Category Archives: Christmas

My Christmas Story begins with a Decca Long Play album


DECCA ‎– DLP 8010: Ronald Colman, Charles Laughton ‎– Charles Dickens Classics: A Christmas Carol And Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas, to be precise. This is a vinyl recording that appears to have been assembled from two separate recordings of Charles Dickens stories that originated for the radio some time in the 1940s.

This was a Christmas album of two of Charles Dickens’ famous works– the Christmas Carol, which is justifiably famous, and Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas, which is perhaps less so, being bundled in with the Pickwick Papers, which is probably regarded as among Dickens’ lighter works.

The album was first pressed in the late 40s, and reprinted in 1950 under the sleeve you see above.  Side A was Charles Laughton’s light hearted and jocular recounting of the Christmas Chapters from the Pickwick Papers. The story is very lighthearted; a recounting of the members of the Pickwick Club visiting relatives for Christmas in the country during the Victorian time period. If you haven’t read the Posthumous History of the Pickwick Club (aka The Pickwick Papers), give it a try. The Christmas chapter is a classic. My brother and I used to joke about “Joe, the Fat Boy” who was always found in a corner attacking a mince pie and falling asleep. The Pickwickians attend a great Christmas party and dance a lot, eat prodigiously, and kiss under the missletoe. It’s a fun story. The Laughton recording is outstanding, and he had the perfect voice for it:

Listen to the Audio here:

If that doesn’t work, try this. The Audio isn’t as good, but it is clear.

Side B was performed by Ronald Colman, possessor of that ultimate refined English gentleman voice, playing Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. There are few works in English literature so completely associated with the holiday than a Christmas Carol, and I don’t feel as if I have to recount the plot of old Ebenezer’s redemption and moral rescue– almost everyone knows it, or should. This particular
recording was full of all the sharp audio stings associates with old time radio plays: sudden guitar strings, organ music and all. It was downright creepy when I was 7 or 8 years old, though gradually I was less scared by it. We played it constantly during the Christmas season until, I think, my mom threw it away, as it was hopelessly scratchy by then.

Listen to the Audio here:

(if that doesn’t work, try this, though the audio isn’t as good)

There’s not much more to this memory. I remember playing this record on a succession of record players owned by my mom and dad. My older brother, in particular, enjoyed this record maybe even more than me. The crackling and hissing of this ancient vinyl album was in its own way very comforting, as was the tinny, otherworldly audio of programs recorded for the radio back in the 40s. It’s odd to think about that record, as I often do at Christmas, being as old as it was. The original recordings by Laughton and Colman date back to the early 40s, when my parents were either in middle school or high school. The Decca Long Play record that I recall (the cover you see above) was pressed in 1950, and later on in 1970, but my parents must have found their version in an old record shop or thrift shop somewhere. It was ancient even for them. Of course, in a technological age I’ve found cleaned up audio copies on the Internet Archive (easily), and I can listen to this any time I want to. But there’s an essential element missing, and it’s more than the lack of a hiss and crackle as the ancient needle made the ancient vinyl yield up the golden tones of Ronald Colman once again, barely. I think it’s all about life experience.. nostalgia, as I’ve been reflecting on lately, is kind of a prison. It’s a way of telling us we missed out on something or something has passed us by. I don’t feel that way listening to these old recordings, now. More like a bemusement grown out of experience, and more of an intellectual, vice emotional detachment when I absorb the life lessons of Mr. Dickens one more time. There’s something universal about Dickens’ Christmas message– about keeping kindness and generosity of spirit in our hearts more than just one day a year. A message that transcends faith, politics and petty squabbles. Would that the world grew up listening to that message more often.

2014 Annual Digital Christmas Card!


It really wouldn’t be Christmas without an annual digital Christmas card for all the people I didn’t get around to mailing a paper card to..  so here you go! (Note, this used to be just for wargamers, now we’re a little more inclusive)

Have a safe, healthy, and happy 2015.. you can “count” on it!

Gift Giving to strangers in the Internet Age


I haven’t been posting much this month, and for that I have to apologize.  There’s been a glut of health problems within my family, myself included.  It’s been distracting and blogging just hasn’t been on the front burner for me.  I’m going to try to get in front of that and and metaphorically, step out on the good foot.

So, let’s talk about modern gift giving via the Internet.  I’ve done (and posted on) the BGG Secret Santa tradition before.  You probably are acquainted with the classic Christmas party game that happens at most office parties you’ll attend this season (or have attended).  Everyone brings a small gift worth X amount of dollars, puts them under a tree.. and the referee marks them with numbers.. calls the numbers and people come forward one by one.  They can either take a gift off the table or steal anyone’s gift up to 3 times.  That’s the gist of it.

Boardgame Geek Christmas Secret Santa "Badges".  One for every year of its existence, since 2006, plus Wargaming Secret Santa since 2012.

My Boardgame Geek Christmas Secret Santa “Badges”. One for every year of its existence, since 2006, plus Wargaming Secret Santa since 2012.  Plus the Christmas Gift Card Exchange, last two years.

With the internet as all pervasive as is is, it’s no wonder that a variant of Secret Santa (minus the *stealing problem, which would be difficult to implement anonymously via the internet) was going to happen sooner or later.   Boardgamegeek.com has been particularly generous in this regard– they’ve run a Secret Santa program for almost a decade now, and I’ve participated enthusiastically since its inception– there are now several spin-off Secret Santa programs on BGG, including the Wargame Secret Santa (Santa Grognard) and even a Christmas Card exchange, which I’ve also participated in for the last two years running.   I was bowled over this year — my regular Secret Santa gave me the Battle of Five Armies (FFG/Nexus Version) as well as Ted Alspach’s  One Night Ultimate Werewolf. My Wargame Secret Santa gave me GMT’s new Berg/Herman design Hoplite, the newish game about the cult comic Corto,  and a game I’ve been drooling over for years, the re-themed version of mathematician Robert Abbot’s (formerly paper) game, Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War.   I was speechless when these arrived– that’s an amazingly generous present– I felt like a piker buying a single game for MY Secret Santa targets– but that’s what I could afford.

Reddit Gifts exchange 2014.  This tradition is a spin-off of the main site reddit.com, and has been ongoing for the last 6 years.

Reddit Gifts exchange 2014. This tradition is a spin-off of the main site reddit.com, and has been ongoing for the last 6 years.

I tried something new in 2014– the Reddit Gift Exchange.  This is a spin-off of sorts from the popular overarching internet commentary site (the so-called front door to the Internet).  Functionally, it runs very similar to BGG Secret Santa exchanges, up to and including posting proof you shipped something (which I did) and some form of response about the gift you received in return (which I haven’t.. it hasn’t showed up yet).  I liked the idea of maybe reaching out to a broader set of people than the gaming geeks I normally hang out with, and it is a challenge to read the likes and dislikes of a real, honest to goodness stranger who likely doesn’t like the same stuff you do.   Here’s a sample of the profile my target/assigned target filled in, from which I need to get clues from about what to get her:

Likes or Dislikes: I’m into outdoor sports, art, sex, fashion….sometimes. I’m a smart, athletic, successful woman that can geek out or smoke out.

HobbiesI run, paint, watch comedy, dance at shows, bike, hike, and hammock

Favorite Books/Authors: literature regarding psychosis and things like body language or birth order.

This is definitely a woman whom I’m going to have a little difficulty finding a common dialogue with!  Where does one find books about psychosis or birth order that she hasn’t read already?  I’m not going to have much luck with the “smoke out”, sex, athletic, dance at shows, bike, hike, or hammock clues, either.  I suspect she gets pot easier than I can (as she lives in CO), and unless I gifted her a sex toy, new biking shoes or a new hammock, I don’t think I’m going to ring any of the other bells either.  In the end, I jumped on this clue like a drowning man grasping at straws:

If you could learn one skill, what would you learn?

I’d like to learn how to play the harmonica

So I sent her a harmonica, the Idiot’s guide to playing the Harmonica, and some beef sausages (cuz she says she likes meat).  She hasn’t posted about receiving my present (though I know it was delivered), so the jury is still out about whether she liked it.

The jury is still out on Redditgifts.  The site seems geared to sell you stuff to send to your targets more than managing exchanges– which is okay I guess, that part is easily ignored.  It’s a lot more confusing than the BGG exchange, and I didn’t figure out how to communicate with my target anonymously at all– that’s a fun part of the BGG exchange.

Aside from a rather rushed Gift Card exchange (which I really do enjoy), that’s been about it for my experience exchanging presents with strangers in 2014.   Why do I like being involved in this tradition?    Honestly it really has very little to do with getting keen new stuff.  I have always loved the idea of sending a little something to a total stranger with no danger of him or her ever figuring out who I was.  If you’ll indulge me a scriptural reference from Matthew 6:1 (my favorite):

1 “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in  heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give gifts, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give gifts, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gifts may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received  their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward  you.

“Sure,” you’re saying.. don’t trumpet your gift-giving, but here you are blogging about it“.  It’s not really about the give and take and I really don’t need the approval of anonymous blog readers about sending people presents.  After all, I’m getting one (sometimes many!) in return.  I just like the idea that the recipient will receive something nice from a total and complete stranger (me) and never know who sent it to him/her.   Maybe it’s some form of karma balance.. who am I to say.

So if I don’t see you until after the Holidays, MERRY CHRISTMAS and a safe, healthy and prosperous New Year!

* Stealing.. hmm.. how hard WOULD this be to implement on the internet?  You’d have to maintain a database that would represent “the Tree”, where the gifts are kept.  You’d have to “open” the gifts by posting them to a public forum.  The current player would have the choice of “Going to the Tree” (database) to reveal a NEW present, or making a STEAL ATTEMPT on a present already claimed (this could be done up to N times, then the gift is safe).   It strikes me that you could work this up as a pretty fun little internet pasttime with the right web code and database back end.   The problem would be in scaling it– the vast numbers of people participating in the Reddit Secret Santa would make an internet-based stealing game a practical impossibility.  It would take far too long.  However, a smaller pod of players, say less than 60, might be able to get an internet game done in about 3 days.  Something to think about.  

