Beyond the Black River!

Fhrank the Cimmerian hawked and spat, shifting the great weight of his battle axe so he didn’t pitch forward on his face, as he was wont to do when he carried it extended in front of him in rough terrain.  “Hssst” exclaimed Costrano, his limewashed man-bun bobbing just a few feet in front of Fhrank’s line of vision.  “Quiet! These woods are crawling with Picts!”  Fhrank spat again, contemporaneously.  “Bah.  Let them come.  I have yet to see one of these tree-hiding curs put up a decent fight in all the time I’ve put in soldiering.” Costrano’s hawk like visage showed concern as he waved his hand frantically.  “Ssst!  The idea is to inflict surprise, you Cimmerian oaf!  You’re making more noise than a band of Turanian mercenaries on payday!”   Both of them were cut short by the harsh rasp of Subotai, the local squad leader.  “If you gentlemen would be SO kind as to hasten your pace, we are expected in yon stockade at roughly the same time as Captain Conan, not an hour later.  Mind any patroling Picts.” Fhrank winced. “CAPTAIN, now, eh?” he rubbed his chin.  “Someone’s putting on airs.  If there were any Picts patrolling these woods I suspect they would have made their presence known, by now.  We’re safe as houses!

At that exact moment…

A giant Pict, one of the larger, brutish ones, leapt out of the cover of the surrounding greenery, so common in this part of Scotland.  With a snarl, he swung his heavy bent-handled killing maul directly at one of the archers.  Subotai jumped in to go hand to hand in melee with the brute, taking two serious wounds!


The now suddenly abashed Fhrank let out a classic Cimmerian “By Crom!” and jumped around the engage the Pictish brute, who was busily trying to carve Subotai into chutney. Costrano had a cooler head, and put two arrows neatly into the Pict’s eye, and he dropped, suddenly deader than fried chicken.

At that moment, the inevitable happened..

Fhrank the Cimmerian, seeing his colleague Subotai sore beset, whirled around with his massive battleaxe, ready to shorten a Pict by a foot or so. Alas, the battleaxe was SO absurdly massive the momentum carried him almost completely around, and he feel flat on his face in the mocking Scottish Jungle Mud.

Costrano the Archer winced and shook his head, slowly looking up at the evening sky, as if to beseech a higher power. Then he bent to the task of helping Subotai, who genuinely was in a bad way after the Pict attack.

(and many other fun things happened, too!)

Last Saturday was the monthly meeting of the Second Saturday Scrum club at my friend Joe Procopio’s house.  We generally play skirmish level games that can be played to conclusion in one evening.  I have run Frostgrave for the Scrummers on occasion.  Joe was fine-tuning a game for his HISTORICON event, which will be a two part “Beyond the Black River” scenario set in the Conan story of the same name by Robert E. Howard. The story is set close to the prime of Conan’s life when he’s serving in the Aquilonian army as a Captain of mercenaries. A punative raid over the Black River into the land of the Pictish wilderness (see map) went all pear-shaped.. and now all of the Pictish tribes have risen up and counter-attacked into Aquilonia. The first scenario is a rescue of sorts, trying to recapture some hostages being held at the Pictish stockade in the center of the steamy Scottish (?) jungle *.

We played that one out, with two characters each, an archer and a melee specialist. I picked up a big barbarian looking guy (Fhrank the Cimmerian) and Costrano, the Archer. Since I provided a lot of the archer figures my archer had been a Viking, sporting one of those Viking Man-buns. No matter, I determined that man-buns were the height of Fashion in Brythunia, where I imagined he was from.

Joe used the jaw-breakingly named “Sellswords and Spell-Slingers” rules from Ganesha games. In general, I liked the mechanics, which were easy enough– roll to beat a “danger number” in most cases. HPs for both creatures and characters were quite low and that made some critters horrendously overpowered. I liked that most of the rules that we would be using fit on one card.

One page, basic rules.  We didn’t have to deal with casting magic, actually so it was easy to lay it out on a small card

Joe, being the graphically inclined, creative guy that he is, put in a nice effort in creating story arc driven cards that would evoke the theme and events of the original Robert E. Howard story Beyond the Black River. You can listen to the original here on Librivox, I think it’s one of REH’s better stories.

All the Events, Traps, Characters, Story arcs, Initiative, etc. was handled by small specialized card decks, all created by Joe and using old pulp art as illustration.  Exceedingly well done.

Initiative is handled by number cards. Then the initiative player can roll 1, 2, or 3 20 siders to hit an activation number. If he rolls 10 or more, great, he gets an action for each success. If he fails one, something happens– an event is pulled from the event deck. This could be something as prosaic as Fhrank the Cimmerian tripping over his own two feet (which did happen as depicted above, turn one, right in the middle of another event, an Ambush card) or it could be summoning up a giant evil forest critter, or an Ambush, or more pictish infantry reinforcements. All in all, it’s a pretty elegant, simple system, and though I am no fan of Ganesha’s Song and Blades and Heroes, I did find myself liking this system. The rules evoked the setting perfectly.

Scenario 1 Highlights, “Rescuing the Hostages”

Both Scenarios: Figures were a mish mash of 28mm scale, including some lovely period-evocative fantasy barbarians from Mirilton.. very Conan-like.  I lent Joe some Viking archers to stand in for Picts here and there.

We played all of the first scenario, which ended up with us chasing off Zogar Sag the Pictish wizard who was controlling the giant beasts, rescuing ONE of the hostages, and fleeing as Pictish reinforcement cards kept piling on and on and on. We gave Joe some feedback about that.. if you don’t have enough Pict figures, maybe you need to put a limit on those kind of cards, eh?

So, kind of sort of a victory for Scenario 1. Though, scandalously, Conan (run by my son Garrett) died in that one, so technically he’s not around for Scenario 2. He’s a player character of course, so it was only a flesh wound. Edit: it wasn’t Conan that died, it was his archer companion, who had to be left behind.

Scenario 2 was different and boy did we learn our lessons from Scenario 1. This time we were in the fort on Thunder River (again, read or listen to the story, it’s in public domain and can be found in many places). Our job was to rescue villagers being overwhelmed by Picts coming from the Western edge of the board. THIS time, we kept the archers pretty close to each other, and every band of Picts that ventured out was met with a withering storm of arrows. Or at least a refreshing shower of them. Archers are the real killers in this scenario and the melee guys can be useful but are better when they are supported. I had the only archer that could actually heal people (Costrano), so he was doubly useful.

A little bit of Scenario 2 action (we had to call it at 1030 PM)

The Melee fighters sprint towards the villagers to help them escape the Pictish wave.

We didn’t have time to conclude Scenario 2, but I think we did better overall than we did for Scenario 1– we kept together more and supported movement and avoided ambushes.

SO that was my evening struggling with those dangerous Picts in ancient Scotland. Joe got some good feedback to tweak his Historicon scenario, and we had a great time indulging in old-school fantasy barbarian mayhem. I liked the rule set, which isn’t a brain bender by any means. It plays clean and quick and was useful for evoking the setting for a Conan-themed game. I look forward to using it again, and to Historicon.

All the pictures I took (and borrowed from Facebook) on Flickr

* A note about all the Scottish jokes.  “Picts”, as any student of ancient and medieval history knows, were one of the native peoples of the island that would become Britain, particularly in the Scottish area.  For some odd reason Picts show up in a lot of REH’s work– I think he must have had a fondness for them.

I attend Escape Velocity 2018 (local)

There’s a sort of STEM training/Science Fair/Science Fiction convention in the building mode that hits right at Memorial Day every year called ESCAPE VELOCITY.  EV is now in its third year.  The people putting this on are the “Science Fiction Museum” The location is the Gaylord Hotel and Convention center, which is a huge facility located right on the DC Waterfront, near the Woodrow Wilson bridge over the Potomac.  The Gaylord is huge and ponderous– there were other events going on all weekend and the plethora of weddings and small events hardly noticed the weirdos in steampunk, anime and furry costumes sprinkled all over their lobby.  That’s one issue I have with this venue– the convention programming was divided into two major chunks– exhibitors in one hall that was almost as far away from the lobby as  you can possibly walk, and the standard panel discussions, art shows, movie programs, and receptions areas sort of most of the hotel in the other direction.

Escape Velocity is billed as being mostly educational:

Escape Velocity is a futuristic world’s fair to promote STEAM education within the context of science fiction using the fun of comic cons and fascination of science and engineering festivals.

Credit: Escape Velocity Website

This is the second time I have visited, but the first time I really gave it a hard look, so why not post about it?


Back.  Open the pod bay doors, Hal

As the main instigator of ESCAPE VELOCITY is the Washington DC Museum of Science Fiction, you might expect that movie memorabilia and replicas would play a big part of the programming, and you would be right. The major displays were in the Museum display room (upstairs) and the larger pieces, like the 2001 pod you see above, were in the Exhibitor’s Hall. There were a lot of 2001 props at the convention, as the movie recently experienced its 50th anniversary.

Escape Velocity maintains a kind of smallish “museum of props” on display, many of which are remakes with more modern materials (some of the original stuff is falling apart).  Personally I don’t mind viewing remakes vice originals because the originals can get pretty ratty.  I remember Forrest J. Ackerman maintained a traveling road show museum of movie props and it was amazing how beaten up they looked up close, and that was 20 years ago.

Props and Costumes

Spacesuit, 2001

Spacesuit, Alien

Discovery One model from 2001

HAL 9000 display from 2001

Deckard’s coat, BLADE RUNNER

Ghostbusters Wagon, Ghost Busters

There certainly was some fan boy elements there and the Cosplay part of the program is really growing by leaps and bounds. Of note were the gangs of ghost-busters, contingents of HALO marines, raftloads of Reys from the last two Star Wars films (we kept a count and stopped at 10– it must be a very empowering costume).

March of the HALO guys, back

March of the HALO guys, front

Home made HALO cart

I have no idea how this guy managed walking.

The logistics of this outfit are mindblowing


Honestly, I didn’t see any panel discussions I felt like attending.  That were convenient to my schedule, anyway.  I like panel discussions but there aren’t a lot of them at EV and it seemed many of them were about the practical realities of cosplay.  I expect this will be a growth area for future conventions.  There was a film program like you might expect at a SF con; however the show times were sporadic and spread out.. no 24 hour film marathons.  I suspect this is a matter of not having enough volunteers.  Of course, there was a costume contest.  No comments on any of this stuff as I really didn’t attend any.

There was some Gaming

One of the big draws for me this year was the Cosmic Experience put on by Fantasy Flight Games. The designers of COSMIC ENCOUNTER (my favorite boardgame of all time) got together to bring a CE museum to the convention (all the versions of the venerable game that have existed over the years) and to run demonstration games for FFG, as well as demo the new rulebooks. Best of all, Peter Olotka, one of the original designers and Greg Olotka, who has been instrumental in bringing online play into fruition were both present! Since I’ve kind of known them online for a long time it was a real pleasure to meet them in the flesh.

Peter Olotka, talking to the FFG coordinator

The Earliest prototype of Cosmic Encounter, sent to Parker Brothers in 1973, I think, called UNIVERSE

some of the many versions of this game published over the years

Peter demonstrates “you’re never too old to get your butt kicked by kids playing your own game”

Greg Olotka kindly allowed me to take over his game using tabletop simulator.  The “Bill” there is BILL EBERLE, one of the three original designers!

Playing CE using Tabletop Simulator, which I actually own.

I didn’t win.  I went for a joint win with some English guy late in the game and naturally, he shivved me!  It is to laugh!

You can see the after action streaming video of this game on FACEBOOK as it was on Facebook Live at the time. You may need to be on Facebook, I don’t know. I was the orange VIRUS player. I took over from Greg Olotka, who was the SNEAK before the game I played in. They have me listed as the SNEAK, erroneously.

FFG, come back next year!  I would have gladly seen a demo of Star Wars Legions and played in an Armada tournament!  You have a captive audience!

Some organization was maintaining a game library.. for checking games out and playing at a cafe table area. Great idea! I hope that repeats for next year. I know that Steve Jackson Games was going to have a demo team showing off some variant of OGRE at this convention but it wasn’t at a convenient time for me. I would have enjoyed that. This might be a good convention for Games Club of Maryland, NOVAG, and Looney Labs to get involved in. They are all local and have a great attitude.

The Exhibitor Hall

This had a little bit of everything in it.. NASA displays, informational and educational handouts from dozens of organizations, movie props galore, a major presence by Tesla Motors (who had a demo model on site).

One thing they didn’t have very many of was actual vendors. You know, I like books, and a SF con is one of those places where I’m happy to plunk down money for actual printed, non e-book books from book vendors.. and there were only two of those present, and nothing with a huge selection. Still, I did buy something! Not all was lost.


Gar really wanted to play Starship Horizon, which is a multiplayer game experience where a series of networked computers run bridge screens on a star ship bridge while the players go through a mission assuming the roles of key Star Trek style crew — tactical, helm, science, comms.. etc. The captain has no screen but walks around roleplaying the captain. I’ve got a game on my Ipad called ARTEMIS which plays very similarly, but I’ve had no success ever playing it because I don’t know 5 people who would be willing to play crew on their networked devices.

This really turned out to be an unexpected highlight of the convention. Our crew flew two missions– failing miserably the first time and kicking butt the second. I loved it.. would even consider picking up a copy if I could set up the right mix of people to play it locally. We’ll see.  Many thanks to David Hernly (interviewed in that Twit TV piece) for running a couple more missions after the display closed, thus giving Gar and myself a chance to play!

So that was the last thing we did on Sunday during the day. Overall I had a pretty good time. I wish there were more book vendors, more movies, more panel programming choices and more gaming stuff. I think all of this could be solved with a few more volunteers willing to step up to the plate and run things, so I’m not going to whine about anything. Escape Velocity will grow into it’s potential over time– if not the giant venue they have chosen to hold it in. I recommend Escape Velocity next year!

Every bad phone pic I took on Flickr

A little actual footage of me playing the Virus via Tabletop simulator:

1D4Con AAR and OGRE 6!

First of all, I wish to apologize for the delay, usually I write these things the day I get home.  It’s been a busy week at work.  Long story short, I went to the 1d4con event in Martinsburg, WV last weekend, Saturday and Sunday, is is an AAR of sorts, with some observations and impressions at the end, plus some coverage of a game of OGRE version 6 I played.  If you’ve been reading on along faithfully, you know OGRE and I are old, old friends, so I wasn’t going to devote a lot of space to a game I was already quite familiar with.  At least that was the plan, we’ll see!

1D4Con is an event I’ve meant to attend for years now.  I think there’s been 4 or 5 of them, starting in Winchester and moving farther out to Martinsburg a few years ago.  This is a smaller venue than HMGS conventions and definitely a modest site compared to them– just 2 major ballrooms and a few conference rooms.  The very capable staff did a great job maximizing the space they had, though, and they were both courteous and innovative.  I pre-registered for this convention about two weeks out and pre-registered for events.  1D4con is apparently part of a group or chain of conventions that share the same registration system which is a bonus.  By this, I mean there appear to be other 1d4cons in other states.  The venue, being on the smaller side, was actually filled up for hotel rooms when I called almost 3 weeks out, which was sobering.  However, I did get a room in the Quality Inn next door, no muss, no fuss and half the Holiday Inn rate.  Not bad.  Decent hotel, too.

