Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas Haul and Looking Forward

Wow. I can't believe it has been one week since Christmas Eve! This past week has certainly been a blur. The holidays really screw with your usual schedule. I'll be happy when life gets back to normal and my sanity returns.

Truth be told, I haven't had enough down time to dig into any of my Christmas gifts yet. Yes, I unwrapped them on Christmas Eve. And low and behold, most of them were games! How cool is that? The Christmas Elf.... err... my wife... well she rocks! I eyeballed these new games longingly, but have yet to tear off the shrink-wrap and open any boxes of gaming goodness.

So which games did Santa Anna (my loving wife) bring me for Christmas? Well, here's what I scored:

Cool stuff eh?

Out of the top 10 games/expansions that I had written on my hobby games wishlist, I received 7 of them. Now that, my friends, is a killer Christmas haul in just about anyone's book! And that's especially true when you're a guy over 40 years old; a time when most men are getting the standard gifts of ties, shirts, cologne, and liquor under their tree. My wife told me, "I felt like I was buying presents for a 12-year old." Well good for you dear; you were doing it right. I've always believed that Christmas presents are supposed to be FUN, not serious or practical. You've got 364 other days of the year to be practical.

Looking forward to 2008, I hope that I'll be able to play a slew of these new games with my friends and family. Board games are not only great for exercising your mental muscles, but they provide great social interaction and often yield lasting memories. The best games are those where you can interact with real people, rather than solely with a cold, calculating computer opponent. Board games, card games, and miniatures games enable us to do that, and it's something that I plan to latch onto more strongly in 2008.

As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that most people talk about doing fun things way more often than they actually get to do them. Work, home ownership, and other day-to-day activities get in the way of our leisure pursuits. In order to avoid the "all work and no play" syndrome that affects so many Americans, you've got to plan out your fun ahead of time. That may seem like a sad commentary on today's society. It is. But the sad truth is that unless you formally make time for fun and build it into your schedule, you won't have nearly enough of it.

Although I haven't created any formal "gaming plan" for 2008 yet, there are several things kicking around in my head that I would like to include in my Master Fun Plan:

  1. HeroScape Campaign = I'm hoping to start a 4 or 5 player wargame campaign using rules that I've created. Tabletop battles that occur as a result of campaign map movement will be fought and resolved by playing games of HeroScape.

  2. Wargame Wednesdays = I'd like to set Wednesday evenings aside this year for 2-player wargames and strategy games with my friends. Between Battlelore, Battle Cry, HeroScape, AT-43, Wings of War, Hammer of the Scots, Wizard Kings, Tide of Iron, Feudal, Dungeon Twister, LOTR Confrontation, Starship Catan, Lionheart, and Battleball, I've got plenty of fun head-to-head games to play.

  3. Monday Night Family Games = Many months ago, we started a new routine where my Mom comes over to our house on Monday night and eats dinner with Anna and I. Typically, I cook dinner and then we watch TV or a Netflix movie. Recently, we started adding board games to the mix, having played Mystery of the Abbey and Ticket to Ride during the month of December. I'm hoping that trend will continue. I'm planning on mixing Carcassonne, Saboteur, Through the Desert, Acquire, Mystery Rummy, Monkeys On the Moon, Guillotine, Win Place & Show, and Scrabble into the rotation as well. I've also got my eye on acquiring Manhattan, Niagara, and Fairy Tale just to suit these Monday Night gaming sessions. I'll see how the other games go over before proceeding.

  4. Weekend Gaming = As part of my new SWABI initiative (Sevy's Wargames And Boardgames Invitational), I'm going to be scheduling weekend games to be held at my house. My hope is for these weekend sessions to occur on a regular basis, although I'm expecting this to happen very slowly. Last year showed me that building a regular gaming group is a lengthy process. Hopefully, I'll be able to break out multi-player games on the weekends. I've got plenty of good ones to play including Citadels, Cash N Guns, Shadows Over Camelot, Arkham Horror, Domaine, Acquire, Talisman, Prophecy, Pirate's Cove, Nexus Ops, Cosmic Encounter, Slapshot, Condottiere, Carcassonne, Through the Desert, Attack!, Monsters Menace America, and many more.
  5. Sword of Severnia = With rigorous playtesting soon to get underway in earnest on the miniatures wargame that I'm developing, I suspect I'll be playing Sword of Severnia more than anything else in 2008. Since setup and breakdown time is always a real factor with miniatures games, big sessions of SoS will inevitably be held during the weekends.

  6. HARL = Within the next 2 weeks, I'll see where things stand with the Harrisburg Area Rotisserie League. The 2008 season would be our 22nd consecutive year of fantasy baseball. I'm hoping that it continues and that we don't lose any old team owners. I'm going to enjoy January, because once FEB rolls around I'll probably be swamped with baseball stuff like I always am.

We'll see how well I can formulate and execute my 2008 Master Fun Plan. I'm sure it will be a challenge juggling everything, but I'll try because anything FUN is worth doing!

Here's wishing everyone a fun New Year's Eve. Don't get too sloshed.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Corporate IT vs. micro ISV

More often than not, I use this blog to share my ideas about games, especially board games, miniatures games, and wargames. But one of the sides of the Six Sided Rhinoceros involves software, and in particular, software development.

Having been a software developer (and having studied it) more than half of my life, I feel very qualified to discuss the topic from a real world, acutely human point of view. There are many so-called software experts whose heads are stuck high in the clouds of academia and arcane philosophical approaches to software design. Sometimes, their esoteric discussions of software development are interesting and inspiring. More often than not, however, they are complete heaps of self-absorbed and obfuscated rubbish.

I don't want to read rubbish. I want down-to-earth practical advice that's right to the point. I don't have the time to read your 800-page treatise on optimizing my project management process or user-acceptance testing process. I need to get things done... NOW. Too much of what's written about software development on the web is 95% horse-crap and 5% useful.

Perhaps nowhere in the world of software development are there more heaping piles of BS than in Corporate IT departments. I had the good fortune of working for a local Fortune 500 company named AMP Incorporated (now Tyco Electronics) as my first job out of college. I learned a hell of a lot about the manufacturing process, about working on large software development projects with lots of other people, about the major phases of large-scale project development, and I met many great people there, several of whom have become lifelong friends.

But I never felt that AMP (or Corporate America in general) was the place where you really learned how to become a great software developer -- or software architect as I prefer to call it. Oh sure, you'll pickup some new languages and technical knowledge along the way. But writing Cobol code or IMS database calls, copying reusable chunks of CICS code, or fiddling with JCL is NOT software development. If you think it is, you are NOT a software developer. Programming is only one component of being a true software developer/architect. There is so much more involved in the big picture.

I didn't become a TRUE software architect until I started my micro ISV (defined as a one-person independent software vendor). Only when you've experienced what it's actually like to:

  1. Think up a product idea from scratch
  2. Formulate that idea into a viable functional blueprint for software
  3. Spend months or even years to program it
  4. Test out your creation and fine-tune it
  5. Market it to the general public
  6. Let total strangers use it and provide you with unsolicited feedback
  7. Support it and upgrade it for as long as it exists

Then and only then will you understand what the term "software architect" really means.

Love them as I may, most of my friends in the Corporate IT world have absolutely no clue what it's like to be involved in the world of independent software development. Even though they're in the business of software, their world is totally foreign to what I do for a living.

For starters, in the Corporate IT world, most employees have very specific jobs. They are programmers or systems analysts or DBA's or project managers or IT executives. Of those 7 things that I mentioned above, these folks have their fingers in 2 or 3 pies at most. The IT execs think up the idea. The systems analysts, with the help of "user experts", create functional specs for the idea. The DBA's create and maintain the database that everything ties into. The specs are handed off to the programmers who code it all and do some initial testing. The project managers keep the work moving along and ensure that everyone is working together. When the time comes for serious testing, the analysts, managers, and users get together and beat the hell out the system to a reasonable degree, and then the whole shebang goes live. And then, because 80-100 people or more were involved in creating this complex beast, the inevitable period of "bug fixing and enhancement requests" comes to the fore. Everyone points their finger at somebody else because they only were involved in one small part of the overall project, and there are so many easy targets to shift the blame to. This period can literally last for years.

