Sunday, July 24, 2016

Rulebook Review: Poseiden's Warriors


I've always been intrigued by ancient naval warfare ever since I first saw the 1959 film Ben-Hur.  The naval battle is still my favorite part of the movie, despite the historical inaccuracies.  I'm such a fan of this version, I'm not sure what to think about the upcoming remake.

If I do see the new Ben-Hur, I'll write up a movie review.  In the meantime, I'll get back on course with this rulebook review...

About 30 years ago, I picked up a used copy of Trireme at a game store in North Carolina and managed to play it a few times.  Fast forward about 15 years, when my friend Joe gave me a copy of War Galley for Christmas.  I played this a couple of times too, and in fact, like the rules better than Trireme.  Not to mention the counters are a lot nicer and more detailed.

I still have both boardgames, but I've always wanted to play an ancient naval game using miniatures.  As fate would have it, my friend Dean told me during a visit that he has the rules Poseidon's Warriors along with some miniature ships, and wondered if I'd be interested in playing.  I told him, "of course," and ordered the rules within a week.

Poseidon's Warriors is a 64-page wargame rule booklet covering naval warfare from 480 to 30 B.C.  After a 5-page intro, the rules themselves only take up 14 pages (10-24).  The rest of the booklet consists of historical scenarios, scenario and campaign set-ups.

Only one person so far, wrote a customer review on Amazon.com and gave it a 4-star rating, which I agree with.

The good points about Poseidon's Warriors are:

1. The rules are short and easy, even easier than Trireme and War Galley.  This makes the game great for beginners, and gamemasters running a session at a game convention.

2. The book is nicely illustrated with artwork depicting the actual battles and pictures of ship miniatures.

3. It's a bargain, ranging in price from just under $14 to about $20.

But on the other tip of the trident:

1. Some may consider the rules too basic.  For instance, merchant ships, which relied solely on wind power can move in any direction the owning player wishes.  The author did not want to include complex sailing rules, especially for ships he viewed as mere targets.

2. While there is a front & back page Quick Reference Sheet there are other charts scattered throughout the book that may take some time to find. 

3. And speaking of the charts themselves, the font size is about half that of the regular text, which I find almost impossible to read without my higher-powered, bifocal reading glasses.

One note about all three games:  More often that not, ancient naval battles involved hundreds of ships.  So each game often scales its battles from a 3:1 to 15:1 ratio.

In general, Osprey Publishing seems to be hitting the right note by cranking out easy, inexpensive rules that are enjoyed by gamers and gamemasters alike.  During this year's Enfilade! convention, several games of Dragon Rampant, Lion Rampant, Frostgrave and In Her Majesty's Name were played.

I'm sure Poseidon's Warriors will soon be fought-out at one of our region's future conventions, or game days.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Book Review: First & Only--A Gaunt's Ghosts Novel


Well, other than my Independence Day greeting, it's been over a month since I posted anything significant.

I have a two good excuses. 

First, I've been working on a photo project for our regional gaming group, NHMGS.  I took several hundred pictures during our annual Enfilade game convention during the Memorial Day weekend.  This involved sifting through photos, titling each one, making adjustments to the color and lighting, along with photo-shopping out extraneous items (dice, rulers, soda cans, etc.).

Second, my wife and I put up some wall shelves in our family room and garage in order to alleviate the storage issue with our DVD collection and--ahem--my wargames.

Now that my excuses are out of the way, on to the review of what I remember from the last book I finished reading several weeks ago...

First and Only is, well, the first book in Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts Series, which is often described as Richard Sharpe meets Warhammer 40K.

I thought this book would be an origin story.  It isn't.  Instead the author slips back and forth between flashbacks and the events currently unfolding during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, where the Tanith First and Only apply their backwoods skills as light infantry. 

However, in addition to facing external threats, the Imperium of Man is rife with internal strife ranging from inter-service rivalry to open rebellion.  So Colonel-Commissar Ibram_Gaunt finds himself confronting a conspiracy to usurp the crusade and snatch piece of archeotech.

First and Only enjoys a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.com.  Even readers who've never played Warhammer 40K liked it.  I can see why Dan Abnett is such a popular Black Library author.  While I agree with the one 3-star rater, in that there's a sequence of coincidences and prophecies that fall into place to advance the plot. 


Unlike the Ciaphas Cain stories, First and Only plays the grimdark of WH40K straight, but was still an enjoyable book that I'll give a 4-star rating to.

I look forward to reading the further adventures of "Sharpe IN SPACE!"


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Book Review: Waterloo; The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell


As both a wargamer and history buff, my favorite period is that part of the "Horse & Musket Era," between the Seven Years War/French and Indian War to the Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleon ruled over a continental empire for nearly ten years before he abdicated.  Everyone thought the wars were over, but "The Corsican Ogre" had other ideas.  Escaping his exile on Elba, Napoleon launched his Hundred Days campaign.

But the Corsican's comeback was cut short at the Battle of Waterloo.

Much of course has been written about this climatic clash.

Here in the U.S., Bernard Cornwell's first non-fiction book, Waterloo; The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles was released about a month before the battle's bicentennial (May 2015, but was released in the U.K. in September 2014).

My wife bought me this book just in time for Father's Day last year.  Since I didn't open my gift until after the 200th Anniversary, I made it a point to read it in time for the 201st Anniversary.

Most of what I've previously read about the battle comes from articles, or chapters in books about the Napoleonic Wars in general.  The only book I did read that was solely devoted to Waterloo was a compilation of eyewitness accounts.  I can't remember the title or author because it was nearly 30 years ago when I read it, and nothing I've seen in my Google-search looks familiar.

Bernard Cornwell is an historical novelist, not an historian.  And this is what makes his contribution to Waterloo lore so readable for a general audience.  True, there are tomes chock-full of facts, figures and statistical data.  These impressive works offer a wealth of information to historians, or any Napoleonic subject-matter expert.

But Bernard Cornwell's literary talents brings the 201year-old drama to life.  Sometimes, especially during the moments when crucial decisions needed to be made, the author will switch the narrative to present tense in order give the reader a sense of "you-are-here-now," and the fate of Europe still is very much in doubt.

I happen to like present tense and use it as much as possible in my own writing.  I'm also a fan of Bernard Cornwell's work.  So overall, I enjoyed Waterloo; The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles.

The book enjoys an 87% approval rating (4 & 5-star reviews) on Amazon.com.

However, not everyone is happy with Cornwell's recent work.  Nearly two dozen 1 & 2-star reviewers cited the author's Anglo-centric bias, along with contributing nothing new to the study of the battle.  They also hated the intermittent use of present tense.

I didn't think Cornwell "waved the Union Jack" at the expense of everyone else who fought on that hot summer day.  I felt he was even-handed at directing praise, or criticism towards the leaders and participants.  Although he seemed to have a greater dislike for the Prince of Orange than even Napoleon

As much as I'd like to give the book a 5-star rating (I'm giving it 4 instead), I felt there were some shortcomings.  Just about every rater assigning less than 5-stars to the book commented on how much the author repeated himself.  Key participants are re-introduced, the term "stone [rock], paper, scissors," is used repeatedly to describe the strengths, weaknesses, and interaction of Napoleonic infantry, cavalry and artillery.  Even the captions underneath the pictures were repetitions of the main narrative.

There are also frequent mentions of the various Waterloo controversies.  Most of these are merely acknowledged and not delved into.

Overall though, Bernard Cornwell weaves an engaging tale for readers looking for an introductory-level overview, or something not weighed-down by exposition and statistical data.

Monday, June 6, 2016

NHMGS's Enfilade Convention's Silver Anniversary Bagpipe Ceremony





Here's my first attempt at shooting an actual video as opposed to composing a slide show.  I filmed this with my new Nikon P530 CoolPix Camera in video mode.  I staked out a spot on the convention floor, and mounted the camera on a tripod.

The ceremony was in honor of Enfilade's 25th Anniversary and was conducted by the Northwest Scots Guards.

The honor guard detail included:  Lt. Col Larry Bardell, Josh Hay, Matt Sims, Bruce McGillivory and Jim Sisson.

The opening speaker was Lloyd Bowler, the Enfilade Convention Director.

The keynote speaker was Kevin Smyth, former Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society (NHMGS) president and one of the founding members of Enfilade!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Enfilade 2016 Blog Round-up



During this past Memorial Day Weekend, NHMGS celebrated 25 years of hosting it's Enfilade! wargame convention.

