Friday, 31 May 2013

Late Arrival: Signum Mortis

Finally received the missing parts of Signum Mortis: Gangs of Rome, designed by Hajo Peters (who also did the Saladin monster game). The game deals with the proscription of Roman dictator Sulla against the supporters of his enemy Marius in 82 BC.

The players are all leaders of one of the gangs of Rome, 'helping' Sulla in rounding up his opponents and claiming the rewards. But when peace comes, you'd better be on good terms with Sulla, so he won't sacrifice you to save his reputation.

This is the kind of awesome theme I'm looking for. Rough, mean, cutthroat and exciting history. No sucking up to the king!

In fact I left Essen last October with only a box, a board and a bag of dice. All the rest arrived this week: introduction to the rules, basic rules, advanced rules, a bag full of counters and chits, a dvd, player aids and some more cardboard. Which at the end neatly fitted into the box. Amazing.

I was supposed to receive all this in February, but it got delayed a bit and I think designer Hajo Peters is rather tired of self producing by now. Like Saladin this is a work of love but it must bleed time. It all looks pretty good. 

Should try it out when I get back, but first: Age of Renaissance. A sentimental journey

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Just received: Crisis in Binni game materials

The Crisis in Binni game materials. Found them yesterday evening returning home after a few days. Will provide for some interesting reading today and tomorrow.

There's the game handbook and the Travellers Guide to Binni, with all the background you need to play the game: who you are, what you did,who you hate, what your objectives are..

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Day of the Rangers - Black Hawk Down 20 years on

In my continuing quest to prepare for my role as commander of the U.S. contingent in a humanitarian operation, I have read Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden. It provides an in depth account of the U.S. (not U.N.) operation to capture two main partners of General Aidid, leader of the Habr Gidr, the clan dominating Somalia at the time. 

My second hand copy
Although the targets were captured, the crash of two Black Hawk helicopters totally changed the dynamic of the battle and forced the troops on the ground into an improvised rescue operation. The troops were surrounded near one of the crash sites, but had to be relieved by a scratch U.N. force. The crew of the second chopper was captured or killed and paraded through the city by outraged Somalis, for all the world to see. This led to the departure of U.S. forces from Somalia soon after.

Last weekend I also watched the movie and there's a couple of disconcerting differences, the main being that the movie strips out most of the uncomfortable parts of the book. That is the very strong criticism on the leadership (although Bowden often uses the Delta Force participants to voice it) and the Somali side of the experience. And I think these two points are the most significant in the book, and they explain a lot about what went wrong.

By October 1993 the Somalis had figured out a way to go after the choppers

Ridley Scott does an awesome job of portraying the tactical side of the battle. I can't tell how realistic it is, but it generally conforms with the book, except the small force of Deltas attacking the Somali heavy weapons from behind. But Bowden provides several accounts of Somalis that show that a large part of the people fighting the Americans were not militiamen but civilians angry at being invaded by the Americans.

And that leads to the question the movie doesn't ask: wasn't this a stupid plan in the first place? Jumping in the midst of the town would always result in considerable collateral damage and civilian deaths. Scott neatly hides that fact that the Americans were shooting civilian from the word go (Bakara market was not just a hang out for arms salesmen, as the movie suggests, and they emptied it with M-60s).

In the movie the streets seem empty of civilians, in reality they were hiding everywhere and the millions of shots fired by the Americans must have made numerous innocent victims among the 500 dead and 1,000 wounded. That may be portrayed as a military necessity, but it was obviously the Americans weren't concerned about anything but themselves. 
This lack of sensitivity is understandable to a degree. To see so many people in a position of helplessness and degrading themselves in order to survive, sometimes to the point of lying, stealing and murder (see what I wrote about that when discussing Linda Polman's book) will not improve your opinion of them. The dirt, poverty and stench are noted often and in a negative way.

Also the Somali society was fundamentally different on ideas about honour, fairness, hospitality and allegiance. Even the strong concept of individual agency that every American is spoonfed from birth contrasts with the stoic fatalism inherent in lesser developed societies. The fact that Somalis often didn't grab at the chances provided to them by humanitarian aid and their refusal to lay aside their factional differences in the light of the crisis will have made them look ungrateful.

I'm pretty sure racism wasn't a major part of this attitude, although there were a few remarks in the book where I suspected it. I wonder if the nickname 'Skinnies' was a reference to Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

The lack of sensitivity, coupled with their obvious dislike of the local population  had already irked the Somalis, for example when U.S. choppers flew low over town, damaging houses and stampeding animals. They had also killed and captured a large part of the civilian leadership in a pretty brutal assault some weeks before. ‘The Day of the Rangers’ pushed many Somalis, friends of Aidid or not, into active hostility towards the U.S. troops.

The Somalis made innovative use of cheaply available communications
to narrow the intelligence gap
The Americans had also badly underestimated their opponents’ capabilities and willingness to take them on. The availability and smart deployment of RPGs caught them by surprise. The swift reaction and the amount of people mobilised by their attack as well. 

Most dangerously, they misjudged the reaction of the Somalis to their invasion per se. Even if no Black Hawk had been downed, the number of casualties on both sides would have been considerable. Half of the Americans on the initial convoy became casualties, and they could have easily accounted for several hundred Somali casualties. The damage, although less extensive, would still have angered a lot of people. Together, it would probably have changed the political dynamics of the conflict as much as the battle did in the end.

Scott conveniently portrays the local militia leader (appropriately dressed in black) as a 'bad guy' at the start of the movie by having him rob people of humanitarian aid, and then kills him off later as a sort of minor revenge victory which apparently needed to be scored to wash down the humiliation of the American force. It is not in the book.

...refusing to look the part of bad guy

At the end of the movie it seems all okay because Aidid is murdered in 1996 (by Somali competitors, not a U.S. operation). Although Aidid certainly was no saint, on the other hand he was not the ultimate bad guy the Americans turned him into (not the first and last time they did that). He was the leader of the most powerful clan in Somalia and de facto head of state, but also a former general in the regular army and he had defeated the dictator Siad Barre a few years before. Again, the movie reduces Bowden's multilayered story to two dimensions. 

As Bowden points out, the fact that the situation in Somalia didn´t change after Aidid´s death says enough about the misjudgement of the U.S. to pick that particular fight, and of their misjudgement of conflict in failed states in general: “In the end, the Battle of the Black Sea is another lesson in the limits of what force can accomplish.”

Because although military there is some claim to a U.S. victory, morally this was a huge defeat. Yes, a small force of Americans had held off a huge mass of irregulars, but with overwhelming firepower. Also, the force had effectively been incapacitated. It couldn’t move without leaving behind a considerable number of wounded and it couldn’t defend both crash sites.

And in my reading of the book, the people in charge of the operation were paralysed by the unforeseen events and overwhelming information. They were unable to improvise and make tough decisions. The movie makes the creed of ‘leave no man behind’ a virtue, but tactically it hamstrung the Americans. It prevented them from taking up a better defensive position and the recovery of a dead pilot cost them precious hours of darkness.

The only known photograph taken on the ground during the Battle of Mogadishu, on 3 October 1993
(US DoD via Court Chick, linked from

In the book, Bowden shows the Somali sensed that the Americans were unwilling to die and to risk their lives which gave them a moral ascendancy. Despite the overwhelming firepower of the Rangers, I felt at times that an old fashioned bayonet charge would have been more effective (but the Rangers had left those at the base).

Sure, it is easy for me to criticise these points from my armchair, but these elements have come back during many humanitarian operations:

1. elite western troops with an inflated sense of their power, which translated into underestimation of their opponents and disdain for the civilian population. Derogatory nicknames, prostitution rings, firelighters with jam handed to children, it´s all happened.

2. irregular opponents who adopt to asymmetrical warfare and counter Western technological superiority by using terrain, subterfuge, or hiding among the population. It´s not always within the Geneva Convention, but civil war is a different beast than conventional conflict and U.N. troops should be take their opponents seriously.

3. In a tight corner the elite troops are unwilling to take casualties to do what is necessary to fulfill their primary mission: protect civilians. Belgians in Rwanda, Dutch in Srebrenica. Or they just blast away the opposition by massive firepower, regardless of the collateral damage, as in Mogadishu. This also harms the primary mission. Both forms of fuck up also undermine the trust of people in the ability and the will of the international community to protect them. What´s not to say that this provided a hotbed for anti-Western sentiments that the radical islamist have fed on since?

I´ll tell you next week if I did any better!

