Monday, March 28, 2016

Hot Lead 2016: Fear and Loathing in Stratford, Ontario

Last Sunday I got home from a weekend at Hot Lead, Canada's Finest Miniature Gaming Event (patent pending) in Stratford, Ontario. Unfortunately, the first thing I unpacked was a flu virus. I was immobilized for a week and now even typing leaves me wheezing.

Hot Lead started off large with an opulent urban brawl in a 1924 Chinese port city. The GM, Patrick Mooney, based the scenario off of the Steve McQueen movie, "The Sand Pebbles". Striving to release hostages, French and American marines storm the docks and battle the local Tong warlords. What made this game so exceptional was the scenery, including huge, scratch built cargo ships; trilingual graffiti; and hand-painted Chinese banners. The whole effect was grandiose and cinematic.

On Saturday morning, I played another pulp game, this one set in the 1960's in the Belgian Congo. Presented by veteran Game Master Dan Hutter, this game was also based on a movie: the ultraviolent "Dark of the Sun" starring Rod Taylor and Jim Brown. In this set up, Captain Curry (Taylor) must break into a vault and escape with a bag full of diamonds as hordes of African militias close in. Curry must then run to catch a slow moving train which will take him and his men to safety.

I think this is the way to create a truly successful wargame scenario: steal your plot from the movies. This way, it comes with all sorts of action and drama baked right into the pie. And certainly Dark of the Sun was the most dramatic game I've played in years, with the excitement of running for the train, fighting from the train and finally busting through an improvised barricade.

My final game of the weekend was Festung Kolberg -- a Bolt Action WWII game set in March 18th 1945. The Soviets have taken the port city of Kolberg. But a rear guard from the German 3rd Panzer Division is trying to keep them off the docks for long enough to allow for the rest of the German forces to escape by boat. With his dreary, destroyed cityscape and well painted miniatures, the Game Master Ross Cossar really conjured up the sense of the Nazi's Götterdämmerung.

A couple other games that I couldn't play really caught my eye, including this modern Afghanistan action, complete with beautifully rendered canals and orchards. This game was presented by Mr. Rabbits-in-my-Basement, who's responsible for putting all of Hot Lead together. And his website has some superb instructions on how to put this sort of table together.

I fell in love with "The Battle for Dorkshire" presented by Mike Martin and Gary Schofield. This was a battle right out of HG Wells, using home made, glossy painted 19th century 48mm bleisoldaten (solid lead German toy soldier) reproductions. I love how the houses look like they've been re-purposed from a Christmas store... it gives the whole table a dreamlike quality.


And finally, the most attractive game of the weekend was Graham Wilkinson's Westridge Farm set in Massachusetts, 1675. My opening picture of this post is from his game, as is the one below. The lush, detailed and layered scenery made this game seem more like a museum diorama rather than a gaming table. As I turn my mind this year to creating some of my own terrain, Graham's work will be front of mind.

As always, a big thanks to Mr. Rabbit-in-my-Basement, Mrs. R-i-my-B, and the rest of the Hot Lead crew for putting on another great show. It is the highlight of my gaming year.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Painted Miniatures for Dead Man's Hand

We see pictured below Ma Pounder, also known as the Ole Widder Pounder. Ma is not originally from Cremation -- she was actually born into a family of Yankee farmers in Massachusetts. Her husband and many brothers owned a string of prosperous farms along the shores of the mighty Miskatonic River, not far from where the Aylesbury Pike branches off into the uplands of Dunwich.

Tragically, one by one, each of her siblings (and their families) died. Some went missing; some wasted away as lunatics in Arkham Asylum; others were butchered in the wilderness with strange, ritualistic wounds; and a few were found as liquescent corpses, almost as if they had been half-digested. Her husband, Melchizedek Pounder, passed after eating a cabbage irradiated by a strange meteor that had landed in their vegetable garden. No one knows for sure how Ma Pounder survived all these calamities, but her proficiency with a double-barreled 12-gauge may not be a coincidence. In any case, she retired to Cremation "fer some peace and tranquility."

Dr. Schadenfreude

In the 1880's, Felix Schadenfreude was the toast of Vienna. A talented doctor and an early proponent of psycho-analysis, he had many rich and noble clients. His career took a turn when he pioneered "laughing therapy". His technique was to encourage a patient to disclose his deepest insecurities and desires, at which point Dr. Schadenfreude would laugh uproariously in his face. 

