Category Archives: Science Fiction

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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)

TRANSITION, by Iain M. Banks (a short review)


TransitionTransition by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a late find for me. I’ve read most of Iain Banks’ novels at this stage, both the Culture universe novels and the more subtle thought-provoking non-SF ones. Transitionnever really registered on my radar for some reason. Transition is a far cry from Banks’ early Science Fiction series– both Culture and Culture kinda-sorta stories. Rather than a galactic soap-opera featuring privileged elites shuttling from crisis point to crisis point in the Galaxy on gigantic space ships, Transition is about the multiverse, or the theory that there are an infinity of universes that exist simultaneously. A shadowy organization called the Concern has learned how to jump from universe to universe, using a drug called septus. Two factions are warring with the Concern, the talented, ruthless Madame D’Ortolan and the talented, but more reasonable Mrs. Mulvahill. There are many characters in this novel and the story jumps from one to the other, often shifting narrative form from memoir to first person action story.

I’ve rarely felt the sensation of “That’s it? that’s all?” when I turned the last page of a Banks novel; this was a first for me. Banks spends an inordinate amount of time in building the setting (world building isn’t a term that applies– worlds-building might, though). We change from POV characters Adrian and Temujin Oh, and the Philosopher and a patient who clearly had previous ties with the Concern. There’s a great sense of building in this novel, but the payoff seems frenetic and rushed. I did NOT get the sense that Transition was any great commentary on our present times– OUR Earth, it turns out, is just one of the multiple universes and not a very important one at that.

For all that, it was an enjoyable change of pace from an author that wrote galaxy-spanning epics. I thought the setting was great and some of the characters were top notch (particularly the villainous Madame D’ortolan) but their nothing is really fully explained. We have a suggestion of just WHY the Concern exists (towards the ending), but no explanation. We know the motivations of the parties involved, but never is the WHY? explained anywhere. Personally, I wouldn’t rate it among Banks’ better works but it is eminently readable and enjoyable in its own right.

View all my reviews

Review: COMING HOME by Jack McDevitt


Coming Home (Alex Benedict, #7)Coming Home by Jack McDevitt   (Alex Benedict #7)-

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve said many times (often, in reviews on Goodreads.com) that a day with a bad McDevitt novel beats a day with no McDevitt novel whatsoever. The last two or three Alex Benedict novels haven’t been bad, exactly, but they have struck me as increasingly repetitive. COMING HOME follows closely on the heels of FIREBIRD, and the two share plot elements, particularly about the disappearing ships plot thread. The standard McDevitt plot structure is in play here (see my Firebird review for a rehash of it all), so there are no great surprises.

COMING HOME is probably the first novel where I’ve actually sort of egged on the author to get past the expected twists and turns of the standard plot structure and get to the meat of it all– when a mysterious white skimmer shows up to shoot up Chase and Alex at one point in the story, I found myself saying “Yeah, right, we all know they are going to get past that.. so move on why don’t you?”

I won’t reveal much about the plot, except to say that the big McGuffin this time is a mysterious long-lost cache of Earth artifacts, from the early days of space exploration. This gives McDevitt a chance to write a novel set on Earth in the far future, after severe climatic change and political/social evolution has had its effect. As the artifacts being sought are largely from the 20th and 21st century, we get to see the past from the perspective of someone searching for knowledge we take for granted as readers. It’s an interesting literary device– for instance, we learn that in the far future, only a relative handful of Shakespeare’s plays survive intact. Coming Home is also the most self-referential of the novels so far, as it features Chase Kolpath discovering the life of Priscilla Hutchens, the star of the other big McDevitt series. Hutch lived millenia before Kolpath, it turns out. A nice Easter Egg. For the first time, as well, Chase mentions writing her memoirs in the real time narrative so we experience Alex’s reaction to them.

Fair Warning, SPOILER ahead. The other great reveal, the one we have been building up to since Firebird, was the rescue of Alex’s Uncle Gabe from the hyperspatial rift his passenger liner fell into 20 years previous. When it actually happens, it’s kind of a non-event. For such an influential character throughout the series, Gabe kind of comes off as a non-starter. He’ll need fleshing out in later books.

SUMMARY: Coming Home wasn’t my favorite of the Alex Benedict series of novels. It was solid and workmanlike, but the repetitiveness is starting to become increasingly obvious with every novel and that is starting to affect my enjoyment of them.

View all my reviews

ARES #1 has arrived


One Small Step’s KICKSTARTER ARES #1 arrived last night. I really didn’t have time to do a thorough examination of the contents, but it broke down like this:

MOSTLY science fiction short stories and articles. Nicely laid out, perfect bound. Haven’t read anything yet, Hope there’s some talent in the stable.

ARES #1 cover

One gaming insert, WAR OF THE WORLDS by Bill Banks.  Not much on this yet, either.    It’s hex-based, individual units of the standard Artillery, Infantry and Cavalry mix versus units of Tripods– hard to say what size yet.  Hexagonal counters.  Large hexes. Folded map insert, counter insert.

Cover page of insert game, WAR OF THE WORLDS by Bill Banks

Overall a very nice first effort. They’re really pushing to get a subscription (which is in the neighborhood of a hundred bucks). I may just purchase the next one to see if they can continue to keep up the standard and decide then. I’m a big fan of the idea of a SCIENCE FICTION based magazine with game in every issue, and this is the first one of these since, well, since OSS’s own GAMEFIX was being published (most of their games were SF, near future or just kind of silly).

I’ll try to get some time in to do a solitaire game review of War of the Worlds next week, God Willing and the creeks don’t rise.

The Things, by Peter Watts (audio)


Today is the thirty-second anniversary of the release of John Carpenter’s movie THE THING, which was the second attempt at filming John W. Campbell‘s classic Short Story “Who Goes There” as a film.  The first, as the SF cogniscenti will surely inform us, was “The Thing From Another World” starring James Arness (pre-Matt Dillon) as the titular alien, who was more of a classic horror boojum than 1982’s horrific polymorphic alien.

Gad!  32 years ago!!  I thought I’d celebrate the anniversary by citing Peter Watts’ excellent 2010 short story “The Things”, which appeared in Clarkesworld magazine and actually was nominated for a Hugo Award.  The Things assumes the viewpoint of the “monster” as a terrified organism that’s attempting to commune with humanity, but it shocked and saddened by what it assumes to be our rampant xenophobia.

Text here

or hear it via spoken word (MP3, Clarkesworld Audio fiction podcast)

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/podpress_trac/web/372/0/clarkesworld_01_10_watts.mp3″

Give this a listen, it’s a great story that evokes a classic movie from a brand new angle!