C.J. Henderson, a late farewell

C.J. Hudson, RIP December 26, 1951 – July 4, 2014

I just was on the BALTICON website and noticed C.J. passed away last Summer.  I won’t let me being late to the party dissuade me from saying a few nice things about this man.

“C.J. doing what he liked to do,
shamelessly huckstering books
at a convention.

C. J. Henderson might not be a name to conjure with for SF, Noir and Horror fans, but if you are a regular attendee of East Coast Science Fiction conventions, chances are you have met C. J. Henderson, and if you’ve met him, you’ve chatted with him.   C.J. was a fixture in the dealer’s room, author panels, and autograph lines of most East Coast Cons that I attended from the early 2000s onward.  I admit, I am a spotty SF Con attendee at best, and my focus is usually on the book dealer’s room.  C.J. was usually to be found there, willing to go that extra mile to sell something, anything.. and engage in polite palaver along the way.  I could tell his health was not great at the last Balticon I attended, but I had no idea how serious it was.

I don’t know much about C.J.’s personal life, other than my observations about him being a genuinely nice guy that I liked to talk to about once a year at Balticon.  I do know he wrote the kind of stuff I like to read.   Pulp Stories.  Science Fiction stories.  Occult Detectives.   Horror in all formats, including comic books.  Weird Fantasy.  He was an acknowledged master of revisiting (but NOT rebooting) established pulp heroes of yesteryear and breathing new life into them.   He wrote stories featuring the Spider (Master of Men!), Green Lantern, and other pulp stalwarts.  He was fascinated with Kolchak, the Night Stalker TV show, and wrote several novels with Kolchak as a main character.  He had his own occult detective, Teddy London.  He wrote Werewolf Stories and Steampunk Stories and Vampire Stories and pretty much anything you can conjure up in the genre fiction field.  And yet,  I don’t think he got the notice or acclaim he deserved in his lifetime.

If you have a Kindle device, try him out for a piddly .99 cents.   I think you’ll be glad you did.

Sincere (and late) condolences to C.J.’s wife Grace and daughter Eric.   My deepest sympathies.

Let’s flail that dead horse– more car conversions

Okay, besides a postal truck that I am still expecting, I’m done for a while.  I couldn’t resist getting just a  few new art deco styled classic cars when I saw them hanging on the rack at Safeway of all places.  Also, I’ve been experimenting with adding crews to the cars with exposed cockpits and fighting areas, and I thought I’d display a few of the better attempts.

HW 49 Merc convertible

Click me for larger view

Part of the 2009 Hot Wheel Treasure hunt series.  I took this lovely bright and shiny Detroit Iron, originally brown with gold highlights and a cheerful tan and brown interior, and totally filthed it all up.  The interior went dull black.    I didn’t want to lose the original paint job, because that’s just lovely, but I did dull it down with 3 coats of flat matte varnish, and then a filth wash of blotches of tan paint.  The crew are both from Stan Johansen.  The .30 cal is from ERM miniatures, and the flame thrower up front is from Stan.

MB Checker Cab, circa 1958

Click to enlarge

I had to pay homage to the old 1993 Windows 3.1 game Hellcab, of course.  This is a Checker Cab from Matchbox which is kind of difficult to find with the original Checker logo.  The more modern “Taxi” markings seemed kind of cheap and inaccurate so I held off until I could find a decent original model.    I wanted to keep the original paint job of bright yellow, especially the decals.  So I matte varnished it repeatedly, added an autocannon up front, added side cage armor and a half slab over the windshield to protect the autocannon gunner, then added generous rust and a thin coat of sepia on top of it all.  The result is one grimey hellcab for cuties.

HW Custom 53 Chevy

Click me to enlarge

This is also part of the 2009 Treasure Hunt series from Hot Wheels.  I ended up getting a two tone Chevy with a somewhat annoying bright metal flake paint job that was hard to dull down.  Still, I love the two tones.    Same approach I take to any care where I wish to retain the base paint scheme, dull it down and add some filth.  I ratched in the extra armor on this one and built a small Heavy Rocket mount box from plastic card.  This car will have two heavy “Fire and Forget” Rockets (painted standard rocket red), then the driver is down to a pistol.

MW Volkswagen Transporter Van

I did mention this in the last post on the “Hell truck” but I wanted to show a closer look.  This isn’t exactly Detroit iron here, but I felt we should have one in the game to represent the 60s.  The original is a two tone, bright colored blue VW Van with a skylight, lots of clear plastic windows and tons of chairs for passengers.  Nice, but it wouldn’t do for combat purposes.  I added an interior platform for gunners to stand on, painted the interior all black and the windows all grey.   I’m including this picture in the post to show that I’ve been painting up crew and militia figures for the game, and plan on adding some as crew permanently.   The weapon up front is a four shot flame thrower, angled down somewhat– envisioned as being operated by the crewman standing on the firing platform.


Two small pickups with Harpoon Teams, Datsun and Volkswagen pickups

For some reason I’m tickled pink about harpoon guns. Click to enlarge.

