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Sunday, March 30, 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. Mike Curtis 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.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Niggling Background Details

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

I am currently reading a series of books titled "The Lost Fleet". I am on the third book of the series. I am reading it, I will admit, more because I find the command problems interesting (motivating people to do what the commander wants, solving command issues, etc.) more than anything else. Outside of the command issues, I have found the background repetitive (I am old, I have read stories of "force trapped behind enemy lines that must fight its way out" before. I mean this was done in "Xenophon's Anabasis" although that latter is at least a true story even if we cannot at this juncture confirm the details). And the idea of the "hero long thought dead but now found to be alive" is also an old one, although there have been some variations. (There was even as short story in which a modern human race losing a war defrosts a man who was frozen in the distant past, only to learn that he was himself a pacifist. However, faced with having to save the human race from being defeated by the aliens, he remembers enough about the military he abhorred in his "past life" to teach the modern humans to be warriors, thus turning the tide of the war. Like I said, I am old and have read a lot of stories so a lot of plots are familiar to me in one way or another.)

The thing is that in this series I am constantly running across what seem, to me, disconnects in the background. I read at one point that the Bad Guy's Government has such tight control that it is virtually impossible for a piece of information in one system to cross over into another system. But then there is a flat statement elsewhere that despite the tight control the bad guy government has, it cannot prevent information moving from system to system. Both statements are in conflict, but both are made at times and places where it is convenient to the plot that they be "true".

There are larger background factors I have problems with (if the two sides are technologically equal, and one side is constantly suffering from poor discipline such that ships are breaking formation to hurl themselves at the enemy who maintains formation, why are casualties presumed to have been about equal up to the point where the hero starts imposing formation discipline on the good guy fleet? Should not the enemy have been better able to cover the withdrawal of damaged ships, maintain levels of training better because it would have suffered fewer absolute losses at all levels?

As I have noted, I find the series interesting from the standpoint of the command decisions that have to be made, but I also find a lot of little inconsistencies that just nag at me. On the other hand, there are some "horrors" I was expecting the good guys to find in the bad guys' territory that they have not found (at least so far).

Currently I am at a point where the author is having the good guys conduct an operation, and I am trying to figure out why the bad guys are not responding how I would respond (were I the bad guy commander with the general "bad guy mindset" as has been established so far in the books. I have read what the good guys are doing, an why, and being me (I am used to trying to figure out how an enemy will react to something I do, including how he expects me to react to something he does, so that I can try to achieve as much surprise, and be as prepared as possible for what he may do, as possible) I have figured out with the stated technology levels and stated enemy background just what I would do were I the enemy commander. And am baffled that the Good Guys have not addressed what they would do if the bad guys did what I would do, or explained why the bad guys cannot do what I would do were I the bad guy commander.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Guard Post Collier

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Sometimes very serious business can have humorous consequences.

Back in 1981 I was the Commander of Guard Post Collier in the DMZ in Korea. My "duty station" as commander was to be in the Guard Post Command Post during the night hours, and to be ready to check on things.

The Command Post was underground and well-lighted to facilitate keeping written records.

On this particular night an alert came in from Bunker #1 that they could see "something or someone" on the main road (that ran from Guard Post #128 past Guard Post Collier which sits on a hill, and on to Pan Mun Jom). This required me to go to the bunker and confirm what it was that was seen before anyone could fire a shot.

There are two ways to reach Bunker #1. The long way involved exiting the Command Post and going through the trench system. The short way involved exiting the Command Post, going up the stairs to the top of the Guard Post, crossing the top and going back down into the trench system on the far side.

Since this was the first actionable report I had received as the Commander of the Guard Post, I chose to take the short cut.

Did I mention that my duty post in the Command Post was during the night? Did I mention that the Command Post was "well lit"? Let me add that this particular night was not only a New Moon (0% Illumination), but also completely overcast.

I could not see a thing.

I could feel, however, that my boots were on sandbags, and remembered that there was a sandbag foot path across the top of the Guard Post that connected the stairs I had just come up with the stairs I wanted to go down, among some other things, and so began feeling my way along it, regretting that I had not followed the trenches since I would obviously have completed the trip much quicker in hindsight. I had not been prepared for the complete loss of vision.

