A new Initiative System for Big Danged Boats

Init Card idea for BDB

Sample Initiative (draft).  Available on GoDeckYourself.com (see below)

Big Danged Boats, or BDB, is a game of my own devising for larger scale, 15mm ship to ship combats in a fantasy setting. I’m shamelessly an admirer of its general goofiness and desire not to be taken seriously– and frankly, that tends to lead to the downside of my “what the heck, everything AND the kitchen sink” design approach. I love BDB as it is but there are so many components and so many differences in basic mechanics of ships that games become difficult to set up and difficult to execute. One of the existing elements I’m not crazy about is the initiative system, which is simply rolling a dice and counting up to 10. Simple, I guess, but it has no action/counteraction dynamic, like real initiative does.  Even worse, people sit around waiting for things to happen, and that’s not fun.

Therefore, I’m proposing a system of interactive Initiative bidding for BDB, inspired by a card game I vaguely remember. I’m not sure if we’re going to go with this or not but I’m certainly going to test it. Turns are structured around initiative actions– At start of game, each player is handed a deck of Initiative Bid cards, numbered 1-10. Every turn, he/she bids an initiative action or actions. They can then Move (Full), Shoot, Ram, Board, Cast Spells and maybe a few other things I haven’t thought of yet.  This is obviously a number 1-10. The lower number moves first. Higher numbers (when in missile range) subtract the lower numbers from their card. The difference is “reactions”. These are a number of specified actions the reacting ship can do in response to the initiative ship.  The turn continues until every ship captain has used every initiative bid card in their hand, and discarded them into their own discard pile.

Reactions include: Fire a volley, move a stick, cast a spell, abandon ship. I might add more. Note that RAMMING isn’t on this list.

In a multiple ship duel, engagement with ships with lower initiative numbers ACTING before an enemy REACTS.  If the ship is out of extreme missile range of any other ship (unlikely), it can move a single stick per action, or cast a spell (and possibly other actions).  If the ship is within missile range, but not ramming range, it may move a single stick per action, fire or cast spells.  If the ship can RAM within one movement stick (and wants to ram), it moves to ram.  If the opposing ship has at least one action left (from subtracting that ship’s lower initiative from it’s higher initiative), it may attempt a half move to avoid ram.  If it has more than one action left, it may move and shoot, or move and cast, etc.

A ship may also bank any unused actions in overwatch mode until the end of the round, at which point they must be expended.  The ship will remain stationery until something — the end of the turn, or a combat from another ship, causes them to expend their banked actions immediately.  Track these with colored beads or markers.

Note that the ship captain can’t reuse an initiative card until he/she has cycled through the entire initiative deck, 1-10.  Initiative cards are discarded to a discard pile after use and then then after the last card is used they may be picked up again.  (Design note, I may cap initiative cards at a lower number, like 7 or 8, 10 seems pretty high).

sub case: if there are multiple ships in the battle space and all of them are mutual enemies, the default engagement is to the ship that is closest to the ship with the lower initiative.

sub case: if there are multiple ships in the battle space and some of them are aligned, the lower initiative ship moves, the CLOSER ship reacts (enemy or ally), and then the NEXT CLOSEST ship reacts, etc.


Combat Example using new initiative rules.

Examples (refer to above diagram):

  1. A, B, and C are all mutually hostile and have just drawn initiative cards.  B to C is medium gun range.  A to B is long gun range.  A to C is out of range.  Ship A has an initiative 7, Ship B 4, and Ship C 6.  B moves first, and not caring which ship he antagonizes he decides to target C.  He has four actions.  He moves three sticks for 3, fires for one and he is done.  Ship C’s 6, minus B’s 4, is 2.  Ship C chooses to move for one stick and fire back in reaction.  Ship A would go last with three actions (7-4, and it is farther away than C).  He chooses to move two sticks closer to B and fire his main guns for 3 actions.
  2. A & B are allied versus C who is an enemy faction, and have just darw initiative cards.    B to C is medium gun range.  A to B is long gun range.  A to C is out of range.  Ship A has an initiative 7, Ship B 4, and Ship C 6.  Lowest initiative ship B goes first.  B has four actions.  He moves three sticks and ends in a RAM condition on C.  C attempts to react away from the Ram but fails the save.  It has one more action and uses it to shoot a the incoming ramming ship.  A. Reacts (since it is in range of B) and moves closer to the ship to ship brawl, firing at C long range in support.
  3. All ships are mutually hostile.  B has moved with a 4 and shot at A with a ranging shot, and missed.  C has reacted to B but not moved. He moves next as a 6.  He chooses to expend all of his actions moving into a RAM situation on B.  Ram is resolved.  A moves next as he is a 7.  He has three actions (B’s 4 out of his 7 makes 3) and he uses them to move, fire at B, and save the last as an overwatch reaction.

In all cases, the captains can’t use cards 4, 6, or 7 (as applies to each) again until they have cycled through their entire deck of 1-10.

I made a quick initiative deck on GoDeckYourself.com, feel free to download (it isn’t final). Experiment with your own naval ships. Let me know what you think.


By Their Deeds Alone Shall You Know Them

Colorized ancient image from a Doll Factory, Europe, 1931

By Their Deeds Alone Shall You Know Them – 2016, Walt O’Hara

Click to Enlarge

Puzzle 8 Feb 16. Question

I used to post puzzles as a regular thing on here and stopped when I was getting the impression nobody ever paid attention to those posts.  They probably still don’t but I miss doing it, so there.  Here’s February’s, and I might post another since it’s been a month of Sundays since I posted the last one.

Insert the given letters, one per cell, to complete a word square containing ten different words: five reading across and five reading down. We’ve placed all the vowels to get you started.

Have fun! Answer in the comments. I’ll post the answer in a week or so.

NOVAG’s Winter Game Day 2016

SLIDESHOW of Game Day pictures.. tons of them are Artemisium which I played in

On January 31, 2016, NOVAG threw it’s usual quarterly Game Day, Winter version. The location was the Centreville Library in the multi-purpose room. There were about ten tables in play. I think we had a pretty good turnout considering the recent weather.

Here are a few pictures!

GAME MASTER: Dennis Wang
SCALE: 1/285
RULES: Air Force/Dauntless (Note: same system as mentioned in this blog post from 2014)
GAME DESCRIPTION: Air Force/Dauntless with computer assist. 3″ hexes and 1/200airplanes (Wings of Glory scale) with telescoping flight stands equipped with climb/dive,bank, altitude indicators. Bring your tablet/smartphone/laptop equipped with a WWWbrowser. Windows, Mac, Android, Chromebook all OK. Paper and pencil notrequired/used. Novices welcome. Rules PDF free on the Web or at the meeting.

GAME TITLE: Fontenoy
PERIOD: War of the Austrian Succession
RULES: Black Powder
GAME DESCRIPTION: In the spring of 1745, Marshal de Saxe prepared to invade theAustrian Lowlands, and take Tournai. Facing him was an Allied army under the 23 yearold Duke of Cumberland. DeSaxe wanted to defeat the Allied army before starting thesiege. Thus he planned to goad them into attacking him. First he dispatched a columntowards Mons. Cumberland accepted the bait and moved his army there, while deSaxeproceeded to Tournai. Realizing he had been hoodwinked, Cumberland then marchedtowards Tournai where deSaxe awaited him on terrain of his choosing. The French werein an extremely strong +L shaped position, with the village of Fontenoy forming thehinge. The flanks were protected by woods and the river Schedlt. Finally deSaxe hadmade the position stronger with the use of redoubts. At 2:00 a.m. the Allied army wasunder arms and ready to advance.

GAME TITLE: Assault on Hoth
GAME MASTER: Phil Pournelle
PERIOD: A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away
SCALE: Galoob Micro Machines (1/188)
RULES: West End Game’s Assault on Hoth
GAME DESCRIPTION: Imperial Forces have arrived to destroy the Rebel hideaway on the ice planet Hoth. The only hope for maintaining the rebellion is to use the Ion Cannons to enable transport ships to evade Imperial StarDestroyers. General Veers and his ATAT forces have been dispatched to destroy the Ion Cannon and the defenders of the base. Luke Skywalker leads Rogue squadron in a desperate attempt to delay the Imperial Forces long enough to for Princess Leia to complete the evacuation and escapein the Millennium Falcon. Will the Rebel Alliance survive? Or will the Imperial Forces prevail? Will Luke be captured and turned to the Dark Side? Take

command of either Imperial or Rebel forces and decide the fate of the galaxy

GAME MASTER: Michael Byrne
PERIOD: Modern
SCALE: 28mm
RULES: Force on Force
DESCRIPTION: With all SEAL teams on missions, elements of the elite Ranger RECCEunit and 3/75th Ranger Battalion were tasked to secure a high value target. Aerialinsertion had not worked in the past, so the Rangers would make their attack overlandfrom a staging point. The terrain was more difficult than expected and the attack startedat day break. Can the Rangers capture the high value target or will he escape again?

(I played Artemisum (bel0w) and took lots of pictures of the game in progress.. see them HERE)

GAME TITLE: The Battle of Artemisium – 480 BC

PERIOD: Ancients
SCALE: 15mm
RULES: Greeks at Sea
TIME: 2 Hours
GAME DESCRIPTION: The Battle of Artemisium was a series of naval engagements over three days during the second Persian invasion of Greece. The battle took place simultaneously with the more famous land battle at Thermopylae, in August or September 480 BC, off the coast of Euboea and was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and others, and the Persian Empireof Xerxes I. The Greek fleet was protecting the flank of the army at Thermopylae, whilst attempting to not being cut off themselves. The Persians needed to force their way through either at of Thermopylae or Artemisium to outflank either position. The Persians were at a significant tactical advantage, outnumbering the Allies and having “better sailing” ships. The “better sailing” that Herodotus mentions was probably due to thesuperior seamanship of the crews; most of the Athenian ships (and therefore the majorityof the fleet) were newly built, and had inexperienced crews. This scenario represents part of the first day of the battle when the Persians saw the Allied fleet rowing towardsthem and decided to seize the opportunity to attack, even though it was late in the day,as they thought they would win an easy victory.

Notes on Artemesium.  This was the same game I played at Fall-IN! 2015, run by the same GM (Brian DeWitt) using the same rules (Greeks at Sea).  I chose Persia this time.  We started out trying to have a plan, forming a line moving down the table, but that didnt’ last long as the Greeks burst into our formation.  It was an embarrassing start for the Persians as my left wing took some casualties from boarding and capturing.  I lost two ships to capture — the Greeks get elite marines, and my opponent always seemed to have a “Fierce Marines” chit and a 1 or 0 initiative chit to use handy.  Shrug.  It is what it is.  Even with only 1 damaged ship left, I did do my duty to Ahura-Mazda and rammed one of the Greek hulls, sinking it.  I then was trying to maneuver around to ram his other damaged hull, and the game was called.  Result was a Pyrrhic victory for our side.  We killed 1 more ship than they killed or captured from us, but they sank the flagship.  I think the rules are great, but tend to favor the Greeks too much.  You just don’t want those Greeks aboard your ship.  Gar played as a Persian as well, and was up against  a kid who was hand picking his initiative chits (perhaps he was confused about blind drawing?) so he always had the jump on Gar with an initiative of 0 many turns in a row.  Still, Gar did some damage on his ships as well, he was no cake walk.  He really enjoyed the game.  More importantly his buds were texting him during the game and he was sending them pictures.  Now THEY want to come to the next game day.  Our job here is done!

Oh, I did make a little movie of Artemesium.. have fun.

The Flying Man game! aka Sky Smashers

I’m snowed in, enduring cabin fever, time to dust off off another old project that will (at last) see the light of day.  This is a game I’ve always referred to as “SKY SMASHERS!” because it has a pulpy sound to it, even though it was always meant to be semi-VSF in origin.  The concept behind this game was driven by what was then a surfeit of individual flying figures back when VSF* miniature games were newer.  Back in that day Eureka Miniatures was driving the train, but there were plenty of other companies making figures I could adapt for individual flight.   The big problem was that so few of them were sculpted in actual flight mode.  I would have worked around that problem eventually, and even had some ideas that I had put down on paper about how to handle the flight stand problem.  If you click here, you’ll see my homemade approach to the adjustable flight stand idea, dating back to 2004 (at least) and probably as old as 2000 or the late 90s.  So, yeah, that’s a thing.  This game has been kicking around my head for a long time.  The miniatures have changed over the years, VSF kind of came and went and came back again, but the design concepts were always the same for this game.   Each figure is a single man, flying in three dimensional face and interacting with other in flight single figures who are trying to kill him, plus possible ground units engaging from the ground, shooting up.

  1. Combat takes place in a three dimensional space; that means fire combat occurs with targets above, below, right or left, behind and in front.
  2. Time scale is attenuated; by this I mean the game will model a lot of small actions in a small time space– ten second turns are the standard.   FAST characters will have the option of more things to do in  a turn.
  3. There are different flight modes– swooping and gliding versus rocketing.  Riding some form of small powered one man vehicle along the lines of a rocket cycle is a possibility.
  4. Melee and Fire Combat are possible.
  5. Players should be able to physically change altitude once per turn.
  6. Fire combat angles are determined by strings– from the firing unit to the target.  Odd angles (below, above, behind) will have severe penalties.  Excessive speed differences cause severe penalties.
  7. Buckets o’ dice for resolution– people are comfortable with that.

So time has gone by and it’s 2015 now.  Just by happenstance I noticed that MINIATURE MARKET was holding a big sale, and one of the ranges for sale was DYSTOPIAN LEGIONS by Spartan Games.  Furthermore, they actually have “in flight” sculpted figures.  Nominally they are 32mm scale toe to head, which matches no other VSF range whatsoever.  So likely figures for the game would have to come entirely from this line.

Here’s what’s done so far.

