Commander: The Great War, reviewed

Commander The Great War
Publisher: Slitherine Ltd
Available on PC, Mac  and Ipad
Itunes Link SRP as of review: $19.99

I’ve been meaning to get to this review sooner rather than later, but this is no light historically-flavored game, like my previous two Slitherine reviews (Quadriga and Frontline: Road to Moscow).  Commander The Great War  (CTGW hereafter) is designed for serious wargamers who are in it for the long game– and willing to pay a serious price for the privilege.   Yes, that’s right, CTGW is not going to be a cheap purchase, it’s 20.00 as of this writing.  Is it worth the high end price tag? Right up front I’ll say yes, it is, with a few caveats that I will expand upon.

SCOPE: Commander the Great War is a grand strategy scaled game. Players assume the role of supreme leader of a nation or coalition of nations on either the Entente Cordiale or Triple Entente sides of the Great War (meaning World War One in this instance). In pursuit of this role, the player will be making strategic decisions for the individual nations on his or her side, including army movements and attacks, naval movements (and resulting battles) as well as research and development of new military technologies.

Game Start and setup– with some nice multimedia bits

If I were to draw an analogy to a boardgame, CTGW relates to Advanced Third Reich and/or World in Flames the most, in that the player has to operate on the same grand strategic scale in a major theater of war, and there’s a similar diplomatic and research element to those games. Yeah, I know, World War Two. I just don’t know of any that fill the same niche set in the First World War era– certainly not Guns of August. In terms of computer games, Matrix Games’ own Guns of August (PC version) is roughly similar in scope, but not mechanics. To End all Wars (also published by Slitherine) looks similar in scope but is mechanically very different (being developed by Aegeon), but I have no experience with it.

The setting for Commander the Great War is vast; playing out on a hex map of Europe from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula up to the North Sea, East to the Ural mountains, West to the Atlantic and French coast. That is a lot of hexes and a lot of ground to cover, especially in the grand campaign games after 1916, when so many fronts are opened up. This can get a little confusing on the Ipad, as one furiously swipes across the map to see what the enemy units are doing during his opponent’s turn.

There are five preset Campaigns:

  • 1914 The Great War
  • 1915 Ypres – Artois
  • 1916 The Battle of Verdun
  • 1917 The Nivelle Offensive
  • 1918 The Kaiserschlacht

Echoing the course of the Great War, the Triple Entente (Germany, Austria, Turkey) are favored in the first two scenarios and somewhat in 1916. In game terms, 1917 and 1918 become a real challenge for the Triple Entente player as more and more military technologies are present at start of the game (tanks, better airplanes, better artillery, armored trains, better ships, and etc).

I’m playing Serbia in the 1914 campaign versus the AI. Serbia is a thankless role, but the whole shooting match starts here and it’s worth a shot as the Entente Cordiale player. I do have the advantage of interior lines, and a ponderous response from the Austrians, but numbers eventually tell.

No matter which you select, don’t expect to be done with any grand campaign quickly. The AI is slow to make decisions (More on this later) and progress is very incremental.

Here are my vacation snaps from the invasion of the Low Countries (also the 1914 scenario). No grand Schlieffen Plan here; it’s more like a bulge forming in the Allied line as the Germans pour in after limited local success. This pattern repeats throughout the game– It’s ALL about finding a spot to break through and exploit– it’s a real gamble, and broad front assaults are almost impossible

There doesn’t appear to be any instructions or help file anywhere, but most of the action happens in a few screens and are very easy to figure out.    Mechanically, moving land troops is just dragging them from hex to hex and clicking on highlighted squares when the moving unit is adjacent to  enemy units.   Terrain and Zones of Control factor into movement and combat in a very general way, in that you will move faster on a railroad and be held up by terrain features, or not be able to pass an enemy formation.

Example of moving Serbian movements into the abattoir.

The mechanics aren’t the interesting part of the game, not so much. It’s the decisions you make per turn that will change the game one way or the other for the player. Those decisions are made using a simple five tabbed menu:

How to fight a war, emphasis mine!

The management menus lead to production, research, diplomacy and management sub-menus.  This is the point where I remind you of your role– you may want to fight those tactical battles, they’re fun and very visually rewarding.   However, you’re in it for the long haul here, and you are making decisions about what you’ll be doing not just this year, but the next two years.  So you need to start making the hard decisions early.. do I spend a lot of money on researching better weapons and hope I’m just lucky and don’t need a lot of infantry replacements?  Or do I feed more men into the meat grinder I’m dealing with right now?

The Diplomacy screen is rather innocuous, I haven’t seen much come as a result of using it.  Players need to focus on Production and Research decisions exclusively– resources are what they are– very precious.  You have what you have and you must spend them wisely to be effective.

Serbia’s rather bleak production options in 1914.

What can Serbia research this early in the war? Well, I’d choose barbed wire…

When you play a side, depending on the campaign you’re playing, you are playing multiple fronts and multiple nations, with multiple national priorities. The Serbian/Austrian front at the start of the war is pretty much a doomed confrontation, so the Serbians need to do what they can do to stall the Triple Entente until the other powers can get engaged. So that “Cheap Infantry now versus expensive Tanks later” equation doesn’t really work there, but it will for, say, Germany or England. You also have to consider what the major front you are working on needs– not just now, but in three turns. For instance, Russia could use those cheap cavalry units. Sure, they are crap troops– but they are great for moving vast distances without railroads fairly quickly, and can cut off troops nicely. The Germans will be tempted to spend it on better airplanes and artillery to force a result on the Western Front. The English may be the best power on Water but that superiority doesn’t necessarily last forever– and what about buying transports and more infantry, you know, to help those Allies out somewhere?

And this is where you get feedback from your decisions, each turn. What will be next in the production queue, what is coming up in the research queue..

There are a lot of variables in CTGW, and a lot to experiment with– just don’t expect a quick payoff. As I’ve already mentioned, this is a long game, and you NEED to be in it for the long game. Don’t bother if you want a quickly resolving tactical battle game like Frontline. That’s not the focus of Commander Great War. Even success creates tough situations– combat is often very bloody for both sides– when you lose most of your attacking force in a victory, what then? What happens next year when the other side comes roaring back in a counterattack? I certainly hope you planned for reinforcements!

What does all this mean? You have to plan ahead in almost every turn. In this respect, the game really generates interesting, and often historically flavored results. The game really does feel like World War One– there’s no way a broad front strategy works– The Western Front ends up a pushing match, the Eastern Front has great scope for movement. The best results for the Western Front is to exploit a salient and push through in localized areas. That often is such a grinder that the Entente player really IS tempted to explore other fronts like Turkey.

The technological developments really enhance that feeling. Germany is tempted to use its finite surface fleet early– but things really change for them when U-boats come into play.

If I sound enthusiastic, I am– however there are a few drawbacks to this game– it’s slow, which is why I found it harder to review, than, say, the last 2 Slitherine games I’ve bought. I find that the AI is very capable, but is facing so many decisions that it does bog down somewhat after about four turns. Before the last update, the AI was consistently freezing right about turn 4. That seems to be fixed. It’s still not greased lightning but remember, this isn’t an arcade game. Each turn will require a lot of actions on the player’s part, expect that to be the case for the AI as well. The other element that I find a drawback to total enjoyment is the lack of transparency. I often was stumped about units appearing out of the “Fog of War fog” that is on the edges of the map.. sometimes I was asking myself how the heck that unit got THERE.. teleporting? I also would like to know what the AI player’s decisions were in the proceeding turn. I know it’s historically appropriate for the human side to NOT know this, but it would help understand the mechanics, which certainly aren’t explained.

