Sunday, May 24, 2009

Enfilade 09 Report

Well it's been another year that I've been lucky enough to attend NHMGS's (Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society's) Enfilade! Convention.

Normally this event is held on Memorial Day Weekend, which this year was 22-24 May at the Red Lion Inn in Olympia, WA.

Opening day was Friday and I wanted to get there as early as possible. While the convention usually opens at 2 PM (1400 hours for us military-types), I've hardly ever been lucky enough to arrive that early. Travelling this past Friday was particularly frustrating.

I was invited to attend a job-fair orientation up in Seattle, an event that lasted until 1 PM. Since I was nearby, I took the opportunity to have lunch with one of my close friends who works nearby the job-fair site. I left Seattle at 2 PM hoping to get to Olympia by 4:00.

No such luck. Due to the holiday weekend, Friday afternoon traffic was worse than usual. Plus I tried returning an item to a store, but since it was passed the due-date on their return policy, I couldn't get my money back. So not only did I waste $25 but 30 minutes of my time. So I didn't arrive at Enfilade until 5:30 PM.

Despite my love of wargaming, I also like to keep in shape. So I usually don't stay long on the first night because I want to get up early and do a short workout before going back to the gaming tables.

I thought I'd arrive early enough for the pre-registered gaming sign-up on Saturday morning. I overshot that by 45 minutes. So I got involved in the DBA (De Bellis Antiquitatis) Tournament.

More on DBA:

This session was an 8-player tournament pitting 4 Roman Players against 4 Barbarian players. I placed 2nd among the Roman Players!

Um, and 6th overall.

I had my heart set on playing, "The Battle of Rhode Island," hosted by Wes Rogers. His set-up is pictured below:

Wes ran the Napoleonic game I played at last year's Enfilade. This was the game I turned into my first YouTube film The Road to Eggmuehl. He's a great gamemaster and runs fast-pace, balanced and exciting scenarios.

Getting back to DBA, pictured below is my Roman Army advancing against the Visigoths at Adrianople. My opponent was Rich from Canada. We fought to a draw, each of us eliminating one unit from each other's army. I won the next battle, but then lost my last two. I took 22 pictures of Adrianople and will make a short YouTube film.

After re-playing the various Roman military disasters, I spent the next gaming period as a wargame correspondent for Chris Ewick's Battle of Kursk, using Flames of War:

Chris is the owner of The Game Matrix, our local gaming store. About a month ago he asked me if I would film his game and I promised him I would.

I spent this game session entirely on my feet. There were 13 players involved in this game! Seven Russian players, most pictured below and 6 German players, not to mention Chris as the gamemaster and your's truly crowding around the table. I ended up taking 280 pictures for this tank vs tank bash! However, this is just "raw footage." I probably won't be able to use about 1/3 of my photos due to 13 pairs of arms and hands getting in the way.

The game was fought to a tie. The Germans destroyed enough Russian tanks to cause the Russians to be shaken, however the Russian's kept the Germans out of the town they were holding.

Pictured below is Chris (on the left in the black shirt) briefing the Russian players. The German players or off-camera to the left.

The last game I played was an unexpected choice for me: "The Battle of Naktong" (Korean War):
The rules used were Cold War Commander:

I decided to play this when I found out that one of my wargaming buddies, Adrian was playing. We both ended up being the North Koreans determined to drive the Yanqui Devils from the People's Democratic Republic. The rules required unit commanders to "activate" the units under their command by rolling 2x6-sided dice. If the player rolls the commander's "activation rating" or less, then the unit can move, or shoot. A unit as often as it is activated. Once a commander blows his die roll then the unit stops.

My infantry couldn't even make it out of Naktong village! (This is partially seen at the bottom of the picture). I guess the People's Democratic Republic soldiers decided they preferred drinking decadent soju over fighting the Republic's enemies.

After taking 97 pictures of this battle, my camera's battery finally died when we were about 3/4th's of they way through the game. I took 97 pictures of this battle.

Adrian's infantry was seriously mauled on the hill of our left flank. My armored column (minus the drunken infantry) drive down the right-flank valley destroying 2 Yanqui Chaffee tanks. Unfortunately 2 of the white-devil's Pershing tanks showed up and destroyed one of my SU-76's which blocked the pass. Fortunately Adrian's armored column destroyed the Yanqui tanks in the left-flank valley.

The path to victory lay open to the glorious army of the People's Democratic Republic and it's Dear Leader!

Seriously, it was a fun convention and it was great seeing several of the guys I've gotten to know these past several years.

I'm looking forward to Enfilade 2010!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Star Trek Movie Review

My wife & I saw Star Trek this past weekend and I can describe the movie in one word:


The film's action takes off at warp speed and barely lets up. But this isn't purely an action flick. The emotions evoked by the primary characters and their antagonist are as fiery as a solar flare.

I rate this as the best Star Trek movie yet. (Yes, even beating out Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Non-trekkies have raved about this film. Although some critics won't give this the same 5-star rating I do.

What makes this movie so good? (Warning, my examples below contain plot spoilers...)

The movie starts off with a bang--literally. A giant, evil-looking vessel emerges from a space anomaly and attacks the Federation starship USS Kelvin. The intruder is captained by Nero, a Romulan Renegade from the future. With the Kelvin crippled and the captain dead, George Kirk sacrifices the Kelvin--and himself--to cover the crew's evacuation. A crew that includes his wife giving birth to James T. Kirk.

Nero is on a quest for vengeance against Ambassador Spock and the rest of the Federation for the future-destruction of the planet Romulus by a supernova. The problem is: Spock's ship, which also fell through the same anomaly, hasn't arrived yet.

Nero did more than blast a Federation starship and kill Kirk Senior. His emergence has now altered the Star Trek timeline. As a result, James T. Kirk grows up to be a troubled townie in Iowa. Spock being half-human has his own growing pains. The two meet at Starfleet Academy and clash after Kirk "alters the conditions" of the famous Kobeyashi Maru Simulation.

What follows next, is a roller-coaster ride depicting the first mission for the USS Enterprise and her crew. But the movie is not just a special-effects extravaganza. Even when the action drops out of warp speed, the personal drama is just as blazing, if not more so, than the action.

In fact, I'd say the drama was primal. "Primal" is screenwriter Blake Snyder's favorite word. According to his book Save the Cat!, if you want to a story to grab your audience, then play on their primal instincts: Survival, hunger, protection of a loved one, fear of death and sex. (Remember we're dealing with a 20-something James T. Kirk).

And this movie touches just about touches on all of these.

Along with high-drama, director J.J. Abrams deftly handles the character development of all the Enterprise's bridge crew. We're talking about characters fans have known and loved for over 40 years! Accomplishing the this was no small feat. And no Star Trek movie worth it's dilithium crystals would be complete without by-lines, catch-phrases and well-known character mannerisms. All this occurs throughout the film but never feels forced or cheesy.

In the end, the valiant crew of the Enterprise prevails as they always did, but this time cost is enormous. Not only is Kirk's father killed by Nero, but so is Spock's mother--along with about 6 billion Vulcans when their planet is destroyed.

Since the original Star Trek series aired, the United Federation of Planets evolved into a near-Utopian society, especially with the next-generation style shows. J.J. Abrams' movie shows us a slightly grittier Federation--and then hits it with a body-blow. Vulcan was not some tiny colony in the outer reaches, but a core world of the Federation. Not only that, but it's a planet that's existed in the minds of fans for 43 years. Unlike the planet Alderaan, which was blasted by the Death Star within the first hour of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope.

Now despite my rave review, this latest rendition of Star Trek continues the show's penchant for coming up with some off-the-wall pseudo-scientific gobbledygook. Or, in the words of "filksinger" Voltaire--to make sh*t up:

In this case we're introduced to "red matter," a black-hole inducing doomsday material; which of course the crazed villain Nero manages to get his hands on.

And when Kirk & Scotty need to get off a desolate ice-planet and get back on board the Enterprise flying away at warp-ludicrous speed, what do they do? They beam aboard using "trans-warp beaming."

How convenient.

However, color-coded doomsday matter and the make-stuff-up synergy of the Enterprise crew doesn't detract anything from the movie. In a way it enhances the film. Because it wouldn't be a true Star Trek movie if there wasn't anything to poke fun at! It's part of what has made Star Trek so much fun to watch over the years.

So it's a dark & dangerous galaxy the Enterprise venturing into. But for those of us sitting in the comfy multi-plexes, the future seems bright & amusing.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Kind of Cake!

"Oooh! I get a rose!"
That's my battle-cry anytime I see frosted cake--even if it's someone else's birthday. Since the frosting is the best part of the whole confection, I've always made a grab for the frosted roses.
What's funny is that I nearly always get away with it.
Usually because very few people have a sweet tooth like mine and the massive sugar rush would put them into a coma. I also think it's because I provide some additional entertainment for the get-together: A grown man throwing a hissy-fit over frosted roses.
I've seen cakes like this (okay, drooled over them) and wondered what they'd taste like. Since my wife knows about my frosting fetish she bought me to this baked beauty for my recent birthday.
Of course I carved myself a big hunk (okay, and a smaller second piece) right away. The frosting was actually a light, non-dairy cream; tasting like sweetened Cool-Whip. The bakery folks told my wife that these cakes are often made with lighter cream so the roses and other frosted artwork can stand-up better. That such large frosted decorations would be too dense to hold its own weight using the super-sweet butter&sugar frosting.
So I didn't go into a coma. Not yet anyway. The folks at the bakery didn't say the never make a cake like this out of butter&sugar frosting...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

D&D PC: Thelanis Menelmacar, Elf Warrior

Striding through the wilds of The Forgotten Realms, Thelanis is represented by Wizards of the Coast Deep Shadow Elf, Collector # 14/72, of their Giants of Legend set.

Thelanis explores ancient ruins. (Another portal to Middle Earth?)

A fighter from Cormyr, Thelanis aspired to join the kingdom's Purple Dragon Knights (officers of the army). Unfortunately he was slandered by a rival who accused him of being a Zhentarim spy. Forced into exile he became an adventurer traveling throughout the Silver Marches.
Despite receiving news that his rival's accusations were false, there has been no word of a pardon by Cormyr's Regent, Princess Alusair Obarskyr. Alusair assumed the duties of Regent for the infant, King Azoun V, after his father and the red dragon Nalavarauthatoryl ("Devil Dragon") killed each other in battle. (See pages 111-116 of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, 3rd Edition).
Now Alusair and her sorceress advisor, Caladnei are tasked with rebuilding a nation and may have more urgent matters than the pardoning of one elf warrior.
In any case, Thelanis discovered he enjoyed the freedom of adventuring over a regimented military life. In his early travels he met-up with Mithdrake, the elf wizard. The elf-pair faced many challanges in the Silver Marches. After assaulting a hobgoblin fortress, Thelanis discovered Astalder, a magic sword forged to protect the helpless. Unfortunately, the discovery came at a high price, for Mithdrake was killed in the assault.
Eventually, Thelanis made his way to Blasingdell and along with Selinda the Bardess, helped the town militia drive-off a large party of orc raiders. The pair were soon joined by: Harkin, the Half-Elf Ranger; Pilga, the Half-Orc Cleric of Ilmater; Shem, the Halfling Sorcerer and a Dwarven Rogue, known to them only as "The Dwarf with no Name." (In actually he was Ondahl the Silent Killer).
The six then set out for Stone Tooth Mountain at the behest of Blasingdell's Elders. (See the previous post on Harkin). The party has yet to return...
Note: I rolled-up Thelanis way back in high school when I first started playing D&D 2nd Edition. He was my third character; the first two meeting untimely ends. So I'm afraid I can't remember all his "mighty feats" clearly enough to post here. It's been a long hiatus for this PC and was glad my DM friend allowed me to include him in the Silver Marches Campaign. However, since this campaign seems to have fallen by the wayside, maybe Thelanis and Harkin will emerge from Stone Tooth Mountain to take on the forces of evil that are plaguing the Forgotten Realms...

