On the beaches at Normandy

This game, one of my ConsimWorld Expo purchases, is about the Normandy Campaign in WW2. Published by Decision Games, it was originally a magazine game (Strategy & Tactics) designed by Brad Hessel, featuring only the Cobra part of that campaign. It has gone through a couple of updates and upgrades of campaign coverage by Decision, of which this newly released boxed version is the latest, led by Joe Youst.

What you get inside the box are two standard maps, 280 die-cut counters of decent quality, a rulebook, and a separate campaign study booklet, as well as dice and some plastic storage bags. Continue reading

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Scrublands – Chris Hammer

This is a terrific novel which packages a complex plot, finely observed characterization, decent dialog, and a well crafted (albeit stark) backdrop and produces as fine a novel as you are likely to read. It’s simply wonderful.

Set in the Australian outback, the background is that one year previously the priest in small town Riversend shot dead five of his congregation before one of the local policemen shot and killed the priest. As the novel opens, a somewhat bedraggled and PTSD suffering journalist, Martin Scarsden arrives in town to do a follow up feature. Scarsden’s work discloses something different from the previously reported version of what went down. From there on, matters accelerate out of control as Scarsden discovers his mission to get to the truth has ignited some serious opposition.

Scarsden has his own personal issues, but he also suffers from business challenges given that his employers are looking to cut costs and keep their media outlet operating. I get the impression Chris Hammer is campaigning a wee bit for the journalism profession, but in a way that does not detract from the authenticity of the portraits nor the entertainment value of the story. In other words, he does not overdo it – it’s simply another fine feature among many.

The author constructs such a clear sensation of the oppressive heat and the listlessness of the environment that you may find yourself drinking lots so as to keep cool! The realities of life in a small outback town, struggling with drought, unemployment, and the challenges of just getting through day-to-day life are sympathetically displayed. Similarly, the characters draw you in so that it doesn’t take much imagination to put you in their place.

It’s also noteworthy that despite the intricacies of the plot, the author never loses control. Each strand is distinct, logical, and well thought out. The coming together of all the loose ends is handled with aplomb. I found it a thoroughly immersive experience.

One of the best books I have read, ever. Yes, it’s that good.

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Red Badge of Courage

This game was on the table before I went to ConsimWorld. It contains two battles – both at Bull Run – and is part of a long running series (probably one of the oldest) called Great Battles of the American Civil War (GBACW*). The series started with Richard Berg’s groundbreaking design Terrible Swift Sword about Gettysburg, published in 1976 by Simulation Publications Inc. (SPI). Generally, these are tactical games with regimental sized units and hexes of 100-150 yards, and some form of command and control mechanism.

The series is now hosted by GMT, and other designers have utilized the core features to extend its life. Red Badge of Courage dates back to 2001, but this was the first time I had broken it out and played the game. Previously, I had spent most time with Three Days of Gettysburg, Berg’s updated version of Terrible Swift Sword, sometime in the late 1990s.

After bringing myself up to date with the rules, I played through the first Bull Run main scenario a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It uses chit pull which makes it solitaire friendly. And, although the rules are a few iterations out of date, I didn’t come across any major issues. (There were some clashes in the orders system with formations getting March orders and wanting to come out of that order, but I worked something out that seemed to fit well.)

CSA cavalry force Hunter’s marching troops to partially deploy for combat

So far as the battle was concerned, on both occasions the CSA managed to hold up the Union forces well enough to claim victory. I suspect it needs a higher level of skill to get truly successful attacks. But it was still fun. I was more interested in reconnecting with the series, as there is a chunky eight battle package due out from GMT soon, and I am very keen to play that. The smaller battles are more attractive for all sorts of reasons, though I do still hanker to have another bash at Gettysburg.

Tyler in reserve

It was also interesting to compare this system with MMP’s Line of Battle (LOB) output. I do prefer certain aspects of LOB, and wonder how easily they could be adapted into GBACW. For example, LOB’s closing to contact and defensive volley are so much quicker to process than the standard, step by step, unit by unit approach of GBACW.

Jackson marching to the sound of the guns

Expect to see more GBACW posts in the future.

(*You can see all the GBACW games here.)

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Cannabis

This falls under the ‘You learn something new everyday‘ category.

From ‘Can Cannabis Fix the Opiod Crisis?‘ in the July 2019 issue of Scientific American:

“…These polarized views can, in part, be explained by the drug’s complexity: cannabis is not a single substance, but rather a mixture of more than 500 individual chemicals whose proportions vary from one plant strain to another.”

That complexity (and the fact that most cannabis is prepared for the illegal market) is also one reason why it has proven difficult to draw clear research conclusions about whether cannabis is good for you or bad for you.

Fascinating.

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Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City – K. J. Parker


Do you like fantasy fiction? Yes? Then buy this book. You will love it.

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City is the story of a great city and the less than great man who becomes responsible for saving it from the besieging forces camped outside. But this is no normal siege, and this is no normal tale. It’s bursting with humor (mostly dark) and invention, and changes of plot direction that can momentarily lave you dazzled. It’s great entertainment, with a fascinating main character anti-hero, and an onslaught of supporting characters that add to the developing tension, and the need to keep on turning the page.

Primarily, the narrative is the thing. Parker is a top class storyteller, and the story is one deserving of his skills. It helps that – despite the fantasy setting – what is on show is a panorama of all too realistic human behavior; there’s good, bad, and indifferent. Fate intervenes. Things do not always work out. But it’s always enthralling.

Just great.

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ConsimWorld 2019

I had a great time playing games at ConsimWorld.

I spent a few days, guided by Tom Holliday, playtesting Greatest Day: Utah Beach, a game in MMP’s Grand Tactical Series to be published at some point in the future. I was responsible for the 101st Airborne Division. The landings were chaotic, with too many stragglers. The 101st did manage to create enough of a cordon, growing in strength as the scattered troops found their way to friendly staging posts. When I left, the seaborne invaders had reached the 101st cordon, and were trying to stage a wider breakout. Continue reading

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Cool spell

Last week, I traveled to the USA for ConsimWorld. Shortly after I arrived in Tempe, Arizona, one of the locals asked me if I was enjoying the cool spell of weather the city was enjoying. Of course I was. Who wouldn’t like temperatures of 95 degrees (Fahrenheit – 35 degrees Celsius) when the alternative was 105 degrees, or higher? (At one point it reached 11 degrees.)

It’s just as well I have been here often enough that I am sort of used to the ferocious heat. However, it’s one thing putting up with it for a week, and quite another to endure a whole summer. Still, I was grateful for the cool spell.

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Power of the Dog Series – Don Winslow

There are three books in the series:

  • The Power of the Dog
  • The Cartel
  • The Border

The central characters are Art Keller, a US government official waging the war on drugs, and Adan Barrera, the major player in the Mexican drug underworld. Over the course of the three books, each of these characters is developed beyond the archetypal goodie and baddie, as the continual struggle to stem the drug tide is artlessly implemented by the governmental forces, helped – in the loosest sense of the word – by Keller’s somewhat unconventional approach. Continue reading

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Off Armageddon Reef – David Weber

This is the first of a successful space opera series that is built around the idea of the last survivors of humanity hiding out (from their alien foe) in a faraway planet. To minimize the risks of their being found, the rulers have imposed an anti-technology religion. So far, so good. Unfortunately, whatever interest I had in the scenario was killed stone dead by leaden dialog and too many flourishes of overwriting. The poor characterization didn’t help. Neither did the palpable lack of tension.

In a word: avoid.

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