Saturday, July 25, 2009

Crimson Eagles Zeppelin: Damage

Now that Origins is finished for the year I have time to post some items that I've been putting off. Several months ago when I talked about my Crimson Eagles zeppelin I mentioned that it wasn't finished. What was left to complete was the damage markers. I mean, what is the fun of having a zeppelin in a game if you can't shoot it up? Sure, you can record the damage on it's record sheet and tell everyone what has happened to it, but isn't it much more exciting visually if you can actually see the holes and explosions?
The way I handled damage was through the use of Papersteel. I cut out pieces of it and glued it to the zeppelin before painting it. All the parts of the zeppelin (gun turrets, control car, fins), have small NdFeB magnets attached. This lets me change the parts out as damaged is taken. The engines have magnets inside them and stick to the metal rods which jut out from the sides of the zeppelin. To show engine smoke and fires I use alligator clips with steel wool attached to the rods, similar to the markers used on the airplanes.
The only type of damage I can't indicate is to the gas cells. I tried to use an overlay on the zep, but it just didn't look right because it never really lined up nicely - it just looks like something was layed on it. Plus many of the attachments get in the way.
I also added some other 3D markers. The flack markers are just styrofoam balls wrapped in steel wool on stands. And the parachutes where made with ping pong balls cut in half, a clear acrylic rod, some black thread, and a N-scale person.
Over all the damage effects look good and add a nice touch to the game.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Origins 2009 Report

Well it's been a few weeks since Origins ended so I guess I'd better report on my thoughts and experiences before I forget. Over all it was a great time, as usual. In fact I must say it was one of my best Origins yet, and while I don't have the record for attendance by a long shot, this was my 12 year in a row so I am certainly not a newbie.

I've been reading a lot of the reports from other attendees that have already been posted and many of them are filled with the usual complaints of the small attendance, smaller dealer hall, bad food, etc, etc. Yes, attendance was down this year, but over 10,000 does not a small convention make. I'm sure that the economy had something to do with it. But I felt that the gaming energy was up over past years. The people who were there really seemed to be there to play games and have a good time - it seemed like the people who were missing were the fluff gamers; those that come to walk around, hit the dealers hall, maybe play a demo and complain about the convention. There seemed to be more families, women, children, and just a nice cross section of gamers. I took a teenage friend down for one day and he seemed to feel that the girls were cuter this year too. My family and I saw a lot of old friends, made some new ones, and saw a lot of smiles.

The dealers hall was a lot of fun. A number of companies had smaller booths this year (a way to save money), but there where more vendors. And it was nice to see so many little companies. I can find Wizard of the Coast products everywhere as well as Fantasy Flight and the other biggies. It's nice to be able to look at Z-man, Asmodee, Griffon Games, Hero Games, Pinnacle, and Gamescience; as well as Out of the Box, Looney Labs, and Kenzer Co. It was also nice that so many of the companies had new products to show for Origins rather than waiting for GenCon. In fact several of the vendors were apologetic about not have a product available until GenCon - not a case of wanting that to be the premier, but rather production difficulties. It's nice that so many of the companies are realizing that the overlap of convention goers is not that great between Origins and GenCon, and that Origins money is just as good as GenCons. Of course we spent way to much money, as we always do, but we try to support the vendors that come to the show as well as we can - and the teacher's discounts were great this year.

The food was fantastic as aways. Of course we make a point of eating at the North Market during the day (cheaper and actually closer than the food court at the convention center), and Max and Erma's at night.

I only had a chance to play in two games this year. The new Hack Master Basic on Wednesday morning and the Iron GM on Saturday night. Hack Master wasn't as good as I was hoping. Part of the problem was that it was the first event slot for it of the con, and the GM wasn't really ready. Another problem with it was that they wanted everyone to try out the new character creation rules, so instead of having pre-gen character we all spent half of the event rolling up characters without rulebooks and with GM's who didn't really know the new rule system yet. The Iron GM tournament was run by Amorphous Blob and used the Savage World system two of my favorite game combinations. The concept was based on the Iron Chef with the GM's creating the adventure from ingredients pulled from fortune cookies; everyone also wore chef's hats. If you enjoy role playing and have the chance you should play and Amorphous Blob game - they are lots of fun. This was the first time my 17 year old daughter has wanted to play a late night game. She is usually a day person, but since she had to work most of week and missed so much of Origins she decided to stay up and play. It was also the first time she's done lots of caffeine - mocha espresso and chocolate covered espresso beans; an interesting combination. The only disappointment were our fellow players. Three of the players would probably have been pretty good, but they had been playing too much and were showing the effects of four days of convention. The fourth player was the real problem of the game. A new member of the Amorphous Blob team, he was not GMing that night so he could play. A big mistake. I have a lot of respect for Amorphous Blob, but they need to rethink their choice of there newest member. I have played and GMed RPG's for over 30 years and my daughter has played them most of her life. We always try to work with the group, but this is the first time I have ever tried to kill off a fellow player, and not just once but several times. My daughter too. Unfortunately, we kept failing, including critical fumbles. But overall it was a fun game.

