Thursday, January 29, 2015

Road Trip Part Two - Where A Road is Actually Tripped On

So there we were, Aaron, Peter and myself standing under a boiling hot sun in the suburban Mecca that is Beverley Hills (no, not the famous one in America the justifiably anonymous one in Sydney).  We were waiting for the most important member of our quartet to arrive; Ivan for he had the car that would take us to the promised land.  Or at least to Canberra.

According to my companions Beverley Hills, Sydney bears a strong resemblance to its American counterpart only with fewer streetwalkers.  With the temperature what it was the streetwalkers had probably all melted and trickled down the road.  I hadn't been to Beverley Hills in almost forty years and looked around with interest.  Thirty seconds later, realising this was inappropriate, I looked around with disinterest.  Fortunately Ivan arrived with the car just before we were reduced to rehydrating by drinking each others urine and we were off.  The road trip had officially commenced.

We motored through the southern suburbs of Sydney or at least I assume we did.  I don't recall seeing any of them but they were between us and our destination so failing some sort of teleport mechanism we must have gone through them.  I realised we had left Sydney behind when I started noticing animals.  This prompted some excitement in me and led to exchanges with my colleagues like;

"What was that?"
"A cow."
"And that?"
"Another cow."
"How about that?"
"A small fluffy cow, the type you get lamb from."

At this point the guys were messing with me but I'm not a complete idiot.  I know lamb doesn't come from cows, it comes from supermarkets.  Even without this the cow variety was staggering.  There were black ones and white ones and ones that had bits of black and white.  And all of this sufficiently close to Sydney that my comrades had not yet thrown me from the car every time I pointed them out.  I also think I saw a horse although it could have just been a streamlined cow.  My knowledge of Sydney's rural hinterland is limited to knowing that it is rural and hinter.  For the record I believe the official name for Sydney's rural hinterland is "Australia".  It appears to be populated largely by cows.

We sideswiped a thunderstorm on our way south and I was quite excited at the prospect of seeing the Southern Highlands which I have heard about but I don't think ever visited.  I asked about them and was informed we had passed them.  I made a resolution to look harder on our way back.  On the other side of the highlands was rolling countryside which was the perfect habitation for yet more cows.  We admired them from the car but didn't stop just in case they massed for an attack.

With the city comfortably behind us and the entertainment value of cows, very temporarily, exhausted we were reduced to conversation.  Aaron had some interesting ideas for screwing over the supermarket duopoly that controls the food consumption aspects of our lives and Peter went to sleep.  Peter did this so successfully that I suggested pulling over and dumping his body by the side of the road just in case he'd died.  A vote was taken, I won't say who voted which way but it was closer than Peter would probably be comfortable with.

Goulburn loomed large on our personal horizons because of the supermax prison located nearby.  We looked out for hitchhikers in orange jumpsuits but apparently they'd all decided to take the bus.  Goulburn itself didn't loom at all.  I think I saw what might have been a suburb (or possibly the prison) but then we were back in cow territory.  Have I mentioned the cows?  They were pretty awesome.  At some point after Goulburn a sign presented itself warning that we were approaching Canberra.  Presumably to give us enough time to do an emergency U-turn and stamp on the accelerator. 

Having missed all of the sights leading up to Canberra I was determined not to miss Lake George.  Lake George is supposed to be creepy, bunyip infested and dangerous.  What it isn't is particularly wet.  When we passed it cows were grazing on it although on the way back I noticed a sheen of water in the distance which I pointed out with some excitement only to be told it was probably a mirage.  There was also a wind farm by which I mean a huge collection of aeroplane propellors stuck on poles infesting the countryside.  A couple of them were turning lazily, most weren't.

Canberra announced itself with a smart looking group of town houses.  Have you ever noticed how ridiculous town houses look when they're surrounded by bush?  This was Canberra, semi rural, semi urban, semi wasteland and semi inhabited.  You could make a zombie apocalypse movie there without actually having to do anything except turn up with a camera.

Our accommodation was a bit of all right though.  We had booked a five bedroom (another comrade would join us later) apartment at Canberra university which turned out to be awesome. It was only fifteen minutes drive from everywhere we would want to go.  Although to be fair everywhere in Canberra is only a ten or fifteen minute drive from where you want to go, except away.

Luggage dumped we headed into the centre of town (a handy fifteen minute drive away).  Ivan demonstrated his reckless, risk taking side by parking in a disabled space and I gave pocket change to a panhandler who I thought had a creative story.  Aaron led us to King O'Malleys pub for dinner.  He did this by leading us in a full circle around the dining/drinking section of Canberra.  He swears he didn't but it took us fifteen minutes to walk to the pub and only five minutes to walk back to the car afterwards so I'll let you draw your own conclusions.  At the pub friends were met, food consumed and conversation attempted.  As I recall the principal topics were whether Iraqis were predominantly Shiite or Sunni and the correct method of using toilet paper.  As far as I'm aware there was no actual connection between these two topics.

