Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A farewell to Z (O my Soul)


I have left the brotherhood of the Z. After 10+ years of zipping (when traffic permitted) around the Puget Sound area in my nifty 2007 Nissan 350z, I am back to being an everyday driver in a practical car.

Late yesterday afternoon, I took possession of a new Kia Soul turbo. It's a bittersweet experience because I traded in my Z. I've gone from 3.5L V-6 306hp to 1.6L inline-4 201hp (turbocharged).

It's a paradigm shift. Let me tell you.

The Soul turbo (a.k.a. the Soul Exclaim, a.k.a. Soul ! ) is a nice car. The turbocharger gives it some zip. It also has a dual clutch, so I can pop it into a 7-speed manual, which is much more responsive--though not on par with the Z. I can also put it into Sport mode with a touch of a button. I'm still getting used to it. After 10 years, the Z felt like an extension of myself when I drove. For now, the Soul is like being in a different body.

The bells 'n' whistles are nice. The sound system with SiriusXM satellite radio and Apple CarPlay, which integrates my iPhone (+ music, + apps) into the system, is pretty cool. The steering wheel has more buttons than the Mach-5:


But there's no jump jacks or protruding power saws, so I'm stymied if I encounter a chasm or forest  in my path. I can, however, control my music, send/receive phone calls hands-free, change driving modes, etc.

It's an odd feeling to be sitting up higher in traffic. I can actually look down and see the top of some cars. The commute to work this morning was less stressful without the constant clutching.

Of course, the big advantage is that it has good cargo capacity. Trying to schlep enough boxes of minis 'n' terrain to a game venue was a challenge in the Z. For the past several years, I've opted to drive the 80+ miles round trip every day to/from the venue of our annual convention, Enfilade!, because I could never carry with me everything I needed for the games I was hosting for the weekend. I'm looking forward to staying the whole weekend this year without worrying that I can't bring all my stuff with me. (Of course, the whole Bogart vs. the girls situation concerns me when it comes to bringing in a cat-sitter.)

It's also front-wheel drive, which means it will handle better on our rare snow days here in the Pacific Northwest. No more slipping 'n' sliding. Generally, I've been housebound on snow days (including Christmas this year); I can dare to be adventurous now--even though, unlike the Mach-5, it has no super-gripping belt tires that can be produced by pressing Button B.

I'm happy with the exchange. I've gone from sports car to sensible car and I can call my midlife crisis over (for now). Sensible, but I've still got a bit of pep in my drive.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

British soldiers blog


In the course of looking up other things, I stumbled across an interesting blog that contains numerous stories about British soldiers who served in America during the War of Independence 1775-1783. It's called British Soldiers, American Revolution.


The blogger, Don Hagist, has done a  remarkable amount of research to find these stories. Many provide some details of the personal lives of the soldiers before and/or after their service and are based on things like court records and correspondences.

Don does a great job telling these stories and you get a very different view of the British soldier in North America than most histories provide. The stories in the blog don't give faces to these men in a literal sense, but it makes them more than the 2-dimensional characters that we often see in movies about the Revolution (e.g., The Patriot).

The "bloodybacks," it turns out, had mothers, fathers, wives, children—even civilian occupations. Hagist relates one story about a Scottish soldier in the 26th Foot who was a comedian in private life and whose own writings narrate the many setbacks he had collecting a pension for his wounds and hard service once he returned to Britain.

It's a dog's life in the British Army

There are also sadder tales, like the account of William Ellis of the 10th Foot, who deserted from Boston in October, 1775. He was later captured in February, 1777 while under arms in company of New Jersey militiamen by men of the 26th Foot. He plead his case, but was hanged in April, 1777.

The blog posts are well written and make great reading for anyone wanted to add to their knowledge of the American Revolution.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

I just checked in to see what condition my 6 was in


I just played my first game of Check Your 6! yesterday. I checked in to The Panzer Depot in Kirkland to see if there was anything there I couldn't live without. Ken Kissling was running a game and after hemming and hawing about whether to stay and join in, I took command of a flight of P-51Bs. I wanted to see how the rules work.

I'm not a stranger to air combat games. Back in the 90s (mostly), we played a lot of air games using a version of Avalon Hill's Mustangs board game that was adapted to 1/300 scale miniatures. I had a modest collection of aircraft for WW2 and a slightly larger collection of jets—Dave Schueler wrote a version of Mustangs, called Phantoms, that took the game mechanics into the jet age. We haven't played Mustangs/Phantoms for many years and I've sold off all my wee planes.

One of the things about our games back then is that we used stands for the minis that gave us the proper vertical representation. It looked cool, but it required six different stands per plane to accommodate the six altitude bands in the game. In addition to a slug of model planes, we needed a forest of flight stands. For most of our gaming time, the stands were supplied by Paul "Mustangs" Hannah. I never bothered to make any because they were a chore to make, store, and schlep.

Paul has a YUGE collection of 1/300th scale aircraft, followed by Phil Bardsley. As I mentioned, my collections were modest. The 1/300th planes were exceptionally fiddly to paint and put decals on. I was also loath to reduplicate other's efforts. Between them, Paul and Phil had pretty much the whole Luftwaffe and RAF. Phil also had a lot of Italian planes. He loved Italian planes. I mostly did a few odd balls, like Bolton-Paul Defiants and Mitsubishi A5M "Claudes." I also had several jets for the Indo-Pakistan Wars and Arab-Israeli Wars.

Phil and Paul playing Mustangs back in the day
(Paul took the games so seriously that he always wore a tie to play)

Air gaming seemed to quiet down for a while here in the PNW until Check Your 6! came on the scene. Maybe I've just been oblivious (always a possibility), but I didn't really notice anyone playing it until a few years ago, although the rules came out in 2007. There are several expansions for the game that provide scenarios for game plus campaigns.

The game we played on Saturday was from an expansion for the ETO. Basically, in advance of a daylight bomber run, an American force of 4 P-38s and 4 P-51Bs encounter a swarm of German fighters: 2 JU-88 nachtjägers (but jägering in der tag this game), 2 ME-110s, 4 ME-109s, and 4 FW-190s.

In the furball

The formations appeared on the board in the first couple turns. Most formations came on high (altitude 5 or 6), my Mustangs came on a altitude 1, flying top speed, underneath everyone, and flying almost off the board edge.

Much of my effort in the game was taken up with trying to climb and turn at the same time—doing either of these exercises bled speed like crazy. It was a few turns before I had a shot at anything. I managed to damage one ME-109, had several shots on another, which hit, but did no damage. Sean, who was playing the 109s, had the luck when it came to damage rolls.

A hit! A hit! A palpable hit!

It also helped that the P-51B is a much undergunned aircraft. We 'Mercans didn't go in much for no fancy-pants cannon on our areo-planes. The Mustang B had just four .50 cal MGs. The most I could ever hope to get would be to score 20 on my damage dice (4 x D6, counting any 6s as nothing). The Germans, in contrast, were flying cannon batteries. They hit with big dice (D10s and D20s!).

I was also trying desperately to lose Ken's formation of Focke-Wulfs. I figured that flying low and turning sharply to go under him as he passed higher up at high speed would do the trick, yet somehow I was tryna shake him the whole game. I think my inexperience was showing. No matter what I did, hot, nasty tracers were whizzing past my cockpits.

Am I the only one here who can't fly a plane!?

I lost one green pilot in my formation, who got shredded by one of Ken's Focke-Wulfs. The other green pilot got hit and suffered airframe damage. My experienced and skilled pilots survived unscathed. For all the whizzing tracers, I was lucky that Ken hit so few times. He certainly took a lot of shots.

In the end, it was a German win. John, flying the Lightnings, managed to damage a couple of Chris' heavy fighters (the JU-88s and ME-110s), but lost one plane. I damaged one enemy and lost one friendly.

The mechanics of the game are fairly simple, but expertise can take some time. Each plane is rated for maneuverability and can move in certain patterns depending on speed. Planes can maneuver in formations that allow the leader to plot a single move and the other planes in formation have a lot of leeway in choosing maneuvers to follow the leader and stay in formation.

Breaking formation isn't a bad thing unless unintentional. Then the plane breaking formation just kinda wanders off for the turn. Formation can be powerful because it brings all your guns to bear on targets.

I enjoyed the game and liked the rules, but not enough to go jumping back into air gaming.

Well, that's like, your opinion, man

Besides, I have way too many irons in the fire already. I've been divesting myself of a lot of my small-scale naval (1/2400) and air minis. I'd rather paint big 28mm figures and even bigger 40mm figures. I still have my 1/1250th WW2 coastal, 1/600th ACW naval (ironclads), and some 1/1200th pre-dreadnought.

I will, however, push someone else's wee planes whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Friday, January 5, 2018

And the resolutions begin to unravel...


Well, that was quick. It's only January 5th and I'm already contemplating the abandonment of my New Year's resolutions. This may be a record.

I said in my New Year's post that "I really, really would like 2018 to be a year of buying no new minis." I meant it. And then Michael Leck had to post the news on his excellent Dalauppror blog that he and Dan Mersey are conspiring again to release a new "Rampant" style game for early 2019 to be called Rebels and Patriots.

So, there goes that resolution.

Not that it's distressing me. I can rationalize a lot. For example, "this was an unforeseen development, yadda yadda." So that's my line and I'm sticking to it. I won't be sidetracked again—unless a shinier thing comes along.

