Starship Troopers as an origin thread of current Wargaming

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There is no doubt that Robert Heinlein wrote a masterpiece of science fiction literature in 1959 with the publication of Starship Troopers.  It is a military science fiction novel which is told in the first-person narrative about a young soldier named Juan ‘Johnnie’ Rico and his exploits in the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic military service branch of ‘The Federation’ who are equipped with ‘powered armour’. Rico’s military career progresses from recruit to non-commissioned officer and finally to officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between mankind and an arachnid species known as ‘the Bugs’ and also ‘the Skinnies’. Rico and the other characters discuss moral and philosophical aspects of suffrage, civic virtue, juvenile delinquency, corporal punishment, capital punishment, and war.  It is a book of two aspects.  The first being the action and technology of the Mobile Infantry and the second being the structure of The Federation.  I will not go into detail about the moral aspects of the book as it is not my purpose here but I will say that I agree with many points the book makes (not all) and secondly to say that in a social media forum setting invariably makes one suffer from Godwins Law and when posting this article I am sure I will get the same.

I recently listened to the book as an audio through my audible account and it has been years since I last turned the pages of my own paper copy.  Critics of the book have a point when they refer to the lack of a dense plot and deep characters but there is no denying the success of the book much of which was actually to Heinlein’s surprise.  I agree that the plot is very thin but I think that it actually does not matter all that much as the career and thoughts of Rico are the prime mover in the text.  The purpose of this short essay however is not to discuss the book itself but more to see its influence upon the industry where I make my living; that of miniature wargaming and science fiction wargame rules.

It cannot be argued that Starship Troopers has not had a big influence upon science fiction in terms of books, films and more which followed it.  This was in the 1960’s with The Forever War by Haldeman and also Harry Harrison’s lower brow Bill the Galactic Hero both putting their own takes on Starship Troopers.  These served to flesh out and humanise the core ideas of the original book in different directions and indeed to this day authors such as John Scalzi pattern their tales upon Heinlein and his work.  A whole generation grew up with the book and then an Avalon Hill Board Game as well as early home computer games with the setting.  But it was in 1986 for wargaming in particular that arguably the greatest combination of events EVER for science fiction wargaming occurred with the release of the seminal Aliens movie.  Aliens directed by James Cameron riffs heavily upon Starship Troopers and borrows lines and concepts from it such as the infamous ‘Bug Hunt’.  This powerful combination locked into the mind of wargamers just want a possible future would be and to this day it is one of the most reliable narratives for scenario settings including the recent Osprey book Bug Hunts by Mark Latham which is literally this combination.

While there are other powerful combinations such as that of Dune and the original Laserburn into Rogue Trader one and the Japanese Anime Mecha into Techomancy one I would say that Starship Troopers and Aliens combine into the biggest for wargaming overall.  Powered Armour features very heavily in science fiction wargaming as does chisel jawed alpha men with no deep personalities both are from this start.  An alien enemy implacable and totally unlike us has a beginning in Starship Troopers too.  In fact Yoshiyuki Tomino, the creator of the mecha anime TV series Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)  cited Starship Troopers as an important inspiration. He coined the term “mobile suit” used to name the piloted mecha from the anime series as a reference to the novel’s own ‘mobile infantry’. All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka is a newer example. In direct terms the game by Mongoose Publishing in 2005 which picked up on the 1997 movie written by Ed Neumeier and directed by Paul Verhoeven license is the biggest thing done in purely wargaming terms with Starship Troopers.  Though I enjoyed the film the movie and the game have little to do with the original book.

For Science Fiction Wargaming two core aspects of the book shine through as pioneering.  The innovation of powered armour exoskeletons used by the Mobile Infantry. Suits controlled by the wearer’s own movements, but powerfully augmented a soldier’s strength, speed, weight-carrying capacity (which allowed much heavier personal armament), and jumping ability (including jet and rocket boost assistance), and provided the wearer with improved senses (infrared vision and night vision, radar, and amplified hearing), a completely self-contained personal environment including a drug-dispensing apparatus, sophisticated communications equipment, and tactical map displays. Their powered armour made the Mobile Infantry a hybrid between an infantry unit and an armoured one.  Wargamers adore all kinds of amour in this fashion.  The other core was that of space-borne infantry. The heavily mechanised units of M.I. troops were attached to interstellar troop transport spacecraft, which then delivered them to planetary target zones, by dropping groups of Mobile Infantrymen onto the planet surface from orbit via individual re-entry capsules. The uses for such a force—ranging from smash-and-burn raids, to surgical strikes, conventional infantry warfare, and holding beachheads—and the tactics that might be employed by such soldiers are described extensively and inspire wargamers.

