Category Archives: Game

Game Camp 17 Day Two: Frostgrave!


I chose FROSTGRAVE as my second game of the week for gaming camp. Frostgrave (by Osprey Publishing) is a game of Wizardly Looting of an ancient sorcerous city just beginning to emerge from a century of being frozen. Players play Wizards and their apprentices leading a small team of hired thugs and treasure takers into the city in search of gold, magic items and items of lore. The rules are pretty simple and easy to teach, the game is fast and ultra tactical. Naturally Frostgrave appeals to both youngsters and oldsters.

There was also a hue and a clamor to play Room 25 again, it’s a big hit.

We had a new camper join us today and he fit right in.  Frostgrave is a big hit as well, so much so that the kids requested we hold Frostgrave over for a second day.  I’m always flexible, that’s not a problem with me.

So tomorrow will probably be MORE Frostgrave, Cosmic Encounters and maybe half a day of Big Danged Boats!

For a slide show of today’s activities, click here.

Onward to Day Three: More Frostgrave and Cosmic Encounters!

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NOVAG’s Winter Game Day, 29 Jan 2017, Centreville VA


(Note: I have some reports that the inline pictures are not viewable on this post.  They are to me, that’s a little mystifying, but it might be a permissions issue– I’m using Google Photos instead of Flickr for this post.  Here is a link to every picture I took, which is public: https://goo.gl/photos/3GzUcNgKknah5hFQ9)

Today was NOVAG’s Quarterly Game Day (Winter 2017) held as usual at the Centreville Library. This is the big meeting room facility at the library and it can hold roughly 9 setups for miniatures games, roughly equivalent to a 5 x 8 table at a convention (somewhat smaller). This gameday was fairly well promoted on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere and attendance was fantastic– every table had something on it and every game ran the length of the gameday (pretty much), from about 1 to 5.


Ron Prillman Routs some Russians. I think.

I’ve posted the PEL elsewhere, and every game but two (the Space Hulk and Russo-Polish game) was played.


Okay, maybe it was some Americans.


… and Dave Luff is astounded at the results!!

Jason Weiser runs his game with Mike Pierce in the background. Okay, yeah, it was Eastern Front. The green paint job fooled me.

This was Battlegroup World War II “The End of the Iron Dream”.. looks like everyone enjoyed themselves. I like the fire effect Jason was using with a flickering tea lamp under the smoke cloud.

Peter Schweighofer was there with his new rule system aimed at kids, Panzer Kids Deluxe. This looked like a blast from where I was sitting. Tons of kids at this game con, this is a great sign!

Brian Dewitt, kind of an iron man of running games at cons and gamedays, took a break from Chariot Racing and Ancient Galley Warfare, to make a game about Medieval Siege Warfare, the Siege of Skipton Castle.  I like Siege games, for some reason– and this looked like it was a hit with the younger set.

There was also a modern game of Force on Force going on in the corner, called The Battle of Yampil.  This was run by the Byrne brothers and seemed sparse in infantry and dense in armor vehicles.

Elsewhere, Roy Jones ran Sword and the Flame (Sand Dunes of Zwarfontein) NOVAG’s own Tim Tilson ran a War of the Austrian Succession game (15 June 1746. Piacenza), and Dennis Wang reran his cool variant of Air Force / Dauntless that used a tablet client to make moves. It’s a fun game, more on it here.

What was I doing?  Oh, I was busy.  I actually came to play in Dave Markley and John Koprowski’s Russo Polish War game, which is a favorite period for me.   They had cancelled but that was fine– as I came in I noticed Mark Fastoso, a GM I associate with running historical games, had set up a Napoleonic skirmish game using many Alternative Armies FLINTLOQUE game figures and DRAGON RAMPART (modified for Napoleonics) as the rules.  I asked if had space, he said “sure, wanna play?” and I said “I”m In!”.   This proved to be a good time– first time for me using both Flintloque miniatures (which are charming!) and the Dragon Rampart rules, which make total sense to me and are a blast.  Bear with, here on the many pictures of this game, this is where I was for most of the day and I only nicked off to snap a few of other games now and then.

See the rest of them here in this GOOGLE PHOTOS album!

I tried Facebooking live on here which I posted publicly to the Facebook Alternative Armies group in three parts: ONE TWO THREE (I made this public share specifically so it could be viewed by everyone).

and compiled it all here on a YT, but it’s kind of small:

In summary, a great time and it’s always fun catching up with people you don’t see that often, even locally. Kudos to the organizers, another fun event.

Game Camp 2016 Day 3: Shiverrrr me Timmmmbers!


Wednesday and Thursday are pretty much “show piece” days. Big splashy games that have tons of prep and a really distinctive look. And they are silly.. very silly.

In that fine old tradition, I presented.. BIG DANGED BOATS, the cup and balls trick!

Normally I try to deliver something big and new for every camp, but this is a game that was specifically requested several times last year. I can take a hint.

So this is a variant of the old Orb of Power scenario, with a power mad Humans, Chinese Traders, Elves, Humans, Dwarves, and all kinds of Gnomes fighting it out with a mad wizard’s army.

The idea, of course, is that there’s a powerful wizard who has come into a significant MAGIC ARTIFACT (like they do) called The Orb of Command.    It’s hidden on one of the many outposts dotting the landscape, but the safe money is on the Wizard’s Castle at Red Bluff.

Of course, that’s the mission.  In reality, everyone just attacks each other.  It’s Chaos.

The Little People Flotilla just want to stay out of it.

The Ragnar Brothers and The Foot of the Dead God (foreground) raid Piper’s Fort, and have a small victory.

We’re not quite done.  This is a game that goes slow with so many people so we’re only half way through it all  It’s the journey not the destination.  The kids loved it.

Rules wise, we tried the initiative system and discovered using Initiative numbers 1-10 is overpowering.  1-6 works.  I’m altering the rules accordingly.   Seasoned players (and yes, I have them!) think it moves the game along faster and eliminates a lot of vague notions of what to do next. I’m keeping that rule in the manuscript and will have Artscow make me some cards.

A great first day of Big Danged Boats.

For the complete album, see this tag on Flickr: BDB-GC16

For everything for GC 16, try this album: Game Camp 2016

A new Initiative System for Big Danged Boats


Init Card idea for BDB

Sample Initiative (draft).  Available on GoDeckYourself.com (see below)

Big Danged Boats, or BDB, is a game of my own devising for larger scale, 15mm ship to ship combats in a fantasy setting. I’m shamelessly an admirer of its general goofiness and desire not to be taken seriously– and frankly, that tends to lead to the downside of my “what the heck, everything AND the kitchen sink” design approach. I love BDB as it is but there are so many components and so many differences in basic mechanics of ships that games become difficult to set up and difficult to execute. One of the existing elements I’m not crazy about is the initiative system, which is simply rolling a dice and counting up to 10. Simple, I guess, but it has no action/counteraction dynamic, like real initiative does.  Even worse, people sit around waiting for things to happen, and that’s not fun.

