Monthly Archives: June 2012

8 Red Shirts in Search of a Scalzi. REDSHIRTS reviewed

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine Luigi Pirandello is trying to write a Rashomon style plot set in the universe of a hack SF TV show– not Star Trek, that’s too obvious, but one of the really horrendously bad ones like Space Rangers (1993). And instead of focusing on the lead actors, he inexplicably creates POV characters out of all the extras standing around the bridge looking busy or the cannon fodder from “away teams”– once you wrap your mind around that scenario, you’re pretty much picking up on the vibe that is REDSHIRTS.

(VERY minor spoilers follow)

From the Adventurer's club blog.

John Scalzi’s new novel hits on all 8 cylinders. REDSHIRTS is a recursive, philosophical, fourth-wall breaking funfest that loosely surrounds the activities of a group of allegedly minor characters that are always conveniently in the background of major actions that formulate hack SF plot points. What happens when they start to compare notes about the casualty rates among red-shirted ensigns? What happens when they realize their reality (and more importantly, their personal fates) are inextricably linked to that of a crappy TV show redolent with bad writing and plot holes all the other tropes one would expect from a bad basic cable SF show? REDSHIRTS is a story told in three parts (or “Codas”) where the POV shifts from a particularly intelligent Redshirt who figures out the connection between the inexplicable number of deaths on his ship to a bad television show, to writer haunted by the spectre of the consequences of his bad writing, to a young man who is given a second chance by the intrusion of the show’s reality into our reality, to a woman who gets a glance at an alternative reality starring herself. All of the Codas are part of the same sequence of events framing the same central characters; what transpires in the first Coda effects them all in very different ways. As always, Scalzi demonstrates wonderful, adroit skill with the dialogue pen. His snarky dialogue is the best thing about this book– even in the oddest situations the characters seem natural, believable, and above all, funny.

REDSHIRTS is an outstanding idea and hugely creative, one of the most interesting works of SF (sort of SF?) to come along in a while, and wonderfully executed by Mr. Scalzi. Bravo, Sir.

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Your History Moment: Reno the Peeper

(expanded from a Pinterest Post)

RENO THE PEEPER: Today’s Your History Moment is presented in honor of the Anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn.   Major Marcus Reno, Custer’s Senior Staff Officer and second in command, led a shabby post Little Big Horn career.

After the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Reno was assigned the command of Fort Abercrombie in December 1876, he was charged with making unwanted advances toward the wife of another officer of the 7th Cavalry, Captain James Bell, while Bell was away from the fort. An Episcopal minister, the Rev. Richard Wainwright, was staying with the Bells, and became concerned enough about Reno’s behavior to persuade Capt. Bell to file charges against Reno for immoral conduct.  Complaints of public indecency we duly filed but dropped by the Commander of the 7th, Col. Samuel Sturgis.  Most of the incidents happened at parties and public gatherings where copious amounts of alcohol were consumed, and in the 19th century U.S. Army on the Plains, being a drunkard hardly made you a standout.

Responding to charges of cowardice and drunkenness at the Little Big Horn, Reno later demanded and was granted a Court of Inquiry. The court convened in Chicago in January 1879, and called as witnesses most of the surviving officers who had been in the fight. Enlisted men later stated they had been coerced into giving a positive report to both Reno and Benteen. The court reporter who contacted General Nelson Miles, then head of the Army, later wrote that the entire inquiry was a whitewash. While the court did not sustain any of the charges against Reno, neither did it single him out for praise.

Once court-martialed for drunkeness and conduct unbecoming an officer, and having survived a Regimental Court of Inquiry that was hardly a prop to his reputation, one might have thought the chastened Reno would have turned over a new leaf and applied himself, but that did not happen.  A second, and far more damning incident where Reno was witnessed peeping at the daughter of his commanding officer,  Col. Sturgis, while she was dressing, occurred.  This time, (to no one’s great surprise) Col. Sturgis was in a less forgiving attitude towards Reno.  The second court martial resulted in Reno being kicked out of the army, where he lived in obscurity & poverty until age 54 in 1889.

