Friday, July 31, 2009

Looking to tomorrow

Fingers crossed I guess
I commented last month that the new venue for Claymore has revived my interest in this venerable event on the Scottish gaming calendar, which I've attended in recent years mostly for the sake of nostalgia and the chance to catch up with my old Edinburgh buddies. I'm not quite sure what I'm expecting, since there is no sign that there are any radical departures in the programme; eg. there is still no open gaming space laid on, as is the norm at boardgaming conventions and which is commonplace across America AFAIK.

I could turn this post into a rant about the oddity that so many gamers seem to find nothing strange in conventions the primary purpose of which is not to enable them to indulge their primary hobby passion, ie. actually playing games. But no, instead I'll just get on with making what I can of the Claymore 2009 programme.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A low and dirty business

Andy, Donald and Gav were round for games on Sunday. I'd asked for requests and Gav had suggested Risk or History of the World. I played HotW for the first time last April and am certainly keen to play it again, but on Sunday still laboured under the lassitude of the same vicissitudes which had occasioned Badger's and my recourse to Ivanhoe on Friday, instead of the habitual Combat Commander. So I plumped for Risk and a consensus in favour soon followed.

Celebrating its 50th birthday this year, Risk is a hardened veteran par excellence of modern gaming and is surely the closest thing to a board wargame most casual family gamers will experience. It's certainly the first game of its ilk I ever played: we got the edition with the cylinders and triangular prisms for playing pieces for xmas when I was 10 or 11. In our first game that xmas day I was well on my way to victory- I'd secured Australasia and Asia, and had just captured Europe; when we had to clear the table for dinner. Were Napoleon's world-dominating designs ever similarly foiled I wonder?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Curse you you varlet!

The recent gaming drought ended with a visit from Badger on Friday. I remained under the cloud of those recent vicissitudes, so we ended up playing a few rounds of Knizia's everfresh cardplay gem Ivanhoe. Everfresh? Clunky neologism? Quite possibly. A touch hyperbolic? Not at all.

I've recorded 68 games of Ivanhoe since I started reguarly recording my games played @BGG back in 2007. This filler from 2005 reminds me that I've owned the game for some 7 years now, so that even just 1 game/month in the forgotten years would add about 50 more games to the total. Ivanhoe thus merits its place in the 2nd division of my most played games ever: games which I've played some 100 or more times (that's games #6 to #10 below BTW).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Snippet snackage

I've not played any games for nearly three weeks and, vicissitudes having abounded, I'm reduced to a rummage through the ragbag in search of a posting.

Expo rolls!
Hot on the heels of the success of Expo'09, UK Games Expo a couple of weeks ago announced dates for 2010, 2011 and 2012 (the last two still TBC). Organising an event on the scale of UK Games Expo must be something of a mammoth undertaking and an often thankless task, so it's an encouraging sign for the long-term future of the event that the organisers are already looking ahead into the next decade of this 21st century.

After the success of CC@Expo'09, you can be sure that I've already set aside the long weekend of the 4th to the 6th of June 2010. More in due course, naturally enough.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Here's another I prepared earlier...

A quick introduction
Regular readers might remember that I posted, last December, my long-delayed recantation on the topic of roleplaying as art. This here post has nothing to do with roleplaying (in the sense of tabletop rpg's, just in case there are those among you who immediately think that there is an element of roleplaying in costumed historical re-enactment); it's just that it too has been sitting on the rack for a couple of years.

So, why post it now? Or, to put it another way, why not post it then? On the latter point, there were 2 reasons I can recall:

  • I had (and still have to some degree) mixed feelings about using my blog as a platform to intervene in actual ongoing discussions from afar, ie. when I'm not joining in at source. "But that's exactly what blogs are for, dummy!" I hear you cry, dear readers. Well, you live and learn, eh?
  • I felt the article was too political for RD/KA!.
The main reason why I chose to post it now was simple enough: I needed some material because I'll be unable to attend to the blog this week. I daresay the Euroelection results also made the topic seem sadly all too pertinent. This all the more so since, not long after the furore over the SBG at Salute, a BBC reporter went to a militaria fair. And what did he discover? Yes, you've guessed it dear readers, the SBG's ranks were replete with neo-nazi ultra-reactionaries.

