Sunday 31 October 2010

Big Picture : PBI at the Brandenburg Gate

This was the PBI (Peter Pig's Poor Bloody Infantry) participation game at last years Firepower show in Woolwich. The rules were simplified to make fast play by complete novices (like me) a possibility. The game moderator played the Germans as they defend the Brandenburg Gate against either American or Russian infantry. I can honestly say that when I played this short game my dice were blessed. I only lost three units on my advance through the rubble that was Berlin and I eventually took all the objectives. According to the scoreboard I had got the best rating of the day up to that point so I was very happy with the result.
Unfortunately I missed this years event but its definitely one I will try to attend next year (once the date is announced I'll post it on the Events Calendar page.

Friday 29 October 2010

Cthulhu killed Paul the Octopus

Paul, the supposedly psychic octopus who rose to fame during the World Cup earlier in the year, died a few days ago. Some comentators believe he died under mysterious circumstances. Murder has even been suggested. One story I read suggested that Paul died before the end of the competition and an elaborate cover up had been put in place to conceal the fact.

The world of sport is in shock.

I love the explanation given by the German aquarium where Paul passed away "We can absolutely assure you that he died last night. He was about two and a half, which is the average age for an octopus. He died of simple and straightforward death". Well... erm, death will do that to you.

Personally I have my own theory. A certain eldritch being didn't like another tentacled celebrity muscling in on his act and had his cultists kill the upstart Cephelopod. Its so obvious I'm amazed no one else has realised this. Or maybe they have, and then been silenced....

I must use the power of the Internet to get my message out. I had to write about this, before they come for me as well !! I can hear strange footsteps outside my room and now and again the smell of rotting fish wafts through the air. My dreams have become troubled and I have a strange longing to visit the ocean. If this is my last blog post, make sure my story gets out. People will believe it, after all it's published on the Internet!

iä iä Cthulhu fhtagn iä iä Cthulhu fhtagn iä iä Cthulhu fhtagn!

IWM London

I took a few days off earlier in the week to take the family to the Imperial War Museum in London. It's been a long time since we have been here and we all had things we wanted to see. My wife booked a ticket for the Ministry of Food Exhibition and later in the day we all went in the Horrible Histories - Terrible Trenches Exhibition which is due to end in a few days time. In addition I specifically wanted to look at the Blitz section and the Monty exhibition on the first floor.

We had a great day out but on reflection visiting during the school half term holidays was a bad idea. The Museum was literally heaving with kids and frazzled parents (ourselves amongst them) and it made for a very noisy and crowded visit. Having said that the IWM is a world class museum with plenty to see and lots of interesting exhibits. I certainly enjoyed myself and I'm pretty sure the kids did as well.

Because of the crowded conditions I didn't take as many pictures as normal (too many kids banging into my legs and people walking in front of the camera). However I still got a good selection of pictures of the exhibits I visited, especially later in the day when it quietened down a bit.

All in all a great day out and more than a little exhausting!

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Blitz: The Story of 29th December 1940

Blitz by Margaret Gaskin is the story of one night of the London Blitz and it's a story inspired by one of the most famous pictures of the war, that of a defiant St Paul's emerging from the smoke of a city in flames.

The early chapters of this book paint a picture of London as it was in those last few hours before the raid. The city was ancient and steeped in history, it was a city of medieval guilds, Georgian mansions and Victorian bureaucracy that sat at the heart of an Empire. It was a city that was old, immutable, rooted in history and in tradition. It was a hub of business, industry and commerce. And for all these reasons and more, it lay indefensible in the face of Nazi night bombing raids.

After six months of the Blitz, and victory in the Battle of Britain, most Londoners had learned to ‘just get on with it’. It has become a cliche but a cup of tea really was viewed as the universal panacea for all ills. It also helped that most Londoners were also just a little bit crazy. Reaction to the Blitz - even in the darkest hour - ranged from the typically British ‘not to bad’ to ‘ mustn't grumble’ !

Britain stood alone with the tide of war raging around it. It had seen off invasion - just - but now Hitler was intent on wearing down the British in an all out war of attrition. The Luftwaffe - having failed to take control of the air during the day - were intent on making the night their hunting ground. The X-Verfahren (X-System) was a new guidance technique which used highly focused beams of radio waves to enable suitably equipped aircraft to navigate in the pitch black of night, and hit targets with incredible accuracy. The pathfinders of tonight’s raid on London were 11 Heinkel HE III's of Kampfgruppe 100 and between them they were poised to drop 1152 fire-bombs right in the heart of the City.

As day turned to dusk and the Blackout came into force small groups of Auxiliary Fire Service volunteers prepared to defend their areas should a raid take place. All business with 30 or more staff were obliged to provide fire watchers for their buildings but many hundreds of smaller building remained closed and locked on that cold Sunday Night. When Kampfgruppe 100 started dropping its incendiary bombs hundreds were put out quickly by alert AFS members. But hundred more fell on empty buildings and soon fires were burning uncontrolled across the city.

As the firestorm grew and consumed more and more buildings refugees from the various city shelters were heading for the relative safety of St Paul's. Of course it wasn’t safe and the crypts were never designated a public shelter as they offered little or no protection from HE bombs. But on this night of nights St Paul's became a place of refuge for exhausted AFS and civilians alike.

By now the weather had closed in and the second wave of German bombers thankfully never left their bases. But the fires started by the first wave had created three huge conflagrations that were threatening to merge and create one massive fire-storm. The second Great Fire of London.

Daily Mail photographer Herbert Mason has spent the evening wandering the streets taking pictures of the battle against the fire. In the early hours of December 30th he went up to the roof of the Mail building and watched the fire from his new vantage point. “The smoke parted like the curtain of a theatre and there before me was this wonderful vista, more like a dream, not frightening.” Against the flames, Wrens famous dome of St Paul's stood silhouetted and, almost miraculously, unscathed. Mason saw the light gleam on the golden cross above and, at the perfect instant, clicked the shutter.”

I have to admit that there were times as I read this book if felt myself moved close to tears. London is wonderfully cosmopolitan, vibrant, noisy and busy and I love it. This is my home town and as I read this book I was following its destruction one building at a time. History was literally being reduced to ashes and rubble and its valiant defenders could do little to stop the hungry flames from consuming everything.

Somehow of course they did hold back the flames. Little by little the fire teams gave ground but in so doing began to regain control and stop the fire spreading to new areas. The firestorm began to burn itself out although high winds (caused by the intense heat of the flames) continued to send burning embers high into the air and made every building a massive chimney of fire and smoke. Fire teams had to draw water from the Thames, sometimes pumped up to half a mile from the river and then from water tank to water tank.

Fires continued to burn in some areas well into the next day but by the morning the cleanup operation was already underway as workers returned to businesses that may or may not have survived the night. London would prevail and its people had shown that they could 'take it'. U.S. Journalist Ed Murrow in broadcast from London captured some of the awe felt by foreign correspondents who witnessed the Blitz when he wrote: "When this is all over in the days to come, men will speak of this war, and they will say: I was a soldier, or I was a sailor, or I was a pilot; and others will say with equal pride: I was a citizen of London"

Much of the story of that awful night is told in the diaries of those that took part and survived its horrors. One diarist, Nell carver wrote the day after this raid "There is not the slightest feeling of defeat in the air or on the faces of the clerks and shopkeepers - only a stern and grim determination to hold on to the end - Hitlers end".

The passing of 70 years has made this terrible period of London history a distant event, unknown to many of the cities current inhabitants. However the scars of the blitz are still evident for those that know where to look and London would have looked very different today but for the events of 1940-45. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who lives in london today and I defy any reader not to be moved by the story that Margaret Gaskin tells.

