Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Buck Rogers- edit edit edit

Left with some free time and being pretty burned out on building train tracks I thought it was about time to introduce my son to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I have a compilation of much of the early strip and thought that this would be a good place to start. Ten minutes in I found I was editing the material furiously and in some cases just skipping panels entirely. What a disappointment!

I have nothing but respect for the authors of Buck Rogers but there's no escaping the fact that this is one racist and violent comic strip! Asians are big targets in the early material and once the Second World War starts things take a turn for the worse, if that could be believed. There's also rather a lot of shooting as well as some stabbing, torturing, and pushing into pools of acid. Edit, edit, edit... I left that little experiment with a few lessons learned.

One is that kids love adventure stories. The highly abridged adventures of Buddy Deering and Alura prompted hours of dressing up and imaginative play as the kids dodged patrols of Tiger Men and sword-fought across the mysterious jungles of Venus (and yes, nerds know the Tiger Men are on Mars but I was mixing it up.) So that was fun.

Secondly, the material reminds us that life in the old days was probably pretty nice as long as you were a member of a specific racial group. That group might vary depending on what country you were in but being in the "out" gang was going to be rough. Our country has problems to be sure but at least we are about a million times less racist than we were.

Finally, I left my experience wondering about how much this material affects us as children. I loved Buck Rogers as a child but I didn't develop horrifying racial stereotypes. As a pediatrician I believe more and more that consistent family values are the most powerful formative forces in a child's life. My parents were not racist and eighteen years of exposure to that handily swamped the unseemly bits from Buck Rogers, John Carter, and other terrific but dated material. It's a relief for me to know that as long as my family follows a certain pattern of behaviour our kids are likely to enjoy older films, comics, and books without picking up the worst habits of our ancestors.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries- Rocks!

My love affair with Ticket to Ride: Europe continues unabated but the game is not perfectly suited for two players. For that reason I dropped a few hints that Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries (TRN) would be pretty welcome below this year's Christmas tree. My wife came through and we got to unwrap and play this new iteration of a great game system.
TRN is fairly similar to it's predecessors in terms of rules. Players trade in cards to lay down train tracks between cities. You score points based on how many lines you can create and whether you connect certain randomly determined locations. TRN has a few twists. For one, it's designed for two and three players. What's more, there are far fewer destinations and fewer tracks with which to connect them. We found this led to a more cut-throat style of play as every line you create can seriously inconvenience your opponent. In a game of Flames of War a cut-throat game leads to fights and broken friendships. In TRN a cut-throat game leads to laughter and plans for a rematch.

TRN also presents you with a landscape that may be completely novel. I'm sure I should know where Narvik and Trondheim are but I am an ugly American and barely know how to locate Salem, NH. Navigating the cities of the North is in the end a great time and feels exotic and intriguing. Narvik could be a European version of Mineola, NY but I chose to believe it's a snowy fairy wonderland and now I've built a railway to it.

Note: Thanks to wikipedia I've learned that it is indeed a fairy wonderland!

In summary TRN to a fabulous member of the amazing Ticket to Ride franchise. It's a great choice when you're looking for a smaller game and presents just a slightly different twist on a beloved game system. Highly, highly recommended for adults, families, and older kids!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Game Master's Challenge

Businesses in Massachusetts seem to give people the week after Christmas off so we're holding our first GM's Challenge game this week. Three GM's will run an all-day adventure in three chapters. Each GM will manage one chapter and play in the other two. There are two components.

The first challenge is based on something I've wanted to do for a while. The players all look through the Monster Manual and pick out the most outrageous monster we can find. Then the GMs are assigned one of the choices randomly. The challenge is to not only have the monster appear, but have it play an integral role in the adventure. It's easy to make an adventure based on marauding Hill Giants, but can you reveal the unplumbed drama of the Water Weird? Or the badger? So far our band has picked the Ixitxachitl, Purple Worm, Rakshasa, Jackalwere, Roper, Night Hag, Lamia, Succubus, and Green Slime. We shall see who gets assigned what.

The second facet of the GM's Challenge is that it's a chain story. Each GM is assigned a story element which begins their adventure and one that ends it. The elements are deliberately vague and open to lots of interpretation. Phase one opens with "Prison Break" and ends with "Boarding a Ship." Phase two begins with "Attack From the Skies" and ends with "Royalty in Disguise." The last phase begins with "A Trap!" and ends with "Crowned by a King."

One unexpected element of the Challenge is that the GMs are going to have to be ready to deal with the preceding story's setting. Phase one may end at the docks of an island, in the center of a museum, or on a mountaintop! It's going to be fun to create a dungeon or adventure that can be seamlessly linked to a variety of physical settings!

The game is set for a few days from now and we shall see how it plays out. Also apparently it's a costume game. It's lucky I seem to have collected multiple D&D costumes. Lucky or tragic I suppose!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: Best Miniatures Game

There are hundreds of miniatures games on the market and ever week I see the confusion this can create. Interested folks come into the Hobby Bunker, watch some games, and then look back with bewilderment at the shelves lined with gaming material. They listlessly pick at a few things and then wander off, unwilling to invest in a game that may never be played. To some extent that's good thinking because most addicted gamers and painters (ahem...) agree that they only play about 10% of what the own. So what should an interested miniatures-gamer-to-be invest in?

To be sure the answer is probably "whatever the local gamers are playing" but if you've just moved to Houlton, Maine and you are the First gamer there, I would recommend Disposable Heroes (DH) from Iron Ivan Games. DH is a skirmish game set in the Second World War. In order to play it you need about fifteen miniature figures per side and some nice terrain. We had a great game last week and some photos are arranged here. DH has a lot to recommend it. Briefly, the rules are simple, the game is easy to invest in, and there are a number of expansions that allow you to play modern combat, zombies, the battles for Poland and the Netherlands, etc. etc.

Beyond the game system itself the period has a lot of affordable choices for new gamers. You can purchase 1/72 scale figures from Revell, Italieri, and Caesar that are high quality and dirt cheap. Look to Plastic Soldier Review for examples. Bolt Action/Warlord and Artizan make terrific 28mm figures which are a little larger than 1/72. Finally, there are relatively affordable vehicles which will top off your army and a good sized force can be purchased for $50 total.

My gaming group had a terrific time with DH and several beginners ran off after playing to buy some minis for themselves. I think the game is a good choice for new players and certainly simple enough for ages ten and up. Of course, the game does deal with war and combat. Every family manages that issue differently. I personally make sure to explain to younger players the actual effect of real war, a lecture that I suspect bores them to tears but may sink in after multiple repeats or some aging on their part.

Holiday Gift Guide: Painter's Delight

I paint a lot of miniature figures. Usually I use some historical information as my guide. For example, my beloved War of 1812 Battle of North Point troops were painted based on old documents and some modern paintings by Don Troiani. Sometimes, however, you have to branch out and just do our best based on your own color sense. I have no innate color sense (thus, no ties at work!) and so I need a bit of help.

That's where Annie Sloan's Color Schemes for Every Room comes in. This book has pages of color swatches arranged in pleasing combination and ordered vaguely by theme. You want to paint a fantasy galley? Try a suggestion from the Persian Palace section. Have some western showgirls to complete? Use the swatches from Neoclassical. I've fixed some horribly botched work by falling back on Ms. Sloan's suggestions. There's also a section on the color wheel, simple and complex colors, and other topics that I can't grasp but are probably quite useful.
Color Schemes for Every Room won't be as exciting to unwrap as a live ferret or a copy of Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries. It will, however, be an unbelievably useful asset to any miniature painter. Highly recommended!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide- Budget Gaming

This year's budget delight is absolutely the world of 15mm science fiction miniatures. These have been on the market for years but recent sculpts from Khurasan, Critical Mass, and others are just superb. In order to stay on budget I got a few squads from Blue Moon Miniatures. These are priced at a discount through Warweb and are of pretty high quality. The line includes a few designs that are a bit too pulp-y for my tastes but the figures I ordered were perfect.

The results speak for themselves. The painting took minutes and now I have an army of space marines and an army of Andorians. They'll be put through the paces via the Use Me rules and we'll see where we go from there. Twenty nice figures for under ten dollars!

Soldiers need vehicles to drive around in of course. I stole this idea from some other blog, it may have been Dropship Horizon , and the results were pretty satisfying. I picked up the Matchbox "Medieval Rides" pack and with some simple repaints these medieval automobiles become much less thematically contradictory! Matchbox Cars are solid and well made, they're fun to buy, and they're perfect for 15mm science fiction gaming.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide- Best Role Playing Game

I've played a lot of games this year ranging from Star Trek to Eclipse Phase. My game of the year in terms of enjoyment gained per work expended has got to be Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the three hardcovers 1st edition. The more I play D&D the more enchanted I am by its role playing elements. I think much of the game development in rpgs since the 1970's has been in terms or developing better simulations- in other words, games that have more "realistic" qualities. D&D gives you a vaguely defined character in a vaguely defined world. The rest of the game is dependent on the enthusiasm of the players. The 1st edition is fairly difficult to make sense of right out of the box, but that's what friends and D&D contacts are for!

I have to mention the rerelease of Villains and Vigilantes. This is a superhero role playing game in which you play yourself, but with some randomly determined superpowers. The game features a simple and robust system for playing out super battles, flying, and throwing around cars and satellite dishes. I spent many an hour enjoying V&V back in the day. It's fun to have superpowers! As an aside, the powers are chosen randomly, thus this is not a game for people obsessed with every character being equal. One character is going to have super strength, one is going to be able to control squirrels. Make the best of it.