Monthly Archives: October 2011

Going to FALL-IN! 2011 (audio file)

FALL IN! 2011 Art

A little blurb on FALL IN! 2011, what I’m going to try to get into, what I may be shopping for.  See you there!


Max Brooks and How to Survive a Zombie Attack

Zombie Survival Guide Cover

M. Brooks Famous Zombie Survival Guide

I managed to catch most of a session with Max Brooks, bestselling author of The Zombie Survival Guide, who shared “10 Lessons for Surviving a Zombie Attack” with the audience. Tonight’s session was part of the Fairfax County PL’s Meet the Author program, which I enthusiastically endorse. The session was very amusing, and I’m glad I dropped in to see this.

Max Brooks at the Fairfax County Government Center, 10/25/11

Max Brooks at the Fairfax County Government Center, 10/25/11

For the most part the talk was an amusing rambling about the subject of the modern American and preparing for something really, really bad affecting all of society.. in a nutshell, disaster planning. Mr. Brooks is quite funny, and had the audience laughing and clapping for most of the evening.

I own a copy of the ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE, and I can attest that the author did his homework on the idea of a catastrophe, considering things most movies and books overlook, like the problem of fresh water and potable food after production and purification has ceased.  Or what you do when you run out of bullets, or gasoline.

My only disappointment was that Mr. Brooks seemed genuinely hesitant to speak about the upcoming WORLD WAR Z movie that is filming with Brad Pitt as I write this.  Apparently he was cut out of the production process and although he is impressed with the production (and Brad Pitt, who held an umbrella over M. Brooks during a sudden rainstorm during filming), my impression was that he wasn’t ecstatic about being uninvolved with the final production of his novel.

Here’s Max Brooks on improvising melee weapons on a modern society:

(Direct Youtube Link for FB users)

His point being– don’t rely on your replica sword to fight zombies with, improvise something out of construction tools: they are made better, more durable, plentiful, cheap and most of all, legal.

At the very end of the evening, Mr. Brooks demonstrated his personal response to imminent Zombie grappling:

(Direct Youtube Link for FB users)

Thanks to the FCPL for a wonderful evening and to Mr. Brooks for visiting Northern Virginia.


This is a followup to a previous post with the Hexagon Find a Path Puzzle posted on 10-18. As usual for this blog, nobody bothered answering. No worries. Here’s a handy visual: Start at the Green dot, move along the … Continue reading

FALL-IN! 2011 Goes MOBILE!!!

picture of Guidebook on various platforms

Guidebook App on various platforms.

Announcing the Guidebook Smartphone App for FALL-IN! 2011!

HMGS is continuing our experiment in delivering critical convention information to individual users using smartphone technology this FALL IN. Working in partnership with Guidebookapp,com, We have created a limited beta of FALL-IN! electronic guides that download to your Iphone, Ipad, Ipod, or any Android phone.

FALL-IN! 2011 Guidebook Features:

— The entire convention schedule, that’s events, lectures, everything, available via a single guidebook app.

— Maps to the convention spaces.

— Vendor/Exhibitor information.

— A scheduler that will allow you to plan your entire time at the convention.. and it will alert you when an event is coming up by sounding an alarm.

— The ability to “Tweet” your current event to Twitter as you are playing it.

This is our first year using this service– we introduced Guidebook at HISTORICON 2011 and achieved 380 downloads from out of our five hundred downloads per convention limit, so we will still use the limited free service until demand exceeds supply. We may expand our downloads for future conventions if we discover that there is a big demand for Guidebook– but first we need to know if you will use it, or if it is indeed worth the effort for you.

BOTTOM LINE: there’s five hundred downloads. First come, first served. But if you download guidebook, HMGS would GREATLY appreciate feedback on how you use it, and what you would like to see added to it.

I (Walt O’Hara) punched in FALL-IN! 2011 and am collecting feedback from users at I am interested in what more I could add to the guidebook, as well as if we use up every one of the 500 guidebook downloads. This will give me more data on how to approach COLD WARS 2011. Thanks for your assistance in advance.

Walt O’Hara


The main page for the Guidebook app is here: or on it can be viewable on guidebookapp’s mobile site:

1. Get the app

For Android Phones:

The Guidebook app is available in the Android Marketplace for free.