The page of the Crisis in Binni megagame (there's still room if you want to play)

Monday, 27 May 2013

More Preparation For Humanitarian Intervention - The Depressing Bit

In my preparation for megagame Crisis in Binni, I have read a few books and watched the inevitable Black Hawk Down. There's some interesting differences between the book and the movie, to which I hope to come back at some later stage. But suffice it to say that Ridley Scott could have made a movie much more critical of the American actions in Somalia than he did.

But I also reread Linda Polman´s The Crisis Caravan (In Dutch: De crisiskaravaan. Achter de schermen van de noodhulpindustrie). The book paints a pretty depressing picture of the crisis aid industry. She shows how the interaction between aid organisations, victims, local powers and the press have changed since the early 1990s

Me trying to organise Polman´s argument

The major development in the field is that since the early 1990s there has been a huge proliferation in the number of NGOs, especially with the appearance of MONGOs, or 'My Own NGO's. These micro-NGOs evolved from the disappointment many people felt in the effectiveness of the larger, more bureaucratic international NGOs. So people hop on a plain to DO SOMETHING.

Of course this leads to frustration, lack of coordination, double work and cruel excess. Polman gives harrowing stories of American doctors flying in, picking up kids in refugee camps and operating on them and taking them home on crowd-funding trips or even for adoption (while their parents are still alive).

But the main effect has been that the NGOs need to put much more effort in PR to catch attention of potential donors. And this has put them at the mercy of the press, who need to have a reason to turn up. So the NGOs need to inflate the scale of suffering and their role in ameliorating it. Because unfamiliar people in far off places don't sell papers by themselves.

The press, mostly genuinely sympathetic to the plight of the victims and the work of the aid organisations, needs to inflate the level of suffering above that of the last crisis. And some victims are more newsworthy than others: cut off limbs and children's bellies swollen from hunger do better than forced labour.

Another development, which Polman doesn't touch on, but which I have just read about from the other side, is the increasing rationalisation of the news media, so that there is less and less time for research, fact checking and analysis. Nick Davies´ Flat Earth News shows this development in bold colours, and shows why the press in turn has become so dependent on the NGOs and so uncritical of the information they provide (review is coming up).

A secondary effect of the competition between NGOs is their lack of negotiating power relative to the local powers. For the war lords and local governments, the flow of aid provides fantastic opportunities for improving their position. They can also cream off part of the aid that reaches the victims. And in case they are losing in a civil war, they can use the refugee masses to hide in and recuperate for another round (as for example the fleeing Hutu's did in Goma in 1994).

Indigenous government organisations and warlords also sell access to the victims to the highest bidder (both press and NGOs). This has led to NGOs making compromises which put them on the wrong side of the ethical conundrum: do we help or does helping make things worse?

Finally, the side that Polman references to only in passing, but the victims themselves play an important role in all this. It is in their interest to lie, beg and steal to improve their lot. The books shows some examples of kids lying to get prettier protheses, to be taken to the U.S. or just to get more attention from reporters.

It is enough to turn cynical at the whole aid industry, but Polman says we shouldn't leave it at that. Sometimes we have no choice but to shake hands with the devil to save lives, but also sometimes, we need to decide that by providing aid, we are only prolonging the suffering and destabilising a country for a long time.

Sunday, 26 May 2013


It seems I've come under the radar of Dr. Raùl Alberto de la Cruz, aka Tango01 at The Miniatures Page. He has linked through to my posts on the Guardian military-historical databases, The Reconquista in Al-Andalus and the review of Prussian Napoleonic Tactics. There was some interesting comment on the latter.

I hadn't put up a picture of the new Saxon cavalry
from Musketeer miniatures that René painted for me

 My hit count has spiked as a result. Thanks mr De la Cruz! These hits are much better than the spam referals. Good thing I picked up blogging again after a small hiatus. In three weeks I'll be at it for a year.

And here's the new Saxon skirmishers also courtesy of René

I've also picked up three new regular followers, so welcome Michael Awdry, Hankesslinger and Schrumpfkopf! I know my blog doesn´t have the eye candy or a dedicated subject, but  I hope some of the visitors come back and become regulars as well.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Prussian Napoleonic Tactics by Hofschroer

Prussian Napoleonic Tactics 1792-1815 is a refreshing departure from most Osprey books in that it wants to make a point. Although Peter Hofschoer uses a chronological approach to make it, at least it provides a starting point for discussion. 

