Sunday, January 29, 2017

Running Out of Things to Say About Canberra

Somewhere around the turn of the previous century a group of isolated colonies on this great brown land banded together and declared their proud dependence on Great Britain.  A few years later it was decided that this new semi-nation required a capital.  A city where the elected representatives of those who weren't black, Asian or female could gather to debate the issues of the day.  At that point we had two major contenders; Sydney, Australia's first city, was large, vibrant and business oriented.  Or to put it another way it was dirty, crowded and corrupt.  The other contender was Melbourne, at least in its own opinion Australia's cultural capital.  In other words it was, preening, self important and the weather was deeply suspect.

There were certain other cities in Australia of course but nobody seriously considered them as a national capital.  Brisbane was the sort of place we exiled people to, not governed them from.  Hobart was remote and the capital of a state which couldn't even manage corruption efficiently.  Perth, depending on the current value of the minerals under its soil was either in a state of secessionist fury or mendicant beggary and Adelaide was beautiful, nicely laid out and well designed.  It's no wonder the nation's most creative serial killers tend to originate there.

So the choice was narrowed to Sydney and Melbourne and immediately a problem was struck.  The representatives from each city indicated they would cheerfully sever a limb rather than visit the other on any sort of semi permanent basis.  So a new city was commissioned.  Midway between Sydney and Melbourne and thus irritatingly inconvenient to both.  It was even more inconvenient for representatives who came from any of the other cities but there's no record their opinion was sought.

In 1908 the order went out, "Let there Canberra!".  And so Canberra came to pass, just as soon as we found the money, imported an architect, dammed a river to provide an ornamental lake and built a whole bunch of buildings in the middle of nowhere.  Slightly more than a hundred years later and things have changed.  Canberra is no longer in the middle of nowhere, it is the middle of nowhere.  Driving into Canberra is like entering a country town and it stays like that until you've left again.

Once again I and others of my ilk ignored the tears of our loved ones and left civilisation behind us to journey to where only politicians and heroin addicts are known to gather.  For the time has once again come for CanCon.  A gaming festival situated on the Australia Day/Invasion Day long weekend when any sane person is getting hopelessly drunk as close to home as possible.  Gaming buddy and incidental chauffeur Ivan Kent turned up with either a large hatchback or a small four wheel drive and loaded myself and a bleary eyed Aaron Cleavin into such passenger spaces as weren't occupied by gaming paraphernalia and pointed the headlights at the nation's capital.

After last years minor geographic catastrophe I had acquired an airbnb host a mere block away from Ivan's hotel which cut down on driving and opportunities to get lost.  I really didn't care but I'm sure Ivan appreciated it.  I walked in, met my host, dropped my bags and promptly went out again.  Drinks with the boys (average age 52) was the first social activity on an agenda crammed with human interaction as long as that interaction involved rolling dice in a cup.

It has to be said Canberra was buzzing this year.  There were so many people around that in the evenings diners and drinkers almost outnumbered derelicts.  As I wandered through the street of downtown Canberra, carefully avoiding the less photogenic beggars I felt I could gaze onto a city that has really arrived.  Admittedly it had arrived in Canberra but it had arrived nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Birthday Greetings # 63

Happy birthday to Leo IV the Khazar, Byzantine emperor.  Leo came to the throne in 775AD when his father died of a fever while campaigning in Bulgaria.  At the time the Byzantine empire was filling in its spare time by having a furious religious argument.  This is what the Byzantine empire did whenever it had some time on its hands and frequently even when it didn't.

This particular ecclesiastical tiff revolved around the use of icons.  Specifically whether they should be used or not.  Those in favour argued that it was traditional usage, helpful for spreading the gospel amongst those who couldn't read (almost everybody in those days) and that the icons were "venerated" rather than worshipped.  Those opposed pointed out that God had actually written a commandment specifically forbidding them.  They further went on to state that the level of adulation given to the icons in many cases went a hell of a lot further than "veneration".  Some people were actually naming the icons of saints as godparents to their children.

There was also a geographical aspect; most, although not all, of the icon puppies came from the western parts of the empire.  Most, although not all, of the statue breakers came from the eastern parts (much muttering that the proximity of Islam might have led them to such unpleasant attitudes as the Moslems are most definitely opposed to icons).  The problem for the statue freaks was that the best soldiers in the empire came from the east and thus tended to be opposed to icons.  The problem for the closet Moslems was that the bulk of the bureaucracy and most of the monastic houses were located in the west and tended to favour setting up graven images.

Debate was tense, homicidally so.  Leo's grandfather was an eastern soldier who by a combination of low cunning, judicious murder and quite possibly outright treason had wound up as emperor.  The bulk of the soldiers who supported him opposed icons.  So icons were banned.  Uproar ensued.  Legislation was enacted, oppression occurred, icon supporters were tortured, exiled, killed and ridiculed (not necessarily in that order).  It got even worse under Leo's father.  The grandfather had been a cynical pragmatist doing what he needed to maintain the army's support but Leo's father (Constantine the Shit according to the pro icon historians who documented his reign) was a genuine fanatic.  The army however loved him and responded by winning battles.  This fact led to Constantine dying of natural causes as noted above.

Leo came to the throne and calmed things down a bit.  He wasn't exactly pro-icon (although his wife was) but he did seem to feel that possibly estranging 50% of his subjects couldn't be a particularly wise move in the long term.  While he personally was no more keen on the icons than his father or grandfather he adopted a bit of a "don't ask don't tell" policy.  Supporters of icons praised him to the skies for his moderation which seemed to embarrass him.

Meanwhile over in the east the Arabs considered the vigorous debate going in within the empire as a perfect opportunity to invade.  However the icon hating army proved to be capable of handling their incursions (and the bureaucracy in the capital probably wouldn't have minded too much if a lot of them got killed doing it) and Leo managed to maintain his borders unchanged.  So to speak.  The term "border" is a reasonably modern concept.  In those days you simply travelled further away from your own centre of power until you wound in somebody elses.  Somewhere in between a border had obviously been crossed but where it actually was could be considered a matter of debate.  Indeed whole armies spent a lot of their time debating it.

But it wasn't just the Arabs who were trying to move the Byzantine border a little closer to Constantinople.  Over in Europe the Bulgarians were also on the warpath.  Leo took time out from drooling over precious stones (an odd fetish but a harmless one) and not quite persecuting the icon lovers to march against Bulgaria.  Before he did so he stopped having sex with his wife and instigated a harsher regime against the icon freaks.  His wife, Irene, was a dedicated supporter of icons ("superstitious women" muttered the not at all misogynistic soldiers who surrounded Leo) and had introduced various icons and icon favourers into the palace.  Leo found them, and indulged in a little torture and imprisonment just to let everybody know that he couldn't be taken for granted.

With his status as an icon breaker reasserted and his wife "punished" by his absence from the marital bed Leo marched on Bulgaria like his father before him and like his father before him caught a fever and died.  His son (aged nine) ascended the throne as Constantine VI.  His mother Irene was regent and pretty soon icons were everywhere.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Look Out! He's Got an Ibis!

I have a slight sense of achievement at the moment.  Not only have I managed to cram enough bulbs into the recalcitrant light fitting in my lounge room to dispel the impression that I'm living in the middle ages but I have successfully sourced vacuum cleaner bags.  I can't remember the last time I felt this functional.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I hugged myself with glee when the lights actually turned on and provided light.  Well maybe just a little ashamed but there are advantages to being easily amused.  When my latest batch of books arrived from Amazon I actually pulled my shirt off and did a lap of honour.  It certainly frightened the other people in the post office.

Outside the hermetically sealed bubble I live in the world is still going relentlessly to hell while simultaneously refusing to actually arrive.  Over in the United States Donald Trump has been sworn in as America's last president while in Britain Theresa May has laid out her plan for reorienting Britain's economy towards subsistence farming.  At least it should improve the employment statistics.  Meanwhile in Australia a man is being sought by police for strangling an ibis to death and then threatening onlookers with the corpse.

Of the three I think Theresa May's position is the most defensible.  One of the principal reasons (allegedly) for the success of the Brexit vote (or failure if you're in the Remain camp) was concern about immigration.  Nothing stops immigration faster than your country ceasing to be a place worth emigrating to.  Sudan doesn't have an immigration problem, neither does Somalia.  Soon Britain will be able to make the same proud boast.

Things are even better over in America where people are gearing up to protest about absolutely everything.  Its been a tough eight years for protesters.  They couldn't really protest against Obama too much for fear of looking racist.  Trump's presence in the White House is an absolute godsend for the professionally outraged.  I actually thought Michael Moore had died but no, he was just waiting until he could decently fulminate again.

Meanwhile in a press conference that reach Trumpian levels of bizarreness the Tsar of All the Russias, Vladimir Putin denied having a dirt file of Trump cavorting with Russian prostitutes (note to the poorly educated; in this context "cavorting" means "fucking").  Putin then went on to praise Russian prostitutes as the best in the world which indicates either a fair amount of pretty intense research or a desire to talk up a faltering part of the economy.