As I felt my way along, my eyes were slowly adapting as much as they could to the lack of light sources, but this was going to take time. Still, I was on the foot path, right?

Wrong, as the next step was into "open air".

The "foot path" I was following was not the "foot path", it was the "water runoff" (another sandbag layer near the foot path that I had apparently run onto before I realized I could not see and stopped to take stock of the situation), and I had just "walked off the side of the Guard Post".

I managed to do a complete forward roll before I landed heavily in the drainage culvert (a corrugated pipe cut in half) with a loud clatter (as you might imagine), taking the brunt of the blow on my shoulders and back and so being more stunned than actually hurt. (Of course, a few inches to the left of right would have put me on the edges of the steel culvert rather than in the middle of it, which would have been a very different story.)

As I lay there taking stock of the situation (mostly analyzing whether or not I was still in one piece and functional), a voice called out "who is there?" A few seconds later I responded "It's me" (or words to that effect, I do not recall what exactly I said at that point other than that it was devoid of anything other than a simple matter of fact identification of myself and thus not a threat). I know the identification was clear enough as the next comment from the challenging soldier was "Sir, are you hurt?" To which I had the presence of mind to respond "Only my dignity."

I then hauled myself out of the culvert and went about my duty (whatever was on the road had by the time vanished, if indeed anything had ever been there).

I did, however, make it a point to always find my way around the Guard Post through the trench system when leaving the Command Post from then on. I got so good I could go from one part of the Guard Post to any other part at a dead run through the trench system without running into anything on just the ambient light. To this day, I still remember the general layout of Guard Post Collier, even if it is no longer known as Guard Post Collier (I have no idea if the South Korean government changed the name, or even retained the Guard Post although I suspect they did retain it) after the U.S. forces were completely withdrawn from that sector of the DMZ.

Thursday, March 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.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bad Luck and Good Luck.

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Sometimes someone's bad luck is someone else's good luck.

We launched the Doolittle raid on Japan in 1942 pretty. Many are aware of it, and aware that it was little more than pinprick (except perhaps for one lucky bomb hit on a carrier). What most do not realize is that the bombers were supposed to strike under cover of night. That was the plan, designed as part of an effort to have maximum survival of the crews (there were no Japanese night fighters and flak would not be very accurate).

The spotting of the strike force resulted in the bombers being launched early and much further away. Bad luck for the crews, some of whom paid for the mission with their lives as a result, rather than making it safely to China.

But consider the ramifications, the utter embarrassment and loss of face of the Japanese military because, not only did the Americans bomb Japan, but they flew over the home islands in broad daylight, dropped their bombs, and escaped virtually unscathed. Could there have been a greater affront to the Japanese military in that period that the strike was not delivered as a coward under the cover of darkness, but boldly in the light of day in defiance of the full might of the Imperial Japan.

It is difficult now to gauge what added effect the arrival of bombers over Tokyo in the light of day had on the deliberations of the Imperial General Staff, but it must have served as an additional goad to over reach themselves in their effort to protect their own homeland.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Golden Age

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

I may have said this before, and if so I apologize for the faltering mind caused by age. It has been one of the things I have thought on.

I lived in a "golden age".

This is one of those things that normally historians will define (Pericles rule was "the Golden Age of Athens" for example). But I can look around and see that I lived in one.

When I was a young lad, Dr. Salk created a vaccine against polio. I grew up with no fear of it. Shortly before World War II Penicillin was developed, and for much of my life it was a cure for many diseases. While I lived under the threat of nuclear war, it never came to pass and "The Wall" came crashing down. I was born and lived in a "first world country", have never known starvation, had a car and drove many miles, and flew many miles. Saw man land on the moon and watched the Mars exploration robots, not to mention the increasing power of computers from clunky programmable calculators to wrist watch calculators to computers that sit on my desk, and let's not forget cellphones.

Much of this I can see coming to an end.

