Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Plague Update #28 - Catching the Wave

Well there we were patting ourselves on the back, congratulating ourselves on how well we were handling the coronavirus when suddenly a pack of inconsiderate Victorians starting getting diseased and making our numbers look bad.  Recently reopened borders have been hastily amended with crayon additions saying "except Victoria".  Suddenly Victoria is the state nobody wants to associate with which at least makes a refreshing change from Queensland. 

It is important not to take this out of context.  This is definitely not a "second wave" as Victoria's Chief Plague Doctor assured disappointed journalists looking for a headline.  No, it is simply a large and unexpected increase in cases after we thought we had things under control.  Definitely not a second wave at all.  In fact we don't even have a definition of a second wave and it might not actually exist, so there.  Possibly we could call it the First Wave A.

I only have one friend who lives in Victoria and I'm pleased to say that he's a picture of health despite living in a suburb where apparently the dead carts rumble through the streets on a daily basis.  I was thinking of dropping in to visit him but after immature reflection I've decided to wait for a year or two.  After all, I saw him eighteen months ago and I don't want him to think I'm clingy.

The sudden (definitely not wave related) explosion of cases in Victoria is particularly disappointing to me because my Tasmanian correspondent excitedly informed me recently that Tasmania is intending to open its borders quite soon and I could visit.  Unfortunately flights to Tasmania tend to go through Melbourne and anybody arriving in Tasmania from Melbourne is currently being "made safe" with a controlled explosion at the airport.  I may have to delay my visit for a while.  Since the "attractions" of the visit according to my correspondent involved bushwalking in midwinter, psychotic dogs and a bath full of fish its probably fair to say I'll be able to contain my disappointment.

Back in my home state the premier announced that she wouldn't close the border with Victoria.  She simply suggested that we let the Victorians know that they aren't welcome here.  She didn't put it quite like that but it was a lot closer to that than you might expect from a professional politician.  The problem with the NSW/Victorian border is that there are a lot of places where you can cross.  Western Australia was able to seal its border largely because there's only about two roads going in to the state and if you leave them not only will you die but it will take the authorities up to a year to find your body.  Assuming they bother to look.

With social shunning of Victorians now escalated as an official response to the outbreak (rather than the amusing passtime that it used to be) our premier also took the opportunity to demand that all the other states open their borders to NSW and pointed out, rather ungraciously, that most of their economies depended on ours in some way.  I don't know if that's true, I do know its probably not particularly helpful to be stating it publicly.

My war gaming club which meets at Paddington RSL will have the opportunity for its first face to face meeting this weekend.  I'm not sure if I'm going to go.  Most of the people there are only a gentle breeze away from the grave in any event and I'd hate it if one of us were responsible for a sudden cluster in Paddington.  They'd probably close the place down again for several months and delay us even more.

In the meantime if you see any Victorians don't look the other way and treat them as though they didn't exist.  Show some compassion.  Give them a wave.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Out of Their Element

In response to his commanding officer's irritated summons Hauptmann Dieter von Teeze struggled over and gave a reluctant salute.

"Now pay attention von Teeze."

What his commanding officer said after that is unknown as von Teeze was busy ruminating on the unfairness of life in general and his in particular.  He had joined the skijaeger with definite assumptions; glorious alpine scenery, vast expanses of white powder (and snow) and hot Norwegian ski bunnies up for a little "collaboration".  Instead he was stuck in a muddy field in a low rent section of Poland while an increasingly large number of distinctly surly Russians did their best to kill him.  To be fair they were trying to kill a lot of other Germans as well (and probably wouldn't have shed too many tears if some Poles wandered into the crossfire) but von Teeze couldn't help taking it personally.

Suddenly von Teeze became aware of the silence.  His CO had stopped speaking and was looking at him expectantly.

"Yes sir," said von Teeze.  That usually worked.

"Well then join your men.  The attack jumps off in ten minutes."

As von Teeze shambled away the CO called after him,

"And for Christ's sake take those damned skis off!"

For our latest session Mike Sexton and I decided to play FrF74 - Out of Their Element which sees a group of elite German ski troops inexplicably committed to the battles in Poland (not really that inexplicably, by this time the Germans were desperate for warm bodies.  They would probably have committed the Salvation Army to the attack if they were around).  I would command the geographically challenged snow warriors attempting to destroy a Soviet bridgehead over the Vistula River.  Mike would have the job of throwing me back.

To do said throwing Mike has an at start force of eight first line squads equipped with an lmg, an mmg and an antitank rifle all led by two officers.  To back up these arms and legs he also had a 76mm gun hidden discreetly somewhere about the board and a trio of foxholes.  On the third turn he gets a pair of first line squads toting a mortar and another officer.  On turn five he gets two more 5-2-7 squads and finally on turn six another pair of 4-4-7s.  To win Mike had to have at least three good order squads within two hexes of 40AA5 (rubble) and/or 40CC8 (a building).

I command a tight little force comprising seven elite 5-4-8 squads with a pair of lmgs and an mmg of their very own.  I have three officers including an impressive 9-1 and to provide added, if not entirely reliable, fire support I have two sIG38(t)M rolling artillery pieces where the Germans managed to cram a massive 150mm gun onto the chassis of an old Czech tank by the simple expedient of removing most of the ammunition stowage.  I would have heart palpitations every time they opened fire.  On turn two I received a pair of 8-3-8 squads with a demo charge and flamethrower (plus another officer).

Mike set up reasonably forward in the woods which effectively screened the objectives.  I set up the bulk of my force on the left (Mike's left but let's just say left since that's how the pictures have come out) looking to slide down that side of the board towards the building that was of such great interest to the defenders.  Over on the right I had a couple of squads and a second rate leader to hopefully occupy some of Mike's attention.  This was also where my reinforcements would come on.  I allocated a sIG to each force and prayed they wouldn't run out of ammunition.  Below is the scene at the end of turn one.  Sacrificial halfsquads are teasing Mike in the hopes of getting him to drop concealment while the sIGs lurk modestly in the background.  The badly rendered red circles show the locations that Mike's endgame force has to be hanging around.

