ZONA: The Chistoysk run.

Playing ZONA last night, our STALKER-flavored skirmish rules. Four STALKERs visited the town of Chistoysk near the Black Woods. The Fat Man wanted a cell tower in town repaired and was offering a wad of rubles to get it done.

“Plus,” he said. “I hear one of the RMUs stashed a bit of gear in the area. It goes missing, who’s to say how that happened, eh?”

The team agreed it was worth their time and took the job.

“One last thing,” the Fat Man added as they headed toward the door. “You might want to keep an eye out for Rotters. The fast kind, not shufflers. Zoombies,” he cackled.

Derek spit on the pavement. “Derr`mo. I thought this sounded too easy.”

“If it was easy,” John said. “Anyone could do it.”

Pat cracked his shotgun open and loaded two shells. “Off we go, then.”


The game began with four players entering from the south edge. Chistoysk is considered a Threat Level Two zone and has three Hot Spots in addition to the mission objective. Three groups of hostiles are present at the start go the game: two small packs of Ragers and one Rager brute.


The first couple turns saw the players advancing. Pat and Matt entered the nearest building. John pressed through to the Hot Spot on their left, while Derek went on an end run, angling through the ruins for the Hot Spot on the right.


Matt climbed to the top floor and immediately began shooting zombies. He dropped one straightway, which might not have been the wisest move. He may have thinned the herd but he also got their attention. Following the simple AI rules, the hostiles all began to converge on the sound.


This left Pat downstairs fending off a mob of rabid undead. After fumbling his (only) Molotov cocktail and scorching the building’s already devastated exterior, he spent a number of activations frantically blasting away with his double barrel shotgun (great in CQB but needs reloading every two shots) or hacking away with his machete.

Meanwhile John headed toward the Hot Spot on the second floor of the nearby building.

“Oh quit whining. You’ll be fine,” he yelled to Pat. “There’s only 8 of them.”

John triggered the Hot Spot, spawning feral dogs, who immediately clambered up to attack him. Derek suffered an empathy spasm and turned aside to help Pat by picking off  Zekes from a distance with his AK74.


After a lot of blood, bullets, swearing, and a near-death experience, all the Zekes and Dogs were down. John not only salvaged a Med-Kit from the cache, but found an Anomaly containing an Artifact. (Granted +1″ to his Movement)

Pat staggered to his feet, blinked at the freshly re-killed undead piled around him, and went down the road after John, who was heading toward the Cell Tower. Derek followed at a distance, picking a path through the debris on the first floor of the central apartment building. Oddly, Matt remained in his third-floor perch.

“I gotta bad feeling,” Derek muttered.

As John and Pat approached the cell tower, Matt’s homicidal tendencies surfaced. “If I can’t have the mission objective,” he thought in profanity-laced Russian. “No one can.” And with that, he began shooting.


Treachery: the wounds of a friend. John and Pat are shot in the back. No objective for them.

Derek quickly scrambled to cover. Peering out a broken window, he stared at the building at the southern edge of town.

“How am I gonna kill this guy?” he thought.



We called it after that perfidious display of mercenary ambition and callousness.

It was a good game. Tense as the Zekes and Dogs piled on. The other two Hot Spots went un-searched, and of course no one got the Mission Objective. I’m going to tweak the On-Table Hostiles and maybe add spawning points in order to pressure players into cooperating more than killing one another. Not that you can’t do it. The Zone is a dangerous place.  I just want that to be a difficult, momentous decision.

Thanks as always to the members of the Cape Cod Wargame Commission.

Have a great day.


Oh and if you’re in a STALKER state of mind, A Prayer to Saint Strelok is available at Amazon. Thanks.

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New Terrain and ZP pictures

Coming off the holiday break, last night’s game session was more shooting the breeze than miniature foes. Everyone was more intent on hanging out and chatting than getting serious about a game. That said we did a quick brawl that let me put two new terrain pieces on the table: a ruined apartment building and a swamp. The building is an MDF kit, the swamp pieces scratch- built with wood bases, foam core, water effects, flock and Woodland Scenics tall grass.

We used Zona Perestrelki – our STALKER-flavored skirmish rules – for quick combat.

The battle ground: a refueling station eleven kilometers inside the north perimeter of the Zone.
The swamp
“Look behind you!”
Stalkers and scientist make it to the fence.
ZERTs (Zone Enforcement and Recovery Team) facing down a pack of feral dogs.
Bandits scrounging for petrol
ZERTs at an old supply truck. Something valuable inside, perhaps?

There’s more ZP in the pipeline, but for the foreseeable future, we’ll be doing old-school RPGs (both Interface Zero Cyberpunk and straight up DnD) and a short ASOBH campaign, “The Treasure of Sagra-Bayar.” I’m finishing the brushwork on the character figs this week and will post photos later.

In the meantime, corny as it sounds, I was struck by a deep sense of gratitude when the guys walked in last night; it’s a great hobby with great people and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Have a good day.

And if you’re in a STALKER mood, A Prayer to Saint Strelok is available for your reading pleasure. Spasibo!

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Games that stick.


I’ve been thinking about games that have durability, replay-ability, longevity.

As anyone familiar with hobbyists and the hobby industry knows, “Shiny” comes and goes. Indeed the hobby industry is built on ‘shiny’ and every gamer worth his salt has a lead/plastic pile that bears mute witness to the fickle siren song of new figs, a new range of figs, a different scale, genre, time period… Let’s all admit that most of the war games on Kickstarter are miniatures-driven – not rules driven. Coming to my ‘end-of-year’ game room clean up this week, I’m definitely guilty as charged.

But between tidying the game room and some recent attention to my home-brew rules, I’ve been thinking about the war games that last after the shine fades and asking ‘What games do I/other gamers return to and keep playing year after year? And why?’

I know the answers are different and flavored by individual experience and preference. Some people started playing DnD decades ago when they were Stranger Things kids and have stuck with it through all its editions. Others move on to Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 2020 because they scratch that Neon and Mirrorshade itch and there’s no need to look elsewhere. (Ain’t that right omae?)  Some sink their teeth into 40K early on and cling to it like a Pitbull all their days. ( I think that’s what GW wants) When I posed this question on TMP, nearly 50 historical gamers listed rules like DBA, HoTT, Johnny Reb, Lion Rampant, Dragon Rampant, and so on.

For a SF/F gamer like me: in no particular order and off the top of my head, I’ve played VOR, Void, Celtos, Chronopia, Warzone, CAV, Stargrunt 2, and Full Thrust. I did a stint with THW’s Bugs, 5150, and After the Horsemen. I’ve tried 40K, Necromunda, Inquisitor, and Space Hulk. Then there’s Warmachine and  Hordes, Iron Ivan’s Disposable Heroes and Ambush Alley games. (I know I’m forgetting some.) Now add Board Games, RPGs, Quick Start versions and Indie rules like One Page X, and the locust swarm of games I’ve read but never played/played once, and the trail of game rules behind me looks like a the footprints of an epic quest or an addict’s detritus. (a bit of both, I suspect)


As far as I can discern, a game’s ‘longevity’ factor has multiple ingredients ranging from brand loyalty, local availability of players, and personal experience/associations, to the quality of related miniatures. But there are also underlying currents of simplicity and versatility. Those seem to be crucial.

Across the board, the common denominator in rule sets that seem to stick is that they are a reliable, straightforward framework to hang the action/story on. Sure, there may be particular flavoring and a degree of crunch/gritty detail, but the appeal seems to be that a player can plug in their force and play the game, not the rules. Combat, Movement, Morale, Special Abilities and Genre Specifics are resolved in the background while the battle, the story, is allowed to come front and center. IMO, the primary reason DnD and RPGs remain so popular is they provide mechanisms for players to participate in a common adventure, in a story.

The challenge is to translate that robust, functional dynamic to a war game, into a mock battle. The hitch is that most miniature war games seem to have been built on the back of RPGs and the detail level that’s so enjoyable and necessary for a player character in a dungeon crawl doesn’t scale up to platoon, regiment, and brigade level. Defeating Nash-Zaroth the Liche King requires the same kind of ‘combined arms’ flexibility as taking Istvaan IV in the Andromeda system, but the fine detail needs to be abstracted and smoothed out. Otherwise, the flow of the game/battle grinds to a chart consulting, modifier algorithm factoring, special rule quoting halt. CLUNK – players are disengaged, thrown out of the story, and there goes the fun. And I contend FUN is the real reason we’re still playing with toy soldiers and making up cool stories.

