Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Prelude to CanCon

Ah Canberra, the nation's capital.  A semi deserted, semi rural, cityish sort of thing located midway between two places you would rather be.  Canberra, the place we send our politicians to in an attempt to remove them from anything valuable and limit the damage they can cause. But on the 23rd-25th of January Canberra became something else.

In a poorly airconditioned barn on the outskirts of a city that is nothing but outskirts a convention of gamers took place.  People who normally avoid sunlight for fear of spontaneous combustion emerged blinking from their burrows and, their backs bowed by vast quantities of gaming supplies, gathered amongst others of their kind for three days of gaming, dreadful food and unexpected human interaction.  Hordes of people in black t-shirts descended on a reasonably inoffensive portion of Canberra to mingle, game and provide proof of why deodorant is a vital human commodity.

Slightly above this noisome pack a small group of ASL players slunk into an upstairs room and, after having barricaded the doors, proceeded to conduct their own modest competition.  Once again the skilled wargamers of the ACT would match their skills against their brilliant out of state opponents (and me) in five rounds of cardboard bloodletting.

But that's for the future.  First we had to get there, and once there get around.  Canberra is easy enough to get to, you just ignore all the warning signs telling you you're getting close to Canberra.  Getting around it is somewhat harder.  Canberra was designed by Walter Burley-Griffin, an American architect (Australia at the time not being deemed capable of producing such things).  A brilliant architect Burley-Griffin might have been but it is fair to say that the man hated right angles.  The street layout of Canberra resembles nothing more than an octopus orgy.  For people with even a vague concept of a grid pattern (and since we were from Sydney our concept of a grid pattern is very vague indeed) Canberra represents an opportunity to get lost on multiple occasions while still being within walking distance of your starting point.  No wonder most people from Melbourne stayed away.

Despite having been lumbered with my company last year Ivan Kent very kindly offered me a lift on the condition that I would shut up about cows.  With my fingers crossed I gave the promise and he, Aaron Cleavin and myself set off on a miserable Friday afternoon to journey to the political heart of our great land.  We made our job harder than it need have been.  Every time the rain showed signs of lifting we made some idiot comment to that effect whereupon the rain returned in a fury to prove us wrong.  Aaron took the prize for this when he pointed to the solid grey sky and noted that it was clearing.  We practically had to swim the last twenty kilometres.

As we reached Goulburn a sign in one direction pointed to an abattoir and another to McDonalds.  It was a close run thing but we eventually wound up at the most overstaffed McDonalds in the southern hemisphere.  The personnel were quite literally tripping over each other which didn't make the food arrive any quicker.  In fact Ivan's Big Mac took so long to arrive that we opined they may have had to do a quick run to the abattoir for ingredients.  Still everything eventually arrived and once Aaron had sent back his coke and got it replaced by something that vaguely resembled coke we tucked in.  Fifteen minutes later having swapped hunger for nausea and self disgust we were on the road again.

I had originally chosen my accommodation on the basis of proximity to Ivan thinking to ease his driving duties slightly.  Ivan then changed his accommodation (or rather had it changed for him) leaving him some fifteen minutes drive away.  This wasn't a hardship for me but then I wasn't driving.  Ivan bore up nobly and generously picked me up and dropped me off each day.  I was staying in a very nice room in a block of flats (thanks airbnb) in Kingston, a rather nice area very close to the abandoned mechano set that masquerades as the nation's parliament house.

Having met my host (a charming young gentleman named Michael) I settled in.  Ivan would pick me up the next day and we would proceed to breakfast (where Ivan only got a bit lost trying to navigate the carpark) and then onto the first days gaming.  Do I need to mention the day would bring me only defeat?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Looking for Fish in All the Wrong Plaices

Every evening after work I leave the glittering beacon of corporate triumph (it's as ugly as sin and it isn't waterproof but what the hell) and trot down to Circular Quay railway station to complete the journey from the ugly crumbling edifice I work in to the ugly crumbling edifice I live in.  Circular Quay railway station is a hideous lump of concrete and steel looming belligerently over what should be Sydney's incredibly beautiful gateway to the world.  If you want a description of what Circular Quay railway station looks like try to imagine the industrial revolution vomiting in your front yard.

As you might gather from the above I'm not particularly fond of Circular Quay station.  In fact I would happily tear it down if it was for the rather crucial role it plays in my transit between work space and home space.  The design of the station could be considered cutting edge if by that you mean that the designer wanted to stab you.

In order to gird myself for passing through station's gates (taking care to avoid the three headed dog on the way in) I spend a few minutes at Circular Quay itself.  Here I look for fish.  The water at Circular Quay varies in colour between murky green and a sort of greenish murk.  There is a translucent, and none too healthy, sheen and riding proudly on the surface like so many battleships at anchor are drink containers, lunch wrappers and pretty much anything buoyant enough to float that isn't digestible enough for a seagull to eat.

