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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On the Harvest and Winter and the Future

Jean Sexton writes:

Today is Halloween. It is a day of trick-or-treating for many people who have children or work with them. For some, it is an evening of watching horror movies. For some, it marks a time to celebrate the harvest. I have no children and the "children" are in college where I work. Horror movies are not my forte although I've been cataloging them all this month so the students will have plenty to watch. This time of year I tend to notice the land.

Where I live, the corn has already been cut and the soybeans are just about ready for picking. Cotton fields look like snow-dotted expanses. It is probably the last harvest that I'll watch in North Carolina. As such, it is bittersweet. I am realizing just how bountiful the land is where I live. Farmer's markets and road stands filled with "extra" vegetables and fruits are all around. All around me though, the lush green is shifting to shades of brown. The toads that greeted me in my carport are already burrowing in and the tree frogs have found their homes for the cold times. The anoles are seen only during the day when they can sun and warm themselves. My daylilies are still blooming, but not opening fully because of the "cold." My tomatoes are giving up the very last of their fruits.

In some ways I already did my "trick-or-treating." I looked at what I had growing and decided that I would never be able to support all the plants that I have in North Carolina when I move to Texas. I also decided that garden gnomes that had belonged to my grandmother who gave them to my mother and who then gave them to me needed to stay in North Carolina. The gnomes and plants were given away at a garden club meeting and will brighten other families' lives. I have selected the pots that will go with me to Texas and brighten my new home and my future office.

Soon it will be winter. The days are already shortening and I had to turn on the heat last night. The trees will lose their leaves and the pines will finish dropping their needles. The young birds that visit my bird feeders are losing the last vestiges of their baby fluff and short feathers. For some of our customers, winter has arrived with a vengeance and there is snow in West Virginia and the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. A friend of mine reminded me that his parents had already had snow in Minnesota. It is also the time that I start preparing for my annual trip to Amarillo. This time I have squeezed out two weeks of time to be spent there. I should be able to finish PD Traveller and get a good start on proofreading the next Captain's Log which should come out in January. Leanna has planned for me to do some preliminary shopping for an apartment. I'll also ship some things there that won't come home this time.

What does the future hold? None of us know for sure, but I believe that mine should include all the practical details of retiring from my job as a librarian. I have to start shifting financial things to travel from the state credit union to a national bank. It holds packing (lots of packing!) the art that my grandparents and parents found or created for me. (My grandfather was talented in working in wood; my grandmother, in painting; my mother does textile arts and photography.) It holds moving over 1000 miles. And then it holds unpacking all that stuff into an apartment and my office. (Why should ADB have to buy me office furniture when I have my whole home office to move there?) Finally it holds the new job where I finally take hold of all the jobs I've been dabbling in for five years. My hope is that you will benefit from the change. I have all faith that I will have fun and challenges in the new environment.

Finally all of us at ADB, Inc. extend our thoughts and prayers to those who have been affected by the recent storm. May all return to "normal" in your future.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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 PD20 and PD20M, Gary Plana for GURPS Prime Directive, Richard Sherman for Star Fleet Battle Force, and Andy Vancil for Star Fleet Battles.

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

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

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

We have other staffers 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, Tony Thomas, James Goodrich, 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.

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

This Week at ADB, Inc., 21-27 October 2012

Steve Cole reports:

This was a normal week, but we need to be getting more intense about new product work. The weather this week was cooler. The spam storm mostly remained at something under 200 per day.

This week's staff meeting set a schedule: November (Federation Commander Reinforcements Attack, Booster #34, Booster #35, Booster #36, Battleships Starmada Nova, Battleships Starmada Admiral), December (party), January (Captain's Log #46, Traveller Prime Directive core), February (Star Fleet Marines :Last Stand), March (Star Fleet Battles Module C6), April (Traveller Prime Directive Klingons), May (Captain's Log #47), June (Federation Commander Borders of Madness), July (SFB TBD), and Aug (Traveller Prime Directive Romulans).
Steve Cole worked on the countersheets for the new products, and talked with Origins about event space (nothing resolved yet). Stephen and Leanna went on the annual wolf trip on Friday.

Steven Petrick worked on Captain's Log #46 and SFB Module C6.

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.

Mike kept orders going out, rebuilt the inventory, and managed customer service.

Joel did website updates, chased pirates, and helped Mike.

Jean managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 1369 friends) and did some marketing.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Steve Cole muses: Just thinking to himself:

1. The post office is going broke, partly from the usual inefficiency of government and the ridiculous payroll and retirement obligations, and partly because email has all but made hard copy mail obsolete. They could save money by ending Saturday delivery, but the lobbyists for junk mail companies and small rural newspapers fight against it. Seriously, would it hurt if you only got home delivery two or three days a week? Seriously? What do you get by hard copy mail? Bills now come electronically. Letters from relatives too old to use email are hardly time sensitive. Catalogs can wait an extra day. How about we just do not replace retiring letter carriers (or those who leave for whatever reason) until we're down to that level? I would, of course, continue daily delivery to business districts.

2. Does deterrence work? Sometimes, but it depends on the overall context. Deterrence certainly kept the USSR from nuking the USA, but will it keep Iran from nuking Israel? Maybe not. Probably not. The USA and USSR had over 200 million people and thousands of nuclear bombs. A savage exchange would have left each superpower with half of their people and maybe a tenth of their industry alive. (The survivors might take a moment away from envying the dead to get enough subsistence agriculture going to stay alive.) It's not like Canada or Mexico would then invade to enslave the survivors. Israel could be pretty much destroyed by less than 10 bombs. (Whatever is left could be easily swept into the sea by the army of any one of her neighbors.) Israel might reduce Iran to subsistence agriculture, but it would still exist as the idea of a nation. Worse, Iran's government is quite comfortable with suicide bombers (something the USSR did not use) and is not beyond the concept that by forever ridding the Muslim world of the Jewish State they would gain eternal glory on Earth and in Heaven. (If nothing else, 90% of the Muslim world would be undamaged and they'd all help what was left of Iran.) One really cannot count on the US to nuke Iran in retaliation for the destruction of Israel. One really cannot count on deterrence to stop Iran's leaders, once they have a dozen nuclear missiles, from waking up one morning and deciding it's time to get it over with.

3. I like the TV show Grimm. Steven Petrick said he could not make the numbers work, as there could not be enough Grimms to handle the population of vessen. Well, that depends. We don't know what the population of vessen is. Are there four cities in North American with vessen colonies, or 400? How many Grimms do you need? Now, there could be a lot of Grimms. If you assume that the two original brothers each had four children (starting at age 21), and that each child had four children, and that all children survived, you could easily have a quarter of a million Grimms. That's a maximum and the realistic number could be a tenth of that, but then, maybe the original Brother's Grimm were in fact only two of a few thousand active Grimms in the world at the time (just the only two who let the world know the truth).

4. I like the show Rookie Blue but it seems to have degenerated into Desperate Rookies. Gloomy guy suddenly professes his love for hero girl and she runs away to an undercover task force. Chief's daughter gets away with a mistake that got someone killed because it would look bad for her to be de-badged just before she testifies in a big trial. (Like the defense won't use the special favors she got because of her parents against her?) Brooding guy runs away to the task force because chief's daughter won't admit their relationship is a real one. Depressed guy goes back to his wife who has thrown him out five times, leaving the hot blonde badge bunny loose at the bar. It's a wonder any of these oversexed people have time to actually arrest someone, but I still love the show. I'd watch Missy Peregrym read a phone book (in French).
 5. I have written a lot of magazine articles on a lot of subjects, most of which my customers never saw and never heard of. One that was never published, however, is the one that my mind keeps coming back to. I had written a couple of minor articles on stamp collecting when I pitched an article about "collecting stamps on your vacation" to a major stamp collecting magazine. They gave me a green light on the outline and I sat to work, even doing some field research. My advice (which covers a lot of collector fields, not just stamps) was partly practical (how to find stamp dealers in an epoch before the internet was invented, setting a total budget, visiting a dealer while the family sees something else) and partly tactical (how to negotiate the best prices). As with any collectibles, there are no fixed prices for stamps. There are only so many of them and catalogs list an official market price, but only the dumbest of collectors pay it. Most stamps are sold for about half of the catalog price, but condition varies (and the seller's opinion of a given stamp may be a higher grade than the buyer's). I recommended that a vacation buyer should take his list of the stamps he wants to add to his collection (every collector maintains a "want list") and do research with mail order lists in stamp newspapers and catalogs to determine what something was really worth. My article recommended making sure the dealer knew you were from out of town, meaning he had one chance to get your money, but that any sale he made to you was good because you were from outside the circle of his usual customers. I also included hard-nosed advise on bargaining, insisting on a better deal than the mail order lists, and perhaps on package deals for several wanted stamps at an even lower price. I frankly thought it was some of my best business writing. The stamp newspaper refused to publish the article because they feared it would upset the retailers who carry the stamp newspaper on their shelves. They wanted the article rewritten to say you should build a relationship with a dealer by paying more than the going price. I pointed out that this was ridiculous in the case of a dealer you would meet only once on a vacation, and frankly wasn't that smart even in the case of your local dealer you buy from all the time. They told me not to submit any more articles.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

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. Our page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Amarillo-Design-Bureau-Inc/231728653279?ref=mf) exists to put our products in front of other groups of potential customers. We also are releasing YouTube videos that show what you'll find in "the box" and our latest releases. You can catch our videos on our channel here:

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.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Last Words of Famous Captains, part 2

They never use suicide shuttles. Mostly.

You forgot to load what?

Displacement always works. At least it has so far. Go ahead and give it a whirl.

Where did the weapons officer go?

I allocated power for it. What do you mean it's not there any more?

Captain's Log #17 (c) 1995 Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Unasked Questions

This is Steven Petrick posting.

One of the things that keeps happening in Star Fleet Battles is people finding new ways to interpret old rules, or simply to try to apply an old rule to a new idea.

A case in point is the minimum crew rules, or more honestly, falling below the minimum crew.

Most ships in the Star Fleet Universe have sufficient crew that suffering a loss resulting in being at minimum crew is not a problem. If your ship has taken that much damage, it has probably blown up anyway.

So why are there minimum crew rules?

For one, there are "space monsters" that can kill crew units and not damage the ship.

For another, there are terrain conditions which, if a shield is down, can kill crew units such that a sustained battle could see excessive crew losses on a ship with relatively little structural damage.

Then there are campaigns. In some campaigns a given ship might have a very good crew, and the commander of the ship's empire may choose to allow that crew to gradually fall in numbers rather than dilute their quality by assigning replacements. Also, a given campaign might involve a single ship in prolonged action against monsters and hazardous terrain while cut off from the rest of the fleet.

Even so, the above has apparently happened so rarely that, in more than 25 years, no significant problems were found in the rule.

All of that changed when a player decided to do a fiction story in which a ship had its crew reduced to below minimum levels.

In almost any action, a ship reduced to near minimum crew levels in a game would either disengage (if it could), have other friendly ships beam over "help," or in a worse case self-destruct to avoid having the ship captured. These are probably the reasons the issues have never come up before.

Thus, questions arise that have never (apparently) previously been asked, and answers must be provided, which in turn leads to resolutions of those questions being developed.

In the pre-internet publishing days, an errata sheet would be developed and published in an issue of Captain's Log (or previously in Star Letter or Star Fleet Times). Most often in the last decade these would appear in Captain's Log under the rubrics "Ask Admiral Growler" (Mike Filsinger), but now are usually covered by "Ask Admiral Vanaxilth" (Andy Vancil).

Now, the Master Rulebook is itself available on line, and for those who bought it, an updated copy will soon become available to them for download (the Update "D" for the Master Rulebook will probably be available next week).. Those who have printed copies will be able to download the Update D errata file (which will include all the fixes to the less than minimum crew rules among other things), and starting next week anyone who orders a copy of the Master Rulebook will get one that incorporates the updates. Getting the Update D file will help those who download the updated book quickly find where the changes are without having to reread the entire rulebook to find them.

But Star Fleet Battles is still alive and still growing. There is little doubt that down the road someone will ask a question about a rule that has never previously been asked, and this will have to be answered. These will again appear at least initially in future Captain's Logs by Admiral Vanaxilth, and will accumulate in an "Update E" until such time as we can again release the Update and updated copies of Master Rulebook, but also of the Advanced Missions and Basic Set rulebooks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Join us on Facebook

ADB, Inc.’s page on Facebook is now up and running, and we’re finding a lot of new faces who haven’t been around the BBS or Forum. We have pictures up of ADB, Inc. staff, links to many of our videos, snippets of information, and interaction with our fans. Jean Sexton is the main voice you will hear on our page on Facebook. If she doesn’t know an answer, she’ll ask one of the Steves and ferry the answer back.

All that is left is for you to "like" the page for Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc. if you haven’t done so already. Here’s the link: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Amarillo-Design-Bureau-Inc/231728653279?ref=mf.

Many people on our page on Facebook have not been on our BBS, so perhaps our new outpost on Facebook will become the place for those who want to keep up with current events without the intense atmosphere (and flood of information) found on the BBS. If you are very busy on a given day, checking our page on Facebook would tell you quickly if something important has been announced. The page also has its own art galleries, plus a place where you can post a review of our products. It also has discussions where you can link up with fellow gamers.

We hope to see you there! Be sure to add us to an interest group to see all of our posts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Steve Cole muses: Just thinking to himself about the curious origins of interesting words:

1. GARRET, a room on the top floor of a house, was originally the French word guerite, which was the sentry platform at the top of a castle or watch tower.

2. GAS, a form of matter (e.g., solid, liquid, gas, plasma) was invented from whole cloth as a new word by Belgian doctor Jean Baptiste van Helmont. Until 1600, everyone believed that there were four elements (fire, earth, water, air) and that everything was a mix of these. But the first real scientists (including van Helmont) were unable to make sense of the results of their experiments. Working in his lab about 1600, van Helmont boiled water in a glass bottle and observed a vapor form above it. He reasoned that this vapor must be a rarefied form of water itself. Writing a scientific letter to other experimentalists, he said he had invented the word "gas" for this vapor because it was similar to "chaos."

3. GAZETTE is now taken to mean virtually the same thing as magazine or newspaper, but is properly a formal scientific or government report which becomes part of the general store of knowledge for future reference. It comes from a 1500s Venetian coin (the gazetta) which was made of tin and worth perhaps half a cent. About 1550, the Venetian government began to issue leaflets with important information, either government decrees or news from foreign ports that arrived by ship. (Most of it was, frankly, rumor.) Each of these early newspapers cost one gazetta and they quickly came to be called by that name.

4. GERRYMANDER means to rearrange the political subdivisions of a region in order to produce more elected officials from your party. (This is done by concentrating all of your political enemies in a few areas while making sure other areas have a solid majority of your political friends. In some cases, it may mean a minority party arranging to connect a lot of their friends into one subdivisions so that at least somebody gets into the legislature.) It comes from Elbridge Gerry, who did just that in Massachusetts while running for his third term as governor. One district was so convoluted that a political cartoonist added a head, claws, and wings and called it a salamander (then a term similar to dragon). Others called it a Gerrymander, and Elbridge (who had a distinguished career including a term as Vice President of the US) is now remembered only for one episode (which every governor did all the time).

5. GIN, a form of liquor, is a contraction of the French word genevre, which means juniper. In the 1500s, the Count de Morret was the first to add juniper juice to wine, which produced a pleasing and popular liquor. The English penchant for contraction quickly turned this into gin.

6. GLAMOUR, which is today taken to mean the kind of splendorous beauty used in advertising, began as the Scottish word glammer, meaning someone who understood Latin grammar. Before 1600, all learned people knew Latin and anyone who knew how to read and write was held in high regard (and suspected of knowing magic). Sir Walter Scott brought the word to England as glorified enchantment.

7. GORGON, which most people think is just some kind of monster, was the term for the three hideous sisters who lived far to the west of ancient Greece. One of these was Medusa, who began as a mortal woman but who so enraged Athena that she was transformed into an immortal being. All three gorgons had snakes for hair and were so frightful in appearance that anyone beholding them was paralyzed. (Later, but still in ancient times, the myth evolved and these victims were literally turned to stone.) Today, the term gorgon (though uncommon) is used to refer to someone in a minor position of power who has such a forbidding manner that no one wants to deal with them.

8. GORILLA, the largest of the great apes, was the name invented for that animal by Hanno, a Cathegenian explorer who first explored the coast of west Africa about 550BC. The word was his transliteration of the local term. As there are no gorillas in the areas he explored, he probably saw a baboon or chimpanzee.
9. GOSPEL, a word which means both the Holy Bible and whatever form of a business document is considered to be the definitive and correct version. Roman missionaries arriving in England called themselves evangeliums and this term was corrupted into the local language as Goad Spell, or good tidings. Locals sloppily recorded this as the single word godspell, and moving the s from Spell to Goad turned "good tidings" into "god's story."

10. GOSSAMER, a thin filament (or a see-through cloth, or a spiderweb) has an interesting history. In old pagan German there was a holiday in November called Vinalia because that was when the harvest of grapes had turned into wine. Because goose was in season, the whole month of November was known as Gansemonat or goose month. It was, basically, the last big party before the winter, when everyone celebrated a good crop and the end of the hard work. (The Pilgrims didn't invent it; the holiday had been celebrated for well over a thousand years before 1624.) Christian missionaries knew they could get pagans to convert if they allowed them to keep their old holidays, so Vinalia became the feast of Saint Martin (the patron saint of France, famous for his "chappel" or cloak that today gives us the words "chapel" and the military its "chaplains"). The term Saint Martin's Summer then appeared, referring to a period of warmer weather after the first frost (in October). When the term arrived in England it became Goose Summer (and it is now Indian Summer in the US). But Goose Summer is where the word gossamer comes from. You see, during this period, the spiderwebs from the summer and fall were torn loose from the trees and bushes and blew on the wind. Thus, the Goose Summer Wind brought the free-blowing spiderwebs.

Monday, October 22, 2012

This Week at ADB, Inc., 14-20 October 2012

Steve Cole reports:

This was a rebuilding week as everyone tried to recover from the Hideous Rotting Plague and succeeded only partially. The weather this week was cooler. The spam storm mostly remained at something under 200 per day.

New on e23 this week Starmada Nova Edition: Alien Armada.

Steve Cole worked on countersheets for the new products.

Steven Petrick worked on Captain's Log #46 and Module C6.

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.

Mike kept orders going out, rebuilt the inventory, and managed customer service.

 Joel did website updates, chased pirates, and helped Mike.

Jean managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 1363 friends), recovered from her version of the HRP combined with sunburn, and did some marketing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Playing Star Fleet Universe Games Long Distance

Playing games by email or by post 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.

When playing Star Fleet Battles or Federation Commander using the Play-by-Email (PBEM) system 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 FC or SFB 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. Moderating a game is also an excellent way to learn more about the game's rules.

Prime Directive games can be played by posting on the Forum. The GM of the game gets players, approves their characters, then sets up situations for the characters to face. It takes a bit longer because the players are not sitting around the table, but it also allows people who are spread out across the world to play.

Players of all our games are expanding the frontiers of playing long distance. Some are trying chat, some are adding webcams to that, many are trying out VOIP so as to get close to a face-to-face experience.

While there are some disadvantages to playing long distance (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 long distance, drop in on the Forum (http://www.federationcommander.com/phpBB2) or BBS (http://www.starfleetgames.com/discus/).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lights! Cameras! The SFU Hits YouTube!

Ever wished you could take a peek inside a shrink-wrapped box or look behind the pretty covers of a book? Then these videos are for you.

The brainchild of Mike Sparks, our YouTube videos are of three types. The first is about a specific product line and you can hear Steve Cole (yes, he is the talking hands in our videos) discuss the products that are in one of the different games. The second kind is what ADB, Inc. has released in a particular month. These are a great way to catch up quickly on the new items.

It is the third kind that let's you see what is in the box. A boxed game such as Federation & Empire is taken out of the box item by item so that you can see what's in there. From rulebook, to charts, to maps, to counters, each item is shown and discussed. It's a lot of information to pack into a short clip, but SVC and Mike manage it.

Check out our channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/starfleetgames and be sure to bring the popcorn!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Last Words of Famous Captains, part 1

What do you mean, I forgot to power the tractors?

How many weasels do we have armed? None? Really?

It's a pseudo-torpedo. I just know it is!

Give me the weapons readout on a Stinger? No, not the whole squadron, just one Stinger. Oh, that is just one ...

What do you mean: "The racks are empty"?

Captain's Log #17 (c) 1995 Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Find New Opponents

Steve Cole writes:

Many gamers are looking for new opponents. This is nothing new. When I was a teenager, there were maybe four war gamers 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, works much better, and there are a lot of ways to do it. For best results, you should do all of them.

If you play Federation Commander, then 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-ins every day, and since it's free you can try it every month or two and find out if somebody nearby has signed in. http://www.starfleetgames.com/federation/Commanders%20Circle/

Primarily for Federation Commander players, the Forum has a topic where local stores and groups post announcements and invitations. Players can let other players know they'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.) http://www.federationcommander.com/phpBB2

You can to go to a local store and ask them to let you post a notice looking for opponents. You could also run a demo of your favorite game(s) and "grow your own" opponents. If a person already plays the game you are demoing, he'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. There is also Craigslist, but you should use the normal caution you would for meeting a stranger.

The quickest result, probably, is Starlist. Go to http://starfleetgames.com/starlist.shtml. 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 a 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.

You can find opponents for all of our games on our BBS. Go to http://www.starfleetgames.com/discus/ and you'll see "Seeking Opponents" on the main menu. 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.

Friends of our page on Facebook can post to see who is out there. Not a friend? Become one here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Amarillo-Design-Bureau-Inc/231728653279?ref=mf

With more effort, you can post opponent wanted notices in a whole lot of boardgame sites (see http://www.starfleetgames.com/links.shtml for suggestions).

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 cars who got emails from other gamers in their home towns who were seeking opponents.

You can go always go to SFB Online (http://www.sfbonline.com/index.jsp) and play Star Fleet Battles and Federation Commander online 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.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jargon and Editing

This is Steven Petrick posting:

In any given organization a language separate from the normal vernacular in common usage will develop. Those within the organization will quickly come to use this jargon as part of their normal speech. The result, within the organization, is an acceleration in the transmission of information.

Outside of the organization it creates confusion.

For example: "As part of the ARTEP, the OPOrd for the QRF mission to secure the AHA is to be ready NLT 1230Z".

Most soldiers would recognize the above sentence in writing, although in words the NLT would still be expressed as "not later than." and the "Z" after 1230 would be pronounced "Zulu." A soldier reading a book about a military unit (whether a real life story, or the above is simply the background of the murder mystery) would have no trouble understanding the sentence. A political scientist, on the other hand, might not even realize that "Z" is a time zone. Written in colloquial American, the above sentence would read:

"As part of the Army Training and Evaluation Program, the Operations Order for the Quick Reaction Force mission to secure the Ammunition Holding Area is to be ready no later than 12:30 P.M. in the Zulu time zone".

This tendency to have a shorthand means of communicating also applies to gamers. In the 1970s and 1980s almost any gamer would recognize "ZOC" as "Zone of Control" (generally the six hexes surrounding a unit counter on a map), but anyone outside of the gaming community would have no concept for "ZOC" could possibly mean.

But gaming is not a centralized "organization" with a larger organization imposing correct jargon. It is a lot of little groups of enthusiasts who all, in their own groups, develop their own shorthands for expressing things. This is often subconscious, and becomes so natural that any group is often at a loss to understand why any other group playing the same game does not instantly understand their own shorthand.

Now, imagine you are an editor of a game magazine.

There are groups all over the country (and indeed, all over the planet). Even though most use English (if not necessarily American English) as their Lingua Franca, each group develops its own short hand in their isolation from common contact with each other. Thus you get articles written in the common tongue, but with word usages or numbers that are, to you, unfathomable. The player writing the article knows what he means when he lists  his plotted speed changes by a series of numbers, but it does not communicate to you the actual impulses the speed changes are occurring (unless he lists four such changes, in which case each must normally take place on one specific impulse). And to someone reading the article and trying to follow the action on his own map to see how the ships were maneuvering, knowing when those speed changes occurred tells him how much power the ship had. There is a difference between a speed change on Impulse #4 (announced on Impulse #3) to Speed 30 from Speed 15, and the same acceleration committed on Impulse #16 in both power spent and hexes moved and turn mode available. Different groups use different shorthand expressions, and thus the editor winds up going back to the authors and asking for these plots to be explained.

Players in different groups all know what they mean, but when you write, you have to write for the larger audience who may not use exactly the same short hand expressions, i.e., jargon, that your local group uses.

And, yes, you have to accept that even though the on-line universe may use pretty much the same jargon as they are a group, not every player is online, and you have to make sure the reader will know what you mean.

Write for everyone, avoid jargon, and use the clearest meaning you can. Even when writing a Term Paper, Tactical Note, Command Note, Call Out Note, Conquest Note, Assault Note, Primer, or other article.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Free Stuff for Star Fleet Universe Players!

Steve Cole writes:

We have a lot of free stuff on our website. Let me point you to some of the most popular things. Doing this in alphabetical order we start with Federation & Empire. They have play aids and countersheet graphics here: http://www.starfleetgames.com/sfb/sfin/index.shtml#FNE

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). First Missions will give you enough of the game that you can try it out. Go here to download it: http://www.starfleetgames.com/federation/Commanders%20Circle/first-missions.shtml

But that's just a start. Commander's Circle has lots of free resources such as various formats of the Master Ship Chart, Ship Cards, the current and back issues of Communique, scenarios, and playtest rules. If you register, then you can find other Federation Commander players.

Prime Directive players can find a treasure trove of play aids, including medals, insignia, maps, the timeline, and lots of other goodies to spice up a game. These can be found here: http://www.starfleetgames.com/sfb/sfin/index.shtml#PD

Star Fleet Battle Force
has new cards and play aids as well. These are located here: http://www.starfleetgames.com/sfb/sfin/index.shtml#SFBF

Star Fleet Battles
players have the Cadet Training Manual and Cadet Training Handbook. These were done as a way to get players into the complicated Star Fleet Battles game system. You can download them for free here: http://www.starfleetgames.com/CadetTraining.shtml Also available on the same webpage are lots of SSDs for the game.

We have wallpaper for your computer so you can show your SFU pride. Those are here: http://www.starfleetgames.com/wallpapers.shtml

Don't forget Hailing Frequencies, our free monthly newsletter. Covering all our games, you can read back issues here: http://www.federationcommander.com/Newsletter/past.html Don't forget to sign up to get the link delivered straight to your email box each month. You can "opt in" here: http://www.starfleetgames.com/newsletter.shtml

There are many historical documents which are available for download. Maps, deck plans, assorted graphics, and much, much more can be found here: http://www.starfleetgames.com/historicaldownloads.shtml

Browse our master index to find all sorts of interesting information: http://www.starfleetgames.com/masterindex.shtml

As you can see, you could spend days browsing. We hope you enjoy what you find.

Monday, October 15, 2012

This Week at ADB, Inc., 7-13 October 2012

Steve Cole reports:

This was not a good week, as the Hideous Rotting Plague that SVC brought into the office sent everybody home to bed at least a few days, and even SVC was running at less than half speed and lost several days of work. The weather this week was cooler. The spam storm mostly remained at something under 200 per day.
Steve Cole managed to get Communique done so Joel could send it on the 10th. He got the first pass done on the Reinforcements Attack countersheet and did some work on Captain's Log #46.
Steven Petrick worked on Captain's Log #46 and Module C6.
Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.
Mike kept orders going out, rebuilt the inventory, and managed customer service.
Joel did website updates, chased pirates, and helped Mike. Joel apologized for sending the wrong newsletter link on the 10th.
Jean managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 1360 friends), proofread Communique and Hailing Frequencies, and did some marketing.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Funerals and Pride and Kindness

Jean Sexton muses:

Many of you have read our post on Thursday about the forthcoming service for Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson who was killed in Afghanistan. She lived in Raeford and was to be buried on Saturday. When word came that some people might arrive who meant to make cruel memories for the family, the community came together and vowed it would not happen. We would be there for her family to see that many, many people valued her life and her sacrifice and mourned for her family's loss and, by extension, our own loss. Whenever a brave person such as Donna Johnson is lost, then we are affected by that person not being there. 

This post is "the rest of the story" as I saw it.

I did get to Raeford very early on Saturday morning, shortly after sunrise. For a while I was worried that there would be sparse attendance. That worry soon abated as our group grew and grew and grew. We soon had a crowd that extended 0.2 miles and was about four people across. The police showed up around 10:00 to tell us the streets to the church were lined and we'd have to fill in after the family left from their home near the park. The police wanted to get the family to the church before protesters could start their activity.

With the exception of a small hitch in things (and I wasn't involved in it as I obeyed our orders from the police and VFW) everything went well that day. The family was shielded from any unpleasantness. I think there were far more than 1,000 people there (the police estimated that there were between 1,000 and 1,500 people) lining the streets. As the dignitaries passed by after the funeral I saw more stripes on uniforms than I'd ever seen outside of a movie. Ft. Bragg brought in two busloads of soldiers who attended the funeral. More came on their own to show support for a fallen soldier, including a young man who had recently returned from Afghanistan. He was accompanied by his pregnant wife. They stood with me for much of the time. I felt so safe in their company.

I met veterans from different wars who came out to give support to one of their own. I saw a lady who needed a walker in order to travel walk multiple blocks to take her place on a line that was two to four people deep. Rabbis, priests, children, and ordinary people came out on that day. All of them were there to show the family that we cared and to keep uninvited guests from marring the event with their hate-filled slogans and signs. I think we succeeded.

When the family passed, about half of the people lining the streets were saluting. I stood, with my American flag held high and sometimes floating in a fickle breeze. I saw the family pass and saw their pain and loss, but also saw them seeing the crowd paying their respect.

The family chose to have Staff Sergeant Johnson's flag-draped coffin in a glass-sided hearse pulled by a motorcycle. Those of us who were there to show support were thus allowed to feel that we were closer to this fallen soldier and also to be more a part of the ceremony. What did me in was the sight of her riderless motorcycle on a trailer being pulled by another motorcycle. This modern version of the riderless horse really hit me and I teared up, but I kept my flag up and straight and that was important to me. The tradition is that our flag always flies high and does not dip. I wanted to do the right thing because I think she would have valued that.

In the future, whenever I wonder if people are essentially good, I will think back on this day, the day of Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson's funeral. So many people came together to give the family something good to ease their bitter loss. The only reward for these people was the knowledge that they'd done something good. I am proud to have been a part of it and to have faced my own fears of crowds. Maybe Donna Johnson lent me a bit of her own courage or maybe I found mine because her own called mine forth.

In closing, to all of you who have served or are serving, thank you. Call me fanciful, but I felt that you were there in spirit, helping me keep the flag high and proud. I hope that I continue to live a life worthy of your sacrifices.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Exploring Excellent Ebooks

We have continued our long-awaited move to offer more of our products as PDFs by way of the e23 and DriveThru RPG websites. So far on e23, we have released a lot of stuff for Federation Commander, including the Revision Six Reference Rulebook, the 72 ships from Federation Commander Briefing #2 (divided into six packs of 12 ships and a separate rules pack), and more than a dozen Ship Card Packs. Our ebook PDFs are in color and high resolution. PDFs of most books are searchable (older Captain’s Logs are not).

The way e23 works, once you buy a product, you can download it again for no cost if you lose it or if we upload a revised version of that edition. Thus, the people who bought Reference Rulebook Revision 5 were able to obtain Reference Rulebook Revision 6 for free (and to download it again when we discovered we had accidentally left out rule 4S).

We must note that these products are copyrighted and are not to be uploaded or passed around to your friends. Doing so is piracy, a criminal act, and may result in us deciding not to offer any more PDF products. We have already uploaded many Starmada, Star Fleet Battles, Federation & Empire, and GURPS Prime Directive products We have created a new page that allows easy access to our PDFS for sale on e23. From here you can see what we currently have posted and have links to those products.

Our Prime Directive PD20 Modern books are sold as ebooks exclusively through DriveThru RPG.

So check them out! Many people like the fact they can search our rulebooks for a keyword and find everything that pertains to that issue. Others like the fact they can carry around multiple books on one device. Some Ship Cards are available exclusively through e23. Whatever your reason for using them, we hope that you enjoy them and rate them.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On Fear and Thanks and Doing the Right Thing

Jean Sexton muses:

Many of you know that I currently live near Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to Ft. Bragg, a very large U.S. Army base. The military has had a living presence in my life for nearly 30 years. In addition, both my father and my brother served in the armed forces. Both of the Steves have a military background.

I've never been one for doing things in person. I wage my wars with words to try to let people understand what I believe. I've helped with donations to Operation Cookie Drop to make sure our soldiers don't miss out on a taste of home: Girl Scout cookies. I'm not particularly brave about doing confrontational (or potentially confrontational) activities.

Recently three National Guardsmen from North Carolina were killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber. A group of people has chosen to exercise their constitutional rights and to hold protests in conjunction with the funerals of these murdered soldiers. To me, this is morally reprehensible even if it is legal. To me, we owe these soldiers honor for their sacrifice and we owe their families respect for their loss.

This set up a conundrum for me -- how do I show my thanks and still deal with my fears. The answer was that I had to do the right thing or how else could I look at myself in the morning. Therefore on Saturday morning I shall be in Raeford, North Carolina to show my respect to Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson's family. This isn't a counter-protest against the protesting group (except by totally shunning them and denying them publicity); it is paying my respects to a family who has lost a loved one.

So many of our customers are or have been in the military. When I have been most afraid or alone, they have chased away the dark for me through kindness and humor. When one of their own needs my presence, how can I deny it? I thank them all for showing me the right path, not by their words, but rather by their deeds.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Steve Cole reports:

We have released this month's issue of the Hailing Frequencies newsletter and this month's Communique. Hailing Frequencies has the latest company information and covers all of our games. You'll find news on the latest releases both in print and e23, information on the company, and even serialized fiction. Hailing Frequencies also has links to the latest Star Fleet Alerts, which are press releases about new products and when they will be available for order. From Hailing Frequencies, you can link to Federation Commander specific news in the latest 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.

You can subscribe to Hailing Frequencies at this link:

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Star Fleet Universe Wallpapers

Joel Shutts writes:

Many do not know that we have a page where you can download wallpaper with Star Fleet Universe art.

Check out what we have on http://www.starfleetgames.com/wallpapers.shtml

Big monitors, small monitors, we have something for nearly everyone. 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, 1680 x 1050, even 2560 x1600. If you need a different size, we'll see what we can do to fill that desire.

If there are any other sizes or any other images that you would like to see turned into wallpaper, please feel free to contact us at graphics@StarFleetGames.com and we'll work your request in.

Monday, October 08, 2012

This Week at ADB, Inc., 30 September - 6 October 2012

Steve Cole reports:

This was supposed to be a normal week, but Steve Cole spent most of the week sick. The weather this week was much cooler. The spam storm mostly remained at something over 100 per day.

New on e23 this week: Captain's Log's #26.

Steve Cole was sick all week with a bad allergy attack that evolved into a nasty sinus infection. He did have a chat with GAMA about Origins, QCed the last of that big shipment of 2500s, and did part of Communique #82.

Steven Petrick worked on SFB Module C6.

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.

Mike kept orders going out, rebuilt the inventory, and managed customer service.

Joel did website updates, chased pirates, and helped Mike.

Jean managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 1355 friends), proofread ship cards, and did some marketing.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Last Resort Pros and Cons

This is Steven Petrick posting:

I watched the second episode of "Last Resort," and I have a few observations about the firefight.

First, what in heck was the commando (note, I am using commando for generic purposes as there are all sorts of different elite ground combat elements) team doing advancing across open ground? Does this island have a stripe of defoliated terrain from one end to the other? Or at least surrounding its harbor?

Second, what was it about that particular point of open ground that made it obvious that the commandos would have to cross it so that the swabbies could be there waiting for them?

Third, why in heck were the commandos advancing in full daylight? I mean, seriously, they have by definition tremendous technological and training advantages if they come by night. Any first-world commando outfit is going to have night-vision capabilities, and they are going to be trained to operate under cover of dark.

The above being said, I have to give credit for showing what would likely happen if swabbies went up against commandos. Swabbies get very little training in ground combat; even Masters at Arms are not going to come up any where near the level of a commando unit. The result is that when the firefight starts, it is obviously one-sided. The swabbies are losing, and losing badly, until one of the S.E.A.L.s intervenes.

So far, the submarine started with a crew of 150 (stated), plus five S.E.A.L.s they picked up, and they have lost 18 people; 12 were reported killed by the attack made on them, one member of the crew was killed by the admiral's daughter, and purportedly five men were killed in the firefight with the commandos. Nuclear submarine crews are pretty stressed keeping their boats operational; I cannot help but wonder how much more stressed they are with at least 14 members (about 10%, and assuming that the other four fatalities were the other members of the S.E.A.L. team they picked up at the start of the series, and actually it is 16 members since they have locked up two men, one of them the C.O.B.) of the crew dead and no longer able to carry their share of the workload. How lucky they have been that a 10% loss has not included anyone truly critical to the operations of the sub.

I also have to admit that I find the whole scenario completely implausible every second the sub is on the surface in the island's harbor. I can agree that the convenient radar array is useful looking for B1s, but here is the scenario the situation does not deal with. We (the United States) have satellites, and B-2 stealth bombers. Nothing stops us from orbiting a stealth bomber with cruise missiles outside of the island radar's limit. Nothing stops us from waiting until a satellite, in real time, says the submarine is on the surface in the harbor, and having the stealth bomber come in and release a pair (use two in case of a malfunction) of nuclear cruise missiles at a range short enough that the submarine will not have time to launch.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

How Not to Get into the Game Business

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 over 30 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.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

On Trains and Moms and Vacations

Jean Sexton muses:

I've loved trains nearly all of my life. I've counted the cars when they go past and waved at people when I saw them on the trains. There's a crossing not far from where I live and on a quiet night, I can hear the whistle. I may have fallen in love with trains when I rode the old narrow-gauge steam locomotive (Locomotive #12) at Tweetsie Railroad, near the place my father grew up and near where he met my mother. Cinders and all, riding Tweetsie was great fun.

When I had the chance to go on a Real Vacation (i.e., not a working vacation in Amarillo), I looked for a tour that would be short enough to fit in the time frame I had. There it was -- trains and West Virginia. I called my mother to see if she wanted to go and, of course, she did.

One of the amazing things about growing up is that my mother and I have become friends as well as family. It surprises many people that we enjoy just hanging out together. (In fact, my next trip home will involve us going to a Civil War re-enactment in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.) We decided that this trip would pick up where we left off a bit back -- our tradition of going on trips together. We'd gone on beach visits, dug for fossils in a mine's slag pile, traveled to the mountains, visited historic sites, and always had grand fun each time. This time would be the same.

We rode a dinner train and saw the foliage on the mountains in its green, gold, orange, and red glory. We saw deer and rabbits along the way. We had a huge meal (neither of us could finish a 16-ounce prime rib) and good dinner partners. But the best part of the train rides was yet to come!

The Durbin Rocket is a steam engine, just as Tweetsie is. What I didn't know is that I would be able to ride in the caboose. I haven't ever made a formal "bucket list," but if I had, I'm not sure that riding in the caboose of a train would have been on it because I didn't know that doing so was possible. We were warmed on that chilly morning by a coal stove and my job responsibility was to keep the door closed so the heat didn't escape and to keep the doormat flat so no one tripped. I was real train crew!

As is my norm, I chatted with everyone and learned lots. Train aficionados told me about the role of the crew in the caboose and the conductor told me about the area we were traveling through. Another passenger was interested in plants and told me more about the flowers we were seeing through the windows.

I should mention that our trip also included a brief trip to see the New River Gorge. My mother is acrophobic, so going out on the observation deck was hard for her, but she did get to see the view across. (I hung out over the edge and took pictures!) She teased me when I bought (yet another) magnet for the refrigerator and reminded me that it was another thing to move to Texas this spring.

We also went to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank. I loved the science demonstrations and the pictures created by the radio waves that different planets emit. We did get to see the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT -- also called Great Big Thing) which is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. I didn't even know there was a United States National Radio Quiet Zone, but I know it now.

In between our visits to the different places, Mom and I talked. I value her perspective and wisdom. We discussed my forthcoming move to Amarillo, what things my apartment should have, the layout of my future office (SVC has already done a floor plan of it), how to pack to move, what things I could leave behind, and other domestic issues. We got very little sleep we were talking so much!

I think the best part of a vacation is that it rests your mind from focusing on work. That leaves your mind open to absorb new ideas, experiences, and dreams. Taking a vacation with a good friend (and mother) helps provide perspective and another person to relive the vacation with. And the best part of having a train in your vacation is that it takes you back to a slower time where you can appreciate the land around you. During this trip I got to see the river that flows past the town I was born in, past the land my father grew up in, past the land that many of my relatives still live near. It was a connection to my roots and a reminder that dreams flow on. They may meander as a river does, but the river reaches the sea eventually. My dreams will lead me to Amarillo where new adventures will begin.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Play Online

Many people do not know that you can play either STAR FLEET BATTLES or
FEDERATION COMMANDER online in real time against live opponents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So come to www.SFBonline.com right away. Players can even fly the FC Federation
CA, FC Klingon D7, and the SFB Federation and Klingon tournament cruisers 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.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


Steve Cole reports: I sometimes think I would have made more money (and enjoyed life just as much) being a financial guru instead of a game designer. After all, I paid off my last debt about the time Dave Ramsey went bankrupt (1986), and have run a successful small business without borrowing money for a dozen years now. From a variety of sources and my own experiences, I have compiled this list of the 20 dumbest things you can do with your money. The first few are the dumbest of the dumb but after that they're in a random order.

1. OPERATE WITHOUT A BUDGET: You don't have to be nitpicky, but set up some general categories. Always know when the next big bill is coming, always have an emergency fund, invest in some savings and retirement, and avoid spending more than you have. This applies to singles but especially to couples (and especially to non-married couples). Know how much each person is allowed to spend (and actually spends). If your girlfriend/roommate is buying expensive stuff, will that person have the rent money when it's due? (If your spouse is spending wildly, will YOU have the mortgage payment when IT'S due?) Now, normally conservative people don't need much of a budget plan since they unconsciously just don't spend a lot of money, but if you tend to splurge a lot or ever come up short at the end of the month, you need to set a written budget and stick to it.

2. CO-SIGN A LOAN: You ARE going to end up getting stuck with the payments. If the borrower was good for the payments he would not need a co-signer. This is bad enough with a house that you can go take possession of, but it's horrible when it's a truck that disappeared with the deadbeat. If you just have to help a relative this way, don't co-sign the note but set up a separate cash loan, and keep the amount small. Never borrow money to lend it to someone.

3. CASH VALUE LIFE INSURANCE: This has got to be the dumbest investment ever. What it does is to combine the death benefit of a cheap term policy with an investment. But the investment pays lower than market rates, you have to "borrow" the investment if you want the money, the money you borrowed is deducted from the death benefit you paid for already, and if you die the death benefit is paid and the investment disappears. The only reason this nonsense exists is because it pays sales commissions to people who convince idiots to buy it.

4. CASH IN YOUR RETIREMENT: The costs in tax penalties are horrendous. You could borrow money from a loan shark for less. Worse, retirement plans are usually protected from bankruptcy or lawsuits, so taking the money out of this protected cocoon just makes it available for someone else to take away from you.

5. PAYDAY LOANS: Speaking of loan sharks, here they are, in all of their legal (in some states) glory. Their fees and rates are beyond the moon, and you cannot bankrupt your out of them since they roll over every 30 days and bankruptcy won't discharge "recent" borrowing. Doing without something, paying a bill late, or borrowing $50 from your worst rival is preferable to payday loan stores. The only time you'd even consider this is when two conditions both exist: the penalty for not paying someone is life changing, and you already know you'll have the money to pay it back in full and never do this again.

6. BUY A HOUSE WITH A NON-SPOUSE: It's great that you're really in love and don't need to get married, but don't buy a house (or anything else) without getting married. A girlfriend can just get up and walk out, leaving you with a house that's too expensive for you to keep and hard to get sold when someone who now hates you is on the deed. At least in a messy divorce there are lawyers and judges who will force the other person to do the right thing. While we're here, don't buy a house with your brother or uncle or cousin. You each need your own investments that don't depend on anyone else performing some promised task.
7. TRUST A SALESMAN: Think about it before you buy anything for more than $100, let alone a house, car, or investment. Is all of the information about why this is a good deal coming from a single source? (You do realize that con artists have computers and can easily fake magazine articles telling why the investment they are selling is just the thing for everyone in your age group.) It's rare for something to "be gone by the end of the day." Do your research, before you shop and after you identify what you might buy. Never buy anything from a cold call, not without a lot of extra checking. By the way, the same advice applies to bill collectors, who all too often lie about what you owe, when it must be paid, and what they're going to do to you or your credit rating or your bank account.

8. PAY TOO MUCH FOR COLLEGE: I think everyone needs to decide what role education will play in their lives and find the best deal on the education that fits. If you want a technical degree (law, engineering, chemistry, medicine, accounting) that produces a good-paying job, you can afford to pay somewhat more. If you're just wanting to get a liberal arts degree to learn more about the world (how to think and plan), don't pay much for it. Do everything you can to hold down expenses, including living at home and going to community college for the first two years. (Live at home all four years if you can.) I would advise against paying big money for a big-time college, as you will lose money in the long run. (If you're so good at something that you need a really expensive degree, you're good enough to get a scholarship for it. Take the fact that you didn't get a scholarship as proof that you're not going to be an elite engineer and go to State Tech.) Save money by working a part-time job and living cheap. While I'm here, I'll mention that most private student loans cannot be consolidated at a lower interest rate later.

9. DEBT CONSOLIDATION: Sometimes, people consolidate their unsecured credit card debt into their secured mortgages. That's one way to handle a mess, but it's dangerous (harder to bankrupt your way out) and if you just run up the credit cards again, you wasted your time and will end up losing everything.

10. KEEP LOSING MONEY: If you're losing money on an investment, a business, or your general budget, don't keep doing it. Take a long hard look at what you're doing and (if there is not an imminent change in the future) make a proactive decision to change something. Find a way to reduce expenses and boost revenues.

11. SALES-LOAD MUTUAL FUNDS: Check the records. The returns on no-load funds are about the same, and these load funds exist only because they take money away from you to pay the commissioned salesman who convinces you to buy them.

12. BUY A TIMESHARE: This is another ridiculously bad investment which only happens because some salesman is getting a commission for talking you into it. You'll end up paying more in membership costs and maintenance fees that you'd spend getting a hotel room, and a timeshare is a lot less flexible. (Claims you can easily trade your Vegas timeshare for a timeshare in Aruba this year and Hawaii next year are very unlikely to work out.) You have less flexibility, and if they don't maintain the building, people without timeshares can just go somewhere else.

13. INVEST IN JEWELRY: If you want a piece of jewelry, and you can buy it for cash, then buy it. Do not, however, convince yourself that it's an investment. The markup on jewelry is big, and you'll be lucky to get half of the current retail value of jewelry when you sell it. There are rare exceptions but you'd have better odds of winning the lottery than dumb-lucking into one of those.

14. USE A FINANCIAL ADVISER ON COMMISSION: If you have enough money to need a financial adviser, find one who takes a flat fee, not one who only makes money if he sells you an investment. He will advise you to buy something stupid (like cash value life insurance, mutual funds with sales loads, timeshares, or bad stock the brokerage wants to unload on some unsuspecting idiot).
15. GIVE ACCESS TO YOUR ACCOUNT: Never give a bill collector authority to draft your account. No matter what he says he will settle the account for on the phone, he will take the full amount from the account (plus any phony finance charges he can dream up).

16. LIVE IT UP ON CREDIT: If you don't have the money, avoid spending it on stuff you don't need. Being short of cash and buying groceries on a credit card and making it a point to work some overtime to pay the bill, that's ok. Spending money you don't have on fancy vacations is a dumb idea. For bonus stupidity, spend student loans going on vacation. If you have to borrow money to go to college, you don't need to be going on vacation.

17. NEW CARS: Any financial expert will tell you that a new car depreciates by 30% when you drive it off of the lot. All will tell you to buy a three-year-old car for half the price and drive it until it falls apart. Financially, that's good advice, but I have to admit on this one that I buy new cars because I'm just not a car guy. For me, buying a used car means I'm going to get sold some piece of junk that will cost me a bundle in repairs the first week.

18. DON'T SAVE FOR RETIREMENT: Social Security won't be there and even if it is won't pay much. You need to be putting money away in a Roth IRA. If your employer matches your contribution, do it up to the value of the match before you do anything beyond survival (food, shelter, utilities).

19. EAT OUT A LOT: You'll spend at least $12 having a modest lunch in a restaurant, three or four times what you'd spend bringing a sandwich and an apple from home. The sandwich will probably be better for you anyway. For that matter, the cheaper brands of microwave dinners are hot and not that much more expensive. I can happily eat for less than $2 a meal with cans of stew, ravioli, spaghetti, or chicken and dumplings, and frankly, the flavor is not that much worse and far more consistent. Ok, truth here, I eat almost every lunch in a restaurant, but that (for me) is more a matter of being lazy and disorganized, and for a fuddy duddy like me, a restaurant lunch (often with a business discussion with partners or the restaurant owner or manager) is what passes for my social life.

20. THOUSAND DOLLAR TOYS: I have seen women gush about how their life will be so much better if they buy a $1,000 (or more) Gucci or Chanel handbag, or some other such bit of nonsense. (Guys are no better, buying expensive power tools that get far less use than you'd think, or expensive truck accessories. Do not get me started on Rolex watches for either sex.) It's a horrible investment. (A used one would sell for half of the current market and you could sell your item for half of that, maybe.) It can go out of style any time. It's easily lost, stolen, or damaged.

Monday, October 01, 2012

This Week at ADB, Inc., 23-29 September 2012

Steve Cole reports:

This was a normal week, with the design team working on new products while the production staff keep orders going out. The weather this week was cooler, with lots of rain. We got at least eight inches, in a town where 22 inches a year is considered a wet year. The spam storm mostly remained at something just over 100 per day.

New on e23 this week: PD One: Federation Sourcebook 1994.

Steve Cole might as well have not shown up this week, as he went to the ear doctor on Monday, the dentist on Tuesday, and the eye doctor on Wednesday. On Thursday, he gave a presentation to the Amarillo Economic Development Council and held a mentorship workshop for many small start-up businesses. Despite the distractions, he got some work done on Captain's Log #46 and Reinforcements Attack. He also quality checked more map panels and a shipment of new Starline 2500 ships including Gorns and Kzintis.

Steven Petrick completed the new Advanced Missions rulebook update, and worked on Module C6 Forgotten Empires (Paravians and Carnivons).

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.

Mike kept orders going out, rebuilt the inventory, and managed customer service.

Joel did website updates, chased pirates, and helped Mike.

Jean managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 1348 friends), proofread a few pages of future products, and did some marketing.