I think these are both Hot Wheels.  You’ve seen them in the background of a few pictures so far but I wanted to post them with pictures of crew on board.  Crew is all Stan Johansen, so are the weapons.   I see them as equivalent of technicals, but with harpoon guns designed to ensnare and roll vehicles of roughly the same mass.

I love the visual effect of adding crew to some of these vehicles.  It wouldn’t be practical (or possible) to crew every car with an open cockpit, but I can do enough to add that action element to the game.


Just a little visual inspiration for a project I’m working on. That is all.

Ground Troops!

I’m not going to have a ton of people on foot for RW/WLF but I’ll need some wacky survivalists, punks, paramilitary types and cultists for this game. Here’s a start:

Low Rent Paramilitary types, left, and Filthy Texas Survivalists, right.

Original Size Graphic

The Low Rent Paramilitaries are Vietnam era miniatures from East Riding, 20mm. They are crew on some support weapons I purchased recently. I just painted them up to look more haphazard, slapdash and using remnant uniform stuff. The Kettenkrad is a Monogram model, modified to be a mobile MG platform using a US water cooled .30 cal machine gun bolted to the platform. The model was colored a dull olive and then some camo highlights with a dark sepia wash and rust. It’s a pretty simple model.

The cowboy hats are from Elhiem Miniatures. They have a range of survivor types– mostly in a Post Zombie Apocalypse context. One group is this gang of Duster-wearing cowboys. Another are wearing full up chem suits. Bizarrely, they also produce the Scooby Doo kids (Velma, Alan, etc.) which fits right in to the Mystery Machine I already have painted up!

The cowboys are four figures, tall and rather slender. I undercoated them an Armory mustard yellow and then highlighted facial features and surface bits like guns, gun belts, shirts, etc. Then a big wash of sepia to filth them up and highlight all the great nooks and crannies, and I was done!

Stay tuned for more Figures. I’ll be painting up the rest of the punks, cultists and what not in the weeks to come.

A rap song about Monopoly

thats a phrase I never expected to utter.

Dan Bull, an English rap artist (and a pretty good one AFAIK) raps on Youtube about a wide variety of topics, including games (of the video variety). the Monopoly one is charming, in a rough trade sort of way.

Road Warrior / White Line Fever 1.2 Revision


A quick note– I’ve revised WHITE LINE FEVER (the expanded version of Eric Goodlater’s ROAD WARRIOR rules).  The Fire Combat Table was lacking to hit numbers after the range numbers.. that’s fixed  I also added some ideas for Mortars and Recoiless Rifles, and redid the damage table to include them.

You can find it on the DIGITAL RULES page  See the tab above.  It’s rather prominent.

Hailey Reinhart re-envisions Radiohead, and it’s great

That is all.. you creeps.

Road Warrior/WLF Car Conversions Part 2, the Wrath of Helltruck!

Here is part two (of two) in a series on converting Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars into Post-Apocalyptic Engines of Destruction (or delight).  The first post was here, and preamble post here.

Up front I’ll mention with a few exceptions*, this might be all I’m going to do.  Post Apocalyptic diecast conversions are, for some reason, a very pleasurable pastime and I don’t want a suitcase of these these things, just about 40 plus will do nicely.  That should cover both a very small group going through cars at a phenomenal rate (the rules are very unforgiving, I might point out) or a HUGE group of players.

1. Helltruck

Start with a cute, pristine Matchbox Super King line Tanker truck.  I bought two of them off of Ebay.

Shell super king tanker before conversions.

These can be had for about 11 dollars or so. I have two.

Matchbox Super King series trucks are humongous by Matchbox standards, yet still in scale.


HellTruck was converted by adding side door armor to the side doors (steel and rust paint), with eye slits cut out. I did a mesh armor windshield with bloodstains. Topped it off with turret Machine gun. Painted all a base brick red color then built up with success coats of rust washing on exposed metal, a filth wash (light brown) and a grim wash (thin black). The result looks like a truck that has been rolling down that apocalyptic highway. The tanker payload was a little more challenging. I built up a cage frame out of styrene I beams and L beams all the way around the tank. This provides a metal “frame” that keeps the cage away from the rig itself, much like the rocket cages on today’s Army convoy vehicles, and largely for the same reason– to reduce a rocket attack.. possibly. I gave the tank an overall mud color base coat and eliminated the Shell decals. The built up a paint job of thin black grime, LOTS of dirt, and rust on the cage material, frame and the big metal rear armor. For finishing touches I added a little plate metal cupola up top (with some infantry figures for scale) for the HellTruck defense team to fire from, plus a big rear armor slab with the Anarchy symbol on it.

HellTruck, More shots

I’m rather proud of this conversion, so bear with me while I show it off.

Helltruck, rear view (note big red Anarchy symbol/aiming point). Primed figures in cupola to show sense of scale, which is roughly 20mm.

Front view of Helltruck (R) next to what it got built up from, a Shell Super King Tanker (L).

Front shot, showing cage windshield and left door armor with improvised vision slit. Hard to see against the reddish background, but I painted a thin trickle of blood seeping out of the screen armor on the passenger side. Bad luck for somebody.

