Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thoughts on 2015 Gaming

Planning for gaming is posing challenges beyond the simple who, what, when, where, why, and how as Huckle says.

A couple weeks ago we had an informal get together. I sent out an invite to likely board gamers. I expected better than half to decline. Instead, 80% not only said yes, but showed up. We have a 2 bedroom apartment. Things got crowded very quickly. Several people sat around hoping for a slot in the secluded back room while socializing and heckling. At several points there was space for a second or third game to start up; it just didn’t happen. It was quickly apparent that between the people who wanted to talk more than game and the people who didn’t want to game in the midst of the social mosh-pit of our living room, the high intensity gaming I envisioned wasn’t going to materialize.

I love the fact that so many of our friends are game groupies. As problems go this is a great one to have. That said, I’m going to handle things differently next time. While I love hosting the big events, I prefer a low-pressure scene when it comes to board and card games.

Going forward I’m going to invite people one at a time—keeping track of the total so as not to over-recruit. This policy is likely to create some hard feelings—several of our friends expect to be on every invitation list regardless of practicality. Some games call out for specific players. There are certain people who I know will sit down and play for 6+ hours at a time. There are people who are very low-drama. These people are going to get preference. Since our circle of friends is interconnected on multiple levels, word is going to get around. I’m hoping I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. If not, I’m just going to be up front about the situation.

That brings me to the second looming issue—Gencon. After a couple years off, it looks like we’ll finally be able to attend in 2015. The brunette loves, loves, loves, Gencon, almost as much as the Jew—who would sell body parts to attend. It’s something of a personal validation for them to dive head first into the deep end of gaming once a year. I_like_Gencon. The magic wore off when I realized that the system is rigged against people getting the top-tier event tickets. You can often walk up with generics and get in on the exclusive stuff, but it’s very difficult to get in on the ground breaking material in the initial bidding. I was distinctly unimpressed with my access to quality RPG sessions on our last go-round. I’m happy to attend if the stars align, but it isn’t something I obsess over.

The first question is who’s going? We have an unspoken pact with Wmtrainguy, Ceri, Squish, and the Jew to split costs and share transportation when the opportunity presents itself. The Jew is going, even if she has to ship herself there. Wmtrainguy and Ceri seem like they are going to attend. Squish can’t make up his mind. It’s not worth it for us to cram in a sub-compact and slum it for 12+ hours to Indiana. Flying is logistically prohibitive even if we could get good pricing. The upshot is that if we can travel in Squish’s van, split a room with Squish and the Jew, or find comfortable cost effective alternatives we’ll attend. Unfortunately, until we can confirm those arrangements, we can’t commit. Registration is coming up fast. I’m not sure how to broach the subject in a way that doesn’t guilt trip the other parties. I’m going to wait till after Friendsmas and just lay it all out in an email.

Depending on how our 2014 tax returns work out, we’re going to set aside funds from our return or pay off my 401k and save the money incrementally. Either way, we need to decide by the end of January. Financially, we can’t afford to wait till March or April. We have to plan for food, vender purchases, some new duds, and the host of little expenses that an undertaking like this inevitably generates. I wish money wasn’t an issue, but we can’t do this one off the cuff.

Assuming we are going, the next question becomes what am I going to run? Gencon is a unique opportunity for GMs. You have 50,000+ potential players at your fingertips. You can show new and obscure games to a near-unlimited audience. You can test concepts your normal group wouldn’t touch. So since I’m out of the competitive war gaming market, Gencon’s main draw is the chance to run a couple old style one shots while shamelessly plugging some of my favorite products.

Three years ago there wouldn’t be a question; I’d be running dragon storm. The last time I attended Gencon I ran a series of demos. I wrote my own adventure, produced my own materials, and bought my own cards. It was expensive in time and money, but the pay off was worth the cost. I was heavily invested in DS back then—running 2 or 3 games a week, buying multiples of every release, working with other players on drafting and play testing elemental betas, writing a rogue book, running a DS fiction page, and critiquing beta submissions for Mike. Mark occasionally ran ideas and editing by me—which was a huge compliment. Years later, after Mark’s tragic passing, the DS landscape has changed dramatically. Sue is out of the picture indefinitely due to medical concerns. Game management and production has been taken over by a few of Sue’s trusted friends. The Skype group and local collective have dried up—I can’t even get 3 players to give me a firm commitment any more. I haven’t received a submission for the DS Quill in months. The lapse between Mark’s passing and the new management’s assumption of control and the resulting uncertainty has cooled my ardor. Friends, who used to have an active trusted part in DS management and development have quit the game or have been quietly shut out of operations. I’ve had several run INS with the current leadership that have left a bad taste in my mouth—they aren’t bad people, we just don’t see eye-to-eye. All this to say that while DS has a special place in my heart, I’m not sure I want to carry its torch any more. I remain deeply conflicted on the subject.

That leaves me with four alternatives, assuming cope doesn’t talk me on to the dragon storm train. I just backed the Onyx Path Wraith the Oblivion 20th edition KS. It’s hugely unlikely OP will come out with this PDF before event registration, but stranger things have happened—this is wraith after all. We have been awaiting the 3rd edition exalted book, also from Onyx Path, for three years now. The book is supposedly in final editing; so theoretically I could have a PDF in hand in the next couple months. I doubt either of these games will make it in time. OP is slow but steady—at this point a year behind its projected completion date for exalted 3. I’ll keep them in mind but plan for alternatives.

I’m currently running a swords and sandals campaign using the updated Shadow, Sword, and Spell system. Over the last two sessions we’ve made characters, built the world from scratch, and introduced the group members to each other. SSS is spirit of the century light. It uses a 2d12 mechanic—not as clean as 2d6, but it has more potential variance. So far SSS has impressed me with its simplicity. It takes very little effort to jump in as a GM or player. The setting and mechanical underpinnings are built around a classless Conan/Lovecraftian foundation including insanity, dark sorcery, alchemy, divination, feats of strength…etc. Unfortunately the editing is atrocious. I would buy the updated materials, less than $150, before bringing it to Gencon and really taking it for a spin. So the overall investment wouldn’t be that much in cash. I’d need to do a lot of work creating cleaned up materials—sample characters, an introduction sheet, promotional materials, a quick start story, Gencon registration—the normal stuff. The producer provides free PDFs with any print purchase; so there is some built in accessibility—though the documents I’ve seen so far have not been in the greatest format. This is my back up option. If my first choice doesn’t come through, I’ll work out a SSS game and run with it.

Most gamers remember that one game—the one that opened their eyes with child-like joy for the first time. For me that game was exalted first edition. It hit all the right notes from setting to mechanics to writing. It’s hard for other games to compete—often the memory is gilded to the point of unobtainability. So when I found a second game that hit the happy switch I was overjoyed. The closest I’ve come to recreating my first blush with exalted came with Hellas—ironically an acquisition of my first Gencon trip. Hellas is one of those games that is so perfect that you know you’ll never achieve the ideal. It sits on your shelf and taunts you. “You know I’m the game you always wanted to play/run. Too bad you’ll never be good enough/find the right group/have the right adventure.” It’s maddening. Godsfall is the perfect fantasy game in a neat clean workable package. It sits on your shelf and says “I’m user friendly. There’s something here for everyone. I take all your fantasy tropes and turn them on their heads. Love me. Run me. Play me.” I found it while wandering through kick starter and have been infatuated ever since. The book is supposedly at the printer. I have a PDF version now—soon to be joined by a book, GM screen, and dice bag. It’s a simple system designed to avoid the scaling problems of most experience-based RPGs balanced with an imagination grabbing world. I’ll do a full review once I’ve read through the book, but as of now Godsfall is my first choice. I spoke to the designers during the campaign and they have no plans to run it at cons and such. I really enjoy sharing quality RPGs with fellow gamers. Especially if I can get some promo swag for con-goers, Godsfall might be my next big thing.

There’s a lot that’s up in the air. I’m still not sure we’re going to Gencon in the first place. We have to look at our finances and make sure it’s something we can afford—I’m hopeful but numbers care nothing for my optimism. Lots can happen between now and then. Still, 2015 is looking like a good year for gaming.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The making of an action hero, getting there

My health is improving. That feels good to say—not least because I feel like my state of mind is keeping pace with the metrics. I was going to write this up as a tongue and cheek homage to previous entries but it just doesn’t feel funny.

I started working on living better in mid 2013. There have been a lot of ups and downs since then. In the beginning, when the process of diet and exercise was new and shiny, the pounds rolled off with ease. Gradually the momentum slowed—largely due to injury and flagging motivation. This year has been good to me in that I’ve never entirely lost sight of the goal; but it hasn’t been as much of a rousing success as I’d like either. Going to the gym has been nice in that three days a week of intense exercise lets me feel like I’ve accomplished something without driving me into the doctor’s office.

The day before thanks giving, the brunette and I had our first visit with our new doctor. Our previous Physician is great personally; but his office is difficult to work with. When he started keeping hours at different locations and was only available locally twice a week, we decided to make a change. Part of switching over is the inevitable physical. Since I started going to the gym, aprox 6 weeks, I’m down 9 pounds to 294 and my blood pressure was measured at 100 over 70 and 100 over 80. That’s the lowest it’s been since college where I usually checked in at 110 over 60. I’m waiting on the results from the blood work, but I can say that the elliptical and boxing class have helped a lot.

Regarding the gym, I have a routine. It goes like this:

Sunday: Upper body followed by as much elliptical time as I can squeeze in.

Tuesday: Boxing class with as much elliptical time as I can manage.

Thursday: Club workout followed by boxing drill and/or elliptical time.

Upper body days consist of Bench, military press, row/lateral pulls, chest, machine pull downs, chest pushes, dumbbell curls, and fly lifts. We usually do 3 sets of anywhere from 10-15 reps depending on the exercise. This past Sunday I managed 3 sets of 10 reps at 155 pounds on bench. My personal best was 185 pounds back in college at sets of ten, so I’m pretty happy there. On the lateral rowing I’m moving 190 pounds in sets of 12 which, again, is pretty good. I’m stocky with short arms and legs. The result is that I struggle with military press where I’ve only been able to manage 65 pounds. You can tell I’ve let that group laps, I used to do sets at 135 pounds—but that’s something to work towards. Squish is a great partner. He’s a little stronger than me but I have a lot more muscle endurance. We compete and talk trash the entire time. That’s really the biggest benefit of working with a partner. You are always pushing to stay ahead or to pass the person you’re working with. It drives you to improve.

