Buck's Blog

The Stream-of-Conciousness Journal of a Wargamer
  • .: Welcome to my blog :.

    I'm John R. "Buck" Surdu. I have two Web pages that contain relatively static information about my professional life (including papers I've written) and my hobby life (including information about rules I've written and my wargaming projects). This blog is where I plan to post personal tidbits, like vacation pictures, wargaming projects, etc. Enjoy!
  • 2014 Vacation: Days 8 and 9

    Posted By on July 30, 2014

    A view of nearby mountains through the morning mist

    A view of nearby mountains through the morning mist

    After our perfect day on Mt. McKinley, the next day was rainy all day.  We stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks as we drove south from our campsite, but the rain and fog really limited visibility.   We also make a quick stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to restock the pantry.

    Looking around the museum at the mine

    Looking around the museum at the mine

    To break up the drive, we stopped at the Indian Creek mine where a character talked to us about the mine and some of the antiques he had collected.  We were only able to see the mine entrance, but it was a good way to get off the road for a while.  The museum was housed in an old log cabin which had once been pushed all the way onto the river ice by an avalanche.  It was moved back and many years later was designated a national historic site, dating past the Alaska gold rush.  The owner said that initially the Smithsonian wouldn’t grant historic site designation, because the cabin wasn’t in its original location, but once they found out that natural forces moved it, they relented.

    Sammy making friends with a beluga

    Sammy making friends with a beluga

    We stopped at another scenic overlook because of the rain.  After a few hands of dominoes, the rain subsided.  We walked around the overlook.  Again, the rain and fog limited visibility, but we found these interesting sculptures of beluga whales.

    Along the hike

    Along the hike

    Near Girdwood we took a 5 mile hike.  The attraction here was the hand tram over Glacier Creek.  It rained the whole way, but it was a good hike.

    Tommy and Sammy pulling themselves in the hand tram across the raging stream

    Tommy and Sammy pulling themselves in the hand tram across the raging stream

    The hand tram was really neat.  Up to two people could get in this cage and then pull themselves across with the rope.  All of us took a turn in the bucket.

    Looking down through the floor of the hand tram

    Looking down through the floor of the hand tram

    After returning from the hike and drying off a bit, we bought a pizza in Girdwood and drove to our campsite for the night.  We stayed in the Willawa camp ground, managed by the Forest Service.  The campsites were far apart and surrounded by trees, so it didn’t seem very crowded.  When we went to bed, we weren’t sure about whether the weather would cooperate for our planned glacier cruise the next day.

    A view along the morning hike

    A view along the morning hike

    We had a lot of low fog the next morning.  (This stream was supposed to be full of spawning salmon, but we saw none.)  We weren’t sure about the cruise, but there was a little blue poking through the clouds, so after a brief stop at a visitors center for information, we drove through the tunnel to Whittier.

    Only you can prevent forest fires!

    Only you can prevent forest fires!

    The tunnel is the longest tunnel in the world shared by vehicles and trains.  On the half hour traffic is permitted to drive into Whittier.  On the hour, traffic comes out of Whittier.  In between, trains use the tunnel.

    A glacier viewed through two mountains

    A glacier viewed through two mountains

    Whittier was built by the US Army during WWII as a supply depot.  Supplies would be unloaded in Whittier (on Prince William Sound) and taken inland by train.  Today almost the entire population of the town lives in a single high-rise building built to house soldiers and their families.

    We had a Forest Service ranger provide narrating during our cruise

    We had a Forest Service ranger provide narrating during our cruise

    When we came through the tunnel to Whittier, the weather was beautiful.  It was sunny, warm, and blue.  We bought our tickets and boarded for our cruise to see 26 glaciers.  On board was a ranger from the US Forest Service who provided narration, which was terrific.  He also helped spot wildlife.

    Sea lions lounging on "egg rocks"

    Sea lions lounging on "egg rocks"

    The first portion of the cruise was just getting out to the interesting stuff.  They served us a very nice cod lunch to pass the time.  The food was quite good.  Eventually we arrived at the sea lion rookery (shown above), where we saw many sea lions.  The boat could not get too close to the sea lions to avoid disturbing them.

    What a handsome dude!

    What a handsome dude!

    We saw all 26 glaciers.  I was checking them off on the map.  There were so many amazing sights that it was difficult not to become jaded.

    One of the tidewater glaciers that come down to the water's edge

    One of the tidewater glaciers that come down to the water's edge

    The ranger told us that there are only about 10 days this nice all Summer on Prince William Sound.  After the excellent day on Mt. McKinley and the crappy day the day before, we were amazed at our luck!

    Reflections

    Reflections

    Among the wildlife we spotted we saw many sea otters lounging in the water.

    Sea otters

    Sea otters

    The total cruise time was over five hours, getting us back in time to make the on-the-hour train out of Whittier.

    Surprise glacier

    Surprise glacier

    The Cook expedition was stopped by ice, so his maps missed an arm of the Sound that led to this glacier.  When the Harriman expedition found this arm in a later expedition, they were greeted by this huge glacier, so it is called “Surprise Glacier.”  We were hoping to see it calve (a big chunk falling off into the water), but didn’t.  The boat loitered here for a while, and we got some amazing views.

