Happy Seventy-Third Birthday Israel!

And so we move from sadness to celebration.

I just finished watching the official ceremony. The main part was the beacons being lit by representatives from all parts of Israeli society. Each story was an inspiration. Each dedication delivered from the heart.

I still don’t feel comfortable about the switch from despair to joy that these two days bring. Maybe I never will. But that feeling doesn’t last long as it is replaced by the sheer unbridled pride and joy that comes with being able to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut in Israel. I’m so glad to be here.

Happy seventy-third birthday Israel. Many happy returns.

Taken

Yom HaZikaron starts tonight.

Starting with a haunting, lingering, trembling siren, we remember the 23,928 taken too young – regardless of their age – in defense of their country and their people.

I hope and pray that peace will come one day soon, and the number of the dead will be fixed forever as a permanent reminder of their sacrifice and a past left behind.

Pocket on the Table

On the table, a meaty game called Jaws of Victory about the WW2 campaign around Korsun and Cherkassy in early 1944.

It’s designed by Milt Janosky and published by New England Simulations.

Here’s an overall view of the first scenario (on one of the two maps) dealing with the Soviet encirclement.

And here’s a closeup showing where the breakthrough is going to be attempted.

Those red counters are Soviet barrage concentrations. Nasty stuff.

The game features turns of a day, hexes that are two miles across, and units ranging from battalion sized to division. It’s “I go, you go” with some reaction allowed and the creation and utilization of reserves. Other points in no particular order:

  • Airpower uses a simple but effective system so it doesn’t take up disproportionate time. (OCS, I’m looking at you.)
  • Extensive use of artillery on attack and defense.
  • Supply uses points and depots, but is streamlined and easy – no magical tricks as to when to supply units. (OCS…)
  • Easy and evocative armor rules dealing with superiority and taking losses.
  • Stacking is not too bad – 3 units maximum – but there are exceptions and restrictions to learn.
  • Combat is odds based with chunky shifts for terrain, artillery and air support, combined arms, armor, and so on.
  • Most units take losses in steps, with different size and quality catered for by different classes (types) of step loss chit.

The physical components are good quality with only a few small, irritating counter errors. The rulebook and playbook are well done with ‘living’ versions maintained on the publisher’s website.

As usual, putting the game on the table has triggered a flurry of reading (and book buying) so I can have a good grasp of the historical context. Some of the source material quoted by the designer is hard to get or expensive, but there’s other material around that should at least provide the basics.

This is wargaming at its finest for me: a meaty, good-looking game that oozes history and makes me want to learn more. I could probably play nothing but this game for the next year, but of course I’m too much of a gaming butterfly to do that. While it’s on the table, though, I’ll enjoy every minute.

 

Irony

There’s a campaign for a new boardgame about to close on Kickstarter.

Conflict of Wills: Judean Hammer

Judean Hammer is a fast-playing two-player area-control game about guerrilla warfare during the Maccabean Revolt. Take on the role of the Seleucid Greeks or the Maccabean rebels and battle for control of Judea.

I was interested enough to want to back this.

Care to have a guess at one destination this is not shipping to?

No Judean Hammer for me!

It strikes me as somewhat ironical that a game about conflict in Israel cannot be shipped to Israel.

More Fields of Fire

Hogging the table for a good few weeks, Fields of Fire 2. It’s a solitaire game – second in the series – where you command a company of USA troops (in this case, from the 5th Marines) and work your way through campaigns consisting of several consecutive missions. There are campaigns for WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. (I have played the first in the series.)

I have been focusing on the WW2 campaign which is against the Japanese forces on Peleliu.

The missions are, in general, tough. (If it were too easy, that would be no fun and no achievement to win.) You constantly have to think about force conservation – which is a good thing – instead of simply satisfying the victory conditions for the current mission.

The game is very different from typical wargames: the map is a display of cards, troops need orders to do anything, and the different technical aspects of weapons are restricted to only a few categories, with a few more tweaks for vehicles. Troop quality is important. Your soldiers die all too easily, and green replacements often don’t last long. Grittily realistic is how I would describe it. It’s also engrossing, though sometimes frustrating as the system can kick you when you are down. But what do you do except try again.

The major strike against the game is the completeness of the rules. The second edition rules are an improvement, but still – apparently – managed to retain some errata. More important is that the rules are not comprehensive enough. There are too many situations that are not explicitly covered. And in some instances, as I found out thanks to some feedback on BoardGameGeek, essential information is hidden away in highlighted notes.

I should stress that the game is playable as it stands, but there are several events that may arise which are not covered and you have to use your own judgement. For example, in a couple of the Peleliu missions, the table that determines where enemy units appear in a certain row of the ‘map’ will never produce usable results. The table doesn’t take account of the fact that there is no other beyond which enemy units can be located. So, I had to make up my own table.

What makes the whole situation more annoying is that GMT appear to be ignoring any and all rules queries. They have stopped supporting the game. This is most unlike them.

I’m going to continue to play the game and use that old fashioned system of resolution known as ‘making it up’ as and when required. But I do hope that at some point GMT will return to the game system and give us the rulebook we need. And deserve.

UPDATE: In last week’s GMT news email, they announced a new development team for the game and a new module. It’s not been explicitly said that there will be an improved rulebook, but we can live in hope.

Responsibility

As you may have heard, Israel’s Mediterranean beaches have been devastated by a crude oil spill. The environmental damage is severe, the beaches closed, and there’s a ban imposed on seafood from the Med. In short, it’s a disaster.

Who is responsible? Well, as I type this there are several tankers under suspicion and presumably at some point we’ll be told the culprit who leaked the oil. But it turns out there is another culprit closer to home.

The Times of Israel reports (here):

“Way back in 2008, the government decided to formulate a National Plan for Preparedness and Response to Marine Oil Pollution Incidents. A cabinet decision, made in June 2008 when Ehud Olmert was prime minister, ordered that within three to five years from January 1, 2009, the ministry would fill staff positions and acquire all the equipment and sailing vessels it needed to prevent oil contaminations at sea.”

You can guess what’s coming, can’t you?

“The ministry was instructed to discuss with the Treasury any funding needs it could not meet on its own, in the run-up to the 2009 budget. And the environmental protection minister at the time (Gideon Ezra of the now-defunct Kadima party) was ordered to ensure that the plan was enshrined in law, along with the requirements of the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation, to which Israel is a signatory.

That sounded positive, didn’t it?

Unfortunately:

But the plan never made it into the law books. And the Finance Ministry effectively blocked the transfer of additional funds.

So, there was a plan, but it was never put into action. I’m sure we’ll get some waffle, but the simple truth is that our government failed us. Whether they were lazy, incompetent, or didn’t care about the issue is unknown. But the result is. A quick trip down to the beach – but be careful you don’t breathe in too many of the fumes – is all that’s needed.

According to Wikipedia, these are the responsible ministers:

I anticipate each will have a reason for public consumption as to why the plan couldn’t be executed. Perhaps the reason will include (other than for Gila Gamliel) the excuse that they were just about to take action when their term in power ended. Right…

But in the time we’ve had six or seven Ministers of Environmental Protection, we’ve had one Prime Minister.

One man, in power all this time, who surely could have enacted the plan, who could have put it into force. But Bibi didn’t. It’s almost as if the most important thing on Bibi’s mind was staying in power rather than doing the best for the country and its people.

If Bibi were a responsible adult, he would resign. This incident alone should shame him into falling on his sword. It won’t. He has to go.

The Soldier – Neal Asher

First of the series Rise of the Jain, this is a hardcore science fiction novel set in the author’s Polity universe.

For reasons that are unclear – at least to me – there is a chunk of outer space where ancient but powerful Jain technology is trapped and guarded to keep the rest of the universe safe.

Chief jailer is a half human, half artificial intelligence, Orlandine. The Dragon – an alien intelligence with some quirky human characteristics – is also on guard. The par of them don’t trust one another. The situation is not helped by the plan Orlandine is working on to destroy the Jain technology.

The prador (alien, crab-like race) and human authorities are keeping watch from a distance.

The entrapped alien technology stirs into more active life, and somewhere out there a rogue trader delivers a package that is about to stir the pot, big time.

This is super-charged space opera, with mind boggling technology and awesome death and destruction thrown about like confetti. The plot is slippery, but it’s there and full of twists if you can keep up with the competing interests and factions. The author pours his heart and soul into describing this universe, with relentless detail that may sometimes overwhelm. In short, it can be a slog. The question for the reader is whether the effort is worth making. Sadly, for me it’s not. The characters don’t engage me quite enough, and the complexity of the narrative doesn’t quite work. I wish it were otherwise, as I could do with a chunky science-fiction series to dig into.

Once upon a time, twice upon a time…

This is the large poster outside a new building development in Ra’anana.

The Hebrew text on the right side translates to:

“Launch of the second boutique building in the heart of Raanana”

My inquisitive nature wants to know where the first is. I guess it’s already built and fully sold.

Meantime, did you notice the glorious strapline (or motto) in (sort of) English:

I suppose I should wonder what happened to “Time one live.” Is it a band? Is it a motto? No, it’s some silly bugger who thinks he knows English.

Really? In a city overflowing with native English speakers, a commercial undertaking doesn’t have the ability to get a simple three word motto right? It’s awful. But it’s far from unusual. By way of protesting, I’m refusing to even look at the show flat. (Ha!)

The Seventh Sacrament – David Hewson

This is fifth of the Nic Costa series of crime thrillers set in Rome. It’s been a while since I read the previous novel, and I’m really not sure why I stopped. Well, this was a cracking episode that means it probably won’t be too long before I continue with the next in order.

The central focus this time is about an academic, obsessed with Mithraism, also known as the Mithraic mysteries, a Roman cult or religion centered that was snuffed out when the emperor Constantine accepted Christianity in the early 4th century. Giorgio Bramante, the academic, lost his son in the underground tunnels and caverns beneath the city that host many altars to that old religion. At the time of the disappearance, the son was with a group of Bramante’s students, but when they turned up they claimed to have no knowledge of the boy’s whereabouts. Bramante kills one of the students and is imprisoned for murder. Fast forward to his release from jail, and enter Nic Costa and his crew because something bad is about to happen.

First, it’s notable that Costa’s role in this is not as predominant as you might expect.

Second, the other characters are a good mix and the interaction is entertaining and engrossing.

Third, the city backdrop and the Mithraic details are well executed. So far as I can tell, the material is firmly rooted in fact even if propping up a work of fiction.

Fourth, the tension builds up very nicely, with just enough twists in the closing quarter of the book to keep you guessing.

In short, highly recommended. But to get the best out of it, do yourself a favor and work your way through the series, starting with A Season for the Dead.