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Tabletop Army Managers: One area the Ipad doesn’t excel in (yet)

I’m a miniatures wargamer, and have been most of my adult life.  I like owning an Ipad and find it useful for ALL kinds of endeavors.  It would be logical to get the two pastimes to synch up so the Ipad can help to play wargames.  You’d think it would be a natural.  I already read books and magazines on an Ipad, reading wargame rulebooks would be a no-brainer.  And one feature that I thought would be simple enough has proven to be elusive– Army Managers and Army Creators on the Ipad.  The function I’m describing is the ability to enter tabletop army function into an application, and have it spit out a roster that could read directly on the Ipad, or sent to a printer.  Again, this seems like a natural to me, and not to hard to create using something like Microsoft Access.  Just time consuming.  So I was glad to learn there were some purpose made Army Generator/Manager apps in the App store.  That is, until I started to buy a few:

I looked into a few under “Army Generator” or “Army Manager” in the App Store

Sean Rogers Quartermaster

Sean Rogers Quartermaster

Sean Rogers’ QUARTERMASTER seems to have a tight interface and the necessary one-to-many relationships required to make an Army Manager possible. Yet, Mr. Rogers states up front that this is a Warhammer and Warhammer 40K app only, and frankly I have no use for it. I don’t play Warhammer and the App is hard wired to only run that.

So, we eliminate that one.

I also took a look at Broken Ninja’s ARMY GENERATOR app. It seems more generic than QUARTERMASTER but frankly I got scared away by the very bad reviews on Itunes.

Team Broken Ninja Wargame Army Builder.

It’s supposed to be buggy, but it actually does look like it could generate an actual generic fantasy, non-Games Workshop related army list.. I may have to revisit this.

Sadly, I did get rooked into buying a couple, starting with IRoster Fantasy (See below). I think the wording might have been more generic, or it was simple wish-fulfillment on my part.. I didn’t WANT it to be another GW tabletop army list maker, so I sort of invested the time and effort to give it a shot, which I’ll try to portray here. Before I get started with screenshots, I’ll describe my test case for utilizing an Ipad Army Roster app.

Requirements: Easy to use, customizable, able to define or work with armies that aren’t hardwired for a particular game system. The user SHOULD be able to create his or her own races, their own classes, their own statistics, their own army structures, from whole cloth. There should be a range of flexibility to the design– like many Windows based army generators enjoy.

As my test case, I tried to enter in an “Army” (really a fleet) from UNCHARTED SEAS. You might say, hey, that’s no fair! But they are points-based, divided into factions, and easily definable. It SHOULD be a natural, yes? Erm, no, as it turned out.

iRoster Fantasy

iList Fantasy utility

While I admire the look and feel of this Simon Genest’s iRoster Fantasy app, it became immediately apparent that the Fantasy in iRoster Fantasy is only supporting fantasy as interpreted by the Games Workshop company. The following screenshots are an attempt by me to “cheat” the app into creating a roster for my Uncharted Seas Thaniras Elves fleet. It was a dismal failure.

iRoster: new List

iRoster: creating new list

Already, it’s not living up to my expectations as defined above. I can’t even define the name of the fleet, I have to pick from GW’s list of Fantasy armies.

A different approach, staring with defining unit types

Unit customization

My thought was to create ship types as unit types, sort of swap out Elven Frigates for Elven Spearmen, as it were.

Copying Unit

Once created, maybe I could possibly copy the number of ship types to match number of hulls to the fleet numbers and come up with a fleet.

No such luck.  I couldn’t actually create a container object called “Thaniras Elves for starters.

You can’t create a new race. You have to take these Warhammer Fantasy ones.

So that means, the most “Elfish” I could make my Thaniras Elf example is to name it “Wood Elves” and do the mental juxtaposition. That only works if you’re playing with standard fantasy types, and it’s kind of a lame methodology anyway.

