Saturday, 31 July 2021

The Battle of Hexham 1464


A couple of weeks ago we fought the next instalment in our ongoing project to fight out all the major Wars of the Roses Battles using Never Mind the Billhooks.  This time we fought 2 games at once... 3 players took on Hedgeley Moor while John and I played out the battle of Hexham

These battles effectively ended the war in the North of England... I won't go into lots of details as there is an excellent write up with background, OOB and an account of the game at Eric the Shed's blog here.  Let's just say it was very close...

Incidentally the last issue of Wargames Illustrated featured an article on the WOTR games we've been running at the Shed with an excellent account by Eric

One of these dodgy looking
characters is your author...

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Screaming Eagles


After playing the Milton Bradley game ' Dogfight' a few weeks ago, it was time for another large scale retro-gaming night courtesy of Anthony.  This time we played Screaming Eagles, another 80s boardgame from Milton Bradley.  The BoardGameGeek page for the game can be found here

Pic from Boardgamegeek

 Players have 2 Jets each and take alternate turns shooting and moving (or vice versa).  Each player has 9 movement cards with the option to roll 1,2 or 4 movement dice and to break right or left or to move straight ahead.  Planes always face the same direction but when you exit the map edge you loop round reappear on the opposite rear edge of the unusual lozenge shaped board.  This can make predicting where your opponent is going to be quite tricky, especially if, like me, you easily confuse left and right and which plane is which!

We've moved on from Biplanes now to Jets... the game came out in 1987 so probably owes a lot to films like Top Gun or Iron Eagle

Each plane has a handy card with pegs to indicate damage and ammo.  

Planes can either launch missiles or use their cannons but ammo is limited so some careful choices are required about what to use when.  Each plane also has a couple of flares which reduce the chances of a missile hitting.

A lot depends on the dice throws, both for movement and damage but it is one of those games which appears very simple, but then a turn or so into the game you start to realise there is a bit of thinking required

As before we played on a large sized mat Anthony had had made for the game.  We were also playing with some nice die-cast planes rather than the plastic ones that came with the game.  There's definitely a charm in these family wargames...ideal for some light gaming but just enough thinking required.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

¡Arriba Espana!

 I picked up a copy of Bob Cordery's Arriba Espana Spanish Civil War rules, newly released via Amazon.

The very affordable book (which also comes as a PDF,  but for the small difference in price you may as well get the real thing!) actually contains 2 sets of rules.  The first are the original rules which were first released in 1989.  These look really interesting with rules reflecting the internal political turmoil in the Republican forces.

The 2nd set are a brand new version of Bob's Portable Wargames Rules adapted for the SCW...I haven't played any of the other versions of these but they seem to be well thought of and look good.

Combined with Bob's excellent La Ultima Cruzada sourcebook on the SCW these are great inspiration for getting my SCW armies back on the table.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Five Games That Made Me The Gamer I Am Today

 This is a thing which has been doing the rounds on Twitter (I still don't entirely get Twitter but I use it more than I used to).  It's an interesting question and one I've been mulling over since reading other people's posts.  Some people have gone for wargames, others for RPGs or boardgames or even videogames.  Mine is likely to be a mix of the 1st 3.  I suspect if I was to repeat this list tomorrow it would look different  as I remember other games, but here goes...

Dungeons and Dragons

So this was very much my introduction to a world of gaming.  Sometime around 1978 I came across an advert in a copy of Ad Astra,  short-lived UK science fiction magazine.  I'm not sure if it was for a shop or for a games company but I'm pretty sure the ad featured D&D, Gamma World and Traveller (although this is a little hazy!).

Update... it was this advert...

  I convinced my parents to stump up for a copy of the D&D set and was completely mind-blown.  The starter set included the scenario In Search of the Unknown and the basic rulebook.  

This led me to track down (via now long-gone games shops in Glasgow) rulebooks for AD&D and then onto other games.  Role-playing led me down 2 paths... one was eventually to the games club at Strathclyde Uni and the other was to the Glasgow & District Wargames Club where we played...

WRG 6th Edition

Having discovered D&D I looked around for for club or a group to play with (of course this was the olden days where the only clues were hidden on postcards in shops).  I found GDWS who weren't a Role-playing club but suggested I come along to see what they do.  

