Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Zulu Games at Enfilade 2016

While I posted about our Enfilade Convention's Silver Anniversary Ceremony four months ago, it's been over two years since I made a gaming video.

So last week I decided to get back on track and start sifting through the 1,100+ photos I took during the convention and start composing some themed videos.

I thought it be appropriate to start off with a shout-out to one gamemaster (GM) who hosted a Zulu War or Boxer Rebellion game during every period.

I don't know how Bill does it every year.  I ran three games back-to-back a few years ago and I was mentally exhausted.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Late Commenoration for the 950th Anniversary of the Battle of Hastings

(Image from Wikipedia's entry depicting the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings)
I was off-line for a couple of days, hunkering down for a storm that fizzled, so I missed commemorating an important anniversary in military history.

"Number Eight" of the The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World (Hastings) was fought nearly a millennia ago, on 14 October 1066.

Over the weekend, a thousand re-enactors participated in celebrating the battle's anniversary.

(Image from: ABC Net, Australia)

For us non-re-enactors, our familiarity with the Battle of Hastings looks more like this, reading from the warmth and safety of our homes:

(Image from:  British Battles)

Or, for talented wargamers, (of which I am not one of them), the battle is an embodiment of "War is Glorious" on our tabletops:

(Image from:  Tree Frog Treasure's Toy Soldiers Forum)
And for us YouTubers, Kallistra Ltd produced a video of their tabletop battle just a few years ago.

(Image:  Still shot from Kallistra Ltd's Battle of Hastings Video)
If I'm still around--and cognizant--in 2066, I'll try to be more timely in posting about the Millennial Anniversary of the battle.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Program Review: Castle, Seasons 1-8

My wife loves Police Procedurals.
I'm a Firefly fan.
Together, we binge-watched all eight seasons of Castle!

Prior to our binging, I heard a lot of good things about Castle, and figured the show would be something we'd both enjoy. So I bought the First Season DVD set several months ago.   Seven additional DVD sets later, we finally finished Season Eight last week.

The Premise:

Richard Castle is a best-selling mystery writer (and Bumbling Dad). 
Kate Beckett is an ace NYPD detective of the 12th Precinct (and Broken Bird).
Together, they fight crime!    

Yeah, I totally borrowed the TV Tropes format for my opening line here.

Anyway, Richard Castle weasels his way into job-shadowing Detective Beckett after helping her and her team of homicide detectives solve a series of copy-cat murders, based on one of his books.  Sparks fly for the first three seasons.  Castle's initial excuse for hanging around was that he found inspiration to write a new series of books about Detective Nikki Heat--based on Detective Beckett.  By Season 4 romance finally blooms, even though it was obvious to everyone around them, that they're a perfect pair.

In between all the will they or won't they? the mismatched duo endeavor to catch the victim of the week's killer.

The Good:

What delighted me most about Castle were the actor allusions to "Firefly."  However, the show went beyond appealing to sci-fi fans.  Just about every episode contained shout outs to numerous TV shows, movies and comics.

I like Nathan Fillion as an actor, and what I envied most about his character was his relationship with his daughter Alexis.  I found myself imagining being the same kind of dad towards my daughter if she lived with me instead of my her mom.  Of course, without the financial fortune, jet-set lifestyle and fangirls throwing themselves at me.  I also liked Castle's generosity towards his new-found friends.  If it wasn't in the precinct's budget--or inside it's rules of ethics--Castle would write a check for anything from paying a ransom to hiring a prostitute (in order to interview her for the case of the week, of course).  He even bought an cappuccino maker to replace the precinct's bad to the last drop machine.
However, my favorite characters on Castle turned out to be heterosexual life partners Ryan & Esposito.  On-stage their relationship often mirrored Castle & Beckett's, and from the snippets I've seen, the actors seem to have the same dynamic going for them off stage as well. Each of them had at least one day in the limelight episode that was truly memorable.

The Bad: 

Castle certainly wasn't flawless.

As is usual with every TV series ever created, the main characters do everything.  In this case, a metropolitan police district's homicide unit was comprised of three detectives, plus a tag-along.  Not to mention putting said tag-along in harm's way on a routine basis.

And since this cadre was critical to fighting crime, we knew the writers weren't going to kill off the main characters.  Besides, we had all eight seasons worth of Castle DVDs.  So we found each story to be more amusing and interesting, rather than exciting.

