Roberto Baldini

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Arms of the Baldini family

ROBERTO BALDINI, b.1424. Eldest son of Gilberto Baldini, and heir to his father’s lands and title as Count of Giotta. However, Roberto has inherited neither good looks nor good nature from his father. His moods are most often dark-toned, and on the whole he is rather stupid. In spite of that, he is considered to be loyal, and fairly reliable as a soldier as long as he is given clear and straightforward orders to follow.

Within the town of Giotta and the surrounding countryside, his ageing father’s duties as magistrate have been largely devolved to Roberto, who has gained a reputation for being merciful in that role and thus he is not unpopular. In his personal life, on the other hand, he is revenge-prone and can be cruel, especially to his wife, Chiara, who must endure the succession of his mistresses. Secretly, Roberto is a coward, and he will go to some lengths to disguise this fact.

The charity shop treasure hunt

The “charity shop treaure hunt” is a game I play frequently. The rules are straightforward.

1) Scour every charity shop in a given area for any item at all related to gaming.

2) Leave no find unpurchased.

I think I’ve become quite good at this, to the point that I have been compared to a one-man locust swarm. And my collection of board games has been growing substantially, as a result. Recent catches have included A Game of Nations, Survival, Game of Thrones (first edition, I believe), Heroquest, Heroscape, Hour of Glory, the Heroclix core game, and (on the non-wargaming front, though I have some ideas for adapting it) a storytelling game called Never Ending Stories. Not a bad haul, and none of those has cost me more than £5. 

Game of Thrones

It’s a good idea to check the components of a game before purchase. Charity shops can be a little unreliable, sometimes, on that score, probably because staff don’t necessarily know what they should be looking for. But even an incomplete game, if cheap enough, can be useful for spares and bits that can be put to other uses. Personally, I can never find enough of those little houses and hotels that come in Monopoly – they paint up quite nicely for use in 6mm scale wargames.

I will just point out that, if you happen to be in Kent, or in Leamington Spa as I visit there quite often, I am not encouraging you to play the same charity shop hunt in competition with me. I’m selfish like that. But if you’re anywhere else in the world, then I can recommend it. I’ve even turned up a few miniatures, here and there.

Then, of course, there are the books. Oh, so many books…Here’s a little tip. Check the children’s books, and don’t get so obsessed with the “military history” section that you miss things elsewhere. For instance, I picked this up from a shelf of children’s books in a Canterbury shop, about a year ago: 

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The games in it are on the simple side – which is only to be expected – but in a way that’s part of its charm, and its utility. Now I’m looking for others in the same series, as there were a number of them I think, each covering a different historical period or theme.

My final point on this subject is that, to be honest, board games have become scarily expensive, with new games very often going above the £50 mark nowadays. This kind of treasure hunting is a good way to build up a games collection without breaking the bank – you just need a bit of luck, and a willingness to spend a little time on the trail.

To Je Fotbal

Quite inexplicably, given how unsporty a person I am, I have a fondness for games based on sports – even sports I don’t particularly like watching, let alone participating in, in real life. Along with, it seems, most of the world’s population, I do like football, though; which makes me doubly a sucker for soccer games. So when I spotted To Je Fotbal (in English, This Is Football) on sale at a discounted price, I obviously had to buy it immediately.

As readers will probably guess from the foregoing, TJF is neither the first nor the only football-based game in my possession. I have Subbuteo, and Super Striker, and a few others, and they all get dusted off every now and then. How does TJF compare to such old stalwarts?

The first thing that has to be said, straight away on unboxing, is that I like the scale of the game. The player figures stand 45mm tall (that is, approximately 1/40th scale), each mounted on a circular plastic base about 5mm thick; nice and easy to handle, they have more presence than the smaller Subbuteo models and look far more realistic than, say, the chunky Rooney-a-likes of Super Striker. However, there are some issues with the quality of components, in my view. My copy arrived with some slight warping of the three boards that make up the “pitch”; not enough to be a problem, and they tend to flatten out once slotted into the plastic walls that are designed to run along either side of the pitch and connect the three boards, but it’s a little annoying. Each goal is made from a single piece of plastic (an actual net would have been a nice touch), and call me pernickety but for aesthetic reasons alone I would have liked the football to be represented by some kind of spherical representation of a ball rather than by a flat counter. Some such issues are easy to resolve, mind you. I was momentarily a bit concerned, on unpacking the player figures, to find that several forearms had become detached in transit. They just push back into place, having been moulded separately; I’d recommend a dab of glue to make the attachment permanent, as I found a couple of the figures had a tendency to lose their forearms again on being moved around the pitch. Or I suppose you could just count that as an injury, and bring on a substitute…

tojefotbal 1

Another thing to mention is that you won’t find any variety in the teams. The game – which hails, I think, from the Czech Republic – is presented as a “derby” between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. You won’t be able to buy additional teams as you can with, say, Subbuteo. On the other hand, there’s no account taken of individual player characteristics in the rules beyond defining them by position as goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, forward or captain, so it doesn’t make a lot of difference other than in the aesthetics of the game, and you can easily just think of the teams as “Reds” and “Blues” if you prefer.

The game rules themselves are pretty straightforward. Movement is alternate and measured on squares, while the movement of the ball is decided by dice throws that can be adjusted by the playing of cards that allow long passes, long shots, and so on. There’s a time scale of one move equals one minute, and so for a full match you’re looking at ninety moves, which sounds a lot, but to be honest once you have the hang of the rules the moves can be taken very quickly.

I stuck to the basic rules for my first play-through of TJF, which are okay as far as they go, but I think most players would want to adopt the more advanced rules very early on, as in the basics there are no dead ball situations or fouls, etc.

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I learned two things very quickly. One is that I’ll be doing away with the set up rule that insists the miniatures have to start each game on specific squares. As things stand, players are thereby stuck with a 4-4-2 formation and a lack of the sort of tactical flexibility which could add extra interest to the game. The other is that it’s very hard to break through and score against a well organised defence – which perhaps indicates at least some similarity between TJF and the real thing!

For the record, my first game of TJF ended as a 1-1 draw. The Czech Republic struck first, in the 27th minute; Slovakia eventually equalised, after a period of quite intense pressure, on 87 minutes.

Overall, a game I enjoyed and definitely will return to. It’s available from Modiphius (makers of the excellent Airfix Battles) at https://www.modiphius.net/products/to-je-fotbal-this-is-football and is priced at a more-than-reasonable £9.99 – though be aware that postage and packing will add quite significantly to that cost.

Gilberto Baldini

I did mention that I might start up a “Who’s Who in Italo” series of posts, as I create characters for the Italo campaign.  And here, indeed, is the first of them.  This has potential to be a long series…The year in which said campaign begins, by the way, is 1470 – in case anyone is interested enough to figure out these characters’ ages.

It’s a shame that I have no skill whatsoever when it comes to portraiture, as there could be extra time-consuming pleasures in drawing illustrations of each character.  I’m tempted to invent a coat-of-arms for each family, though!

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GILBERTO BALDINI, b.1406. Count of Giotta. Gilberto is a man of generally happy disposition, and was known throughout the Italic Peninsula in his younger days for his good looks and for his intelligence. Since the death of his wife, twenty years ago (in 1450), it is widely believed that he has had many lovers, both female and male, but that they have been discarded ruthlessly – some, allegedly, even murdered – one after another, as Gilberto has tired of them.

Gilberto is entirely loyal to the Venolese republic, is popular with the citizens of Giotta in spite of the aforementioned sordid allegations, and does have some military ability. Unfortunately, however, his personal behaviour swings between periods of ideleness and periods of energy; while his personal pride, and a tendency to be jealous and protective of his family’s honour and status, leads him to sudden outbursts of bad temper.

Given Giotta’s geographical position in Venola, relatively distant from the centres of real power and influence, Gilberto’s political weight is less than he might believe it to be; and his actual military experience remains, in spite of his age, on the weaker side of average.

Setting up in Italo

If it seems that my posts on this blog could be a little more frequent than they are, I can only explain that right now I am in the throes of preparing for the next academic year – I teach in Adult Education, and stuff like course information has to be done this early in readiness for September – and at the same time we’ve hit the peak of the Morris season.  Which means that I am spending most of my weekends dancing in exotic places like, umm, Horsham and Whitstable.  Which all, obviously, cuts into the amount of time I can spend on wargaming.

However, all that will pass.  And I haven’t entirely stopped gaming activity. by any means.  The assembly line rumbles on, if a tad slower than usual, the painting queue grows ever longer.  And there is much planning going on, if only inside my head.

One area in which I am still making some significant progress is the aforementioned “imagi-nations” campaign that will utilise my Early Italian Wars miniatures, between the fictional city states of Metuso and Venola.  In a remarkable leap of imagination (not), the whole thing has become placed in an area known as Italo, hence the Italic Peninsula.  Hence while it’s starting in the north of said peninsula, that gives me scope to expand things further southwards if I feel like it in future.

Anyway, here’s the campaign map as I’ve drawn it thus far: Italo map007

It’s in fairly simple form as yet, my concept is that more detail will be drawn in as areas are involved in campaign activity.

I’ve also made a start on creating characters to inhabit this new world.  Given the nature of 15th century society, it’s the aristocracy who hold all the influence and so it’s the aristocracy who get the character profiles, though it’s entirely possible other characters are going to pop up from time to time.  However, for the moment I’m concentrating on the ruling family, and a couple of lesser noble families, for each of the towns and cities shown on the map.  They’ll be making an appearance on this blog as a kind of “Who’s Who in Italo”, as the campaign continues to develop.

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I’ll explain here, just briefly, that the rules I use for these kind of extended campaigns are largely based on Tony Bath’s book, Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, which was in turn based on his own vast and long-running Hyboria campaign.  They’ve stood me in good stead over the years, but while going through the process of character generation I am trying to think of alternative (and probably more complicated!) approaches that will cut out the need for the gamer to intervene quite so much to turn dice rolls into realistic personality traits.

For this weekend, however, I have my dancing boots on again.  As somebody once said, “I’ll be back”.

Achtung Schweinehund!

As I seem to be running with a somewhat nostalgic theme for the moment, here’s a book that I read a while ago and that brought back many memories of my own childhood.  I can recommend it very highly indeed to anyone who grew up as a boy (and probably at least a few who grew up as girls) in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s.

Achtung

For now, I’ll just repeat the blurb from the Amazon website:

“This is a book about men and war. Not real conflict but war as it has filtered down to generations of boys and men through toys, comics, games and movies. Harry Pearson belongs to the great battalion of British men who grew up playing with toy soldiers – refighting World War II – and then stopped growing up. Inspired by the photos of the gallant pilot uncles that decorated the wall above his father’s model-making table, by Sergeant Hurricane, Action Man and Escape from Colditz, dressed in Clarks’ commando shoes and with the Airfix Army in support, he battled in the fields and on the beaches, in his head and on the sitting-room floor and across his bedroom ceiling. And thirty years later he still is.

ACHTUNG SCHWEINEHUND! is a celebration of those glory days, a boy’s own story of the urge to play, to conquer – and to adopt very bad German accents, shouting ‘Donner und Blitzen’ at every opportunity. This is a tale of obsession, glue and plastic kits. It is the story of one boy’s imaginary war and where it led him.”

I have to admit that reading it left me with a strange longing to acquire the Escape from Colditz board game once more (conveniently, but dangerously for my bank balance, it’s been reissued quite recently), and to set up garden wargames using Action Man figures…so be warned!

If you want to take the risk, Achtung Schweinehund! is available from Amazon and, of course, other booksellers.

A portrait of the cartophiliac as a young dog

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I’ve been gradually sorting though boxes and folders of old gaming stuff, and in the process I’ve turned up a few personal treasures that I had almost, if not quite, forgotten about.  Here’s one of them, the map for the Styrenian War, which dates from 1977.

styrenia map full

The original is hand-drawn on four sheets of A4 paper which were rather roughly taped together.  And when I write hand-drawn, I mean that; even the hexagons were laboriously marked out by hand to overlay the terrain.  No such thing as a ready-printed hex sheet, at that time (Why didn’t I just use squares?  I have no idea!).  It looks pretty crude now, and very obviously based on a vague idea about the geography of Mesopotamia, but at the time I recall being quite proud of it.

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North-west Styrenia

The Styrenian War was a big undertaking for myself and my school friends at the time, not least because we could (and probably should) have been spending the time involved to study for our A Levels.  It started simply as a way to employ the two reasonably sized 25mm Ancient armies I’d built up, in something more complex than endless, straightforward head-to-head confrontations.  But then we decided it would be more fun to try and include, somehow, the smaller forces that had gathered in my collection, and in those of my friends.  Thus our first imagi-nations campaign was born.

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North-east Styrenia

My Early Achaemenid Persians, along with a smattering of Parthians, Palmyrans and others (including a camel-mounted unit that we never could really identify) became the Pramandans, a mighty empire to the north of Styrenia, with ambitions to expand southwards.  My Macedonians, joined by a motley assortment of Greek hoplites, Carthaginians, Numidian light cavalry and Early Imperial Romans, became the army of Kavalla, an empire that we conceived as a kind of cross-breeding between historical Macedon and Rome, and set some distance to the west of our campaign map.  And why Styrenia?  Because we then tossed in a local population made up of 20mm Airfix plastic Ancient Britons, for good measure.

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South-west Styrenia

The whole thing started predictably enough with the Pramandans invading from the north, and the heavily outnumbered Styrenians calling on Kavalla for help in their hour of need.  Which, of course, the Kavallans answered with their own army, boarded onto galleys and sent sailing round the coast in order to avoid the desert.  Meanwhile, there was time for the Pramandans to take all of northern Styrenia, so that the first stage of the campaign was mostly taken up with one siege after another, as the Styrenian forces had all hunkered down behind various city walls.  The exception to this, in the map’s northern half, was the mountain fortress of Dumeir; for no discernible strategic reason that I could figure out (I was, by the way, commanding the Kavallans), the Pramandans had detached a fair-sized force to wrest control of it from its small garrison, but that garrison gallantly held out for many weeks.  Long enough, as it turned out, so that the detached Pramandan force was unable to march back to their main army in time to take any further part in events.

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South-east Styrenia

Several battles followed in the south, once the Kavallans had landed and the Pramandans tried to drive them back into the sea.  But the Kavallan army was able to advance and, along with their Styrenian allies, decisively defeated the invaders in a great battle beneath the walls of Habordah.  The Pramandan commander himself was taken captive, when the “Numidians” made a wild dash through a gap in the Pramandan lines and caught him by surprise.  Thus ended the Styrenian War, with Styrenia becoming a new protectorate of the Kavallan Empire.

All of which was a great deal of fun at the time, as it was the first campaign we’d fought as a group.  A substantial part of the enjoyment, thinking back to it, was in the setting up and not just in the actual events.  We took quite a lot of time over that.  For instance, all the significant characters – generals and other officers, local nobility, city governors, and the like – were given personality traits that might influence their behaviour and their decisions.  There was a system to account for supplies.  Then, of course, there was the need to draw the map, by hand.

For some time I’ve been using the Campaign Cartographer software to design and draw out maps for my wargaming projects.  Now, I will say straight away that Campaign Cartographer is great and I have no regrets about investing in it, and undoubtedly I will continue to make use of it.  But rediscovering the old Styrenia map has served to remind me of how much I actually enjoy drawing maps by hand.

From a very young age, I’ve loved maps.  My parents subscribed to a couple of weekly magazines for me that I think they considered (quite rightly) to be educational as well as entertaining – Look and Learn and then, from 1970, World of Wonder.  Those magazines were packed with fascinating articles, with diagrams of great battles and of mediaeval towns and castles, and with maps.  Always the maps.  I could spend hours poring over those, leafing slowly through an atlas, turning the globe by my bed, or gazing at the yellowed map on my bedroom wall that was illustrated with pictures of historical pirates.  And one way I found to while away those boring passages that seemed to be intrinsic to a 1960s and ’70s childhood was to draw my own maps of imagined landscapes, countries, and worlds.

I realise, looking back at that time, how much the process of actually drawing out the maps is, for me, one of the ancillary pleasures of being a wargamer and roleplayer.  I even wonder, glancing at the completed and part-completed paintings and collages scattered around my study, if that interest was one of the key ingredients that led me to working with abstraction; there are some works that I think could, arguably, be interpreted as a kind of cartography.

Anyway, without going further down that digressing path, I’ll just say that I’ve decided to go back to drawing and colouring by hand the maps that I use in my gaming.  One thing I won’t be doing, though, is hand drawing those bloody hexagons.  Something else I located in storage is a very useful pad of A4 hex sheets (published by Games Workshop – in 1978!).  Finding that has been a bigger relief than Mafeking.

Oh, and I have an inkling that a second Styrenian War might be in the offing…