Fair Winds and Following Seas: My first sea cruise, ever


“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.”

From “Sea Fever” John Masefield

Cruising on a big commercial cruise ship wasn’t quite what Masefield had in mind when he wrote that, but I couldn’t help feeling a tad bit nautical, this being my first excursion out of sight of land since the early 90s.  If you were wondering where I’ve been since before Christmas (and I’m sure you’ve been at your wit’s end, admit it), I was finally persuaded to take a cruise with my family for Christmas.  For fun.  On the water.

We departed on Royal Caribbean ship Grandeur of the Seas on Christmas Eve, and sailed for ten days, visiting Labadee Beach, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands); and finally Saint Maartens, then a much quicker return journey to arrive back at Grandeur’s home port of Baltimore Md. by 03 January.

So, what was the trip like, and did I have a good time?  In general, I did.  There were some frankly wearisome aspects to being away from shore and in a very tiny crowded space for ten days.  The cabin was confining, I did not sleep well and the bathroom was an athletic challenge– to take a shower you basically encase yourself in a nylon tube of water and shower from top to bottom vigorously while avoiding flooding the bathroom.   As you might expect, I avoided the cabin unless necessity called.  Food was .. plentiful.  The one thing RC does to keep passengers quiescent is overfeed them until they can do little more than roll around like Violet Beuregard post-blueberry transformation.   Meals are highly ritualized and there are many of them– the three basics, plus free food at all hours from room service and a short order kitchen on the pool deck.  I was forewarned about this aspect of cruising and did my best not to overeat, though my son Gar pitched in like a good un.

Let me point out this was considered a “light breakfast” by Gar, and he did enjoy bigger repasts, several times, during the cruise

Service by Royal Caribbean staff and crew was uniformly excellent.  Everyone, from waiters, room attendants,  the sailing crew from the Captain on down.. simply everyone was friendly, accommodating and gracious.  RC makes its living in a very competitive market and they know they sell their service first and foremost as a market niche.

With that said, well, life at sea is a little challenging to keep people occupied when you cruise from port to port.  There were many shipboard activities, but not of the sort I find particularly breath taking– I did play in the trivia challenges and went to a couple of seminars, and I read an unexpected three and a half novels when I was at sea.  Fortunately I’m an old hand at keeping myself amused.  Christmas and New Years Eve were both celebrated at sea, and the ship’s crew did gainfully attempt to infuse the ship with holiday spirit.  The New Year’s festivities were lavish.

New Years Eve 2013 on the Grandeur

Grandeur’s 2013 New Year’s Eve celebration, in “the Centrum”, the main area of the ship. Directly after the giant balloon drop. The crowd is quite sozzled. Click on the picture to see a small New Year’s Eve pictorial on FLICKR.

New Year’s was fun, but Christmas at sea just doesn’t feel like Christmas at all to me.  Our celebration was meager at best.  I did get to attend midnight mass in the ship’s theater and did attend mass once more during the cruise, so that felt most like Christmas to me.

For me the singularly best part of the cruise were the destinations.  Labadee isn’t the Haiti you are thinking about– it’s more like what we termed “Disney Haiti”.  Labadee is a small peninsula jutting out from the island of Hispaniola, leased by the Royal Caribbean company until 2050.   So no squalid, grinding poverty or violence in sight, just happy sunshine, rum drinks and beaches, and lots of “extreme” rides to spend extra on.  This is Royal Caribbean’s land, bought and paid for, and though it wasn’t spoken of, I couldn’t help but wonder what keeps the people of Haiti from climbing the big hill that separated the beach from the mainland?  A lot of men with guns, hidden somewhere.. at least that’s my theory.  Still, we had fun.  I didn’t take any photographs of Haiti but really all we saw was the beach and lots of green coastline– when we pulled off the island receded quickly and then it was gone.

Fort San Phillipe del Moro

The Approach to San Juan, Puerto Rico. That’s the fort of San Phillipe Del Moro dead center. We toured it on foot later that day, and it was outstanding.

I loved visiting San Juan. We engaged a colorful local named Jose (yes, really) and he drove us around the city maintaining a non-stop imaginative commentary about life in Puerto Rico, American-Puerto Rican relations, a history of U.S. Presidents engaged in Puerto Rican history, exports, the tourism industry, the policy of cruise ship lines, the efficacy of the port tax, and other fascinating topics.  I loved this guy– he had a hipster sang froid about life and making a buck that I admired.  He dropped us off a few blocks North of the docks so we had opportunity to tour just a little bit of the extensive fortifications on the island dating back to the 1500s.  The fort in San Juan is amazing, and well worth the visit.  Later, we strolled down to a dockside bar and had a light meal offship and some VERY expensive rum drinks.  I wish we had more time in San Juan.  As the ship was leaving, we noticed a man leaving the ship– possibly being ejected, though the established reason was “medical reasons”.  Hard to say.

