Aug 8, 2022

Here I Stand by email: Turn 5 (1536-1539) - French Diplomacy

Welcome to Turn 5 of our massive game of Here I Stand by email! Turn 4 is here, and this is how things stood when it ended:

Diplomatic situation:

The Ottomans are at war with the Papacy
The Habsburgs are at war with England
The Habsburgs are at war with the Protestants
The Papacy is at war with the Protestants
The Hapsburgs are allied with Hungary-Bohemia
France is allied with Genoa
France is allied with Scotland
The Papacy is allied with Venice

Victory points:

England 13
Protestants 16
Hapsburgs 19
France 20
Ottomans 20
Papacy 20

Protestant spaces: 20
(victory points Papacy 9 - Protestants 6)
Electorates: 5 Protestant, 1 Catholic
Protestant English home spaces: 1 (0 VP)

Cards removed from the game:

Luther's 95 Theses
Peasants' War
Barbary Pirates
Defender of the Faith
Clement VII
Paul III
Marburg Colloquy
Michael Servetus
Calvin Expelled
Augsburg Confession
Julia Gonzaga
Schmalkaldic League

Explorers removed: Narváez (-1)


We start, as always, with the card draw phase. All the naval units destroyed last turn are returned to their owners and can be rebuilt, and the reformer Calvin returns to Geneva from exile. 

The Reformation continues: as a result of Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn last turn, the English Reformation is now on. The reformer Cranmer appears in London, flipping it Protestant and giving England their first Protestant Home Spaces VP, for a total of 14. Cranmer also joins the game as a debater, along with Coverdale and Latimer. The papal ranks are reinforced by Carafa and Pole, and a total of ten new cards are added to the deck, including the mandatory event Society of Jesus, Copernicus and the Spanish Inquisition.

Before dealing cards, we work out New World riches for the Habsburgs and French. The Spanish roll a seven for their colony in Cuba, which ends up as a result of 8 due to Plantations, so they get a card, and another card from their Aztec conquests; the French get a card from Charlesbourg Royal.

So the total cards everyone starts the turn with are as follows:

Ottomans: dealt 5, kept 2, total 8
Hapsburgs: 7, 2, 10
English: 4, 1, 6
French: 6, 1, 8
Papacy: 5, 1, 8
Protestants: 5, 1, 7

**

And then it's time for the diplomacy phase. The negotiation segment had to be extended when one player's laptop screen broke, but eventually, after some exchanges of diplomatic missives, I got things started by announcing an Ottoman alliance with France. The Habsburgs also announce an alliance with France, and grant them a card draw! England then announces an alliance with France, because of course they do, at the price of one French mercenary unit transferred to their control, as well as an alliance with the Protestants.

For their part, the French confirm the Ottoman and Habsburg alliances, as well as the Habsburg card draw, and announce an alliance with the Vatican! France loans the Genoan naval squadron and Andrea Doria, and transfers four units of mercenaries, all to the Papacy, and in exchange the Pope cedes Florence to the French. The alliance with England is declined. The Vatican confirm the agreement, and the Protestants confirm their alliance with England. France now leads with 22 VP!


The Habsburgs decline to sue for peace with England, and declare war on the Ottomans; the French cap off a very succesful diplomacy phase by declaring war on the English. We're running out of diplomatic counters!



The Habsburgs pay for their declaration of war with Mercenaries Demand Pay, and France with A Mighty Fortress. The French then play Venetian Informant for the third time in the game, this time looking at the English hand.

I spring deploy Suleiman and three Ottoman regulars to Buda, and the Habsburgs decline to deploy. Henry VIII travels to Calais with three mercenaries and two regulars, and the French deploy Francis, Montmorency, four regulars and four mercenaries to Boulogne. The Papacy finishes spring deployment by sending four mercenaries to Ancona.

**

The Ottomans start the action phase with John Zápolya, meaning I now have an army of eleven regulars at Buda. The Habsburgs retaliate by recruiting two regulars at Vienna with City State Rebels, and England plays Janissaries Rebel for command points to deploy their fleet: two squadrons from Bristol to the Irish Sea, two squadrons from Calais to the Channel and a squadron from London to the North Sea. Following this, Brandon and his army march from Antwerp to Calais.

France plays their home card and rolls on the château table with maximum bonuses, but rolls a 2, so they draw one card and go up to 23 VP. The Papacy plays Pirate Haven for 3 CP, deploying their fleets from Venice and Rome and burning books in German. Utilizing Tetzel's bonus to add 1 CP to the St. Peter's track, the Vatican returns Strasbourg to Catholicism but strikes out in Münster. The Protestants play Unsanitary Camp as an event in Vienna, causing the Habsburgs to lose four regulars.


As the Ottomans, I play Dissolution of the Monasteries for command points. My fleet in Coron moves to the Aegean and Barbarossa's navy in Corfu deploys into the Ionian Sea. The papal fleet in the Adriatic Sea successfully intercepts; in the ensuing combat, I roll 11 dice and score 3 hits, sinking one Venetian squadron, and the Papal fleet gets five hits with six dice, destroying both my squadrons and a corsair. Barbarossa withdraws into the Aegean, and I use the remaining command points to build my last fleet at Coron and take control of Szegedin.

