Category Archives: mrnizz recommends

Repost: The Tolkien Nerd’s Guide to “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine

As a follow up to my own reaction/review about the recent movie in “the further adventures of a certain hobbit“, I read the Tolkien Nerd’s Guide to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in this month’s SMITHSONIAN magazine.  It’s a great piece.  I find myself agreeing with the fact that Jackson actually helps the narrative by fleshing out bits that Tolkien gave very short shrift too (the personality and character of the Dwarves, Bard, the Elves, etc.), but also agree (sadly) that there was a ton of very silly padding to this movie…

The Tolkien Nerd’s Guide to “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine.

Cruel Neccesity (first impressions)

Monday, I received a review copy of Cruel Neccesity (Victory Point Games)  which is the latest game in their much vaunted State of Siege game series.  As I will shortly be on a big boat out of sight of land for FUN for the first time in my life for two weeks, I thought I’d take her out for a spin last night.  What follows is first impressions after one playing of the most basic scenario in the game, the First English Civil War.  It is NOT a full up review, I will need to play it at least 4 more times (including the campaign) as I’m not clear on how every element works yet.   I just thought I’d get some impressions down as I’ll be away from the internet for a bit.

The game models the English Civil War in very broad brush strokes, using the “narrative building effect” of event cards divided into three sequential historical phases in a linked campaign, in a similar method to past State of Siege games (see my past review of Soviet Dawn). Also, as in past games, there is a Center point with four tracks that lead inward, along which markers for generic armies advance to threaten the center position (London, in this case).    The overall effect is a game that isn’t a solitaire wargame, per se, but does possess some wargame elements.  It certainly is a solitaire history game, and a very interesting one.   I’ll admit something up front– State of Siege games have not had a lasting impact on me.   I’ve bought them, enthused about them, I play them for a few times, and then they hit the shelves, not to come out for long periods.   I don’t dislike the idea of a “story telling game” (their phrase for it) and was quite entertained by my past games, I just didn’t feel like playing it again after I’d run through the card deck a few times.  It felt repetitive.  With the the publication of Cruel Neccesity, maybe… just maybe, I’ve found a version of State of Siege that can stay fresh.

Game board set up for First English Civil War scenario

For one thing, the graphic presentation has improved so much that this really looks like a historical wargame. Huge counters, giant maps, much better graphics and game aids all conspire to give the game a more natural map and terrain than previous map efforts.  The component quality has greatly improved.  Cruel Necessity is a part of Victory Point Games’ “Gold Banner” series of games, which means a box (of the heavy cardboard type), a slipcover, larger,  better paper quality maps (sometimes bound!) and thick, chunky counters.

The Map with the Army tokens on it during setup

Art on the map is well done. Instead of the typical square boxes on a track moving in to a central location, the map looks like a regular map of the British isles, divided into geographic areas, North, West, Middle, Ireland, kind of like Britannia. There are several fortified areas that represent castles of varying strength, which is depicted by putting a special counter with a notch cut into it that depicts the strength number changing as it moves around. The Army tokens that march along the track to threaten Parliment’s central position are also nicely done. This game comes with some logistical challenges– it takes up a ton of table space compared to its predecessors.

Like other State of Siege games, cards create events that do a lot of things– mostly they move armies along the tracks, but they also represent historical battles. The card pictured above is the Historical Battle of Edgehill, very early in the war, which, very fittingly, was the first battle I fought in my first game playing the First English Civil War. The red cannon icon indicates a battle outcome that will be fought on the tactical battle display. The North and West Armies will also be advancing one space this turn. The other historical events (O’Neill and Fortifying London) will result in the Catholicism marker to advance one on its track and a +1 marker to be played on London. As you can see, cards do lots of things and have to be read very carefully.

My first battle in my first game, The Battle of Edgehill, played on the side tactical board. A pretty grim defeat for Parliment. Even having Cromwell around didn’t help much since the die rolls were so uneven!

By far, my favor new element of this game is the tactical battlefield. You have to maintain pools of troop markers face down for both sides of the conflict on an adjacent display. Then you pull out troops randomly (or pull from the smaller “named unit” piles), and place them on the battle display. Resolution is pretty easy– you roll a dice for each side and add the number to the total of troops in each sector of the battlefield. If you are over the other side by a certain amount of points, it’s a victory. If you are within one point, it’s a draw. The outcome of a battle is usually a plus or minus in “Zeal Points” which are the currency of the game, of sorts.

There’s a lot of extra chrome tacked on the State of Siege engine in this game. For instance, there are slots for three achievements on the top of the map. Near as I can tell, these are the game tippers for the Parliamentary side, representing lasting political or social achievements. Achievement card are drawn from the events deck. If all vacant spots are used up, you can replace one that is already there, purchased with Zeal Points. Once bought, they give you a reward and add to your final VP score.

I’ve only played it twice so far, and both times have been trounced, which is a good thing. I enjoy the extra chrome in this design.. the external battlefields, the sieges, the revolts and external elements really give this non-wargame a very historical, wargamey feel.

The Further Adventures of a certain Hobbit

Movie Poster.

SPOILER WARNING: I’ll try to keep it limited, but I’m going to give a few things away here.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, come back later.  If you don’t care, read on.

We’re just back from seeing THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. I have to say up front that I loved it, and by that I mean far more than the last one. The middle movie in the trilogy takes up literally moments after the ending of the last film, with the Dwarves over the Misty Mountains, still on the run from the heretical Orcish “Azog the Defiler”, the antagonist from the previous film.   Immediately, we see Bilbo is out scouting the way ahead to keep a jump ahead of the party’s Orc pursuers.  The viewer can start to see the changes that have come over Bilbo since earlier in this story– he’s become more clever and handier in a  scrape than most of his Dwarven compatriots, though he doesn’t let them know it.  Part of this is the effect of the Ring; having no idea what is in his possession, you can see his bafflement and apprehension about the growing hold it has upon him.

