Has the World Gone Mad? Ponderings on Collective Memory

Stan and Jan Berenstain published the first Berenstain Bears book (the Big Honey Hunt) in 1962, and the series has gone on to capture the hearts and minds of children across generations and across the globe. In the 50+ years since “The Big Honey Hunt,” the Bear family has grown from three to five members; the Berenstain Bears have been translated into over a dozen languages; and over 300 million books have been sold worldwide.  The Berenstain Bears are a huge success, by any measurement.

Only.. they aren’t real.

I worked in bookstores during my young adulthood.  If I had a nickel for Berenstain bear book I’ve put on a shelf, I’d have.. well, a buttload of nickels.  I’m not what you’d call an authority on the subject, but I can tell you one thing: there is no such thing as Berenstain Bears.  This is how I recall them:


Do you see it?  The critical difference?  That’s right.  It’s spelled BerenstEin Bears, with an “E”.  That’s what I remember putting on the shelf.  That’s what I wrote in on the reorder or return forms.  It was Berenstein, end of story.  When my son approached me with a serious expression yesterday, and asked “how do you spell Berenstein Bears, dad”?  I told him.  He pointed out that the proper, published version of the series was BerenstAin Bears, with an “A”… in this universe.   This is where it gets a little freaky.  Nobody I know spells Berenstain with an A.  I’ve asked a dozen people since having that conversation, and the consensus was that the popular series about an anthropomorphic sermonizing grizzly bear family  is spelled exactly as you see it in the picture above.  The truly weird part is..  the world of physical objects does not “bear” it out.  Wikipedia uses the “A”.  Google uses the “A”.  Even my favorite Berenstein Bears parodies use the A:

See?  Even the internet wags are agreeing with the powers that be.  This universe, this world of things and information, is telling me that my memory is wrong.  And hey, it might be.. I think memory can be selective, individually.  But that circles us around to a fundamental point.  So many people remember this series as “Berenstein”, not “Berenstain”, I begin to see something sinister at work.  And I’m not alone.

After getting the hook firmly in mouth after my son solemnly pronounced the Berenst#in Bears problem, I did a little looking, then a little more, then a lot more.  I am NOT the only one who thinks the Berenstains are spelled incorrectly.  Now, in this universe.  A young Physics graduate student named “Reece” first outlined this problem in his blog, the Wood Between Worlds (a good read, now I’m subscribing) back in 2012.  He noted the odd spelling of Berenst#in in Jan Berenst#in’s obituary.  This caused him to double check, and, like I am right now, get a little weirded out.  Reece’s training in physics caused him to arrive at a novel conclusion,  which can be summed up as:

Here’s the thing.  These books play such a huge role in the collective memories of so many people, all of whom clearly and distinctly remember “BerenstEin”, that I am not the first to propose the notion that somehow, at some time in the last 10 years or so, reality has been tampered with and history has been retroactively changed.  The bears really were called the “BerenstEin Bears” when we were growing up, but now reality has been altered such that the name of the bears has been changed post hoc.

In 1992 they were “stEin” in 1992, but in 2012 they were “stAin” in 1992.   (from the Wood Between Worlds, 2012, by “Reece”)

There’s some dandy math justification in the broader article. Follow the link above.   Essentially, ” the stEin and the stAin universes are actually just different hexadectants of the same universe: in the stEin universe, all three spatial dimensions are real and time is imaginary; in the stAin universe, all three spatial dimensions are imaginary and time is real.  Of course, from the standpoint of stEin/stAin this won’t produce any mathematically significant difference; it’s the same as choosing (+++-) or (—+) convention for Minkowski space, which at the end doesn’t alter predictions or measurements.  We’d never know if we did swap.”  (Ibid)

This seems to be a very technical approach to describing the multiverse theory, where many physicists have postulated that the universe is really a near-infinitude of near-mirror equivalent universe exist side by side, with the differences between the two to be so tiny as to be meaningless– maybe a sign is 3 feet to the left universe A and 3 feet to the right in universe B, for example.  Before we snort and say “So what, so there’s been some form of bleed-over from the A universe into ours.  What’s the harm”?   Well, perhaps nothing, but if you accept that tiny differences add up to something undetectable, then the actual spelling difference between Stein and Stain is much more than semantics; it’s a huge change!   So what do we do now? Wait for the universe to realign itself properly?

I know there’s a big box of kid’s books abandoned in the basement.  They date back to before 1992, when Reece postulates that the rift took place.  I know we have some Berenst#in bears books in there.  I’m almost afraid to go check!



Cod: A Biography of The Fish that Changed the World, a short review.


Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the WorldCod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This might be my first reading of a Kurlansky “history of common foods” book, though I seem to recall reading
Salt A World History by Mark Kurlansky
SALT at some point and being enthralled with it, a long time back.

I remember my mom, despite the repeal of meatless Mondays by the Church after Vatican II, continuing to create a codfish stew every Friday night. Little did I realize what an epoch making dinner we were having at the time! Codfish is a fish that you probably rarely (if ever) think about, yet its history mirrors world history. Kurlansky’s book traces the history of Salt Cod (with particular attention to the Atlantic variety, which becomes a cause of conflict as fishing rights constrict over time). There is much to the history of this humble fish that I just never really thought about. How were the Vikings able to cross hundreds of miles of salt water without starving to death? Simple, they had brought tons of a cheap, easy to catch source of protein with them, the salt cod. How did the Basques stay semi-independent for so long? They had access to a fishing industry that granted them a virtual monopoly over the salt cod trade, back when nobody knew exactly what it was. Basque fishermen may have been working on codfish catches on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland before Columbus even conceived of his trip.. they just never said anything about it to anyone.

The first part of the book is about the relationship of the Codfish and codfish fishing to the great trends of Western History– exploration, conquest, and development of the New World, contention between groups that wanted to control the cod fisheries, and the conflicts, minor and major, started by the humble codfish. The second part of the book traces the steep decline in codfish catches as the world realizes that the codfish might have become fished to extinction, or nearly so.

I know what you’re thinking.. a book about fish. How could that be exciting? And yet, it is! I love the way Kurlansky can take ordinary, almost humdrum subjects (particularly about food) and truly open his reader’s eyes about how revolutionary that subject is. The structure and style of the book works. I particularly enjoyed the structure of adding a recipe for codfish at the start of every chapter, along with some historical anecdote relevant to the phase of history Kurlasnky was in at that point in the book. I’ll never desire cod “cheeks” but man, I was seriously jonesing for Mom’s Cod Chowder again by mid book. Sadly, that’s all a memory now.

Kurlansky reminds me that good history doesn’t have to be about wars, and battles and politics.. it can be about the most ordinary thing imaginable. Like tablesalt, or the fish you sprinkle it on.

View all my reviews

Small Wars; Ramshackle Games automobile combat add-ons and bits.

In today’s Small Wars we’re looking at the latest from Ramshackle Games, a great UK company that seems to specialize in items post-apocalyptic, but don’t pigeonhole them with that category as they have a wide variety of other items, mostly Fantasy, SF, Steampunk and (of course) Post Apocalyptic.  Mostly 28mm but they have their own 20mm line for adapting to car combat games that utilize matchbox and hot wheels cars, and that’s what I’m looking at today.  The “20mm Car Converstion Kit” came in the post yesterday and I have to say, you get a lot of value for your £20.00

Guns, rocket pods, etc. Sculpted pretty huge for the scale.

Included in the pack are: 8 drivers, in post-apocalyptic rig, driving.  2 turrets for larger weapons (you have a range to choose from), 2 manned gun shields with your choice of huge bulky weapon to insert.  2 bolt on rocket pods.  A wide variety of huge heavy weapons, somewhat oversized.  Kind of a strap on bolter effect.  most of these are sculpted with a flat end for sticking into a turret or manned gun shield, but those that don’t are sculpted with a flat bottom for easy mounting on diecast cars.  There are also 8 gunners in various poses, some sculpted firing a support weapon, some sculpted holding an assault weapon at high port.

Gunners and Drivers

The crew are interesting and very post-apoc in theme, but also very tiny compared to other 20mm lines.  The 20mm post-apoc cultists and gangers put out by Stan Johanssen are larger and somewhat bulkier than these drivers.  Here’s the thing though: Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars come in a variety of scales– and there are many cars that just don’t fit a regular 20mm figure well.  I think Ramshackle takes this into account– they aren’t huge but they do get very narrow in the hips which will help you fit them into tiny car cockpits.   So points for that!

Armor bits for various locations on a vehicle scaled roughly 1:72 or 20mm.

Hands down, this is my favorite part of this package.  The conversion parts come with 8 bolt on armor bits, sculpted to be metal slabs with rivets or corrugated metal of some sort.  There are also two big Rams roughly shaped like a bulldozer blade, and some “thing” that might be a rocket or a bolt on jet engine.  These parts are big, rough, rude and very very Post Apoc in theme!  I wish Ramshackle would just double up on these and maybe cut back on something else like the gunner figures.  I’m already figuring out what vehicles to use these with.

General comments: The guns are scaled way large for the figures, but that is the Ramshackle style.. absurdly large guns that look kind of like old WH40K bolters.  I have no issue with this as it adds a kind of comical element to the finished product, and what the heck, why not?  They are larger than Stan Johansen guns, about on par with Brigade Games’ Car conversion pack.  The drivers and gunners going to look tiny versus Stan Johansen driver and gunner figures, hands down.  However, Stan Jo’s drivers don’t fit every Matchbox and Hot Wheels either, so these might be more useful than you think.  The armor is worth the money in itself and I liked the rocket pods.  I wish we could get more armor, less gunners, but in any event, I liked what I got.  You’ll be fudging it a little bit to get it to work on every car conversion but thats pretty much the case with everything.  Kind of a mixed bag, but still very useful.  Recommended and a big thumbs up to Ramshackle Games for releasing some very useful bits indeed.

Now this is a development that might make me change my mind about GW

If you’ve been reading this blog for a few years now, you’ll have already noticed.. “Misternizz isn’t the biggest Games Workshop fan”.. and you’d be right.  I think they are a gang of bullies, price-fixers and legal thugs.  One of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written was a statement of my disgust with GW back in 2011, after their latest price hikes and attempts to control distrubution (It still gets a ton of hits).   It’s not a popular viewpoint to have, but that’s life, go have fun with overpriced resin figures if you don’t agree with me.   Frankly, it’s easy to take this stand, so it’s kind of hypocritical.. it’s not like GW really produces a current product that remotely interests me.  I think WH40K and WF are simplistic to the core, kind of stupid and they continue to look “creaky” in the face of modern game design.  (I’m not going to talk about cost here, I’ve covered that elsewhere).  I meant it when I said I said there’s nothing that would tempt me to buy another GW product ever again.

However, even Nixon can go to China.

An intriguing note has been circulating on bulletin boards and websites, allegedly from Games Workshop itself.  See below.

What does this mean?  That the games that actually DO show some design innovation and originality MIGHT ACTUALLY SEE PRINT AGAIN?  Well, sod this.. this is tempting.  I’d love to get Epic and Battlefleet Gothic.  It’s not that I think they are better designed than a lot of products on the market now, or that they would do spectacularly well in the face of competition in their niche from modern products.  There’s a lot more competition now and frankly, from better designed games competing in the same shelf space.

There’s just something so damned cool about those baroque style spaceships in Battlefleet Gothic.. and the giant field crowded with little tiny W40K figures in Epic.
Dang, pretty tempting.  And I know they won’t be reprinted after this while I’m still breathing.  Hmm… rubbing chin.  How easy it is for the Devil to tempt me from the path of righteousness.


Figures that demand “there’s a game in there, I just have to find it”

Have you ever come across a line of figures that, really, you’d love to game with because they’re just fantastic, but there’s no real *game* associated with them?  This happens to me frequently.  There they sit, on the shelf, trying to send you a message and getting under your skin.  Like wearing too-tight underwear, it gets annoying, but not in that bad way.

Some TEN years ago I found the perfect Flashman figures.  (if the Flashman reference is vague to you, read here, then go and read the books and thank me).  They were made by Chiltern miniatures, which appears to have ceased being an independent concern back in 2012. They were beautiful and huge.  Not really 28mm, more like 33mm, and not matching anything I currently had in my collection, which was on the upper side of 25mm and lower side of 28mm.  They were posed exactly like the old illustrations of the novels.  Go to Amazon.com to see the comparison, and check against published pictures here, here and here.  It’s impressive sculpting.  I loved them and if you read the 2005 blog post, I bought every one of them, admired them, then put them in a drawer.

From TMP.

Why? It’s a favorite character of mine, isn’t it?  Sure it is.  The problem is how they are cast.  I could overcome the “they are huge” factor by fudging here and there, that’s not the real issue.  It’s just.. what KIND of game would they ever be used in?  A small skirmish?  Really?  Sure, Flashman is bellicose, but he’s really sculpted for a tableau here– I doubt there are many shoot-em-up war games that require a figure dressed in cricket togs or as the Crown Prince of Denmark.   I’m sure I could jam a figure into a full up skirmish game but he’s really sculpted to accompany figures from a pre-defined narrative.. the books.  So we’re back to where we started.. what kind of game could I make from these?  A roleplaying game set in the 19th Century British Empire?  Now that’s possible.  Sadly that might require a much bigger supporting cast of figures, and since most of the Chiltern figures didn’t match anything else of mine, into a drawer they went. Maybe I’ll flea market them some day.    The problem was I just couldn’t make a game out them.. and not being a rare figure collector, what’s the point?

The pre-written narrative is the challenge.  If it’s too restrictive, you can only do so much with it.  Another example.. I found a bunch of figures that were designed for Army of Darkness.  These were from Leading Edge, a company that specialized in reproducing miniatures directly from science fiction and horror films.  I think they are out of business, as well.

Well, there’s the rub.. I could definitely make a game out of it.   And that game would have to be something pretty close to “A bunch of undead critters storm a medieval castle in search of an unholy book to steal”.  Mind you, I wouldn’t mind that premise, I LOVE Army of Darkness’ final battle sequence.  I just can’t see making any OTHER game than the scenario these figures were cast specifically for.   I can easily find dozens of skellies, zombies and such in roughly the right scale, and paint them up.  I even have a Warhammer Mighty Fortress that might do the trick for the castle.  But, but.. is there any OTHER kind of game I could make here?  Probably a few smaller scale ideas like skirmish games and such.  Ash at the Windmill.. Ash in the desert.. etc.  But it would always be what it is, a game about the movie Army of Darkness..  not a bad objective, but it isn’t flexible.

