Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Of Kids and Canon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season One

One of the joys of being a geek is being able to spread the revolution.  That is to say, it's an immensely satisfying experience (usually) to share something you love and dig with someone coming to it with new eyes. You can share the word about something you dig on, as well as vicariously re-experience the thrill of seeing it for the first time yourself through that person.  Being a geek parent is an even more special case.  As I experienced a year or so ago when my daughter flat out told me not to worry that Vader was lying about being Luke's dad, because he's just too mean, watching beloved media for the first time with a junior geek-in-training can be a particularly rewarding way to experience things you know backwards and forwards with a fresh and clearer perspective.   As such, in the interests of posterity, I plan to use this particular series of posts to document, as well as I can, the passing of the torch to a new generation.

So a little while ago, I decided to break my 6 year old daughter's regular entertainment diet of Doctor Who, Spongebob and My Little Pony to introduce her for the first time to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season One.  She's definitely taking on more and more complex and ambiguous material already, as far as I can tell, and my hope is that she's old enough now to recognize Buffy as a truly badass role model of sorts, and also that the show can serve as an intro to a later discussion of all things Whedon-y as she gets older. Plus we have seven seasons to work with, so it should occupy her for at least, what, a month?

While the first hour was a bit wobbly and hit/miss (but let's face it, so is the pilot, am I right?), she definitely dug the premise and quickly demanded more.  We blasted through the three Season One discs in just under two weeks, between homework and trips to the park, and in the brief pause after the Season Finale (before I was emotionally bludgeoned into getting out the Season Two discs asap), I managed to document the following thoughts and opinions on what we had just come through...

Me:  So did you like BtVS?

R: Ohhhh yeah.

Me:  What did you like about it?

R:  That there were like vampires and stuff.  Cause I think like vampires and like zombies and stuff like that is cool.

Me:  What was your favorite part of all the episodes we watched?

Oh HELL no.  Go to your room til you're 27.

R:  In the episode "Angel" it was really weird, 'cause Angel hasn't been seen as a vampire by Buffy before, but then they just kiss, and then they stop kissing and he's like a vampire, so I don't get how that works.  Is it like whenever he kisses a girl he starts looking that way?  I don't get it.  But I really liked that part.

Me:  I think it might just be a high school thing.  Do you think any boys you kiss in high school will turn into monsters like that?
R:  I don't think so.  But if they did, it would be really cool.

Me:  What was your least favorite part?

R:  I don't really know one.  I thought it was all cool.

Me:  Do you have a most favorite or least favorite character?

R:  My most favorite is Giles.  It's so funny how in the last episode, Buffy just goes, "huh" and he just goes "huh", you know?

Me:  Sure.  I thought Cordelia was pretty mean this season.  Now that she helped them fight off the vampires in the last episode though, do you think she's going to join the "Scooby gang" and be nice now, or just go back to the way it was before and keep being mean?

Master?  Master of needing moisturizer maybe...
R:  She's probably going to keep being mean because at the very end, one of her boyfriend peoples was asking if she was hanging out with them and she was like "Nooooo."

Me:  If you had to take a guess what sorts of things would happen in Season Two, what would you guess?
R:  That even more hard stuff to fight than the Master is coming up.

Me:  Did you think the Master was a scary villain?
R:  No.  He was kind of boring.  But the scariest monster...  I can't remember what the episode was called... was the invisible girl.  Stuff that scares me too much are things I start thinking it's real and I try to be really quiet when I'm alone and stuff.

Me:  So if you were going to join the "Scooby gang", which way would you most want to help out?  Be a cool kick butt girl who fights things, be someone who knows a bunch of languages and can read a lot of old books, be someone who knows tons about computers, or be the one who says funny things?
R:  Be a girl who kicks butt.  Cause I'm really good at fighting.  So good I'm like a ninja.  So it's like...  (a demonstration of punches and high kicks ensues here).
Velma, Daphne, Scooby, Shaggy and Fred in repose
Me:  Are you taking any tips from Buffy's moves?
R:  Yeah, that's how I learned to do that flippy thing on my bed.  I was trying to practice how Buffy was doing it.  You know how in that first episode of all the seasons, it's the first time you see that girl vampire (Darla), and you know how they were in that ancient thingy, and there was that thing in the middle that she like flipped over and stuff?  So I learned that from her.

Me:  So are you excited for Season Two?

R:  Yeah, I think it's gonna be way better.  Like I said, there may be monsters that are more powerful than vampires and monsters that are more powerful than the Master that they have to fight.

Me:  Do you think anyone is going to die in Season Two?  Any of the good guys?

Really.  We're not blaming her or anything.
R:  Maybe.  Maybe at least one.  Cause I don't remember which episode it was in... ("Prophecy Girl") but remember when all those guys were watching a little tv show thing and then they were all dead?  Many people have died in the first season...

Me:  So of all the good guys...  We'll say Buffy and Giles and Xander and Willow, and Miss Calendar and Cordelia... and Buffy's Mom and Angel.  If one was going to die next season, which is your bet?  If any... Maybe none of them will.
R:  It would probably be Willow, cause she like never fights.  She like mostly is like "Uhhh, I should stay inside" or "Mmm, I just don't want to fight tonight guys".  And then she just doesn't do it.  I think she's kinda scared to do it.  I don't blame her... It's kinda scary to fight monsters you don't even know.

Me:  Alright, well - we'll see how it goes.  Thank you!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Battlegame Book Series #3 of 20: The Wild West (Vol. 1) – Red Cloud's War

Narration from a Scottish redhead...
When I was a little boy I had one of the five volumes in the Usborne Battlegame Book series by Andrew McNeil. It was called Fighting Ships (#5) and it was published in the UK in 1975.  It was chock full of pictures and helpful information on the inside, and contained four complete wargames (with pieces, rules and gameboards in the book) that could help your imagination travel anywhere in time and space. This year, I decided to (re)collect and (re)play the entire series. And we've been playing ever since...


Being fairly far behind on the Battlegame project, Donny and I scheduled a double header last weekend, the first leg of which came from the inaugural volume in the series:  The Wild West.  The selection I picked out for our first foray from this book was a two-player option called "Red Cloud's War" - an example of a type of game that seems to crop up repeatedly throughout the series, and which I've been calling, for lack of something more appropriate, a "caravan management" game.

The scenario is set in Wyoming and Montana in 1866.  One player, as the Federal Goverment (Donny), must run supply trains from Fort Laramie over the Bozeman Trail, through the mountains to Fort Keogh before the stores there run out and disaster enues.  While the wagon trains themselves are relatively pokey and are confined to movement on the trail however, substantial cavalry is provided as an escort, which can roam the mountains both freely and quickly.

The other player (me here) represents the combined Lakota Sioux and their allies, defending encroached territory.  These forces consist of five different warbands, which begin play at individual camps spread around the periphery of the board.   When "eliminated" in a combat, the units just return to these camps and begin anew the following turn.  The Federal player place
s two units of any type in Fort Laramie at the beginning of the game and each following turn, including any units which are removed from the board during play (either through combat or successfully resupplying the fort).

Starting positions

A counter is set at 20 before play begins and is reduced by one after each of the Federal player's turns, as Fort Keogh depletes its limited supplies.  Each wagon that successfully reaches the fort increases these stores by 10.  The ultimate object of the game is simple enough.  If the supply counter is ever replenished up to 25, the Federal player has successfully resupplied and wins the game.  If the counter ever reaches 0, Fort Keogh is lost and the Lakota Sioux player wins.

Combat is a relatively simple affair requiring a single d6 throw by the attacking player, with odds determined by the ratio of combat values. (A warband should easily be able to pick off a wagon, but is at even odds vs. any lone cavalry.)  Units losing a combat will either be eliminated from the board (or returned to camp) or be forced to retreat down the trail (or be forced to return to the rallying point).