Saint Thomas

Saint Thomas was tinier than I imagined.. again we engaged a colorful local, this time named Elvis, and he took us around the island at breakneck speeds.  Since St. Thomas is essentially a volcanic island like many other Caribbean islands, it featured a big mountain in the middle with steep sides. The views from the top of the island are breathtaking. I liked Saint Thomas quite a bit.

Gar getting all coy in front of a sign at Orient Beach, St. Maartens.

Our final stop was Saint Maartens, which was (along with San Juan), my favorite stop on the trip. Saint Maartens has a Dutch side and a French side, both of which seem to get along with each other amicably. St. Maartens is huge compared to some islands and a mixture of development and wilderness. I liked both sides of the island– the Dutch side seemed more laid back but the French side was just stunning, visually. Again, we engaged a colorful local to take us around the island at breakneck speeds. The formula seems to work.

On the way back to Baltimore, we amused ourselves as best we could.

Bridge of the Grandeur

Gar on the Bridge tour of Grandeur of the Seas. Click image to see more images from the bridge tour

Garrett got a Bridge Tour of the Grandeur before New Years, and an Engineering deck tour the day after. It was quite impressive.

Check out that power! Click on the link for more of the Engineering deck.

New Year’s Eve was all out– and I didn’t really get the sense that it was nautical, it could have been a New Year’s eve at any hotel out there.

A very hungover ship the next day. Not being much of a drinker, I enjoyed being relatively uncrowded when I went up for breakfast the next morning!

The weather changed dramatically on the return trip, especially when we entered the welcome sight of the Chesapeake Bay. Temperatures dropped to 17 degrees and we noticed snow in the air and on the ground when we pulled in.. disembarking was fast and efficient, which I liked, but standing in the biting wind with only light jackets wasn’t a thrill. Lessons learned; bring winter stuff and pack it in the car.

So, that was our cruising holiday. Yes, it was fun and I would consider doing it again, though not soon. I liked it, but wasn’t insanely crazy about the experience, like some addicts were, and I never drank the kool-aid on this one. It’s a good time and I loved being with my family, but it didnt’ feel like the Holidays to me, and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’m a quiet kind of guy when it comes to day to day amusement. The ship was crowded, and always noisy. There’s just no quiet part of the ship to go to and hangout. I found a part of the fantail where nobody seemed to visit and went there repeatedly to read, but it gets windy on the stern. Many of the “activities” were thinly veiled attempts at selling something– art, jewelry, more cruises, etc. That’s one thing you have to take in stride on a cruise ship.. everybody has their hand out for something. This is sanctioned by the cruise line as they provide services by ride-along contracted services that sell stuff. Nothing is free, and nothing is cheap. Everything that can be segmented into a niche and sold, will be. For instance, I didn’t drink hardly any alcohol on the ship, because to drink wine or mixed drinks or even a beer costs big money– you pay by the “plan” or by the drink. Even drinking soda requires a magical cup (which they will sell you for 80 dollars) with a chip in it so you can be part of the privileged elite who paid to drink soda. I assure you I can live without soda, so I didn’t bother. The only thing I missed was an occasional beer, and I had one or two.

If you plan on cruising on ANY commercial line, understand that not everything comes with the package and the extras cost you dearly. If you have a gambling problem, the cruising life may not be for you– they start up on the slot machines as soon as the boat crosses into international waters, and make it TOO easy to extend credit. Not a good combination, especially with the liquor. If you can reign it in a bit and keep that part controlled, you’ll have a great time.

Happy New Year everyone!

Christmas Card 2014


Happy Christmas and a Safe, Healthy and Prosperous 2014.

Annual Christmas Card for Wargamers 2012 edition


Once again, in keeping with the Season, I have lots of friends I’ve made online and not enough time or swag to send a Christmas card to all of you. So please consider my ANNUAL Christmas Card for Wargamers (this year, we’ll have to assume that it’s wargamers that like to play a little ARKHAM HORROR now and then).  (click to en-biggen)

2012-Christmas-Card-For_Gamers

As always, Merry Christmas to all my friends and acquaintances, I hope that 2013 brings you happiness, health and prosperity.

A surprising life lesson from ThinkGeek.com


I like to shop at ThinkGeek.com, though I often I have to talk myself out of buying stuff I see in the pages there. To quote my friend Carol Kocian: “Wow! Neat! That’s the coolest thing I’ll never buy!” on a recent ThinkGeek item I posted to my Facebook wall. Self restraint is a good thing; it teaches me spiritual discipline, to reject the life of shallow materialism, and on a practical note, I don’t end up with a basement full of TaunTaun sleeping bags. This Christmas, Thinkgeek offered up an item that was eminently affordable, amusing yet practical, and as a bonus, it offered up a surprising life lesson at the end of the day– at no extra charge.

ThinkGeek Puzzle Gift Card Vault: Highly Recommended

I’m talking about the ThinkGeek Puzzle Gift Card Vault, of course. Only 4.99 for sheer deviltry in a plastic box. The concept is quite simple. The vault is shipped in an “Open” state. One simple opens the vault, slides in up to three pristine gift cards into the vault, and then slides the plastic toggle to “closed” state. This releases a tiny metal bb into a clear plastic maze that is over the card itself. One has to simply follow the maze until the ball drops into the “Unlock” position, and slide the toggle back to “Open”. Sound easy? Well, it is, if you are patient enough. The puzzle is slightly more challenging then a standard crackerjack toy in that the sides of the box add a second layer for the ball to drop into, then back up again, which can insert the ball beyond a barrier in the main puzzle. A nice three dimensional add-on, as it were.

My intentions were serene when I gave the kids gift cards in the card vaults– to add a little humor and a soupçon of challenge to what has become an otherwise routine, almost banal pastime: exchanging gifts at Christmas-time. Instead of the pro-forma “what did Santa leave you in the toe of your stockings?”, I now had a REAL CHALLENGE!! The results were interesting. ONE child took the puzzle apart with contemptuous ease– patiently looking at the puzzle, deducing the path that needed to be followed and consequently solved it in about 7 minutes max. The OTHER child, by contrast, rapidly lost patience (even though there were 3, count ’em, THREE gift cards contained inside). The ball shakily moved through the maze, the recipient got increasingly impatient and frustrated.. shook it furiously, and threatened a teenaged tantrum. “Oh well, I’m done.. I just won’t use it then!” followed by “This…. is soooo mean!” Then, dare I say it, a little snuffling. Well, both myself and the other child present felt a little bad about that, and an offer of assistance was granted. As you might guess, the puzzle was solved in point-blimfark.

And what did we learn here today, kids? Later, I was complimenting spawn number 2 in abstentia for rapid puzzle solving ability and gently chiding spawn number 1 for a perceived lack of patience. Spawn number 1 interjected and said:

“But I solved it too, you know”
“No you didn’t! It had you reduced to tears!”
“Exactly. I solved it by crying until Spawn #2 felt bad enough to solve it for me!”
“WHAT!? You did that on purpose?”
“Yep!”

I was a little floored by that, but realized this spawn was correct. That was a solution. Perhaps not one I would follow or even think of– I’d take a hammer to it before I’d admit defeat. Yet, it was, in its own peculiar way, a method of solving a puzzle. When I mentioned this method to Spawn 2, the response was red-faced embarrassment and anger: “Dad, we got used faster than one ply toilet paper!” The suggestion was made to take all three cards back and lock them in the vault and force Spawn 1 to solve it without assistance of any sort this time, but I refrained from resorting to the Code of Solomon. Spawn 1 had, after all, arrived at a solution. Such a Machiavellian maneuver from one so young!

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The Best Christmas EVER! by James Patrick Kelly


Best Christmas Ever!

The Best Christmas EVER was a Hugo Winning short story from 2004, by James Patrick Kelly.

It tells the story of a pivotal Christmas for a man who happens to be the last man on earth.   I found it powerful, fitting for the season, and a little sad.  I cut the audio for this with my new Blue Snowball microphone and am in general satisfied with it.

http://misternizz.podbean.com/mf/web/ufizmu/TheBestChristmasEver.mp3″

Direct Link to the Airy Persiflage page

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays.

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2011 Nigel Clarke Invitational Christmas Game


I honestly thought I was boned, trying to get to the annual Nigel Clarke game.  This is the Christmas event my gaming group, the TNGG people, throw pretty close to the end of the year.   The last few years have featured a re-themed CIRCUS MAGICUS race (“Circus Santicus”), and as far back as 2005 I even put one on, THE DARK SECRET OF SANTA TOWN.   End of the year games tend to be pretty goofy, high concept, low on rules and universally about Winter or Christmas.  Hosting duties this year were assumed by Steve Gibson, an old hand at the Christmas game.   Steve’s offering this year was Christmas zombies. Steve runs a lot of Zombie games, using the Ares Fantasy rules.

Zombies

Reinforcements

that’s a whole lot of zombies.

Ares

Ares Rulebook

We’ve played in Steve’s zombie games before and they usually are modern affairs set in a universe somewhat similar to Resident Evil.  Not this time!  This game was the Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge.  Small units from both the German and American armies blunder into a terror greater than any horror of war they could possibly imagine in the midst of a driving snow storm.

The Map

American and German troops start the game on the move– the Americans have two halftracks, one of which is disabled, the other has run out of gas and ammunition (a common theme in the Ardennes). The Germans also have a halftrack, which is on fumes.  There are three German units, all squad sized.  One enters from the top right corner of the map above, and ends up beset by a zombie horde.  Another is in the half track.  Another is taking refuge in building 1.  Most Americans ended up in buildings 2 or 3.  I ended up making a beeline for 2, then changing my mind when it became clear that zombies were present, so I made for the much smaller and more open building 4.   I entered from the bottom left corner.

Inistial move, my corner of the board

The rules were ARES Fantasy combat miniatures rules with some zombie detection and generation rules influenced by ALL THINGS ZOMBIE. I’ve played it before, and found the basic framework easy enough to understand, except for combat, which I had to watch carefully to grasp. I arrived late, so missed the initial couple of turns, but Steve graciously made a space for me in the game. Alas, my force wasn’t exactly a group of hard chargers. They were a small headquarters division, green soldiers except for the veteran sergeant I had along with us.

