Sunday, October 27, 2013

Desktop Wallpaper for Miniature Backdrops

(Image from WallpaperUp)

Yesterday I spent nearly four hours looking at pictures on Wallpaper Up. It's certainly easy for any writer to get distracted while "doing research" on the internet.

But I swear this wasn't the case--for the most part.

I've been on a quest for exotic miniature backdrops to add to my meagre collection, which can be seen here and here. Most of the stuff I found, like Ez Scenes are more suited for model railroading, depicting 1950s American and Europe than the "...galaxy far, far away."

After a couple of hours of fruitless trolling, I was about to give up in despair. Then I stumbled across Wallpaper Up. The site is actually designed to provide desktop wallpaper for computer screens. But that didn't stop me from spending an additional two hours downloading and printing various images to use as backdrops for upcoming chapters of Breakout from Bongolaan.

I focused my search on: Planets in Science Fiction, Futuristic Cityscapes, Futuristic Landscapes and was just taking my first peek at Battle Scenes and Star Wars, before calling it a night.

Of the 50 images I downloaded, I printed nine pieces of wallpaper art on standard 8" x 11" cardstock, that I felt would be large enough for close-up shots. There's at least two dozen photos and on-line artwork I'd like to enlarge and paste on 20" x 30" poster boards.

"I'd like to..." being the operative phrase. To accomplish this, I'll have to take these to a print or photography shop. I may trim this list down, once I get over the sticker shock of the cost per page.

In the meantime, it's back to trolling through Wallpaper Up for more images, like this...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: Steed and Mrs. Peel

When I see this title: The Avengers, what comes to mind isn't the comic book band of superheroes, or their recent movie.

Instead, I'm reminded of the British "spy-fi" series of the '60's, which had a longer history and was more stylistically convoluted than most fans remember.  The episodes I primarily recall are the ones with Diana Rigg, of which she only costarred in 51 out of the 160 episodes.  Then there were the subsequent episodes with Linda Thorson

While I consider myself a fan of the show, writing this review was enlightening for me.  I had no idea there were costars beyond Diana Rigg an Linda Thorson.  Like:  Honor BlackmanIan Hendry (the original costar) and Julie Stevens; along with the handful of other performers who were teamed up with Patrick Macnee for an episode or three. 

As to the graphic novel, Steed and Mrs. Peel reunites dapper secret agent John Steed with Emma Peel, shortly after she's reunited with her husband Peter.  The book consists of two stories compiled from the original comics.  In The Golden Game, Steed asks for Mrs Peel's help in finding his new partner Tara King

While in Deadly Rainbow, Emma and Peter revisit their honeymoon spot, only to find it's been covertly taken over by uninvited guests.

The novel effectively captures the quirkiness of the series and the banter between Steed and Mrs. Peel.  Equally quirky is the artwork by Ian Gibson.  He does an excellent job at portraying Steed.  But while Mrs. Peel is beautifully drawn, her figure and especially facial features, appear to be more stark and sharper than Diana Rigg actually was. 

Meanwhile, the supporting cast, extras and villains are often caricatures.  But this may be the artist's way of illustrating just how weird some of Steed and Peel's enemies were.

You don't have to be an avid fan of The Avengers to enjoy the graphic novel.  It certainly helps though, in order to understand the back story between Steed and Mrs. Peel.  To gain such knowledge, this Avengers Forever website, by David K. Smith, contains synopses and reviews of nearly every episode, along with other bits of Avengers trivia.  The site was semi-retired in 2008, but remains open when "...something truly extraordinary happens..." like in 2011 for the series' 50th Anniversary.

Mr. Smith's on-line encyclopedia also contains a link to a more up-to-date Avengers Declassified site.  But when I tried delving into it, my computer would lock up.  So be wary.

If you're doing your own on-line search, be sure to type "The Avengers British TV series" in the query box.  Otherwise, you'll be led to the Marvel Comics version.

And speaking of comic book producers, Boom! Studios continues to carry the Steed and Mrs Peel seris in two versions, Steed and Mrs Peel #1-6 (compiled in the graphic novel of this review) and Steed and Mrs Peel Ongoing #1 through the final Issue #11

Since I haven't delved into the not-so-ongoing Ongoing Series, I'm not sure how this fits into the stories I just read.  I'll never understand why comic book publishers run different story lines--it just confuses the readers--or at least it confuses me. 

But I did like how The Golden Game provides an interface between Tara King and Emma Peel, while Deadly Rainbow gives the reader more than a glimpse of Peter Peel. 

Overall I rate the initial Steed and Mrs. Peel graphic novel as 3.5-star material.  Better than a 3, but not-quite 4.  The only thing missing is the trailer and end credits.  (The better black and white version was taken off YouTube due to a copywright violation).

And any comic book or graphic novel is certainly better than the horrid 1998 film...

...which not even Uma Thurman in a pre-Kill Bill catsuit could save this box office cluster bomb from detonating.  The only people I know who like this movie, never saw the original series, which probably explains the generous 3.5 rating out of 10 on IMDB.

There you go:  A book and movie review rolled into one blogpost.

Anyway, I look forward to reading more about the "original" Avengers and maybe even someday collecting the DVDs that are available.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Navigating November

(Image:  "Bomber Girl")

When it comes to what's currently going on in the gaming, literary and entertainment realms; I admit I'm not the most timely blogger. But once every blue moon occassionally, I stumble across an event before it actually occurs and I can pass this news on to you.

In this case, there's actually a few upcoming happenings I happened to stumble across.

First, our regional gaming group, the Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society (NHMGS) will be hosting our annual game day at The Museum of Flight.

Then last weekend my friend Adrian told me about the Jet City Comic Show, which is to be held in Tacoma, instead of Seattle. 
And finally, today I received an online newsletter from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) inviting members to the Northwest Bookfest, at Northwest University in Kirkland.

Notice the "common theme?"
Yup.  They're all to be held on, or start on, the same day--November 2nd.
I'm not sure which segment of this "GameDay ShowFest" I'll go to.  Off-the-cuff, I'm inclined to attend the Jet City Comic Show, provided there'll be some workshops.  While the comic show and the game day sound like a whole lot of fun, I plan on resuming my webcomic, Breakout from Bongolaan and I want to learn how I can do better than what I'm doing now.
But with less than two weeks to go before show time, the Jet City website isn't listing any workshops yet.  So as a "Plan B" I'm scouring the Northwest Bookfest site to see if there's any seminars that tickle my fancy. 
Or maybe I'll stay home and work on my webcomic.  In anycase, these events are tame compared to:
Banging out 50k words during the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), otherwise known as "November" to non-writers.

You should finish your work-in-progress just in time to stretch and warm-up for the Seattle Marathon.  Just the thing to burn-up all those Thanksgiving calories.
If I've overlooked any impending November event, I'll try to write about it before Christmas.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pass in Review: US Marine Corps Regular Infantry Fire Team

It's been almost a year since I posted my last Pass in Review of figures.  The reason is simple:  I haven't bought, or otherwise obtained, any new miniatures to make a post about.

A few weeks ago I visited my friend Dan, who gave me his small collection of Star Wars Miniatures and other assorted space gaming accessories. 

As an added bonus, he threw-in his copy of Dogs of War (DoW), rules for modern skirmish-level combat.  (Skirmish-level meaning one figure represents one individual).  He also gave me the USMC fireteam he painted:
Although Dan felt the color scheme on the figures' uniforms were a little off, I think he did a fantastic job painting them. 
The DoW rules along with the figures pictured above, were produced by Devil Dog Design.  Unfortunately, the company has been out of business for about five years.  I know I'm very late in announcing this news, but I own a small handful modern-era wargames and miniatures, so I'm not up-to-date on such happenings. 
It also came as a surprise that Devil Dog Design was headquartered near my hometown in upstate New York.  Had I known this earlier, I would have bought more of their products to "support the home team." 

I haven't read DoW yet, but for anyone else who owns the rules, or are at least familiar with them, here's some of the basic stats I gleaned from pages 65-66 of the Appendix--

Team Composition (250 points):

Fire Team Leader w/M16A2 and M203 grenade launcher (40 mm)
Rifleman w/M16A2 assault rifle (5.56 mm)
Machine Gunner w/M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW--5.56 mm)
Assistant Machine Gunner w/M16A2

Note:  DoW was published in 2003, so the assault rifles may be upgraded for scenarios beyond this year.