Gandalf and Beorn

The early Beorn sequence was outstanding.   Beorn’s a bit of a mystery in the book– he doesn’t get a lot of print.  He benefits from his few lines of exposition in the film.  Not sure of whom the actor is who played Beorn, but he does a very credible job– he’s all quiet, unspoken menace.  “I hate Dwarves.  But I hate Orcs more, so I will help you”.   Gandalf takes a side trip at this point, which I seem to recall he did in the book as well.  We get to see his journey to a “an unnamed place” with Radagast, where apparently the Nazgul were entombed, long ago (though not in the novels).  It’s clear that the Nazgul have broken out, although they are not formed yet, from the implication in the movie.  Gandalf spends quite some time in a certain epic confrontation at Dol Goldur– not to reveal any more about that except: yes, we do see two Maia fighting each other.  The story jumps around a bit as the movie’s three plot threats diverge right about that point.  There’s the Gandalf-Radagast Dol Goldur plot, the Tauriel-Legolas-Thranduil plot, the Dwarves Journey, with a few extras tied in like Kili’s innocent flirtation with the elf maiden Tauriel (made up for the movie).  I won’t give away the ending, which diverges from the book in particulars, but closes with the same result– Bilbo staring out of the Lonely Mountain and asking “Oh no!  What have we DONE?”

Action was evident in this movie.  It was action, action all the time, to be sure, but I feel that Jackson took great care to include a lot of storytelling and plot in this movie as well, so it’s not all sped-up CGI.  As I’ve said above, Bilbo starts to shine as a real hero of this story.  Jackson’s enduring theme throughout the Lord of the Rings films has been that the simple everyday courage of simple people being the true goodness that drives great evil away.  Whether it’s stout-hearted Sam staggering the last mile up Mount Doom with Frodo carried on his back, or the ingenuity and courage of Bilbo getting his friends out of trouble time and time again (often for no thanks whatsoever), it’s clearly Hobbits that embody this strength in Jackson’s eyes.  In these jaded times, that’s a message I found very heart warming.   In contrast to Bilbo, Gandalf does not seem nearly as sure of himself, and at parts of the movie, seems downright terrified.  I liked that– he walks into a very dangerous situation during the film and it’s clear to him that he doesn’t feel like he has much of a chance.   His face shows this.  Contrast that to the supremely confident White Wizard of the Return of the King, and he doesn’t seem nearly as sure as himself.    The Dwarves are a mixed lot– many are still caricatures as they were in the first film, and my favorite dwarf,  Bofur (played by James Nesbitt) lacked the depth he had in the first film.  Richard Armitage does his best to play Thorin with a certain fiery dignity but this effect is often spoiled when he is placed in scenes with human or elf sized actors– since the Dwarves Fili, Kili, and Thorin just look like shrunken men, without the facial features of the other more classic dwarves in the party.    With that said, I found myself still liking the film version of the dwarves over the book– they had overall more depth, character and humor than the book’s simple list of names.   I particularly liked Jackson’s characterization of the party as perhaps NOT the biggest bunch of dwarven badasses in Middle Earth.  It is strongly hinted that these guys were (for the most part) NOT warriors, but artisans, blacksmiths, bankers and scribes.  Dwarves have jobs, too.  Not all of them are doughty warriors.  In a nice nod to that idea, the ending of the movie has the dwarves (those of them that make it to the Lonely Mountain) deliver a stunning check to Smaug, using a very dwarven method of doing so.  It was unrealistic as hell, from a physics standpoint, but I liked that it was truly a DWARVEN approach to the problem of a rampaging dragon.  In contrast with the Dwarves the Elves seem like a gang of ass-hats.   Legolas shows up, included to appeal to the teen girl fan base, I suspect, but it makes logical sense given that they were passing through his land.  70 years must have softened him a bit because he’s kind of intolerant and reactionary in this movie– and more than willing to pick a fight with Dwarves.  Legolas comes off as a veritable Tallyrand compared to his own dad, Thranduil, however.   The Elven king is characterized (by Lee Pace, doing his very best Edgar Winter impression) as being crafty, proud, greedy and suspiciously xenophobic.  Erm.. isn’t that how DWARVES are supposed to be?   I guess I’m used to Elves being standoffish and dignified, and just a little hoity toity.  Thranduil comes off as not a little bit of an insufferable jerk.  The shining example, and most likable elf by far, was the fictional female elf, Tauriel.  I liked her inclusion.  If you’re going to add interaction with the Woodland Realm beyond what’s in the book, why NOT have Legolas and fictional characters added in?  It makes sense for the time and place.  I greatly enjoyed the depiction of Esgaroth (Lake-Town) and the humans that lived there — they had depth and character and weren’t cyphers.  Stephen Fry was up to his usual standard as the suspicious Master of Lake Town with his Grima-like right hand man.  This is an example of taking something that is implied with an economy of words by Tolkien and running with it full tilt for a touchdown by Jackson.  The whole tension of the Master being suspicious of Bard (the Smuggler) and the politics of the little town as a masterful touch.  Besides, Bard is a truly likable and good character, in every sense of the word.   Lastly, we come to Smaug.  Depicted in CGI and voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, the scenes between Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and Cumberbatch’s Smaug were one of the film’s highlights.  And a reunion, of sorts, for the two SHERLOCK actors.  I’m not sure if Bilbo ever takes the Ring off when he is talking to Smaug in the book, but he does in the film– because it’s clear that he already is feeling the torment of using it.   Bilbo’s stammering terror during his confrontation was everything I imagined it to be, and Cumberbatch’s oily, evil portrayal of Smaug is right on the money.