In the end, I gave up on iRoster Fantasy. It’s pretty, but it’s also hardwired for Games Workshop, which I thought you could cheat your way around, but no such luck. It’s too much of a headache to even achieve a half-assed attempt at forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Which brings me to my second attempt, Cory Fong’s Tabletop Army Manager.

Cory Fong’s Tabletop Army Manager … sounds generic enough, yes?

I had MUCH more enthusiasm for Cory Fong’s app than iRoster right from the get-go. There appeared at first glance to be a high level of customization to this application:

Defining …

Wow, defining factors! A good start.

Race Names? Check!!!

If you are familiar with Uncharted Seas, you’ll see “Bone Gryffons” up there. Yeah! It can define races as well! Booyah!

The Entire Uncharted Seas “universe” entered in…

I went to the trouble of creating fleet “containers” for each race…

Then, individual ships per container…

My first stumbling block.. I couldn’t figure out how to create a class of an object, and repeat it in an army (or fleet). In this case, the Thaniras Raven frigate. I just wanted to create it once, and add, say, six of it to an individual instance of a fleet. I ended up thoroughly puzzled about how the designer approached this very basic concept. No biggie, I just created “Raven1, Raven2,..” and cursed it for a clumsy attempt at working around the designer’s intentions.

Evidence that the unit statistics are hardwired for Warhammer Fantasy. Sigh….

Well, here is where we get to the point where this app totally breaks down for me. At the most minute level, you can’t change the unit statistics. They are, simply put, Warhammer Fantasy battle statistics. Nowhere in the description does it say “This is for Warhammer fantasy only, don’t bother if you want to change this”. In the picture above, I’m trying to figure out a way of superimposing a stat line of Uncharted Seas stats as a NOTE to the hardwired Games Workshop stuff, but this is proving to be tedious, slow and frankly, a pain in the ass.

Trying to define a ship in this App.

And trying to define a fleet.

In the end, I gave up on the Cory Fong app, too, which was more disappointing than iRoster because it really LOOKED like it might get me where I wanted to go, and didn’t reveal it’s buried “hardwired GW” state until I had been banging away on it for over an hour to create something pretty simple. If I have to work that hard on creating workarounds for what should be a simple function, than the hell with it. I’m done. I believe Mr. Fong did acknowledge that the stats were hardwired in a followup email, but I can’t find it to quote it, it was a few months ago.

So, in the end, here we are, without the be-all and end-all in Army Roster/Manager apps, still looking. I would have thought the Ipad was a good medium and a great tool for this– less paper, easy access, quick to make changes. It turned out to be more daunting a challenge than I would have suspected. I thought an army list app would follow a sort of one to many relationship with the stats being definable up front, sort of like this:

But again and again I’m seeing anything but this. Which is great, I guess, if you play Warhammer Fantasy or 40K, but it pretty much sucks if you want to play anything else in the gaming universe. I’m hoping someone will be able to create that universal list building application I have in my head someday, because we’re not anywhere near that right now as far as I can see.

Oh, and a last word for App developers.  Call it what it is.. it’s NOT a “fantasy battle list generator”.. it’s a WARHAMMER battle list generator.   That distinction becomes important someone wants to play something other than Warhammer.  Mention it in BOLD TYPE somewhere before said person shells out 7 or 8 bucks, please.

The Passing of S. Craig Taylor

Flat Top, Avalon Hill era

Word has filtered in, via Yahoogroup and Facebook, of the passing of Craig Taylor.  This is third hand from Bob Coggins (who worked with Craig on Napoleon’s Battles):

“Bob Coggins asked me to let everyone know that S. Craig Taylor passed away this week. Cause of death was undetermined at this time, but will be available later, I’m sure. Bob’s computer is down at the moment so he will not be able to respond to any questions on line. We will let everyone know more details as they become available. Craig was a prolific and successful miniatures and board game historical rules writer and co-author of Napoleon’s Battles. I’ve known him since his Avalon Hill days when I was one of the staff playtesters on Avalon Hill’s version of the Australian Napoleonic game “Empires in Arms,” which Craig shepherded through the redesign effort and publication. His integrity and willingness to go the extra mile in game development was well known. He was an amazing game designer and developer with a long list of titles to his credit. The hobby has lost a true professional, a true friend. He will be missed.”