Not only is AIDS epidemic, but due to sloth and corruption many strains of diseases are now immune to penicillin making the risk of a pandemic greater again. Islamic fundamentalists in Africa are preserving Polio (not as a weapon of attack, but as an example of the power they hold over their people by calling on the ignorant not to get vaccinated) just when it was on the verge of being wiped out. Within my own country I see daily signs of the education system breaking down creating the barbarians that are attacking the empire from within. Increasingly (although this has always been the case somewhat, now it seems far worse) our political leaders are not squabbling over how to lead, but who should have the power, fiddling while Rome burns and barbarians mass both within and without.

I do not fear for myself, the collapse of the Golden Age may not be complete until after my time on this ball of mud is past, but for those who come after me I often quake in my boots.

Monday, March 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.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Today is Easter Sunday, the day when, in the Christian Theology, the son of a woman named Mary rose from his tomb to again walk, for at least a few days, the soil of this relatively minor planet of a rather mediocre star in the fringes of a rather average galaxy.

It is a central tenet of Christian theology that this event happened, and the wellspring from which that splintered creed draws its ultimate faith. That this man's death was witnessed on the hill, that his mortal remains were interred, and that he was seen to walk among his followers again.

It is an act of faith for all those who call themselves Christian that these events, and many of the events leading up to it, happened. None of us can have any knowledge of the truth of them, only the accounts of those, his followers, who insist that they did. But none of us, now living, saw these things with our own eyes, were given bread at the sermon on the mount, drank the wine that was water just moments ago, or saw Lazarus walk from his own tomb.

We accept that the sun will rise on the morrow, just as it will set this eve. That in the coming days the moon shall once more wax and wane, but it will be there each and ever day. These are events we observe, they require no "faith".

Believing that Jesus was born of Mary, walked this planet for some thirty plus years performing miracles beyond the ken of even modern man, and then suffered death on the cross so that we might be saved from our sins, only to rise again to demonstrate the love of his father for us is, and always will be, an act of faith.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pain and Knees

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Pain is a fact of life, part of the warning system we all have to tell us we are doing something in an area of our body that maybe we should not be doing. The problem is that while it is often an important warning, it is also often simply the body not wanting to do something. If you want to be a runner, you are going to feel pain as you build up your endurance. If you want to be a weightlifter you will feel pain as work your muscles to greater and greater levels. If you want to be a ballerina you will learn to live with agony in your feet and a smile on your face.

We often learn to endure pain simply because it pleases someone else, or because the reward for enduring the pain is perceived as worth attaining.

Of course, pain is easier to endure and get past when you are younger. We may be "thinking animals" and "aware of our mortality", but we often fail to perceive that the immense damage we are voluntarily inflicting on ourselves when we are younger may make our later lives far more painful than they need to be.

I had a good pair of legs, and am pleased that they still work well enough to get me around, but I am no longer able to run for fear of a complete failure of my knees as a result. This also puts limits to how much I can carry as extra weight puts more strain on my weakened knees. There is a certain amount of pain associated with them on an almost daily basis now, and that is probably going to get worse as I get older. This is a penalty I am paying for abusing the bones, muscles, and ligaments in my knees when I was younger.

The human knee is a magnificent design in doing what it does, but it is also a very flawed design. Keep that in mind as you go through your days, and try to keep from abusing them as much as you can.

Friday, March 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.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Coming Together

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

I live in the United States of America, more I have sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of my natal land. Like most people anywhere, I love my country.

I do, however, sometimes find myself wishing that there was one government for the whole world.

I wish this because if there was just one government, military spending could be greatly curtailed, leaving more money for research, scientific development, infrastructure maintenance, and "going to the stars". The military would largely be replaced by police forces, and surely there would not need to be as many policemen as there are now soldiers if we had just one government running the whole planet. Coast Guards would be the world's navy, and submarines would mostly be research vessels.

A wonderful world.

But that is an easy thing for me to imagine because I live in a "first world" country rather than a "third world" country, or worse a "failed state".

There may come a time when there is one world government, but it will not grow out of the United Nations, an organization so corrupt and so polarized that its principle accomplishments since the Korean War ceasefire seem to have been fostering the continuance of conflict and division. Its much vaunted success in Cambodia was simply to put a stamp of approval on a stolen election allowing the dictator to have an aura of U.N. supplied legitimacy.