There were a lot of divergent plot elements, and as I’ve said many times in the past, I take these with a grain of salt.  Peter Jackson is a master craftsman in the visual storytelling field, and he is charged with making a movie of a book, not a book of a book.  I knew things would be different.  So that never bothers me unduly– it certainly didn’t in Lord of the Rings.  In Desolation, there were some elements that diverged more than a little here and there.  At one point, four of the dwarves are left behind to take care of a wounded Kili in Esgaroth while the rest of the party forges ahead.   That seemed only to be added to A) continue the odd flirtation between Kili the Dwarf and Tauriel the female Elf, and B) possibly set us up to have the Elves and Dwarves help defend Lake-town in THERE AND BACK AGAIN.  Ehhh.. that was a little thin.  The rest?  I wish Beorn had more screen time.  I wish there were more little Easter Eggs that connect the films, like the bit about Legolas and Gimli (sort of).  I find the Orc Leader Azog a little tiresome– he’s there to drive the plot along and the motivation for his undying hatred isn’t very clear.  The connection between Sauron and the Orcs seems tacked on.  The connection between Smaug and Sauron is just there for convenience– there was little or no indications that either party cared about the other one whit in the novels.  Most of these are quibbles, but they do illustrate the great weakness of this trilogy.  Jackson had to cut all three movies down to make them workable for a theatrical release when he was filming the Lord of the Rings.  With the Hobbit, we find him padding every film with fictional material or greatly expanded plot items from the appendices.   So there’s some silly moments presented to make the movie drive along, such as Azog being alive after Azunulzibar  or the flirtation between an Elf and  a Dwarf.

My overall assessment is that the Desolation of Smaug was great fun.  Not as good as the Lord of the Rings trilogy but still a very entertaining movie I’ll see again.  Highly recommended.

Micro Heroes

Golden Age Microheroes

Golden Age Microheroes

Quite by accident, I stumbled upon Darrin Rogers(?)’ site MICRO HEROES recently while researching a limited edition Marvel graphic novel called THE TWELVE that came out in 2009.  It’s an interesting story.  B-List Superheroes (and non-powered heroes) are trapped in suspension back in 1945, come to life in present day (which is assumed to be 2009) and have to cope with reality.   The writers had deliberately chosen somewhat obscure, limited run characters from Marvel’s pre-history days.  It turns out there’s a colorful history out there in Golden Age comics.  I’m not an authority or even a regular reader on comics, but I do like the occasional story like this– it has an ULTIMATES flavor to it.

Anyway, Micro Heroes are flat, two dimensional portrayals of famous Golden Aged heroes AND villains from the great old days of comic books, mostly dating to the 40s and 50s.  The artist, whom I think is Darrin Rogers (if I’m reading it correctly), has created a veritable visual encyclopedia of comics on his sites.

Omniverse Chronicles

Double ‘A’ Publications

Copper’s Golden Age Villians and Vultures

It’s all grand goofy fun, and definitely worth a look.   There’s literally nothing more to this site than lots and lots and LOTS of pictures of obscure comic book heroes from the 40s, and you can lose a lot of time there.

Micro Touch One, A review

This isn’t really a gadget review like I’m used to writing, nor is it game related. Okay, maybe a gadget (sort of?). I’ve been reading about shaving supplies by mail lately and have noticed a ton of Facebook adds that are essentially marketing directly to customers to participate in “shaving clubs”, where you get shaving supplies by mail. I’ve been shaving pretty much the same way since I started shaving, not counting the odd barber session. That is, with a Gillette Trac 2 razor, much like the one you see here:

The basic item these days.

As a method, it’s fine, I have no real complaints but my major gripe is that it’s A) expensive (blades are so costly they are controlled items in most stores) and B) the blades go dull rather quickly as they clog up with dried shaving cream, whiskers and other gunk. On the plus side, it’s fast and reasonably effective for what it is. I just would like to explore another option, and I recently found one.

The MicroTouch One

the Micro Touch One is essentially your daddy’s razor. It’s a remake of the quintessential Safety Razor that most men shaved with for the majority of the 20th century. I remember my dad using this shaving back in the 60s and 70s. Solid brass construction, very solid, and surprise.. it carries ONE blade. Not two, not three, not four (yes, razor blades have that many now.. can you believe that?)

MicroTouch One

I have had this for about two weeks and have shaved with it repeatedly. It definitely requires an adjustment to use a micro track. I didn’t grow up shaving with a single blade razor and didn’t learn on them– so shaving is a little trickier, especially in hard to reach places like just under the nose or on your throat and under the ears. The results were impressive. Much like the advertising suggests.. maybe we DON’T need multiple blades. I can attest that a single blade will shave you as close as a double blade. The blades are cheaper (since they gave me 24 to start and I haven’t changed one yet, I won’t in a position to buy new blades for most of a year, but I can’t imagine they are that high). And big bonus, that dried crud you get with a Trac 2 (or higher) is easy to solve since the blade pops out for cleaning. My sense of things is that this is going to be a much cheaper way to shave in the upcoming year.. it will take a little longer since I’m still awkward around the nose area, but it does a great job.

Micro Touch One is available (as far as I can tell) via online only, and retails for about 20 dollars for the razor, 24 blades, and a nifty little case with a mirror. If they are implying I would use it “in the field” to shave with, I think it’s a little short of the mark. Still, the presentation is very good indeed and the value is impressive. I would recommend the Micro Touch One.

You can order them HERE.

