Ulysses, by Tennyson

Old Ulysses

A recent viewing of the Steven Colbert show featured Dame Helen Mirren as a guest. She read a portion of Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson out loud and Colbert was visibly moved. I understood what he felt, because I was, too. This is my inferior version of the entire poem, which I am appreciating once again.

(Copied from Airy Persiflage, the audio brother to this site)


You really beat the odds, sir.

Related: previous post, Tribute to Stephen Hawking

John Carter Kickstarter from Modiphius

Modiphius Entertainment is a company I don’t know much about, to be honest.  After a little research I’ve discovered they were behind the successful Age of Conan kickstarter that I kick myself for not being part of.  I guess I’m not a boardgame hipster these days, I’m out of the loop!   They are also behind a series of recent reprises of the Mutant Chronicles, Fallout, and Star Trek boardgame licenses as well as a distinct Conan RPG line.  These accomplishments may mean little to you if you aren’t a fanboy of these franchises, but I have nothin’ but respect for managing to snare so many great intellectual property licenses for boardgame conversions.  Bravo, Modiphius.  The best part? Even if you have no intention of playing the boardgames, if you like skirmish games each game comes chock full of heroic scale miniatures.  Not bad.

One of the largest pledge levels is almost 400 USD. I’m just going to gulp and let them one pass by.

Which brings me to.. JOHN CARTER.  Now, if you’re a regular reader you probably already know I’m a big fan of things Barsoomian.   As my big cheerleading review of the 2012 movie indicates, I was on board for seeing Edgar Rice Burroughs on the silver screen.  I’d totally love playing miniatures games in the Barsoomian universe.  Which is fortunate, since the new John Carter Kickstarter from Modiphius is going to inundate us with what is clearly John Carter (movie) inspired minis.  This kickstarter is being presented as a roleplaying game– not a boardgame with vignettes like Conan or a skirmish game like Mutant Citadel.  That might be appropriate– I could see it as a small scale skirmish game OR a big mass troops miniature wargame on a grand tactical scale (but probably at 15mm or smaller).  It’s been done before.

The miniatures displayed all appear to be strongly influenced by the 2012 movie, and I suspect the deal Modiphius made was with Disney, not the Burroughs estate. Certainly many of the figures look very close to the movie cast with some exceptions. I have no real issue with this; with the glaring exception of the leading man, I had no problems with the Disney movie visuals. They will look spectacular on a table, all painted up. Right now, like a lot of kickstarters that display primarily 3D renderings as the art, it’s hard to get a feel for what these figures are going to be like. There’s a lot of them, to be sure. I hope this series takes off and they introduce the many species from the books that aren’t represented here, like the Yellow Men of Mars, the Thurns, and the Chessmen.

Good God almighty, almost 700 bucks to realize everything in the roleplaying game, all the books and all the figures.. GULP. (squeaky voice) “that’s eh.. quite an investment”..

I love the idea of this, love the sculpts (and don’t lecture me that they aren’t canonical, okay?  I don’t WANT to play with nude Barsoomians, alright?).  Like a lot of headlong jumps into Kickstarter land, I’ve learned to be cautious about committing this much cash up front..  So I may end up being an enthusiastic cheerleader from the sides, cheering on the guy who actually bought all this stuff and playing games when he or she runs it, yeah, that’s the ticket.

I have too many projects already, dammit.  Keep saying that…


Golem Night (Frostgrave at Scrummers)

Saturday night (just past) was the Second Saturday of the month and therefore, a Second Saturday Scrum night. I was asked by the regular gang last month to put together a Frostgrave game for the upcoming session. I have a decent amount of Frostgrave stuff, having run the game for the past three years at Game Camp, and I thought I could come up with something. 🙂 Having only a very limited knowledge of Ghost Archipelago and almost none of the right terrain for it, I opted to stick with the familiar and created an entry level scenario for old fashioned, Frozen-City-of-Felsted Frostgrave.

Felsted in all its frozen glory…

Frostgrave Figures I have plenty of– almost one each of Northstar’s initial run of Wizards and Apprentices (except Witches, I believe). I also have a healthy amount of supporting cast players, goons, soldiers and warband fodder. I usually bring a box or two of Saxons and Vikings to backfill any Soldiers and Goons.

Warbands and Wizards: We had six players.  I created 6 warbands in advance in case anyone there didn’t want to go to the bother of creating one.  I made a Chronomancer, an Elementalist, an Enchanter, a Necromancer, a Summoner and an Illusionist.  There were two level 3s and 4 level 2 wizards.   I created them using Ash’s Warband Manager on table top space.  I love the utility as it prints up some nice warband sheets and does most of the mental work for you.  Unfortunately it also has lot of options to add stuff from ALL of the supplements that have been published so far, so I ended up blithely adding Javelineers and Crow Masters without really knowing what they do or having any reference to them– I just thought they would be cooler than the standards thugs, thieves and archers everyone uses their first time.

Summoner and goon approach the ruins of Felsted with caution…  Photo by Joe

So it probably would have behooved me to at least download the myriad PDF materials I have purchased as supporting material for Frostgrave to my tablet reader  that explains all the new stuff.  As a backup… Live and learn.

Rival treasure seekers square off in the ruins..  Photo by Joe

Frostgrave is probably optimized for four players maximum because it actually plays better in a small space.  When you have lot of space on either side, the players tend to not get to grips with the opposing players and instead run in, grab treasure and exit immediately.  One of my frequent opponents gears his warbands specifically for what I call “the smash and grab” approach– lots of spells that move players and treasure quickly and efficiently to the board edges, and not much else.  That’s definitely an approach, but not one I relish.  I like mixing it up with other players.  So that’s why I created.. GOLEM NIGHT.  I came up with 1 major victory goal for each player– which I called “Cheap plot devices” during the game.  Most of the action was centered around artificial constructs (aka, Golems) and I had a goal for a Clay Golem (who has a magical strip of bark rooted on its back that could be used for healing) two goals were for an Iron Golem (one was to collect its head, another to collect a wand it was carrying).  A (rather disgusting looking) Flesh golem had a famous anti-command dagger stuck in its side.  Another was a giant Stone Golem which was just there to confuse people.  I also added 2 smaller quests about drinking the waters from the Amphora of Wisdom and three books and three keys, but that really didn’t get anywhere.

