Horns, by Joe Hill (a short review)

HornsHorns by Joe Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Horns is my first Joe Hill book completed (I tried NOS4R2 as an audio book a while back but ran out of time and gave up at checking it out again, so it doesn’t count). Horns is the story of one Ignatius “Ig” Parrish, lovelorn victim of a horrible crime where the love of his life is cruelly and casually raped and strangled to death, and he is blamed for it. Although his actions aren’t specifically stated as a cause of his ensuing problems, when Ig drunkenly smashes the religious figures set out for his girlfriend’s memory after a candlelight prayer vigil, he wakes up the next day with horns. As in the devil kind. Small at first, then larger and and larger as the course of time passes in the book. Ig notices something strange right off the mark. When people encounter the horns, they have a hard time seeing them– as if there is a strong influence on them to forget about them and look elsewhere. Also, when people encounter the Horns, they feel compelled to tell Ig things. Nasty things.. their inner monologue suddenly becomes external. Ig starts to encounter a phenomenon.. people are telling him their dark desires so they can get Ig to “give permission” to do bad things. Initially repulsed, Ig sees the practical side of his newfound power of compulsion, and uses it to help solve his girlfriend’s murder. I won’t give up any more of the plot here, as I’m already treading on spoiler territory.

Suffice to say the murderer is no great surprise, in fact, the book telegraphs it pretty early. The rest of the story unfolds around what Ig can possibly do with that information to extract some measure of justice from the situation. It’s an interesting and sometimes quite funny narrative. I liked the very subtle ending and the notion that Ig may have “fixed things” after all, but there is a lot of that imagery-vs-reality language going on in Ig’s portion of the story. Viewpoints shift between main characters from time to time and the narrative bounces between flashbacks, points of view and sometimes allegorical imagery. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Horns is a fun (not profound) read, and Mr. Hill definitely inherited the storyteller’s gift from his father.

I did catch the movie based on the book on NETFLIX; I can’t recommend it. The story is greatly changed, the killer actually LESS telegraphed and entirely unexplained or hinted at, which made his revelation jarring. Still, if you haven’t read the book you might be amused!


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Happy Anniversary to 3PoS

Today is the sixth year of this blog, which commenced on this day in 2009, after porting all content (somewhat inexpertly) from its previous existence as “Another Point of Singularity” on Blogger.com.   As I mention in “About 3PoS” above, this is the successor to the blogger.com blog, and the xanga.com blog long before that.  So in a sense this effort has been ongoing since 2004.

6 Years on I have to say I made the correct decision to migrate to WordPress.com.  I am entirely happy with the control, the security, and the efforts WP.com goes to to keep out annoying spam comments.

During the six years, readership has grown at a nice curve– nothing explosive or exponential, but readership is up, followers are up and subscriptions are up.   Way above where they were in 2009. That works for me.  As I’ve said before, I’m not selling anything, I’m not trying to make a political or social “point”, I’m not part of a cult, society, or any other societal cluster that requires validation from internet traffic.   Sure, I could be more controversial, I guess, or more prolific, but that’s starting to be more work than it’s worth.

I’m content if someone reads a post once in a while, but I really just write these things for the sheer fun of the process.

Trends: Gaming has always been a huge focus for this blog and continues to be.  Reviewing things has gone up– not just games but books as well.

My most popular posts continue to be an ill-mannered screed against Games Workshop I posted four years ago, and a nostalgia piece about the ads for the Submarines in the back of comic books of long ago.  So go figure.

I have no plans to quit any time soon, for better or worse.  You have been warned.

Balticon 49: A short visit Saturday

Gar and I headed up to Balticon at the venerable Hunt Valley Inn last weekend, for a day visit.  We were a little stymied when we discovered the indie film festival was on Sunday and we went on a Saturday.  Call it faulty memory– maybe we DID go up on Sunday last  year? (yes we did; should have read the online program first)  Oh well, we didn’t let that dim the luster.

Impressions: For starters, B49 seemed very lightly attended.  It wasn’t the standard cheek by jowl situation in the Salon areas, and the usual mob of costumery seemed greatly diminished.  I like Science Fiction conventions quite a bit, but I’ve never been one of the faithful– meaning, I don’t wear costumes, I don’t “filk”, I don’t wear a lot of buttons.  So SF Con Fandom isn’t really my thing– I’m not part of that culture.   I read books, and I like SF authors, and like to hear them talk, and I buy books.  So that’s what I come to a convention for– and maybe see indie films and play some games.   In that respect, we were only partially successful, but that’s fine.

There were two writer GOH’s I wanted to see, Chuck Gannon and Jack McDevitt, but I missed both.  I did buy a book of each of theirs however.  FireFall by Gannon and the reissue of The Hercules Text from McDevitt.

The Con Suite was a big disappointment.  The munchies budget was clearly halved.  No WiFi signal in the Con Suite, which was very annoying.  Still, it’s a nice place to collect and plan our precious hours, so we mapped out our day.  I went to the Dealer’s area and bought some books from vendors who I don’t normally see on Amazon.  I also made a point of buying three books from the late great C.J. Henderson, whom I liked and will miss.  C.J.’ s wife and family incurred lots of expense in the final stages of his illness so every little bit helps.    I also sat in on his memorial service at the convention.  I certainly hope C.J.’s work remains in print and someone (not necessarily his wife) continues selling his titles.

I didn’t hit every panel talk I wanted to– I went to a Pulp discussion that was notionally about C.J.’s work but ranged far and wide, and was very engaging.  I enjoyed it.  I followed that up with dropping in to see a little of the anime film Princess Mononoke but as I  A) had seen this film multiple times and B) was falling asleep in the back, much to my son’s embarrassment, I nipped out to the next talk, which was on the Ancient Art of Celestial Navigation and Land-Finding, as practiced by Polynesians.   This was very interesting indeed.    The professor (a public scholar from the Smithsonian Institution Museum of the Native Americas) was a great speaker and projected his enthusiasm for the subject to his rapt audience.  A very fortuitous find.  After that, we were hungry, so we went to Wegman’s to get the buffet and make use of the WiFi.

Since we were at sixes and sevens not being able to make the Film Festival unless we spent the night, so I suggested we try Mr. John Montrie’s RPG session about Victorian Horror using Howard Whitehouse’s Dashing Adventure rules.  Garrett readily agreed and this activity proved to be the high point of the day.  We were using minimal rules/maximum storytelling approaches to the game– Howard’s rules are very forgiving.   The scenario was pretty cut and dried– we were a team of trouble makers sent to a mansion to investigate the recent ghost sightings reported there.  I played “Biggles” the Pilot, and I played him increasingly skeptical of the events transpiring at the castle.  We played it all the way through to the end, and part of my prediction (that the former owner of the estate was somehow caught up in the hauntings) would come true.  Even if there was a leprechaun.   It was a very satisfying conclusion,and thus we drove homeward, it being elevenish.

Despite a low attendance and a bad con suite, I enjoyed myself and so did Garrett.  We tried something new (RPG games at a convention) and got a decent return for our buck.  There were rumors of Balticon moving into the inner harbor next year– not sure what to make of them.  The only convention I’ve been associated with that tried to go to the Inner Harbor (convention center) ended up losing 30K plus.  I hope the planners have thought of everything.  I’d still be inclined only to do a day trip under those circumstances, and maybe only once, if the parking is too astronomical.  As it tends to be.

So that was my Balticon 49.. kind of a shade of what it once was, but still enjoyable.

Post-Apocalyptic Scooby Gang, in Color!

Creating a post-apocalyptic car combat game has its whimsical moments.  I present “The Scooby Gang”, alongside the Mystery Machine:

L to R: Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy. Mystery Machine (up armored) in background. Scooby is in foreground.

 Figures were Elhiem, the Van is Hot Wheels with some Stan Johansen flourishes..

Same lineup as before, another angle

“1970’s Style Teen/twentys Pesky Kids and Great Dane”

and another new car…

The Grease Palace! He drops oil slicks and junk parts behind him…

Yes, it’s fun living in a blasted Apocalypse, devoid of all hope!

COUP by IoS: Reassessing

I have to admit, I wasn’t much impressed with COUP (the IOS game) when it was announced recently. I will not dwell on the In Game Purchase model, which I think is rather greedy for very little in return– why? Because the game is perfectly playable as a free product. You need never purchase a single other expansion and you can still have fun with it. So it’s kind of hypocritical to complain about the publisher trying to squeeze every last drop out of this turnip. They aren’t requiring you to buy anything.

I was, however, not impressed with COUP as a game– it didn’t seem to capture the concept of bluffing as well as the regular pasteboard version did, and again, my reasoning was based on incomplete information. I have, since, actually played a game of COUP as a card game (loved it!), and

There’s a little chat button, top right, that has a lot of canned statements you can broadcast to other players. Included are statements such as “Play your card already!” and “I have a Captain Card!” or “I have the Duke!” This can play out in a lot of different ways– when you are playing an action associated with a card you don’t have (like drawing taxes as the Duke when you dont’ have that card), and actually SAY “I have the Duke card”.. that is.. actually LYING (read, bluffing), and even if it isn’t anything the other player should give credence to, if he’s smart, it’s still a nice touch. It certainly acts like a fantastic distraction to keep the other guy guessing.

In summary, I’m warming up to the game quickly and actually enjoy playing it. I’m only winning a third of the games I play so there’s a lot to learn.

Road Warrior / White Line Fever update ver 2.2 to 2.4

Just a quick note. RW/WLF has been updated, from version 2.2 to version 2.4. This update covers oil slicks and road debris, and as well as adding the one shot heavy rocket to the arsenal. There are also some rules for limiting the game based on ammunition expenditure and a point-based victory point system (the last two optional appendices).

Anyway, you can find it in the standard places, under DIGITAL RULES on the DIGITAL RULES page. See that handy tab at the top of this page.

The Strain Trilogy by Del Toro and Hogan, a short review

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy, #1)The Strain by Guillermo del Toro

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I might as well reveal that I read all three books in this trilogy, back to back, very quickly, in the last weeks of April 2015. I rarely read a trilogy of novels like that. It’s not that I found the Strain Trilogy to be a contemporary horror classic, or other superlatives. Not quite. The narrative plods quite a bit here and there, and goes off into soap opera land when the author(s) need to fill up pages. However, the elements that really sell this trilogy are there in abundance.

For one thing, it’s a very bleak story. Humans don’t come off as winners in this trilogy. They are almost the antithesis of admirable. Major players are petulant, petty, traitorous, addicted and selfish. You know, like real human beings are all the time. I liked that even the most nobly motivated characters (Abraham Setrakian and Vasily Fett) have their dark sides. It reads well. I like that humanity not only doesn’t “Win” in a classic sense, but at least they avoid losing, you know, kind of.. I’m trying hard to use spoilers, so bear with me.

As you already know, this is a trilogy of Vampire novels with a distinctly supernatural/religious thread running through them. This is where the stories shine with the luminescence of Vampire-killing UV light. These are not the comfortable Eastern European stereotype vampires, far from it. Authors Del Toro and Hogan make a supreme effort to create a creature that is not only explainable in logical medical terms, but consistent within its own universe. Many of the tropes of the creature are present– light sensitivity, silver can kill them, ultraviolet light can kill them, etc. These are explained in clinical, medical terms. You don’t just know that the Strain vampires are scary– the biology of Strain vampires is explained in excruciating, gory detail, right up to the dislocating jaws, stinger on the end of a prehensile extendible tongue and bloodworms to pass on the infection. I loved this bit– the biological & supernatural vampires of this trilogy literally had me tearing through the story. I loved the vampiric view of humanity. These vampires could care less about humans beyond them being a source of food. When, by the end of the second book (The FALL) and beginning of the third (THE NIGHT ETERNAL), it is very clear that humanity has “lost” for all intents and purposes, the reader gets a vampire’s eye view of the world in a setting where vampires breed humans for bloodletting on a scale not matched by (and largely inspired by) the Nazi death camps of World War 2.

As for the rest of the plot, it was very engaging. The ending has some surprises, but only a few. WIth this trilogy, it’s the journey, not the destination, that makes it a great read. Some of the dialogue (between humans) was a little corny in places, and I’d rate THE NIGHT ETERNAL about half a star below THE STRAIN and THE FALL for that reason. The overall effect, however, is choice.

If you’d like something new and a little shocking in your horror reading, without a doubt run and pick up THE STRAIN TRILOGY.

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy, #1) by Guillermo del Toro

The Fall (The Strain Trilogy, #2) by Guillermo del Toro

The Night Eternal (The Strain Trilogy, #3) by Guillermo del Toro

The Strain The Fall The Night Eternal

I also recommend the F/X series adaption– not as good as the books but very enjoyable.

View all my reviews

First Draft (PEL v.) Guidebook for HISTORICON 2015 is ready for downloads.

Greetings, HISTORICON 2015 convention attendees!

As I do for all the HMGS Inc shows (and other conventions), I have created a Guidebook App for you to download and use as a sort of electronic program booklet for the duration of your stay at the convention.

If you are not familiar with HISTORICON and HMGS historical miniature goodness, I recommend visiting the HMGS Site to get up to speed about our biggest event of the year, HISTORICON.    H’con will be held at the Fredericksburg Convention Center, Carl. D. Silver parkway, just to the left of Interstate I-95 facing North.   The app will actually pop up Google Maps to give you an idea of where to go.

[Cautionary note.  You register,sign-up for events, and pay on the Historicon 2o15 site above, which looks like this.  You don’t register for Hcon with this guidebook app, even if it has some features described as “checking in”– that is mostly for attendees communicating with each other and has nothing to do with paying/registering for a show]

Each Guidebook App uses the guidebook app engine created by Guidebook, Inc.  The information is customized for every show.   Usually by me, as it happens.

So to make the Guidebook App work, you’ll need the core “engine app” from Guidebook, and the specialized convention module that I create for each show.  You download the guidebook app, FIRST, then using the search mechanism, search for the app for a specific show.  In this case, HISTORICON 2015.

You will find the pertinent links to how to download the core app and show app on Guidebook’s LANDING PAGE for Historicon 2015.

After you download the guidebook app first and convention app second, you can browse around and look at the schedule.

Front Splash Page, Featuring maps and address, show hours and policies

The menu as it stands currently (PEL release)

Note— these are Android Phone version screens– I usually post Ipad shots.  I changed it up because not everyone uses a tablet.

Note, as well — this release was concurrent with the official HMGS Historicon PEL.  It is ONLY that at the moment.. just the event listings that the events team has a record of at the current moment (5/12/2015).  The guidebook will change a great deal before game time– we will be adding Seminars, Maps, Tournaments, Hobby University events, Exhibitor Listings, Restaurants, and a Vendor Hall Layout.  The good news is that if you download it now, you will automatically update every time I publish an update.  Just open it connected to the Internet (somehow) and Guidebook will tell you that Historicon 2015 has been updated and do you want to update it?  Say yes.

Right now, this is just the first step/bare bones initial release.  Stand by and I will be posting major updates as I get them.  You can also view the preview web copy here.

Enjoy, and I’ll see you at HISTORICON 2015.  I’ll be the guy running the big post-apocalyptic Mad Max game.

Guidebook QR Codes:

For the guidebook app, the “engine”

For the Guide itself (if you already have Guidebook installed). The actual show bits.

When it comes to a bluff, nothing beats a human.

COUP game screen

I recently picked up an IOS game of COUP from the App store, with high hopes.  Though I actually (wince) haven’t  ever played the game COUP until now,  I own a copy.  I know people rave about the design simplicity and fun factor of this tiny, cheap and well realized card game from the folks that brought you RESISTANCE.   Me, I bought it because I love the idea of compressing lots of fun in a small, affordable package.  See my fanboy page on ancient Microgames from the glorious early 1980s era (a tab up top).  But I digress.   Now, event though I’ve never actually played this 9 days’ wonder of a micro game, I’ve played games like it– games requiring bluffing, guile, and performance.   COUP works well because the players assume hidden roles.  The roles have certain tasks that interact with the game mechanics in a roughly deterministic manner.  You could have a card like the Duke, for instance, which taxes players 2 money.  OR .. you could just say you have the Duke, and STILL collect  the 2 money.. BUT! the other players can jump in and say “Nu-UH! NO WAY are you the Duke.  I challenge!”  A result that often penalizes the accuser more than the accused, because if you challenge him and he really IS the Duke, well, one of your cards goes face up, see?

Sure, I’ve played games like this.. many times.  BANG! comes to mind.  And DIPLOMACY.  And even COSMIC ENCOUNTER.  The challenge is figuring out the other player’s intentions from incomplete information.  `There’s nothing revelatory about stating this– you played games like that all your life, from Poker to Go Fish.  The kind of games that involve heavy amounts of bluffing.  Bluffing games come in many flavors.. role based, like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA or BANG! or rule-based, like 7 Card Stud.  The one thing they have in common is sanctioned lying-– e.g. deliberately misstating your position to gain an advantage or hide a disadvantage in the course of game play.   Card games, in particular, tend to rely on sanctioned lying as a key mechanic– our whole culture of game bluffing derives from the notion of bluffing in a gambling context.  Bluffing has been present in games from the very earliest recorded games.

If bluffing is like lying, it also prone to the weaknesses that are associated with lying.  A human being can give off detectable signs that he or she isn’t telling the truth.  In card games, these are called “tells”.  A friend of mine, a retired CIA Officer who has had to interrogate hundreds of individuals during the course of his career– is also someone I would never take on in a game of poker.  He just knows people too well.  I asked him about it.. how does he KNOW when people are lying?  He was forthcoming and very helpful.  First of all, he said, look for pauses, when a question is asked and the responder blanks for a second.  This is the moment when they are constructing a narrative in their minds.  Secondly, look for contradictory physical responses, like nodding when they are saying no.  That’s a sort of involuntary ‘disconnect’ that is totally human-centric.  Third, they will shade their eyes and mouth .. if you watch Poker Stars on TV (I mean, more than five minutes, which is my threshold for boredom about Poker technical discussions), you’ll see that most of the heavy hitters play with mirror shades on or a hat down over their eyes.  That’s intentional.. the eyes give them away during a bluff (lie).  A bluffing human might have several “eye tells”– blinking, looking away, closing eyes repeatedly, or a nervous tic.  There are other indicators, depending on how severe a person is bluffing/lying– nervousness, throat clearing, stammering, stuttering etc.  The take away is that if you know what to look for, you can catch it fairly easily and fairly reliably.

All of this is what makes playing games with humans that involve bluffing (lying) more challenging and more interesting to me, personally.  Especially card games.  I’m not a gambler, in fact, I can’t stand playing about 80% of traditional card games.  However, the ones I do like I like because of either a fun mechanic like bidding or bluffing.  Hobby Card Games, like BANG! or COUP, are also enjoyable because there is a psychological element above and beyond simple game mechanics.  I’m not saying this is the only element of card games I enjoy, or the only thing I look for in a game, but it is a lot of fun for me.

This is all a long journey around the tree for me to get back to the COUP IoS app I mentioned in the opening sentences.   That app struck me as having a lot of potential as a nifty hidden roles/bluffing game that can be finished at lightning speed.   Consequently, I was eager to get the it.  I was less enchanted with the electronic version when I started to play it.  I’m not going to comment on the elements a lot of people (in many forums) are complaining about, like the games greedhead mentality about monetizing expansions– I’m no fan of that either, but it IS playable for free, so it strikes me as being a little hypocritical to whine about extras you aren’t being forced into buying.  I’m just talking about the actual mechanic of using an app to engage in the transaction of bluffing in a card game with other humans.  At most, my response is “ehhh… it’s kind of, sort of, fun”    You see, the thing is you’re not REALLY engaged in a bluff when you play COUP as an app, you’re engaged in a guessing game.  There’s no “poker tell” in this game, just a generalized guess (with some deductive logic) that if your opponent did X, you should do Y.   I’m gradually learning the nuances of COUP– I enjoy playing, but the decision points for reacting players boil down to: Will you block this person’s attempt to do something to you– legitimately, with a card that CAN block that action, or by bluffing, and CLAIMING you have a card that can block that action?   There are other actions to take proactively against other players, such as taxing, stealing, assassinating, etc., but when I react, I almost always choose the wrong course of action.   Why?  Hard to say, but I think it might have something to do with not seeing the other person’s face.  Instead, I’m just looking at the cards and I get a text response about how something I did either succeeded or failed.  I feel like I’m missing some essential element of the real life game experience.  I think the best approach is to take a more deductive/logical approach to the game– for instance, figuring out how many of each card are in the deck, how many have been observed on the board, and make decisions based upon that knowledge as well.  That’s an entirely different discipline (akin to playing a game of Knizia’s EN GARDE, where you have to get a feel for what cards are left in the deck to make decisions).  Equally enjoyable, but different.

So, is this a condemnation of porting games to tablets, or just card games?  Far from it– I really like board and card game conversions for tablets (as you can probably figure out if you’ve read this blog for a while).  Many card games work just fine in their IoS tablet ports.  SAN JUAN, for instance, and MU, and GALAXY TRUCKER.  I think a game where the key mechanic is pulling the wool over someone’s eyes, e.g., bluffing, might suffer a little bit in the translation, and so far, that’s how I’ve reacted to COUP.  Still, you can’t beat the price, if you stay away from all that IAP, right?

Post-Apoc 20mm Pedestrians..2

Just a quick look at Post-Apocalypse 20mm pedestrians, for use with a variety of games but mostly Road Warrior/White Line Fever.  These come from a variety of sources, notably East Riding and Stan Johansen Miniatures.

Assorted Pedestrians with guns. Click to enlarge

The various groups are:

The Bugeyes: a group of hardcore survivalists with decent weapons and NBC gear, giving them their trademark “look”.  Somewhat paranoid about radiation/chemical poisoning.  They are out scavenging.

Street Punks: Some of the local armed gangs, armed mostly with lower tech rifles and crossbows or melee weapons, as bullets are getting rare.  They will shoot first and ask questions later.

Dirty Texans: Remnant of a Texas Ranger group.  They wear trademark dusters to keep the worst of the hard rain off.   They will defend themselves vigorously.

Low Rent Paramilitary: This is a group of survivalist, paramilitary types from an old private security company.  Armed with National Guard castoffs and flak jacket, they are using older weaponry which still works just fine.

In painting, but not done: The Big Hair Boys (old Citadel Mohawk wearing punks, way taller than the ones above, closer to 25mm) and Cultists of the Circle (Stan Johansen figures which will match the above)

Imperial Stars II, a great little 4X space game (review)

A game that’s been on my “to be played pile” for a while for a considerable time just recently saw the light of day, IMPERIAL STARS II.   Why “Two”?  Apparently the designer, Chris Taylor, created a Print and Play by the same name (but radically different game engine) at some point in the past.  Anyway, I pulled off of the pile, punched and played Imperial Stars II this weekend.  And replayed.  And replayed… But I digress– first, the basics:

Imperial Stars II
Designer: Chris Taylor
Publisher: Victory Point Games
SRP: 27$ boxed, 22$ polybag, less other sources.

Imperial Stars II (IS2) is a four X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate, a term, ironically enough, coined by Alan Emrich back in 1993 when reviewing Masters of Orion for a magazine article– now he’s the alpha dog of Victory Point Games) .  IS2 comes with 2 double sided 11 x 17 star maps, each unique.  The counter mix is balanced between the two sides, at 38 space ships and bases of various abilities for each side.  There are 14 random planet pieces that will give the player certain abilities that will be of value for either economic expansion or military domination.  There are 5 pieces (each) to determine how many Action Points (APs) are available to the active player that turn, to be drawn randomly from an opaque cup– 4,5,6,7 and 3/8 APs.  More on those later.  Aside from a couple of pointy markers, two more charts and four six sided dice, that’s it.

First move, yellow side is the Acting Player, red the Non-Acting Player. Yellow draws the FIVE AP marker and adds one. That leaves him just enough to colonize, ending the turn.

The art direction on this game was stellar (see what I did there?), matched by the production values.   The maps are wonderful, depicting space not as black and white dots but with rich purple, green and yellow nebulae.  The planets are largish for the scale but then again so are the ships.  The ships on the counter art were very deco (I thought) but not cartoonish.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that they each had their own visual style and weren’t copies of each other.

IS2 starts with most of the player’s forces in two holding areas, Alpha and Beta.  A small force of DD destroyers and mixed CV carriers are on the map, plus one base station (BS).   The players take turns being active and non-active players, reaching into an opaque cup to pull out Operations Chits (OCs).  As they are pulled from the opaque cup, they are not returned, which is how the game ends– the final turn arrives at the final OC Chit being pulled.   OC chits are (as stated above) marked, 4,5,6,7 and 3/8.  The active player adds that total to the one for owning a Base Station and that becomes his ‘use or lose’ Operations budget for that turn. In the case of the 3/8 chit, the player has an option of adding 8 points straight or 3 plus a new Base Station (you have up to 3) anywhere on the map.  Operations are pretty simply defined– basically moving, colonizing, reinforcing and fighting.

Still early in the game, a yellow exploration fleet probes red’s resolve around their base station. They are outgunned.

Colonizing is fairly simple; sacrifice a ship by flipping it over and that becomes a colony.  Colonies contribute to the global economic condition for each side– you figure out your status by counting colonies.    Movement is regulated by the movement capacity on the counter and the number of APs for the Active player.
Combat is classic old style in two flavors: Fighter Swarms and Beam Combat.  Beam combat is resolved on a CRT that is so classic it would make Jim Dunnigan sigh with nostalgia.  The defender has the option to stay and fight or attempt to retreat.  If he stays, Combat strength is totaled, a pair of 6 siders is rolled and the result is cross-indexed for losses.  Losses are tracked by physically rotating the ship counter around.  When the ship/base takes its final hit, it’s thrown into the scrapyard, where it can be recycled.

Fighter Swarms can attack if the launching ship has a little triangle on it (or more than one).  See the top picture– the ship nearest the planet in the foreground, the CVB, can launch 2 dice worth of fighter swarms (btw, think of these as robotic drones more than Galactica style Vipers, that’s what the fluff says).  The number of losses is modified by a terrain table which drastically effects combat.

Once a ship hits the scrapyard it can be recycled on a graduating scale.  If you have a certain number of ships in scrap, you can get one of that type back.  An elegant method of extending the counter mix, in my opinion.

Victory is arrived at simply– if you control the enemy’s home world hex, you win a sudden death victory.  If nobody has arrived at sudden death, you count victory points for planetary systems controlled and colonies owned.

So, what do I think?

I don’t mean to gush here.  I didn’t like this game– I loved it.   It’s easy to figure out, it contains mechanics that make sense and are simple, it plays briskly once you resolve a few rules questions, and it’s expandable with lots of replay value (four maps, with wildly different terrain, for starters).  I suspect strongly there will be an expansion pack for Imperial Stars II at some point in the future– the only criticism I had was that I wanted even more units and more “science fictiony” themed units beyond the decidedly nautical unit mix– like planet destroyers, automated machine ships, espionage, technology upgrades, more and different kinds of combat.. IS2 is  a fun little SF 4X, delivering so much more with its tiny box and small unit mix than much more expensive game have managed in recent years.  I’m looking at you, Space Empires 4X…

Imperial Stars II isn’t exactly ground breaking but it is like a nostalgic return to the games of yesteryear, or it was for me.  I very much enjoyed it.

Future Tank v. 1.06 draft available for review

Click me for an Epub!

Now I’m still not 100% satisfied by any stretch, but I think I have a good start on Future Tank here.  If you’d like to take a look, a draft copy is available here as an EPUB file (only).  Please get back to me with suggestions.

Things to remember.. the audience for this will be youngsters, probably the oldest will be 15.  It looks like I’ll be handling all the umpire chores, and we might have as many as 17 kids this year.  It is more near future than far future in setting– that’s the kind of stuff I know about.  The literary style may be a little uneven, as I started with Jim Wallman’s Tank Duel and quickly went off on a tangent.  I hope you enjoy tinkering with it.


Revising my game design “Bucket List”

On the right side of the blog in the side column, there is a little text list about outstanding Game Design projects that featuring the following bullets– well, game design in the sense that I might be making up something new, or might use an existing system to I have taken the liberty of editing it a little. This is a very old list, and I think I need to revisit it somewhat, hence this post.

Miniature Games Project List

  • Man to Man 54mm Napoleonic Game: Voltigeurs Vs. Redcoats
  • Spaceport Bar in a 28mm Pulp SF Future: Draco’s Tavern
  • Darkly Humorous Zombie Race Game: Corpse Racing Olympiad in 28mm.
  • Motorcycle Race/Combat game in Dystopian Future 28mm
  • More material for Big Danged Boats (15mm Fantasy Naval) including Magic, new boats, rewrite, new cards
  • More material for the Magi (54mm magical dueling game based on Waving Hands): new cards, new magic users, NPCs, Mirrors, Smoke, etc.
  • SAGA

For starters, I’m striking the Motorcycle Race game off the list. The recent work I’ve been doing with Road Warrior/White Line Fever (scroll down a little to see recent posts) pretty much answers this bullet, with two major changes– I’ve decreased the scale to 20mm from the 28mm scale game I had imagined, and I’ve abandoned the idea of an “endless highway” mechanic– where I kept a rolled up terrain cloth that kept rolling along under the racers, so I could run the game on one table. It’s too complicated– what I’ve done for terrain will work fine. So that’s crossed off right off the bat.

SAGA and VIKING LOOTERS are kind of scratching that same Dark Ages Combat itch for me. So I’m going to combine them into an and/or. I have the cards done for Viking Looters and have a ship done. But I might want to pick up some more specialized “looted” figures to add a little comic relief. That’s going to be tough since I don’t know if they make such stuff any more. As for SAGA, I have a Viking Army ready and will soon have a Saxon Army. That might be it for a while.

FANTICIDE? I’m giving up on it. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of impetus building behind that game, and if Alien Dungeon isn’t doing anything with it, I’m sure not going to bother. Ditto for In her Majesty’s Name! It’s just not grabbing me.

BDB (Big Danged Boats, my 15mm fantasy boat game): I will probably strike this one out and just keep adding factions and new ships. I think I’ve pretty much accomplished all the points outstanding. I don’t want to make the game a constant search for new complicated chrome to tack on the basic design. So this will be edited a little bit.

The Magi (my Wizard Spellcasting using Hand Gestures game): Sure, this is still good, I’d add writing a more comprehensive spell list with some edits.

Man to Man 54mm Skirmish: It’s funny.. this is maybe .. maybe.. the oldest idea or notion on this list. It might be as old as 20 years, and it’s changed a lot from the scrawlings I put in a notebook way back in the day. I still have that notebook. It was always going to be, and still is, a game of man to man fighting in the Napoleonic era. However, my initial design was heavily influenced by Paddy Griffith’s NAPOLEONIC WARGAMING FOR FUN, with a soupcon of Donald Featherstone. I don’t know if it would hold up with a modern crowd with expectations of immediate fulfillment. So the design has morphed over the years. The GOOD NEWS is that I have the figures done, and based. I can field a company of British riflemen and light infantry mixed, and two companies of French voltigeurs.

Darkly Humorous Zombie Race Game: Corpse Racing Olympiad in 28mm. This was (and is) going to be a “one trick pony” game where the Jockeys are zombies ambling after carts of healthy Victorian children being used as “Zombie bait”. I’m not sure if I was designing this just to shock or what. It dates back to the big zombie gaming fad that is pretty much dying out now. Still, I love the game for its cynicism alone, so I might go through with it. It’s been a while since Amish Rake Fight or Sgt. Slaughter in Bun-Bun Land.

Spaceport Bar in a 28mm Pulp SF Future Draco’s Tavern: This is an acknowledgement of my love for “spaceport bar” stories like Draco’s Tavern, and my love for skirmish games with hidden agendas and plot lines. Like my old Cowboy games. I am using the mostly-[url=]GAFDOZ[/url] huge 28mm/33mm pulpy science fiction figures, of which I have about 23 to 28 of. Not much in the way variety but they don’t really match anything else, so man to man it is. Figures are painted, I just need some good SF terrain for a space bar and other interiors. A set of rules would be nice, I’m thinking of using something from the Howard Whitehouse pantheon.

Other items– well I’d add these:

15mm Science Fiction skirmish game, based loosely on BATTLESUIT. One side painted up.

(Notional) Cold War conflict in 2mm — I’d like to try out HIND COMMANDER.

6mm Science Fiction.. i’m a sucker for crowding a battlefield.

FUTURE TANK (just about done). possibly more Jim Wallman games. I like his approach.

Something with Baron Munchausen.. just kicking an idea round.

The New, revised list will look like this:

  • Man to Man 54mm Napoleonic Game: Voltigeurs Vs. Redcoats
  • Spaceport Bar in a 28mm Pulp SF Future: Draco’s Tavern
  • Darkly Humorous Zombie Race Game: Corpse Racing Olympiad in 28mm.
  • War Rocket, the Pulp Space Combat Game (big news on this one that will have to wait for a future post)
  • Dungeons and Dragons Attack Wing
  • New Ships and Factions for Big Danged Boats (15mm Fantasy Naval)
  • More material for the Magi (54mm magical dueling game based on Waving Hands): new cards, new magic users, NPCs, Mirrors, Smoke, etc.
  • SAGA and VIKING LOOTERS (either one)
  • ALL Quiet on the Martian Front. A great new game I’ve bought into heavily
  • Something with Baron Munchausen
  • Battlesuit-like 15mm SF Battlefield game
  • 6mm SF?
  • Cold War in 2mm?

One thing I’m noticing is that games are coming off of the list more often. Big Danged Boats was another game (like the man to man one) that had been on my list for a decade before 2012. The Magi rode on there for about 7 years as I slowly built up the right figures for it. In the case of the bold faced bullets up above, I don’t have a lot more to do to field a game so you can look forward to more about these games after I execute gaming camp this Summer!

Something New: FUTURE TANK a (sort of) sequel to TANK LEADER

Click for larger view

So, remember when I waxed enthusiastic about TANK DUEL by Mr. Jim Wallman, of the UK?   How I was charmed enough by his roleplaying approach to the trials and tribulations of tank teams on the Western Front of World War II?   How I was looking at running Tank Duel (or some iteration of it) at the Game Camp I run for kids in August?  Okay, so you don’t, but I do.  Tank Duel is pretty goofy and enjoyable and I’m going ahead with creating a game based on it.  Follow the link above to digital rules to get the EPUB I made of it.  However, even though I don’t think anyone would kick about it being historical, I do make a valid effort at keeping the content either Fantasy or Science Fiction oriented– to draw the kids into doing historical games (e.g., my evil plan).    As a result I’ve put some effort into converting Tank Duel into a more science fiction-y version that I call FUTURE TANK.  Future Tank makes a few assumptions that generally match certain observations I’ve made about the evolution of the modern battlefield as part of my day job– without being too sunk into the details.  Simply put, the tank battles of the future will be fought by Tanks that can A) see better B) communicate better C) are linked into a network and D) have access to drones for attack and defense.   I’ve tried to reflect that in the Future Tank rules without being too technical about it.  In a thumbnail, Future Tank is like Tank Duel, only the roles have more to do and there’s a lot of extras in it– it’s more customizable.   But still easy… I hope!


It’s Double Blind.  I’ve never even PLAYED in a double blind team game before, and now I’m going to run one.  This is going to require some finesse!  My plan on building the screen between the two terrain areas is to build a curtain from a frame of PVC pipe that extends up about four feet.   As for umpiring one?  Well, it seems easy enough, we’re just going to see what chaos ensues.

I’m using 25mm Scale.  I really don’t want to go smaller than this. 15mm is fine, I suppose but you don’t get the same visual appeal and “chunkiness” of a 25mm game, and I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time driving around and trying to find each other– these are kids, they will get bored.   Still, 25mm scale?  Who makes tanks that big and how much of an arm and a leg will they command?  Games Workshop does, of course.. but yeah,  you can keep that.  I don’t need to spend 80 dollars on a single tank.   Solution: the Tehnolog Bronekorpus series.  The wha of the wha?   As it turns out, there’s a Russian figure company that I have done business with in the past (they made the figures for Orcs for The Magi) called Tehnolog.  No idea what the word means, but they make big, cartoony fantasy and historical figures, and somewhat less cartoony science fiction structures and vehicles.  Their stuff is decent looking, though I don’t always approve of the plastic they use.  Still, it paints up well.    They have a line of sort of snap together tanks in roughly 28mm scale– each tank a bewildering variety of Weapons and Sensors.  Being satisfied they will fit with 28mm figures, I picked up a box of four of them.  Again, not the best plastic, but wow, I am really happy with the result:

Click to enlarge (the next four)

Tanks 2, 11, 4 and 15 more or less done. I have some tidy up painting to do– I want the ordinance to all have thematic colors– missiles and guns different from each other. I suppose I should have painted the camo different for each tank but really, that’s not the point of this game, and it’s science fiction… I’m not trying to be “historically authentic” here.

I may have six kids.  I may have 20.   I scaled the game that each tank can probably work with three roles or less. If I get less than that I’ll just run something else, with deep regrets.  Sigh.

The new rules have more stuff than Tank Duel.   YES.  They certainly do.  That’s not complexity for complexity’s sake.  I think there’s a general assumption that if you are simulating something on a near-future battlefield (and I’m projecting forward about 40 years here, so it’s not a stretch), you should include nifty stuff like sensors, and IR, and networks, and drones, and railguns, etc.  It comes with the sobriquet “Science Fiction”.  That doesn’t mean they have to be too complicated for twelve year olds!  These kids are growing up with these concepts.  I have faith in their intelligence, shouldn’t you?

This is all largely untested.  Yep, well, there it is then.  It may suck.  It might not.  I don’t think it will.  Want to take a peek at Future Tank?  Contact me through the standard channels in a week or so from this posting.  I can get you a draft.  You’ll have to have a way of reading EPUB files.

So there we have it… a sort of roleplaying game simulating the complexities of the near future battlefield environment, all done in more or less 25mm scale with miniatures, kids, double-blind, and a very patient and overworked umpire with a stopwatch and a sense of gamesmanship.  What have I got myself into?


Six Dollar SF Tanks from Russia (contains a listing of parts, comparison to GW vehicles)

Post Apocalyptic Roadway Terrain– 32 feet of Hell-road!

I know, I’m posting a lot about the Road Warrior/White Line Fever game.   However, I’m just about done with the major bits.  I did promise one or two on terrain and some of the pedestrians and bike gangs.  So here we are, how to make 32 feet of Hellish Highway with a relatively cheap buy in.

I wanted a ground cloth for the base– looking like desert with a lot of dark spots and stippling to give it some shadows, and a road right up the middle.  Why 32 feet?  That’s roughly the size of 4 standard convention tables, which are 5 x 8, laid end to end.

When you are making a groundcloth, go cheap.  You won’t be using a 32 foot long groundcloth very often so there’s no need to spend a mint on the base material.  I chose a light tan muslin which cost me 2.95 a yard at Joanne’s Fabrics. AND I got a nice 20% off coupon just for looking for a store on their store locator, so it was cheaper than that!  We dropped in the Mart of Wal on the way home and picked up 3 cans of spray paint– dark brown, olive green, and a tan highlight.  These were Rustoleum for about 2.50 a can.  I also picked up two cans of the dirt cheapest flat black spraypaint at 96 cents a can.   We got home, laid it out flat in the yard, and started spraying.  What??? I didn’t wash it first and dry it? No way.  But we’ll get to that.

Start with the Brown. Don’t make a lot of straight lines– there are no straight lines in nature! Then overlay with the Olive to make shadows. Fix the bad spray lines by overlaying with Brown again. Highlight with the Tan.

After about 30 minutes of effort, you’ll have the base done.  It dries fast, but do yourself a favor, give it at least an hour before stage two.

There you go, 32 feet of land, done my way. It will be more than enough for a convention game.

Meanwhile, we went to the rubbish kip behind the grocery store, and found a nice sturdy WAXED CARDBOARD box.. the thick kind of cardboard.  Using an Exacto, I cut a rectangular space into the box bottom roughly 8 inches across and the length of the box, which is about 24 inches.

After an hour or so, I picked up the cheap black paint (remember the 96 cent cans?) and went out to the yard where the now-dry cloth was set up.  Starting more or less in the middle, I placed the rectangular stencil right down the center of the cloth (eyeballing it is fine).  How did I know it was the center?  Because I didn’t wash the crease out of it first, remember?  It made a handy guide for painting the road straight up the center of the entire 32 foot stretch.

Just like this… end to end, with a slight overlap so it is consistently black from section to section.

Gradually, you get a nice long stretch of tarmac

And voila, after about 40 more minutes of effort:

32 feet of Post-Apocalyptic Highway!

The end result isn’t charming, but it looks pretty good from the 3 foot high test. When you consider it’s pretty much a specialized bit of terrain for only a certain kind of game, I think it looks pretty great.

Sadly this pictures is on grass and not very flat, but this will give you an idea of the playing space. If I were doing it again I’d make the road six inches wide, not eight, but I can live with this.  Would it look better with little yellow line marks?

Summary: 10 yards of cheap muslin, 17 dollars with a coupon.  5 cans of paint about 12 dollars.  40 USD invested plus the time = End result, 32 feet of Road!