Actually the first 'proper' set of rules I played were WRG 5th but these were quickly replaced by 6th Edition (Google tells me these came out in August 1980).  I wasn't very good... I think I lost most weeks... but I loved the game and had a couple of shockingly badly painted 28mm armies.  The club were incredibly welcoming to me and a couple of other young players.  I'm not sure if it would be as straightforward these days for clubs to welcome children in.


Star Fleet Battles

Strathclyde Uni's games club introduced me to lots of RPGs and boardgames and I spent many, many hours playing Star Fleet Battles at my friend Martin's... usually culminating in a Sausage Supper from a chippy on Byres Road and beer on a Saturday night.  I loved the depth and range of tactics depending on which faction you were playing.  I bought a new set a few years ago and found it harder to get to grips with than I remembered and a bit clunky (like lots of 80s games can be) but I haven't written it off yet!


Strathclyde also introduced me to a lot of boardgames.  Kingmaker games would go on for days in the Student Union with endless making and breaking of alliances and a few players who took it a bit too seriously (although not as seriously as Risk which famously led to chairs being thrown!).  Kingmaker was (and is) such a great strategic game.  I was lucky enough to take part recently in some playtests for a planned revised edition which was a great experience.  Over the last year the Wars of the Roses games that I've played using Never Mind the Billhooks has brought my focus back to this period after a 30 year gap.

Black Powder

So having done the nostalgia bit, the game which has probably had the biggest impact on me in recent years is Black Powder.  I know it's sometimes criticised for being a bit generic but it has been the ruleset which has criss-crossed most of the gaming groups I've been lucky enough to be part of in more recent times.  I think one of the attractions is the toolkit aspect which means it can be tailored to suit different periods and the relative ease of play which means it's great for new players to get to grips with.

Honourable mentions...

OK, narrowing it down to 5 was always going to be a challenge.  Here are a couple of games that almost made it...


I played a lot of this when I was at school... proto-Warhammer 40k.  It was the first game where I realised you could make tweak and change rules and design your own scenarios


I got a copy of this Avalon Hill boardgames on a family holiday to the US and loved the scenarios and the card-based mechanics.

And if I was going to pick a PC game...


I can still lose hours in this game...

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Mains Castle and a trip back home

No games for a couple of weeks as we finally managed to get away for a week to visit family in Rutherglen, near Glasgow.  A combination of Covid restrictions and lots of decorating and refurbishment at my mum's house meant we haven't been able to get up for a year so it was great to finally be able to see everyone.

The week was pretty much all spent locally with family so we didn't get out to see any sights but I did get out early most mornings with the dogs and tried to walk in few different places locally to give them (and me!) a bit of variety from the local park.

Eek!!  The Return of
 the Giant Hogweed

The Clyde

Not far from home is the Cuningar Loop,  new woodland Park created on industrial ground in Dalmarnock.  This was originally reservoirs which were filled in with rubble from the demolition of the Gorbals in the 1960s.  After the 2014 Commonwealth Games the site was redeveloped and transformed into a lovely woodland park on the  banks of the Clyde.

There's an interesting project being run here and in Rutherglen looking at using naturally heated water which fills disused mining tunnels as a source of geothermal heating.  Of course it isn't worrying at all that the town seems to be riddled with disused tunnels...

We also had a walk at Stewartfield near East Kilbride.  This is another new-ish country park.  This was made by creating a loch out of several marshy fields and has attracted a host of wildlife

Now for the wargamey bit...

Mains Castle

I haven't been inside...this is taken
from a  news article!

Next to the park is Mains Castle.  This was built in the late 15th century by the Lindsay family who had been given the lands   during the reign of David II.  The original landowners were the Comyns who came unstuck fighting against Robert the Bruce. The castle gradually declined and was eventually abandoned in 1723 before being restored in the 19th Century.  Its now a private home... one day, when I win the lottery...  

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Reading Update #3


Well, we're over half way through the year so it must be time for another list of books I've been reading.  As always a fairly mixed bunch... 

The Return by Harry Sidebottom

One of those authors whose name crops up a lot when historical fiction is mentioned...I was a bit concerned this was going to be a Roman version of Sharpe... oh wait, that's Simon Scarrow. (I've read quite a few of Scarrow's books before realising that  he only has about 3 plots).  This was much better: a Roman soldier retiring back home but being drawn into a murder mystery and allusions to PTSD.  Nicely done.

Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli

I read Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons on Physics a couple of years ago... a really lovely introduction to those kind of physics concepts that make your brain hurt.  He has a very literary almost poetic style which I liked and made things like quantum mechanics almost understandable.  This is more of the same but again very readable.  Did I understand it all?,... of course not but that's not always the point.

The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria by Max Adams

I picked this up when I was doing a bit of research for my Arthurian/Dark Ages wasn't  quite the right period but a really interesting read and reminded me that there's a lot of British history that is a complete blank to me.  I do also have his Arthurian book although the more I read about this period, the more it's obvious that we know very, very little.

I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke

Brilliant autobiography by everyone's favourite poet!  The first half of the book suffers a bit by focusing on the 'we were poor but we were happy', post war reminiscing that you often find  in biographies of people of a certain age.  But it takes off when his career starts and I now know more than I need to about how to manage a heroin habit!

The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

One of my favourite authors, the Laundry files are a sort of Le Carre/Deighton/Fleming meets Lovecraft pastiche with British intelligence dealing with everything from cultists to vampires always with the threat of the imminent arrival of the Elder Gods to deal with.  As the series progresses they move away from direct pastiche into a life of their own and are an excellent read.  This involves vampires and an incursion by the Fae as well as Civil Service bureaucracy.

Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In my last book round-up I included  Empire in Red and Gold by Tchaikovsky a fantasy series set in a world where people have 'aspects' of different insects, ranging from techy engineering Beetle people to Wasps who are essentially Nazis (just like real wasps I suspect... nasty little things!).  I really enjoyed the first book, much more than I'd expected to but was a bit put off by the fact that it was #1 of at least 10 books.  This is book #2 and sadly was really quite dull... very little seemed to happen and what did happen was very repetitive so I don't think I'll make it any further in the series.

False Value by Ben Aaronovitch

The latest by the author of Rivers of London a police procedural with magic and river goddesses.  If you haven't read any of these start with Rivers, but they're all definitely worth checking out.  By comparison with the Tchaikovsky books, this and the Charles Stross books are good examples of how to keep a long running series fresh and interesting.

Venice by Jan Morris

It's hard to sum this book up...part history, part memoir, part travelogue but a great description of an intriguing city by a fascinating author who has led an amazing life.

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

A Pratchett book I hadn't read, this is possibly one of the best in the series.  Brilliant as always.

Shuggie Bain by Stuart Douglas

This is the latest Booker Prize winner and is set in Glasgow and Lanarkshire in the 70s and 80s.  Bleak and quite harrowing in places, it's also funny and uplifting.  It tells the story of Shuggie (a Glaswegian version of the name Hugh) and his relationship with his alcoholic mother, 80s poverty and his emerging sexuality.  Yep... not the cheeriest of reads but we'll worth it.

Dune by Frank Herbert

I Iast read this over 30 years ago but was keen to see if it still held up to my memories of it being a classic...especially with a new film version  due out later this year.

Incidentally I've never seen the 80s film which I'm told is either terrible or genius.  My nerdy friends were shocked I hadn't seen this or Highlander.  I remedied the Highlander issue recently when it was on TV... it was... erm.. very 80s...

It's always a bit risky revisiting something good from the past but this held up really well.  You can see the influence it has had on lots of books and films.

The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

And much the same thing goes for this one.  I've read the Lord of the Rings several times but probably not for over 30 years.  ThankfulIy I found it surprisingly readable and lighter than I was expecting.  I always especially enjoyed the parts of the story set in the Shire as the sense of menace grows and the hobbies are still relatively unaware of the dsngers they're being drawn into... I even have a soft spot for Tom Bombadil.  I'm now part way through the Two Towers.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I'd never read this although I have good memories of the BBC TV adaptation and the Radio 4 version. A really good read set in a strange version of London.

Queen of Storms by Raymond Feist

The 2nd in Feist's latest series of fantasy novels this is everything  you'd expect... long lost heirs to a throne, hidden magic powers, mysterious assassins and pirates.  It ought to be terrible but somehow its a good, entertaining read.