Category Archives: Science Fiction

More on Mad Maximillian 1934, an ongoing project


Part 2 of 2.  In which I greatly expand on the Mad Maximillian 1934 material…

BRUMM Bentley Le Mans 30 Touring Car, an Ebay Purchase modified with a twin Vickers MG and two drivers from Sloppy Jalopy.

Mad Maximillian 1934 (MadMax34) is a very small scale skirmish game set in a dystopic past– that’s right, the past, during the Depression.  The publisher, Mana Press, doesn’t flesh out the back story very much, as I indicated in the previous post.   Just take it as a given that some form of world wide calamity has occurred some time after WWI, roughly corresponding with our Depression.  The setting has a decidedly English focus, which I like (although the publisher and the miniatures manufacturer are resolutely Australian).  I just don’t associate English country roads with Dystopia, which lends a little charm to the idea.  The theme of the game is car combat– on a much lower end technologically than comparable games from the past– such as Car Wars or games of that ilk.  The Interwar years are a favorite period for me, and MadMax34 is definitely positioned “in there somewhere.”  The rulebook, from Mana Press, is about 56 pages, with photographs on many pages and blueprints for cars and a turning template in the back part of the book.  As far as I know, there isn’t a printed copy of the rulebook available at this time, but I could be wrong.  I got mine as a watermarked PDF from Wargame Vault.  I don’t regret the purchase.  I can read the rules on my tablet, which is maybe slightly less handy than paper but that’s fine by me in the long run.

One of the two Eureka kits I purchased for this game. I modeled this on the GREEN MACHINE example in the book. Two rocket pods on a sliding sheet metal rack, and fixed forward facing MGs.

Mechanics:

In terms of game mechanics I don’t think MadMax34 is going to give anyone a serious headache.  They are dirt simple and “bucket of sixes” based.  I like that– not every game has to be about gun calibers and armor thicknesses and firing aspects.  The key mechanic is to roll a FATE roll and a FORTUNE roll.  The outcome determines if you pull off your slick maneuver, or flip your tin lizzy into a scrapheap.  Simply put, FATE = “bad things” FORTUNE = “good things”.

1936 Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb, Auto Union 5.3L C-Type. I fudged the year, as I liked the diecast model. Diecast conversions are a lot of fun– this one has two Lewis MG firing forward and either a couple of oil slick generators or paint sprayers (see red cans).

Taking an example right out of the rulebook, During the Movement Phase, Player A wants to make a tight turn.  Her vehicle is already damaged, which adds FATE dice (everything is 1D6 based, but Fate should be red and Fortune white for ease of play).  So she rolls a 3,4,5,6,2 & 6.  Like a lot of games using buckets of six siders, you count 5 and 6 results.  Player A counts 3 Fate here. 
Player A then responds with a Fortune roll of Vehicle Handling plus Driver Skill, which sorts out as: 3,6,4,1 & 6.  She scores two Fortunes.   THEN, subtract Fate from Fortune, and that’s the modifier of -1.  Yikes.  Go to Skidding test. 

“Old Number 3” Another fine diecast conversion, this from some Pacific Rim diecast manufacturer. Ford 32 basic black pickup, with Rocket tubes (2), Vickers mounted on hood, and some welded on extra armor here and there. I added a harpoon guy from Pulp Figures to give the vehicle a little verisimilitude.

Activation and Initiative, Turn Order, blah blah blah

In my  mind, there are only so many ways you can design a game that involves vehicles shooting at each other, in motion, even at lower speeds.  You have to take into account current acceleration, shooting, defending, maneuvering safely and at high risk, and what happens when you take damage or don’t make a turn.  That is the core of it.  I’ve played around at this myself– see: White Line Fever.  They are all equally valid, great ways of simulating these factors.  MadMax34 does a very good job of factoring in these elements in a straightforward fashion.  Initiative is easy.  The player moving at the highest Speed (at start of turn) Activates, or goes first.  If tied, the smaller vehicle goes first.  If tied, roll a danged dice, won’t you?  Activation leads to performing each of the three actions in any order the driver chooses: Move, Attack and Special.

A Brumm Bugatti type 30 (diecast, found on Ebay) with a Lewis MG up top and an improvised anti-tank rifle bolted on the left plays chicken with an oncoming Green Machine. I’m sanguine about this chances.

There are several nuances to movement and honestly I’m not going to go in depth with each one– a thumbnail would be: You can adjust speed up or down by one, with no problems.  You can STOMP on the brakes but these vehicles are ramshackle and you may need to check the car to see if it skids or not.  You can FANG IT (accelerate as fast as you can) but that also might cause the rather battered engine, which is likely running on corn squeezings these days, to explode or some other dramatic response.  Really, my favorite bit of these rules is the turning template, which is design elegance.

This is a PDF template in the rules, but you can order a laser cut version from THINGS IN THE BASEMENT (whose picture this is). I just ordered two of them. Click on the picture to visit their store.