Conversation came to an abrupt halt when the band started tuning up and being in more of a talking than a listening mood we headed to the tables outside.  Where we ran slap into the sound waves being created by an impromptu drumming circle in the street.  Inside we had been able to compete with the band by shouting but the drumming group defeated us utterly.  Violence was suggested but eventually we mighty wargamers beat an ignominious retreat and fled back to our various accomodations rationalising our cowardice by claiming that we had to be up early the next day for gaming.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Road Trip!!!!!!

The long weekend is coming and with it the social requirement to "do something".  Apparently you can't have three legally mandated days off in a row without filling all the time allocated with some special activity or other so that at the end of the break you feel more exhausted than you would at the end of a normal weekend.  In keeping with this fine tradition of deliberately ruining public holidays I was approached with the possibility of not one but two separate activities to engage in.

Firstly a group of people who by now should know better suggested camping.  As icing on the cake it was hinted that another couple might also attend accompanied by their triplets who are under seven years old.  Secondly some wargaming friends were driving down to Canberra to compete in the advanced squad leader competition at CanCon 2015 and it was suggested I attend.  I did consider the drawbacks of being stuck in a car with a group of ill disciplined, whining brats with no self control but I decided to go to Canberra anyway. 

With five people of a male persuasion in a car heading towards a distant destination we had what is officially referred to as a road trip.  What is a road trip?  Essentially it is a type of movie where a bunch of almost certainly guys who are either too young to be allowed out alone or too old to care any more pile themselves into a vehicle with a notional destination.  Along the way there will be adventures, challenges, old paradigms will be threatened, new ones will start to emerge.  There will be encounters with wise strangers, encounters with inbred, psychotic strangers and at least one visit to a venue with poledancing because most of the people who watch these movies are adolescent males.

Women, as a general rule, do not indulge in road trips.  When a group of female friends feels like bonding they do it in a living room with a few bottles of wine.  Certainly the living room may be in a high end resort they have travelled to get to but the whole purpose is the living room and the wine.  This is because women are smart.  Men being less so feel that you can't really reconnect with that formerly old friend from college unless you are simultaneously fleeing down a deserted highway pursued by corrupt small town cops, the uncaught members of the Manson family and a crime gang to whom one of the group surprisingly owes a large amount of gambling money while simultaneously imbibing the wisdom of somebody whose deep life experience and knowledge of wholesome values still wasn't enough to get them out of Upper Sisterfuck, Arkansas.

In any road trip you have the "normal" guy.  You know the one who finds himself struggling with life because a lovely wife, wonderful children and a decent job somehow didn't turn out to be as fulfilling as he'd hoped.  You get the "rebel" who is usually the one who starts the road trip and who has obviously not matured appreciably since he was a sixteen year old persuading you to do a vodka shot in the eyeball.  He's the one who owes the money to the crime syndicate and has probably arranged for some of the party to be sold to organ traffickers en route.  There is the "tragic" one who is usually suffering because his wife/life partner/favourite goldfish has just died or divorced him or undergone unsuccessful gender reassignment surgery.  And finally there is the fat one whose role it is to fall in anything disgusting, trip over anything obvious, accidentally insult anyone even vaguely short tempered and wear a bermuda shirt.  More strategically his role is to make the rest of the group feel better about their messed up lives by giving them someone to look down on (he serves the same purpose for the audience as well).  Add vehicles, a long road and a spurious "destination" (plus of course the aforementioned pole dancing) and you have pretty much every road movie except possibly Thelma and Louise.

An actual road trip is quite pleasant by comparison.  It consists of a bunch of guys sweating in a car getting bored while travelling to somewhere they would rather be.  In this case the "somewhere we would rather be" is Canberra, and I'll bet that's a comment that doesn't get made too often.

For those who don't know, Canberra is the capital of my proud nation.  It was built midway between Sydney and Melbourne, the two largest cities in the land in the hopes that the inhabitants of both would be pleased the capital designation hadn't gone to the other.  In that, if nothing else, it appears to have succeeded.  Sitting awkwardly between Sydney and Melbourne like someone who has fallen between two stools Canberra is neither fish nor fowl.  Although when parliament is in session there is an argument to be made for claiming it is both fishy and foul.

There are reasons to go to Canberra even if you're not a federal politician.  It has all of the usual adornments of a purpose built national capital; galleries, war memorials, museums, monuments, embassies etc.  It's all very nice and impressive, all it really needs is for somebody to build a city around it.  Canberra is best viewed with not quite enough time to see everything.  That way you will leave wanting more.  It is about the only way you will leave wanting more.  Most people leave wanting less.  Canberra has that affect even on people who have never been there.

Still the Australia Day long weekend will see the population of Canberra increased by five as we head to Nerdapalooza for three days of gruelling game play.  I'm not even going to pretend we will see much of the city.  But before we settle into the gaming we have the road trip.  Five guys of middle years, with all that implies in the way of worn out bladders and intestinal disorders, stuck in a vehicle for a number of hours getting on each others nerves.  We'll have a little more space after we hit Goulburn mind you.  That's where the organ traffickers I've contacted catch up with us.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Agony of Defwat

Ah yes, the agony of defwat.  Is any sting so bitter?  Can any greater torment be devised?  How can I go on a single day with defwat dogging my steps and haunting my dreams at night?  Cogent questions I'm sure you will agree although at this point they might be superceded by the question "What the hell are you talking about?"

It's quite simple, I'm talking about defwat.  I grant you it isn't a word that is heard very often nowadays.  Opinion on it's origin is divided.  Some say it has Finno-Ugric roots and was introduced into the English language in the thirteenth century by nomadic bands of Estonian cod merchants.  According to this school of thought the word is derived from the old Estonian term "dyerwkah" meaning "to be buggered by a sturgeon".  Others claim with equal vehemence that the word originates from Sanskrit and that it made its way into English as recently as the middle eighteenth century having been brought back by colonial officials and soldiers who had had some contact with traditional Hindu ritual in India.  To these scholars "defwat" is obviously a corruption of the ancient Sanskrit word "howkhad" which means either "glittering field of stars" or "inadequately prepared lakhsa" depending on the context.

Whatever its origins defwat is certainly a rather esoteric word not much used in general conversation.  The best definition I can provide is "that spiritual and emotional torment undergone when patently inadequate preparations are proved to be insufficient and the subsequent misery is in no way ameliorated by its predictability".  So how did I encounter this rare and infrequently used word?  Gather around dear children and I shall tell you my tale of woe.

As those of you foolish enough to read this blog regularly will be aware I frequently fill in some of the time between birth and death by playing a wargame called Advanced Squad Leader.  While the squad leader may be advanced it has become sadly obvious that I am not.  Thus the usual ending of the game involves me weeping bitterly into my dice cup while my opponent smiles in faux sympathy and does a little victory dance on my shattered hopes.

Last week it was Richard Weilly on the dance card.  Normally I start these games full of hope, the crushing disillusion coming a little later.  On this occasion it has to be admitted I was defeated before I began.  I was prepared to dispense with the false hope and move directly to heartbroken disappointment.  I had no real idea of what I was doing and it was with a grim inevitability that Richard rolled over me like a carpet on a floor.

For some reason (probably simple masochism) I write reports on each of my games and post them on my blog so that a wider audience can jeer at my failures.  Not only do I write these blog entries but I also post a link to them on my facebook page and I also have an instagram account where I post a photo from the game with a series of hashtags which I hope people will find and be referred to my blog.  Naturally most of the hashtags are pretty mundane; #advancedsquadleader, #afteractionreport and so on.  But for my latest soul crushing defeat I wanted something that truly encapsulated my very predictable despair.  I intended to type something else but whether through the intervention of the gods or simply palsied fingers I wound up with #agonyofdefwat.

I couldn't have put it better if I'd tried.  This is literally true, I tried and I couldn't put it better.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Another Silly After Action Report

June 1944 was a bad month for Nazi Germany.  "Ah yes," you nod agreeing.  "D-Day and all that."  Well yes, certainly the Americans and British capturing some of France's best beaches was a bit of a blow.  However a large percentage of the German army was less concerned with losing their seabathing opportunities and more concerned with the fact that the Red Army had just ripped to shreds more German divisions than the Allies actually faced at Normandy.

The Destruction of Army Group Centre was an unimaginative but completely accurate description for what the Wehrmacht found itself facing over on the less publicised eastern front.  Having spent three years sowing the wind the Germans now reaped a shitstorm.  With their front dissolving like wet cardboard German countermeasures were reduced to attempting to stick fingers in a dyke once the dyke itself had been washed away.  Near the village of Krupki the 5th Panzer division was the designated finger.  This is ASL Scenario SP174, Krupki Station.  Here my (increasingly desperate) reconnaissance elements of the 5th Panzer (with Tiger tanks in tow) will attempt to defend a collection of small buildings against Nemesis in the form of Richard Weilly's hard driving 3rd Guards Tank Corps.

To make his modest contribution to the inevitable triumph of the Communist Supermen over the Fascist Beast Richard has seventeen squads more or less evenly divided between elite and first line.  Commanding them are four officers of reasonable quality, for equipment they have a heavy machine gun, three light machine guns, two anti tank rifles and a partridge in a pear tree.  Sorry, I mean a demolition charge.  Providing armoured support are six lend lease Sherman tanks mounting 76mm guns and carrying enough smoke to give everyone cancer.  To defend I have ten first line squads, three officers of equivalent mediocrity to their Soviet counterparts, a heavy machine gun, medium machine gun, light machine gun and a panzerschreck.  For armoured support I have three half tracks; one mounting an 81mm mortar, a second toting a 75mm gun and the third with a mere machine gun looking sad and useless by comparison.  Oh yes and three PzVI E(L) or Tiger tanks as I believe they are also known.

There were fifteen small buildings scattered across the objective area.  Richard's task was to capture at least eleven of them, I would win by denying him.  As I gazed at the map I must confess I felt a little daunted.  All the buildings were small and unconnected which made it difficult to set up a solid fortress region which might be able to hold off an attack for any time.  There were essentially two options; scatter my forces across the board and risk Richard simply beating them up bit by bit or select an area and place the bulk of my forces around a designated set of buildings sufficient to deny Richard the victory and let the rest of them go to hell.  The trouble with this is it allows Richard to seize all the remaining buildings without effort and concentrate all his forces on smashing that one position.  I chose option two which I still think is the correct one, unfortunately I didn't choose it well enough.

As you can see from the photo above I chose the north west corner (north is at the top) and it's associated buildings as my bastion.  A scattering of squads were based further forward in the hopes of imposing some sort of a delay on Richard's forces before they arrived.  The mortar half track is up on the hill to the southwest along with a half squad with the heavy machine gun.  The 75mm half track and a tiger are lurking in the northwest to add some much needed firepower to the defenders, the other two tigers are further forward hoping to pick off an onrushing sherman or two (failed).

Richard divided his forces more or less in half and based them at the north and south so they could avoid the centre entirely and drive forward along the edges of the board.  With my dispositions made I sat back and waited.  I didn't have to wait too long.  There was a brief hiccough as Richard discovered that one of his shermans had left all of its smoke rounds at home but then the remainder were off and racing, or rather strolling.

Richard didn't hurry, there were no dramatic advances.  Rather his attack was a gradual but continual and relentless push forward.  Moving behind liberal amounts of smoke his tanks pushed forward where my tigers weren't and shepherded his infantry up to the line in relative safety.  Here was where my decision to base a few stay behind squads up front backfired on me.  They perhaps delayed Richard for half a turn, he lost a half squad to close combat and of course he had to adjust his attack to take account of them but for all that it swiftly became apparent that I had sacrificed at least three squads for little in the way of advantage.  Richard rolled around and over them.  Things were made worse when I attempted (foolishly) to reinforce what was only ever intended to be a delaying position by moving forward my tiger nestling in the northwest to menace his oncoming hordes.  I'm not very good at using tanks and I proved this by driving my tiger past one of his shermans who said "thanks very much" and drilled an armour piercing round through the tiger's vulnerable side armour.  One tiger down, I would end the game with none.  Thus not only did I waste a tiger but I removed a significant weapon from what I had intended to be my main redoubt.

The other two tigers didn't do very much.  Richard avoided them for the most part.  There were a couple of occasions when either careless or hopeful he pushed a squad in harms way and on both occasions my tigers cheerfully smashed them but aside from that he settled for guarding their movement paths with a tank of their own and then ignored them, a tactic that worked depressingly well.  Delayed more by the forest than my defence Richard pushed forward in the north and was soon approaching my redoubt.  I hadn't been completely idle, seeing the line of his attack I had moved squads from the centre to help bolster the defence but they came a little too late and Richard was able to tear them apart piecemeal.

In the south the story was the same with a couple of minor exceptions.  Above you can see his southern troops moving forward having dispersed or brutalised my defenders.  Richard took his only tank casualty of the game when he took on a more formidable opponent than me; marshy ground.  He first bogged, then mired, then immobilised a sherman.  Meanwhile with Soviet infantry infiltrating behind my southernmost tiger I started it up and roared towards the enemy.  OK, I should have stopped and machine gunned them.  I know that but come on, the overrun was a 16+1 attack surely I would get a result.  I didn't and wound up in close combat with a Soviet squad.  Which allowed another Soviet squad toting a demolition charge to come up behind me.  Also, just for overkill, he drove a sherman up behind my tank as well.  It was fortunate for him that he did so because in one of the few bright moments for me his squad wound up completely botching the demo charge attack and blowing itself up.  My smile was removed a second later when Richard pumped a 76mm shell into the rear of my tiger.  Boom!

 That pretty much sums up the entire game.  Richard defeated me in detail and easily gained the necessary buildings to win.  I surrendered with two turns to go as there was little point in going on.  Richard played with skill and I really did not.  At the end of it I was feeling a little embarrassed that I hadn't been able to give him a more challenging game.  Still much thanks to Richard for the lesson in humility and if we play at CanCon I shall take my revenge (possibly by slipping something into his drink).