In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

End of an Era

After 28 years my favourite bookstore has closed its doors.
I first moved to town to manage a mainstream, independent bookstore located in a building on the main street. In the basement of that building was a used book store called The Book Vault run by a nice guy named Al. He brought in Paul as a partner and they expanded to comic books, collectible card games, Warhammer stuff and remaindered books. (Remaindered books are new books sold off at a heavy discount by the publisher.)
A few years later they moved onto the High Street and carried more remainders. Business took off, especially in the tourist season. Al eventually sold out to Paul, who reduced the gaming and comic stuff. By the end the history books covered a good 24 to 28 feet of floor to ceiling shelf space!
I spent a lot of my money in there. A lot of my book shelves are filled with books purchased there.
There were times I'd just go in for a browse and could have easily dropped over a $100 if I'd had it. Of course, I didn't have it and therein lies the rub.
However, with eBooks and internet sales, Paul saw the writing on the wall and knew the business was in it's last days. But he was going to keep at it until sales dropped off.
Until this month, when he suddenly announced the store was closing. I thought it odd. I figured he'd hold on until the end of the tourist season, but rumour has it that the landlord didn't want to renew the lease so one of the neighbouring businesses could expand into the Book Vault location.

So it's the end for The Book Vault. The store closing sale has come and gone. The doors are locked. The beautiful hand made wooden shelving demolished.

But man, the crazy memories.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Troop Ratings for the Frontier

I was pondering last weekend's game while mowing the weeds this morning.

With all the Victorian Romanticism informing our views it's all too easy to boost the plucky British and not give Johnny Pathan his dues. The tribes on the frontier did keep the Raj busy for a hundred years, and ironically they provided some of the best recruits for the Indian Army!

Now obviously Gurkhas and the Corps of Guides are elites. Both had the pick of the best and most intelligent officers and were made up of carefully selected men. Competition to get in to both corps was quite strong. I also tend to rate Gurkhas as 'aggressive' giving them an extra 2 dice in fisticuffs. I think the Guides should get a +1 to spot maybe, or an extra spotting roll on top of their regular actions?

I think for any other British or Indian unit it really depends on how long they've been on the Frontier. A British battalion fresh off the trooper from England or having spent most of it's tour doing garrison work in the interior isn't going to be as effective as a battalion of Bengal Native Infantry who have been stationed on the Frontier seeing regular active service for many years. By the late 19th century distinctions between different regiments, such as the Rifle Brigade had largely disappeared. All Imperial troops were now effectively 'rifles' so they can all skirmish. The Brigade of Guards never went to India so trying to decide how much their innate sense of superiority would overcome inexperience is a problem that can be left alone. Consequently experienced British or Indian units are "Good" and all of the others are "Regular".

Highlanders pose some issues though. Queen Victoria and the novels of Sir Walter Scott had combined to almost fetishize anything Scottish and so the Highland regiments felt a little better about themselves. They have also become rather iconic of the Victorian Army. But did it make them any better really? Perhaps giving Highlland units the 'aggressive' bonus in fisticuffs without any 'extra' morale boost is the way to go.

This has however, generated an idea for a new card! One per Bonus Deck and only if there are Highland units in play AND there is a piper figure on table.

The Piper- Playing this card removes 1d6 of shock from all Highland groups and they all charge into fisticuffs with the closest group of tribesmen.

This is inspired by Piper Findlater, who although shot through both feet, propped himself against a rock and kept playing to encourage the Gordon Highlanders as they stormed the Dargai Heights in 1897, thus earning himself the Victoria Cross.

Getting the tribesmen 'right' is giving me some problems. Last game to try and reflect the steady skirmishing fire I let the tribesmen fire half the figures in a group and not have to use an action to reload or they could fire everybody and need an action to reload. Now I am thinking giving them more, but smaller, groups (6 figures per group to the Imperial 10 or 12) and let them fire without a reload action. By the 1880s and 90s they had all mostly re-equipped with stolen breech loaders anyway. I rate them as 'regular' instead of 'good'. Although this has given me some pause I'm going to stick with it for now to reflect the lower command and control capabilities of the Pathan leadership.

Ghazis naturally get the 'aggressive' bonus in fisticuffs. I also think they should be classed as 'elites'. However there can only be one or two groups maximum.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cards for Sharp Practice

The game in the previous post was the first outing for my spiffing hand made deck of cards for Sharp Practice on the Frontier. For those of you not familiar with Too Fat Lardies games, most of them are card 
Grasp the Nettle
driven. A deck is made up with cards for the various units and Big Men plus various other things, which creates the battle field friction instead of a ploddingly predictable I go, you go turn sequence. 

Bonus Cards can be added (or in Sharp Practice are in a separate Bonus Deck) to add flavour and recreate scenario or theater specific things like running out of ammunition, or bonus shooting or whatever. There is of course the always present turn end, called the  Tea Break card in I Ain't Been Shot, Mum or Tiffin in Sharp Practice.

I have used just sheets of cards (perforated cards from the name badges purchased for Hotlead) with hand written legends on them, but that's not very pretty.

Imperial Blinds Move
So during the winter and spring I had spent a lot of time on Google Images seeking out graphics and making

my cards up in Microsoft Word, a 3x3 table on a standard sheet of paper. I then photographed all of my Big Men, thinking instead of unsightly ID numbers etc. the picture on the card would tell you  which figure was 
Bugle Call
active. Unfortunately a lot of the Pathan Big Men look surprisingly familiar!

I did make up two new Bonus cards for the Pathan side since they were lacking in flavour.

Ghazi -playing this card allows one group to charge into Fisticuffs with Aggression.
Ghazi card

Jezzailichi- play this card to have a sniper take a shot at a Sahib. Roll to hit the closest British Big Man.
Jezzailichi card
I also gave the Pathans their own Sharp Practice card, allowing an extra volley of musket/rifle fire.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How the General Met Radu

It was the best part of a Mess Dinner. The toasts were drunk, I had been asked to drone on about glory, the Empire and "What ho, Blandingshires!", then we senior officers had retired to the lounge for cigars and brandy, leaving the subalterns to throw bread rolls at each other while getting beastly drunk finishing the port. My old regiment, the Blandingshire Fusiliers were on station and were celebrating their Regimental Day, or Groose Trinken Day. As the pater and various Majors had hammered into my thick noggin when I was a young subaltern, Groose Trinken was the day when the newly raised Col. Wooster's Regiment of Foote was part of the old Duke of Marlborough's rear guard in Flanders or Saxony, or Switzerland maybe, and like a red brick fort they held all day as the French cavalry, or maybe they were Russians?... some Foreign Johnnies anyway, swarmed about them Formed square around the Duke's wagon of wine, mouths parched with powder smoke and no water, well it's understandable what happened.

But anyway, I was settled into a nicely stuffed arm chair and Radu appeared at my side shimmering in his steward's whites with a little silver tray bearing a brandy and soda and my pipe. A Major from the Veterinary Corps, Dr. Chalmers, nice chap takes splendid care of my stable, just not really a gentleman, tried to flag Radu down to give him a drink order.

"I say! The impertinence of that chap!" huffed the Colic-wallah as Radu ignored him.

Radu, of course has been insisting on serving me at Mess Dinners for years. I would say to him "Right ho, Radu, old chap! Off to the bazaar and nautch dancers for you, I'm dining out", but he would be waiting for me at the door of the bungalow in his whites, with my top coat ready. Always afraid some badmash would take a pop at his General-Sahib if he wasn't there you see? The Regimental Stewards had all gotten used to him and since he let them have his share of the extra pay, they didn't mind. Everyone knew this, except the vet, who was new.

The others were all hiding their smiles as he got redder. "I say! You there!"

I dropped a napkin on the floor. Radu, bent to pick it up, exposing the big nasty kukri knife under his jacket.

"I say!" The Thrush-wallah goggled. "He has a, a erm......"

Major Jeeves filled the Vet in. "A kukri. Indeed he does. Havildar-Major Radu is the General's personal aide and body guard. He's very handy with it, aren't you Havildar-Major?"

Radu smiled brightly, as only Gurkhas can do. "I have had the honour of slitting the throats of many of the Queen-Empress' enemies."

The Major now noticed Radu's rather impressive row of ribbons. "Extraordinary. General, however did you get such a splendid fellow to be your, erm, aide?"

I took a long pull on my pipe. "Radu, be a good fellow and bring a round for everyone, would you please?"

Radu slid away. I puffed my pipe again. "Well it was quite a few years ago. I was a young Captain, new to India, full of excitement. Thinking it was all going to be Rajahs, rubies and palaces. Instead I was stamping up into the hill country where some bandit chief was hiding behind a rock having kidnapped the heiress to the Topping tea fortune. Splendid chap, old Topping, owns a few yards of tea estates up in Darjeeling and around Simla."

View from the Imperial table edge

Close up of village
"We attacked in a long line of skirmishing companies. Sikhs on the right, Grukhas on the left and me with the Blandignshires in the middle.
Imperial attack is fully developed

Dastardly Pathan chieftain exposes the fair Edith 
The Gurkhas hooked around to the left, like a Rugby wing, while the rest of us held their scrum in the middle. All went well at first. Happy Gurkhas waving bloody knives chasing Johnny Pathan through the rocks.
Gurkhas go around the flank
They had a powder charge like a foot ball and tried to go for the touch line.
Gurkhas rush the gate
Radu was just a Naik at the time. He and his chums went bounding over the sangar, kukris flashing, pistols and muskets banging away. It was like a beer wagon had tipped over in Whitechapel.
A fierce melee over the sangar
Bodies were toppling over the rocks like nine pins. But their officer had been wounded, took a jezzail to the temple which knocked him senseless and the rest of them fell back down the slope.
Gurkhas are repulsed!
All the time this was going on in front of me the Sikhs had been banging away furiously at the village and then with their bone tingling war cry charged in with the bayonet, sweeping through the market stalls like some maiden aunts on a shopping spree and driving the tribesmen back to the fort.
Sikhs take the village on the points of their bayonets
I was leading the Blandingshires up to support the Gurkhas with a bit of the too little too late, but just as some dusty tribesman with a pointed, wicked face was raising his khyber knife to slice up a wounded Gurkha I shouted "Now see here! That's just not cricket!" and shot him through the head with my Webley.
Tribesmen driven back on fort to be shot down
I then helped the poor chap to my canteen and bound up the nasty wound on his gut, and then got on with things. We still had a fort to capture and an heiress to rescue after all.
End of game
Although it all settled down pretty quickly after that. The Major demanded they stop being such blighters and let the girl go, or we'd blow in the gate and hang them all from the tower. Johnny Pathan loves a fight as much as the Irish, but he's a sensible chap when the push shoves. Soon enough fair Edith and her maid were released and we confiscated some old rifles."

"The next day this bandaged up Gurkha naik is in my tent polishing my kit."

'I say old chap, what's up?'

'Sahib does not have a batman. This is not good. Radu is grateful  Sahib saved his pathetic life.'

"Well I did need a batman, since mine had taken a jezzail ball through the head just a few days before. He's been with me ever since, posted to Extra-regimental duties, so to speak I"m not entirely sure if he'd let things be any other way."

"Handy chap to have around. Even marching home rough, he had my uniform looking extra spruced up to make an impression on Miss Topping."

One of the other officer's made an 'aha!' face. "I say, General. You're married to a Topping aren't you?"

Jeeves gave him a hard stare. "Now sir! Ladies are not discussed in the Mess!"

I took a pull on my brandy. "Thank you, Jeeves."

The above was a game of Sharp Practice played last weekend with the Mad Padre running the Gurkhas, while Wierdy-Beardy did his best evil Pathan bandit chief impression from behind the fort. There were some scenario flaws, but fun was had.
Other adventures of Brigadier General Sir Pelham Gronville Wooster, VC, KCBE can be found here and here and here

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rabbitman Rocks Out to the '70s (and 60s and 80s and maybe even the 90s)

My multi-disk CD player in the basement o'rabbits has started having mechanical issues. I've had to manually change to the next disk for a couple of years, but recently it would sometimes not change the disk even manually, or play at all. When it was feeling co-operative recently I managed to get my CDs out and have decided to not risk putting anything back in. This does make painting sessions with Wierdy-Beardy a bit quiet if we've seen each other regularly and are all caught up. I mean, once you're past your 20s or 30s there isn't really that much to talk about once you've covered your grown kids, grandkids, jobs, new gaming project, recent movie/book. Bitching about work or the government doesn't help and just takes effort.

While tidying up yesterday for a game I found a couple of boxes with my old cassettes, and the basement o'rabbits stereo does have two cassette decks. Among these were a collection of mix tapes made for me by my friend John. They have interesting names like Stuff etc. (with things), Jazz Rock Friends, The Police: Some Stuff!, Vitamin Enriched Bits of Cardboard and the obligatory make-out CD; The Return of the Son of Fluff: Music to Fall off a Chair By (which definitely got played when the future Mrs. Rabbitman came over to my apartment for our first dinner date!)He's an audiophile and his collection of vinyl was pretty cool back in the day (I hope he's kept building on it). We'd hang in his room talking about life and he'd give me a pretty good education in music. His taste ran to the eclectic; Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, Kate Bush, the Chieftains  and Jethro Tull (more to them than Aqualung), with a solid foundation of ZZ-Top and Led Zepplin leavened with some cool jazz like Pat Metheny and Branford Marsalis. I first heard the Blues Brothers in his basement room.

So when Mrs. Rabbitman came along to fill my ears with 80s New Wave, I was open to more sounds than 70s soft rock. Today for example we woke up to Portishead.

John hated my pop and 60s folky leanings. He liked Paul Simon without Garfunkel. I like them both. Paul Simon's lyrics with Art Garfunkel's harmonizing is pretty amazing. Yeah, I've left the folky 60s protest rock, it just bugs me now. I prefer Blue Grass when I'm in the mood for mandolins, banjos and rich harmonizing vocals. But some pop music is just a guilty pleasure ya know? Bands like ABBA, who don't pretend to be anything but some pop act having fun, I can take a lot easier than pop acts that try to dress themselves with 'deeper meanings' and teen angst. Besides Belinda Carlisle's Mad About You is "our song".

I hate guys my age who claim all good music stopped sometime in 1978. Stupid pop music is stupid pop music whether it's from the 60s and 70s or the 90s or this century. Admit it, we listened to a lot of banal crap when we were kids, One Direction and Justin Bieber are just the latest incarnation of that. My daughter has turned Mrs. Rabbitman and I on to some pretty good new stuff too.

The cassettes will disappoint Wierdy-Beardy though, I don't have any Johnny Cash on cassette. But I do have the music of my university years, and that's pretty cool.

Friday, August 8, 2014

And Now There Are Two

This is my favourite picture of my fuzzy grey girl-friend, Nigella the rabbit. She would let me scratch her nose and behind the ears all day if I had the time.

When I'm on midnights, as I was this week, I always go downstairs and let her out for her daily romp before showering and going to sleep.
Earlier this week she was fine, but yesterday she seemed a bit lethargic. She was at least 8 1/2 years old though, so she didn't always spring out of the cage in the morning, so I didn't think much of it. She otherwise seemed quite healthy and active earlier in the week, and a well cared for bunny can live to 12 years or so.
This morning however, when I went downstairs she was already gone to the Big Meadow. So whatever killed her didn't drag out any pain at least.
When I got up at lunch time we buried her in the back shrub border under a new smoke bush.
So now, out of Nigella and her four off-spring we only have the two boys left; Biggles and Gordy. We all actually thought Nigella would have outlived Gordy.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Two Armies; Some Summer Reading

I have been expanding my knowledge of my favourite institution, the Canadian Army, this summer.
For my birthday, my friend The Mad Padre gave me a book from his library, which his father Lt Col. Peterson had owned before him; Canada's Army, Waging War and Keeping the Peace by J.L. Granatstein. This book came out in 2002, just after 9/11 and before the deployments and combat operations to Afghanistan started. He explores the 'Militia Myth' (Canadian pluck and ingenuity, plus a citizen soldiery will defend us, why do we need a defence budget?) which has ham-strung the Canadian Army through most of the 20th century and the cycles of enter a war, mobilize and build up out of nothing, learn professional soldiering the hard way, become a top quality fighting army that earns the respect of it's allies and then dismantle it all when the fighting is over, only to have to do it all over again with the next war. The final chapter covering 1968 to 2001, with it's budget cuts, unification and the failed peacekeeping missions of the 1990s was probably more depressing than the chapters on World War One.
Then when I took Mrs. Rabbitman shopping in London, I found Rhineland by Dennis Whitaker and War and Peacekeeping; From South Africa to the Gulf- Canada's Small Wars (1991) also by Granatstein, in hard cover, for $4.00 each at a charity shop. War and Peacekeeping has pretty good chapters covering the Riel Rebellion of 1885 and the South African War, plus a lot about the Korean War which I hadn't yet read much about. But I was quite amused to read about a raid on Hill 113 lead by a Lt. A. A.S. Peterson of the RCR, the Mad Padre's own father, who won the MC for the action and told his son "My CO chased me up the hill and the Chinese chased me back down." But from the three whole paragraphs devoted to the action, I got the impression it was a bad fight and Lt. Peterson was lucky to get all his men back out of it. I haven't gotten to the chapters on Cold War era peace support operations.
I haven't gotten to Rhineland yet, covering 1st Canadian Army's participation in the allied efforts to break into Germany. But I read it about 10 years ago and it's worth adding to my library.
Tragedy at Dieppe is the latest book by Mark Zuehlke. I haven't read very much about Dieppe at all, since it really wasn't strategically significant and was quite a disaster. But I saw it in hard cover for $6.99 and thought I should fill in that gap in my knowledge of a battle which is important to Canada psychologically.
A Matter of Honour, An Account of The Indian Army, It's Officers and Men by Philip Mason (1974) was given to me by a friend clearing out some room from his shelves. Most of my reading about the Indian Army has focused on the classic Victorian age army portrayed by Kipling. But this book covers that famed institution from the first company of mercenaries hired to protect East Indian Company warehouses until the tragedy of partition in 1947. The authour is a former Indian Civil Servant and he explores why exactly an army of mercenaries should give such long, honourable and extremely loyal service to a group of foreigners. The peculiarities of the British officer class are explained a lot by the complex relationship between white, Christian English officers and the Hindu, Sikh or Muslim Indian soldiers. I found it quite fascinating to read about the early campaigns of John Company and then later on during WW1 and WW2 as the Indian Army grew in national identity.
Since all of these books have been too big to fit in my lunch pail, at work I've been reading some more Bernie Gunther novels by Philip Kerr. Hard boiled detective fiction meets Nazi Germany. Highly recommended.