2012-11-11

Games with Ezra, Part 1

Ezra, about to start a game of Hordes of the Things.
My son Ezra is now 5 years old, and he has enjoyed playing games of all sorts for as long as he's been able to play.  Here are some of the games we have enjoyed playing together so far.

He has a great capacity for learning game mechanics, and a long enough attention span to finish a game that he's truly interested in.  Most of the time he's able to handle loss well enough to want to play again. The biggest challenge I've had in finding good games to play has been that he's only just starting to learn to read.

For now I'm limiting this list to games that adults can play with kids, and those that are surprisingly appropriate for children (or at least for Ezra) instead of the ones everyone knows work well with kids.  This isn't a game review, and I won't be teaching how to play the games; but I will mention any changes we made to make the games more playable.

Cartagena

One of the first "real" games we played together was Cartagena.  When we first started playing, I removed the "move backwards to draw cards" mechanic and turned it into a "play one, draw one" game.  This helped him learn the mechanics and the strategy of skipping over full spots to move forward more quickly.  In the last year or so, we've started playing with the full rules instead, but we don't play as often as we did.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne is fairly commonly known to be good with kids, except for the farmer scoring mechanic.  The Hunters and Gatherers version can work a bit better, because scoring hunters is a bit easier, but I find it to be a bit more bland, and young kids still have a hard time thinking ahead far enough to know whether to place a hunter or not.

Castle Panic

And our third entry in "Games that start with CA" is by far Ezra's favorite and most played game.  At its height we were playing for hours on end, and I'd get sick of it before he did, but at this point he rarely maintains interest long enough to finish a session anymore.

Castle Panic is especially good with young kids, because it is a cooperative game.  You play with open hands, make plans together, and accomplish goals with each others' help. We both prefer playing this one with the Wizard's Tower expansion.  Although there are cards with words, they all have unique pictures, and when we were playing this game regularly, Ezra could recognize and summarize every card in the base set even though he wasn't really reading any of them.  The most challenging aspect of this game, for grown-ups and kids alike, is to make plans for your whole turn before you start trading in your cards.

HeroQuest

Marla found a copy of HeroQuest at a yard sale for around $3, and it was a great investment.  I've finished more dungeons with Ezra than I have with adults. We played this one semi-cooperatively: I played the dungeon master and controlled the two spellcasting characters under Ezra's guidance as the party leader.  He controlled the barbarian and dwarf: Kick in the door, and kill whatever's on the other side of it!  When there were decisions to be made involving traps and searching, I had Ezra make the decisions since he wasn't looking at the map.

Heroica

I'm not sure what it is about Heroica that encourages just about everyone who plays it to make up new rules and change the ones that are already there.  This is an incredibly simple dungeon crawl with no reading required, and it also has Lego, so how could any kid refuse? It's theoretically competitive, but realistically players are usually leap-frogging each other through the dungeon.

Lionheart

I found Lionheart at a yard sale before I had any kids, and for years I attempted to trade it away.  I'm glad I didn't, because it has been a lot of fun with Ezra.  This is a board-based miniature wargame for 2 players.  The mechanics are easy to pick up, and the combat doesn't even require math skills.  I expect it'd be hard to find these days, but it's a lot more worth playing than I expected it would be.

Dune Express

This is a fun little print-and-play area control game.  It has no language components used during gameplay, and there isn't much for players to remember.  We play the basic rules, but haven't had to make any changes to play well together.

Zombie Dice

Zombie Dice is a quick "push your luck" game with simple rules.  Ezra's good at managing his risk in this game, and he's just as likely to win as any adult.

Zombies!!!

For Zombies, we skip the event cards, and there are no other language dependent components used during play.  This makes the game a bit less fun and flavorful, and it can take longer without the help of additional weapons, so I also reduce the number of board sections we need to get through before reaching the helicopter.

Dungeon!

I'm only listing Dungeon here because it was a major disappointment, and did not meet our expectations.  It's too simplistic for Ezra, he gets bored too quickly. There aren't enough decisions to make, and there is very little character development.  For a simple, fast dungeon crawl, we prefer Heroica.

En Garde

This one is listed for ages 14+, but that's ridiculous.  The truth is, almost every game with plastic or metal parts produced today must list an age of 13+ or 14+ because they cannot afford to have their pieces tested for toxicity.  We play the simple or slightly advanced versions of the rules, with no other changes.

Uno

I don't love Uno, but there were some times when Ezra couldn't get enough of it; and he consistently beat both his parents and his sister.  He also likes Harry Potter Uno, or Crazy Eights if there aren't any Uno cards around.

