More ‘Gothic’ TMWWBK with Axphain

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So I’m still planning the Graustark-Axphain skirmishing for some VSF play-testing sessions using the TMWWBK (The Men Who Would Be Kings) rules from Osprey and Mr Mersey.

The Axphainians (it’s true, that’s how they are labelled in the books) as I’ve stated earlier are drawn from several Russian contingents of the RCW/Back-Of-Beyond collection, now re-purposed as the mortal enemies of Graustark. So all quite perfectly villainous in their Siberian fur hats, long coats and wickedly bayoneted rifles. Plus, the CHEKA elements also stand out as suitable ‘elite’ troops for the Axphain’s dastardly Baron Arkhov (my invention, not in the books). He’s a suitably ambitious and wicked fellow, with grand designs on border infiltration, and potentially the odd abduction of Graustark nobility if he can get his hands upon them. True to form, the Axphainians are a brutish lot, mainly peasants, underlings and thugs at home in their bleak mountainous domain. Society’s to blame.

So the force construction of both sides already provides a good deal of neutral balance, to then modify later with a range of options to create some useful differences. That all helps in exploring certain parts of the rules, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this will be – generally speaking – combat between regular or pseudo-regular forces, with no tribal forces present. The rules themselves I see as a delightful ‘toolkit’ with which you can create some hopefully simple-to-follow basic guidelines, and where you can add ‘character’ with additional delicious details to suit the genre and the setting.

Unit size is fairly standard, fortunately. Weapon abilities will be equal too, so that ‘special weapons’ – like Baron Arkhov’s Infernal Mechanical Gun, (historically a Russian-made Maxim MG) – can be added or removed from the force, depending on scenario criteria, to provide more variation. After all, it’s still play-testing for the VSF concepts.

I’m also still working on the game-within-a-game format too, bouncing ideas about that I and some of the gaming crew have had. That too needs to be simple, provide easy decision-making for the younger mind, and yet still create the interest – the  hook – that keeps them involved.

The additional challenge is how to synchronize that and the main battle game together, and to even allow the two to interact with each other. Tricky perhaps, but I’m sure I can conjure something up that works. More on all this soon. And I think I’ll condense the demonym from ‘Axphainian’ to just the simpler ‘Axphain’ – it reads and sounds better, and after all, McCutcheon was an American author with some quaint ideas about Eastern Europe.

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Take the bus? I’d rather not

(Another recycled item, slightly edited)

Well dear reader, I know this is personal preference, but if there’s a journey to be made, the bus is always my last choice. It may be the passion of countless anoraks to travel on an old double-decker, or the conscious choice of all those keen to save the planet, but frankly, give me the alternate options and I’ll take them all every time, regardless of cost too.

Am I a snob, hostile to the thought of sharing my journey with strangers? No, I would use the train or the tube with the usual pressing throng around me, so then that doesn’t phase me.

Is it the almost constant risk that my magnetic aura – for that is what it must be – attracts every oddball freak who boards and then decides to sit beside me to then share their life story? No, I get that fix satiated on the trains too.

No dear reader, my absolute avoidance can all be traced to one specific single journey, several years past now. Fair to say that I was not involved in any traumatic encounter, no imposition into my personal space from one of the newly acquired ‘friends’, or from anyone else who shared that route at that particular time. It all came about from a simple observation. And a decision not to bother.

It was a usual drawn-out stop-start trundle into town. The beginning of a standard working day. The window provided the opportunity to watch the neighbourhood slide past, as well as the safety of avoiding eye contact with any fellow passengers. You know, that embarrassing risk of a furtive glance matching their furtive glance back at you, at exactly the same moment, where neither of us know in that moment of connection what we should then do about it. Gazing slack-jawed through the glass avoids all that.

We arrived at a set of lights and waited our turn at that junction, always busy with lots of traffic. As I sat there, I saw a man with a ladder propped up against the front of a shop, looking up at the task in hand. There were no obvious tools in sight and he seemed to be concentrating on the signage above the main doorway. It was a slightly awkward spot – on the corner, encroaching on the pavement, the leaning ladder dominating the passing pedestrians, who all – every single one – refused to walk under it.

He seemed ignorant to any of that, quite engrossed in his job, and left alone to get on with it. And that was why I sat there and watched. And worried.