Monday 25 October 2010

Battle of Mac's Farm - More ACW Pictures

Following on from yesterdays post about the ACW game I played at the weekend here are a few more pictures showing the battle in progress. I couldn't begin to present a proper battle report here as most of the game I was in a state of utter confusion. However I did get a good feel for the ebb and flow of the conflict which saw Union hopes raised, dashed and raised again during the course of the afternoon. At first the battle looked like it would hinge on the Union right flank but ultimately it was the battle for the centre that decided the outcome.

Meanwhile over on the Union left flank my Division made early progress only to falter due to poor generalship (mine, not the dice rolls). This was where I learned that canister enfilading fire hurts... it hurts a lot. If the game had gone on a further turn I'm sure the confederates would have pressed their advantage to full effect.

I know I keep saying it but thanks to Posties Rejects (formerly known as The Group with No Name) for inviting me. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Big Picture : The Group with No Name... maybe

Yesterday I was invited to join a dedicated group of Wargamers for an ACW battle using the Fire & Fury rules. First off let me say a big thank you to the group for inviting me, I had an absolute blast and thoroughly enjoyed the game. I'm in serious awe at the collection of miniatures and scenery collected by Postie the umpire who hosted the battle. Green with envy would be a good description.

I especially enjoyed being on the winning side in a game for a change. Somehow I managed to avoid get my Union division annihilated, which I was rather pleased with as I have never read or used the Fire & Fury rules before... and have the tactical instinct of a peanut. 

Thanks to the Angry Lurker, Ray of Don't throw a 1 and all the other members of The Group with No Name for making me feel so welcome.

Friday 22 October 2010

Wargames Illustrated 277

I always get a tingle of excitement when I hear the letter box clatter around the middle of the month. Most of the time all I get in the post is junk mail or bills so its nice to get something in the post to look forward to. I subscribe to Wargames Illustrated so my copy usually arrives a week or two before it hits the shelves in newsagents. I've not made a secret that I enjoy WI both for its range of articles but also for the high quality eye-candy within its pages and I look forward to every issue with anticipation. I buy other magazines as well but I tend to pick them up as and when I get the chance and largely dependent on what articles are in a particular issue.

This months WI has the theme of the Battle for Hungary in October 1944. The Russians were steadily sweeping aside the German and Axis forces and the battles that raged across Hungary at this time marked the beginning of the Soviet domination of eastern Europe.  There are three theme oriented articles in this issue focusing on the German Feldherrnhalle Divisions, Operation Gypsy Baron and the Hungarian Artillery.

As always there are also several other articles not linked to the issues theme and this month there are pieces on the Haitian Revolution of 1791; the Portuguese Cacadore battalions from 1808; the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th Century; and a pulp fiction game called Eat Hitler featuring Nazis and Dinosaurs!

My favorite articles also had nothing to do with the theme of this months magazine. The Charge of the Light Brigade has become part of our cultural heritage and most people have heard of it even if they are unsure what it was. Its one of those military engagements that were once played endlessly by wargamers and it became a bit of a cliche and fell out of favour. Now it never gets played and this article looks at a recent participation game that sought to bring this most famous of cavalry charges back into the mainstream of gaming.

The article itself covered both the history of the real event and how the developers went about recreating it on a games table. Interspersed throughout are the immortal words of Alfred Lord Tennyson's famous poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

One other article I enjoyed was the review of the 2010 US Flames of War nationals. This article features pictures of award winning painted FoW armies that can't help but inspire newbies like me. I understand that for some wargamers the influence on the content of the magazine by Battlefront is something they don't like. But despite all the doomsayers predictions I think WI has successfully avoided becoming a sales brochure for Battlefront. What they have brought to this magazine is a talent for presentation that continues to make this an enjoyable read every month.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

SELWG 2010

On Sunday I went down to Crystal Palace for the SELWG show. The drive to Crystal Palace was a bit of a nightmare with both the Blackwall tunnel and the Rotherhithe Tunnel closed. I ended up crossing the river at Tower Bridge, after which I was total lost and utterly dependent on my Sat Nav.

