Cycling news

I’m not sure whether to laugh, cry, or get back on my bike.

First, the Telegraph reports here on a neurosurgeon who claims bike helmets are useless.

“I see lots of people in bike accidents and these flimsy little helmets don’t help.”

After you have read the article, however, you might wonder if it’s the surgeon who is flimsy. I’m going to continue wearing mine, for sure.

Secondly, there’s a report about the bike sharing scheme in Baltimore. Apparently some people thought that rather than share, they would keep the bikes. See here. Sad. I do wonder about the lack of security, but maybe that’s normal in Baltimore. It’s still sad.


Consimworld 2014 – Bulletin 4


Sometime in the next few weeks or months, Lost Battalion Games are hoping to have Traveller Ascension* up on Kickstarter. Based on my exposure to just the basic game, today at Consimworld, I’ll be pledging. Here’s what I can tell you, courtesy of an extended play, chat, play, discuss, play, and repeat session with the designer, Terry Coleman.

The basic package will be for 2 players, and priced at around $80. Stretch goals and all the usual Kickstarter stuff will provide the material for up to a 6 player game.

The setting, broadly speaking, is that each player represents a faction – a combination of a megacorps, political entity, interest group, and whatever – sent by the Emperor to reclaim some territory in space for the Imperium. So, each other player is not – necessarily – your enemy. However, if you want to be the King of the Hill, you might need to take certain measures.

You start off with a homeworld (with randomly generated stats), a scout ship, a destroyer, a diplomat, and a shadow agent. There are different scenarios, so setup may vary. In the very basic scenario, you and your opponents are trying to explore, settle, and develop the map area.

The map is a jigsaw cut rigid board with double sided square tiles. On one side, space. On the other side, after exploration, you might find a planet, an asteroid field, a gas giant, or nothing.

The spaceship, personnel, building, and planet counters and chits are high quality. You may get a flavor from the pictures, but be aware this is a playtest set and not final production. One really nice touch I liked was the nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey. When you draw your chit to establish a world’s stats, this comes in a miniature obelisk. Cool!

Red v Blue, playing it friendly. So far.

Red v Blue, playing it friendly. So far.

The game is card driven. The cards come in one of the following categories:

  • Military
  • Diplomacy
  • Shadow
  • Science
  • Economic
  • Movement
  • Any (You can use as any other category)

Each card also has an event. So you can use your card for one of the actions of its type – for example, Military – or use it for the event. (If some bastard doesn’t steal it from you, first…)

Awaiting deployment

Awaiting deployment

You have an eight card hand. Each turn is normally six card driven actions, so there may be two cards you do not use. You can retain cards from turn to turn, if you wish.

Each turn of six cards is split into three: you put your three cards down in the first three action slots and resolve them. Then, having seen how the turn has gone, you get to put down your last three cards.

Where to, Mr Shadow Agent, Sir?

Where to, Mr Shadow Agent, Sir?

I may not be able to do justice to the mechanics, because the designer has packed in a ton of great stuff. Let’s see how I do. For example:

  • Every card is rated for initiative, so who goes first is determined for each card play, not each turn.
  • Every player has the same set of basic actions for each category of card. But each player has a different – and variable – set of tweaks for each category.
  • There are limits on how many cards of a particular category you may play each turn. This is tracked with little action cubes.
  • Some actions require diplomats or shadow agents to be on the board, and some require their presence on the actual planet where the action is happening.
  • Scout ships are easier to move, because there are actions in several categories for them. Destroyers are not so nimble. I guess Cruisers are even less nimble.
  • Spacecraft ratings are tracked with a neat display that allows for half and quarter point progression. For example, to go from a Jump capability of 1 to a capability of 2, takes two improvements. To go from 3 to 4 takes four improvements.
  • Planets are not static resources, but living entities. They have a population which, if it gets unhappy, can overthrow you. By the same token, if you work at improving the lot of the people, and the planet’s status, you will earn points towards the win you crave.
  • Planets come in four types: A, B, C, and D (from best to worst) with the type discovered determined by a random card draw. Each card has a planet type on it.
  • You can build things other than ships – bases, factories, and embassies. Each has their own impact. But only a certain number of structures can go on each planet type in total. So, if you want to deny the opposing factions, you can do so by peaceful construction. Until…
  • We did not have time for an actual combat – hey, we’re pacifists, Terry and I – but again it had some simple but interesting mechanics. Scouts roll 1d6, destroyers roll 1d8, and cruisers roll 1d10 with hits generated on a 6+. But combat may be close or long… And there might be disabled results… And don’t forget those cards with tricky special events. Suffice it to say, I got the impression that if you want to wage war, you will have fun doing it.
The card display. Note the bespoke abilities at the bottom of each column, under the line. Also not ethe limits on each action/category shown by the blank spaces for block to go on.

The actions display. Note the bespoke abilities at the bottom of each column, under the line. Also note the limits on the use of each action/category shown by the blank spaces for block to go on.

I gave Terry some feedback. Probably the only slightly negative part was that I didn’t necessarily see a great Traveller connection. It’s a cool – very cool – science fiction game, but where is the Traveller universe aspect? Terry explained that there are bits to the game that we did not get to, especially in the advanced game, that give a distinct Traveller feeling. I am happy to take him on trust at that. It’s not that important to me in the sense that, having played the game, I will want it anyway because it is a great game.

"The shields cannae take it, captain!"

“The shields cannae take it, captain!”

So, a great game is on the way by the looks of things. I expect this to give a great multi player experience. It was fun to play just going through the basics. Now, if you can stab people in the back, sow dissension, and spread rumors…

Incidentally, Terry claims this is all covered by a 16 page rulebook, so the level of complexity is not high. I should mention that he has taken care in the design so that there is a sort of internal consistency with the systems. That does make it easier to learn how to play. And, there is a big benefit in even just the basics because of the high level of replayability of the game.

Thanks to Terry for time taken. I hope it’s a success for him and LBG.

[*I think that’s the name, but forgot to check. I cannot find anything about it on the LBG site, or anywhere else.]

Five for Friday

I have been in Tempe all week, surrounded by fellow gamers, playing some great games, meeting and socializing with some great, friendly people. So, it’s a little sad to get to the end. However, some of the memories from this week will bring a smile to my face for a long, long time to come. Let’s be happy!

Meanwhile, away from Tempe, things have been, and are, happening. See the following links for a varied snapshot of life on Planet Earth.

Bonus link:

Shabbat Shalom!

Scotland and Israel

The online New Scientist has an article Scotland: Ape Israel to build a start-up nation, which starts like this:

“EDINBURGH, Scotland’s bustling and aspiring capital, has dubbed itself the Athens of the North. If Scotland gets independence, the new government should instead consider looking across the Mediterranean Sea, to Israel, for some high-tech inspiration.

Israel’s nickname is the Start-Up Nation, thanks to a 2009 book of the same name that explored how a small country with 7 million people became a global player in the tech scene. Today, Israel is thought to boast the highest number of start-up companies per person in the world.”

Israel’s best asset is its people. Scotland has oil, but that will not last forever. Why shouldn’t the Scots people do as well?

You can read the whole thing, here.

Consimworld 2014 – Bulletin 3


I spent today at Consimworld playtesting Mark Simonitch‘s game design, The US Civil War, under the steady direction of the designer. It is slated to be published by GMT.


Rob Bottos and I were the Confederate forces. Jason Pipes and Kerry Anderson started off in charge of the Union. (Kerry dropped out because of a clash with the Strike Force One competition, and Dave Knoyle took over.)

We played the 1862 scenario. One player on each side took the Eastern Theater, and the other took the Western and Trans-Mississippi.

It’s a long time since I played the VG game, but the origins of Mark’s design were clear. However, it has been tweaked – improved as far as I am concerned – and was a whole lot of fun. It’s not too complex, with the difficulty being the decisions facing the players rather than the rules systems. (The play aid sheet is, indeed, one double sided sheet with the game tables.)

The map is a thing of beauty. We were using playtest counters cribbed from various sources so I cannot comment on what they might look like when the game is produced, but I do not expect Mark or GMT to let us gamers down.

Our game went down to the wire and almost the very last action, with the Confederates claiming the win. Rob gets the credit for pulling that off, as at the half way point I was sure we were going to be steamrollered into submission. He managed, by hook or by crook, to take Washington and hold on to it, despite several brutal assaults that took their toll, but not the city. Tense.


Mark does have one or two details to iron out – yes we did experience some mid game rules changes – and playtesting is ongoing. But really, it’s in a very good state (sic).

From my perspective, I like the fact this is not a card driven game. It is very playable solitaire, and based on feedback and the buzz here, it should sell very well. I’ll be buying it, for sure.


Definition of Scottishness

Scotland played Nigeria in a friendly football fixture on Wednesday night. You can see a report, here. That Scotsman article features the following wonderful nugget:

Strachan gave Derby County striker Chris Martin a half-time debut and was impressed by the new addition to his squad. He also handed out praise to Dundee United left-back Andrew Robertson and Watford winger Ikechi Anya. “Nobody has disappointed me tonight,” said Strachan. “Chris Martin gave us a new dimension. Andrew Robertson and Ikechi Anya were terrific down the left side. “

Quizzed by Nigerian reporters over Anya’s decision to play for Scotland, rather than the nation of his father’s birth, Strachan replied: “I didn’t know there was a furore about him choosing Scotland over Nigeria. Of course he’s Scottish – you don’t get any better than being born in Castlemilk!”

Scots all over the world may read that and have something of a wry smile afterwards. Nothing better? A great quote.

Bike of the week

As seen in Tempe:


Note the speakers at the sides of the rear seat. I wonder how loud they have to be to be able to be heard by the rider or passenger while this beast is on the go.

Consimworld 2014 – Bulletin 2


Rob Bottos and I played Celles, a game about part of the Battle of the Bulge. It is designed by Roger Miller and produced by Revolution Games.


The game has a 22×17″ map, 88 counters, a rule booklet (12 pages) and the charts fit on one sheet which doubles as the back of the ziploc cover packaging.

Each hex is 1 mile, each turn is 12 hours, and units are from 1-3 battalion sized equivalents.

The system is chit pull for activation, with several nice tweaks that make it rise above the crowd:

  • Each side has its own pool of chits – as opposed to one common pool.
  • Activation is by alternating chit draw. The initiative player goes first.
  • As well as the formation chits, each side has several tactical chits. You can use them, or keep them for use later in the turn. They cover replacements, tactical combat advantage, extra activation, and the dreaded Allied air strike.
  • You can give up a complete formation activation to activate one unit of your choice.
  • Units may be activated several times in the one game turn, or not at all.
  • The game turn track records how many activations each side gets. Sometimes a side will have more formation chits than activations. So, a formation may do nothing.

Briefly, what you get is a chaotic situation that you have to master. For example, in our game, I did not draw any of the tactical chits in time to use them for any of the first three or four turns. As another example, to trap my exploiting panzers and cut off supply, Rob drew the wrong formation chits, so had to sacrifice them to get single units going to effect the encirclement. (He succeeded.)

Combat is odds based with modifiers, using a 1d10. The Allies get a daylight bonus from December 25th onwards, representing air superiority. The Germans get a nighttime bonus.

The complete game should last two experienced players about 3-4 hours on their second play through. The first time, as we found, it can take a little extra time to get used to the wrinkles. It must also be said in the game’s favor, that it gets you thinking. What do you do next? It’s on the game side of the game/simulation scale, and a highly enjoyable one at that.