My Jeep only made it so far.

And they drove in directly from the Southeast Corner, as mentioned.

not exactly GI Joes

My guys were HQ soldiers, not exactly G.I. Joes. I had two green rifle squad guys and an experienced Sergeant with a Thompson SMG.  Fortunately I was entering the map with the only vehicle with sufficient gas in it.  My first encounter was with an advancing horde of reinforcing zombies, so I had to find shelter, fast.  The primary victory condition for any side was surviving through the upcoming snowstorm, which made the combat conditions less than optimal.

Grenade City!

The battle was brief actually.  There were more shots fired between Americans and Germans than humans and zombies.  Both German units in contact with the Americans were what I would characterize as “Grenade Happy”, tossing potato mashers at the Americans all willy-nilly.  This did a number on the Americans, but also did a fine job of attracting more zombies, much to everyone’s chagrin.

Bunkering down

Bunkering down as best I could

Enhanced by ZemantaI got my little HQ team to Building 4, where we prepared to climb up the stairs, barricade ourselves in on top of the stairs and be besieged by a ravening horde all evening, all the while trying to deal with staying alive in a blizzard when half the building is gone.  Other forces on the table were retreating to the safety of the houses, except for the German halftrack (which was highly zombie resistant) and the German squad in the upper right corner, which got surrounded and wiped out. See below for their fate.

So long, Germans!

The other American Squads eventually clustered in Building 2, which had the best shelter available and fewer entrances for zombies to assail.  They had the best shot at surviving the night.

Non Motorized Germans bunkering in

The other Germans, above, managed to make it building 1, and probably had a decent shot of surviving.

German Half Track winner

The halftrack, as seen above, was last seen exiting the area with every ounce of horsepower they could muster, followed by a giant horde of slaverng goons. I guess they might be “the winner”, but I suspect the ‘track only got a mile or so before running out of gas completely and being beset on all sides by the undead.

Simple concept, simple enough rules, great presentation. The Christmas theme was terrific, maybe the best yet. Hats off to Steve Gibson (and children) for putting this one on.

Chris Gibson sums it up like this: zombieswantbrainsforxmas.mp3

And Merry Christmas, Nigel!

Annual Christmas Card for Wargamers 2011 edition


I don’t have the time or postage to mail each and every one of the extended group of family and friends out there all over the internet and around the world, so here’s my annual tradition of preparing an electronic version for easy distribution.
Christmas Card 2012

Wishing you and yours a happy, successful, and peaceful New Year.  Be safe and well, and thank you for your friendship.

Christmas Card 2012
Aside

… and little more need be said.

How to improvise a Christmas Gift Card from Starbucks when they run out of Christmas themed ones


1. Reach into drawer, grab a Sharpie permanent marker

2. Make necessary edits. Cross out, add extra verbiage. Place in complementary envelope.

3. Gift wrap and watch their faces light up with Christmas joy when they open their Secret Santa present.

Improvised Starbucks Xmas Card

Improvised Christmas Starbucks Card (they ran out)

A very geeky Christmas ’twas had by all


It’s a rare event indeed where your humble narrator gets anything for Christmas other than an old biscuit, a lump of coloured clay, or a couple of castoff buttons.  Therefore, I was delighted to find a series of oblong, parti-coloured boxes with YHN’s name inscribed upon them on Christmas Day.   Even more interesting was that many of these boxes were boxed board and miniature games.  Even MORE fortuitous was the fact that we promptly had a White Christmas and got snowed in– so we had nothing to do but play board games and Xbox for three days in a row.  Herein follows my Holiday Gift Boodle list… which is impressive by my standards if not yours.  I’m also throwing in some mentions from Gar’s Christmas boodle (unless pressed for time) and my Secret Santa pressies.

1. NINJA BURGER (2005)
Steve Jackson Games

I was ready to think this was going to be too silly even for me, but I am glad we broke this one out and played it first.

Ninja Burger

Ninja Burger, Steve Jackson Games

Players are Ninjas, working at the Ninja Burger hamburger stand.  Missions are hamburger deliveries made to a series of unlikely spots via card draw.  Player Ninjas must roll against their character traits to make a successful delivery and therefore garner honor points for their corporation.

The artwork is silly and Foglio-like, the parts and bits very well done.  The rules have a logic hole here and there but we improvised.  Great fun!

2. SPACE HULK: DEATH ANGEL the card game (2010)
Fantasy Flight Games

Death Angel

Death Angel

This game was on my short list after hearing an enthusiastic review on a certain podcast of my acquaintance.   Getting it sorted out and set up was a bit of a chore.   Why?  Because artists painting in the Warhammer: 40K milieu can’t stand making illustrations that are anything other than dark, moody and reeking with proper atmosphere.  Unfortunately that makes older chaps like myself blink with confusion and frustration, as the cards so rarely seem as clear as the chap writing the instructions booklet.  Anyway, I got it all sorted and played it three times solo.   I found myself liking the game quite a bit.   It plays in a fashion similar to SPACE HULK (the board/miniatures game) but not as three dimensional (obviously..) and somewhat more constricted and claustrophobic feeling due to the card format.

The card play is pretty straightforward once you figure out which card does what and what they mean when they say terrain card and location card.   I strongly recommend the casual player check out this player video of the setup procedure, it explains much and overcomes what I consider to be a major weakness in both the rules and the card art– murkiness and a lack of clarity.

Once you get started, however, I think you might enjoy this game– it’s FAST, FEROCIOUS and UNFORGIVING.  I have lost every game so far (solitaire!!!).  I’m not saying it’s impossible to win, but it sure seems damned hard against the system itself.

3. Dice Town (2009) (Secret Santa pressie)
Asmodee

A total stranger, somewhere, sent me this low-complexity, high-on-fun dice roller with a Western theme.  Theme is important to the mechanics, which is pretty unusual for a family/euro game these days.  Players role special poker dice to achieve winning combinations that further the player’s position on the game board representing a Western “Dice” Town.

This is almost a no-brainer for me.  The kids like it, the theme is easy and the mechanics are unique and asymmetrical.   I strongly recommend Dice Town.

4. Ticket to Ride Card Game (2008)
Days of Wonder

This is another card game that I put on the short list simply because of an enthusiastic review on a podcast.  I don’t have the parent game Ticket to Ride and I have never played it, but I liked Railroad Tycoon, the old Microprose game, so I figured how different could it be, right?  Right.

Ticket to Ride, the Card Version plays somewhat differently.  It’s a cards-ONLY game– the parent game did use cards but the mechanics are quite different from what I can see.

I liked the components at once, just a giant group of cards divided into a train deck and a destination deck.  The language of the setup was once again, vague as to the mechanics of playing and scoring– I got set up easily enough but wasn’t really clear on what to do next until a couple of experimental solitaire games.  The rules also reference the parent board game in passing, with sentences like “card draw is accomplished much like the board game“.  Uhhhhh?

Ticket to Ride Card Game

Ticket to Ride Card Game

Still, I got it sorted and it turns out to be somewhat fast and easy once you get the hang of card combinations.  I was reminded strongly of Mayfair’s STATION MASTER or FREIGHT TRAIN. Not very surprising, as Alan Moon designed Freight Train.

5. Warhammer: Chaos in the Old World (2009) (Secret Santa Present)
Fantasy Flight Games

I admit right up front, I haven’t played it yet.  Another recommendation from a gang of enthusiastic podcasters.  I like the look of it and look forward to playing this semi-wargame of conflict between the Gods of Chaos in the Warhammer Fantasy world.

Chaos in the Old World

Chaos in the Old World (FFG)

It also came with a small pocket game of Pocket Battles: Celts versus Romans, but I’ve said plenty of good things about that system elsewhere.

6. Wings of War: Flight of the Giants (2010)
Fantasy Flight Games/Nexus

Zeppelin Staaken from WoW:FotG

Zeppelin Staaken from WoW:FotG

This is the expansion box for the wildly successful World War One airplane game, WINGS OF WAR, covering the giant bombers of World War One.  All, that is, except for my personal favorite, the Russian Ilya Mouremetz, but who’s picky?  Not me!

The Caproni, The Handley Page, the Gotha, the Zeppelin Staaken, they ARE in the box, and aside from the fact that all of the large bombers have multiple gun positions, each of them is unique in a certain way that replicates the historical performance of the aircraft.  There are several scenarios included in the box.. some of which seem to be optimized for the Wings of War battlefield mat that I’ve been seeing in stores in the last couple of years.  I hope Nexus makes miniatures for these planes– I’d certainly buy some.

Unfortunately, the game out of the box requires the player to have one of the other games in the series to play– it is NOT a standalone game.  So I haven’t played it yet.  A perusal of the rules looks very hopeful.  They haven’t changed much, just added restricted fields of fire based on the machine gun layout on the large monster planes.  I only wish they had added Zeppelins, but I imagine it would be difficult to create a zeppelin in scale and use the same mechanics.

Non Boardgame pressies were:

7. The RALGARD FLEET from Uncharted Seas (2010)
Spartan Games

Ralgards

The Ralgards

Not much I can say here.. if you have read any portion of this blog over the last year and a half you know of the author’s UNCHARTED SEAS fixation.   It was only a matter of time before I picked up the most current fleet, and I love the Chinese Junk look of the Ralgard ships– very different visually than anything else on the board.  I haven’t looked at the ship stats yet but it would seem that their hulls are hard hitters compared to the existing fleets– I don’t know for certain, they just are showing more cannon.

I also received the new Dystopian Wars miniatures rulebook from Spartan Games*, the new steampunk land-sea-air game from the same folks that brought you Uncharted Seas.  It’s steampunky, it’s naval, the models are lovely.  I couldn’t pass it up.  So far, the rules look not a great deal different from Uncharted seas.  They just seem to make allowances for attacking and defending in other theaters of war, like in the air and on the land.  It still looks to be primarily a naval game and that suits me just fine.  I also picked up my first fleet independently of Christmas, the Federated States of America fleet (USA analogue).