The Pseudo-Americans, armed with pistols

Pseudo Britons

The Pseudo Britons, armed with pistols and automated SMGs.

The Pseudo Choimans, armed with some kind of electrified lance

The Pseudo Japanese (includes two flying steambikes), armed with Melee Weapons (katana swords)

I’m not much interested in the Dystopian Legions rules.. it’s a little too much for what I want to do, though maybe I’ll lift some of the tokens to track wounds or something.

The flight stands aren’t nearly as problematic as they were when I first envisioned this game back in 2000/1999  That’s because Corsec Engineering didn’t exist back then.  I really like their Omni Stand Technology.  I’m not sure how I’ll approach connecting the figure to the stand.  I’d like to have an adjustable one that can change the aspect of the flyer or vehicle easily.  That speaks to a tilting kind of stand (see the website).  I don’t want to add a bigger hole in the figure since they are already painted.  Maybe something with rare earth magnets.

The rules are going to be simple and universal.  I realize this might be a unique game for a lot of reasons– the buy in is kind of high unless you’re getting a sale on the figures.  The subject matter is popular enough.  so I think I’ll get some players.

Ground Game: I also have a few units that could be fighting on the ground and shooting up at the sky, like steam walkers and an AA gun.  I will add this to the rules as a random factor.

*Parenthetical point: I use “Victorian Science Fiction” or “VSF” instead of the more schlock made-up term of “Steampunk”, by preference.  It has more Victorian Gravitas.

Two Big Kickstarter Projects Bite the Dust

Ending a few months of speculation, events surrounding the fate of All Quiet on the Martian Front have solidified.  The last official announcement from Robot Peanut Studios, aka Architects of War, aka Alien Dungeon, was posted on their Kickstarter site today.  Essentially it confirms what a lot of people were speculating had happened to the troubled game publisher ever since they went incognito at the end of 2015.

Our sales plummeted precipitously in the 3rd and 4th quarter of 2015 and never recovered across our online retail operations as well as hobby shop and distributor sales. We could not maintain our business under these conditions and despite a continuing series of sales and marketing efforts, we have been forced to file for bankruptcy. The case has been filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania at case number 16-20247″

As predicted in Blaine Pardoe’s recent blog post, the models cost more than they projected to produce and they weren’t selling fast enough to generate income to keep the company going.  The operation didn’t have enough volume to keep the revenue stream in the black for any projected future.  Shipping was the other killer– which they were paying or out of pocket.

In other words, the Kickstarters LOOKED successful, but they were losing money on every pledge.  A sad ending for this franchise… which I had bought into but never contributed to the Kickstarter for.   Now I wonder what to do next– gobble up the fire sale Martian stuff or sell off what I have?  Sigh.  It’s the models.  The game itself, although worthy enough, was never a huge draw for me.  The miniatures, however, well, they kicked butt.

Another sad ending was the GOLEM ARCANA project, which announced today that it was ending production.   Golem Arcana was on my radar screen for a while, but I never bit.  This was a game (from the same folks who recently brought us the reprise of Shadowrun on Steam, Harebrained Schemes) that was digitally enhanced to sort of meld real time analog play with an app on Android or Steam that tracked the miniature’s progress in fights and displayed stat changes on the tablet.  Cool concept.

I actually was going to purchase this at Christmas time but got distracted.  Unlike AQMF, I don’t think I’ll be looking for a firesale here, because it requires an app to play, and eventually that app won’t be supported.  Still, I’m sad to see it go.

It’s ridiculous to call these developments a trend, but it is a sad ending for both of these high profile, innovative Kickstarter miniature gaming projects.  AQMF, in particular, really seemed to have potential for me.  I hope there is some form of followup to this from a third party, as has been rumored to be in development.  IF there is a lesson to be gleaned from all of this it would be: Don’t make the mistake of making a Kickstarter profit as a source of funds for operating your company.  Kickstarter is a means of transferring risk from the creator to the public for new products that otherwise might not get made.  So you have to communicate your passion and the virtues of your product to the investors to hope you’ll ever get the next project funded.  If these two Kickstarter fails have a common theme, that would be it– a failure to get sufficient momentum going to create something that could perpetuate itself.  I just don’t know.. it’s awfully easy to Monday morning quarterback something like this, a lot harder to create a working strategy for marketing breakthrough games to a public that might be a little jaded by big fanfare Kickstarter projects.

Crom, by Crom! (Discovery series #1)

I’ve mentioned the Matakishi’s Tea House website on this blog in the past (2009).  Paul Ward’s site is full of rich and fun game-centric content, and it’s a pleasant diversion to while away some hours there, seeing what Paul’s latest project is.  What I haven’t really explored (much) was the fact that Matakishi is also a web store for some of the systems, terrain bits and miniatures that have been developed for games over the years.

