One nice side effect of my daily commute is that I get a lot of reading done on the bus. I’ve read two books in the last week or so, for example. There was a period before Xmas when I was rooting around for things to read. Between books I’ve gotten myself and things I got for Xmas or purchased with holiday gift certificates, I’ve suddenly got plenty to choose from. Here’s what’s in my “to read” pile:

1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz

African Trilogy: The desert war up to the surrender of the Axis armies in 1943 by Alan Moorehead

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

The Battle of Britain by Richard Hough & Denis Richards

The Battle of Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Antony Beevor

The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople by Jonathan Phillips

Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America 1754-1763 by William M. Fowler Jr.

Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer

The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O’Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea by Barbara Sjoholm

Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

So yeah, that should keep me busy for awhile.

New Boardgames

I didn’t do any roleplaying this week but I did have a chance to play some new boardgames. Thursday Rick and I played two games of BattleLore by Days of Wonder and today Rob and I played a game of Combat Commander: Europe by GMT. I enjoyed both games and some scattered thoughts on each follow.It was no big surprise that I liked BattleLore. It’s a medieval fantasy version of the Commands and Colors system, used in previous excellent games like Memoir ’44 and Battle Cry. Apart from the theme, there are a few differences between BattleLore and other C&C; games. The biggest new element is, of course, magic, but the game also tries to bring in some roleplaying elements with a “war council” of traditional RPG archetypes (cleric, rogue, wizard, fighter). The nicest addition is the support rule, which allows units to strike back when attacked in certain situation. I’ve found this really encourages the formation of battle lines and the creation of self-supporting combat groups, which makes the game more tactical than would otherwise be the case. I haven’t played with magic or large creatures yet because the scenarios start historical with Agincourt and then slowly add the fantasy elements. We’ve done the first four scenarios so far and have just started using the goblin and dwarf troops. While I’m not certain how successful the RPG elements are going to be, even if BattleLore is “just” an excellent medieval fantasy boardgame I’ll have no reason to complain.

Combat Commander: Europe, a World War II boardgame, takes its cues from an older generation of boardgames, the wargames of the Avalon Hill/SPI era. You could describe the game as a cross between Squad Leader and Up Front and that’s no bad thing in my book. CC:E starts with classic elements like a hexboard and cardboard counters, but adds new twists with the use of specialized card decks. Each army has a 72 card “fate deck” that is used to order troops, take special actions, and determine unusual events. The deck recipes are constructed to reflect some of the character of each army. Each card also has a 2d6 result on it so the cards can be flipped up to resolve attacks, morale tests, and so on. Sometimes these “die rolls” also trigger snipers and other events. If you’ve played Up Front, you can see where some of this inspiration came from but the development here is quite nice. The overall effect of the rules design and fate decks is to create a good simulation of WWII combat without the brain-melting complexity of many wargames. By the end of one scenario it was clear that the use of real WWII tactics brought good game results. You’ll have a hard time just sitting and blazing away with isolated units or simply charging across open terrain at a machinegun. You really need to coordinate your squads and use fire and movement to get the best results and that felt so right. Combat Commander: Europe covers the Americans, Germans, and Russians. The forthcoming Combat Commander: Mediterranean will add British, Commonwealth, Italian, and French to the game. I look forward to playing again.

Jesus Took My Quarter

Growing up in a Greek-American household, holidays were always a mix of the modern and the traditional. So at Christmas you had the egregiously long Greek Orthodox Church services as well as Christmas trees and Santa Claus. One tradition I always liked was the cutting of the New Year’s bread, known as Vasilopita. My mom would wrap a quarter in wax paper and cook it into the bottom of the bread. On New Year’s Day my father would cut and distribute pieces of the bread around the table. If you got the quarter, it meant you’d have a lucky year.

The origin of the bread is attributed to St. Basil and a rather strange wealth redistribution scheme involving baked goods. When the bread is first cut, the first few pieces are dedicated to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, St. Basil, and “the poor”. The natural result of this is that some years Jesus gets the lucky coin. Now the poor getting a break was always OK by me, but try telling a kid that he can’t have good luck because it went to Jesus. Oh yeah, Jesus, I’m sure you need that lucky quarter. I guess being the Son of God just isn’t enough!

We didn’t have any Vasilopita today; New Year’s being a fairly mellow affair with just Nicole and Kate. I did make a big breakfast for everyone and Nicole whipped up some mimosas to go with it. Even without the quarter, I felt lucky to have another year with my girls to look forward to.

Here’s hoping for a good year for everybody.