I have to admit I'm pretty sanguine about the possibility of Putin having a dirt file on Trump.  It would be somewhat reassuring to think that somebody can control Trump even if that somebody is Vladimir Putin.  At least it means we're unlikely to get into a war with Russia.  What we need to do now is persuade Trump to visit China, and get some girls and a video camera.  It could mean peace in our time.  Unfortunately somebody else will have to arrange that.  Like the rest of my countrymen I'm currently too busy hiding from ibis wielding maniacs to worry about the rest of the world at the moment.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Jellyfish Have Spoken

I have become a climate change convert.  The seas are boiling and the moon shall be as blood.  No, sorry, that's from something else but you get the general idea.  The planet is baking and its all because we selfishly insist on living comfortable lives rather than shivering wretchedly in a cave huddled together for warmth.

So what has given me this road to Damascus like epiphany?  Apparently a rather small jellyfish which is one of the seventy billion odd things in and around Australia that can kill you has been heading south.  They're a warm water swimming mortality facilitator so the extension of their range south over the preceding years can be taken as an indication that either the water is warming or they can afford to travel further on their holidays.  I know this to be true because some guy I know mentioned it was happening as part of a more general discussion concerning stuff in the water that can kill you.  My personal level of knowledge about the whole situation can be measured by the fact that I can't even remember the name of the jellyfish in question. 

Up until now my basic viewpoint has been;

a) Is climate change happening?  Probably; the climate has been changing for the last five billion years and I see no reason for it to stop doing that now.
b) Are humans causing it?  Maybe; I can't help thinking that you can't continuously pump crap into the atmosphere without having some sort of effect.  Possibly that effect is climate change, or smog.

I have had my suspicions about a lot of the people involved in climate change activism however.  The scientists are probably doing their best with what they've got but I suspect a lot of others are simply using this as the latest opportunity to punish the human race for being wealthy and successful.  I can't help noticing that virtually every solution so far has involved spending a lot of money and making compromises on our comfort.  Oh and giving a lot of power to the people who are saying we should spend a lot of money and make compromises on our comfort.

I do wonder what the climate change lobby's response would be if a combination of Exxon, BP and the nuclear power industry came up with a method of reducing climate change by maximising industrial output.  I can't help suspecting they would be horrified rather than delighted that the planet's corporates had stepped up and solved the problem. 

One thing I do know is that the planet's climate is always changing.  The climate may be a closed system (more or less) but it shows a remarkable amount of flexibility.  In the time this planet has been around we've veered from teetering on the edge of a runaway greenhouse effect which would have transformed us into a copy of Venus (we're still not entirely sure how we avoided that one) to temperatures so cold that they conveniently wiped out most of the animals that could have competed with (or eaten) the small furry things that were our distant ancestors.  What's more its flipped back and forth between these two extremes on several occasions.  There is no "normal" or "optimum" climate/temperature range for this planet.  There is just whatever the climate happens to be doing right now.

Of course when I say there is no optimum climate or temperature for the planet I am referring to the planet as a whole.  There is most definitely an optimum climate for the human race and the band that sits within is frighteningly narrow.  Outside of this band optimum rapidly becomes non viable.  So now, when I'm asked if I think humans are causing, or at least influencing, climate change my answer will be, "I hope so."  Because if we are then there is the possibility that we might be able to do something about it. 

If the planet's climate is just changing as the planet's climate is wont to do then the likelihood is that we're all going to die.

Silly After Action Report Part 2, The Dice Are Trying to Drive Me Into an Early Grave

With three turns to go I sucked in a deep breath and prepared to try my last.  Ivan had a death grip on the two rearmost buildings and a serious injury grip on the one on the right.  I decided to push for the one on the right while positioning myself to pound the other two with the now impressive firepower I possessed courtesy of two captured hmgs, a mortar and a 75mm gun.  But first to try and rally some of my broken squads.  I had only one success but it would be significant.  Opposite the right hand victory building a broken squad cringed inside a smoke filled building with a 7-0 leader.  I rallied these heroes putting all of the other losers to shame and I was ready to begin.

Over on the right I raced a squad with a leader and mmg up behind my guys in the building.  In the centre I eased an hmg team through the smoke and married them up with my 8-1 leader and an elite squad to boot.  The remainder shook themselves out and moved incrementally towards the rearmost victory buildings.  Come my next defensive fire I would be able to plaster them with heavy firepower.  On the right I advanced the mmg squad into the building and two squads toting lmgs into the foxholes opposite his defenders.  Even if he took one of them out he would face an 8+2 shot in defensive fire.  Meanwhile my remaining armoured car risked death by rolling back into bypass on the rear building hex.