The initial strategy decisions are left for the Federal player, trying to decide which pieces to "develop" on the board first.  Bringing the cavalry on right away can lose precious time needed to get the wagons down the trail, but bringing too little of the cavalry out can leave the supplies dangerously exposed once the Sioux warbands actually get within range of the trail. There are forts along the trail, the sole purpose of which is to double the value of any Federal unit occupying them at the time of combat. The only incentive the Sioux player ever has to occupy one is simply to block the trail and deny the Federal units access to them. But this strategy becomes progressively less feasible as the game goes on and the numerical disparity makes itself felt.

Donny's use of the cavalry screen tactic in action
Through a bizarre wrinkle in the rules, the Lakota warbands must return to their camps after every attack, whether it is successful in eliminating the defender or not. Given the time required to bring these units back to bear on the trail once more, this makes it very difficult for the Lakota player to develop troop concentrations of any significant duration. In addition, it forces a cost analysis which must be thought through with any even odds attack vs. cavalry. Given the cyclical nature of the game (wagon caravans being restarted on the trail in waves), even a successful result can end up repositioning an eliminated cavalry unit closer to the new center of activity on the following turn than the warband's own new position. A “retreat” result, which would send the warband to the much closer “rallying point” instead, is only possible when defending from an attack.

The game tips recommend use of the cavalry to provide a screen protecting the wagons, and this ultimately turns out to be a very effective strategy, which can be useful to both players in differing ways. The Federal numerical advantage certainly allows for several cavalry units to be devoted to blocking out each individual warband, but by the same token, a crafty Lakota player can use this to tie up a disproportionate amount of the escort, leaving the caravans exposed to other attackers. The upshot, once all the pieces are developed onto the board, is a bizarre game of cat and mouse, wherein the Lakota units spend much of the time attempting to draw off the cavalry and perhaps provoke an attack, while staying close enough to the trail to be able to strike at any outlying wagons that offer themselves.
Red Cloud's hit & run meets Golden Dragon beef w/ mushroom

Once it kicked off, our game developed quickly.  Donny opted for speed and brought out mostly wagons on the first few turns. There were some cavalry units in place by the time the warbands made first contact, but on the whole I was able to swarm the caravan pretty effectively. Unfortunately, my results in the first few actions were dismal, and I had very little to show for results besides needing to start over from camp. By the time my units got close enough to be a threat towards the latter half of the trail, the Federal units had regrouped and reorganized themselves into a sufficiently defensive posture, so that, while I was about to knock out several wagons, one did successfully reach the fort, extending the game and forcing us to turn our attentions to the “second wave” of wagons departing Fort Laramie.

Unfortunately by this time, Donny had worked out the use of the cavalry screen pretty effectively. It was progressively more and more difficult for me to get clear avenues of attack at the supply trains as they meandered down the trail, and while I was able to pick off some here and there, ultimately one wagon reached its destination, later followed by another, the last wagon left in the caravan. With this the fort was successfully re-supplied and the game was over. The white man was free to live unmassacred in Montana, for at least a few more years anyway.

The Last Gasp - Keogh gets its supplies
Here is how Red Cloud's War fared in our scoring:

                                      Donny         Brian
Quick to lean           5                  4
We both hit the ground running with this game and thought it was quite easy to pick up.  I did have a minor quibble with a couple of the weirder rules that took me most of the game to be mindful of, like diagonal movement only being allowed on the Trail itself, and the annoying habit of Lakota units of returning to camp even after a successful attack.

Cool factor               4                  5
Red Cloud's War was a home run (or at least a triple) for both of us.  Donny was particularly impressed how well the rules ensured the historically-accurate usage of hit-and-run raids and ambushes by the Lakota, whereas I totally fell in love the various possibilities of the countdown and resupply mechanic constituting the object of the game.

Replayability            4                 4
We both felt very strongly this is a game that we both could and would play again, given the time and opportunity.  Donny's only reservation was that the "waves" of wagon trains could be reduced to pure mathematical strategizing (Only one of the first wave needs to get through,  and in such a way as to require only two of the second wave, and so on), rather than being more immersive in its overall strategic and historical paradigm.

