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Dom Mooney's Website... Cybergoths no more.

Nov 2005

Letters from the Past

I've just added a new section to the website – family letters from the 1940s. They're scans of two letters that my grandfather received from his brother in 1940 and 1942. I've kept them as part of the family heirlooms!

Crusader Rex - Shortened Playtest

Having watched Kingdom of Heaven earlier this week I was itching to get a game of Crusader Rex, so Friday night finally gave the opportunity that I was after. Jill was preparing some shoe-boxes for work's entry into Operation Christmas Child, so I dug out the game and set it up on the lounge floor.

Before I started, I also had a quick skim through the various forums on the Columbia Games site to get an idea of tactics and strategy. From this, it became apparent that there were a number of challenges. The Franks (Crusaders) were perilously exposed, and an aggressive strategy could rapidly result in them being wiped out. In addition, their generally lower quality forces left them attacking second in a battle until the Crusading forces arrived. The final controversy – for which there were repeated heated discussions on the forums – was that the 'Knights Charge' rules were somewhat deadly to both sides. It gets the Franks doubled attacks, but exposes them to the risk that any roll of a '6' on the D6 causes damage to their own sides. The rules have recently been changed, and the designer, Jerry Taylor, makes a spirited defense of their accuracy on the games' forums.

Anyway, I played both sides, so the fog of war was limited, and the game ran from 1187 to 1189 (when I had to abandon because it was too late).

The first year's play (6 turns worth) started in a very edgy way. I wasn't sure how deadly combat would be, so decided to muster the Saracen forces at a four locations to try and get some reasonable sized armies. As a tactic, it works very well, provided you've allowed for the winter turn at the end of the year. By the third month these were moving into Outremer, with forces from Damascus and Egypt threatening Jerusalem, forces from Aleppo threatening Antioch and a final group threatening Krak des Chevaliers to the north. There's a game map here if you want to have a look at the geography. Movement is limited to roads - major routes (think lines) can have 8 units pass, and minor routes can have 4 units.

The initial fighting was at Tiberias (ironically, near Hattin, the major defeat that triggered the Third Crusade), south of the Sea of Galilee. The Franks repelled the initial forces threatening Jerusalem, but at the cost of about two thirds of the military orders after a bodged Knights Charge. These were lost forever as the military orders can't be replaced. The attack was effective though, and one of Saladin's relatives was killed. The rest of the Saracen casualties went in the draw pool to re-emerge later in the game.

A minor push at Krak des Chevaliers was repelled, but again casualties were taken by the military orders. By the end of the first game year the Franks only had two military order units left, both at reduced strengths.

The end of the year saw a mistake on my part as Saracen commander. I'd overcommitted high value movement cards so didn't have enough to regroup around logistical bases for the winter. The limits were set at 1 block per number at the location; for example, Jerusalem can support 3 units, but Krak des Chevaliers only 1 block. Any excess blocks are disposed of, which resulted in the effective destruction of the Egyptian army. From this point on, both sides were careful with move cards and also used retreats and regrouping moves effectively at the end of the year.

The second year sees the draw-pools in action, so each side draws a reinforcement block every game turn (of which there are 6 in a year). The Franks ended up with two of the three English Crusaders, and a German and French unit too. This was somewhat pleasing but also worrying to the Saracen side. Pleasing, because there were no effective additional defenders in play, but worrying because there were heavy reinforcements very close to arriving with the right draw.

The fighting went badly for the Franks, with the complete loss of the south at the second battle of Tiberias, followed by a retreat from Acre with a late year follow up attack. King Guy and most of the remaining Outremer nobility from the south died. Antioch fell, proving that protective walls weren't enough to save against a strong attacking force, and a desperate retreat followed south down the coast. The only upside to the Franks turn was the attack by the assassins on Saladin. Sadly, this didn't quite succeed in taking him out of the game. End of turn saw the Saracen forces dispersing to blockade the ports to the south against the crusaders' arrival.

1189 opened brightly for the Franks, as Richard the Lionheart deployed to Tripoli along with the Aquitaine Crossbowmen. The Franks didn't have enough movement points to bring Robert of Normandy in as well. King Guy re-appeared as well. The Saracen forces launched a savage attack at Tripoli and Krak des Chevaliers, which finally fell. Faced with an overwhelming force, and nowhere to retreat, Richard Kinght's Charged, causing massive damage (6 points) but the newly arrived Crusaders were wiped out to a man. The final remaining military orders were also finished off. Next turn, Robert deployed to Tartus, and launched a heavy counter attack with the forces that had retreated from the north and Krak. This blunted the Saracen attack, and left the crusaders in possession of the ports from Beirut to Latakia, helped by drawing the right forces from the draw-pool. King Guy mustered a small force to Jerusalem. And that's when I ended the game.

The position looked better, but far from rosy for the Franks. They had a good stronghold around Tripoli, and the French Crusaders were ready to arrive. The south had a good enough force to be making the Saracens consider re-mustering to engage it. However, doing so would open the way for the Crusaders to arrive in one of those ports, threatening the south of Outremer. I guess that a higher risk, all out attack from the Saracens could settle the game by 1191, but it would potentially leave them exposed.

I really enjoyed the game - I do think that possibly some tweaks are needed, but don't feel that there are any major flaws. It took two and half hours to get to the point I was at!

DVD selection

We've been catching up on films we missed at the cinema recently, and the last week saw us through three on the list – War of the Worlds, Kingdom of Heaven, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

We kicked off with H.G.Wells' classic, redone for the present-day by Spielberg. The effects were brilliant, and action steady, but somehow it just didn't do it for me. Now, part of the reason for that may be the legacy of Jeff Wayne's musical version, which was a big influence on me when I was barely into my teens. Morgan Freeman's introductory narrative jarred, because it just wasn't Richard Burton.

Into the film, and we see Tom Cruise playing a variation of the arseh*le character that he made his career with. A divorced father of two, he looks as if he is what the characters in Top Gun and Days of Thunder would have become when their arrogance finally led to a real fall. I found it hard to be sympathetic to him until later in the film when his impotence against the alien invaders became apparent, and his fear of loosing his family took over. One sensible change was that the aliens were no longer 'Martians' – it would have been hard to justify after the amount of exploration missions to Mars that as the setting is the current day.

The arrival of aliens was dramatic – not the capsules of the original book and films, but a very dramatic lightning storm and a personal capsule for the invader. It was pretty impressive, as was the CGI when the war machines emerged from the ground. But therein lies another issue for me. The claim was that the war machines had been there all along, buried, waiting for the invasion. This just didn't seem right to me, so I'd like to propose an alternative; the invading forces actually drop a penetrating device with a nano-tech programmed building device to create a war machine. The dramatic lightning was power to initiate the seed's growth. The humans assume that the war machines were buried because the technology is so far ahead of their current usage. Works for me!

So War of the Worlds is worth it for a wet and rainy night in, but it isn't on my list of DVDs to buy. Next up was Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott's new epic film. I love Scott's direction and photographic style. The way he uses light and dark has always impressed me, and I own a fair few of his films so I really wanted to see this. In addition, my recent purchase of Crusader Rex re-ignited my love of the period.

I was pleasantly surprised by the film. As I expected, it looked gorgeous. It did have the whole epic film feel, but it didn't manage to achieve the same emotional engagement that Gladiator did. I think it suffered from two things; firstly, the theme of Balian (Orlando Bloom's character) seeking redemption never really comes out clearly enough in the story to make you feel bothered for the character. Secondly, the whole film feels very truncated. Watching the additional 'Pilgrim's Way' subtitles that link the decision behind the film to historical reality makes it clear how complicated the real-politick that was going on was. There are hints of this in the film, but it never seems to be developed properly, probably because it would need too much screen time. This leaves an enjoyable, but flawed film. I could see myself watching this again, but I may wait and see if a director's cut comes out that has some more of the politics in before I buy it.

The final film of the three was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This was Tim Burton's re-imagining of Roald Dahl's masterpiece. I never much liked the Gene Wilder version, and hoped that Burton's dark and weird approach would really reflect the book better. And, I think it did. The imagery, the whole attitude and style was brilliant. It was pretty faithful to the original and Johnny Depp was fantastic! I only surprised that Michael Jackson hasn't sued!

Wholeheartedly recommended. I will be buying it, but probably once it drops from the initial launch price. What's the point of paying £15 to £17 when you can get it for £7-8 four or five months later?

Rapidweaver 3.2

Well, I've been patiently waiting, and finally, Rapidweaver 3.2 is out. And it feels faster and even more together. Altogether excellent. I'm going to have to check how easily I can update some of the custom 3.1 themes I've made, but that shouldn't be a problem.

Hubble/NASA image of Neptune

RW3.2 adds a lot of features, such as the ability to include inline graphics more easily (scaling and rotating!), and more scaleable pages. As an example, here is an image of Neptune from NASA/Hubble imagery.