Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fearsome Arena

Last night, I finally got the chance to play some boardgames after a gaming hiatus of about a month or more. The four of us (myself and my friends Kevin, Wally, and Hunter) played two games which were completely new to us: Fearsome Floors (by Friedemann Friese) and Colossal Arena (by Reiner Knizia).

What follows is my overall impression of each game...


The gist of Fearsome Floors is that each player controls a band of hapless travelers who have entered a gothic fortress that's home to a terrifying and very hungry monster named Furunkulus. You are attempting to move your group of travelers through this dungeon and escape out the exit before you're eaten by the monster and before your fellow players get their travelers to safety.

In a 4-player game, the first player to get 3 of his travelers safely out of the fortress wins the game, provided that the preset time-limit (14 turns) doesn't expire. So in essence, this is a race game with lots of suspense.

Movement is very straightforward for the travelers. They can move X number of squares horizontally/vertically when it's their turn to move. Move rates are listed on the traveler's playing pawn which is a 2-sided disc. The disc gets flipped over after moving, so a traveler's move rate increases and decreases from turn-to-turn. Travelers can hide behind stones scattered throughout the dungeon, or push them around to block or open up pathways. There are also blood pools that you can slide through to move faster.

Where the real fun lies is in the monster's movement. The slobbering Furunkulus moves towards the closest visible traveler. If he lands on your location, he eats you (gulp!). He can also squish you by pushing your pawn and the stone you're hiding behind into a wall. The monster also moves much farther than the travelers, can push mutiple objects ahead due to his immense strength, can step on magic portals to rapidly teleport to another location, and can even walk through walls and suddenly emerge into the midst of a throng of startled travelers on the opposite side of the dungeon! In short, he's a mean eating machine!

Strategically, you're not only trying to avoid having your travelers get eaten by the monster and outrace him to the exit door, but you're trying to goad old Funky into chasing down your opponents and turning them into lunchtime snacks. Sometimes this means sacrificing one of your travelers to ensure that a whole bunch of opposing travelers get eaten. Oftentimes, clever positioning will force the monster to alter his course, squishing opponents into walls, stepping on teleportation portals, or walking through walls to thwart travelers who thought they were in a safe spot. Sometimes, you have to screw over the other guy to survive!

I thoroughly enjoyed Fearsome Floors. Although the rules are on the simple side, this is a challenging mid-weight strategy game that plays in about an hour. There's lots of chaos which keeps things interesting (the dungeon floorplan is ever-changing and the hungry monster twists and turns a lot), and the light-horror theme lends itself to lots of laughs. I found myself cheering for Funky to "eat, eat, eat" whenever he rumbled towards my opponents' pieces.


The second game we played was Colossal Arena, a card game by the good Doctor himself, Reiner Knizia. In this game, mythical monsters are duking it out for supremacy in a gladiatorial arena. Eight monsters enter this grand free-for-all, but in the end, only 3 are left standing.

The fight lasts for 5 rounds. During this time, you are placing bets on the monsters who you think will make it out alive once the dust has settled. The earlier you place a bet during the monster slug-a-thon, the more risk you're taking, since there are more beasties still alive. But betting early potentially reaps big rewards. Bets placed later on in the competition are much safer, but pay out much less.

The cool part of Colossal Arena is that you have a direct hand in how the fighting turns out.

You have a hand of 8 combat cards which you may play onto the table to influence how well (or how poorly) a particular monster is faring in the fight. Each combat card identifies a monster and has a combat value of 0 to 10. During a round of combat, players are laying cards on the table, trying to allocate high valued cards to the monsters they want to win (those they've bet on) and low valued cards to those beasts who they want to suffer defeat (those of opposing players who have bet many chips on them).

There's an additional twist to all of this action. If you're the BACKER of a given monster (the person who has placed the highest bet on him), then you can use that monster's Special Power whenever you play a combat card associated with him. The special powers allow you to do all kinds of neat stuff like take cards from other players, play 2 combat cards, discard a combat card that someone has already laid on the table, draw extra combat cards, etc. Taking advantage of the unique abilities of the monsters you're backing adds a whole layer of nuanced strategy to the game that's easily overlooked when you're just learning to play the game. But to me, this variety is what truly moves Colossal Arena from a simple betting game to something great.

I'm not averse to "screw your opponent" type of games, and Colossal Arena is certainly that style of game. In order for your bets to payoff, you need to ensure that your behemoths come out on top, and that means whomping on your enemies in every way possible. This isn't a game to play with your Mother or those with tissue-thin sensitivity. Being a fantasy fan, I also love the monster slug-a-thon theme and it's successfully executed by gorgeous card art.

I highly recommend Colossal Arena. It plays fast (45-60 minutes), is highly interactive and never dull, and packs a lot of replay value for your $20 bucks. Go get it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Out of Kilter

My life has been out of kilter lately. You can thank my Mother-in-Law for that. You see, she's been staying with us for over a month as she recovers from major surgery to fix her broken hip.

Oh, we've been getting along just fine. So I won't go into Mother-in-Law Bashing mode. It's just that having another adult staying in your home messes with your usual daily routines and really twirls all aspects of your life into unexpected directions. Couple that with the fact that I spent many October evenings watching and rooting for my Phillies in the major league baseball playoffs, and not a whole lot of tabletop gaming, mini-painting, or other extracurricular stuff was being done.

Of course as we all know, the Fightin' Phils won the World Series (WOOHOO!!!), their first in 28 years, so it was entirely worth it. But I'm glad the series is over; my heart couldn't take much more of that nail-biting, gut-wrenching excitement!

Anyway.... I've had no time or desire to blog lately. Hopefully, that will change sometime soon, once my life returns to normal.

At least one major gaming thing is on my horizon.... I'm heading off to FALL IN this weekend! Looks like all of my miniature wargaming buddies are off doing family-related things this week, so I'm going solo. That's a bit of a bummer, but such is the life of 40-something gamers.

This time around, I'm going to focus my wargame shopping on some cool stuff that I've consciously backed away from over the past year or so. Namely, unpainted miniatures. I already have overflowing tubs full of unpainted figures to paint, but it has been awhile since I've added anything new to my cache of tiny tin men. But it's time to unshackle my slobbering inner lead junkie and have at it. SULTAN... NEED... TIN... slobber slobba drip drip....

I recently became a member of the Old Glory Army. This shopping club, which costs $50 per year, entitles you to 40% off most products sold on the Old Glory website and at HMGS East shows. You're also entered into regular prize drawings for free goodies and get a set of 12 free specialty figures with your first order. You need to spend $120 bucks to break even, before you start realizing large savings. But that's not very hard to do, especially since Old Glory has their own massive miniature range to pick from, and you can buy models from Crusader USA (great line of ancients and dark age minis), Blue Moon (cool pulp, horror, swashbuckler, and Robin Hood figures), West Wind (love their Dwarf Wars and Gothic Horror ranges), and Ghost Miniatures (some classic fantasy figs -- great dwarves, ice trolls, orc, and barbarians).

But the thing that really sold me on the Old Glory Army membership was their recent release of Old Glory Painted. These are painted versions of some of OG's metal minis. They're initially releasing Romans and Zulus, but within the next few months we'll see a host of new historical periods offered (including Vikings, Greek Hoplites, Persians, Macedonians) and even Dwarves and Orcs. NICE! The jury is still out on the quality of the figs & their associated paint jobs, but I'm optimistic and hope to see some of the Romans for myself at FALL IN.

Besides whipping out the Old Glory Army card and spending money on the previously mentioned stuff, I'm definitely interested in visiting the Eureka stand. In addition to their awesome warrior Frogs (gotta get some!), I'm smitten with their new range of Beowulf figures which are truly excellent sculpts and full of character. The Empire of the Petal Throne stuff is also enticing. I'm hoping that Age of Glory will still have some Front Rank medievals on hand (they're not going to be carrying them anymore -- damn shame). These are my favorite models for 100 Years War and War of the Roses by far. And finally, I need to check out the WarGods stuff for assorted goodies (Anubi, Sebeki, Spartans, Typhons, Yeti, etc.).

Okay... almost finally.... I forgot about the cool stuff from Bronze Age and Hydra Miniatures. I'm not a huge sci-fi gamer, but some of their stuff is too cool to resist. The Hydra minis have a retro sci-fi feel that really pushes all the right buttons for me.

As for painted stuff, I'll definitely visit Stan Johansen's stand, as his fantasy stuff is beautiful and reasonably priced. Plus, he's a great guy and I love supporting the truly good people in this hobby.

Anyway... Enough rumblings for now. I'll report back here once I return from my journey down to Gettysburg and FALL IN 2008. It will be VERY interesting to see if the piss-poor economy has a negative impact on the convention. I hope not, but I fear it will hurt somewhat.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Reports from Essen

The largest tabletop games convention in the world is underway right now in Essen, Germany. Spiel 2008, which will draw approximately 150,000 people, is THE PLACE where hobby game companies release their new games for all the world to see.

I've always wanted to go to this mecca of game conventions, but have never made the trip from America to Germany yet. Hopefully that will come in the future, when the US economy and my fun-money budget are in much better shape!

I truly love boardgames, and especially conventions where you can Try and Buy, which is precisely what SPIEL is (or ESSEN as it's commonly referred to by gamers in the know). Since I cannot be there myself, I'm living vicariously through the daily news reports of Frank Kulkmann. Frank is a gamer and native of Essen, and his excellent daily round-ups can be read by going here: Kulkmann's Gamebox. Check it out for yourself; it's a great little read.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gamer Perspective - OCT 14, 2008

Yeah, I know that I need to post here more often.

After one year of doing this, I'm still striving to figure out the perfect balance of blog-posting frequency versus article "meatiness". Writing often is doable if the articles are quick hitters that don't take much time to create. But then, they lack the depth and variety that's often more entertaining to a wider scope of people.

So.... What to do? I'm going to attempt to go the shorter, more frequent route. I say attempt, because finding the time to pull away from work & family to write is always tricky. But let me try it at least and see what happens.

This month's Gamer Perspective has me thinking about miniatures, books, wargames, and board gaming.

As a longtime lover of miniature wargames and game designer, my Excitement Meter rose when I read about John Bobek's new book entitled The Games of War: A Treasury of Rules for Battles with Toy Soldiers, Ships, and Planes.

There just aren't that many good, general purpose books available about the fantastic and engaging hobby of miniature wargaming.

Many of the classic wargaming books were written 30-40 years ago and include the likes of Featherstone's Complete Wargaming (by Donald Featherstone), Charge! (by Peter Young), Battle Gaming (by Terence Wise), Setting Up a Wargames Campaign (by Tony Bath), and others.

The recent book on miniature wargaming by Neil Thomas (Wargaming: An Introduction) provides a solid introduction to the hobby for newcomers, and Big Battles for Little Hands (by Buck Surdu) is a good entry-level book for youngsters.

But compared to the books by Thomas and Surdu, John Bobek's book seems to have a much broader, sweeping approach to the miniature wargaming hobby, offering up close to 40 different sets of rules for every period and style of wargame imaginable (ancient, medieval, napoleonic, colonial, WWII, fantasy & sci-fi, ship warfare, aerial combat, etc.). That's pretty adventurous.

Although my understanding is that the rules provided here are quite simple in complexity and depth, that's certainly to be expected when a broad-brush approach is taken. Too many newcomers to miniatures gaming can be turned off by games requiring 150-200 models per side to play, ultra-complex rules, and by highly restricted choices with respect to the models you can use to play the game. Bobek takes a more user-friendly approach, trying to keep costs down, options open with regards to models you can choose from, and simple rules whose focus is squarely on fun rather than ultra-realistic simulation.

This is a book that has immediately made my MUST BUY list (or perhaps it could be a Christmas present). Once I get it into my hands and have read it thoroughly, I'll give you a more in-depth review and opinion of the book.

In the neverending quest of miniature manufacturers to try and deplete my bank account faster than a 600-point drop on Wall Street, I bring to you news of these cool developments in the minis world.

Bronze Age Miniatures has released a new Norse Troll (pictured at left) whose dynamic, menacing pose is just fantastic. I'm a sucker for trolls, so I'm sure I'll add this guy to my collection fairly soon.

Plus, there's a whole new set of babelicious female barbarians who are obviously members of the "We Don't Believe in Bras" clan. Conan would be pleased.

Old Glory recently announced that they're offering pre-painted metal miniatures (called Old Glory Painted) to their line of products. Right now, the range consists of Romans and Zulus warriors. Celts, Napoleonics, and American Civil War pre-paints are on their way.

I'm very interested in the Romans and Celts. A unit of 20 painted soldiers costs $70, or $3.50 per figure. That's a very attractive deal, especially for folks who dislike painting figures. Members of the Old Glory Army (a special shopping club that entitles members to save 40% off all purchases) can save even more.

Next year, Old Glory plans to offer Spartan Hoplites, Macedonians, Dark Ages (Vikings), Orcs, and Dwarves to the available range. COOL!!! Hmm... I think it's time for me to become an Old Glory Army member.

Perhaps the biggest change in the historical miniatures industry this calendar year has been the emergence of two companies who produce affordable, 28mm plastic multi-part miniatures.

The first company to make a splash in this field was Warlord Games, a british company who released some very nice Romans and Celts. I saw these figures at Historicon and they're very nice, but are a little bit on the smallish side for those of us who play with true 28mm or 30mm figures. I'm primarily a fantasy gamer and often use ancient/medieval soldiers as forces in my fantasy games, and prefer that they match up well with 28mm to 30mm figures from Games Workshop, Reaper, Crocodile Games, West Wind, Rackham, Front Rank, etc.

The second company on the 28mm plastics scene is an American company called Wargames Factory. They're releasing figures that work well with the Field of Glory rules from Osprey, although you can certainly use these models in just about any other ancients/medieval game imaginable.

I'm hoping to get a glimpse and perhaps buy some of the Wargames Factory minis at Fall In in Gettysburg this year (provided my plans aren't squashed at the last minute). From what I've heard, these models are a bit beefier than the Warlord figures and probably more in tune with other 28mm models size-wise. We shall see. At $30 for a box of 48 soldiers (plus shield transfers), how can you really go wrong?

Moving onto board games... The huge SPIEL convention in Essen, Germany is coming up this month. When you hear gamers talking about ESSEN, this is what they're referring to. It's a massive show that draws 150,000 people and it's where the majority of new board games (especially Euro style games) are first released on a major scale. Essen is the center of the boardgaming world in the eyes of many gamers. One of these years I'm going to go there, perhaps when the US economy isn't in the shitter like it is right now.

There are several new game releases that I'm looking forward to. One is the Age of Conan, a strategic multi-player wargame created by the Italian design team at Nexus, and due to be published in the USA by Fantasy Flight Games. This game appears to be chock-full of excellent looking plastic models, provides an interesting mix of diplomacy and conquest elements, and borrows the "action dice" mechanics from the design team's other highly regarded classic, War of the Ring. Me likey!

According to the synopsis on BoardGameGeek, Krakow 1350AD is a 4-player trick-taking card game set in Medieval Poland that interacts with a map board. Players form into 2 teams of ruthless crooks, competing for influence and riches. While there's an element of cooperation with your teammate, every player has a hidden identity and secretly competes against the others, meaning that there's only 1 winner at the end of the game. This game sounds like it has a very different feel than anything else I've ever played. Plus, the artwork is eye-catching and has a humorous bent to it. That all adds up to a game that risen into my Top-10 Want-to-Buy list.

And thirdly, like many fans, I'm still waiting for more news from FFG on their upcoming release of Cosmic Encounter. I'm ready to ditch my old West End Games edition for a newer, shinier model. FFG mentioned a November release, but at this point, I'll bet 1st Quarter of 2009 is the more likely scenario based on the lack of news about it.

Until next time, PEACE!!

Monday, September 29, 2008


Looks like my board games play-meter is finally on the rise. Hoo-ahh! Over the past six weeks or so, I've played a whole bunch of games (at least for me) including:

  • Kingsburg
  • Cutthroat Caverns
  • Drakon
  • Shadows Over Camelot
  • Cash N Guns
  • Wings of War - Miniatures
  • Pennsylvania Underground Railroad Game
I own all of these games except for the PA Underground Railroad game, which is a self-published game designed by an old friend of mine (Mayer Foner). Many of the commercial games on this list are fairly new acquisitions (by "fairly new" I mean games that I've purchased in the last 6 months or so). So it's great to finally be getting these new games to the table.

I won't bother providing in-depth reviews of these games. You can find scads of excellent, detailed game reviews over at BoardGameGeek, so it's really not worth rehashing what has already been done there by rabid fans of these games.

But... I will at least give you my quick & dirty opinions regarding these games. Perhaps that will help if you're considering buying any of them and adding them to your games collection.

Since I'm a little strapped for time, I'm going to spread these quickie reviews over a few separate blog posts. Today, we'll begin with Kingsburg.

KINGSBURG = I'll be the first to admit that the whole genre of Euro games is very hit or miss with me. While there are lots of euros with slick, engaging game mechanisms, a huge number of them simply fall flat from utterly boring themes and the lack of exciting game play.

But Kingsburg is different. It's a euro with an interesting theme: construct buildings to expand your provincial wealth, while recruiting soldiers to protect those valuable assets from being destroyed by marauding invaders such as goblins and demons.

Like all good euros, Kingsburg features smooth game mechanics and enough interesting decisions to engage the minds of most gamers. It's also got dice and an element of confrontation (things often regarded as anti-euro by many geeks). Those are winning points for me.

