The Man in the High Castle, Episode One

Cover, First Edition

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE  (1962) is an alternative history novel by Phillip K. Dick, one of my favorite science fiction writers.   In this narrative, the Axis powers have emerged triumphant from World War II, Germany having conquered all of Europe and a good portion of Africa and the former Soviet Union.  Japan has conquered China, the pan Pacific islands and portions of East Asia.  Both powers invaded the North American continent, with Germany inhabiting the East Coast out to the Midwest and Japan inhabiting the West Coast out to the Rocky Mountains.  The year is 1962; an uneasy peace has existed between the two former Axis powers (now modern day Cold War Superpowers).  The Man in the High Castle is in many ways Phillip K. Dick’s most accessible work outside of his short stories and novellas, which I have always preferred to his longer form narratives.  An alternative history novel may not seem all that unique to modern SF Fans but it was quite the thing in 1962, compounded by Dick’s omnipresent themes of reality vs. unreality, and the boundaries of perception influencing the narrative for the POV narrator character.  All of of Dick’s narrators seem flawed to me; no exceptions here.

I had the opportunity to watch Episode 1 of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (streaming video on Demand, Amazon) the other night.  Amazon has started there own independent video on demand service some time ago (I am a fan of the web series BOSCH from the same provider, for instance).   From what I can see the plan is to break the book narrative down into several chapters on Video on Demand.

The plot of the series does not match the book except in the loosest possible terms– the general setting from the book is maintained and the same imminent danger of warfare between the two superpowers is indeed the crisis for both stories.

The visuals are quite stunning and iconographic.

Japanese trade ministers meet the Ambassador for the Reich, San Francisco embassy headquarters.

Time Square is greatly changed in this reality

Life in the Japanese Zone is less rigidly authoritarian, but just as dangerous as the German zone.

The landscape has become subtly different in the German zone.

My initial reqction was very positive.  I feel like the production company has labored long and hard to retain the core themes of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (the book) in the web show.   Some of the plot was changed inexplicably, especially making the Frinks single.  Very early on there is some evidence ( I won’t specify) that the characters are living in a world where something has gone wrong and history has been changed.

The Germans are more advanced in this universe and casually fly about in Rocket planes

Where it goes from here, I have no idea.  But I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far very much.  It has the same close set feel to it the book does, and they don’t overdo the special effects.

Video Games are now being saved to the Internet Archive

List of just a few of the Video Game centered videos on IA.

“The Internet Archive is working with multiple external parties, including the IGDA’s Preservation SIG and Stanford University’s How They Got Game Project to preserve all kinds of rare and difficult to source video files relating to videogames“. I think it’s fitting that they do this– video games, for better or worse, are most definitely part of the American culture (at very least) and certainly a part of a child’s psyche growing up, almost all over the world.

The video game culture really started in the early 80s and was somewhat omnipresent after that– though paradoxically less socially relevant in these days of beautiful rendered 3D graphics. The 90s might have been the height of Video Game culture, or perhaps right around 88 to 92. The Archive captures and stores many artifacts from that era, like playthroughs, interviews, and reviews. Remember– this material was written when all this stuff was brand spanking new, and if it seems somewhat disingenuous now, keep that in mind.

For an example of some of the (charming! I had one!) Commodore 64 playthrough material, check out this video of a Rocky Horror Picture Show Commodore 64 playthrough.

You can also play old videogames and early computer games in flash format, in the Internet Arcade, here. Now that’s a lot of fun. I just played JOUST again for the first time in 20 years.

Perhaps these aren’t the collected works of Chaucer or the poems of Christopher Marlowe, but they are (or were) a very vibrant and active part of American culture, and I’m glad someone has taken the time and huge effort to amass this collection of relics. Well done, Internet Archive!

Digital Rules: TANK DUEL, a fun team game by Jim Wallman!

After reading LITTLE LAMBENT METEORS last month, I was intrigued enough by the designs of Jim Wallman.  Mr. Wallman is a talented guy, with a sense of whimsy that I really enjoy.  He designs games about most historic eras and scales and on a number of obscure topics (like street riots!).  I like what he does.  You might, as well.  Check out his website.

Next on the agenda for an epub conversion is TANK DUEL by Jim Wallman.  This is a fascinating approach to a double blind miniatures game that I really would like to try at my Summer Gaming camp for kids.  Basically, you assign a team of four (or more, or less) players to a single tank model– the Commander, The Gunner, the Driver and the Loader.  Each role has something very specific to do.  Combine that with double-blind sighting mechanics and an emphasis on running the game at breakneck speed.. well, this could be batshit crazy when it gets on the table.  Count me in!

Tank Duel is available on Jim’s website for free download as a PDF.  I converted it to epub for about a 50 per cent size reduction.  You can find it on the Digital Rules page in the standard place.  Just click on the cover below.

There is also a one sheet reference that outlines what the roles in the game do.  I’ve made this available HERE.


ORCS and ORCS: BAD BLOOD by Stan Nicholls… revisiting my childhood

Orcs (Orcs: First Blood, #1-3)Orcs by Stan Nicholls
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Orcs and Orcs: Bad Blood

Orcs (Orcs  First Blood, #1-3) by Stan Nicholls

Orcs  Bad Blood by Stan Nicholls

These books are oddly nostalgic of the kind of fantasy I read when I was 14, and for that reason, I enjoyed it, for the most part. The novel is part of a longer series which apparently is bundled together in various collections, so you will find them under a variety of names. I read ORCS (the Origin story) and ORCS: BAD BLOOD, which follows up some years after the first story.

The world of the ORCS series is classic Basic Dungeons and Dragons, circa 1980s. An Orc band, led by gruff Stryke, is in the service of one classic evil Queen Jenesta. They are sent on a mission that initially succeeds but later encounters disaster, which causes the band to abruptly leave Jenesta’s service in search of the big boojum that has been stolen. A quest ensues, to get the 5 boojums (actually they are called instrumentalities). These are scattered all over the landscape in the keeping of various fantasy archetypes– I counte d Orcs, Goblins, Centaurs, Neirads, Merfolk, Brownies, Dragons, Elves, Trolls, and Dwarves in the first novel, and Zombies and animated Vampire Skeletons in the second.

All this stuff would be a delightful romp indeed, were the writing a bit above the juvenile level. The characters are stereotypes– from the evil sexually sadistic queen, to the manly soldierly Stryke, the sarcastic Coella, the Bluff and Stupid Haskir, the mystical Aelfred, and the Pugnacious Jupp the Dwarf, who has problems of his own being a dwarf in an orc band. The dialogue is exquisitely repetitious and unoriginal– author Nicholls goes back to the trough again and again to the same dialogue to bookend scenes. For instance, if I had a dollar for every time racist dwarf-hatin’ Haskir picks a fight with angry Dwarf Jupp, only to be broken up by a loud “SHUT IT!” from Stryke, well.. I’d have a lot of dollars.

With all that said… I know, I know.. I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I found myself liking these orcs. They, at least, are realized well. They are intelligent (enough), possess a sense of honor, love to fight, but aren’t stupid about it. They aren’t creatures of evil, rather a decent enough bunch who have been enslaved into service to previously mentioned evil Queen. Humans, in contrast, come off as mostly evil, stupid and fanatical. Which was kind of refreshing!

In summary– ehhhh this series isn’t exactly a classic and will be largely forgettable, but isn’t without enjoyable spots. If you want a decent popcorn read that probably should be labelled a “Young Adult” fiction, you might like Orcs.

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Review: COMING HOME by Jack McDevitt

Coming Home (Alex Benedict, #7)Coming Home by Jack McDevitt   (Alex Benedict #7)-

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve said many times (often, in reviews on that a day with a bad McDevitt novel beats a day with no McDevitt novel whatsoever. The last two or three Alex Benedict novels haven’t been bad, exactly, but they have struck me as increasingly repetitive. COMING HOME follows closely on the heels of FIREBIRD, and the two share plot elements, particularly about the disappearing ships plot thread. The standard McDevitt plot structure is in play here (see my Firebird review for a rehash of it all), so there are no great surprises.

COMING HOME is probably the first novel where I’ve actually sort of egged on the author to get past the expected twists and turns of the standard plot structure and get to the meat of it all– when a mysterious white skimmer shows up to shoot up Chase and Alex at one point in the story, I found myself saying “Yeah, right, we all know they are going to get past that.. so move on why don’t you?”

I won’t reveal much about the plot, except to say that the big McGuffin this time is a mysterious long-lost cache of Earth artifacts, from the early days of space exploration. This gives McDevitt a chance to write a novel set on Earth in the far future, after severe climatic change and political/social evolution has had its effect. As the artifacts being sought are largely from the 20th and 21st century, we get to see the past from the perspective of someone searching for knowledge we take for granted as readers. It’s an interesting literary device– for instance, we learn that in the far future, only a relative handful of Shakespeare’s plays survive intact. Coming Home is also the most self-referential of the novels so far, as it features Chase Kolpath discovering the life of Priscilla Hutchens, the star of the other big McDevitt series. Hutch lived millenia before Kolpath, it turns out. A nice Easter Egg. For the first time, as well, Chase mentions writing her memoirs in the real time narrative so we experience Alex’s reaction to them.

Fair Warning, SPOILER ahead. The other great reveal, the one we have been building up to since Firebird, was the rescue of Alex’s Uncle Gabe from the hyperspatial rift his passenger liner fell into 20 years previous. When it actually happens, it’s kind of a non-event. For such an influential character throughout the series, Gabe kind of comes off as a non-starter. He’ll need fleshing out in later books.

SUMMARY: Coming Home wasn’t my favorite of the Alex Benedict series of novels. It was solid and workmanlike, but the repetitiveness is starting to become increasingly obvious with every novel and that is starting to affect my enjoyment of them.

View all my reviews

Cold Wars 2015 Guidebook App is available for download

Hello, Convention attendees!  Guess, what, it’s that time of year, Cold Wars 2015 is literally around the corner for most of us.   I have, finally, completed a decent first draft of the CW 15 Guidebook App for your convention attending pleasure.  I apologize for being late– I like to have it out at least a month ahead, or close to the PEL release if possible.  I received the loader data and did not notice that every single one of the GAME events loaded in as happening in May 2015.  So I just finished scrubbing the dates on each and every one.  That can slow things down a little.

What’s new?  

Not a lot really.  If you are Guidebook user from shows past the same color scheme holds– blue for tournaments, red for game events, green for seminars, purple for Hobby University.. if I ever get that data.  There’s a much longer and definitive KID FRIENDLY GAME LIST which has it’s own “track” in the schedule.  Look for ORANGE items.

Master Schedule screen with a few newish items added.

Kid Friendly events have this banner:

I’ve also added a local eatery button in the main menu– this is just a list of what I could find using YELP and the Host location with a five mile radius.  It is not definitive, but I hope to make it grow, and who knows, if we can get local restaurants interested in handing out discounts or coupons, maybe we can add those in too.

What’s missing??

The map I got for the Lampeter room has no tables on it.  That’s not the end of the world as the Lampeter holds tournaments and the Flea Market, and nobody really uses that map anyway.  I did not include it to prevent confusion.  If I get a fixed one before the show, look for an update.

I have not received the Dealer Hall layout and listing from Scott Landis yet.  It should be close to final so look for an update with this information before the show.

I have not received a Hobby University update from Heather Blush yet.  Look for an update before the show.

Updates.. how do those happen?

Simple.  Make sure you have Guidebook open and you are connected to the Internet somehow, usually a wireless signal.  The App will check for updates on the server.  If there is one, it will tell you and ask for permission to download.

So where do I get this thing?

HERE is the Cold Wars 2015 Landing page.  The page will have hyperlinks and bar codes to download the Android and IoS versions of Guidebook (the app) and the specific COLD WARS 2015 schedule which I have prepared for you.
HERE is a preview in browser link, so you can see what’s in the schedule.

QR Codes:

For the APP (only)

This will link to the download for Guidebook, the app


This is the QR code that finds the guidebook schedule for COLD WARS 2015.

Enjoy your app, I hope it’s helpful and I’ll see you at the show.

If I have anything to communicate during the show I’ll use THE INBOX FEATURE on the app itself.



Click me to go to the landing page!

Little Lambent Meteors by Jim Wallman (Digital Library)

Hey! I haven’t converted a ruleset to epub lately. Here’s a great candidate right here:

Click on the Cover to go to the DIgital Rules page.

I stumbled upon this quirky little rule set by Jim Wallman recently. It is a simulation (or not, that’s really not the word for it), let’s call it a humorous study of exactly what’s referred to in the subtitle, rioting mobs of the 18th Century. Having played GANGS OF ROME in the not too distant past, I was immediately attracted to the concept of this game– I don’t see it playing in a scale much larger than 6mm myself, but it should be easy to paint!!

Disclaimer: the PDF version of these rules can be found in many places online– this is a simple epub conversion, for private use on your tablet computer, smart phone or e-reader.  There is no charge for this file, but don’t sell it, rename it or republish it.   If Mr. Wallman has an objection to this, I will remove the file immediately with my profuse apologies.

As always, click on the graphic above to go to the digital rules page, where you will find the link to the epub for this file. Thanks.

