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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kickstarter Link for SRC:CARD

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

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

Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney

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

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

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

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

On the canonizaton of Father Junípero Serra y Ferrer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunar Eclipse 2015

I tried to photograph the Lunar Eclipse last night (9/27/15, around 10PM) with a pretty poor choice of camera, but you can see the attempt at least tells how the occlusion was occurring at the time.

The Moon wasn’t visible after about 10:18.

It doesn’t exactly look like this:

but you get a sense of the action, anyway.

Keep your eyes on the skies!

Taranto Progress… Planes almost done

Surprisingly, I’m making a fair amount of progress quickly.

23 Pico Armor Fairey Swordfish models are assembled, painted (rudimentary style) and 21 are even mounted on bases precariously on wires.  I will bump the final count up to 24 so I can have 8 teams of 3 in the final game.  21 flew the historical mission in two waves.  I will have the real pilots names on all the bases (and 3 fictional pilots).  I have 8 Fulmar aircraft, only 1 of which is shown above.  Records indicated Fulmars flew as combat escorts, I’m not sure how I will include them.  It might be fun to have a range of hypotheticals included on the Italian side, including possible support from the Regio Aeronautica.  I’ve ordered some period Italian planes to cause havoc in the future.  i need to touch up the paint jobs, add some detailing and decals, and they are finished.

I’ve got barrage balloons in various stages of completion, these proved to be easy, but I’ll need another order of them.  I have 10 AA tokens painted up, and I just got ten more on EBay.  I’m going with an zone style approach to anti-aircraft fire.  The Italian response was vigorous but inaccurate historically.  The ships all had various AA factors and it seems to be clear that they participated in defensive fire as well as gun emplacements.  I might nominate an AA gun range and give each ship a choice of which plane to target per turn, and that plane gets another AA roll against it.

The fleet is done– painted, based and labeled with names.

Next step is to figure out terrain.

Swordfishes, Fulmars and Barrage Balloons, a laugh a minute

Checking in with the Taranto 1940 project, I’ve finished assembling the Fairey Swordfish aircraft from Pico Armor, which were an ungodly pain in the butt to do.  The top wing doesn’t fit snugly with the rest of the aircraft, see, so you have to glue it, then hold it until it dries.  It’s no a quick process and results in gap filler glue all over your fingers after a while.

Two Swordfish and one Fairey Fullmar

Of course, the mounting on flight stand drill isn’t very straightforward, either. I had to drill the holes out a little using a tiny drillbit. Then I’m mounting them on art wire mounted on a series of MDC squares about 30mm wide. I know, they aren’t painted in this picture. I wanted to test the setup. I’m going to paint the rest of them BEFORE mounting them, but I wanted to see if it works or not before going to a lot of trouble.

I like the Pico Armor planes but the Fairey Swordfish is not my favorite– it’s not made very well, the drilling, mounting, drying and fiddling about element is very high.. so this process is going to take a while, lots of hands on piece work involved and I have about 30 planes to mount. The Fullmars by contrast, come together very quickly and seem to balance on the end of the wire better than the Swordfish do. There has to be a better way…

The Barrage Balloons from Shapeways

One pleasant surprise were the barrage balloons I picked up from Shapeways, the 3D printer miniatures company. These are in scale with the Italian fleet (and there were about 20 in the air, so this works in terms of scaling). My idea is to mount two per small 20mm MDC round base, and place there here and there around the fleet, adding to the difficulty of making the torpedo runs. The models themselves come mounted 20 per small sprue and pop right off. You knock the stem off and drill right into the base of where the stem was straight up, and it mounts snugly and easily onto the art wire. Finally, something easy!

I still want to find an easier way to mound the Swordfish, this part of the job is pretty tedious. However, I am making lots of progress towards getting this game done. It won’t be ready for Fall IN! but it will be for Cold Wars.

On other fronts, I picked up tokens for Anti aircraft batteries (Axis and Allies AA Guns painted up) and torpedo markers from Litko. I’m slightly disappointed with the torpedo markers.. the ink is very faded and the torpedo is kind of hard to discern, I’ll have to end up touching them up with paint.

The Empire of Man series, by Weber and Ringo, so far…

We Few (Empire of Man, #4)We Few by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have just finished the Empire of Man/Prince Roger series (so far), from book 2 March UpCountry to book 4 We Few. This is my second attempt at a David Weber series– the first being the Safehold series, which created such a poor opinion that I abandoned it mid-read. I know that SF fans seem to enjoy Honor Harrington and I admit I haven’t read any of those. I probably should have started there. Anyway, with the metaphorical bad taste in my mouth after Safehold I tried the March To the Sea (#2 in the Empire of Man series) since, well, the library had it in and it looked interesting. I’m very glad I did! This is more or less a review of the series (less the first book, the events of which I picked up from the rest of the easily enough).

March to the Sea (Empire of Man, #2) by David Weber

March to the Sea is the 2nd novel in the story of Prince Roger and his entourage of bodyguards and staff after they crashlanded on Marduke, a backwater planet in Imperial Space. Roger realizes they are in a wilderness on a hostile planet with only one spaceport that is very likely in hostile hands (after collusion with a competing empire, the Saints, is proven). The Prince and company will have to seize the spaceport and commandeer a ship to escape from Marduke. Unfortunately it’s on the OTHER side of the planet, and they will have to march their across a wilderness of various tribes and cultures of the Mardukans, a giant race of four armed natives. Along the way they face two barbarian hordes– in the first book and in the second. They encounter civilized Marducan cities once over the mountains (of the first book) and train them in the art of warfare– initially with pikes and then with rudimentary rifles.

March to the Stars (Empire of Man, #3) by David Weber

In March to the Stars, Roger and his diminishing company of bodyguards use their alliance with a rudimentary industrial city state (Quern’s Cove) to create a small fleet of ships capable of sailing across the ocean to the continent with the spaceport (and dealing with the ship-killing giant sea creatures on the way). On the far continent they encounter a cannibal cult, mountain tribes, settle a war and take on the star port. At this point Roger discovers a coup has taken place back on Earth and that he has been framed as the architect behind it.

We Few (Empire of Man, #4) by David Weber

In We Few, the now few survivors of the story (so far) are left to travel back to Old Earth and establish a counter-coup. This story is more political/social then the previous two (at least) and features a whiz bang of a space battle (very well written) towards the end, when the authors jump between various POV characters on both sides during the long engagement. There is much left undone at the end of the We Few and I suspect strongly there will be more novels in this series.

The Empire of Man series (so far) is a great read– full of adventure, sympathetic characters and interesting settings. As novels, they are far from perfect– I’ve noticed Weber stating/restating/re-re-stating expository bits again and again before, and he does that here as well, but this time, the trend is tempered by his collaboration with Ringo. Many plot points seem added in to fill out space and move things along. The core theme of the stories is redemption– redeeming Roger, who starts off as a spoiled bratty prince with little experience in the real world and turning him into a tough-as-nails, decisive leader. Along the way the authors get a little preachy from time to time and some of the dialogue is a tad stilted.. hell, even corny in places. But that’s just fine. They make up for it with big ideas, big battle scenes and evil villains galore. The human relationships depicted in the series are less well written– Roger seems to engender fanatical devotion (and love) in almost every sympathetic character he meets, which is mighty convenient for the story most of the time. Roger’s transformation into a steely-eyed hero with phenomenal enhanced reflexes and combat skills helps, too.

These are minor quibbles. I’d definitely read the next book in the Empire of Man when it hits the street– it’s been a while since I’ve read a good space opera, and the Empire of Man series delivers in spades.

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VPG’s Napoleonic 20 System and Tolentino 20/Waterloo 20, a short review.

The Napoleonic 20 System Games

I’m relatively new to this series of games published by the redoubtable Victory Point Games.  To summarize up front the 20 series games are a series of low complexity wargames that are designed to be low density, fast playing and easy to learn.  The “20” in the titles of games indicates that the counter mix for every scenario module contains 20 units per side or less, plus some generic system counters for unit actions, leaders and turn markers.   Individual battles were published before in this series in VPG’s older ziploc format from 2008-2011, so this is NOT a new system– it’s just new to me!

