Category Archives: obit

Old Warriors Pass.


Take off your hat.  TAKE OFF YOUR DAMNED HAT and show some respect.

This week witnessed the passing of two legendary wrestling “heels”, namely William James Myers and Oreal Perras.  I’m sure you won’t recognize these names.  They harken back to another era, when the WWF was an entertainment empire that flirted with almost being respectable.. when wrestlers would appear in sitcoms, MTV videos, and low budget movies.  This was the 1980s Wrestling Entertainment explosion, and it was very much a big thing– commanding the television sets on Friday nights and filling arenas to capacity. I was never a huge fan of any of it– I wrestled in high school and had that snobbish holier than thou attitude about it.  Still, it was damned entertaining– with scripted feuds, special effects and exaggerated choreography.  I always respected the skill on display– if you could launch yourself from a turnbuckle every night and land without a concussion, make no mistake– you had skill.

So back to Myers and Perras.  You might have known them as George “The Animal” Steele and Ivan Koloff.  Both of these guys were professional bad guys (or “heels”) in the glory days of the WWF


George Steele


Ivan Koloff

Both of these men had a long career in the world of WWF Heels.  George Steele actually drifted into the sport sideways, after getting a master’s degree at Central Michigan University(!).  He drifted into wrestling (from coaching at the college level) in the Detroit area for sensible reasons.. to make a couple of extra bucks.  Originally he fought using a mask and calling himself The Student (left).  Eventually he was discovered by Bruno SanMartino who recruited him into the big leagues of wrestling entertainment.  George Steele developed his “incoherent brain damaged” brute persona mainly at Vince McMahon’s urging.  With his bald head, heavy features and literally inches of fur covering his lower body (the man was hairy!), George must have come off as the Missing Link.  The irony was that he was quite well spoken, very well educated (in science no less), and took pride in delivering well articulated promotional bits.  This irked McMahon, who interrupted his taping one night and told him “he looked like an animal, he should act like one!”  Steele, as a joke, drooled and gibbered into the camera shouting “ook ook ACK!”and scampering around like a mutant monstrosity.  McMahon, of course, loved it, and thus, George The Animal Steele was born.  He earned everlasting respect for playing another wrestler, Tor Johnson, as he appeared in the Ed Wood films in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD.

Ivan Koloff debuted in 1961 as “Red Mcnulty”, an allegedly Irish wrestler from Dublin who sported a beard and an eyepatch (left).   He wrestled primarily in the Canadian organizations until 1969, when he started for the World Wide Wrestling Federation, managed by Captain Lou Albano.  Koloff’s specialty appears to have been training and developing teams of thematic “heels”.. creating long lasting team called “THE RUSSIANS” with Vladimir Petrov and Nikita Koloff (his “nephew”), and often teaming with “The Iron Sheik”.    Since Russians were perennial bad guys in the Cold War era, the heel teams became quite popular and were around for a long time in wrestling’s glory days.

Wrestling isn’t all just crazy choreography and overblown ham acting at the microphone.  There’s a dark side to the “sport”.  I will always remember an interview Rowdy Roddy Piper (who died two years ago, at 61). gave about the drug abuse, constant pain and loneliness of professional wrestling.  You can see a little of it here:

Piper had broken most of the bones in his body (including his back) on multiple occasions. He played through the pain in situations that were downright dangerous. At age 49, he was back in the sport that he frankly detested, because he didn’t have a way of making a living– like so many of his colleagues, the sport had used him in the heyday, chewed him up and spat him out. In the last ten years, we have witnessed a startling amount of early deaths, murders and suicides by current and past wrestlers. I remember watching the entire interview with Roddy Piper on Sports Extra.. and my heart went out to the man. Pro wrestlers are like prostitutes. They use up their bodies and health for the vicarious pleasure of strangers until they can’t any more, and then they (usually) die.

I have to hand it to both Steele and Koloff– they had long and amazing careers in the WWF and successor organizations, and both of them managed to do something that wrestlers rarely do, life past 70.

RIP, George and Ivan. I hope the pain has finally gone away.

What is a “hero” anyway?


RIP Lenny Robinson, our Baltimore Batman

The news reported that Lenny Robinson, the eccentric local Batman fan that took his hobby of collecting Batman memorabilia to a new level by converting a custom Lamborghini into a Batmobile (of sorts) and visiting legions of terminally ill children in the hospital, had been struck by a car when he got out of his car to check for engine trouble on a busy highway.  He was killed instantly.

Back in 2012, Lenny made the national headlines when a police dash cam of him being stopped by the police for driving his custom Lambo without a visible plate from the State of Maryland on display hit Youtube and went viral:

Of course it did.. there’s something inherently goofy and ridiculous about a grown man dressing up as Batman and driving around in a tricked up Lamborghini. Lenny had a screw loose, but it manifested itself in a wonderful way.

Lenny would use his free time (and a considerable amount of his own cash) to dress up (himself and with other “superheroes”) to visit extremely ill children all up and down the state of Maryland. He’d been doing it for years.. not asking permission, not petitioning a committee for advice or sponsorship. He just saw something that would make life better for a group of sick kids who were feeling miserable.. and he went out and did it.

Just like that.

Sure. I’m not going to argue when Nancy Grace ends her broadcasts by looking straight into the camera, with voice artfully choking and lip dramatically quivering… “PFC so and so, killed in Afghanistan.. American .. (pause) … hero.” that’s her thing.. and we should cherish our fallen. I get that.

And yet, there are other kind of heroes. Simple, goofy men like Lenny Robinson, doing the decent thing, on their own dime and their own time, because it needed doing, and nobody else was stepping up to the plate.

Lenny, you’re a hero—no, strike that, you’re in the Heavenly Justice League.

May God Bless and keep you.

C.J. Henderson, a late farewell


C.J. Hudson, RIP December 26, 1951 – July 4, 2014

I just was on the BALTICON website and noticed C.J. passed away last Summer.  I won’t let me being late to the party dissuade me from saying a few nice things about this man.

“C.J. doing what he liked to do,
shamelessly huckstering books
at a convention.

C. J. Henderson might not be a name to conjure with for SF, Noir and Horror fans, but if you are a regular attendee of East Coast Science Fiction conventions, chances are you have met C. J. Henderson, and if you’ve met him, you’ve chatted with him.   C.J. was a fixture in the dealer’s room, author panels, and autograph lines of most East Coast Cons that I attended from the early 2000s onward.  I admit, I am a spotty SF Con attendee at best, and my focus is usually on the book dealer’s room.  C.J. was usually to be found there, willing to go that extra mile to sell something, anything.. and engage in polite palaver along the way.  I could tell his health was not great at the last Balticon I attended, but I had no idea how serious it was.

I don’t know much about C.J.’s personal life, other than my observations about him being a genuinely nice guy that I liked to talk to about once a year at Balticon.  I do know he wrote the kind of stuff I like to read.   Pulp Stories.  Science Fiction stories.  Occult Detectives.   Horror in all formats, including comic books.  Weird Fantasy.  He was an acknowledged master of revisiting (but NOT rebooting) established pulp heroes of yesteryear and breathing new life into them.   He wrote stories featuring the Spider (Master of Men!), Green Lantern, and other pulp stalwarts.  He was fascinated with Kolchak, the Night Stalker TV show, and wrote several novels with Kolchak as a main character.  He had his own occult detective, Teddy London.  He wrote Werewolf Stories and Steampunk Stories and Vampire Stories and pretty much anything you can conjure up in the genre fiction field.  And yet,  I don’t think he got the notice or acclaim he deserved in his lifetime.

If you have a Kindle device, try him out for a piddly .99 cents.   I think you’ll be glad you did.

Sincere (and late) condolences to C.J.’s wife Grace and daughter Eric.   My deepest sympathies.

Pat Condray, gone too soon


Pat Condray, raconteur, toy soldier enthusiast, and apparently a yachtsman.

Pat Condray, raconteur, toy soldier enthusiast, and apparently a yachtsman.

I just received the word from Brett Abbott, Pat’s son-in-law.

Pat Condray has passed away.

“I am afraid Pat passed away earlier this morning. Not sure of arrangements yet, will update later. Thanks to all for the thoughts and prayers, this hobby meant a lot to Pat and he loved the people in it.”

Tragic news, tragic news.. this has been a bad year span for the founders and shakers of the American miniatures wargaming scene.   First Craig Taylor, then Donald Featherstone, then Bob Coggins, then Jay Hadley & John Hill (almost simultaneously) .  Now Pat Condray has joined the choir invisible.

It was kind of a shockingly, stupidly abrupt way to go.  Pat was in great shape for his age and exercised regularly.  Yesterday, he decided to go for a bicycle ride near his home in Florida.  A local resident named Pok Sun Morgan was driving his Chevy Equinox down the same road Pat was biking down the right side of. Morgan sideswiped Pat on his bike and he was thrown a long way.  Sadly, Pat wasn’t wearing a helmet.  I’m not sure if that would have saved him or not, but it surely couldn’t have hurt.   The damage was severe, and Pat was airlifted to a local hospital in a coma.   As you can see, he didn’t make it.

