Monday, February 18, 2013

Wooden Wars at DunDraCon 37

Yesterday I wrote about arriving at DunDraCon 37 and visiting the Flying Buffalo Booth. Today I'm going to jump ahead a good way into my time at the con.

Every con has a surprise discovery somewhere in it. For me, for this con, it was Wooden Wars. Wooden Wars is a simple miniature game that uses laser-cut wooden soldiers and a combat resolution system that uses both contact between units and thrown rubber balls as the basis for determining losses. It's a nicely updated version of H.G. Wells' Little Wars. Since the artillery used in Little Wars isn't available in toy shops today, the rubber balls stand in as a replacement.

Wooden Wars play at DunDraCon 37
My daughter managing Queen Victoria's Robots on the surface of Venus. They come to a bloody end in the next turn, when a unit of V-Rex riding Dragoons charges them after they come out from behind their cigar box revetment onto the open field to support their own unit of cavalry.

The game was designed by Thomas Foss, who ran a successful Kickstarter project to improve his ability to produce the game pieces. He started with Napoleonics, and has since expanded into Victorian fantasy pieces such as the robotic infantry and steel dinosaur riders.

The pieces are beautifully made and well designed. The maker, Thomas Foss, is presently fulfilling the orders from his Kickstarter backers, and hopes to open his store next month. He's on Facebook, though I'm not (not yet--every day adds another reason I should probably bite the bullet and sign up.) He's also got a blog at Skull and Crown here on Blogger. I'll be watching closely for the opening of his store.

My daughter had a great time playing the game, and we had a great time watching (we went off and attended a couple of talks while she was playing, it was harder to pin us down to one thing at the con, but we can't wait for our chance to play.) It's one of those games that looks like as much fun as it is, making it a great game for spectators as well as players.

Acts of Dog
One rule that stood out to me in a quick review of the rule book was the rule on "Acts of Dog", where any pieces upset by the actions of pets (of any species) are treated as destroyed for the game. So, if things are going poorly for your side, you can always call in Fido or Fluffy. Assuming there's more of their soldiers on the field than yours, chances are in your favor. And if it happens that your remaining units become hors de chat rather than the enemy, at least you've had a quick and relatively face-saving end to the game so that you can get on with another.

I can't wait to play Wooden Wars with our local gaming group.

I think it'll be a big hit.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Flying Buffalo at DunDraCon 37

I went to DunDraCon 37 with my wife and oldest daughter on Saturday, and we had a great time. This is the first DunDraCon I've been to for a very long time. My first DunDraCon was #4, and unless I'm mistaken the last one I went to before this was #5!

Since then the con has moved to San Ramon, CA. I've been seriously thinking of going for many years since moving back to where it's within reach. But each year I was either already committed to something else on President's Day weekend, or didn't go because I was under the impression that it was a longer and more arduous trip than it turned out to be.

But it was just over 2 hours drive, and not so bad a drive at that, at least not when we went.

Flying Buffalo
Rick Loomis, of Flying Buffalo, has mentioned in several places online that he'd be going to DunDraCon this year. Since I'd been involved in both the Ace of Aces Kickstarter and the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls Kickstarter as a backer, and he'd promised a free die for stopping by the booth and saying, "hi", that was more or less my first stop once we got registered for the con.

I was surprised as how small the dealer's room was, but the vendors that were there all had plenty to show. So it was sort of a small but high quality set-up. The main thing I missed was the wide variety of small startups that I used to see at cons years ago. I guess they all live on the internet now.

At any rate, Rick Loomis was there with a Flying Buffalo display. I didn't get a picture because I was too distracted at that point, and by the time I thought of it, the time had gotten late enough that the poor people manning booths had been set loose by the closing of the room.

However, I did get my free die (I picked out a black and red one with a skull), and I bought a copy of Nuclear War and a copy of Monsters! Monsters!

Nuclear War
Nuclear War was one of the first "unconventional" games I ever played. I have a copy of Nuclear Escalation, which can be played stand-alone but it works better, IMO, as an expansion to Nuclear War. Now I have my own copy of Nuclear War. When I was much, much younger than I am today, I recall that I always wanted to get the Saturn booster rocket for my warheads. Because having the biggest booster is just, well, cool.

Monsters! Monsters!
Monsters! Monsters! is the original "reverse dungeon" RPG. I had a copy years ago, along with my copies of the older versions of the Tunnels and Trolls rules. Unfortunately, MM has failed to turn up in my searches through my stuff over the past couple of years, even though everything else did turn up. So I decided to buy another copy.

Now that I have, I expect my original will turn up.

I have hopes that the success of the dT&T Kickstarter might lead to a MM Kickstarter. I'd like to see the information in MM reorganized so that all the info on a given monster is in one place, a bit more detail on some of the monster abilities, and, of course, more monsters and more art.

Truthfully, it's not hard to just play a game of MM with just the T&T rules. But it's fun and a bit easier to sell a group on an MM campaign if you've got a dedicated book for the purpose.

Nuclear War Extras
My wife wanted an "I Love Nuclear War" bumper sticker for her car (Rick threw that in for free), and my wife was extremely pleased to discover that there's a Nuclear War spinner app featuring Claudia Christian. She's a big fan of Claudia's, so she's looking forward to putting that on her new Android phone when it arrives.

DunDraCon in General
That was just the start for us. We had a great time at the con, which I'll be going into in further posts. Back home today, I'm reading my way through Monsters! Monsters! again, and looking forward to breaking out Nuclear War on our holiday day tomorrow.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Old Magazines: Living in the Past...and Present

Last week I was speaking at the Nevada County Astronomers, an astronomy club I'm in that I really enjoy a lot. Our President, Dave Buchla, happened to decide to clean out some old magazines he had in boxes at his house, and brought in a bunch of old copies of Sky and Telescope magazine from the 70s and 80s with a few other magazines from the same time period thrown in.

Well, I've got my own collection of S&T, I have a six foot tall book case that's over half full of them dating back to about 1979, when I first subscribed. But Dave had a bunch of older ones, most of which I remember reading in the library, before I had the money to have my own subscription. So I snagged a healthy sized pile of those.

Today I picked up the first one on the top of the stack next to my easy chair, and started reading. Honestly, I wasn't sure quite what to expect from reading a magazine over thirty years old, no matter how rosy my memories of it might be. It turned out to be much more than a simple sentimental journey, though.

The Future, From the Past

The magazine happened to be the March, 1979 issue of Sky and Telescope. The beautiful image of Jupiter on the cover drew me to it immediately. On the contents page I learned that this was an image from one of the Big Events of my youth, Voyager 1's encounter with the planet.

A few pages in I stopped my page-flipping at an article on mutual occultations of the planets. The headline included "1557 to 2230". Well, I figured I'd take a look at the chart and see if there was anything coming up now based on thirty-some year old predictions.

Unfortunately, the closest was not until 2065. So thirty years wasn't enough to catch up with the material of the article! A figure on the opposite page illustrated an event that's a bit closer, though, in 2037--a near miss of an occultation. So I dove into the article itself. Thirty years hasn't taken anything from this article. It's as timely today as it was back in 1979.

Dang, I thought, that's why I loved this magazine so much back then.

What Ever Happened to MIRA?

Moving on, I next paused at an article titled "Making it in Monterey". I wondered if the article was about something in Monterey, CA, not too far away from us here in the California foothills. Plus, I end up in Monterey about once or twice a year because we have family there. The word "Cleveland" in the caption of one of the photos confused the issue for a moment, but a quick scan of the start of the article confirmed that Monterey, CA, was indeed the place the article was discussing.

The article describes an effort to found a private observatory by a number of astronomy grad students back in the 70s. The article was very interesting, but the whole time I read it, I couldn't help but wonder what had come of their efforts. Being three decades into the future, I was able to go straight from the article to the internet to get an answer as to what happened.

Well, their daring escapade came to a happy end, at least from today's perspective. The observatory is still in existence, they have managed to construct their hoped-for site at Chew Ridge, and they have numerous public events. It's all on their website,

What a nice way to end the article.

So Much for the First 20-Some Pages

So now I'm about 25 pages or so into the first magazine from a stack that's about a foot tall. Already I've learned more about what's going on in astronomy today than I expected from a stack of 70's mags. I rather more expected to relive some past moments in the way that the "25, 50, and 100 Years Ago" column in S&T does each month, but with a bit more than the paragraph or two they reprint from each issue there.

Things like this are why I wish I could go to something like Google Books or the sites of the magazines themselves from the past (where they still exist) and sift through the old issues of all the ones I enjoyed back when, or the ones I missed out on.