The biggest problem, however, was arc fatigueCastle was more than just an episodic dramedy about romance, and the body of the week.  There were numerous story arcs, which took more than one episode to complete, and many of these in-turn, would span several seasons.  In fact, half of them were linked to each other in some way or another.  These shows were darker and edgier stories, and were our least favorite.  Watching these required viewing one--or usually more--breather episodes in order to prepare ourselves for the next downward spiral.

By the last episode of Season 7, several Big Bads have been killed-off or incarcerated, and Richard Castle finally won a coveted literary award.  Things were looking up for everyone else, who've finally become a band of true companions...and then they get the adventure continues phone call, because another murder has been committed.

(Image:  Castle Season 6 Wallpaper)

This, however, turned out to be a series fauxnaleThe man behind a Big Bad, known as "LOKSAT," emerged.  Most of the stand-alone shows were tainted by the LOKSAT Arc.  Episodes completely devoted to thwarting LOKSAT were tedious to watch, and the season finale struck a sour note with fans everywhere.  It was obviously intended as a cliffhanger.  But at some point in production, when it was clear there wouldn't be a Season 9, a seven years later scene was slapped on to give Castle & Beckett a babies ever after ending--and something for fans to coo about.

Except fans reacted with more boos than coos.  So much so, that many (all?) Castle fans have mentally written-off Season 8 in it's entirety.

TV Tropes has an entire list of Castle clunkers on it's Your Mileage May Vary Page, along with some headscratchers.

The Awesome:

Overall though, I think the show is awesome.  Just how awesome?  Well TV Tropes has a list of awesome Castle moments, along with the funny and heartwarming ones.

I'm now as much a fan of Castle now as I am of any sci-fi or fantasy program. Castle now has a fictionalized and even defictionalized expanded universe.  That is, there are now several real Nikki Heat novels...

(Image:  Cover to Book 1 of 8, with #9 due in 2017)
...Derrick Storm books...
(Image:  Cover to Book 1 of 5)

...and Derrick Storm graphic novels ghost-written for the fictional writer Richard Castle

(Image:  Cover to Book 1 of 4)

My wife bought me the first two Derrick Storm graphic novels, which I haven't read yet.  I'll probably ask for the first books in both the Derrick Storm and Nikki Heat novels next.

So Castle will live-on long past its cancellation.

Castle Sites:

TV Tropes also has a page listing every Castle-related trope from A to Z, a character page, along with a episode recap page (which is incomplete at this time).

In addition to TV Tropes and Wikipedia, there's the following Castle sites:

Castle TV

Castle Wiki 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Book Review: Conan the Roleplaying Game (2nd Ed)

I've been a fan of Conan the Barbarian ever since I started sporadically reading the comics back in the '70s.

I saw the original movie when it came out...

(Image:  1982 movie poster)
...but have skipped the 2011 box office bomb.  Although I do have the DVD, which I still haven't watched yet, in order to complete my Conan movie collection.

(Image:  2011 movie poster)
I've always considered Howard's Hyborian Age one of the best fantasy settings, second only to Tolkien's Middle Earth, but certainly more bawdy and sensual.

So as a role playing game (RPG) enthusiast, I was happy to stumble across an inexpensive copy of  Conan: The Roleplaying Game (2nd Edition), produced by Mongoose Publishing.

 This 420-page tome is divided into the following chapters:

1.   Introduction
2.   Overview
3.   Races
4.   Classes
5.   Skills
6.   Feats
7.   Equipment
8.   Combat
9.   Sorcery
10. The Hyborian Age
11. Gazetteer
12. Religion
13. Bestiary
14. Campaigns
15. Index

The book also includes a two-page character sheet, and color maps of Hyboria inside the front and back cover.

If you're familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, or any other "D20 Open Game License (OGL)" game, then you'll find Conan:  The RPG easy to understand, because the game mechanics are identical.

Since I like the D20 System, I look forward to the day when I can either run a session as a gamemaster (GM), or participate as a player character (PC).

While I enjoyed reading the Fluff about the late Hyborian Age, at the time Conan is king of Aquilonia, this was a difficult book to read.  Not because the content was hard to understand, but due to the poor quality of the materials and layout.

I like reading hard cover books like this while I'm working out on a stationary cardio machine.  It alleviates the boredom.  However, I couldn't lay this book flat and read it without holding it with my hands, which makes working out more difficult.  When I tried pressing the book flat--the binding ruptured.  Fortunately, the pages didn't come loose.

