Thursday, 18 May 2017

Cough up, TB is here...

Travel Battle has arrived on the wargaming scene and has garnered mixed views, namely here and here. The first link is a review, the second an opinion piece and, to be honest, I fall firmly in the latter camp.

As I have stated before, I am an historical wargamer. To those of you who don't understand that, it means that my preference in the hobby is in the order of History, then Toys, then (in the far distance) Games. So, when I first found out about TB, I was unimpressed. Having read the above posts, and a few others, I am still unimpressed.

Perhaps it's the facade that it's vaguely Napoleonic, the only link to which I can see is the box art. Pretty as it is, it adds nothing to the game. Identikit plastic soldiers, cavalry, artillery and houses (all in equal number - since when did that ever happen in the real world???), unpainted because, well, it's just a travel game, isn't it(?) and thin of rule book, it comes across as an attempt to sell to wargamers who maybe should know better, £50 for the box set, though judging by some posts and comments here, there are some who have bought multiple copies and are planning mini campaigns! Forgive me, but why the hell would you want to create a mini-campaign for a travel game? You'd need several boards, so at least three copies of the game (unless you can buy them separately). More figures, buildings, everything. Not exactly fitting in with the travel ethos. If you wanted to go bigger, why not a room, tables, terrain cloths or boards and scenics??? Hell, why not get a few friends, some painted armies, a vaguely historical ruleset and a pub. Oh wait. That's what we already do. I am sure you can find several vendors who'll sort out a 6mm or 10mm set up for £50 or so. Just takes a tad more effort on your part though if you've ever painted 6mm, not that much effort.

Maybe it's the gaming side of it I don't get. Now don't get me wrong, I like a good wargame. But take, for example, a weekend show. I go with the rest of the crew, we do our show thing and then, on an evening, I whip out my TB extravaganza. Erm, no! Apart from the fact that one would laugh himself into a coma and the other practice aggressive insertion techniques with said pretty box art (though with that cavalry, my condition would be anything but stable afterwards!), there is only so much wargaming I can take.

Where is the challenge? Everything is determined by dice rolls. By that, I mean, it uses dice rolls to try to hide the fact that it is so limited. Where is the room for tactics, manoeuvre, sneakiness? I can't see it with those rules. For the cost of TB, I could buy a travel chess set (which has a greater variety of units, strategies and no dice) and with the change, pay for a decent meal and a few drinks.

Maybe it's me. I am not a fan of dice heavy games as it is. If you want to dice away for anything, as some gamers seem to want to do, try a Live Action Role Playing game where you have to dice for how your food is cooked. You want to boil an egg? Roll a six, it's solid, roll a one, prepare for food poisoning. Roll low on prawns and I'll send flowers and condolences). TB seems just like that because it is so limited.There is only so much you can do with what the box offers. It is designed to be limited but, and this is how I roll(!), that would just bore me.

TB is yet another step removed from historical gaming that I see at shows these days. I can't see the point of it. Not when, with a bit of a thinking brain, there are far better options for people who WARgame rather than warGAME. It's probably not overpriced for the kit you get, buy in my eyes, £50 could be spent on more productive choices. Or should I say £45. Yep, already discounted by 10% at Carronade. I wonder what they'll be going for at 1st Partizan on Sunday...?

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Battle! Practical Wargaming by Charles Grant - Review

So, hot off the press (in 1970 for the princely sum on 21 shillings (£1.05) for those already in with the decimalisation crows), is a handy pocket introduction to the art of Wargaming as described by Charles Grant in a series of articles first published in Meccano Magazine.

Straight forward and to the point.

I was loaned this copy as Andy thought I would find it interesting, and it turned out I did. Not to say the tone of delivery and the content aren't a tad dated - it is nigh on fifty years since original publication - but as someone who wargames out of an interest in history, rather than gaming itself, it is a very useful tome and one that I recommend anyone with even the most basic interest in the hobby to pick up.

Why? Well, it's a combination of a couple of things. Firstly, there is the style of writing, very polite, at times grandfatherly, wordy compared to modern day writers (although that is no bad thing), a nice line in self deprecating humour (such as he forgets to add the Sherman to an armour values column then re-introduces it in the following chapter or headings on a map change between chapters which he puts down to new intelligence gained from the local peasants!) and a seriously fine number of typo's. That last comment aside, I found this quite an easy read although I can see how younger readers might struggle due to the change of style over the years. Me, I was brought up with that so it's a comfortable blanket of written nostalgia. Another nice touch was a comment regarding the initial scenario detailed in the book where Grant asks the reader to let him know how they solved that particular problem. In an age where reader feedback via social media is practically demanded, the request seems almost quaint from an age where communication could longer than a few seconds (as did the thinking process behind said communication).

Next up, the setting and rules. Grant picks WW2 as his period and does a really good job of introducing a fairly simplistic but effective rules over the course of the book. The aim, as he keeps reminding the reader, is to keep things simple so you actually get to play a game. Again, that is no bad thing. This is an introduction after all, but what sells it for me is that he keeps reminding the reader that they can change things round if they want. They can alter, ditch or complicate the game as much as they want as it is up to them how they approach wargaming. Compared to the almost dictatorial rules sets these days, it's refreshing and very much follows how the games we TWATS play. We use a set of rules, see how they fly, then have at them with pen and paper to fit how we play. Which, to those who don't already know, is with an historical bent.

A good example of this, and neatly tying in with Battle, is the currently popular modern wargaming rule set, Team Yankee. Now I like these and, with certain amendments here and there, will happily continue to use them. Movement, shooting and effect are very, very similar between TY and Battle. Not that it should be considered a bad thing, but the similarities are glaring and, given the difference in publishing dates, shows how much does and does not change over time. Presentation is something else, but since you have to read this book rather than just look at pretty pictures, it definitely works for Battle.