Standard Equipment for each Marine:

Kevlar helmet, body armor, gas mask, combat knife, bayonet, 2 x fragmentation grenades, 210 rounds of 5.56 ammo, 4 x 40mm grenades (carried by the team leader) and 400 extra rounds of 5.56 mm ammo.

Special Equipment Availability (for additional point purchases per item):

GPS (30), NVGs (30), laser designator (30), anti-personnel mines (25 for 2), shaped charge (20), C4 (25 per 1/4-lb. stick) and claymores (20).

Innate Abilities for each Marine:

Expert Rifleman, Disciplined, Go Faster and Line Trained.

Additional Ability Modifiers may also be available for each marine (for additional point purchases):

Dedicated Marksman (15), Gun Nut (5), Close Combat Expert (10), Gold's Gym Member (5), Hard Corps (10), OCS Candidate (5), Combat Engineer (30) and Mountaineering (30).

Typical Marine Abilities:

Weapon Proficiency (WP):  6
Weapon Knowledge (WK):  7
Close Quarter Combat (CQ):  5
Strength (ST):  5
Fortitude (FT):  5
Health (HP):  5
Armor Rating (AR--w/o body armor and w/body armor): 0/5
Morale (ML): 8
Command & Control (CC): 7/LOS (line of sight)

While DoW is out of print, Ambush Alley Games, in conjunction with Osprey Publishing, are still in the business of printing their skirmish-level rules Force on Force (FoF).
I have a copy of FoF, along with Classified: Special Operations, 1940--2010 and Bush Wars: Africa, 1967-2010 (all of them currently unread).
Using FoF, the USMC fireteam composition is nearly the same as in DoW, with the following exceptions:
1. The M203 is carried by a Grenadier and not the Team Leader.
2. The assault rifles are M16A4s (as of 2009 when these rules were printed).
Combat Stats for USMC Fireteam (from page 167 of the FoF rulebook):
Initiative Level:  D8 to D10
Confidence Level:  Confident to High
Supply Level: Normal
Body Armor: 1D
Troop Quality: D8 to D10
Troop Morale: D10 to D12
Now that I have a Marine Corps fireteam and a choice of rules, all I need now are two more fireteams to make a marine squad.  Oh!  And a support vehicle or three, not to mention a horde of bad guys for my marines to fight...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Product Review: Pathfinder NPC Codex and Bestiary (#1)

I've playing Dungeons & Dragons on and off (mostly "off" lately) since the late '70s.  Despite any nostalgic feelings, D&D 3.0/3.5 is my favorite edition.  While I have the core rulebooks for D&D 4.0, no one I know in the local gaming groups play it.  Despite my affection for D&D 3.0/3.5, I've been a slow adaptor to Paizo Publishing's version of D&DPathfinder RPG
When a local group started a couple of Pathfinder RPG (roleplaying game) campaigns, I dipped my toe into the game system by buying the Beginner Box.  When I stumbled across the Bestiary (currently #1 of 4) at Half Price Books a few months ago...

...I had to get the Bestiary Box of Pawns, which I found later at a Hobbytown USA store in Oregon. 

I've always preferred to use miniatures in roleplaying games and I don't enjoy painting miniatures as much as many of my fellow gamers do.  So when Wizards of the Coast was producing its Miniatures Game, I bought figures by the bucket load, mostly inexpensive singles through on-line companies like the Miniatures Market, or Noble Knight Games.  (I don't like random packaging, along with the idea of making figures collectable). 
Since 2011, the folks at Paizo stepped-in with their cardboard pawns found in various box sets.
My latest acquisition was the NPC Codex Box, which I purchased at the The Game Matrix's booth during this summer's Dragonflight.  While not as fully-formed as actual miniatures, these stand-up carboard tokens will do in a pinch.  With nearly 350 NPC (non-player characters) in the box, ranging from lowly NPC Classes to Prestige Classes, a gamemaster has just about any type of NPC available that players may encounter. 
And the best part is:  You don't have to paint them! 
(The Bestiary Box contains nearly 260 pawns representing creatures ranging from small pixies to huge dragons and everything critter in-between).
The artwork is gorgeous and very detailed, while the carboard is thick enough to withstand repeated usage., especially since there's not enough of the black plastic stands for every pawn. 
I only have two minor complaints about the pawns.  First, when you punch out the pawns from the sheet, any large weapon an NPC is brandishing will be cut off.  So you only get a partial view of the weapon-in-hand.  My second complaint has more to do with my middle-aged eyesight than the product itself.  Since these pawns are flat and lack the full three-dimensional look of a miniature, it's hard for me to see all the details.  To do so, I had to use a magnifying glass while wearing my reading glasses.
For a while then, I had a bunch of NPC pawns but I had no idea what their game stats were.  Last week, I ordered the NPC Codex.
This lavishly illustrated book is a companion to the NPC Codex Box (as the Bestiary is to the Bestiary Box) and contains all the information a game master needs to conjure up NPCs on-the-fly, if necessary. 
Best of all, at least for my middle-aged eyes, is that I don't need a magnifying glass to see what the NPCs look like.  And if I hold the book at arms length, I don't need my reading glasses either.
Seriously, if you're planning on running a Pathfinder RPG campaign, you'll find the NPC/Bestiary Boxes and Codexes to be as invaluable as the core rulebook and the GameMastery Guide

Friday, October 11, 2013

Program Review: HISHE and Honest Trailers, plus Movie Review of Star Trek--Into Darkness (sort of)

Have you watched a movie lately and despite the extravagant special effects, feel underwhelmed when it's over?  Not to mention giving the film two thumbs down or a bushel of rotten tomatoes.

I felt the same way about Star Trek: Into Darkness, which I saw on DVD a couple weeks ago.  While I liked it--for the most part--but I had a lot of nagging questions about the film.  It wasn't until a few days later, when I had a chance to discuss Into Darkness with a coworker, that I had all the answers I needed for a definitive movie review.

But before I could get motivated to write the review I stumbled across Screen Junkies and their series of Honest Trailers.  My first introduction to their work was--as if on cue--Star Trek Into Darkness.

These guys (gals too?) are comedic geniuses at spotting plot holes and informing the viewer is really getting for his money, or pirated download. 

This particular trailer was done in collaboration with another band of creative comedians at How It Should Have Ended (HISHE)

Their latest film, maybe not-so coincidentally is How Star Trek Into Darkness Should Have Ended, which was done in collaboration with Screen Junkies

I've watched several HISHE movies now.  Each clip provides a short laugh-break raning from less than two minutes to over five.  I wouldn't say their endings are always "better," especially since things often don't end well for our heroes and heroines.  But they are funny, ranging from mild to hilarious. 

The only drawback is you have to have seen the original movies first, in order to understand the humor.  There are several of HISHE/Honest Trailer shows I haven't seen yet because I haven't watched the original films and I don't know if I'll ever get around to doing so. 

I mean, the idea of sitting through the entire Twilight Saga doesn't appeal to me at all. 

Thanks to HISHE and Screen Junkies, I may not do another movie review again and just provide links to their latest releases.

But then again, I need to practice my writing.

While I continue to practice my craft, you can subscribe to both sites on YouTube.

And while we're on the subject of the latest Star Trek reboots (well kind of), here's an Honest Trailer for the rebooted original Star Trek and how said reboot should have ended

Laugh long and prosper.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Review: Die Hard--Year One

Like most (all?) guys, I'm a big fan of the Die Hard movies.  True, some are better than others.  I haven't seen A Good Day to Die Hard yet and based on the reviews, I may be glad I didn't spend the money to see the film on the big screen.  I figure it should be worth the DVD--when it's on sale.
In the meantime, I took a literary step back in time--to 1976 to be exact.  That's when Die Hard: Year One takes place.  In this initial prequel to the movie series, NYPD rookie cop John McClane finds himself "at the wrong place at the wrong time." On his first day on the job, during America's Bicentennial celebration, McClane, sporting a full head of hair, see...
...crosses paths with crooked cops, a murder witness and of course, a band of terrorists.  It wouldn't be a Die Hard story without a band of terrorists. 
I came across my copy during the same spending spree at Half Price Books I mentioned in my last two book reviews.  (This is the last one from this batch, I promise!).
There are nearly two dozen copies available through, a dozen new and 20 used at the time of this post.  Four readers reviewed the novel, which is a compilation of four of the original comic books.  The point spread gives Year One a 4-star average rating, broken down as follows:  1x 5-star rating, 2 x 4-stars and 1 x 3-star.  Some of the detracting comments were about the thin plot, jerky scene transitions, spelling and character-sketch errors. 

It was also noted in the Die Hard Wiki that Year One was the first story that followed non-bad guy characters other than McClane.  (Although, while writing this, I'm reflecting on the movies and recall not every scene was centered on McClane).
I didn't catch any of these, but I did think the plot was rather predictable, with a story-line typical of the movies.  Still, I enjoyed the novel and admired the fine artwork.  It was like reading a Die Hard movie and worth awarding it a 4-star review.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Miniatures at the Military Academy


In my previous post I glossed over our tour through the West Point Museum.  We spent a couple hours inside, but as lunch time drew near and the beautiful sunny day beckoned, we cut indoor sightseeing short.

The museum is divided into seven galleries.  We managed to browse through four of them.  Specifically:

The West Point Gallery

The Small Weapons Gallery

The Large Weapons Gallery and

The History of Warfare Gallery

The sections we didn't see were:

The History of the US Army Gallery

The American Wars Gallery and

The Lucas Heritage Center

Maybe we'll check them out during some future trip back to New York.

Anyway, as a wargamer, what interested me the most were the dioramas. 

During my late childhood/early adolescence, I built models--military planes, ships and vehicles--but I got bored with having just sitting around collecting dust.  Once my brother gave me my first wargame, Kriegspiel for my 16th or 17th birthday, I gave up modelling altogether.

A year or two later, I got hooked on miniatures (not counting chucking pebbles at green army men, or Airfix figures when I was a kid).  So, while my painting skill hasn't improved over the years, it's easy for me to admire other people's figures, especially the musuem-quality work, found in--well--museums.

Even though I don't have my own models, or figures on display, I'm always fascinated by a diorama's blend of canvas art and miniatures.

The West Point Museum's History of Warfare Gallery has several dioramas, depicting key battles from the Roman Republic to World War II.  Each of these events highlighted a significant tactical and/or technical innovation.

On display are:



...the Battle of Crecy...




But the gallery isn't entirely devoted to land warfare.  Since one can find "Beat Navy" signs and and plaques all over the post, I guess it took an acception-to-policy for a ship model to be allowed into the museum. 

In this case it is HMS Vulture, the getaway vessel for Benedict Arnold.

As an American, I'd say the name "vulture" was appropriate. 
Overall, the History of Warfare Gallery is certainly worth a visit by any wargamer for inspiration, or looking to inspire others into our hobby.  Yes, the figures in each display do seem to be showing their age, but that should only motivate us to do better with our own miniatures. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Visit to West Point

Last week, my wife Janet, and I took a trip to New York State to visit my mom and a couple of siblings and siblings-in-law.  Lately though, in addition to visiting family, I've been wanting to see some of the historic sites my home state has to offer.  So on our return leg of our journey we managed to squeeze-in a 5-hour side trek to the US Military Academy (USMA) at West Point.

Since I'm retired military, we ended up entering through the back gate, who's name escapes me now, and drove downhill through the post.

(Note:  Army facilities are called posts, while Air Force and Navy ones are called bases).

 The drive-through helped somewhat as we exited the front gate and headed to the Visitor Center.   This place has several displays, a gift shop and is the starting point for West Point Tours.  Bus tours run from 1-2 hours in duration.  But since we were able to enter the post on our own, we decided we'd do a self-guided tour.

Which brings me to the one sour note about the Visitors Center:  The two women at the front desk weren't friendly at all and in fact, downright rude when we asked for some details about the post.  That is, until we told them we were military.  Then their attitudes brightened in a flash as they handed us a post map.

 We did some browsing in the gift shop, where one can find all sorts of items sporting the USMA Coat of Arms (COA)...

We spent about two hours in the museum, but only saw half of the exhibits.
(Note:  The above images are stock photos I hijacked from various sites, while the following pictures are samples of the ones Janet and I took).

It was near lunch time, we were getting hungry and wanted to spend our remaining hours outside in the sunshine. 

One of the first places I wanted to see was Fort Putnam, but we had trouble finding the pathway.  Also, from what we saw through the foliage, the site appeared to be undergoing a major renovation.  So we set ventured off to see the post's other points of interest.

It was at this moment we discovered the major flaw in our cunning self-guided tour plan:  Beyond the post exchange (PX--an on-post department store) and the commissary (the on-post grocery store), parking is nearly impossible to find unless you have a post parking pass.

A damned soul has a better chance of finding a cup of ice water in hell, than any of us tourist-types do in finding a spot to park a POV (privately owned vehicle).  Or at least one without running the risk of having our personal conveyance towed away.   

The first visitors' parking spot we managed to find was at the Cadet Chapel.

So we went inside for a look and spend a few moments in prayer...


"Cathedral" would be a better word to describe this iconic house of worship. It reminded me of the medieval cathedrals I visited in Germany, France and Hungary.  But this isn't the only church on the post.  We drove by the two chapel-sized chapels during our intra-post road trip:  The Most Holy Trinity Catholic Chapel and the Jewish Chapel.   

Despite the beautiful architecture and serene surroundings, West Point didn't start out as a place of higher learning for the US Army.  That didn't come about until 1802.  Prior to this, it was a series of fortifications overlooking the S-curve in the Hudson River

Thanks to the work of Tadeusz Kosciusko...
...the Key to the Continent remained secure throughout the American Revolutionary War

Although, thanks to Benedict Arnold we almost lost it. 
After Benedict finagled an assignment as commander of West Point, he immediately set about hamstringing the defenses, to include neglecting the Hudson River Chain
A portion of the orginal chain, thirteen links to be exact, can be seen here surrounding a monument:

A plethora of documentation is available on Arnold's attempt to sell West Point's deed to General Henry Clinton.  However, going by the commemorative plaques, like this one here on Memorial Wall...'d never know Benedict Arnold even existed. 
Interesting, but not surprising to me. 
Several years ago, my mom visited the Saratoga Battlefield Park.  She mentioned the Boot Monument and how she was the only one in the tour group who knew the boot's owner was none other than our hero-turned-traitor. 
Now it could be that Arnold's name and image are etched somewhere on the post.  Since our time was so short, we may have missed it.  But somehow I doubt it.
Arnold's apparent omission got me thinking the sessions of 1776, I played with my friend Tim.  We utilized the leader counters found in The GENERAL Magazine, Vol.25 No.4.  Predictably, there were two playing pieces representing Arnold:  One blue and one red.  At a certain point in the game, the American player would have to roll a die to determine if Arnold would exchange his Continental blue coat for a Redcoat red one.
Less than half-way through our game, Tim and I dubbed him Benedict "Ahnold":  Because, true to historic form, he was in the thickest of the fighting, occassionly winning a battle.  But more often than not, his command would be shot out from under him.  He'd show up a few turns later, be given another command and charge back into the fray, while the best any British could do against him was achieve some Pyrrhic victory.
Anyway, back to West Point of the present...

...we ended our self-guided tour just in time to buy some souvenirs and have dinner with one of Janet's sisters and her boyfriend.  We didn't buy much, because neither of us were ever cadets, nor do we have any family members who were.  Our prize possessions are two coffee mugs with a USMA COA on one side and a beautiful picture of the Cadet Chapel under a full moon on the other.
I wish I could write more about the on-going university aspect of West Point.  But my only knowledge of enrollment, academics and cadet-life-in-general comes second-hand from friends and acquaintances who've attended.
Driving through the post during that late afternoon we saw scores of cadets exercising in their Black Knight PT gear.  From what I've heard, I half-expected to see cadets harried like Marine Corps recruits at Parris Island.  This may very well be at some point (most of the time?), but everything looked very pleasant and well, college-like.
So if any of you young readers who are interested in attending, or parents of said young readers; check out the USMA homepage linked above. Also speak to any graduates you may know for the real scoop my "drive thru" couldn't provide.
Good luck!