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Friday, February 29, 2008

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. Nick Blank does the same thing for Federation & Empire, Andy Palmer for Prime Directive d20, Gary Plana for GURPS Prime Directive, Richard Sherman for Star Fleet Battle Force, and Mike Filsinger for STAR FLEET BATTLES.

Frank Brooks runs the Play-by-Email system as a volunteer. Paul Franz charges barely enough for the On-Line game system (for SFB and FC) to pay the server costs.

Federation & Empire would not exist without Jeff Laikind in charge of the overall game system and the Ship Information Tables, or without Chuck Strong (a real-world colonel from Space Command) keeping the scenarios updated and coherent.

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 who do specific things (and sometimes a wide variety of things) for us including Scott Tenhoff, and Chris Fant (the F&E staff); Jean Sexton (Director of Proofreading and Product Professionalization); John Berg (Galactic Conquest Campaign); and John Sickels, Matthew Francois, Jonathan Thompson, and Loren Knight (Prime Directive). Some vital part of the product line would grind to a halt without each one of them.

Added to this list are hundreds of others who, during any given month, by Email or BBS or Forum, 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.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Depends on How You Ask the Question

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Recently I read an article that sought to prove that the Union blockade of the Confederacy during the American Civil War was a complete waste of effort. The author essentially sought to prove his case by stating that the amount of goods being delivered into the South by Blockade Runners was comparable to what had been delivered before the war.

The statement on its face might be true (I could not off the top of my head tell you if the tonnage of goods received by the South was comparable before it separated from the Union or not). But it is also one of those things that is demonstrably false in that it ignores factors that would not support the premise.

Even if the tonnage was the same, the South was at war, and required MORE tonnage. It is known that the South suffered from a lot of shortages (even the numbers of captured Union rifles and cannons were not enough to keep Southern Armies equipped). There were also shortages of munitions, shoes, etc.

The blockade by its presence eliminated an entire class of bulk cargo movers (while 1838 is regarded as the death knell of "The Age of Sail:, there were still cargo ships that relied on sail even into the 1900s). Most blockade runners were new builds and that expense added to the increasing expense of goods that were actually brought in, part of what triggered the ruinous inflation in the South.

So, while the blockade runners can be viewed with that admiration for courage and daring that has been awarded them (many made very few trips before being caught, although obviously each successful trip was celebrated). But the blockade did in fact strangle the South by increasing the costs of those goods that were brought in and keeping the overall tonnage that was delivered lower than it could have been.

So if you just ask "did the blockade reduce the tonnage of goods that reached the South?", you miss the larger question of "did the blockade affect the war negatively for the south?", and that it most assuredly did. The Blockade runners were not Samaritans running goods to the South out of the kindness of their hearts or a belief in the cause, they were doing it to make a profit, and what they charged for the goods they delivered was based on the dangers of running the blockade.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Got Any Marketing Ideas?

ADB, Inc., is always interested in great marketing ideas, ways and places to sell our products, as well as new products to sell. We are developing a line of non-game products (calendars, paperback books, ship books, plus Cafe Press). We have an Amazon store (not to make money so much as to put our products in front of other groups of potential customers), and the MySpace page exists for that reason as well. We tried a lot of things that didn't work (Google Pay per Click, full color ads in trade journals) and a lot of things that did work (banners on gamer websites, Star Fleet Alerts) and are always looking for new ideas. If you have any, send them to us at Marketing@StarFleetGames.com and we'll think them over.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Fall of Jericho

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

I will take a moment to discuss "Jericho". I have watched this show from when it started, for much the same reason as I watched "Lost": I was hooked on the mystery. (I have also been hooked on the mystery of some other shows that started and were canceled too soon, like the cop who kept waking up in bed on the same morning, and the space shuttle crew sent into the past to try to prevent the destruction of the Earth, even "Babylon V" held me for a while on the mystery.)

What happened (sure, there were nuclear bombs, but where did they come from?), and of course "why". These questions have now been answered, and the answers were, even though I had suspected them, enough to make me ill and seriously disinterested.

I cannot conceive of a conspiracy as large as the one being promulgated being kept a secret long enough to be successful. Even if you posit that the key man heading "the investigation to stop the attack" was in fact one of the chief conspirators. It still requires too many people to be involved to be workable. And it requires a level of stupidity beyond comprehension to carry off a plot like the one presented. (There is little point in taking over the country after you have more or less permanently destroyed it as a superpower, what is the point? Maybe you think the 21 first century should definitely be about China?) "Jericho" right now could serve as a series you watch up to the last couple of episodes before you start watching the Jessica Alba "Dark Angel" series. Sure, different towns, but "Dark Angel" largely admitted that such levels of destruction would make the U.S. no longer a superpower, or even very unified.

How many people were involved in acquiring the bombs from Russia? How many were involved in smuggling them into the United States before giving one to each of the cells that were to detonate them? How many military officers had to be suborned to allow a Junior Senator not anywhere in the chain of succession to order a nuclear strike (who decided to give him "The football" anyway)? How many had to be suborned to falsify the reports of the nuclear weapons? The list of the needed numbers of conspirators just keeps growing.

There are also other details that seem just plain odd. The Tenth Mountain Division was stationed (last I heard) at Fort Drum, New York. What was it doing in the Cheyenne region?

I am not sure I will watch this show much longer. It has clearly devolved into something I do not care to support.

My only reason for watching it any more is curiosity about how much the colonel (played by Esai Morales I believe) knows about the plot, and why he has chosen the side he is on rather than remnants of the previous government. What makes him think he is adhering to his oath to the constitution? That is the only question I even care about any more.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Large Men tal Data Files

This is Steven Petrick posting.

