Tag Archives: games

Ace of Aces: WWI Air Combat Game

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ace of Aces: WWI Air Combat Game by Alfred Leonardi and Douglas Kaufmann, ill. Jerry Redding.

I lucked into this two-book slipcased set at a friends of the public library used book sale. Although the case was worn and maybe water-damaged, the books themselves were in fine shape. Unfortunately, my copy is missing the 8-page rule booklet with tables necessary for playing the intermediate and advanced games. But the basic game alone is a blast.

This brilliantly-designed game allows two players to engage in a WWI aerial dogfight, pitting the pilot of a SPAD XIII against that of a Fokker DVII. Each player has his own book, and both begin on a page with a drawing that represents the pilot’s view of the scene. Each chooses a maneuver, and a simple indexing operation then leads to the next page for each player, where a new view is provided, and where there may be opportunities for damaging gunfire. I’ve played this one several times with my daughter, and we always had fun. A play of the basic game takes from 15 to 30 minutes.

The intermediate and advanced games introduce rules for ammunition and fuel, and for variations in altitude. This set is part of a series of games using the same conceptual engine. I’d snag another without hesitation in similar circumstances. [via]

Guns & Liberty in GTA4

Chris23 reviews Grand Theft Auto IV

I’m driving along in a 1963 Cadillac trying to hold the lumbering sway of its heavy chassis straight to the road as I rumble down the city street past the usual castaways and early risers. I can’t feel it but the steam coming out of their mouths makes me think it’s a bit chilly out, though at least one or two of the morning denizens are blowing cigarette smoke, not just hot breath. From the radio in my Caddy rise arpeggiated synth lines, sawtoothed and filtered, beatless but rhythmic, like a ca. 1993 ambient chillroom set. The sounds lift and expand taking my view up the pink walls to the roofline, then higher to the dawning skies. A synthetic voice like a female Hawking intones the moment of eternity, speaking softly to the evolutionary imperative of our cultural awakening. Rich pads wash under it all merging with the engine of my Caddy and the sounds of the morning as I roll on down the streets.

It’s sunrise and I’m back in Liberty City.

I haven’t spent much time at all in the great MMO’s like World of Warcraft or Everquest, but a part of me lives and breathes in the otherworld of Grand Theft Auto. I have deep memories of slamming a stolen Sentinel (BMW clone) down the blurring night streets of the first Liberty City in GTA3, under the glowing lamps and through the fog, the pounding beat of the rave channel banging and echoing in dubbed out midnight madness. One of those songs is a signature for me – an anthem – yet I’ve never known it anywhere else. I played Vice City and San Andreas too, but I’ve never been that concerned with the missions. For me it’s about the immersion and the place-ness of it all. An open landscape rooted in reality yet free of enduring consequence.

I’m in the new Liberty City and I’m struck by the light. I’ve come to really appreciate a good lighting model, having worked on some in the past and having had the opportunity to see the warmth of truly rich algorithms. The world of GTA4 is heavy with reds and yellows making it feel more earthy and warm. Underneath the raised railways, light and shadow are splashed across the streets filtered by the steel webwork above. As I drive below my car flickers dark & light in shadowed semaphore. Flying over the city islands in a cheat-enabled helicopter the sun washes across the water like a giant fish catching the light across a thousand shiny scales. I can see boats far below skipping across the surface. The sunsets are beautiful, casting a pink orange glow across the building facades. It deepens to red and then blue as night falls and the moon ascends.

The city is alive, crowded with traffic and pedestrians and little bits of trash blowing past. Birds take flight as humanoid bots engage each other, driven by runtime AI imperatives. I saw one car rear-end another. Both drivers stepped out and began cursing each other. In moments, fists were flying and a brawl ensued. At another moment I was accosted by a Russian who ran into me on the sidewalk. He didn’t like the cut of my jib and began attacking me. Fortunately for me (and him, given my heavily-armed status), a cop car had just been passing. It stopped and out came two officers who detained and arrested the man, stuffing him into the back of their cruiser to be whisked away to some deep digital prison. Even polygons can go to jail.

On my cellphone I get calls from my cousin Roman pleading for rescue from his angry Albanian loan sharks. Then a call from my new girlfriend, Michelle, who wants a second date (there are friends in the game and how you treat them will determine the opportunities presented to you in the future). Hopefully it won’t be back to the bowling alley – the site of my bitter defeat on the lanes. But really, I just want to drive around and harass the cops. My cellphone also lets me enter cheat codes to stock up on weapons cause I’m not feeling very safe on these mean streets without a rocket launcher and a heavy caliber assault rifle. This place is violent and sooner or later somebody is gonna step up on me, be they local hood or bad cop. Maybe I might slam my stolen SUV into a police cruiser or accidently run down some pedestrians on the sidewalk while changing the radio station (I love Weazel News! The game is rife with rich socio-political satire that very much reflects my own new-millenial sensibilities, skewering many of the malicious entities stalking our planet). Or I might land my helicopter on the roof of a ten-story building and begin sniping at gang members down on the street. The point is, sooner or later I’m gonna do something that will upset the cops enough to come after me. Then it’s just a hail of gunfire, exploding vehicles, SWAT teams, and fiery helicopters raining down from the sky.

In one firefight I was getting shot by this cop as he marched straight at me, his pistol popping hot lead into my chest. I struggled to find a weapon, finally raising a shotgun to his face. He fired one last shot as I pulled the trigger and, as the color bled out of the scene and the camera tilted and pulled away, both he and I flew backwards from each other, blood flying with our bodies falling to the pavement in gravity’s final embrace. A short respawn and I’m back on the streets, fitted with milspec gear and an unbidden lust for mayhem.

I’m crouched and sidestepping across the road, targeting several cops and pulling off shots at each. There are at least 6 cop cars parked sideways all around me, lights spinning and sirens blaring. Some have dead cops in front of them, others have officers crouched behind open doors firing at me. Two SWAT helicopters circle overhead, firing heavy artillery on my position, city skyscrapers rising up above like Anubin guards at the gates of the Underworld. Their numbers are declining but they’ve got me out-gunned. I know I’m going down but how many can I take with me? The car next to me is on fire and two cops are stalking towards me, firing. I pull out a grenade and as the silver bullet with my name on it sears deep into my chest, I drop it to my feet, pin pulled, falling to my knees. The two cops are right next to me, stunned for a second, then turn to run just as the fuse hits the charge and all three of us are blown several yards into the sky like fiery twisted rag dolls, arching off each in our own singular trajectory pulled inevitably back to the earth just as the car explodes and flips itself in a giant fireball of twisted metal.

It’s the little things like this that make me glow with happiness. The sheer magic of physics and agency. The emergence of such rich and staggering complexity from a simple set of rules. The reality teased out from so many lines of code. The place is alive and feels so whether I’m there or not.

I haven’t played many of the missions. I will, but only to learn more about the city. Like, where the internet cafe’s and strip clubs are, and which buildings I can enter. The place is so huge it takes a monumental effort to get an understanding of the geography. I keep trying to remember street names and neighborhoods, referring to the map to cohere it all into a consistent sense of place. This is a challenging task when your inner cochlear equilibrium is telling you you’re sitting on a couch, not hurtling down a boulevard. And it’s just so big. Liberty City is modelled after New York City and it really looks and feels like it’s gotten pretty close. Rockstar (the game maker) has included a multi-player mode that allows up to 16 people to enter into the world and play missions. Cops v. Robbers, Gang Battle, etc. But it’s clear that the goal, given enough computational meat, will be to turn Liberty City into a persistent MMO. Imagine if hundreds or thousands of user could populate the city 24/7…