Balance                    5                 5
Not only did both sides have a pretty equal chance of winning Red Cloud's War, a lot of the seeds of those victories were laid down early in the game.  So while the outcome could be construed on some level to be the result of random dice (say me shanking on my first few wagon attacks), it's in such a way that a player has more than ample time for planning to recover (or not) from the hazard of the die (i.e. - There is far less chance of the game feeling like it was decided by a final dice roll at the end of the game).

Overall                     4.50           4.50

A few relevant pages from Volume 1: The Wild West

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The CVG Special Bulletin Podcast #002 - Copper Country!

David and Scott of CMX Games hosting a demo at Gary Con
Hey Folks!  

If you listened to the latest episode of the CVG Podcast and Rhythm & Blues Review, you probably heard the interview I did with David Lankton and Scott Diehl of CMX Games down at GaryCon about their new project, Copper Country.

Well, their Kickstarter is finally live, so to help out, I pulled the part of the episode with the interview, and plugged it into it's own Special Bulletin Podcast here, just to help get the word out.

So check it out and give the interview another listen to recap, then get your bad self over to Kickstarter to help make this fine piece of gamery a reality!

Copper Country!

(Go gravy, or go ketchup.  There's no judgement here,man.  It's all good...)

Monday, May 12, 2014

On the Hunt! with Donny Rineck

Crikey...just had to get that out of the way to start with, my name is Donny and I am a bargain hunter, a junk diver, a flea market afficianado, a thrift store skirmisher, a rummage sale rumbler...if there is a deal to be found I will find it. In my years hunting I have found great deals, lusty bargains, oodles of odd balls, shining gems and lots and lots of junk. But in my world that, my friends, is a good thing. I wanted to sit down with you every few weeks or at least once a month and share some of my tips, tricks and scores! I will have pictures and prices when possible...don't want to give away all my secrets now do I? So this last month I trekked down to Milwaukee to see family and while down there I found there were two different flea markets. So when I go to flea markets, what I usually do first is try to get through the place as quickly as possible, giving it a once over, and see if I can spot anything that catches my eye...usually items of great value, super geeky items, or booths that just catch my eye. From there, I go back booth to booth and comb things over again.
I am no expert on Eastern European glass, Depression era silver, or 1960's Barbies...however I have crude knowledge of toys, geeky things, sports cards, and random other new age keepsakes and collectibles. So those are the first things I look for...sometimes I catch them on the first run through and sometimes I don't... Sometimes you have to dig through things to find your treasure. That to me is most of the fun! Now just finding things is well and good. Price is however another thing. At flea markets you have a big mix of professional dealers, people looking to get rid of junk, and people who think they are professionals but have holes in their expertise. The professionals are the ones usually with the best stuff, but most times with the highest prices. The people trying to sell the stuff a lot of times have "junk" but has the highest potential for gems. The people who think they are professionals tend to make up the majority of the flea market and are very hit and miss as far as if they will be the ones that know the value of a beta demonic tutor, 1990's set of Legos or Lamar Odom LA Clippers Jersey. Sometimes they have stuff over priced based on perceived value, sometimes they are just full on retail and other times it is way, way undervalued. Anyway, I've rambled on long enough for this first post, and I wanted to share my finds for the month. Find #1 is pictured down below and was just $10. As far as I can tell it's complete. I have no clue what I am going to do with it: I don't like models, I am bad at building things, and as far as a resale value, I'm not sure it has much more value than $15-20 if I find the correct person to take it off my hands. The thing is, I don't care when I find something this cool. I just have to buy it because I know someone will want it, and I feel it is my responsibility to rescue it. I also picked up about 20 lego mini figures for $2 each ranging for Storm Troopers to Gimli to an Alien to the new Lego Movie characters, an old 1974 German Tiger Snap-Tite model for $0.50, some old pen and paper car games for $3 and about 20 role playing books at a game store for $3 each.
I hope you find some of what I wrote useful and that you will share your finds with me in the future! Keep your eyes peeled and always be On the Hunt...