For Apple Iphones, or Ipods, or Ipads:

The Guidebook app is available in the App Marketplace for free:


2. Install as you would a normal IoS or Android application.

3. Launch the application.

4. After the app is installed, a main menu item will be “Download the Guides”

You will see FALL-IN! 2011 prominently in the front page of downloadable guides. If you are in a spot with wireless or use a 3G/4G data network, it should drop down to your device promptly.

5. Once it’s on your device: You can select Schedule, Maps, Artist’s Row, Twitter, My Schedule, To Do List, Exhibitors, and General Info. That’s about it! Use and enjoy! You can get a rundown on the features here: link

For Blackberry Users:

For Windows Phone 7 Users:

Games: You can’t put the Genie back in the bottle

MrNizzAs far as boardgames are concerned, I grew up in a different era– an era of fewer publishers, offering in the aggregate maybe the same amount of games that get published today, but from a narrower range of publishers that often focused on the same subject matter.  Publishers tend to operate with a clustering approach towards markets, this is a phenomenon observed in more than one consumer product.  For instance, how many police procedural shows date back to the phenomenally successful HILL STREET BLUES and (more recently) the CSI collective series?  How many superhero movies have you seen in the past ten years after Spider-Man took off?  Repetition happens in every market, and gaming is definitely one of them.

Arguably the Avalon Hill Game Company started commercial wargaming in 1954 with the publication of Tactics, but the hobby didn’t really flourish until the late 70s and early 80s in my opinion, when we were seeing real giants of the genre being published– the Longest Day, Squad Leader, Up Front, etc. etc.  Likewise, a smaller company, TSR, had been publishing miniature wargame rules since the early 70s, took a gamble on a fantasy supplement to a medieval miniatures rule set called Chainmail, which begat a little game with tremendous implications, Dungeons and Dragons.  All this happened in the late 70s to early 80s, and the impact of it all was an explosion of novelty– new games, new ideas, new publications, new art– really, a whole new hobby.  As a teenager and young man, I ate this stuff up with a spoon.   The early 80s was a colorful era for gaming.   If giants didn’t exactly walk the earth, certainly an interesting cast of characters did– people like Gygax, Arneson, the Blume Brothers, Jim Dunnigan, Richard Berg, Lou Zocchi, Duke Siegfried and a host of other entrepreneurs, designers and  publishers trying to make a nickel and a dime on this explosively growing hobby.  They had one huge advantage that publishers of today do not:

It was all new back then.

Nowadays a publisher has two hurdles to overcome to make it in the publishing world.  The expectations of a newer generation who asks for everything bigger, brighter, newer and more distracting, and the heavy weight of a hobby that is no longer new and no longer as novel as it once was.   When you have 30 YEARS worth of published board wargames on a subject as eponymous as warfare in the Eastern Front of World War II, I fail to see how publishers think we will get excited about the latest (annual) published board wargame on the Eastern Front of World War II.  And yet, there they are, year after year, decade after decade now, games on the same subject with only a few acknowledged innovations in mechanics.

I don’t want to convey the wrong message here.  Games being made today are extremely impressive.  I had ship me a newer version of a game I adored when I was younger, Down in Flames (originally by GMT, now by DVG).  I played the earlier version constantly– forced it on my friends, they loved it and bought some of it too.. I don’t know what happened with this game and my expectations.  I think it was when the cards stopped being published in four color and started being published in full color.. around the time of ZERO! (by GMT, earlier version of DiF).  I just didn’t play that version that much, and the follow up Corsairs and Hellcats, went through the same flurry of enthusiasm only to be shelved forever.  Why is that?

Simple.  You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

I’m beginning to notice a law of diminishing returns for games that are based on well-trodden themes or reprints from my nostalgic past.  I’m not getting nearly as much enjoyment out of them.  Simply put, you can’t go home again.  You can’t make the idea of a game you’ve already played 20 years ago new again, no matter how hard you try.  Games are different.  And YOU are different.  You have those years of experience behind you that colors all those purchasing decisions.  And playing decisions.  I recall another favorite.. the old plastic box Illuminati games by Steve Jackson Games.  We played the hell out of that when I was a youngster.  So much so that the boxes wore out and the cheap components got worn to nubbins.  So when SJG released ILLUMINATI DELUXE, with color cards and money on poker chips, sometime in the 90s, I snapped it up.  We played it a few times, but the game was starting to age badly.  I bought the EVEN MORE deluxe version, sometime in the early 2000s, and guess what, I’ve yet to crack it open.  It’s not as fast as I remember it being, and the jokes have all been told once before.  Either Illuminati has aged badly, or I have.

This past year, as recounted in an earlier post, has really been a banner year for me in terms of purchases.  I have bought more games this year than in the last 7 years (mostly because of and few good preorder deals).  And again, to be brutally honest, I’m slow to play them all.  That’s a huge stack growing down there in the basement, and I’m starting to reign this nonsense in a bit.  Because I suspect I won’t play them all, and some day, sadly, I’ll consign them to a flea market table or re-gift a few of them.  But I’m fighting it.. I’m fighting it hard.  Wish me well.

It’s hard to shake that feeling of “been there, done that” after you have been around a hobby ALL of your adult life.  New games and new mechanics definitely show up now and then and they create a craze that is big, big big for a while, like DOMINION and card drafting games (this just didn’t grab me) or STONE AGE and worker placement games (still fun– see my earlier Alien Frontiers review, but for how long?) or NAPOLEON and block wargames, or PATHS OF GLORY and card-driven, area-movement wargames (rapidly showing its age after 15 years).

I guess, like every other aspect of a consumer culture, games customers need THEIR ration of newer, bigger, faster and more colorful to make the industry work.  Me, I’d just like to put the genie back in the bottle and enjoy games like I did when I was 20 years old.

The Northern Virginia political sign game

Political SIgns

Political Signs in Northern Va.. they dot the landscape this time of year

We have a traditional game for the traditional election season political sign glut that plagues our area every other Autumn.  The challenge is to try to say the names on every  sign as you pass them doing the speed limit– and for really large signs you vamp it a bit, “jazz hands” style. Back when there was one row of signs on the dividing strip, it was hard but doable.  By late October in Virginia, every square inch of space is used with triple and even quadruple rows of signs, making the “game” a inchoate mess to behold.  When you get candidates with polysyllabic or hyphenated names, it can be hilarious. 

Observe exhibit A: Driving on Old Keene Mill Road. (MP4 file from a phone camera, will launch in another window)

Soviet Dawn (State of Siege Series) reviewed.

Game cover

Image via Wikipedia

States of Siege: SOVIET DAWN

I’ve played a few of the States of Siege games created by Darren Leviloff and expanded by other designers from Victory Point Games, and by and large, I find them to be interesting and entertaining, but not really classic wargames.  Victory Point Games’ description of States of Siege games tend to bear his opinion out, as they refer to them as “storytelling games“.  Indeed, I suspect that might be the best descriptor for a solitaire game that really doesn’t feature combat in a classic board wargaming sense.  In almost every game in the series, the player is assigned a central position on a map, there are many tracks leading into that position with markers on them of some sort, and the game consists of playing event cards that move the markers– usually referred to as “Fronts” backwards and forwards on the track until they reach the center, or the game ends, or some other more obscure victory condition is met.   As a game, State of Siege games are only slightly above the level of Candyland in terms of mechanics.  As a storytelling/alternative history generator/teaching “experience”, State of Siege games can be quite entertaining, especially for a player that is somewhat versed in the game’s putative subject matter.    In my experience, I have not really enjoyed State of Siege games beyond the first couple of plays, because I find the gameplay is so simplistic it hardly matters what the outcome is.  If victory is avoiding “fronts” attacking the central position, well, it will happen or it won’t; it all depends on what cards are available when and how well you play them.

At least, that was my conclusion after five plays of my first purchase, the Israeli War of Independence.  After which, I put the game on a shelf and haven’t played it since.

I’ve played a few others since then, but have held off on actually buying any more, having arrived at the conclusion that the games’ basic mechanic was almost cookie-cutter in simplicity and I wasn’t going to bother with other games in a series that that didn’t appear to have a lot of strategic depth to it.   This was before the release of Soviet Dawn.  Soviet Dawn is a State of Siege game that covers a favorite historical period for me, the Russian Revolution, ensuing Civil War, Intervention, and Russo-Polish War, roughly from 1919 to 1922.

