Friday, 18 December 2015

Cold War (video)gaming

I was having a clear out of old games and whilst I was amazed at the amount of dross I had managed to keep hold of through two house moves, I also found a couple of time-hogs that, once upon a time, I considered brilliant. And funnily enough, they are both set in the modern Cold War period (what I class the 1980's)

First up is M1 Abrams Battle Tank for the Sega Megadrive.

This arrived with the aforementioned console for Christmas 1991, along with the pack-in game Altered Beast. As much as I liked the (almost) arcade perfect conversion, it was quickly put to one side as I pretended to be Captain Sean Bannon (I had just finished re-reading Team Yankee for the third time) and took on the Soviet invasion.

As you can see, it's not the best looking game ever (bear in mind the original PC version is 27 years old), but it was a revelation to me as a teenager. Ok, it was stupidly hard at times, and the T80's were a swine to kill but I enjoyed it. It's arcade-like in its tone, but if you ramp up the difficulty level, it's surprisingly realistic for the time, especially when you consider the hardware it was running on. Now you can still play this game as it is available via abandonware and ROM sites but for obvious legal reasons, it's up to you to search for them. The copy I had still worked when plugged into my last working Megadrive.

On the topic of Team Yankee, I will be looking to try out the Flames of War  Team Yankee game at some point in the future. I have heard both good and bad about the ruleset so will probably pick it up at the York show next year. Once the TWATS have had a go at it, I'll let you know what I think of the system.

The second game I came across was LHX Attack Chopper. This was also on the Megadrive and it was kind of like a companion game to F15 Strike Eagle 2 which I had for the Amiga. LHX looked pretty similar to F15, with the exception of playing a little slower (understandable given it's a helicopter!). Here is a video of the game in action. It was a tad more cerebral than F15, however, a hell of a lot easier to play than Steel Talons, which took a greater arcade view of helicopter combat but forgot to make it playable. Hey ho.

Thinking about it, there were more games that covered the period too. For flight sims, there was Falcon, F18 Interceptor, F19 Stealth Fighter and MiG29. Naval Combat was covered by two games, 688 Attack Sub and Harpoon, both of which will be the subject of a future post.

Monday, 7 December 2015

The only thing that will affect it is that you have to roll a dice...

Saturday saw the final game of the year for the TWATS and although it was a reduced turnout, fun was still had. In attendance we had Theatre Steve (who was running the game), Andy, new TWAT Paul and your humble scribe. This was the first time we had played with Steve's rather fine 20mm moderns and the Cold War amendments for Rapid Fire. As per usual, fine ale and sustenance were on hand throughout the afternoon.

It was East Germans versus West Germans, circa 1985, so whilst the Ossi's had the benefit of two T72 companies, the Wessi's had a recon platoon with a Leopard 2. In addition to the T72's there was a company of T55's, two companies of BMP1 mounted infantry, a recce company in BTR60's plus an attached artillery spotter to call in 3 BM21's and a battery of 122mm guns and/or a Hind strike and a 120mm mortar track. The West Germans had a Leopard 1A5 company, HQ company with another attached Leopard 1 and several companies of infantry in Marder and Fuchs APC's, as well as a company of engineers. So, having set the terrain, I took the East Germans and Andy took the Wessi's. Paul was observing with interest.

The aim of the Ossi's was to secure a crossroads in a town that was being held by a scratch force of engineers who were awaiting support. All the Wessi's had to do was stop that from happening. I thought I had a chance, but being tank heavy versus an infantry heavy force in a built up area, I knew this could get messy.

My initial aim, after a short period of consideration, was to grab a foothold in the nearest building in the town, and then take the crossroads with the BTR60 company. I also sent my T55's in first on the right flank towards some woods where Andy, quite rightly, parked his Leopard 1's.

If you go down to the woods today...
I quickly debussed the infantry at the building, just as Andy's recce platoon's Leopard 2 crashed through it.

Sshhhh! Be very, very quite...
Despite some light damage from an RPG, the Leopard was still there and causing me great worry. Fortunately, the BMP's on the left flank had ATGM's, and I managed against the dice roll to get a hit. Huzzah! Unfortunately, it was still active. But, to add insult to injury, it was finished off with a 73mm smoothbore round. First blood to the German Democratic Republic, With the Leopard now history, my troops fought their way into the compound. At this point, I was confident of success.

At this point, things became less one sided. There was Milan fire against the BMP's that missed, but the Leopard 1's quickly found the T55's, damaging two out of three. Meanwhile, the HQ Company Leopard had snuck into a gap between two buildings and heavily damaged a BMP. For the second time that afternoon however, my dice rolling was immense and another BMP ATGM killed the offending tank in short order.

Sneaky Bugger, but not for long...
My T55's also had their revenge, killing one of the Leopards and the T72's lightly damaged another. Andy had now lost half of his supporting tanks and I hadn't lost a vehicle yet. Confidence still reigned in the Socialist camp.

It was now time for luncheon. Superb vegetable soup and substantial beef butties were eagerly scoffed. (Thank you Jean, you really do spoil us!)

Back to the battle and Andy advanced his Marder's and debussed his infantry to try and regain the compound. It was now that the quote in the blog title came into play.

"Sarge, I think there is someone outside."
Andy managed to damage another T55, so feeling the pressure, I debussed my infantry well short of the town, targeted the nearest Marder with BMP cannon fire, the furthest with 120mm mortar fire, all of my T55's/T72's against the remaining Leopards and an artillery call against his infantry reserve. The was the kitchen sink tactic, and it needed to work if I had any chance of taking the town.

I began well, with a 120mm round killing a Marder and half of the attached infantry. Then my luck changed. Another Leopard died (albeit with horrendous dice rolling, 7 tanks against 3!) and the artillery call failed. Bugger!!! Although Andy had now lost two thirds of his tanks, his return was devastating. Milan fire took out a T55 and a T72, causing a morale check that halted one of the T72 companies. His Leopards passed their with flying colours and their fire took out another T72. I was now down to three working T72's and one T55. He had effectively neutralised the tank force and now stormed the compound, three companies against one.

The gathering storm...
He couldn't fail, and I was booted out, taking 30% casualties. A final request for artillery failed (ending an afternoon that started well for dice rolling but ended horribly), which meant that it was all over.

For want of an artillery strike!
Funnily, that's what Andy also thought, though the opposite to my view. Although he had held the town, he was hurting. His armour had been decimated but the infantry were dug in, whilst my tanks were raggedly holding a line but I didn't have enough troops to force him out.

Overall, it was a good game and we liked the Rapid Fire rules. They are set at a lower level than the usual Command Decision set that we play with and they worked well. There were a couple of amendments we would make for the next time, but on the whole, the afternoon was entertaining and a laugh. And that, gentle reader, is surely the point.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Show Must Go On...?

Last Saturday saw a trip to Stockton and the Battleground 2015 show. A successor to the Smoggycon's of years past, this is the show's second year and a third is already planned.

The show itself had a good number of games, a varied selection of traders (including two book dealers, which is always a plus point for me), and had been well advertised prior to the date. Even the venue, a large sports hall, was well lit, with nearby amenities and a floor that didn't make your feet want to join your ears after half an hour. In fact, I doff my cap to Leon and co for organising a very nice event.The only downside to the show itself that comes to mind is the catering cock up which meant mid-morning breakfast was a sausage roll. That was no fault of the organisers and as per Pendraken's own report, it's going to be looked into for next year. So why the blog post?

Well, the thing is, although the show opened at 10am, and closed at 3pm, it was pretty much done and dusted by 12 noon. Seriously, the doors opened and for about two hours, there was a buzz about the hall. Plenty of punters, familiar faces and all, yet by 12, it was quietening down. By half twelve, I am positive that there were just traders, demo/participation gamers and the odd die-hard. Now there is no doubt in my mind that this is a bad thing. Yeah, you expect a show to die about 60-90 minutes before the door officially close, but this was just daft. Would the show have benefited from a later closing time? No, probably not. Would other attractions, like talks, re-enactments, go-go dances have helped? Again, no, probably not. Even though attendance was down from last year, it did feel like a busier show. Then again, last year didn't die off until half one, two o'clock-ish. It's a nice little show and where problems occur, the organisers are showing willing in addressing them for next time. But what to do about the lack of attendees after the half way point?

I honestly don't know, but I can't see how the smaller shows can continue if this template continues.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

But it's s***!

Have you ever been talking to friends, acquaintances or just a random dude at the bus stop and you get on to the subject of hobbies? If so, I would lay good money down that at some point of the conversation, “I don’t like it, it’s shit!” is uttered with regards to one of the hobbies being discussed.

When I was a younger chap, it would usually be about which computer or games console you had. At school, you were posh if you had a Commodore 64 (but a total dick if you had a Vic 20), you could hold your head up a little bit if you had an Amstrad CPC 464 (but not the disc equipped 664 or 6128!) and it was standard for a Sinclair Spectrum (usually the +2 model). It developed into the console generation with the Megadrive and SNES (Sega for me, but I remember being very jealous of SNES owning friends. Concurrently, there was the Amiga vs ST. I was an Amiga 500 kickstart 1.3 and a 512k ram expansion guy (how times change!).

Where is this going? Well, I have recently joined the current console generation after a couple of years of sitting things out. The delay was more due to real life getting in the way (house deposits are so expensive!) but I have eventually sorted a machine out and am now the happy owner of an X-Box One. Now, this is where the above quote comes into it.

I was chatting to a couple of friends from work one lunchtime and mentioned the fact that I had purchased said XB 1. At which point, the aforementioned quote was delivered in stereo.

The reason I chose the XB1 rather than the PS4, as explained to said two friends are as follows: currently, the XB1 has more exclusive games I wish to play (Rare Re-Play, Forza 6 and Tomb Raider: Rise of the Tomb Raider. Halo 5 is on hold, I am still undecided despite being a fan since the beginning of the series). The PS4 has two exclusives I wish to play, The Nathan Drake Collection and The Last of Us, both of which the originals were played on the PS3. There are a couple of games coming out next year that will warrant a PS4 (Uncharted 4 and No Man’s Sky), but since they are not out yet, it’ll be mid 2016 before another shiny black box joins the set up under the TV.

And their response (again!), ”But it’s shit!” Okay, it was a good-natured jibe, but it got me thinking.

Why do people do that? Is it through a sense of knowledge unbeknownst to me? Is it a social superiority power trip that harks back to the school yard? (BTW, both of these gentlemen are closer to 30 than not, so I would expect some maturity…) Or is it just points scoring in a game I didn’t know I was playing?

I get it that people like to identify with groups, the social need to be one of the pack. But, and this applies to gamers of both the video and war variety, it seems to be an almost automatic response. And the key part of this discourse: The people who say it can’t tell you why they have said it. Seriously, if you don’t like something, at least have the good grace to be able to say why. The counterpoint is also true. It’s no good saying something is good, but then not being able to say why it’s good. It’s a more common experience than you would think, and it always becomes a topic of conversation at wargames shows. I mention shows mostly because you get various opinions given and the most expressive of the reasons for people liking something is ”cos it is”, and for disliking, it’s the post’s title.

Maybe it’s a forlorn hope, but it would be nice if people could explain their decisions, having experienced or put some thought into it. Or have we reached a stage in human thinking that ”It’s shit” is the pinnacle of expression?

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Saturday TWATS are right for fighting...

Saturday saw the TWATS meeting at the local hostelry for a miniature Tactica Tournament. (BTW, anyone think a sci-fi version should be released: Battlestar Tactica? No??? Just me then…). There were five brave souls, Andy, Floating Jeff, Theatrical Steve, Mechanical Shaun and myself. The plan, two tables, using half armies, so we could get a couple of games in, as well as the usual beef butties, good beer and questionable conversations.

Andy was umpiring, and the usual rule applied, the umpire is always right, especially when they are wrong. It’s the only way. There were four armies, Roman Republican, Gauls, Hoplite Greek and Later Carthaginian. After choosing the sides, it was Shaun (Greek) versus Steve (Gauls), and myself (Carthaginian) versus Jeff (Roman).

Setting up was pretty simple, infantry units in the middle, cavalry and elephants to either flank. My plan was simple, try and break his infantry before he smashed mine. So, in with the elephants. This was the first of the bad moves. Jeff had his laser guided javelin throwers destroy the advancing heavies in two turns. Really, his dice throwing was unearthly. Whatever Ancient Ones he worships, they loved him that afternoon. A similar cavalry charge also ended up with lots of dead dudes. Mine, of course. At that point, Jeff advanced. Now Tactica is a “buckets of dice” game. Once you make contact and melee, it’s a case of roll ‘em and hope for the best. The Romans had an added advantage in that they had pila. So that was an extra bashing before the melee actually started. It took just one turn and it was over. Crushed isn’t the word.

On the other table, Steve was demonstrating how evil the Gauls are, and quickly sorted out Shaun’s Greeks. At this point, half time beckoned, as did the excellent beef butties.

Suitable refreshed, and glasses charged, we had at it again. It was the two winners to fight out who would be New Zealand, and the two losers to avoid being Argentina. We also kept the same armies.

Now, this time, I put the elephants in the centre, and quickly had at Shaun’s cavalry with my light horse, using them to screen my heavy cavalry as it flanked his left-most Hoplite block. On the other flank, I had light troops against his second cavalry unit. It would be close.

As it turned out, I had played a blinder. The elephants pinned down his centre Hoplites, my troops managed to knock his horse out of play, so began turning the right flank, and the horse fight on the left meant they all died, but left my heavies alone to cause untold damage to the poor Hoplites. At this point, I was confident, confident enough to even attempt an Afrikaans accent to mimic Adendorff from the film Rorke’s Drift, the horns, loins and the like. I had victory in my grasp, and I would drink the sweet ambrosia of success. Huzzah!!!

But no. It was not to be. My heavies took too long dealing with the first Hoplite block. Well, it was my atrocious dice rolling what done it. A theme of the afternoon, it allowed Shaun time to kill the elephants and unpin his centre. He charged forward. Let it be said, Tactica is a fun ruleset, fast paced and once you get stuck in, it can be extraordinarily bloody. It also has lovely melee rules when the first round is front rank only, but then all your mates can join in. This meant that whilst I almost had him surrounded, he could count on lots of dice per Hoplite block, killing on 4’s, 5’s and 6’s. I had far less dice per unit, killing on 5’s and 6’s. The results were predictable. I was slaughtered. If I had been one turn ahead on the flanks, I would have had him, but hey ho, such is the nature of the game. It was fun and a very good laugh though, and that is the point (isn’t it?). Meanwhile, on the victor’s table, Steve and Jeff annihilated each other in the same turn, giving them a draw.

Despite my dice rolling horror, and Jeff’s supernatural ability to get crazy dice (at one point, 6 sixes from 7 dice!), I thought the games went well and I am sure we’ll come back to Tactica again in the future. Hopefully with maximum twattage, we can have three, maybe four tables.

And I promise, no more Elton song titles will be harmed in future post titles...

Saturday, 31 October 2015

A little bit of light Bondage for the weekend, Sir?

With the recent release of Spectre in the cinema’s, I thought it time to have a bit of a retrospection on the more recent James Bond videogames, more specifically, the Daniel Craig era of electronic entertainment. So, taking a weekend, I loaded up each of the four games in turn to remind myself of what Bond games could be capable in the previous generation.

An aside: There is the traditional view that most, if not all, games of films are bad, if not terrible or worse. Yet it was the N64 hit Goldeneye 007 that proved that a film could be adapted into a good, nay fantastic (at the time) game. And despite some hiccups along the way (Tomorrow Never Dies and 007 Racing), the standard has never really dropped too low since then.

