ASL Catchup

I have been remiss in blogging about gaming, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been playing – and losing.

A summary of all my ASL games since the last blog post about it would be: I played, I lost. Pretty demoralizing, even though playing ASL remains the most enthralling, engaging, absorbing, and exciting wargame experience I have ever had. The essential conundrum is that the only way to improve is to play, and yet if every play is a loss, it somewhat saps the enthusiasm. I have tried one session as purely an observer, watching Ran and Josh playing a scenario I had already played with Josh. I did learn a lot. Putting the right lessons into practice at the right time is the main challenge.

Also, I doubt – despite protestations to the contrary – that it’s much fun for my opponents to keep on winning. I haven’t figured out a solution, and maybe I never will. But meantime, I am still playing.

Last time out, Ran, Josh, and I played Second City, a 1944 scenario featuring a Soviet assault force (Josh) trying to steamroller through a mixed infantry and tank group of Hungarian defenders (Ran) with a couple of Panthers and decent German infantry support coming on as third turn reinforcements (me). This allowed me to watch the initial turns, trying to take on board the lessons, occasionally asking questions.

Josh’s assault force almost, but not quite, wiped out the Hungarians. Unfortunately for him, Ran exacted a high price. When my force came on in, it was able to put paid to the bulk of the remaining Soviet armor threat, and take up good defensive positions. (I would have struggled to do this entirely unaided, but Ran’s guidance was excellent and he better deserves the credit.) That set of moves plus a flamethrower led attack that wiped out some forward Russian attackers ended the scenario.

ROAR records 17 German wins against 2 Soviet, so the outcome seems to follow the trend and suggests that the scenario is not well balanced.

Now, a pause for lessons learned.

Setup: as defender, do not setup somewhere that the attacker can use his firepower to too much effect. In this case, the Soviets start with a half-track toting 24 firepower, and that is to be avoided.

Gun crew: don’t forget final protective fire.

Tanks: don’t give the opponent a side (or rear) shot, even if it has a low chance of success.

Broken main armament: think about whether you need to repair the gun. Failure gets the tank recalled. Maybe the machine guns will do the job.

Smoke: think about the different ways this can be used, including placing smoke in an enemy occupied hex. Don’t forget vehicle smoke launchers.

Stacks: avoid, avoid, avoid.

I’m sure there were more lessons, and hopefully I have properly absorbed them. Thanks to Josh and Ran for the continuing education, and their patience.

The Red: First Light – Linda Nagata

Military sci-fi with a twist. In the near future, USA soldiers are out on patrol in Africa. Apparently the defense industry has manufactured this conflict – it is not explained how – and Lieutenant James Shelley and his high-tech soldiers are on the hunt for insurgents.

Shelley is not only a good soldier and leader, but he also has this uncanny knack for knowing when things are about to go wrong. Is it a sixth sense, luck, or something else? That last part is the twist, with suggestions that there is another major power working behind the scenes. But you do not get to look behind the veil in this first novel of a trilogy.

What you get here is a large dose of high adrenaline action with some corporate corruption background, and some paper thin and somewhat naive politicking making an appearance. The main character is OK, but there’s nowt else to supplement that, and at the end I was not sufficiently interested in the story line to think about buying the next book in the series.

Disappointing.

Daft Parker of the Week

On the way home from the office, I saw this and nearly wept.

“It’s my car, and I’ll park where I want to, park where I want to…”

Bear in mind, this is no quiet side street. It’s one of the two main roads in and out of the commercial area in Ra’anana. This idiot – and I have full politeness mode on – decided to park half on the pavement, half off, directly blocking the pedestrian crossing.

Also note, this is one of the most dangerous pedestrian crossings in the city. (And, believe you me, there are plenty of close contenders.) It is badly signposted, with insufficient warnings, is partly obscured by nearby parked cars, and the white paint sorely needs a touch up.

What happened?

I indicated to the gentleman driver (I may have called him something else. and I may have plumbed the deepest depths of my knowledge of Anglo Saxon expletives …) that he should park elsewhere. He resisted. I insisted. (I gave him some helpful physical indications as to what he should do.) He took the hint. He moved his car. I crossed the road, and wondered at the sheer stupidity and selfishness of the driver.  By the time I arrived home, I was still troubled by it, hence the post.

Now I feel better!

Independently Hostile

The Independent‘s headline about the flareup in Gaza is, in a word, disgraceful.

The Independent is vying for a new low in journalism standards

No-one wants civilian casualties, but outside of video games, that’s what happens in war. And, of course, none of this would have happened if Hamas hadn’t been firing missiles and mortars.

