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Monday, December 05, 2016

This Week at ADB, Inc., 27 November - 3 December 2016

Steve Cole reports: 

This was a week of steady progress. The weather this week was cool.

New on DriveThru RPG and Wargame Vault this week was Star Fleet Battles: Playtest Module R107 - The Nicozian Concordance.

Steve Cole worked on Captain's Log #52, PDF packs, Communique, Hailing Frequencies, Federation Admiral, blogs, graphics for Jean, and other projects.

Steven Petrick worked on Captain's Log #52 and Master Starship Books.

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.

Mike kept orders going out and rebuilt the inventory.

Simone did website updates and some graphics.

Jean worked on the Christmas scenario, managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 3,426 friends), managed our Twitter feed (209 followers), commanded the Rangers, dealt with the continuing spam assault on the BBS, managed the blog feed, proofread parts of Captain's Log #52 and the LDR Master Starship Book, took care of customers, uploaded PDFs, and did some marketing.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

On Music and Choirs and Christmas

Jean Sexton muses:

Anybody who has worked around me when I was working knows that I have music playing. Music brightens my day, inspires me to work faster, and keeps other distractions at bay. Ever since I can remember, music has been part of my life, from the musicals and Southern gospel that my mother loves to the orchestral pieces and folk music my father listened to. My brother selected rock music that I might like. After college I discovered New Age music. All through my life, I kept adding groups that I ran into that I liked. Thanks to YouTube, I can explore a person or group's music. Welcomed into my collection have been Lindsey Stirling, Jordan Smith, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

I spent over a third of my life in choirs. I took voice lessons, enough to find out that I had a nice voice, but wouldn't be making my living at it  (nor would I have made it in acting). I love the harmonies that voices can make, either with instruments or other voices. Singing introduced me to other composers that I like such as William Byrd and Leonard Bernstein. I've continued to expand my musical tastes. Pentatonix, Peter Hollens (one person, but his many tracks make it sound like a group), Straight No Chaser, and Home Free are all new additions to my choral/vocal music collection.

At Christmas it all comes together. In choirs we worked for months to produce our Christmas programs. I sang my part all through the season. It isn't Christmas for me until late on Thanksgiving night I pull out the Christmas music playlist. People laugh when I tell them I have over 120 hours of Christmas music, but each performer brings something new to the mix. Amy Grant and David Arkenstone are quite different, even when performing the same songs. Chanticleer, The King's Singers, and Robert Shaw's various groups each bring something unique. (Robert Shaw is one of my favorites as he and Alice Parker arranged so many of the songs that the choirs I belonged to performed.)

Singing makes my heart light and keeps away the cold and dark of winter. This Christmas, if you celebrate it, I hope you find joy through music. If you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope that you enjoy the music you listen to.

Peace to you all.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Play Online

Many people do not know that you can play either Star Fleet Battles or Federation Commander online in real time against live opponents.

Ten years ago, www.SFBonline.com was created to provide players of Star Fleet Battles with an on-line gaming experience. It was a smash hit as hundreds of gamers joined the battles. Tournaments and other competitions, plus general opening gaming, have gone on around the clock since then. It since expanded to include Federation Commander!

Now you can play with real live human (not to mention Klingon, Romulan, Kzinti, Gorn, Tholian, Orion, and other) opponents all over the world in real time 24 hours a day! The computer automates many functions and acts as a friendly assistant for mundane chores.

For the modest subscription fee of less than $6 a month per game system, you have access to most of the ships in the Star Fleet Battles/Federation Commander game systems as well as new ships still in playtest and development. The Java Runtime system is compatible with Windows and Macintosh systems.

Never worry about a lack of opponents. Never worry about opponents who don't show up for games day because of silly reasons like family reunions or their own weddings. Don't be cut off from your regular gaming group while on vacations or business trips.

Even better, you can join in online tournaments and campaigns, and your victories will add up to a higher and higher average score!

The system also allows you to chat with friends, taunt your enemies, and watch other players fight their own savage battles. (Why learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from someone else's?) This "observer" system allows players of either game to learn the ins and outs of the other game before deciding to invest time and money in it.

We continue to develop Federation & Empire for an online environment and have playtesters working out the kinks. We'll let you know as soon as it is ready to release.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Answers to the Top 10 Questions that a Starship Captain Never Wants to Ask, Q4

4. "You did WHAT to the warp engines?"

