Friday, 20 March 2009

Fad A La Mode?

In which EG passes time while waiting for the off by being faddy in the comfort of the Smoking Room at his club.


Cover dated April 2009

Sitting here in the club's Smoking Room listening to the sound of m'colleagues having a thoroughly good time drifting through from the Gaming Room, one is reminded that one of the most spiffing things about our hobby is that it is a broad church. Now that isn't an easy swipe at the generous build of one's average wargamer, no, it's just a rather easy way to sum up one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hobby and that is the amazing diversity of it all. Just look at the people involved. They're from all walks of life, all with different interests within the hobby and without. They play all sorts of games covering all periods of history including some that never were and some that are yet to come. And yet, by and large, we all get on. Hurrah!

That said however, there are certain Constants within the wide-ranging World Of Wargaming that apply to all games and gamers and these can be divided into two groups. The first of these groups of Constants contains the Low Level Truisms of Wargaming. For example, Red Dice always roll better results, most trained units of men in the Ancient World move a scale move of 4”, and a 6 or a 1 will get results whereas a 3 seldom will, that sort of thing. In fact all the practical sort of info. that one really needs to understand to get the most out of one's hobby.

The second group contains the High Level Truism of the Wargaming; that there are Four Core Periods and only Four Core Periods. If one needs to ask what the four are then tush, shame on you! Around the Core Of Four orbit a number of other established Periods; ECW, Colonial and SYW for example. As popular as they may be, and that popularity can wax and wane, they will always play second fiddle to the Four Core. And then there is the Fad, burning hard, burning bright, lighting up the Wargaming firmament. Its brilliance can easily distract and delight Wargamers before either imploding to establish another minor period or burning itself out into yesterday's thing. No substance, you see, and the blinking Wargamer finds himself much as moth might when the wind blows out his favorite candle; instantly in search of another flame upon which to burn himself and his money.

What is the new Fad?” Indeed it is this question that has been heating up the old lemon while enjoying a fortifying brandy and do you know, I think one's got it! Previous fads have been largely driven by shiny new figures, a new set of rules or, in the case of the more successful fads, a combination of the two. For example, the Street Violence fad of a few years back was driven entirely by Foundry's range of the same name, but, after burning brightly for a few months, it faded away through lack of substance. The Darkest Africa and its Thrilling Tales/Pulp/Back Of Beyond off-shoots are, however, a miniatures initiated fad that turned out to have enough substance to settle down in its own modest way into orbit around the Core Of Four. Another more recent example of a fad that seems to be have established itself as a fixture is Wings Of War – a great combination of innovative and fun rules plus excellent supporting miniatures. Last Year's Fads have to include Weird War II with a number of new rule sets being published such as, but not exclusively, Secrets Of The Third Reich, and a seemingly never-ending supply of Nazi zombies from a variety of sources. But will it stay the distance? If pushed, one might put a guinea on it to place.
One can sense the shuffling at the back of class and so had better get on with the punditry. The Gadsby nomination for the next Next Big Thing (NBT) goes to ....A Very British Civil War, produced by Solway Crafts And Miniatures. A Very British Civil War is an alternative-history source-book that takes the premise that Edward VIII refused to resign over the Wallis Simpson scandal and that this set off a chain of events, all covered in the source-book, which divides the country along religious and political lines. By 1938 the situation has degenerated so far that the inevitable Civil War breaks out. It has to be said that the 3ECW, ECW3 or even VBCW, alternate-history, as the cognoscenti call it (one acronym at a time, that is, otherwise, well, one would just look stupid,) does indeed press all of one's buttons but then the inter war period is like raindrops on roses and warm woollen mittens to Ephraim. Nevertheless others, even those with a less than passing acquaintance with the period, will find the text entertaining.

As was pointed out earlier, A Very British Civil War is a source-book and not a rule-book. Nor do the authors have a range of supporting figures to flog. So as a potential NBT it is in a delicate 'posish.' Specific figures are beginning to be released and one would say that the whole ECW33ECWVBCW thing is coming to a particular crossroads in its development. Either it becomes another of those internet based periods that Club Treasurer poo-pooed a few issues back and we never see anything at shows or in club-land, or, woosh, the figures will take off, a common rules set will gain consensus, maybe one of the bigger manufacturers gets behind it and there one has it, the Next Big Thing.

One might be wrong on this though; it's happened before. But unfortunately, whatever the fate of A Very British Civil War, one will not be at the club to either engage smug-mode or make my excuses . I will be away touring Europe for the next few months. Indeed one is at the club tonight not to play a game but to rendezvous with a fellow club member to whom Gadsby is to be travel companion. Not quite sure of the itinerary but knowing the chum, it's bound to be of interest. Plus he's paying.

“Dakka! Dakka! Dakka! Take that Fritz! Huzzah!” wafting in from the Games Room tells me that B von H's Fokker has just crashed and burned and that Lord S, victory roll taken, will soon too be wafting in and wanting to push off. So with the continental adventure awaiting, one must don le chapeau de Monsieur, les gants de Monsieur et le whange de Monsieur and bid you “Au Revoir.” For now.

Steady there! I was just saying "Pip Pip" to the column in the WI. One will still update this blog as and when one's travels permit. And who know? Upon one's return there may well be a summons to recommence from the Editor of WI, bombarded as he no doubt will be, by requests for more of the half-wit and wisdom. So best advice is "Keep Calm & Carry On."

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Tiger Or Bunny?

In which Ephraim admits to being a bunny.
Previously unpublished. Luckily.

It's an exhausted Ephraim that pens this particular missive. The Club has today held its fourteenth annual Games Day which, for the second year running, has featured a Wings Of War (WoW) tournament and, while normally not the Tournament Tiger type and again for the second year running, one has found oneself in the final. Last year the competition ended in a draw as in the six rounds allocated, neither B von H nor self could stretch to a lead. This year, in an attempt to finally establish a Club WoW Ace, the committee extended the number of rounds to eight and after a great deal of toing and froing, yet again the von H Fokker and the Gadsby Se5 fought each other to a stand-still and the result another draw. Already there is talk of extending the number of rounds to ten although one has the niggling doubt that the hoped for decisive result will not be forthcoming. If only there was another way to organise things.
But then again, on occasion one rather likes the concepts of draws. Life these days is pretty much about winning and loosing and often so it is when our hobby gets together. As has already said, one is not a Tournament Tiger (TT) but rather a Tournament Bunny (TB) – terms coined by Messers Jones & Morris (responsible for much sterling work including the WAB Arthur supplement,) to roughly categorise an individual's approach to playing in a tournament type situ. The TB places much more value on the way the game is played than the end result. Now that doesn't mean not playing to win – one owes it to one's opponent to provide a good game after all and anyone who denies that winning a good game is actually enjoyable is at best in denial and at worst a rotter intent on lulling one into a sense of false security before running off with the club silver. But whatever may, playing with a straight bat is key.
TT on the other hand are often characterised by their uncanny ability to bend the rules to suit themselves. Their concern is not for a good game enjoyed by all but a good victory enjoyed by them. Mr Schwarzenegger summed it up best in his opus “Conan The Barbarian,” when responding to the question “What is best in life?” he replied with the TT mantra; “To crush your opponents, see them flee before you and hear the lamentation of their women.” Nice.
So why bother attending tournaments if one stands a good chance of running into TTs and having one's weekend spoilt? Well one has discovered that there is indeed another way to organise things. The aforementioned Messers Jones & Morris started it all a few years ago when they ran several one-day events where the emphasis was very squarely put on how one played not how one scored. Since then, several similar one day events have sprung up around the country plus of course the sterling WAB Campaign Weekend events at Warhammer World with their genial host Rob Broom from Warhammer Historical. The emphasis at these events is always on the social, playing the game side of things and fierce competition is frowned upon. In particular one can recommend the fun campaigns run by the chaps at Gripping Beast – surely the hobby's own Odd Couple; one of them looks like he eats bottles and turns into a werewolf at will, albeit a ginger one, while the other looks, rather admirably if you were to ask me, like he's stuck in the 1930's. Whatever their image issues, their campaigns are involving, competitive and yet always fun with prizes for almost everything except winning. They now run several themed/period events a year at their own GBHQ, many of which have been reported in Wargames Illustrated, where they happily continue to champion their own blend of challenging scenarios played in a fun atmosphere. Most definitely holders of the Gadsby Seal Of Approval.
In the evening after the Club's Games Day is held the Annual Smoking Concert And Wingding and it is in preparation for this that one resting in the comfort of the Smoking Room and loosening the old tonsils with a brandy and soda. For some bizarre reason Club Chairman has bullied one into yet another rendition of “47 Ginger Headed Sailors.” One should have thought that enough had been had by all after last year's performance but, I suppose much like the Club WoW event, some things are destined to go on. And on.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Are we going backwards?

