Category Archives: blogging

I’ve been a slacker


Okay, I’ll be straight up about it.  I’ve not posted anything in a long, long while.  There’s a reason for it, no matter how lame it may sound.  In late October of 16, I was in the garage cleaning stuff up, and Garrett was in the family room.  The day was sunny and cool, but the wind was rather strong.  We have many old growth oaks in the back yard of our property, sloping down to a creek.  I heard a very different sound– like a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.. CRACKKKK, WHAM! … and then I heard yelling from Garrett, and ten tons of tree dropped on our house!

A particularly heavy old oak, one that went up and branched out into four trunks, had snapped at the trunk, a victim of gusting, twisty winds, and then it plunged into our yard, demolishing the fence, destroying our dagwood tree and flattening the back deck.  It also pierced the side and roof of the house, smashed windows and broke siding.

So, yeah. That happened. The house has been damaged. The grey water pipe flooded the basement, mold set in. A clean up crew had to basically knock out all the walls, box up everything.. and I mean everything that was in the bottom 3 feet of the bottom floor.. was boxed up and taken out to a rollup and discarded. A lot of game stuff, a lot of books. We’ve had to empty the house, which is being renovated and the roof fixed, finally, after months of wrangling with a contractor who didn’t give us a straight deal. There are now men, swinging hammers, in my house, and I’m very happy.

However, this has also meant moving to a rental house (tiny) where the only room for hobby stuff is a small slab table in the utility room. I’ve had to work late hours at the house, after a regular job, and it has taken its toll on my creative urge. I like to think I’m snapping back, though. I’m painting constantly, way more than normal. I went through a 1:2400 pre-dreadnought phase, and have painted up fleets for Yalu (1894) and Santiago de Cuba (1898) in late Feb and most of March. In April I started painting 28mm Science fiction guys to support a little game camp game. This has been a fun evolution and I’m really enjoying it, even if I’m not much of a painter. I’m also going to punch out some rules and rewrites I’ve had on the burner for a while. So I’m getting my groove back, and have a backlog of stuff to write about, so stay tuned.

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V. Schwab’s A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, reviewed


A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Man, I really wanted to like this book. It has all the elements that I’m usually game to read from cover to cover instantly– a touch of magical realism, set in vaguely familiar proto-steampunky, parallel universes, evil guys, good guys, cynical guys. A plucky heroine from the bad side of town, with a heart of gold. The setting is this sort of mystical micro-universe where there are four known variants of existence– Grey London, Red London, White London, and a fourth, vanished Black London. Grey London (of course) is the London we all know from THIS world, the one in Britain, at the time of George III. Magic is almost unknown there. Red London, a much funner place where magic flourishes, a good dynasty reigns over a country that is not-England (although London stays London in all of them). White London is a harsh place where two descendants of Vikings(?) rule by murder and coercion. Black London was destroyed in a magical cataclysm that sealed the worlds off from one another– it is apparently the place where magic is sentient, seeking more power by devouring human hosts. I think? There are only two individuals that can transverse the boundaries of the Londons– they are the ‘Antari’, depicted with one solid black eye and one normal eye. The Red London Anatari is Kell, who spends his time as an errand boy for the Red London Royalty, and smuggling artifacts from various Londons. In addition, he is the property of the Royal Family, and adopted brother to the Red London Prince (Rye). Of course, Kell is considered a bit of a rogue but responsible enough to be riding heard on his womanizing brother Rye. Rye is a familiar trope in fantasy, a rogue and a wastrel (they say, we don’t see much of it) who is growing into the role of the future king who will one day have to take life seriously and blah blah blah. The other Antari is Holland, from White London (of whom, more later) Kell, the adopted Red Antari, is on a mission to White London (a nasty place with the Bad People in it) and he gets hoodwinked/set up/made a fall guy to pick up a package that turns out to have a half of a stone token from mythical (destroyed) Black London. He gets ambushed in Red London, flees to Grey London, and runs afoul of the OTHER Antari, the decidedly nastier Holland. Holland is apparently behind a conspiracy(?) to dominate? control? the other Londons, to open them up to conquest by proxy by White London, using the Wild Magic amulet (the Black Stone from Black London, which is a super magic weapon).
While Kell is hiding from Holland in Grey London, he encounters the other POV character, Lila Bard. Lila is yet another fantasy/steampunk trope, the plucky but lovable guttersnipe who dresses like a man and has the heart for adventure. She is a pickpocket, a cutpurse, and a girl makin’ it on the mean streets of almost-victorian London (George III is on the throne, yet they have revolvers in common use? Whaaaaah?) Anyway, she’s tough.. the author reinforces how tough as nails and bitter she is. Page after page. Awkward dialogue after awkward dialogue. We get it. Kell and Lila make an awkward alliance to bring the stone back to Black London where it will be safe, adventures transpire, lots of people get killed willy-nilly, and the vast extent of the betrayal of, well, you know, the bad guys, becomes clear. Except it doesn’t. There were two things that bothered me about this book. I like the basic concept just fine, I love the parallel Londons idea.. but man, the execution was clumsier than a new born chick running a marathon. The dialogue was very hackneyed in places. I think if I had a nickel for how many times I read “Lila.. (dramatic pause)… RUN!” .. well, I’d have a mess o’ nickels. And the motivation! What the heck? WHY do the bad guys do what they do? WHY? Sure, Holland is evil and twisted, but we never know what he thinks, he’s just a creepy ciper. And the mega bad guy.. he’s a monologing psycho from the old school, but what the hell made him so angry at Kell? Wasn’t Kell useful to everyone who wanted to talk or trade between worlds, just a while ago? Aren’t there only TWO of these guys? Why be angry at him? Why try to kill him?  Just because you have an evil plan? So the Big Big Bad is hard to understand, therefore their motivations are murky and the plot and denouement kind are kind of a big muddle.

