Thursday 25 April 2024


 I stumbled, addled, into my local semi-rural game store in search of off-brand Contrast paint to finish up Ionus Cryptborn, and while wandering around, I saw the strangest thing;

A single box, in the spot where the newly-arrived, single-type or just oddly specific boxes are set, guarding the door like a cyclops.

Unless you know about game stores, even quite well-supplied ones, you won't have a clear idea of just how singular and unlike anything else there this was.

Wargames are usually either Historical, part of some well known Paracosm like Star Wars, Marvel or 40k, generic genre entries, (i.e. Chthulu-like or Western-like), or one of a few Paracosm not well known outside wargames but reasonably so within; Malifaux, Warmachine/Hordes, etc.

I am pretty well up on my wargames and I had absolutely no idea what this was. What’s a 'Quar'? Why are they at war? Why are they using 'Rhyfles'? This looks like decade-long Fantasy Heartbreaker paracosm created by some guy in a basement where they eventually find it as they clear out his house after death and he becomes a Local Legend and gets a small Wikipedia page.

And that nearly is what this is, except Joshua Qualtieri isn't dead and has been running a small Quar-based business in America for quite some time, selling Quar he cast with the spinny bits of a washing machine he took apart a while ago, and working hard to make Quar, his childhood Anteater Ralph Bashki/Jim Henson WW1.5 dieselpunk peudo-european paracosm pals, a thing, using every medium he can get his hands on;

There was, and may still be, a Quar-based VR Real Time Strategy game…

I have no idea if this went anywhere.

And now Atlantic Wargames have produced a plastic injection moulded Quar Wars boxed set strategy game. From what I can tell, Atlantic focused largely on Historical wargames. More recently they have begun producing some pretty-good generic fantasy sets like mythic skeletons and goblin hordes, and a range of dark-future Sci-Fi sets for their skirmish game 'Death Fields'. A standard route for a wargames company in the U.K. is to semi-parasitize off Games Workshop by producing stuff that is nominally different but in-effect can be used for GW games. Its a soft route to a kind of medium success with some strong limitations.

But now cometh.. the Quar! A boxed set with an Indie vibe that might remind some of you of early OSR books.

The box has cartoon standee scenery printed into its base, so you can cut it out and play with it.

And hidden revolutionary and royalist slogans in the folds.

And the initiative cards are this custom print of perhaps-grieving tender leaves.

What are Quar?

Cute, slightly muppet-looking Anteater-people living on the continent of Alwyd, (which *might* be on the other side of the globe from the place where Ralph Bashkis 'Wizards' is set?).

They have a roughly 1910'/1920's level of technology, a bunch of nations and have been locked in various forms of war for a long time.

So like, Jim Henson Anteaters plus post-Westphalia Europe?

The Quar are very cute and they fight in very sad wars. They look like muppets or 70s animation but use guns with specifically worked out calibres and individual design ethos' for each different nation and group.

They have specifically sculpted Baguette bags, that is tiny 28mm knapsacks with tiny French style baguettes sticking out of them that you can glue onto your tiny Quar so they don't need to enter a rhyfle skirmish without their lunch, and they exist in an exhaustively worked-out paracosm with highly-complex and interrelated Great-Power style international and intranational relations.

Quar look like they were drawn by a child, (because they were; Joshua Qualteri, age = small), and a key plot point might be, for instance, a royalist kingdom bankrupted by war taking out huge loans from a semi-independent city state to keep its economy afloat but thereby being drawn into colonial adventures that provoke a classic "war on two fronts".

Also they write sad letters to their families about the nature of industrial warfare. The letters are in the rulebooks;

Is this an extremely crunchy war simulation or more of a Vibes game?


The two factions in the starter box have distinct Squad formations and loadouts based on their available and preferred technology. The Royalist and traditionalist Coftryans have squads broken down into larger groups, soldiers armed with accurate long range repeating rhyfles with a single LMG per squad. (These are also the guys with the Baguette bags). The more 'modern' radical Crusader faction are broken down into three man teams, each with two short range assault rhyfles backed up with a single larger Heavy Rhyfle.

Very clearly, if you are the kind of person who wants to min/max a squad or army, then you are fucking basic and are not welcome here. You will arrange your Coftryan forces in a manner typical for their standard organisation because that is what Coftryans would do. Its all there, in the very extensive lore. Their baguette bags are hand-sewn because they are a deeply traditionalist faction who believe in the Old Quar ways. I mean if you are fucking with the squad formation why are you playing Coftryans in the first place? Or even playing 'This Quars War'?

So, really, this is actually an historical wargame, just for a history of another world that not that many people actually know.

Who is this for?

I have no idea who 'This Quars War' is for. Well, me obviously. But how many of 'me' are there? I only know of one.

The unique tonality of this light, gentle sad and whimsical species from a magic world (with no magic or fantastic elements at all), and this very very deep pseudohistorical lore and quite crunchy somewhat odd ruleset, which has a lot of depth, simulation and quirks, but is very obviously set up to be a granular simulation roleplay competition between friends rather than the the kind of crunchy explicit wargame to be played between near strangers with no particular context to the battle where the crunch goes to removing any possible source of disagreement or misinterpretation.

I mean, there are people who might want to roleplay cute anteater people, and people who might want to roleplay the cute anteater people in a very too-real horrors of industrial warfare situation. These are your Hippies.

And there are people who might want a very crunchy but also pretty open wargame you can play at 28mm, 15mm or 6mm with a general simulation of battlefield tactics and perhaps might want to re-fight the historic 'Battle for Gate 13' during the Crusader/Coftryr conflict of 1781, (if that were a real thing that actually happened in real life). These are your Grogs.

And there are people who might really like diving into an extremely deep and specific Paracosm set in an alternate world with an alternate featherless biped doing complex international relations, cultural change, revolutionary war and industry, just for the pleasure of the details. These are your Patricks.

This is a very nutty, particular and original thing and if you didn't already know about it and are finding out here you probably already have a good idea if this is the kind of thing you are into.

A bunch of the PDF's are free on the website here and the 28mm hard plastic boxed set is available online in a bunch of places.

(I did not get paid for this and I do not take money for recommending this stuff. I am forwarding it in this case because I sense a distant kindred spirit and I feel like someone need to be the person to tell you about this stuff and today that person is me. Also me writing this makes that boxed set a business expense.)

Here is a longish interview with Joshua Qualteri;

Quar will either be the hot new thing or the utterly strange and forgotten old thing that you can dig out and show to the grandkids and explain how you knew about it long ago in the before times.

Monday 15 April 2024

A Review of 'A Tale of Bali' by Vicky Baum

really liked this book but the five stars I give it are based on my experience, and that is influenced strongly by my recent reading of 'The Theatre State' by Geertz', which I found interesting but deeply frustrating. 

 What Geertz failed to Analyse, Baum describes. 

 I imagine that one of the main aims for this book was building enough of a complex emotional, moral, spiritual and social world that when reaching the final part of the book, the great massacre, in which the radja of Badoeng leads a huge crowd of his people directly onto massed Dutch guns in a great ritual suicide, the reader could both see and intuit both why so many people would be willing to commit frentic mass suicide for a dream, and why they might not do so. 

To do that she must build an image of the social and spiritual life of Bali in a few hundred pages, which I think she does pretty well.

Where do I even begin? Bali is full of flowers, trees, wildlife, people, farm animals, its just full. The place is packed. There is nowhere to go where you are not dealing with some complex arrangement of living things. True in many places perhaps but it seems in Bali you feel it more. Someone could probably write an essay on just the use of flowers in, this book alone. 

The farmer, Pak has a bunch of Hibiscus flowers. Its pretty common for men in a certain mood to place an Hibiscus flower behind one ear. Pak is having an affair with the daughter of a local landowner and so is mainlining those flowers, meaning the hibiscus bush in his own compound is laid bare. This is something everyone can see and tells them something particular about Pak, even if they don’t know about the affair. 

This combination of beauty, cultural ritual & signalling, flora & fauna, plus a dude being horny, is perhaps emblematic of the small rituals, behaviours and interactions with life that form almost a substrate, or a half-tongue of this book and the culture it is trying to talk about. Bali, at least in comparison to the temperate north west Europe where I live, feels like a kind of jewel box of life, or a bulging treasure chest of ecosocality.  There are few walls, no, there are many walls, but few completely enclosed spaces. People seem to do much of their living in these part-open shelters within walled compounds but within the compound, though everyone and everything has their and its own place, everything wanders. 

Privacy and secrecy in Bali seem to be almost more social modes than actual hard states, for everything that is not meant to be seen, someone sees it, so the matter is really about whether people will communicate about it, pass on the information. There are trees, forests, shrines, everywhere, as there are people everywhere. So anything can be hidden a little and nothing can be well hidden. 


"Beyond the western courtyards, where most of the slaves lived and kept their poultry and pigs, rose a wall, and beyond this wall the stir and noise of the puri suddenly ceased. It bounded a ruinous part of it where no one lived and no one ever went. Creepers and shrubs had overgrown the tumble-down buildings and dragged them to the ground in their embrace. The chief building of this forgotten courtyard was surrounded by a ditch, but the bridge had given way and sunk into the water. The demons who guarded the entrance were nothing now but moss-covered blocks of stone. Wild bees made their homes in the trees and huge butterflies hovered undisturbed above the flowers. Mosquitoes hung in dense clouds over the stagnant water and the smell of decay mingled with the penetrating scent of salicanta flowers.” 


Raka - the Chad; 

"But after a while his attention wandered and he looked again at Raka, whom he found particularly pleasing. A black head-dress whose edges had a pattern in gold was wound about his glossy hair; he wore a kain of dark wine-red in which a silver thread gleamed here and there, and a lion-cloth of brown silk encircled his remarkably slender hips and reached to his chest. He was not adorned with hibiscus flowers as the lord and most of the other men were; instead he had a single orchid in the middle of his forehead, which by its shape and the way it crept out beneath his head-dress suggested an animal rather than a flower. This scorpion-like orchid was indefinably in keeping with Raka's fine, arched nostrils and oblique eyes and long eye-lashes. The sensuous outline of his lips made him seem to be always smiling in a half-mocking mysterious way." 


Raka in ‘Tale’ is the emblematic example of beloved Balinese manhood. I would say he is the ‘Chad’ of the community, the star football player, the vector of everyone’s hopes and desires. The very beautiful, very charming, expert dancer beloved by all and welcome anywhere. In some ways Raka is what it’s like to be “truly Balinese”, in the same way that being Taylor Swift is what it’s like to be “truly American”. He gives us a view, not from the very top of its hierarchies, but from the very centre of its culture. He is the man who the culture has made and who it is made for. A magnificent man happy to play a magnificent role, a hand within a glove, (until things go wrong in the latter parts of the book).

Alit - the mid Radja 

(too many books and opium) 

"There was only one place on this morning of noise and excitement where silence reigned, and that was the house of the old lord of Pametjutan. The old man had passed the night in great pain and now lay exhausted on his couch, propped up with many kapok cushions at his back. The two balains of Badoeng and Taman Sari has been in attendance. They had massaged him and given him narcotics and now the prince felt easier. He pulled at his opium pipe and his head grew clearer and threw off the fevered haze of the night. Alit, the young lord, his nephew, whom he had adopted, squatted beside him and his usually limp face had a remarkable expression of concentration, of exertion, of perhaps preoccupation. He, too, was smoking opium to clear his head for the hard thinking this critical hour required. Unconsciously he let his fingers run up and down the vertebrae of Oka's spine. The boy crouched at his feet and his warm smooth skin had a warming effect on his master. 

"We are agreed then, father,' Alit said, 'we cannot submit to the shameless demands of the Dutch. They are only seeking an excuse to humble us. If we give way to them this time, they will find some new reason for oppressing us. They are proud , although they have no caste, and they have no manners. They do not seem to understand with whom they are dealing. Because a few lords have turned renegades and traitors they think they can cow us all. They will see that they are deceived about Badoeng." 

The old lord looked at the younger one before he spoke. 

"I am old and tired and sickness has made the fighting blood in me slothful and often clouds my thoughts. But you are young and you must oppose your heart and your forehead to the white men. I have watched you grow up and I was not sure that you would hold to the way of our fathers. Sometimes you seemed to me to think more as a Hrahman than as a Ksatira. I am glad that you would have not forgotten your kris for your books." 

 "I have discoursed' Alit replied, ' in long prayers with our forefathers. My friend, the pendata of Taman Sari, has spent many days and nights with me and helped me to find the way. The old books, my father, are as string as the kris, and even stronger when they are understood rightly. I have learnt one thing from them - that I am nothing. I, Alit, the lord of Badoeng. I am only a link in the chain, one single bamboo pole in the whole bridge. I must hand on what I have received from my mighty forefathers. I am not free and it is not permitted to me to act by my own choice. I cannot give away or throw away or sell my inheritance and I must stand firm there where my birth has set me. That is what I have read in the books." 


Alit, the friend, lets say, very close friend of Raka, and by his descent and culture, literal lord of all, or most, he surveys. A somewhat physically unprepossessing man, like most Balinese aristocracy of the time, doing waaaaaaaay too much opium, and facing the incursions and slowly tightening claims of the Dutch, and of the outside world generally. 

 Alit does occupy the top of the hierarchy, and while not a perfect expression of his cultures higher qualities like Raka, he knows a lot more about it. (All that time spent with the Palm Leaf texts). He knows the dream of his culture, the background invisible part of any society that its hard to intuit without living in it for a good long time, and maybe without being born in it. 

He is not just an aristocrat, in the same way that, in Tuchmans ‘A Distant Mirror’ the Sire de Coucy was not just a soldier, or even just a knight, and like Alit, at the end of his book, de Coucy commits something that looks a lot like ritual suicide by-foe, for equally deep and obscure reasons of honour and selfhood. 

 A lot of this relates to the Indic tradition still present in Bali. Alits sense of himself of simply fulfilling a role in an inevitable process which will result in him entering heaven would make sense to Arjuna being advised by Krishna in his chariot, just as the general three-part structure of Balinese society would make sense to the steppe invaders of India, who, by a very long chain of circumstance, also gave Europe the same three-part society, and perhaps germinated de Coucy’s final doom-and-honour death charge, a long way away and many years separate from Alit. 

Pak – the everyman 

Pak is probably the most interesting, frustrating character in the book. An image of the Balinese everyman. He is kind of slightly stupid but at least knows that he is. He is hard working, loves his fields, is trying to save up enough to have his mothers bones cremated, has lost sexual interest in his (probably more intelligent) wife Pluglug, has vague dreams of somehow becoming more, and is sexually obsessed with the daughter of one of his landowners. 

A not-that-good, but not very bad man who loves his family, generally, plays his part in the gamelan orchestra (always being sent here and there), the rice hydraulic cult, the village meetings, as a somewhat competent household leader, a son, a father, a slightly crap husband, the guy dreaming and doing most of the heavy plough work, (always kind to his cow, it’s a tragedy when she gets sick and dies). 

A man, in Balinese terms, who could go from the borders of poverty to the borders of low wealth in the course of a year, and does. If there is one thing Pak can do relatively well, its work, (and play his role in a crazed plethora of community organisations and cults), and he does a lot of work; 

Paks new house; 

"'I am employed in building the house for a second wife and her house has to be a finer one than my main house,' he said in one breath, for he had thought out this piece of eloquence beforehand. He could not possibly have hit on a better way of informing Wajan of his designs on Sarna and respecting the proprieties at the same time. 

'I heard something about it.' The old man remarked. "I wish you joy and peace in your house.' 

'I have been looking round for trees for the timbers of my new house. Nobody has such fine ones as you and I wanted to ask whether you would sell me six durian trees and four palm trees from your northern plantation. 

'Why not?' Wajan said. He would reckon the price and perhaps he would let him have them, although he had really intended them for fruit. Pak in his reply again laid stress on his desire to build a fine house, and repeated that Wajan's trees would suit him better than any in the village. But when Wajan asked for six hundred kepengs a tree, Paks heart sank and he gasped for air. he could not pay this price, and yet he did not wish to appear a poor man in the eyes of his future father-in-law. 

He offered to pay half down and to work for the rest in Wajans sawahs. 

When at last the deal was concluded, Wajan sent his youngest son up a palm tree and offered Pak the milk of a young coco-nut as an honoured guest and Pak walked home on air, swollen with pride and satisfaction. 

Next day he went with his axe, accompanied by several of his friends, to fell the first four palms. he did as his father had taught him. He embraced the trunk of each palm. 'Palm tree, my mother,' he said, 'I must fell you not because I wish to kill you, but because I need posts for my house. Forgive me, dear palm, and allow me to cleave your trunk with my axe." 

And when they felled the trees and their crowns sank to earth with a loud rustling, Pak felt the strength of ten men in him, for he caught sight of Sarna hiding in the plantation watching him work; and nothing makes a man so happy as when the right woman admires him as he works. 

While the trees were left to dry, he went out to cut bamboo stems for the roof, and he was fortunate in having a bamboo thicket on the edge of his sawahs; so he did not have to buy them. The bamboos grew cool and tall, shading the stream that ran beneath them, and Pak had good weather for cutting them and shortening them to the right length. He also mowed alang-alang grass for the thatch; it grew tall in his uncles pasture, almost up to his chest. It hissed and whispered as it fell to his sickle and lay in swathes and was dry in two days and ready to be tied in bundles. 

He spoke to Krkek, who sent him men to help him build the roof, and he paid them with rice from his well-filled barns. ...... For now he had the walls to finish and the door to fix, besides working in Wajans sawahs to pay for the trees. 

He also spent a lot of time cock-fighting, for he felt happy and successful and could bet with a good courage. His white cock did, in fact, win three time, and in this way Pak procured seven hundred of the three thousand kepangs he owed Wajan. 

And he went to the beach collecting coral, which contained a lot of chalk, and carried it in baskets to the lime-kiln in Sanoer and gave the lime-burner six ripe coco-nuts for burning him beautiful white lime to wash the walls of his house with. 

Also he took his copra to the Chinese, Njo Tok Suey, and got two thousand two hundred kepangs for it. It was a poor price, but it helped towards the expenses that still lay before him." 


The Srawah

Pak has a great  fighting bird of near magical potency and through this we see the dreams of his small soul burn. The whole chapter about Paks fighting cock and how much it means to him is magnificent. People who do not get the cock chapter cannot be my homie; 


"He scarcely knew himself afterwards how it happened. he had arrogantly refused various matches, which for one reason or another did not appeal to him, and then when the keeper of the lord's cocks held the red one out to him he did not dare say no. 

He looked at the Srawah and he saw that he wanted to fight the red one and conquer him. 

Terror and courage laid hold on him at once. And he accepted combat. 

It was the same red cock that had killed the punggawa's white one, before whom Pak had beaten a retreat that day. he had been jeered at and mocked. His cock was a good one - as good as any lords cock. He took on the match and won. 

Pak never forgot his excitement as the clamour broke out behind him and the men jumped to their feet and the bets got bigger and it dawned on him that this was the match of the day. When he released his cock for its battle with the lord's his arteries were so full of throbbing blood that he felt as if his chest would burst. 

He staked twenty-five ringits himself - a fortune. Thousands of ringits were laid against his cock, money enough to buy a whole kingdom. There stood his Srawh, white with his black down-feathers and he himself was but a man of low caste. many of the lords of Bali with all their households betted against him- but the smith had put a hundred ringits on the Srawah. 

When the fight began and the clamour ceased on the instant, Pak felt that his heart had stopped, to beat no more. There were five rounds in the fight, for neither cock could wound the other. Five times the coco-nut shell sank and five times the gong went for the next round. Five times Pak carried his cock into the corner, talked to him, bathed him, breathed his strength into him, encouraged and implored him to fight, to conquer, not to leave him in the lurch. The ring was strewn with feathers white and red. Some of the lords jumped down from their platform and crouched on the ground to get a better view. The lord of Badoeng crouched beside Pak, the peasant, and shouted for excitement. Pak could hear himself shouting too. 

In the sixth round the Srawah killed the red cock. Pak was bathed in sweat when he bore his cock away. He had to be careful not to drop the ringits he had won. He nearly cut himself as he untied the spurs, his hands shook so. His cocks heart beat so violently that he feared he might after all collapse and die of a burst heart, merely from the excitement of the fight and his victory. 

My cock has beaten the raja's, he told himself. My cock has beaten the radja's, my cock has beaten the radja's. He bought him a rice cake and sat down beside his basket on the grass. My cock has beaten the radja's."


The End

But in the end, what happens? 

‘A fine cock, the anak Agung said. He bent down and lifted the bird from the grass with his own hands, ran his fingers through his plumage and felt his weight. The cock crowed, flapped his wings and struggled. The anak Agung held his feet and counted the rings on his middle claw. “A genuine Srawah,” he said with awe. 

Pak nodded. “I have been offered a hundred ringits for him,” he said. It was more than he could do to keep it in. 

“The lord has taken a fancy to your cock. He does you the honour to accept him,” the anak Agung Bima said. 

He beckoned to a man and gave him the bird to take away. Pak was left with the empty basket by the side of the road. His gullet was bitter as on the day when the eyes of his brother Meru were put out.’ 


As well as taking his Srawah by right, the radja had also ritually blinded Paks brother, a sculptor, who can now no longer sculpt or help much in the fields. 

This was for probably having an affair with one of the Radjas wives, though the stated reason was for ‘looking’ too covetously upon her. Obviously Alit had to do this because he has to defend his honour and if he lets some guy sleep with one of his wives then his honour, and authority, and role, and the stability it brings, is lessened. 

Alit isn’t that interested in most of his wives, he was busy with Raka during the wedding and so had them marry his kris knife instead, which was ritually the same thing. 


As the Dutch claims close in, Alit conclusively decides to defy them, not to pay any fine, though several groups offer to help or to pay for him, and to resist with force, which leads to the great ending, where everyone is summoned first to fight for the Radja, then, (the second summoning is explicitly optional), to die with him in a Glorious Sacrifice. 

‘”A rumour has come to me on the wind that the punggawa is a friend to the Dutch and is in their pay as the gusti Njoman is. Perhaps he is a traitor as the other is. Who has told you that his advice was is right?” the old man asked obstinately. 

Pak folded his hands and replied; “The radja put out the eyes of my brother, your son. He has taken my best cock from me. I will not fight for the radja.” 

“We are all the lord’s servants,” the old man replied. “My father served him and I, too, and you. The sawahs whence our rice comes belong to the radja. We belong to the radja. When he sends out the holy kris to summon us, we must go.” 

 When the old man had said this he spat out his betel-juice and looked straight in front of him. An oppressive silence weighed on the rest. The cocks crowed from the back of the yard. The women in the kitchen had never kept so quiet. The old man got up and crossed the yard and disappeared behind the rice barn. After a while they saw him coming back again; he had a lance in his hand and his kris in his girdle. He stopped in front of his three sons and looked at them all in turn. Meru raised his face to his father, for he could feel his eyes resting on his head. 

Pak folded his hands and asked in the ceremonious style used to a superior: “Whither does my father mean to go?” 

“To join the radja’s warriors,” the old man answered. “Peace rest with you.” 

They bowed themselves with hands clasped and looked after him as he left the yard by the narrow gate. Pak felt as desolate as he used to feel when a child if darkness overtook him out in the pastures with the buffaloes.” 


Honestly I’m with Pak on this one. He is a man of no caste and the entire caste system is based on people fulfilling their role. He has been told his whole life that his role is farming and that he absolutely is not allowed the privileges of a fighting caste, then he is told to fight, and not just to fight but to fight with no hope of success in what is at least in part an obscure matter of honour for his lord. 

He has a shitload of dependants to take care of; mid guy that he is, he is still the core economic engine and main legal and cultural protection for all of them. 

If he goes off to die then who is going to look after his blind brother and two wives, and children, and who will plough the sawas? Even without resentment he has a pretty good argument for not getting himself killed. 

 Though of course it was resentment that broke the deadlock in this instance; THEY TOOK HIS SRAWAH, (and also blinded his brother).