You may think that looking for fish in Circular Quay is somewhat futile but permit me to assure you that they are there, whatever the quality of the water.  I know this because one evening I was walking along Circular Quay when someone threw what was either a large bun or half a loaf of bread into the water.  In a second the water resembled the penultimate scene in a piranha movie.  The water literally boiled and the bread was ripped into shreds and, presumably, devoured within seconds.

Thus encouraged I spend a few minutes each day looking for fish by the simple expedient of looking at water and seeing if I can discern fish like shapes within it.  This got a lot easier once I learned to wear my sunglasses while doing so.  The afternoon glare off the water's surface was seriously hampering my view.  Now I can look into the murky depths or at least the murky shallows at Circular Quay in search of all things piscine.  Part of the problem turned out to be that many of the fish don't actually look like fish.  I saw something that looked like a partially inflated balloon swimming around the water one day and it took a fair bit of staring before I convinced myself it was a fish and not a partially inflated balloon caught in an eddy. 

Then there was the zombie fish.  Imagine a dead fish, imagine it has been left to rot for several days and is now sickly white where it isn't dirty brown with various bits falling off it.  Now drop it back into the water.  There is at least one fish at Circular Quay that looks exactly like that.  At first I thought it was vaguely fish shaped rubbish.  Eventually I realised it was a vaguely fish shaped fish and despite appearances it was very much alive.

The babies are cute though.  Possibly its spawning season because on two occasions in the last week I have seen schools of tiny immature fish scooting through the water.  Indeed they were so tiny that it might be better to describe them as kindergartens of fish.  Hopefully they wont grow up to look like deflated balloons or fish corpses (although I guess they will eventually).

I don't have success every day.  Frequently all I see are jellyfish, seagulls and rubbish.  And seaweed of course, ferry pylons are absolute heaven for seaweed apparently.  The day before yesterday, however, was crowned in triumph. I saw a fish!  Not a deflated balloon fish or a decaying zombie fish or even a tiny potential fish  but an actual genuine, fish shaped fish.  It looked exactly what a fish is supposed to look like and was a decent size into the bargain.  If you had caught it you would definitely be putting that on your mantelpiece (or into a casserole or something).  I was so surprised I actually forced myself to look for it again to convince myself my eyes weren't playing tricks.  After the third sighting I decided it was official.  There is at least one stereotypically appropriate fish in Circular Quay. Possibly it was lost.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Birthday Greetings #55

One of the principal problems with history is that to a great extent you have to rely on historians.  Traditionally (one might even say historically) almost no one has ever written a history from a disinterested desire to inform future generations as to what was going on.  There was usually some axe to grind.  Frequently it was an axe that until recently had been buried in the back of one of the protagonists.  There is a cliché to the effect that "history is written by the winners".  This is largely, although not completely, true.  But its also true that history tends to get written by people who want to be the winners, if not at the time then in posterity.  After all you can be the archangel Gabriel himself but if history records you as a worthless, degenerate whoremonger then that's how you're going to be remembered.  Possibly as a backlash against this it is a tendency amongst modern historians (who are, of course, selfless and impartial seekers after truth) to disregard or, at the very least, heavily reinterpret the works of earlier historians on the grounds that they can't be trusted.  Frequently these reworks lead to modern historians discovering much to their surprise that their own pet theories were correct after all.

With that as a salutary warning; happy birthday to Michael III, Byzantine emperor.  Michael ascended to the throne at the age of two (presumably the steps were shallow). His mother with a collection of relatives and advisers formed a regency council.  Regency councils were very popular as they provided the ideal forum for the type of murderous plotting which seemed to form the basis of a Byzantine emperor's education.  As Michael grew up he grew increasingly fond of his uncle Bardas, a fact which Bardas used to murder or imprison various members of the regency council.  At the age of sixteen Michael decided he didn't need what was left of his regency council (after all, he had uncle Bardas) and got rid of the lot of them.  Technically he now embarked on a period of sole rule.  It would appear that most of the ruling was actually done by Bardas.

According to historians (see paragraph 1)  Michael rapidly became a worthless drunk.  These historians were patronised by the succeeding Macedonian dynasty whose founder murdered Michael and took his throne.  It is fair to say that sympathy for the former emperor wasn't in their job description.  Modern historians have downplayed the entire worthless drunk issue as being part of the typically biased historical reporting.  Which leaves us in the unfortunate position of not being able to explain much about what was going on with Michael.

Whether Michael himself was responsible or not the empire wasn't doing too badly.  There were military victories against the Arabs, educational reforms, rebuilding of ruined cities and such.  There seemed to be a fair bit to do.  Even if we accept that Bardas was responsible for most of it at least Michael didn't stop him and even the pro Macedonian historians admit that drunk or not he led his troops in the field in person.