The period covers the French 'n' Indian War through the War of Crushing the Slaveholding Secessionists. There's a lot of American history in that time span. I've started (and aborted) several projects for this period. I have a pile of unpainted Dixon ACW minis that I bought nearly 20 years ago. Kevin Smyth and I have discussed doing ACW using a variant of Dan Mersey's The Men Who Would Be Kings. These rules open another possibility.

Our country forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah!

Kevin has already done, and is expanding, projects using a variant of TMWWBK (America Rampant) for Spanish on the American frontier ca. 1800.

I've also had a long hankerin' to game the Texas War of Independence. Old Glory produces a range for this conflict and I already have some of those minis.

You can all go to hell. I am going to Texas.

Old Glory also produces figures for the Mexican War, but as a skirmish game, I think the Texas War of Independence is more interesting.

But, I think my first effort will be the AWI. I've tried my hand at this period a few times now. Once, way, way back, I got started when Front Rank released their 28mm range. I also painted some Old Glory AWI minis. More recently, but not too recent, I had some Perry Miniatures. I love the Perry range. It started small, but is now probably the most extensive 28mm AWI range. The figures are beautiful.

The Southern campaigns in the AWI appeals to me more that the fighting in the North—although Trenton and Princeton are quite interesting battles. I'd likely buy and paint minis for that theatre. They're cool and the uniforms are simpler. I had some earlier, but gave them to Kevin, who has a massive collection of AWI.

Advance from tree to tree, pressing the enemy and killing and disabling all you can.

One other subject that's just a bit outside the stipulated period is the Plains Indian Wars. I've had a pile of Wargame Foundry US cavalry sitting around (unpainted) for years. I've always wanted to do some gaming for the Plains Wars and Rebels and Patriots may be just the set. Although I imagine it could be done using TMWWBK as well, which has the advantage of already being published.

Let's go kill them with their boots on!

I could refrain from buying in 2018. After all, the rules come out in early 2019, which probably means February or March. I could wait until a year from now and get the figures I want right at the first of the year. But that means not actually having painted armies in hand the day the rules are released. And where's the fun in that?

But I at least won't buy any new minis for this project until after Enfilade! in May. Probably.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Crikey, it's January!


Possibly it's age or that my natural obliviousness is on overdrive (because of age), but the passing of time seems to take me more and more by surprise. Here we are in 2018. It seems like yesterday that it was the turn of the millennium as we wiped our brows in relief that the world didn't end with Y2K. Not that THE END OF THE WORLD isn't still a recurring theme in daily life these days. As things change, they mostly stay the same.

In any case, it's time to reflect on the year past and look forward to the one coming.


Painting


I got a lot of painting done last year (for me, anyway, maybe not a lot by others' standards). Not unexpectedly, it mostly wasn't the painting I'd planned. I don't really know why I bother to plan anything. My attention span is getting shorter. I'm too easily amused and beguiled by new projects.  I... oh! What's that?

Here's the short list of accomplishments and failures, realized and unrealized:

The Irish Project: The Irish Project spawned itself in my mind in January, not long after I completed last year's January blog post. It wasn't even a twinkle in my eye on January 1, 2017. Now it's a huge part of my past, present, and (we'll see) future output. I managed to get 60 Irish figures completed and 36 English. I have many more in progress (i.e., cleaned, assembled—if necessary, primed, and some painting done). I need to get going because it's one of my Enfilade! projects for May. I'm looking at maybe another 100 figures in 4 months. Wish me luck.

Dragon Rampant centaurs: Another unexpected project was my first ever fantasy gaming army. I caught the Dragon Rampant bug and completed a warband of 31 figures in December. We have a game day coming up on January 13, so I'm primed and ready. I also started a Chariots Rampant Egyptian retinue, but that will be on hold until after Enfilade!

Lion Rampant: I've resumed paining my El Cid Spanish Lion Rampant retinue. We have a Lion Rampant tournament coming up in March. I plan to have 24 points done by then. I have a lot more than 24 points worth of minis and just recently bought some crossbowmen (because I like how well they shoot and must have them!). I'm really still mulling over the composition of the retinue. When I decide on the composition, I can set up what I need to paint and get at it. This project will be taking time away from painting Irish/English 16th c. minis.

ECW: I planned to paint a lot of English Civil War for The Pikeman's Lament in 2017. I did paint some, but not a lot. I managed to get the first of the Scots units completed (6 dragoons and a gun + 6 crew). I also completed 2 guns (1 regimental and 1 BIG field gun) + 6 crew and a forlorn hope (6 figures), but there are still a lot of partially painted units for Royalists and Roundheads—including 18 figures of cavalry.

Mesoamericana: I completed enough of the Spanish conquistadors (and a few Aztecs) to contribute to my Quetzalcoatl Rampant games with Kevin Smyth at Enfilade! 2017. I have lots of Tlaxcalans, Aztecs, and more Spanish in progress, but I expect that project to be dormant for a while. We got a lot of QR gaming in over 2017, so I'm following the will o' the wisp of new projects for now.