Positioning on the left.  Sneaking forward on the right.
As it happened my gallant troops shrugged off an 8+1 shot on the right and I looked forward to the 20+2 shot I'd get in return.  Naturally it got no result.  Neither did the 12+2 shot or the pair of 8+2 shots.  At the end of the fire phase I had advanced my cause not one jot.  Then my armoured car stepped up like heroes.  Ivan advanced his forward squad back to the rear building hex giving himself two shots at my armoured car.  The first failed and my armoured car got the chance to strike back.  It rolled snakes and wiped out a full squad.  In the next turn the building was mine.  I moved forward, pushed a couple of squads in CC and accepted the surrender of the broken guys on the upper level.  Ivan managed to immobilise the armoured car in CC but the crew stayed in and my squads wiped out his defenders.

Progress on the right, less in the centre
Running a couple of expendables past to soak up firepower I did manage to ease forward on the left and get a squad into CC in the rearmost building but Ivan still controlled the top level and the other building.  Despite the ongoing inability of my kill stacks to actually kill anything I had inflicted just enough damage to get a toehold in both buildings.  Now I had one turn to complete the job.  A massive ring of Slovaks surround Ivan who couldn't get away without conceding the game.  He would have to stand and try his luck.

His luck held quite well through my last turn.  I finally cleared out the CC in the rear building and managed to shoot him out of the ground floor of both.  Now I had troops on the ground floor of both buildings.  On the first floor Ivan had three squads, all broken, a crew and a 7-0 leader as he went into his final turn.  I had to break everything to force them to surrender and give me the buildings.  If even the damned crew survived unbroken I had lost.

But first Ivan's rally phase, he had three squads under DM and need a four to rally each one.  He rolled 4, 2, 3 to rally all three squads and battle harden one of them to an elite unit.  I practically gave up the game then, especially when my first couple of shots failed to scratch him.  Even when I rolled a three he survived the resultant morale checks and his sniper killed an officer and broke a squad.  Finally I managed to break the single squad in the forward hex of his remaining building, they would surrender to the ground floor occupants in the rout phase.  Now there were two squads, a crew and a 7-0 in the one hex remaining to him.  I gathered all of my firepower and threw a 24+2 shot at them.  And rolled snake eyes.  Even with cowering everything broke or died on the very last shot of the game.  The dice were cruel to the end.  For two full turns they refused to do me any favours whatsoever and then when Ivan could legitimately hope to squeak through they turned on him savagely and snatched victory away at the last.  I honestly think I did enough to win given average rolls but I didn't get average rolls, I got crap rolls and then at the very end Ivan was the recipient of an equally crap roll in the other direction.  Still a win is a win and I'll take it.  The good nature with which Ivan took the turn of fate was in direct contrast to my own ill tempered bitching of the previous two turns.  This game really needed a parental advisory for explicit language.

Ivan's last stand.  He would rally three squads back from DM

Oberstleutnant von Kattelrussler picked his way through the detritus to where Major Tankenjin stood, a crude bandage wrapped around his arm.  The smoke from burning armoured cars made him cough.  Von Kattelrussler heaved a sigh but this was his job as liaison officer.

"Don't worry major," he soothed.  "Your men did their best and the Poles are tough, believe me I know."

Tankenjin gave a weary smile, "Actually, we won."

"You fucking what?"

Tankenjin pointed with his good arm to where a troop of dispirited Poles with their hands high were being chivvied to the rear by Slovakian soldiers looking decidedly pleased with themselves.  

"We won.  Seized the buildings at the last.  The advance can continue."  A shattering sob interrupted him.  Tankenjin looked down, his liaison officer was rolling on the ground weeping and beating at the earth.

"We couldn't have done it without you," he said.  "No halftracks or flamethrowers!  Advice of genius.  I'll be recommending you be posted to a much more prestigious position far away from us lowly Slovaks.  In fact, I'll write the report immediately."

It was difficult to tell whether von Kattelrussler was laughing or crying.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Silly After Action Report - Part 1

The Polish village slumbered in the early Autumn sun.  Spread out before it was the pride of the Slovakian army ie that part of it that hadn't yet run away.  Soldiers made last minute preparations for the attack; cleaning weapons, writing wills, "accidentally" shooting themselves in the foot.  Major Tomas Tankenjin gazed on the scene with approval.  To his left the cavalry were fondling their horses while directly in front of him someone in a pair of overalls was hitting the engine of an armoured car with an adjustable spanner.  Maintenance it was called.  Major Tankenjin sighed and straightened his uniform (actually a cheap suit dyed green) and prepared to meet his German liaison officer.  Tankenjin couldn't help suspecting that the Germans hadn't exactly sent their best.

As the liaison officer approached Tankenjin ripped off his best salute and winced as Oberstleutnant von Kattelrussler screamed and looked around for an exit.  Once satisfied that danger wasn't immediately present von Kattelrussler calmed down slightly and touched a bandaged hand to his cap in return.  He looked as though he had a dreadful case of sunburn, the skin on his face was peeling so badly he resembled an inhabitant of a leper colony.

"Tell me Herr Oberstleutnant," said Tankenjin.  "How did you become our liaison officer?"

"I was recommended for it," replied von Kattelrussler proudly.  "In fact my commanding officer insisted.  My entire regiment wrote a letter of recommendation asking that I be transferred immediately."

"Good," replied Tankenjin untruthfully.  "What do you think of our preparations?"

"Dear god, what is that man doing to that horse?"

"We're not allowed to ask that question in our army," Tankenjin squirmed inwardly and guided the German a little further away from the cavalry bivouac.  Von Kattelrussler looked around nervously as if expecting assassins to leap out of every tree.  Leaning a lot closer than Tankenjin felt comfortable with he hissed,
"Do you have any flamethrowers?"

"I'm afraid not."

"What about halftracks?  Have you got any of those?"

Tankenjin sighed, "Look this is the Slovakian army all right?  We doubled our defence budget by having a whip round at the staff officers Christmas party.  We don't have any flamethrowers and we don't have any halftracks.  All we've got are a couple of second hand mortars and a  bunch of armoured cars we found in a military museum outside Bratislava.  The Poles have guns, mortars, foxholes and antitank rifles.  I'm afraid this could get a little bloody.  What do you suggest?"

"Suggest for what?"

"For the attack!"

"Oh yes, you should totally do that.  Excellent idea, couldn't have put it better myself.  You don't have any flamethrowers or halftracks so you're in with a fighting chance."

"Thanks for your input.  I can see why the German high command sent you here."

So this is BFP scenario BFP115, Turned Back at Tylicz.  At my own request I am commanding the heroic Slovakian army in its first real action of the Polish campaign.  No more mopping up isolated border guards.  Here they're going head to head against front line Polish troops.  I need to capture a bunch of buildings in the village of Tylicz.  To do so I have about fourteen first line squads with some light and medium machine guns and a pair of pretty impressive 81mm mortars.  Alternately rolling and trotting on as reinforcements are eight squads of cavalry complete with horses and four of the most decrepit armoured cars you will see in your life.  To defend Ivan has a dozen squads, a pair of 75mm artillery pieces and a couple of small (46mm) mortars.  He also gets some foxholes and can set up his entire force concealed.

Ivan set up the bulk of his force in the village with outposts on the hills either side.  His guns were hidden somewhere and the hills seemed most likely (correct for once).  I set up a mortar on the right hand hill where it could cover much of the board and the other down at ground level.  I planned to use the mortars to drop smoke where I thought it would do most good and seize some of that high ground myself while the bulk of my force would grind slowly forward in the centre.  Strangely that sort of worked.

Not perfectly of course but both mortars got smoke and dropped shells where it looked like they could obscure the enemy.  Then I sent a halfsquad on a concealment stripping mission.  Sadly Ivan didn't have any problems firing out of smoke and breaking it before it could do anything useful.  Still I suppose it was a diversion in a way.  Up on the hills flanking troops started their move and showed a surprisingly high survival rate.  My 9-1 officer led a couple of mmg toting squads forward to what looked like a good position and in the centre my troops eased nervously forward to capture a small hill that blocked me from the bulk of the village. 

Feeling that I hadn't got enough room to manouvre I delayed my cavalry reinforcements a turn but brought on the armoured cars two by two on the right and in the centre to see if they could help push me forward. I pushed a couple of machine gun squads through the wheatfield to the left of the small hill to challenge for the church, the nearest of the victory buildings.  Unfortunately on my right an armoured car got smashed and set on fire by a newly revealed 75mm up on a hill but apart from that things weren't going too badly.

End of turn one.  Could be worse

In the second turn I pushed forward steadily along the flanking hills, this cost me some casualties but also revealed some of his troops.  With smoke successfully placed my mortars started getting acquisitions and Ivan decided to leave the church before they resulted in casualties.  Sadly for him he moved into a graveyard which my mortar then pounded smashing an hmg squad.  With that unit fleeing my troops snatched the church and grabbed the hmg as well.  A somewhat disorganised flanking effort on the right managed to get some troops into position (others broke) and gave his men over there something to think about.  Meanwhile in the centre I brought on my cavalry jumping off the horses as soon as was decently possible and joined those squads to my centre push.

Coming soon, cavalry to a scenario near you

Ivan didn't help his cause by breaking his mortar on the right and, as vengeance in the form of a trio of first line squads, approached his smoke wreathed mortar on the left he abandoned it and fled for safety.  His other gun revealed itself but an intensive fire shot broke the thing completely and suddenly Ivan was short on firepower.  Meanwhile my forward push in the centre continued slowly.  This was partly caution and partly the fact that a captured Polish hmg was so heavy the squad with it could barely move at all..  Nevertheless I crawled forward and things didn't look too bad.

Then they got a lot better.  My mortars rock, one of them went on an extended rate tear and killed his remaining gun crew, then beat up on his remaining hmg squad wounding his 9-1 leader (full disclosure forces me to admit that the same morale checks generated a hero and battle hardened the squad but whatever).  On the minus side an attempt by my hill kill stack to wipe out a half squad with an atr only sent them berserk.  Still with the smoke dissipating (except for that from my merrily burning armoured car) my troops seemed well placed for a major drive forward.  I even pushed a squad towards his berserkers, daring them to charge (they did and killed a half squad in CC before I reinforced it and finally managed to kill the crazy bastards).

Over on the right I had swept Ivan from the hills and had a modest (one squad) flanking manouvre happening.  On the left the final act of his gun crew before suffering deserved mortar related death was to break two of my squads but the third leapt forward and grabbed the now unoccupied gun.  I don't expect them to do much with it but every time I fire it Ivan dies a little inside.

The flanks are mine, unfortunately the victory locations are all in the middle

Sadly in the centre things have got a little awkward.  Ivan didn't stay and fight for the central buildings but pulled back to defend the two in the rear, unfortunately one of my armoured cars got a little eager and was ripped to bits by his medium machine gun.  The resultant billows of smoke are blowing right where I should be setting up my firebase for the final assault.  His hmg team managed to shatter my kill stack on the hill.  All that's left of it is a wounded officer and a broken halfsquad but in revenge one of my mortars (have I mentioned how much I love my mortars) killed his hero and broke his squad so now he has lost his last hmg.

On the right Ivan voluntarily broke a pair of squads to rush them back to a victory building, trusting the officer there would be able to rally them before I arrived.  He was half right, he rallied one of them but my one surviving armoured car rolled up and is currently holding them in bypass while his broken squad slunk upstairs.  Ivan's strategy is simple.  He plans to hold that building as long as possible and the two rear ones for all time.  I need to get them all.  I have enough troops to take the building on the right but Ivan has concentrated a spectacular amount of firepower in the rear buildings and the damn smoke will make it hard for me to whittle it down.

The story so far

The above picture is where we left it.  I have three turns to drive Ivan out of three buildings.  I have a nasty feeling I might come up just a little bit short.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Anyone for Something Vaguely Resembling Tennis?

I watched the final of the Hopman Cup last night.  There were two gripping tennis matches plus something called the "Fast Four" which is the latest travesty to be inflicted on the long suffering mixed doubles format.  The whole purpose seems to be to get mixed doubles out of the way as quickly as possible.  In a few years time they'll be deciding mixed doubles matches with a simple coin toss and neither the players nor the audience will have to bother turning up at all.

As I understand it the Hopman Cup was inaugurated at least in part to revive the mixed doubles version of the game.  Since that time the organisers have obviously decided to get rid of it instead but rather than give it a merciful bullet they've chosen to torture it slowly to death over the course of several years.

This isn't to say I didn't enjoy watching it.  There was speed, skill, touch and amazing net play; all the stuff I watch mixed doubles to see.  It was definitely the next best thing to a real tennis match.  Unfortunately just as the match should have been getting interesting it was over instead.  My enjoyment was also somewhat spoiled by the pressure on my bladder.  I was afraid if I went to the bathroom the match might be over before I got back.  The Fast Four format seems to have been designed for people who have better things to do than watch or play tennis.  It's motto should be "Don't worry, it'll all be over soon".

I do understand that organisers of tennis competitions need to keep up with public tastes. They need to put on a show that will bring people in and engage and excite the crowd.  There are plenty of different sports and entertainment options out there and since most people these days have the attention span of a gnat something fast and hard hitting might draw more people to the game.  The T-20 format has certainly done that for cricket maybe Fast Four can do the same for tennis.  For the record I don't like T-20 either, its essentially batting practice in front of an audience.

As for me I guess I will continue to watch Fast Four tennis.  It's not as good as what its replacing but if international tennis had to rely on my patronage for its financial survival we wouldn't have any tennis at all.