Hofschroer is out to disprove the historical narrative of a decrepit and outdated Prussian army getting humiliated by Napoleon and Davout at Jena and Auerstädt and that national heroes like Gneisenau and Stein revamped the army so that it could redeem Germany from 1813 to 1815. You can see how well that fits in with 19th and 20th century nationalist historiography.

In the opposite corner, Hofschroer posits that reforms had been ongoing all the time since Frederick’s late reign and that the post-Jena reforms were therefor not so revolutionary. Hofschroer shows that the regulations indeed kept pace with developments elsewhere, for example the introduction of light infantry: riflemen were added to regular infantry units in 1787 and specialist battallions of Fusiliers in 1793.

But Hofschroer goes further by also showing that the tools provided by the regulations were used on the battlefield, in particular on the Revolutionary Wars and the 1806-7 campaign. Although it is hard to tell how representative the examples are, they show what the Prussian army was capable of. This suggests wider application and that Prussian soldiers were tactically on par with the French rather than mindless automatons.

But if the tactical capabilities of the Prussian army were not the problem in 1806-7 this means that the full weight of the defeat lies at the hands of the commanders. So what exactly changed between the Revolutionary Wars and 1806-7 and then the German Wars of Liberation? Because there seems a considerable continuity in commanders over time. Brunswick and Rüchel commanded both in 1792-5 and 1806-7, and with credit in the first period. Yorck and Blücher were also exponents of the Frederician army and seem to have done a reasonable job after 1807.

Given the size and scope of the book the answers to these questions are not found here. Considering the point Hofschroer wishes to make, it is not surprising that the focus of the book is on the period up to 1807. The later reforms and campaigns get only a third of the pages.

Apart from the different angle and the extensive examples, what are the other strong point of the book? It contains ample illustrations and maps, which are useful although in some cases the narrative is so complex that it would have been more informative to have a sequence of smaller maps. It is also not common for Osprey writers to extensively use of sources in languages other than English. So, in conclusion, this is a very good Osprey.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Bitter Lessons of UN intervention - Can I do better?

The early 1990s were an incredibly hopeful time for keen young adults like me. The Berlin wall had fallen, the Soviet Union collapsed and the ideological conflict with accompanying doom scenarios of global nuclear war had disappeared like snow before the sun.It really felt like a new chance had come for working united to end poverty, hunger and war. I even wrote a song or two expressing that naieve belief.

A lesser known edition of the famous book

We were soon to be disappointed. The disappearance of ideological conflict gave room for ethnic strife and unscrupulous warlords in failed states. The international community proved powerless to end it, even made it worse by intervening half-heartedly and then pulling out when things got tough.

So for me Yugoslavia, Somalia and Ruanda are the moral anchors when it comes to intervention by UN or NATO troops, and I am sure also for many of the leading politicians today. They are not much older than I am.

One of the most impressing and depressing books I've ever read was Deliver Us From Evil by William Shawcross. The book paints a depressing picture of the attempts of the international community (more or less reluctantly led by the United States) in the 1990s to effect the new world order that seemed to be in its grasp.

It is clear that after 9/11 the perspective has changed. There is something like a new world order emerging and not many people in the West like what they see. It has kept them from intervening for humanitarian reasons. And the experience in nation building seems not to have taught the U.S. very much in its so-called war on terrorism.

But there have been a few repeats in Western Africa and recently in Libya and Mali. Syria could go live any minute. The feeling that somethingmust be done is still alive, even if more muted than 15 years ago.

So what am I thinking a week before joining in the Crisis in Binni megagame? The game focuses on a humanitarian crisis in a fictional African country riven by civil war. Factions of warlords fight each other and probably refugees are stampeding in some unfortunate direction. The international community is waiting to jump in with a minimu of preparation and a maximum of photo opportunities.

I'm thinking how can I do a good job as a U.S. military commander. I'm not the one setting the goals of the mission, but I should try to get as clear a picture of my resources, so I can help my diplomatic counterpart, and my counterparts in other UN contingents to achieve those goals.

I will need to think of the security of my troops, try not to chose sides, try not to get into a messy situation. And all this with only a theoretical experience in AirLand Battle and fighting doctrinal wars over manoeuvre warfare. Most helpful.

So what advice have you guys got for me?

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Crossing the Saverne Gap in three attempts

Memoir  '44 is a pretty good game. It may have it's limits as a simulation of WWII combat, but it creates a tense conflict.

First game: foolishly attacking through the centre

With the inherent advantage of the defender, the weight is on the attacker to methodically execute his attack. However, contrary to contemporary practice there isn't much you can do in planning, and you have to manage your hand as well as possible to create short busts of activity in each area of the board.

You want to know how I know? Well, I had to relearn it all.

Second game: much better start...

It took me three attempts to finally beat Michiel at the Saverne Gap scenario.

First try was a shambles, with no focus and bad dice rolls. I couldn't even kill a single German unit before my attack ground down in defeat.

Second game: ... but then lost focus and still got beat
The second time, at least I tried to shift the weight of my attack from flank to flank and centre. However, I missed the big learning point of this scenario, which is that you don't attack in the centre. So it went real close, but Micheal had the edge and won again.

Third game: left hook, right hook, out!

So in my third attempt, I dispensed with an attack in the center, although I occasionally  unloaded some fire on a forward post, but the real damage was done on the flanks and Michiel's sally with his panzers to the support of his left flank offered me a juicy target that I could destroy with ease. Victory at last.

Of course, Devers might have sacked me somewhere before my third attempt, but he was not as harsh a task master as Patton.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

You've been Pavloved!

I just realised that I shrank back from the metal inside of the door of the dish washing machine.

When we were on holiday in Spain, the dish washing machine was not grounded, so i received a few nasty shocks over the week touching the metal parts.

That caution has apparently followed me home. Given that it's almost three weeks later, the conditioning is pretty quick and strong and lasting.

Monday, 20 May 2013

I need more walls!

Since last month I am the lucky owner of three large, historical posters. They're from a series of widely known school posters, used for history lessons in the old days (the first ones were printed over a century ago). They show episodes in the (military) history of the Netherlands that were considered important at the time..

The first I won in a quiz. It is a complicated story, but it all comes down to the question not being related to the event depicted on the poster. Thanks anyway, Peter. The poster is in fact of the relief of Leiden in 1574. This is probably around the current Lammenschans (ie redoubt). In the distance you can see the main churches.

The other posters I got from my old house mate and friend Mat. The first depicts the crossing of the frozen River Lek by the French Revolutionary forces in January 1795. This broke the defense of the regime of the house of Orange and gave way to the Batavian Republic, a French client state, but also the unitarian ancestor of the later Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The last poster deals with an equally cold episode from the Napoleonic Wars, as the Dutch infantry defends the crossings of the Berezina during the retreat from Moscow in 1812. by J.Hoynck van Papendrecht.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Birthday suggestions

One of the boons of publishing my birthday list is that I have gotten a few suggestions, so thanks Raymond and Mats, they are much appreciated and added to the list!

Walter Flex,  Vriend aan het front -  Bericht uit de loopgraven.
A translation of the 1916 original Der Wanderer Zwischen Beiden Welten.

Ammianus Marcellinus, Julianus, de laatste heidense keizer. Nadagen van een wereldrijk
Res Gestae, in de vertaling van Daan den Hengst. For Anglophones, that means that the Res Gestae by Ammianus Marcellinus have been translated into Dutch.

Bernard Cornwell - Sharpe's Waterloo
and another one I thought of myself. Not so much for historical input, but to get a view of how misinformed British readers can be about the battle

Friday, 17 May 2013

Struggle over the Legacy of Al-Andalus

The eight centuries of reluctant cohabitation by Christians, Jews and Muslims on the Iberian peninsula have acquired new relevance in an age of mass migration of Muslims into 'Christian' Western Europe. For some the level of harmony which was acquired can be taken as an indicator of our future ability to live together.

Luc Corly's De Spaanse conquista en reconquista 711-1492 tries to tackle this complex and tricky subject, in itself a brave thing. In my opinion, Corluy writes a pretty robust political and military history of the period, but falls short in providing lessons for the present and future.

One of the advantages of going to Antwerp in January was visiting a Belgian bookstore, which is different from going to a Dutch one, not least in the availability of books by Belgians (cultural imperialism means you find lots of Dutch books in Belgium but fewer Belgian books in the Netherlands). This book was advertised as the first account of the Muslim presence in Spain in the Dutch language and I bought this book in the knowledge that I would be visiting Andalusia in May.

Corluy describes the general political and military history of the peninsula, despite his insistence in the introduction that he wants to offer a broader picture. I’d say that over three quarters of his book still focus on this narrow topic. There is some explanation of the social order, and there are interesting side stories on the Celtic church and monastic orders. But there is no sense of the economic history, only a hint on the demographic trends and very little on how Christians, Jews and Muslims actually lived together or even apart. 

Personally, I love military history and I easily waded through war upon war upon invasion upon revolt. It’s given me one brilliant setting for a megagame (the fall of Toledo and the Almoravid invasion around 1085. Yes, this is also the period of El Cid) and provided a nice background to my visits to Ronda and Malaga. But the lack of social and economic context provides a problem for the conclusions he draws in the final two chapters.

Okay, I bought one book in Spain, a historical atlas. This is the situation in 1086

Corluy shows convincingly that the cohabitation of the three religions in Spain was no multicultural paradise. Whether the Christians or Muslims were in charge, the minorities were always treated a second or third rate people (see appendix). The quick expulsion of Muslims and Jews after 1492 shows that how fragile even that tolerance was. 

But at least during the 800 years before that, forced conversion or expulsion were the exception, not the rule. And if there wasn’t a harmonious convivencia, at least Christian and Muslim leaders co-operated against their co-religionists when it suited them politically. Also, when Christian and Muslim leaders felt it was useful (and they weren’t restricted by more fanatical co-religionists) they allowed greater freedoms to their minorities.

The Jews were obviously better off under Muslim rule. Biblically inspired anti-Semitism reappeared every once in a while in the Christian territories and especially in the 14th and 15th centuries. But Jews were in a sense indispensible as intermediaries between rulers and other minorities.

Regrettably, there is no comparison to the rest of ‘Christendom’ or ‘Islam’. Was life for religious minorities any better there than in Spain? Did the French treat the Albigensian heretics better than the Muslims were treated in Christian Spain? Was the dhimmi system in Spain tougher or more tolerable than in the Balkans or North Africa?

Surprisingly, for a supposedly scholarly work there is no source material included and no reference to literature in Arabic. This weakness is most evident in the last chapter, which is meant to wrap up the discussion about the possibility for Christians, Jews and Muslims to live together harmoniously.

Although I don´t dispute the quotes showing Muslim arrogance and sense of superiority (Christian mostly had the same attitude towards the Muslims), it is more than worrying that his main source is Bernard Lewis, without any opposing voice. Likewise, can the discussion between Spanish scholars on the islamic influence on Spanish culture be seen without any reference to the ultra/catholic tendencies of the Franco regime?

I fail to see the lust for plunder of the Muslims in Spain as excessive, as Corluy claims. There were times of increased importance of religion as a legitimation of warfare, under Al-Mansur and the Almoravids and Almohades. In the first case religious fervour was a way to compensate for the lack of legitimacy of Al-Mansur’s regime, and in the latter two cases it was inherent in the movements. But likewise the Castilians had their linea dura shortly after the capture of Toledo. The religious absolutism on both sides was more a sign of the premodern world view than with inherent aspects of those religions.

Lessons for the future?

Finally, I think that it is difficult to draw too many lessons from the past for the present. The Islam of today is not the same as that of five centuries ago, just like Christianity has changed. Also, the Muslims of today have not come as a small, conquering elite, but as a mass of powerless and uneducated immigrants.

Western society has much greater influence on their values now than it had in the age of reconquista: education, work, mass media and systems of political representation are very powerful means of socialisation. Even though small miniorities of Muslims might reject western society, many more accept it in broad lines. Even many orthodox slowly come to accept western concepts of individual liberty.

The main argument of Islamophobes (as opposed to people critical of current manifestations of Islam, for which there is ground enough) is that Islam is in some way unchanged and unchangeably aggressive and intolerant of other religions. The history of Islam shows that there is such a diversity of experiences there that
belies that argument. Just as the Crusades, inquisition, pogroms, savage wars of religion are matched by charity, lay devotion, truce of god etc. And that is even before Christianity is transformed (I'd almost say domesticated) by humanism and enlightenment and subjected to higher standards of humanity as it is today..

On the one hand mass immigration of Muslims into Western Europe is a thrilling opportunity to set an example of how different religions can live peacefully together, without one being subjected to the other. On the other hand, it could still go wrong. But the first step to success is to admit that Islam is able to change (like any other monotheist religion).

I hope this incites some of you to comment!

Appendix:On the social make up of conquista Spain

It is helpful to have an idea of the main groups in the population of Spain at this time, because there's more to it than just three religious groups. The small ruling class in Muslim Spain descended from the Syrian and Arab invaders of the early 8th century. The North African Berbers had also played an important role in the conquest of Spain but had been forcibly kept from political power by the Arabs. They formed a group separate from the other Muslims and Christians. 

There was a considerable Jewish population in both Christian and Muslim territories. They could occassionally rise to important positions in Muslim administrations, but tended to remain marginalised in Christian states. Their lives seem to have been better generally in Muslim territories under the dhimmi system than in Christian areas.

The mass of Christian population worked the land in a servile state (which originated in the Roman/Visigoth age) with a small urban proletariat. In Muslim territories they retained the right to worship in their own way, but they were required to pay higher taxes under the dhimmi system and their rights were easily infringed upon when it seemed opportune. In the Christian territories at least they had more freedom to worship (within the restrictions of the church!) and a lower tax burden. There must have been a Christian middle class of some sort, even tough small.

Below them was the class slaves. In Muslim territories these were Christians and heathen, often captured from the Christian territories in the North or brought from Africa. In the Christian territories the slaves were captured Muslims.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

New Boardgames Loot and Old Boardgames Loot

So last Saturday I bought a few games at the convention, a good way to support it (traders need to make trades to return). A good thing was that the prics were relatively low compared to the FLGS.

The new games are Risk: Legacy , Mice & Mystics, City of Remnants and Beyond Waterloo. The first is a birthday present for a great lover of Risk. I think he will enjoy having a special personalised copy of his own. M&M and CoR are both by Plaid Hat Games and have gotten very favourable reviews. It's a small company I like to see successful. The last one explores all the counterfactuals of the 1815 campaign on the battlefield, economically and diplomatically. I just needed to buy it and try it.

Me buying a couple of new games felt like a good point to evaluate where I'm standing on the Essen 2012 front. I guess a sudden twang of guilt. But it's also the half way point.

So let's see what I bought at Essen and what I've played so far:
Slavika: played at Murphy's Heroes (aka The Club)
Camp Roskilde: not played since Essen
Kolejka: played a few weeks ago. Fun. Should write a first impression
Gauntlet of Fools: played a few times with the kids but not with grown ups so I haven't tested the real fun part of the rules. Should write a first impression 
King of Tokyo: Played a few times
Signum Mortis: not complete yet but should be soon. One for the summer then.
Expansion for Lupin the 3rd: not played yet. Should kick myself

So I should prepare a session of games like Slavika, Gauntlet, King of Tokyo and Camp Roskilde. They're fast, easy and fun. I have plans to play Kolejka again with the family. And Lupin really needs to get played!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Gift of the Luftwaffe

This is what great buddies will do for you: pick up a great book for you in a second hand book shop in london!

filled to the brim with statistics on losses, production air crew etc. Awesome! Thanks mike!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Some statistics for (war)gamers from the Guardian

There's a lot of interesting stuff out there that doesn't end up in wargames blogs. I'd like to draw your attention to the Guardian's Datablog which does daily updates on all kinds of subjects as long as they can hang a database on it. The Guardian is one of the leading newsmedia in the use and visualisation of statistics, so worth your visit in any case. But they occasionally pick up war and wargame related stuff that I link through to here for your benefit:

You might have guessed that this image was from the Guardian

Some of the benefits of the Guardian approach is that the datasets are available for everyone and documented. This makes them much more accessible and transparent than the official sources and so easier to use for the public.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Additions to my birthday list

I've added a couple of things to my birthday list and put it on a separate page.

Just so you know.

Playtests for megagame Master of Europe on May 18th and 19th

Calling you all to join in the playtest of megagame Master of Europe.

In the weekend of Easter/Whitsunday (Pinksteren), Jim Wallman will be in the Netherlands to test the new combat system. These playtests will be organised with gaming club Murphy's Heroes in Delftstede (Phoenixstraat 66 Delft), on the 18th of May, 12.00-17.00, and with gaming club Casus Belli in Cafe de Verdieping (Platenmakerstraat 3 Nijmegen), on the 19th of May from 14.00-18.00.

The playtest will cover the operational part of the game, the movement and combat of troops on the map. For those of you participating in the game on June 22nd, this may be a good way to get a feel for the system. For those of you unable to join in on the 22nd this may be a good opportunity to get an impression of what it will be like!

Please notify Marc Seutter by mail at if you plan to join in (also for questions)

I also want to urge those of you who plan to come to the megagame on June 22 but haven't registered yet, to do so RIGHT NOW! We will be doint the casting not long after the playtest, and after that your chances at your favourite spot are much lower.

The game will take place Saturday 22nd of June at Activiteitencentrum Doddendaal in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. This is the same place as last year’s Barbarossa game.

Costs to participate in the game are 25€ for players and 12,50€ for umpires. You can enlist individually or as a group. You can register by following this link:

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Herr Dr Jonez, I prezjume? A great participation game

Went to the Ducosim convention on Saturday. Mainly to pick up a few boardgames I was looking forward to (one of them a present). I felt that was the best way to support the club now that they seem to be in a bit of trouble.

Three teams racing to catch the Lost Ark of the Convenant
I got to join in Jan-Willem van der Pijl's excellent Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark participation game. The game was simple enough to be picked up in 5 minutes, there was enough action to keep your attention and enough chaos to prevent the game bogging down. The teams were assymetric (dr Jones and sidekick, Nazis, Wu Manchu clan, Corto Maltese, rocketeers) with good differentiation between expendable minor characters and your stars. A simple stats chart kept it all together.

My team, led by General Stahlhelm, dr Kriepstein and herr Flick

There's movement, long range fire and close combat stats, but more important are the stunt stats (crucial for jumping from one speeding truck to another, but also for dodging bullets, cars and fists). In case you were doing something really dangerous (eg jumping from one speeding truck to another) a cojones test was required. I also liked the 'oneliner' ability which allows main characters to bluff their way through.

Jan-Willem kept it all together, maintaining the pace and firmly but politely deflecting distractions from the players. He rewarded creativity and guts and kept weak players engaged.

Team Stahlhelm's final but unsuccessful attempt to wrest the Ark from their competitors
Of course the action hero movie type of game allows for memorable actions and grotesque events, and it is surprising how quickly you warm even to bad guys like general Stahlhelm. Before you know it it's International-Talk-Wiz-A-Fake-Zjerman-Akzent-Day.

The game terrain: providing an arena, some props and little cover

The miniatures, accessories and terrain were an eclectic mix from different manufacturers, handicraft and Queens Day free market shopping. I'd say maximum effect with relatively limited effort. Hats off!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Making a miracle happen

Nice booklet based on annual lecture commemorating the lifting of the siege of Leiden in 1574. The lecture is always connected to the siege, and in this case on the logistical side. De Heijer shows that the flooding of the Holland countryside and the relief expedition were a pretty desperate gamble and required frantic improvisation.

Henk den Heijer, Holland onder water. De logistiek achter het ontzet van Leiden (Leiden 2010).

There had been some experience with inundation of the low lying parts of Holland in defence against the Spanish attacks, such as at Alkmaar the previous year. However, there was no guarantee that the water would rise high enough to make an impact on the besieging Spanish troops. It was also highly uncertain that the Dutch rebels would be able to break through to the city. And from a logistical perspective, everything had to be started from scratch in a few weeks. Finally, unexpected events caused delays and necessitated further efforts to supply the troops. A Spanish attack on Dordrecht diverted resources.

Den Heijer shows the complex and extensive character of the preparations. Numerous dikes had to be breached, for which hundreds of pioneers had to be recruited from the surrounding towns and countryside. In one case it was necessary to occupy a Spanish held dike before the pioneers could get to work. Also, the countryside needed to be evacuated.

At the same time the fleet was collected. This probably amounted to about 70 warships and 250 supporting vessels. Because of the low water levels in the flooded area, these could only be flat bottomed ships and many were improvised from grain and peat transports. There were also probably up to another hundreds transports needed to supply the fleet over the course of the campaign.

The ships were fitted with a motley collection of guns, mostly light and flexible. A few heavier pieces were included but these were highly impractical and ineffective. The whole expedition consisted of about 3000 soldiers, 3000 men to man the ships and 1000 pioneers. In contemporary terms, this was a major effort.

Given the unpredictable result of the flooding, the improvised nature of the operation and the setbacks it suffered, Den Heijer argues the relief of Leiden was indeed a miracle.