Monday, June 30, 2014

Battlegame Book Series #4 of 20: Galactic War (Vol. 3) – Invasion Earth!

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...


For the second half of our recent double-header, we moved on to Volume 3 of the series, Galactic War.  To say that this book, not being devoted to a particular period of military history, is an aberrration among the Battlegame Books would be quite an understatement.  The first half is a brief overview of basic astronomy and cosmology and a history of the space program circa 1975.  (For the record, my single favorite part of the book is how it describes the amazing success of the Skylab program in the present tense.)  As there has not actually been any galactic war though of which we are aware (at least at the time of press), the second half of the book delves into the purely speculative "someone thinks this might be something that could happen someday" digression, including the four wargames, which are pure matinee sci-fi schlock at its best.

Invasion Earth! is no exception and is definitely chock full of wtf-itude.  The scenario revolves around an attempt by an amphibious alien race called the Ganoids (Dastardly Donny here, largely due to the physical resemblance) to conquer the Earth by planting enough breeding pods into the Pacific Ocean to spawn and overwhelm the puny humans.  As you do.

The other player (me here) takes on the role of Earth's woefully underfunded and undermanned Pacific Command, charged with the task of eliminating enough of the breeding pods as they are seeded to prevent the Ganoid invasion from achieving critical mass.

The first Ganoid craft lands off the coast of Peru
The earth forces consist of essentially four fleets:  two slow-moving submarines, a much faster aircraft squadron and a middling attack hydrofoil.  In addition, the Pacific Command controls three one-shot orbital missle satellites which "scroll" across the top of the board each turn.  

By contrast, the Ganoid player controls six "beacon" space ships, with no real movement capacity to speak of.  Each turn, one ship may be landed anywhere on the board as desired.  The following turn, that craft generates a spawning craft, while another beacon ship may be landed elsewhere.  On the third turn, the spawning craft is submerged beneath the ocean depths, and the beacon ship may depart to anywhere else on the board.  The object of the game is for the Ganoid player to get 10 craft submerged successfuly (or 8 submerged in a contiguous group, which is far more unlikely to happen), at which point humanity is overwhelmed by dripping aliens clawing up the beaches, dogs and cats start living together and...  well, you get the idea.

A submarine fleet takes out a submerged breeding pod near Vancouver, while a Ganoid beacon ship considers its next move
If at any point before the spawning craft is successfully submerged, that square is attacked by the Earth hydrofoil or aircraft, everything within the square is destroyed.  (This obviously dictates the primary Ganoid strategy, which is to spread out landing sites at the edges of the board, to delay humanity's response in best hopes to get as many pods underwater as possible.)  Once submerged, neither the hydrofoil nor the aircraft may make an attack on a spawning craft, but it is then exposed to submarine fleet attack.  Of course the two submarines move with such agonizing slowness, they are of limited usefulness and lethality, depending on where the Ganoids manage to effect their landings.

Finally, the three orbital missle satellites (or OMS's) are the Earth player's one major ace in the hole.  They track across the top of the board by one space per turn, and at a certain point each may be used to "nuke" a square in the column beneath from orbit.  Everything within that square is destroyed (whether submerged or not), and that OMS is then removed from the board.  You get three shots only.  Make them count.

The Final Positions
As we commenced the game, my initial strategy was to attack the beacon ships directly as they landed, thinking I could quickly end the game by taking out these six units asap.  Donny was quite adept at spreading my forces out across the board though, and it quickly became very unfeasible for me to reach enough of the beacons before they took off for other parts.  As a strategem for victory, it proved unlikely to be effective.

After a brief re-assessment, I began to concentrate on the spawning craft instead.  The Ganoid player has a supply of 16, and realizing the impossibility of him submerging 8 in a contiguous grouping before being attacked by my aircraft, it became a matter of simple math.  If I could destroy 7 of the spawners, Donny would be entirely unable to meet his victory conditions.  

I think I already had destroyed one grouping in mid-spawn by this point, and subtracting the three nuke hits I expected when my OSMs were lined up where I wanted them to be, this meant I had to take out just three more of the pods with my mobile units.  It was honestly touch and go there for a while...  Ultimately though, my subs were able to reach just enough of alien landing sites to tip the balance towards the defenders and victory was mine.

Here is how Invasion Earth! fared in our scoring:

                                      Donny         Brian
Quick to lean           3                  3
The rules themselves were simply stated but took a good while for us to wrap our heads around, such as the alien forces having no attack value or movement speed.  We were repeatedly confused by the human units having their attack value printed on the unit (instead of the speed), and the differentiation between which units could attack aliens on the surface or submerged was not immediately clear.

Cool factor               5                  4
I was particularly fond of the OMS mechanic.  An interestying variant would be if the satellite attacked everything in the row beneath, not just one square in the row.  (On the first read-through of the rules, that was actually my interpretation of their attack capability.)

Replayability            4                 4
This game does not just lend itself to replayability, it demands it.  We both felt it took us most of the game to get our bearings in terms of how it worked, and that it would require additional plays to fully get the hang of.

Balance                    3                 3
It was hard for us to sense any particular slant during our game, but the tips and suggestions included on the rules page suggest making the game harder for the Ganoid player after a few plays by adding OMSs, which definitely implies a biad towards the alien side in the base game.

Overall                     3.625

Some pages of Volume 3: Galactic War

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The CVG Podcast and Rhythm & Blues Revue - Episode #009: What Is And What Should Never Be!

My poor head...

Episode Nine of The Chippewa Valley Geek Podcast and Rhythm & Blues Revue is complete and can be found here or on iTunes and Stitcher.

It's the start of Season Two, and you're getting a veritable cannonade about canon in this episode!

0:00:00  Intros
0:02:06  The Up Front: On race and re-casting canon
0:12:25  The Interview:  Tom Foss of The Fortress of Soliloquy explains the point of canon, lets us know where it goes horribly wrong, and takes on the Geek-del Test!
0:56:12  Payin' some bills

1:01:26  The Roundtable:  Wherein Donny and Mike heap their scorn on canon, then decide they're kind of OK with it after all, and then go and choose the wrong cannon!
1:45:31  The Community Calendar

1:50:44  Outro & Credits
1:52:05  Bonus Track:    Sagan the Blues!

Sweet Monkey Jesus, do we have some Show Notes and Links this time!

Make sure to complete The Chippewa Valley Geek 2014 Reader & Listener Poll

Felicia Day's "high school essay" on race and casting

Don't get these guys mixed up...

Doctor Who and The Talons of Weng-Chiang!

Dungeons and Dragons: The Movie - Oh the humanity...

The Hitchhiker's Guide movie  (Now is a good time to panic.)

Hey kids, it's Kate Mara!

House of Cards
Kevin Spacey and the worst Cockney accent ever...

Shira Brie came first.

Jupiter's Legacy! by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely (It gets brutal...)

The Return of Donna Troy! by Phil Jemenez

Daredevil! by Mark Waid

Wolverine & The X-Men! by Jason Aaron

If you liked the first 150 pages of the Silmarillion, you'll love DC's 52, by Johns / Morrison / Waid / Rucka.

Spider-Man: One More Day

Spider-Man: Brand New Day

The New 52

Grant Morrison is a genius, pure and simple.

Check out his amazing interviews w/ Kev Smith on Fatman on Batman here, here and here!

Adventures of Superman

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight

All-New X-Men! by Brian Michael Bendis

Amazing Fantasy # 15! by Lee / Ditko

The Death of Superman! by Dan Jurgens and a bunch of people

Tom Foss's Walking with Superman blog project.  It's pretty farking clever.

The 8th Doctor Audio Adventures

The Night of the Doctor: Mini Episode featuring #8

Garth Ennis' The Punisher

Star Trek: Into Darkness  - frickin' kids these days...

It's  A Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman: The Superman Musical

Jaime Reyes and the Blue Beetle

Wally West

Daredevil <-- Find a decent Kingpin here...

Miles Morales and Ultimate Spider-Man

Superman: Birthright!  by Mark Waid

All-Star Superman!  by Grant Morrison

Superman: Red Son!  by Mark Millar

Supergirl: The Director's Cut

Tom Foss is at  The Fortress of Soliloquy and on Twitter at @dowding_tom.  I think.


Cannon: Season One w/ William Conrad

Cannon by Wally Wood

Rock me baby like a Wagon Wheel...

A few words from the Furyondy Chamber of Commerce.


Wolfgang Baur is here.  (He didn't really do any of the stuff I said he did.  He's a nice guy.  Really.)

Memorize the Wookiiepedia and learn about Billy Bob!

You should read some Patrick O'Brian!

Master & Commander

Because she's there...

Atomic Robo

Rat Queens:  Sass and Sorcery

Back to the Future

Donny's Horror Reboots:

A Nightmare on Elm Street
Friday the 13th 
Fright Night
Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Salem's Lot

The Star Wars RPG Mike meant.

Don't forget the Forgotten Realms!

Ed Greenwood!

The One Ring!

Traveller, baby!

Mutants and Masterminds!

Call of Cthulhu - Core Book

Mecatol Rex from afar and up close and personal

Captain Kirk's Cannon!

Captain Kirk's Cannon, Recreated!

Pachabel's Canon

Dyan Cannon, 1978...

Hint: the correct answer is -not- to always own a cannon

Rollie Fingers

The origin story of Monster Mike
(Someone is owed some life story rights I think...)

Teen Wolf

The Geek's main Amazon link!

Remember you can get your own copies of the bonus tracks out at Bandcamp!

Sorry, no Monthly Marathon this time out.  I'm playing binge-watch-catch-up on a few series right now and will need any bonus free time to start work on the next few eps of the podcast.  Feel free to view amongst yourselves.

PC Stinger:  Quelidan the Magnificent
This month's stinger is by an Eladrin Wizard contributed by our special guest Mr. Tom Foss.  Check out his character sheet here...

The backing sound effects used in this episode included:

-  "Moroccan Guimbri Lute", obtained via via a Creative Commons 0 license.  The original file can be found here.

It's no "Heaven and Hell", but nevertheless, special thanks for helping to inspire this episode's bonus track go out to Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere." - Carl Sagan

Introducing the 2014 edition of the Chippewa Valley Geek Annual Reader / Listener Poll!

Hey folks!

Please help start our second year off with a bang by taking a few minutes to fill out the 2014 Chippewa Valley Geek Annual Reader / Listener Poll!  It's right here.

It's a great chance to give some feedback on the blog and the podcast and let us more about your wants and needs.

Everybody's doin' it.  You don't want to be left out, do you?


I didn't think so.  

You want to be cool.  I want you to be cool.  

Consider clicking on the link and giving a few minutes of feedback and stories about you.  Then you'll be cool.

Thank you for your support.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monster Mike's Geek Reads: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game

No doubt you boycotted the film and you are probably ready to scream foul invective at me for giving that blankety-blank homophobe Orson Scott Card a nickel in royalties for the privilege of reviewing his book.  So before we go any further in this review, let's clear the air:

I stole this book.

We here at the Chippewa Valley Geek hold no truck with homophobia, racism, sexism, or any other sort of -ism.  Geeks come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  We recognize that geeks share their geeky love as The Force moves them, and we think that's awesome.  However, my purpose here is not to critique Mr. Card and the repugnance of his publicly stated views, but instead to review this important and influential work of science fiction that he wrote nearly forty years ago on its own merits.  So take some deep breaths, throw a few karate chops at the stuffed Pikachu next to you, and recite the Green Lantern Corps Oath until your mind reaches a Zen-like state of calm.  Then read on.

The story takes place in a hypothetical future where humankind has overpopulated the earth, space travel is becoming commonplace, and we have begun to get serious about expanding to other planets.  However, about eighty years prior, humankind was attacked by an utterly alien species known as The Buggers.  The first Bugger war forced all of the disparate human governments and cultures to unite and took all of humanity's resources and courage under the leadership of the legendary hero Mazer Rackham to drive the mythical beasties back to wherever they came from.

Eighty years later, Earth finds itself politically divided and desperately seeking the next Mazer Rackham to defend them from the inevitable second invasion.  Enter Andrew "Ender" Wiggin and thousands of other children like him that are identified for their intelligence and potential at a very young age and are sent to Battle School.  Ender is a "third" - an outcast third child on a world with a rigid two child per couple policy.  His older siblings Valentine and Peter are every bit as bright as Ender, but are deemed unsuitable:  his sister Valentine is too compassionate, and his brother Peter is too cruel.

The bulk of the story is about Ender's development as he progresses through Battle School and eventually moves on to Command School.  Battle school looks rather like a four-year long game of organized team laser tag in zero gravity, and Ender quickly proves to be brilliant at both the tactics and strategy of this game.  His keen observation, intelligence, and judicious ability to be violent in the right amount at the right times see him through all the challenges that the school can throw at him.  Since many chapters of the book are prefaced with a private dialogue between Colonel Graff and Major Imbu - the manipulative leaders of the Battle School -  discussing Ender's progress and latest challenges, the reader gets insight into the invisible hands pulling the levers in Ender's world.  And in the remainder of the narrative, a lot of the action takes place inside of Ender's head.  This gives the reader a clear view of the thought processes of the world's next great tactical and strategic genius.

By the time Ender is ten, he is moved to command school, representing the step up from leading a squad to commanding the strategy of a large group of squads.  Though the games grow increasingly intense, Ender also gains a mentor.  And I don't want to say too much more about the plot of the book beyond this point, because there are a few great twists at the end that should not be spoiled.  You'll just have to read it for yourself.

So what we have here is a story about the personal growth and development of one exceptional individual in a military society with the horrible bug alien space menace serving as the threat that lurks just over the horizon right up until the very end of the book.  In this sense, Ender's game very strongly mirrors Starship Troopers.  The writing is gripping, and the book is hard to put down.  At the same time, I could not help but feel a certain queasiness with the ironclad moral justification for every immoral action in the book.  For example, at several points in the book, Ender is forced to defend himself violently and does so, never learning that he actually killed his assailant.  The operators of the battle school are given complete moral justification for what amounts to psychological torture of children.  At the end of the book, Ender has to make choices with staggering moral consequences justified by his ignorance of what he is truly doing.  And the reader is left squirming uncomfortably, hoping that everything works out all right in the end.  Reading this book may leave you feeling rather squicky when it's all done.  Yet I also think this kind of boundary-pushing is exactly what science fiction is for.

out of 5.