Thursday, June 30, 2011

Origins Xtra: Steve Cole of Amarillo Design Bureau

If you are a long-time gamer you have either likely played Star Fleet Battles or, at the very least, heard of it. The game has been around, in one form or another, for over thirty years. There's few wargames that can make that claim.

The Rural Gamer had the opportunity to interview Steve Cole, owner and head desiger of Amarillo Design Bureau about his product lines and his time in the game industry. In a very turbulent industry, Steve is one of the survivors.

TRG: Steve, could you give us some background on how you got into game design, and the beginnings of your company? An origin story, if you will.

Wow, that's a long time ago, and it's going to be a long story. Are you SURE you're interested? Ok, here goes:

Back about 1964, I went to a church party where people were all told to bring a game. A guy my age named Scott Poole brought Avalon Hill's D-Day and went around trying to find someone to play it. Nobody wanted to, until he came to me. I had seen one Avalon Hill wargame in a store once (my parents refused to buy it for me; that was back when kids didn't have money) and D-Day was the second one I had ever seen.

As my father was a reserve military officer who was using me as a practice student for his lectures in Command & General Staff School, I knew what all of those little boxes meant, something no one (including Scott) knew. (The ones with a "hot dog" were tanks; the ones with an "X" were infantry.)

So, I became a wargamer. Scott Poole had a great collection of Avalon Hill Games, and all through high school we met two or three times a month to play them. Very quickly, I started designing my own games, using the basic Avalon Hill rules system. (They had two dozen games that all used about the same rules. Scott and I would pick a game, then sort through other games looking for a combat results table that did not have "attacker eliminated" in the 2-to-1 column.) I just kept designing my own games. (The first game I bought was Anzio in 1972.)

About 1973, I got a letter from a guy (name forgotten) from the back page of the Avalon Hill magazine (the "opponents wanted" ads). We were planning to both go to the same college, so we decided to create a magazine (something dozens of gamers did in those days). Turns out, we never met (he went somewhere else) and he dropped out of the magazine company (JagdPanther) when we lost money on the first issue. I took over as editor and publisher and learned more than I wanted to know about the printing business.

2. Was Star Fleet Battles the first game you published? What year was that?

Star Fleet Battles was not the first game I published, not by a long shot.
I had run that small company (and magazine) called JagdPanther from, as I said, 1973. JagdPanther published several dozen games over four years, including Marine, Airborne, Jacksonville, Anvil-Dragoon, Zeppelin, Siege of Barad-Dur, Rigellian Wars, Crazy Horse, MP44, Cowpens, Paris Commune, World War III Super Variant, March on India, and, well, shucks, I don't even remember them all now. (I'm sure somewhere on Internet there must be some interview I did about JagdPanther when I still remembered everything we did.)

One of the local wargamers (Allen Eldridge) became my business partner in 1975. In November of 1976 we realized that we had created a business model that paid the bills but would never pay us, and decided we wanted to do something else with our time. (Free of the game business, I started looking for a girlfriend and got married shortly thereafter. Leanna and I have spent 34 years together.) Allen and I didn't stay away from the game business for long. By 1978 we were talking about starting a new company, which became Task Force Games. We decided to keep the workload down by doing only pocket games (something Metagaming started) and only selling to wholesalers (not mail orders). We published our first games at Origins 1979, including Star Fleet Battles. By 1983, Allen and I split the company (my design half became Amarillo Design Bureau, his publishing half remained TFG) and by 1999, TFG (three owners later) was dead but ADB continued on.

3. ADB's Star Fleet Universe products are officially licensed by Paramount/CBS Consumer Products. Yet, they're a bit different than other Star Trek products on the market. Could you describe the particulars of your licensing arrangement?

I first designed Star Fleet Battles back in 1975. As the legend goes (and it's true), I was playing Jutland while watching Star Trek reruns in college. We played it (a lot) in the JagdPanther offices. When my partner and I started Task Force in 1979, we dumb lucked into the phone number for Franz Joseph Designs, who gave us a license to print Star Fleet Battles. That was all before the first movie, at a time when Star Trek had been off the air (except as reruns in college towns) for a decade. By the time the movies and The Next Generation showed up, we had already printed dozens of products with a vast amount of newly created material. Paramount contacted us, figured out we were legal, and gave us an "agreement that includes a license" to keep printing the Star Fleet Universe. That contract notes that the Star Fleet Universe (SFU) is "separate" from Trek and that we are not an "official licensee" even if we are completely legal. We have Vulcans but not Spock, and while the Enterprise is on our official ship list, we never use it in fiction or scenarios. We have many new species, but not the ones created in TNG and beyond.

As our "agreement" never expires, unlike companies that get a two-year Trek license, we just keep going on and on while "official licensees" come and go.

4. What is your favorite part of working in the Star Fleet Universe?

All of the great people I have met. That includes Steven Petrick and Jean Sexton, who now work for ADB.

5. Within ADB there are several iterations of the starship combat game (Star Fleet Battles, Federation Commander, Federation & Empire, Klingon Armada, etc). Could you give a brief overview of what makes each of these products unique?

Star Fleet Battles is a starship combat game. Each "unit" is one ship, but battles can handle a dozen ships or so. Federation Commander is a new game on the same scale, starting with a much-simplified set of SFB rules and using some new concepts in some areas. It plays much faster, and is prettier since it's in color. Klingon Armada is part of the Starmada series done by Daniel Kast of Majestic 12 under a joint venture deal. It's designed for larger fleets, with much simpler rules than even Fed Commander, and easily handles 20-ship fleets. Federation & Empire is a strategic game, with thousands of ships on each side and a lot of economics. We also have RPGs for GURPS and PD20M, and a card game (Star Fleet Battle Force), a line of pewter miniatures, and the new Marines game.

6. Why do you think Star Fleet Battles has lasted this long?

I wish I knew. The subject matter must be part of it, but there have been other Trek games before and after SFB, none of which lasted as long, and none of which ever had the kind of player base we have. I must assume that I got the design "right" in regards to what players wanted to play.

7. How has the gaming industry changed in the years since you started Star Fleet Battles?

In more ways than I can count! Back when TFG began, there were 75 or so wholesalers, compared to less than a dozen today. Back then, there were about five real companies and everybody else was a "garage operation" whereas today, there are about 50 real companies with offices and professional printing (and 200 more that just do d20 RPG PDFs). Speaking of that, PDFs (and personal computers) didn't exist when we did our first games, but PDFs are now a big share of our profits.

Another phenomenon is the way the industry has grown. The original wargamers (which I call H. G. Wells Gamers) were middle-aged men with painted soldiers and expensive dioramas. Just before I arrived in gaming, there came hex-and-counter wargames, which expanded the industry tremendously, leaving the original H. G. Wells Gamers (the O.G.s, or Original Gamers) wondering why nobody paid them their proper attention and respect. Then RPGs arrived, quadrupling the size of the industry, but leaving the hex-and-counter gamers wondering why the "wargame industry" was suddenly called the "adventure game industry." Then came cards and clicks, greatly expanding the industry but leaving the previous parts (now much smaller parts of a much larger whole) wondering why nobody was paying attention to "the guys who started this thing."

8. Do you have time to play games from other companies? If so, what do you play?

Rarely. Other than playtesting and rare demos, I haven't played one of our own games in years, and not more than one or two scenarios in 20 years. Oh, wait, I have played our card games some. I probably get to play a game from another company five or ten times per year. We have a copy of Space Hulk that we play whenever we can (about six times so far in two years), and we've played Munchkin every time Jean Sexton comes to visit.

Thinking about this for a minute, I realized that the last three games I actually bought a copy of (over the last 10 years) were Tide of Iron and Memoir 44 (both World War II in Europe land combat games, and in both cases the rules had so little to do with World War II ground combat that I wrote new sets) and Space Hulk (which is, also, a ground infantry combat game).

Now, the one game I do play, a LOT, is an RPG called Die In Place. It's basically a leadership game based on the modern US Army. Steven Petrick and I play it two or three times per week, as we walk the two-kilometer hiking path near the office. It's like playing chess in your head, trying to remember who commands Company B and who is the mortar platoon sergeant. (After each session, we write down what happened. Someday, these campaigns would make great war novels. The first campaign, about Vietnam, went on for two years and ended in a titanic battle of the Tet Offensive.) We spent much of the last year playing a campaign to rid the US of zombies, and this spring we've been playing Battle: Houston as we try to defeat the water-stealing aliens who did amphibious landings at 20 cities around the world (including that movie about Los Angeles). Playing this RPG as we walk takes our minds off how tired we are and how much our feet hurt.

9. ADB has a presence every year at Origins, but not at Gen Con. Why is that?

Well, Jeff, going to a trade show is a major undertaking. It takes almost a month of hard work to get ready for Origins, and takes us out of the office (and away from designing new products) for a week. It also costs about three grand to go to Origins (and a bit more to go to Gen Con) counting booth costs, hotel, truck rental, and so forth. We make enough in sales at Origins to pay for the trip (and then some), but the one time we went to Gen Con (since we became the publisher in 1999), we lost money.

We see 200 of our customers at Origins (that's why we go), but maybe 20 at Gen Con, most of whom were also at Origins. (That seems to be because the two shows are so close together in space and time. The "locals" just go to whichever show we go to, and those who travel do the same.) We go to the shows to talk with customers and show the flag. Having done that very successfully at Origins, there seems no point in spending twice as much time and money for no more results. If we went to both shows, we'd just divide the existing audience into two smaller groups.

All of that said, there is much concern over the rumored plans to move Origins to a date in May (before the school year ends). Many of our players have expressed great concern over the idea, stating that they would be unable to attend Origins at those dates. If that becomes an issue, we may have to move our "presence" to Gen Con, but that would be instead of Origins, not in addition to it.

10. What product is coming up for 2011 that you are most excited about?

Star Fleet Marines, the ground combat system for the Star Fleet Universe. It's a very simple streamlined game. The biggest battles are battalions, with about 40 units on each side. You point to a unit, then to a target, roll the die, look at the chart, and the target is either destroyed, flipped upside down, or unaffected. Units that didn't move (and weren't upside down) then move to better firing positions. (You shoot so that you can move later, and move so that you can shoot later.) The whole rulebook is about 10 pages.

What's exciting for me is that I am a ground combat guy, having spent time in the US Army and the Texas Guard. On a personal level, ground combat at the operational level (a battalion on each side) is where I am most comfortable. It's funny that this is only the second game on this scale I have ever designed, the first being Jagdpanther's MP44, which I described as "squad-level PanzerBlitz." It came out a year or three before Squad Leader, and (if you ask me) was a better game.

Star Fleet Marines is going to be so completely different from Squad Leader that you won't be able to compare them.

I have to mention a runner-up in the "most excited" category, that being STARSHIP ALDO. This is a little 16-page adventure done for GURPS and PD20M which we whipped up for Free RPG Day. It's an "explore the deck plans of a wrecked starship" game, and I tremendously enjoyed created the deck plans, the die roll table for room contents, and the eight characters. (All of the characters are based on real people, six of whom went through the Terrorwerks gun run together at Origins 2010).

11. Where would you like to see ADB, as a company, in the future?

On Mars, publishing games from the Valles Marineris Dome City.

Until that happens, I'd settle for becoming one of the top 10 companies instead of the top 30 or 40. The problem is that retailers fill up most of their store with the top five or ten companies, and the other 40 hardcopy publishers get maybe one or two shelf spots each in 10% of the retailers. Every retailer has the products of my good friends at Steve Jackson Games. My games are as good as theirs, but retailers cannot find me in the crowd of 40 or so "smaller publishers" which is why my company has six employees, not the 30 or 40 it would actually take to do all of the jobs that need doing.

I'm quite proud to run a company that has no debts, writes me a regular paycheck, owns our own office building, and puts out a dozen new products a year, but I'd be a lot more proud if I was selling 10 times as many copies of each game. The only reason I am not selling more copies is that the retailers can't see my tree in the forest.

TRG: Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to share with us. We wish you continued success!

NOTE: This interview was conducted in late April, knowing Steve was going to be very busy shortly thereafter preparing for Origins 2011. In mid-June Amarillo Design Bureau and Mongoose Publishing annouced a joint venture: A Call to Arms: Star Fleet which takes Mongoose's popular starship combat system (previously used for a Babylon 5 setting and currently in the Fading Suns RPG setting) and tailors it for use with the Star Fleet Universe. Mongoose will also be producing all-new CAD-designed resin miniatures for the new system. This is a huge boon for both ADB and Mongoose. It provides greater visibility and retail presence for ADB and gives Mongoose an immensely popular new setting for their ACTA ruleset.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Origins 2011: The Miniatures Hall

The Miniatures Hall at the 2011 Origins Game Fair was hopping with activity this year. I seem to recall the Hall being fairly vacant last year. This year looked much more full in general.

The quarter of a century old Battletech game of mechanized combat was well represented. Catalyst Game Labs is doing such a fantastic job with Battletech. I think their products are the strongest the line has seen since the original FASA days.

Speaking of giant mechs waging war, Heavy Gear games were also going on in the miniatures room. While manufacturer Dream Pod 9 was not present at Origins, the fans were carrying the banner for the game. This is a game that has picqued my curiosity every year at Gen Con. They just released new 2 player starter boxes. This might be the year I cave in and pick it up.

Wizkids had a presence at Origins this year. Unfortunately, they didn't have a booth (I was disappointed by this) but Heroclix was going strong. I love this game, and really need to play more often. It was great to see to see so many players enjoying the game at the con.