The Habsburgs play Calvin's Institutes for command points, building a regular in Prague and Innsbrück, as well as a mercenary in Vienna. England play their home card, Six Wives of Henry VIII, and the roll on the marriage chart is a 5: Edward is born sickly, and England gets 5 VP, catapulting them to a total of 19. Further, since Edward's mother was Anne of Cleves, both the English and the Protestants draw a card.

The French play Affair of the Placards for command points, moving their fleet in Marseille to sea and marching the two regulars in Genoa to Florence. The Vatican plays Book of Common Prayer, moving their fleet in Ancona to the Adriatic and building St. Peter's. The Protestants play Zwingli Dons Armour for command points: Philip of Hesse besieges the electorate of Trier, the Protestant regular in Brandenburg marches to Wittenberg, and Tyndale finishes translating the New Testament into English, generating six reformation attempts in the English language zone. Staggeringly, every single one of them succeeds, equalizing the Protestants and the Papacy at 17 VP each and taking England to 22!


On my impulse, I play Erasmus for command points, and engage the Venetian fleet in the Ionian Sea again. This time, after failed papal interception and avoid battle attempts, we're victorious, but only sink one of the two enemy fleets; the survivors retreat to the Adriatic. Barbarossa pursues them, and we finally destroy the rest of the Venetian navy for the loss of another corsair. A third naval move regroups my fleet in the Ionian.


The Habsburgs play Pilgrimage of Grace for command points, continuing an impressive streak of religious events not played as events, to recruit a mercenary in Innsbruck and send an explorer to the New World. England plays the mandatory event Imperial Coronation, which has no effect as Charles V is in Vienna, and marches their army from Calais to Boulogne. The French choose to avoid battle and retreat to Boulogne, but they fail. In the field battle, both armies manage to score a grand total of three hits, which means both sides lose three mercenaries, the French defenders win, and the English retreat back to Calais. They use their other command point to recruit a mercenary there.

For their part, the French play War in Persia for CP, withdrawing their army from Boulogne to Paris, sending Montmorency and two mercenaries to Rouen, and recruiting a Scottish regular in Glasgow. The pope plays Unpaid Mercenaries and uses the command points to build St. Peter's, which gets them their fourth St. Peter's victory point for a total of 18 VP. The Protestants retaliate with Mercenaries Bribed, starting a debate in German against the only committed Papal debater, Tetzel. The Protestant debater is Melanchton, and he absolutely destroys his opponent: the Protestants win by four hits to none, meaning Tetzel is disgraced and four German-speaking locations convert to Protestantism. The Protestants flip Regensburg, Salzburg, Innsbrück and Linz, and all this swings the victory points their way: the Papacy now has 16 VP and the Protestants 20.


The Ottomans play Gout for command points, attempting piracy in the Ionian Sea. We score one hit, and the Habsburgs award us a piracy VP, for a total of 21 VP. On the Habsburg impulse, it turns out that none of us were expecting the Spanish Inquisition.


There are no Protestant Spanish-language spaces (are there ever?), but the Habsburgs make the English discard Fountain of Youth and draw a card for themselves. The debate ends up being Carafa against Luther himself, and the Catholics win it by one hit, converting Worms. This again changes the victory points, putting the Papacy at 17 and the Protestants at 19. Incensed at losing a card, the English play Shipbuilding for command points, recruiting a mercenary at Calais and then marching their entire army in Calais to Brussels; the Habsburg garrison withdraws into the fortifications.

At this point France plays Swiss Mercenaries as a response, placing one in Florence and three in Carlisle, followed by Scots Raid.


France builds a Scottish regular in Glasgow, and marches the stack of five units there to Carlisle. The English decline to intercept, so the Scots march on to York and launch their assault. Neither side scores any hits, so now the siege is on. They then use the command points from the event to send an explorer to the New World.

The Papacy plays Leipzig Debate, nominating Eck as their attacker and targeting an uncommitted German debater. It ends up being Eck versus Karlstadt again, and the hits are 3-0 to the Papal side. That means Karlstadt is burned at the stake! The Papacy flips Nürnberg, Regensburg and Leipzig; they gain 1 VP from this and 1 VP from Karlstadt, going up to 19 VP, while the Protestants drop to 18.

For their part, the Protestants play Master of Italy. Since France controls Milan, Florence and Genoa, they go up to 24 VP! The Protestants use the command points to storm Trier, unsuccesfully, and move a regular from Augsburg to Worms. I play Revolt in Egypt for command points, move Barbarossa's fleet to the Adriatic and piratize the Papacy there. We score one hit, netting one piracy VP for a total of 22.

