Monday, April 18, 2011

Philosophy Referee Signals

Link provided for future conversations with family members and friends that start to go off the rails.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Good evening from Price, UT.  This is my first time in Utah, and I have to admit that it kind of looks like northern New Mexico.  Tomorrow my colleagues and I get to drive to Dugout Canyon mine, which requires us to drive SE from Price to Wellington, UT and then get on some dirt road of some kind and drive up the mountain.  Excitement.  I should get my first journey down into the mine at some point this week, which should be quite an interesting experience.  I don't promise any pictures, because I'm not sure how well my phone would like all of the coal dust.  Further bulletins as events warrant.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The State of the Blues

As the St. Louis Blues face another post-season of enjoying their golf game while others try to win a championship, let's look not to the past, but to the future.  A future filled with more golf in April, for a few different reasons.  Seriously, this team won't be contending next year.  How do I know this?  One word: 'budget.'  The team is up for sale.  This means that unless a new owner shows up within the next couple months with big bags of money, there will be little action by the Blues in the free agent market, keeping the Blues near the bottom of the league salary-wise.  And do you know what happens to teams in the bottom of the salary tables?  They don't make the playoffs.  Let's check the math.

Using NHLNumbers, the bottom ten teams in salary in the NHL are as follows (in millions):
  • New York Islanders - $45.54
  • Colorado Avalanche - $46.59
  • Atlanta Thrashers - $46.60
  • St. Louis Blues - $48.14
  • Florida Panthers - $48.51
  • Edmonton Oilers - $49.66
  • Carolina Hurricanes - $51.2
  • Dallas Stars - $52.15
  • Nashville Predators - $52.21
  • Columbus Blue Jackets - $53.29

Of those ten teams, only Nashville is in the playoffs.  It isn't that you can simply buy a championship.  If that was true, New Jersey would be in the playoffs and not dusting off their putters.  But of the six division winners, only Detroit isn't in the top 10 teams rated by salaries.  That's because it takes solid veteran players to win in the playoffs, and that takes money.  Money that the Blues don't have.  Ah, well, maybe next decade things will improve.

Panzer Leader

The next game randomly selected from my collection is Panzer Leader.  This game is as old as I am, being first published in 1974.  The game is considered to have been pretty revolutionary in its time, bringing a lot of new players into the wargame hobby through its generally simple rules for a wargame of its time.  While my copy of the game may actually date to 1974 (it has that "old paper" smell to it), I picked up my copy in the 1990s though a usenet auction.

The game covers ground combat during World War II in the western European theater, so the game features German units vs. Allied (American, British, Canadian, etc.) units.  The scale is 150 meters per hex and each unit representing a platoon of men, vehicles, or artillery.  The game comes with four playing boards, all of them being tall and narrow.  Each "situation" (i.e., each specific scenario) has the players set up the boards in different ways to provide the terrain being fought over. 

Each counter contains all the information you need to know about it:  Its attack value, defensive value, movement value, firing range, type, name, and unique counter identifier.  Combat is straight-forward enough:  You total up the attack values of all attacking units and compare that to the target's defensive value to get a ratio of 3:1, or 1:2, or whatever.  You then roll a six-sided die and look up the result on the Combat Results Table (CRT).  You can either eliminate the unit from the game, disrupt it, or do nothing to it.  A dispersed unit loses all ability to move or fire for a turn, representing the unit being pinned down and scattered.  Thus combat is pretty simple, and this same combat system has been seen in many games since, including simple little games like Ogre.  Of course, they couldn't just leave things like that.  Instead, fire combat becomes more complicated (and, admittedly, more realistic) through the application of a separate chart that you have to consult to determine any impact from different types of units attacking each other.  For example, an "I" unit (for infantry) firing against an "A" unit (for armored vehicle) only attacks at half strength, as rifle bullets don't really do much against tanks.  This chart also introduces special cases, such as the fact that infantry sitting in a town hex are considered armored for all purposes, so infantry firing on infantry in a town halve their attack value even though firing at infantry.  It can get a bit confusing.

It is also quite hard to eliminate an enemy unit unless it is stupid enough to get stuck out in the open and surrounded.  For example, the first situation involves US paratroopers on D-Day trying to take one of three objectives (which is secretly selected before the German player even sets up his units, so he doesn't know quite where you are attacking).  The US infantry have an attack value of "2" but a defensive value of "6."  The main German infantry units have an attack value of "3" and a defensive value of "8."  Thus it would take four US units attacking a single German infantry unit just to match attack to defense and get a combat ration of 1:1.  And unless you have some special thing going to lower the die roll (lower rolls are better when attacking), at 1:1 odds you can't even kill the target, just disperse it.  Thus, it takes a LOT of firepower (tanks and very large-caliber artillery help quite a bit) to take anything out.