In which Ephraim Gadsby assesses whether he is coming or going and if a school-boy error has been made on the way to the Smoking Room at his Club.
Cover dated March 2009

There's a strange sensation that one can occasionally experience on the London Underground. It last happened to me on the way back from the club a few weeks ago. One was on the last train home, gazing at the schematic of the route helpfully displayed above the doors while trying to avoid eye contact with the ruffians on the opposite seat. Despite their precariously perched chequered caps, they seemed unable to cope with the sporty Glen Urquhart of one's new suit without voicing serious misgivings. Having located the previous station, one's eyes followed the purple line toward the front of the train and clocked the name of the next station-stop. Only it wasn't. When the carriage jolted to rest and the sliding doors slid, in the split second before fellow passengers did the mind-the-gap, one saw not the expected station but rather another and in an instant one suspected the impossible; that despite being certain that one had boarded the correct train, one was not going forward as one had hoped but rather backwards, away from one's destination, away from one's cocoa and bed and towards an uncomfortable journey home on the Night Bus service. But one wasn't. It was just that one had misread the map, made the quite frankly school boy error of not orientating before consulting, and as a result thought one was going when one know really one was coming.
And it was with much the same sort of sense of confusion that one witnessed the sudden arrival at the club this week of plastic figures. One's initial response was that the hobby was going backwards. Young Ephraim was always to be found on the nursery floor, surrounded by seas of Airfix 1/72nd plastics, Matchbox vehicles and wooden-brick bunkers. One cut one's wargaming teeth on them, often quite literally. But as the golden locks of childhood were replaced by the short-back-and-sides of adolescence, so the grey Confederates and sand-coloured Africa Korp were replaced by silvery 15mm leads; individual castings lovingly selected from typed mail-order lists and purchased by Postal Order. Thank you Nanny. Now, of course, The Gadsby Collection is all painted 28mm alloy figures. Acres of them.
My assessment of this plastic invasion as a retrograde step received further support when one jokingly asked if they were to be painted in enamels, only to be told, “No, they'll be dipped of course.” And this was from a fellow widely acknowledged by those who care as one of the country's top painting types. Unbelievable. In the days when when one still turned back the old cuff, tucked in the tie and slapped a bit of paint about, 'Dip' was known as Yacht Varnish. Its bullet-proof and somewhat muddy effects were soon abandoned by all right thinking chaps who swiftly mastered the more artistic approaches of 'layering', glazing and the double whammy of gloss then matt varnish. Still reeling from the shock, (or was it the chemical cloud of so much varnish and poly cement?) the tin hat was put on the whole unpleasant experience when one noticed an enthusiastic club member garnishing a dipped, plastic figure's base with 'basing material' from a pot that the fellow had actually paid for! The very same 'basing material' that the club car park is covered in! Sorry to repeat, but unbelievable.
As readers will appreciate, this was all far too much for a forward thinking modernist like oneself and an emergency Martini was required. While enjoying a follow up 'sports' Martini, the old brain started the process of reorientation. Perhaps plastics were the future of the hobby? Maybe Ephraim had made the school boy error, assuming plastics were, well, for school boys? They certainly make consumption easy. There are chaps at the clubs in possession of plastic ACW armies that, were they to take the field at once, would require two of the longer refectory tables to accommodate the battle line. Impressive, but in the words of my old house master, just because you can doesn't mean you should. What about the quality? Well, according to some rigorous market research canvassing a wide spectrum of right-thinking chaps, the consensus, by show of hands in the bar, was that there is one set of absolute howlers out there but that the main contenders are all really rather good. In fact, Club Shouter, The Duke de PF, declared the sprue of Perry's Napoleonic French Infantry that he was waving about to be, rather appropriately, 'le dernier cri.' After brief inspection one had to agree; as 'cri's go these were indeed the dernier. As are the the Victrix British Infantry. So, a couple of box sets of these fellows might be an idea, just to try mind you. Might even break the crusts on a few paint pots, see if the old Gadsby magic is still there. You can keep your yacht varnish though.
With that resolved, thoughts returned once again to the nursery days and memories of battles of old. In particular one remembers a clash of epic proportions when the might of the Roman Empire and its ACW Confederate allies clashed with across the carpet with a federation of Ancient Britons, elements of the 8th Army and Robin Hood and most of his Merry Men. After raging all day, the battle was eventually brought to conclusion by the Roman Commander's cunning use of some plastic dinosaurs that had been discovered under the day-bed. That and the gong sounding for tea.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Are You Cheating?