Another positive is the attitude of make do and mend. Don't have the correct figures or equipment? Get that modelling knife out and make it yourself. It's meant to be a representation so let's not get too bogged down here. Similarly, measuring devices, artillery plots and firing cones? Acetate. It is the future! Even to the point where he asks metaphorically, what should we do without it? Compare that to the frankly eye gougingly expensive add-ons for Team Yankee and again, we see how things have changed. There is something to be said of Games Designers/Rule Writing companies trying to extract every penny they can out of you.

Negatives - well, as Grant admits, the rules are basic and a tad generic, but since that is the point, I am not counting that as a negative although some might disagree. The lack of LMG's (Bren, MG42, BAR) is a bit more of an issue but, taking a leaf out of the gentleman's book, this can be easily rectified with an additional firing cone, possibly based on rifle range but a wider spread? After all, he's just giving you the ball, how you run with it is your concern.

Air support is not mentioned, although you could use amend the artillery rules for that, and there is an overall lack of polish (the typo's, although amusing at times, do spoil the flow a tad, especially in the later chapters).

Overall though, I liked this book. Yes, it has dated in style, but certainly not in content. The photographs vary from merely ok to almost impossible to make out (but that is down to the technology of the time, so it would be churlish to hark on about it too much). It is by no means perfect and does not set out to be. It leans towards historical accuracy whilst ensuring a game can be played out of it. The overall message of the book - it is your game, your hobby, you need to think how you wish to approach it. Do with it what you will. That is something that I believe has been lost to a degree with quite a few modern day rule sets.

Many thanks to Andy Copestake for lending the book to me, you shall get it back(!).

And speaking of wargaming, I shall be at the Carronade show in Falkirk this Saturday. It's a cracking show and I recommend that if you can, get yourselves there. Now, I just need to finish that play list for Monday's radio show...

Saturday, 6 May 2017

A Return to Calm

Phew, that was a bit mental!

Tax Year End is usually fun for most people (and I don't mean fun in the traditional sense), and so it is with me due to my job. The last few weeks have been passed in a blur but the majority of the work is done (and I even managed to fit a game in too) and so I have time to think and type.

One thing I have managed to do is catch up with is my YouTube viewing. YouTube is pretty much a microcosm of the Internet, 99% rubbish but with the odd gem here and there. Over the years, I have found a few channels that are entertaining, informative and even a bit of both. As it's been a while since my last post, I thought I would kick off again with a list of the YouTube channels I like.

I'll start off with WatchMojo and WhatCulture. These two channels do pretty much similar things in general - they provide lists based on various topics. Watchmojo is American and played pretty straight. Primarily lists, they also produce new features as well. WhatCulture is UK based (just down the road in Gateshead) and is more anarchic, sarcastic and downright funnier. There are two channels for WhatCulture I follow, the main one as named and WhatCulture Gaming. They also post more than lists, with opinion pieces, reviews and the like and you could do far worse than have a scan through their content.

ScreenJunkies is all about film, though I tend to stay away from their usual stuff and concentrate on Honest Trailers. Words cannot convey how funny these can be. If you want the gaming equivalent, head to Smosh Games with their Honest Game Trailers. They even use the same "Awesome Voice Guy" to narrate them. Absolutely superb.

Moving on, there are a number of military/firearms channels that I follow. This started out with watching the goofiness of FPS Russia, a channel that seems to have stopped posting in recent years but gad amassed a good range of content prior to that. Following the suggested videos led to pretty much all of the rest of these channels.

FPS Russia uses a fake Russian, lots of explosives and a nice line in sarcasm to demonstrate the kind of high jinks you can get up to if you put your mind to it. I particularly recommend the SA80 demo and his comments on the SUSAT!

Next up, Iraqveteran8888. These guys own a gun store in the states and mix up opinion pieces (very pro 2nd amendment by the way), reviews and just plain fun. There is, in particular, a nice subset of Martini Henry videos that are extremely informative from an actual shooting point of view. Whether you follow their politics or not, the team know how to demo a firearm.

TFB TV (short for The Firearms Blog TV) is a genuinely professional channel, aimed not only at the US market but also internationally (they have a mix of presenters from all around the globe) and they are in essence trying to be the one stop shop for firearms related information. Recent posts from the UK have been very good and again, I would recommend these guys if you have any interest in firearms.

Then there is Forgotten Weapons. This is probably my favourite weapons channel. The presenter, Ian McCollum ( I think that's how you spell it), is knowledgeable, personable and plain good at his job. The focus is on firearms that maybe you might not have heard of, a good example of this would be the recent video from the National Firearms Centre in Leeds about the initial studies of what would form the SA80 program. This guy does this channel out of love of the topic and is the most informative of the weapons channels I have seen to date. He does run a Patreon in order to funds his visits so if you like what you see, please pop that dollar in there.

Finally, for the technical people out there, is Digital Foundry. Focussed on the technical side of computing and gaming, if you have any interest in how games perform, how the tech behind them works or the latest in computer graphics, this is the channel for you. There is also a Digital Foundry Retro channel that does pretty much the same thing but for retro games and is truly a labour of love that is definitely worth a visit.

That's it for now, please do visit any of the channels above if they take your fancy. As for me, I have to sort out a playlist for the 15th as I am guesting on Attention Please on NE1fm (102.5) (as well as streaming). I am looking forward to it as it's been over a year since my last visit.