For someone schooled in the HMGS convention model, which featuring huge staffs and big infrastructure investments, the simple approach the 1D4Con people took to event scheduling was kind of refreshing.  Events went up on the wall, on the hour, by the hour, but they were mostly in standard time slots.  Get this, no tickets!  Just a sign on the wall with the players who signed up for what and blanks for any open slots.

This is a wall sheet. They are put out by standard time slot in the events area (a ablwall). When it’s time to run the game, the GM retrieves this to do a roll call.

On the tables were table toppers that featured inserts to show you what would be running on that table for that day.  Ingenious and elegant.

A great system for smaller conventions, but I’m not sure it would scale upwards.

1D4Con is primarily a RPG game convention. That means, lots and lots of games that look like this:

Doesn’t this look familiar?

Enter a caption

The problem with roleplaying games is that a bunch of people staring at a DM screen isn’t the most colorful subject for photography, no matter how fun the game is. There were a few miniatures games, for certain… but they were teeny things that I don’t regularly play:

Bolt Action games were being hosted by YOUR HOBBY PLACE.

CAR WARS CLASSIC on Saturday. Nice layout!

Some samurai skirmish game

The convention was set up to raise money for a couple of local charities, via Extra Life and a few other local funds. I was impressed– even Bake Sales raised money. I loved that!

Display for Extra Life Charity

Your Hobby Place also ran paint and take, just like the Hobby University does in HMGS conventions

I didn’t’ come up to 1D4Con to play just miniature skirmish games, so the focus on RPGs is just fine by me. I’ll play just about anything once… except, maybe, LARPing (which was present btw).  I meant to get into something conventional, like D&D Fifth Edition or Pathfinder, but instead ended up playing Cthulhu Wars (which is a miniatures heavy boardgame), OGRE version six (more on that below) and The Quiet Year, (which is kind of sort of a RPG, I guess). I wanted to play Call of Cthulhu (RPG) but didn’t really have a handy time slot for it. In general, I really liked the convention– I wish they had more vendors, but it was okay that they didn’t. I did end up buying some Reaper Bones figures from one and the new version of Zendo from the other, so I feel like I gave them some business.

Saturday night I played OGRE version six. Now if you know aught of my tastes, constant reader, you know I know this game already, and have played this since I was an actual teenager– so I won’t be breaking this out into a separate post. What was a treat was playing in the super duper expanded size deluxe counter style that is a product of that line after it got kickstarted some years ago. This isn’t the coffee table sized version that came out in 2011, but a more compact version that just has some similar components but not all. It also isn’t OGRE Miniatures, although we did end up playing with those later instead of counters. I played two games.. one a one-on-one with a very good OGRE player, another with a multiple player four on four game. I really enjoyed both games.

The OGRE III comes on board.. the human line is pretty thin, but it’s mobile. I send two GEVs to harass it from a distance.

Panoramic view of the entire fight


I got crushed (eventually) in the first game with the traditional OGRE map, and the second game was kind of a draw. I love seeing the miniatures get out.

So that was my 1D4Con. I really enjoyed it. I discovered Martinsburg really isn’t that far. It’s only an hour and a half’s drive from my place, and it’s a beautiful drive. I’d go again, and run miniatures games for this gig (which it sorely needs). Maybe I’ll bring War Rocket and Frostgrave next year.

If you want to see the slideshow of all the pictures I took, and there are a ton of them, click this link.

Here’s a little audio narration.

And finally, in the words of a gentle cosplayer..

What the HELL you lookin’ at, suckah?

The Zen-like minimalism of The Quiet Year

As I have referred to in a previous post, I went to 1d4con last week, for the first time, in Martinsburg, WV.  I had a great time!  But we’ll get to that.  I got there Saturday, played Cthulhu Wars, OGRE six, and on Sunday, I really wanted to try out a game that I had noticed before and actually downloaded the PDF (for a nominal price).  This is a small “map game” (as the designer terms it) called THE QUIET YEAR, published by Buried Without Ceremony press, designer Avery Adler.

The premise and execution of The Quiet Year are deceptively simple.  Roughly speaking, this is a cooperative game about building a community for long term survival.  Components are also deceptively simple.. you aren’t playing a character in a dungeon or anything remotely like it, so it’s pretty innovative as a “roleplaying game”, at least based on this oldster’s experience.   Instead you are given a narrative premise, which is always the same– some form of apocalypse has happened.  Your community was in a conflict with the Jackals (who are not explained) and have about one year of relative peace before some big unexplained baddy called the The Frost Shepherds are expected (which ends the game).  What will you do to keep the community alive?

The Rules, such as they are. Each person can Hold a Discussion, Start a Project, or Discover Something New.. all of which are “told”.. no dice are rolled.

