Friday, January 22, 2016

Star Wars Command "Epic Assault" army men set

The Star Wars Command "Epic Assault" set had promise. I had some luck and found a set for a very low price. The box was far from pristine, which accounted for the discount. Of course, I care most about what is inside the box.
AT-DP Drivers
The set is promoted as having 22 pieces. These include 2 "rev" bases that work like the old pullback toys. Put a Star Wars space ship or vehicle on top, pull back ,and then it wheels forward. I played with some jousting knights like that when I was a kid.
Imperial Storntroopers and Tie Fighter pilot
The set had eight Imperial soldiers, five character figures, a robot, two AT-DPs and four spacecraft. The soldier poses included kneeling and standing shooting Stormtroopers, two AT-DP drivers and two Tie Fighter Pilots. The figures that were new to me were the drivers. They had a good pose and were well-sculpted and cast. All of the poses look like those used in the movies, by the way.
C-10 Chpper robot, Ezra bridger, Inquisitor
The character figures were unknown to me. These were three light-saber wielding figures, a skinny woman with two pistols and a thick-bodied alien with a huge blaster rifle. There was also a little can-shaped orange robot. I checked online and found that these figures were based on an animated series. The light saber figures were silver "The inquisitor", gold "Ezra Bridger", and green "Kanan Janus". A dark red "Sabine Wren" packed two pistols, and a purple "Garazeb Orrelios" had a the huge blaster. Then there was a C-10 "Chopper" can robot. The swordsmen looked slim and wispy in comparison to the soldiers.
Kanan Janus, Sabine Wren, Garazeb Orrelios
The set also had small vehicles. Two of the two-legged white "AT-DP’ land craft were included, as well as 2 black Tie Fighters, a special Tie Fighter and a ship called a Ghost. The Imperial craft were about the N scale (1/160) to TT (1/120) size. The scale of the Ghost was much smaller.
AT-DP Walkers
The sculpting on the ships and the soldiers was good. I like the animated poses and the detail. The character figures were probably based closely on the animated characters, and so have an unreal and spare look.
Tie Fighters
For skirmish games, this set is an odd assortment. The Empire has all the firepower. There are only two Rebel shooters as opposed to eight gun-toting soldiers. Of the three swordsman, one is an Imperial fighter. You can tell Imperials from other figures by the base. The Imperials all have bases with angular ends. The rebels all have bases with rounded ends.
Enhanced Tie Fighter
Of course. I could not beat the price. I had wanted to get a few of the vehicles to see how well they were made. Having a few more Imperials was icing on the cake.
"Ghost" Rebel Space Ship
Again, folks, these sets have been discontinued. I believe it was done because of the movie that was recently released. I have found that if you shop Amazon for the Star Wars Command sets, you can sometimes get better prices from "other vendors." Just remember that when using other vendors, there is a shipping fee, so calculate accordingly. The best deals I saw on Ebay were from the Hasbro Toy Shop (HasbroToyShop). Most of the other sets on Ebay were woefully overpriced. Big Bad Toy Store had a few sets reasonably priced.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sci Fi Galaxy Laser Team and Star Wars figures

Just for fun, I decided to compare several Galaxy Laser Team figures with the Star Wars characters who inspired them. Or did they? On closer inspection, some Galaxy figures are entirely different from those they supposedly portray. Star Wars may have inspired some of the Tim Mee brand figures, but both sets are distinct.
Chewbacca and Chompsnuffa
The main similarity between Star Wars’ Wookie and the Galaxy Fur Alien is the fur. Granted, the Galaxy figure was an attempt to take the place of the Wookie, but the facial features and weapon are entirely different. My suggestion for those who paint their figures is to use very different colors on these funny fellows. An imaginative modeler could get a very distinct miniature from the Galaxy fur alien just by creative use of paint. Green fur? Maybe...
Darth Vader and Magnutto
Darth Vader is a very distinct character. Side by side with the supposed Galaxy Laser team version, they are very different figures. The Tim Mee counterpart looks like a Marvel Comics character. Thigh-high boots, a pectoral chest-plate and pro wrestler belt are very different from Vader’s clothing. The helmets are also unique. The Tim Mee figure wears what looks like a variant of an open-faced Greek helmet. His cape is shorter and so is his weapon. A light-club? With a little work, it could be a Greek-type sword. Again, a creative painter could make the Tim Mee figure look stunning.
X-Wing Pilot and Soldier with Pistol
These two have more in common than the other pairs. Helmets, though distinct, have a similar overall shape. However, the pilot is obviously in a flight suit. The Tim Mee figure could be anything from a security officer to Buck Rogers type soldier. He wears a very different outfit and unique boots that seem to flop over the top like those of pirates. While he could fit in the realms of Buck Rogers, Death Star personnel or Rebel infantry, he is unique enough to stand out. It is all in the paint work.

Tusken Raider and Turto-lob
These are so distinct as to have no middle ground between them. The Tusken is a desert character. If not humanoid, it is still likely mammalian. The Turto-lob (Turtle + lobster) is reptilian with a bird-like beak, buggy antennae and lobster claws. Still and all, both are cool aliens to add spice to your spice adventures.
R2D2 and the Washboard Robot
Mistakenly called "droids" in the movies, short tin-can robots were a common feature of the Star Wars franchise. (Droid is short for android, a robot having a basic human shape. C3PO from Star Wars, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Terminator are androids. R2D2 and his type are not.) R2D2 is a small, cylindrical machine with a dome top and three legs. By comparison, Tim Mee’s Galaxy Laser Team robot is a flat, rectangular-bodied machine with two legs.
Small robots like both of these examples were common in the Star Wars movies. Another movie using small robots was Silent Running with Bruce Dern from 1972. He had a pair of two-legged, boxy robots. Cute robots seem to have been a thing of the times. For instance, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, a 1970s show, had a comical little robot named Twiki. (Think Hello Kitty goes Andriod: Twiki.)
Of course, Star Wars was not the only inspiration. Three of the characters in the Galaxy Laser Team had other origins:

The Astronauts
The two astronauts in the Galaxy Laser Team are somewhere between Gemini and the Space Shuttle. One pose is reminiscent of the early MPC "Mercury" type astronauts. The other has similarities to two other poses. However, these Galaxy astronauts are more modern. For instance, the air supply on the astronauts’ backs tells the tale. The MPC astronauts have tanks similar to a scuba diver. The Galaxy men have a boxy pack instead. It would have been more like that worn on the Space Shuttle. The Apollo air pack was much larger, wider and taller.
What happened to the woman with console? She is apparently based on the female crew of the original run of Star Trek. Unlike the others, there is no previous plastic figure on which she might be based.
The Galaxy Laser Team is a good source of affordable 50 to 54mm scale space figures. Because they are different from the characters of popular sci-fi movies, there is a lot of leeway as to how they can be painted and their use in games. A skillful modeler could get more than a few good conversions from them. The recent Hasbro "Star Wars" plastic figures are a great asset, but they will be getting scarce due to discontinued production. Perhaps Airfix will reissue their fantasy space men soon. They can accompany both of the aforementioned sets of spacemen.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Space 1959 - They Really did It!

Space 1959 - They Really Did it!
1961 was a big thing for those of us fascinated by space missions. In short order, we had shifted focus from the X-15 to the Mercury Space flights. The X-15 looked like a space ship. The Mercury capsule was bland. No fins, no spiraling antennae, no blast of rocket fire out the back.
In 1962, some of the older boys up the block had a new toy. It was an outer space base with lots of rockets, space tanks, astronauts and weird aliens. They would not let us touch it. They were stingy. We younger boys thought it was fascinating. That was my first glimpse at the Marx "Operation Moonbase" playset.
A very popular book at the time was "You Will Go To the Moon." Written in 1959, it was based on articles about space travel by Werner von Braun. There was a lot of speculative fiction about space travel, especially in those years.
I have recently done some of my own speculation on what would have happened had there been a means to go into space in 1955. I was surprised to learn that both the Army and Air Force had been planning for it in the 1950s. They were also planning to build a facility on the Moon. In 1959, the Army presented its program entitled Project Horizon.. The Air Force plan was called Lunex. Both had ambitious plans to put a man on the Moon. Further, both wanted to build a facility on the moon that could house men for at least a year. The amazing thing is that most of it could have been accomplished with the technology of the time.
The Army wanted to have its base built by 1966. The Air Force thought it would be 1967 or later.
Both reports claimed that a major obstacle was lack of knowledge of the conditions on the Moon. Both were optimistic that they could be discovered in time.
The Army plan included sending supplies in cylinders. These would be used to build an underground facility that could house up to 12 men on a regular basis, and 16 temporarily. Moonbase Alpha, indeed!
The Army had plans for a lightweight vehicle to do the digging and place the cylinders. Power was to be supplied by small nuclear plants. The space vehicles were lunar landers and a vehicle to lift off from the moon.
The concept driving the plans was to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon and to use the Moon for military as well as scientific activities.
As usual, the Army plan was more comprehensive and better thought out than the Air Force plan.
Here are links to all three:
Link to web page with Lunex file, better text and drawings
This ought to be no surprise., The military is constantly drawing up plans for almost any conceivable scenario. That they went into moon landings is understandable. Project Horizon is itself impressive because of the scope of it and its practicality. Knowing what we do now, we can see that this plan was feasible. Granted, it might not fit into the Army timetable to get it done by 1966. Nonetheless, it could be done.
Why id they not build a base on the Moon? Other technology came along to go do the surveillance and other tasks that were proposed for the Moon base. It was not cost effective. At the same time, our military’s funds were focused on the Vietnam War; the Moon became a purely civilian project. Or was it?
Conspiracy theorists might claim that a secret base was built, and that NASA’s work was just a cover for it. There are so many conspiracy theories about the Moon and space exploration. At best, they might be a good basis for a game scenario, such as the US versus USSR on the moon in....1970?
(maybe 1980...after all, it is the Russians and they are backward.)
I am impressed at the efficiency of the Army’s plans for making a Moonbase. I assume it could also be built on Mars. With the improved technology of today, a variant could be developed into a quickly-made outpost. The shape of future space bases to come? Who knows? According to NASA, plans are in the works for an above-ground habitat and facilities. These are modular in nature. The NASA plan includes a place for astronauts to live, laboratories and science buildings, plus facilities for landings and launches. Their plan looks to be heavily dependent on solar power,
Moon or Mars, we are still at a stage of technology that would require us to bring everything needed for survival. That means habitat, air, food, and water as well as the means to land and to leave. The Moon is airless and would require a supply of breathable air. The atmosphere of Mars is thin and cannot support Earthly life. While there have been improvements in systems to recycle air and water, they have their limits. Like all other closed systems, they will have a degree of entropy and need to be replenished from time to time.
There will be a time when we can make further use of resources on a faraway planet. An immediate resource is water, which is believed to be frozen under the surface of both the Moon and Mars. There ir probably very little on the Moon. Perhaps science will develop a technology which can be small enough to send in a space ship that would make use of a planet’s minerals for life support. We cannot predict what the future might bring. As things stand now, we have to bring everything for life support with us.
That is a tremendous supply mission! Difficult as it might be to the Moon, which will likely be reachable in two days, the six-month journey to Mars will require extreme logistics.
And so we conclude the Space 1955 talks for now. What with the Army and Air Force doing their own work in 1959, we have a lot of genuine material for our own scenarios, be they miniatures, dioramas or games.
Thanks to Mike Creek for informing us about Project Horizon and the files.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Sci-Fi: Hive Minds, Telepaths, Terminators and Demons

There are aspects of science fiction which border on the esoteric. Some might even be considered the dark side of mystical. Others are extrapolations based on observations of nature. Demons are an occult phenomena, plain and simple. Hive minds exist on our world in the communities of the beehive and the ant colony. Let us take a brief look at them from a sci-fi perspective.