Therefore, I’m proposing a system of interactive Initiative bidding for BDB, inspired by a card game I vaguely remember. I’m not sure if we’re going to go with this or not but I’m certainly going to test it. Turns are structured around initiative actions– At start of game, each player is handed a deck of Initiative Bid cards, numbered 1-10. Every turn, he/she bids an initiative action or actions. They can then Move (Full), Shoot, Ram, Board, Cast Spells and maybe a few other things I haven’t thought of yet.  This is obviously a number 1-10. The lower number moves first. Higher numbers (when in missile range) subtract the lower numbers from their card. The difference is “reactions”. These are a number of specified actions the reacting ship can do in response to the initiative ship.  The turn continues until every ship captain has used every initiative bid card in their hand, and discarded them into their own discard pile.

Reactions include: Fire a volley, move a stick, cast a spell, abandon ship. I might add more. Note that RAMMING isn’t on this list.

In a multiple ship duel, engagement with ships with lower initiative numbers ACTING before an enemy REACTS.  If the ship is out of extreme missile range of any other ship (unlikely), it can move a single stick per action, or cast a spell (and possibly other actions).  If the ship is within missile range, but not ramming range, it may move a single stick per action, fire or cast spells.  If the ship can RAM within one movement stick (and wants to ram), it moves to ram.  If the opposing ship has at least one action left (from subtracting that ship’s lower initiative from it’s higher initiative), it may attempt a half move to avoid ram.  If it has more than one action left, it may move and shoot, or move and cast, etc.

A ship may also bank any unused actions in overwatch mode until the end of the round, at which point they must be expended.  The ship will remain stationery until something — the end of the turn, or a combat from another ship, causes them to expend their banked actions immediately.  Track these with colored beads or markers.

Note that the ship captain can’t reuse an initiative card until he/she has cycled through the entire initiative deck, 1-10.  Initiative cards are discarded to a discard pile after use and then then after the last card is used they may be picked up again.  (Design note, I may cap initiative cards at a lower number, like 7 or 8, 10 seems pretty high).

sub case: if there are multiple ships in the battle space and all of them are mutual enemies, the default engagement is to the ship that is closest to the ship with the lower initiative.

sub case: if there are multiple ships in the battle space and some of them are aligned, the lower initiative ship moves, the CLOSER ship reacts (enemy or ally), and then the NEXT CLOSEST ship reacts, etc.

bdb-combat-example

Combat Example using new initiative rules.

Examples (refer to above diagram):

  1. A, B, and C are all mutually hostile and have just drawn initiative cards.  B to C is medium gun range.  A to B is long gun range.  A to C is out of range.  Ship A has an initiative 7, Ship B 4, and Ship C 6.  B moves first, and not caring which ship he antagonizes he decides to target C.  He has four actions.  He moves three sticks for 3, fires for one and he is done.  Ship C’s 6, minus B’s 4, is 2.  Ship C chooses to move for one stick and fire back in reaction.  Ship A would go last with three actions (7-4, and it is farther away than C).  He chooses to move two sticks closer to B and fire his main guns for 3 actions.
  2. A & B are allied versus C who is an enemy faction, and have just darw initiative cards.    B to C is medium gun range.  A to B is long gun range.  A to C is out of range.  Ship A has an initiative 7, Ship B 4, and Ship C 6.  Lowest initiative ship B goes first.  B has four actions.  He moves three sticks and ends in a RAM condition on C.  C attempts to react away from the Ram but fails the save.  It has one more action and uses it to shoot a the incoming ramming ship.  A. Reacts (since it is in range of B) and moves closer to the ship to ship brawl, firing at C long range in support.
  3. All ships are mutually hostile.  B has moved with a 4 and shot at A with a ranging shot, and missed.  C has reacted to B but not moved. He moves next as a 6.  He chooses to expend all of his actions moving into a RAM situation on B.  Ram is resolved.  A moves next as he is a 7.  He has three actions (B’s 4 out of his 7 makes 3) and he uses them to move, fire at B, and save the last as an overwatch reaction.

In all cases, the captains can’t use cards 4, 6, or 7 (as applies to each) again until they have cycled through their entire deck of 1-10.

I made a quick initiative deck on GoDeckYourself.com, feel free to download (it isn’t final). Experiment with your own naval ships. Let me know what you think.

NOVAG’s Winter Game Day 2016


SLIDESHOW of Game Day pictures.. tons of them are Artemisium which I played in

On January 31, 2016, NOVAG threw it’s usual quarterly Game Day, Winter version. The location was the Centreville Library in the multi-purpose room. There were about ten tables in play. I think we had a pretty good turnout considering the recent weather.

Here are a few pictures!

GAME TITLE: WWII  Air Battle
GAME MASTER: Dennis Wang
PERIOD: WWII
SCALE: 1/285
RULES: Air Force/Dauntless (Note: same system as mentioned in this blog post from 2014)
GAME DESCRIPTION: Air Force/Dauntless with computer assist. 3″ hexes and 1/200airplanes (Wings of Glory scale) with telescoping flight stands equipped with climb/dive,bank, altitude indicators. Bring your tablet/smartphone/laptop equipped with a WWWbrowser. Windows, Mac, Android, Chromebook all OK. Paper and pencil notrequired/used. Novices welcome. Rules PDF free on the Web or at the meeting.

GAME TITLE: Fontenoy
GAME MASTER: Tim Tilson
PERIOD: War of the Austrian Succession
SCALE: 15mmNUMBER OF PLAYERS: 5
RULES: Black Powder
GAME DESCRIPTION: In the spring of 1745, Marshal de Saxe prepared to invade theAustrian Lowlands, and take Tournai. Facing him was an Allied army under the 23 yearold Duke of Cumberland. DeSaxe wanted to defeat the Allied army before starting thesiege. Thus he planned to goad them into attacking him. First he dispatched a columntowards Mons. Cumberland accepted the bait and moved his army there, while deSaxeproceeded to Tournai. Realizing he had been hoodwinked, Cumberland then marchedtowards Tournai where deSaxe awaited him on terrain of his choosing. The French werein an extremely strong +L shaped position, with the village of Fontenoy forming thehinge. The flanks were protected by woods and the river Schedlt. Finally deSaxe hadmade the position stronger with the use of redoubts. At 2:00 a.m. the Allied army wasunder arms and ready to advance.

