Arrivals and Departures

Having recently moved house I’m in a bit of a better position to have a look at the new stuff that’s arrived here. Given that I’ve been pontificating about magazine games that might be a good place to start.

First off the blocks is Strategy and Tactics number 256 (Marlborough’s Battles), featuring the battles of Ramillies & Malplaquet.  The cover features a Spitfire downing a He 111, which goes with the game topic not at all. There have been a few issues recently where the magazine cover bears no relation to the featured game. It’s not really a major issue, and I wonder whether the decision is made because it’s felt that the more obscure topics will mean less sales for the newsstand edition? The main article from memory (I read it several weeks ago) is perfectly serviceable, but for those who already have stuff on John Churchill there’s nothing really new. Sadly I have yet to pore over the rest of the contents.

The map looks spiffy enough, though the centre dots are a little over-prominent for my taste. The counters have nice little icons (the double-sized infantry counters have 5 little infantrymen firing, the smaller counters have but one). The cavalry counters have an Airfix miniatures feel to them, in that the horseman seems to be leaning over in a manner suggesting that the horse has not adhered well to the base (which were how my French curassier regiments that I painted in high school looked). The game itself is by Richard Berg and uses a variation of his turn continuatio sequence games. That is, there are no turns as such: both sides move units back and forth until the show is over. One side activates a formation, then tries to activate another (dependent on the command rating of the commander attempting activation). If it fails then the opposing side gets to activate.  For my taste they tend to be over-wrought, but the topic is interesting so I’m keen to try it.

Next is the World at War number 6: The Greater East Asia War. This covers the ground campaigns in China, Indochina, Burma, Malaya and the (former) Dutch East Indies. There are no Soviet units so there won’t be any nasty juggernauts smashing into Manchuria at the war’s end for the Japanese player to worry about, though the fact that the map also includes Mongolia seems tome to be odd. The game uses a variation of the Twilight of the Ottomans game (which I’d also like to try) where sides begin the game with a certain number of VPs and then gain or lose them according to geographical objectives or reinforcements taken. I’ve only read the short articles for this one, so you’ll have to find out how good the articles are yourselves.

Next is a new kid on the block: Battles Magazine, and its featured game Striking the Anvil, on the Anvil-Dragoon landing on the French south coast in August 1944. This is published in France (vive le Republique!, and well done to Les Bleus for their victory over Les Tous les Noirs – Allez!) by Olivier Revenu, who seems to be a veritable one-man band, who does it all from editing to swallow-taming. I presume that these are European and not African?

Again, I’ve not had a chance to try the game (sigh), but it’s very high on my play list, and I’m sure that I can twist Herr Stumptner’s arm into a game when he returns from his travels. The countersheet is 140 1/2 inch counters which looks Craig Grando-ish in style, and the map is of largish-folio (17′ x 22′) size, so perfect for those with limited table space. The designer, Luc Olivier has used a system inspired by the Avalon-Hill Storm Over Arnhem-style impulse games. Its nice to see that the rules don’t have to follow the American takeaway (pile on ever more stuff) system of development. Instead the whole rulebook (including optional rules, scenarios and design notes) fit into a mere 8 pages, so that it fits into the Biggest Loser school of trimming, not gaining, rules quantity. Hopefully it won’t require an additional 8 pages of errata for the game to work. 

The magazine itself is exceptionally handsome and is I think the best first-issue for a magazine-with-a-wargame ever. It weighs in at 130 pages, the cover featuring a U.S soldier of WW2 vintage aiming and firing his Thompson sub-machine gun. The counter quiz on page 3 was a nifty idea, and might have been better executed had they chosen more counters that I knew. I could only get one of the five. The articles that I poked my nose into (viz. Julien Bonnard’s review of Unhappy King Charles, and Nels Thompson’s analysis of Not War But Murder seemed well done. Olivier himself, in reviewing Storm Over Stalingrad has actually managed to convince me that this boxed title could be a worthwhile acquisition (no mean feat in a year of penny-pinching).

The thick spine (you can pop the magazine on a shelf and read the title and issue number) means that this won’t have to be bound or placed in a magazine rack for storage (librarians are so easily pleased). The only down-side is that the rules can’t be remo0ved from the magazine for game play. However, the rules are on the web, so they can be printed off for those who so desire. In short, this magazine looks fantastic and at about $45A including postage it looks to me to be a bargain. I hope Olivier keeps up the good work. My New Zealand-born (and Francophile) wife, I suspect, hopes that Les Bleus do not.