Unlike the past few years, I was able to attend all three days.  One of my gaming buddies, Dale, remarked my 3-day attendance was a rarity.

Yes, it certainly was.

This was most fortunate, because the Event Coordinator, Dave Mebust, asked me to be Enfilade's "Official Photographer" for this year.   I responded with my usual, "definite maybe," because of my rotating work schedule.

I didn't play a single game and instead snapped 1,108 raw photos.  The other day, I spent over four hours sifting through them and deleting 350 pictures.  My goal was to take one or two images of the gamemasters and players, then focus on the awesomely painted miniatures and terrain.  The photos I deleted were either blurry, not framed properly, had too much extraneous material on the table (the usual rulers, stat sheets, rule books, soda cans, etc), or a gamer moving his/her pieces just as my camera focused and snapped the picture.

This was also my first time using my Nikon P350 CoolPix Camera, and I was pleased with it's performance.  My only issue so far, is the camera would suddenly announce the battery was exhausted and shut down.  This occurred twice, near the end of the first two days of the convention. I'm glad I brought my old Panasonic Luminix camera as a back up, which in light of this I won't be getting rid of any time soon.

I'm now starting the process of compiling the photos into some sort of on-line format, either a YouTube movie slideshow, or some webcomics.

I don't think of myself as a perfectionist, but I do like to make any adjustments I feel necessary to a picture's lighting and color before posting it anywhere on line.  So it might be a while before my photos reach cyberspace.

In the meantime, while I'm moving at glacial speed, the following wargame bloggers have already posted their pictures and convention recaps:

Operation: Wargaming!'s Battle of Birmingham Meeting House 1777

WAB Corner's At Long Last, An Actual Gaming Post!

And a two-parter by Naval Gazing.

First, Other People's Games, and then the games he hosted.

Plans are already in the works for Enfilade 2017.

I hope to finish my Enfilade 2016 photo project by then.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Honoring Memorial Day

(Image from


I love my wargaming hobby. 

However, as a retired service member I'm aware every day that real wars have real costs.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Book Review: Jutland 1916


We're now in the second year of the First World War's Centennial.

Despite the historical significance of this moment in time, I haven't read any in-depth material on The Great War.  In fact, I don't own a single book on the "mud, blood and poetry" of the trenches.

However, I do own over 30 softcover books by Osprey Publishing.

All of them unread, until now.

I thought I'd use the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland to read my first Osprey book, cover to cover.

Jutland 1916 is a concise, readable account of the events that led up to the clash, the battle itself, and the aftermath. 

(Note:  My copy is a different edition with an "armored plate" cover, but with the same cover art and was published the same year as this "Campaign Series" book was.  My copy also lacks "The Battlefield Today" and "Wargaming Jutland" chapters).

Jutland 1916 is divided into the following chapters, typical of Osprey's template:

Introduction
Origins of the Campaign
The Opposing Fleets (Forces)
The War in the North Sea (Battle Area, Region)
The Opposing Commanders
Opposing Plans
The Battle
Aftermath
Chronology

The book provides a nice over-view of events, which is just enough to give readers basic details, and maybe spark interest in reading weightier tomes.

The battle continues to be controversial even after a hundred years have passed.  Basically, both sides had mirror-image plans, blundered into each other--repeatedly--from the evening of 31 May until the morning of 1 June; more British ships were sunk than German, with heavier loss-of-life; but the German High Seas Fleet retreated into port--and never sortied for battle ever again.  Both sides claimed victory.

The author acknowledges the controversies swirling around each of these facets of the battle, and glosses over them.  Sympathy and scorn towards the attitudes and decisions made by the flag officers is fairly even-handed.  Nearly all of them entered service in the mid-to-late 19th Century, when navies were just phasing-out, or still using steam-powered sailing ships, or ironclads.  No one had a complete grasp of the radical technological advances made up until "the guns of August."

Jutland 1916, earns a solid 4-star rating on Amazon.com

I give it the same rating.  Not because I find any fault with the book, but because it is more of an overview than a detailed analysis of the battle.

Bonus Article & Video

While scrolling through Facebook a few weeks back, I came across a post on the Naval Wargames page.

Here's an article with a Battle of Jutland animation.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Rulebook Review: Battlefield Evolution


On May Day I mentioned in-passing that I purchased a bunch of Battlefield Evolution pre-painted miniatures.

Since I got the figures, I figure I should probably read the rules.

Produced by Mongoose Publishing back in 2007, Battlefield Evolution was billed as a fast-paced, skirmish set of rules for ultra-modern combat in the near future.

This "advanced" rule book weighs-in at 94 pages, of which only 49 pages constitute the rules portion; which includes an Introduction, Preparation and Building an Army chapters.  The last 45 pages consist of chapters on Scenarios, Campaigns, Model Buildings construction an example of play (Contact at Qafir), an Index, some sample campaign maps; along with a few pages of news releases (i.e. fluff).

The rules themselves are easy to understand.  Any unit can conduct two actions per turn.  These usually are:  Move, Shoot, Charge, and Ready.  Attacks such as shooting and charges are resolved by rolling the damage dice, which are D6's or D10s (six-sided or ten-sided, depending on the weapon systems).  Rolls of "1" are automatic misses, while "6s/10s" are automatic hits.  Units receive beneficial modifiers for being in, or behind cover.  Defending units may also receive an armor save against non-automatic hits.

When a force's incurs about 75% casualties, it reaches it's Shatter Point and withdraws from the battle.

There are no details about any of the units listed within the rules.  Such information is found on the unit cards which are included in each boxed set, or at least they should be.

If I were to only assign a rating to the rules, I'd give the Battlefield Evolution book 3-stars.  They're a good, basic set of rules, especially for beginners, convention game masters, or even seasoned gamers who don't want to delve into complicated rules. 

The one problem in this aspect is there's no Quick Reference Table (QRT).  Everything is dependent on players having access to the unit cards, which aren't available unless a gamer has bought one, or more (all?) of the box sets.

But this isn't the only problem with the Battlefield Evolution Advanced Rules book.  The biggest is the production quality.  This hardcover, printed in China, is cheaply made.  Even though it's nine years old with no signs of wear-and-tear, the binding should still hold the book together.  My copy is falling apart.  The paper itself feels brittle and easy to tear.

As someone who likes to make gaming-based webcomics, I'm usually reluctant to criticize someone else's artwork.  But in this case I'll make an exception.  While the pictures of the miniatures used throughout the book are good, the campaign maps leave much to be desired.  If I were in the position of convincing my fellow wargamers to dispose of their disposable income, I'd want to provide them with a top-notch product.

So production quality is 1-star.

Finally, there's the 2-star fluff.

One of my favorite political commentators often remarks "nothing dates faster than THE FUTURE."

True, Battlefield Evolution's fluff takes place in the fictional country of Kerakhistan, but it still has a dated feel. 

While the publishers aren't to blame for failing to foresee the rise of the Islamic State or the Syrian Civil War; they over stated, or avoided, a number of items in their vision of what 2018 is suppose to be like.

For example:

The European Union (EU) has solidified into the European Federation, when it's actually struggling to cope with external and internal issues, like Russia's invasion of Crimea and Ukraine, along with the mass Muslim migration and the possibility of Britain leaving the EU.

The People's Republic of China's Army (PLA) gets glowing praise for modernizing to near-western standards.  However, the publishers say nothing about China's history of draconian domestic politics, or belligerency beyond its borders.  (Maybe because they didn't want the Politburo to put the kibosh on publishing this book?).

Unnamed Muslim nations have joined together in a loose association called the Middle Eastern Alliance (MEA) to fight the invading infidels.  It's seems as though conflict stems from the European Federation, along with America and China, trying to re-assert their colonial rule over the middle east.  There's only a vague reference to giving Islamic troops a "religious zealotry" modifier, but nothing on what religion motivates the troops to become zealots in the first place.

It's as if the September 11 Attacks, the Bali Bombings, the Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis, the Madrid Train Bombings, the Beslan School Siege, the London Underground Bombings, and the Mumbai Train Bombings, and much more--all taking place before 2007, and beyond the borders of the middle east--didn't happen.

A lot has happened since.

So forget the fluff.

Just re-label the miniatures and develop more plausible scenarios and campaigns, unless you're setting your game in a alternate reality.

You can buy hard copies of Battlefield Evolution on Amazon.com for $5.77 and up.  Or, you can buy an ebook directly from the publisher. 

The miniatures, which will be the subject of a future post, can be harder to come by. 
But you can use similar figures from other manufacturers.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rulebook Review: Black Powder


A few weeks ago, a bought a bunch of painted Napoleonic miniatures from my friend Dean, author of the popular WAB Corner blog.

I intend to take pictures of my "new model army," but have been busy at work and with non-wargaming projects when I'm off-duty.

In the meantime, I thought I'd at least read the Black Powder rules, which Dean based his figures on.

If you're looking for a set of rules that provide detailed data on the various weapons, tactics, and doctrines of the various armies from 1700-1900, look elsewhere.

Black Powder is a game, not a simulation, a point the authors make clear throughout the book. 

Lavishly illustrated and weighing-in at 182 pages, the Basic Rules comprise the first 50 pages, with another 26 pages of Advanced Rules.  The rest are scenarios, battle reports, a quick reference page and an index.  This makes Black Powder popular for resolving big-battles within the time frame of one gaming period at a convention (usually four hours).

However, rules designed to handle big-battles can also be a detriment.  No one I know has a 6' x 12' gaming table the authors used to play test the rules.  Big-battles also require a big collection of miniatures.  Large--and fully painted--collections take a long time for an individual to amass, or require the cooperation of a gaming group to invest in.

I also think the authors stretched the timeline of the "Horse & Musket Era" to 1900 so their fine-quality, late 19th Century figures can see the light of day--or more likely camera flashes--in order to impress the rest of us.  (I'm certainly impressed).

Despite these quibbles, I'll give Black Powder a 4-star rating.  Published six years ago, and still commanding a $48 price tag, the rules are currently out of stock on Amazon.com (which has a 3.9-star average rating), but can still be obtained at On Military Matters, and possibly other game/book store websites.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Book Review: Pleasure Model


Pleasure Model by Christopher Rowley is the first illustrated novella in the Netherworld Series published by Tor Books and Heavy Metal Magazine back in 2010.  This short-lived collaboration was branded as Heavy Metal Pulp.

In Pleasure Model, we meet Detective Rook Verner of the the Hudson Valley Police Department.  He's assigned a strange murder case involving a high-profile victim.  Upon investigating the scene, Rook and his partner discover a pleasure model, or "Pammy," was overlooked by the killer(s).  Pammys are illegal, genetically-grown humans, created as living sex toys for whoever purchases them--or rents them out.

The story contains elements of Blade Runner (artificial beings), Solyent Green (government conspiracy) and 50 Shades of Grey (sex, kinky and otherwise).

I loved the author's minimalist writing style.  The story is fast-paced with just enough descriptive details and exposition to ignite the reader's imagination.  There's no data dumping in Pleasure Model.  It wasn't until page 77 that I was able to figure out what year this dystopian story occurs in, which required some arithmetic.

The reader is never bored with the story.  Shocked sometimes, yes, but not bored.

And speaking of shocking, two women reviewers on Amazon.com hated the book, giving it a 1-star rating, because they thought it objectified demeaned women.  However, 88% of the other readers, including some women, liked the book, giving it anywhere from 3 to 5-stars, for a 3.9 star average.

I don't think the book itself was demeaning towards women, but showed a future society that looked upon genetically-grown people as tools and toys that can be callously treated and easily discarded once they outlived their novelty and usefulness.  More importantly, the protagonist, Rook Verner, doesn't mistreat women, naturally-born or artificially-created, in any way.

Nor is Rook alone.  He receives assistance from allies, mostly intelligent and capable women, that serve more than eye/mind-candy for the reader.

There are mixed feelings about the small black-and-white illustrations found on most of the pages in Pleasure Model.  I liked them because it saved the author from having to add additional descriptions that would bog down the flow of the story.  Besides, I like graphic novels and comics, which is one of the reasons why I bought this book; although I can't remember from where.

The biggest disappointment was the story's ending.  Or, more correctly, lack of a satisfying conclusion.  Pleasure Model ends rather abruptly, which I would be fine with if I had books #2--The Bloodstained Man, and #3--Money Shot handy to read right away.

Otherwise, I enjoyed Pleasure Model, and it is my pleasure to give this story a 4-star rating.