With that said, A Darker Shade of Magic did have some great, although not exactly original ideas, with the Red-Gray-White-Black London setting, the various flavors of magic, the Antari (all two of them) and how it all kind of lurched to an ending eventually. V.E. Schwab isn’t what I would consider a great literary stylist but I’m sure this series (and it will be a series, I checked) will go down well with the Young Adult crowd. For me, it started out well but became a bit of a chore to get through, so I’ll give it 3 stars.

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Vitanda est improba siren desidia


“One musts avoid that wicked temptress, Laziness.” — Horace.

I admit it, I have posted a decent post in a very long while, since early March.  I just didn’t have a lot to say, even though I did go to a convention (Cold Wars) and had some opinions to voice about a few items.  I just haven’t had the inspiration lately.  However, as Horace taught us a few millennia back, sometimes the way out of a trench is to start digging and see what happens.  So here I am with a metaphorical shovel in tow, and we’ll see where this leads us.

Cold Wars 2016: I’m out of order? You’re out of order!


I attended Cold Wars 2016 with my son Garrett last weekend, and generally had a pretty good time.  Generally.  I’m on staff for the other two shows of the year, Fall-IN! and HISTORICON, so I generally just go to CW as a tourist these days, and I don’t stay at the Host, as it’s usually full up by the time I’m planning on going to this show.  This makes for a short stay, as I can’t justify staying at a hotel for more than an evening.  Dutifully, we got on the road early for once on Friday and ended up getting to the show in decent time.  Cold Wars 2016 certainly wasn’t attended in record numbers, but enough people were there that parking was problematic on Friday morning at 10 AM, which is a good sign.  We both did something I had never done before this show, and that’s attend a Hobby University class on modifying and kit-bashing Matchbox cars for Post-Apocalyptic Car Combat games taught by Joey McGuire.  Mr. McGuire pooh-poohed my interest in his class, saying he felt I had already taken my class, since I have painted about 60 cars for White Line Fever.  Nonsense, there’s always something new to learn, and I learned something new here.  Actually, a few things, but first and best was a much better method of painting rust than I had used previously:
Start with flat black on all the shiny and metal parts.
Then go with a Burnt Umber dry brush, then with a Shadow’s Flesh dry brush, then actual orangey rust color. Then highlight with a darker silver.  the result is multilayered and subtle, far more subtle than the cars I’ve been doing.


Paint combination for Rust

And here are the results. I took the pickup, Garrett made a retro-cannon out of his “Nashlike” deco car


Killer Low-ridin’ Pickup truck
Gar made an up-armored “Stretch Nash rambler” with two Gatling guns on a rack up top.

I really enjoyed Joey’s class (which also taught me the benefits of Zip Kicker) and would recommend it to anyone. Special thanks to Lon Weiss from Brigade Games for providing packs of add on weapons and armor for this class.

Gar has become a big fan of Battletech (the FASA product, now owned and supported by Catalyst Gaming Labs). So he looked at the schedule and decided to go sit in on the Battletech Grinder games in the Cornwall Room all weekend.

The Grinder, apparently, is a Battletech competition where you play, get killed, and come back as a different, hopefully stronger, mech. Garrett ended up with a Battlemaster at the end but only had it for a couple of turns before they ended the Grinder. So it goes.  Thanks to the guy running this event (which was more than one table, it was a room of Battletech, btw), and thanks to MOST of Gar’s opponents for being nice to the newbie.  The less said about the loud-mouthed kid who complained bitterly about every roll of the die that went against him, the better.

I got into a pre-Dreadnought game Friday night.  I wanted to try out FROSTGRAVE but couldn’t get in to the Friday night game, it being full up.  So I went with a back up plan, and I’m glad I did.  I got a ticket to the Deadly Warfare games playtest of “Black Smoke and Blue Seas” or something like that.  More on this later, since I spent some time relieving myself of money in exchange for hobby items Friday until “go time”.

The dealer’s room was the dealer’s room.. we can’t expect the giant vendors of bygone days and should be grateful for the ones who show up in force, or the old standbys that are still making a showing, albeit in a greatly reduced footprint.

It's a picture from 2015, sorry

I got a copy of the Pre-Dreadnought rules (Black Smoke, Blue Water) we were about to play for the playtest, and starter fleet for Manila Bay.   I also picked up a cigar box battle mat for a medieval/fantasy city, probably for running Frostgrave on.  I got some nice pieces for Road Warrior/White Line Fever in a leftover parts bin at Hobby House, the new Cultists expansion for Frostgrave and the spell cards, because, well, they’re nifty looking and pretty handy.. besides, I wanted to thank Brigade Games for sponsoring Hobby University by throwing some coin his way.  I was going to get troop cards for BLUCHER, but, sadly, they were sold out when I went back for them.   I looked over the flea market as well, but didn’t find much of what I came there to buy.  I was looking for AQMF Martian stuff (which hasn’t taken a nose dive in price like I thought it might), as well as 15mm SF and some other bits and bobs.  Sigh.

Events: Given that I was only there from Friday morning-ish until late Saturday night, I didn’t see everything.  However, I did like most of what I saw.  The ballroom wasn’t jammed on Friday, which  usually has people complaining about the empty tables, but every game I saw didn’t lack for players (YMMV).

Friday night around 6PM I participated in the playtest game of BLACK SMOKE, BLUE WATER.  This is a game of Pre-Dreadnought era ship combat, with some important caveats; this game setting assumes about a twenty year leap forward in technology, so it adds some elements that would be missing in a straight up historical period game, such as air operations, submarines and etc.  The game played well.  I thought the combat in a multiplayer game really slowed down somewhat when the ranged narrowed and many options (based on calibers of weapon) opened up.  The designers welcomed feedback and got some good gouge from the players.

