Taking a Gander: TCS Goose Green (MMP) Released

Though best known for their prodigious output as the current benevolent custodians of Advanced Squad Leader, Multi-Man Publishing also shepherds various other wargame series, including the Tactical Combat Series (TCS) pioneered by Dean Essig (and previously released under the aegis of The Gamers, now folded into MMP). The most recent TCS title is Goose Green, designed by Carl Fung, focusing on the initial ground combat between British and Argentinian forces in and around Goose Green and Darwin on the Falkland Islands in May 1982.

Cover sheet detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

As with the last TCS entry, Ariete, Goose Green comes as a ziplocked, rather than boxed, presentation, with a single standard 22″ x 34″ map on glossy paper; half a countersheet of die cut 1/2″ counters; series and special rules on glossy paper; some charts on relatively thin, glossy stock; and thick front and back cover sheets. It’s a tidy package at an agreeable price. TCS has never seemed to be as big a seller for MMP (or The Gamers previously) as the other series in their stables, so it’s good to see the series continuing in a format that gets the games out to players at a price that is as close to “impulse buy” as wargames tend to get.

Component overview for MMP's TCS Goose Green

Goodness knows I’ve bounced off of TCS more than once in the past, having owned (and sold and owned and sold) several titles in the series over the past two decades. What has thrown me off—and others, I would wager—is the innovation at the heart of TCS: written orders. Like ASL, TCS focuses on tactical battles, highlighting small unit engagements, typically at the platoon level as opposed to ASL’s focus on the squad. TCS, however, requires written instructions for units to act, orders that must pass through the chain of command. No telepathic, instantaneous communication between units here—orders are orders, and just because the player wants to react to an opportunity (or mishap) in one area, the written orders take precedence until new orders can be cut.

Rules detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

For gamers used to pushing counters at will, it’s a difficult, or at the very least different, mindset to adopt, particularly at the tactical level, and while most TCS series games have small scenarios, the thought of orchestrating a major offensive in writing can be daunting. The relatively small focus of Goose Green feels like an ideal setting to try to come to grips with TCS; even the full campaign for Goose Green should be within the realm of the possible, given that there are a grand total of 140 counters in the game, fewer than half of which are actual units. The game contains a total of five scenarios, ranging from five to forty turns, each turn representing between twenty minutes to an hour duration, depending on light conditions.

Map detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

Too, with the fortieth anniversary of the conflict in the Falklands just past, Goose Green feels a somewhat timely addition to the relatively thin conflict simulation corpus surrounding that clash in the South Atlantic. Designer Carl Fung goes to significant lengths via the special rules and scenarios to portray the difficulties facing the British as they attempt to conduct a rapid assault against numerically superior Argentine defenders, themselves well dug-in but on the receiving end of an advanced combined arms fusillade. Both sides need to make tough decisions about when to press and when to yield, decisions compounded and complicated by the TCS orders process. Besides, any game with counters for that lovely homegrown Argentinian close air support aircraft, the Pucara, deserves a place in my collection.

Counter detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

The components themselves are up to the usual handsome MMP standards, the maps hewing broadly to the standard Gamers style, with graphics work by Nicolas Eskubi. Love them or (more likely) hate them, the trademark Gamers’ “every five hexes” printed map coordinate system rears its head here, as does TCS’ legendarily finicky line-of-sight process, but those are small quibbles to bear for a fairly unique take on one of the most important, and overlooked, land battles of the late 20th century. Goose Green promises to be worth the effort involved in finally coming to terms with TCS, in order to examine this signal moment in military history.

Doctor Who Project: The Five Doctors

Splendid fellows, all of you.

For a series about time travel, Doctor Who focuses on its own past almost as much as the historical past. From Season Eighteen on, under producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward, continuity references, those canonical recollections of various events and dramatis personae, have come to predominate, sometimes to the detriment of the storylines and befuddling more casual viewers who can’t tell an Omega from an Ogron. When faced with a marquee event such as the twentieth anniversary of Doctor Who, then, the danger is that the self-referential aspects will predominate, overwhelming the plot with a long string of cameos and call-backs. Thankfully, veteran Doctor Who hand Terrance Dicks provides “The Five Doctors” (Story Production Code 6K) with a script that neatly balances reverential appreciation of the series’ long tenure with a genuinely well-paced story that creates just as many memorable moments as it summons up from the show’s history.

Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, and Peter Davison as Tegan, Turlough, and the Fifth Doctor

Airing as a single ninety-minute episode on November 25, 1983, two days past the actual twentieth anniversary of the initial episode of “An Unearthly Child” first appearing on screens throughout the UK, “The Five Doctors” brings all five of the Doctor’s incarnations together in a story that plays to their individual strengths while still respecting the primacy of the current inhabitant of the role, Peter Davison. Well, sort of all five, with Richard Hundall standing in as the First Doctor for William Hartnell, who died some eight years earlier in 1975, and Tom Baker being represented solely through clips from “Shada,” which remained uncompleted and unaired due to industrial action at the end of Season Seventeen. Baker withdrew from active participation after originally agreeing to appear, but as much as it would have been nice to see that curly mop of hair back in action as the Fourth Doctor, his absence gives more room for Hundall, Patrick Troughton, and Jon Pertwee to strut their stuff upon the crowded stage.

Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and Richard Hundall as the Third, Second, and First Doctors

Dicks’ story breaks very little new ground, being ultimately a rehash of “Arc of Infinity,” with its focus on Gallifreyan politics, and, curiously, the much maligned “Time-Flight” and “Death to the Daleks” in the exploration of an ancient—and lethally guarded—sanctum by the Doctor(s) and companions. His structuring of the story, though, contrives to keep the first three Doctors separate, each having been kidnapped, along with a companion, by a “time scoop” and deposited into a different part of the subtly-named Death Zone on Gallifrey, home of the long-abandoned Game of Rassilon that saw “lesser” beings forced to fight to the death. The Fourth Doctor and Romana (Lalla Ward), meanwhile, are plucked from punting the River Cam and trapped in the Vortex by a failed time scoop, the better to sideline them for the entirety of the story.

Tom Baker and Lalla Ward as the Fourth Doctor and Romana, trapped in a broken time scoop

The Fifth Doctor painfully suffers the loss of each of his prior selves as they are removed from the time stream, and as he slips in and out of consciousness, he sets the TARDIS to find them. The blue box takes him, Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson) to “nowhere, in no time,” in the latter’s words, a fine description of the Death Zone, which itself is a foggy plain of rocks, dominated by the Dark Tower, host to the Tomb of Rassilon. The scene, replete with the Third Doctor’s beloved Bessie driving down dusty slate-lined roads, very much calls to mind the antimatter world from the tenth anniversary story, “The Three Doctors,” and in truth, could any celebration of twenty years of Doctor Who fail to feature a quarry?…

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Doctor Who Project: The King’s Demons

Arise, Sir Doctor.

The TARDIS, according to the founding mythology of Doctor Who, was to be a vehicle with which to teach history; the Doctor, two schoolteachers, and a precocious teenage student were to travel in time to various historical settings, educating and exciting viewers in equal measure. The Daleks aside, the first several seasons bear out that emphasis, but eventually the “historical” became a rarely used device, as monsters and mayhem came to predominate. Why have mad Nero fiddling when you can have the Dalek emperor exploding? Under producer John Nathan-Turner, the historical begins to make something of a comeback during Peter Davison’s run as the Fifth Doctor, exemplified by Terence Dudley’s “The King’s Demons” (Story Production Code 6J) a two-episode story that serves as an A-level refresher course in British history, focusing as it does on a day in the life of King John (Gerald Flood).

Gerald Flood as King John

Materializing suddenly during a joust between King John’s champion, Sir Gilles, and Hugh (Christopher Villiers) the impetuous son of Ranulf Fitzwilliam (Frank Windsor), the TARDIS causes horses to rear and peasants to fear, but the King greets this “blue engine” with surprising equanimity, welcoming the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough as his “demons” and providing them seats beside him to witness the resumption of the trial by combat. The French knight with the dodgy accent and even more dodgy facial makeup vanquishes his young foe, and only the Doctor’s pleas to the king spare Hugh’s life, after which everyone returns to Ranulf’s castle for a feast in honor of his highness.