Space: I got 10 new minis plus some heavy weapons done for Beyond the Gates of Antares. These are Algoryn hazard armor troops that I couldn't resist when they came out in August. I have another five of them to complete along with some vehicles and more heavy weapons. This project gets hot in spurts when we're looking to play. I always seem to manage completing another unit or two more in time for a game. I expect that to be true for 2018.

Terrain: As Joyce Kilmer observed, only God can make a tree, but I managed a few reasonable facsimiles in 2018. I got serious about completing the trees I started a few years back in order to get some foliage in our Quetzalcoatl Rampant games. I even followed through after Enfilade! getting some more done. I have a respectable little wood by now. They'll come in handy for a lot of games. I also completed some field works and other bits for the tabletop.

Bronze Age: I didn't actually paint any new minis for 40mm Bronze Age Europe in 2017. As I've been fond of noting, I completed ALL of the 40mm minis I bought for this. That's like eating all my veggies and licking the plate clean. I never do that. Now, however, I've acquired more since we played a game in November—and even more are on the way. I expect to have about 50+ more of them to paint this year. Bronze Age skirmish will be one of my Enfilade! games this year. I can run it with the figures I have completed, but I'll focus on getting a few more figures into the mix, like the never-released mounted figures and more of the never-released bowmen. However, this, too, will divert painting effort from The Irish Project.

WW2: Beyond not painting more minis for WW2 (Bolt Action), I actually sold off all my painted minis. Phil's death in January last year really took the mickey out of me for WW2 gaming. Phil was the catalyst for the WW2 gaming we did. With his passing, there didn't seem to be any prospect of gaming it any more.

And the rest: Thirty Years War and 1672 are beyond the back burner at this point. I'm not abandoning them, but I keep taking on other projects (like The Irish Project) that have scooted them farther out of the way. If I don't resume them in 2018, I have 2019 to look forward to.

Resolutions: I really, really would like 2018 to be a year of buying no new minis. I know, heresy. I have enough lead to keep me painting for 2018 and well beyond. I don't need new minis, but I've never let that stop me. I think that constantly buying new stuff is robbing me of getting use out of my old stuff. I always want more, but I often fail to paint the more that I get. Hence a garage full of boxes of orphaned, uncompleted minis crying out for attention. I've managed to sell of some of my unpainted lead (or give it away) just to clear the decks. I expect to do some of that in 2018, but I'm not sure what at this point.


Loss and remembrance


On January 3, 2017, my friend Phil Bardsley died unexpectedly. I blogged about it last year and I don't really have much more to say. Phil was one of my muses. He encouraged me to paint and was always complimentary about my efforts. Gaming with him was always a delight. Like poor Yorick, Phil was a fellow of infinite jest and most excellent fancy. Though time heals all wounds, I expect to grieve his loss for some time to come. The emptiness is still there.

I visited his grave in November. His ashes were interred much earlier, but I didn't know where until Karen met me at the cemetery and showed me the location. He's not far from where his parents are buried. I'm not really a grave visitor, but I've been once more since that day and I expect I'll visit again.

Phil's death got me thinking of my own—not in a morbid sense, but in the sense that I don't want to leave my family wondering what to do with my corpse should I die unexpectedly. I hadn't really given much thought to it before.

Being Catholic, the repose of one's body isn't a small matter. Cremation is now acceptable, but scattering of ashes isn't. I've never liked the idea of being a rotting corpse (sorry, morbid, I know), so cremation has always been my preference. It's nice and clean. But disposition of ashes?

I contacted Holyrood Cemetery in February and bought a niche in the mausoleum there. I'll be just next to where all of Seattle's bishops and archbishops are interred. Come the Resurrection, I hope to be in good company.


Cats


It's been more than a year since I lost Grendel, my obstreperous little man. I still miss him keenly, but Bogart has been an excellent companion, though we're still working out his relationship with the girls. Since late in 2016, I've had to keep them separated. It's a kind of time share with Bogart shut in my den and the girls at liberty to roam the house alternating with shutting the girls up in my bedroom and Bogart at liberty.

And when he's at liberty, he's a handful. He's a bit more relaxed these days, but I've often observed from the beginning that he has no Off switch. As soon as he's out of the den, he runs to the living room and braces himself to chase the red dot, which he expects me to produce for him. Most cats see through the red dot after a few episodes. Grendel and the girls lost interest almost immediately. Not Bogey. It's been over a year and he still has high hopes of catching it. That may be determination, but I suspect it's stupidity.

The girls are getting on in years, which may have a lot to do with their reticence in getting along with a young, overactive newcomer. Rhiannon is getting fatter. She was always a bit chubby, but the old eating arrangements are gone. The girls eat together and there's no Grendel to clean their plates when they walk away. (I always had to sit between Grendel and the girls when they ate because otherwise he would try to clean their plates even before they walked away.) Rhiannon performs that function now for Maebh, so she gets a bit more feed in her that her plump little self needs.

So, I need to get Rhiannon on a diet, but I can't really separate the girls when they eat. Maebh is picky and an occasional grazer. She likes kibble more than anything else, but I've started buying the cheaper canned food because the girls prefer that. For years I bought the best, and most expensive, canned food. After Grendel died, they just seemed to be disinterested—especially Maebh—in the food. Now it's goodbye Tiki Cat and Weruva and hello Max Cat and Purina. I guess cat's prefer junk food too.


A farewell to vidiocy(?)


I binge watch TV. I can't help myself. Every year for Lent, I abstain from watching. 40 days of not sitting on the couch eating and watching episode after episode of some TV series.  I think I've gone through all nine seasons of NYPD Blue several times. Same for Justified and Grimm and Longmire and Endevour and Inspector Lewis and Inspector Morse and so on. Abstaining for Lent seems to just whet my appetite. Come Easter and I'm back on the couch with a bowl of Cheetos on my lap and the remote in my hand. I've gotten to the point where I don't even watch when I watch. I sit there with my iPad while the TV is on surfing the Interwebs, reading, or playing solitaire.

It's time to go cold turkey. 2018 may be the year.

My TV is an old Sony Trinitron from the 90s. A friend gave it to me to replace my old Zenith, also from the 90s. It's housed in an old Ethan Allen TV cabinet from the 80s, which I got from my sister. I think I'd really rather have a bookcase there and be rid of the temptation to vege-out in front of the boob tube. I can (and should) do better things with my time: exercise, paint, read, blog.

I'll miss having the opportunity to watch a classic movie when the mood strikes, but the occasion for quality TV is outweighed by the overabundance of TV watching. I don't need it.

I'll probably have the TV and cabinet hauled away during Lent, which isn't far off this year; Ash Wednesday is February 14, Valentine's Day.

I'll miss it, though. But not much. I'll get over it soon enough. If I read more, I may even get smarter before my brain atrophies.


Losing my avoirdupois 


I know, I know. Everybody vows to lose weight at New Years.

10 (or so) years ago, I was trim. I was working out at least 5 days a week and eating goodish. I blame the cats for the change (you knew I would). Really, their torpor is infectious.  When I get home, I really want to just sit still and be their warm-blooded furniture. It's addictive. More so than binge-watching TV—and I can binge-watch and hang with the cats simultaneously.

But now I'm fat. My old clothes don't fit. I'm loth to buy new clothes. I'd go nekkid if (a) I wouldn't get arrested and (b) I wouldn't scare/disgust people. (Some naked is bad naked. My naked hasn't been good naked for a long, long time.)

Diet is crucial. I'm a meat 'n' potatoes kind of guy—especially if the meat comes in a bun and the potatoes come french-fried. I'll have to change that. I won't go gentle into that good night. Trust me.

But I think it's becoming imperative. I don't want to keep growing out and being trimmer and more active will make me healthier and more energetic. I have renewed my 24 Hour Fitness membership...


Politics (O, dear Lord)


So, it's the END OF THE WORLD as we know it (and I really do feel fine).

The hurly-burly of the election year passed into the hurlier-burlier Year 1 of the Age of Trump. We are now enslaved by a fascist regime. All our freedoms have been stripped away. The planet is dying—perhaps the universe. Life is a twilight struggle to survive as we move into the dark night of the republic. No one is safe. The world order is imperiled like never before. The Resistance is our only hope. Resist we must.

Or not.

I wrote presciently in my blog post last year,

"2017 and beyond promises to be an interesting mélange of political hurly-burly, angst, and, yes, schadenfreude—and squalor, lots of squalor. It should be entertaining. I can hardly wait."

Boy, did I hit that nail on the head—especially the part about it being entertaining.

Trump is an odd package. There's just so much about him personally to dislike. He's crude, boorish, opinionated, rude, brash, self-centered—it's like he's from Queens. When I did tech support for Aldus Corp. many years ago, we used to have what we called a "212". That's when someone from the 212 area code would call for support. We all thought the callers were crude, boorish, opinionated, rude, brash, and self-centered. In other words, they were from New York.

Truly, there's no subtlety to the man and he's his own worst enemy. And yet, mirabile dictu, he's managed to get things done. I'm not sure if that's worth the damage he's doing to the dignity of the presidency, but then he hasn't left any presidue on the carpets in the Oval Office (not yet, anyway), so he can't be shredding the presidential dignity any more than it's been, can he?

