Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation

This book was penned by one of the lead detectives on this infamous murder case, Stephen Thomas. Like many people, I figured that I knew a lot about this case. I was wrong. I only knew the snippets that the media presented over the years. I personally always suspected the Ramsey's as the culprits. The fact that they shielded themselves from prosecutors and police with a wall of lawyers seemed suspicious to say the least. But in fairness, I didn't really know the inside story until I read this book.

First off, the officer who penned this book tells a story of prosecutorial misconduct in the handling of the case that is appalling. Yes, the police made mistakes - those are detailed too. But in the end this is the real story of a six year old girl killed on Christmas Eve whose killers were never brought to trial because of the egregious failings of the DA's office. The police, in this telling, were hindered at every turn by the DA's which should have been working with them towards a common goal.

The Ramsey's most assuredly were responsible for the death of their daughter. They lied, misled, and misdirected the media and the public with false cries of being cooperative. The case has been so badly handled it is doubtful that a conviction will ever occur.

My only critique of the book at all was that by the end, I almost felt that the author was beating a dead horse. Then again, from his perspective, I'm sure it felt that way. Yes, we got it, the prosecutors were morons.  It's a minor nit on an otherwise outstanding book.  

The book contains new information we didn't know about the crime, the circumstantial evidence that points to the Ramsey's, and a real insider's perspective of the crime. It is well worth picking up and reading.   I give it four out of five starts - a worthwhile read.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Leviathans Mega Battle

The opening move - British on the right, French on the left 
I was one of the writer's and consultants on Leviathans from Catalyst Games Labs. Some close friends of mine and I decided to do a big game to really get a better feel for fleet actions. By big, I mean two of the game sets and boards - one each of the fleet boxes, and the ships we had won at GenCon over the last two years. We're talking eight battleships six cruisers and twelve destroyers facing off. We went with two even fleets, French (run by the dads) and the British (run by the kids). I'd love to tell you about some glorified scenario I had crafted for this battle, but in reality it was designed to be a slugfest on a squadron/fleet level.  We wanted to toss everything we had into the fight to see what a massive engagement was like
Both sides entered the map on the first turn…out of range. It became apparent that we should have used two more map boards because it was tight quarters for both sides. The British attempted to maintain some sort of line formation where we broke the French into three groups. We were not into formations but broke our force into three squadrons.  We charged up the center with three of our battleships, a flanking fleet of destroyers and cruisers on the left - with another pack of destroyers and a battleship on the right. The ships on the left, with only one exception, were devoid of torpedoes. Their mission was to draw off the smaller ships, we knew the boys could not resist what seemed like easy prey.

The nimble French destroyers skirt to the rear of the Leviathan I 
Turn three as seen from the French side of battle.  Notice that  Jean Bart creeping up the right side of the board in the upper corner?  
The boys attempted to maintain a staggered line formation with the larger number of their destroyers on our left.  Line formations are great, until torpedoes start to streak across the table.  The formations were shattered quickly as the dashing French admirals unleashed these deadly weapons.  The second turn unleashed the first round of "torpedo hell" God love the French - our destroyers are fast and we have lots of torpedoes. Both sides took a little damage and gained some respect for torpedoes going forward.  The damage that the torps inflicted would linger for many turns. 

On the left, one of our French destroyers, the Pelletier, was completely surrounded by the enemy. Everyone poured in shots at point blank range, but she only lost an armor slot! Thanks to the nimble French speed, this minks sprinted out of the cluster of enemy ships on the next turn and swung around to the rear of the British battleships on the left.

You learn to respect bracketing and saturation fire with the big ships. Respect it - fear it.

In the center, a nasty spread of British torpedoes hit the French battleships - especially the Paris, taking out her forward guns in just a few salvos. Attempts to evade the torpedoes only left the battlewagons hugging each other. Across the board the French torpedoes hit their marks all over the British fleet, including one that hit one of our own ships (such is the fate of those in war!)

On the right, the French squadron commander Kevin drove his fast moving destroyers behind the Leviathan I (we had a couple of Leviathans out there!) and savaged her aft. Likewise on the left, a pair of French destroyers did the same to anther British battleship. The British were learning the hard way that the fast French destroyers could wreck havoc in their rear. Engine slots on the battleships were getting mangled quickly, slowing the beasts down which the British sent a pair of destroyers to attempt to deal with this threat.

The British, as it turned out, drew first blood. One of the French destroyers, the Grenadier, wandered out in the middle of crossfire from two British battleships and was horribly mauled but still in the air. She was one or two shots away from a keel breaking.  Her captain, valiantly swung around and rammed a British battleship. While brave, it was a pointless gesture that only scared the crap out of the British captain and scraped the paint on her bow. The destroyer, already on her deathbed, went down with all hands. Rumors have circulated that her captain was seen personally at her wheel as she careened downward.  If you look really hard at the miniature, I swear you can see him.

I broke off one of our lesser cruisers on our left flank to get the attention of the British destroyers.  Oh, it got their attention all right.  For three turns three-to-four destroyers circled her, firing at every angle.  The ship must have looked as if it had been dropped in a running garbage disposal, the damage was so bad.  Yet somehow, she managed to shrug off the assaults.  More importantly, she occupied the British destroyers, tying them down in a pointless battle, preventing them from doing what we were doing, getting in behind the battleships and wreck havoc. 
The fact that this was still in the air after three turns of this abuse was amazing

They were surrounding me like sharks
For three turns our destroyers peppered the British battleships.  Of the four, three had suffered at least three engine hits in the aft, turning them into massive, slow moving targets.  By turn four, the battleships began to get into range of each other.  The torpedoes…well, both sides got hit by at least one of their own shots while trying to dodge the enemy.  The torpedoes were whittling down the big ships, especially the British. 

When the big-boys got into action, the results were staggering.  The Medusa I, already limping from destroyer shots to her aft, was the first to go down – a victim of one of the Paris class ships we had run up along the right side of the board.  The image of the ship crashing 10,000 feet down into the French countryside was very cool. 

The British responded brutally.  I had run the Paris right up between two of their ships.  I managed to get in my salvos before the Paris got hit on both sides with massive broadsides.  Her keel shattered and she too plunged down on the unsuspecting French cows in the fields below! 

We came up on the Leviathan I which now limped along at one movement point, and savaged her from one end to another  Cries of “I want her penetrated!” and “savage her!” were made but we quickly realized that out of context, they were the wrong things to say (My bad).  In the end, a French destroyer with a mere 75mm cannon, plunged a salvo in that shattered her keel (the only thing still intact on the ship) and broke her.  In fifteen minutes, three battleships had dropped from the skies, leaving big holes in the map. 

The British destroyers still circled my poor cruiser on the left, but failed to take her down.  Our destroyers on both flanks riddled the remaining two British battleship rear-ends, killing their boilers and leaving them moving at one movement point. 

The remaining three French battleships were slightly damaged but in no danger for another turn or two.  The same could not be said for the British ships which had been hit by the Paris and Jean Bart II and our spunky destroyers.  We toyed with continuing the game but with most of the French ships still having torpedoes, and the British ships only able to limp along, it was going to be slaughter.  Victory to the dads – victory to France! 
The final look of the battle.  Those huge gaping holes once were filled with the pride of the British and French Air Fleets

Lessons we learned from this.  We could have used another map or two for movement.  That would have changed the nature of the game.  Also we used two full sets worth of torpedo markers for many turns.  Two identical sets of launches and targets made for some confusion.  We came to the conclusion that attempting to mentally calculate each torpedo launch and target and trying to move around them is impossible when you have that many.  Sure, we got hit with our own weapons, but it was realistic-ish.  We didn’t use the screening rules this time, but we will next time since that will change the dynamic of the formations. 

The biggest lesson which I knew from playtests was to get to the rear of the battleships and tear them up.  Sure, it will cost you a ship or two but if you can hamstring those battlewagons, they cease to be as big of a threat. 

The total time to play this was six hours.  Six hours of pure fun!  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Geek Magazine - A Review

A review of a magazine?  Sure. Finally those of us out there that are proudly self-proclaimed geeks have a magazine that can embrace as our own – Geek.  They have cranked through four issues so far and the magazine is proving itself to be iconic in the nerd community. 

What makes Geek tick?  First off, it’s unabashed in its embracing the lifestyle of its readers.  What that means is that the magazine has coverage of movies (sci-fi, fantasy, and action/thrillers), television, comic books (bingo!), space technology, online/mobile/system based gaming, music, technology toys and gadgets, and even books.  Yup, all of the elements of the geek lifestyle get some sort of play in the magazine. 

The articles are crisp, picture/graphic laden, and really add to the articles.  The writing is top-notch but is far from dull.  Many of the articles are laced with pop-culture references that often leave you chuckling, even when the tone is serious.  Thanks to Geek, I learned about the Polar Lights 1/350 scale model of the USS Enterprise which I now proudly own, and I’ve jumped back into reading comic books after a year hiatus.  I find their articles on cosplay to be entertaining, even though I don’t indulge in this aspect.  This is the only magazine I read cover-to-cover. 

Are there any shortcomings with the magazine?   Two come to mind.  I’m a fan of the hard copy of the magazine.  When you subscribe, you can only get it online for your mobile device.  No biggie.  The other is that it doesn’t cover RPG’s or board gaming yet…though the last issue did have an article on Dungeons and Dragons in NYC.  I would love to see a standing column covering this part of my nerdish lifestyle because it’s an aspect of our geeky-community that is deeply ingrained.  Not to mention I write in that industry.  

I give this magazine five out of five stars.  Go buy Geek, or check them out online.  You will NOT be disappointed.