Monday, July 16, 2018

"The Falcon of Sparta" - a review..

Apologies for all the reviews lately but this one is simply too good to be just hidden on the book reviews page..

Based heavily on the events described by Xenophon in his history of the 10,000 (the Anabasis), the book describes the failed attempt by Cyrus the Younger, son of Darius II to oust his brother, Artaxerxes II following the death of Darius

Cyrus raised an army of pro-Persian and Greek mercenary hoplites, which included a large Spartan contingent. It described the events leading up to the march, and then the retreat itself.

Cyrus met the forces of Artaxerxes at Cunaxa, but was defeated* and killed - Artaxerxes offered the Greek contingent terms (enslavement mostly) which they refused and their then ensued a retreat over almost 500 miles for both army and their family/followers - continuously attacked by the forces of Artaxerxes, and the peoples of the lands they had to traverse, while also suffering from lack of food and water.

Simply superb..  wow...   just wow...  this book single-handed'ly wanted me to start painting Achmaenid Persians, Spartans, and other Greek Allied troops - another 10+ !

*some would say that Cunaxa was a tactical victory for Cyrus - but I would suggest this was probably not much of a bonus for getting yourself killed..

Stay tuned for an honest to goodness review of a 'wargaming show'!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

"The Passage to India".. a review..

We Hervey fans have waited a log time for this one (three years), but for me at least, it was WELL worth the wait..

Six months after the previous events in Belgium, this book is set in 1831 at the time of the riots and rebellions over parliamentary reform..

Hervey is summoned to Bristol where widespread fire setting, looting and rioting, has almost taken over the city..  setting to with his usual calm efficiency and zeal, Hervey musters his available forces, assumes command, and puts down the riot forcibly ("flat of the steel, only use the edge if threatened")

Despite it needing to be done, the radicals and liberals, take him to task in the press, and with remembrances of Peterloo still fresh, and Wellington no longer prime minister and able to provide support, an inquiry is held in to the events, and in which Hervey although never charged is brought to the public's attention. The descriptions of what it must have been like for an army officer of the time, treading the fine line always between what is, and is not, seen as 'sufficient force' in civil disturbance is very well put.. either way Hervey is under a dark cloud indeed.

With time on his hands attending the enquiry, Hervey has time to attend a charitable concert at which his estranged wife is playing, and is present when she collapses on stage . .  I always thought of her as a cold fish, but it turns out the doctor suggests post natal depression may have been behind her reserve, and her endless piano practice.. 

A very long overdue recovery and rapprochement follows, but is followed by the further good news that his friend Eyre Somerville has persuaded the Court of Directors of the East India Company to approve an increase in the Madras military establishment and that Hervey and the 6th Light Dragoons are to be sent to the princely state of Coorg where the Rajah is in revolt against the East India Company's terms.

Hervey is given command of the expedition and substantive rank of Major General, and successfully completes the annexation, returning with the Rajah as prisoner..  no spoilers here, as the campaign is arduous, and fascinating...  more here if interested [clicky]

Returning to garrison Hervey is met with further good news, but you won't hear it from me - buy the book you will not be disappointed..

It's been a good year for 10's on the book reviews, so in the words of the immortal 'Spinal Tap', Steve the Wargamer rates this one as an 11.. or at least 10+ 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

"Lancelot" by Giles Kristian - a review..

Now usually I'm not a one for putting up reviews of fiction on the main blog, as that's what the book reviews are for in the sidebar (to the left for the current one's and click on the link above for a link to the years archives) but I thought this one was good enough that it merited a little bit more publicity, and besides, it's been a while since I posted...

Funny old premise (?? background?) to this one..  cast your mind back some and you'll remember the Bernard Cornwell series on Arthur ("The Winter King" / "Enemy of God" / "Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur") - I seem to remember it was pivotal at the time and triggered a whole load of wargaming type activity, either way it was far morw pivotsal for the author who having decided to becoman an author, and having dropped out of univerisity at the time the books came out was very much insopired buy them to start writing his own historical fiction...

From my perspective I know him best for the two English Civil War novels he wrote concerning a family divided on itself by the war, with one son for the King and one for Parliament, but he is perhaps better known for his Viking books...  this one however is his salute to Cornwell, and boy, is it a salute..

So it's a return to the post-Roman Britain world, where Lancelot, a young teenager living in France, and a prince, is soon ejected from his comfortable life by his fathers traitorous brother who conspires to have his brother killed so as to take the kingdom. Lancelot then flees with the rest of his family and the remains of their retainers, only to be massacred when they think they are safe, by forces allied to his uncle..

Lancelot manages to escape again, though to be honest or is almost kidnapped, by the mysterious lady (Nimue) who governs her own kingdom on an island off the south coast of Britain (Ictis - a real island mentioned in the chronicles, but which no one is still certain as to where it is/was - but probably St Michael's Mount in Cornwall) and there he grows to manhood, trained by the Ladies soldiers, and where they discover his god-given skills in war and sword/spear fighting..

The Lady acts as an intermediary between the many kings of England, who also send her their daughters to be trained, so it is that Guinevere arrives on the island, but not before her ship is sunk in a storm and Lancelot rescues her..  cue the age old story.

Lancelot bears Guinevere away.
Illustration from "The Book of Romance",
which can be found at Project Gutenberg.
Merlin then arrives (he is portrayed as one of the last of the Druids who were largely destroyed by the Roman's) and requests that Lancelot is sent as part of the party representing the Lady at the death bed of Uther Pendragon - it is here that Lancelot is inveigled into swearing an other to support Arthur, Uther's son, and so the friendship that most of us have read about is formed, and only (almost) broken when it transpires Arthur is to marry Guinevere..

I'm not going to spoil the rest of the story, but Giles Kristian has done an excellent job of translating the Arthurian legends to a historical context - it's a real page turner - the battle descriptions, and how he describes Excalibur being found are very realistic - you can see how the legends grow from what are almost every day events (and by the way the lady of the lake sounds like a hotty.. )

No downsides per se, though as a salute to the Cornwell series his writing sometimes sounds more like Cornwell than Cornwell does at times - imitation being the sincerest form of flattery perhaps?

Recommended - 9 out of 10 from Steve the Wargamer (and if you are lucky Tesco in the UK were doing the book for a fiver in hardback!)

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

"One Hour Wargames" - Scenario 16 - "Advanced Guard" - Setup and Game

On the 74th anniversary of D-Day it seems somewhat apt to be posting a report on a series of games that DG and I fought last weekend, and which were set in WW2, albeit in the North Africa sphere..

First time I'd seen DG since Warfare [clicky] so it was doubly excellent to get an email telling me he was coming down for a visit and also did I "fancy a game"? Silly boy - must give him his arm back some time...    Gave DG the choice of periods to play and so it was we headed to the desert sands of Libya

The subject of scenario however was a little more unclear - usually my rules of choice for this period and scale are Blitzkrieg Commander but it's been a long time since I used them, and in fact for the last game I'd used the rules from the One Hour Wargames book, and since they are easily assimilated fro two old codgers of limited brain power we agree we would use them again despite some misgivings (more anon) on my part...

The scenario was then #16 from the book that was the best ten quid I ever spent - "Advance Guard" - two equal sized forces are tasked with occupying a small town - they are advanced guards for larger forces, and there is only one way to win the game which is to have undisputed occupation of the town..

Table then was as follows:

A road running north and south is the only entry point for each side - forces are diced for on the random table in the book and provide the frisson each time the game is played..

The book is not incorrectly titled - DG and I played four times and at the end honours were even..  the following pictures from various of those games but don't ask me which one was which... 

Game 1 I think, as I fortuitously rolled two mortars which you can see in the foreground - my infantry is occupying the town..  DG's armour is flanking the town while his infantry takes a pummelling in the distance

In each game I played the Germans - we rolled for starting forces before each of the four games so as to try out options..

