Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Special

Happy Halloween!

In honor of my favorite holiday I would like to introduce (or remind) you to the brilliant work of artist Bernie Wrightson illustrating one of my favorite books - Frankenstein.

If you have only seen one of the movies or television adaptations then you do not know what you are missing. The book is great and Wrightson's art raises it to a new level.

You can get the Dark Horse hard cover edition at your local comic book store, book store, or at Amazon.

Enjoy the art samples here and have a great Halloween.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Game Spotlight - Scrappers

Scrappers from Privateer Press

Scrappers is a 2-4 player game where each player is a Bodger working in a factory trying to complete a machine. Parts roll down the assembly line and if they are not taken, they fall into the scrap heap. Players want to position their Bodgers in front of the part they want, but the other Bodgers can move the assembly line forward or back, move their Bodgers, or move the other player's Bodgers. Action Cards represent all these options. The Part Cards are smaller squares and the Bodgers are represented by sturdy tokens. There is also a folding game board that shows the factory floor and the conveyor belt assembly line.

Each player starts each round with three cards. On your turn you must either play a card or pass. In a very clever bit of design, if all three players pass, the round ends and you take the part on the assembly line that is in front of your Bodger. This forces all kinds of decisions. Do you pass, hoping to play your card last, positioning your Bodger in front of the part you need to win the game? If you do and the other players pass, then you are stuck with the part in front of you that you don't need. On the other hand, if you play that card now, one of the other players can mess you up.

Scrappers is a great family game that offers a give and take mechanic that requires pre-planning your turn knowing full well that the other players may completely destroy your plans. There are plenty of twists and turns on the way to victory, and plenty of laughs, too.

There are 2 additional tokens and extra cards for an advanced game that adds more chaos to the factory floor.

My kids and I really enjoy Scrappers.


Publisher: Privateer Press, 2009

Game Concept and Design: Michael Faciane, Erik-Jason Yaple

Behind The Game

In February of 2008, Privateer Press, the publisher of War Machine and Monsterpocalypse, made an announcement that they were looking to hire a game designer. This was big news among the the creative types in the gaming community. Privateer is a young company that has made a major splash in the gaming scene with their outstanding game designs and beautiful game components. However, Privateer was only accepting applications for a short time and a big part of the application process was the inclusion of an original game design, with the winning applicant getting the game published as part of Privateer's Bodgers line of games.

I mentioned the contest in an online forum and several of the members there (a terribly creative bunch) were interested. One of my friends, Michael Faciane set to work on a design. He hammered out some concepts and came up with a card game he called Bodger Mines.

I was among those helping Michael with the playtesting of his design. He made the first cut and further refined his design. He interviewed. Then, in November 2008, Michael Faciane was chosen to be on the design team at Privateer Press. Michael relocated to Bellevue, Washington and got to work. The fruits of that work are arriving at stores this fall. Scrappers, now a board game, is first up. Grind is next.

I recently interviewed (via email) Michael Faciane, Privateer's guiding force Matt Wilson, and Game Developement Manager Erik-Jason Yaple.

What lead you to fill a game design position by having a game design contest in the first place?

Matt Wilson - Game design skill isn't something you can evaluate by looking at a resume. And for that matter, it's often very hard to evaluate by looking at a published game. When you play a game off the shelf, you really don't have full knowledge of what kind of development that product went through and how many people contributed to the final design. My belief is that game design is about 20% good ideas and know how, 30% experience, and about 50% tenacity and hard work. So, we constructed a contest that would filter applicants based on a short timeline with rigid requirements that would show us if they were the kind of people that could produce good work under pressure. We wanted someone new and unpublished that we could bring up in our own environment, as well. Experienced, working game designers weren't going to submit to this kind of contest, so we were able to hone in on what we were looking for: undiscovered talent.

How many entries were there?

Matt - It's been a while now and I don't recall. I think we had between 60-100 entries. It blew my mind. I would have been impressed if we had received 12 playable entries, but dozens and dozens came in. It was staggering.

Once you decided to enter the Privateer Game Designer Contest, how long did you have to create an original card game and what was that process like?

Michael Faciane - I had about a month to design and had a blast doing so. I started by getting familiar with the Bodgers and their wacky mechanikal endeavors by diving into Infernal Contraption. Chris Walton's excellent artwork made it easy for me to grasp the feel of the little gobbers. So I brainstormed a bunch of themes that would fit them well. After getting the theme narrowed down, I needed to develop the game mechanics. My thinking here was, "What kind of game could I get my wife to play?" She is a big gin rummy fan so that's where I began my development from. Once I had a playable deck, the real development began through playtesting. I had a good group of players that really helped this process along. One thing I learned early on is that the more minds you can get involved with your vision, the clearer it becomes.

Were you involved in the contest judging, and if so, how hard was it to make a choice?

Erik-Jason Yaple - I came on board in March of 2008 and Bryan, our Project Director who was originally handling the submissions, was quick to put the entries into my hands. There were something like 93 entries. Each entry had its own presentation and packaging. Some you could instantly tell were thrown together last minute, while others really deserved some attention.

I set some standards that would place entries into a "Maybe Pile" and a "No Pile" - I looked for things like interaction between players, originality in design, knowledge of the Bodgers brand and an answer to the question: "Does the game work?" After running all of the designs through that filter I boiled the list down to a selection of about 15 games. From there, I selected what I thought were the best 5 and brought them to Matt. We chose three of those to move to the interview round and from there, Michael was chosen.

When you heard the contest results, how did you feel?

Michael - I felt like dancing. So I did.

You lived in Southern California at the time. How long did you have to relocate, and how has that experience been?

Michael - Well, I hitched a trailer to my car and took a 2 day trip up the west coast with my son and nephew. We stopped at a friend's along the way and camped out in his backyard, which is right next to a railroad track. Two trains that night (thanks again, John :) ). We reached Seattle on the weekend of PAX 2008 so I started work there. For about a week we stayed in hotels while I looked for a place then found some cousin's in Tacoma who took us in. A month later my wife and daughters fly in then we settle in Renton. We are enjoying Washington and all of its rain.

What qualities in the design lead you to choose Michael?

Matt - Michael greatly impressed us at multiple stages through the application process, demonstrating a huge commitment to the contest and a fantastic work ethic with a willingness to adapt to new situations as well as get a job done, no matter what it took. Game design is hard work. It's not about sitting around playing games all day, and Michael showed us that he knew what it would take. He also had one of the best submissions and made it through a fairly rigorous application process designed to weed out people who couldn't follow directions. Game design is all about being precise, and if you can't put your name in the right place on the application, you're probably not going to double check your rules writing either.

What led to Michael's original card game changing to a board game?

Matt - Every game goes through many stages of evolution and rarely does the initial concept closely resemble the final product. This is one such case. Once the rest of the Privateer development team became involved in evaluating the initial game design, we began exploring new directions and refining concepts until what was eventually produced was Scrappers.

Michael - Well, the conveyor idea came from our game development manager, Erik Yaple (the baddest man in gaming). The game went through quite a few iterations before getting to that point. I learned a lot during the development of Scrappers.

After the upcoming Grind, do you have any other game designs in development you can tell us about?

Michael - There are other game designs I have in development but none that I can tell about ;).

Now that you have been with Privateer about a year, how has your job developed and what is it like to work for a game company?

Michael - It's great! We get to play games all day and eat candy! Really it is a good time for me. I love to create so game design and development is a nice fit for me. I have also been utilized in other areas here like helping out in the graphics department. Seeing games produced that I have had a hand in is definitely a joy to me.

How many game designs are you overseeing at any given time?

Erik-Jason - Products move through the department in various stages. At any one time, we may have a couple games in a concept stage, the pitch stage (where it is run past Matt for approval to proceed), the prototyping and playtest stage and the final review and production stage. Right now we have one or more games/expansions/sets in each of those stages.

What are the main differences and challenges between designing for a collectable game like Monsterpocalypse and a stand alone game like Scrappers?

Erik-Jason - It's the difference between "tricking-out" a car and building a car. In a collectible game, the game is set, and you are just making new elements to add to the game. With a stand alone game, you are building everything from the ground up. With a collectible game you have to design to the play environment, providing them with answers and solutions to the challenges they come across. Where a stand alone game requires greater diligence in development as players will not have the opportunity to counter dominant strategies just by changing their deck or army list. Developing one type of game over another is not necessarily easier, but it does require a few different skill sets; although a good development philosophy will guide you in the right direction as you transition from one to the other.

Grind is following closely on Scrappers heels. Are there any other upcoming board games coming from Privateer?

Matt - Definitely. We're working on several different product designs right now, some of which are board games. We'll announce those at the appropriate times in the future when we have a more clear idea of when they'll release.

Are there any other Privateer projects or upcoming items you would like my readers to know about?

Matt - Well, we've got a slew of products coming out over the next year, including the MkII editions of WARMACHINE and HORDES as well as all of their supporting products, such as card decks, force books, and amazing new models released monthly. This is a really exciting time for those games because it's a great opportunity for new players to get involved at this sort of new-beginning-reset period. As well, Series 4: Monsterpocalypse NOW, just released on October 9th. This starts a whole new year's worth of brand new monster factions. Again, it's the perfect entry point for new players, and it's giving our Monsterpocalypse community a mountain of new options to integrate into existing armies. We'll also be seeing the Monsterpocalypse edition of Voltron sometime next year, which is really a little dream come true. That product is currently in process with our manufacturer and I can't wait to get my own hands on it.

So, make sure there's room on your game shelf because we're going to be filling it up in the coming months!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pulp of the Week - StarDoc


January, 2000 - Cherijo Grey Veil book 1

by S.L. Viehl

I have been reading Paperback Writer, S. L. Viehl's terrific writer's blog, for quite some time, but StarDoc is the first of her novels that I have read. I will be reading more.

StarDoc is the first book in the tales of Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil and her journey breaking away from her domineering father. Cherijo is a young Terran woman that signs on as a physician at the Free Clinic on the distant colony, Kevarzagia Two. There are few humans on KV-2, but that suits Cherijo fine. She is looking for escape more than companionship anyway. However, because of the way humans typically treat other species, other species think humans are bigoted, arrogant, jerks. Cherijo's father is the biggest jerk of all.

However, Cherijo overcomes that prejudice by being a dedicated doctor and friend to those that would have her. When a dire medical emergency threatens the entire colony, it is up to Dr. Grey Veil to come up with a solution. However, her decisions lead to personal tragedy and finally, rebirth.

S. L. Viehl writes a really good story. It is compelling, thought provoking, ingenious and touching. Her characters are vivid and real, with emotions and hidden agendas. Cherijo is put through the wringer in this book and ultimately survives a stronger, wiser person.

I liked the book quite a bit, but fault it a little for having two endings. It has the real ending, the resolution of this book. But then it has the set-up for the sequel. That section occupies the last 90 pages of a 400 page book. It just seems tacked on and given that the second book is hyped at the end of this one, it seems a bit premeditated to push sales for the next book.

On the other hand, I will probably buy the next book anyway.

According to Wikipedia, S. L. Viehl is one of the pen-names of author Sheila Lynn Kelly. Ms. Kelly has at least 4 others. She writes in a number of other genres including Urban Fantasy, Christian, and Romance. StarDoc was her first published novel.

I give StarDoc an 8 out of 10. It is good space opera and I look forward to reading the next book. For this review I read the Roc first edition paperback, January, 2000. The cover art is by Donato Giancola.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

U-Chronicle Vol 1 - October 2009


Welcome back! We have a new monthly Tannhäuser feature here at Savage Tales. We call it the U-Chronicle and we intend to bring you features and news each month.

Top Story

As most of you are aware, Fantasy Flight Games has purchased the entire Tannhäuser property, including all work done to date and several upcoming releases. When these are to be released, only FFG knows for sure. They have announced 2nd edition rules for the game, with a $5 rule book available in addition to a free PDF of the revised rules on FFGs site. All existing components will be fully compatible.

The most recent news on the FFG web site gives us a few clues into their plans. According to a "State of the Game" report filed September 4, 2009, "Tannhäuser is the newest addition to the FFG family. We are going to be doing these State of the Games periodically for Tannhäuser to keep you better updated than times previous." They also promise us "the elusive Wolf (who will be for sale alongside Daedalus this fall)."

And best of all is this bit - "FFG wants to see the full potential of this game realized. We want this world to be a living breathing thing that we have the privilege of revealing. Currently we are in the process of transition. Take On You is sending us all of the assets for the game, and we will be going over them to see how far along all of the already announced projects are, and to make sure all upcoming projects are as close to perfect as can be. We will be showcasing previews of the upcoming Daedalus map expansion over the coming weeks, and there are a lot of products planned to follow it. We are holding off announcing them until the schedule is much more concrete, which means the time between announcement and when the product is in your hands is kept to a minimum. No more waiting, no more delays. We want this world to come alive, and stagnation is not an option."

