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Mimi and Toutou go forth - A book review

July 16, 2018 - 16:55

Every once in a while you read a book that makes you think:
·     This is weirder than most fiction I ever read.·    And why has no one made a movie out of this?
“Mimi and Toutou go forth” is such a book. It deals with the battle of Lake Tanganyika (even the name of the battle seems too weird to be real. But it is) in 1915. This battle was fought between British and German Navy ships and resulted in a British victory.

Why and how a battle was fought on the worlds second largest, oldest and deepest lake (not to mention it lies nearly 800 meters above sea level) and how those ships got there in the first place is a tale whose epic proportions are only rivalled by its absurd details.
Giles Foden recounts this details in brilliant tongue-in-cheek prose, serving a bizarre episode of history rich with colonial arrogance and jingoistic madness with a pleasant dose of humour.  

He finishes with no less amusing details about the book and the movie "The African Queen" which were loosely based on these events. So apparently someone did make a movie out of this. It is just a shame the most amazing events were omitted from book and movie alike to serve the public an easier and more believable tale with some romance in it. And to such an extent that few would guess the book was related to the battle of Lake Tanganyika. 
For last, however, he saves the harsh present. Hitching a ride on Liemba, the last surviving ship of that battle, he recounts the hard lives people in that region still have to live, the fleeting benefits of "civilisation" and colonialism and most of all the transience of events once great but now forgotten by nearly everyone. A sobering finale. 
Nevertheless the book is a great read and I'd recommend it to anyone. 
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Rome was not built in a day..... Part 3

July 4, 2018 - 17:00
Last episode's cliffhanger was of course a bridge, to be hung between tow housing block so as to facilitate a second level of play. 

And with that the project is practically finished. The house without balcony received some shades for over the porches and that was it. And of course the graffiti, which was a Roman invention as far as I know.

The entire table, including the not-quite-finished temple from the starter set.

The balconies were made from matchsticks, carved with a motor tool and glued together in that typical Roman symmetrical woodwork. The bridges were made in the same way.

The one piece of graffiti that is not historical, but literary. Anyone (except Sander :) ) who knows its source?


Since the terrain is modular it can be placed in all kinds of ways to make squares as well as alleyways.

A game in full swing.

Fierce fighting among the vegetables....

Lucius chickened out....

Mommy mommy I want to see the fight!!!!

My son musing my -extremely narrow- victory which literally depended on the colour of the first pebble of the turn....

On cork....

I built this entire project in cork plate. Growing curious about working with the material and seeing the fantastic results people like Matakishi achieved with it I decided to use it for Rome.

Lets state first that cork plate is a fine material that can be easily worked, glued and painted and even looks like Roman concrete without any special effort. That aside, I don't think it is very well suited to buildings that can be disassembled. It is very flexible which does not help the fit. It is also not very strong and will tear or break relatively easily. If I would attempt this same project again, I would use foamboard or MDF.

I remain convinced however that it is eminently suited for glued-together buildings. Alas, I usually lack the storage space for such things, so I don't see myself using cork again any time soon. 
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Rome was not built in a day....part 2

July 2, 2018 - 00:00
Following part 1 here is the second phase of me building Rome.

Using self-adhesive cork sheet for windowsills and door posts. And mesh for the windows.

The roof base is posterboard, reinforced with cork triangles to keep the shape.

Some alternative positioning. 

Rooftiles made from corrugated cardboard, scored to give the impression of rows of rooftiles.

And it still fits in that one box!

Spraypainting the parts. Grey underlayer and cream white light-up. The rooftiles are dark brown, to be highlighted with Blood Red.

More painting.

All the painted parts so far.

The balcony railings made from matchsticks. I was unsatisfied with my first attempt and threw that away. This looks much better.

And what will these be?
You will see...
In part 3! 
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Gangs of Rome review

July 1, 2018 - 23:51
A few weeks ago I bought Gangs of Rome. It was much hyped all over the interweb but I had heard some good things about it. And furthermore, as another example of my usual upside-down prioritising, I felt the need to build me some Roman terrain. That last exploit is being detailed elsewhere but I have found the opportunity to play the game and want to let you know what it is like.

GoR's theme is firmly rooted in one of my favourite BBC series: Rome. Violent gangs roam the streets of Rome (see what I did there) in the service of rich Romans who want to stay or become senator or just very powerful. On the side they have various criminal projects running, like robbing temples, ambushing money-carriers and assassinating the odd rival.

GoR is quite PC in that half of the gangers is female. Probably not very historical (given the extreme machismo of Roman society) but it makes for more variation in the models. Playing either female of male gangers yield no specific advantages.

Game genre
GoR is an alternate turn-based skirmish game. Drawing pebbles out of a bag gives you an activation of one ganger for each pebble of your own colour. Gangs number 3 to 7 gangers depending on the size of your game (or collection). An Activated ganger may perform one or two Actions in fixed combinations like Move and Fight or Move and Bind (a wound to heal a HP (or Flesh as it is called)).

The Blood on the Aventine starter box is a great way to start the game. Its value for money has been extensively dealt with elsewhere so I won't get into that. It is excellent. It has a temple. Buy it.

Special stuff
One needs a 3x3 ft table and some Roman terrain (or at least buildings and temples and stuff) to play GoR on. There are a few innovative aspects to GoR that merit separate treatment. These are the collectible character of the game, the Denarii and the Mobs.

When buying a fighter one receives a figure, three head swaps, 5 or 6 weapon options, a 6-sided die with Roman numerals, 4 random Denarii (see below) and a random Fighter card. The randomness of the Fighters essentially makes it a collectible game, as there is no possibility to generate your own gangers. You have to use the cards provided in the set. Since there are hundreds of variations and only a few handfuls of fighter models this sounds a bit strained. I expect (hope...) that War Banner will release a way to generate your own gangers in time.

A Fighter carries two counters slotted into its base. One is his ID number to link it to its card, the other one is is Flesh Score (HPs). Flesh 0 = Out of the Game.

The Denarii
This is your gangs collection of special weapons, equipment and allies. The base set provides a small number of them but you can buy Denarii separately from War Banner. This gives your gang some exotic weapons (stranglers rope anyone?), handy equipment (caltrops) and allies (like a Gladiator or a big dog). A Denarius is a card with the Denarius' description on it and a wooden coin counter that "shadows" your ganger on the table to indicate he possesses it.

The denarii are limited to the number of your gangers plus 7. You can supply your gangers with them at the start of our turn and may change them every turn. However, they return to the Used Pile which can only be re-used once your hand is empty. So choose carefully.

A Mob mauling two Fighters
The Mobs
Rome was of course a bustling place full of people. So a number of Roman crowds randomly traverse the table during play like some kind of moving terrain. When angered or panicked these turn into mobs that can flee and trample your gangers or outright attack them. There is even a way to set them onto your opponents! A mob are five Roman civilians on a large round base.

Fighters can also hide in mobs and use this to surface again somewhere on the table in any mob they so choose. But be careful. When a mob panics, it leaves you behind and that might be right in front of your enemies....

Rules Mechanics
Nothing really new here. A Fighter gets Activated once a pebble of your colour gets drawn from the bag. A Fighter has a number of stats indication the number of dice it may roll. A 4+ is usually a success. In Combat both Fighters roll Attack vs Defence. Defence successes cancel Attack successes and uncanceled attacks usually result in Wounds that diminish the Flesh score. There are a few modifiers like cover. And of course Denarii can greatly influence play by replacing standard attacks or defences. An attacked Fighter usually gets the chance to fight back (if he is not dead). Extreme damage results in gushing wounds that prevent counter attack and lost Flesh (HP) slows your Fighter down. It is a decent and elegant system that makes for quick play.

Like most skirmish games GoR excels in scenario play. A few scenarios are included in the book.

Other rules
There are a host of other options as yet unexplored. There are Incola, wandering citizens of Rome that may influence the game as a sort of NPC. There are the Gods you can pray to and there are the religious affiliations of your gangers that may yield advantages when your entire gang worships one god.

I have a feeling War Banner is preparing a lot more stuff to populate this game.

Campaign play is supported and rules for this variant are given. Winning games yields you Influence Cards that may be exchanged for favours or saved to become senator!

The combination of a relatively simple rules mechanism and a large number of options offered by the Denarii, Incola and Mobs, all bundled into a scenario-driven game, makes for a quickly-learned but tactically interesting game that plays fluently and intuitively within 90 minutes or so. Your Fighters sneak up on their opponents, fight, blend into mobs and use terrain to their advantage. Using larger gangs and more mobs is only likely to make it more interesting. 

Strongly recommended! 
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Rome was not built in a day.... Part 1

June 26, 2018 - 18:15
... but it should be possible in three weeks, when one has vacation :)

As I bought Gangs of Rome from some birthday money I was instantly enthralled by the table pictures in the rulebook. As my summer holidays started only a few weeks later I decided to make this my summer holiday project.

As usual I started with research and some sketches and discovered that Roman houses are boringly simple, if colourful.

I decided to build part of an Insula, a Roman housing block made from three long buildings and two corners. I would make them modular so as to vary the table and the basic setup would yield a large square surrounded by houses. This would make a nice backdrop for the temple that is included in the game and the terrain I already had built for Frostgrave and the like.

A while ago I bought a small supply of cork plates, inspired by the great Matakishi and I decided to use this for the Roman project. First there was a LOT of cork to be cut.

Here I decided that, while I would complete this project in cork, this stuff would definitely not replace my dear old foamboard. Cutting a lot of cork feels something akin to hard physical labour....

Trying the fit:

Feeling ambitious (and also short of storage space) I decided to make the buildings just so that they would come apart completely. Thus lots and lots of connectors were made to enable putting the house together a quick job.

They would then be glued into the corners holding the walls together. I used hardwood and bamboo skewers.

Then it was a matter of cutting, glueing, exercising patience, rinse and repeat:

The balconies are made in the same way as the buildings but glued together. They are stuck into the front of the building with bamboo pegs.

The columns are made from very thick peg wood, used by furniture makers and wood sculptors. The grooved exterior (made so to hold to glue better) is a perfect Roman column.

Eventually this resulted in three long houses, two with balconies and two corner houses:

There is still much to be donem but the general outlay of the table becomes clear.

To be continued.....
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