As a micro ISV, you are responsible for everything. You don't have the luxury of having a narrowly specific job. You need to brainstorm ideas and come up with something brilliant. You do the necessary market research to see if it's viable. You create the functional blueprint. You chose the technical tools to use, create and manage the database, do the programming, test everything out, fix the bugs, and create the installation routines. You come up with a product price. You maintain an e-commerce site so people can buy your software, and perhaps find other distributors who will carry your product. You spend your own money to market and promote the software, and answer queries from potential customers on why they should buy from you. You fulfill the orders and deal with any problems that might arise. You do your best to provide great tech support and build a happy user community. You receive and act on user feedback. You fix bugs if necessary, and are always adding little enhancements along the way to keep people happy. You deal with the occasional idiot customer who is so irrational or mean-spirited that you wonder why you ever got into the field of software development in the first place. And the support and upgrade process never ends, until you decide to stop selling your software product. Oh and once you decide to make a 2nd product, the entire process repeats itself all over again and co-mingles with the existence of product #1.

Meanwhile, back in Corporate America...

Not only do Corporate IT workers have very specific roles, but they often have a captive user audience. This was especially true at AMP, where we developed in-house software to serve our internal manufacturing processes. There was no worry or wonder about whether or not a market actually existed for the software we were creating. We built it, and those users were damn well going to use it whether they liked it or not. There was absolutely no need for "marketing" in its truest sense. This was simply, we make it, you take it.

In the outside world of independent software development, as is the case for most commercial products, you make it and pray to God that they like it enough to take it. Not only did you make several assumptions and gut decisions during your development process, and take a financial risk to get the product to market, but there are zillions of things outside of your control that determine whether your software will become a real success or not. Simply having a good product doesn't guarantee diddly squat. You've not only got to work really hard, you've got to be extremely lucky as well. Figuring out what goes over well with the fickle public is anything but an exact science. Few of my peers in Corporate IT will ever deal with any of those concerns, and most could care less about it. They simply do their particular jobs in a vacuum, realizing that they'll still get paid even if the end-users wind up hating the software or ditch it for something cheaper, newer, or glitzier.

Another fact of Corporate IT development in many cases is that there's a very narrow user base that the software is designed for. You are building a product for users who all have some degree of computer literacy (because they'll be using the software as part of their day-to-day job after all). Oftentimes, these users are also functional experts in the field that your software applies to.

While creating in-house software for AMP, it was quite evident that most of the users of our software knew a helluva lot more about the process of electronics manufacturing than the people who designed the system. That doesn't necessarily make them great software designers, but it does mean that their opinions on what major functions the software should perform should far outweigh those of the IT execs.

My most rewarding years as a systems analyst at AMP were those where my boss allowed me to work closely with the user community to create new functions that solved problems that those users felt were most important. In a sense, I was a "free agent". I worked with the users to build cool new stuff and enhanced functions that helped them tremendously. I got to use my creativity to a much greater extent than ever before. I was not just another analyst who stuck to a regimented routine and solely did tech support or addressed the backlog of system fixes. I loved that role and received many compliments from the users during those years. They found an analyst who was interested in working with them to think outside the box and solve nagging problems that "the suits" didn't seemingly care enough about.

Unfortunately, the Corporate IT mindset is not one where a "free agent" mentality is accepted in the long term. Despite my boss's pleas on my behalf, the higher-ups eventually decided that I should be reigned in and controlled a bit more. They didn't want me becoming an exception to what everyone else was doing.

Yes, I was creative and doing an excellent job. My job reviews and the user community all said so. But their thinking was that I needed to do a little less "design and development" and focus more on boring crap like divisional re-orgs and little technical details like honing my Easytrieve and JCL skills. In short, "hey Steve, you're having too much fun & success actually doing something useful, here's some horse shit project to work on so you're just like everyone else." What a bunch of idiots! Eventually, my boss left the company and I had a new boss who was determined to have me "assimilated". That was the beginning of the end for me at AMP. I gazed into the crystal ball and saw the long-term outlook there and it was just not for me. AMP had become a JOB. It was not the place for creative souls who needed to run free with their great ideas. I look back now and realize that I made a smart decision. I'd probably still be doing the same stuff if I was there today and would have missed out on an exciting chapter in my professional life as a software developer.

Being a micro ISV is all about creativity, passion, variety, and independence. You'll wear more hats than you'll ever imagine. And it's a far, far tougher job than working in Corporate America.

I used to get extremely pissed off when some of my old work-mates would kid me about being self-employed. They envisioned that I got to slack off, play games all day, and generally play hooky from the "real work" that they were doing. "What a bunch of jackasses!", I thought to myself. If they only knew that you work 10 times harder when you're on your own. Nobody is there to motivate you; it comes entirely from within. You do so many more things than you ever did in the tightly focused, insulated world of Corporate IT. Nobody is around to assign you work or keep you on schedule. You think it up, you decide what's critical, and you do it or else you go out of business real fast. You work lots of nights and weekends. And you do all that without any steady checks coming in. Great fun right?

After many years I've finally grown thick enough skin and gained the wisdom to realize that whoever thinks I'm goofing off and really not working is just a sad, sad, mentally deficient person. People often make fun of things that they know nothing about. They throw stones and make jokes, never once actually trying to do the thing that they're making fun of. I've learned to slough off the barbs of the dimwitted. I don't give dolts the time of day anymore.

If you've read down this far, you may be wondering why I bothered to write this post. I did it for two reasons. First, I wanted to shed a little light on the differences between the worlds of Corporate IT and micro ISV's. They are vastly different. I respect both camps, having worked in both of them. Generally speaking, the money is much better in Corporate IT, but the level of self-satisfaction and accomplishment you can achieve is much greater in the micro ISV world. It's the old money-vs-happiness trade-off. I'm hoping to find the happy medium someday.

Secondly, I wanted to write this post for all the entrepreneurs out there who are struggling to make their personal software businesses work. I wanted them to know that the grass is NOT any greener on the corporate side of the fence. Your pocketbook will fatten, but in all likelihood, your happiness will suffer -- especially if you are a highly creative soul. The road of a micro ISV is a hard one, and unless you're very lucky, your business will fail within 5 years. But even though the odds are stacked against you, it is people like you who make the biggest difference in the world. Without people who are willing to put their heart & soul and passion out there for everyone else to share in, there would be no great advancement in society. I admire you. The world needs more of you. Keep on truckin' and I wish you much prosperity and self-fulfillment in 2008.

To all my friends in Corporate IT, I miss you and best of luck in the New Year. Even though I am no longer one of you, I still think of you on a regular basis. Don't let "the suits" get you down. They aren't any better than you, they just wield more power. And if you ever get tired of that power struggle, don't forget that there's a whole wide world out here for you. Carpe diem!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve. Some of you will soon be opening your presents and sharing in the exhilaration that comes with getting something utterly fabulous.

Many of you may be dreaming of seeing this under your tree...

I know if that was under my Christmas tree, my wife would probably chase both of them out of the house with a large iron frying pan.

That said, here's hoping that you don't get stuck with this instead...

Although there's a good chance you would be the only guy on your block to own one!

Merry Christmas and God Bless from the Six Sided Rhinoceros!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Christmas Blitz

It happens every year about this time. I'm talking about the Christmas Blitz. We are inundated by a frenzy of home decorating, shopping, fighting through crowds & traffic, wrapping, party planning and attending, cooking & baking, and all the other myriad of things associated with the biggest holiday season of the year. For those of us who live in the Northeast, we also get to deal with periodic snowstorms and ice storms. It's enough to drive a brother bonkers!

All this craziness hasn't left me much spare time to post to this blog. There are tons of things I could write about, but trying to assemble some coherent thoughts from my jumbled mind isn't the easiest thing to do right now. Of course, I could do a stream of consciousness piece. Oh what the hell, let's do that!

I'm going to make it a point that 2008 will be a year in which I play lots & lots of board games and miniature wargames with my friends during my free time. Trying to organize regular gaming sessions during the last quarter of 2007 was a nightmare, but I can do better, I just know it!

I'm sure that a good chunk of time will be filled with games of Sword of Severnia, the computer-moderated fantasy wargame I'm currently developing. I'm writing a Quick Reference Guide to the core paper rules as we speak, and once that's done and the guys get their model basing ready to go, we should be scheduling battle sessions on a regular basis. I just got a whole slew of 80x60 masonite and metal bases from The Last Square, as well as 80x120 bases and peel & stick magnetic figure bases from Litko. I don't know if I have enough stuff to handle 500 models or more, but we'll see how my little basing project works out. One great thing about SoS is that you only need 50-65 models (scattered across 9-12 stands) to form an army. So I'll have multiple armies to play with. Very cool. Software development on SoS should start very soon. I've spent the past 2 years crafting the written rules, so I'm getting antsy to start playtesting them in detail with the guys and get the Troop Builder and Army Builder modules written.

