Monthly Archives: September 2011

Nicolas Cage: Vampire


Has actor Nicholas Cage existed since the 19th century? Possibly before? Observe the photographic evidence for yourself:

Proof? That N. Cage is a Vampire? Wait, we've seen him in daylight..

The Photograph on the right dates back to the American Civil War and is alleged to depict a Confederate Officer and prisoner of war. The photograph recently went on sale on Ebay for one million dollars. The description pimped the astounding resemblance between the subject of the photograph and Mr. Cage, the Hollywood actor. The item was either purchased (by Mr. Cage, covering his tracks, perhaps? He could afford it) or has been withdrawn from sale. Here’s a little more information. Personally, I think it is an astounding resemblance.. The only thing throwing me is the left ear, which seems to be at a weird angle from the angular and perhaps a tad more symmetrical Mr. Cage. Well, who knows, maybe vampires can get a little work done.

I’d dismiss this as just a spectacular coincidence, were it not similar to the plot of an average Nicolas Cage film. See for yourself!

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Aside

In honor o` the august occasion of Talk Like a Pirate Day, I will post all comments on Facebook an’ Twitter in Gentleman o’ fortune speech, but blog posts here be in regular plain speech, as they are read the … Continue reading

New App Reviews: RED ROVER: THE WAR TO END ALL WARS and EN GARDE


It has been a while since I posted an app review, but since I’m not seeing these covered anywhere I thought I’d post my impressions on two recent app purchases for my shiny new Ipad 2.

First of all, general impressions: there’s much more stuff coming out for the Ipad than the Ipod/Iphone or Android platform right now, but I can see why– the distribution is locked and centrally controlled, and the IOS app market still seems to lead in market share.. That’s changing.  I’m certainly seeing some interesting stuff coming out in support of board and card games on the Android lately, and I intend to do a review on a few of them in the not so distant future.  For one thing, I’m seeing fan versions of games like Androminion and Thunderstone, and generic (non-GW) miniature army builders on Android but not Ipad.  Why is that? Anyway, to business:

RED ROVER: THE WAR TO END ALL WARS
Mantid Interactive, programmed by Barry Geipel
3.99 as of this date, Ipad only

Setup

Flash/Intro screen.

I’m predisposed to like stuff from Mantid after buying their excellent Tall Ships: Age of Sail for the Ipod Touch, which I really like.  Red Rover, however, is proving to be a challenge.  The Specifics:

Play type:  Option 1 (above) Head to Head real time (using the same device– Red Rover is designed to be played this way), or via Option 2 (above) on the Internet real time.  In the interests of full disclosure I have tried to play an Internet game but not had any luck finding players, so I will not comment on Internet play.  There is no AI player included, which is really too bad– I could see this becoming a fun time-waster game solitaire.

Visuals: Red Rover is historically themed; the graphics and interface represent a battlefield of World War One from the top down.  One player is a German player, one an English player.

Roles: Players play … well, not Generals per se, but maybe Colonels— committing troops, support weapons, tanks and other assets into an ongoing battle on the Western Front.

Game Setup

Setup screen, not many controls

Design and Interface: the software interface is designed for two players sitting down at a single Ipad, each commanding his or her side of the Ipad.  There’s really only four screens to this game– the initial flash screen, the setup, the battle and the victory.

Setup is somewhat meaningless as the battle is customizable in real time– that means pulling units from categories such as Infantry, Artillery, Air Support, Armor, and obstructions for armor and infantry. You CAN change the lethality of the game somewhat by increasing the randomness level of attacking in Setup; this is recommended for reasons I will expand on.

battle in progress showing Supply depots (circled) and aeroplanes (arrows)

Battle in Progress, showing supply depots (circled) and airplanes (pointed)