The Enchanter Party, using one of the new supporting characters (Pack Mule), managed to make it to the center rubble pile in the circle, before retreating to board edge.

The cast of characters included Joe Procopio (our host), Jared Smith, new guy Rich McKee, John Sears, and Garrett O’Hara. I played to balance the numbers a little, but kind of went easy on the goals and victory conditions because.. erm.. I knew them in advance. As it turned out the cheap plot devices didn’t really pan out well– nobody accomplished their goals except me– I drew the Dagger of Chaos (stuck in the Flesh Golem). Garrett and Rich actually killed the Golem and I bribed Garrett for the dagger from my store of money. So, ironically, I was the guy who achieved his victory conditions, by bribery– not valor.

Here comes a Flesh Golem!  What’s that stuck in his side?

Mostly we collect Victory Points by counting treasure points and adding spells cast and opponents slain. Since we played one side of the table, roughly one group of allied Wizard schools against the other group, I can state categorically that the other side won on points. However, we did outright KILL two of their Apprentices, which is nothing to sneeze at. Our problem was that the treasure just wasn’t abundant on our side of the board.

FREE AT LAST!! AFTER 1000 YEARRRRRSS!  (there were some genuinely comedic moments, as we see here when Garrett’s party had an unexpected and nearly fatal surprise).

So all told I’d say this was a great night, even if it didn’t unfold quite as I had planned. Since I tend to be a tough self-critic I’ll say this– I didn’t give the guys the option to create their own warband, and probably should have– I just think it’s a time-waster. Secondly, some wizards (like my own) had very few spells that worked offensively (e.g. had the power to cause another person or group harm). I was in a hurry when I created the warbands and probably should have seen this problem coming. Live and learn. Also I probably should check to see if flunkies are described in the core rulebook before adding them to warbands. I thought it played reasonably well once we got started and created a lot of potential for laughs. Thanks go out to Joe P. as usual for providing a nice location for our evening entertainment.

You cannot defeat this foe!  Photo by Joe

HERE is my Flickr album of pictures from the game, mostly taken with a Samsung, but some taken by Joe and Jason and posted to Facebook.   Since I was organizing this game I didn’t take all that many.  HOWEVER!  Please visit Joe’s SSSC Blog for his report on the event, complete with lots of lovely pictures taken by Joe’s wife Ellen.  I love the filter she used to sort of give each picture a crispy, just-snowed atmosphere.

parts of My warband– an Elementalist and his apprentice, whom the warband manager called “Elizabeth”, so what the heck, I made her a female from my Viking victims.  (photo by Ellen P)

Just a couple of the golems queuing up for GOLEM NIGHT.  Photo Ellen P.

I had a great time as usual, this is a great group for Frostgrave!


Image from Mental Floss website

I rarely reblog or repost but since I can’t download the original source document being referenced here, I’ll post this in context.  There was an article in Mental Floss back in 2014 called (you guessed it):

What Germans Said About American Troops Right After WWI

This was a survey of civilian and military feedback from the German populace to the American historians in the wake of WWI.  How the Germans dealt with the occupying forces, what impression was made by the American military, etc.  Some of the reports range from self-serving and mawkish:

“I fought in campaigns against the Russian Army, the Serbian Army, the Roumanian Army, the British Army, the French Army, and the American Army. All told in this war I have participated in more than 80 battles. I have found your American Army the most honorable of all our enemies. You have also been the bravest of our enemies and in fact the only ones who have attacked us seriously in this year’s battles. I therefore honor you, and, now that the war is over, I stand ready, for my part, to accept you as a friend.”

—Chief of Staff for General v. Einem, commander of the Third German Army

Others, not so much.  The military men appear to have respected the Americans they came in contact with, and thought them all rather brave and competent.  The civilian populace were more critical, with shopkeepers and pensioners complaining about how loud and boisterous they were, how stupid they were with their money, and how lazy they thought the troops were.  The Mental Floss is a fun read, but the source material upon which it is based is a PDF file which is an ancient scan hosted on some archive site that will not allow it to be downloaded.  This is the source material from which the author of the piece drew his quotes.

Candid Comments on the American Soldiers of 1917-1918

This is open to read but not download.  Enjoy! It’s not every day that you get to see what the guy on the other side is thinking — down at the private level.

Edit: A friend came through.  You can find “Candid Comments” locally, here.

Cold Wars 2018, Guidebook App (the last?)

Yes, Virginia, there is a Guidebook app for Cold Wars 2018.  Alas, this is the last “Standard Plan” app I can make for HMGS, as Guidebook.com has discontinued this plan, which allowed smaller conventions like ours to make use of a great convention app for free (essentially).  I have no quibbles for this decision.  The Guidebook company has been thoroughly professional, and has supported me for each of the dozen-0dd guides I’ve created using their system, even though we never got a nickel out of me during that time and even in it’s stripped-down feature lean state that comes with the Standard Plan, Guidebook was(is) a fantastically useful tool for conventioneers.

I’m not going to get into the features of Guidebook in this post.  I have written several blog posts since 2011 on how to use Guidebook and really just focus on feature changes of note now.  You should probably have an inkling of how to use it by now, but if you need to view screenshots, my post for Cold Wars 2017 is still pretty accurate and has pictures. Here’s what you really need for Cold Wars 2018:

The Cold Wars 2018 LANDING page.  This is the place to actually download Guidebook app (the engine to read guides– either in Android, IoS or Windows smart phone implementations).