Hive Mind

The Borg of Star Trek share something with the Bugs of Starship Troopers and the monsters of Alien. They are controlled by a higher level of intelligence. In effect, this is a Hive Mind. It works similarly to the unseen intelligence that coordinates an ant colony and bee hive. The hive mind of Starship Troopers was embodied in a class of Bug known as a “brain.” The Borg collective seemed to have a hive mind centered on its ship. In fact, the top of the hive mind was killed off in the first Next Generation movie. Skynet served like a hive mind for all the mechanical weapons and robots in the Terminator franchise.

Member of a hive mind have little or no volition. They are 100% obedient to the Mind that controls them. They can only make choices insofar as fulfilling their assigned work. Even then, it is pretty much reactive. A bee can choose the flowers it visits, but these choices are governed by instinct rather than reason. The bee follows its programming, so to speak, in fulfilling the command of its hive mind.

The A.I.s of Space Above and Beyond are coordinated through a “modem” each has, allowing it to transmit and receive to other A.I.s. However, they are independent units and not part of a hive.

As most hive minds go, the over-mind gives the individual units their orders and dispatches them to where it wants them. The individuals take it from there when they get to the place to do their job. In most cases, these units will do everything in their power to do that job. How far they go is a matter of the degree of volition and intelligence they have. For instance, suppose a large fissure were opened up in the ground between the unit and its objective. Some types might be stopped in their tracks, unable to move.  Others may be stalled until they get new orders. There are some, like ants, who would use members with special capabilities. The rank and file workers might be stalled, but pathfinder units would be alerted and look for a route around or through the obstacle. Once found, they would lead the workers through the new route. A more intelligent type might begin its own efforts to bypass the fissure. It would be driven to fulfill its mission and be possessed of enough intelligence to deal with most unforeseen circumstances. No matter how they stack up, however, the hive creatures would be stalled for a time when confronted with an unexpected obstacle or problem. The amount of time it takes depends on the species. Ants would remain confused until the pathfinders were alerted and went into action. A Terminator had enough programming and artificial intelligence to solve problems on its own. It seems that when one member of the Borg collective solved a problem, others in his hive also gained that ability.

The hive mind provides command and coordination. Destroy the hive mind or block it from communicating to its units, and they would normally hesitate for a turn. Some types would resume their mission and some would hold in place or return from whence they came. Terminators would not hesitate, as they are not reliant on Skynet to direct them through their mission. Skynet never solved the problem of transmitting and receiving signals through time.

Hive minds have their limits. They take time to make changes in their plans and the directions given their units.  Hive minds are predictable because they each have their distinct ways of doing things. They are ponderous, and that makes them slow and predictable.


The Borg leader of the first “Next Generation” movie reminded me of Terminator in having living flesh over metal parts. Her attempt to implant living tissue on the android Data is much like the living flesh developed to cover a Terminator robot. Star Trek’s Borg and the Skynet of the Terminator movies both have aspects of a hive mind. The individual Borg and the Terminators both follow the will dictated by their respective controlling minds. They are programmed to obedience and act at the behest of their hive minds. What makes Terminator different is that he cannot transmit his info back to the future, whereas Borg can relay info back to their hive ship.

Telepaths and empaths

Science fiction has had its share pf psychic types, despite the claim that such practices are un-scientific. Despite all the science, sci-fi has had various characters with telepathic abilities.  They may be mind-readers or persons with the ability to communicate mentally, or both.

Telepathy is one of the psychic powers acknowledged by New Agers, parapsychologists and occultists. Others include clairvoyance, divination, psychokinesis, telekenisis and astral projection. With my background in esoteric spirituality, I know the theory and reality. These are not great powers that make people wise and all-knowing. One thing I will warn you is to avoid those psychic parlors that advertise themselves. The other is to take anyone’s claims of being psychic with a grain of salt the size of a medicine ball.  I have known a very rare few people who had some kind of psychic talent, and even then, it was not 100% and was not all the time.

A telepath or any other psychic is easy to jam by a person who is focused. He can also be jammed by noise, confusion, and anything that interrupts his concentration. They have very limited power to influence others, if at all.


The Terminator franchise centers on a type of robot that is programmed to find and eliminate a target. It is provided with flesh over its metal frame to pass as a living being. A later type is “liquid metal”. There was a comic series from DC in the 1960s called “Metal men” which were a team of robots made of various metals. The one made of Mercury was a liquid robot.

The Terminator is based on a primal fear that shows up in dreams: the implacable pursuer that will not be stopped.

Robots are machines that can be programmed for various tasks. Some can be programmed and then set out on their own to complete their assigned tasks.  Others need to be guided from a control center, much the way drones are controlled. They are implacable because a robot can only follow its programming. It has no alternative choice. Artificial intelligence would give a robot the means to solve problems encountered while fulfilling its mission. A.I, would not give it volition.

For science fiction stories and skirmish games ,a robot could be programmed to attack a specific person or place. It would be a modern-day Assassin, much like the Assassins of the medieval Islamic Ismaili sect in the Middle East. Both are often sent on suicide missions. While the Ismaili would do it for a better place in his afterlife, the robot does it because of programming. The human assassin may feel fear and a host of other emotions that may make him hesitate or change his mind. A robot has neither emotions nor fear of harm to deter it.

Other human versions are the modern suicide bomber and the Japanese kamikaze.

A robot could be programmed to kill by a direct attack on an individual, such as battering, stabbing or shooting. The robot might also carry an explosive which detonates when it reaches its target. During World War II, German combat engineers had a small tracked vehicle called ‘Goliath.” it was packed with explosives and sent on tasks ranging from blowing up anything from barbed wire obstacles to tanks. This was controlled through a long wire and was an early form of attack drone and robot.


Most of the so-called demons are actually breakdown forces happening in realms other than the physical. They are intelligent, and are psychologically programmed to find places to fulfill their purpose. In their rightful place, they are fine. It is when they are taken out of that place that there is trouble.

Think of wood decay. Like it or not, but it has its uses. Without wood decay, our forests would be choked with the remains of dead trees. Take wood decay and place it in a new place, like a house, and it is destructive.

Wood decay’s nature is to seek and find places to do its thing. Offer it a new place, like a porch and it will go to work with the same mechanical efficiency in which it tackles dead logs.  It will stop when it is stopped and returned to its natural place. So it is with demons. Those who invoke them invite them to a place where they can do their thing. If they get out of control, they remain a while and wreak havoc. The reason for problems is this is not their natural place. However, as it is not their place, they eventually go back where they belong, much as a fish that gets beached tries to return to water. There is nothing to keep them here.

In a sci-fi context, a demon would do what it could to prolong its stay, providing their were enough opportunities to do its thing. It would leave only if forced to fo so, or if it no longer found enough opportunities to sustain itself here. Like a robot, it is “programmed” to fulfill its specific mission.


Sci-Fi; Adding Mystical Power to Games

The mix of mystical powers and science fiction is hard enough to reconcile. Though the Warhammer 40,000 series of games seems ot have done it, they are a genre all their own. Warhammer blends science fiction and fantasy and technologies that have long since passed plausible reality. It is strictly a game that stands alone. Most science fiction does not blend the two easily. 
The following examples are ideas on what might be usable in sci-fi games. They are general concepts which can be adapted to fit within a game. I wrote them with the intention that they serve as idea which others would want to alter and adapt to fit their own games. Please feel free to adapt as you see fit.
Shambattle Spy Rule: Each side designates one soldier of the enemy to act as a spy. This figure is played as a normal soldier on the other wise. The spymaster chooses when to activate him. At that point, he is operated by the spymaster. He can be used to attack enemy soldiers.
In my opinion, there have to be limits. He cannot be an officer. You may have to limit what kind of soldier he is. Maybe he cannot be a heavy weapons man, or an elite trooper, etc.
Telepaths and empaths: there is little use for telepathy in the heat of a battle. Like most psychic skills, its use is for non-combat situations. Indeed, most psychics cannot use their skills when under duress, such as in a gunfight. They need time and enough calm to concentrate. The one use in a battle game would be to expose the spy. Should a telepath come within a half move of a spy, the agent is exposed. To make it harder, neither the telepath nor those within a half move of him can have fired that move. The also cannot be involved in hand to hand combat or the operation of a weapon.
Zen / The Force: A fighter using spiritual power will have certain advantages. The use of Zen and the Force are both legendary in their respective fields. The first obvious effect is to enhance the fighter’s offense and defense in close combat. A fighter can strike and deflect weapons.
A second enhancement is for those fighters who may use aimed weapons. They will have improved accuracy, like snipers. Think of Luke using the force to aim his missiles in the first Star Wars movie, or a Zen Kyudo archer hitting target.
The Force allows a fighter to move objects and attack at a distance. He can push an enemy or knock him down, depending on his skill.
With Zen and the Force, there are levels of ability. We can simplify this for game purposes. These would be Novice, Average and Master. We think of a novice as Luke first learning to use the Force. A Master is a highly accomplished fighter. Historical figures like Miyamoto Musashi and fictional characters like Obi Wan and Darth Vader are masters.
A Novice gets +1 when defending and attacking with a sword or light saber. If using the Force he can also deflect one shooter per turn using a standard firearm. (This is not a Zen power, except whe ndeflecting arrows and hand-launched projectiles).
An Average warrior gets +2 on attack and defense. A Force user can deflect 2 shooters per turn using standard personal firearms.
A Master gets +3 on attack and defense. Usoign the Force, he can deflect three shooters with personal weapons or one squad-level heavy weapon.
As novices have yet to develop enough concentration, they must roll before using the Force. On a six-sided die (not the nerdy D&D dice) 1 and 2 he fails the concentrate and so fight as a normal fighter.
An average Force fighter who is not shooting or in close combat can stop an opponent at 1/2 move away. This does not work on other Force users, nor on officers, as they have developed sufficient will to be unaffected. The affected individual cannot move for 1 move.
A Master force fighter can push an opponent to the ground at 1/2 move. The individual cannot move for 1 turn and fights at -1 for one turn. If the opponent is an Average Force user, he can only push him back. A Master can use this skill against anyone with whom he is not engaged in combat.
Like a telepath, a Force fighter will detect a spy at up to 1/2 move away.
A Master is going to be a very powerful piece in a game, so steps must be taken to retain game balance.
Rule of Three: to make close combat more practical ,we had invented the Rule of Three for the updated Shambatte (A Game for Old Fashioned Toy Soldiers) and OMOG. A figure attacked by three figures resolves combat thus:
In a 2 to 1 fight, the single fighter is penalized:
He fights at -1 against the first enemy
He fights at -2 against the second foe
If there is a third enemy in the fight, the defender still fights the first and second enemies as above. The third automatically kills him. This Rule applies to all normal fighters and the Novice.
For fighters using the Force, an Average level fighter has the Rule of three extended to a Rule of Four. He gets -1 for the first enemy, -2 each for the 2nd and 3rd enemies, and is automatically killed if there is a 4th enemy.
For a master, he fights the first enemy at no loss, the second fighter at -1, and additional enemies at -2. He is not automatically killed, no matter how many are in the melee..
Thinking of Sci Fi commanders, who would be my picks? Kirk was too much of a hothead and too impatient. He got a lot of people killed. Not a guy you want on your side in a gunfight. Adama was too laid back. Picard was passable., Archer and Crichton both would be good in small actions with a squad or smaller. Darth Vader was good with small units and larger operations. He would be a good man to have on your side in a small gunfight and a larger assault.
Vader’s problem is the material with which he must work. Let’s face it, folks, Imperial Stormtroopers are matched by Star Trek’s red-shirt security for coming up short in a fight. If Vader had troops like the mobile infantry of Starship Trooper, he would have done wonders. Even with mediocre troops, Darth Vader got things done

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

SciFi: Space, Mystics and Magick

Though science fiction, fantasy and horror are often lumped together, they are three very distinct genre. Science fiction deals with speculative fiction based on science, be it the science of the present, future, or an alternate world. Fantasy deals with non-scientific realms based on folklore, myth and magick. Horror involves both criminal acts and the work of monsters. While the premises behind some characters may seem occult, Horror’s essential nature is to entertain via the terrible and ghastly.

We expect the mystical in fantasy. Wizards, sorcerers, and magickal entities are part and parcel of the genre. Books like The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, the Conan series by Robert E Howard and Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson typify the fantasy genre. In the aforementioned examples, the protagonists encounter strange mythic beasts and magick-wielding adversaries.

Fantasy was separate from science fiction for one simple reason: plausible deniability. Many felt that science and spirit were separate matters. For many sci-fi buffs, things had to have a scientific explanation, even if it were based on fictional science or things not yet developed.  A science fiction writer who incorporated any mystical or magickal elements had to tread lightly. It was too easy to slip past the thin line of plausible deniability.

The original Star Trek series had a few episodes that touched mystical subjects. For example, one involved a “Roman planet” and worshipers of the Sun / Son. Another had the crew encounter the Greek God Apollo. Even then, there was an attempt at a scientific explanation. More often than not, those that dealt with unusual phenomena found a rational explanation for it. Apparently, in the Star Trek universe, telepathy and empaths were within the realm of science, but sorcery was not.

The Star Wars franchise introduced its own mystic element known as The Force. According to its lore, the Force was a power that could be used for good and evil. Certain knightly mystics known as Jedi and Sith learned to use the Force. These characters were like the Japanese Yamabushi warrior monks. Unlike the Yamabushi (lit. “mountain warriors”), the knights could use the Force to influence others and move objects. For instance, near the first movie’s end, the hero drops into a Zen-like state to let the Force guide him to launch his missile accurately.

What is this Force? It is like bits of the Astral, Ki / Chi, Prana,  Megin / Magna / Macht, Wyrd and synchronicity all rolled into one. Of course, the power is fictional and any connection to actual mystical or occult phenomena is tenuous at best.

Star Trek Deep-Space Nine had its own mystical aspect involving the Bajorans and their religious connection to the Prophets, which were actually “wormhole aliens.” On the bad side were something like demons, one of which was called Kosst Amojan. Prophets and the demons could possess people. Of all the Star Trek series, this one was most connected to a mystical and religious trend.
Farscape. and the other Star Trek franchises had their own occasional contacts with mystical events and beings. Farscape’s search for the wormhole itself was bizarre and at times esoteric. The character Q on Star Trek’s The Next Generation and Farscape’s Zahn and Stark each had mystical attributes.

Too much of the mystical in a science fiction story can dislodge fans who insists on science.

A peculiar thing about science fiction is that many aliens are similar to the appearance and mannerism of mythic beings. Star Trek’s Klingons are like orcs or hostile imps. The Vulcans and Romulans have a similarity to the old Norse light and dark elves, respectively. The Scarrans of Farscape are a hominid dragon species. Scorpius is a wraith or ghoul. Star Trek’s Jawas are like dwarves who work with metal things. The Wookie could be Bigfoot or a wood troll.
Several members of the crews of various science fiction series correlate with mythic roles. One finds the Jupiterian leader, Mars warrior, Venus love interest, and so on. We find a similar thread in Captains Kirk, Picard and Archer, John Crichton, Adama and Han Solo. Scotty, Worff and Ka Dargo share more than a volatile temperament. Many a successful ensemble follows older patterns of storytelling.

Darth Vader is a mirror image of the heroic Captains and Commanders mentioned earlier. He is the same type but works for the opposition.

So why have we not seen these patterns before? We have! Prior to the rise of science fiction on television and movies, the Western genre was the popular milieu for storytelling. Instead of the crew of a star ship, the ensemble members were the townsfolk of Gunsmoke, the family of Bonanza and the various characters of Maverick. You may have noticed that Lorne Greene played a similar type character both as Ben Cartwright, family patriarch of Bonanza, and Adama, commander of a battle-star ship. It is all part of telling a good story

Science Fiction is the mythology of the present and future. In view of Dr. Carl Jung’s work on archetypes, it should be no surprise when an old magickal myth re-emerges in a modern scientific context.

Personally, I find that many attempts to include the mystical with science fiction fall short. Brief encounters such as those in the original series of Star Trek are fine, so long as they remain well within the limits of plausible deniability. With my background of esoteric spirituality, I find that many writers do not have enough knowledge of the mystical to include it in science fiction and remain plausible.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine overplayed the “wormhole aliens” and the Bajoran mysticism. The series went from science fiction to occult drama, complete with bizarre rites, demonic possession and evocation of evil spirits. That is the kind of thing you expect in a horror movie, not a science fiction series.

Gaming with mystical elements has been around since the 1970s. The Chainmail miniature game for Medieval Warfare added a fantasy supplement to accommodate entities from various popular books and myths. This later evolved into the pinnacle of nerdware, Dungeons and Dragons. The game blended magickal and other esoteric properties with Medieval weapons and combat techniques.  This was strictly within the fantasy genre, where science has little impact.

The Chainmail fantasy supplement included several magickal spells that could be used in miniature battles.

Science fiction is a very different genre. Mystical and magickal powers would have a much smaller place. As with nerdware like Dungeons and Dragons, it could be used in a role-playing game.  For sci-fi battle and skirmish games, the impact of magick and mystical powers would be limited. Things like the Vulcan Mind Meld and wormhole aliens would not find a place, as these are things that occur in non-combat situations. In fact, most of the mystical things added to science fiction stories tend to happen only outside of combat.

One mystical power that has combat application is the Force of Star Wars. The Force can improve a fighter’s ability to aim and to use a weapom. A person with enough Force can deflect projectiles and other weapons. An expert can use it to influence others, move objects and attack at a distance. The trick for gamer makers is balance. A character could become too powerful and offset the balance of the game. On the other hand, too little power lowers the value of such a character.


I have been exploring the varieties of spirituality for decades. As was said, I’ve been “...from Alchemy to Zen and back again.”  This is not to say I am expert in the many systems that I researched. I spent more time with some than others. Several were studied and experienced in depth, others with less interest.

One thing that must be noted is that a religion may seem bizarre to outsiders, but it is perfectly normal to its adherents. Here is an example:

A fellow I knew was stationed in Thailand with the Air Force. He became romantically involved with a local woman and they decided to be married. The man was Catholic and wanted to have a Catholic wedding. He took his beloved to the nearest English-speaking Catholic church to make arrangements.

The results were not what he expected.

Behind the altar of the church was a large crucifix with a painted statue of Jesus mounted on it. There were other statues in the place, as well.  The Thai woman was mortified. She was terribly frightened by the large statue of a man being crucified with bloody wounds and thorny crown. The Buddhist woman left in terror and refused to go back.

Catholics and most folks from Western countries take a crucifix in stride. Whether Christian or not, they know the basic Jesus story and are familiar with the cross as a religious symbol. They also have seen the Catholic crucifix and know its context. People from other cultures may regard it as strange and  frightening. By the same token, Christians from the West may see Hindu and Shinto rites as weird. Even within Western culture, adherents of conventional religions may find Rosicrucian rites exotic and eerie. Those familiar with Western esotericism would see nothing unsettling about them.

Whether sci fi or not, unfamiliar religious and spiritual practices may look bizarre. Again, those involved in those beliefs consider them perfectly normal. For writers of sci-fi, it is a good distinction to understand when writing of alien rites and beliefs.


Tomorrow's article will include suggested rules for adding special powers like The Force and telepathy to skirmish games.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Review: Hasbro’s Star Wars Command army men

Two things I like in a figure are historical accuracy and realism. I like good poses, good detail and good proportions. A miniature soldier is a story in itself. I like to look at a figure and see the story of the character it portrays.
The Star Wars Command figures, which are Star Wars army men, are some of the best figures I have seen in the science fiction genre. Good detail and animated poses make them a charm. They are true to the movie characters they portray. When you look at a Star Wars figure, you know exactly who he is and what he is doing. That is, if you know the movies. My only complaint about the figures themselves is that a few have smallish heads. That is it. The choice of poses and even the plastic colors are just right.
I ordered a 51-piece figure set from an Amazon vendor and two smaller sets from Hasbro Toy Shop on Ebay. Wow! Nice figures all around. Along with the various rebel and Imperial troops are characters such as Wookies and Tusken Sand people. They look good. Whether making a diorama of a Star Wars gunfight or playing a skirmish game, the Hasbro Star Wars army men are excellent.
The science fiction genre occasionally gets some really nice figures. The old Ajax figures had six poses of classic spacemen that looked good. Archer’s spacemen were nice, too. Marx produced astronauts, spacemen and aliens worth having. One of the best and most common sets in the old days was by MPC. They were Mercury-type astronauts in various poses. The original MPC figures were well-posed and sculpted. They were followed in the 1970s by the Tim Mee Galaxy Laser Team.
The Star Wars figures are fun both for fans of the movie franchise and for sci-fi skirmish gamers. For games, there are armored infantry, light troops, unarmored station personnel and some weird aliens. In fact, you could easily build a heavy infantry squad with the Stormtroopers. They have a kneeling and standing figure with a short submachine-gun sized weapon and a "sandtrooper" with what looks like a light machine gun. There is even a binoculars guy among the Stormtroopers.
Two things I like: good minatures and good sci-fi. I liked the first two Star Wars movies because they were entertaining. I had a problem with the third and its teddy bear Ewoks. I tried to watch the fourth on cable, but it was a kiddie movie. Good sci fi is not kiddie cutesy. Good sci fi is gritty and tough. The first two Star Wars movies had enough edge to them. Farscape and Starship Troopers did not pull their punches, either. That’s what I like.
The figure sets I bought were mostly characters from the first two movies. Like good sci fi, the figures were in animated poses and had the right detail and realism. These are the kind of space army men I will enjoy having. They have character.
I understand that Hasbro has discontinued the series, so get while the getting is good. I found a great deal at the Hasbro Toy Shop on Ebay. They have four sets total. I got good deals on Amazon, but it seems the 51 piece set is now over $20. Get `em while you can because these are nice figures and great pieces for space skirmish games.
If we judge by movies and TV shows, some of the worst soldiers in space are the Imperial Stormtroopers and original Star Trek’s redshirts. They are lousy shots and take a lot of casualties. Most movie bad guys are like that.
As an Army veteran, I would think Imperial stormtroopers and Federation of Planets redshirts would be much more formidable. They would be trained to fight and defend. They would be given intensive weapons training, especially in using personal weapons. The stormtroopers and redshirts would also be taught to disperse and use cover rather than "bunch up" in a mob. Were they handled more realistically, security forces would be crack shots who attacked and defended with skill. Amateurs would have no chance against them.
A squad of soldiers just out of basic training in Fort Dix circa 1972 could make short work of a platoon of Imperial Stormtroopers or Federation redshirts. Imagine a sci fi story where the enemy is formidable. Imagine he is motivated, trained and very skillful in use of weapons and tactics. He is a good shot! That would be a good story, indeed!

Review: Aliens vs. Colonial Marines Army Men by Nanotech / Diamond Select toys

The “Alien” science fiction franchise is a successful blend of sci-fi and horror. The series pits humans against a particularly volatile species of acid-dripping alien creatures. These monsters are fast, crafty and hard to kill. Good writing, good casting and good visual effects made the Alien movies a success. There was a slight deviation to a series of “Alien versus Predator” movies that did not fare well. However, the release of the movie “Prometheus” set the series back on course and assured its future.

Over ten years ago ,a company named Tree House Kids released a playset of Alien and Colonial Marine figures. The Aliens looked pretty good. The Marines were a bit gawky, with spindly legs. The sets was not well-publicized and was not produced for long.

Recently, a new set was made. These are sold in a bag like traditional toy soldiers. There are supposed to be 35 figures (mine was missing a marine, and so only had 34) There are 20 aliens and 15 (supposedly) marines. Each side is in five poses. Measuring from bottom of foot to top of head, the Marines are in the 45mm scale range. The Aliens are slighly shorter. Sculpting of the marines is thick. The Aliens sculpting is better.

Four marines carry those odd assault rifles, and one has the supposedly heavier weapon. It looks more like an FG42 from World War II. Aliens are in standing, walking, head butting and kneeling poses.

In size comparison, these figures are dwarfed by 54mm size soldiers. The Aliens would be better suited to opposing troops in the 30mm to 40mm range.
30mm SAE figure, Colonial Marine, 54mm Tim Mee Soldeir
For $8.99 plus shipping, not bad, but nothing great, either. We got ours from the Big Bad Toy Store. They have a good reputation and shipped quickly enough. (The missing marine was not their fault - the folks in China made the mistake.)
30mm SAE figure, Alien, 54mm Tim Mee brand soldier

They would not be bad for a sci-fi game, but will be notably undersized against normal 50mm to 60mm figures. For soldier collectors, size compatibility of Marines would be with the Payton and old Marx training camp set figures. had the lowest prices that I have seen.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Retro Space part 2 - Space Tanks and Space 1955

Space Tank

What would a space tank be like in 1955?  If energy weapons were unavailable, how might it work?  We cam imagine that in low gravity, the recoil of the main gun would rock the tank ferociously. I am reminded of stories crewmen told of the old M551 Sheridan Light Tank. Its 152mm gun was great for firing the Shillelagh missile. Using the conventional rounds was another matter. It rocked the vehicle and knocked out the missile launcher’s electronics. The main gun of a tank firing a 76mm gun or larger would likely do the same or worse in low gravity.

The big problem is having an engine large enough to power the tank. We have already discussed the problem of engines, fuel and the need for oxygen. The tank would require an electric motor and a very large battery. That meant it would have to be relatively light. Vehicles the size of the Patton series (M46, M47, M48) then in use would be too heavy both to transport and to power.

Solutions existed at the time for the gun and the tank’s size. The recoilless rifle and rocket launcher were both viable weapons which had little recoil. The problems were that they had a back blast and that the shells would have to carry their own oxygen if used in a vacuum or a low-oxygen atmosphere. One of the weapons of the time combined a one-man tank with six recoilless rocket launchers mounted on the outside of the hull. The Ontos was used by the Marine Corp in Vietnam as a type of mobile direct-fire artillery. Such a vehicle was light enough that it could be battery-powered with 1950s technology. Of course, it would require significant alteration.

Another light vehicle tested by the Army could have been used. The experimental T92 light tank could be adapted to carry a recoilless weapon on top. Many light tanks could be fitted with external missiles the size of the Nike, Hawk and Little John rockets. One successful type of mounting was for small rockets. The American Calliope and Soviet Katyusha could be fitted to light vehicles. Each fired a battery of small rockets.

For the recoilless rifle and rocket launcher to be recoilless, the backblast would have to be directed outside the vehicle. There would also have to be some space between the back of the vehicle and another object like a wall or cliff.  There is always a give and take with weapons systems. For the ability to fire without recoil, the backblast is a problem

Reloading can be difficult. Perhaps an automatic system would be made to slide the tube forward, bringing the back end into the crew compartment for reloading. The Swedish S tank had its breech in back, outside the vehicle. Someone would have to go outside to reload. The Ontos also had to be loaded from outside. That is not very convenient in the midst of a battle!

A vehicle would have enough room to make a recoil-absorbing buffer for light automatic weapons. A light machine gun could be used with a recoil buffer.

Among good toy tanks to convert into retro vehicles are the old MPC snap together toys. The four that are easiest to get are the tank destroyer (loosely based on the T92), open carrier with 106mm gun based on the Weasel, and an open-back Armored Personnel Carrier. These could easily be converted to retro space combat vehicles. Indeed, they can also be made into futuristic ones.

MPC also had a heavy carrier track and an open-backed track. These are harder to find, but are easily made into model space vehicles.

Marx made several tracked space vehicles for its Operation Moonbase playsets. These included a tracked wrecker, tracked vehicle with water or fuel tanks, and a vehicle with plow. All had hooks to pull a trailer and giant wheels. These wheels were supposed to be a way to transport liquids. There was also an eight-wheeled vehicle that looked like a large armored car. Marx’s vehicles were mostly one-piece castings with snap-on wheels underneath and perhaps one or two snap-on parts.

The Hamilton’s invaders sets had an odd “tank” and armored car with clear dome cockpits. The tank was more like an assault gun.

Projectile weapons in space

Projectiles such as bullets and heavier rounds work according to the laws of physics. On Earth with its gravity and atmosphere, the path of a shell is affected by velocity, gravity and windage. Windage is the flow of air that may push a round off course. Higher velocity can minimize the affect of windage.

Three things will stop a round: gravity, air resistance and an object. Velocity can resist all of them, to a point. As the round loses velocity, gravity will exert more force until it pulls it to the ground. The only exception is if the round hits an object solid enough to stop it. Air resistance and objects cause the round to lose velocity.  Light objects slow it down more than air. Heavier objects can slow or stop it. Gravity itself will pull a projectile down eventually.