Loot

I've played this with both kids a few times, but it isn't that good with only 2 players.

The Sorceror's Cave

This is one of the first dungeon crawl games I played with Ezra.  It's extremely dependent on good luck to succeed, which totally drove away Martine.  Ezra fared better and enjoyed playing it, but we quickly moved on to other games with a similar theme.

Wings of War

Ezra loves starting games of Wings of War, but rarely finishes them.  He likes playing with the plane miniatures, and isn't very good at flying predictably. But early on, he shot me down the first time our planes were within shooting range, so maybe that's why he keeps coming back...

Hordes of the Things

I've started introducing Ezra to a few different miniature games, but at this point I have to wait until he asks to play so I don't drive him away with my enthusiasm.  He has finished several games of Hordes of the Things, using all of the rules (all of the rules that happen to come up) but with a limited set of elements. The easy way I've found to introduce young kids to the game is to limit element selection to only about 3-4 types of elements, either all foot or all mounted.  Kids can remember 3-4 different combat factors, but it requires a chart if you need to remember different factors vs. foot and vs. mounted.  We played HOTT using Mechwarrior prepainted figures, limiting element selection to Behemoth, Knight, Rider, and Hero.

I'll write more as we discover more games worth playing, but I expect we will soon start opening many more boxes once Ezra starts reading.

A New Bike: Raphael All-Rounder

A few months ago I found a great deal on a new, hand made bike frame on the iBob mailing list.  And finally, I've assembled it into a great bike.
Raphael Cycles custom frame set
This is a Raphael Cycles custom steel frame and fork.  It was built to order... someone else's order, not mine.  But it was beautiful, the specs seemed to fit my needs, and it was far cheaper and faster than ordering my own custom frame, so I jumped on the opportunity to buy it used (but never built up).

I built it with a mix of new parts and donations from an older bike, my blue 1983 Trek 520.  Here's a brief summary of the build, off the top of my head:
  • Sun CR18 rims with Shimano hubs: generator on the front, 8 speeds on the rear
  • 32mm Panaracer Pasela tires with plenty of clearance under the rims
  • New Velo-Orange Grand Cru crankset and fenders
  • Old Shimano Deore XT rear derailer
  • Older Suntour AR front derailer
  • Shimano Deore bar end shifters
  • Nitto stem and front rack
  • Sakae Randnner [sic] bars
  • Dia-Compe brake levers
  • Tektro CR720 brakes
The build went fairly smoothly, and after setting it up in the basement I'm happy to say I haven't had to fine tune anything after my shakedown ride.  I haven't ridden it far yet, but I plan to put a lot of miles in commuting, and hope to be inspired to take more non-commuting long rides as well.

The frame set itself is beautiful.  However, I do have a few minor nit picks with it.  To be clear, this is a better bike that is much better suited for the purposes I intend to use it for, than the bike I'm replacing.  None of these concerns are very important to me at this point, and I haven't talked to the builder about any of them.  I don't have any right to complain, because I didn't order the bike nor was I involved with its specifications.

To paraphrase, I'll quota a song by the Eagles: "I can't complain, but sometimes I still do."

The pump peg behind the seat tube is in a very convenient location.  Luckily I never use frame pumps, however, because I don't think a pump could fit between the fender and seat tube.  I haven't made the rear fender line perfectly parallel to the wheel, so I could probably squeak out a few more millimeters of room there, but I don't think it would be enough to fit a pump.

There is noticeable fender-toe overlap.  I have not previously noticed this on other bikes I've ridden, even with the same size tires and fenders, on the Trek 520 that wasn't built for this kind of setup (but has a similar geometry).

There was no rear brake cable hanger.  I used a Surly hanger, but unfortunately the seat clamp slot was quite narrow.  It required me to file down the brake cable hanger, in order to be able to tighten the seat clamp enough to keep the seat tight.  I could've filed down the seat clamp slot instead, but I didn't want to break my new paint.

I'm not a fan of the overall shape of the bike when it's set up with my preferred cockpit dimensions; though, it looks fine without any parts on it.  It was apparently specified as a 59mm frame, but the head tube makes it look smaller than my 57mm frames.  Part of this is because the fork is longer than on my other bikes, and part of it is because the head tube has an extended top, so it looks far shorter.  The stem is very high, so I could fit my front decaleur to the bag without cutting it down and refitting it from its previous use (aka "I'm lazy").

On the other hand, there are a lot of minor details that I absolutely love on this bike.  All of the fender mounting points have threaded inserts facing the correct direction, so I don't have a bunch of brackets and clamps all over the place to hold the fenders on.  I like the contrasting paint on the head tube (though the color is a lot closer to teal than the royal blue it looks like here).

