You’re Not From Around Here Are You?


Talking about Games Workshop … my girlfriend was is in town today and rang me to ask if I needed anything; I asked her to get me a tub of basing sand from the Games Workshop store (I very rarely darken the door of a GW store as I don’t play their miniatures games, but I do paint miniatures for boardgames).

She squared her shoulders against the sensory onslaught of heavy metal music and smelly pubescent boys, walked in and asked for a tub of sand. The guy behind the counter looked at her and said:

“He sent you on a mission didn’t he?”

Games Workshop Announce Dreadfleet

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Back in my day (he says, putting his feet up by the fire and drawing back on his pipe), Games Workshop made fantastic, over-the top, ‘big box’ games in addition to their core tabletop miniatures systems. Games like Necromunda, Space Hulk, Blood Bowl, Dark Future and my personal favourite, a fantasy naval combat game called Man O’ War. These games are long, long gone, and if, for example, you want to get a few fleets of Man O’War miniatures together these days it will cost you a pretty penny on Ebay. Luckily, I bought these games when they were first released, and have built up a nice collection of miniatures for them over the years.

Although these games did have expansions and decent ranges of miniatures, they weren’t big money spinners like Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000, so they were dropped from the GW product line. Gamers like me waited in vain for them to return until suddenly, in 2009, a impressive new ‘limited edition’ of Space Hulk was released. Chock full of components and unique miniatures of incredibly high quality, and folding in some of the rules from expansions to make a stand-alone game, it showed that GW really could still pull out the stops and make an amazing miniatures-based boardgame if it wanted to. Space Hulk sold out of its print run pretty quickly, and it seemed thereafter that GW were content to leave Fantasy Flight Games to make money from their licences.

But to everyone’s surprise, it seems they aren’t done mining their old glory days yet. Dreadfleet has just been quietly announced, a truly excessive and wonderfully extravagant-looking production with a huge gaming mat, 10 fantastically detailed ship models, over 130 cards, and numerous other bits. And all I can say, frankly, despite the crazy price (AUD$190) is … gimme!

I don’t see any sign of ship template cards, so it’s possible this is a completely different system than the original Man O’ War, or at least a simplified version; and certainly that game has entire fleets for each of the races and offers much more in the way of variety and large naval battle action than this new incarnation. It does seem a little strange for there to be only ten ships, each from a different race. But in any case, this really does look spectacular, and will probably be another short-run sellout for the company. It’s just a shame these revamped re-releases are one-offs—but then that’s probably a good thing for gamer bank accounts.

Man O’War will always be a firm favourite of my game collection (and Uncharted Seas from Spartan Games also gets good reviews) but Dreadfleet still looks to be an impressive indulgence—and perhaps a reminder that there’s still a bit of life in the old GW yet.

Click here to watch a video overview of Dreadfleet (and reflect on how much more professional the Fantasy Flight preview videos are).

Also check out this preview, which talks about the artwork and development of Dreadfleet. It’s great to see John Blanche’s eclectic art style—which I personally think has much more character than a lot of contemporary fantasy art—dominate this new game.

Tommy Dean on The Collectors

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Tommy Dean, An American born and Sydney-based comedian who also happens to be an avid boardgamer, recently appeared on the ABC show The Collectors to talk about his boardgame collection. He does a great job of explaining the myriad delights of collecting—and more importantly playing—boardgames!

Some Tommy Dean comedy highlights: Smoking, Precise Weapons, and Profiteering (bottom of page).

More Money Than God

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NYT review of two books on the repulsive rapaciousness of organised religion: Render Unto Rome The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church By Jason Berry and Inside Scientology The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion By Janet Reitman.

The old and the new scams, continually feeding off the limitless legions of the gullible.

Insert Tedious Snow White Reference Here

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The first image of all the dwarves from the upcoming two-part film adaptation of The Hobbit has just been released. Click on the link to see close-up portraits of your favourite dwarves.