In 1889, this course of treatment led directly to the double suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf (the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne) and Rudolf's mistress. Hounded by the wrath of the Hapsburgs, every hospital in the civilized world was closed to the good doctor. He has come to Arizona and opened a medical clinic with the goal of rehabilitating the reputation of laughing therapy. If it can work on mental illness, surely it can also cure gunshot wounds.

Eustace Bledge

Eustace Bledge is the closest thing that Cremation has to a leading citizen. He began as the local coffin seller and undertaker. The rich returns of this business allowed him to open the Cremation Bank & Deposit, the Cremation Hostelry, and then the Firearm Emporium. His business dealings are so Machiavellian, it is rumoured that he hires outlaws to rob his own bank.

Ennio Leone
Ennio Leone moved his family from New York to Arizona because the landscape reminded him on the countryside in his native Sardinia. Although he runs the general store, he dreams of opening an restaurant. "I will make-a pasta the American way... how your say? Spaghetti Western!"

Albert Prince

No one knows why Albert Prince always appears to be wincing in pain. Apparently, he once consulted with Dr. Schadenfreude, but the good doctor laughed so hard that he fell out of a window.

Caleb Cain

The outlaw Caleb Cain attempts to intimidate his enemies by shouting out long passages from the Bible before, during and after every gunfight. Caleb views this as a trademark move. Unfortunately, Caleb's appears to select his verses at random, resulting in some perplexing choices: "While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof. A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. Muthafukka!"

I leave you with one last shot: Ma Pounder defending Cremation from Pinky and his bandits...

Thanks for looking!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Dead Man's Hand: Denizens of Cremation

Welcome back to Cremation, the dusty hole that I constructed for the Wild West skirmish game, Dead Man's Hand. This week, I want to introduce you to some of the unlucky residents of my town.

Since the incommodious death of Sheriff MacGrudy (see last week's post), the chief lawman of Cremation is "Gentleman" Jack Maubrey (pictured above). A well-mannered native of Atlanta, Jack began life as a dentist, switched to selling health tonics and then to gambling on the river boats of the Mississippi. Paternity suits and bad debts kept pushing him toward the frontier, and he finally took up law enforcement rather than resume a dental practice. As the only man in town with clean fingernails, Maubrey is widely seen as a natural authority figure. 

Pinchus "Pinky" Schorr

The desperado known only as "Pinky" was born Pinchus Schorr of Red Hook Brooklyn, the youngest child in a large Jewish family. Rather than follow his father in the schmatta trade, Pinky drifted west into the Arizona Territory, leaving a trail of plundered trains, broken banks and busted jaws. Regarded as one of the best shots this side of Laredo, Pinky is also renowned for his thorough understanding of menswear and fine ladies' undergarments.

Roger "El Maestro" Delgado (left) and Big Dirty Dan Slocum (right)

Roger "El Maestro" Delgado and his enforcer, Big Dirty Dan Slocum, are the most feared outlaws in Cremation and its environs. El Maestro is heartless killer with a penchant for uttering mysterious threats like "To do my will shall be the whole of the law!" or "I only need two things. Your submission and your obedience to my will!". Stranger still, he claims to sleep inside a grandfather clock.

Dirty Dan is a rich man, thanks to his stranglehold on the local cock fighting ring, dog fighting ring, and mixed cock-dog ring. Yet he cannot afford soap.

Melvin Friendly

Melvin Friendly is a professional bounty hunter and amateur psychopath. His favourite activities include challenging his shaving mirror to a staring contest, compulsive shoe-shining and killing all the witnesses.

Baltasar María Inmaculada de Jesus

Baltasar María Inmaculada de Jesus led a bandit company in the California region during the years following the Mexican-American War. De Jesus was valorized by some Californios as a patriot who opposed the American annexation of their land. The US government thought otherwise. With many federal bounties on his head, De Jesus fled inland to Cremation in hopes of recapturing the simple joy of non-political murder and rapine.

Deputy Waylon Kristofferson

Deputy Sheriff Waylon Kristofferson had promised his mother that he wouldn't grow up to be a cowboy. But the ladies love outlaws, and he became a ramblin man. However, he changed his ways after he went riding out one dark and windy day. He rarely speaks of what he saw that night. But sometimes he mutters in his sleep "Yippie I aye ye ye...Ghost riders in the sky!"