Many wargame miniature producers make miniatures which borrow from Heinlein. Armoured Steel Gorillas as the novel puts it as common as ‘Power Armour’ or ‘Mobile Suits’ or ‘Battlesuits’ or ‘Dreadnoughts’ or ‘Mates’ etc giving a single man the mighty of a whole platoon of conventional troops.  I will not quote makers since there are too many and indeed some may not even realise the origin since as time moves on each subsequent generation borrows or is inspired by the last.  HALO with its ‘Spartans’, now a tabletop game by Spartan Games in the UK, owes its lineage to the Mobile Infantry in this sense.

I will say that my own creations in wargaming have been influenced by Starship Troopers though not directly up to this point.  I have made use of powered armour and of deep space transports to deliver soldiers to the warring front.  But in that I am common for this is the very crux of sci-fi to many.

In conclusion Starship Troopers is a vital thread to wargaming without which there would be a mighty big gap in both the technology commonly regarded as military for miniatures and games but also in the terminology and mindset of wargamers for the portrayal of alien life as a hive mindset.  In fact when you take out everything that came from Starship Troopers the cupboard is rather bare and barren.  The book is the origin and jumping off point for a thousand other works which lead us to now.

Thanks for your time.

GBS

Caracan and 2000 words in under two hours

Over on the blog for The Ion Age I published a little story about Caracan the Strider; a light mecha used in the Patrol Angis game system in 15mm scale.  I write a lot of fiction and non-fiction but on this occasion I decided to set myself a challenge in that I would try and create 2000 words of fiction in less than two hours with only five minutes of editing afterwards and then straight to publish.  I just managed it and the article went live half a day later.  Responses have been kind and nice and sure I made a couple of mistakes but all in all it worked.   Have a look and enjoy if you like science fiction with a military leaning.

Writing Two Thousand Words in Two Hours…How?

So.  You might be thinking how do I write a story of 2000 words in 120 minutes.  Well there is no magic formula really.  From my point of view I have and do write a lot so my typing speed is faster than typical.  It helps I use a wired full size keyboard as smaller boards and wireless can pose problems and slow you.  I am a great believer in the motto of ‘just start’ as it works.  When you try this just begin with one sentence which sums up what you are going to write about.  Such as ‘This mecha, what is it, who is its pilot and where are they fighting’.  Then drop a few lines, I use open office mainly in single page view, and type in salient points of the story you are now thinking of.  So any action or dialogue or description you intend to hang the story on.  It could be the opening or last line for example.  By this time you are five minutes in and have the skeleton of a two thousand word tale.

Now.  Do not stop.  Type typing and ignore everything else if you can.  Take your salient points and begin to build on them with paragraphs.  Name your characters and identify places.  Ignore the beep of the phone, the call from mates and such (if you are on fire then put it out of course!) and carry on.  Frankly I am ignoring Messenger and Whatsapp right now!   By the time you are an hour in you should have nearly a thousand words and a story that would work if left as it is.  It would be somewhat vapid and missing elements but it exists.  Now take a minute and read it back.

The second hour is the power hour.  You are in the zone now and you are burning up the virtual paper.  Now is the time for the main focus of the tale to take place, focus on the action scene or the central trunk which readers will remember.  Get it done and then jump back and expand upon the beginning then hop to the end and write it out and then expand it.  Two hours goes fast.  You should now have your story…

Pompous eh?  What am I like.  A fast thinking, fast typing, veteran scribbler telling you it is this easy.  Well it ain’t easy and I got there with seconds to spare.  It is perfectly fine to try for 1000 words or for three hours when you begin and I recommend you try and do an exercise of 500 words several times if you are very new to this.   If you manage to craft a tale then you deserve some applause as many people simply never do it.

