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Category Archives: Podcasts

SpyCast!

I have a new podcast on my list!

SpyCast is the official podcast from the Spy Museum in Washington DC. The host and guests are former members of the intelligence community (including a few from the KGB) and they bring an interesting insider’s view to the topics of trade craft. The archives go back to 2006 and I’m only a few episodes in, but I am hooked. The conversations are casual and the guests are fascinating. The average episode clocks in from 30-60 minutes and if I have one complaint it’s that I want to hear more.

If you’re looking for some insights for your Top Secret game, or just a fan of espionage history, then check this one out.

You can find SpyCast on iTunes, or from their website here.

Spy-vs-spy

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2015 in History, Podcasts

 

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Random Thoughts

My schedule continues to be bad for blogging, but has improved on other fronts.

Gaming: Our gaming group had a rare double-header, holding games two weekends in a row. Our GM is running a GURPS Supers/Horror game, where the adventures feel like a mix between Justice League and Hellboy, and set in 1960’s Florida. For this game I also get to run one of my long standing desires in supers gaming, a heroic duo. My friend and I created two brothers who were subjected to experiments by a mad scientist. This gave them the power to take on the abilities of different animals, much like DC’s Vixen or Animal Man, and like those characters they don’t change shape. However they do take on some physical characteristics as a special effect, such as growing feathers when channeling a bird, fur when channeling a canine, scales for fish, etc…

Their powers are activated or deactivated when the brothers touch, bringing in the inevitable Wonder Twins jokes. The two brothers are polar opposites on philosophy and argue incessantly, but are also protective of each other. Their code names are War and Peace and the animals they channel reflect their differing attitudes. War is a hot head and channels animals like wolf, kestrel, and shark. Peace is a pacifist (and a communist) and takes on animal powers like bloodhound, spider monkey, and dolphin. Their flexibility has made them very useful heroes and a lot of fun to play.

We’re looking forward to playing War and Peace again soon. Of course in a horror game there is the strong possibility of one of us dying. What will the other brother do if this happens?

Well… we did both take the Leatherworking skill…

Projects: My schedule has been bad for a number of things, but it has let me get started on a few projects. One of which is Car Wars related.

My love for Car Wars is well documented. I picked up a copy of the Classic Car Wars box set and a .PDF copy. One of the difficulties with the Car Wars arenas of old is that they came as folded maps and could be a bear to flatten out for game play. Using my PDF I’m printing an arena out in card stock and plan to assemble it on foam core, then play some games using the classic scale and rules. I want a fresh look at the old game to compare with 5th edition. I still have my classic Compendium, but the new box set takes the game back to a more basic form, before there was too much bloat in weapons and equipment. I’m quite pleased with the set and eager to try it out.

I’ve also finally started working on painting miniatures, something I haven’t done since my undergrad days. There are some miniatures I’ve been wanting to acquire and paint, but I know my limitations and I don’t want to invest the cash in something that might end up sitting in the closet undone for years. So I made a deal with myself; if I put a dent in some of the miniatures I already own I’ll go ahead and invest in the ones I want to work on.

To that end I’ve pulled out a couple boxes of Renegade Legion: Centurion anti-gravity tanks that I’ve had sitting in the closet for years. Centurion was another outstanding game from FASA that evokes the feeling of science fiction classics like Hammer’s Slammers. In my opinion it’s a far superior game to Battletech, with tighter and faster rules than it’s stompy-mecha big brother. Once I have enough tanks painted up I plan to pull the game out of mothballs and fire it up. It’s a good goal to work towards and I now have several Renegade medium APCs primed and waiting to go.

What about the miniatures that I want to acquire after I finish my tanks? For that I’ll be turning to the golden age Sci-Fi goodness that is War Rocket.

Adventure Seeds: One of the podcasts/blogs I follow is Skeptoid, a site where they take a critical look at various events and beliefs including cryptozolology, alternative medicine, and urban legends. Recently they ran an article entitled Lost Treasures of the 20th Century, and it’s full of great plot ideas for pulp adventures.

Some of the stories covered in the post are well known to me, such as the lost Nazi gold in Lake Toplitz and the lost Amber Room of the Russian empire (a subject worthy of its own post). Others I had never heard of, such as Yamashita’s Gold and the vanished crown jewels of Ireland. The post gives a nice short summary of these and other lost treasures, any of which would be a great candidate for writing an adventure.

Kung Fury!

Kung Fury is out! It’s free on YouTube in HD! Go! Go now!

Centurion1

Soon my plastic brethren! Soon we ride!

 

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Dose of Nostalgia – Board Games

I listen to a lot of podcasts.

One of my favorites is The Dice Tower, which is the most impressive board gaming podcast available. The Dice Tower is worthy of a full review and I’ll get on that soon, but for now suffice to say that it’s a podcast that you should be listening to.