Thelanis Menelmacar's Stats
Campaign: Forgotten Realms Class: Fighter
Race: Male Elf Alignment: LG Level: 4
Height: 5'8" Weight: 150 lbs Eyes: Green Hair: Blond
Initiative: +5 Base Attack: +4 Speed: 30
Saving Throws: Fort-4, Ref-2, Will-1
Attack Bonuses: Ranged +6, Melee +7
Abilities: Str-13, Dex-12, Con-11, Int-13, Wis-11, Cha-12
HP: 31 AC: 19
Special Abilities/Feats: Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (Longsword), Alertness
Skills (Trained): Climb, Handle Animal, Innuendo, Jump, Listen, Profession (Guide), Ride, Search, Sense Motive, Spot, Swim
Languages: Common, Elven, Damaran, Gnome, Goblin, Halfling, Turmic
Weapons: Mighty Composite Longbow (+1 to dmg), Magic Longsword Astalder (Elvish for "Valiant One," is +1 to hit/dmg; +3 to hit/dmg when defending unarmed/wounded beings), Silver Dagger
Armor: Elven Chainmail (+1), Shield (small, metal), Locked Gauntlet
Ammunition: 60 arrows, 10 silver arrows, 10 masterwork arrows
Equipment: Backpack, Tinderbox, Steel Mirror, Oil Flasks (x2), Sack, Bedroll, Whetstone, Flint & Steel, Paper & Ink, Sewing Needles, Thread, Signal Whistle, Chalk, Candles (x2), Waterskin, Belt Pouch, Spy Glass, Map Case, Tinder Twigs (x10), Soap, Silk Rope
Money/Treasure: Signet Ring, GP-225 on person, 1,500 held in family estate/lending house.
Companion Animals: 2 x heavy warhorses, Menelay ("Friday," male) and Valanya ("Saturday," female). These two were named after the days they were born.
Menelay's Attributes: Str-18, Dex-13, Con-17, Int-2, Wis-13, Cha-6
Menelay's Saving Throws: Fort-7, Ref-5, Will-2
Valanya's Attributes: Str-16, Dex-13, Con-16, Int-3, Wis-14, Cha-7
Valanya's Saving Throws: Fort-6, Ref-5, Will-3
Note: Astalder's power is similar to Townsaver, one of the magic swords in Fred Saberhagen's Books of Swords series.
Book of Swords Wikipedia entry:
The Twelve Swords of Power:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Magazine Review: Table Top Teasers Vol 1

Henry Hyde launched Battlegames in 2006 and one of the regular features of this new gaming magazine was "Table Top Teasers" written by Charles Grant. However, Brigadier (ret) Grant's articles weren't exactly a new feature. Charles Grant's first wargame scenario was published in Battle for Wargamers in February 1978. Since then he and his son have made major contributions to the wargaming hobby, not just in the UK, but throughout the world. Charles Grant's book The War Game remains a classic.

Table Top Teasers Vol 1 is a compilation of the first 12 "teasers" to appear in Battlegames magazine. But there's more to this booklet than a dozen scenarios. Nearly every scenario is followed by battle report of a game played tested using one of Grant's teasers. While the scenarios were originally written for Napoleonic battles, the use of generic terms allows wargamers to modify them to fit other historical, or even science fiction and fantasy settings. These games were played by some of the UK's most well known wargamer-authors, such as Angus Konstam, Ross Mafarlane, Jim Purky and Bill Protz. If I left anyone out, that's because Volume 2 appears to be in the works. Also included is an introduction on the origins of "Table Top Teasers" along with a discussion of historical battles versus scenarios and a product list.

I've bought several issues of Battlegames since its debut and Grant's "Table Top Teasers" is my favorite section. Unfortunately, since I'm not a subscriber and don't always get regular issues here in the US, there's been a large gap in my "teaser" library.

But no more, thanks to this special edition and--hopefully--more to follow.

What I've enjoyed most about "Table Top Teasers," is that each scenario presents the players with a unique tactical puzzle--hence the name. These are not just "line 'em up and have at it" encounters. In addition to enemy forces, players may have to contend with hostile natives, treacherous rapids (and allies), exploding bridges, ancient artifacts and buried treasure; just to name a few curves that can be thrown at players in any given scenario.

From what I've read of the play testing reports, each scenario is well balanced and more often than not, provides a down-to-the-wire finish.

This is a 5-star product that I'm looking forward to implementing in future gaming sessions someday.

Table Top Teasers Vol 1 can be purchased directly from the Battlegames website: