The Raft Lookout

What’s recently caught my eye in the wonderful world of tabletop gaming?

critI’ve started watching the second season of Critical Role, the fabulous RPG video series where a bunch of voice actors play D&D. So far, I find it even better than the first season. Critical Role has now started a Kickstarter to finance an animated series based on the first episode. They are known for their loyal fan base, but this exceeded all expectations: so far, they managed to get over $ 7.5 Million! That is a lot of money, especially for a Kickstarter where people don’t get a ton of stuff. In fact, the animated series will be free to watch, regardless if you back the Kickstarter or not. If you want to back it, it’s still running:

mwAs you know, I like magazines. I’ve recently decided to take out a subscription to Miniature Wargames. I’ve had it for a while before but canceled when Henry Hyde was ousted. I was pleasantly surprised by the last issue. What I especially like is the regular feature by Jon Sutherland called Command Decision. It’s a series of scenarios in a similar format to the venerable Table Top Teasers. What’s original about Jon’s scenario design is that he includes a pre-game decision which will shape the scenario to be played. This gives the scenario a bit more context and involves the player into the wider narrative without having to unfurl all the paraphernalia of a campaign. A really clever idea! I already regret having missed the previous scenarios and hope that Jon might be convinced to collect his Command Decisions in a book…

OLTcolor (Small)The ever inventive Joe McCullough has recently started an interesting new wargaming format. Under the title Operation Last Train, he has published sci-fi rules intended to game the evacuation of civilians from alien-held worlds. The interesting thing is that this is a charity project: not only are gamers asked to donate £3/$5 to Save the Children when downloading the rules, but Joe will also play a campaign. For each civilian he will rescue in-game, he will donate 10 cents. This is a fascinating and – as far as I know – novel way of linking gaming and real-world issues. People are invited to join in and there has already sprung up a lively community on Facebook.

D1dAHuJXQAII1zsThere is also news from Bad Squiddo Games! Annie has been very busy: She has acquired the magnificent terrain range from Ristul’s Extraordinary Market, which is now sold under the name of Bad Squiddo Terrain. New models have already been announced – I especially like the angry tree stumps and the scarecrows. She is also continuously expanding her believable female miniatures. Next up are more WW2 models, this time women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Annie has posted a preview with interesting insights into the design process on the Lead Adventure Forum. I’m looking forward to seeing more of those figures.

ACW Rules Kickstarter

At the beginning of the year, I had the plan to upscale my ACW gaming to Regiment/Brigade level. I’d really be interested to fight some smaller actions, comprising one to three brigades per side, on the tabletop. I even painted flags and commanders to be able to use my Sharp Practice units as regiments.


But which rules to use? I’ve tried out several and read some more, but none of them have completely captivated me. My game of Black Powder was fun and I subsequently bought the rule-book and the ACW supplement. However, I didn’t like the books at all – they are, for lack of a better term, reactionary in every sense of the word. Kugelhagelanother set I tried at the club, is a more dynamic game insofar as it breaks with IGO-UGO. In fact, I find it too dynamic, playing too loose with historical plausibility for my taste.

Longstreet is the game favored by my chums Virago and Sigur. I really liked the game I played, but upon reflection, there are a couple of things that keep me from getting it. First, the price – I’d need the rule-book plus two sets of cards, which would set me back about 100$, and although I’m prepared to pay a price for a rule-book, this is too much. Second, it’s geared towards one brigade per side, and I’m not sure how it would do with two or three. And third, while the card mechanism is fun, it feels a bit too abstract and gamey for my taste.

I then got Pickett’s Charge, which looks very good. I was impressed by the historical depth and by some of the rules mechanics. However, the level of battle I’m looking for might be a bit too small for those rules. Also, I’ve watched a game being played at our Gettysburg Battle Day and it looked like hard work. I think I’d prefer something that is a bit more streamlined.

Being a wargamer, I then decided to write my own rules. I even had three test games. They worked ok and I’ll continue working on them, but still, they didn’t give me the experience I was looking for.


Some time ago, Mike Hobbs mentioned Over the Hills on the Meeples&Miniatures podcast. This is a set of regimental level napoleonic rules produced by Stand to Games and has become his go-to rules for the period. I liked what he said and thought that I wished they were available for the ACW.

Guess what? They will be soon (hopefully)! Stand to Games has just launched a Kickstarter for Over Malvern Hill, an ACW variant of the rules. They seem to be geared just towards the level of engagement that interests me. They furthermore seem to play fast while still retaining a feel for the period.

This is what the authors say about their design goals:

“We wanted to produce a fast paced easy to play game where the psychological effect of warfare was strongly reflected throughout the game and the rule mechanics.

Command and Control and ACW tactics should be firmly rooted in the game.”

To model the psychological effect, they use a fatigue score which diminishes as the unit takes casualties. They also have an interesting turn sequence which enables to non-active player to react. And they even include rules for sieges and balloons!

Perhaps they’ll be the rules I am looking for? Let’s see – I backed the Kickstarter and hope it will be successful, as I’m eager for a chance to try them out.

Reenactress: A Documentary

Logo_smallWhen film maker J.R. Hardman started as an American Civil War reenactress three years ago, she was not allowed to wear uniform and join the ranks, as females were not supposed to be combatants. Embarking on a journey through books and archives, she discovered that there is lots of historical evidence for women fighting in the Civil War. Most of them were disguised as men, continuing a tradition of cross-dressing and soldiering that dates back at least to the 17th century.


Hardman is now running a Kickstarter to finance the production of her documentary Reenactress. The feature-length film will show how women today are active in reenactment groups and how they cross-dress and take up arms to represent combatants. It will also shed light on the history their activity is based on, namely the stories of real women who fought on the Union and Confederate sides.

In some ways, reenactment is similar to wargaming: Both represent military history in a playful way and by that, both also offer unique possibilities of questioning traditional narratives. In this way, Reenactress shares questions with my own Wargaming Warrior Women project. As I was curious to find out more, I contacted J.R. Hardman, who was kind enough to participate in a short email interview.

Cpt. Shandy: What do you find exciting about reenactment?

J.R. Hardman: Reenacting is exciting because you get the chance to experience something you never would otherwise. Reading a history book about the Civil War is great, but there’s no smell of the black powder, you don’t feel the heat of the July weather when wearing a wool uniform, and you don’t learn what it feels like to get soaking wet and then have to march 20 miles from a book. Reenacting gives you an approximation to the experience of what it might have been like during a different time period, and although it’s not exactly the same, you can extrapolate from your experience much more closely to what a soldier might have felt like at the time. It’s so much different to pull the lanyard on a cannon than it is to watch someone else do it in a movie. It’s also an incredible feeling to have people, especially children, ask you questions about history and be able to answer them and help those kids learn.

J.R. Hardman in her Union uniform.

C.S.: Who are the women reenacting female combatants?

J.R.H.: We have interviewed a lot of really incredible women who reenact, and they come from all walks of life. One woman in our movie is a doula and was a volunteer firefighter. One woman is a reporter for local news. One woman is a retired prison guard. One is a student studying to become a veterinarian. One is a substitute teacher. Some women we have met were formerly in the military, and some would never have thought about it before reenacting. Everyone seems to be doing it for a slightly different reason, but overall people seem to love history, and want to learn more about it and represent it well.

C.S.: Why is it important that what you do is grounded in history, that there really where women donning uniforms and fighting in the Civil War?

J.R.H.: It’s important to represent that history that people don’t know about. There were women fighting in the Civil War on both sides of the conflict, Union and Confederate. It’s important to recognize that history because it really informs the present.

The fact that women in the 19th Century were brave enough to go to war and were willing to abandon their identity and pretend to be men in order to do so speaks to the power of the female spirit. Knowing women could do that back then is hugely inspiring to women today, especially in the face of unequal treatment they receive in places like the modern military. Knowing that there were real women who served in the Civil War also creates a large sense of legitimacy for our portrayals. After speaking with historian and former reenactor Lauren Cook Wike, who authored the book, They Fought Like Demons, and compiled the letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who was a real woman soldier on the Union side, I have come to understand how important it is for people to know these stories. It turns out that Rosetta Wakeman’s letters would never have been uncovered without Lauren’s work as a reenactor.

I also understand that the reenactment hobby is a lot about authenticity, and it really helps to have historical women that you can point to to model your impression on. Lastly, without this hobby, I would never have been motivated to learn about this history, myself. Reenacting has taught me things I never would have learned otherwise. It has really changed my perspective on history all together.

C.S.: What do you think representing warrior women in a playful context – be it reenactment or miniature wargaming – can achieve?

J.R.H.: Reenacting can be really fun. When it comes down to it, it’s a hobby, and sometimes people can take it too seriously. The units I participate in really treat each other like a family, and I have made life-long friends reenacting. Representing warrior women in a playful context can help to make the history more accessible for everyone, from tiny children to big adults.

C.S.: Thanks for your time and all the best for the Kickstarter!

The Kickstarter for Reenactress will be running until Saturday, 1 August 2015 05:59 CEST. I think it is well worth supporting and I’ll keep my fingers crossed – I’d really love to see the documentary.