I began with books like the one above and they are well worth reading.  I will end on this notion.  Begin with the End clearly in Mind.  It makes all the difference.

GBS

Farewell Alien Squad Leader

On the seventeen of March 2017 Alternative Armies is ending its association with Alex Self the author of Alien Squad Leader. During the years in which we have represented Alien Squad Leader we have enjoyed a good relationship with the author but now both parties feel it is time to move on. From the 17th of this month we will no longer stock or sell the Alien Squad Leader book (now in an electronic format) and all pre-packed armies for the game.
We wish Alex Self every success in the future with his projects. For any further information on the game system please go to the Alien Squad Leader groups on Yahoo and on Facebook.
Personally I just want to say that Alex and I part on working terms as friends.  We have just changed and grown apart.  The fantastic game that is Alien Squad Leader will carry on I am sure.
GBS

Asked for a new way into Flintloque…delivered!

This week my latest project was breathed to life and appeared on the Alternative Armies website.  A new beginners entry into Flintloque the Skirmish 3rd edition.  I had been asked many times across last year by wargamers ‘how do I get into this excellent setting!’.  After a long bit of thinking and an idea to try out some new concepts I came up with 5024 Escape from the Dark Czar.  A complete beginners set with booklet, miniatures, bases and dice.  You can see it on the website from Friday 27th January.

The booklet itself is twenty pages and builds upon the Witchlands campaign setting begun by Mike Roberts and the core engine of 3rd edition worked up by Mike White. An introduction to the campaign followed by character profiles and then the core rules of play after which are three small scenarios for use with the miniatures and then two pre-filled rosters; one for each side.  It is an excellent looking tightly packed booklet featuring the artwork of my good friend Edward Jackson on its cover and in its inner pages.

Sam Croes the lead designer at Alternative Armies came up with the ideas for the miniatures in the set.  We decided to produce the ten miniatures in resin and importantly in bulk allowing us to keep the price down on this introduction for wargamers.  However it is not likely I will commission more resin infantry for Flintloque as it is a white metal range, which I love, and this was an experiment after all.  We will stick to using resin to keep the weight down and price of things like Trolka and Cavalry Mounts.  That said they are fantastic figures indeed.  Full of character touches.  The Ogre is my favourite.

I also took this chance to collate the massive folder of free files which exist for Flintloque and Slaughterloo and in the process create a mighty stack now online for download for free.  See the same page on the website for the download link.  It is some 95mb in size and represents some four years work on my own and others part.

I hope that you enjoy this new beginners set.  I had a lot of fun writing it and playtesting it last autumn.

On other topics.  I do not update this blog all that often.  I just do not have the time down to my work, my family and so on. There are only so many hours in the day. So I have a plan for this year…it will come in stages and start soon.

GBS

Welcome to 2017!

New beginnings, fresh starts, reaffirmations of love and promises for a brighter future all come to mind for a New Year.  We resolve to get in shape, lose weight, improve career paths, and the like. Then, there are the heartfelt promises we make to others, whether aloud or in our minds. We want to care more, express love more, reverse bad feelings in old relationships or seek out new loving relationships. We try our very best to put these desires into words. Though New Years can be a time of celebration and cheer, there are many people who are facing difficult circumstances. They may be entering this time of year with apprehension or anxiety. I send out a hope of encouragement and for prosperity to you at this time of new yearly birth.

My own plans for this new year are as they were for the last one.  To do much, to enjoy and to bring happiness to as many people as I can manage in person and by proxy online with words and with miniatures from my work.

If you like the look of the picture above that is great.  It is the free miniature for January 2017 at my little Ion Age which you can see online.

GBS

Orcs in the Webbe Advent 2016 – Sharkes Wyvern!

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Now online at Orcs in the Webbe as part of the 2016 Advent Calendar a free Flintloque scenario written by myself as my own personal entry on the calendar for Day 10. Sharke’s Wyvern! The scenario sees Captain Rekhardt Sharke along with his Chosen Orcs taken on a giant monster after being tricked by a Dark Elf noble into a spot of ‘bird hunting’. It includes the scenario but also the rules for including this monster in your games of Flintloque.

You can see it on Orcs on the Webbe and you can see it on Alternative Armies blog as a download PDF too.

