Monday, 16 February 2015

Odd Omissions in Education

The identities of the following have all been obscured.

First, the gentleman who was under the impression that DNA was a recent invention, therefore surely it's impossible for there to be a DNA link between someone living and someone dead. Oddly, he was a fairly young person, so one might have assumed he would be conversant with such recent instances as Neanderthal DNA and Richard III. As they say in America, when you assume, you make an ass out of "u" and me.

Second, the married lady in her forties who was asked to juice an orange for an elderly acquaintance. She looked alarmed at this, but a while later returned from the kitchen, saying she had done so. Later on the elderly lady popped into the kitchen and found things were not as she had hoped. Following a conversation with the younger lady the next day, it became apparent she had used a potato peeler to get the skin off, then attempted to crush the orange with her bare hands. A soggy heap of orange flesh sat on a plate.

Finally, there's an entertaining TV show on these days called Gotham. For those of you who have missed it, it's a rambling, weird and thoroughly divisive show which sets out to tell the story of Batman's city before there was a Batman. Viewers are divided into those who, like me, think it's enjoyable - in my case it's largely because of the mixture of camp and seriousness - and viewers who think it's dreadful - seemingly because it's so camp. The show has a grimy, worn feel, and the cars are deliberately big old things, which has led some younger viewers to believe (and declare online) that the show is set in the '70s. The characters have and use mobile telephones.

I hope this brought a smile to your face.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Imperial Governor: What's a little treachery and slaughter between friends?

One of the most enjoyable games I have ever played is an old boardgame from 1979, Imperial Governor. In the words of the introduction to the rules, "Each player takes the part of one of the emergent or declining nations in the Mediterranean in the last three centuries before Christ[,] and his objective is to become the predominant power, using honest force of arms, augmented by threats, subterfuge and general skullduggery." The game itself is only half the story, as a great game with poor players is no fun. I first uncovered this game in the '90s, when I found it left behind by my uncle, and I tried to play it, only to find nobody was interested at all. It languished, as it needs a minimum of three players. There's a two-player variant covering the Peloponnesian Wars, but I never got into that.




In my second year of university I began dating a girl, and although that didn't last, the friendships I made as a result have done. In my third year, we would settle ourselves down at the big kitchen table in our rented student house, and spend days playing the game, convening between lectures, classroom prep and essays. Halcyon days! Of course, one gets older, and people move apart, and work gets in the way. So with all the problems, we had not played a game in perhaps over a decade, but when I managed to arrange a visit by two of my old friends to get some games in, we fell quickly back into the old ways, and had a lovely time.




The game permits a maximum of six players, but with only three we played Scenario F: The Successors of Alexander, which features Pontus, Parthia and Aegyptus as player countries, and excludes large portions of the map to the west. We used the accelerated start rules to speed things up, meaning we all started with a couple of provinces. I took Aegyptus with the island provinces of Crete and Rhodes. Chris, who had come from South Wales for the game, took Pontus, and had Buthynia and Cilicia. Lastly, Peter, who had come all the way from Eire, took Parthia, and had the province of Armenia at the beginning. One's home country needs no garrison, but each province demands one legion or squadron token sit in it for the owning player to keep receiving the income (the black number within the yellow circle on the maps).

Chris and I are conservative players, while Peter is bold. Funnily enough, both strategies work well in the game, provided one secures enough provinces at the game's start. Before anything else, one draws a Fates Card, which can bring wondrous or terrible or middling news. At the start of the game Pontus was struck by serious bad luck, weakening her forces just as Parthia launched a spoiling attack on her, while securing the province of Palestine to the south. Aegyptus secured the island of Cyprus, and set to taking Cyrenaica, then Achaea and Macedonia. Pontus was laid so low by the run of bad cards that we considered restarting, but Chris manfully insisted on fighting on. In this game there can be no loser, and he was quite right to do so. Taking ship for Bosporus, he reconstituted his forces, dispatching troops to the provinces north and west of Macedonia, and into Armenia. Parthia, which had overrun most of Asia Minor by this point, and amassed a large army to take Byzantium, was stymied by Aegyptus deploying large numbers of troops to oppose her.

At this point, it is worth mentioning that the rules, though fun, are so full of holes you could use them as a cheesegrater. Even a decade after we last played the game, we were still encountering odd situations which we had to house-rule around. For instance, the game specifies that a player deprived of his home country can still draw on an income of five talents each turn until he recovers it. But when Chris of Pontus struck down through Armenia, we gradually ended up in the odd position of Peter of Parthia possessing Pontus, Chris' home country, while Chris of Pontus held Peter's Parthia. We decided that the kings would now move to the new country, but the rules themselves are silent. A case of inter arma silent leges, perhaps! Peter, formerly of Parthia, and now of Pontus, seeing it was impossible to push through Byzantium, and that if he retired to retake Parthia, my Egyptians would pursue him, took a third route. Sneakily amassing a fleet at the harbour of Miletos in the province of Pergamum, he dived southward, took Crete, then moved on Cyrenaica. I laboriously pursued, hampered both by the need to raise forces to defend Achaea from the naval armada, and by the fact that Chris of Pontus, who had taken Parthia to the east, had also secured several provinces north and west of Macedonia, and amassed a large force to deny me control of Macedonia.


At this point I had the very good luck of Chris' province of Bosporus revolting, while I was able to knock out his armies in the region of Macedonia, which Peter had been paying to keep up, as I had no money to fight both of them at once. Then I had the misfortune of capturing some of Peter's commanders as he took Cyrenaica. On the face of it, capturing an enemy is good news, as the player must pay a ransom (half his income for generals, three quarters for his king) even before paying his troops, so a well-timed capture can really muck up an enemy's plans. However, once the ransom is paid, he gets to stipulate where in the captor's empire the hostages are released. Worse, Peter's king, bereft of his home country, was allowed to raise troops on whichever hex he occupied. So Peter opted for a point of release in the west, captured one of my generals, and overran some of my provinces. Chris, meanwhile, struck down through the desert of Palestine, trying to get some protection money out of me. I ineffectually flailed back, but was getting nowhere.

That was about the end of things. It was a great game, and we could see what would happen next. First, Peter had been in the ascendant, then I, and now I was about to sink as Chris' star rose! We played a few games of Star Fleet: A Call To Arms, as well, which was a grand little diversion. Imperial Governor is great, but one does need to break off from it every so often. So we went for several walks, including a trip to a local bird preserve, where we got very lost, the others nearly losing their shoes as we all misread a map. Then on leaving we managed to fumble the simple act of talking to the charming and pretty young lady who was manning the office. She made the mistake of assuming we could do small talk, and I made the mistake of assuming that a question should be answered with the truth. So when she asked what we were doing later, I said we were going to Sainsbury's. Nothing confuses me more than small talk. Anyway, the gaming was a great success. The only alteration we will make next time is to aim for a warmer time of year. The attic, where we played the SF: ACTA, was by no means warm!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Have a lovely Christmas, folks!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Will we know our next Shakespeare?

English is a funny old bird, and tricky to master. Shakespeare was a dab hand at it, and one way we know this is that he seemed to have a comprehensive knowledge of it. He didn't just type "dee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum", but coined a large number of new words, which we employ to this day. There was no small number of authors in Bill's day, and since then the number has grown.

Writers are multitudinous today, and nobody employs neologisms like old Bill did. Nor does any writer expect their text to be scoured like Bill's. He is a figure very nearly of mythology. Tastes are broader. So will we know our next Bard? I know I won't.
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