Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Texas ASL - Bonbon!

I AM COOL!!!The Texas ASL guys have released not only their March 2009 issue of Banzai! but their April Fool's edition "Bonbon".

Go download them -- they're free and funny!

The 2 Half-Squads - Two New Episodes

Well, well, well... It looks like the boys have been busy this month. Episodes 15, 16 and Extra #7 are up on the site:


Go grab 'em!

Monday, March 30, 2009

The end of VASSAL and MMP? Nah...

Not sure if some of you are aware of this but there was a mini-tempest-in-a-teacup in the past 24 hours or so on ConSimWorld in the MMP folder. First, MMP principal, Brian Youse posted that MMP was suspending VASSAL support for their products. Here's the post. Calm down now, he retracted the company's stance a few hours later here -- much to the relief of many.

Of course there was the usual uproar of geekrage in between -- not without good reason in my opinion. Support for VASSAL and VASL for ASL is critical in some people's eyes to the health of the hobby of ASL and wargaming in general. It's already hard enough to find a face-to-face opponent -- many don't need yet another barrier to entry when it comes to enjoying their games.

Though I can understand the arguments of withdrawing support: MMP must maintain control of their copyright and doesn't want to be supporting electronic versions of their games which are freely distributed etc. etc. -- the way I see it -- and yes, I'm an nothing more than a voice in the wilderness -- VASSAL and the Internet keeps the hobby alive, pure and simple.

A few cogent and well elucidated voices chimed into the discussion. Jay White asked a series of pointed questions to Brian:

1) Are you willing to provide map / counter artwork to a third party so they can make VASSAL modules?

2) If not, are you willing to let customers make their own modules?

3) Are you willing to let individual game designers release VASSAL modules?
i.e. Hans was delivering VASSAL modules for the Gamers series at an alarming rate, and Adam Starkweather said there would be VASSAL modules for his GTS games. Hans seemed to enjoy what he was doing, and I can't see how that would be a drain on MMP's game-designing resources. Which leads me to ask again:

4) What is the reason for the change of heart w.r.t. releasing VASSAL modules, because it can't solely be about draining MMP's workload (based on Hans' enthusiasm..)

5) Are you going to keep existing VASSAL modules online, or will they eventually be removed?

Carl Frederick posted this:

If it's going to be so wonderful, what could possibly be a valid reason for stopping production of Vassal modules in the meantime? From what you're hinting, it's obviously so much better that a handful of Vassal modules produced between now and then can't hurt. This is the part that's got me hacked off. And, I've been in software (and a game buyer) long enough to know that whatever date is being promised on either side won't be kept. And those experiences have made me jaded enough that "trust me it'll be great" causes the exact opposite reaction in me.

Some good questions were asked and some excellent points made. For me personally I see GMT's support of VASSAL versions of their products as a value-add. By far they are the most open company when it comes to making their products available online and it doesn't seem to hurt their popularity or bottomline. I know that GMT will have a VASSAL module of their games so I can either play with others online, set up some quick virtual solo sessions or *gasp* try out their games before I buy them (i.e. I did just this before I bought Manoeuvre).

In the few hours between finding out about losing VASSAL "support" and their rescinding the idea, at least a few posters on CSW were threatening MMP with walking away from pre-orders and closing up their wallets. I admit I was entertaing the same thoughts. Did this flirtation with leaving VASSAL support behind have anything to do with Curt Schilling's newly freed time? Is 38 Studios or Green Monster Games or whatever he's calling it this week doing something with ASL online? All of MMP's products?! Who knows...

I just know this. MMP and wargame companies need VASSAL. Not having a solution to the online issue is ridiculous. Don Greenwood, legendary wargame designer, and head honcho on ASL originally said it best himself, "The Internet saved wargaming." (Listen to his interview on the Point2Point podcast here.)

I'm going to echo Mr. Frederick here but I'm totally on his wavelength... If MMP has an idea in mind that allows them to monetize their IP in VASSAL-like fashion I'm all for it -- just not at the expense of putting an end to all the hard work of their fans who create the VASSAL modules of their games in the meantime. Coming from the world of computer games I've heard the siren song of vaporware more than a few times and the funeral dirges supposedly caused by pirates. As soon as MMP has a workable VASSAL alternative I'd be willing to support it if there was a reasonable cost. I'm sure many of the hobbyists would be more than happy to do so as well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Gaming Economy - From a chat at TABScon

Thank God I work for AIG!Hmmm, what else is on my mind...

I had a chat with one of the vendors at TABScon this past weekend. After I was admiring his stock for a few hours he offered me a copy of Valley Games' Titan for $50 tax included. I hemmed and hawed and decided this was too good a deal to miss out on so I grabbed it. The gentleman asked for my help packing his full boxes and carrying them to his car and I happily obliged.

We chatted things up a bit as we packed and he made a comment about the economy. I asked him how bad business was. Was it down 10%? 20%? 30%? I couldn't conceive of a business surviving a hit as bad a third. He said that last year at this time, he sold literally every copy of every game he got into stock.

This year, he's sold 1 out of 10.

Ninety freakin' percent DOWN!


Luckily this individual was a bit diversified in his income so he wasn't dependent on his boardgaming sideline. But 90%! Jeeeez.

What does this mean for ASL and wargames? I'm not suggesting, as President Bush did a few years ago in the wake of 9/11's depressive effects on the economy, that you to go buy stuff to single-handedly keep the economy afloat. Profligate spending is not the answer (and this is no more true than amongst ASL fanatics); but I think that wiser spending by all involved will keep the hobby healthy.

I'm thinking that if nothing else, the downturn in the economy will force the truly committed wargaming companies and retailers to better service and prices. Gone are the salad days when anything will sell. Granted wargaming has been undergoing this kind of darwinism for years. We need to support the companies that make great games and have good service -- not every Tom, Dick and Harry with a hex map and countersheet. Have a little patience for the companies like MMP and GMT, the two "big" players in the wargaming space these days who themselves are tiptoeing carefully around surprising spikes in costs. [Those unafraid of ConsimWorld should check out the fun banter regarding the business practices of MMP in the Support Folder. Wow! Always a good time...]

Off the top of my head, the people I still don't mind giving my hard-earned money to? The creme of the crop for ASL is of course MMP, Bounding Fire, Lone Canuck Publishing, Schwerpunkt... You'll have your favourites too. For wargames in general? GMT has earned a top spot in my books and Simmons Games -- that man is a G-A-M-E-R! Consider your pre-orders. Wargaming is infamous for this financial necessity. Use a little discretion. DO patronize the games you want to see. DON'T pre-order everything under the sun.

For Internet retailers? Scott Blanton's Gamers Armory, and Jason Russ' Wargames Depot (and Paul Paterson's fungamescafe.com for you Eurogamers out there -- tell them I sent you).

If you're careful about your money you're probably already doing this, at least subconsciously asking yourself: Do I really need this ASL-related game from a company I don't think puts out the best stuff? Do I want yet another Bulge game from this company that doesn't seem as committed as they should? This company's service has been mediocre -- why am I still buying their stuff?

Press your FLGS too. Retailers have more to lose. Demand good service. That snot-nosed punk that actually knows the games and has a great customer rapport vs. the store on the otherside of town that's run by that refined gentleman who looks down at you for checking out the wargame half-shelf to the detriment of their Magic card sales -- you decide. Demand better prices. Bargain or haggle a bit. Shop around. An economic downturn means that your dollars will have that much more impact.

Anyways, that's just some more mutterings of this madman.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TABScon Recap

Wheeee! As some of you know I'm a high school teacher and I spent this last week (March Break) doing a bang-up-A-plus job of being Super Dad! Why? It was earning brownie points so I could spend the whole of yesterday from 9am to almost 9pm at TABScon!

TABScon is the quarterly gaming meet-up of the Toronto Area Boardgamers Society. I was alerted to the existence of the group by a TPBF blog follower "Peloton" -- his handle on the 'geek. I hooked up with TABbers and Peloton at Niagara Boardgaming Weekend (see here and here). TABScon is basically 12 hours of non-stop gaming fun. Now I didn't play ASL but it was played there and I've semi-planned to meet up with Peloton either on VASSAL or F2F as soon as our schedules permit in the coming months. I think most ASLers are wargaming generalists anyways so I'll chat about my experiences.

I got a chance to playtest L2's upcoming "bugs vs. mechs" wargame On the Bounce with developer Lembit Tohver (he's done a fair bit of stuff kids!). It was a good chance to see what a wargame looks like in mid-development with non-production bits and rules in "flux". Here's the CSW forum link. Here's a pic (complete with the Hand of Lembit!):

Next, I had a chance to learn the World at War system with "Kozure". Anyone who follows the game on the 'geek probably knows that name. Kozure has done a lot of work with alternate/variant counters and scenarios, not the least of which feature Canadian military vehicles and troops! Woot! Interested parties should check out the session report here on the 'geek.

Next I played some Game of Thrones LCG. Being a fan of the fiction I thought the game had promise but the 4-player game with the Starter Decks was s l o w. Lastly, I jumped into a five hour game of Friedrich in the last half hour as France had to leave. Great fun game. Always a good time. Here's a pic of Peloton's hand before he manipulates the board:

Good times! The people at TABS are all super nice and super friendly. If you're interested in joining up check out their website and see what events you can attend.

Now, how does this relate to ASL? Other than seeing ASL being played (as it was at TABScon - one game!), attending events like this gets you out there and networking. Form connections with other wargamers (they are out there and sometimes next door!). These are your best bets for finding ASL Life Partners! Check out gaming conventions in your area -- plan to attend and play. Hook up with potential opponents over the 'net on forums and such. Get out there and get serious in order to have fun -- oh delicious irony. Learning ASL is a lot more fun with a friend to do it with.

Keep a positive attitude and I think you'll get some positive results. Expand your horizons! Do it for the scrub!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Just a bit of news: other than a swath of other wargames I've been playing with the missus (she's in love with Commands and Colors: Ancients) I've been doing a bit of solo ASL. I honestly thought the majority of my time in ASL would be solo so I've been a bit spoiled with all the VASSAL and f2f play I've gotten in.

I've been playing S9: Ambitious Assault. It's a scenario that pits Anglo-American troops against a large group of entrenched Italian troops. The latter are NOT elite by any means. I've gone through 4 turns and the screenshot below is the turn just before the British forces come in.

Events of note? The Italians have gone into Close Combat twice with the elite US paratroopers, taking advantage of some over extension, and won every time. So much for the edge in troop quality. Also, the Italians seem to have an easier time with the VC of just having a good order squad within SEVEN hexes of the town centre. Lots of hills on this map. Oh yeah, and the Italians have broken their HMG. Going to be interesting.

Solo play in wargames seems to be a strong tradition amongst us lonely few. I like it for the slow pace and deep thought I can put into the game. Again, I'm enjoyin the journey and not necessarily he destination. "So you lost to yourself again?" friends ask. No, not really, I prefer to think of it as win/win.

Go play some ASL!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

eASLSK3 Progress & VASLeague Round 2

KABLOOIE!!! Sorry of the lack of news recently. I've been busy playing games other than ASL (double sorry!) and real-life (exploding dryer!) + week before March Break means mucho work for me.

Just wanted to update that I'm still plugging away at the e-version of my ASLSK3 manual when I get the chance and inclination to type.

Again, I can't help but be impressed how much I actually learn when I read and re-type each section. One of the additional benefits is space. MMP seems to have had some sections badly paragraphed and I've had the luxury of reformatting them where they make sense -- adding a lot to readability. Another benefit is that I've been able to add in third-party player aids: in particular, the neat two-pager IFT charts by Ole Bøe available here. Here's a screenshot of the so-far compiled eASLSK3 opened to the IFT page:

Ole ole ole ole ole ole! Here's another page from the eASLSK3, the latest completed section, the Rout Phase:

I guesstimate that given a good chunk of effort the eASLSK3 will be completed in a month. There's only half the Close Combat phase, the Guns section and half the Vehicles left to go. All the pictures and diagrams are all done.

Fun story: I keep mistyping Guns as Funs. Nothing like rules on Machine Funs and Funshields!

Lastly, I've made contact with my second round opponent in the VASLeague -- he's got a doctorate in Math -- I'm DEAD! He's agreed to post some after-action stuff once we're done. We're still in the preliminary stages of choosing a scenario. Anyone with a suggestion that's not S1, S2, S4 or S28?

Monday, March 2, 2009

A great "review" of ASL

Cleitus the Black, a.k.a. Andrew Carlstrom has posted a fantastic overview of why ASL just plain rocks:


This is the kind of "review" that I like -- in fact, I wish I wrote something like this because it's a virtual echo of my thoughts on the game.