Units are tied very closely to SUPPLY DEPOTS (circled, in the graphic above).  These are little clusters of boxes and such that are on the edge of the map.  Supply depots provide supply points to replace units with as they get annihilated on the battlefield (which happens quite a bit).  Supply depots have to be defended at all costs, because once they are gone, the game is essentially over and just a matter of who lost a supply center last.   Units on the ground have a high degree of interactivity, meaning that each one has strengths and weaknesses that dovetail with other units’ strengths and weaknesses.   As the game’s help screens say, the real strategy of the game, such as it is, is in choosing units.  For instance, you can put down wire which impedes the infantry quite a bit.  You can put down artillery which can shoot over things and hit units far away (like supply centers).  You can put down armor which is slow but is impeded by tank traps.   Mantid gets high marks for that approach, but it does expose a weakness in the design of the game– airplanes.

Airplanes can fly over everything in the game and attack supply centers (or really, anything else) on the far end of the field.  That’s fun eye candy but is a serious flaw in the balance of the game– planes are tough enough to fly to the edge of the field without getting massacred– since everything in this game only fires straight ahead a plane only has to worry about what the enemy places in front of it.  Through the simple expedient of ignore history and just sending swarms of fighter aircraft on strafing runs over supply depots, you can quickly overwhelm the defender’s resources if he commits to a broad defense.  My 13 year old son discovered this and after we played about ten games, pronounced RED ROVER as being “broke”.  I don’t think it’s quite that bad but it is easy to figure out and the only variable I can find to throw in to stop the trend is to increase the damage variability, and that is a slender reed.

End Game

End Game and Victory

In summary, after about 13 games or so, I found Red Rover to be a bit disappointing as a military game– it certainly isn’t a wargame by my measurement, but it is a decent military themed arcade game. I think if units were allowed to fire sideways (at least the artillery and infantry) that might helped increase the tactical feel of Red Rover. Also, giving SOME unit a better check against airplane attacks would be highly recommended. I’d give it a strong C or C+ for the graphics, interaction between units and what I perceived to be a lack of balance and lack of AI player. Not a bad effort, but not up to the standard set by Mantid’s Tall Ships game.

In the interest of fairness, Barry Geipel (Mr. Mantid) points out that supply centers can be rebuilt– a crucial point to surviving. I have found myself overwhelmed by the aircraft swarm using a tactic that was costly to a wargamer, but maybe not to a 13 year old boy (my son, in fact). Rebuilding supply centers does alleviate this, as well as building trenches to attack aircraft.

Red Rover is available on Itunes

EN GARDE
by Centaur Studios
3.99 at Itunes as of this date

Title

Title/Flash Screen

En Garde is an old Knizia game that I have been eager to see ported to the Ipad or Ipod touch.  For those of you who have no experience with it, En Garde is a very loose simulation of fencing using 23 squares to represent a fencing piste, and a set of cards to move up and down the piste in movements that simulate attack and defense, advance and retreat, just like in a fencing match.  The rules for the board game are located here.  Players start at each end of the “piste” and are dealt a series of cards with numbers ranging from 1 to 5.  There are a limited number of these cards in the deck (five total, I believe) and the numbers indicate the number of spaces your marker (fencer) will move.  When you land on a square inhabited by an opponent, that is an attack, which can be defended or retreated from.  Again, I’m predisposed to like this app; En Garde is in my top three Knizia games of all time and is a great candidate for an app game.

Opponent Selection

Opponent Selection.

En Garde is a game I have played many times, most recently as a ported game into the Virtual World of Second Life, an experience that is somewhat different in terms of game play than the source board game, but retains the critical elements of your hand, the piste space and the fencing theme.
The big difference between virtual EN GARDE and the boardgame (and boardgame app) is a relatively minor quibble, the levels of play. In Knizia’s original Abacus Spiele game, the board was introduced in a series of programmed levels, Basic, Standard and Advanced.. Basic was the simplest version of En Garde ever.. if you had exactly the number card needed to land on the enemy space, the attack goes home. Standard level adds defense, and advance level adds the capability of combined move&attack. In the version I have played several times in Second Life, “Advanced” is basically “just En Garde” so that is what I am used to. The App En Garde follows the published rules to the letter, and has a Basic, Standard and Advance level, all of which must be endured to UNLOCK more advanced features (See picture above). Maybe it’s just me, but I loathe that element of some game designs. Why should I unlock features in a game I have ALREADY PAID FOR? A player should have a way to bypass this.