    10,000 gulls nesting together on the rocks

    10,000 gulls nesting together on the rocks

    Our boat, the Klondike Express

    Our boat, the Klondike Express

    After driving back through the long tunnel from Whittier, we headed toward Seward.  Candy found a very nice camp ground with full hookups about 20 minutes north of Seward, our destination for the next day.

    Our motor home parked at the Renfro's campsite not far from Seward

    Our motor home parked at the Renfro's campsite not far from Seward

    The lake at sunset at our campsite

    The lake at sunset at our campsite

    The campground has its own lake front, and the kids took a turn in one of the paddle boats after dinner.

    Looking to the East from our campsite

    Looking to the East from our campsite

    This was one of our last sights (at 2300 hours) before going to bed.  What a place!

    Family Vacation: Days 5, 6, and 7

    Posted By on July 28, 2014

    Entering Denali National Park

    Entering Denali National Park

    After a quick stop in the town outside the national park for some souvenir hunting and lunch, we headed into the Denali National Park.  Denali consists of over six million acres, and there is just one road through it, so we took our time driving to the Teklaneeka campground deep inside the park, taking in the sights along the way.  The RV did reasonably well on the gravel road.

    Looking down at Horseshoe Lake during a short hike

    Looking down at Horseshoe Lake during a short hike

    Before getting on the long road to the campground, however, we took a short hike around Horseshoe lake.  We didn’t see any animals, but we saw a beaver dam that was probably 40 yards long.  No beaver.

    Tommy and a moose

    Tommy and a moose

    The next morning we got up very early to catch the first bus toward Wonder Lake.  Our thought was that we would see more wildlife on the early bus.  We did.  It started with a pair of moose hanging out near the bus stop.  You can see one behind Tommy’s shoulder in this picture.

    A female moose

    A female moose

    Soon after departing we encountered another one.

    A view from along the road through Denali

    A view from along the road through Denali

    It was a four hour bus ride from our campground to Wonder Lake.  Along the way we saw some beautiful scenery and many animals.  The only one of the “big” animals we didn’t see was a wolf.

    Very beautiful view from along the road

    Very beautiful view from along the road

    We encountered two golden eagles perched on rocks above the road.  This picture is one of them flying away.

    Another moose sighting!

    Another moose sighting!

    Two German girls were on the bus, taking pictures of their own moose at various stops.

    The bus driver, Darlene was quite good.  She stopped frequently and had lots of good stories.

    Sammy the caribou

    Sammy the caribou

    This picture was taken at a short rest stop along the way.

    A small group of caribou

    A small group of caribou

    Moose frollicking through the tundra

    Moose frollicking through the tundra

    We saw more moose on this four-hour bus ride than we did during our entire visit to Maine.

    Wonder lake

    Wonder lake

    Considering its name, Wonder Lake was a bit anti-climactic.  From here, however, we took a five mile hike out and back along the McKinley Bar trail, which took us through rocks and woods to the river.

    Tommy helping Candy across a small mud puddle on our hike along the McKinley Bar Trail

    Tommy helping Candy across a small mud puddle on our hike along the McKinley Bar Trail

    A view of ptarmigans along the trail

    A view of ptarmigans along the trail

    On the way back we encountered three rock ptarmigans, the Alaska state bird.  They looked a lot like pheasant or grouse to me.  They eventually flew off as we continued our hike.

    Caribou grazing near the bus

    Caribou grazing near the bus

    Another caribou near the bus on our ride back toward camp.

    The line of latrines at one of the rest stops

    The line of latrines at one of the rest stops

    The rest stops along the bus route looked like this.  The doors were probably three inches thick and heavily reinforced to keep out bears and other animals.  All were very clean!

    A game of rummy

    A game of rummy

    That night we played rummy and watched a little television before bed.

    Homework time while on the road

    Homework time while on the road

    The next morning we left the campground and headed southward.  On our way up, we had tried to get a flight up to a glacier on the slopes of Mt. McKinley.  This morning the clouds cleared, and it looked like we might be able to fly, so we packed up and headed back to Talkeetna.  During a portion of the drive, the kids worked on their Summer reading.

    Tommy working on his Summer reading

    Tommy working on his Summer reading

    Our first clear view of Mt. McKinley

    Our first clear view of Mt. McKinley

    Then we turned a bend in the road and there was Mt. McKinley.  They say only 31% of visitors to Alaska get to see the whole mountain.  It was much more impressive than this picture conveys.  Mt. McKinley is the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, at 20k+ feet of elevation.

    Another view of Mt. McKinley from Talkeetna

    Another view of Mt. McKinley from Talkeetna

    We stopped several times along the way to get different and better shots of the mountain.  The sky got better and better all day.

    Getting "booted up" for our glacier walk

    Getting "booted up" for our glacier walk

    We were lucky to get a 1430 flight up the mountain for a glacier landing from Talkeetna.  Each of us donned a pair of protective over boots so that we could walk around in the snow on the glacier.

    Ready for takeoff

    Ready for takeoff

    There were six of us plus the pilot on this DeHaviland Beaver.

    Approaching Mt. McKinley by air

    Approaching Mt. McKinley by air

    The flight was smooth, and along the way the pilot had a lot of interesting things to point out.  I got to sit up front and take lots of pictures.

    Getting closer

    Getting closer

    The glaciers on Mt. McKinley are growing at an average rate of about three feet a day.  The guide said that the glaciers act like frozen rivers.  They have falls, currents, and even cataracts.

