Tag Archives: games

Game Camp 17 Day One War Rocket and Room 25

So Monday dawned and it was our first day of Battle Camp. I have a smaller camp than usual; that’s just fine. Easier to manage. We were set up for WAR ROCKET by Hydra Miniatures when they came in. War Rocket is a very retro look at simple space combat. The trick to War Rocket is being in the right place at the end of a turn, since War Rocket has a turn sequence of Move, then shoot. The combat system is kind of anemic but the basic mechanics are easy to pick up, which is why I tried War Rocket for the first time at camp. Verdict was quite enthusiastic, War Rocket is fun and a keeper!

We also played Room 25, a board game based on those weird Canadian “Cube” movies.

This was supposed to be just a light lunch time game (I played, too!) and we ended up playing it until 1:30 and finishing up War Rocket. The game ended in a tie when the giant Zenethian mother ship (the big green saucer) was taken out with a lucky shot! Talk about pulling ahead at the last second.

My impressions– this is a great crowd, very smart kids who like games and were VERY quick to pick up on everything. In other words, my favorite kind of campers. Not bad for a group who had zero miniatures background!

More War rocket pictures

Where to find WAR ROCKET
A great first day.

Tomorrow: Frostgrave

On to Day Two!


Cold Wars 2017, a minor pilgrimage

the Mighty Susquehanna!

The Mighty Susquehanna!!! (we shout this every time)

Hurray!  Once again the sun dawns on a trip to an exotic faraway location where I can play toy soldiers all weekend long.  As happens this time in March, The Historical Miniatures Gaming Society held their annual SPRING convention, namely, Cold Wars, last weekend.  The “exotic faraway location” being, of course, Lancaster PA, a location about as faraway and exotic as day old Wonder bread, but hey, we like it, so there.

Note that Friday was Saint Patrick’s Day, which I celebrated by my standard boycotting of feeling obligated to wear green.  As I’ve said many times, the Irish have given much to America.. so much beyond buffoonery, drunkenness and stuff like this.  I prefer to have a little dignity about a Saint’s Day.

Gar and I had our mutual acts together and the van packed the night before, so we aimed at being on the road at 7:30, with a predictable, actual start of 8:30.  Sigh, that’s entropy for  you.  Journey was uneventful, but longer than usual because THIS time, we stopped for breakfast.

mmmm.. coffee

New Oxford Family Diner.  They made a decent egg white omelette, and the coffee was passable.

Our arrival was 1230ish, even with petal to the metal (legally of course). I really had had ambitions to TRY to get into a Frostgrave event this weekend, it didn’t pan out. I did, however, get a chance to see some splendid Frostgrave scenery for the ongoing tournament in the tournament area.

Click to Enlarge Frostgrave Photos

I also had a notion of getting in an event during the day Friday but that didn’t pan out.. the siren song of the Exhibitor Hall and Flea Market delayed my steps. I was happy to bump into a flea market guy selling bulk 28mm individual figures from a few historical periods– Romans, Gauls, Germans and Vikings, etc. I picked up a bunch of 28mm Vikings (for Viking Looters and SAGA).  I’m not sure what manufacturer this was; I didn’t ask too many questions.  Also, on Friday, I picked up more Copplestone KISS KISS BANG BANG figures for a game I’m designing called SPY RUN.  Wait’ll ya see, wait’ll ya see.

So I wandered around for a bit, talked with friends, and say some great games being run.  Nothing that knocked my socks off, but that’s okay, a lot of people were having a good time.

Homemade ironclad miniatures– using air dried modeling clay!

Now, that’s OLD school.

Big ships, pirates.. yep, Brian Whitaker is around.

Later on we foolishly risked losing our parking spot to go out and get dinner, my son being no great fan of Hall Pig (we were at the ass end of beyond, anyway, and Sherpas ain’t cheap). I have to say, normally, I’m no great fan of chain restaurants in a neighborhood where there are tons upon tons of locally owned and operated family joints, but there was something about a Cracker Barrel, mashed potatoes, roast beef, and coffee, near a fireplace.  It was in such stark contrast to the outside I got positively drowsy.  So I was still in a good mood when I attempted to come BACK to the Host and park.  I’ll be the guy to bring this up; what idiot left the front right parking lot (diagonal from the Lampeter half snowed in for the entire weekend??? The convention lost about 20 parking spots, maybe more, due to there being gigantic drifts piled up from snow removal.  Don’t they use snow blowers in Lancaster?   It was a lousy job of snow removal, and it impacted us.

Might as well bring it up since people who didn’t show up will wonder.  How is the Host these days?   Well, kind of a mixed bag.  I didn’t stay there (more on that miserable experience later) so I can’t comment on the state of the rooms that got rennovated.  The physical plant appears to be operating, but there were still signs of wear all over the place that badly needed fixing and attention.  Basic stuff, like the railing to the handicapped entrance ramp only held up by one post stuck into crumbling concrete.  If someone ever puts their weight on it, they’re in for a nasty fall.  The hotel appeared to be operating normally otherwise– no overflowing toilets, the heating and a/c worked.. the wireless was just an gigantic joke.  I tried periscoping and/or Facebook Live from the show, and it just kept dropping connections.

Conventions at the Lancaster Host.. they are not for sissies.

Live Action Dripcam footage on Instagram

Caesar Vs. Pluck

Once back, I got a spot in Jeff Wasileski’s Caesar Vs. Pluck game.  This is an adaption of Howard Whitehouse’s older Science vs. Pluck for the Roman era.  Yours truly played the Imperial Heir Domitian, younger brother of Titus and son of Vespasian.  Jeff’s games call for much playing of roles and skullduggery as a rule.  As I had played Domitian before in 2013, the last time Jeff ran a a game of CVP, I took the role of Domitian again.  This was a great scenario.  Barbarians (The Ruritani and Schwetti?) have taken over a local Imperial city on the coast, and have been despoiling it for a couple of weeks.  Domitian, spoiled brat that he is, yearns for some glory to get out of his older brother’s shadow.  Well, he got some glory in spades, as it were. Like last time, Domitian has been entrusted with military command, and a couple of decent veteran soldiers to make sure he doesn’t mess everything up.  The command is split into land and sea.  Domitian plans to land a naval force, offloading some Romans and wiping out pirate reinforcements, while a veteran legion drives the barbs to the sea.  That was the theory anyway.  Jeff loves games with factions and we played it to the hilt.

Romans on the attack

Pirates getting a lot more than they bargained for

Flaming naptha pirates come to grief.

Landing force seems overwhelmed

Meanwhile the field army was in trouble!

I played Domitian exactly like one SHOULD play Domitian– ambitious, angry, trying to prove himself (he’s very young in this time period). I have to say, the Romans killed like champions in this scenario. I dropped off the landing barges on the beach and went in for the Ram on the nearest Pirate galley with my Liburnian. We didn’t sink it but we did damage it, and then my gladiator cohort boarded it and turned the crew into chutney. Just like that. THEN, the gladiators rowed the ship over to the local hijacked grain ship, thinking they could liberate that too… mistake! The hatches to the hold burst open and 25 pirates swarmed out– the good kind. Against 9 gladiators. The gladiators held a line and marched right at them. Oddly, the pirates took some casualties, broke their morale, and they dove over the side. I mean, ALL of them. And the grain ship was ours. So we rowed back around to the where the galleys were still engaged in with Greek Fire shooting ships. We tried to sink one from a distance but lost patience and rammed the hell out of it, sinking it instantly. With that, the pirate naval forces were gone, decimated.

Gladiators solve problems.

We landed some boat crews and soldiers. They supported the land forces that were expanding a toehold on the beach. And, as soon as the Gladiators supported the flanks, the beach side barb forces were crumbling right and left and running for it. The land side forces initially did NOT do nearly as well, also playing their roles to the hilt and were non-cooperative. The Barb cavalry was pretty vicious, in fact. Eventually, things started to stabilize, and a line was formed.

Romans capture the signal tower on the hill

I feel like if we had played a few more turns, the naval force would have fought all the way to the land force. Everything around the naval force had taken to the hills. Rome clearly had a smashing victory by any measure, especially when a cave of pirate loot was discovered, destined for the coffers of the Roman treasury. THAT’s a victory. Now, I’m not sure I played Domitian exactly how I’d like to think was accurately. Domitian wasn’t exactly a killing machine in real life, but I played it as best I could– petty, backstabbing, and tyrannical. GREAT game, and Jeff and his son Nick won a PELA for it. Well deserved.

I took a ton of pictures of Caesar vs. Pluck.  If you want to see a screenshow, click on the Roman Eagle:

The Wasileskis basking in the glory of their well deserved award.

After we finished there we went to the hotel and finally checked in. Word of warning, do NOT bother with the tiny Red Roof motel on the Host side of Route 30. OMG.. it redefines the term “Spartan”, given that the Spartans enjoyed cold baths, hard sleeping surfaces, and occasionally dealing with angry Persians. This motel is 1 star at best; only because they won’t let you rate it lower. Sigh. It was cheap. Next time I’ll pay more and be able to sleep.

The next day..

Since the Red Roof dump we were staying in deigned not to serve any kind of breakfast, we did Panera, and then went back to the convention.  Even on Saturday, it was a hard slog finding a parking spot, but we managed way out at the end of the expansion lot they built where the Congressional used to be.   I suppose that’s good news (no parking should equal high attendance, usually, but I think you can blame a lot of no parking in this instance on inadequate snow removal).

There were still some great games on Saturday, though I thought the space wasn’t filled up by any means.

7TV Wreck of the Fafnir Alpha

Wreck of the Fafnir Alpha, a setting for 7TV

Once again, I did a run on the dealer’s room since I had a ticket for a 7TV game run by a gentleman named  Keith Frye at 2:00 PM. I’ve wanted to play 7TV for a long time now.  The system is kind of/sort of set up as a roleplaying game of a television show from mythical 60s or 70s spy shows.  So every game will have a kind of ridiculous retro style to it that I find very entertaining.  The mechanics aren’t very complicated… mostly rolling against skill checks, which is really just a way of validating “doing crazy stuff”.  And crazy stuff there was!!!  This was a great crew of players, many of whom I have played with in similarly silly games run by other GMs.  The plot wasn’t hugely complicated.. or was it?  The action took place on a giant petroleum platform called the Fafnir Alpha.  There were spies, corporate troubleshooters, regular shooters, strikers, spies, super criminals, and a giant alien blob creature.  One predictable side got in a predictable gunfight with another predictable side, and while they were hung up with that, I tried (as Archer, yes, that guy) to intercept some kind of briefcase and get off the platform.  Since it seemed clear that I wasn’t going to get to the helicopter in time to do that, I had Lana shoot the pilot dead, which lead to a series of unfortunate and somewhat hilarious results: 1) there was now no way off of the platform for, well, anyone; 2) the briefcase was still on the platform; and 3) the faceless super-villain made a heroic leap for the diving (uncontrolled) helicopter and managed to control it before it hit the drink!  What a great time!

I have a ton of photographs of this game, if you want to see them in a flickr slideshow, go here.

I’m blanking on what we did for dinner, but again, it wasn’t hall pig.  I know I made a quick run to the dealer’s room to get some pre-dreadnought 1:2400 ships from Viking Forge, then got back in time to play SAIL POWER at 8:00

Jolly Jack Tars.. or the Dutch equivalent

Sail Power aka, another excuse to spank Scott Landis

I played this game at FALL IN, and had a great time–  it was a combat-centric game set in the age of sail,in roughly 15mm scale.  The sailing and combat mechanics are a little fiddly, but once you get the hang of it, perfectly understandable.

This game was very different from the one I played at FALL-IN! Even though I was sailing a giant Indiaman, with tons more cannons than the single gunboat I was sailing in last game, I fired nary a shot. This was ostensibly because the scenario was more nuanced than “just shaddup and try to sink Scott Landis”. Scott was indeed present, but managed to escape justice and hot shot by scampering away and engaging in some chicanery with the Spaniards and local merchants. Next time, next time. I actually enjoyed THIS game more than the last one– my goal, as the Dutch player, was to bring a suitable bribe to the Spanish governor in the fort at the center of the table and have him commit to the ongoing war with the English on our side. The British want the same things, of course, but I got there first, with a large suitcase of bribes (3,000 gold and a chimpanzee). I played the diplomatic thing to the hilt, rendering honors going into a Spanish port, running in the guns when at the dock, etc. Sure, it’s fun to smash your opponents to flinders sometimes, but it’s also fun to bribe Spanish governors in SAIL POWER’s meta game, of sorts. Garrett and I (and Scott Landis) all had a great time.

Yes, I have tons of pictures of this game, too. You can see a slide show here.

It was cool to see Eric G.’s ROAD WARRIOR game on Saturday night, but I was involved in Sail Power and couldn’t play.  The 28mm stuff is very impressive but tends to make for a very crowded and slow race IMO.

Speaking of Garrett, and we weren’t, what was HE doing all this time? Killing big stompy mechs, that’s what. Garrett has become quite a fan of Battletech in the past two years, and he’s not bad at it.

Click on the picture to see his slideshow, and here’s Garrett’s review of Cold Wars 2017:

Cold wars 2017 was a blast, great fun the whole time. My father and I arrived on Friday, I partook in a game of battletech (a favorite of mine), kicked some butts, and took some names. Many fun moments were had that game, such as my mech falling, getting back up only to be knocked over by an enemy who fell over as well. The next day, I played battletech most of the day, the game was pretty eventful, with great plays by everyone involved. The GM(s) running battletech gave out a miniature for every kill you got in the game, in total I received 11 of them. Saturday ended with a game of Sailpower, a large boat game with a fantastic rule set. Sailpower was a great time, the people running it were fun and the game was great,t a nice mix of trading, fighting, exploring, and strategy. Finally on the last day, my dad and I checked out the dealer’s hall and the flea market, we found some cool things we could use for games. Cold wars 2017 was great I had a fun time there playing games and socializing.

Sunday was largely predictable.. nothing in the Flea, no last minute purchase in the dealer’s area, so we saddled up, got some breakfast and then we bolted for lands South.

Homeward Brave Soldiers, homeward! Farewell, Oh Mighty Susquehanna!

Observations and Whatnot: Cold Wars 2017 was a great time for me personally– I played in the kind of games that I love to play in, played enough games to keep me amused but not flat out exhausted, got enough rest and nutrition to not feel like dropping dead on the way home and just generally had a great time. That is not to say that I think CW17 was particularly well attended (I know it’s corny to say “it looked light” but it really did, and that was probably because of the recent snow). The new owners of the Host have (mostly) fixed the roof and I hear hot water was present without renting a rent-a-plant. I can’t vouch for the room redecorating, I stayed in a horrid motel down the road a bit (my one star Yelp review is HERE). I do think there are many features of the ‘rennovated’ hotel that don’t look like they have changed at all. Word is that Lancaster will host all three conventions in 2018, so here we all are back again!

In any event, this was one fun Cold Wars, despite the snow, despite the awful motel, despite a leaky roof.. I had a fantastic time and so did Garrett.

Game Night, Heroic Aleworks, Woodbridge VA

Courtesy of Meetup.com’s thriving Northern Virginia Pavilion group,  I received notification of a game night at Heroic Aleworks in Woodbridge, VA.   I had been unaware of this location until quite recently (through meetup, in fact), and wanted to give it a try.  Now, I like craft beer, and I like it a lot.. but not on a Thursday night during the work week, so I just limited myself to one sampler glass and a cold brew coffee.  Besides, I had my son (who is not 21) with.  I like this place.. the atmosphere is somewhat self-consciously nerd chic, with some obvious geek cultural references–

This was just fine with me and my son. The people there were very friendly– basically a handshake and my name was enough to start a tab. this place hearkened back to a friendlier, kinder way of doing business.

Most importantly, Heroic Aleworks has a keen awareness about the intersection zone between geeks who drink craft beers and other geekly hobbies, like comics, movies, and boardgames. The fact that they know their crowd this well and cater to it, has earned my instant customer loyalty.

Garrett and I got there late– not my fault for once, he has classes until 6, so we were to get there at a little after 7, southbound traffic and all. Heroic is in a light industrial area, like a lot of microbreweries are nowadays (there are two of them in two similar facilities less than a mile from where I work). Thus, food can be a little problematic.

We had time for one short-playing game. I brought a few choices along with me, a mixture of two to four player short games. We ended up choosing STEAM TORPEDO: FIRST CONTACT, by Iello. I had played this at the demo booth at HISTORICON 2014 at Fredericksburg, VA, and not all the way through. I thought it was good fun, and idly put it on my Boardgamegeek.com Wish List– not for any motive beyond my own “remember this one and get it later” reasons. My Secret Santa for 2015 ended up getting it for me, and there it has sat, on the shelf, unplayed, mocking me.. “I’m steampunk.. I’m naval.. I feature shooty things… PLAY ME…”

Tonight was the night!

It turns out Steam Torpedo is a light and fun little non-war game. It reminds me somewhat of an older game called RED NOVEMBER. That is mostly a thematic comparison. Both games feature submarines, steampunky settings, and frantically running from compartment to compartment to avoid disaster.

That is pretty much the point where the comparison stops. In Steam Torpedo, you use a series of tiles to create a custom submarine built up of modular components that do things.. shoot at the other sub, make your sub go, defend your sub, and fix your sub. Crew tokens make this stuff happen, and they do it by moving from compartment to compartment.

Complicating everything is the fact that each compartment is rated for structure and oxygen points– a finite amount of oxygen. Once you run out, your ship is done. Every TURN, you remove ONE oxygen from your ship.. somewhere. Every time a ship takes damage.. the target captain puts a damage marker (red) somewhere. Once you start using up the structure points for a compartment, it goes away (not in the physical sense– it ceases to function)

We ended up finishing the game about ten minutes before the event ended at 9 PM.  I pulled off a victory– not from any obvious tactical superiority on my part, it just worked out that Garrett’s design for a sub had more weapons than mine, and mine had more “fix your damage” compartments than his.   Thus, I was able to man both a “sandbags” station AND  a “welding station” to absorb most of the incoming physical damages.   I discovered since you have a finite amount of crewmen, it really doesn’t matter if you have a gigantic array of weapons.  You can only man some of them at any given moment.  So if your opponent has systems that allow his/her sub to avoid the initial onslaught of incoming points, gradually, the balance will shift and as they start taking out your systems in response with their one or two weapons that can activate, and you will be in a bad way to respond.

This event was a lot of fun– I like the location quite a bit but will probably have to leave early to get there in time to have something stronger than a sampler glass.  The folks there are very friendly and I like the decor, the root beer, and the way they cater to their crowd.  Good times!

Games in Sacred Texts

An editorial by Geoff Englestein on the Dice Tower podcast reminded me of the view the Gautama Buddha took towards frivolous activities, namely gaming, and how they could be a roadblock to achieving true enlightenment.   That got me to thinking of Games mentioned in sacred texts, particularly boardgames as Miniature Wargaming, RPGs and Videogames are all relatively modern developments.

First, back to Buddhism as well as a shallow dive into some Hindu texts.

The Gautama weighs in:

His list of “best practices” for one seeking enlightenment is contained in the he Brahmajala Sutta, one of the first of 34 suttas (collections of aphorisms) of the Digha Nikaya (the Long Discourses of the Buddha).   Games are especially enumerated in the 17th precept of the Majjhima Sila, which lists 16 of what were interpreted as “games” back in ancient times.  It’s an illuminating list but much of it entails condemning playing with toys.  The boardgame specific ones are as follows:

1. “Games on board with 8 or 10 rows”.  This probably references Ashtapada specifically, which is a pre-chess game played on an unmarked, checkers-like gridded board with no colors.  The game was essentially a race between both sides to thread through a preset pattern of “castles” on the board.   Chaturanga is played on an identical board, but is more chess like.

Truly ancient examples of Ashtapada and Chaturaga style game boards.

2. “The same games played on imaginary boards.” (Akasam Astapadam was a variant of Astapada which was played without a board, mentally, and means “Astapada in the sky”).  It was either a fun mental exercise or perhaps people were too poor to afford game components.

3. “Marking diagrams on the floor such that the player can only walk on certain places”  may sound a little clumsy, but parse it out and you have a precursor to our modern game of hop scotch.   Not exactly a boardgame but it’s amusing to see it on the list.  The reference is probably to a game called Parihâra-patham, which played similarly to hop scotch but with a very different path on the ground.

4. Either remove pieces from a pile, or adding pieces to it, with the loser being the one who causes the heap to “shake”.   This sounds like Jenga to me, but it could also be Pickup Sticks.  Not much else is written about it.

5. “Throwing Dice”  There are any number of dice games originating in India, but this probably specifically references gambling games similar to craps.

6. “Dipping the hand with the fingers stretched out in lac, or red dye, or flour-water, and striking the wet hand on the ground or on a wall, calling out ‘What shall it be?’ and showing the form required–elephants, horses, &c”  That sounds somewhat confusing but after you parse it for a bit it starts to sound a lot like modern Pictionary, doesn’t it?

7.  Ball Games.  Could mean anything really, but probably something like Kick Ball.

(8-14 reference playing with toys, but 15 is interesting)

15. Guessing another person’s thoughts.  This could be just wild guessing but I suspect it’s a game with directed questions similar to 20 questions.

So there you have it, The Buddha wasn’t a game guy like you or me.  I’m not a scholar of Buddhism but I have read a little here and there, and I suspect the Buddha wasn’t condemning leisure pastimes with any degree of vitriol, he was simply listing the activities to be avoiding as being harmful to spiritual discipline along the path to enlightenment.

The Buddha’s list is relatively well known, and an interesting window into the past, especially about boardgames.  I could see playing variants of some of these today, and actually I have (Chaturanga, for certain, is a fairly famous variant of Chess).   I wondered if there was any other religion that even mentions diversions of the mind with such precision as the Guatama Buddha did.

A ritual dice game is mentioned in the Yajur Veda, to be played at coronations (and it is mentioned in passing that the King was allowed to win).    Other than that I can’t find much in the Upanishads or the Rig Veda.


Well, the Prophet Mohammed did not appear to enjoy games any more than the Buddha did. In the Koran, specifically this citation, the Prophet appears to equate the playing a game of chance to the consumption of alcohol, which he had strong reservations against:

YUSUFALI: O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.
PICKTHAL: O ye who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave it aside in order that ye may succeed.
SHAKIR: O you who believe! intoxicants and games of chance and (sacrificing to) stones set up and (dividing by) arrows are only an uncleanness, the Shaitan’s work; shun it therefore that you may be successful.

To clarify, later on, Mohammed did state that “He who played chess is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine” which appears to lump in boardgaming with other enticements of the flesh. Reference here.

I’m not going to find a lot of material about ancient Islamic games, I think.

Judaism and by extension, Christianity

There’s not a lot written about ancient Jewish kids’ games, although there is some:
Zec 8:5: “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof”; and Gen 21:9 margin, where we read of Ishmael “playing” (metscheq).

Perhaps this “playing” reference could be read as “Mocking” as well, the translation is open to question.  Of specific games however.. there’s almost nothing at all in the Old Testament.

Playing with ball is alluded to in Isa 22:18: “He will …. toss thee like a ball into a large country,” possibly this indicates some form of organized sport or recreational outdoor game.. The question of Yahweh to Job (41:5): “Wilt thou play with him (the crocodile) as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?” suggests that tame birds were some form of amusement for Hebrew children.

The New Testament has one reference to children’s play, namely, the half-parable about the children in the market-place who would neither dance to the flute as if at a marriage feast nor wail as if at a funeral (Mt 11:16 f parallel Lk 7:32).

Dice games: dice were known to the ancient Egyptians, and Assyrian dice have been found, made of bronze with points of gold, but there is no trace of them in the Old Testament. The New Testament’s most famous game of chance, the use of dice by the Syrian soldiers who cast lots for the raiment of Jesus at the cross (Mt 27:35 parallel Mk 15:24; Lk 23:34; Jn 19:24) may have been dice (as we know them, six sided cubes) or some other primitive chance mechanism.

Kugelach Stones

This is not to say that the Ancient Hebrews and early Christians were a dour lot; they amused themselves in a myriad of ways– dancing, mimicry, storytelling, running and archery contests.  Even though there aren’t references to them in holy scripture, ancient games did exist in Jewish (and by extension, Christian) culture.   Hebrew children had a tradition of a game called Kugelach, which is very similar to Jacks.   The Ancient Hebrews also seemed to be fond of variants of the grid-based games that were similar to ancient Roman style games (reminiscent of 9 Man’s Morris) as well as Indian ones like Ashdibada– though who invented what first is uncertain here.    What is fairly certain is that Jewish culture inherited many games from external sources- primarily Roman and Egyptian.  There is some evidence of Mancala style games being imported from African sources, as well as a game similar to Fox and Geese called Dogs and Jackals.

Dogs and Jackals game tablet found at Tel Megiddo archeological dig


What’s to make of all this?  Mostly that the tradition of boardgames and similar amusements– meaning a physical map to move pieces on with some chance element (probably a six sided dice) would appear to be primarily an Asian development that an amusement-starved world would adopt whole-heartedly as  cultures came into contact with each other and cross-pollinated.

And that perhaps Buddha needed to lighten up a little about games. 😀

Aether Captains, by Todd Sanders. My First PNP game.

I like the work of Todd Sanders.  Todd is a real polymath.. a poet, an artist, an architect, a translator and a game designer.  He has given a facelift to a large number of older games with graphic redesigns, which he gives away for free on Boardgamegeek.  He has created an entire Victorian Science Fiction universe in the Clockwork Caravel series of games, then just gives them away as free print and play games on Boardgamegeek.  One of them that I have always wanted to try was AETHER CAPTAINS, a solitary dice game where you captain an airship, represented by specialty dice you make yourself.  The airship is attacked by Aether Pirates flying a range of air units.

Print out of the specialty dice (in this case, the airship Corsair). These will be affixed to 1″ wooden blocks. Ideally I’d get these from a craft store, but I ended up having to order them. Click to see larger picture.

So I decided to give it a try.  The cubes I wanted to affix labels to were 1″ wooden cubes (see source in “related”, below).  I thought 1″ wooden cubes would be an easy find at a Michaels or A.C. Moore, but I had no luck at all, and ended up ordering them– not for very much moolah at all, but you have to consider shipping as well.   I painted the three sets of airship blocks different colors.  Then I printed the dice labels out and glued them to the blocks.  I probably should have used a paper cutter to make the cuts, but I just eyeballed it reasonably carefully with a pair of scissors.  Cut lines are in the original graphic as you can see above.

(The Airship in the base game is Dauntless (natural wood).. in the followup expansions, there are also the larger airship Dominion (pale blue), the smaller Ship Corsair (orange), and several enemy single dice aircraft representing pirates, as well as a small 3 dice pirate craft (black).  These were all constructed, printed and and glued to various dice)

There are also some cardboard counters that I improvised mounting on cardboard..

Improvised Revenant pirate counters, another variant.. click to enlarge

The results were the Dauntless, Dominion and Corsair, The Pirate Cruiser, Revenant boarding crews and a bunch of single pirate aircraft. It all fits in one small cigar box nicely.

Voila! It stores like a champ. Click to enlarge

How does it play? Pretty simple stuff, really. In the Basic game you place the Dauntless in the center grid of the playing mat (provided in your printout stuff). Roll to see what kind of pirate single craft are coming in to attack you, and what part of the craft they are hitting:

the Dauntless fights off some Aether Pirates. Two of them are stacked up on each other. Click to enlarge

They roll to attack you, you roll to attack them. If they get a hit in, you rotate your airship dice to the next damaged side. It rotates (you guessed it) four times before destroying. An Airship can’t survive Zero point sections, and will crash on you sooner or later.

I find this a fun little diversion.. my first Print and Play game!! It was a amusing to build, though I made some mistakes. The color scheme is rather bland, and when I tried to apply sealer to keep the ink from running, I ended up ruining several cubes by overspraying that I had to fix later. That accounts for the distinctly darker labels on some of the cube stickers.

The game design is simple enough and quite enjoyable. My only criticism is that this game seems WAY too easy. I will have to tinker with the design a little to make it more competitive. Good show, Todd Sanders. You can find the files for this game on BoardGamgeek, HERE.


GMT Games prioritizes tablet computing targets

Copyright BoardGameGeek 2010

Dominant Species

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

Dominant Species App Menu

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

Dominant Species Tutorial in action…

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

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

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



Mission Viejo, California (March 26, 2014) – The last day to enter One Small Step Games Tabletop Day Contest isFriday, March 28.

The three week contest, which began March 7, celebrates gaming and International Tabletop Day’s worldwide effort to promote gaming and connect fans and publishers.

When someone enters, they get to choose from a list of seven OSS Games. The first six are sets of Millennium Wars, a strategic-level, two-player simulation of possible current and near-future conflicts including Ukraine, Iraq, Kashmir, Air War, Korea and America. Entrants can also choose the notorious Politics as Usual, a wild, multiplayer card game that lets players run the campaigns of their favorite candidates in a bid for the White House.

Winners will be chosen on Saturday, March 29. One winner of a Millennium Wars title will receive theMillennium Wars: Six-Pack, all six games in one package. Up to 10 winners of a Politics as Usual game will also receive a Politics as Usual—Unusual Suspect Expansion set.

For every 50 entrants, OSS Games is giving away one game. People can enter the contest up to four times through options like posting about the contest on social media and referring others to the contest. Subscribers to Ares Magazine, OSS Games’ latest project which launched after its successful Kickstarter in January, get an additional chance to enter.

Contest information, rules and the online entry form are on the website of Ares Magazine. To enter the contest, go to http://aresmagazine.com/?page_id=341.


One Small Step Games has been around since 1996 and has published dozens of games, including designs from Bill Banks, Dan Verssen, Joseph Miranda, and Richard Berg. More information is available atwww.ossgames.com.


OSS Games website:  www.ossgames.com
Ares Magazine website: www.aresmagazine.com
Inquires/Press: rules@ossgames.com
OSS Games Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OSSGames
Ares Magazine Facebook: www.facebook.com/AresMagazine
Twitter: @AresMagazine www.twitter.com/AresMagazine


Today’s moment of Zen: Playing Games Remotely

Today's moment of Zen: Playing Games Remotely

Back when this appeared in print, there wasn’t an “internet”, email was mostly conceptual outside of DoD and a few universities, and the web as we know it was about 15 years off. Food for thought.


Men who stare at Goats; Goats who stare at games. It’s all good.

Now, this here is one excellent Kickstarter update. David Malki is the mind behind WONDERMARK.COM, which, if you haven’t visited, you really ought to right now and come back later, because some foundation is required to appreciate Mr. Malki’s humor. Wondermark is simply outstanding– Victorian, Whimsical, Surreal. Malki has also penned (or co-penned, I forget) THE MACHINE OF DEATH, a collection of short stories about a machine that can predict the exact consequences of your death, and will tell them to you on a cryptically written small card. The funny premise of the book was just how complicated the writer has to get to create a situation where one perishes by “a stampede of owls” or “strangled by eels”… Anyway, Malki and friends decided to get into the game business about a year ago and wanted to create a semi-storytelling game of ‘creative assassination’ where Players play cards (similar to the cryptic ones in the stories) and explain how that kind of death would transpire. Or at least, I think so, it’s been while since I’ve seen the original proposal.

I’m happy to see it’s funded and now coming back from the printers! And to make the deal even sweeter, David Malki himself is taking the first copies of the game to arrive in the States to a local farm to have goats stare* at them. I’m not sure how that improves the actual quality of the game itself but there’s a part of me that regrets not kicking into history’s first goat-certified game. Oh well, enjoy it, everyone!

* Probably a backhanded reference to by Jon Ronson’s book.

The Rebirth of Ares Magazine… well, hopefully

Simulation Publications, aka SPI Games, Inc, the late and still lamented games publisher, was an innovative and incredibly prolific publisher of games that existed between 1969 and 1982. I liked their approach– their forte was military conflict simulation games, of which I owned plenty, and they published maybe the best gaming magazine of that distant era, Strategy and Tactics, a magazine with a wargame in every issue. S&T (as it is commonly abbreviated) outlived its parent company, and has lived on under a variety of owners, the most current being Decision Games. S&T was a great magazine and a great marketing tool that allowed the parent company to stay in touch with the core audience’s likes and dislikes using a simple feedback mechanism using postcards in every issue. The magazine would poll the audience about future game proposals and generally make decisions about what to publish based upon that feedback. A simple system, and it worked very well.

say whatever you like about 70s graphic styles, this is colorful and memorable.

say whatever you like about 70s graphic styles, this is colorful and memorable.

One market niche that was taking root and growing fast in the late 70s and early 80s was the desire for fantasy and science fiction games, a niche that SPI did very well, in my humble opinion. Their version of War of the Ring, John Carter of Mars, War in the Ice, even supposedly “lowbrow” stuff like The Creature that Ate Sheboygan… well, maybe they weren’t genius designs, but they sure were fun to play, and the market was growing by leaps and bounds back then. Remember, D&D had been out for just a few years (from roughly 1975 onward, but really 1977). The market wasn’t nearly as saturated as it is today for F&SF game products, so SPI did reasonably well in that niche. To support their expanding hobby base, SPI decided to create another magazine, specifically themed for fantasy and science fiction games, with the intention of supporting the existing SPI F&SF game products, adding in short fiction and science articles, and of course product reviews from inside and outside of SPI. Best of all, there would be a game included in every issue, just like S&T managed to do. Thus, SPI could field a publication that could included in different marketing outlets that might not support a military history themed gaming magazine, like comic book stores. The new magazine was called ARES. From the start it was big and bright and colorful, displaying Redmond Simonsen’s particular genius for evoking themes from simple images and bright colors.  Individual issues retailed in the six dollar range.   A grand total of 17 issues were printed before the parent company SPI, facing disastrous financial issues, was swallowed up by TSR, the company that published D&D.   TSR, though in the fantasy business, of sorts, didn’t know what to do with a gaming magazine that was a former competitor to their own in house magazine, THE DRAGON (1976-2007 in printed format, online thereafter).  So they added an “Ares Section” to each issue for about a year or so (focusing solely on TSR Science Fiction games like Gamma World! and Star Frontiers), then even that died out, and that was that for ARES magazine.  During its short and productive life, ARES created some fun games and a magazine that was genuinely entertaining to read.  The fiction pieces were no slouches, either, with some genuine talents here and there.  John Boardman’s science essays were generally very informative.  One in particular, “No, you won’t be going to the stars”,   which was featured in the premiere issue, has stuck with me my entire life as a reference for just how LONG travel between stars will be.

Greg Costikyan, who contributed his share of F&SF games to SPI’s output, published a canonical List of Ares Issues and contents on his website.  He’s what I would call an authority.

Nowadays, if you’re interested in revisiting individual issues from that long ago era, you can download every issue published before the TSR takeover in various formats from ARCHIVE.ORG, though I recommend the PDF version.  The Epub conversion are less than optimal.

One Small Step Games (who I had thought folded tents a long time ago) is a not very prolific publisher of small format games that used to fit in the “Microgames” niche– noticeably from their own (long defunct) gaming magazine, GAMEFIX/COMPETITIVE EDGE (ceased publication in 1998).  Like SPI of old, their magazine also had a game in every issue while it lasted, which was 13 issues.  I liked GF/CE games– many of them designed by some reputable designers like Richard Berg and Joe Miranda.   I had lost track of this little company a while ago and thought they had jumped on the road to palookaville, like a lot of small game companies.  I’m glad they are still around, as it turns out– they recently announced on their blog that they are in the process of acquiring publishing rights to ARES MAGAZINE, the great old Fantasy and Science Fiction themed magazine-with-a-game product from SPI’s past.   I’m a little apprehensive of the language being used, here.. 

The vision we hold is for an all-new Ares magazine, published bi-monthly, with 80 pages of fiction, 20 pages of OSS nonsense, and a complete game in every issue.

If you remember the old magazine fondly, the new edition will retain the portion of the original formula that makes sense, but provide more content and higher quality. If you don’t remember the original edition . . . well, you still get all of the delicious nutrition, but without any of the nostalgia.

There are still a hundred things that can go awry with our plan, but if we can stay on course, you should see our Kickstarter program before the end of the year. 

A little snippet of the map from ALBION: LAND OF FAERIE (Issue 11)

A little snippet of the map from ALBION: LAND OF FAERIE (Issue 11 of ARES Magazine)

100 pages a month?  That’s a lot of pages to fill.   80 pages of fiction and 20 pages of “OSS Nonsense?”  Did I get that right?  So is it.. what.. a gaming magazine with a LOT of fiction included, or a SF magazine with a tiny bit of game content??

Oh well, count me in as one of those people with “fond memories of the original magazine”.  When the inevitable Kickstarter is announced, I’ll be in on this one.

This little snippet has inspired me.. I might do an issue by issue review, like I did with Metagaming, here in this blog.  Especially now that it’s archived on Archive.org.

2013 Game Camp Day 2: Magi Round 2 and X-Wing Miniatures

Tuesday was a good day.  Due to popular request, I ran The Magi again for a second day.  This was a much faster game than the first one as there was less stuff for the players to figure out.  It was, however, the day that everyone got enamored with casting the Summon Elemental spell, which will require an edit, I think.  It’s much too powerful as written.

the Magi and Elementals in play

Fink the Wrathful casts his second Ice Elemental; in the background Weenus Bitterkins casts a Fire Elemental to destroy both of them.


The Wizards Fink the Wrathful, Jenna Greywind and Weenus Bitterkins were the standouts in this contest.  Sadly, my character, Fizban the Fabulist, got a face full of two ice storms in a row and died rather quickly once the Ice Elemental was cast.  It was  a great game that saw Jenna Greywind as the last Wizard standing.

Millenium Falcon cruises by

Who invited HIM?? (Click to see Slideshow)

After a quick gobbled lunch we set up X-Wing Miniatures, using the aforementioned new star map I made on Sunday. X-Wing isn’t a game to give a lot of people mental shakes but it is a tad more complex than what the campers had encountered so far; however, everyone liked it.. even if one or two complained that it was harder to understand. I think the game is elegant as written; the mechanics enhance the great theme and the ships interact together very nicely. The subtle differences between ships were far more acute in this multiplayer game than the one on one contests I have enjoyed up to now. I think the investment in the game paid off at this camp– I had more than enough ships for everyone and the game was stunning and visual.

X Wing Game Tuesday afternoon

The game was more or less a tie, but with an edge to the Imperium, running one Tie Advanced (piloted by Vader) and 5 regular Tie Fighters. The Rebels ran two A-Wings, 2 Y-Wings and 1 X-Wing (Skywalker). The special powers of Vader and some of the Tie pilots were decisive in a game where one extra dice roll can be life or death.

Second day in a row of running two games back to back. Tomorrow Gar will run Cosmic Encounters while I set up a big game of BIG DANGED BOATS.

and as always, a BIG THANKS to Wargames Factory LLC, who donated figures for us to paint!

Here’s a more direct thank you from the kids themselves!

01 Jun 2013 NOVAG Game Day: Denmark Strait and Battle of the River Platte

As a favor to Tim Tilson of NOVAG leadership, I responded to his request to run games with a couple of “games in the hip pocket” as it were.  I think a dedicated miniatures hobbyist should always have something in a box ready to go for just this sort of occurrence.  So here’s my plan:

NOVAG GAME DAY, 01 JUNE 2013.  Location: Knights of Columbus Hall in Fairfax, VA.  Gaming starts at 1300 and ends at 1800.  That means I have all of 5 hours.  I could run one long or two short games, and my money is on two short ones.  I think Victory at Sea can support this.  It’s not the most complicated naval rule set I’ve ever seen (Harpoon it ain’t) and has very straightforward game mechanics that should execute quickly with minimal oversight.


The Battle of Denmark Strait.

Players: 4 max, plays reasonably well with down to 2 players.
In May of 1941, the Bismarck and the escorting Prinz Eugen finally broke out into the Atlantic and were free to begin their commerce raiding cruise.  Just two ships of the Royal Navy stood in their way, the HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales.
The resulting battle proved to be disastrous for the Royal Navy and lead to one of the greatest confrontations at sea during WW2.
Perhaps it could have gone differently, who knows?  The RN players will have the Hood and Prince of Wales, the Germans the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.  Rules will be Victory at Sea by Mongoose Publishing.
Scale: is slightly larger than 1:600 (Axis and Allies War at Sea ships)
Rules: Victory at Sea,
Duration: Probably 3 hours max.
if needed in the late afternoon,
The Battle of River Plate
Players 4 max, the British player can play multiple ships
The first major naval engagement of WW2, the Admiral Graf Spee had been successfully raising merchant ships in the South Atlantic, but the Royal Navy’s Sought American Division was closing in.  On December 13th, 1939, three British Cruisers engaged the German pocket battleship.  On paper, they were outgunned.  Historically, the German captain balked due to his certainty that there was another RN squadron nearby (there wasn’t)– so he cut and run to a neutral harbor where he ended up scuttling his ship.  This scenario allows the half-completed historical battle to be played out.  In a stand up fight the British player will be at a gunnery and armor disadvantage, but will have the advantage of attacking from different directions.
Scale is 1:600, rules Victory at Sea, probably 3 hours max.

I expect the Bismarck scenario will run faster than the Graf Spee.  Since I’m playing with over-sized WaS miniatures the scale might be a little tight, and thus players will start closer together.
As mentioned the Bismarck scenario ship models are all from the War At Sea collection from Axis and Allies.  A little large for naval gaming and crude close up, but from a distance they look just fine to me.  I have picked these ups in dribs and drabs from flea markets and Ebay, it was a very cost effective acquisition of ship models.  Their great advantage is that they all come pre-painted, and that makes life easy.
To make the River Platte Scenario happen, I went wild (courtesy of a 25% off sale on Free Comic Book Day) and bought Mongoose Publishing’s BATTLE OF RIVER PLATTE battle set.

Battle of the River Platte. About 28 USD for me, and I consider it a pretty good purchase.

The miniatures are a pleasant surprise.  Scaled for 1:600 which some people find overlarge but I’m quite comfortable with after years of Uncharted Seas, these minis are very well detailed, solid, with think attached bases and some metal bits, such as turrets and masts, to cut out and glue on.  Each kit comes with a label on the bottom and an extra set of metal bits.  I’m impressed.  (edit: the Mongoose Publishing ships are 1:1800, not 1:600.  They compare favorably to the Axis and Allies War at Sea ships, which I discovered last night)

photo of miniature

Top, River Platte Set Miniature

image_1 (2)

Dude, I know. It came from the Publisher spelled that way.

These miniatures are competitively priced and very well done.  I just might acquire more, especially the battle packs for engagements with small numbers of ships engaged.

So, if you’re in my neck of the woods, and want to play a naval game or two if they let us go long, Drop on by.

Lastly, a little inspiration. I have discovered you can view several excellent films on these battles for FREE, on Youtube.

The Battle of the River Platte (This is a Playlist collection on youtube– Part 1 appears to be missing, but it’s not really required to enjoy this film)

This was a very accurate rendition of the battle shot in the 50s, with one of the British ships that participated in the battle (Achilles) playing itself and an American cruiser playing the Graf Spee. Sure, it has one turret too many, and there are a few other historical goofs, but no real howlers. I like this film for the same reason I like SINK THE BISMARCK (the British Action Film, not the documentary)– it’s not melodramatic, it doesn’t concentrate on human drama so much as portray the events as they occurred and it depicts both sides as doing a professional job of accomplishing their mission as ordered. The effects are subdued and even crude, but the melodrama is minimal and there’s not even a single shot of a captain staring up at the camera and shouting “Nooooooo” with a dying ensign in his arms.

Sink the Bismarck! (this is a playlist on Youtube of the History Channel’s documentary of the Battle of Denmark Strait (in full)).

This is a documentary, not the 1960 drama referenced in the paragraph above. The documentary is quite good and has good animations.

The Prinz Eugen Film of Denmark Strait

Camera footage taken from the Bismarck’s escort, the cruiser Prinz Eugen.

The Mighty HMS Hood (part 1 of a 4 part series)

A PBS documentary about the confrontation between HOOD and BISMARCK, likely originating from the BBC.

Battle of the River Platte newsreel

The Scuttling of the Graf Spee newsreel footage

Enjoy, hope to see you there!

EDIT: Just got this from Tim Tilson via email.

“The deadline for the PEL is Friday.  A final PEL will published early next week.  Currently there are seven games as follows:
SYW Land x1
Colonial x1
WWI Naval x1
WWII Naval x1 (two if necessary) That’s me.
WWII Land x2
Fantasy Land x1
We start at 1:00 pm so people can take of errands/soccer etc in the am.  Since this is not a library we can stay as late as we want.  A 6:00 pm end time is about right as most games will be done by then.  And yes the price is the major determiner.  We are not paying a set fee. Instead we will take all the $ from the admissions fees and donate that to the Knights of Columbus council.”  

November 2012 Nurikabe Puzzle

We really need to get another puzzle in, and since I was doing a Nurikabe puzzle this evening, it seemed like a perfect candidate. Nurikabe is another fun Japanese number puzzle that shows up in Japanese newspapers on a regular basis. The game is played by adding numbers to a (usually, but not always) 10 x 10 grid. To play, a grid is provided with numbers. The number represents the number of white spaces contiguous to the numbers. The rest of the spaces are filled with black to represent rivers. The trick is to fit all those little white and black spaces on the grid. Remember the square with the number is inclusive to the count, thus a white square with a 1 in it only takes up one square.

An example of a grid with the numbers, then with the rivers filled in.

This is indeed the tricky part, and the part that reminds me of MS Window’s Minefield. How do you fill in the black part yet allow for a number of white spaces determined by the numbers in the box?

Here are two Nurikabes for you to play with, and we’ll publish the answers in a week or two. Enjoy!

Two Nurikabe puzzles for your puzzling pleasure

Nurikabe animation!

This is an animated GIF of a 10x10 Nurikabe pu...

This is an animated GIF of a 10×10 Nurikabe puzzle depicting a Nurikabe puzzle being solved.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Some IPad Reviews: Can’t Stop, Slapshot, Alien Frontiers and Spectromancer


I’ve been meaning to write a few reviews for dog’s years now, but haven’t had a lot of free time until lately.  There’s been some very interesting releases in the last few months, and since BGG doesn’t send me anything to review any more I’d thought I’d start catching up on this blog again.

Itunes LINK
Developer: Playdek
Play: hotseat and versus AI, no network play
Cost: .99 as of this writing
Space: 23 MB

Unless you’re a geek savant, you’re probably not having the name Sid Sackson ring any bells for you.   On this, you can trust me.  Sid Sackson probably forgot more about game design during the course of his life than many active designers today will ever learn.   He designed ACQUIRE, EXECUTIVE DECISION, BAZAAR and a bunch of other games.  He wrote about game design and his books are considered essential reading.  He was also a great guy who is sadly missed (Sid passed away in 2002).   So, yes, you might say I was happy to see one of Sid’s most famous games show up in App form recently.  CAN’T STOP is one of the games that made Sid famous (in certain circles).  It’s a simple dice game with a simple premise.   The app’s interface follows the original boardgame (by Parker Brothers, released in the 60s) faithfully:  Four dice, a board in the shape of a stop sign, a set of eleven markers for each player, and three neutral-colored markers to show your current dice roll columns. The board consists of eleven columns of spaces, one column for each of the numbers 2 through 12. The columns (respectively) have 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5 and 3 spaces each. The number of spaces in each column roughly corresponds to the likelihood of rolling them on two dice.  6,7,8 being the most common (and the most squares to go up) and 12 and 2 being the least common rolls and with only a few spaces.  The goal of the game is to “claim” (get to the top of) three of the columns before any of the other players can. But the more that the player risks rolling the dice during a turn, the greater the risk of losing the advances made during that turn by “crapping out” or not rolling the combination you already have selected.  So it’s a big bluff game.

How did Can’t Stop roll?

In general, the game interface captures much of the board game Can’t Stop’s look and feel perfectly.  This is sort of a given from a group like Playdek, who have a great track record behind them with Ascension, Nightfall, Summoner Wars and Food Fight. Playdek is one of the best boardgame conversion app companies in existence. So did they knock this one out of the park, or not?


The basic game play, two player.

The animation is very much over the top. I was besieged by a plethora of “You WIN!” “Hot STREAK!” and “ROCK AND ROLLER!” animations, which are cute once or twice but kind of get old after a little while.

This is just the tip of the animation iceburg

Perhaps Playdek has no faith in the excitement level of a basic dice game, and felt that it needed some artificial excitement. Hard to say. I’d like to be able to turn this stuff off, but I don’t see how. This doesn’t ruin the game for me. The mechanics, however, are very spotty.  After several games, I noticed a few glitches. The game (on the screen) isn’t following the rules of Can’t Stop, with several bugs noticeable– the game won’t allow you to claim combinations that you rolled, puts extra colored tokens on the board, etc. This has been discussed at length on Boardgamegeek.

Hey, look! I have five active columns at once! or is that six?

I don’t want to beat them up over each and every bug that I discovered during play. Suffice to say, there’s more than one bug and this app needs some work to be 100% perfect. At .99 retail, I hope Playdek takes this game seriously enough to fix them, it’s a classic.

The Verdict:

I’m going to be generous and give it a 3 out of 5 for the nostalgia factor, the excellent attempt at interface envoking the board game, and the general 70s schmaltziness of the game experience. It felt like a coin operated slots game in Atlantic City. However, I’m probably not going to play it much until they address some of the grevious bugs in the program. The lack of asynchronous online play also was very disappointing. Not Playdek’s best effort, and possibly one of the worst.

Can't Stop (board game)

Can’t Stop (board game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can’t Stop Pictures:

nizzocles's Story

Itunes LINK
Developer: Barnard Enterprises
Play: Solitaire and versus AI, no network play
Cost: 1.99 as of this writing
Space: 25.8 MB

Slapshot– it’s one of those games where I guess I’m missing something.   I’ve seen the original card game played at the World Boardgame Championships by grown men without shirts on with hockey names painted on their stomachs, and believe me, that’s not a crowd that should go topless. So I always supposed Slapshot has an enthusiastic following. Slapshot is a hockey themed card game published by Columbia Games. Players assume the role of a hockey team manager. The object is to manage your team into the playoffs and then win the championship. During the regular season, your team can be improved with trades and drafts. Injuries and luck will add a random element. The physical components are a gameboard, 54 Player cards and playing pieces, all of which are reproduced in the game app interface.

Same silly imagery

The original art, which is a series of card illustrations and horrid punning hockey player names, is retained faithfully in the app. The art is nothing to write home about but at least it matches the source material.

Dealing cards out at start of game

Game play is pretty straightforward (read that as: limited to about four key choices).

The player is dealt his or her hand, which can be Goalies (red) Defensemen (green) or Forwards (blue). The game goes to rounds with other players. Each round, a player can DRAFT which swaps a single card for a random replacement from a central pool, or TRADE a single card against an AI player’s hand randomly, which the AI player (and yourself when it’s your turn) can’t refuse. He can also PLAY which starts a match. A match is simple matching card numbers against each other, right to left in order, and seeing which number is higher. The greater number of wins wins the match.

An ongoing match

The track at the bottom of the page keeps track of who will get to the playoffs. Winning in the playoffs wins the game.

Victory is simply a matter of putting your cards in an order that they numerically beat your opponent most of the time for 9 times. Everything else, drafting and trading, supports this.


I’ll give it a big 3 out of 5. I suppose if I were a fan of the original game at all, this would be 4 out of 5. However, I’m not, and the game play itself felt fairly limited. I could make decisions that would alter the outcome by drafting, trading or rearranging the order of a hand before a match.. but still, game play is just numerical comparison and to me, that was a yawner. Still, a 3 out of 5 for the faithful rendition in app form, the pacing and the great sound effects. If you like the source card game, you’ll love this app.

Slap Shot Pictures:

nizzocles's Story

Itunes LINK
Developer: Clever Mojo Games
Play: Solitaire and versus AI, no network play
Cost: 4.99 as of this writing
Space: 41.9 MB

The game app for ALIEN FRONTIERS is a conversion of a famous dice placement game that was a huge hit about three years ago. Alien Frontiers (the board game) was the first boardgame success story to be crowd-source funded via Kickstarter, and arguably it’s the best success story yet for boardgames. The game is played by colonizing an alien planet’s surface and scoring points by having successful colonies. The player will roll dice combinations and place them on the board in areas that will yield temporary and permanent benefits to the player in the quest to add colonies– such as technology cards, or new ships, or energy and metal resources. Game play is pretty tricky and has multiple paths to victory. Alien Frontiers game (as a boardgame) can be a lot of fun indeed.

Was the app for Alien Frontiers (pardon the pun) Out of this World?

Splash Page

Well, immediately I noticed the decision to retain the wonderfully nostalgic Mark Maxwell boardgame art in the interface was a good one. It really made the connection between the board game and the Ipad app happen for me. My only complaint was that even using the maximum amount of screen space possible, there is a lot of stuff happening in the Alien Frontiers screen, and its a little busy and hard to read as a result. Not impossible, just a little crowded. That’s a compromise I’m willing to make.

WOW, lotta things going on here!!

Game play could have been a lot better. I’m not a second Clausewitz by any stretch, yet I consistently beat this game. That really shouldn’t happen. I think the AI’s decision tree is pretty complex and needs some tweaking, at least in the version I’m currently playing.

It may not look like it now, but watch my come from behind victory! Any second now.

The Verdict:

It may not have the brains but it sure has the looks. Enough of the original game experience has ported over into the app that I still play this one constantly (stupid AI or not). At worst it’s practice for a real boardgame version of the game, at best, it’s a very amusing dice placement game that needs an AI Fix, which Clever Mojo is working on as I write this. I give it a quixotic 4 out of 5 for sheer personal amusement factor, and the fact that this is one of those games I personally backed on Kickstarter, so it can’t be bad, plain and simple. 😀

The surface almost claimed. I am the red player.

Itunes LINK
Developer: Three Donkeys LLC
Play: hotseat, multiplayer on server, single challenge online, and versus AI
Cost: 1.99 as of this writing
Space: 18.7 MB

SPECTROMANCER was a great recent discovery. Spectromancer is a fantasy card game of magical dueling with a strong MTG vibe. Players participate in a magical duel against other mages by strategically summoning creatures and casting spells. Each mage uses five magical elements during a duel – Fire, Water, Air and Earth, plus a fifth related to the specific mage type. Players are able to duel against the computer or against live players online via a server maintained by the Three Donkeys LLC, or play hotseat.

So did Spectromancer cast a spell on me?

Game play couldn’t be simpler but that doesn’t mean that it’s too easy. Each player is “seated” across the table from each other and they summon a long line of creatures that are summoned with various flavors of magic. These creatures attack the opposite player unless they are blocked by creatures or impacted by magic.

Two battle lines drawn up.. who shall succeed?

For a game with such little fanfare and PR hullabaloo, Spectromancer is surprisingly full of nuance and depth. There’s tons of options for play (some of which is unlocked through in app purchases). Each in app purchase adds a flavor of magic to the game.

The Verdict:

I found myself playing this one quite a bit and I definitely think it’s worth the pittance being asked for it. A lot of brainwork and talent went into making this game happen and the results are fun, fast and furious. I give it a 4 out of 5 for chutzpah and good design.

Spectromancer Pictures:

nizzocles's Story

So that’s a big chunk of the queue for Ipad app reviews in the hopper. I may make these a little shorter than I have been but I’m going to continue coverage of new (and older) Ipad apps as they hit the street.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Where have I been for a week? Gaming Camp AAR

Introduction: In case those folks that know me are fearing I’ve dropped off the side of the planet, I spent last week running a Gaming Camp for a local school for a week.  This is a continuation of a project started by onetime HMGS President Del Stover, and the intent was to get children interested in “unplugged” gaming– something outside the realm of Internet, Xbox, PCs and Iphones.   I’ve been doing this for about five years off and on.  Game Camp is an activity that I really enjoy and it has influenced a few kids over the years, I’m reasonably certain.

I did not put on a camp last year; therefore, I was a little late getting into the catalog and that may have kept attendance low– I only had word of mouth and the website to spread the word with.  I only had six kids this year, as opposed to 14 to 20 in years past.  Even with small numbers, we had a great time and in many ways the camp was more efficient.  In fact, I daresay I had a better time than usual as they were very easy to manage, with the help of my son Gar.

This year, I didn’t stress the format too much.  I design a new game (at least one) every year and this year was no exception– OLYMPICA 6mm debuted as a 6mm-ish miniatures game, and there are more details on it in this post.  I had a few arrangements fall through on me for this year so had to do some last minute scrambling to pick up supplies.

The format and structure of camp was similar to previous years in that I procured miniatures for the kids to paint (in this case, 3 boxes of Wargames Factory Storm troopers, 1 box of Warhammer Zombies and some leftovers and donated miniatures from Robert Peipenbrook, (for which they were very grateful).   I was flat out of things by Friday, and I just told them to take it all home with them, which led to an orgy of procurement.  I’m not a particularly gifted painter, but I can, kinda sorta, make things look like they should.  So I went over some fundamentals and they really took to it.  One person in particular, Gage, really did some nice work.

Day One: Really Big Gladiators versus the Undead Legion

I ran a quick game of OZ FLUXX during lunch, just to lighten spirits. It seemed to work!

Game idea: 54mm gladiators versus a seemingly endless wave of skeletal warriors, similar to Jason and the Argonauts (the good version)
Rules: Munera sine Milone
Minis: A mixture of Italieri, Pegasus, Marx, Alpha and a few other onesies and twosies.

I run Munera Sine Milone gladiator games using 54mm gladiator games on Monday, almost every year so far.  There’s a good reason for this.  It’s a great game that is phenomenally easy to pick up and kind of runs itself after a while.   It gets the kids into the spirit of the thing nicely.  This year, I added an undead horde of skeletons to vanquish, which they did rather handily, though I will make ’em tougher next time.

Gladiators versus the Skeleton Horde

Dwarf Gladiators get swarmed.

I got the vibe that they kind of dug it. This was our victor.

Day Two: OLYMPICA 6MM, The UN Attempts to defeat the Web of Compulsion on Mars

Game Idea: UN Raid on Nix Olympica Crater, targeting the “Web of Compulsion” generator and the near-hivemind cult of the “Webbies” on Mars.
Rules: Olympica6mm, written for the game.
Minis: almost 100% Mechwarrior Clickie miniatures from Whizkids, rebased, or kitbashed.  I also bought a radar station for the web generator from Iron Cow.

This activity is discussed in depth in an earlier post. Suffice to say that it looked great and the kids picked up on the game fast enough, but I don’t think they grasped a few concepts easily, so may have to rewrite these. Check the other post for a draft of the rules.

Olympica 6mm setup

Olympica 6mm main battlefield

Olympica 6mm Closeup

Another long view

In general the kids felt that the game was good but the UN players felt like they couldn’t win. Which is weird because I felt the opposite when I played the webbie player back when this was a boardgame. I’m going to make certain adjustments in hit points and movement rates. I did feel like the UN player wasn’t advancing nearly as fast as he could. It’s a work in progress.

While I was setting OLYMPICA up, Gar ran ROADKILL RALLY (this was his first day helping me, Tuesday, and he loved lending a hand). The kids definitely loved this one, and why not? It has everything a kid would love– cartoony violence and a smug sense of humor.


Day Three: Finish Olympica, Set up and Play Uncharted Seas, Battle of the Steam Plume

Game Idea: Multiple Fleets compete to establish foothold on rich island owned by the Dragon Lords.  Alas, there is a large active volcano blocking the harbor, which often erupts a little lava.
Rules: Uncharted Seas (commercial)
Minis: Uncharted Seas, various fleets (commercial)

Wednesday dawned and the kids wanted to finish OLYMPICA 6mm. I pulled another game out of the lineup, which was a rewrite of the old Lilliputtian game I had done several camps ago.

No muss, no fuss. We played OLYMPICA out to a Webbie victory, and then I got Gar to run my favorite boardgame of ALL time, COSMIC ENCOUNTERS (Fantasy Flight Version). Even running the short game with four planets, I was suprised how quickly the kids got through two games of CE.

Packing up Cosmic Encounters after two quick games

Oh well, they had fun and Gar does seem confident running this game. It’s a particular favorite of his.

Day Four: An entire day of Uncharted Seas, much to my surprise.

The setup for the Uncharted Seas game was a replay of The Battle of the Steam Plume, which I have run at Williamsburg Muster and Cold Wars.  I just love having the Volcano.

The rest of Wednesday and ALL of Thursday was taken up with an Epic UNCHARTED SEAS game, which may require an epic narration, so suffice to say, I will break that one out into another post shortly.   I was not surprised that the game went long, but was dumbfounded at how much they wanted to play after literally playing ALL DAY LONG on Thursday.   We did play through to a conclusion.   I ran a lackadaisical Orc fleet just to keep the far end of the board from stagnating, and it worked perfectly.  Gar ran his current favorite fleet, the Shroud Mages, and the Humans, the Elves, the Dwarves and the Undead were also on the table.  More on this later.

Undead and Shrouds get a horrendous critical hit in the last turn of the game…

A lesson in not counting your chickens before they are hatched. The tiny dwarf cruiser misses a ram, gets boarded, and in the ensuing fight to the death with Orc Boarders from the Pillager, manages to kill every last one of them to capture the prize.

The Humans try a Da Vinci boarding attack, from a balloon. It works admirably and they take a Dwarven battleship!

The Elves hold off attacking anyone until quite late.. earning the sobriquet, “The Pacifists” in this fight.

I promote Uncharted Seas as the centerpiece of the weak, and this game was no exception.. big, bright, colorful, with lovely big fantasy models that I have used for many sea fights. I love Uncharted Seas, and I made a fan out of some of the kids. One of them even went and ordered DYSTOPIAN WARS stuff from Miniatures Market based upon this game.

So Thursday’s stuff was packed up and Friday dawned as the last day of camp.

DAY 5: Hey, Hey, it’s Zombietown USA

Game idea: You’re running two SWAT team members in a group that just barely made it back to main camp, only to find it overrun by the undead.
Rules: Zombietown USA, written by camp members a few years ago but still great.
Minis: Mostly HorrorClix Zombies and SWAT team members.

I ran a game that was actually designed by my campers a few years ago and modded by me a little, HEY, HEY, IT’S ZOMBIETOWN USA. This is a dirt simple zombies versus a SWAT Team game, and it went really well.. for such a simple game, it may have been a favorite for many kids.

Zombie Mutants attack. All figures repurposed HORROR CLIX miniatures from Whizkids.

SWAT troopers shake off the zombie horde to run for it, not caring that running makes noise that attracts more zombies.

A hairy moment early in the game where the SWAT guys get surrounded.

Towards the end of the game, many silly things happened, including Garrett discovering a laser-wielding alien that nearly killed him, and Grenade thrown into the foundations of a very ricket building (FROM THE UPSTAIRS) and even more zombies showing up. Not quite a horde, but a lot.

We had to have a winner to close the game out, so we nominated Gage’s SWAT guy as a winner, zipping down the zip line to the helipad. SO long, Suckers! I’m outta here!

The Winner, mostly by decree as he had gotten the farthest to the chopper, was Gage.

And that was camp! We played a ton of games– Fluxx, Cosmic Encounter, The Resistance, and Roadkill Rally board and card games, and Miniatures games of Olympica 6mm, Really Big Gladiators, Uncharted Seas and Zombietown USA. Reaction to the camp was overwhelmingly positive. I had one kid say “This was hands down the best camp all Summer, PLEASE run it again next Summer”
That is very gratifying.

Couple of Paperless Gaming Notes: I didn’t print out Munera Sine Milone on Monday.  We just ran the game from my Ipad E-Reader, and that worked just fine!  Olympica, the same story.  I did work from a rulebook for Uncharted Seas (it’s too complex not to) and used paper.   I only worked from one printout to run Zombietown USA, but it was left over from last year.

I was amazed at how fast the week went. Things went off without a hitch. It was mostly a positive pleasant experience, with a touch of drama here and there. Boys will be boys. I’m glad I threw this this year and I hope I can do it again in 2013.

Farewell! Until Next Year!

Enhanced by Zemanta