Army Group South

On the table for the first time, almost 25 years after buying the game, is Barbarossa: Army Group South, 1941.

The game, designed by Vance Von Borries and published by GMT Games, features an operational level system that made its debut with Typhoon (about the 1941 attempt to take Moscow). This volume is one of a series about Barbarossa, dubbed the East Front Series (EFS). Continue reading

I’ll drink to that!

Look what just arrived:

Just in time for Shabbat and the chag. Perfect!

The sad aspect is that due to the current lockdown, I won’t be able to share it with any of the other whisky aficionados of Ra’anana. (Avi and Ronnie, this especially means you.) However, they shouldn’t worry that I’m going to drink the whole bottle and leave them none. I bought two…

Solferino

Moving on from Flying Colors, I am playing Risorgimento 1859 and specifically the battle of Solferino. It’s the French and the Piedmontese against the Austrians fighting over the reunification of Italy.

So, I cut out the counters and set up the scenario.

The Austrians are stuck, mainly, in big stacks in reserve with only a few units available to move at the start. The Piedmontese are also in reserve.

On to the map come the French. Slowly. What a traffic jam. The first time I tried this, I forgot the Strategic Move option. After a really messed up turn, I started again and the SM helped, but not by much. While the Austrians sit about for the first couple of turns, the French are trying to get their troops onto the battlefield so they can pick off bits and pieces before the Austrians wake up.

Eventually, the forces collide. At this point, you notice how much of a cookie cutter the forces are; most of the infantry have the same cohesion (6) and that’s the only point of distinction other than the few Jagers, Chasseurs, and Light Infantry. That last set of three can do small arms fire into an adjacent hex. At a maximum of 1 hit per fire, it’s effective roughly 60% of the time. Super skirmishers?

Cavalry are not much use except against other cavalry. But we do get to have light and heavy cavalry.

After properly completing the first three turns – and it was slow – I decided I’d had enough. The game simply wasn’t working for me. It’s hard to pinpoint what doesn’t click because there is a lot that should appeal.

Let’s see.

There are a lot of counters. The scale is a bit strange – battalions, complete with facing rules, in a gunpowder era game with 325 yard sized hexes. All units are equal in combat strength, but their cohesion rating may affect matters as there are modifiers for the side with the higher cohesion.

The game is not complex, but there are several important exceptions. For example, units in cultivated terrain (vineyards?) might have their ZOC restricted. For example, units pay different costs to move adjacent to an enemy unit, depending on type and whether it’s into a ZOC or not, but cavalry can only move adjacent if charging, and charging has its own restrictions.

Combat has each side rolling a die, applying the modifiers, and getting the number of hits inflicted on the enemy from a table. The maximum damage is 3 hits. (Maximum stacking outside of towns is two units or three artillery per hex.) If you want to maximize damage, you need to surround the defenders so they take an extra hit from retreating through a ZOC. Units take hits up to their cohesion level and then are eliminated. (Sort of like the GBOH series for Ancients.)

There is a commendable effort to make casualties count with brigades becoming hors de combat and corps becoming demoralized. Unfortunately, the player aids don’t give you any support in this task, so you are on your own when trying to track this.

Activation has this sort of halfhearted continuity mechanism. You go, you roll to go again. If you succeed, after the two activations play passes to the other side. If you fail, after the first activation play goes to the other side. Why bother? I understand the desire to move away from straightforward “I go, you go” but it didn’t seem worth the effort. Maybe chit pull would have been better. Maybe “I go, you go” would have sufficed.

Too many games are competing for my attention. This one failed to hold it.

A Minute to Midnight – David Baldacci

This is one of the Atlee Pine series, featuring the duly named FBI Special Agent and her adventures. Her own past, however, is the source of much angst: her twin sister was kidnapped several years ago and Ms Pine always has at least one eye out on the possibility of finding out who the perpetrator was and hunting that person down.

In this book, Pine is given some personal time after somewhat overstepping the boundaries of professional behavior while making an arrest. Cue another opportunity to investigate the taking of her sister.

So, Pine goes back to her once home town and stirs up trouble investigates matters. Cue chaos and action.

Baldacci is a great writer, but doesn’t always deliver the quality to match his skill. This time around I would say he gets quite close to the mark. Sure, some of the scenarios are formulaic, and sometimes the suspension of disbelief required is on the higher levels. But, the story gets going and pulls you along. The characterizations may be somewhat thin, but the narrative is enthralling and delivers a real page-turning experience.

In short, one of Baldacci’s decent books.

 

The Other People – C J Tudor

This is a little cracker. The starting point is when a father sees his daughter in another car, calling “Daddy”. The strange thing is that the girl is supposed to be dead. That’s as much as I’ll reveal as this is a book with a plot unravelling that you simply have to experience. One critic likened it to a Stephen King book which is a good measure and a great compliment. And well deserved.

This is a terrific thriller with plenty of tension, delivered brilliantly. It’s a little unusual in places and you will need to suspend your disbelief at certain key moments, but overall it’s well worth it.

Oh I do like to be in Tiberias

The above Times of Israel report suggests that Ms Gamliel has not been leading by example.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, who announced over the weekend that she had been infected with the coronavirus, was facing calls to resign after confessing that last week she broke a lockdown limit by traveling from her Tel Aviv home to the northern city of Tiberias.

She also reportedly tried to hide the trip from a Health Ministry epidemiological investigation into her infection.

Apparently, there are some extenuating circumstances.

Gamliel spent the Yom Kippur fast, which fell on Monday, at a synagogue in Tiberias, where her father-in-law is the rabbi, Kan reported Monday.

Associates of the minister have said the congregants all wore masks and that Gamliel slept in a local family apartment in the city, parts of which have been declared virus hotspots. They also asserted on Monday that her husband owned the apartment where they stayed in Tiberias and that they were thus allowed to be there under the lockdown regulations.

However:

Health Ministry officials are trying to determine how many other people were in the synagogue at the time and if the number was more than the permitted ten people allowed at indoor prayer services on Yom Kippur under the lockdown.

The Walla new site quoted participants in the Yom Kippur service as saying there had been 35 people in the building, about half its maximum capacity.

Oops!

Haaretz also covers the story here (behind a paywall). I thought this part was interesting:

Gamliel’s office said Sunday that the report was “another attempt to harm Likud members through lies and pathetic fabrications. The minister is fully cooperating with the epidemiological investigation and assisting the Health Ministry in whatever is required.”

This seems to be a regular feature in Likud’s response to any media criticism. In my opinion, that type of approach sounds awfully like bluster: long on sound, short on substance.

If the media report was “lies and…fabrication” I would expect, from a minister of the government very much in the public eye, some detail. For example, what exactly is a lie? Did she or didn’t she exceed the 1km limit? Did she or didn’t she socialize with her in-laws? Did she or didn’t she claim to be infected by her driver? Did she or didn’t she go to a synagogue over Yom Kippur. (If so, what was the compliance level?) Did she or didn’t she avoid the Health Ministry officials?

In the absence of a full response, the objective observer is going to come to one conclusion. And that is not one favorably disposed towards Gamliel.

The Shadow of What Was Lost – James Islington

A stonking big fantasy that in its physical manifestation will serve you well as a doorstop. But as a piece of literature? For me, it failed big time.

The story is a grand sweeping tale – a young member of the Gifted (super powered individuals operating under certain restrictions) finds out he has more than his fair share of abilities, triggering a series of bloody events. Into the mix there is another youngster whose life is linked to this Gifted. And both are going to face a danger from a source long thought extinguished.

So, swords, sorcery, and all that stuff. But the characters didn’t draw me in, I found the writing heavy going and often boring, and the whole thing dragged.

One to avoid.

 

All at Sea

Flying Colors, designed by Mike Nagel, was originally a self published design. It’s a game about fleet actions in the age of sail, focusing on the higher level perspective and speeding up play by cutting out a fair amount of lower level detail. GMT published it in 2005, followed by an expansion (Ship of the Line) and two more complete games: Serpents of the Seas (a 2010 release about naval battles of the American Revolution and War of 1812) and Blue Cross White Ensign (a 2014 release about the Imperial Russian Navy).

There was a second edition of Flying Colors released in 2010 and just this year a new third edition. GMT offered an upgrade pack for those who had earlier versions of the game and I duly acquired it.

The upgrade includes all the stuff that was in the Ship of the Line expansion as well as all the scenarios and all the ships and leader counters required to play the campaigns and scenarios that originally were published in C3i magazine. It’s a bumper package nd it inspired me to get the counters cut and the game on the table.

To start off, I played Minorca – the encounter between Admiral John Byng and a French fleet on 20 May 1756 that ultimately led to Byng’s court martial (for failing to press his perceived advantage against the enemy) and death by firing squad.  In my replay, the French secured a win after the British took heavy losses in closing for the kill. (They captured one French ship, but several of their own struck their colors after being dismasted and left to drift.)

As usual, the early turns contained a fair amount of checking the rule book. But, soon enough, I was able to cut down those references to the rules and ran the game mainly from the provided player aid cards. It’s a veritable marker farm – though you can all but eliminate these if you want to use rosters – but there’s plenty of space, and it for sur beats individual logs for each ship. It’s highly playable solitaire, so my powers of replicating schizophrenia were not unduly challenged.

The high level perspective is more than enough to give you a sense of the historical setting and potential strategies and tactics. And there are are a huge number of scenarios with small, medium and large encounters. Also, Serpents of the Seas introduced a duel system that deals with single ship v ship encounters and adds a deck of cards to the mix. That’s less playable solitaire, so I have nothing to say about it beyond that I’d like to give it a try, face-to-face, sometime.

After Minorca, I started and am currently finishing off the battle of Sadras. The real event took place on 17 February 1782 between Admiral Edward Hughes and his British fleet trying to impose their rule over the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal and the French under Admiral Suffren. I think the British are going to win this one.

I like this system a lot. It gives you a sense of the historical time and place and a taste of the challenges facing the respective fleet commanders. It’s not complex, and there’s plenty of scope for house rules for those who want more detail. One of my current top ten wargames and highly recommended if you are at all interested in naval history.

They must have stopped teaching it

A few weeks back, the coronavirus czar proposed a scheme of traffic light coding (green, amber, red) and localized lockdowns for those areas that went red. Most (all?) of the areas that either were or became red fell into two categories: Arab majority areas or Haredi majority areas. Unsurprisingly, there was a substantial pushback from both communities. To all intents and purposes, that scheme died a death, to coin a phrase. And, since that scheme wasn’t implemented, everyone – well, everyone who respects the rule of law – ended up in this general lockdown, the country’s second.

Over Yom Kippur, several – not all – Haredi communities continued to pack themselves into shul for Yom Kippur. Over the forthcoming Sukkot festival, several – not all – Haredi communities intend to pack themselves into their own large communal succah to celebrate the festival.

Now, the coronavirus situation is even worse. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Those disobedient Haredi communities are well aware of the virus. They are well aware of the risks. They see their tradition as being more important than any reason advanced as to why they should refrain from behaving as they always have.

So, their tradition is more important than taking steps to decrease the risk of serious ill health, injury, or death to their fellow man.

So, their tradition is more important than doing the morally right thing.

So, have they stopped teaching chillul hashem?

This never happened last year

Today’s riddle: what has fifteen metal poles, eight wooden poles, and two rolls of bamboo matting? Our succah! The lockdown put and end to the holiday we had planned for Sukkot, so we’re at home and getting ready for this family focused festival without, er, the family. First step is getting the succah up and I am glad to report it’s all up and ready to go.

(We had one or two hiccups along the way, but finally we worked out which pole went where. Despite keeping the instructions, it was more challenging than I would have liked. This year I’m definitely taking pictures to remind me how it is constructed!)

In Scotland, you could virtually guarantee it would rain first night of Sukkot. It can happen in Israel, but not this year according to the forecasts. Apparently it’s going to be hot.