Operational level units, doing operational level things (from the Tolentino module)

As is somewhat obvious The “Twenty” series is a System Game.. meaning the basic rules and game mechanics rarely change, and the individual scenario/game module rules always change, to create the historical scenario being gamed.  Although at some level there may be exceptions in the historical game module that might “trump” the core rules, the historical material isn’t designed to do so, so this is a rare occurrence.   My philosophy on reviewing games Napoleonic 20 games (and I have 3 of them to get to) will be to review the series rules ONCE, and the modules at the end of this article and in follow on articles.  I’m not going to repeat myself, but I will link to this review in future reviews.

Components: Note that my comments refer to the newer components published in 2014-2015, after VPG had switched formats to thicker counters, better card stock and graphics.  I have some of the earlier ZipLoc games from VPG’s 2009-2011 period (not in this series) so I imagine they did a perfectly adequate job considering the small countermix and focused smaller map areas of this series.   With the current quality standard, VPG really shines.  As I’ve stated in many previous reviews of VPG games, they’ve migrated to a much higher standard in the last 3 years.  Counters are big, laser cut and chunky, card stock is professional (albeit a tad thin), maps look fantastic, and most importantly the ink doesn’t run or rub off!  That was my major whinge factor about earlier efforts.  As I’ve mentioned, each side has roughly 20 counters and some supporting markers, leaders and system markers.  The countermix is done very well.  The map was more than adequate, certainly up to an Avalon Hill or GMT standard, with bigger (18mm?) hexes and easy to understand graphics.  Some of my previous game maps were printed in a sort-of-mounted “jigsaw pattern” that I really like (and miss, a little), the maps in this game were heavy cardstock.  On the plus side, they fold back easily and line up perfectly.  There’s also a Player Aid Mat included (full color) and it is very useful indeed (as we’ll get to), and a staple bound, color illustrated rulebook for the Standard Rules and the Individual Game Rules (which trump the Standard Rules).   The graphical improvements are well worth the investment VPG made in improving the printing process– I suspect many of you are familiar with the VPG components by now and agree with me, but if you aren’t, there’s a sort of visceral thrill to big, chunky counters on a big, thick map that is satisfying in a hard to define, umami like way– it’s savory.

Standard Rules: At the heart of all this glitz is a very workmanlike, easy to play game system, originally by Joe Miranda from Decision Games (mostly).  the series rules recreate operational level campaigns, and thus aren’t exactly on the tactical level– they are simulating, by rough order of magnitude, units from divisonal to corps level (as the rules state, 8,000 to 20,000 men, and their equipage).  Think of “operational”, in this context, as ‘making decisions about largish bodies of troops moving around the countryside and bumping into each other for combat, then seeing what happens“.  Maps are covered with a hex overlay to regulate movement and zones of control.  Each hex space equates to a distance about one-half to one mile across, though this distance will be impacted by the Exclusive Rules for each individual game.  Unit counters depict a corps, division, or cadre sized unit, with a nice icon representing the troop type and the statistics at the bottom.  Those stats are pretty basic– Movement Allowance and Combat Strength.  Counters are one-sided and don’t change unless someone a card to combine cadre units with certain units at start.

Counters from the Tolentino Battle

Counters from the Tolentino Battle

Each game (I assume) come with a card deck for each battle.  These are random events that are bifurcated to reveal an event that transpires during the course of the engagement that impacts one side, the other or both.   The text on the card is shaded with a specific color associated with the side the event applies to.

Text of one of the cards from the Waterloo Module. If the phasing player was playing the French side, the blue shaded event applies to him. If the phasing player drew the card was playing the Allied player, the pink shaded text would apply to him.

Text of one of the cards from the Waterloo Module. If the phasing player was playing the French side, the blue shaded event applies to him. If the phasing player drew the card was playing the Allied player, the pink shaded text would apply to him.

  1. Random Events are resolved as the first step in the turn sequence.  Simply draw the top card of the face-down pile and apply the text to your troops or the enemy force, whatever it says.  This is not an option for the first player playing his first turn.   Note that many event cards are the mechanism for bringing reinforcing troops into the game.  Note, also, that the FIRST PLAYER designation is (apparently) determined by scenario.  The players alternate  thereafter.
  2. First Player Movement is next.  The first player may move some, all or none of his units, subject to constraints imposed by movement rates on the counters, terrain effects and enemy zones of control.
  3.  Second Player Reacts is next– if the second player has any cavalry on the map he may elect to move these in reaction to the First Player’s movement.
  4. First Player Combat is the next step, where the first player indicates which units initiate combat, if they are in command, and if he opts to commit reserves to get a bonus.  More on combat later, as it’s the most complex thing you will attempt with this system.
  5. If the turn track is in the night zone, First Player then opts for Night Operations.  Night operations covers Rally, Morale Recovery, and recovering Concealment.
  6. The SECOND player then moves through the same sequence above, with roles reversed for reaction movement.
  7. If there is a little Dice Icon on the current box on the turn track, that indicates Rolling for Sudden Death.  That means some portentous event has occurred to bring about an early end to the battle.

I’m getting a vibe that the units “activate in a certain way, move in a certain way, fight in a certain way, and retreat in a certain way” that is very familiar to anyone who has experience with classic hex and counter wargames.  So let’s take a closer look at crucial elements to this system: Combat Operations, Card Events  and Morale/Recovery.  I think you can arrive at what makes this system unique by studying these three elements of the design.  The rest is chrome layers added by the historical scenario.  NOT that there is anything wrong with that– I expect this approach from a series game.


Combat is handled as a differential based system which the initiative player brings on by moving into the Zone of Control of a target enemy unit.  ZoCs make sense in this game scale, recall we’re talking about 8,000 plus men per cardboard chit here, and it’s easy to imagine them having flanker units out and skirmishers, provided some level of control around the parent unit.   Combat is declared in advance before the dice are rolled.  What happens next is classic 80ss era wargaming.

The Combat Resolution Table for Napoleonic 20 games.

The Combat Results Table for Napoleonic 20 games.  Yes, a CRT, much maligned by Tom Vasel and company in a recent show.  I’m sure Tom’s a savvy wargamer with lots of experience, so he knows best, but the CRT does seem to work for this game and provides meaningful results.

A) Designate Attackers and Defender(s)
B) Total combat strength, Attackers. That’s the number to the left on each unit marker. You have the option to spend a Morale Point to commit reserve troops to bolster the attacking score by one.
C) Total combat strenth, Defenders. That’s also the number to the left. Also add or subtract the single best terrain benefit from the defender’s location (if he is defending from a woods, etc.). The Defender can also commit a morale point for a bonus, if he can afford it.
D) If you have special status troops (denoted by the colored attack numbers on the bottom of the counter), basically Guard Elite (red) or Unreliable (Yellow) attack numbers will create different results during combat resolution.
E) Check the differential column on the Combat Differential table.  This is a CRT, right from classic wargames 101.  Find the right column and roll a six sider.
F) Apply any one of these results immediately for either Attacker or Defender: Break, Routed, Withdraws, Exchange, ENgaged.  If you have experience with board wargames, you’ll recognize these results, but pay particular attention to BROKEN and ROUTED troops, as they decrimate your Army Morale.

Real combat result from my first game of Tolentino. The Neapolitans, all full of themselves, move down the road to intercept the Austrian cavalry. The Cavalry (though a mix of lucky dice rolls and a card draw), end up causing the Neapolitan cavalry to Withdraw (DW result). Could have been worse, at least this wasn’t a rout!

In general, this is a pretty bloodless CRT.  The worst thing that can happen as a result is Breaking, but in game turns that IS a pretty bad thing (as we’ll see when we look at morale, next).  I think it is very fitting for operational level games.  You’re not going to see horrific blood and guts at this level– we’re talking about 8,000 men or more per unit, here.. comprised of all sorts of brigades and regiments and demibrigades, and it’s those units that do all the bleeding.  A larger unit’s commander figures out that he has something more productive to do with his men and pulls them out of action after reverses… or he should at any rate.

