Cold Wars 2013

JM decided not to go to Cold Wars this year, but luckily Mike Kaizar did.  It’s always more fun to go to a convention with a friend, even when there are more friends waiting for you when you get there. He drove from Columbus to Pittsburgh, and we left late enough that we got to Lancaster at 8 or 9pm.

BBDBA Doubles

First thing on Friday Morning, as usual, was BBDBA Doubles. This was the first time Mike and I have partnered for BBDBA, and it went quite well overall.  I hope Mike keeps coming out to more conventions in the future; I’d happily partner with him again.

This was the first BBDBA event I’ve played in that had a historical theme: Medieval Europe. We took my recently finished Early Hungarian army. I filled out the third army by building a morph army out of my Germans, Early Russians, and other random figures. Many of the figures were identical except for the paint job, so they matched well.

I’ve wanted this army for a long time, and was very interested to try it in BBDBA.  For the Ax/Bw option, I would ordinarily have chosen all Auxilia.  However, since this was BBDBA with a Medieval Europe theme, I expected to see relatively little bad going (except when playing against The Davids), and a substantial number of bows in our enemies’ armies.  I decided to take 3x3Ax, 3x3Bw.  In retrospect, I’m not sure if that was the best choice or not.  3 bows wasn’t as many as bow-heavy armies had, so it may have been better to take all bows or all auxilia.

Early Hungarians vs. Two Davids playing Feudal English with Welsh ally.

In the first round, we faced Two Davids: David Kuijt and David Schlanger.  They were playing Feudal English with a Welsh ally. We ended up as the attackers, and as I expected, we saw a good amount of terrain.

In this game, our command structure used three combined arms commands, with elements shifted around to get good break points and PIP management.

  • High PIP, 13 el, BP 5: 2xKn(Gen), 2xCv, 5xLH, 3xSp, 1xPs.
  • Mid PIP, 13 el, BP 5: 2xKn(CinC), 1xCv, 3xLH, 3xSp, 3xAx, 1xPs.
  • Low PIP, 10 el, BP 4: 2xKn(Gen), 1xLH, 3xSp,  3xBw, 1xPs.

The Davids had one large English command and one tiny one: their C-in-C had 3xKn, 1xCv, and 4xHd, which they taped in place around their camp.  This meant that they could attack with their C-in-C command’s mounted, and they’d have to lose 3/4 of its elements in order to break.  It made it easy for them to combine two or 3 commands against one of ours, and its small size made it hard to reach and even harder to gang up on.

Our commands worked quite well, but unfortunately our attack didn’t succeed quickly enough to win. It ended up fairly close: we lost 25-75. It was a good matchup and a fun game; a great way to start the convention.

Early Hungarians vs. Comedy and Tragedy playing Low Countries.

In the second game, we faced Comedy and Tragedy: Spencer and Christina Ginder.  They were playing Low Countries: a pike army (with knights).  Their forces were less mobile than ours, so they had terrain on the board again.  That was satisfying, but also made me question whether this army composition for Hungarians actually wants very much terrain.

In deciding what command structure to use here, I considered how Spencer might use his pikes.  Many players combine their pikes into a single huge block, give it the low PIP die, and sit it on defense.  Some build a single large pike block but spread it across two commands so they can attack with it. Others maintain several separate combined arms commands.

Large blocks of pike are hard to break but easy to avoid, and they’re easier to use effectively.  Combined arms is more flexible, but more difficult to use and easier to break by killing things other than the pike.  We decided to build a very mobile force that would be able to quickly and easily outflank a large block of pike, if they brought one to the field.  Our main force would follow up to pin their line in place, preventing them from effectively turning to face our flank attack.  Our approximate command breakdown:

  • High PIP, 10 el, BP 4: 3xCv (Gen), 7xLH.
  • Medium PIP, 16 el, BP 6: 4xKn (CinC), 1xLH, 6xSp, 2xPs, 3xAx.
  • Low PIP, 10 el, BP 4: 3xSp (Gen), 3xBw, 1xPs, 2xKn, 1xLH.

It turned out the Ginders decided to use multiple combined arms commands, but we maintained our plan: a fast flank attack where we intended to win, and a slower frontal press where we hoped not to lose.  They deployed with a gap in their line for flexibility, but unfortunately couldn’t use their third command to both fill the gap and protect their flank effectively.  This stretched their command radius to its maximum.  Their combined arms commands had pike and knights interleaved, making it difficult to get optimal local matchups.

Our left flank attack arrived quickly, but took a long time to become effective.  We tied up a larger number of the enemy’s troops with my smaller mobile command, but unfortunately our high PIP die was committed to that use alone. In the mean time, we started winning more quickly elsewhere.  In the end, the battle didn’t go as we had planned, but we did win 92-8, so I have no complaints.

The lesson we learned here is that you really don’t need a very large flanking force to be effective, if you can truly get around the enemy’s flank; but you do need a lot of time if you’re using resilient weak forces (LH) versus a stronger enemy who can’t kill you (Pk).   The terrain made it difficult to support our flank attack effectively, since we didn’t have any bad going troops in the attacking command.

Early Hungarians vs. Doug Austin’s Condotta with Swiss ally.

The third game was the first time we rolled low enough to defend and place terrain.  Early Hungarians are Steppe, not arable, so we placed a bunch of small bits of rough and a few hills.

Our command split was the same as in the first game. We placed our Mid and Low PIP commands first, with a gap between them so we could wheel them both to the right or left depending on our needs.  Unfortunately, our terrain was offset to the left a bit farther than we’d prefer, leaving little space to deploy our third command on that side.  This made our third deployment possibly a bit too obvious.

Doug deployed to overlap our line on both ends, as expected; and we deployed our third command on our right flank, also as expected.  This left us with a lot of room to outflank him on our right, but he overlapped us on our left.

Doug quickly second-guessed his deployment, and decided he needed more troops on his left (our right) flank.  He started spending PIPs to redeploy knights from his right to his left behind his line, as he advanced slowly and we tried to press on as quickly as possible.

We had the early game advantage due to the PIPs he was spending on redeployment and having his troops out of command. I broke his command on our right flank, but unfortunately I was too aggressive with my CinC command, and ended up suffering losses where I should have just been holding the line and waiting for my right flank to keep winning.  We started losing elements on our left flank, and eventually lost enough elements in our CinC for it to break.  It was a good game, but we lost 16-84.

My first goal for BBDBA was to win a game, and I accomplished that with JM several conventions ago.  After that game, my second goal was to finish with at least 100 points.  We achieved that in this tournament, after a strong win and two losses that actually gave us points.  BBDBA Doubles is one of the highlights of every convention, now that I’m competent enough to feel like I have a chance of succeeding in most of the games.

Quad Themes

Friday night was Roland Fricke’s Quad Themes event.  There were 4 rounds, each played with a different army from a different historical theme.  At this point I was fairly fried, so I’ll just give a rundown of the results.
In round 1, I played Early Egyptians (I/2a) and beat Mark Pozniak’s Nubians, 6-5.  Next, I played Later Achaemenid Persians, and beat Dick Pagano’s Macedonian Successors 4-1. In the third round, Rich “Diceman” Baier’s Later Imperial Romans (East) beat my Ancient Brits 4-2.  I got to play Mike Kaizar in the last round, but it was a poor matchup for him: my knight-heavy Feudal Spanish faced his blade and raider Vikings. He won anyway, with a 1g-0 victory in one of the first rounds of combat.

Alexander the Great Theme

On Saturday morning, we were forced to get up way too early, for Mark Pozniak’s 8am event: an Alexander the Great theme.  I brought Later Achaemenid Persians, and lost all my games.  I didn’t write down my opponents’ armies, unfortunately.  Mike Guth beat me 2C-0.  Bill Fisher beat me 4-2.  Kristy Faux beat me 4-3.

Unification War: Rise of the Son of Heaven

On Saturday afternoon, I ran a Pyramid format event with a Warring States Chinese theme.  We used Limited Attrition rules as described on the Buttocks of Death Wiki.  

Warring States Pyramid, final round of 4-on-4.

We had two new, young DBA players: Otto, Dave Schlanger’s son, and his friend BJ.  They had a lot of fun, and I expect to see them playing DBA at more events in the future.

The Commanders in Chief in the final round were Otto leading his Chu empire against David Kuijt’s Qin empire.

These 4-on-4 games usually end up being more like several 1-on-1 games next to each other, rather than having as much interaction between commands as you have in BBDBA, but they are still quite fun; and that’s the real point in the end anyway.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the Pyramid format, and the limited attrition rules worked very well, as they did at last year’s Cold Wars.  I think I prefer running Pyramid events rather than Matched Pairs.  I like having fixed signups and a tighter historical theme, and it’s easier to handle the matchups when the pyramid is constructed before the event starts.

Two Davids Campaign: Recovering Byzantium

The real reason I had to paint Early Hungarians before this convention was the Two Davids campaign event: Recovering Byzantium.  The campaign was centered around Byzantine states in 1230AD, and Hungary was on the outskirts.
In the first round, John Manning attacked me with his Byzantine army, and I lost 3-4.  Not a great start, but that’s okay.  In the second round, Jack Sheriff’s Syrians attacked me and I beat them.  Next, I attacked Mark Burton and failed to capture a vassal.  
In the final round, I had a high number, and I was surprised to be allowed to attack someone again.  When my number came up there were 4 of us left. I attacked Dave Schlanger, and beat him; acquiring a vassal.
After the fourth round there was a bit of an incident… I won’t go over the details, but you’ll never fail to  remember it if you were there. It pretty much put an end to peoples’ enthusiasm for a fifth round.
I still enjoy the campaign events.  I think overall, I enjoy events with a very strict army list best, because they provide me with the most motivation to paint more interesting armies.

Hordes of the Things Open

Hordes of the Things: Fire vs. Ice played by BJ.
On Sunday morning, Mike met his parents for breakfast and I played Hordes of the Things.  I brought my Die in a Fire army.
For this event, my composition was: Mg (gen), Beh, Drg, 3xBd, 2xFly, 2xLrk.