Another, somewhat double edged, coup was the replacement of Ignatios, the patriarch of Constantinople (and thus effectively head of the Orthodox church) with a guy named Photios.  It is fair to say that Photios wore his religious obligations fairly lightly but he made up for it by being one of the best educated and most formidably talented men of his age.  Indeed he was so learned that there were rumours he was actually a master of the occult and a servant of the devil and in an ignorant age there can be no higher compliment.  He was also a highly capable head of the church.  Unfortunately at least part of the church didn't agree.  By comparison with Photios his predecessor Ignatios was an ignorant bigot but he did have the advantage of believing in god as something more than a metaphysical concept.  His supporters petitioned the pope for his reinstatement.  The pope, always happy to exert his rapidly dwindling authority over the Byzantine church, sent investigators to Constantinople to find out exactly what had happened.  Photios met them, charmed them, wined and dined them, wrote their report for them and sent them home.  The pope exploded in rage and excommunicated Photios.  Photios excommunicated the pope right back.

There was, of course, something else behind this flurry of religious tit for tat than just the pope's deep concern that the election of Photios had been uncanonical (it was).  The something else was Bulgaria.  Bulgaria was a pagan country to the north of European Byzantium.  The two nations already had a long history which consisted largely of invading each other.  However the ruler of Bulgaria was shopping around for a respectable religion (no-one took pagans seriously) and both Rome and Constantinople were eager to bring Bulgaria into their orbit.  Photios jumped first and best.  He persuaded Michael to invade Bulgaria, conversion to orthodox Christianity was part of the price Bulgarians paid for peace.

So what was Michael doing while all this was going on?  According to subsequent historians he was drinking himself senseless, watching chariot races and on his occasional moments of chariot free sobriety leading his army into battle.  Oh yes, he was also sleeping with the daughter of one of his guardsmen.  At some point Michael had acquired a hanger-on by the name of Basil.  Basil was a horse breaker from Macedonia and according to legend he had impressed the emperor by being able to tame a horse no-one else could control.  Naturally promotion to high rank followed.  Bardas, either Michael's senior adviser or the true ruler of the empire depending on your viewpoint was appalled at this scruffy thug who appeared to pander to all of the worst aspects of Michael's personality.  He would have even more excuse to be appalled somewhat later when Basil convinced Michael that Bardas was plotting against him and cut him up for dogmeat in the emperor's tent.  As a reward Michael made Basil chamberlain.  He also made Basil marry his mistress.  This was a convenient way of keeping the girl in the imperial palace.

Then Michael made his final mistake, he made Basil co-emperor and formally adopted him as his son.  Basil said "thanks very much" waited until Michael was hopelessly drunk (or possibly just had a sick headache) and cheerfully murdered him.  As the sole surviving emperor Basil the Macedonian took over the empire and the Macedonian dynasty was born.  Naturally one of the first requirements was for a clutch of convenient historians to blacken the name of the previous occupant of the throne.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Australian Open Championship Belt

So, match fixing allegations have rocked my favourite sport.  I would like to say I can't believe it.  That surely something like this couldn't happen in tennis.  Unfortunately I'm not such a wide eyed innocent.  The chain of logic works like this.  Tennis is a competition.  That means there are winners and losers.  That means people will bet on the result and that means that some people will try and arrange the result to match their bets.  If tennis players weren't being bribed its entirely possible that they would be threatened.

I must admit that my last illusions about tennis were shattered when I noticed that one of the key sponsors of this years Australian season was a betting agency.  This isn't to imply that the agency itself is involved in anything underhand, indeed professional bookmakers are the people with the most to lose from match rigging.  However the presence of betting agencies that close to the tennis organisers is pretty much equivalent to a public statement from those organisers that they have irredeemably prostituted themselves for cash.

There is one reassuring aspect to the sorry affair.  At least publicly tennis officials appear to be in denial.  In this they are following in a proud tradition of attempting to conceal and or cover up wrongdoing within an institution.  I have written before about the penchant for organisations who depend on the public trust to betray that trust by lying or concealing wrongdoing within their ranks.  Let's be clear, the presence of some corrupt individuals isn't a shame or an embarrassment.  It's pretty much impossible to avoid.  Where the shame lies is in how the organisation attempts to deal with the situation.  Denial and cover up seem to be the favourite methods so that when the news finally leaks out (which it always does eventually) the entire institution is, deservedly, held up for public pillory as opposed to a handful of bad apples.

Where does tennis go from here?  I have a suggestion.  If you want to get rid of the criminals then you have to get rid of the betting.  The easiest way would be to arrange results in advance of the matches.  If, like me, you enjoy watching the tennis for the quality of the match rather than the result then it shouldn't matter too much what the result is.  Essentially I'm suggesting that tennis become more like professional wrestling.  Everybody knows that's staged (not faked, too many wrestlers are injured to claim that) but the crowds still turn out in their thousands.  I enjoy watching it occasionally myself.

Think of it, we could have tennis players trash talking each other in pre match interviews, use of foreign objects, interference from other players not involved in the match.  It would be awesome!  And from a purely nationalistic point of view in Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios we already have the makings of one of the most awesome tag teams of all time.  Bring it on I say; I'm just popping out to buy myself a giant foam finger, middle digit preferred.

Silly After Action Report Part Two: Little Cans, Mobile Coffins and Whatever the Hell an M11/39 Is

Friday arrived before I was ready for it and suddenly I was facing Ivan again who was smiling confidently.  I couldn't see it because we were playing on line but I knew the confident smile was there.  Fortunately for me his turn passed without any further destruction of my suddenly vulnerable forces and I pushed my remaining tanks forward.  I was closing up to his defences now and as my tanks approached Ivan changed tactics.  Rather than try and kill them he started dropping smoke rounds between us to spoil my aim.  It certainly did that but it also spoiled his.  It also gave me some handy cover to start moving my infantry up behind my tanks.

As things got desperate the Italians threw every unit into the fight.  Here the Italian army synchronised swimming team prepares to attack.

I made a mess of my artillery request and lost the guns for the time being but my armoured warriors surged forward through the smoke and stopped pretty much right on top of his defences.  Meanwhile my gun trucks
started pounding his eastern defences with little effect but at least giving the defenders something else to think about about from ripping up thin skinned L3s ("little can" was one of the more printable Italian nicknames for them).

My M13s plough through the smoke.  Sadly one of them has bogged in the sand.  That might not be good.

 As my tanks drew closer Ivan suffered disaster.  He broke not one but both of his twenty five pounders shooting at my tanks.  Unless and until he repairs them my M13s are the queen of the battlefield despite their cheery nickname "mobile coffins".  Sadly thanks to injudiciously running over some soft sand I currently only have three that can move.  While the tanks did the hard work of shooting up his defences I took advantage of the smoke to bring my infantry forces up behind them and started to kick them off the trucks.  Whether they will contribute to the battle in any meaningful way remains to be seen but at least Ivan has something else to think about.

While all of this action was taking place in the west in the east my L3s were covering themselves in glory.  Having reached his foxhole line I sent one platoon to outflank it while bringing the other forward.  There was quite a cold blooded calculation to this.  I was certain (correctly for once) that Ivan would have littered the ground between his foxholes and the edge of the board with antitank mines.  My L3s rolled forward to find them in the only way they could.  The purpose being to find a clear path to bring forward my L3 flamethrower.  Not only did the L3s succeed spectacularly so far none of them have succumbed to mines (although they are by no means out of the woods yet.).  Having approached in relative security the flamethrower then toasted a broken halfsquad and gave me another much needed victory point.

A blurry (and unattributed) picture but you get the general idea.

 Should the L3s survive they are well placed to take his eastern defences in the rear.  While they're doing so my gun trucks and some surprisingly durable M11s are knocking at the front door.  Trying to capitalise on this unexpected success I have send my bersaglieri in that direction with slightly gruesome results.  A squad of motorcyclists rode boldly through a firelane set up by his medium machine gun.  They are now a conscript half squad trembling in the scrub hoping to be unworthy of further attention (likely correct).  The remaining bersaglieri are rolling up behind the squad you see in the picture below hoping to capitalise on any further success the L3s have.  I'm getting quite fond of the L3s.

L3s laugh at mines.  Slightly hollowly but laugh they do.  In the centre even the M11s are getting into the action

 Over in the west my outflanking manouvre has run into sand which has brought a tank to a shuddering halt.  Fortunately in a good position to shoot up one of his mortar crews which is now limping slowly for the rear.  My other two M13s had results that can best be described as mixed.  On the one hand pointblank machine gun fire broke a squad with a medium machine gun.  On the other the same shot resulted in his 9-1 leader becoming heroic.  Hopefully its not infectious.  For right now though the squad has run away.


In the west everything (including my tanks) is covered in smoke but my infantry had better deploy before it dissipates.

Its now the beginning of turn five.  I have started levering Ivan out of his defences and if the M13s hold together might be able to start beating up on his armoured cars.  I dearly need to build up some victory points before his guns get repaired.  Fortunately for me I have woken up my artillery spotter and hopefully he can help shoot my troops forward.  My infantry have started to assemble mortars and machine guns and as soon as the smoke clears, well the British will probably shoot them to bits but one can hope.  I also have an armoured car that I need to figure out what to do with.  To be honest I didn't actually expect it to last this long.

To Sleep, Perchance to Create A Moneymaking Opportunity

There was a book on the market stall offering advice on the interpretation of dreams.  Dream interpretation is a fruitful and lucrative field of study because absolutely nobody can prove your conclusions wrong.  A dream of clouds and puppy dogs can be interpreted as a subconscious manifestation of your psychopathic tendencies should your dream interpreter so desire.  I suppose it all depends on what you're planning to do with the puppies.

It would appear that there is no aspect of the human experience that some other human won't take advantage of in order to make a buck.  Somebody has probably attempted to predict the future by analysing bowel movements.  Which I suppose could work in highly specific instances.

Dreams have always been fertile ground for a certain type of person to exploit.  You know the type of person I mean.  They are the people who, in humanity's earliest days, thought "Bugger all this hunting and gathering crap.  If I just string some bones around my neck and babble about dreams people will bring food to me."  In those days they were called shamen or witchdoctors, nowadays we call them marketing executives or lifestyle coaches.  They are the people who realised that if you convince others you're helping then it doesn't actually matter whether you are or not.  Whatever the job title the actual job description hasn't changed much.

On a broad level one can suppose that if you're going bankrupt in real life then anxiety riddled dreams are probably connected.  I rarely dream and on those occasions when I do I can always trace it back to either being drunk when I went to bed or overly hot.  I would write my own dream interpretation book but at less than two lines long even the most gullible person probably wouldn't spend any money to buy it.

The saddest thing about all of this is that two million years after the first scam merchant tossed some scented leaves onto the fire and solemnly informed his flea ridden interlocutor that his dreams of a black obelisk meant he had to drop a large chunk of mammoth steak at the dream interpreters tent the trick still works.  This is a testament to either the innate spirituality of the human race or our irredeemable gullibility.  My last dream involved me helping a dominatrix solve a murder mystery.  I can't imagine that that has anything to do with what's happening in my life at the moment.  Although it might make an interesting pitch for a television series.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Silly After Action Report - Part 1: No Poison Gas and the Enemy Have Guns!!

In September 1940 the Italian 10th army under the overall command of Marshal Rodolfo Graziani invaded Egypt.  It would rate as the most botched invasion in history if the Italians hadn't provided it with competition elsewhere.  Graziani (with fair justification) felt his army was in no shape to conduct such an offensive and only agreed when Mussolini threatened to sack him.  After a few modest gains the Italians sat down and waited for the British to annihilate them.  This the British obligingly did.

The British counteroffensive smashed that part of the Italian army that had made it into Egypt and then pursued into Libya, capturing Bardia, Tobruk and staggering numbers of Italian soldiers along the way.  Graziani whose reputation had been made beating up tribesmen and Ethiopians with the aid of poison gas went from gloomy to downright panic stricken.  From his headquarters in Benghazi he ordered a full retreat and set an example by flying out to Tripoli leaving the entire mess in the hands of his chief of staff General Tellera.  One can't help feeling a little sorry for General Tellera, he taken over a beaten army whose commander had simply screamed "Run for your lives!" as he headed for the airport.  Dutifully General Tellera organised a panic stricken retreat despite the fact that in their new defensive positions the Italians had so far managed to hold the British off.

The British who were still outnumbered despite the number of prisoners they had taken realised they needed to destroy the Italians completely.  If the army escaped more or less intact it would be a constant threat to the slender British forces.  With this in mind they sent a small blocking force through the desert to cut the road behind the Italians.  The Italians, looking over their shoulders for potential pursuers, ran slap into it. 

Naturally those parts of the army first in the retreat were those least likely to be battleworthy and this collection of rubbish launched a series of disjointed attacks for a full day with whatever troops happened to be at hand and were beaten back piecemeal.  Finally General Tellera did what he should have done at the start.  He grabbed all his remaining tanks and artillery firepower plus such of the infantry as remained battleworthy and, climbing into a tank, led the whole lot in a final full scale attempt to break through.

This is the big one.  ASL Scenario 58, Ci Arrendiamo.  Here I shall take the place of General Tellera leading my Italian forces in an all out assault on the well entrenched British.  I have a staggering array of forces at my command.  Six M13/40 tanks, two M11/39 tanks, two armoured cars, four L3/35 light tanks, an L3 flamethrower variant, a pair of Milmart gun trucks each carrying a 75mm artillery piece.  For infantry I have six squads of bersaglieri mounted on motorcycles and fifteen squads of truck mounted first line infantry carrying a trio of small mortars and a couple of medium machine guns.  Plus I have 70mm off board artillery.  What could possibly stand in the way of all this firepower?

Italian tank crew, obviously the elite of the Italian military.  Behind them an M13/40, rubbish but the best I've got

To answer that question permit me to introduce Ivan Kent commanding the British.  He has ten and a half first line British squad equivalents, most of them nestled in foxholes, two 37mm antitank guns mounted en portee on the backs of trucks, a trio of armoured cars and two twenty five pounder artillery pieces.  The infantry come equipped with anti tank rifles, mortars and light machine guns.  There are also minefields both anti personnel and anti tank.  Ivans force is huddled among sand dunes awaiting the inevitable Italian storm.  In between the sand dunes, covering the road is a monstrous stack lurking in a three squad foxhole.  Their job is obviously to cover the road.