Game 2 as I recognise the forces I had

Game 3 or 4 as I had the same force in both games
Post Match Analysis:

  • So honours even at the end of the four games, and an opportunity to banter, discuss rule improvements, try some different tactics etc.
  • There was no way around the fact that whoever gets to the town first wins the scenario - there's no move and shoot, but the town blocks line of sight for firing, and also divides any casualties in half (because of cover) - time and again whoever started first got his infantry to the town, spotted for his mortars, who then utterly pounded the other guy..  if one side got into the town subsequently they were counted as moved and the other side pounded them anyway...
  • All the games back this up and were 10, 7 and 7 turns long - in the last game I went for an outflanking attempt but ran out of time (and troops)
  • DG and I are having a back and forth at the moment with the rules in order to make something out of them that's a little more playable/"realistic"
  • I have concerns about the strength of the mortars - they really are ICBM in these rules - anyone can automatically spot for them and they have a range of four times anything else..
  • I have concerns about the fact that intervening friendly units can be fired through, but intervening enemy units can't - and block line of sight to units behind - so it was you would send a "phalanx" of infantry forward - only the first unit was a target to the enemy - but all four or five ranks could fire back!
  • Refreshments on the evening were my latest favourite ale Wychwood Brewery's "IPA" - they're better known for "Hobgoblin" but this knocks it into a cocked hat - 5.6% but dangerously drinkable..  DG bought a present of a couple of bottles of Felinfoel "Double Dragon" which are cooling even as we speak!
Plans have been laid to reconvene on or around July 14th for a visit to the tank museum at Bovington to also attend the wargame show - can't wait..!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Yapton Beer Festival 2018

Yapton has been and gone again... another year has passed!

The sun shone, the beer flowed, Yapton worked it's usual magic and we all got sun burnt and enjoyed some decent (but not outstanding) ales... it doesn't get any better and we had a better turnout from the jolly boys (the bunch I go drinking with) this year, which is always a joy...

As ever most beers were surprisingly cheap - I think we were paying £1.40/ £1.50 a half (which I think was slightly cheaper than previous years), but excellent value. Last years idea to offer free containers for takeaway - something I took them up on then, was continued this year and I again spent my remaining vouchers on a pint to enjoy at home!

Long may this little festival continue!

Picture courtesy

So without further ado here's the ales.....  I have to say, much like last year although I didn't have a poor beer, the choice was very largely from lesser known breweries this year...  having looked at the notes from last year, they did exactly the same this year with Thornbridge (very much a premier league brewery) but the beer was an unknown to me (and isn't even listed on the brewers web page) and very average, on the other hand perhaps my favourite beer of the day was from a brewery I don't normally rate..  so horses for courses, and you pays your money and...

Brewery Beer (click for more info) ABV Notes (from brewery website) What I can remember...
Southsea "Low Tide Pale Ale" 3.8% "Great hoppy flavours refresh your thirst in this tasty golden pale ale" A good start from a local brewery based in Henry VIII's castle in Portsmouth..  very bitter, also slightly hazy rather than golden..
Big Hand "Pendragon" 3.9% "Welsh red ale, malty with a warm citrus hit." Ok - but not outstanding.
Bowman "Sarva" 4.5% "Pale, lower strength IPA with pine and citrus flavours from the American Cascade and Simcoe hops".My beer of the day - took a pint of this home with me as well - for a beer of this strength a lovely hoppy bitter hit without the all too present grapefruit'y/citra taste.
Thornbridge "California Sun" 4.5% "Crisp, hop forward session IPA, full of pine and grapefruit flavours." Was looking forward to this but it disappointed - a very thin brew with not a lot of taste carry through...
Broken Bridge "Insane the Grain" 4.2% "This is a deep and complex pale ale brewed with barley, rye, spelt and oats. Full bodied, spicy, biscuity and crisp malt base and well hopped." Close run thing for favourite beer of the day - very powerful flavour (or maybe that was just in comparison to the Thornbridge I'd just had??) with a good bitter finish
Hop Studio "Ascalon" 4.5% "Brilliantly drinkable strong and complex golden ale. Floral and Citrus aromatics. Bitter, slightly spicy, dark fruit flavours and a malty backbone." "Very dry and bitter" I wrote..
Emsworth Brewhouse "SkIPA" 5.4% "a hoppy, American IPA brewed using malts, oats, wheat and 5 new world hops to create a rounded, ‘fuller mouthfeel’ India Pale Ale without being too much of a hop monster!" My most local brewery - they have had a distinct up turn in quality since they relocated to proper premises and brought in a qualified brewer - I liked this, it was OK

...and that was it - wended my way home for a snooze on the sofa and the wedding highlights...