End turn 1

I told Mike that I'm never crazy about playing with eight morale troops as my dice seem to take it as a challenge to see if I can still fail morale checks.  Mike thought I was joking, by the end of the scenario he was eating his words.  Still things weren't going too badly.  I had wrong footed Mike somewhat with the sheer weight of my attack on the left and he hastily started shifting forces leftwards to try and hold it off.  This opened up opportunities for my much more modest force on the right.  My right hand sIG lurched forward and Mike decided to hasten his departure.  This sIG would be the absolute standout for me.  His compatriot wasn't so lucky.  I rolled it forward a hex and Mike promptly revealed an atr and immobilised it.  A good result for Mike but not for the squad with the atr.  Most of the rest of Mike's force had sensibly slunk into the woods but the guys with the atr couldn't and, burning with a desire to avenge their drive chain, the crew of the sIG put a 150mm shell into the hex occupied by the offending atr; bits of that squad are still coming down.

End of German turn 2.  My reinforcements have arrived and a sIG is conducting its own private flanking manoeuvre

Things looked quite good at the end of my second turn but things slowed down a bit from there as Mike managed to hustle a decent amount of his force to block my attempted breakthrough.  While a brutal slugging match ensued on the left I was starting to take advantage on the right, slipping down through the woods towards the bridge.  In this I was aided by my doughty sIG which managed to remain below its low ammo number (admittedly frequently not by much) the entire game.  Hits weren't required.  A simple acquisition counter was enough to give the defenders an overwhelming desire to be elsewhere.

Yep, things look good but that girl in the car honking her horn is Nemesis

I managed to dispossess Mike of his medium machine gun early on in the piece and was cheerfully carving up his troops on the left however the clouds were gathering.  I had survived so far largely because Mike was reluctant to drop concealment by firing back.  One he bit the bullet though my troops started biting the bullet as well.  Passing morale checks became a rarity to be commented on and much discussed.  Fairness forces me to admit that I was handing out punishment as well but Mike's routs took him closer to the places he had to defend whereas mine took me further away.  Also I wasted a turn surrounding and encircling a dummy stack which was distinctly irritating.

Surely victory is in sight

Mike's turn four reinforcements turned up just as my rather skimpy right hand force looked like it was going to break straight through.  Before my right hand troops there was open space and the pile of rubble which was all that was left of the original bridge.  Also before them were a couple of defending squads in foxholes and the often feared but, until now, rarely seen 76mm gun.  Mike rushed his reinforcement squads forward to thicken the line while one of my units brave enough to step into the sunshine met a 76mm shell coming in the other direction and lost all interest in proceedings for a while.

On both the right and the left Mike seemed to be hanging on by the skin of his teeth.  He would continue to hang on by the skin of his teeth for the next couple of turns aided by some murderously accurate mortar fire and the blind raving panic my troops displayed whenever anyone fired a gun in their general vicinity. 

Well maybe not
Still I was pushing forward and to aid my guys on the right my hero sIG trundled down the right side of the board to start taking his defenders under fire.  I parked somewhere I was reasonably sure the 76mm couldn't see me and started slaughtering squads in earnest.  We checked the line of sight after the game and it was actually clear but at the time neither of us dared take the risk so I got away with it.  Until this point I had been pushing forward but now a brief pause ensued as I tried to rally enough troops to make a credible assault and Mike tried to rally enough troops to make a credible defence (the poor morale checks weren't a one way street).

Finally I wasn't so much ready as out of time and I made my final push.  On the left I drove his forces out of the remaining forest and snuggled up to the hill containing the victory building while simultaneous swinging around the brush on the left.  He had defenders covering that approach so I came up with a bright tactic.  I let a halfsquad go first.  While it fled yelping towards the rear a machine gun team moved up in their place.  Over on the right my sIG had literally blown his defending squads away and now I had another task for it.  I sent it on a wide sweep around behind his 76mm gun to beat up more infantry while what was left of my right hand force tiptoed nervously forward.  Mike tried to hit my sIG with the 76mm but missed twice (having to change covered arc each time helped) and before he could try again return fire mangled his crew.

The luckiest sIG in the world
Over on the left I panted up the hill with a squad and an 8-1 leader and very soon had a halfsquad and a wounded 8-1 but nevertheless I was on the hill.  I pushed the halfsquad into CC for the building and took advantage of the absence of fire to bring up another squad.  Meanwhile the guys I sent around to the left had done sterling work breaking the troops he had lurking there.  Still as we approached the final turn I thought Mike had this one in the bag.  He still had three good order squads within the required space and I was quite simply running out of troops.  My guys on the right until now held up by fear of the 76mm would have to rush forward and I needed something special from my sIG as well.  

At the last minute I remembered the victory conditions, I didn't have to kill his guys or even break them.  Holding them in melee would be enough.  My sIG managed to pin a squad in the rubble and my right hand force charged forward.  There were two halfsquads, a recently created hero and an 8-3-8 squad. On the left I pushed troops towards his remaining squads.  What ensued was one of the most horrifying fire phases I've ever undergone.  I made four morale checks.  My rolls were 12, 12, 10 & 12.  I had one squad and the wounded leader remaining on the left and on the right a single halfsquad had survived the slaughter of his comrades and Mike still had three good order squads within the appropriate distance.  The final close combat phase rolled around, I had two chances.  On the left a single squad and a wounded officer survived to jump into CC with Mike's squad.  Mike put an end to that by rolling snakeeyes.  With fear and trembling I advanced my sole remaining halfsquad into CC with his pinned squad in the rubble.  Of course I didn't manage to kill anything but neither did Mike.  Victory literally on the last roll of the dice.  Including my half squad in melee I finished the game with precisely one and a half unbroken squads, Mike had three but I had the victory conditions.  If that's a win I don't want to see a defeat.

