Sunday, July 5, 2015

My First Game of BOLT ACTION WW2 Miniatures Wargaming

Over two years ago (wow!) I picked up the BOLT ACTION core rules book, several Army Books, and a small force of British Commandos (naturally - new readers, look to the left of this article...). I reviewed the game in the abstract over on the Post Modern Pulp Blog, but I figured an actual game report was best suited to this blog (I'll put a "Hey, take a look" post up over on PMP pointing back here as well).

This past Friday, my friend and fellow author Dan Eldredge and I got together to play out a game of Bolt Action for the first time. Neither of us has had the time to fully paint our armies, and we agreed to not do a full battle report (the shame of a formal bat-rep containing unpainted miniatures would be too much for Dan to bear...), but we had the day to get together and enough miniatures to fight a good-sized battle, so we brought together everything that was assembled and decided to just have a go at it and try out as many of the units and rules as possible.

In short, I fielded a mixed force of British Army and Commando forces, with a bunch of weapons teams, a Daimler armored car, and a Sherman tank. Dan fielded a platoon of Panzergrenadiers in half-tracks, along with several weapon teams, a squad of veteran late-war grenadiers carrying StG 44 assault rifles, and a Tiger tank (yikes!). We played an "Envelopment" scenario, where the attacker (Germans) tries to break through the defender's (British) lines. This seemed well suited to our units, since none of my infantry had transports and I had a ton of weapons teams (mortars, AT rifle, Vickers machine gun, etc.), while Dan had mechanized infantry and a powerful tank. 
British on the near side of the board, Germans on the far side

One immediate difference we noticed between Bolt Action and Warhammer 40K (which we've both played a lot over the years) was the effects of pinning and morale. The more a unit takes fire from enemies, the more they are "pinned", and a pinned unit has to take a morale test in order to do...well...almost anything. A unit can get pinned into utter uselessness without taking a single casualty, a situation in stark comparison to 40K, where many armies have very high morale and many units are Fearless or Stubborn or otherwise ignore various morale situations. The mission began with a bombardment of my lines, and although I only suffered one casualty, many of my units suffered pinning and a couple even broke and ran! This caused me quite a bit of trouble early on, as a number of my units couldn't get into the fight for the first couple of turns (thankfully I had a lot of units, so I wasn't completely hampered in this regard).

Dan's Panzergrenadiers made a bold thrust into the center of my lines, determined to punch through my regular infantry and split my forces. My poor infantry section stood their ground for a short while, before weight of fire from several squads of Germans, as well as their support weapons, caused the unit to suffer too many casualties and eventually break and get wiped out. In Bolt Action, if you lose half a unit's models in a turn, and they fail a morale test, the unit is destroyed. This definitely keeps the tempo of a battle going and prevents tiny remnant units running around ineffectually.

The Poor Bloody Infantry, about a turn away from being wiped from the board. Note the Tiger in the distance...
Once Dan's infantry had punched a hole in my lines, he also managed to immobilize my Sherman with a single shot from his Tiger. I quickly found myself staring into a lot of enemy gun barrels, and decided some audaciousness was in order. So, I turned to my Commandos and sent them into the teeth of the enemy, bayonets and daggers gleaming, Sten guns blazing away. In Bolt Action, an assault is dangerous - the enemy gets to react by firing on the charging unit if they start far enough away - but there is no draw, just victory or death for the attacker. Thankfully for me, Commandos are "Tough Fighters" and excel at the assault, and so I wiped out one of Dan's squads in a flurry of bullets, blades, and bayonets.

An empty shell crater is all that's left of the Panzergrenadier squad, while their mates to the right look away in horror...
At this point, Dan's officer jumps into the half-track and opens fire on my Commandos with its machine gun, and the other infantry squad also opens fire, as does the advancing Tiger tank. Seeing my center forced open yet again, my Forward Artillery Officer calls down a barrage of artillery fire on the German squad (see the white die with the bulls-eye in the photo above). Unfortunately, the blast radius of the barrage is HUGE, and over the next two rounds, a number of units - both friend and foe - are pinned or damaged, and my poor medic and his stretcher-bearer (the bare metal models in the top-right of the above photo) are killed by a heavy howitzer shell!

Determined to press on, Dan drives his Tiger tank through the bombardment zone and tries to get off of my size of the board, since his infantry are so pinned by the bombardment that they're refusing to embark on their transport. With my Sherman immobilized and out of line-of-sight, and my armored car on the other side of the board (he's been sniping at a German MMG unit and the veteran Grenadiers all game), all I've got to deal with the tiger is my lone PIAT anti-tank gunner, who lost his loader and broke and ran in the opening bombardment. He's finally collected himself and lost his pinning penalties, and he moves forward, finally getting within good range for a shot at the Tiger's flank.

Steady hands now, lad! Make it count!
He misses with his first shot due to moving and firing and long range, but the second shot hits. I roll a "5" for damage, enough to cause a penetrating hit, and I get another "5" on the damage table, knocking out the Tiger. With only one infantry squad left, Dan makes a roll to see if the heavily-pinned unit will board its Hanomag half-track, and it fails. At this point, Dan concedes defeat, since he really can't get anyone off my side of the board in the next turn (this was the end of turn 5).

Overall, we both had a lot of fun. The rules move fast once you get the hang of them, and while the game isn't exactingly realistic, there are enough elements that make sense to give it a feeling of completeness and logic. The effects of pinning especially can be very frustrating, but it makes sense that your men aren't just blithely going about their business as shells explode and bullets snap all around them. You also need to make sure you're using your officers' Morale bonuses to their best effect, something I think neither of us paid much attention to during the game.

I'm not sure when we'll have another chance to play, but we're both looking forward to another battle, this time with the game mechanics more firmly understood and a better idea of how the game itself plays out. When we do, I'll be sure to post another report.

Until next time, Cheers!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tankards and Broadswords Awakens!

So...yeah! It's been a couple of years since I posted, but I'm resurrecting this blog because of a number of developments in the Fantasy / Gaming front going on over here. Many thanks to those of you who've kept me in your feed - comments here are always welcome! In January of last year, I published a Swords & Sorcery novella, Spiders and Flies. It was largely written back in 2001 as an homage to pulpy S&S fantasy fiction a la Robert E. Howard and the like, set in a world I had created as a campaign setting for my SCORE homebrew RPG system. So far, sales have been slow, but I get a nibble now and then, and reviews have been overall very positive, which is quite nice.

The story follows four adventurers as they trek into a nearby desert wasteland in order to plunder the abandoned temple of a mostly-forgotten spider god. As you might guess, things don't go as smoothly as the treasure-hunters anticipated! There's a lot of adventure and bloody violence, and it is a short, quick read of about 20,000 words, enough to entertain you for about a hour's reading pleasure. It is available on Amazon as either an ebook or a paperback. My friend and fellow author Dan Eldredge has published his second novel, The Grand Masquerade. This is the sequel to his debut work, The Pirates of Alnari, which I posted about two years ago.

If you like brutal, very realistic high-medieval combat, diabolical political intrigue, massive land and sea battles, and plenty of adventure, these books are a must-read. If you combined the coolest aspects of the Game of Thrones books and Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels, you'd get this series.

The Grand Masquerade (as well as The Pirates of Alnari) is available in ebook and paperback formats from Amazon. Click on the cover photo to go to the book's Amazon page.

In addition, I've put out two more COMMANDO novels since this blog was active - Operation Cannibal and Operation Dervish. Both are available on Amazon in ebook and paperback formats, and you can find them by clicking on the links provided to the left of this post. There's also my Western novella, Renegade's Revenge, and my '70s era men's adventure novel, San Francisco Slaughter. Both of these are also available on Amazon in ebook and print versions.

Beyond my writing, I've started gaming again. I'm running a 5th Edition Dungeon's & Dragons campaign, and I'm playing in a 4th Edition campaign. All I have to say is, WOW - the differences are enough to give you mental whiplash! More on this to come in more followup posts.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

FREE TODAY: The Pirates of Alnari by Dan Eldredge

Click the Cover to See on Amazon
Click the Cover to See on Amazon
My good friend Dan Eldredge's debut novel is free today on Amazon. If you dig pirates, swordfighting, intrigue, sex and violence, this book is definitely worth your time. Allow me to copy the book's product description from Amazon:
 Martyn and Arycke are two young nobles forced into hiding after experiencing an act of unspeakable violence. They buy passage on the Isalian frigate Selene, but after a bloody battle against two pirate vessels, Martyn and Arycke find themselves shipwrecked castaways along with a beautiful young woman, her ever-watchful grandfather, and the rest of the Selene's crew.
Unfortunately for the survivors, they now find themselves stranded within reach of the pirate city of Alnari. In short order, Martyn and Arycke find themselves fighting for their lives, not only against marauding bands of savage pirates, but mutinous elements within the Selene's own crew.

The shipwrecked survivors are dragged into a maelstrom of vengeance and intrigue, as rival pirate lords maneuver against each other for dominance over Alnari. Martyn, Arycke, and the rest of the Selene's crew will need every ounce of courage, cunning, and strength they possess if they hope to escape alive...

The Pirates of Alnari is a gritty fantasy adventure story filled with bloody naval battles and vicious sword fights, combining the cutthroat political intrigue of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire with the dashing nautical adventures of Patrick O’Brian.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

NANOK Gets a New Cover!