The Cold Wars 2018 Web Guidebook This is a webpage that acts like a guidebook by itself.  Plug this URL into your smartphone, and view it as a webpage if you don’t want to download the main Guidebook app itself.

This is the QR Code.  Scan this with your QR reader and it will take you to the specific Cold Wars 2018 guide for this convention.

That’s about it.  I’m pretty sure there’s an interest  on the board to continue with guidebook in some fashion, but I won’t comment on it beyond that.

The only thing left for this guidebook is tournaments, which is usually the last, slowest thing I get to do to support a convention– it’s kind of painful to extract the event data from a long formatted word document.

Chariots of Rome (VPG) a review

So I received this game in the mail with an offer to review and jumped at the chance. I love Chariot Racing games and always have thought that anything since Avalon Hill’s venerable (oh, so venerable!) Circvs Maximvs kind of suffers from not being the firstest with the mostest (as in, what? 1979?80?). The problem with classics from the bad old days is that they can heavily influence the design of any other game on the same subject that comes out later (see: Circvs Minimvs). I’m not a huge fan of maintaining a race log (which was all the rage back then) or checking a bazillion densely printed charts to figure out what.. exactly.. happened in that last turn. Bottom line up front– there’s a lot that can be done with the subject of chariot racing, both in and out of a historical model.

CHARIOTS OF ROME from Victory Point Games is the latest in their deluxe line. So unlike a lot of VPG products it sports a huge box, which is an actual box and not inside a cardboard sleeve. Components are definitely up-gunned
and look splendid, if not amazing, in terms of counter and map art. I mean, they look like chariot standups, and a bunch of status markers.. and the track looks kind of like Circvs Maximvs. I think that’s because there’s only so many ways to make a historical chariot race track..


Chariots of Rome Board

Yes, it looks like Avalon Hill/Battleline/many other chariot game racing maps. The thing is, this is what they looked like. There are fewer spaces on this one than the AH/Battleline game, and thus the races go a LOT faster.

Game Counters

A chariot standup, a chariot placement marker (to help figure out where actions take place in a turn), backed by chariot wreckage.. Start tokens, Speed tokens, Lap Tokens, Endurance (blue), Tactics (green) and “Rattled” (red/brown). Think of the last as “Control” or “Stress”.

FATE cards are a neat trick that the current race leader can pull every turn after turn 4.  The race leader rolls a specially marked dice marked with sigils of the Gods.  If Jupiter’s lightning bolt shows up, he draws a fate card.  Fate cards can affect all, or one, racer for the duration of a turn.   This is different from most chariot games I’ve played.

Another unique aspect of the game is the charioteers, all of whom have some level of unique skill applicable to a game– one might be able to influence the initiative deck, for instance, or another one adds an ACTION card when he whips an opponent…

The chariot status cards are a big change from recording everything on a log sheet.  Everything you need to know about a chariot is here– Endurance, “Rattled” state, speed track and what that does for you, and tactics track.

ACTION cards process everything you do when interacting with the race turns or other chariots.  If you head into a corner and your Speed + Rattled number might exceed the safety rating of the lane– you would pick up the difference in “Corner Cards” and turn them as you executed the turn, checking the Corner section for results (top section) .  If you got whipped, you’d check the whip section (3rd down)  Ramming Damage is the track above that– the rammed chariot pulls 3 cards and the ramming chariot pulls one

The components are an integral part of this design. Instead of maintaining chariot status on log sheet, the racer uses slider bars with tokens, which go up and down as the chariot’s fate unfolds in a race. Up AND Down? That’s correct, there are actions you can take to bump up your tokens in various categories. For instance, you can gain a tactics rating by the order you enter a curve. Or, you can regain “rattledness” and Endurance, plus one tactics token, if you start the turn by switching to a slower speed. This can lead to admittedly gamey situations– slowing up one turn, speeding up the next, but it all balances out– you usually have to sprint to the finish so it’s important to keep your chariot in one piece for the duration.

How does it play?

Fast and elegant, if you want my opinion. Initiative and activation is managed by drawing color cards for the racing teams (the historical Red, Green, Blue and White teams). I’ve played five games now and each one was a little faster than before, as we got used to the mechanics. The most similar chariot racing game I can think of (one that also uses multi-use cards and special dice) is Matt Leacock’s recently Kickstarted Chariot Racing game, which is far more “compact” than this game.

Race start.  I use 6mm chariot teams instead of the counter, and I recommend you do, too.  Much better visuals.

In this race, blue has probably entered the turn going at speed 7 (the middle speed– the game has three: 4, 7, and 10, plus any extra you get from chivvying your horses– as much as 3 extra spaces.   Red has followed him but was a little rattled (for 2) and thus has to draw two ACTION CARDS and checking the “Cornering” line to see what messed up things will happen to him.  White and Green are playing it safe at speed band 1 (for four) and are going slow enough to manage the INSIDE lane.

Death comes to us all, sooner or later.  My first reactions to the game system was “What? They let  you GAIN BACK points?  A race will take forever before a chariot gets knocked out!”  Not so fast.  If you manage to RAM a chariot into a wall (as Red has managed, here) it instantly crashes.  Sure, there’s a way to regain lost points, but if a lot of bad things are happening to your chariot all in one turn, chances are he’ll be crashing before he can recover all the way, as Green does here.

We did put a Youtube video of the game here, which sums up things nicely and provides some moving pictures.

Final Thoughts

Chariots of Rome pulls a lot of familiar mechanics together (the track, initiative pulls, etc.) and mixes it with some brand new mechanics like Fate Cards, Charioteer characters and the Action Card draw. Everything new that was added was designed to make the game play just like a familiar chariot racing game, yet play in half the time as good old Circvs Maximvs.

Remember me?  I was your daddy’s chariot racing game!

I think Chariots of Rome delivers on this premise elegantly. The initiative draws are fast, the speed bands work perfectly and the game is able to build the tension that it requires to call itself a chariot game.

What would I do differently? Probably publish an expansion or two adding in other colored racing teams (AH had Pink, Orange and Yellow teams, why not this game?). I’d also consider adding fantasy chariots and downright designed for combat chariots like the giant multi-man Assyrian beasts.. the designer would just have to figure out rules for missile weapons. There’s nothing I’d change about the mechanics themselves.

Fortune and Glory, citizens!

PS: All the pictures for this review are here on Flickr (I took a lot more than you see here).

Embarrassing Design Relics you can’t explain

What where these?

A long time back (about 14 years ago) I ran a game called Sergeant Slaughter in Bun Bun land.  The game puts players in the role of not-so-elite space patrolmen, all kitted out for a hard fight, encountering and pursuing a group of Alien terrorists called the Vilssh.  The game starts with the Vilssh exiting a scene of recant carnage via a form of extra-dimensional gate; as the space patrol squad pursues them down a corridor, the Vilssh phase out as the space station they are on starts to shift out of reality.  with nothing left to try the space patrol pursues them through the malfunctioning gate, and they all get sucked into … something different.  It’s not important what.. what is important for this post is that I developed a sort of whimsical set of science fiction tactical rules to play a game with (I had the concept long before the rules). I remember almost nothing about “Quien es mas macho” and how it was played. I recall it had special cards I used for everything and a couple of dredel-like tops that were used as randomizers. Oh, and I gave everyone rabbit’s feet. I think it was a pretty standard bucket of dice kind of thing, but I can’t say for sure– I wrote them up in a day and never edited them. There is no surviving copy I could find, even on paper. As I was rooting out my cellar after the tree disaster, i started throwing out some older boxes of junk and bingo, there was the box for Sergeant Slaughter.  I pitched the dollar store rabbits and cutesy dollar store terrain stuff, but kept the human figures.  And these cards.

A sampling of cards.

As I recall (I found the little tops too) there was a colored font on the labels on tops, with initials like “AD” “AR” etc. Given that a preponderance of the cards are like the one in the center, my guess is this was some form of activation and combat card rolled into one– and the combat system might have been run from the combination of cards in your hand and the little top results. Just how I did that is lost to time– I have no digital copy of the SF rules (called Quien es mas macho) and I know they were supposed to be jokey and cinematic. I find myself liking the flavor text on the random events cards, too. Why not? I wrote them, of course.

Cards and tops.. hmmm.. sure it’s silly, but how did I ever think that would catch on? It’s slow and clumsy at best.

Going through the deck and with the tops in hand, I’m trying to resurrect this system in my head. Since the only outcome of the randomizer (tops) was a series of Combat results-style initials (I’m reading AR as Attacker Retreats, AD as Attacker Defends, etc.) I remember my mindset back in the day.Each regular card has a range of actions (usually 3) to pick from.  So that tells me there was a set order of actions– Fight, Fight (Melee) Full Auto Fire, Move Full.. all these are fairly evident at the bottom of the card.  So the card gives a list of possible things to do in a turn, the top a series of initials, and the numbers a range of something.  Maybe there was a threshold somewhere.. printed out.. and these were numbers to beat in certain situations.  This raises all kinds of questions.  How long would executing a turn actually take, given that you have to select a card, check out the possible actions, and then threshold number in approrpriate font, and roll a little top an wait for it to stop.  THEN read the two letter result and see what he actually could do.

It all seems kind of slow and like it’s trying too hard to be clever.  I wouldn’t design something like this today, although I still love cards and odd randomizers (like tops?) to play with.  If you can come up with a better explanation for how all this came together, I’m all ears.  Unfortunately the only person who was definitely there and might have remembered how this all came together as a game tragically took his own life last year, so I’m just going to keep guessing.  I’m not going to throw this stuff away quite yet, but I doubt I’d use them as *I think* they were originally designed.  Spinning tops and cards are cool– but the way I think they were designed to work seems way too slow to be fun.

Mega Space Hulk, it’s a thing

So Garrett and I had opportunity to attend our second Second Saturday Scrum Club adventure, which is a rather high-falutin’ term for a bunch of older guys (and Gar) sitting around and jawing about games and stuff while we try the latest Miniatures concept.

The concept for this session was a brainstorm between Joe and Jared.  Both of them had fond memories of playing Space Hulk, the eponymous Aliens clone game from Games Workshop when they were much younger.  Read about the history and concept of the game in this great blog post, the author does the subject justice. My experience was minimal– I played one time (back in the 90s, probably with the second edition) and I remember it being very, very deadly for the Space Marines. Guess what? That memory’s pretty accurate! I was game to give it another shot, of course, and even own my own set from the the third edition that got published sometime in the 2000s.

The pile of expended “activation blip” tokens for the Gene-Stealers grew and grew as we cleansed the ship of their foul abomination.  Twas a long bloody event indeed!

So what makes our session particularly interesting is that most people play this game with one boxed set’s worth of materials, which really only supports two players (three or four if you split your forces, I guess, but it’s not really designed for multiplayer). Since six dudes on average show up for Scrummers, how to play a mega game with multiple players? As it turns out, easily, but you have to combine a lot of Space Hulk sets. I’m certain there were at least three present, although we played with a combination of old and new miniatures. Jared did most of the construction on the resulting very large map.

Giant map of 3 of the later vintage Space Hulk tiles, as designed by Jared Smith.  red dots are doors.  Triangles are entry points for Gene Stealers.  Green is the far edge where half our force started.  Photo from Joe Procopio’s blog post

As you can see, three sets makes a giant honkin’ layout indeed.

Final layout.  That’s Steve “Mr. Tekumel” Braun on the top right there.  Photo: Joe Procopio’s blog

Game play was pretty fast, and deadly chaotic.

Gar and I were on opposite ends of the Ship. Gar was near the insertion point of the landing torpedo. I was across the ship from him. Our goal was to support each other, claim a few victory points, and then bug out when the things started to get all twisty. To quote Luke Skywalker, “Things didn’t go as planned”.

Space Hulk is very deadly.. genestealers can spawn almost everywhere and even with the Blip Token mechanic, they come out of nowhere and just won’t stop.

Each squad/figure had 4 Action Points (APs) a turn, plus an additional 1-6 Aps per sergeant figure, per turn.  Entering  a room triggers an event from either “inner” or “outer” room decks.  VPs per objects found and there were two special VP events– finding the Chapter Librarian and extracting the genetic code of the dead Captain figure.

So the game cards try to funnel you to the center rooms. We discovered the Dead captain figure pretty early in the game. Unfortunately, he was in a room off of a single corridor with TWO Genestealer entry points, feeding right into the corridor. Having this down by MY end it was evident that I should make a big effort to rescue the captain’s genetic code. Unfortunately, all I could manage was to get slaughtered. My priest, whose job it is to extract genetic codes, got swarmed and killed in an eyeblink. It’s awfully easy to die in this game.

There’s the captain.. in a room right next to TWO genestealer entry points.  We got chopped into chutney trying to achieve the victory condition of extracting the Captain’s genetic code.

Fortunately things were going better a the far end of the board, where, despite bumping into just as many Genestealers, they did find and rescue the Librarian, they found some nice loot and a Chaos Marine!

This actually worked out well (initially) for our side, as the Chaos Marine popped in to a room full of Gene Stealers, and just fired away at the NEAREST TARGET..

Alas for us, an urgent message from home informed us that Audrey (my beloved) was locked out of the house, and we had to cut the evening short. At that point I was down to two functioning marines (both of them schlubs) and Garrett down to three. As we drove home, Garrett was ecstatic about how much fun the evening was– “What was that game called again, Dad?” “Space Hulk, it’s an oldie but a goodie..” “Space Hulk, huh? Who made that again?” (shaking head in disbelief, kids these days). “That would be GAMES WORKSHOP, son.” “Wow, man, we have to try more games like that.. Games workshop…


Anyway, a big thanks to JOE PROCOPIO, once again our most excellent host, and everyone who attended– it’s not the game so much as the company, really (okay, the game helps too)– This is kind of a new experiment with getting some like-minded players together “of a certain age” and it really is a lot of fun for me. Surprisingly, Garrett is enjoying it as well, and he’s a youngster. Joe blogs about every event, like I do, and waxes far more eloquent than your humble servant.  Here is his latest blog post on the Space Hulk Mega Game.

My pictures can be found on the Flickr account here.  And who knows, maybe this slideshow thing will work this time (it requires Flash).

Thanks again to Joe and Jared for putting together this awesome layout and playing the Genestealer faction.

We think 20 siders are so modern…

Foolish mortal! Actually, far from it. The dice (top) is a 20 sider inscribed with Greek letters, found in a Roman dig, date uncertain but probably at least during the Empire.

This was thought to be the oldest 20 sider on the planet.. and then…

As impressive as this is, it doesn’t hold a candle to this stone 20 sider below, ALSO with Greek letters inscribed, dating back to Ptolemic period Egypt.  Since the Ptolemies were basically Greeks, the Greek letters are no mystery, but one does wonder.. what GAME was being played here?  It’s clearly a gaming piece.

Same shape, same Greek letters…?

The recent appearance of an ancient stone 20 sider from Ptolemaic Egypt at a Christie’s auction has me pondering.. what lost game used this dice? The same basic dice with the same or similar characters, from two different historical periods.. if it was used for the same game, that game was around for hundreds of years, and is now lost. Probably.

We’ll never know of course, but I think it’s great that these things have been around a lot longer than the advent of Dungeons and Dragons “to hit” dice!


retro Dungeon Delvin’ in the Crypts of the Pervy Lord Thule

Saturday evening, the second meeting of the Second Saturday Scrum club met in Langley Park, MD.  Namely, Jared, John, Francesco, me and my son Garrett were in attendance. We were caught up in a “dungeon crawl” using a mishmash of rules consolidated and augmented by Joe Procopio.  The core of the game is the Majestic 12 Ares system, with a little overlay of Songs of Blades and Heroes.   Joe did that one better by creating a system where the dungeon delve is created by cards and special dice.  The dice determine the size, composition and special features of the room, if any, and the cards amplify what’s found in the room.   It’s actually a pretty neat concept.  One big problem we had was rolling overly large rooms in a finite space; it became clear, quickly, that the map’s free space would be used up rather quickly if we relied on the dice mechanic as-is.  The rooms were just too big and we didn’t have infinite table space.  So we winged it and knocked the “room generation dice” down a few pips when rolling– or we would have a dungeon with lots of gigantic rooms that were having problems linking with each other.  The other part of Joe’s design that I personally liked was that we engaged as teams– Joe and Francisco played one team, Garrett and I another, and Jared and John the remaining team.  As teams made their way around the dungeon, all encounters were rolled (or pulled from the deck) by the team to the current player’s right.  This is a clever way to keep people engaged and preventing the game from going stale.

Our team was Sophia Irongrip of Felnore (some kind of fighter), Holford Stoutfellow (a cleric), Took Scratchbottom (a hobbit thief) and Archimedes the Grey (a wizard, whom I took to calling “Not Gandalf”).

There we all are, in our starting location on the map edge. We were about equidistant between the other two teams. That’s Archimedes and Took (whom I ran) in the foreground, and Holford and Sophia in the background.