Boxing class is ruff. I have more than enough physical endurance. I do not have the muscular endurance required to keep going at full intensity with my arms for an hour. I can literally go for hours on the elliptical, but my arms are used to doing small jobs all day or single large jobs in a short period of time. Punching the heavy bag for an hour is exhausting. Even so, I’m improving. It’s slow, but my punches have better form. I can keep my flurries going throughout the session. I run out of juice for the hooks and uppercuts after 30 minutes, but the act of punching doesn’t lay me out any more—I just have to go slower towards the end. I like boxing class specifically because I’m not very good at it right now. I like challenges. Learning form, working on intensity, and building muscle memory is rewarding work.

My club work out is also ruff, but that’s cause I’ve stepped up to the ten pound clubs as of last week. Like boxing, I’m going to have to build myself up to a better place, but I’ll get there. I have a schedule, a plan, and a friend to keep me honest. The nice thing about the clubs and the boxing class is that they are full body workouts. I walk out of those sessions knowing I’ve done more than upper or lower or cardio—I’ve made my body work completely. It’s a good feeling.

The elliptical is really fantastic. I wasn’t a big fan initially—I did most of my cardio in college on a treadmill. It feels weird in the beginning. You aren’t lifting your legs as far as with running so it can feel like the machine is holding you back. The low impact factor means I can go for a long time without my knees giving out. The back and forth with the arms gets rid of the hanging on for dear life affect you get with some treadmills. My personal best is an hour and 20 minutes a couple weeks ago. I’m averaging 6 miles an hour with a pulse around 150. According to the machine I end up covering at least 3 miles every 30 minutes. My pulse has been on the decline—a sure sign that my endurance is increasing.

Good exercising is a mix of the intense short term effort in the boxing class and the longer endurance training of the elliptical. The upper body work out builds muscle groups while the clubs build functional strength and grace. I have biceps I can feel. I have numbers that I can be proud of. I’m having fun. There’s still a long way to go, especially with diet. For now though, I’m happy with progress.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


The following is reposted with permission from a friend. If you want to make really good soup or turn cheap meat into fan-tast-ic food, read on.

Braising is a slow cook method that could be likened to how a crock-pot cooks. I've also heard it described as a way to cook meat immersed in the marinade. I kind of like both descriptors.

So my technique is pretty set, even though the ingredients change from dish to dish.

1. Start with cheap or cheap-ish meat. Whatever you use has to be able to tolerate long cooking methods, so good cuts of beef or chicken (the two things I've braised) kind of melt during the process. That's bad. For beef, I've had good luck with uncured brisket, flank steak and on Saturday I used Top Round that I cut into 2.5 (or so) inch thick steaks. For chicken, I like dark meat. Skin on and bone in is best. A whole leg (drumstick and thigh attached) makes for a good looking presentation.

2. Season the meat. Have some seasonings stuck to it. For Saturday I used Montreal Steak seasoning. Chili powder and cumin work well on chicken and makes for kind of southwest thing. Everything gets salt and pepper, of course (though most of what was in the Montreal Steak seasoning was coarse salt and pepper).

3. Sear the meat. Some people worry about drying, but by using an immersed cooking method there's really no worries with that. A lot of what we are doing with the searing is setting up the taste profile for the next ingredients. I sear in batches, so it's into the frying pan, brown on both sides then straight into the braising vessel (Which for me is an eight quart, enamel on iron dutch oven. Mine is, in fact, a Le Crusset knockoff with Martha Stewart's name on it.). The braising vessel is room temp, just sitting on the stovetop waiting for the dish to be assembled. This weekend I did something fancy. I put the meat onto potato slices to elevate it and stop sticking. It made cleanup easier, too.

4. Cook the braising liquid. Do not clean out the pan you seared the meat in. Just cook everything right down on the oil and meat bits and whatnot. For Saturday I cooked two onions (Vidalias), a load of mushrooms (canned (rinsed and drained) because I wasn't up for cleaning and cutting mushrooms), a can of black beans (rinsed and drained) and a couple of tablespoons of minced garlic. I let all that cook until it was soft. While that was cooking I dissolved a couple packets of onion gravy mix in half of a beer (I cook with cheap pilsner. This time I used Miller High Life.). Once the veggies were soft, I stirred in the beer and crushed tomatoes (the beer plus the tomatoes deglazed the skillet) and allowed the gravy the thicken some. Once it thickened up, I poured it over the beef.

5. Submerge the meat. Now is the time to make sure the meat is all under the fluid. I added beer to make sure it was all totally submerged. I also added steak sauce at this time (People who make steak sauce used to treat chipotles as some kind of secret ingredient. Now the cat's out of the bag.). Adding other flavors now is totally appropriate.

6. Cook in a 225 degree oven. Cover the pot and put it on the middle rack. I check on the beef at the 4 hour mark and it was done but still tough. Between hours 4 and 5, something magic happened that the beef tenderized itself nicely. For me, timing is a guideline. I will keep cooking until whatever I'm making is tender.

7. Pull the meat out of the liquid and rest it. While it is coming down in temp, get a stick blender and have at the braising liquid. I rough chop everything because this step renders it all a waste of time anyway. Also, some people might try to skim the oil off of the braising liquid now but I find that leaving it in acts as a thickener, like drizzling oil into a blender to make mayo or salad dressing. The stick blender emulsifies everything in the braising vessel, so the oil is suspended and nothing tastes 'oily'.. If you cooked with fresh herbs, re-season now to kind of perk the herb flavor up. Again, just rough chop and let the blender do your work for you. If you are serving now, portion out the rested meat and then spoon some of this gravy/sauce/whatever onto it when you serve. I stored the meat in the sauce over night then heated them all back up together.

[and from a second email]

The stick blender:

First off, a deep pot is a must. The more space between the liquid surface and the top of the pot, the greater the chance of avoiding mishaps. The stick blender needs to be in about 3 inches of liquid to keep the 'output' from breaking the surface. Not breaking the surface = No splattery mess. Never put it into the fluid or remove it from the fluid running (obvious once you do it the first time). I put the blender flat on the bottom of the pot and pulse it to test before I really go to town. I actually am guided by sound on this. If the blender cavitates (sucks air into the blades) I know it is putting air into the mix, which is fine if you want something whipped and airy. If I don't want air, either I need more liquid or I need to pulse and not run the thing for any amount of time. Once it is safe, I'll tilt the blender some to pick up large chunks. I also use it like a potato masher where I push down chunks with the blender off then pulse it to break up the things I have trapped under the blades.

Newest braising event:

Earlier this week I started a turkey soup by braising turkey legs in beer and chicken stock. I peeled and rough-chopped potatoes and put them into the pot before the turkey. Then I rough-chopped celery, onion and carrot and used all that as the braising veggies. The seasonings were salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon and herbs de provence. Once the braising was done, about 3 hours, the legs were removed and allowed to cool. The stock got a dose of stick blending so now I have all the traditional flavors of turkey noodle soup in a really thick stock. We shredded the turkey off the legs and chopped it then put it in the fridge in tupperware with enough thick stock on top to keep it moist. The rest of the thick stock went into it's own tupperware in the fridge. When it's time to make soup, I'll saute some nicely chopped onion, carrot and celery and boil some noodles. Then I'll combine turkey, thick stock, newly sauteed veggies, some fresh herbs (parsley and sage, mostly), noodles and a certain amount of check stock to cut it. This makes it more 'soup' and less 'stew'. That will burble for about a hour to let the flavors meld. All the preview tastes tell me it's going to be good.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The making of an action hero, Training time

You know all those movie montages where the hero pumps himself up just in time for the boss fight? I love those scenes. The hero grimly suffers through all manner of indignities for his principals. I feel like that right now.

So, 3 weeks into operation meet the Gym and things are going well. It’s easier for me to do 2 hours of exercise 3 times a week than 45 minutes of exercise 2-4 times a week especially when the activity is somewhere away from food, and computer, and books, and distractions. Squish and I are done with our initial orientation. We’ve walked through all the options. We’ve set up a routine.

• Tuesday is weights on the pneumatic machines, abs, and 30 minutes of cardio.

• Thursday is boxing cardio for an hour on the heavy bag, light cardio on the elliptical, and abs.

• Weekend is one day of hard cardio on the elliptical, Clubs, light sparring on the heavy bag, and one other random item if time permits.

I’d be happier with this set up if I had boxing basics down. Throwing a punch is easy. Throwing a punch correctly is complicated. Your stance is really important. You need to keep your wrist straight. You need to hit the bag with the correct part of your fist. Each kind of punch, uppercut, jab, hook, is a full body exercise with specific form. I’ve gone through 3 classes now. I bought my own gloves for added protection—the gym ones smelled terrible and didn’t fit well. My hand isn’t in pain the day after an hour of bag-work—which is good. I’m getting a great workout—which is better.

I have a lot to learn and…I’m not sure how I’m going to learn it. My concern is partly safety related. I don’t want to injure myself using poor technique. I could go easy on the bag, but it’s difficult to do that—especially when you’re not always sure exactly where the target is. I don’t want to go into actual boxing. I do want to use proper technique. I don’t see the point of doing these things half way. Squish has tried to teach me with some success. I may just have to buy some time with an instructor to work on form. It isn’t sexy, but better that than hurt myself.

