Aspern-Essling

This is the Gamers Napoleonic Brigade Series version of the 1809 encounter between Napoleon and the Archduke Charles. I am using version 3.0 of the rules. I even made the effort of making my own counters to deal with the few later corrections made to the OOB. (There are not many games I would do that for.)

I know from past experience that doing one of the longer scenarios will not go well, because the staff work – with the orders – becomes too much of a drag. So, I have been playing the (relatively) short first day scenario.

The Austrian 6th Corps tries to take Aspern and, after several rounds of bloody fighting, fails its Attack Stoppage roll, and is thrown back.

The Austrian 1st Corps joins in just as 6th Corps is about to snap, the former keeping a wary eye on the French cavalry beginning to mass to the east. Eventually, the French cavalry attack. A couple of repulsed charges sees the Austrians about to gain the upper hand with progress in the fight for Aspern when the 1st Corps also fails its Attack Stoppage roll. And back they go, too.

Then, just two turns into their attack, the newly arrived 2nd Corps also comes to a halt.

The Austrian 4th Corps do not do so badly, and are still in reasonable shape, but the French defenders, courtesy of some rapid orders from Napoleon, form a solid enough line and the Austrian’s don’t make it to first base, aka Gross Enzersdorf.

By the time the Austrian high command have sorted out the mess, it’s too late for further action and the battle ends with the French bloodied, but still in position.

Here are my random thoughts on the experience:

  • There’s a lot to admire in the 3.0 rules. I particularly like the way close combat and infantry fire is dealt with, speeding up play considerably.
  • Checking the roster sheets is a huge drain on time. I would prefer if the A, B, and C strength ratings were ditched in favor of a simple single combat strength.
  • The orders system – and all the command and control paraphernalia – brings about a good result, but it’s clunky. For example, leaders are restricted in how many orders they can issue according to their quality. That abstraction works but it doesn’t feel right. In any event, the lower quality leaders are penalized twice – once for order writing ability and once in the order acceptance calculation.

I understand the creators of version 3.0 are working on a new system. It remains to be seen if that will ever see the light of day. Until then, this system is likely to see more time on the table. But it is not without its competitors. Basically, I’m spoiled for choice.

 

Fiction – January 2020

You can tell I’ve been on holiday. There’s a lot of reading here. (Probably some of these belong with December’s reading, but at least I remembered to review them.)

Part of my Connelly reread. This one involves a dead body found in the trunk of a car. Bosch sorts it out, but not without some more danger, some twists, and the usual inter office politics. Great stuff.

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The reign in Spain…

On the table, (after Eylau) Talavera from the twinpack (Talavera and Albuera) of Spanish Eagles with the updated Eagles of the Empire series rules.

The series rules are a decent lot and the special stuff for Talavera is not too much to swallow. There’s still some annoying errata, but it’s at the ‘Who moved my cheese?’ end of the spectrum and hasn’t stopped me racing through the game.

I still hate the bucket of dice combat system. OK, ‘hate’ may be too strong, but I truly do not like it.

As for these battles, just like Eylau, I needed to do some reading up to fill in the background. I had some material lying around about Talavera from when I played the Gamers’ NBS game on the same battle and, amazingly, I hadn’t forgotten it all.  But Albuera was largely unknown to me beyond the briefing in the game.

The advantage of this level of game, is that the focus is high up the command chain and largely stays that way. You do not get ground down by low level combat and decision making. So, in general, the narrative flows quickly. However, the loss of detail is also a loss of color (or flavor or atmosphere) and that means the experience is awfully like playing a game that could be set anytime in the horse and musket era. Those parts that make it distinctive are not that distinctive.

On the plus side, the terrain analysis is impressive, and you do get the challenges of command without being burdened by a written orders system. It is frustrating – and realistic – to have your formations ignore your orders!

Glad this eventually got to the table, though.

Fiction – December 2019

Number 22 of the Spenser series, this was one of the better ones. Spenser is searching for a policeman’s missing wife. It quickly transpires that things (as usual) are not what they seem. The reader gets snappy dialog, a touch of sex and violence, and a story worth following. Recommended. But start at the beginning.

Fantasy romp that fell flat with me. Nothing was convincing: jerky dialog, uneven characterization, and unlikely motivations. The fantasy backdrop didn’t work. The story might have been worth telling, but not like this. Avoid.

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Eylau

Division level combat in the age of Napoleon, using area movement, lots of step reduction, and buckets of dice for its combat. There’s a command system layered on top which gives a decent impression of the real thing (as I assume it to have been) and little touches of chaos. For example, engaged formations risk not being able to activate in the next turn. And each side’s turn to activate uses a die roll to determine how many formations they must activate. So, perfect planning soon falls apart.

Eylau has scenarios for the opening encounter, the main day of battle, or a two day all out effort. I have been playing the opening encounter scenario through again and again to familiarize myself with the rules – they are not complex, just different – and work out some tactical approaches.

Of course, it also set me off on a mission to read up on the battle…

Celebrate BBC – Bye Bye Corbyn

Oh joy. Celebrate like it’s 1979. The bad man has gone away. The good man – and I’ll come back to that – has triumphed.  But first, some random thoughts.

  • This campaign stiffened my dislike of the Guardian. Any institution that can admit the Labour Party had a serious problem with antisemitism but still recommend people vote for it is a deeply flawed body.
  • Chief Rabbi Mirvis got his intervention spot on. The last thing he would have wanted to do was become involved in national politics, but he believed it was wrong to stay silent. His noble behavior in the face of the storm of criticism directed his way after his statement simply cemented the belief (sic) of many, that he’s a decent man doing a difficult job very well. Long may he continue.
  • One response from the losing side has been slinging mud at the Tories suggesting that they have a problem with Islamophobia. Expect more of the same. I also expect Boris to put his own house in order, as required, and to deal swiftly with any such instances that arise.
  • I registered for a postal vote. I’m still waiting for the ballot to arrive. (Thank you Israel Post!) It would have taken another 6,000 votes like mine to see off the SNP who, sadly, took Renfrewshire East.
  • The election is a bad result for Scotland. It’s created a false expectation of independence that the SNP cannot deliver. I presume Johnson will stand resolute. So far as the rationale is concerned, there is no longer an economic argument for Scottish independence. And there is no prospect of Europe wanting Scotland as a member without the rest of the UK. Despite those inescapable facts, it seems likely that there will be a huge waste of time and energy and money – public money – wasted on campaigning for an independence referendum.
  • The markets do not like uncertainty. Well, this election result should sort that out. Whether you like it or not, Brexit is going to get done.
  • Note the following quotes from Dominic Cummings which should make uncomfortable reading for many:

“After the shock of the referendum MPs and journalists should have taken a deep breath and had a lot of self-reflection of why they misunderstood what was going on in the country but instead a lot of people just doubled down on their own ideas and fucked it up even more. That’s why something like this happens against expectations.

All these better than average educated remainer campaigner types who have waved around for eight weeks, for the last four months and didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t understand they were driving everyone mad.

Hopefully now they’ll learn because it’s not good for the country, the whole dynamic to carry on. MPs need to reflect, the media needs to reflect and they need to realise that the conversations they have in London are a million miles away from reality.

Finally, Boris. I have never met him, am never likely to, and have no burning desire to make him out to be a hero. He can be very clever. He can be nasty. He can be entertaining. He can be cruel. He can be charismatic. He can be sly. In short, he is not perfect. But none of us are. And many of those who sling stones are too quick to criticize (and name call) instead of arguing principles, ideas, and so forth. They shoot first and think later. He is also not a dictator. He has a party to keep him on track and, more importantly, an electorate who will not forgive him if he fails to deliver on his promise to be the Prime Minister for everyone. (For the many and not the few?) In this case, I am an optimist. I am happy to leave the PM alone and let him get on with the job.

Bye bye Corbyn, and let’s go Boris!

Death Valley

This is a bumper package in the GBACW series now on my table. It features the battles in the Shenandoah Valley of 1862 and 1864. So far, I have played 1st Kernstown and 1st Winchester. Smallish scenarios that are good fun.  I’ll never make it all the way through the battles provided, but I am impressed at the quality and quantity of the content in the box.

One sad aspect is that the designer of the core system, Richard Berg, recently passed away. It’s a tribute to the strength of the design and the interest in the topic that GMT can see a continuing market for developments of the system and more battles. And kudos to Greg Laubach, the credited designer here, who seems to have done a terrific job of making a top notch product.

 

Fiction – November 2019

This was the month I went back to the Spenser series with a vengeance.

First of a projected trilogy, this fantasy novel was slow to take off, but eventually got its act together. It may have suffered from needing to set so many base lines for future plots as it failed to grab me the way Abercrombie’s other work has. Still well worth reading, and I’ll be looking out for the next one.

Number 16 in the series. Our man – or ‘educated thug’ – Spenser is tasked with looking into allegations of corruption in a college basketball team. Is the star player being paid off? Inevitably Spenser comes up against those who do not want him to find out what is going on. Through it all, Spenser delivers his trademark smart alec dialog with no concession to political correctness. Our hero gets to show off just how good he is in this better quality encounter.

If this type of stuff is of interest, don’t start midway. A chunk of the value in reading the books is seeing how the character and his accomplices and foes develop. Start here.

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Joker

I finally got to see Joker last weekend. I thought it was a terrific movie. But, it’s dark, and nasty, reflecting as it does the writer’s view of society, and not pleasant viewing. This is no feel good movie – but it is a ‘feel’ movie.

In a nutshell, Arthur Fleck is an unbalanced individual, trying to make it as a stand up comedian, holding down a job as an entertainment clown, and looking after his sick mother. The pair live in impoverished circumstances and are almost being metaphorically crushed alive. The movie charts Arthur’s journey towards his fate in becoming a (super?) villain.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is outstanding – by far the best bit of the movie. He brings the character to real life.

The script is OK, but doesn’t deliver anything special, albeit there are a couple of surprises. The cinematography is spot on, with memorable scene after scene. The dialog is also good, with not too much of it unnecessarily intruding into Phoenix’s act.

The biggest surprise – although maybe it shouldn’t have been – was that the trailers gave a false impression about what the movie was going to be like. This is no comic book fantasy. It’s gritty, realistic, and savagely honest in its critique about society and the disparate nature of its wealth. It’s serious, it should make you think, and may well make you feel somewhat uncomfortable.

My one real criticism is that I felt it was a touch too long. This may be my natural impatience, but had it been ten or fifteen minutes shorter, that would have been a tighter, more focused package. But truly that’s a minor quibble. This is a great film. And one of the greatest ever dramatic performances. Joaquin Phoenix, thank you very much. You suffered for your art, and you gave us a masterpiece.

 

The Little Land

Having dipped my toe into the water trying out Saipan, a game in Adam Starkweather’s Company Scale System published by Compass Games set in the Pacific, I jumped at the chance of this new east front release, The Little Land. This covers the battle for Novorossiysk, a key port held by the Germans since September 1942, which the Russians decided to invade in 1943 as part of their attempts to unhinge the German defense of the Caucasus. The Russian campaign was not a successful one, and the game gives you the opportunity to try and do better. (Good luck!)

The game has two maps – but most of the scenarios, save the campaign game, are one-mappers – a rulebook and scenario book, a ton of gorgeous counters and plenty of play aids. Combat units are companies, hexes are 500m, and daylight turns are 2 hours long. Activation is by chit, with divisions and (in general) their subordinate formations having their own chits. There is a command system which generates a mix of points restricting how often these chits are available, and offering the opportunity for bonus actions and direct intervention. Combat is by fire and assault, with progressive levels of disorganization leading to unit elimination. The whole thing is a development of Adam Starkweather’s Grand Tactical Series published by Multi-Man Publishing.

I like:

    • Level of complexity – it’s not too complex, and very playable
    • Easy to play solitaire
    • Tactically challenging – it’s not about just piling up units with big combat strengths
    • System shows the durability of company level units, until they begin to wrack up the effects of being in action and start to fall apart
    • While it’s a difficult balancing act, the level of chrome is just about perfect for me

What don’t I like?

    • Absence of range effects for direct fire
    • It’s a marker farm; inevitable, but it can get tiresome
    • Sometimes it’s all about who can roll the most zeroes
    • Absence of unit icon explanation
    • Sloppy rules editing

I have my doubts about how you balance scenarios when the order of the chit draw can materially affect the outcome, but balance is not an issue for me. I’m more interested in seeing the history on show and trying to understand how accurate that appears to be. I need to do more reading to come to an informed view, and that’s not going to happen for this battle. But it’s still fun to play.

So, not a perfect system, but a good one and very enjoyable.

The next release is supposed to be Fulda Gap (WW3 in Germany), and although its four maps are way too big for my game table, the topic seals it for me. (I cannot explain why, and I’m disinclined to try and analyze this.)