My objective is quite simple, I have to wipe the British out.  Italian casualties don't matter, all that matters is that I wipe out 45 VPs worth of British.  This means virtually all of them.

It wouldn't be an Italian scenario without a faithful L3/35.  The Italian high command considered them a front line battle tank.  Everyone else mistook them for Dinky toys.

My plan, like myself, was simple.  The trucks carrying the infantry would roll down the road but would stop out of the range of most of his weapons.  The armour (most of it in the west but with a diversionary force of L3s and M11s in the east would approach his front lines and start shooting them up.  Meanwhile my artillery would attempt to take out his guns and soften up his position somewhat.

The first few turns were light on firing but involved an inordinate amount of moving as the Italians shuffled slowly (and possibly reluctantly) onto the board.  The armoured cars rolled down the road until they came under fire and then stopped.  Both portees had been set up covering the road and each of them attacked an armoured car.  A nasty explosion later and I was short one armoured car.  To the west of the road my M13s moved forward side by side while in the east the L3s defied expectations by doing the same.  Meanwhile an unholy traffic jam was piling up behind the armoured cars.  Somewhere around the place there are a whole bunch of mines but without engineers my only way of discovering them is to roll over them.

My M13/40s charge (very slowly) forward thinking small thoughts and trying to look like gerboas.

The first spotting round from my artillery was hopelessly wide but with the portees now revealed I took the opportunity to correct it right next to them.  In two phases the artillery would destroy both portees and I must admit I was feeling somewhat cock a hoop.  They were worth valuable victory points but more importantly my tanks felt a lot safer with them gone.  Then at a range of twenty six hexes one of his 25 pounders destroyed an M13.  Maintaining rate it then destroyed and burnt another.  A third of my most potent tank force gone!!  I screamed, I whimpered, I swore.  I made hasty pacts with various deities that I normally don't give houseroom to and carried on.

Meanwhile in the rear my bersaglieri mounted motorcycles were nervously threading their way through hammada positioning themselves to take advantage of an overrun that looked less and less likely to happen.  Over on the east side of the board my L3s had arrived at Ivan's position and in defiance of all rational probability managed to break an antitank rifle wielding halfsquad.  My diversionary force is doing some diverting as Ivan has sent an armoured car trundling up to support his troops.  Normally an armoured car vs a tank would be no contest but these are L3s, the armoured car is actually bigger than they are and better armed.  To the right of the L3s the M11s (a vehicle which skillfully combines the disadvantages of both the L3 and the M13) tiptoed nervously closer to the enemy as well.

How do you make an M11/39?  Stick a gun on an L3 and then mount some machine guns in a little boxy turret in case the thing wasn't easy enough to hit already.

As the third turn ends I have taken a trio of vehicle losses including two precious M13s.  My vulnerable (and not terribly brave) infantry are still huddled on their trucks hoping Ivan is more interested in shooting tanks than them.  On the plus side both portees are destroyed, a squads worth of British infantry has been broken and the smoke from a burning tank and a burning portee is providing a little more cover than there was at the start of the game.  My armour is up at his forward defences and if I can persuade my artillery to be a little more accurate I may yet have a chance.  We resume the game on Friday and I suspect it will be movement light and combat heavy.  Ivan, fear the Italians!  They are coming for you!!

My troops queuing up and feigning eagerness to get on board

My armour rolling forwards.  M13s in the west (bottom) and L3s in the east.  Armoured cars on the road ahead of the pack
One armoured car gone and a massive traffic jam of trucks lurking in the rear.

Behind Ivan's foxhole line.  Armour cars, guns and a pair of portees about to be destroyed by artillery

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Nation Building for Fun and Profit

I've started to read a modern history of Liechtenstein.  For those of you who don't know Liechtenstein is a country in Europe about the size of a football field.  It is the only country in the world actually named after the people who own it (the Liechtenstein family).  On the rare occasions when it impinges on international consciousness its generally in the context of tax evasion and money laundering which is grossly unfair, they also make false teeth.

Liechtenstein must be the only country which exists largely as an effort in social climbing.  The Liechtensteins were a wealthy noble family with vast estates in Austria and what is now the Czech republic.  For centuries they were high in the favour of the Habsburg emperors and provided their imperial masters with a long succession of talented if not exactly altruistic administrators, soldiers and advisors.

One thing escaped the Liechtenstein family, however.  They dearly wanted to be made Princes of the Empire.  The princely title would elevate them above the common ruck of fabulously wealthy nobility and grant them a seat in the imperial diet (a shambling debating forum which served the empire as a sort of parliamentish type thingy).  Eager to get loyal advisors into the diet the emperor was sympathetic but unfortunately the entrance requirements were quite strict.  To be a prince of the empire a nobleman had to hold territory directly from the emperor (ie without any other feudal lords in between) and for all their vast estates the Liechtensteins didn't.  The emperor implied that if this lack could be remedied he would sign the documentation tomorrow.

So the Liechtensteins looked around for some patch of territory they could acquire which had the required qualification.  Just to the east of Switzerland were a couple of minor counties held by a not particularly prominent noble family called the Hohenems.  The counties were remote, poor and virtually irrelevant on a political, social and economic level but by a series of dynastic coincidences there was no intervening nobleman between the Hohenems counts and the emperor.  Another factor in the territories favour was that its rulers were absolutely broke.  The region was thinly populated and didn't provide sufficient revenue to maintain even the most modest of noble houses.  The Liechtensteins opened their chequebooks.

In all fairness it must be acknowledged that this wasn't just a simple land grab.  The region had come down with a serious case of witchcraft.  Or rather it had come down with a serious case of witch trials.  Around ten percent of the population were burnt at the stake.  Even for a religious, superstition addled age this seemed excessive and an ecclesiastical investigation discovered that the count of Hohenems was a demented psychopath who was using the fact that he could seize the property of those found guilty of witchcraft in attempt to restore the family finances.  He was eased out and replaced by his less murderous (but equally broke) brother but the main problem remained.  The Hohenems were bankrupt and could not contribute anything towards their territories.  The ecclesiastical investigator suggested selling the counties if anyone could be found who was willing to pay a very large amount of money for an area that wasn't actually worth very much.  As I said before the Liechtensteins opened their cheque books.

With their newly acquired territories the Liechtensteins reported back to the emperor.  He then stitched the two counties together into the brand new principality of Liechtenstein and the family settled down to rule their new domain.  They settled down in Vienna of course rather than some windy alpine pasture of dubious value.  No Liechtenstein actually bothered visiting the place for a couple of centuries.  Then in 1806 as a response to the conquests of Napoleon the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved and Liechtenstein found itself accidentally independent.  They have been independent and technically neutral since that time although the family itself continued to serve the Hasburg emperors until the collapse of the monarchy.  A Liechtenstein actually served in the Austro-Hungarian navy in World War 1 (although Liechtenstein itself was supposedly neutral).

With the collapse of the final Habsburg empire in 1918 the Liechtensteins finally and with a certain sense of resignation turned up in their territory with nothing but the clothes they stood up in and several train wagon loads of jewels, precious works of art and money.  The inhabitants were probably somewhat surprised to see them.  Since that time the Liechtensteins have been ruling their pocket sized country despite the occasional hissy fit which led one prince to threaten to move back to Vienna if his plans for constitutional reform weren't approved and a low grade feud with the Czech Republic due to the confiscation of the much larger territories that the Liechtensteins once owned there during the days of communist rule which the currently democratically elected government has no intention of handing back.

I dearly want to go to Liechtenstein.  Although if this blog entry gets wide currency there I might discover my face on wanted posters when I arrive.

Silly After Action Report - Starting the New Year With A Whimper

A friend from my wargaming club had a serious accident at work recently that left him in the ICU of St Vincent's Hospital swimming in morphine and hooked up to various machines that go "ping".  With the new year meeting of our club however he rose like a giant from his sickbed and agreed to play a game of ASL with me.  Suggestions that I may have hoped to improve my rather dreadful win/loss ratio by taking advantage of a semi invalid will not be appreciated (and it didn't work anyway).

So, David Wilson and I sat down to play "Alaric Returns" a scenario pitting a somewhat desperate bunch of Italians attempting to protect the eternal city (that's Rome apparently) from the depredations of their erstwhile allies.  Just for once I would be playing the Germans attempting to push the Italian defenders aside and get to the Colosseum before all the postcards were sold.

To do the pushing I had nine first line squads, a collection of troop carrying halftracks, a small mortar, an armoured car and a trio of StuG III self propelled guns.  All in all a nicely balance combination of firepower and movement.  Over on the other side of the line lurked David's Italians; three elite squads, nine first liners, a pair of Semovente self propelled guns, an M15/42 tank, and an armoured car.  Oh yes and two massive 150mm artillery pieces.  To win I had to exit 24 victory points worth of troops and vehicles off the north board edge, David set up concealed on the northern half of the playing area while I had to enter from the south.

Dominating all my thoughts were the two guns.  They were easily capable of destroying any or all of my armour and the execution they could do to my infantry was equally gruesome.  Having identified the threat I then completely failed to deal with it.  I sent a small diversionary force (a squad and a half, a halftrack and the mortar) up the east side of the board.  The guns would be set up on the hills I thought (correct for a change) and if the mortar survived the approach it might be able to pound them to good effect (correct in theory at least).  The mass of my infantry I loaded into the remaining half tracks and sent them through the grainfields in the west hoping that this hindrance might hamper his guns from shooting at me.  In this I was correct if only because the guns were too busy tearing my armour apart to worry much about the infantry.

