Sunday, May 29, 2011

Galaxy Rangers- Bionic Cowpoke

For a guy who likes nature, hiking, and the outdoors I sure do spend a lot of time with technology, and soon technology will be spending more time with me.  At the computer at work, at home, listening to audiobooks on an Ipod, and now with my recent health adventure I have become become a high-tech infused saddletramp, with a super charged cardiac system.  Beware, blogosphere, for the coming of Turbo Slap Bookleather.

All this has me remembering one of my favorite cartoons from my 1980’s childhood, The Galaxy Rangers.  Along with The Spiral Zone, this is one of the few cartoons that stood out to even my young brain as being better conceived and written than the typical cartoon.  A little research showed that one of the writers of the show was Mick Farren, a writer / musician / general troublemaker whose books The Song of Phaid the Gambler and DNA Cowboys seem to be perpetually on my “read some time this year” list. 

My mind went back to Galaxy Rangers recently when I noticed the similarity between the show and another favorite of mine, Mass Effect.  Both take place on far flung alien frontiers, with elite law enforcement powered by psychic implants taking down threats to the peace in the galaxy.  Heck, even the Mass Effect explorer armor has the same color scheme as the Galaxy Ranger uniforms.  I have yet to play through with a character named Goose, but that is because I am currently making my way through as a futuristic Rawhide Kid.

Mick Farren’s remembrances of making the series is cynical and fun, and can be seen here.  

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Curmudgeon's Diary- The Western via Richard S. Wheeler

As I close on 4,000 hits so far, I really am not sure why anyone is reading this blog (aside from the occasional scantily clad cowgirl, that is).  I hope that what I write is of some interest to someone, and that perhaps readers are learning a little bit about the genre.  If you are looking for something truly insightful, though, you should read A Curmudgeon’s Diary, the blog of prolific Western author Richard S. Wheeler.  His thoughtful approach to the novel and the western is truly wonderful to read.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

West of Boston

Where does the West start?  What is it west of?

I live in a small town that was the first town established in my state.  Unlike every previous state, this one was established when pioneers traveled down a river from an existing colony into new lands, as opposed to sailing in from Europe and setting up shop wherever they happened to land.  This town was originally established as a trading post with the local Indians, but soon became caught up in an ongoing war between two tribes.  One of those tribes raided my town to obtain modern weaponry, and in the process killed or chased off the entire population.  The worst of it happened two blocks from my house.

Where do I live?  I live in Connecticut, in the heart of New England, halfway between Boston and New York City.  This was the wild and wooly frontier in the 1630s.  It was west of Boston and west of Providence, the only two English towns of any size in the region, and that meant it was in the West (at the time, that is).  The Mohawk Valley in New York, the Piedmont areas of the Carolinas and Virginia, the Miami Valley in Ohio, all places where pioneers settled, Indians fought, and frontier adventure was had.  All of them east of the Mississippi, but all with the danger and excitement that we think of when we consider the West.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and the Munchkin

Oh, give me a home where the Jackalopes roam
And the Dudes and the Buckaroos play,
I'll slay and I'll loot, give the monsters the boot,
And the dice are not loaded, no way.

As discussed in an earlier post, my gaming group took a brief respite from chasing zombies camels and extra-dimensional pirates and turned instead to whiskey and cards.  Western card games, that is.  After a very satisfying turn at the Spaghetti Western card game BANG!, we turned to the wild west version of the Munchkin series, The Good, The Bad, and the Munchkin.

Munchkin is a long series of card games that take the basic premise of Dungeons and Dragons and boiled it down to its basest components- kick in doors, kill monsters, steal loot.  Newer versions of the game take players through different genres, including spy movies, sci-fi, Cthulhu, and now the Western. 

In this game players take turns kicking in saloon doors, and either picking up stray gear, sidekicks, and mounts (like a seven-gun, old prospector, and giant riding cat) or shooting it out with a variety of crazy monsters and gunhands (such as the vampiric “Bat Masterson”).  The first time that I played The Good, The Bad, and the Munchkin my wife kicked my ass with a half Dude / half Indian carrying her grandpappy's bow, wearing a ten gallon hat, a twenty gallon hat on top of that, and moccasins of silence. 
Examples of the fun artwork in the game

I hope you liked the “Bat” Masterson joke, because that level of humor is laced throughout the game.  There is barely enough time to laugh at the joke, because the complex rules around backstabbing and double dealing your fellow players take up a lot of your attention.  Games can drag out, particularly if you have a group accustomed to treachery, as you constantly betray one another to end up on top.  Kind of like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, now that I think of it.
A typical hand- this is why the game gets so complex

Fortunately, no guns were drawn at our game
The Good, The Bad, and the Munchkin was fun, just not nearly as fun as I thought it would be.  When we talk about going back to card games occasionally, we always talk about BANG!, and rarely talk about this one.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Zeke Deadwood- Zombie Lawman

May 21, the long prophesied Judgment Day, seems to have come and gone with no calamity and certainly no zombies wandering my neighborhood.  I am a little disappointed, because having just read Zeke Deadwood- Zombie Lawman, I was rather looking forward to some zombie justice coming to my town. 

I can’t tell if this is supposed to be the start of a new series, or just a one off book.  Either way, it is great fun.  Zeke is a slow, foul smelling, rotting zombie, who also happens to be a wandering lawman, covering the West on his near dead horse.  When desperadoes move into town, Zeke comes to the rescue!

That’s about all there is to it, really.  This is a single comic, so there is not much you can put into 20 something pages.  The comic is black and white, and although the shading work is nice I don’t think it is even inked.  Looking back on this slim volume I keep wondering if it was in any way worth the $3.99 I paid for it.  I made me smile more than any of the other overpriced comics I bought this week, so it definitely was. 

Hopefully this isn’t Zeke’s last adventure.  He may be smelly, rotting, slow on the draw, and undead, but he is a heck of a lawman.

You can read a ten page preview here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

BANG!- Spaghetti Western in the Cards

Recently my group of gamer friends took a break from slaying dragons and cultists to spend a night in my favorite realm, the Mythic West.  Over a pot of Texas chili and a bottle of whiskey we tried out a pair of western themed card game, including the Spaghetti Western influenced BANG!

BANG! is played with anywhere from four to eight player, with one Sheriff, one Renegade, and a whole lot of Outlaws.  Everyone knows who the Sheriff is, but like a good Spaghetti western everyone else’s true motivations are a mystery to the end.  From the deck, players build hands with cards like horses, guns, lit dynamite, and of course many, many flying bullets. 

I managed to win the first game of the night as one of the Outlaws.  After the Sheriff sent over a dance hall girl to steal my supplies I stirred up an Indian attack against the town, then plugged the Sheriff while he was down.  Even hiding in a rain barrel couldn’t keep him safe from my Scholfield. During the next game the new Sheriff played it like Virgil Cole and came out gunning for me, throwing lead like opening the gunfight in Open Range.

For a card game, BANG! is very evocative, and it is easy to imagine every hand of the game being part of a movie.  BANG! is a fairly simply game, but it is an extraordinarily fun game.

"The Outlaws hunt the Sheriff. The Sheriff hunts the Outlaws. The Renegade plots secretly, ready to take one side or the other. Bullets fly. Who among the gunmen is a Deputy, ready to sacrifice himself for the Sheriff? And who is a merciless Outlaw, willing to kill him? If you want to find out, just draw (your cards)!"
Card night in New England

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Revisiting the OK Corral

Earlier this week the Associated Press ran a great article on the OK Corral.  Here’s an excerpt:

Since the Oct. 26, 1881, "gunfight at the O.K. Corral," the famed frontier lawman has loomed large over this former boomtown. The silver deposits that gave birth to the city have long since been played out, but Tombstone has survived largely by mining the legend of the West's most infamous shootout.

And in popular culture, the Earps have always been the good guys; the McLaurys and Clantons, the bad guys.

But something peculiar has happened at the O.K. Corral: The white hats and the black hats have all gotten a bit grayer.

Hanging on the stucco wall surrounding the little amphitheater where the fusillade is re-enacted daily is a tiny bronze plaque. Unpretentious and easy to miss, it is dedicated, not to the badge-wearing Earps or their tubercular friend, John Henry "Doc" Holliday, but to the memory of brothers Frank and Tom McLaury — two of the three men who died that day.

See the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Enough with the Fraking Elves!

Put down that fantasy novel.  Yes, you.  I know who you are.  You love the magic, and the wilderness, and the dragons and the wizards and the elves.  Oh, the elves!  Can’t get enough of those pointy eared little bastards, can you?

Any of you people out there who have a fantasy novel on your shelf and are reading it because you like escaping into another world where a band of mysterious people trek off into the wilderness on a dangerous quest and encounter bizarre and chilling dangers should replace that book with a western.

Why the Western?  Please ignore the bulk of westerns that litter grocery store book shelves and have the 215th iteration of horny violent US marshal saves the town, gets the girl, and winks at Miss Kitty.  I can appreciate that most of you will scoff at reading a western, because this is mostly what you see. 

The good westerns to me are like escaping into another world where a band of mysterious people trek off into the wilderness on a dangerous quest and encounter bizarre and chilling dangers.  The difference is that that the other world really existed, the dangerous wilderness became your back yard, the mysterious people were your ancestors, and if you were born a couple of centuries earlier that may well have been your life, too.

Got rage issues?  So does Boone Caudill, the anti-hero of The Big Sky, one of the most unsentimental westerns I’ve ever read.  Like sex, drugs, and rock and roll?  So did Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, or at least loose girls from the opera.  Want to live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse with tattoos, piercings, and a mohawk?  So did our forefathers.  One of the little known addendums of the Treaty of Paris was the stipulation that they Iroquois confederacy had to return the 5000 children kidnapped and adopted during the American Revolution.  When they came back to their boring families, 1000 turn right around and went back to the Iroquois.  Read about the life in Wilderness, Fire Along the Sky, and Savage Wilderness.
Simon Girty from Tim Truman's Wilderness 
I know you all loved Unforgiven, Firefly, and will admit to liking Bruce Campbell in The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.  Get of your fantasy high horse and try one of these out.