Fencing

Fencing Portion of the Game, much like the board game

As you can see, the fencing portion of the game plays in a fashion faithful to the boardgame, after a fashion. I was confused to why I could not manage a combined attack until I went to the developer’s website and read a little about their design philosophy. That is a site worth a visit. I consider myself a fairly experienced EG player, yet I have consistently been beaten by the AI opponent, who is either lucky or just plain good.

Games are Single versus AI or multiplayer on a site called YOURTURNMYTURN, which I have never used before and cannot comment upon. I am encouraged to read (again, on the website, not the in game help) that the Master level is supported via internet multiplayer level play on Yourturnmyturn– in other words, you can turn off the rather stupid “locking” restrictions for single players. In all other respects the App is faithful to the board game.

In summary, I’m not as thrilled with this app as I thought I’d might be, but I am relatively pleased with it– I think the locked levels idea is a bad design element that detracts from play. Otherwise, I like En Garde and am glad I purchased it. A solid B to B+ for interface design and porting the essence of the ORIGINAL (fencing themed) game to app form, marked down somewhat for silly restrictions that make no sense.

En Garde is available at the App Store

National Capital Model Soldier Society show, Annandale,VA


I had the pleasure to attend the National Capital Model Soldier Society’s annual show at the Ernst Center on NOVA CC’s Annandale campus on Saturday, 9/10. I am what miniature painters might consider “workmanlike” in my approach to miniature painting, when they are being kind. This means that the units look pretty good in a group but not close up. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the art of miniature painting, and I love to see outstanding miniature soldier painting work.

NCMSS show

Hussar

Assorted 54mm figures

There’s a lot of everything at these shows– dioramas, figures, stuff for sale, terrain, art by Keith Rocco, and juried shows.

Vampire Priest

NOVAG

NOVAG was there, to run demonstrations and hand out leaflets. Pretty good exposure.

Lancer

The Awesome Destructive Power of Water


In the wake of Hurricane Irene and the followup storms Jose and Katia, the area I live in experienced torrential downpours and flooding for several days running. The erosion impact of the attendant surge on suburban creeks and streams has been pretty ugly, but not (I thought) devastating, until I noticed this closed road near my house in Northern Va.

collapsed bridge

That’s right, the creek washed out the bridge and most of the road.

road collaps

It doesn’t appear to be over yet, in fact.. this road has major cracks in it that are on a bed of red clay.. One more tropical storm like last week, and this is all going to slide into the creek bed.

collapse

more collapse

bridge from below

Same view from below

smile everyone

Smile everyone, it’s the holocaust

silt

Check out the silt build-up…

pipes

roots exposed

Tree roots exposed by the bank washing away

for sale

Given the events of the previous week, this sign seemed both poignant and gently ironic..

It’s amazing how much power is locked up in water, isn’t it?

Aside

Follow up to Hammerin’ Iron 2 Review I didn’t know any 1:1200 scaled manufacturers when I typed up the recent Hammerin’ Iron 2 review.  Now I do. NAVWAR Miniatures has a very nice 1:1200 ACW era ironclads line.  They are … Continue reading

Japanese Ship Visit


Last month, three Japanese naval ships, The JS Kashima, JS Asagiri, and JS Mineyuki visited Norfolk following a training exercise with the U.S. Navy.
The Japanese Navy pays Norfolk a visit

Photobucket

The ships are part of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Training Squadron bringing along 750 sailors and officers with 150 newly commissioned ensigns.

Kempeii
The Children give a traditional shout of Kempeiii!!! to our Japanese allies. They appreciated it.

The purpose of the visit was to provide an opportunity for sailors and officers to understand the important relationship between the JMSDF and U.S. Navy.

Hammerin’ Iron 2 rules review


At the recent GUNS OF AUGUST convention in Williamsburg, VA, I was fortunate to experience a game of HAMMERIN’ IRON 2 demonstrated by the chaps at the Rules for the Common Man branch? subsidiary? of Peter Pig miniatures, namely Martin Goddard, Andy Barnett, Ralph and Sam Ashdown. The RFCM was demonstrating Hammerin’ Iron in rapid rotation all weekend long for whomever wanted to sit down and play, either a full up game or smaller demos. I have to commend Mr. Goddard for his patience, grace and good cheer as he managed to rapidly move his players through several back to back games of civil war naval mayhem.

Martin Goddard

Martin Goddard (center) explaining the finer points of hammering iron, and we don’t mean a blacksmith demonstration.

RFCM games tend to boil down and strip away mechanics until they arrive at what they consider the essence of the historical experience they are trying to portray with the game. AK-47 Republic, for example, is all about unit-building & army creation, patrolling, and surprise encounters with a range of exotic force types. Square Bashing is World War One trench warfare at it’s most abstract, in a design where the the grid terrain becomes the core mechanic of the game. So, too, have the RFCM team reduced the civil war naval gaming experience to a very narrow look at riverine combat.

“Narrow” is one of those words that is often misconstrued as a negative descriptor, as in lacking options or not possessing sufficient breadth.  In the instance of Hammerin’ Iron 2, ‘narrow’ is not meant as a negative, just to describe the fact that the rules are a treatment of a randomly created, generic, somewhat ahistorical instance of river combat during the American Civil War.  The game system can possibly recreate historical scenarios from the war, but I would not recommend it for reasons that I will touch upon later in this post.   With that said, for what it does, it does very well indeed and is a very entertaining game experience– just don’t expect  a very historical setup or outcome.

Hammerin’ Iron 2 is a game that recreates a generic clash between ships on an unnamed river sometime during the American Civil War.  The river should be represented by a cloth, preferably overlaid with a hex grid of about 3 inches in size if one is playing with 1:600 scale miniatures.

And another ship sunk
Hex size from Peter Pig’s specialized game mat, showing a sinking ship Wreck marker in it for scale.

Ships use hexes for movement and firing, and there are a few options that a perspective player might take for that.  One is the use of a blank (presumably blue) sheet of cloth, and to make a series of independent hexes of the same general size (the rulebook states a hexagon made from an inscribed 5″ circle, which seems roughly 3″ between vertices).  The ship is placed in the center of the hexagon, pointing 90 degrees perpendicular to a hexagon’s edge and the broadsides of the ship square on to the hex’s side points as it turns and/or fires.  This is a fairly elegant visual for determining line of sight, broadsides and a simple resolution for facing.  When the ship moves and turns, free hexes are placed on the side of the hexagon the ship is moving towards or turning into.  The rules refer to this system of placing hexes as the “Free Hex system”.  I find this charming and simple and I can’t believe I never thought of it.. it’s so straightforward and easy!

Free Hex Movment Example

Free Hex Movment Example: on the left, an ironclad in a free hex, aligned properly. On the right, an ironclad executing a turn (speed 3) and moving two hexes (pink) laid directly in the line of movement.

The rules tend to favor the hex cloth style of movement first and foremost and the Free Hex system is edited in where the movement systems diverge from each other (which isn’t often).    The three inch (ish) hexagons seem suited for the 1: 600 range of ACW naval miniatures that Peter Pig sells (Range 7 from their catalog).  Most of them are small enough to float in the center of a hex with no overlap– the only exceptions being (perhaps) truly mammoth boats like the Hartford, Blackhawk and New Ironsides.

