Sunday, September 11, 2016

Honoring the 15th Anniversary of 9/11

(Image from:  On Milwaukee)
A few days ago, I wrote a post about the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek.

Today marks an anniversary, I and many Americans wish never happened--the September 11 Attack.

I'm not the only one taking time out from my creative endeavors to honor this day.  A couple of my favorite creators of daily comic strips stepped out of their usual story arcs for this moment to touch our hearts.

(Image from:  Luann by Greg Evans)

(Image from:  The Wizard of Id, by Parker and Hart)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Star Trek's Golden Anniversary

(Star Trek 50th Anniversary Video One)
Star Trek is "...boldly celebrating 50 years of...television, movies and more." 

I think I watched the very first episode, The Man Trap, when it premiered 50 years ago today, but I didn't know the name of the show back then.  All I recall from that vague, and half-century-old traumatic memory was that the salt vampire scared the bejeezus out of me.

(The Salt Vampire--giving Trekkie kids nightmares since 1966)
It wasn't until I was in junior high school, that I started watching Star Trek regularly, a few years after the series went into syndication, thanks to my friend Stephen who told me about the show.  I was hooked after watching the first episode, which I'm sure wasn't about the Salt Vampire.  Stephen and I would talk about the show during our walks home from school.  After we parted company for the day, I practically ran home in order get my homework done, and not miss the opening credits of that evening's episode.

Yes, I was--still am--that nerdy.

I even watched the The Animated Series when it aired on Saturday mornings, though I considered myself "too old" to watch cartoons.  Fortunately, I got over the teen-angst attitude, and got back into watching animated shows--with a vengeance.

Anyway, the Star Trek "revival" started to achieve orbit as the 70s came to a close.  First, with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and for us wargamers--Star Fleet Battles (SFB).

(The latest version/successor to SFB:  Federation Commander)
Since those days, the Star Trek franchise has been cruising along at warp speed, with four spin-off TV shows, and another one due out next year; along with a dozen more feature films.

Some of these were sensational hits, like The Wrath of Khan...


 ...while others, such as The Final Frontier were near-franchise killers.

Fortunately, The Final Frontier wasn't the final frontier for Star Trek, as The Next Generation movies attempted to go boldly were no movie production had gone before--until Star Trek: Nemesis.

Now we're in the era of the "Reboot Films" which have have been well-received, for the most part.


Here, I'll pause to admit two things:

First, I'm one of those in the minority who wasn't crazy about 'Trek Into Darkness--the Wrath of Khan Redux.  I thought it was too early in the rebooted story arc to have a "Ship Out of Danger" scene.  Kirk and Spock didn't have anywhere near as much time together as the "prime" characters did to form this kind of bond.

Second, I haven't gone beyond my own normal routine to see Star Trek Beyond.  Fortunately, it's still playing in theaters, so there's still time to save my "Trek Cred."

The Star Trek 'verse doesn't merely consist of TV shows and movies.  The Expanded Universe (EU) is chock-full of books, games, webisodes, and music (We Just Make Some Sh*t Up).

Star Fleet Battles (SFB) was an extremely popular when it first came out, and Amarillo Design Bureau (ADB) is still producing SFB-related products.  I'm so heavily invested in SFB, that I don't have any shelf-space for the newer Attack Wing game.

Most of the Star Trek novels are pretty good, but I haven't read one in over a decade, mostly because I want to read stories about characters other than the bridge crew of the USS Enterprise.
I also have a few Star Trek computer games, I'm too prone to motion sickness to actually play them.  But I haven't gotten rid of them either.


Star Trek gaming isn't limited to ship-to-ship combat.  The first Star Trek tabletop role-playing game (RPG) was produced by FASA until the early 80s.


Subsequent RPGs seemed to pop up every decade or so, first by Last Unicorn in the 90s and then Decipher in the early 00s.   My favorite, which I haven't played yet, is another ADB product...

(Starfleet Games, Prime Directive Index)

Despite these publication efforts, along with the legion of Star Trek cosplayers...

(Cosplayers wearing non-standard uniforms, exploring a familiar "strange new world" in The PRF, TOS Star Trek Corset)

...and crossplayers...

(Image:  Analysis Mrs. Spock? by Bellcrius)

...I'm under the impression that the "...galaxy far, far away..." is a more popular setting than "...the final frontier..." for tabletop RPGs.

Maybe the companies that produced/are producing Star Wars RPGs have a better marketing strategy.

Or maybe gamers prefer to imagine themselves as Jedi Knights, or scoundrels with a "...good blaster..." at their side, rather than a playing a doomed Red Shirt.


Regardless of the competition from Star Wars, Star Trek has been more than entertainment--it's been a cultural phenomena.

Of course, not everyone likes Star Trek.  My second ex-wife thought the show was sexist.  I'm not sure what gave her that impression...


...okay, maybe the original series went overboard on the fanservice, especially with the stripperiffic women's costumes.

Despite being the "Mad Men of sci-fi," Star Trek was ground-breaking.  The episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield for example, was a black-and-white allegory about racism.

Literally:


Meanwhile, back on 20th Century Earth, the show hit racism head-on.  The episode Plato's Stepchildren featured TV's first inter-racial kiss:


First, however, there had to be women on board the Enterprise for Kirk to make out session with one of them.  Oh sure, the skimpy uniforms worn by female crew members make them seem like the first in a long line of Bridge Bunnies.  But portraying women serving in critical areas of a military vessel was unseen in pre-'Trek movies and TV shows.

Then there's the plethora of gadgets we use today that can trace their origins, and inspiration to the devices used on the show.

Doesn't this look all-too familiar now?

(Image found on the Communicator's entry in: Wikipedia)
Thanks to Bluetooth technology, WORKING cellphone communicators are now available.

Star Trek hasn't been, nor currently is, perfect.  Even us fans love poking fun at the tropes spawned by the show.  That's why every Star Trek fan I know, including myself, love the movie
Galaxy Quest.

(Galaxy Quest in TV Tropes)

The film is an Affectionate Parody of Star Trek, making it one reason why it's on Screen Crush's 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the Past 25 Years List.  Some fans even consider Galaxy Quest a bona fide Star Trek film.

Affectionate parodies aside, Star Trek hasn't shown any signs of slowing down to sublight speed anytime soon.

Even my second ex-wife was nice enough to buy me one of my favorite colognes for Christmas...

(The cologne can still be found on Amazon.com, but sadly with a different bottle)

...I laughed every time I looked at the bottle, (yes, I actually splashed this stuff on), and still smile looking at the image of it.

For those who want to get involved in the 50 Year Anniversary festivities, check out the Star Trek Events that are taking place world-wide.

(Image from:  The Trek Collective, Comic Previews)

Live Long and Prosper.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Book Review: The Savage World of Solomon Kane

(TV Tropes for Solomon Kane)
Almost four years ago, I posted a review of The Saga of Solomon Kane just in time for Halloween.

Now that we're approaching official autumn, I thought I'd devote my latest Fluff-reading to The Savage World of Solomon Kane rule book. This Savage Worlds-based role playing game (RPG) actually predates the graphic novel omnibus I read.

(Savage Worlds RPG entry in TV Tropes)
By the way, I still haven't seen the film...


...anyway, in the RPG book, players take on the role of fellow "wanderers," receiving a mystical call to help the Avenging Puritan rid the world of evil.  Being a dour puritan isn't a per-requisite to becoming a wanderer, as there are nearly two dozen character-types players can choose from--including dour puritans.

The Savage World of Solomon Kane is lavishly illustrated, and divided into the following chapters, after a Prologue and Introduction:

1.  Solomon Kane--a biography of the title character, including story synopses.
2.  Characters--Player Character (PC) creation.
3.  Arms and Equipment--A list of items common in the 16th Century and their effects.
4.  Game Rules--A condensed version of the Savage Worlds rules
5.  Magick & Devilry--A list of spells and their effects of gameplay.
6.  The Art of Storytelling--Beginning of the Gamemaster's (GM) Section.
7.  Creating Adventures--Advice on running Plot-Point or Savage Tales game sessions.
8.  The Savage World of Solomon Kane--An overview of the 16th Century.
9.  The Old World--Specific details about Europe.
10. The Dark Continent--Specific details about Africa.
11. The New World--Specific details about the Americas.
12. Cathay and the Orient--Specific details about China and Asia.
13. Horrid Beasts of Solomon Kane--A bestiary and rogues gallery.

Getting back to creating adventures, the Plot-Point ones are loosely connected story lines, where the heroes, and allied non-player characters (NPCs, known as "wild cards") must retrieve several artifacts scattered across the globe, bring them together in order to perform an arcane ceremony, which will imprison or kill Eldritch Abominations en-mass before they conquer the world.  Meanwhile, the Savage Tales are stand-alone adventures.

The following "splatbooks" can still be found, which add more details--and horror--to one's campaign:

(Travelers' Tales on Amazon.com)
(Savage Foes entry on Amazon.com)
(Path of Kane entry on Amazon.com)
For the moment, I'm holding-off  on buying any of these supplements.  It's not that I consider them to be poor in quality.  The two I've come across seem just as good as the core rulebook--and about as pricey.

It's more of an issue of limited shelf-space and limited game time which is holding me back from investing more into the savage setting of Solomon Kane.

The Savage World of Solomon Kane snagged an average 4.8-star rating on Amazon.com.  If I were more familiar with the literary adventures of the Puritan Avenger, I'd probably give the book a 5-star rating too.  For now I'll give it a 4.

An extensive review can also be read on RPG.Net.

(Image found on:  Notes From the Peculiar, The Many Faces of Solomon Kane)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rules Analysis of "Poseidon's Warriors"


My last post, which I hope you enjoyed, was a heavily slightly embellished account of what happened during our initial play-through of Poseidon's Warriors.

This post will be a nuts & bolts examination of how and why things happened during the game.  Basically, this is a more in-depth look at the rules compared to my first impression.

The Figures & Terrain

Since Poseidon's Warriors "...is a set of rules for playing large-scale naval actions between fleets of classical galleys..." let's first examine the figures we used in the game.


The ship's used were part of a collection Dean acquired from a sale on The Miniatures Page (TMP), and consisted of:

2 x 1/900-scale fleet flagships by Valiant Enterprise's Ramming Speed Series
5 x 1/1200  squadron flagships by Langton Miniatures, while the rest were 1/1200-scale ships from CnC (which, sadly, appear to be no longer in production).

Dean's Red & Blue Fleets saw action twice last year.  First, with a play test of Actium, using a variant of the Hail Caesar rules, and then two game sessions during last year's Enfilade! convention.

My contribution to our tabletop classical war-at-sea effort was the terrain.

Several months ago, I stumbled across a 6' x 4' Ocean F.A.T Mat by Frontline Gaming.  Just as I was heading out the door to Dean's house, I remembered some other terrain pieces I had, and hastily grabbed what I could before dashing out the door.  These items were beaches from Wizard Kraft Modular Terrain and a handful of homemade islands I bought from a private vendor during some past visit to our Enfilade convention.

The Set Up

 We didn't bother with the Point System of the Ship Data Summary Chart, found on page 11 and on the back of the Quick Reference Sheet (QRS, page 64).  Instead, we decided on an identical number of ships and types, which turned to be:

1 x Hexareme flagship, 6 x slow (cataphract) Quadriremes, and 10 x slow (cataphract) Triremes.  None of these vessels mounted artillery.

We, well, I chose Scenario 4:  Channel Dash (pages 32-33) for us to play.  I have to admit that my ulterior motive was to use as much of the terrain I brought over as I could get away with.  This was the first time any of these pieces saw the light of day on a game table, and I didn't want this opportunity to go by the wayside.

"Setting Sail" (Getting Started)

Looking back, I realized we deployed our fleets incorrectly for this scenario.  (This wasn't the only thing we muddled up in the game).  According to the Special Rules, we were suppose to place our ships in one long "line astern," along opposite coastlines, and stay in this formation, moving forward, based on the Aggression Number we each secretly chose (from 1-6) combined with the current turn number.

Well, we didn't quite do that...


...so it took 8 turns in a 6 turn game just to get within artillery range of each other.  If that is, we had any artillery on our ships.  Another reason for the delayed approach was due to the slow speed of our flagships, and our desire to have our respective fleets keep station with them.


The Battle is--Finally--Joined!

Once five of Dean's ships opened the battle by head-on ramming four of my ships, it was all over in three turns.

One...

...two...

...three.

A Glance at the Game Mechanics

Our fleets spent most of the time closing on each other.  But once battle was joined, we sort-of followed the turn sequence, which is divided into three phases.

Phase 1--Initiative:
Each player rolls a die, with the highest roller deciding whether to go first or not.

Phase 2--Operational:
Players alternate moving each of their squadrons, (Dean and I move our whole fleets until we discovered our error), and conduct actions in the following sub-phases--
--Movement
--Artillery
--Oar Strikes
--Rams
--Boarding

Phase 3--Morale:
Players make are required to make a morale check when a significant number of casualties are incurred.

In our game, by the end of the third turn of combat, both of us had to make morale checks, based on the prerequisites listed on page 17 and the QRS.  I lost over 1/4 of the ships in my fleet, while Dean's flagship was sunk.  In a stroke of rare good luck for me, I passed my morale check, but Dean didn't, which meant that his fleet took flight.

So victory was decided by a single die roll.

We were surprised at how quick and lethal ram attacks could be.  According to the rules on ramming (page 13), warships can make 1-4 "ram strikes" per attack, based on a vessel's size.

This is automatic.

Once rammed, the defending player has to roll a six-sided die (d6) for each strike and make a saving throw in order to avoid damage.  Several of the smaller ship types only have one hull point.  So if a player blows his saving throw the ship sinks.  Some can't even make a saving throw, so they sink automatically if rammed.  The medium-sized ships have two hull points, while the massive Deceres and larger Polyremes have three or four.

Overall Evaluation

For a 64-page book selling for about $20, Dean and I thought Poseidon's Warriors was a "convention-friendly" set of rules.  That is, the rules are simple enough for a gamemaster to run a massive session commanded by table-top land-lubbers, and bring the game to a decisive conclusion before the period ends.

Since Poseidon's Warriors is only 64 pages long, Dean and I felt the "Fluff" (backstory/history) could have been eliminated, or at least reduced more, in favor of a tad more "Crunch" (game mechanics).  Instead of artwork, like this found on page 15...


...while evocative; maps, diagrams and examples of play would have been more helpful, especially in understanding the scenario set up.

We also had a question about command and control.  Ships are organized into squadrons of 1-5 vessels, depending on size, which are suppose to remain within 2 inches of each other, in the case of a multi-ship squadron.  However, there's no other requirement, which made us wonder how far apart can squadrons be from each other, or the flagship.

Even though no merchant/transports were used in our game, being an Age-of-Sail enthusiast, I'm still not crazy about these vessels moving "...in any direction irrespective of the wind" (page 21, in the Advanced Rules).  This is unrealistic, because it gives sail-powered ships the ability to turn back around and flee from danger.  A small change of "...in any direction, except heading [within an easy-to-identify azimuth, say 60 or 90 degrees], into the wind..." would have been within Poseidon's Warriors play-ability parameters.

There's one other issue regarding this small rulebook that I mentioned in my first impression post--the font size.  The print in Poseidon's Warriors is small, I'm guessing size-10, and the charts are at least two sizes smaller.  In my rush to reach Dean's place, I forgot my bifocal reading glasses.  During the game we had to hold the rulebook at arm's length to see the fine print.

Despite these quibbles, Dean and I liked the rules and thought the author, John Lambshead, accomplished what he set out to do--provide a playable set of rules for large-scale classical naval battles.  (Designer's Notes can be found on pages 86-87 in Issue #346 of Wargames Illustrated).

Further Readings

In addition to the Channel Dash Scenario I insisted we decided on playing, there are 5 more generic scenarios featured on pages 27-38, along with an outline for a campaign, and historical scenarios on pages 38-60.

A Suggested Reading List For Scenario Ideas is on page 61.

But if pouring over dusty tomes isn't your amphora of wine, you can glean and adopt scenario ideas from GMT's War Galley Living Rules Page and Great Battles of History (GBoH) Scenario Page.

Another rules review can be found on Rams, Ravens and Wrecks.

One final bit of advice for Poseidon's Warriors:  Don't get rammed!

(Screenshot from:  Total War Rome II)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Initial Play-Through of "Poseidon's Warriors"



"Naval battles in antiquity were totally sweet because they were little more than aquatic demolition derbies...Essentially it worked like this:  a fleet of insane wooden deathtraps masquerading as warships would load up with enough sword-swinging warriors to choke a Rancor...and then sail around at top speed with the single-minded goal of crashing head-on into an enemy ship..."
(Badass Ultimate Deathmatch, by Ben Thompson, pg 18, The Battle of Salamis).

