Star Wars Armada tournament at Huzzah Hobbies


I dropped by Huzzah Hobbies yesterday and they were having a tournament for Star Wars Armada. Sadly I didn’t know this was going on or I would have participated, even though I’m a relative newbie. I need to pay attention to Huzzah’s store calendar more often if they are going to do events like these. The event was going on on 8 tables, two battles per table, so that’s an impressive turn out.

I recorded a quick reaction audio on my phone here. I wanted to remember the bit about the Shapeways store selling Homemade 3D printed Armada variants. That’s exciting stuff.

The Shapeways shop is Mel Miniatures. You will want to visit this place if you have an interest in space games. Check out the Armada Ships page. The best part is that there is already a fan page supporting creating new cards for these ships, located here. That’s a pretty exciting development. I enjoy variety and think that the Armada game would be greatly strengthened with the introduction of smaller to mid-ranged ships on both sides– corvettes, frigates and escort ships. The introduction of new 3D printed ships is a great idea.

Armada Wave IV arrived at my house.


Background: FFG’s Star Wars ARMADA might be my new easy Starship combat game.  I love X-Wing Miniatures quite a bit, and I don’t regret investing in it.  However, I feel that the many waves that have come out for that game have compromised the tactical feel somewhat.  The ship miniatures keep getting bigger and bigger, and the light single ship fighter feel started getting lost when they started jamming larger, multi-crewed ships in the same tactical system being used for fighters.  That’s not a severe criticism, you can buy the ships  you want and scale X-Wing the way you want it and have a great time with it.  With that said, X-Wing is still (at the heart of it all) a WWI fighter plane game for single cockpit fighters.   The bigger vehicles make it clumsy.  I think it’s appropriate to have a second game system that focuses on big, lumbering platforms– the big ships firing the big guns and launching fighter squadrons (which are tiny clusters of fighters of X-Wing sized fighters) at each other.  That’s the kind of space-fight I like to see, and I haven’t really seen an accessible game at that scale since the old days of Full Thrust or Silent Death.  Sure, I know, there are other options out there (5150 Star Navy comes to mind, I’ve heard good things..) but I haven’t played them, or a game like, in quite a few years.   FFG’s Star Wars Armada is rooted deep in the Star Wars verse, that is true; but it still has the “big fleet” feel, combined with dirt simple mechanics I can teach to kids, and that’s what I’m looking for right now.  The Star Wars element is nice, not for me necessarily, but it does provide sort of a common cultural experience everyone can enjoy.


Yeah, that’s the ticket… THAT’S a space battle!

With all that said, I’ve been getting into the game by jumping into the deep end over the last year.  I’m still learning the nuances.  We ran a much streamlined version of the game at camp this year and I think it’s a winner.  I currently own six Imperial Destroyers, the Imperial fighters that came with the standard game, The Rogues and Villains pack (which are single ships that don’t seem to fit the notion of fleet operations, but you have to jam the Millennium Falcon & Slave 1 in somewhere, I suppose) , Two Rebel fighter squadron packs (plus the ones that come with the base game), two Home One MC80 Star Cruisers, three MC30C Frigates, 2 ea of Nebulon B Frigate and CR90 Corellian Corvettes, two Assault Frigates and one Imperial Assault Carrier pack. I know, this isn’t a balanced collection. I way overbought, but I’ve been finding some great deals from people who are piecing out their games on Ebay.. getting 2 Star Destroyers for 20 bucks, for instance. Unfortunately they didn’t come with the paperwork I need to make it useful for a game, but I didn’t know that going into it.

So with that said, and it was a lot, I pre-ordered the Fourth Wave of Star Wars Armada.  Armada “waves” are smaller than X-Wing miniature “waves”, judging by experience.  So expect maybe two ships a wave.  Fourth Wave is two ships, the Imperial Interdictor and the Rebel Liberty.   I couldn’t get an idea of scale from the ads on Miniatures Market, so I assumed the Interdictor was a giant “Dreadnought” style ship like Vader’s command ship in Empire Strikes Back.  It’s not that at all– more like a variant of the standard Imperial destroyer.  The Liberty is a classic “big gun” Star Cruiser for the Rebel Alliance.

The Imperial Interdictor Expansion

As I said, I thought this was going to be just a giant Star Destroyer at first glance, but it’s actually a variant of the Star Destroyer, albeit a smaller, less armed and armored version.  The Interdictor has one or two special variants on board that turn it into a specialty ship– namely the gravity well projectors.  In essence, what makes the Interdictor not just another Star Destroyer (but weaker) is this card right here (or left here technically).  The Interdictor has an experimental system for messing with the gravity well that ships teleport into and out of in the Star Wars universe, and it has the ability to stop ships cold (speed zero) when deployed.  This is a pretty neat trick.  Now, I just got the package last night, so I can’t tell you how I’d play this thing, but my instincts say don’t overbuy this ship– one will do, protected by another star destroyer close by or a couple of fighter squadrons– this ship would be easier to take out than a standard Star Destroyer.  I could see this being a fun thing to pull on your victims (friends) in a big, multiplayer game.   In a two player game it might be a little obvious.  The Interdictor is a quirky specialty ship, and I’m glad I got one– but only one.

The MC80 Liberty Star Cruiser Expansion

The MC80 Liberty type Star Cruiser appears to be exactly what I was expecting– a giant honking capital ship for the Rebels, with lots and lots of hitting power, decent expansion cards and great defense. Accordingly, a high point cost as well. The Liberty ship class is designed for striking power (forward) instead of broadside, like the Home One. It is less armed and armored on the sides and will need to keep its face to the enemy, so to speak. Liberty comes with a ton of great upgrade cards as well, which will add to flexibility and features of this hull. Again, this showed up last night when I got home– so I haven’t even taken it out of the box yet. My instinct would be to use this to lead an assault into a line of destroyers with some MC30C frigates or Nebulon B frigates in tow to keep the return fire un-concentrated. Like the Interdictor, I’m glad I just have one of these.. the Victory is less specialized than the Interdictor but it’s so powerful in a forward rush that it’s kind of overwhelming. Of course the proof is in playing it.

Verdict

Wave IV has a couple of great ships in it, but not anything you would want mass quantities of either way. I’m still really digging Armada and have high hopes of continuing with it. I would like to see a decent update on how to play the game with multiple players, and new ship hulls that aren’t necessarily fighters or giant ships. If the next releases are all mid sized (about the size of an Imperial assault carrier in size) that would be fine with me.

Looking Forward

There’s a bunch of stuff that is either forthcoming, or I haven’t picked up for some reason.  The Rebel Transports look okay, but they will probably be the last thing I pick up– the scale is a little small to make them effective in a fleet game (but then again, I bought Rogues and Villains, so you never know).  I am interested in getting at least one Gladiator class destroyer.
The upcoming Wave 5 has some nice ships– I like the Phoenix Home and Imperial Light Cruiser.

Game Camp 2016 Finale: Frostgrave Friday



A conclave of all the Frostgrave Wizards I have right now.  Click to enlarge

The final Friday dawned for Game Camp 2016 this morning. My plan was to run Frostgrave in the early hours, and have an ice cream party. It did not work out that way. Even though I had a decent setup, it took far longer than I had in mind. This was even after I stayed up late building Frostgrave bands for my Wizard figures using the online tool, and saving the sheets out as PDFs.

The Terrain was a bit thin in places, but it looked good.

Thanks to my Cigar Box Battlemat and some nice pieces I’ve either built or picked up here and there on Ebay or Flea markets, I had enough to (loosely) fill out my table. I supplemented with some cheap Styrofoam grey hills.. nothing to look at but they do look the part and are suitably matching with the city.

The centerpiece was a Great Hall piece that I picked up at Historicon 2016 from Stonehouse Miniatures.  They were very nice about sending a display model (already painted) when my order was delayed.


You’re attacking ME? Oh yes, it’s ON!!

Sadly, it took so long to get people set up with magic spells, etc. that it really cut into playing time. The kids liked it, but the lesson I learned was set up the bands the night before, but ALSO give them a set of spells to work with along with that.. don’t waste time with any character creation stuff, even if I think personally that’s the funnest bit of Frostgrave as a game. The kids won’t be playing Frostgrave next week; I might, and I’ve played it it a lot. What I consider fun isn’t the same as how they see it– so I’ll just move the game directly into the looting and fighting next time I run it. Verdict: this will be my Tuesday game next year.

As is also customary we did our end of camp ice cream party, and the kids briskly destroyed 2.5 cartons of Neapolitan ice cream with sprinkles and chocolate sauce. As is also custom, I polled the gamers about what they liked and didn’t like. Results were:

  • Star Wars Armada: Like it, could be great, would play it again– learning it the rules slowed it down
  • Battletech: Didn’t like, found it too complicated and too slow. Fair points, we’ll work on it.
  • Big Danged Boats: Universally enjoyed and enthusiastically voted for a return enagement.
  • Frostgrave: Everyone liked, probably second favorite, wished we had more time to play.

I need to put a bigger effort into teaching painting correctly.  I wish I was good enough as a painter to feel smart enough to teach methods.  I’m not ham-fisted at it but I’m not anything more than workmanlike either.  I know my limitations.  It would be great to add to the program.  I ran out Tuesday evening and bought a few boxes of plastics for the kids to paint up but I kept the painting table more contained this year. Mostly this was to avoid wastage– in the past I’ve bought (or have had donations for) lots of miniatures that got assembled poorly and covered with gobs of paint and glue, then I end up tossing this gooey mess of glue, broken bits and paint-stained tarps out on Friday. I think this can be solved with a couple of days dedicated to teaching, with a shorter game in the afternoon.

I’m not sure what we’ll run next year, but BDB certainly still has legs, and I suspect Armada and Frostgrave will return too. The other days? Eh, we’ll work on something. I like presenting one new game (at least) every camp, so we’ll see what opportunities present themselves.

Thanks again to the FANTASTIC people at St. Stephens and St. Agnes School (lower campus) who bent over backwards to help me, thanks to the parents of the campers, and a big thank you to HMGS for sponsoring our camp!

and from me, too!

Gaming Camp Day 4: BDB and the Great Gnomish Civil War!!


So THURSDAY was an entire day full of Big Dang Boat goodness.  We knew going into it that BDB wasn’t exactly going to play lightning fast, but the game is so silly and rife for story telling the kids got into the journey, not necessarily “winning” anything.  I tried out a new initiative method that made a turn far more easy to wrap one’s head around than before, and we fine-tuned that.  The Campers really seem to have enjoyed themselves during this game.

Thursday also had two of our regular players out, so it played faster than the day before.  I played the Gnomes of Batenburg (running the Siege Machine) as Reid (our guest from the previous day who couldn’t come two days in a row).   I played The Bone Brigade defensively according to the player’s wishes.


Stefan plays the Ragnar Brothers here and he did a great job… landing on an island, assaulting the base there, wiping it out and looting the tower. It turns out the tower held the ORB OF COMMAND in the basement, but he didnt’ know what to do with it.. yet.


The Cult of F’Vah (driving the Foot of the Dead God) pulled up and (being allies with the Ragnars) volunteered one of their steersman-mages to research the Orb for the Ragnars. It took a while but he got the gist of what it was, how to use it and what it would do next.


The Garden Gnome “Hippies” took on the Industrial Gnomes of Batenburg. They were confused as to what to do, and being lead by a young man, decided to attack instead of negotiate. That works. Unfortunately it depleted both crews quite a bit. He did have Gnogres to fall back upon, however, and after consulting the Red Bag of Courage, boarded the Siege Machine with his blood-mad crew, ready to conquer or die trying


Visiting the Red Bag of Courage, to test whether one has the nerve to board an enemy ship during an action.. Will he draw “Blood Tested!” and get a +1? Or “Quaking in Fear” for a big minus? Or just get a “Flee” result? Who knows? It truly is in the hands of Dame Fortuna.


I tried to instill into Michael, the young man running the Little People Collective/Garden Gnome soldiers that his actions would start a civil War in the nations of Gnome-hood, but he wasn’t impressed.


Lastly, the Rat-men of Ingoldsby had a chance to be unlikely heroes yesterday! They moved the PRIMUS into ramming range and rigged a spar torpedo forward. Then they steamed full speed at the door with a charge attock a pole. Worked like a charm, blowing the left door off the hinges. Out jumped the Wizard’s Slithin bodyguard, ready to kill. Here’s the thing, when you purchase 30 slingers from the gnomes, you have the quality of quantity going for you. It was like firing buckshot. Eventually the enraged ratmen’s mercenaries fought their way into the base do the tower, climbing over a mountain of Slithin and Human dead. They moved into the hall of the tower expecting to find the Orb of Command, and found.. nothing. It had been in Piper’s Fort all along. Now one of the most fearsome battle weapons was in the hands of Ulf Ragnar of the Ragnar brothers, being backed up by the F’vaavian Cultists. What could possibly happen next?

So we ended it there and packed up BDB, and I gave out some shining moment coins for particularly great play. We handed the victory to the small coalition of Taylor, Stephen and Cedric, who didn’t mess around and acted like true allies. The Stahlheim and Sea Elves (run by Taylor) ran interference vs. the tower, The Ragnar Brothers raided the island that kept the Orb and slaughtered everyone (like one does) and the Cultists of F’Vaah deciphered the Orb’s Power and taught Ulf Ragnar how to use it. A great day of silly nautical fun!

Hail to the victors.. until the next time!

GC2016 Slideshow: HERE

 

Game Camp 2016 Day 3: Shiverrrr me Timmmmbers!


Wednesday and Thursday are pretty much “show piece” days. Big splashy games that have tons of prep and a really distinctive look. And they are silly.. very silly.

In that fine old tradition, I presented.. BIG DANGED BOATS, the cup and balls trick!

Normally I try to deliver something big and new for every camp, but this is a game that was specifically requested several times last year. I can take a hint.

So this is a variant of the old Orb of Power scenario, with a power mad Humans, Chinese Traders, Elves, Humans, Dwarves, and all kinds of Gnomes fighting it out with a mad wizard’s army.

The idea, of course, is that there’s a powerful wizard who has come into a significant MAGIC ARTIFACT (like they do) called The Orb of Command.    It’s hidden on one of the many outposts dotting the landscape, but the safe money is on the Wizard’s Castle at Red Bluff.

Of course, that’s the mission.  In reality, everyone just attacks each other.  It’s Chaos.

The Little People Flotilla just want to stay out of it.

The Ragnar Brothers and The Foot of the Dead God (foreground) raid Piper’s Fort, and have a small victory.

We’re not quite done.  This is a game that goes slow with so many people so we’re only half way through it all  It’s the journey not the destination.  The kids loved it.

Rules wise, we tried the initiative system and discovered using Initiative numbers 1-10 is overpowering.  1-6 works.  I’m altering the rules accordingly.   Seasoned players (and yes, I have them!) think it moves the game along faster and eliminates a lot of vague notions of what to do next. I’m keeping that rule in the manuscript and will have Artscow make me some cards.

A great first day of Big Danged Boats.

For the complete album, see this tag on Flickr: BDB-GC16

For everything for GC 16, try this album: Game Camp 2016

Summer Gaming Camp, 2016 Day Two


Our second day started with people wanting to play GOOD COP, BAD COP, which is kind of deduction/bluffing game not too far removed from WEREWOLF but very different mechanics. The players are playing either rogue cops that are working for a criminal mastermind or good cops trying to deduce the bad guy. Instead of Werewolf’s eye-closing routine they use tokens and cards to indicate states of presumed innocence. It’s an interesting take on a similar theme.

The big event of the day was Battletech, Gar’s favorite game, and he ran that while I started prepping for Big Danged Boats, running Wednesday and Thursday. Garrett like Battletech and I suggested we add it to the programme this year and see if it works. We purchased a Catalyst Introductory set and got the figures painted. Terrain was somewhat abstracted, one of my old hex maps and some Heroscape terrain hexes to make hills. I thought it looked great.

Summary: Battletech is a game that Garrett likes a lot, but it’s a little too “Charty” for the kids in game camp. They thought it was a little complicated, though they were game to give it a go. They liked Armada more (so far). We broke for lunch and to play some dodgeball and Room 25. There also was a big interest in painting figures, so I did my best to facilitate and make everyone aware of their options.

So a day of Painting, Battletech, Dodgeball, Room 25 and Good Cop, Bad cop. Fun Times!

Summer Gaming Camp, 2016 Day One


Well, it’s that time of year again, when a mild mannered middle aged functionary takes a week off from his daily scheming to run a camp for kids at the St. Stephens and St. Agnes School, Alexandria, VA. I’ve been doing this for about a decade now, and I have to say I look forward to it almost as much as the kids, if not more. For starters, we had a real challenge being down on the lower campus, as we were in the very lower back of the school, making it difficult to load and unload boxes and such for our day’s work. The space itself, however, rocks. It’s a small gymnasium built for lower school Physical Instruction, so it’s not us reusing a teacher’s classroom, something I’ve always been sensitive about– I’m married to a teacher and I’m sure she wouldn’t care for a pack of hooligans messing with her stuff. :=)

So aside from the A/C problems (e.g. muggy and sticky) and the parking (non-existent) and the distance to hump gear (long) we were running Star Wars Armada for our first day. Now, I really do enjoy their X-Wing Miniatures game, and I really liked the big-ship version too. In fact, I probably liked it better– this is how I picture big spaceship battles.

We played a Heavy Imperial Fleet Patrol (4 Destroyers, fighter escort) bumping into reinforced Rebel Squadron with One MC80 Star Cruiser (Home one), One Mc30C Scout Frigate, one Assault Frigate Mk IIA, and two large fighter squadron escorts, mixed A Wing, B Wing, Y Wing and X Wing. I’m not sure how you (officially) run a multiplayer game in Armada, so I used the Turn Order flight stand tokens from X-wing, which I have plenty of.


Startup positions.. Empire


Startup positions.. Rebellion


And we’re off, Playing STAR WARS ARMADA (Fantasy Flight Games)


my tiny rebel fighter squadrons take on 3 Imperial Star destroyers. Sure, we got converted into Space Plasma, but sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination.


The Rebs did surprisingly well, considering


Home One (Admiral Akbar’s ship) and the Daisy (the Assault Frigate) flanked left and I caused a distraction by flying my fighter squadron up the center, into 3 Destroyers in line. Yeah, live fast, die young, leave atomized goo for a corpse.

The game moved slow in the beginning as we all sort of figured it out. I’m new to Armada, I’m CERTAIN I did a lot of things wrong and compromised on more. In my defense, I think the rules are rather shoddily written. I had a decent idea of how ships move, and shoot, and defend themselves, and what all the dice kinda sorta mean in what situations, but really, there were niggling little situations that cropped up all day that aren’t SPECIFICALLY called out in the rules, or were easy to exrapolate, so I house-ruled it right and left, as one does.


Stretch break selfies.. we played a dodge ball variant.. best idea ever.

In general, we really enjoyed this one– a first for this camp, though we have ran X-Wing Miniatures in the past. I’m glad FFG continues to support it, but man, like all FFG games, it’s a bit token heavy, the rules need some ‘splaining and there is just a mega ton of setup for what is a simple game, after all.

Astonishingly, the Rebellion, who always seems undergunned, put in a great show for itself.  I tagged along to help out, and shot down the middle with my fighters to take on Star Destroyers.  They got all distracted and turning every which way, which allowed the Home 1 and the Daisy to flank to the left and really punish them.  They lost their TIE fighters pretty early (like the Empire does) but there’s more where that came from, eh?  Our fighters were very aggresive, but so was the Empire.  By end of battle, the Rebellion large ships hadn’t taken that much damage but the fighters were almost all killed off.  Whereas two Imperial Star Destroyer had lost all shields in a single zone and was taking hull damage.   I gave it to the Rebels, at game end.. who knows what would have happened a few turns later, the Empire still had hitting power.

Fortunately, my son Garrett is assisting as counselor this year, and regaled the kids in the down time with a game of ROOM 25, which I really like for camp.. it’s fast, with lots of backstabbing (if you play it right) and a nice SF patina.

So, a good first day. Tomorrow, it’s Garrett’s turn. He will run Battletech, while I do some clean up on Big Danged boats and get it ready for Wednesday.

B-Tech is already set up, we will hit the ground running. I will also be bringing stuff for people to paint tomorrow.

A great day!

So I built a Maori war canoe in less than an hour…


Last night, I dusted off the first of my HISTORICON 2016 purchases, a lovely MAORI WAR CANOE I bought from the Eureka USA booth at H’con.  The canoe is a representation of a giant ocean-going war canoe designed to convey a large war party from island to island in New Zealand.  This is a laser cut kit vended by Eureka.  I’m not sure if the kit originates with them or was created by someone else and Eureka just sells it, as the kit came in a plastic bag with almost no instructions.   None were needed, really– just a picture of the final model:


Eureka Picture

If that picture looks familiar, it ought to. Check out On the Seas of Tekumel, played last Saturday night at Historicon.

The kit wasn’t cheap, but not overly expensive either.  Just under 40 bucks.  Like the Viking Ship from Laser Dreamworks I built a while back, it is built in layers that stack on top of each other, building a hull with flat keel and high gunnels.  In addition there are scrollworked sidewalls, tail and prow to add on.  Glue might not be necessary but I added it anyway.  This kit is built for 28mm figures but I’m guessing 15mms will do just fine– my plan is to use it as a new ship for Big Danged Boats.

The kit assembled in about 30 minutes max.  I’m doubtful that it even needed glue, but I added some PVA glue (sparingly) here and there where it was needed, especially around the scrollwork.  The result was very attractive, and surprisingly sturdy.  My plan is to paint the hull portion a brick red and the scrollwork a bright yellow.


For armament, I’m going to install some 28mm scaled portable siege weapons, and have the two large ballista stand in as Harpoon throwers, and the two smaller ones as straight up ballistas. I might even mount a few swivel guns on the gunnels.

I’m not sure which BDB faction will get this, but one things for certain, this model is a beauty, and will look great on the table. I’m glad I bought it.

 

A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight: HISTORICON 2016 AAR


HISTORICON 2016: Fredericksburg Convention Center, 13-17 July 2016

Before we begin: Well, I didn’t think I’d have to write a disclaimer since back in the days of a, erm, certain potentially litigious former board member, but it might be a good idea to state this up front. The author of this blog is Walt O’Hara. I am not on the board of HMGS and never have been. I have served HMGS as an unpaid volunteer for several years — from the mid 90s, in point of fact. During that time, I have done most jobs you can possibly do on staff, some indifferently well, some I wouldn’t touch again with a ten foot pole. I have known “the HMGS skinny” in the past, from time to time, maybe, but now is not that time. I generally have a high opinion of the board, they are working in an underappreciated position with high expectations for no pay– which is was true “back in the day” and is true now. I know both Pauls, Mike, Kevin, and Scott  by working on the same shows with them, several times (mostly– Mike and Paul D are locals and I see them now and again at Eagle and Empire). I don’t know John and Dave that well, but I have played in games they have run in the past (in Dave’s case, it was a Russian Civil War game, and it kicked butt. In John’s I think it was some Trench warfare thing with Belgians!). I do not, however, really ‘hang out’ with anyone on the BoD and I am not “in the know” by any sane definition of the term. I do take a very dim view of people who castigate a Board of Directors for being “corrupt”, “venal”, “lazy” or “criminal” simply because they chose to perform a thankless job most of us (including ME) won’t take the time or bother to do, though we all seem to have the time to complain about them.  I also take a dim view of people that condemn BOD members that make decisions that are marginally inconvenient for them, personally.  That’s just stupid, lazy logic. So with that said, I am going to warn you up front. I’m going to voice an opinion about HMGS business in this post. It’s just an opinion. Everyone has one and mine is as good or as bad as anybody’s.  So if reading opinions bores you, skip over the yellow part.  Fair warning.  There, we’re done with that. On to the fun stuff.

Convention Director Delaney addresses the troops and introducing “Will Call”

Gar and I drove down to Fredericksburg in a vehicle we affectionately call “Granny’s Sh*tbox”- an old Ford minivan she bought used back in the 90s.  It’s dull blue oxidized paint, but her previous “honest” mechanic conned her into buying a new engine and we feel honor bound to drive this revitalized crapwagon into the ground. On the plus side, it has that snazzy early era Air Conditioning, which is bonus for July in VA.  I was actually shivering.  It also has a unique automobile superpower– it’s got to be the most anonymous looking vehicle ever created.  I couldn’t remember where I parked it, constantly.

Everyone has to show for the staff meeting but that leaves the convention way overstaffed the first night, with volunteers stumbling over each other in an attempt to be helpful. I’ve worked events these last few years, but will do whatever. I like the event desk– you really are helping people do exactly what they came to the convention to do, that is play games. Seeing that we were underemployed, Brenda suggested we set up the events board that evening, and so we did.


The events desk– crazy and non stop until about 11 AM most days, then again when they put out the evening tickets.

Events is good gig, sure, it looks like all we do is hand out tickets, but we’re empowered to help people do a lot of things.. like move tables, run new events, cancel events, finding new tables, etc.  Essentially it’s the old “GM Help desk” concept folded into the events board.  I like the job because it’s really the last step to getting people into the reason they came to a convention: playing games.  Don’t ask me to comment on the registration system.  I haven’t used it yet, I can’t compare it to the last one (which I had used and  I didn’t hold in high regard).  If it has a high learning curve, I can’t comment on it.  If one person uses it slower than another, try not to complain too much.  Some people learn things faster than others.  Besides, it relies on wireless, and every venue we’re in these days has problems catching up to the 21st century in that regard.


You never know who’ll show up to these things.

Gar and I closed the events table for the night, and there not being a lot of games going on, eventually hit the sack.

Thursday was the first “public” day of the convention.  Many of the tickets for Thursday had gone out the night before and it was slim pickings that morning.  I felt pretty bad for not getting my act together in time to run an event for this convention.   For one thing, it would have sold out, easily.  For another, it feels like there just isn’t enough events being run for the space.. we could easily add 100 more to the schedule, though I wince a the noise problem that might cause.  It’s not like we didn’t start the con with a low number of events– we had 506 by my count, and that’s from the data that the events coordinator sent me for guidebook so it’s fairly accurate.  We only had about 7 cancellations and none for any shady reasons that I could detect, like getting a free GM badge.  Speaking of events, and as this is one of those topics that everyone weighs in on with their opinion, here are the ACTUAL NUMBERS OF EVENTS IN THE SCHEDULE BY CATEGORY.  As you can see here clearly, historical events outnumber non-historical events far and away, again.

(quick note on methodology, I used the database from events, sorted by category in Excel, did a COUNTA function on the categories, then totaled the resulting subtotals.  These are the categories HMGS uses in our program books and to schedule games, not mine.  I counted borderline subjects such as “Pulp” as non-historical, but Westerns and Pirates as historical, so you can juggle numbers if that doesn’t fit your particular prejudices) (edit: yeah, I  know.  I screwed up the count above and “Colonial” is in twice, but it only a matter of maybe 10 events total, if that.  I’ll fix)

A lot of people get a lot of mileage out of saying the Society is going to the dogs for running non-historical games at our conventions– that we are somehow “losing our brand” for doing so.  The actual numbers tell a very different story.

Wednesday night sightings:

Setup, not running

 Setup, not running

Thursday was incredibly busy.  This is the morning most of the weekend visitors arrive and the parking lot out front jammed up pretty fast.  Most people want registration over and done with as smoothly and painlessly as possible.  This year, to whittle down the lines, HMGS introduced “Will Call”.. essentially using your smart phone to bring up the website in line and printing badge labels directly- so you could enter with a credit card while standing at the back of the line and then cut over to Pre-Reg and find your badge made, just like a pre-reg person.  I’d like to get feedback on if it worked or how it worked, but that’s how it was described it would work.  If we go full bore on Will Call ticketing.. my only question is, why do we shut down per-registration so early, then?  This is essentially the same thing, but the day of the show, isn’t it?

Thursday Sightings

Hey, if working registration was EASY, anyone could do it!

Dinner was with Gar at BONCHON chicken Fredericksburg, and it is quite a meal.  Bonchon is a Korean style of cooking chicken with amazing results.  See below:

Portions are HUGE. We had to bring back leftovers.

Meanwhile, back at the convention, I was getting into my first official game of the convention:

Jutland – Day of the Dreadnaughts; GM: Brian Dewitt; World War I; When Dreadnaughts Ruled the Seas. The British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet showdown fought in misty North Seas conditions on May 31, 1916. The battle opened with the six British Battlecruisers chasing five German Battlecruisers. The German Dreadnoughts are out numbered but the battle is very even with both sides claiming victory.

I took many pictures of this game which took some time to unfold.  Posting them to this post would be tedious, but you can go HERE to see the slideshow.

Brian DeWitt is a local boy from Northern VA, and I’ve played his naval games many times, including these rules, When Dreadnoughts Ruled the Seas.  They are reasonably comprehensive, not “Fear God and Dread Nought” (Clash of Arms) by any means, but they play fast for all of that.  Instead of measuring THIS armor thickness versus THAT gun caliber, the rules generalize a certain threshold of firepower into categories (about 14″ or higher if I’m remembering it right).  This makes figuring out the firing sequence fast and simple.  For the JUTLAND scenario we were under some constraints that really changed the rules substantially, making the game more about hidden movement and random initial placement.  Essentially both the Germans and the English have ships on the map at start, but they are all represented as tokens with arrows on them, indicating what direction it is moving.  Both sides have many dummy counters.  As the tokens move and come within spotting distance of each other, the ships appear on the water, sometimes (as happened to us) extremely close to the Grand Fleet!    I was an honorary Briton for this game and led two squadrons led by the Iron Duke and the Benbow.

Things didn’t go swimmingly for the British from the first moment. There were six flying squadrons coming in from the Northwest (including mine) that only fired an odd angry shot at the end of the game. British gunfire was just okay, we piled on the drubbing but it wasn’t good enough to sink much of the German capital ships, though we did nail some destroyers and lighter cruisers. In return, the Germans plastered the Germans into next week. Every roll, it seemed, got a critical hit somewhere on the deck near the ammo bunkers of an English ship, and then Bang, Zing! another dead modern ship killed by an aging German tub. Life seemed stacked against the Grand fleet that day.

I took a lot of pano pictures as well, they are also in the SLIDESHOW. Click on the picture below to see the dispositions when Brian called the game. It’s a large (wide) picture and you’ll have to scroll to see all the enemy..

Click to see larger button, enemy distribution.  It will blow up to original size (and it’s a large picture).

Thursday ended with a resounding defeat for the Royal Navy, which I blame on our inability to get our line in decent shape fast enough to pound the Germans, and also terrible dice rolling.  The Germans must have rolled the “Deck Critical Hit” result 4 times.  Maybe 5.  The game ended.. even though we lost, I greatly enjoyed the chaotic nature of the Jutland game, especially the hidden/semi-hidden setup, which made for some real surprises.

Did I mention I got the historical Admiral Jellicoe killed?  Yeah, he was on the Iron Duke… sigh.

Ruefully, I had the first beer offered, which as “My Imaginary Girlfriend IPA”.. and it was tastier than the ashes of defeat.

Thursday was a busy day and night for gaming.  There was a lot of action in the side rooms, which hosted discrete gaming groups that submitted blocks of gaming events– there were games from NOVAG, HAWKS, a group of individuals that play Battletech (which my son is somewhat addicted to), a group of people who play Colonial era games, and some local gaming groups I couldn’t identify.  I like the side rooms, you can hear better and they really put on a show.

I found a HUGE Roman gaming on in one of the side rooms during Jutland:


I’m really enjoying the Panning option in digital photography. I wouldn’t recommend it for every setup of course, but it’s a handy method of capturing those really huge setups like this one. (Click on picture above to see Pano).


Garrett’s current fixation, Battletech.

So Thursday ended with Garrett and I in defeat, him in Battletech, me at Jutland. So it goes. Friday, a new day dawns and this is where we have our greatest influx of walkins, by my estimation. We reported to our shift early and were in a steady state of demand until 1 PMish. Not to polish my own apple any, but I found that the Guidebook app I built for Historicon is incredibly handy for solving problems at the events desk.

“I don’t know where this event is”
“okay, tell me something about it”
“It had Rommel in the title” (Walt brings up SEARCH, types in Rommel…)
“Starts when?”
“3 PM”
“FOUND IT! that’s table EA09. Starts in 20 minutes.”
“Great! Um, where’s that?” (Walt brings up room layout maps, finds EA, points out table)
“THERE.. right through those doors, about 30 feet up on the left.”
“Wow, great! Thanks! How did you do that, are you in league with Satan?”
“No Worries, mate.. I use… GUIDEBOOK!

Okay, maybe a little embellished but you get the point. It was faster than taking the guy there and faster than looking it up in paper books.

After my Friday shift, I went directly into:
Reds vs Whites: Retreat to the Crimea!; GM: Jared Fishman; Inter-War; FOB2 Modified. Deniken’s 1919 push on Moscow has failed. With Baron von Wrangel in charge now, the White forces are in full blown retreat towards the Crimea. In this battle, a desperate White rearguard, entrenched along a rail line, attempts to hold off combat ready Red troops who are beginning to shine on the battlefield. 15mm, lots of variety (tachankas, armored cars, White officer battalions), using modified Field of Battle 2 Rules. Can the Whites hold back the Red tide? Experience with FOB is helpful!

This was a great game. I have zero experience with Piquet, which I am assuming this “FoB system” is built upon. However, once I got the hang of it, it was pretty great. The card system isn’t just a “Sword and the Flame” like means of activation, it has a larger role– creating and managing the chaos factor on a battlefield. I really enjoyed the cerebral aspect of planning how to advance my forces using the card system. Mr. Fishman, the GM, was both patient and enthusiastic, and knew his period well.


My left flank command, mostly cavalry, veteran to crack troops, two armored cars and two tachankas. I lost the use of both fairly early.

I took a lot of risks in that game.. you never know what your opponent might draw, and most assuredly it won’t be good for you. Since I was cavalry I knew I had to react aggressively for the left flank to accomplish anything. I lost my tachankas early and my A/Cs were “silenced”.. I never drew the card combination to get them from being in a buttoned down state again. Still had men with horses, though, and I drove up the left side, supporting an infantry attack to my right. The cavalry were the glory boys that day, routing the enemy’s entire right flank thoroughly, and taking out most of his artillery. The game ended when it did, and it was kind of a draw.. we had done some damage to the enemy’s line that he had to react to, but he wasn’t dislodged in the center and our right flank didn’t accomplish much of anything. So it goes. We might have accomplished more in a few more turns, sweeping right and driving in from the enemy right flank, trying to roll him up his line, but we ran out of time. Great game!

There were a lot of rumors flying around the convention about the convention moving.. Many, many people came up to me for an opinion or comment on the issue, and I admitted I knew nothing about it.  Read the disclaimer above.   I don’t travel with the hip crowd.  I was told that tonight’s membership meeting would be important, so after going and discovering the tasty treat that was COOKOUT FREDERICKSBURG (I could write a whole post on how great that place is), we sat in the meeting.  Not that there were many seats, it was well attended.  Scott Landis presented the convention relocation reports, and he did a good job with the analysis.  The familiar scattershot diagram was presented.  Cost of tables, and Room rates were discussed.  The conclusion was that Historicon operates close to the margin.  Okay, we got that.  Then we went over some of the other options and his (Scott’s) Stoplight chart for ranking them.  Some options were brought up in the Pocanos and New Jersey.  I didn’t care for either one of them, but the undercurrent of the conversation was that they seemed to want to move Historicon for the reasons that “it was too much like the other conventions, nothing stands out any more” “it costs too much to run H’con in Fredericksburg”.

Okay, back to the opinion part, and it’s JUST MY OPINION, not that of the BOD, HMGS or any other body.  I think the hue and cry to move Historicon (of all conventions you could move) is ridiculous.  Sure there are many issues with the Fredericksburg site, there will always be issues with sites– this place is Nirvana compared to the Host.  Is there something wrong with the idea that we could have a geographic spacing of conventions in a North, Middle and South arrangement?  Who CARES about the concept of “Flagship” conventions, anyway.. if that’s your issue, make Fall-IN! the Flagship, it’s doing relatively well these days.  I personally believe this move is a response to people who find Fredericksburg inconvenient for them personally, because they got used to driving 45 minutes from PA or NJ to get to the cons when ALL of them were in one state.  As was emphasized time and time again, when you move a convention, attendance drops off.  So why move H’con? Doesn’t that sound stupid to anyone?  Buehler? Buehler?    Yes, I admit that the margins are tighter on the Fredericksburg location, but isn’t the proper response to that to GROW THE CONVENTION IN PLACE, instead of retreating all the time?  Everywhere I looked at the convention, there were signs we had a lot of people.  I couldn’t get a parking spot to save my life on Saturday.  The games were great, people had a good time– but almost all games were full up.  We’ve had conventions that were tight on the budget before– Fall IN! at Gettysburg comes to mind, immediately.  Yet, we kept them in place in the hopes they would grow, as Fall IN! DID grow.  I find the analysis competent (good job, Scott, I’m serious), but I disagree that the conclusion is “We must move a convention now”.  I found the room rates discussion of the Jersey location alarming.. it appears we’re getting into another Baltimore situation,with very very expensive hotels, and middle aged or older attendees with fixed incomes who chose not to bother to show up.  I know I’d have to put a lot of thought into a convention that cost me a thousand bucks in hotel before I stepped one foot into the dealer area.  Only, unlike Baltimore, I couldn’t manage a day trip visit to New Jersey.  I’m not that unique– I think tons of potential Southern guests that attend can manage the same kind of math.  Frankly we’re looking at the wrong problem here.. aren’t Fall-IN! and Cold Wars the big risks here?  It truly remains to be seen whether or not the Host can be rebuilt to code or not.  So I have to ask, isn’t that where the Relocation committee should be focusing right now?  We have two very fragile eggs in that basket, and all it could take is one more burst pipe to break them.  I’ve spoken with the FI convention manager, who is up next, and he remains confident that the new owners will spend the necessary monies to get the place fixed up.  I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, but one thing’s for certain, the Host will go up in price as well.   Betting future convention success on the well being of the Lancaster Host hotel is starting to sound like a fool’s bet… and I used to be a big proponent of the place back in the MOVE HISTORICON NOW era.  Remember that?  It took a lot of fail for me to get here. Moving Historicon also seems like a bad move.  We’re ensuring a large attendance drop (according to Scott Landis, about 200 attendees, more or less).  To cut the throat of convention that might not be doing spectacularly, but at least is doing steady state (and perhaps improving) just seems .. stupid to me.  In one stroke of the pen we will lose ground we’ve made with attendees from farther South.  I was speaking with two rather pleasant gentlemen from Tennessee volunteering with me (walk in volunteers btw), and I asked them if they would go to the convention if it moved up to New Jersey or Northern PA.  “Nope, can’t afford it”, was the honest answer.  Rather than try to serve the center mass of the attendance diagram so a smaller PA-NJ-VA-MD set of people can got to three conventions in PA, why not forge ahead with the locating one in the North (NJ/NY), one in the Middle (PA) and one in the South (VA)?  We’ll at least pick up outlyers from other regions that way as well as a lot of (but not ALL of) our core attendees.  We have to understand that not all dealers will be happy with that idea and some stalwarts will not be at every convention– which is pretty much where we are at today.

Well, that’s my .02, worth what you paid for it.  I rarely speak about HMGS policies on this blog any more, because it’s not worth the effort– I’d rather spend my time commenting on the positive.  This will be an exception.  To sum up: 1) Moving Historicon bad (losing 200 attendees immediately and attendees from South and Southwest of VA), 2) Moving Cold Wars and/or Fall IN! farther North good (don’t put our eggs in one basket).  3) Geographic Attendee spread farther North and South good4) Astronomical room night rates bad.                               Rant OFF.

So our good friend Ed Watts was also experiencing his birthday at the convention and both Gar and I were invited to the tiny con-within-a-con that was his birthday party.  There was cake and candles and soda and Sword in the Flame and Western Skirmish gaming.

This was such a good time.. old friends (I despair to say how old) coming together for nosh and good times.  I was sort of the British commander for Ed’s Sword and the Flame game, which appeared a little hopeless at first but things were changing up by the time we had to end (early).  For more pictures, go HERE for the slideshow.

Saturday dragged a bit in the morning at events but was brisk at reception.  The parking lot was jammed to the gills.  We were on until 5 oclock but really didn’t have to work too hard after 1PM.  We broke down events at the end and just laid out the tickets.  Saturday night was fantastic.. I got a ticket for Steve Braun’s Tekumel game:

On the Seas of Tekumel; GM: Steve Braun; Fantasy; Homebrew/Savage Tales. Tekumel is home to many non-human races and the high seas are a great place for them to meet up a settle their differences! See what happens when  the insect-like Hluss bring their ancient Lightning Bringers to fight ships made of wood and iron. Join in the fun as the frog-like Hlutgru storm aboard your vessel. This is one of the five gamaes on the HAWKS Tekumel track.

I didn’t realize the HAWKS even had a “Tekumel track” but that certainly is intriguing.  For those of you not in the know, Tekumel is a reference to an ancient, dense roleplaying & combat system called “Empire of the Petal Throne”, set in a fantastic setting 60, 000 years in the future when mankind has colonized other worlds, in particular the setting for this game, Tekumel, a somewhat tropical planet that is host to not only human colonists but several intelligent and bellicose alien species vying for control.  Steve Braun’s game imagined that the races of Tekumel would carry their conflicts onto the ocean with them, and he spent a lot of time building up boats and weird watercraft fitted to the alien races.  I got to play the Hluss, which are kind of insect like, kind of reptilian. Best of all, my faction had an organic submersible of sorts.  This led to all kinds of hilarity when we surfaced underneath the frog-like Hlutgru’s spiffy new war canoe!


Now that’s non-stop hilarity. The Hlutgru player had another opinion, of course.

I loved the game, loved the rules.. and if they are going to be running this at Barrage I need to make a point to come to that event. I love naval games and remember having a lot of fun with this material when I was all of 17 years old. It’s heartening to see that the Petal Throne is staying alive through the volunteer efforts of lots of dedicated people. For more pictures of this event, see the slide show HERE.

I was in no more events for the weekend, I reckon I had my fill. Let’s see, lots of historicals (see the analysis up top). I only played in one “fantasy” game and I could hardly resist. There were no standout extravaganza games anywhere at this convention that I could see, but plenty of excellent work by dedicated gamemasters. I loved the games I played in. Shopping wise I didn’t get a ton of stuff but I did put down some serious support for vendors (first) and flea market (second). Got some frostgrave stuff for camp, got a new maori war canoe, go some bulk pewter for Iron Wind Metal (mostly treasure chest tokens). I did not start a new period “just because”. We discovered two new eating places down there (BonChon and Cookout), and slept well at the Homewood Suites, which is becoming my favorite of the three adjoining spots. I saw a lot of old friends, got to jaw with them endlessly and even went to a party. I’d say this convention was a bucket of win for me and my son.

Observations: There were plenty of games, numerically, but it was a seller’s market.. competition for tickets was fierce.  Lines at registration were long, but seemed to move– I didn’t hear about any WIFI disasters.  The parking lots were full all the time.  The Vendor Hall was light, but we are just going to have to accept that that is the new reality now.  The Call Ahead ticketing idea seems like it’s way overdue, but I haven’t tried it yet.  Guidebook, yet again, has proven its value.  Many people approached me to tell me how valuable the “paperless approach” is to them.

So that is that.  As the sun sets slowly in the West, we will leave our attendees, clustering around one last round of beers, re-fighting old wars..

See you all at Fall-IN!

For every picture from the weekend, and a lot of them weren’t posted, go HERE to see the slideshow…

Guidebook App for HISTORICON 2016 released


First of all, sorry this is so late.  I’ve had some serious commitments in my non-hobby world lately, including a son graduating from high school!

As I have done for almost every HMGS convention since 2011, I have prepared a Guidebook mobile app for the upcoming HISTORICON convention, to be held at the Fredericskburg Convention Center, Fredericksburg, VA next week. Now, normally I have this out about a month in advance, sorry about that.. there’s still plenty of time to download your copy.

Functionality changes: Guidebook has been tinkering with features and services in the last year, and some of the features we used to enjoy, like colored icons for tracks, are gone because they have been elevated to the paid level– and there’s not much chance HMGS will pay for the upgrade. However, I have helped the process somewhat by using the following rule of thumb: GAMES (non-tournament) in the schedule are just listed by their titles. TOURNAMENTS have a single capital T, space, then the Game Rules (example: “T DBA..”) before the event title. SEMINARS have “SEM” in front of their titles, and HOBBY UNIVERSITY events start with a HU (Number).

If you search for the Cold Wars 2016 Guidebook post, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how guidebook will work for HISTORICON 2016. It still has a photo albums, social media hooks, news, and other things. The only new (Free) feature I’m trying this time is the Speakers Module.. this replicates the SEM data I have in the main Schedule track. I wasn’t sure Guidebook was going to call that a pay feature too (groan) so i replicated the data on purpose. I’m glad they broke out Speakers as a new function, that’s a great addition.

HOW TO GET IT

Here’s the DOWNLOAD PAGE:
https://guidebook.com/g/historicon2016/

Here’s the ONLINE PREVIEW:
https://guidebook.com/guide/73277/

And if you have a QR Reader, read this one now:

If you have questions, email me, I’ll be glad to help.

See you at HISTORICON 2016 next week!!

Social Media settings for this Guidebook:

Twitter tags: #HISTORICON2016, #HMGS_Inc, #Historicon, #Miniature_Wargames

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/23036244526/ (HMGS Facebook Group)

Be sure to post your photographs to the photo album, that’s how we share the experience with others!

ARF Supplemental: A Blast From The Past


So to continue with a revisit down memory lane, some background: in 2002 and 2003, Bob Giglio and I put together a game called “Amish Rake Fight” (or ARF) which I modestly can claim was well received. Those games certainly were talked about for a decade or so. In 2014, I wrote a long blog post that sort of recapped the concept, the planning and the execution of the two Amish Rake Fight games, and the discussions that took place about a third one “some day”. I did this because human memory is faulty, and the older we get, the less we are going to remember, and I wanted to get something of the great games of my past down on paper, or more appropriately, electrons. Surprisingly, since he is a very talented historical GM with well deserved reputation for being serious about the history and serious about the details, my Co-GM for ARF, Bob Giglio, was more than happy to pitch in clarifications on minor points here and there, and provide a surprising background of digital evidence. Which brings us to this post, which should be considered supplemental to the 2014 one.

First we have a map, and a danged fine one. This is a 2016 sketch by Bob G, based on a 14 year old game (and some photographic evidence). Not bad at all.


Map Sketch © Bob Giglio 2016

(Click on the map to blow it up a bit).  After giving the special rules for ASF weapons (Amish Science Fiction) a re-read, it became clear how the East battle field events transpired.  As I recall, there was a “Meek” stationed at the Stone Foot bridge (Center North) and at least one more in a fording spot in the river.  Surprisingly they performed excellent service, stopping a rampaging gang of bikers in both spots while their less meek brethren circled around behind the bikers and whooped ass with scythes and rakes!

In addition to the sketch map, Bob provided to me (last night) a compendium of background material we came up with to expand a decent skirmish set (Bootleggers, from RLBPS).  We will not present the core Bootleggers rules because they are copyrighted by RLBPS, but the additional ASF stuff is fair game, and some of it is hilarious.  The ASF stuff was a community effort between Bob Giglio, Chris Johnson and myself.  The Handouts were penned by Bob.

Appendix 1: Amish Science Fiction Weapons, an unauthorized supplement to Bootleggers

Appendix 2: ARF Handout 1 © Bob Giglio 2002

Appendix 3: ARF Handout 2 © Bob Giglio 2002

Appendix 4: A rather nice writeup of our then current convention in the local press.
© Lancaster online 2002.

The ARF game is mentioned in some detail, and both Bob and I are quoted.  It was the reporter who wrote this article that the Board Member who was in charge of promotions took such pains to keep away from us, up to and including begging me to take my Amish hat off while I was running the game, so she “wouldn’t get the wrong idea about historical wargamers being disrespectful”.   I suspected if had had the time, he would have tried to forcibly shave off my somewhat authentic looking Amish chin whiskers while he was at it.

That’s about all I have.. If you are interested you can read the original article in full.  It was a fun time and a celebration of the silly side of historical wargaming.

 

 

Frostgrave Wizards & Warbands added to my collection


My friend John Montrie just came back from a trip to China. He took some of my  figures to paint with him on the trip. As if things weren’t busy enough in China! Anyway, he’s back, I picked them up today, and they look just lovely.

And a bad of Frostgrave generic medieval soldiers, of which this is just a sample.

FUTURE: At this point, I have purchased almost every wizard in the current pantheon from Northstar Figures. I don’t have their Illusionist but I have some Reaper Bones figures that will make excellent replacements (see previous posts). I don’t have their Witch figure because I want to go with a more traditional Witch figure and not the African/Voudron style figure Northstar is using. Not pictured is my Necromancer and Apprentice (FGV105) and Summoner and Apprentice (FGV108). I’m okay for Wizard types for a while, but I will be getting the aforementioned witch and that’s about it– some of the Reaper figs I have been painting lately could make excellent Illusionists. From the semi-official Northstar line, I will probably still pick up specialty hirelings and another box of Frostgrave Soldiers. I have enough skellies, but might want to invest in the Gnolls once they are retailing.

V. Schwab’s A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, reviewed


A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Man, I really wanted to like this book. It has all the elements that I’m usually game to read from cover to cover instantly– a touch of magical realism, set in vaguely familiar proto-steampunky, parallel universes, evil guys, good guys, cynical guys. A plucky heroine from the bad side of town, with a heart of gold. The setting is this sort of mystical micro-universe where there are four known variants of existence– Grey London, Red London, White London, and a fourth, vanished Black London. Grey London (of course) is the London we all know from THIS world, the one in Britain, at the time of George III. Magic is almost unknown there. Red London, a much funner place where magic flourishes, a good dynasty reigns over a country that is not-England (although London stays London in all of them). White London is a harsh place where two descendants of Vikings(?) rule by murder and coercion. Black London was destroyed in a magical cataclysm that sealed the worlds off from one another– it is apparently the place where magic is sentient, seeking more power by devouring human hosts. I think? There are only two individuals that can transverse the boundaries of the Londons– they are the ‘Antari’, depicted with one solid black eye and one normal eye. The Red London Anatari is Kell, who spends his time as an errand boy for the Red London Royalty, and smuggling artifacts from various Londons. In addition, he is the property of the Royal Family, and adopted brother to the Red London Prince (Rye). Of course, Kell is considered a bit of a rogue but responsible enough to be riding heard on his womanizing brother Rye. Rye is a familiar trope in fantasy, a rogue and a wastrel (they say, we don’t see much of it) who is growing into the role of the future king who will one day have to take life seriously and blah blah blah. The other Antari is Holland, from White London (of whom, more later) Kell, the adopted Red Antari, is on a mission to White London (a nasty place with the Bad People in it) and he gets hoodwinked/set up/made a fall guy to pick up a package that turns out to have a half of a stone token from mythical (destroyed) Black London. He gets ambushed in Red London, flees to Grey London, and runs afoul of the OTHER Antari, the decidedly nastier Holland. Holland is apparently behind a conspiracy(?) to dominate? control? the other Londons, to open them up to conquest by proxy by White London, using the Wild Magic amulet (the Black Stone from Black London, which is a super magic weapon).
While Kell is hiding from Holland in Grey London, he encounters the other POV character, Lila Bard. Lila is yet another fantasy/steampunk trope, the plucky but lovable guttersnipe who dresses like a man and has the heart for adventure. She is a pickpocket, a cutpurse, and a girl makin’ it on the mean streets of almost-victorian London (George III is on the throne, yet they have revolvers in common use? Whaaaaah?) Anyway, she’s tough.. the author reinforces how tough as nails and bitter she is. Page after page. Awkward dialogue after awkward dialogue. We get it. Kell and Lila make an awkward alliance to bring the stone back to Black London where it will be safe, adventures transpire, lots of people get killed willy-nilly, and the vast extent of the betrayal of, well, you know, the bad guys, becomes clear. Except it doesn’t. There were two things that bothered me about this book. I like the basic concept just fine, I love the parallel Londons idea.. but man, the execution was clumsier than a new born chick running a marathon. The dialogue was very hackneyed in places. I think if I had a nickel for how many times I read “Lila.. (dramatic pause)… RUN!” .. well, I’d have a mess o’ nickels. And the motivation! What the heck? WHY do the bad guys do what they do? WHY? Sure, Holland is evil and twisted, but we never know what he thinks, he’s just a creepy ciper. And the mega bad guy.. he’s a monologing psycho from the old school, but what the hell made him so angry at Kell? Wasn’t Kell useful to everyone who wanted to talk or trade between worlds, just a while ago? Aren’t there only TWO of these guys? Why be angry at him? Why try to kill him?  Just because you have an evil plan? So the Big Big Bad is hard to understand, therefore their motivations are murky and the plot and denouement kind are kind of a big muddle.

With that said, A Darker Shade of Magic did have some great, although not exactly original ideas, with the Red-Gray-White-Black London setting, the various flavors of magic, the Antari (all two of them) and how it all kind of lurched to an ending eventually. V.E. Schwab isn’t what I would consider a great literary stylist but I’m sure this series (and it will be a series, I checked) will go down well with the Young Adult crowd. For me, it started out well but became a bit of a chore to get through, so I’ll give it 3 stars.

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ROGUES: An Anthology by G. Martin and G. Dozois, Reviewed


RoguesROGUES by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the best reasons to read a themed anthology like this is that it gives you a peek at authors that you either already like or haven’t discovered yet. ROGUES delivers on this promise nicely. This is my first anthology of (mostly) SF/F writers edited by George RR Martin, though not my first by Gardner Dozois. The theme is “Rogues”.. those people who aren’t good, aren’t bad, but mostly out for themselves in the most amusing way possible. Martin didn’t just plow the field of fantasy and science fiction for this book– there were some great examples from the mystery and historical fiction genre, too. I was surprised how densely packed this anthology is. I won’t call out every single short story in the book, but I definitely will mention the ones that I thought were standout:

“Tough Times All Over” by Joe Abercrombie
Well, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Joe Abercrombie, I haven’t been stinting on his praises. Tough Times all Over reads like a continuous moving shot in a motion picture– a very important package is robbed from a courier, and exchanges hands multiple times through the story before it culiminates.. clever structure and illustrates the theme nicely with Abercrombie’s trademark dry wit.

“What Do You Do?” by Gillian Flynn
One of my favorites in this anthology was the story of a sex worker turned con-woman and spiritualist encountering what is, possibly, a real haunting. Or maybe not. Her wonderfully blase ending leaves the reader wondering. By the author of Gone Girl, which definitely flavored this piece.

“The Inn of the Seven Blessings” by Matt Hughes
Where has Matt Hughes been in my reading life? I loved this story– all about a very personable and human thief encountering a caper with tiny god, possession, raving cannibal beasts, and a treacherous acolyte. Told in a very endearing, humorous style that echoed Shea or Vance.

“Bent Twig” by Joe R. Lansdale
My favorite shit-kickin’ literary genius from East Texas delivers up a short Hap and Leonard story complete with beat downs, ambushes and ass-kicking. Great fun.

“Tawny Petticoats” by Michael Swanwick
Sure, I had read Swanwick before, but nothing from the universe of Tawny Petticoats, and her odd New Orleans with hired zombie labor, wizards, witches and werewolves. Loved this, want to see more.

“Provenance” by David W. Ball
A fun little art heist with a great twist ending. Not the best, but very readable.

“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” by Scott Lynch
One of two stories I read twice… mostly because I just discovered Scott Lynch and the Gentlemen Bastards series. This is a somewhat different setting.. a retired thief in a city run by Super-Wizards gets set an impossible task by one of the ruling council. Fantastic setting, I hope there are more of them in this universe.

“Bad Brass” by Bradley Denton
A contemporary humorous mystery, about a ring of thugs flogging stolen band instruments in a Texas town. The OTHER story I read twice. It was amusing, funny and kept me engaged throughout, and ends on an upbeat note.

“Ill Seen in Tyre” by Steven Saylor
I like Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder series, and the blase mention of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in this story had me hooked– really funny ending and perfect for the anthology theme. Kind of light.

“The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” by Lisa Tuttle
A Victorian feminine “Watson” character playing off a decidedly vaguely formed replacement Sherlock. as they investigate a ring of suspicious burials and disappearances. Much of the narrative returns to “a woman making it in a man’s world” themes, but the story passes over this to deliver a very mysterious tale of hypnotism and malice.

“How the Marquis Got His Coat Back” by Neil Gaiman
A shortish visit into the Neverwhere universe with Neil Gaiman. A very amusing narrative of an adventure of The Marquis of Carabas, the smooth talking rogue from Neverwhere, as he searches for his stolen coat in an adventure featuring mushroom people, an Elephant, and his sworn enemy. Quite amusing.

The other stories were certainly worthy, or at least that’s what my short term memory tells me. If I can’t remember much about them two weeks after reading them, draw your own conclusions. As it turns out I have already bought some follow on novels from some of the new discoveries I made in this anthology, so mission accomplished, Mr. Martin. You win this round!

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I’m Using 28mm Reaper Bones figures in Frostgrave


Given that individual pewter figures are getting pretty dear, I thought I’d give Reaper Bones figures a try recently, and although my first results at painting were not to my liking, I did end up developing a method where I arrived at results that I could use.

BONES, if you don’t know, is a line of plastic figures created from REAPER miniature molds.  I have no quibbles with Reaper’s sculpting, it’s almost always top-notch.  However, I don’t much care for the plastic they use– it’s the rubbery kind, not too dissimilar to the plastic used in “Clickie” Collectible figures games.  It wasn’t holding paint very well.  I had heard you could paint them right out the box.  That is incorrect.  Spray priming with Testor’s primer was a bad idea– the figure was tacky/sticky for days afterward.  Don’t do this.   I went back to basics and just soaked the figures overnight in soapy water, and rinsed them off, blotting them and rubbing off and mold release residue.  Then I painted each figure with a thinned coat of some neutral primer color, like base gray.  After drying overnight i mounted them on craft sticks and started painting.  The results were very positive.  There are so many great fantasy personalities in the Bones catalogue that I can add a ton of wizards and fighting men into the mix for a lot cheaper than pewter figures, and they match the Northstar metal ones in scale.

Here are some of the figures I’ve done so far.  Click to enlarge.  I have a man at arms figure (good for specialty infantry types), an Illusionist, a Sigilist (looking very Gandalfian), an Elementalist shooting a fire spell, a very commanding looking Enchanter from the Pathfinder range, a Demonic looking Summoner, and a big Death-dealing looking barbarian.


(Everything)


(L-R Enchanter, Summoner, Barbarian)


(L-R Man at Arms, Illusionist, Sigilist, Elementalist)

That’s about what I have done now.  My painting method seems to be repeatable so I’m going to go with that method for a few more lines.  I also have a small horde of skeletons painted, a couple of demons and other creatures, and now I am getting some mercenaries primed up.