Chilly After Action Report

It seemed like such a good idea.  Charge into the Soviet Union, break half the windows in the joint and capture and/or butcher anyone you came across.  For five months the German army had felt as though they were on top of the world.  Then Winter came and they felt like they were on the top of the world.  The memoirs of senior officers veered suddenly from smug self congratulation to quite nauseating levels of self pity.  It got cold in Russia during Winter, who knew?

Soldiers were dropping like flies from frostbite, exposure, exhaustion and the irrational desire of the Soviets to shoot them whenever they moved about to get warm.  The gates of Moscow were within reach but actually extending an arm risked losing too much body heat.  Sullenly the German army hunkered down to freeze to death in peace and start blaming everything on Hitler.  Disinclined to leave the Germans to placidly count their remaining fingers the Soviets chose this moment to most unsportingly launch a counter attack.  Since the front lines were currently being held by about five freezing soldiers per mile plus a bunch of snowmen cunningly dressed in German uniforms the results were rather impressive.  In response senior German officers confided to their diaries that they had always thought this was a bad idea.  Further down the chain of command a small group of soldiers broke the ice on their eyelids, peered into the murk and prayed that the snowmen were keeping a keen watch.
This is ASL Scenario AP63, The Nutcracker.  Here I shall command a raving horde of ski equipped Soviet troops swooping down on an undermanned German position commanded by Richard Weiley.  Since the general consensus is that the Germans slaughter the Soviets in this scenario we decided to adopt an unofficial balance provision by having the German reinforcements arrive on turn 3 rather than the designated turn 2.

To win I need to either capture ten buildings or clear the Germans from all the buildings on one board.  To do the job I have fourteen first line squads commanded by an 8-1 officer and a 9-0 commissar.  I have a pair of medium machine guns, a light machine gun and an antitank rifle.  I also get tanks.  Two T-26 tin cans start on board with my troops while five more arrive on turn one.  Two of the reinforcing tanks carry impressive 76mm guns but the armour of all of them is pretty lousy.

Richard starts with a mere six squads; one elite, three first line and two conscript and only one officer, a lowly 7-0.  He does, however have a medium machine gun, a light machine gun, an antitank rifle, a mortar a demolition charge and a hero.  He also has a 37mm antitank gun and two monstrous 150mm artillery pieces trying to get over their shock at finding themselves in the front lines.  On turn three he gets reinforcements in the form of six more squads, a pair of T-38 tanks, another mortar and a couple of officers.
The picture below is the at start set up.  Richard is huddled inside buildings and woods trying to keep warm while my troops are preparing to zip across the snow gulping refreshing breaths of sub zero air.

My plan was to seize all the buildings on board 62 so I set up the bulk of my troops (plus my onboard tanks) on the left.  On the other flank I placed a few squads, guided by the commissar to keep his troops over there busy.  My reinforcing tanks I would bring along the left hand road and through the centre.  Eager for combat my troops skiied towards the enemy.

It all worked perfectly, swooping down on the right my diversionary force stunned Richard by the ground they could cover in a single turn.  Immediately his outpost troops in the right hand woods were under threat while on the left I moved forward a little more circumspectly but still managed to reach the woods beside the road.  The only minor problem was that troops zooming along on skis are incredibly easy to kill.  As Richard proved by killing one squad on the right and breaking a pair of others in the first turn.  My diversionary flank was an immediate shambles (although the commissar swiftly rallied the broken guys).  On the left things looked better until my kill stack was pulverised by a 150mm gun sitting next to the factory.  Richard had both of the artillery pieces up in the front line allowing them to get swiftly (and brutally) into the action.  My reinforcing tanks rolled forward but weren't in a position to help just yet.

Well at least I'm going forward on the left

It has to be admitted my personal morale took a battering in the first turn and my troops were decimated without being able to inflict casualties.  Nevertheless the survivors were pushing his troops out of the buildings on the left and a second attack attempt on the right flank actually resulted in some survivors who pushed forward into the woods.  For a turn or two I dared to hope.

Still with a bunch of mangled squads as a consequence of my first attack I was feeling a lack of manpower and in desperation I decided to let metal take the strain.  My onboard tanks I rolled down the left hand road to bring his defenders under fire (and also inadvertently discover his antitank gun, that didn't end well).  The other five I lined up in front of his main position.  I had no hope that they would survive but perhaps they could take some of Richards main weapons with them.

This actually worked a bit.  Eventually four of the five tanks were smashed but I managed to break the crews of both his 150mm guns and kill his hero who was ensconced in the factory with an antitank rifle.  Over on the right I took advantage of minimal opposition to push three squads through to capture a pair of buildings.  On the left I eased forward.  It cost me some casualties I could ill afford but I grabbed a couple of the buildings alongside the road. 

Sadly all of this had used up time.  Now Richard's reinforcements arrived and my previous casualties meant that he actually outnumbered me now.  His tanks and a bunch of squads rolled on the right side of the board putting paid to any pretensions my diversionary troops might have had of impacting the game.  One of his tanks disdaining my one surviving tank in the centre rolled forward and was promptly wrecked with a 76mm shell through the front.

On the left I lost a tank, courtesy of his antitank gun but the crew survived only to be broken along with a squad.  Richards remaining reinforcements charged forward to monster them and managed to kill the squad in CC.  However I saved the crew by firing into the melee and breaking his squad.  Somehow I managed to maintain my position along the road and when he broke his antitank gun (extreme winter, thank you) I had the tiniest window of opportunity.

The very last turn arrived and I had a couple of squads to spare.  If I raced them down the road, and they survived the defensive fire then I could, just, capture all the buildings I needed.  Of course I then needed to hold them all from his counter attack but at least it was a chance.  I snatched a couple of the nearest buildings and then readied my death run.  Well they call it a death run for a reason.  My guys didn't survive and I wound up a couple of buildings short.  If I had been smarter at the beginning I might have had a few more squads to throw away later but it was still closer than I expected.  Thanks to Richard for the game, I'm now going to slink away and hopefully take out my frustrations on Ivan by beating him in the game we're playing.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy New Year, Happy Happy Happy

Well 2016 has sauntered out the door leaving behind a pile of celebrity corpses and the Red Army Choir at the bottom of the Black Sea.  At last report the queen was still clinging to life by her eyelids while the palace doctors up the injections of corgi blood and virgin tears in an increasingly desperate attempt to keep her around until Charles is safely filling a crate. 

Did more people die than usual in 2016?  Probably not barring an outbreak of plague that didn't go reported in the mainstream media.  What did happen is that there seemed to be a higher than usual mortality rate amongst those who fondly imagine we can't do without them.  A delusion we are prepared to pander to as long as they continue to produce moderately capable music and movies that don't actually make us want to vomit. 

Which sadly, brings me to The Force Awakens.  I am so sorry that Carrie Fisher is dead.  I'm also sorry beyond words that The Force Awakens was her last picture because who wants to be remembered for that.  Not that there's anything wrong with The Force Awakens.  For anybody who hasn't seen Star Wars its a perfectly acceptable space action thingy.  Of course if you have seen Star Wars then you know the plot, the characters and a good deal of the dialogue.  There is literally no reason to see The Force Awakens if you have seen Star Wars.  It is the same movie only not quite as good. 

But back to death and the avoidance of it.  As you may have guessed from the first paragraph I am rather hoping that whatever dark arts are keeping the queen alive continue to do so until Charles is out of the running for the throne.  Hopefully she will be sitting in the crumbling ruins of Buckingham Palace breeding dorgis for a long time to come.  Yes, I said "dorgis".  Dorgis are apparently a cross between a dachshund and a corgi and the possessor of the most stupid name for a dog breed since labradoodle.  In defence of labradoodles since the alternative name for them would have been "poodor" they probably made the right choice.  The queen's obsession with dorgis makes me suspect that Buckingham Palace is desperately short of draught excluders.

Somebody else who has so far avoided death is president-elect Donald Trump despite the earnest prayers of most of America's political and media establishment.  Does anybody else at this point think that Trump is simply tweeting whatever nonsense comes into his head just for the fun of watching his opponents go into meltdown?  Meanwhile Republicans who thought their candidate won the White House got a sudden reality check when their attempts to gut the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics were blocked by the combined efforts of Paul Ryan and Trump himself.  With the Democrats reduced to something close to impotence the opposition to a Republican administration is going to have to come from Trump and such party members as retain a modicum of sanity.

But farewell to 2016; as 2017 emerges blinking into the light like a mole that took a wrong turning I find myself feeling more and more like the queen.  I too didn't die in 2016.  I am also cutting down my public appearances and should my attempts at mating a cockroach with a ringworm bear fruit I too will have a silly animal to call my own.  I will name it a "cockring".

On a more positive front I hope to visit Indonesia before our military manages to piss them off beyond redemption and will take the opportunity to poke sticks at orang-utans.  Sorry, I mean "enjoy these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat".  Their natural habitat nowadays being under a pall of smoke from burning rainforest.  Good luck for the new year guys.  I earnestly hope it turns out to be incredibly boring.