Let’s talk about that Taranto Project


Taaaarrrraaaannnttoooo!

“Taranto, and the night of November 11–12, 1940, should be remembered for ever as having shown once and for all that in the Fleet Air Arm the Navy has its most devastating weapon.” — Admiral Andrew Cunningham, British Commander at Taranto

So what’s this all about?

During the first year of World War II, the Italians were a not insubstantial threat to Allied war aims in the Mediterranean Sea.  From their position at the tip of the Italian “boot”, the Italian Regia Marina possessed a geographical superiority over the English and French: from land bases, they could reach out and affect just about all of the Western Mediterranean ocean– including having the ability to strike nearby Malta and interdict naval convoys to the North African theater, and resupply Axis forces there.  Without building expensive aircraft carriers, which suited the Italians right down to the ground.  The ships of Regia Marina were a significant strategic threat that the Royal Navy had anticipated as early as 1936, when the seeds for an air raid plan had first been drawn up.   After war had begun in earnest, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham dusted off the old 1936 plan and created OPERATION JUDGEMENT, a plan for an air raid on Taranto Harbor, located at the “instep” of the boot of Italy.   The goals of the air raid would be to damage or destroy as much of the Italian fleet as possible, by bombing and torpedo attacks.

Compared to later operations, the RN did not have a lot to work with.  The principle British Naval attack plane was the Fairy Swordfish, this was a biplane that was by general consensus considered antiquated before the first shot was fired.   The swordfish was slow, it had a low ceiling, it was covered with fabric(!).  However, it was extremely stable and had an excellent ability to loiter over targets.  Swordfish pilots were genuinely affectionate about their aircraft, dubbing them the “Stringbag” for reasons unknown. [editorial note: “Stringbag” comes from the fabric construction and multiple guidewires to keep the wings intact, see the note in comments below. ]

Here’s a little footage of the Stringbag in the air with a torpedo load.  (Video no longer embedded– the owner doesn’t want to share it.  Go here instead)

Accordingly Admiral Cunningham had 21 Fairy Swordfish modified drastically for the long haul to Taranto from the Southwest.  [editorial note: apparently not that drastic, the extra fuel tank conversion (removing the observer seat) wasn’t unheard of, see note in comment below]  The middle seat was converted to a giant extended fuel tank.  The attack was divided into three waves, with bombs and flares being dropped to distract the Italian fleet response while the torpedo planes made their runs.  The resulting attack went astonishingly well for the British.  The Italian fleet was devastated– losing half its operational fleet in an evening:

  • Conte di Cavour had a large hole in the hull, and permission to ground her was withheld until it was too late, so her keel touched the bottom at a deeper depth than intended. 27 of the ship’s crew were killed and over 100 more wounded. In the end, only her superstructure and main armament remained above water. She was subsequently raised and was still undergoing repairs when Italy switched sides in the war, so she never returned to service
  • Caio Duilio had only a slightly smaller hole  and was saved by running her aground.
  • Littorio had considerable flooding caused by three torpedo hits. Despite underwater protection (the ‘Pugliese’ system, standard in all Italian battleships), the damage was extensive, although actual damage to the ship’s structures was relatively limited (the machinery was intact). Casualties were 32 crewmen killed and many wounded. She was holed in three places. She too was saved by running her aground. Despite this, in the morning, the ship’s bows were totally submerged.

Map of the ship dispositions in Taranto harbor that evening. With the barrage balloons up and AA emplacements situated, this was not a cakewalk for the Fleet Air Arm pilots.

Overnight, the balance of power in the Mediterranean had changed drastically.  The operational Italian fleet vessels were immediately transferred North to Naples.   This put them out of easy striking range of Malta.  Although they would play a role in the Med during the ensuing 3 years (until the fall of Mussolini), they would never be the strategic threat they were in 1940 again.

So, why am I interested in this battle?  You mean, beyond the high drama of a desperate gamble on the part of the Royal Navy?  Lots of reasons.  Taranto is the first coordinated attack by a fleet air arm on a major fleet to occur in history.  It served as the blueprint for the Pearl Harbor raid a year later.  Most of all, it just seems such an improbable victory.. only 21 slow, obsolete airplanes against the entire Italian fleet.   A while back, when I first picked up Victory at Sea and wanted to run a few naval games, I picked up enough ships to do Denmark Strait and the Pursuit of the Bismarck (1941).  That led me to the Fairy Swordfish and eventually, to pondering a Taranto miniature wargame.

I bought the Axis and Allies War at Sea models for the Sink the Bismarck game when they were still easily found and affordable on a secondary market, although the game itself is out of print. For the Bismarck game, that worked pretty well, even if the scale, at 1/1800 (roughly), is a little larger than I had in mind. No problems with the miniatures– they come pre-painted and look (roughly) what they are supposed to look like. So, what the heck, I started collecting an Italian fleet from War at Sea models. It turned out to be easy, but painstaking when you are trolling secondary markets– there aren’t as many available as there were a few years ago.

The Littorio and Vio Venetto, left rear. the Caio Diolo, center, some destroyers in the foreground, and various cruisers on the right.

Where to get the ships?  Well, I’ve been a fan of reusing Axis and Allies War at Sea ship models already– when

Italian Cruisers and one pre-Dreadnought era ship, possibly the Andrea Doria.

I’ll probably give them another coating of wash, and touch up the factory job here and there, but pretty much these weren’t hard to collect and maintain. Obviously Hasbro didn’t produce EVERY ship in the Italian Fleet for their collectible miniatures game; to fill out the fleet I made several double buys where one ship of a CLASS of ships had a miniature made for it; that actually is a much easier problem to overcome with the smaller cruiser and destroyer classes where multiples of a single ship model work just fine. Even so, there were a few ships that were either priced right out of the secondary market or were never produced by Hasbro. In this instance, 3D printing came to the rescue. Shapeways.com has quietly been providing gap filler models for various games for the last few years; naturally, they came to the rescue for four ships I couldn’t locate at all. Accordingly,I bought three cruisers and a pre-dreadnought from Shapeways to round out my fleet.

It’s an easy paint job. Base primer grey, a gray wash and then a darker ink wash, then the snazzy striped red and white deck stripes to indicate it was an Italians ship from the air.

The material for the 3D printer is a little grainy compared to the injected rubbery plastic the original series from WaS uses, but from the magical 3 foot mark, it looks great to me. The price is nice, as well.

So, I have the Italian fleet, more or less.. and I’m not worried about the big scale size. They are nice and chunky, the way I like it, and it’s not like they are going to maneuver around in this scenario and go off the table– most of these ships are just Anti Aircraft platforms in this projected game.  I was projecting maybe there being an Italian player who might want to game that side, maybe make a victory condition escaping the harbor under power or something, but I can’t see it.. it wouldn’t be a lot of fun for any Italian player. So the ships will pretty much be stationary objects in this scenario.

Airplane models. I needed 21 Swordfish, I bought 26 from Pico Armor. Plus some Fairy Fulmars.

If I wanted to be true to scale, the aircraft would be pinhead sized. Aside from the fact that there probably aren’t any plane models in that scale, they would just lack any visual impact. So I compromised and went with PicoArmor, who have a great WW2 aviation section. PicoArmor look great and are reasonably sharp in detail (although that’s from a distance). Good choice, even if construction of the plane models is hellishly irritating. Nothing fits together perfectly; I have to cut off flash, rough the edges of the join between upper and lower wing before glueing. THEN I have to hold the model while the glue sets, often gluing my thumbs to the model! At least I have decals. I won’t have to paint the rondels.

As for rules, I was leaning towards Victory at Sea at the start of this project, because I had used it before and it’s relatively “light” and fun to play. However, I’m not as satisfied with the aerial torpedo element of VaS. It’s far too simplistic for what I had in mind and really doesn’t provide some of the elements of the narrative that need to be there, such as the poor state of alert of the Italians, the poor training, the element of surprise. I have come to the conclusion that this isn’t going to be a game where the players play the Italian fleet at all; that would be almost cruel. Yet I want the Italians to have a fighting chance even as targets. So I’m monkeying around with various levels of alertness, and skill and whatnot. I may take a look at General Quarters 3 for the rules, as I like the level of granularity, although I may have to crunch some numbers on the ground scale.

So that’s where I am more or less. There’s other stuff, such as the map terrain.. building the harbor of Taranto, setting up the Anti-Aircraft on the Italian side (which was fierce.. the British lost two aircraft). I’ll probably write a follow up posting on those items when I get to them.

Thanks to Wg Cdr Luddite below for some comments clarifying the Swordfish.

New Car Customization Parts from Brigade Games, a review


Awesome new ROAD WARRIOR STYLE FUN

I have to hand it to Lon at Brigade Games, he has an eye for trends.  The release of the MAD MAX: FURY ROAD movie at the start of the Summer was bound to create at least a mini-wavelet of interest in Road Warrior style car chase games in the hobby, and companies like Stan Johansen Miniatures and Aberrant Games definitely took advantage of the trend with their own line of existing car customization parts and vehicles for post-apocalypse car combat miniature games in 20mm scale (which more or less matches up with Hot Wheels and Matchbox).   Lon maintains his own line of miniatures through Brigade Games and usually produces them in support of some game system he is selling.   It was not a huge surprise, therefore, to see that Brigade Games is making their own line of car conversion parts, competing with Stan Johansen and other manufacturers.

First Sprue: yokes for weapons in the foreground, with a ram plate and some rockets in the rear. Might require some vehicle customization and a Dremel to make them fit. Still, a great idea in the first package.

My first impression, about selection, is very positive.  Lon is carrying a wide range of add on parts.  I bought about four sprues at 3.50 for weapons and armor and 1.50 for the yokes (pictured above).

Here is the range so far, with the bold test representing my first purchase.

