Monday, 18 June 2012

Beowulf: The Legend

Hwæt wē Gār-Dena in geārdagum,
þēocyninga þrym gefrūnon,
hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon.

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

Seamus Heaney - Beowulf.

So begins one of the great and epic stories of our species, one that is still in print today.  Beowulf: The Legend is a board game designed by Reiner Knizia and published in English by Esdevium and Fantasy Flight Games.  Knizia as a designer is well known for producing many mechanically sound games, but games which are shallow on theme.

Beowulf is a story of battles, struggle, danger, strength, heroism and death.  It is the tale of a valiant warrior, and yet a reflection on the game might find little to recommend it to those who hoped for a play-experience as storied and mighty.  

In Beowulf the players (between 2 and 5 of them) are companions of the great hero as he follows his wyrd from the legendary fight with Grendel to his ultimate demise slaying the dragon.  The game moves through episodes, some allowing the players to take risks in the hope of reward, and others where players bid against each other in order to get first pick of the bounties available.  

The bidding mechanisms make for a neat, light hearted and enjoyably quick game.  In many of the episodes there is a ‘push-your-luck’ element, allowing the potential for a player to add to their bid, but at the risk of being locked out of the struggle to better their rank when it comes to dividing the spoils.

I’ve only played the game as a two-player, but it played quickly, and was enjoyable throughout.  There are choices present, and some level of strategy can be employed, but there is luck as well in good measure.  I think that most games with a bidding mechanism become an ‘all or nothing’ gambit when played played by two.  Beowulf is no exception, but with ample opportunities to push your luck for more resources and episodes that allow you to choose from a variety of rewards, players in a two-player game can plan in advance to some extent.  Looking to consolidate a resource in order to be able to win a future bid they set their eye on.

All this talk of resources and bidding does little to evoke the theme of battling, monsters, companionship and heroism.  Nonetheless if you take the time to recognise the resources you are required to bid in specific episodes, parallels can easily be drawn.  Episodes match events from the tale of this great hero, and they are thematically integrated with the bidding system. Friendship cards will win you favour in the court of Hygelac, courage and fighting cards will see you better off in the battle with Grendel.  The theme is present, but it is a light dusting, a drizzling if you will, that, like a subtle seasoning, will add flavour now and then when a player takes the time to saviour an episode.  But which can be easily missed if you are not looking for it.

Beowulf Challenged by the Coast Guard.
By E. Paul. from Wikipedia.
All in all Beowulf is an enjoyable game, it’s light and easy to play, has some choices and a healthy dose of luck.  While the game-play may not be the deepest or most rewarding it is not so cumbersome a game as to be waylaid by this.  It seems like it will scale very well for all numbers of players, and it is lightly drizzled with a theme I rather like.  The best vote of confidence is that it will hit the table again.

Beowulf and the Dragon, by John Howe.
from Fantasy Flight Games: 


Sunday, 17 June 2012


In the afternoon the clouds that had looked like threatening rain all morning departed for other climes and the sun managed to shine for a little while.  I decided to take this brief opportunity to test out a couple of primers I have bought to use on my miniatures.  This undercoating is important as it helps the paint adhere to the surface, it also provides a base colour over which the paint will go - and different effects can be achieved by using different tones.  I want the colours I use to be bright, and since the paints are not all the best quality (which means lighter colours like red and yellow have trouble covering darker colours), a white undercoat is what I’ve chosen.

Two of the test subjects...
Since I’ll predominantly be working on 15mm miniatures, I need an undercoat that is going to be smooth and fine so that it doesn’t obscure the details of the sculpts.  Normally I’d use a Games Workshop spray - but this is in short supply around my fine town, so I’ve bought two different undercoats - one cheaper one from a hardware store, and one for kit models.

Model undercoat on the left, hardware store undercoat on the right.
After taking the time to base my 15mm Splintered Light minis already, I didn’t want to experiment on them - I want to use an undercoat I know will work.  Instead I grabbed a couple of miniatures from two of my board games - Beowulf (by Reiner Knizia and published by FFG), and The Hobbit (also by Knizia and FFG).

Many light coats is better than one thick one is what I’ve heard works best - so that’s what I tried.  The results were to be expected, the cheaper undercoat was grainy - so much so I think it’ll ruin almost any scale mini, whereas the model undercoat was much finer.  The net lesson from today’s experiment was: Use the model undercoat.  With a supplementary result being that Beowulf needs to be cleaned up or replaced.

Both sets of test subjects - Smaug fared better than Beowulf...

I might give the cheaper undercoat another try at a later date - a warmer day or a dunking in a warm bowl of water might help smooth the undercoat out - but I wasn’t very happy with the results of that test.  The model undercoat is most certainly the better option - and weather permitting it’s what I’ll be using tomorrow to undercoat my 15mm Splintered Light minis for Song of Blades and Heroes.

Once this step is out of the way I’ll get around to doing some painting... at some stage.


Saturday, 16 June 2012

Astronomy, of the amateur kind...

Earlier this week the esteemed McGurie college, here in the fine town of Shepparton, held a star gazing night.  This was an auspicious beginning, supported by the Telescopes in Schools initiative, and saw some 20 or so kids and families come along to view the cosmos.  This evening is to be the first of a series.  It was a convivial gathering, spoilt to only a small degree by poor weather conditions, some trouble with the collimation of the scope, and a near dazzling array of security lighting.  Despite these troubles we had a good night, a sound beginning to what promises to be an enjoyable and interesting program.  I was especially impressed with the energy of the organiser Robert, and of course by the telescope McGuire had at their disposal - a 12” catadioptric behemoth that required sets of castor wheels to be relocated.  Anything that requires wheels in order to be moved deserves some natural level of respect and admiration.  Yes, this giant marvel of precision engineering is ungainly and difficult to budge, but damn-it if a set of wheels won’t bring the beast to bear!

Some time out in the fresh evening, basking in the splendour of the raiment above, does wonders for one’s eagerness to dust off the scope at home and drag it out-of-doors for more.  So inspired, I pulled my more humble reflector out this evening to take in Saturn.  

While the general glow of street-lights does something to wash the colour from the view, it was rather nice to sit back and look at the orb of Saturn and its encircling rings.  It is something humbling to look at what appears to be a star through our eyes, and bring it into sharper focus with a telescope, and to find a dusty orange marble, replete with a girdling of brilliant white rings in its place.  As much as the Southern sky is splendid for its cloudy encircling arm of our galaxy, I find something especially calming and marvellous about gazing at our solar neighbours in the ecliptic.  It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I rather enjoyed myself.  

I tried to take some photos through the eyepiece, but I don’t really have the set-up to make it work.  The best I got was a blurry smudge that would do well on a UFO Sightings website, but wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for.  Nonetheless, a pleasant evenings viewing, and I am much looking forward to the day when my lad is old enough to come outside with his Dad and view the moon, the planets and our universe.


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Podcasting, Games, Schools and Libraries

One of the reasons my blog has been a little slow this last two weeks (aside from the black pall that had been hanging over me in the form of reports) is that Donald Dennis (of On Board Games fame) and myself have been pushing to finalise some aspects of a new podcast we are recording together about, and aptly named: Games in Schools and Libraries.

The podcast mission statement is all about creating a show that highlights and discusses various aspects of games as they apply to schools and the local library.    We aim to cover board, card and digital games.

As the date of our official launch draws near (and we’ll likely be dropping several introductory episodes in quick succession before falling back to a more stately release schedule), we are in the throes of finishing off all those little odds and jobs that need doing.

Of course, as we get closer we’ll be making a more detailed and official announcement.  Still, until then it is editing, editing and more editing (we have a bank of episodes recorded).  More in the near future...

In the meantime, here are some shots of the games cupboards in my classroom:



Wednesday, 6 June 2012


The very thought of opening my laptop, this past week, would elicit an immediate and impending sense of doom in me, as if the Mayans, the Inca and the Aztecs were reaching out a deathly hand from the dim of ages past and reminding me that 2012 will be the year that pseudo-science heralds the ‘end days’.  Yes, I sense the intake of breath as your eyes traverse these words, the wonderment: what cause?

‘School reports’ is the simple answer.  Simple like resonance: it may cause a gong to ring, but don’t let such idle auditory pleasures deceive you - it could as readily break the earth apart in heaving convulsions.  As quick and easy as a report is to peruse, clumped with its fellows - a wall of demanding blank pages - it also has a dark side, a side that can rend a nervous system apart, tear neural network from neural network, and leave the victim naught but a coffee filled husk.

When reports are trumpeting for you, it is astounding how easy it is to find other tasks with which to occupy your mind.  Clothes need hanging, books you haven’t finished suddenly leap and dance and sing for your attention, your back catalogue of unheard podcasts demand your concentration.  Things require cleaning and fixing.  Whole garden beds become weed choked hazards, a morass that will, without immediate attention, descend to the putrid fens and bogs of the ancient battlefields of Dagorlad.  You even wonder whether those TV dramas you’ve been avoiding are actually as bad as all that... yes, your mental functions do become impaired.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and would happily sit and talk about little Bill or Mary-Ann with Mum or Dad till the shadows lengthen, twilight descends and the fire has dimmed to just a glow of embers in the stony hearth.  But writing reports has a stigma attached to it, a mental black mark.  When someone mentions reports are upcoming I blank out momentarily and imagine a broken wooden signpost in a barren landscape, a place a weeds and sand and death.  Perched atop the signpost is a crow, head cocked and watching me with its cold and beady eyes.  Yes, reports have an almost mythological doom-laden connotation for me.

There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Reports have a deadline, and while that may mean coffee and dysfunction, it also means the process has a definite end.  My latest diversion must wind up now, I suppose I shall have to face them...