Tag Archives: Christmas

Mind Reading Experiment

Let’s do a mind-meld.  See my shirt?

Yeah, I know, I’m a real great model.  Dead sexy!

Imagine you’re a tiny, doll-sized person. Standing on the green circle with an X on it, imagine a number between 5 and 20. Starting with the FIRST BLANK GREEN CIRCLE, Walk that number of circles around the circle the same number of circles as your number. Stop. Reverse. Walk that same number of circles back, staying in the circle of white symbols until you hit your number.

Next, think real hard about your symbol, and Email or Comment me with a single word describing it.. SQUARE, MOON, CIRCLE, etc. Here’s the thing.  I’ve already guessed your answer and I’ll visualize my response back to you with an image– circle, square, triangle etc. Tell me if I’m right or not.  You may have to email me to not spoil for the next person.

Or, what the heck, just check here.  Was I correct?

Please, no snarky comments.  Sure, it’s a trick, and a danged fine one.  Thank you, Richard Wiseman.


2014 Annual Digital Christmas Card!

It really wouldn’t be Christmas without an annual digital Christmas card for all the people I didn’t get around to mailing a paper card to..  so here you go! (Note, this used to be just for wargamers, now we’re a little more inclusive)

Have a safe, healthy, and happy 2015.. you can “count” on it!

Gift Giving to strangers in the Internet Age

I haven’t been posting much this month, and for that I have to apologize.  There’s been a glut of health problems within my family, myself included.  It’s been distracting and blogging just hasn’t been on the front burner for me.  I’m going to try to get in front of that and and metaphorically, step out on the good foot.

So, let’s talk about modern gift giving via the Internet.  I’ve done (and posted on) the BGG Secret Santa tradition before.  You probably are acquainted with the classic Christmas party game that happens at most office parties you’ll attend this season (or have attended).  Everyone brings a small gift worth X amount of dollars, puts them under a tree.. and the referee marks them with numbers.. calls the numbers and people come forward one by one.  They can either take a gift off the table or steal anyone’s gift up to 3 times.  That’s the gist of it.

Boardgame Geek Christmas Secret Santa "Badges".  One for every year of its existence, since 2006, plus Wargaming Secret Santa since 2012.

My Boardgame Geek Christmas Secret Santa “Badges”. One for every year of its existence, since 2006, plus Wargaming Secret Santa since 2012.  Plus the Christmas Gift Card Exchange, last two years.

With the internet as all pervasive as is is, it’s no wonder that a variant of Secret Santa (minus the *stealing problem, which would be difficult to implement anonymously via the internet) was going to happen sooner or later.   Boardgamegeek.com has been particularly generous in this regard– they’ve run a Secret Santa program for almost a decade now, and I’ve participated enthusiastically since its inception– there are now several spin-off Secret Santa programs on BGG, including the Wargame Secret Santa (Santa Grognard) and even a Christmas Card exchange, which I’ve also participated in for the last two years running.   I was bowled over this year — my regular Secret Santa gave me the Battle of Five Armies (FFG/Nexus Version) as well as Ted Alspach’s  One Night Ultimate Werewolf. My Wargame Secret Santa gave me GMT’s new Berg/Herman design Hoplite, the newish game about the cult comic Corto,  and a game I’ve been drooling over for years, the re-themed version of mathematician Robert Abbot’s (formerly paper) game, Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War.   I was speechless when these arrived– that’s an amazingly generous present– I felt like a piker buying a single game for MY Secret Santa targets– but that’s what I could afford.

Reddit Gifts exchange 2014.  This tradition is a spin-off of the main site reddit.com, and has been ongoing for the last 6 years.

Reddit Gifts exchange 2014. This tradition is a spin-off of the main site reddit.com, and has been ongoing for the last 6 years.

I tried something new in 2014– the Reddit Gift Exchange.  This is a spin-off of sorts from the popular overarching internet commentary site (the so-called front door to the Internet).  Functionally, it runs very similar to BGG Secret Santa exchanges, up to and including posting proof you shipped something (which I did) and some form of response about the gift you received in return (which I haven’t.. it hasn’t showed up yet).  I liked the idea of maybe reaching out to a broader set of people than the gaming geeks I normally hang out with, and it is a challenge to read the likes and dislikes of a real, honest to goodness stranger who likely doesn’t like the same stuff you do.   Here’s a sample of the profile my target/assigned target filled in, from which I need to get clues from about what to get her:

Likes or Dislikes: I’m into outdoor sports, art, sex, fashion….sometimes. I’m a smart, athletic, successful woman that can geek out or smoke out.

HobbiesI run, paint, watch comedy, dance at shows, bike, hike, and hammock

Favorite Books/Authors: literature regarding psychosis and things like body language or birth order.

This is definitely a woman whom I’m going to have a little difficulty finding a common dialogue with!  Where does one find books about psychosis or birth order that she hasn’t read already?  I’m not going to have much luck with the “smoke out”, sex, athletic, dance at shows, bike, hike, or hammock clues, either.  I suspect she gets pot easier than I can (as she lives in CO), and unless I gifted her a sex toy, new biking shoes or a new hammock, I don’t think I’m going to ring any of the other bells either.  In the end, I jumped on this clue like a drowning man grasping at straws:

If you could learn one skill, what would you learn?

