Sunday, March 29, 2015

I Save the World, Again

Around Christmas, I mentioned that I was starting a new campaign of Dragon Age: Origins.

Yesterday I confronted the archdemon

who was leading a darkspawn invasion of Ferelden. Its army was sacking the capital of Denerim. My party rushed to the top of Fort Drakon, where the archdemon was perched. We attacked and brutal battle ensued. The fight was not going well, but then I noticed a ballista on the battlements. I swung it around and loosed bolts upon the dragon until it lay dead.

In the end, I saved Ferelden, and got the girl.

Ah, Leliana
I then started my next video game challenge:

Saturday, March 28, 2015


I don't often post about sports in this blog, but I have to tonight.
In NCAA basketball action:

Kentucky (#1 and undefeated) 68
Notre Dame (my alma mater) 66

I tuned on the game in the second half with ND winning, and they ended up losing in what would have been one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history. I am a jinx.

On Unpainted Miniatures

Over on The Miniatures Page there was a recent  topic titled "In Defence of . . .  Unpainted miniatures in a game." The original post challenged the community to post its defense of using unpainted miniatures during a game. The majority of posters responded that they were indefensible. They claimed that a big part of the appeal of miniature gaming is the "spectacle." In another topic, one poster claimed that pre-painted miniatures would eliminate "90% of the hobby" because miniature wargaming "is not just playing games." It just struck me that the TMP community in general is into the modeling aspect of the hobby.

In contrast to the majority on TMP, I am a heretic. My response was that a game with unpainted miniatures is better than no game. I cannot fathom that anyone would reject a game without painted miniatures. Obviously, that is not a choice I would make (for example). It is also why I thoroughly enjoy boardgames.

Anyway, I pondered the debate and theorized that there is a spectrum between those who are "gamers" (those primarily interested in the game) and those who are "modelers" (primarily into the "spectacle"). The spectrum would look like this, and I would be on the "gamer" end of that spectrum.

I thought about it some more and decided that this model is a little simplistic. Someone could be a staunch modeler and still be into the gaming aspect of the hobby. Instead, I realized that "gamer" and "modeler" could be two separate axes such as this:

One could then be plotted both axes. Someone who only collects and paints figures would be high on the x-axis but 0 on the y-axis while someone playing with unpainted minis would be 0 on x and high on y. 

Although I occasionally like to build and paint stuff, I hate having to hold up a game for it. My primary interest in the hobby is the games themselves. Thus, I am high on the gamer axis but fairly low on the modeler axis. I think that TMP in general, because it is primarily a site about miniatures, is fairly high on the modeler scale but can span the gamut on the gamer scale. A plot of me vs. TMP might look like this:

This would explain why there is such intolerance of unpainted miniatures on TMP whereas I am far more ambivalent.

Of course, this raises another question. If I'm not much into modeling, why do I even bother with miniatures games? I think I'll save that for another post.

RETROSPECTIVE - Command & Colors

Back in 2000 DBA (and its variants) was my gaming passion. At that time, I was a graduate student at Penn State studying the American Civil War. That's when this game was published.

Being a Civil War buff, I quickly picked it up. It immediately displaced DBA as my go-to game.

Battle Cry was the first published game using Richard Borg’s Command & Colors system. This system included several innovative features for a board game, such as:

  • Modular terrain – unlike traditional boardgames the terrain was not printed on the board. Instead, the board was a bunch of blank hexes. In addition, there were separate hex-shaped cardboard pieces with hills, woods, etc. printed on them. By placing the terrain pieces on the board, you can create an infinite number of battlefields.
  • Command cards – a player cannot move all his units in a turn. Instead, fog of war is created with command cards. Each player has a hand of cards and each turn may play one card, which allows him/her to order a limited number of units.
  • Special dice – the dice have icons of the major types of units (for Battle Cry they were infantry, cavalry, and artillery). You hit a target if you roll a die and get the target’s icon. What was different from typical games was that modifiers (such as terrain) did not change what you needed to roll on the die but how many dice you rolled. It allowed for a streamlined combat system.

Richard Borg followed up with Memoir ’44, the World War II version of Command & Colors in 2004.

I reviewed Memoir a couple of years ago with the simple evaluation – “Best. Game. Ever.”

What I like most about the C&C system is that it is unabashedly a game (including plastic miniatures in the first two published versions). It strives for quick, simple, exciting games and it delivers. Nevertheless, it still “feels” right (a lesson I learned from Air War). For example, more than any other game, Memoir ’44 taught me that tanks can be very vulnerable to infantry in good defensive positions (I have lost so much armor by rushing forward against infantry in woods).

Because it offered a great game that feels right,it inspired me (and many others) to adapt the basic principles to other time periods (which Borg eventually did with C&C: Ancients, Battle Lore, and C&C: Napoleonics). Before those games came out (and even before Memoir ’44) I was using pieces of the C&C system for my own rules. I had some issues with the command cards – they don’t really work well for solo gaming and I didn't want to use Civil War themed cards for other periods. I eventually dumped the cards and instead used the DBA pip system for command. I completely adapted the combat rules. My units have the same number of hits and roll the same number of dice when attacking as in C&C. Terrain modifiers are the same as C&C. I even have a gridded battlefield. The end result has been years of enjoyable, quick-playing, yet exciting games. Without a doubt, C&C has overtly and irrevocably influenced my gaming experience.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Quick Update

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past 2 weeks. Life got very hectic and I have not had time for any wargames or even blog posts. Most of last weekend was spent fixing my Amtgard weapons and I still have some more repairs to do this weekend. I am working on the next Retrospective but I'm not sure it will be done this weekend.

On a positive note, Family Game Nights continue.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Game Night Update

Lately, our game night theme has been

I previously mentioned that my wife gave me a copy of Fortune and Glory for my birthday. It has become our favorite game and we have played it every Saturday since then. It's essentially a dice-rolling game with a little bit of strategy (e.g. do I camp out and heal or press on into danger?). What really makes the game is the story (like I talked about earlier). The heroes have to battle Nazis, evade mobsters, face uncounted perils, and race back home to claim their fortunes. We've been having great fun with the stories the game generates.

Furthermore, the games have been tense! Last night, my wife had built up a sizable lead if fortune and was close to winning the game. However, she was blocked by Nazis in England and had to battle her way through to deliver a secret package. Meanwhile, I sneaked aboard a zeppelin and stole the Nazis gold. Before I could make it back home with my prize, Elizabeth arrived in New York with enough fortune to claim the victory.

Elizabeth won last week as well. At one point with me in the lead, she was ready to concede victory, but I encouraged her to keep playing (bad mistake). I got stuck on an adventure while she completed one and then was able to deliver a secret package for the win!

Elizabeth has been having so much fun, I'm wondering if she would enjoy a pulp RPG. Plots are forming in my head. We shall see.


In the mid-1990s, the Avalon Hill classic Diplomacy became a staple of my gaming life.

The game features a map of Europe in 1914. Each player is a leader of one of the main powers, intent on expanding his empire and dominating Europe. 

Every turn, the would-be conquerors give orders to their armies to hold their ground, move into another province, or support an advance. Combat is deterministic: the side with the most armies contesting a province wins. The interesting part of the game is that no player is strong enough to win on his own. He needs allies to support his advance, thus the need for diplomacy. But can your trust your erstwhile ally or is he lulling you into a position where he can backstab you? Of course, you may be plotting the same against him. Betrayal is a regular part of the game.

I had first been exposed to the Diplomacy during high school in the early 80s. A friend had it and organized a session. We played face-to-face at his house. The players would sneak off to isolated parts of the house to make their clandestine plots. I was Turkey and was betrayed by Russia on turn 1 (the Black Sea was supposed to be neutral!). I never recovered from that debacle. Anyway, I was impressed by the simple rules but finding seven people to play seemed a daunting task.

I picked it in the 1990s and organized a play-by-phone/mail campaign with a bunch of friends. We played weekly turns. Orders were due on Friday and could be phoned in. I processed the results and sent out an updated map via mail. It was a big hit and we would play several more campaigns, some using variant maps. I converted the later campaigns to play-by-e-mail but we continued with weekly turns.

There were a few memorable aspects of the game. In face-to-face games, you could see who was in a corner with whom, which tipped you off on what alliances were developing. In a play-by-mail campaign, your intel was limited. You had to gather and weigh various rumors (for example, in one game, a tip from a third-party alerted me to an attempted backstab). E-mail got even trickier. You could take an innocuous e-mail from one player, edit it into something more devious, and forward it to another player. (e.g. Germany has sent His Majesty a copy of a letter from France proposing an attack on Britain. Is it real or did Germany forge it?)

I thoroughly enjoyed umpiring the game. I traced the map onto a large sheet of paper and hung it to the wall of the den (which I promptly dubbed the "war room." Naturally, the map became known as the "big board.") I also included a little newsletter with each update. I titled it the "Times of Europe" and wrote it like a newspaper covering the dramatic events occurring in Europe. I had fun creating stories around the moves. For example, when Russia missed the deadline for reporting his move, the "Times of Europe" explained it as civil unrest in Moscow, which disrupted telegraph lines. It was an amusing entry when the Turks ordered their fleet into land-locked Serbia!

Eventually, the campaigns petered out. Because betrayal is a frequent aspect of the game, this can happen:
Unfortunately, the game caused some bickering among my friends. I don't know if it destroyed any friendships but it strained some. I tired of the drama (plus my friend Jeff kept his minions in line and thus kept winning ;) ). At one point, I decided to stop the campaigns. I really have no interest in starting them again.

However, Diplomacy has had a lasting impact. I have used the basic mechanics for my Francesia campaign. Furthermore, it really highlighted the joy of creating a story. My favorite part of all those campaigns was the newsletter that I wrote to describe the events. As a result, Diplomacy transcended from a mere game to an epic story with heroes and villains, triumphs and tragedies, and finally, in the words of the Wide World of Sports, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." This blog is a direct ancestor of those Diplomacy newsletters - I enjoy recording the results of games as much as playing them!

Sunday, March 1, 2015


While I was flirting with GURPS in the late 80s, I developed a crush for another new RPG of the day - Space: 1889.

I was perusing the shelves of the local game shop when this cover caught my eye.

The text on the back cover was equally evocative:
Role-Playing In A More Civilized Time. Everything Jules Verne should have written. Everything H. G. Wells could have written. Everything A. Conan Doyle thought of, but never published because it was too fantastic. Everything you need for adventures of the century!
 At that time, most RPGs were the generic, medieval fantasy or less frequently futuristic sci-fi. There were some historical RPGs (Gangbusters and Boot Hill come to mind) but they were a fringe of the market. What Space: 1889 did was to take a historical setting and turn it into a science fiction (some may say a science fantasy) game. This was very different than anything else. I was not particularly familiar with the Victorian Era but I was a history buff (I was more interested in the 17th and 18 centuries as evidenced by my fondness for Rafael Sabatini's novels). However, I had read Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and knew about his other works that postulated trips to the moon. I picked it up and just fell in love with the setting. Frank Chadwick and the guys at GDW did a wonderful job of evoking the Victorian setting and ethos. I remember Carl Sagan talking about how Percival Lowell believed there were canals on Mars - which he took to be evidence of life. Well, according to Space: 1889, there were canals on Mars, and we could explore them! The game was like being transported back to the science fiction and scientific beliefs of the day.

The book itself was packed full of detail. From descriptions of Mars (a desert world) and Venus (a swampy world with dinosaurs) to lists of late 19th century equipment, Space: 1889 gave you plenty of material to work with. I spent hours just reading (and re-reading) the material and background information.

At first, I even loved the system. Character creation was skill-based, but it was not so complicated as GURPS. The basic system for determining attributes was very clever. There are 6 attributes; players assign each a value from 1 to 6. However, you could not use the same number twice. Therefore, one attribute will be very weak (a 1), another a bit stronger (a 2), all the way to 6. Thus, a character has a broad spectrum from weak to strong. Then players choose a career (or perhaps 2) for their character - this determines their skills. There are some options for free choice of skills, too. Creating a character is a breeze. The combat system seemed clever, as well. It simply used D6s (no "groping for dice"). To take an action, one rolled a number of D6s equal to their applicable skill level. Quick and simple.

Unfortunately, the system did not really hold up to use. I decided to run an experiment using an example given in the book. The hero, armed with a revolver, stumbled upon 3 Venusian grave robbers with daggers. In the book, the hero dispatched the enemy with ease and I expected the same. After all, the bad guys were bringing knives to a gun fight! I ran through it and the hero lost, badly. I tried again and got the same result. A couple more tries led to the same result. What was going on? Well, the combat system was a little different than the skill system - as I recall the number of dice was determined by the weapon not the skill level. Thus, what you were armed with was more important than how good your were. In our hero's case, the Venusian's daggers gave them lots of dice (especially because there were 3 of them). And once hit, a character needed to spend actions recovering. Basically, once the hero took a hit, the other enemies swarmed over him and skewered him. I was very disappointed (in hindsight, I think I was expecting something with a bit more pulpy feel to it, with the hero able to fight off hordes of minions). Anyway, I soured on the system and the game ended up collecting dust on the shelf.

I actually never playedit but I still love the setting. It is telling that when I got rid of all my RPG stuff in the 90s, I held onto Space: 1889. Over 25 years later, I still have that original book and I will never get rid of it. So how did it influence my gaming? I can't really say if it did directly, but it did spur an interest in Victorian history and science fiction. As a result, I re-read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and read A. Conan Doyle's Lost World. I would discover the Flashman series (historical novels set in the Victorian Era) and Byron Farwell. I still occasionally pull it out and ponder running a campaign using my Kevin's Krawl rules modded for the period. In fact, I'm going to close out this post and get out my old copy of the rules.