Replay: IRA raid on a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barrack & NOVAG Game Day

NOVAG and Potomac Wargamers hosted their annual Winter Game Day on Sunday 18 January 2015 at The Centreville Library in Centreville, VA.   All games kicked off at 1300, so there wasn’t any chance to play in an earlier game than that.  There were some great choices, but the one that caught my eye was: Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Barrack Raid run by Lance O’Donnell using the Triumph and Tragedy rules set between 1900 and 1939.   These are a set of very tactical rules set in the early 20th century optimized for 20th century rifle ranges.  The scenario being played was two squads (called “Battalions” but really squad sized).  I had two groups of men of about 10 guys each (each with a leader with a pistol) and one Heroic Leader who could set demolitions and throw grenades (he had two).   Even dedicated IRA men are not exactly up to snuff militarily, so my initiative was the worst in the game (except for my hero).  We were also not as skilled as the RIC and Black and Tans were with firearms and other shooty things.   Here’s the scenario description: The local IRA needs to acquire rifles for the independence cause and has been planning to hit a rural Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks.  But the Black and Tans have been interrogating local villagers and have learned of the plot.  Can the IRA grab the rifles or will the Black and Tans get there in time to stop them?

The RIC barracks, Pretty much dead center on the table, next to the road.

Being, erm, descended from a few parties of interest in that conflict, I opted to take the IRA.  The map was simple.  Fields with a road bisecting it laterally.. In the center of the board was a two story structure (The RIC barracks) with a stone fence out back and two doors, front and back, starting the game locked.  The RIC is inside the building and they have been tipped off about the IRA.

My battalions used what improvised cover they could find. No windows in the side of house equals a covered approach.

I started in the upper NW and lower SW quadrant corners, and improvised a covered approach to the objective going as fast as I could. I was assisted in this by some woods in the NW quadrant and both a hedge in the SW quadrant combined with no side windows in the barracks building. The Black and Tans did not enter until Turn 3, which forced the impetus of action upon me.

The Black and Tans enter on Turn 3, giving me roughly five turns of having a numerical advantage (as it took them 3 turns of movement to get into a position to affect the battle).

My tactical plan was to rush to a position where I could be in range, lay down a suppressing fire on both windowed sides of the RIC barracks, blow the black door with demolitions and rush in to club and capture the hopefully very suppressed RIC men.

The RIC Men started spread out over two floors. As they started taking suppression losses, they all clumped together downstairs. A perfect setup for me.

I had to position my men along the stone wall to get some partial cover. Unfortunately the rules are a little hinky– ALL members of the squad had to be touching the wall with their bases or the defensive dice adjustment applies to none of them.. Unfortunately I couldn’t get them all there the first turn so had to take a few losses before we were hiding behind the wall together. We crowded up to the windows as best we could and poured fire into the room.

We fired in from behind the fence, then we rushed the windows and let fly. The Hero is readying his doorbreaking charge.  Meanwhile as you can see, the B&Ts are going to show up soon.

So far the initial plan was working pretty well. We had managed to get the first element behind the stone fence to fire into the barracks and contribute to suppressing the RIC constables. We had only taken one casualty on the approach. The other element had taken advantage of excellent cover to approach the FRONT of the building to pour in suppressing fire on that side. Rather than stay in the street, in the open, to engage the onrushing Black and Tans, I moved them back around to the REAR of the building to serve as the charging force in melee.

Meanwhile my second “battalion” dashed to the FRONT of the house and poured lead in throw the windows. The first floor became a slaughter house.

The second battalion had a chance to get off one fusilade of bullets into the RIC barracks room before they had to run for cover. See the Black and Tans coming down the road at full clip! That’s trouble.

As you can see, the RIC were in for it in a serious way. They lost 3 men and got many points of suppression which limited their odds.

The situation inside the RIC barracks. The RIC contingent was repeatedly sprayed with gunfire from both sides and suffered many hits to their morale after suffering wounding and a couple of kills.

The door blows.. and IN WE GO

The melee went for 2 turns inside before the last RIC Constables went Tango Uniform. Numbers can tell, and this was a situation where he could activate 3 or less and I was attacking him at a dozen people per attack. Having achieved the impossible and captured the RIC barracks, I wanted to try wiping out the Black and Tans.

Melee inside the RIC barracks after the door got blown successfully. That’s my second element charging in there, the ones that had circled around the building after firing in the front windows. Melee lasted two turns; the second to the last guy went down and then the last guy surrendered.

All this gallivanting about was taking up precious time. One thing I could not afford was getting into a prolonged gun battle with the RUC (Black and Tans) as they had better rifle skill, better initiative and higher morale. My best bet was to lure them into a long range shoot ‘em up, get them to run up close and toss my two grenades at them. Good plan, half-assed execution.

