Saturday, June 30, 2018

I Played a Miniatures Game and I Liked It!


I like to play all types of games.  I play board games, card games and CCGs, role playing games, play-by-mail games, and a few video games.  One genre of game that I have always wanted to try out are miniatures games.  I own several unpainted figures and rules, and I have even dabbled in Heroclix (which I define as a board game with miniatures, but that is for another post).  The type of game that I am talking about involves moving figures around a table, measuring distances with tape measures, and looking on as the modeled terrain and painted minis create a gestalt of a tiny battle.

Last week I played Fate of a Nation, a variant for the popular Flames of War rules that covers the Arab-Israeli conflicts.  This was not a conflict I ever thought of simulating.  However, I found a local wargamers club and one of the members graciously offered to bring his tank models and rules so that we could have a battle.

Setting up the table for the a desert battle.

It was awesome that I could participate in a game that had painted models and ready-made scenery and terrain.  Most of my own miniatures projects are languishing in the closet because I was overwhelmed with all the steps required to create a decent looking table battle.  Another great aspect was that the owner of the models agreed to be referee between myself and another player.  He explained the rules throughout the whole game, allowing me to focus on tactics and strategy rather that the minutia of an unfamiliar set of rules.

UAR forces prepare for their assault. 

Israeli tanks hide behind a hill, waiting for battle.

I did not come totally unprepared.  I brought dice and a small tape measure.  The game was a blast (no pun intended).  I played the Israeli side and I have two teams of tanks staring down a mass of invading enemy tanks.  The referee explained that this was a classic case of one side having lots of numbers while the other side had less equipment of a better quality.  My strategy was to roll my tanks to the edge of cover, fire, and then retreat behind the cover for protection.  The Israeli units have a special ability that gives them an extra move as long as they make a roll.  The downside to my plan was that my tanks could get bogged down in the covering terrain or they could fail their roll for extra movement.  This would leave them stuck or exposed to enemy fire, and since my total number of tanks was seven any losses that I took would hurt.

My tanks in firing position at the edge of the woods.

My other unit of tanks.  Notice that one tank failed to navigate the hill and is bogged down.

My strategy worked well, mainly due to good rolls of the dice.  I was able to pop up and back, taking shots at the advancing enemy.  I hit many UAR tanks, causing at least one failed morale check that sent a bunch of units running.  While a few of my tanks were hit, they we only bailed out and recovered on the next turn.  I won the scenario by destroying all the enemies tanks or causing them to leave the battlefield due to failed morale checks.  I would like to try a scenario where the Israelis are forced to take a more proactive role on the battlefield.  I can already feel the tension imagining a unit of three tanks maneuvering through a battlefield while 20 plus enemy tanks fire on them.

UAR tanks taking casualties as they charge the Israeli positions.

I had a ton of fun and definitely want to try Flames of War again.  I liked the system and I liked playing a tank battle.  I might look into the Team Yankee rules for Flames of War, which covers a hypothetical WWIII in Europe between NATO and Soviet Bloc troops.  Overall it was a great game and I will need to get some tanks and paints! 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Game Review: De Profundis (first edition)


I am a fan of unusual role-playing games.  I recently acquired a copy of the first edition of De Profundis; Letters from the Abyss, A Game of Mind-warping Horror in the Style of H.P. Lovecraft.  The game is credited to Michal Oraz and was translated from Polish to English by Maja Apollonia Pica.  The book is a 32 page saddle stitched book with glossy cover pages and black and white interior pages.   De Profundis is a role playing game that asks, "How would you like to play a Lovecraftian LARP by sending letters through the mail?"




This is a review of the first edition of the game which is currently out of print.  There is a second edition that was published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment.  The second edition is available as a pdf from rpgnow.  As far as I know the second edition contains most of the text from the first edition along with some expanded content.

De Profundis is written in a meta style.  The text reads partly like instructions for a game and partly as the diary of a character plunging into madness.  The narrator of the rules describes his descent into madness as he tries to decipher a text.  I thought that this style fit the game well, as the rules of the game encourage the players to try to live out their character's madness through letters.

To play De Profundis a player creates a character and then writes a series of letters to someone from the viewpoint of that character.  The person that you are corresponding with writes you back from the point of view of their character.  The rules discuss creating characters either in the 1920s or the modern era.  The author points out that there are many famous horror stories that are told using letters, such as Dracula, and shows how letters play important roles in Lovecraft's own tales.  The characters are meant to mimic the types of people who exist in Lovecraft tales, i.e. normal people who begin to notice the horrible lie of reality around them.

The author of De Profundis describes an unusual method for making sure that your character is in the mindset of an unhinged Lovecraft protagonist.  The technique is to observe the word around you, and then slowly use your imagination to allow snippets of illusionary horror to creep in.  Go ahead and space out on the bus, did that passenger who just got off look like an alien?  It is a type of method acting where you let your mind slip into the unhinged reality of a Lovecraft character and see your world through their eyes.  The writing style of the rules helps you get into this mode as the author writes many sections from this viewpoint.