Mark Strickson, Peter Davison, and Janet Fielding as Turlough, the Fifth Doctor, and Tegan

Director Tony Virgo and the production staff raid the BBC’s costume and props stocks, creating an effective medieval atmosphere, with lingering shots of feasting tables piled high with roast beast, extended lute jam sessions, and panoramas of castle walls and crenelations. With only two episodes to work with, though, this scene-setting takes time perhaps better served by plot development—except that, to a real extent, the setting is the narrative, to a degree not seen since, well, “The Crusade” some eighteen years prior. The date of the story plays a significant role: March 4, 1215, the day King John took the Crusader’s oath and three months before he agreed to Magna Carta.

The Fifth Doctor and Tegan enjoying a light medieval feast

The Doctor, then, knows that King John should be in London on this day, not antagonizing a rural lord’s household for more money and men for the Crusades. Tegan doesn’t seem moved, even though she knows the basic story of King John’s life, but her seeming indifference points out just how beholden this story is on a thorough understanding of King John, specifically his reputation as something of a villain, who, along with his brothers, Henry II and Richard I, was scurrilously claimed to have been beholden to devils and demons. Contemporary viewers were expected to fill in the gaps in the narrative here and realize the significance of King John offering a seat at his table to those he himself calls “demons,” though Dudley, ostensibly with the aid of script editor Eric Saward, make sure to sketch in a few details for those not steeped in Angevin lore.

Sir Gilles, aka the Master, aka Anthony Ainley

Quite quickly, given the short runtime of this story, the Doctor figures out that this king seems off somehow, with the arrival of Ranulf’s cousin, Geoffrey (Michael J. Jackson) from London where he just took the Crusader’s oath with King John confirming that an impostor stalks Fitzwilliam castle. After a duel of honor with Sir Gilles, in which the Doctor displays quite effective swordsmanship, the French knight is revealed to be, yes, Anthony Ainley in thick makeup, to absolutely no one’s surprise. The Master’s real revelation comes later, when the Doctor discovers the truth behind bad King John…

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Doctor Who Project: Enlightenment

They’ve hoisted their moonrakers.

Every so often, Doctor Who gets back to the essence of what makes it such a special series. It’s not the monsters or the special effects or even the main character, as appealing as those elements often are; rather, it’s the sense of wonder that only a show unmoored in time and space (and often reality) can provide. Barbara Clegg’s “Enlightenment” (Story Production Code 6H) returns Doctor Who to what it does best, juxtaposing the familiar with the outlandish, the expected with the dissonant, and the commonplace with the clever, all wrapped up in a neat four-episode package. If viewers had to suffer the conflict between the Black Guardian and White Guardian being shoehorned into the past two stories, “Enlightenment” pays off the toil with one of the strongest outings of the Fifth Doctor’s run.

Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor

Producer John Nathan-Turner teams up new series writer Barbara Clegg—the first woman to write for the series in its nearly twenty year history—with veteran series director Fiona Cumming to provide a visually fascinating and narratively complex tale of boredom, eternity, creativity, and, um, pirates in space. After the Doctor receives a garbled warning from the White Guardian, the TARDIS lands of its own accord in the hold of a vessel that is, to all appearances, an Edwardian-era racing yacht, replete with a complement of jack tars slinging period-appropriate slang. The entirety of the first episode sets up the belief that the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough have travelled back in time, a reasonable assumption for the audience to make given the show’s typical modus operandi, with the BBC’s extensive historical costume wardrobe on full display to heighten the verisimilitude.

The Fifth Doctor and Turlough barge into a room full of British sailors

Only when our heroes have been rounded up by the apparently omniscent Captain Striker (Keith Barron) and First Mate Marriner (Christopher Brown) do Clegg and Cumming begin to peel back the veil; the ship, the SS Shadow, is indeed what it seems, a period-appropriate yacht crewed by humans from the early 1900s, engaged in a race with other ships. It just so happens that the race takes place around the planets in Earth’s solar system; the competitor vessels hail from all eras of human sailing history, captained by beings who call themselves Eternals.

