Monday, 16 November 2015

A can of worms, the death of an actor, and comfort wargaming

Today I have three things that I want to write about. Firstly I would like to thank everyone who has commented on my most recent blog entry. When I wrote it I thought that I was probably opening a can of worms, but I was pleasantly surprised that the comments that were made were all well-reasoned and thought through, and that even if we were not all in agreement with one another, we respected each other’s points of view.

The second thing that I want to mention is the very recent death of that wonderful Indian actor, Saeed Jaffrey. Besides starring in Satyajit Ray's SHATRANJ KE KHILADI (THE CHESS PLAYERS) (see below) and more than 100 Bollywood films productions, he also appeared in A PASSAGE TO INDIA, GANDHI, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING. The latter is one of my favourite films, and his portrayal of Billy Fish, the Gurkha soldier who helps Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine) and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) to conquer Kafiristan, is a film gem and deserves greater recognition.

The third thing that I want to mention is what I term ‘comfort wargaming’. We all know what ‘comfort food’ is (i.e. food that induces a nostalgic, sentimental, or comforting feeling to the person eating it) and whenever I lose the desire to fight wargames – a feeling that has dogged me for the last few months – I look to what I think of as my ‘comfort wargames’ as a way to reinvigorate my appetite for the hobby.

So what are my ‘comfort wargames’? The answer is simple; they are either World War II wargames fought with lots of 20mm-scale figures and model vehicles using simple old-school rules or colonial wargames set in some imaginary late nineteenth century European colony or colonies. The former harks back to the wargames of my teenage years whilst the latter evokes memories of Eric Knowles’s famous Madasahatta Campaign.

As the slow process of sorting out my wargames room gradually comes towards a conclusion, I am looking forward to fighting a couple of ‘comfort wargames’ to revitalise and reinvigorate my desire to wargame.

SHATRANJ KE KHILADI is set in 1856 and focuses on the events leading up to the British annexation of the Indian State of Oudh and the Great Mutiny of 1857.

The main characters are two aristocrats (Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Raushan Ali) who become so deeply immersed in the development of numerous chess strategies that they become oblivious to the pending invasion their country by the British. In fact they are still playing chess as the British capture their city, Lucknow. It is an excellent film, and I have never seen a better portrayal of the life and customs of the ruling classes of 19th century India and an explanation of the methods by which the British East India Company enacted its policy of colonial expansion.


  1. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, one of the best!

    Having read your last post and all the very thoughtful comments, I'm reminded
    something I came up with as we were heading north into Iraq. Everyone was a
    bit concerned as you might understand, anyway the guys got to talking about
    anything more depressing than our current circumstance. They got around to asking me, and I said the most depressing thing to me was the fact that we are a tribal
    species with thermonuclear devises....yup I lived through the cold war too.

    No matter how technologically advanced we get, emotionally we are still two
    steps out of the cave.

  2. Don M,

    Thank you for your comment and your very relevant story.

    You are absolutely right about the threat that would be posed by nuclear weaponry if it got into the hands of people with such a nihilistic set of beliefs. Who needs to have sophisticated delivery and detonation systems if it can be done by one person in an unmarked light truck or van. If that person is willing to die for their cause, then stopping them becomes far harder.

    All the best,


  3. From 'Good Omens' (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett) “It has been said that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism.” I'd substitute 'savagery' for 'barbarism', but I think the point well made. It wouldn't take much to bring this about; nukes would simply be overkill.

    Nukes in the hands of terrorists - aren't they already?

  4. Archduke Piccolo,

    It is not a quote that I had previously heard about ... but it certainly has more than an element of truth to it.

    As your comment about nukes ... well in the words of Francis Urquhart, 'You might well think that; I couldn't possibly comment'.

    All the best,


  5. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING was one of my brothers and my favorite movie. We watched it so many times we could quote scenes from it: I would quote Daniels lines and my brother Peachy's line. If only I had Sean Connery's voice!

    You do "comfort wargaming", I do comfort painting. I will go through old figures and paint unpainted figures, or repaint worn figures. I'm am in one of those moods now and I am painting three different periods and scale figures. I find by doing this when I get the war-game bug I have freshly painted units to fight them with.

  6. Jhnptrqn,

    Some time ago I gave a lecture to a Masonic Lodge about the works of Rudyard Kipling, and I was assisted by a good friend on mine. We started by marching up to the Worshipful Master, taking off the khaki-coloured pith helmets we were wearing ('Hats orf!'), saluted him, put our headgear back on ('Hats on!'), and marched away ... just like the scene in the film. We were clapped as were marched away, and the lecture was very well received.

    Although I find painting relaxing, I don't find it gives me the same morale boost as actually fighting a wargame. Perhaps if it did, I would have a lot more painted figures!

    Good luck with your current painting.

    All the best,


  7. I find myself almost unwilling to turn to my hobby when the world is in turmoil but I also feel a bit hypocritical for feeling that way however I also find it hard to get the usual pleasure during times of personal stress so I've stopped worrying about it, it alwsys comes back at some point.

    Only saw TMWWBK once, alas, but enjoyed it. The differences from the original short story are interesting.

  8. Ross Mac,

    I must admit that part of my general lack of enthusiasm for wargaming is derived from my feelings about recent international events (the conflict in the Ukraine, the war in Syria, the fighting in Iraq, the attack in Tunisia, the bombing of the Russian plane, and the attacks in Paris), but I also feel that not wargaming is sort of giving in.

    You are right about the fact that the enthusiasm will return at some point, and I admit that I am not rushing to stage a wargame in the very near future (I don't have the space at the moment as I am still sorting out my wargames room); that said, it will probably be a 'comfort wargame' when I do.

    I cannot believe that you have only seen THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING just the once! I own it on DVD and as a video on my iPad ... and I also own the short story in book form as well. The film is excellent ... but in some way the book is better.

    All the best,


  9. Bob,
    'Comfort wargaming' is a splendid term that neatly summarises what I suspect we all, at some time or another, want from our wargames: not a brain-taxing, complex, detailed 'simulation' of warfare, nor a means of gaining significant insights into some aspect of military history, but the simple pleasure of manoeuvering toy soldiers and admiring the - completely unrealistic, romantic and sanitised - image of serried ranks, colourful uniforms and flying colours in a relaxed, friendly, not overly competitive, atmosphere.

    Indeed, one of the problems of the modern hobby may be that the investment of time, money and effort to create wargame armies according to the heterodoxy of highly detailed, artistically painted figures on diorama standard terrain does not offer much in the way of 'comfort'. Moreover, many rulebooks require too much mental effort, arithmetical calculation and ability to comprehend legalistic text for 'comfort'. Whilst I enjoy reading serious military history, I find myself increasingly drawn towards simpler, 'old-school' style, toy soldier wargames that have few pretensions to be anything more, and so offer an escapism from the grim reality of 2015 about which I have no more moral qualms than I do about enjoying an episode of 'Morse' or 'Lewis'...

    That, IMHO, is the great merit of chess: once one has mastered the basic rules, one can play both intensive, competitive games involving much mental effort as one tries to plan strategies, deduce one's opponent's plans, &c, or one can just play a light-hearted game turn by turn. Few, if any, wargame rules have succeeded in achieving this combination of apparent simplicity and depth.

    TMWWBK film is also a favourite of mine; I think it has a stronger, clearer narrative than the original story and benefits from wonderful performances by the principal actors. In the light of recent events in that part of the world it also seems to offer a salutary reminder that attempts to impose British/Western values - whether those be military discipline, close-order drill with Martini-Henry or liberal democracy - upon the indigenous peoples are probably doomed to failure...

    Best wishes,

  10. Arthur1815 (Arthur),

    I don't know how I came up with the expression 'comfort wargaming', but it just seemed to fit the bill so well. I recently realised that in the past when I have lost my enthusiasm for the hobby, I have always gone back to the style of wargaming that I have enjoyed most to reinvigorate me.

    Reading about the wargames fought by Joseph Morschauser, Donald Featherstone, Pete Young or Charles Grant Snr. always reminds me about the simple enjoyment I got when I started out in wargaming when - as you so rightly point out - things were a lot simpler. I have been through the desire to fight battles with thousands of figures on a massive terrain using complex rules (and which I rarely enjoyed!), and have emerge with a desire to fight small battles with nicely painted figures on somewhat stylised terrain using simple rules. Doing that gives me lots of enjoyment and all the stimulation that I need.

    THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING is a very interesting film, and I take your point about it being a salutary reminder 'that attempts to impose British/Western values - whether those be military discipline, close-order drill with Martini-Henry or liberal democracy - upon the indigenous peoples are probably doomed to failure', but can I also point out that the introduction of Freemasonry by Alexander the Great could also be seen as being an attempt to impose Western values upon an indigenous people ... and it seemed to work quite well!

    All the best,



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