I’d qualify that by saying, “if you like board games,” but let’s be real. You’re reading my blog. It’s a given.

In their most recent episode, #350 (yes, Tom Vasel has 350 weekly podcasts about board games under his belt. The man is a machine), they did a Top Ten list of board games that were important to them from their childhood, games that had a big impact on the gamers they became.

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately and this list struck a chord, so I decided to put my own list together. This list is not in order of importance or quality, it’s just ten games that influenced my future as a gamer. Also note that I am not including role playing games in the list.

Without further ado:

1. Checkers – Checkers is one of the earliest board games I learned and was taught to me by my grandmother. Almost every visit to her house included a game of Checkers and it was something I looked forward to. It was the first abstract strategy game I learned, but more importantly it came to represent the bond that gaming can create between friends and family, and bonds like that don’t get much stronger than between a little kid and his grandmother. We played other games too, but Checkers was our favorite and I can still picture her study, her chair, and hear the sound of her clock while we played.

Good memories.

2. Chess – My grandmother taught me Checkers. Chess was the game my father taught me. Dad gave me my first set and taught me the rules. He gave me an instruction book that I greatly enjoyed, one which I have passed on to my own son. Playing Chess with my father was something I looked forward to. Beating him was an elusive goal that, when finally achieved, was a great victory.

Chess was also the first game that I spent a lot of time playing with my friends. For a while in high school we had an informal club that played every day. We were never good enough to play competitively and didn’t take it that seriously, we just enjoyed the game. For a while I collected Chess sets and I still own quite a few.

I still enjoy Chess, though I’ve gotten rather rusty. I especially enjoy historical variants of the game, my two favorites being Byzantine and Papal Chess. The first is played on a round board, setting the armies up back to back. The second includes a stationary piece in the center of the board to represent the pope and includes an alternate victory condition. Instead of checkmate, if you have a piece close enough to control the pope, without interference from an enemy piece, you win. The political commentary is not subtle and it was not appreciated by the Papacy. Apparently until the early 20th Century there was a canon law on the books that said you could be excommunicated for playing Papal Chess.

How many board games can say that?

3. Trivial Pursuit – Trivial Pursuit was the first game I remember that caused a pop culture stir. When it came out it was THE big thing and everyone had to have a copy. It’s the first game where my parents and I went over to my best friends’ house specifically so that we could all play the game together.

The rules are nothing special and there were plenty of times we dispensed with the “game”, grabbed the box, and started asking each other questions. But what Trivial Pursuit showed me was that adults could get together for gaming days too, that it wasn’t something limited to kids and that it wasn’t something I had to outgrow.

4. Stay Alive – Stay Alive is a game that I have almost never played, but I was deeply fascinated with it as a kid. For those unfamiliar, you have a grid with marbles on it and slides that control strips of plastic running down and across the grid. The strips have holes in them at different points and on your turn you pull or push one of the levers to shift the strip. If holes in the top and bottom strips line up a marble drops through the trap door. The goal is to drop all your opponents marbles first.

It’s a game of eliminating your foes by dropping them through trap doors! How cool is that!

To this day I love the concept of this game. Is it any wonder I fell in love with Dungeons & Dragons? Just imagine if you could combine Stay Alive with lead miniatures and the modular wall system from that horrible Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth game! That would be fantastic!

There is an edition of Stay Alive currently in print, but it’s lame. The classic game was on a 7×7 grid and each slider had several settings. The new version is a 5×5 grid and the sliders look limited to two or three positions. They’re asking $50 for what amounts to a travel version of the classic. I think not.

5. Scotland Yard – This was the game that introduced me to hidden movement, resource management, and asymmetrical warfare, though it would be a while before I knew those terms. All I knew was that it was different from any game I’d played before.

The game is set in London. One player is “Mr. X”, a master criminal on the run. The other players take on the roles of detectives hot on the trail. Players move through the city using cabs, subways, and buses. Mr. X’s location is revealed at different points in the game and the detectives are forced to guess or deduce which way he is going.

It took me a few tries to warm up to this game because the uneven sides seemed unfair, but once I got used to the concept I came to embrace it. The noir crime / secret agent theme of the game didn’t hurt either. It’s a genre that I love but which we don’t see very often. (Honorable mention goes to Stop Thief on this point).

6. Risk – Ahh, my first game of global conquest. These days Risk seems to be looked down on by a lot of gamers, usually after they send 20 troops against two defenders and get their butts kicked because they can’t make a good roll to save their lives. Yes that element of randomness can be frustrating, however the heroic stand is not without its historical precedents, it does lead to memorable games, and lucky dice rolls will not substitute for a sound strategy.

Australia is a death trap! 