End game.  The red circles show Mike's surviving good order squads.
Mike and I had an immense amount of fun playing this game.  There were swings of fortune and at different times each of us was confident of victory and sure of defeat.  A special shout out must go to my sIG which must have been manned by the best crew in the Reich.  They aimed well, rolled low and didn't run out of ammunition.  You may notice I didn't mention the flamethrower.  Boxcarred the first shot.  Many thanks to Mike for the game, it will be hard to top this one.

Hauptmann von Teeze looked around at the wreckage of battle. Nearby a sIG, its gun barrel glowing red hot, bulked over an abandoned gun.  In front of him a Soviet soldier lay impaled on a ski pole.  Von Teeze nodded in approval.  That's how they did it in the skijaeger.  He made sure that his own skis were firmly in place and shuffled over to report to his commanding officer who appeared to be the only other person left alive.  Surely this was got be worth a weeks leave in Gstaad.  His commanding officer handed him a shovel and told him to start digging defences.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Exhibition Centre

A (very) few minutes down the light rail line from Convention station is its sister Exhibition Centre.  For the last few stops the light rail has been trundling down the side of Darling Harbour waiting patiently for the water to stop so it can take a hard left turn towards the city.  Now finally its succeeded, the rail line does indeed swing left just after Exhibition Centre and plunge into Sydney's tangled road network.  I hopped off just before the turn so I could sample the delights of Exhibition Centre.

There is indeed an Exhibition Centre literally just across the road from the station although you're not seeing it at its best.  The Centre was set up to face onto Darling Harbour which means that when you get off the train you're looking at the rather shabby rear of the building.  Possibly for that reason (but I wouldn't rule out sheer perversity) I got off on the other side where, instead of the rear of the exhibition centre I could enjoy the Ultimo sewage pumping station and the rear of the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre.  For the record "aquatic centre" is a fancy way of saying "indoor pool".

I wasn't interested in the aquatic centre and the sewage pumping station was locked so I wandered down the street towards the Powerhouse Museum.  I remember going to this museum as a child and being fascinated by the machines and technology housed within (although not so fascinated that I set out to understand any of it).  The museum won't be around for much longer as the government is planning to move the museum to a smaller, less convenient site situated on a flood plain at Parramatta.  Moving things to Parramatta is what our state government does when it would dearly like to destroy them but doesn't want the political backlash.  This will leave a prime chunk of inner city land ripe for property development.

Various members of our cultural community have railed against the shortsightedness and vandalism inherent in this act and they're probably right but it is worth remembering they would say the same thing anytime a cultural institution was moved more than fifteen minutes drive away from where they currently live.

I said a last goodbye to the Powerhouse and turned back towards the light rail tracks having determined to give the actual exhibition centre its day in court.  The exhibition centre was built in the eighties when Australia's bicentenary was looming and there was a desire to cover the older, more shabby looking parts of the city with eye pleasing concrete.  The site fronts on to what was the old goods marshalling yards back when the light rail line was part of a significant freight haulage network.  Having built the exhibition centre and ancillary buildings and ringed the whole thing in flyovers, and expressways the designers had to come up with something to do with the marshalling yard shaped hole in the middle.  Possibly out of desperation they turned it into a public precinct with parks, recreation areas, restaurants and a Chinese Friendship Garden although given the current state of our relations with China its more of a Chinese Frostily Polite Garden.

Protected from the bustle of the city by ribbons of concrete, multirise carparks and large buildings the area is actually reasonably quiet and enjoyable.  When I walked along there was even a scantily clad young lady roller skating which I thought was a stereotype reserved for movies set in Venice Beach, California.  Strolling along I just managed to avoid getting back into Pyrmont and even saw the front of the exhibition centre which is considerably more impressive than the rear.  I've no idea what they exhibit there but I'm going to assume "stuff".

With that done I jumped the tracks for the third time and wandered along the Goods Line.  The Goods Line is another hangover from the days when Darling Harbour was a working port.  It was a rail line leading from the marshalling yards out to Redfern and beyond.  When freight stopped coming over the Darling Harbour docks it was essentially abandoned but now has been converted into was is referred to as a linear park.  A linear park is essentially one that is long and skinny.  The park runs along the back (or possibly front) of Ultimo.  I had a pleasant walk along the park, entered a tunnel and wound up at Central railway station which was a little surprising but convenient as I wanted to go home

Silly After Action Report - The Price of Persia

Captain Turan Turan looked at the collection of buildings that had apparently been scattered at random about the landscape with disfavour.  There was something wrong with the Persian army he realised, starting with the fact that they were supposed to be the Iranian army now but nobody seemed to be paying any attention.  Food rations were poor, morale was low and this morning three of his men had attempted to surrender to an executive from British Petroleum.  That was before he caught his best sergeant attempting to siphon oil from the pipeline to sell on the black market.

Still, Turan brightened slightly, another day had dawned and so far the hated British hadn't overrun the country.  Actually Turan was a little ambivalent about the entire "hated" thing.  Compared with the Russians in the north the best he could come up with was the "mildly disliked British".  He approached a machine gun post just as the men were attempting to shift something out of sight.

"What's that?" he demanded.

Somewhat sheepishly the men revealed a placard bearing the words "No Blood for Oil!" 
Before Turan could say anything a spatter of rifle fire broke the silence and the long feared cry,

"The mildly disliked British are coming!" filled the air.  Turan pointed to the placard with a sympathetic grin,

"Bad timing guys."