Virtuacon First Session and First Game of Labyrinth Lord

I’ve been on something of a retro-RPG kick lately. On a whim, I signed up for a session of Virtuacon, the virtual roleplaying convention run in October by volunteer GMs at (the Roleplaying brother site to Boardgamegeek). There were several games and session to choose from. I initially wanted to try FIASCO, but decided to go with LABYRINTH LORD instead. My reasoning was that much as I like Fiasco’s core concept, it is a storytelling RPG game at heart, and I have very little experience in that kind of RPG. Labyrinth Lord, by contrast, was as familiar as putting my foot into an old boot. Created under D&D’s open license, it is about as old-school D&D as it comes. There was literally nothing about the game I didn’t get or had some previous experience with in another form. We played on October 19, from about 6PM to 10PM. Considering that we were launching a new campaign, incorporating new characters and doing the scenario preamble roleplaying, we were surprisingly productive.

Outdoor Map using RD20 app. We are mapping the way to the central mound in the Barrowmaze.

Virtual roleplaying was accomplished using Google Hangouts for video and audio chat, and Roll20 mapping app for the maps and die rolls– really all the “gamey bits”. My computer doesn’t have a camera built in (or microphone) but I managed to plug in my snowball microphone for audio input and everything went splendidly. I didn’t really look at the live video feed much– it’s not required for playing a game anyway. Sound, however, is crucial. I had a hard time with the driver set for the Snowball, and that hung me up for a bit– until I rebooted my machine, and then it went well. I notice that nobody pays much attention to typed chat in a virtual game, so a microphone is the very least amount of equipment I would call essential for playing.

How did it go?

I think we all had a blast. I ran a pre-generated character call Bronn the Sell-Sword. A plain vanilla fighter with not much in the way of kit. Here’s the rather succinct summary posted by the GM:

“A recent party of adventurers returned from the Barrowmaze with many gems and gold only losing one valiant cleric that sacrificed his life to save the party.

They took with them a strange man by the name of Tronnan from a far off land looking for what he said was a river that supposedly runs through some part of the Barrowmaze. The party returned without finding it in the first delve after running from a pack of 4 ghouls and rescuing a former adventurer hurt in a pit.

Creatures defeated: 5 giant rats(alas no 2000 coppers!), 2 zombies (turned), 1 giant snake, 1 zombie, 2 giant carnivorous flies, 1 heucuva
6 rot grubs(2 killed). “


1 Deela Danderfluff (884)
2 Kevlar Windbreaker (884)
3 Bross the Sellsword (844)
4 Pardue the Holy Man (844)
5 Mikos Zanzibash (0) (died from ghoul attacks)

I did manage to kill a few things but my luck was pretty bad much of the night– the dice weren’t on my side. So it goes. I redeemed myself by leaping into the last room full of ghouls and dragging the unconscious hobbit out by the hair, before the ghouls finished feasting on the cleric and turned their attentions towards the thief.

In the dungeon, JUST before we discover a room with a pack of higher level ghouls in it (bottom right, not mapped yet). They handed us our lunch from the inside out.

I liked the virtual RPGing experience quite a bit. Technology has advanced a lot since I tried something like this the last time and this time I felt like I was in the same room with the crowd of gamers. Everyone was polite, not greedy and very easygoing and funny. We are going to meet again to play another round in November.

GET LAMP, a documentary

You are standing before a farmhouse… you can go E, W, N or S. What do you want to do?

My first computers were very definitely text adventures, and my favorite company was a small company called INFOCOM, who made outstanding games in the best packaging that has ever been achieved for mainstream games, now or since. Interactive Fiction, for you youngsters, is a text-based type of computer game where you were prompted to tell the program what you were going to do next. The program would parse the information and feedback results. Verbally. Or with very minor graphical interface. I’ve played ZORK, and Classic Adventure (on mainframes!), along with Empire. My first personal computer games I bought from a store were C-64 Infocom games, and I remember them with a special fondness that I still have to this day. Back then, IF games were the thing. Computer Games are more of a niche industry these days, being consumed entirely by console games with outstanding graphics, and deservedly so– that’s progress. I guess. The virtue of interactive fiction is that it NEVER needed cool graphics. Don’t SHOW me. TELL me. I can make the pictures happen myself.

Screen Shot from GET LAMP.

Screen Shot from GET LAMP.

Back in 2010, Jason Scott captured the story of this short period in time very well with his documentary, GET LAMP. The documentary plots the rise and fall of text adventures, from Colossal Cave and Zork to the first adventure game companies, particularly INFOCOM. INFOCOM’s rapid demise in the wake of the rise of graphic based games, and then the implosion of computer games in general in favor of consoles. GET LAMP, about two hours long, interviews the main players and some of the consumers of the interactive ficion gaming culture. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll love this. Even if you’re not, you might just like it. It wasn’t always about graphics. There was a time when you had to use your head and map it all out to play a game. It took a special kind of person to like that kind of game– I’m not saying a “superior” kind of person, but certain a literate person.

Fast forward about 7 minutes and some change for the actual start of the movie. You’ll like this. Give it a shot.


ASCII, Jason Scott’s blog

The Archive Team

Pirated 18mm Eureka SYW figures on eBay


The miniatures hobby is already a niche business, full of small businessmen that feel the effects of piracy in no uncertain terms. It be hooves all of us lead-pushing geeks to get the word out about pirates. Cheers to Fighting15s in the U.K. For spotting this.

[follows: reblog post from Oozlum Games blog]

Originally posted on Oozlum Games:


A Hong Kong based eBay user is selling painted, pirated versions of Eureka’s 18mm Seven Years War range. Fighting 15s has been following this user’s activities for some time, and at last has obtained examples of the figures and been able to compare them directly with genuine Eureka figures. Examples of pirated and genuine work appear in the pictures accompanying this news item.

Ebay user imfadcom (painting service CHYT) has been selling painted pirated version of Eureka’s SYW range since at least 2011. Fighting 15s became aware of this after attending Central London Wargames Club, where examples were fielded by one of the players in a large game. Thanks to that player we now have copies of the eBay emails relating to those items, identifying and confirming imfadcom as the seller, and have been able to make a more detailed comparison of the figures and take photographs.

As the photographs…

View original 569 more words

BDB: Summon the Squid God? Now we have a squid god.

One of the more peculiar groups in Big Danged Boats game is the mighty Cult of F’Vah, the inhabitants of the FOOT OF THE DEAD GOD. The cult is a pretty strange group, consisting of a small cluster of high priests riding on a platform that serves as a floating altar for calling up their God, F’Vah the Squid God.

The Cult of F’Vah sails into Danger!

Certain factions in BDB get their own thematic FACTION CARDS, or capability. This is a balancing mechanism to give them an edge on more powerful opponents. The Cult of F’Vah has a unique capability from their Faction Card. Useable once per game, they can SUMMON THE SQUID GOD for free.

Summon the Squid God!!!

When played, F’Vah would show up and slap a ship with the equivalent of a mega-ram factored tentacle slap. Prior to a recent discovery, I had a few tentacles stand in for F’Vah to demonstrate his Mighty Presence:

The Squid God Slaps the Gnomish Siege Machine SILLY!

The tentacles were a lucky find from AUGIE’S GAME STORE ONLINE. They are made of durable vinylish plastic, similar to heroclix stuff.

I like the tentacles just fine and they certainly work, but the implied menace of a really, really pissed off aquatic god was missing. The Cultists can summon him once for free; in subsequent turns they can summon him again (in tentacle form) by removing (sacrificing) one of the crew… and he may or may not start getting angry. If he DOES get angry, he might just show up in person to protest. That’s the form I wanted to capture for the game. And so I did.

All hail the mighty F’VAH! Destroyer of Life!

The idea being that F’Vah might show up and try to eat the High Priests if they anger him unduly. This is a model from Scotia Grendel in the U.K. It’s the “Swamp Creature”. I love the look of this one.. the big angry eyes and the way he’s encrusted with plant life. Had to get it. I’m not crazy about the tentacles, which had to be drilled and pinned before epoxying. So I’m just going to stick with Auggie’s Kraken tentacles for now and I painted F’Vah to match. I think it’s a great model and I think it will add some fun to our games.

All Hail the Squid God.

The Magi: Waving Hands for Miniatures, debuts

Here’s a game I’ve been wanting to make happen for a long time– bringing some version of WAVING HANDS into the spatial reality of miniatures.  I’ve had the miniatures painted and in a box for a year or more.  I’ve had the spell component cards done.  I just have to put it all together, which I finally have done.  The Magi will debut at the Summer Gaming camp for Kids I will be throwing in two weeks, and preliminary run through results have me very, very positive.  I like this game, but then again, I should since it’s been around forever and was pretty close to perfect as designed.  Waving Hands started in 1977 as a game submission that ended up being a magazine article in a defunct PBM magazine called Sauce of the Nile.    A long time ago I asked Richard Bartle, the original author, if I could make a miniatures variant.  It turned out he had always wanted to have the spatial moving and attacks element of this game but was constrained by publishing space in the magazine he published it in.  So the Waving Hands that I have played via email and admired all these years was originally visualized in a manner not too different from the version I am attempting.  My version, called “The Magi” because the good names are all taken, will move wizards either a short or long distance as a phase outside of spellcaster, then the wizard has a choice of actions, most of which involve spellcasting or fighting.  In my game, the spells are built by cards which are played in spell sequence face down by the caster, along with the actual somatic gesture which is public open knowledge (unless you are blinded).    Thus your wizardly opponents only know what they can see (and remember, and guess at).

As a PBM game, it’s frankly excellent.  With miniatures, I hope it will be the same.  The game mechanics are simple enough, Move, Move Short and Perform an Action, Cleanup.

This colorful cast of characters below are my Wizards.  I have 14 spellcasters from various origins.. including cave shaman and a magical Cyclops.

photo 4

photo 2

photo 3

photo 5

Many of these are the old Ral Partha/Iron Wind Metals Spellbinder Line, but not all of them.  Some I have no idea of the provenance of.  Aren’t they a colorful bunch?

The concept behind Waving Hands for miniatures is that this is a wizards duel.  Each wizard character has 15 hit points.  They cast spells by making gestures.  Gestures (in this game) are printed on cards.  Cards build your spell (hidden from everyone but you) but when put the gesture down you MUST make the actual gesture in public for all to see.  Thus the players have imperfect knowledge but if they concentrate they can take a guess at  what you are planning to cast and take steps to avoid  or counter it.    I’m looking forward to running this game.  AT LONG LAST.

Click here to listen to a longish ramble on everything you need to know to play:

2013 has become the year of bringing long procrastinated projects to fruition for me.  First Big Danged Boats and now the Magi.  What next?

Big Danged Boats Recap, first Convention game

So, as I posted on here, HISTORICON 2013 was the first play of BIG DANGED BOATS (BDB) for more than4 players as a Convention Game. I think it went pretty well. I ran BDB on Thursday night and actually regretted not running it again.


So, on to my impressions. First of all, BDB did meet my expectations of the kind of game I wanted to make. I was looking for something slightly ridiculous and over the top, set in a “fantasy universe” of sorts, but not the classic elves and dwarves and fairies, even if they will be included for the sake of familiarity. Secondly I wanted to end up with a fantasy naval game that isn’t a retread of UNCHARTED SEAS in a larger scale. The emphasis would be on gunfire and boarding actions, but wouldn’t be nearly as abstracted as in that game– I wanted to see the figures going over the side and fighting hand to hand with crews on other ships– recreating the old pirate movie scenes where hordes of men swing across on ropes and heroically slash at each other with cutlasses, sneering and having camera op moments. To achieve that, the universe can’t be very gun heavy, or the game becomes a naval gunfire game. To get there, I limited gunfire (well, attempted to) by limiting ammunition. That didn’t work as well as it might. I gave each ship 1 or 2 red kegs of “Boom Powder”. Each keg carries five shots. The wealthier and more technological societies have more boom powder, the more primitive cultures have less. In practice, 10 shots (2 kegs of boom powder) turned out to be a LOT of shots for this game. People spent more time maneuvering to get a shot than actually shooting. Solution: make it 3 shots per keg rather than 5.

BDB has many home made markers, templates, measuring devices, figures, tokens and etc. From the little rock bluff (clockwise): Shining Moment Coins, Action Cards (blue card box) Oar Gauges (red, behind bluff), Yardarm to yardarm template, and the wind arrow in the background.

Logistical Tail: I made a TON of homemade game aids for this game– Action Cards, tokens, markers, measuring sticks, turning angles, wind markers and one yardarm to yardarm template. Even so, I could see that the game needed this– there’s just too much going on every turn. Players have to be sure of the Wind on all sides of the table, that’s why there’s a giant wind arrow. They have to see the weather change, that’s why the weather gauge is so large. The turning templates could have been a little cleaner, but they do what they are supposed to. The red and blue distance sticks worked like a charm. No tape measures. The only thing that didnt’ really work for me were the boarding markers (not big enough) and targeting markers. I may have to (dang it) go to Litko for this, though their stuff is rather small for this scale.

Ships: I wanted to use a preponderance of commercially made ships with some kit-bashing here and there. So a lot of the ships you see in this game started life as Old Glory Shipyards or earlier hulls (in some cases, much, much earlier). I have been collecting 15mm boats of various flavors for a long time now, and I only have some of them painted up for this game. Since I wanted ships that were highly visual, thematic, and somewhat ridiculous looking, I had to improvise a few of them from found materials, like a dog’s squeaky toy in the shape of a foot, or a kid’s boxing glove candy holder toy. All of which were heavily kit bashed to make the ridiculous visual fit the game.

The Holy Frenzy: an Old Glory 15mm Historical cog, with homemade Celtic Sail (she is the ship of the Brothers of Saint Brendan), detachable coracles from Museum Miniatures, and a kitbashed fighting platform up top. Painted umber with sienna highlights and red accent coloring.

The Primus, the partially armored steam powered cheese of the Rats of Ingoldsby. Made from an artificial display cheese for kitchen remodeling displays. Not much done to the cheese– added a wooden fighting platform up top, steam pipes, and a fighting platform below, plus scaled naval fittings (wheel and vents) added in haphazard style. Oh, and painted PRIMUS across the back (points if you get the reference). Ratmen figures from Magister Militum.

The Flagship Junk of the Seng, the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire that sell Boom Powder here in the Middle Sea. They are up-gunned compared to the rest of the players, but not overwhelmingly so. The Junk is a toy from the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie which is happily in scale. Didn’t do much to it, just painted the sails and trim to accentuate the red and dark grey color scheme for the Seng Fleet. Figures are Boxer Rebellion era Chinese, since they had muskets.

The Scarlet Castle, the Fighting Platform the Seng tow behind their flagship. Limited mobility by Sweep Oars when moving independently, designed to be towed into a battle and cut loose, bringing firepower to bear on enemies. Has rockets (up front) and some Jingal Teams, plus lots of handguns. Old Glory “Junk Wars” Junk, painted dark grey and dark red to match the Seng Junk color scheme.

Bone Brigade Flagship

Bone Brigade Flagship “Deadnought”, with giant skeleton arm lobber. This is an old, old flea market find– I think it was an illegal copy of an old My Galley Sally hull, but I have no way of knowing where it comes from. It was so pitted and rotten looking, all I did was give it an all over brown gray rotting wood color with some glowing green fungus highlights. The arm and superstructure are kit-bashed from craft sticks, brass and a piece of halloween decoration. Troops are Old Glory’s old fantasy line, Black Foundry.. I painted them with brass weapons to give them that “aged” look

Black GalleyThe Bone Brigade Black Galley, which is imagined to be a sort of ramming and missile fire consort to the Flagship– all archers from Alternative Army. Another ancient find, this was purchased at roughly the same time and probably from the same source. Just as bad of a casting, but painted black so it’s not as noticeable.

Killing three birds with one stone: left to right The Hoplite, from the Spartan CosPlay and Athletic Society, the Gnomish Siege Machine, and The Red Menace of the Iron Dwarves. The Hoplite was an Ebay Purchase that came already painted to my satisfaction and I didn’t do much except put an artillery platform up front for a medium gun. Spartans are all old Museum Miniatures. The Siege Machine ship is 100% kit bashed out of various craft bits, plastic card and a kid’s boxing glove candy holder. I wanted a HUGE, slow menacing ship as a funny juxtaposition with the rather tiny and peaceable looking gnomes. Gnome figures are a combination of Splintered Light and Peter Pig 15mms. The Red Menace is the CSS Manassas from Old Glory’s ACW 15mm line, with a flying dwarf launcher in the back and a wacky red and gold color scheme. Dwarf crew as a mix of Old Glory’s Black Raven and Alternative Armies (for “High” Dwarves) and some old 15mm Battlesystem (for “Gully” Dwarf Crossbowmen)

Killing more birds with one stone: L to R The Stinkwater, pirate ship of the Dredd Rott Pyrates, the Red Ragnarok (Ragnar Brothers dragon ship), The Sylvan Terror of the Wood Elf faction (top, the green galley) and the Freya (right), also a Ragnar Bros dragon ship). The Zombie Pirate ship was a very fortuitous Ebay find, relatively recently. Unfortunately I ran out of time to make it look as rotted and scabrous as it clearly needs to be for a Zombie Crew, but it at least looks the part in broad outline. Pirate figures are from Rebel Minis. The two dragon ships are Old Glory historicals from their “Dragon Wars” line– one painted medium brown with red trim, the other with green trim. Figures are an old 15mm Mighty Armies “Barbarians” pack, less the reindeer chariots– I wanted barbarians but not TOO Viking like. The galley that made up the Sylvan Terror is another mystery find from the past.. it’s more than a decade old and my memory fails me. Painted green/light green with a sculpy ram (the one that came with was missing) and a decoration in the back added by me.

Not Pictured, since it didn’t get run by a player: The Sea Eagle, the galley of the High Elves. This was essentially THIS HULL by Old Glory Shipyards in their Galley Wars line. Painted in blue/light blue/light yellow color scheme, with Alternative Army High Elf Archers (I think.. maybe they are older than that) in a matching color scheme. They also have a Sea Eagle figure (Dungeons and Dragons miniature) that they can launch as a limited aerial attack, and a light gun facing forward.

Group shot with Plunger and Von Ripper.

Not the best picture for display purposes, but you can’t have everything, where would you put it? The Plunger (far left) and the Von Ripper (starboard of the Red Menace) round off the Dwarven Stealth Fleet. Plunger is a historical CSS Hunley model from Old Glory Shipyard 15mm Historicals. Von Ripper is a CSS David model from the same source. The Plunger is pretty much a straight historical paint job– all rusty gun metal. The Von Ripper is also rusty metal with artillery platforms added fore and aft with Alternative Army dwarven artillery crews and Battlesystem “Gulley Dwarf” archers. The design philosophy behind the dwarves was that there is only a tiny minority of them that wish to go to sea, so they have trouble crewing large vessels. They favor ships that stand off and punch from a distance.

Foot of the Dead God

A big disappointment (for me) was that nobody selected The Foot of the Dead God, “ship” of the crazed Cultists at Historicon. I found a dog’s squeaky toy in the shape of a human foot, painted it like rotten flesh, and built up a platform up top. The crew is basically Hyena Men from Splintered Light along with Evil High Priests from the same source, and an Essex mercenary Artillery Crew.

Mechanics: I’m going to have make things a lot simpler. I tend to design for everything and the kitchen sink, and that complicates things. Things that worked: the way the ships move-- different ships (Steam, Wind, Magic, and Rowed) move in different ways, and they all worked together pretty well. One thing that surprised me was how competitive oared ships were with Steam Ships and Sailing Ships. At the Historicon game, Bill Alderman, playing the Spartans in a small galley, managed to catch up with the slow moving Steam powered Gnomish Siege Machine and board it, and commence to kick Gnomish butt. Jeff Simpson, running the Stealth Fleet, pushed the steam powered Von Ripper to the limit, and failed his Boom Check roll when he changed gears. Fortunately he had an Engineer card to play and they fixed it immediately. The Holy Frenzy, a sailing ship, was at the wrong angle to the wind until it changed, and then he swooped in with the wind behind him taking advantage of the extra wind. We actually changed weather twice, and the wind speed got up to “Squall”, which gave the sailing ships lots of speed. Unfortunately Brett Abbott had the Oil on Troubled Waters card, and that stopped the windy weather.
I also liked, in general, The Cards and Shining Moment Coins. The cards are a major “something” a player can do one time, to help himself or hurt someone else. The Shining Moment coins are rerolls of critical dice, and count as victory points at the end of the game. That worked.

The Mighty Siege Machine Chugs out to battle arming it’s steam powered Bopper.alas, Captain Chris Johnson did not pilot her to glory that night.

Things that I liked less: Initiative. Confusingly written. I’m probably going to go with playing cards or chips next time. Ramming Procedure: The Sequence should be Move, Check to see if Ram is possible, Ram, throw grapples, then if that works, place a marker to board or attempt to back out. This got all jacked up from turn to turn. I’m going to look at this more closely. Boarding Procedure: Too slow. I built a very cool yardarm to yardarm template, but I didn’t build enough of them and setting up a boarding combat was too slow and had too many steps. I’ll streamline this. Gunnery in General: The basic model is relatively easy– so many dice for a heavy gun, so many dice for a medium, so many dice for a light. But I wasn’t sinking any ships with gunfire. That mostly killed crews. And gunfire checked damage off of a grid in hull points and other things.. crew, gun, etc. Also, the whole volley fire thing from crew weapons (muskets, archers, crossbows) caused too much confusion, as I had three flavors of gunnery– we’ll make it ONE form of gunfire (unaimed volley) and we’ll work with the dice rolls to add things like “hit a leader” or “hit a critical dude”.

Gun Fire Scarlet Castle versus Bone Brigade

Gunfire didn’t sink a lot of ships. Musket fire (and bows, and crossbow bolts) did. In the picture above, the Scarlet Castle pours hand cannon fire into the Deadnought (Bone Brigade) which dropped the crew down quick a bit. The Bone Brigade was nonplussed. Life (or non-life) is cheap to them.

Sequencing was a little confusing, with too many exceptions. I’ll tighten that up. Damage was not lethal enough. An easy thing to fix.

In this situation we have the Ragnar Brothers in Two Dragon Ships, boarding the Stinkwater, and being boarded in turn by the Wood Elves, then assaulted by the coracles of the HOly Frenzy. Who goes first here?

Things I had but didnt’ use: Cards were fairly limited. I had cards designed for some factions, giving them special abilities. Reinforcements in the Hold: I also had a ton of reinforcements for most factions who had a ship big enough to have a hold, just not a great way to commit them to the game. Objectives-- the basic game is a pig pile. It might be fun to add objective markers for some games.

SO that’s my critique of my own system, BDB v. 1.2 Things I’m going to add: A decent magic system– probably card driven. I have three or four more factions imminent– the Trader Guild, which seeks to manufacture Boom Powder themselves and wishes to cut the Seng out of the equation; the Little People’s alliance (Fawns, Leprachauns and Gully Dwarves), Lizard Men and Orc boats.