So as I approach Game Room Cleaning Day, not only am I going to take a hard look at the clutter, (expect a new batch of items For Sale) but in refining Zona Perestrelkimy STALKER-flavored, home brew skirmish rules –  I want bake in the brooding, dangerous, specifics of the Exclusion Zone but always remain mindful of honing the mechanisms to support the story, the mission, the game play, not bog it down.

It’ll take time, some sweat, and not a little bit of play- testing, but whether or not ZP gets picked up, that’s going to be a goal for 2018.


Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year to you all.


PS: the short story A Prayer to Saint Strelok is available at Amazon if you feel like getting in the mood. Enjoy.

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As the setting for a skirmish wargame setting?

Are you kidding? If you have ever played any of the STALKER PC games, you shouldn’t be asking that question. And if you haven’t played STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, Call of Pripyat, or Clear Sky, you need to get on that. Right now.

Dark, brooding, creeping dread punctuated by moments of pulse-spiking terror as you scavenge the irradiated countryside around Chernobyl searching for valuable, other-worldly artifacts.

Face down bandits, blind, feral dogs, mutant boars, and shuffling waves of mind-wiped zombified soldiers. Hunt invisible, swamp-dwelling Cthulhu-esque bloodsuckers, collect the bounty on deformed psychic horrors, and always watch out for Snorks.

Zona Perestrelki (Russian for ‘Zone Firefights’) will combine the solid game engine of our “Cleared To Engage” rules with the distinct STALKER-themed hostile environment and a simple campaign system that will allow you to transform a bumbling group of Molodovs into Zone-hardened veterans – if they live long enough.

My Chechen Wars Kickstarter miniatures are slated to arrive first of the year, so look for them in AARs of our ZP playtest games Q1 2018.

Until then,


gas mask 4  STALKER3


Chechen Wars 28mm Kickstarter


Yeah I know. Great idea – not always the best experience. Incessant delays, poor communications, long-winded excuses, sub- par products, partial fulfillment… I’m 50/50 Good to Bad projects over the past five years. And lately, I’ve given up altogether. It’s just not worth the hassle. Sure, nice figs/game/terrain but I’ll wait until they’re available at regular retail.


I relented for this one:


Three Reasons Why: 

Igor Karpov: sculptor behind Lead Adventure’s Post Apocalyptic, VSF, and Bruegelburg range. Nice, chunky figs, detailed without being fussy, bucket loads of character.

Jan 2018 Delivery: The figs are made, reputable company, the caster is lined up, everything’s ready to go. No ’12 to 18 month’ estimated delivery.

Russians with Guns: Blame STALKER. I have a vodka-soaked soft spot for Russian-flavored settings and while these are billed for Chechen War, they’re perfect for any near-future/post-apocalyptic skirmish games. (like STALKER, right?)

The figs are good. (metal too) Price is reasonable. Delivery time acceptable. Go have a look and see if you couldn’t find a spot for some of these.

Oh and check out the Stretch Goals. ( I pledged ‘All In’. Look at that Ruined Warehouse)

Have a great day.



New STALKER and Freedom troopers

More on the ZP/STALKER front: a new converted Eureka fig and some old Freedom troopers.

Took a bit more time with this latest STALKER, varying the paint scheme slightly, trying to capture the plastic orange look of those AK mags. I think he came out alright. I have plenty more in my STALKER-related bits box.

You can see him facing down some feral hounds on his own or with some comrades playing Hide-N-Seek with a group of Shufflers.

Next up are some Freedom troopers, converted from The Assault Group’s excellent Modern Russians range. Just add Pig Iron heads and you’re good. I did these a while back – before Lead Adventure put out their excellent Post-Apoc line. I made a set for Clear Sky and Duty. I’ll take pictures of them soon-ish. I think they get the job done. (This reminds me I could use a couple more TAG packs to create Monolith troops)



Finishing my next novel will be the priority for the next month or so, which means Tuesday night Game Night is board games for a while. (Zombicide anyone?) But I picked up a copy of GW’s Gorechosen online for cheap and should be able to get in some painting time, if only to keep my sanity while I hammer out the final chapters of this draft.  Here’s hoping.

Thanks for looking. Have a great week.