Summary: Commander Great War is like a sipping whiskey; drink it too fast and you’ll choke. CTGW is far too complex of a brew to be swallowed whole on first sip. You’ll have to be patient, take it in gradually. This game will reward patience and foresight, but not an arcade player. Commander The Great War is a game of elegance and simplicity, and it will reward a player with a strategic mindset. Is it worth 20 bucks? That’s up to you. I think there’s a LOT of game in that 20 dollars, and a real wargaming fan will consider his money well spent. Replay value is excellent.

My Boarding Pass to Mars, courtesy of Orion

NASA recently offered up some grass roots participation to the public, in that they will send the names of people who apply to Mars on a small, dime sized microchip.

You can read the full details here

Very likely I’ll never get to go to the actual planet.. much as I’d like to. So here, vicariously, I will send some part of me to another planet. Maybe. The verbiage makes it sound as if they are being selective about who gets included. As silly as this is, it feels great to try. :-D

My boarding pass to Mars.

My boarding pass to Mars.

Guidebook for FALL IN! 2014.. available

This is just a quick note to inform everyone that the GUIDEBOOK app for FALL-IN! 2014 is up and running (and has been). The events are accurate as of the published PEL listing. I will add more before the convention.

Welcome to FALL IN!  There's an app for that.

Welcome to FALL IN! There’s an app for that.

I’m also waiting for (patiently) TOURNAMENT LISTINGS from Scott Holder, the DEALER ROOM MAP and VENDOR LIST from the vendor coordinator, and the ROOM LAYOUT MAPS from Dan Murawski. These will be there for the convention. Don’t stress it quite yet. New Things: Well, you probably know about Guidebook Messages which were of limited utility at the last con (though it’s a good way of broadcasting a message to every attendee who has guidebook). I’ve added a new track called “Demo Games” which is yellow, and it will display along with a red “Games” track. So, red=Games (as usual), red/yellow=demo games, blue=tournaments, green for hobby university events. I’ve also added a track for Kid-Friendly games to make them easier to find.

the red marks indicate a purple SEMINAR event and a red/yellow DEMO event.

Get the guide the same way you get it every year.. visit the FALL IN 2014 guidebook landing page. If you have guidebook, just search for guides, and select FALL IN 2014. If you need the app itself, go to Google Play, Itunes App Store or run it in your browser. THEN search for FALL IN and install this year’s app.

Front Page (on an Ipad AIr) for the Guidebook for Fall IN 2014

If you have questions or problems, get in touch with me via email. See you at FALL IN!

Games with a KID-FRIENDLY banner have some mention in their description that children are allowed or encouraged. This usually means WITH A SUPERVISING ADULT.  A game is not a babysitting service.

Games with a KID-FRIENDLY banner have some mention in their description that children are allowed or encouraged. This usually means WITH A SUPERVISING ADULT. A game is not a babysitting service.

This banner means the game is a DEMONSTRATION GAME of a commercial game or ruleset.

This banner means the game is a DEMONSTRATION GAME of a commercial game or ruleset.

Note that the schedule will have some of these events in multiple tracks.. an event could certainly be a demo, kid-friendly and a game.


Guidebook App QR Code
This code will direct your users to the Guidebook app listing in the App Store (for iOS devices) or the Play Store (for Androids). If your user has a Blackberry or Windows phone, it will take them directly to our mobile web version of guidebook app at Once users have downloaded Guidebook App or are within the mobile website, they can search for your guide to download or view it.

This code is specific for THE FALL-IN! Guide. Users who scan this code using the scanner *in the Guidebook App* will begin downloading your guide. Once the guide has been successfully downloaded the guide will be opened. If you use this option, searching for the guide isn’t required.

How to make Cards (the CheapAss way!)

James Ernest, aka Mr. Cheapass, illustrates how to create some simple card decks in this video.  Now I’ve heard of and tried these methods before, but did not know some of the intricacies of the materials and methods that he brings up– particularly the weight of card stock and how to use a corner rounder.  Very interesting information–  I’ve subscribed to the CheapAss YouTube channel.

Thanks, James Ernest, this was really useful to me. I make and use cards all the time.

The FLUXX theme song

It certainly isn’t every day a game gets its own theme song. As far as I know, even Chess, Checkers, Monopoly and Parcheesi don’t have theme songs. Yet FLUXX, the little nomic style card game from Looney Labs, does! Apparently the “Doubleclicks” play the game a lot and were inspired to create this song out of the blue. What fun!

I need to break out my bull fiddle and start composing the theme song to Advanced Third Reich. Yeah, that’s the ticket! I see a new trend here!

More details on the the Wunderland blog.

Digital Rule Project: Limeys and Slimeys EPUB

Ships firing in an L&S game. Original 15mm resin hulls

Limeys and Slimeys is a rule set for miniature warfare set in the Age of Sail (Napoleonic/Revolutionary War) period. I don’t think anyone who has played a game of Limeys and Slimeys will complain about horrifically complex the rules are– the original version was printed on 3 very small pages, and seemed so simple at first glance that one might wonder what the attraction was.  The rules came as an insert with the Limey and Slimey kits.. usually a resin hull (or two) plus a ton of 15mm unpainted Minifigs as standins for the crew figures.   Obviously the rules were there to sell the kits*…

And yet, there’s a LOT of game in those 3 pages– I have played many games of L&S (usually shepherded by Brian Whitaker, of the Historical Miniature Gaming Society (HMGS)). The measuring was all by eyeball and the gunfire was usually devastating. Who cares, it was a blast!

Just for fun, I made a copy of the Limeys and Slimeys rules in EPUB format. These have been out there for a long time as a DOC or PDF file so I doubt there will be a big kerfluffle about making it available for Tablet computers and book readers.

My version of the cover for the EPUB

The L&S Epub is available (as usual!) on the DIGITAL RULES PAGE

(* parenthetically, I bought a few of those Limey and Slimey kits.. the earlier hulls were pretty great, later bootlegged ones were scrofulous).

Sign of the Pagan, by VPG (a review)

Sign of the Pagan Victory Point Games

Sign of the Pagan
Victory Point Games Designed by Richard Berg

Game Scales:

  • 1 counter=500 to 1000 men
  • 1 hex=200 yards
  • 1 turn=30 minutes +/-

Sign of the Pagan is not just an obscure and preachy Sword and Sandals movie from the 1950s, but also a hex and counter style wargame published by Victory Point Games as part of their Gold Banner Product line.  Sign of the Pagan was published in late 2013, and I’ve only played it about three times since I received it, so I’ll admit my understanding of the game is not what it will be, though overall pretty positive.

