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 more pivotal for the author who having decided to become an an author, and having dropped out of university at the time the books came out was very much inspired by 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..!