Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Naturally Disastrous First Look


Here you go, I just received the first production copy of Naturally Disastrous by Silver Lake Games. This is a recent funded Kickstarter.

The premise, as promised by the designer, reads like so:

Naturally Disastrous is a 1-6 player co-operative dice driven game of peril and adventure. Your mission is simple enough. Arrive at your destination, verify the conditions and then set up a long range communication array to deliver your findings back to your superiors. Easy, right? Your visit to Earth is supposed to just be a quick investigation into how the planet is doing.

As you enter the atmosphere massively destructive storms make it hard to navigate. Giant volcanoes, earthquakes, thermal gas explosions and flooding are rampant and tearing the Earth apart and what happens next? You and your crew are shot at by some natives claiming that you are violating their air space. As your ship tears itself apart and plummets to the desert floor you know that your only chance of survival will be to pick up the pieces of your communications array that are now conveniently scattered across the driest most self-destructing climate you have ever seen.

All you have to do is find and set up the four parts of the communications array and signal the mother ship to come heal this planet and get you out of here. You will have to navigate around the perilous hazards, avoid snipers who want you gone, secret agents who are stealing your technology, crazy mad scientists who want to perform experiments on you, and a completely different alien race who may even abduct you. Work together efficiently as a team and you will avoid a Naturally Disastrous fate! If you become mutated, you turn against your former allies.

The game is played on a randomized map, with randomly placed tokens. Each turn, the active player must roll to activate a disaster, and then has 3 actions per turn (move, probe, etc.) Combat is resolved with dice. As each part of the communications array is found, it must be transported to one of the corners of the map.  — From Boardgamegeek, “Description”

So my take on this is that this will be a game from the alien’s point of view, a sort of “Forbidden Island” without the sinking part of it.. maybe.  Anyway, we’re going to find that out as I will be playing it against actual humans in the next two weeks or so.  In the meantime, here is my reactions to an actual unboxing– literally the day after receiving it, so I have no idea of what the contents are.

Enjoy, and I apologize for the somewhat shaky Ipad camera. Most of my gear is packed away while my house is being rebuilt. I should get an Ipad stand, as I definitely needed two hands for this thing.

Ogre Miniatures Set 1 Kickstarter


Color me on board!  At long last, Steve Jackson Games is backing a project that brings back the long out of print OGRE MINIATURES LINE (out of print, incredibly expensive in after market) back as plastic miniatures.  The miniatures are designed based on the originals, match the originals in scale and look, and have been cleaned up and retooled for plastic molding process.  The only models currently in kickstarter are the basic OGRE set– it appears that you will be able to recreate the original OGRE scenario (with an Ogre III and an Ogre V to use).  The models are cast in a solid color, blue for the little guys and red for the OGRES.

As you can see they are doing a great job with the sculpts. The molds apparently have been purchased and the deal with China has been made.

You can even buy a reverse set in the primary plastic colors, courtesy of another funding resource


Original


Reverse colored

I’m pretty excited about this one– and I backed it! I may add on a reverse set, as well. The mere fact that SJG is calling this SET ONE means they will likely expand the rest of the OGRE universe.. exciting times!

DETAILS HERE: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/847271320/ogre-miniatures-set-1

 

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


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

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

Summer Gaming Camp, 2016 Day Two


Our second day started with people wanting to play GOOD COP, BAD COP, which is kind of deduction/bluffing game not too far removed from WEREWOLF but very different mechanics. The players are playing either rogue cops that are working for a criminal mastermind or good cops trying to deduce the bad guy. Instead of Werewolf’s eye-closing routine they use tokens and cards to indicate states of presumed innocence. It’s an interesting take on a similar theme.

The big event of the day was Battletech, Gar’s favorite game, and he ran that while I started prepping for Big Danged Boats, running Wednesday and Thursday. Garrett like Battletech and I suggested we add it to the programme this year and see if it works. We purchased a Catalyst Introductory set and got the figures painted. Terrain was somewhat abstracted, one of my old hex maps and some Heroscape terrain hexes to make hills. I thought it looked great.

Summary: Battletech is a game that Garrett likes a lot, but it’s a little too “Charty” for the kids in game camp. They thought it was a little complicated, though they were game to give it a go. They liked Armada more (so far). We broke for lunch and to play some dodgeball and Room 25. There also was a big interest in painting figures, so I did my best to facilitate and make everyone aware of their options.

So a day of Painting, Battletech, Dodgeball, Room 25 and Good Cop, Bad cop. Fun Times!

Ready Player One (A Review)


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

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

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

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It’s official.. we’re in the future


Yep, it’s hard to believe we’re there, but the Back to the Future series is officially 30 years old, and the astonishing gulf of years between when I sat in the balcony of the Uptown Theater in Washington DC and saw this movie has passed by, seemingly in the blink of an eye.  It’s always kind of cute to see how a movie from the past will predict near future events.  Usually the greatest howlers are how they portray computer equipment in the future– this is almost always wrong.  If I were making a movie about the future today, it would HAVE to depict regular access to data networks, some form of access and a lot of miniaturization and speed.. how the computer would look would be anybody’s guess.  Back in 1985, even the small home computers were bulky beasts.  I the Back to the Future series, the director included many visuals about future life that were played for laughs, then but if you think about it, aren’t that far off.  Wall screens?  Yah, well, we have flat screen TVs right now.  Using garbage for fuel?  MY county (Fairfax) is one of the most efficient in the United States for reclaiming energy from waste, which I’m absurdly proud of.  Smart clothing?  It’s here.  Handheld video games? Come on, that’s old news.  Tablet computers?  I’m writing on one right now.  Even the negative elements of modern life– being obsessed with electronics, giant multichannel Televisions, 3D movies and Movie Sequelitis.. that’s all part of OUR landscape here in the “future”.  Sure, Back to the Future is a silly comedy.  But it got a few things right.

I just want my damned hoverboard, before I become crippled with arthritis.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Future Tank Draft 1.08 released


CLICK ON ME TO GET THE EPUB

I did a major rewrite on Future Tank, to get rid of some of the language problems that arose out of using Tank Duel as the core. It is now a very different text (and substantially different as a game).

Changed:

Double Blind is now “Double Blindish” .. the curtain represents a haze of uncertainty due to environmental conditions. The closer the tanks come to each other the bigger the chance the curtain will be removed. The Tank Commanders already know of the layout of the battlefield area in advance due to satellite imagery and drone passes, they just don’t know what it looks like right now.

Added a “Grunt” as an infantry specialist. He is basically an autonomous weapon unit that can deploy out of the tank airlock and go reap havoc on other INF units, exposed sensors and etc.

Clarified the language on the Tank crew tasks and how they react and feed back to the Commander role. Created a matrix of orders and responses for this, in the appendix.

Clarified Scanning (using the tiny whiteboard/blip method) and some of the networked computing tasks that SPARKY performs.

Added: ORBATS and RGEs (Orbital Batteries and Robotic Gun Emplacements) to battle space installations.

Generally cleaned up the language to make it sound consistent and use the same terms throughout.

I don’t have this one on the DIGITAL RULES page (yet) as I consider still in draft stage. You can get an epub copy right here.

Enjoy. Please feedback what you think and any new suggestions.

Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera #1) reviewed


Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, #1)Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read novels by Jim Butcher before, specifically in the Harry Dresden series. I like Harry Dresden, but the magic realism thing kind of wears thin for me after a while, or at least I get a sense of repetition.. maybe it’s me. I’ve only read a few and don’t have a huge desire to read more. I like Butcher’s prose style, which is lean, yet descriptive, but after a dozen some odd Dresden novels there just isn’t much more you can do with the character.

So I really had no preconceptions starting the Codex Alera series. There was one available at the library and I wanted to read a fantasy story, that was that. I’m glad I did. I like Butcher’s world building in the Codex Alera– not much is stated but many background bits are inferred about the foundations of the world “Carna”, including how Alerans (humans) arrived into it (the old Lost Roman Legion saw). Humans, in this world, have an inherent grasp of elemental magic– earth, fire, water, metal, etc. The magic usually takes the form of a semi-sentient named spirit creature called a “Fury”. In Alera, EVERYONE has the Fury ability in some measure, save one person, the primary POV character, Tavi, a young boy of 13 at the time of the first book. Predictably Tavi is an outcast and outsider as a non-practitioner of “Furycraft” in a world where everyone is a crafter in some way.

The outsider status is what makes Tavi stand out, and in great measure be likeable and sympathetic. In a world where people can solve problems by commanding their magical spirits to do just about anything, Tavi has to work harder, think, and observe. I won’t dwell to much on the plot for the sake of preventing spoilers. Tavi and various relatives, friends and chance acquaintances uncover a plot to foment a revolution, encounter an invasion by one of the aboriginal peoples of the planet Carna (the Marat, think pale elfy-North American Indian people with close ties to animal totems). Things happen, big battle, satisfying ending.. that ought to be sufficient description.

Codex Alara is good fun, not great literature, but it is most definitely worth reading as a beach or commuting read. I found myself enjoying the world and the characters once I got my head around the setting and the “science” of fury crafting. I liked that the most sympathetic powerless character manages to outwit the overpowered denizens of the setting constantly. It’s fun storytelling. I recommend it.

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Balticon 49: A short visit Saturday


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imperial Stars II, a great little 4X space game (review)


A game that’s been on my “to be played pile” for a while for a considerable time just recently saw the light of day, IMPERIAL STARS II.   Why “Two”?  Apparently the designer, Chris Taylor, created a Print and Play by the same name (but radically different game engine) at some point in the past.  Anyway, I pulled off of the pile, punched and played Imperial Stars II this weekend.  And replayed.  And replayed… But I digress– first, the basics:

Imperial Stars II
Designer: Chris Taylor
Publisher: Victory Point Games
SRP: 27$ boxed, 22$ polybag, less other sources.