Morale is the big element of this design that makes or breaks the game.  Army morale is tracked with a special counter on the army moral track on the player mat, I found it cumbersome to use this and just put the morale on a corresponding square on the turn track and moved it backwards when an Army took losses.  Army morale level is the general ‘Stance’ of your side in the face of battle.   Battles are a series of events that impact on Morale levels, and mostly negatively.  Fatigue from forced marches, Lulls during the fighting, units Breaking, units Routing and inhabiting objectives all have their effects on Morale Level.   The crucial take-away is that when an Army Morale level reaches zero, that’s it, game over and you have lost.

The cards add a nice random element to the design.   Many designers are using cards as a way of adding historical detail to a board wargame, which isn’t exactly a new thing.  In the Napoleonic 20 series games, they also serve a critical function of adding reinforcements into the battle in a variable fashion.  Since there are only 20 counters maximum, this doesn’t happen very often and every unit is critical.

Cards in action. This card contributed to the Neapolitan cavalry withdrawing back where they came from in the previous example.

Conclusions, Napoleon 20 series

I like the low counter density, and I like the speedy play of this design.  I rarely have had a game go over two hours.   However, you buy that speed and low complexity at the cost of a lot of detail.  I’ve played other games at this level of scale and even own a few– Le Grande Armee du Nord, Napoleon (Columbia) and if you want to simulate the campaign level (the decisions that make those large bodies of troops move around) this would be a fun and fast way to do that.  However, La Battaille it ain’t.  There’s not a lot of unit variation (even with the special troop rules) so in my opinion, I’m not really getting the Napoleonic experience that I personally enjoy, which is more on the grand tactical side of the house.   However, it is still fun and interesting to play, since it doesn’t require huge chunks of time.

The Historical Modules for 100 Days

Waterloo 20 — Napoleon’s Last Campaign and Tolentino 20 – King Murat’s Throne

Both of these play like old SPI microgames (though not at that level) tucked into a big box, so I’ll start with the more famous one and end with the one I liked more (hey, I’m not making a secret of it!).

Waterloo: Oh, come ON, do I even need to be typing this?  Arguably one of the most famous battles in history conducted by one of the most famous generals in history.  If you haven’t heard of this you probably need to turn in your wargaming card– because that’s nothing but a big bucket of fail.

At this scale, I was reminded more of NAPOLEON (Columbia Games) than anything else.

As I’ve said, I’ve played my fair share of Waterloo games. I have yet to find one that really sings to me, and Waterloo 20 maintains that fine tradition. Why?  A couple of reasons. The scale, for one. Marching Corps around the countryside isn’t what I associate with being the Battle of Waterloo.  When I think of Waterloo, I think of the Grand Battery shelling the Allies, Wellington sheltering on the reverse slope, the cavalry charge up the center, The spirited defense of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont, The Prussians marching in in the nick of time, and the final doomed attack in the center.     You don’t really get to see any of that in Waterloo 20.  It’s not like the Rod Steiger film, it’ s more like moving big map flags on a map.  Which is fine, but not my favorite.  Secondly, and more importantly, WATERLOO IS KIND OF BORING.  What?? You’re gasping, I’m sure.  Yes, it was the final dice throw of Napoleon’s empire, but as a *battle*, it’s almost a non-event.  The British sit there., sheltering on the reverse slopes, trying to Not Die as the French pound them here there and everywhere, mostly in the center.  Sure there are interesting points like La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont chateau, and the fending off of several attacks, but they don’t really maneuver at any point except that infamous cavalry charge.  The rest of the day, it’s like trench warfare.  The French are certainly active but unfocused.

Tolentino: This is a much more interesting small campaign going on at almost exactly the same moment in history.  Murat, the current King of Naples and Napoleon’s General of Cavalry, has turned his coat on Allies present at the Congress of Vienna, after hearing he would be deposed from his throne and replaced by the old Bourbon king, Ferdinand.  The Austrians react by sending two corps South under Baron Bianchi to depose the traitorous Murat and end his short-lived dynasty.  Tolentino is an interesting matchup to be sure.. the game starts with the Austrians spread out and reinforcements due from the West and North.  The Neapolitans are much more condensed and can support each other easily.  Gradually the Austrians will blunder into the Neapolitans, and then throw more and more troops into the mix as the cards are drawn.