The Eternals' fleet, about to round Venus

It’s a delightfully clever confounding of viewer expectations, but the effort expended in selling the “reality” of the setting, to say nothing of the show’s proclivity to take the Doctor and companions into Earth’s history, provides an actual moment of frisson, a pleasing shock that makes the cliffhanger of sail-powered ships against a starry background, spinnakers at full billow, as stunning as any Dalek popping up on cue at the end of an episode. So much of Doctor Who under producer John Nathan-Turner has been dedicated to rewarding viewers who pay attention to the nuances and details; this use of the series’ coded patterns, its history as a narrative construct as opposed to its lore, to flip the proverbial script on the audience stands as a far better use of two decades of stories than any call back to a brief moment in a nearly-forgotten episode.

Captain Striker (Keith Barron) and First Mate Marriner (Christopher Brown)

There’s little danger of “Enlightenment” being forgotten, particularly given the strength of the guest cast. Barron and Brown, playing the bored Eternals Striker and Marriner, imbue their roles with a wan disinterest, the peregrinations of the Ephemerals all around them, the Doctor included, but fleeting annoyances. In truth, as the Doctor and Tegan discover, the Eternals, who exist outside of time itself, require the thoughts of those who exist within time’s flow in order to fill an emptiness of meaning in themselves. They have limitless power but no fulcrum with which to lever it into motion. The race, carried out with a scrupulous adherence to rules of authenticity, seeks to resolve that dilemma by offering the victor nothing short of enlightenment, “The wisdom which knows all things and which will enable me to achieve what I desire most,” according to Striker. It is this prize the White Guardian (Cyril Luckham, reprising the role from Season Sixteen) has warned the Doctor about, leading to the Time Lord’s attempt to stop any of the participants from gaining this goal. It seems, however, that the Doctor has met his match, not in the Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall) but in Wrack (Lynda Baron), the Eternal captain of a pirate sloop who plays her role to the hilt…

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Doctor Who Project: Terminus

Oh, is that her name?

Never let it be said that Doctor Who is afraid of tackling the big cosmological questions, like the very origin of the universe. Unfortunately, sometimes the show’s answer to that question comes in a form like Steve Gallagher’s “Terminus” (Story Production Code 6G), an overstuffed confection that aspires to great heights but, like his prior story, “Warriors’ Gate,” collapses under the weight of its unwieldy plot. Unlike most of the Fifth Doctor’s stories to date, though, “Terminus” suffers not from continuity-related meta-narratives foisted upon the tale by producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward but from the dense and tangled world building—sufficient for six or eight episodes—that Gallagher tries to cram into a mere four episodes.

The Fifth Doctor, Turlough, and Tegan gaze upon the dimensional instability

With Turlough still under the influence of the Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall), his supposed freedom at the end of “Mawdryn Undead” being but a ruse, he surreptitiously removes the “space-time element” from the TARDIS console, causing a dimensional instability that allows the outer universe to permeate the theoretically inviolable time machine. This breach centers on Nyssa’s room, and she can only escape into another spaceship that the TARDIS has sought out as a protection against such a “breakup,” a newly introduced safety feature that the Doctor insists has always been there but just hasn’t ever worked before, if only because no plot has yet required its services. The connection between the TARDIS and the other ship is itself dimensionally unstable, phasing in and out of existence, a handy means of trapping the entire TARDIS team on the other ship.

The Fifth Doctor crawls through a door connecting the TARDIS with a mysterious spaceship

The ship in question appears at first to be deserted, with the Doctor and Nyssa, after they find each other, discovering an automated control room. They soon have guests in the form of pirates, Kari (Liza Goddard) and Olivr (Dominic Guard), intent on purloining the cargo, expected to be quite valuable given that the ship hails from a wealthy sector of space. To everyone’s dismay, however, the cargo consists of individuals afflicted with the highly contagious Lazar’s Disease, the ship itself en route to a enormous sanatorium at the very center of the universe known as Terminus.

Dominic Guard and Olvir and Liza Goddard as Kari, wearing what all the best dressed pirates wear

Even at the time of airing in 1983, this cavalier use of leprosy as a plot device drew condemnation, and indeed, Olvir specifically links Lazar’s Disease to leprosy in the first episode cliffhanger when, as the patients begin shambling out of their cabins, he screams out, “We’re on a leper ship. We’re all going to die!” Scenes of the Doctor and Nyssa recoiling from their touch reinforce the negative stereotypes, with Nyssa herself becoming infected after she has cut her thumb and brushes against one of the Lazars. But not to worry, though, because despite Olvir’s insistence that Terminus is where Lazars come to die, help is at hand, with a cure on offer from a very different kind of doctor…

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Aussie Annual: ASL Journal #14 (MMP) Released

In what promises to be a banner year for Advanced Squad Leader products, Multi-Man Publishing has just released their latest installment in the ASL Journal range, ASL Journal #14. It’s a good thing that MMP long since stopped calling the ASL support periodical the Annual, as the last one, Journal #13, came out a scant five months back—and the one before it five years prior….