Pulling the world together under one government is not going to happen in my lifetime, and probably not for another couple of centuries (at least). In that time trillions of trillions of dollars (or whatever your currency of choice is) of the economic resources of the planet will be wasted in the rat-holes of conflict. Of keeping petty dictators and corrupt officials in power and enjoying the perks of their offices. Of supporting corruption, indolence, and stupidity.

There is worse in that even if we got a one world government, and more than 90% of the people world wide accepted that government, there would still be fanatics that would operate as terrorists because they either do not like the form of government (certainly I would be one of those fanatics if the world government was an absolute dictatorship or monarchy), or because their "faith" requires them to "kill unbelievers", or simply because someone thinks that he is not getting his fair share of the planet's wealth.

And a single world government would not face competition, and would inevitably drift towards complacency, and "robbing Peter to give largess to Paul". Social welfare systems would spiral out of control and there would be perceived to be less need for the research into new science and technology than for more money to support social programs.

It was the competition between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. that put men, however briefly, on the moon. Without competition there may be no drive to reach the stars, and I for one am not willing to settle for this singular ball of mud no matter how much I like man's home.

There may come a day when we do all come together under one planetary government. But it is not a guaranteed "good thing".

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Right Tool

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the common phrases is "the right tool for the right job". Few realize that this also applies to people. Consider Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville, was there any other General to whom he would entrust half the troops he had to making that flanking movement?

Most gamers are well used to the idea that a counter is a counter is a counter. If the game has "leaders", these are usually going to be "known quantities". (Any one who has played Squad Leader knows that Oberst Greup is a 10-3 for example.) What many fail to grasp is that there is more of selection process to this than a game reflects.

To hark back to stories about Napoleonic Miniatures to illustrate the point. When I first joined the group I was given various "commands" and the older and more experienced players would watch (peripherally, of course, since they were running their own forces) what happened. Gradually they came to realize that my ability to use cavalry was not very good, and light cavalry was disastrous. There was an aspect to its use that eluded me. But it was also noticed that I could handle infantry very well, and literally could be inherently treated as a "force multiplier" in and of myself. The result was a succession of battles where my commands were more or less "bare bones", i.e., I was given the absolute minimum that the "commander" felt might be able to accomplish the assigned task so that he could mass force elsewhere.

Even better, I was too young at the time to really know this was going on, so I tended to simply accept what troops were assigned me, and then perform the mission. I never, ever, went to "the commander" and begged for more troops, or guns, or horse, even when I felt going in that what had been alloted me was insufficient. The pay off was that any position I held, no matter how badly strained in the process, would still be held at the end of the battle.

I was "the right tool" for the task. The economy of force mission protecting the flank that allowed the commander to concentrate more offensive power at the point where he wanted to attack. I did not earn that "specialty" on the first day, it was a thing recognized over a series of battles.

This applies very much in the real world. If you are a company commander, you do not simply send the first platoon to do a given task because "it is their turn" or "they are closer". You will first be making an evaluation. However much you want every task to be done by the platoon leader you think is the best one, sometimes you have to send the next best, or even the worst of them, to do a given task because you need to keep your best leader ready for the unexpected, and sometimes you will have a series of critical assignments and you will literally burn your best platoon up because doing so will save more down the road.

So, as a commander, you have to know your subordinates, how competent they are, which ones need more supervision (command emphasis), which ones need to be prodded, and which ones simply need to be given the mission. And you can be certain that your commander is doing the same thing with you, rating you and your company's performance against the other companies in his battalion as he decides which mission to assign.

Tuesday, March 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.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Questions the Media Does Not Ask

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the scary things about watching media coverage of a Presidential election is the questions that they do not ask. If a candidate stands up and says that he or she will pull the troops out of Iraq, why does the media not ask "what do you think will be the consequences of such an action?" Surely if the candidate is making the statement he, or she, has thought about what will happen if he or she were to follow through on such a statement. If the candidate is relying on his or her own analysis, let him or her say so and at least bear the consequences on his or her own shoulders should his or her assumption of the consequences prove wrong. If the candidate is relying on a study by some think tank or other, let the candidate tell us so that we can know what the think tank expects to be an outcome.