I had remembered my old forestry work days from decades before.

‘Don’t use a ladder without someone else footing it.’

It was a mantra of sorts in those days when I was a lot younger, said to me by wiser and less impetuous heads. Now I found it rolling around my head again, and I had this strange and sudden urge to get off that bus, to indeed insist that the driver let me off, so I could wander over there and tell him. Even to offer to brace that ladder myself for this complete stranger.

Maybe I was tired, even before getting into work, maybe the breakfast had triggered some odd chemical reaction. I know not – I just know ‘rational-Me’ kicked in at that point to remind me I had two urgent phone-calls to make as soon as I got to my desk.

The bus lurched forward and turned right, and I was awarded a perfect panning shot of that man and his ladder, the shop-front, the sign, the pedestrians, his t-shirt, shorts and rigger boots, until passing traffic obscured my view. And within ten minutes I had departed the bus at my usual stop, crossed the road at my usual place, waved my security pass at the usual security crew. Just the start of a usual day that steadily increased in tempo until nine hours later, I was glad I got a lift home.

A few more days and a few more bus-trips rolled by with nothing happening of any particular consequence.

Then at the end of the week, I found myself casually page-turning the local evening newspaper and there on an inside page was a single column of typeface, headlined ‘Tragic fatal accident’.

That man with the ladder had died. A simple slip, fell from the unsafe and unfixed ladder while using it without any assistance, and lost the straight forward contest of head meeting pavement. And it had probably happened just as I was getting off the bus. Or just as I was entering my office building.

I re-read those fifty or sixty words probably a dozen times and I sat there perplexed as to what I should do. Should I tell anyone? But then what would be the point? I handed back the newspaper with a barely audible stuttered thanks – and I just walked out of the office and went home early.

And at home in a darkened silence I just sat alone and drank alcohol.

So that, dear reader, is not fiction, it is a brief recollection of a true event.

Why I now do my best to avoid using buses.

And why I never ignore brief moments of doubt when I see anyone in potential danger.

And now some writing I prepared earlier.

Three years ago I had started a blog, solely for putting up my writing, challenging myself to write 365 words (at least) for every one of the 365 days of that following year. I did well, all things considering, an entry every day throughout all of January. And then the major life change of moving home stalled all of that.

But I saved that writing in order to provide me a vault of completed mini-works, and now that I’ve started this anew, I’ll plunder it and re-publish some of it here. It motivates me and reminds me of what I was able to create back then. With any luck, it will give me renewed impetus to create new work.

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Abra-bloody-cadabra

Passwords.

Bane of my life. In the workplace, whenever I want to access media, post anything, read anything, ask anything. And it’s all exactly the same at home too.

And of course, you can’t use just the one, because then you leave yourself vulnerable. And you have to renew them occasionally too, refresh the construct and the format, and don’t pick obvious stuff.

At work, I now meander along a security pathway of tedium, filling in passwords when prompted, clicking ‘OK’ dialogue buttons and always having to negotiate all the additional safety filters.

Do you accept the terms of operating guidelines?

Will you abide by the working practice standards?

You’re not going to be naughty, are you?

As you slowly navigate the layer after layer of text preamble and coloured formatting, you do begin to lose hope. Will I ever get to the end of this ‘logging-in’ process, just so I can do my work that I get paid for?

Aah, what’s this? A new one, a ‘have-you-completed-mandatory-security-training’ prompter. I thought this was exactly that?

I needed to re-arrange a parcel delivery today and the password process was completely busted on that. You’re often left wondering how certain companies ever stay in business, how is it that with such appalling IT, they manage to maintain a market presence.

I should be able to track it, see it winding along country roads and motorways towards me. But of course I can’t. Even with my new password. System has a problem at the moment.

I then e-mail the complaints department and they give me a reference – totally different to the reference for the parcel itself – and a password to log back in with later. I give it a few hours and try it – reference number isn’t recognised. So I wait until several hours – the entire working day in fact – has passed and try again. Reference number has now been tapped in by some unknown person but the password – their password they gave me – doesn’t work.

With a great sigh, I shrug back into my chair and stare at the screen, a harmless and useless cursor line winking on and off at me, awaiting further commands from my fingertips.