    Ice fall

    Ice fall

    Here you can see where ice has formed, cracked, and fallen.  These falls grow at a rate of six or more feet per day and push the glacier down the valley.

    On the glacier with Mt. McKinley in the distance

    On the glacier with Mt. McKinley in the distance

    Landing on the glacier was interesting.  The surface was slushy, so the plane slid around on its skis until it came to a stop.  The temperature was about 30 degrees, but it felt much warmer due to the sun and the heat radiating off the snow and rocks.

    Our plane

    Our plane

    We spent about 25 minutes on the glacier before returning to Talkeetna.  The guide told us that glaciologists come up here to study the McKinley glaciers quite frequently.  They have taken deep core samples.  Air is trapped in the glaciers, so core samples reveal things about the air 10s of thousands of years ago.  For the global warming crowd, the scientists who study these glaciers say that the percent of greenhouse gasses in the air 10,000 years ago is about the same as it is today.

    A view of "rapids" along the Ruth glacier

    A view of "rapids" along the Ruth glacier

    In this picture you can see how the ice cracks as it flows downhill.  Also note the light blue patches.  The color of the glacial ice is blue.  It doesn’t show in most of the pictures, but in person you could see the slightly blue color.  The light blue patches in this picture are deep fissures or crevasses that have filled with snow.  When the sun is out, the top layers melt a little and turn into these light blue lakes or ponds.

    After returning to Talkeetna, we played in the elementary school playground for a few minutes and then headed South to Houston to stop for the night before continuing south past Anchorage.

     

    Vacation 2014: Days 3 and 4

    Posted By on July 25, 2014

    Walking uphill to Thunderbird Falls

    Walking uphill to Thunderbird Falls

    Day three involved a drive from Anchorage to Talkeetna with ad hoc stops along the way.  Candy has a great book that has everything in Alaska by milepost.  We made an impromptu stop at a pullout for Thunderbird Falls.  After a mile hike over mostly easy trail, we reached the falls.

    Thunderbird Falls

    Thunderbird Falls

    They were nice, but not the most spectacular falls we’ve ever seen.  Still, it was a nice hike and a great way to break up the drive.

    The Iditarod Headquarters

    The Iditarod Headquarters

    Farther up the road, in Wasilla (Sarah Palin’s home town), we visited the Iditarod Race Headquarters.  The race actually begins in Anchorage, but the headquarters is in Wasilla.

    Some of the artifacts inside the Iditarod HQ

    Some of the artifacts inside the Iditarod HQ

    Inside the gift store they showed an eighteen-minute movie and had some very interesting race memorabilia.  I was hoping that the movie would talk more about the history of the race.  It was in fact more like a racing documentary, discussing the mushers competing in the 2012 race.  In anchorage we learned that this race commemorates an historical event.  One winter there was an outbreak of diphtheria in Nome and the only way to get the serum from Anchorage was by dogsled.  Sometime in the the 60′s or 70′s someone came up with the idea or resurrecting the event for sport, not unlike running a marathon, which was initially to commemorate the end of the battle of Marathon.

    Miller's in Houston, AK

    Miller's in Houston, AK

    Still farther up the road toward Talkeetna we stopped at Miller’s roadside cafe.  They were reputed to have great burgers and ice cream.  They did.  This was a neat place: combination general store, ice cream parlor, burger joint, coffee house, and post office.  In fact the Postmaster is the person who cooked our food.

    Hmmm. To lick or not to lick?

    Hmmm. To lick or not to lick?

    We topped off our food with ice cream and got back on the road.

    Our campsite at Talkeetna

    Our campsite at Talkeetna

    Eventually we arrived in Talkeetna.  The town, which has a year-round population of ~800, was originally a transit point where goods were take off barges and the hauled by mules, horses, or dog sleds farther into the interior.  Today it is largely a tourist attraction, with gift stores, place to eat, river rafting excursions, and flights to glaciers on Mt. McKinley.

    Downtown Talkeetna

    Downtown Talkeetna

    We signed up for a flight up to a glacier on Mt. McKinley the next day and walked into town to look around.

    Entering downtown Talkeetna

    Entering downtown Talkeetna

    Future mushers

    Future mushers

    Smooch!

    Smooch!

    Zoom!

    Zoom!

    The garlic spinach bread here was awesome!

    The garlic spinach bread here was awesome!

    Nagley's General Store in Talkeetna

    Nagley's General Store in Talkeetna

    This town was the model for the town in the television show Northern Exposure.  One of the locals told us that the high school (fed by three towns) graduated 22 last year.  This general store reminded me of the one in my grandmother’s home town in Illinois.   There was a little bit of everything in the store, from bread to bait and from animal skins to snacks.

    The master chef grills teriyaki chicken kabobs

    The master chef grills teriyaki chicken kabobs

    That night I made chicken kabobs on the grill for dinner.  We finished the day with a little ice cream while watching an episode of the Mission Impossible TV show.  It began to rain that night.  The next morning, clouds hung low in the sky and visibility was limited.  Our flight to the glacier was cancelled.  We, therefore, took our time getting packed up and then headed toward the entrance to Denali National Park.

    Sam goofing in front of the Alaska Veteran's Memorial

    Sam goofing in front of the Alaska Veteran's Memorial

    One of our stops this day was in Denali State Park, where we saw the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial.  Nearby were some VERY interesting placards describing interesting vignettes about Alaska at War, mostly WWII and the Cold War.  There was also a story about a Confederate ship, the Shenandoah, which was sent to Alaska to sink Union whaling boats.  Apparently, profits from whale hunting were important sources of revenue to finance the war.  The Shenandoah sank 6 or 8 Union whaling vessels, continuing its mission for six months after the war had officially ended.  There is debate among historians as to whether the crew knew the war was over and kept sinking ships anyway.  This whole memorial area was a really unexpected gem.

    A view of the mountains along Parks Highway

    A view of the mountains along Parks Highway

    You can see by this picture that it was drizzly all day, and visibility was limited.  We should have been able to see Mt. McKinley most of the day, but the thick clouds got in the way.  We eventually arrived at our campsite just a few miles outside the gate to the Denali National Park.  I barely had time to finish cooking burgers for dinner on our little grill before the sky opened up.  We are told that the weather will get progressively better throughout the weekend, so we have hopes of a good visit to the National Park and making another attempt to fly up the mountain and land on a glacier.

    Planning for Barrage Commences

    Posted By on July 24, 2014

    A view of the gaming area in full swing

    A view of the gaming area in full swing

    Now that HISTORICON is behind us, the HAWKs will begin planning our annual gaming day, Barrage.  This year’s event will be 13 September.  If you would like to run an event, please contact surdu@acm.org.  Also, see the Barrage Web site:  http://www.bucksurdu.com/Buck_Surdu/Barrage.html

    In addition to a full slate of games, we will also have a table running all day with games specifically suited for younger gamers.

    The HAWKs

    The HAWKs

    Historicon 2014

    Posted By on July 23, 2014

    Last weekend was HMGS East’s flagship convention, HISTORICON.  For the third year in a row it was held at the Expo Center in Fredericksburg, VA.  I had planned to take both Thursday and Friday off work to attend.  Since I hand’t committed to running any Thursday games, at the last minute I determined to go to work on Thursday and drive down later.  I was supposed to leave work at 1700, but didn’t get out until 1830.  I met my wife at Ikia just north of DC to pick up my son.  He and I made excellent time, finding a rare gap in the normally heinous traffic on I-95 south out of DC.  When we arrived and began unloading all my stuff into the HAWKs room, gaming had been underway for hours.

    Dave running his 10mm Napoleonic game using Fate of Battle

    Dave running his 10mm Napoleonic game using Fate of Battle

    Don ran a series of linked WWII scenarios on this table

    Don ran a series of linked WWII scenarios on this table

    Duncan running a War of 1813 game using Wellington Rules

    Duncan running a War of 1813 game using Wellington Rules

    Ants chasing a jeep full of soldiers

    Ants chasing a jeep full of soldiers

    My first game was a GASLIGHT game in which teams of soldiers venture into a colony of giant ants to rescue some lost kids.  Despite a valiant effort the ants ate all the soldiers, and only one of three lost kids survived to tell the tale — and spend lots of money on therapy.

    Two soldiers skirmish with a radioactive ant

    Two soldiers skirmish with a radioactive ant

    Tank running his Romans vs. Carthaginians game using Bear Yourselves Valiantly

    Tank running his Romans vs. Carthaginians game using Bear Yourselves Valiantly

    Dave assisting with my Mincio River game

    Dave assisting with my Mincio River game

    Dave assisting with Mincio

    Dave assisting with Mincio

    Chris' Battle of Five Armies game using Bear Yourselves Valiantly

    Chris' Battle of Five Armies game using Bear Yourselves Valiantly

    Bill's GAMER event

    Bill's G.A.M.E.R. event

    Bill ran this 54mm WWII game using my under-development G.A.M.E.R. rules.  (The acronym stands for the attributes of each figure:  guts, accuracy, melee, endurance, and reaction).  While one of the players thought that hand-to-hand shouldn’t carry over for multiple turns, in general the rules were well received.

    A view of Bill's 54mm Normandy game using G.A.M.E.R.

    A view of Bill's 54mm Normandy game using G.A.M.E.R.

    Chris' Hundred Years War game

    Chris' Hundred Years War game

    See details of Chris’ Battle of Barnett here:  http://onemoregamingproject.blogspot.com/2014/07/battle-of-barnet-14-april-1471-game-at.html

    One of my 10mm Napoleonic games

    One of my 10mm Napoleonic games

    I ran two 10mm Napoleonic Wars games with Fate of Battle:  Mincio River and Hanau.  Dave Wood ran another Napoleonic scenario, and he and Duncan ran the Battle of Vittoria on Saturday evening.  All seemed to go well, with the occasional rules lawyer or bad sport to dampen the event a little.  The rules seem to be slowly gaining some momentum; although, I did have one person sit through the rules briefing and then say he wasn’t interested and leave.

    A good shot of the setup of Sam's kids game, which featured the Eureka toy soldiers assaulting a for made of blocks held by the Eureka teddy bears

    A good shot of the setup of Sam's kids game, which featured the Eureka toy soldiers assaulting a for made of blocks held by the Eureka teddy bears

    Sam ran her first convention game.  It was a battle between the Eureka teddy bear figures and the Eureka toy soldier figures.  It was set up as a kids game.  She built all the terrain herself.  She went with a candy land theme.  She was quite nervous at the start, but once the game got going, she did a good job.

    Sammy running her kids game

    Sammy running her kids game

    Like many of our kids table games, she used Milk and Cookies Rules from Big Battles for Little Hands for this game.

    Sam's game in progress

    Sam's game in progress

    The objective of the toy soldiers, who outnumbered the bears, was to capture the fort made of toy blocks.  While the toy soldiers killed most of the bears, they didn’t get to the fort, so it was a teddy bear victory.

    Ed's 20mm modern skirmish

    Ed's 20mm modern skirmish

    Ed, who came down with Sam Fuson, ran his modern skirmish game set in Afghanistan.

    Sam's Sherlock Holmes GASLIGHT game

    Sam's Sherlock Holmes GASLIGHT game

    It was quite successful.  The folks had a good time.  Sam ran a Sherlock Holmes inspired GASLIGHT game.

    Geoff running his Lego pirate game

    Geoff running his Lego pirate game

    As usual, the HAWKs set aside a table for kids games.  Geoff ran his plastic pirate barroom brawl game twice.

    Geoff making a point with the youngsters

    Geoff making a point with the youngsters

    I’m not sure what point Geoff was making, but it was hard to miss.  Geoff is really good as a GM for these kids games.

    Eric running his Armies for Kids Napoleonic game

    Eric running his Armies for Kids Napoleonic game

    Eric ran the Armies for Kids giveaway game this year.  See Chris’ blog post for more details:  http://onemoregamingproject.blogspot.com/2014/07/hawks-2014-historicon-armies-for-kids.html

    A view of some of the 54mm figures in the Armies for Kids giveaway game

    A view of some of the 28mm figures in the Armies for Kids giveaway game

    This is our fourth year of hosting a game for kids under 10, after which we pass out free, painted armies to the participants.  This is an outreach effort to try to grow the hobby.  There were two very nice threads about this on TMP.  The latter is from a dad.  His comments capture exactly why we do this every year.

    http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=353652

    http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=353643

    The winners in the Armies for Kids giveaway

    The winners in the Armies for Kids giveaway

    It was really fun watching the kids’ faces as we passed out armies, terrain, dice, and rules at the end of the game.

    This convention also marked the 20th anniversary of the HAWKs as a club.  To commemorate this, we cut a celebratory cake Saturday evening, which was shared with folks playing games in our room.  See Chris’ blog post for details:  http://onemoregamingproject.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-hawks-celebrate-their-20th.html

    Bill's large-scale Helm's Deep game

    Bill's large-scale Helm's Deep game

    Bill and his son William ran this Helm’s Deep game with very large figures on Saturday night.

    Jennifer Palmer running her Blood and Swash tavern game

    Jennifer Palmer running her Blood and Swash tavern game

    The start of my GASLIGHT dog sled race

    The start of my GASLIGHT dog sled race

    Friday night Don, Chris, and I ran a reprise of our HAWKs 1000 race game.  The original HAWKs 1000 game was organized by Todd Harland-White and had four races:  dog sleds, a desert car race, a zeppelin race, and an airboat race through the jungle.  Since Todd was unable to attend, we restructured the race with just three legs:  the dog sled and car races as well as a new hover skiffs on Mars game.  Each leg was an hour, after which the players rotated to the next table.  Each player raced in all three legs of the race, collecting points along the way to determine the overall winner.  See Chris’ post here:  http://onemoregamingproject.blogspot.com/2014/07/hawks-1000-race-game-at-historicon.html

    Coming around the first turn of my dogsled race

    Coming around the first turn of my dogsled race

    My dog sled race was wild and woolly, as usual.  There were lots of flipped sleds and wounded dogs along the course.

    The hover craft lined up at the start of the Mars leg of the HAWKs 1000 race

    The hover craft lined up at the start of the Mars leg of the HAWKs 1000 race

    The hover skiff race, a new addition, seemed to go very well.  The hover skiffs (shown above) were made from dispensers for rolls of chewing gum with some bits added.  The figures were a combination of manufacturers, from Blue Moon, scratch-built robots, Pulp Figures, Recreation Conflict, and others.

    I ran a final event Sunday morning, my fifth of the convention.  It was a G.A.M.E.R. event.  It was mainly about getting feedback on the rules with a simple scenario in which commandos and partisans are trying to steal an enigma machine from the Germans.  I don’t know if I was just tired by the end of the weekend, but the game wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to me as the other times I’ve run the game.  There were also one or two people in the game who kept fighting the unique mechanics, kept waiting for me to resolve things for them, or wanted to argue about things.  They can’t all be great, I guess.

    So, I ran five games, all of which filled, and most of which went well:

    • Friday morning:  Them! (giant ants) (GASLIGHT)
    • Friday afternoon:  played Stan Sunderworth’s WWI airplane game with my son
    • Friday evening:  Battle of Mincio (Fate of Battle)
    • Saturday morning:  Battle of Hanau (Fate of Battle)
    • Saturday afternoon: did a little shopping and watched my kids play All Quiet on the Martian Front, which they enjoyed quite a bit.
    • Saturday evening:  HAWKs 1000 race (GASLIGHT)
    • Sunday morning:  Commandos Strike at Dawn (GAMER)

    2014 Family Vacation: Days 1 and 2

    Posted By on July 23, 2014

    This year’s family vacation is a trip to Alaska.  Once again, Candy has painstakingly planned this event.  Day one was a travel day from Baltimore through Detroit through Seattle to Anchorage.  In Detroit Metro airport we had a long layover, which enabled us to get a stack of Coney Island hotdogs at National Coney Island.  I was quite disappointed in not being able to find a Vernors ginger ale.

    Candy and Tom at National Coney Island

    Candy and Tom at National Coney Island

    We also learned — almost by accident — that there is a USO-like organization operating in the Detroit airport, so we had a chance to sit on comfortable couches and have a drink in a quiet place while we waited for our flight.

    Our first view of Alaska

    Our first view of Alaska

    After nearly 10.5 hours in the air and two layovers, we finally caught a glimpse of Alaska.  You can see a glacier under the wing along the southeastern coast of Alaska.  This was about 0100 East Coast time.

    We are renting an RV for this trip.  We arrived after the rental agency, Great Alaska Highways, was closed.  The rental agency is used to having people arrive late, so they had the keys for our RV on the rear wheel and allowed us to sleep in it overnight.  The picture above was taken at about 2200 at night; Anchorage had 17.5 hours of daylight yesterday.  We arrived got to bed after midnight after we unpacked our suit cases into the various drawers, closets, and cubby holes.  The next morning we got our training on the RV and were on our way.

    Waking up -- slowly

    Waking up -- slowly

    Our first stop was downtown anchorage for a trolley tour and brief history lesson.  We learned quite a bit about the great earthquake (the second largest in world history) and some other interesting facts.

    The visitor's center in Anchorage

    The visitor's center in Anchorage

    Hotdogs and bratwurst from a street vendor in downtown Anchorage

    Hotdogs and bratwurst from a street vendor in downtown Anchorage

    I found this sign near the visitor’s center interesting.

    Sam makes a friend

    Sam makes a friend

    After a couple of hours wandering around some gift shops, we headed out of town.  Our first stop was our proposed camp sight for the first night — just a couple miles outside Anchorage near Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.  We reserved our camp sight and then went to visit the Alaska Heritage Center.

    A semi-subterranean native Alaskan dwelling

    A semi-subterranean native Alaskan dwelling

    The Alaska Heritage Center includes villages representing the 11 major cultural groups in Alaska.  Most had high school aged docents from those regions and cultures who described the traditional dwellings, tools, and other artifacts.  Except in the southeastern part of Alaska, which is classified as rainforest, most of the state is permafrost.  The native Alaskans built semi subterranean dwellings that protected them from the harsh temperatures.  The picture above shows the entrance to a reproduction of one such dwelling.

    A young man shows off his skills at a native Alaskan athletic event

    A young man shows off his skills at a native Alaskan athletic event

    In addition there were a number of talks by the high school aged kids and some demonstrations of native dancing and sports.  The picture above shows one native athletic event in which the participant, starting from a standing position, jumps straight up and tries to kick a ball hanging in the air.  The demonstrator placed third in the recent native Alaskan athletic games.

    We also took the time to do something really touristy at the Alaskan Heritage Center:  we got pulled in a training sled around a short course by a team of dogs that completed this year’s Iditarod competition.  Afterward we had a chance to see some of the dogs, who were amazingly friendly.  I expected them to be more wild.

    A whale skeleton

    A whale skeleton

    After about four hours at the Alaska Heritage Center we went to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson to stock up our camper with food for the next week or so.  Then we retired to our camp sight for a light dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken noodle soup.  We were quite tired from the previous day’s traveling and late night, so we hit the sack early.

    The temperature was between 55 and 65 all day.  The weather and scenery were terrific.

     

    Hiking the Grand Canyon with the Venture Crew

    Posted By on June 28, 2014

    This past week I was one of five adults who supported a trip to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim.  (Venturing is a program of Boy Scouts of America that is co-ed.)  The trip included three major phases:  two days in Bryce Canyon, four days in the Grand Canyon, and two days in Las Vegas.

    The Crew arrives in Las Vegas and finds our bags

    The Crew arrives in Las Vegas and finds our bags

    Early last Saturday we flew from BWI to Las Vegas with all our camping gear.  Then we rented a 15-passenger van (with surprisingly little cargo capacity) for the three hour drive to Bryce Canyon.  Despite the cramped conditions in the vehicle, everyone was in high spirits.  We stopped at Walmart near the airport and bought all our food for the camping days and then headed to Bryce.

    The entrance of Bryce Canyon

    The entrance of Bryce Canyon

    The Crew

    The Crew

    We spent a day and a half hiking around Bryce Canyon.  This was a good shakedown and opportunity for people to exercise those hiking muscles prior to the main event.

    A view of the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

    A view of the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

    We camped two nights in the Bryce Canyon campground and hiked during the day.  A couple of the adventurous kids and I got up early to see the sunrise over the hoodoos.

    The "Natural Bridge" at Bryce Canyon

    The "Natural Bridge" at Bryce Canyon

    Cooking quesadillas in the Bryce Canyon campground

    Cooking quesadillas in the Bryce Canyon campground

    Our last morning in Bryce we took a final hike to see the “mossy cave.”  Nearby was a nice side hike up to a window formed in the rocks by wind and erosion.

    The final hike at Bryce before heading to the North Rim

    The final hike at Bryce before heading to the North Rim

    This last hike was a lot of fun.  I remember making this hike with our kids many years ago the first time we visited Bryce.  We crammed ourselves back into the van and drove three hours to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We chose to start our rim-to-rim hike from the North Rim because it is 1000 feet higher than the South Rim.  We figured this would be a slightly easier route.