A game that has become a staple of the miniatures room over the past few years is Sailpower. Sailpower is produced by a small company, Sea Dog Game Studios based in Columbus, Ohio. They've been making 15mm resin ships as well as a ruleset and commanding the high seas on huge tables at the convention for awhile now and always draw a big crowd. They recently introduced a second game, TechCommander featuring giant mechs fighting for the domination of your tabletop.

Of course, the grandaddy of all minaiture wargames was also being played at Origins: Warhammer! Both Fantasy and 40K games were going on towards the back of the hall. Most of the games, if not all, were organized by, which is a group dedicated to running Warhammer and 40K games at Origins. Check out their site for more pictures from the games going on there.

That's it for today, folks. Come back tomorrow for an interview with Steve Cole of Amarillo Design Bureau, makers of Star Fleet Battles, Federation Commander and more!

Origins Xtra: Talking with Colby Dauch of Plaid Hat Games

Plaid Hat Games owner and chief game designer Colby Dauch.

TRG: Colby, could you give us your gamer origin, so to speak? How did you get into the hobby.

CD: I've always been into games of all types, but Heroscape is the game that I fell so in love with that I got involved with online communities and went to a convention for. It was those experiences connecting with other gamers and especially checking out GenCon that caused me to discover the wider world of hobby gaming.

TRG: What were your thoughts when you found out WOTC was pulling the plug on Heroscape?

CD: This is a tricky question. I worked with WotC on the line and am under contract as such. So talking too openly about my experiences and my feelings toward how they handled the line seems ill advised. I will say that I always did my best to make sure that the game mechanics for Heroscape continued to be innovative and exciting. That was my part of the project while it was at WotC (shared with Chris Dupuis and Jerry Hawthorne) and I took it seriously.

TRG: When did you come up with the concept of Summoner Wars?

CD:Back when Heroscape was still at Hasbro and Hasbro was sending me other various game design jobs I started to feel the call to design something that was all my own. One of the designs that came out of that calling was Summoner Wars.

TRG: You tried to shop Summoner Wars around to other game companies, correct?

CD: The main one I knew I wanted to shop it to was Hasbro. I kind of knew that it wasn't going to be right for them, but I had to try. I also submitted it to Fantasy Flight Games, but I'm still waiting for their submissions department to return my email asking them if I can send them a prototype.

TRG: How did you come to the decision to start up your own company?

CD: I told myself pretty early in my efforts on Summoner Wars that I was going to shop it to Hasbro, the biggest mass market company where I had the best connections, and Fantasy Flight Games one of the biggest and my favorite hobby game company. I felt like those were the big dogs whose names and resources would do the most for the game. I felt like anything smaller than that meant Plan B, which was start a company of my own. Something I felt like I wanted to do and something I felt like Summoner Wars would be a great backbone start up product for.

TRG: What's the story behind the name Plaid Hat Games?

CD: I sometimes sport a plaid hat. I had an illustration of me done in that hat which I used in a blog I kept for awhile and still use as my avatar on various sites. My good friend John Clowdus of Small Box Games suggested the name Plaid Hat Games and most of the rest of my friends thought it was an excellent name.

TRG: Summoner Wars has gotten great reviews, and developed quite a strong following, yet doesn't have a real presence in game stores. What are some plans to change that and give Summoner Wars a stronger presence at retail?

CD: I wish I had all the answers here. It is tough for a small company. I still maintain a day job which means I can't travel to things like GAMA and distributors conventions to reach out to game retailers. I also only have so much time and money to devote to marketing and I choose to, right now, use that to market directly to players. Players can help get Summoner Wars in their local game store by requesting it. The longer Plaid Hat Games is around the more the stores will have heard of us and be willing to give our products a try. The more success we get the more chances we can take on larger marketing campaigns directed at retailers. (Like masses of demo copies and posters)

My plan is to keep producing great games and great customer service. I believe that success breeds success, so I'm going to keep paying my dues and keep looking for opportunities to get the word out about us.

TRG: The next project that's been announced is a boardgame, Dungeon Run. How'd that come about?

CD: Mr. Bistro is the designer on this. He and I met one another through the Heroscape community. When I started Plaid Hat Games he helped out with playtesting, general advice, and other areas. I knew that he was fairly prolific in designing games as a hobby and I was actively looking for the opportunity to publish one of his games. He put up Dungeon Run as a print and play project and I saw some great potential there. He and I brainstormed and came up with ideas for new directions to take some of the concepts behind the print and play version. That was the birth of the project.

Dungeon Run (mock-up) demo game in action.

TRG: What challenges have you faced developing a board game as opposed to a card game?

CD: Many of the challenges are the same. Dungeon Run did require we bring another freelancer in on the project in the way of a sculptor. We called on another contact we made through Heroscape fandom in Chad Hoverter. This guy was a part of our close knit community of gamer friends and he also just happens to be a super talented sculptor. It is amazing how much of Plaid Hat Games is built around a community of friends that met through Heroscape and happen to have a variety of game related talents.

There is myself, Jerry Hawthorne - Game Designer/Creative Genius, Mr. Bistro - Game Designer/Writer, Chris Dupuis - Rules Guru/Editor, James Sitz - Lead Playtester/Gamer Savant/Aspiring Designer, Dave Richards - Graphic Designer, Michael Faciane - Game Designer, Chad Hoverter - Sculptor

Literally all of these guys met by doing their thing as a fan with Heroscape and now I have worked with each one of these guys in connection to Plaid Hat Games. There is even a top notch illustrator among us. If I knew how to light a fire under him I would be using him too. I think this speaks to one of your earlier questions as well. How did I come to the decision to start a game company? How could I not with a support structure like that?

TRG: What can you tell us about what's coming from Plaid Hat Games beyond Dungeon Run?

CD: More Summoner Wars and more Board Games. Jerry Hawthorne has a story-centric adventure game that we are putting the polish on and I've got a sci-fi game that came from an unsuspected source that I'm helping develop and plan to publish. It's a crazy mix of inspirations that come together to make a great game.

Thanks to Colby for taking the time to talk to us. It was great seeing the Plaid Hat booth at Origins being constantly busy, and the giant stack of Summoner Wars Masters Sets that was present in the booth on Thursday morning was gone on Saturday afternoon.

Congratulations to Plaid Hat Games on their success thus far, and here's to even greater successes in the future.

Look for Dungeon Run to be released around Gen Con 2011.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Origins 2011: Day Four Report

Origins 2011 is now a memory, but there's still a lot of images and coverage to come here at The Rural Gamer.

Boardgames are big at Origins, and this year was no exception. The Board Room was bigger than ever this year and boardgamers were enjoying playing a wonderfully diverse selection of boardgames. Many of the games came from the staggering library of CABS (the Columbus Area Boardgame Society). There was something for everyone.

I grabbed a few pics as I strode the Boardroom. Here's some folks playing Eagle Games Defenders of the Realm. This cooperative boardgame has been on my radar for awhile. Eagle Games has so far supported the game with pre-painted miniatures, a new Heroes expansion and a Dragons expansion. It's been pretty well reviewed. I hope to check it out in the future.

Heroscape was alive and well at Origins as fans of the now defunct boardgame enjoyed many a game of this unique fantasy game. Heroscape is a blast to play. It's really too bad that WOTC pulled the plug on it.

Another unique game showing up at Origins was Chaostle from Chivalry Games. Chaostle comes with 3D castle components that make up the battlescape upon which the game takes place.

I was especially impressed by this massive gameboard for Power Grid. Seriously, this thing was huge. I don't know if this was something official supplied by publisher Rio Grande Games, or if it was the creation of some enterprising fan who had access to a large format printer and laminator. But, wow, this was something else.

These brave gamers were immersed in a game of FFG's Twilight Imperium, a game that possibly can last longer than the convention itself! Someday I need to play in a game of TI.

Something that I saw being played that almost brought me to tears was the s0-new-it's-not-in-stores-yet Battleship Galaxies from Hasbro. This game looks absolutely fantastic and I can't wait to get my hands on it! It just looks fantastic.

Next up, we'll take a venture into the Miniatures Hall and see what strategic miniatures games were being played.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Origins 2011: Day Three Report

You can't believe everything you read on the internet.

While I'm calling this my Day Three report on Origins 2011, it's really the stuff I didn't get to post last night from Day Two. I actually didn't go to the con today due to some scheduling conflicts, but I will be back tomorrow with my daughter in tow. She gets to experience the Origins Children's Program and is very excited at the prospect!

First off, if you are currently at the convention, planning on going either Saturday and/or Sunday or are planning on coming to Origins in the future allow me to point out your best (in my opinion) food option for convention-goers: North Market.

North Market, located a very short block up Vine Street from the convention center, is a veritible food mecca. The Market houses a host of vendors offering everything from fresh produce, deli sandwiches, popcorn, ice cream, organically raised meats, seafood, baked goods, BBQ, and food items from all around the world. It's a short walk and offers considerably better food than the concession outlets or food court within the convention center itself. There really is something for everyone there (and I'm an incredibly picky eater!). Yesterday, I had a fantastic 1/2 rack of ribs from BBQ vendor Holy Smoke. Mmmm. It was good eatin'. There's several good, close food options downtown...but, for my money, North Market is the best option.

Alright, enough about food. Back to the con.

I stopped, briefly, by the Bandai booth. Bandai was busy promoting their new Resident Evil Deck Building game, as well as their Naruto CCG and doing some demos of their upcoming Star Trek Deck Building Game as seen here:

I'm not much for CCGs. I've recently picked up some Redakai to play with my daughter, as well as some cheap starter decks for CCGs like Sonic the Hedgehog and TMNT and Pirates of the Caribbean. The Resident Evil game looks nice but, frankly, I'm pretty burned out on the whole zombie genre as a whole. So RE: The Deck Building Game holds little interest. And, sadly, I gotta say at this point the Star Trek game is not calling out to me either. I'm as big a Trek fan as the next geek, but there's something about cards with stock photos or screen grabs that I find really unappealing. But, I'm willing to give the game a fair shake upon release.

Arguably the largest presence at Origins is Mayfair Games. The Skokie, Illinois-based game company is home to one of the world's most popular games: The Settlers of Catan as well as a cornucopia of primarily Euro-styled boardgames. The Mayfair booth occupies a huge space in the center of the exhibit hall and is always heavily trafficked.

Of course Catan was a huge presence. The NACC (North American Catan Championship) qualifier tournaments were taking place, and even more impressively upon tables made exclusively for playing Catan. How many boardgames can make that claim? You can check out Table of Catan for more information on the tables.

The last bit I want to cover in this entry is a new game from Bryan K. Borgman called Kaiju Kaos. This miniatures game of destructive monster action is designed so that players could use a variety of miniatures and toys they already own. However, Bryan's Baily Records (he's also a musician, having produced several game soundtracks) also offer their own line of metal and resin miniatures for use with the game. Here's a couple of really impressive resin pieces for the game, including the massive Kaos Monster!

That's it for today, folks. I gotta get outside and feed the animals, and get my daughter off to VBS! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Origins 2011: Day Two Report

My feet are killing me.

Today was my primary day to cruise the dealers hall, and cruise it I did!

There was considerably more people gathered about this morning than yesterday, and many of them were crowded outside the entrance to the dealers room waiting for the doors to open to Gamer Nirvana.

My first mission was to go straight to the Plaid Hat Games booth and get a copy of the Summoner Wars Master Set. The Master Set comes with six (six!) all new faction decks, a deluxe game board (good buy folded paper board!), an updated rulebook and wound marker tokens. It's fantastic! My desire for the game over-rode the logical part of the game. The Master Set comes in quite the large box which I then had to carry around with me until I wisened up and made a trip back to the parking garage to put it in my car. Anyway, Colby Dauch and the good folk at Plaid Hat were also giving away Mercenary promo cards and custom Summoner Wars dice to customers. Very cool bonus!

Here's Plaid Hat owner (and wearer of said plaid hat), Colby Dauch demoing Summoner Wars to potential new players.

Next I decided to start at one end of the hall and just work my way up and down the aisles without stopping. I just wanted to take it all in. Well, it was a good plan and all until I got stopped in my tracks by Randall Bills of Catalyst Game Labs running demos of their new steampunk Leviathans game that is coming out later this year. This game, about gigantic flying airships in 1910, is several years in the making. I've seen it at Gen Con in various stages for, I think, the past two years now. I think the game looks fantastic.

The game will be released in a giant starter set (think FFG coffin box size) featuring ships from the British and French forces, along with boardgame quality maps, quick start rules, full rulebook, a novella establishing the world of Leviathans, custom polyhedral dice and more.

The ships seen here are not final product. The ship models will come fully assembled and lightly pre-painting (base coat and some minor detailing) and they'll be on stands to convey they are in flight.

Also on display were an amazing large scale model (for promotional purposes, not for sale) of one of the airships (a larger, 4 ft battleship model is expected to arrive tomorrow) and a nice small display of a battle above the white cliffs of Dover.

For more information about Leviathans go to:

I've got a lot more from today to put up, but it will have to wait until tomorrow! So be sure to come back and check out the latest and greatest from Origins 2011.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Origins 2011: Day One Report

The 2011 Origins Game Fair began today in Columbus, Ohio at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Wednesday is, I'd guess, the least busy day of the entire con as it's a bit of a partial opening. The dealers room was not open today. In fact, many of the vendors were still hard at work setting up their booths, getting everything "just so" for the hordes of gamers that will pour through the doors of Exhibit Hall C over the next few days.

I went down this morning for just a few hours to pick up my badge and check things out a bit before jumping in tomorrow for a full day of covering the event, demoing some new games and checking out the various things going on around the con.

Things started out on a bit of a frustrating note. I had pre-registered as press back in April. So, I arrive this morning to pick up my badge and program books. I went to one of the pre-reg booths and asked where press were supposed to check in. The person behind the counter pointed across the way and said I needed to go to the Special Services booth, which I did. There was a bit of a line at said booth, and it didn't seem to be moving. There was a group of 5 or so people at the head of the line, clearly with some issue and a very frazzled looking volunteer behind the booth trying her best to resolve it.

Meanwhile, the line wasn't moving. At all.

Finally, after about a half hour another Origins worker comes by and immediately begins tending to those waiting in line, which was fantastic. When he got to me I said I just needed to pick up my press badge. "Press? Oh..." he said as he began glancing around. He turned to a gentleman manning a nearby booth and said, "Press?". The other gentlemen said something quietly to him. He then looked at me and said, "You need to go to the Show Office". So, all that waiting in line was for nothing.

I've been attending Origins for several years now as press, and every year it seems to be a different process when on-site, and there is never a clearly marked place for press to sign in and get their badge. And, honestly, there's been years when I've neglected to pre-register and have registered on-site in less time than it took me to simply pick up a badge today.

So, yeah, a little frustrating. But, that's why I went down there today: to get the badge out of the way so I can be ready to go tomorrow.

Following my minor badge debacle I immediately noticed that Origins has gotten themselves a spiffy new entryway. It's a slick addition that nicely displays the logos of all the various companies that are sponsoring the con.

While the dealers room was closed today, there was still plenty to do gamewise, and plenty of people doing them. There was a full slate of events scheduled throughout the day. Unfortunately for me, I had to head home around 1pm to be with my daughter while my wife worked at the Delaware Farmers Market. But, tomorrow is another day and a full one. I am excited to get into that dealers room and check out the wares, demo some games, interview some folks and generally get my game on!

I'm aiming to have coverage of Day 2 up sometime late tomorrow night. So, be sure to come back and visit!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Origins is Just Around the Corner!

Convention season is in full swing!

Gamers from all over the country (and some from beyond!) will be descending upon downtown Columbus, Ohio later this week for the Origins Game Fair. This annual gamer mecca is held in the Greater Columbus Convention Center and is the second largest (only to Gen Con) gaming convention in the USA.

I've been attending Origins for the past ten years or so now since moving to Ohio. It's great having a major convention practically in your backyard. Makes for a much more affordable event.

A few things that I'm especially looking forward to this year: Plaid Hat Games will be releasing the Summoner Wars Master Set (which is looking awesome!), Catalyst Game Labs will be showing off thier upcoming miniatures board game Leviathans (which, at the risk of repeating myself, is looking awesome!) and Wizkids is making a return to Origins (which is, say it with me, awesome!). But all that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Rural Gamer will be covering the show so be sure to check back during the convention for news, commentary and some special interviews, too. It's gonna be a blast! So, stay tuned!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Pathfinder RPG Books Coming from Paizo

New Pathfinder RPG Hardcovers Offer Monstrous Options for Players and GMs

Paizo Publishing has announced two new hardcover rulebooks for the smash-hit Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Bestiary 3 and the Advanced Race Guide. Bestiary 3, which releases in November 2011, offers more than 300 new monsters for the Pathfinder RPG, with an emphasis on creatures from international myth and the best of Paizo’s Pathfinder Adventure Path series. The Advanced Race Guide, set for an April 2012 release, offers expanded options for player characters using the seven “core” races, as well as brand new information on every single PC-appropriate monster in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules. Both books supplement the red-hot Pathfinder Roleplaying Game line, which continues to establish itself as a leading brand in the tabletop roleplaying field.

"Game Masters can never have enough monsters to throw at their player characters," said Paizo Publisher Erik Mona. "And with the Advanced Race Guide, we’ll finally allow the players to get in on the monstrous action, giving them all sorts of options for non-standard creature characters alongside expanded play options for popular PC races like humans, elves, and dwarves. There’s never been a better time to be a monster!"

About Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary 3
320-page full-color hardback
ISBN 978-1-60125-378-1
$39.99/November 2011

Bestiary 3 presents hundreds of new creatures for use in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Within this collection of creatures you’ll find grave knights and savage cyclopes, kappa and colossal kaiju, clockwork killers, mysterious sphinxes, imperial dragons, and so much more! Yet not all these monsters need to be foes, as fleet-footed sleipnirs, cunning vanaras, whimsical faerie dragons, and more companions from myth and modern fantasy join heroes on the path to legend. In addition, new rules for customizing and advancing monsters and an expanded glossary of creature abilities ensure that you’ll be prepared to challenge your players wherever adventure takes them!

About Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Advanced Race Guide
256-page full-color hardback
ISBN 978-1-60125-390-3
$39.99/April 2012

This definitive sourcebook for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game provides tons of new character options for all seven “core” player character races, from archetypes that allow elf characters to explore their connection to nature and magic to feats and spells that let a dwarf character carry on the legacy of his multi-generational clan or a gnome explore her connection to the First World or delve deep into her weird obsessions.

Additionally, the Advanced Race Guide offers meaty sections on a dozen “spotlight” races that make interesting and exciting player character options, such as goblins, aasimar, tieflings, dhampyrs, drow, the elemental races from Bestiary 2, and several others.

All PC-appropriate monster races in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, including creatures from all three Bestiaries and The Inner Sea World Guide, receive race options equivalent to those presented for the core races in the Core Rulebook, for the first time allowing players to create and play characters like merfolk, grippli, duergar, stryx, and every other appropriate monster currently in the Pathfinder game.

Lastly, the Advanced Race Guide includes an extensive section that allows players and GMs to build their own custom races, either to emulate more powerful creatures that already exist in the game or to create wholly original characters unique to their campaign. This section will be the focus of Paizo’s next major Open Playtest effort, which will kick off in late fall 2011.

About Paizo Publishing
Paizo Publishing®, LLC is a leading publisher of fantasy roleplaying games, accessories, board games, and novels. Paizo's Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game, the result of the largest open playtest in the history of tabletop gaming, is one of the best-selling tabletop RPGs in today's market. Pathfinder Adventure Path is the most popular and best-selling monthly product in the tabletop RPG industry. is the leading online hobby retail store, offering tens of thousands of products from a variety of publishers to customers all over the world. In the nine years since its founding, Paizo Publishing has received more than 40 major awards and has grown to become one of the most influential companies in the hobby games industry.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Wizkids Dreamlist

Lately it seems that Wizkids is announcing a new Heroclix license every time you turn around. We've got Halo (mostly the same minis from Halo ActionClix from 2007 with new Heroclix compatible stats), Street Fighter (which I'm super excited about), Gears of War, Lord of the Rings (also very excited) and who knows what could be next.

In the spirit of the grand speculation that is endemic to these interwebs, I thought I would put forth the properties that I would most like to see made as Heroclix-compatible minis.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - The beloved 80s property is poised for a big comeback in 2012. IDW has obtained the license to produce new TMNT comic books as well as reprinting the existing library of classic material from Mirage Publishing, there's a brand-new animated series set to debut on Nicktoons next year and, of course, a new action figure line from Playmates Toys. Now is the time for TMNT Heroclix! They're a natural!

Masters of the Universe - unless your a pretty die-hard action figure collector you might not be aware that there's a new Masters of the Universe toyline out there right now. It's called Masters of the Universe Classics and it's only available online at They release a new 6" highly-articulated action figure each month (which usually sell out in a few hours). The new figures are based on the original 1980s toys but with modern sculpting and articulation. They're really fantastic. The Masters of the Universe property is full of colorful heroes and villains that would make for a rockin' Heroclix set. Plus, 2012 is the properties 30th Anniversary.

Pirates of the Caribbean - I think I've mentioned my hopes for this before. I doubt it'd ever happen, but I'd sure love it if it did (of course, I never imagined there'd be Street Fighter Heroclix so I suppose anything is possible). There's a ton of characters and factions (pirates, Royal Navy, Davy Jones and the Crew of the Flying Dutchman, Blackbeard and his zombie crew from On Stranger Tides and so much more). As I big fan of the Pirates franchise I'd so love to see this happen.

and lastly, Thundercats - like TMNT the Thundercats are on the brink of a big comeback. There's a new animated series (which looks awesome) about to launch on Cartoon Network later this summer and a new toyline coming from the good folk at Bandai. Thundercats Heroclix would be the freakin' cat's meow!

With all these properties I think Wizkids could test the waters with their new Fast Forces concept, and if the response is there go with a second Fast Forces set or a full booster series.

Heroclix is such a great open ended game that there's just so many properties that could work with it.

Speaking of Wizkids, I can't wait to see them back at the Origins Game Fair next week in Columbus, OH!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Battleship Galaxies is Looking Fantastic

For those who haven't heard, Hasbro will soon be releasing their Battleship Galaxies board game. This new game of starship combat has very little to do with the classic Battleship game we all grew up playing outside of the name. This game looks to be a real winner.

Colby Dauch of Plaid Hat Games has done some work for Hasbro in the past on the much beloved and lamented Heroscape game. He was also part of the design team that developed Battleship Galaxies along with lead designer Craig Van Ness. Colby recently posted a detailed first look at the contents of the game on his Heroscapers site.

Check it out: