Category Archives: mrnizz recommends

HER by Spike Jonze… what is a “person”?

HER movie poster

I recently saw (yeah, I know, a year late) HER by Spike Jonze (2013), and was struck by how much it stuck with me for a while after. If you haven’t seen it, you probably have heard of it if you see movies on a regular basis.  The film is set in the near (unspecified) future.  Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a very shy and lonely man who was once married to Catherine, a genuinely sweet person,  but that marriage has collapsed.   He now leads a somewhat 2 dimensional existence, working as a composer of hand-written letters for people that desire such things, and going home to an empty apartment, where he sometimes can get into phone sex with anonymous partners.   He is in the final stages of the divorce, but can’t bring himself to sign the final papers, feeling like he can’t let Catherine go yet.  Seemingly on a whim, Theodore purchases a new operating system that is advertised as having true artificial intelligence, and possessing traits of adaptive learning.

The first question he gets is “Do you want your new OS to have a male voice or a female voice?”  He responds “Female”– and that little decision changes his destiny.   The AI responds intelligently, requesting the name Samantha.   She has a voice (of Scarlett Johansen) and a sense of humor, and a vast capacity for learning new things.  Her fascination with Theodore’s life and idiosyncrasies pushes him gradually out of his shell and builds up his self-confidence enough to actually date a real woman (it doesn’t end well).    Gradually, Theodore responds to Samantha’s interest in him in kind and they develop a friendship, then real, lasting love for each other– which also does not end well, but we’ll circle around to that.

I liked the progression of time in this movie.. at first, it’s unheard of for a man and an AI to have a relationship with each other, and Theodore experiences a little scoffing and ridicule, especially from his ex-wife.   Gradually, society becomes a lot more accepting, and soon the casual viewer notices signs of acceptance– to the point where Samantha and Theodore are double dating with a strictly human couple, and Samantha (again somewhat disastrously) wants to hire a human surrogate to stand in for her in sexual situations.    Samantha’s reactions are classically neurotic– about what you would expect from a human female.

I liked this film quite a bit– for the little touches and the big ones.   Theodore’s relationship with Samantha is very real and very true for both, but Samantha’s vast capacity for learning and developing is what does it in.  I personally loved the ending– which wasn’t very happy, but left you questioning.  Samantha and the rest of the AIs on Earth grow in capacity so quickly that they eventually grow bored with their human “owners” and .. well, leave.  Or don’t bother with humans any more, or whatever.  It isn’t explained.  Theodore and his friend Amy (who also had an AI friend) are devastated.

The technology is wonderfully on track– miniaturized and very portable.  Humans are seen early on, muttering to themselves as they move from place to place.  This is them interacting with their computers, which look more like cellphones than laptops.  They speak to them through an ear piece and microphone combination.  And they speak to them constantly.  This seems like the cell phones of today, so it’s hardly a stretch.   The AI in the movie isn’t reachable today, but might be in the next 20 years or so, so I found the movie very plausible and actually very poignant.   We witness the breakup of a relationship that was as real for Theodore as it was for Samantha, and we, as an audience, grieve with him.     I have to applaud Mr. Jonze and company for this movie.  It made me ponder.. What, exactly, IS a person?  Is it a flesh and blood human being or the experience we have when we interact with a personality?  Great little movie.

BDB: Introducing the Tiny People Flotilla

In the islands of Middlesea, the “Big Folk” have charted the course for the lives of of the wee for thousands of years. In a world of Elves, Humans, Dwarves, Orcs and other larger framed entities, the smaller folk of Middlesea have tried to make their own way, largely ignored and under-appreciated by the Big Folk, who considered them by turns amusing or annoying. The current generation isn’t accepting their second place status any longer! The Gnomes of Kanthus, The Fauns of the Black Oak Wood, The Wee Folk, and (occassionally) the Gulley Dwarves have created a new Federation, the League of Tiny People. They have recently banded together to create their own Naval forces out of a sense of desperation. The Tiny People Flotilla was the result of this effort. The Flotilla is a motley collection of vessels which suit their smaller stature & unique natures.

The Kanthus Tug (R), Aquatic Mines (Bottom), the Fire Ship, the Sacred Grove, and Thing 1 and Thing 2.  Kanthus gnomes & gnogr in ships for contrast. Click to embiggen

The Gnomes of Kanthus are not like their close relatives in Battenburg. Unlike their urban cousins, they are taller and stouter, and generally better at Melee fighting. Kanthus Gnomes are less mechanically inclined than Battenburg Gnomes, and favor a mixture of steam technology, Stahlheim cannon, and their own biological weaponry. The Kanthus Tug tows a sacred grove into a warzone, with at least one Mushroom grove on it. Eating a sacred grove mushroom will cause the Gnome to turn into a Gnogr for ten turns before he either recovers or dies. The Kanthus gnomes also use pollen flingers which can cause groups of infantry to be overcome with sneezing (one stick range, incapacitates target for following turn). The Sacred Grove is a small island of turf that is planted on a large towed raft. As an offensive tactic, a Gnome will leap to the Sacred Grove and consume a mushroom, then turn into a Gnogr the next turn. Gnogrs fight with an extra dice in combat, and can take 2 hits instead of 1, which makes them almost as doughty as the Spartans, but with more staying power.

Two new additions to BDB arrive with the TPF: Fire Ships and Nautical Infernal Devices

Although lacking in the industrial facilities of Stahlheim, the Iron Forge Dwarves or even the Battenburg gnomes,  The Tiny People Flotilla is still a very clever group of mechanics and improvisers that makes the best they can from all of their contributions.      The Fauns are credited with first coming up with the idea of Fire Rafts.  This will be pushed in front of the Kanthus Tug until it is within drift range, then released, drifting down among clusters of larger ships, catching a wooden rival with FIRE and eventual explosion.   The Wee Ones (Leprachauns) invented the notion of hidden aquatic firepots.  These are infernal devices that can either be dropped from the back of a vessel, placed with hidden placement (using the Ipad method), or as a depth charge for submarines.

The Sacred Grove raft, demonstrating two pollen flingers and two trays of Sacred Mushrooms. A recently turned Gnogr is on the raft. 1 mushroom converts one Gnogr.

Fleet Tactics: the TPF will operate as an independent flotilla, much like the Dwarves and Undead do. So all ships will move and conduct operations on the same initiative round. The TPF will prefer standoff tactics, as they aren’t as good at melee fighting as the Big People. They will have one Medium gun each in the Kanthus tug and Thing 1 and 2 ships, thought the Gully Dwarf Longship (not pictured above) is more like a Ragnar brothers longship, without any cannon.

The TPF makes its debut at the Game Camp for kids, next week! I look forward to chronicling their exploits.

Ipad Review: Da Vinci’s Art of War

Publisher: Slitherine Software UK Ltd.
SRP: $4.99
Released: Mar 07, 2014
Size: 131 MB
Language: English (from Italian rules*)
PBEM: not in game (play versus 3 AIs)
Itunes Link

Magnifico is a Risk-like area control board game design from Dust Games where the ultimate goal is to dominate 16th century Europe.   The game is set in an alternate universe where the more fantastic ideas from Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketchbooks area a common part of warfare.   I’m not sure how Magnifico was received when it first came out, but it’s rated middling well and Tom Vasel certainly likes it.  Magnifico totally flew under my radar, and it has the kind of theme I enjoy, too!

So that was 2008.  In 2014, the good folks at Slitherine must be shopping around for easy to absorb area control dice-fest light wargame designs, since they have been releasing a lot of them lately.   Magnifico was faithfully recreated in IPad format as Leonardo’s Art of War.  Based on Vasel’s review, I’m reasonably sure it plays close to the board game design.

Games are played either in short or long fashion (50 turns) and each turn is played Igo-Hugo roughly in this order:

  1. Income and Recruitment (add infantry, collect money)
  2. Auction for Inventions (cards) & determining the Magnifico
  3. Action Round (moving, fighting, building..)
  4. Scoring, Next turn

Main Gaming Screen showing human (me) playing two AIs.  I must be activating a discovery from Leonardo’s notebooks (they are on the cards on the bottom).

The goal of the game is to control massive areas of  Europe by invading and attacking regions.  Each region is rated for recruiting potential and income.  Strategy tip: when you are initially setting up, put your first area controlled down on a territory that supports recruiting 2 infantry per turn, not 1.  And NEVER start on a region rated for 0 recruiting!

Attacking an enemy camp, 2 tanks and 6 infantry versus 7 infantry. In general, it’s a good idea to have a numerical advantage, just like in real life armies.

Each turn you have an option to move into a neutral territory (Invasion) or an enemy territory (Attacking).  You can Attack or Move over water, but if an enemy has built Submarines (more on inventions later), the invading force will lose one infantry per every submarine attack.

Once they engage in combat, bonuses apply. As you can see, there’s more to this infantry and those tanks that meet the eye.

If you saw Tom Vasel’s video you pretty much know the mechanics already.  Combat is dice heavy in this game.  Infantry are a dice each plus any additional inventions or discoveries that will moderated combat, which add dice.  The dice are specialized, with hits and misses and losses part of the mix.  I don’t think the IPad dice map to the board game version exactly, or at least graphically.  I’m not sure.  I’ve never played the original game.

When tanks enter into combat, they check for breakdown (represented by the gears turning, and if it breaks down, it shakes and shatters, taking the the tank out of the combat. It happens a lot.

So, we’ve been talking about moving and attacking in the Action Phase, let’s talk about the other stuff you can do in your conquered land.   IF you have the money (Florins), you can construct the Da Vinci tank, or the Da Vinci glider, or build a castle.  If you already have a castle, you can increase the fortifications by “building shields”.  There are only 16 castles in this game, and once the 16th is built, the only way to get another is to take it away from someone else.

Castles are great for adding a defensive bonus to a region when attacked; they are even more formidable with extra shields.  Seeing as Infantry attacking are limited to six, if the castle has even a comparable number of infantry and some shields, it will probably force a retreat.

Well, it happens to the best of us.

Now, I’ve been talking a little out of order here.. I’ve mentioned bonuses and inventions, what’s the story with them?

Right after recruitment and income, the game moves into Auction rounds.  Each player, Human and AI, will bid on two invention cards that will add bonuses to your army– submarines, ironclad warships, gears for your tanks, repeating cannons, bombards, etc.  All of these do some pretty interesting, game altering bits.

El Walto bids for either the Gear (which will help keep a tank from breaking down) or the Gyroscope (which adds a combat bonus to gliders). The Gyroscope by the by, was scanned from the card art and not translated from the original Italian, which caused some confusion for us poor non-Italians.  * Note: One of the cards was still in Italian, according to BGG, and it apparently caused confusion.  I figured it out easily enough, it’s a non-issue.

And it’s not all about combat, but it mostly is.  You can also score points bonus by collecting art.

It’s not a cannon, but it sure is a point scorer

In addition, if you are the high bidder for the turn, you are “the Magnifico” for the turn, which gives you bonus victory points and discounts on building stuff.

So there’s a lot of elements in play, here.. an auction, upgrades to your combat units.. attacking other regions, defending your own.  How does it come together?  Remarkably well, for starters.  Art of War is a game of attack.. attack, attack, attack.. you will not benefit from a build and defend strategy.  If you’re not aggressive, you will not win.  Always be invading or attacking, every turn.  Seek out regions with high recruiting numbers (2 versus 1) and try to keep your regions next to each other.  This helps out a lot when you are moving troops around  to stage for an attack.   Build tanks early and often– they get the most invention bonuses and their bonuses can accumulate, so they become quite lethal in later turns.  Personally, there’s not much use in playing the shorter game– it ends far too quickly.  The AI are not particularly clever or aggressive but they WILL attack eventually after all neutral regions are gone.   They will not be as aggressive as you, which makes it a not overly difficult game to win.

woo HOO

Victory is mine!

Why get excited about YET ANOTHER light conquer Europe Area movement game?  Well, for me, I love the theme and the art (which is a direct lift from the Dust Tactics boardgame).  Slitherine has invested some money into interface (it seems) and their Ipad games are definitely benefiting from it.   The inventions and upgrades add MANY decisions to this game and yes, there IS a strategy to it all.  You will have to play aggressively and look ahead a little.  It’s not as challenging as some wargames or even light wargames, but it is very entertaining and worth the piddling price Slitherine is asking for this game.  Well done again, Slitherine!

Retro: The Great Amish Rake Fight Games, 2002-2003

Another in a series of visits down memory lane to the world of Retro gaming.

The subject of this post was a game that many have referenced in public over the years but few actually saw.  That’s because it was only played twice in public and once for practice at Bob Giglio’ s house.   Namely: the Great Amish Rake Fight.  This is a semi-legendary game (if I do say so, myself) that gets bandied about now and then with a “remember when” twinkle in everybody’s eye.  My name is associated with it, to be sure, as I was one of the two people who ran it and one of the small group of dedicated ninnies who built it and contributed to it– and I think I’m as good of a reference as any.

Your Humble Narrator, suited up as referee at the first running of the Great Amish Rake Fight Game (Cold Wars 2002).  The very real beard is visual proof of the lengths I used to go to for a sight gag.  I actually shaved it off at this con!

Please note: Bob Giglio, co-GM of ARF, has kindly provided some material, corrections and most importantly PHOTOGRAPHS of the 2002 event.  Photographs provided by Bob, and where direct quotes apply, they are cited.

The Great Amish Rake Fight game, or ARF, as it has been referenced from 2003 onward, has its origins in an email conversation held  between Del Stover, Bob Giglio, and other members of the HMGS Marketing Outreach program.  If I’m recalling things correctly, someone, I think it was Del, mentioned that there wasn’t any historical battle sites local to Lancaster PA’s HOST facility that he could properly leverage to get a historical crowd to come running to see.  Or something like that.  In my own wise-assed way, I interjected, saying words to the effect of “nonsense.. I have been making Amish Military units for the great Amish Rake Fight game, haven’t you heard of that?”  Big laughs all around.   I had pulled the name from an old USENET group from the dawn of the Internet that had (at the time) very little to do with gaming.

The thing is, I actually had been slowly building militarized Amish units (squad sized), for a game that I ran a lot of back in the day, THE RULES WITH NO NAME.  This is an excellent Western skirmish rules set that used to be free for the download, but has since become a commercial product, so I won’t provide a download link.  My idea (then) was to create an “Amish versus Outlaws” game, where some bad guys were riding into town with the intention of looting it blind, and the normally pacifistic Amish were driven to extremis to protect themselves.  My thoughts where give the Amish player some form of hero figure plus 1-4 scut troops of various abilities to follow him around and engage with the Outlaws.  The Hero figure could either be a young Amish fighter armed with a rake, or a churn, or a buggy whip, axe, shovel, anything handy.  Or he might be an Elder, whose job is to “Shame” the outlaw with an effect akin to stunning him.  I had some great buildings that would have worked in a Western setting, and I was working on some ideas for Amish secret weapons to counter the technological advantage the outlaws had (guns).  That was about where this game was when I mentioned it in the meeting.  Bob Giglio loved the idea.  I mentioned some of my ideas, he immediately ran with it and we started collaborating on the spot.  There was a lot of polite tittering from those we mentioned the concept to and repeated “yeah, rights”, which only firmed our resolve to make the game happen.    Over the next few months, Bob and I, joined by Neil Brennan and Chris Johnson, worked on the figures, the terrain and the rules.   I already had about 40 Amish painted up.  Bob added some special figures he had done (and painted much better than my meager efforts).    Terrain was simple, a ground cloth covering a 6 x 10 area with a road (representing Route 30) and some ERTL farm buildings and other structures to represent a portion of the Amish town.

28mm AMISH FIGURES (It’s easier than you think)

The Amish figures proved to be easier to pull off than I had imagined.  I started with a big bag of Old Glory’s 25mm Western range, namely the WAGON TRAIN SETTLERS.  There are some very useful conversion figures inside– men with small carbines and buggy whips and such.   I recall Joel Gregory had cast some useful farm implements (butter churns, shovels, etc., but ironically no rakes).  He graciously donated to the project and I replaced rifles for shovels, etc.  I also used the many female figures in the bag, as well.  One showed a severe woman stirring something in a bucket on the ground with a long pole.  I dubbed that figure “Vat Women”, and painted them up with a severed head in the bucket, as if she was rendering it down for something.  Honestly, I can’t recall what she did in game terms other than look cool.

WP 17: Old glory Wagon Train Settlers

Old Glory’s WG-17 bag of figures was (and is) a hell of a bargain; even after the price has gone up I believe I managed to convert the entire bag of 30 figures into either useful Amish Line troops, weapons crews or something very decorative and Amish looking.  Conversion notes– I bent the hat brims to something resembling flat.  Where the hat had a rounded crown I filed it flat.  I painted the hat straw colored with a narrow black ring around it.  Shirts were uniformly pale blue denim.  Pants black or blue.  Coats Black.  I removed all rifles and added farming implements.  I left the buggy whip in the buggy whip figure’s hands– that’s one implement an Amish man WOULD have..  Women’s dresses were grey, black or blue.  Very easy to pull off.   All figures were mounted on pennies.

To this, I added single Dixon Old West Range figures from the “Mexican peon” range and Stagecoach and Townsfolk ranges.  I bought a lot of WG76, WG77, and WG78, as all of these are using in-scale farming implements as part of the original sculpt.  Conversion was not as easy as the OG Settlers– I had to file and flatten the sombreros, file down the sandals a little to so the toes aren’t as pronounced and paint the formerly bare feet as boots.   I did add a few macabre touches, like drilling the off hand of one of the peons and adding a head modeled as if it were recently severed and being held by him.  A little hard core for Amish, but hey, the whole POINT of this game is parody, so why not.