Dave Wilson and I were looking for something simple to play on a Thursday evening and eventually settled on this little piece. Scenario FT163 which involved the British (Indians actually) of the 10th Indian Division attempting to evict the deeply unenthusiastic Iranian (they changed their name in 1935, look it up) army from positions near the oil refineries around Abadan.  Along the way they managed to shoot some refinery staff (officially by accident).

Defending Persian (oh god, now I'm doing it) soil from the rapacious grasp of the imperialists is yours truly.  I have eight first line squads of Axis (very) minors equipped with pair of medium machine guns, a light machine gun and two officers both of whom seem unlikely to inspire their men to heroics.  Dave commanded the Sepoys of the 1st Kumaon Rifles charged with ensuring my plans had an unhappy end.  His force consisted of ten first line squads, a pair of light machine guns and a couple of 51mm mortars the whole lot commanded by three officers including a 9-1.

The British win by ensuring that there are no good order Iranian troops in any of the multihex buildings at game end.  It shouldn't be too difficult, my men were barely in good order before we started playing.  To persuade the British not to simply charge blindly into machine gun fire there is a stipulation that they also have to amass more CVP than the Iranians.  Not as it turned out a particularly onerous task.

I had to set up behind a road that ran across the battlefield and I put a mix of dummies and live troops behind the wall that bordered it to make it look like I was going to defend to the death.  Actually I was just hoping to slow him down a bit before I ran away.  He only has five turns and the more time I can make him waste the better.  I HIPed a squad with an mmg and my best leader to fire straight down the road.  I had visions of fire lanes causing hideous carnage but these visions, like most I have, turned out to be the products of a diseased mind.  The remainder of my force I held back in the buildings themselves as a last resort.

The first turn was uneventful as it consisted of Dave entering and moving in the general direction of my defences.  I maintained fire discipline and lurked under concealment counters waiting for my opportunity.

End of British/Indian turn 1.  I decided not to do anything as uncivilised as shooting at him
In my turn I slunk out of Dave's line of sight before returning in the advance phase.  Dave questioned my courage and manhood but I refused to be diverted.

It all kicked off in turn two when Dave's mortars dropped smoke on a couple of my stacks behind the wall.  I wasn't worried, I had no intention of shooting at him and the smoke was added cover.  Then, greatly daring a single half squad stepped out into the road.  With great aplomb I revealed my mmg team and established the previously decided upon firelane in addition to breaking the halfsquad.  I think Dave preferred it when I was skulking.  His force froze into immobility until the advance phase when pretty much all of them stepped out into the road.  He even moved a squad up close to my mmg team.
Time for the Iranians to leave
I agonised over what to do with the mmg team.  I should have pulled them back but there was a whole squad sitting right there in the street next to them.  Eventually I took the shot in prep fire hoping for rate.  There was no rate, one shot was all I was going to get.  I did break the squad, Dave had a problem passing morale checks for much of the game.  I had a problem achieving anything at all.  In defensive fire Dave fired a mortar at my mmg team.  The result of this was a dead officer, a casualty reduction and an elr down to a broken conscript halfsquad for the survivors.  Things would get worse.  If Dave was having difficulty passing morale checks my men appeared to be actively attempting suicide.

It needn't have been the end, I had a pair of squads behind the mmg team and I advanced one of them in to pick up the mmg. Along the way I inflicted my first casualties, Dave had routed his broken squad into that hex and I managed to kill half of them as they fled for the hills in CC.  I successfully picked up the mmg whereupon Dave dropped a smoke round on the hex and reduced the position to effective impotence.

Meanwhile at the other end of the board Dave's men pushed forward contemptuously breaking the squad in the woods which was supposed to be a flank guard.  In the centre what was left of my force pulled back through the orchards heading for the multihex building in the rear, they wouldn't make it.

The cracks are starting to appear
So far good, or at least so I thought.  Despite the hideous death of my mmg team (other defensive fire wiped out the pitiful remnants) and the failure of my flank guard to do anything except curl up into a ball and snivel for his mother I wasn't feeling too disappointed.  Two turns had passed out of five and Dave was still nowhere near the buildings.  By the end of his third turn he would be a lot closer.

He pushed troops into melee with my smoked out machine gunners while a flanking force raced down the road.  In the orchard he hopped the wall, pushed through the smoke and shot my guys to pieces.  There may have been some return fire, if so it was irrelevant.  I had a squad with an lmg but courtesy of another four on the DR they were soon a broken conscript halfsquad.  Four is my sniper number and in my only result of the game (despite six attempts) I managed to kill...his sniper.  Most futile result ever.  With a sniper number of two it wasn't as though he was ever going to use it.

Well that didn't take long to go badly wrong
Despite the mounting catalogue of disasters things weren't as bad as they looked.  Dave was running out of time and still had some distance to go.  ROAR shows this as being strongly in favour of the Iranians.  If it wasn't for the fact that my men couldn't shoot for shit and folded like wet cardboard Dave would be even further behind.  But Dave had his own troubles.  On the rare occasions that my fire actually gained a result his troops almost always broke.  First line British indeed.

With two turns to go Dave, of necessity, threw caution to the winds.  He had to drive me out of the two remaining multihex buildings and very little time.  His flankers hopped the wall and challenged my defenders to do their worst.  Their worst turned out to be nothing at all and Dave bulled his way into the building to take on my guys in close combat.  In the centre of the field though came my one unalloyed moment of pleasure.  I had managed to rally the broken conscript halfsquad with the light machine gun and as Dave's kill stack hove into view I managed to break two squads with a 2 flat shot. Unfortunately the rest of Dave's force was closing in.

End of turn 4.  Dave couldn't pass pin checks either.
As the final turn came around Dave had cleared the building at the bottom.  A handy pin result had stopped my other squad from getting into the building.  Now it all depened on my defenders of the large building in the centre.  I had a squad with an mmg and a halfsquad with a lmg and 7-0 leader.  Dave had few troops in position and I dared to have hope.  This hope grew as his mortar ran out of smoke at the penultimate moment.  Dave would have to move forward into the teeth of Iranian fire.
And that's exactly what he did. My lmg team stood up like heroes taking down a couple of attacking halfsquads but they were swamped by a squad and leader and wiped out in CC.  Which left it all up to the mmg team.  They laid a firelane down the street so Dave worked around it and rushed out into the open.  My squad took a 6-2 shot for no result and followed it up with a 2-2 shot for no result.  This was my last good order unit in a building.  Dave didn't have to kill it, just hold it in melee.  Just to be showy he killed it. 

So victory to Dave at the last.  I'm not really disappointed with my performance although I would have had harsh words to say to my troops if any of them had survived.

Captain Turan pulled the ragged cloak he had stolen from passing beggar more tightly around his shoulders.  Stumbling forwards he tried not to look up as trucks of victorious Indian soldiers swept by on their way to Tehran.

"You there," came an unmistakeably British voice.  Turan froze.  A young British officer stepped out of a staff car.  His uniform was immaculate and his upper lip was so stiff it obscured his nose.

"You there," repeated the officer. "Are you Persian?"

"Persian?" replied Turan in his best surprised tone.  "Hell no, I'm Iranian."

"Oh, very good then.  Carry on."

The officer hopped back into the car and drove off after the trucks.  In accordance with his instructions Turan carried on.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Plague Update #27 - The Visitation

My parents live a convenient distance from me; close enough to get to if I have to and far enough away to justify not visiting more often.  Since the COVID-19 outbreak though I hadn't seen them at all and was starting to forget what they looked like.  Actually I forgot what they looked like years ago, I just remember their address and assume the people who answer the door are my parents.  If they aren't a number of strangers have been very generous with cooked meals over the years.  I'm easier to remember, they have two offspring and I'm the one they don't see very often.  At worst they have a 50% chance of getting my name right plus they can always plead senility if they muck it up.

Now with travel restrictions (possibly temporarily) eased I drew a trembling breath, committed my soul to God (who promptly returned it unopened) and braved our public transport system to visit the two people who are, collectively, to blame for my existence. 

It all went quite well.  My parents were healthy (healthier than me if I'm being frank) and were quite pleased to see me.  At least that's the impression I gained from the megaphone communications I had with them while they soaked me with various disinfectant sprays.  I thought the acid bath was a little over the top but I must admit my skin has never been so pink and gleaming; oh wait, that's muscle tissue but even so. 

Once we somewhat nervously reconnected as a family we sat down to discuss all the exciting things that had happened to us since last we met.  Nothing; that's what's happened to us, absolutely nothing.  In a way this is a good thing.  The sort of things that are happening to people right now tend to involve a trip to the hospital and excessive use of the word "cluster".  After thirty odd seconds of "catching up" we spent the rest of the time arguing over who had grown the best quarantine beard, a competition my mother thought was rather unfair. 

But even as I was heading home clutching a tin of home made biscuits my mother had given me (at least I'm sure she would have given them to me if she knew I had them) grim news was surfacing in the south.  Suddenly in Victoria new cases were popping up all over the place derailing the gradual reduction of restrictions that had been underway and giving the government a fantastic excuse to talk about something other than the fact that three of their ministers had just resigned for being dishonest, manipulative vermin.  Well, they had been caught being dishonest, manipulative vermin which is absolutely the "thing that must not happen".

Over in Britain somebody has suggested that absence from school is going to give British kids mental health problems.  They didn't come right out and say that spending time with their parents was going to scar the kids for life but that appeared to be the implication.  In my experience almost anything can give you mental health problems, its largely dependent on the state of your mental health at the time.  I just spent several hours with my parents and I feel fine so I've no idea why my stuffed puffin has felt it necessary to hide all of the knives.  Have you ever tried to chop vegetables with a spoon?  It takes forever and by the end of it I was so tired I couldn't even engage in a little puffin "discipline" which is how I've been relaxing at the end of a long day.  Don't worry I know how to avoid leaving bruises.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020


Yes!  The time has finally arrived when I can step out of my home and continue my light rail journey without riot police hosing me down with disinfectant.  I must admit I was hesitant, I stepped nervously out of my flat and tears sprang to my eyes.  Once I got used to the sun though things improved.  I made my way to the light rail station and somewhat nervously sat down in one of the available seats (all of them).  I still couldn't quite believe I was going to be allowed to get away with this.

Soon enough though the light rail was rattling me towards my destination while a recorded announcement (made, I think, by the same woman who normally voices quiet but completely insane computers in sci-fi movies) made a series of statements around COVID-19 which collectively added up to "What the hell are you doing on this train anyway?  Do you really want to die?"  Somewhat to my surprise I survived the trip and hopped off at the next station on my sadly interrupted journey; Convention.

Convention is again about a five minute walk from the previous light rail station.  It gets its name from a convention centre located conveniently nearby.  I stepped off the train and gazed out across an open plaza and towards Darling Harbour.  Handsome (or at least new) buildings dotted the landscape and the path led directly to the water where somewhat nervous tourists took advantage of well appointed dining facilities most of which had reopened.  I decided to exit by the other side of the station which led directly into a multistory carpark.

It is probably a reflection of my psychology but I actually like carparks, possibly because I don't have to drive through them.  All that exposed concrete and gloomy lighting makes me feel as though I'm wandering through subterranean tunnels.  Playing Dungeons & Dragons at a formative age obviously affected me more than I thought.  By the time I had found an exit I had slain an army of imaginary goblins and skillfully avoided an imaginary dragon.  To be fair a dragon in a tunnel would be spending most of its time trying to avoid banging its head on the ceiling so sneaking past it was no great feat.

Once out of the carpark I found myself on the sort of road that leads into a carpark.  That is, it was dark and not particularly convenient for either motorists or pedestrians.  For the record I was in the suburb of Ultimo but don't worry about that, I wouldn't be there for long.  Before I set off though I came face to face with the grim corporate entity that was facilitating my light rail travels.  Transdev who operates the system has an office right next to the light rail station (and the carpark) and across its rather modest portal were the words "Transdev - Mobility Inspired by You".  Well I couldn't help feeling flattered but I would have preferred it if they had paid me some royalties.

After leaving a small offering to the Gods of Transport at the temple of Transdev I set off for a brief stroll.  Down at the waterside everything was elegant and flashy and, as usual in such cases, the area immediately behind it was gritty and rather shabby.  Things looked up a bit as I crested a small his and saw signs of civilisation, well I saw signs of Novotel actually but I'm not very picky.  The next time I looked up I was back in bloody Pyrmont again. I waved hello to some of the locals I recognised and headed for the water.

Having experienced the seamy side of Convention I now strolled casually along the water's edge, just another gentleman stroller out enjoying his day.  Men stared at me suspiciously and mothers hustled their children away but those things are quite normal.  I wandered past restaurants doing my best to avoid the press gangs loitering outside trying to drum business until I found myself back at the plaza I had seen from the station and there, just beyond it was the station.  Taking a hint I headed back towards it passing, on the way, the Convention Centre which was so convenient for the station that I hadn't noticed it before.

At some time in the not too distant past it was decided that simply making buildings that resembled rectangular concrete blocks was uninspired and created a deeply ugly cityscape.  The Convention Centre is the architects response; a building which looks as though bits will fall off it if you stare at it for too long.  The strange thing is, its still ugly just in a different way.  Angles shoot off at directions no self respecting angle would be seen dead contemplating and bits of what could be considered fretwork if you were in a generous mood had been glued, apparently at random, onto the facade.  This is modern architecture; bold, exciting and slightly painful to look at.  I looked at it for all of thirty seconds then wandered back to the light rail station.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Silly After Action report - Cibik's Ridge

Captain Ito Hurikano paused to wipe the sweat from his eyes and try to persuade some of the leeches to move to less vital parts of his body.  Immediately the man behind him collided with him sending the captain staggering.  Flailing desperately he grabbed the man in front and soon the entire column was reeling like an anaconda having an epileptic fit.  Order was restored within an hour though and the soldiers continued their slow, upward plod towards the summit of the hill.

"Of course we could have stayed the night," muttered Hurikano to himself.  "Then we could actually keep a twenty four hour watch but, no, instead we have to leave at sunset everyday and then shamble back up here in the steaming morning heat."  The colonel had made grand statements about "pressing tactical necessity" but everybody knew that he just wanted to get back to base in time to watch Invader Zim.

The column lurched slowly forwards shedding sweat, weapon parts and the occasional glutted leech.  A burst of heavy machine gun fire shredded some of the jungle near the head of the column and pandemonium ensued.  To his surprise Hurikano noticed that he was the only one who wasn't surprised. 

It was Mikes turn to choose a scenario and he came up with this one Scenario 67 - Cibik's Ridge.  To my cost I agreed.  It was my turn to defend so I took command of the US marines who had certainly done nothing to deserve me.  I have a small but embarrassingly well armed force of marines attempting to defend a small hill from a large number of Japanese commanded by Mike Sexton.  To hold the only part of the battlefield not underwater at high tide I have three 668 marine squads and six half squads of similar character.  Supporting them are two heavy machine guns, two medium machine guns and pair of 60mm mortars.  My leadership consists of two officers, one of them a 9-2 and I also get seven foxholes.  To make things a little more difficult for Mike my entire force can set up hidden except for a couple of the foxholes.

To evict the marines from this hillock Mike has thirteen squads of first line Japanese infantry, a couple of crew and three officers of his own led by a 10-1. As support weapons he has three light machine guns, a pair of mediums and a couple of 50mm mortars which it appears the Japanese handed out to everybody from high school teachers upwards.  Park rangers probably used them to deal with litterbugs.  The Japanese have to set up in column which they can't break until they take fire.

Below is the set up, if you peer closely you might see my hidden units waiting for Mike's Japanese to snake their way forward.

Starting positions

 In retrospect I think I made a serious mistake.  As you might be able to tell if you squint really hard I set up a full squad with an hmg and the 9-2 forward in the centre of the map, hoping I might be able to shred the front of his column and force him to plough slowly through the jungle.  This actually sort of worked but not well enough.  I had a half squad with a mortar on my left (top) and another halfsquad hidden next to the path on the right.  To put it another way I had a third of my force and my best leader sitting right in the path of half the population of Japan.

Mike's columns lurched forward and I duly shot at them with little result.  Over on the left my mortar fired one round and then broke.  I wouldn't use it for the remainder of the game (I didn't use the other mortar at all).  With the veil removed Mike could fan out and swarm (slowly) through the jungle towards my first line.

End of Japanese turn 1
With little room for manoeuvre Mike's main force ploughed towards my hmg post peeling off a couple of squads to work around to the left.  My hmg did indeed have its moment of glory with a rate tear that killed a squad and a half and put a dent in Mike's forward momentum but other Japanese squads swarmed around the prone bodies of their comrades and I could tell it was time to go.  First however I would have to survive a 1MC from the Japanese.  Naturally neither my 9-2 leader or my eight morale squad could handle such a thing and suddenly my most powerful weapon was down with hordes of Japanese swarming around them.  They would die for failure to rout and Mike bulled forward through the dense jungle seeking the less congested slopes of the hill.

