Blogs

  • I posted this elsewhere, but thought it might prove interesting to a handful of FATties.

    2012 was a great year for us, thanks, in large part, to Kickstarter. There’s no denying the impact, opinions, and controversy surrounding this newest force in board game publishing. Love it or loathe it, Kickstarter is here. Will Kickstarter continue to be a driving force in 2013? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have our experiences with the platform, and I know what it has done for SBG.

    There have been a lot of board game publishing companies to use Kickstarter in the past year or so; some to much success, others to much chagrin, and often times both. I’ve tried to keep myself out of the great debates surrounding this new platform for game purchasing and publishing, but now, as 2013 looms, I’d like to interject, because Kickstarter will continue to play a huge part of Small Box Games in the upcoming year.

    It’s no secret that we’re a small company, evidenced by the fact that you probably haven’t ever heard of us before. I’ll go as far as to say we try our best to stay a small company. To some, this may make no sense. To others who have been our customers for years, I think it will make perfect sense. I don’t try to paint ourselves into some sort of ivory tower, but I feel we use Kickstarter slightly differently than most other companies do. When we post something on Kickstarter, it’s a finished game. It isn’t vaporware, it isn’t an idea, and it isn’t an unfinished game. Basically, we’re offering preorders for one of our games in exchange for helping us cover the printing costs. This isn’t that different, or different at all, from any other preordering system used outside of Kickstarter.

    Much like the larger companies who offer preorders for games not yet in print, the games we offer on Kickstarter are fully fleshed games, with completed art, playtesting, and a clear production plan. The main difference is, we’re offering preorders directly from us instead of through your FLGS or OLGS. We’ve already paid for the art out of our own pocket, and spent our own time with game design, graphic design, and playtesting. When we click that launch button, all we’re looking for is the funds to have the game manufactured, the fees for Kickstarter, and the cost of shipping to get our games to backers. It’s just like hobby game company X: we design a game, we develop a game, and we manufacture a game. Instead of having 5K copies manufactured overseas and pumped into the distribution system, we take a different approach.

    So you may be asking yourself, why do you want to use Kickstarter? Well, the answer is simple: we’ve always used it, so to speak. Since 2007, we’ve sold our games, almost solely, on a preoder style platform. Kickstarter offers us tools and a reach that we didn’t have before. It also allows us to continue manufacturing games at a level of quality that we’ve been building on all year; without being able to hit a minimum print number, we wouldn’t be able to manufacture our games at the same level of quality as we’ve made our customers accustomed to this year. Sure, we could have invested in better preordering systems or more advertising, but Kickstarter does all of that for us, for much, much less, and offers us a social platform that neither of those could offer, which we absolutely love. Of course, we still continue to sell the remaining copies of game X off of our site, and to FLGS who reach out to carry our games.

    We spent the better part of the final months of 2012 exploring our options for 2013, including seeking input from fellow gamers and potential customers, because we felt we were at a juncture where we were primed to expand into more “standard” forms of manufacture and distribution. At the end of the search, we found that we didn’t really want to go that route, for a lot of different reasons. It’s a route we’ve explored many times before, and much to our dismay, its end result is the same as it ever was. Regardless of how we attempted to bend and shape our numbers around a preconceived notion of success, the result was the same: we had to have thousands of copies of a game manufactured in order to hit the manufacturing costs that would allow us to enter distribution in order to sell enough to pay for the print run. Along with this, other changes would have to be made.

    We don’t want to make a box that’s 5x too big for its contents, just to have more shelf space and a bigger impact at the FLGS. We’ve done just fine not selling air up until this point. I don’t want to move our production overseas, just so we can sell a thousand more units to people who will only buy our games at 35% off of retail from OLGS. We’ve done just fine not over-inflating our print numbers just to cater to one corner of consumers.

    With that being said, we’re looking at driving down the overall price point of all of our games in 2013. Just because a game costs us X because of the manufacturing choices we’ve made doesn’t always mean that Gamer Z will think it’s worth that. We understand that, and are making the necessary moves in that direction. Of course, that’s a moot point if you’re one of these gamers who is under the assumption that the way we use Kickstarter is any different than preordering a game from company x or OLGS y. Just because we use Kickstarter doesn’t make our games any less “good” or our company any less “successful” than the company that doesn’t use Kickstarter. The boardgaming world is much smaller than many of us care to realize, and one or two stinkers is often enough to keep the little guys, like us, from ever publishing another successful title ever again. That alone is quality control enough for Small Box Games to strive to produce quality games, of course, I can’t speak for other smaller companies.

    Kickstarter is merely a platform. It alone doesn’t build success or foster failure. Success or failure is determined by a myriad of factors, from the time it takes to receive said product backed, to the end happiness of the backer when said product has been played. If something seems too good to be true, whether it’s being offered on Kickstarter, on a store shelf, or featured on a late night infomercial, the requirements of the purchaser and seller are the same. But, I don’t think Kickstarter is really any different than any other avenue. In normal channels, such as a game store, a gamer sees game A on the shelf, and is either turned on or turned off by its initial presentation and impact, and then chooses to either buy that game or leave it there on the shelves based on a multitude of variables, including, but not limited to: the game’s: publisher, designer, theme, price, reviews and ratings, and ultimately, whether his group will actually play the game. The offerings on Kickstarter are really no different. How many of us have read the reviews of a game, looked at the ratings, and saw it on our store’s shelves, and eventually brought it home only to be disappointed?
    Just because a game gets rave reviews, or previews, or ratings, does not necessarily mean that a game is a game that is a good fit for you. Regardless of Kickstarter, as some would claim, this is something that happens with games that go through normal channels as well. I don’t think that assuming that this is something that is only relegated to Kickstarter games is accurate.