Fortunately, Dean and I didn't have to board any wooden deathtraps to play our demo of Poseidon's Warriors.  Instead, we broke out Dean's miniatures, my terrain, and gently pushed the figures around with the single-minded goal of touching bases to represent said head-on crashes in the aquatic demolition derby known as:

The Battle of the Straits of Juno de Fulvio

Two Roman fazions (factions in Italian), led by emperor wannabees Balbus Blu and Rufus Rosso, seek to supply their loyal, as in bought-and-paid-for, legions by sea.  To do so, grain ships must pass through the narrow Straits of Juno de Fulvio. 

Balbus dispatches Diocletian (Dean) with a small flotta (fleet) consisting of the following:

1 x hexareme flagship
2 x squadrons of cataphract triremes (5 ships each)
2 x squadrons of cataphract quadriremes  (3 ships each)

In a case of delusions-of-grandeur minds thinking alike, Rufus dispatches Titus (Ted) with an identical force.

Diocletian and Titus put to sea with their new-formed Blu (Blue) and Rosso (Red) Flottas, respectively, and attempt to secure the straits for their paymasters.

Rosso Flotta enters the straits from the east, and Blu Flotta, already in the midst of the straits, approaches from the west.
Rosso Flotta enters the straits' Centrale Canale (Central Channel).

Meanwhile, Blu Flotta is sailing along the Nord Costa (North Coast).
Enemy sighted!  Diocletian orders Blu Flotta to turn into the Centrale Canale.
As Rosso Flotta passes between Canale Isola Tre and Quattro (Channel Islands Three and Four), Titus orders his ships to deploy from column-of-squadrons to line-a-breast.
The two flottas near the center of the straits.
As Rosso Flotta begins changing formation between Isola Tre and Quattro, Blu Flotta is approaching Canale Isola Due (Channel Island Two, in the center).
Rosso Flotta's line-of-battle is almost complete.
Blu Flotta's Nord Costa Squadrone (squadron, near the top of the picture), starts to slip between Isole Uno and Due.
However, the signal flag couldn't be seen properly as the Blu Nave Ammiraglia (the Blue Flagship) is masked by Isola Due.  As a result, the Nord Costa Commandte misinterpreted the signal and ordered his squadrone to turn back to the west.
A view from the Sud Costa (South Coast):  Both flottas are just outside striking distance.  Blu Flotta has been keeping station, while Diocletian frantically orders new signal flags hoisted aloft to countermand Nord Costa Squadrone's retreat.
The same point in time, but viewed from the Nord Costa.
Blu Flotta's Nord Costa Squadrone finally comes about.
The flottas close with each other.  Two Blu triremes brave the Meridionale Banchi (Southern Shoals).
The battle is joined!
Diocletian's "Blu Nave" rams a Rosso trireme, while four Blu triremes ram three Rosso triremes head-on.
A closer view of the Blu Nave's attack.
The Rosso sailors come out worse for wear, as four of their triremes are sunk, compared to only two Blu ships.  However, the Blu Nave suffered some hull damage as a result of the head-on ram.
A close-up of the carnage viewed from the edge of the Meridionale Banchi.
Titus orders his flagship, "Rosso Nave," and nearby smaller ships to converge on his counterpart, the Blu Nave.
Diocletian orders the Blu Nave to press on and strike first, attacking another Rosso trireme...
...and sending it to the bottom.
But Blu Nave, already the slowest ship in the flotta, has been taking on water, slowing it even further.  Diocletian orders the rowers to increase speed, but to no avail.  His flagship is cornered and rammed by a Rosso trireme and quadreme.
The Blu Nave quickly sinks beneath the waves, as Titus' "Rosso Nave," approaches the scene. 
Is Diocletian among the handful of survivors clinging to the floating wreckage?
The Rosso Flotta's Nord Costa Squadrone takes up a blocking position between the Isola Uno and Due.
With their flagship--and possibly admiral--gone, Blu Flotta backs away, turns and retreats back to the west.  Meanwhile, Titus orders the remaining ships of Rosso Flotta to consolidate around Isole Uno and Due, in order to search for Diocletian--to capture him and hold him for ransom.
This has been an embellished account of how our game unfolded. 

In my next blog post, I'll discuss how things happened, some game mechanics, what Dean and I liked about Poseidon's Warriors, and what could be tweaked with some house-rules.

While I'm writing the upcoming rules analysis, check out Dean's pictures and battle report on his popular WAB Corner blog.