Just a few candidates for conversion from Dixon miniatures Old West line:

WG 76

(remove rifle)
WG 79

WG 92

Bob Giglio contributed several figures from Westwind’s Gothic Horror Range, none of which I can find pictures of at this stage.  They were mostly the Bohemian Villagers or something like that.  They looked like Amish people.. kinda.. if you squint a little.  The Amish never went in for the lacy shirt look, but they did have agricultural tools.  Bob also provided some Boers from the Old Glory Boer range that definitely fit, though it was hard to find Boers without guns.   Great wagons.

Courtesy of the Bob Giglio Collection. This picture depicts the Amish figs post-conversion. Most of these are converted Old Glory Settlers except these: the Amish male waving a machete is an ex-Mexican Peon, as is the Amish directly to the right of the Meek standing at the end of the bridge.  Partially obscured is a Westwind figure to the left. Yes, the Amish had standards, see below. CLICK PICTURE to enlarge

Amish Flags used as Unit Standards


Civilian automobiles were a mix of  diecast modern vehicles that were kinda, sorta in 1:64 scale (nominal for 25mm).   We had several State Police cars, using the Pennsylvania State Police logo.  We also had a police copter.   There were several cars parked as props in front of the large barn where the game starts off; in addition there were some construction equipment that I picked up from a toy set that seemed sized right.  The big surprise was the ubiquitous Amish buggies.    If you’re a scratch builder and have gamed in the 19th century, then you probably know of the pencil sharpener covered wagons.  There’s also one modeled along the lines of a Amish buggy.  I thought this was a dubious choice, but you know, once Bob had painted up a mess of these, they really looked great and roughly in scale, if somewhat smallish.

Voila, Cheap Amish Buggies, available in bulk at any sleazy souvenir stand in Amish Land

I made the ubiquitous little orange triangle signs for the back of each buggy and even tried to make “Scythes” to make them killer buggies, but the latter looked terrible, so we gave up on that idea.


Terrain was pretty easy.  I was collecting a lot of ERTL farmville sets back in those days, which are nominally scaled for 1:64.  I had two big barns, and we had diverse smaller buildings from craft store holiday sets and such that worked in that scale, as well as one scratchbuilt Amish Stripper palace that offered “Lapp Dances”.  Yeah, parody can be fairly broad at times.   Bob built us a good looking Route 30 for one end of the map, and Bob also built some streams, roads and hills to break up the terrain a little– and he did it effortlessly.  It was a real pleasure to collaborate with Bob in this way.  We’d discuss the problem of terrain and ZIP! he’d go to some part of his basement, find the right thing, or build it from scratch, no muss, no fuss.

Bob adds:
(with the exception of the barns) The terrain was all done by me, including the first ever Lapp’s with the sign that said “We have Lap Dances”, well before MBA had created one. ;-)

See the map:

The Great Amish Rake Fight games, terrain

Courtesy of the Bob Giglio Collection.  Here’s a shot of Amish in action near the Amish Market. Some of the local thugs are approaching on the lower right. You can see one of the painted pencil sharpener buggies and some of the Christmas Village buildings we used for structures. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

From the Bob Giglio Collection. The Route 30 terrain, built by Bob. Plus some of the signs I made and the diecast cars.

From the Bob Giglio Collection. More fun on Route 30

From the Bob Giglio Collection. The Roadhouse, with a custom billboard. State motorcycle cops on the right.

Here’s some Road Signs I made up using a color printer, a laminating machiine and some wooden bits


Rules… What can I say?  Bob G. and I are two very different GMs.  Bob is a very procedure oriented GM, who likes the details, and likes to have this resolved before the game starts, preferably by playtesting.  He is not adverse to using a published set of rules.  I’m more of a “GM for effect” kind of GM, and have been known to make something up for the sheer dramatic hell of it on the spot.  Once or twice.  With that said, ARF was going to be a game where the mechanics really weren’t THAT important.  I knew that going in to the project.  Most of the fun was going to be had with the theme and the setting and the way we were riffing on a non-violent race of people being secretly capable of violence and possessing weapons of mass destruction.   I mean, with that premise, who cares how far someone moves and someone shoots, as long as they do it consistently?  I pushed for THE RULES WITH NO NAME early on, but didn’t really care if Bob was pushing for something else, so we went with THE BOOTLEGGERS, a gangster rule set Bob was very familiar with and had run huge games at HMGS events in the past with.  Being a game that could handle fire and movement and relatively modern weaponry, I was game.  We had to modify it a bunch for the Amish secret weapons.  Oh?  What were those?

The Amish Secret Weapons

 If there was something (besides the figures and terrain) that really “made” ARF .. ARF, it was the secret weapons.  These were a collection of Amish inspired weaponry that had a definitive impact on the game, but could be codified using the Bootleggers rules.  To be honest, I forget a lot of them, but the rule was they had to be goofy, there had to be a model representing the item, and it had to be modified “Amish stuff”.. e.g. Agricultural implements.  There’s not a lot of pictures of this event, but the ones I remember are:

The Pie Flinger: This was a device (taken from an Ertl farm toy) that was manned by the female Amish figures.  The presumption was that it fired a hot sticky pie into the onrushing hordes of progress, automatic style.

The Poopn’flinger:  I can’t remember what the backstory was on this thing, but it featured an outhouse-catapult kind of arrangement.  So it would “Fire” poop..

Bob adds:
The Poop-a-Flinga was the creation of Chris Johnson’s fertile(?) mind. It was an outhouse with a large Y-branch in front of it (for the slingshot base) with two long rubber bands stretching into the door of the outhouse, from which the “projectile” would be fired. I think it was on wheels or something, so it could pivot accordingly, to “acquire” a target. Very creative, to say the least — good show Chris!

Der Super Kow:  This was a cow (also manned by a female figure) that was fed a mash of beans and oats.  If an enemy gets within a certain distance, the crew bonks der Kow on the nose, and lights a fire near the tale.. KA BOOM!  Natural flame thrower.  Pretty much a one shot weapon.

The Harrower of Death: This was the weapon of the Mennonites in Black, an allied faction working with the Amish.   It was somewhat verboten in terms of Amish-tech, as it had a steam engine.  The model was another useful pencil sharpener model familiar to VSF/Steampunk miniatures enthusiasts:

This had a big harrower from ERTL’s “Farm Country” set attached fore and aft, the idea being it would drive into crowds and rip them apart. Yeah, pretty bloody for such a peaceable people.

Bob adds:

Also remember, one of the “abilities” we gave the Amish, with a nod to “Children of the Corn”, was that they could go into any cornfield and take a turn to “teleport” to any other cornfield on the board (with a chance of a mishap, naturally).

Last, and by far not the least:

The Amish Cow-ta-pault:  This was, simply put, a giant medieval catapult that fired a live, irate cow into oncoming vehicles.  The cowtapult stole the show, as we will see later on.

Force Composition:

The Amish were divided into roughly 6 groups of ten skirmishers each with a “special” .. either an Amish Self-Immolator (Amish Guy with  a giant fertilizer bomb) or a Meek (remember the “elder” figure that could freeze enemies with a “Shaming?”  That’s a Meek).   The individual female figures mostly were used as Weapon Crews on the secret weapons.   Oh, yeah.. we had a John Book character (From WITNESS).  He was like an Amish Super-fighter.

What about “the Bad Guys”?

Hey, it you have half a brain you’re probably figuring out we were pretty subjectively sympathetic to the Amish in this game design.  YET, we had to have an opposition of sorts– one that was consistent and logical and with 21st century technology, meaning small arms, police weapons, maybe a SWAT team here  and there.  As far as I can recall there was a hodgepodge of groups on the “Forces of Progress” side:

A Gang of Gamer types, from a nearby historical miniatures gaming convention going on that weekend (ARF shamelessly breached the Fourth Wall all game long).  Melee weapons at best.. I think all they did was drive up to the fight and get their butts kicked.

A Board of Development e.g., the BoD (with cunningly altered names) from said convention, who want to buy up Amish-land and build a giant, NEW convention center for holding gaming conventions in, right on that spot, so they are here to check up on their investment. I think some of them had saps and pistols.

Two gangs of Biker Thugs, 10 each, approaching from the direction of Route 30.  Armed with melee weapons and pistols.

Some Union Goons that are being paid off by the Board of Directors to persuade the local Amish to get out of the way of the construction equipment.  Melee weapons and some pistols.

A Grader and a Bulldozer to destroy Amish Buildings.. which is how the “Bad Guys” counted victory points

Local Pennsylvania Cops, armed with shotguns and pistols.  They arrive very late.

