Thursday 29 February 2024

A Most Welcome Addition

Back in the library - at last! Note the rather intriguing CD….

As anyone that knows me will agree I tend to be rather impulsive when it comes to starting and stopping projects. I believe that age has tempered this slightly but memories of regretted disposals often come back to haunt me - especially when I end up acquiring the same at some point later. I have learned to live with the embarrassment though!

The contents and how useful is that!?

So it was that my original copy of the above book found its way into the collection of Mr Fox sometime ago - before lockdown as I recall, so we are talking around five years ago at least. Now I have a reasonable selection of books on the warships of the American Civil War but I was keen to get a hold of this one again but the prices on a secondhand basis were frankly ludicrous. 

Anyway, a recent trawl through eBay had a copy available on a ‘buy it now’ basis and so I did! It duly arrived this morning and a most welcome surprise was hidden, Journey to the Centre of the Earth style, in the dust jacket. 

I will need to play around with the CD as I am currently unable to open the files as I use a Mac and this is a Microsoft based disc so currently is unable to run EXE. I am not tech savvy enough to be able to do this easily so will try a few of my IT contacts to see what I need to do. In any event, given that this information has been added to a CD I am wondering if it is available online to download from somewhere as presumably this is in the public domain.

I shall look forward to seeing the contents though for sure!

Wednesday 28 February 2024

Thoughts on Shogun 2024

Oh yes indeedy….

“As the season dawns,
A TV series springs forth - 
And in the lounge is viewed….”

(Drops mic, exits stage left - Basho would have been impressed - or maybe not….)

My daughter Holly is a huge Disney fan, so much so that she has a subscription to Disney Plus - the magic kingdom’s streaming service. As she is living at home it means that Laurel and I are also able to avail ourselves of the prodigious amount of content they have. When it was announced that a ten part remake of James Clavell’s epic novel of sixteenth century Japan, Shogun, was being made I immediately made plans to watch it when it was launched.

James Clavell’s novel, for those who have not read it, is a fictional retelling of the political machinations in Japan in the years leading up to the Battle of Sekigahara. It features the adventures of an English pilot - John Blackthorne, based on the real life William Adams, as he becomes a samurai

Sure enough, last night the first two episodes dropped and so I spent the evening immersed in world of the samurai with an Englishman thrown in, along with the Portuguese.

Shogun has of course been given the small screen (and indeed, also the big screen) treatment with the TV series appearing in the early 1980s and starring Richard Chamberlain as John Blackthorne - the the Anjin-san - and the late, great, Toshiro Mifune as Lord Toranaga. There was film based on a heavily edited version of the TV series that was good look at but frankly a bit of mess in respect of the editing.

So to the 2024 version. I am not going to go into specific details as I want to avoid any spoilers so have no fears that I will be giving wholesale chunks of the plot away!

Visually it is stunning to look at. The visual palette is relatively subdued in terms of colour which really adds to the look. Naturally there is some CGI involved but this is not overly intrusive, at least not so far that is. The soundtrack itself is quite pleasing to the ear and complements the action in an understated but thoughtful way.

So far so good then.

The 1980’s TV version

As someone that has read the book several times, seen both the original TV series and the film version, I found that the opening two episodes rather scrambled elements of the plot in terms of sequencing and the truncation of what are quite key scenes of the story. I have no real issue with mixing up the plot in terms of translating the book into a screen play in order to help with ‘setting the scene’ but I just wish that perhaps a little more thought had been put into it as many of these seem to have been trimmed back rather excessively. There are a couple of points of detail that I could take exception to as well, with one in particular that really grated!

I am not expecting the series to mirror the book exactly but certain incidents are, in my opinion, key to the story and so need to be thoughtfully handled.

Toshiro Mifune was always going to be a hard act to follow in the key role of Toranaga but Hiroyuki Sanada makes a very good fist of it although visually he is a little on the slim side to be wholly convincing. Cosmo Jarvis plays John Blackthorne and to me he is a little like the curate’s egg i.e. good in parts. In certain scenes he looked uncannily like Rick Grimes in the Walking Dead during his most unkempt moments! At present he comes across as a good actor but underused and in a sense this is the key to what we are seeing. The original novel and first TV series very much emphasised John Blackthorne’s story but this version appears to frame things rather more from the Japanese perspective. This is no bad thing for sure but it does take some getting used to when one is used to the more Western outlook.

Of the rest of the principle characters it has been difficult to really gauge how good they are in the verbal scheme of things and so one hopes that as the series progresses we may get a better insight into their roles and how they impact on the story.

Overall I found it an absorbing watch and I will certainly persevere with the rest of the series. I enjoyed the first two episodes (aforementioned issues notwithstanding) and if nothing else it has gotten me looking at my various Samurai ideas once again!

Monday 26 February 2024

Zulus…Dropping Sixty or More

At last! Two boxes on the way!

I mentioned in my earlier post that I managed to finally score some figures that I needed for a particular project. Zulus to be exact, of the unmarried variety. I had a look at the 1-72 stand at cavalier and chatted with Dave the proprietor, more in hope than expectation, about the box of figures you see above and the likelihood of seeing it again. “Fear not” he enthused, “I have six boxes of them back at base - the only reason I do not have them with me is because the box is an odd size!”

I have been looking out for these figures since I acquired a copy of the boardgame War in the Age of Imperialism that includes a huge number of 1:72nd scale plastic figures and other useful stuff. You may recall that the base infantry figure is a very good likeness for a Zulu War period British infantryman and so taking advantage of the Hat Industries Zulu War British Command pack  and a few other bits and bobs I will be able to organise a pretty reasonable looking force. Old school, soft plastic 20mm - what’s not to like?

The deal has duly been struck and so I shall be getting two boxes of the above for my ‘Zulu’ inspired 1879 project which sits alongside my ‘Shogun’ inspired 1600 Samurai one and the the 1870 ‘Last Samurai’ version. Then of course there is ‘300’ and a smattering of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ - it does seem that much of my gaming has been Hollywood based….

It doesn’t make me a bad person though!

 Sixty! We dropped at least 60, wouldn't you say?” A quote from THAT film but in my case it is 120!

Of Cavalier and Car Parks

Rainham Wargames Club ACW nava game using Hammerin’ Iron by Peter Pig

Some of the Union vessels

More Union vessels including the U.S.S. Indianola

The rebels including the two ironclads the C.S.S. Tennessee and the C.S.S. Albemarle

It was, even by my standards, a pretty eventful morning yesterday! Cavalier is the annual wargames show organised by the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society and is one of the first shows on the calendar for the year. It is a great excuse to get out and about, catch up with gaming acquaintances old and new, gain inspiration from the games on display and to indulge in a spot of retail therapy. In of the above categories i would say that I was only partially successful!

I was on very tight schedule which meant that whilst I was able to say hello to a fair few people (not as many as I would have liked to have (apologies to SEEMS and Mr Fox) my visit consisted of one walk around the main hall and then numerous trips to the car park! I was able to get pictures of one game that caught my eye and chatted briefly with the denizens of the RainhamWargames Club who were running it. The action was an American Civil War Ironclads fight using Hammerin Iron and a nice selection of Peter Pig 1:600th scale models. 

I also managed to pick up an item for onward delivery to Paul O’G of  The Man Cave fame which will feature in his latest project (check out his blog for details). He is in town so we are meeting up for beers and chinwag later in the week.

I was also able to score some 1:72nd scale figures I have been after for an absolute age and the lack of which was crippling a project I have planned. More about this when they arrive, hopefully later in the week.

Business was very much the order of the day and so my first stop was to drop off a box of books and have a chat with Dave Lanchester. A brief view of his stand did little other than to pour far more temptation my way than would have been good for either my wallet or domestic harmony so I quickly did an about turn and headed away!

I had two deliveries to make - each being parts of Eric’s collection - and so the first was to none other than the legend that is Ray Rousell - painter of figures large and small, enamoured of the late 17th century and member of Postie’s Rejects. This particular transaction had been outstanding for around three years for one reason or another and so it was good to be able to finally pass over to Ray four boxes of goodies (he was only expecting one and so four came as quite a surprise. Given that he has only just gotten over a recent bout of the screaming awfuls I felt obliged to carry them from my car to that of Big Lee - which was in another car park the other side of the centre! For all that it was great to see him again and recovering well. Enjoy the bits and pieces Ray!

No sooner had we got back into the centre and had a quick chat when our ambassador for Suffolk arrived. This of course is the esteemed David Barnes of The Ragged Soldier fame. Aside from being of a similar vintage to yours truly David and I also share a quite close geographical connection in that he grew up in Ken not far from the Isle of Sheppey from where I come from. Although we never met during our early years we both used the Kentish Town of Sittingbourne as a central point of reference and the two model shops it used to have - Man and Boy and Beannies. Once again another trip to the car but mercifully this time his car was at least in the same car park (and he carried his box of surprisingly heavy goodies - this time from Eric’s WW2 collection).

We headed back into the centre and went our separate ways - always a pleasure chatting Mr Barnes - when I then bumped into my old friend Bob Cordery of Wargaming Miscellany, the Portable Wargame and inspirer of many fame. We spoke briefly, along with Nick Huband and also Henry Hyde - the former will be providing valuable assistance with the revised and expanded Portable Ironclads Wargame and the latter regaled us with the story of his recent restoration of a Charles Grant (Snr) Spencer Smith infantry regiment (the name escapes me but I believe it was Ostgoterland or similar) that featured on the cover of the classic book The Wargame. Henry was as engaging as ever and is firmly of the school that superglue can solve many ancient plastic woes of the brittle kind!