The standard narrative is read aloud, from the small booklet that comprises “the rules”.  Rules is a descriptor that doesn’t seem to fit here; Almost 100% of this game is played through talking– and there are very few limitations on that.  In general, a turn proceeds around the table.  You have a blank piece of paper in front of you that becomes the map.  Each of you has a small pile of tiny dice to represent projects– since projects take time to complete the dice are a great visual marker of the passage of time, week by week, until a project completes.  Note, you don’t roll those dice.. they are just there to be project clocks.

Our Guantanamo Bay Colony, with rusty ship sunk on the docks, remnants of the old prison, my tree farm project (bottom left) the agricultural attempts (blue dice with a 1 showing), Zombie weaponization project (green dice with a 2 showing), forging recycled scrap from the shipwreck (yellow 2) and establishing a new trade route with Capitano Rodriguez (red 1 showing).

The real fun is the map itself.  You start with a generalized idea of where and when you are and what you want to accomplish.  Then you take a blank piece of paper and start drawing.  Each player draws one feature on the map and passes it around.   Then the game starts in earnest.  As turns progress, more and more is marked on the map– each turn the players introduce story concepts and new characters and challenges.. even ones that harm the colony.   For instance, in the map above, there is a zombie outbreak in the old army barracks.  The zombies become a major plot point.  There is some form of mutant sea lion that is raiding food supplies and killing people (in the water).  There is a tribe of cannibals to our Southwest, which become another major plot point as spies are sent there and found beheaded at our perimeter.

The passage of time is measured by the Seasons deck. Each player starts his or her turn by turning one of these over and reading the event on the card. The player who turns the card must, to the best of their ability, work out the events on the card and invent a new plot point to fit the card. For instance, I drew “one of your projects fails spectacularly. Which one? What caused the failure?” At the time that card was drawn we had sent one of our people over to the nearby village to see more details about the new tribe we detected to our SW. I had to choose one ongoing project to fail, so I chose the spy mission. In my narrative, the spy’s head was found in our perimeter one morning, perched on a small cairn of rocks.

The passage of time is drawn from a prepared deck of cards– the seasons deck is arranged so that Spring, Summer and Fall have active cards and I think there are relatively few Winter cards.  Once someone draws the card: “The Frost Shepherds show up”, the game ends.  That’s it, that’s all there is.

Abundance, Scarcity and Names are they only things that really change, and I get the feeling the GM just does this to remember things.

The thing is, this is a ton of fun.  I’m pretty inexperienced as an Indie RPG player, but I have tons of what we now call “Conventional RPG” experience.  I’ve never played the narrative games like Vampire or its ilk, although I have played Fiasco once or twice.   So open-ended games where there’s no experience points, no leveling up, nothing to gain from your session except the quiet satisfaction that you did a pretty good job is kind of new to me, and actually quite satisfying.   Our Guantanamo Bay project had everything going wrong with it at first– zombies in the barracks, no sustainable food, the island was losing timber quickly.  I found myself actually identifying with these nameless, conceptual people, and caring if my colony lived or died.  When a fellow colonist desired to clear cut all the trees on the island, I jumped in to passionately argue for creating a sustainable tree farm so that we would have timber forever, not just this year.  When I introduced “Capitano Rodriguez” a Portuguese coastal trader who sailed around the islands trading for food and goods, my fellow colonists wanted to capture him and his ship since it attracted sea marauders.  I argued against it, since it was yet another source of sustainable food for the colony.. “this is an island” I complained.. “there won’t be MORE land to farm..  we have to work expanding our food sources.. not just for this year, but for next year..”  They came around, and let him go after we helped fix his boat.  It’s fun how caught up you get in this stuff.

The GM was quite good and understood this system perfectly.  She kept the discussion focused and kept us steering by the minimal rule set.  One of the players had played it before and was responsible adding some really fun and Machiavellian plot lines– like the social divide between the descendants of the soldiers who used to staff Guantanamo and the “newcomers” who were looked down upon them.  I added the additions of the cannibal tribe, the slightly more advanced island that traded with Sea Rovers, and the idea of sustainable tree farms and harvesting scrap metal.  Our GM was very complimentary about our efforts to keep the colony alive.  I really enjoyed this low concept RPG, and I’d certainly play it again.

I try Cthulhu Wars by Peterson Games

So I went to 1d4con last weekend, and I’m glad I did.  The convention is setup very differently from the HMGS conventions that I like to go to, and that is a point in their favor.  For one thing, 1D4con hosts very few miniatures games– and by that I mean games that use PRIMARILY miniatures as the medium.  So I signed up for two miniatures-using boardgames (Cthulhu Wars, OGRE) and gave it a try.

Sandy Peterson, if you know your geek history, was one of the early luminaries at Chaosium Games and primarily a creator of roleplaying games.  Call of Cthulhu, Glorantha, and to a smaller extent, Runequest, all benefited from his association.  It is for Call of Cthulhu and it’s many editions and expansions that he is best known.

Some time ago (2013 I believe) Peterson launched a kickstarter for Cthulhu Wars, his own  global domination, RISK-like game involving a world being overrun by the Elder Gods of the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.  I was certainly interested but the price point is.. erm..  a little high, even in today’s secondary market.  Being a fans of things Lovecraftian and board gaming, I was certainly intrigued and interested, up to a point.

Late in the game, before Red breaks out and wipes the floor with me

As you can see, the miniatures that come with the game represent an Elder God, of the famous Lovecraftian pantheon– each bright primary or secondary color represents a faction of the god here on Earth. The goal of the game is to win on victory points, which is counted on a giant track. You get victory points for doing various things–summoning and controlling portals, which can only be done by your cultists (the vaguely human figures), summoning your major god, etc, etc.

You play Great Cthulhu (green), Nyralothep (blue), Shub-Niggaurath (red), and a combination of the King in Yellow and Hastur (yellow, of course). When you first start the game, you are inhabiting certain spaces with a gate (the round cardboard tokens) and your cultists. Each turn you count your power (from controlling gates and performing rituals), and with that power you conduct actions, which usually involve summoning new creatures, moving them, conquering new land, and fighting other factions.

I’m a traditionalist.. I played Great Cthulhu.  My minions were Shuggoths and Toad-like Deep Ones.

It was my first time and I was fortunate to be up against a rather brainy 14 year old kid  named Spencer playing the Yellow Sign (Hastur) and a total Cthulhu Wars shark (Eric) playing the Shub-Niggaurath faction.  I suspect Nyrolethep and I were about on the same level.  In any event, the game went briskly– I moved out very aggressively and established gates in the South Pacific, Indian and North Pacific very rapidly, as well as Australia.  I arrived at something of a rapprochement with Kristen the blue Crawling Chaos player and avoided her mostly land based movement in my area.

Suddently the Unspeakable Spencer moved in my direction, stomping on my pitiful inroads in South America, and threatening my fledgling move into Australia.

I realized I had broken a cardinal rule of gaming.. never go up against the brainy kid, the universe will stack itself against you. Spencer moved into Australia and captured my gate there, but I forced his retreat by bringing Cthulhu himself to the party. Sadly for his forces, I controlled the seas around Australia and wiped out a lot of his retreating forces. The Great Australian war between Cthulhu and Hastur left us both a little spread out and vulnerable, and in the subsequent turn Eric moved out and wiped out two of my sea based gates, granting him easy victory.

The Ashes of victory weren’t that big of a deal, and I really enjoyed the game.

How does it play?

I think Sandy Peterson has captured a certain something with this design. It’s very stylish looking– abstract, densely placed land areas that are very conventional looking, akin to a RISK or AXIS and ALLIES board.. and here you have these huge, intricate and very well sculpted plastic pieces on top of them. The components are top notch but they really contribute to a high retail price as well. They look fantastic! They also contribute to a very crowded, claustrophobic map design where you constantly have to be absolutely positive which playing area your pieces are actually in. Most of them are much too large to fit in smaller geographic locations.

Mechanics-wise, this isn’t a game to give anyone any wrinkles contemplating strategy. It’s a slow builder game, but once you have strength built up it’s hard to stop the leader. That leads to some weird balancing rules for factions eliminated from the game (as Spencer was eventually). Eliminated players come back with half the points of the leading player. Although there are some standard rules for building up and actions taken every turn, each faction breaks these rules in some fashion. My first impression was that the factions seem unbalanced, but then again, we eventually elminated a powerful early player that I thought overpowered me by a country mile, so it’s mostly in the play of the thing.

Overall, I enjoyed this game very much. I will probably not buy it because it’s a very niche taste game and I would have a hard time getting it on the table. I love the components but that has led to a very high after market value and I don’t buy games just for components any more. Great design, though, and hugely entertaining.

I will follow up with a post on the convention itself, which I have been a slacker reporting on.

Cold Wars 2018, fighting in the rubble of the Host

So another Cold Wars has come and gone, and 2018’s is in the rear view mirror. I left Friday morning and arrived at the Host around 2, which is puzzling, since I stopped nowhere.  As always, the rituals and observations must be strictly observed:

the mighty.

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I’m going to gush here, so even though I suspect she’s heard it before, I’m going to say it now and say it loud: Congratulations to Paul Trani and Heather Blush for solving our registration throughput problems.  Take it from me, who is not often complimentary.  I pre-registered, for the first time EVER, for a convention.   I walked in what I think will be the new lobby (where the front half of the Limerock room was), walked over to one of three kiosks, entered my name, and hit a PRINT BADGE button.  Literally I was in Cold Wars in a shorter period of time than it takes to type this sentence.  That’s real progress and it solves real problems.

I’ll have some observations about other Cold Wars procedural issues later on in this ramble, but I’ll go through my own narrative first.

Friday Highlights

I arrived later than I would have liked but it wasn’t too late to not nose around a bit.  My most immediate scheduled activity was a painting class taught by Dorothy Catapano.  I’m SO glad I took this.  I am gradually building up a force of 54mm Napoleonic figures for my own purposes and Dorothy was teaching a class on painting large scale figures.  I’m an indifferent to competent painter usually, but I learned quite a bit in this two part course.

It may not seem like it from this photo but we made some progress!!

I took a quick (well, not that quick, due to its location) pass at the Dealer’s Hall Friday afternoon, not buying anything memorable.  Since the new layout of the old Tennis Barn facility is radically redone, there is no ramp at the balcony end any more, so it was a long weary trudge down to and back up from the Exhibitor’s Area.

The new layout for the Tennis Barn.  The balcony end is on the right in this picture and is now sealed off.  The building can be entered at the far end (left, above).  So quite a walk now..

I’m certainly hoping that eventually there will be a parking lot down here.  Just saying.  Walking DOWNhill was no problem but I saw more than one oldster with the same kind of arthritic knees I have looking at the walk back UPhill with some dismay.

Hungarian shoes 20% off today, comrade!

I really regretted giving up my parking sport, which by Cold Wars past standards, was terrible.  By 2018 standards, I was lucky to find anything at all.  I had to register for my hotel, though, and grab a quick bite.  It all took too long, and I ended up getting back well after the 7pm start time for my Friday night game.  I walked in to see a line forming on the stairs up to the Showroom, and like any good Soviet from the 70s, I simply got in line.  “Psst.. what are we in line for?”  “Night time flea market.” “Whaaaat?  That’s crazy talk!”.

No, no it wasn’t. Due to half of the Lampeter being used up, we had to use the showroom for the Wally’s Basement flea market. Tsk tsk..

Here’s a first: Flea Market at night. #coldwars2018

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The move to the showroom was driven by a lack of suitable alternatives, but it wasn’t a particularly good replacement.  Lighting is so terrible in the showroom that I often saw people using their phones as flashlights to view items better.  I found exactly nothing I wanted and didn’t have the patience to give it another pass through.  I was getting a headache from all that squinting I was doing.

Fortunately I had an alternative to the game I missed.  As in Alternative Armies.. Flintloque.  GM Mark Fastosio has adapted Flintloque figures to run using Osprey’s Dragon Rampant rules.  The scenario was complex but the execution simple enough.  If you’ve read the Sharpe’s Rifles series, you’ll probably recognize the players well enough.  The French (elves) are bringing an artillery train through a small valley that has two passes to get into it and a series of flat hills around it.  There are a few stands of trees here and there for cover, but otherwise this is a bleak landscape.  Sharke’s chosen Orcs start the game in a copse of trees in the center, and they react accordingly when the main force deploys coming down both sides of the hill into the valley.

Sharke’s Chosen Orcs at start

As soon as the French committed to a course of action, so did Sharke, running for the high ground between the two advancing columns. Probably a mistake. Ya think? Well, they did kill like champions, for a while.

Whoah!  Lookit all dem Frenchies!!

Vive La Toadies!

Um.. we’re supposed to stop that, si?

I played Major Blas Vivar (from one of the Novels).  Well, not him, but his little brother, who is kind of identical sort of.  I called him Little Joey Vivar.  The Vivar brothers are Spanish (e.g. Dark Elves) military officers in charge of small detachments of infantry and guerillas.  We bravely advanced towards the enemy and then discovered the unique quality of Dark Elves– they suck as soldiers.  On both flanks, we were decimated in any standup fight (or really any fight).  We tried our best, but Dark Elves tend to scamper and dissolve in a fight.  What we did have were wizards, three left.  I did manage to cause a few retreats (at least) and a few casualties on the French side using Lightning Bolt spells.

Run for the hills, boys, we’re completely boned!

I like Dragon Rampant as a rules system; I have never played the core Flintloque rules to compare it to but Mark thinks it’s a great improvement, so I believe him.  I had a great time, even if we were “ahem” underperforming somewhat.  Numbers tell in a situation like this, and the Frenchies had them and we didn’t.  So it goes.  Note: I took many pictures of this game but didn’t post them all, you can see more by viewing this Flickr Slideshow.

A few choice observations on the long, long FREEZING walk to my car at 1 in the morning:

(I was staying at the Quality Inn down the road, a nice enough place, old and worn but clean enough and affordable– and free breakfast).

Saturday observations

I had an early start game on Saturday.  This was Buck Surdu’s game called Duke Morrison and the Great Zeppelin Raid at 0900.  The description had two winning features for me– zeppelins and GASLIGHT.  GASLIGHT is a venerable skirmish wargaming system written by Surdu and Chris Palmer.  In a nutshell, it supports game narratives on a smaller scale, mostly pulp and VSF, without a lot of hard statistics.  The player plays the part of a “lead” or hero in a cinematic style game, plus usually a sidekick and/or assistant leader, and the rest of your faction/group are (ahem) straight from central casting as spear carriers.  Easy cannon fodder.  Your core character can do a lot, your secondary character almost as much, but the rest of the mob are a mixed bag.

The Setting

The setting was fabulous.  This was a laser cut kit of a rigid airship that was sold for a brief time about two years ago– not for cheap, either.  I was impressed, it’s lovely to look at and a great setting that supports the three dimensional aspect of a skirmish game– lots of great places to run, jump, duck for cover, and leap down from above.    The setup was a standard multifactional game, Nazis and Gangsters versus rocketeers, sailors, scientists and beat cops.  You know, like they do.  I played the Nazi She-wolves of the SS, Zeppelin Truppen, and the real hero of the game, Carl “Slasher” Dooley, the one man murder machine, who eschewed firearms for a straight razor to cut elaborate scrolled “S’s” in his victim’s sternums.   Carl bravely fought against the forces of militarism, slicing three sailors and an NCO into chutney without firing a shot.

