Gettysburg Again

Last weekend I finished up two games of the Gettysburg scenario in Ted Raicer and GMT GamesClash of Giants: Civil War. Both were a Union victory, with the CSA forces unable to seize the key defensive (and victory point) positions before the Union could grab them. Thereafter, these positions were too strong, and the CSA suffered huge losses in their assaults. The Union artillery – especially within the framework of the teleport ability such units have in the game system – was a significant barrier as well.

First, given the variable reinforcement timetable that the game uses, I am unsure how definite one can be about play balance. That having been said, there’s no way I was playing the game well enough to say I had tested it out to the limits, and I am sure others will do better as the CSA. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not complaining about the play balance; generally, I am more interested in the history.

Second, I was surprised by how well the game captured the ebb and flow of the battle. Presently, I still think it’s too easy to get round the flanks of enemy lines who simply stand still in the face of the obvious threat. This is partly related to the lack of simultaneous movement, and partly to the all seeing eye in the sky the players have. I wonder if any attempt at a fix – like a limited reaction ability – would be more trouble than it would be worth, or lead to other unwelcome consequences. Also, it’s fair to say that because you know that being outflanked and surrounded is a bad, bad, thing, there are certain defensive tactics that can reduce the potential for this happening.

Third, I used my house rule for artillery availability, and that saved a chunk of time each turn.The game is fast to play.

While this system is not going to be my ACW system of choice, it’s definitely got its place in my collection as a fast, playable, and enjoyable game package. This area of the market is too crowded already, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a turbocharged version of this system – switching to 1d10 or 2d6 resolution, more steps per unit, more variety in combat results, more command and control (like orders, for example), fog of war, the removal of the artillery teleporting ability, and maybe even adopting some of Michael Resch’s ideas from his 1914 system games –  would be well received. For now, this will have to do.

SOS for SOAS

Whatever they are doing at SOAS University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies), it doesn’t appear that they are doing any decent teaching. For example, free speech doesn’t seem to feature on the syllabus. As the Elder of Ziyon points out (here), according to the Guardian (here), the response to a proposed address by Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador to the UK was as follows:

More than 150 academics from Soas and other UK universities, plus 40 student societies at the university, have written to the Soas director Valerie Amos urging her to intervene to stop the meeting on Thursday at which Regev is due to speak.

Why?

“The event could further cause serious tension on campus and result in a charged atmosphere that will be detrimental to the wellbeing of all faculty, staff and students.”

Regev was invited by the Soas Jewish and United Nations societies. He will be interviewed by Eric Heinze, professor of law and humanities at Queen Mary University of London, before taking questions.

The students’ union challenged the university authorities over the staging of the event, raising concerns about possible safety and security risks posed by the ambassador’s visit and “the inability of students and staff – in particular Palestinian students – to participate openly in the debate, because of possible repercussions on their ability to enter Israel/Palestine”.

It’s all nonsense, but that last piece about “repercussions on their ability to enter Israel/Palestine” is not only fiction, it’s a variation on the blood libel. But, hey, it’s the Guardian…

You can just see the poor, troubled SOAS students and staff stamping their feet as they complain loudly that they do not want the Israeli ambassador to speak. No, no, no free speech for him!

And while you are getting over the obscene stance being made by those students and staff, know that the Elder has put it succinctly thus:

Calling for the destruction of Israel isn’t a provocation. Holding a speech defending it is.

Finally, entirely in keeping with the Guardian’s mission of downplaying antisemitism, and hating everything Israeli, note this:

Soas, which is one of the world’s leading institutions for the study of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, has often been the focus of coverage of the sometimes fraught debate surrounding Israeli-Palestinian politics on university campuses. As a result, the small minority of Jewish students at Soas have complained of feeling uncomfortable on campus and unable to express themselves.

How’s that for a glorious understatement?

SOAS are in trouble. Surely there’s no place in the modern world for a university that is so infested with hate and little disguised antisemitism?

Note the role of some (apparently) Jewish persons siding with the forces of darkness. They have given up their birthright, squandered their heritage, and sold their souls to the devil.

In the Cold Dark Ground – Stuart MacBride

It is very interesting to compare this Logan McRae tale with the same author’s A Song for the Dying featuring ex policeman Ash Henderson. Henderson’s life was ruined by a gangster, and he did everything he could to kill that person. McRae is under threat from a gangster, too, no less dangerous, but he really struggles with the concept of taking the law into his own hands – though he often crosses the line in his dealings with some criminals – and does not seem to have the same hunger for survival at all costs.

That apart, this is a good piece of crime fiction, with lots of twists and turns alongside teh shocking violence, cracking dialogue and black, black humor.

It starts with a businessman going missing, then a male body (head wrapped in a bin bag) turns up. Is this the missing businessman? At the same time, the uncrowned king of crime in Aberdeen is dying, and the vultures are circling. McRae is caught up in the scenario, not least because he has been picked as the successor!

On the police front, matters are somewhat complicated because others want to take over his case, there’s a new officer in town who hates his guts, and Professional Standards are waiting in the wings. .

Life’s a bit complicated, for sure, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Overall, a good read, and highly recommended.

Be My Enemy – Chris Brookmyre

More Jack Parlabane cynicism and biting wit in action against the big, bad world of business, vested interests, and exclusion. This time around, our quirky hero is on an actual journalistic assignment: to participate in a corporate team building event, and report on his experiences. The beautiful setting and initial enthusiasm of actually enjoying the activity fade quickly as something deadly intrudes, and it becomes clear that this is no bland exercise, but a fight to the very death.

The supporting characters have some surprisingly good scene stealing appearances, although I did feel that some were a bit telegraphed. There are also some references to previous happenings, so if you have not read the other books you may be missing out. It does stand on its own, though, and the side details are not critical.

The story features some of the author’s trademark political posturing, with a wonderful balance between the downright hilarious, and the genuinely shocking. Brookmyre is very skillful at drawing the reader in, taking the reader to unexpected places, offering up some thrills, spills, and twists, and delivering first class entertainment. This book is very much of that ilk until about the last 10% where I rather felt the buzz had gone, and Brookmyre just wanted to finish up and get done with the book. So, not his best, but still terrific fun and well worth reading.

More about Marwan

The row about the offensive and stupid decision of the New York Times to omit Marwan Barghouti’s bloody past (and present?) doesn’t go far enough in exposing what the true face of evil is. Try the following link for a deeply personal, yet restrained and factual commentary on the Marwan Barghouti background his supporters don’t want you to know about. Just click here.

Looking for Rachel Wallace – Robert B. Parker

Book six of the Spenser series, this one sees our hero hired as a bodyguard for Rachel Wallace, the feminist radical author of an about to be published book. As she starts her promotional tour, there are threats made against her, and the publishers recommend Spenser as the man to keep her safe. Unfortunately, no matter how good Spenser is at his job, he is hopeless at holding back his fast talking smart alec personality, and he and Wallace are soon at loggerheads. Eventually, and unsurprisingly, Spenser is fired, even though it seems plain that there is some real danger. Then Wallace is kidnapped…

Despite the circumstances, Spenser sees it as his duty to rescue the lady. Cue action and adventure as he goes looking for Rachel Wallace.

Once again we see more of Spenser’s character – the strengths and weaknesses – alongside the development of the plot. Clearly it is his attitude towards women – and the other way round – that feature here, and there are some insightful and interesting exchanges and observations. You do not need to agree with Spenser’s viewpoint to enjoy the tale.

The end is a bit predictable, but standard for Spenser books; the plot is neither complex nor demanding, but arguably is therefore that much more believable.

Not bad at all.

Country of the Blind – Chris Brookmyre

Classic Jack Parlabane material: a powerful media owner and his bodyguards are slaughtered, and public outrage leads to an angry manhunt for the crew allegedly responsible. But one young naive solicitor has an envelope in her possession, handed over by one of the accused before the event. What’s in the envelope, and why does she say it proves the men’s innocence? Whatever the questions were before, there are many more after the men are arrested and then escape custody. Parlabane can smell a conspiracy, and he is just the man to root it out.

This is a cracking story of crime and corruption, told with Brookmyre’s usual biting wit (he really doesn’t like the Tories) and action packed narrative. I’m glad I decided to fill in the gaps in the Parlabane series and this, so far , is one of the best.

Clash of Dice

Clash of Giants: Civil War is Ted Raicer‘s new game about the battles of Second Bull Run and Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Published by GMT games, the system is an ACW adaptation of his Clash of Giants system which covered several World War One battles in a couple of much earlier GMT releases.

Inside the box you get one standard backprinted map with the two battlefields done by the excellent Charles Kibler. Second Bull Run is done at 500 yards per hex, and Gettysburg at 270 yards per hex. There are separate countersheets of larger, well printed counters, for each battle with different variations of Blue and Gray, making it less likely you will get the wrong units appearing in the wrong battle. I like that. Continue reading

The Cold Cold Ground – Adrian McKinty

After enjoying Rain Dogs, I decided I had to read the rest of the series, this being the first Detective Sean Duffy book.

The setting is Northern Ireland, at the time of the Hunger Strikes. Bobby Sands has gone to meet his maker, and the Troubles are bubbling away with occasional nasty outbreaks of violence. Duffy is posted in the relative backwater of Carrickfergus, where he seems to be managing fine. But the peace is shattered by the discovery of a dead man who may have been the victim of a serial killer. Duffy and his colleagues interact with some of the historical personages manning the ramparts for their respective factions, as they try to work out what is going on.

McKinty’s Northern Ireland backdrop is spot on, while taking care not to detract too much from the story line. The writing is crisp and humorous in places, and yet that may be the one weakness: I thought Duffy’s humor in the face of some of the threats he faced were somewhat incredible. But that minor potential difference of opinion aside, the whole thing was a roller coaster cum page turner that I really enjoyed.

Having Duffy as a Catholic in the largely Protestant setting worked well, as it set up twin conflicts that highlighted his potentially precarious position, and added some heft to his observations. The character is strong, interesting, and thankfully the author avoids giving him any of the super-human qualities that other writers blight their creations with. Duffy is real, believable, and likable.

Highly recommended.

Roseanna – Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

This is a 1960’s vintage police procedural drama that some critics claim to have been groundbreaking and trendsetting. It might have set the heather on fire then, but I found it too slow in places, and it threatened to lose my interest too often.

The story is straightforward enough: a body turns up in a dredger. It’s a young woman who has been raped and killed. But who is she, where did she come from, and who was the perpetrator? Detective Martin Beck is the one tasked with getting to the truth, and the book charts the slow investigative work, discoveries, disclosure, and resolution.

The key plus point is the Beck character who is identifiable as a realistic creation, musing about life, the universe, and so on, while trying to track the victim and hunt down the killer. I suspect Beck is a character I would like to know more about, and that may mean I read more of the series. However, not much else would inspire me to do that. I found the pacing poor, and the character of the killer to be the polar opposite of Beck: lacking credibility and interest. In short, the baddie seemed fake.

The other part that I differ from the mass of reviewers in is about the quality of the writing. It may be that the translation did not match the original language, but it may also be that it did. The writing was not anything special, and rarely rose above the plodding nature of the investigation.

So, this was OK, but it fell well short of the hype.