I entered my three StuGs separately from each other and moved them nervously forward to places where I hoped they might be able to take his guns under fire in the next turn.  I succeeded in this, I know I succeeded in this because his guns took me under fire in the next turn and promptly destroyed two StuGs.  Suddenly I was largely reduced to an infantry force.  My surviving StuG lurked out of the way waiting for opportunities to support my infantry.

The beginning, my troops have made it through the wheatfield but my StuGs are about to die

The next two turns were marked by a gradual creeping advance by my infantry and irritatingly low roles by David's medium machine gun which managed to kill a squad and a half by itself.  Over on the right my I assembled my mortar and started pounding one of his gun crews.  I did this for most of the game with little result but at least the mortar crew felt it was contributing.

On the left I finally managed to break the single squad that was David's first line of defence and surged into the trees.  Facing me was a hedge lined road behind which lurked a couple of squads and his tank.  Up on the hilltops his guns reigned supreme and directly in front of me was his deeply annoying medium machine gun.

This is about as far as I got.  Out of shot mangled StuGs litter the battlefield

Seeing the force of my attack David started moving troops and his armoured car across from the east to bolster his defences while I proved incapable of getting through the guys he already had in place.  A half squad advanced into the street toting a panzerschrek in an attempt to take out his tank only to be killed by that damn machine gunner.  A second attempt the next turn was successful and his tank went up in flames but I was still pinned down with time running out and no appreciable ground gained.

Getting desperate I started getting silly.  I moved a half track and the surviving StuG up the road adjacent to his infantry.  This meant risking a shot from his gun but by this stage risks had to be taken.  Risks were taken and punished.  His guns smashed my last StuG and also my armoured car when it went on a despairing (and frankly ridiculous) deathride in an attempt to take out one of the guncrews.  Then David went a little silly himself and advanced one of his squads into close combat with my halftrack in the street.  I survived the close combat and slaughtered the squad in the next prep fire phase but it didn't alter the basic situation.

Having had his "Neil" moment David went back to a well thought out defence.  With all my StuGs gone he got brave with his amour and advanced one of his semoventes against the mortar team which had been futilely popping away at one of the gun crews for most of the game.  Now that it was too late to make a difference my mortar broke the gun crew and for good measure immobilised the semovente as well.  Unfortunately it didn't matter.  Time had got away from me but most of all the armour kills had left me desperately short of the victory points I needed for a win.

Endgame. David's defence is largely intact.  My attackers not so much.

I stumbled about in the woods for a turn or two trying to build up some sort of firebase that could clear my path but I was unable to do it.  David's guns (and that damn mmg) ruled all.  Even the late game breaking of one of his gun crews couldn't alter the fact that I had been stopped cold at David's first defensive line.  Most of his infantry didn't need to fire a shot.  Sigh, yet another defeat.  Not an ideal preparation for CanCon which is coming up later this month.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Beacon of Light to the World

Long have we laboured in grim silence our service unhallowed and unseen.  How many weary months did we drag aching bodies to the pitface and hack futilely at the exposed vein without hope of reward or acknowledgement?  While we're on the subject of hacking futilely at exposed veins I must remember to sharpen my kitchen knives.

Now all that sweat, pain and futile desperation has been rewarded.  A year, shiny and new, has been bestowed upon us from on high.  The travails of 2015 are firmly behind us hounded out by a dreadful New Years show from our national broadcaster which seems to forget that almost nobody finds it as entertaining as it does itself.

Yes, a new year glittering in its promise and magnificent in its unspoiled beauty slips across our work hunched shoulders like the softest of blankets bringing comfort and ease to a desperate people.  No longer will we have to make do with that tattered, shop soiled 2015 for here is the new model to give us hope and widen tear drowned eyes with joy. 

The people cry out in gratitude as the benevolent lords of all grant this, the greatest of all favours.  No price can be put on such munificence.  A year, an entire year the blankest of blank pages and renewal for the earth.  Hallelujah for we are saved!  From the smallest child to the elderly closest to death we rejoice.  The child will no longer have to grow up in that wretched 2015 of evil memory, the oldest can expire at peace, content with the knowledge that they lived to see the promised day arrive.

Well now its here.  In fact its been here for six days already.  Where's the world peace?  The mass prosperity?  The environmental restoration somehow compatible with providing seven billion people with a comfortable existence?  This year sucks!  We have been totally ripped off!  I demand answers, I demand apologies and most of all I demand compensation for my emotional suffering.

This is apparently a real thing.  Emotional suffering can now be given a dollar value.  Pretty soon you'll be able to trade it on the stock exchange.  The next financial crisis will no doubt be caused by the manipulation of the trauma futures market. 

In the meantime I suppose we're stuck with this year despite the fact that its already a wretched disappointment.  Back to the pitface guys and don't worry.  2017 is coming.  Then everything will be amazing.