What can you say about Pat?  Where do you start?  For all the pride he took in being argumentative and a “Well Known Poison Pen” (a nickname he took perverse pride in and used as his signature), he was at the core, a kind-hearted man of keen intelligence and wit.  He was fiercely dedicated to the hobby of Toy Soldiers and the art of wargaming.  His historical passions were the Spanish Civil War and the War of Spanish Succession, a hobby that he grew into a small and successful business, the Historical Products Company.   I owned several of his SCW figures in 20mm even now, and still break out “Viva El Christo Rey!” from time to time.

A strange memorial to be sure. Part of a phony deck of “trading cards” I made up to lampoon the 2006 Board of Directors elections.

As for the hobby in general, his antecedents go much farther back than the much discussed “Wally’s Basement Crowd” (a tribute to the late, great Wally Simon, many years gone).  Pat was an early participant in the Toy Soldier Society and active participant in the creation of HMGS as an organization.  He helped create the early HISTORICONs and MINICON convention programs (MiniCon became Cold Wars), working with Jay Hadley and Bob Coggins, and was president of HMGS at least once.  Even years after the average former Board of Directors member had burnt out and faded away, Pat retained a scrupulous eye on the day to day efforts of the Society he helped found– pouring over BoD Meeting minutes, the projected Budget and convention reports, often bringing them back up in minute detail during membership meetings, which he hardly ever missed.  He likened himself to the chapter historian, in a sense.  He would retain a version of events from a dozen years ago and come up with his own grandiloquent turn of phrase for it years afterward– a Board Of Directors became “The Gang of Four” in anecdotes years later.  An effort to remove someone from the board of directors would be called a “Putsch”.    He loved to prose away at issues, using his own argot as much as possible.   Being somewhat prickly online, he often came off as a curmudgeonly crank, but he was never that way in person.

My favorite memories of Pat were the Spanish Civil War games he ran at NOVAG‘s small conventions held at the Elk’s Lodge and Masonic Halls in Northern VA.  These were transformative for me.  I had always loved the Spanish Civil War period but the hobby was all over the Big Three in those days (The American Civil War, Napoleonics and WW2 of course).  It was cool and refreshing to see someone dabble in this obscure little conflict that I felt like I was the only person who knew anything about.   And .. here was an entire line of miniatures devoted to it!  It did open my eyes to a world of possibilities about historical wargaming with miniatures, and led to my participation in HMGS, and wargaming conventions.   So you can blame Pat about that!

So, yeah, at the end of it all, what CAN you say?  Pat, I really wish you had worn your damned helmet.  God bless and keep you, rest in peace and I’ll say a prayer for your repose and for your family in your time of grief.  You will be missed very much.

Farewell to a stalwart: the passing of Jay Hadley


Jay Hadley

Jay (center) doing one thing he loved to do, working a flea market table, talking to people.  Circa 2006, Photograph from the author’s collection

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be writing about another notable hobby passing quite so soon after John Hill.   We’re living in an age where the stalwarts of a hobby are starting to pass at an alarming rate.  Far too alarming.

Quite by accident, I discovered Mr. Jay Hadley passed from the cares of the mortal world on the 11th of this month, almost at the same time John Hill did.  The cause of death appears to be lung cancer (according to one source)  but might have been lymphoid leukemia Stage IV (according to another).  If you have a moment, you might say a prayer for his family.

There’s so much that can be said about Jay.  He was a figure with a profound impact on the miniatures wargaming hobby, going back a very long way, to the early 70s at least or even earlier, with his involvement with the Military Figure Collectors of America (MFCA). which had threw one of the first miniatures wargames events on the East Coast (The”Wargame Convention”).   He was very active in the Toy Soldiers Collector Societies (and their spinoff groups) before there was such a thing as “organized hobby wargaming” conventions (or HMGS for that matter).   Jay was one of the early adopters of HMGS, although not a “Wally’s Basement” member.   Jay worked hard to develop SOPs and procedures and was responsible for the foundation of much of how we operate conventions today– especially as a nonprofit.  His early work with ORIGINS (1980) and ATLANTICON is a subject I’m not remotely equipped to comment on– I went to a few of them but I certainly didn’t know who did what and when.. I’ve asked Pat Condray to fill in the details for me.  Jay was a past president of HMGS (elected, 1998)  and was an early promoter of the concept that some day, we would outgrow the Host facility and require a bigger site to run a convention in.

