Thursday, July 26, 2012

Historicon 2012

My son and I attended Historicon this past weekend and had a great time. Saw lots of old friends, played in a couple of great games and ran two of my own.

We spent Thursday shopping in the dealer room/flea market and generally observing. Friday I ran my Conqueror Worm of Mars game and we played in a Gnome Wars game. Saturday I ran Goodbye to Guns and that night we played in Howard Whitehouse’s pulp extravaganza. Had a great time with it all.

I had the impression that there were a bit more “quality” games at this con than seemed to be the case with the past couple of conventions. That may just be a factor of most of the games being in a single locations but it did seem like there were more elaborate set-ups with some beautiful terrain.

I was very impressed with Bob Giglio’s Ango-Zanzibar War game, truly an epic sight.

Here’s some other games that caught my eye.

I don’t know if the John Carter movie was the influence but VSF games set on Mars seemed to be a sub-theme of the convention. There were a number of impressive GASLIGHT games put on by Chris Palmer and Buck Surdu (the authors of GASLIGHT) as well as Frank Chadwick’s game with some incredible scenery.

Regarding my own game, the Conqueror Worm, I think it went pretty well although a bit slow at time but that is probably the factor of having 10 players, most who had not played GASLIGHT previously. Everyone seemed to have a good time and got into the spirit of the thing.

As it played out, it ended up as a major but costly Imperial victory. On the Imperial right flank, the Earthling-led Martians of the New Model Army had a hard fought slugging match with the rebel Army of Protei with the latter slowly gaining the upper hand and capturing the Imperial supply base.

In the center the Worm cultists and Army of Tobansoor got in a long distance barrage with the archaic Imperial Guard army supported by the Edison Electronic Company that was led by a somewhat disgruntled employee, Nikola Tesla. The fight in this sector climaxed when Tesla (played with great mad-genius aplomb by Howard Whitehouse) jury-rigged a death ray out the generator that supplied electricity to a contingent of robots. The death ray disabled the Conqueror Worm, a huge war machine, artifact from a previous Martian civilization. While the cult priestesses struggle to repair it, they were attacked by a hidden hit squad of the Imperial Secret Service, the Silent Shadows. The priestesses were all killed.

On the Imperial left flank, the Imperial-allied Tharks, led by their favorite Earthing, Prince Ruprikt of Ruritanian, launched a flank attack on the Hill Martian forces of the cultists. Both sides were bloodied with the Tharks ultimately being wiped out except for Ruprikt. The American expatriate units were also chewed up pretty well. Things looked really dark for the Imperials when the rebel sky fleet came on in a body and moved directly to engage the hard pressed Americans. An incredibly lucky shot from the American dynamite gun saved the day, hitting the big sky galleon and knocking it from the sky with one shot. A bit later another lucky shot brought down one of the smaller gunships

The final point of the game was when the sand Martians reached a shrine in the midst of the Imperial lines and revived a buried Cephalopod war machine. Conventional weapons did little to machine. Amazingly, Ruprikt leapt onto the top, managed to open the hatch and engaged the Cephalopod pilot in hand-to-hand combat. They both managed to kill each other, leaving Ruprikt as a heroic martyr.

Friday night, we played in a Gnome Wars game. Consider that these have been around for a few years, are prominent at the convention and are in line with my personal taster for whimsical gaming, I’m surprised I never joined one previously. The rules are actually a very serviceable set of skirmish rules with plenty of humorous special rules. I played on the “allied” side of Highlanders (I ran two units of these kilted gnomes), Sikhs, cavemen, and leprechauns against a predominantly German force. The battle was for control of a village and after a rough start, we managed to get the upper hand on the Germans. Just as we were about to complete our victory, one of the other players had one of his gnomes desecrate a holy fountain by … using it as a rest room. This caused a vast horde of gnome zombies to appear but we fortunately had little trouble in vanquishing them.

On Saturday I ran Goodbye to Guns: All quiet on the Ruritanian Front. It was interesting to see how differently this one played out from when I ran it at Cold Wars. The game fell into to sections. The first was the Big Push, where American, Ruritanian, Angol-French, and Italian forces assaulted the main Central Powers trench line held by Germans and Austro-Hungarians supported by reserves of Turkish and German stosstruppen. In both games, the Central Powers proved surprisingly resistant against overwhelming odds. At Cold Wars, the Italians roundly defeated the Austro-Hungarians who were ensconced on a well-fortified mountain top while the rest of the Allies had trouble capturing the first line of German trenches. At Historicon, the Italians were unable to make much progress while the rest of the Allies captured the two German trench lines and, despite a heroic defense by some Fraulein troops, advancing well into the city.

The other half of the game revolved around the attempts to rescue the captured Princess Ludmilla. At Cold Wars, she was suitable rescued by the heroic efforts of American spy, G-8, and our hero, Ernest Hummingbird. At Historicon, the heroes failed completely, despite having the added assistance of a troop of Australian Light Horse and some Ruritanian partisans. It was suitably dramatic however, with the game ending, after a massive bombing strike by the Red Baron that wiped out friend and foe, when Hummingbird squared off against the skull-headed German villain, Der Schlager. They both rendered each other unconscious. As consolation, he awoke in the arms of Mata Hari who had switched sided as a double agent. There was also a glimmer of hope for the Princess when Joey the War-rat (the beloved pet that Private Baldrick was searching for and who had been held as lab rat in the villain’s lab) leapt into the lap of the driver of the staff car that was taking Princess Ludmilla to Vienna and the game ended with the car caroming off the board.

I had a great group of players who got into the spirit of the game, especially the role-playing aspect of it. Of particular note was our mad doctor who had the best maniacal laugh I’ve heard in years and also Walt O’Hara who played a deeply befuddled King Ruprikt.

That night we played in Howard Whitehouse’s Cairo Nest of Spies. With around 20 players, the action was too wide-spread and frenetic to give a coherent narrative but it had something to do with trying to keep a sarcophagus out of the hands of the Nazis. My son got to play a brutal Soviet agent with a penchant for sucker punching passers-by while I played the heroic British pilot Biggles who was much better behind the wheel of plane than a sports car. In appropriate pulp fashion, the good guys triumphed and the bad guys fell from airplanes.

Short-round parks the car at the Cairo Museum

A typical scene in one of Howard's games.

Biggles vs. the Traffic Circle of Death.

Overall a great time!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ben Franklin's War

With Historicon 2012 rapidly approaching, I thought I would look back at the games I ran at the HMGS Conventions in 2011 called "Ben Franklin's War." It was Weird American Revolution. The underlying concept was that the British technology was based on steam while the Americans, relying on Dr. Franklin's ideas, used electricity and harmonics as the basis for their technology. The French provided not-so-covert aid to the rebels from their Mongolfier balloon corps.

The game itself was basically the Battle(s) of Freeman's Farm but with weird science elements and, in the case of the British Indian Allies, some supernatural elements like Wendigos.

I called it the Battle of Dudgeon's Farm or the Battle of Websterbridge, taken from Shaw's delightful play about Burgoyne, The Devil's Disciple. I highly recommend the movie version with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas with Laurence Olivier as Burgoyne.

I ran the game at both Cold Wars and Historicon. At Cold Wars, I ran it using Battles by GASLIGHT while at Historicon I used Astouding Tales/All God's Children Got Guns. The reason for the change in rules was simply because it was a large game and as a lone GM, it was easier to run as a convention game. I thought both rules sets provided a good game with the main difference being that the vehicles were a bit more resilient in GASLIGHT.

In both instances, the game played out similarly and ended in American victories. The initiative was primarily with the British who had to break through a line of fortified American positions to win. The British left flank, composed of Hessians supported by a RN landship was most successful.

The British right flank, made up of grenadiers, Tories, and Indians had to deal with a flank attack by American riflemen and light troops led by the foreign volunteer, Prince Leopold of Ruritania ("Weopowd for Wibewty!") supported by the Royal Ruritanian Philharmonic Harmonic Gun. In both games, the rebels had the better of this fight. At Cold Wars, Leopold even managed to wipe out two artillery batteries single-handed.

Interstingly, in both games, the player controlling the British center proved very cautious and the bulk of British regulars barely got into action other than repelling suicidal charges led by Benedict Arnold, who went down in history as a great American hero and martyr.

Here's some additional special vehicles/weapons

British Steam Wagon

U.S.B. Independence

Koscuiszko's Landship

The Omni-directional Lightening Rod

Lightening Cannon

The Orchestra Pit of the Harmonic Gun

There's some additional pictures, taken by a much better photographer, to be found at: