The Devil to Pay at Nashcon

DevilToPayI am running two games of The Devil to Pay at Nashcon. If you have not heard about them yet, these are regimental level rules for warfare during the American Civil War. They have been out since 2015. We started work on them in 2006, with primary development getting underway in 2011. This first edition plays really well. The mechanics are easy to understand and you won’t need an expert player to turn to in order to figure out something like a charge. The authors have been playing Johnny Reb since the mid-1990s, and other civil war games as well. From 1989 to 1998 I developed Bonnie Blue Flag, a brigade level set of rules. When Nathaniel St. John set out to write these rules he knew what he liked and didn’t like in rules. He didn’t like complications and felt that the rules had to be memorable. He did like there to be friction of command. As a veteran he has some experience with that.

The scenario I’m running is Lookout Mountain. Normally one would not choose this as the historical outcome was so one sided. In the real battle the mountain was beset by heavy November fog and by 3PM was in whiteout conditions. The Union was able to advance unimpeded by Confederate artillery. This is an interesting situation. Fog like that is extremely random. I’ve seen fog like that. It’s tenuous. So, for my Lookout Mountain scenario I make the fog random. It can build and wane. If it get to an extreme of either clear or foggy it will stay at that level for the rest of the  game. This means the Union can’t rely up Mother Nature being a solid ally. The most notable feature of the battlefield is it’s rough and steep nature. I’ve been working on custom terrain for it. While the convention is right around the corner, it’s not quite ready yet. Otherwise I’d have photos up! I treated the miniatures and the scenario first. Terrain can always be cobbled together, so not having special terrain wasn’t going to stop the game from happening. Not having enough miniatures, however, was! I’m confident the terrain will be ready in time, however.

The rules will cover this battle very well with little intervention. One rule I will be making up will be how artillery works against troops. There is a flat area that leads up to the mountain, which artillery can fire upon with no penalty. However, trying to fire at troops on the mountain at a different elevation is at half strength. Its not easy getting cannons to fire above or below their normal angles and that would be required upon this hill.

Another thing I like about The Devil to Pay is that if you just follow the turn sequence and don’t try to seize the day, you are going to lose. The turn sequence isn’t set. It’s kinda random, actually. You need to take advantage of the Carpe Diem cards to force the sequence to do what you want. If you just let the other side decide it will become their battle, their way, and ultimately their victory.

I’m Your Huckleberry, Update

I am continuing to work on I’m Your Huckleberry. I started this project about 3 years ago. The current revision is looking ready for release. The biggest change lately was how the damage system works and it’s a major change. One of the dissatisfying aspects of the old damage system was the large number of tokens that could end up on the table…

20160518_094753As you can see, one can end up with a rather gigantic amount of tokens and it isn’t just unattractive but you have to move them and it becomes a real problem when you have multiple stacks of effect tokens surrounding a figure. Of the many possible streamlining changes, this one was at the top of the list. Any change that makes the game play more efficient and aesthetically pleasing is a big win.

The change I propose is to reduce the wound states to Duck Back, Startled, Bruised, Incapacitated, and Dead. 3 of the states require tokens: Startled, Bruised, and Incapacitated. I chose to use round acrylic disks to be placed under the figure but which are visible enough to clearly indicate the state. The Recovery token is removed from the game. The new damage effects are as follows:

  • Duck Back – simply move toward cover and getting out of line of sight. The recovery token has been removed.
  • Scared – this is with a yellow marker. Can be removed with a Recover action. -1 die to combat and movement.
  • Bruised – shown with a blue marker, a more substantial injury, -2 dice to combat and movement.
  • Wounded – incapacitated. Shown with a red marker.
  • Defeated

20160518_094646There is a progression of wounds I am working on. I want it easy enough to remember. Basically, a yellow marker won’t increase the wounds of any other marker. A blue will promote a blue to a red. A red will promote a blue to a red, or a red to defeated. We will see how it plays out in convention games!