When I was at Fall-IN! 2015, I finally bought a few packs of figures I’ve been passing by for a couple years now.  These are in the pulp range in 28mm:

In case you haven’t figure it out, these are figures of: Orthodox priests, Monty Python’s “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition” figures, More modern priests and altar boy figures, Middle Eastern Women with Burkhas, and Orthodox Jews.  All with guns.

I’ve loved this line for a long time, and I knew someday I’d buy them (and others like them), it’s just the age old problem.. “Sure these are great figures, but what kind of game can you make with them?”   And after having a palaver with Otto Schmidt last weekend, we hit upon a great idea for a game that could every one of these figures and more like them:

What if the Apocalypse had happened?  Just not the one you were expecting?  What if.. everyone in this figure line was a character in Heaven?  Yes, that heaven.  Fluffy clouds, Doric Columns, Harp playing (if you want).  I love this idea.. the figures are sculpted as if ready for a big gunfight.  They all are playing into perceptions of Intolerance.. as if the player is getting a message that ‘to WIN, I must start shooting the nearest THEM group”.  What if that wasn’t “winning” at all?  What would they do?  After all, they are in heaven.  God wouldn’t want them to kill each other.  It’s heaven!  They made the grade!  They are here, they made it!

“But, but but… what about that group of people over there?  Aren’t I supposed to, you know, hate them?”  The ensuing game could be a lot of fun, but I could see where people might resent it.  Still, I like the idea and I’m going forward with it.  I just need to buy some suicide bombers and virgins now.

Fall-IN! 2015: More like a Whimper than a Bang!

Once again, another fun Convention Recap by yours truly. In this instance, Fall-IN! 2015, from the warm, yet leaky embrace of the Lancaster Host resort, Lancaster PA.

The Host went all out on the roof repair for our benefit!

Thursday’s child has far to go,

I didn’t have a game to run (though now I wish I had). So I checked in and started to deal with an immediate problem with Guidebook for FALL IN! 2015. I had made a last minute insertion update with the data given to me by Events. I had to format the data several times because it kept not accepting it… Now I think there was something going on with the servers right when I sent that because after it worked, we were missing something along the lines of 200 events. I worked through the problem with Guidebook and extracted the delta from the original data, then inserted the delta, which (finally) fixed the problem. I apologize for anyone who was inconvenienced by GB, I assure you, this is the first time I’ve had any problems in 12 conventions of using it, so we’ll just have to do it right for Cold Wars 2015.

I didn’t do a lot of convention stuff Thursday night, didn’t even stay up late in the bar, as it was virtually empty of life. The crowds were just starting to arrive but the place wasn’t packed. I attended the CD’s meeting and tried to stay out of the way, even though I had volunteered if they were short handed. Dan appeared to be short staff on Thursday but all kinds of people jumped in to help with the rush.

So not much in the way of gaming Thursday but I did get a chance to see the awesome set up for SPEAK SOFTLY AND CARRY A BIGGER STICK! by Michale Konwinski and crew. If you didn’t see it, this was that gigantic pulp city in the upstairs lobby. Michael and crew were setting up most of Thursday night, where I managed to do a little quick run through..

(An Ipad isn’t the best camera platform for filming miniatures, so bear with me)

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Friday I had no plans so I just wandered about and did some shopping. I have got my hands on the raw materials for a game so jaw-droopingly sacrilegious it will offend nearly everyone. More details as they firm up. In the meantime, here’s some clues:

This gave me a chance to jaw with Otto Schmidt, who is a favorite collaborator, and use a range of figures from Sergeant Major that I’ve passed by a few years running with the idea that “there’s a game in here somewhere, it’s just not talking to me yet”… it was fun to get the gears turning on this one.

I did game one official game on Friday. This was “GET THE STONEWALL”, a hypothetical ironclad game (as most ACW Ironclads tend to be). Rule were Sail and Steam navies (from Bay Area yards) which I had tried in the past and most emphatically did not like. However, THIS game went swimmingly, and I’m not saying that because the Union side (which I was on) won. It really did move much faster and more streamlined from the last time I played it, which was Historicon 2015.

Passaic (front right) and Patapsco (bottom) encounter the Jackson (center left) trailing a few other ash n’ trash like CSS David class torpedoes. The Passaic renders good service here, smashing the steering on the Jackson and sending him swinging the wide arc around and effectively out of the fight.

Later in the same fight. The Jackson is still turning to face us (background). The other union ships are fighting behind the island top left and not doing very well. The Stonewall did get engines fired up and in motion (bottom right) but once again we rendered good service by taking out their long gun early in the fight. The GM keeps this fact hidden from me (as he should) and we had to play it safe, not coming in close to the Stonewall and keeping him bracketed at a distance, shooting him to pieces.

I captained the USS Passaic and Patapsco monitors. I smashed the steering on the CSS Jackson early in the game, effectively taking her out of the fight until very late in the game. I didn’t know this, of course. As we neared the Stonewall on dock, it was trying to frantically load munitions and get steam up. Again, all unknowing, I blew up Stonewall’s big gun, leaving her toothless for long range fights. She was still dangerous, so I kept my distance and kept her under fire, and that’s where the GM called it a Union victory. My union colleague lost a ship, as the Rebs converged upon him. Not what I would have done, but hey, there it is.   GM ruled it a Union victory as we achieved our major objective (or would have in a few more turns of pounding the Stonewall).  Even though we lost an ironclad.   I got a prize– the USS Keokuk for my part in the battle.

HERE is an animated slide show of GET THE STONEWALL in MP4 format, with a little accompaniment by Swamp Candy.

There were a lot of great games at FALL IN! 2015, though really I couldn’t grasp if any period or rules dominated.  FROSTGRAVE (by Osprey) is a big new thing, and reminds me of a snowy Mordheim in some respects.  I only saw a few games of it being run but, wow, the terrain was excellent on the ones I did see.  Historically? probably  it was mostly Napoleonics but it didn’t seem as if there were more than usual in evidence.   Lots and lots of pulp games were in evidence, which is probably going to get someone’s panties in a wad somewhere, but there it is.   Here’s a nice screen show of a sampling of games at the convention:

Click for Slide Show of miscellaneous games run on Friday and Saturday at Fall IN! 2015. Mostly Distelfink and the surrounding small club rooms.

Friday, during the day, the Distelfink was a wasteland, there were many open tables.  They got full up at night, though.  That’s about the extent of any gauge of attendance or participation I did.  I don’t think any game I saw was exactly hurting for people but many didn’t have the full compliment either.

My personal favorite historical spectacle was Bill Moreno (from Good Ground)’s 10mm ‘ Battle of Fredericksburg layout, which deserved whatever prize thingy it go.  He gets much respect from me.  See for yourselves, it looks like a Currier and Ives engraving:

I have NO IDEA what attendance records were.  Dan Murawski seemed to think we were going to go over 2000, which would have been pretty amazing for any Fall IN! show. I’m not sure it happened, though.   I hope it does– Fall IN! continues to grow as our Yankee brethren forfend to attend a convention in Fredericksburg (if you take TMP dross seriously)– so Historicon’s loss is Fall IN’s gain, although as usual it’s hard to quantify ANY statement about who actually comes to shows and why they stay away from others.

The bald guy in the center had the highest pitched giggle I've ever seen come out of a man in my life.

The New York State/Erie folk who arrange Toys for Tots donations and raffles for FALL IN! were once more back on the job, doing a good job.   Seemed a little quiet this year, however, I missed Santa Moe.

I admire what Uncle Moe and his sizable crew do for Toys for Tots.. giving the lie to the perception that all gamers are immature selfish bastards with bad BO and poor social skills.  I mean, we do occasionally do something nice for charity, despite the BO and bad social skills, right?  That has to count for something!

Saturday’s child works hard for a living,

I found myself not much interested (again) in staying up late and drinking in the bar, since it was somewhat devoid of a crowd.  So I went to bed and got up in time to weasel my way into Brian DeWitt’s epic portrayal of the Persian victory at Artemisium.  What’s that?  You always heard it as being a GREEK victory?  Well, so it might have been, were it not for our right flank and some profoundly bad luck.  Brian’s a great designer and a good “systems man” in his approach.  I liked this rule set, which he claims is not ready for prime time, but it seemed pretty well defined to me.

Click to see the slideshow/MP4 of this epic LOSS (grumble grumble) by the valiant Greek navy.

Having lost Western Civilization in the morning, I cast about to see the rest of the world, doing a run on the flea market and not accomplishing much. I did get a copy of Samurai Battles (brand new) for 20 bucks from the designer. Not bad at all. I also got a few assorted bits here and there, nothing special. I also went to the vendor hall and picked up a cigar box game mat, for my 3D rocket man game (more on that in the near future).

To be honest, it was a lot of same-old, same-old. No hot new products this year.

My firm intention was to play in yet another ironclad game in the afternoon but I was feeling pretty dog tired, even though I had eaten reasonably well and not stayed up massively late as I am used to at these conventions. I’m not sure what it was but it did make me feel a little pekid. My intention was to sleep for a half an hour.. HA!!

After a decent meal (at the host, where I ate most of them), I knocked about a bit and waited for Eric’s ROAD WARRIOR INVITATIONAL to get started.  He was going big this year, or going home..

Now, I thought the vehicles showed amazing creativity and ingenuity… but wow, I don’t like that crowded track.  There’s no room to get around each other, and soon something like this happens:

And we had to give the tail end charlies Pity Pushes to have them keep up with the race! Pity Pushes– ME. I nearly took out the truck with a motorcycle, single handed!! and now I’m getting a pity push? The shame is great!

Oddly enough, many drunken hoarse renditions of the phrase WITNESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSMEEEEEEEEEE! was not enough to get the truck over the finish line without being stopped by the forces of Bad.  Humbling, ain’t it?

And so to bed.

But the child who is born on the Sabbath day,
Is lucky and happy and good and gay.  (in the old sense of the word).

Sunday was the usual last pass on the Flea Market (found a few neat 15mm Khurasan figures) and the dealer room (not much of anything except some Stan Johansen Road Warrior stuff).   After the usual goodbyes, I was nosing my van into traffic for the long ride home, where, I am happy to say, someone was glad to see me.

That was my Fall-IN! 2015.  Not a bad convention, not the greatest one I was ever at, but it all went smoothly with no headaches.  Good work, Dan and crew!! you make it look easy.  That’s all for now, I’ll see you all at COLD WARS 2016!

I try out In Magnificent Style, by Victory Point Games


I’ve had this game on the shelf since (I think) Fall-IN! 2014.  IN MAGNIFICENT STYLE is a solitaire boardgame of Pickett’s charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  As most gamers with a schoolboy’s notion of history may attest, the charge was Lee’s last big attempt on the Union Center after probing attacks on the North and South ends of the line failed to achieve victory on days one and two.

Now, this is a tactical situation where a long line of men (three divisions of three brigades each) are marching across a very open area, moving up gently rising terrain, stopped here and there by obstacles like fences.  The attacking forces are moving onto a position where the opposing forces are behind cover, with direct artillery support firing into the advancing line.  This may seem like a difficult situation to turn into a game, but many designers have given it a go with various results.  In Magnificent Style departs from a traditional hex and counter set up to present a sort of ‘push your luck race’ down semi-abstracted terrain, trying to win the race of “which will get used up first, the Union strength or the Confederate?

The game’s story unfolds from the view of Longstreet on the Confederate side.   The mapboard facing him is a truncated view of intervening distance between Seminary Woods (the Confederate Line) and Cemetary Ridge (the Union line).  Smallest units of maneuver are Brigades, which are represented as tiny lines of men on VPG’s now-standard thick-cut counters.  “Unit of Maneuver” is misleading somewhat– the battle space is divided into a long gridwork consisting of Divisional and Brigade lines of advance running up and down the map and a further gridwork of “3 x 3 areas” which are numbered 1-10.  The areas are numbered for random event purposes to see what befalls the units currently in that area when a chit is drawn.

The Mapboard, from the Confederate View

I’m using stands of 15mm ACW soldiers to make it look more authentic here.  It adds a certain je ne sais quoi.

A turn unfolds with the Union drawing events to implement on the Confederates.  These are a series of chits pulled from an opaque cup that usually provide beneficial events for the union.  It could be targeting a brigade, a division, or a geographic area on the map.  It could add an obstacle to a line of march, or cause other mayhem somewhere.  Usually, if it impacts the map, it impacts a zone in the map (1, 2, 3, etc up to 10) and if you don’t have troops occupying it, you skate that turn.    As you can see below, a Union barrage lands in Area 5, not hitting anyone this time.

The event, a barrage of some sort, lands safely in Area 5, making the ground blow up but not killing anyone. I love this mechanic, it adds a true feeling of battlefield chaos.

Confederates taking long range rifle fire at the Union, measured by Zone bands (green, pretty hopeless, yellow, kind of hopeless, red, your best shot).  Your leader may expend a once per turn bonus if he is marching with you in your stack.   Next, you move out, by rolling a pair of dice and cross indexing them.  The result will indicate what happens when you move– 1s are very bad, 6s pretty good.  If you take HEAVY FIRE, you don’t advance but you can try again, but now you are shaken and pull a blue event chip (more on this below, it’s involved).  If you take LIGHT FIRE, you take a loss (these are tracked with numeric strength markers directly behind the units.. as you can see in the illustration above, Kemper’s Brigade (far right) has already suffered a hit as he is strength 9). ADVANCE is

From Boardgamegeek.com

Each Brigade has a RALLY POINT, which is a round marker you set on your start point.  The rally point is kind of your insurance for making gains.  As you move up the battlefield, you can continue trying to advance, or consolidate (and not advance).  Certain battle results will throw your brigades back to their rally points so it behooves you to balance between constantly moving to the Union line at the end of the field, or making your advance “safer” (relatively speaking) by moving the rally point up so a retreating brigade doesn’t go all the way back to start.  Certain events will also trigger damage results that are measured as equating to the distance between the brigade and the rally point, so it is in the player’s interest to keep that number low.  I really, really like that “push your luck” element of these solitaire mechanics.  It’s lifted right from Sid Sackson’s venerable CAN’T STOP, and works very well as an indicator of Brigade morale.  I’ve played IMS a few times now, and it took a while to finesse the balance between making gains and consolidating gains.

The climax of most games. I admit it; I got lazy with the markers and just kept track in my head. The Union is down to like 1-2 SPs a piece for their brigades and the Rebs probably had 3 as their highest strength as they go in for bayonet combat. VERY BLOODY!

IF the Confederate brigades make it across the field at all, they end up ripped to shreds in front of the Union stone wall, where they have bonus shooting at Confederates. If they survive that, they engage in very bloody bayonet fighting. There are advanced rules, but I didn’t bother with them (yet).


I have to give this game some high marks. I like Luttman’s design work here. He takes an unwinnable situation, and by focusing in on a very NARROW slice of the action, he adds excitement, style and dash to a very fun little game. It certainly isn’t perfect (i think it drags a little in the middle), but it does deliver consistently on the fun (vice simulation) element. I like IN MAGNIFICENT STYLE. Do yourself a favor and make some simple 15-20mm scale 3D markers out of toy soldiers you won’t regret it.

The End of a (long) Era. The Game Parlor store (Chantilly VA) to close permanently

  1. image from the Game Parlor website, 2015. All Rights Reserved. Long term residents of the Northern Virginia/Suburban Maryland area who are involved in the gaming hobby will recognize the Game Parlor retail store, a game and hobby shop that has endured in the same location (Sully plaza, in the back hinterland of strip locations) since 1991  The shop was started by Rob Weigend, a local attorney, and his wife Cindy.  The store catered to virtually every classic gaming hobby during its existence, and had many tables set up for playing games– roleplaying games, the popular collectible card games, miniature gaming, and other pastimes.

The massive, MASSIVE collectible card sales display. You can find some of the earliest collectible card game here, going for full price..

Back in the 90s, if it was related to a popular gaming trend, something could be found for sale at the Game Parlor store.   More importantly, the Parlor has served as a hub spot for most gaming in Northern Va, more or less.  Magic the Gathering leagues would hold contests there, clubs would meet there regularly and all sorts of activity would schedule routine events– including Northern Virginia Gamers (NOVAG), which would hold their semi-annual game days at the store, which would (generally) make the store more money as gamers would stop and take a break to shop.  There was, for about a decade, a second location in the Potomac Mills area, but that closed as rents increased.

Looking back at the miniatures tables, from the “recent releases” rack.

The shop persisted through the 2000s, but signs of trouble started cropping up.  Inventory, which had been a huge attraction in 1991, almost never rotated by mid-2000s, and it was not uncommon to find something from that era stickered full price in 2007.  Indeed, a casual perusal of stock the night I took these pictures turned up an illustrated military diary from the year 2000 going for full price.  Of course, there’s the classic story of the Super Nintendo going for full price (its 1991 price that is) year after year after year until a mad collector ended up buying it, vindicating it taking up the shelf space for more than a decade.

A fantasy game, designed by Brian DeWitt, being run the night I visited.

Inventory started to become an issue in the mid-2000s or perhaps earlier.  The shelves have always been crammed with older, somewhat out of date stuff (or “Classics”, depending on whom you ask).  The explosion of popularity of both the newish boardgaming hobby and informational websites about gaming that started in the late 90s and and shot off like a rocket in the 2000s seemed to pass TGP by.  The store buyers would certainly know of Boardgamegeek.com “hotness” list, but  not order more than a few of any selected “hot title”, leading to frustrated would-be purchasers to special order, a process that took a long time and with little guarantees (unlike, say, just ordering it from Amazon, which would have it showing up at your doorstep in three days or so).  An oft-repeated comment about special ordering was something like “dang, I WANT to give The Game Parlor my money, I really do.. but they make it so hard!” was heard from the late 2000s onward.

Gradually, I stopped buying stuff new OR used at the Game parlor store.. the old stuff was mostly picked through years ago and was never put on sale, the new stuff never lasted long and once the preliminary fuss was over, would never show up again.  It was so much easier to purchase stuff online.   The store itself, which seemed incredibly modern and swank in the 1990s, became more well worn and gone to seed by the late 2000s.  When the carpet was almost destroyed after the Mongolian restaurant next door flooded into the Game Parlor store, the owner put out a contribution jar to help defray the cost of a new carpet.  From his customers..  I was willing to donate, sure.. but I remember thinking: “Isn’t this the price of doing business?”

One feature of the Game Parlor experience that remained attractive to everyone over the years was the encouragement of regular gaming in the store itself.. many many tables and 6 giant miniatures tables were open to everyone.  As the fortunes of the store declined, table fees were initiated, to no one’s particular surprise.. and to no strong objection.  At least we could support the store after a fashion.   Gamers were willing to put up with a storefront gone to seed and table fees to have a place to go week after week.  That would never change, right?

In response to seeing a rumor online of the store’s closing, I visited last Friday night.  The rumors are true. After 24 years of constant operation, the Game Parlor store will close forever on November 26, 2015.   The reasons appear to be “retirement” (see the signs).

I find myself possessing mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the store had not marched with the times all those years and it seemed a minor miracle that it had lasted until 2015.  On the other hand, the Parlor was a fixture in the life of all DC area gamers.  Everyone knew where it was.. it was our place.  When it closes its doors, an era of good times, an easy location to socialize, and a big outlet for generations of geeks will finally come to an end.  I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss it, and miss it a lot.

Could the store have been managed better?  Certainly.  The inventory issue was always a killer– more than one person has offered to assist the store in setting up an Ebay shop to unload all that embarrassing dated stuff on the shelves, but it was an ebay shop was never initiated.  The store could have been better informed about trends and purchased accordingly– it’s not helpful to find a stack of ten expansions for the big hot game and not find the original, for instance.  With all that said, The Game Parlor store filled a very important role in the history of gaming– not just for the surrounding community of geeks, but by creating a new tier of game store and a new approach for retail gaming.  Maybe a store like this doesn’t fit in the modern market, maybe it does.  I’m just glad I was around to see it happen.  Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Weigend, for running an enterprise that was an important part of life as a gaming hobbyist in the DC area.  We’ll all mourn the loss of the “Parlor: in the years to come.

(apologies for the use of the definite article “the” in front of GAME PARLOR in previous draft.  I was falling back on traditional usage; we have long referred to the store in question as THE Game Parlor, even though this isn’t strictly correct usage, as one commentator generously informed me.  As for misspelling “Weigend”, that I do feel a bit abashed about.  I just never saw it in print much.

Small Wars: Leonardo and his tiny tanks

LEONARDO and “Leonardo Style” TANK, 15mm.co.uk

HOT102 Leonardo Da Vinci

HOT101 Da Vinci Tank

These arrived last night, about a week after ordering them overseas from http://www.15mm.co.uk/  15mm.co.uk is a figure distributor that focuses primarily on Science Fiction and Fantasy miniatures in the 15mm scale, which I am gaming in more and more these days.  I like a full battlefield.  Gavin Syme appears to be the alpha dog of that operation.

15mm.co.uk recently announced the release of some interesting figures.  A single man figure of the great inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci, both standing and riding on a pony (I’m guessing).  Concurrent with the Leonardo figure they released a 15mm scale tank based on one of the Great Builder’s most fascinating marginalia sketches:

Leonardo was and is famous for leaving enigmatic drawings like this all over the margins of his notebooks, which provides game designers and fiction writers with all kinds of ideas about armored warfare in a Renaissance age.  Sadly, there is no definitive proof that any of these more modern ideas were ever built.  That hasn’t stopped people envisioning it, however.  I have a 15mm Leonardo army that is pretty much all based for HOTT and painted up.. and suffers from a lack of opponents.   I have organ guns and hand gunners and even a glider.  The tanks were problematic.  I actually made one by using a Motts applesauce container (with a wood grain pattern), turned up side down and with craft wheels added on the bottom and a large bombard made from a craft wood bit.  The result looks pretty great, actually.. but NOTHING like the original drawing above.  I also tried buying a plastic kit, which looked pretty spiff but it is overwhelmingly large when used with 15mm forces.  Needless to say I was quite happy to see this advert from Gavin and company, and ordered a sample forthwith.

Some pictures.
  The tank comes in two pieces of cast resin, top half and bottom. The cast was mostly clean with minimal flashing which came off with an exacto knife. I didn’t have time to do much with it last night, except glue the top to the bottom with crazy glue. The two sides bonded together reasonably well, but in retrospect it wouldn’t hurt to sand both sides that glue together with fine sandpaper to facilitate the weld a little better. The bottom and top halves are totally flat out of the box and might slide on you. Sizewise, the tank seems smallish next to a 15mm figure but it is probably more accurate than many models I have tried in this scale.

Top View. Wish I had put something in to demonstrate scale.

Bottom half of Leonardo tank detail

The distinctive row of light bore cannons around the bottom of the tank are managed with some rudimentary cannon barrels that will be glued around the bottom in short order.

The Leonardo figure combination is of the Great Inventor standing and gesticulating with a drawing (tank blueprint?) in his left hand, as if he is displaying a handbill or trying to make an important point to either a fellow engineer or mercenary captain. I like this sculpt, it has personality. The accompanying riding figure is pretty much Leo riding on a very small horse or pony, giving off a somewhat placid feel.

Leonardo standing and riding.

Sizewise the Leo figure scales well with my Renaissance army, which is a combination of Minifigs, Essex and Rank and File. I think the Vexillia infantry might be a little too substantial but if you gave Leo a thick base he might look the right height.


This is a great addition to my 15mm Renaissance HOTT army. Leo will make a fine leader figure in either riding or standing incarnations. I’m going to keep my applesauce tank because of the heavy bombard. I’ve seen some representations of the classic Leonardo design with a larger caliber gun barrel (mostly in video games) but the tank by 15mm.co.uk is quite rightfully more “historically” accurate. So my applesauce tank will be the heavy siege gun that stays in the back field, lobbing shells, as my armor sweeps forward supporting the infantry. I plan to buy 3 more at least of the tank model, and I sincerely hope 15mm.co.uk plans on expanding the Leonardo Da Vinci line from this great beginning.

It’s official.. we’re in the future

Yep, it’s hard to believe we’re there, but the Back to the Future series is officially 30 years old, and the astonishing gulf of years between when I sat in the balcony of the Uptown Theater in Washington DC and saw this movie has passed by, seemingly in the blink of an eye.  It’s always kind of cute to see how a movie from the past will predict near future events.  Usually the greatest howlers are how they portray computer equipment in the future– this is almost always wrong.  If I were making a movie about the future today, it would HAVE to depict regular access to data networks, some form of access and a lot of miniaturization and speed.. how the computer would look would be anybody’s guess.  Back in 1985, even the small home computers were bulky beasts.  I the Back to the Future series, the director included many visuals about future life that were played for laughs, then but if you think about it, aren’t that far off.  Wall screens?  Yah, well, we have flat screen TVs right now.  Using garbage for fuel?  MY county (Fairfax) is one of the most efficient in the United States for reclaiming energy from waste, which I’m absurdly proud of.  Smart clothing?  It’s here.  Handheld video games? Come on, that’s old news.  Tablet computers?  I’m writing on one right now.  Even the negative elements of modern life– being obsessed with electronics, giant multichannel Televisions, 3D movies and Movie Sequelitis.. that’s all part of OUR landscape here in the “future”.  Sure, Back to the Future is a silly comedy.  But it got a few things right.

I just want my damned hoverboard, before I become crippled with arthritis.

RED COUNTRY, by Joe Abercrombie, a blessedly short review

Red CountryRed Country by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read my first Joe Abercrombie book, The Heroes, back in 2012. My reaction was as follows:

My first reaction to THE HEROES was “Oh great, another one of those middlin’ fantasy pseudo iron age novels, with noble savages against corrupt civilized foes and blah blah blah”. I can’t help it. I worked in a bookstore for much of my early life and you get a feel for this kind of mush. By chapter 3, I was asking myself “Who IS this Joe Abercrombie fellow, and why haven’t I read everything he’s written yet?” I am currently working on that goal.

I’ve kept that promise! Three years later and I have the First Law trilogy and Best Served Cold under my belt, and I possess a greatly expanded world view of the First Law universe of Joe Abercrombie. So I was pumped to see the re-emergence of Logen Nine-Fingers (although his name is never mentioned, check me if I’m wrong!) in his latest* First Law book Red Country. Minor spoiler here– Logen survived the dive out Bethod’s castle window and wandered away from the North, where he inexplicably settled down with an unnamed woman to be her ranch hand/stepfather of her children. Geography is purposefully vague in Abercrombie novels, which is why you see few if any maps in his books. Logen settled in the “Near Country” which appears to be on the edge of Starrickland and just this side of the “Far Country”. Under the guise of “Lamb”, he has become a father to his step-children, Roe, Pitt and especially Shy South, a half-breed of sorts. Point of explanation: the local version of American Indians are called “Ghosts” in this world and are blonde or red-headed. Shy’s mother apparently had one for a husband or “companion” at some point in her past– her mother is deceased at the start of the story.

After the characters of Lamb and Shy are introduced at a local store haggling over supplies, tragedy ensues and the other children are kidnapped and a farmhand on the farm is murdered. At this point the story goes into full on SEARCHERS mode. If you are stumped at the reference, the Searchers is the classic 1956 Western starring John Wayne in arguably his greatest role, Ethan Edwards. Edwards is a grim faced Civil War veteran that relentlessly pursues the kidnappers of his niece. Abercrombie borrows from this structure with both hands, casting Lamb as Edwards and Shy South as a foul-mouthed, somewhat obnoxious version of Martin Pawley (seriously.. see the Searchers if you never have, it’s excellent.. and kind of a shocker for John Wayne fans).

Lamb and Shy track some of the kidnappers to a border town, where a fracas ensues that results in the emergence of the long buried “Bloody Nine” character.. the berserk inner demon that sometimes possesses Logen in a fight. In the brutal ensuing slaughter they learn enough to find out whom they are pursuing and what direction they need to go in. They also catch the attention of Dab Sweet, famous old time frontiersman with his laconic companion, Crying Rock, a Ghost woman.
Lamb and Shy happen to be going the same direction as Dab Sweet, so they sign on to a “Fellowship” (wagon train) and accompany them in a journey to the Far Country.

So the plot becomes something between the old 50s TV show Wagon Train and the old 50s movie The Searchers, complete with Indian Raids, bad weather, dust and assorted trials and tribulations, many of them deadly. In parallel with Shy and Lamb’s narrative (told through Shy’s eyes) is the story of Temple, a feckless type who might have been a very minor character in previous stories (I can’t recall), but now has ended up playing a far grander role as the notary and lawyer for infamous mercenary Niccomo Costca as his company also travels into the Far Country, employed by the Inquisition to find rebel strongholds. Temple is the other POV character (aside from the usual character asides, which Abercrombie delights in). He is stricken with conscience as Costca’s men commit atrocity after atrocity, and finally has enough.  The understated redemption of Temple’s character is handled well.  Abercrombie doesn’t make him a perfect hero during the course of the story– he just becomes a better person.  That rang true for me.

I don’t like revealing much more of the plot– suffice to say they all intersect, travelling into the Far Country, and many things of great import happen, introducing new characters and re-introducing us to a surprising number of older ones, including Caul Shivers and Glamma Golden. The plot resolves to everyone’s satisfaction, although not without a great cost as some of the older characters are killed off.