Based on only one play, nothing I say about balance should be taken to have any value other than circumstantial. After a breakthrough to the Meuse, it went downhill for my German forces. I was probably too aggressive, as the US 2nd Armor Division easily cut the advance units to shreds. Next time as the Germans I would ignore the Meuse and, instead, grab the victory point hexes and hope to trade casualties. But I still think it’s tough for the Germans.

Overall it is an impressive package. Good, clear rules, nice systems and a challenge to play well. This would be a great game to use on a novice, to break him or her into the dark arts of wargaming. But I recommend you let the newbie be the good guys.


Simpson’s Paradox

A quick link to a sort of geeky piece which tells all about an interesting possible effect when you combine two sets of data: a positive trend and a positive trend, when combined, may show a negative trend. It’s a very worthwhile piece of information to store away for a rainy day, or when a politician or consultant presents something you know in your heart might not quite be right.

It’s at the Register:

What can The Simpsons teach us about stats algorithms? Well, since you ask…

Consimworld 2014 – Bulletin 1

[If you get here by mistake, and have no idea what Consimworld might be, I recommend you follow this link. Otherwise, do read on...]

Why Consimworld?

I got here by accident. I planned to go to the USA in 2012, specifically for a games convention. I tried to kill two birds with one stone by encouraging my good friend Marcus (who lives in the UK) to meet me. Originally, I was targeting the World Boardgame Championships, held in Pennsylvania. But Marcus preferred a drier climate, and when I suggested we try out Consimworld in Tempe, Arizona, he said it was a perfect fit. (I can confirm: it is a dry heat!)

Unfortunately, Marcus’ health was such that he had to cancel, so I came on my own. And I had a blast. A friendly crowd among whom I made some good friends. I had to return to Consimworld. And so, two years further on, I am back. And it’s as good as I remember.


Rob Bottos and I teamed up as the nasty Germans defending the Reich in a game of Hell’s Highway (a John Butterfield design, produced by Victory Games). Our opponents were Jamie Shanks and John Alsen.

Rob had an enlarged version of a fan created map printed up. Unfortunately, it had one or two mistakes. (I mean, who is going to miss the odd bridge in a game about Market Garden?) After sorting these out, we started play.

John commanded the British airborne forces trying to get into Arnhem. Rob opposed him and did a great job. The British forces never took the Arnhem bridge, and those brave souls that made it into the city were eventually ground down.

Jamie commanded the 30th Corps ground troops, and the American airborne forces trying to clear the crossings at Nijmegen. I was opposing him. I started well enough, but badly screwed up. The net result was that despite Rob’s good work, we had to concede.

Highlights: the weather kept the allied air strikes and air reinforcements away for the first few days. However, when the cloud cover broke, their air strikes were deadly. In terms of bang for your buck, the air forces were the most effective.

More: at the height of the action, I tried to use an allied ground unit as part of the German forces to attack one of its own side… Ooops!

A great game. Shame we lost, but it was still highly entertaining and rewarding. (I’ll try to get some pictures up, later.)

Somebody needs to get this system applied to other campaigns. It is playable, fun, and seems to be a reasonable reflection of this level of WW2 combat.


Along with Jamie, John, and Rob, I had a go at Silent Victory. This is Gregory M Smith’s soon to be published game of Pacific submarine combat – a sort of Good Guys version of his well received The Hunters game of U-boat combat from Consim Press.

Jamie and Rob both managed several successful missions before succumbing to the fates. I scraped through only three missions before I ran my sub into a minefield and the end. John, however, was still going strong, slowly and methodically clocking up successful missions and tonnage sunk.

Greg was on hand to run us through the game, pointing out the differences between the two submarine games, and keeping us right. He kindly let us make our own operational decisions. These are also known by their more normal name of “mistakes.”

If you liked The Hunters, you will probably like Silent Victory at least as much. It’s an immersive (sic) experience in which you can almost feel yourself in the action. Great stuff.