Game Theory on Extraterrestrial Contact

The Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation

Enrico Fermi, the flamboyant “Physicist with an F” as he would say, had a startling revelation one day. “The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist. However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.” It would not take a lot of time compared to the age of the universe to have covered it in a star spanning Empire. Why, then, were there no alien civilizations out there already? The Drake Equation can make very high estimates of the amount of intelligent life in the Universe or even in just our galaxy. Why can’t we hear the chatter of alien civilizations?

The fact is that SETI didn’t start until 1959. All sky survey’s have had the assumption that beacons would be continuous. So, all parts of the sky have been looked at for just moments of a time at random intervals since 1959.

The Wow! Signal

For some reason this topic has been coming up in my social media networks a lot and has gotten me to think about it as well. Does Firmi’s Paradox still hold or have we already found proof of alien life? The only credible point of evidence is the Wow! Signal, detected by Big Ear in 1977. It was a narrow band, strong signal, near the frequency of the precession of hydrogen. It was exactly what scientist would hope to find. Its the message we have sent as well. However, there is this disturbing bit of news that comes with it: The signal appears to have come from an area of the sky with no stars or planets, northwest of the globular cluster M55. The signal was also required a quite powerful transmitter at 2.2 Gigawatts. That kind of power is achievable with nuclear power, but is quite expensive and not likely to be kept on all the time. However, it is strong enough to be seen across the galaxy.

The Wow! signal has never been heard again. It lasted at most 24 hours and as little as dozens of minutes.

Humans are curious. We love exploration of ideas. We love knowing new things, because that helps us advance. The reason we want to know if ET exists is fundamental to our nature. However, in looking back at our own history of discovering “alien cultures” here on Earth, we are cautious. We know what colonization looks like. We have no record of what happened to Neanderthal man, yet, but all indications are that it did not end peacefully for them, as Homo Sapiens expanded into the World. However, some optimists have imagined wise and peaceful ETs out there. Others contend there can only be paranoid fear and our only true visitation by aliens will be via Relativistic Kill Vehicles, sent to sterilize our planet.

Lets Play Interstellar Identify Friend or Foe

In this game, lets assume just two players. One is an alien civilization that has decided to become known. What isn’t known is if they are friendly or hostile. We don’t assume the civilization is a non-broadcaster because not broadcasting is one of your choices and leads to a very quiet galaxy (which we currently have.) Why would a hostile agency broadcast at all? They want to find other alien agencies and need to lure them in. They are hostile because they are paranoid about the other forms of life out there. Their response is to follow up detection with relativistic kill vehicles (perhaps using asteroids that they get up to speed and destroy the planets in the solar system of their enemy. Not hard because gravity is a predictable effect, giving all the targeting information one needs.)

A friendly civilization is interested in information exchange. The more information they have the better. While there are risks in full disclosure, even between friendly agencies, they are outweighed by the benefits of mutual information exchange. That Full Disclosure communication, however, is heard by everyone, which is an important point.

There are three broadcasting levels. The first is a total blackout with passive listening only. The second is intermittent signals, broadcast loudly, but far away from the home system. This is most like the Wow! Signal. Finally there is constant Full Disclosure broadcast. This is like some people on Facebook! Those smart people at SETI and NASA have been doing this: loudly telling the Universe where we live, that we still have internecine warfare, our biological make up, and that we still worship cats and Kardashians.

Lets use game theory to understand the consequences here. I did my work in a spreadsheet which I’ll add as images. If you want the spreadsheet just get it from here.


Here in Game 1 we see what happens when we broadcast. So if we were Silent (row 1) and the other agency was an Intermittent broadcaster (column 2) our result would be ND, PD which is read as, Player 1 is Not Detected, Player 2 is Partially Detected. That means that Player 1 knows Player 2 exists but not much else. This is still useful information. Player 2 is unaware of Player 1. This game is simple and obvious and we don’t assign any value to the choices, just consequences. Understanding those consequences requires a more indepth understanding of basic desire. Perhaps I over-simplify, but an agency is going to be either hostile or friendly. Hostility, here, is defined as paranoid of competition. Friendly is defined here as seeking information exchange. Would this be possible without faster than light communication? I don’t have an answer for that. Let’s assume once communication is established, it eventually will have a positive payback between friendly agencies.