A low atmosphere means less air resistance, so the projectile travels further. The same goes for low gravity. A vacuum offers no resistance. The projectile will proceed unless it hits an object or gravity gets it. With enough velocity, it can travel over the curve of a planet to escape gravity, at least theoretically. On the other hand, denser atmosphere and stronger gravity will slow a bullet faster then Earth’s normal atmosphere.

Theoretically, a pellet fired in deep space could travel at its original velocity indefinitely. The reality is that it would be affected by solar winds, cosmic rays, and the minuscule gravity from very distant celestial objects. A bullet would travel a very long distance, at least thousands of miles, before various cosmic forces slowed it significantly. It may even be able to go millions of miles, like the Voyager space mission.

For the soldier fighting in a low atmosphere, low gravity situation, it means that he can shoot further. Of course, he will have to learn to compensate his aim for the new conditions. At normal combat ranges, he will be more vulnerable. Projectiles will be coming at him faster and harder than usual. In some cases, a 9mm pistol fired in low gravity and low atmosphere could have the range and impact of a 30.06 rifle on Earth.

Machine guns would likely need a large recoil buffer for low gravity. While such a thing could easily be added to a vehicle, it might be bulky and awkward for infantry using light machine guns like the Browning .30 caliber and the M60. The buffer might have to be carried separately from the weapon. It would be put on while setting up the weapon.
Grenades, like ammunition, would have to carry their own oxygen for use in low or no atmosphere conditions. A special explosive would be needed that yielded a high blast for very little oxygen. Concussion and fragmentation grenades might not have the same blast power as their conventional counterparts used in atmosphere. Then again, in a low or no atmosphere with low gravity, fragments would not meet resistance from air.  The blast effect would be less than a normal grenade, but the fragmentation may be the same or even greater without resistance of air and gravity.

Thermite grenades would require an air supply. They might even be issued in two parts: a thermite can and an oxygen tank of the same size. Incendiary grenades would have little impact in low atmosphere or vacuum environments. Fire needs oxygen, and the kind of fire sets by incendiaries would need a lot of it.

Explosive warheads on rockets, missiles and other ordnance would need enough air to ignite. An oxygen supply might be built into an air-tight warhead. Again, science would have to develop an explosive that needed less air to do its work.

Whose Op Is It Anyway?

The norm is that the branch of service who first develops or discovers something is the one who owns it. Secret German technology from World War II would have been the province of the Army. The Navy would be the one turning up Japanese secret technology, since they operated across the Pacific. That is, except for operations in New Guinea and the Phillipines. Those were Army operations.
Our secret technology would have been found by the Army. That would have invoked Army Intelligence and the Office of Strategic Services. Because of its expertise in flying ,the Army Air Corps would play a dominant role in the future of the technology. I believe the whole operation would be assumed by the Air Force when it was formed from the Army in 1947.

Operating crews for the new technology would be Air Force personnel. Security would be provided by the Air Police. The Air Force has few personnel trained for sustained ground combat. These include liasons from the Strategic Air Command who travel with Army combat operations. They direct air support, especially bombers. The other are the Air Commandos, an elite unit trained for rescuing downed pilots under fire. Normally, air bases are distant enough that any ground combat will be handled by the Army.
For forays with the space technology, the Air Force will have ways to consolidate successful landings. They would create their own landing force that would include explorers, security personnel, engineers to build temporary structures etc. As combat troops for on-planet situations, they have options. They may create special armed landing parties, somewhat similar to the traditional Naval use of Marines. They may also develop larger ground formations or they may transport Army personnel for the purpose. The problem is one of purpose. The Air Force is supposed to fly. Ground operations are the work of the Army.

Either way, ground troops would need specialized training and would probably have to go through a screening process.

Would NASA or something like it emerge as a space program? Might the space operations eventually become a separate branch? Might this branch handle non-combat exploration, evoking the military only when needed? We have seen the evolution of NASA away from the Air Force to become its own civilian government agency. Many of its space crewmen are from Air Force and Navy Aviation. A specific branch for space travel makes sense.

Though space travel might be available, it would not change the status of things here on Earth all that much. There would still be tensions between nations. The military would be needed to protect the country. Just as NASA has not caused the end of conflicts here, so a Space 1955 situation would not end it in an alternate reality. The Air Force would be committed to national defense. Creating a separate branch focusing strictly on space would allow the Air Force to stick to its mission. nonetheless, the Air Force would be the guiding military branch to handle space travel in the early years of the program. When the split would be made is hard to decide. Space still might be strictly Air Force in 1955. Then again, it may already be transitioning into another arm of the government, in the alternate history scenario.


Sergeant Horner leaned back in his chair, taking a sip of beer. He looked at the fellows at his table, grinned, and finished his tale,”

“Now, you know how dusty it is out at the G5 sector on the big red rock. We were holding off at least a squad of Bemmies out there. Lousy shots. Those big buggy eyes don’t help them aim any better...”

The other soldiers guffawed knowingly. Almost everyone sitting in that NCO club knew the Bemmies’ reputation for poor marksmanship.

“Okay, so we just about scattered them when my arm shakes and I hear a crack.  The damn bug-eyes got a lucky shot and hit my M9's stock. Blasted the air reservoir. I was about to crawl over and grab the side-arm from the kit box when three of them rushed me. They love the hand-to-hand fight.”

The other men nodded. It was a known fact that the Bemmies liked to brawl rather than shoot.

“I dropped what was left of the rifle. Those buggy bums thought they had me, but I gave them a surprise that they never recovered from. I snatched up my entrenching tool and let them have it.  Wham! Wham! Wham! Shattered their face plates and let that “healthy” Martian atmosphere do the rest. Ya gotta love that tool. Best thing to come out of the last World War,” Horner said.