Next is issue number 2 of Panzer Digest. This is essentially the old Panzerschreck before it got it’s semi-professional touch-up. Three games in this one: The Evcuation of Königsberg, Swordfish at Taranto and Field of Honour. The first is a two-player game, the aim for the German player to hold the beleagured city for as long as possible so that the locals can evacuate to the west. Swordfish at Taranto is a solitaire title, and Gary ncludes some nifty tables so that the player can generate an interesting narrative. The third deals with medieval knights a-jousting. I have some Warhammer Fantasy Empire knights that I might be able to use instead of the counters to tempt my youngest step-son into trying.  The counters are mounted for all of these so they may get a run over the next few weeks.

I think that the Panzerschreck/Panzer Digest issues have been excellent value, not for the production values but in the attempt to create short games that invite repetition. After 6 playings game play may become stereotyped, but how many games that are published do we play more than once or twice. How many do we never play at all? At almost $25A they’re starting to get maybe a little pricey, but for now I look forward to getting issues 3 and on.

Finally in the magazines department we have about ten issues of Breakout Magazine, which was published in Australia during the 1980’s and 90’s. Flipping the pages is an exercise in nostalgia, with ads for shops that I visited as a child, and club notices for clubs that I once gamed with. Some of the articles look interesting to boot. Issue 6 for example has an article by David Morgan which looks at the action between Packenham’s 3rd Division and Thomieres’ 7th division at Salamanca, and how well (or not) this could be modelled using four different rules sets. Looking more closely this is continued from earlier issues (curses – this is the earlierst issue that I have!). Breakout covered board games, computer games, RPGs and minis in equal measure, the computer games becoming more dominant in the later issues. An Australian gaming magazine would be a nice thing to see again, but I daresay that the market simply woudn’t support it, and that it would be less efficient than the net anyway.

Moving away from magazines now, and the first boxed game for me for the year (not counting my playtester’s copy of Spanish Eagles – cor blimey, I was glad to get that), which is West End Games’ Star Trek III. Being a Trek fan this game is kind of a must have for me (I also have Star Trek: The Adventure Game and Star Trek: The Enterprise Encounter). Star Trek III has three games, all of which are solitaire and were designed by ex-SPI enfant terrible Greg Costikyan, David Kaufman and John Ford. The game of most interest to me is The Kobayashi Maru, though The Sherwood Syndrome (where the crew of the Enterprise must unseat a ‘king’ placed in power by a renegade Federation sociologist, without further violating the Prime Directive) could also be fun. Free Enterpri$e (I assume this to be Cotikyan’s) looks rather silly, but I will no doubt gie it a try and hope to be pleasantly surprised. 

This post is headed ‘Departures’ as well as arrivals, and four magazines left my possession not long before my wife and I moved digs. I have two cats. Tasha is about 11, and timid, though immensely strong when you have to, for example, put her in a cat cage. Loki is a large orange thing with long hair, rather like a cute version of Garfield. Loki (those of you who know Norse mythology will be correct in assuming that he is named after that Norse god, and he is well-named thus) was locked one day in our bedroom (he likes to hide under the covers, where he will usually sit all day purring contentedly). However, on this day he wanted to go out, and couldn’t. Next to the bed on my side were four issues of Charles Vasey’s Perfidious Albion. Early issues of Perfidious Albion. Early (issues 21 to 24) and no doubt hard to replace issues of Perfidious Albion, should anything happen to them. 

I am a librarian. Part of my job is to ensure that people in the library at least give a bit of a nod to copyright law. Asking the person with 20 music CD’s to put them back as to cease and desist the copying has happened occasionally. Because these early and hard to replace issues of Perfidious Albion were early and thus hard to replace, I felt it good and wise to scan them should anything go awry. Being on the PA e-mail list, I could, and should have asked the copyright holder for permission, but there you go (deftly dodging a blow from a good Yorkshire backhander). And I didn’t share ’em wiv Markus Stumptner, guv’nor, on my honour I didn’t. Loki, no doubt warming up for Ragnarok turned the early-and-thus-hard-to-replace-issues of Perfidious Albion into so much mimeographed confetti, where I found him (still, I must say, purring happily). Issues 21-24 were buried with full honours in the recycling bin, where their courage in action, in particular their dash in the Reviews of Squad Leader and War of the Ring will long be remembered.

Loki is not allowed in our library in ther new house, and his food is outside. He still purrs happily.

Finally, an apology to any native French speakers for killing your language earlir in this post (please consider downgrading the charge to Grievous Bodily Harm). Allez le Bleus!!

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