Imperial Stars II (IS2) is a four X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate, a term, ironically enough, coined by Alan Emrich back in 1993 when reviewing Masters of Orion for a magazine article– now he’s the alpha dog of Victory Point Games) .  IS2 comes with 2 double sided 11 x 17 star maps, each unique.  The counter mix is balanced between the two sides, at 38 space ships and bases of various abilities for each side.  There are 14 random planet pieces that will give the player certain abilities that will be of value for either economic expansion or military domination.  There are 5 pieces (each) to determine how many Action Points (APs) are available to the active player that turn, to be drawn randomly from an opaque cup– 4,5,6,7 and 3/8 APs.  More on those later.  Aside from a couple of pointy markers, two more charts and four six sided dice, that’s it.

First move, yellow side is the Acting Player, red the Non-Acting Player. Yellow draws the FIVE AP marker and adds one. That leaves him just enough to colonize, ending the turn.

The art direction on this game was stellar (see what I did there?), matched by the production values.   The maps are wonderful, depicting space not as black and white dots but with rich purple, green and yellow nebulae.  The planets are largish for the scale but then again so are the ships.  The ships on the counter art were very deco (I thought) but not cartoonish.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that they each had their own visual style and weren’t copies of each other.

IS2 starts with most of the player’s forces in two holding areas, Alpha and Beta.  A small force of DD destroyers and mixed CV carriers are on the map, plus one base station (BS).   The players take turns being active and non-active players, reaching into an opaque cup to pull out Operations Chits (OCs).  As they are pulled from the opaque cup, they are not returned, which is how the game ends– the final turn arrives at the final OC Chit being pulled.   OC chits are (as stated above) marked, 4,5,6,7 and 3/8.  The active player adds that total to the one for owning a Base Station and that becomes his ‘use or lose’ Operations budget for that turn. In the case of the 3/8 chit, the player has an option of adding 8 points straight or 3 plus a new Base Station (you have up to 3) anywhere on the map.  Operations are pretty simply defined– basically moving, colonizing, reinforcing and fighting.

Still early in the game, a yellow exploration fleet probes red’s resolve around their base station. They are outgunned.

Colonizing is fairly simple; sacrifice a ship by flipping it over and that becomes a colony.  Colonies contribute to the global economic condition for each side– you figure out your status by counting colonies.    Movement is regulated by the movement capacity on the counter and the number of APs for the Active player.
Combat is classic old style in two flavors: Fighter Swarms and Beam Combat.  Beam combat is resolved on a CRT that is so classic it would make Jim Dunnigan sigh with nostalgia.  The defender has the option to stay and fight or attempt to retreat.  If he stays, Combat strength is totaled, a pair of 6 siders is rolled and the result is cross-indexed for losses.  Losses are tracked by physically rotating the ship counter around.  When the ship/base takes its final hit, it’s thrown into the scrapyard, where it can be recycled.

Fighter Swarms can attack if the launching ship has a little triangle on it (or more than one).  See the top picture– the ship nearest the planet in the foreground, the CVB, can launch 2 dice worth of fighter swarms (btw, think of these as robotic drones more than Galactica style Vipers, that’s what the fluff says).  The number of losses is modified by a terrain table which drastically effects combat.

Once a ship hits the scrapyard it can be recycled on a graduating scale.  If you have a certain number of ships in scrap, you can get one of that type back.  An elegant method of extending the counter mix, in my opinion.

Victory is arrived at simply– if you control the enemy’s home world hex, you win a sudden death victory.  If nobody has arrived at sudden death, you count victory points for planetary systems controlled and colonies owned.

So, what do I think?

I don’t mean to gush here.  I didn’t like this game– I loved it.   It’s easy to figure out, it contains mechanics that make sense and are simple, it plays briskly once you resolve a few rules questions, and it’s expandable with lots of replay value (four maps, with wildly different terrain, for starters).  I suspect strongly there will be an expansion pack for Imperial Stars II at some point in the future– the only criticism I had was that I wanted even more units and more “science fictiony” themed units beyond the decidedly nautical unit mix– like planet destroyers, automated machine ships, espionage, technology upgrades, more and different kinds of combat.. IS2 is  a fun little SF 4X, delivering so much more with its tiny box and small unit mix than much more expensive game have managed in recent years.  I’m looking at you, Space Empires 4X…

Imperial Stars II isn’t exactly ground breaking but it is like a nostalgic return to the games of yesteryear, or it was for me.  I very much enjoyed it.

Future Tank v. 1.06 draft available for review


Click me for an Epub!

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

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

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

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


Click for larger view

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

Challenges

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

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

Click to enlarge (the next four)

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

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

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

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

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

Related:

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

C.J. Henderson, a late farewell


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

View all my reviews