Meanwhile, the Habsburgs go on the offensive! They play Gabelle Revolt for one CP and march Charles, the Duke of Alva and their entire stack in Vienna to Pressburg. Suleiman attempts an intercept with the Ottoman stack in Buda and succeeds. The battle of Pressburg is a tremendous slaughter, with the Ottomans losing five regulars and the Habsburgs seven units. The Habsburg survivors retreat to Vienna.


The English play Machiavelli: the Prince for command points, and storm Brussels: both sides lose one mercenary and the siege continues. They also send one of their regulars from Edinburgh to besiege Stirling, and the French mercenary at Glasgow fails to intercept them. This cuts the French line of communication to York. The other English regular at Edinburgh then attacks the French mercenaries at Glasgow, but neither side scores any hits and the English retreat back to Edinburgh. France then plays Treachery! and conquers York! The French now have 26 victory points, which means the game will end this turn unless someone drops them back below 25.


The Pope plays Rough Wooing for command points, sending Andrea Doria and the Genoan fleet into the Barbary Coast and building St. Peter's for two CP. The Protestants play Trace Italienne to initiate a debate in the German language zone. The matchup ends up being Büllinger versus Eck, so the Protestants swap in Luther and draw a card with Here I Stand. The first round ends in a tie, and in the second round, Campeggio beats Oekolampedius by two hits, flipping Kassel and Lübeck.

For my part, I play my home card to place four regulars in Istanbul. With France past the victory threshold, there's not a lot I can do except hope that there's a next turn and I can have a shot at winning this. On that note, the Habsburgs play Andrea Doria as an event: both they and the Papacy draw a card, but luckily I lose none of my piracy VPs.


With only one card left, there's nothing England can do to evict the French from York, and they skip their impulse. France plays Colonial Governor / Native Uprising for command points, recruiting a mercenary in St. Dizier and returning their ships in the Gulf of Lion to Marseille. The Pope plays Knights of St. John for command points to finish building St. Peter's, taking them to 20 VP. The Protestants play Katherine Bora to start translating the New Testament into French.

As the Ottomans, the French victory seems inevitable at this point, so I pass. The Habsburgs play Philip of Hesse's Bigamy as an event, forcing the Protestants to either discard a random card or remove the bigamist from play. They discard Surprise Attack. England skips their impulse, and so does France. The Papacy plays Papal Bull, excommunicating Zwingli and choosing to debate an uncommitted Protestant in German. Aleander faces Oecolampadius, and wins by one hit to none. With Aleander's special ability, that means Salzburg and Kassel flip Catholic. The Protestants and Ottomans skip their impulses, and the Habsburgs play their home card for command points. They recruit four mercenaries in Vienna, and Charles again leads his forces to Pressburg. In the ensuing battle, all four mercenaries are lost for three Ottoman casualties, and the Habsburgs withdraw back to Vienna. England and France skip their impulses, and the Papacy plays Mercenaries Grow Restless to recruit a regular in Rome. Then everyone skips, ending the action phase.

Because it was obvious the game would end this turn, we skipped the winter phase and went straight on to the New World. The Habsburg and French explorers ended up being Roberval and Magellan, and while Roberval returned empty-handed, Magellan completed a succesful circumnavigation! This earned the Habsburgs 1 VP for the Pacific Straits and 3 for the circumnavigation, catapulting them into second place. It's not enough to change the outcome, though, and the game ends in a French victory.

Here's the final score:

Protestants 17
England 20
Papacy 21
Ottomans 22
Hapsburgs 23
France 26


**

We got Turn 5 started on May 14th 2021, and the diplomacy phase ended on June 22nd. The action phase kicked off on July 20th, and ran for the rest of the year and then some. Prince Edward was born on August 30th, and Tyndale published his New Testament on September 22nd. Karlstadt was burned on December 20th, and York fell on the first of February 2022. By the time Zwingli was excommunicated, the turn had taken a full year. The action phase and the game ended on Monday, the 11th of July: two years, three months and some days since Luther's 95 Theses hit the table on March 22nd 2020.

**

Well, that was certainly an epic experience in the proper sense of the word. As one of our players put it to me, the delay between sending out your "orders" and finding out what happened made for a real feeling of grand strategy. I'm delighted we performed this experiment, and want to thank everyone who participated.

I have to say I still have mixed feelings about this last turn. I'm not taking anything away from the French player: they saw a shot at a win, and combined some very skilful diplomacy with getting everything out of the cards they were dealt to take it. So I consider this an absolutely deserved win. It did involve running some considerable risks, though. There were several cards that could have derailed the French win completely: any of the cards affecting mercenaries would have been difficult for the thinly stretched French to deal with, and something like Diplomatic Marriage, City State Rebels or Andrea Doria could have knocked out a key, leaving them short of the 25 VP needed for the win.

The thing is, nearly all of those cards were in play this turn, and none of them were used against the French, even when it became clear that they were winning. We've played Munchkin, where as soon as someone starts pulling ahead, everybody piles on them; this was somehow exactly the opposite experience. With my cards and board position, there was very little I could do except hope there would be a sixth turn, where I think all of us would have had a shot at the win. Several players could have done something to stop the French. The Habsburgs could have dropped France below 25 VP and put themselves in a position to win with a successful circumnavigation - which, we know with hindsight, they would have got. The play of Andrea Doria against my Ottomans, as opposed to deactivating Genoa, amounted to throwing the game to the French. I still don't quite know how I feel about that.

Having said that, I'm reasonably happy with my strategy. My experience in our first game was that if the Ottomans come out swinging, everyone else will mobilize against them, and I wanted to avoid that. What's perhaps slightly boring about the Ottomans, purely in an abstract strategy game sense, is that you've got very few options other than fighting the Habsburgs. I tried fighting the Papacy, and I don't mind telling you I was unpleasantly surprised by Venetian Alliance! I was unlucky on some key naval combat rolls, otherwise I think I might have done better in the Mediterranean. I was also quite lucky on my piracy rolls, and managed to grab Julia Gonzaga as well. I feel that if there had been one more turn, I'd have had a pretty good shot at winning, but it wasn't to be.

**

So, now that that's done, I've put in a P500 order for Virgin Queen. Again, I want to thank everyone who took part; we'll be back.

Aug 1, 2022

Let's Read Tolkien 89: Vae Victis 17-19

Silence fell.

Haladdin has just received his mission to save Middle-earth, and he's still talking to the Nazgúl Sharya-Rana about it. I swear this is a four-chapter infodump. In these chapters, the Nazgúl is giving Haladdin information about how to destroy the Mirror, without telling him how to destroy the Mirror. Because of what Sharya-Rana obscurely calls "the rules of the game", he can't tell Haladdin what to do, but he has to lead him on until he supoosedly figures it out on his own. It's never explained why this has to be done, and frankly, it's tiresome.

It doesn't help that both the things they talk about and the language they use are relentlessly anachronistic. For instance, Haladdin at one point nonchalantly sums up the palantír and magic mirror as a "two-key system", as if it was obvious that a medic in the Mordorian army would know what it was. At first, I quite liked the idea of an alternative take on the Nazgûl, but again the strongest impression these chapters convey is that the author was very impressed with how clever he was being. For my part, I honestly cannot be bothered to sum it all up. The end result is that the "Nazgúl" tells Haladdin that the Mirror is in Lórien, there is a palantír in Dol Guldur, and Haladdin has to use the palantír and the volcano of Orodruin to destroy the Mirror. He could literally just have said that. There's no point in spinning it out into a huge, annoying didactic dialogue. Sharya-Rana then gives Haladdin his ring, and dies. Haladdin is now a Nazgúl, I guess, except with no magical abilities whatsoever.

Haladdin's companions now wake up, and he tells them what happened. Chapter 19 consists entirely of their discussion, and Haladdin trying to come up with a plan. There are several problems: getting into Lórien seems impossible, and the Mirror is too heavy to move. Eventually, Haladdin hits on an idea: based on what Sharya-Rana told him, they can use a palantír to transmit the fire of Orodruin to the Mirror. Again, the Nazgúl practically told him to do this, but for some reason we're never given, supposedly couldn't tell him this. It's stupid.

Anyway, now they have a plan, sort of, and they head for Ithilien, where Tangorn intends to introduce them to Faramir.

**

Next time: part 2!

Jul 11, 2022

Epic: Let's Build some Adeptus Titanicus terrain

The Panau Tourist Office has denied reports that massacres, chaos and factional fighting have affected the tourism industry this year. Tourist deaths this month reached 750, but ministers played down the figures, saying that the sinking of the cruiseliner "Happy Days" distorted the figures. An average mortality rate of 50 tourists a month is quite acceptable in this day and age, our glorious leader confirmed.


One of the things that made me get into Adeptus Titanicus was the idea of building Epic-scale terrain. I admit that this may seem backwards to some people, but I really like building terrain. I was very disappointed when my 15mm collecting plans fell through, mostly because I was looking forward to building a miniature service station!

Now that I have Titanicus, though, I have a great excuse to build some even tinier terrain pieces. I thoroughly enjoyed my first ever game: the Battle of Bitter Tower was fought over improvised terrain, and as it turned out, all of the terrain we deployed ended up being tactically or symbolically significant. Below, in the foreground you can see Del Monte Tower, which my Princeps Seniores spent several turns hiding behind.


I feel like a good starting point would be to make a proper version of Del Monte Tower; namely, a honking big fuel silo. Earlier, I invested in this lovely little Titanicus terrain kit:


It has all kinds of super adorable little bits and bobs, and I've added a selection of the fuel pipes to a cocoa tin to make what I maintain looks very much like a big as heck fuel tank. My flatmate cut me a circle of sturdy cardboard to serve as a base.


Here's the pipe, and because it's physically impossible to extract the correct amount of green stuff for anything, an entirely superfluous crater.


Then it's just a simple matter of covering the cardboard base with PVA glue and Noch Z-scale ballast.


And we're ready to do some spray-painting.