Oddly, I’ve come to love cardio. Typically I have two responses to exercise. Either I do it because it’s a part of a routine which has an outcome I value or because I love the process. My efforts before the gym definitely fell into the former category. The gym work falls mainly into the latter. When I’m just standing there moving for the sake of moving, I need music to get my blood running. I need something to distract me from the monotony of what I’m doing. There are points such as when I find myself in perfect physical harmony taking a shot on the range, moving at peak performance on the elliptical, or getting the combination right on the heavy bag when something just “clicks.” You become poetry in motion—even if it’s just in your head—and suddenly the physical side of things is less important. I like the tired feeling after a good workout. I enjoy being able to tell people that I really really exercised. Mostly though it’s about striving for that moment, that mental high and making it last. For whatever reason it’s easier to get to that point at the gym than at home.

The best thing I can say health wise is that I haven’t been able to handle this much intense exercise in a long long time. I am stronger, tougher, and in less pain than in the past. The diet thing is still not up-to-par though. This weekend is our eight year wedding anniversary. I’m going to sit down with the brunette and discuss what we can/will eat that will complement our efforts. I’ve given myself something of a pass while I’m adjusting to the gym and she’s adjusting to work, but that only goes so far. Time to pick things up. When the ninjas come for me, I need to be ready.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The making of an action hero--Something different edition.

A year ago I started seriously training for the next alien invasion, dinosaur reanimation, or Ninja world domination plan. I began eating better, exercising, and generally trying to get more active. A couple weeks ago I severely sprained my ankle. Dealing with this has caused me to review my priorities.

Fitness is less of a race to a goal and more of a life-long adventure. It’s easy to get focused on eating organic, building muscle, losing weight, increasing energy…etc. It’s satisfying to point to that one aspect of fitness and say “yes, I’m winning” even when laser focus on one priority is causing everything else to suffer by comparison. At the end of 2013, I’d lost 40 pounds, started exercising, and begun eating better. By March 2014, foot problems stopped me exercising…which lead to a drop in motivation…which lead to eating worse…which meant that even when I started exercising again I wasn’t able to gain back all of the lost ground or lose the gained weight. I’ve spent the last six months seeking a balance between frequency, intensity, and diversity of activity. Unfortunately, while seeking that balance I let the diet go. I have a health shake for breakfast most mornings. I order out less than in the past. I often seek healthier options. That said, when we do end up eating fast food, I rarely pick from the healthier choices. Often, when I can and should turn down eating out, I don’t. I’m better off than I was a year and a half ago. But, I’m not as well off as I’d like to be either.

The challenge is that fitness, weight loss, making you into a better version of you, requires hundreds of small decisions every day for hundreds of days. It is an ongoing process subject to the vagaries of life and human weakness. The bigger the deck stacked against you, the easier it is to fold and walk away from the game. To continue the metaphor, the more times you walk away from that table, the less likely you are to return for another hand. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to make some structural changes to my approach. It’s easy to prevent my ankle from being sprained again—I just have to get my boots refurbished. That addresses the short term issue while ignoring the larger problem of momentum though. I lost a significant measure of drive over the last couple months. My goal shouldn’t be to make up lost ground, it should be to accelerate. I don’t know if I’m saying this very well. I feel I’ve fallen into the trap of dealing with the little problems, exercising a few times a week, and eating somewhat better and calling that victory when in reality there’s no way my current pace will get me to my goals. I’m pretty sure they call that complacency.

Yesterday Squish and I joined a gym. I love exercising. I hate finding the time to do it. I hate bouncing, jiggling, and sweating my fat ass in front of a bunch of young toned millennials. It’s like high school all over again—with the additional potential to run into a coworker or member of senior management. On the other hand, they don’t matter. I’ve been putting this off because I couldn’t justify the expense in time and coin until I could actually do more than 20 minutes of sustained exercise. As of the last two months I’ve been able to maintain 45 minutes of intense cycling on the stationary bike. Squish wants to get back in shape. We have similar goals. The gym has daycare. The price is reasonable. I get a corporate discount through work. The more I looked at it, the more I convinced myself that not jumping on this opportunity was hypocritical—either I was serious about getting in shape or I wasn’t.

We walked in, dropped MX off at childcare, signed the papers, paid our memberships, filled out a survey, and…started working out. It was like coming back to an old friend. I lifted free weights in high school, college, and even a year after college graduation before exercise fell to the bottom of my to-do-list. We wandered around, tested out the equipment, and talked about a routine. I got 15 minutes on an elliptical, 15 on a recumbent bike, 20 minutes of upper body work on the stack machines, and another 15 on the elliptical while Squish tried out the pool. It felt normal—as if I never quit in the first place.

Today I’m sore. I need to get some dedicated workout shorts and shirts. I need something better than a cloth grocery bag to carry my gear. I have to put together a program. I will be revising my diet. If I’m going to spend 2+ days a week at the gym I need to make sure I balance that with private time with the brunette. There’s a lot to be done. I’m scared that I’m making a big gesture that will end up with Squish and I losing interest and squandering money. But, for the first time in a while, I have hope. I’m savoring the novelty. It feels like I might, just maybe, be able to make this thing work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The end of the league, or third time's the charm.

This past weekend marked the final event for my LGS’s warmahordes league. I’ve been preparing for the conclusive confrontation by having my shock troopers and Kovnik painted, reading up on tactics, and reviewing the rules. Normally we’d be playing on the first Sunday of each month, but this time the date was pushed back. I called the LGS Saturday to confirm my wife’s mimic miniature figures would be ready when we finished the league the next day. Jason, the league organizer, got on the line and sounded perplexed. It turns out I misremembered the date. The event was Saturday, not Sunday, and I had already missed the first game. I hobbled around my apartment on a recently sprained ankle—furiously putting newly painted models into my case, getting my kit together, and cleaning up. A friend ran me up to the store where I barely made the afternoon’s second game.

Jason paired me with Corbin; one of the league’s more experienced players. We sat down and discussed options. I mentioned that I could field up to 50 points—though I’d never played at that level before. It turned out that he hadn’t either…but he wanted to see that much tooth and scale on the table. So we started grabbing models. Right off I had issues. I had forgotten 1 of my shock troopers. My Kovnik’s axe arm broke off in transport—which about broke my heart. Between the mix up with the date, the broken model, and general chaos, I was completely out of sorts when we threw down.

My List:

Butcher Heart of Darkness, +6

Marauder -7

Marauder -7

Kodiak -8

Decimator -9

MOW Shock Troopers -8 (Using the injured Kovnik as the unit leader)

4 man hunters -8

Yuri the axe -3

Widow makers -4

Widow maker marksman -2

Corbin’s list:


Blackhide Wrastler

Ironback Spitter

Bull Snapper

Full Gatorman Posse

Full Gatorman Posse

Gatorman Witch Doctor

Totem Hunter

Wrong Eye and Snapjaw

Bull Snapper

I’m familiar with Maelok. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting gators for a while and the zombie voodoo saurian was the reason why. He’s a strong warlock with good attrition and assassination tech. I looked at the table and couldn’t figure out which one of us had an advantage. There were two pieces of terrain—a rock outcropping half way up the left side and a small enclosed position half way up the right side. It was an open killing field—which would have been nice if my bombardiers had come in. Alas, they are in the painting goddess’s capable hands. I should have asked for a little more terrain but all I could think about was getting down to business.

Corbin won the roll and opted to go second. I deployed my shock troopers and war caster in the center of the board with the MOW slightly to the right. Corbin deployed a posse directly across from the Butcher. He put Maelok and the snapper behind the spitter and wrastler on the right. Then he placed Wrong eye and the other snapper behind Snapjaw and the second posse on the left. The totem hunter took the far left—ready to flank my line. Following this, I advance deployed the rest of my army. The jacks formed a flying ‘V’ with the Kodiak and Decimator ahead of the two marauders on the wings—all in front of the butcher. The widow makers and marksman deployed on the right flank—slightly ahead and to the right of the shock troopers. Yuri and his hunters deployed on the far left. My plan was to bum rush my jacks into a caster kill while my left flank carved through his support and the right flank stalled his advance.

Turn 1, I ran forward while casting fury on the Kodiak. I wanted to put iron flesh on the widow makers, but I was out of range. My left flank spread out anticipating a counter charge. Corbin advanced slowly while casting death pact on the right hand posse.

Turn 2, I up kept fury and allocated 3 focus to the decimator. I advanced a little bit. One of my man huntresses charged over the outcrop and killed the totem hunter—go pathfinder. Butcher moved slightly right and forward in order to cast iron flesh on the WM. The widow makers advanced into a bating position and stripped 4 points off the wrastler’s spirit with the help of the marksman. The shock troopers moved to the side and forward getting into shield wall. They angled to countercharge anything that went for the WM. The decimator moved forward, called a shot on the nearest left hand posse member, but was out of range. Corbin took this opportunity to engage my front line. In retrospect I should have kept advancing since he had a longer threat range than I did, but at the time I hoped to bate him into exposing his battle group before an assassination run. The right hand posse charged the widow makers and two MOW, managing to kill 1 WM and slightly damage 1 shock trooper. The spitter took a shot at 1 of the unengaged troopers—doing a point of damage to 1 MOW and corroding 3 with the blast. The left posse charged my decimator and managed to destroy the cannon while removing about half its boxes. Both battle groups advanced slightly. The witch doctor turned the left posse undead. I think we were both a little distracted by the size of the game. I had to remind him a couple times that he could boost attacks with war beasts. The decimator isn’t a living creature, so the left hand posse never should have been able to charge it.

I started turn 3 with some challenges. I wasn’t sure what order to activate my jacks to maximize their threat potential. I was concerned about Maelok’s respawn-assassination™ trick. I knew that I had to kill that left hand posse or things would be…difficult. I could have spent a good 20 minutes thinking out my turn. However, after 3 minutes of decision paralysis, I decided that I needed to act. This was one of those moments where the perfect was going to be the enemy of the good if I let it. The corrosion expired on 2 of the shock troopers and plinked the unit leader for 1. I checked butcher’s control area and up kept the spells on the Kodiak and the MW. There was no way I could catch my battle group with the Butcher’s feat and get the right flank as well. I also couldn’t get him into the thick of things without a major assassination hitting me next turn. I Activated Butcher, took cover behind the Kodiak, popped his feat, and cast full throttle. The Decimator trampled over 2 posse, killing them, and based up with the witch doctor. I should have given it a focus to buy an attack, but like I said I didn’t want to stand around for a half hour working out the perfect turn. One of the marauders combo slammed a poor poor gator into one of its friends, rolling max damage and knocking the other gator down but not killing it. The other Marauder killed its closest gator but wasn’t able to slam it far enough to finish the remaining KDed posse. The Kodiak was blocked by the right Marauder so moved to block line of sight and charge lanes. I backed the WM out of combat, losing the marksman and another trooper to free strikes. The 2 surviving WM failed their command check and proceeded to moon the gators. The shock troopers walked into combat with the right hand posse, killed 2 gators, and remained in shield wall. The man hunter gang set up to counter charge WE&SJ.

