', by Harry Pearson. An excellent little book.

Harry like so many of us, grew up in an England not so much haunted by the Second world War, as infused with it; and the influence it has had on his later life is a large part of the subject matter of this book. He manages to warmly recollect his childhood with toy soldiers, the hopeless Action Man and the interminable Colditz boardgame; whilst Uncles told him about how many 'Japs' they'd killed in the war. At the same time he does a good job of introducing wargaming as a subject for the uninformed, and of providing a basic history of it's genesis in Europe (particualarly from around 1600 onwards) and the early manufacturers of the figures with whom he is most interested.
Also, and importantly, Harry addresses the emotional issues related to wargaming, and more generally that certain breed of men who seem to enjoy them most. Towards the end of the book he considers the issues of Nerds, and the many breeds of gamer. How some of them seem never to grow up, whilst others drift away from their hobbies as some sort of social expectation makes them believe the time or money invested is not worthwhile. For Harry himself, he is proud to admit he is a Geek, and by the end of the book has reconciled the position.
The distinctions between Pearson's book and another I read earlier in the year, could not be more distinct. Whereas 'Achtung' celebrates a hobby, 'The Elfish Gene' reads like an embarrasing condemnation of one, with the 20/20 vision of hindsight in very tight focus.

As a roleplayer in my youth, I can identify with an awful lot of the experience Mark Barrowcliffe writes about in his book, just as I could with Harry Pearson. However, whilst Mark's book is on face value much funnier, you rapidly come to realise that this is because he is deeply ashamed of his involvement with the hobby. The guy is painfully aware of how uncool he feels his hobby made him, and blames in large part the hobby for making him that way, rather than the tendency of all boys to be like that.
As a result, there is a denialist streak running through 'Elfish', as if the author is very definately saying 'what I did was wrong, and I know now that it was wrong; please forgive me and don't do what I did.' He paints the characters who were involved in gaming as almost uniformly dysfunctional in some way, and potrays his ability to talk to girls as a sign of his superiority over them, and gateway to final freedom from geekdom. Frankly this is kind of annoying, and what is worse is that Mark simply chooses to attack his target, as it would be seen as an easy one to do so with. I can't imagine a similar version being written about Football or Fishing for example.
For all of that, it is a humourous red, but unlike 'Achtung Schweinehund, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. For a nostalgic and ultimately nourishing read, use your Xmas book token on Harry Pearsons work; then lend it to friends or family who don't get why you like toy soldiers. Borrow the elfish Gene from the Library, by all means; but don't attempt to explain yourself to anyone with it!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

There's only so much snow a man can take...

Well, the mountains are being the fickle mistress they usually are, in the last two weeks they've given me pleasure and frustration in equal measures; and so far they've cost me a music player, a jacket and a very badly damaged board. The net upshot of all this is that I made time to do some painting yesterday 'for relaxation'. Some may argue all I do is relax out here, but the sort of mental cool-down that painting provides me isn't accesible up here by any other means I know of (beer included!).

Anyway, there's not much to report so far, I managed to undercoat a unit of Union troops in about an hour. The working arrangements for this being even less solubrious than my old operation: sitting on a blanket on the floor of my tiny room, with a small painting board couched in my lap and a box with all my paints and modelling bits beside me.

Still it was a refreshing break to do something so simple. Next up, some colour, and photo's to boot!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A visit to Grimsby

Before heading back over to France I was able to pop in to my old club in Grimsby, home to several bloggers well known, or otherwise, to my readers, and where I spent the first fifteen years of my wargaming time.

Many familiar faces were in which was pleasing, and moreover a selection of games were going on, giving me both plenty to talk about (catching up on as much banter and such as the actual games) and photograph.

The first game was an AK47 Republic, contemporary Africa game, featuring Martin Buck and Dave Tuck's armies on the older club terrain boards, with plastic vivarium trees for jungle and my old cardboard West-African buildings. They've survived pretty well for being made from cereal boxes and plasticard over ten years ago...

Another game on was a 15mm 18th century game. I can't really say much more about the details, it could be historical forces or hypothetical ones, but the game seemed based on a scenario in the BattleGames magazine (which I must admit, I saw for the first time on this visit; it seems like a good read, I may have to see if I can buy some back issues on the net...).

However the centrepiece of the evening was a World War One game being staged downstairs on an eight by ten foot layout in glorious 28mm.

The game featured Paul Robinson (AKA Grimsby Wargamer), Mark Alcock, and others playing over the fantastic terrain created by Mal Taylor (a master of the art).

Look at this spectacular ruined church!

A 'period' photograph...

Mal's attention to detail is remarkable many of the buildings are interchangable on modualar bases that blend in to the table, and can be replaced with trenches too. Mal was always notorious for looking at other peoples work on his terrain board and going "well, it's good, but it's not what I had in mind." A perfectionist doing his best work.

Lastly a survey of the battle itself, two battalions of British and American infantry accompanied by a tank and a rolling barrage assaulted the temporary defenses of a German battalion. The fist assault faltered but the second made rapid progress. The village was stormed late in the evening. Here we see Kapitan Robinsohne surveying his forces....

Overall an nice opportunity to catch up. Until next time folks....

Monday, December 01, 2008

Very last game of the year...

This one was definately it for me. On my last visit to the Night Owls, myself and regular, Ross, had a 1000pt game of 40k. The scenario ended up as kill points with the Dawn of War set up. the forces were my Orks against his Necrons, an army I'd never faced before.

As the rules for the scenario permitted we both picked a HQ and two troops choices to start the battle the rest being in reserve. For me that meant a mob of Boyz and a Mob of Nobz (made a Troops Choice on the grounds of a Warboss being part of the army) with a Bigmek carrying the Kustom forcefield of cheese (5+ cover save to everyone!)

Ross began with his lord and two units of Warriors, Nothing sensational but good stand off and shoot troops.

And stand and shoot they did, from the very back of the table, but as I'd been allowed to deploy first and per the rules I was only 18 inches away from him and moving first could sacrifice shooting to close distance quickly. The one round of shooting my lads endured killed a few Boyz but couldn't stop the Nobz.

To Ross' horror we called a big Waagh and got into close assault on turn two, wiping out one unit and leaving the other locked in combat, one they would ultimately win; but by now my reserves were arriving - en masse.

With Tanks, Killer Kans, Deffcopters and more Boyz led by the Warboss on the way, Ross could sense disaster, he came very close to conceeding on turn two.

He managed to hold the line a little longer and another of his units (IIRC, Immortals) arrived. Sadly just in time to take a hit from the Nobz. Although it was a close fight, the Orks won, and for the second time in the game a terrible morale roll for the Necrons saw them try to flee from the fight, get caught on a poor initiative roll and be wiped out. This time when Ross' hand was offered I shook it, as there was no need to prolong his agony any further.

A somewhat shell-shocked Ross considers what he could possibly have done to avoid a disaster...
And so that was that. I think it is fair to say the scenario gave me the edge in this one unwittingly, the Necron firepower could have easily done for the Orks, but in the event it came down to controlling the close assault phase once again.
I'm putting the Orks to bed now of course, so when I get back to playing games the heady days of their constant victories will be far behind me!