    Jumping back to Small Box Games, obviously, due to the way we run our company, our games aren’t readily available on my FLGS’s shelves, or OLGS’s pages. However, in the last few months, we’ve made a tremendous effort to reach out to FLGSs across the country. Chances are, your FLGS has opted not to carry our games on their shelves, regardless of the games’ ratings and reviews, or the incentives we’ve offered them. For the most part, they’ve opted to be lazy, and take the time to not order our games because it would require them to not go through one of their distributors, regardless of the ease which we worked into our ordering process (and free shipping). That makes us very sad, but we totally get it. Without distribution, Small Box Games will likely not make it onto your store’s shelves. Without having more units manufactured than we really need to have manufactured, we’ll never been able to hit the numbers need to be in distribution, so the cycle sort of feeds on itself. Which is why we’ve opted to not be part of that cycle, and instead have opted to continue to do business the way we always have: through preorders. Only now, we’re using Kickstarter to handle the preorders and to gauge the popularity of any single title.

    We can either sell 500-1000 of a game through preorders and direct sells, or we can make 2,000+ of game and take it through the normal distribution channels blindly. As a company, it makes a lot more sense, and is a lot safer, to make less money on the backs of a set number of guaranteed sales to preorder customers than it is to offer 2K+ of a game through normal means. This is something that we’ve weighed and measured countless times.

    Will there be gamers who never own our games because they aren’t on their FLGS’s shelves? Yep. But we’ve made the effort to have them there. Will there be gamers who don’t own our games because they can’t use them to hit the 100.00 mark to fill out their free shipping requirement from their favorite OLGS? Yes, it looks like those guys probably won’t ever own our games either, and that’s not something we’ll ever be able to remedy under our current business model.

    I guess, at the end of this, if we were to go the “normal" route, we would just be masquerading as a larger company, when we really have no desire to do so. We value the connections we have with our customers, and that’s something we would lose if we went larger scale. It’s something I’ve said before, but it’s something I mean. I don’t know if the larger companies still experience this, but it’s still an overwhelming feeling of happiness and accomplishment that people buy *our* games. We’re competing in a crowded field every year, but ever year, we make it out to compete in the next year. A lot of this rests on the games we publish, but I feel a lot of this also rests on the relationships we’ve built with our customer base.

    I doubt this has swayed anyone’s opinion on why we do business the way we do, or the merits, or lack thereof, of Kickstarter. However, if you’re not already one of our customers, I do hope you check out our games the next time you see a thread or an ad on bgg, regardless if the game is available exclusively through Kickstarter or not.

    Thank you to everyone who spent their hard-earned gamer dollars on Small Box Games in 2012. There were enough of you to land one of our games on the ballot for a Golden Geek. We look forward to your business and the opportunity to offer you the finest in card gaming in 2013.

  • IN MADNESS YOU DWELL
  • Internationally reputed boardgame database BoardGameGeek suffered a data breach in recent days when a hacker apparently broke into their system and made away with thousands of emails and documents concerning its prominent hobby analytical tool, the Fellatio-Scope (TM). The stolen data was then posted to a Russian server and has quickly made the rounds among boardgame skeptics. The documents within the archive, if proven to be authentic, would at best be embarrassing for many prominent board game critics and at worst, damning.

    The electronic break in itself has not yet been verified by the director of the website, Scott Alden, but an unname sources from close to Alden, wearing a chicken hat, revealed exclusively to the obscure boardgaming shockblog Fortress Ameritrash that "It was a hacker. We were aware of this about three or four days ago that someone had hacked into our system and taken and copied loads of data files and emails."

    The emails contain an array of discussions including what appear to be concerted efforts to withhold data. Just as troubling is conversations that allude to potentially manipulating fellatio data to “hide the increase” of fellatio in board gaming in the last decade.

    Some of the excerpts of emails within the archives (edited for brevity, emphasis added):

    From Daniel Karp (witholding of information / data):

    Dear Aldie and Derk,
    I’ve attached a cleaned-up and commented version of the code that I wrote for doing theFellatio-Scope composites. I did this knowing that Aldie and I are likely to have to respond to more crap criticisms from the idiots in the near future, so best to clean up the code and provide to some of my close colleagues in case they want to test it, etc. Please feel free to use this code for your own internal purposes, but don’t pass it along where it may get into the hands of the wrong people.


    From Matthew Monin (modifying data):

    The Fellating record was oriented in the reconstruction in the way that Scott said. I took a look at the original reference – the fellatio proxy we looked at is cock size, which the author interprets to be inversely related to temperature. We had higher values as warmer in the reconstruction, so it looks to me like we got it wrong, unless we decided to reinterpret the record which I don’t remember. Daniel, does this sound right to you?


    From Scott Alden (modification of data to hide unwanted results):

    I’ve just completed Daniel's trickof adding in the real temps to each series for the last 10 years (ie from 2000 onwards) hide the decline.


    From Scott Alden (failure of computer models):

    The fact is that we can’t account for the surge of fellatio at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The data published in the August 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more fellatio: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.

    From Daniel Karp (truth doesn't matter):


    Perhaps we'll do a simple update to the fellatio-scope? As to the issues of robustness, we actually emphasized that (including the '06 sensitivity test) in our original post! As we all know, this isn't about truth at all, its about plausibly deniable accusations.

     

    From Matthew Monin (using a website to control the message, hide dissent):

    Anyway, I wanted you guys to know that you’re free to use the website any way you think would be helpful. Daniel and I are going to be careful about what comments we screen through, and we’ll be very careful to answer any questions that come up to any extent we can. On the other hand, you might want to visit the thread and post replies yourself. We can hold comments up in the queueand contact you about whether or not you think they should be screened through or not, and if so, any comments you’d like us to include.

    If the emails and documents are a forgery, it would be an extremely large one that would likely have taken months to setup. No doubt much more will be coming out about these emails and their possible authenticity. Stay tuned to Fortress Ameritrash for updates as more information becomes available.

    Update, 10:30am– Since the original publication of this article, the story is gaining steam. There are reports that a spokesman for BoardGameGeek has confirmed, "We are aware that information from a server used for research information in one area of the website has been made available on public websites.”