Upgrading to Lion


Here’s a handy place where you can check to see if your applications are compatible with Apple’s brand new system upgrade, Lion: Roaring Apps. Remember, PowerPC-based software will not run in Lion!

You might also need this Migration Assistant Update. And be sure to read the Ars Technica review and examine the known issues with Adobe products (thanks Guy!).

Cheers—Hold On, I Said What?

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This ABC news interview is one of the funniest I’ve seen in a long time. Former News of the World executive Paul McMullan—obviously at the end of a long and emotional day—chats about the phone hacking and dirty dealings that went on at the tabloid. It really feels like you’re down at the pub with him having a few pints and getting all the insider gossip. I can just see his lawyer squirming with horror and frantically gesticulating behind the camera…

The Etruscans

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My girl and I went to the opening night of a new exhibition at the Nicholson Museum the other night: The Etruscans. The opening was very well attended—perhaps 200 or so people, nicely catered with drinks and food, and featured an informative talk on the mysterious Etruscans and their equally mysterious origins by Dr. Ted Robinson, an expert on their little-known culture.

The Nicholson Museum is a little gem in the heart of the Sydney Museum, just off the main quadrangle; like a tiny British Museum in the antipodes. Obsessive anglophiles like my girl and I can almost pretend we’re in London, or wandering through a little museum in Cambridge or Oxford. It’s not fashionable to be interested in ancient history and the age of colonial collectors, but we couldn’t care less.

Sir Charles Nicholson (1808-1903) helped establish the University of Sydney , and like so many Victorian intellectuals was an avid collector of antiquities. The standing exhibition has some beautiful pieces, including the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities in Australia, and some Egyptian mummies I remember seeing when I was very young at the old Museum of Applied Arts and Science (mentioned in a past post).

The Etruscan exhibition is small but very interesting, with a notable selection of Etruscan funerary urns, the largest of which is the equal of a similar prized piece in the British Museum. Strangely, the Etruscans liked to decorate their last resting places with violent scenes from mythology, such as the killing of Troilus by Achilles outside the gates of Troy. Surviving accounts describe them as a hedonistic, violent, pleasure-loving people, and their tombs are decorated with examples of explicit pornography and violence. And yet they also seemed to have enjoyed far greater equality of the sexes than the Greeks and Romans—men and women dined together, for example, and women kept their own names after marriage. A lot of their reputation, unfortunately, has come to us from their Romans conquerors, who were not exactly impartial when it came to recording the culture they destroyed, and saw gender equality as a sign of decadence.

It was an excellent evening, a wonderful antidote to the relentless assault of reality TV, sensationalist journalism, footy updates and lowest-common-denominator crap that gets peddled as popular culture in Sydney. In fact in an article from the 1860s when the collection was originally put on public view, a journalist accused Nicholson of being an elitist who was more concerned with collecting the relics of the dead than helping the living. Well, if a lifelong fascination with ancient history and these wonderful objects made by hands long dead is elitist, then consider me an elitist.

Incidently, I was interested to discover that noted British archaeologist Richard Miles (who wrote and presented an excellent BBC documentary called Ancient Worlds) is a Senior Lecturer at the University’s Department of Classics and Ancient History, since moving to Sydney from Cambridge. Here’s an interview with him at the Nicholson Museum.

Photo nicked from the Nicholson Museum Facebook page.

The Fate of This Post is in Your Hands!


The old games I featured in my last post are great fun, but no one is about to pretend that the themes are very deep and original (with the possible exception of Escape From Atlantis). When it comes to fantasy, game companies have been warming over the same tired old tropes since Tolkein; and Games Workshop’s huge influence on the gaming world has meant that gothic scifi is pretty much par for the course these days. Here’s a few classic back-of-box blurbs from games of yesteryear—and one from just a few months ago that proves my point. Another thing that certainly hasn’t changed are the terrible names. Morcar? Karkoth? Someone is getting paid for this stuff …

Especially note the excessive use of adjectives, the personalising calls to action, and of course, the exclamation marks!

Dare you take up the challenge of Hero Quest, and enter the underground realm of Morcar, the Evil Wizard? There are great treasures to be won, if you overcome their fell guardians. The dark caverns hold many dangers—terrible monsters, deadly traps, and worse. Heroquest, 1989

Enlist with the Space Marines and enter the fiercest conflict mankind has ever faced! Forgotten starships, infested with Chaos, drift from the Warp. Lost for thousands of years, they have now returned, corrupted with Chaos. Aboard these silent, alien hulks, the Space Marines battle to save humanity. Assault squads search the darkened corridors seeking their deadly foe. Only the bravest return from fighting the hordes of Chaos. Will you be one of them? Space Crusade, 1990.

Welcome to the world of Battle Masters—the epic game where you command mighty armies locked in a legendary conflict of good versus evil! Will your army be victorious, or will your opponent destroy you? Who will survive the battle and win the game? The fate of the empire is decided by you, the Battle Masters! Battle Masters, 1992.

From the snowy expanses of the north to the sun-warmed coasts of the south, four great realms struggle for survival and conquest. The undead legions of the Dark Empire of Karkoth march against the fragile League of Nerath, determined to sweep away the human kingdoms forever. Elsewhere, the infernal Iron Circle launches goblin hordes against the elves and corsairs of the Vailin Alliance. The fate of empires is on your hands! Conquest of Nerath, 2011.

I Wanna Be on the Back of the Box


There was a golden age of boardgames, before they all got so serious and geared towards old guys who grew up on Dungeons & Dragons and Squad Leader, when they were for kids—and proud of it! And despite the exciting new fantasy and sci-fi themes, the strategic pretentions, the colourful illustration, and the bags of plastic bits, they were still old-school enough to feature the classic ‘kids and/or family playing the game and having fun’ shot on the bottom of the box. There’s a rich and hilarious history of these shots on vintage game boxes, but here are a few of my favourites from the late 80s/early 90s, for your enjoyment.

Space Crusade


Space Crusade, 1990, and Heroquest, 1989. Both these games went for the under-lit studio shot to ratchet up the drama, and it’s just a shame the kids don’t have more serious and intense expressions to match. Mostly they just look overwhelmed by the sheer amount of cool plastic bits on display. I do like the look on the kid on the left in the Heroquest shot though—he’s a sneaky little bastard isn’t he? He’s already got some evil plan hatching in his head to humiliate the kid on the right during the next school assembly. And the guy behind the screen is in on it.

Thunder Road

Thunder Road, 1986. Believe it or not this game was inspired by post-apocalyptic car battles a la Mad Max. Couldn’t really get less post-apocalyptic than this cheery shag-pile scene though, could it? Before you think that kid in the blue is just being a little shit by upending the board, that’s actually part of the game—if you get left behind on the rear board you get dumped off when the board moves forward to the front, hence an ‘endless highway’ effect. Not that he isn’t reveling in his moment of power of course, the little shit.

Escape From Atlantis

Escape From Atlantis, 1996. Wife: “He promised me Paris this year, and instead we’re in this cheap rental bungalow on the coast again, it’s raining, I think he’s having an affair with his secretary, and I’m stuck here playing this stupid boardgame.” Husband: “I wonder if my son is gay?” Son: “My new haircut is so cool, so eighties.” Daughter: “…”

Battle Masters

Battle Masters, 1992. And finally, one of all my all-time favourite shots. Yes, the game really is this big—it’s played on a huge vinyl mat more suited to the floor than any dining room table. Yes, you do get that many plastic figures. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore. But check out those two kids. The kid on the right is just having a good time; innocently enjoying himself, over at his mate’s place to play the new game he got for Christmas. But what about that kid on the left? This isn’t just a game, this is war! He’s the kid who bent your fingers back when he came over to play! The one who got all the cool new games and then broke them within a week! He doesn’t play for fun, he plays to win!

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