  • Complete Set (1 of each option) [+$40.00]
  • 3 Machine-guns – .50cal style w/ammo boxes [+$3.50]
  • 3 Vulcan machine-guns – mini-gun style w/ammo drums [+$3.50]
  • 4 Rockets and 1 oil sprayer [+$3.50]
  • 1 Large turret and 2 small turrets [+$3.50]
  • 2 Flamethrowers and 1 arrow-gun (or micro-missile launcher) [+$3.50]
  • 1 Harpoon gun, 1 sonic gun, 1 mine dropper, and 1 laser gun [+$4.00]
  • supercharged car sprue -stowage, supercharger, front end, exhausts [+$3.50]
  • 6 yokes – these fit any weapon. [+$1.50]
  • 2 rear armor plates and 2 light ram plates [+$3.50]
  • 2 heavy ram plates [+$3.50]
  • Armor sprue – 2 windscreens, pair of side windows, 2 side plates [+$3.50]
  • Armor sprue – 4 large side plates [+$3.50]
  • 2 Stowage [+$2.00]
  • 2 pairs of exhausts and supercharger [+$3.50]
  • Armor sprue – 4 wheel armor plates and 1 hood/roof armor plate [+$3.50]

Harpoon Gun (placed but not mounted) Stowage pack in the back, minigun next to car.

How are we doing with scale?  Well, the weapons definitely fit with vehicles in the HO/Matchbox/Hot Wheels scale range.  They are rather LARGE compared to similar Stan Johansen items so you may need to use your judgement in how you deploy a mix of both.  The miniguns and machine guns seemed large to me, but still workable.  The other more esoteric weapons.. well, who cares what size they are as long as they look good?  It’s the apocalypse, a lot of this stuff is made in an ad-hoc fashion, right?  So in general, with maybe one or two size hogs, I’d use anything in this line on my own White Line Fever games.  And I plan to.  If you look at picture 2 above, you’ll see how large the minigun and harpoon gun seem to be, but if you think about it, what are the standards for a harpoon gun?  Who knows how large it’s “supposed to be?”

Dart gun (yay!) two flame throwers, a laser, a sonic weapon, and a mine dropper in frame with a sample post apocalyptic car (Back to the Future DeLorean)

What about selection?  This is the great strength of this range of parts.  There are some new weapons here (the dart gun and sonic weapon, for instance) and ones that I have imagined but didn’t have a model for (like the laser and mine dropper).  I’m very impressed with the choices.  Now I wish I had ordered more.

Detail (on laser, left, sonic weapon, center, and mine dropper, right)

What about quality of cast?  No problems here.  See the close up on the picture above of the Laser, sonic weapon and mine dropper.  The casting is sharp and though it had a few “tin whiskers” there was nothing really to complain about.  A very good job on detailing, when you consider this is mostly fictional gear we’re describing.

Summary: I really have to commend Brigade Games for this new offering.  These parts work for the games I’m running right now, will be relatively easy to add on to the car models I’m using, and could probably ALSO work for 15mm and even 28mm with some work.  They would be huge for 15mm and smallish for 28mm, but much of that can be tricked with some effort.  It’s not all a bed of roses..the ram plates will require drilling with the Dremel and some heavy epoxy to fit on the (mostly metal) Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars I use, so that will be some effort.  In general, however, I love this new series of customization parts and I encourage BG to add to the line.

Lon? You know what this universe needs?  Driver figures that will fit in open top convertible type vehicles, as well as weapon operators.  Scaled to 20mm. Just a suggestion.

The Martian (a book), by Andrew Weir, Reviewed


The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Martian, by Andy Weir, is the author’s first published novel. Weir took an interesting route to publication– he started the Martian in 2009 and once offered it for free, than as a .99 Kindle book. Ha! If I had only known– not that I begrudged paying full price for it.

If you haven’t figured out the plot from the movie trailers that are just now showing up online, this is indeed a story of a Mars mission that encounters calamity and is forced through an odd series of mischances to leave a crewman behind them on Mars. The crewman, Mark Watney, had been left for dead. Now he has to figure out a way to survive for the long haul on Mars– until the next Mars mission shows up. Very fortunately for us readers, fate has picked the perfect person to survive on Mars. Watney is a botanist and a mechanical engineer, and very well suited to take what he has left (a Habitat – HAB.. which was designed to hold people for 35 days, now he has to live in it for years, some rovers and a lot of junk left over from the aborted mission) and survive for a truly long haul stay.

The novel is really a series of vignettes about solving problems associated with this particular situation, and how Watney bends his engineer/problem solving mind to solving problem after problem with an endless supply of cheerful optimism. Herein lies the success of this novel– Watney tells us his story as a series of log entries, usually right after something goes spectacularly wrong or right. He preps us for the next problem by running through the math and science of the problem and then provides an AAR for each disaster as it arises.. usually in a humorous fashion (“Well, that didn’t kill me, or I wouldn’t be typing this, would I?”). The strength of the novel– Watney’s personality and Tony Stark like attitude to fixing problems, is also its weakness. There are other characters in this novel, and they are largely shortchanged in Watney’s favor, reduced to being the means of explaining the current peril and powerless to do anything about it. We barely get the same read on them as we do on Watney.

With all that said. I loved the Martian.. I mean that.. I really, freaking, LOVED the Martian. I bought the ebook and read it at night under the covers. I started it and was halfway done in less than a day. I reread portions. Yes, there will be a movie this Fall and from what I can see they are more or less faithful to the novel. I look forward to seeing it.

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What is a “hero” anyway?