Then it's a simple matter of painting the whole thing in Vallejo Light Gray, with some select bits in Gunmetal, and applying the Panau Oil colors of red and white. I've played too much Just Cause 2 to be able to paint a giant fuel silo any other way.


Then it's time to paint the base in Iraqi Sand and we're done!


**

Now that I'm building fuel infrastructure and I've been playing around with the Manufactorum Imperialis kit, the next thing I'm making is definitely a tank farm. I remember bombing them in Microprose's F-117A Stealth Fighter when I was very young, and I can't really think of many things more Panau than huge, explosive fuel tanks.


I tried to place the tanks so that Knights could move around them, but Titans would find it difficult. They're glued onto a piece of MDF board.


I then covered the whole thing in Noch ballast, which I'm really starting to like.


After a whole bunch of Iraqi Sand paint, we have ourselves a terrain piece.


**

The thing with the Manufactorum Imperialis kit is, though, that while it contains lots of cute little things, most of the terrain you can make out of it is just too tiny for Titanicus purposes. So I'm setting it aside for the moment; I do have some ideas for what to do with the rest of it. So now we're going to do some proper scratchbuilding.

Since I had earlier decided to go with Vallejo Iraqi Sand as my base color, and I've now embarked on this Panau terrain project, I think it's time to draw the appropriate conclusions and say that our battles are taking place on the Imperial desert world of Lautan Lama.

One of the most succesful pieces of improvised terrain we used in our first game was my copy of the Black Book of Communism, i.e. Communism Peak.


I feel like the most appropriate way to translate this into a Panauan desert would be to make a mesa about the same size. Also, Sunny Mesa is my favorite landmark in Alpha Centauri. I'm calling it Dataran Tinggi Komunis. As luck would have it, we had a long piece of Ikea cardboard lying around that was almost the exact width of my Black Book.


Three layers of it made a stack almost exacly the height of the book: in other words, the perfect base structure for Dataran Tinggi Komunis.


I need the edges to sort of flare out from the top of the plateau, so I'm mounting this whole thing on a base cut out of 2mm thick cardboard.


I tried making one of the short edges out of Milliput, and while I think I may have applied it unnecessarily thickly, I think it worked out all right.


That exhausted my previous supply of Milliput, and the only kind my hobby store had was terracotta, so that was what I made the other three sides out of. It's superior to regular Milliput in that it doesn't look like marzipan, so you don't have to resist the temptation to eat it.

While I was working on Communism Plateau, I also made some destroyed Titan markers. I stuck one of the extra Warhound carapaces and half a head on a properly sized base, and made a crater on another one out of Milliput.


I'm quite pleased with the end result!


Once the edges of Dataran Tinggi Komunis were filled in, it was a fairly simple matter of plugging any remaining gaps with filler and gluing ballast to the top and the base.


I used the leftover Milliput to make a Reaver-sized crater.


After spraypainting, the plateau looked more or less like a fucked up cream cake.


I then applied some Vallejo Snow texture to the sides with an old, coarse paintbrush, with up and down strokes to create a pattern and hide the cracks between the bits of Milliput. I'm really happy with the result!


I painted the vertical bits Tan Earth and the flat surfaces Iraqi Sand, and gave some of the more textured bits of the walls a drybrush of the same.



I'm very happy!

**

Finally, to store my Titanicus paraphrenalia neatly and securely, I of course turned to Feldherr.


I simply love their raster foam; it's perfect for holding Titan weapons and even the little plastic doodads for the command terminals. I now have a Feldherr Minus bag that keeps all my extra weapons safe, and there's still plenty of room for more.

**

So, here we are: I've built some proper terrain to replace the books and cans and whatnot we used the first time around. I can't wait to see it in action!

Jul 4, 2022

Let's Read Tolkien 88: Vae Victis 15-16

The Nazgúl!

No, we still can't have more than one kind of diacritic. The person Haladdin finds sitting by the fire is, indeed, a Nazgûl. He introduces himself as Sharya-Rana, a famous mathematician and theologian from ages past, who is now a ring-wraith. Of course, on this Middle-earth, that means something entirely different: these "Nazgúl" are protectors of the scientific civilization of Mordor. This Nazgûl interrogates Haladdin about some of the choices he's made, during the war and before it, and tells him that he's the perfect person for their plans because he's so completely irrational that the enemy won't be able to predict his actions.

That's chapter 15; chapter 16 is a huge infodump on how magic works in Middle-earth, and frankly, it's boring. The gist of it is that there are two parallel universes, a magical one and a mundane one. The two worlds are connected, and anyone from Middle-earth who's been to the magic world is a wizard. The Nazgúl are one bunch of wizards and the White Council another. The Mirror (as in of Galadriel) connects the two worlds. The elves are trying to turn Middle-earth into another magical world, where nothing ever changes. This is why they had to destroy the scientific civilization of Mordor. The White wizards have given the Mirror to the elves, so now Haladdin has to save Middle-earth by destroying the Mirror.

**

So the central idea here is that Haladdin is the right guy for the job because he's so impossibly irrational. I'm now going to complain, because this annoys me. The idea that someone being so irrational and unpredictable is a strength is an ancient trope, and it's almost always a really stupid one.

It's used succesfully several times in the original Star Trek - mostly on machines, where the specific premise is that they can't handle human irrationality, or on half-Vulcan chess players who one suspects are more invested in demonstrating their superior logic than actually being good at the game. The most satisfying chess experience of my life was against an engineering student who insisted that their superior grasp of mathematics and logic meant they must be much better than me at chess. They walked into a variant of the fool's mate because they didn't actually know how to play chess.

When it comes to more complicated human endeavours, the idea that sheer unpredictability is an asset becomes a whole lot more difficult. As a strategy, it isn't great. So-called madman theory has been tried and the results aren't exactly overwhelming. Even in poker, the idea that it's good to be unpredictable has certain limits. Yes, you want to play poker in a way where your opponents find you difficult to read. If you play 100% consistently, you'll never win any money because no-one will ever bet against you. But if you constantly play irrationally, you'll inevitably lose money in the long run because you're playing against the odds. The rational approach to something like poker or indeed strategy is to use your resources in the way that gets you the best return on your investment. It's worth investing some resources in confusing your opponent occasionally by doing some irrational things, but too much will bankrupt the whole operation. If sheer unpredictability was a virtue, armies would have officers rolling dice and reading tea leaves as standard procedure. Most of the time, going about a task irrationally and unpredictably is just going to mean doing it badly.

As a military strategy, it reminds one of the adage apparently contained in the Mordor field manual: never do what the enemy expects. This is trite at the best of times, and at worst turns into an endless spiral of second-guessing: what if the enemy expects you to do what they don't expect? This was put forward as a strategy by British self-appointed great military thinker B.H. Liddell Hart as "the strategy of indirect approach", which has been criticized on exactly the same grounds: if you always take the indirect way, it then becomes the direct way. An example of Liddell Hart's indirect approach is the allied Mediterranean offensive in the Second World War, which was a gigantic waste of time, resources and lives to strike at the "soft underbelly" of the Axis, and ended up achieving pretty much nothing in terms of the actual war against Germany. And this, in the end, is the main point: it's never enough to be unpredictable. You also have to be able to do something effective that your enemy can't easily counter.

The other problem with this scenario is that none of the "totally irrational" things Haladdin does are really particularly irrational at all. He makes wartime decisions that are less than totally cold-blooded; he joins the military during a war due to peer pressure and to impress his fiance. If this is hopelessly irrational, I don't know whose behavior the "Nazgúl" model of rationality can expect to predict.

If you want a fictional example of doing something that the enemy would think is so insane it never even occurs to them someone would try it, and that they therefore don't take effective action to stop, what comes to mind is sending a hobbit to throw the enemy's ring of power into a volcano. So I don't know, this feels the same as the author's very clever socio-economic reimagining of the War of the Ring that actually makes no sense whatsoever: it's like he's trying so hard to be very clever and subvert Tolkien's story, and he ends up with basically the same thing but worse.

However! The plot is advancing, and for that we are grateful.

**

Next time: more wraith-exposition.

Jun 13, 2022

Warhammer 40,000: Let's Paint Brood Brothers

Some time ago, I was lucky enough to snag a 2016 Deathwatch: Overkill box at half price at our friendly local games store. I already painted the Deathwatch marines in it, and since I was thinking about trying Kill Team at the time, I made a Kill Team.

The models are four old Genestealers, on the old small bases, and the two purestrains from the Overkill box on the large base were to be the specialists; an Acolyte Iconward from the Neophyte Hybrids box I bought to get my Chaos Cultists a heavy stubber; and the Aberrant and Neophyte Leader are from Overkill, the latter enhanced with a Statuesque bionic head.

Looking at the galaxy map, one of the hive fleets making their way into the galaxy in Segmentum Obscurus is Hive Fleet Moloch, which obviously appeals to me as a theologian, and also has a brilliant paint scheme. I've gone for Scarlet and Black Grey as the main colors, with Ivory washed with Smoky Ink for the claws. I gave the Genestealers and the Aberrant coats of Satin Varnish, and it worked brilliantly. The Neophytes are wearing Flat Yellow, Blue Violet and Black; I've tried to make them look like they really are rebel miners or whatever, so their clothes aren't very military or indeed low-visibility at all.


Of course, with the pandemic, I still haven't had a chance to actually do anything with any of these models, and a whole new Kill Team edition has since come out anyway. But it got me started!

**

I was entertained to find the good old webber in the Genestealer Cult arsenal; anything that harks back to 2nd edition makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The trouble with the webber is that I've got the models to make two Neophyte squads, but there aren't any webbers in Deathwatch: Overkill, and there was only one in the Neophyte Hybrid box. So I made an impromptu conversion by chopping a flamer and web pistol into bits and calling it a webber:



**

I played around with different army list ideas for 40k, and one thing that quickly became obvious was that we could use some help in the anti-tank department, but we were going to need it on the cheap. So a Brood Brothers detachment from the Imperial Guard could fill that gap pretty nicely. I got started with a Company Commander:


The model is from Anvil's Hazmat Operatives set, and based on a character of mine in one of the Saints Row games, who spent almost the entire game in a hazmat suit, leading to some absolutely hilarious cutscenes. I'm very happy to immortalize that memory in this model.

Since it's anti-tank I want, I made a Leman Russ Annihilator turret by following this example; i.e. I sawed off two lascannons from the Imperial Guard heavy weapons team sprue, and glued them onto the Exterminator twin autocannon mount. Here's the result:


And the finished object, which, incidentally, is the first Leman Russ I've ever built in 28mm!


It is just the cutest little tank. I feel like the turret worked out pretty decently!


Here's the finished article.


I also made an Ambot in Genestealer Cult colors! I don't know what to do with it, but I was converting three Ambots to Mutilators and had one left over, so I thought why not.


I mean it fits the theme and aesthetic of the army perfectly and is a brilliant model, so I really think there should be rules for Genestealer Cult Ambots.

**

Finally, rounding out this very random collection of Genestealer Cultists and whatnot is a Jackal Alphus. I had a Lawmaster left over from Warlord's Judge Anderson, so I put a Necromunda Palanite Enforcer on it and gave her a Statuesque veteran head.


I'm simply delighted with how the model worked out!


**

So here's a totally random collection of Genestealer Cult models I've painted, some of which I quite like. I'll make an army of them one of these days. Maybe 12th edition...

Jun 6, 2022

Let's Read Tolkien 87: Vae Victis 12-14

The fire was almost out by then, but the fight went on in the dark.

With the elven officer dead, Tzerlag makes short work of the remaining Easterling mercenaries. Baron Tangorn, however, is badly wounded and can't walk. This is a problem, because some of the Easterlings got away, and they'll be back with reinforcements. Tangorn's solution is simple: he asks the two Mordorians to kill him rather than leave him to the mercy of the elves. Tzerlag informs him that the field regulations prohibit him from doing so until the last possible moment.

A search of the campsite reveals all kinds of useful things, like some wine and an elven medical kit. At Tangorn's insistence, the Mordorians re-examine the dead elf, and find a mithril-coat hidden beneath his leather armor. This not only explains the trick he pulled on Tangorn, but also makes doubly sure that a sizable search party will be coming. In despair, Haladdin flips out at Tzerlag and wishes the earth would swallow up the "Elvish bastard" and all his kind. This gives Tzerlag an idea.

The Orocuen sergeant's brainwave is to make it look like the elf wasn't killed, but escaped into the desert: this way, the searchers will go looking for him rather than try to track whoever killed the Easterlings. He quickly buries the elf-officer and arranges things so that it looks like one of the Easterlings was killed right on top of where the body is buried. Having kept the elf's shoes, Tzerlag then lays a false trail heading south.

Meanwhile, Haladdin and Tangorn on crutches have been making way toward a nearby ruins, where the enemy is likely to have their base. Because the field regulations tell them to do the opposite of what the enemy would expect, they're going to hide right under the enemy's nose. Tangorn is already doped up on elven painkillers, and now they all take cola nuts (also apparently a staple of elven medicine) for a desperate last dash to the ruins. They barely make it and hide in a ruined building literally inside the enemy camp.

The plan works: despite the enemy soldiers using a nearby wall as their latrine and illicitly brewing moonshine in literally the next room, the fugitives aren't discovered. They do run out of water, however, but are saved by a sandstorm; under the cover of the storm, Tzerlag can sneak out to the well for some water, and since there's no way the supposedly lost elf would have survived the storm, the search is called off and the troops leave.

We're told this in retrospect, as our protagonists are making their way west, toward the Morgai, where Tzerlag figures they should be able to find some Orocuen nomads. They've camped close to a small stream, and Haladdin volunteers to take first watch. He heads down to the stream to wash their cooking implements, when he suddenly realizes there's someone sitting by their fire.

**

The "field regulations" that keep getting quoted are a very modern anachronism: no army in the technological periods depicted here, at least so far, had any that were anything like the very 20th-century collection of regulations Tzerlag keeps quoting from. Soldiering didn't start being regulated like this until well after the advent of firearms. Tolkien did anachronisms too, and I'm not sure I always understand the point of them either, but in this case, half-expecting Tzerlag to actually at some point whip out Mordor FM 3-24 isn't helping my immersion in the story. The exhortation to always do the opposite of what the enemy expects is quite silly.

In general, quite a bit of the prose and especially the dialogue remains stilted and a little bit weird. But this is an adventure story again, and I'm enjoying it.

Next time: a wraith-talk.

May 9, 2022

Warhammer 40,000: Let's Paint Chaos Daemons

Therefore those err who say that there is no such thing as witchcraft, but that it is purely imaginary, even although they do not believe that devils exist except in the imagination of the ignorant and vulgar, and the natural accidents which happen to a man he wrongly attributes to some supposed devil. For the imagination of some men is so vivid that they think they see actual figures and appearances which are but the reflection of their thoughts, and then these are believed to be the apparitions of evil spirits or even the spectres of witches. But this is contrary to the true faith, which teaches us that certain angels fell from heaven and are now devils, and we are bound to acknowledge that by their very nature they can do many wonderful things which we cannot do. And those who try to induce others to perform such evil wonders are called witches. And because infidelity in a person who has been baptized is technically called heresy, therefore such persons are plainly heretics.

- Malleus Maleficarum, Montague Summers translation

My mother named me Doom Guy, a decision which would prove to be prescient years later when I went on to play a central part in the events of Doom.

- Dennis Farrell, Memoirs of Doom Guy



William Blake: Satan Calling Up his Legions (1804)

**

This all started when I got Yeenoghu.


The demon lord of gnolls and ghouls is very familiar to those of us who've spent far too long fucking around in explore mode in NetHack, and when I saw there was a mini, I knew that this was my Daemon Prince.

Sadly, for a slightly expensive model, the quality isn't great! Straight out of the box, the body of the model was warped enough that there was simply no way to make the tabs on the feet fit the slots in the base.


The textured base that came with the model was quite boring anyway, so I clipped off the tabs and stuck him on a regular GW base, which worked out okay.


Mind you, I did try bending the feet, which caused one of them to immediately snap off because there was an air bubble inside the resin. The arm also didn't fit cleanly:


Gluing the tail on was also slightly challenging, and while I was at it, I decided to change the position of the flail as well.


I think the end result is a pretty cool model! I'm not unhappy with my purchase, but a little bit disappointed in the quality. I painted his skin in German Camo Black Brown and drybrushed with Chocolate Brown, with the furrier bits getting a little additional drybrush of Light Brown. I went for red cloth since my Chaos Marines are Word Bearers, and this way I can use him with them as well.


**

Now that I have an appropriately demonic HQ choice, and one that I can use in several different armies at that, I thought I'd try something a little bit different from last time and make a Daemon army.

Continuing on the theme of buying a silly Warhammer box, I picked up the Wrath and Rapture boxed set way back in 2019, with what I think must have been proceeds from my Brexit lectures that spring. The first models I assembled out of the box were the Bloodcrushers, or to be precise, the Juggernauts. I absolutely love them, but if I'm honest, the Bloodletters riding them are just, well, boring. So I decided to throw them out and swap in some of the Daemonettes that were meant to be riding the Steeds of Slaanesh. Because the Daemonettes are posed very differently from the Bloodletters, the first thing I found myself doing after setting them up on the Juggernauts was making some green stuff loincloths!


The (unpainted) Bloodcrushers made their debut that summer, facing Imperial Knights and doing surprisingly well. If I'm making a Daemon army, I definitely want these girls in it. Here's the first of them painted:


I quite liked my color scheme, even if I say so myself, so here's all three ladies.


I've since bought myself a Khorne start collecting box, and I used that and a daemonette to make a proper Bloodhunter:


Here's the whole bunch.


**

So now we have an HQ choice and an Elite choice: we still need some Troops. Way back when I first heard that Fantasy Flight Games were doing a Doom board game with miniatures and everything, I thought it was really cute and kinda wanted one for myself. Now that we're playing Warhammer 40,000, though, I can use the daemons as, well, daemons! I got started with some pink horrors.


Thinking about Doom demons in 40k, probably the closest equivalent to Horrors is imps. The board game comes with nine of them, and here they are. I painted them the same way I did Yeenoghu, with Bone details with a Smoke wash. I love the big grins they all have!


The next most numerous enemy model in the box is the (would you love a) Zombieman, of whom there are eight. Since the board game is based on some uncanonical later video game, I feel like the models look demonic enough that they'll easily pass for horrors. I went for a color scheme based on the original video game, with Medium Sea Grey and Luftwaffe Camo green to match my Chaos Marines, and some splashes of Red and Smoke. I gotta be honest, I kinda like it.


I've still got room for two more horrors in my list, and there were some Revenants in the box. I painted them both with Natural Steel armor, but it did occur to me that I should have an iridescent horror. Therefore, I made my first foray into Green Stuff World's paints:


I might perhaps have used a different name, but I picked this one anyway and tried it on one of the Revenants. Here they are:


The iridescent effect is a bit subtle given the name of the paint! It goes from the sort of pinkish red that you see in the picture to a metallic blue, and it works decently enough. I painted the business end of Yeenoghu's flail with it as well.


**

So this is my army list:

HQ - Daemon Prince of Chaos - 150 points 

Troops - Horrors (23) - 184 points [334] 

Elites - Bloodcrushers (4) - 160 points [494]


I'm not even pretending this list is going to hold objectives or do anything other than go at the enemy. My goals with it will be to try using psychic powers for the first time in 9th ed. and see how many Space Marines we can eat. I look forward to finding out!