In the first round, I faced BJ’s Ice elemental army.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to use the pretty elemental terrain board.  I lost 8-12g.

Next I faced Otto’s Slaad demon army: basically giant lizard demons. I beat him 6g-2.

Hordes of the Things: Fire vs. Rick Wynn’s Wild Hunt of Faerie.

In the final round, my fire elementals faced Rick Wynn’s Wild Hunt of Faerie (Oberon, Titania Elves) army. Rick’s army was beautiful, built mostly out of Games Workshop plastics.  He did a wonderful job of building an exactly 24 point army with a very specific theme.

After a bit of posturing, our magicians made it into range of each other.  I decided to try to ensorcel his general with mine on the first turn I had a chance, because he had two magicians and could get a better shot against me if I waited.  This turned out to be a tied roll, the only result that didn’t end up with one of us losing instantly.

In the next round Oberon returned the favor, with Titania’s help, instead of ensorcelling with Titania and having Oberon help.  Despite his better combat factors, I rolled high enough to beat him and pull the instant win: 4g-0.

This was the first time I had used a Dragon in HOTT.  I have mixed opinions about it at this point; it’s powerful and looks cool, but it’s also easy to lose and you don’t get any overlap support from friendly elements.  I think the key might be to use it with fliers who can provide flank and rear support more easily.

It turns out that after my two wins and favorable loss, I ended up tied for first place with BJ.  Since he beat me, he won the event overall.  Congratulations, and I hope to see you back for more games!

It was another great convention, and I’m glad I went. I won’t be making it to Historicon, but I look forward to more great conventions in the future.

DBA Army III/67b: Early Hungarian

Soon after I started playing DBA again in about 2009, I decided that I wanted an Early Hungarian (III/67b) army.  It’s been a long journey since then, but finally my quest is complete!  I finished a double army just before Cold Wars.

Double DBA army III/67b; mixed manufacturers.
Early Hungarian knights by Essex and Black Hat (Gladiator).

I was attracted to this army for several reasons.  I am 1/4 Hungarian, and identify most closely with that part of my heritage. The composition of the army itself seems almost perfect for my tastes: 2x3Kn, 1x3Cv, 3x2LH, 3xSp, 2x3Ax or 3Bw, 1x2Ps. It’s one of the few Medieval combined arms armies I’ve seen with more than one Auxilia.  It also fits well with other armies I have from the same period: German, Leidang, Polish, Russian, and Mongol Conquest… even though I bought most of those armies only because they were good enemies of the Hungarians I didn’t have yet.

Cuman and Hungarian Light Horse by Black Hat (Gladiator)

My first attempt at building this army was purchasing a “not for the squeamish general” army pack from another gamer on the Fanaticus forums.  It had the proper composition, but as I should have expected, I didn’t like the figure selection very much. It was mixed manufacturers, but chosen based on whatever he had lying around and not based on what he thought the army should look like.  After not painting it for quite some time, I donated it to Mike Kaizar, who is still working on it.

Hungarian spearmen by Black Hat (Gladiator).

My second attempt came when Wargames Minis had a clearance sale on their Essex Miniatures packs. After long research discovered no good solution for Early Hungarians, I settled on buying a bunch of Essex later Hungarian figures that might work. They were so cheap, I bought two armies worth! But when it came time to actually paint them… I hated them. Closer inspection showed me that they were far too late for any part of the Early Hungarian list.

Early Hungarian bowmen by Black Hat (Gladiator)

By this time it was late 2012, and I needed this army for Cold Wars 2013.  After talking to David Kuijt, I settled on the figures shown here.  The General stands and a few of the other knights are Essex figures from my previous order.  The remaining knights, light horse, spears, bows, auxilia and psiloi are all Black Hat figures from their Gladiator range.  The Cavalry are a mix of Essex figures, Black Hat, and a few whose manufacturer I do not know but I happened to have on hand.

Early Hungarian cavalry by Black Hat, Essex, and others (unknown).

The Black Hat figures are not specifically sold as Hungarians, other than the knights with round helms. Many of them are from their general Feudal range, and some are from slightly inappropriate areas, but look good enough that I wanted to paint more of them.

Early Hungarian Psiloi by Black Hat (Gladiator).

I knew the primary heraldry I wanted to use was red and white, but I didn’t want another red and white army since it’s the most common color combination I have.  David told me that repeated heraldry wouldn’t be common in this period, but I am also not a fan of a widely varied, garish palette.  I decided to use a lot more yellow and yellow browns, and rounded out the palette with green. It’s definitely not red and white army I feared it would be.

Hungarian Auxilia by Black Hat (Gladiator).

I’m not sure if I prefer the green and the brighter reds I used here, but otherwise I’m quite happy with the color scheme. For the white on the shields, I used an “extremely off-white.”  It’s closer to beige than white, but in contrast with the surrounding colors it’s bright enough, and doesn’t add too much contrast. Looking at the shields, I’m reminded of Hoplite shield patterns more than garish Medieval heraldry.

I’m very happy with the way this army turned out.  After playing it in BBDBA and the campaign at Cold Wars, I also enjoy the way the army plays.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with all those Later Hungarian figures, since that army has so few spears compared to this one.