I'm also hoping that I can get a HeroScape campaign going in 2008 using the rough draft campaign rules I've created for SoS. And I also want to try AT-43 on for size for the occasional sci-fi skirmish game, and Gnome Wars for pure silly fun.

On the board wargame side, I'm itching to play Battlelore, Tide of Iron, Wings of War, Hammer of the Scots, and hopefully Wizard Kings (if Santa Anna comes through for me!).

Wally and I played a great game of Hammer of the Scots a few weeks ago. The game was close at one point, but his slimey English scum (led by Edward I) eventually defeated my brave Scots, eliminating William Wallace in the final year of the "Braveheart" scenario. I was much too aggressive in the game. The Scots need to build up some forces, hit fast and grab enemy nobles at every chance, run away from big fights, and do their best to get the Scottish King and French Knights onto the map, something I failed to do.

Also looking to get some miniature planes for Wings of War (again, maybe a Christmas or Birthday present to me?). Who wants to play with cards when you can play with toy planes!!! Fokker Fokker Fokker...

By the way did I mention Battlelore? This is an awesome game and it looks to be something that will be ever-expanding over time. Gimme more monsters, and maybe some undead and mercenary forces!!

On the non-wargaming side of the fence, several board games are on my BUY ME & PLAY ME radar for 2008. These include Prophecy, LOTR Confrontation, Mr Jack, Condottiere, Hive, Colossal Arena, Manhattan, Through the Desert, Fury of Dracula, Tikal, El Grande (Decennial Edition), Fearsome Floors, Cutthroat Caverns, and Fairy Tale. I could go on and on. My personal wishlist that I keep in an Excel spreadsheet goes 105 games deep. If I got 10 new games between now and Christmas 2008, that would be more than enough, at least until regular weekly gaming sessions become the norm.

Two revamped board games that I have my eye squarely on for 2008 are Cosmic Encounter and Titan. I'm also looking forward to the Fantasy version of Piquet. Ya know, maybe I like games TOO DAMN MUCH?

Will 2008 be the year of Pre-Paints? Between Rackham's AT-43 and Confrontation games, Reaper's new Legendary Encounters range, more HeroScape stuff, Privateer's Monsterpocalypse game, Wings of War airplanes, the Mutant Chronicles CMG, and a growing range of quality 90mm toy soldiers from Schleich and Papo, it will certainly be a telling year whether the influence of pre-paints continues to rise or peter out. I'm predicting pre-paints will be on the rise. Our "I want it now, with little fuss" society is geared towards pre-paints more than traditional do-it yourself minis. DIY ain't going away, but the more pre-paints that come into the marketplace, the bigger miniature gaming will grow. Just look at all the new board games that include minis! People love the visual impact and tactile feel of playing with cool looking toys -- and no, it doesn't go away even when you're over 40!!

By the way, some idiot on BGG speculated that HeroScape may be dying simply because they couldn't find Wave 7 easily and there were delays in some upcoming expansion sets. Oh Bullshit!! This happens all the time with game companies, even the big ones. Delays are part & parcel to the game business. Hasbro came out with a new master set (Swarm of the Marro) and a new spinoff game (Marvel Heroes), plus new figure expansions. Cut them some slack for pete's sake! More goodness will arrive in 2008. It would be pure stupidity to kill off a game that's had as much positive buzz as HeroScape and which actually appeals to the adult community (something that few Hasbro products can boast).

Hey Black Industries... umm... how about Talisman (version 5) with pre-painted minis?

I may travel to Essen next year. I'm not totally sure right now. Would Anna really enjoy it? She's only a casual gamer. But she does love to travel and we've never been to Germany. Hmmm... If Essen doesn't happen, then I'm damn well sure to be going to Origins in 2008.

Once January rolls around I'll start thinking about changes I'm going to make to the 2008 edition of my venerable Rhino Baseball program. I have a few things leftover from my 2007 planned-to-do list that I could add. But to be honest, this program is so chock full of functions that there isn't much to add to the beast. I do have one or two "cool factor" things I could do, but lack of time may prevent me from doing them. We shall see.

I had visions of integrating some web tools with Rhino Baseball, but two things are holding me back. First, my ongoing design work on Sword of Severnia is eating up all my time, as it should since I desperately need new, non-sports products to help expand my business. Secondly, Rhino Baseball has always been a robust desktop program. Revamping the workings of a 10-year old desktop app is dicey from a technical perspective. Plus, if someone just wants a web-based league manager, there are other decent alternatives available. Rhino Baseball rocks because it's much more than a simple league manager. It does lots of different things that those web-apps don't do functionally (especially from a draft prep, in-season stats analysis, and custom reporting perspective). And it does those things in a desktop environment that's more graphically appealing, runs faster, and gives the user more hands-on control. Why mess with a good thing?

Four books I'm currently reading or in my to-read pile: Hobby Games: Top 100 (various authors); The Master & Margarita (Bulgakov), Ancient and Medieval Wargaming (Neil Thomas), and Fantasy Gaming (Martin Hackett).

In the reading queue for 2008: Dark Tower series (Stephen King), The Winter King (Cornwell), and assorted Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. I'm also considering Achtung Schweinhund! but don't know if an American gamer can really relate to a British author's childhood wargaming memories.

Resolution for 2008... PAINT MORE MINIATURES!

The #1 Cool Toy I got in 2007 was a video iPod. I wish I could use the video part more, but still, I have been listening to more podcasts than ever before. I think I've got about 150-200 different episodes of various shows on that darn thing. They're most gaming shows, but I'll be exploring some fantasy baseball podcasts come this Spring.

I'm not sure that I can pick one favorite overall podcast. Here are some I listen to regularly:
  • I love the detailed yet easily digestable game reviews done by Pulp Gamer.
  • The Dice Tower is simply a classic with its Top 10 Lists, sheer breadth of topics, and friendly co-hosts. Tom Vasel seems to have similar taste in games as me and I've picked up several new games based on his recommendations.
  • Mark Johnson's down-to-earth Boardgames to Go podcast is often very entertaining and I can relate to him well. He's all substance and no fluff. His recent look at light wargames was great, and his 10 year retrospective was fascinating.
  • I'm also quite fond of Neil Schuck's Meeples & Miniatures podcast because Neil goes into great depth on his subjects and is never afraid to share his honest opinion. This has become my favorite podcast for miniatures related stuff.
  • For sheer board gaming enthusiasm and inspiration (with The List, Truckloads of Goober, Game Sommelier), you won't find anything better than The Spiel. Steve and Dave, you guys rock!
  • I've always liked the All About Miniatures podcast, but the guys have gone on hiatus and I wonder if they'll return.
  • I wish the guys at Roll 2D6 did more shows because they're always fun to listen to, especially when they talk about board games.
  • The stoplight review system used by On Board Games is great, and there's no better evangelist for gaming right now than Scott Nicholson -- okay, maybe it's a tie with Tom Vasel.
  • There are other podcasts I listen to as well (Metagamers, Little Wooden Cubist, Boardgame Babylon, Point-to-Point, and Paul Tevis's show when he talks about board games -- I'm not into RPGs anymore). Maybe I should do a whole post about this...

Has anyone subscribed to MagWeb? Is it worth it?

If Games Workshop ever came out with pre-painted minis for Blood Bowl, I would start playing that game in a heartbeat. I just don't have the time to paint minis for that game, and teams are pretty expensive to buy on eBay -- especially considering all the other games and minis I'm trying to squeeze into my budget!

My personal wargame design Holy Grail: a workable solution to designing a robust Fantasy wargame (with lots of different creatures & races) without the need for a Point Cost system. Anyone with any great ideas, please respond to this post!

Is the Ragnarok fantasy/sci-fi magazine defunct? It seems like it has been stuck on issue 52 forever.... Speaking of magazines, I can't wait for Bayonets, Spears, and Blasters to come out (new mag by Polymancer). I will subscribe to it, just tell me how!!!

It's amazing how much my NHL and Flyers hockey viewing has declined now that I'm not running and playing in a fantasy hockey pool. I wish there were 48 hours in each day! Perhaps if I can start playing STIGA table hockey next year the hockey bug will return? At least I've got my Hershey Bears to watch -- even though they're very up & down this season.

I still don't have a Christmas Tree.... YIKES!!! I better get one today or else the house just isn't going to feel right. I've really been struggling with the whole Christmas spirit thing this holiday season. Since my Dad died in February, it's been harder to find the passion in several things that I used to get really excited about. Not having Pop around at Christmas is extremely sad. I miss him... every day.

What do you get your Cats for Christmas? Both Jinx and Sammy have their own stockings. Now I just need something to put in them. New cat toys? Catnip? A new blanket to curl up in? Pictures of sexy girl cats (PlayCat). I dunno...

Gotta go... I'm rambling... Until next time MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Zen Again: The Cheap Way to Go Big

No this isn't another advertisement for cheap male enhancement drugs as the title may suggest. Rather, today's topic concerns finding inexpensive, yet good quality fantasy wargame miniatures of the VERY LARGE and HUGE variety.

I must admit that when it comes to collecting wargame minis, especially fantasy figures, I'm extremely eclectic. The thought of building a 250 to 300 model army comprised entirely of orcs or barbarians is not something that really grabs me. I'd much rather have my bunch of 300 figures consist of 40 orcs, 40 beastmen, 40 lizardmen, 40 elves, 30 hoplites, 25 knights, 25 ghouls, 25 anubis warriors, 10 trolls, 10 minotaurs, 10 heroes and wizards, 3 giants, and 2 dragons. I want diversity dammit! The more variety, the better!

But variety does have a downside. Gamers and collectors who crave more & more variety often find themselves chasing after lots of different models in an attempt to own at least a few of every creature that ever raised its ugly head and marched across a fictional battlefield. I confess that I'm guilty of this. I say things like, "God, those Front Rank figures in the 100 Years War range are just beautiful; I must get some.", or "Those new Ghouls and Spartans from Crocodile Games are a must buy!", or "I love the Trollbloods in the Privateer Press range, maybe I should buy a few boxes?". And on and on it goes. It's a Pokemon-like addiction -- you just gotta catch 'em all. But catching them all means spending loads and loads of money. Once reality sets in, you realize that you can only buy what you want most and can actually afford.

Here's where the issue of BIG models comes into play. Those large dragons, giants, dinosaurs, and other nasty monstrosities typically cost a heck of a lot of money. Not to mention, if you paint them yourself, a lot of time goes into the modelling & painting of these suckers. Many casual gamers feel that it's just not worth it, so these larger models never end up appearing in their collections. But there is an alternative; a cheaper way to obtain some very cool large models that saves both money and time. Say hello to pre-paints.

I know what some wargaming purists will say: they hate pre-paints. I say to them, you can always give these pre-painted models a "touch-up or enhanced look" if you're that anal retentive about it! Oftentimes, you can achieve amazing results with a simple 2-step approach to these models:
  1. Apply a brown or black ink-wash to shade the model. This is especially good for light colored models like giants with exposed flesh or behemoths with gray/tan/whitish skin.

  2. Drybrush a lighter shade than the model's main base-color onto its high spots to highlight it. For instance a medium or lighter brown shade is great for drybrushing over Tree Men who often have dark brown bark skin.
For those of you who aren't that fussy, don't worry about it. Some pre-paints, such as the range of McFarlane Dragons are so well painted that most diehards would agree that you don't need to do anything to them -- they're already beautiful as-is.

Let's start with the biggie of them all: DRAGONS. Dragons are the beastly rulers of many a fantasy world. There are many really cool metal dragon miniatures on the market, but if you want to save a lot of time & money, there's no better bet than to look into purchasing pre-painted dragons from these sources:
  • McFarlane Dragons = Todd McFarlane, creator of the Spawn comic, makes a series of dragons that are absolutely fantastic. These beasts work extremely well for 28mm to 30mm fantasy wargaming. Not only are these dragons big and menacing (like a dragon should be!), but the dynamic sculpts, quality paint jobs, and attention to detail are truly excellent. These figures can be found in KB Toys, Toy R Us, Fao Schwarz, and eBay for around $8 to $13 per model. That's a steal. These are my absolute favorite pre-painted models available, and every fantasy gamer should have a few in his or her collection.

  • Schleich = German company Schleich produces an excellent range of 90mm knights. These are great for large-scale skirmish gaming. Within their Knights range, they have a very attractive Green Dragon priced at about $15. I own one of them and he's great for fantasy wargames. Highly recommended. I've found Schleich figures available at Target, AC Moore, and Fao Schwarz, and online at Michigan Toy Soldier.
  • Papo = This french company is similar to Schleich in that it makes a nice range of 90mm figures for a variety of periods and uses. You will find several dragons under their Tales and Legends range. You can find Papo figures in AC Moore, Michaels, and online at Michigan Toy Soldier.
  • Safari Ltd. = A maker of educational toys, Safari also makes a really nice range of dragons that are worth checking into. They've got Red, Green, Chinese, and 4-Headed dragons that are sweet looking and affordable. They're also available in your local craft stores such as AC Moore or Michaels.
For everything else in the way of monsters or gods, there are several sources available. My particular pick is the D&D Miniatures line. While the paint jobs are spotty in some cases, I've found that the painting on the larger models is often more attractive than on their standard (humanoid sized) minis. This is especially true of the more recently released sets. Because D&D minis are collectible, you cannot just go out and buy a box and get exactly what you're looking for. So to find specific large monsters that interest you, you're best bet is to look at eBay, where's there's a large secondary market for D&D minis. Also, the prices on eBay are usually much lower than what you'll find at online shops that sell single minis (such as

I've got a couple of very nice D&D monsters that I would feel okay using as-is. I plan on doing some touch-ups (as previously described) to a few of them when I get the chance. But for the money, you can't beat getting a decent looking plastic giant for somewhere in the $10 to $20 range, rather than buying an ultra-expensive GW giant that takes a good bit of effort to put together and paint. To me, time is money. I've already got more stuff to paint than I have time for, so any affordable time saver is very welcomed.

McFarlane Toys also has some very cool models in their fantasy/horror ranges. They're much too big for use in 28mm to 30mm wargames unless you want to use one as a GOD or TITAN. Gods should be much, much larger than life and terrifyingly impressive. If you want to scare the bejesus out of your foes, imagine summoning a Haunter of the Pits (from the Conan series) onto the battlefield! Criminy, I think I just soiled myself!

Finally, check into Safari's dinosaur ranges for some nice prehistoric terrors. The scale may not be 100% perfect, but hey they're MONSTERS after all -- big is always good when it comes to these guys!!! They're also great if you play Giant Monster skirmish battles.

I hope my little foray into the world of cheap, pre-painted monsters has been enlightening. It really is possible to bring some terror to your battlefield without breaking your bank account.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Fabulous Dice Rolling Doohickey

Repeat after me... DICE and MINIATURES do not mix. At least from a physics perspective!

Imagine the scene. You're playing a tabletop miniatures wargame, or a board game whose pieces are miniature soldiers, monsters, tanks, planes, ships, or wooden blocks. The time comes for your opponent to perform his moves or resolve his attacks. He grabs a handful of colorful dice and then, to your utmost horror, the idiotic lunkhead hurls those cubes across the table mowing down scads of tiny soldiers. After viewing the carnage, the players frequently start asking questions like "exactly where was my goblin skirmisher unit located?", or "how many strength points did this block of English Knights have left?", or "wasn't my giant robot standing on top of a hill when he attacked rather than lying in the lava pool next to your Obsidian guards?".

If you're a miniatures gamer, it's even worse. Let's say that you have spent 6 hours carefully painting your Swamp Troll hero, or spent $50 on eBay to buy an expertly painted Knight mounted atop a charging Gryphon. The models look awesome. And then the Dice Jackass strikes and rolls ten D6's into your tiny works of art, chipping the paint off or snapping a weapon in the process. I can feel my hands clenching and an irresistable urge to strangle someone as I'm writing this.

In my house, rolling dice recklessly across the game table is a NO-NO. That's why, for any game where miniatures or blocks are used and handfuls of dice are going to be rolled, I pull out my trusty dice tower.

On my 43rd birthday (a year ago), my lovely wife satisfied my inner geek and got me a very cool looking dice tower from Vixen Tor Games. My tower is one of the earlier Deluxe models called the Dice Dungeon. I've included a picture of it here. The tower is attractive and I'm very happy with it, being a big fan of fantasy/horror themes in general. It's also functional and works great. You can drop a big pile of dice in the thing and they come out fast and safely contained in a nice little wooden tray. Even the sound that the dice make when they bounce off the wooden ramps inside the tower is fun to hear.