The game scenario was Manila Bay (the same fleets I had bought that morning).  The American fleet is entering the board just clearing Cavite island which has a battery that can shoot out 36 inches. Not having any operational need to land on Cavited, we just cheerfully ignored it and steamed onward, keeping more than 36″ out of range.  I ran the Olympia and the Baltimore.  For much of the fight we were the chief American ships engaging the Spaniards, but it was still a one sided contest (not in the Spaniard’s favor).  I felt bad for the Spaniards.. their Torpedo Boat force were pretty close to Cavite at the onset, but when it was clear we weren’t going near the place, they had to spend most of the game running in flank to engage the Americans, only really coming close in the last few turns.  The Spanish Admiral was quite aggressive, unlike his historical counterpart, and gave almost as good as he got.  In game terms, the Olympia was the best ship on the board (and that bears up with the historical battle).  Having guns of over 7″ was a big advantage in certain situations and that contributed to the American fleet sinking a Spanish battle cruiser.  We called the game after a certain point and discussed the mechanics.  For a small slide show of the engagement, please click on the picture below.

It was a fun game experience, and I do like the rules.  I find the combat to be a little drawn out, but what can I say, they are correct in modeling all that gunfire, such as it is.. each of the ships of the era had a veritable battery of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary gun types of various sizes and calibers.  They were effective in their roles, up to a point.  My torpedo (the only one that hit of the six that were shot) was what ended the one Spanish ship that sank, and that also seems to reflect history.. the ship guns weren’t huge and they weren’t very accurate.   It just seemed to be a remarkably bloodless engagement compared to the actual historical Manila Bay.

Some great games were going on in the Distelfink Friday night and Saturday day…

Jon Paul Cosgrove’s excellent “Zombies attacking a Prison that is suspiciously like the one he worked at” game had some amazing scenery.

zombies and prison

zombies and prison

There was a Russian Revolution/Civil War game going in the back, not sure who ran it but it looked like tons of fun.. and was a beauty to behold.

Oh and there was THIS THING, which was playing Saturday, I think:

Invasion of the Pasta People? Maybe?

Whatever! Looks like it was a blast to play.. and it certainly was colorful.

Jim McWee was running a zombies overrunning a town game that I think he has run before. Sure was nice and colorful!

There was even a naval game based on the Destroyermen series going on in the corner:


courtesy of Leo Walsh

The best part as always was seeing old friends again and jawing with some familiar faces we don’t see but a few times a year (if we are lucky):


(Bob and Cleo at the table next to me)

One game I wanted to capture in pictures was a double blind game of MIDWAY based upon the classic Avalon Hill game of the same name being played in the Distelfink.  It was fantastic.  Fortunately the guy who writes DE NERDIBUS got a few pictures of it and I include the link below.

Saturday morning Gar and I got in to the one game we both played together, which was S161: Frostgrave – Cold Harbor, run by Jon Lundberg.  I had a really fun time playing this.  I had a Chronomancer and small gang (including a polar bear!).  We slipped in to the city from the South side, hardly killed anyone (except for a rampaging killer snowman) and was altogether too polite — not a lot of blood was spilled.  Still, I got 4 treasures off the board, which is a respectable showing, I think.  Click the picture above to see a very small album of pictures from the first Frostgrave game I played Saturday Morning, if you have an interest.


(or try this link)

I did one more run on the dealer’s room Saturday but the stuff I was going back for had sold out.  So it goes.  I ended up taking a nap in a chair in the lobby, and checking in with Garrett, who was joyously stomping other big stompy mechas. as you can see here:

25807517041_4077e9b58e

He played until quite late in the evening, and it was a slugfest. Garrett’s comment about his day immediately brought up that age old stereotype. “Dad, the guy next to me was your age, almost. I’ve never smelled an adult that smelled that bad in my life.. do people not shower here or something? It could have gagged a maggot“. He didn’t understand why I was laughing until I hiccupped… (to clarify, the man he was referring to IS NOT PICTURED)

Apparently the Membership meeting went off while I was pre-dreadnoughting the night before. Here’s what I got from Otto Schmidt, who did attend:

I attended the membership meeting at Cold Wars on Friday night at 7 pm.

The following items were announced

Three hotel chains are in negotiations to buy the host, two are national changes one is a regional chain. THE HOST sales rep says that all of them will NOT tear the host down but will repair and restore it bit by bit, one section at a time. The guest rooms will need the majority of the work, but the meeting rooms will need not much more than some new carpets and cosmetic changes. The heating and air conditioning plant will be replace and some electrical work done and the bathrooms repaired. This was reported by the Bod who said that the impact on us would be, if we stayed, that the hotel would lose 60 rooms at a time as they were reconditioned, but that could be taken up by surrounding hotels. They did say that the room rate then would, according to the host, go up to $149 USD a night.

The BOD also said they were looking at other venues including YORK convention center and Lancaster Convention Center, both of whom had been rejected previously and Dave Waxtel is investigating a location in Somerset County NJ. No name was mentioned.

I had a report from the owner of the Continental hotel who is heavily involved with the local hotel organization that the host is in receivership (or soon will be) to the bank. This was not said at the meeting.

The Bod announced that Fall in 2016 will be at the host and Cold Wars 2017 will be there also. After that it would be as negotiations with the host and new owners progressed.

The BOD said they were looking at a cost saving measure of buying tables for the convention. They said their largest expense each year was $60,000 USD for table and chair rental. They were investigating buying these (folding chairs) and it would cost about $25,000 USD total. The original plan, (pre-auction) was to store these at The Lancaster Host and let the Host Use them for other events and the host would pay us a fee when this was done and that the cost of the purchase would then be amortized over about four years. This plan was put in abeyance after the auction kerfuffle, because it was realized that if we did that the tables and chairs would be seized if a foreclosure was processed, and it did not mater if we owned them.

If a bank or agency does this, the release of them would not take place till all creditors with outstanding charges against the hotel were satisfied, and any assets or possessions on site would be part of “inventory” and so sold off.

No discussion was made of the chairs and table rentals for Historicon in Fredericksburg and the rental cost was not broken out for that, nor was it said if the tables and chairs allegedly stored at the host (if it came to pass) would be trucked down to Virginia) nor the cost of haulage and dunnage for that.

Nominations of officers were made. The Bod will publish them in the newsletter. ”

(this is repeated on TMP and elsewhere, quotations Otto Schmidt)

There was some other reports about someone attending Salut in the UK (Dave Waxtel) and as to whether he was paying for it or the Board. Dave is. There was a lot of discussion (on TMP or elsewhere) as to whether a Salut “diorama game” convention will work in a US market (most Americans think not). There was some discussion about paying clubs or GMs to run large set piece games by helping them with their construction expenses. “This is paying GMs to run games” was mentioned from the floor. There was some contention– I could point out HMGS has paid GMs in the past and has the leeway to do it on a per show basis.. just ask anyone who has paid for “Uncle Duke” in the past.

As for the comments about the Host. Hmmm. I fully expected 2016 to be the last year I would be going to a Cold Wars game at the Host. I’m astounded that chains are interested in this property, but apparently it is fulfilling a requirement for mid-income to low-income convention gatherings that no other property around can fill, and there’s a real economic need for a property called the Host. Still.. there’s SO MUCH work to do to fix this place up..


The temporary physical plant, now taking up several parking places.. this keeps the place in hot water.. most of the time.


Downstairs toilets were broken most of Saturday– with big yellow “do not cross” police tape covering the doors. One of the urinals UPstairs broke, too (pictured). So at one point, there were only three urinals and 5 stalls for the entire Lancaster host facility (working).

Everywhere, everywhere.. there’s signs of decay and crumbling. The kitschy cool sixties rock exterior is crumbling off the building in several places. The railing up the side of the handicapped ramp to the lobby is now floating in mid air in all but two places.. The roof.. well, you know about the roof.

Saturday night I resolved to get into another game of Frostgrave, as I like the rules a lot. I really wanted to attend S244: Frostgrave: Treasure Hunting in the Frozen City. I was the last alternate to get in. Jeff Hiley’s terrain was simply fantastic. He won an award for it in the middle of the game! I played a Summoner for this game, and managed to nab 4 treasures.. but only got two off board by end game. We were doing the good versus evil thing, which suited me. This was my favorite game of the convention by a country mile; this is not to say I didn’t love the other games too, I just got into the setting so much with Jeff Hiley’s terrain efforts it was hard to come to any other conclusion.


Jeff getting an award.

We got into a big fight with some do-gooders at the choke points on the ramp. I think I was up against a Thaumaturgist at least. Sadly the only spell I had much of a shot with was LEAP, which did work most of the time, and Summon Demon, which was ineffectual most of the game. The rest of my spells were just too blinkin’ hard.

There’s a nice slide show of the Second Frostgrave game Saturday night below, if you have an interest. Just click on the picture.


(Or try this link)

As it was 11PM at this point, Gar and I had to bail out and head home.. it was an easy trip but we were already pretty tired so didn’t want to press our luck.

Sadly we had to miss Eric’s Road Warrior game, but it’s just as well, I prefer the HO sized one.

So that was our COLD WARS 2016. For me, it was the Frostgrave Cold Wars. I’m quite taken with that game and am painting up some warbands. The decrepit surroundings didn’t make the convention run less efficiently (though there were and are the usually carping about things that never seem to change, like long lines). I definitely gamed more and enjoyed myself more than I usually do at conventions. Thanks to all the crew who helped me get Guidebook done for this convention– Theresa, Paul, Scott, Scott, Heather etc. (see previous post on that subject. I did try a few new things this year, like taking pictures and uploading them to the guidebook. Not sure who can see these or if they are shared to the general guidebook user base or not. In any event, Guidebook was its usual useful self. The CD of Cold Wars really could care less about it, but the attendees do, so I’ll keep doing it despite official indifference.

Finally, if I could sum it up, I’d say this was a convention of interesting games and some good times.  My son came with me and I encouraged him to go off and find his own groove.. he hung out with guys his own age (or older) all weekend and had a terrific time.  I played in some great games, and saw some great games being played.  It was more of a game playing convention than a shopping con for me.

So as the sun set swiftly in the West, we drove home, tired and all conventioned-out. See everyone at HISTORICON!!!

(SLIDE SHOW of all Cold Wars 2016 pictures I took over the weekend)
(or try this link)

De Nerdibus: Cold War pictures (including the Midway double blind game)

Xin’s Lair: Cold Wars 2016 Frostgrave Game

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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Has the World Gone Mad? Ponderings on Collective Memory


Stan and Jan Berenstain published the first Berenstain Bears book (the Big Honey Hunt) in 1962, and the series has gone on to capture the hearts and minds of children across generations and across the globe. In the 50+ years since “The Big Honey Hunt,” the Bear family has grown from three to five members; the Berenstain Bears have been translated into over a dozen languages; and over 300 million books have been sold worldwide.  The Berenstain Bears are a huge success, by any measurement.

Only.. they aren’t real.