Being an article in which Ephraim Gadsby finds out that even the comforting environs of the Smoking Room at his club are but scant protection when faced with some uncomfortable home truths....
Cover dated February 2009

Catch Ephraim in jovial mood and I'll tell you that a Cheat is a pretty poor specimen who ranks quite a long way down the list of wines and spirits. Catch a Cheat at the Club and one is at the front of the pack baying for the fellow's Club tie to be severed just below the old half Windsor. Either that or a jolly spectacular de-bagging at the very least.
But one is caught now in a mood of fretful contemplation. In the past one has always felt 'without sin' in re the cheating business and so has felt neither hesitation nor hypocrisy in 'casting the first stone,' so to speak. But last night, during another routing at the hands of Club Treasurer, one feels that one may have, albeit unwittingly, stepped beyond the pale and into the gloom, into the world of lies and deceit , into the world of the Cheat. It happened when, faced with a particularly crucial leadership test, one reached for the Bright Red Dice. After all, I thought, they'd passed a similar crucial test the previous week. And that, chums, is cheating.
Most wargames make free use of the random element, usually provided by the ubiquitous dice. There are, of course, a number of wargames that use cards, either the standard 52 card pack that one can readily borrow from the Parlour Games Room or a game specific set, like, say the damage decks in Wings Of War. Now if one was playing a card based game, one wouldn't seek to rig the results by removing all the hearts from the deck. That we can all agree would be cheating. Yet how many of us try to influence what should be the totally random generation of a set of numbers by rolling dice one believes are more likely to roll low, or high, or what have you?
How many chaps do you know who have their favourite lucky dice? What about players who get iffy if one reaches for their dice, scared that one might roll out all the sixes? Surely it's all just superstition, all nonsense.
Tricky empirical tests by learned chaps in white coats have shown that typical, commercially available dice by and large hold no truck with delivering hoped-for results and will wilfully roll random all evening until laid to rest or ground vengefully under foot. It's a situation that no amount of blowing on can reasonably be expected to change.
Well yes. But that doesn't distract from the fact that when ones indulges in a bit of pre-roll blowing or indeed when one reaches for the Bright Red Dice, part of one's brain, the part containing all one's irrational optimism (you know, the part that normally occupies itself with looking forward to an English Ashes win, snow at Christmas and honey for tea,) believes that the odds are swung in one's favour. And that wanting, that belief, is enough. We're all cheats and that's that.
If truth be told, and it must, I'm beginning to have doubts about one's lucky Batman pants too. Although said under-garments can in no way affect the roll of the dice, they do seem to have a effect on the way one plays. They seem to lend a sense of resolve and determination; they certainly gee one's play along. One has a tendency to procrastinate when faced with a tough in-game decision but with Batman in his supporting role, indecision is banished, replaced with strong, affirmative action. I've lost count of the charges declared under the influence of the Caped Crusader bloomers.

So should they go?
Probably not. The effects, such that they are, are purely psychological. But more than that, they are purely internal; their influence is on the wearer and the wearer only. There is no element of seeking to interfere with the rules or the randomness element of the table-top. In fact, one rather fondly sees them as modelling the moral conviction and belief in one's cause that most surely spurred on history's more successful generals. Furthermore, Batman remains a hidden boost, unbeknown to one's opponent. They needn't know he's there. I did once have cause to show them to Club Treasurer. He was impressed, but that's another story.