After the Brosnan years that coincided with the original X-Box and PS2, it was all change in the world of licensed Bond games as Daniel Craig took over the acting duties, and EA relinquished the licence to Activision. What follows is a look at four Bond games released between 2008 and 2013, from three separate studios, each to varying degrees of success. And for reasons that will become clear later, I shall start at the end and work my way chronologically backwards.

So, first up, 007 Legends. Released in 2012, just prior to the film Skyfall, this must have looked like a cracking idea on paper. Using Skyfall as the framework, drop Daniel Craig in previous bond adventures, grab a few of the actual actors for the voicework and “Boosh!”, sales gold. Well, no, not quite. Where to begin… The game isn’t terrible, so there is that. It is, however, deeply mediocre, with generic enemies, really iffy driving/skiing sections, and what I consider to be the worst packaging decision in recent memory. The didn’t include the last level. Yup, boldly proclaiming that you can play missions based on Goldfinger (Call of Duty bank raid), Moonraker (dodgy stealth sections ahoy!), Die Another Day (Meh!), Licence to Kill (scary Benicio Del Torro face present and correct) and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (horrible, horrible skiing section), the game also includes the option to download the final mission based on Skyfall. Except that is no longer available on X-Box Live, so you can’t play it. At all. Ever again. Okay, so I picked up the game for a couple of quid but the fact that they released the game before the film meant that to avoid spoilers, the couldn’t have the last level included. What a silly idea. For the game, I would have expected more from Eurocom, the game’s developer, but they closed shortly after the release of the game. This pattern is repeated further down the list. Overall, a disappointment but a time filler if you’re bored.

Next up, Goldeneye Reloaded 007. Released in 2011, developed by the aforementioned Eurocom, this was a next gen update of the Wii title released in 2010, and it’s not half bad, with great presentation and a genuinely decent first person shooting experience. You get the impression that they threw everything they could at this. The voice acting is some of the best of the four games, and the revised story brings the concept of Goldeneye smack bang into the 21st century. Even the slightly dodgy re-vamp of the Tina Turner theme kind of hits the right notes. Although it does try to hang of the nostalgia of the original Goldeneye 007, Reloaded is well worth a play through.
Then we have Bloodstone. Well, you can see what they were trying to do. Developed by one of my favourite developers of all time, Bizarre Creations (their track record of Metropolis Street Racer, the Project Gotham Racing series, the frankly superb Fur Fighters and The Club, they had good form), Bloodstone has all the ingredients of a great Bond game. With an established Bond writer providing the story, a reasonable theme song by Joss Stone and the film series voice cast, my hopes were high when I first played the game. Ok, it’s a third person shooter, and shares a great deal with The Club, but that is no bad thing. It does fall down, however, in a few key areas. Firstly, the driving sections are loose and at times grossly unfair, unless you memorise the path from previous attempts. Secondly, although Joss Stone isn’t a bad singer, her voice acting in the game is flat and far too plummy. In fact, it’s annoying. And then there is the ending, a cliffhanger waiting for a reveal that never came. Bloodstone didn’t sell that well and Bizarre Creations closed it’s doors shortly after release. It’s almost as if there is a Bond curse for studios developing games for Activision to release. Overall though, I wanted to like this game and despite its shortcomings, it is also worth a go.

Finally, we have Quantum of Solace. Now to be honest, they kind of cheated here. Although the only one of the games named after a Bond film, it actually uses QoS to bookend Casino Royale. Having said that, Treyarch (they are CoD fame), fashioned a really good Bond game that mirrors the artistic design from the aforementioned films and have also created a fun shooter. Ok, it’s effectively a CoD re-skin (using the original Modern Warfare engine) with a few stealth sections, but it’s well done and it is my favourite of the four. The shooting is more refined than any of the other games, despite the fact that some of the weapons have suspiciously bouncy recoil, and even the quick time events don’t feel too tacked on. Whilst the other three will probably get a trip to CEX in the near future, QoS will be staying in the collection for some time to come.