Imagine the outcry if a similar headline had been posted by the Independent about, for example, British bombing attacks in Afghanistan and their civilian casualties. (Funnily enough, you may have missed the detailed coverage. There wasn’t any of substance.) .But, because it’s Israel that is (deliberately) targeted by this vile narrative, whatever criticism is raised will be ignored, and the demonization will continue.

They hate us. And they want everyone else to as well.

Two Kinds of Truth – Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch is in trouble. A killer he put away a long time ago is about to be released because new evidence – evidence that puts Harry in the firing line. At the same time, he is trying to help his colleagues in the San Fernando police department after a double killing at a local pharmacy. Harry is the guy with the most extensive experience of dealing with this type of case, and his bosses have no real option but to let him call the shots. Harry does his best to keep things going in the right direction, while managing the resources and egos around him. And then there’s the small matter of the undercover operation…

If you have read any Bosch books, you will be on familiar territory. Harry’s half-brother, the Lincoln Lawyer Micky Haller, is involved as one of the final showdowns is a courtroom drama. It’s well done, indeed, and confirms that the author is as sharp as ever.

Highly recommended.

Spook Street – Mick Herron

Fourth in the generally excellent Slow Horses series (see here for reviews of 1-3), this is the weakest of the novels so far, primarily because it relies on too high a level of suspension of disbelief. But, if you can get over that, you will be rewarded with being able to enjoy the author’s wonderful cocktail of strong characters, snappy dialogues, and plain good writing.

This book begins with a terrorist atrocity in Britain. At the same time, current spook River Cartwright’s grandfather – an old spook – is rapidly descending into the hell of dementia.  The author does an amazing job – assuming you buy the central idea – of tying these threads together.

There are turns, twists, surprises, and pathos aplenty.

In short, if you have not read these books, start at the beginning. And do it now!

Pen 33 – Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström

First of a series featuring policeman Ewert Grens, this is a no holds barred, graphic, and troubling novel.

At the core, it’s about a pedophile who preys on young girls. Not much is left to the imagination. But the police involvement is only one angle – albeit the main one – as the revenge attempt by the father of one of the victims takes center stage for a fair chunk of the novel.

Set in Sweden, the book does a good job of painting the scene, and making the backdrop believable. Some of the prison scenes, and the politics of it, came across as all too realistic and horrific. The judicial process seems less well rounded. The level of characterization varies, but on the whole is good.

There are times when I think you can see the joins in the book – where the fact it is the work of two authors has had an effect – because there are small unfinished aspects of scenes, and the direction of the story is a bit jerky. However, it’s also possible I am imagining this, and instead what we have is the chaos of real life rendered as fiction.

The plot, such as it is, works well enough, but it is relatively simple and the only major twist is not that much of a surprise. If you cannot see what’s coming, you surely don’t read much crime fiction. On the other hand, the overall story is interesting and did have me thinking about some of the issues after I finished it.

I’m glad I read it, though am not fully convinced. I will probably read the next one to see if it improves, because with the rough edges ironed out, this would have been an excellent book. One for the reserve list.

Incidentally, none of the roughness should be put down to the translator – Elizabeth Clark Wessel – because from that perspective the language was spot on.

Happy 4th of July

I hope all those celebrating the 4th of July holiday have a great day. Whatever political challenges it faces and criticism it deserves, the USA is still a great country.

A Legacy of Spies – John Le Carré

Well, the critics really, really loved this.

They gushed and they gushed and they gushed. Then they gushed some more. I thought it was OK, but certainly didn’t mention a first gush, never mind the repetitions…

This is a spy novel where the author’s favorite (or most famous) character, George Smiley, is always in the background. But in the center of the stage is Peter Guillam, an ex spy, retired and living in France. One day, he is dragged back to the establishment by litigation from family members of some who died in the Cold War. Guillam and others are blamed, and the Secret Service is trying to cover its backside. Just what was going on between Guillam and Smiley, and the other spooks? All will be revealed.

The narrative flits from past to present, in nice flowing language which manages to glide over the death and tragedy unfolding in its pages. Then you realize what has happened, and you go back and read it again. Chilling.

The lead character is a good one: likeable, a bit of a rogue, and with his own (flawed) moral compass.

The atmosphere, especially when the book touches on the Cold War events, is terrific. The modern perspective is best when the author shows us the hard edge of the sneaky civil service, and a different type of dicing with death.

A Legacy of Spies is good, but not this author’s best work. Oh, and for the avoidance of doubt, it is still absolutely worth reading. Just don’t let all that gushing get in your way.