Helltruck is shown with some vehicles next to it, in a possible reflection of future combat. In this instance, the vehicles are from the Technicals tribe (mostly pickups with crew in the back firing mounted weapons). Figures added for scale. Note the Volkswagen Transporter van (a nod to Nancy Ott), a recent addition, flame thrower and side cage armor added, plus I added a platform to have figures fire out of the roof, Technicals style.

Two harpoon cannon equipped Technicals (Dodge Pickup, bottom left, Ford 150 top right) attempt to fire harpoons into truck tires. Ford 150 (bottom right) fires mounted light MG against the cab. The VW Transporter (top left) has a flamethrower with finite shots in it, so it is waiting to get closer to the cab to fire, but the crew member (unpainted, primed) is firing a pistol up versus the crew in the cupola.
At this angle, the crew up in the cupola could fire sidearms and rifles or crossbows down at the Tehnicals, but the turret MG on the front cab would not have the angle to fire back. Good for the Technicals, baaaad for Helltruck.

2. The Dune Buggy Tribe

This is a group of very lightly armored vehicles with few mounted weapons. Mostly cage armor. They engage by harassing fire with side arms or rifles. They are fragile but very fast and have bonuses for rugged terrain.

Dune buggy tribe.

Tribe cars are: MB Dune Buggy 2006, HW Roll Cage, Sahara Sweeper (foreground, heavily modded), Sahara Survivor, and a single Sting Rod II to provide some heavy weapon support.

3. The Fetish Car Design Gang

This is my catchall category for (mostly) Hot Wheels cars that are designed for visual impact and often don’t make a lick of sense in any real world context. These are goofy concepts like a car designed like a skeleton or scorpion, or a car with four jet engines back to back (a design one might imagine would blow up in the first minute of operation) Still, once they paint up they look pretty great!

Not all of these went the rusty/dirty metal route.. I just loved the lime green paint job on the art deco coupe (left) that I had to retain it, just dull it down a lot, with 3 coats of matte varnish and a dirt wash. I also added a gatling cannon.

Fetish Car Gang consists of: HW Shell Shock, HW Pirahna Terror
, HW Scorpedo, HW Tomb Up, HW Skull Crusher, HW Solar Reflex, and I don’t recall the name of the green car.

Notes– most of these came from a “Fright cars” five pack. They look ridiculous in bright colors but look just alien and tribal enough covered with dirt and rust. The Shell Shock is painted up as a fire starter car, with two “big guns” remodeled as fire throwers. Also added a MG on the roof, plus hatch. I put screen armor all over the “Solar Panel” on the Solar Reflex. The rest are pretty self explanatory– I put a harpoon gun on the Skull Crusher.

4. Muscle Cars/Factory Cars Tribe

These are cars that actually look like, well, CARS.. readily identifiable. I didn’t upgun these very much because the idea was to have the standard automobile underneath be readily identifiable.

Muscle car heaven

Note: Conversions are minimal here. Flat base coats, lots of screen mesh armor and maybe a MG here or there, but for the most part these look familiar and are painted that way..

5. Odds and Ends

Not sure what I’m going to do with these yet. The copter I have plans for, as I will mount it on a flight stand (same for the projected Gyrocopter, too)

* What’s left?

  • I have a 50s era Checker cab, painted like a Checker cab, en route. Hard to find with the original checker stripe– nothing else will do. This will be converted to “Hell Cab” with a gatling gun and some up-armor.
  • I have plans to acquire a postal vehicle, just for the “Disgruntled Postal employee” visual joke. Hard to find at a reasonable price.
  • I just won a Kettenkrad and Schwimwagon on ebay, I will assemble and add those.
  • Others– we haven’t even touched Motorcycles yet. I have to have at least ten of those. Or the gyrocopter.

Next post will probably be on motorcycles, pedestrian figures and terrain conversions.   Ciao!

“I Say, Holmes!” the Game’s afoot.. kind of?

Yes, you had a captive audience

I have been a fanboy of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle since I was 12– not just for the exploits of Sherlock Holmes, of course, but also of Brigadier Gerard and the White Company and Micah Clarke (check them out, they are worth your time).  Of course, it was Sherlock Holmes that initially captured me and retained my interest over the long run.  So when Victory Point Games offered up version one of I Say, Holmes!, their card based game of deduction and crime-solving in a Sherlock universe, I jumped at it back in 2007.  Sadly, one torrential downpour destroyed that version of the game very quickly before I got a chance to play it– blame it all on the somewhat more water-soluble ink that VPG was using back then.  Well sir, I was so disgusted with my own stupidity that I mentally kicked myself and promptly forgot about the game’s existence– until VPG reissued it in their spiffy new “thick counters and sturdy box” format 2014, at which point I knew I wanted to try it again! I have yet to find a game evocative of the Sherlock theme and setting that truly focuses on crime-solving and detection, a subject that is under-represented in board gaming.  Most “crime solving” games are really logic puzzles that stress deductive logic.  There’s nothing wrong with that– I’m personally fond of many of them, such as Mystery in the Abbey, Cluedo and Alibi, all of whom require keeping notes to zero in on a suspect by process of elimination.  My favorite in the genre might be 221 Baker Street, which is heavily Sherlock-themed.  Only played it once, though.

And this game?