So there we have it, a (very brief) tour of the Craig era games, a collection of which may never be expanded, depending on if he reprises the role and if anyone thinks they can make money from a Bond licensed game. It must be said that whilst QoS did reasonably well at retail, the others were less well received, (QoS: 2.61 million across X360/PS3, Bloodstone 1.15 million, Goldeneye Reloaded 1.18 million and 007 Legends 0.6 million - all figures from ) and having seen the demise of two studios, it may be too much to ask for another Bond game soon.

Oh, and for some strange reason, none of the studio’s managed to get Craig’s likeness just right. Honestly, it’s varying degrees of Simian for all of them. Just saying.

I am now off to get ready for an all-day wargame with the TWATS, with good beer, good food and good conversation. Oh, and maybe playing a game...

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Why do that Voodoo that you do...

During a recent evening of drinks with friends, the subject of hobbies came up. This sparked not a little leg pulling about yours truly's past times. So, to expand a little on the first post, I thought it would be a good time to explain why I have the hobbies I do.

Firstly, video games. This is an easy one. They're games, so present a mental challenge. Then there is the story telling aspect, from the modern day military gung ho of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (but the less said about MW 2's hodge podge the better - that may be a future post), to the frankly brilliant Uncharted series (Among Thieves the pinnacle of the series so far - roll on March 2016!!!). That's basically that for video gaming. There is some crossover with the military history interest, especially the time sink that is Harpoon.

Military history. Hmmm, that one started off as "Look at the shiny jets and big guns", and to be honest, my preferred period remains post 1945. I have the start of a decent modern day micro armour collection that time and space conspire to prevent me from expanding. However, there is a fondness for Victorian military history, where "with one final leap, our heroes were free" type of daring do, whilst kind of stereotypical, adds a certain panache to the period.

This brings me to wargaming. Now, you may think that it is a combination of the above hobbies, and you may be right, although it is not as clear cut as you may think.

Firstly, I do not subscribe to what seems to be the current vogue of "It's the game, innit". If I wanted to play a dice rolling game with small counters and a resource management system, I would play Monopoly. Dice rolling per se is pretty boring. Nope, the gaming side of wargaming is about representing what actually happened, with as near as dammit accurate orders of battle, tactics, strategy and outcomes. This is important. The current popularity of boutique games - the best example of the style was a two by two foot boardgame of the Western Front seen at the recent Derby World Wargames show, which struck me a both pointless and a tad tasteless - doesn't capture the period or historical fact. Similarly, army lists are not something I really have time for. I re-call reading a set of army lists (another topic to be covered in depth later) that couldn't give 2 Para their correct OOB at Goose Green. By sticking to that list, we are pretty much completely in games territory. Some people like that, but it's not for me.

Secondly, it's about the people you partake in the gaming with. The TWATS is a small scale club that meets semi-regularly in a local pub where beer is drunk, beef butties are eaten and occasionally, just occasionally, a game is played. These are umpire ran, rule sets can be amended as per the umpire's twisted mind, and good fun is had. That makes it a social event as well as part of the hobby. And that does for me.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

An Introduction

Well, after months of threatening to do so, here I am. My own blog. So in time honoured fashion (and to follow the format of every stereotypical blog), the first post will be an introduction.

Firstly, the handle. Andrew the Tekkie. A name I have been referred to in another blog (, it seemed apt as it's a name and mixes references to me, a technically minded guy and a Star Trek fan (more on that in a future post). So it fits.

Secondly, the name of the blog. It has the name of the little ex-mining village I spent my formative (and not so formative) years in, and it is a lovely little place I still visit weekly despite having moved away from it several months ago. It also follows the very childish naming convention that will become clear below.

Thirdly, the purpose of the blog. Well, think of it as a diary, where I shall vent forth opinions and thoughts on topics as diverse as video gaming, wargaming (as a member of the Tantobie Wargaming And Tactical Society - that naming convention I mentioned), history, modern defence policy and a general mix of whatever else takes my fancy. As always, it shall be said that the opinions stated are my own, that no offence is intended but what you think is rightly up to you, and I welcome feedback, comment and good old fashioned discussion.

The first post proper will be up n a couple of days, so here we go...