Terrain is  quite important for Hammerin’ Iron 2, because the same terrain bits are used in this game, over and over again.  They are:

A 5′ x 3′ Sheet to represent a river— either printed with 3″ hexagons (as stated above, and for sale from Peter Pig, obviously)

Peter Pig's Official River Mat

Peter Pig's Official River Mat, marked with terrain on the sides to put "Land" on.

Failing that, you must use a blank sheet (blue) with the Free Hex System described above and reserve about a half-hex worth of space on either side with suitable terrain to depict the shoreline on both sides of the river.

A Fort– small, medium or large– is placed by the Defender. Like the game mat and ship models, the fort is available in a few variations from Peter Pig or their distributors.

Fort from Guns of August Demo

Fort from the Guns of August Demo

2 Islands— created by tracing the hex in a five hexagon pattern. There should be two, one flat (ideal for forts) and one slightly overgrown. The islands are placed semi-randomly during the setup portion of the game, but the defender has some influence over the process (so he can point his fort weapons strategically). You can see the flat island in the picture of the fort, above.

Land Objective (a series of scale buildings located in one of the shoreline hexes). These should be placed where they can be reached by naval bombardment, as they are a victory condition of the game. The attacker is tasked with reducing these.

The Onandaga takes on the Ablemarle
As the Onandago takes on the Ablemarle, the Ships on the right flank reduce the Transports Objective.

3 Sandbar hexes.  You will have three hexes that play the role of Sandbars in the game.. Sandbars can be placed by the Defender to channel the movement of the Attacker (say, towards the fort guns). In the picture below, An island (center, with fort) has three sandbar hexes placed next to it (right) to channel movement of the Union (attacking) fleet directly in front of the Fort Guns. Hexes must be placed contiguous to each other.. somehow.

Our first ironclad meeting a grisly fate after steaming over the Confderate mines.
Island, center. Sandbar, top right, 3 hexes worth.

The Shoreline Terrain to cover about half a hex worth on either side, all the it way up and down the river terrain mat (or sheet).

Note that these are part of the rules.. you can’t, for instance, add volcanoes or waterspouts or giant octopods– this game uses placement of the same terrain pieces to custom build a unique scenario every time.   The rules describe the process of setting up the generic river in some depth and are quite thorough on the subject.

Of course, there’s ship models.  Peter Pig has a nice range of ACW era naval ship models in their Hammerin’ Iron line (range 7), but one should not hesitate to add ships to the mix from other manufacturers or scales.  I have no idea what the hex size would be for 1:1200 scale, for instance, but I know there are some very nice miniatures lines in that scale.  Bay Area Yards and Thoroughbred Models make ships compatible with the Peter Pig resin models, so they should also be considered.  The prospective player should realize that there are very strict procedures for defining the point values for ships based on a complex formula that encompasses tonnage, gunnery type, and armor.  Each ship is assigned a hit point value not to exceed 50 points a ship and each side, attacker and defender, must start with a fleet no more or less than six ships– a restriction that enforces play balance and discourages designing one or two very tough ships that are almost impossible to sink (a phenomena the RFCM refer to as “The Yamato Syndrome”).  The point value of the ships in range 7 are available online in the files section of the RFCM Yahoo Group– which is pretty handy as it can save you a few steps. Fleet composition is further modified by removing a random ship from the defender side to compensate for the fort and also to determine what turn the the defender’s ships will enter the battle space.  It is possible for a battle to conclude without every ship committed to the battle to actually be present because they haven’t arrived yet.

Once you have defined a ship the pertinent information (especially the hit points) are recorded on the ship chart (available as a PDF download)  and ship hits and damage are recorded as the occur in combat.

Building a fleet
Building a six-ship fleet.  Ship Status Sheets under the ships.

Movement is a matter of moving 0,1,2,3 or 4 hexes, which is a factor of speed.  A ship can be rated fast or normal– most ships are rated normal, and the fastest (four hex speed) ships are blockade runners.   Players are given an allotment of little order cards that are placed face down next to their ships– order cards are either SMOKE (which are mostly movement oriented) or GUN PORTS (which are mostly firing orders).   When it is their ship’s turn the card is revealed and the ship moves and/or fires.

order cards
Order Cards deployed.

I think fire combat in HI2 is fairly straightforward.  Since every ship is always pointing towards a flat side of a hex, firing a broadside becomes very easy to figure out– a ship is either at an angle to be hit or not, and it’s very obvious.  The front and rear arcs are described by the width of the hex side you are facing.   The standard restrictions for line of sight etc. apply.  Since most combat takes place withing 3 hexes it’s pretty easy to figure out at a glance.  Resolution occurs via the big modified bucket of D6 method.

Onandaga executing a Gun Port card on the Shore objective
USS Onandaga (piloted by the author) executing a GUN PORT card Fire order on the Shore Objective, four warehouse buildings.

Ramming is also straightforward, and follows a series of steps which checks the angle of approach,  allows the targeted ship a change to fire a reaction broadside, then the ram goes home.  Resolution by giant bucket of six siders.

Damage reminded me a little bit of SILENT DEATH in that the player maintains a ship status chart and most importantly a record of damage “hit” points.  As the ship takes damage, the points are checked off.  When the player hits or passes a multiple of five (5, 10, 15, 20, etc.), he checks for critical hits on a standard “bad things happen” chart.  When the points go below a threshold the ship enters into the “Battered” state and a marker is placed on the sheet.  The ship’s performance becomes quite degraded in a battered state.  When the ship runs out of points, it sinks and a wreck marker is placed where the ship was.

Defender deploys mines
The Defender can deploy Mines, a form of Asset that is purchased during Scenario Build. Mines can be quite nasty.

Combat has some other nuances beyond moving and firing and ramming– there are Assets that are part of the scenario build part of the game. These are “extras” like submarines, army support, torpedo boats and mines. Asset combat — such as it is, is really handled like a random event on a chart. Still, they can be quite nasty when deployed. In the game I played, A submarine took out the CSS Arkansas (see below) and mines took out a union Ironclad.

submarines vs. Arkansas

A Union submarine asset (The USS Alligator?) takes out the CSS Arkansas

Hammerin’ Iron 2 rules have many elegant elements– victory conditions are perhaps the most noticeable of them. HI2 is a game recreating a very inequal historical contest. The Confederates were operating under severe disadvantages– they didn’t have an industrial base broad enough to create ships with the same level of technological advances as the Union. In a toe-to-toe fight, ship to ship, the Confederates will likely lose more often than not. Thus, the designers added in elements that balance the game in other ways so the Rebs have a chance at victory. In summary, I would certainly recommend Hammerin Iron 2 to both novice and experienced wargamers. It is very easy to follow and pick up. There will be some setup costs associated with the game outside of just buying ships– terrain, especially. I don’t consider them to be especially egregious. The mechanics will probably be criticized for being ‘too gamey’ by lovers of games like IRONCLADS by Yaquinto. The balancing elements– delayed arrival of ships, victory conditions, restrictions on six ships only in both fleets– these do seem artificial when you are reading about them before playing the game. In practice, I found HI2 to be very enjoyable to play and quite engrossing right up to the end. I was impressed enough to purchase the rules right then and there and plan on running this game myself in the future– it may become my “go to” game for conventions for ACW riverine scenarios. I will still run other ironclads rules when I want something more historical, but for a great game, with a lot of excitement and fun associated with it, I’m going to turn to Hammerin’ Iron 2. Strongly recommended for clarity, simplicity and entertainment.

Related:
Peter Pig Website’s HI2 Page
RFCM Yahoo Group (contains spreadsheets, PDFs for the game)
Thoroughbred Models (ships)
Bay Area Yards (ships)

Supplemental Post on 1:1200 scale ACW information