    Entering the Grand Canyon

    Entering the Grand Canyon

    The first day, North Rim to the Cottonwood campground, began at 0540.  Our aim was to avoid hiking in the heat of the day.  It was actually cold when we departed, so you can see some of the folks wearing jackets in the picture below.  As we moved down into the canyon, the temperature rose.

    Heading out at 0540

    Heading out at 0540

    Below you can see us snaking around a switchback.  You can see in the background just how deep we were going to go during this first hike.

    Early in the looooong downhill trek

    Early in the looooong downhill trek

    The first portion of the hike involved a large number of switch backs.  After hiking for about a mile and a half, we stopped to rest.  I was thinking that the hike wasn’t as bad as I expected, but then it got worse!

    One of the many beautiful views as we descended toward the valley floor (note the trail far below)

    One of the many beautiful views as we descended toward the valley floor (note the trail far below)

    There is debate among the Crew as to whether the first or last day was harder.  After we crossed the bridge shown below, the sun came out, and the next couple of miles were brutal.

    This bridge over a gorge marked the beginning of the most grueling part of the first day's trek

    This bridge over a gorge marked the beginning of the most grueling part of the first day's trek

    The scenery throughout the hike to Cottonwood was breathtaking.  The hike was about 7 miles long, and we were pretty tired when we finally stopped.

    Wow!

    Wow!

    We arrived at Cottonwood by noon.  There was little shade in the Spartan campsite.  The temperatures was over 100 degrees.  Some of the folks sought the little shade that was available and played cards.  I took four of the kids to see the Ribbon Falls (pictures to be posted in a subsequent article).  While I didn’t feel like hiking an extra three miles, Ribbon Falls were definitely worth the effort.

    One of the two campsites in the Cottonwood area

    One of the two campsites in the Cottonwood area

    The “girls’” campsite was visited by a small rattlesnake which slowly made its away across the trail to another site.

    A rest stop along the Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch hike

    A rest stop along the Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch hike

    The next morning we set out early through “the box” from Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch.  We set out early to avoid the direct sun.  It worked.  All day (7.2 miles) the direct sunlight was blocked by the high canyon walls, so we arrived at Phantom Ranch in good condition.

    Early morning view as we head from Cottonwood toward Phantom Ranch

    Early morning view as we head from Cottonwood toward Phantom Ranch

    The walk was mostly downhill, and the terrain wasn’t very rough.  Because we avoided the direct sunlight, the hike was pleasant.  We actually arrived at Phantom Ranch sooner than we had expected.

    Arriving at Phantom Ranch

    Arriving at Phantom Ranch

    We turned around a corner and found a sign saying “Bright Angel Campground .3 miles ahead.”  Phantom Ranch has flush toilets and a terrific creek in which to sit and cool off.  It also had Kamikaze squirrels who preyed on our backpacks looking for food.  In fact, they’ve gotten so used to stealing food from campers that they are attracted to the smell of plastic bags in which food is usually stored.

    The temperatures at Phantom Ranch reached 120 degrees by mid afternoon.  The thermometers near the Bright Angel Campground said it “felt like” 130 degrees.

    Steak dinner at the Phantom Ranch Canteen

    Steak dinner at the Phantom Ranch Canteen

    That night we had a wonderful steak dinner.  You have to reserve and pay for this in advance.  All the food is carried down by mule that day and included very good steaks, baked potatoes, corn, peas, cornbread, and a great salad.  I was surprised at the fresh butter and sour cream for the potatoes.  Every was stuffed.  After dinner many of us hit the sack early, but a couple of the kids came back to the canteen to play cards.  The next morning we had a bacon, eggs, and pancakes breakfast and picked up bag lunches before heading out.   These pre-paid meals allowed us to reduce the weight in our packs by three meals.  All the food was excellent.

    Crossing the Silver Bridge over the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch

    Crossing the Silver Bridge over the Colorado River near Phantom Ranch

    We were up at four and on the trail by 0530.  Just outside Phantom Ranch we crossed over the Colorado River on this bridge, which was narrow and swayed as people tromped over it.  The view was amazing.

    The Silver Bridge over the Colorado River

    The Silver Bridge over the Colorado River

    A little way up the hill toward Indian Garden, you can see the view of the river and the Silver bridge.

    A view up from along the trail

    A view up from along the trail

    The hike from Phantom Ranch to Indian Garden was about 5 miles, mostly up hill.  At the end of the hike there were lots of sore muscles and tired campers.  We made this hike in just over three miles and arrived at the campground sooner than expected.

    Arriving at Indian Garden campsite

    Arriving at Indian Garden campsite

    While Indian Garden had a creek that was deemed “lame” by the kids compared to the creeks at either Cottonwood or Phantom Ranch, all the campsites had shade.  We had thick cloud cover all afternoon, which further cut the heat.  A couple of us even managed to take a nap in the late morning.

    Some of the crew engaging in yoga to loosen tired muscles

    Some of the crew engaging in yoga to loosen tired muscles

    Hiking up the trail from Indian Garden toward the South Rim

    Hiking up the trail from Indian Garden toward the South Rim

    The next morning we woke at 0300, planning a 0430 start time for the last 4.5 miles of the hike to the South Rim.  This was straight up for 4.5 miles.  The picture above gives you a sense for the climb.  We stopped every 1.5 miles for a water break.

    Kitt in front of a sign with our favorite expression about hiking the Grand Canyon

    Kitt in front of a sign with our favorite expression about hiking the Grand Canyon

    Less than a mile from the South Rim and the Bright Angel trailhead we saw this sign: “Going down is optional; up is mandatory.”

    A view back down the trail -- note the switch backs

    A view back down the trail -- note the switch backs

    Here is another picture which provides some idea of the difficulty of the climb with full backpacks.  In the center is the three mile rest house from a few minutes farther up the trail.

    Done!

    Mission complete!

    At 0830, a half hour ahead of schedule, we arrived at the trailhead.  I asked everyone to pretend they were tired for this pictures, since none of us were really tired.

    Everyone did well.  Several had doubts when we began whether they could finish the walk.  “Up is mandatory,”  however.  In the end, many of the participants accomplished more than they expected and learned something about themselves.  More importantly at the end of four tough days, everyone was still friends.  We had no serious sun burns and few injuries, other than three bruised toes.

    Just a few minutes after we completed the hike, Candy showed up with the van.  After spending an hour repacking duffle bags in shoving all our gear back in the van, we all headed for the gift shop to get our “rim to rim” T-shirts.  After a large lunch in the nearby lodge, we headed to Williams, Arizona for some rest and relaxation, which included showers, time in the pool, showers, horseshoes, showers, pizza, showers, and early bedtime.

    HAWKs’ Armies for Kids Project, 2015

    Posted By on June 17, 2014

    For several years, the Harford Area Weekly Kriegspielers (HAWKs)  have been running a really neat event at Historicon.  In addition to the other games we run at the convention that are targeted toward younger gamers (we dedicate a table throughout Saturday of the con to only kids’ games) we run a special event.  This event, the Armies for Kids game, involves kids who are under 10 usually using Milk and Cookies Rules (from Big Battles for Little Hands).  After the event is over, each kid gets to take away two complete, painted armies and some other goodies.  In the past we’ve provided terrain pieces, rules, tape measures, etc.

    This year’s project is 25/28mm Napoleonics.  Using a combination of figures from a number donors, including the NASHCON staff, we have pieced together six sets for this year.  Each kid who plays in the game will receive a French army and an army from one of the opposing powers.  There are a handful of painted figures that couldn’t be made into units and a box of unpainted lead as well.  During the game the game master (Eric Schlegel this year) will ask the kids some history questions.  If they answer correctly, they get to take something from these extras.

    The picture at the top of this post shows some of the HAWKs working on Father’s Day to assemble the donations into armies, rebase many of the figures, and make small repairs.  The picture below shows one of the armies being assembled.

    This year’s donations included some old Scruby figures and other rarities that are the “missing link” between the toy soldiers of Little Wars and modern wargaming figures.  Other donations include Calpe 28mm figures and some old “small 25′s.”  We tried to match up figures by size in each child’s army, but it’s not perfect.

    Next year’s project will be 40mm ACW skirmish.  We are building around a very generous donation of painted 40mm Union troops.  If you have any 40mm Confederates you’d like to donate, or any other donations you’d like to consider, please contact me at surdu@acm.org.  The donations all go to kids.  In very rare cases we’ve sold or traded some of the donations in order to purchase missing items to build complete armies.  We think this is a really nice way to do something about the “graying of the hobby” beyond complaining about it.  When you see the look on the kids’ faces, it makes the many hours spent during the year well worth the effort.

    HAWKs Night Play Test of Vittoria

    Posted By on June 8, 2014

    Close up of Subijana de Alava

    Close up of Subijana de Alava

    I missed this Friday’s game night, because I was chaperoning an end-of-the-school-year part for 20+ teenagers (which by the way went very well and was uneventful).  While I was listening to teeny bopper music and watching the teens devour food, Duncan and Dave were play testing their Vittoria scenario for Historicon.  These are pictures of the game taken by Duncan and posted to our closed club newsgroup.

    Hill's Division in Subijana de Alava

    Hill's Division in Subijana de Alava

    We’ve determined over the past couple of years that the HAWKs are not necessarily good barometers for convention games.  We tend to be more aggressive than the average convention game participants and often do things the GM did not expect.

    French Counter Attack on the 4th Division

    French Counter Attack on the 4th Division

    Chris told me that Friday was no exception.  The French were supposed to be defending a ridge to keep the British away from the town.  In HAWKs fashion, Eric suggested that an attack down hill against the Brits would move the fight farther from the town and guarantee the Brits couldn’t get to the town before the scenario ended.

    Picton and the Light Division

    Picton and the Light Division

    According to Chris, the plan worked.  The Brits didn’t reach the town; although, the French were decimated by the end of the game.  Duncan is reportedly looking to provide the Brits additional reinforcements on one of the flanks if the French do this during the convention game.

    Battle line looking South at Vittoria

    Battle line looking South at Vittoria

    Dave and Duncan have put in a lot of time painting Brits and researching the scenario.  Duncan’s output of Brits has been impressive.  The game looks great.

     

    Nice Article on our GASLIGHT Game at NASHCON

    Posted By on June 6, 2014

    Cigar Box Battle posted a nice writeup of our NASHCON GASLIGHT game.  See it here:  http://www.cigarboxbattle.com/the-h-a-w-ks-undersea-gaslight-game-at-nashcon/