I was concerned that the RUC would run up to the front door or just fire into the windows of the barracks. After all, my victory conditions had just been met– I had captured the barracks. So I got my first element up against the stone wall and fired a couple of volleys at the Black and Tans. Sure enough the wheeled right and moved to contact, taking casualties as they advanced.

Unfortunately my heroic leader guy was a great demo expert but lousy grenade tosser, and the grenade flew off coordinates.  I do think that made the other player a little cautious however.

Charging in for the finale of the game. I believe I wounded at least two more before he was on the wall charging into melee (over the wall).

Final battle with the Black and Tans.

To speed up the narrative, the Black and Tans speed up the road, disappointed that Squad 2 hadn’t stayed around to be shot at, then deployed in line and shot up Squad 1, safely behind the stone wall. Squad 1 returned fire from where they stood, being somewhat protected. That winnowed the B&Ts dramatically and only 4 guys lived to make it to the wall, then 3… At that point we were in melee and I still had a relatively fresh squad– which had run around the building and was about to launch itself on the remaining B&Ts for a truly epic asymetrical fight. I’ll entertain someone who wants to fight to the death, but in games where it doesn’t seem to be worth it, I always offer an early out rather than commit to playing out something unwinnable. My opponent agreed that it was pretty hopeless for him and we called the game, which was an IRA total victory. I had captured the RIC barracks and either killed, wounded or accepted the surrender of every enemy on the table. I attribute success to moving fast, early, when I had a numerical advantage, not delaying the attack until everything was perfect, and having my two squad elements support each other by each providing suppressing fire into the building. The result was a lot of cohesion hits and some kills (maybe half). My specialist hero worked well setting the demo and blowing the door, but proved inept throwing grenades (I only had to throw one of two). It was a great time, I enjoyed going to NOVAG’s game day and seeing everyone.


Fred Haub’s Medieval Massacre

More Medieval Massacre

Look, there’s Fred now.

Aspern-Essling Day 1 by Eric Freiwald, using Command and Colors Napoleonics.

More Aspern-Essling

Barbarossa company level game, Maciej Zajac. using BOLT ACTION.

More of the same.

Tim ponders his next move

Dennis Wang’s excellent game of Avalon Hill’s AIR FORCE using Ipads, Tablets and Smart Phones. I’ve played this before and really enjoyed it.

Tuscaloosa pensively sets his orders on his smart phone.

The Battle for the Areghendab Bridge – Afghanistan, December 2001 by Mike Byrne. Using FORCE ON FORCE.

More Force on Force


Word on the Street: Unspeakable Words Deluxe

Unspeakable Words Logo, Copyright 2015 Playroom Entertainment

We picked up Unspeakable Words (the original) back in 2007 or so, maybe a little later.   It’s a fun little diverting word game with a Cthulhu Mythos theme, which is right up my alley.  The goal is to form words from the single letter cards (all lavishly illustrated).  Each word completed requires you to roll against the word score to see if your sanity has come unhinged.  Dice being what they are, you will eventually lose sanity points (represented by cute little mini Cthulhu tokens) and eventually you will go batsh*t crazy.  The last one left sane won the game!  The mechanics aren’t that challenging but the theme is heavy making the game a family favorite.  Well, my family, anyway!

Box contents 2007 edition, copyright Playroom Entertainment

Contents (old art)

New box art

So WORD ON THE STREET is that Playroom Entertainment is about to launch a UNSPEAKABLE WORDS DELUXE on Monday. From what I’m reading there’s not much change to the basic mechanics, but the tokens will be changed and the artwork is redone from the ground up by John “Dork Tower” Kovalic. From what I can see of the new art, this will help the game– the old 2007 are was great and on target for Cthulhu geeks, but the “cutesy” new Kovalic artwork will have a much broader appeal, especially with families with younger kids.

The new version will be funded by Kickstarter (as of this date). You can visit the page HERE when it becomes live.

