Sunday, November 24, 2013

War and Empire- More Kickstarter Fun

Up to now I've only supported one Kickstarter project. In theory Kickstarter seems like a fun idea but in reality do I want to buy a game no one has played yet? Certainly there are many people who Do but I haven't been able to bring myself to do it and I haven't had a whole lot of regrets so far.

This week West Wind Productions started their War and Empire kickstarter. War and Empire is slated to be a rule system for wargaming but this particular project is actually designed to support the miniatures line. This particular line features Romans, Macedonians, and Carthaginians.

Now, if you were to identify the most versatile miniatures in the world to own you might guess the armies of the Macedonians or the Carthaginians. Carthage employed Celts, Spaniards, Numidians, and Libyan spear. With enough Carthaginians you can represent a multitude of peoples over a fair span of time. The Macedonians and Successors include Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, and Macedonians. They fight in a variety of settings and against a variety of enemies.

That being the case it would therefore be wasteful Not to invest heavily in these figures given the opportunity. I would hate to be accused of being wasteful and so I jumped at the chance to buy into War and Empire's Macedonians and Carthaginians. Now I am looking forward to telling the wife what a non wasteful husband she has. After that happy encounter I can sit back and wait for some really lovely looking figures to arrive!

Space Cadets Dice Duel, a Party Game I Actually Like

It's the destiny of a picky gamer to struggle to get their friends to play games. I have no idea why people don't jump at the chance to play games with titles like Twilight Imperium or Blood Bowl Team Manager. Chaos in the Old World. Advanced Squad Leader. They all sound irresistible! But mysteriously the majority of the world's population does not agree. Instead, they want to play party games. Cranium, Pictionary, Sequence. The horror, the horror...

Happily there is now a party game that gamers can endorse. Space Cadets: Dice Duel is a terrific party game that can easily support ten players. In Dice Duel you are piloting a spaceship and attempting to shoot down your opponent's ship. This is a bit geeky to be sure but if people can swallow that small pill the rest goes down easily. Each ship has weapons, sensors, an engine, and defensive shields. Each of these is controlled by one of the players. To make a part of the ship work you have to roll special dice until you get a certain combination. As an example, imagine that to make the ship move you need to roll dice until you have a "one," a "two," and a "three" in front of you. You may get a one, two, and four and then keep on rerolling that last die until a three appears. Then you get to move the ship.

Powering the Tractors
Now take that image and multiply it for four or five. Each player is busily rolling their dice trying to get a certain combination and when they finally get it they shout out "ready to fire" or "shields up!" The final component is that one last player is rolling their own dice and they give permission for the others to roll. So until the "engineer" rolls a "four" the person in charge of shields can't roll. When the engineer rolls a five the player in charge of the engines can roll.

The whole process features lots of yelling, dice flying everywhere, shouts of "fire" and "no, no, I need more shields!" and so on. It's loud and fun and about as strategic as Crazy Eights. So no, not a space combat simulator at all. Just an excuse to shout, roll dice, and then shout some more. The rules are really dead simple and the whole game takes maybe thirty minutes. I highly recommend Space Cadets: Dice Duel if you have a lot of people who are up for flying a spaceship and shouting a lot. As an aside, the game does not do well with less than eight players, you really need a crowd.

Another Notable First

Tonight my son played his first hex and chit wargame. I found my copy of Ogre, purchased in 1977, and signed on the back of the map by 12 year old Michael Fischer.

It took a few minutes to explain the game and then we started off. My son ran the Ogre. He saved his missiles for when they were needed, used antipersonnel weapons appropriately, plowed through my defenses and won the game. I'm so proud I can't even say.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hueys on a Budget

There are plenty of suppliers of 15mm UH-1's but the models are pretty expensive and some battles require quite a few helicopters. In the past I've used Matchbox and Hot Wheels vehicles in 15mm games. In this case I resorted to Corgi.

Corgi manufactures a police UH-1 that is the right scale and (roughly) the right variant. Roughly in this case meaning not the right model at all, but still recognizably a UH-1 at least. I picked up five on eBay for about six dollars a piece. Then I coated them with black gesso and set to work.

At this point I was hugely aided by the Vietnam Hueys page. This site, last updated in 2008, has some beautiful renders of machines that served during the war, in some cases accompanied by historical tidbits. It's a very nice resource.

The Corgis painted up very nicely. I used some colour photographs from Yahoo to pin down the dark green shade they were painted in.  One thing I noticed in the historical photos is how the details seem to submerge in a  mass of shadow. For that reason I tried to keep the drybrushed highlights to a minimum. Finally I applied some individual markings and matte painted the finished vehicles.

I'm happy with the results. They're not completely authentic for the period. On the other hand they were affordable and
as diecast models they are crisp and hefty. Next step are the M113s.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Double Feature- Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness

After a lackluster experience with Full Metal Jacket I moved back a few years and watched Apocalypse Now (AN). I also tracked down Hearts of Darkness, a documentary about Francis Ford Coppola's  filming experience of Apocalypse. As Tradgardmastare  has suggested, the combination is certainly more than the sum of it's parts.

I was fourteen when AN was released and I can remember feeling shocked that anyone would make a film about such a taboo subject as the Vietnam war. At the same time the premise of seeing into a previously hidden world was thrilling. Sadly (for me), AN was baffling when it wasn't boring and I didn't see it again for thirty years.