We all started on convenient corners about as far away from each other as could fit on a large rectangular “Classic” Chessex dry-erase marker map, a map that gave the evening’s festivities a delightful retro feel. This is what I used to map D&D with when I was a wee lad.

These were our starting location templates. You can see where we started:

Our starting template (chosen by dice roll, natch) was top right. You can see it on the miniature view above. Photo from Joe P’s blog. Courtesy Ellen Procopio, used with permission

Our initial forays out of our start location led us to a couple of adjacent rooms. Oddly enough the choices that would have us moving to the West, and possibly connecting with tunnels that would lead to our dungeon exploring rivals, all ended in dead ends! So we moved out into areas we COULD explore, namely a room with a giant floor mosaic with a visage so hideous it would induce immediate vomiting. I decided it was a mosaic of a giant undead dolphin for some reason, probably just the comedic value. My hobbit dutifully blew chunks and moved on to the next door after searching the room.

The great chunks inducing Dolphin mosaic. Archimedes continues to search the starting area.

Initial efforts at searching didn’t turn up much in either the wandering monster or treasure departments.  We encountered a room covered with bones that made a rustling noise when we tried to stealth over it.  Not very stealthy.

On other fronts, the opposing team run by John and Jared encountered a lot of traps, and more random monsters than us.  Notably some trolls.

Encountering some random trolls. They put up a spirited fight.

Whoops, that could ruin your day.To be truthful it kind of did for that team, keeping them stuck in place and unable to fulfill their “background mission” cards.

An example of the encounter displayed above. The other team bumps into “querulous Trolls” and had to spend quite a few turns dislodging them.Credit: Ellen Procopio

The other team run by Francisco and Joe didn’t fare  that well either.

As we had to take over the duties of running the opposition encounters, we ran the Orc Captain and two archers that popped up in the next room to Joe and Francisco’s party. This little room with minor monsters in it became a kind of Hougomont for the other side– they poured their attention and focus into killing these guys and hardly progressed into the dungeon beyond two rooms.  Here we have the Orc Captain charging the Monk character solo with a polearm, which did some damage.

The game session went about six hours with a break for pizza included.  We had expanded the map to the point where most of the sections were JUST ABOUT touching, but there wasn’t a connection between areas on the map yet.

Jared and John’s view, other side of the table.  The map areas are almost touching, but not quite. The circular object is an improbably huge fountain in a tiny hidden room that got randomly rolled.

The capper of the evening was One of the advneturers on the Joe/Francisco team unearthing a “Major Room” with a large gang of undead orgy participants in a hidden room.

Yes, you read that right. An unending orgy of undead whose sole purpose is to suck weary travelers into the festivities and become NEW undead unending orgy participants. Erm.. yeah.

“Thule’s Unending Orgy” was about as close as we ever came to seeing the actual crypt of Thule which would have been nice.  We had a private mission to urinate on the crypt to earn ourselves 150 VPs, but we never found it.

At this point it was like 1030 at night and I had to beg my leave from our gracious host, as it’s still a haul to Northern Virginia.    Based on treasure count alone I suppose the victory goes to Jared and Johns’ team, who looted the troll bodies.

My team encountered some tiny critters here and there (Spiders, Death Scarabs) and generally dealt with them by shutting the door and going elsewhere.  Perhaps it wasn’t courageous but our fighter types kept wandering off and expanding the map, leaving the support staff (thieves and wizards) who weren’t the best fighters to bump into them.  My hobbit was a realist.  He just avoided them.

So that was my first foray back into old school dungeon crawling in a  long, loooong time.  I had great time, so did Gar.  It wasn’t so much the presentation (which was great), it was the retro feel, the friendly banter, and the overall great time we had doing a simple game much like ones I played in my youth.  I loved it.

Visit Joe’s Blog here to see an expanded writeup, nicer pictures (courtesy of Helen) and a lot more depth into his design process.

The Fantasy Trip comes home to SJG (and apologies)

Hi. Long time no blog to you, if you’re still reading this. Things.. happened. My house is rebuilt *mostly<* and we are moved back in, and life has become a lot of unpacking and sorting and continuous throwing of stuff out. LOTS OF STUFF out. I need to. I made a promise to winnow my gaming collection down to 1/3 of its current size. This is no small feat. So I admit it, I haven’t been posting a lot. Sorry. I’m going to change that, right now. I’ve been painting and playing again, and I’m enjoying that. More on that later.  — W.

The Now Not quite so young Steve Jackson, holding older copies of the Fantasy Trip, 35 years later.

My first post of 2018 is really kind of old news, but I couldn’t just let it just pop up on the radar without commenting on it. First, a little history. A long time back, in the bad old late 70s, there was a tiny company in Texas called Metagaming Concepts. Metagaming was on the forefront of a trend I like called “Microgaming”. This was a concept where pretty much everything you needed to play a complete, self-contained game was presenting in a tiny ziplocked bag, with stripcut counters and a kind of ho-hum map. For usually 2.95 SRP. Teen-aged me loved the idea of these (and I pay tribute to them with an entire page of this blog, actually). Most of these micro games were tiny standalone boardgames, but the third and sixt in the series were part of a tiny roleplaying game (the first publication was Melee, which dealt with fighting and monsters and such, and the sixth was Wizard, which picked up the magical end of things). The series encompassed by the two products was called “The Fantasy Trip” (TFT). They were the product of a very imaginative young man named Steve Jackson who already had a little game named OGRE under his belt. TFT became a big hit (for Metagaming) and generated enough revenue to expand the line, going from ziploc to small (crushable) cardboard box, then on to advanced melee and wizard (which were folio sized and jam packed with material) and Tollenkars Lair, which expanded on the system even more. Every kid in my social circle was at least noddingly familiar with D&D. Of course we were. Some had tried some of the alternatives in those days, such as Traveler, and Metamorphosis Alpha and one or two more non-TSR systems, especially the Fantasy Trip.