Another special case is the use of indirect artillery.  To have an artillery unit use indirect fire you go through a whole separate thing from direct fire (i.e., I see it, so I shoot it).  With indirect fire, you have to have a unit from the same side that is "spotting" the enemy target (and there are rules about that).  Then the target has to be in range (silly me has messed that up before).  Then you write down the fire order on a piece of paper, and the actual attack happens next turn.  Yes, you read that right.  You plot indirect fire one turn in advance.  So, you get to guess where your opponent will have his units one turn down the road.  Even if you guess right, there is still a good chance that your shots won't be that accurate, as there is only a 1-in-3 chance that you hit the target hex, a 1-in-2 chance that you hit one of the six surrounding hexes, and a 1-in-6 chance that your artillery scatters so badly that you attack nothing.  It's a bit of a bother.

While the game is a decent design, it's not my favorite game of this nature.  This is probably due to the fact that there have been ~37 years since this game was designed, and improvements in game design have occurred since then.  Still, there is good variety to the included "situations," and when I bought my copy the seller also included an expansion set that adds 10 new situations representing the German invasion of France in 1940 and about 150 new counters to play those scenarios.  So while it doesn't see hardly any play these days, it's still a keeper.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


This entry in my journey through my game collection is a game I have conflicted feelings about, Diskwars.  I first encountered this game at the Origins convention in 1999, where I got to play a demo game.  Essentially, the game is a fantasy wargame that takes a lot of cues from miniatures gaming.  However, instead of having hundreds of miniature soldiers that you move around the table, you have a number of disks printed on heavy cardstock.  Each disk represents a different unit or individual.  Each disk has ratings for Attack, Defense, Toughness, and Movement.  Some disks have special abilities, like the ability to take multiple wounds, or the ability to fly, or the ability to fire missile weapons, etc.  Game play is in a "back and forth" style where each side activates and moves three disks, then the other side activates and moves three disks, and so forth until both sides are done.  Then missile fire happens, then melee combat, and then you reset to the next turn.

Overall the rules are quite simple and generally work well.  Movement is handled by "flipping" the disk end over end a number of times equal to its Movement rating.  This can be a little deceptive and take some getting used to, as larger disks (like, for example, an Ent) might have a lower Movement number, but because the disk is twice the size of a unit of skeletons, it moves farther than the skeletons.  To make an attack, you move one of your disks until it overlaps the disk you want to attack.  During the Melee phase, you compare the Attack rating of the attacking disk to the Toughness of the defending disk, and if the Attack is equal or greater to the target's Toughness, then the target takes one wound, which will kill most units.  Simultaneously, you compare the defender's Defense rating to the attacker's Toughness, and if the defender's Defense is equal to or greater than the attacker's Toughness, then the attacker takes a wound.  Thus, it is entirely possible to have a mutual destruction combat where both sides eliminate each other.  You have to pay attention to the ratings of enemy units to ensure that you are entering fights you can win, though sometimes an enemy unit has a special ability so annoying that it is worth sacrificing a unit to get rid of it.

Melee can get a lot more complex that that, though, multiple disks are all piling into the scrum.  In such situations, you start at the "top" of the stack and work down.  Thus, a unit that you were counting on to kill a unit underneath it can itself be killed if enemy units move on top of it.  Because of this, timing of when you activate a unit is very important, and figuring that out seems to me to be a key aspect of the game system.  You can also have one unit attacking multiple defenders at the same time, or multiple attackers all attacking the same defending unit.  So while the basic combat system is simple, it can get complex with multiple layers of attacks.

The other method of combat is missile combat, where units armed with bows, or magicians with fireball or lightning spells, can attack an enemy disk within range.  This is handled by taking the appropriate number of missile counters and putting them on an unused disk.  You then hold that disk 12 inches over the target disk, and you then drop the missile counters.  Wherever they land, that is what unit gets hit.  In my experience, this can get kind of crazy, with you killing off your own units accidentally, or hitting enemy units that you weren't even targeting, as the missile counters can bounce and roll once you drop them.  I have never liked this aspect of the rules, as it just seems both too random and too dependent on manual dexterity in a game that otherwise features neither of those things.

In fact, the main thing that annoys me about this game is that there are no dice to roll.  While this makes the game simpler than other wargames, everytime I play it I feel like adding in some dice rolls would really spice things up.  Or, at least, I want to roll dice for missile fire rather than dropping counters from the sky.  So, while there are things about this game that I like, there are some that I don't, as well.  It seems like every year I think about trading or selling all of my disks, but I never seem to actually do it, because the game is just good enough to keep around, even though I never really play it anymore.

Diskwars was first published in army sets that cost $10 per set.  There were eight different armies in the game, and I ended up buying at least one starter set of each army.  Each set came with eight heavy card sheets that contained unit disks.  These sheets were semi-randomized, such that you always got a few of the same basic units and the rest were random, including units from other armies all together.  Thus, the game had a collectible aspect to it like Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon.  Later the publisher came out with "Legions" starter sets which provided you two pre-built armies to get started with.  There were also a number of different expansions that provided randomized sheets of disks to expand your armies with new units.  The game has been out of print for years, but you can still find people selling their old disks on eBay or other auction sites.