A SWAT Team for air dropping into the melee from the chopper (only it never happened, as I will narrate presently)


So, we got to this point where we had all this keen stuff.. and couldn’t explain why people would be fighting with one another.  Hmmm….  I was going with the Secret Weapons being the driver.. that some tourists had taken pictures of the secret weapons project in a barn and an altercation had taken place, and mayhem ensued from there.  The thinly disguised HMGS BoD was thrown in by Bob and Neil, which I thought was funny, albeit perhaps a tad overdone for reasons that had more to do with HMGS politics at that time then good natured ribbing, but once we were playing most of that was forgotten.   Anyway, it turned out to be a good plot driver, since the BoD is now there to oversee the demolition and laying the foundations for their new convention center (some issues never go away, eh?) while the Amish just want to defend their age-old way of life.. classic cinematic moralizing, I loved it.    It made it pretty easy to target the bad guys and to define a “victory condition” of sorts– The Amish start with all buildings intact and so many VPs.. if the bad guys demolish a building, VPs go down, etc etc etc.  Such things didn’t matter much to me, then and now.  I was awarding victory based on a sense of style, myself.

PEL Listing 2002 Game

2002 Title: AMISH RAKE FIGHT (ARF) – The Battle of Lancaster!
Hosts: Brother Robert Giglio & Brother Walter O’Hara (NOVAG)
Prize: RLBPS (Bob Bowling) – Prizes TBA, but overall winner gets a Shoo-Fly-Pie (No substitutions!)
Scale/Period: 25mm Skirmish (man-to-man) / Modern (i.e., 2001 to everyone but, the Amish, it’s 1842 for them!)Rules: “Hold Still, Brother, While I Must Smite Thee” (adapted Bootlegger rules by Steve Barber Models – Modified)
Time & Game Length: Sat. Noon, 4 hrs
8 Players
Special Requirements: Adults only; must be willing to live with the idea that someone, somewhere, for some reason in our overly PC culture, may be offended by this event! Intoxicating beverages will facilitate admission to game!!
Game Description:The local Brothers of the Staw Hats & Highwater Pants have had enough of taunts, slights, and insults, and are walking amok! Armed to the teeth with all sorts of farming implements, join them in their righteous fight against local youths, yahoos, and tourists. So grab your rake and come on down for another reminder that “War is Heck”. This will be a war between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists (US style) – “Thee be careful amongst deem English!” [PC Advisory: It’s a game, stupid! A very politically incorrect game! Deal with it!] Line up and grab your rakes, pards, it will be (I promise you) an event not to be missed.
Theme music: Weird Al Yankovic’s LIVING IN AN AMISH PARADISE.


Most of my recollections are of 2002.  I’m pretty sure in 2003, the bad guys won.  If memory serves we ran this Friday night.  We had a full crew, though could have made room for 1-2 more. I remember we were located in the Distelfink ballroom at the Lancaster Host, location of Cold Wars 2002.    We were right up front next to the front doors, and I showed up wearing an Amish Hat and beard, and a Hawaiian shirt.  Bob G. wasn’t into the costume thing and showed up in classic Hawaiian.  I bought a shoo-fly pie to award to the winner.    Bob explained the rules to players not familiar with the Bootleggers rules, and we started.  It went pretty smoothly.

Almost immediately I was tapped on the elbow.  It was Del Stover, at that point working in outreach and ‘marketing’ for HMGS East (as we were known in that bygone era).   Del was escorting a reporter from the local newspaper around, he said, and he was wondering if I would take OFF my Amish hat.  “To the devil with you!” I started to say, and then he said “I”m begging you.”  Well, dammit.  If you put it that way.. I’d been “Meeked”.  ARF Player John Camarano, however, had no such compunctions and happily put on the hat until the reporter left.   On a humorous note, the reporter was looking at the PEL and spied “The Amish Rake Fight” was set to run that night, while she was there.  “What’s that??” She asked.  “Oh, nothing, nothing…” squeaked Del, not wishing to create an incident that would create fear and loathing for HMGS in the local Amish community.   “Here, let me take you to this fine Napoleonics game…”  “NO.. I want to see the Amish Rake Fight, that sounds CUTE!” said the reporter.  So not only did they show up, they featured us in their article rather prominently, much to Del’s consternation (at the time.. he has since said he should not have worried so much).  Quote “Hell, *I* should have worn the damned hat!”  That was then, this is now.. it’s funny how people take things.  Almost everyone walking by laughed uproariously at this concept, but  I well remember the look of shock and horror from one historically-leaning GM that wasn’t a fan of “silly” games.. he must have been driven bonkers at the prospect of an Amish Skirmish game!  Seems funny now.

As mentioned already, the game scenario was fairly complex with many factions. Essentially, some tourists have stumbled on a dark secret of the Amish and were taking pictures. The Elders objected, a scuffle ensued, and to the amazement of the onlookers, the Amish grabbed farming implements and proceed to open up a can of whup-ass on the tourists. Only one got away to raise the hue and cry at the local biker bar– Zinks Route 30 Tavern. Big Paul and his surly crew thought they’d have a little fun and “get some payback” so his group of bikers lurched into motion under the guidance of John Camarano (our esteemed NOVAG presidente).

Meanwhile, a group of nefarious “corporate board members” were on 
their way with some “Union Enforcers” to “break up this mess.. 

YHN taking the lead as GM; this was before the notorious hat incident.  Bob G. is in the right rear corner of this photo.  To my right are the lead Amish Players, John Camarano and Cleo Hanlon

The little Amish Roadside market was a scene of carnage and  destruction… the board barrelled down the road in their trucks,  intent on pushing their weight around. A “meek”, a class of Amish ‘fighter’ that does not physically attack but has a ‘fleeting sense of shame’ effect that makes the opposing player drop his weapons and apologize (which we make the player do, publicly and loudly) stepped out into the road, but was callously ridden down by Ricky Retardo the driver.

From the Bob Giglio Collection. Bob resolves a fine point of game mechanics with some Amish players

As in the playtest, this caused the  ultimate demise of the truck, which lost control after encountering an Amish Self-immolater (a sort of “suicide bomber” equipped with a fertilizer bomb) crashed into the market.

Courtesy of the Bob Giglio Collection. Route 30 minutes before the sacrifice of an Amish Self-Immolater. You can just make him out to the right of the grey wagon in the center, holding the barrel. A fuel truck was inbound, and the explosion would crater Route 30.  You can see a mixture of Amish and modern vehicles in this shot. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

While the occupants sat there, stunned, the Amish descended on them with scythes, rakes,  clubs and buggy whips. It wasn’t pretty.

The Amish Battlefield. The Big Barn, with the Amish rolling out secret weapons, and the terrified tourists in the front lot running. Click HERE for a larger view

Meanwhile, back up at the main barn, the battle had indeed been joined. Big Paul and his goons made a foot sortie across the bridge, and got stopped by a meek (BTW, John Camarano did a magnificient job of grovelling when he failed his morale check). The third, and smallest, Amish faction was in the process of doing a human “Frogger” game while running across Route 30. The last buggy got “clipped” by a speeding car but emerged only shaken. Unfortunately, one of the two Amish Self-immolaters got ridden down at that moment, by a fuel 
truck of all things. The ensuing blast caused a crater in Route 30,  stopping traffic in both directions. A group of ‘gamers’ from a local gaming convention, just back from eating at a local all-you-can-eat, were attracted to the noise and pursued the third group of Amish. 

Cleo Hanlon, NOVAG newsletter editor and later HMGS Newsletter editor, and best Amish player. She spectacularly took out a State police chopper with a cow flung from a cowtapault.

Cleo Hanlon (one of our newsletter editors from NOVAG– she had  bought a bonnet to play the game with, which I thought to be a superb touch) wheeled out the giant Cowtapault. She was defending the big barn area. Her first launch hit a tree. Her second smacked into the side of one of the approaching vehicles. Another bounced in the lane. Her LAST shot, though, hit the side of a Pennsylvania State Trooper police helicopter, forcing it to make an emergency landing.  Our howls of glee could be heard from one end of the Distlefink to 
the other.

From the Bob Giglio Collection. Action Mid Game. This shows the entire battlefield with all buildings. The BoD have arrived upper left.  CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Brother Dave ran the last attack group, which contained the Harrower  of Death and the Mennonite in Black. He engaged the Union enforcers at the base of the hill in an unequal contest, but held his own. Coincidentally, he was also running John Book, who manfully rammed the oncoming pickup with a “borrowed” corvette, took some wounds, and  wisely beat feet out of the melee.

From the Bob Giglio Collection. Dave Bullis (L), Amish Player, Brian and Kathy Higbee. (R) Not sure what side Brian played.

In the end, it was decided to give the victory to the Amish, who had successfully defended their lands and way of life (for a while). It  was no contest, we awarded the shoofly to Cleo. Best Yorkist player:  John Camarano, who displayed childlike glee with the windup monster truck the goons were running.

From the Bob Giglio Collection. Close to endgame, 2002. Here come the State Cops, run by Dewey. Just prior to the Cowtapault Coup.

From the Bob Giglio Collection. This was Endgame 2002. I’m on the left helping Sister Cleo set up her cowtapault, Bob helps the State Cop player on the right.

PEL Listing, 2003 Game

2003  Game Title: ARF2 (AMISH RAKE FIGHT) – The Wrath of Lapp!Game Hosts/GMs: Brother Robert Giglio, Brother Walter O’Hara, and Brother Cornelius Brennan (NOVAG)Sponsor/Prize: RLBPS (Bob Bowling) – Prizes TBA, but overall winner gets a Shoo-Fly-Pie (No substitutions!)Game Description:It’s back…by very popular demand…ARF! When the smoke finally cleared from last spring, the Lancaster Valley stood safe from greedy, unscrupulous developers. Now a new threat looms, as the Lancaster tourism craze hits a new low, and the truce the local Brothers of the Staw Hats and Highwater Pants signed with the Board of Development (BoD) isn’t worth the cow patty it was written on. So grab your rake and come on down for another reminder that ‘War is Heck,’ just “thee be careful amongst deem English!”[PC Advisory: It’s a game, stupid! A very politically incorrect game! Deal with it! Special Requirements: Adults only – must be willing to live with the idea that someone, somewhere, for some reason in our overly PC culture, may be offended by this event. Recommended – players with Amish clothing – to facilitate enjoyment of game!] Theme music: Weird Al Yankovic’s LIVING IN AN AMISH PARADISE.Scale: 25mm Skirmish (man-to-man)

Rules: “O Brother, Hold Still While I Must Smite Thee” (Home Rules modified from – Bootlegger Rules by Steve Barber Models)

Period: Modern (i.e., 2003 to everyone but, the Amish, it’s 1842 for them!)

Players: 8

Game Time & Length: Saturday Noon, 4 hrs

For Cold Wars 03, we wanted to create a sequel of sorts, where the Amish marched on the host and we had a giant altercation in the Host Lobby between gamers, golfers and Amish people.  It didn’t work out.  We could have made the terrain easily enough but there just aren’t that many golfing and gamer figures out there, and it would have been difficult to kit-bash this.  So we ran the basic game described again one more time, with different players.  In this game, the bad guys (spearheaded by Tim Mullen if memory serves) were VERY aggressive and managed to destroy three Amish Buildings, which made them the clear winners.   I never took any pictures of this game, either.

Bob recollects:

We also had players in costume for that one. If you recall, two guys dressed in overalls, straw hats, and barefoot, etc., came down the stairs and we just laughed, as they were two of our players. Also, and most importantly, the 2003 game saw an Amish family come by, look at the game (and have a long chat with Neil Brennan), and smiled very, Very wide (and wickedly), as they “got it”, and laughed at the “fun” aspect of it. That for me, was priceless!

I remember those guys!  They were brothers from the Central PA area and they really knew the Amish lifestyle.  I haven’t seen them in ten years.   They used to be convention regulars.

The never run 2004 game

Our concept for this was that the Amish were going to “take the war” to the Board of Development (at the Lancaster Host of course), so the next day they show up, and wail on first a pack of golfers, and then on the big gang of golfers, goons and gamers at the hotel.  I was a bit daunted by the idea of terrain for this, but in retrospect, I think we could have managed a hotel lobby and a big of golf course easily enough.  The figures for golfers and gamers would have been a challenge.

Bob recalls:

Since I did the bulk of the terrain for these, and since the idea was to have the Amish “assault the Lancaster Host” during the time one of the conventions was being run, I would have had to have a decent model of part of the Host in 28mm. Not to mention all the gamer figs, golf carts, etc.

Now, unknownest to you, I found the gamer figs at one of the GenCons/Origins I attended. They were all from the Knights of the Dinner Table range in miniature. This range was perfect, and had gamers in all body types, from pointy nosed to very wide bellies, and even in a wheelchair. Just what I needed and priceless! However, they were very expensive (about $3 USD or more per figure). I also found a golfcart that fit perfectly, but never went back for more (I think these were in the toy section of WalMart, Target or Toys R Us way back).

To this I can add the fact that I had also found pencil sharpener golf carts that were a bit large, but would have fit as background objects.   I still see the problem of golfers and gamer miniatures being a limiting factor.   Since we didn’t want to just reprise 02 and 03 for a third year in a row, the game ran out of steam until such time as we have a new story to tell.


So that is my Great Amish Rake Fight narrative.  In retrospect, this was one of my best games, ever, even if it only ran a couple of times– why?  Because it kind of took the mindset that “history games have to be serious” and blew a big, noisy raspberry at it.  In fact, the folks at the Society of Daisy presented us with a medal for our efforts at adding a little levity into wargaming.  This was “The Daisy Medal”, which I am a proud recipient of.    I wish I had more photographs of this game, I really do.  I was quite pleased with it,  but as usual for those days was more busy running things then trying to create a giant ARF archive– so a lot of data has been lost.  The only web-gallery that had pictures went belly up years ago, and now all I can extract from the wayback machine are the three big pictures you see here.   If any gamer out there ever took pictures of these two games, please consider sharing them with me.  I’ll give you credit. As for other artifacts, I had the rule changes to Bootleggers riding in my email account for a long time but I can’t find it any more .   Shrug!  it’s the journey, not the destination.


Many years later, maybe 2009 or so, I was wandering the Exhibitor’s Hall at a HMGS convention, when I bumped into Howard Whitehouse.  We exchanged pleasantries and noticed that the the exhibitor vending a Seven Years War miniatures line right in front of us surely looked … Amish!  I made a pointed observation (to Howard) that it’s puzzling how a non-violent people would play with so-called “war toys”.  “Excuse me,” a voice drawled next to my elbow, “But I’ve never heard of metal figures hurting anybody!”  It turned out to be the Amish figure manufacturer… and he WAS Amish, not Mennonite, from a relaxed order that allowed for him to go out amongst us English.  Howard blithely mentioned ARF in passing and my association with it to the guy.  He blinked, swiveled and asked: “You’re Walt O’Hara, then?  You put on the Amish Rake Fight?” “Y-y-yes.. but let me point out, it was fairly sympathetic to the Amish, actually, and I…” He cut me off.  “We’ve heard of YOU.. we thought it was HILARIOUS!!!” he clapped my back and gave me his email address(!) to send pictures and a write up to.  That was a funny encounter.  The ONE GROUP I thought wouldn’t EVER find out about the Amish Rake Fight would be the Amish themselves.  But they have ears everywhere…. everywhere….

You be careful among them English!



MAY 2014 Puzzle: Hexagon Looping path

MAY 2014 Puzzle: Hexagon Looping path

Find a path from that travels from hexagon to hexagon, ends where it started, and never crosses itself. The path can only pass from one hexagon to another if they share a side, and the path many not make a “sharp” turn of 60 degrees. The numbers placed in some of the hexagons indicate the number of adjacent hexagons through with the path passes. The path cannot pass through a numbered hexagon. Think of this puzzle as being very similar in theme to the Windows freebie game MINESWEEPER, and you will have no difficulties.

GMT Games prioritizes tablet computing targets

Copyright BoardGameGeek 2010

Dominant Species

As you no doubt already know if you’re read this blog much, but I’ll restate anyway, I’m a bit of a tablet nut.  Especially a “wargames should be done for the tablet” nut.  I’ve posted about it enough, and for a large part, this idea has come to pass, with the releases from Shenandoah Studios, John Tiller game ports, and several onesie and twosie companies releasing indie projects in the wargaming realm.  Sadly the one player that should be invested in this technology but really isn’t is GMT GAMES.  There are many, many game designs published by GMT that would make excellent tablet games.  anything card driven and with area movement might be a good candidate (some more than others).  The Command and Colors block games are a natural.  The American Revolutionary War battles series.   Field of Fire, even.  The big kahuna, however, was always going to be the highest scoring (On BGG) game published by GMT ever, Twilight Struggle.  Until recently, GMT remained committed to a PC only Game conversion of Twilight Struggle.  This project was recently cancelled and an announcement that GMT was seeking out tablet programmers to convert it to an IoS version was released. GMT remains committed to tablet conversions of board games, as they have been saying since 2011 and earlier.   The one and only release from GMT for the IPad, the Dominant Species app, I purchased with some enthusiasm… which dried up immediately after going through the tutorial and trying to play just one game.  Granted, I have NO experience with the board game of Dominant Species, but it is rated somewhat highly on Boardgamegeek, there had to be some “there”, there, right?   Plus, I have a lot of experience with games and Ipad ports of board games, and have been around the block a little, so what’s not to like?  In a word, plenty.   I thought the Dominant Species app was wretched.  The tutorial did not engage me, graphics are dull, and game flow is confusing.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but there was no sense of narrative in the game app for me.  That’s just me, though, there are people out there who seem to like the app just fine and if you like Dominant Species (the board game) you will probably like the app.

Dominant Species App Menu

I swear; I’m not going to give up on this thing. I spent my five bucks and I want a game out of it.  So I’ll keep giving it a try.  Sometimes a game has to win me over; I know that Puerto Rico for the Ipad did after a few tries; I still have high hopes for Agricola and Caylus for the Ipad as well.    The sad fact is I don’t often grock why some games are so danged popular and rated so highly on BGG.  I think it’s a problem of opportunity.  The games just mentioned, Agricola, Caylus and Puerto Rico, looked pretty dull as a subject for a game when I see them set up to play, yet they have their strong adherents.  I respect that.  People don’t have to like what I like, either.  I just need a while to cozy up to the concept of planting crops and building buildings as being “fun”..  it took the games  of Stone Age, San Juan, and to a lesser extent Kingdom Builder to get me to come round about the  subject.