One of these is CROMAvailable as a PDF, which I just purchased recently.  CROM has been out since 2014 as a commercial PDF, but I just got the hankering to give it a look.

If you grew up in my era, you recognize “Hyboria”, the fantasy epoch created by Robert Ervine Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian and other characters.  Hyboria is a setting for a lot of stories by Howard and he put a a lot of work into creating a consistent history and landscape to play in.  I grew up reading of Lankhmar, Melnibone and Hyborea just as much as I read of Middle Earth, and it always seemed to me that RPGs of that earlier era were kind of tame due to their adherence to a Tolkien-inspired artificial mythology.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Tolkien, but it just comes off as an incredibly clean cut world when compared to Leiber, Moorcock and especially Howard.   Howard’s Hyborea was savage, sophisticated, full of petty little city-states and kingdoms, sorcerers and warriors, barbarians and beautiful babes, mystical temples, forgotten ruins, powerful artifacts of bygone ages, deadly beasts, serpent cults, dread sinful cities with rights that are not recorded, etc.etc. etc.  It’s a wonderful milieu to play around in (see for yourself).  There have been role-playing games and miniature wargames set in this universe over the years, now and then.  I liked Royal Armies of The Hyborean Age back in the day, and
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea looks like a nice heaping helping of Hyborean good times, as well.  The thing is, I don’t regularly roleplay any more (though I’m getting the jones to do so again).  I would like to play an army level game, such as Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age is good for.  However, I don’t have large quantities of fantasy miniatures any more.  I really like to run smaller skirmish level games by preference, with low figure counts and smaller table requirements.  This is where CROM comes in handy.

Crom is billed as a skirmish game set in the Hyborian Age*.  It can be played multiplayer, two player, even solo.  The emphasis is on small conflicts set in the game setting, with lower figure counts.  Table space is really only about a meter square, so playing session act out scenes in a connecting narrative (or standalone).    The initiative is card driven by a deck of action cards.  Conflict is resolved in a  unique dice pool resolution mechanic.

The basic game mechanic in CROM is the dice pool. Each player will have a number of dice for each character or group of minions which they allocate between three action pools depending on what they want the character or minions to do during their go.
The action pools that dice can be allocated to are: Movement, Combat, Special. Dice may be rolled and totalled or they may be ‘burned’. A burned dice is counted as a six but removed permanently form a character’s pool.

A character’s dice pool represents their hit points, more or less, specifically their strength and endurance. As a character loses dice either from exertion (burning them) or combat (being hit in combat removes dice) they are able to attempt fewer actions as they weaken and tire.  Eventually, if they lose all their dice, they become unconscious, exhausted or even dead depending on circumstances. In any event they are out of the game.

example of action cards for a Character and Minions.

As in GASLIGHT, players play a combination of heroic level “main” characters who have 12 dice to use in the three categories, regular characters, who are formidable foes and allies with 10 dice to place in categories and minions, who are variable depending upon scenario.  Minions are like “central casting thugs”.   The Heroic level characters are, essentially, YOU.. they have more dice to commit to more actions (and keep them alive longer) then other characters or minions.

Initiative order is determined by card draw.  The action cards you see in the illustration above, plus others.  Each character or group of minions should have a card prepared for them and these will make up the game deck.  Any reinforcements or summoned creatures that arrive after the start of the game should have their cards added to the deck for the turn after they appear. Cards are shuffled and placed face down in a stack. The top card is turned face up and that character takes their turn. Once they’re done the next card is turned and so on until the deck is exhausted when the turn ends.

Characters will then allocate their dice to their dice pools and the cards are shuffled ready for the next turn.  If a player really, really needs to have his character act first,  they can allocate dice from their special dice pool to initiative.  Before the top card in the initiative deck is turned face up any characters that have allocated dice to initiative roll them and compare totals.  Only characters can do this, minions may not spend dice on initiative.
Characters will act in order starting with whoever got the highest total and working down, ties must be re-rolled.

Combat is interesting.  Remember those dice pools I just told you about?    They are allocated to a character’s combat pool  to either attack or defend with. To attack an opponent the character announces how many dice they will use from those available and the opponent announces how many to use in defense. The dice are then rolled and totals compared with the higher total succeeding.  A successful attack roll inflicts two hits plus one extra hit for every six rolled A successful defense roll inflicts one hit plus one extra hit for every six rolled. If you don’t beat you opponent either in attack or defence the sixes you rolled, if any, are not counted for hits. Only the winner of the roll inflicts damage.
Combat rolls that tie are decided in favor of the attacker.

Magic would be a natural for a setting like Hyboria, but it clearly isn’t the focus of the game.  There are two types of magic in Crom: Summoning (big evil slimy things) and Controlling (the same big evil slimy things).  A wizard has to dedicate a number greater than the summoned creature’s strength total to make it appear.  This often drains the sorcerer down to almost nothing, which leaves him in a bad way to control anything, which also requires dice.  The Sorcerer handles this problem with his natural recuperative power of getting a dice back periodically, so he can actually summon a creature over a long time period and have some left to control, or use minion junior sorcerers for the summoning and control the critter afterward.  There are also smaller magic applications that are handled as “special actions”- magical attacks and spells like Fire Attack, Defend, Heal, etc.

Summary: I admit, I haven’t had any opportunity to give CROM a try yet (call this a first look rather than an honest review)– I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I don’t have a lot of 28mm fantasy figures left over from the old D&D days.  I am inclined to get some, as I think this could be a lot of fun– Crom has a small footprint, not a huge buy in, and the author clearly is supporting it with a lot of creative effort on his website.  I was a little stuck on where to get miniatures with a specific Hyperborean aesthetic — miniatures that looked like Frazetta covers were a lot more common when I was 17.  Fortunately, the author covers that on this sources page.   The Conan Hub is worth a visit.  Paul posts scenarios, card templates, and all kinds of supporting material for the game.  I think CROM is worth a look and definitely tickles my nostalgic itch for the kind of game I played when I was much younger.

CROM can be picked up at the publishers site, or at DriveThruRPG.


* Don’t pin me down on the consistency of spelling the word “Hyborea”.. I’ve seen Hyborean and Hyborian, depending on who is quoting it.


The Cards Against Humanity guys give Chinese workers a paid week off. That’s awesome.

I have no idea of what 8 Sensible gifts for Hannukah is or how it plays (although I hear socks are a nice choice), but I’m pretty bowled over by the actions taken by the folks who make Cards against Humanity.  I like these guys.  I already knew they had a sense of humor (they did do a fundraiser for actual bullshit, after all), I didn’t grasp their sense of… well, humanity, dang it!

Read the details, right here If you scroll down the same page, you’ll see actual holiday vacation snaps these workers took with their families.

Bravo, CAH people. I wish I could give you more of my hard earned dough, but I’ve already purchased the hell out of CAH.. twice! Maybe I’ll look into this Hannukah thing, it looks fun now that I read your web page about it.

(I have also heard that CAH’s Max Temkin took some individual initiative lately.  He has also sent a small gift to the militia group occupying the wildlife refuge in Oregon: a 55-gallon drum of lubricant.)

Case Study – The Demise of Alien Dungeon (and All Quiet on the Martian Front)

I rarely reblog another guys article, since there’s always something to write about. However, I was working on a piece on my mystification and bafflement about the disappearance of Alien Dungeon. Blaine Pardoe does a better job than I could, and his observations are spot on.

Background: Alien Dungeon is a small company from MD that specializes in miniature games of a fantasy and/or science fictional subject matter. They have had a few releases so far, mostly funded by Kickstarters. The first big release, Fantacide, was released with a lot of fanfare and some amazing miniatures, but I think it would be honest to say it didn’t catch on.

Their second big hit was ALL QUIET ON THE MARTIAN FRONT, which WAS a big hit. Their first Kickstarter release, which was delayed many weeks, was a major sell out. New units have been released since (also funded by Kickstarters). The last Kickstarter abruptly closed without comment, the website went down, and the company has been out of communication for almost two months now. What happened? Read on.

Notes From The Bunker

All Quiet Three Legged Stompy Fun

Back in May of 2013 Alien Dungeon launched a Kickstarter to fund a new miniatures game, All Quiet on the Martian Front – aka AQotMF.  This was a miniatures game of the Martian invasion of the world, ala H. G. Wells, with a hint of steampunk.  Taking place prior to WWI in the mundane world, the Kickstarter was a big success, receiving over $300,000.00 of the $50k target goal. The rules for the game were written by Rick Priestley, a seasoned game writer.  There was a lot of promise here.  Prototypes of the miniatures appeared in the Kickstarter leading us to all believe that the company had laid out all of the groundwork to be successful.

My Martians

They delivered product too, albeit many months late.  Some of the products, like some the big land battleships were not delivered, and other product was cancelled outright – with offers…

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The Last Spike by Columbia Games

The Last Spike
by Tom Dagliesh
Columbia Games
2-6 Players
age 12 and up

Every once in a while an established game publisher that has a well-defined swim lane decides to hesitantly stick its toe into something new and bold and interesting. Columbia Games has done that from time to time since their inception, way back in the early 70s. When I mention “Columbia Games”, most of us wargaming geeks think of Fog of War style boardgames with lavish maps and big block components that hide essential information from our opponents. Or if I mention Columbia Games maybe obscure role-playing types instantly envision the City State of Harn (ya got me; I’ve never seen it nor know how it’s played). In my mind, Columbia Games makes block-based historical games, of medium to high complexity and playable in a few hours. They’ve done a pretty good job at it, too, for the last 40 years.

A picture of the ancient 1976 version of THE LAST SPIKE (Gamma 2 Games)

Sometimes, however, they step outside the swim lane and try a Euro style game. I think that was the impulse that created the hockey card game SLAP SHOT, and a game I recently discovered, THE LAST SPIKE. The Last Spike dates back to the Gamma Two phase of Columbia Games’ existence, and was published in 1976. It is a “cooperative” stock-holding and tile placement game that simulates the land speculation that accompanied the expansion of the railroad across the North American continent in the 19th century.

The Last Spike, NEW version.  These are CITY CARDS (more on this later)

The components are up to the standard Columbia Games has maintained for decades; big wooden blocks (that you have spend time stickering), a lovingly detailed, yet abstract, map; and other component bits of generally high quality.  The track cubes being placed on blocks (vice counters as in version 1) is a nice touch; it ties in with a necessary random draw mechanic and also with Columbia’s “block wargame” brand.  The rulebook, oddly enough, is very short– basically a double sided piece of paper.

So How does it play?

Players are cast in the roles of rail barons in the Old West.  The goal is to collect as much money as possible from payouts on land speculation, before the last spike is laid.  The Last Spike is the signal to end the game.  Ostensibly the players are cooperating to build a continuous route from Saint Louis, MO to Sacramento, CA.  The map itself is a departure from all that loving calligraphy in CG’s historic wargames– there is no movement, so no need for hexes.. just track placement areas between cities where the players lay their track tiles.

Detail on the new map board (Laramie to St. Louis). Pretty, not exactly accurate, but pretty

As stated, the game is played with a map with spaces between cities.  The players have a chunk of cash (depending on number of players) represented by handy painted wooden chips in red, blue and white.  There are CITY CARDS (see picture above) that represent investment in the rail line between cities– in game terms these are like stock certificates or property cards in Monopoly.  Once a city is connected, the players that own these city cards get paid out depending on how many city cards they have.

The map depicts 9 cities and the track routes between them.  Each track route has four spaces between them in ascending order– A1-A4, etc.  Each turn begins by a player playing one track tile next to a city (and paying the bank the cost), or next to any existing tile– or pay double cost to place it anywhere.  If the player is the FIRST player to place a rail tile next to a city, he can get the first card for that city for free.  The City Card has higher payouts based on the number of cards you have, and that is indicated on the card (see picture, above) .

Two player game, first or second time, I can’t recall.. early in game

The game is touted as being cooperative (kind of) because the goal is to create a railroad that crosses the entire country from St. Louis to Sacramento, but I would call it semi-cooperative, as each player competes to make the most cash from payouts before the Last Spike is driven– there usually is a clear winner since the player that lays the last road tile gets a bonus of 20K.


Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be a big fan of The Last Spike on first glance.. it seemed overly simple and anything that involves stocks and railroads always gave off the vibe of watching paint dry for entertainment purposes.  I have to admit, I had it all wrong.  The Last Spike is more like a “historical themed Euro/family game” than a straight historical game, but I had to admire the guys at CG– the big outline of western railroad expansion is there– sort of.  If you squint a little.  This is not a perfect game by any means.  Two player play loses something.  Knowing what tiles YOU have and knowing there are a finite amount of other tiles generally gives you a lot of information that is hidden in games with more players.  Five or Six players is possible (I didn’t try it) but my guess is that would seriously drag the game.  Three or Four players is just about perfect.  Despite the theme, I found the game to be a ton of fun, because it builds on the anticipation and tension of the hidden placement of tiles.  Add to that the fact that the game plays absurdly fast once you get the hang of it, is easy to teach to just about anyone who wants to play, and delivers good entertainment for the money, and I’m sold.  I ended up liking and playing a railroad game!  Trust me, I’m not going to put on a Puffing Billy hat, but it was a fun time, and I’ve played it a few times now and liked every session.  I’d recommend it.


Christmas Chariot Racing!

It’s always fun to see what other people do with your designs.  Mr. Steve Price of the Berkeley Vale gaming club (UK) contacted me recently after downloading Fast Shuffle Combat Chariots with a few questions about the rules.  His club ran FSCC as one of their Christmas games and the after action reports indicate that fun was had!

Here you see a turn in process, initiative cards placed in the spina, chariots moving out and ramming each other!

Read the replay here.

Thanks for the interest, gentlemen, and I’m glad you had a good time with it.

FSCC can be found in the Digital Rules section, see the tab above.

Fast Shuffle Combat Chariots 1.2 released

A recent request for clarification on some minor happy to glads from a user in England about FAST SHUFFLE COMBAT CHARIOTS (FSCC) led to a minor edit and scrubbing of grammar, clarification of a few minor points and better language, also an introduction (by your humble correspondent).  I wrote FSCC back in 2006.  It was my first game on the Digital Rules page.. FSCC plays pretty fast and loose and certainly takes broad liberties with history– on the other hand it plays fast, is easy to teach and learn and can lead to some really funny situations.  It also emphasizes using a few decks of common playing cards as randomizers and cheap plastic chariots in HO scale, the scale of choice.  The game was designed to be a good intro game into historicals. I think I achieved what I was aiming at.  Anyway, if you have an interest it’s on the Digital Rules page, standard place.  Or what the heck, just click on the cover (above).

On an tangential note, the person inquiring into the rules ran it Christmas week, and all reports indicate it was a blast for his gaming group.  I hope to share his blog post when he completes it.

Mind Reading Experiment

Let’s do a mind-meld.  See my shirt?

Yeah, I know, I’m a real great model.  Dead sexy!

Imagine you’re a tiny, doll-sized person. Standing on the green circle with an X on it, imagine a number between 5 and 20. Starting with the FIRST BLANK GREEN CIRCLE, Walk that number of circles around the circle the same number of circles as your number. Stop. Reverse. Walk that same number of circles back, staying in the circle of white symbols until you hit your number.

Next, think real hard about your symbol, and Email or Comment me with a single word describing it.. SQUARE, MOON, CIRCLE, etc. Here’s the thing.  I’ve already guessed your answer and I’ll visualize my response back to you with an image– circle, square, triangle etc. Tell me if I’m right or not.  You may have to email me to not spoil for the next person.

Or, what the heck, just check here.  Was I correct?

Please, no snarky comments.  Sure, it’s a trick, and a danged fine one.  Thank you, Richard Wiseman.

A compendium of WLF Cars

Hi, White Line Fever fans.  I have had a recent user request to see how I fill out sheets for the vehicles I have created for WLF.  There’s more than 60 in my collection at the moment, and I don’t think I have every single one of them scoped yet, but certainly the vast majority of them are.

In any event, HERE is PDF of every car I have created stats for for White Line Fever.  Most of the cars have pictures posted here.

I hope this helps!


Because, some days, you just need to hang out with a Penguin

My tiny family and I decided to congratulate our progress in Christmas decor with a trip to the zoo yesterday, in Baltimore. I wanted to try the “close encounters with penguins” program the zoo has set up for educational purposes. The Baltimore Zoo has a huge amount of African Penguins, also known as jackass penguins. The species acquired this nickname from their deep hee-haw bellow, similar to a mule’s. Although penguins are a very social species of animal, that doesn’t always equate to “comfortable with humans“.
The Baltimore Zoo created special “Animal Ambassadors” from animals that have imprinted with and feel comfortable with human beings. In penguins terms these are penguins that don’t freak out around humans, rather they show a curiosity and almost flirtatious behavior with mankind. We met a pack of about six of these: Tails, Peach, Hope, Lilly, Dawn, and Winnie.

Winnie took an immediate shine to your humble correspondent, and came over to say hello at close range.

We were told that the younger trio of Ambassador penguins, Hope, Dawn and Lilly (they are all female to prevent some obvious problems) were still quite nippy as they were newer to interacting with humanity. Winnie, Peach and (usually) Tails were old hands with humans, and enjoyed interacting with them. Tails was in the middle of a catastrophic molt, which is a period where all feathers on the penguin fall off all at once and are replaced by new ones. During this time the penguin can’t swim and feels a little grumpy and vulnerable, which is how Tails approached us during our visit.

Far from being the nervous nippers they were characterized to be, Lilly, Dawn and Hope were surprisingly gentle and inquisitive.  Like any avian with shiny objects, Hope was attracted to my watch and wrangled with my hands trying to get it in her beak.

Most penguins are shy about humans, but don’t dislike them, especially when they are fed regularly by them. These penguins exhibited imprinting behaviors– attempting to preen non-existent feathers on human hands, nuzzling, and pecking (gently) at the humans, all very friendly.

Winnie is the most photogenic ambassador and a shameless, scene-stealing ham.

Poor Tails having a bad feather day. In the middle of a catastrophic moult, growing new feathers and feeling a little grumpy and vulnerable.

I don’t know much about penguins other than what the public perception might be from circuses, zoos, Happy Feet 1 and the Madagascar mmove. So it was a pleasant surprise (courtesy of Drey) to spend some time with the real item. If you haven’t tried out the Penguin encounters program at the Baltimore Zoo, it’s worth the time and money (about 45 USD a person).