There's also the problem with the page format.  Each page is illustrated with the same racy, black and white montage artwork along the borders.  (Apparently this was suppose to be an improvement over the scandalous full-color artwork).  As a result of keeping the artistic border, the print is set very close to the spine, making it even harder to read anything within the center of the book.  Also, the pages themselves also feel flimsy and composed of cheap paper.

Despite these quality-control flaws, I'm glad I have this in my RPG collection, as long as I don't read it from cover-to-cover again.  Content-wise, I'd rate the book at 4-stars.  Quality-wise, I'd give it 2, maybe 3-stars.

Conan:  The RPG received high praise on RPG Geek, and  snagged a 4.5-star rating on
The two 3-star raters didn't care for the game using the D20 system.

The new Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of should have been released a few months ago.  Because of this new release, it seems that the Conan: The RPG (2nd Ed) and other Mongoose Publication material is available for (free?) download.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG

Several years ago, I inadvertently started collecting playing pieces from the Pirates Constructible Strategy Game (CCG) produced by WizKids.

Normally, I don't care for games with the word "collectable" in the title.  This means each package contains random playing pieces, some being extremely rare, and therefore expensive.  As a wargamer, I want to know exactly what's in the package.  So when the first set of this game, Pirates of the Spanish Main (PotSM), was released, I ignored the hoopla.

A few years later though, while visiting my mom in my hometown, I ventured into the local game store, Fat Cat Comics.  While at the checkout counter I flipped through a binder containing individual pieces of PotSM organized in baseball card holders.  I liked the flat pieces representing terrain, such as islands, reefs, sargasso, and fog banks.  So I bought every bit of terrain Fat Cat had to offer.

I figured these pieces could be used for the Age-of-Sail boardgames I already owned.  Then I started scouring the local game shops in my area, and eBay, for:  Pieces of Eight coins as play money for the pirate role-playing games (RPGs) already owned, along with character cards for quick non-player character (NPC) sketches. 

My addiction tapered off when Wizkids started releasing Pirates of the Mysterious Islands (steampunk) and Pirates of the Frozen North (Vikings).

But since I still held on to my unassembled  collection, I decided to go just one step further and buy Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG (shortened to "Pirates RPG" to avoid confusion with the CCG).

This RPG, was produced by Pinnacle Entertainment Group and based on their Savage Worlds rules.

The book weighs-in at 255 pages, and is divided into a dozen chapters:

1.  Getting Started
2.  Characters
3.  Gear
4.  Age of Piracy (setting overview)
5.  Game Rules
6.  Flashing Blades (a listing of fencing schools)
7.  Life at Sea
8.  Gamemaster Section--Gazeteer
9.  Running the Game
10. The Lady's Favor (an introductory adventure)
11. Encounters (NPCs and Bestiary)
12. Index

Among the illustrations similar in style to the original CCG, you'll find:

Character Sheet and Ship Chart
Blast and Turning Templates
Map of the Spanish Main (on the inside front and back covers)
Two grid maps of the Caribbean (one showing the prevailing winds)

(Image:  Map found on page 2 of the rulebook)
The book does a good job of incorporating the CCG material into the Savage Worlds rules.  In keeping with the CCG, this is not an historical game, but a constructed world "...loosely set in the late 17th Century or early 18th Century" (page 62).  There's even some magic and supernatural hazards players may encounter.

While I can enjoy a romp through alternate history, I wish the folks at Pinnacle, and Wizkids for that matter, put a bit more effort into being more accurate about ships and naval artillery.

For example:  "Frigates carry goods around the Main and back to Europe"  (page 118).

This isn't even close to the true definition of this well-known ship type.

Then there's the ship weapons, listed on page 123 as :  Bowchaser, 4-pounder (pdr) cannon, 8-pdr, and 16-pdr.

Not only are these gun ratings off-base, but this also means the ships in both games are seriously under-powered.

Despite these nautical inaccuracies, I liked what I read in the Pirates RPG, which received a 4.4-star rating on, and a 4-star rating on RPG.Net.  I'd rate the game about the same, but one 3-star rater's comment on Amazon is worth mentioning:  That no other support material, supplements or active user community, except for a handful of downloadable material.

So if you want to make use of all those CCG ships for swashbuckling adventures of derring do, then grab a hold of an available copy of the book, or download it from Drive Thru RPG.

(Image:  Pirates RPG publication announcement)

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Visit to the EMP's Star Trek Exhibit

(Image from the EMP Museum website)
A couple of weeks ago, I waxed poetic about Star Trek's Golden Anniversary.

Even though I still haven't seen Star Trek Beyond yet, I did manage to go to the Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds exhibit at Seattle's EMP Museum (Experience Music Project).

I was hoping to venture up to the Emerald City on Star Trek's exact anniversary day, but my wife and I were too busy.  However, we both had last weekend off while her sister and brother-in-law were visiting us.  This turned out to be the perfect outing for all of us since we grew grew up watching the show.

The museum allowed visitors to take photographs, but did not allow the use of camera flashes.  I don't like using the flash anyway, so this didn't bother me initially.

However, the exhibit hall was very dark.  As a result, I had to max out nearly every editing function on my computer to make the subjects of each picture discernible.  This process took over a dozen hours of sifting through 149 photos.  Even with 89 usable pictures, it was difficult to obtain a good image without some video reflection, or lens-flare from an overhead light.

What follows is a sample montage of our adventure.

Entering the strange new world...

(...and taking many small steps for "Fankind")
The Starships

(The USS Enterprise)
(USS Voyager and Galaxy Class Enterprise)
(USS Voyager)
(Deep Space Nine)
The "History" of Star Trek

(Where the various shows fit in to our "future history")
(There's quite a gap between the Original Series (TOS) and the Next Generation)
The Museum's Artifacts

(The exhibit's main floor)
The Original Series:

(The Enterprise's bridge with Kirk and McCoy's uniforms)
(Starfleet women's uniform, worn by Lt. Nyota_Uhura)
(Helm and navigation control)
(A blurry picture of a control panel)
The Next Generation:

(Geordi La Forge's uniform)
(Captain Jean-Luc Picard's uniform)
(Counselor Deanna Troi's uniform)
(Lt. Commander Data's uniform and display)

Deep Space Nine:

(Captain Benjamin Sisko's uniform and DS-9 display)

(Seven of Nine's and Captain Kathryn Janeway's uniforms)

(T'Pol's and Captain Jonathan Archer's uniforms and display)

Adversaries in Star Trek

The Federation's opponents ranged from worth Cold War Era stand-ins...

(The Klingon Display)
(Klingon weapons and battlecruiser model) a terrifying "Horde of Alien Locusts"...

(An occupied Borg Alcove)

...along with the misunderstood...

(The Gorn costume) the darn-right cute & cuddly.

(The Tribble display)
Sometimes our enemies are our darker selves.

(Kirk's Mirror Universe uniform)
But the best Star Trek nemesis by far is...

(The Khan Noonien Singh Display)
(Ricardo_Montalban's costume in The Wrath of Khan)
...well, at least the original.
(Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan-reboot costume)

Star Trek Props

What I found most remarkable about the props used in Star Trek was--how unremarkable they are.

(Some familiar items used in the Original Series)

After half-a-century, they even look shoddy compared to more updated props.

However, this is what makes them so amazing.  That a pop culture phenomena was launched on such an small budget, making due with whatever the prop manager could cobble together.

Oddly enough, the exhibit I, my family and even a coworker liked the most was this diorama showing how the Enterprise Set was arranged.

(The real Starship Enterprise)

Star Trek Creator and Patron

(Gene Roddenberry's bio)
Here's another reason to "love Lucy:"

(Lucille Ball is attributed to saving Star Trek before it began)

Star Trek's Impact on Today's Culture

(Star Trek themed merchandise)
(More 'Trek merchandise)
(Even our president was a fan:  Obama and Nichelle Nichols renders the Vulcan Salute)

Interactive Displays

(The famous crawl spaces named after designer Matt Jefferies)
(Yours Truly in a Jefferies Tube)
In addition to scampering through a futuristic crawlspace one can even star in their own "movie," which consists of virtually beaming down to some hostile environment and resolve a critical situation that only main characters can accomplish.

("Away Team Instructions")
 In this story, I drew the short straw heroically volunteered to beam aboard a damaged freighter about to crash into an inhabited planet.  My assignment was to destroy the ship's Phlebotinum Core--with a hand phaser--before it reached the planet's atmosphere.

 (A one-man Away Team preparing to beam aboard a stricken vessel)
My mission was a success, probably because I wasn't wearing a Red Shirt for this operation. (I tried uploading the video my wife took, but I couldn't get it to play here on Blogger).

Speaking of attire, I didn't see any cosplayers at the exhibit, but back in May there was an opening day costume party.

The Star Trek:  Exploring New Worlds exhibit will continue at the EMP through 17 February 2017.