TFT was remarkable in its simplicity. Everything, and I mean everything, derived from three simple statistics. You started with a template character and customized him with remaining points. You were limited by things like strength and dexterity so there were some weapons you just couldn’t use. Spells were even simpler (and kind of painful). I loved the system, myself, but wasn’t a fanatic about it.. even though D&D was miles more complicated and did a lot of the thinking for us, we liked poring over all those misleading charts, I guess. TFT was cooler than that– it made it so simple, we mistrusted it. That’s all there is? It would take a couple of years for me to grasp something Steve Jackson understood from day one.. you’re playing a story, you’re IN a story, when you are playing RPGs. You’re not in a rulebook. It’s about the story, first and foremost, so why not make the rules as simple as possible?  That’s what I like about TFT, and why I collected everything they made, mini-adventures and all, before Metagaming went out of business.

If you know your hobby history, you already know that Steve Jackson and the head of the defunct Metagaming Concepts, Mr. Howard Thompson, did not (from all reports) part ways amicably. Steve Jackson left Metagaming with the rights to his OGRE/GEV universe intact, but he could not come to an agreement with Thompson about The Fantasy Trip. Rather than sell the rights back at a reasonable price, Mr. Thompson shuttered the doors, turned off the lights at Metagaming and disappeared from public view. And so it has been, for thirty five years. The rights to the coolest alternative RPG from the distant past was in a legal limbo– held by a company that had long since ceased to exist. Sigh.

Until now that is. This statement was posted on the daily Illuminator at the Steve Jackson Games website, somewhat recently:

December 26, 2017: The Fantasy Trip Returns Home

The Fantasy Trip:  At the beginning of my career, long before GURPS, I created a roleplaying game called The Fantasy Trip. For decades, the rights have been held by Metagaming, a publisher which is no longer in operation. I’m very pleased to announce that I have regained the eight TFT releases that I wrote myself: Melee, Wizard, Death Test, Death Test 2, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, In the Labyrinth, and Tollenkar’s Lair.This is just an initial announcement, to invite you to celebrate with me a day that has been a long time coming!I have no idea yet about release schedules. I will probably have to answer most questions with “I don’t know yet” – but feel free to use the button below to go to the forum discussion of this post, and try me . . . or just share memories of the game!— Steve Jackson

Wow. That’s some amazing news there.  The Fantasy Trip comes home, at long last!  “But wait, SJG already HAS a RPG system, one that they have been supporting for 35 years– GURPS*, right?”  Well yes, that’s true, and SJG has put a lot of work into supporting it, too.  Although GURPS 1.1 certainly bore some resemblance to Melee/Wizard, they really were different systems, and the GURPS of today really bears little resemblance to the TFT of 35 years ago.  There will be a lot of work to be done to get the older system up to snuff– in a lot of ways.  The graphics for the old TFT were funky, and  I like them, but they are from a very different time and place than 2018.  There are a lot of conventions to work out to make the TFT titles fit into the SJG portfolio.. how will it fit in the product catalog?  A GURPS alternative?  A competing product?  This is going to be more complex than just reprinting an old game (which is becoming the craze these days).

In any event, I’m delighted to see these old friends resurface again, after being in limbo for so many decades.  I look forward to seeing TFT back in print again.

GURPS: Generic Universal Roleplaying System.   See here.

Kickstarter OGRE miniatures set one arriving

I’m happy to report that the Kickstarter package I backed, OGRE MINIATURES SET ONE, has arrived at the Casa, and it is everything I expected and more.

I backed this Kickstarter out of a desire to see Ogre miniatures back in production, even if for a limited amount of time.  I personally like this version of Steve Jackson’s OGRE far more in miniature form than in board game form.  OGRE Miniatures, the base game associated with the old metal miniatures, is without a doubt a workmanlike approach to the subject of a giant Cybertank being harassed by many flea-like smaller attackers. The OM rules reflect the board game OGRE origins very well, and are certainly easy, but not that sophisticated, either. I have used (older, metal) Ogre Miniatures with GZG’s Dirtside in the past and it works just fine. The important thing is to have the miniatures! That’s why I’ve purchased two sets with the recent SJG kickstarter– one with Blue Ogres and red small units and one colored in reverse.

The basic boxed set comes with 40 minis.. no, that’s not a typo or exaggeration.

The miniatures are plastic, the hard kind that uses Testor’s glue to assemble.  You’ll need an exacto to trim the smaller bits off the sprue and you’ll probably want to soak the finished models in soapy water to remove any trace mold release from the finished model before painting.  I think plastic is a good thing; the original, long out of print metal miniatures were not exactly cheap even in 1992.  With this kickstarter you get a ton of models, in just about the same scale, with just about the same amount of detail as the metal models.  It’s a win-win.

Large Red Ogre, a Mark III and a Mark V come in the box

For some reason Steve Jackson Games seems to think the color of the plastic is important. Thus it Kickstarted a basic red OGRE with blue small units set or the reverse, blue OGRE with red units. The red Ogre is shown above (unassembled). As I purchased two sets, I added the second set in reverse colors, e.g., blue ogre, red small boys.

Large BLUE Ogre, also a Mark III and a Mark V.

and here is the reverse….

GEVs, Heavy Tanks, Infantry, Missile Tanks, etc.  One in blue and one in red.

And here are the small boys, e.g., a sprue of GEV vehicles and a sprue of heavy tanks. (above)

Plastic Color really isn’t that important to me; my thought was I was going to field a force of Paneuropeans (which this set is) in yellow and one in red, much like the old Ogre Miniature rulebook depicted them. I know I did a BackerKit purchase of at least one more set (in green). I will probably paint them the Vatican colors.

