A Treasure Trove of Alarums and Excursions

Sunday, December 24th, 2017 | Posted by Doug Ellis

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I picked up a collection of SF/fantasy books, magazines and fanzines this past Saturday (December 16), including a bunch of 1970’s-1980’s fantasy roleplaying material. A lot of the RPG stuff was D&D related and was a trip down memory lane. That was particularly true of one of the items.

Back in December 1979, eight of us were packed into a van driving from Buffalo to Apopka, FL (near Orlando) to spend the winter break with my grandparents, who wintered down there. Besides my parents and my sister, my cousins Scott and Jeff were with us, as well as my aunt and uncle. At the time, I was 16, Scott was 17 and Jeff was 12, and we were all completely hooked on D&D, as well as other fantasy games, such as Metagaming’s Melee and Wizard. I suspect our focused and energetic conversations during the 48 hours we spent in the van (round trip) drove the rest of the folks trapped in the van a bit nuts.

While in Orlando, we talked my dad into driving us to a gaming store. There we found three issues of a magazine we’d never heard of before, which I bought immediately — Alarums and Excursions, which was a gaming APA. None of us had any clue what an APA was before coming across these. I remember our reading them on the drive back to Buffalo. One of them was issue #51, and I still have those issues.

In flipping through the gaming material I picked up this past Saturday, I was surprised to find a copy of issue #51 staring back at me, and it brought back the memories of that trip from nearly 40 years ago. In all, there were 73 issues of Alarums and Excursions in the material, ranging from issue #16 to issue #134. Above is a shot of the boxes with them, and below are scans of the covers from a few issues. There was also one issue of another gaming APA, The Wild Hunt, in the mix. It’ll be fun leafing through them!

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Decide the Fate of the World With Tiny Plastic Ships: Axis & Allies by Avalon Hill

Friday, December 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

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When I was in grad school at the University of Illinois in the early 90s we used to play games in the lobby of Daniels Hall. I played things like Star Trek: The Adventure Game from West End Games, and card games like Hearts. But the hardcore gamers in the corner would push a bunch of tables together and cluster around a massive game board, playing Axis & Allies.

I admit to an enduring fascination with Axis & Allies. It reminded me of the obsessive games I used to play with my gaming group back home in Ottawa, like SPI’s War of the Ring and 4000 A.D. The board was huge, there were hundreds of playing pieces, and every game seemed a constant back-and-forth of razor-thin victories, crushing setbacks, unexpected reversals, and hard-won strategic triumphs. I never had the time (or the courage) to commit to a weekend-long session of Axis & Allies though, and when I graduated I lost my chance. I lost contact with a permanent gaming group… and without that incentive, I never shelled out the (considerable) cash for a copy of the game.

Turns out that was a mistake. The gaming fiends in central Illinois weren’t the only people who loved to simulate the epic struggle of World War II, apparently. Milton Bradley’s Axis & Allies, an expensive game in a niche market, eventually went out of print, but not before enjoying a lengthy and historic run. Over the years the game acquired an almost mythic reputation among strategy gamers, and the few complete copies in circulation quickly became collectors items — and very hard to obtain. I eventually set out to acquire a copy for my collection, and for over a decade I’ve failed.

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Heroic Signatures: REH Digital Rights Part of $10 Million Deal

Monday, December 18th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

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Funcom is the developer of the Age of Conan (AoC) MMORPG. They’ve currently got a resource/action RPG, Conan: Exiles, in beta, scheduled for a May, 2018 release. I’ve played quite a few hours of AoC and think it’s a very good MMO, mixing elements from Robert E. Howard’s original stories and some of the pastiches. I haven’t tried Exiles yet.

Cabinet Group LLC owns the rights to Robert E. Howard’s non-public domain works. Cabinet Group and Funcom each will own 50% of a new venture entitled Heroic Signatures. Heroic Signatures will control the interactive (gaming) rights to 29 properties — most of them based on the works of Robert E. Howard. REH characters and stories included are:

Conan, Solomon Kane, El Borak,  Dark Agnes, “Children of the Night,” Bran Mark (yes, they spelled it incorrectly!) Morn, James Allison, Cormac Mac Art, Black Turlogh, Kirby O’Donnell, Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, Steve Harrison, “Black Canaan,” Almuric, Steve Costigan, “The Black Stone,” “The Fire of Asshurbanipal,” “The Cairn of the Headland,” “The Horror from the Mound,” “The Dead Remember” and “Pigeons from Hell.”

The announcement said that Funcom will be focusing on partnerships and third party developers, indicating they want to license the properties to get games made. Funcom isn’t a mass-producer, so this may well be a way to leverage the REH property. As part of this move, Funcom got a $10.6 million investment from a Swedish company.

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Could Hitler Have Built the Bomb? Find Out in Against the Odds #50

Thursday, December 14th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Against the Odds 50 Building the Bomb-smallAgainst the Odds magazine is a throwback to the great era of tabletop gaming, when magazines like Strategy & Tactics and the much-missed Ares contained complete games in each issue. Issues are expensive ($35, more than the cost of a hardcover book), but for gaming fans it’s well worth the price. The latest issue, #50, contains Building the Bomb, a chilling card game that simulates the Nazi efforts to build the first atomic bomb.

In late 1941 with senior officials across Germany becoming increasingly aware that Operation Barbarossa would fail somewhere short of Moscow… many worriedly began looking for an “out.” Some, like Ernst Udet, head of Luftwaffe Development, and Walter Borbet, a leading industrialist, shot themselves over the shock of the failure. Others, like General Fromm, in charge of the Army Weapons Office, turned their attention to an extraordinary proposal by Germany’s leading physicists to unlock the secrets of the atom and provide limitless power, and a possible war winning explosive device, the atomic bomb.

Building the Bomb is a card game for 2 to 5 players. Each player represents a faction inside German government, military or industrial circles, seeking to engage one of the Reich’s prestigious research institutes to start work on a nuclear program.

Acting through the Director of each center, players will need to size matters up, recruit other scientists, acquire scarce resources, (plus spy on their rivals, this is the Third Reich remember) and certainly go all out if they hope to develop atomic weapons…

Building the Bomb includes 108 colorful playing cards, 40 die-cut counters, and a 10-page rulebook. Playing time is 1 to 2 hours. It was designed by Steven Cunliffe and developed by Lembit Tohver, with graphic design by Mark Mahaffey.

Against the Odds: Journal of History and Simulation is edited by Andy Nunez and published by LPS, Inc. It appears four times per year, yearly subscriptions are $80 in the US. Individual issues are priced at $39.95; issue 50 is around 56 pages. Order copies or get more details at the website. We last covered Against the Odds with Issue #35, which contained the game Boudicca: The Warrior Queen.

See our late November Fantasy Magazine Rack here, and all of our recent Magazine coverage here.


Chance Encounters

Friday, December 8th, 2017 | Posted by Violette Malan

Bond casino 2Between lotteries and televised poker tournaments, horse racing and casinos, games of chance play a large part on the world’s stage. It should come as no surprise that they play an equality large part in fiction, and perhaps in genre fiction in particular. As writers, aren’t we always looking for something for our characters to do while they’re talking to each other? Preferably something that also reveals character, and is interesting in itself?

I’m not talking about giving a character a gambling addiction – that’s deeper than I mean to go. I’m referring to the game of chance as literary or narrative device.  It can provide characters with motive (win money to achieve purpose, defeat opponent); provide an opportunity (meet someone); and the winning or losing of these games can be the cause of a number of interesting effects. Games like poker or a bridge can be a microcosm of the world of the novel and they reveal the characters of the players in a way that very few other activities can.

Of course any movie or TV series set in Las Vegas, or Montecarlo, is going to involve gambling or casinos as part of the backdrop. But when it comes to characters, the one who comes to mind first is James Bond. In the novels, and in many of the films, Bond is generally playing baccarat. In the most recent film version of Casino Royale the game itself (poker in this case) is the central pillar of the plot, but it’s a rare Bond film that doesn’t have him in a casino somewhere. Since he’s often playing against one of the villains of the piece, the way they play the game reveals aspects of both their characters; sense of fair play, stoicism, nerve, and if they lose – or win – gracefully.

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Relive Gary Gygax’s Classic Tale of Giant Mayhem in Assault of the Giants

Monday, December 4th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

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I’m pretty predictable when I shop for board games. I think I’m just trying to recreate the experience of playing Risk with my friends on lazy summer afternoons in the camping trailer in our backyard. I want to move giant armies around a board and shout “I’m attacking Kamchatka!” at the top of my lungs. The only reason I even know there’s a chunk of land on this planet called “Kamchatka” is because of Hasbro.

Anyway, in practice this means I’m drawn to pretty much any fantasy wargame with colorful components and a huge map, which looks like it could take six hours to finish. (It’s precisely because I don’t have the time to play these games any more that I lust after them so much.)

WotC’s Assault of the Giants fits the bill perfectly. It’s an ambitious game of fantasy warfare played out across a map of Faerûn, with some intriguing strategy flourishes. And best of all, it’s a game of (literally!) giant armies… how cool is that?

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Simulations Publications Inc: The TSR Incursion

Monday, December 4th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Around the end of 1981, brothers Kevin and Brian Blume wrested control of TSR away from founder Gary Gygax. The company would change dramatically under their leadership, until Gygax returned from his west coast exile in 1984 and (briefly) reclaimed his company. One ‘Blume Incident’ from 1982 is a pretty good example of the way they did things.

In 1958, Avalon Hill was formed, creating the modern wargaming industry, out of which role playing games grew. In 1969, James Dunnigan created Simulations Publications, Inc. — to be known as SPI — with Redmond Simenson as co-founder. He started the company to save an existing wargaming fanzine, Chris Wagner’s Strategy & Tactics, which was in a precarious financial state. Simenson was the graphic designer for the magazine and a huge part of its success. For the princely sum of $1 (yes, you read that right), SPI took on Strategy and Tactics and made it the industry’s leading newsletter, starting with the September, 1969 issue.

Strategy & Tactics would include a new wargame in every single issue from then through the current one, which is remarkable. With the popularity of the magazine, SPI also became Avalon Hill’s major competitor in the wargaming market and enjoyed great success in the seventies. Things were good. Then, as for JFK, came Dallas. Okay, not quite.

Dunnigan’s Dallas: The Television Roleplaying Game, was a licensed product, intended to cash in on the massively successful show. My first thought is to wonder how many Dallas fans wanted to play an RPG — apparently not many. It was a disaster. Simonsen commented that they produced “80,000 copies and that was 79,999 too many.”

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Modular: The Capharnaum RPG: A Kickstarter Combining the Campbellian Hero Path, Arabian Nights Multiculturalism, and Compelling Worldbuilding

Thursday, November 30th, 2017 | Posted by Sarah Newton

Capharnaum RPG

Two years after running our very successful Kickstarter for the transhumanist SF RPG Mindjammer, Mindjammer Press is back with a new project — the English-language version of a fascinating French-language RPG “Capharnaum – The Tales of the Dragon-Marked.” As a soundbite it’s billed as “a fantastic Arabian Nights RPG of deserts, dragons, and crusaders” — but it’s so much more than that. I first came across Capharnaum and its gorgeous artwork in the Paris Games Fair in 2009, and even then I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been brought to the English-speaking gamer. Now, with Capharnaum‘s second edition, the case is even more compelling.

The brains behind Capharnaum — The Tales of the Dragon-Marked are two experienced French game designers, Raphaël Bardas and François Cedelle. They’re joined by a large and extremely active gaming community based in Montpellier, the ancient town on the Mediterranean coast, but active throughout France, bringing together enthusiasts of ancient world Mediterranean and Arabian Nights-style gaming. In the aftermath of 9/11, Raphaël and François wanted to create a setting which refracted the cultural conflicts of our time in a historical-fantasy context, but which equally provided a gameplay which transcended those conflicts and offered a route to coexistence and appreciation of our diversity.

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Looting is Better With Friends: Dungeon Dwellers

Sunday, November 26th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

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I’m still unpacking the boxes I brought home from the Fall 2017 Games Plus auction. There’s so many SF and fantasy board games being published these days that it’s impossible to keep up. But you know, I do my best.

A week after the auction, I dropped by Games Plus in Mount Prospect to grab a handful of new releases I had my eye on. There in the sale bin was Dungeon Dwellers, a “cooperative card game for 2 or more players” released in 2014. Now, I still have a stack of unopened auction games in my living room, slowly collecting dust and making my wife cranky. But I love dungeon games, and I especially love cooperative dungeon games. And the thing that especially makes me weak in the knees is a deep discount. Ten minutes later I left the store with Dungeon Dwellers, wrapped in a paper bag so I could stealthily sneak it into the house.

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Unify England During the Hundred Years War in Lancaster from Queen Games

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

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If you’re like me, maybe you’ve been watching Games of Thrones and it’s spurred an interest in its historical analog, the 15th Century English civil war between the houses Lancaster and York. Or maybe you’ve found yourself yearning to conquer a kingdom of your own. Or maybe you’re just curious about all these deep discount Queen Games at Amazon for the past month.

Any (or all) of these things could have brought you to discover Lancaster, the acclaimed board game of kingmaking in 15th Century England. Here’s a snippet of the review at The Opinionated Gamers.

Lancaster proves that [designer Matthias] Cramer is anything but a one-hit wonder… Lancaster is a quasi-Worker Placement game set in 15th Century England. Despite the title, it doesn’t deal with the War of the Roses, but at the beginning of the reign of Henry V, of the House of Lancaster, 40 years earlier. That places the action smack in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War and, in fact, the players can take an active role in Henry’s successful campaigns against the French…

It only takes a little exposure to Lancaster to realize that this is a very professional, polished design. There seems to be a lot of moving parts, but it all hangs together very nicely. The game plays smoothly, with plenty of interaction, but not so much as to make it overly nasty… Lancaster is a gamer’s game, but I think it could also work well for the more casual gamer who is looking for a greater challenge than gateway fare. I think the SdJ jury pegged it correctly when they nominated the game for the Kennerspiel award.

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