    Analysis of the emails and documents in the archives continues. We must stress that the authenticity has not been proven however there have been no denials of such by the climate center. Some of the more recent revelations include:

    From Scott Alden (destroying of emails / evidence):

    Matthew, Can you delete any emails you may have had with Daniel re the fellatioscope? Derk will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis. Can you also email Melissa and get her to do the same? I don’t have her new email address. We will be getting the other admins to do likewise.

    From Scott Alden (forging of dates):

    Daniel, Good to see these two out. Derk doesn't appear to be in CC's online first, but comes up if you search. You likely know that the press will check this one to make sure it hasn't changed since the Fellatio-Scope close-off date July 2009! Hard copies of the report have arrived here today. Matthew - try and change the Received date! Don't give those skeptics something to amuse themselves with.




     

  • We played a game of Titan today and it was a blast. It was a 2 player game with my gf and the best was that even though we spent 5 hours playing and didn't even finish (I tried to warn her that would happen if we played out every battle which we did) she really enjoyed the game.


    At first we mustered some monsters and I managed to attack her Titan legion with my angel one. In the end I left her with a weakened Titan that I was hoping to finish in a couple of turns but I made a big mistake: I had moved my big Titan legion close, for the kill, without realizing I was putting it at a spot where I was going to be forced to move to the outer ring and to the opposite direction of where her Titan was... big oops!!

    That meant the game got much longer than needed... After that she managed to recruit and strengthen her Titan legion. Meanwhile she was chasing my Titan legion and eventually managed to attack it after some other battles between the other legions. The last battle left my Titan alone with an angel (I barely won after she was pretty lucky with her rolls as I expected to at least have a couple creatures remaining). So now I'm left with a stronger Titan but in a weak legion (have to get to a Tower ASAP) but my gf has a weaker Titan with a stronger Legion.

    What we realized at that point was that it is very easy to pack the game in such a way that we can continue it at some other point. We bagged each legion individually (there were just 5 of them) and took notes of their positions and scores. I was at 222 and she at 98. We plan on continuing the game later this week. As we had decided before starting that we would be allowed to take notes of what we knew about the opponent's legions (I don't like having to rely on memory and didn't want that element to punish both of us) those notes will help when we play the next session. In a way it's like a mixture of a F2F and a PBEM game... This is great because it will increase the chances of this game getting played by us :D

    So this basically means we can approach a game of Titan like kind of a campaign, where we can split a game in more than one session if needed. Of course, I expect this need to be greatly reduced as we both get better at the game, because a 2 player game should be much shorter if both players know the game better and not every battle is fought. We also wasted quite a lot of time with rules referencing as it's been quite a long time since we last played and this was just the 2 game for us...

    Anyway, I'm happy we finally got to play the game and even more because it looks like we'll be playing it in the future :)

  • Tonight we played a game of Marvel Heroes which we used to play a lot for about the first two years after it was released, but have been playing much less lately (it's still one of my all time favorite games anyway...)

    We played the scenario where the teams face an unusual nemesis, as I think this is the only one we have never played for some reason... As usual I played with the X-Men and my girlfriend chose the Marvel Knights.



    We both started normally by trying to complete a high scoring headline but we both were smacked down, me by Kingpin and her by Absorbing Man. The rest of the turn was spent with story and healing actions. I used Jean Grey's ability to do two story actions getting me two story cards too.
    I realized the extra scheming action for the nemesis was quite a big deal, and also, Kingpin's resistance was making things harder than usual, so on the second turn I decided to send two ready heroes to a headline instead of the usual one. Both Wolverine and Storm where at full health because there was no combat before the fight with Kingpin.
    The fight was epic, with Kingpin taking full advantage of his ability thanks to a big hand of villain cards. First Storm tried using her combat ability and high defense skill but in two rounds was down thanks to some good outwit rolls from Kingpin and good use of his resistance ability. Then Wolverine gave him a harder time, managing to inflict a KO thanks to his high attack with the red power. He also took advantage of his healing ability, giving Kingpin a hard time. Kingpin kept choosing yellow to try to hit Wolverine in the outwit phase, and I kept choosing orange to maximize the chance of healing. The last round was very tense as we both had 1 KO and Kingpin had the initiative. She chose yellow and I risked choosing red. Kingpin failed his attack and I was about to roll 5 dice but got 0 hits... That was the end. Kingpin easily won the outwit roll. This was an epic combat and the reason I still love this game. Full of hard decisions and chances to outguess your opponent :D

    During this turn, my gf managed to complete a headline but was stopped by Red Skull too, in a not so epic fight with Spiderman who had a very hard time...

    So, at the end of the second turn, we both had two parts of the master plan (in this scenario the winner is the player with most VPs at the end of turn 5 but if a player gets the three parts of his master plan, they instantly win).

    At that point I saw how the lack of cards and plot points was also hindering my fights with the heroes so I decided to skip one turn and only put a couple of heroes in support to use their support abilities and get some cards and plot points. I was quite ahead on points so I thought it was a good idea, because this way, she wouldn't get a chance to complete her master plan.

    So next turn she decides to complete a headline with Dr. Strange and Elektra in support. As I had the villain power of getting an extra scheming action that meant I could do all three. Trouble level went up to 10 (7 after Dr. Strange reduced it) and I got lots of villain cards, but none were too powerful so I was about to pass on the fight when I remembered The Absorbing Man. He's a "most wanted" villain, so he was available for use. I decided to at least try to get a hit on Dr. Strange to make things easier for Red Skull, but in the end by using his orange power (very high defense) and spending a couple of cards for his special power (inflict a KO if you get at least 4 hits on the defense roll) I managed to defeat Dr. Strange yet again. Red Skull could then complete his master plan unhindered.

    This was a very fun game, tense, and with some great moments. It was one of the few times that I regretted the result of a combat where I had won, as it meant I didn't get the chance to fight Red Skull on the next turn with my heroes at maximum power (I had gotten the "danger room" power and was about to get some allies out too). It was also one of the rare occasions where I've wanted to play a longer game like this again right after finishing.

    So, what can I say? After 4 years playing this game (and at an average of 1 game a month for almost 2 years with periods of 1 game a week) I still find this game amazingly fun. Granted, I don't want to play it every week now, but a game that can last this long is something rare, and I'm glad I didn't listen to the naysayers back then :D (If you haven't tried it, don't listen to them now!)

    I'm also sad that this game lost the support of Marvel so soon, because it is a game that deserves being in print and supported. It's a gem that was hindered by a bad rulebook and it maybe was too original and unusual for some people that didn't really bother learning it well enough to appreciate it. Well... it's their loss :p I look forward to playing this many more times, especially now that my son is starting to read quite well (this is one of the few games I bought in its Spanish edition) and will soon be able to play with us! :D

  •  

    For all too many folks currently, as it would appear to myself at least, then not enough people tend to 'credit' what this person had accomplished, and it isn't truly their fault about it all. Still, to help them become more better educated on the matter, then here that is now!  

  • Sing it Possum.

  • Like, cosmic, man!”

     

    The many-splendoured universe that is digitial gaming is terra incognita to me I must confess. I mean, I’ve played video games hundreds and hundreds of times: across different platforms- arcade games, Spectrum games, PC games, console games, social network games; in genres too numerous to mention, but which barely amount to a representative sample of what digital gaming is and has been. All those games, and all I know about the single most important new gaming medium of our age is the depth of my woeful ignorance.

  • Breathing heavily, Graeme held his Claymore aloft and screamed, “T’ME, BERETS! T’ME, HIGHLANDERS! It’s time t’run them off!” He rushed to engage a figure that separated itself from the shadows.  He was not fast enough.

    The Shock Trooper raised its P1000 handgun and fired. Graeme’s battle cry was cut short as the bullet entered his chest, causing him to stumble to his knees.  The Highlander, using his Claymore as a crutch, tried to stand. A staccato burst of a TSW4000reverberated in the night, its muzzle flare giving away its controller’s position. The shells cut Graeme to ribbons.

    Despite the raging firefight surrounding him, Malakai closed his eyes and stood motionless. Millicent’s pained scream reached his covered ears over the din.

    “NO!!!”

    The Shock Troopers moved in, edging towards the Highlander’s body, laying down suppressive fire from their sidearms. With little stopping power, the bullets failed to penetrate the armor covering the Blood Berets. The Berets returned fire, killing three of the troopers, including the one carrying the machine gun. Shaken by the loss of their support weapon, the two remaining Shock Troopers retreated back the way they came and disappeared from sight. Millicent, with tears blurring her vision, fired her Invader at the now withdrawing Machinators, doing little to harm them. When they were gone, she threw down her weapon and ran to Graeme’s corpse. His blood stained her gloved hands and armor as she cradled him in her lap, tears diluted the blood spatters on the eternally slumbering face of her lover.

    “Sergeant?”

    Millicent turned to seeMalakai approach her and stop a short distance away. His armored body was outlined by the lights coming from the house, making him look completely sinister.

    “Ailín,” she whimpered, rocking Graeme back and forth.

    “We are not done here, Sergeant Rowley,” Malakai said, pointing to the fleeing Cybertronic soldiers. “As long as they taint this asteroid, it will not be over.” He stared down at her through opaque lenses, noting her face showed the strains of age, but was still beautiful. That face turned from sadness to anger as the Inquisitor’s words sunk in.

    “Squad, to me,” Millicent ordered and they complied. Her second in command approached and handed her her discarded Invader.  She reloaded the weapon with skilled precision and then turned her attention to Malakai. “I will do my best to purge the filth, Your Grace.” There was a long pause before he responded.

    “I have every confidence in your abilities,” Malakai replied. Millicent nodded, motioning for her men to move out. With a heavy heart, Malakai turned and walked back to the manor, knowing all too well that his Mother was going to be crushed by what he already knew.

     

    At their dropship, Sergeant Michaels a quickly typed a message into the communication’s system and sent it to the BLACK ICE, the cruiser that effected their transport to the asteroid.

    STRIKE TEAM ENIGMA REPORTING. 

    MISSION STATUS: PRIMARY OBJECTIVE – COMPLETE.

                                SECONDARY OBJECTIVE – NOT COMPLETE.

    INSUFFICIENT RESOURCES TO FULFILL BOTH OBJECTIVES. REQUEST PICKUP.

    Michaels waited patiently for the response. The Machinators, along with his sole remaining squad member, were patrolling the forest near the craft. It wasn’t long until the response came:

    CV BLACK ICE RESPONDING. 

    REQUEST DENIED. SECONDARY OBJECTIVE NOT ACHIEVED. DAMAGE TO VESSEL MOUNTING FROM INDTERDICTING IMPERIAL VESSELS. MISSION ABORTED.

    NEW ORDER - STRIKE TEAM ENIGMA: SCATTER.

    Michaels flinched at the terse answer, but still replied.

    ACKNOWLEDGED.  

  • Inquisitor Majoris Malakai reclined in the leather seats of the F.A. Sterling, his helmeted head resting on his gloved palm, while through the helmet’s opaque lenses he watched the terraformed landscape of the Fergan Clan’s asteroid slide swiftly by.  Dotted on the lush fields surrounding the winding road was the clan’s lifeblood: cattle.

    “We are almost to the manor, Inquisitor Majoris,” his driver said, as the car drove underneath the Fergan Arch bracketing the road.

    “Good.  This visit will be short,” Malakai’s voice sounded resonant and distant because of his helmet.  “Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  Once I am finished my work here, I am going to have to leave quickly.”

    “Yes, Inquisitor Majoris.”