My memory of things earlier in my life tends to be better than my more recent short term memory. This is bothersome as you might imagine. That long term memory storage does get in the way of other things though.

This weekend the Sci Fi channel showed one of its usual poorly done (from my standpoint) made for TV films titled "Living Hell".

I am over fifty years old (fast approaching 52), and thanks to my father rather addicted to reading science fiction. Dad, of course, had collected sci fiction for some time before he introduced me to it, so I have read stuff that goes back to the 1920s. One of the stories I read had a plot very similar to "Living Hell", so much so that nothing that happened in the film was really "new" to me. I cannot remember the name of the earlier story, nor the name of the author, but the story clearly pre-dated nuclear weapons.

In this story (it was a short story) a scientist invents a new medical miracle (rather than a biological weapon). This is a form of cells that can be used to help heal scars and burns. A sample of the invention is being flow across the country when the plane crashes in a remote area, releasing the sample. The sample feeds on the bodies of the passengers and crew, growing all the while. It then starts feeding on the local animal and plant life, getting bigger (no satellites, not much air activity, and no one really looking as the growth to size started after the search for the crashed plane had been abandoned). By the time it is finally discovered by man it is basically already too late. Great efforts are made to stop it, including building walls of fire (it just keeps expanding until it finally smothers the flames), bombing it (might have killed some portions, but there is just so much of it that all it really did was splash it around) and chemical attacks (if I recall correctly). It just keeps growing.

Finally the scientist who originally invented it hurls himself into it after giving a letter to a reporter. In the horror of the moment the reporter does not read the letter.

The growth continues, all man can do is keep running from it. Doom is inevitable.

Suddenly, parts of the growth start attacking other parts. The parts attacking look diseased. The diseased parts keep spreading. The reporter opens the letter at this juncture and learns that the scientist was dieing of cancer, and had sacrificed himself in hopes that his cancer would infect the growth.

The story pretty much ended there, man is saved, and there is this huge putrid mass of dead tissue covering the area of a state.

So you see, there is this large data file (not the only time it has happened, there have been several sci fi films made, like "Screamers" where on watching them I could immediately identify the earlier story it was based on because I had read the short story) in my mind. Probably several thousand sci fi stories that I cannot on a daily basis access (no need to), but seem to come readily to mind when presented with the appropriate stimulus.

One wonders what I might be able to accomplish if so much of my mind was not filed with trivial sci fi stories and bits of history and tactics and logistics (the great interests of my life).

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Graphics Director Matt Cooper writes:

As the graphics (on the website and in the products) continue to improve here at ADB, Inc., I am learning about new things every day. It seems that I drive SVC crazy because I do my list of things to do before he is ready to give me another list, so your help in finding things for me to do would be appreciated.

We have merged the two websites. The combined site now has a new front page, site map, and index, making it a lot harder to use. You are welcome to comment on my changes, but more importantly, please suggest changes, and check the changes I make.

Here is my e-mail: graphics@StarFleetGames.com or you can comment on either forum.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Divide and Rule

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the oldest rules about power is to divide those you would rule against themselves. In this way both sides spend energy fighting each other over what resources are available, and looking to you as the resolver of disputes. The more divided your subjects, the stronger your rule. You have to be careful that your rule does not become onerous enough that your subjects begin to perceive you as the problem and starting uniting.

We seem (to me) to have that going on today. The watch word is not division, however, but "diversity". We are carefully divided and subdivided into blocks, and the blocks are carefully balanced against each other. We do not vote as Americans, we vote as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Irish Americans, and etc. Also increasingly the "American" is dropped (the Black vote, the Hispanic vote) which seems to help emphasize that we are all opposed to each other. All of scrabbling over bits that only Congress can, in its infinite wisdom, determine how to divide.

Even though all of us more or less have common needs (law enforcement, good schools, infrastructure maintenance, etc.) we are told in essence that a white man cannot see how to do those things for a black family, and thus we have heavily Gerrymandered districts that have nothing in common with each other, but that will safely and surely deliver a black man as a Representative.

This increasingly extends into culture, i.e., the creation of diverse cultures so that they can be matched against each other and not unite in common cause. Other than the advantage of further dividing us, making the country bilingual (and after that perhaps multi-lingual) only insured further balkanization, driving us as a people further apart and against each other.

Part of that is increasingly that at all levels of government money is siphoned off to maintain "diversity", money that could have been spent to maintain bridges rather than deferring their maintenance again and again. Money that could have repaired potholes, or paved roads that have not yet been paved. These are just some of the hidden costs of the division of diversity.

But diversity will remain a fundamental drive of our political leadership, both elected and the talking heads, because it keeps the elected leadership in power (in local, state, and federal government), and makes the talking heads happy.

In the future, the bills for diversity will come due, and the costs will be far worse than a few collapsed bridges and potholed roads.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Other Side of The Hill

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

"The Other Side Of The Hill" is a term that applies to "The Fog of War". It refers to the fact that while you, as a commander, are standing on a piece of terrain, you can see what is going on around you, but you cannot see over an intervening piece of terrain. So while you can see that the enemy is entrenched on that hill over there, you do not have any idea what is behind that hill.

The same applies to your opponent, who can see that you are massing troops to attack a part of his line, but has no idea if that is going to be your main effort, or if you are massing troops behind that hill to attack somewhere else once he reacts to the feint.

As war gamers we often get too used to the idea of knowing exactly what our opponent is doing, or at least what he can do. And a lot of things that are easy to do in a game are hard to do, or impossible to do, in real life. For Example, if you are playing a game about the Russian Front, and you see a weak point in the Soviet lines that you want to attack, but have no nearby forces to attack with. You do have six divisions that are 10 hexes north of the weak point, and six divisions that are 10 hexes south of the weak point. It would take two turns to move those divisions to the point of attack. Movement that would telegraph your plans to the Soviets. So the opportunity is lost. Not so. You move the divisions half as far as they would normally, then move them into the front lines, relieving the divisions that are already there, which then move north (or south as appropriate) relieving the next divisions in line and so on. You have thus converted the 16 divisions that too far away into 12 divisions poised at the point of attack (sure, they are not the same 12 divisions, but they are 12 divisions). And you have effectively moved these divisions in zero time (you did not need two turns to bring the divisions, you just shuffled them), so you are launching the attack on the same turn that you noticed the weakness.

In real life such shuffling of divisions would be impossible, and your enemy would notice this "unusual activity" across his front in more than adequate time to figure out what you were doing (and exploit the inevitable confusion in your own ranks such shuffling across his front would create).

The point to all this is the when judging a combat, always remember that most commanders have had to make their decisions on very little information about what their enemy was doing. If you play a game about "The Battle of The Bulge", you already know, before the first counter is moved and the first die is rolled, that the Germans are going to be attacking the Americans. If you play a game of Gettysburg, you already know that the Harry Heth's Confederate Division will come marching from the West towards Gettysburg on July First and you will have the Union Cavalry Brigades of Devin and Gamble under General Buford to stop him initially, but Reynolds' I Corps is on the way and you know just when he will arrive.

Wars are not fought with perfect knowledge. Whether you are the ranking commander of a Nation's maximum military effort, or the lowliest squad leader in direct combat, you are always going to be wondering "what is on the other side of that hill?"

Thursday, February 21, 2008



Playing FEDERATION COMMANDER by Email is an alternative to playing Face-to-Face. While there are a few differences (i.e., your opponent isn't sitting across the table from you), it is the same game.

The basic gist of the FEDERATION COMMANDER Play-by-Email (PBEM) system is that you and your opponent submit your orders for the turn to a moderator via Email. The moderator then processes them, and sends a "Sitrep" (Situation Report) to the players via Email. You receive the results, write up your next set of orders, and then submit your orders once again. The process is repeated until the game is completed. Sounds simple? That's because it IS! It'll take a little getting used to (after all, what doesn't?), but once you've got the hang of it, you'll be lobbing photon torpedoes (or whatever your weapon of choice is) at opponents from all over the world.

Every FEDERATION COMMANDER PBEM game has at least three participants: two or more players and one moderator. The moderator's purpose is to accept orders from the players and carry them out, reporting the results of those orders to all players. While (s)he is not a player, the moderator fulfills a very important role in the game. Good moderators and good players make for a good, enjoyable game of FEDERATION COMMANDER. Moderating a FEDERATION COMMANDER PBEM game is also an excellent way to learn more about the FEDERATION COMMANDER rules.

While there are some disadvantages to PBEM (it does take longer to finish a game), there are advantages as well. You can play against people in other parts of the world (how often do you get to Australia, anyway?), you can play multiple games at once, and you can have large multi-player games (without worrying about running out of chips and soda).

For more information about playing FEDERATION COMMANDER PBEM, please visit the Play-by-Email section of ADB, Inc.'s website at www.StarFleetGames.com/pbemgames and we will be happy to help you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Updating the Game

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the difficulties with a successful game is that it continues to grow and expand. New ideas get added that affect older systems. An example of this is the Monsters in the game.

Most of the monsters were created for simple "one off" scenarios involving the monster "doing its thing". Consider that when the "Creature That Ate Sheboygan III" was originally written, there were no such things as fighters. When it was later updated, there were no such things as Fast Patrol Ships. Later X-ships appeared, and the monster was not updated to deal with them. Then came things like Drogues and bombers and . . . well the monster is not as powerful as it once was.

And that is just a monster.

Anytime something new is added, there is a ripple effect through the game.

But there are other effects that have to be considered.

Internal consistency is to be greatly desired, but sometimes consistency has to give way to playability. In the Omega Sector there is currently a proposal for Omegan phaser-4 versions. Some players insist that for "consistency" these must be shorter ranged like many Omega phasers are. Others note that if they are that short ranged, it makes the bases sitting ducks and useless for influencing battles nearby. Alpha Octant bases are an example. Sure, the non-phaser heavy weapons of these bases are comparatively short-ranged, and the heavy phasers while they can reach out do not do that much damage. (Six phaser-4s at 100 hexes average a point of damage, and max out at six points, at 40 hexes range they average six points of damage, but might max out at 18 points.) But the fact that you while maneuvering against a defending ship you might have to turn a down or weak shield to that base might make you decide to turn the other way. (Sure, he has to get lucky . . . but if he narrow salvoes and rolls that one . . .)

The point here is that base has the ability to influence the battle. A base that is limited to 30 hexes range tops (because that is a reasonable extrapolation of the range of improvement for a heavy phaser) is nothing but a sitting duck for most other races. You cannot just look at Omega, you have to think about Omega units fighting Alpha units in a campaign. Why would anyone agree to have the base that the Feds will just dip into 30 hexes range every other turn, with reinforced shields facing the base, fire their photons, then slip back out to 31 hexes range and repeat the turn following the next turn? If the base's weapons can reach out, it has the option to fire on at least two, and maybe more, exposed shields. It can support other defending units by threatening those shields. There is a different dynamic in the game.