Since we must assume one side is breaking intergalactic radio silence, here is how I think it plays out.


The Infinite Cost Scenario is where you were detected by the other agency and they opted to sterilize your planet with a relativistic weapon. Since player 1 (left side) has the choice to produce a signal or not, we limit the 2nd player (top row choices) to partial or full disclosure. I would like to point out that NASA has already chosen the Partial Disclosure, with possible Full Disclosure. This gives us a 25% to 50% chance of being visited by a Relativistic Kill Vehicle in the next 800 to 1000 years. You’re Welcome. Of course it also has the chance to give us full and friendly relations with wise and benevolent space beings. People thousands of years into the future, you too are welcome!


How Close are we to Extinction via RKV?


I take our neutrality in this matter as a fact. I think we might consider open and fruitful conversation with alien people. Then again I also look at how some people treat other people who think even modestly differently on this planet… and I consider us more likely to be hostile. That said, looking at the chart I see two Nash Equilibrium in the mix. If the signal came from a hostile force, they have risk that we will determine their location, however, they are hoping for us to just be all open and fully disclosed so they can smash our home planet to pieces. If we suspect them to be hostile we prefer a zero disclosure strategy. If they are friendly, we benefit with full disclosure. Of course there is a risk not covered in this analysis. What if there is a third party, definitely hostile, and not doing anything to reveal themselves? Two parties blabbing on about nerd science crap in the bandwidth around Hydrogen are now going to both be targeted. Again, Thanks NASA and SETI.


But it’s not all bad. Maybe everyone leaks information and we just haven’t invented the right equipment yet to hear them. Removing the ND options reveals that there are low risks in PD. You gain information that you aren’t alone. However Full Disclosure brings Infinite Cost risks. In the last block I look at what a stealth agency gets. It is all gravy. In fact it favors being a hostile jerk. So, if that is the case then the Universe is divided into two camps. Hostile Jerks who lay low and snipe at your civilization versus Nerds who share everything and get removed from the gene pool. Thanks NASA nerds! Now I can sleep tonight knowing you have doomed us. On the upside, the most dangerous hostiles are the ones who send no signal, so its quite possible the Wow! Signal was a genuine friendly message. As stated above, I give us 50-50 odds that if it was a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence, it’s friendly.


The Wow! signal was sent from empty interstellar space. It was broadcast with an antenna the size of the Arecibo Observatory and powered by a nuclear power plant strong enough to power New York City. We can’t even come close to doing that. Not. Even. Close. So, I think it’s a lure. After doing the above analysis, it’s a lure for dumb civilizations to raise their hands and volunteer for extinction. Now, we can’t create a signal strong enough to compete with Wow! And if we ever get better at broadcasting into space we should seriously reconsider doing that. Certainly not from Earth. Certainly not communicating that we are organic life living on a water rich planet…

Other possibility exists. What if a hostile race discovered one trying to be silent? They could position a beacon designed to encourage contact from other agencies that would then investigate and find the hiding alien intelligence. If they were friendly with each other then the silent one would kill two birds with simultaneous attacks. If one was hostile then they would use that in the future to direct this violent species to attack neutral ones, letting them do the dirty work and then destroy them once they were no longer useful or too much of a threat.

Further Reading:

Prisoners Dilemma and Alien Contact: Harold P. de Vladar (2013). The game of active search for extra-terrestrial intelligence: breaking the ‘Great Silence’. International Journal of Astrobiology, 12, pp 53-62. doi:10.1017/S1473550412000407.

Less nerdy version of above:

Pessimistic Viewpoint:

Wikipedia on the Wow! Signal:!_signal

Skeptoid Podcast (one of my favorites) on the validity of the Wow! Signal being from extraterrestrial intelligence:

Image of the actual Wow! Signal printout:

National Geographic on post Wow! Signal searching:

An astronomer believes Wow! is a lighthouse

Crank astronomer states we should have found the signal again, even though we only send one every few decades…

How to make your own Big Ear observatory and look for Wow! signals:

Skeptical thoughts on what else Wow! could have been:

Full on NERD after action report, by Dr. Ehman himself, discoverer of the Wow! signal:

What have I been playing lately

In spite of a lack of activity here I actually have been playing a lot of games lately! It’s refreshing and reinvigorating. Games that have actually hit the table in the past two months are as follows:

StarWarsEdgeoftheEmpireYes I am finally playing a role playing game again. The group is 6 or 7 people. A pretty hefty turn out. We are meeting every other Sunday. Everyone has RPG experience. Everyone is old enough to be very familiar with Star Wars. It’s a blast! I absolutely love this system. I didn’t want to get into a complicated system. While this game has a learning curve it is all worth it. The dice mechanics alone are worth playing this game. I would replace skirmish gaming in the Star Wars for this game over the Star Wars Miniatures game. Easily.

I am currently playing a criminal explorer / scout of the Duros race. His mission in life is to find sellers of contraband, buyers of contraband and all the tricks he can find to avoid Imperial patrols. He trades in secrets.

Get this game. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

chi_ha_type_97Yes, I am finally playing Bolt Action. It only took one demo game to get me onboard with it. I love this game. It’s not the most realistic game out there. Just a warning. However it is a fun game with a historical theme that will get you figures back onto the table. It’s not hard to figure out and easy to teach. The army lists are pretty complete however they are missing KMT and Communist Chinese which I understand to a certain extent but I actually have Chinese troops in large number for WWII because of my Greater Pacific War project!

I played in a tournament last weekend and it was fun. I came in last place which given that I designed my army in the 20 minutes before the tournament began shows I wasn’t the most prepared person. I did come close to winning 1 game and I made my enemies pay in a couple of others…

descent-journeys-in-the-dark-second-edition-ffg-dj01-600x600Finally I am playing a lot of Descent 2nd Edition. I was really hesitant to like this game. I picked it up in 2013 only because I was able to get it for cheap money at a flea market, hardly touched. I was such a fan of the 1st edition. However, upon having played this a bit I’ve had to admit the original had some grievous sins and this new edition really corrects them very nicely. I’ve been picking up the lieutenant packs and I got most of the expansions after the first few successful games. Since I had every expansion from first edition I have tons of monsters that others don’t have. This allows me to really have fun with this game. I will probably create my own adventures to use some of the old tiles. The game plays at a much smaller and more intimate scale now so the old maps and adventures are out of the question. It might work but I am curious as to how well. You would not have a lot to convert.

Some of the biggest changes are that threat is directly related to plot cards that come with the lieutenant decks. They are entirely optional and the threat system is highly simplified now. The stats and powers are all simplified. By the time of the last expansion to Descent 1st Edition a character was rocking so many skills and talents and other options it was very hard to keep track of. There are still plenty of options, but the characters are simpler and the mechanics are simpler. The old system had 4 types of bonus dice. This one does not.

I think this game would appeal to anyone who likes dungeon crawls, wants games to last about 90 minutes per session and the campaign is fun and easy to follow. Yeah, the built in campaign system is awesome and while I loved the grittiness of Road to Legend, this system is much more suited to this game. You end up playing an Intro, 3 Act one battles, and Intermission battle, 3 Act two battles and a finale. No complicate map movement and no splitting heads over which secret location to go to next.

man-with-packI’m no longer lugging books around if I can help it so I mainly just bring my laptop with me. I’ve got a crappy laptop bag that I am getting rid of and I’ve been looking for good looking backpack. While this Tumi is a bit pricey (click the photo to see it on Amazon – same with all the other photos above), it does have the style I am looking for. I may continue shopping. I need something that looks good and will be a good fit for my reasonably slim laptop, plus tablet and other nicknacks. I’ve been parking is a distant parking lot and walking so this makes more sense than a laptop bag. What do you, dear readers, suggest?


I’m off to Nashcon. Loving how it has been going this year! I will be running 1 game, the one you’ve seen developed here for the Old West. I will also be running the Saga Tournament. I am hoping for 8 players but may only see 4. One is officially signed up with others stating their intention to show up. I’m working like a mad man to create terrain for it!

More news and hopefully more regular updates in the 2nd half of 2014. This year has kept me busy and not doing a lot of gaming. Let’s change that!

Get the skinny on Nashcon here:

Rules 1840-1890

6 Regiments Ready for The Devil to Pay.

6 Regiments Ready for The Devil to Pay.

The Devil to Pay

These are the ACW rules I’ve been working on with Nathaniel St. John and his group in Atlanta. I knew Nathaniel as a kid back in Massachusetts. He and another kid all met at the same small convention. I went there for the role playing games. Every one of us fell in love with historical war gaming. To this day we still play these games, often with each other.

Nathaniel came up with this colonial game years ago. I got to play it and really loved it. After sitting on his rules for about 3 years I called him up and said I was going to dig up my ACW figures and try them out. I had already written Bonnie Blue Flag. I just simply took some ideas from there and put them into the colonial game. It sort of worked. I made a few adjustments and started to add things that were on my very advanced rules ideas list. It worked better. I made a couple more adjustments and without testing them brought the game to Historicon. It was a disaster. Nat was there and we looked over the whole system and he came up with 20 things that needed to be addressed. Then I got a real job and didn’t have much time. We talked about some ideas here and there but neither of us had a lot of time. He spoke with and old friend, Peter Rice and together they stitched together a new game system that again mixed the old and the new.

We had another gaming weekend where we ran the game several times and added in our latest ideas. I worked on what I knew, artillery. Another friend, Ed P. came down and he helped with the general flow of the game. He has been writing games since the 1970s and he’s good at it. This time the game seemed right. Nat polished the rules after the weekend of playtests and brought it to Siege of Augusta. We did the battle of Brawner’s Farm at 2nd Manassas. It went extremely smoothly with players who had never seen the system in action.

Nat changed the basing to 40mm x 40mm square which changed a lot of things for the better. One is that at that base size any figures will work. 10mm, 15mm (see mine on the right), 28mm (what Nat uses) and even 54mm (we saw another game with figures of that size on 40x40mm bases!)

With his 28mm figures he had flags he was able to attach rings to to show how many commands the regiment had and red rings to figures on the bases to indicate hits (one ring: no effect, two rings: no longer combat effective with a third hit eliminating the stand.) I had used 40x15mm bases for my figures. I ended up just gluing them to the bigger bases as is. I needed two stands of figures to get the right mass effect and I have to say it looks a lot better than what I had previously! The large, square bases, allow for the regiment to go from line into column more easily. It looks better because you have the right numbers of troops massed together. It further regulates the game better than rectangular bases. The rings are held on using flat-head rivits. You can get 500 for $5. They work great!

The Devil to Pay is still not published but that is only because we have a lot more play testing to do of various scenarios and various types of battles (such as artillery duels and lots of cavalry.) I’m highly confident this will become a great product that people will enjoy playing.

Fast Play Old West Rules

In the meantime I am also play testing my fast play Old West rules where everyone takes their turn at the same time. How does that work? Well, with just a nod to a few situations where players might interupt each other, it works really well. I’ve run half a dozen games with more to come. The basic game is based upon The Rules with No Name by Foundry. That got simplified and then I added in simultaneous play. In order to get that to work everyone operates on the same card. Each card indicates either Movement or Combat. There are two sets of actions, further subdivided so that whatever action you take, it has to happen in the right sequence and you have to announce if you are using an action that would interrupt someone. In which case the interrupted player is then given options for their reaction.I am really happy with how it is working out. There are still some kinks in the system but it’s pretty easy to update at this point as there are good, reusable mechanics to fix the problems. It follows my latest concept of keeping core rules to cover things that happen in every game, and additional rules only in the scenarios that use them. The attempt to have one set of rules that covers every situation leads to large sets of rules that are hard to remember or comprehend and which are harder to keep consistent.


Western Gunfight Teaser photos

I’ve been working hard on my games for Siege of Augusta. So far I have 7 buildings assembled and several dozen miniatures ready. While I doubt the buildings will be fully painted in time, the game will be ready to play and I am certain people will have fun. I have to say, it’s almost a shame to paint these buildings. They look amazing! I have a very wide variety of figures and I plan on running pickup games to help fill some of the time slots if they need games. Work left to do includes filling in the bases and painting them, organizing the lot of them so that they can be taken to Siege and easy to set up once I get there, and the construction of a few more buildings.