As usual I went camera in hand and shot far too many pictures! This was the first real test of my new flash diffuser and I am pretty happy with the results. The next step is for me to work out how to increase depth of field in my pictures... but that's a subject for another post on another day. Anyway here's my final selection of pictures from Sundays event:

Once I'd arrived (and calmed down a bit) I went down into the main hall and started by working my way round the display tables. I was very impressed with the quality of some of the games on display and there were a few I hadn't seen at shows earlier in the year. One of my favourites was that by Southend Wargames: Keep Your Head Down Fritzie Boy. The terrain was very well put together but I also enjoyed the quality of the painting on the miniatures. I had a long chat with one of the guys on the table and I was impressed with his knowledge and enthusiasm of the period. The table got a nomination for Best Demo Game but lost out to the excellent Hotchwald Gap by Shepway Gamers.

During the course of the day several readers of this Blog recognised me and said hello and I have to say I got a real buzz out of meeting them. It's always good to know I'm not talking to myself. In particular I bumped into The Angry Lurker and Ray of Don't throw a 1 and (after a bit of schmoozing) got myself an invite to their groups next game! Thanks guys, I'm really looking forward to it.

Once I'd gone round the display tables I put the camera away for a while and explored the traders. I didn't have a long list of things to buy this year but I managed to buy a Platoon of M4A1 76mm
Sherman's for FOW, some US Decals, 2 cans of Black GW undercoat and the latest Kevin Dalimore painting guide.

Some of the traders mentioned visitor numbers, and therefore takings, were down this year. Attendance did seems a little less than last year especially as the whole show was concentrated in the main hall and balcony (last year they also had a lower hall for the Bring & Buy). I'm not sure if this was just poor advertising  as one trader suggested or if gamers have finally been hit by the economy. Our hobby can be expensive but compared to the price of a Football season ticket or boozing I think playing with toy soldiers is actually very good value for money.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Monday 18 October 2010

Chadwell Heath Anti-Aircraft Battery

Today it often seems that remnants of WWII history are lost or invisible, smothered as they are by modern developments. One such site in my home borough of Dagenham still survives although it seems to be clinging onto existence by the thinnest of threads. The Chadwell Heath Anti Aircraft Battery was one of the largest purpose built AA sites protecting London during the Blitz. Most sites housed four guns but this battery held 8 4.5inch guns, reflective of its importance as the last line of defence against enemy bombers heading for the capital.

(Source: Google Maps 2010)
It is actually a Grade II listed site and in a 2009 Ordnance Survey Map produced for the local council is shown linked to the nearby road (the A1112) by a track, with both the site and the access track part of a designated conservation area.

The following description is an abridged version of the information available online: The site was built between 1935-9 and the buildings are mostly of brick (with concrete render) and reinforced concrete construction.  There are two command posts each with 4 gun emplacements set in a semi-circle on the eastward side and all are linked by concrete roads.

Between each pair of gun emplacements there is blast proof ammunition stores and there are 3 other detached buildings which probably housed more ammunition stores and a vehicle store. The gun emplacements are octagonal with each having 2 opposed entrances next to each was a subterranean corrugated iron shelter of which only fragments now remain. Within each emplacement are 6 small ammunition stores with metal doors. In the centre of each emplacement is former gun position marked by hold fast bolts sunk in the concrete base. (Source)

This anti-aircraft gun site formed part of the Inner Artillery Zone and saw a considerable amount of action during the Blitz of 1940-41 and are recorded as being in use on 76 consecutive nights. This site, designated ZE1, is the only remaining eight gun site of the north east sector. Most sites were decommissioned after the war so the survival of this location is all the more significant as a result. By 1942 ZE1 was designated a 'Master Gun Site' and had its own Radar with fire control responsibilities over adjacent sites. At its height it was manned by over 280 personnel, mostly drawn from the Royal Artillery. 

ZE1 really was in the front line against the Luftwaffe, being target by bombers on at least two occasions. Indeed the current owners of the surrounding gravel quarry site - Bretts Lafarge - uncovered a 250lb bomb in 2008 which had to be defused before its removal.

Unfortunately the ZE1 is not generally accessible to the public due to the ongoing quarry activities. However a recent council document indicated that access could be arranged with the Quarry Manager at Brett Lefarge Ltd by calling either of these numbers  0208 597 3744 or 0208 597 7131. I urge anyone that is interested in preserving this vital piece of WWII history to exercise this accessibility and keep the hope alive that one day this site may be restored.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Big Picture : SELWG

Today is the SELWG show at Crystal Palace and I'll be there camera in hand. Here's a picture I shot last year showing the main display area. I really enjoyed last years event (after it's enforced absence) and must admit I'm looking forward this years event as well. It looks as if my Daughter won't be coming with me now - she's blown me out in favour of the boyfriend of all things!! So if you see a sad faced balding fat guy wandering around with a camera permanently fixed to his face, that'll probably be me.
I'll post my pictures from this years event in a couple of days, once I've had time to do the usual (sort, edit, crop, tweek, discard and tag).

Friday 15 October 2010

The Science of Dice : Rant and Learn

Some time ago I came across these two YouTube videos about game dice. The guy featured is Colonel Louis Zocchi and he is quite passionate that the dice made by Game Science are the best on the market. Marketing speil aside this is actually a very interesting masterclass on the manufacture and science of dice and well worth watching if you have the time.

And Part 2

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Built-in Flash Diffuser

When photographing miniatures its sometimes hard to get good pictures without a studio type setup. This is especially true when trying to get photo's of miniatures at wargame shows where you can't carry huge amounts of equipment. Tripods and studio lights with softboxes are not practical at busy conventions so most photographers resort to using the built in or pop-up flash on their camera. The problem is that small light sources mounted close to the lens produce a very unnatural form of light and this often results in hard shadows and washed out pictures.

If your camera has the option of high ISO settings then it is possible to get reasonable pictures without flash, even in low light conditions such as halls and display rooms. But these pictures lack the crispness and colour saturation possible with proper studio lighting. One solution is to use a diffuser on your flashgun. These often take the form of reflectors or hoods that clip over the top of the flashgun to soften the harshness of the flash.

I recently bought a diffuser for my Canon EOS 500d but I wanted one that would be usable with the built-in flash. I found what I was looking for on Amazon but similar products are available from many online retailers. This particular product clips into the flash hotshoe and holds a concave plastic diffuser in front of the pop-up flash. It can be left in the hot shoe and does not impede the flash as it deploys.

The pictures below show the difference the diffuser makes to the finished image under the same lighting conditions and set-up. The first image is taken with the diffuser attached and the second is without.

f5.6 1/60sec ISO400
With Diffuser
f5.6 1/60sec ISO400
Without Diffuser

The next two pictures were taken with the same f-stop and speed settings, without a diffuser, but using the flash compensation feature. This reduces the brightness of the flash reducing the 'washed put' look, in this case by -1 and then -2 stops. As you can see this does go some way towards improving the finished image but getting the right compensation level (the camera can adjust by 1/3 of a stop) is a bit hit and miss. 

f5.6 1/60sec ISO400
Without Diffuser - Flash Compensation -1
f5.6 1/60sec ISO400
Without Diffuser - Flash Compensation -2
Overall, using the diffuser produces better colour saturation and softer shadows. Flash compensation goes some way to correcting overexposure but this results in flat colours and rather 'muddy' skin tones.

On a final note its worth highlighting that Diffusers of any kind reduce the amount of light that your flash unit produces. However, so long as you’re using Through-the-lens metering - and most digital cameras do - then the camera will compensate automatically. One thing you have to remember however is that you’ll have decreased flash range (up to half) but for close up photography this is actually a benefit as you'll be able to use a flash at much closer distances than normal.

Monday 11 October 2010

Total Party Kill... almost

Total Party Kill (aka TPK or Wipe) is the colloquial term for a single encounter in a roleplaying game which results is the death of all the characters. On Friday the Dagenham Dungeon Delvers met for our regular bi-weekly 4E D&D game, and I almost achieved TPK. Which is quite an achievement when you consider I'm not the Dungeon Master.

Our adventuring party are on a side mission on behalf of a local Dwarven City that has found its subterranean trade routes infested with undead. Our investigations have seen us battle through miles of tunnels towards the source of this necrotic infestation and Fridays game was the culmination of that mission. We now found ourselves in the heart of a volcano facing a Skull Lord and his minions.

The battle started well with several skeletal warriors being killed very quickly. Our wizard used his spells, particularly an enlarged Incendiary Detonation and  Hypnotic Pattern - [...KABOOM!!!...] to immobilise the Skull Lord and his bodyguard then the Swordmage and the Dragonborn Fighter and his brother the Warlord closed in for the kill. Our characters took a lot of damage but one by one we killed the Bodyguards and hacked lumps off the Skull Lord. Victory, it seemed, would be but moments away.

What we didn't realise was that the Skull Lord had an escape plan. Just as we thought victory was imminent he retreated to a lower level where his toughest allies were waiting. It was in effect a trap... and we sprung it like a group of bumbling 1st level characters. When I say we I should point out that I mean me. I run both the Dragonborn characters and the Fighter, Kharthek, is a bit impetuous. So he leaped down the shaft that lead to the lower level and tried to land on the escaping Skull Lord. He missed and the resulting fall sent him into negative hit points. One character down and bleeding to death, five to go.

With little other option (short of watching the fighter die) the Eladrin Swordmage, Cealathalus, used one of his abilities to swap places with he unconscious Dragonborn -  and soon realised that the really dangerous undead were not the ones we had killed in the level above! He quickly tried to negotiate a truce with the Skull Lord but the discussion is cut short by a thrown hammer (from my Dragonborn Warlord, Uthek) which whistles down and smashes the Skull Lords head in. Battle is resumed in short order and within a couple of turns Cealathalus is also unconscious and bleeding to death in the corner and now we are two down and four standing.

Meanwhile Kharthek has healed enough to stand up again, but now he and his brother Uthek are standing around the shaft watching the possible end of Cealathalus below. So they leap into the hole again determined to battle to the end on the lower level. Although they survive the fall they are now prone in front of the enemy and by the end of the turn both are unconscious and bleeding. Three down and three to go.

The two halfling brothers, Janek & Jarped now have to do the unthinkable and get into the heart of the combat. They also jump down but land rather more gracefully than their Dragonborn companions. Their entry into the fight however cannot turn the tide of victory and soon Janek is also unconscious and Jarped, fighting for his life, soon follows. Characters now start to fail Death rolls and one by one all edge towards the afterlife with only the Wizard, still on the upper level, alive and firing spells at available targets.

Then something amazing happens. Both Dragonborn brothers roll natural 20's on their Death Rolls allowing them to use a Healing Surge and return to positive hit points. In one last round of attacks the remaining undead are killed and at the end of the battle a severely mauled Uthek is the only one standing. He quickly rushes around trying to perform emergency first aid but Cealathalus and Janek have failed three death checks and their characters have died.

Opinion amongst the players was understandably divided (and I expect a few choice comments to appear below in due course) but for my money that was one of the most exciting and enjoyable combat encounters we have played in a long time. There was a very real sense of danger in that encounter that often seems missing from 4E combat. The ability to use healing surges makes our characters incredibly hard to kill so most combat situations have no real threat about them at all. I realise that this is D&D so of course it isn't really the end. Now that we have destroyed the undead infestation of the trade tunnels I expect that the remaining party members will be setting off on another side quest, this time to get our companions resurrected.

And looking on the bright side, those of us that did survive have just levelled up!

Sunday 10 October 2010

Big Picture : Zouave

This picture was taken at Military Odessy in 2008 and shows confederate soldiers advancing towards the enemy (in this case, the audience!). The brightly dressed infantry on the right are Zouave's, an American version of the style and north African uniforms of earlier French units. Zouavre units were common to both the Union and the Confederate forces although the north fielded more than the south.
The most famous of the confederate Zouavre units were the Louisiana Tigers.

Friday 8 October 2010

A Bridge Too Far

This week I've been playing around with the strategic boardgame A Bridge Too Far by Battlefront. I bought this back in April at Salute but haven't really made the time to play it because of other projects, lack of time and a lack of available opponents.

The original plan was to rope my Brother-in-law (pictured on the right) into playing; but he, like me, has had a busy summer with nearly every weekend taken up with events of one kind or another. However as autumn races towards winter we are both finding our schedule clearing and spare time on our hands. So this week I've been reading the rules for the game and playtesting it to get a feel for how the game will run.

Unfortunately I've discovered that my box is missing a sprue of Firestorm models. Luckily it was only two German half tracks and not one of the larger sprues but even so I'm a little miffed. I should have checked the box more thoroughly when I got it because this isn't the first Battlefront product I have bought that has had missing parts.

I've looked on the Internet to see of it's possible to buy spare parts for the game but so far without luck. I could try getting a replacement from Battlefront's UK distributor but last time I used this service I was more frustrated than impressed. I'm sure I can make some suitable replacement tokens with a lot less stress and in half the time.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

The Rubber Band Gun

My recent visit to Bletchley got me thinking about how far children's toys - and by extension models for adults - have come in only a handful of decades. The museum held several examples of model casting kits but more intriguingly genuinely homemade toys, crafted by children and adults alike. Today the idea of presenting a child with a hand made toy is almost ridiculous. I suspect, from the child's point of view, the idea would be met by a mixture of incredulity and abject disappointment. But once upon a time a wooden tank or doll would have been a wondrous present much loved and cared for.

When I was a kid I had a big collection of Airfix plastic soldiers (1/32nd scale) and would line them up for battles throwing marbles at either side. Although I didn't know this at the time this was a similar approach to the Little Wars rules devised by H.G.Wells. I took this a stage further, using elastic bands as my ammunition of choice and take turns firing at each group of soldiers until one side won by attrition alone. Later still my father made plywood 'guns' to fire the rubber bands and my carpet warfare became a test of accuracy as well as tactics. And being a hand made toy, crafted from durable materials to a simple design, it lasted for years and years. 

The guns were shaped like a Tommy Gun and had a trigger which released the elastic band and sent it towards the 'enemy' troops. Unfortunately, like so many childhood toys, these have long since been lost and I haven't even got a photo of me using this homemade toy. However, I've recreated the design above for anyone that might like to make one for themselves. I have not put sizes on my diagram as you'll have to make it to fit the elastic bands you have available and the size of the 'user'.

Scanning through the Internet I've seen dozens of variations on this idea. But unless anyone can tell me differently, I had the granddaddy of them all, back in the summer of 1979.

Monday 4 October 2010

Zombies!!! - Chow time for the undead

I've been playing more Zombies!!! this week. For some inexplicable reason my youngest daughter (5½) loves this game. Maybe it's because she keeps beating me by cutting a bloody swathe through the undead. Come the Zombie Apocalypse I'm following her.

Actually this game has been a useful home teaching tool. I've been getting her to read the cards (with help of course) and she's also practicing counting and adding up when we roll dice. Like all the best teaching resources she's having fun without realising she is also practicing her reading and maths skills. I'm not sure this game could be introduced into the National Curriculum just yet and I don't think I should tell her teacher this is how we play number games - but if it work it works!

As a long time Gamer I'm always proud to see her stitch me up with a well timed action card. Yesterday she played a card that refilled all the available building spaces with Zombies. Instead of having a clear path to the Helipad and victory I found myself surrounded by dozen of zombies. She laughed an evil laugh as my bullets and health points were rapidly depleted and she made a run for the finish line. To add insult to injury she not only got to the helipad and won but she did so by killing her 25th zombie (an alternative victory condition) and thereby beat me twice over.

I'm thinking of giving up gaming and taking up fishing instead.

Sunday 3 October 2010

Big Picture : Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay

This memorial to British Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay stands in the grounds of Dover Castle overlooking the Channel. Ramsey masterminded the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk at the end of May beginning of June 1940. Much of the panning and logistics were carried out in the fortified tunnels below Dover Castle where Ramsey was able to overlook the evacuation efforts.

In total 338,226 allied troops were rescued from imprisonment. Churchill himself understood the implications should the BEF be lost in France when he said "The whole root and core and brain of the British army, on which and around which we were to build, and are to build, the great British armies in the later years of the war, seemed about to perish upon the field or to be led into an ignominious and starving captivity." Instead returning soldiers were put to use in the defence of Britain and later saw action in North Africa and later still returned to Europe as part of the Allied Invasion of Normandy.

Friday 1 October 2010

The new Red Box

The Escapist, a web magazine for game enthusiasts, recently posted an article about the new 4th Edition version of the D&D Red Box. The article describes the moment they unboxed the new set  and includes a series of cool photo's showing the parcel they received from Wizards of the Coast - complete with bags of Cheetos and Funyons to make the first game session even more authentic.

At a quick glance I'm not sure existing players would find this product useful. I Guess its more of a nostalgia trip than anything else, especially as the only thing this product has in common with the original Red Box is the cover art. Having said that I do feel there has been an empty niche for a starter set to encourage younger players into the game and maybe this set will fill that role. If I get a chance to inspect this product up close I'll write some more about it but in the meantime take a look at the picture posted in this article by the Escapist.

Forgotten Voices of D-Day

This is a relatively new book only hitting the shelves in May of this year. It is based on the sound archives of the Imperial War Museum and consists almost entirely of interviews with British veterans. In their own words they describe the confusion, fear, excitement, anticipation and even the humor of that historic day.

This book concentrates on the voices of the British soldier primarily because the major source for the interviews was the IWM. However the Author/Editor of the book also emphasised the often American centric nature of many books about D-Day and Overlord and his desire to redress the balance. The author remains respectful of the bravery and sacrifice of US soldiers (particularly on OMAHA beach) but is none-the-less uncompromisingly British in perspective.

I benefited from having read several other books on operation Overlord in that I had a reasonable working understanding of the strategic situation across the Normandy region. This book does not try to explain the strategy and tactics used (although each chapter has a foreword giving an overview of events). Rather it focuses on the actual experiences of individual men at various times throughout the day. All branches of military service are represented in the interviews. The accounts of bomber crew and glider pilots rub shoulders with the memories of naval personnel, paratroopers, sappers, submariners, meteorologists, royal marines, regular soldiers and generals. Even the contribution of conscientious objectors - who played a vital role as medics and stretcher bearers - is included.

Bailey has taken these interviews and edited them together masterfully to create a strong narrative while maintaining the vivid details that only first hand memories can convey. When reading history books its sometimes hard to understand how soldiers could fight and risk their lives as they did. Reading this first hand account helps answer that question, at least in part. Most men hung on to the belief that they would make it through. Few allowed themselves to believe they would die. They fought for their friends, they fought for themselves but most of all they fought for survival.

The book is published by Ebury Press and has 416 pages with black and white pictures and maps scattered throughout. It is currently on sale with Amazon for £5.49 for the paperback version and £13.99 for the hardcover version.