GAME TITLE: Assault on Hoth
GAME MASTER: Phil Pournelle
PERIOD: A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away
SCALE: Galoob Micro Machines (1/188)
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 2-6
RULES: West End Game’s Assault on Hoth
GAME DESCRIPTION: Imperial Forces have arrived to destroy the Rebel hideaway on the ice planet Hoth. The only hope for maintaining the rebellion is to use the Ion Cannons to enable transport ships to evade Imperial StarDestroyers. General Veers and his ATAT forces have been dispatched to destroy the Ion Cannon and the defenders of the base. Luke Skywalker leads Rogue squadron in a desperate attempt to delay the Imperial Forces long enough to for Princess Leia to complete the evacuation and escapein the Millennium Falcon. Will the Rebel Alliance survive? Or will the Imperial Forces prevail? Will Luke be captured and turned to the Dark Side? Take

command of either Imperial or Rebel forces and decide the fate of the galaxy

GAME TITLE: Ranger RECCE
GAME MASTER: Michael Byrne
PERIOD: Modern
SCALE: 28mm
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 6
RULES: Force on Force
DESCRIPTION: With all SEAL teams on missions, elements of the elite Ranger RECCEunit and 3/75th Ranger Battalion were tasked to secure a high value target. Aerialinsertion had not worked in the past, so the Rangers would make their attack overlandfrom a staging point. The terrain was more difficult than expected and the attack startedat day break. Can the Rangers capture the high value target or will he escape again?

(I played Artemisum (bel0w) and took lots of pictures of the game in progress.. see them HERE)


GAME TITLE: The Battle of Artemisium – 480 BC

GAME MASTER: Brian DeWitt
PERIOD: Ancients
SCALE: 15mm
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 8
RULES: Greeks at Sea
TIME: 2 Hours
GAME DESCRIPTION: The Battle of Artemisium was a series of naval engagements over three days during the second Persian invasion of Greece. The battle took place simultaneously with the more famous land battle at Thermopylae, in August or September 480 BC, off the coast of Euboea and was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and others, and the Persian Empireof Xerxes I. The Greek fleet was protecting the flank of the army at Thermopylae, whilst attempting to not being cut off themselves. The Persians needed to force their way through either at of Thermopylae or Artemisium to outflank either position. The Persians were at a significant tactical advantage, outnumbering the Allies and having “better sailing” ships. The “better sailing” that Herodotus mentions was probably due to thesuperior seamanship of the crews; most of the Athenian ships (and therefore the majorityof the fleet) were newly built, and had inexperienced crews. This scenario represents part of the first day of the battle when the Persians saw the Allied fleet rowing towardsthem and decided to seize the opportunity to attack, even though it was late in the day,as they thought they would win an easy victory.

Notes on Artemesium.  This was the same game I played at Fall-IN! 2015, run by the same GM (Brian DeWitt) using the same rules (Greeks at Sea).  I chose Persia this time.  We started out trying to have a plan, forming a line moving down the table, but that didnt’ last long as the Greeks burst into our formation.  It was an embarrassing start for the Persians as my left wing took some casualties from boarding and capturing.  I lost two ships to capture — the Greeks get elite marines, and my opponent always seemed to have a “Fierce Marines” chit and a 1 or 0 initiative chit to use handy.  Shrug.  It is what it is.  Even with only 1 damaged ship left, I did do my duty to Ahura-Mazda and rammed one of the Greek hulls, sinking it.  I then was trying to maneuver around to ram his other damaged hull, and the game was called.  Result was a Pyrrhic victory for our side.  We killed 1 more ship than they killed or captured from us, but they sank the flagship.  I think the rules are great, but tend to favor the Greeks too much.  You just don’t want those Greeks aboard your ship.  Gar played as a Persian as well, and was up against  a kid who was hand picking his initiative chits (perhaps he was confused about blind drawing?) so he always had the jump on Gar with an initiative of 0 many turns in a row.  Still, Gar did some damage on his ships as well, he was no cake walk.  He really enjoyed the game.  More importantly his buds were texting him during the game and he was sending them pictures.  Now THEY want to come to the next game day.  Our job here is done!

Oh, I did make a little movie of Artemesium.. have fun.

I try out In Magnificent Style, by Victory Point Games


Cover

I’ve had this game on the shelf since (I think) Fall-IN! 2014.  IN MAGNIFICENT STYLE is a solitaire boardgame of Pickett’s charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  As most gamers with a schoolboy’s notion of history may attest, the charge was Lee’s last big attempt on the Union Center after probing attacks on the North and South ends of the line failed to achieve victory on days one and two.

Now, this is a tactical situation where a long line of men (three divisions of three brigades each) are marching across a very open area, moving up gently rising terrain, stopped here and there by obstacles like fences.  The attacking forces are moving onto a position where the opposing forces are behind cover, with direct artillery support firing into the advancing line.  This may seem like a difficult situation to turn into a game, but many designers have given it a go with various results.  In Magnificent Style departs from a traditional hex and counter set up to present a sort of ‘push your luck race’ down semi-abstracted terrain, trying to win the race of “which will get used up first, the Union strength or the Confederate?

The game’s story unfolds from the view of Longstreet on the Confederate side.   The mapboard facing him is a truncated view of intervening distance between Seminary Woods (the Confederate Line) and Cemetary Ridge (the Union line).  Smallest units of maneuver are Brigades, which are represented as tiny lines of men on VPG’s now-standard thick-cut counters.  “Unit of Maneuver” is misleading somewhat– the battle space is divided into a long gridwork consisting of Divisional and Brigade lines of advance running up and down the map and a further gridwork of “3 x 3 areas” which are numbered 1-10.  The areas are numbered for random event purposes to see what befalls the units currently in that area when a chit is drawn.

The Mapboard, from the Confederate View

I’m using stands of 15mm ACW soldiers to make it look more authentic here.  It adds a certain je ne sais quoi.

A turn unfolds with the Union drawing events to implement on the Confederates.  These are a series of chits pulled from an opaque cup that usually provide beneficial events for the union.  It could be targeting a brigade, a division, or a geographic area on the map.  It could add an obstacle to a line of march, or cause other mayhem somewhere.  Usually, if it impacts the map, it impacts a zone in the map (1, 2, 3, etc up to 10) and if you don’t have troops occupying it, you skate that turn.    As you can see below, a Union barrage lands in Area 5, not hitting anyone this time.

The event, a barrage of some sort, lands safely in Area 5, making the ground blow up but not killing anyone. I love this mechanic, it adds a true feeling of battlefield chaos.