The dice are used in an innovative way. You roll 3 dice and then place them on various spots on the board to claim gold/stone/wood needed to construct buildings and to recruit soldiers who are needed to fight off the invaders who arrive during the harsh winter. Suppose you roll 1-4-6 on your dice. You could place one die each on the 1, 4, and 6 spots (provided nobody else has taken those spots), or put something on 4 and 7 (1 + 6), or on 1 and 10 (4 + 6), and so forth. Part of your strategy is to choose which dice combos let you place your dice on choice-spots which will yield the materials needed to build the most valuable buildings. The other part of your strategy is to block those choice-spots from your opponents, so that they can't build what they want or recruit soldiers.

You're also balancing Greed (the need to build and gain wealth / Victory Points) versus Military Might (the need to stay strong enough to defeat invaders at the end of each turn, so your buildings aren't smashed to teeny bits).

All of these factors taken together meld into an excellent game. Once you play 1 turn, it's pretty easy to get the hang of the rules, and the strategies start to become more apparent. I would highly recommend this game to anyone who likes moderate-weight strategy games, choosing between multiple options, and a light amount of confrontation/screwage. The game artwork is also absolutely gorgeous.

On the school grade scale, Kingsburg rates a solid A.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Saving the World, One Toy Soldier at a Time

Time to get political, but in a gaming way.

MSN recently asked the question, "is America on the decline?" Many people are passionate in their belief that the USA is sinking quicker than the Titanic. The economy sucks. Just look at the stagnant housing market and the recent woes on Wall Street if you need proof about that. Consumerism runs rampant through our society.

We're mired in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that show no immediate signs of ending, while more and more American boys are killed and maimed each day. Diplomatically, more and more of the world hates us with each passing day.

Faith in our politicians to remedy these problems has faded to an all-time low. So what do we do about it?

Well... I'm an American. I'm also a miniature wargamer. And you can learn a lot from a miniature wargamer. Sometimes more stuff than you really care to know. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn something valuable from the way these gamers approach their hobby and use that knowledge to model changes in American culture? Hell, it's worth a shot, right?

You probably think I've been smoking crack or that I've been toking on the Wacky Weedus. Maybe you just think I'm a jackass. That's okay, but please bear with me.

It seems to me that our society is plagued by 3 evils that will eventually drive us to ruin unless eradicated. Those three bugaboos are (1) rampant consumerism, (2) an entitlement mentality, and (3) the general malaise of laziness that has crept into our culture.

Rampant consumerism revolves around our society's need to buy everything they see, whether it's really needed or not, and then throw it away in search of the next big thing to lust after. Today's American culture is burdened by the "gotta have that, and gotta have it now!" mindset. We're big-time gluttons.

Take video games as a sub-group. There's a palpable lack of innovation in the video/computer game industry. For years, vidiots have been stuck with a never ending flow of 1st-Person shooters, RPG adventure games, and interactive sports games. Not that there's anything wrong with these popular genres, but when will new ground really be broken here? The video game industry is driven by giant companies hoping that they'll produce one mega-hit out of a bunch of mostly lackluster titles and that one hit game will make them rich. If they produce a hit, they continue to make slight variations of that game formula, over and over and over again. The little software companies don't have the financial resources to develop and market their products to a large audience, and as a result, innovation on the whole suffers.

So what do video gamers do? They scarf up a butt-load of new games, churning through title after title like Pac-Man on speed. Most of them are mediocre rehashes of a few great games, and end up getting pawned back to GameStop or auctioned on eBay for pennies on the dollar. Not to mention that even the best video games don't really last. I have board games and miniatures from the 1970's that I still use today. How many video gamers can claim the same thing? Technology charges ahead, rapidly making older games extinct. It's a consumerism based industry. You gotta buy the latest & greatest games now! Once you buy into that, it's hard for addicted vidiots to jump off the merry-go-wheel.

More and more Americans have also been brainwashed to accept an Entitlement Mentality. Young people feel that society owes them a good job that pays high wages. Customers feel that no matter how unreasonable their demands are or how rudely they act, that companies simply owe them fantastic, bend-over-backwards customer service. Ultra left-wing thinkers believe that everyone should have a nice home and get free health care, even if they make zero-effort to get a job and contribute something helpful to society. People are clamoring for more and more free stuff all the time. C'mon gimme free stuff! Gimme gimme gimme! You owe us!

This mentality of entitlement fosters a delusional sense of pride in Americans. If they're entitled to good things it's only because they deserve it. Oh yes, don't you think for a minute that we don't deserve these things. By God, we're Americans. We're the greatest nation in the world. We're smarter, stronger, and richer than everyone else. We're better than everyone else. George Bush and all of our politicians believe this. They're swelling with pride. It's the kind of pride that infers we can do no wrong.

Too much pride is a dangerous thing. A self-absorbed, vain society is one that asserts how it's always right and everyone else is always wrong. And that's just ridiculous because nobody in the world is always right. We're not gods.

When I think of pride like this in terms of gaming, the great "Euro vs. Ameritrash" debate in the boardgaming world quickly comes to mind. Surf on over to the BoardGameGeek website and you will inevitably stumble upon a myriad of forum posts from Euro-gamers asserting their intellectual superiority and telling you why "their games" are so much better than the inelegant, overly time-consuming, and mindless adventure games and wargames that you play. They profess to know what true gaming genius is. If you disagree with them or criticize a Euro-game for being bland or too lightweight, they become apoplectic and spew an endless stream of venomous words.

But Euro-gamers aren't the only ones who are prideful. There's a whole contingent of Ameritrashers (those who enjoy meaty, old school, theme-rich games about war, zombies, space-men, pirates, and monsters) who can hurl insults with the best of them. In fact, the debate over at BGG has gotten so heated that a group of Ameritrash game enthusiasts, feeling unloved and jabbed in their pride-swelled egos, have formed their own website called Fortress Ameritrash. To them, it's the last bastion of sanity in a world filled with foofy Euro-snoots who don't share their impeccable taste in games.

And lastly, we come to the general malaise of laziness that pervades our culture. America didn't always act this way. We were once manufacturing giants, technological innovators, and financial gurus. American people built our country on an ethic of hard-work. We put our minds and bodies to the test and great things were accomplished.

Fast forward to today. It's sad to look at the back/bottom of so many products and see the words "Made in China" instead of "Made in the USA". We're outsourcing tons of technical jobs to India and other foreign nations. Perhaps it's because people just don't want to work as hard anymore. Why should they; they're entitled to take it easy after all. Americans just want to work hard enough to bring home a decent paycheck, and then sit back and buy more and more shiny things that provide the illusion of happiness. They can't be bothered to solve the problems of the world anymore.

Much of the gaming world has responded to our culture's overall laziness in concrete ways.

Remember back in the 80's when you played adventure games like Zork and had to figure out all the riddles yourself? Nowadays you just buy the cheat-book to your favorite video game and it tells you all the secrets you need to know. Remember when you could look at the actual source-code of games you played on your Apple II+? If you were really curious and hands-on enough, you could learn Basic programming and tweak the code to do new things. I fondly remember editing some lines in my Tuesday Night Football software so that I could play games with Dracula at QB, Frankenstein at tailback, and the Wolfman at wide-receiver instead of using the Cowboys and Steelers rosters that came with the game. I don't see too many average Joes doing those kinds of things today (most programs aren't designed to allow that sort of thing).

In the board-gaming world, the explosion of light, family-friendly Euro games is a clear indicator that the majority of people want fast-playing games where they don't have to think very hard. While Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride are both fantastic games, they're certainly not brain-burners that you immerse yourself in for 3 hours. Playing long games with fairly complex rules just takes too much effort for most folks.

So what's the solution to these cultural woes? Well, you've stayed with me for this long, so let me put it to you simply: we need to think more like veteran miniature wargamers. Seriously.

Unlike the gluttons of our society who buy up all the latest mass-market stuff only to throw it away in short order in search of something new, the veteran miniature-gamer tends to hold onto his precious toy soldiers for a long time. This isn't a quick-fix hobby. Buying miniatures in any appreciable quantity can be costly. So you need to pace yourself. You buy what you can afford and build up your minis collection slowly, over a period of years. Remember that H.G. Wells wrote his famous miniature wargaming book, Little Wars, in 1913. People have been playing with toy soldiers ever since. You don't have to buy every single available model today; they're not going to run out anytime soon!

Miniature wargamers who paint their own models become very attached to their little guys. When you spend all that time putting your own love & attention into something, you don't just toss it aside willy nilly. So while many of us will be the first to admit that mini-gamers love to amass scores of toy soldiers, they're usually treated like tiny treasures, often passed down to friends and family through generations. This isn't a chew'em up, spit 'em out glutton-fest.

By and large, I never think of miniature wargamers as being lazy. They work hard to enjoy their hobby. This form of gaming takes some effort. You've got to plan what types of armies you want to build and research the marketplace to discover what available models are out there. If you buy a batch of unpainted models, then you'll need to set aside time to assemble and paint them. Or if you're lacking free time or artistic talent, you can pay someone else to paint the soldiers for you. Or you can buy pro-painted figures at conventions or off eBay. All of this requires you to get up off your ass and do some planning, and what you ultimately decide is whether you're more comfortable spending time or money.

Mini-gamers are typically a highly creative bunch; much more so than any other type of gamer. They paint. They build things. They dabble in writing their own home-grown rules. They build fictional armies and craft background stories for fictional leaders & heroes that fight for fictional countries. They read history or fantasy/sci-fi to get cool ideas to use in their games. No my friends, being a miniature wargamer is not the domain of the lazy. You need to work at your fun.

While every gaggle of gamers has its overzealous know-it-alls and holier-than-thou jerks, my experience with the majority of veteran mini-gamers is that they're an extremely hospitable bunch. We respect the effort that our peers put into painting their figures, writing their own rules, and crafting their own battle scenarios, because we've done it ourselves and appreciate all the effort it takes to accomplish those things. Miniature wargaming is such a broad-hobby from a creative perspective that you can't help but be humbled by the variety of people doing amazing things with their various talents.

While we take pride in being able to outsmart a friend in a head-to-head military conflict, us old-school tabletop generals value good sportsmanship and know that it's wise to be gracious when we've gotten the stuffing beaten out of our tiny tin army. Friendly competition is what it's all about.

What I've learned over the years as a miniature wargamer is that owning more models doesn't make you happy. Consumerism isn't the answer. When your closet is loaded with too many boxes of unpainted tin soldiers all you feel is overwhelmed that you'll never have time to paint everything.

I've learned that having an inflated sense of pride is just a quicker way to make enemies. There are all types of people involved in the miniature wargaming hobby. Some are masterful painters. Some are innovative rules writers and scenario designers. Some are historians. Some can build wondrous terrain. Some are fantastic storytellers. We should embrace them all, because they all have something to offer. You're not better than they are; you're simply a part of their number.

Happiness in the miniature wargaming hobby is gained through the journey. You can't sit back and wait for everything to magically fall into your lap. You must do something. The thrill of the hunt as you search for cool models to add to your collection is a lot of fun. Taking the time to paint your own models is artistically fulfilling. Those are your shiny little masterpieces! Crafting your own scenarios or wargame rules set is tremendously satisfying. So soak it all in and enjoy the ride for as long as you can.

So America listen to us wily miniature wargamers. When you buy things, savor them. Don't be a voracious glutton hungrily chasing down material nuggets with the hope that the more you consume, the happier you'll become. Check your pride at the door. Don't feel that you're entitled to things because you're better than everyone else. You're not. Everyone has something useful to offer. Respect that. And finally, get off your ass and do some work. Nothing good ever gets done when you sullenly lay around hoping that you'll miraculously win the PowerBall jackpot. Hard work doesn't guarantee success, but laziness is a surefire road to failure.

My name is Steve. I'm a miniature wargamer. And I'm saving America, one toy soldier at a time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Zen Again: Hot Lead Painting DVDs

Listen up miniature wargaming geeks! If you enjoy painting miniatures (toy soldiers), then you should check out the HOT LEAD website today.

Master-painter Laszlo Jakusovszky has created a series of instructional videos aimed at both newbie and veteran painters.

The Hot Lead series is comprised of 3 DVDs (1 basic and 2 advanced videos) that give you that "up close and personal" look at miniature painting. Trust me, that's something (close-ups of actual techniques) that's usually either missing or not all that nicely done in some of the other mini-painting videos I've watched. So I'm very eager to see what Laszlo has to offer.

Even someone like me, who has been painting casually on & off for 15+ years can learn some new tricks from a master.

The entire set of videos provide 8 hours of instruction. Price for the 3-disc set is $40 + shipping. That seems quite reasonable for a niche product of this sort. Let's face it, when you're used to paying $20 bucks or more for a movie DVD, it seems to me that 8 hours of instructional video for $40 is a LOT of bang for your buck.

I'll report on these videos sometime in the future once I get them and watch them. Until then, if anyone else has watched the Hot Lead DVDs, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog and share your experiences with me and everyone else who stops by for a read. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gamer Perspective -- 9/02/2008

There have been many occasions when I thought about sitting down at my PC and writing the next great deeply considered treatise about X and Y. But then I look at the clock, see how late it is, and stop myself before I ever put fingers to keyboard.

Writing an in-depth article is fulfilling, but at the end of another brain-burning workday, sometimes I just want to wing it and shoot from the hip. Can you really blame me?

While I've written random babblings several times before on this blog, I never came up with a formal name for these little forays into the world of tabletop gaming. So starting today, let's call these my Gamer Perspective series. There, I feel better now. My inner urge to categorize and organize things has finally been satisfied. For now.

So what exciting things have been happening lately in the world of board games, miniatures, and wargaming? Well let's see...

BGG Ratings

I'm starting to feel that BoardGameGeek is losing its relevance to me as a source of game ratings. Yes, it's still a fantastic website, filled with a treasure trove of useful game information, FAQs and reviews, game aids, and captivating pictures. But in my eyes, there's a strong inherent bias towards Euro games there. Euros (aka: German or Designer games) are considered "the cream of the crop" by the burgeoning cult of gaming elitists that have infested the waters of BGG.

I don't begrudge anyone for liking Euro games. There are several of them that I really enjoy including Domaine, Kingsburg, Through the Desert, and Carcassonne. But when you look at the top 100 games and see that half of them are Euros, you can't help but feel like a minority voice in the gamer world, especially if your favorites happen to be wargames, miniature games, adventure games, sports games, party games, abstracts, classic games, and the like.

The hot new board game that people are drooling all over themselves to play is Agricola, a game about farming. It has surged to #1 on the BGG game ratings, bumping Puerto Rico (another euro with a somewhat bland theme) from the top spot. I have no desire to play either of those games, simply because the themes are tremendously boring to me. Sorry gamer geeks, but good, elegant game mechanics can only take a game so far. If the theme is about exciting as filling out your federal tax return then count me out. Ain't gonna buy it and ain't gonna play it.

I wish BGG offered a feature in its database to have users categorize themselves as either Euro gamers, Ameritrash gamers (adventure and battle game oriented), Miniatures gamers, Party/Social Gamers, Wargamers, or All-Inclusive gamers (like every style pretty much equally). Then we could filter the game rankings based on how different categories of gamers rated the available games. For instance, suppose you're an Ameritrash gamer. Wouldn't it be cool and informative to see how your fellow Ameritrashers ranked each game, and see what their Top 100 rankings list looked like? It's kind of like taking the GeekBuddy analysis tool and ramping it up a few notches. I would certainly find the game rankings much more useful if such a filtering mechanism existed.

The Recession and Game Spending

I've cut back on my game-related spending of late. Some of it is simply due to a lack of funds. Blowing a large wad of dough at both Origins and Historicon definitely put the kabosh on my stash of "fun money".

The recession certainly isn't helping me any. I can't wait until Bush leaves office. Say what you will about Bill Clinton's morals and poor judgement when it comes to women, but the simple fact is that under Clinton the USA had a huge economic surplus and we weren't engaged in a protracted, senseless war in the Middle East. Under Bush, our economy has lurched into the toilet, American morale is lower than I can ever remember over the past 40 years, and an ever-increasing number of countries around the world now hate us. Thanks for nothing George W.

The recession notwithstanding, I've also come to the realization that I had been plagued by that insidious brain-eating worm which gnaws away at the reasoning center of your mind. You know the one. It's that awful thing which forces you to keep buying new games and new miniatures even though you already own scads of board games that are still unplayed and boxes of minis that remain unpainted. Call it the Consumerism Bug. In most walks of life, I don't fall prey to that. But games are my soft spot. It's taken me awhile to build up my mental defenses and resist the urge to overspend.

During the month of August the only game-related things that I purchased were the Field of Glory rulebook for ancient/medieval wargaming (which was done primarily for research purposes since I'm also a game designer) and these painted Ghouls to use in my Sword of Severnia fantasy wargame:

So far in September I haven't even peeked at eBay. Now if I can just go another 28 days! Backing away from something you love is REALLY difficult!

The Death of Gaming Magazines

Just like the internet age is killing the circulation of local newspapers, the emergence of high quality hobby gaming websites such as BoardGameGeek, The Miniatures Page, ConsimWorld, Tabletop Gaming News, Gaming Report, and others have sounded the death knell for many hardcopy game magazines. Within the past 2 years, I've seen promising magazines such as Harbinger, Ragnarok, Wargames Journal, and Knucklebones all shuffle off to the print-publishing underworld.

I miss the glossy rags. Back in the 1970's and 80's we had an assortment of cool magazines to choose from including Dragon, Different Worlds, White Wolf, Space Gamer, Adventurer, Miniature Wargames, Games Master, and White Dwarf when it was at the peak of its quality and not just a glorified GW catalog.

Sadly, those golden days when you could kick back on the couch or lie in bed and scour through a bunch of glossy games magazines has passed. There are still some good magazines out there; most notably the excellent Battlegames in the miniature wargaming field and Kobold Quarterly and Polymancer for the RPG crowd (although Polymancer could be dying as the company website has seemingly been kaput for close to a year).

I think the key to a successful game magazine nowadays is to produce "timeless" articles. Forget writing about game news or the latest releases. There are too many other places online that can beat you to the punch and provide up-to-the-minute breaking news. Creative content is king.

Battlegames does it right by focusing on battle scenarios, specialty rule sets, ideas for running wargame campaigns, how-to articles on painting, terrain building, and rules design, and so forth. Board game mags could succeed by offering house rules or variants to popular games, sets of free print & play rules, ideas for customizing game components, and providing Q&A articles with famous designers and tips on designing your own games.

Some people will argue that BGG is loaded with so much information that there's no real need for a glossy magazine covering boardgames. I argue that:

  • There's so much info on BGG, it becomes daunting to find exactly what you're looking for. A monthly magazine would be more tightly focused and would cut through all the noise which exists on BGG.
  • Oftentimes, it's much more enjoyable to read OFFLINE (on the couch or in bed).

I wonder if we'll ever see a board game equivalent of Battlegames someday? What I'd really love to see is a broad "hobby games" magazine that covers board games, card games, miniature games, and RPG's in one mega-publication. I would subscribe to it. Would you?

That's all for today... Until next time, this is SultanSevy wishing you mucho fun!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Catching Up

You thought I was dead didn't you? Not posting for 5 friggin' weeks can cause that reaction. All I can say in my defense is, "I was busy". Busy doing what, you ask? Well...


I went to Historicon in late-July and I bought some new toys. I pretty much stuck to my preset budget and my goal of focusing entirely on buying nicely painted figures.

I purchased five gorgeously painted minis from Stan Johansen: a Sylvan Elf ranger/hero, a Black Elf witch, and three very cool Dogmen (Hundags in Severnian-speak, or Gnolls for you D&D folks). All of these were Reaper figures I believe. Stan does beautiful work. He's one of my top-4 Must Stops at every HMGS East convention that he attends.

I also spent some dough at Evil Bob's, snagging a venerable old Wizard (replete with floppy hat and owl perched on his arm), a High Elf hero/lord with a fancy-schmancy shield emblazoned with a colorful peacock, and a huge Tree Man with an equally large price tag (but he was worth every penny of it I swear!). All of these terrific figures were painted by the very talented Allison Thiel. She's not only a highly skilled painter, but she's a very friendly person as well. Thanks for the friendly help and great work Allison!

My other big stop was at the Splintered Light booth. In my opinion, David McBride and the folks at Splintered Light make THE VERY BEST fantasy minis in 15mm you can find. Although I'm a 28mm minis guy and have never really been tempted to take the plunge into 15mm scale wargaming, Splintered Light stuff is doing its best to weaken my resistance. I ended up buying a bunch of painted 28mm figures that David was selling from his Dad's collection (I think). I got a large lot of some unusual Great Orc infantry (not quite sure who the manufacturer was, but they were pretty cool; perhaps Black Tree Design or Mirliton figs?). I also purchased a cool Goblin Lord riding atop a Raptor, and a pair of Vampire Lords. All solid-looking stuff at decent prices.

I also bought another trio of pre-painted Wolfen from Rackham (for their Confrontation game which is distributed by Fantasy Flight Games). I don't play Confrontation, but I like the Wolfen minis and use them in other fantasy wargames. And yes elitists, I know that they're not of the same high paint quality that many of the pro-painted minis I purchase are, or for that matter, as pretty as the minis that I paint myself. But they're very solid tabletop quality and work great in most fantasy wargames. Let's be realistic folks, you're usually 2-3 feet away from the figures when they're sitting on your tabletop battlefield, so thumbing your nose at pre-paints is completely silly (you can always touch-up or re-paint if you're anal about it!). Rant over!

I haven't taken any pictures of my new little dudes yet, but hopefully I can squeeze that in sometime soon. Visuals are always nice.

All of these minis will serve as leaders, heroes, and troops for use in playing my Sword of Severnia fantasy tabletop wargame. I'm very eclectic when it comes to collecting, buying, and painting miniatures. That's probably because I like EVERYTHING! Variety is KING! One of the reasons that I've designed Sword of Severnia armies to be about 60-80 figures in size is so people can realistically organize and build several armies. You don't need 200 figures per side to play an engaging mass battle. Rather, you can take your sweet time to collect and/or paint up 2 or 3 different armies instead. Heck, my personal goal is to have about 7 or 8 different armies to play with. All that variety not only keeps your interest in the wargaming hobby high, it makes for infinite replayability and just looks damn cool!


Speaking of looking cool, a little over a week ago I purchased a narrow bookcase at IKEA that has adjustable glass shelves and a glass door on the front. It's a little over 5-feet high, but can be mounted on the wall. I'm going to use it as a display/storage case for a portion of my miniatures collection. I'm sure I'll fill it up rather quickly since my collection is fairly large (a 2nd display case is probably in my future). The bookcase cost $100 bucks, which is actually a good deal in my humble opinion. I've researched miniature cases in the past, and most of them of any appreciable size run in the $250 to $300+ range. So if you're looking for a nice way to show off your handsome minis, while keep them dust-free and highly accessible, check out IKEA.


Early August saw us entertaining Anna's family. Her brother Vince and his family were visiting from Holland. Her Mom & Dad, and brother Michael (from Las Vegas) were also visiting as well. Man, the house was jam-packed with people!!! We had a fun week, doing some shopping at the Lancaster outlets, going to HersheyPark, and catching a Phillies baseball game at Citizen's Bank Park in downtown Philly. My two young Dutch nephews seemed to take a real liking to me despite the fact that I've only seen them a couple of times in their entire young lives, so it was fun being Cool Uncle Steve for awhile. It's a shame I haven't had any sons of my own. But it's no sense crying over what could have been. God has other plans sometimes.

I've been steadily plugging away with work on Sword of Severnia. We got another playtesting session in during the first-half of August, but have taken a little break from that. I've made some additional tweaks, and the rules are coming together quite nicely. I'm currently spending my time analyzing and adjusting the Racial/Creature game statistics and adding some new beasties into the mix. All of this stuff will be fed into the wargame database engine that drives the army builder companion software I'm creating for the game. Also on my plate is another pass-thru on the Special Abilities rules (refining things to work more nicely with recent changes to the game resulting from playtesting), and continuing work on Magic Spells. Once school is underway and my playtester's kids get settled in, we'll hopefully start cranking on additional playtesting come mid-September. I'm enjoying the respite though. I need to focus on the last few facets of the core rules that need completing, and it's great to have some quiet-time to concentrate on this and not spend every day of the week tweaking the rules.


In terms of boardgaming, gaming sessions have been sparse as of late. I recently got a chance to play Kingsburg with a game-designer friend of mine. Man, what a truly fantastic game! Not only is the game very pleasing to look at (I absolutely love the board artwork), but the game design is elegant and engaging. It's a fairly easy game to learn, but there are plenty of interesting decisions to make and lots of possible routes to victory. Choosing where to place your dice in an effort to grab the resources you need (gold, stone, wood, soldiers) to construct buildings and successfully defend your homeland, while trying to block your competitors from getting the good stuff is lots of fun. The game features some nice balancing mechanisms to help keep the victory-points race tight, which makes for both a great 2-player and multi-player experience. I won't go into any great depth reviewing the game here, as there are already several nice reviews on BGG (check out the one by Neil Thomson) and the video review on Obsessed With Gaming. Check them out. Then buy this game. I heartily recommend it.

Lots of little things have been on my gaming brain as well. I saw a great video review of the fantasy adventure game Prophecy on the Boardgames With Scott website. Anna Claus got me this game for Christmas in 2007, but I have yet to play it (just read through the rules). Scott's excellent review got me really pumped to try it out, so maybe (just maybe) I can get the guys to try this sucker before Christmas rolls around this year!

I recently purchased the Field of Glory rules set for ancient/medieval warfare. I just got the book yesterday and haven't had the chance to read through it yet. I have flipped through the pages quickly though; doing that at Origins and Historicon is what really spurred me to get it in the first place. I'll say this as my first impression... There isn't another rulebook (aside from those produced by Games Workshop) that rivals Field of Glory in terms of production value. It's a lavishly produced hardback book and truly cream of the crop from a visual perspective in terms of historical wargame rule sets.

I was hoping to go to Fall In this autumn in Gettysburg, but I'm a little short on funny-money funds right now. All my spending on games & minis at Origins and Historicon put a sizeable dent in my wallet. I really need to sell off some unwanted stuff on eBay. It's time to take a good hard, HONEST look at those boardgames I will probably never play and put 'em up for auction. Not to mention old RPG stuff I'll never use again (my days of playing D&D have long passed). I've also got lots of unpainted toy soldiers I could part with (or sell to my wargaming buddies who are building up their own armies). And there's always non-gaming stuff to get rid of... Anyway, I digress.

Some new and soon-to-be-released games have popped up on my radar. Fantasy Flight Games has a bevy of new goodies coming soon including:
  • Age of Conan = a multi-player campaign style wargame set in Conan's world of Hyboria, designed by the Italian design-team who created War of the Ring.
  • Red November = a Bruno Faidutti game featuring gnomes commanding a submarine. Now that's a unique theme!
  • Cosmic Encounter = a new, updated version of this venerable hobby games classic.

In other FFG news, I recently heard that they're taking over control of Battlelore from Days of Wonder. Woo hoo! Battlelore is already a great game, but in the hands of a company who really knows how to do FANTASY properly, it should hopefully prosper and become the behemoth fantasy boardgame that many of us expected it to be when it was first released a few years ago. Gimme more large creatures, more fantasy troops besides goblins & dwarves, and a way to introduce heroes into the mix!!!

Another game that has piqued my interest is Tomb from AEG. Think a much faster playing Descent based on cards kinda like Talisman and you have this game. At least that's what I gather from the reviews I've read. It sounds too good to pass up and is shooting up my must-have list of boardgames.

And that's about it for now.

Hopefully I will start blogging more often. I enjoy writing and sharing stuff with those who drop by for a quick read. But truthfully, I need to setup a schedule for this or else other stuff in life gets in the way of my writing. I need to clone myself.

Be good!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blur Boy

Life has been pretty much a blur since I got back from ORIGINS. I've been knuckling down on design work for my Sword of Severnia miniatures wargame. Progress is being made in huge chunks of late, which is always a good thing. The rules are nearing completion. I can finally see this darn thing getting done. Don't get me wrong, there's still A LOT of work left to do. But it's doable and I'm beginning to feel the wargame taking on a more concrete shape. Yea! 
We had a very interesting playtesting session of SOS this past Sunday. It spurred a bunch of refinements. Miniature wargames, especially big battle games, are notoriously complex, so I keep striving to streamline, refine, streamline, and refine. So far so good. Aside from tweaking and adding to the Racial/Creature Game Stats, writing the detailed rules for magical Spells, and designing the Scenario Deck, there isn't anything that major left to finish rules-wise for Version 1 of the game.
With the help of my friend Barbarian Geoff, we're more than halfway finished with the formulas for the Point Costing system. That will be tied into the Army Builder software that I'm developing for the game (this wargame has some computer assisted components). I need to get cranking on this soon. With all my focus on design & writing these past 6 months, my PowerBuilder skills are starting to get rusty!
Only 8 days left until Historicon 2008! That's just unbelievable to me. It really snuck up on me this year, probably because I was at Origins less than a month ago. 
Unlike most HMGS East miniature wargaming conventions, I'm not really dying to buy anything specific this time out. Perhaps it's because I spent $400 bucks buying boardgames at Origins and haven't recovered from the sticker shock of that, which really ate into my wargaming budget. Oh whatever, I find it virtually impossible to go to Historicon and not spend at least $200 (oftentimes much more), so I know I'll be walking away with new toy soldiers and/or terrain.
I need to slowly back-away from all the unpainted tin, because I have too many unpainted minis as it is. That said, damn those Crusader and Artizan vikings look sweet, the Renegade Orcs are way tempting, and I can never resist the Gnome Wars figures. And I gotta get me some Eureka Frogs, and Croc-Men and Ghouls from the WarGods of Aegyptus range! Heck, the new Warlord Games plastic romans even scratch an itch. Down boy!
Mostly, I'll be looking for nicely painted minis that are affordable. That's a real trick. Most inexpensive minis generally look like crap. I'm not going to buy something I can paint 10-times better myself. But the cool stuff that I really like can get pricey fast. I have a difficult time plunking down $175 to $200 for a beautifully painted unit when I can get something just as nice on eBay for 60% of that price. So I'll hunt around and hope I get lucky. I love Stan Johansen's stuff, and Albright's and Evil Bob's are always worth a good look. Everything is else is hit or miss. Barbarian Geoff and I are heading down on Thursday (7/24), so hopefully it will be more HIT in the vendor hall at least.
The flea market at Historicon is always a crapshoot. Last year's Historicon flea market was quite disappointing (I'm a fantasy and ancients/medievals guy, so your mileage may vary). But the flea market at the last two Cold Wars was good. So it will be interesting to see how it turns out this summer. It's always a friggin' zoo in there. The crush of bodies (some of them fat & funky smelling) can be a real turnoff, but it's the price you pay to find miniature wargaming treasures. And we tin-pushers love our treasure! Arrrgh! Anyway, I'll report back here and let you know how it turns out.
I've started to paint miniatures again. Now I just gotta keep it up. Right now I'm repainting a unit of large Troll-bloods that I got off eBay, along with a Cave Troll (Privateer calls it a Dire Troll). They're about 85% finished and just need some final highlights to really make them snap. Then I'll move on to something else -- probably some Gnome Wars minis that are softly cooing to me. Although I've got a nice batch of Front Rank Hundred Years War figures (foot knights, archers, men-at-arms) that are enticing as well. There's also a box of GW lizardmen cavalry that's lurking in the shadows. And I could go on...and on... and on. Tough to make a decision when there's so much to paint and so little time to do it all. Oh well, Rome wasn't built in a day! 
My buddies and I are talking about sending a pile of unpainted lead to Fernando Enterprises to get more troops painted. We'll see how that goes. Fernando does great work, it's just that the shipping to Sri Lanka is pricey. But I still think it's worth it, especially for us wargamers who don't have nearly as much time to paint as we'd like. 
Soon. Soon. Soon. Soon I will get together with my friends and play some of these new board games that are stuck in my closet, wondering why they haven't been opened and gotten the chance to breathe fresh air. I gotta call Wally... and Kev... and Mayer... and get in touch with a few other folks as well. I mean two gaming session a month isn't too much to ask is it? How do some of those boardgame geeks end up playing 10 or more games per month? I mean c'mon. Don't they have a life? Maybe I have too many competing interests compared to them. Between rotisserie baseball, wargaming, reading, work, going to dinner/movies/plays with my wife, and everything else, there's only so much time available to squeeze in board gaming. I love it, so I need to make the time for it. Nuff said. 
What in the hell was Major League Baseball thinking when the All-Star Game didn't start until 9 PM Eastern Time. I mean crikey, I stayed up until almost 2:00 in the morning to watch my National League squad get beaten yet again. It was a really good game (some spectacular fielding and great pitching), but man this is getting ridiculous. I don't really like the AL, so to get continually beaten by them pisses me off... at least a little. 
They need to start the game at 7 PM EST, like a normal baseball game. Are you listening Bud Selig? 
Until next time.... BE GOOD!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Zen Again: Midgard Models

For those miniature wargamers out there who like me, enjoy purchasing nicely painted miniatures on eBay to add to their collections and supplement their own painted models, I wanted to alert you to the fine work done by Midgard Models (eBay is = midgardmodels).

These guys are located in Venezuela and do a great job painting fantasy miniatures and offering them at reasonable prices on eBay. I've bought several pro-painted minis from them in the past, including 2 recent purchases that I'll show right now.

The first, and most recent purchase, is an Orc General (or Hero) which is absolutely fantastic. Here he is in all his grisly glory...

I believe he's a Citadel (Games Workshop) model, and he'll make a fantastic Orc General for the marauding Odessian armies in my Sword of Severnia wargame. He's quite an imposing presence on the tabletop, sized more like a Troll or Ogre than a standard orc. The rock-like base is exquisite.

My second MidgardModels purchase (from 8 weeks ago), was this splendid Troll Lord...

He's a Reaper model and would serve as an excellent Hero. The shading and highlighting, terrific basing, and nice blend of colors makes him really stand out.

Both of these models were marked as "Master Painted" and were in the $20 to $25 price range, which is reasonable for expertly painted special characters of large size.

So if you find yourself short on time to paint, or overwhelmed with way too much stuff to paint, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the minis for sale on eBay. Prices and quality vary widely for painted miniatures on eBay, but I gladly recommend MidgardModels for nicely painted figures at fair prices. Expect to wait around 3 weeks to get your figures if you live in the USA since they're coming from South America. But it's well worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My ORIGINS Game Haul

Sultan Sevy (that's me in Orcish form on the left) reports about his trip to Origins...

Greetings, hobby game lovers! I'm back from Ohio. I spent a fun and exciting 3 days at the Origins game convention from June 27 thru June 29 in Columbus, Ohio.

In actuality, it was really more like half of a Friday afternoon, a good chunk of Saturday, and a quick Sunday morning last-chance visit. Prior to the trip, I hoped that I might have a little more time available to engage in some open-gaming, but unfortunately that didn't turn out to be the case. Bummer dude. Maybe next time. I still had a blast anyway.

The trip was bookended by a 6.5 hour drive on Friday from Harrisburg, PA to Columbus (we got caught in a long traffic jam created because a stretch of the interstate was flooded), and a 6-hour trip home on Sunday afternoon. In between those lengthy drives, I spent time at the convention and also wanted to make sure to spend some quality time with my wife Anna. She told me it wasn't necessary ("just go have fun" was how she put it), but anyone who sacrifices their weekend so their hubby can act like a kid again deserves some quality time! Anna is a casual gamer but wasn't too keen on going with me to the geek infested Convention Center, so she hung out at the hotel and worked on a cross-stitching project while I went on my game shopping sprees at the Origins Exhibit Hall.

My basic day consisted of:

  1. Get up, get washed and dressed, and go to breakfast with Anna.
  2. Make the 8 minute drive from the hotel (Homewood Suites) to the Chestnut Street Garage and park the car.
  3. Hoof it from the Garage through the Skywalk to the Convention Center.
  4. Make a beeline for the Exhibit Hall and shop 'til ya drop!
  5. Carry packages back to the car -- a damn long walk when the games are heavy.
  6. Cycle thru steps 3 to 5 as many times as necessary.
  7. Drive back to the hotel around 6 or 7 PM
  8. Go to dinner with Anna. (We went to the Cheesecake Factory and Smokey Bones, both located in the Easton Town Center, which is a superb place to shop & eat.)
  9. Go back to the hotel and crash.
We added going to the movies to that fine mix on Saturday Night (we saw Wanted -- a really weird, far-fetched movie, but loaded with tons of action. Angelina Jolie is easy on the eyes too).

So what did I do while I was at ORIGINS 2008? See item #4... I shopped until I dropped!

There are very few things in life that stimulate the "shopping lobe" of my brain as much as tabletop games and toy soldiers. Since I usually go to 3 miniature wargaming conventions in central Pennsylvania every year (Cold Wars, Historicon, and Fall In), my focus at Origins was going to be mainly on board games and card games.

I stayed within my pre-con budget, but still spent a darn good chunk of change. Thank goodness the hotel was relatively cheap! By the way, here's a fond shout out to the folks at the Homewood Suites. It was a really nice place to stay (quiet, clean, comfy, plenty of space, free breakfast) and I would gladly stay there again.

I picked up 8 games (one was an expansion), along with some sexy new Chessex dice, a pack of pre-painted Confrontation minis (Wolfen), and some neat terrain from War Torn Worlds. I also purchased a copy of Campaign Cartographer 3, a software program for creating maps. I'm going to use it to create the world map and some battlefield scenario maps for the fantasy miniatures wargame that I'm currently developing (Sword of Severnia).

So what tabletop games did I end up buying?
All of these games were on my personal Hot Games WishList, so I was pretty ecstatic about this haul of goodies. By adding these games to the batch that I recently picked up on our wedding anniversary trip to New York City in May (a group that includes Kingsburg, Colossal Arena, Cutthroat Caverns, and Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage), and several games I received for Christmas and still haven't gotten to play yet, I'm pretty well set game-wise for quite a long time. At least that's what I'm telling myself today!

So what are these new games all about, you ask?

El Grande is a game about spanish knights acquiring territory, and it's widely regarded as the definitive euro-game focusing on Area Control (a category of games that I really enjoy). This is a truly elegant game and one that I've wanted for quite some time.

The Downfall of Pompeii was another euro-game that I was after because the cool theme (getting your people to escape from Pompeii before the hissing volcano erupts and they become extra crispy) sounded too fun to resist. The fact that it was designed by Klaus Jurgen Wrede (of Carcassonne fame) and includes a volcano cone game piece is icing on the cake! The folks at the Mayfair booth suggested using M&M's instead of the wooden bits that come with the game so that you can eat your little people when they get drenched in lava. I guess gaming can be fun and tasty at the same time!

I really wanted a light, fast-playing card game that I could play with my family. No Thanks fits the bill and I've heard good things about it from members of the Dice Tower podcast whose opinions I greatly respect.

Everything else falls into lighter, beer & pretzels fun with themes that I absolutely love (monsters, zombies, fantasy dungeon crawls, and heroic battles). While I like a wide variety of games, I am unabashedly a person who gravitates towards exciting, colorful themes in games. When faced with the choice of a picking a dry game about finance, farming, colonization, or medieval merchants trading goods, versus thrilling games about war, knights, flesh-eating monsters, robots, baseball, gangsters, tanks, or trolls, well I'm gonna pick the later types of games in a heartbeat.

I stopped by the Red Juggernaut booth and was shown a demo of Battue. Not only does it look nice (lots of nice minis), the tile-flipping mechanic, card draws, and swarming style of play should make for a very chaotic battle game full of surprises. Matt Drake's review on his excellent blog (Drake's Flames) also played a big part in selling me on the virtues of this game.

I also stopped by the Flying Frog booth and saw a demo of Last Night On Earth. Like Battue, it comes with some very nice minis, and the production values of the game are just excellent. It's a zombie-killing adventure game with a heavy emphasis on theme and capturing the campy feel of classic zombie movies, rather than on heavy mind-taxing strategy. It's basically a fun little romp of blasting zombies before they eat you. Sounds like plenty of fun for me and the guys I regularly game with. I even got to talk to the very polite and soft-spoken lady who adorns the Lizzy the Shopkeeper card in the game's expansion set (Growing Hunger). I didn't even know who she was until I turned to see her gun-toting visage on a display piece in the Flying Frog booth. Kewl.

Fearsome Floors is a game about racing through a dungeon before it collapses on top of you and before a Frankenstein-like monster eats you for dinner. It's another beer & pretzels game, but since it's designed by Friedemann Friese (the man who invented Power Grid) it's bound to have some interesting strategy to it.

Drakon (3rd edition) is a dungeon crawling game designed by the famed designer Tom Jolly (the man who created the classic fantasy game Wiz-War among other games). It's a fast-playing dungeon crawl / strategy mix, with some nice production values from Fantasy Flight Games. I can't wait to try this one.

Lastly, I picked up the first expansion to Cutthroat Caverns, a game where an adventuring party cooperates in killing a series of monsters, but each character backhandedly tries to "steal the kill" and screw everyone else out of the glory. It's a lighthearted game of screwage with a fantasy twist. The guys at the Compleat Strategist in Manhattan told me I really needed to buy this some day because it made the game tougher and better, so I went ahead and took their advice.

There were a few games on my wishlist that I simply couldn't find (Manhattan, Aladdin's Dragons, Wallenstein, and Dragon's Gold), and a few others I passed on for now but hope to add to my collection some day down the road. But you just can't afford to buy everything you want. Nor do I have the room to store it all. In fact, I'm looking to sell off some of my other games on eBay to make room for the new stuff and recoup some of my expenses.

So that summarizes my game haul at Origins 2008. It was a blast. I saw lots of really cool games being demonstrated, lots of people having fun, and it got me really excited to start organizing some summer gaming get-togethers with my friends and family. I'm so loaded with new games now, that I probably won't be going back to Origins for a few years!

If I had to find fault with anything at Origins (which is something I really hate to do because there are much bigger things to worry about than finding perfection in life), it's that the miniatures gaming room was not nearly as impressive as I remember it in past years. Perhaps I'm spoiled by going to the 3 excellent HMGS East conventions each year and seeing the massive amounts of stunning games played there. Maybe I wasn't there at the right times. Whatever it was, Origins just didn't measure up to Cold Wars or Historicon in regards to the sheer amount of miniature wargaming spectacle or the massive variety of awesome toy soldiers to buy that's for darn sure. Origins is the place for board gaming; everything else (although fairly represented) comes second.

One final note to my readers: If you've never been to Origins, GO! There's so much to do, you'll have a hard time fitting it all in unless you stay on-site and devote several 10-12 hour days to it. If you live on the East Coast and love games, it's worth doing at least once in your life. I can't imagine you would be disappointed. And if you're a board game enthusiast, this is basically heaven. I've never been to GenCon, so it's not really fair to say Origins is better, but I can't imagine Origins being less-fun than GenCon from a board gaming perspective.

Anyway.... Sultan Sevy out!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Games Games Games! -- ORIGINS 2008

This past weekend, I made a last minute decision to go to the Origins game convention in Columbus, Ohio. It's a true gamers haven. What can I say other than I'm pumped!

The last Origins I attended was in 2005. That convention, along with the truly wonderful, in-depth games database at BoardGameGeek and the entertaining and informative Dice Tower podcast by Tom Vasel (along with co-host Sam Healey and former co-host Joe Steadman), were the things that really rekindled my current interest in board games.

I'm not a total newbie when it comes to the hobby gaming scene. I grew up playing lots of board games as a kid, teen, and young adult. From Talisman to Statis Pro Baseball to Slapshot to the 3M games like Acquire and Feudal and Win-Place-&-Show, there are several old classics that I still love to this day.

But post-college, my gaming focus shifted to other things (namely rotisserie baseball and miniatures wargaming). Part of that change was just a lack-of-time for multi-player gaming get-togethers. But part was due to the board gaming scene's slow fade into the sunset. At least that's the way things seemed in the mid-1980's. But from the late 90's onward, board-gaming has experienced a major resurgence.

As I sit here and write in June of 2008, the sheer number of good games available to the board game enthusiast is staggering. Whether you like light, family-friendly Euro games, highly thematic and colorful American style games (Ameritrash), quick playing card games, abstracts, or captivating 2-player wargames, there's bound to be dozens of games out there to suit your particular tastes. And there's really no better place to soak in the atmosphere of gaming as one of the mega gaming conventions (Origins, GenCon, or Spiel in Essen, Germany). If you love games, you really owe it to yourself to make the journey to one of these conventions at least once in your lifetime. I have a hard time imagining you would be disappointed.

While I don't get to game nearly as often as I would like, and my game collection is already big enough in most casual gamer's eyes (close to 150 games), the lure of NEW GAMES is way too hard for any true tabletop games enthusiast to resist. Even though I have easily 25 games in my collection that have yet to hit the table, there's always room for more -- although my closet is starting to disagree with me on that point! I know that in order to make room for new goodies, I'm going to have to start selling off those games that I'll never play again. eBay awaits.

So the biggest blip on my mental radar as I head to Origins this weekend is "what cool new games should I buy?" Here's my HOT LIST of games:

ADVENTURE = Fearsome Floors, Drakon, Last Night on Earth, Fury of Dracula, and Bootleggers.

CARD & PARTY GAMES = Wits & Wagers, No Thanks, Dragon's Gold, Odin's Ravens, Dragon Lairds, and For Sale.

EXPANSIONS = Battlelore (Goblin Marauders, Earth Elemental), Wizard Kings (Maps 5-8), and Carcassonne (Traders & Builders).

SPORTS = Pizza Box Baseball, and Blood Bowl 3rd Edition.

STRATEGY = El Grande (Decennial Edition), Manhattan, Hive, Aladdin's Dragons, Mr. Jack, Downfall of Pompeii, Fire & Axe, Railroad Tycoon, I'm the Boss, Jamaica, Power Grid, and Taluva.

WARGAMES / BATTLE GAMES = Titan, Crusader Rex, Conquest of the Empire, Command & Colors Ancients, Battue, Wallenstein, War of the Ring, Warriors of God, Quest for the Dragonlords, and Age of Gods.

FUTURE RELEASES / NEW EDITIONS = Age of Conan, Cosmic Encounter (FFG edition), Battlelore (Heroes), Monster Liner, and Wiz War.

I'm not Bill Gates, so obviously I can't afford to buy all of these games in one fell swoop! So if I had to pick a Top-20 Most Wanted Games today, here would be my list:
  1. Fearsome Floors
  2. Drakon
  3. Age of Conan
  4. Titan
  5. Wits & Wagers
  6. Hive
  7. El Grande
  8. Manhattan
  9. Last Night on Earth
  10. Mr. Jack
  11. Blood Bowl (3rd Ed.)
  12. No Thanks
  13. Wiz War
  14. Battue
  15. Downfall of Pompeii
  16. Aladdin's Dragons
  17. Wallenstein
  18. Conquest of the Empire
  19. Fire & Axe
  20. Dragon's Gold
I'll let you know if I purchase any of these tempting games at ORIGINS. I sure hope that I'm able to snag a couple of them!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Game Droppings

Man, I've really got to find a way to write more often. Seems like life has me sidetracked from writing to this blog as often as I would like. Perhaps with Summer here, things will get better in that regard. It always seems like a much more exciting time for gaming, conventions, rotisserie baseball, road trips, and exciting new game releases.

Here's what I've been up to recently, as well as cool things which are on my radar...

Wizard Kings Sale = Columbia Games is having a Father's Day sale on their Treasures & Heroes block expansion sets for the Wizard Kings game. If you're a fan of the game, you should definitely check this out. I ordered 2 expansions, plus Map Pack #1 this weekend.

If you've never played any of the excellent Columbia block wargames, I heartily recommend giving them a try. I have both Hammer of the Scots and Wizard Kings in my game collection, and am hoping to add Crusader Rex to the mix some day as well. If you're a fan of Dark Ages and Medieval history, or a Fantasy gamer, and you like large-scale wargames of moderate complexity, you won't be disappointed with any of these games. They're fun, and each one has a very different feel due to its subject matter and how that's implemented in the game system.

Sword of Severnia Playtesting = This Summer, my playtesting group and I are hitting the wargames table on a regular basis to put the Sword of Severnia rules through their paces. Things are going well so far and I'm getting more & more excited about the game with each passing day.

Sword of Severnia (or SoS for short), is a card-driven miniature wargame of fantasy combat. There's a heavy emphasis on Command & Control, fog of war, and using smart battle tactics to manuever and attack with your troops (up to 12 different Troop Types). The importance of good Leaders, Morale, Disorder, Fatigue, Formations, using Reserves, and intelligent Deployment are also major facets of the game. And since it's a fantasy game, mighty heroes, wizards & spells, monsters, heroic duels, magic items, and unusual battle events are all nicely accounted for.

Armies are comprised of 9-15 regiments (most units are on 80 x 60mm or 80 x 120mm element type bases) formed into 3 brigades, with each brigade having its own field commander. Typical armies are comprised of 60-80 figures, which includes your core troops and any leaders, heroes, wizards, and specialists in your army. The rules were designed with 25mm to 30mm figures in mind, but are very easily adaptable to smaller scales such as 15mm.

SoS is not tied into any specific model manufacturer, so you can use whatever figures you like and have available. So whether it's models from Warhammer, Hordes, WarGods, Confrontation, HeroScape, Reaper, D&D Minis, Dwarf Wars, ancient Romans and Greeks, Knights Templar, Vikings, Celts, Saxons, Hundred Years War Medievals, Samurai, Persians, etc., you can use them in this wargame. In fact, SoS currently supports over 140 different races and creatures in the game.

Aside from the interesting game rules themselves, one of the things that really differentiates SoS from other fantasy wargames is that it's a Computer-Assisted wargame. Initially, the computer software component of SoS involves Army Creator tools for building your Regiments and Characters, assembling your Armies, crunching Point Values, and generating & printing custom Troop Cards which contain all the important stats you need to reference during actual game play. There's also a searchable digital Rulebook for quickly looking up rules or charts.

A bit later on, we'll be releasing full-blown Battle Moderator software for SoS. The software (run by a game umpire) lets you track troop status, victory points, and other key data during the battle, allows for some automated dice rolling if your group desires that option, quickly handles chart lookups, and helps enforce the game rules. Plus, the computer-assisted battle version of SoS really aids in learning the game (much less information for new players to remember since the computer does most of that for you).

So anyway... I'll keep ya posted as to our progress on SoS. It's gonna be pretty darn cool!

HeroScape Campaign = I'm also hoping to kickoff a HeroScape campaign game fairly soon. Last Fall, I wrote up a set of campaign rules that will form the basis of the campaign system in my Sword of Severnia miniatures wargame. But pieces of the system were adapted for HeroScape, so that our gaming group could use that simple yet fun system to resolve tabletop battles while our more advanced SoS miniature battle rules are still under development.

My hope is that within the next 2-3 weeks, I can get a small group to playtest these campaign rules with me. The campaign is played about 75% via email/web (sending in orders, plotting map moves, engaging in diplomacy with other players, buying items/buildings/specialists, recruiting new troops, etc.), while the remaining 25% consists of actual tabletop battles when armies encounter each other in a province on the campaign map. 

It should be great fun, so hopefully I can get this started soon.

Historicon 2008 = It's hard to believe, but the Historicon miniatures wargaming convention in Lancaster PA is only a mere 6 weeks away. Pre-registration for HMGS East members is now open, so if you're planning on attending this excellent convention, you should sign-up soon. I believe that pre-reg ends on July 3rd. I'll be there. The lure of tiny tin men is always too much to resist for this wargaming geek!

Well that's all for now.... Coming up on the blog in the coming future (God willing), will be some mentions of some new wargaming books on the market, a look at the 5 different types of wargamers, a rundown of board games on my Wishlist of games, new ideas for Rotisserie Baseball, more news about Sword of Severnia, and hopefully some game session reports. Stay tuned!