Sign of the Pagan is a game that focuses on The Battle of the Catalaunian Fields, which comes down to us as “The Battle of Chalons“, which featured two large forces, Hun and Roman (by contemporary standards) .  The forces on either side were neither entirely Hunnic nor very Roman, but were instead coalition forces of polyglot troops loosely allied on either side.  The Western Romans, by this point in history, really weren’t close to being recognizable as the force that had conquered Gaul under the early Caesars centuries before.   What was left was disciplined (for its day), mounted, and well armored, but not present in enough numbers to counter the Hunnic invasion.  The local commander, Flavius Aetius, led a coalition of very willful and militant local tribes consisting of Visigoths, Salian and Ripuarian Franks, Sarmatians, Armoricans, Liticians, Burgundians, Saxons, Librones and other Celtic or German tribes.  The invading Hun army, led by Attila, consisted primarily of Hunnic Empire cavalry but also sizable contingents from the Ostrogoths, Rugians, Scirii, Thuringians, Bastarnae, Alamanni, Gepids and Heruli tribes.  The outcome of the battle was decided rout of the Hun Coalition, as predicted by the Hunnic diviners the night before.   I won’t wax historical in this post as there are some good historical sources to read up on Chalons here and there around the internet, not the least of which being Wikipedia.

As a somewhat linear battle develops, as I play my first game of Sign of the Pagan.  The lines are never that coherent for very long!

We have a great setup here– two coalition forces with allies that have the potential to be treacherous (some of them, anyway).   The battle and troop mix favor shock factors such as heavy infantry and medium cavalry, all of which are in the mix.  So how well does Sign of the Pagan do as a game?

The rules are a potage of elements that the designer, Richard Berg, has served up before.  Activation is accomplished by Contingent Activation markers (CAMs) which have been around in one fashion or another since A Famous Victory.   All very understandable.  Players select CAMs, then roll for initiative winner and the winner places his CAM on the map.  The remaining CAMs are put back in an opaque cup.  Contingents are activated by drawing from a cup in random fashion thereafter.  Movement is pretty standard stuff, and facing counts.

Combat comes in two flavors, Missile and Shock.   Missile is nothing we haven’t seen before– units have to be in range, units have to be seen, the firing unit must have a missile factor, and there other factors possibly in play, such as movement and whether the unit is engaged.  Missile Combat is resolved on a Missile Fire CRT which is fairly bloodless- the worst result being a DISORDERED marker.  Shock Combat is handled somewhat differently, and is heavily modified by troop type,   Position advantage, Momentum, and current Morale.  The goal is to get the enemy disordered twice; that eliminates them.  I found that a preliminary arrow shower followed up by a rush of men with swords and axes is the best combination.

Also included in the game are eight OPPORTUNITY CARDS (above) for either side which are shuffled, and four are drawn for both sides.  The Opportunity Card is like a “one time interrupt” event that modifies the outcome of the current battle.  The rulebook states they can be played at any time– a general rule that is modified by the event description on the card.  Note that there are really only FOUR cards– the other four of the eight are “no events” just to add a little variability and randomness.  Even so, I suspect you could play a bluff with a No Event card if you have the right stuff theatrically.

In the three games I’ve played so far, the rulebook appears to lay things out in a fairly sensible manner and there was nothing about Sign of the Pagan‘s mechanics that was profoundly difficult to grasp, on the face of it.  And yet… there were many occasions where I was confused or just plain interpreted the text incorrectly.  Some of the steps and exceptions to combat are vaguely worded and I found myself re-reading parts of the book again and again in order to grasp the designer’s intent.  If that fellow is engaged with that fellow and another fellow comes up and attacks from here, the rules state this exception… 

Personally, I think the rulebook would have been greatly improved with an illustrated example of the first 3-4 turns of a game, just to see how movement, activation, command and combat actually work.  There are a smorgasbord of mechanical elements to this game that appear familiar but ultimately made me feel like I was eating ala carte.   This is not to say it isn’t an enjoyable game– once I got the hang of things, I really liked it.  This is an interesting period, very rarely a subject of a wargame design.   I liked the period, I liked the tactical situation very much.  I liked the treacherous Alans tribe– shades of the Kobayakawa clan in Berg’s earlier Shogun Triumphant!

On the material side the components really won me over.  The counters are published in that new big, chunky style favored by Victory Point games.. they are solid in the hand and don’t blow away when you sneeze.   The graphics for the counters are decent but not eye-catching, the map is elegance personified.  The printing is a little muddy in places (particularly the color charts) but very readable.

If Sign of the Pagan is illustrative of the VPG’s continuing efforts in promoting nice little one-shot battle games with great components, all at an affordable price, than I’m all for it.  I was already a fan of VPG but games like Sign of the Pagan will induce me to stay that way.

The one where I become a literary character…

I usually love a day when I can look back at a totally improbable occurrence and sum it up in a sentence that I rarely utter.. most of these are pleasant, such as: I actually won money playing a card game, or What do you know? I lost ten pounds.. some of them aren’t as pleasant, such as “I got stuck behind a gun battle today” or “I stumbled into a crime scene tonight and was yelled at by the police”  (all true, I might add) .  So it was fun to end yesterday with:

“Today is the day that I became a literary character in a novel”


Background: my friend Howard Whitehouse is a successful author of young adult fiction, having penned THE STRICTEST SCHOOL IN THE WORLD, THE ISLAND OF MAD SCIENTISTS, THE FACELESS FIEND and BOGBRUSH THE BARBARIAN.

These are all great novels for the young set, and whaddya know, the adults like them too.  Howard has a very light, funny and detached semi-Victorian style that showcases his dry English wit in many places.   He has departed the “Strictest School” series for his latest novel, ZOMBIE ELEMENTARY: THE REAL STORY.  Zombie Elementary tells the story of a zombie infestation from the vantage point of a fifth grader that can’t convince the adults of the gravity of the situation.  Fortunately, he does convince a certain harassed and underfunded government functionary that the infestation is real, and to get working on a cure.  That functionary is me.  Not a character that is SORT of like me, or reminiscent of me, but me.

The Introduction of Agent O’Hara of BURP. Want to know more? Buy the book!

Agent Walter O’Hara of BURP enters the narrative on page 75 by laboriously sneaking into the POV character’s room via ladder, giving the children his card, and ninja-like (not!) departs to go do more secret skulking. He exits the novel several chapters later:

And.. my card

This wasn’t a big surprise arriving out of the blue. Howard did ask for permission to use the names of several of his friends in this book, so I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t hold a candle to actually seeing myself as a literary character for the first time. How improbable was that?

Tindeck Audio Hosting for Convention Reports

I had completely forgotten that I had discovered an audio host with a free starter option about 3 years ago called TINDECK until I was chasing some obscure link referrals. Tindeck appears to be pretty no-muss no fuss, and simplicity itself.

 Pro vs. Basic (what I have) Pro Basic
Ads No ads Everywhere
Maximum Uploads Unlimited uploads 100 uploads
Maximum Upload Size 100 mb 10 mb
Upload Deletion Never 3 months
with no listens

Here’s a sample of an audio report going to FALL IN! 2011. The audio is decent enough. Sounds like I recorded it in a hotel room with an Ipad.

For 15 dollars for a lifetime upgrade, that’s a risk I could take.

Board Games for Kids’ events, 11-18 years old

What’s this all about?

Playing Cosmic Encounter at the 2014 Game Camp. Still a massive hit.

I’ve been running game camps for kids for a little under a decade now, and a big portion of what success I’ve had with them is due to adding board games to a mostly miniatures-based program. Board games, especially designer board games (or Family Board Games, or Hobby Board games, take your pick..) fill up the gaps in a program where I’m setting up some big miniatures game and need to keep kids occupied for an hour or more on one side of the room.

I’m going to start recording the board games we use at Camp to keep kids engaged and having fun, and the reasons why I choose them.  I envision this piece to be an ongoing narrative that I update on a semi-regular (quarterly) basis.  There’s just too many to try to create an all encompassing list; once I’ve compiled a few, I’ll move this up to a page tab.

Let’s get started with my FALL of 2014 Recommendations if you are looking to find games that will play well with a group of kids from about 11 to 18 years in age, with a few hours to kill here and there.  I’ll try to do another one in January 2015.


It’s no small secret that Cosmic Encounter is my favorite board game of all time.   I’ve mentioned it a few times here and there.   What was a surprise was just how readily younger kids take to this game.  There’s something about the Nomic quality of the changing Alien powers, the component mix from FFG, and the generally silly atmosphere.  I would recommend the FFG version over all others, for the artwork alone, but also the range of choices that add to the customization.  I think CE’s easy to perceive goal, plus ever-changing nature, makes it far more accessible to younger children than I gave it credit for before.



Get Bit was a charming little surprise I discovered through Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop web show.  It’s a simple positional race game not unlike GMT’s earlier Formula Motor Racing (which is another great candidate for a kid’s camp, but I’d play it with Matchbox cards).    Players put their cute plastic robots in a line in the water, followed by a shark with a taste for robots.   Single number cards (from a finite hand of cards) are played that move the robots around in order.   The last robot in line gets “chomped” and loses a limb.  When he loses all limbs, he’s out.  It’s no suprise WHY kids like this– it’s all about cartoon violence, of course, but there’s also some great decision making and strategy implied in the card play.  Immensely popular.


Tsuro is another one of those great discoveries that came into my radar through the Tabletop show.  I knew it existed, and I knew that it had been out since 2006, but I had never played it.  I already had Metro by Queen Games, which reminds me of it quite a bit.  Essentially this is a path-finding puzzle style game where the players try to keep their dragons on the maze-like path built by placing tiles.   It’s simple and easy to pick up, and very visual.  The theme is a little more exciting than Metro (which is about streetcars), so I would recommend Tsuro over Metro.



It’s a little too easy to call  The Resistance “a Werewolf/Mafia variant” but people often do.   Certain elements are very similar to Werewolf, to be sure– such as the day/night turn and turn-based mechanics. However, the addition of the cards and the “going on a mission” theme really gives this humble little game a great framework that (I think) forces the players into using deductive logic much more than Werewolf ever will.  Werewolf games can devolve into silliness rather quickly– which is why I don’t recommend them that highly for younger kids, they might take accusations too seriously and have their feelings hurt.   The Resistance takes a similar riff and adds the cards and mission element on top of it, which tends to distance the younger players from the J’accuse! flavor of Werewolf.  Notes to adults: don’t even attempt to run this if you don’t have at least six committed players, and do NOT take the sixth spot yourself.  You’ll need to be in charge for the first game, anyway.

CODE 777

Code 777 is a modern reworking of Mastermind (in some respects).  It is a good design for 2-5 players, and I suspect 4 is optimal.  Each player has a Scrabble style rack with three tiles on it– tiles are a certain color and number, or have a certain symbol behind them.  The players have a grasp of certain facts– there are only so many of this tile, or so many of that tile, or so many blue tiles, etc. etc.  Cards are played with questions on them that help the players deduce their own sequences.  That’s right, their own– the tiles face outward; so the other players know only what every player except themselves are displaying.  The players can glean a lot of knowledge to make deductions with from what they see in every tile rack except their own.  Code 777 is a much older design (from 1985 at least, and maybe older) but has recently been reprinted by Stronghold Games.  This is a great game for problem solving and deductive logic; it never fails to keep kids engaged.



Room 25 is a great maze style game where the maze starts built and flipped over and gradually is revealed by the player’s tokens exploring the map through trial and (often) deadly error;  the players assume a set series of roles (six, maximum) which are quite colorful but functionally identical (sadly; I think this could be improved upon in an expansion).  The game can be played cooperatively (boo!) or semi-treacherously (yay!) where some of the players have hidden traitor roles.  The theme of the game is very similar to a series of Canadian Horror/SF films called Cube/Hypercube etc.   Players have a limited series of actions, two per turn, which either affect their own player token or the token of whomever is on the current tile with them.  Room 25’s goofy imagery and characters, the changeable map, added to a soupçon of treachery makes this game a perennial favorite with younger teenagers.



Roll through the Ages is the game that got me started on the notion of adding board games to the miniature-heavy events I was running for camp.  For some reason, over the years, I have  had my share of children who suffer from Asperger syndrome and even high functioning Austism.  These are special cases– they want to be engaged but they sometimes can’t engage at the same level as other children.  Sometimes they quickly grow bored of the main activity.  I was in such a bind several years ago and on a whim, I pulled a copy of Roll Through The Ages, which I had bought that week on an enthusiastic recommendation from Tom Vasel.  RTTA is a great game– you are really playing yourself more than an opponent, so there isn’t a lot of social interaction to stress a kid out, and lots of challenges and decisions to make as you try to score high by rolling for civilization advantages and building great works.  It’s an elegant little dice game with great chunky components.  Anyway, to get back to my story, I had an Asperegers’ kid.  He was bored and being disruptive.  I handed him Roll Through The Ages and explained very quickly how to play it.  It took him all of 5 minutes to figure it out (all of my kids are smart!).  He was entranced.  He played RTTA non-stop, for the rest of the week.  I had half a pad of score pads after he was done.  I didn’t care, he was happy as a clam and said it was his best camp that Summer.  Go figure!  It was the success of this desperate experiment in board gaming (totally unplanned, I just happened to have it with me that day) that led me to include board games as a regular part of the curriculum.


This is a catchall for games that are all somewhat thematically similar, play fast and easy, and feature a series of specialized, thematic highly colorful dice that interact with each other in a specific way.

The granddaddy is Zombie Dice, where the players are playing the roles of the Zombies in a Zombie movie, looking for brains; there is also a very similar game where the players are playing the role of the Aliens in a UFO invasion called Martian dice.   You can play a Ninja on a special mission in Ninja Dice, Re-theme Zombie Dice with Hunting Dinosaurs and you have Dino Hunt Dice, and finally play a game of re-themed Put and Take with Cthulhu Dice.   The mechanics differ from game to game, but they all are rich in theme, very colorful, very simple and resolve and play very quickly.  This kind of game handles 3-4 kids comfortably.  The up side is they are all very affordable and you can probably buy all of them if you have a large crowd of kids.  Maybe even throw a dice game tournament, who knows?


I could go on and on with this post but I think I’m going to limit these to about 8-10 at a time so I don’t feel rushed.  The games in this posting have all been played at kid’s camps and although some games have failed to garner support, these have all done pretty well since I started.  I hope you find these suggestions useful

Watch AMERICAN SCARY on Snagfilms.. right now!

Do the names Vampira, Elvira, Count Gore De Vol, Joe Bob Briggs, Zacharly, Sir Graves Ghastly, and Ghoulardi mean something to you? What? They do? They you probably are part of that slice of Americana that grew up Horror Movie hosts playing on Friday nights on your local UHF channel. I know I did. My favorite was Washington DC’s own Count Gore De Vol, courtesy of local UHF channel 20. The good count (Dick Dyzel) is still active today, albeit on a web broadcast. These were the intrepid guides to the world of bad horror films– the Creature Features, the Midnight Movie shows, etc. that played on most local television stations in most major markets for most of the 70s and 80s on broadcast television. Subsequently, they were banished to the nether hells of basic cable, where they live, and mostly thrive, today.

What delighted me as a kid wasn’t the movies so much– they were all Grade Z and below stuff- safely in the public domain, and thus eligible for broadcast. What I liked was the antics of the host, who was usually someone from daytime who was dragooned into working the horror show gig for some extra cash. There was a nascent art form there, and many local hosts were great at it.

Arguably the first American Horror Show TV host was “Vampira”, aka Finnish actress Maila Nurmi. She was a hostess for a local Los Angeles station for a relatively short period of time (1954-1955) but her impact was enormous, and she spawned many imitators, including (as she maintains)
Elvira, Mistress of the dark.

Television was more fragile then, so a lot of the recordings associated with the early films have dissolved into ruin. There are still a few recordings out there, and SnagFilms just released a historical documentary on the subject, which you can view for free. Just click on Vampira’s face,below.

click to view American Scary

Click to view AMERICAN SCARY on SnagFilms.

The Burning City, by Niven/Pournelle, reviewed

The Burning CityThe Burning City by Larry Niven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do not have much background in Larry Niven’s Magical parallel universe of Warlock and drowned Atlantis, but that’s mostly a matter of missed opportunity. I have read LIMITS, the short story collection, which references Lion’s Tower, which plays a part in this tale. Niven has a certain style, so does Pournelle, and when they write together it is often different for either author’s style on their own. The combined Niven and Pournelle authorial voice is less engaging than either writer by himself, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable as a team– as anyone who has read The Mote in God’s Eye, Footfall or Inferno can attest to. Still, I think both a protagonist and plot might suffer from being divided between authors, and I think that might be the case with the Burning City. I like the Magical universe setting– especially for the reason that Magic is treated as a non-renewable resource. The energy that powers the universe, Mana, started being used up long before the events in this novel and only occurs naturally in a series of unlikely places where Wizards don’t usually go. The setting for the first part of the novel is Tepps’ Town, home of Whandall Feathersnake, the novel’s protagonist. Whandall is a “Lordkin”, which is group of sanctioned thugs that routinely commit crimes against a conquered underclass, called the Kinless.  In addition to this, there is a mysterious, only semi-defined group called the Lords, who live in a better part of town that the Lordkin are not allowed in on pain of death.

Magic doesn’t appear to work in Tepp’s Town, as a result of the intervention of the local fire deity, Yangan-Atep.  Yangan Atap has almost grown dormant over the years but still wields great influence in the town. For instance, cooking fires go out when lit indoors. The central character, Whandall, spends his childhood and young adulthood in Tep’s Town, plotting to escape.. somehow. The second half is Whandall as an adult, having fled Tep’s Town to start a new life as a Trader, and the confluence of events that bring him and a Wizard comrade back to Tep’s Town again.

As I’ve mentioned, the Niven/Pournelle combination creates characters that don’t’ reveal much about their motivations and desires. So there was a lot of me rewinding, rereading passages and pondering where the heck THAT came from going on as I read. There’s a lot of allegory in this book– The crazy custom of burning the city to the ground that occurs once in a great while while the citizenry is possessed by Yangen-Atep clearly is meant to portray the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the Rodney King beating (in fact, Rodney King shows up, after a fashion, in this novel, and yes, his beating does set in motion a great burning). There were a lot of quirky references to real or literary events in the Burning City, including the Tale of Othello, the O.J. Simpson murder case and others.   The entire Lord-Lordkin-Kinless relationship evokes modern imagery of race relations in Los Angeles (on purpose, I think)– and perhaps the mysterious “Toranesti” are the LA Cops?  Hard to say!

For all of their standoffish literary style I ended up liking the setting and the story of Tepp’s Town and Whandall quite a bit. It takes a while to jump in with both feet, but it is a very satisfactory read after you figure out the world that Whandall lives in.

View all my reviews

An Ancient Black Hole replay (Metagaming) #TBF

Black Hole: Metagaming #10 Designer: Robert Taylor Published 1978

A very long time ago, I used to run a website called “The PBeM Emporium“.  There was a lot of stuff on that site, but it was mostly a haven for Cyberboard gameboxes created by myself and others.  For a long time after I discovered PBeM utilities, I busily created “gameboxes” for the microgames I played in my youth.  One of these was a game called BLACK HOLE.  Black Hole (BH) followed the Metagaming publishing paradigm: an 11 x 17 crudely printed map, about 50 stripcut counters of dubious quality and a rulebook with a color cover and text typset on an IBM Selectric typewriter.   I see you smiling.  Believe me, for 2.95 back in the day, this was like gaming mana from heaven.  A tiny game you could put in a pocket or the outer pocket of your school backpack, and it played all the way to completion in about an hour.  Perfect!

Leaping forward a few years, It was the mid to late 90s, and I was getting heavily into PBeM gaming.  I liked to write about games back then and I still do.  I conceived of a notion of publishing a web article (blogs weren’t quite the thing in that era.. yet) that was like a SERIES REPLAY article such as they had published in Avalon Hill’s The General magazine.  A series replay featured two well known players sitting down and playing a game they know very well to conclusion, and writing a turn by turn commentary as they played.  What better counter to that than two obscure players that barely have a nodding acquaintance with a poorly done 2.95 game from their respective teenaged years?  Joe Hartley, who hosted the Emporium site, was more than happy to oblige me– we played two PBeM games of Black Hole using Cyberboard to capture screen shots and dice roll results and each of us wrote turn commentary as we went.  I then put it all together on another static site hosted on (back in the day, I was always using the free option–I’m still that cheap.. so space being at a premium, I didn’t over do it with putting too much on  I switched to blogging instead of static websites in the early 00s, but I still find artifacts here and there, and the Black Hole replay was one of those I rediscovered recently.  So what the heck let’s migrate it off of bad old embarrassing and host it here, it’s still a hoot after 13 years.

Black Hole Game Premise

You should note that the game Black Hole, which I’ll lay even odds you’ve never heard of, is set on the inner surface of an asteroid shaped like a toroid.  What’s a toroid?  This:

Apparently there’s two companies scrapping over mineral rights to whatever unobtanium is in plentiful supply on this asteroid.  Both companies are deploying militarized mining vehicles to try to claim jump the other.  The player can create his or her own special attack force from the counter mix which is the same for both sides.  The basic weapons are missiles and lasers, and the vehicles are all classified heavy, light or medium.  The game starts with a drop phase which is very random, but also imposes deadly results, such as when a dropping vehicle might randomly smack into a mountain.  Only the inner ring is habitable.  Vehicles must engage each other in the inner ring hexes and can also use JUMP to a programmed location– which is a huge surprise.  Missiles also can act like pool balls in a bank shot and literally shot off the map edge of the asteroid and reemerge across where they exited, but oriented in the direction it was moving it went off.  Confusing?  Yeah? Well it was never a big seller, either.

I’ll present these in tables, just like I did in 1999, except maybe without so much comic sans ms font.

Black Hole Replay

This page illustrates a replay of a game of Metagamng’s Black Hole that Joe Hartley and Walt O’Hara played recently. We utilized Black Hole rules and map and the Cyberboard PBeM gamebox for it available on the Emporium (see the Metagaming Section).

If you would like to view this game in Cyberboard to see everything that transpired (warts and all), you must download the Cyberboard engine, the Black Hole gamebox, and our scenario and game file.


Walt O’Hara (Blue)
Joe Hartley (White)


Blue Victory

Game Design Challenges

None for the basic game, which we played the 1st and 2nd time.

Setup Notes

Black Hole is a “purchase style” game, allowing you to buy a certain amount of units (40 pts worth) from the following unit list:

PSV-L (laser Personal Service Vehicle)
PSV-M (missile Personal Service Vehicle)
MPV-L (laser Mobile Platform Vehicle)
MPV-M (missile Mobile Platform Vehicle)
HEV-L (laser Heavy Equipment Vehicle)
HEV-M (missile Heavy Equipment Vehicle)

UNIT COUNTERS (Cyberboard Gamebox)


Blue Team (Walt) White Team (Joe)
  • 2 HEV-L 12 pts.
  • 1 HEV-M 6 pts.
  • 2 MPV-L 8 pts.
  • 2 MPV-L 8 pts.
  • 3 PSV-L 6 pts.
  • 2 HEV-M 12 pts.
  • 2 MPV-L 8 pts.
  • 2 MPV-M 8 pts.
  • 4 PSV-L 8 pts.
  • 2 PSV-M 4 pts.

Joe’s comments on his purchases: My rationale: lots of units to land, and an even number of each unit. My plan is to take 2 bases and try and hold them. I’ve got first move, and can land up to 4 units. I’ll land 3: an MPV-M, an PSV-L and a PSV-M near the south base.

Walt’s comments on his purchases: I like smashing power. I favor going after the other player’s units first and then seizing bases. You don’t get an early win that way, but this is a strategy that pays off in the long run. The PSV-Ms seem to be a waste of time to me, but the PSV-Ls can double their firepower close in, and a 4-1 attack isn’t anything to sneeze at. The extra HEV can prove to be decisive.

Landing Turn

Narrative: this is a special turn for landings only, no combat is possible this turn.

Blue Landing (north map)

White Landing (south map)

Joe has a plan to take the Southern base, and actually lands one unit right on top of it. Pretty hard to do! Walt spreads out more, going for the Northern base and Middle Base.

Comments (Joe): I’ve got first move, and can land up to 4 units. I’ll land 3: an MPV-M, an PSV-L and a PSV-M near the south base. Next turn I’ll do the same near whichever base is further away from Walt’s forces. Hopefully the turn after that I’ll land near his forces
And try to do damage to his actual forces – an offensive rather than a defensive
front – but I may not want to spread myself around that thin. We’ll see. BTW, I chose the south base because it’s got more mountains around it than the other bases. That gives it a tiny but more protection than the other bases. I’ll take whatever edge I can get!

Comments (Walt): Well, he got the benefit of the first move, and the benefit of the South base with all its missile-blockin’ mountains. That’s okay, I’ll try to deny him the middle, easy base and land in a heavy (though safe) landing around the Northern base. He took more chances than I would in landing, but then again, I lost a unit in last game’s landing drill– I’m not eager to repeat that. I land a HEV and PSV up North to take the top base, a PSV in the center to deny the middle base to Joe, and a MPV to cause trouble with Joe’s forces in the South. As long as the firefight happens down there, I can consolidate and land more guys to attack his strong Southern position.

Turn One

Narrative: The dice favor Walt in this turn. He manages to nail not one, but two enemy units in the laser phase (a PSV and a HEV, giving him 8 vps). He is not as successful in the missile fire phase, only disrupting the units that have collected on the Southern Base. Landings all go well. Joe blasts away with missiles in this turn and disrupts one of Walt’s precious HEVs. Joe’s landings are pretty bad… almost disastrous.

Blue Turn One (north map)

White Turn One (south map)

Joe Comments: I ended up with 2 more pieces than Walt, who likes the HEV’s. I’d really like to try and hold off and save some units for landing later in the game when things get tight.The temptation to move all my units onto the southern base is great, but if I keep the PSV-L off the base, I can hit the HEV-L at F3 with a double-power laser blast! I can’t resist that. Disrupted the HEV – I was hoping at 4-1 odds I’d be able to kill the sucker. I will probably wipe it out with the missile I fired. I *hope* that I’ll wipe it out with the missile I fired! The landing went poorly. I rolled a landing roll of 6 for all 3 landings, including the MPV I tried to land in row K. I am *not* happy about that! I’ll land one of the HEV’s that I was hoping to save for later in its place, and not in row K, tempting as it is! All units land farther away from the north base than I’d hoped. The PSV’s should be able to take it next turn, though. Still, I have 2 units on the southern base, so I’m getting an early start on the VPs.

Walt Comments: Not much to complain about here! Luck was on my side this turn. I take out a PSV-L AND a HEV! That’s 8 pts. of his striking power down the toilet (Joe lost a MPV-M during his first landing, making it 28 to go). I’ve also disrupted the PSV-M and MPV-M in the Southern base, which doesn’t deny him VPs, but will assure me that I’ll dominate the board for the next turn– and there won’t be so many of those nasty missiles flying about. Joe’s being cagey, holding some units back to make a reserve, but I wonder if that’s sound. At this stage, I outnumber his active units on the board 8 to 1 after my landings, which went well (I didn’t risk anything beyond the K row).

Turn Two

Narrative: Walt’s second “lucky turn” and the most effective. Joe’s not having a good day, as more units are lost. By the end of the turn the Blues have a clear lead in units, but not in victory points.

Blue Turn 2 (north map)

White Turn 2 (south map)

Comments (Joe): Curses! Blue did more damage than expected, taking out a PSV-L and an HEV, and disrupting 2 other units. Foul Blues! Time for some revenge. I’m not rolling very well here, but I did manage to take out an HEV and an MPV! I consolidated my position, so I’ve got the VP thing rolling right along. Unfortunately, I got cocky with my landings and lost a PSV-L due to another 6 on a landing roll. Why is it that I only roll 6s on landing??? I have 3 forces left to land, blue has 2. I’m limiting my landing to 2 units (one DOA) this time, and maybe only one next turn.

Comments (Walt): Sonuva… frappin’ Whites, they took out an MPV and a HEV (the one that was disrupted before). Probably shouldn’t have moved that MPV so close to the South base. On the other hand, it’s my “killingest” turn yet! I take out an MPV-L on the North map, with one 4-1 attack. Combining fire from one of my PSV-Ls in the middle base and a MPV-L within 6 hexes of the Southern base, I get a 10-2 attack on Joe’s MPV there, which kills it. Note to self: combined attacks are the way to go. I disrupt the PSV in the Northern base, which isn’t bad for such a weak shot, and finish it off with a heavy missile in the missile fire phase. What a meat grinder! Just to psych Joe out, I don’t land anything this turn. I have a clear advantage now, and should win if I don’t do anything too stupid.

Blue Casualties: 1 HEV, 1 MPV

White Casualties: 1 PSV, 2 MPV


Turn Three

Narrative: Joe starts this turn with just 1 PSV-L, in the Southern base. He lands the remainder of his troops (a HEV-M, a MPV-L, and a PSV-L) this turn, though, and manages to nail Walts’ MPV near the Southern base.

Blue Turn Three (north map)

White Turn Three (south map)

Joe Comments: Grrrrr…. Blue’s taking out a unit on every single shot. This has _got_ to stop. I’m down to one frikkin’ unit left! He took out *3* of my units this time. The missiles in the air did squat, though my laser did take out an MPV. Blue figured out that reserves are nice to have, but my heavy losses have taken away the luxury of waiting to land the last units. I need to land the rest of my units and try to take out as much as I can. I must say things look grim. There’s a delicate balance here; you’ve got to take the bases to get the BIG VP’s, but you’re open to fire from laser units in any inner hex. I’m going to keep my remaining missile unit out of the inside, so either a laser unit will have to come right up to me, or I’ll have to get tagged with a missile, but they can be avoided (I hope).

Walt Comments: So far, so good. Joe dropped my Southernmost MPV with a single PSV laser shot, which sucks (well, what did you expect, his luck couldn’t be sh*tty for the entire game, eh?). The missile I launched last turn came home to the Southern base, taking out a PSV but not scratching the paint of the other one. I launch some missiles, one of which doesn’t appear to be aimed correctly!

Blue Casualties: 1 MPV

White Casualties: 1 PSV


Turn Four

Narrative: Joe slides a MPV unit South far enough to get a double strength shot on the PSV Walt has in the Northern base (remember, this is a toroid, so Joe can actually “shoot around the map edge” in this game). He also lobs a Heavy Missile at the now fortified middle base. Walt counters by moving these units out of the way. The missiles Walt launched last turn are now winging their way around the map, on a sure path to…. Walt’s Northern base! Pretty stupid shot!

Blue Turn 4 (north  map)

White Turn 4 (south map)

Comments (Joe): Dammit, I forgot about that missile heading towards the base. Another unit lost. Blue’s dropped his last forces, so everything’s on the board right now. He’s fired a number of missiles… and it’s the strangest deployment I can think of! As long as I stay out of the way, the 3 SMU’s will blow themselves up on a mountain next turn, and the DMU will, 2 turns from now, hit the north base, which he currently holds!! I’ll take my breaks where I can get them. I’ve moved a PSV onto the south base – gotta keep those VPs coming! I also moved an MPV south to get a double-strength shot at the north base, but my roll sucked. Why do I only get 6’s when I land???? I was considering splitting up the HEV-M’s attack, but I’m hoping my luck will turn slightly. Next turn the missiles hit the base at 3-1 odds, hopefully enough to take at least one of them out.

Comments (Walt): I tried lots of stuff this turn, including PSV Jumps, missile launch into jump, which worked but was ineffectual. I do manage to vaporize a MPV by wrapping a missile around the North edge of the map, and launch another killer stack of Small Missiles, a tactic I learned from Joe in the first game we did. Laser fire was disappointing– I combined my HEV (northern map) and a PSV to only get a Disrupt on Joe’s the Southern base’s PSV. Since Joe fired a Heavy missile at the middle base, I move the occupants out of the way (one of them using Jump movement). It will cost me VPs, I know, but hey, it’s still early in the game.

Blue Casualties:

White Casualties: 1 MPV


Turn Five

Narrative: Joe and Walt have a spirited discussion about how many turns a missile moves until it stops. They agree to allow a missile to “fizzle” after 20MPs for this game only, and from now on allow a missile to wing its way around the map until it hits something. Walt’s “bank shot” missile of last turn would eventually hit his Northern base, but Walt interperted the 20mps rule literally. Joe disagreed, eager to see Blue vaporize himself.

Joe’s question: Do missiles destructy after one full movement phase or continue flying? The rules don’t say either way. I can justify both scenarios! Blue already detonated missiles after one full movement phase, so I’ll be consistent, but it’s worth resolving for future games.

Blue Turn Five (north map)

White Turn Five (south map)

Joe Comments: Well, I’m an idiot. I moved my MPV right into the frikkin’ triple missile attack. I deserved to lose that unit. I did absolutely no damage this turn. My missiles fizzled as Blue moved off the base, but that’s 25 VPs he won’t collect next turn. I fired a DMU towards his HEV-L – he’ll probably notice, but if he doesn’t… I moved my HEV-L onot a mountain hex for double defense. I need all the help I can get! Oddly enough, we’re still pretty darn close on the VP tally: Blue 84, White 94. I don’t think I can keep this up, though. I’m badly outnumbered,and once he takes me out, that’s it..

Walt Comments: A lot of moves from last turn bear fruit this turn. My killer stack of SMUs lands on the Southern base, killing one PSV with multiple disrupts, disrupting the other. My “In Jump” PSV lands RIGHT NEXT to the base, and in the following laser fire turn eliminates the remaining occupant. I fire off some missiles at the HEV and some laser fire at the missiles white has in flight: I take out the DMU but NOT the SMU, which eludes THREE shots at it. Oh well. I wanted something to shoot at, and there are so few White units left. I move my middle units back on the base in order to grab some VPs in what is sure to be the last turn next turn.

Blue Casualties:

White Casualties: 2 PSVs


Turn Six

Narrative: Joe is down to one HEV, and no bases. He launches a series of SMUs at the nearby MPV, but it is futile. Blue lasers his final unit into vapor in his segment, and that’s the game.

Blue Turn 6

White Turn 6

Comments (Joe): Badly outgunned, I have little choice left. I move out of the way of the incoming missiles and take another shot with my remaining HEV-M. I try using 3 SMUs. If I’m lucky, I’ll take out the MPV I’m aiming at before I run out of missiles. Denied. I just got a disruption out of it. I should have gone with fewer but stronger missiles… but it really didn’t make a difference by this point. Blue just took me out, ending the game. A blissful end to a painful game! I rolled poorly, and made some bad choices. Losing units on landing is just a waste, but forgetting to move out of the way of incoming missiles is just stupid, and I paid the price.

Comments (Walt): The HEV is toasted in the Laser Fire phase. Good game.

Blue Casualties:

White Casualties: 1 HEV

End Game Comments

Victory was Blues’ at 131 to 84. Not as close as last game.

Things to try again: Jump Movement of PSVs, which can come as a nasty surprise. Firing around the Map Edge. Multiple Shots with smaller missiles sometimes is a good tactic. USE mountains, especially if you have HEVs on the board. And above all… be lucky!

Things not to bother with: Firing missiles into jump. Staying near bases early in the game, despite the VP cost.

Suggested changes to the (Cyberboard) gamebox: Perhaps to add an “In Jump” marker or counter tray to clarify JUMP status.. otherwise, this gamebox allowed us to play the game pretty much as it was designed.

So that is my game replay from 1999.  It’s actually pretty readable.  I wish the graphics were a little crisper, but I think the casual reader can pick up on what is going on easily.   I wish I had written more of these back in the day– it does illustrate the charm of Microgames.  We played a game to completion in 6 turns!  Black Hole isn’t exactly The Longest Day, but it’s not a lightweight, either.  There were plenty of hair raising moments and good tactical thinking was rewarded. From the perspective of 13 years later, I can see that Joe gambled more than I did, but I tried out more and different rules than he did, so it was decent meeting of the minds.

Hey, look, *Generic* Gladiator Cards I could possibly use for Jugula!

JUGULA is the the latest publication from Tomahawk Games (the creator of SAGA). I bought JUGULA at Historicon 2014 and only am just now wrapping my head around it. The thing is that isn’t really “a gladiator combat simulation. It isn’t even really a game about gladiators” — Designer Notes, JUGULA. Sure, gladiatorial combat surely factors into this game, but it is told from an entirely different narrative. The player is really inhabiting the sandals of the Lanistae, the gladiator’s manager/owner, much more than he is inhabiting the role of the gladiator. Thus, there isn’t a preponderance of charts and points to track. Instead, the combat itself is a quick series of decision that are made using card play. It plays rather more like a deck drafting game than a combat game about single combat. So CARDS.. and CARD PLAY… are paramount in this design.

Therein lies the problem. Much like the custom dice of SAGA, the cards in JUGULA are the “hook”.. the item you really need to play the game, and as always, the most expensive commodity short of miniatures you’ll be picking up to get started. Two JUGULA card decks set me back 15.00 each at Historicon. At roughly 36 cards per deck (12 Jugula, 12 Prima Jugula and 12 Armaturae (gladiator types)), that’s a very expensive card deck.

So why not make my own? And indeed… why not? For the cost of some inexpensive transparent card sleeves, a little composing time and some printer ink, I have started a new “Generic Gladiator” card deck in MS Publisher. Once it is created, I can print it many times, almost free.

Created with Clipart and MS Publisher, it's not as artistic but it does print out quickly and I can make many decks of these for the cost of transparent card sleeves and printer ink.

Created with Clipart and MS Publisher, it’s not as artistic but it does print out quickly and I can make many decks of these for the cost of transparent card sleeves and printer ink.

No, it isn’t pretty, but you’ll be amazed how quickly you get over that.

Check out the some of the Gladiator Types that are in the initial release. I’m working on the “Action Part” of the deck now. Which I won’t post, as certain weenies on TMP are accusing me of copyright violation, even though I’m making this for me.

DISCLAIMER: my GENERIC GLADIATOR DECK is produced for my own purposes, and will not be for distribution when completed.

The Hong Kong Rules (Illuminati)

There was a time when I considered ILLUMINATI, by Steve Jackson Games, my favorite game ever.    There was something about that uncomplicated little card game about secret societies that really tickled me back then– not the least of it being the tongue in cheek humor with which it was presented.  That was so in 1998, but not so in 2014.  I don’t think the game has aged very well.  It takes forever to play with six players and is a little vague in spots, which leads to vigorous interpretation of the rules on occasion.   Back in 1998 I put a variant we used to play with called “THE HONG KONG RULES” on Tripod.  I am steadily trying to shut down these cringe-worthy old websites and pulling off any material that might be useful before I do.

Here, therefore, are the Hong Kong Rules.


A New Zealander expatriate living in Hong Kong (whose name, alas, I have long since forgotten) once mentioned to me that he liked to play the suggested “Illuminati cards face down” variant mentioned in the Illuminati Deluxe game in the “Advanced Play” section, only he liked to add in a 5MB reward for guessing the hidden Illuminati correctly. I’ve called this style of play THE HONG KONG RULES ever since. The Hidden rules and reward stuff evolved from his suggestion; the betting procedure grew out of extensive play of THE HONG KONG RULES. I haven’t tried this with INDO. I suppose it might work, give it a try.



A Rules variant optimized for 3 or more players.

1) All Illuminati (pink faced) cards are dealt face Down. All Group (white faced) cards are played as in the Basic game.  The basic victory conditions for controlling groups (see the rules summary) are halved for speed of play.  Free Actions are limited to two (2) per turn.

2) Courtesy rules are enforced: i.e., a player may not attack another player until that player controls 3 groups or 3 game turns have passed.

3) Players may guess the identity of another player’s Illuminati under the following conditions:

3A)- The guess counts as a Free Action.

3B)- The guess must be made after regular actions (i.e., attacks, etc.) are made.

3C)- The guess must be announced loudly, clearly, and dramatically (Suggested Format: standing and saying “YOU, sir, are the… BAVARIAN ILLUMINATI!!)

3D)- The player being “accused” thusly must respond truthfully, loudly, clearly, and dramatically.

3E)- Courtesy rules extend to guessing (not until after turn 3).

4) If a player guesses an Illuminati identify correctly, he is given a reward. 5MB for 3 or less players, 3MB for 4 or more players. OR 1 privileged attack for the next turn only.

5) Betting is possible in Hong Kong Rules. The following rules cover the concept of betting.

5A)- A Bet is defined as a contract between two players, wagering a sum of MB in their possession, that an event will take place. In game turns, a bet is a Free Action. All funds expended or wagered for a bet MUST come from the Illuminati’s treasury (the Megabucks on the pink card), not from groups the Illuminati controls.

5B)- The condition of the bet must be game-related; i.e., a bet that states: “I wager Larry the Gun-toting Psycho will lose his next attempt at Attacking to Control” is acceptable, a bet that states: “I bet Elmo picks his nose and eats it next turn…” is not.

5C)- Bets can be Instant or Deadlined

5C1)- Instant bets are announced, out loud, at any point during a player’s turn. The conditions of the bet must be accepted by the player the wager is being made with by stating, out loud, either “Accepted” or “Rejected”. If not the Free Action is wasted. The minimumwager for an Instant bet is one half of the Illuminati’s personal treasury.

5C2)- Deadlined bets are written down on a piece of scrap paper, which is folded over so that there is an outside that the other players can see, and an inside that only the two participants in the bet can see. Square post-it notes are excellent for this purpose. On the inside of the bet, the player initiating the wager writes down the Condition of the bet (defined as “what he is betting on”– often the secret identity of a hidden Illuminati in this variant, but not always) and the Amount of the wager. On the outside, the player initiating the wager writes Initiator (the player initiating the bets’ real name) –> (an arrow to) Recipient (the player the Initiator is betting with), and a Deadline. The Deadline is the number of turns the Initiator is betting the Recipient for the Condition to come to pass. The maximum number of turns for a Deadlined bet condition is three (3).

5B2.1)- If a Condition of a deadlined bet comes to pass (either positive or negative) before the agreed upon deadline is expired, the loser of the wager immediately places the agreed upon sum upon the Illuminati card of the other player. If he does not have the amount agreed upon, he can wait the number of turns in the Deadline to pay off his debt. If he loses the bet’s Condition and still does not have the money to pay up, he is a Welcher, and the winner of the event is The Aggrieved Party.

5C)- Welchers are individuals who cannot pay off their bets, for whatever reason. If a players welches, the player who won the bet must remove a group from the player’s power structure. The group must be taken from the farthest position out from the parent Illuminati. Exception: The Aggrieved Party may not remove the last card from a Welcher’s power structure. Instead, He may garnish the next turn’s income from the Welcher’s Illuminati. After the debt is paid, the Welcher loses his “Welcher status.”

Steve Jackson Games Illuminati Webpage (contains Variants, Errata, Design article, new groups and a bunch of other Illuminati related stuff)

Copyright 1998 Walter O’Hara