Withdrawing from Iraq will have consequences. Both short term and long term. It is not too difficult to imagine Sunnis, on seeing the withdrawal of the U.S., flooding into Iraq to "restore the natural order" of Sunnis ruling Shiites. It is not too difficult to see that expanding to a larger war involving Iran. It is not too difficult to imagine what that would do to the cost of oil. Even if Iran chose not to get involved, it is not too difficult to see a revitalized Sunni take over of Iraq leading it its use as a terrorist staging area to overthrow the now completely discredited Saud Family in Saudi Arabia (discredited because they have backed the U.S. actions). Leading again to disaster.

From a Candidate's perspective, these are no problem. If the candidate wins the Whitehouse, no matter how disastrous the consequences, the Candidate is assured a pension paid for by the U.S. Taxpayer, and however poorly we are protected as a result of the Candidate's decisions, he or she will be protected by the Secret Service (also paid for by American taxpayers) for the remainder of his or her life.

So, for the candidate, the view can be short term. The consequences are not going to be borne by the candidate, but by we, the people.

Does this mean that a candidate that says "stay the course" is right? No, that candidate needs to be asked also what he or she thinks will happen.

But, for the time being, the costs of staying and trying to win are in the long run much cheaper than the consequences of pulling out.

Sunday, March 16, 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!).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Historian's Choices

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the things about history is what makes it into a book and what does not. One of the books I have in my possession is a collection of short biographies of military leaders of note. It is a very thick book (four or five inches), and many of the people listed have little more than a paragraph, some only a few sentences. A smaller number merit an entire page, and some more than a page. The book includes Generals of Rome and ancient China, as well as generals of more recent vintage (naturally none after the date of its publication), I say this to indicate that there was obvious effort to be complete. There are a few people who were not "generals" or "admirals" but were deemed of note (and, no, I have not read the whole book, I have used it to look up individuals that I wanted to be reminded a little more about when encountering them elsewhere, like General Kuryabashi at Iwo Jima). There is no real way for me to know how many people of merit were excluded, it was after all the choices of the book's original authors whether someone was included or omitted. But some Civil War Generals help to illustrate the oddity of the choices.

Confederate General George Pickett merits nearly a column. General Robert E. Lee almost two pages, General James Longstreet more than a page. There are entries for Anderson, and even Heth.

There is no entry for Early.

This is odd in that Early held an independent command, marched on Washington, D.C., having the distinction to reach its outskirts and have his troops actually observed by President Lincoln from the outer works. He is sometimes referred to as "The Only Man General Lee Ever Fired". Yet, there is no listing for him, but Harry Heth has a listing, so does George Pickett (who arguably was also "fired" by Robert E. Lee, albeit just days before Appamatox Courthouse). While Pickett's division made up the bulk of the troops in that attack that has come to be associated with his name, his only other accomplishment of note seems to have been to be absent from duty to attend a fish bake when his command failed to block the Union assault on Five Forks.

Yes, Early's independent command ended in a disaster that helped cement Sheridan's place in history, but Early seems somehow to deserve more mention than Pickett, or even Harry Heth whose main claim to military fame seems to have been starting the battle of Gettysburg in violation of Lee's orders.

Who knows who else does not have a listing but should have, who the historians chose to ignore, and what their reasons were? When they make these choices, they influence what others will learn, or not learn, of history.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Stephen V. Cole writes:

This item: Federation Commander: Distant Kingdoms, SKU 4106, $34.95, is going to be delayed a few days, maybe two weeks. The die cutter is scheduled to deliver the counters tomorrow but has (by the reports this morning) not even started, and is growling that he wants major changes done to what has been sent to him. I may have to drive to Dallas and stand there while he does these things, or switch to another die cutter (there are at least two more in Dallas). At least this print run includes the next four products so those won't get delayed by this same problem. As soon as the die cutter commits to a new schedule, I will let you know a release date.