This is a time period that I have always maintained a high level of interest in.  A state of chaos had descended on Eastern Europe in the wake of World War One.  The old empires had fallen or were in the process of rapid collapse, and in their place arose the fringe element.  It was an interesting time, in the Chinese sense of the term, and perhaps no one place was more interesting than Russia in the wake of World War I, which experienced in rapid succession: the Abdication of the Czar, the collapse of the Eastern Front (and a separate peace with the Germans), the Provisional Government, the Russian Revolution, and the inevitable civil war between so-called “White” conservatives and Red Communists (with a heavy levy of nationalists, anarchists and foreign intervention to make the conflict interesting).   Surprisingly, for such a tiny game, much of that history is reflected in the design of Soviet Dawn– not as an order of battle and certainly not as part of the game mechanics, which are somewhat generic, but as part of the historical event cards that regulate the advance of “fronts” on all sides of Moscow during the conflict.  Darin Leviloff’s research was up to speed for SOVIET DAWN, and every conceivable event you can think of is reflected in the historical events.  The Event Deck has three “epochs” which change game play to a small extent– Twilight, Darkness and Dawn.  These equate to “Early War” “Mid War” and “Late War” for practical purposes.  Epoch phase deck are played sequentially and are “set off” by trigger cards– if you draw a trigger card, it triggers incorporating the next Epoch into the earlier deck, shuffling the larger deck and drawing from it.  In this manner the game does follow, more or less, the course of history without worrying about bothersome details like dates having to follow each other in a rigid timeline.  As in all STATE OF SIEGE games, the cards will activate 1 or 2 “front” pieces that will advance along a track unless the player intercedes in some fashion.  And like all STATE OF SIEGE games, if one of those fronts makes it to “home” (Moscow), the player must hang it up and try again.

If that was all there was to SOVIET DAWN, I wouldn’t be incredibly enthusiastic about it.  After all, the tactical options are almost meaningless.  There’s only such much enthusiasm I can muster for “if-I-roll-six-on-1D6-I-save-the-motherland” style mechanics.  However, Mr. Leviloff has added some very nice chrome to the design which I hadn’t noticed in other games– like the ability to enhance the Soviet military position by adding optional support units like the Red Army Tank Corps, the dreaded Cheka, or armored trains.  These in addition to the great historical text on the cards, gives this design the unique immersive flavor it so badly needs to be something other than just another STATE OF SIEGE game.

Add on top of that the political index, which rises and lowers through the play of specially marked event cards, is yet another way to win or lose the game.  I am enjoying that aspect of the game tremendously, as it adds to the historical flavor and makes it less of a stand up wargame.

In conclusion, SOVIET DAWN is a good, solid design about the emergence of the Soviet State.  The design will not surprise you unduly if you have played other STATES OF SIEGE games.  However, unlike other titles in the series I think this one might have the most replayability so far, due to the distinct historical flavor that Mr. Leviloff has added in.  SOVIET DAWN is one of my better Victory Point Game purchases, and it will get played again, if not exactly constantly, by this correspondent.  The contents are a very colorful map, 9 paged rulebook, front piece art, small die-cut counter sheet of about 20 counters and a series of thick cards made from card stock with what appears to be inkjet labels glued on top.  If you want to keep your game for a longer period before it dissolves from the oil in your fingertips, it is highly advisable to pick up some small, cheap card sleeves. The production values on this design struck me as being particularly good– colorful and very thematic in that grand deco art scheme that reminds one of Soviet propaganda from the period.   I am very enthusiastic about the publisher, Victory Point Games, as they seem to have single-handedly brought back the concept of the small, easy to afford microgame.  I’m a big fan of that notion in an era of 100 dollar boardgames that I may, or may NOT like.

SOVIET DAWN can be ordered on the Victory Point Games website, and costs 22.95.  There is an expansion for this game which offers a few more cards and counters, but I want to “play the game out” before buying an expansion, so I can’t comment on it.

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Hexagon Find a Path Puzzle 10-18-2011

We haven’t done one of these in a while, so I think it’s high time. Draw a SINGLE PATH from the GREEN DOT to the RED DOT, following grid lines, proceeding through EVERY GRID INTERSECTION and INCLUDES the THICK BLACK LINE. If you get stumped, ask me about the clues associated with the smaller, purple dots.

Hexagon Puzzler

Hexagon Puzzler 10-18-2011

Happy Birthday, Art Clokey

Mr. Clokey, for those of you who have trouble moving out from under that rock at times, was the creator of Gumbi, Pokey and other pioneering claymation characters.  Google honored him today by creating a custom animated claymation title for the main google page.

Google's art Clokey homage

A claymation homage to Art Clokey, age 90.

Applause! Well done, Google, well done.

John Travolta: Time Traveler.

Hollywood is developing an Eternity problem. Especially for actors in FACE/OFF! You may recall that Nicolas Cage is a vampire. As if we ever doubted it. Now we are presented with documentary proof that actor John Travolta is a real time traveler!

John Travolta, Time Traveler

on the left, Travolta in 1860s. on the right, Travolta in the late 2000s

And why shouldn’t Travolta jump back in forth in time, eh? The Church of Scientology certainly believes he can. According to the official Church of Scientology magazine Advance! (#130, pgs.22-23), an Operating Thetan claimed to have walked directly into the path of an oncoming truck but saved his own life by traveling in time to before he left his home. If just a regular Scientologist schmoe can do that, imagine how far back in time a huge, movie star, money-donatin’ Scientologist like Travolta can jump! The Civil War is nothing to these guys!

Of course, like the ears on the ancient Nic Cage photo, I have my doubts about the documentary evidence. It certainly looks like the spitting image of Travolta, but wow, the rest of his body is all out of proportion to his head. That’s a giant body for that tiny melon. So I’ll keep reserving my doubts until *I* can go back in time and meet Travolta and Cage back there in the anti-bellum past. Still, it’s danged amusing, I must admit.

Here’s an appropriate closer:

Captain American Ramblings

Cap'n America hisself.

“Movies you probably already have seen and don’t care much about” podcast…

Audio file hosted here:

Verdict, ecccch.. it was okay. Pretty fun in parts. Pretty much a setup for the Avengers, which had better be titanic at this stage.

Recorded on my Ipad2 after seeing Captain America at the University Mall bargain theater, in the parking lot of my daughter’s school. So excuse the crude audio, please.

Games Workshop’s DREADFLEET, many years after Man O’ War…

Yes, those jerks finally found a chink in my armor. Alas, it was a Galleon sized chink in my armor.. a boxed fantasy naval warfare game, years after Man o’ War, the one Games Workshop game that I lusted after back in the glory days– only to find out it was out in the American market for all of six weeks or something like that. So, yes, indeed.. Games Workshop has produced something that has kinda sorta made me go back on my self-imposed boycott of their pricey products. Sorry, can’t help it. It’s a fantasy naval combat game. With cool bits. and great looking ships.. all in a huge scale not too dissimilar to my extensive Uncharted Seas fleets. I was hooked! In my defense, I didn’t give GW the money directly, I went through a reseller– knowing that like all secondary or limited edition games, it was buy now or buy never.

Box, copyright Games Workshop 2011

So my spine isn’t entirely made of jello. Right? Right?

To business: The game is DREADFLEET. It appears to be similar to old Man o’ War, but the focus and scope of the older game has shifted dramatically– the ships are much larger and individualized, not fleets. The focus of the mechanics appears to be single ship engagements, as in one to one pirate ship battles. They could easily work in the 1:600 Uncharted Seas Scale. Like many Games Workshop products, they are lovely, gothic, imposing and weird. I did stop by a group playing a game of it tonight and the mechanics seem a lot simpler than Man O War was, but frankly that was back in the 90s and I can’t remember how the game played, to be honest. I can’t really comment on the mechanics as the players were trying to figure it all out and going very slow.

Description: Dreadfleet is a boxed game for two (or more) players that includes everything you need to make war on the turbulent seas of the Warhammer world. At your command are two fleets of ships – the Dreadfleet led by the Vampire Count Noctilus, aboard his gargantuan sea-hulk the Bloody Reaver; and the Grand Alliance commanded by the Pirate Captain Jaego Roth, who recently stole the Heldenhammer – the pride of the Imperial Fleet, and one of the largest galleons to ever sail the high seas.

As your ships engage in furious battle, it’s down to you, the fleet captain, to make important split-second decisions. Do you bring all guns to bear on the closest enemy warship, or do you sail into position for a furious broadside? What happens when the warship catches fire, or worse, the powder kegs ignite? Exactly how much punishment can your warship take before it sinks without a trace? Are those Undead seagulls or flying piranha fish? And, when all else fails, do you have the courage to ram your foe, board their ship, and engage them in a duel to the death? — GW Dreadfleet website”

Here’s some visuals:









Games Workshop is claiming they didn’t rush this to market to compete with Uncharted Seas and that (furthermore) they don’t much care what Spartan Games gets up to. I think otherwise. I think this is designed to compete directly with Uncharted Seas by eating into their market share with a release of a reprise of the grandaddy of fantasy naval games. It’s all about name recognition, right?