You might have picked up on the thinly disguised Western theme. Yup, it IS that obvious. I can’t say as I was put off by it.. the First Law universe has the same gritty feel to it as a Western so it wasn’t a thematic stretch for Abercrombie.

Overall it was a great read, and I tore through it like I tear through the author’s work usually. My only complaint was the constant forced jabs between Shy South and Dab Sweet– just to prove they respect each other. It seemed forced. My other complaint was the constant philosophizing the older characters do during the course of the book. Every other page, one of the oldsters makes some cryptic comment about time catching up to him, there being nobody around to inject levity into the conversation except, perhaps, Temple. THis is a standard trope of Joe Abercrombie.. prosing on about time catching up with a character, how his knees hurt on cold mornings, and how there is no glory in war. We’ve read this before. Despite that minor nit I found myself enjoying this book very much. Perhaps not as much as THE HEROES but it’s a book that a fantasy fan will tear through in point-blimfark.

* I have not read the most current trilogy that Joe Abercrombie is currently working on (starting with HALF A KING) but I believe it doesn’t take place in the First Law world. I hope Joe continues to transport us to that setting.

View all my reviews

Guidebook Fall-IN! 2015, some new features, some have changed so pay attention…

That’s right.. we do. And I’m not going to say “GOING” Mobile since we’ve been serving up electronic Guidebook apps for 10 conventions now!

So I’ll deliver the bottom line up front. The First Draft of the Fall-IN! 2015 Guidebook app is published, ready for download. You may download it on the landing page here.


Whoah, Red Ryder!  

One thing I haven’t done is go through the feature list in long time (since Cold Wars 2012, in fact) so I’ll point out the new features and decremented features now.

Between HISTORICON 2015 and now, Guidebook, Inc, made some changes to the basic builder module, and a lot of features have changed.  Most of the changes are minor in scope.  one or two impact the look and feel some, so I’ll go through it from top to bottom to explain what is where.


This looks pretty much as it did before Historicon.  They have streamlined the presentation a little bit (no longer do we get the tiny icon inside the big banner effect, which I personally miss).   The front page is where you see the top level for the convention– the address, the director’s blurb, etc.  Call it the “Main Menu”.


Simply put, the Master Schedule is where everything is, and this has changed.  We used to be able to define tracks and color code them.  I liked this feature– and it defined my color scheme nicely.  Red for game events, Blue for Tournaments, etc. etc.  Unfortunately, even defining tracks (and not making it a menu item) costs us extra money that we aren’t willing to spend, so no more color coding, which I think sucks.  Still, it’s FREE, and everything still works, it’s just not as easy on the eye as before.

So if you want to find something in the schedule, look in the cleverly named “Master Schedule”  Here’s some event detail.


This is what you’ll see when you click on an event.  There’s information here, pointing at the room, time, event, scale, GM and rules, plus even description.  All of this was pulled from the registration system by your humble narrator.

If you want to build your PERSONAL list of events to plan your convention– see that “Add to My Schedule” button at the bottom of the event detail and it will build a list for you.  As you can see, I’ve already started mine (below):


PLEASE NOTE THIS, and NOTE IT WELL:  Guidebook is NOT the registration system, or a replacement for a pegboard.  It is a substitute for having a program book with you all the time.. you will NOT be registering for ANY game or event when you build “MY SCHEDULE” in Guidebook.. this is your internal reminder of when your games are going to be held, and you can get it to send you an alarm as well!  So… yeah.  You’ll have to do the same thing to get into a game you always have.


Aka, the dealer’s area vendor list and table layout.  The list of vendors and their table locations are in “Exhibitors”.  The table layout is in “Maps.”

I had a picture of the list part, but I just got a huge update from Scott Landis and the picture isn’t accurate any more.

Maps are about the same as they ever were, only I found them easier to upload and size in the current builder.  That’s an improvement.   If you want to find where the tables are in a room, go to MAPS (see below).


There are tons of maps for this convention in this guidebook.  You change them by clicking “Right” on the direction arrow top of the screen.

I broke Distelfink into three maps– one big one showing everything, one smaller one for the front, and a similar one for the back.  I was going to do this for the Lampter, but hey, what’s the point.. all you really need to show there is the relative locations of touraments and flea market, and the current size does this.  I also uploaded the vendor hall map as is.. if its unreadable, GET IN TOUCH WITH ME and Ill break it up into a front and back view.


Guidebook is going whole-hawg into social media with this release, and made the previously charged-for menu items for social media stuff free.  We did this a little bit at HISTORICON.  Anyway, here are some of them..


This is set to automatically go to the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society page on Facebook.  Why?  Well, Fall IN! doesn’t have a page, and I’m not sure it needs one.  Yet.  So if you want to post what’s going on in your convention and post pictures to the FB page, here’s how.

I don’t have a better idea for Facebook, but this seems to fit.


We actually do have a Twitter account for Fall-IN!, I created it, it’s @FALLINCON.  However, what this menu item does is facilitate that “live tweeting” thing that goes on during a convention.  Our official #hashtag for the show is #FALLIN15.  Some soccer competition is using it but let’s hope that’s done by November.  It will also recognize #HMGS and @FallINCon.

Not much being tweeted at the moment (as you can see) but this really started going up last HISTORICON the closer to the show we got.  I like this idea.


We can also have a menu item for a YOUTUBE Channel for show videos, presuming people post to Youtube about miniature conventions.  Right now I have it pointing to Teri Litorco’s miniature wargaming show on Geek and Sundry.  Why?  Well, it’s a fun show (a little Warhmmery but still fun) `and there aren’t any ‘sanctioned’ Youtube shows for miniature gaming (as there seems to be in boardgaming, but that’s another story).  If you can come up with a better idea, I’m all ears.   Now, IDEALLY, this would be pointing to a HMGS youtube channel where GMs would have the ability to load SHOW VIDEOS to a single “Fall IN” or “H’con” channel and everyone could see our fun events… almost as they happen.  This hasn’t happened yet.  Want to work with me on it?  Contact me.

There’s some other Social Media stuff we can consider.  I’d personally love to have a team Periscoping miniature events (the big, fun ones anyway) as they happen so people can see what we do.  (for the oldsters out there, this is what Periscope is).   I added in a news feed to the TMP page, but this is just a nice-t0-have because it’s free feature.  If you have an RSS feed we SHOULD put in there, let me know.

Other stuff

Inbox, My To-Do List, and Attendees are not new items, but a few reminders.  “Attendees” is not a registration system.  It’s a way of announcing to Guidebook users that “Hey! I made it and I’m here!  Find me!”  Inbox is how you receive email FROM me (or convention management).  We can send you a message from a computer and it will show up on all your Guidebook apps.  I usually just use messaging for guidebook updates.  The to-do list is nothing special..  I use it to list my convention volunteer schedule and shopping list for the dealer’s hall.

That’s about it.  It’s about finished now.  There will be some updates in Events (i have yet to add banners, but I will) and Dan owes me about ten new events.  Also, there will likely be some new vendors in those “TBD” Slots before show time.

Language as a mechanic in Games– Src:Card puzzled over, but not reviewed [Kickstarter incoming]

And now for something completely different, well, maybe not that different, but at least a little unusual.

I heard about SRC: CARD recently when someone (well, the designer) emailed me about it out of the blue.  SRC: CARD is an interesting idea for a tabletop game.  From the promo blurbs:

Src:Card is a standalone 2 player (2-4 with expansion) card game that challenges players to build their own super robot core while attacking their opponent by writing code.  Make your robot core as formidable as possible while creating code to attack and anticipate changes to your opponent’s robot brain. Src:Card incorporates real coding concepts that are challenging for experts and easy to learn for beginners. Anyone can learn the game in 15 minutes.

The robot fighting part?  Eh, that sounds like a tacked on theme to me.  I’ve played Robot Fighting games before, including the famous one.. you’ve heard of Robo-Rally, surely.  The interesting part?  The description of the key mechanic of this game.  You are programming in a language will launch attacks against an enemy computer core.  I don’t have a copy of this game in front of me and I’ll be honest– I’ve never played it.  It doesn’t really exist yet.  However, from the demo I saw on the Kickstarter Page, I was sufficiently intrigued to be interested.  You see, I like linguistic style games with a clearly defined ruleset and consistent, ironbound internal logic.   Somewhat like computer programming, come to think of it.   SRC:CARD is purporting to use a type of language as the means in which to play.  From what I’m seeing, the language is created by playing cards that represent either computer cores or programming statements.  The impetus is on the player to continue playing the statements to form conditional loops, if statements and variables to attack the enemy computer core before the either card “bootup” limit suddenly happens.  Honestly, I’m not sure how it would play– the vibe I’m getting is ERGO, from Catalyst Games, with maybe a little Robo-Rally thrown in.  That could be a good thing.  The only tabletop game that I know of that relies on a learned language to play would be Ergo, though there might be others.  In Ergo’s case, it’s the language of Logic Proofs, in the more abstract form.  Sadly this doesn’t seem to be a concept that attracts potential players– I’ve yet to play Ergo (which I own) with anyone but myself.

I think what might set SRC:CARD apart from earlier attempts at Linguistic Games like Ergo is the Win/Lose conditions of “killing the other robot”. With a simple goal like that, I think people might be willing to give the programming element a try. Let’s face it; either you like programming or you don’t– it’s not a pure sex and free beer kind of occupation. So anything that makes the subject less daunting and more valuable will have value.

In any event, give the KS Video a look and make up your own minds.

Kickstarter Link for SRC:CARD

Likely this will be a niche demand game, but I think there’s a lot of appeal there for the right geeky kind of person.

Follow up: The Martian (the movie, not the book) short review

Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney

I almost never review movies.  I like movies just fine, especially SF and Horror movies, but there are so many opinions floating around the Internet on movies it seems like emptying a shotglass into the torrent to contribute.   In the case of the recently released movie THE MARTIAN, I’ll make an exception, as I just recently reviewed Andy Weir’s novel upon which the movie is based (enthusiastically).  I loved the book, and I love the movie, for a lot of reasons.  First of all, the script is remarkably faithful to the novel, considering it was written by Drew Goddard (of TV’s LOST, DAREDEVIL, the movie CABIN IN THE WOODS– which is a pretty good pedigree, I think).  In an interview with Andy Weir, he admits the studio didn’t ask him to write the screenplay (Just cash the check), but Goddard was insistent on drawing Weir into the creative process so what shows up on the screen is more or less (more “more” than “less”) what Weir had envisioned.  Every scriptwriter adapting a novel has to trim stuff to make a visual story, and the decisions made by Goddard made sense and added to the visual story he had to tell.

As for the visuals, well, Ridley Scott (director, of oh, I dunno. ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, and a few OTHER SF movies…) has redeemed any scathing blowback he received after PROMETHEUS, because The Martian is a visual delight.  It’s very retro in the way it demonstrates space travel as conceived by someone who knows all about the physics and physiology challenges associated with it.  The spacecraft all have a very familiar look– as if maybe we aren’t using them right now, but we could easily conceptualize these craft with today’s technology.  The Martian vistas are also astonishing.  Scott returns to an overhead shot again and again that displays Astronaut Mark Watney’s plucky little rover buggy, moving around like a tiny pinhead on the vast canvas of Mars, reminding us of Watney’s solitude.

I’m not going to touch on the plot, much– if you haven’t read the book, please do.  Andy Weir isn’t hurting for money but you’ll appreciate the recommendation.  I read it in less than a day.  It will make the movie a cinch to understand, if space exploration isn’t your thing.  The Martian is a fantastic story– no stupid romance (other than one alluded to but taking place offscreen, and in keeping with the novel), no macho heroics, no CGI explosions and grim faced dudes walking away looking cool, no pew pew pew shooty solutions to the plot. Just competent people working their butts off to solve problems. Astonishing. It’s like Hollywood trusted the audience to be smart enough to follow along for once. Sure, there was plenty of exposition, but it was done in a very intelligent manner and it wasn’t insulting– the book is a long series of log entries, after all.

In closing, this is Matt Damon’s movie and Ridley’s Scott’s movie.. certainly it’s the best performance I’ve ever seen from Damon– he has to carry the weight of the story on his shoulders, after all.  As for Ridley Scott, he has shown us that the old dog has plenty of new tricks.

On the canonizaton of Father Junípero Serra y Ferrer

Statue of Junipero Sera at the Mission School I attended in Carmel, CA.

The story of Father Junípero Serra y Ferrer, recently in the news, is one that few Americans are all that familiar with.  His controversial recent canonization by Pope Francis has caused many people to re-examine a record of both success and failure converting American Indian tribes to Christianity in California.

It surely is true that Father Serra founded a series of 21 missions along the California coastline, from Baja California in Mexico to San Francisco– including the mission at Carmel, where I attended the church school when I was ten (true story!).  In the eyes of the Church, Father Serra was doing the church’s work– converting the heathen, establishing infrastructure to expand the church, and making good Christian citizens.  Whether that achievement counts as a miracle or not is in the hands of the Holy Father, of course.

What often isn’t spoken of is the failure of a mission to Sierra Gorda, Mexico, earlier in his career.  With just himself, fellow friars Francisco Palóu and Juan Crespí, a number of Indians and a wagon of provisions in the form of groat cakes, he marched into the Serra Gorda region with the intention of establishing a mission there.

From the first, things went wrong.  The Indians, so compliant and docile elsewhere, were in active rebellion in the Serra Gorda.  The Mission building was behind schedule.  The extremes of weather, ranging from baking hot 100 degree heat to flash floods, caused the crops to fail.  The food crops did not thrive, except for hay– which was useless as the cattle had been slaughtered weeks prior.

Father Serra experienced a rare moment of doubt and despair, and summoned his compatriots Palou and Crespi to discuss abandoning the colony and returning South.

Francisco Palóu, a zealous missionary, was dead set against returning, and is recorded as saying: “Do not turn your back on God’s children in the Serra Gorda, Holy Father.  It is true, food is not abundant here, but we can grow hay for animal fodder in abundance, and soon we will have many cattle ranches in this valley.”

Juan Crespi, in contrast, seems more pragmatic. He agreed with De Sera, stating that bugs had invaded the Groat Cake supply, which were now weevily and running very low, advocating a return for basic food supplies: “We cannot grow anything further in High Summer, Father, the ground is baked too hard by the dreadful Sun”

In a passion, Palóu interjected, crying: “Holy Father, bless us! The Lord will show us the way”

Embittered, Father Serra replied: “What should I bless, Francisco??  the fodder, the Sun or the hole-y groats?”