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Sunday, January 31, 2010


Steve Cole writes:

The military use a bewildering array of unit sizes and types. Here is a short description of the most common, with notes on how these came to be. The list is arranged from the smallest to the largest.
Team: Four soldiers, led by an E5 three-stripe sergeant. (Note, a Navy "Seal Team" is a wholly different thing, much larger, with some officers in it.)
Squad: In the US Army, this has two teams, with a total of nine soldiers, one of whom is an E6 (four-stripe sergeant). Marine Corps squads have thee teams and 13-14 guys.
Section: This is kind of a funky unit, bigger than a squad but smaller than a platoon. In World War I, most armies had sections instead of squads. In current US military usage, a section consists of two squads, and is used only in some special cases. Some platoons have two sections, which may or may not have squads. Most platoons do not have sections at all.
Platoon: This consists of three squads, led by a first lieutenant (O2) or second lieutenant (O1) with a senior E7 five-stripe sergeant to help him. Most companies are organized into platoons, but some have sections. The rather bizarre Marine Corps TOW anti-tank missile "platoon" is actually a very large company. A tank platoon has four tanks (five tanks until about 1980).
Company: This consists of three platoons plus a weapons squad. Led by an O3 captain with an O2 first lieutenant and an E8 six-stripe first sergeant to help him. An artillery company is known as a battery. A mechanized cavalry company is known as a troop. (British and most European armies call a tank platoon a troop and a tank company a squadron.) A company is based on the old Roman "century" of 100 soldiers, and can include 100-150 soldiers depending on type. A tank company has fourteen tanks. An artillery battery has six cannons. In the British Army, companies are commanded by majors. In the US Army, this is the smallest unit with a "commander" (platoons have "leaders") but the Marines often call platoon leaders by the title "platoon commanders".
Team: In US Army usage, this is a company that traded one of its platoons to another company for a platoon of a different type, such as a mechanized infantry company trading one of its platoons to a tank company for a tank platoon.
Battalion: In current US usage, this unit of about 700-1000 soldiers includes three line companies, plus a mortar platoon, scout platoon, anti-tank company (not in Bradley units which have tank killing built into the vehicles), supply platoon, and other small units. This unit is led by an O5 lieutenant colonel, with two majors and a sergeant-major to help him. This is called a "squadron" in armored cavalry units. This would be called a "regiment" in most European armies. This is the smallest US unit with a staff (S1 personnel, S2 intel, S3 operations, S4 logistics). Under Ronald Reagan, Army mechanized battalions were incredibly powerful organizations with four line companies AND an anti-tank company, but Clinton cut them to three line companies and no anti-tank company. During the American Civil War, a battalion was any group of companies that was smaller than a full regiment. An Air Force squadron (with 12-24 aircraft) is the same size unit.
Task Force: This is a US Army battalion that traded one of its companies to another battalion for a different kind of company. For example, a mechanized infantry battalion trades one company to a tank battalion, and both become combined arms task forces.
Regiment: In US usage, this is a historical organization of three identical battalions, plus assorted other units such as an anti-tank company, cannon company, and so forth; at least, that is what it was during World War II. In the Civil War, a regiment had 1,000 men (and was almost always down to 300-500 men due to casualties). This term is really no longer used by the US Army except that armored cavalry brigades are called regiments because the word regiment is so darn cool. A regiment is led by an O6 full bird colonel with a full staff. All current Army battalions are part of "historical regiments" but the battalions rarely serve in the same place.
Brigade: In current US Army usage, this is a group of two or more line battalions (infantry or tanks), plus a recon company, an engineer company, an attached artillery battalion, and other small units formed into a support battalion, with a total of maybe 3,000 people. A brigade is commanded by an O6 full bird colonel with a full staff. Until 2001, brigades had three or sometimes four line battalions and about 5,000 people. Now, with more firepower and UAVs and precision smart bombs, two battalions are enough warm bodies exposed to enemy fire. Until 2001, brigades borrowed almost all of their subunits from division. Now, those subunits are more or less permanent parts of the brigade, and the Army rotates brigades through war zones under control of whatever division headquarters is handy. For historical confusion, a Civil War brigade included three to seven "regiments" and was commanded by a brigadier general. An Air Force "wing" is the same size unit.
Division: This had three line brigades until 2001, and now has four line brigades. In either case, there is also an artillery unit (called "a divisional artillery" but it's a brigade, except that it gives its battalions to the brigades and the artillery commander becomes a member of the division staff and Corps HQ gives the division another whole national guard artillery brigade). There is also an engineer unit (which gives its subunits to the brigades and the engineer commander becomes a divisional staff advisor). Since about 1980, there is an aviation/recon brigade (including the armored cavalry battalion and the helicopters). A division is commanded by a two-star major general with two one-star helpers (one of whom runs operations, the other runs logistics). A division has a military police company to handle traffic and prisoners. Usually, subunits of the MP company work for the brigades. There are some other dibble and dabs of support units in the division, but these days, the division has few troops of its own as the brigades are set up to operate independently.
Operational Maneuver Group: Used by the Soviets, this was a very big division or very small corps. The Soviets invented this thing just before they went out of business. It was based on the very successful World War II "mechanized corps" organization, which was sort of a really big division. The US Army was officially scared to death of Soviet OMGs.
Corps: The consists of two or more divisions, led by a three-star lieutenant general. This often has two or three artillery brigades (mostly from the National Guard), plus a helicopter brigade, an armored cavalry regiment, and assorted other support units.
Army (also known as a Field Army): This includes two or more corps, and in theory is led by a four-star full general (but these days, by a three-star). A field Army always has a mountain of other units like engineers, artillery, aviation, mess kit repair, finance, and so forth. Soviet (and Arab) armies use the term "army" to refer to a group of four divisions, and had no corps.
Operational Group: This formation was used by the Germans in World War II for tank armies. This was a field army (containing two or three corps and eight or ten divisions) but did not get the title "army" until a year later when they quit calling them Operational Groups. The infantry guys who ran the German Army did not want the younger tank generals to have the glory of being "army" commanders.
Army Group: This consisted of two or three field armies plus a lot of support units. This has not used since World War II because armies are smaller. The Soviets in World War II and until the collapse in 1990 used the term "Front" to mean what Western units called an Army Group.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Praise of Our Volunteers

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

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

Mike West answers rules questions on FEDERATION COMMANDER. Mike Curtis does the same thing for Federation & Empire, Jonathan Thompson and Jean Sexton 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. Bob Pomroy does made-to-order decals for our Starline miniatures at a cost that barely covers his costs.

