Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Up Front reprint?

Valley Games says so.

If so, this very interesting and exciting news and a good example of never say never

Monday, August 20, 2012

Old Ironsides after 200 years

USS Constitution in action against HMS Guerriere

One perk of a Massachusetts childhood is that it's a fertile ground for growing an interest in history. Possibly only Virginia has more history per square mile than the Bay State, but no place else in North America even comes close.

Every town has its colonial era houses and local museums. There's Plymouth Rock and Plimouth Plantation . Boston has the Freedom Trail and Stockbridge has Rockwell. You can gaze upon Thoreau's hut near Walden Pond.

And for those with a particular interest in military and naval history there's a nice collection of historic ships a short drive away, although little in the way of interesting battlefields to visit -- Virginia takes that prize hands down. Massachusetts hasn't been actually fought over for more than 200 years and the spots that did see fighting were long overtaken with development that trasnformed them all out of recognition.

Over at Battleship Cove there's the fantastic collection of World War II and Cold War era warships with the Battleship Massachusetts as its flagship. And that's not all. There's the cruiser USS Salem in Quincy and the destroyer USS Cassin Young in Boston, too.

But despite such distinguished company, Massachusetts also boasts the grandest old dame of them all, the USS Constitution in Boston.

For my 12th birthday, my dad took me on a rare day trip to Boston with my younger brother. Being a very rare thing to do -- in fact, the only time -- I think he felt the need to fill the day and we went to the Museum of Science AND the USS Constitution. While the great Museum of Science was far smaller in 1967 than it is today, it was still enough for a day trip all by itself even then and so we didn't have a lot of time to spend on the Constitution. While I love science and even loved it then, I'm far more of a history buff and so walking the decks of Old Ironsides was truly the highlight of the day for me.

Naturally we had to bring back something from the Gift Shop. Money was always tight growing up and so we had to settle for some small things. One item was a small model cannon of bronze and iron, which I had for many years, although somewhere along the line it was lost during a move. But the other thing I got that day was a small book called "Battles of the USS Constitution" that I still have. It's a slim, hardcover book and naturally doesn't have much detail, but it does serve as a reminder of an important day of my childhood.

I've been back to Old Ironsides since, of course, but not as often as I should and I'm overdue for another visit to the ship. The USS Constitution represents more than just an interesting historical artifact, but the embodiment of a naval tradition. Interestingly, the other two great navies of the modern era -- Britain and Japan -- also have preserved as memorials extremely evocative ships. For Britain it's the HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar and for Japan, Tojo's Tsuhima flagship Mikasa. For both those navies the preserved ship is the admiral's flagship at an important victory in a fleet action. Perhaps the equivalent for the US would have been preserving the USS Enterprise from Midway, although not really.

The War of 1812 was a decidedly ill-fought affair from the American perspective, very unwise and, in the end, completely fruitless as far as achieving its stated aims. But for the US Navy it was a glorious episode and, even more important, it was a glorious episode for very good reasons. Here and there it's noted that the fights won by the USS Constitution and the USS United States were not "fair" fights. Both ships over-matched their British opponents significantly. Yet this was by design, and therefore still reflects credit on US naval policy. But even more critically, the American ships over-matched the British ships in crew and captain quality as well., and this reflected credit on the Navy as an institution and its early leaders.

That this was an ephemeral edge and one not to be taken for granted is illustrated by the fact that the Royal Navy had been winning against those kinds of odds for a generation before facing the US ships. And an American ship that did not have that kind of an edge should still go down to ignominious defeat, as the Chesapeake vs. Shannon engagement showed.

To its credit the Navy understood the roots of victory and its success in the War of 1812 vindicated an approach to professionalism that's sustained it through the following two centuries. Institutional excellence is very hard to maintain. The tradition of excellence and victory inaugurated by the USS Constitution and the rest of the War of 1812 Navy has paid dividends since.