I’d like to learn how to play the harmonica

So I sent her a harmonica, the Idiot’s guide to playing the Harmonica, and some beef sausages (cuz she says she likes meat).  She hasn’t posted about receiving my present (though I know it was delivered), so the jury is still out about whether she liked it.

The jury is still out on Redditgifts.  The site seems geared to sell you stuff to send to your targets more than managing exchanges– which is okay I guess, that part is easily ignored.  It’s a lot more confusing than the BGG exchange, and I didn’t figure out how to communicate with my target anonymously at all– that’s a fun part of the BGG exchange.

Aside from a rather rushed Gift Card exchange (which I really do enjoy), that’s been about it for my experience exchanging presents with strangers in 2014.   Why do I like being involved in this tradition?    Honestly it really has very little to do with getting keen new stuff.  I have always loved the idea of sending a little something to a total stranger with no danger of him or her ever figuring out who I was.  If you’ll indulge me a scriptural reference from Matthew 6:1 (my favorite):

1 “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in  heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give gifts, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give gifts, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gifts may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received  their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward  you.

“Sure,” you’re saying.. don’t trumpet your gift-giving, but here you are blogging about it“.  It’s not really about the give and take and I really don’t need the approval of anonymous blog readers about sending people presents.  After all, I’m getting one (sometimes many!) in return.  I just like the idea that the recipient will receive something nice from a total and complete stranger (me) and never know who sent it to him/her.   Maybe it’s some form of karma balance.. who am I to say.

So if I don’t see you until after the Holidays, MERRY CHRISTMAS and a safe, healthy and prosperous New Year!

* Stealing.. hmm.. how hard WOULD this be to implement on the internet?  You’d have to maintain a database that would represent “the Tree”, where the gifts are kept.  You’d have to “open” the gifts by posting them to a public forum.  The current player would have the choice of “Going to the Tree” (database) to reveal a NEW present, or making a STEAL ATTEMPT on a present already claimed (this could be done up to N times, then the gift is safe).   It strikes me that you could work this up as a pretty fun little internet pasttime with the right web code and database back end.   The problem would be in scaling it– the vast numbers of people participating in the Reddit Secret Santa would make an internet-based stealing game a practical impossibility.  It would take far too long.  However, a smaller pod of players, say less than 60, might be able to get an internet game done in about 3 days.  Something to think about.  

A Golden Hope Christmas (Audio)

Words by Robert Howard, narration by your humble narrator.. it’s a Golden Hope Christmas.

Robert E. Howard

A GOLDEN HOPE CHRISTMAS was famed pulp writer (and creator of CONAN) Robert E. Howard’s first professional sale. He won a cash prize for having his story published in the Tattler, the Brownville High School newspaper, in 1922. A Golden Hope is by no means the best of Howard’s literary efforts, but one can discern the seeds of the writer that Howard would grow up to be in this short Christmas themed effort. A Golden Hope was the December “group read” for my Goodreads Robert Howard Fans group.

The full text is HERE.

To hear the audio, press the play button below

If you are on Facebook or don’t have flash, visit the Airy Persiflage site link HERE.

Merry Christmas!

Annual Christmas Card for Wargamers 2012 edition

Once again, in keeping with the Season, I have lots of friends I’ve made online and not enough time or swag to send a Christmas card to all of you. So please consider my ANNUAL Christmas Card for Wargamers (this year, we’ll have to assume that it’s wargamers that like to play a little ARKHAM HORROR now and then).  (click to en-biggen)


As always, Merry Christmas to all my friends and acquaintances, I hope that 2013 brings you happiness, health and prosperity.

A surprising life lesson from ThinkGeek.com

I like to shop at ThinkGeek.com, though I often I have to talk myself out of buying stuff I see in the pages there. To quote my friend Carol Kocian: “Wow! Neat! That’s the coolest thing I’ll never buy!” on a recent ThinkGeek item I posted to my Facebook wall. Self restraint is a good thing; it teaches me spiritual discipline, to reject the life of shallow materialism, and on a practical note, I don’t end up with a basement full of TaunTaun sleeping bags. This Christmas, Thinkgeek offered up an item that was eminently affordable, amusing yet practical, and as a bonus, it offered up a surprising life lesson at the end of the day– at no extra charge.

ThinkGeek Puzzle Gift Card Vault: Highly Recommended

I’m talking about the ThinkGeek Puzzle Gift Card Vault, of course. Only 4.99 for sheer deviltry in a plastic box. The concept is quite simple. The vault is shipped in an “Open” state. One simple opens the vault, slides in up to three pristine gift cards into the vault, and then slides the plastic toggle to “closed” state. This releases a tiny metal bb into a clear plastic maze that is over the card itself. One has to simply follow the maze until the ball drops into the “Unlock” position, and slide the toggle back to “Open”. Sound easy? Well, it is, if you are patient enough. The puzzle is slightly more challenging then a standard crackerjack toy in that the sides of the box add a second layer for the ball to drop into, then back up again, which can insert the ball beyond a barrier in the main puzzle. A nice three dimensional add-on, as it were.

My intentions were serene when I gave the kids gift cards in the card vaults– to add a little humor and a soupçon of challenge to what has become an otherwise routine, almost banal pastime: exchanging gifts at Christmas-time. Instead of the pro-forma “what did Santa leave you in the toe of your stockings?”, I now had a REAL CHALLENGE!! The results were interesting. ONE child took the puzzle apart with contemptuous ease– patiently looking at the puzzle, deducing the path that needed to be followed and consequently solved it in about 7 minutes max. The OTHER child, by contrast, rapidly lost patience (even though there were 3, count ’em, THREE gift cards contained inside). The ball shakily moved through the maze, the recipient got increasingly impatient and frustrated.. shook it furiously, and threatened a teenaged tantrum. “Oh well, I’m done.. I just won’t use it then!” followed by “This…. is soooo mean!” Then, dare I say it, a little snuffling. Well, both myself and the other child present felt a little bad about that, and an offer of assistance was granted. As you might guess, the puzzle was solved in point-blimfark.

And what did we learn here today, kids? Later, I was complimenting spawn number 2 in abstentia for rapid puzzle solving ability and gently chiding spawn number 1 for a perceived lack of patience. Spawn number 1 interjected and said:

“But I solved it too, you know”
“No you didn’t! It had you reduced to tears!”
“Exactly. I solved it by crying until Spawn #2 felt bad enough to solve it for me!”
“WHAT!? You did that on purpose?”

I was a little floored by that, but realized this spawn was correct. That was a solution. Perhaps not one I would follow or even think of– I’d take a hammer to it before I’d admit defeat. Yet, it was, in its own peculiar way, a method of solving a puzzle. When I mentioned this method to Spawn 2, the response was red-faced embarrassment and anger: “Dad, we got used faster than one ply toilet paper!” The suggestion was made to take all three cards back and lock them in the vault and force Spawn 1 to solve it without assistance of any sort this time, but I refrained from resorting to the Code of Solomon. Spawn 1 had, after all, arrived at a solution. Such a Machiavellian maneuver from one so young!

Enhanced by Zemanta

2011 Nigel Clarke Invitational Christmas Game

I honestly thought I was boned, trying to get to the annual Nigel Clarke game.  This is the Christmas event my gaming group, the TNGG people, throw pretty close to the end of the year.   The last few years have featured a re-themed CIRCUS MAGICUS race (“Circus Santicus”), and as far back as 2005 I even put one on, THE DARK SECRET OF SANTA TOWN.   End of the year games tend to be pretty goofy, high concept, low on rules and universally about Winter or Christmas.  Hosting duties this year were assumed by Steve Gibson, an old hand at the Christmas game.   Steve’s offering this year was Christmas zombies. Steve runs a lot of Zombie games, using the Ares Fantasy rules.



that’s a whole lot of zombies.


Ares Rulebook

We’ve played in Steve’s zombie games before and they usually are modern affairs set in a universe somewhat similar to Resident Evil.  Not this time!  This game was the Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge.  Small units from both the German and American armies blunder into a terror greater than any horror of war they could possibly imagine in the midst of a driving snow storm.

The Map

American and German troops start the game on the move– the Americans have two halftracks, one of which is disabled, the other has run out of gas and ammunition (a common theme in the Ardennes). The Germans also have a halftrack, which is on fumes.  There are three German units, all squad sized.  One enters from the top right corner of the map above, and ends up beset by a zombie horde.  Another is in the half track.  Another is taking refuge in building 1.  Most Americans ended up in buildings 2 or 3.  I ended up making a beeline for 2, then changing my mind when it became clear that zombies were present, so I made for the much smaller and more open building 4.   I entered from the bottom left corner.

Inistial move, my corner of the board

The rules were ARES Fantasy combat miniatures rules with some zombie detection and generation rules influenced by ALL THINGS ZOMBIE. I’ve played it before, and found the basic framework easy enough to understand, except for combat, which I had to watch carefully to grasp. I arrived late, so missed the initial couple of turns, but Steve graciously made a space for me in the game. Alas, my force wasn’t exactly a group of hard chargers. They were a small headquarters division, green soldiers except for the veteran sergeant I had along with us.

My Jeep only made it so far.

And they drove in directly from the Southeast Corner, as mentioned.

not exactly GI Joes

My guys were HQ soldiers, not exactly G.I. Joes. I had two green rifle squad guys and an experienced Sergeant with a Thompson SMG.  Fortunately I was entering the map with the only vehicle with sufficient gas in it.  My first encounter was with an advancing horde of reinforcing zombies, so I had to find shelter, fast.  The primary victory condition for any side was surviving through the upcoming snowstorm, which made the combat conditions less than optimal.

Grenade City!

The battle was brief actually.  There were more shots fired between Americans and Germans than humans and zombies.  Both German units in contact with the Americans were what I would characterize as “Grenade Happy”, tossing potato mashers at the Americans all willy-nilly.  This did a number on the Americans, but also did a fine job of attracting more zombies, much to everyone’s chagrin.

Bunkering down

Bunkering down as best I could

Enhanced by ZemantaI got my little HQ team to Building 4, where we prepared to climb up the stairs, barricade ourselves in on top of the stairs and be besieged by a ravening horde all evening, all the while trying to deal with staying alive in a blizzard when half the building is gone.  Other forces on the table were retreating to the safety of the houses, except for the German halftrack (which was highly zombie resistant) and the German squad in the upper right corner, which got surrounded and wiped out. See below for their fate.

So long, Germans!

The other American Squads eventually clustered in Building 2, which had the best shelter available and fewer entrances for zombies to assail.  They had the best shot at surviving the night.

Non Motorized Germans bunkering in

The other Germans, above, managed to make it building 1, and probably had a decent shot of surviving.

German Half Track winner

The halftrack, as seen above, was last seen exiting the area with every ounce of horsepower they could muster, followed by a giant horde of slaverng goons. I guess they might be “the winner”, but I suspect the ‘track only got a mile or so before running out of gas completely and being beset on all sides by the undead.

Simple concept, simple enough rules, great presentation. The Christmas theme was terrific, maybe the best yet. Hats off to Steve Gibson (and children) for putting this one on.

Chris Gibson sums it up like this: zombieswantbrainsforxmas.mp3

And Merry Christmas, Nigel!

Annual Christmas Card for Wargamers 2011 edition

I don’t have the time or postage to mail each and every one of the extended group of family and friends out there all over the internet and around the world, so here’s my annual tradition of preparing an electronic version for easy distribution.
Christmas Card 2012

Wishing you and yours a happy, successful, and peaceful New Year.  Be safe and well, and thank you for your friendship.

Christmas Card 2012

… and little more need be said.

Another Yuletide Ritual

Little MatchGirl

The Poor Little Matchgirl..

Growing up, we had our rituals for Christmas time.  One of them was to play a scratchy old long playing record of spoken word christmas stories– “A Pickwick Christmas” narrated by Charles Laughton on one side, “A Christmas Carol” narrated by Ronald Coleman on the other.  Another ritual was to read to us the Story of the Poor Little Matchgirl, by Hans Christian Anderson.  The story ceratinly isn’t a Yuletide favorite, as it ends in tragedy, but I remember thinking that perhaps we were being read this as an abject lesson to appreciate what we have in life, or perhaps there was some connection with “Christmas Magic” at the end.  I’m not sure what “lesson” this story was trying to teach us as children.  It seems a little melancholy to me, but I”m used to it.   In any event, here is a recording of THE POOR LITTLE MATCHGIRL, by Anderson, as read by your humble narrator.



Tom Vasel, and a little mass-market Zen for the holidays

I have participated in the Boardgamegeek‘s SECRET SANTA PROGRAM for the last three years


Ho Ho HO!

running.  The mechanics are elegant.  As a member of Boardgamegeek (BGG), we all automatically generate “wish” lists over the items that we wish to mentally bookmark but don’t have the time or money to get to at the moment.   Over the course of a few years, a member can get a rather large wish list going.. some things get deleted, other things get added, things get demoted from “I’ve got to have it” to “eh, maybe I’d look at it” after you’ve grown disenchanted with something.  My wish list is here, for example (no, I’m not trolling). In short, a wish list morphs over time, but the big ticket items at the top of the list are usually items listed as “I have to have this“.

The Secret Santa Program is the work of Tom “Dice Tower” Vasel, who is a one man game reviewing machine living in South Korea– with the generous participation of the owners and operators of BoardGameGeek and several vendors that cooperate every year by shipping presents to targets anonymously.  I can’t imagine how much time must go into the effort of making a large scale (worldwide!) effort like this possible.  All I know is that I surely do appreciate it.

Thanks again for your effort, Tom Vasel.  And I’m happy to report I sent an order in for MY Secret Santa target within fifteen minutes of being assigned it– from his or her “Must Have” group .  No, I will not post details of who he or she is, what he or she wanted, or even what state the target lives in.  I made that mistake the first year.  I love the idea that the target will never know who I am, other than the phrase “Secret Santa”.  It’s like sending out a little anonymous kharma to the universe.

Notes for Next Week’s Christmas Game

NORTHOP 2006: Return to the Pole*

As some of you might remember from next year, Harry Morris and I ran a Christmas game for our TNGG club at the Game Parlor, Chantilly Va. I really enjoyed that one and wanted to put together a sequel of sorts. So here it is, NORTHOP 2006: Return to the Pole*.

As you might recall, last years’ game ended with a decisive North Pole victory due to Sam Walton underestimating his opponents in an uncharacteristic fashion. This year, he hopes to put that behind him by doubling his forces and bringing in the Chanukah Gang as Allies. Walton’s primary target will be taking out Santa’s toy factory with ancilliary targets of taking as many presents with him when the raiding force exfiltrates (industrial espionage, of course)

Design Notes:

We will likely be changing from TRWNN (which worked after a fashion but proved to be somewhat unbalanced) to BLOOD AND SWASH, heavily converted. Here are some conversion and scenario notes for next week.


Walt has:

For the North Pole Force:

Several Armed Elves from the Amazon line
A decent (unarmed) painted Father Christmas (acts like a leader)
2 Mounties (reserve figs.. they have rifles)
Professor Marvel and the Naughty Elf (controlling snowmen)
A couple of unpainted Copplestone evil snowmen
more Elves from Amazon (recent purchase)
About a squad (12 figs maybe) of the new Eureka toy soldiers, unpainted
A Horde (dozens) of gingerbread people, wielding candy canes

For the Wal*Mart Force:
Two squads unpainted hassidic gunmen (The Channukah Gang)
TWO Wal*Mart trucks this year
One large batch (approx 20 figs) “Longshoremen’s Union” figures


Many many gingerbread houses (ceramic)
miscelaneous presents and such
some hills

Harry has:

For the North Pole Force:

Evil Snowmen from Copplestone
Teddy Bear troops?
Santa with a bazooka
2 “Bumbles” or abominable snowmen, from the Rudolph show (souveniers).

For the Wal*Mart Force:

About three squads (maybe four) of SWAT figures, in different colors.


A nice white felt groundcloth with sparklies in it.
Some christmas packages in scale.
A nice large Ruined Factory
Diverse little hills and snowbanks, styrofoam

Steve Gibson has:

The new glacier terrain bits from Heroscape
(more SWAT Guys?)

Combining this all together, we get a force that looks like this:


Santa (Commanding) Santa can move independently or stop and command any North Pole Force on the board, including the beasts and snowmen.
Sherman, Lead Elf and Executive Officer (Commands , 9″ radius)

About 15 Armed Elves. Each Elf can command up to 3 stands of gingerpeople previously dormant (not commanded this turn) Gingerpeople stands. Once a gingerperson stand is commanded, a bead is placed upon it to show that.

Professor Marvel, Naughty Elf and the Evil Snowmen. The Professor commands Snowmen to do things in his turn. He can move and command up to 4″ radius. Naughty Elf (a girl) can beguile once a turn, which means the opposing unit rolls versus save or loses an action this turn. She works in tandem with the professor.

Mounties: two Canadian Mounties, 1 mounted and 1 not. Both with rifles. Use as reserve.
Bumbles: Abombinable Snowmen toys. Large Beserk Melee beasts. can be commanded by Santa, Sherman, and Professor Marvel. Use as reserve.

The Ginger Horde: Dozens of stands of gingerpeople, in single, double and triple stands. They wield melee weapons only and have to be controlled by elves or Santa.

Toy Soldier Platoon: Act like ordinary unit, but don’t take morale checks for unit losses (other than leader).

Teddy Bear Unit: Act like ordinary unit, but they ignore the first hit of the game.


Leader: Ebenezer Walton
Captain Diaz: Executive Officer.

Grey Squad: About 5-7 guys with modern weapons.
White Squad: Ditto
Blue Squad: DItto

We may need more of these.

Longshoreman thugs. About 15 to 20 gangs of melee thugs. Can be split into two groups if neccesary.

Conversion Notes for Blood and Swash:

Changing Character Labels

Swashbuckler = Mythic Hero
Hero = Hero
Swordsman = Veteran
Man-at-Arms = Stooge
New Category = Drone
New Category = Berserker

A Drone has stats similar to the other categories, but has to be directed by OTHER characters to take actions.
E.G., Gingerbread people

A Berserker requires a controller.. but when it isn’t being controlled it can act in a random (often vicious) manner.


Good Guys

Santa: Mythic Hero
Sherman: Hero
All the Elves: Hero
Professor Marvel: Veteran
Wooden Soldiers: Veterans
Teddy Bears: Veterans
Naughty Elf: Veteran
Mounties: Hero and Veteran
Bumbles: Berserker
Snowmen: Drone
Gingerbread Men: Drones

Bad Guys

Ebenezer Walton: Mythic Hero
Captain Diaz: Hero
All the SWAT guys: Hero
Longshoremen: Veteran
The Chanukah Gang: Veteran + Hero

Battleplan: One factor that hampered Wal*Mart’s progress last year was the terrain stopping the truck outside of the village. Walton has doubled the trucks, and plans on penetrating as far into the perimeter of NPV before deploying his teams. IT should be interesting, and a lot bloodier for the Santa side!

* ..

NOTE: Steve rightly pointed out that NORTHOP 06 didn’t sound macho enough, so we’re changing this to OPERATON POLAR VENGEANCE: The Battle of the Factories

God Bless Us, Every One

Annie looks thrilled, doesn’t she?
We stayed around here for the holiday. I went over to my parents Christmas Eve. Usually, I’m a bit defensive at these things, this time I had a blast. My brother and sister inlaw were pleasant to to talk to. I sure do pity my nephew, though. He’s a gymnast, and the conversation got ’round to how my brother takes him (my nephew) out to a gymnastics center in my neighborhood (right next to where I catch the train every day), and wouldn’t it be cool if we (my brother and I) went somewhere to “work out” while my nephew as at practice? I inquired how often he went… the answer was every day, from six to ten. That’s a hell of a workout.. oh well, maybe we’ll see a future Olympian there.

It was good to see my cousin Danny; he’s an artist and professor in NYC, married to the lovely Marjan, also an artist (I performed their marriage ceremony six years ago). Danny’s turning into quite the numismatist. He gave us all silver dollar coins from various eras– I got a “Fat Man Dollar” from China, circa 1904.

My sister is always fun to hang out with (and I’ve always enjoyed her partner, Lynne). We performed the “Schwetty Balls” skit together from Saturday Night live’s “Delicious Dish NPR” bit for my somewhat shocked relatives.

We went home; Drey and I did the wrapping/packaging Santa thing. The next morning, we popped in the Yule Log:

… and woke everyone up to come downstairs.

And What did Santa bring us? The kids did alright; Gar got a Robo Raptor, Anne got her Ipod (*Shuffle), which we still can’t seem to get to work. Gar got a cool rocket from my folks that turns tap water into hydrogen rocket fuel. We’re going out to try it today. Anne got lots of girly stuff– makeup, clothes, etc. I also got them lots of small things from Archie McPhee. I got Drey (mostly) jewelry– you can’t go wrong there, plus a few items that she likes every year, books and such (but not clothing– I often fail at clothing). I didn’t get the Japanese fleet from YALU that I was requesting– no surprise there— I’ll pick it up some time in January. I DID get DESCENT (fantasy flight), the mapboard, eastern front and terrain upgrades to MEMOIR 44, and game about ballooning (gee, who knew I might have an interest?). I also got a nifty portable DVD player and the HORNBLOWER SERIES from A&E, which I’m now watching on the train. I had nothing to complain about, gifts aren’t that important to get at this stage of life. I do still enjoy Christmas quite a bit, and this was one of the better Christmases in recent years.

After that, did equal time over at the inlaws, who had another blazing Yule log going:

As soon as I can find a camera cord that works, I’ll post Christmas Tree Pictures.

Gar reports success!

*We thought that Santa would be remiss in giving a THREE HUNDRED DOLLAR piece of gear to an 11 year old that loses stuff constantly, so we requested he bring the Shuffle, not the regular Ipod (color: pink) that was in said child’s letter to Santa.

AAR: Dark Secret of Santa Town

It’s a HoHoHOlocaust!!!


In the Grim Darkness of the North Pole, there is only War….

In a future that is only the day after tommorrow away, a corporate colossus spans the Earth. The fortuitous marriage of the scion of the venture capital giant Scrooge and Marley, Ltd. and the great-great daughter of Sam Walton, Lavinia Walton, has created a partnership that generates a remarkable asset.. Samuel Scrooge-Walton, named in honor of Lavinia’s illustrious ancestor. The merging of one of the world’s greatest sources of capital and the world’s leading retailer was a recipe for global domination.

After a remarkable youth, highlighted by an energetic and innovative approach towards solving the problem of the Wal*mart-Target war (leaving parts of Minneapolis St. Paul radioactive to this day), Sam came into his maturity, and the controlling interest in the mother corporation, when he arrived at the age of 25. Almost immediately he commenced working on the “Strike North” campaign. Long had he gazed on the one, last uncontrolled toy distribution network left on the face of the earth. He had to control it, and the time had come for aggressive negotiation.

Against the advice of key subordinates, Sam prepared a strike force of elite Wal*Mart Security teams Blue, White and Grey (named in honor of the store’s heraldic colors), and allowed reprentatives of the Longshoreman’s union (purchased long ago) and the Sweat Shop Union (from China and the Latin American shops) to accompany as observers. “We are up against indiginous personnel with almost no weapons, men!” Sam gleefully chortled in the mission pre-brief. “This should be a walkover”. He chortled with glee as he swiftly approached his target.

Full Backstory piece and mission briefs located here

The Game!

in the frigid darkness of a North Pole morning, a certain village wakes to another day’s frenetic activity. The dominant industry of the town has an impending deadline to make, and everywhere there is signs of rush, as the evening shift of skilled workers goes home to rest and the morning shift takes over.

Suddenly, the warning klaxon blares out:
Alarm! Alarm! Outer defenses have been breached! There is a large shape approaching Gingerbread Village at a high rate of speed. The object is metallic, of high density, and with many life forms inside!

Santa Claus, the Legend of the North, confers with chief elf Sherman: “Get the guard elves to the inner defenses. Activate the gingerbread people… and for God’s sake, MOVE THOSE PRESENTS INTO THE WAREHOUSE!!!

Santa grimaces and comments to the Bumble: “Dang it, this happens EVERY YEAR!!! And we have the entire Teddy Bear army locked up in the South fighting off the Mouse King!”

GM Note: Mouse King is a reference to last year’s Christmas Game, which featured Marxist Mouse soldiers and Brave Teddy Bear defenders of the North Pole

Elves and gingerbread people (hastily dragooned into the militia, grabbing for their peppermint stick melee weapons) burst into a frenzied activity to prepare for invaders.