This is my first time using the Velo-Orange 50.4 BCD cranks, and I must say: if these are easier to set up than the TA Cyclotouriste cranks they're modeled after, then I'm not interested playing with the TA cranks.  You need a very narrow front derailer in order to be able to upshift successfully without pegging the derailer cage with your crank.  This old Suntour derailer is the only one I had on hand that would do the job at all, but I may look for a better alternative.

I'm very happy with the way this bike turned out!  I'm still not ready to get rid of the Trek that it replaced, but I have an even older Fuji frame and fork, if anyone's interested...

Here are links to Raphael Cycles blog posts documenting the construction of this frame and fork.  It's very interesting to see the process that went into building this bike.


Update: A few observations after riding this for a week or so:

  • This is the most comfortable bike I've ever ridden. 
  • The toe clip overlap is not a problem in practice; it only shows up at very slow speed.  
  • The builder states that this is an early frame and not representative of his current work.

Fall-In 2012

Last weekend was Fall In! in Lancaster, PA.  I drove out with Rich and Larry as usual, but unfortunately JM couldn't attend this time.

Fall In 2012: Maureen Reddington-Wilde
playing Gauls in the Warbandia event.
This was an unusual convention for me.  For the entire weekend, I didn't use any army that fought after 50AD, but my chosen army dates were even earlier: no later than about 250BC.

Thursday

Thursday night, Larry ran Warbandia. Eligible armies need at least 6 warbands, and I didn't have many choices.  I brought my Celtiberians, since I painted them fairly recently. In the first game, I beat Maureen Reddington-Wilde and her Gauls 4-0.  The second game against Mike Guth's Visigoths was worthy of an epic poem, but unfortunately I'm no poet, so all it gets is a compound sentence.  In one turn both of our generals were killed, tying the game at 3g-3g; but unfortunately it was Mike's turn next,  and he was able to kill one of my elements without me killing any of his, so he won 4g-3g.  In the final round, I lost to Paul Georgian and his gauls, 0-4g.

Friday

The Stooges telling us we did it wrong.
Friday was BBDBA doubles.  Since JM wasn't around, I found an alternate partner: Chris Brantley.  We played triple Hittites, the later list with heavy chariots instead of all light chariots.

Our first matchup was against the Stooges and their Patrician Romans (East). We were doing okay for a while, but then we started rolling combat dice. Chris's command lost 3 chariots in one bound, punching a big hole in the center of our line.  We were able to regain some ground, but not enough; we lost 6-94 after our C-in-C command broke.  We made a few mistakes in the center, such as missing an opportunity to close the door on the enemy's general.

Bill Brown and Will Michael run forward with their pikes.
In the second round, we faced Will Michael and Bill Brown with their Scots Common army.  This was the most interesting Pike army I've ever faced, mainly because they decided to split their pike into each command and use it on the attack rather than holding it back and using it as a huge static defense.  They deployed away from their camp, which pulled us into their trap.  We deployed heavily in front of their camp, to encourage them to deploy their third command there to defend it.  Unfortunately, our C-in-C wasn't on that side of the board, so they smartly decided to give up their camp, and concentrate all their forces on our C-in-C.  We won their camp, but we weren't fast enough to kill 4 more elements in their C-in-C command before they broke ours and won the game.  It ended 14-86 in their favor.

Unfortunately, for the Nth time in a row there were 9 teams for BBDBA, which is just the completely wrong number to have.  In the third round we got a bye, which just sucks.  I'm there to play, not to win a free 80 points without playing a game.  I had a good time playing in the other two games, and I'm not sorry we lost.

In the evening, Chris Brantley ran Ars Militaria: a Book II event using double blind deployment.  This ended up being very interesting, but it's not how I'd prefer to play DBA every time.

David Kuijt built stands to hold curtain-like screens across the center of the board.  After placing terrain and choosing our board edges, the curtain was put into place and we each deployed our armies based on knowing only the terrain and not the enemy's deployment.

I brought Later Achaemenid Persians.  In the first round I lost to Dave Schlanger and his Early Gordyenes.  In the second round I beat Alex Bostwick's Seleucids despite his attempt to force-push the terrain when I wasn't looking.  In the last round, David Kuijt beat me with Greco-Bactrians.

The blind deployment worked fairly well without any cheesy moves taking place.  Nobody had time to find any obvious ways to break things, and the armies were matched well enough that there weren't any problems.

However, I do think the screens affected the metagame and deployment choices somewhat.  Maneuver is more important if you aren't sure where your enemy is going to be, which affects both army selection and deployment.

Saturday

On Saturday morning, I ran DBA Matched Pairs.  As at Historicon, we only had 15mm armies show up, which was a good thing, because the 25mm boards weren't available yet this time either.  We had some inexperienced players joining in, so we took our time to teach them well and only got 3 rounds in before time ran out.

In the afternoon, I played in the Two Davids sci-fi event, 61 Cygni: Blood, Dirt, Plasma-bolts.  This event use a ruleset inspired by HOTT, written by David Kuijt with the goal of implementing Mechwarrior/Battletech themed battles a bit better than HOTT manages.  There were 8 players on a huge board, the map of Rio de Janeiro that they used for Monsterpocalypse HOTT at Historicon.

The main problem with using HOTT for large scale sci-fi battles is that the guns are huge, but the HOTT shooting ranges are tiny to nonexistent.  David's rules implement direct and indirect ranged fire at much more plausible ranges, while maintaining most of the feel and rules of HOTT under the surface.  Overall, the rules worked fairly well; but I think they need a bit more polish to really handle the feel of Mech battles effectively.

Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of this visually impressive event.

David Mitchell's Skythians kicked butt.
On Saturday night was the Two Davids campaign event: Death To Assyrian Oppression!  This event pitted a half dozen Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid armies against a gamut of historical enemies.  I played Skythians.

My 5 rounds:

  • Dave Schlanger attacked, I lost and lost my general.
  • Rich Gause attacked, and I lost
  • Jack Sheriff attacked, and I lost; but I killed his general.
  • I attacked David Mitchell and his Skythians, and lost again.
  • Maureen Reddington-Wilde attacked with her Skythians, and I beat her.
I ended up with only 2 points, but at least it wasn't negative!  In other news, Alex Bostwick was taken over 6 times in 5 rounds (with one suck-up tile) and came in last place with -1.

Thanks to everyone for another great convention!  I hope to see you at Cold Wars 2013.


DBA Army III/62b: Early Polish

I painted this Early Polish army to be an ally of Early Russians in BBDBA.  Unfortunately, JM didn't make it to Fall-In, so we haven't had a chance to use it yet.
DBA army III/62b: Early Polish; Essex miniatures.

The figures are all Essex Miniatures except for the sword-wielding knights with crests, and the musician; those are Black Hat (Gladiator), I believe.  This was not an army pack; JM chose all the Essex figures during the early part of the Wargames Miniatures Essex clearance sale.

For the heraldry, I spent a lot of time perusing a wonderful Polish heraldry web site.  I especially like this easily browsable scan of a Polish heraldry catalog.

Although there are a lot of wonderful designs there, I like to tie the look of my army together so it's not too garish.  I decided to divide the army into three houses, each with an element of knight, bow, and spear.  The remaining elements used red highlights but otherwise didn't use any specific heraldry

I had to make an attempt at the Polish national Dr. Seuss birds.  Fo the others, I chose designs primarily for the way they looked, without any consideration for when they were used historically.  I tried to choose designs different from designs I might use on my Serbian, Hungarian or other Eastern European armies. I left the red caparisons plain, but mirrored the triple rose heraldry on the blue caparisons.

This army painted up fairly quickly since it doesn't have any optional elements.  I'm not sure when I'll use it.  Lately, every army I paint up has been used less and less.  I almost need to have a specific event to paint for, in order to ensure that every new army is used in at least 3 games.

2012-11-07

RC10: Viper Mk II Complete

Here is my completed RC10 body with livery based on a Viper Mk II from the modern Battlestar Galactica show.

I designed custom graphics using Inkscape.  I found information about the font used in the show on a Galactiguise post.  A semi-crippled version of the font is available for free download there.  After getting everything right, I sent my file to Cafe Press and had a transparent bumper sticker printed with my designs on it.

RC10 gold pan with Battlestar Galactica Viper Mk II livery.
The print quality is what you'd expect from an inkjet printer: it has high resolution, but a grainy quality where it's mixing dots to get the color you're looking for.  The bumper stickers are supposed to be waterproof and durable for outdoor use, so I expect this will work as well as any RC car stickers.

I recreated the 3rd squadron "VIGILANTES" seal for use on the nose. The rest of the markings are typical of a Mk II Viper, though not necessarily identical.

I also finally got around to building the wing. I don't like the way wings look most of the time, so I kept this one transparent.  I don't expect it'll make any difference in performance on the relatively slow carpet track.

You can also barely see the new "stock" motor I installed.  Hopefully the sensor wire won't get too botched up, hanging out like that.  I haven't had a chance to get to the track to verify I'm using the right size pinion, yet.