So kit was nice to see the ship under way again. I haven't been able to witness either of her recent sailing days, but maybe I'll catch the next one. But I'll be happy just to walk her decks again.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Axis & Allies 1941 -- what's up with that?

The Axis & Allies universe is getting pretty complicated. While the era of A&A  branded battle games and tactical miniatures games seems to be coming to a close, there have been a confusing series of elaborations on the traditional grand strategic theme, with an Axis & Allies 1942, Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition, Axis & Allies Europe 1940 and Pacific 1940 (that can be combined into a giant Global A&A) a Second edition A&A 1942 and now an Axis & Allies 1941!

Overall there seem to be two divergent trends in the Axis & Allies line occurring. On the one end, we see a grander, more involved and very long-playing line of development from the Revised Edition that started with the one-off Anniversary Edition and has culminated in the huge, 4-map extravaganza of the 1940 twin games. While A&A would never be confused with a detailed simulation wargame, the Global 1940 is a fantastic grand strategic wargame in the grandest scale. It takes hours to play, requires a team of players and is absorbing to the Nth degree.

On the other end of the spectrum, Larry Harris and Hasbro obviously believe there's s need for a shorter, simpler introductory level of the game that can be played in an evening. The first stab at that was the A&A 1942 edition that came out a couple of years ago. This stripped out a few of the more involved elements of the regular A&A game compared to the Revised Edition, and not to universal acclaim, either. It was cheaper, although I'm not sure it completely succeeded in the aim of playing quickly. The 1942 A&A was still a little long by contemporary standards.

So now the current (Second) Edition of A&A 1942 has added a bit back in as far as rules, pieces and intricacy for what i assume is meant to be the new "standard" edition of A&A and there's a new Axis & Allies 1941  to fill in the super-cheap and very fast playing version of the game for newbies.

It does this by ruthlessly stripping everything down to just the essential core of the Axis & Allies system, slashing the number of units and the number of IPCs and going back to the very simple capture-enemy-capitals Victory Conditions. Industry Complexes are now printed on the map, so you can't build any new ones. The unit types are back down to the basic 9 -- Infantry, Tank, Fighter, Bomber, Sub, Transport, Destroyer, Battleship and Carrier. Even the plastic poker chips used to represent additional units have been replaced with cardboard.The board is also much smaller, with fewer spaces.

There is a small inducement for existing A&A players to pick up the game by providing some new sculpts not seen before such as the HMS Hood, the P-40 and the Tiger tank. In a step back from previous trends, however, all the factions on the same side share the same sculpts, so the Japanese have Tiger tanks and the US and USSR battleships are ALSO the HMS Hood, etc.

The idea seems to have been to create a version that could be played in an hour or two, whetting the appetite for more. I haven't played yet, so I can't opine on whether it succeeded in that.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Second A&A air Starter

This image is floating around the A&A boards. Looks legit. it's supposedly off an Amazon preorder site. Looks like this set will be "Bandits High."

As expected, the "large' plane is a P-38. The other American planes appear to be one of the Naval fighters (maybe a Hellcat?) and something that looks like  aP-39 or P-400 to me. This would make sense because that would be plane that could also beef up the Russians without needing a new model.

The Japanese planes appear to be another Zero, the Oscar and maybe a Tony.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Comment purgatory and an apology

When Blogger changed formats about a month ago I lost track of the comments and a whole bunch got held up in the "awaiting moderation" queue. I apologize.

I only allow moderated comments on the blog to keep the spammers and trolls out, but this had the unfortunate side effect of keeping a slew of very good and pertinent comments invisible.

I will do a better job of staying on top of that.

John Keegan has died

The Telegraph is reporting that historian John Keegan has died.

Keegan is known for a number of seminal works, although perhaps the most famous is The Face of Battle.

He specialized in the human dimension of war, with particular attention to the experience of the common soldier. It's very easy to get carried away with the generals and the strategy when you are a wargamer, so reading Keegan was a good way to keep things in perspective.