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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Sosnovy Bor Garrison Run – ZP Test Game

On the western fringe of the Exclusion Zone lies the deserted military garrison, Sosnovy Bor  – Pine Forest. Classified as Threat Level One/Relatively Stable, it is a great training ground for experienced Stalkers to acclimatize new crew members to the hazards of the Zone, as well as a frequent destination for Zone guides to bring their ‘tourists’ in order to give them a taste of danger without too much trouble.

Well scavenged, there is little by way of salvage and equipment, but its proximity to roads and trails make it favorite jumping off point for excursions deeper into the Zone.


A recent emission prompted four STALKERS – Timur Bok, Vitya Laska, Ilya Nikitovitch, and Sava Urakov – to chance a quick trip in search of possible new artifacts and salvageable gear from any unlucky visitors.


Slipping under the Cordon fence, the four of them made their way briskly along a well-worn path to the old garrison. Detecting movement, they did a quick radio check then split up and approached the base each from a different corner.

The leader Timur Bok, scanned the grounds with his monocular. “Two bodies,” he said. “With packs and weapons still on the ground beside them. No local distortions that I can detect though. Appears the emission didn’t generate any anomalies. That means no artifacts.”

“But loot, yes?” Vitya responded.  “So I say we pop in.”

Carrying a heavy CETME battle rifle, Ilya Nikitovitch grunted. “For a sack of old gear and a couple surplus AKs? Meh.”

“It’s money laying on the ground,” Vitya protested. “If you’re scared, don’t worry. I have extra med kits in my pack to patch you up. Unless you want to sit this one out, Mr Big Shot. Then we’ll split the money three ways. Right Sava?”

He heard Sava spit. “If there’s anything of value down there, I’ll find it,” the scrounger said. “Besides, I think Olga deserves some extra magazines after she was so good to us on our last outing, no?”

Sava Urakov’s old AK-74 had saved their collective bacon three days past when the four of them had been jumped by a pair of Snorks outside the bus stop on the old south road.

“OK. We go in,” Timur decided. “Eyes up though. I got two Rotters shuffling by that office building and movement behind the garage.”

Ilya sighed and chambered a round in his rifle. “You know, if you see one…”

Vitya jumped to his feet. “…there’s a dozen more you can’t see,” he finished. “Whoo hoo. We’re off to see the wizard.”




Very straightforward game to test the combat mechanics and the Hostile NPC AI rules. Area had Two Hot Spots (locations with probable loot. And hostiles) and five enemies already visible. The players decided to cooperate rather than compete, coming in from the four corners of the base/mission area.

Timur the leader promptly climbed to the top of a large fuel tank. Vitya the medic skirted the far side of the garage to flank the zombies and approach one of the Hot Spots.   (symbolized by a Dead Stalker scenic) The Scrounger Sava ducked and weaved his way past the ConEx containers toward a truck, while Ilya lugged his battle rifle around the fuel depot at the rear of the base.


The game itself unfolded swiftly and without surprises: seeing Timur on the fuel tank, the zombies promptly lurched forward, allowing Vitya and Ilya to approach unnoticed. Sava made the first kills of the game, dropping the two office zombies before they knew he was around.

Jealous, Timur lobbed a grenade at the shuffling trio, only to miss and tear up the cab of a nearby Ural 4320. The zombies pressed ahead, coming within 4″ of the second Hot Spot and triggering a pack of feral dogs, who ran to the fuel tanks rear ladder and began barking.


With this distraction as cover, Vitya tossed a bolt to trigger the Hot Spot directly in front of him. (Two Bandits!) Meanwhile, Sava gave Olga a quick kiss on the bolt cover and sidled over to the barricades and began picking off the distant zombies. Ilya ran to help Timur, who was prepping another grenade.

Timur dropped the grenade on the dogs. (“Puppy burgers over the camp fire tonight, comrades!”) Sava took down the last of the zombies which allowed Ilya to climb on top of the damaged Ural and dispatch the two Bandits before they could turn on Vitya.


All threats dispatched, the Hot Spots were clear for salvage. Sava, being a Scrounger, can check each location twice, virtually guaranteeing the STALKERs a decent haul for their effort. Game over.


Only Two Hot Spots, a few Shufflers, some Dogs, and a pair of Bandits, players cooperating and coordinating their moves, the game went smoothly with no drama at all.

Nail-biting it wasn’t but as a test game for the rules? I’d say it Passed. I’ll be tweaking the ZP rules to get the conclusions on paper this weekend and that’ll be another step toward the finish line.

Thanks for reading.  Have a great day.


ZP Sample Character Sheet




CHARACTER NAME: Leytenánt Timur Bok


6″/Action 5 Mil-Body Armor (4) 6


MP443 GRACH Pistol Melee -12″ 1 0
AK74 Assault Rifle 1″- 36″ 3 1


SCROUNGER: May SEARCH Terrain item twice.

HUSTLE: +2″ Movement Bonus for two consecutive Move Actions in the same turn.



Military Body Armor: Armor 4 PLUS counts as Obscured Target from Ranged Attacks when in Cover. Med-Kit: (2) Self-administer. No Action Cost. Automatically replace Wound Result with two Pin counters. Hand Grenade: (2) Range: 1″ -18″  FP: 1   Dam: 2/model. Small Blast Template

Another Zona Perestrelki crew

The 4th of July weekend is upon us so this is a short post.

Another squad for ZP. I painted up five more Eureka Soviets with Pig Iron heads. A simple modification that’s easy and works well to provide loads of appropriate looking Zone denizens is no time. This squad can be unaffiliated STALKERS, a rival crew, perhaps even successful Bandits out to rob players of their hard-earned salvage and artifacts.

The old VOR Union Power Armor Commander makes for a good random event for those missions deep in the Zone. He could be an enemy or an ally – it all depends on how the players react once he appears on the board.

Speaking of which… Each ZP mission can be played at one of three Threat Levels: Blue, Yellow, or Red. (TL 1, 2 and 3 respectively) Lower level areas are more secure with fewer hostiles but offer less salvage. Sure, you can scrape out a living pecking around the relative safety of the perimeter areas, but it’s only when you risk a Red/TL 3 well inside the Cordon that you come across truly valuable gear and artifacts. But beware! Mercenaries, Bandits, and Mutants guard those areas and would gladly kill any who trespass on their territories. A player will want solid experience under their belt, a fair-sized crew with decent gear before venturing too far in.

But as they say in Russia – кто не рискует, тот не пьет шампанское.

Breech and Clear an abandoned building
RPK Support
Cheeki Breeki, baby
Military Power Armor. Very rare, expensive to maintain, but absolute top-of-the-line for scavenging the Zone