On Corbin’s turn, Maelok’s snapper frenzied on the spitter, rolling massive damage but leaving all its spirals active. The spitter took a shot at Butcher but missed—deviating over a marauder where it did no damage. Maelok advanced, resurrected a gator from each posse, and popped feat. Wrong Eye and Snapjaw submerged. The wrastler tried to get in range to use its animus on the knocked down gator, but was just out of range. Both posse charged and swung for lethal on the butcher.

Game 1, Maelok.

I love reading pro battle reports. They make it look easy. Unfortunately, reading only gets you so far. This match was a classic example of how theory does not trade with experience on a one-for-one basis. I’ve read hundreds of Maelok battle reports. I absolutely knew what he was capable of—in theory. In practice, I don’t have the experience to judge distances and assess threat ranges to the degree required to evade his assassination. You could argue that Corbin couldn’t have made that assassination run without having first made the illegal charge on the decimator—and you’d be right. That being said, Corbin out played me. I think he deserved to win.

Things I learned:

1. 50 points is big, like really big. After playing games like 40k and FOW, the model count of a 50 point army seems very small. The challenge is that there are a lot more individual decisions and tactics to work through with warmachine than with those products. This means that while the count may be significantly less, the complexity of play is often greater. I could have done better if I hadn’t been so rushed. Even so, I think keeping the games smaller will help me brush up on the basics—which I clearly need.

2. Speaking of being rushed, that did not go well. I usually have my game together, bag packed, rules read, accessories selected well before I have to leave the apartment. Rushing through the process really shook my focus. I’m going to push myself toward an informal death clock going forward. This game highlighted my need to develop better focus and prioritization. Basically, I need to start playing under pressure.

3. I need to get used to the idea of peace trading. Most of the time I’m not going to get off the alpha strike—that’s just the reality of SPD 4. I should have been pushing my shock troopers and man hunters up the field every turn. I jockeyed for position and lost the initiative. Warmachine is unusual in that the guy who plays defensively or obsesses over placement too much is usually setting himself up for failure. I need to practice preparing to receive a charge as much as setting up a charge of my own.

4. Widow makers go-in-freaking-cover! I put them exactly as far as they could get from where they needed to be—which was on the outcrop sniping. Granted, facing an all-multi-wound force they aren’t going to be as effective as I’d like; but they could have done so much more. I flat out derped that one.

5. MOW take charges, they don’t make charges.

6. If I keep playing the man hunters as a single unit, it may be time to look at doom reavers or some cut-throats.

I finished the league in first place. I’ll write up my reflections on the combined experience later—but this was fun. I learned a lot, won some swag, and got to play some great games against fantastic people. The league was intended to help the newer players build up our armies—which worked well in my case. The coming months are going to feature a couple low point tournaments. For the first time in forever I have a consistent warmahordes outlook. Life is good. Now, if the store would start an adults night with a bourbon bar I’d be in heaven. Perhaps that’s something to suggest wink-wink Nudge-nudge.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The next Warmachine list

I like building things. I spend hours making characters for RPGs—obsessing over getting the numbers to match the concept. I apply the same process to list building. I read the forums. I review articles from prominent players. I do the math over and over again until I get a list that is worth putting on the table.

My latest obsession is Harkevich, the iron wolf. There’s something about his combination of escort, broadside, and pathfinder that feels like thematic gold. Karchev the terrible is aptly named as far as I’m concerned—terrible. Don’t get me wrong, he’s all kinds of fun, but his reputation isn’t born out on the table. I want to like him mainly because I long for an effective jack caster for the Mother Land. Enter the iron beard. Harkevich provides his battle group consistent mobility, ranged options, a decent accuracy buff, and a feat that is lightning in a bottle. Plus 3 armor for a round is bonkers good let alone a free ranged attack, free charges, and power attacks.

The challenge is making a list that takes advantage of those characteristics while remaining fun and competitive. After reading multiple battle reports and list discussions, my enthusiasm for Harkevich hasn’t dimmed—though it is tempered by a lot of dojo work. Building a list for Hark makes you want to take all the jacks to maximize the additional movement granted by escort and BG-wide pathfinder. Unfortunately, all-jack lists have significant limitations—most casters don’t have enough focus to run more than a couple jacks at peak performance, the restricted army size means it’s easy to hamstring the components, and your control area poses range limitations. Second, while hark can get his battle group where it needs to go, he doesn’t have much to boost the damage output once he gets there. In other words, he has some serious tech for scenario play, but less so when it comes to removing heavy armor. This is one of Khador’s problems as a faction. We have great jacks from a durability standpoint, but they take work to get stuck in, hit consistently, and do the damage. It doesn’t help that the advent of gargossuls has most players gunning for heavy arm skew lists as a matter of principal. Harkevich is unusual in that he solves the movement issue. However, he is like most Khadoran casters in that he solves one problem while lacking the tools to consistently address more than one of these issues at a time.

Mindful of this conundrum, I began crunching numbers with his theme list. I got to a 35pt core:

Harkevich +5

Black Ivan -9

Spriggan -9

Spriggan -9

Winter Guard Field Gun -2

Winter Guard Field Gun -2

Full winter Guard Rifle core -8

War dog -1

This is a tidly little arm skew list. I prefer the field gun to the mortar because, even though it’s a less effective unit, it takes me a while to resolve blast deviation. The fact that it costs a point less and helps fill the tier requirement is a nice bonus. The spriggans hit hard, bulldoze, and have game with their grenade launchers. The rifle core is a good long range unit, especially when left to aim. Covering fire makes for a nice board control option.

My next step was turning it into a viable 50 point list. I try to build everything in 35 and 50 point increments with a few switchable units and solos for flavor. This gives me a flexible force to play with at multiple levels. Here’s where I started to get frustrated. I couldn’t get those last 15 points to work. The best option for fun and profit came out as a Kovnik with 2 berserkers. Everything else didn’t provide enough threat projection for my taste. Granted, I’m odd in that I prefer smaller units so the WG death star doesn’t appeal. That said, adding two more jacks to Hark’s battle group seemed like too much, adding one jack didn’t leave enough points to flesh out the list, and cutting points from the 35 point core to add conquest put too many eggs into too small a basket. The difference between 35 and 50 point lists is huge. The balance between a big enough force to handle objective scenarios and enough power to address a gargosul or 2 is a very thin line—a line I assume my lists will have to face in league play at one time or another.

I scrapped the theme force idea for now. In its place I began looking at out of theme ways for Harkevich to get mileage out of 3 or 4 jacks while being able to play offense. My ideal list has:

• Several jacks that can hit hard and move quickly.

• A solid output unit with good defense—10 or fewer models.

• A support unit that can pinch hit for the battle group and the infantry.

• Enough punch to have a shot at dealing with Gargosuls.

• A few toolbox solos to deal with a variety of challenges.

This was easier said than done. I ended up looking at 3 different types of lists. The first built off four demolishers. This didn’t have the punch I wanted—4 armor 25 jacks are nice, but only if you can get your money’s worth out of them. The second was a winter guard focused force with strong shooting. This one had too many units and was too squishy. The third list focused on making conquest into a wrecking ball. I liked the idea behind it, but what I ended up with was conquest and a bunch of squishy mercenary solos. Conquest can’t do the work of an entire army, no matter how big he is.

I had an epiphany working on the conquest list. Most of the support I was considering boiled down to Ragman, Gorman Di Wulfe, and Eiryss II. That’s 7 points. One of my problems with conquest was that once you dropped another couple jacks in Harkevich’s battle group and added some mechanics, the support-to-army ratio was way out of whack. Conquest just cost way too much. Then it came to me. Why not switch conquest for Behemoth? Usually I avoid character jacks, but compared to conquest, big B was 6 points cheaper, had arguably better shooting, and would be a lot easier to transport. After that realization, the rest of the list assembled itself. Greygore Boomhowler and Co make for great tarpitting and decent offensive output. Alexia Ciannor and the risen form a perfect rear echelon reserve. The war dog is a nice security solo for Hark, who has to work towards the front to get his jacks stuck in. I was sad I couldn’t fit in mechanics, but you can’t win them all. The list became a serious contender when I realized that I could drop the war dog and add Valachev if I used pButcher instead of the iron beard. Ten trollkin charging under the affects of fury and blood frenzy is an idea whose time has come.

My working list is:

Wolf pact:

Harkevich +5

War dog -1

Spriggan -10

Spriggan -10

Behemoth -13

Ragman -2

Gorman Di Wulfe rogue alchemist -2

Eiryss, angel of retribution -3

Greygore Boomhowler and Co -9

Alexia Ciannor and the risen -5

I’m under no illusions that this is going to be a top-flight offering. It has more offensive output than most Harkevich lists that I’ve seen, but it’s still a relatively small army that is overly dependent on a 33 point battle group. It balances well between getting to where it needs to go and hitting decisively. Most important for me, it’s of a manageable size for my limited abilities and builds from models and units I like. Will it win all the time?—probably not. It won’t ROFLstomp a double stormwall list, but it will build well and play consistently. Basically I’m looking at it as a good learning vehicle that uses a bunch of models I’ve always wanted to play.

My standing rule is that I can’t buy into a new list until I complete the one I’m already vested in; so it may be a while till Harkevich hits the table. I would have to buy the models and find someone to paint/assemble them and my 2 main painters are really busy right now. Even so, I’m really looking forward to building this project.

Note: I drew a ton of assistance from Harkevich’s thread in the PP forums:


OrsusSmash’s blog at:


Was incredibly helpful. If this post has anything useful in it, they deserve notice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I am changing

One of the first things you see in my bedroom is a line of footwear. There are a few pairs of discarded shoes—replaced but not worn out enough to be thrown away. My water shoes lie beside my trainers. I have two pairs of Rockports—one for formal occasions and one for more casual events. My every day boots are a pair of Danner akadias. These are so well worn that the heals are ground down at an angle and the tread is almost gone in some places. The Rockford umbwes, my business casual choice, show a little bit of wear on the toes but are in otherwise excellent condition. The dress boots haven’t left the bedroom since I gave them their inaugural coat of mink oil. I spend most of my life in the Danners with occasional diversions to the UMBWEs. That’s how my life breaks down. I spend most of my life dressed for casual tactical. Once a year I may have to put on the suit and tie with the dress boots.

I’m not altogether comfortable with this division. When I started working for the bank life was spent in a suit and tie. I worked so much overtime that casual didn’t happen much. Then the dress code changed and the only difference between work and the out of doors was whether I wore a polo or T. Now everything is mixed up.

I have this default idea of what I look like. It use to be a well dressed business professional who slummed it on the weekends. Now I wear combat boots to work. I have a utility belt. I carry my lunch in a maxpedition versapack loaded with

EDC gear. I wanted to be James Bond, Paladin, and the well dressed man of action. This practical tactical thing doesn’t match up

I have a good life. It’s just not what I expected. I pictured myself in the tux not the Carhartt. I came to this realization last week when I was waiting to get fingerprinted for my HQL—more on that in another post. I sat down with the range owner and was negotiating the sale of a couple of my colt revolvers. It is my practice to try and trade instead of selling on consignment. I don’t like all the paperwork, the waiting, getting the money—it’s simpler for everyone to work out a deal and shake on it. I told him what I had. He gave me a number. I looked in his case and said why don’t we trade for this nice new S&W Governor? I’ve been looking at the governor for a while as a compromise survival/recreational revolver. It was an easy pick. What surprised me was how utilitarian my tastes have become. Sure, I want to fix everything up and make it pretty. There was a time when I wanted antique pieces as much for the cache of the brand as their utility. There are a few, like my Colt gold Cup, that fall in that category. But most of what I own and what I want to get are quality tools.

Society tells us to be ourselves. I’m not sure what that means. Who am I? I know who I want to be. I know how I want to be perceived. My experience has been that people judge you by your clothes, your gear, and your personal choices. People make assumptions about what kind of person you are your interests, your beliefs based on seemingly trivial details. In this case I’m changing. It’s not bad, it’s just different and I’m not sure what to think of that.

To be fair, I’ve always looked a little askance at the weekend warrior wanabes. I like military gear because it’s durable—and I need that. I like my shades because it was cheaper to buy a pair that could double as range glasses and sunglasses. I like boots, so I got the most comfortable and durable all-weather pair I could find. I guess you never outgrow the high school desire to be accepted or the teenage fear of being viewed as the poser.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Warmahordes league, round II

Sunday was the second of three events for my local warmahordes league.

Game 1:

My first opponent, Gram, wanted to warm up with a hordes on hordes match so I borrowed a legion battle box. Being superstitious about such things, mine was at home as I don’t like to mix factions in the same case. This was a nice start to the day. I had PLylyth, 4 shredders, and a Carnivean. Gram took PKaya, a Gorax, a feral warpwolf, and a unit of tharn ravagers.

Terrain was sparse. I had a small stony ridge in my lower right deployment area. There was a large crater network in the center of the board. Beyond that, it was open. This was my first time playing hordes. I played against Kaya once before in a kitchen table throw down so I knew she was fast and prone to teleporting shenanigans. I won the role-off and opted to go second. I wanted Gram to move forward and extend his lines, letting me pick the point of contact. From my perspective, he set up in the upper left corner of the board with the ravagers on the left and the beasts on the right screening Kya. I decided to see where he would commit himself before picking a flank. I deployed slightly behind the stony outcrop in a flying ‘V’ formation—2 shredders on either side of the Carnivean with Lylyth sheltering a couple inches behind the giant spiky dinosaur.

We moved slowly, working on bating the other guy into a charge for the first 3 turns. I managed to get parasite on the Gorax. He moved his ravagers up my left flank while leaving his beasts in front of my battle group. I responded by removing the 2 shredders from that flank and positioning them off to the right.

Turn 4, Gram decided that he was going to press the engagement. He moved his ravagers up my left flank into charge range. His wolf moved forward with Kaya right behind him. This was the turn I had been waiting for. I up kept parasite, moved Lylyth up, popped her feet, and shot the warp wolf twice. In retrospect, I should have shot it with irruption of spines and hit Kya for first blood. The 2 left most shredders made failed charges on the encroaching ravagers, blocking future charge lanes. The carnivean charged the warpwolf, hit Kya and the Gorax with the assault spray, boosted on Kaya and took her down to 5 boxes. He used his initial attacks and remaining fury to dismantle the warpwolf. With the wolf gone, my two remaining shredders had line of sight to Kaya. The nearest one went rabid, charged

, and finished off the druid.

Game 1, Lylyth.

Game 2:

Jason and Nate were still going at it on the other board so we decided to go for a second round. Gram was ready to up the power level. We pushed up the points. I took PButcher, a Kodiak, a Decimator, Yuri, a man hunter, a war dog, and a unit of widowmakers. He took PBaldur, 2 Argus, a feral warpwolf, a unit of tharn ravagers, and Lord of the Feast.

I don’t think Gram had ever faced Butcher before. He was understandably concerned over the big guy’s threat potential. I was pretty confident that I could face this down, especially since Baldur didn’t have any constructs with him. Ironically, Baldur and Kaya were the only warlocks I’d faced to that point. My opponent won the role off and took first turn. He set up in the upper left hand corner again with most of his forces positioned to run down my right flank. I held back in my corner with the jacks in front of the butcher to the left of the outcropping. My widowmakers deployed on the outcrop, giving most of them elevation. Yuri and the other man hunter hugged the terrain behind them, ready to charge to Butcher’s assistance or walk through the snipers and counter assault.

The first two turns consisted of Circle slowly advancing on my position while I consolidated my charge lanes and lines of sight. Gram put stone skin on the warpwolf while I got iron flesh on the widowmakers…defense 17 FTW! After turn 3 I was pretty sure the snipers had range on the ravagers so I popped butcher’s feet. Two of the WM had range and managed to scrub a beast man. The decimator was out sadly.

Turn 4, the Lord of the feast missed a raven shot and Gram ran the remaining Tharn into melee with my widowmakers. I’m not sure what he intended with that move but if he wanted to feed me his army piece by piece I wasn’t going to argue. Butcher charged and missed, bought another attack, and killed a ravager. Man hunter walked around the terrain and killed a second beast man with his first attack. Yuri walked over the hill, turned himself so Butcher wasn’t in his front arc, killed the last Tharn, and missed a thresher attack on a Def 17 widowmaker.

Gram maneuvered while I pulled the WM from the right flank to the left. I wanted to bate him into a run across my front line, exposing his forces to my battle group. Instead, he ran both Argus onto the outcrop. I was pretty sure I had the game won at this point since it looked like butcher could walk over and wipe both doggies handily. Butch wiped the first pup only to find that he was just out of melee range for the second. I knew I’d over extended him, but I was pretty sure I could get him out of the situation. Yuri walked over the hill again and slashed the remaining Argus without killing it. The manhunter ran around Butcher to block charge lanes from the warpwolf. Widowmakers turned to cover my front line while the jacks moved up to maximize their next turn. I knew I was in trouble, but I figured there was only so much he could do.

Gram checked range and found that the Argus was out of Baldur’s control area. Doggy passed his threshold check. Baldur cut for 4, cast earth spike, crit knocked down Butcher, man hunter, and Yuri, stupid medium based warcaster. Argus, no longer engaged, walked over and combo struck Butcher for 30+ damage. @@###!!!!! Lord of the feast shot, scored, and teleported in. He swung leaving butcher at 2 and killed the man hunter who was blocking the warpwolf. The warp wolf activated, chose speed, charged, and swung for lethal.

Game 2, Baldur with authority.

Game 3:

Gram and Nate were done for the day, leaving Jason and me to go head-to-head. I took PButcher, a Kodiak, a Decimator, a war dog, and a unit of widow makers. He took Siege Brisbane, a charger, a defender, a unit of stormblades, and Eiryss 1.

He won the roll off and chose to go first. His battle group spread out across the far side with Siege slightly to the right of the central craters and the stormblades off to the left. I decided to refuse flank and set up my force in the left corner. He put Eiryss as far forward in front of me as possible. I knew from last time that the charger would be a problem and the defender…well that just wasn’t going to be fun. Siege is a lot like PSorscha in that you know the feet is coming. You can bate it, try and wait it out, or work around it. If you live in fear of the event you’ll just play into your opponent’s strategy. I decided to try for door number 3.

Turn 1, Jason moved his battle group toward the center of the board, the storm blades advanced to confront me, and Eiryss moved up a little looking for her moment. I consolidated and pushed hard toward the stormblades and Eiryss. I couldn’t afford to leave them in my rear. The butcher put iron flesh on the widow makers hoping that defense 17 would work for a second game. The next two turns saw the WM kill off 4 stormblades only to be wiped out by the defender and charger in retaliation. The decimator got the fifth stormblade with his cannon. Gram charged the decimator with the remaining stormblade.

Life got interesting when Eiryss managed to disrupt the Butcher. I looked at the board and figured I had to kill the elf or spend the rest of the game disrupted. The Butcher countercharged Eiryss but missed his attack. The Kodiak walked over and vented steam leaving a very satisfyingly cooked mage hunter corpse. The decimator killed the final stormblade with a single unboosted swipe.