It felt like I had only just arrived when it was time to head off to Rochester for a very special meeting. 

Years ago I used to live just outside of Maidstone and knew the roads etc into Rochester pretty well. In fact getting there was really easy and usually only took around fifteen minutes or so. Rather foolishly as it turned out, I relied on the the Sat Nav to get me to Rochester from Tonbridge and it took me on a rather circuitous route that took me into Rochester from the other side of the Medway, via Strood and other such places. Clearly this was to avoid Maidstone town centre but clearly the Sat Nav did not know that I knew the best way of getting through the town!

Anyways, some forty five minutes later (and twenty minutes late) I arrived at my destination - another car park at the back of the main high street in Rochester and tantalisingly close to Baggins Book Bazaar - an absolute treasure trove of a secondhand book shop. The car park was full and so I cruised aimlessly around until, as luck would have, I was spotted by my contact (it sounds rather like a bad Cold War spy novel at this point!). I was not able to get a parking space and parked up by his car, hazard lights flashing.

The reason for this meeting was one of collection. I have acquired the 3mm ancient collection painted by that renowned brushmeister, none other than Lee Gramson. It was a pleasure to finally meet Lee in person, along with his wife, daughter and granddaughter, albeit briefly. The transaction was partially completed and a large box and a bag of goodies were soon safely packed away in my car. A quick visit to the car park ticket machine - a wise precaution as although I did not technically park you need to have entered your car number plate in order to exit the car park - and a brief chat followed, with a promise to meet up in somewhat more convivial surroundings and in warmer weather. The whole exchange took around fifteen minutes or so and then it was back on the road again for the journey home. 

The collection is gorgeous and I will write a full blog post with pictures in due course.

Overall then it was a good, albeit whirlwind kind of a day and many thanks to all that took time to have a chat - and apologies to those that I missed out!

Wednesday 21 February 2024

The Portable Ironclads Wargame….A Self Critique

C.S.S. Tennessee heading into the fray

I was, and still am, very proud of The Portable Ironclads Wargame. It was my first venture into the world of book writing and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. The book was always intended to be the first step in a grid based ironclad era gaming system that would combine the flavour of Bob Cordery’s Gridded Naval Wargame rules with the detail of David Manley’s Dahlgren and Colombiad set. Ideally I wanted to use squares but settled on hexagons because at the time I was not able to get squares to work in the way I wanted to. 

The format of the book - with grateful thanks to Bob Cordery for his editing and publishing skills, not to mention his contributions to the book itself - I am particularly pleased with as I wanted an ‘old school’ vibe in terms of content and so the end result ticked that particular box quite comfortably in my opinion.

It is not without its faults.

There are a a couple of known typos and some errors in a few of the combat examples - nothing major but irritating all the same. The wording of the rules in places suffers from the occasional lapse into what can best be described as ‘political bloviation’ - when the author himself has to reread sections to be sure of the meaning then you know there is a problem!

I am happy with the combat/damage system overall, but there are a couple of niggles that will be addressed in the revised edition - mainly around tidying up the text to make things clearer.

As mentioned previously, the existing firing arcs will be tweaked slightly and there will be the option to use a square grid as well as the original hexagonal version. Then of course there will be a suite of optional/advanced rules to use as required.

The revised edition will not be reinventing the wheel and so owners of the original edition will certainly not have any concerns about wholesale changes to rules etc. Inevitably with any set of rules, gremlins of one kind or another usually surface and the Portable Ironclads Wargame is no exception.

If I were marking this book as a school report I would be happy to give it a B+/A- with the following commentary:

“David has grasped the essence of his chosen subject well but his natural exuberance and enthusiasm has sometimes overshadowed his grasp of the detail. With greater application and forethought I am sure he will, in time, be better placed to grasp the nuances of the subject in hand.”

The above was taken from one of my actual school reports from 1972 - oh well, 52 years later and I suppose that seems like a good idea, perhaps I should try it…. :-)

Wednesday 14 February 2024

The Frontier Ablaze

Very pleased - and a bargain to boot!

The Afghanistan section of my library received a welcome boost with the addition you see of the above title. This is the second copy I have owned - the first was presumed missing in action as part of the great disappearing book mystery of years gone by - and so I was delighted to be able reacquire it.

This is nice series of large format hardback books and I already own the titles covering the ‘45 and the Zulu War (covering the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift). By no means are they definitive works but they certainly look nice and serve a very good primers. The plates are also vey nice - in many ways these could almost be viewed as Osprey Menat Arms on steroids.

All this Afghanistan malarkey is leading up to a front loading for retirement project and so I have at least managed to secure the appropriate reference material.

Felling suitably pleased and inspired by degrees!

Thursday 8 February 2024

Blitzkrieg and Afghanistan

Two tactical boardgames from the Lock and Load stable - Heroes of North Africa 1941 to 1942 including operations in East Africa and Operation Torch whilst Heroes in Defiance covers the Blitzkrieg era, chiefly the campaign for Western Europe so the French, Dutch, Belgians and of course the British all feature.

This is not the post I thought I would be writing and the one that I should have been will now not be appearing for a couple of weeks! The reasons are simple enough - a combination of starting my new deployment for work and the seven medical appointments split over two hospitals and two medical centres  last week for Laurel! Phew! For the record the various outcomes of these appointments ranged from the expected to the mildly surprising. 

Anyways, continuing along the lines of ‘front loading for retirement’ I have been having a bit of a trawl across the net for some books to round out the pertinent sections of the library. These acquisitions will of course be followed by several titles heading in the opposite direction as I continue to tailor my library.

Two for the early years of WW2. I have always enjoyed following military maps and so having a good atlas available on a campaign or campaigns is sure to get my vote!

I am rather partial to the Osprey hardback series. For the most part these are compendiums of existing Men at Arms, Campaign, Vanguard or any of the other series available titles but put together, ‘greatest hits’ style, in a single hardback volume. Some are better than others for sure but the title you see above is a good single volume primer for the early years of WW2 in Europe. Poland, Scandinavia, the Low Countries and of course all feature with pictures and maps etc - most of which would be familiar to anyone with any of the underlying titles.

The Blitzkrieg atlas has rather more detailed maps as one would expect but also has a nice narrative to go along with them. An added bonus is that the air and naval dimension is also explored.

Taken together then, these two titles are a valuable addition to my library and I am sure to get much use out of them.

And now for something completely different….

Brian Robson also penned an excellent title on the second Afghan War called the Road to Kabul which is my collection, along with Churchill’s Story of the Malakand Field Force which covers the uprising in 1897. The Action at Badama Post has all the ingredients one could wish for as the setting for a skirmish or even a small mini campaign.

Following my recent acquisition of the excellent board game Pax Pamir, covering the wheeling and dealing amongst the players of the ‘Great Game’ for the greatest influence and control of Afghanistan, I have been revisiting the 19th century in the region with a view to gaming it in some capacity. You may recall my early flirtation with this idea using the fictional Roghan Valley occupied by the British with the fearsome Jalfrezis lurking in the hills. The potential for lots of ‘derring-do’ and manageable actions is a tempting one and so I have been seriously looking at The Men Who Would be Kings as the rules of choice and also of using 28mm figures no less! I should also mention that as part of my research I have also earmarked revisiting Carry on up the Khyber so you can see I am taking this very seriously….

Crisis on the Frontier covers the period of the third AfghanWar and the operations in Waziristan after the close of the Great War. Again, it has all the elements one would expect in such a setting but with the added attraction of vehicles and aircraft. The book contains much of the information needed to game the campaign - maps, orders of battle etc - as well as some interesting observations on how modern firearms had impacted on the nature of frontier soldiering.

Action at Badama Post looks like a real treat for sure! It is an account of the race to find and recover a British aircraft and the crew before they fall into enemy hands. It features the Kurram Militia, 22nd Battery Motor Machine Gun Service (originally trained for service in France) and number 20 Squadron RAF. The account is largely based on that of A/Sgt Ernest ‘Bill’ Macro and the book itself was written by his grandson, Paul Macro - a serving officer in the Royal Tank Regiment at the time of publication (2019).

I shall look forward to reading this - ‘just a small piece of war’.


Sunday 4 February 2024

Assaulting the Jailers….Game Number 76, Part 1.5

Something wicked this way comes….C.S.S. Tennessee heading into the fray.

C.S.S. Tennessee viewed from her starboard aft quarter

Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Hartford and the U.S.S. Manhattan look to make the Confederate ironclad their next project…. ;-) 

For a variety of reasons, too tedious to mention, the first run out of this scenario was abandoned around game turn 3. It is never a good sign when one gets in a tangle over one’s own set of rules! In my defence I was kind of thinking ahead of myself in that I was using rules that had nt even been written down, let alone tested.

Anyways, all is now OK and so I shall be running the action over the course of the next day or so - and with the correct rules in place!

As a taster though, I have included the starting set up pictures - these are far better than the original, rather dull version featured in an earlier blog post.

On with the action!