Yes, OGRE miniatures set 2 did Kickstart recently and I took them up on their offer, but only one set (so far). I may expand this, as it is mostly Commune units and elements that got introduced in OGRE Shockwave. It’s a great time to get these kind of miniatures. I have always liked the OGRE visual design and it’s nice to have an option that isn’t too burdensome financially.

Fall-IN! 2017 Event Data, compared

Since I’ve started doing Guidebooks for conventions, I’ve had access to all of the events run at a HMGS convention, and it usually shows up in convenient CSV delineated format.  Since a burning issue that gets debated (usually within 24 hours of everyone getting home) is “game period x was overrunning this or game period y was under-represented”.  I like to look at the actual numbers.  So here we go!


I didn’t include tournaments, as they are tracked separately– I have no idea how many actual events get played in any tournament.  I may in the future but since I’ve started without them, I might as well continue without them.

I don’t include any last minute addendums, walk ups, or any game run ad-hoc or open gaming at a show.  My data is ONLY as good as the one time submission sent to me by Dan Murawski, early in October.

I classify games in two broad categories: Historical and Non-Historical, because, really, this is the heart of the matter for a lot of people– Is HMGS being overrun by non-historical games?  However, you will see how I fit games into those categories easily enough.  Some things are easy to classify, others, especial games that use “Other” as a period descriptor, are not.  For the most part, these events follow the classic HMGS period descriptions we have been using since we started throwing conventions.

And now, the data:

Some of this is kind of fuzzy. Like, is “Age of Piracy” a big tavern brawl? What are “Other” period games? Is “Future” like.. NEAR future? Is an alt-history game a fantasy game? a science fiction game? If you split hairs to finely, your brain hurts. So here I was kind of conservative in classifying events, to give the data the benefit of the doubt.

So, a little bit less than 19% of all events was classified as “Non-Historical” by me (and me, only). That includes fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, Pulp, Dieselpunk, cyberpunk, gnome-punk or whatever cutsie term you come up with. If it has a blatantly fantastic element, it’s on the right side of the data list.

This is what that looks like with a pie chart.

Hmmm.. doesn’t even look like a quarter this time, does it?

The top 3 time periods are not very surprising. World War 2 and Spanish Civil War accounted for 77 (apologies for the typo, the last item in the list should read WW2 & SCW, not WWI). American Civil War games made up 28, and Napoleonic 27. World War 1 and the Russian Civil War trailed by only a few events at 23.

Draw you own conclusions about trends. As I’ve said before when I post this.. you will really only have a meaningful trend after a dozen or so more conventions, I think.  I can throw this out there: When you compare 2017 data to 2016 data, the results are almost identical. Historicon 2017, by contrast, was a few points higher.


You’ll note that I’ve been saying in several of these posts that the data will not be very meaningful until we collect several data points and start drawing trend lines.. so we can’t really grasp what a “trend” is in conventions until I have about (in my mind) at least 5 or 7 results from the same show, same time of year. Why? Because there are all kinds of variables that affect results. You need to stick to a baseline once it’s started and even if you collect more, similar data, stick to your guns. With all that said, this is fairly interesting: I managed to pull together (retroactively) data from 2014 and 2015 Fall INs. Interesting results. First of all I’m not happy with the 14 data and I can’t swear it’s fully representative– the sheets I pulled from my computer seem patchy and incomplete. We were learning how to do Guidebook then, and I got my data in chunks. Still, the ratios seem right. So here we go, the start of an actual trend line:

What’s that? A seeming decrease in the number of Non-Historical games at HMGS conventions? It would seem to be (in a very general sense) to be heading that way over time. It’s way too early too say, but it’s interesting, nonetheless.

Yes, there is a Guidebook for Fall-IN! 2017

Main Screen (Guidebook on Web) Fall IN! 2017



To all the good folks attending Fall-IN! 2017, I have to apologize.  I haven’t been Johnny on the Spot with Fall-IN! 2017’s Guidebook app.  There’s a good reason, but you probably don’t care.  Oh what the heck, I’ll tell you.  About a year ago at the end of October, a ten ton tree dropped on Casa O’Hara. The damage was devastating.  My family has endured a long year of rebuilding, being temporarily homeless, and living in a tiny rental as the contractors did their thing.  We are (right now, this week) hitting the end of the tunnel at last.  The contractors are finalizing the work on my house and we are moving back in starting this weekend.  I don’t claim to be the smartest guy in the world, but I’m clever enough to figure out this isn’t the time to go to Fall IN!.  I like being married!  Anyway, all that work (and the recent departure of a beloved family pet just last week) has been a distraction from Guidebook building duty.  Mea Culpa. 


I have not left you all in the lurch.  I wouldn’t do that. I have taken the
data Dan Murawski and Jeff Kimmel sent me and updated and published the
guidebook app as of last night.

It doesn’t display the usual tender loving care I usually put into these
things; Missing are the room maps, Tournaments, Hobby University, and
Speakers (if there are any), social media stuff.  Included are: the events schedule
(with room locations and table numbers), The Vendor Hall map and
vendor listing.

That is about all I have time for, sorry. I don’t consider the omissions
crippling. Unless you are a rank newbie, you can navigate the Host
blindfolded by now. If you ARE a rank newbie, ASK someone. Wargamers are a
generous group and will help you find your table.

The table number will tell you where the room is: D-35 is “Distelfink table 35”.
Usually I spell that out but I don’t have the time.

I don’t have time for a lot of screenshots.  If you have downloaded Guidebook before, the instructions are the same as last HISTORICON.  The user interface is about identical.


The Fall IN! 2017 Guidebook Landing Page will provide you with the download links directly for FALL IN! 2017’s Guidebook, for both Android and IOS, plus instructions of how to implement GB on phones with web browsers. You should be able to download both kind of clients there.

Fall-IN! 2017 GUIDEBOOK on WEB will provide you with interaction with the app on a website (use this with your smartphone web browser if you don’t have a client installed)