Thoughts on the Maus

Maus (World of Tanks Blitz)
Panzer VIII Maus in Legionary Camouflage

One of my guilty pleasures is playing World of Tanks Blitz on the iPad to chill out. Nathan and I started an account back at Christmas 2014, and we've played far too many games since. I don't do many video games, but this one has stuck. I find that it's got a great combination of being a game you can play for fun and also a bit more seriously. You have teams of 7 players facing themselves off across a variety of different maps. You can platoon with one other person if you want to work as a sub-team. All the tanks are pretty unique with different play styles. The game has vehicles from the start of armoured warfare to the 1960s. The tanks range from actual vehicles to prototypes (either built or blueprinted) to pure fantasy tanks (we hates those, my precious). I'll never be a great player (I don't have the reflexes), but I know from game stats that I'm an above-average player.

I've recently been grinding crew experience on the Maus. The Maus was a super-heavy panzer designed in 1944 which got as far as part-built prototype hulls and a turret. In some ways, the Nazis were lucky that it never reached production as it would have been an absolute resource hog and easily flanked by more mobile forces. However, on a 500m x 500m battlefield it does quite well.

I've learned a few things playing it. I'm not great at this tank, but some things become obvious.

1. Wait and see where your team goes at the start before you move. At 20 km/h you can't afford to go the wrong way.

2. Never look an enemy in the face until you mean to shoot them (because your armour is stronger when angled).

3. The damage you block, and as a result stop your team taking, is more important than the damage you do. You can block a lot as you are one of the most heavily armoured tanks in the game.

4. You can easily pin a flank as the enemy don't like approaching you (albeit cheeky medium tanks will try and circle you).

5. If you're going to die, position yourself so your wreck gives your team hardcover, not the enemy.

6. Don't get stressed; like the American T95 tank destroyer (the 'doom turtle') you're slow to get to position and half the time the rest of the team forgets that or screws things up by splitting up so you are alone. You can only do what you can do.

7. Consider the terrain and run on roads if you can as you are faster and can turn better.

8. The gun is good enough for snapshots as it aims quickly. This helps you when you look away to improve the armour and then flick it in to take a shot.

I ended up putting the Legionary camouflage on the tank (named after the European winners of the Blitz Twister Cup in 2017) as it looks great.

8 April 2019

Kartel - breaking the Crime Ring

Kartel - it's very long and thin...
I picked up a copy of Kartel from Games Crusade in Harrogate, and we've played it a few times this week. I think it's going to be one that stays around for a bit. Written by Reiner Knizia, it's a simple game that takes about 15 minutes and is suitable for all the family.

You are all playing detectives investigating the seven criminal gangs in the city. There is a single large detective meeple (with a sticker) used by all the players. The game board comprises a ring (the 'crime ring') of randomly spread out crime lords (each with a unique colour), criminals (groups of 1-3, each coloured for the crime lord they have allegiance to) and potential bribes (sorry, donations to the police widows and orphans fund).

Each turn, you roll a d6 which generates a result between 2 and 4. You advance the detective as far as you want up to the number rolled around the crime ring, and then pick up what you have landed on. If it is a bribe or a criminal group, you place it in front of you as a potential arrest or payoff. If it is a crime lord, they go to jail. From that point, all the criminals that are in the same gang (same colour) are flipped to the scoring side when you pick them up. Any you have in front of you already, also get flipped as you've now got the evidence to arrest them. Any bribes from an arrested crime lord become worthless rather than scoring three points.

There's a catch; there are only five cells in the jail, and the moment that the last one is filled, the game ends (with any criminals from that crime lord now scoring). You get a point for every criminal arrested and 3 points for each bribe from a crime lord who hasn't been arrested at the end of the game.

It's a good game, with a degree of scheming and planning, and it works well as a filler. It certainly landed well with us across the family. Recommended.

6 April 2019

Board game breakfast
Boardgame breakfast - Kartel went down well with the whole family

A Brightness Long Ago

'A Brightness Long Ago''s cover

I'm pretty excited to see that one of my favourite fantasy authors Guy Gavriel Kay, has a new book coming out in March. A Brightness Long Ago is set in the same alternative history universe as Children of Earth and Sky. I really enjoyed the former book and probably have a review of it somewhere here or on the old blog. The setting is a riff on Renaissance Italy and the Balkans.

I love GGK's books as they are set, in the main, in alternative histories; parallel worlds that draw on our history for inspiration. I've pre-ordered this sight-unseen as I have never seen a bad book from him.

2 April 2018


Chromebooks and Hangouts and Gaming

Lenovo N23 Yoga Chromebook in all its modes
Most of my gaming these days is either done at conventions or over Google Hangouts (where I'm playing in two extended campaigns[1] with friends I met at conventions).

We had a lot of shenanigans with this week's Esoterrorists session, with a period where people couldn't hear each other. We eventually resolved it (or rather it may have resolved itself at Hangouts end) but before we reached that point at least two of us changed machines.

I tried my Chromebook (a Lenovo Yoga N23 which runs on a quad-core ARM processor) with some trepidation. My old Chromebook (a Lenovo N22) had really struggled, but it seems that the beefier processor and jump of system RAM to 4GB does the trick. It was probably better than my MacBook (although that has an excuse being over 10 years old).

The Chromebook is definitely hitting 80% of what I do on a computer. I'd have a Mac in preference, but I'm not rocking Apple money at the moment, especially after the pound/dollar depreciation following the Brexit vote. I definitely recommend this machine if you'd like a convertible with a decent screen, good battery life and a great keyboard.

29 March 2019

[1] The Esoterrorists (Worldbreaker) and The One Ring (Darkening of Mirkwood)

Deep Sea Adventure

Deep Sea Adventure Box
Deep Sea Adventure, a small boxed game
A fortnight ago, I went into Harrogate with Nathan to get him some new trainers for fencing, and once we'd finished that errand, we popped into Games Crusade, a local boardgame shop near the theatre at the centre of town.

Nathan picked two games - Cat Crimes and Deep Sea Adventure. We tried both out while we were away.

Deep Sea Adventure contains a submarine template, an air tracking counter, meeples for divers and a selection of ruins (potential treasure) and blanks. The players share an air supply which starts to deteriorate once ruins (treasure) is picked up. Each item of treasure costs a point of air each turn, and you only have 25 total.

The game is simple and played in three rounds.

Each player takes a turn as follows; decide direction of travel, decrease air by number of treasures carried, roll 2d3, move that far, chose to pick up a treasure up to the maximum, or drop one down. Each treasure also reduces your dice roll by one, so six would mean you can't move.

The treasure counters are set in long path, getting deeper (further from the sub) each time. More valuable treasures are lower down.

Players take turns until they run out of air (in which case all carried treasures are dropped) or they're all back on the sub, at which point the round ends. Treasures brought back are scored, and the player with the highest amount is the winner at the end of all three rounds.

It was quite good fun - I realised that a Traveller GM at last years Travcon had used a riff on this in an asteroid adventure. I think we'll be playing it again as it landed well with the whole family.

Oh, you should visit Games Crusade if you get a chance, they're knowledgeable friendly people.

25 March 2019

Catching up with old friends

I managed to get some more of the Lyonesse writing done on Friday, in the gap between work and leaving to head down the M1 (with fingers crossed that Yorkshire Truckers for Brexit weren’t going to be in the way).

Dancing with the Stars
Dancing with the Stars
We travelled down to Stourbridge to catch up with some old friends, Jon and Becks. I’ve known Jon since we shared a house at the University of Southampton; we’ve kept in touch ever since but it’s been more sporadic since they moved to Germany when he took up a role in the aerospace industry. They’re some of the people who have been hard done by with the referendum - no say in something that fundamentally affects their lives because Cameron pitched it as an advisory vote.

The service was in an old, grade 1 listed church, St Thomas’. The connection to Stourbridge was that the vicar was a friend of theirs from Germany who used to preside at the Anglican Church there. 

We had a lovely day, also catching up with Ceri (my former lab partner in the first year of university), Nick and their daughter. As all these days go, you find yourself wishing you had more time to just chat with old friends, like you did back in the day. We played a few board games back at the Premier Inn, but it wasn’t a late night.

Family Group

We’ll work our way home today, probably stopping off at Cadbury World to give the kids a bit of fun.


Back to Middle Earth (The One Ring Season 7)

The One Ring image - By Xander - own work, (not derivative from the movies), Public Domain,

Tonight saw a return to our ongoing Google Hangouts game of The One Ring RPG, run by Paul Mitchener. We've been playing for a number of years now, and this is the 'seventh season' if we looked at it as a TV show. It certainly has that kind of feel and reminds me of what I love about campaign play. I think that it's the longest ongoing campaign that I've been involved with, certainly since I was a teenager. The plots have been based loosely around the Darkening of Mirkwood supplement. Our characters have grown; there is a core group of three characters who have been there from the start, and a number of others who have passed through our Tale of Years. Paul has written up the background so far on his personal blog here and there's really nothing more I can add to that except that it is deeply satisfying to drop back into this.

The core comprises my character; Nali, a Dwarf from the Lonely Mountain; Elina's character Aeldra, one of the Woodland Folk; and Miriel, a Wood Elf played by Jag, with whom Nali always argues. Tonight, we were joined by Simon R, playing a High Elf from Rivendell, and the deep long term perspective of one of the firstborn immediately changed the dynamics again, in a good way.

The story and the characters grow; one day our heroes will fall out of the tale, but along the way, they've told a wonderful story and held a candle up against the darkness.


Why I wasn't at Travcon 2019

First Trophy
First Trophy! Aidan wins the U10 Foil

Usually, at this time of year, I'm at Travcon, a gathering of fans of the Traveller RPG held in Sawtry run by BITS. This year, I was at the Qualifiers for the British Youth Championships for Fencing for Yorkshire, held at Penistone Grammar School[1]. Usually, Jill would handle this on her own[2], but it was the first year that both of the boys were competing to enter. I reluctantly bailed out, my solace being that I'd get to see the lads competing and also that North Star isn't that far off.

Aidan did brilliantly, fighting his way through to a Gold Medal and - to his delight - a trophy! He loved it so much he took it to bed with him when we got home. He also used it as bragging rights with his brother, who has never won a trophy for fencing (only medals). He's turning into a sharp little fencer. He does have the chance to get his name on this three times, something no-one else has achieved.

Nathan had a harder path. He's consistently been #2 in Yorkshire, and any medal position would guarantee his qualification for the Championships. He came second through the poule stage (only losing once) and then had a difficult semi-final. The lad he was fighting wasn't a better fencer, but there's something about his style that means Nat has to grind out a result. It went the full three periods and he was pretty exhausted at the end. Being placed second from the poule also meant that he had less of a recovery period. He lost the final but put up a determined fight. Across the whole competition, he scored 9 points against his opponent (10:6 in the final) which was considerably more than the rest of the field managed against him. His opponent's win was deserved, but that didn't take away the disappointment. Anyway, he was safely qualified.

A worthy 2nd place in U12 Foil

Just after we finished, we had a major disappointment. British Fencing has pulled the U10 Foil class from the Championships. Their reasons?
It is the view of BF and the Home Countries, based on the latest evidence and research about participation and performance, that fencing for children under the age of 10 should primarily be about having fun and getting opportunities to practice their skills without the pressure of competing in or winning a National/British Championships. Young fencers should also be encouraged to participate in a variety of sports. If parents and coaches do wish their children to compete they are encouraged to do so at a developmentally appropriate inter school/local/regional level competition.
I find this pretty bizarre as fencing isn't a sport that you do casually. You'll most likely be learning at a club, having lessons and fencing others for fun and challenge. Fundamentally, it's a direct person-to-person sport and the competition/winning is at the heart of the whole thing. It's mock trying to stick a piece of steel through an opponent in every fight; at its heart, it's Darwinian, even. You learn fencing better fencers. Aidan loves it[3] and was upset when he found out; he's currently performing at the top of his class in the region but will have to wait another two years to try his hand nationally. He wanted to fence (and turned down a birthday party so he could go).

In my heart, I suspect that funding and organising time and effort may be part of the real reason.

[1] Let's see if that makes it past the firewalls and morality checkers...
[2] She's the original fencer in the family.
[3] He also swims regularly and enjoys a variety of other sports.

What has the EU ever done for us?

EU/UK flags

In case you're curious, have a look at

EU funding in area around Wetherby
Quite a lot, actually..

How much did I pay for this? Well, has a ready reckoner based on the data that HMRC publishes.


What have the Romans ever done for us?

This was on my mind tonight.