My only complaint about the tower is a very small, niggling one. Sometimes when the dice roll into the tray, they nestle into the corner or side of the output tray and you cannot see the dice result unless you're sitting/standing right next to the tower. It's really a minor quibble, and not certainly something that would prevent me from buying the tower. In fact, some day, I'd like to get a 2nd one! A second tower would be especially handy for 2-player miniatures games played on large 4 foot by 6 foot tables (or bigger).

Vixen Tor makes the nicest towers of anyone I've seen to-date. They're not cheap by any means, running about $40 for most models. If memory serves me correctly, they used to be more expensive than that and I'm pretty sure that the price has dropped since last year. There are other cheaper alternatives such as the plastic "Dice Boot", but as they say, you get what you pay for. The Vixen Tor towers are just so much cooler. And let's face it, what gamer doesn't want to show off his or her cool toys or gadgets sometimes?

Anyway, if you're a minis gamer or a board gamer who plays lots of mini-based or block games such as Warhammer, Blood Bowl, Warmaster, HeroScape, Battlelore, Tide of Iron, Hammer of the Scots, Wizard Kings, Axis & Allies, War of the Ring, etc., then do yourself a favor and get a dice tower. The little men on your game board will no longer shudder when the time comes for some spastic gamer to roll his meat-hook full of six siders!!

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Great Debate: Euro vs. American Games

If you've ever stopped by the BoardGameGeek site and read through the forum posts there, you will have certainly stumbled across threads related to "the great debate". Just what is the great debate? It's the ongoing discussion of which tabletop games are better; Euro games or American style games.

For the uninitiated, a "Euro" game is generally considered to be a board game created in Europe (typically in Germany, the world center of board games). These games are also called "designer games" by many folks because the game inventor's name is written prominently on the box (as opposed to just the company name on the box, which is often the case with many North American mass-market games). Euro games tend to have very simple, elegant game mechanics and family-friendly and non-confrontational themes (you won't find any wargames here). Some examples of classic Euro games are Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Niagara, Tikal, El Grande, Power Grid, and Puerto Rico.

American style games, on the other hand, fall into that class of games that most of us grew up with as kids: Monopoly, Sorry, Risk, Scrabble, Rook, Pit, and Trivial Pursuit just to name a few. Also, classic wargames by Avalon Hill and SPI, along with heavily themed adventure & strategy and sports games such as those by Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, TSR, Games Workshop, and Strat-O-Matic also fall into the school of American style games. American style games tend to have much richer, immersive themes when compared to Euro games, more complicated rules, and longer playing times.

People involved in the debate about which type of game is best fall into 3 camps: (1) those who favor Euro games, (2) those who favor American style games, and (3) those who like all types of games as long as they're fun. I fall firmly into Group #3.

I must admit that the discussions about this topic on BGG are often quite entertaining. That's because gamers are an intelligent and passionate bunch who will defend their point of view to the death, sometimes at ridiculously convoluted lengths. Oftentimes, these discussions devolve into name-calling and outright snobbery. It's kind of like living through high school all over again! It's gotten to the point where Euro gaming elitists have labelled American style games as "Ameritrash", an obvious denigration of what they feel are games with inferior designs and overly fiddly rules. On the flip-side, fans of American games often refer to Euro enthusiasts as "Euro Snoots", deriding them as snobbish, egotistical jerks who wouldn't know what the word "theme" meant unless they were hit in the face with an open dictionary.

Frankly, I don't know where most people find the time to contribute ongoing posts about all of this stuff. Most of us have better things to do than sit on the PC all day and defend our likes and dislikes to a large bunch of people that we'll never meet in real life. I have enough difficulty squeezing in updates to this blog on a regular basis. Still, reading these discussions provides a lot of food for thought (especially to the Game Designer in me) and often gives me a chuckle.

I absolutely hate the word Ameritrash. That does an extreme disservice to the designers who created the vast array of excellent American style games out there. In fact, wargames and adventure games with their immersive themes and meatier rules are those that I like the most. To me, playing games is all about the experience. Who wins or loses is secondary to getting lost in the game and having it take me to some exciting place, be it a major league ballpark, medieval Europe, a fantasy land or dark dungeon, or an alien planet.

In my opinion, many Euro games fall flat because the game's theme is pasted-on as an afterthought or so damn boring that they feel more like a math excercise than a fun, immersive experience. I mean c'mon, just how exciting is farming or trading your sheep for someone else's lumber? I'd much rather command brigades of ancient soldiers, fend off hordes of bloodthirsty orcs, get in a dogfight with the Red Baron, sail my Pirate ship on the stormy sea, or manage a major league baseball team comprised of stars that I drafted. I want to be taken away from the mundane, not immersed in it.

It's quite evident from browsing BGG that the Euro gaming community is extremely well represented there. I can't say definitively whether it's a larger group than those who love American style games. But I can say that there are scores of snobs who look down upon anyone who doesn't think Puerto Rico or Caylus or Die Macher are anything short of the Holy Grail of Gaming. My personal belief is that many of these people are simply riding the popularity wave of what's "new and cool". It's only been during the last 10 years or so that Euro games have landed on the radar of most North American gamers. Prior to that, we all played American style board games and loved them. Nowadays, you're perceived to be cooler and smarter if you tell your buddies that you've recently played Power Grid, Notre Dame, Amun-Re, or Taj Mahal, than to say you've played Battle Cry or Talisman. People being people, there are many more followers who do what they think makes them cool, than leaders who do what they think is right or best (regardless if it's not popular at the time). I'm not saying that many of these gamers don't actually enjoy the Euro games they're playing. But I do think that many of them enjoy bashing older games because they're supposedly un-hip or not "now" enough.

To be fair, there are many good Euros that marry slick game mechanics with a fun and interesting theme. I love Ticket to Ride. Games like Tikal, Niagara, and Thebes have themes that mesh very nicely with their elegant mechanics. There are plenty of great Euros that I want to try and would recommend to anyone.

I harbor no ill will to Euro games. I own several and hope to add more to my collection over time. I'm a firm believer that every type and class of game is worthy of consideration. As long as the game is FUN, what difference does it make if it's new or old, is light or heavy on the rules, or takes 30 minutes or 3 hours to play? There's room for all kinds of games. That's why the "great debate" over Euros vs. American style games is an utterly silly one. There will never be a 100% consensus on this issue because games are art, and everyone has different tastes in art.

So gamers of the world, can't we all just get along!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Untethering Your Mind

Computers have become so ubiquitous in our daily lives, that we've lost some of the "old ways" of doing things. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Many things have become a zillion times easier and faster because of computers. As a software designer/architect and programmer, the computer is part of my very essence as a professional. Without it, I would have become a writer, a cartoonist, an architect, a statistician, or maybe even a schoolteacher.

But I'm not here to discuss how fantastic an invention the computer was, and how it continues to improve major facets of our lives. I'm here to discuss how the computer can sometimes be a stumbling block, rather than an aid, to creative thinking. How so, you ask?

One of the "old ways" that's increasingly becoming a lost art to many people is writing your thoughts down on paper. Think about it. When was the last time that you wrote a letter to someone in long-hand? The easy thing to do nowadays is fire off a quick email to them. Or if you really want to send an honest-to-goodness letter to someone, you hop on the computer, open up your word processor software, compose something digitally, and then print it out and stick it in an envelope. But write a letter by hand? C'mon man, you must be smoking crack!

Many of us rough out ideas on the computer as well. Need to make a quick list? Open up Excel, lay out some quick column headings, and start filling in your list. Need to jot down notes about a meeting you had, work out a project plan, or slap down some design ideas for that product you're creating? With a couple of clicks, you've opened Word and started typing in your thoughts.

There's really nothing seriously wrong with the above approach. I've done it myself, countless times. But let me ask you this little question. Have you ever opened up Excel, Word, or some other productivity program only to sit there frozen, staring wide-eyed at the screen for what seems like longer than the entire length of the O.J. Simpson murder trial? I'll bet you have. It happens to every creative person, oftentimes more regularly than we care to admit.

The problem with always writing things down on the computer is that your focus is centered on this small screen, with its rigid structure, overflowing menus, muted colors, cryptic icons, and myriad of scroll bars. Tunnel vision sets in and you get lost in this detailed digital world. And instead of your mind being completely free to roam around and brainstorm new ideas, your mind is tethered to a machine. Part of your brain is focused on using the system, while the other competing half is trying to ignore this structure and run amok like a wild animal. Creative minds need to be allowed to run free. If you want to think outside the box, stop staring into the box all the time!