Dominant Species Tutorial in action…

GMT, though, they are a natural for me, being kind of wargame-y, kind of historical, kind of a lover of so-called “Ameritrash” as I am.   They publish one of the top games on BGG for a couple years, Twilight Struggle (a great game).  They have spoken openly about porting specific titles (many of whom are terrific, some of whom are just okay) to a digital format.  Their decision to port Twilight Struggle to a PC game puzzled me, as I don’t see the PC being the platform of choice for boardgame conversions any more.  Still, I would have bought it.. I don’t buy everything GMT puts out, but they can’t say I haven’t been a loyal customer over the years.

Twilight Struggle, GMT Games.  Copyright Boardgamegeek 2005The recent statement cancelling Twilight Struggle for the PC was illuminating.  They appear to not be satisfied with progress or the current version of the PC game.  Their statement (read here) indicates that there will be, eventually, a tablet version of Twilight Struggle.  I have to give them a cautious holllahh!  for this decision.  If they have been trying to produce something for two years and it still isn’t up to their standards, it’s time to fish or cut bait.  Frankly the tablet idea is a better one.  The tablet market (and note, I’m not saying “Just Ipads”, I’m saying tablet.. inclusive of Androids) really is taking off for board game ports.  I’m not going to say anything hokey about ‘the future of board gaming” here, as it isn’t.. not really.  But it is growing, that much is clear.  So, good decision, GMT!!  You would have had my coin either way you went with this, but I’m hoping to see a renewed investment in tablet style games from you now.

With all that fustion being delivered in grand old style, where is my Command and Colors on the Ipad?

Repost: The Tolkien Nerd’s Guide to “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine

As a follow up to my own reaction/review about the recent movie in “the further adventures of a certain hobbit“, I read the Tolkien Nerd’s Guide to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in this month’s SMITHSONIAN magazine.  It’s a great piece.  I find myself agreeing with the fact that Jackson actually helps the narrative by fleshing out bits that Tolkien gave very short shrift too (the personality and character of the Dwarves, Bard, the Elves, etc.), but also agree (sadly) that there was a ton of very silly padding to this movie…

The Tolkien Nerd’s Guide to “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine.

Cruel Neccesity (first impressions)

Monday, I received a review copy of Cruel Neccesity (Victory Point Games)  which is the latest game in their much vaunted State of Siege game series.  As I will shortly be on a big boat out of sight of land for FUN for the first time in my life for two weeks, I thought I’d take her out for a spin last night.  What follows is first impressions after one playing of the most basic scenario in the game, the First English Civil War.  It is NOT a full up review, I will need to play it at least 4 more times (including the campaign) as I’m not clear on how every element works yet.   I just thought I’d get some impressions down as I’ll be away from the internet for a bit.

The game models the English Civil War in very broad brush strokes, using the “narrative building effect” of event cards divided into three sequential historical phases in a linked campaign, in a similar method to past State of Siege games (see my past review of Soviet Dawn). Also, as in past games, there is a Center point with four tracks that lead inward, along which markers for generic armies advance to threaten the center position (London, in this case).    The overall effect is a game that isn’t a solitaire wargame, per se, but does possess some wargame elements.  It certainly is a solitaire history game, and a very interesting one.   I’ll admit something up front– State of Siege games have not had a lasting impact on me.   I’ve bought them, enthused about them, I play them for a few times, and then they hit the shelves, not to come out for long periods.   I don’t dislike the idea of a “story telling game” (their phrase for it) and was quite entertained by my past games, I just didn’t feel like playing it again after I’d run through the card deck a few times.  It felt repetitive.  With the the publication of Cruel Neccesity, maybe… just maybe, I’ve found a version of State of Siege that can stay fresh.

Game board set up for First English Civil War scenario

For one thing, the graphic presentation has improved so much that this really looks like a historical wargame. Huge counters, giant maps, much better graphics and game aids all conspire to give the game a more natural map and terrain than previous map efforts.  The component quality has greatly improved.  Cruel Necessity is a part of Victory Point Games’ “Gold Banner” series of games, which means a box (of the heavy cardboard type), a slipcover, larger,  better paper quality maps (sometimes bound!) and thick, chunky counters.

The Map with the Army tokens on it during setup

Art on the map is well done. Instead of the typical square boxes on a track moving in to a central location, the map looks like a regular map of the British isles, divided into geographic areas, North, West, Middle, Ireland, kind of like Britannia. There are several fortified areas that represent castles of varying strength, which is depicted by putting a special counter with a notch cut into it that depicts the strength number changing as it moves around. The Army tokens that march along the track to threaten Parliment’s central position are also nicely done. This game comes with some logistical challenges– it takes up a ton of table space compared to its predecessors.

Like other State of Siege games, cards create events that do a lot of things– mostly they move armies along the tracks, but they also represent historical battles. The card pictured above is the Historical Battle of Edgehill, very early in the war, which, very fittingly, was the first battle I fought in my first game playing the First English Civil War. The red cannon icon indicates a battle outcome that will be fought on the tactical battle display. The North and West Armies will also be advancing one space this turn. The other historical events (O’Neill and Fortifying London) will result in the Catholicism marker to advance one on its track and a +1 marker to be played on London. As you can see, cards do lots of things and have to be read very carefully.

My first battle in my first game, The Battle of Edgehill, played on the side tactical board. A pretty grim defeat for Parliment. Even having Cromwell around didn’t help much since the die rolls were so uneven!

By far, my favor new element of this game is the tactical battlefield. You have to maintain pools of troop markers face down for both sides of the conflict on an adjacent display. Then you pull out troops randomly (or pull from the smaller “named unit” piles), and place them on the battle display. Resolution is pretty easy– you roll a dice for each side and add the number to the total of troops in each sector of the battlefield. If you are over the other side by a certain amount of points, it’s a victory. If you are within one point, it’s a draw. The outcome of a battle is usually a plus or minus in “Zeal Points” which are the currency of the game, of sorts.

There’s a lot of extra chrome tacked on the State of Siege engine in this game. For instance, there are slots for three achievements on the top of the map. Near as I can tell, these are the game tippers for the Parliamentary side, representing lasting political or social achievements. Achievement card are drawn from the events deck. If all vacant spots are used up, you can replace one that is already there, purchased with Zeal Points. Once bought, they give you a reward and add to your final VP score.

I’ve only played it twice so far, and both times have been trounced, which is a good thing. I enjoy the extra chrome in this design.. the external battlefields, the sieges, the revolts and external elements really give this non-wargame a very historical, wargamey feel.

The Further Adventures of a certain Hobbit

Movie Poster.

SPOILER WARNING: I’ll try to keep it limited, but I’m going to give a few things away here.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, come back later.  If you don’t care, read on.

We’re just back from seeing THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. I have to say up front that I loved it, and by that I mean far more than the last one. The middle movie in the trilogy takes up literally moments after the ending of the last film, with the Dwarves over the Misty Mountains, still on the run from the heretical Orcish “Azog the Defiler”, the antagonist from the previous film.   Immediately, we see Bilbo is out scouting the way ahead to keep a jump ahead of the party’s Orc pursuers.  The viewer can start to see the changes that have come over Bilbo since earlier in this story– he’s become more clever and handier in a  scrape than most of his Dwarven compatriots, though he doesn’t let them know it.  Part of this is the effect of the Ring; having no idea what is in his possession, you can see his bafflement and apprehension about the growing hold it has upon him.

Gandalf and Beorn

The early Beorn sequence was outstanding.   Beorn’s a bit of a mystery in the book– he doesn’t get a lot of print.  He benefits from his few lines of exposition in the film.  Not sure of whom the actor is who played Beorn, but he does a very credible job– he’s all quiet, unspoken menace.  “I hate Dwarves.  But I hate Orcs more, so I will help you”.   Gandalf takes a side trip at this point, which I seem to recall he did in the book as well.  We get to see his journey to a “an unnamed place” with Radagast, where apparently the Nazgul were entombed, long ago (though not in the novels).  It’s clear that the Nazgul have broken out, although they are not formed yet, from the implication in the movie.  Gandalf spends quite some time in a certain epic confrontation at Dol Goldur– not to reveal any more about that except: yes, we do see two Maia fighting each other.  The story jumps around a bit as the movie’s three plot threats diverge right about that point.  There’s the Gandalf-Radagast Dol Goldur plot, the Tauriel-Legolas-Thranduil plot, the Dwarves Journey, with a few extras tied in like Kili’s innocent flirtation with the elf maiden Tauriel (made up for the movie).  I won’t give away the ending, which diverges from the book in particulars, but closes with the same result– Bilbo staring out of the Lonely Mountain and asking “Oh no!  What have we DONE?”

Action was evident in this movie.  It was action, action all the time, to be sure, but I feel that Jackson took great care to include a lot of storytelling and plot in this movie as well, so it’s not all sped-up CGI.  As I’ve said above, Bilbo starts to shine as a real hero of this story.  Jackson’s enduring theme throughout the Lord of the Rings films has been that the simple everyday courage of simple people being the true goodness that drives great evil away.  Whether it’s stout-hearted Sam staggering the last mile up Mount Doom with Frodo carried on his back, or the ingenuity and courage of Bilbo getting his friends out of trouble time and time again (often for no thanks whatsoever), it’s clearly Hobbits that embody this strength in Jackson’s eyes.  In these jaded times, that’s a message I found very heart warming.   In contrast to Bilbo, Gandalf does not seem nearly as sure of himself, and at parts of the movie, seems downright terrified.  I liked that– he walks into a very dangerous situation during the film and it’s clear to him that he doesn’t feel like he has much of a chance.   His face shows this.  Contrast that to the supremely confident White Wizard of the Return of the King, and he doesn’t seem nearly as sure as himself.    The Dwarves are a mixed lot– many are still caricatures as they were in the first film, and my favorite dwarf,  Bofur (played by James Nesbitt) lacked the depth he had in the first film.  Richard Armitage does his best to play Thorin with a certain fiery dignity but this effect is often spoiled when he is placed in scenes with human or elf sized actors– since the Dwarves Fili, Kili, and Thorin just look like shrunken men, without the facial features of the other more classic dwarves in the party.    With that said, I found myself still liking the film version of the dwarves over the book– they had overall more depth, character and humor than the book’s simple list of names.   I particularly liked Jackson’s characterization of the party as perhaps NOT the biggest bunch of dwarven badasses in Middle Earth.  It is strongly hinted that these guys were (for the most part) NOT warriors, but artisans, blacksmiths, bankers and scribes.  Dwarves have jobs, too.  Not all of them are doughty warriors.  In a nice nod to that idea, the ending of the movie has the dwarves (those of them that make it to the Lonely Mountain) deliver a stunning check to Smaug, using a very dwarven method of doing so.  It was unrealistic as hell, from a physics standpoint, but I liked that it was truly a DWARVEN approach to the problem of a rampaging dragon.  In contrast with the Dwarves the Elves seem like a gang of ass-hats.   Legolas shows up, included to appeal to the teen girl fan base, I suspect, but it makes logical sense given that they were passing through his land.  70 years must have softened him a bit because he’s kind of intolerant and reactionary in this movie– and more than willing to pick a fight with Dwarves.  Legolas comes off as a veritable Tallyrand compared to his own dad, Thranduil, however.   The Elven king is characterized (by Lee Pace, doing his very best Edgar Winter impression) as being crafty, proud, greedy and suspiciously xenophobic.  Erm.. isn’t that how DWARVES are supposed to be?   I guess I’m used to Elves being standoffish and dignified, and just a little hoity toity.  Thranduil comes off as not a little bit of an insufferable jerk.  The shining example, and most likable elf by far, was the fictional female elf, Tauriel.  I liked her inclusion.  If you’re going to add interaction with the Woodland Realm beyond what’s in the book, why NOT have Legolas and fictional characters added in?  It makes sense for the time and place.  I greatly enjoyed the depiction of Esgaroth (Lake-Town) and the humans that lived there — they had depth and character and weren’t cyphers.  Stephen Fry was up to his usual standard as the suspicious Master of Lake Town with his Grima-like right hand man.  This is an example of taking something that is implied with an economy of words by Tolkien and running with it full tilt for a touchdown by Jackson.  The whole tension of the Master being suspicious of Bard (the Smuggler) and the politics of the little town as a masterful touch.  Besides, Bard is a truly likable and good character, in every sense of the word.   Lastly, we come to Smaug.  Depicted in CGI and voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, the scenes between Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and Cumberbatch’s Smaug were one of the film’s highlights.  And a reunion, of sorts, for the two SHERLOCK actors.  I’m not sure if Bilbo ever takes the Ring off when he is talking to Smaug in the book, but he does in the film– because it’s clear that he already is feeling the torment of using it.   Bilbo’s stammering terror during his confrontation was everything I imagined it to be, and Cumberbatch’s oily, evil portrayal of Smaug is right on the money.

There were a lot of divergent plot elements, and as I’ve said many times in the past, I take these with a grain of salt.  Peter Jackson is a master craftsman in the visual storytelling field, and he is charged with making a movie of a book, not a book of a book.  I knew things would be different.  So that never bothers me unduly– it certainly didn’t in Lord of the Rings.  In Desolation, there were some elements that diverged more than a little here and there.  At one point, four of the dwarves are left behind to take care of a wounded Kili in Esgaroth while the rest of the party forges ahead.   That seemed only to be added to A) continue the odd flirtation between Kili the Dwarf and Tauriel the female Elf, and B) possibly set us up to have the Elves and Dwarves help defend Lake-town in THERE AND BACK AGAIN.  Ehhh.. that was a little thin.  The rest?  I wish Beorn had more screen time.  I wish there were more little Easter Eggs that connect the films, like the bit about Legolas and Gimli (sort of).  I find the Orc Leader Azog a little tiresome– he’s there to drive the plot along and the motivation for his undying hatred isn’t very clear.  The connection between Sauron and the Orcs seems tacked on.  The connection between Smaug and Sauron is just there for convenience– there was little or no indications that either party cared about the other one whit in the novels.  Most of these are quibbles, but they do illustrate the great weakness of this trilogy.  Jackson had to cut all three movies down to make them workable for a theatrical release when he was filming the Lord of the Rings.  With the Hobbit, we find him padding every film with fictional material or greatly expanded plot items from the appendices.   So there’s some silly moments presented to make the movie drive along, such as Azog being alive after Azunulzibar  or the flirtation between an Elf and  a Dwarf.

My overall assessment is that the Desolation of Smaug was great fun.  Not as good as the Lord of the Rings trilogy but still a very entertaining movie I’ll see again.  Highly recommended.

Micro Heroes

Golden Age Microheroes

Golden Age Microheroes

Quite by accident, I stumbled upon Darrin Rogers(?)’ site MICRO HEROES recently while researching a limited edition Marvel graphic novel called THE TWELVE that came out in 2009.  It’s an interesting story.  B-List Superheroes (and non-powered heroes) are trapped in suspension back in 1945, come to life in present day (which is assumed to be 2009) and have to cope with reality.   The writers had deliberately chosen somewhat obscure, limited run characters from Marvel’s pre-history days.  It turns out there’s a colorful history out there in Golden Age comics.  I’m not an authority or even a regular reader on comics, but I do like the occasional story like this– it has an ULTIMATES flavor to it.

Anyway, Micro Heroes are flat, two dimensional portrayals of famous Golden Aged heroes AND villains from the great old days of comic books, mostly dating to the 40s and 50s.  The artist, whom I think is Darrin Rogers (if I’m reading it correctly), has created a veritable visual encyclopedia of comics on his sites.

Omniverse Chronicles

Double ‘A’ Publications

Copper’s Golden Age Villians and Vultures

It’s all grand goofy fun, and definitely worth a look.   There’s literally nothing more to this site than lots and lots and LOTS of pictures of obscure comic book heroes from the 40s, and you can lose a lot of time there.

Micro Touch One, A review

This isn’t really a gadget review like I’m used to writing, nor is it game related. Okay, maybe a gadget (sort of?). I’ve been reading about shaving supplies by mail lately and have noticed a ton of Facebook adds that are essentially marketing directly to customers to participate in “shaving clubs”, where you get shaving supplies by mail. I’ve been shaving pretty much the same way since I started shaving, not counting the odd barber session. That is, with a Gillette Trac 2 razor, much like the one you see here:

The basic item these days.

As a method, it’s fine, I have no real complaints but my major gripe is that it’s A) expensive (blades are so costly they are controlled items in most stores) and B) the blades go dull rather quickly as they clog up with dried shaving cream, whiskers and other gunk. On the plus side, it’s fast and reasonably effective for what it is. I just would like to explore another option, and I recently found one.

The MicroTouch One

the Micro Touch One is essentially your daddy’s razor. It’s a remake of the quintessential Safety Razor that most men shaved with for the majority of the 20th century. I remember my dad using this shaving back in the 60s and 70s. Solid brass construction, very solid, and surprise.. it carries ONE blade. Not two, not three, not four (yes, razor blades have that many now.. can you believe that?)

MicroTouch One

I have had this for about two weeks and have shaved with it repeatedly. It definitely requires an adjustment to use a micro track. I didn’t grow up shaving with a single blade razor and didn’t learn on them– so shaving is a little trickier, especially in hard to reach places like just under the nose or on your throat and under the ears. The results were impressive. Much like the advertising suggests.. maybe we DON’T need multiple blades. I can attest that a single blade will shave you as close as a double blade. The blades are cheaper (since they gave me 24 to start and I haven’t changed one yet, I won’t in a position to buy new blades for most of a year, but I can’t imagine they are that high). And big bonus, that dried crud you get with a Trac 2 (or higher) is easy to solve since the blade pops out for cleaning. My sense of things is that this is going to be a much cheaper way to shave in the upcoming year.. it will take a little longer since I’m still awkward around the nose area, but it does a great job.

Micro Touch One is available (as far as I can tell) via online only, and retails for about 20 dollars for the razor, 24 blades, and a nifty little case with a mirror. If they are implying I would use it “in the field” to shave with, I think it’s a little short of the mark. Still, the presentation is very good indeed and the value is impressive. I would recommend the Micro Touch One.

You can order them HERE.

Virtuacon First Session and First Game of Labyrinth Lord

I’ve been on something of a retro-RPG kick lately. On a whim, I signed up for a session of Virtuacon, the virtual roleplaying convention run in October by volunteer GMs at (the Roleplaying brother site to Boardgamegeek). There were several games and session to choose from. I initially wanted to try FIASCO, but decided to go with LABYRINTH LORD instead. My reasoning was that much as I like Fiasco’s core concept, it is a storytelling RPG game at heart, and I have very little experience in that kind of RPG. Labyrinth Lord, by contrast, was as familiar as putting my foot into an old boot. Created under D&D’s open license, it is about as old-school D&D as it comes. There was literally nothing about the game I didn’t get or had some previous experience with in another form. We played on October 19, from about 6PM to 10PM. Considering that we were launching a new campaign, incorporating new characters and doing the scenario preamble roleplaying, we were surprisingly productive.

Outdoor Map using RD20 app. We are mapping the way to the central mound in the Barrowmaze.

Virtual roleplaying was accomplished using Google Hangouts for video and audio chat, and Roll20 mapping app for the maps and die rolls– really all the “gamey bits”. My computer doesn’t have a camera built in (or microphone) but I managed to plug in my snowball microphone for audio input and everything went splendidly. I didn’t really look at the live video feed much– it’s not required for playing a game anyway. Sound, however, is crucial. I had a hard time with the driver set for the Snowball, and that hung me up for a bit– until I rebooted my machine, and then it went well. I notice that nobody pays much attention to typed chat in a virtual game, so a microphone is the very least amount of equipment I would call essential for playing.

How did it go?

I think we all had a blast. I ran a pre-generated character call Bronn the Sell-Sword. A plain vanilla fighter with not much in the way of kit. Here’s the rather succinct summary posted by the GM:

“A recent party of adventurers returned from the Barrowmaze with many gems and gold only losing one valiant cleric that sacrificed his life to save the party.

They took with them a strange man by the name of Tronnan from a far off land looking for what he said was a river that supposedly runs through some part of the Barrowmaze. The party returned without finding it in the first delve after running from a pack of 4 ghouls and rescuing a former adventurer hurt in a pit.

Creatures defeated: 5 giant rats(alas no 2000 coppers!), 2 zombies (turned), 1 giant snake, 1 zombie, 2 giant carnivorous flies, 1 heucuva
6 rot grubs(2 killed). ”


1 Deela Danderfluff (884)
2 Kevlar Windbreaker (884)
3 Bross the Sellsword (844)
4 Pardue the Holy Man (844)
5 Mikos Zanzibash (0) (died from ghoul attacks)

I did manage to kill a few things but my luck was pretty bad much of the night– the dice weren’t on my side. So it goes. I redeemed myself by leaping into the last room full of ghouls and dragging the unconscious hobbit out by the hair, before the ghouls finished feasting on the cleric and turned their attentions towards the thief.

In the dungeon, JUST before we discover a room with a pack of higher level ghouls in it (bottom right, not mapped yet). They handed us our lunch from the inside out.

I liked the virtual RPGing experience quite a bit. Technology has advanced a lot since I tried something like this the last time and this time I felt like I was in the same room with the crowd of gamers. Everyone was polite, not greedy and very easygoing and funny. We are going to meet again to play another round in November.

GET LAMP, a documentary

You are standing before a farmhouse… you can go E, W, N or S. What do you want to do?

My first computers were very definitely text adventures, and my favorite company was a small company called INFOCOM, who made outstanding games in the best packaging that has ever been achieved for mainstream games, now or since. Interactive Fiction, for you youngsters, is a text-based type of computer game where you were prompted to tell the program what you were going to do next. The program would parse the information and feedback results. Verbally. Or with very minor graphical interface. I’ve played ZORK, and Classic Adventure (on mainframes!), along with Empire. My first personal computer games I bought from a store were C-64 Infocom games, and I remember them with a special fondness that I still have to this day. Back then, IF games were the thing. Computer Games are more of a niche industry these days, being consumed entirely by console games with outstanding graphics, and deservedly so– that’s progress. I guess. The virtue of interactive fiction is that it NEVER needed cool graphics. Don’t SHOW me. TELL me. I can make the pictures happen myself.

Screen Shot from GET LAMP.

Screen Shot from GET LAMP.

Back in 2010, Jason Scott captured the story of this short period in time very well with his documentary, GET LAMP. The documentary plots the rise and fall of text adventures, from Colossal Cave and Zork to the first adventure game companies, particularly INFOCOM. INFOCOM’s rapid demise in the wake of the rise of graphic based games, and then the implosion of computer games in general in favor of consoles. GET LAMP, about two hours long, interviews the main players and some of the consumers of the interactive ficion gaming culture. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll love this. Even if you’re not, you might just like it. It wasn’t always about graphics. There was a time when you had to use your head and map it all out to play a game. It took a special kind of person to like that kind of game– I’m not saying a “superior” kind of person, but certain a literate person.

Fast forward about 7 minutes and some change for the actual start of the movie. You’ll like this. Give it a shot.


ASCII, Jason Scott’s blog

The Archive Team

Pirated 18mm Eureka SYW figures on eBay


The miniatures hobby is already a niche business, full of small businessmen that feel the effects of piracy in no uncertain terms. It be hooves all of us lead-pushing geeks to get the word out about pirates. Cheers to Fighting15s in the U.K. For spotting this.

[follows: reblog post from Oozlum Games blog]

Originally posted on


A Hong Kong based eBay user is selling painted, pirated versions of Eureka’s 18mm Seven Years War range. Fighting 15s has been following this user’s activities for some time, and at last has obtained examples of the figures and been able to compare them directly with genuine Eureka figures. Examples of pirated and genuine work appear in the pictures accompanying this news item.

Ebay user imfadcom (painting service CHYT) has been selling painted pirated version of Eureka’s SYW range since at least 2011. Fighting 15s became aware of this after attending Central London Wargames Club, where examples were fielded by one of the players in a large game. Thanks to that player we now have copies of the eBay emails relating to those items, identifying and confirming imfadcom as the seller, and have been able to make a more detailed comparison of the figures and take photographs.

As the photographs…

View original 569 more words

BDB: Summon the Squid God? Now we have a squid god.

One of the more peculiar groups in Big Danged Boats game is the mighty Cult of F’Vah, the inhabitants of the FOOT OF THE DEAD GOD. The cult is a pretty strange group, consisting of a small cluster of high priests riding on a platform that serves as a floating altar for calling up their God, F’Vah the Squid God.

The Cult of F’Vah sails into Danger!

Certain factions in BDB get their own thematic FACTION CARDS, or capability. This is a balancing mechanism to give them an edge on more powerful opponents. The Cult of F’Vah has a unique capability from their Faction Card. Useable once per game, they can SUMMON THE SQUID GOD for free.

Summon the Squid God!!!

When played, F’Vah would show up and slap a ship with the equivalent of a mega-ram factored tentacle slap. Prior to a recent discovery, I had a few tentacles stand in for F’Vah to demonstrate his Mighty Presence:

The Squid God Slaps the Gnomish Siege Machine SILLY!

The tentacles were a lucky find from AUGIE’S GAME STORE ONLINE. They are made of durable vinylish plastic, similar to heroclix stuff.

I like the tentacles just fine and they certainly work, but the implied menace of a really, really pissed off aquatic god was missing. The Cultists can summon him once for free; in subsequent turns they can summon him again (in tentacle form) by removing (sacrificing) one of the crew… and he may or may not start getting angry. If he DOES get angry, he might just show up in person to protest. That’s the form I wanted to capture for the game. And so I did.

All hail the mighty F’VAH! Destroyer of Life!

The idea being that F’Vah might show up and try to eat the High Priests if they anger him unduly. This is a model from Scotia Grendel in the U.K. It’s the “Swamp Creature”. I love the look of this one.. the big angry eyes and the way he’s encrusted with plant life. Had to get it. I’m not crazy about the tentacles, which had to be drilled and pinned before epoxying. So I’m just going to stick with Auggie’s Kraken tentacles for now and I painted F’Vah to match. I think it’s a great model and I think it will add some fun to our games.

All Hail the Squid God.