Tolentino all setup and ready to go, cards dealt.

I like the situation. The Neapolitans are not a pushover and can certainly stand toe to toe with Austrians. It’s a fairly balanced game.

In general, I liked my first experience with the Napoleonic 20 system. It fills a certain niche for games that play fast and are easy to learn and easy to teach. The battles are interesting and fun to play.

New vehicles for White Line Fever


I resolved to not make any more WLF vehicles.  After all, I have more than 60 of them.  No need for any more than that.  Then a couple of things happened.  Lon Weiss from Brigade models started marketing a series of add-on accessories for Matchbox and Hot Wheels post-apocalyptic vehicles, I discovered the tank commander figure in 20mm which I bought a few of from various sources, and finally I discovered the Tank Commander and Stowage Sprues from Toy Soldier Company, all of it in 20mm.  This last bit is a cornucopia of useful in scale bits to add detailing to you post-apocalyptic masterpieces.  Tarps, cables, gas cans, pieces of track (why not?), and infantry weapons slung here and there.  I like the concept of adding more detail, so I decided, eh, what the heck.  A few more won’t hurt, and what I really want to do is retrofit a few of the existing vehicles, particularly with open cockpits, with either tank commander torsos or new weapons.  Or both.  Both Matchbox and Hot Wheels don’t design their vehicles to accommodate an in scale 20mm driver– they cheat and make the floorboard very narrow on most models.  so most actually sitting down figures won’t do the job.  Tank commander figures are a pretty good compromise.. nobody is going to notice they are legless.

Herewith are the new and retrofitted vehicles so far:

The General Lee. Just because. I filthed it up with some post-apocalyptic grime but otherwise I left it as is.

Sand Brother buggy. This is a RETROFIT. Added: a gunner poking out from the center window, and a tank commander leaning out to the left to see better.

Small RETROFIT for the Sand King buggy. Added: Tank Commander driver (with red helmet). Now somebody’s driving this thing!

Found a hovercraft Matchbox car! Not much to say here. I cut off the wheels and puttied up the wheel wells, painted the air cushion black, the vehicle dirty brown, and canopy opaqued. I’ve only added one weapon: the oil sprayer (not on yet in this photo), which is mounted under the fans in back– there really aren’t any mount points on this thing except there. I envision this vehicle as being able to go over Scum Pits without sinking or dissolving, so they are better off road than most vehicles. The oil spray will be a nasty surprise for anyone following it!

Small REFIT for a Ford Falcon XB GT coupe, which I was going to make a Pursuit special from the Mad Max movie, then changed my mind. I added a tarp for covering the vehicle from the desert winds, and a mine dropper. I am re-christening this one BIG SURPRISE.

One of two– the Sisters of Battle. These are two meter maid vehicles I couldn’t pass up. I mounted a Sonic Scrambler on top. This is one of the Brigade Games new accessory weapons. I picture this as being a weapon that can target drivers and gunners only.

Doc and Marty’s ride. The DeLorean from Back to the Future is a new find I HAD to add to the mix. I added a military laser cannon on the roof (from Brigade Games) and just filthed it up, apocalypse style.

Old Number 21, an ancient demolition derby car with attitude. I found this on a thrift store table for a nickel. Added: tank track armor on the front grill (equivalent to a ram plate), A HMG on the hood from Brigade Games, an Armor Slab on the back from Brigade Games, and wheel plates fashioned from tank wheel plates on the hubs. Seriously badass.

Some kind of Galvanic/Rocket car from hot wheels. I picked it up for the flaming zap in the front, which I need to repaint. I just filthed it up, added some trim in gold and a tank commander driver.

The Gypsy Kings. A new faction, similar to Scrappers. These guys favor the Harpoon Gun (from Brigade Guns), and their cars are a mix of stowage items from brigade games and the tank commander stowage sprues. See why I like Convertibles in this game? They come out looking great!

An impressive looking Sand Buggy with a new Ram Plate/beak, a flamethrower, some stowage items, and a tank commander driver.
I like this one, very dramatic looking.

Deadex, because I had to pick up a rival for the Disgruntled Postal Worker truck I already have. I added a gatling gun from Brigade Games, a ram plate (spikey) from the same source, and a gunner figure up top with a shotgun. I also put a trap door up top.

Safari Vehicle. Light Recoilless Rocket gun, Added: Crew, driver and gunner (Driver a Tank CDR) , Gunner from Stan Johansen. Also added some scrap metal in the bed and stowage behind the gunner to keep him upright.

REFIT to a tracked vehicle I was having trouble using. Added: Laser cannon, some bits from Toy Soldier tank cdr and stowage sprue that look like heavy duty batteries for the laser.

Another refit of a hard to use vehicle.. Added: two heavy rockets from Brigade Games’ Vehicle Accesories, a small autocannon from Stan Johansen, improvised blast shields using Styrene plastic and a driver from Stan Johansen.

REFIT of Sand Brother buggy. Added: Crew and Machine Pistol, ammo crate, gas can and rolled tarp all from Toy Soldier Tank CDR sprue,

The OTHER Sister of Battle, this time with a Gunner from Stan Johansen and a dart gun from Brigade Games. The rest of it is improvised.

How mines will work. Drop a token behind the car. roll a tiny dice and place on the marker. The number you roll against to check to see if there’s an explosion. Roll twice on the boom table if it goes up.

Well, there you go. I am liking the new accessories in the Brigade Games line, even if they are pretty big!

Caesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome, a short review

Caesar's Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar's Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of RomeCaesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Caesar’s Legion is a short history, primarily focusing on the entire life of the Tenth Legion (aka Legio X Equestris) which was created by Julius Caesar in 61 BC when he was the Governor of Hispania Ulterior. Already immersed in a rivalry with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (aka Pompey the Great), it wasn’t enough for him to inherit Legions 7,8, and 9 from Pompey– he wanted a unit that would bear his own mark and be loyal to him. Dando-Collins traces the story of the Legions exploits, from the early campaigns in modern-day Portugal, to the Gallic Wars, to the Civil Wars, the assassination of Julius Caesar and its aftermath, and inclusion into the new Imperial Army of Augustus and later Emperors of Rome. Dando-Collins’s work is largely unknown to me; I suspect he got most of the facts right (based on the leading historians of the day that have come down to us). His writing style is adventuresome and dramatic, which fits well with his body of work, which appear to be mostly light historical books written for a young adult audience.

I enjoyed Mr. Dando-Collins’ specific focus on individual military units. Obviously the focus is on the Legio X Equestris, but there are many other fellow travelling Legions in the book that reappear in the narrative constantly. The Legions raised in Hispania (Pompey’s 7-9, Caesar’s 10 and later units) appear to have been highly prized by Roman military commanders and deserving of their reputations of ferocity, boldness and toughness. Mr. Dando-Collins has written books on other Roman military units (Nero’s 14th Legion, Caesar’s Sixth Legion, and the Third Gallica), which, if they follow the pattern of this book, I’d certainly be interested in reading.

I certainly enjoy the author’s style– it’s chatty, focuses on the human moments that we can all relate to, and he does not shy away from the unpleasant topics. Directly after the epic Battle of Pharsala, where Caesar defeated Pompey, the much valued Spanish Legions all lapsed into mutiny over pay, retirement and the non-payment of bonuses, causing the entire Caesarian army to grow mutinous by their example. This is a fact that Caesar himself never mentions in his history books. There’s a lot of interesting detail in Caesar’s Legion; not just about the wide scope of history but also about the day to day life of a common Roman soldier. If you are an uncompromising history enthusiast who insists on original sources for any book on an ancient subject, you might not like it.  I enjoyed it– it’s certainly not on the level of, say, Adrian Goldsworthy, but I’d read this author again.

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Let’s talk about that Taranto Project


“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. 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


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!