Well, according to the head janitor, who is a genius, if we just reverse the polarity of all the leads, we can double the output. But it does seem to keep us from using the power to move. I'm sure the impulse engines will be sufficient, won't they, Sir?

David Kass
(c) 2002 Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc. Captain's Log #25

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Improbable Events Do Occur

This is Steven Petrick posting.

Board game simulations have rules that try to cover a reality. But sometimes things can become surreal. One of the games I played quite a bit early in the 1980s was "Ironclads" and its expansion.

In one particular game my Ironclad was chugging up a river (American Civil War, so it was simulating some river somewhere in the United States) when (embarrassingly) I hit a sandbar and went aground. (Fortunately not "Hard Aground" and I did not open any or my ship's seams.)

So there I was, a sitting duck.

"Ironclads" (at least we understood its rules) had a bad way of handling ship to ship ramming. Basically if there was going to be a ramming, you wanted to be the "rammee" and not the "rammer." The problem with the rules is that the "rammee" (if not destroyed outright by the ramming attack) simply took whatever damage was inflicted AND CONTINUED TO MOVE (perhaps at a reduced speed). The "rammer" on the other hand would be stopped dead in the water. Which meant that everyone on both sides knew where the rammer would be at the start of the next turn. It also meant generally that the "rammer" would have had his "T" crossed, and taken a full broadside at pointblank range from the "rammee."

So I was a sitting duck, and so what if someone tried to ram me, right?

The problem was that I was on a sandbar in a river. Rivers are not as bad as the open ocean for small boats.

Say small torpedo boats. The Confederates had three of them!

Okay, they cannot launch the torpedoes (they are "spar torpedoes"), but they know right where I am to come running up and stick those things under my hull and . . . well it would not be good.

The surreal part came in when the torpedo boats tried to destroy my ship (one spar torpedo would have done it). Two of the torpedo boats tried (I do not remember why I was not engaged by the third one). In both cases my guns scored hits, and in both cases the hit was a critical hit, and, again, in both cases the critical hit was a boiler hit, blowing the tiny skiffs to heck and gone before they could reach my ship. Needless to say a very unusual series of dice rolls (something like rolling "snake eyes" four times in a row if I recall correctly, it has been more than 30 years since this happened).

Having fended off the torpedo boats (I still do not know what happened to the third one, just that it did not try to attack my ship), I rolled dice to successfully extricate my ship from the sandbar to continue down the river. I think the game ended at that point (not played to a conclusion, but apparently once their torpedo boats were wrecked and I was "past the bar" the Confederate players (it was a multi-player game) conceded.

But as surreal as that was at the time, I  have to admit that I have read of moments in history that it comes close to matching. A machine gun has a platoon pinned down, and several men are killed trying to get up and rush the gun. Then, suddenly,  one man jumps up, rushes directly at the gun and destroys it, somehow not being  hit by a single bullet. Improbable things do happen in games, but also in reality.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Praise of Our Volunteers

The adventure game (wargame+roleplaying game) industry is a small one, and there isn't the kind of money inside of it that other industries have. The industry consists of creative game designers willing to work 60 hours a week for half the pay they could command outside the game industry, all because they get to BE game designers.

Even at that, the only way the game industry survives is by the hard labor of unpaid volunteers who (for honor, glory, and rarely some free games) provide no end of valuable services to game publishers.

Mike West answers rules questions on Federation Commander. Mike Curtis does the same thing for Federation & Empire, Jonathan Thompson for Prime Directive PD20 and PD20M, Jean Sexton for GURPS Prime Directive, Richard Sherman for Star Fleet Battle Force, and Andy Vancil for Star Fleet Battles.

Frank Brooks runs the play-by-email system as a volunteer. Paul Franz charges barely enough for the online game system (for SFB and FC) to pay the server costs. Tenneshington Decals does made-to-order decals for our Starline miniatures and is run by two of our fans: Will McCammon and Tony Thomas.

Federation & Empire would not exist without Chuck Strong (a retired real-world colonel from Space Command) in charge of the overall game system. He keeps his staff (Mike Curtis, Ryan Opel, Scott Tenhoff, Thomas Mathews, and Stew Frazier) busy moving projects forward.