The author gives players some structure and rules for making characters and writing and sending letters.  He gives suggestions for how the framework of the game should function as well as guidelines on how characters should interact via their writing.  One thing that I liked was that the author emphasized the importance of physically writing letters.  I believe that the second edition of De Profundis has rules for using email, which I think would take a lot of the soul out of the game.

The book has two appendices.  One has a character sheet and information on how to join "The Society", which was a database of De Profundis players.  I use the past tense because I believe that this information is out of date.  The second appendix is an article on psychodrama, which is a type of improv larp.  It is obvious that the author is a fan of psychodrama and that it heavily influenced De Profundis, so it is worth a read.

Overall, I really like De Profundis.  The game has more than a hint of mystery.  There is enough missing from the rulebook to let your imagination run rampant, and there is enough of a framework to provide ample inspiration.  The most difficult part of the game would probably be finding players who are willing to actually put pen to paper and send letters through the mail.  I have started a game with one player and it has been enjoyable.  If you are a fan of Lovecraft, writing letters, or bizarre games that are off the beaten path, then I recommend De Profundis.



Friday, May 18, 2018

Cool Free Stuff on the Internet: Warning Order Magazine


I grew up reading gaming magazines.  My dad had a subscription to The General, Avalon Hill’s house magazine.  I would pick up issues of White Dwarf and Autoduel Quarterly from the game store and devour them.  I have been pleasantly surprised to find out that there are a large number of game magazines that are published in digital format and that are released for free on The internet.

One magazine that I have found is Warning Order.  Warning Order is a free magazine published by the Wasatch Front Historical Gaming Society.  They have just released issue 48, and their entire backlog is available for download from their website.



Warning Order focuses on miniature wargaming and board wargames.  Each issue usually has some battle reports, game reviews, and other miscellaneous articles.  One cool feature that started in issue 36 is the inclusion of scenarios for miniatures games.  I also enjoy looking at all the pictures of painted miniatures set up for battle.

The latest issue (48) has a review of Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition, a review of GMT’s Next War: Poland, an interesting article on the current state of hobby gaming, and some battle reports.  If you are a fan of miniatures and Wargames I would check out Warning Order. All 48 issues are free to download at http://www.wfhgs.com/wrngorder.html


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Book Reviews for Gamers: Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

First a shout-out to the Man Battlestations Podcast for recommending this book.  They described this book as The Golden Compass meets Firefly, and that is a fitting description.  Retribution Falls is a book about airship pirates and the swashbuckling adventures that they engage in.

Retribution Falls takes place on an Earth-like planet.  The geography is such that airship is the most convenient form of travel.  There is also some magic throughout the setting.  I would describe it as steampunk, although airships and planes are powered by some type of resource specific to the setting that is vaporized via electromagnets into lighter than air gas.  The steampunk feel comes from the airships and the fact that all other technology is from the eighteen-hundreds.


Go airships!
Retribution Falls is a fun read that follows the crew of the airship Ketty Jey.  The crew is a mix of dastardly characters who engage in pirate hijinks.  There is just the right mix of guns, swords, and magic.  The world the the author builds is intriguing.  There are different factions fighting for power and vertical cities built for the convenience of airships.  Giant airships fire cannons at each other while fighter planes engage in tense dogfights.  I recommend this to any fan of genre fiction.

Gaming the Book

Retribution Falls is a great inspiration for gaming.  The world of the book would make a great rpg campaign world as is, and it has tons of ideas that gms can borrow.  So you have read Retribution Falls and you are inspired to do some airship pirate gaming.  Where do you start.

Card Games

Retribution Falls has rules for a game in the back of the book.  How cool is that!  The game is a poker variant called Rake.  Rake is a variant of stud poker where the final cards of the hand are dealt in the middle of the table, and the players take turns taking them into their hands.  I like poker and this variant looks fun.  Rake is played throughout the book, and if you decide to run a campaign based in this world you should definitely have the characters play a hand of Rake.

Board and Miniature Games

When I was reading Retribution Falls I was thinking of games about air piracy.  The first game that I though of was the old FASA game Crimson Skies.   I had never heard of this game until I went over to a friend's house and he had it set up on his table.  He explained that it took place in an alternate history where the US became balkanized and air piracy was big as people used air shipments to smuggle cargo across the fractured political landscape.

There were no airships in the scenario we played but it was enjoyable.  We each had two fighter aircraft.  The game used pre-plotted movement.  Whenever an airplane was hit you put a clear template over your plane sheet used it to mark off damage that was done to your aircraft.  This was interesting because you could pick different types of ammo that did special damage.  For example, armor piercing rounds would go straight through the body of the aircraft while explosive rounds would take out shallow, broad chunks of the aircraft.  The game is now out of print.  WizKids published a version with airplanes that had heroclix style bases but I never played that edition.  If you want some air piracy and are lucky to find a copy, check out FASA's Crimson Skies.

There are a few miniatures rulesets that deal with airship combat, although I have not played any of them.  One that comes to mind is Dystopian Wars.  The original owners of the game have gone out of business and the IP is being transferred to a new company.  The game is in limbo right now but if you want to have some airship fleets attack each other it is worth checking out.   Note that Dystopian Wars also involves naval units and land units.  Imperial Skies is a game  published by Brigade Models.  They publish the rules and sell miniatures for the game.  It looks like pre-WWI airship combat with ships and fighters.  Ironclads & Ether Flyers is a set of miniatures rules that was written in the Space 1889 universe.  The rules can be purchased in pdf from rpgnow and in print from Amazon.  You will have to find/build your own miniatures for these rules.  Any of these games should allow you to have some nice airship combat on your tabletop.

Role Playing Games

If you want to run a campaign set in the world of Retribution Falls there are a few games that come to mind.  The main thing is that you will want a ruleset that can cover swashbuckling action, magic, and most importantly airships.  The company Cakebread & Walton publishes a game called Abney Park's Airship Pirates.  The game is based on the music of the Steampunk group Abney Park.  I have not played to game but it has airship pirates in the title.  It also has time travel and dinosaurs but any good gm could hack this game to fit the setting.  Cakebread & Walton have also a version based on their simple and excellent OneDice engine.

FATE would be another game that I would consider using if I was going to run a Retribution Falls game.  I think that FATE handles swashbuckling action well, and there are a few FATE settings that have airships.  The one that I would use would be Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie from FATE Worlds: Worlds on Fire.  While this settings is more of an alternate WWI with huge blimps and biplanes, with some magic thrown in and a few hacks here and there it would work well to run a Retribution Falls campaign.

My personal choice for running a Retribution Falls game would be Amazing Adventures from Troll Lord Games.  This uses the SEIGE engine which runs their Castles & Crusades game.  It is basically a streamlined version of the d20 system.  Amazing Adventures has magic rules already built in.  I would recommend using the Amazing Adventures Companion as it has some character classes (pirate, soldier) that would work well.

So check out Retribution Falls and then go game some airship piracy!


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Rolling Wednesday: Free Dice Winner!

Rolling Wednesday shall end with free dice!


More of my dice collection
The winner is Thriftomancer (Ellen Rimar).   You will be receiving this eclectic mix of dice.  Congratulations and thank you to everyone who entered.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Rolling Wednesday: Free Dice Contest still going!

Last Wednesday I announced the retirement of the Rolling Wednesday posts.  In celebration I decided to send some free dice to someone.  There are no claimers yet so here is what I have decided.  I will continue this contest for another week.  I will add more dice to the pot.  If there are no winners by next Wednesday, I will add even more dice to the pot. 

Soldiers playing dice in a tavern by Adriaen Brouwer 
Here are the rules to the contest.

If you would like me to mail you some free dice, here is what you need to do:

Send an email to nedpatrick ( AT ) yahoo ( DOT ) com.
Put "I love Dice" in the subject line.
In your message include your name and your favorite kind of die.

That's it.  Next Wednesday I will pick a winner.  If I get no entries then I will add more dice to the pot and continue the contest.  There are currently 12 mystery dice in the pot.

Good luck and happy rolling!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

"Game" Review: The Tragedy of GJ 237b

The Tragedy of GJ 237b is a game that I would not have know about if it wasn't nominated for a Nebula Award (although it did not make a spot on the finalist list).

You can read the full text of the game for free at medium.com and you can obtain the pdf on a pay-what-you-want basis at tao-games.com.  The game text is very short and there is no way I can avoid spoilers in this review so I suggest that you read the game for yourself or be ready to have the contents spoiled.

The Tragedy of GJ 237b is a science fiction role-playing art piece about the negative consequences of human contact with alien ecosystems.  The game mainly consists of a description of the inhabitants of GJ237b.  Those inhabitants where irrevocably changed by contact with humans.

I will repeat that I cannot finish this review without spoiling what is in the game, so either go read it yourself or be prepared for spoilers.

Spoilers to follow!
The alien life on GJ237b was destroyed by the arrival of humans.  The game sets up a sort of Schrodinger's cat scenario.  The game materials are put out in a room and then the room is sealed with no one inside of it.  When the door to the room is opened, the game ends.

Sounds weird, right?  I will say it again, read the game for yourself.  I enjoyed reading The Tragedy of GJ237b and I ask myself, "Is it really a game?"  I would say that it is game adjacent.  The Tragedy of GJ237b is more of a piece of art than a game, and I think that this is what makes it interesting.  I challenge you to have your game group read the rules and then debate whether or not The Tragedy of GJ237b is a game.

The main theme of the game, that human interaction will fundamentally change ecosystems, is a thought-provoking science fiction trope.  Kim Stanley Robinson explored this topic in his book Red Mars, and it also touches on issues of  colonialism.  It is a heady theme and one that will elicit lots of opinions and discussion. 

Is this game worth playing?  Can you even play it?  I think that this game is worth reading for the fact that it is trying to do something different.  I would love to see it set up at a convention, or in a spare room of a house during a game night.  The alien culture of GJ237b is truly unique and will be an inspiration for science fiction fans.  I recommend it, and if you decide to stage a "playing" of the game, let me know how it went.