Detail of ASL Journal #14 title logo by Multi-Man Publishing

Subtitled the “Aussie Special Edition,” this magazine’s contents focus not just on actions conducted by troops from Australia and New Zealand but also collects articles and scenarios written by contributors from the same regions. It’s an interesting and salutary approach to the publication, which often feels like a grab-bag of whatever has come over the transom in Millersville. While I’m not typically an avid consumer of historical articles in gaming magazines, the focus on the Oceanic experience, frequently underrepresented in accounts of World War II presented through a British and American lens, comes across as an agreeable corrective to the typical fare.

Overview of ASL Journal #14 contents by Multi-Man Publishing

Articles in support of Hatten in Flames and the included Sparrow Force mini-CG, plus scenario analysis of AP161 ANZAC Boys and AP163 Dingos at Damour from the Australian-themed Action Pack #16, round out the bound magazine content, which comes in at 56 pages (including front and back covers) with a satin matte finish. The cover artwork by James Flett, Crossing Daoe River, Morotai, evocatively depicts slouch-hatted Australian soldiers crossing a river.

As ever, the stars of every issue of the ASL Journal are the scenarios, printed separately as usual on thick cardstock. Twenty-four scenarios appear in this installment, and while a good number do center on forces from Australia and New Zealand against various foes, the full gamut of participants appears on these cards, including a French vs. Italian affair at the very start of hostilities between those two adversaries and five actions set after D-Day pitting American and Canadian forces against German troops. Of note, there are very few scenario cards with much in the way of armor support, the late war scenarios seeing the bulk of the actions that will require digging into Chapter D.

Scenario Details from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

As for the scenarios featuring troops from Australia and New Zealand, many of the actions focus on battles against Japanese forces in the Pacific theater—which certainly explains the relative lack of armor-heavy scenarios—and several take fresh looks at the fighting over Crete against German paratroopers.

Article detail from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

Three of the scenarios, all by Andy Rogers, form the basis for the included mini-CG, Sparrow Force, set in late February 1942 on West Timor. The Australians of 2/40th Battalion, part of the Sparrow Force of Australian and Dutch troops, attempt to hold against elements of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Force tasked with taking the island. Rather than a traditional campaign game structure, the scenarios are designed to be played chronologically, with an interesting in-scenario force purchase system and a highly modified Refit phase between the scenarios. (In effect, VPs carry over, and wrecks/fortifications remain on map, but otherwise the map is cleared after each scenario.) The scenarios can also be played independently as stand-alone actions.

Detail of Sparrow Force Campaign Game Rules from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

Two rules pages, with American-standard hole-punches and, most notably, a 22.25″ x 32″ map on glossy paper accompany the Sparrow Force mini-CG. The map comes with slightly over-sized hexes, measuring roughly 1″ across, hexside-to-hexside, as opposed to the standard .75″ width. At 26 hexes wide by 30 hexes long, it’s a reasonable solution to a map that would be awkwardly sized at the smaller dimensions, just in terms of folding, and should fit most gaming tables (and plexiglass) with no fuss. It’s good to see MMP’s willingness to tinker with sizing like this in service of a good product, especially since historical maps do not need to match up with existing maps at the usual standard size.

Scenario Details from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

As ever, ownership of pretty much the entire Advanced Squad Leader system is required for play of all of the scenarios in Journal #14, mostly due to the maps and overlays used by the scenarios, quite a few of which draw on maps released outside the core modules.

Those ASL players looking for an East Front armor fix might be disappointed in the offerings here, but there’s more than plenty of product out there to fill that need. Players interested in the breadth and depth of experiences across the entirety of the Second World War will find much to appreciate here, and the bespoke attention paid to the Australian and New Zealand effort in particular makes ASL Journal #14 an eminently worthwhile purchase.