Risk is a fine transitional game between abstracts like Chess and simulationist war games. Many better games now fill the same niche, my favorite being Shogun/Samurai Swords/Ikusa, but I’m still happy to dive into a game of Risk and watch the dice roll and I credit the game for preparing me to devour those other games when they hit the scene.

Which brings us to…

7. Conquest of the Empire – In the mid-80’s Milton Bradly launched the Gamemaster Series. Their first release was Axis & Allies, which we played the heck out of. However Axis & Allies suffers from one fatal flaw; with competent players the game always resolves itself the way that World War II actually did.

The second game in the series was Conquest of the Empire. This was like Risk in the Roman Empire but with cities, and roads, and catapults, and ships! The basic mechanics of combat were similar to Risk, but the variation of unit types and infrastructure made it a much deeper game. On top of this a rudimentary economy was put in place, causing players to make strategic decisions based on triggering inflation in the Empire.

Shogun (later published as Samurai Swords & currently as Ikusa) was the last in the Gamemaster line and was my favorite. In many ways it was a refinement of Conquest of the Empire, which did have some flaws, but Conquest was the game that raised the bar for what I wanted in that style of game.

8. Uno / Euker – I’m lumping these together. While mechanically they are different they fill the same role among my friends. Both are simple, fast, and fun social games. I discovered both when I was very young and they were games I could play with friends my age and with adults. We could take the game anywhere we went, find a corner, and deal the cards.

And we did.

All through grade school, all through high school, and all through college, Uno and Euker were not far away. They were especially popular during my high school years, when I was part of choir, drama club & stage crew, and several other groups. My junior and senior years it was a lunchtime ritual.

We were also ruthless. We used house rules in Uno that let you stack Draw cards or turn them back with Reverse and Skip cards. We accepted using signals in Euker, as long as you didn’t get caught. It became a point of pride to see who could develop the most subtle signals.

Have deck, will travel.

9. Car Wars – It was 1981 and I was part of a Dungeons & Dragons group that met at a Friendly Local Game Store. I didn’t stay in the group very long, but it was long enough for me to see this small plastic box from Steve Jackson Games sitting on the shelf.

Car Wars. This game blew my young mind. You mean I get to roar down the highway, or scream around an arena, in a car bristling with weapons? It was James Bond! It was Mad Max! It was Hot Wheels! It was…

It was awesome!

And we devoured it. The Armadillo Autoduel Arena was our favorite, but we also had the complete city of Midville for our homicidal pleasure. And when we were not playing on the table, we were playing Autoduel on the Apple II (a horrible game, BUT WE LOVED IT!).

My love of Car Wars is still there. Years later when I’d graduated from university I hosted an online Play-by-Post game. I’d receive moves from the players via email, roll the results myself, use Photoshop to update the arena map, and post it up on a website. It was a lot of work, but we loved it.

With the success of the O.G.R.E. Kickstarter, Steve Jackson Games is looking at revisiting Car Wars and I cannot wait to see the results.

Drive Offensively!

10. Illuminati – Another masterpiece from Steve Jackson Games, Illuminati came out in 1982 and has been wrecking friendships ever since.

In Illuminati each player controls a secret organization bent on covert domination of the world. Each group takes control of other organizations, who in turn take over more organizations, until you have assembled a web of power with your secret society at the center. In the meantime the other players are using their own groups to try and crush you, or aid you, but always for a price.

Most games are confrontational by their nature. Illuminati doesn’t just take this to the next level, it transcends to a higher plain of backstabbing treachery. I won’t say that Illuminati can make Diplomacy look like Candyland.

But I will infer it.

So there we go, my list of ten games that profoundly influenced me as a gamer. How about you? What games did you play that you are still playing now? Or that stick out as having an impact on the geek you’ve grown up to be? I’d love to hear about them.

fnord

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2014 in Gaming, Podcasts

 

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The HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, yet with stranger eons, even death may die.”

-H.P. Lovecraft

The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, also known as the HPPodcraft, is a labor of love by dedicated fans.  A regular on my daily commute, this series delves into the works of Lovecraft starting from his first published story and going all the way through his career.

Hosted by Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer, each episode contains an analysis of one of Lovecraft’s stories.  They also delve into the history of the stories and the man who wrote them, giving context to them based on events in Lovecraft’s life and how the works relate to each other.  Though there is no single continuity to Lovecraft’s work the analysis of the stories does reveal interesting progressions in how the mythos developed.   I’m well versed in Lovecraft but I have never read the stories in any particular order and I was fascinated to see the patterns, both stylistically and in content.

The podcast goes beyond the stories, giving us a look at Lovecraft’s life and motivations.  They discuss his early life and career as well as his final years when his fortunes and health declined.  They discuss his friendships and dip into his correspondences with other writers, such as Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard, among many others.  Lovecraft was a prolific writer of letters and a large collection of them survive, allowing us to see into the community of weird fiction authors from his era.