I Say, Holmes is a card play game for 3-8 players from Victory Point Games that tries to follow in that thematic tradition, to some extent, but is mostly a fast card game with a strong resemblance to UNO and maybe, rummy.   Deduction is more a shot in the dark than process of elimination.

Cards are really the narrative engine of this game, and there are a lot of different kinds:

  1. Player Character Card: represents you, the player
  2. Information Cards:  usually manipulates hands to provide more narrative information.
  3. Action Cards: Mostly for performing actions that try to bring about an arrest.
  4. “I Say” Cards: Not really defined well, but appears to be a way to score extra “I say” Tokens which increases your score (semi-randomly at the end of the game).  Like a wild card you can play out of sequence.
  5. Country Cards: Setting cards where the action is out in the Countryside
  6. City Cards: Setting cards where the action is in the City (of London, I assume).
  7. Travel Cards: Moves player between city and country’
  8. Interrupt Cards: disrupt the action sequence and become the new current card.
  9. Villain Cards: the persistent goal of the game is to deduce the whereabouts of Villain cards (either in the draw pile or in opponent’s hands) and place them under arrest.   Villains attempt to escape arrest (which ends the round).

Note that I’m inferring some of this from the cards themselves; there’s not a section in the rulebook that informs us what every kind of card is supposed to do, but there is a very helpful card index in the back of the rulebook.

Game play

This game is designed for 3-8 players, and in my observation plays better with more players.  The player cards are dealt out and the draw deck is shuffled, and each player gets 6 cards– note that the draw deck is customized by number of players (a handy number printed on the bottom left will tell you what to include).  The player with “The Game’s Afoot!” Card plays this and game play starts with that card as Current, and located in the city.  Each card has some data point on it that will move a narrative along by restricting what can be played next in sequence– for instance, a card might be marked that it can only be played in City, Country or Travel settings.  The exception to this is playing the out of sequence “I Say!” card.

The “Case” continues by the player playing a card that is “similar” to the left of the person who started the sequence, played in front of them to the left, as the current card is discarded.   It passes from player to player– keying off the card restrictions, until hands are whittled down to either villains or interrupt cards, initiating either an “Escape” or an “Arrest” of the villain, and the game is scored for victory.  If a player is “harboring a villain” in their hand, they will help the villain escape– (by displaying the villain and any interrupt cards left in hand).  If a player wishes to accuse and arrest a villain, he can, but woe unto him if he guesses incorrectly, because then you add the accused player’s cards to your deck, which is a problem in a game that requires you to get rid of your cards to win!

I’ve not experienced it, yet, but I have read about games where a necessary similar/dissimilar card didn’t show up in a timely fashion and the game shuttled around the table as the group was “stuck”– this might be addressed in an expansion but I’m not certain.

Original Illustration, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. Sans Deerstalker hat.


Once you get the hang of it, I Say, Holmes! plays pretty quickly.  After the first confused round or two the play/counterplay sequence usually works smoothly until one hits a card where you could read a result either way, then the game comes to a screeching halt as you re-read “The Game Sequence” section of the rules.  There are some card interactions that required some clarification and furious fumbling in the card index at the back of the rulebook– fortunately there were a gang of similarly confused people in line ahead of me on Boardgamegeek, asking the same questions I did before me, so that was helpful.  The designer, Alan Emrich, is very helpful online for setting any ambiguities via BGG forums.   I played this game with a group of 3 people (total) twice and once with 5, and I have to say, get 4 or more or it’s not much of a game.   My overall response (and the response of the people I played it with) was “Ehhhhhhh”.. which means, specifically, that I didn’t hate it, but it’s not the best game I’ve ever played, either.  My big problem is that this is all about numbers and colors and matching things.  It’s not really a game of deduction, not in the same sense as, say, ALIBI or SLEUTH are.   I never was at a point where I could conclusively prove to myself where the Villain was and only successfully arrested him by taking a well-educated guess in a panic.  The components are great (far better than the soggy bundle my 2007 version became).  Standard Big, Thick counters, great (albeit thin) card stock, more or less thematic visuals.. Yeah, Sherlock Holmes never wore a deer stalker hat in the books, but that hat has become so emblematic of “Sherlock Holmes” I’ll forgive VPG’s art director for erring on the side of caution.   I can’t quibble with the production, it is on par with many VPG games that I have played lately and that sets  a high standard– it’s just not pushing my buttons for a detective game the same way that Alibi, Sleuth, the Mystery of the Abbey or Mystery Train do.

So, in summary a good game, but perhaps not a great one, your mileage will certainly vary.  I don’t quite think of it as “Sherlock themed UNO” as some reviewers have mentioned, but I also agree that I don’t consider it as evocative of solving mysteries, either.   Recommended if you like light, fast interplay trick-taking *style* of card games (though I wouldn’t characterize this game as a rummy game).

100 Word Podcast: Theme – PAN

100 word stories are commonly called “Drabbles“.   They can be more challenging than you think.  My friend Laurence Simon writes one of these a day and podcasts what he creates.  I couldn’t imagine that.

His 100 word challenge is every week, where you are giving a theme word and then build a drabble around it.   This week’s word is PAN.  Hope you like.

Click me to go to the original PODBEAN page if it’s not playing here.

Click here to listen to the PAN drabble.

Pat Condray, gone too soon

Pat Condray, raconteur, toy soldier enthusiast, and apparently a yachtsman.

Pat Condray, raconteur, toy soldier enthusiast, and apparently a yachtsman.

I just received the word from Brett Abbott, Pat’s son-in-law.

Pat Condray has passed away.

“I am afraid Pat passed away earlier this morning. Not sure of arrangements yet, will update later. Thanks to all for the thoughts and prayers, this hobby meant a lot to Pat and he loved the people in it.”

Tragic news, tragic news.. this has been a bad year span for the founders and shakers of the American miniatures wargaming scene.   First Craig Taylor, then Donald Featherstone, then Bob Coggins, then Jay Hadley & John Hill (almost simultaneously) .  Now Pat Condray has joined the choir invisible.

It was kind of a shockingly, stupidly abrupt way to go.  Pat was in great shape for his age and exercised regularly.  Yesterday, he decided to go for a bicycle ride near his home in Florida.  A local resident named Pok Sun Morgan was driving his Chevy Equinox down the same road Pat was biking down the right side of. Morgan sideswiped Pat on his bike and he was thrown a long way.  Sadly, Pat wasn’t wearing a helmet.  I’m not sure if that would have saved him or not, but it surely couldn’t have hurt.   The damage was severe, and Pat was airlifted to a local hospital in a coma.   As you can see, he didn’t make it.

What can you say about Pat?  Where do you start?  For all the pride he took in being argumentative and a “Well Known Poison Pen” (a nickname he took perverse pride in and used as his signature), he was at the core, a kind-hearted man of keen intelligence and wit.  He was fiercely dedicated to the hobby of Toy Soldiers and the art of wargaming.  His historical passions were the Spanish Civil War and the War of Spanish Succession, a hobby that he grew into a small and successful business, the Historical Products Company.   I owned several of his SCW figures in 20mm even now, and still break out “Viva El Christo Rey!” from time to time.

A strange memorial to be sure. Part of a phony deck of “trading cards” I made up to lampoon the 2006 Board of Directors elections.

As for the hobby in general, his antecedents go much farther back than the much discussed “Wally’s Basement Crowd” (a tribute to the late, great Wally Simon, many years gone).  Pat was an early participant in the Toy Soldier Society and active participant in the creation of HMGS as an organization.  He helped create the early HISTORICONs and MINICON convention programs (MiniCon became Cold Wars), working with Jay Hadley and Bob Coggins, and was president of HMGS at least once.  Even years after the average former Board of Directors member had burnt out and faded away, Pat retained a scrupulous eye on the day to day efforts of the Society he helped found– pouring over BoD Meeting minutes, the projected Budget and convention reports, often bringing them back up in minute detail during membership meetings, which he hardly ever missed.  He likened himself to the chapter historian, in a sense.  He would retain a version of events from a dozen years ago and come up with his own grandiloquent turn of phrase for it years afterward– a Board Of Directors became “The Gang of Four” in anecdotes years later.  An effort to remove someone from the board of directors would be called a “Putsch”.    He loved to prose away at issues, using his own argot as much as possible.   Being somewhat prickly online, he often came off as a curmudgeonly crank, but he was never that way in person.

My favorite memories of Pat were the Spanish Civil War games he ran at NOVAG‘s small conventions held at the Elk’s Lodge and Masonic Halls in Northern VA.  These were transformative for me.  I had always loved the Spanish Civil War period but the hobby was all over the Big Three in those days (The American Civil War, Napoleonics and WW2 of course).  It was cool and refreshing to see someone dabble in this obscure little conflict that I felt like I was the only person who knew anything about.   And .. here was an entire line of miniatures devoted to it!  It did open my eyes to a world of possibilities about historical wargaming with miniatures, and led to my participation in HMGS, and wargaming conventions.   So you can blame Pat about that!

So, yeah, at the end of it all, what CAN you say?  Pat, I really wish you had worn your damned helmet.  God bless and keep you, rest in peace and I’ll say a prayer for your repose and for your family in your time of grief.  You will be missed very much.

The increasingly odd world of the Shab al-Hiri Roach

“PEMBERTON – We regret to announce the death, which took place on Saturday morning at his home in Pemberton, of Dr. William Appleby-Jenkins, late of our Biology faculty. Dr. Appleby-Jenkins, who completed his forty-seventh year last July, lamentably took his own life.

Dr. Appleby-Jenkins, affectionately known to a generation of Pemberton students as “Doctor A-J”, recently returned from an expedition to that region of Mesopotamia soon to be included in the French mandate. This most productive field excursion makes his passing all the more tragic, for his discovery there of a new species of insect is poised to elevate him and our dear old school to the lofty heights of entomological greatness.
— Shab al-Hiri Roach rule Introduction

Every once in a while I get floored by a new game design that seems so far out in left field that it might, it just might, be ridiculous enough even for my tastes.  The Shab al-Hiri Roach just might be that kind of game, though it’s hardly new.   Designed ten years ago for the  “Iron Game Chef Competition” (or something like that), an event that has since morphed into Game Chef.com.    As near as I can tell, the contestants were given a theme of four items and 24 hours to create a game out of it.   The designer, Jason Morningstar, submitted the Shab al-Hiri Roach.

Just what kind of experience is the Shab al-Hiri Roach?  That’s an interesting question.  It plays like an indie, live action RPG– with elements of Werewolf and Fiasco thrown in.  [edit– true fact.  I didn’t remember Bully Pulpit was the publisher of Fiasco until I re-read the mechanics of Roach and asked myself .. is this guy ripping off Fiasco or something?  Turns out Roach is very much like an earlier version of Fiasco, by the same designer]  Like all truly great games, the mechanics and physical impedimenta are minimal, but the potential for creating a game narrative is there in spades.  There’s a book (or PDF text, depending on which version you got).  There’s an action cards (to move  the plot along) and enthusiasm cards (to give your chosen character a less cookie cutter aspect).  There’s a handful of dice and some tokens to track Reputation.   That’s about it.  The rest of the game is all in the setup and how well your players can assume their roles.

The Setting and Player Roles

 A quiet and very old New England institution, Pemberton University has a small, pleasantly dilapidated campus dominated by imposing stone buildings in neo-gothic style. The lamp of learning is tended by a small, pleasantly dilapidated faculty dominated by a witches brew of power-hungry sycophants, misanthropic crackpots, and scheming administrators.
— “Pemberton University” from the rulebook

Into this setting has entered the monstrous Shab al-Hiri roach, a monster from ancient Sumerian times.   The Roach can fuse with a human being, lay eggs and gain control over his or her higher motor functions, in an effort to fulfill its campaign of evil.

The Roach has perfected the art of effective control over human beings, but it is a little out of touch. It continues to operate in the Sumerian mode – issuing brutal, cryptic commands and treating its hosts like ignorant cattle. The modern world is not Sumeria, however, and the Roach’s hosts are not as tractable as the servants of the ancient God-Kings.
— “Concerning the Roach” from the rulebook


Character stats are fairly straightforward.  A character is defined by his or her Name (and, it is assumed a background provided by the player), a Standing (Assistant Professor or Full Professor, each has an advantage), an academic Expertise, Reputation (you start with 3 points), and a pair of Enthusiasms that are determined by a card draw from the Enthusiasm deck.

When creating a character the player must FRAME them with a backstory that can create certain events that will impact the play of the game– that is, a player isn’t just a collection of statistics, but must have a story behind him or her, that interacts with the stories of other players.  This might be the most important element of the Shab al-Hiri roach.

The Game is played in scenes that draw upon the backstories of the characters, like a play.   Players are assumed to start the game uncontrolled by a Roach unless it is specified by an action card draw at the start.

The goal is to collect Reputation points (above the three you start with of course).   A player with the highest reputation at end of game, AND not controlled by a Roach, wins the game.  This is hard to achieve, as I hope to make clear.

Setting and Events

The game starts in 1919, at Pemberton College, and the game is framed around SIX EVENTS.  Events are played from the framed narratives mentioned above, and should dovetail with the character’s back stories.

  1. Convocation
  2. Chancellor’s wine and cheese social
  3. Faculty Senate Meeting
  4. Homecoming football game
  5. Thanksgiving faculty retreat
  6. The Founder’s Day Halloween Ball

Cards and what they do

At the beginning of each scene, every player must draw an Action card. Each Action card has both a Command and an Opportunity on it.   If your player is carrying a roach, you will carry out the command.  If your character is roach-free (for the time being), you will use the opportunity provided during the upcoming scene.


Text of a typical Action/Opportunity card (from the print and play edition)

The challenge of good game play is to take the character that has been framed by the player and meld it to the Events as they unfold, adding in the NPCs mentioned above.   Each player takes a turn being “in the spotlight” or the focus of a scene, with the other players playing NPCs and supporting characters.  This is the part that reminds me strongly of FIASCO.  Each scene must end with a CONFLICT of some sort, as defined by the player in the spotlight– a player could be dangling from a window, or his academic credentials are being challenged in after dinner conversation, or whatever.   Conflicts are resolved with wagers of Reputation Points or RPs (from one to five) and resolved by dice roll.  The winning side wins RPs worth the amount of the wager, the losing side loses the amount of RPs equivalent to the wager.  RPs can also be won or lost by card play at the start of the scene.   The game continues through the six scenes as the player character professors attempt to navigate through them without (hopefully) succumbing to the Roach.  As already stated, the most RPs at the end of the game wins the game — if not controlled  by a roach.


The Shab al-Hiri Roach is a delightful exercise in building a game narrative.  This might be one of the best story building games I’ve played.    Obviously, the mechanics are almost negligible.  Who cares if you have ten or eleven RPs at the end of the game, really?  This game is ALL about telling a story.  If you can’t ham it up and rise to the occasion, I strongly advise against playing this game.   If your gaming comrades are just the RIGHT sort of group to attempt this– if they enjoy FIASCO, or AYE OVERLORD, or even COSMIC ENCOUNTER, then this is a game for them.  If they are more interested in the old fashioned stat-based RPG, I can almost guarantee the Shab al-Hiri roach will go over like a lead balloon.  The cards will add a big element of luck, to be sure, as will the dice, but the enjoyment received from this game will depend on how good your players (performers are).

In the words of the Roach, Níñgig þuluþ: It is an abomination – you shall not know who to trust or where to seek respite.


Bully Pulpit Games – current publisher of the game.  I own the PNP and the printed versions.

Fiasco – by the same publisher!

Car Conversions for Road Warrior/White Line Fever, part 1

This is the first of probably two posts on actual car conversions I have done to support the upcoming WHITE LINE FEVER game, which I will run at HISTORICON and the Summer camp I run.  Also read the “Preamble” post on this topic from a couple weeks ago.

I’ve had a lot of fun working on these vehicles– there’s something about gleaming neon colored Hot Wheels cars being converted into rusty, filthy, post-apocalyptic death machines that is deeply satisfying. I’ve got about 40+ cars mostly done. I am waiting a few more cars to arrive in the mail and then I’m holding off on converting more, unless I find a vehicle that is crying for conversion!  I will be concentrating on painting up a few pedestrian gangs next and some terrain after I finish with all of the vehicles. The next post will have more groups of cars and the two tanker trucks I am painting up now. I am grouping these by broad categories– from the mundane and easily recognizable to the oddball conversion to the rather fetishistic cars that Hot Wheels has produced in the last five years or so.

Group 1: Food and TV

The Food and TV collection

These are cars with high recognition factor from popular culture with minimal conversions required. I want the original design to be noticeable and not painted over– so I brushed on a matte varnish, added a few additions, and generally “filthed them all up” with a dry brush to make them all grimy and dirty, but still instantly recognizable. From bottom left, clockwise:

Notes: The Sushi Truck was the most complex conversion of this lot. I added a metal side door out of styrene, a fencing cage over the open service window,  and an armored rear door in the back. I generally “filthed it up” with painted mud and dry brush plus some rust on the “iron plate”. The Mystery Machine got an armored plate up top (this will be a weapons platform) plus I opaqued the windows and added a lot of dirt. The Love Bug was left pretty much as is, just made highly dirty, and finally the Weinermobile got a light machine gun, dirtied up all over, a new hatch plate on top, and cage armor around the bottom.

Group 2: Oddball car conversions

This is a group that used cars that were very futuristic and somewhat impractical looking, all from Hot Wheels.  Many of their diecast creations have been blatantly weird in recent years. Their common characteristic is being long and lean with gigantic tires and big engines. MOST of these were minimal conversions, painted a characteristic flat metal and then heavily rusted. Surprisingly, once I had made that minimal amount of painting, they really are quite evil and bad-ass looking.

The Oddball Conversion collection

Clockwise from Top Left:

  • HW 2009 Carbonator
  • HW 2009 Fast Fortress (Design series– purple and orange)
  • HW 2009 Tread Air from 2012 “Code Cars” collection
  • HW, not sure of this one, can’t make out the model name
  • HW, again, not sure of this one.
  • HW 2008 Duel Fueler
  • HW 2009 RD-10

Notes: Of this group, The Carbonator got the soda bottle faring removed, then a new cockpit and Stan Johansen gunshield added, also a grenade launcher.   The soda bottle looked silly, but the rocket with a chair up front looks wicked.  The Fast Fortress was just repainted and distressed.  I couldn’t figure out what to do with the Tread Air, so I just gave it a post-Apocalyptic makeover.  The unidentified car had new body pieces added because of the awkward “all window” front end, then painted them gun metal and rusted them up, plus added a machine gun.  The other vehicle to its left was painted gunmetal and rusted up, with a piece of fence added to the top– it’s a cool looking vehicle, very old fashioned, but not much I could do with it in terms of armor or weapons.  The Duel Fueler is very weird– huge flaring nodules on either side but not any decent mounting points for a weapon, so I just added a platform in the center and might just put a human survivor in there to leap on other vehicles.  The RD-10 is an old model– I just dirtied it up and added a small platform for a small turret from Stan Johansen miniatures and am painting it as a laser weapon.  

Group 3: The Technicals

A “Technical” is a pickup truck, with minor modifications,  with a large AT Missile or MG mounted on the back, giving an insurgent side a very cheap and expendable response to light armor.  They are common in Middle Eastern countries.  My approach was to add a standing crewman firing a weapon to the back of the vehicle, and adding Stan Johansen’s harpoon guns, for the entertainment factor.

The Technicals, Ford F-150 on left not finished yet.

There were pretty easy.  I added some grill work/fencing on the bed of the trucks to steady the harpoon weapon and to elevate the firing figure.  On the larger (red) technical I added a large armor plate upright bolted to the back of the truckbed.  The trucks are armored with a mixture of welded on plate pieces here and there (such as the driver’s door) and on the hood and roof.  Liberal use of the grill armor contributed to the protection of the driver. From Top, Clockwise

Notes: See the comments above.  Pretty simple conversions — I repainted the 2009 Ford F-150 to be a duller red color, then filthed it and rusted it up.  

Group 4: “The Man”

When you’re fighting against the forces of Apocalypse, you need to have some defenders of the status quo around.. the odd local police unit still functioning, or old National Guard units, or SWAT vehicle, or hard core survivalists.  This group encompasses that kind of vehicle.

The “Man” (Law and order) collection

Most of these came from a Matchbox military vehicles value pack, so they are somewhat similarly weathered and armored.   I wanted vehicles that are grimy, but well cared for, and still functional– though showing signs they will fall apart from lack of spare parts eventually. From Bottom Left, Clockwise:

This group was the first vehicles I converted– mostly by recoloring the too-bright paint jobs with a flat armory spray paint (Olive, Burnt Red, Muddy Brown, Khaki) and then adding bits of cage/fence armor here and there.   The Sentinel Limo is a very cool police car model designed by noted futurist Syd mead for Hot Wheels about a decade ago.  I wanted to retain the markings so I just matte varnished it and added lots of mud colored dry brush to show wear and tear.   The Hot Wheels HMMV didn’t come with a weapon and was just slightly smaller than the Matchbox version, and lacked its detail.  I added a hatch up top (rusted) and a TOW missile launcher so it would match the Matchbox version.  Olive drab undercoat to cover the horrid lime green paint job) and lots of weathering.  I painted the Jungle Crawler to look like a survivalist vehicle of some sort– all dark red undercoat plus improvised cage armor and lots of muck and grime– and a turret MG from Stan Johansen.  The Armored Response Vehicle– I wanted it to look like a specialist vehicle of some sort so I made it a desert khaki with an open MG turret up top, manned with a gunner.   The International MXT didn’t have many good gun mount points so I added a little grenade launcher up front in front of the hatch (from Stan Johansen).  Brown base with highlights and weathering.  The SWAT Truck is still a project to work on — the version I found was bright silver(!) and so I converted it to flat gunmetal/rust and I’m going to add some blue highlights.. to represent oxidized blue police paint that has worn off.  I also added a MG to the roof and a hatch cover up top.  The Hummer with a gun was easy enough, I just lightened the Olive tone and weathered it a lot, and gunmetalled the TOW Launcher. And that’s the first bunch.  I have a few more posts to go with this project– so stay tuned.  Paints came from a variety of sources.  The matchboxes and hot wheels were all very affordable, bought in five-packs mostly.  Added on armor was styrene plastic sheeting.  The grill work (fencing) armor was from a needlepoint plastic grill bought from an arts store.  ALL weapons added on came from Stan Johansen’s ROAD WARRIOR LINE, vehicle weapon packs.

Stay tuned for more automotive mayhem.

Expanded Road Warrior Rules now as an EPUB in Digital Rules section

As part of the WHITE LINE FEVER project, which entails producing a post-apocalyptic Road Battle game in the spirit of ROAD WARRIOR and the upcoming FURY ROAD movies, I am using a set of rules written by Eric Goodlater that I have played at a few HMGS conventions (Fall IN! 14 and Cold Wars 15).   I liked the ease, and more importantly the SPEED with which they depict the finale of ROAD WARRIOR.  Eric was happy to share the rules with me, which showed up as a word file and a scan of a chart done in pencil.  ROAD WARRIOR is a pretty simple rule set heavily influenced by G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. skirmish rules.  Being a tinkerer kind of guy, I tinkered with it, and created an epub out of the results, which you can see here.  You can get it from the Digital Rules page. 

TRANSITION, by Iain M. Banks (a short review)

TransitionTransition by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a late find for me. I’ve read most of Iain Banks’ novels at this stage, both the Culture universe novels and the more subtle thought-provoking non-SF ones. Transitionnever really registered on my radar for some reason. Transition is a far cry from Banks’ early Science Fiction series– both Culture and Culture kinda-sorta stories. Rather than a galactic soap-opera featuring privileged elites shuttling from crisis point to crisis point in the Galaxy on gigantic space ships, Transition is about the multiverse, or the theory that there are an infinity of universes that exist simultaneously. A shadowy organization called the Concern has learned how to jump from universe to universe, using a drug called septus. Two factions are warring with the Concern, the talented, ruthless Madame D’Ortolan and the talented, but more reasonable Mrs. Mulvahill. There are many characters in this novel and the story jumps from one to the other, often shifting narrative form from memoir to first person action story.

I’ve rarely felt the sensation of “That’s it? that’s all?” when I turned the last page of a Banks novel; this was a first for me. Banks spends an inordinate amount of time in building the setting (world building isn’t a term that applies– worlds-building might, though). We change from POV characters Adrian and Temujin Oh, and the Philosopher and a patient who clearly had previous ties with the Concern. There’s a great sense of building in this novel, but the payoff seems frenetic and rushed. I did NOT get the sense that Transition was any great commentary on our present times– OUR Earth, it turns out, is just one of the multiple universes and not a very important one at that.

For all that, it was an enjoyable change of pace from an author that wrote galaxy-spanning epics. I thought the setting was great and some of the characters were top notch (particularly the villainous Madame D’ortolan) but their nothing is really fully explained. We have a suggestion of just WHY the Concern exists (towards the ending), but no explanation. We know the motivations of the parties involved, but never is the WHY? explained anywhere. Personally, I wouldn’t rate it among Banks’ better works but it is eminently readable and enjoyable in its own right.

View all my reviews