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

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

We have other staffers who do specific things (and sometimes a wide variety of things) for us including Jean Sexton (Vice President of Proofreading and Product Professionalization); John Berg and Mike Incavo (Galactic Conquest Campaign); Daniel Kast (Klingon Armada); 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

Friday, January 29, 2010

On Snow and Ice and Planning

Jean Sexton reports:

Steve and Leanna Cole and Steven Petrick are snowed in, as are the rest of the staff at ADB, Inc. You have probably heard about the snow in Texas. Steve Cole told me that even if the interstate were clear, he couldn't get far out of his garage without hitting a two-foot-high snowdrift. Steven Petrick would have to unsnow (I nearly wrote unearth, but earth isn't what is covering his car) his vehicle then get to the interstate.

I know that they all would rather be at work -- SVC has a bad case of cabin fever. He's a "hands-on" manager in many ways and letting ADB, Inc. drift while he brushes the cats is not in his nature.

Just as the Steves and Leanna dig out, it looks like ADB, Inc. East is about to get "interesting" weather. As of my writing this entry in the StarBlog, the forecast is calling for me to get up to half an inch of ice. With the forecast winds, that will bring down branches. My home is pretty close to the end of a run of the power lines -- looking cross-eyed at the lines anywhere along the line means I lose power. Luckily I do my best proofreading on paper and I still have a land-line telephone, so I won't be isolated (the cell phone pick up is iffy out here).

ADB, Inc. believes in planning ahead for potential "situations". We charged our cell phones, topped off the cars so we'd have fuel, made sure we had liquids (for us and our furkids) and food that doesn't need heating. We have flashlights and spare batteries. We have folding money (if the poser is out or networks are overloaded, debit and credit cards might not work). Any prescriptions have enough for a week of being stuck.

With ice coming, I took down all the hanging baskets so they wouldn't bend the poles. I brought in garden ornaments that might not survive ice on them. I made sure that my dog got a good run while I was outside doing all of that and that I had my cell phone with me so I could keep my promise to the Steves and be safe. (I am most assuredly Ralph's person and he won't let anyone mess with his person.)

Getting ready for this storm took very little time because ADB, Inc. and I have "disaster plans". I have a written list of what needs to be done and when. Where I live, going to the grocery store when frozen precipitation is expected within 24 hours is a trip where there are frantic people, trying to get supplies, many of which are sold out. I try to buy what I think I will need early so I both get my supplies and avoid wasting time standing in lines. This gives me time to do things like deal with things outside.

We encourage all of you to develop a disaster plan that works for you. When a problem strikes, make note of what things you missed doing (my list includes making sure my Fuze is charged because that includes a radio and it includes taking down hanging baskets because I had a pole bent nearly at right angles because I didn't do that once). Try dry runs with your children, especially if you have a spot where you should all gather. (It's far better to find out now that a child thinks you mean the neighbor's rose garden near his window than it is during an emergency.)

Then when a situation arises, it isn't a disaster, because you've planned ahead and know what to do. So ask yourself what would you do if you were likely to have a storm and start making your list!

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Steve Cole reports:

The state of the United States of America, my friends, is dire. A year ago, we stood on the edge of a cliff, hanging onto the crumbling edge by our toes. Instead of doing the proven things that would set the country right again, President Obama drove full speed over the edge and down the steep incline, and shows no sign of realizing his mistake, much less correcting it. There is worse to come. The bottom of this cliff is not just hard rocks, but a deep ocean full of sharks.

This mess was triggered by the collapse of the housing market. That market should never have been as inflated as it was; there never should have been a "real estate bubble". There was one because Congress ordered the banks to make risky loans to people who could not pay them back (in the name of "social fairness"), and once the banks realized how much profit that was (there was no risk as they just packaged and sold the mortgages to investors who assumed that there was no better investment than a US home mortgage), the banks went totally crazy, and stopped even trying to verify that the loan applicant had the income he claimed he did. The sub-prime market was a ticking time bomb, and it exploded. Thus, the recession of 2008-2009.

How do you get a country out of recession? Not by government spending; that's been proven to never work. It has failed every time it has been tried. Government spending is a temporary fix that lasts only a few months, does not create any real permanent jobs, and does nothing but drive up the deficit. The "Stimulus Bill" was (as we all knew at the time) nothing but pork to pay off pro-left groups, and was never going to create jobs. Instead of getting this country moving by the time-tested and long-proven methods (cut taxes on businesses and let them grow new jobs), we wasted a year debating "health care", a misnamed issue used to disguise a government power grab. Fortunately, that move to socialism failed when the independent voters and conservative Democrats of Massachusetts said "no" to socialism and repudiated everything President Obama had tried to do.

The question for today is, what do we do now?

What happens now, by all appearances (from President Obama's State of the Union speech), is another year of getting nothing accomplished, at least, nothing that actually helps. President Obama has yet to realize that he never had a mandate for his socialist agenda; he still thinks it can happen, and should happen. At least, we won't get Cap & Tax and we won't get the Union Thug Relief Act. (It was so hard for the thugs to coerce the votes they wanted when the ballots were secret, but at least it seems now that those ballots will stay secret.)

So, then what? Well, a year from now, the Republicans are going to gain a lot of seats in the House and Senate, maybe not enough to take control (that depends on how well the Democrats fool the American people), but a lot of seats, enough to deadlock anything from happening in the two years after that. Why? Because that is how American politics works, or rather, doesn't work.

In 2008, America (for valid reasons or not) was tired of Republican rule. Considering that the eight years of Republican rule doubled the national debt, I was kind of unhappy with them as well, but not so unhappy as to put the Democrats in power. I knew what others did not, that a vote for the Democrats was not going to be seen as a vote against Republicans, but a vote for Obama's socialist agenda. And now, when the only hope of stopping the socialist agenda is put the Republicans back in control of Congress, a vote for Republicans won't be seen (by the Republican National Committee) as a vote against socialism, but as a vote for Republican leadership à la 2005. I have said many times, if there had been a "none of the above" on the 2008 ballot, we would have had six months of caretaker government and a new election with new candidates.

I got a letter from the Republicans the other day. It was a survey, the first fourteen questions amounting to "Do you oppose this thing President Obama wants to do?" and the fifteenth being "How much money can you send us?"

My answer was "Not a dime until you give me something to vote FOR, not just something to vote against."

I am, to be sure, totally against the Obama socialist agenda. I do not want taxes raised (that's been proven to slow the economy andproduce less money for the government). I do not want free pass amnesty (along with free retroactive social security and welfare benefits) for illegal aliens (but maybe some rational program could be found). I do want English as the official language and I do want "bilingual education" eliminated (since it teaches kids to retain Spanish and not learn English). I think we need a voucher system (since the public schools are churning out graduates who don't know how to spell but do know to vote for Democrats) but I don't want a bunch of fly-by-night private schools springing up like mushrooms to grab the free money. I want tort reform, an end to lobbyists getting the legislature to force everyone to buy certain coverages that only a whacky minority want, and interstate health insurance sales. I do not want a subsidized government plan that would run like Medicare (badly!) and drive the good insurance I have now out of business. We don't need a draft and we don't need a hippie-style citizen's volunteer corps that gets military pay and benefits for raking leaves. We need to treat terrorists as enemy war criminals, not as common crooks with ACLU lawyers. I absolutely oppose making Homeland Security a bunch of unionized civil servants more interested in their jobs than their duties.

But that is not enough. I don't just want the Republicans to stop the Democrats; I want the Republicans to stop being what Republicans have become (spend-aholics) and start being what Republicans were (responsible conservatives with some core values).

I will donate money to the Republicans when I see the RNC show some "change" in the right direction. I want the budget balanced, PERIOD, no excuses. I want the Republicans to swear that the deficit will be reduced to zero in two or three years and then I want the national debt paid off in ten or fifteen. I want term limits, campaign finance reform (real reform, that eliminates payolla equally across party lines, not that bogus "bipartisan" reform McCain tried to sell where labor unions get to spend all they want but businesses do not), an END to the Congressional health insurance and retirement plans, and transparency in government. I want Republican candidates who are not Democrats with a Republican name tag.

We had better realize that if we put the Republicans of 2005-2008 back in charge, the budget won't get balanced, and the country will collapse. The Republicans need to promise that they'll be fiscally responsible, not just that they'll be less irresponsible than President Obama. (What we really need is to make the Tea Party a real third political party of middle-ground independent voters who just want the budget balanced, but the way US election laws work, that's just impossible.)

We need to change our ways, and fast. Trouble is out there, and it's going to come sooner than later. There is more than one ticking time bomb out there, and we cannot survive any of them, let alone all of them.

One ticking time bomb is the foreign debt. Sooner or later, China and the rest of the world are either going to refuse to buy American Treasury bonds, or demand a higher interest rate. When that happens, the US economy is going to hit a brick wall. The only way to fix this is to balance the budget and start paying down that debt.

Another ticking time bomb is the state debt. Half of the 50 states are bankrupt and most of the rest are headed that way, due to the economy which cannot sustain the previous overspending. When the economy went down and "services" stayed the same, the state deficits ballooned to a current $500 billion. We can fix this by the tried and true method (cut business taxes to get growth going again). It wouldn't hurt states to realize that while giving the taxpayers a lot of services is kind of cool, it's also very expensive and we just cannot afford it.

Ok, California is bankrupt because it was run by a bunch of socialist idiots who cannot grasp the concept of dynamic models. (A few other states are on the same path.) They think if you raise taxes on business and give people lots of "services" they did not know they needed, the businesses will just cut back on undeserved bonuses. Instead, the businesses left the state and took the jobs with them.

The third ticking time bomb is the Balance of Payments, also known as the Trade Deficit. The US is buying more than it is selling, and that cannot last much longer. We've pretty much destroyed our manufacturing jobs and have created a service economy, then shipped the service jobs to India and Bulgaria. The biggest part of this problem is energy (oil and other types). We need to drill for oil everywhere we can at home to buy time for other solutions to become practical. I hate to think of government meddling in the free market, but we may have to think in terms of cutting the trade deficit by fiat rather than hoping that something we do causes it indirectly. We may have to impose import quotas, and require any company or country selling things to us to buy things from us, things like manufactured goods, not real estate or bulk ores. We need to stop exporting logs and importing furniture made from those logs, or at least force the people buying the logs to buy cars or tractors or something that we make here from American resources. Sure, that's going to cause disruption. Heck, it's going to cause chaos, but you can have less pain now or more pain later.

The fourth and final ticking time bomb is the personal debt of Americans who grew up in the instant gratification generation. In theory, the Free Market will ensure that banks do not give you more unsecured credit than you can pay off. In reality, they did, and now we have people on Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey complaining that they (somehow) ran up $80,000 in credit card debt and have no idea what to do about the banks raising their interest rates and minimum payments.

Here's what to do: STOP SPENDING MONEY YOU DON'T HAVE. I'm a free market guy, but the free market gave you too much credit, and the free market failed you. How about a law that nobody can have more unsecured debt than three months of their income? To be sure, tens of millions already do, but at least they would get no further in debt, and everyone would suddenly have to grasp the concept of living within their income. Sure, you're going to have to cancel your cable TV, sell the third car, cancel your magazine subscriptions, stop eating in restaurants, and quit making $300 trips to Walmart when you feel depressed, but it will be good for you!

I have covered a lot of ground here, and looking back on what I have written, it is a bit of a ramble, but this is not a simple situation that can be solved by one simple answer. I hope you take away my key points. We need the Republicans to understand that when they get back in power, it's not so they can spend money, but so they can balance the budget.

We need to stop spending money we don't have, on a government, national, state, and personal level.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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 and Facebook pages exist 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, January 26, 2010

The Coming of the Storm

This is Steven Petrick posting.

We are getting ready for a storm.

This one at least "feels" unusual.

The Weather Channel started running "winter storm watch" announcements last night (I have no idea when they started, but when I looked at the channel around 2200 CST, there they were). I cannot recall ever previously seeing a Winter Storm Watch, set to run from "Late Wednesday to Late Thursday" start late Monday.

The "week ahead" forecasts have continuously said "wintry mix" for Thursday, but this morning the forecast changed, much colder than previously (the high was at least a few degrees above freezing, now it is predicted to be more than ten degrees below freezing). The weather map they showed last night showed our area of the panhandle of Texas to be in the "pink" (for freezing rain) zone. And the long range forecast said it would be freezing rain changing over to snow.

So far, there has been no prediction of accumulation totals, and the weather channel still thinks (at least when I last saw it) that it will be a relatively fast moving front (here late Wednesday/early Thursday, gone late Thursday/Early Friday).

All of which means: Nothing may happen (there have been plenty of times when precipitation has been predicted with more than 90% certainty and we have seen not a drop), and we may be snowed into our homes (times when the chance of precipitation was less than 30% and we have gotten flooding rains).

So, tonight we are all going to stock up on emergency rations and make sure our cell phones are fully charged and our cars gas tanks are topped off. This avoids the rush that will surely take place tomorrow after work.

Monday, January 25, 2010

This week at ADB, Inc., 17-24 January 2010

Steve Cole reports:

The weather has been halfway decent all week. It's cold in the mornings (in the 30s or 40s), and warmer in the afternoon.

I made the mistake of moaning about my health and diet in public, and found out I have a lot of friends with similar problems and great advice. This was a week of "out of the office errands" including stuff for the addition, a haircut, my routine dental checkup, and two trips to see Chaplain Denton give two public speeches. The monthly cleaning crew came in to clean the office, and it took most of the next day to get my office back the way it was.

Progress continues on the addition to our house (mine and Leanna's). This week, we got cabinets, trim, doors, bricks, and the woodwork got stained. Leanna, however, has been having trouble picking paint colors that she likes.

The BBS and Forum ran well. The Game of Nations restarted with a new staff of despots and dictators.

My big project for the week was (again) F&E 2010. I finished the core changes (many of which failed to get votes) and did three drafts of the new 509 consolidated transport rule. I did all of the cross-reference items, and all of the reports to date on section 100.

I did other things as well. I made some of Jean's marked changes to PD Feds and read some of the files she sent. Ship Cards sent to FCOL this week: Hydran Lancer DD, Lyran Wildcat BC, Klingon D5WL. I did the Star Fleet Alert for the releases on 22 February after Adam and Daniel Kast sent me the missing stuff. Customer Request Wednesday included doing that Lyran painting article I have had for a year, approving the same-hex thing for FC and having it uploaded, and uploading the ISC CL for FC playtesting.

Steven Petrick spent the week working on the battlegroups for CL #41, other stuff for CL #41, and Module C3A.

Leanna spent the week doing mail orders, wholesaler orders, and year-end accounting. Mike Sparks (when not doing orders) got another video edited and uploaded and worked on restocking the inventory. Mike reported that we had received the Juggernaut shipment and they looked great.

Eric got a bunch done on the website, including uploading the spine cards and adding a first missions page to the Commander's Circle. His greatest accomplishment was getting all of those bootleg PDFs deleted from Major Racal.

Jean continued on her shooting practice but also made serious progress on Prime Directive Federation. John Sickels finished most of his stuff, but Jonathan Thompson and Tony Thomas still have work to do. I got a fat packet of purple-marked pages. Jean reports that the Facebook page continues to grow, attract customers we have never heard of (who don't go to the BBS), and is very positive.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Stephen V. Cole writes:

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

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

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Petrick Sees Avatar

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Well, I have seen "Avatar". While I can understand the hype about the advances in computer driven animation it represented, the storyline was, to me, very poor. In short, it was what was expected. There were no surprises. Right down to the mystical ability of the natives to permanently transfer the hero's essence into the clone body, with no explanation of just why the Natives have this ability. (How often have they been transferring the life essence of one person to another?)

There is also a problem with the oddness of evolution on the planet. Most creatures appeared to have more than two eyes, and be hexapods (that is they had six limbs), while the Navi were bilaterally symetrical and had only two eyes. Something hinky about the evolution on this planet, or the Navi themselves were an invasive species planted from somewhere else.

It is sadly not clear why "unobtainium" is so valuable. We only know that it is being mined, that its value is worth moving all the resources being used to Pandora (Including all those gunships) and itself being moved all the way back to Earth.

For want of a better term, unobtainium is apparently just a stand-in for Gold in the new world. After all, no real attempt was made to make us think the Navi were anything other than Native Americans.

I do have to credit the film for allowing the advanced technology culture to triumph over the merely native forces. They "won" the battle with the Navi, even if ultimately they "lost" the battle with the planet. No history major or student of things military would have accepted the Navi Cavalry Charge over running the line of Infantry with automatic weapons supported by gunships. And it did not. The repulse was all that could have been and should have been (at least to anyone with a military background) expected. In a real world sense, without the intervention of the planet, one would have expected to see the Navi attempting to adapt, but the technological mismatch represented was far greater than what occurred when Europeans came to the Americas (and was equally unfair, but history is what history is, it was equally unfair when the Mongols smashed the Poles, Rumanians, Hungarians, Russians, Persians, and Chinese).

The Navi, of course, had the advantage of being immune to the benefits of civilization. After all, their apparent bond with Mother Pandora kept them from being cold or hot, made sure food was always plentiful and did not need to be preserved and automatically (apparently) healed them without risk of infections. The typical longing of a technocrat like Cameron for an Eden that has never existed on this planet. Life before technology has always been hard work and hard scrabble, not the idealized dream producers like Cameron like to imagine.

I have seen Cameron's Film once, I will not see it again. The animation was a true tour de force, the writing and story stank.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On Reading and the Battle of the Books

Jean Sexton reports:

This week, I had the privilege of serving as the moderator for the Elementary Battle of the Books, a county-wide competition for children in the third and fourth grades in the public schools of Robeson County. This activity always revitalizes me and gives me hope for the future. Thursday was the final competition between the top six of nineteen schools.

The Battle of the Books is a "Quiz Bowl" type of competition. The students have a list of books to read and they are asked questions pertaining to those books. This year, the fifteen books ran the gamut from historical fiction to science fiction with mysteries, sports stories, and school stories all in that mix. The teams can only have twelve members, with only six allowed on stage. The questions can be complicated: "In which book did lunch include chili dogs, sour cream and onion chips, and Klondike bars?" (Eggs by Jerry Spinelli) and the students only have twenty seconds to answer the question. If one team misses it, the other only has ten seconds to come up with the right answer.

The students must be disciplined. Not only do they have a lot of information to retain, they have to not blurt out the answer or confer before the question is completed (unlike Jeopardy or some of the game shows) and they have to stay focused. The primary reward is a plaque for the school. The top schools' students got medals and the top three got trophies.

What struck me most was the parents' support for the winning teams. Some teams in the earlier rounds had no parents show up. The winning teams did. Studies show that support for reading starts with the families. It doesn't just mean reading to your child; it means being a role model and letting your children see you reading. Seeing a father read has a big impact on children.

As a company, ADB, Inc. is in favor of reading -- and not just our books. A better-educated citizenry is good for our country. So read to your children, let them see you reading (yes, you can be seen reading our products!), and encourage your local school system to start similar competitions if they are not already running something to promote reading. Help your child become a winner in the area of reading!

Thursday, January 21, 2010



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, January 20, 2010


Stephen V. Cole writes:

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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ADB Is Busy

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

Things are very busy here. SVC is nearing completion of the new Federation & Empire rulebook. Leanna is gathering data to get the taxes done. Mike Sparks is running down short stock lists to determine what we will need printed and when. I just finished consolidating the Omega Octant errata and getting the files uploaded, and am hammering away at the battle groups looking for errors and getting them in format. Jean Sexton is working on Prime Directive: Federation.

Monday, January 18, 2010

This week at ADB, Inc., 10-16 January 2010

Steve Cole reports:

We are all still missing Jean. I keep thinking that she's up there by the front door and trying to call her on the intercom. Since Channel A also squawks in Leanna's office, Leanna is always telling me "Jean went home, so send her an Email."

The weather this week has been cold (30s) in the mornings and halfway decent (60s) in the afternoons.

Most of my week focused on F&E 2010. I processed more of the BBS archives, wrote the new tug rule and the Required Kill rule, and got all eighteen of the core changes into working topics. (The eighteen core changes include:
1-Required Kill which is a new rule,
2-3-4 are new rules which are hotly debated,
5 is the removal of CEDS,
6-7-9-13-14-18 are just moving expansion rules everybody already uses into the core rulebook,
8 is a mauler rule that has been kicked around for weeks,
10-11-12-17 were proposed new rules that were rejected,
15 is allied repair, and
16 is a question nobody can answer.)
The staff meeting on Thursday officially set the release date for 22 February.

I also worked on PD Federation, keeping a promise to Jean that I would. I edited the four Tellarite pages, edited the two Brecon pages, updated all of the planet lists, edited the phaser page, added all of the missing planet names, reviewed the Fralli profile, I reviewed the Mynieni and Deian files, reviewed and annotated the minor colonies file and sent it to Jean, and mailed Jean a fat envelope full of new and revised pages. I literally ran out of things to do until Jean or somebody else does more. (Previously, when Jean sent this PD stuff, I just said "Yeah, fine, whatever" and didn't read much of it. Later, I would chance to see something and blow a fit, causing entire pages to be re-written. After Jean smacked me in a head a few times (literally), she impressed upon me the need to actually read every word of these files within a day or two of her sending them. Not wanting any more dents in my cranium, I comply.) Remember that Jean did not like me naming a planet I: Carumba? Well, she didn't like I: Claudius either.

I sent more FC ship cards to FCOL: Hydran DWH, Lyran CL, WYN AuxC. I did a ton of paperwork to shut down a pirate website with scans of some of our products; our lawyer is now talking to the ISP. I had several nice chats with Richard Smith about improving our artistic presentation. I spoke frequently with Tyler Robbins and Tony Thomas about FRD minis. I did a few pages of Communique #50. The Best Lunch of the Week goes to Blue Front Cafe for a pound of delicious BBQ brisket.

Customer Request Wednesday went well: (1) I finally remembered to put that F&E Compendium (Stock #5718) on the shopping cart. (2) I did another insignia page for Jean, but Eric left before he got it uploaded. (3) I did an Orion cartel map and sent it to Eric. (4) I made some improvements to the update list suggested by Shawn Hantke. (5) Scott Johnson wanted some stuff done on the sublight page so I sent it to Eric.

This week, the contractors finished the drywall and texturing in the new addition to our house. Next week is supposed to see the doors, trim, paint, and cabinets done.

Steven Petrick had a busy week, working on C3A, the Omega Errata, and the Juggernaut SSD expansion. He got me to focus on CL#41 for a whole hour and do some stuff.

Leanna and Mike got a bunch of mail orders shipped and worked on refilling the inventory.

Eric got some work done on the website, got another video finished, sent the Hailing Frequencies newsletter, and uploaded no end of files including Communique #49.

Eric and Jean showed me how our Facebook page works. It's very strange because there are people there I have never heard of who appear to be true veteran fans. Jean wants to filter all of my interactions with Facebook since the guys there would not understand my "Klingon" way of doing things.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

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 "grow 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 eighth 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 $5 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.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Progress on Captain's Log #41

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

We conducted our weekly meeting on Captain's Log development, and are currently pleased with our progress. Far better to get some things done as far in advance as possible and try to avoid the crunch at the end. Numerous projects related to the next Captain's Log are ongoing at the same time as our other projects, but we are feeling far less stress.

Friday, January 15, 2010

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, January 14, 2010


Steve Cole and Jean Sexton report:
We don't know, and we've given up trying to set deadlines or predict production dates, but that date is much closer than it has ever been due to the tremendous progress made when we were able to work together in Amarillo. Here is the situation.
There are a lot of people involved in the project, all of whom are also involved in other projects, and all of whom (including ourselves) have a really bad track record of doing a bunch of work but not finishing ALL of the work for the project. She Who Must Be Obeyed (Leanna) has said that we will not announce a release date until all of the pages have been created, edited, and laid out. This is the "KEY DATE" for the project. (Proofreading and getting the interior art done will be done after this KEY DATE. After that, we will make two copies of the "generic" book and insert the PD20M and GURPS data into the empty spots (and fix the Tech Level vs. Progress Level thing). Someday down the road, we could take that "generic book" and insert the data for Fudge, D6, Savage Worlds, HERO, or whatever system we want. Because this book is being done RIGHT from the start, converting the "generic" version to any system, given a system designer who has written the stats, is a day of work for a page layout guy.) The problem is that if we announce a release date before the KEY DATE and somebody doesn't do their part of the project, the whole schedule goes in the dumpster and we look like idiots all over again. (This has, as you all know, happened before.)
The release date for PD20M will be 60-90 days after the KEY DATE and the release date for the GURPS version will be 30-60 days after PD20M. We have to give the wholesalers at least that much warning that the product is coming, otherwise, sales don't live up to expectations. We usually have only one product release day (a Monday) in each calendar month, so it's just a matter of taking the KEY DATE and looking ahead for whatever release date works. This is (sometimes) complicated by what other products are already scheduled for that date and how much printing the Kyocera print-on-demand engines can produce for one release date. (This is why PD20M and GURPS cannot be released on the same day. PD20M goes first because the GURPS version has to be reviewed and approved by Steve Jackson, and that takes about a month.) In rare cases, we might be forced to have a second release date in a given calendar month to spread out the printing load.
Here is a rundown on what's left to do:

Steve Cole (I) was at one point the biggest obstacle to finishing the book, since he (I) had never written the huge military section. Those pages were all done during Jean's (my) visit to Amarillo, when she (the other I) stood over his (my) desk with a #8 Griswold cast-iron frying pan telling him (me) to do the pages NOW or expect another WHANG. (It wasn't quite that bad, Jean interjects!) That said, Steve Cole (I) still have to read, edit, and do the page layout (not to mention making all of Jean's corrections) to the rest of the pages. And that work has to be fitted into his (my) busy schedule (finishing the F&E 2010 rulebook, making progress on Captain's Log #41, doing things Steve Petrick needs regarding SFB Modules C3A and R12, running ADB, Inc., keeping She Who Must Be Obeyed happy, doing two blogs per week, and so forth).

John Sickels (who wrote most of the book) has to finish the last pages (Things to Buy, Things to Sell, and his Designer's Notes). Right now, John is finishing his annual baseball book (which is how he makes his real world living), but when that's done in a couple of weeks, John should whip these things up in short order. (Indeed, we may ask the playtesters to contribute a few things to buy or sell, reducing John's burden.)

Jonathan Thompson has to finish the PD20M licensing page (a list of any d20 material from open source books we used) and do the PD20M stats for the new species and new weapons. Jonathan, of course, runs his own game company and has his own books to do, but gets motivated when he's the only one standing between an incomplete book and a completed book.

Gary Plana has to do the last of the GURPS stats (one new species, he has done the others) and is working on that even now.

Tony Thomas has to do the sample characters. The way Tony does these is really great (he starts from character creation and works the characters up one level at a time, the way you would over a year of campaigning) but it's very time consuming. Tony has a real-life job, but he's also the sculptor who is busy doing the missing Pegasus starship miniature, as well as being very much involved in editing the F&E 2010 rulebook and the new Federation Commander products.

That leaves Jean Sexton (me), who has to take the new pages as they arrive, edit them for game data and correct the style sheets, send them to the playtesters (and John Sickels and ADB), hound the playtesters (and ADB, John rarely needs hounding) to actually report on them, update the files, send them to Steve Cole (the other me) to be put into the layout (finally resulting in the KEY DATE). While waiting for new pages, Jean (I) does the final proofread of the laid-out pages and sends them back to Steve (the other me) to make the final fixes, and which point those final fixes have to be checked. (Steve says "Worse, Jean has never seen a page of text without proofreading it all over again.") While all of that could happen after the KEY DATE, there is a LOT of it, and the more she (I) gets done before the KEY DATE, the less there is to do after the KEY DATE. And did we mention that in the meantime, Jean (I) has to proofread the weekly press release, watch the BBS for flamewars (any more questions why the political topics went away?), proofread the monthly Communique, keep the new Facebook page fresh, proofread the monthly Hailing Frequencies newsletter, watch the entire internet for problems, work at a full-time real-world job, beg to be allowed to do just a little proofreading on F&E 2010, proofread whatever pages of Captain's Log #41 happen to get done, and do about one blog per week.
Getting the last missing pieces should happen by the end of January, and the KEY DATE should happen before the end of February. Both Steve (I) and Jean (the other I) are very excited about Prime Directive Federation and hope you will be, too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Technological Joys

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the joys of the modern age is the computer crash. They are annoying, but what is truly annoying is when the crash destroys, or at minimum corrupts, files that you had open. (Sometimes, in my experience, they corrupt files that you did not have open also.) Corruption happens even when you saved the file, and sometimes all you can do is go to a backup file saved somewhere else and try to redo the work you have lost.

For me, it is always harder to redo something than to do it the first time (not that the first time is easy). I am never sure that I have reinserted everything I had thought of the first time, and I am never as patient trying to get everything back in (in part for fear that memory will fail me further on what it was I had done before). The result is that when reading and replacing corrupted or lost text, errors happen (an example is when I was looking at text that said, quite plainly, plasma-D I instead typed plasma-F, that the D and F keys are right next to each other is not an excuse). I just do not re-proof as well.

Worse, every time I am working on a document I tend to think of something else to say, or see things that need to be edited because the phrasing now seems wrong to me (although it obviously seemed fine when I typed it the first time).

I am not sure how much of my life has been lost to computer crashes, or how much creativity has been destroyed over the years. Sometimes it seems like at least a year of my life has been lost that way.

Worse is the frustration from these incidents. There is nothing that you can really take it out on. (The last incident was caused by a corrupted GIF file, but the author was not sending me a malicious upload, he wanted me to look at his SSD, and I have read other GIF files without incident.) The principle cause of the angst is right there in front of you, but smashing a computer, while possibly cathartic, would really only make the situation much worse.

So a few more hours of my life lost, a little more embarrassment from an improperly checked document being posted, resulting in more correction.

Life, however, goes on and truly I would not wish to live in a less technological age or in a less technological country.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Stephen V. Cole 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 try to set it up for you! Email me at: Design@starfleetgames.com

Monday, January 11, 2010


Steve Cole reports:

We have released this month's issue of the Hailing Frequencies newsletter and this month's Communique. The newsletter has the latest information on release schedules and company news, as well as lots of other useful content. It also has links to the new Communique, a free PDF newsletter which is full of good things for Federation Commander players, including new ships, a new scenario, and updated schedules and rules. The newsletter also has links to the most recent Star Fleet Alerts, the press releases that tell your store when to expect new products.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

This week at ADB, Inc., 3-9 January 2010

Steve Cole reports:

The weather this week was cold, freezing every night. It was just getting above freezing when I went to work each month, until Thursday when the bottom dropped out, and it was 15F or colder when I got here each morning.

Jean was still here Monday and Tuesday, but I covered that in last week's blog. Everybody missed her this week, and we tracked her trip with great concern until she was safely home.

The decision that Jean and Leanna made to clear out the BBS has left the place much calmer.

I did a bunch of work on F&E 2010 (doing hundreds of BBS posts, most of which were about the old version of the auto-kill rule) and did some work on PD Federation (making Jean's corrections to over 30 pages, and creating three of the four pages still left for me to create). I sent more ships to FCOL: Hydran Tartar, Lyran NCA, WYN Fish FF. Somebody suggested that we create a compendium book of all of the F&E stuff from Captain's Log. Petrick and I spent one afternoon doing that, resulting in a 260-page book. I'm not sure that it's been put on the cart yet, but it soon will be. I also did one page of Captain's Log #41 when Mike Bennett sent something so darn funny that it had to get printed. I was going to go to the Tea Party on Saturday, but Leanna called (not feeling well) and I had to divert to pick up stuff at the drugstore and go home to take care of her. I have my priorities. I installed two coat hooks in my office on Saturday, so maybe I won't leave my coat laying in the conference room. I did write another blog this week, so Petrick didn't get stuck writing all of them.

Leanna and Mike busy with orders all week, including the largest Alliance restocks ever.

Petrick kept working on SFB Module C3A when I wasn't having him help me with PD Federation stuff. Petrick and I did go get our H1N1 shots on Saturday.

Eric was busy this week getting the new semester started at school, but he still got a few things done on the website, such as creating the Jindarian page. The new Facebook page needs a ton of work that he never had time to do.

Work continued on the addition to our house, with most of the electrical and plumbing work done.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


Stephen V. Cole 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, January 08, 2010


Steve Cole reports:

Last winter and again this winter, Jean Sexton was able to visit ADB, Inc., for a week. Last year, we all got food poisoning from a fast-food restaurant, and about all I can remember of the week is picking Jean up at the terminal on the first day and taking her back there on the last day. We got some work done, but not as much as we had hoped or planned.

This year was better; nobody got sick. We had almost nine entire days, and what with working 12+ hours per day, we packed nearly a month of productive work into that time. (No end of distracting little jobs were set aside because "I need to maximize the limited time I have with Jean.")

While we got a lot of little stuff done (creating the Facebook page, getting Communique #49 done, finishing the new catalog, going over other projects, and Petrick teaching Jean how to shoot a pistol and hit a three-inch bull's-eye at 30 feet) most of the time went into one big project: Prime Directive Federation. This book has taken way too long to get finished, mostly because every time we try to work in it, we get interrupted. Jean is editing the book. John Sickels wrote most of it, but I wrote about a quarter of it and others wrote a few pages here and there. The problem was that with the constant delays, nobody wanted to work on their remaining parts of the book. Everybody said: "I will do my part when everybody else has done theirs, but I don't want to waste my time doing pages that will sit unread for months."

The theory of this visit by Jean was that if she worked on it intensely (since she didn't have her real job and real life interrupting), and if she forced the rest of the company (and the world) to leave me alone (so she could force me to work on my parts of it), that we'd get so much done that others would finally do their parts. This worked as planned.

With plenty of time to focus on this book, Jean hammered a lot of files into final shape. With Jean to keep everybody away from me, I was able to create the 30-odd pages which I had promised to write (and stopped anybody else from writing). Seeing the two of us hard at work got John Sickels to finish some of his last few pages, and Loren Knight sent in the page on Federation tanks and armored vehicles. Other staffers, seeing how far we got (and that their pages are a huge majority of what little is left to do) are busily at work.

It was an intense week; we even worked all day on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Jean was a slave driver, and if she caught me working on things other than "her" book, it was hell to pay! Every day, it was "where are my pages?" We were able to resolve some things in person that could have never been done over the phone or Email, a phenomenon I have seen many times before with other staffers.

One example was the page count. There is a hard limit on the number of pages (144 for GURPS, 146 for PD20M), and it was hard to tell where we were (and how many more articles we could include, or would have to leave out) because some articles had yet to be formatted (or even written) and we were not sure how big they were. The first thing Jean had me do was take the political-history and government files and put them into the page-layout software, which replaced those "squishy" numbers of pages with firm (and somewhat different) numbers. She made me write the pages I had set aside for myself, and these turned out to take a different number of pages than we had planned. Meanwhile, Jean processed staff reports on draft sections, and I put them into the page-layout software, firming up numbers. The Andorians took fewer pages; the Alpha-Centaurans needed half a page extra. Every species was bigger or smaller than expected, and my experience with the page-layout software (and the invention of a "continuation page" for articles that were just a little bit too long) moved the project quickly forward.

We were able to find enough pages to add back in four species (Breccon, Deian, Fralli, and Mynieni) which had been left out before. We were even able to find eight pages to include a dramatic set of starship deck plans which had previously been excluded as too big. Every day, another one of the "approximations" on the page count list became a firm number (and usually a different number), and almost every day we were able to add back into the book something we originally thought we'd have to leave out.

When Jean walked in the office door on 27 December, there were less than 40 pages which were laid out and could reasonably be considered firm page count numbers. When she left on the evening of 4 January, we had the count of laid-out pages up over 110 and had a much better grip on almost all of the rest. We were able to show Leanna (who watches the schedule and the budget like a hawk) a "complete" book. (Although a few pages were marked with placeholders or unedited drafts, these were items for which we could control the size.)

Jean was astounded that I could sit down at a blank page with no outline and end up an hour or two later with a finished page that was exactly the right size. For my part, I was astounded that no matter how many times I read and re-read a page of my own work, she could still find a misspelled word or a bad verb tense somewhere.

Counting the finished pages and the ones we had complete (if unedited) text for, the book stood at 137 pages. (The "missing" pages included a three-page item that I created by the time Jean got home.) The last few pages included the index (which, of course, must be done last), some adventure seed stuff (we call this stuff "Salami" since you just cut as thick a slice as you need), the weapons page, and the sample characters (which are done by witch doctors using some form of voodoo that is beyond the grasp of my Mensa-certified professional engineer brain).

It was a crazy week. I have seen 120-page Captain's Logs come together in two whirlwind weeks (which started with 60 pages finished and 30 more in draft form) but to see Jean start with 40 pages of "laid out but not checked" material and another 40 pages of "drafts which somebody read and commented on but nobody has looked at in a year" and turn this into 137 reasonably complete pages in nine days astounded the heck out of even me.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Shocked Out of Character

This is Steven Petrick posting.

Another comment about the Live Action Roleplaying (LARP) Event at Origins.

One of the things that, at least to me, seems to happen as you get immersed is that prior experience takes over. As long as what you are doing is familiar to your prior experience, you are able to function more or less by rote. This does not mean that you are not thinking and reacting, just that a lot of more or less routine operations are (as happens in normal life) handed off to secondary processors. (None of you, who drive cars, really thinks about what you are doing, your mind is often elsewhere until something catches your attention. That might be something unusual in the traffic pattern, or not on the street, or it might be a warning light on your dashboard. As much as you are told to focus on your driving, the fact is that the mind will wander if it starts to become bored, and driving over time is boring.)

A similar thing happens in the LARP.

While I am trying to process data and make decisions and keep track of what is around me, something completely out of step could (and did) literally shock me "out of character". This happened several times, and each time it took a little time to recover back into character. I tend to think the time interval between being shocked and getting started again got smaller and smaller as things progressed.

But an example.

When we were all in the police station, the executive made contact with the outside on the radio (which was actually an old military TA312-PT field telephone). He then started a casual conversation with the person on the other end, this before explaining our situation. At that juncture, without thinking, I literally tore the handset from his hand (I am convinced that he actually was an actor as part of the show, and not one of the gamers) and proceeded to inform the person on the other end of our situation . . . except that there was no person on the other end. I have spoken on enough field telephones to recognize a dead line with no one at all on the other end.

That shocked me out of character because it was not what it should have been. It took a few moments, two, maybe three seconds, to realize that the phone was dead, and the "executive" was playacting the call. Enough time to hand the receiver back to him, but a few more seconds were needed to digest this "complete break with reality" and start subsuming back into character.

Events of that nature happened several times (this was close to just about the last one).

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Steve Cole writes:

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 lasted 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 was 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, January 05, 2010

Morality Can Be Situational Though Some Are Rigid

This is Steven Petrick posting.

There are people who value their own personal morality above all else. To these people, it is better that a terrorist nuclear weapon (as an extreme case) detonate in a major city (even a city of their own nation) than that they themselves take any action that would violate their own moral code.

This is one of those little puzzles that can be asked. You have before you a terrorist who knows where the bomb is, he will not speak Voluntarily. Will you do what you have to do?

For some, the answer is that they will spend the time appealing to this mass murdering wannabe's "better side". Pleading with him and explaining logically that his decision to plant the bomb and start its countdown to detonation is wrong. Obviously if they do this, the murdering wannabe will see the error of his ways and reveal the bomb's location.

If not, such individuals are content that their moral code is intact . . . the blood of the tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of their fellow citizens is not on their hands.

I am not wired that way.

As a general rule a prisoner in my hands can be expected to be treated within the rule of law.

But I make exceptions that I consider rational.

Thus if you return to the halcyon days of the live action roleplaying game at Origins this past year, I was willing to apply "coercive" means to convince the prisoner to cooperate. My morality required to do whatever was necessary to safeguard those entrusted to my care, keep them from being killed by the strike the prisoner had called in if at all possible, and thus by any means possible, and get the word out, i.e., make sure someone survives to tell the story of "what happened here". Those conflicting needs obviated my normal "treat the prisoner under the rule of law" morality, because to me the higher morality is to keep those entrusted to my care alive, and that was not limited to those here, but those who might themselves later be killed by escaped zombies or infected to become zombies. To me, that was a higher morality.

There is, however, an acceptance that the law will probably not see it that way. The "Men in the Silk Hats" safe in their moral "gilded towers" can afford to be rigid in their morality and look with disdain on their inferiors who shed blood to keep them safe.

You should also note that when the "crisis" passed, i.e., we found a pilot, the status of the prisoner immediately changed back to prisoner rather than potential victim. At the crisis point, where I had to have his cooperation to save those entrusted to my care, I was quite willing to accept that the "Gentlemen in the Silk Hats" would do their best to have me incarcerated for the remainder of my days for doing what had to be done so that they could raise their noses and sneer their disdain. Once that Crisis point was passed, however, I would do all I could to bring "the prisoner" out (and did), even though he would tell the tale of my treatment of him in that moment of Crisis.

So, if an Al Qaida wannabe is before me with the knowledge of where a nuclear weapon, or even a chemical or biological agent is, that will attack civilians, the next few time intervals of his life will seem unbearably long, and the remainder of his life might require extensive surgical care, and I might spend the rest of my life in prison. But if the attack was stopped, the lives of fellow citizens who are completely unknown to me are saved, I would consider it worthwhile.

Monday, January 04, 2010

This week at ADB, Inc., 27 December 2009 to 2 January 2010

Steve Cole reports:

This was the week of Jean Sexton's annual visit. We showed her a good time, and drove her all over Amarillo (even to the Cadillac Ranch) in an attempt to convince her to move here and work for us full time. Maybe next year! We did arrange for her to take tours of two of the major printing companies that do our color covers, and of course, of we enjoyed touring and working in our own building. We did very much enjoy having Jean attend the annual company Christmas party.

The weather was cold all week; Jean enjoyed seeing blowing snow for the first time. We never really got enough snow to cover the ground, but we always had snow in sight. Driving conditions were never very bad, although Jean (unused to seeing much snow) felt that North Carolina would have closed any time they got as much as she did. Jean did not really understand why her assigned driver kept yelling "Yee-Haw!" when the car started to fishtail on the packed snow. Jean was fascinated by "freezing fog" that turned all of the trees into crystal puffballs.

With Jean here, Steve Cole's week was totally dominated by working on Prime Directive Federation. When Jean got here, only about 50 pages had been finished, and a huge 30-page section reserved for SVC to do had never been started. By the time Jean left on 4 January, we had 137 of the 146 pages done, although we still need to do some editing and get the interior art ordered. This was considered major progress. We hope to be in a position by 10 February to announce firm release dates for the GURPS and PD20M versions, perhaps in April or May.

Steve Cole did manage to get Communique #49 done, and to send to FCOL three more ships from Federation Commander Hydran Attack.

Steve Petrick spent the week working on C3A and doing whatever Jean and SVC needed done on PD Federation. We could not have finished the starship section without him. Steve Petrick taught Jean Sexton how to shoot a pistol, and she was able to nail targets smaller than a man at 30 feet without any difficulty. At twenty feet, she can put the bullets into a three-inch bull's eye every time. (Steve Petrick bought Jean her first pistol for Christmas.)

We were supposed to be in Mail Order Blackout, but so many orders came in that Leanna took an entire day to ship as many of them as she could before she had to complete the year-end bookkeeping cycle. Jean and Leanna had some kind of secret conversation that resulted in the five "political" topics disappearing from the BBS. Leanna issued a firm order: "The business of ADB, Inc., is publishing games, not putting out flame wars in topics that should never have been on the BBS to start with." Jean (who had to put out the flame wars) apparently agreed with this sentiment.

Eric Olivarez got a lot of stuff uploaded to the website, and the third video sent to YouTube. Jean Sexton created our Facebook page, but it will be next week before Eric gets much loaded into it.

Mike Sparks worked with Eric to get the third video finished and with Jean on some customer service stuff, plus getting orders out. Mostly, he spent the week rebuilding the inventory, which had been reduced to bare shelves by the huge mail orders going out this week. We even had wholesalers restocking, which is unheard of.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


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, January 02, 2010

Working in Amarillo

Jean Sexton reports:

This has been a very busy week for all of us here in Amarillo. We've worked hard on Prime Directive Federation and it is really taking shape. SVC has been busy writing and editing as have I. Even SPP kicked in and helped with the Federation starships.

We did take time to do some other things. Prime Directive PD20M errata have been worked on and major changes should be up as a PDF next week.

I've given Communique #49 its first look-over and it should be good.

We've created a Facebook page for Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc. It needs some fleshing out, but we should be able to work on that a little bit later.

On a personal note, I've enjoyed seeing Amarillo. Steve and Leanna Cole graciously opened their home to me and I have finally been accepted by their Bengal cats. Steven Petrick has been teaching me to shoot an Airsoft pistol and I've loved learning.

On Sunday and Monday, I will be really focused on getting as much of the Federation book as I possibly can. Then Monday evening, I'll be leaving Amarillo and heading back home.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all from ADB, Inc. We hope that 2010 brings you and those you love happiness, good health, and prosperity.