Buck's Blog

The Stream-of-Consciousness Journal of a Wargamer
  • .: Welcome to my blog :.

    I'm John R. "Buck" Surdu. I have two Web pages that contain relatively static information about my professional life (including papers I've written) and my hobby life (including information about rules I've written and my wargaming projects). This blog is where I plan to post personal tidbits, like vacation pictures, wargaming projects, etc. Enjoy!
  • Gladiators

    Posted By on August 8, 2019

    I have been working on a Roman gladiator project recently.  I recently bought three sets of Foundry gladiators and painted them along with a bunch of Steve Barber Roman spectators.


    I also purchased a Playmobile Roman coliseum / arena.  My daughter painted it for me.

    I bought a copy of Sons of Mars and read through the rules.  I think they have a good amount of period flavor, and they seem to be okay.  I have been toying with a concept for a die progression system that is tailor made for something like gladiators.  Then today in a text conversation with Greg, I hit upon the idea of using mechanics similar to Blood and Swash.  I still have some of the details to work out, but I think I am going to call it Blood and Sand.  Stay tuned….

    Armies for Kids Feedback

    Posted By on August 1, 2019

    The HAWKs recently received an Email from John Spiess about his daughter and the Armies for Kids project.  With his permission, I am sharing the letter:

    Hi guys,

    I know you are probably getting busy planning for Barrage, so I wanted to send you a quick note to say thanks for all you do for our Hobby. Please see the two photos below. The first one was taken at Historicon 2011 which I believe was the first year the “Armies for Kids” project took place. Notice the little nine year old girl on the far left.

    Armies for Kids participant in 2011.

    Fast forward eight years to Historicon 2019, just held in downtown Lancaster. The same girl, now seventeen, just won the Best in Show Award for her Saturday “Siege of Paris” game.

    Erin Spiess wins an award at Historicon 2019.

    If you haven’t figured it out just yet, her name is Erin Spiess, my daughter. I remember her first convention was spent entirely in the HAWKS room, and she has been completely hooked since then, thanks to all your efforts. So give yourselves a nice pat on the back.

    I’ll also share some details on her game. First, I ran the same game on Friday. I had six slots, but let 15 people play (I don’t like turning people away, so I always bring extra figures). Erin ran the game on Saturday and let 19 play, nine of which were kids from our education program. When I tried to help she just said, “Get lost dad, I got this”.

    Anyway, it turns out that one of the kids was also a special needs student. He showed up late and just expected to be turned away. Not only did she give him a warm welcome, but the way she handled the game mechanics to keep him and the other young kids involved, while making sure everyone was having a good time was pretty inspiring. Guess what, she learned a lot of that from the HAWK gamemasters. The young man actually went to the Awards desk afterwards and told them that he had the best time of his life.

    So thanks again and good luck with Barrage. Hopefully, I’ll see you both at Fall-In.

    Best regards,
    John Spiess
    President, HMGS, Inc.

    Updated Barrage Recruiting Posters for 2019

    Posted By on July 27, 2019

    I have updated the Barrage recruiting posters.  Everyone should feel free to repost any or all of them as widely as possible.

    Barrage 2019 Web Site is Now Live

    Posted By on July 25, 2019

    Barrage 2019 will be 27-28 September in Havre de Grace, Maryland.

    Don’t miss this outstanding regional convention.


    The Web site for Barrage 2019 has gone live, and it is open for registration for GMs and Attendees.  Come back to the Web site frequently to see the growing list of games that will be run this year.


    Cowboy Code

    Posted By on July 18, 2019

    Being a “cowboy” has become a disparaging term in our upside down society where common sense got on a boat years ago and sailed for terra incognita.  Still as a kid, I remember that my heroes were cowboys.  Men like John Wayne, Jimmy Steward, Randolph Scott, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassiday were the folks on the silver screen to whom I looked for inspiration.  For those who think being a cowboy is a bad thing, this is what Gene Autry said about being a cowboy.  I’m sure that these ideas will seem trite to many and offensive to others, but this is my blog.    🙂

    I wish those domestic enemies of the Constitution in D.C. — on both sides of the aisle — would abide by these simple ideals.

    Retreat from Moscow at Historicon 2019

    Posted By on July 16, 2019

    I ran a fun Combat Patrol(tm) game at Historicon using the Napoleonic supplement rules.  It featured a ragtag group of starving Frenchmen trying to reach the safety of a small Russian village while the pursuing Russians worked to stop them.

    Lindybiege moves his French troops.

    The Russians came from all sides of the table.  Most of the Frenchmen were in a small column in the center of the table.  The French were aided by some early card draws and unusually fast movement.

    The French cavalry reach the outskirts of town where they were quickly engaged by fanatical Russian priests.

    Dave Wood helps keep the game moving.

    Pursuing Russian infantry.

    When the game ended, the French had the better part of four teams (five figures each) into the town’s buildings.  The Russians have four teams of infantry and some remnants of other units. We had to call the game, because the hotel was going to kick us out of the hall, and it was clear that the French would be able to hold out against attacks by the remaining infantry.

    I think all the players had a good time.  I made a few tweaks to the scenario after the play test at a HAWKs night, and it seemed to really make the scenario work well.

    The Battle of Hoth

    Posted By on July 16, 2019

    Greg and I ran two instances of the Battle of Hoth with Combat Patrol(tm) at Historicon 2019. The first was Friday night, and the second was Saturday morning.  Both instances went well.  On Friday night the Imperials got half way to the cave / hangar.  On Saturday they blew up the shield generator.  At that point, the heroes tried to escape in the Millennium Falcon.  When it emerged from the cave entrance an Imperial AT-AT took a reaction shot and blew up the Falcon!

    A long shot of the table mid way through Friday night.

    An Imperial AT-AT walks over Rebel trenches.

    The Rebels received 9.7 points for every turn the Millennium Falcon was on the table.  As soon as the shield generator was blown up, the heroes had to board the Falcon and fly away, ending the game.  The Imperials received 1 point for each Rebel they killed and 5 points for heavy weapons.  At the end of the first day, the score was 58.2 to 57 in favor of the Rebels.  In the second to last turn of the second day, the score was tied up, but with a lot of last turn casualties and the death of the Falcon, it was a convincing Imperial victory.

    Another view of the table.

    Snow speeders attack!

    Americans in the Philippines at Historicon

    Posted By on July 16, 2019

    Overview of the table.

    I ran a Combat Patrol(tm) game set in the Philippines in 1941 Thursday evening at Historicon 2019.  The game involved and advancing Japanese infantry platoon supported by light tanks and defending American infantry with an anti-tank gun.

    Japanese advance through a defile.

    The Japanese were very cautions with their tanks, moving them through the difficult terrain instead of up the road.  They guessed that the Americans would have the road covered, and they were correct.  The Japanese weighted their right flank.  Initially it was slow going (at half speed through the jungle) but when they hit the thick grass they picked up the pace a bit.

    The American defenses along the creek, which was impassible to vehicles.

    The Americans chose a very linear defense.  When they detected the Japanese movement through the jungle, they quickly repositioned their machine-guns.  A lot of hidden movement can really slow down a convention game, so I had the Americans deploy their infantry on the table, but I let them do hidden placement for their two machine-guns and the anti-tank gun.

    The Americans advanced from their line along the creek to attack the light Japanese left flank.

    The American player on their right flank recognized that the Japanese had weighted their right and that their left was weak.  To make the game interesting, he chose to advance to try to disrupt the Japanese attack.  Unfortunately, luck was not with him, and the Japanese spotted them first and opened fire.  by the end of the game, this American squad was all but wiped out.

    Eventually, the Japanese decide to advance over the bridge.

    Toward the end of the Japanese finally mustered the courage to advance across the bridge with their tanks.  The anti-tank gun took a reaction fire, which brewed up the light tank.  Though the Americans lost the battle, this provided a moment of victory.

    The Japanese and Americans engage in a firefight across the creek.

    The Americans were defending the creek on their left.  The Japanese advanced to the creek.  The Americans reacted first, mauling the first Japanese squad that showed itself.  After a couple of turns, however, the Japanese recovered somewhat and began to gain the upper hand in the protracted firefight.  When the smoke cleared, the Americans were withdrawing, and the Japanese easily advanced across the creek to the hut along the road.

    Another view of the table.

    I think all the players had a good time.  They were all engaged throughout the battle.

    I used the rules from the South Pacific supplement, including the Banzai! charge rules.  For some of the players, this was their first exposure to Combat Patrol, but they grasped the rules quickly and were soon playing the game with only minimal involvement by me.

    Armies for Kids at Historicon 2019

    Posted By on July 16, 2019

    The recipients of the free armies and Chris Johnson, this year’s GM.

    At Historicon 2019, the Harford Area Weekly Kriegspielsers hosted another Armies for Kids game.  This year’s GM was Chris Johnson.

    The game in progress.

    I think this is the eighth or ninth year we have done this.  We paint six sets of armies, one for each “side.”  We package those along with rules (Milk and Cookies Rules from Big Battles for Little Hands), rulers, dice, paper terrain, and other goodies.  The game is a participation game for kids under ten years old.  When the game is over, each of the kids gets to take home a full set of painted figures and all the accessories.

    A closeup of some of the action.

    The idea is that hopefully these kids go home and start playing games with their buddies. The kids at the convention come with their parents, so in many ways we are preaching to the converted; however, we hope that these kids go home and introduce their little buddies to wargaming.

    The kids and all their swag.

    We only had five kids this year, but we were prepared for six.  Do these kids look happy to you?  A couple of recent years we’ve had trouble getting enough kids for this project.  Maybe we’ll need to put it away for a while.

    Hawaii Vacation, Days 7-11

    Posted By on July 7, 2019

    The caldera at Kilauea volcano

    We began day seven by visiting the various volcanos, steam vents, and lava fields in Volcano National Park.  We got a late-ish start but got out the door early enough to see all we wanted to see in the park.  Kilauea is the least active it has been for 35+ years, so there were no active lava fields or flowing lava.

    Departing our cabin in the morning

    Active steam vents

    Near the visitor’s center there are a number of active steam vents where hot gasses from the most recent eruption are visible. We took a couple mile hike into the Kilauea caldera.  Until recently this was an active lava lake until last year’s major eruptions.  There are two major types of lava in Hawai’i: ‘a’ā and pāhoehoe. ‘A’ā is rough and chunky, while pāhoehoe is smooth and ropy. They may vary in color from shiny black to dull brown. Both types have the same chemical composition, but pāhoehoe is hotter when it erupts and is more fluid than ‘a’ā.

    Candy standing on some pāhoehoe lava in the Kileaua caldera

    Walking into the caldera. At this point we were squarely inside the volcano.

    After this hike we drove the Chain of Craters road stopping at sites along the way to see different types of lava flows, craters, etc.

    Tom and Buck on a road along the Chain of Craters that was covered by a lava flow

    Where the lava poured into the water when it was flowing

    Are those the Griswolds?

    On the way back up the Chain of Craters road to the visitor’s center we stopped at an area with 23,000 petroglyphs engraved into the lava flow.  Since they were engraved in the lava rather than painted on a cave or canyon wall, they were much more visible that normal.

    A sample of the many petroglyphs we found

    It was a bit disappointing that there were no explanations of what scholars think some of the symbols might mean.

    The symbol of the men’s restroom in ancient Hawaii?

    After this night of hiking and walking we had dinner in the cafeteria at Kilauea Military Camp, which is much like a military-style mess hall.  The food was good, but no frills.  We then went back to our cabin to watch Moana and have dessert.

    We started the next day by walking along the trail past the sulphur vents around the visitor center.  These are similar to the steam vents on the opposite side of the road, but the escaping gasses have more minerals, particularly sulphur, and they stain the rocks bright colors.

    The sulphur vents near the visitor’s center

    Then we drove the eastern side of the island, stopping to see various overlooks, beaches, and sites along the way.

    Candy at rainbow falls

    Candy at Rainbow Falls

    Standing on a black sand beach that looks more gray in this picture. The black sand beaches are made by lava ground down by the action of the sea over many years.

    As we stopped at these beaches — all beaches in Hawaii are public — in most cases we were surprised how few people were on them.

    We stopped at an out of the way place for lunch

    We had wraps and fresh fruit, most of which had been grown on the property

    Then we kept driving.

    Our next stop was Akaka Falls state park for a short hike to see several falls.

    Akaka falls

    These falls were impressive but were only a fifth as tall as Angel Falls in South America.

    One of many beaches we stopped to view

    Us with the Waipi’o Valley in the background. This is still private land and somewhat sacred to Hawaiians.  We chose not to hike the mile into the valley, as the signs implied that the locals find it disrespectful.

    The next morning we bade farewell to our cabin and took a short detour to see the interior of the Volcano House lodge in the national park.

    So long cabin!

    Volcano House. Of the many national park lodges we’ve seen, this was the least ornate on the outside, but it was nice on the inside and provided a wonderful view of the lava lake prior to last year’s eruption.

    Our plan was to drive up the coast (mostly) from Volcano National Park to Kailua-Kona where we were would stay the last two nights in Hawaii.

    A lava beach at which we stopped along the drive from Volcano to Kailua-Kona.

    Entrance to “the refuge”

    Along the way we stopped at a place known as the “refuge.”  The punishment for nearly all crimes in ancient Hawaii seems to have been death.  A marked person could flee, and if he made it to this place and spent some time with the priest here, he could be absolved of his crimes and return home.

    The beach on the ali’i (king’s) side of the refuge compound

    Sam and Tom engaged in an ancient Hawaiian strategy game that on the face of it looked like Othello

    That handsome family again!

    Sam made a new friend


    We arrived in Kailua-Kona (mostly known just as Kona) in time to check into the Royal Kona Resort and get the lay of the land before our scheduled luau.  We had time to put on our swimsuits and play in the hotel’s private lagoon and then in the pool before showering up for the luau.

    An imu in which the pig was cooked for our luau

    This was some of the best kalua pork we had on the trip.

    The family enjoying bottomless mai tai’s as we waited for the luau to begin

    Buck and his trophy wife — or is that Candy and her trophy husband. I never get that right.

    There was live entertainment throughout the luau provided by these local musicians.

    The weather threatened to rain on us all night, but we didn’t get rain until after the luau ended. In the meantime we were presented by two rainbows.

    At the luau we had excellent food and all-you-can-drink mai tais.  Candy drank mai tai’s like a fish.  Depending on who you ask the number was between four and six!

    The sunset from the luau at the Royal Kona Resort

    The luau lasted until after sunset.

    The luau hula dancers presented dances from various Polynesian islands. We had nice, close seats, which game me a chance to really watch the hula dancers’ hands. When they sang songs in English, you could really see how the hand gestures mirrored the lyrics.

    As with all luaus, the highlight was the fire guy.

    Nighttime hula dancing

    The next morning, we slept in and then went to the pool for a couple of hours.

    Sam begin dragged into the water

    Tom tried a sample of four different types of mai tais. There is controversy over who invented the mai tai, with our hotel’s Don the Beachcomber claiming the title.


    Candy sips a mai tai by the pool. With all that fruit, it must be healthy!

    This evening we planned to take a tour to Mauna Kea to see the stars.  We have seen the brilliant star fields at Bryce Canyon, and Mauna Kea is supposed to be better.  We met the van at 1430 and got part way up the mountain for an early dinner when the National Weather Service close the road to the observatories due to rain and flash flooding.  We were very disappointed, but we made it back down to our hotel in time to watch the fireworks in the harbor, since it was the 4th of July.

    A view of the outside of our hotel

    The next day was really a travel day.  Our flight left Kona at 2000, but we got a somewhat late checkout and planned to enjoy the day.  We started at the pool again and then went to visit the Vanillerie.  This is a small farm where the local businessman is trying to make a go of farming vanilla.  After the tour, I have a much greater respect for vanilla.  It is a HARD and LONG process.  This is why you have probably never actually had vanilla, but imitation vanilla which is much more easily harvested from the bark of some type of pine tree.

    Entering the Vanillerie for our tour

    Inside one of the four greenhouses

    At the end of the tour we got a small sample of ice cream made with his real vanilla, and there was a definite taste difference.

    One last look at a beach before retrieving our bags from the hotel and heading for the airport

    … and as the sun sets gently into the horizon of Kailua-Kona we bid a fond farewell to Hawaii…

    The flights home were uneventful but painfully long at the end of a ten-day vacation.  I don’t know when we’ll all be able to take this much time together for a vacation.