Still, he's a loose cannon. His political philosophy, despite his being in his 70s, is still inchoate. But even though he's fitfully feeling his way along, when he's not tweet-storming selected citizenry and world leaders, he seems to be slowly loosening the coils of the progressive anaconda that's been squeezing the life out of the republic. It may only be a brief respite, but America is breathing again. America is working again. America has hope again. I take that as a win that could never have been realized by a Hillary presidency.


The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!


Of course the main political hurly-burly of 2017 was the probe into Russian meddling with the 2016 election. Russia apparently spent $100K on Facebook ads, which completely offset the $1.2 billion (that's $1,200,000,000.00) spent by the Hillary campaign. I suppose that if Hillary had spent that $1.2b on Facebook ads, she'd be queen of the universe now, never mind POTUS. Future political campaigns take note.

But seriously—though it's hard to take seriously—after a year of hard sleuthing, the Russia Probe hasn't actually uncovered any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Two Trumpkins have been indicted. One for tax issues from a decade ago and another for the very elastic (and selectively applied) crime of "misleading federal investigators." (Hillary has made a career of misleading federal investigators—Whitewater, Travelgate, Benghazi, Servergate—and is in no danger of being called to account for it. Ever.)

That's not to say that there was no collusion with Russia in the 2016 election. The infamous, and unvetted, Steele Dossier, which the Hillary campaign paid to have created and which looks to be the basis for the FISA warrants targeting Trump campaign associates, was sourced from two Russian contacts. According to Steele himself, one was "a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure" and the other "a former top level intelligence officer still active in the Kremlin." To use an ex-MI6 operative to dig up dirt on a political opponent using sources in the Kremlin and then hand off that political opposition research to the FBI to use as criminal evidence in case the election doesn't go your way sounds like a lot of colluding to me—if not outright conspiracy. But Mueller looks the other way and trudges on following ever more tenuous clues that must lead to proof that The Orange One is Putin's Manchurian candidate...

I weep for my country, but still ya gotta laugh. I told you 2017 would be entertaining.


What happened


The schadenfreudiest moments of the year came from reading about Hillary's tour of her new book It Was Aliens! er.. What Happened. In several interviews, herself says quite candidly, and with no sense of irony at all, that she is entirely blameless for her election loss in 2016. Entirely. It was others. Like those Russians. And that Comey guy. And Obama. And the DNC. And Bernie. And...

No, I don't think her political coffin has been fully nailed shut. Even Democrat stalwarts are telling her to give up and go home, take up knitting, etc. But she won't. In her mind, she's going to be vindicated. She'll retake the throne in 2020—or perhaps even now the election will be overturned when Americans learn how much The Donald is Putin's puppet. Then they'll come crawling to her, tears in their eyes, filled with remorse for having rejected her. They'll offer her the crown and she'll take it. Then she'll make her enemies pay. She's Cersei Lannister, Lady MacBeth, and Bloody Mary Tudor all rolled into one. Like Talleyrand said of the restored Bourbons, Hillary has "learned nothing and forgotten nothing." A part of me trembles when I think that it's not impossible that she could still be president.

When I reflect back on 2016 and farther back through Hillary's life and career, I can only thank God that we dodged that bullet. Let's hope it doesn't come around again like a wild torpedo and sink us. (I know, I've mixed my metaphors. Deal with it.)


Théâtre de l'absurde 


Maybe one of the fruits of a Trump presidency is that we will all be blessed with a bipartisan awareness of the absurdity of our politics. I've always been a skeptic when it comes to secular saviors. In America, we breed a kind of political messianism that makes us project our hopes onto politicians and then imbue them with all the virtues we hold dear because they are the standard-bearers of our dreams.

In reality, politicians are some of the lowest forms of life.

We were treated in 2016 to an unprecedented choice of worse or worser. Which was worse and which was worser depended entirely on your political/partisan views. It's vomit-inducing to imagine that anyone could think of The Donald as a great leader in the mold of Washington and Lincoln. He lacks the character, principles, vision, natural skin tone, etc. But it's no less vomitous to imagine Hillary the same way—perhaps more so. Paranoid, disingenuous, scheming, ambitious, disdainful, supercilious, utterly banal, and completely incompetent. She represents the worst of the political class and yet enjoys the esteem of millions.

We've elevated the holder of an office that was meant to be a sort of primus inter pares into a god-emperor, and so god-emperor wannabes seek it eagerly. And like the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen's story, no one—at least no one on their side of the political divide—dares to say that the god-emperor (or g-e wannabe) is naked (and not the good naked, either).

Maybe, just maybe, the absurdity of Donald Trump will give us all pause and makes us reflect on what a democratic republic like ours requires of us. Maybe we will side with what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature" and soberly undertake the responsibilities inherent in being part of a grand experiment in human government "of the people, by the people, for the people" lest it indeed "perish from the earth."

My money, however—for 2018 and beyond—is on ever-increasing hyper-partisanship with Jacobins and reactionaries going at each other hammer and tongs until they wreck the nation and "meanly lose the last best hope of earth."

Happy New Year!


Friday, December 29, 2017

D.A.N.G. XVI (Struck at Sea)


Dave Schuler hosted the 16th running of Dave's Annual Naval Game on Thursday. Most of the usual suspects showed up and we had nine players.

The game for D.A.N.G. XVI was Seastrike, a 70s era "ultra modern" naval warfare game. The mechanics are much, much simpler than a game like Harpoon and we had a fast and furious game.

We divided into sides: Big Red and Great Blue. Red was Arthur Brooking, Dale Mikel, Scott Murphy, and Mark Waddington. Blue was Kevin Smyth, David Demick, Charlie Berlemann, George Kettler, and me.

Our forces were equal. Dave painted two fleets using 1/1800 scale ships from Shapeways. We spend a bit of time right off sorting out our squadrons and determining our missions. There was a potential of playing three scenarios. However, we wound up with just one battle royale.

Each side wound up dicing randomly to (1) clear the enemy from the central sector and (2) protect our home base. We put all of our major surface units into two squadrons, with our submarines and missile boats guarding the home base. Red pretty much split their forces into two even groups of two surface squadrons and one squadron of two subs. One group was in each of their home base sector and one went into the central sector to sweep us out.

At first, it looked like they were outnumbered and outgunned. Charlie had a squadron built around our one cruiser, while our second squadron was frigates of varying size and armament. We kinda felt the way the Spanish Armada did that summer day in 1588 when they appeared off Plymouth. Our orders were aggressive: seek the enemy, engage him, destroy him—in theory, at least.

Having never played Seastrike before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Combat is driven by a card deck and things get bloody very quickly.

Instruments of misfortune

The cards determine whether weapons systems work (for example, if SSM missiles lock onto a target ship) and what damage is done. Each card is divided into four quadrants with a central circle. Each quadrant contains damage for a specific type of weapon: guns, SSM, torpedoes, and ASW.  It's a bit more deterministic than dice rolling and as the deck decreases, the odds of what will come up keep changing.

We both deployed 1 foot onto the table, which gave about 6 feet separating us. Ranges go up to 16" for SSMs, so we had a bit of sailing to do before contact, although there wasn't much maneuvering. Shooting SSMs at each other is a far cry from gun captains aiming shots over iron sights or directing salvoes from high atop fire control towers.

Charlie's squadron sailing to death or glory

Neither side had much luck with its airstrikes.  Red crashed or aborted all of their take-offs on turn 1. We got four in the air, but lost two to CAP (the ones with Exocets), had another shot down by PD, and the fourth got through the defenses only to miss with its bomb.

Red managed to get a couple in the air on a subsequent turn, but this time our CAP took them down.

The surprise killer weapon of the game was submarines. We left ours guarding home base, but Red took two (and two decoys) into the central sector with them. They were able to deploy these well ahead of their squadrons. They were opposite where Charlie's squadron was advancing. We put up ASW helos to detect them, but they took the "quiet sub" option for them, so we failed to know they were there until we saw fish in the water.

Normally, resolving torpedo fire in a naval game is a complex affair involving calculations that take into account the distance between ships, the sea conditions, angle of deflection, speed of the target and firing ships, aspect, depth of hull for the target, time of day, curvature of the earth, time elapsed since the last grog ration, etc.

Okay, the first torpedo in the spread has missed. Let's calculate for the second...

Not in Seastrike. Mark, commanding the subs, managed to get off four torpedoes with his first salvoes and sunk (i.e., blowed up) two of Charlie's ships. A salvo of four torps intended for the cruiser was momentarily delayed by drawing a system failure card. But only for a turn.

Next turn, the other sub fired its torpedoes along with the first sub getting off its delayed salvo. By the end of turn three, Charlie's squadron was a wreck of burning debris on the water.

The sorrow and the pity

This now left our righthand squadron. Not shirking from duty and unafraid to put our ships in danger, we went ahead full speed at Red's lefthand squadron. I think I figured that (a) we'd only lose by turning about and cutting our losses and (b) We had more and bigger ships in our righthand squadron that Red had in their left. So, obviously we forge ahead. Of course, Red still had their untouched righthand squadron, but we thought it would take a few turns for them to get into the action and by then we might have wiped out the other squadron.

That's what we thought.

We did put a lot of hurt on Red's lefthand squadron, but they gave back nearly as good as they took. That squadron failed morale and had to withdraw, but at the same time so did we. I rolled a "10", which I've always had a talent to do in games where "10" is a very bad thing.

Carnage on the high seas

So ended the game. Neither side had sent ship's to attack the other's home base, so there wasn't another scenario to play.

As in most D.A.N.G. games, both sides play the mini campaign to get all of their forces against all of the enemy's forces. It winds up often being a big battle. It would have been interesting to see what would happen if, as Dave mused afterwards, we'd have been required to put squadron's in all three sectors. We would have played out three smaller battles and learned from all the mistakes we made playing out the first.

And there were mistakes—mostly made by Blue. If we knew what super-killers subs were, we'd have brought a couple, too. I think our squadrons were too big. We put everything into two big buckets and the ships just got in each other's way. We were each given four squadron commanders with quality/morale ratings of 8, 7, 7, and 6. We could make generic squadrons which would be quality/morale 6, but we pretty much opted to benefit from the higher rated commanders. More squadrons would have been more flexible and also would have given each player more to do. With five people in Blue and four in Red, we had nine players and five squadrons in play.

Seastrike was fun to play and we'll definitely need to get a non-D.A.N.G. game in some time in the coming year. It's a vintage game that's very hard to find now and very expensive if you do. Boardgame Geek has an interesting nostalgic review of it from 2007.

Thanks agains to Dave and Lynn for hosting. D.A.N.G. is always one of the significant events of the Christmas season.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

You say BO-coat, I say bo-CO-tay


'Tis the night before Christmas and my Christmas shopping is done. Whenever I'm spending money, I can't help spending a bit on myself. One of my presents to Dave this year was a new Wyrmwood Gaming dice vault made of bocote wood. I took advantage of one of their flash sales to get it much reduced from it's normal price. Bocote is normally a custom wood for any Wyrmwood product, so it was a great bargain at $60.00.

The dice vault arrived just a few days ago and it's splendid. But I am left with a bit of, not buyer's remorse, but buyer's perplexity. I think I was seduced by a good deal to buy something I don't really need. I'm sure that feeling will pass.

The dice vault isn't my first Wyrmwood product. Wyrmwood dice vaults came on the scene in 2013 as a kickstarter project. I didn't get one then, but I did get a dice tray made from beautiful bubinga wood. I blogged about it in October 2013.


It was $35.00 in 2013. The same item now is only available as a custom wood. You have to ask for a price quote. When you have to ask the price, it's never cheap. The dice tray in standard woods, the core 16, run from $75.00 to $285.00.

Subsequently, I did buy a dice vault in splendid spalted tamarind wood. I use it to store my beloved Viking bone dice, all 30 of 'em.


Don't let that capacity fool you. The bone dice are small and irregular. Their shape ranges from vaguely cuboid to roughly six-sided. I wouldn't rule out that some have five sides or seven. I love them all the more for their misshapeness. However, if playing in competitive games, some players may not appreciate crudely hand-carved instruments of fortune.

For normal dice, the capacity is less commodious.

In addition to being much less expensive back then, the dice vaults came in two sizes. I got the larger one, which is now the only size available. The upper and lower parts of the vault are held together by perfectly matched rare earth magnets.

So, being seduced by a good deal, I bought a new dice vault in Bocote. I have yet, however, to find a good purpose for it. I know, the obvious thing would be to store dice—but there's the rub. I play a lot of bucket o' dice game, like Lion Rampant. You need 12 dice in hand to fight or shoot in LR. Rolling fewer means you're in trouble. 12 normal dice won't fit in the vault.

This one does not go to 11—never mind 12
The dice vaults were designed to be used by troll-rollers who typically want a classic seven-piece Dungeons & Dragons set that runs D4, D6, D8, 2xD10, D12, D20. Pulling out a custom dice set from a hand-crafted exotic hardwood vault is about as gangsta as RPG gaming gets.

If we historical minis gamers want to get gangsta, we have to be a little more ersatz.

The dice tray and dice vault that I bought previously came unadorned, apart from the beautiful wood grains. For the last several years, Wyrmwood brands their products with their shield logo and company name.


I don't begrudge a company its right to brand its products, but I think it takes something away from the beauty of the piece. It interrupts the sensual pattern of the wood grain and makes the object less striking. I'm quite glad my first products are unbranded. The branding has set me back a bit when I've contemplated buying other Wyrmwood products like another dice tray.

Being branded isn't all fun.


Nevertheless, I'm contemplating a spalted tamarind dice tray sometime next year. They're not cheap at $175.00 (!), but I'm keeping my eye out for it to appear as a flash sale for much less.

Oh, and I can fit 24 smaller normal (i.e., truly cuboid) dice in the vault. I can get up to 26 of the 12mm Chessex dice in the vault.


On the other hand, the larger of my vintage bakelite dice (also truly cuboid), barely fit eight.


And it's a job trying to get the vault to close. It looks like a dice sandwich.


So, there it is. Look for a bocote dice vault to appear in my forthcoming adventures.

Or is it bo-co-TAY?