Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: Year in Review

Since I wrote a retrospective post last year, I thought I would once again take a look back at some of my blogging and gaming accomplishments for 2011.

On the blogging side, I had quite a few posts of which I'm proud.  Continuing my obsession with the old Starfleet Wars game, I examined the scale of the Starfleet Wars/Galactic Knights models; I conducted an in-depth review of the Starfleet Wars rules; I dug up some reviews of Starfleet Wars from the late 70s/early 80s; and I was fortunate enough to publish a retrospective by one of the Starfleet Wars sculptors.  Regarding other games, I also took a detailed look at Galactic Knights; and I had fun designing my own dungeon using the Holmes D&D rules.

In addition, I wrote tutorials on painting Terran ships, painting an Entomalian cruiser, painting an Ent carrier, mounting spaceships on bases, and painting a moon for the tabletop.  I also posted lots of photos of my painted spaceships, Hordes of the Things armies, my OGRE/GEV miniatures, and other minis.

On the spaceship gaming front, I was disappointed that I missed out on Millennium Con, which is just up the road in Round Rock (I did run a marathon instead, so the weekend wasn't a total waste).  However, I did run a game at ChimaeraCon in San Antonio, a Galactic Knights scenario linked to a simultaneous ground battle.  I also finally was able to play Starfleet Wars for the first time, as well as some Full Thrust.

My biggest gaming accomplishment (in conjunction with Chris from the Hill Cantons and Brad from Skull Crushing for Great Justice) was putting on a small game convention here in New Braunfels--the South Texas Mini-Con.  It was a small event, but everyone had a good time.  I even ran my first convention game of Starfleet Wars.

I also participated in plenty of other games: D&D in the Hill Cantons campaign on a semi-regular basis and a Conan one-shot; a game or two of Hordes of the Things; I also introduced a new player to Galactic Knights (and did it again a few weeks later); and even played Search for the Emporer's Treasure.

When I started out the year, I hoped to get a little painting done.  I did complete a lot of miniatures: this blog's namesake SGDN, two other Terran ships, some Terran starbombers and star armored pursuit ships, Carnivoran starbombers, Entomalian starbombers, two different Entomalian battlecruisersvarious starfighters, more starfighterseven more starfighters, a scratchbuilt asteriod base, Star Frontiers Federation battleshipfrigates and destroyers and scouts and freighters, Star Frontiers pirate frigates, Star Frontiers privateers and more privateers, and Stardate: 3000 shuttles and fighters.  I still have plenty to keep me busy, however, as I purchased more during the year.

All in all, 2011 was a pretty good year for me when it came to blogging, painting, and gaming.  Here's to a better one in 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Starfleet Wars that never was

Photo from (Game Masters) website via the Wayback Machine
Did you know that the original Starfleet Wars was once on the verge of re-release?  Galactic Knights uses the same ship models, but the rules and setting are totally different from the older game.  I thought the minis went out of production in the 1980s, but apparently not.

Sometime in the late 1990s, a San Francisco-area company called Game Masters (the distributor for Superior Models, which manufactured the castings and published the original rules) was offering the SfW miniatures for sale.*  According to the old Starfleet Wars web page at,* Game Masters planned on publishing the SfW rulebooks:* 
Starfleet Wars, Books 1 and 2, are being re-released after 18 years. We'll let you know when and where you can obtain the rules.
I don't think that company ever got around to releasing the Starfleet Wars books.  Instead, it proceded to license the castings to Monday Knight Productions, which now sells the ships as its Galactic Knights line, with an eponymous combat game system.  Too bad, as I've come to like the Starfleet Wars rules.  It would be nice if they were more widely available.

*Links via the Wayback Machine, a great boon to internet archeology.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Forest for the trees

Yes, Forest for the Trees is a good band name.
I picked up these miniature trees at Wal-Mart for fifty percent off as part of their Christmas clearance.  The tiny trees went from 50 cents down to a quarter, the medium-sized evergreen was half of 75 cents, and the larger trees, originally a buck each, sold for 4 bits.

I plan on basing these trees (and my earlier vegetation acquisition) using washers and spackle, then spraypainting them with brown and again with green to cover up the white flocking.  That way, they'll be all-season trees instead of just winter terrain.  They will come in handy for army battles with Hordes of the Things and for skirmish gaming using Song of Blades and Heroes.  I'm sure they'll see use in other games as well.  Anyone else clean up on Christmas clearances for gaming material?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Another new mini

Check out what I scored recently on ebay:
He's an Angel of Valor Legionnaire for the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures game.  Cool, huh?
I plan on using this figure in one of my Hordes of the Things armies--either Surtr and the Sons of Muspel, or a new army, theme undecided.
He's taller than your typical 28mm figure, and a lot more regal-looking, so I don't think I'll use him as a Fliers element.  He looks powerful, so I don't see him as a unit of Blades, either.
I'm thinking Hero or Aerial Hero.  Either way, a nice addition to my HotT army, whichever one I end up putting him in.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gelatinous cubes

Today I picked up a couple of gelatinous cube miniatures (pictured above with the thief Uma, one of the characters from the Hill Cantons campaign) for use in D&D games.  Can you guess the manufacturer (of the cubes, not Uma--she's a Reaper figure in need of a touchup)?

Hint: they're not from the D&D Minis prepainted line.  They're not Mage Knight figs, either.

Give up?  OK, they're from the "Make It Christmas!" line. 


That's right, these are holiday decorations I found in the 2/3 off clearance section of Hobby Lobby (the back of the label reads "Description: Crystal Clear Ice Cubes x 2").  The package further describes these things as "Parts for Holiday Projects!!!" (triple exclamation points included).  I guess people use them as ice scuptures or something to go with the little trees in their holiday villages? They also come in smaller sizes in packs of four, as well as a package of a dozen or so tiny, transparent cubes.  Of course, when I saw them, I immediately knew their true purpose was to represent these dungeon scavengers on the tabletop.

OK, maybe they look a little small next to a 30mm figure, but at 80 cents per, who could pass them up?  They're Item # 5848148 if you're interested.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Nitpicking AD&D: weaponless combat

Over at Skull Crushing for Great Justice (awesome blog name, by the way), fellow Hill Cantons campaigner Brad has started examining the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules in order to run a campaign (see his posts on character generation, combat, spells and more spells, saves and alignments, and missile combat).  In his ruminations about AD&D, Brad posits that while most of us end up playing a house-ruled, stripped-down version of the game that's closer to the Basic/Expert rules than it is to the Advanced game, AD&D is actually a pretty solid set of rules--unfortunately, those rules are spread randomly across several hardbacks instead of being organized coherently.

I agree--although it's better organized than the original version, AD&D is still scattered across three, four, or more titles (depending on which supplements you add to the game) and can seem a bit schizophrenic.  The result, at least for the group I played with as a teenage Scribe, was that we ignored a lot of the rules that slowed the game down (I'm looking at you, weapon speeds!).

However, a fresh look at the Players Handbook shows that as teens, we ignored what should have been a major part of combat: pummelling, grappling, and overbearing.  While the PH is short on mechanics of combat, leaving adjudication methods to the DM, it does have a short section that lays out various options for players, including turning undead, spells, missiles, and melee combat, which "includes the use of hand-held weapons, natural weaponry (claws, horns, teeth,etc.), grappling, and special or magical touch attacks, i.e. poison ... etc."  (Emphasis added.)  The section goes on to describe an example of combat in which adventurers surprise an illusionist with twenty orcs.  From page 105 of the Players Handbook:
... The illusionist/orcs again win initiative and attack first, 5 orcs going after each fighter to grapple, 6 rushing the magic-user, and 3 heading for the cleric.  The fighters are pulled down, as is the magic-user, but the cleric avoids their grasp. ...  [T]he fighters and magic-user are held fast by orcs, so they can do nothing.  ...

... It is now the orcs' turn, and as their leader is dead [slain by the theif in the previous round] and they still face 2 powerful opponents, they will check morale.  It is probable that they will kill the pinned characters with dagger thrusts if their morale does not break, or that they will rleease the pinned characters and run away if their morale is bad.
(Emphasis added.)  This example of combat (which I recently read for the first time in probably more than two decades) contains two rules which we pretty much ignored as kids: grappling and morale--and I only just now noticed the bit about a morale check.  I won't describe the Dungeon Masters Guide rules for unarmed combat in detail (it involves a percentile dice to-hit roll against 10 x defender's armor class, adjusted by fiddly little 1%, 5%, and 10% modifiers and then a second percentile dice roll--with more modifiers--to see how much damage is scored, and a fraction of that damage is nonlethal and temporary, and ... oh, just read it for yourself).  Morale rules are more straightforward, but still difficult to compute on the fly.  I realize now there are alternative unarmed combat rules in Unearthed Arcana, but back in the day I never actually got to the end of that book.

Sorry, went off on a tangent.  My point is, I guess, that in our version of AD&D combat, the characters and the monsters faced each other in static lines, exchanging blows like in the old 8-bit versions of the Final Fantasy videogames until one side or the other was eliminated.  Gygax's example, on the other hand, is more reminiscent of those old sword & sorcery tales that inspired the game, where hordes of bad guys swarm the hero in order to capture him but run away if resistance is too fierce.

So does anyone actually use the unarmed combat rules from the DMG?  Do you instead use one of the simpler versions in Unearthed Arcana?  Or do you just have the two sides whacking each other until everyone's dead?  And what about morale?  Do enemies run away or fight until the bitter end?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas gifts

At first I thought I must have been very bad this year, because I found this in my stocking:
But then I unwrapped a package that turned out to be something I had asked for, a camera stand to help me improve my photography for this blog:
The Gorilla Pod was all I had asked for, but I received another photography-related gift:
That's right, a new camera, to replace my current model, which is a little worse for wear after four years of sharing my pocket with keys and cell phone.  I'm looking forward to trying it out.
These are all my Christmas gifts which are even tangentially related to gaming.  So what did Santa bring you this year?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The week in gaming

I've been fortunate this holiday season.  The past seven days were filled with gaming.  I wanted do individual posts for each game, but who am I kidding?  Instead, here are some pics.

Friday, December 23, 2011

More Song of Void and Stars

Photo from Mémoires d'un joueur blog.
French wargamer Arsenus has posted a report of another playtest of the Song of Void and Stars rules to his blog.  This time it was a two-on-two battle, using the same game stats for the vessels but with Star Trek ships.  This report is in English as well as French, so no need for an online translation.

The report gives a few hints about rules for SoVaS.  Tabletop effects such as nebulae and pulsars can subtract from a craft's combat value.  Ships can attempt to repair damage.  Some of the special abilities for starships include:
  • Evasive Maneuver
  • Point Defense Support
  • Target Painter
  • Missile
  • Light Fighter Hanger
In addition, publisher Andrea Sfiligoi gave a brief update in an email to the Song of Blades and Heroes mailing list:
It's a fast system where each player controls just a few ships (I have played with 4-5 although I'm certain you can play with more if you want a  longer game). Target release date is first half of 2012 but I can't be more accurate at the moment, as we need a point system and there is a ton of special rules to playtest.
(For earlier reports on the spaceship game using the SoBaH engine, go here and here.)

Merci, Arsenus, for the battle report; and grazie, Andreas, for sharing more details.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another old Starfleet Wars ad

I found another magazine advertisement for Starfleet Wars from back in the day.  This was was in the Best of Dragon Vol. 1, and it's another one of the reasons behind my obsession with the game and its associated miniatures.  Who wouldn't be entranced by the five Super Galactic Dreadnoughts in this picture?
My apologies for the image, which is a scan of a water-damaged volume I actually own.  I was thumbing through it recently when I saw the familiar ship outlines.  You can find this Alnavco ad on page 23 of the compilation, beneath an exercise in nerdery article titled "How Heavy is My Giant?" 

It's interesting that the magazine would sell advertisements in an issue that's reprinting older articles and presumably meant as a reference work.  In addition to the copy for Alnavco, there are also ads for Ral Partha, the Dungeon Hobby Shop, Arduin, The Armory, Martian Metals, Chaosium and more.

The text in the Dragon advertisement goes into greater detail than the smaller Starfleet Wars ad in Boys Life, which I showed you last summer.  The advertising copy is evocative of the game's setting:
Each [SGDN] is the flagship of a different starfleet consisting of galactic dreadnoughts, battlecruisers, cruisers, destroyers and transports.  Each fleet has its own "air" force of starbombers and starfighters.  And eadh fleet has different characteristics, tactics, etc., all explained in STARFLEET WARS, wargaming rules desined especially for this series.

There's more!  Each fleet has its own Galactic Armor Corps...miniature futuristic fighting vehicles for surdace battles.  The game MAATAC provides wargaming rules.
Not only that, but the Super Galactic Dreadnought models sold for just $15 apiece!  No wonder I wanted one back then.  It took me a few decades, but I finally got it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Starships: Song of Void and Stars

Photo from Mémoires d'un joueur blog.
Remember last spring when I mentioned that Ganesha Games, the publisher of Song of Blades and Heroes, was working on a spaceship game based on SoBaH?  I didn't either, till just now when the game's author posted a link to a playtest report of the new game, called Song of Void and Stars.  The blog, Mémoires d'un joueur (Memories of a player), is in French, so here's the blog post translated into English (courtesy Google translate). 

Like all machine translations, this one's a little inexact, but apparently the game uses different colored tokens to track damaged and destroyed ship systems.  I don't know if it's the playtester's idea or it's in the rules, but I do like the concept of using fighters to represent missiles in the game--let's face it, in most starship combat games, fighters are pretty much disposable ordnance.

In this particular playtest, damage to the Rebel ship knocked out its control systems, forcing it to fly through an asteroid field, making it easy for the Imperial vessel to finish it off.  Seems like SoVaS will be a quick-playing game that would allow me to put a lot of ships on the table.  I'm looking forward to learning more about Song of Void and Stars.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Starships: Sathar work in progress

Some small progress on some of the Sathar vessels from last summer's Half-Price Books purchase:  I have them primed and based.
As you can see, I used a new technique for basing the light cruiser--two 1-inch stands instead of a larger (1½-inch or more) single base.  This provides a steady platform for these ships, which I may use for the larger Sathar models as well.
I plan on trying a new paint scheme on these, but I'm not sure exactly what colors I'll use just yet.  In the meantime, I primered them a medium gray, which came out very bright in the photos because of the camera flash (as evident on the frigate below).
I'm not yet sure if I will use these models to represent a new species coming into contact with the Five Powers or just as noncombatants of some sort (those Sathar light cruisers would make good tankers, for example).  Either way, if anyone has any suggestions for a color scheme, feel free to share.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

WTF, Blogger?

OK, I've tried several times, but I can't get my title picture to stretch all the way across the screen like it's supposed to.  I unchecked the "shrink to fit" box when importing a photo for the title section of the blog, but it still shows up shrunken.  I did this for my old photo, and I tried it with a new photo (visible in the wrong place above).

Anyone have any ideas on how to fix this?

EDIT: OK, now the photo is behind the title, but the words in the title are now in a smaller area.  What's going on?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ...

... which means cheap sources for terrain are available at your local dollar stores and craft shops.  I picked up a few miniature trees the other day, which normal people apparently use for purposes other than wargaming:
Note that in addition to the ubiquitous evergreens, I managed to snag a couple of deciduous trees for the gaming table, as you can see in the top row of the topmost photo.  I just need to go over all these with some green spraypaint and get them onto bases, and presto: new forest ambiance for Hordes of the Things or Song of Blades and Heroes.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Starships: Galactic Knights edition

I had a chance to teach Galactic Knights to a new player on Saturday, a friend's 10-year-old son.  He and I have played Heroscape together for some time, but I told him I had a spaceship game he might be interested in instead.  I showed him the miniatures and we practiced GK's vector movement before heading out for lunch.   
When we returned from our meal, I set out a basic scenario for our first game: two cruisers (each a Ranger-class, but while I took a Terran craft, the other player picked an Entomalian ship for his vessel), starting on opposite sides of the planet.  My friend, who has an inexplicable fondness for the University of Texas, christened his vessel the UT Rocks.  As a good Aggie, I responded by naming my ship the Death to Longhorns.  The first turn, we both accelerated toward each other, but missed with our long-range heavy particle beam batteries.  We coasted past each other, turning to face so that our double-shielded fronts kept facing each other.  We then circled around, with a few beams dinging each other's armor. 
However, amid all the beam shooting, I neglected to launch any missiles, while my young opponent did fire off his first salvo, which detonated behind me, shredding my rear armor and taking out one medium battery.  I did deploy missiles the next turn, striking the rear of the ship, but only two struck home.  Of course, my enemy shot off his second batch of missiles, which chewed up the rest of my armor and took out my heavy battery and an engine.  Subsequent beam fire eliminated more beams and my missile launcher.  In response, I just scratched the paint on the other ship.
With my maneuverability cut from 9 to 5, I couldn't get away without exposing my unarmored backside to his beams.  So I slowly attempted to back away from the planet and make my escape.  I was just delaying the inevitable, however.  Although we called the game because of time, it was obvious I was going to lose.  We had a good time playing, and I seem to have made a convert to spaceship gaming--my youthful protege wants to play again, with more ships.  And after seeing my homemade planet on the table, he even promised to construct a Mars-like planet for me, since he had made one of his own for a school report.  A successful day of gaming.