    The Sterling purred to a stop outside of the Fergan Clan manor house.  The clan’s home was a large and sprawling estate, mostly reserved for raising cattle, but still had a good bit left over for the humans and their dwellings.  The night fled from the warm, inviting light that glimmered from the open bay windows.  The sounds of boisterous conversation and laughter floated lazily out to the Inquisitor’s car.  Malakai stared at the house with apprehension, which was unheard of in an Inquisitor, much less a Majoris.

    “Your Grace?”

    Malakai’s turned his head slightly to glance at his driver.  The man’s name was Willoughby, who came from a well to do family that was affiliated with the Fergans.  He wasn’t blood, but he was a Fergan, and as loyal as they came.  The Inquisitor sighed ruefully.  “Yes, yes,” he muttered as he opened the passenger door, much to the chagrin of his driver.  Willoughby hurriedly tried to get out of the sedan so he could formally open his passenger’s door, but Malakai held up his hand to stop him.

    “It is quite all right, Willoughby.  I think I can handle this myself,” Malakai said as he got out of the car and shut the door behind him.  With a heavy heart, he walked up the steps to the front door and struck the knocker, which was in the form of the clan’s crest: the black bull.  There were quiet sounds of movement coming through the thick oak door, and after a pause, it opened.

    A short, rotund woman with hair the color of dried straw stood at the threshold.  Malakai was at least a head and a half taller than she.  Her grey eyes were large with shock at the commanding figure that stood on her doorstep.  Her eyes scanned the Inquisitor from the ichthys-style helmet that covered his head, to the black, double leveled shoulder pads, to the crimson and black raiment he wore, down to his large black boots.  Once she looked him over, she returned her gaze to his covered face.

    “Lady EimhearFergan,” Malakai intoned to his hostess, nodding his head in acknowledgement.

    “Ach, take tha’ thing offer ye napper so’s aye kin see ye proper,” Lady Fergan said with her eyes welling up with tears of joy and a broad smile spreading across her face.  Reluctantly, Malakai did so and placed the helmet into the waiting hands of Dónal, the butler.   With a whoop of happiness, Lady Fergan charged Malakai, wrapped her arms around his broad trunk, and rocked him forcibly back and forth.  “Oh, Ailín!  Aye never thought ye make it!” 

    Malakai rolled his eyes and looked heavenward.  “It is ‘Malakai’, Ma. As in, ‘Inquisitor Majoris Malakai,” he said, kneeling down so he could look into her eyes.  Tears began to crease down the sides of her aged face and her wrinkled hands took his face in their grasp.

    “Ye wil always be Ailín to me,” she responded warmly and then hugged him tightly to her.  For all her eighty years, and even after he heard the Calling of the Cardinal, she still considered him her baby.  “Happy Cardinalmas, m’son.”

    Every year, the Fergan Clan, as with most Light fearing cathedral goers, would hold a celebration on the birth date of the founding Cardinal, Durand the First.  Usually, the celebrations would last for days but Malakai knew he would not be there long enough to enjoy the festivities.

  • “Happy Cardinalmas, Ma,” Malakai replied to her warmly. Her head still buried in his chest, Eimhear did not see the melancholy expression on her son’s face. She squeezed him tightly one last time and released him, wiping away her stray tears.

    “Ev’ryone is ‘ere. Millicent, too.” Lady Fergan gave a sideways glance to her son as they walked to the drawing room. Outwardly, he showed no response to the information. Inwardly, his stomach lurched. His Ma always knew what buttons to push.

    “I’m sure my brother Graeme will be pleased,” Malakai replied coolly. Raucous voices filtered out of the drawing room, muffled by the thick wood paneling. Just as his mother prepared to open the double doors, a cheer erupted. She turned to her son, eyebrows arched, but said nothing as she opened the doors.

    The room was near capacity with party guests. Half of them wore the dress uniform of the Blood Berets, with their signature beret nestled under their right shoulder epaulet. The other half were from the Highlander Clan Warriors, another Imperial Special Force. Their look was more functional, less decorative. All of them were surrounding a couple locked in a long, passionate kiss underneath a 1,000 Cardinal’s Crown attached to the threshold that led to the manor’s rear ball room.  It was a common tradition during Cardinalmas to kiss your beloved under one for good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

    The couple was his brother and Millicent Rowley, a member of another attached family to the clan. His brother wore the trappings of a highly decorated hero of the Highlanders, while Millicent wore the dress uniform of a Blood Beret sergeant. As the partygoers observed the new arrivals, the cheering died down almost immediately; some of the Berets crossed themselves upon sight of Malakai.

    Millicent and Graeme, noticing the change in the atmosphere, broke their kiss and looked in the direction of the entrance. 

    Malakai discovered that their expressions were unchanged from the last time he caught them together, so many years ago.

    “Graeme? Are ye down 'ere?” Ailín called down the hallway leading  to his and his brother’s rooms. Revisor Malcom is about t'leave.” No answer.

    He was about to look elsewhere when he heard muffled noises coming from his brother’s bedroom. At first, he wasn’t sure if he did indeed hear anything. Then, after a moment, he heard an indistinct conversation resume. Slowly, he walked to his brother’s closed door.

     “Graeme?”

    More muffled voices, speaking quickly.

    Ailín tried the door to his brother’s room, it was unlocked. He opened it, saying, “Graeme, why didn’t ye - ?”

    The sentence died in his throat. His brother’s four poster bed was opposite the door. Graeme was sitting on the bed, stark naked, trying to pull up his pants. He looked at his intruding brother and blanched.

    Millicent was also there, under the warm covers of his brother’s bed. Her face blushed with embarrassment; she bit her lower lip apprehensively.

    “Did ye ever hear o' knockin'?” Graeme grumbled. His admonishment of his brother soon faded when he saw the incensed expression on Ailín’s face.

    “How dare ye?” Ailín hissed through clenched teeth. His eyes went from Graeme to Millicent, then back to Graeme. The color faded from his brother’s cheeks.

