Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My favorite games...

I am a gamer and proud of it.  No, not Life or Stratego, I’m talking wargames and role playing games.  Yes, I am a geek.   I’ve been a gamer for a long time, and my gaming is what got me into writing – something I am quite proud of.   I broke into the hobby playing the old Avalon Hill and SPI products and I still own my white-boxed first edition of D&D. 
I was thinking the other night about some of the great games I have played over the years.  Some of the games I  put on the list may suck – but they offered some unique design feature that still appeal to me.  So, here we go  with my favorite wargame and RPG list:
Panzerblitz/Panzerleader   Two Avalon Hill classics.  These games were great because they introduced geomorphic boards.  One weekend in college we played the invasion of France on about 30 boards in some guys basement.  We each commanded a division.  It was totally insane and almost unmanageable – and I loved it. 
Jutland  James Dunnigan’s design for Avalon Hill.  This game was pure genius in terms of using the floor as a battlefield.  I love the simplicity of the turn-tools and the look, when you stood up, of the massive fleets facing off. 
Strategy I  We’re talking old school SPI.  Great game allowing you to simulate a lot of different periods.  Strategy I broke a lot of new ground in terms of game mechanics. 
Terrible Swift Sword  SPI’s monster game of Gettysburg.  I played the campaign one summer and it was neat.  The game mechanics on this one were very solid and accurate to the period.  I got to witness the Army of Northern Virginia shatter the Federals on Culp Hill and roll up the entire Union line.  The bad part was it was my command that got slammed.  Damn old Baldy! 
Dungeons and Dragons – the first hardback book edition.  I still have mine, signed by Gygax almighty himself.  This changed the gaming industry once and for all.
Traveller -  I am talking the first boxed set, “This is the free trader Beowolf…” edition.  Back before they fleshed out their gaming universe, it was a nice little system to play.  I wrote my first article for the Ann Arbor Wargamer on this game – introducing lightsabers as a weapon.  Traveller was a lot of fun to play and had great character generation techniques.  I liked the academies and the fact that to have a really skilled character, they had to be really old.   
Battlefleet Mars  This SPI game remains a favorite of mine.  Never heard of it?  Your loss.  This was a game where you launched bombardments against planets months in advance via Catapult ships.  Very innovative game about Mars’ bid for freedom. 
Dauntless  Produced by Battleline, it had massively thick counters and was a very playable game system to simulate WWII aerial combat in the Pacific.  Very fun to play and the outcome of each scenario was up in the air (pun intended). 
Fight in the Skies  TSR cranked this babe out back when they were into gaming.  It was a wonderful game of WWI fighter combat.  Basic, simple, and fun - a nice balance. 
The Arab Israeli Wars  Okay, I admit it, this was a spin-off of the Panzerblitz system for modern warfare.  When I bought it I knew nothing about the conflicts.  By the time I was down I was hooked.  Between choppers flying nape-of-the-earth to Sagger missiles, this game was very slick. 
Tobruk  Avalon Hill put this game out and frankly it was incredible.  The map sucked (flat open desert…boring…) but the mechanics were akin to the best of the miniature games.  This game was a ton of fun to play and had a progressive system for learning the rules. 
Star Trek RPG.  A FASA classic, this game was a great RPG.  What I liked about it was summed up by two things.  First, you could pilot a starship with your characters and the system was easy and fun.  Second, the boxed set came with two 15mm blueprints of the Enterprise and a Klingon D7 Battle Cruiser.  It was worth the price for the blueprints alone.  I know some people feel Star Fleet Battles was the way to go…and I’m sorry that they are wrong. 
BattleTech  Alright, I admit a slight bias here on my part.  BattleTech remains the best game ever for three story humanoid war machine combat (is that even a category?  Well, it should be!).  What I loved about the game was the fantastic tech readouts (some of which I wrote) and the fact that in combat, from time-to-time, a lucky shot could take down even the most powerful ‘Mech.  Add in the most robust history out there in terms of a universe – and you have a winning combination.  Twenty-five years of play can’t be wrong. 
Gamma World – first edition boxed set.  I got this at Origins when it was released, quite literally right off the presses.  I sold it years ago and regretted that action ever since.  The original version of this game was neat because it introduced mutations to role playing games and let’s face it, that’s pretty cool. 
Centurion  FASA did a series of games in the Renegade Legion universe that were pretty cool.  The futuristic grav tank combat game, Centurion, had some neat mechanics and the second edition set had nice little plastic mini’s.  The universe had a ton of flaws, but the game itself, with its unique armor penetration system makes this game worthy of a second look.  Interceptor, it's sister game, rocked too, but Centurion was very neat to play. 
Mutants and Masterminds  This super hero RPG was something that many RPG’s struggle with – it was well written.  The rules were clear, concise and easy to work with.  I have been dying for some time to run a campaign of this game…maybe sometime soon. 
Mage Knights, Heroclicks, and MechWarrior  Stop your groaning you pundits out there.  These games from WizKids changed a lot of how the industry dealt with miniature games.  We used to run some killer games for all three systems in my office/den/bunker.  I know the true BattleTech fans always were bitter about MechWarrior but hell, I embraced the game.  I loved these games and had a good time with my kids and the neighbors fighting out some big, hairy, tense battles. 
To The Green Fields Beyond  WWI – Tanks.  Need I say more?  This SPI classic battle of Cambrai is not only award winning but incredibly fun to play.  Any game with artillery barrage rules can't possibly suck. 
The Morrow Project  You’ve near heard of the Morrow Project?  A post-apocalypse RPG that had the look and feel of an army field manual.  Nothing was as cool as the list of nuclear targets in the US.  Yeah, the combat system wasn’t great, but ultimately the game had a neat look and feel. 
Asteroid Zero-Four  This little Task Force boardgame was simple, short, and fun.  Two asteroids loaded with space bombers, missile launch pads and silos slug it out.  You could collapse tunnels, kill power to parts of the target station.  Nukes!   You got to fire nukes! 
1776  Avalon Hill did some neat things with this game of the Revolutionary War.  They used decks of tactics cards which help determine the results of the battle.  Hey, at the time, it was, well, revolutionary!
Squad Leader  Not Advanced Squad Leader – the original series.  This game was neat because of the very tactical level of combat and the stunning mapboards.  When I was 17 I met Johnny Hill the designer at a convention in Kalamazoo and played in a large miniatures version of the game.  He rocked and so did the game.   
Wooden Ships and Iron Men  First off, this was the best title for a game ever in terms of describing the game itself.  Sailing ship combat was realistic and really required a lot of thinking.  I can’t tell you how many times the wind determined the winner of a game.
Wings of War  Fantasy Flight Games produces a number of great products (like Twilight Imperium) but the one I am addicted to is Wings of War.  This game is a beer and pretzels version of WWI fighter combat.  The rules can be taught in four minutes and the miniatures that are made for the game are, well, the best. 

Aces and Eights   Alright, those guys at Kenzerco created this thing called the shot clock and it is just about the best thing ever invented for an RPG.  Gunfights in the wild west haven't been this fun since Version 1 of Boot Hill. 
Well folks, there’s the list.  What have I missed?  Feel free to rebuttal my choices. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When Will You Write Another BattleTech Novel?

I get the question all of the time – “when will you be writing another BattleTech novel?”  I appreciate the fan zeal.  It isn’t a matter of me wanting to pen another novel.  After the novels I have written over the last few decades, I openly welcome the chance to climb into the cockpit of a ‘Mech and take her into battle.  I love writing for BattleTech and I'm glad some fans out there like my work. 
The IP (Intellectual Property) for BattleTech is owned by someone else.  It isn’t a matter of me wanting to write as much as, “do they have a slot for a novel open that is a good fit for me?”  When you are working with company’s like Catalyst , you can always offer to do some writing for them but it is a matter of them having the right product in mind for me.  Having worked with Randall Bills and Loren Coleman over the years, I trust that they will call upon me as needed.  They haven’t put out a novel in a while, so it’s not a matter of “we don’t want Blaine.”  They are waiting for the right opportunity…as am I. 
What is so appealing about BattleTech is that I am a fan of the universe too.  I like reading the stories and books about the product line just like everyone else.  I considered myself privileged to have been able to write so many BattleTech books over the years.  I have been around since the good old days (?) of FASA – starting with the first Technical Readout.  There are not a lot of writers that get a chance to work on such an IP for so many decades.   

While I wait for the chance for a book, I still am writing BattleTech – published on  I get paid for this too, which rocks.  I am working on a series right now I call SOB (Son of Blake) which chronicles a Word of Blake MechWarrior through the course of the Jihad.  When done, it will be a short little novel in length.  I personally enjoy the project because it tells the Jihad from the Word’s perspective. 
I have three more installments in mind for the series – but I’m not in a hurry.  If you’ve read my blog you’ll see that I am always working on a book or two, usually with one under contract.  Doing stuff for BattleCorps is something that I do in my free time, when I get that urge to strap on a coolant vest and fire up the fusion reactor.   
So, another BattleTech novel?  Sure!  I will say this, if given a chance, I would squeeze it in somehow.  There is something to be said about the crackle of particle projection cannon fire and the staccato of autocannon rounds and the roar of SRM's clearing the tubes.  Saddle up!    

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hip Deep In Evil

I have been working on my true crime book more recently.  And, in the coming weeks, will be stepping up my work on it.  I have to admit it is fun - and at the same time more than a little creepy. 

The bombing murder of Nola Puyear took place on August 18, 1967 on the main street of Marshall Michigan.  It was exceedingly violent – you don’t kill someone with explosives cleanly.  It was also a crime that held the community in fear. It wasn’t until October of that year that the murderer, Enoch Dalton Chism, was arrested. 

Michigan Avenue, Marshall MI, 1967

I am pleased with the number of people still alive who are coming forth for interviews.  A number of the investigators who worked on the case and knew the killer are still alive – as are the lawyers on both sides of the case.  I am amazed at their memories.  Some facts have been forgotten, but often times what is remembered is a fascinating level of detail I thrive on as a writer.  I was surprised at how much these men have been willing to share. 

I can say from the large amount of court records and police reports that I have culled over, I have formed an opinion of the murderer.  When you’re an author and you get “into the head” of someone that is touched with evil, it is can keep you up at night.  It’s akin to watching a horror movie as a kid and not being able to sleep.  There’s nothing there to be afraid of, but the fear remains.  That’s how it is with this criminal. 

I have a lot of questions that might never get answered – especially about the killer.  At the same time I have uncovered details that are far beyond disturbing.  I have had to look into the face of domestic violence in the era of “Mad Men” and at the same time study a killer that used a bomb in the mail to kill someone.  This was a murder that didn’t have to happen – but the legal system and the community as a whole failed. 

My nights have been disturbed as of late…but I believe it will all be worth it in the end.  I hope as readers, you feel the same.  In the meantime, I need to “borrow” my grandson’s night light…