The last moment it looked good
Over on the left Mike's secondary column, no longer afraid of the mortar, shook out and prepared to go around or through the halfsquad standing in their way.  These guys actually lasted quite a long time and irritated Mike's troops immensely although how much actual harm they did is open to question.  On my left my hidden halfsquad neatly beat up a Japanese halfsquad but then decided to leave before the Japanese got overwhelming.  I think I had the phrase "fall back defence" in mind.  It all worked except for the "defence" aspect.

End of Japanese turn 3 the writing is on the wall and it has been written in my blood

It had taken three turns and several squads worth of casualties but Mike was now at the base of the hill and ready to launch his assault.  Only it wasn't really an assault, he simply walked on top of my hidden guys and killed them in close combat.  He assembled a mortar on the right and dropped a WP shell onto a half squad with a medium machine gun.  I boxcarred the morale check and that was one more support weapon down.  In the centre my other hmg (guided by my 8-1) took one ineffectual shot and was also swamped in CC.

Basically he's just walking over the top of me
Mike's advance was not without casualties.  More Japanese squads went down, reduced and occasionally even killed outright but with each exchange the ratio of Japanese to American squads went up, not down.  By the time turn five rolled around Mike was swarming all over the hill and the American forces had been reduced to precisely two halfsquads.  I was due to be reinforced by another halfsquad and an 8-1 leader but I couldn't see how that would change the situation so I conceded.

In retrospect I think I fell between two chairs with my defence.  Having decided to set up forward I should have committed more troops and left only a couple of token defenders on the hill.  All of my forward defenders inflicted casualties but there were enough gaps in the line for Mike to winkle his way around them.  Secondly I shot at his columns the moment they were in sight.  I should have waited until I was sitting next to them and then hit them with everything I had.  As it was with two squad equivalents forward (out of six) my defence on the hill was disjointed, certainly capable of hurting anything that got next to them but not really a threat to a large, well organised attacker.  Congratulations to Mike who played well and took the initial casualties on the chin until he was ready to deal out punishment of his own.

Captain Hurikano dropped into a foxhole next to a corporal who held out something squashy in his hand.
"Leech?" asked the corporal politely.

"No thanks," replied the captain, "I just ate.  Where's the colonel?"

"He's back at headquarters."

"Staff briefing?"

"No there's a Thundercats marathon on Channel 3"

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Shopino Struggle

SS Rottenfuhrer Klaus Pilsner shoved back his steel helmet and rubbed his aching head.  How had it all come to this?  "Transfer to the Waffen SS", his girlfriend had said, "you'll look hot in the uniform," she'd said.  Well, true but this advantage had come at a cost.  Specifically he was now expected to be the standard bearer of the Third Reich when his ambitions tended more towards getting his bookkeeping qualification and snaffling a rear area job.  Admittedly, guarding a resupply point was, technically, a rear area job but as the unfortunate Rottenfuhrer stared at the collection of T-34 tanks barrelling towards his not very professionally prepared defences he couldn't help thinking that his definition of "rear area" and that of the wehrmacht high command seemed more than little incompatible.

It's the first Saturday of the month and Dave Wilson and I reached out to each other through the ether (or whatever magic it is that makes the internet work) to play FT165 Shopino Struggle.  This is a small scenario set within the gargantuan clusterfuck that was the German Operation Citadel.  The whole thing would end in tears for the Germans but this scenario is set at the start when the SS panzer divisions are charging forward.  As they charge forward some elements of the distinctly unpleasant Totenkopf division are detailed as flank guard to cover a resupply point.  I shall command these forces as vengeful Soviets, commanded by Dave, attempt to dispossess them of such ground as they've managed to capture.

I have to defend the wooden buildings on board 44.  One building, far to the rear is worth 3VPs all the rest are worth 1 per hex for a grand total of nine.  The person with the most VP at the end of the game wins.  It has to be said that the Totenkopf hasn't exactly allocated its best to defending this position.  I have seven squads, two elite and the remainder second line.  They are equipped with a trio of lmgs, one mmg and are led by three officers only one of whom (a 9-1) rises above mediocrity.  On turn three (of a four turn game) I get reinforcements in the form of a pair of elite squads mounted in halftracks, a pair of PzIVH tanks and one early model Tiger.  As the attacker Dave has ten squads divided equally between elite and first line, led by a couple of officers and supported by four T34-M43 tanks.  On the second turn he gets another elite squad and another T-34.

At this point a confession must be made.  I misread the victory conditions.  I have no excuse, I read them twice and both times my brain interpreted them the way I wanted to rather than reality.  As noted above to win one must have more VPs than your opponent.  In practical terms this means I needed to hold at least 5VP worth of buildings so that Dave could only take four.  For some reason I was absolutely convinced that Dave had to capture all of the buildings and thus holding one or two would be sufficient to deny him.  I worked out the truth on turn three (of four) when it was far too late.  For this reason I decided not to bother defending the rearmost victory building (despite it being worth 3VPs).  It was too far from the others.  Instead I decided to focus on defending the other buildings and essentially falling back to a last redoubt in the centre.  Strangely this plan actually worked, it just wasn't an appropriate plan to give me a victory.  Below is my set up.  I had my expendable second line troops forward to provide (hopefully) some delay to his forces before falling back to the wooden buildings in the centre and right to bolster my elite strongpoints.

Dave came on with a flanking force consisting of a couple of squads riding tanks on the left.  These would charge for the rearmost building and, as explained before, I was happy to let them go.  The rest of his force would come on the right, looking to clean up such defenders as got in their way and head for the victory buildings on the right.

End of Soviet turn 1
My medium machine gun was over on the right, married up with my 9-1 officer.  It's first shot was boxcars and I didn't get it back for the rest of the game.  So much for the mmg.  With the bulk of Dave's effort coming on the right I started shuffling village dwellers in that direction.  My second liners did succeed in keeping a decent chunk of Dave's force tied down for a couple of turns but this was all secondary as his other two tanks (with riding infantry) ploughed through the grainfields to their target.

While victory locations were under threat all over the place the only area I enjoyed success was in the utterly irrelevant village where I broke his elite reinforcements (and subsequently massacred them) and wiped out a squad in close combat as well.  This would have been pretty impressive if it had mattered at all.  Dave had his own moment of angst when one of his T34s on the right broke its MA and he then gacked the repair leaving it to slink off the board in ignominy.  

It didn't really matter, the remaining tank and the two lmg toting elite squads he had driven up there proved more than capable of dealing with the defenders on their own.  If I had tried a bit harder I may have been able to get some of my village defenders over there to assist (although that is what the rest of Dave's force were trying to prevent) but due to my misreading of the rules I didn't think I had to.  Time was running out and I had a lock on the three victory locations in the centre which, due to my inept reading of the VC, I thought was sufficient.

Soviet turn 3
Dave now had the rear building and disposed his tanks to defend it as he was certain that it would be the focal point for my reinforcements.  It would have been if I had known what I was doing.  Instead I sent both my PzIVs to support the defenders in the building on the right (not in itself a bad idea but as it turned out just too late) while my infantry squads roared on in their half tracks to reinforce the completely unthreatened centre buildings.  The tiger alone headed towards the rear building and this was solely because I wanted to see if I could kill a tank or two and stop them from interfering with my reinforcement of the centre buildings.

Over on the right my two PzIVs arrived just in time to see the last of my infantry in the building broken and their sole contribution was to provide said infantry with a hex they could rout to as Dave's infantry took over the rest of the building hexes.  It was now the end of turn three and I was feeling confident, I didn't see how Dave could possibly take the centre buildings from me (Dave showed no interest in those buildings the entire game).  Then for some reason I went back and took another look at the victory conditions and this time the scales fell from my eyes.  Dave currently had six VPs from a total of nine and didn't need to do a damn thing.  I had one turn to capture at least two and no troops in anyway positioned to do so.

Oh I tried; there was a certain amount of desperate running through the open into the teeth of enemy fire and over on the right I drove one of the PzIVs into a building but didn't succeed in breaking the occupying squad with the attempted overrun.  At the end I could only congratulate Dave on winning a scenario that I had literally lost before the first shot was fired.  Despite this Dave is agreeable to playing another game with me in the near future.  I intend to have the victory conditions tattooed onto my forehead before we start.

A couple of smoke grimed Totenkopf soldiers stumbled away from the wreckage of the village.  Behind them the supply depot was in flames.  Suddenly one of them looked around.

"Hey, where's Rottenfuhrer Pilsener?"

"He went back to rescue his bookkeeping assignment," replied the other.  "He's probably dead."

"No loss, he really was a rotten fuhrer." 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Plague Update #26 - The Sweat is Safe, for Now

Well, the coronavirus is doomed.  The International Cricket Council is considering implementing a rule that will prevent players from spitting on the ball.  It's a start I suppose, possibly in time they can extend that to preventing players from spitting on the pitch, the grounds and each other as well but you know, baby steps.  For those who feel that cricket just isn't the same without an exchange of bodily fluids (and who doesn't) the Council was quick to assure outraged players that smearing sweat on the ball would still be permitted.  Rules governing appropriate moments to vomit, sneeze and urinate are still under consideration.  Seriously, they're ruining the game.

In other news I took a week off work to recover from the grinding routine of stumbling from my bedroom to my home office and spending the day sitting in front of a computer spilling coffee and biscuit crumbs onto the keyboard.  I looked around for exciting things to do and realised that the best I could come up with was stumbling from my bedroom to my home office to sit in front of a computer and spill coffee and biscuit crumbs onto the keyboard.  I would like to say the coronavirus has had a major impact on my life but sadly it hasn't.  Incidentally for those relatives who may have wrinkled their brows in confusion at my use of the term "home office" I would like to assure them that I've simply renamed my junk filled spare room for tax purposes.

Things have actually opened up a bit in Australia.  We're now at the point where interacting socially in public is possible but sufficiently inconvenient to make you reconsider exactly how dependent on human interaction you are.  At present we're all staring at the gradually improving numbers with deep suspicion waiting for a possible second wave.  Which makes virus watching a little like surfing although with a different sense of anticipation.

Seriously though we can tell that people in Australia are starting to get a little more confident by the type of news stories that are being reported.  For several weeks it was all about "new cases" and "latest deaths".  Now we're starting to get stories like "45% of Australians Admitted to Feeling Very Lonely in May".  The implication being that this is due to the coronavirus restrictions and not just business as usual.  In the same article it was also mentioned that more relationships appeared to be under stress at the same time as well.  Apparently the only thing worse than being alone during the pandemic is being forced to associate more closely with your nearest and dearest.  This is hardly surprising, most relationships rely on the fact that there will be several hours of most days when the loving twosome (or whatever) don't actually have to see each other.  It is amazing how quickly your partner's charming little quirks can become reasons for divorce when you're exposed to them 24/7.

Of course an enforced stay at home does mean that both partners can spend more time with the children.  This is catastrophic news for parents and children alike.  I was, I like to think, a reasonably well behaved child but even I attempted to limited my interaction with my parents to the occasional mealtime.  Since my mother provided the meals this really couldn't be avoided.  As for the parents; well if we as a society really wanted to raise our children we wouldn't have put so much effort into creating a state that provided long term child minding facilities (they're called schools).  The end result of this pandemic is that we're going to have a generation of parents and children with a better and fuller understanding of each other.  The consequences of which are likely to be catastrophic.