I worked in bookstores during my young adulthood.  If I had a nickel for Berenstain bear book I’ve put on a shelf, I’d have.. well, a buttload of nickels.  I’m not what you’d call an authority on the subject, but I can tell you one thing: there is no such thing as Berenstain Bears.  This is how I recall them:

23106539151_71eefdea15_o

Do you see it?  The critical difference?  That’s right.  It’s spelled BerenstEin Bears, with an “E”.  That’s what I remember putting on the shelf.  That’s what I wrote in on the reorder or return forms.  It was Berenstein, end of story.  When my son approached me with a serious expression yesterday, and asked “how do you spell Berenstein Bears, dad”?  I told him.  He pointed out that the proper, published version of the series was BerenstAin Bears, with an “A”… in this universe.   This is where it gets a little freaky.  Nobody I know spells Berenstain with an A.  I’ve asked a dozen people since having that conversation, and the consensus was that the popular series about an anthropomorphic sermonizing grizzly bear family  is spelled exactly as you see it in the picture above.  The truly weird part is..  the world of physical objects does not “bear” it out.  Wikipedia uses the “A”.  Google uses the “A”.  Even my favorite Berenstein Bears parodies use the A:

See?  Even the internet wags are agreeing with the powers that be.  This universe, this world of things and information, is telling me that my memory is wrong.  And hey, it might be.. I think memory can be selective, individually.  But that circles us around to a fundamental point.  So many people remember this series as “Berenstein”, not “Berenstain”, I begin to see something sinister at work.  And I’m not alone.

After getting the hook firmly in mouth after my son solemnly pronounced the Berenst#in Bears problem, I did a little looking, then a little more, then a lot more.  I am NOT the only one who thinks the Berenstains are spelled incorrectly.  Now, in this universe.  A young Physics graduate student named “Reece” first outlined this problem in his blog, the Wood Between Worlds (a good read, now I’m subscribing) back in 2012.  He noted the odd spelling of Berenst#in in Jan Berenst#in’s obituary.  This caused him to double check, and, like I am right now, get a little weirded out.  Reece’s training in physics caused him to arrive at a novel conclusion,  which can be summed up as:

Here’s the thing.  These books play such a huge role in the collective memories of so many people, all of whom clearly and distinctly remember “BerenstEin”, that I am not the first to propose the notion that somehow, at some time in the last 10 years or so, reality has been tampered with and history has been retroactively changed.  The bears really were called the “BerenstEin Bears” when we were growing up, but now reality has been altered such that the name of the bears has been changed post hoc.

In 1992 they were “stEin” in 1992, but in 2012 they were “stAin” in 1992.   (from the Wood Between Worlds, 2012, by “Reece”)

There’s some dandy math justification in the broader article. Follow the link above.   Essentially, ” the stEin and the stAin universes are actually just different hexadectants of the same universe: in the stEin universe, all three spatial dimensions are real and time is imaginary; in the stAin universe, all three spatial dimensions are imaginary and time is real.  Of course, from the standpoint of stEin/stAin this won’t produce any mathematically significant difference; it’s the same as choosing (+++-) or (—+) convention for Minkowski space, which at the end doesn’t alter predictions or measurements.  We’d never know if we did swap.”  (Ibid)

This seems to be a very technical approach to describing the multiverse theory, where many physicists have postulated that the universe is really a near-infinitude of near-mirror equivalent universe exist side by side, with the differences between the two to be so tiny as to be meaningless– maybe a sign is 3 feet to the left universe A and 3 feet to the right in universe B, for example.  Before we snort and say “So what, so there’s been some form of bleed-over from the A universe into ours.  What’s the harm”?   Well, perhaps nothing, but if you accept that tiny differences add up to something undetectable, then the actual spelling difference between Stein and Stain is much more than semantics; it’s a huge change!   So what do we do now? Wait for the universe to realign itself properly?

I know there’s a big box of kid’s books abandoned in the basement.  They date back to before 1992, when Reece postulates that the rift took place.  I know we have some Berenst#in bears books in there.  I’m almost afraid to go check!

 

 

Happy Anniversary to 3PoS


Today is the sixth year of this blog, which commenced on this day in 2009, after porting all content (somewhat inexpertly) from its previous existence as “Another Point of Singularity” on Blogger.com.   As I mention in “About 3PoS” above, this is the successor to the blogger.com blog, and the xanga.com blog long before that.  So in a sense this effort has been ongoing since 2004.

6 Years on I have to say I made the correct decision to migrate to WordPress.com.  I am entirely happy with the control, the security, and the efforts WP.com goes to to keep out annoying spam comments.

During the six years, readership has grown at a nice curve– nothing explosive or exponential, but readership is up, followers are up and subscriptions are up.   Way above where they were in 2009. That works for me.  As I’ve said before, I’m not selling anything, I’m not trying to make a political or social “point”, I’m not part of a cult, society, or any other societal cluster that requires validation from internet traffic.   Sure, I could be more controversial, I guess, or more prolific, but that’s starting to be more work than it’s worth.

I’m content if someone reads a post once in a while, but I really just write these things for the sheer fun of the process.

Trends: Gaming has always been a huge focus for this blog and continues to be.  Reviewing things has gone up– not just games but books as well.

My most popular posts continue to be an ill-mannered screed against Games Workshop I posted four years ago, and a nostalgia piece about the ads for the Submarines in the back of comic books of long ago.  So go figure.

I have no plans to quit any time soon, for better or worse.  You have been warned.

Sign of the Pagan, by VPG (a review)


Sign of the Pagan Victory Point Games

Sign of the Pagan
Victory Point Games
www.victorypointgames.com Designed by Richard Berg

Game Scales:

  • 1 counter=500 to 1000 men
  • 1 hex=200 yards
  • 1 turn=30 minutes +/-

Sign of the Pagan is not just an obscure and preachy Sword and Sandals movie from the 1950s, but also a hex and counter style wargame published by Victory Point Games as part of their Gold Banner Product line.  Sign of the Pagan was published in late 2013, and I’ve only played it about three times since I received it, so I’ll admit my understanding of the game is not what it will be, though overall pretty positive.

Sign of the Pagan is a game that focuses on The Battle of the Catalaunian Fields, which comes down to us as “The Battle of Chalons“, which featured two large forces, Hun and Roman (by contemporary standards) .  The forces on either side were neither entirely Hunnic nor very Roman, but were instead coalition forces of polyglot troops loosely allied on either side.  The Western Romans, by this point in history, really weren’t close to being recognizable as the force that had conquered Gaul under the early Caesars centuries before.   What was left was disciplined (for its day), mounted, and well armored, but not present in enough numbers to counter the Hunnic invasion.  The local commander, Flavius Aetius, led a coalition of very willful and militant local tribes consisting of Visigoths, Salian and Ripuarian Franks, Sarmatians, Armoricans, Liticians, Burgundians, Saxons, Librones and other Celtic or German tribes.  The invading Hun army, led by Attila, consisted primarily of Hunnic Empire cavalry but also sizable contingents from the Ostrogoths, Rugians, Scirii, Thuringians, Bastarnae, Alamanni, Gepids and Heruli tribes.  The outcome of the battle was decided rout of the Hun Coalition, as predicted by the Hunnic diviners the night before.   I won’t wax historical in this post as there are some good historical sources to read up on Chalons here and there around the internet, not the least of which being Wikipedia.

As a somewhat linear battle develops, as I play my first game of Sign of the Pagan.  The lines are never that coherent for very long!

We have a great setup here– two coalition forces with allies that have the potential to be treacherous (some of them, anyway).   The battle and troop mix favor shock factors such as heavy infantry and medium cavalry, all of which are in the mix.  So how well does Sign of the Pagan do as a game?

The rules are a potage of elements that the designer, Richard Berg, has served up before.  Activation is accomplished by Contingent Activation markers (CAMs) which have been around in one fashion or another since A Famous Victory.   All very understandable.  Players select CAMs, then roll for initiative winner and the winner places his CAM on the map.  The remaining CAMs are put back in an opaque cup.  Contingents are activated by drawing from a cup in random fashion thereafter.  Movement is pretty standard stuff, and facing counts.

Combat comes in two flavors, Missile and Shock.   Missile is nothing we haven’t seen before– units have to be in range, units have to be seen, the firing unit must have a missile factor, and there other factors possibly in play, such as movement and whether the unit is engaged.  Missile Combat is resolved on a Missile Fire CRT which is fairly bloodless- the worst result being a DISORDERED marker.  Shock Combat is handled somewhat differently, and is heavily modified by troop type,   Position advantage, Momentum, and current Morale.  The goal is to get the enemy disordered twice; that eliminates them.  I found that a preliminary arrow shower followed up by a rush of men with swords and axes is the best combination.


Also included in the game are eight OPPORTUNITY CARDS (above) for either side which are shuffled, and four are drawn for both sides.  The Opportunity Card is like a “one time interrupt” event that modifies the outcome of the current battle.  The rulebook states they can be played at any time– a general rule that is modified by the event description on the card.  Note that there are really only FOUR cards– the other four of the eight are “no events” just to add a little variability and randomness.  Even so, I suspect you could play a bluff with a No Event card if you have the right stuff theatrically.

In the three games I’ve played so far, the rulebook appears to lay things out in a fairly sensible manner and there was nothing about Sign of the Pagan‘s mechanics that was profoundly difficult to grasp, on the face of it.  And yet… there were many occasions where I was confused or just plain interpreted the text incorrectly.  Some of the steps and exceptions to combat are vaguely worded and I found myself re-reading parts of the book again and again in order to grasp the designer’s intent.  If that fellow is engaged with that fellow and another fellow comes up and attacks from here, the rules state this exception… 

Personally, I think the rulebook would have been greatly improved with an illustrated example of the first 3-4 turns of a game, just to see how movement, activation, command and combat actually work.  There are a smorgasbord of mechanical elements to this game that appear familiar but ultimately made me feel like I was eating ala carte.   This is not to say it isn’t an enjoyable game– once I got the hang of things, I really liked it.  This is an interesting period, very rarely a subject of a wargame design.   I liked the period, I liked the tactical situation very much.  I liked the treacherous Alans tribe– shades of the Kobayakawa clan in Berg’s earlier Shogun Triumphant!

On the material side the components really won me over.  The counters are published in that new big, chunky style favored by Victory Point games.. they are solid in the hand and don’t blow away when you sneeze.   The graphics for the counters are decent but not eye-catching, the map is elegance personified.  The printing is a little muddy in places (particularly the color charts) but very readable.

If Sign of the Pagan is illustrative of the VPG’s continuing efforts in promoting nice little one-shot battle games with great components, all at an affordable price, than I’m all for it.  I was already a fan of VPG but games like Sign of the Pagan will induce me to stay that way.

Trying out the 3D Virtual Tabletop app


By happenstance I stumbled upon the 3D Virtual Tabletop app via a sidebar ad on RPG.NET– having just gone through a successful Kickstarter campaign, the designer was getting the word out, apparently. I’ve been playing around with mapping tools lately, notably Roll20.net to support role playing games. 3D Virtual Tabletop (3DVT) has some somewhat similar functions from what I can tell. I have not managed to run a game with it yet (see below), so I have only a basic first look understanding of how it works right now.

3D Virtual Tabletop Pricing Screen

First and foremost, 3DVT is a mapping tool for playing tabletop games with. The design clearly was aimed at small scale roleplaying skirmishes, moving character icons over a graphical map layer. It’s pretty simple at the core of it.

3DVT Player and monster icons on top of a dungeon room background layer that I imported

The client, out of the box (as it were) comes with several sample maps from various genres. The ones included in the game were apparently from Legendary Games, a maker of 2D terrain pieces in cardboard, designed for playing fantasy roleplaying games with a flat playing field and grid overlay to snap the figures to.

It was easy to find a few grids on the internetz and add them to the floor layer as objects. I probably could have done the same with new tokens (players) as well, as there are plenty of images out there to use.

Another example of terrain I imported

… and another, a “bridge” tile.

View is isometric by default, but the app can adapt to run a game from straight up looking down:

Much potential for more boardgamey things here….

Account management is handled by Google Sign in or by regular login.

If you DON’T have a subscription, don’t bother. There is no “trial period”.

Maps need to synchronized between players, which is handled by the server piece. To pay for that, you have to SUBSCRIBE, which costs about 9.99 a year, which I think is a very reasonable price, considering the capability you’ll be paying for.

Note that I couldn’t start an actual game, as I haven’t subscribed yet. A “trial period” would have been a nice feature, so I can see what I’m paying 9.99 for, cheap as it is.

The actual “Start a new game with other people” screen, which I couldn’t really take advantage of, as I haven’t subscribed. So I’m not sure what exactly happens next, but there’s some links to example games at the bottom of the page, and they’ll give you a good idea.

So this is as much as I know– I’ve loaded the 3DVT app on both IoS and Android. I’ve imported map tiles and moved figure icons around on it in a very impressive manner. I have not started a game or run a game as a host as that isnt’ a feature I can take advantage of right now. So, shrug.. I can see the potential for this thing, but I wonder how much better it is than Roll20? That application, though mostly browser based, handles everything including the mapping, and even does hidden reveals. 3DVT appears to be an app for just recreating the immediate action in a specific contained place and time. Great for running skirmishes or small tabletop miniature games. I could see this being used for boardgaming as well. Again, the jury is still out as to whether it will kill off RollD20 or not– although it does have one great quality: it runs on an IPad.

I’m cautiously optomistic.. and what the heck, it’s only 10 bucks a year.

3DVT is available from the Google Store, Itunes App Store and Amazon.

LINKS:

 

Wargame Bloggers Quarterly–a Neat New Magazine


I don’t often reblog a post, but Wargame Blogger’s Quarterly is such a neat idea, I’m really taken with it. A big tip of the chapeau to Thomo for finding this and I’ll definitely be investigating it in the future (and who knows, maybe something from here will be on there, but I doubt it!).

Thomo's Hole

Wargamers_Quarterly It’s big, bold and pretty!

There is a new quarterly wargames magazine available in the Internet called Wargame Bloggers Quarterly. This is, as the title suggests, a quarterly magazine designed to highlight the best looking of games and and reviews.

I have had a quick look through issue one and I am impressed. No fancy tricks, just good solid text and images.

This first issue has chapters on:

  • Bloody Cremona from Simon Miller
  • Trouble Brewing in “Serenity City” by Dave Docherty
  • Whitechapel 1888 by Michael Awdry
  • Lledo “Days Gone Bye” Horse Drawn Carriages from Robert Audin
  • Inside the Mind of Loki – Vallejo Model Colour and Triads from Andrew “Loki” Saunders
  • Iron Mitten Plays “Spot the Royalist”
  • and lastly, a copy of the Official Charter of the Magazine

Well worth having a look – I know what my lunchtime reading is today … and tomorrow!

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Review: Johannes Cabal the Detective


The Detective (Johannes Cabal, #2)The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve grown to really enjoy the Cabal series. The humor is droll, some of the social commentary is rather arch, but the overall narrative is of splendid adventure. The central figure, Johannes Cabal, is a necromancer in a world where necromancy is hardly an honorable profession. Indeed, Cabal’s inner monologue and side observations indicate he has had to remain one step ahead of a Noose/Guillotine/Firing Squad throughout his career, though no specifics are revealed by the series’ author, Jonathan Howard. Mr. Howard is a writer of considerable talent, with an innate ability to set a scene and construct gems of dialogue.

If you have read the first novel, you will note that #2, The Detective, takes place a decent amount of time after the events of the first novel, where Cabal was forced to collect 100 souls (by none other than the devil himself) in return for his soul. Perhaps a year or more later, in fact. Cabal is on the continent… somewhere. We’ll circle back to the setting. His attempt to burgle a rare text on necromancy lands him on the wrong side of a sadistic Balkan count’s graces.

The Cabal novels appear to be taking place in an alternative Edwardian to early 20th century era, before the Great War robbed life of any niceties. There are recognizable countries like England and Italy, and Balkan style fictional states with names made up out of whole cloth (Merkavia) to borrowed from other works (Graustark). No maps exist of the Cabalverse that I know of.

Cabal departs the fictional Balkan state (Merkavia) by hiding aboard a Zeppelin traveling North. The Zeppelin is packed with relief supplies for a Northern neighbor going through a drought. Or is it? A murder happens, and the story shifts to “Locked Room Mystery” mode. I won’t reveal any spoilers about the plot henceforth, but it does roll trippingly along from there and resolves itself in grand style– with gunshots, crashing airships, duels and a demonic entity from the past.

Johannes Cabal the Detective is a splendid read and it sets up Number 3 nicely. Highly recommended as a few nights’ diversion.

Johannes Cabal on DeviantArt.

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NOTICE: I’ve had to ratchet back comments temporarily


ASKIMET, the anti-spam service used by WordPress.com, usually works pretty well.  I’ve had no complaints.  Lately, they have failed to stem the tide of routine spam postings originating somewhere (I think) in France.  The spam comments are uniquely multi-lingual and have spoofed IPs.  I’m deleting several a day.  This is becoming painful.

So.. much as I love to read comments, even on very old posts, these are the favorite targets of spambots.  Since this blog has been around in some format since 2004, I have lots of old posts for them to glom onto.   To combat this, I’ve turned OFF all comments on anything but a 1 day old post.

I’m very sorry, but it’s become quite burdensome.  I truly value people quoting old posts and comments, but the French SpamWave has become so obnoxious, I’ll have to tighten down until Askimet figures this stuff out.  I’m monitoring the situation.

Thanks for reading!

MrN

The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven, a review


The Draco TavernThe Draco Tavern by Larry Niven
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Draco Tavern is Larry Niven’s version of the “Space Bar” trope of science fiction. The main star is the setting; a nexus where alien species of a startling variety come together to interact and tell stories, and short stories ensue. The Space Bar isn’t startlingly original as a literary idea; Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille, and earlier, Tales From The White Hart could lay claim to exploring the concept before the publication of The Draco Tavern, though Larry Niven has been writing these stories in the Tavern setting for quite a while.

Perhaps the core concept isn’t original, but unlike those other collections, Niven has invested a lot of creativity and thought about the setting and universe surrounding the Draco Tavern, and he really seems to be having fun with the alien species in particular. Almost every one of the short stories centers around the humans (often just the bartender/narrator, Rick Schuman) encountering some nugget of truth about life by interacting with a race of beings that does something entirely differently and is shocked or amused with homo sapiens and their quirky ways. It’s a good theme; and the deeper theme of acceptance and good natured hospitality instead of xenophobia is a timely one these days.

Stories in the Collection:

“The Subject is Closed”
“Grammar Lesson”
“Assimilating Our Culture, That’s What They’re Doing”
“The Schumann Computer”
“The Green Marauder”
“The Real Thing”
“War Movie”
“Limits”
“Table Manners”
“One Night at the Draco Tavern”
“The Heights”
“The Wisdom of Demons”
“Smut Talk”
“Ssoroghod’s People”
“The Missing Mass”
“The Convergence of the Old Mind”
“Chrysalis”
“The Death Addict”
“Storm Front”
“The Slow Ones”
“Cruel and Unusual”
“The Ones Who Stay Home”
“Breeding Maze”
“Playhouse”
“Lost”
“Losing Mars”
“Playground Earth”

Of these I rather liked The Wisdom of Demons, The Green Marauder (which posits the existence of a predecessor to humanity that lived on the pre-oxygen Earth), and The Schuman Computer (where the narrator builds a super computer that grows so powerful it gets bored with helping humanity…)

In summary, The Draco Tavern isn’t Niven’s greatest work, and maybe not even his best collection of short stories. I liked his milieu quite a bit and found the alien overlords (the bemused, 11 feet tall “Chirpsithra”, which look like kind of like willowy lobsters) very entertainingly written. This collection isn’t Ringworld, or even close, but it is worth a read for Niven fans. I found the stories a bit abrupt and even a little preachy at times. The reader is often left in a position to draw his own conclusions as the story abruptly ends. That can be a little jarring from time to time.

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2013 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  I thought I’d share it with the readership, which, surprisingly, does exist.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 58,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 21 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Short Review: DOCTOR SLEEP, by S. King


Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s been many many years since I last read a Stephen King novel. I read a few of the classic stories (Carrie, Salem’s Lot, the Shining, the Stand, IT, the Tommyknockers) back in the 80s but gave up on it because of the similarity in tone between one story and the next.. when you read a King novel, you know it’s going to have lots of pop culture references, corny dialogue and tons of internal monologuing. It just got stale. So with some mild curiosity I decided to pick up two books– Under the Dome (from the library, not cracked open yet) and the sequel to The Shining, the recently released novel, Doctor Sleep. I have been wanting to crack open a King novel for a while now, just to see if his style has evolved from the “fiction factory” in the 80s/early 90s. Has fatherhood (to successful horror writer in his own right, Joe Hill) and King’s much publicized 1999 near fatal accident taken something away from him? Perhaps, but perhaps it’s added something back. There’s a maturity there, now, and a sense of mortality to King’s writing that truly makes Doctor Sleep one of his best novels to date. Don’t get me wrong, the go-to tropes of a King novel are still present: the mordant sense of humor, the pop culture references which give them a time-piece quality, the internal dialogues, and that trademark utter banality of evil.

In Doctor Sleep, the protagonist of The Shining, Danny Torrence has grown up to an adult– a very flawed adult indeed, following his father into alcoholism and self destruction, a place that he somewhat successfully digs his way out of with a lot of help from AA. Danny wanders a bit, then settles down in a town to become a caregiver at a hospice (as the eponymous “Dr. Sleep” who helps dying patients make the transition to the other side). Danny feels obliged to help another child with the shining power who is terrible danger from a coven of psychic vampires who actually feed on the “Shining” precognitive powers called “The True Knot”. Like blood to a conventional vampire, the True Knot bad guys feed and are rejuvenated from the essence of precognitive powers, which they call “The Steam”). When they get wind of Abra, the girl with the Shining power that makes Danny look like bush league, they naturally make her a target. As Danny was once the student and Dick Hallorahan the teacher, now Danny must be the teacher and savior.

Reaction: I haven’t read a book I could truly say “I couldn’t put it down!” about in a very long time. Reading Doctor Sleep was like that. I had my e-reader with me everywhere, snatching five minutes here and there to read just one more chapter. I was addicted! This was a very enjoyable read and very engrossing. I got my money’s worth.

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