NB. As with the article on roleplaying and art, there are some temporal references which are well out of date. Again I'm just leaving them as they were first written.

Friday, July 10, 2009

New Timeframes?

Sunday gaming was cancelled a couple of weeks ago due to an impromptu daytrip to Dundee, my old home town. The visit was occasioned by my discovery, from his twitterfeed, that Warren Ellis was due to appear as a headline speaker in Timeframes, the comics programme of the Literary Dundee festival (as fB friends and tweetfellows might remember). Warren Ellis' Wildstorm superhero series The Authority was instrumental in reviving my interest in contemporary comics after a layoff during the 90's, and I set off thereafter on the familiar completist's quest: to get my hands on as much of his work as possible.

Alan Grant's name in the programme was just the icing on the cake. Grant wrote many of the seminal comic stories of my youth, Judge Dredd being the best known. On top of that, I'd bumped into Alan Grant once in a comics store in the old Dens Road Market in Dundee back in the early 90's. He proved to be genial, interesting and generous.

The journey to Dundee was uneventful, although finding the venue for the event wasn't quite so straightforward. I grew up in Dundee as I said, and my dad was a university lecturer, so the area in which the event's venue was located was quite familiar; or, at least, it used to be. As I doubled back in search of what, inevitably enough, turned out to be the first likely looking building I'd seen, I was amazed at how much the area had changed in the past decade: new buildings were everywhere; none of which had anything in particular to recommend them.

I arrived late. At this remove from the event it is impossible for me to give more than capsule impressions of the talks I sat through.
The throng of fans descends upon the stars!
The programme
The first programme item I attended - under the 'British Science Fiction Comics' heading - was Bill McLoughlin and Keith Robson's talk about DC Thomson's Starblazer, a comic of which I was only vaguely aware during its 1980's heyday, and which I never read. The pair weren't the best speakers but their subject was interesting and they came to life when, their individual contributions done, they began to bat the topic back and forth. An interesting snippet was how many of the writers and artists who went on to enjoy fame on both sides of the Atlantic in the 80's and 90's began their careers on Starblazer. There was an open hint of resentment on the part of McLoughlin and Robson at how little this has been acknowledged.

There followed Peter Hughes Jachimiak's lecture:
' Days of Future Passed' [sic]: 1970s Britain, Economic Downturn and Utopian Futures in Children's Science Fiction Comics.
The academic styling of this title was matched by the tone and poor delivery of the speaker. It was a real shame that Jachimiak apparently can't tell the difference between being scholarly and being academic because his subject was fascinating, and one that I hold close to my own heart (cf. eg. 'A Parcel of Rogues' - tangential I'll admit, but germane I'll avow). All I can here add is that Jachimiak at least succeeded in awakening in me an interest in the literature of comics' studies.

Jachimiak's lecture left me with no appetite for another taste of comics being drained dry of their abiding thrills by the inappropriate register of the academic text. This was a bit of a shame really, because the subsequent item sounded promising:
David Bishop, 'Time Twisted': A look at Alan Moore's treatment of time frames in 2000AD.
In any event, I don't know how Bishop's session went, because I spent it in a nearby pub.

Alan Grant signs my Batman/Judge Dredd: Vendetta in Gotham graphic novel
Keynote #1: Alan Grant
I returned in time to hang around awaiting the first keynote presentation of the day, by Alan Grant. Billed as 'My Adventures in Comics', Grant began by announcing that the intellectual standard of the preceding lectures had led him to rethink. And so we were treated to a cogent and highly stimulating cri de coeur appealing for story, a case made by the grandfather of 4 young children (11 years and under) who also just happens to be equipped with the insights of a lifetime's writing in comics and multimedia.

It is obviously impossible to give more than the briefest of hints of the themes of Grant's half hour talk, especially at a week and a half's remove. The best I can hope to do is to pick out a few of his key themes:
  • Grant's central bete noire was the role of corporate marketing and branding in reducing stories to bland, conflict-free narratives where they're not removed altogether (ie. in puzzle/activity books).
  • Thus we find that young readers aren't being exposed to essential features of the role of story in character building; that is to say, narratives dramatising:
  1. Morality.
  2. Hope.
  3. Rebellion, and the irresistable lure of the ever-necessary challenge to authority.
  • The consequence of all this Grant argued is that we are seeing a young generation grow up who lack the frames of reference that'd enable them to avoid being swept along with what Grant called the 'Platonic stories' of the powers that be; eg. the drive to war in Iraq in 2003, to note just one example cited by Grant.
There was a lot more to the talk than this, naturally enough, but that's the gist of the key themes. I have to say I didn't agree completely with all of Grant's points; but he was never less than interesting. I'd really like to hear more of what he has to say on this subject.

Warren Ellis with my copy of Planetary, Vol. 1: All Over the World and Other Stories
Keynote #2: Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis' style stood in sharp contrast to Alan Grant's, beginning as a rat-a-tat-tat of aperçus and anecdotes drawn from what is obviously a wealth of material, and woven together with biting wit into a whole which became increasingly greater than the sum of its parts as the talk gathered momentum. The naturally meandering style of the born raconteur meant that there was less of a definite theme to grab hold of in Ellis' talk than there had been in Grant's. So I really can't comment all that much on what Ellis said, other than to note that it was never dull, often provocative, and well worth the price of entry. I'd be keen to hear him talk again.

No comics event featuring star writers and artists would be complete without signings, which duly took place. I also made an effort to talk to other people there. I particularly enjoyed meeting some young GW fans, with whom I shared a pleasant chat about all things Warhammer- 40K especially, naturally enough.
Who's watching who? The official photographer and I share a wee jape
Final thoughts
Timeframes was the 2nd comics programme to feature at Literary Dundee. My caveats notwithstanding I enjoyed a stimulating day out; my complaint wasn't so much the scholarly approach to understanding the place of comics in culture as it was the overly academic way in which this scholarship was put across. In any event, I was pleased to be in such an intellectually challenging environment, and hope to be able to return next year. A palpable hit then, I guess. ;)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Games a gogo!

The vicissitudes of everyday life have taken their toll on my blogging- key amongst which has been my labours to get my painting table up and running again after my long layoff; and a future onslaught is already on the horizon. Meanwhile, here is a quick roundup of last weekend's gaming.

Combat Commander
Badger was due round for another dose of Combat Commander last Friday. He was expecting us to continue our Stalingrad campaign. What he didn't know was that Mark and Robert were due to visit again. Hoping therefore that he might get chance to taste revenge after the pastings he'd suffered at Mark's hands last mayday, I suggested to Badger that we play an official scenario, something we could set up and play more quickly than the campaign with its decision tree and record keeping.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

I have the power!

As fB friends and tweetfellows will already know, my computer chair (AKA 'the Seat of Power' - not my idea, honest!) broke on Thursday evening.

Just as I'd sat down to write a new blog, I felt myself keeling over. I'd barely had time to register my expectation of falling to the floor when I was left sitting at an odd angle (the picture doesn't show the full extent unfortunately). That explained the peculiar and ominous creakings which'd been emanting from my chair for the past week, I realised. The breakage itself was startling: in a very convincing demonstration of the laws of metal fatigue, the base connecting the seat to the pillar upon which the seat rested had simply sheared, almost halfway through.

I tried working at the keyboard while perched on the chair, but the twist the pose put in my spine would so obviously've become rapidly unendurable that I gave it up immediately (I'm already seeing a physio to get advice about dealing with the accumulated consequences of 12 years' bad posture at my computer table).

Donald came to my rescue. On Friday we made a trip to a local mall, where I became the proud possessor of a snazzy new chair. I'm very pleased with it:
  • It gives much better back support than did the old chair.
  • Its arms fit under the desk upon which my keyboard sits, so that I have much better posture at the computer. This will be a boon in the months ahead.
Farewell oh Seat of Power MkI, you served me well. All hail the new improved Seat of Power MkII, may you live up to your forebear's legacy. ;)