FSA Fleet

FSA Fleet

Gar also received a number of small LEGO boardgames*: Magikus, Robo Champ, and Race 3000.  We  played Magikus and Race 3000 whilst snowbound– we had a great time, but both of us preferred Magikus.

And that was my Geekly Christmas!!

* We hope to revisit both Dystopian Wars and the new LEGO games in a future posting.

Annual Christmas Card for Wargamers 2010 edition


In keeping with the tradition started last year

A Christmas card from me to all of my friends, acquaintances and neighbors the world over.  Merry Christmas to all and a safe, happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Click below to enlarge..

Xmas Tank

2010 Christmas Card for Wargamers

This card captures a historical moment inscribed on the bottom: “A 1942 Santa arriving by tank instead of outdated sleigh. Sgt. Hiram Prouty playing Santa for British children. Dec 5, 1942. Perham Downs, England. M.3. Tank of 1st Tank Group. Sgt. Prouty, member of 175th Inf.

A Grognard Christmas to all..


Background for the uninitiated: there’s a tradition on the giant uber-spanning gaming website called BOARDGAMEGEEK.COM of running a “Secret Santa” event.  This was started by Mr. Tom Vasel, who is famous for his voluminous commentary on boardgaming, the Dice Tower podcast, and his many video reviews on YouTube.  Links to all of these are in the sidebars on the left of this blog, the Third Point of Singularity.   That’s the thumbnail sketch if you’ve been hiding under a rock.  Game geeks know of the site, Tom Vasel, his podcast, and probably a lot more if you get them started.  Tom ran the Secret Santa contest from 2005 (I think) until 2009.  This year, he split off from the BoardGameGeek.com Secret Santa and started his own thing, a Secret Santa “megacontest” run by the podcast THE DICE TOWER. Details on the Dice Tower version were given in Episode 184:

click right arrow to listen
http://audio.funagain.com/thedicetower/TDT184-TheDiceTower-Episode184.mp3″

Well, as some of you might know, Tom’s grand scheme was monkeywrenched a little bit by the premature arrival and perilous first month of Tom’s son Jack.  Mom, Dad and son are all a bit frazzled but recovering nicely.  A volunteer stepped in and the Contest went off in grand style.  I decided to participate in both the BGG contest and Tom’s new one, and dutifully volunteered, was assigned a target, and sent packages off to my “targets” as soon as I could manage.  I won’t reveal who they were and what they wanted, the point of the whole exercise is to remain anonymous.

Last weekend I received a suspicious box, obviously from the Pittsburgh, PA area (based upon

Dice Town

Dice Town

wrapping paper forensic analysis), which contained my first present back from a Secret Santa contest, the game DICE TOWN, published in 2009, along with a very nice card.  I wasn’t sure which Secret Santa sent it– the Dice Tower Secret Santa or the Boardgame Geek one.

Chaos

Chaos in the Old World

Last night,  I received a large box last night with none other than WARHAMMER: CHAOS IN THE OLD WORLD in it! Santa took the time and effort to individually wrap the items in gift wrap and leave a nice note for me. This was no casual Santa. In the note, he made it clear that he had done some research into the kind of games I like and noted that I liked to “game on the go” (a very true statement– my children and I make a ritual of playing smaller, quick playing games at restaurants, I have blogged about this subject many times). To that end, Santa also included POCKET BATTLES: Celts versus Romans in the box.  Strange, he must have done a scan of this blog to pick up on that.  What can I say?  except maybe:

Pocket Battles

Pocket Battles: Celts vs. Romans

THANK YOU, SANTA!

I appreciated all l of these presents very much– but the capper for me was the very nice notes  left in the box demonstrating care and foresight.  They really made my week.

Observations: a very good Secret Santa was had by all. This little event means a lot to me personally, I enjoy being able to reach out anonymously and increase someone’s karma by giving them a present without being observed. I haven’t been able to spend as lavishly as some folks on BGG but I try to include at least something my target is wishing for in the Must Have or would Love to Have categories on their wish list. Receiving a present is a fun bonus, too, but I really don’t live for it.  One thing I’m taking away from 2010 is that I will have to bring my A game for 2011. Both of my Secret Santas took the time to wrap their gifts and leave something extra like a note or a card– something to personalize the experience. I have just let the online vendor take care of everything, which seems so impersonal now. Not any more!

Lastly: There were two Secret Santas this year that I knew of, and I just discovered a third for Wargamers Only far too late to participate.  As both of my “secret santas” practiced good opsec, as it were, I wasn’t sure who had sent what, so I didn’t know who to thank in what forum or geeklist. It’s important to feedback to the sender that the gift has been received, so I just said “Thank you” in both forums for the first present I received (Dice Town). To prevent repetitive effort next year, I suggest we add codes like “BGG”, “Grognard” and “TDT” in front of the word “Secret Santa” in correspondence so we don’t get confused. Just a thought.

And with that, Merry Christmas to all, Happy Solstice, and a safe, happy, and prosperous 2011 to all of you.

Mister Nizz