    “Wait, ye n' Millie? Ailín, Aye swear aye didn’ know!” Graeme sprang from his bed and approached his brother in a reconciliatory manner.

    Ailín’s fist swung out and connected squarely with his brother’s left cheek, sending him sprawling across the room. Millicent squealed at the sudden violence and rushed to Graeme’s side, nakedness be damned.

    “Save it,” Ailín said to his prone sibling. After a long, disdainful look at the couple, he turned on his heel and walked out of Graeme’s room, slamming the door behind him.

    Millicent and Graeme broke their embrace with a mien of guilt. As Millicent straightened her uniform, Graeme walked towards his brother and bowed respectfully. As he stood up, Malakai noted the hard look on his brother’s face.

    “Inquisitor Majoris,” Graeme greeted his brother.

    “Major Fergan,” Malakai formally replied in kind. He glanced about the room, acknowledging that everyone kept quiet, or if they did speak, spoke in hushed whispers.  He raised his hands in an entreating gesture.

    “Don't dampen the festivities on my account, everyone. Besides, it has been many a year since this Inquisitor tasted a round of the clan's finest stout!” Malakai intoned as he grabbed a full glass off a passing tray and held it as a toast. “To the Cardinal.” The guests raised their glasses high.

    “To the CARDINAL!” the Highlanders bellowed, Graeme included. They easily drowned out the Berets' cheer. Malakai brought the glass to his lips and downed it in one motion, wincing at the taste. The reason for his interval from the clan's porter was not because of his vow, but because the brew tasted hideous to him. A Fergan all his life, and couldn't stomach their beer. To him, bull’s urine tasted better, knowing that unpleasant fact to a dare made by Graeme himself when they were kids.

    Graeme watched his brother’s expression with guarded amusement. “Now tha’ ye have taken off th’ robe, aye need ye t’put it back on fer a wee bit,” he said as he watched Malakai wipe his mouth with his hand. “Aye need t’ask a favor.”

    Malakai’s eyes glanced sideways to his mother. She held her feelings plainly on her face. Worry covered it.   He set his glass down on a nearby table. “Very well, what is it?” he replied.

    “Let’s talk about this in private,” Graeme replied.

    “As you wish,” Malakai said, motioning for the exit to an adjacent drawing room.

  • Malakai entered the room first, taking in the sight and smell of it. It was where he and his brother used to play. They would imagine that they were Trenchers of the 32nd Battalion fighting off the hordes of Legionnaires issuing forth from Saladin's citadel like a foul river. Little had changed in the time since he left to join the Brotherhood. His dead grandfather's portrait that hung over the fireplace mantle was replaced with that of his father, who died in the Gideon Offensive on Mercury. When he got the news, he was still a Missionary with the Second Directorate. Not long after that, it was discovered by one of his tutors that he had the gift of using the Art. That gift allowed him to train as an Inquisitor and was his path out of the Mission.

    “Canna believe tha' Da's been gone nigh fifteen years,” Graeme said, closing the door behind him. He walked over to the bar and picked up the brandy decanter. “Somethin' ta wash away th' taste?”

    “You read my mind, Graeme,” Malakai replied, turning to his brother. Graeme poured two glasses and joined Malakai in the center of the room, handing him a glass. They both stood there, staring at each other without a word.  Neither one knew where to begin, but Graeme tried first.

    “T'ye health, brother,” Graeme said, holding up his glass. He noticed Malakai swallow hard as he raised his glass in kind.

    “To yours,” Malakai softly replied and they both drank. Once finished, both of them fell into an uncomfortable silence.

    “Well, Graeme, what is it that you wish of me?” Malakai asked sternly. Graeme's face twisted into a grimace and some of the color faded from his cheeks.

    “Aye was thinkin', “ Graeme stammered, “o' askin' Millie t'marry me. Aye plan on askin' her t'night.” He gulped visibly as he watched his brother's passive face for any reaction. “My request is tha' aye would like ye t'officiate th' ceremony, Ailín.”

    Malakai's jaw tightened, but he said nothing.

    “Are ye gunna keep me in suspense?” Graeme asked at his brother's silence. Malakai sighed.

    “No.”

    “Well? What's ye answer?” his brother expectantly asked.

    “No ismy answer, Graeme,” Malakai calmly said.

    Anger darkened Graeme’s face like a spreading eclipse. “Twenty years. It’s been twenty years, n’ye still carry a grudge. Unbelievable.”

    “No, I do not,” Malakai replied as he walked past his brother and set down his glass on an end table. He then moved to the large bay windows that overlooked the front of the manor, his eyes scanning the firmament.

    “Really? Then what’s ye reason not to?” Graeme retorted to his brother’s back. Malakai said nothing in return.  “Ye wouldn’t –“ Graeme started to say more, but Malakai cut him off.

    “I still would have said no, even if Ma asked me,” he interrupted, his eyes still scanning the heavens. At long last, he found the bright contrail of light. It streaked across the night sky and then stopped and disappeared . A few moments later, the light streak appeared once more and vanished into the horizon. After it was gone, another contrail much smaller than the first, dimly lit the darkness at the point where the original initially disappeared.

    The small line of light sailed towards the manor house, passing high overhead and out of Malakai’s sight.

    Graeme’s anger at his brother soon gave way to puzzlement. “How did ye - ?” was all he got out to his brother’s abrupt response. Malakai held up a raised index finger, requesting him to wait. Then Malakai pointed to an intercom speaker mounted near the door.

    As if on cue, the speaker crackled into life.

    “Major Fergan, Inquisitor Majoris Malakai? This is Sergeant Mills. We have received a call from the clan’s spaceport. They just received an urgent message from the captain of the HSSVenture. TheVenturedetected a ship emerging from the rift. The captain positively identified the ship as Cybertronic. He also confirmed a drop ship was launched from the enemy vessel. TheVentureis planning on giving chase, but wanted to notify the ground what was happening and to prepare. Major Fergan, shall we put the house guard on alert?”

    “Aye, get –“

    “That will not be necessary, Sergeant. Have the guard sequester our family in the holdout bunker until I give the all clear.

    There was a momentary pause over the intercom. “Ye- Yes, Your Grace,” the sergeant replied before the intercom fell silent. Graeme turned on his brother angrily.

    “What gives ye th' right t'make th' order???” Graeme hissed. “Aye kin take care o' th' family wit'out runnin' off like ye did.”

    “There are two reasons, dear brother,” Malakai said, fixing his blue eyes coldly on Graeme. “I am an Inquisitor Majoris. With the heretical bastards of Cybertronic on our rear doorstep, it means that I have authority to deal with this Legion attack on behalf of the Brotherhood. Second, I'm the eldest, Graeme. Brotherhood or no, I am the man of the house while I am here or did you forget that?”

    Graeme averted his eyes, scowling at the rebuke. He only looked at his brother when Malakai approached and placed his hands on his shoulders.

    “Did your men come prepared?” Malakai asked, with a half smile. “Or, are we going to fight this fight with cocktail forks?”

    Graeme huffed. “O' course. Chief Haig brought his squad fully loaded fer bear. Millie's men brought theirs, too.”

    Malakai's smile broadened. “Then let's give them a taste of Fergan wrath.”

  • When the party attendants heard of the plan to repel Cybertronic, they wasted no time in getting ready. Armor was put on, assault weapons were loaded, and faces filled earlier with levity became grim. Malakai returned the closed helmet to his head and slipped his right arm through the straps that attached his AC-40 to its usual spot underneath his forearm. All of them walked out to the rear grounds and waited.

    In the distance, the Imperial soldiers heard the whining of servomotors and felt faint impact tremors under their feet. As time went on, both sensations became more pronounced.

    Malakai strode away from the group of huddled soldiers, towards the direction of the disturbance, and stopped a good distance from them. He gripped the handle of his AC-40 and stood stock still, waiting. He tried using the Art, but could not focus fast enough to use it before the enemy appeared.

    Out of the darkness it came, lurching with jerky steps into Malakai’s sight a mere ten meters from his position. The thing towered over the Inquisitor by a good two meters. It was one of Cybertronic’s abominable war machines, an Eradicator Deathdroid.

    “Chicken walker!!” Malakai heard someone exclaim.

    The Blood Berets wasted no time into moving into position. Once the droid was spotted, they peppered it with fire from their Invaders. The battle droid ignored the bullets striking its egg shaped body as if they were nothing more than raindrops. A burst of fire from Millicent’s Invader cut across the droid’s glowing right eye, putting it out. The glow returned moments later.

    Graeme ran to his brother’s side, pausing momentarily to yell orders over his comm. “Chief Haig, get Madison up ‘ere with th’ Charger n’ have th’ rest o’ th’ squad support him. Berets! Ye canna hit anything from the back seats! Move in, ye lollies, or do ye need me t’hold yer hand?” He then raised his Claymore and hurtled towards the Eradicator.

    As ordered, Private Madison rushed after Major Fergan. Once he had the droid in his sights, he braced the sixteen barreled Gatling gun against his hip and squeezed the trigger. The gun roared into life as a staggering fusillade was brought against the mechanical monster. However, the private was too eager to please the Major, as his shots missed the mark due to inadequate bracing. The rest of the Highlanders moved into a support position as they were told. The Blood Berets moved their firing line closer to the droid and emptied their weapons at it. Again, their attacks were mostly ignored, bouncing off the heavily armored body. Twice, the fire from the Berets caused the Eradicator to lurch before righting itself.

    Suddenly, a caricature of a human form emerged from the darkness, bearing a shield in one hand and a sword in the other. It was a Machinator, a cheap battlefield construct. It methodically moved to Madison, whose attention was fixed on the Eradicator, and stabbed the private through his side, sending the heated blade through the human’s lung and heart. The Charger slipped to the ground, with the Highlander following suit. Without pause, the construct withdrew its sword and attacked Corporal Dunnings. This time, its quarry was prepared and the Machinator’s weapon was turned away by the Highlander’s Punisher sword.

    Another Machinator charged from the shadows and attacked both Chief Haig and Corporal Dunnings. The Cybertronic blade sliced through both Highlanders as if they were mere saplings. Haig’s body sagged without its right arm, while Dunnings’ entrails stained the ground. The last Highlander alive backed away from the carnage. He was prepared to turn and run when a searing pain bit into the center of his back.  There was a twisting sensation and the Highlander died shortly afterwards.

    Malakai focused his mind, using the Art of Mentalism to harden his skin to the strength of steel. Enemy fire struck him several times, only to ricochet off his invulnerable body. He twisted, took aim at one of the Machinators, and squeezed the thumb trigger to his AC-40. Tracer fire lit up the darkness. But with preternatural speed, the Machinator brought up its shield and blocked the rounds heading for its head.

    Meanwhile, the Eradicator turned towards Graeme, leveled its right arm at him, and a gout of flames rushed out. Graeme dove out of the way, rolled forward, and sprang up again even closer to the droid. Again, the flamer nightmarishly lit up the gloom. This time, the inferno caught the Highlander in its hungry grasp. Malakai watched impassively, even though he could hear Millicent scream his brother’s name.

    From out of the conflagration, a figure shot out, still running full tilt at the Eradicator. His body was untouched by the flames, but he quickly discarded the heavy cloak that was still being consumed by them. “It’ll take a lot more o’ that t’kill me!” Graeme bellowed as he closed with his inhuman opponent. 

    His Claymore raised, Graeme brought it down on the Eradicator’s left leg in a two handed chop. Sparks flew as the sword was deflected by the polycarbonate armor. The droid backed up, lowering its body to spot its foe. What it got for its troubles was a Claymore piercing its egg shaped body, severing several systems regulating its balance. The droid tottered drunkenly, swinging its flamethrower to bear. Graeme ducked underneath it and then turned, bringing his Claymore down on the lightly armored elbow joint. In a shower of sparks, the severed Magmascorcher fell away from the droid’s body. Before it could recover, Graeme pressed his advantage, swinging his sword again. He sliced through the Eradicator’s right knee joint, sending the bulky droid plummeting to the earth. Smoke billowed out from the seams of its body, its glowing eyes went dark.

  • I recently moved to a new city for a job.  My girlfriend just left for a two-week vacation.  I'm in the middle of a four-day weekend.  I'd been wearing my housecoat all day and had just eaten a dozen chocolate-chip cookies for supper while watching re-runs of Tenacious D on HBO on Demand.   Good god, I'm bored. 

    Wait, I know!  It's been two months since I cracked open a board game...  I should solo a game of Arkham Horror!  And, great idea upon great idea, I should take notes and write up my first deliciously witty session report!  (Never mind the fact that I can't tell a story for shit.)

     So that was my stupid idea last night.  I'm not going to follow through with my session report.  I gave up on that idea during the game.  Instead, here's a session report about a guy who's too lazy and unimaginative to write a session report.

    --------------------------------------------------------

     The players: Kate Winthrop, the sexy scientist, and Darrell Simmons, the sexy photographer.  Shub-Niggurath, the sexy floating red mouths, has come to make their lives considerably more difficult. 

    So, setup, I grab the investigators' items.  Ho, ho!!  Darrell has drawn a Press Pass.  How perfect!  This story is writing itself!  And... some dynamite.  Uhh... I'll figure out how to spin that later.

     At this point, I still have no idea how I'm supposed to go about writing one of these things.   From what perspective should a session report be told?  Kate's?  Darrell's?  Shub's?

    I draw the first Mythos card to get this lonely party started for reals: "Headline: Help Wanted."  The newspaper is offering a retainer to the first investigator to take the time during an interdimensional crisis to gain secondary employment.  Awesome!  Now Kate and Darrell are both working for the paper.  I can write this sucker from the perspective of the editor!  I watched about 20 minutes of Spider-Man 3 between episodes of D, so I can channel that J Jonah vibe.  This shit is too easy!

     *two rounds later, both investigators lose their retainers in the upkeep phase*

     Fuck!

     *two rounds later*

    At this point, I look back at my notes to see the phrase "nothing interesting happens" about a half-dozen times already.  I mean, there wasstuff happening -- like Darrell diving  off a bridge to avoid some drunk college douches in a Model T, or Kate buying a motorcycle out of a stranger's car trunk (?) -- but I didn't want to have to tie everythingtogether.  I wanted a tight, concise story (you know, the exact opposite of what I'm doing now).  I was having trouble deciding what was worth using and what was superfluous.

     *twenty rounds later*

    All right, lots of tangible stuff for a clever storyteller to weave a tale with now!

    The  Southside Strangler struck, eventually killing three of my allies.  On the same Mythos card, a Maniac was added to the board, who Kate later killed without use of a weapon.  (Note: I'll have to write that one as by strangulation since everyone loves such ironic twists.)  Later on, a Zombie appears where the Maniac was previously killed.  Perfect!  It can be the Strangler risen from the dead!  Kate kills the Zombie without a weapon.  (Note: I'll have to write that one as by strangul... wait, how do you kill a zombie without a weapon?)  Kate was later arrested for impersonating a customer at Ye Olde Magick Shoppe.  (Good thing she wasn't caught choking a man to death in the streets in front of the police station earlier on or her fine might have been greater than $2.)

     Meanwhile, Darrell's  collecting clues with his press pass (wait, wasn't this prick fired like five minutes into the game?) and sealing open gates like a motherfucker.  He also bought a .45 Automatic, which I think was the only weapon either of them had throughout the game, apart from Darrell's dynamite he started with, that I guess his employer at the newspaper must have supplied him with:

      "Simmons!  We need some shots of that floaty mouth thing for the front page!  But it's pretty hairy out there.  Better take this."

    "Dynamite?"

    "Yeah, to keep you safe."

    "To keep me safe? You're giving me fucking dynamite to keep me safe?"

    "Yeah, and if you want to keep pocketing that $2 retainer, you'll go and get me those shots!  If you don't think you can handle it, there's plenty of sexy scientists in this town who would kill -- literally strangle a man -- for $2.  In fact, "Help Wanted"... that'll be our first headline!"

    Apart from that, Darrell's journey was relatively uneventful, despite the fact that he was the only one doing anything actually directed towards winning the bloody game.  So I could write a slightly intriguing story about Kate doing much ado about nothing, or I could write a slightly dull story about Dynamite Darrell's other-wordly adventures.  Either option sounded like a lot of work on my part, and I had enough work ahead of me putting this mammoth fucker of a game back in the box at 1:00 AM when I was finished.

     At about this time, I realized I didn't have it in me to be a session reporter and I stopped taking notes.  Too bad, really, because what a fucking ending!  Shub finally devoured Kate, defeating me with just one doom token left on the track!  (She had a great combination of spells by this point that gave her a strong attack without costing her sanity.) 

    A satisfying end to a great game, and an abrupt end to a meandering blog entry.

  • Snapshots from JMcL63's lands of adventure

     
  • Done down by dastardly Donald's devious duplicity!

    Snapshots from JMcL63's lands of adventure
    • We get our first game of Battlestar Galactica: the Board  Game.
    • I give it the full RD/KA! treatment.
    • And some other stuff.
    ;)
  • The fickle finger of fate

    •  The Cylon menace rears its ugly head for the 2nd time.
    • We get our Crimson Skies factions sorted for our upcoming campaign.
    ;)
  • Meanwhile...

    • C3i, Combat Commander, completism and contentment
      • C3i is GMT's house magazine, published by Rodger MacGowan, whose work I first encountered on the covers of Squad Leader and Panzer Blitz, to name 2 notable examples.
    ;)