RIP Lenny Robinson, our Baltimore Batman

The news reported that Lenny Robinson, the eccentric local Batman fan that took his hobby of collecting Batman memorabilia to a new level by converting a custom Lamborghini into a Batmobile (of sorts) and visiting legions of terminally ill children in the hospital, had been struck by a car when he got out of his car to check for engine trouble on a busy highway.  He was killed instantly.

Back in 2012, Lenny made the national headlines when a police dash cam of him being stopped by the police for driving his custom Lambo without a visible plate from the State of Maryland on display hit Youtube and went viral:

Of course it did.. there’s something inherently goofy and ridiculous about a grown man dressing up as Batman and driving around in a tricked up Lamborghini. Lenny had a screw loose, but it manifested itself in a wonderful way.

Lenny would use his free time (and a considerable amount of his own cash) to dress up (himself and with other “superheroes”) to visit extremely ill children all up and down the state of Maryland. He’d been doing it for years.. not asking permission, not petitioning a committee for advice or sponsorship. He just saw something that would make life better for a group of sick kids who were feeling miserable.. and he went out and did it.

Just like that.

Sure. I’m not going to argue when Nancy Grace ends her broadcasts by looking straight into the camera, with voice artfully choking and lip dramatically quivering… “PFC so and so, killed in Afghanistan.. American .. (pause) … hero.” that’s her thing.. and we should cherish our fallen. I get that.

And yet, there are other kind of heroes. Simple, goofy men like Lenny Robinson, doing the decent thing, on their own dime and their own time, because it needed doing, and nobody else was stepping up to the plate.

Lenny, you’re a hero—no, strike that, you’re in the Heavenly Justice League.

May God Bless and keep you.

Lepanto big and chunky and in 1:300 scale.. just the way I like it


Recent developments in pre-cut, laser etched designs have created a new niche market in wargaming.  I recently built a Viking ship in 28mm scale from just such a kit, and was impressed with how quickly it came together and how well it represented the historical ship.  There are other vendors popping up here and there on a small scale, vending historical products– such as 4Ground Ltd‘s building and terrain bits.  Another niche company is a small outfit called Skull and Crown.  They are mostly specialized in doing spectacular flats of soldiers from various periods called “Wooden Wars”, but they recently branched out to create a product called Galleys, Guns and Glory!, a set of rules for fighting in the Renaissance era, with an emphasis on Galley combat, a la Lepanto.

More importantly, Skull and Crown has also produced a line of wooden punch out and build kits for several types of Mediterranean galleys of the period. You can see the Venetian Galley above (and at 25 USD, it’s a little higher than average price for a single ship).

I can’t attest to it yet but construction appears easy from a blogpost I read.  The player takes the template, which is precut, and punches the pieces out and build them from the ground up. I built the Viking ship in exactly the same way.

I have no idea what the build time on this might be, but I’d have to include paint time in there as well, and probably pre-build painting and sanding too. So maybe a little under an hour per ship. Maybe more to paint some fiddly little details.

The end result is quite colorful and spectacular.

Credit: Jay’s Wargaming Madness. Read the exciting AAR of his first big battle of GGG! by clicking this picture.

As for the rules? Well, I don’t know squat about them. They appear to be simple and elegant, and that’s what I want out of a naval system. Jay (of the blog mentioned above) seems to have a high opinion of them. I’d be inclined to go with the published rules instead of making my own or using something I have in my collection, as they clearly have a long “tail” of support from Skull and Crown.. lots of neat odd little markers and bits that seem tailor made for the game. I can’t help myself, I love the little fiddly bits.

Will I invest in this? Probably not until after I get done with the Taranto game (what’s that?? you ask? Stay tuned for another post this week on that subject). I at least want to get one galley to put together and see if I like the results.

Realistically, at an average of about 15 dollars a ship, and most fleets looking like this:

A thumbnail guess, that’s probably just a little under 300 bucks there for a fleet.. multiply by two to get an order of magnitude..
Credit: Skull and Crown GGG Blog

Note, I’m not begrudging Skull and Crown their prices, they aren’t that shockingly high for a ship model.  I’m just bemoaning the cost of jumping into a very narrow niche period where I know there won’t be any cheaper options in this scale. I won’t have any other models that I can swap in to save money, so it’s these models or not at all.  So I’m rubbing my chin and saying “Hmmmm” for now.

Stay tuned!

Future Tank Draft 1.08 released


CLICK ON ME TO GET THE EPUB

I did a major rewrite on Future Tank, to get rid of some of the language problems that arose out of using Tank Duel as the core. It is now a very different text (and substantially different as a game).

Changed:

Double Blind is now “Double Blindish” .. the curtain represents a haze of uncertainty due to environmental conditions. The closer the tanks come to each other the bigger the chance the curtain will be removed. The Tank Commanders already know of the layout of the battlefield area in advance due to satellite imagery and drone passes, they just don’t know what it looks like right now.

Added a “Grunt” as an infantry specialist. He is basically an autonomous weapon unit that can deploy out of the tank airlock and go reap havoc on other INF units, exposed sensors and etc.

Clarified the language on the Tank crew tasks and how they react and feed back to the Commander role. Created a matrix of orders and responses for this, in the appendix.

Clarified Scanning (using the tiny whiteboard/blip method) and some of the networked computing tasks that SPARKY performs.

Added: ORBATS and RGEs (Orbital Batteries and Robotic Gun Emplacements) to battle space installations.

Generally cleaned up the language to make it sound consistent and use the same terms throughout.

I don’t have this one on the DIGITAL RULES page (yet) as I consider still in draft stage. You can get an epub copy right here.

Enjoy. Please feedback what you think and any new suggestions.

Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera #1) reviewed


Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, #1)Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read novels by Jim Butcher before, specifically in the Harry Dresden series. I like Harry Dresden, but the magic realism thing kind of wears thin for me after a while, or at least I get a sense of repetition.. maybe it’s me. I’ve only read a few and don’t have a huge desire to read more. I like Butcher’s prose style, which is lean, yet descriptive, but after a dozen some odd Dresden novels there just isn’t much more you can do with the character.

So I really had no preconceptions starting the Codex Alera series. There was one available at the library and I wanted to read a fantasy story, that was that. I’m glad I did. I like Butcher’s world building in the Codex Alera– not much is stated but many background bits are inferred about the foundations of the world “Carna”, including how Alerans (humans) arrived into it (the old Lost Roman Legion saw). Humans, in this world, have an inherent grasp of elemental magic– earth, fire, water, metal, etc. The magic usually takes the form of a semi-sentient named spirit creature called a “Fury”. In Alera, EVERYONE has the Fury ability in some measure, save one person, the primary POV character, Tavi, a young boy of 13 at the time of the first book. Predictably Tavi is an outcast and outsider as a non-practitioner of “Furycraft” in a world where everyone is a crafter in some way.

The outsider status is what makes Tavi stand out, and in great measure be likeable and sympathetic. In a world where people can solve problems by commanding their magical spirits to do just about anything, Tavi has to work harder, think, and observe. I won’t dwell to much on the plot for the sake of preventing spoilers. Tavi and various relatives, friends and chance acquaintances uncover a plot to foment a revolution, encounter an invasion by one of the aboriginal peoples of the planet Carna (the Marat, think pale elfy-North American Indian people with close ties to animal totems). Things happen, big battle, satisfying ending.. that ought to be sufficient description.

Codex Alara is good fun, not great literature, but it is most definitely worth reading as a beach or commuting read. I found myself enjoying the world and the characters once I got my head around the setting and the “science” of fury crafting. I liked that the most sympathetic powerless character manages to outwit the overpowered denizens of the setting constantly. It’s fun storytelling. I recommend it.

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Game Camp 2015 Day 5 (Friday): FUTURE TANK!


Revised Epub forthcoming!

Our final day! I was debating whether to run WAR ROCKET or FUTURE TANK for this day and opted for Future Tank. FT has a lot of physical activity and chaos involved in the design and that would definitely appeal to most of the campers this week!

If you follow these pages from time to time you’ll know that I’m interested in the designs of Mr. Jim Wallman of Great Britain. This kindly gent has put up the rules to many of the games he works on (as I do). One of them that caught my eye was a much older design called TANK DUEL. This was a little semi-roleplaying experience where the players play the roles inside a WW2 era tank. I think it’s charming and a great fit for kids. However, being the tinkerer I am, I had to play with it a bit, projecting the time scale and technology forward a little into the near future of conflict. FUTURE TANK is a spiritual successor and cousin to TANK DUEL, uses many of the same concepts and roles, and really differs only in the setting and the increased number of tasks that are available on a technological battlefield.

Ideally, you’re supposed to have IDENTICAL terrain on both sides of the curtain– that was impractical, so the double blind really represented a “haze of uncertainty” rather than a true double blind application. I would have liked the map to have been just a trifle larger in all dimensions.

We had two crews of future tank players– Loader, Gunner, Driver, Commander, and Sparky.

Loader had to run to the table and get a specifically colored M&M for specific shell types.
Gunner basically would AIM the turret of the tank and shout FIRED! to indicate a shell had gone out the main gun.
Commander would give a wide range of orders to Sparky, Gunner and Loader, as well as fly the recon drone.
Sparky scanned the battlefield, linked with other tanks on Battle net, and operated ECM.
Treads drove the tank on the battlefield, and moved the model around.

When a crew on a tank hears PING!!! they have 5 seconds to exit the room or they are all dead. Here we see a knocked out Future Tank. Most tank duels ended at close range.

Future Tank was an experiment that I think will be a great game. The players loved the sense of tension and uncertainty given by the double blind curtain. The fun element was guessing where your opponent would be the upcoming turn. Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that your scanning wasn’t 100% accurate. The scan roll would be slightly distorted if Sparky rolled reds over blacks on the scan dice, but not high ENOUGH reds over blacks..

Sparky’s plotting board he uses for a SCAN task, plus an orange BLIP TOKEN (placed by me) showing where he should correct to. The two magnets represent Sparky’s best guess where the two tanks are in relation to each other. great visual fun when you are double blind.  You can see many previous locations marked by Xs.

The guys loved it. I’m going to continue developing FT as it needs the text cleaned up a trifle. The ideas are all good, I think.

The Commander’s Remote Control Drone, which he can fly to increase his chances of finding enemy tanks.

We ended about 145 and then ran the classic end of the year ice cream party, and played Cosmic Encounter. A great time was had by most. I had a couple of “bad actors” who were clearly dumped there by parents who didn’t see that it wouldn’t be a good fit. What the heck, we tried to keep them occupied, including letting them go shoot baskets for an hour each day, which helped.

Otherwise another great year for gaming camp. if you think on it, most years I can manage 1 or 2 new games per camp– I try to make at least one of them be a big “Grand Slam” game on Wednesday. THIS year, I had FOUR new games, two of which were commercial. Dungeons and Dragons: Attack Wing, Ride that Fury Road, Future Tank (and possibly) War Rocket. There rarely is time to run 5 games in week, so I knew that was an ambitious schedule at the outset. The kids loved White Line Fever, but the feedback was that they enjoy Big Danged Boats more than WLF, so I will bring that back for next year.

More pictures of Day 5

Game Camp 2015 Day 4 (Thursday): “Ride that Fury Road Part 2”


Gaming Camp 2015, Thursday.

Because of the large pile up being generated right in front of the Trading Post on the end of Wednesday, the consensus was to run Ride that Fury Road for another day and take the X-Wing Miniatures Tournament off the agenda. The game continued at the break point Wednesday night, and we left it set up.

Skool Zout trying to smash through the pile up ahead; two CaptureGangers are directly ahead, and then a big snarl up of several different vehicles.

This happens a lot at Game Camp; in fact, I encourage the kids to set the schedule after a certain point.

White Line Fever was a system the kids picked up on easily and enjoyed quite a bit. Let’s face it; there’s not a lot of heavy calculations going on in a game like this. Decisions boil down to “do I go off road and risk spinning out into a toxic goo pit on terrible terrain or stay ON the road and deal with this terrible pile up in front of me?”

Quite a cha-cha-cha with cars going on. Capture Gangers in foreground, then Blinded with Science, then Git Some, Big Red the Capture Ganger, Hellcab (on fire), the Sensimilia Express, the Merc, and Herbie the Hate Bug farther out.

As kids do in all the games I run, there was the rush to “be cool” (ally with each other while it was expedient) to get to the perceived goal (the donut shop).

Bad luck for the Hell Cab.

As also happens a lot in my games, there was a drive to build a narrative within the game universe created. I’m happy to do that and I helped the process along by building factions in the vehicle set (capture gangers, sand-brothers, Scooter Jocks, Militia Men, Street Punks). This added to the fun but did cause incessant delay around the Trading post as every player felt obliged to see what he could trade there instead of smashing cars. When one kid set up a road block and started charging for passage, things got a little ridiculous. Of course, this was the same kid who traded Daphne for a Recoiless Rifle the day before, so go figure!

Once past the Trading Posts, the Scooter Jocks attacked the truck and supporting vehicles in wave after wave. They were surprisingly easy to kill– TINY doesn’t live long versus MEGA in a ramming attempt, so I just had the truck run over bikes like they were speed bumps. Bikers did manage to board with one Scooter Jock who fought it out on top of the Tanker with the soul remaining Truck Support crew.

Like Gnats annoying a grizzly…

The roadblock caught the attention of the Road Militia.. who consider themselves to be the protector of the highway and charged with keeping it clear. They charged up the road, smashing through annoying scooter jocks and waving nervously at the brothers of the Circle (the Donut Shop) who are creepy enough to creep them out.

Lots of stuff happened in succession– the Sushi Truck who had been collecting “meat” for sushi from the many bodies on the road got shot at, then raised a white flag to the militia. The Hate Bug lost its driver but continued as a semi-sentinent vehicle with the corpse of its driver behind the wheel. They Mystery Machine came under heavy fire and thus we encounter the death of Velma Dinkley.

Ruh ROH! Fallen to a “Driver deader than Fried Chicken” result

Some lucky? players got to the Brothers of the Circle Compound (the Donut shoppe), but managed to create quite a lot of ill will…

Uh oh, the Lone Wanderer best beat feet!

We didn’t get much past this point and it was time to call it. A great Game was had by all.

For more pictures click here

Game Camp 2015 Day 3 (Wednesday): “Ride that Fury Road”


Wednesday, I put on a repeat of the scenario I created for HISTORICON 2015, “Ride That Fury Road”, which is a post-apocalyptic romp down a highway in pursuit of a giant fuel truck that may or may not be the answer to everyone’s dreams. We added in the factions in this game– Scrappers, Capture Gang, Lawmen. plus a lot of independents. The game, which isn’t over yet (more later) featured MORE metal carnage than previously witnessed, zero team work and zero mercy. Almost every player has cycled through at least two cars by now and some have had as many as three. To discourage the kids from getting pouty when their car dies, I encouraged them to all run more then one car or keep a replacement car handy for when the first car dies.

The Truck breezes by the Trading Post

I didn’t get the cafeteria that I wanted but did get the Arts and Crafts room. We ran four tables down the length of the room. Not quite what I wanted, but it would have to do. It looked great!

The Chase Cars initially. This lineup changed fast as they did the Road Warrior classic and fought each other in brutal fashion.

The carnage piled up fast. This is not very forgiving game, and I told everyone that they would have to get over it quick if they lost their vehicle.. because everyone was going to lose one and many would lose many.

Game Camp 2015

Game Camp 2015

Game Camp 2015

Early on, the Mystery Machine jumped into its new role as the “Evil Scooby Gang”. Reid released Scooby XXII (raised as a bomb dog) to run back and take out the Turtle, coming up fast behind it. BOOMM! the ensuing explosion fragged Turtle and damage the cars around it seriously.

Poor Scooby!!

But that wasn’t the bottom of the Evil Scooby’s depravity. They hit a new low!

Evil Fred actually trading Daphne for a rocket launcher. Wow.

At least he hit on one of the things traders want in the post-apocalypse. I wonder if Velma could have got more ammo for the Recoilless?

“But Fred! What? I’m to do WHAT???”
“See ya Daphne! You’re a sweetheart!”
“Freeeeeeeeeed!”

Game Camp 2015

“Yessir, that Daphne’s a swell gal.. what a great deal!”

Game Camp 2015

It’s a hard life in the Apocalypse. We played right up to 2:50 when I had to call it for time. Many kids requested we play this again tomorrow so I have left it set up in situ.

For an interesting slideshow of all the pictures from today, click on the picture below:

Click the picture to see more pictures on FLICKR

Anarchy supreme by the end of the day… CLICK HERE to see more pictures!!

It was a great day, a great game and all the kids loved it.

Game Camp 2015 Day 2: Dungeons and Dragons Attack Wing, Land of the Dragons


Garrett and I ran DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS ATTACK WING today, which is a recent purchase (this past year) and very reminiscent of Fantasy Flight’s X-WING MINIATURES, which is reminiscent of Ares’ WINGS OF WAR system, which is reminiscent of GDW’s BLUE MAX, which is reminiscent of Nova’s old ACE OF ACES game. Which is a very long-winded way of saying Attack Wing’s design is simply a “you plot your movement in advance, and execute movement in the execution phase” kind of game. There have been many of them, the trick is to learn the nuances.

We set up on some donated terrain and it worked perfectly, although it needed to be leveled a bit. D&D Attack Wing has some very snazzy models, and is really a great little game in itself.. obviously very derivative of systems that have gone before, but unique enough using the Attack Wing variant that I will definitely be running this one again. It’s worth the investment. If I want to play a “flying through space” game, I’ll go to X-Wing (or maybe the Armada game too, different scale and different mechanics) and if I want a fantasy variant, D&D Attack Wing works for me. I love the miniatures.

A troop of Arakari (bird men) attack the White Dragon, who had refused to attack anyone until the last turn of the game.

Immediately this game went over well with everyone. Even the two sulky kids from yesterday got into the spirit of the thing and attacked with a will. They stayed engaged throughout and the game was quite a bloodbath with 10 players engaged at once.

Game Camp 2015

Game Camp 2015

Game Camp 2015

One thing I noticed… both the Dwarven ballistae and the Wraith figures can be one heck of a lot OP if you don’t add some limitations. When the ballistae knocked the brass dragon down to ONE Point with ONE SHOT, only saved by his armor, I realized that the more innocuous critters can be pretty danged powerful in this game.

We added a “Basketball Break” which actually worked well for both me and the squirrely kids, who loved the idea, and played until they got exhausted.. which made for a very different and much more pleasant day.

CLICK ME to see all the Attack Wing Photos

A much better day and a game that everyone seemed to like. Much less shoving and grab-assery today. Basketball break– a must!

See all Photos here

Game Camp 2015 Day 1: The Magi and the Opening festivities


Day one of Game Camp 2015

As I do this time of year, I run a gaming camp for kids at St. Stephen’s and St. Ambrose schools, Alexandria VA. This is primarily a miniatures-centric gaming camp with some boardgaming and miniatures painting tossed in to break it up a little. As has been my practice in the past I set up a painting table and set out my dwindling supply of plastic figures to paint, which is always a big hit.

I like to run a very simple game to start and I have run THE MAGI or FANTASY GLADIATORS for the last few years. I went for THE MAGI this year, as it is self-contained, runs in a single box and is easy to play and easy to teach. I’ve posted on the Magi before, and if you want to read up on it or download a copy yourselves, go to Digital rules for an EPUB version of the rules. MAGI is based on a very old British game called Waving Hands that was published back in the 1980s as (more or less) a parlor or party game. I have designed a card component and a miniatures element to the game, and run the game in lovely, easy to see 54mm scale.

Close to final Cover of The Magi

The game takes place in a big subterranean cavern represented by a hex grid and some Dungeon Dressing bits. I’ve added lots of stuff to break up line of sight and create a little old-fashioned havoc in the game, like the Crystalline Pyramids that each have a magic power (Paralysis, Amnesia, Disease, Healing), as well as emitting a light source. The Powerful old Lich, Gordon the Enchanter, resides over the Magi Games by standing on top of a structure I basically lifted as is from a Playmobil Coliseum set, just painted.

Action Mid game. A Fire Elemental has been summoned in the foreground, and an Ice Elemental in the rear. The two will cancel each other out if they get close enough (3 hexes). You can see the cavern floor hex grid and set dressing items (crystals, rock formations) here.

The game takes a while to play but is well received by most players. We had a couple of players get very pouty and antsy when something didn’t go their way and refuse to play any more. It happens sometimes, although I usually associate it with younger players, not teenagers. They cheered up and got into painting figures, and we soldiered on.
Game Camp 2015

Game Camp 2015

Game Camp 2015

v=https://flic.kr/p/vYdSog

Garrett also ran GET BIT during down times, lunch time and etc.

GET BIT!

For a slide show of all Game Camp Day 1 images, see this link here:

CLICK ME FOR MORE MAGI PICTURES

In summary, a pretty good day! I felt bad that I could have done more about the pouty players, not sure how though.

Cenotaph, by Walt O’Hara


Click to enlarge

Ant Man (2015) reviewed


I’m not one of those mouth-breathing Marvel Universe fanboys, truly. I do catch the films that interest me, which means I have gone to see Iron Man, Captain America and the Avengers, and slept through the others on cable or maybe in a bargain movie theater. Despite this trend, I felt a desire to see ANT-MAN. Why? Mostly because of the early Edgar Wright connection. Wright is a director I respect and enjoy, and he can tell a ripping story while maintaining a level of humor throughout. I also liked the casting of Paul Rudd, who has this great, humorous everyman appeal consistently throughout the picture. The cast is fantastic, with a few exceptions– Evangeline Lilly did nothing for me, she did not appear to be engaged in her character very much, and Corey Stoll, who is so good in THE STRAIN, is very much a one-note villain in Ant-Man. Daddy issues? really? With all that said, I thought it was hugely entertaining and as funny as the first Avengers. The plot itself is fairly conventional and contained, but it does hook Ant-Man into the larger Marvel Universe effort nicely, interacting with The Falcon, one of the more likeable characters from Captain America: Winter Soldier.

I also applaud the decision to make Ant-Man the later Scott Lang character.  Hank Pym is one of those characters that would be difficult to write for a modern audience.   He’s been around in the Marvel Universe, and has had many odd iterations, including Yellowjacket, Goliath and Giant-Man besides the first Ant-Man.  Also, there’s the issue of the spousal abuse and mental unstability– do you remain true to form or sanitize the guy?  Anyway, they dodged the bullet and streamlined the many iterations of Pym into being forcibly retired, embittered Michael Douglas, who is both light hearted and determined in his role as the elder Pym, forced out of his company by his own daughter Janet.

I’m not going to reveal any spoilers here but the first post-credits scene definitely states that they are going to hook the Paul Rudd version of Ant-Man into the Avengers in a big way in the upcoming Civil War Captain America film, and that’s a good thing.  Rudd adds an essential humanity to the ensemble, the same way Hawkeye  and Falcon do.

In summary, not my favorite Marvel film but a damned enjoyable trip to the movies.  Ant-Man certainly takes “giant” strides over any Thor, Hulk, and the last two Iron Man movies.

New Sources of classic Pulp and Horror fiction magazines on the Internet



Just one of the Zines in the Hevelin Project

A posting by John Shirley on the Lovecraft Eternal group on Facebook tipped me to the efforts to digitize a voluminous collection of old paper magazines for a library collection at the University of Iowa. The original collector was Rusty Hevelin, a noted collector of pulp magazines. Hevelin began collecting pulp magazines in the 1930s when they were just published. Pulps were cheaply produced weekly fiction magazines. They got their distinctive nickname because of the poor quality of the paper used to print the magazines on. Pulpy paper might have been cheap, but it doesn’t last long due to the high acid content– so the Hevelin Collection is an important glimpse into the worlds of many early writers that became classic science fiction greats. The pulps were the training ground for many of the most famous science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. So in a very real way, if you value the content of this archive Rusty Hevelin is a bit of a Godsend. The collection contains thousands of pulps, ranging from the early Thrilling Wonder Stories, Weird Tales, The Shadow, The Spider, and Doc Savage, and many examples of mystery, western, and aviation pulps. More importantly, it’s perhaps the largest collection of fan created magazines (fanzines or Zines, as we called such things back in the day)

The digitization process just started.. if you are interested in accessing it it will be reported on regularly by the lady in charge of the project, at the Rusty Hevelin Project on Tumblr. Nothing really new to report at the moment but work has just started.  If you’re a pulp/noir/weird fiction geek, and goodness knows, I am, this is exciting news from a lot of angles .. not just that the original work of some famous (and some obscure) authors will be saved for future generations– that’s a big plus.  However, I’m even more charged about the fanzine content.   Before the internet, social media, Facebook, Twitter, even email, we had Fanzines.  This was how geeks networked over the years. It’s great to have this window into the past, I think.

In the meantime, someone else turned me on to Internet Archive Pulp Collection
on the Internet Archive.. you can’t beat that!  Many (not all) Weird Tales from bygone eras and magazines I’ve never heard of.  A couple of examples (these are supposed to embed on WordPress.com, but that doesn’t seem to be working so I left the link to the digital copy in the titles):

Here’s Seabury Quinn’s DEVIL’S BRIDE in “The Magazine of Horror, Vol. 5, no 226

Here’s Weird Tales 1937 with the Hounds of the Tyndalos by Frank Belknap Long:

Thanks, Internet!