I make it a point to push myself away from the computer every so often, pull out my big 11 x 14 "artist's sketch pad" that I bought at Michael's or AC Moore, and write down whatever it is I'm thinking about. Sometimes I'm jotting down business planning notes or creating a list. More often, I'm roughing out design ideas for a game or piece of software that I'm in the process of developing. And I work with ink PENS. That may seem stupid, because after all, these are often rough ideas I'm conjuring and I'm gonna mess up. Who cares! Cross stuff out. Draw arrows to things. Don't worry about being perfect. There's no need for an eraser; that's way too constraining. The key here is that you are free to think and create. You're not clicking icons, searching through menus, or scrolling every which way. There are no grid-lines to keep within. You've got a big old blank sheet of paper and a pen. That's the simplest interface there is.

Go ahead and try it. You'll be amazed at the results. You'll use parts of your brain that are oftentimes stifled by the structure of the computer. Whatever natural artistic abilities you possess are free to come out and play. There's a reason I chose to use an "art pad" after all. All good design has a basis in ART. Whether you're designing a building, a machine, clothing, software, a board game, or whatever, you visualize what that thing will be like before it ever comes into existence. You mold it in your mind's eye. So takes those creative visions and let them flow through your fingertips and out onto the paper. Even if you couldn't draw a tree in 2nd Grade to save your life, the simple act of writing is an act of expressing yourself in your own unique way.

So creative people of the world, get writing!!! You can thank me later.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Scattered Brain Cells

How many of you have ever read Larry King's column in the newspaper? The famed talk-show host writes in a unique style consisting of short little snippets of opinion. Many people hate that style of writing, but many others find it refreshing. In the fast-paced world that we live in, sometimes you just want a few quick bites to satisfy your mental cravings. So in the spirit of Larry King, perhaps modified a smidge, I bring to you a little segment called Scattered Brain Cells.

Black Friday... I didn't go out and do any shopping on Black Friday. I know many people practically pee their pants with excitement over the chance to snag a sweet deal on electronics, jewelry, clothing, video game systems, home furnishings, and so forth. They get up at 4:00 AM so they can be at the store when the doors open. Not me. I'm in the middle of rapid eye movement. I hate parking in Bumblebutt, Idaho and fighting through crowds of rabid shoppers. There's really nothing that I need THAT BAD. And if there was, I'd probably shop online for it.

Amazon Specials... Many online retailers are having their own Black Friday sales. has a really interesting 6-day sale going on where visitors choose various deals, and the product that gets the most votes each day is then offered at the pre-set deal price. I think during Day-1, they were offering Nintendo Wii systems to lucky visitors for $79 bucks. Damn sweet! Even if you didn't really want one, you could probably re-sell it on eBay for a tidy profit.

Mystery Shopping... There are two cool things about deals like those is offering:

(1) You can shop while sitting there in your pajamas -- no stinking crowds to fight through.

(2) There's a little bit of mystery about what products are actually going to be the ones that are offered for the sweet pre-set deal price. That element of surprise is something that really makes shopping fun. In fact, that's one of the things that I believe is so enticing about eBay. You just never know exactly what's going to be available for sale and at what price. There's a distinct Thrill of the Hunt going on which is so often missing from most shopping experiences.

Which brings me to my next thing... For board gamers and tech weenies, you've gotta check out This online shopping site is all about the Thrill of the Hunt. Each day, the website offers a single new product for sale at a steeply discounted price. You have no idea what product they're going to offer next, so you need to visit the site frequently and see what's for sale. And if you want to buy that item, you need to act fast. The phrase "you snooze, you lose" was never more appropriate for a shopping web site. Hot items sell out quickly.

TANGATHON... Periodically, TANGA does something really cool, holding a TANGATHON. For a period of several days, they sell through multiple items. Some of these products are only available for 1 or 2 hours and then boom, they're gone and another product takes their place. TANGA makes shopping for games and gadgets exciting. Bargain hunters love it. Stop by this weekend and check it out. You'll never know what you might find there.

You'll Drool for these Ghouls... Miniature figure maker Crocodile Games has just released a new range of ghouls to support their excellent WarGods of Aegyptus game. These figures are absolutely stunning. The poses are dynamic, the creatures look fierce and wild, and they've got a uniquely different style compared to other ghouls I've seen. I will definitely be buying some of these in the future to use in my own fantasy tabletop battle game. The guys at Crocodile Games make some of the best and most truly original fantasy figures on the market. You can see a full-sized photo of the ghoul unit by going here.

Top 200 Board Games... Turning our attention to board games, esteemed game reviewer extraordinaire Tom Vasel (of Dice Tower podcast fame) recently released his list of the Top 200 Games (board games and card games) for 2007. Those folks yearning to learn about high-caliber games or wanting a useful guide to help with Christmas shopping, should check out Tom's list. It's a truly excellent list, with brief comments on most games and links to full reviews of many more. Since one gamer's definition of "fun" varies widely from another's, you'll find that very few game geeks will agree with all of Tom's top 200 picks. If everyone liked exactly the same things, life would be boring! But I've found that Tom's tastes generally match up with my own fairly well across several key areas. He generally loves heavily thematic games, especially with a fantasy/sci-fi twist. He also seems to like adventure and battle games a lot. And you can tell from his list that Tom values strategy & replayability a heck of a lot. Those are all things that are extremely high on my list as well. Anyway, check out Tom's list and be sure to listen to his and Sam Healey's engaging Dice Tower podcasts.

Podcast Mania... Speaking of gaming podcasts, they're popping up everywhere! My wife got me a 40 GB video iPod for our anniversary back in May. As fate would have it, I ended up getting her an 80 GB video iPod as my gift to her. Great minds think alike! Anyway, aside from watching some occasional videos (such as Boardgames With Scott episodes), I've mostly been listening to scores of gaming related podcasts over the past 6 months.

If you look in the righthand margin of this blog and scroll down a bit, you'll see a list of gaming podcasts. There are lots of very good ones. If I had to pick my Top 6 favorite podcasts based on overall quality and interest to me (after all, this is SIX sided Rhinoceros), I would choose in no particular order:

That said, I recommend giving all of the podcasts on my big list a listen and choosing your own favorites.

New Miniatures Games Magazine!... Polymancer Studios has announced that they'll soon be publishing a new magazine focused on miniatures wargames called Bayonets, Spears, and Blasters. What's got me so excited about this printed magazine is two major things:

(1) At least half the magazine (or more) appears to be devoted to Fantasy and Sci-Fi miniatures gaming. Those are my favorite genres. Since the majority of wargame rags focus on historical gaming and give short shrift to fantasy/sci-fi gaming, I welcome a magazine like this. Battlegames is my favorite wargaming magazine currently in print, but if Polymancer can come anywhere close to that AND include a heavy dose of fantasy stuff, it will likely become my favorite rag in short time. My expectations are high!

(2) This is a "general purpose" magazine which takes a broad view of the wargaming hobby as a whole rather than being focused on a single company's products. As eye catching as White Dwarf is, the house magazine for Games Workshop, or the magazines devoted to Rackham and Privateer Press products, I much prefer a magazine devoted to the WHOLE HOBBY and not just a specific game or segment of it. BSB looks like it will fit the bill perfectly.

Christmas List... With Turkey Day here and gone, it's time for everyone to start handing over their Christmas Lists to those significant others, parents, or Elves at the North Pole, who will be helping to fulfill your little list of wishes this holiday season. Screw the practical stuff, we geeks want GAMES for Christmas! So what's on my games wishlist this year? Well, I'll probably write more about that in a separate post, but here's a quick rundown of the games and toys that this 40-something will dish off to Anna Claus (a.k.a. my wife):


  • HeroScape Wave #7 = Yeah, I've got the Scape bug bad. Those knights look sweet!
  • Wizard Kings = I just picked up Hammer of the Scots at Fall In. But fantasy is my first love and this block wargame is just too damn tempting to pass up.
  • Prophecy = I loved Talisman as a youngster and I hear this new Talisman-like adventure game by Z-Man is even better. My game group should love this one.
  • Wings of War Miniatures = I've got the base game, but I really don't feel like playing it until I get some cool looking bi-planes to use. Hey now, I'm a minis gamer!
  • Attack! Expansion = I picked up Attack! on eBay a few months back and haven't played it yet. Those in the know say it's much better with the expansion. This one's a must.


  • Colossal Arena = Monsters and Bidding. Nuff said.
  • Hive = An attractive little abstract 2-player game that Anna might like to play.
  • Manhattan = A euro with lots of eye candy and a Godzilla variant. Kewl!
  • Mr. Jack = Interesting, fast playing deduction game with strong theme. Another game that I could see Anna liking to play.
  • Condottiere = Got good vibes from the reviews I've read. And hey, I'm Italian too!
  • Lord of the Rings Confrontation (Deluxe) = Frodo lives! I can see this one getting to the table a lot, especially with my wargamer buddies who need a light diversion from those much deeper and longer playing miniatures games.
  • Through the Desert = Like the pastel camels, the strategy, and appeal to the non-wargaming crowd.
  • Fairy Tale = light card games with good theme & art make great games for those casual players we all play with.
  • Battlelore Goblin Marauders and Call to Arms = 2 expansions that will go nicely with the ones I just picked up at Fall In.
  • Ticket to Ride 1910 Expansion = Going on Tom Vasel's recommendation here.
If I ended up with 3 or 4 of these games I would be ecstatic. Christmas presents should be all about fun, not practicality. There are 364 other days of the year for that!

And that's it for now... This ended up being a little heavier than a Larry King column. I'll do better next time!

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Look Back at Fall In 2007

Between my trip to the Fall In convention the previous weekend, a very busy work-week last week, a day off to go to the annual brunch and Christmas play at Allenberry Resort, a trip down to Philly this past weekend to see my wife's folks, and a Hershey Bears hockey game, I've been too busy to blog. Hey, it happens.

Anyway, I did manage to squeeze in some other fun stuff along the way, with my trip to Fall In being the most fun. Well duh! It's a game convention... with miniatures... how could that NOT be fun?

This year's Fall In convention was a little different for me than the last batch of HMGS East cons I've attended. The big difference is that none of my wargaming buddies (Kev, Geoff, Wally, and Mike) were able to fit a trip down to Gettysburg into their schedules this year. So I didn't get any convention gaming in, because frankly, that's just not something I do when "I'm going solo".

Also, there weren't any Painting Classes that really caught my eye this go around. I'm hoping that there's a Horse painting class or How to Speed Paint in 1 Hour class at the Cold Wars 2008 convention which I'd be much more keen to sign up for. That's not a knock on Heather Blush. She and her crew do a truly excellent job running the painting events at the HMGS East cons. Heck, I voted for Heather to be on HMGS East's board of directors, because I felt she's really brought a lot to the hobby as the guiding force behind the painting classes at these cons. Plus, she's one of the friendliest people you'll ever meet. Keep up the great work Heather!

So with no gaming or no painting to fill the time, 100% of my focus was on shopping. Woohoo baby! Truth be told, shopping for new toys is really what I live for when it comes to these miniatures conventions. And with no friends around to help curb my spending or quickly ferry me past the vendor tables, I was able to leisurely stroll around the All Star hall, size up the merchandise, and shop in a relaxed manner without worrying that my long, lustful gazes were holding anyone else up. It was one of the most pleasurable convention shopping experiences that I've had in a long time.

My wargaming buddies would be the first to tell you how I have this rabid fascination with shopping at HMGS East cons. While they have been known to spend their cold, hard cash at many a convention, they're much more restrained than me. Perhaps part of it is because they have kids, and don't have the disposable income that someone like me (with no children) has. They have little mouths to feed and little bodies to wrap in new clothes. Maybe it's because they've haven't been involved in the hobby for as many years as I have. They lack the burning itch for new figures and games that many of us longtime wargamers have. Or maybe it's simply because they're cheap bastards. And of course, I say that with love.

Whatever biological phenomenon it is that helps restrain my friends from reaching for their wallets, it seems that I lack that gene, hormone, nervous system response, or whatever it is. I could easily spend $1500 to $2000 at a game convention without blinking. The only thing stopping me is common sense and the fact that my wife would probably kick me in the nads... after she slapped me silly. So I limit my spending to about one-fourth or one-fifth of that amount.

At this year's Fall In, I was determined to make much better use of my available funds than I did at Historicon. At the summer con, I returned with only a few really memorable things. Most of them were gorgeously painted miniatures (a large reptilian hero from Fernando Enterprises, a demon-General from Stan Johansen, and a beautiful regiment of Vikings from Evil Bob's). I was pleased with what I bought, it's just that I didn't feel I got a lot of bang for my buck. So my goal at Gettysburg was to come home with a much wider variety of stuff, and things which I would definitely use or play with right away. I didn't buy ANY professionally painted miniatures or ANY unpainted lead (metal figures). That's probably a first for me, at least a first for many years. So what did I buy?

Interestingly enough, about 40-45% of my money was spent on board games. That's very unusual for me at an HMGS East con. But there was a much broader selection of cool board games available at this convention than ever before. My first purchase of the day was at the Canton Games booth where a very personable gentleman helped me scarf up Tide of Iron, and 3 expansions for Battlelore (Goblin Skirmishers, Dwarven Battalion, and Hundred Years War). After a quick trip to the car to drop off those goodies, I came back for more.

My next purchase was Hammer of the Scots from the Last Square, along with some packs of metal wargaming bases and Nut Brown Ink from Windsor & Newton. The Last Square had a show special of 15% off all board games, which was excellent. I was thinking about picking up Crusader Rex and Wings of War (Famous Aces), but they were gone by the time that I returned to the booth a 2nd time to shop. As the old saying goes, if you snooze, you lose!

I then switched over to miniature wargaming mode, sauntered over to the On Military Matters booth, and picked up a newly released book I had been seeking entitled Ancient & Medieval Wargaming (by Neil Thomas). This is a hefty book (close to 300 pages) and is chock full of rules, army lists, and tactics used by historical armies. I haven't gotten the chance to read through it in earnest yet, but it looks like an excellent addition to any wargamer's library. Although I'm mainly a fantasy gamer, the ancient & medieval period is by far my favorite from a historical perspective.

I also paid a visit to Steve at Pastimes on the Square, a game shop located in Palmyra, PA that I visit on occasion. Pastimes has their own range of terrain which is both very nice and affordable. I bought a pile of hills, hedges, and trees for around $50, which will see plenty of use on my wargames table. Right next to the Pastimes booth was Evil Bob's, who is now carrying the excellent terrain made by Acheson's Creations. I snagged a beautifully painted Orc Hut nestled amongst rocky outcroppings in 28mm scale.

I then stopped by the Brigade Games booth to grab the newly released Gnome Wars rulebook. If you've never seen the Gnome Wars minis, you've just got to see them. They're chock full of character and whimsy, and put a heavy dose of fun into what can sometimes turn into an overly serious hobby for some stuffy old grognards. Between the gnome cavalry riding rabbits, the German gnomes with their spiked helms that would make the Kaiser proud, the Stinky Cheese Grenadier, and the classic Swiss gnomes that look like long-lost cousins of the Travelocity roaming gnome, these minis are truly great. I also had a nice little chat with Lon Weiss of Brigade Games, and discovered that he also went to Penn State and graduated the same year that I did. Small world eh?

My final stop was at one of the places where I started my morning browsing, The War Store. Early in the morning, I stopped by to chat with Neil Catapano, the owner of the War Store. Neil is a genuinely great guy, very easy to talk to and willing to help you out however he can. He's one of those guys that upon meeting for the first time, you feel like you've known him forever. He said that he has only attended 2 conventions in the past five years or so, GenCon and Fall In. He's hoping to come to Cold Wars in 2008. I sure hope he can make it. The War Store booth was not only huge and had an appealing layout, it was loaded with popular board games and mainstream miniatures games, and was staffed by some of the friendliest people I've ever met at an HMGS East con. Plus, Neil's prices on games are really good.

I ended up buying the AT-43 starter set at the War Store booth. With all the time and money I invest in traditional fantasy and medieval period figures, I just don't have thousands of dollars to spend on sci-fi stuff as well. So when AT-43 came out, a pre-painted sci-fi skirmish game, my interest was piqued. The barrier to entry was low (not that expensive, not many figures needed to play), and you could easily expand the game with more figures & armies without investing lots of time painting up new forces. That and the fact that the pre-paints are pretty nice looking, hooked me to try out AT-43. I can't wait until those space apes come out! Strange as it may sound, I actually felt guilty that I didn't spend more at Neil's booth. I just liked these guys that much. Of course, there's always Christmas mail order!

All things considered, I had a great day shopping on Friday the 9th. So great in fact, that I blew my entire "toy budget" in one day. My only real regrets of the show were forgetting to come back and buy a few packs of Warrior Frogs from Eureka minis, and not having enough extra funds to snag a gorgeous piece of ESLO terrain from Old Rivertowne Miniatures that I had my eye on. Oh well, there's always the next HMGS East convention in March!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Wargamers and Shopping

If I were a rich man... deedle doodle deedle do... I'd buy all the wargames in the world, if I were a wealthy man...

Alright, maybe I wouldn't buy ALL the wargames in the world. That wouldn't be fair to all the other miniature wargamers who need to feed their addictions. There should always be enough miniatures, terrain, game books, and dice to go around for everyone. I shudder to imagine a world without tiny tin troops, painted plastic platoons, and lines of Lilliputian lead legions! The tragedy of it all would surely be unbearable.

Fortunately, we live in a "golden age" for miniature wargamers. There has never been more in the way of purchasing choices for the discerning wargamer. Between game rules and miniatures for every period and scale imaginable, to pre-painted soldiers and terrain, to a vast array of quality paints and modelling tools, to countless books on warfare and hobby-related activities, the choices that gamers have nowadays are truly fantastic. And that's a really good thing, because if there's one thing that wargamers love to do, it's SHOP.

Outsiders to the wonderful world of wargaming don't understand our inherent lust for toy soldiers. When they see our numerous pots of paint and brushes, scores of blister packs and boxes full of unpainted miniatures, shelves of rulebooks and finely painted figures, and bags full of dice, they think "how could you possibly need any more?" We look at them with a puzzled expression, momentarily thinking that perhaps they're right. How will we ever paint all those toy soldiers? When will we ever have the time to play every wargame that we own? And just how many shades of green paint does a person really need?

But then we surf the internet and our eyes grow wide as we stare at the dazzling array of gorgeously painted tiny warriors marching across imaginary fields of battle. Or even worse, we travel to a game convention and see booth upon booth filled with tempting toys. The boy inside each of us begins to reach out. Rational thought goes out the window. We feel for our wallets. The real game has begun; the quest to feed our inner-geek.

With the 2007 FALL IN convention just a few days away, I've made up my own personal list of things that I'm interested in hunting for. The key word here is interested. I certainly don't need all of these things, nor could I afford to buy them all. Some of them are pure curiosities more than must-haves. But what's really intriguing about my list is its sheer size. I don't consider myself a "material person", but after looking at this list, I'm beginning to wonder if it's not my inner geek who needs satisfied, but rather, my inner Madonna. Just take a gander:


  1. Markers & tokens (fire, smoke, wounds, morale, etc.) by Litko or Gale Force Nine.
  2. Wooden Dice Tray
  3. Reaper Paints - Triad sets
  4. Coat D'Arms Paints - Paint Sets (Medieval, Goblin, Elves)
  5. Scale Creep - magnetic sheeting and steel bases

Miniatures & Terrain:

  1. HeroScape - Wave #7
  2. AT-43 - starter set
  3. Wings of War - WWI miniature airplanes
  4. Wargods of Aegyptus - Anubi, Mummies, Sebeki, Khemru
  5. Wargods of Olympus - Spartans
  6. Black Hat - Goblins, Centaurs
  7. Eureka - Warrior Frogs, Winged Monkeys
  8. Crusader - Saxon Huscarls, Pirate Orcs
  9. Front Rank - 100 Years War and War of the Roses
  10. Splintered Light - 15mm fantasy
  11. Blue Moon Miniatures - Horror/Pulp boxed sets
  12. Confrontation 4 - starter set
  13. Hordes - Trollbloods, Circle Oboros
  14. Reaper Legendary Encounters
  15. McFarlane's Dragons
  16. EM-4 - Ludus Gladiatorus
  17. World Tank Museum - mini WWII tanks
  18. Gridded Game Mat (4'x6', Green) by Monday Knight Productions
  19. ESLO - forests, hills, and buildings
  20. Baueda - Medieval Camps & Tents
  21. JR Miniatures - 28mm rivers and roads

Board Wargames:

  1. Battlelore expansions - Call to Arms, Goblins, Dwarves, 100 Yrs War
  2. Attack! - expansion
  3. Wings of War
  4. Prophecy
  5. Wizard Kings
  6. Hammer of the Scots
  7. Crusader Rex
  8. El Grande
  9. Tide of Iron
  10. War of the Ring
  11. Lord of the Rings: Confrontation
  12. Warrior Knights
  13. Fury of Dracula
  14. Colossal Arena
  15. Cave Troll
  16. Condottiere
  17. Titan
Miniature Wargame Rules:
  1. Piquet - Fantasy, Band of Brothers
  2. Gnome Wars
  3. Age of Might & Steel
  4. Medieval Wargaming (Neil Thomas)
  5. Monster Island
  6. Blood Bowl - 3rd Edition
  7. Elfball
  8. For the Masses
  9. Vampire Wars
  10. All Things Zombie
  12. Valor, Flesh, & Steel
  13. Erin
  14. Alien Squad Leader
  15. Armati
  16. Knight Hack
  17. Day of Battle
Yup, that's a helluva lot of stuff! I guess it's good to have things to aspire to, right?

I'll let you know if I purchase any of these things at the FALL IN convention. Usually I'm on the lookout for pro-painted minis, but I might dive into some of the above items this time out.

Oh a-shopping we will go....

Saturday, November 3, 2007

GODS -- Game Sessions at Sevy's

Hello GODS Members,

November is a super-busy month for me, but things should be more flexible once we get into the DEC/JAN timeframe. That said, I was still able to schedule some gaming sessions for the next three months.

Here's the official Schedule of Game Sessions that I will be hosting over the next 3 months.

Please note that the Starting Time for these gaming events may change (especially those farther out in the schedule... DEC onwards). If that is the case, I will update the info on this blog and also send out a heads-up email noting the time change at least 1 week in advance.

Pirate's Cove (3-5 plyr, Pirate Adventure, 2 hrs, Info)

NOV 25 (SUNDAY @ 1 PM)
Shadows Over Camelot (3-7 plyr, King Arthur Adventure, Co-Op, 2 hrs, Info)

Acquire (2-6 plyr, Economic Strategy, 2 hrs, Info)

Citadels (2-7 plyr, Medieval City Building, Card Game, 1 hr, Info)

DEC 23 (SUNDAY @ 7 PM)
Cosmic Encounter (3-6 plyr, Sc-Fi Conquest & Negotiation, 2 hrs, Info)

Attack! (2-6 plyr, WWII Wargame, 3 hrs, Info)

JAN 20 (SUNDAY @ 7 PM)
Domaine (2-4 plyr, Medieval Land Conquest, 1.5 hrs, Info)

Lighter Fare -- Card Games:
If time permits and people want to stay for another 30-to-60 minutes after our main game finishes, I have a bunch of light, filler card games that we can play to wrap up an afternoon or evening session if time permits. These include:
Special Invite Games:
As I mentioned in a previous club email, I will also be inviting various people to play against me in some 2-player wargames when time permits and I can work it into my schedule. These would be tentatively called Wargame Wednesdays, since WED Nights seems to be the best fit for weekday games for most people based on the survey responses I got.

I'll cover some games that fit this mold in a later blog post, but you can bet your bippy that Battlelore, Battle Cry, and Dungeon Twister will figure prominently in that mix.

I'm also looking to buy several 2-player wargames that are on my games wishlist. These games include: Tide of Iron, War of the Ring, Crusader Rex, Hammer of the Scots, Duel in the Dark, and AT-43. There are also several multi-player wargames that I'm after which can also be played head-to-head including the fantasy block wargame Wizard Kings and WWI plane combat game Wings of War: Miniatures.

There's one additional note that I wanted to share. One of the game designers in our group (Mayer), has a few new games that he'd like to bring to Game Day / Game Night on occasion and have members of the group playtest. There are two games in particular that I'm aware of. One is a word-building game called Rotate, and another involves drafting a basketball team on-the-cheap. I'm happy to help him out, so I'm going to arrange for him to bring a game to one of my upcoming sessions, and I'll let everyone know when that will happen.

That's all for now. By the way, you can quickly find GODS Game Club related posts by looking in the Posts by Category section in the right-hand margin of this blog and clicking on the game club link.

See you later!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Before They Come For You...

Tomorrow night is Halloween. You don't want to get your brains eaten by zombies do you? Of course you don't!

So before they come for you, make sure to read the ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE (

And remember, aim for the head!!!