Here are the photos. Enjoy!

fr1_6_2014105431 fr1_6_2014105017 fr1_6_2014104937 fr1_6_2014104717 fr1_6_2014104809 fr1_6_2014104238

Fast Play Old West Rules

New Rules: Fast Play Old West

Includes link to the quick reference sheet, handy for printing out!

These rules are very highly modified at this point from The Rules with No Name. They are designed so that many people can play. Now, many people can play any Old West game, but when you have a dozen players with a card driven system it can take forever for your turn to come up. That isn’t fun to me. I’ve been stuck in that situation many times. I believe multi-player games should be simultaneous to the degree possible. Everyone should be doing or reacting to something. It should be as orderly as possible. It should have some friction and chaos in it though.

When playing Old West games I started with Desperado. From the mid-1990’s until about 2005 I played that game to death. We had a lot of fun scenarios we invented culminating with The Great Train Robbery using a train my friend Rohn put together. It was magnificent. 1/48th scale, the figures could move on, over and within the cars. The only thing that suffered was the card driven system when we had too many players. Later I played Legends of the Old West by Games Workshop. That is one of the finest games for Old West that there is. It’s a remarkable game and well researched. It’s designed for one on one play where groups play campaigns and break up into individual fights between their warbands. If you can get a lot of people to play that way its a great system. It isn’t easily adapted to convention play without a complete rewrite. Honestly I like it as it is for what it is.

The Rules with No Name is a fairly complex game that tries to cover everything under one set of rules. The printed and bound version sold by Foundry is a cornerpiece of my rules collection because it is a beautiful book and I enjoy showing it to people interested in the Old West. At first it is what they think they want in a game – rules for every situation. After years of playing games I’ve moved much more towards rules that support a basic premise and then scenario specific rules to cover specific situations. I love the idea that you don’t need to know a thousand rules and play with only ten of them but instead to know 20 rules and play with them all.

I don’t have a name for this variant of the rules. I am tentatively calling them “Convention TRWNN” with the ultimate goal being that the basic game play information is on one sheet of card stock and the scenario information is on another. The write up of the rules will be online here. I see this being useful for any genre with modest changes. Something I’d like to do is put some Science fiction figures I have back on the table. There are other rules I like, such as Tomorrow’s War. However for something a bit more gritty and personal I need something else and this fits that bill.


Building by Sarissa Precision, figures by Black Scorpion, Old Glory, et. al. and painting by Combat Painter.

Ranchers vs Rustlers

I’ve been modifying The Rules with No Name [also see this free version] so that the game can be played quickly with a lot of players. Basically I made as much of the game simultaneous as possible with additional rules on handling some events out of sequence, such as calling people out onto the street for a challenge. I still need a few more play tests of the rules. I’m waiting for some custom Litko token sets to come in to help manage the game. I also recently got a large number of buildings from 4Ground and Sarissa Precision. I will be reviewing those and displaying pictures of them. If you have looked at them and though they look like they might be hard to put together, let me assure you they are a piece of cake and they look amazing!

More details to come. In the meanwhile enjoy these game photos.

Gaming the Old West

The project I started in getting figures out of boxes, painted and put on the table this year has gone well. For Old West, most of my non-Plains War figures are now painted. Terrain is getting made and the rules are almost ready for prime time! The Old West is a period that everyone gets. You don’t have to explain how to act in the scenario. The roles are so stereotyped now that people just get it. I love it myself. I haven’t played a big Old West game in a long time. I did a few play tests of the rules I plan on using in the last couple of weekends and I am really happy with them. The figures are being churned out by Combat Painter and they are all looking excellent. He is my favorite painter. I like him because he is very detail oriented. He has his own style so you may or may not like what he does but I think he is pretty good. Below is a figure he painted for me and I love it. At gaming distance all of his figures have the right amount of pop.

Marshal with Shotty

Town Marshal with 12g double barrel shotgun. Street Sweeper!