Ander Plana, the artist responsible for the excellent new cover gracing Operation Arrowhead has now provided me with a cover for my pastiche Swords & Sorcery short story, NANOK and the Tower of Sorrows.

Although it was a ton of fun to write, and I think it's a great read for fans of Sword & Sorcery-style fantasy fiction, NANOK hasn't been selling very well, so I decided to make the investment and get a new cover. I think Ander's creation is pretty damn awesome - true to the classic pulp fantasy cover feel, but with a more modern styling. I think he also does a good job of making the cover unique while tying it in to the general layout seen in my Commando covers.

If you have a chance, head over to and check out Ander's work - some great stuff (and I'm not just saying that because my commissioned works are there.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey (2012)

I went to see this movie with six other people, ranging from die-hard Tolkien fans to those who were tagging along mostly just to see a movie with their friends. At the end of this three-hour adventure, the impressions were unanimously positive, and I can't help but agree.

This movie is very clearly - far more clearly than the book, if you ask me - a prequel to the Lord of the Rings films. A lot of the added material, much of it events that are implied or could have easily happened off-stage in the original story, sets up the relationships between such powerful players as Saruman, Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and even the goofy but nevertheless very wise Radagast. This is the prelude to war, even though the war doesn't come about for another sixty years, and you can see the cunning of Gandalf as he moves his chess pieces onto the board and begins to carefully position them for the battle to come.

I had been wondering before seeing the film how they were going to take a book that was shorter than any of the three LotR novels, and expand it out into three whole movies. I think ultimately they did a serviceable job, although it is clear in some areas that things were done for the sake of making a good show of the story, rather than sticking to the narrative. One good example of this is the battle between the storm giants. I think this was an okay sequence, but at the same time, it could have been skipped or just reduced to "this storm is too much for us, we need to find shelter!". The storm giants are mentioned in passing in the book, but that's it. For the most part, I think that's going to be what we see in the next two films - things mentioned in passing or just touched upon in the book are going to be expanded into their own complete scenes, and we'll have to judge for ourselves whether this is just Peter Jackson playing around in Middle-Earth, or if it ultimately adds to the story in a meaningful way.

One aspect of the film that did actually bother me was the reliance on CG for the orcs and goblins. In the first three films, while there was some CG enhancement and sequences (the huge fights, the Moria goblins spider-climbing along the caverns, etc.), When seen up close and personal it was clear they were extras in costume. In this film, there might have been a bare handful of costumed and made-up extras, but the vast majority of bad guys are either wholly digital, or motion-captured like Gollum. I think it took a little something away from the spirit of the film, but such is the reality of making movies in the 21st century.

Regardless of a few quibbles I have about such things, I think this was an impressive movie, and if the next two films can maintain the standard set by An Unexpected Journey, I think this trilogy will stand tall next to their older siblings.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review: The Pirates of Alnari by Dan Eldredge

Click the Cover to See on Amazon
Click the Cover to See on Amazon
Please pardon the forthcoming preface, but I think it's important to set this review in the proper context...

The indie publishing explosion over the last few years has given a lot of people the opportunity to dust off their "desk drawer novels". You know, that book you wrote back when you were in grad school, typed on your girlfriends Mac in the wee hours of the morning? As soon as you got a real job, you left your dreams of becoming a writer behind, figuring there's no way you had the time or connections to break into the world of big time publishing. But it's still there, a printout sitting in your desk drawer, a little battered and faded, but every so often, you take it out, thumb through it, and wonder about what it might have been like to be a "Novelist".

Well, thanks to new technologies such as tablets, ebook readers, print-on-demand services, and so forth, becoming a published author is well within the reach of anyone who has the time and energy to tackle the process. Of course "The Process" is a 600-pound Sumo wrestler, and he's pretty unforgiving. Those folks who just re-type that desk drawer novel and throw it up on Amazon expecting to reap the royalties from thousands of ebook sales are in for a rude awakening. Even the people who follow all the advice and recommendations they see online given by dozens of successful indie authors may well find themselves staring at the "brown bar of shame" - the colored indicator in Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing report page that shows no sales for the month.

Years ago, a college friend of mine mentioned to me that he'd written a few fantasy novels, and asked if I'd wanted to read them. at the time (probably back in the early 90's) he'd farmed the manuscripts out to the usual Sci-Fi / Fantasy houses, and hadn't had any luck. I gave them a read, and although they were the works of an amateur author, I still found them fun and enjoyable stories. But as time went on and we both grew older, not only did I give up my own notions of becoming an author, but so did my friend. These became his "desk drawer novels".

Flash forward more than a decade. After helping me as a beta reader, editor, and endless source of support and counsel regarding my own books, my friend Dan decided to take the best of his old novels, strip it down to its barest elements, and re-write the entire book from soup to nuts. This process took more than a year, and after the draft was written there was the editing, beta reading, discussions of plot and character, so on and so forth. "The Process" is a real bear under the best of circumstances, but Dan's a busy guy, with a full time job and two young kids who keep him on his toes 24/7, so taking the journey from desk drawer novel to a completely rewritten manuscript ready for publishing was especially daunting.

At the end of it all, however, the result is a damn fine book.

The Pirates of Alnari is a "hard fantasy" novel, meaning it is set in a different world, but there is no magic, no elves, no demons or wizards, dungeons or dragons. You could consider it an alternate reality or an Earth that never was. The setting is roughly analogous to 15th-16th century Europe, although there are elements that feel more 18th or early 19th century. Regardless, the level of detail and realism is such that you are quickly pulled into the setting, and any notion that this is a "fantasy" world falls by the wayside.

The story revolves around two young noblemen, Martyn and Arycke. The book begins with them having just participated in something horrible and violent, but the details are left hidden to the reader - this is important, because the mystery of what happened will be slowly revealed throughout the book. Needless to say, there is more than one side to the story. The two young men feel that they need to flee the country, and so travel to the nearest port city and book passage on the first ship that'll get them away. Their ship is the Selene, an Isalian navy frigate willing to take on a few passengers during her voyage. Martyn and Arycke have never taken a sea voyage before, and the experience is new and exciting - even more so, when a beautiful young woman is brought on board as another passenger, along with her ever-watchful grandfather. Arycke, who has an ever-roving eye, immediately begins pursuing the young woman, much to Martyn's annoyance.

The sea voyage quickly turns deadly serious, however, when the ship encounters a pirate vessel. Being a Navy frigate, it is the Selene's duty to deal with pirates wherever they are found. But the battle against the pirates turns into a much more brutal affair than first expected, and the Selene is badly damaged. The ship is eventually lost on a reef during a storm, and the survivors - about a hundred of the ship's crew and the passengers - are stranded along a foreign coast.

Unfortunately for the survivors, the coast they're now inhabiting is claimed by pirates. A whole city of pirates.

I don't want to give away any more of the plot. However, what progresses from this point on is a whirlwind of battles and intrigue, murder and revenge, plot and counter-plot. Characters have multiple agendas and not everyone is as they seem. The survivors of the shipwreck must struggle to avoid capture or death at the hands of different pirate factions, as well as the threat of mutiny among their own number. The pirates constantly maneuver against each other for dominance over Alnari, using any means - violence, sex, money, political influence - at their disposal.

The author holds the works of George R. R. Martin, especially his Song of Ice and Fire series, in high regard, and its influence on the book is evident by both the complex relationships among the characters, and the stark brutality of the combat sequences. The author is well-versed in swordsmanship and medieval combat, and this comes through in the many swordfights throughout the book. Limbs are sheared away, heads roll, guts spill, and blood is drawn by the bucketful. Not only are the battles violent and well-scripted, but it is clear from early on that no character is safe from the author's killing stroke.

Also evident is the author's knowledge of the Age of Sail. There are many details regarding ship navigation and operation, as well as the day to day lives of those aboard ships, and the organization of sailing navies and their military exploits. Although the setting is analogous to the 1400s and early 1500s, the maritime aspects of the book seem to carry the influence of master maritime novelist Patrick O'Brian, whose Napoleonic naval adventures are second to none. Fans of O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels will feel right at home in this book, despite the otherworldly setting.

Overall, The Pirates of Alnari is a strong, exciting adventure and displays the author's skill as a storyteller. While this is Dan Eldredge's first published novel, I know we'll see more works from him in the years to come, and I look forward to reading them.

Currently The Pirates of Alnari is only available on Amazon as an ebook, but the paperback should be available in early 2013.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Awesome New Review for NANOK!

I really wish Amazon had a feature for authors that allowed you to be alerted when a new review was posted of your works, because this one's a few days old. However, I just have to share with you the following review for NANOK and the Tower of Sorrows:
One more sip of Michael Moorcock's too-absinthe-for-its-own-good Elric threatens to make you ill? Mix one part Marvel's old B&W Savage Sword of Conan with one part trash-talking Schwarzenegger action flick, add a splash of Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydian and two splashes Sergio Aragones' Groo, shake violently to the consistency of frothy blood, and the resulting refreshing cocktail is Nanok and the Tower of Sorrows. Will there be a chaser Mr. Badelaire? 
Mr. Molesworth, there will indeed be a followup to NatToS. I know the broad-brushstrokes version of the plot, I just don't know when it will be written. Once I get COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead out the door, I want to write a sequel to Rivalry, then perhaps the Nanok sequel, before I work on the next novel.