I was left with a mostly untouched battle group and a war dog VS. Siege with an unspent feet and 2 unscratched ranged jacks. I’ve played this game with Cygnar before. You ding around waiting for that perfect moment. While you’re trying to set up your ideal caster kill, they take you apart at range—not this time. I guestimated range and figured I had game on the charger. Butcher allocated 3 focus to the decimator, popped his feet, and cast full throttle. The decimator activated, checked range, and was .5 inches short. @@@####! I moved to protect butcher with the Kodiak but there was nothing I could do for the decimator.

Siege activated, popped feet, and combined fire with his battle group to ding the Kodiak and wreck the decimator. The Kodiak advanced and vented steam, completely blocking line of sight to the butcher. Next turn Jason was going to try and maneuver a long shot on the butcher until I reminded him that the Kodiak was a viable target inside the cloud affect. He proceeded to strip most of the Kodiak’s grid, but left me enough to move up and continue blocking line of sight—venting steam one last time. The war dog ran up and engaged the charger. Siege and company pushed up. They had a concealment shot on butcher but opted to finish off the Kodiak and the war dog instead.

We checked, and with the cloud of steam expired, butcher had a clear charge lane to the defender who was in line of sight to and base to base with Siege. Butcher charged, wacked the defender with his initial, bought a second attack, missed, bought two more attacks and cut siege in half.

Game 3, Butcher—barely.

Things I learned:

1. I need to be very careful regarding order of operations. I need to make sure to try the risky thing first so that if it doesn’t come out well I still have activations to cover my mistakes.

2. There is a big difference between charge range, melee range, and total threat range. I knew this before—but losing a few charges has highlighted the need to be more precise in my estimations.

3. Widow makers are freaking awesome. I knew they were good before but under iron flesh let alone in cover…they bad. Range 14 on a high defense good rat unit is spec-tac-u-lar. I’m going to have to try them out with my newly painted marksman.

4. As with Sorscha, I really have to pay more attention when popping the big guy’s feet. I realize that in larger games this won’t be as much of an issue, but in both of the above games, I over estimated my units’ threat range. In game 1 it was almost a total loss. In game 2 it did nothing. Screw inches, quarter inches matter…a lot.

5. I’m wondering if the Kodiak’s armored fists shield bonus gets added before or after Siege’s feet. If so, that last game might have gone differently.

6. Speaking of which, the Kodiak is a serious work horse. It blocks, it clobbers, it par-boils. I’ve always thought it was one of the most under rated jacks—now even more so.

7. Two games is not a representative sample. That said, the war dog may not be showing up again in smaller games. In game 2, I could have swapped him with Yuri for another manhunter and a marksman. I think I would have gotten more out of that pairing.

September is the last game of this league season. Hopefully I’ll have at least my shock troopers and MOW Kovnick ready for that one. This once a month thing is just the right pace to start out. I’m getting to play enough that its fun while infrequently enough that the anticipation is high when I walk in the door.

Courtesy of Pandora, I’ve settled on a theme song for this army:


Set’s the right tone.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A review of mimic miniatures

Last year I discovered an intriguing kickstarter campaign. The concept was simple. Backers would send in pictures of themselves. The company would scan the images and 3d print the resulting composite features onto one of their custom models. My wife and I collect minis, play lots of miniature games, and play RPGs that use character figures. The idea of playing games with truly personal avatars was an instant hit. We pledged $200 for 10 30mm figures. This was a significant commitment; but one that seemed in line with the product’s boutique niche.

I did some research and found that this was the project creator’s second attempt funding this concept. He had a mixed record in the gaming community—several over hyped ideas that were not as big as the marketing suggested, but in general he seemed on the up-and-up. The project generated a lot of noise between con appearances, fan referrals, and an aggressive marketing campaign by industry figures. Between that public presence and Rich’s prompt responses to our questions, I figured that the campaign had to be a genuine offering. MM closed October first, 2013 with 482 backers pledging $31,408 of the $5,000 goal. The tentative completion date was pegged for December—just in time for the holidays.

Months passed. We received updates regarding the production process, the challenge of scanning 400+ orders, and general delays. Needless to say, the Christmas deadline most backers had hoped for wasn’t met. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. Project creators often underestimate the amount of effort required to bring their ideas to fruition. This is particularly true for over-funded campaigns like MM. Backers didn’t have a lot of information at this point, but the communication frequency and content left us pretty sure that something was going on even if the train was behind schedule.

Then January turned into February which turned into March. Inconsistencies began to crop up in the increasingly scarce updates. Mimic Miniatures had the means to scan and upload our images but didn’t even have a cell phone camera to take pictures of the first run. MM declined to address several pointed backer comments and requests for clarification. Boardgame Geek, one of the premiere gaming forums, hosted dueling negative reviews while Rich claimed that MM was simply experiencing technical problems and would honor all pledges. My wife and I were told on three occasions that our minis were in the next run, would go out as soon as he got a new printer, and would be mailed in the next week or two.

Finally, models began to ship. We received our miniatures in June—six months after the expected completion date, but within tolerable kickstarter limits as such things go. The figures were supported on three sides by resin filaments which connected to smooth segments of the production material. I assume this was an artifact of the 3d printing process. In affect each figure came in its own personalized phone booth.


• The figures lacking helmets and hats clearly showed my jaw line and hair.

• The models were generally what we had ordered.


• Several of the models were sculpted in such a way as to leave no visible facial detail. There was no way to tell that the model represented a specific person.

• Eight of our ten models bore no specific resemblance to their subjects. This was in part due to the fact that MM used stock hair styles in the fulfillment process. It wasn’t that the models were bad per say; it was more that between an indeterminate hair style and lack of distinctive features the models had nothing to distinguish themselves.

• The sculpts lacked fine detail. Eye shape, small carried items, and mouths were either cursorily sculpted or not present at all.

• The figures were printed using a very brittle resin. Limbs and hand held items were exceedingly easy to break off through casual handling.

I give the project a C- over all. The communication was atrocious—no question. However, I got what I ordered. Customer service and delays aside, the transaction completed.

On the one hand, at 30mm scale, there’s only so much detail a model can hold. Picking an affordable printer, finding a printing medium that will stand up to table play while holding detail, and building a computer model to process the orders isn’t easy. Building a production cycle for thousands of individually customized figures is a labor worthy of Hercules. This project was a test run of a new business model. The campaign ended with a ruff manufacturing process in place. There were some major failures, but that’s what a test run is for.

On the other hand, there were three areas where MM could have done better without sticking it to backers. First, the wrong expectation was set from the beginning. Backers never got to see the unfinished product. The only images available to the public were professionally painted models. Had there been pictures of the newly printed sculpts, I feel backers would have been happier with their minis despite the excessive flash involved. Painted models do not give an accurate impression of material, sculpting, and printing quality. Rather, they unreasonably inflate the public’s expectations. A time lapse video showing a figure from image, to printing, to assembly, to painting, and finally to arrival on a gaming table would have acted as a marketing tool while giving backers clear and accurate expectations.

Second, the stated intent of this campaign was to put recognizable likenesses on miniatures. The expectation was that the associated sculpts were designed with that in mind. Several of the sculpts, the noble in my case, were built in such a way as to completely obscure facial detail. This is a fundamental design failure. All sculpts should have been designed to provide clear facial visibility even if the model was wearing a hat, helmet, hood…etc. Even excepting poor model design, 80% of our models could only vaguely be identified as their intended subject. I can’t count that as a win.

Third, the communication for this project was at best unintentionally misleading. At worst backers were shamelessly deceived on a regular basis. Deadlines and promises were broken without apology or follow up. Several claims were trotted out which were impossible to take seriously. Simple reasonable concerns were left unaddressed. What was said in public often didn’t hold water in private. Nobody likes to hear that their order has been delayed months past the advertized delivery date. However, people can be tolerant, provided they are treated with respect and deference. That didn’t happen and my impression of Rich suffered accordingly.

In conclusion, despite numerous communication issues, I received my backer rewards. The quality wasn’t up to the advertized standard—though given the nature of kickstarter I can forgive most of that. I am satisfied. That said, I am unlikely to do business with Rich Nelson or any of his associated ventures in the future.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thoughts on PSorscha and a tactica

Note that the following are my opinions. Your mileage may vary. Feedback and heckling are welcome.

I have mixed feelings concerning PSorscha. On the one hand she’s a hell of an assassination threat. She’s fast, has a great feet, and definitely brings the noise. On the other hand, she’s a high defense squishy warcaster in a faction that favors beat stick melee powerhouses—and then there’s the matter of her older colder version. I can’t pick up her new model without remembering her younger days.

A decade ago a friend said he had a surprise for me. He pushed three models across my kitchen table…two red metal robots and an axe wielding ice queen. We spent the next few months slugging it out between my Khador and his Cygnar battle box. I fell in love with the Motherland when I took a sip of bourbon and said for the first time “Sorscha pops her feet and…” Sorscha wasn’t just defined by her feet; her feet made her the bar by which I measured all comers. She froze everything in her control area. Back then there was no way to shake stationary affects. She would walk up, pop feet, freeze everything within her control area regardless of line of sight, and use tempest to knock things down. Then she, the destroyer, a hand cannon, or possibly a raiser wind would drop on your caster. If you survived that, the next turn you stood there and did nothing. Then, with your pieces still knocked down, you’d watch while Sorscha’s entire army unloaded for a second turn—terminating your warcaster with extreme prejudice. It was the single most ball bustingly hard core feet in the game. Sorscha wasn’t just a faction defining model; she set the standard for bad ass. Khador dominated the Gencon national tournaments with variants on that strategy over and over again…feet, knock down, kill caster. She was so good that I felt bad playing her against all but my most competitive adversaries.

Now a days, freezing the enemy battle group is not as game breakingly harsh as it once was. The line of sight restriction and the ability to spend focus to unfreeze and stand up renders icy gaze powerful but tolerable—certainly you can’t expect 2+ rounds of uncontested action any more. Never the less, playing Sorscha in MKII feels like going back to your home town and finding out that the captain of the football team who used to give you swirlies, take your lunch money, and steal your girlfriend is now the guy manning the drive through window at McDonalds. You don’t want him back the way he was…but it steals the mythic proportions from your nostalgia.

Sorscha is still all about her feet—especially under 35 points. There are a couple reasons for this. First, she brings very little qualitative enhancement for her forces. Fog of war is nice, especially if you have camouflage, but it suffers from the double edged sword of affecting all models regardless of faction. PButcher and PVlad are fantastic casters because they can not only throw the opposing caster into the hurt locker with authority, they also offer excellent support spells—signs and portents, wind wall, full throttle, fury, and iron flesh. They make already good units amazing while simultaneously posing major threats on their own—and that’s not even taking their feets into account. Sorscha can set up attacks with freezing grip and tempest, but she doesn’t boost Khador’s specialties to epic levels or gloss over its weaknesses. Further, setting up those attacks requires her squishy 14 armor base to be dangerously forward. On average she’ll die to 2 attacks worth 45 boxes (essentially 2 unboosted P+S 15 hits.) The upshot is that there’s Sorscha and there’s her army. Outside her feet, the rest of your points are on their own.

Second, the ice queen is greedy. She wants to throw down wind rush, tempest, boosted hand cannon shots, multiple critical freeze generating reach attacks, and boundless charges at ridiculous distances. Every once in a while she’ll have a focus or two to throw at a jack or boundless charge a model; but those are the exceptions not the rule. She doesn’t “share” well.” So between her lack of support spells and a dearth of spare focus, her two defining characteristics are her feet and her speed—which is simply a vehicle for delivering the feet in the first place.

If you accept these limitations, PSorscha is actually a decent warcaster. She won’t be supporting a huge battle group; but then most of Khador’s warcasters prefer taking a single quality jack anyway. Khador has some excellent jack Martials—Sorscha likes delegating to them more than most is all. I prefer taking focus efficient jacks with her when not marshaling. Anything with free run/charge is helpful. The Kodiak is an excellent choice with free run, pathfinder, the ability to threaten massed infantry with vent steam, LOS blocking cloud affect, and a chain attack which auto triggers on her feet turn.

Sorscha operates best on the theory that the best defense is a strong offense. Her spells and mobility predispose her to a front line role. You can use wind rush to advance, act, and then retreat, but at some point you’re going to need to freeze/knock down something that will require her to extend into risky territory. Thus, she likes infantry that are independent, can make use of her feet turn, and that keep constant pressure on the enemy. The winter guard deathstar is an obvious candidate, but certainly not the only one. I like widow makers with marksman, gray lord outriders, gun carriage, MOW Kovnicks, man hunters, and the elf to start. These models force your opponent to either play defensively or take heavy casualties.

It’s tempting to build an all ranged, all melee, or similarly hyper focused force to maximize the benefit of icy gaze. This is a mistake—especially as point values increase. Skillful players will deploy in such a way as to limit Sorscha’s pre-feet movement and line of sight while maximizing counter charge lanes and fields of fire. You are better off building an army which does its own heavy lifting—using icy gaze to swing the tempo at key points, capitalize on an opponent’s error, or force your opponent into sub optimal model placement in order to minimize its impact. In this way the threat of icy gaze can be of more use than its execution—either your opponent deploys to minimize IG’s affect or they risk disproportionate losses.

So let’s talk about icy gaze. I think of Sorscha’s feet thusly. “Once per game, Sorscha can threaten up to 19 inches. At certain points in that movement she will make every enemy model within LOS and 12 inches easier to hit.” Some models are immune to cold. Models with focus/fury can shake off stationary. Some casters like Harkevich have spells that completely negate IG past your turn. Because of this I celebrate the games where Sorscha lets me run amok for two turns—but I don’t count on it. If Sorscha is popping her feet it’s because I’ve found an assassination lane or because doing so will let me permanently swing the correlation of forces in my favor. You use icy gaze to make sure victory is a foregone conclusion on your own turn or you don’t use it at all. In most cases the feet comes out to set up an assassination.

The process runs something like this:

1. I remind myself that I am in control of when the ice queen makes her move. Bating Sorscha is a time honored sport raised to an art form by experienced players. The longer you go without popping icy gaze, the more you want to. I start every turn asking myself, “can I win the game with Sorscha this turn?” If not, no feet.

2. I measure her control area. Sorscha’s charge range is 6 movement+3 charge+2 reach=1 inch less than her control radius. Any model completely within her control radius is within her reach.

3. I assess lines of sight, relative distances out to 19 inches, and difficult terrain. If completing an assassination charge is going to go through terrain then I’ll need to cast boundless charge. If I don’t start my turn with LOS to the opposing caster, then the rest of my army needs to make a road or I am going to need to use wind rush to reposition. If the target is outside my control radius, then I’ll need wind rush to put me in range. Note that the riskiest feet turn is one where you use wind rush and boundless charge. You’ll spend 2/3 of her focus getting to the target—seriously reducing her destructive output.

4. I use wind rush if necessary. If yes, then I check her control radius again. Even if she has to use boundless charge, her maximum range is 1 inch beyond her zone. Before committing to the charge I want to be absolutely sure that her target is in range.

5. Boundless charge if required. If not, charge.

6. Feet. Note that you always want to pop before the charge if it will catch more models in Sorscha’s LOS.

7. Attack. On average boosting damage is only worthwhile if your target is arm 17 or greater. Most of the time you’ll be better off buying extra attacks.

Sometimes you’ll need to set up another model, one of your jacks usually, because Sorscha doesn’t have the stromf to finish the job. It’s critically important that you figure out if you can get to the target on the assassination turn as well as if you can take them down once you get there. You need means and opportunity; because if you don’t finish the job on her feet turn, Sorscha is toast.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Back in the saddle with Warmachine

It’s funny how things come full circle. Alternate worlds used to be the center of my gaming world. Thanks to a persistent outrider, I got suckered into their weekly GW sessions, eventually becoming one of the store regulars. That lasted for a couple years, until GW opened a store nearby and stole most of the action. Over time I drifted away from AW. I liked the store, the people, and the players; I just didn’t have much reason to visit. The only time I darkened their door was to pass a few minutes waiting for my number to be called at the haircuttery. Then a couple years ago MQ asked me to pair off for one of alternate worlds’s two headed giant tournaments. The experience was so much of a hit that we’ve been informally rocking the 2hg scene ever since. Back in May, while we were playing in a sealed tournament, I walked over to one of the miniature gaming tables between rounds. The store was hosting a once a month war machine/hordes league—the sound of which drew me as the moth to the proverbial flame. I spent my down time heckling, helping a newer player with the basics of fury management vs. focus, and basking in the aura of actual miniatures on the table.

The league manager encouraged me to come back and join the next round. I said, truthfully, that while I was interested, I hadn’t played a real game of warmahordes in almost seven years. Cherylkat and Corc had played a few sample matches with me, but nothing that left me feeling even mildly proficient. I felt self-conscious. I’ve kept up with the MKII rules in a general sense but my play skills have definitely lapsed. The League manager, a store employee by the name of Jason, pointed out that they had people who played their first game of warmahordes—ever in that month’s league. That took the sting out of my objection. I decided to give it a try. I’ve wanted to get back into miniature gaming for a while. Starting in a league within walking distance was as good an opportunity as I could have asked for.

I’ve spent the last two months reviewing the rules, getting my play kit together, and working with Deathquaker to get my army painted. I picked up a battle foam army transport. I collected a selection of counters, measuring tools, and objectives. I read strategy articles. Mostly I dreamed of the day when once again I would take to the field of honor.

July sixth, I hiked up the hill for my first day back on the wagon. When someone says “league” I imagine a group of 20+ players, some veteran, some learning, and some fresh behind the ears. AW’s league consists of about six players including the employee sponsor. I walked in and found that the only players were Jason and another new-guy who I had previously arranged to sell my ill-fated Vlad force. We paid our entry fee, concluded our business, and set up a 4x6 table for some battle box learning.

I have a lot of theoretical experience with the current rule set. While I haven’t played in years, I’ve kept up with the forums and releases. So, While I wasn’t the person to teach advance tactics, I felt qualified to walk Nate, the other player, through his first game. He opted for the standard Khador battle box—Sorcha, Destroyer, and Juggernaught. I took my default league starter, The Butcher, a decimator, and a Kodiak.

Game 1:

Given our lack of recent experience, we opted for a clear board with no terrain. This approach has drawbacks, but it lets you learn the basic mechanics without having to worry about lines of sight, difficult terrain, and deployment preference. It’s a good teaching method for a player’s first few games. Nate got the high roll and chose first turn. We set up in mirror configurations—with our casters an inch or two behind our jacks pushing the front edge of our deployment zones. I set up directly across from his forces—insuring that this would be a quick game.

Turn 1, we ran our jacks and cast upkeep spells. Turn 2, we took pot shots at each other. Turn 3, we engaged. Sorcha froze my army. Her battle group took some whacks at me but couldn’t make it to Butcher. Butcher stood up, unfroze himself, popped feet, charged Sorcha, and broke the ice queen with his first 5d6 damage roll. Game 1, butcher.

Game 2:

As this was supposed to be a learning experience, we decided to switch armies. Wielding the butcher is kind of like driving a SUV—you know you’re one of the biggest baddest things around. On the other hand, looking across the table at the butcher is a lot like standing on the third rail in front of an oncoming subway—you know damned well that if you don’t do something quick you’re going to take a whole lot of physics to the face.

We set up in more or less the same configuration as the previous game. I won the roll-off and went first. Round 1 and 2 went exactly the same as before. In this situation you are almost always going to run your jacks and cast your spells followed by a turn of pre-contact positioning. Turn 3, I did the math and found that butcher sitting at arm 22 with 4 focus camped was essentially unkillable unless sorcha punched way above the bell curve. I allocated 3 focus to my juggy, popped the butcher with a raiser wind and a boosted hand cannon shot and ended Sorcha’s activation. I activated the juggernaut, checked distance, and found I was just out of charge range. Nate allocated focus to his Kodiak, unfroze butcher, cast full throttle, popped his feet, and charged my poor juggy. The Kodiak unfroze, charged Sorcha, and crushed her like a beer can with its first attack. Game 2, Butcher.

My opponent had to leave at that point. We shook hands and agreed to face off in the next event. While we were playing, one of the customers walked around the table—asking questions and expressing interest. I offered to play a battle box game with him. I was happy to run a demo, especially since the only other potential opponent was Jason and he had a store to manage. The Demoee, Matt, selected the Cygnar box set as his preferred battle box after some lively discussion of faction characteristics. I returned my models to my deployment zone and prepared for war—again.

Game 3:

I love seeing an experienced strategist work their art on the field of honor. Matt hadn’t played warmachine before—but the man knew wargames. This was a long game—surprisingly so considering it was a demo. I cut my teeth back in MKI fighting Striker’s battle group back before escalation was published. I had no illusions that he was an easy mark. Striker isn’t the flashiest of the battle box casters. He is a solid all-round leader with a flexible toolbox and a balanced battle group. Sorcha has to either directly assassinate striker or attrition his battle group to the point where she can pin him down. Between knockdown, disruption, arm/def enhancement, snipe, ranged, melee—Striker covers all the bases.

Matt won the roll off and chose to go first. I set up off to the side—attempting to get Striker-and-CO to string out while wheeling to engage. That—didn’t work. Matt had clearly watched Sorcha pop her feet during my game with Nate and was wise to my plan. Matt advanced remorselessly, holding striker back behind his battle group while sniping with the charger.

What followed was a brutal back and forth. The charger hit Sorcha with a boosted shot while the ironclad and lancer mixed it up with the juggernaut. I feeted early trying to break his iron wall but rolled poorly on the subsequent damage. Matt did a great job using models to block charge lanes and LOS. I finally managed to maneuver a charge with Sorcha. She wind rushed, stepped up to the plate, boosted, and whiffed. I bought another attack, boosted, and whiffed again. I bought a third attack, boosted, and hit for less damage than I needed. Striker activated and administered final justice. Game 3, Striker.

These were fun games. Not only did I get three solid games under my belt; but both of my opponents walked away talking about buying additional models—good for the league and good for the store. I enjoyed the simple low-variable battle box format. It was a nice way to get my toes wet.

Things I learned:

1. I need to work on my positioning and threat range estimation. These are fundamental play skills—ones that I took for granted back when I was playing competitively. I used to do this kind of thing on auto pilot—making the right decisions without a lot of thought. Now I’ll have to pay a lot more attention to the basics.

2. Sorcha has evolved to a very different kind of caster than I used to play back in MKI. The ability to shake stationary and knockdown with focus (icy gaze and tempest) fundamentally changes the way she is played. I could write a tactica on the issue at this point. Suffice it to say that you don’t have 2+ rounds of free action any more. In battle box games, you need to pop the feet only when you’re making an assassination run. Sorcha has one round to make her move—meaning she can’t afford to squander her feet.

3. People say power 12 kills casters. Playing the beet stick faction, I haven’t run into that much…until now. Look at you little charger all grown up. The charger can kill Sorcha in one round with 2 moderate boosted shots. That plus snipe is terrifying.

4. The butcher has changed a lot since his original incarnation. He’s no longer a solo who happens to pull a jack or two along with him. He has, and I still can’t believe I’m saying this, become more of a support caster who just happens to be able to wreck face. I picked PButcher as my main caster namely due to his theme force—which looked like a good balanced vehicle to re-learn the game on. The more I read about him, play him, and see him played, the more I like him. The Butch finally has game as more than a 6 focus solo.

5. I’m going to spend some more time on boxed games. There was a time when battle box games were for demos. After playing three consecutive iterations of Khador, Cygnar, and a modified league build for butcher, I really like the changes PP has made to the boxed battle groups. I need more practice regardless, but the fact that there is now a real challenge to the process is nice.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Petty Things

I find myself second guessing my instincts lately. As our circle of friends has grown, matured, and evolved, it has become increasingly difficult to navigate the unspoken perils of social expectation. Some friends don’t play well with large groups. Some friends have issues with other friends. Some friends have kids. Some friends don’t drive. Some friends pay their own way. Some friends pay for nothing. Some people can be trusted to tactfully avoid complications. Some friends are nothing but drama. Some people want someone else to initiate contact. Other people will let you know if and when they want to share their valuable time. I used to think I was at least competent to handle my own social schedule—lately I’m not so sure.

Social obligation is the fine art of keeping relationships in balance. It’s not polite to talk about this sort of thing but everyone thinks about it. That couple always shorts their share when we eat out. That guy always makes us drive an extra hour to pick him up. We never get invited to that group’s poker night. She always invites herself to our private get togethers. I stopped trying to make everyone happy a long time ago. The truth is that my private life is my private life—socially or otherwise. I’m not required to invite everyone to everything, attend every event I hear about, or cater to everyone’s whims. That being said, part of good friendship is making sure the scales are balanced. Part of that comes from making sure that you are giving equal value in a relationship. Part of it is being tactful and considerate when planning events where select people are welcome. Part of it is also making sure that you aren’t putting your friends and family in a difficult position. Put that way it looks easy. Don’t screw your friends and family over.

Of course, such issues are rarely 100% within your control. It’s very easy to say or do something that makes perfect sense at the time but that ends up ticking people off later. So far, I’ve written off exactly one friendship in almost 40 years. The person in question exploited my naivety in a very personal and hurtful manner. It took them one really thoughtless moment to end everything. Most of the time though you can’t point to one single event and say “that’s the one, that’s where we went wrong.” You make a small error in judgment one day—then an acquaintance does something without thinking that pushes your buttons. It piles up bit by bit. The straw doesn’t break the camel’s back, but the hay bale will flatten the beast if you let it.

I suppose I take this more seriously in part because I rely on friends and family. The brunette and I take pride in our independence. We try to handle as much of our own upkeep as we can without assistance. Some things however, are simply easier with sighted help. Both of us have been in the uncomfortable position of having to ask friends, family, and coworkers to do something they clearly don’t want to do. Just like we’re not supposed to talk about the relative debt levels in a relationship you aren’t supposed to say no to a blind person. That particular convention sucks. At any given time the party on the other side says quite truthfully, that yes they’ll be happy to drive you to that appointment, help you go shopping, fill out your paperwork, go through your mail…etc. But ask for the third time in one week and it starts to feel less like a favor for a friend and more like using someone who can’t politely decline. When most of your social interactions come with a helping of accommodation in the first place, it makes you sensitive about taking advantage. Years ago, a friend would throw a party once a year. I think we were invited to the event more out of habit than anything else—a holdover from earlier days. The catch was that the event in question was held at the friends’ home which was many butt longs away. The host’s solution was to invite another friend of ours with the expectation that she would provide us transportation. This was a huge imposition for the driving friend—we weren’t anything close to on her way, the hosting friend wasn’t a really close friend to begin with, and there was a feeling of implied obligation in the invitation. The situation put us at odds with two people we respected. Not going to the party would slight one friend. Guilt tripping the other friend would have simply transferred the hurt feelings to a different party. When I first started with the bank some of my coworkers were asked to give me rides to and from work. Most of the time this practice was fine…until it wasn’t and a coworker couldn’t tell his friend that it wasn’t convenient to cart his sightless butt around every day. Experiences like this rammed the concept home to me that friendship is a two way street. I’m not paranoid about the balance of obligation exactly; but I am very aware of where the scales stand.

It’s tempting some times, especially if you’re in a pissy mood to begin with, to start assessing relationships on a transactional scale. How much drama does that person create for me? Do they mooch off me all the time? Do I owe them for the last range trip? In almost every case the brunette and I find that we end up on the owing end of that scale. We don’t sit down with a spreadsheet and tally our obligations every day. We are simply aware of the fact that part of being friends with us involves driving us places, reading things, and helping with certain visual activities. We understand that our friends take that as a given just like we accept their particular quirks. The issue being that lately I’ve seen a lot of little negative transactions that have put me in that pissy mood.

I don’t want to be that person who is always keeping score. You know who I’m talking about—the relative who knows who brought cups to the last three family dinners or the friend who remembers who gave Christmas presents last year and for what value. That’s a mean petty sort of life. Part of this comes down to the fact that I spend most of my life in balance. When I end up genuinely feeling like someone has crossed a line it really sticks in my craw. After that point I start amortizing every little thing. It’s hard to have fun when you live like that.

We went tubing with a group of friends and family recently. It was a really great experience. I haven’t been swimming in fresh water in forever. I really, really, love swimming in the outdoors. We had a few drinks, played around, and had about as close to a perfect day as you could ask for. Unfortunately before we got to the tubing part, there were delays, complications, and changes in schedule.” I spent about three hours pre-river in a really grumpy mood; not because I had that much to be grumpy about but because the process of having “fun” had become more complicated than it should have been. If I had just sat back, took a deep breath, turned up the music, and let it go, it all would have been fine. I didn’t—and for my sins I wasted a good three hours of my life and probably spread my annoyance to the other people in the car.

My point is that I need to stop sweating the petty things. I need to make sure my end of the scale is balanced and beyond that, try and let things go. Also, I need to start taking a few steps to minimize the aggravation in my life. To that end:

1. When planning an event I will be specific as to time, date, scope, who is invited, and who is not invited. Even if I think I know the answer I will clarify.

2. Wherever possible I will get the “who’s paying” discussion out of the way up front. This includes asking for separate checks and talking about who is paying for range time.

3. My response to invitations that I cannot accept is going to be that “Unfortunately I/we won’t be able to attend.” There will be no mention of money, contributing factors, or alternate plans.

4. I am going to start holding people accountable for doing and saying things that are clearly not appropriate when they make my life more difficult. Suffering in silence doesn’t help either of us. I can’t complain if I don’t give them the chance to correct the issue.

5. To the best of my ability I am going to try and be a polite person. If someone else has an issue with my choices, I won’t try and force the discussion. It’s up to them to talk to me—not the other way around.

Note: If you’re reading this and thinking that you are in any way responsible for this post, please be advised that you are mistaken. This raving discourse is the product of *many* small interactions with a variety of people over the last month—most of whom don’t even know I have a blog. I’m working things out—and you have nothing to worry about.