This item: Prime Directive d20M (Modern), SKU8721, $24.95 is also going to be delayed, perhaps by the same time as FCDK, perhaps longer, but probably not beyond mid-April. The guy who did the conversion from d20 to d20M is currently doing it over to correct some glitches. We have decided to have someone other than Steve Cole do the proofreading and page layout, which is good (proofreader Jean Sexton and page layout guy Mike Sparks have a lot more time than I do and a lot fewer other projects) but is also bad as it took them a couple of weeks to get the hang of how the system and software works. That's behind us now, and they are churning out new pages every day, but there are 200 or so pages to churn out, and some are easier than others to change. When I have a new release date for FCDK, I will confer with Jean and Mike to see if they can meet it or if they will release this with the April batch.

Since Mike and Jean are now going to be doing all of our RPGs, these two products: Prime Directive: Federation (d20), SKU 8702, $24.95 and GURPS Federation, SKU 8402, $24.95 will be done after they finish Prime Directive d20M modern, which means they will probably appear in May and June. Since these are about 90% the same text, once we get the d20 one finished, the GURPS one only has to wait for Steve Jackson to read it and say "ok".

And finally, this item: SELTORIAN FLEET BOX, SKU 1500, $39.95 won't be coming out. It turned out to be identical to 4313 Squadron Box 13 and there just wasn't any point in having two identical products under two different names, two different stock numbers, and two different price points.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Gettysburg Victory's Consequences

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

You can take it as an article of faith that if Robert E. Lee had defeated the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, that alone would not have won the Civil War. Had the Army of the Potomac lost the first day and been driven from the heights by Anderson's Corps, it would have simply fallen back on Pipe Creek. Defeats on the second day, or the third day, might have been more devastating, but war is chaos and it is very hard to catch a man running away who has thrown down his accoutrement when you still have to carry yours. Washington was still heavily fortified and stood as a bastion in which the Army could have been reorganized. A large haul of prisoners would have been an embarrassment for Lee that in itself might have forced him to return to the south ending his sojourn on northern soil.

It is not the battle (Gettysburg) itself that might have won the war for the South. The victory would almost certainly not have brought foreign recognition or intervention as a consequence, but the strategic ramifications of a major victory causing heavy loss to the Army of the Potomac could well have changed the entire character of the war.

The Civil War was not won in the Eastern Theater, it was won in the Western Theater. A victory at Gettysburg would not have changed the fate of Vicksburg, and the Mississippi would have been opened to Northern Traffic. What would have changed would have been the balance of forces. The Union troops in the Western Theater would have been reduced to bring more troops to the east to defend Washington after a disaster at Gettysburg. That would have curtailed Union operations in the theater, and opened the way for Johnston to mass his available Confederate forces to strike at the weakened Union forces. As previously demonstrated by Bragg, a new drive into Kentucky would not have been out of the question following a major defeat at Gettysburg. The Mississippi but recently reopened to Northern Commerce could have been closed again, forcing the Union troops to abandon their gain of Vicksburg. Such disasters would have emboldened the Copperhead movement in the North. Sherman would never initiate his Atlanta campaign, and without that, Lincoln would be unlikely to win re-election.

By itself, a Confederate win at Gettysburg would be little more than another battle won unless it ended with the capitulation of a major part of the Army of the Potomac. But the strategic consequences of such a defeat on Union deployments and operations could have had potentially war winning results.

Wednesday, March 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

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

I headed into the office today, and as I was driving up I-27 to get to Amarillo I was passed by a tractor hauling a load of cattle. Not unusual. It was followed by a second tractor also hauling a load of cattle. I was on cruise control and doing perhaps a mile or three above the posted limit according to the speedometer. Not unusual. The second tractor did not finish passing me, but flanked me for a mile, perhaps less.

Apparently this interval was sufficient time for the driver of the second tractor to forget I was there. He moved into my lane.

Fortunately, there is a wide median along this stretch of I-27, almost a lane in and of itself, which provided me sufficient space to dodge and brake.

I will admit that at first I thought he was just drifting out of his own lane, and he was well on his way over before I suddenly realized that he no longer knew I was there. If I had accelerated after he had started to pass me, I would accept that I was to blame, but I was on cruise control at a steady speed. He overhauled me from behind and apparently just wanted to stay in trail with the other cattle transport. But if I had also been inattentive . . . well it probably would not have been fatal, but it would have been messy.

Not the only time I have found myself almost forced off the road by another driver. At one point driving to Origins a few years back, just outside of St. Louis (on the Missouri side) we were passed by a pickup truck in a hurry. So much of a hurry that he had forgotten he was hauling a long trailer. That was far more dangerous as there was about (if memory serves) a ten foot drop off on that side of the road, and if the trailer had hit us . . . we would have gone over. There was also traffic behind us, leaving very little room to brake and swerve enough that the trailer did not hit us, but not so suddenly that the vehicles behind us hit us or each other.

It is not just vehicles these days. A week or so ago I was on my way back from the post office. I had just changed to the right hand lane because there was no traffic in it as I was approaching a red light. The light changed to green as I changed lanes, so I switched from deceleration to acceleration. Suddenly, the passenger side door of an SUV opens and out steps a 16-20 something female who promptly walks into my lane of traffic. The brakes on my car work, but I asked Leanna if she heard them they screamed so loudly. I stopped maybe five or six feet from this female, whose reaction was to stare at me as if this was somehow "my" fault. She then turned around, got back in the SUV and it drove off.

Monday, March 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.

Sunday, March 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.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

More on Scenario Writing

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the recent scenario submissions was a demonstration of melding ideas. The scenario involved a Seltorian Hive ship (actually a smaller Nest ship) crossing the void between Galaxies. The author took the time to consider what this might look like before submitting it. Obviously the relatively short lived but fast breeding Seltorians would not need to send fully crewed units, but could reduce manning to near minimal levels on the ships being sent, which would of course have the benefit of making available supplies last far longer (fewer mouths to feed). Once the new Galaxy was reached, a suitable planet could be found to provide the food needed to breed full crews.

In the meantime, lack of full crews could make the ships more vulnerable to the unexpected as they cross the void.

For the unexpected, he did not go with a simple encounter with fleeing Tholians, but borrowed a monster from elsewhere in the Starfleet Universe as his antagonist.

The result is what may be an interesting solitaire scenario using units that seldom get much play (Seltorian Nest ship). It is a straight up combat scenario (no need to gather information on the monster, just keep shooting until they are dead because they will keep going until they destroy the Nest Ship, and if you lose Nest ship, all of your ships are dead anyway).

So, there are things that can be done to create interesting scenario ideas. I certainly had not thought about Seltorians running into someone in the deep void, although a scenario where a Hive Ship arrives in a Galaxy already dominated by Andromedans had occurred to me.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hoisted by his Own Petard . . . what?

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

You may have heard the phrase (perhaps in a class on Shakespeare) "Hoisted by his own Petard". You may have heard it in conversation and, from its use, have some vague idea of its meaning, pretty much that some surprise someone was planning to spring on someone else had backfired.

The phrase is actually one that would have been understood by most soldiers in the Shakespearian age, but other than its usage (as given above) even most modern soldiers have no comprehension of what a "Petard", or how one would be "hoisted" by it.

A "Petard" was a small bomb that was used to blow open a gate, and if it happened to detonate early (powder and fuses not being all that reliable in that age, it was entirely possible that when you set a flame to light a fuse, said fuse would burn instantly rather than slowly) you would be "hoist", that is to say "lifted" into the air.

Thus "Hoisted by his own Petard" literally means "was blown up by his own explosive device".

Thursday, March 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.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Star Fleet Battles: Module M Star Fleet Marines
This classic product has been out of stock for a couple of months, but has now returned in a new and updated edition. All known errata items have been incorporated, and the material has been updated to the new rule standards of the SFB Master Rulebook.

Updated rules, scenarios, and SSDs.

Now produced as separate rulebook and SSD book as players requested.

Front cover has the same art, but now has ADB logos.

SKU 5615, $21.95

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


This is Stephen V. Cole Posting: I was watching a TV show about these huge lizards, which live in a national park on a few islands in Indonesia. I have seen one in a US zoo (only a handful of zoos have them) but it was only a baby and three feet long. Komodos reach full size in ten years (that being 10 feet long and 150 pounds). Sometime past age 40, they get old and slow and cannot fight for food any more and slowly starve to death by age 50. During these senior years, they tend to enter human villages looking for an easy meal. It seems to me that there is an opportunity here. Scientists constantly monitor these dragons by individual names and records, and once they see one getting old, he (or she) could be humanely trapped and shipped off to a zoo, where (given plenty of food) the Komodo dragon could live a dignified decade or two as an attraction that the public would pay to see. This would bring huge full-size Komodos to every zoo in America and Europe, allowing more people to see them, and allow these old lizards to have a much more dignified "senior" period that would probably last longer. It's got to be better than watching these old dragons get beaten up by younger dragons and slowly starve to death.

SPP adds: And it would allow the young ones to grow up in the wild rather than being snaked off to a zoo, which might in turn help perpetuate the species by allowing the strongest to procreate. You never know how important that you grabbed for the zoo was to their gene pool.

Monday, March 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.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Random Variable

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Random chance is a variable in all of our lives. Very small things can determine the path of our future.

When I was about nine years old I received for Christmas a pair of "boxing gloves" (heavily padded for kids, not the real thing). A few days later, while "boxing" with one of the neighbor kids, I found his blows "ticklish" (seriously) leading to my laughing so hard I could not breathe. I ran across the street to gain some time to breathe, and then collapsed in the neighbor's yard. Right on a sprinkler head. There is a scar from that incident that runs through my right eyebrow, a matter of a half inch lower and I would not have a right eye. My whole life would have been changed from that point.

What are the odds that, in an entire yard, I would fall at the point where that sprinkler head would strike my skull?

There are a lot of such variables. There was a time I surfaced from underwater only to have a can of soda (filled with water since the soda had been drunk) strike me directly in the face. There is scar through the mustache on my upper lip from that incident since it happened that the stamped out edge of the opening where the pull tab had been was driven into my face cutting it open.

Everyday of our lives are affected by random variables over which we have no control. Most of them are largely irrelevant. Some are life altering, some are life changing. We do not know how close we stand on the brink of disaster from moment to moment as we live our lives, but it is the overall illusion of control and safety that keeps us from going crazy.

And that in itself is a random variable.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Scenario Writing

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

A lot of people think that writing a scenario is the easiest thing in the world to do, but it is rarely as easy as they imagine. Often the problem is that the idea is good, but all the rules do not make it down on paper.

Recent example: An Orion Pirate ship is being surprised by a trap. The trap is a Q-ship and a bunch of other ships that will suddenly arrive over several turns to beat up on the Orion.

Sounds simple, but since the Orion Player KNOWS he is going to be ambushed (hard to avoid in a published scenario), already KNOWS the freighter is a Q-ship, WHY is he going to stick around? Nothing stops him from turning tail on Turn #1 and just leaving. A rule that forces him to approach the Q-ship still means that once the Q-ship says hello he has to stick around on the map waiting for the other ships to arrive. The scenario needs something more than the simple assumption that your Orion player will be want to stay and fight, it needs a reason for him to do so and some chance that doing so will let him win.

You can write scenarios about the glorious last battle of ship A, but you need to define something that the player who is going to run ship A can do to feel good about his own skill playing rather than that he is just a target for all the other players.

Then there are transcription errors that creep in. A player submitted a scenario, and as you read it you gradually realize that it requires more than one mapsheet to set up, at least at the start, but he makes no mention of this.

Another player assumed a salvo of weapons fired before the battle began, but completely ignored the fact that his at start deployment made it possible for the ships firing the salvo to also fire their rear weapons (increasing their firepower by 30%).

Then there are those simply pick some ships and write a scenario without ever looking at the ships. (One player, for example, recently submitted a scenario in which a key point of the battle rested on the use of the two ESGs on a Lyran ship that does not have ANY ESGs.)

Writing scenarios looks easy, but it takes the time to actually look at the ships you want to use, see if they are available (no problem with writing "what if" scenarios as long as you tell everyone they are "what if" rather than historical), and try to actually push them around and see what could happen. You might discover that the neat idea is unworkable, or spot that loophole that needs to be closed before you submit it for playtesting.