I can only echo Bob’s sentiments.  S. Craig Taylor was a creative giant and astute businessman, the mind behind designs that were revolutionary in their day and still played today: Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Napoleon’s Battles, Flat Top, Air Force, half of Macchiavelli, Sergeants!, Ship o’ the Line, half of Naval War, Development on Empires in Arms,.. Craig, along with Steve Peek, was one of the two men behind the Yaquinto Game company, which brought us classic games such as Swasbuckler, Armor, Battle and my favorite, Ironclads.

I wasn’t great friends with Craig but I have met and talked with him on several occasions at shows, from long ago ORIGINS to more recent HISTORICONS, where he was present manning the booth for his more recent venture, Lost Battallion Games.  For a guy who had such a deep impact on the wasting of my time (via WS&IM, Apache, Yaquinto Games of Various kinds, Napoleon’s Battles and Flat Top, even Ship of the Line, which I was playing with miniatures in the early 80s), I never got the impression that he thought his output was anything special.  He was always very easygoing, approachable and good humored when I talked to him.  I’ll miss Craig,  a talented designer and a gentle soul.  R.I.P. Craig Taylor.

Swashbuckler, Yaquinto Era

Can’t find a good picture of Craig in my files or on the interwebs, so I’m just putting covers of favorite games up in this post.  Our hobby will certainly less without you, Craig

Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Avalon Hill Era


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Stand Up Spell Markers: Where to get more

The first testing of “The Magi” has started, and I’ve discovered a need for spell markers to represent durable effects in the game.  I’ve hit upon these stand up circular markers I picked up from a vendor at a HMGS convention.  Does anyone know where I could get more of them?  Color really doesn’t matter, but the size is generally important.   They have to be readable.  As you can see there’s two sides to a spell counter: what everyone else sees and what you see.  As The Magi is a game where players perform actions with limited/imperfect knowledge of what the other player is doing or planning, it becomes imperative to hide what spell has been cast on a Magi player from everyone else, while the player himself would have knowledge of it.  So each marker has an arrow pointing towards the circle on one side (what the public sees) and an arrow moving away from the circle with the word “you” printed in tiny letters on the side of the base (what you, the target of the spell, see).  So you get that imperfect intelligence effect.  Some spells will require several gesture cards to be cast, so will be “building” over several turns.  I won’t need a lot of markers for those, maybe 1 or 2.  But others, like SHIELD in the back there (the 4 green ones in the back) are simple, useful spells that will be cast frequently.  So I have determined I will need more than I thought.  Does anyone out there know where to find these?  I think Koplow was the creator, but it isn’t this item here, that features a circular area the size of a dime (I think).  The ones I am using cost more and are about the size of a quarter.  I could not find them in the Koplow catalog.  Any help is appreciated.

Spell Markers

Spell Markers… from .. Koplow? Chessex?

Where does ALIEN come from?


I just discovered a tip top chat show about Science Fiction from the UK called Hynobobs. In the the latest episode, the lads at Hypnobobs discuss the vaunted origins of the movie ALIEN. Where did this story come from? What source material influenced the story?

Kudos for referencing Dark Star. I like that movie– although I admit it’s a learned taste..

To listen to the audio:″

Giant Robots, Greg Benford and the End of Humanity

Great Sky River (Galactic Center, #3)Great Sky River by Gregory Benford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished a re-read of GREAT SKY RIVER, the third book of Gregory Benford’s GALACTIC CENTER novels. This is my favorite Benford series and my personal favorite of that series. I last read it when it was a new hardcover; now I am listening to it on an audiobook. The reader’s performance is only so-so but I can’t fault the story at all. It really holds up well, an action story that muses on human existence. And giant killer robots. And a Great Escape plot.. why the hell don’t they ever make *intelligent* summer genre movies out of material like Great Sky River? It would blow the socks off of the yawner comic book and horror movie pablum we are normally subjected to.

In case you are unfamiliar with Galactic Center, it is a story of humanity’s contact with a mechanical civilization located near Galactic Center. The first two books of the series set up the confrontation with Mech Culture; this novel moves time forward hundreds of years to a planet called Snowglade, which had been settled by humanity as a haven against the Mechs. Mech Culture hardly even acknowledges the existence of humans, considering them annoying pests when the higher order mechanical beings even think about them at all– but they have virtually wiped out humanity on Snowglade anyway. Great Sky River takes place years after the final bastions of the Human Clans (named after chess pieces, a nice touch) have fallen to mech assualt.

The POV character is Killeen, a leader of House Bishop, who are on the run away from the Mechs. This is a very different humanity than what we would recognize– as the Mech threat has grown, so has humanity’s need to adapt themselves to counter mech encroachment. So we now see great tall humans who can run ceaselessly with their mechanized boots and consult digital personality chips called Aspects which ride on their own personal network interface and sensor suite called a Sensorium. For most of the story Killeen and the rest of the Bishop Clan are on the run from a disturbing new kind of mech called The Mantis, which seems to have an agenda beyond Mechanoid pest control.

Benford invests a lot of effort and creativity into this series; one gets a sense of the different kinds of mechanoids- from the lower order Navvies to the middlin’ threat Crafters to the higher order Mantis Marauder class. Mechanoids are not homogenous, they fight amongst themselves and rebel against the higher order mech minds all the time. One gets a sense of history from the dialogue, a glum feeling of loss and regret as mankind muses on its impending extinction and fall from great heights.

I enjoy this series tremendously and find it worthy of another look, and a fast read. Highly recommended.

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Greg Benford at the 2008 University of Califor...

Greg Benford at the 2008 University of California, Riverside J. Lloyd Eaton Science Fiction Conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Digression: Allow me to bloviate

I don’t often speak of the, uhm, real me, the man behind the curtain, as it were.  But if you will allow me, constant reader, to step away from the gaming/history/caustic comment material that is usual fare here and share a couple of significant life milestones that I am inordinately proud of, I would be grateful. Shan’t take but a moment.

First of all, my daughter, Anne, graduated from High School last week.  She will be attending West Virginia University in the Fall.

Go, Anne!

Go, Anne! Welcome to the Working World!

Secondly, my son Gar, at age 13, has achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, as of last nights’ board of review.

Way to go, Garrett!

Obtaining this rank isn’t an easy task.. I’ve posted on the subject before. He has seen it through to the end, after literally years of hard work. Well done, young sir!

One of the worst things a child can hear is the sounds of silence, when they expect an “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” from their parents. I hope I can address this, as best I may.

Robots and Donuts.. the world of Eric Joyner

The Final Blow

The Final Blow, by Eric Joyner

Robots & Donuts: The Art of Eric JoynerRobots & Donuts: The Art of Eric Joyner by Eric Joyner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Collected Works of Eric Joyner (to date) as portrayed in a giant picture book by Dark Horse Press with some essay work by the artist. And what work it is! Page after page of Eric Joyner’s epic whimsy about the tintype robots made in Japan in the Post World War II era marvelously brought to life and animated in all sorts of bizarre situations. In almost every picture, the humble glazed doughnut makes an appearance, either as the object of a ring toss game, part of the architecture, or just “there” in the mise-on-scene, as a prop. My two favorites are THE FINAL BLOW, which departs from tintype robots and features the two eponymous robots from ROCK-EM-SOCK-EM ROBOTS (a game from my childhood) and transports them into a 1950s vintage noir style boxing painting. The other favorite is ROBOT ALONE IN BAR, which features the Robot from Lost in Space, alone.. in a bar. With a donut in front of it. The implication being the Robot is lonely, or has been stood up on a date, perhaps. It’s that crazy juxtaposition of our reality and this loony Robot and Doughnut reality of Mr. Joyner’s that gives this series of painting such a relaxed, wonderful charm. I am happy to have picked up the Complete Robots and Donuts book, it is an addictive browse (I hesitate to use the word “read” here, it’s a picture book). In any event, a visit to Mr. Joyner’s world of cheap robots and sugary snacks comes highly recommended.

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Review: Plague, Inc. for the IoS

Plague Inc is a .99 cent (as of this writing) solitaire play game app currently available on the App Store. The creator was a small company called Ndemic Creations, this is their first commercial game release.

At first glance the game-savvy user will likely draw a rough parallel to the hit board game PANDEMIC. That’s valid, yet, a little skewed. You see, players aren’t taking the role of a dedicated world-spanning CDC teams, bent on eradicating plagues. Instead, the player assumes the role of the plague itself, constantly mutating and spreading from country to country, decimating world populations and destroying civilization as we know it. The victory condition is nothing short of the eradication of humanity through plague. Anything else is a defeat.


Title Page

At first glance, you get the sense that the upcoming gaming experience will just a tad sardonic. This ain’t going to be “feel good for the whole family”, kids.

Total Victory. All humans are dead or dying

Game play is far more subtle than I first assumed it would be. It looks.. well, snarky at first.. an arcade game that is quick playing with a theme that would appeal to people with, erm, darker senses of humor– a sort of “What if Ambrose Bierce programmed IoS game apps” kind of effort. Yet, it’s surprisingly well-crafted as a design. You don’t just click on a nation and infect. The plague is your creation, and you spread it by developing and mutating the disease with DNA points. DNA Points grow by spreading the disease.

These three pictures demonstrate how the decisions the player has to make to mutate his plague. Whenever the DNA points reach a certain threshold, he can change and improve TRANSMISSION (the vectors through which a disease travels), SYMPTOMS (nasty things the plague does, including killing people in horrible ways), and ABILITIES (mostly defense mechanisms).

As you invest DNA points, your plague will become more complex and far more lethal. It will spread far faster and kill far more people.

As the game proceeds and your plague population increases, up pop little balloons of DNA points which give you more points to invest in your sickness.

As your disease spreads through the initial spawning location, the map will go red as countries get overwhelmed– ports close, livestock gets slaughtered, pest programs increase, and populations go down. Eventually, governments collapse as chaos ensues. This is the goal of Plague Inc.

If you do your job right, the whole map will go red and literally there won’t enough people to fight the plague any more. The pace slows somewhat towards the end as people aren’t traveling any more, and populations have declined so much there isn’t a lot of transmission going on.

As you can see in the graphic below, things aren’t looking good for the human race. The Plague has advanced so far that there isn’t much of a global population left. Everyone on the planet Earth now has the disease, so we are going into endgame.

Of course, it isn’t always so easy. Do-gooders will try to cure the disease as soon as possible, and this is what the player has to work against to achieve victory. Disease fighting teams are dispatched around the globe, and the player has to squash these as soon as possible. A cure can’t take root or it will be hard to stop.

Danged do gooders!

Play is fast and furious and will keep a certain kind of gamer amused and entertained for about an hour of steady play. The basic game (which represents a bacteriological epidemic only) is 99 cents, but you can invest in in-game incremental purchases to change the nature of the plague from bacteriological to viral, or other scenarios like biological weapons.

In summary, I enjoyed this game tremendously. It’s like PANDEMIC in reverse, or perhaps more appropriately, BLACK DEATH by Greg Porter. Or perhaps even closer in theme to the Flash game called (ironically) “Pandemic” ( what are the odds?  See comments below).  Plague Inc. is very engaging and very much worth the pittance paid for it. Highly recommended.

Review — British Napoleonic Peninsular War Flank Company [VX5401]

See previous review of Victrix Napoleonic Voltigeurs 1805-1812

This is a follow up purchase to the Victrix Voltigeurs I picked up last month.  I have been acquiring and painting up 54mm Skirmisher figures for an ancient game I idea I had about man to man skirmishing in the Napoleonic era.   For the game to see fruition I’m going to need a relatively small group of figures from each side (8-10 maximum).  I want to ultimately pit Riflemen versus Voltigeurs from the late war era.  I own and have painted up about 10 of the Italieri 95th Rifles but they are a little largish compared to the Victrix Voltigeurs.  So I picked the British Peninsular Infantry Flank Company box as well.  This makes sense.  The flank company is sculpted and detailed to be a set of light infantry troops, which are sufficiently animated that they would make great skirmish troops.  I would have liked at least a couple of crouching/firing poses but these are probably sculpted to be deployed in formations, not as skirmishers.   No matter.  There’s enough variation in the basic body types that they look pretty animated to me.

Box Cover from Victrix Site

Box Cover

As before there are five or so sprues of various body parts and bodies to create customization with. From what I’m seeing here you can create a maximum of 16 figures from the sprues included. There are two officer figures and a drummer boy as well as several infantry in action or marching.


Group of 5 sample figs: Drummer, Officer, and 3 Infantrymen

Closer: Drummer, Officer, Infantryman

3 infantry poses

I’m going to use the basic redcoat/grey trousers/black shako paint scheme for these guys, as generic late war period infantry British infantry types. Here’s a picture of the Victrix site’s suggested paint scheme:

Suggested paint scheme

Suggested Paint Scheme

The figures out of the box are made of a durable hard style plastic that assembles very quickly with styrene glue (Testors, in this case), which bonds quickly and holds well. Out of the box they are slightly oily, which is probably mold release spray residue. Recommend an overnight soak before painting. Flashing is minimal. There were some mold lines on the sides of the shakos that needed trimming but I found nothing else that required a lot of work– some poses require a little attention while the plastic cement welds are curing.

Though they aren’t exactly cheap (say, compared to Italieri’s molded plastic figures, at about 15 dollars more on average, US retail prices), they are wondrously flexible in their approach to customization. I really like these releases and I certainly plan on buying and building more. I won’t be fielding large armies of these, ever, but they are great value for the money and I enjoy the detail, sculpting and utility of Victrix 54mm scale figures. If this is a scale and period you are interested in, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Alien Frontiers for the Ipad Kickstarter: I’m all in.

Alien Frontiers Boxed Game

Alien Frontiers Boxed Game

I played Alien Frontiers, the retro-SF themed worker placement game from Clever Mojo Games, a few times last year and was very favorably impressed with it.  I immediately wanted to pick up a copy, of course.  The problem was this was a pioneering Kickstart game project (perhaps the most successful one of those short of Steve Jackson’s OGRE VI coffee table).  So production numbers were absurdly limited and the game was pretty much off the public’s radar screen (beyond enthusiastic rumblings in various podcasts and blog postings and on BGG).  Reprints did happen, of course, but that’s the problem with boardgaming and social media.  Once the shock of the something new hits, news of a boardgame reprint can often read like the Garden column in your local paper– of interest to a specialized niche, but not to the rest of the hive mind chattering away on Facebook, Twitter, and Boardgamegeek.   So even when it became possible, I pretty much didn’t bother buying it.  After all, what would the chances be that I would play it?    See how that initial rush of enthusiasm wears off so soon?  When you have a closet and bookcases stuffed with games, a decision to talk yourself out of buying another one becomes easier and easier to make.

And then, there’s the heretofore unforeseen element of Ipads.

They aren’t coming out every week or anything, but Ipad boardgame conversions are starting to become a permanent part of the gaming landscape.  I find it much easier to defer a game I’m jonesing for initially, but borderline about in the long run if I know there is a plan to publish an Ipad version.  It’s for very pragmatic reasons, too.  The most expensive Ipad conversion games are in the 12 dollar range, about a third to a fifth the cost of a new boardgame, depending on who published it.  And since no ipad boardgame publisher worth his salt puts out a game without multiplayer capability these days, the chances I’ll ACTUALLY PLAY THE GAME go up exponentially.

Which brings us, in my rambling way, to the subject at hand, which is ALIEN FRONTIERS FOR THE IPAD.  I can’t say much about functionality right now, because what I’ve seen seems okay, just less retro and arty than the original boardgame.  From a utilitarian perspective, it does seem like it works.

This is a mockup

This is only a mockup.

I’ve put in ten bucks for this one, which is the third project on Kickstarter I’ve backed. I recommend backing this one to fans of boardgames, especially worker placement style games.

The video for the Alien Frontiers Kickstarter Project can be viewed here. I can’t embed their video in this post, as doesn’t allow the IFRAME tag. Give it a click and a view and make up your mind.

The Art of Battle: Animated Battle Maps

I stumbled across THE ART OF BATTLE website when googling the Battle of Waterloo (today being the anniversary of that great battle), and found a nifty animated battle presentation using the animation features of Powerpoint.  The Art of Battle provides a huge database of battle animation powerpoint presentations as a labor of love (they do ask for donations to defray expenses, which is fair).  The Art of Battle categorizes battles by historical period, then by battle.  Most of the big names are there already, from Antiquity to modern times.  I’m quite impressed with the work that has gone into it.  I like the animations, but I have to wonder how well it will work if you don’t have Microsoft products installed at home (as I don’t).  I’ll need to test the Powerpoint animations with Open Office.

The Battle of Saratoga

The Battle of Saratoga, from The Art of Battle

The website uses a standard icon set which makes these battle animations easy to read and follow. My ONLY criticism would be that I would wish for a more universal format than Powerpoint for the animation. Perhaps there is an easy way to turn the Powerpoint animations into MPGs or Flash animations, who knows.

In any event, if you do have Powerpoint installed on a Windows computer, this site will be quite a treasure for you.


National Flag Day! Father’s Day History Mystery

The answer to the last Audioboo was “James Polk“, who was our 11th (not 14th) President. Sorry, I was working without notes, recording on the Ipad using the Audioboo app. Doesn’t Garrett’s introduction sound nice?

The QUESTION for next time is: How many national flags have flown over the modern United States since independence from Great Britain? (discounting aboriginal tribal totems, which may or may not convey the same message as a flag).

Audio here:″

President Polk, 1858 portrait, by George Healy

President Polk, 1858 portrait, by George Healy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Review: Mail Order Mysteries!

Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! by Kirk Demarais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

MAIL ORDER MYSTERIES is an easy read; it’s mostly a fun pictorial survey of the mail order ads that filled the back pages of comic books in 60s, 70s and 80s America. Kirk Demarais doesn’t exactly stretch his prose-slinging talent on the material; ads are grouped into loose categories and then he provides (if he can) a picture of the ad and a photograph of what exactly one received if he were stupid enough to send away for the item in the ad. Some of the ads actually delivered (to a point) based on the oft-outrageous claims written therein, but for the most part this is a catalog of the frauds that were purveyed to the (mostly) American public.

I grew up in an age that was profoundly affected by the ads this book focuses on as its main reason for being. I have been a willing victim in the past; I picked up the World War 2 toy soldier flats, and lusted after the concept of the Polaris Submarine (and only ever laid eyes on one much later in life, as recounted in one of the most popular posts on this blog, ever). I cheerfully picked up the multi-viewer tool and actually gave that piece of junk to my brother for Christmas one year.

So, yes, I admit, nostalgia drove this recent purchase, and I’m glad I bought it. If you grew up in a certain time in America and read comic books, you ALWAYS wondered about some of the ads in the back. I wasn’t stupid enough to get sucked in by brine-shrimp-as-sea-monkeys, but I always wanted to try the X-ray specs, and other tricks I can’t even remember anymore. If you fit that category in time, and loved comics as a sprite, you owe it to yourself to pick this book up. Kirk Demarais has been collecting this junk for years, it would seem, and we need to reward him for his patience.

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