As far as why the weapons are able to fire apparently larger than they should compared to the non heavy phasers, just not that it is an effect of the combination of the heavy phaser and positional stabilizers, or that larger phasers are better able to use the focusing system, or that it is an advantage accruing to the scale of the system.

The ultimate point is to make all the races playable and enjoyable not just in a one-off scenario, but in a campaign as well. Each race deserves to have a following, and no race will have a following if it is just a loser, no matter how "historically accurate" its being a loser is.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Perception can be a very confusing thing, even in board games. An example is being cut off from supply. In one game side A pushed past side B, the result was that both were across the supply lines and line of withdrawal of the other. But one commander thought to himself "I am cut off", while the other took the attitude "I have him surrounded." Guess which one won the battle?

Both sides were in the same condition, but one commander panicked, launching desperate attacks to reopen his supply lines, while the other simply sought to strengthen his grip on his opponent. The first saw disaster, and his reaction to that brought disaster and ruin to him, the second saw opportunity.

While it was a game, if the first commander had not panicked, but had instead also sought to strengthen his grip on his opponent, covering his own weaknesses while looking for one in his opponent to exploit, he could have won, his situation was no worse, but all he saw was that he was cut off.

Yes, a game, but this has happened in real life. Many a battle is lost not because the Army is defeated, but because the commander is defeated. In World War II there were people who thought that England should have negotiated a peace at any price deal with the Nazi regime after France fell. There were some in the U.S. who thought that after Pearl Harbor we should have pulled everything back to our West Coast and, basically, hope the Japanese would leave us alone.

In a game, you can pick up the pieces and play again resolving to not make the same mistakes.

In real life, if you give up there are consequences far beyond the battlefield. The Korean Conflict saw us accept protracted peace-talks while our soldiers continued to bleed. The enemy had no reason to come to a final peace because as long as they talked, we would not attack. We took "the mouth of a cannon" off the table. We are still talking more than 50 years later, and millions of innocent North Koreans are starving, and thousands of South Korean citizens have been killed by North Korean raids (less so in the last 18 years, but even in the 1990s North Koreans were raiding into South Korea). Not to mention Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea to train its spies in how to act Japanese. Was it any wonder that North Vietnam also invited us to Peace Talks, and talked and talked? They gained benefits, and eventually realized that if they agreed to a ceasefire the Americans would leave and not come back even if they violated the terms (which included NOT invading South Vietnam) almost immediately. The result has been other so called "treaties" that no one expects us to enforce (Saddam certainly did not feel constrained by his agreement to "withdraw" his forces from Kuwait. He was confident that even though his actions constituted a Causus Belli, an abrogation of the terms, that we would do nothing, and for ten long years he was quite right.

Monday, February 18, 2008

How to Find Opponents

STEVE COLE WRITES: Many gamers are looking for new opponents. This is nothing new. When I was a teenager, there were maybe four wargamers in Amarillo that I knew, but there must have been more as the one store that carried Avalon Hill games (then the only wargames) would sell one or two now and then that my friends and I knew we didn't buy. Funny, it never once occurred to us to ask the store manager to give our phone numbers to the other guys. When I was in college, SPI (then the second wargame company and rapidly becoming larger and more innovative than Avalon Hill) had an opponent wanted list. I sent in my dollar to get it, and found only one person (of the 20 on the list) who was within 120 miles; the first and last person on the list were each 450 miles away (in opposite directions).

These days, the concept of contacting other gamers has had decades to mature, and works much better, and you have a lot of ways to do it. For best results, do all of them.

You can go to the Commander's Circle and enter your data (as much or as little as you are comfortable with) and perhaps find opponents near you. We are gaining new sign-in's every day, and since it's free you can try it every month or two and find out of somebody near you has signed in.

You can go to the forum and find the area where local stores and groups post announcements and invitations and let people know you're around. How silly would you feel if you found out that the guy who you've been arguing with on the forum for years actually lives in your town. (That HAS happened.)

Feel free to go to your local store and ask them to let you post a notice looking for opponents. You could also run a demo of FEDERATION COMMANDER (or any of our games) and "grown your own" opponents. If anybody already plays the game you demo, they'll doubtless drop by just to swap phone numbers.

Many towns have community bulletin boards on the local cable company's "home" channel. These are variously free or cost just a couple of dollars. It's hit-and-miss, but you could get lucky. (When I commanded Company C of the 1-39 MPs, I gained a dozen new recruits in a year that came from cable TV.) You could also buy a cheap want ad in the newspaper or the free advertising newspaper (American's Want Ads or whatever yours is called) found in quickie marts.

The quickest result, probably, is Starlist. Go to our Legacy site and look for the button that says Player Resources. Under that menu is a link for Starlist. Enter your data in the form, and you'll get a list of local players back. (This may take a day or two as it is done by hand.) Starlist is the most effective hunt for new players because the database has some five thousand players in it, far more than all of the other sources combined. The only drawback is that Starlist works with full information (name and address) and those who are seriously concerned about identity theft often find this uncomfortable. In all reality, however, Starlist would not give an identity thief any more information than your local phone book would, and if that's enough for those criminals to operate, they would be vastly more likely to use the phone book than to request a copy of Starlist.

The original website has a bulletin board system and the 8th item on the main menu is "seeking opponents". You can post a notice there (and search the previous postings). Again, you can post as much or as little information as you are comfortable with.

Many of those on Starlist and StarFleetGames.com/discus will be players of STAR FLEET BATTLES, but most of those can be convinced to play FEDERATION COMMANDER. Indeed, over half of the names on Starlist are people who quit playing STAR FLEET BATTLES for lack of opponents (or because SFB was too complex for them or their opponents) and most of those are ready recruits for the faster cleaner FEDERATION COMMANDER game system.

With more effort, you can post opponent wanted notices in a whole lot of boardgame sites (see the links list on our site).

If there is a game convention within driving distance, it's worth a trip to see if you might find someone who is also within driving distance. If there is a game club in your home town, or a store with a gaming area, go there and set up the game and wait for somebody to ask what it is. (Even better, take a friend who will play the game with you so you won't be bored.) If there is a star trek club in your home town, show them FEDERATION COMMANDER or Star Fleet Battle Force. There are people who have printed a card with the logo of one of our games and their Email address and left these in the windows of their cards who got Emails from other gamers in their home towns who were seeking opponents.

You can go always go to SFB Online and play FEDERATION COMMANDER on-line with live opponents from around the world for the princely sum of $4 per month. You might even stumble into somebody local.

There are probably more ways than this to find opponents, but unless you live in a cave somewhere, you can almost certainly find a new friend within a short while by trying these methods.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Progress on Products Continues

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

We are moving along towards getting the next Federation Commander products ready for shipment to the distributors. Mike Sparks is well ahead of the game in packing the needed squadron boxes (#16, #17, and #18), and SVC is inputting the final corrections identified by the proof readers for Briefing #1.

We have survived the terrible ten minute blizzard (just about the heaviest snowfall we have seen this winter, and I think the largest snowflakes I have ever seen up close and personal falling from the sky), and all that is left of it now is a light dusting on the plants, the roofs of buildings, and the sides and tops of our cars. For the most part it was a snowflake suicide mission as they melted instantly on contact with the ground and most other surfaces.

We are, however, planning to shut down pretty quick to head home rather than risk "black ice" on the roads.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Writer's Strike

This is Steven Petrick posting.

I cannot say I was unhappy with the writer's strike. By and large what they actually produce in terms of modern entertainment at least, from my standpoint, made the fact that there were no new episodes a nice "vacation".

The thing is that far too much of what we see on TV becomes what is talked about rather than real problems involving real situations.

Well, the vacation is over so I will again in the near future be bombarded with the troubles and travails of the latest group of good looking TV personalities on the standard run of the mill situation episodes.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Free stuff for FEDERATION COMMANDER players!

STEVE COLE WRITES: Some people do not realize that you can download what amounts to a free copy of the FEDERATION COMMANDER game (well, enough of the game to play a few battles). Go to www.StarFleetGames.com/fc and you will find a lot of stuff you can download. Some of those downloads include:

o The free First Missions packet (demo version of FEDERATION COMMANDER).

o Turn gauges and firing arcs for the tabletop rules.

o Sample Ship Cards.

o Wallpapers of game covers.

o Frequently asked questions.

o Information for retailers.

o The original theatrical trailer (ok, not that, but it WAS the original flyer handed out at trade shows).

o Notes from the game designer (Steve Cole) on what parts of the older game STAR FLEET BATTLES we decided to include in FEDERATION COMMANDER.

But that's just a start. If you join the Commander's Circle, which is free, you can download the monthly Communiqué which includes scenarios, tactics, and new ships. You can also access a database of FEDERATION COMMANDER players looking for new opponents (you!).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More Thoughts on Game Design

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the things about historical games is trying to accurately reflect complex issues but not bog down game play.

An example of his occurred in a game called "Ironclads" by Yaquinto. This was a fun game about Ironclads in the American Civil War (a later expansion visited the transition to all metal warships in other navies). During this period one of the methods of attack was "ramming". For example, the CSS Virginia (former USS Merrimac) was specifically fitted with an Iron beak on her bow for just that purpose.

So the game included rules for ramming, but the rules essentially made the goal of a side not TO RAM, but TO BE RAMMED. The problem was that for simplicity the designer had the a ship that rammed another ship (whether it was fitted with a ram or not) stop dead in the water. The rammed ship, provided the ramming did not destroy it out right or the ramming ship became lodged in its side, simply continued to move normally.

Worse, as most rams would be into a ship's broadside, the result would be a pointblank salvo of heavy guns into the ramming ship, while much of the ramming ship's battery was out of arc.

The upshot was that worst thing you could do in the game was ram an enemy ship. Doing so would result in your ship being blasted in the face at short range by an enemy's full broadside, and left dead in the water at the start of the next turn where all the enemy ships knew right where you would be for purposes of planning their maneuvers to bring their own guns to bear. And a ramming attack by itself never destroyed a ship that had no previous damage on it, and seemed to risky to be used to finish off an enemy ship that was badly damaged (because ramming a ship had a chance of the ram becoming fouled and your ship being dragged down by your victim).

Whole battles would be fought with two sides maneuvering not to ram their opponents, but trying to cross their opponent's "T" and be rammed.

That is not the way a naval battle should be fought.

Fortunately, ramming was ultimately very rare in the game, as it used "plotted movement" and trying to predict for certain how fast your opponent's ship would be going so that both ships entered the same hex was difficult. Still, I watched an English Squadron annihilate a more modern French Squadron by the simple happy circumstance that half the French ships collided (rammed) half the English ships. The resulting pointblank broadsides left the French ships disabled and ablaze.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Looking to the Future

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

It is February 2008. In November of 2008 we will go to the polls to elect our new president. This event is not solely of concern to us, but to our friends, and our enemies.

At this juncture, looking to the future, I am convinced that we can expect Al Qaida to husband its resources in Iraq and Afghanistan to launch maximum efforts to kill and wound as many people as they can in October.


To influence us. To convince us through the images they can count on our News Media to introduce into our living rooms that "the surge has failed".

Perception is often more important than reality, and if they can create with the aid of our media a perception that they are not defeated for just a few days, they can have an impact all out of proportion to their true status on us.

And the Media will go along with them because the Media cannot imagine that they will do such a thing, cannot be part of preparing and warning us that this desperate ploy may be tried by Al Qaida. Rather, the Media will espouse shock and announce once more that we have lost as they have so often in the past because the Media works on two levels:

If it bleeds, it leads


Bad News Sells.

Long term consequences and trends are irrelevant to the need to have bloody bad news blasting into American living rooms.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Graphics Director Matthew Cooper writes:

Have you ever heard of Cafe Press? Cafe Press is a website where you can open up a free online shop and promote products on your website. Cafe Press creates and sells products with designs provided by various companies. So upon learning about Cafe Press, Leanna set up an account and we have uploaded several designs for T-shirts, coffee mugs, Christmas ornaments, mousepads, etc.

See www.CafePress.com/starfleetuniv for these items. And take a look at our new I-heart-Klingons T-shirt!

If you have any questions or comments or would like to see something on Cafe Press, let me know and I will set it up for you! Email me at: graphics@StarFleetGames.com

Monday, February 11, 2008


Show someone how much you really love them by naming a starship in the Star Fleet Universe after her!
For $9.95, you can name a starship after your wife or girlfriend, or for $19.90 you can name one for each of them! You can name starships for any or all of the women in your life: your mother, daughter, sister, cousin, or the secret object of your admiration!
For only $9.95 we will name a starship from the WYN Navy after your lady friend, and send you a cheesy laser-printed certificate commemorating this fact. Even better, we will record the starship name in book form in the US Copyright Office just as soon as we get around to doing the WYN Navy Master Starship Book!
Don't delay, we might finish that book any day now and then we won't be able to name any more starships for girlfriends except on the much less pretigious errata sheet!
If you are naming a starship for a lady friend and do not want your wife to know about it, then be sure to give us a separate address to mail the certificate. There will be a separate $9.95 charge not to tell your wife who else you are naming starships for, but heck, we will throw in a starship named for her for free!

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Our website is vast and full of fun, useful, and interesting documents, charts, play aids, illustrations, and other things. Most of the best stuff is found at: http://starfleetgames.com/playerresources.shtml which has lists of resources and links to other lists of resources. Take a look down the list and see if there are documents you always wanted and could never find or documents which you never knew you were looking for.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Graphics Director Matt Cooper writes:

Many do not know that we have a page where you can download FEDERATION COMMANDER wallpaper.

Klingon Border, Romulan Border, Klingon Attack, and Romulan Attack are currently available in the following sizes : 800x600, 1024x768, and 1280x1024.


If there are any other sizes or any other images that you would like to see turned into wallpaper, please feel free to write me at graphics@StarFleetGames.com and I will get it set up for you.

Friday, February 08, 2008

More Seconds

This is Steven Petrick Posting:

A follow up to the seconds post, and sort of an example.

We have one door from the office to the warehouse. It is through this door that all business traffic for the day passes, either orders being sent out to the warehouse to be filled, or requests for support from the warehouse, or labels for packages to go UPS, or packages going by post office coming in for delivery to the Post Office. There are of course other reasons for things to be going through that door.

The thing is, that door can stand closed (to conserve heating and cooling in the offices) for as much as seven a three quarters hours of any normal business day. But somehow, more often than not, and for totally unrelated reasons, two people will head towards that door from opposite sides at the same time. It is the location of most of the "collisions" that occur in the office. The door either suddenly swings in on the person approaching from inside, or is suddenly yanked away from someone approaching from within the warehouse.

This does not happen every time, but it is quite common (and a reason we want a new door that has a window in it so that traffic can be seen).

But it is more than that.

We often go quite a while with no phone calls, but if we leave one person in the office for any length of time, we will get two phone calls almost back to back, and they will be the only phone calls we get the whole day.

Today was another case in point. We had two visitors, neither of which had a specific scheduled time to arrive and both of which required us to deal with them for things that needed to be done. What were the odds that both would arrive within 15 minutes of each other, thus interfering with each other and the process of getting things taken care of?

And of course today the fire department had to drop in for a reconnaissance mission (they were not here to inspect or fight a fire, they just wanted to go around the neighborhood, and see what special circumstances their neighbors might require if they were ever called to that address). We all wanted to cooperate with them very much, and they gave us a few clues and hints of things a fire inspector might be looking for that we could take care of now. (Which gives me an additional task to take care of tomorrow morning in addition to trying to get traction on other tasks).

Thursday, February 07, 2008


Today, 7 Feb, is the day in 1950 that Senator Joe McCarthy began what are now known as "the witch hunts".
History, as defined by the US public school system, teaches us that he was hated and vilified, that he ruined the careers of innocent men, that he had "no shame", that he was condemned by the Senate, and that he never found a single Russian spy.
History, as defined by the US public school system, is just plain wrong.
Vilified today (by the US public school system), polls during his lifetime showed that 75% of Americans supported him.
McCarthy refused to "name names" just to avoid ruining reputations; he turned the names over to the FBI, and in fact got many of them from the FBI. Forced to name a couple of names on one occasion, they proved to actually be Russian spies.
In the case in which he had "no shame" for naming a suspect individual, McCarthy was in fact reading from a newspaper that named the individual that morning, and the individual was in fact guilty.
McCarthy was in fact condemned by the Senate on a party line vote for making an insulting comment to a Democratic senator who had just made an equally insulting comment to him. That Democratic senator was not condemned.
Most important, McCarthy did in fact find dozens of real, actual, Soviet spies, although the FBI already knew about a lot of them and he was, in fact, simply noting that the FBI had found such spies, to prove the point that such spies existed. Decades later, secret Russian files and the de-classified Venona Transcripts proved, outright, that McCarthy had in fact been on the trail of more than fifty Soviet spies, all of them men that the Truman Administration appointed and defended.
So much for history as the public school system teaches it. It kind of makes you wonder why they're teaching things they know are not true.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


I constantly see things on industry mailing lists and in my Email where people want advice on entering the game business. The best advice I have is my free book which you can find at www.starfleetgames.com/book as a nice multi-chapter PDF.

In one recent case, an individual wrote to say: "I just lost my job and have decided to be a game designer for a living. I need a stable income of $4,000 a month. How long would it take me to get there? Three months? Six?"

I laughed and cried at the same time. For one thing, I don't make $4,000 a month now and I've been in the industry 28 years. (A few years I have made that much, barely, but not in the current market.) The sad fact is that except for the lucky three or four, game designers won't ever make that much. Worse, you probably cannot make a living as an independent game designer at all, since game publishing companies were (99% of the time) created to publish the owner's games because no other company would publish them.

In another case from some time ago (I'm going to blur some facts here so that nobody can tell who I'm talking about), a young game enthusiast decided to quit his day job and focus his full time efforts on game design and publishing. His wife said that she would allow this only if he "brought home" a paycheck of a defined amount each month. He had some money from an inheritance which was separate property and his wife allowed that he could use this. Well, he went through the nest egg, borrowed money from savings without telling his wife, maxed out the credit card he got for the business, and then got two more cards (those offers in the mail) without telling his wife and maxed them out. All the time (his company last 18 months and did a dozen products) he was "bringing home" the required paycheck. His company was making a profit beyond expenses, but not enough to cover the paycheck, but the paycheck continued because (a) his wife insisted and (b) he was sure he would start making more sales any time. One of the credit cards was a $5,000 cash advance spent on advertising (which produced few if any new sales). Every month, he wrote that paycheck but came up short elsewhere. He had established credit with the printers and with the companies that sold him advertising pages so he ended up deeply in debt to the printer and to advertising publishers. Worse, his first product (which sold well enough) ran out of print, but it was going to cost $20K to reprint it and the dwindling rate of sales (nowhere near as good as it had been 18 months earlier) would not support the debt load, but he "had" to reprint it to avoid looking like a company on the way out. Finally, with no more places to borrow money and creditors threatening legal action, he took the case to his wife for a home equity loan. She, of course, had no clue that his company was $40K in debt (for which he as personally liable) or that most of the family savings account was gone. It's a wonder she didn't kill him or leave him, but she did force him out of the game business immediately. He sold out for what he could get and applied that money to the debts. Moral of the story, if you are married, make your wife a part of every business decision and do not keep secrets from her about family money.

In another case (actually, there are four or five of these I have seen, all about the same), an enthusiastic game designer who knew nothing about the industry but was sure his game was the next big thing got a home equity loan, printed thousands of copies of his game, and THEN (and only then) asked other game companies how to contact stores and wholesalers to sell his game. He had no clue what size the market was (few games sell over a couple of thousand copies) or who the wholesalers were or what it would take to get them to buy (some now demand that you pay them $500 for advertising before they will carry your game) or even what the discount structure was (which meant that his cost per game was fairly close to the 40% of the retail price he had printed on the games). Moral of the story, learn as much as you can about the industry before you spend a dime getting into it. GO READ MY BOOK FIRST.

I see lots of gamers who think that running a retail store, and on-line discount store, or a game publishing company involves low work and high reward. It does not. If it did, a lot more people would be in this business.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Living in the Seconds

This is Steven Petrick Posting:

We are probably all aware of being caught in traffic. Of missing a traffic light because the person ahead of us was driving slower than that the speed limit. Or stopped while the light was yellow. Or was gradually slowing while the light was green in case it turned yellow and then accelerated through the yellow but leaving you to sit waiting for the light to change back to green.

Take a moment to consider how even this small delay may have irrevocably changed your life and you will never know.

It is not the obvious things (the delay made you late for a job interview for example), but the larger context. Because you were delayed a few seconds, you missed a green light, consequently you were not a mile further down the road when the drunk crossed two lanes of traffic and hit a light pole. Had you been there, the light pole would have been spared, but you would have been killed by the side door crash. Instead, you drove past the wreck.

That at least has some obviousness to it (you see the wreck, but might not make the connection that it could have been you that was hit). The alternative might be that the drunk swung into your lane of traffic, and had you been there he would have hit you, but he regained control and returned to his own lane. Now you will never know about this "could have been".

Of course the obverse is also true. The fact that you were delayed is what caused you to be hit, but since you made the light you are not there when the drunk swerves into your lane.

There are things constantly moving around the peripheries of our lives. Most escape our conscious attention because they have no direct connection. You might see the drunk's car unsteady in the opposite lane of traffic as it goes by, but it did not affect you and you do not realize that mere chance (not making that traffic light) has acted in your favor.

Life is full of stories of people who missed catastrophic events (the sailing of the Titanic) for small mundane reasons. And people who had seeming good fortune (earning a berth on the Titanic) for the same reasons.

Consider that in World War I a young Corporal left a bunker for a few moments, and the bunker was hit by a shell killing everyone inside. How might history have been different Corporal Hitler had not left the bunker at that moment?

We call it "fate".

And fate is in the seconds in which we live. A few seconds delay, a few seconds gain, can result in a lifetime of consequences.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Adventures of Aging

This is Steven Petrick Posting:

I am getting old, and I am not pleased with this.

This morning I had the curious effect that for some reason my left leg would not support my body. Any time I put any weight on it, it would promptly fold up. I could more or less walk, and while I was in motion it would at least function, but if for any reason I was stationary and put all my weight on that leg while, for example, trying to pull a boot onto the opposite foot, the leg would collapse.

Let me assure you that this was not painful, but it was not pleasant.

By the time I got to the office, the leg was working normally (taking into account that my knees have not been any good since the mid 90s). I can put all my weight on that leg and bend the knee and not suddenly collapse to the floor.


Aging is, in and of itself, an adventure. But it is an adventure of rude surprises and no pleasant ones. Seems that every day I get up and something I was able to do is no longer within my bounds.

I am not complaining. Overall I am in reasonably good health, but the days when I would tackle someone half again my own weight while playing football are long behind me. The days when a six mile hike was just a stroll are also long gone (they disappeared when the knees went bad). Running has, for a while, been classed as "I have the capability of one last short dash, and then knees will self-destruct at some point, hopefully after I reach the objective for the dash."

I still have a decent level of physical strength (it seems), and can manhandle whatever I need to manhandle to keep the warehouse working. My back, however, sometimes spasms and leaves me in great pain and fighting desperately hard to straighten up.

Worse, I have to admit that access to the brain as is not as sharp as it once was. I cannot count the number of times of late I find myself unable to access a word, that I fully know the meaning of, but cannot come up with the word itself.

All this I bear.

But, trust me, I am NOT happy.


In any case, I am sure much of the above while part of aging is also a result of my having "exceeded the warranty" on a human body many, many, MANY times over the 50 some years I have wandered this planet. So I really should not complain. I have come through major car wrecks (while I was NOT the driver), falls (including two really, REALLY bad ones last winter), a mugging, and other experiences, and at the very least everything still works. (The knees are very weak, but I can walk normally if no longer tirelessly with a heavy pack on my back, for example.)

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Many people do not know that you can play FEDERATION COMMANDER on-line in real time against live opponents.

Eight 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.

This successful operation has now been 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 $4 a month, you have access to all of the ships in the FEDERATION COMMANDER game system 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 on-line 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.

So come to www.SFBonline.com right away. You can even fly the Federation CA or Klingon D7 as a free trial, or watch any game in play. Legendary SFB aces and new FEDERATION COMMANDER aces strut their stuff in combat arenas all the time, and you can learn from the best.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Small Things, Big Consequences

This is Steven Petrick posting.

Could the South have won the Civil War?

Based on the outcomes of many battles in Virginia, one might think so. But the actual critical theater of the war was in the West, down the Mississippi river. While much is made of the fumbling of Union Commander's facing Lee, the Confederate Army commanders in the western theater could not seem to win, even when by maneuver they had gained great advantage. (See Bragg's invasion of Kentucky in 1862, he actually managed to have a numerically superior army in position to crush the Union Army of Don Carlos Buell, and just suddenly retreated.)

Another example is Shiloh (Pittsburgh Landing).

Albert Sidney Johnston laid plans to bring to bear against Grant a numerically superior host. As part of that, he ordered General Van Dorn to bring his 20,000 man force to Corinth. Van Dorn did not reach Corinth until three or four days AFTER the battle had been lost. If Van Dorn had been present, his men would have given Johnston numerical superiority, plus Van Dorn's troops were already combat veterans. The weight of their numbers and experience could have been decisive and history would have remembered Grant as the man who was forced to surrender at Shiloh, and Sherman as nothing more than one of a list of Generals who were subordinate to him at the time of the disaster.

Why did not Van Dorn arrive in time?

For one of the most unbelievably mundane of reasons.

The Governor of the State of Louisiana was having a private feud with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and in a fit of pique, refused to allow Mississippi riverboats laying idle in New Orleans to be used to transport Van Dorn's Troops. It took more than two weeks for Van Dorn to scrape up enough river transport to move his troops to Corinth, and by that time, as noted, he was more than four days too late.

The outcome of the entire Civil War may have turned on one Governor's childish decision not to release to the Confederate Army a handful of riverboats because he was mad at Jefferson Davis.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Good Loser/Bad Loser

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

I have a habit of being a good loser. If my opponent has beaten me fairly, or simply because I have made some terrible blunder, I do my best to take it in stride. I do not always succeed. (Truth in advertising. Once during a computer game where both sides were supposed to have exactly the same chance of winning any given battle my opponent was awarded about a dozen victories in a row. Essentially from that point I was doomed to defeat since I was now so far behind the power curve there was no chance of recovery. I had had a real bad day to that point on totally unrelated things, and that proved a breaking point resulting in my needing to express myself . . . and putting a fist through a wall.) I do always try. I do not react well to people who cheat, or who spring "surprise rules". I do react well to "when this was set up, it was always intended that the Fourth Horde would suddenly appear on the flank of your advance forcing you to adjust to the situation . . . if you did not keep a reserve provide security on the flank generally, too bad." I consider such things valuable training that helps remind me that a game board edge (whether a table top or a map board) is not inherently impassable terrain from which an enemy cannot attack me.

Games, however, are not real life. When it comes to real life, I am a very, very, VERY bad loser.

We lost on 09/11/01.

There is not going to be a day when I do not wish the ultimate and most unpleasant of fates on Osama bin Laden all who follow him. There is not a day that goes by when I do not think of him and what I wish to have happen to him. There is not a chance in my lifetime that I will ever "be Christian" and "turn the other cheek" or "forgive".

09/11/01 is a fact of my life, and I bear a grudge and will do so at least to the day I die, and if it is in any way possible, I will carry that grudge beyond the grave.