I really hope that they mean it.


Tannhäuser Daedalus features:
• With 4 Entry Points, its singular Pathfinding and its new special spaces and surprising effects will give your tactics a rude awakening!
• Featuring two brand new maps, this expansion gives you a wealth of new options.

• Engage in a campaign of six original scenarios! 64 tokens are included to supplement your objectives, scenarios, and equipment!"
Daedalus retails for $29.95

Additional details are revealed in another press announcement from August 31st. "The second map is set in the outdoor Outpost of Gévaudan, and also elevates your play experience. This map brings the deadly capabilities of the sniper to bear. An all new icon for you to exploit, the sniper post allows you to target models not on your path!" This map is the one that FFG had previously announced a contest for designing the pathfindings. I am unaware of any announcement of results.

Tannhäuser Custom Department

My first custom faction, Moeller's Hermetics is complete and available in a pdf booklet that you can download. A smaller file (8 mb) that littlewars created for quicker downloading is here. Or you you can download the BIG file (150 mb) here. To play the faction, download the book, cut out the character sheets and tokens and order the following figures:
- Doktor Moeller - 1x Bonded Fire Summoner UNCOMMON #10 - Dungeons & Dragons - War of the Dragon Queen
- Lady Furstenstein - 1x Magdalena - Indy Heroclix (I have rebased her as explained in this article.)
- Jackal - 1x Human Blaster-for-Hire COMMON #35 - Star Wars Miniatures - Bounty Hunters
- Jackal's Hyenas - 2x Hunting Hyena COMMON #47 - Dungeons & Dragons - War of the Dragon Queen
- M.U.R.08 - 1x E522 Assassin Droid UNCOMMON #31- Star Wars Miniatures -Bounty Hunters
- Rustung Fallhammer - 3x War Ape COMMON #22 - Dungeons & Dragons - War of the Dragon Queen

I feel U-Chronic!

© 2009 Peter Miller

My custom additions to Tannhäuser are not created by, distributed, or endorsed by Fantasy Flight Games. Tannhäuser and all related characters are trademark and © of Fantasy Flight Games. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pulp of the Week - Doc Savage #9


November, 1933 - The Czar of Fear

The ninth adventure of Doc Savage takes us to the exotic backwoods of New Jersey -- or is it Pennsylvania? Either way, if this volume doesn't take Doc and the Fabulous Five to a far flung locale, it does tell a pretty good tale of corruption and greed in a small mining and manufacturing town.

It seems that someone is terrorizing the town of Prosper City. They have closed down all the mines and mills and factories and have pretty much killed the economy of the town. Everyone is afraid. Afraid of the Green Bell; the Czar of Fear. He and his gang wear black hooded robes with eerie green bells on the fronts. They use intimidation and murder to keep the town in line, but their ultimate motive is a mystery

The mills are afraid to open, for fear of being burned to the ground. The men are afraid to go to work because of a hideous insanity that seems to strike those that go against the wishes of the Green Bell.

A few brave folks manage to escape the town (at great personal cost) and find Doc in New York City. They enlist his help to bring down the Czar of Fear.

There are a few firsts in this tale. Doc hypnotizes a thug to get some answers. One fellow freaks out just from looking into Doc's eyes. Doc uses his trilling conciously. He had not done that before. Up to this point the trilling has been a subconcious reaction.

The biggest first is the introduction of the Hidalgo Trading Company. Doc uses this warehouse for many purposes. Here, they grab a seaplane to upstate New York to get to Prosper City ahead of the bad guys.

This is a good story with some nice action and a few choice twists.

One interesting passage mentions that the Green Bell had made millions from short sales of stock during "The Great Depression." Even in early 1933 people were using the term and thinking of it in the past.

There were also a few interesting mix-ups of character names. In my Bantam paperback page 85 attributes a quote to Renny but mentions him wearing magnifier eyeglasses. That would be Johnny. On page 130 Doc mentions to Ham that Long Tom is hiding out, but then attributes the next quote to Long Tom. A line that is clearly Hams'. With the speed these books were written, I suppose mistakes are inevitable. Unless the mistakes are just in the Bantam editions...

I enjoyed The Czar of Fear and am now about 5% done with the novels. I read my Bantam Paperback March 1968 first edition copy and give this one an 8 out of 10.

The Bantam cover is by James Bama and the pulp cover is by Walter Baumhofer.