Simply place the incoming (up facing) arrow aligned with the front of the vehicle, and twist the the adjustable (top) arrow in the direction you need to go. The farther you turn it, the more FATE DICE you have to throw to make the turn. I like this. It might be difficult to use in tight terrain but I’ll figure it out. There are special rules for special maneuvers like the bootlegger’s turn, and what happens when you skid or flip, but I won’t describe them in detail. Crashing is pretty bad in a MadMax34 vehicle, you basically roll to see how severe it is.. the consequences are rather tough on these (well used, poorly constructed) vehicles.

Click Me

The first model I bought from Eureka. This is a sport racing vehicle (generic “Flyer”) with a pintle mounted AAMG in the back. I love the figures– they are very dynamic. These kits are designed with a high degree of customization in mind; I went very basic with this one. Click on the picture to see the customization kit and other vehicle kits at Eureka.

Winning is a rather loose concept, and usually involves pounding the snot out of your opponents. There are scenario goals that determine victory conditions. There are about 4 scenarios in the rules (I think).

Vehicle Construction/Availability

MadMax34 comes with design-your-vehicle modules, just like the old CAR WARS game did. You have about four chassis sizes and each of them has a number of hard points assigned. The more hard points, the more creative you can be with what you strap on to the car to create mayhem with. Most of the vehicles I created had very few hard points– 5 or lower (five being average). I may have stretched the concept of “hard points” by including hand weapons, which I don’t agree would take up a mounting on your vehicle. I also add additional armor here and there and that technically is using a hard point as well– how many, I’m not sure. One of the reasons I hesitated jumping into this project was my perception that vehicles and drivers would be hard to find. That has NOT proven to be the case. A typical browse through Ebay will provide auctions for diecast vehicles that are perfectly within period. I have fielded a Bugatti Type 30, a Bentley Touring Car, a shabby 1932 Ford Pickup, and an odd “Shelby Walsh Hillclimber” that looks suspiciously futuristic but was historically built in 1936. Close enough.

Bentley Touring Car (1930), a diecast model, chasing a generic 3 Wheeler Cyclecar from 1st Corps (resin kit with metal bits). I’ll probably add more weapons to these or improvised armor, as both have hard points to spare. The Bentley is a BRUMM Diecast vehicle, easy to find on auction sites.

In addition, I highly recommend 1stCorps in the UK for period armor vehicles (if you want to build the largest vehicles in the game), they also have a section for pulp style vehicles (not many) with a lot of style. I picked up a generic 3 wheeler Cycle Car and put a dual Vickers on it, along with a gunner that is armed with a side arm. In addition, I picked up a WWI era dispatch motorcyle with a Maxim machine gun installed, and added some civilian touches.

WWI era BEF Dispatch motorcycle from 1stCorps.  I added a passenger figure Sloppy Jalopy, and painted the driver and gunner in a non specific “uniform”

Of course, you can also get miniatures from Eureka Australia or USA, under their small (but hopefully growing) Mad Maximillian line. The twist is you can always use the same kits to make more than one radically different vehicle. I’ve only touched the surface of customization, I want to build a flame thrower car next. The real difficulty is obtaining vehicle weapons (which I found from a number of sources) and especially drivers. The scaling between Eureka and 1stCorp isn’t a perfect match by a long shot, but when the drivers are sitting down, it’s hardly noticable. Stan Johansen (of Road Warrior 20mm fame, I’ve mentioned him on here before), also makes some 28mm driver and gunner figures– pretty rudimentary but it does the job nicely– and a paintjob hides a lot of things. He also has a ton of add on hand weapons like ATRs, shotguns and the like, so their figures are customizable, more so than Eureka or 1stCorps. In addition to THAT, Sloppy Jalopy has some very spirited and thematic looking drivers and passengers (the Tommy gunner on the back of the Motorcycle is one). You need to check those out!

Another look at 1st Corps three wheeler touring car, decked out for mayhem. I may add some more armor.

I don’t see terrain being a big obstacle. This game plays well on a 4 x 6 and even smaller space– I don’t recommend having more than 10 players due to the scale. Ground scale isn’t specified anywhere, but the models are large, and I forsee problems with table geometry. So maybe some craters, maybe some rubbled buildings.. a dirt road, some hills, dead trees, barbed wire.. I have all those already!

In conclusion

As I’ve alluded to, this has been a fun project to work on, especially the part about customizing and creating vehicles out of kits and diecast. I haven’t tested it yet but I plan to as soon as I move back in to my house. The vehicles were variably priced (the resin kits actually more expensive than the diecasts I found on Ebay, but more militant looking).  The rules are very straight forward and almost expendable, really.  You could play this with a game of your choice as long as you track the basic elements of road combat games– speed, shooting, protection, damage.. etc.  My only disappointment (and it is very minor) is that the period fluff is almost absent.  There is a long wheedling narrative at the front of the document but it isn’t a very conclusive or convincing depiction of the setting (can’t help kvetching, this is a favorite historical period of mine).  Other than that, I would recommend it highly.

STUFF:

Slideshow of all my conversions and kit vehicles built so far on flickr

Some Youtube “Project Videos”

From the rulebook, Mana Press. A collection of the Eureka Miniatures custom cars— except white lightning (second from bottom), which doesn’t seem to be a kit you can buy.

SOURCES MENTIONED in both posts

  • 1st Corps (WWI range and 20th Century Follies. Also some good individual standing figures)
  • Eureka Miniatures USA (and of course, Australia) The basic customizable car kits are produced by Nic Robson’s Eureka miniatures and Eureka USA for us Yanks. I highly recommend the custom parts kit you can purchase as an extra. You can also buy drivers and gunners (3 types) individually.
  • Company B is a company that sells period authentic vehicle mount machine guns– mostly twin mount Vickers and Lewis. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
  • Sloppy Jalopy sells a great line of 28mm drivers and passengers, right inside the period..
  • For individual pedestrian figures, try Pulp Figures. In scale and totally in period.
  • Copplestone’s gangster figures also work as pedestrians.
  • Hexxy Shop sells all kinds of interesting bits for vehicle conversion and customization, although their SF stuff is pretty futuristic.
  • Stan Johansen makes a Road Warrior line which is very futuristic but features drivers and gunners in 28mm that are dressed with minimal detail, so they work in the 1930s.
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Simple Fog of War in Boom! Zap!


My plan was to debut the playtest game of Boom! Zap! (my pulp SF reworking of the old Rules with No Name engine) at camp this year, but there was such a clamor to run Frostgrave for another day and Big Danged Boats for another day that it kicked Friday’s game right off the schedule. Too bad, I had invested a ton of time and $$ purchasing and building hallway terrain from Gamecraft, and it looks fantastic (although I really need to work on a paint scheme for reuse). With that said it is very durable and I can use it for next year’s camp so it’s nothing wasted.

I love this stuff– it’s the Science Fiction Spaceship Corridor line from Game Craft, who makes a lot of laser cut wood gaming accessories. It’s durable, goes together with wood glue, and pretty much idiot proof. After you assemble it, it fits together nicely:

The idea behind this stuff is to use it for corridor and setting for a couple of games, one being BOOM! ZAP! (pulp SF) and the other SPY RUN (retro 50s, 60s and 70s spy game) both are 28mm skirmish level and both interact with the terrain (hallways) in a very specific way. One element I’ve been wanting to try is limited perspective based on terrain. Bear with me, this may sound complicated at first, but I think it will pay off in entertainment value.

I’m trying to prevent the God’s eye view benefit from playing factions interacting with each other in enclosed terrain (an outpost). YET! we are in a universe where things like recon probes, motion detectors and the like exist. So groups moving around should have some limited intel about other groups moving around. So prior to contact I create blip tokens similar to those used in the game SPACE HULK.

Each blip reads as a group of people or moving mass (like robots) in the complex or terrain. They enter the complex through three possible entrances (two airlocks, one underground shuttle). Initially, before they are revealed by moving into proximity with each other, all groups move as blips. As they move through the complex, they can, if they have the right equipment, send a probe droid ahead to recon for them for a certain amount of distance. The probe can (under an operator’s direction) move around corners and report back what it sees. It could be empty and likely will be:

empty hallway
Empty Hallway

Or maybe not!

In either case, the Referee takes a picture with his cell phone. He then displays it to the faction reconning the hallway.

Whoops, it is truly empty? What are THOSE?

Eventually as groups move closer together the blips resolve into groups and the hidden system isn’t needed. I just think this might be a fun addition to a skirmish game set in a world with a high tech level. background.

New OGRE Video Game Trailer for Steam Release


Oh yes, it will be mine.

Playtest Rules for BOOM! ZAP! a pulp SF skirmish game


Here is a playtest version of BOOM! ZAP! a very light hearted attempt at creating a set of workable 28mm PULP Science Fiction skirmish rules for tabletop games.

I’ve been looking for a very light set of rules for running a sort of “Space Port Bar” or “Cantina” game akin to the Blood and Plunder Tavern brawls but in a pulpier era for a while now, at least 2009. I’ve tried a few out but have been disappointed with a lot of them.  What you see here is a very, very high end look at the subject as I’m finding “Pulp” to be a much broader subject than people give it credit for. Do we mean Flash Gordon and Emperor Ming? Crash Corrigan and the Undersea Empire? Buck Rogers and Killer Kane? Do we mean John Carter and Planetary Romance? Do we mean the Skylark of Space? Do we mean the Rocket Man? Commander Cody? There’s a lot of subgenres that are evident, and ONE set of rules just might not cut it. So in an attempt to make a one size fits all approach to a very broad picture, I’m starting with a decent set of Western Skirmish rules, the old RULES WITH NO NAME that appeared in an old MWAN magazine way back in the day. This version has been Science Fictioned up a bit, and I’ve added a very broad brush attempt at Gunfire, Melee, Robots, Rocket Packs and Aliens. There’s so much I can do with this idea, don’t even think this is the final.. I’m adding to it as we go, consider this 1.0. I need to add explosions, malfunctions, space ships, beserk robots, planetary romance, more swordplay, anti-grav travel, and a host of other appropriate topics. This will be enough to get me started in a low key way.

If you want to get in touch with me with suggestions or questions, try me at misternizz@gmail.com

In the meantime, you can download BOOM! ZAP! here.

Pulp Science Fiction Miniatures 2/2


And here’s some more of the same series.

Discovery: Brother Vinni and Ganesha 28mm retro Science Fiction stuff


file under #smallwars

I recently made an interesting discovery.  I like my science fiction with a tinge of science fantasy, specifically of the pulp visual nature, prevalent in American culture from about the 40s to the 70s historically.  So I’ve been slowly pursuing a project you can see on the bottom right, under the heading “Science Fiction Bar Fight along the lines of the Draco Tavern” (Classic Niven Reference for the win).  I’ve posted on my retro SF efforts in the past on here.  Given the long winter of being homeless (see the post about the tree), I’ve had time to paint and have stuff painted.  My collection has grown dramatically.  Alas, as the Wargame Supply Dump has gone out of business I have jumped in and attempted to buy as much of his line as I can before it vanishes.

A lot of the current offerings in 28mm don’t have the exact right “fantastic feel” to them.. just a tinge of silliness and whimsy, like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Like fins and bright colors and big oversized ray guns and and goggles and leather helmets and such. I’m always looking for figures like this– I’ve been buying and painting GAFDOZ for years and recently made the aforementioned binge buy of WSD before it folded tents. The problem is where do you go from here? That’s what this post is about. Will it be possible to find more 28mm figures with the proper wacky pulp retro look and feel? Well, yes, but I’ll have to go about it judiciously.

One element of the amorphous “pulp SF universe” that I feel is is important is robots. I mean the big rounded edged clanky guys you used to see in the old serials. I found some candidates that make perfect sense in this setting.

I discovered Brother Vinni, a 28mm figure manufacturer who specializes in resin cast Science Fiction, Fantasy and Historical figures.  I believe? the manufacturer is from Russia.  I really like Brother’ Vinni’s small SF Line, particularly the “Nuclear Sandlot” category.  The humanoid figures tend to be more slender than the figures I have to compare them to– mostly in the GAFDOZ range, which are “beefy”.  However, robots don’t have to be in any specific scale, even androids.  One assumes there will be a variance.
The Nuclear Sandlot robots appear to be sculpted with an eye towards the FALLOUT computer game. If you’ve played it, you’ll see what I’m talking about. I picked up the Flying Bot  figure which looks like the robot major domo figure from the game. It’s easy to put together.  You’ll have to do some standard prep actions before painting– soak in water overnight, and be sure to drill the hole out a little.  The figure doesn’t come with a stand, per se, but does come with a transparent peg to mount on a stand of your choice.

Here is my version, after cleaning, drilling and mounting on a MDF circular base. Good choice, actually– this model can get a little top heavy and you’ll want something heavier to keep it upright.  I ended up painting the robot a gun metal color overall, with some bronze highlights, a bronze colored security weapon and bright red lenses on the security camera arms and main ray gun face.  I gave it a sort of thinned out black ink to give it a little grime and depth, and a couple of coats of medium shiny sealer– I’m giving all the pulp stuff a shiny coat because it seems to fit the subject.

I also picked  up two Observer Bots which also seem to be inspired by FallOut.  I plan to make these part of the game– any character with a comunications rig sculpted on it can use an observer bot to see down a hallway.  These tiny little floating soccer balls have a perfect look for pulp

Same approach to cleaning, drilling and mounting.  The observer bot has a little whip antenna that has to be attached, be careful, this will get away from you.  The hole for the stand up flight pole was totally filled in with resin so I had to drill it out carefully.  The model has holes in it for some sort of whisker antennas (four of them) but these were not included.  I suppose someone could heat up a piece of sprue to stretch out and make them from scratch, but I didn’t see the point of it.  That’s my only complaint about Brother Vinnie’s kits.. don’t advertise an element of a model in the assembled pictures that isn’t provided in the final product!

Last robot I got is ALSO inspired by FallOut, I think.  It matches one of the standard robot types found in the game, and Uncle Vinnie just calls this “Robot“.

This was probably the easiest figure to clean up, assemble and paint. The overall aesthetic is kind of like a pint-sized Robbie the robot character from Forbidden Planet.  He’s going to make a decent robot butler or some other kind of servant.   I also mounted him on MDF, painted an overall gun metal with bronze highlights, and gave him a little grime (thinned black ink) and a semi-gloss coat like the robots above.  “Robot” fits in well with the pulp figures I already have, being somewhat tiny but then again, who says robots have to be huge hulking figures to be useful?  Nobody, that’s who.

Now, on to some figures that I loved, loved, loved in the adverts, but the reality was kind of a mixed bag.  At least you have the bottom line up front.  On to Ganesha Games 28mm Science Fiction line, being manufactured and distributed Alternative Armies.   I was very intrigued by the latest releases that were recently trumpeted on the Alternative Armies website about Lord Phalag and his companions, Psi-Knights and Combot combat robots.   Lord Phalag is a Baron Harkonnen looking chap in a floating chair, looking very corrupt and dissolute, and slightly evil. He has an enforcer brute companion named Graul Granite who reminds me of the Thing from Fantastic Four, and some female alien type modeled to look like she has some form of psychic power or whatnot named Skarra.


(Image: Alternative Armies)

I was in as soon as I saw the floating chair. Now that’s a great sculpt. Very decadent looking.

Also of note were a gang of Psy-Knights waving about some sort of light energy beam sword weapons. Hmm. Wonder who these guys are supposed to be? You can take your guess:

Image: Alternative Armies

Well, I had to have those guys, too. I was pleased that Alternative Armies will through in a “Combot” robot with each purchase from this line and got one of those, too.

Now, here’s the rub. These are beautiful sculpts.. very pulpy, nice detail. I want to build and paint these. This is what showed up at my door.

No instructions. No bases. Nothing. Just kind of a jumble of parts. The feet aren’t even attached to a slot to go on a slotta style base. Nothing. The figure of Lord Phalag is my favorite, but I’m going to have to figure out how to put this thing together. Worse, I’m going to have to figure out the flying base too.. I know there are companies that sell these, but apparently Ganesha is not one of those. So how do I base them? (BTW, the website DOES say “sold without bases”.. and it’s my fault for jumping on this without reading, I admit that up front, but I wanted this thing to work.. and thus enthusiasm overcame common sense).

Well, it’s going to take a lot of work to make these figures work. I suppose I’ll have to find some slotta bases (I don’t have any). The figures are cast without anything at all on their feet so I expect I’ll have to drill and pin to make the figures stable on a base of any kind. The Chair figure of Lord Phalag is the big disappointment. I’ll have to buy a flying base of some kind (no idea what will work, they don’t say and they don’t sell one) and the resin part is pretty smooth. There’s some metal bits to finish out the figure but the resin is so smooth something tells me I’ll be drilling and pinning there as well. I’ll make it work but it won’t be a fast process.

In summary, it’s a mixed bag. I like the sculpts and detailing of everything I’ve purchased lately, but the Brother Vinnie models came together significantly more easily than the Ganesha Games stuff will. Everything seems to fit well with other pulp figures I already have, so I’m pleased, but grumpy about all the work I’ll have to do for the Ganesha stuff.

What if I programmed a 3 Day long SF Film Festival?


I like Letterboxd.com. It’s about movies and making lists, which seems to be a very human activity. You can editorialize all you like, and share it with your buddies. As a thought exercise, I like to occasionally make a “Film Festival” list around a genre theme.

For a hypothetical Science Fiction Film Festival, I posit a long weekend, starting at Oh Dark 30 on Friday. Here is almost exactly 3 days of programming, not quite in any order. I did mix up the sub-genre a little.. some are classics, like War of the Worlds, Planet of the Apes, and Omega Man. Some are somewhat redundant, like Last Man on Earth (I’d play this back to back with its superior 70s replacement). Some are newer and thought provoking, like Darko and Convergence and Primer. Some are just low impact and entertaining, like Moon and the Europa Project. You’ll notice no Star Treks, Star Wars, Matrices, and other smash hits here. I’d argue they are probably only tangentially science fiction any more and more like science Romance. Still, there’s some good choices that would take up about: 35 movies times an average 2 hour running time divded 24 hours making almost 3 days exactly. We all know the program wouldn’t be that rigid– we have to allow for potty breaks, eating, time to switch movies, make announcements, etc. So this list would realistically be trimmed back between 3 and 4 movies for an actual 24/7 film festival. What would I cut? That becomes the question.

ROGUES: An Anthology by G. Martin and G. Dozois, Reviewed


RoguesROGUES by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the best reasons to read a themed anthology like this is that it gives you a peek at authors that you either already like or haven’t discovered yet. ROGUES delivers on this promise nicely. This is my first anthology of (mostly) SF/F writers edited by George RR Martin, though not my first by Gardner Dozois. The theme is “Rogues”.. those people who aren’t good, aren’t bad, but mostly out for themselves in the most amusing way possible. Martin didn’t just plow the field of fantasy and science fiction for this book– there were some great examples from the mystery and historical fiction genre, too. I was surprised how densely packed this anthology is. I won’t call out every single short story in the book, but I definitely will mention the ones that I thought were standout:

“Tough Times All Over” by Joe Abercrombie
Well, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Joe Abercrombie, I haven’t been stinting on his praises. Tough Times all Over reads like a continuous moving shot in a motion picture– a very important package is robbed from a courier, and exchanges hands multiple times through the story before it culiminates.. clever structure and illustrates the theme nicely with Abercrombie’s trademark dry wit.

“What Do You Do?” by Gillian Flynn
One of my favorites in this anthology was the story of a sex worker turned con-woman and spiritualist encountering what is, possibly, a real haunting. Or maybe not. Her wonderfully blase ending leaves the reader wondering. By the author of Gone Girl, which definitely flavored this piece.

“The Inn of the Seven Blessings” by Matt Hughes
Where has Matt Hughes been in my reading life? I loved this story– all about a very personable and human thief encountering a caper with tiny god, possession, raving cannibal beasts, and a treacherous acolyte. Told in a very endearing, humorous style that echoed Shea or Vance.

“Bent Twig” by Joe R. Lansdale
My favorite shit-kickin’ literary genius from East Texas delivers up a short Hap and Leonard story complete with beat downs, ambushes and ass-kicking. Great fun.

“Tawny Petticoats” by Michael Swanwick
Sure, I had read Swanwick before, but nothing from the universe of Tawny Petticoats, and her odd New Orleans with hired zombie labor, wizards, witches and werewolves. Loved this, want to see more.

“Provenance” by David W. Ball
A fun little art heist with a great twist ending. Not the best, but very readable.

“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” by Scott Lynch
One of two stories I read twice… mostly because I just discovered Scott Lynch and the Gentlemen Bastards series. This is a somewhat different setting.. a retired thief in a city run by Super-Wizards gets set an impossible task by one of the ruling council. Fantastic setting, I hope there are more of them in this universe.

“Bad Brass” by Bradley Denton
A contemporary humorous mystery, about a ring of thugs flogging stolen band instruments in a Texas town. The OTHER story I read twice. It was amusing, funny and kept me engaged throughout, and ends on an upbeat note.

“Ill Seen in Tyre” by Steven Saylor
I like Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder series, and the blase mention of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in this story had me hooked– really funny ending and perfect for the anthology theme. Kind of light.

“The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” by Lisa Tuttle
A Victorian feminine “Watson” character playing off a decidedly vaguely formed replacement Sherlock. as they investigate a ring of suspicious burials and disappearances. Much of the narrative returns to “a woman making it in a man’s world” themes, but the story passes over this to deliver a very mysterious tale of hypnotism and malice.

“How the Marquis Got His Coat Back” by Neil Gaiman
A shortish visit into the Neverwhere universe with Neil Gaiman. A very amusing narrative of an adventure of The Marquis of Carabas, the smooth talking rogue from Neverwhere, as he searches for his stolen coat in an adventure featuring mushroom people, an Elephant, and his sworn enemy. Quite amusing.

The other stories were certainly worthy, or at least that’s what my short term memory tells me. If I can’t remember much about them two weeks after reading them, draw your own conclusions. As it turns out I have already bought some follow on novels from some of the new discoveries I made in this anthology, so mission accomplished, Mr. Martin. You win this round!

View all my reviews

Ready Player One (A Review)


Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hmmm.. anti-hero geek stumblebum, living in a dystopic future, fighting off an evil corporation, whilst co-existing in the omnipresent virtual reality world addiction that the global population seems to be addicted to? Why does it all seem so familiar? Because we’ve read this stuff before, back when “Cyber punk” was new, in the late 80s. The difference is that the author, Ernest Cline, can weave a fantastic narrative larded with self-referential humor, unabashed 1980s nostalgia and a fourth wall of 80ish geek/hipster speak. It’s hard to explain unless you grew up in that era (I did). Every page is like old home week, with the author patiently explaining this or that cultural relic from a bygone age in the most earnest terms. It’s all very amusing being lectured to by the protagonist about what the Tomb of Horrors (TM) is or how to win playing Joust (TM). That is both a great strength and a great weakness. I loved this novel, and found myself chuckling reading it, but my children (who are growing up in an era with little in common with it) can’t understand why I think it’s so great. So I fear my four stars is for me and my kind alone. I appreciated the world building– having spent extensive time in Second Life, there was much to the notion of virtual worlds that I found familiar (I suspect Cline has spent time there, too), including the paranoia and potential disasters of intersecting real life with virtual life. I enjoyed it for my own part and all my 80s geek brethren, but I wonder if everyone else gets it. Steven Spielburg optioned RP1 for a movie and is actively pursuing making it, so we’ll see how well this story will play on the big screen. It’s exciting enough visually but cyberspace has never been a good cinematic story (so far). I wish them success.

I like RP1, and will definitely read more of Mr. Cline’s work– I have his next book (Armada) in the queue as we speak. I hope it translates well. By the by, I listened to an Audiobook version of RP1 and then read it again (which I do from time to time when I want to make sure I didn’t miss something). The Audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton, a genuinely great guy, but he comes off a bit.. I don’t know what.. smarmy? for the material. Just an observation. I like him and his works, but the narration was just a little too “cool kid making fun of myself” for me.

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The Empire of Man series, by Weber and Ringo, so far…


We Few (Empire of Man, #4)We Few by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have just finished the Empire of Man/Prince Roger series (so far), from book 2 March UpCountry to book 4 We Few. This is my second attempt at a David Weber series– the first being the Safehold series, which created such a poor opinion that I abandoned it mid-read. I know that SF fans seem to enjoy Honor Harrington and I admit I haven’t read any of those. I probably should have started there. Anyway, with the metaphorical bad taste in my mouth after Safehold I tried the March To the Sea (#2 in the Empire of Man series) since, well, the library had it in and it looked interesting. I’m very glad I did! This is more or less a review of the series (less the first book, the events of which I picked up from the rest of the easily enough).


March to the Sea (Empire of Man, #2) by David Weber

March to the Sea is the 2nd novel in the story of Prince Roger and his entourage of bodyguards and staff after they crashlanded on Marduke, a backwater planet in Imperial Space. Roger realizes they are in a wilderness on a hostile planet with only one spaceport that is very likely in hostile hands (after collusion with a competing empire, the Saints, is proven). The Prince and company will have to seize the spaceport and commandeer a ship to escape from Marduke. Unfortunately it’s on the OTHER side of the planet, and they will have to march their across a wilderness of various tribes and cultures of the Mardukans, a giant race of four armed natives. Along the way they face two barbarian hordes– in the first book and in the second. They encounter civilized Marducan cities once over the mountains (of the first book) and train them in the art of warfare– initially with pikes and then with rudimentary rifles.


March to the Stars (Empire of Man, #3) by David Weber

In March to the Stars, Roger and his diminishing company of bodyguards use their alliance with a rudimentary industrial city state (Quern’s Cove) to create a small fleet of ships capable of sailing across the ocean to the continent with the spaceport (and dealing with the ship-killing giant sea creatures on the way). On the far continent they encounter a cannibal cult, mountain tribes, settle a war and take on the star port. At this point Roger discovers a coup has taken place back on Earth and that he has been framed as the architect behind it.


We Few (Empire of Man, #4) by David Weber

In We Few, the now few survivors of the story (so far) are left to travel back to Old Earth and establish a counter-coup. This story is more political/social then the previous two (at least) and features a whiz bang of a space battle (very well written) towards the end, when the authors jump between various POV characters on both sides during the long engagement. There is much left undone at the end of the We Few and I suspect strongly there will be more novels in this series.

The Empire of Man series (so far) is a great read– full of adventure, sympathetic characters and interesting settings. As novels, they are far from perfect– I’ve noticed Weber stating/restating/re-re-stating expository bits again and again before, and he does that here as well, but this time, the trend is tempered by his collaboration with Ringo. Many plot points seem added in to fill out space and move things along. The core theme of the stories is redemption– redeeming Roger, who starts off as a spoiled bratty prince with little experience in the real world and turning him into a tough-as-nails, decisive leader. Along the way the authors get a little preachy from time to time and some of the dialogue is a tad stilted.. hell, even corny in places. But that’s just fine. They make up for it with big ideas, big battle scenes and evil villains galore. The human relationships depicted in the series are less well written– Roger seems to engender fanatical devotion (and love) in almost every sympathetic character he meets, which is mighty convenient for the story most of the time. Roger’s transformation into a steely-eyed hero with phenomenal enhanced reflexes and combat skills helps, too.

These are minor quibbles. I’d definitely read the next book in the Empire of Man when it hits the street– it’s been a while since I’ve read a good space opera, and the Empire of Man series delivers in spades.

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The Martian (a book), by Andrew Weir, Reviewed


The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Martian, by Andy Weir, is the author’s first published novel. Weir took an interesting route to publication– he started the Martian in 2009 and once offered it for free, than as a .99 Kindle book. Ha! If I had only known– not that I begrudged paying full price for it.

If you haven’t figured out the plot from the movie trailers that are just now showing up online, this is indeed a story of a Mars mission that encounters calamity and is forced through an odd series of mischances to leave a crewman behind them on Mars. The crewman, Mark Watney, had been left for dead. Now he has to figure out a way to survive for the long haul on Mars– until the next Mars mission shows up. Very fortunately for us readers, fate has picked the perfect person to survive on Mars. Watney is a botanist and a mechanical engineer, and very well suited to take what he has left (a Habitat – HAB.. which was designed to hold people for 35 days, now he has to live in it for years, some rovers and a lot of junk left over from the aborted mission) and survive for a truly long haul stay.

The novel is really a series of vignettes about solving problems associated with this particular situation, and how Watney bends his engineer/problem solving mind to solving problem after problem with an endless supply of cheerful optimism. Herein lies the success of this novel– Watney tells us his story as a series of log entries, usually right after something goes spectacularly wrong or right. He preps us for the next problem by running through the math and science of the problem and then provides an AAR for each disaster as it arises.. usually in a humorous fashion (“Well, that didn’t kill me, or I wouldn’t be typing this, would I?”). The strength of the novel– Watney’s personality and Tony Stark like attitude to fixing problems, is also its weakness. There are other characters in this novel, and they are largely shortchanged in Watney’s favor, reduced to being the means of explaining the current peril and powerless to do anything about it. We barely get the same read on them as we do on Watney.

With all that said. I loved the Martian.. I mean that.. I really, freaking, LOVED the Martian. I bought the ebook and read it at night under the covers. I started it and was halfway done in less than a day. I reread portions. Yes, there will be a movie this Fall and from what I can see they are more or less faithful to the novel. I look forward to seeing it.

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Balticon 49: A short visit Saturday


Gar and I headed up to Balticon at the venerable Hunt Valley Inn last weekend, for a day visit.  We were a little stymied when we discovered the indie film festival was on Sunday and we went on a Saturday.  Call it faulty memory– maybe we DID go up on Sunday last  year? (yes we did; should have read the online program first)  Oh well, we didn’t let that dim the luster.

Impressions: For starters, B49 seemed very lightly attended.  It wasn’t the standard cheek by jowl situation in the Salon areas, and the usual mob of costumery seemed greatly diminished.  I like Science Fiction conventions quite a bit, but I’ve never been one of the faithful– meaning, I don’t wear costumes, I don’t “filk”, I don’t wear a lot of buttons.  So SF Con Fandom isn’t really my thing– I’m not part of that culture.   I read books, and I like SF authors, and like to hear them talk, and I buy books.  So that’s what I come to a convention for– and maybe see indie films and play some games.   In that respect, we were only partially successful, but that’s fine.

There were two writer GOH’s I wanted to see, Chuck Gannon and Jack McDevitt, but I missed both.  I did buy a book of each of theirs however.  FireFall by Gannon and the reissue of The Hercules Text from McDevitt.

The Con Suite was a big disappointment.  The munchies budget was clearly halved.  No WiFi signal in the Con Suite, which was very annoying.  Still, it’s a nice place to collect and plan our precious hours, so we mapped out our day.  I went to the Dealer’s area and bought some books from vendors who I don’t normally see on Amazon.  I also made a point of buying three books from the late great C.J. Henderson, whom I liked and will miss.  C.J.’ s wife and family incurred lots of expense in the final stages of his illness so every little bit helps.    I also sat in on his memorial service at the convention.  I certainly hope C.J.’s work remains in print and someone (not necessarily his wife) continues selling his titles.

I didn’t hit every panel talk I wanted to– I went to a Pulp discussion that was notionally about C.J.’s work but ranged far and wide, and was very engaging.  I enjoyed it.  I followed that up with dropping in to see a little of the anime film Princess Mononoke but as I  A) had seen this film multiple times and B) was falling asleep in the back, much to my son’s embarrassment, I nipped out to the next talk, which was on the Ancient Art of Celestial Navigation and Land-Finding, as practiced by Polynesians.   This was very interesting indeed.    The professor (a public scholar from the Smithsonian Institution Museum of the Native Americas) was a great speaker and projected his enthusiasm for the subject to his rapt audience.  A very fortuitous find.  After that, we were hungry, so we went to Wegman’s to get the buffet and make use of the WiFi.

Since we were at sixes and sevens not being able to make the Film Festival unless we spent the night, so I suggested we try Mr. John Montrie’s RPG session about Victorian Horror using Howard Whitehouse’s Dashing Adventure rules.  Garrett readily agreed and this activity proved to be the high point of the day.  We were using minimal rules/maximum storytelling approaches to the game– Howard’s rules are very forgiving.   The scenario was pretty cut and dried– we were a team of trouble makers sent to a mansion to investigate the recent ghost sightings reported there.  I played “Biggles” the Pilot, and I played him increasingly skeptical of the events transpiring at the castle.  We played it all the way through to the end, and part of my prediction (that the former owner of the estate was somehow caught up in the hauntings) would come true.  Even if there was a leprechaun.   It was a very satisfying conclusion,and thus we drove homeward, it being elevenish.

Despite a low attendance and a bad con suite, I enjoyed myself and so did Garrett.  We tried something new (RPG games at a convention) and got a decent return for our buck.  There were rumors of Balticon moving into the inner harbor next year– not sure what to make of them.  The only convention I’ve been associated with that tried to go to the Inner Harbor (convention center) ended up losing 30K plus.  I hope the planners have thought of everything.  I’d still be inclined only to do a day trip under those circumstances, and maybe only once, if the parking is too astronomical.  As it tends to be.

So that was my Balticon 49.. kind of a shade of what it once was, but still enjoyable.

Road Warrior / White Line Fever update ver 2.2 to 2.4


Just a quick note. RW/WLF has been updated, from version 2.2 to version 2.4. This update covers oil slicks and road debris, and as well as adding the one shot heavy rocket to the arsenal. There are also some rules for limiting the game based on ammunition expenditure and a point-based victory point system (the last two optional appendices).

Anyway, you can find it in the standard places, under DIGITAL RULES on the DIGITAL RULES page. See that handy tab at the top of this page.

Future Tank v. 1.06 draft available for review


Click me for an Epub!

Now I’m still not 100% satisfied by any stretch, but I think I have a good start on Future Tank here.  If you’d like to take a look, a draft copy is available here as an EPUB file (only).  Please get back to me with suggestions.

Things to remember.. the audience for this will be youngsters, probably the oldest will be 15.  It looks like I’ll be handling all the umpire chores, and we might have as many as 17 kids this year.  It is more near future than far future in setting– that’s the kind of stuff I know about.  The literary style may be a little uneven, as I started with Jim Wallman’s Tank Duel and quickly went off on a tangent.  I hope you enjoy tinkering with it.

THIS IS A DRAFT.  I AM NOT DISTRIBUTING THE FINAL YET

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


Click for larger view

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

Challenges

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

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

Click to enlarge (the next four)

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

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

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

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

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

Related:

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