A Short Review of THE PRESTIGE (novel, not film)

The PrestigeThe Prestige by Christopher Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a re-read, actually. I first read the Prestige closer to its original date and remember it fondly as a somewhat slow paced Victorian style novel with lots of thematic flavor. Seeing the 2006 film again recently rekindled my interest in the original novel. The novel Prestige and the film Prestige are fundamentally different stories. The novel is superior to the film in many ways. There are some critical plot hooks here that I refuse to reveal as foreknowledge will ruin both the book and the film for you. So consider this review to be spoiler free. The novel is told in epistolary fashion, with excerpts from the diaries of the two protagonists, Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden (Rupert is “Robert” in the movie for some reason). Both are stage magicians, and both of them have fundamental philosophies of magic that are at odds with the other. Borden is from a working class family, and he emphasizes personal sacrifice and rigorous adherence to his magician’s public persona as the price paid for his performance. Angier is the disinherited son of a noble family, and he favors apparatus and science over substance. Due to a tragic misunderstanding early in both of their careers, Angier suffers injury at Borden’s hands. A feud develops between the two magicians that comes to dominate both of their lives. The lengths both magicians take to hurt each other is the central focus, and entertainment of the novel. The novel has a Rashomon-like quality as we read events first from Alfred’s, then Rupert’s point of view (through diary entries). There is a third correspondent who is revealed very late in the novel, that ties it all together, and an encompassing narrative from a modern day descendant of Borden at the start and finish of the novel that doesn’t do much for the plot but wrap all the diary entries into a neat package.

Summary: I enjoyed it much more the second time– I really didn’t respond to the creepy thrilling elements of the original novel as much the first time. The Prestige has so many great edge of your seat moments written into it. There are many great visuals that (in my mind) would have made a better movie than what Christopher Nolan put on the screen in 2006, and I like that movie.
Nolan did a disservice to the original by combining several supporting characters together and making the two magicians as one-time friends. This is a great story and much better as a novel than a film.

View all my reviews

Riflemen and Voltigeurs, 54mm scale

For my as yet unnamed single figure Napoleonic skirmish game, I have been painting/having painted several 54mm scale figures.  I’m focusing on light troops, so Riflemen and Light Troops on the English side and Voltigeurs on the French side.  More figures as they become available.  Here’s the latest developments:

54mm Voltigeurs

A group of six Voltigeurs from the ALL THE KINGS MEN line. The figures are somewhat more slender and a teeny bit shorter than other figures I am using, either from ERTL or VICTRIX. I think they’ll be fine. Voltigeurs were French light skirmisher infantry and I think the poses show are just perfect for them.

French Voltigeur COMMAND GROUP of an officer and a bugler. This will be roughly the same function as the British officer and drummer on the other side. Leaders and order transmission are part of the design.

British high commander 54mm

British overall (high) commander. Used for morale recovery mostly. There will be a related French figure as soon as I find a suitable figure.

Rifles Officer 54mm

Rifles Officer 95th Rifles, 54mm. Officers on the field are important to organize troops into a firing line and order volleys. They also transmit higher orders and improve morale. This solitary Rifles officer almost looks uncomfortable among all the the Froggy light infantry.

That’s everything. I’ll try to add a few more pictures of these new troops matched against the existing ERTL and VICTRIX figures to give you an idea of how the new ATKM figures match against them. I now have about 11 voltigeur figures, one mounted officer that will do for a higher command figure for the French, about ten light infantry (British) and 8 rifles (British). I have enough to start testing the design now.

More to come on this project, stay tuned!

All our efforts are undone

You may have noticed a recurring theme in my convention reportage over the years. My friend John Camarano and I like to pose him in front of the exposed ass crack of random gamers at conventions. It’s harder to set up than you think. Today, this young man has outdone our good work over the years with a single photo shoot at a Magic: the Gathering convention.

Well played, sir. Well played indeed.

For the entire series, visit his posting on IMGUR.

Farewell to a stalwart: the passing of Jay Hadley

Jay Hadley

Jay (center) doing one thing he loved to do, working a flea market table, talking to people.  Circa 2006, Photograph from the author’s collection

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be writing about another notable hobby passing quite so soon after John Hill.   We’re living in an age where the stalwarts of a hobby are starting to pass at an alarming rate.  Far too alarming.

Quite by accident, I discovered Mr. Jay Hadley passed from the cares of the mortal world on the 11th of this month, almost at the same time John Hill did.  The cause of death appears to be lung cancer (according to one source)  but might have been lymphoid leukemia Stage IV (according to another).  If you have a moment, you might say a prayer for his family.

There’s so much that can be said about Jay.  He was a figure with a profound impact on the miniatures wargaming hobby, going back a very long way, to the early 70s at least or even earlier, with his involvement with the Military Figure Collectors of America (MFCA). which had threw one of the first miniatures wargames events on the East Coast (The”Wargame Convention”).   He was very active in the Toy Soldiers Collector Societies (and their spinoff groups) before there was such a thing as “organized hobby wargaming” conventions (or HMGS for that matter).   Jay was one of the early adopters of HMGS, although not a “Wally’s Basement” member.   Jay worked hard to develop SOPs and procedures and was responsible for the foundation of much of how we operate conventions today– especially as a nonprofit.  His early work with ORIGINS (1980) and ATLANTICON is a subject I’m not remotely equipped to comment on– I went to a few of them but I certainly didn’t know who did what and when.. I’ve asked Pat Condray to fill in the details for me.  Jay was a past president of HMGS (elected, 1998)  and was an early promoter of the concept that some day, we would outgrow the Host facility and require a bigger site to run a convention in.

Jay’s passion for historical subjects often coincided with his professional success as a fund raiser and marketing wallah for many institutions, primarily in the field of health care.  He was active with the United Way, Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Cooper University Hospital, The Battleship New Jersey alliance and the National World War II memorial committee.   There are many other professional highlights and organizations he served on or chaired, if you want that level of detail, I suggest visiting his LinkedIn page.

Indeed, it was in those areas– fundraising, building relationships, and deal making, that Jay best showed his phenomenal strength and skill in handling people.  Jay was always comfortable in politicking– negotiating and understanding the little nuances of what made people tick.  Jay possessed considerable charm– when I was a Cold Wars director in the Mid-00s, he was invaluable as a source of advice or a way of dealing with a stumbling block.  “Who do I talk to at the hotel to get “X”?  “Easy, that’s ____, remember to ask how her daughter is doing at school”.  It’s the little things, he would say.  And he was right, for the most part.    I think Jay Hadley was born after his time– I have always pictured him in some turn of the century saloon, his straw hat pushed back on his head and thumbs in his vest pockets, cheerfully buying drinks for a pack of galoots, trying to get the vote out for his candidate.  He had that kind of energy about him.

For all of the “I’m just a goombah from New Jersey” brio he consciously projected (in booming voice), he did work tirelessly for the hobby, driving hours on his own time and his own dime to check if the site was making upgrades, or to talk to the Table vendors, or whatever.  Jay deeply cared about HMGS and miniatures gaming, and he put in many a long hour towards making the convention program a success.

With all that said, Jay could be caustic and he could be polarizing.  There is much that could be mentioned about the politics within Society in the 90s and 00s, many of us were there and many of us have strong opinions, some of them not charitable.  Jay jumped in with both feet and was an enthusiastic participant in the issues of moment back then, and he had his hands in almost everything.  I’m not going to comment beyond that, because I choose to remember the good things– and in point of fact, the “bad things” seem pretty trivial with the passage of time.

Jay was a dedicated hobbyist, tireless promoter, shameless gossip and excellent negotiator.  He was also a bit of a rascal.  Yet he helped make HMGS what it is today– and despite anyone’s axe to grind, that fact cannot be denied.  As for me, I liked him immensely and counted him a good friend.  If I wanted to hear the backstory on something, I inevitably talked to Jay.  The last time I saw him was 2 or maybe 3 conventions ago.  He was still a game bird for a long, rambling discussion but the fire had gone out of him a little bit– he didn’t mention it but the sickness must have already taken hold.  He was tired– the scandal of the moment (whatever it was) was of little interest to him any more.

So, Farewell, Jay Hadley.  Thanks for all you did.   For in the end, what can we do, but cherish the living, and honor the dead?

Aequa lege necessitas sortitur insignes et imos…

John Hill: One Fan’s Humble Appreciation


John Hill

The past few years have been a bad time for the classic wargame designers of our youth. S. Craig Taylor passed away in 2012. Don Featherstone went to join the choir invisible in 2013. Bob Coggins passed on right before Historicon last year. Today, word has trickled out through Dana Lombardy that John Hill suffered a major heart attack last night and has passed on this morning. In Dana’s words:

It is with great sadness that I must report that my dear friend John Hill, Hall of Fame designer of Squad Leader, passed away today. I will post further information as soon as John’s daughter Stephanie and wife Luella let me know how they would like people to show their condolences and appreciation for John’s incredibly creative life.

All of these great designers shaped my life in some way.   I would have a hard time recounting how many times I played Ironclads, or Circus Maxiums, or Napoleon’s Battles, or SOME variation of the many game designs by Don Featherstone.   But it is John Hill, above all, that I owe much to.    Forgive me for lapsing into a brief reminiscence.

In 1978, I was a teenager.  I used to hitch a ride to a little shop in a strip mall about two miles from my parent’s house called the Book and Card.   This place sold about what you’d expect– candles and greeting cards and incense and all kinds of homey folksy kitsch.  It also had a rack of steadily growing material supporting this new game I had been hooked on called Dungeons and Dragons.  Any chance I could get, I’d either bike over there or catch a ride, and browse the racks for a new module that might catch my eye, or a new microgame from Metagaming, or something else new and exciting– it was ALL new and exciting back then.   One day, upon entering the shop, I noticed something new on the top shelf.  It was a bookcase edition of the original Squad Leader game.   It looked fat, and solid and incongruous against a background of somewhat flimsier fantasy supplements and the latest publications from the Judges Guild.  This was heft!  this was substance!   And at the price they were asking (I could be wrong, but I’m remembering something like 12 bucks), it was maybe twice what I would pay for a D&D module.. but wow, was I going to get a LOT for my money!  Granted, squad combat between World War 2 soldiers wasn’t anything I was too familiar with.  Yet this .. thing promised a lot of return for my investment, so I shrugged and bought what would amount to my first wargame, Squad Leader– from little things, great beginnings.   Now, I wasn’t unfamiliar with wargames– I knew what Avalon Hill and SPI were, and had played a few with my father from about age 12 on, but few and far between and I can’t say I was passionate about the hobby or anything like that.   My friend Pete had Panzer Leader, so even the box format was familiar to me.  I just never had had a boxed wargame of my own until that moment.  My predictions of getting lots of value for the money were prescient; I didn’t play Squad Leader for a while (my friends were more into that D&D thing I mentioned), but I still really enjoyed figuring out the scenarios and reading the design notes and rules and figuring out what all those rules meant. Squad Leader went with me to college, and it was there that it started getting played continuously. Man, if I had a nickel for the number of times I assaulted the Tractor Factory in the early scenarios…

That’s what John Hill did for me.  He opened the door to a wider world of gaming, one I had only glimpsed before.

Even though Mr. Hill could lay claim to establishing a foundation for me and many others in wargaming, one gets the sensation that he wasn’t content with being typecast as “the Squad Leader guy”. Aside from the first expansion to SL (Cross of Iron, one of the best!), John Hill didn’t involve himself in the direct design of Squad Leader afterward.  His name, however, is forever linked with that accomplishment, much like Alan Calhamer‘s name was forever linked with Diplomacy.   John wasn’t content with being a one-hit wonder; his board game design output was both creative and prodigious throughout his life:

  • Bar-Lev: The Yom-Kippur War of 1973
  • Battle for Stalingrad
  • The Brotherhood
  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943
  • Cross of Iron (expansion)
  • Eastern Front Tank Leader
  • Hue
  • Jerusalem
  • Kasserine Pass
  • Overlord
  • Panzer Force
  • Squad Leader (duh)
  • Tide of Iron: Designer Series Vol. 1
  • Verdun, The Game of Attrition
  • Yalu: The Chinese Counteroffensive in Korea, November 1950 to May 1951

I remember years later, I picked up Eastern Front Tank Leader (by West End Games) solely based upon Hill’s name being on the box– and was astounded about just how different and creative it was from the Squad Leader of my high school and college days– different scale, different mechanics, and a focus on command and control elements.   A very challenging game that placed you in a higher command role than a captain or lieutenant chivying your squads and gun crews around the streets of some town in Russia.

After joining HMGS and attending miniature wargaming conventions, I became acquainted with the other focus of John Hill’s prodigious output, miniature game rules.  I picked up Johnny Reb in a flea market buy and have played it quite a few times.  As I speak, John’s NEW civil war regimental rules, Across a Deadly Field, is on my Ipad Kindle App.

The miniature games I know of are:

  • Across A Deadly Field: Regimental Rules for Civil War Battles
  • Johnny Reb
  • Johnny Reb III

There might have been more.

As a designer, John was bold, interesting, and not above fudging a few elements that would shock and anger the nitpickers out there in the name of fun (see early arguments about just how wide those city streets were in Squad Leader, for instance).   John would invariably just shake his head at the criticsim, smile, and shrug– it made a better game his way– and he was right.  He had a knack for capturing the essence of a thing, and making it fun.

But enough of John Hill as a game designer.  John Hill as a man was easygoing, pleasant, approachable and invariably kind-hearted.  He was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humor.  I won’t pretend we were close friends, but I have seen him at many a convention and have talked to him many times — he was always ready and willing to discuss the nuances of something he had published or was working on.   John was a thoroughgoing gentlemen and our hobby is sadly diminished with his passing.

Bis vivit qui bene vivit, John Hill.  We will miss you.



Prancing Han Solo!

My family’s contest to see who can make our Star Wars guys the most fabulous – Imgur.