Very little would get done on any of our games except for the Playtest Battle Labs run by Scott Moellmer in Colorado and by Mike Curtis and Tony Thomas in Tennessee. And all of the other playtesters are invaluable to us.

We have other staffers and volunteers who do specific things (and sometimes a wide variety of things) for us including John Berg, Howard Bampton, and Lucky Coleman (Galactic Conquest campaign); Daniel Kast (Klingon Armada); and John Sickels, Tony Thomas, James Goodrich, Mike West, James Kerr, and Loren Knight (Prime Directive). Some vital part of the product line would grind to a halt without each one of them. Sometimes our volunteers become part of our staff; Jean Sexton started out as a volunteer proofreader.

Added to this list are hundreds of others who, during any given month, by email or BBS or Forum or our page on Facebook, contribute in some way to the company and its product line. They may report a glitch in an existing product, playtest a product in development, suggest a new product, point out something another company is doing what we may want to take a look at emulating, look up a rules reference for another player, report on somebody who using our property improperly, comment on a posted draft of a new rule, or simply ask a question nobody else ever dared to ask.

Many years ago, we began awarding medals, ribbons, and other "decorations" to staffers and others who contributed to each product, and some other projects. These awards not only recognize those who contributed to the various projects, but encouraged others to begin making their contributions to future projects. We have created the Wall of Honor at http://starfleetgames.com/ArtGallery/Wall%20of%20Honor.shtml. This is a tribute to over 30 years of volunteer work. We hope you visit it to say thanks to all the volunteers and their efforts.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Steve Cole writes:

People often try to convince me to publish some particular product. (It's how we select a lot of the products that get printed, but there are advocates for many more products than we can actually print.) Sometimes this is a gamer who wants to buy the product; sometimes it's an outside designer who wants me to publish the product.

The way you convince us to create and publish something is to prove that the sales (in dollars, not just units) exceed the costs. Some products are easier to do than others. (Federation Commander Klingon Ship Card Pack #4 took less than a day to do; the revised rules for Federation & Empire Fighter Operations or A Call to Arms: Star Fleet Book #1 took most of a year.) Obviously, you have to convince us that there are enough people who will buy it to generate enough money to pay us for doing it, but that number is key on several levels.

First, you have to meet the minimum print run. If you want die cut counters, that means 1000. If you just want laminated cards like Federation Commander, probably half of that. If you want PDFs, then the minimum run is one.

But, second, you have to sell enough not just for the minimum print run, but enough to be worth the payroll time to create the product. Obviously, I cannot do a month of work to create something that sells one copy, even if the minimum print run is one. And the time that my employees (and myself) have to do products is limited and finite. Doing one project literally means not doing another one (at least not yet). A project by an outside designer should take less time than one done by myself personally, but I've rarely seen that actually happen. We spend more time fixing and editing to make sure it works and fits inside the universe than you'd think.

Then third, you have to look at what is best for the specific product line. Doing any significant work on Federation Commander Early Years delays the already announced next project (Fighters Attack). Can anyone tell me that Early Years will outsell Fighters Attack? I just don't think you can. On the other hand, something that would take an hour to do won't slow down the next major product significantly.

Then, fourth, look at the whole company. Doing a product for Federation & Empire may mean not doing a product for Star Fleet Battles. A new module for Starmada might mean not doing a new book for A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, and so forth. We got a lot done in 2016, but some of its schedule remain unfinished and we will have no trouble finding more projects for 2017 than we can complete.

A key point is die-cut counters. Currently, the system that produces them produces four 8.5x11 sheets, which means that any product that requires counters either fits into the next sheet or waits for the one after that. All four sheets (which could be from two to eight products) have to be ready at the same time, which may mean that we have to stop everything and complete a low priority project so that the combined print run of counters can go to press. It might also mean that a very important product has to wait months or a year for a spot on a print run, or that adding a product that takes little work but needs counters means delaying a product that also needs counters.

And of course, sometimes my hands are tied. I cannot do a product which exceeds our license, or one that requires parts that cannot be economically produced.

Since we've just started work on Captain's Log #52 I should comment that sometimes the thing people want is not a product at all, just a few pages of the next Captain's Log. That makes the minimum print run irrelevant, but also means it cannot include counters. While Captain's Log is a zero-sum game (with 144 pages, anything we do means not doing something else) and cannot accommodate projects of more than a few pages, it does use work resources already on the schedule.