Battle at the Crossroads 2013

Apparently I’m about a month behind on posting event reports.

This year’s Battle at the Crossroads was on February 22nd. There were only 6 players for DBA, so instead of running a pyramid event, we ran a normal 3-round tournament, and ended with a 3-on-3 game “for fun” with the top two players as C-in-C of each side.  The games were played with DBA using the 2.2+ extensions, and I had a new set of MU sticks made for the occasion.

3-on-3 Battle at the Crossroads; John Loy and Larry Chaban.

I won my first two games, against Daryl and then John Loy.  In the last round of standard play, Larry finally broke his 2-year losing streak against me, and beat me.  I’m officially no longer his nemesis.  Sooner or later he’s going to have to find JM and beat him, since apparently Larry has never beaten him…

For the final 3-on-3 game, Larry and I were commanders-in-chief. My allies were the two players Larry beat: Mike Kaizar and Bob.  Larry commanded John Loy and Daryl.

Everything was going well overall, but then Mike’s command broke on our right flank.  Soon after that, Daryl’s command broke opposite Mike.  Unfortunately, Bob broke before we could break the enemy, and it was all downhill from there.

The army selection was fun this year, with a biblical theme.  The games were over quickly due to the low combat factors, which allowed us to fit in 3 single games and the triple game, and still get home at a reasonable hour.

This was a good event, but we need more players!  What happened to the days of bringing 4 or more players from Pittsburgh?

BRE Datsun 510

ABC Hobby BRE Datsun 510 #46 body on Tamiya M-05 chassis.

After smashing up the Honda S800 body too much, I got a replacement.  This is an ABC Hobby BRE Datsun 510, #46.  This one is closer to a 1/12 scale body, compared to the S800 and Mini bodies, which are 1/10 scale versions of smaller cars.

Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) set up some Datsun 510’s for racing, and entered them in the 1971 and 1972 Trans-Am “2.5 Challenge” for smaller engined cars.  Datsun destroyed the competition both years (though Alfa tried to cheat to avoid their fate in 1971), and the series was shut down when the European manufacturers picked up their toys and went home crying.

The body shown here also comes with bumpers and better headlights, but I decided not to use any of them since I expected to beat it up racing anyway.  Unfortunately I must have scored the body when trimming the paint mask, because it almost immediately split right up the left front corner between the red and white areas.

Fitting the body over the wheels was a bit challenging, and required some creative trimming around the wheel wells to keep it from rubbing around corners.  Unfortunately the M-05 battery compartment pushes the battery wires into this body, which flexes it on whichever side the battery protrudes from.  It’s a tight fit, but it works.

Malifaux: Terrain

We finally made time to play another game of Malifaux.  Frank, Andy, JM, and I played two games side-by-side on a 4×6′ board set up with terrain set up for two adjacent 3×3′ boards.  This was a good showcase for my Malifaux terrain, so I took some pictures.

A Ronin attacked by mechanical spiders in the woods

Frank played his Viktoria crew against my arachnid-heavy Ramos crew.  Andy’s Colette box set tried to fend off JM’s Freikorps.  Frank crushed me utterly in 4 turns, while JM destroyed Andy’s dancers in 6 turns.

After trying and failing to enjoy the Terraclips terrain, we’ve fallen back to using area terrain pieces on a Terrainguy map.

The terrain here is an amalgam of pieces from a variety of sources that I’ve collected over the last decade or so.

Malifaux terrain: city and outskirts

Some of the buildings are Mordheim terrain from the box set. Others are completely scratch built and hand painted by Frank.  Some are made from inkjet printed walls glued to foam core. The hobo village around the swamp is plastic O scale railroad terrain.

The grave stones and piles of skulls are from Michael’s craft store during Halloween season.  The graveyard was scratch built by Frank.  There are railroad trees, cast resin stumps, and strips of cloth for roads.  The barrels were store bought pre-painted terrain.

Colette versus the Freikorps in the streets of Malifaux

I scratch built the swamps and rough ground area for dual use with DBA and Malifaux.  They’re made of thin plastic with rocky sand glued on, followed by paint and flock.  The water areas are done with glossy varnish slopped on over the paint.

Frank scratch built the board fences for Warhammer Fantasy, and I built the stone walls using Hirst Arts plaster molds.

Overall, I like the way this terrain looks, works, and stores better than Terraclips.  I could see adding a few standalone Terraclip buildings to this kind of game board, but I don’t think I’ll be trying to lay out an entire board of Terraclips terrain again any time soon.

Playing Malifaux reminded us all how much we enjoy the game, and we plan to play again soon.  Unfortunately the game seems to be changing faster than we can keep up with, since we don’t play regularly.  Luckily it’s still enjoyable with older models.

Sakura S Zero

Sakura Zero S chassis with HPI Honda NSX GT body

In anticipation of On-Road racing at PT Raceway, I decided to get a second on road car so I could race in two classes instead of just one.  I chose the Sakura Zero S chassis from 3Racing because it looks very good for its price, it’s a kit, there are many replacement and hop-up parts available, and it gets good reviews.

The Sakura Zero S is an entry level version of the Sakura Zero chassis. The main differences are that the S version has plastic parts instead of aluminum; fiberglass instead of carbon fiber; gear diffs instead of ball diffs; and it costs about 1/3 as much.  It’s a 4 wheel drive touring car chassis with a twin horizontal plate design.

This was a very fun kit to put together.  Its plate chassis is very different than the other kits I’ve built recently: the Tamiya M05 and HPI Savage XS.  Unfortunately, the Sakura also suffered from Crappy Screw Syndrome, just like… well, apparently this is just like every RC kit everywhere.  This time, instead of starting out driving the 3mm screws straight in with a 2mm driver, I threaded every hold with a screw that had a larger 2.5mm head.  This destroyed my hands, but I stripped fewer screw heads (unfortunately more than zero). As much as I didn’t like the phillips head screws in the Tamiya kit… at least the heads didn’t strip easily.

Sakura Zero S chassis with HPI Honda NSX GT body

The chassis has very adjustable suspension geometry, but the stock dampers don’t allow unlimited adjustment of ride height. I doubt this will be a problem in the short term. It doesn’t look as durable as the M05, but it’s also not a giant block of plastic.  I think at the speeds I’ll be running at the track, it won’t matter.

Other than the screw heads, there are a few problems with the kit.  The first and most universally well known problem with the Zero S chassis is that the stock motor mount is inconvenient, because you can only access one of the motor screws by sticking your tool through a hole in your spur gear.  This is inconvenient with some pinion sizes, and impossible with smaller spurs.  There’s a vertical motor mount part available, but this requires you to also use a new top plate and flip your differentials to swap the side each belt runs on… and that causes your belt to run into your battery on the other side. This kit is not ideal if you’re planning on changing pinions often… but it’s still a lot better than changing pinions on the HPI Savage XS.

The other minor problem I have is that the turnbuckles seem to have undersized flats, making them difficult to turn without slipping.

For a body, I was in a hurry and couldn’t find anything I fell in love with, for sale at the same place as the chassis.  So, I settled for “acceptable and inexpensive” instead. This is an HPI Racing Honda NSX GT.  It retains a bit of the car’s distinct look, especially the air scoop on the rear roof.  Hopefully I won’t have any problem with traction roll, because I don’t think the scoop will last long if the car is upside down.

The body fits the chassis perfectly.  Figuring out where to drill the body mounting holes is a pain, though. You can’t drop the body onto the car and mark them until the posts are cut to approximately the right height, but you can’t cut the posts until the body is on the car to see where it sits.  I ended up measuring the body posts in relation to the center of the wheels, and transferring their locations onto the body using the center of the wheel cutouts as a reference point.  It worked, but it felt like there should be an easier way.

Since I’m going to race this instead of admire it on a shelf, I used the external headlight stickers instead of the internal light cans.  I think it’d look a lot better with the light cans… until I hit a wall and crack the body, in which case I’d rather have more room to repair it inside instead.

For electronics, I used what I had on hand: a 27T brushed motor and ESC I replaced in the RC10, and a Hobbyking Orange Rx Spektrum receiver.  I’ll start out with this slower setup, and once I like how I’m handling it (or once I burn out the motor) I’ll probably upgrade to 17.5T brushless. So far I don’t see hugely different times at the track between the three other cars I drive there (Tamiya M05 with stock 27T brushed; XXX-SCB with 17.5T brushless; RC10 with 17.5T brushless), so I expect the current limitation is my own driving skill more than the technology.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the first on-road race day on December 1, and I won’t be able to make it on the 15th either. Maybe they’ll run on-road on the 22nd, but if not I can make it on the 29th.

XXX-SCB: New Body

Losi XXX-SCB with body painted by Alan Ferrency

After a summer of bashing the XXX-SCB in the yard, and then rolling it over trying to tune it for racing at the track, the original ready-to-run body was cracked at the front shock corner, and generally really beat up.  I ordered a new transparent body to paint up myself, and here’s the result.

I don’t like modern, garish complicated paint jobs very much, so I went for a cleaner, simpler look.  The general contours of the colors was lifted from a real Lucas Oil Offroad Series pro buggy, but I used yellow instead of white.  I got the numbers printed at the same time I made decals for the RC10, but the rest of the stickers are for manufacturers whose parts are on the car.  I’m not a huge fan of the “rolling billboard” livery look, so I didn’t cover every possible surface with advertising, but I think the limited use of stickers add to the scale look.

At this point I have the car handling really well on the carpet track, I just need to get out on race day and see if I can manage to not crash for 5 minutes in a row.

Games with Ezra, Part 1

Ezra, about to start a game of Hordes of the Things.

My son Ezra is now 5 years old, and he has enjoyed playing games of all sorts for as long as he’s been able to play.  Here are some of the games we have enjoyed playing together so far.

He has a great capacity for learning game mechanics, and a long enough attention span to finish a game that he’s truly interested in.  Most of the time he’s able to handle loss well enough to want to play again. The biggest challenge I’ve had in finding good games to play has been that he’s only just starting to learn to read.

For now I’m limiting this list to games that adults can play with kids, and those that are surprisingly appropriate for children (or at least for Ezra) instead of the ones everyone knows work well with kids.  This isn’t a game review, and I won’t be teaching how to play the games; but I will mention any changes we made to make the games more playable.

Cartagena

One of the first “real” games we played together was Cartagena.  When we first started playing, I removed the “move backwards to draw cards” mechanic and turned it into a “play one, draw one” game.  This helped him learn the mechanics and the strategy of skipping over full spots to move forward more quickly.  In the last year or so, we’ve started playing with the full rules instead, but we don’t play as often as we did.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne is fairly commonly known to be good with kids, except for the farmer scoring mechanic.  The Hunters and Gatherers version can work a bit better, because scoring hunters is a bit easier, but I find it to be a bit more bland, and young kids still have a hard time thinking ahead far enough to know whether to place a hunter or not.

Castle Panic

And our third entry in “Games that start with CA” is by far Ezra’s favorite and most played game.  At its height we were playing for hours on end, and I’d get sick of it before he did, but at this point he rarely maintains interest long enough to finish a session anymore.
Castle Panic is especially good with young kids, because it is a cooperative game.  You play with open hands, make plans together, and accomplish goals with each others’ help. We both prefer playing this one with the Wizard’s Tower expansion.  Although there are cards with words, they all have unique pictures, and when we were playing this game regularly, Ezra could recognize and summarize every card in the base set even though he wasn’t really reading any of them.  The most challenging aspect of this game, for grown-ups and kids alike, is to make plans for your whole turn before you start trading in your cards.

HeroQuest

Marla found a copy of HeroQuest at a yard sale for around $3, and it was a great investment.  I’ve finished more dungeons with Ezra than I have with adults. We played this one semi-cooperatively: I played the dungeon master and controlled the two spellcasting characters under Ezra’s guidance as the party leader.  He controlled the barbarian and dwarf: Kick in the door, and kill whatever’s on the other side of it!  When there were decisions to be made involving traps and searching, I had Ezra make the decisions since he wasn’t looking at the map.

Heroica

I’m not sure what it is about Heroica that encourages just about everyone who plays it to make up new rules and change the ones that are already there.  This is an incredibly simple dungeon crawl with no reading required, and it also has Lego, so how could any kid refuse? It’s theoretically competitive, but realistically players are usually leap-frogging each other through the dungeon.

Lionheart

I found Lionheart at a yard sale before I had any kids, and for years I attempted to trade it away.  I’m glad I didn’t, because it has been a lot of fun with Ezra.  This is a board-based miniature wargame for 2 players.  The mechanics are easy to pick up, and the combat doesn’t even require math skills.  I expect it’d be hard to find these days, but it’s a lot more worth playing than I expected it would be.

Dune Express

This is a fun little print-and-play area control game.  It has no language components used during gameplay, and there isn’t much for players to remember.  We play the basic rules, but haven’t had to make any changes to play well together.

Zombie Dice

Zombie Dice is a quick “push your luck” game with simple rules.  Ezra’s good at managing his risk in this game, and he’s just as likely to win as any adult.

Zombies!!!

For Zombies, we skip the event cards, and there are no other language dependent components used during play.  This makes the game a bit less fun and flavorful, and it can take longer without the help of additional weapons, so I also reduce the number of board sections we need to get through before reaching the helicopter.

Dungeon!

I’m only listing Dungeon here because it was a major disappointment, and did not meet our expectations.  It’s too simplistic for Ezra, he gets bored too quickly. There aren’t enough decisions to make, and there is very little character development.  For a simple, fast dungeon crawl, we prefer Heroica.

En Garde

This one is listed for ages 14+, but that’s ridiculous.  The truth is, almost every game with plastic or metal parts produced today must list an age of 13+ or 14+ because they cannot afford to have their pieces tested for toxicity.  We play the simple or slightly advanced versions of the rules, with no other changes.

Uno

I don’t love Uno, but there were some times when Ezra couldn’t get enough of it; and he consistently beat both his parents and his sister.  He also likes Harry Potter Uno, or Crazy Eights if there aren’t any Uno cards around.

Loot

I’ve played this with both kids a few times, but it isn’t that good with only 2 players.

The Sorceror’s Cave

This is one of the first dungeon crawl games I played with Ezra.  It’s extremely dependent on good luck to succeed, which totally drove away Martine.  Ezra fared better and enjoyed playing it, but we quickly moved on to other games with a similar theme.

Wings of War

Ezra loves starting games of Wings of War, but rarely finishes them.  He likes playing with the plane miniatures, and isn’t very good at flying predictably. But early on, he shot me down the first time our planes were within shooting range, so maybe that’s why he keeps coming back…

Hordes of the Things

I’ve started introducing Ezra to a few different miniature games, but at this point I have to wait until he asks to play so I don’t drive him away with my enthusiasm.  He has finished several games of Hordes of the Things, using all of the rules (all of the rules that happen to come up) but with a limited set of elements. The easy way I’ve found to introduce young kids to the game is to limit element selection to only about 3-4 types of elements, either all foot or all mounted.  Kids can remember 3-4 different combat factors, but it requires a chart if you need to remember different factors vs. foot and vs. mounted.  We played HOTT using Mechwarrior prepainted figures, limiting element selection to Behemoth, Knight, Rider, and Hero.
I’ll write more as we discover more games worth playing, but I expect we will soon start opening many more boxes once Ezra starts reading.

A New Bike: Raphael All-Rounder

A few months ago I found a great deal on a new, hand made bike frame on the iBob mailing list.  And finally, I’ve assembled it into a great bike.

Raphael Cycles custom frame set

This is a Raphael Cycles custom steel frame and fork.  It was built to order… someone else’s order, not mine.  But it was beautiful, the specs seemed to fit my needs, and it was far cheaper and faster than ordering my own custom frame, so I jumped on the opportunity to buy it used (but never built up).

I built it with a mix of new parts and donations from an older bike, my blue 1983 Trek 520.  Here’s a brief summary of the build, off the top of my head:

  • Sun CR18 rims with Shimano hubs: generator on the front, 8 speeds on the rear
  • 32mm Panaracer Pasela tires with plenty of clearance under the rims
  • New Velo-Orange Grand Cru crankset and fenders
  • Old Shimano Deore XT rear derailer
  • Older Suntour AR front derailer
  • Shimano Deore bar end shifters
  • Nitto stem and front rack
  • Sakae Randnner [sic] bars
  • Dia-Compe brake levers
  • Tektro CR720 brakes
The build went fairly smoothly, and after setting it up in the basement I’m happy to say I haven’t had to fine tune anything after my shakedown ride.  I haven’t ridden it far yet, but I plan to put a lot of miles in commuting, and hope to be inspired to take more non-commuting long rides as well.
The frame set itself is beautiful.  However, I do have a few minor nit picks with it.  To be clear, this is a better bike that is much better suited for the purposes I intend to use it for, than the bike I’m replacing.  None of these concerns are very important to me at this point, and I haven’t talked to the builder about any of them.  I don’t have any right to complain, because I didn’t order the bike nor was I involved with its specifications.
To paraphrase, I’ll quota a song by the Eagles: “I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.”
The pump peg behind the seat tube is in a very convenient location.  Luckily I never use frame pumps, however, because I don’t think a pump could fit between the fender and seat tube.  I haven’t made the rear fender line perfectly parallel to the wheel, so I could probably squeak out a few more millimeters of room there, but I don’t think it would be enough to fit a pump.
There is noticeable fender-toe overlap.  I have not previously noticed this on other bikes I’ve ridden, even with the same size tires and fenders, on the Trek 520 that wasn’t built for this kind of setup (but has a similar geometry).
There was no rear brake cable hanger.  I used a Surly hanger, but unfortunately the seat clamp slot was quite narrow.  It required me to file down the brake cable hanger, in order to be able to tighten the seat clamp enough to keep the seat tight.  I could’ve filed down the seat clamp slot instead, but I didn’t want to break my new paint.
I’m not a fan of the overall shape of the bike when it’s set up with my preferred cockpit dimensions; though, it looks fine without any parts on it.  It was apparently specified as a 59mm frame, but the head tube makes it look smaller than my 57mm frames.  Part of this is because the fork is longer than on my other bikes, and part of it is because the head tube has an extended top, so it looks far shorter.  The stem is very high, so I could fit my front decaleur to the bag without cutting it down and refitting it from its previous use (aka “I’m lazy”).
On the other hand, there are a lot of minor details that I absolutely love on this bike.  All of the fender mounting points have threaded inserts facing the correct direction, so I don’t have a bunch of brackets and clamps all over the place to hold the fenders on.  I like the contrasting paint on the head tube (though the color is a lot closer to teal than the royal blue it looks like here).
This is my first time using the Velo-Orange 50.4 BCD cranks, and I must say: if these are easier to set up than the TA Cyclotouriste cranks they’re modeled after, then I’m not interested playing with the TA cranks.  You need a very narrow front derailer in order to be able to upshift successfully without pegging the derailer cage with your crank.  This old Suntour derailer is the only one I had on hand that would do the job at all, but I may look for a better alternative.
I’m very happy with the way this bike turned out!  I’m still not ready to get rid of the Trek that it replaced, but I have an even older Fuji frame and fork, if anyone’s interested…

Here are links to Raphael Cycles blog posts documenting the construction of this frame and fork.  It’s very interesting to see the process that went into building this bike.

Update: A few observations after riding this for a week or so:

  • This is the most comfortable bike I’ve ever ridden. 
  • The toe clip overlap is not a problem in practice; it only shows up at very slow speed.  
  • The builder states that this is an early frame and not representative of his current work.

Fall-In 2012

Last weekend was Fall In! in Lancaster, PA.  I drove out with Rich and Larry as usual, but unfortunately JM couldn’t attend this time.

Fall In 2012: Maureen Reddington-Wilde
playing Gauls in the Warbandia event.

This was an unusual convention for me.  For the entire weekend, I didn’t use any army that fought after 50AD, but my chosen army dates were even earlier: no later than about 250BC.

Thursday

Thursday night, Larry ran Warbandia. Eligible armies need at least 6 warbands, and I didn’t have many choices.  I brought my Celtiberians, since I painted them fairly recently. In the first game, I beat Maureen Reddington-Wilde and her Gauls 4-0.  The second game against Mike Guth’s Visigoths was worthy of an epic poem, but unfortunately I’m no poet, so all it gets is a compound sentence.  In one turn both of our generals were killed, tying the game at 3g-3g; but unfortunately it was Mike’s turn next,  and he was able to kill one of my elements without me killing any of his, so he won 4g-3g.  In the final round, I lost to Paul Georgian and his gauls, 0-4g.

Friday

The Stooges telling us we did it wrong.

Friday was BBDBA doubles.  Since JM wasn’t around, I found an alternate partner: Chris Brantley.  We played triple Hittites, the later list with heavy chariots instead of all light chariots.

Our first matchup was against the Stooges and their Patrician Romans (East). We were doing okay for a while, but then we started rolling combat dice. Chris’s command lost 3 chariots in one bound, punching a big hole in the center of our line.  We were able to regain some ground, but not enough; we lost 6-94 after our C-in-C command broke.  We made a few mistakes in the center, such as missing an opportunity to close the door on the enemy’s general.

Bill Brown and Will Michael run forward with their pikes.

In the second round, we faced Will Michael and Bill Brown with their Scots Common army.  This was the most interesting Pike army I’ve ever faced, mainly because they decided to split their pike into each command and use it on the attack rather than holding it back and using it as a huge static defense.  They deployed away from their camp, which pulled us into their trap.  We deployed heavily in front of their camp, to encourage them to deploy their third command there to defend it.  Unfortunately, our C-in-C wasn’t on that side of the board, so they smartly decided to give up their camp, and concentrate all their forces on our C-in-C.  We won their camp, but we weren’t fast enough to kill 4 more elements in their C-in-C command before they broke ours and won the game.  It ended 14-86 in their favor.

Unfortunately, for the Nth time in a row there were 9 teams for BBDBA, which is just the completely wrong number to have.  In the third round we got a bye, which just sucks.  I’m there to play, not to win a free 80 points without playing a game.  I had a good time playing in the other two games, and I’m not sorry we lost.

In the evening, Chris Brantley ran Ars Militaria: a Book II event using double blind deployment.  This ended up being very interesting, but it’s not how I’d prefer to play DBA every time.

David Kuijt built stands to hold curtain-like screens across the center of the board.  After placing terrain and choosing our board edges, the curtain was put into place and we each deployed our armies based on knowing only the terrain and not the enemy’s deployment.

I brought Later Achaemenid Persians.  In the first round I lost to Dave Schlanger and his Early Gordyenes.  In the second round I beat Alex Bostwick’s Seleucids despite his attempt to force-push the terrain when I wasn’t looking.  In the last round, David Kuijt beat me with Greco-Bactrians.

The blind deployment worked fairly well without any cheesy moves taking place.  Nobody had time to find any obvious ways to break things, and the armies were matched well enough that there weren’t any problems.

However, I do think the screens affected the metagame and deployment choices somewhat.  Maneuver is more important if you aren’t sure where your enemy is going to be, which affects both army selection and deployment.

Saturday

On Saturday morning, I ran DBA Matched Pairs.  As at Historicon, we only had 15mm armies show up, which was a good thing, because the 25mm boards weren’t available yet this time either.  We had some inexperienced players joining in, so we took our time to teach them well and only got 3 rounds in before time ran out.

In the afternoon, I played in the Two Davids sci-fi event, 61 Cygni: Blood, Dirt, Plasma-bolts.  This event use a ruleset inspired by HOTT, written by David Kuijt with the goal of implementing Mechwarrior/Battletech themed battles a bit better than HOTT manages.  There were 8 players on a huge board, the map of Rio de Janeiro that they used for Monsterpocalypse HOTT at Historicon.

The main problem with using HOTT for large scale sci-fi battles is that the guns are huge, but the HOTT shooting ranges are tiny to nonexistent.  David’s rules implement direct and indirect ranged fire at much more plausible ranges, while maintaining most of the feel and rules of HOTT under the surface.  Overall, the rules worked fairly well; but I think they need a bit more polish to really handle the feel of Mech battles effectively.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of this visually impressive event.

David Mitchell’s Skythians kicked butt.

On Saturday night was the Two Davids campaign event: Death To Assyrian Oppression!  This event pitted a half dozen Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid armies against a gamut of historical enemies.  I played Skythians.

My 5 rounds:

  • Dave Schlanger attacked, I lost and lost my general.
  • Rich Gause attacked, and I lost
  • Jack Sheriff attacked, and I lost; but I killed his general.
  • I attacked David Mitchell and his Skythians, and lost again.
  • Maureen Reddington-Wilde attacked with her Skythians, and I beat her.

I ended up with only 2 points, but at least it wasn’t negative!  In other news, Alex Bostwick was taken over 6 times in 5 rounds (with one suck-up tile) and came in last place with -1.

Thanks to everyone for another great convention!  I hope to see you at Cold Wars 2013.