What happened in the game?

It was a lot of fun. We had almost every ship in the game except for the Foot of the Dead God and the Sea Eagle. The Holy Frenzy was hampered by contrary winds early in the game and then swooped into a four way boarding action later deploying his special coracles to try to capture a ship. The Ragnar Brothers were quite aggressive, taking on the Wood Elves in a boarding action and the Stinkwater (Zombie Pirates) simultaneously, then being rammed in turn by the coracle assault after their numbers diminished. The Wood elves used their wood-ripping ram quite effectively against the Stinkwater, then got rammed and boarded by the Ragnars. The Primus steamed into battle and took advantage of their special power to turn on a dime to bring their cannon to bear almost every turn. The Seng got stuck into it with the Bone Brigade and had their tow rope ripped apart by them. The Spartans were incredibly aggressive and boarded and slaughtered the Gnomes at a terrible cost. I eventually called the game as ships got crews depleted to the point of no return. By points and by acclamation, the “Victor” was Aaron Bostian (who provided these pictures). Well done, sir.

Your Intrepid GM

In general, I’m happy with BDB but need to wrench on it a little longer. Big Danged Boats is large, grandiose, goofy and ridiculous, just as I had imagined it to be, and it certainly maintains its own internal logic. So I’m fairly pleased. Thanks to those players who showed up and played.

As mentioned above, Aaron Bostian (Fellow gaming blogger on the Fancy Wars Blog, check it out) was present running the Bone Brigade and he took MANY pictures. Here is a nice slide show if you’d like a look. SImply click on the image below:

Click to see slideshow. Thanks to Aaron Bostian for all these fantastic pictures. You are a gent sir.

Making Movies in the 1980s in Washington DC

Back in the old days, my friends and I used to make movies in DC.  This is an activity that was frequently photographed and created many great stories, only some of which I could ever relate on here.  Which is a story in itself.

I’ve never been an avid archivist, except, maybe, writing things down, blog style.  So I don’t really have a lot of pictures of myself from the 1980s, doing the normal things like working, socializing and whatnot.  From the movie making days I had a few boxes but they vanished years ago (Im not big on photo albums).  So it was great that my good friend Brian Armstrong recently resurrected a metric sh*t ton of old photos from this time period, only a few of which I’ll deign to expose to the blog-reading public, such as it is.

So, if the Gigya code actually works, here is a little nugget of fun from that time period, when the only thing I worried about was where the next beer was coming from.

And if it doesn’t work, sod that, you can always click on my severed head:

Hi, I’m Mister Nizz’s SEVERED HEAD! Click me! I am the nicest severed head you’ll ever meet!

I just received BLOODY MAGNUMS (from which many of those pictures originate) in the mail, and will be working on making it more digital and easy to access shortly.

GADGET review: FLIPS Audio

I haven’t reviewed a gadget in a month of Sundays, so it is high time we got back in the groove around here.

This weeks’ interesting item is the FLIPS audio headphone.


FLIPS in flipped out mode

The premise behind the gadget is simple.  You are interested in a high quality sound experience for your portable audio or home stereo system.  But you are also interested in turning your Ipod into a stereo for an impromptu party or back deck gathering.  Do you lumber out a giant set of speakers?  Carry an extra set of capsule speakers, maybe?  No need!  The FLIPS will do both things for you.  Wear the FLIPS as a set of excellent high range noise-cancelling headphones, and when you want to bring the party out, you simply rotate the speakers around in the headset for a set of 40mm speakers with excellent range and realistic bass and treble.  I was fairly impressed by this.  I’ve had the FLIPS for about 3 weeks now.  During that time I’ve used it to routine play audiobooks during my commute, music out loud from my Ipod and streaming audio and video.  The FLIPPED side of the speakers are not going to replace a home theater unit any time soon, but they are impressively loud and can fill up a room with sound.

FLIPS, normal side

The Normal “UNFLIPped” side of FLIPS.

The important feature to note is that the FLIPS phones definitely have a safety feature.  A 40mm speaker blasting into your eardrum wouldn’t be pleasant.  So the FLIPS people have a noise leveling feature that reduces the sound to safe audio levels while wearing it in the normal, unflipped orientation.  I call it wearing Indoor Voice, wearing Outdoor Voice.

The sound is great on these headphones in either orientation.  I do a lot of audio book listening (though my Ipad) during drive time, but don’t have an auxiliary jack in my car’s stereo system, which sucks.  I was using a single capsule speaker which can be very tinny sounding and it fades quickly as it loses charge.  The FLIPS phones (flipped) make an excellent alternative to driving around with noise cancelling headphones, which the local police frown upon.

Summary: An excellent innovation, and an excellent, high end set of headphones.  Great for impromptu gatherings and improvised, on the spot social gathering.   I am enjoying these quite a bit.

Fist Full of Magnum (1985) uncut

Back in the 1980s, I used to make movies with my good friend Brian Armstrong. We called ourselves Totally Shameless Productions. We didn’t have any grand ambitions. We were just trying to have fun with our friends, goofing off and screwing around. It was ambitious in the sense that nobody really used film cameras to make stories.. this was before easy access to video and digital editing. Film was a pain in the ass to edit. You had to sit in a dark room with a crude spindle viewer and some glue, cutting and splicing. The sound was awful. We had to dub it in later. You can hear the projector sound in the overdub. With that said, these things are a time capsule for a fun time and place, and some funny people. This is the first of a trilogy of very loose parodies of Clint Eastwood movies we did in the middle of the 80s. Don’t worry about the plot– it’s pretty disposable. Have fun, or don’t.


Street Musicians goofing off at the Rolling Stones

Washington DC has tons of character. You just have to know where to look for it.