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I had great fun writing and playing this scenario with new rules and getting the miniatures for Sharke out of the box again for the fight.  I am currently working on something major for Flintloque that will be out and about in January 2017 but there will be more on this during December.

I hope you enjoy the read and the photos which were taken too.

GBS

Flintloque, USEME and I go digital download!

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Last week the four books that currently make up Flintloque 3rd edition not only went back into printed stock but also, for the first time, they became digital paid downloads.  Otherwise known as purchasable PDF books. While other companies have been trading in downloads for several years successfully now it has only been in the last month or so that Alternative Armies and by extension 15mm.co.uk and my baby The Ion Age did the same.  When the decision was taken it was set to me to task out a platform from which to make the digital publications available.  After running tests on several installs I settled on one that seamlessly integrates with the physical products on the websites and is very easy for customers to use and also to return to for their purchases.  We began with DarkeStorme my high fantasy skirmish system for 28mm and 15mm miniatures and then moved across to HOF Fire Team and Age of Might and Steel before turning my other loved system books Patrol Angis and Callsign Taranis into paid downloads.  Then it was onto the main event…Flintloque!

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A busy few weeks and then the time arrived this week and with my usual flourish I presented the books plus a mega bundle to the world.  Early notice went to the Notables who were quick to get involved.  The reception has been very positive across the board and especially from the regular wargamers who play Flintloque who in some cases purchased the books as digital to go with existing print or both at the same time to expand their collection.   What has surprised me is actually the uptake on the printed books in conjunction with the same digital title as well as miniatures (above are the Pudigroan Dogmen and our funky three barrelled cannon).  I have asked and been told that the desire was to read the books while waiting for a package to arrive with paper being very much preferred at the gaming table.  This makes sense to me actually as I read books virtually but often purchase in print those I enjoy and tend to always buy wargaming books and RPG books in print only.  It seems that digital downloads are here to stay at Alternative Armies.

As always if you are a customer who continues to allow me to make my living in this wonderful manner I thank you and hope you enjoy what I do.

When the time comes that I have finished the next Flintloque book which is titled ‘Retreat to Kooruna’ it will be a print and digital download title and as such it will be the first Flintloque book to debut as both mediums.  I look forward to seeing how this is greeted by the fan base of the World of Valon.  While the first ever campaign book for Flintloque will get more, much more, coverage as it nears release you can see the cover art by Edward Jackson below.  Back in December 2015 one of the full scenarios from the forthcoming book was published in the Advent Calendar on Orcs in the Webbe.  Click on the link and you can read it or on this LINK you can have it as a PDF to your device direct.  It is one of a dozen to be in the book.

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Flintloque grows every month with new miniatures, new items and new material.  It has been a part of me for more than a decade and it will continue to be so long, long into the future.  In fact some wargamers would never forgive me if I stopped creating new content for the game!

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On Friday last week the whole USEME series of wargame books went digital download at 15mm.co.uk and while it is true that I nor any other author in the series such as Omer Golan Joel or Kurt Benson have added to its dozen titles in the last two years or so that will change.  We have six small books in various stages of development.  In the meantime I am really pleased to see people still remember my USEME and in honour of that the digital editions are cheaper than the print booklets.  A whole game system for three pounds.  Excellent!

USEME has half a dozen titles in the works by three authors including myself and these are at various stages of readiness.  I am looking at adding titles in the near future and these may well be digital download only.  This will be based upon consulting with several dozen customers at random to see what they prefer.

Thanks for your time.

GBS

The first digital download of my work….

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I began a test today with a wargame rule system I wrote back in 2005 and then re-issued in 2010 before now in September 2016 turning into a digital download.  The system is DarkeStorme and it is one of my earliest stand alone titles.  I am actually rather proud of it really since it has held up well.  Set on the fictional world of Valon where the mighty rule system Flintloque takes place but in an earlier age of sword and sorcery it was my idea to create a ‘third age’ to replace the lack lustre earlier system ‘Dresda’ which was in a world before Flintloque.  DarkeStorme focuses on warbands of a dozen or so miniatures of any fantasy race and has full rules for monsters, magic and more as well as progression and RPG elements.  A lot packed into sixty pages….mainly due to this being written before I had a lot of parenting responsibilities which makes working life a tad more complex. I am not joking!

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The test is to find out if the customer base of Alternative Armies wishes to purchase paid for PDF’s (digital books)  as well as print books.  DarkeStorme has sold over a thousand copies in its time thus far in print so it is an ideal place to try out this test.  The purchase is made straight from the website using the existing shopping cart and the links are delivered on screen to download from there.  Thus far we have sold a half dozen or so e-copies and it is a good start.  You can visit the page HERE and read the official blog post HERE.

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How do I feel about my work, often running to hundreds of hours per title, being distributed in this fashion?  If you had asked me a few years ago I would have refused straight off since I have watched people being ‘pirated’ our of existence by file sharing networks in the gaming industry.  That and the customers simply did not ask for PDF’s in anything but ‘bolt on’ small items and preferred printed books with their miniatures.  Now though the world has turned and customers are asking for both particularly with The Ion Age title Patrol Angis.  So I will wait and see what happens.  My feeling is that we will be putting out more titles as digital downloads including the big books such as War in Catalucia for Flintloque.  Heck, it may even result in me penning original works for digital download only.  The future will tell.

Thanks for your time as always on my little page.

GBS

My copy of Callsign Taranis for The Ion Age

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“This last decade has seen suffering on a scale not seen for centuries since the obliterating horror of the Aldan Crucible. In the twenty years since the murder of my father in rightful battle and following this my abduction as a child, Prydia has been aflame and never more so than in the this decade now closed. None know the true count of this conflict but it is in the billions of needless deaths. All these deaths needless and the result of the ambitions of the rebel barons and their leagues. Now, here, in the liberation of Bosworth IV we have reached the high water mark of the Leagues. They will rise no more. Edmund Bluefort, leader and lord of the League of Canlaster, is dead this very day in fair joust. With his death and the returning of this planet to freedom I send out this message across all the systems in the Precinct. Freedom is coming and the darkness will be lifted in the months and years to come. As long as it takes, you will all be liberated and returned to a worthy peace. Coming from the skies the red and white of the Prydian Army will drive out the rebel barons and their lackeys one planet, one settlement at a time. The flame that threatened to burn us all and reduce us once more to savages will be put out. Already it gutters and fails. That which has been ruined will be rebuilt and restored. Prydia is rising once more and now more than ever before we must stand united against threats that may come to us from beyond our own stars. This civil war will end!”
Princess Daphne Cyon addresses the Precinct from Zone 62 New Bosworth 4330 IC

My space opera setting just doubled in size!

You can read all about my latest book Callsign Taranis online on its page of the website. I am very proud of this expansion book and though it took longer than hoped or expected to chisel to a finished monolith it is now crossing the globe to all those who made the choice to order it up early. Thank you! I only wish to add some pictures here of what the book likes like internally. Its pages and their quality. We decided to get the book printed in Scotland and went for a high quality paper and bind meaning Callsign Taranis will stand up to the rigours of long term use by wargamers.  It is a thing of beauty and that is important and I think we will do this again.  It costs more and means we make less money but at the same time the customer gets a ruddy good product and we keep people in work here.  This also applied to the larger format pre-print with new cover art of the original Patrol Angis book to which this new one is the expansion sequel.

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“In Callsign Taranis you will find the expansion rules covering the use of Vehicles in play as well as Structures and other bolt on mechanics. There are also game statistics for the vehicles of the Prydian Civil War and additional skills, equipment and items for your troops. Following on from Patrol Angis is part two of the Prydian Civil War background. Also in this book is the Support Phase and the Between Games development of your forces. Rules for how to play larger games of Patrol Angis and how to generate random terrain. A bolt on section for Building your Forces with Vehicle and Mixed platoons. This and more all in a packed sixty four pages! 15mm Wargaming!”

The Ion Age is my own baby. My forth child as it were. It is by a long margin the smallest compared to Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk but it is growing and between myself and Sam Croes we are creating something special, something unique.

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I have made the choice that although I will not be posting much here on my own site I will be putting up short articles with my own look at some of the books and products I am involved with closely. What I have written or been impressed by. If you want to see what I am up to most every day then look to the right and follow me on Googleplus and or Facebook. My own site is for musing and mutterings beyond these.

GBS