Jay’s passion for historical subjects often coincided with his professional success as a fund raiser and marketing wallah for many institutions, primarily in the field of health care.  He was active with the United Way, Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Cooper University Hospital, The Battleship New Jersey alliance and the National World War II memorial committee.   There are many other professional highlights and organizations he served on or chaired, if you want that level of detail, I suggest visiting his LinkedIn page.

Indeed, it was in those areas– fundraising, building relationships, and deal making, that Jay best showed his phenomenal strength and skill in handling people.  Jay was always comfortable in politicking– negotiating and understanding the little nuances of what made people tick.  Jay possessed considerable charm– when I was a Cold Wars director in the Mid-00s, he was invaluable as a source of advice or a way of dealing with a stumbling block.  “Who do I talk to at the hotel to get “X”?  “Easy, that’s ____, remember to ask how her daughter is doing at school”.  It’s the little things, he would say.  And he was right, for the most part.    I think Jay Hadley was born after his time– I have always pictured him in some turn of the century saloon, his straw hat pushed back on his head and thumbs in his vest pockets, cheerfully buying drinks for a pack of galoots, trying to get the vote out for his candidate.  He had that kind of energy about him.

For all of the “I’m just a goombah from New Jersey” brio he consciously projected (in booming voice), he did work tirelessly for the hobby, driving hours on his own time and his own dime to check if the site was making upgrades, or to talk to the Table vendors, or whatever.  Jay deeply cared about HMGS and miniatures gaming, and he put in many a long hour towards making the convention program a success.

With all that said, Jay could be caustic and he could be polarizing.  There is much that could be mentioned about the politics within Society in the 90s and 00s, many of us were there and many of us have strong opinions, some of them not charitable.  Jay jumped in with both feet and was an enthusiastic participant in the issues of moment back then, and he had his hands in almost everything.  I’m not going to comment beyond that, because I choose to remember the good things– and in point of fact, the “bad things” seem pretty trivial with the passage of time.

Jay was a dedicated hobbyist, tireless promoter, shameless gossip and excellent negotiator.  He was also a bit of a rascal.  Yet he helped make HMGS what it is today– and despite anyone’s axe to grind, that fact cannot be denied.  As for me, I liked him immensely and counted him a good friend.  If I wanted to hear the backstory on something, I inevitably talked to Jay.  The last time I saw him was 2 or maybe 3 conventions ago.  He was still a game bird for a long, rambling discussion but the fire had gone out of him a little bit– he didn’t mention it but the sickness must have already taken hold.  He was tired– the scandal of the moment (whatever it was) was of little interest to him any more.

So, Farewell, Jay Hadley.  Thanks for all you did.   For in the end, what can we do, but cherish the living, and honor the dead?

Aequa lege necessitas sortitur insignes et imos…

John Hill: One Fan’s Humble Appreciation


JohnHill

John Hill

The past few years have been a bad time for the classic wargame designers of our youth. S. Craig Taylor passed away in 2012. Don Featherstone went to join the choir invisible in 2013. Bob Coggins passed on right before Historicon last year. Today, word has trickled out through Dana Lombardy that John Hill suffered a major heart attack last night and has passed on this morning. In Dana’s words:

It is with great sadness that I must report that my dear friend John Hill, Hall of Fame designer of Squad Leader, passed away today. I will post further information as soon as John’s daughter Stephanie and wife Luella let me know how they would like people to show their condolences and appreciation for John’s incredibly creative life.

All of these great designers shaped my life in some way.   I would have a hard time recounting how many times I played Ironclads, or Circus Maxiums, or Napoleon’s Battles, or SOME variation of the many game designs by Don Featherstone.   But it is John Hill, above all, that I owe much to.    Forgive me for lapsing into a brief reminiscence.

In 1978, I was a teenager.  I used to hitch a ride to a little shop in a strip mall about two miles from my parent’s house called the Book and Card.   This place sold about what you’d expect– candles and greeting cards and incense and all kinds of homey folksy kitsch.  It also had a rack of steadily growing material supporting this new game I had been hooked on called Dungeons and Dragons.  Any chance I could get, I’d either bike over there or catch a ride, and browse the racks for a new module that might catch my eye, or a new microgame from Metagaming, or something else new and exciting– it was ALL new and exciting back then.   One day, upon entering the shop, I noticed something new on the top shelf.  It was a bookcase edition of the original Squad Leader game.   It looked fat, and solid and incongruous against a background of somewhat flimsier fantasy supplements and the latest publications from the Judges Guild.  This was heft!  this was substance!   And at the price they were asking (I could be wrong, but I’m remembering something like 12 bucks), it was maybe twice what I would pay for a D&D module.. but wow, was I going to get a LOT for my money!  Granted, squad combat between World War 2 soldiers wasn’t anything I was too familiar with.  Yet this .. thing promised a lot of return for my investment, so I shrugged and bought what would amount to my first wargame, Squad Leader– from little things, great beginnings.   Now, I wasn’t unfamiliar with wargames– I knew what Avalon Hill and SPI were, and had played a few with my father from about age 12 on, but few and far between and I can’t say I was passionate about the hobby or anything like that.   My friend Pete had Panzer Leader, so even the box format was familiar to me.  I just never had had a boxed wargame of my own until that moment.  My predictions of getting lots of value for the money were prescient; I didn’t play Squad Leader for a while (my friends were more into that D&D thing I mentioned), but I still really enjoyed figuring out the scenarios and reading the design notes and rules and figuring out what all those rules meant. Squad Leader went with me to college, and it was there that it started getting played continuously. Man, if I had a nickel for the number of times I assaulted the Tractor Factory in the early scenarios…

That’s what John Hill did for me.  He opened the door to a wider world of gaming, one I had only glimpsed before.

Even though Mr. Hill could lay claim to establishing a foundation for me and many others in wargaming, one gets the sensation that he wasn’t content with being typecast as “the Squad Leader guy”. Aside from the first expansion to SL (Cross of Iron, one of the best!), John Hill didn’t involve himself in the direct design of Squad Leader afterward.  His name, however, is forever linked with that accomplishment, much like Alan Calhamer‘s name was forever linked with Diplomacy.   John wasn’t content with being a one-hit wonder; his board game design output was both creative and prodigious throughout his life:

  • Bar-Lev: The Yom-Kippur War of 1973
  • Battle for Stalingrad
  • The Brotherhood
  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943
  • Cross of Iron (expansion)
  • Eastern Front Tank Leader
  • Hue
  • Jerusalem
  • Kasserine Pass
  • Overlord
  • Panzer Force
  • Squad Leader (duh)
  • Tide of Iron: Designer Series Vol. 1
  • Verdun, The Game of Attrition
  • Yalu: The Chinese Counteroffensive in Korea, November 1950 to May 1951

I remember years later, I picked up Eastern Front Tank Leader (by West End Games) solely based upon Hill’s name being on the box– and was astounded about just how different and creative it was from the Squad Leader of my high school and college days– different scale, different mechanics, and a focus on command and control elements.   A very challenging game that placed you in a higher command role than a captain or lieutenant chivying your squads and gun crews around the streets of some town in Russia.

After joining HMGS and attending miniature wargaming conventions, I became acquainted with the other focus of John Hill’s prodigious output, miniature game rules.  I picked up Johnny Reb in a flea market buy and have played it quite a few times.  As I speak, John’s NEW civil war regimental rules, Across a Deadly Field, is on my Ipad Kindle App.

The miniature games I know of are:

  • Across A Deadly Field: Regimental Rules for Civil War Battles
  • Johnny Reb
  • Johnny Reb III

There might have been more.

As a designer, John was bold, interesting, and not above fudging a few elements that would shock and anger the nitpickers out there in the name of fun (see early arguments about just how wide those city streets were in Squad Leader, for instance).   John would invariably just shake his head at the criticsim, smile, and shrug– it made a better game his way– and he was right.  He had a knack for capturing the essence of a thing, and making it fun.

But enough of John Hill as a game designer.  John Hill as a man was easygoing, pleasant, approachable and invariably kind-hearted.  He was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humor.  I won’t pretend we were close friends, but I have seen him at many a convention and have talked to him many times — he was always ready and willing to discuss the nuances of something he had published or was working on.   John was a thoroughgoing gentlemen and our hobby is sadly diminished with his passing.

Bis vivit qui bene vivit, John Hill.  We will miss you.

Related:

Bob Coggins, Game Author, Miniature Enthusiast, passes away


Bob Coggins (seated) with S. Craig Taylor (left) at the re-release of Napoleon's Battles.

Bob Coggins (seated) with S. Craig Taylor (left) at the re-release of Napoleon’s Battles.

Just noticed on The Miniatures Page:

This is just a brief note to make all the members aware that Robert Coggins, the co-creator, with Craig Taylor, of Napoleon’s Battles passed away this afternoon. He had been ill for several years and this past Wednesday he suffered a stroke as he was preparing to go to Historicon. The stroke precipitated a fall sometime on Thursday evening or early Friday morning and he was admitted to the hospital on Friday afternoon. He passed away at Union Memorial Hospital today, Monday July 21, 2014, in the late afternoon. He is survived by his brother, Richard. The funeral arrangements are not complete at this time. His brother will be making all the arrangements.

Bob Coggins has passed on.  He was a very influential personality in the early days of the American miniatures hobby, and contributed countless hours to the foundation of the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society, HISTORICON, Origins and Atlanticon conventions.   Bob was passionate about Napoleonic miniatures and was the co-author, along with Craig Taylor (also deceased), of Napoleon’s Battles, one of the most influential miniature rule sets of its era.

Bob was a prime mover in getting Miniature game representation at ORIGINS, and one of the cabal that decided to move historical miniatures to its own focused convention, HISTORICON.  Bob was one of the people that met in Wally Simon’s basement and founded HMGS.

I can’t claim we were best friends or more than just acquaintance s, really.  Still, I appreciated his efforts in the early days of the hobby and have enjoyed the fruits of his early efforts for many decades.   My prayers are going out to Bob’s family at this time of sorrow.

Gameopolis Podcast: Farewell to Jeff. Sad tidings


Obit.
As I’ve stated on this blog in the annual podcast review (twice), one of my favorite, if not top favorite gaming podcasts is GAMEOPOLIS.  I have always enjoyed the candor, the humor and the witty observations made by both podcasters, Mark and Jeff, both of whom are from an age where many of their favorites were favorites of mine from a bygone era– Titan, Car Wars, Battletech, etc.

I don’t subscribe to any podcasts via Itunes, mostly because I don’t listen to them on a regular basis.  So I have missed some of the shorter podcasts here and there, like Gameopolis’ “car casts”.  They just looked like filler.  Unfortunately my cherry-picking listening habits created a situation where I totally missed something vitally important about this show.

Back in July of 2013, Jeff made a short “message from Jeff” announcement that was carried in the feed.  I didn’t download it, I figured it was an announcement about a delay or something like that.  Sadly, it was terrible news.  Jeff has been battling cancer for the last three years, and it had clearly taken a turn for the worst.  The doctors had exhausted their options and Jeff did not have a lot of time left.

July 2013: http://traffic.libsyn.com/gameopolis/Message_from_Jeff_July2013.mp3″

As I said above, I blithely didn’t realize the impact of that message, as I don’t subscribe.

Today, I was wondering if Gameopolis had done at least a smaller “session report” podcast after its last full length episode in the past month. It had, but on top of that was a short “Message from Mark”. This time it clicked. Uh oh.. message from Jeff, Message from Mark.. I had better download and listen. In what must have been a very emotionally draining Message from Mark episode (October 2013), Mark revealed that Jeff had passed away, a victim of cancer.

October: http://traffic.libsyn.com/gameopolis/Message_from_Mark_2013-10-28.mp3″

I’m glad they warned me at the beginning to not listen when I was driving. It’s odd how you connect with someone over the years. I’ve never met Mark or Jeff, never even communicated with them beyond a few encouraging emails now and then, letting them (Jeff, mostly) know that I was listening and really enjoying their show. And yet, Jeff’s departure leaves a little hole in the world.. a sadness that will heal in time, I’m sure, but right now it’s a very sad day indeed. So with prayers for Jeff’s friends and family, we say goodbye to a gentle soul, a great podcaster, and geek extraordinaire, Jeff. Funny. I didn’t even know his last name, and I’m all choked up now.

Mark is putting the show on hiatus while he considers his next moves. I hope to see him back in the world of podcasting in some fashion, even thought it will not be the same without Jeff.. that doesn’t mean it can’t be very good or even better, but it won’t be the same. Good luck to Mark, and my sincere sympathy and condolences to Jeff’s friends and family, even if they are getting it late.

Donald Featherstone: an Appreciation


Cover of a a very ancient WARGAMES NEWLSETTER, dating back to the early 60s.

Cover of a a very ancient WARGAMES NEWLSETTER, dating back to the early 60s.

The word is being passed slowly from across the Atlantic that Donald Featherstone passed away yesterday. For all my non Geek friends, Don was a pioneer in the area of tabletop miniature game design (mostly of the historical flavor), or “wargames”. Don wrote dozens of books and articles on the subject– dating back to before I was born.  He published a very influential newsletter called, simply, WARGAMER’S NEWSLETTER which had its heyday back in the early 1960s.  I’ve owned and read many of Don’s books, but not all of them– there were so many on all sorts of historical subjects.  My personal favorites were his books on  Solitaire Wargaming, Naval Wargaming and Skirmish Games.   I’ve designed a lot of one-off miniatures games in the course of my adult life; virtually everything, including the silly stuff, has a soupçon of Featherstone’s influence in it somewhere.   The man to man Napoleonic game I’m working on right now, for instance, has equal dashes of Bruce Quarrie’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun and Don’s Skirmish Wargaming in it.  When you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

Don in an article from the early 90s.

I only met Don one time, during the mid 2000s at a HMGS convention– Cold Wars, I think. He was very frail but his mind was sharp and gleeful. I had drinks with Don and Bob Leibl and Cleo Hanlon. He was amused that people were always assuming he had already passed and used the phrase “rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated” at least once.  We didn’t really discuss wargaming or “the hobby” all that much.  As I recall, he was more interested in discussing football (not the American version) and some American television programs.  It was an odd tete a tete.

A reissue cover of a Featherstone title

If you haven’t read a Featherstone book, you really should.  They are mostly in the process of being republished in perfect bound trade copies by John Curry’s History of Wargaming Project.  Pricey but worth it– these are almost impossible to find unless you are a really dedicated deep diver at flea markets, boot sales and used book stores.  I couldn’t have picked up Skirmish Wargaming and Naval Wargaming without the History of Wargaming Project.  Thanks, John Curry.  It’s amazing and amusing about how much of our modern miniatures hobby can be traced back to Don Featherstone in England and Jack Scruby in America.  Everything.. including your latest hipster big-shoulderpad SF games, Fantasy games, D&D, etc.. everything… owes more than   a little to these men and the hobby they created with their tireless work and creativity.    Don Featherstone, for such a diminutive, soft-spoken fellow, wielded tremendous influence over the hobby back in its founding and  growth years.

A charming man, a great hobbyist and writer… I’ll miss Donald Featherstone.  In his honor, the OFM (on the Miniatures Page) is suggesting we run games that “don’t take themselves too seriously”.  What can I say?  I’m all in on this one.

Links:

An appreciation: “Col. G. Hairy Haggis, at your service”– aka William Landrum


56000aFacebook catches a lot of slings and arrows from critics these days, mostly about invasion of privacy. The flip side of that coin is that Facebook creates the opportunity to keep in touch with people you haven’t seen in next to never. So it was today, when I noticed this face popping up in my Recent Friends bar in Facebook.  I had forgotten who owned that face.  It was William Landrum, also known as “Colonel Hairy Haggis” on the many hobby bulletin boards he used to frequent, especially the Colonial Wars Yahoogroup.  So I finally said to myself, “why would he be a recent friend on FB?  He never posts anything!”  I’m not sure if Facebook was trying to tell me something, but when I went to his profile page, It turns out Bill passed away, over a year ago, and I had never heard the news from anybody in the multiple hobby communities online.

Colonel Hairy Haggis, as he liked to style himself, was always a consummate gentleman online and very pleasant in person.  He was also an inveterate tinkerer.  Bill had his own dental supply lab that did a lot of custom work for the dentist community were he lived.   He had access to an amazing amount of tools and was fond of casting his own custom toy soldiers or converting existing ones into outlandish creations.

Hairy Haggis in his shop

Hairy Haggis in his shop
More stuff

More stuff

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Back in the late 90s, when I was running a game of my own devising called LE GRAND CIRQUE at conventions, Colonel Haggis was an occasional player and enthusiastic commentator on the game. At one point I created a conveyance called The Dowdmobile, with Elwood P. Dowd of HARVEY fame as the pilot. I didn’t have a giant rabbit to accompany Elwood in his conveyance, so I used the old cop out of “Well, Harvey is invisible, you see…” as my excuse. Colonel Haggis would have none of that. Using a conversion method, he created a giant armed rabbit out of an old Alternative Armies figure. It was fantastic, whiskers and all.  He did that because it “fit”, and he was right.  Bill also participated in my Le Grande Cirque du Wabash game waaay back in Historicon 2000, I think. Those were good times.

Bill Landrum was a wonderful guy; even tempered, creative, funny and a gentleman.  He loved Victorian affectations in speech and manner, and adored Victorian Science Fiction before it became “Steampunk”.   A born storyteller and always up for a joke or ready with a kind word. I wish there were more people in the hobby like Colonel Hairy Haggis. I’ll miss him.

Farewell to Lynn Willis


Lynn Willis

I’m almost a month late in noticing this, but Lynn Willis, prolific game design and Chaosium employee, passed away on January 18 of this year (2013).   Lynn had a large impact on the gaming industry, and he designed several games that I personally enjoyed, such as Stomp, Dragon Pass, Olympica (my favorite microgame, which I have converted into miniatures recently), Bloodtree Rebellion and most notably Arkham Horror (the first version).

Lynn got his start with one of my favorite old companies, Metagaming, and designed two micros (Olympica and Holy War) as well as GODSFIRE, which is notable for it’s odd three dimensional hexes.   After a short period of boardgame design in the late 70s and early 80s, he was primarily associated with roleplaying games.

From about 1980 onward the vast majority of Lynn’s output was in the roleplaying game niche, specifically supporting Chaosium’s flagship CALL OF CTHULHU game.  Still, he found time to branch out and wrote or co-wrote the excellent RINGWORLD and STORMBRINGER RPGs (both of which I had at some point),  RUNEQUEST, several novels, and material for other RPG systems.  He was a versatile guy.  Lynn Willis hearkened back to a great time in gaming (for me, anyway), the late 70s and early 80s.  The gaming world is a little duller with his passing.

Rest in Peace, Lynn Willis.

Related:

The Passing of S. Craig Taylor


Flat Top, Avalon Hill era

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

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

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

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

Swashbuckler, Yaquinto Era

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

Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Avalon Hill Era

Related:

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Joe Bodolai


Joe Bodolai

Joe Bodolai, from his blog

Joe Bodolai was a writer, television producer and comedian. He wrote for SNL in the post-Jean Domanian years and actually saw the script that came back with her writing “Make it funnier” at the top. His SNL experience is nicely chronicled on BlogTalkRadio.  After SNL he went to Canada and produced THE KIDS IN THE HALL for Lorne Michaels. For a while, things went well for him. He moved to LA and he tried to represent Canadian comedians (successfully for the most part). Things stopped happening for him, and he spiraled downward into alcoholism and depression. He chronicled his life and his decision to kill himself on his own blog on WordPress.

If you have a moment, read this post.  It’s fairly breezily written and attempts to keep the subject light, but it is clear that Bodolai was in a lot of pain and just didn’t want to live any more.  It’s incredibly poignant to read the following bullet points under the heading “Things I Regret”:

  • My inability to conquer my alcoholism
  • The things I did because of it
  • Leaving Canada
  • Moving to Los Angeles
  • Not fighting harder or making a better deal to stay with The Comedy Network I helped create
  • Not being able to live up to the helping hand so many wonderful people offered me
  • The hurt I caused in my family, friends, and maybe even strangers.
  • That I am no longer able to withstand any more of life’s pain
  • Most of all, the pain I have caused and am now causing my sons and the love of my life, my ex-wife Bianca, my love and connection with her is infinite
  • The fact I will never get to repay the love and generosity you all deserve
  •  Lisa.

Seriously.  Take the time to read it.   I don’t normally dwell on the morbid on this blog, but there was something about the way that Bodolai chronicled the disappointments in his life that stuck with me after reading it.  Was it exhibitionism?  Was it ego?  Make up your own mind.  It’s a good read.

One week after his long, rambling and chatty blogging suicide note, Bodolai checked in to a hotel and prepared a lethal cocktail of Gatorade and Anti-Freeze.  That had to be a painful way to go.

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Farewell, Little Grumbler


I lost my little friend today. Gabby, our little rescue pug, gave up this mortal coil this afternoon. She might have been 12, she might have been 16. The folks at the shelter really weren’t sure of how old she was when she came to the shelter.

Gabby the Grumbler

Gabby the Grumbler

I called her “The Grumbler” because her snorty, raspy breathing always sounded like she was pissed off and complaining about something. She wasn’t conventionally affectionate, just demanded to know I was there– she would come into a room I was in, walk over, stare at me, then grumble a bit and tuck in next to my feet and snore. I’ll miss that.

She used to sit by my feet when I painted miniatures, or on the couch next to me when I was watching TV. There wont’ be another like her. I wish she had lasted longer, but I realize that pugs don’t last forever. Farewell, little Grumbler. May you always have a comfortable couch in Heaven.

1000D6 Tribute: Remembering artist Tobias Wong using dice.


Canadian artist and designer Tobias Wong died last year at the young age of 35, or more specifically, 13,138 days. In tribute, his friend Frederick McSwain created this immense portrait of Wong entitled Die using 13,138 dice as part of the BrokenOff BrokenOff exhibition at Gallery R’Pure in New York City.

Wong 1

Tobias Wong

Wong 2

Tobias Wong, from DIE exhibit

Wong 3

Tobias Wong tribute, from DIE exhibit

Dice as art medium, DIE exhibit, tribute to T. Wong

Dice as art medium, DIE exhibit, tribute to T. Wong

Images: Colossal Art and Design
McSwain: http://frederickmcswain.com/
On Tobias Wong: “The Mysteries of Tobias Wong” New York Times 6/27/10.

“DIE” Frederick McSwain Installation Time Lapse on VIMEO