The events I ran went very well. It was a nice surprise to look in the program book and find that three of my four events were featured events. I'm sorry that I could only run each event only once. Many people kept coming up and asking if I would be running them again. That is one of the difficulties of having a very small car and running games that are so large. The only way to run them was to load up a game, come down for the day, and then pack it up and bring the next one down the following day.

WizWar was run on Wednesday and was as crazy as usual. It was won by a 13 year old girl. She reminded me of my own daughter at that age - raised by a gaming dad, with a quick grasp of a game and a sneaky streak. The first player she eliminated was her own father, and then she snuck in a victory before the other two players could even get to her.

Thursday was Crimson Eagles, my 3D version of Crimson Skies. Not as well as attended as I was hoping for - I'll plan to run it on Friday or Saturday next year since those seem to be the big miniature event days. But it was a fun game. I gave the players the choice of playing a classic dog fight or working as a team to shoot down a zeppelin. Of course they opted for going after the Zep. It worked pretty well with the zep shooting down two planes and the rest of the planes shooting up the zep well enough to board it.

On Friday I ran my .45 Adventure, Temple of the Warriors. The scenario was based on the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark - with a few twists of course. A fun report by one of the players can be read here. It was a close run game with an ending that I was not expecting - the idol was lost to the bottom of the river.

Saturday morning my wife, daughter and I presented our seminar on using games in an educational setting. This was the second year that we have done this lecture and it has been popular both times. The only difficulty was the lack of the promised Powerpoint projector, but we managed. The Origins team even made copies of the Powerpoint as handouts for the attendees.

The rest of the con was great. Registration was smooth as usual. I brought both my friend down and my 10 year old nephew (his first time) with day passes. My friend upgrade his to a regular pass later in the day so he could play games. We can't wait till next year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Temple of the Warriors

These last few months have been busy ones. I have been working on preparing for Origins 2009. This year I am once again taking my 3D WizWar and presenting a seminar on games in education. Mostly my time has been spent finishing up Crimson Eagles and constructing my .45 Adventure, "Temple of the Warriors."

Temple of the Warriors is a scenerio based on the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Set in the jungles of Peru in the late 1930's, it has kept me busy building jungle terrain and a lost temple. I don't want to give too much away right now, but
here are a few pictures.
Hope to see you at Origins.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Zeppelin Construction: or How I Built the Empire Star

The past few months have been filled with projects in preparation for Origins 2009. One of this years themed tracks is Pulp, and since Crimson Eagles is certainly a pulp game I definitely felt that I needed to register to run a game. While the basic game is ready to run I thought that to make it even more pulpy I need to finish the zeppelin rules, and of course I would need a zeppelin miniature. Even if I can't get the rules to work, a zeppelin mini on the table will be a great attention getter. So after Christmas I began work on the model.
The first step was to decide the size and general look. In the original Crimson Skies the zeppelins are nine hexes long. When I adapted the rules to Crimson Eagles I made them eight hexes long and changed the hex orientation (I'll cover zep rules later when I'm happy with them.) Since my board hexes are 4" it would need to be about 32" long. The model is actually 37" long - I thought it looked better. That makes it about 1/260 scale based on a zeppelin around the size of the Akron or Macon. The scale of the Crimson Skies planes are around 1/180 (they aren't real consistent), so yes, it is a bit small scale-wise but playability is a bigger factor than realism. The look is inspired by the later zeppelins rather than those of WWI though I did make the center section more cylindrical than curved for ease of construction. There are a number of pictures of zeppelin miniature on the internet, some even show some construction pictures. Those plus my experience with building lots of paper model zeps really helped in the design process.
After I had a design I liked I printed it out full scale and took measurements of the various sectional diameters. Then I cut out circular sections from 1/4" foamboard. For the ends I figured disks at every 1" length to get as good curvature, while I made the center in three sections. Before I began putting the disks together I made a template to mark the disk edges. I decided on a 16 sided shape for the zeppelin a a good compromise between buildability and looks. By marking the edges of the disks I would be able to make sure that the stripes of the outer skin lined up. I built up the ends first by stacking them with pieces of 1/2" foam. The center section was built with three 1/4" dowels around the the center to provide a rigid frame. The center section is also supported by 1" strip of 1/4" foamboard on edge for a strong frame and a base for the skin. When the sections were dry I lined them up on a 3/8" dowel.
The next step was to put the skin on the center section. The skin is made from strips of 110 pound card stock glued to the foamboard. The seams are covered with 3/8" artist masking tape. I left an open section on the bottom for the hanger entrance. Once the skin was finished I epoxy glued brass tubing at both ends to fit the ends of the telescoping stands I use to mount the zeppelin on the
board. The ends take a little more work, but aren't hard. I began by gluing down strips of card stock, making sure to line them up the the marks I had put on the disks. On the bow end I put half a Styrofoam ball to make a nice rounded end. On the aft I used a Styrofoam cone (though I don't show it in the pictures since the strips didn't go over it.) After the inner strips where dry I put the outer skin on and taped them down.
That finishes the body of the zeppelin. The rest is decorative. Let's start with the engines. In Crimson Skies the zeps are mostly filled with helium like the real U.S. navy ones. So their engines would probably be inside the skin with only the propellers mounted on the outside. Visually a little boring for the game. I therefore decided to go with the German look, which is also how they appear in the game. The real zeppelins of the 30's had four or five engine, but I thought eight looked better and is more in keeping with the game. The look for placement and numbers is up to you. First I built the mounts which was done by inserting brass rods through the skin into the foam disks with epoxy glue. The engines are made from wooden robins eggs (1 3/16"). I sanded flat both ends, drilled a hole in the front end for a radiator, drilled a hole in the aft end for an axle and made a prop disk of overhead transparency. To make the engine mount look better I used a combination of paper and plastic rods built around the brass rod which does the structural support.
The fins are made from layers of cellfoam 88 cut out and shaped by sanding. The hinges and markings where made by gluing paper shapes to them.
The gun turrets are 1" Styrofoam balls. Guns are made of pieces of plastic rod. The windows are made by printing out a design on paper, cutting them out and gluing them to the ball. This will give you a uniform design and something to paint. Be sure to use some form of template for the gun and window placement. The forward and lower turrets are mounted on pieces of Styrofoam cones.
The hanger was simply made by leaving an opening in the skin. I made the recovery hook from pieces of plastic rod. A magnet is glued to the nose of the plane and the tip of the recovery hook.
The control car is just some scrape Styrofoam that has been shaped.
The nose cone is made out of card stock to cover the end where all the tape strips meet.
The entire model is painted with a gray spray paint. The zeppelins of the time were silver, but I find that a silver miniature looks unreal, or as unreal as a fictitious zeppelin can look. The silver paint accents the imperfections.
You can find copies of the insignia by search the Crimson Skies official sites and copying the images.
I made the base from 3/8" plywood painted to match the felt playing surface. The layout was made from the original zeppelin silhouette that I used to figure the miniature. I placed markers for the various target areas such as engines and the control car in their respective hexes as well as the gas cell divisions to make it easier to figure the targeting. The telescoping poles are made from cheap telescoping auto mirrors I purchased at Harbor Freight with the mirrors cut off. The are sturdy enough to support the miniature and show altitude changes.
So that is it for now. I still need to make decals for the windows and put on its name (maybe I'll have a christening ceremony.) There is one last detail to share, but I'm not quite finished with it, so if you are planning to make your own zep you might want to wait a bit until I'm finished.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Crimson Eagles Zeppelin

I haven't posted in a while. There are some many projects going on as I get ready for this year's Origins. Since one of the this year's themes is Pulp I have been busy working on Crimson Eagles so that I can run a game of it.

We've been playing it as often as we can and tweaking the rules. One thing I really want is to have a zeppelin in play. I mean, to have a pulp game you really need a zeppelin. The conversions from the original Crimson Skies have not been easy since the zeps don't move in that game, and I really want to be able to have them move. But has finally started to come together. I will be posting the zep rules when I am finished with them.

I have also been working on a miniature of the zeppelin for the game. Now I know that every time someone posts a zeppelin mini they get complaints that it isn't to scale. This isn't to scale for the plane miniatures. It is at least half the scale of the planes. I am well aware of how big zeppelins where. My grandfather was on the flying squad at Goodyear in the 20's and 30's. I was given tours of the Goodyear air dock as a kid, and I even have pieces of the Akron and the Macon. Plus one of my riding toys as a small child was a metal zeppelin that my father rode as a boy. I know about zeppelins.

So here are a few pictures. I post better ones and construction details later.

It is a passenger zeppelin so it doesn't have main guns. There are four anti-aircraft turrets. It is also equipped with a hanger (it you look closely you can see the plane getting ready to launch.