My Nazi She-wolves, with apologies to Ms. Doris Wishman

The end of the scientist

The main deck became a charnel house of DEATH!!!!

To keep this post moving along, suffice to say that many parties boarded or attempt to board the zeppelin with the intention of collecting various macguffins to claim victory with, before the auto timer went off and the boarding shuttle full of loot descended on autopilot.  My Zeppelin Truppen died off to a man pretty early, but the thugs under Slasher Dolan performed very well, nabbing a mcguffin (the only “bad guys” to keep one all game) and moving it to a part of the ship where it would be difficult to retrieve.  Slasher proved to be exceptional as a scrapper– until he met his demise in a fusilade of bullets.  The only somewhat intact group I had left were the she-wolves, who approached under cover as much as they could, springing on the aircar at the last possible second and going hand to hand in the last possible second.  A big fight ensued, leaving the last of my she-wolves dead as well as my gangster second in command, Dewey Oxburger.  However, the “good” guys were down to their last man.  My two last goons (from central casting) sauntered over, looked over the parapet and fired a single shot each below at the last guy in the aircar, neatly putting one through his eyes.  So in the last possible second, the good guys experienced a huge reversal and we won.  These are the situations I game for.  We all laughed loud and long at that outcome.  Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

I took a huge amount of pictures (some of them might be repeats) which you can see here in this Flickr Slideshow.  However, you might wish to Check out this Slideshow for the REAL TRUTH.

Directly after the game I had session 2 of large figures to finish up with, and then I was free for the rest of the convention.  I did some desultory shopping but found some things I needed.. mostly little scenery bits and bobs, some Frostgrave figs, some terrain and a couple more nautical things from Sea Dog Studios.  I went back to the room for a bit– mostly to get late lunch or early dinner– I was kind of on a one meal a day regime here at the con, so kind of hungry at this point.

Honestly, I meant to get back to the convention that night and weasel into another game, I really did.  Nancy Ott was running one that I wanted to get into, but frankly, I just didn’t want to hassle with the parking.  There was so little of it available that no matter what you did you ended up walking a long, LONG way in the cold wind, and that was starting to bother my knees.  So I puttered about with some new purchases in the room and watched a new series on Netflix instead.

Now, that’s the meat of the convention, right there, here’s the logistics part.  I want to state this categorically– I had a decent, not great time, and it wasn’t remotely the fault of HMGS, the planning, or even the execution.  The Host did its best, but this was not a hotel that I consider ready for OUR convention.  For once, when they said “We’re sinking money into improvements“, they really meant that.  It’s very clear they are doing.. just that.  BUT they are also trying to make a buck and operate at the same time, while renovating, and that has an impact on a convention of a certain size.  Here’s what I had a problem with:

      1. The parking was miserable.. much worse than the worst it’s been.  Why?  Because most of the spots were taken up by rollaway dumpsters, parked construction equipment and CONEX containers.
      2. It was nice to experience the Host’s new fitness plan for all us aging, overweight gamers by forcing us to go up and down the hill to the far side of the tennis barn, but that kind of limited me to only two real visits.. (see above for pictures).   I wouldn’t mind making the same trip when it was just a smidge warmer.
      3. Man, rubble was everywhere, in giant slag heaps.  This wasn’t too awful but it contributed to the tight parking problem and general feeling like we were now in a game of FALLOUT set in the ruins of the Lancaster Host….
      4. Lastly, the flea market, which is a huge attraction, is almost unworkable in the space we had available to us.  I couldn’t see a thing for sale unless I had a flashlight.  No, I’m not kidding– I really didn’t want to go bother going back to any additional sessions.


I want to make this very clear– everything that caused a problem, WAS NOT THE FAULT OF THE BOD, CONVENTION PLANNERS, or HMGS.  The Host is going through some badly needed renovation.  We all knew this was needed.  The floor plans have changed radically in places– it appears the new lobby may be in the tournament area and the business area (near the Paradise Room) is now walled off for some reason.  That’s just two things, there are more.   So we may need to suck it up, buttercup for a convention or two.  Given what they had to work with, I am very impressed with the job Heather and company have managed.  The registration system is incredibly great.  The money spent on banners and signs and dividers– which members used to scoff at, contributed to organization and flow.  The staff was its usually courteous and helpful self.  In general, I liked the convention.  I didn’t see a huge amount of games that interested me personally, but I did see some– there was just a lot of same-old, same-old about it all.

I’ll close here with a deep appreciation of the Sissyphian efforts put in by this convention staff.  They did a great job and should be appreciated for it.  I hope conditions at the Host continue to improve over the Summer so Historicon executes with no hiccups.

(note: I didnt’ take the normal catalogue of games in progress pictures, as I’m guessing that kind of thing is getting stale.  I did take some of the games I was in and the facilities and such.. which can be viewed here on Flickr).

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 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.