And I daydream of chopping firewood, filtering water, skinning animals for food, making cooking stoves from discarded drink cans, and the long-awaited Apocalypse whereupon I can sit atop my fortified hermitage and who so ever fails to use the proper password as they approach me, I can then shoot them.

 

Kandahar – an intriguing folio game

I was very fortunate that some kind soul – as my 2016 Secret Santa – sent me this item from ‘One Small Step Games‘, and designed by Brian Train. I’m already a fan of Decision Games Mini Series – like ‘Suez ’56‘ and ‘Congo Merc‘ & ‘Border War: Angola Raiders‘, but Kandahar provides just a dash more spice in the mix to really make you think.

Principally the game has you acting either as the Governor or as the Taliban commander of this Region. So there’s no gloried ride-around participation as a Western military commander with all the latest gadgetry. That stuff (ISAF) is available for support, but you as the official Governor use it with care. Likewise as the Taliban opponents you have some specific advantages, but if you go all out at destabilization, only the Criminal gangs will benefit. Indeed, the Criminal faction provides an interesting option for a third player.

So, you have a simple zone map with easy reference information included,  the rulebook, separate card sheets for charts and tables, 12 objective cards and 140 card counters. Ideally you then want two players, although it’s easy to play solitaire, and as mentioned above, you could add a third player as the Criminals in the region.

You win by achieving VPs (Victory Points) that are awarded by what others – generally your superiors – want you to achieve, and not what you at ground level see and believe to be the more practical  outcomes. Support is crucial, you only stand any chance of chasing the objectives if you have it, and continued support only comes about from success.

I’ll hold my hand up and say I’m quite new to the COIN series of games from GMT, so this folio game from another stable has provided me with a short sharp shock of an introduction on this sort of gaming format. And I really like it. I have a feeling I’ll spend many hours pouring over ‘Kandahar’ as I play out various initiatives from either perspective. And I’m sure I’ll learn a lot too, and not just in a gaming sense. I’ll return back to this at some point in the future with some more thoughts to share.

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Kickstarters – danger, beware.

I will admit that I have dabbled in a few KickStarter projects. I’ve benefited from several successful creators who worked diligently to provide what was promised. I’ve had others who ended up delivering all or most of what was promised eventually, once some technical issues were overcome. But – I’ve had enough go off tangent – complete failures by the creators – to generally view KS projects now with reservation.

Which in itself is a shame. In theory it has excellent potential to encourage new production of clever ideas. Sadly, many of the KS projects are structured badly or run really poorly, so that a project successfully hitting target soon ends up promising way more than can be practically delivered. And that also creates ‘time-lag’ in finally delivering the goods.

I also wish that the Admin at KS did more to enforce good behaviour of creators and the proper resolution of projects, instead of just taking their slice off the top and shrugging off complaints from backers. That’s the real let down, and a reason why I think future creators should look around for other crowd-funding sites that offer far better support for all participants.

So now I’m the one left shrugging when I see some great design work supported by energetic and enthusiastic discussions, only to see it wrapped up with the phrase “So once it’s on KickStarter…” – as that’s the point my own enthusiasm to support and help instantly flatlines. It’s a shame because there seems to be a perception now that success will only come via a KickStarter campaign. And that saddens me.

Gliders & Paras & Bridges

As a young lad I watched a lot of war films. I grew up in an era where so many of the classic ones were made, cinema entertainment for my parents and uncles and aunts, their generation, as reminders of what they had lived through when they were young.

I saw them on TV, not ‘at the pictures’. First I saw black & white films on a black & white TV, where a receding white dot came after the National Anthem on those nights when I was allowed to stay up late. Then came one of the first opportunities to go and see a film in colour and on the big screen at the cinema – “A Bridge Too Far.”

The sheer scale of that experience is almost beyond words to describe. I had never seen anything like it, and I was utterly absorbed. Arnhem and Operation: Market-Garden then became a point of fascination that has stayed with me ever since. It wasn’t long after seeing the film that I also learnt I had family – a Great Uncle – who had been there, casually mentioned by a maternal relative one evening at a ‘family tea’. As old aunts have a habit of doing.

I still need to dedicate some time for some research tasks on this Great Uncle, and to try to find out whereabouts he was involved, and then with that completed, I aim to visit those places. And I read anything and everything I can not just about Market-Garden but anything to do with the British Airborne in the Second World War. It was a random exchange of comments – on Twitter of all places – that made me gather up what I call my ‘Arnhem Library’ to photograph it, at which point I just sat there looking at all those books, lost again as I was that first night ‘at the pictures’. I have read many of them too, but I still have some reading to go.

So, at some point, I best get started with that, and the family history research too.

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IHMN – from three years ago

In January 2014, I was impressed enough with the ‘In Her Majesty’s Name’ rules to start getting a little creative with some ideas of my own for new forces. The French weren’t then that well-represented, and I drew up an additional force to support the Legion Etrangere. I had some early Great War French infantry figures to act as ‘proxies’ to represent this unit, but they weren’t quite accurate. I also had some native auxiliary types as well, who in contrast I might actually keep as the ‘Colos’. So perhaps at some point I’ll re-visit this little project to improve upon it.

Anyway, here the article is repeated again, so that I can easily refer back to it. I have some other ideas floating around to think about, such as integrating IHMN Companies as potential ‘Elite Units’ for inclusion into a player’s Field Force within the TMWWBK rules. Early days on that at the moment.

The picture below is of the Marsouins fighting Bavarian infantry at Bazeilles, during the Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871.

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The Bazeilles Compagnie of the 2eme Marine Infanterie – The Marsouins’

(AKA The Lightning Relief Company – the French Third Republic’s Rapid Reaction Force – the Force d’Intervention Rapide – at the end of the nineteenth century, used to support the Legion Etrangere.)

Nicknamed ‘The Marsouins’, the French term for ‘harbour porpoises’ allegedly because like porpoises the men accompany French Naval ships without actually being part of the ship’s crew.

The Marsouins in turn refer to all other French Army soldiers as ‘Biffins’, quite literally, the ragmen, from what the Marine Infantry perceive as the Army’s slovenly nature and attire. The single exception is the men of the Legion, where there exists a mutual respect. Since the Marsouins fought through the jungles of Indo-China to relieve the Legion garrison under siege at Tuyen Quang, the special relationship between the two forces has strengthened. Now tradition dictates that when Legionnaires and Marsouins meet up, they exchange a solemn presentation of arms to each other to always commemorate the siege and the relief.

Commandant Etienne Francois Gerard leads the Bazeilles Compagnie, the first choice unit within the Marine Infanterie, assisted by his second-in-command, Capitaine Jean-Michel Joubert.

Type
Pluck
FV
SV
Speed
Cost
Talents
Basic equipment
Commandant Gerard
3+
+2
+3
+0
39
Leadership +2, Inspirational
Lined coat, pistol, sword
Capitaine Joubert
3+
+3
+2
+1
35
Leadership +2, Duellist
Lined coat, pistol, sword
Sergent-Chef ‘Bigor’
3+
+3
+2
+0
36
Leadership +1, Tough
Lined coat, military rifle, bayonet
Caporal
4+
+2
+2
+1
25
Leadership +1
Lined coat, military rifle, bayonet
Marsouin
5+
+2
+2
+0
19
Lined coat, military rifle, bayonet
‘Colos’*
5+
+1
+1
+1
11
Lined coat, carbine
* Colos: slang term for the Marine Infantry recruited from the French Colonies, often used as auxiliaries to help augment the French Metropolitan Marine Infantry units, and are competently trained experienced native infantry.

Options

Caporals and Marsouins may purchase the Marksman Talent (+5 points) and/or the Bayonet Drill Talent (+2 points).

Colos may purchase the Martial Artist Talent (+3 points) and/or the Stealthy Talent (+5 points).

Commandant Gerard is a devotee of French literature, especially French Symbolism, since his friend Jean Moreas published the Symbolist manifesto, and therefore may purchase the Erudite Wit Talent (+5 points).

Capitaine Jean-Michel Joubert has served in just about every part of the globe, fighting enemies of France nearly every time. Therefore he may purchase the Fearless Talent (+10 points).

Gerard and Joubert may both purchase a Monocular Targeting Array each for 7 points.

Equip all troops with Brigandine armour for 2 points each. Gerard and Joubert may choose to equip themselves with Steel Breastplates (9 points), Faraday Coats (5 points), or Magneto-static waistcoats (2 points).