Lackey and Fifer also delve into the collaborative and ghost written works that Lovecraft wrote.  These I found particularly interesting, as I only recently discovered most of them.  These include the infamous story Medusa’s Coil which he collaborated on with Zealia Bishop.  Lovecraft is rightfully known for his racist and classist beliefs, particularly in his younger days, and nowhere is it more pointed than in this story.

Which is another thing I appreciate about the podcast.  They do not shy away from the controversies of Lovecraft’s life, nor do they harp on them.  There is plenty of celebration of Lovecraft’s great works and vision, but they are also able to honestly criticize his mediocre works, though at times they fall into nitpicking in the name of humor.

That humor would be my one criticism for the show.  It is often forced and over-done and detracts from the whole.  This is particularly true for the early episodes, enough that I suggest a first time listener to start with a few later podcasts from when the show’s format has settled down and they have more experience.  Then go back and listen to the early podcasts once you’ve already become a fan.

Each episode also features segments of the stories being read aloud, for which they used a wide variety of readers.  The readers are all talented and these segments are gold, leaving you wanting more.  Fortunately for us they also did full readings of several stories, including readings of The Call of Cthuhlhu and The Haunter in the Dark that are spectacular and should be mandatory listening for any fan.

Sadly, all things must come to an end, and Lovecraft’s body of work is no exception.  Although they completed his library the podcast continues.  It now features original content in a mix of free and subscription based offerings.  I did not stay with the series for very long after they completed Lovecraft’s work, because it was the author’s work and history that I was interested in.

The entire show’s archive, including the full readings, is freely available on their website.  Whether you are a veteran fan or recent discoverer of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, you’ll enjoy the series.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Podcasts

 

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Podcasts – Entertainment from the Aether

I love podcasts.

I love spoken media.  I also have a long daily commute, and an iPod, so the advent of podcasting has been a tremendous blessing.  There’s a wealth of great stuff out there in the aether just waiting for you to track it down.  These range from simple amateur affairs to polished professional shows and everything in between.

Three of the finest providers for quality fiction podcasts are Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Podcastle, which collectively fall under the banner of Escape Artists, Inc.  The brainchild of Steve Eley, these podcasts began with the bold idea to pay authors professional rates for their stories and provide them to the listeners for free.  The podcasts are supported by fan donations and the stories are free to download and distribute, as long as they are redistributed in full and at no charge.

Escape Pod is the flagship show, started in May of 2005, followed by Pseudopod in August of 2006, and Podcastle in July of 2007.  All three shows release new episodes every week and their full archives are available online, meaning that there is a staggering library of stories available.

Escape Pod refers to itself as, “the premier science fiction podcast magazine,” and it’s hard to dispute that claim.  There are over 400 stories in the Escape Pod archive with works from new authors as well as masters like Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.  Escape Pod stories feature protagonists from a variety of ethnic and social backgrounds, which provides a range of perspectives.  The exposure to this variety is one of the things I like best about Escape Pod and is a refreshing change from the homogeneous selection of voices that dominate bookstore shelves.

Each year Escape Pod also offers Hugo Month when they produce the stories nominated for that year’s Hugo Awards.

The show has excellent readers and I have never been disappointed in the quality of their episodes.  There is no set time limit for stories, but they average about 45 minutes in length.  I highly recommend Escape Pod, not just for fans of science fiction but for listeners curious about what the genre has to offer.

Pseudopod was next to launch and delivers a healthy dose of horror every week.  There are currently over 350 episodes in their archive and like Escape Pod, Pseudopod features a variety of perspectives and styles.  Stories tend to come from more recent authors and run about 45 minutes on average.

I have a special fondness for Pseudopod.  I am a long time fan of old school horror and weird fiction and I love a good ghost story, but I never had much interest in modern works of horror.  Listening to Pseudopod has changed that and I look forward to when each new episode hits my iTunes library.  The high quality stories combined with the excellent readers and production values have gripped my imagination and fueled my interest in modern horror.

Podcastle rounds out the Escape Artists’ lineup.  In keeping with the philosophy of its sister-casts, Podcastle usually eschews the Tolkien-esq style of swords and sorcery and focuses on stories of a more fantastic nature.  There is more variety in story length on Podcastle, with shorter flash fiction and longer giant episodes being more common than with the other shows.  There are also several classic folk tales that make their appearance, such as a two-episode production of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.

I admire everything about what Escape Artists has accomplished.  Their business model embodies the idealism we hoped that the Internet would enable and everyone benefits from their success.  The passion of the producers combined with the generosity of their listeners has created a real literary treasure for everyone to enjoy.

Give these shows a try and you won’t be disappointed.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Cool Stuff, Podcasts

 

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