Monday, April 18, 2016

Book Review: Ciaphas Cain--Hero of the Imperium

My slow journey into the grimdark of the 41st Millennium continues, but only from an observer's point of view.  That is, I've read through several WH40K rule books, and supplements, along with a couple of novels, but still haven't played a WH40K game yet.

Last year, I was ready to quit reading any more of these tiresome tales until I came across the name of Ciaphas Cain while trolling WH40K topics.  I didn't delve too much into the on-line entries, lest I come across plot spoilers, but the term "dark comedy" was a recurring theme caught my attention.

Then, a few months back I discovered a copy of Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM at Half Price Books

Sandy Mitchell's work is a much-needed reprieve from the dystopian downer narratives of the previous novels I read, not to mention the propagandist prose of the game's rule books and supplements.

To the citizens of the Imperium of ManCiaphas Cain and his hygienically-challenged aide Gunner Ferik Jurgen are...

(Image by Corsair's Edge)

...but to readers like me they're the voices of sanity in an insane galaxy.  As a result, the series has spawned a plethora of fan art.

(Image found on Reviewed by Lewis)

Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, is actually an omnibus containing the author's first three novels and three short stories. We meet our slacker-turned-reluctant-hero in the short story Fight or Flight.

Getting what he thinks is a cushy assignment with an artillery regiment, far from the front, Cain tries to flee from a Tyranid attack--only to stumble across the main swarm.  He turns back to warn the regimental fire base, and is set on the fast track to being the Imperium's greatest hero.

And I was instantly hooked.

The stories are written in the form of a memoir similar to George MacDonald Frazer's Flashman Papers with editorial anecdotes by Inquisitor Amberley Vail.  (Inspiration was also drawn from Edmund Blackadder).

(Image by ZeichnerFrom left to right:  Ciaphas Cain, Ferik Jurgen, Col. Regina Kasteen, Maj. Ruput Brocklaw, Rakel, Caractacus Mott, Zemelda Cleat, and Amberley Vail)
Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, has earned anywhere from a 4.4-star rating on Goodreads, to a 4.7-star rating on to a 4.9 on Barnes and Noble.

The single 2-star rater actually loved the book.  His main complaint had to to with the quality of the book's binding.

A couple of 3-star raters thought the author's work was okay, but didn't care the the light-hearted tone, and preferred the "...grim darkness of the far future..." to remain grim.

However, even the high-raters noted the author's overuse of phrases and repetitious narrative.  In one story, I noticed our hero said he drew his chainsword twice in the same scene.  In another story a male secondary character is referred to as a female on one occasion, causing me to backtrack a couple of pages.

Still, I loved the book (5-star rating!).  This is probably because, unlike other science fiction settings like Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly/Serenity and Traveller; I don't take the WH40K 'verse with any sense of seriousness.  So the author's style fits how I'd perceive life in the 41st Millennium.

A complete run-down of Ciaphas Cain novel series can be found on the Lexicanum, along with a Cast of Characters

Friday, April 8, 2016

After Action Review: Retaking Vierville, Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit Scenario 1

(Image from:  World War II Photo Finder, Vierville-sur-Mer)
Squad Leader Backstory:

Avalon Hill's award-winning game, Squad Leader, was one of the top-played wargames of my youth.

Our passion for the game continued with the release of Cross of Iron (CoI) and Crescendo of Doom (CoD).  However, by the time G.I. Anvil of Victory (GIAoV), not to mention Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) were released, our love was turning to exasperation.

The problems with SL are well documented in The Tactical Wargamer, and the (plagiarized?) Wikipedia article.  In short:  The rules became more complex, while a hefty portion of the playing pieces were rendered obsolete once a new SL gamette was published.

I didn't buy a copy of GI AoV until I joined the military--and could afford it.  As for ASL three-binder rule book:  My friend Dan gave it to me, along with all the games, called "modules," in his collection.  I passed most of the modules on to my friend Joe, but I kept the rule book, and ASL Starter Kits #1, #2 & #3.

The reason I kept these is that Joe already had the rule book and the three starter kits.

Now Fast forward to March 2016...

...Joe and I finally had some time off--on the same Saturday--and managed to get together for our first-ever game session of 2016.

The number of times I've played ASL can be counted on one hand, while Joe's played a bit more and read through a good chunk of the rules.

But one of the many good points about SL/ASL is that you can select a small scenario that can be played to conclusion when time and space are limited.

Since it's been a while since either of us played SL/ASL, we decided to start from scratch, and refresh our memories by tackling Scenario S1 in ASL Starter Kit#1:

(I still love reading the Historical Overviews of the SL/ASL Scenarios)

Having been assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division during my active duty days, I told Joe "it was only fitting" that I play the Americans.

Which made Joe the German player.

An aerial view of Vierville-sur-Mere as depicted by Map Y:

(The dark blue patches are actually woods, not water.  I had trouble adjusting the lighting and color of some of my photos.)

The Battle for Vierville Begins:

A platoon led by Sgt. Bryant prepares to move out of Vierville.

Before the GI's can begin their advance, Cpl Kreiser of the 919th Grenadier Regiment leads a platoon approaching from the west, to begin a counter attack against the Americans.

Sgt. Kalmer, likewise, leads a platoon from the 1058th Grenadier Regiment and approaches from the east.

Most of the "Screaming Eagles" spot the oncoming Germans and open fire, pinning down Cpl. Kreiser's Second Squad, while the Second Squad of Sgt. Kalmer's platoon seeks cover among the stalks of wheat.

Sgt. Keiser and two steadfast squads (First and Third) double-time it into a stone building on the eastern edge of the French village.

Sgt Bryant orders his men to disperse and hold the nearest stone buildings.  The sergeant leads his First and Second Squads into Vierville's church, adjacent to the building now occupied by Kalmer and his men.  Third and Fourth (half strength) Squads enter separate buildings on the western outskirts.

Sgt. Bryant's intention is to assault the German toehold and drive them out of the village.

However, it is the Americans who find themselves ducking for cover as the Germans open fire on them at point blank range.

While the sergeant and his men are having second thoughts about leaving the physical and spiritual safety of the church, Sgt. Craigstead, utilizing the cover offered by a wheat field, advances against a German squad occupying a building on Vierville's northeaster edge.

Unlike Sgt. Bryant and his men, Sgt. Craigstead's soldiers are made of sterner stuff (for the moment anyway).

They shrug-off the German opportunity fire...

...and return fire, decimating the German occupiers with assaulting fire.  Meanwhile, Sgt. Kalmer's Second Squad leaves the flimsy protection of the wheat stalks and retreats 80 yards into sturdier trees of the eastern woods.

Sgt Bryant, now fearing for his life, bolts out of Vierville's church, and the men of First and Second Squad follow him right out the front door.  They run nearly 250 yards across the village square and duck into a building, near a small orchard.

Fortunately, Sgt. Bryant's panic-attack is short-lived.  As he regains his composure, he rallies his men.

Cpl. Kreiser, still occupying the building northwest of the Vierville crossroad, rallies his pinned Second Squad.

Lt. Bauman, leading an ad-hoc platoon from the 6th Fallschirmjager Regiment, arrives from the east.  He orders two squads to double-time it to two buildings on the southeast corner of Vierville.  The soldiers manage to run over 300 yards through the wheat field and open grassland without getting shot at by the Americans.

Lt. Bauman stays behind and rallies the soldiers from Sgt. Kalmer's Second Squad.

The Germans and Americans now face each other across the village square.

As soon as Lt. Bauman finished berating inspiring Sgt. Kalmer's shirkers, Sgt. Craigstead's soldiers open fire causing Bauman's own fallschirmjager platoon to seek deeper cover within the woods.

In response, a sudden firefight erupts in and around the village.

Despite the intensity of fire, Sgt. Bryant leads his men through the orchard and into a building across the street from the fallschirmjagers.

The shooting dies down as men on both sides reload their weapons.

Lt. Urban, leading another ad-hoc platoon of fallschirmjagers takes advantage of the lull and advances through some woods to within 80 yards of  Sgt. Bryant's position.

But the Americans resume firing and catch Cpl. Kreiser's Third Squad in the open causing them to go to ground at a road intersection north of Vierville.

Despite being in cover of the woods to the southeast, Lt. Urban and his men fare even worse.  The German veteran lieutenant is killed, along with a dozen of his men, causing the survivors to panic.

Despite taking out a key German leader and a squad of elite fallschirmjagers, things look grim for the small band of Americans holding the southwestern corner of Vierville.

That is, until American reinforcements, led by Sgt. Patterson and Lt. Tarshaul* advance from the north.

(*Some of the American names were hard for me to read without my bifocals, so names like "Tarshaul" and "Craigstead" are my best guess).

Rather than being caught in an American two-pronged counter-attack, the Germans begin retreating from Vierville.

After Action Review:

For those who've never played ASL, or haven't played in a while, Scenario S1: Retaking Vierville, is a great introductory game.  The only units involved are squads, half-squads, known as MMCs (multi-man counters); and squad leaders (a.k.a. SMCs--single man counters).

Our game lasted only 3 out of 5 turns.  By that time Joe lost two squads, along with one of his best leaders, and didn't think he could take and hold the buildings listed in the Victory Conditions (referred by the hexes they occupied:  N5, N6, M4, and L3).

I'd love to claim the outcome was due to "...a cunning plan..." on my part.  But I owe my success to a hefty dose of luck, especially when my Screaming Eagles gunned-down Lt. Uhlan and his men, causing them to break, then shooting them a second time to finish them off.

Joe pointed out that the American squads have more inherent firepower than the Germans (7 fire factors vs. 4 fire factors).  The Germans, along with just about every other European squad rely in separate light machine guns (LMGs) as force multipliers.  Without any "Hitler Buzzsaws" in his arsenal, Joe was at a disadvantage in a firefight.

Joe was also maneuvering his squads more tactically than I was.  That is, he spread his forces out, with no more than two squads occupying a hex.

Whereas, I consolidated as many squads as I could in order to take advantage of the hard cover offered by the stone buildings.  It worked for me--this time.  But if I were going against a force armed with LMGs--or worse, artillery--the outcome would probably turn out differently.

Consolidating squads (up to a maximum of 3) in a single hex (which represents about 40 yards of real distance) is a proverbial double-edge sword that SL/ASL experts advise against doing.

On the one hand, a stack of 3 squads gains the beneficial morale and tactical modifiers provided by any good leader can provide.

But the flip side is:  Such a stack presents a tempting target that could be obliterated by a single attack.  The experts suggest forming fire groups of adjacent squads in order to minimize casualties.

Maybe some day I'll follow this advice.

(Image from:  Desperation Morale)

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Another New Tool of the Trade

(Image from

Back in February, I announced I got a new camera, which I'm still trying to figure out all the functions.

If that wasn't enough, I thought I'd use the funds in my tax return to buy a new laptop.

The influx of funds wasn't the only factor in this decision.

For years I've been using a Toshiba Satellite a305-s6905, which actually got a decent review on CNET--back in 2009.

But it wasn't the age of my laptop that was bothering me.  Starting about a month ago, anytime I logged on to the internet, I'd get a message along my toolbar notifying me that Google Chrome won't be supporting Windows Vista.

So I was presented with choice to either upgrade my laptop to Windows 10, or buy a new laptop.  (Later I found out my old Satellite doesn't seem compatible with Windows 10).

When I began my search for the best laptop for my needs,  (or as any computer illiterate like me could fully fathom what I need), I discovered that every laptop, along with just about every other techno-gadget on the market, were better than my current model.

Based on the performance statistics--and the price discount offered--I decided to buy an HP Pavilion Flagship with a 15.6" screen.  I was thinking about buying the version with a 17.3" screen, but I liked the handiness of the 15.6" screen my Satellite has and thought the larger one would be too big.

My New Tool of the Trade was hand-delivered to me two days after Easter.  Seriously.  The UPS guy arrived just as I was heading to the gym that afternoon.

Since then I've been transferring files and learning the ins & outs (mostly outs) of my Flagship.  While I'm certainly experiencing "growing pains," I'm happy with my purchase because even if I don't learn everything there is to know about my Flagship, I can at least tell it's a better model than my Satellite.