Thank goodness my tastes have matured every so slightly in thirty years. AN has it's flaws to be sure, but it has scenes of amazing power and beauty. Coppola doesn't just frame an arresting image (cough cough..Kubrick...cough), he creates moments full of emotion, movement and intensity that are a privilege to watch. AN is often quoted. That may be in part because of some clever lines, but also because when we hear the quote we can remember so clearly the scene associated with it. 

In terms of story AN has a road-trip structure composed of a series of encounters before a final climactic scene. As Hearts of Darkness describes it the process was hampered ever so slightly by the complete lack of plan as to what that final scene would be. Coppola was basically struggling to write a punchline to a joke that was halfway complete. For this reason it's easiest to enjoy the first three quarters of AN simply as a set of amazing scenes and encounters. If I was to stretch I might suggest that the films message was that ordinary people can do good or evil as a choice. The movie ends with Colonel Kurtz, who has stepped beyond good and evil by abandoning all pretense of method or plan. He simply exists, in a camp filled with rotting corpses and lost souls. Kurtz is intended to be the ultimate, well, ultimate something. Coppola may be saying that the only thing worse than evil is complete chaos.

Hearts of Darkness suggests that Marlon Brando essentially free associated all of Kurtz's lines and maybe movie's punchline is a huge dig at Brando. Brando's refusal to use any method or script is the ultimate evil in a film-maker's world, just as Kurtz's choatic realm is the ultimate evil in a military setting. How funny it would be if the ultimate purpose of this beautiful, crazy, multi-million dollar film was to call Brando a jerk!

It's fun to think about AN, and it's a tremendous experience to watch it. How does it relate to the project of understanding and gaming Vietnam? I think it was helpful, it conveyed much of the feel of the war even if some scenes were a bit surreal. Interestingly, as I write this I want to see it again, which is not a bad sign.  Hearts of Darkness is not essential viewing but it's interesting enough and worth tracking down as well.

King of Tokyo- Hey, it's a Game Review!

Between work, family, and six new chickens (!) I have managed to get some gaming in. King of Tokyo was released a while ago and for some reason I had just avoided playing it. My son has become more interested in games lately and also more interested in giant monsters so it seemed like the time for KoT had arrived.

In the interests of minimizing hazardous stress and tension let's jump to the conclusion of this piece- King of Tokyo is a fun and elegant game that has huge replay value and is well suited for younger players. It is nicely produced, well balanced, and priced appropriately for what it delivers. If there is a boy in the house who wants to play games this is likely to be a big hit. Likewise if there is a girl who likes giant monsters but sadly that is not as common.

The goal in KoT is to either amass twenty victory points or be the last giant monster standing. You accomplish these goals by rolling six dice. By the way, these are huge, hefty, attractive custom game dice. Rolling dice is fun in general and these are extra fun to roll. The dice are marked with claws (to attack), energy symbols (for energy points), hearts (to heal), and numbers (for victory points). You may reroll some, all, or none of the dice up to two times. At any given point, then, you're trying to decide if you want to attack, heal up, or rack up victory points. You reroll the dice you think are less helpful and hope for the best.

I can't even begin to describe how satisfying it is to see my six year old mull over what his goals are and which dice should be rerolled. I'm actually watching the genesis of his strategic and tactical skills! Just amazing.

The game also features extra powers which can be purchased with the energy you've amassed. The better the power the more energy it costs. Thus, an additional concern is whether you want to hold out, attack less, and just accumulate energy for some awesome power. 

KoT is absolutely a light, filler game that plays in thirty minutes or less. For my purposes that makes it ideal for a game before dinner or before bed. Unlike many designer games it's reasonably priced. There are a good number of decisions to be made but the luck component keeps it from being too stressful. In that vein it's good for younger players who may find losing to be tough. Good for adults with the same issue too.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Movie Night! Full Metal Jacket

If I'm going to game a period I may as well see some films as well. I had never seen Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) so a few weeks ago I got a copy from Netflix and sat down to take a look. I was excited to see a well respected, big budget film and to see how it compared to it's contemporary: Platoon. Plus it inspired a catchy song!

I have to say the FMJ was a bit of a disappointment. For those that haven't seen it the movie is split between a sequence depicting Marine basic training and a sequence set in the city battle of Hue. In it's favor the entire movie is attractively filmed and there are many scenes that leave you saying "oh my, what a set of stark visual contrasts" or "gosh, someone knows how to get the most from a dolly shot."

That being said I felt let down otherwise. For one, much of the movie is formed by linking together well-known Vietnam anecdotes into a series of scenes. In doing so you end up with a set of memorable lines to be sure, but that's not the writer's craft. It felt like the plagiarism of otherwise unrelated famous quotes, rather like having one character say "I regret I have but one life to give for my country" and immediately another says "Hell yeah! For my part, give me liberty or give me death!"

Secondly, the training portion of the film seems superfluous to the second half. You could watch one or the other alone and really lose nothing. And at the end of the film itself I'm left with the feeling that the main character hasn't changed or grown, merely observed. Specifically, he has observed dramatizations of those famous anecdotes.

Which leads to my final issue, which is that if this film had been released in 1979 prior to Apocalypse Now you could at least give it credit for broaching some basic issues regarding the war. Instead, coming on the heels of Apocalypse, Platoon, and Deer Hunter, it really fails to add anything to the general understanding of the conflict. And without a strong story, interesting characters, or a passionate heart, that left Full Metal Jacket a bit of a dud for me.

Next: Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness.