Forward Observer 27

Okay, okay. So I had shorter break than I had intended. The hiatus saw Henry do his Weeble routine and saw me through my fiftieth birthday, a small crisis or two, new medication, a fitness regime, a new boss, a pile of work, and a major clear out of hobby stuff. While I will not be as prolific as I was (stop laughing at the back), it will be good to return to the keyboard from time to time.

Time Passes (a bit too quickly)

Hard to believe I am fifty. Mentally, I feel about twenty eight. My body doesn’t.  While we keep getting told we can live to 100, I have lost count of my ailments, I now measure healing in months rather than hours, and my friends keep dropping like flies before reaching 60. I doubt my prognosis is much better, but onwards and upwards!

So, the clear out. What happened? It was not that I realised I had enough stuff to last another fifty years, more that the house was slowly but surely filling up. Like putting on or losing weight, your friends notice because they don’t see you every day. One visiting friend said, “If I had a cup of tea, where would I put it?” (2 for 1 on insults this week) and another felt the walls were closing in every time he visited. I got the message.

I attacked the low hanging fruit first and was encouraged, partly by how easy it was to part with stuff, and especially by my CCG stash which raised some decent money. I sold nearly 100 boardgames. I freed up a whole shelf just by throwing out ‘useful papers’ I had collected over the years. Then I moved onto the lead foothills, and again found easy targets. The plastic kits, magazine archive, hundreds of books and the lead mountain remain, but I now see the latter as dollar signs rather than a threat to my joists.

Inevitably, I ventured into eBay’s piranha pool as a seller for the first time. Goodness, but there are a few real knobs out there. But most of it shifted to good, honest, friendly people. Even some magazines went, but it is hard to make money on posting those.  What didn’t shift was my ‘banker’ collection of first edition Terry Pratchetts. Books generally, and DVDs, are hard to shift, so the local charity shop benefitted (and was very grateful). So be warned. If you are thinking Amazon or Abebooks, check out their terms!

Feeling good about myself then? Well, not really. Having cleared the East Wing of Gandamack Lodge, I did what I always seem to do – I switched portfolios. Having sold a load of bulky heavy stuff, I re-invested in some very nice On30 model railway kit!

Gunports open! Watch the sandbanks! Poop Poop!

Over the summer I wanted a break from figure painting, but didn’t want to be idle. I therefore set myself the achievable target of painting up around twenty Peter Pig ACW ironclads with the aim of testing their new rule set Hammerin’ Iron in the Autumn. The rules are the third edition, and you can tell which one by the higher price and the shiny cover. You can, optionally, also buy a very nice full colour hexed playmat. Gone are the days of single sided printing on multi-coloured paper!

Like all the latest Peter Pig rulesets, there is an emphasis on pre-game events. You choose six ships per side using point values, set out terrain (forts, islands, wharves, sandbanks, mines etc) and then spend a pleasant half hour working out who is doing what and which ships will not be appearing in this movie.  As ever, Meester Peeg contrives a quite believable scenario through the foggyness of war, and you are off and running. No more dull battles where you are just pounding away with Dahlgrens at the enemy, but instead a tense, often tight encounter where you are shelling transports, blockading wharves or facing land batteries. Three games in, I am very impressed. This is a cracking set of rules and I look forward to many more games with small gunboats, river paddlers, fire rafts, submarines and the odd leviathan.

A Few Acres of Snow

There is a reliable test of a boardgame’s quality. If you play a game five times it stands out from the crowd by a margin. If you play it ten times, it is probably a gem and likely to remain a favourite. These latter titles are pretty rare. But I am pleased to say that here is such a game. A Few Acres of Snow is designed by Martin Wallace and published by Treefrog. It is a two player card game loosely based on the French Indian War, thus offering scope for establishing settlements and forts, sparring for key terrain and drawing on trade resources and Indian alies over a wider period. Games take a couple of hours and I pretty much guarantee you will enjoy it.

For those that know Dominion, this is a similar deck building system – you start with a very small hand of cards, and add cards as the game progresses, expanding your options but reducing the access to any one card. The main difference from Dominion is that this has a theme, and I am happy to play it. Actually, very happy.

It is possible to approach the game in several ways (aggressive, passive, military, settling, economic, sieging, raiding, fortifying etc), each of which adds a palpably new slant to the experience. Then when you think you have mastered it, you can change sides. Big deal you say, but Acres is asymmetrical. The French have subtly different cards to the good guys. Add in the geographical positions, plus the naval imbalance, and this is a game that offers many, many hours of strategy to explore and test. It is my favourite game of 2011, and I recommend you grab one before they are all gone.

Mike Siggins