(above) Santa knows he can call upon his friends in the Royal Canadian Mounties, Sergeant Preston, Rex the Wonder Horse, King and Dudley. But he might not need to, with the troops he has at hand…

… such as the Professor, Naughty Elf, and the Professor’s Animated Snowman squad.

(GM notes: the professor can cause the snowmen to ambulate and attack. Naughty elf has the power to “Beguile” humans when the professor spanks her. This equates to a human peforming a ‘duck back’ if in cover or just standing still)

(above) The vast majority of troops on hand, however, are the Gingerbread folk in the nearby village. The elves dragoon them into service with the weapons on hand, mostly giant peppermint sticks.

(above) On the horrizon, the behemoth approachs like a fast land-whale…

(above) CRASH! The Wal*Mat Offense force barrels on to the table, Goes about 100 more feet and crashes into a snow drift. Sam, in the command center, curses. He had meant to penetrate the village itself.

The grey team pops out and moves towards target quickly.

(above 2) The right flank of the invasion force hangs open precariously… fortunately, gingerpeople don’t move fast.

(above) Sherman commands gingerpeople to move the packages indoors.

(above) Meanwhile, Boomer, the littlest grenadier elf, bravely encounters the Wal*Mart truck.

… and we all discover that THIS brave little elf is aptly named.



(above) Boomer is concussed; he lays there happily in the snowbank, thinking happy thoughts.

(above) Blue Team joins Grey Team as the Gingers line up for the gingerbread wave attack.

See that brown felt piece? It’s ginger goo left from a gingerbread casualty destined for the rebaking ovens.

(NOTE: incoming “Dead” Gingers went to the “bake pile” in groups of four. At the start of each turn, you rolled 1D6 for each bake pile. If it matched how many stands were in that pile, the stand was placed in the Biscuit shop.

(above) Sam Scrooge-Walton jumps out and runs for protection behind the grey squad. This is not going as planned. He whistles up for some longshoremen reinforcments, but only one is bellicose to stop cowering in the back of the truck.

(above) On the right flank of the Wal*Mart attack, White Team is doing markedly better.

(above 2) The gingerbread wave on the left flank was awesome. Here, the chef “Goops” a Blue Team soldier.

GM Note: A Ginger Person can fire (twice) a big gob of icing at a target before dissolveing. These are “Shooters”. The icing halts movement for a turn

We got a man down!!!

(above) Freshly baked reinforcements rush up to cover the left flank. That brown felt is ginger goo from a gingerperson casualty.

Grey team goes down (mostly) due to head wounds from melee (mostly). Blue team engages a couple of multiple attack stands… things look bad.

(above) Cute and cuddly doesn’t equal “Stupid.” Here, Wilma and Boomer hide in the snowbank created by the truck explosion and let the “big cookies” catch lead for them.

“You Hear that, human? That’s the Jingle Bells of DOOM, and they’re ringing for YOU!!!

(above) A longshoreman summons the courage to join in. See that multiple candy stick base up there? It was the best fighter the gingers had, and it kicked butt with three attacks per turn.

(above) Blastina (r), Bronson (c) and Boomer (l, under partial cover), engage White Team directly. They must sense weakness.

(above) Some of the faster Gingers (on sleds) approach on the run.

(above 2) Blastina and Bronson don’t know of the reinforcements arriving right behind them. Good thing; they are now riddled with bullets.

(above) The Longshoremen finally show up in force; they show the SWAT guys how it’s done; six bat-wielding Longshoremen to one Ginger turns Gingerbread people into ginger goo!

(above) Blue team, in extremis, is bailed out by the Longshoremen..

(above) Bronson gives White Team a lesson on how sawed off shotguns are no fun at close range.

“Mercy, please!”

“I’m sorry, you’ve been Naughty!” (BOOOM!)

(above) The tide might have turned a bit with the arrival of the Longshoremen, but Sam now knows this battle is lost. “Retreat, boys! Retreat! There will be a another day!” he howls, as he runs for the comms unit to call in a chopper extraction. “Curse you, Claus!!!! You haven’t heard the last of meeeeee!”

As he gazed out on the smoking ruin of of the Wal*Mart assault, Santa laughed a cheeful “Ho Ho HO!”…

These Waltons are amateurs.. we’ve been fighting a war at the North Pole every year for a thousand years!”

How did you know how to defeat him, Santa?” asked Sherman

‘Tis Simple, Sherman.. I knew all about it in advance, due to my highly skilled intelligence network. After all, I know when you’ve been sleeping, I know when you’re awaaaake…” shouted Santa over his shoulder, as he hustled back to the Workshop to supervise another job lot of toys getting prepped for shipment.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!


White Team: All Dead or severly wounded.

Grey Team: one dead, three unconscious, one alive.

Blue Team: one unconscious.

No Longshoremen casualties.

No Sweat Shop union casualties.

Elves: Four elves severely wounded.

Countless Gingerbread casaulties.

Clearly, The North Pole was victorious. No presents were extracted, nobody got kidnapped, and no industrial secrets were compromised.

Christmas was saved!

Wal*Mart, suffering a bloody nose, vowed to try again next Yuletide.

Technical Notes

The rules were heavily modified RULES WITH NO NAME (originally by Brian Ansell, heavily modified by me and many others over the years). I have conversion notes, mission briefs, North Pole Creature notes, and etc. available at the following link:

http://mrnizz.50megs.com/darksecretdownload.htm (50megs popup warning!)

TRWNN works very well for this game, but it badly needs tinkering. The Elf-controlling the Gingerbread thing did give the North Pole side an awesome advantage in melee (not ranged) combat, and having fewer troops on the bad guy side didn’t help much, even if they did have autofire weapons.

I tried the modern rules conversion for autofire (Foundry’s street chaos rules) and found them too complex and slow for our game, we went back to a modified “Gatling gun” approach towards autofire.

As in many of our Western games, Duck Backs (but NOT recovery) were quickly abandoned as a game slower.

This game was concieved by Walt O’Hara and executed by Walt and Harry Morris, who provided most of the terrain pieces (except for the village and factory), the snowmen, various Wal*Mart teams, Santa and the bumble. I provided all of the Elves, the Mounties, the Longshoremen, the Gingerbread People, and various terrain bits.

Figures were a real hodgepodge of a lot of everything, mostly Eureka, Copplestone and Foundry.

Picture of “Doctor Jeckyl” above is copyright 2005 Parroom Station.

Special thanks to Anne O’Hara for painting all those candy sticks for me.


Speaking from my own perspective, this was one of the funnest games I’ve ever run, with exactly the right crowd to play it. I just wish we had run it earlier in the month so that we could have had about 4 more players. I look forward to a rematch.

Oh; and the truck was donated to a deserving kid…

Merry Christmas everyone

Just call me a softie

There’s something mythic about Christmas that appeals to all of us. What is it about this holiday that causes us to remember the good stuff and sublimate the horrible stuff?

I think it’s all about building a legacy of memories. I don’t come from a wealthy family– we’re rather solidly middle-classed, a military family, so I experienced no hardships growing up, but I didn’t put Gucci shoes on my feet, either. If you were to ask me my favorite Christmas memory, it would sound almost perverse– waiting in line at “men’s night” at the post exchange on Adak, Alaska, back in the 70s. I had 4 dollars in my pocket, and I was there with my father and older brother. I had enough money to get my mom something. This was the only store of any kind on the island, so every boy I knew in my age group was there with their fathers and brothers. The exchange put out eggnog and cookies and the line while they kept us behind the gate (they were frantically restocking). We laughed and talked and the guys ran around “joking and smoking” while the men had their own conversations. It’s inexplicable, associating happiness with that dumpy, run-down hangar-like building, but there it is, it’s my favorite Christmas memory from childhood. I got my mom an ashtray shaped like the United States. Santa brought me a G.I. Joe Space Capsule set (I was a big fan of the early vintage Joes and collected sets, so this was a great present).

Personally, I think my memory fixates on this time because of the changes I was going through. A year later I heaved my G.I. Joes into a pond filled with industrial waste and it was no longer cool to play with dolls. I was on the brink of being the sneering teenaged lout I became at that moment in time, and I think I knew it, subconciously, and was enjoying my last Christmas of innocence.

I’m working hard at making my children’s legacy of memory a happy one, and indications are that I’m winning.

If you’ll indulge me for few moments, here’s the recent:

Pageant of Peace on the Mall in Washington, DC

Annie’s Girl Scout troop was invited to perform Christmas carols on the mall for the week long festivities, so we all went downtown to attend to her big performance. It was a mob scene, with all the troops from the Fairfax area contributing performers, so you can imagine the numbers of proud parents. I sat next to a guy who I commute in with every day on the VRE, and he treated Gar and I to a hot chocolate. We were cold, but we had a great time.

That’s the NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE, thank you very much! It had been lit by Bush the night previous.

You can tell that I’m the guy that likes to play with little miniature tin soldiers, can’t you? I was impressed with the giant railroad layout that the National Capital Railroaders put on every year. G Scale (is it G Scale?) definitely isn’t for me, but it sure looks good under the National Christmas Tree.

Anne’s girl scout choir was a hoot.. it was hard to mic that many voices evenly so we heard the front row of juniors shouting there way through the high notes as a nice counterbalance to the professional, magnificent back row…

One Christmas tradition, this butt-frozen correspondent was happy to see revived was the annual gigantic Yule Log, which warmed us up considerable. Not as much as a nice bottle of schnapps, perhaps, but then again, I could drive home without being blotto, so there’s always that.

The National CHRISTMAS tree (thankyouverymuch) looks pretty spectacular all lit up at night, as it should!

I was trying for a long shot with the White House glowing in the background (that’s the building lights just to the left of the tree). Alas, the W.H. was not very brightly lit that night, so the effect was lost. Thanks for dimming the lights, George! You iced me, man!

I always look for my state’s tree (Virginia), in the ring of 50 “state” trees and all the other commonwealths, protectorates, and whatnot that participate:

Virginia’s tree decorations were made by the kids at a nearby elementary school in Springfield, Virginia, this year! What an honor!

We had a great time, and more importantly, the kids built another Christmas memory.