Confederates taking long range rifle fire at the Union, measured by Zone bands (green, pretty hopeless, yellow, kind of hopeless, red, your best shot).  Your leader may expend a once per turn bonus if he is marching with you in your stack.   Next, you move out, by rolling a pair of dice and cross indexing them.  The result will indicate what happens when you move– 1s are very bad, 6s pretty good.  If you take HEAVY FIRE, you don’t advance but you can try again, but now you are shaken and pull a blue event chip (more on this below, it’s involved).  If you take LIGHT FIRE, you take a loss (these are tracked with numeric strength markers directly behind the units.. as you can see in the illustration above, Kemper’s Brigade (far right) has already suffered a hit as he is strength 9). ADVANCE is

From Boardgamegeek.com

Each Brigade has a RALLY POINT, which is a round marker you set on your start point.  The rally point is kind of your insurance for making gains.  As you move up the battlefield, you can continue trying to advance, or consolidate (and not advance).  Certain battle results will throw your brigades back to their rally points so it behooves you to balance between constantly moving to the Union line at the end of the field, or making your advance “safer” (relatively speaking) by moving the rally point up so a retreating brigade doesn’t go all the way back to start.  Certain events will also trigger damage results that are measured as equating to the distance between the brigade and the rally point, so it is in the player’s interest to keep that number low.  I really, really like that “push your luck” element of these solitaire mechanics.  It’s lifted right from Sid Sackson’s venerable CAN’T STOP, and works very well as an indicator of Brigade morale.  I’ve played IMS a few times now, and it took a while to finesse the balance between making gains and consolidating gains.

The climax of most games. I admit it; I got lazy with the markers and just kept track in my head. The Union is down to like 1-2 SPs a piece for their brigades and the Rebs probably had 3 as their highest strength as they go in for bayonet combat. VERY BLOODY!

IF the Confederate brigades make it across the field at all, they end up ripped to shreds in front of the Union stone wall, where they have bonus shooting at Confederates. If they survive that, they engage in very bloody bayonet fighting. There are advanced rules, but I didn’t bother with them (yet).

SUMMARY

I have to give this game some high marks. I like Luttman’s design work here. He takes an unwinnable situation, and by focusing in on a very NARROW slice of the action, he adds excitement, style and dash to a very fun little game. It certainly isn’t perfect (i think it drags a little in the middle), but it does deliver consistently on the fun (vice simulation) element. I like IN MAGNIFICENT STYLE. Do yourself a favor and make some simple 15-20mm scale 3D markers out of toy soldiers you won’t regret it.

Future Tank Draft 1.08 released


CLICK ON ME TO GET THE EPUB

I did a major rewrite on Future Tank, to get rid of some of the language problems that arose out of using Tank Duel as the core. It is now a very different text (and substantially different as a game).

Changed:

Double Blind is now “Double Blindish” .. the curtain represents a haze of uncertainty due to environmental conditions. The closer the tanks come to each other the bigger the chance the curtain will be removed. The Tank Commanders already know of the layout of the battlefield area in advance due to satellite imagery and drone passes, they just don’t know what it looks like right now.

Added a “Grunt” as an infantry specialist. He is basically an autonomous weapon unit that can deploy out of the tank airlock and go reap havoc on other INF units, exposed sensors and etc.

Clarified the language on the Tank crew tasks and how they react and feed back to the Commander role. Created a matrix of orders and responses for this, in the appendix.

Clarified Scanning (using the tiny whiteboard/blip method) and some of the networked computing tasks that SPARKY performs.

Added: ORBATS and RGEs (Orbital Batteries and Robotic Gun Emplacements) to battle space installations.

Generally cleaned up the language to make it sound consistent and use the same terms throughout.

I don’t have this one on the DIGITAL RULES page (yet) as I consider still in draft stage. You can get an epub copy right here.

Enjoy. Please feedback what you think and any new suggestions.

Game Camp 2015 Day 2: Dungeons and Dragons Attack Wing, Land of the Dragons


Garrett and I ran DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS ATTACK WING today, which is a recent purchase (this past year) and very reminiscent of Fantasy Flight’s X-WING MINIATURES, which is reminiscent of Ares’ WINGS OF WAR system, which is reminiscent of GDW’s BLUE MAX, which is reminiscent of Nova’s old ACE OF ACES game. Which is a very long-winded way of saying Attack Wing’s design is simply a “you plot your movement in advance, and execute movement in the execution phase” kind of game. There have been many of them, the trick is to learn the nuances.

We set up on some donated terrain and it worked perfectly, although it needed to be leveled a bit. D&D Attack Wing has some very snazzy models, and is really a great little game in itself.. obviously very derivative of systems that have gone before, but unique enough using the Attack Wing variant that I will definitely be running this one again. It’s worth the investment. If I want to play a “flying through space” game, I’ll go to X-Wing (or maybe the Armada game too, different scale and different mechanics) and if I want a fantasy variant, D&D Attack Wing works for me. I love the miniatures.

A troop of Arakari (bird men) attack the White Dragon, who had refused to attack anyone until the last turn of the game.

Immediately this game went over well with everyone. Even the two sulky kids from yesterday got into the spirit of the thing and attacked with a will. They stayed engaged throughout and the game was quite a bloodbath with 10 players engaged at once.

Game Camp 2015

Game Camp 2015

Game Camp 2015

One thing I noticed… both the Dwarven ballistae and the Wraith figures can be one heck of a lot OP if you don’t add some limitations. When the ballistae knocked the brass dragon down to ONE Point with ONE SHOT, only saved by his armor, I realized that the more innocuous critters can be pretty danged powerful in this game.

We added a “Basketball Break” which actually worked well for both me and the squirrely kids, who loved the idea, and played until they got exhausted.. which made for a very different and much more pleasant day.

CLICK ME to see all the Attack Wing Photos

A much better day and a game that everyone seemed to like. Much less shoving and grab-assery today. Basketball break– a must!

See all Photos here

When it comes to a bluff, nothing beats a human.


COUP game screen

I recently picked up an IOS game of COUP from the App store, with high hopes.  Though I actually (wince) haven’t  ever played the game COUP until now,  I own a copy.  I know people rave about the design simplicity and fun factor of this tiny, cheap and well realized card game from the folks that brought you RESISTANCE.   Me, I bought it because I love the idea of compressing lots of fun in a small, affordable package.  See my fanboy page on ancient Microgames from the glorious early 1980s era (a tab up top).  But I digress.   Now, event though I’ve never actually played this 9 days’ wonder of a micro game, I’ve played games like it– games requiring bluffing, guile, and performance.   COUP works well because the players assume hidden roles.  The roles have certain tasks that interact with the game mechanics in a roughly deterministic manner.  You could have a card like the Duke, for instance, which taxes players 2 money.  OR .. you could just say you have the Duke, and STILL collect  the 2 money.. BUT! the other players can jump in and say “Nu-UH! NO WAY are you the Duke.  I challenge!”  A result that often penalizes the accuser more than the accused, because if you challenge him and he really IS the Duke, well, one of your cards goes face up, see?

Sure, I’ve played games like this.. many times.  BANG! comes to mind.  And DIPLOMACY.  And even COSMIC ENCOUNTER.  The challenge is figuring out the other player’s intentions from incomplete information.  `There’s nothing revelatory about stating this– you played games like that all your life, from Poker to Go Fish.  The kind of games that involve heavy amounts of bluffing.  Bluffing games come in many flavors.. role based, like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA or BANG! or rule-based, like 7 Card Stud.  The one thing they have in common is sanctioned lying-– e.g. deliberately misstating your position to gain an advantage or hide a disadvantage in the course of game play.   Card games, in particular, tend to rely on sanctioned lying as a key mechanic– our whole culture of game bluffing derives from the notion of bluffing in a gambling context.  Bluffing has been present in games from the very earliest recorded games.

If bluffing is like lying, it also prone to the weaknesses that are associated with lying.  A human being can give off detectable signs that he or she isn’t telling the truth.  In card games, these are called “tells”.  A friend of mine, a retired CIA Officer who has had to interrogate hundreds of individuals during the course of his career– is also someone I would never take on in a game of poker.  He just knows people too well.  I asked him about it.. how does he KNOW when people are lying?  He was forthcoming and very helpful.  First of all, he said, look for pauses, when a question is asked and the responder blanks for a second.  This is the moment when they are constructing a narrative in their minds.  Secondly, look for contradictory physical responses, like nodding when they are saying no.  That’s a sort of involuntary ‘disconnect’ that is totally human-centric.  Third, they will shade their eyes and mouth .. if you watch Poker Stars on TV (I mean, more than five minutes, which is my threshold for boredom about Poker technical discussions), you’ll see that most of the heavy hitters play with mirror shades on or a hat down over their eyes.  That’s intentional.. the eyes give them away during a bluff (lie).  A bluffing human might have several “eye tells”– blinking, looking away, closing eyes repeatedly, or a nervous tic.  There are other indicators, depending on how severe a person is bluffing/lying– nervousness, throat clearing, stammering, stuttering etc.  The take away is that if you know what to look for, you can catch it fairly easily and fairly reliably.

All of this is what makes playing games with humans that involve bluffing (lying) more challenging and more interesting to me, personally.  Especially card games.  I’m not a gambler, in fact, I can’t stand playing about 80% of traditional card games.  However, the ones I do like I like because of either a fun mechanic like bidding or bluffing.  Hobby Card Games, like BANG! or COUP, are also enjoyable because there is a psychological element above and beyond simple game mechanics.  I’m not saying this is the only element of card games I enjoy, or the only thing I look for in a game, but it is a lot of fun for me.

This is all a long journey around the tree for me to get back to the COUP IoS app I mentioned in the opening sentences.   That app struck me as having a lot of potential as a nifty hidden roles/bluffing game that can be finished at lightning speed.   Consequently, I was eager to get the it.  I was less enchanted with the electronic version when I started to play it.  I’m not going to comment on the elements a lot of people (in many forums) are complaining about, like the games greedhead mentality about monetizing expansions– I’m no fan of that either, but it IS playable for free, so it strikes me as being a little hypocritical to whine about extras you aren’t being forced into buying.  I’m just talking about the actual mechanic of using an app to engage in the transaction of bluffing in a card game with other humans.  At most, my response is “ehhh… it’s kind of, sort of, fun”    You see, the thing is you’re not REALLY engaged in a bluff when you play COUP as an app, you’re engaged in a guessing game.  There’s no “poker tell” in this game, just a generalized guess (with some deductive logic) that if your opponent did X, you should do Y.   I’m gradually learning the nuances of COUP– I enjoy playing, but the decision points for reacting players boil down to: Will you block this person’s attempt to do something to you– legitimately, with a card that CAN block that action, or by bluffing, and CLAIMING you have a card that can block that action?   There are other actions to take proactively against other players, such as taxing, stealing, assassinating, etc., but when I react, I almost always choose the wrong course of action.   Why?  Hard to say, but I think it might have something to do with not seeing the other person’s face.  Instead, I’m just looking at the cards and I get a text response about how something I did either succeeded or failed.  I feel like I’m missing some essential element of the real life game experience.  I think the best approach is to take a more deductive/logical approach to the game– for instance, figuring out how many of each card are in the deck, how many have been observed on the board, and make decisions based upon that knowledge as well.  That’s an entirely different discipline (akin to playing a game of Knizia’s EN GARDE, where you have to get a feel for what cards are left in the deck to make decisions).  Equally enjoyable, but different.

So, is this a condemnation of porting games to tablets, or just card games?  Far from it– I really like board and card game conversions for tablets (as you can probably figure out if you’ve read this blog for a while).  Many card games work just fine in their IoS tablet ports.  SAN JUAN, for instance, and MU, and GALAXY TRUCKER.  I think a game where the key mechanic is pulling the wool over someone’s eyes, e.g., bluffing, might suffer a little bit in the translation, and so far, that’s how I’ve reacted to COUP.  Still, you can’t beat the price, if you stay away from all that IAP, right?

Something New: FUTURE TANK a (sort of) sequel to TANK LEADER


Click for larger view

So, remember when I waxed enthusiastic about TANK DUEL by Mr. Jim Wallman, of the UK?   How I was charmed enough by his roleplaying approach to the trials and tribulations of tank teams on the Western Front of World War II?   How I was looking at running Tank Duel (or some iteration of it) at the Game Camp I run for kids in August?  Okay, so you don’t, but I do.  Tank Duel is pretty goofy and enjoyable and I’m going ahead with creating a game based on it.  Follow the link above to digital rules to get the EPUB I made of it.  However, even though I don’t think anyone would kick about it being historical, I do make a valid effort at keeping the content either Fantasy or Science Fiction oriented– to draw the kids into doing historical games (e.g., my evil plan).    As a result I’ve put some effort into converting Tank Duel into a more science fiction-y version that I call FUTURE TANK.  Future Tank makes a few assumptions that generally match certain observations I’ve made about the evolution of the modern battlefield as part of my day job– without being too sunk into the details.  Simply put, the tank battles of the future will be fought by Tanks that can A) see better B) communicate better C) are linked into a network and D) have access to drones for attack and defense.   I’ve tried to reflect that in the Future Tank rules without being too technical about it.  In a thumbnail, Future Tank is like Tank Duel, only the roles have more to do and there’s a lot of extras in it– it’s more customizable.   But still easy… I hope!

Challenges

It’s Double Blind.  I’ve never even PLAYED in a double blind team game before, and now I’m going to run one.  This is going to require some finesse!  My plan on building the screen between the two terrain areas is to build a curtain from a frame of PVC pipe that extends up about four feet.   As for umpiring one?  Well, it seems easy enough, we’re just going to see what chaos ensues.

I’m using 25mm Scale.  I really don’t want to go smaller than this. 15mm is fine, I suppose but you don’t get the same visual appeal and “chunkiness” of a 25mm game, and I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time driving around and trying to find each other– these are kids, they will get bored.   Still, 25mm scale?  Who makes tanks that big and how much of an arm and a leg will they command?  Games Workshop does, of course.. but yeah,  you can keep that.  I don’t need to spend 80 dollars on a single tank.   Solution: the Tehnolog Bronekorpus series.  The wha of the wha?   As it turns out, there’s a Russian figure company that I have done business with in the past (they made the figures for Orcs for The Magi) called Tehnolog.  No idea what the word means, but they make big, cartoony fantasy and historical figures, and somewhat less cartoony science fiction structures and vehicles.  Their stuff is decent looking, though I don’t always approve of the plastic they use.  Still, it paints up well.    They have a line of sort of snap together tanks in roughly 28mm scale– each tank a bewildering variety of Weapons and Sensors.  Being satisfied they will fit with 28mm figures, I picked up a box of four of them.  Again, not the best plastic, but wow, I am really happy with the result:

Click to enlarge (the next four)

Tanks 2, 11, 4 and 15 more or less done. I have some tidy up painting to do– I want the ordinance to all have thematic colors– missiles and guns different from each other. I suppose I should have painted the camo different for each tank but really, that’s not the point of this game, and it’s science fiction… I’m not trying to be “historically authentic” here.

I may have six kids.  I may have 20.   I scaled the game that each tank can probably work with three roles or less. If I get less than that I’ll just run something else, with deep regrets.  Sigh.

The new rules have more stuff than Tank Duel.   YES.  They certainly do.  That’s not complexity for complexity’s sake.  I think there’s a general assumption that if you are simulating something on a near-future battlefield (and I’m projecting forward about 40 years here, so it’s not a stretch), you should include nifty stuff like sensors, and IR, and networks, and drones, and railguns, etc.  It comes with the sobriquet “Science Fiction”.  That doesn’t mean they have to be too complicated for twelve year olds!  These kids are growing up with these concepts.  I have faith in their intelligence, shouldn’t you?

This is all largely untested.  Yep, well, there it is then.  It may suck.  It might not.  I don’t think it will.  Want to take a peek at Future Tank?  Contact me through the standard channels in a week or so from this posting.  I can get you a draft.  You’ll have to have a way of reading EPUB files.

So there we have it… a sort of roleplaying game simulating the complexities of the near future battlefield environment, all done in more or less 25mm scale with miniatures, kids, double-blind, and a very patient and overworked umpire with a stopwatch and a sense of gamesmanship.  What have I got myself into?

Related:

Six Dollar SF Tanks from Russia (contains a listing of parts, comparison to GW vehicles)

Let’s flail that dead horse– more car conversions


With the appearance of a postal truck I had been expecting, I’m done with car conversions for a while.  I couldn’t resist getting just a  few new art deco styled classic cars when I saw them hanging on the rack at Safeway of all places, for less than a buck a piece!  Also, I’ve been experimenting with adding crews to the cars with exposed cockpits and fighting areas, and I thought I’d display a few of the better attempts.

HW 49 Merc convertible


Click me for larger view

Part of the 2009 Hot Wheel Treasure hunt series.  I took this lovely bright and shiny Detroit Iron, originally brown with gold highlights and a cheerful tan and brown interior, and totally filthed it all up.  The interior went dull black.    I didn’t want to lose the original paint job, because that’s just lovely, but I did dull it down with 3 coats of flat matte varnish, and then a filth wash of blotches of tan paint.  The crew are both from Stan Johansen.  The .30 cal is from ERM miniatures, and the flame thrower up front is from Stan.

MB Postal Van, modern

Going Postal. Click to enlarge

A pretty old and hard to find diecast, actually, the Matchbox Postal Vehicle (circa 2000) is a design that is still in use today.  Like many of these recognizable “service” vehicles, I wanted to retain the look and feel of the original, just with a lot of wear and tear (and armor) on it.  So I added plastic styrene “plate armor” on either door, plus a piece to represent a hatch cut into the roof.   There’s cage armor on the front (I’m going to need to repaint this) and an air cooled .30 cal machine gun bolted to the roof (from Stan Johansen).  I will likely have a figure up there as well eventually.   I’m thinking of some graffiti as well.. perhaps DISGRUNTLED or GOING POSTAL.

MB Checker Cab, circa 1958


Click to enlarge

I had to pay homage to the old 1993 Windows 3.1 game Hellcab, of course.  This is a Checker Cab from Matchbox which is kind of difficult to find with the original Checker logo.  The more modern and generic “Taxi” markings of later Matchbox cab models seemed kind of cheap and inaccurate so I held off until I could find a decent original model.    I wanted to keep the original paint job of bright yellow, especially the decals.  So I matte varnished it repeatedly, added an autocannon up front, added side cage armor and a half slab of styrene “armor” over the windshield to protect the autocannon gunner, then added generous rust and a thin coat of sepia wash on top of it all.  The result is one grimey hellcab for cuties.

HW Custom 55 Chevy

Click me to enlarge

This is also part of the 2009 Treasure Hunt series from Hot Wheels.  I ended up getting a two tone Chevy with a somewhat annoying bright metal flake paint job that was hard to dull down.  Still, I love the two tones.   I used the same approach I take to any car where I wish to retain the base paint scheme, dull it down and add some filth.  I reeled in the “extra armor” I usually add on this one and built a small Heavy Rocket mount box from plastic card.  This car will have two heavy “Fire and Forget” Rockets (painted standard rocket red), then the driver is down to a pistol.

MW Volkswagen Transporter Van

I did mention this vehicle in passing in the last post on the “Hell truck” but I wanted to show a closer look.  This isn’t exactly Detroit iron here, but I felt we should have one of these in the game to represent the 1960s.  The original is a two tone, bright colored blue VW Van with a skylight, lots of clear plastic windows and tons of chairs for passengers.  Nice, but it wouldn’t do for combat purposes.  I added an interior platform for gunners to stand on, painted the interior all black and the windows all grey.   I’m including this picture in the post to show that I’ve been painting up crew and militia figures for the game, and plan on adding some as crew permanently.   The weapon up front is a four shot flame thrower, angled down somewhat– envisioned as being operated by the crewman standing on the firing platform.

Lastly,

Two small pickups with Harpoon Teams, Datsun and Volkswagen pickups

For some reason I’m tickled pink about harpoon guns. Click to enlarge.

I think these are both Hot Wheels.  You’ve seen them in the background of a few pictures so far but I wanted to post them with pictures of crew on board.  Crew is all Stan Johansen, so are the weapons.   I see them as equivalent of technicals, but with harpoon guns designed to ensnare and roll vehicles of roughly the same mass.

I love the visual effect of adding crew to some of these vehicles.  It wouldn’t be practical (or possible) to crew every car with an open cockpit, but I can do enough to add that action element to the game.

Road Warrior/WLF Car Conversions Part 2, the Wrath of Helltruck!


Here is part two (of two) in a series on converting Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars into Post-Apocalyptic Engines of Destruction (or delight).  The first post was here, and preamble post here.

Up front I’ll mention with a few exceptions*, this might be all I’m going to do.  Post Apocalyptic diecast conversions are, for some reason, a very pleasurable pastime and I don’t want a suitcase of these these things, just about 40 plus will do nicely.  That should cover both a very small group going through cars at a phenomenal rate (the rules are very unforgiving, I might point out) or a HUGE group of players.

1. Helltruck

Start with a cute, pristine Matchbox Super King line Tanker truck.  I bought two of them off of Ebay.

Shell super king tanker before conversions.

These can be had for about 11 dollars or so. I have two.

Matchbox Super King series trucks are humongous by Matchbox standards, yet still in scale.

Enter HELLTRUCK.

HellTruck was converted by adding side door armor to the side doors (steel and rust paint), with eye slits cut out. I did a mesh armor windshield with bloodstains. Topped it off with turret Machine gun. Painted all a base brick red color then built up with success coats of rust washing on exposed metal, a filth wash (light brown) and a grim wash (thin black). The result looks like a truck that has been rolling down that apocalyptic highway. The tanker payload was a little more challenging. I built up a cage frame out of styrene I beams and L beams all the way around the tank. This provides a metal “frame” that keeps the cage away from the rig itself, much like the rocket cages on today’s Army convoy vehicles, and largely for the same reason– to reduce a rocket attack.. possibly. I gave the tank an overall mud color base coat and eliminated the Shell decals. The built up a paint job of thin black grime, LOTS of dirt, and rust on the cage material, frame and the big metal rear armor. For finishing touches I added a little plate metal cupola up top (with some infantry figures for scale) for the HellTruck defense team to fire from, plus a big rear armor slab with the Anarchy symbol on it.

HellTruck, More shots

I’m rather proud of this conversion, so bear with me while I show it off.

Helltruck, rear view (note big red Anarchy symbol/aiming point). Primed figures in cupola to show sense of scale, which is roughly 20mm.

Front view of Helltruck (R) next to what it got built up from, a Shell Super King Tanker (L).

Front shot, showing cage windshield and left door armor with improvised vision slit. Hard to see against the reddish background, but I painted a thin trickle of blood seeping out of the screen armor on the passenger side. Bad luck for somebody.

Helltruck is shown with some vehicles next to it, in a possible reflection of future combat. In this instance, the vehicles are from the Technicals tribe (mostly pickups with crew in the back firing mounted weapons). Figures added for scale. Note the Volkswagen Transporter van (a nod to Nancy Ott), a recent addition, flame thrower and side cage armor added, plus I added a platform to have figures fire out of the roof, Technicals style.

Two harpoon cannon equipped Technicals (Dodge Pickup, bottom left, Ford 150 top right) attempt to fire harpoons into truck tires. Ford 150 (bottom right) fires mounted light MG against the cab. The VW Transporter (top left) has a flamethrower with finite shots in it, so it is waiting to get closer to the cab to fire, but the crew member (unpainted, primed) is firing a pistol up versus the crew in the cupola.
At this angle, the crew up in the cupola could fire sidearms and rifles or crossbows down at the Tehnicals, but the turret MG on the front cab would not have the angle to fire back. Good for the Technicals, baaaad for Helltruck.

2. The Dune Buggy Tribe

This is a group of very lightly armored vehicles with few mounted weapons. Mostly cage armor. They engage by harassing fire with side arms or rifles. They are fragile but very fast and have bonuses for rugged terrain.

Dune buggy tribe.

Tribe cars are: MB Dune Buggy 2006, HW Roll Cage, Sahara Sweeper (foreground, heavily modded), Sahara Survivor, and a single Sting Rod II to provide some heavy weapon support.

3. The Fetish Car Design Gang

This is my catchall category for (mostly) Hot Wheels cars that are designed for visual impact and often don’t make a lick of sense in any real world context. These are goofy concepts like a car designed like a skeleton or scorpion, or a car with four jet engines back to back (a design one might imagine would blow up in the first minute of operation) Still, once they paint up they look pretty great!

Not all of these went the rusty/dirty metal route.. I just loved the lime green paint job on the art deco coupe (left) that I had to retain it, just dull it down a lot, with 3 coats of matte varnish and a dirt wash. I also added a gatling cannon.

Fetish Car Gang consists of: HW Shell Shock, HW Pirahna Terror
, HW Scorpedo, HW Tomb Up, HW Skull Crusher, HW Solar Reflex, and I don’t recall the name of the green car.

Notes– most of these came from a “Fright cars” five pack. They look ridiculous in bright colors but look just alien and tribal enough covered with dirt and rust. The Shell Shock is painted up as a fire starter car, with two “big guns” remodeled as fire throwers. Also added a MG on the roof, plus hatch. I put screen armor all over the “Solar Panel” on the Solar Reflex. The rest are pretty self explanatory– I put a harpoon gun on the Skull Crusher.

4. Muscle Cars/Factory Cars Tribe

These are cars that actually look like, well, CARS.. readily identifiable. I didn’t upgun these very much because the idea was to have the standard automobile underneath be readily identifiable.

Muscle car heaven

Note: Conversions are minimal here. Flat base coats, lots of screen mesh armor and maybe a MG here or there, but for the most part these look familiar and are painted that way..

5. Odds and Ends

Not sure what I’m going to do with these yet. The copter I have plans for, as I will mount it on a flight stand (same for the projected Gyrocopter, too)

* What’s left?

  • I have a 50s era Checker cab, painted like a Checker cab, en route. Hard to find with the original checker stripe– nothing else will do. This will be converted to “Hell Cab” with a gatling gun and some up-armor.
  • I have plans to acquire a postal vehicle, just for the “Disgruntled Postal employee” visual joke. Hard to find at a reasonable price.
  • I just won a Kettenkrad and Schwimwagon on ebay, I will assemble and add those.
  • Others– we haven’t even touched Motorcycles yet. I have to have at least ten of those. Or the gyrocopter.

Next post will probably be on motorcycles, pedestrian figures and terrain conversions.   Ciao!

Games in Sacred Texts


An editorial by Geoff Englestein on the Dice Tower podcast reminded me of the view the Gautama Buddha took towards frivolous activities, namely gaming, and how they could be a roadblock to achieving true enlightenment.   That got me to thinking of Games mentioned in sacred texts, particularly boardgames as Miniature Wargaming, RPGs and Videogames are all relatively modern developments.

First, back to Buddhism as well as a shallow dive into some Hindu texts.

The Gautama weighs in:

His list of “best practices” for one seeking enlightenment is contained in the he Brahmajala Sutta, one of the first of 34 suttas (collections of aphorisms) of the Digha Nikaya (the Long Discourses of the Buddha).   Games are especially enumerated in the 17th precept of the Majjhima Sila, which lists 16 of what were interpreted as “games” back in ancient times.  It’s an illuminating list but much of it entails condemning playing with toys.  The boardgame specific ones are as follows:

1. “Games on board with 8 or 10 rows”.  This probably references Ashtapada specifically, which is a pre-chess game played on an unmarked, checkers-like gridded board with no colors.  The game was essentially a race between both sides to thread through a preset pattern of “castles” on the board.   Chaturanga is played on an identical board, but is more chess like.

Truly ancient examples of Ashtapada and Chaturaga style game boards.

2. “The same games played on imaginary boards.” (Akasam Astapadam was a variant of Astapada which was played without a board, mentally, and means “Astapada in the sky”).  It was either a fun mental exercise or perhaps people were too poor to afford game components.

3. “Marking diagrams on the floor such that the player can only walk on certain places”  may sound a little clumsy, but parse it out and you have a precursor to our modern game of hop scotch.   Not exactly a boardgame but it’s amusing to see it on the list.  The reference is probably to a game called Parihâra-patham, which played similarly to hop scotch but with a very different path on the ground.

4. Either remove pieces from a pile, or adding pieces to it, with the loser being the one who causes the heap to “shake”.   This sounds like Jenga to me, but it could also be Pickup Sticks.  Not much else is written about it.

5. “Throwing Dice”  There are any number of dice games originating in India, but this probably specifically references gambling games similar to craps.

6. “Dipping the hand with the fingers stretched out in lac, or red dye, or flour-water, and striking the wet hand on the ground or on a wall, calling out ‘What shall it be?’ and showing the form required–elephants, horses, &c”  That sounds somewhat confusing but after you parse it for a bit it starts to sound a lot like modern Pictionary, doesn’t it?

7.  Ball Games.  Could mean anything really, but probably something like Kick Ball.

(8-14 reference playing with toys, but 15 is interesting)

15. Guessing another person’s thoughts.  This could be just wild guessing but I suspect it’s a game with directed questions similar to 20 questions.

So there you have it, The Buddha wasn’t a game guy like you or me.  I’m not a scholar of Buddhism but I have read a little here and there, and I suspect the Buddha wasn’t condemning leisure pastimes with any degree of vitriol, he was simply listing the activities to be avoiding as being harmful to spiritual discipline along the path to enlightenment.

The Buddha’s list is relatively well known, and an interesting window into the past, especially about boardgames.  I could see playing variants of some of these today, and actually I have (Chaturanga, for certain, is a fairly famous variant of Chess).   I wondered if there was any other religion that even mentions diversions of the mind with such precision as the Guatama Buddha did.

A ritual dice game is mentioned in the Yajur Veda, to be played at coronations (and it is mentioned in passing that the King was allowed to win).    Other than that I can’t find much in the Upanishads or the Rig Veda.

Islam

Well, the Prophet Mohammed did not appear to enjoy games any more than the Buddha did. In the Koran, specifically this citation, the Prophet appears to equate the playing a game of chance to the consumption of alcohol, which he had strong reservations against:

YUSUFALI: O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.
PICKTHAL: O ye who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave it aside in order that ye may succeed.
SHAKIR: O you who believe! intoxicants and games of chance and (sacrificing to) stones set up and (dividing by) arrows are only an uncleanness, the Shaitan’s work; shun it therefore that you may be successful.

To clarify, later on, Mohammed did state that “He who played chess is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine” which appears to lump in boardgaming with other enticements of the flesh. Reference here.

I’m not going to find a lot of material about ancient Islamic games, I think.

Judaism and by extension, Christianity

There’s not a lot written about ancient Jewish kids’ games, although there is some:
Zec 8:5: “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof”; and Gen 21:9 margin, where we read of Ishmael “playing” (metscheq).

Perhaps this “playing” reference could be read as “Mocking” as well, the translation is open to question.  Of specific games however.. there’s almost nothing at all in the Old Testament.

Playing with ball is alluded to in Isa 22:18: “He will …. toss thee like a ball into a large country,” possibly this indicates some form of organized sport or recreational outdoor game.. The question of Yahweh to Job (41:5): “Wilt thou play with him (the crocodile) as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?” suggests that tame birds were some form of amusement for Hebrew children.

The New Testament has one reference to children’s play, namely, the half-parable about the children in the market-place who would neither dance to the flute as if at a marriage feast nor wail as if at a funeral (Mt 11:16 f parallel Lk 7:32).

Dice games: dice were known to the ancient Egyptians, and Assyrian dice have been found, made of bronze with points of gold, but there is no trace of them in the Old Testament. The New Testament’s most famous game of chance, the use of dice by the Syrian soldiers who cast lots for the raiment of Jesus at the cross (Mt 27:35 parallel Mk 15:24; Lk 23:34; Jn 19:24) may have been dice (as we know them, six sided cubes) or some other primitive chance mechanism.

Kugelach Stones

This is not to say that the Ancient Hebrews and early Christians were a dour lot; they amused themselves in a myriad of ways– dancing, mimicry, storytelling, running and archery contests.  Even though there aren’t references to them in holy scripture, ancient games did exist in Jewish (and by extension, Christian) culture.   Hebrew children had a tradition of a game called Kugelach, which is very similar to Jacks.   The Ancient Hebrews also seemed to be fond of variants of the grid-based games that were similar to ancient Roman style games (reminiscent of 9 Man’s Morris) as well as Indian ones like Ashdibada– though who invented what first is uncertain here.    What is fairly certain is that Jewish culture inherited many games from external sources- primarily Roman and Egyptian.  There is some evidence of Mancala style games being imported from African sources, as well as a game similar to Fox and Geese called Dogs and Jackals.

Dogs and Jackals game tablet found at Tel Megiddo archeological dig

Conclusions

What’s to make of all this?  Mostly that the tradition of boardgames and similar amusements– meaning a physical map to move pieces on with some chance element (probably a six sided dice) would appear to be primarily an Asian development that an amusement-starved world would adopt whole-heartedly as  cultures came into contact with each other and cross-pollinated.

And that perhaps Buddha needed to lighten up a little about games. 😀

The FLUXX theme song


It certainly isn’t every day a game gets its own theme song. As far as I know, even Chess, Checkers, Monopoly and Parcheesi don’t have theme songs. Yet FLUXX, the little nomic style card game from Looney Labs, does! Apparently the “Doubleclicks” play the game a lot and were inspired to create this song out of the blue. What fun!

I need to break out my bull fiddle and start composing the theme song to Advanced Third Reich. Yeah, that’s the ticket! I see a new trend here!

More details on the the Wunderland blog.

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.