I want it. I would pay for that. It could become my Evercrack. Even now there’s a part of me, a piece of my self, that lives in Liberty City. In some moments of reflection I am a humble but well-armed Russian immigrant walking the streets under that beautiful orange-red haze of sunset, waiting for the lights to power on and glow in the night fog. Waiting for the restrictions of the default world to shift imperceptibly enough to break some of the constraints of law and society. I’ve never bought into the notion that video games make kids violent. Bad parenting and abuse makes kids violent. Judgement and hatred makes kids violent. Ignorance and fear lands kids in jail and kicks them out onto the streets. For me and most, these worlds enable the imagination to come closer to daylight. They are sandboxes of the Self. Playgrounds of the mind. Liberty City happens to be a playground somewhat prone to violence but it’s also a place of fun, lit with humanity and humor.

As these places become more real and engage more eyes, the content will open up. To advertising, of course, but also to home-brew music and video. To Twitter feeds and blog RSS. Ap Wire news will spill into gameworld video displays. What if I could design a bot skin that looked just like me? Put it on a bot, add my own voice clips, and then watch recorded video of that bot’s experiences in the game world while I’m away? Imagine CCTV’s on virtual street corners that pipe live feeds to real-world desktop clients or http? Imagine smart mobs and political protests by avatars who have modded their characters to hold signs or wear furry costumes. MMO’s should be hackable and prankable, wired to the web and mobile devices. I want to use my game cell phone to call other players across the city. I want to use my real-world iPhone to call and see people inside Liberty City. I want the lines to blur more and more between reality and virtuality. I want the spirit of imagination to ingress deeply into the world of humanity.

And I want fast cars and powerful weapons that don’t really kill anyone.

Grand Theft Auto IV delivers in great measure. The world is deeper, more alive, warmer and richer. Traffic snarls and the citizenry engage and react. The city is enormous yielding endless hours of fun and immersion. So much to explore, so many cars to jack, with an engaging narrative weaving through the streets and alleyways. GTA4 is a caricature of America, witty and sarcastic, painted across an inconceivable amount of polygons pulsing to the currents of floating-point mathematics. It’s a playground for 30-something children of the modern West, reaching out to live the myths of a street warrior culture peddled by media and fiction. Most of all, Liberty City is a model for the ongoing ingression of mind into matter and the wiring of datastreams into the social consciousness. Half the joys of GTA4 are the expectations and imaginations of what future iterations will bring to the genre… what fictions will become real and how the bodies we inhabit will reflect into such immersive virtual worlds unbinding the Soul and Self from flesh.

Perhaps I’m gushing with fanboy glee but I have a sense, as of yet unwritten, that something very deep and transformative is occurring in the digital lands we’re moving between… [via]

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls by Matthew Lowes.

Matthew Lowes Dungeon Solitaire

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls is the book-length successor to author Matthew Lowes’ previous game design “Tomb of the Four Kings” (available for free on his website). The original game was playable with a standard pack of playing cards, and it is preserved nearly unchanged as the “basic game” of the “Labyrinth of Souls.” The new game, however, calls for a tarot deck, and the author has collaborated with illustrator Josephe Vandel to create a new deck for it, which includes 10 “extra arcana” or additional trumps.

The rules supplied in Labyrinth of Souls include the basic game (uses 53 cards—a standard playing card deck with a single joker), the expert game (uses 78 cards—a standard tarot deck), the advanced game (uses the 88-card custom deck OR a standard tarot deck plus a ten-sided die), and eight official variants of the advanced game. One of these variants (“Cartomancy”) can be used for divination, and the supplementary “Arcana” and “References” sections provide some useful pointers regarding divinatory meanings for the cards.

I had played “Tomb of the Four Kings” before acquiring this book, and found it to be a quick and fairly difficult solitaire game with a strong narrative element. The expert mode in Labyrinth of Souls expands the game elegantly by adding companions (the tarot page cards), mazes (a new encounter type), blessings, corruptions, and several new magic items. I’ve now played it over a dozen times, and I have yet to win, although I have managed to score: i.e. I have escaped the dungeon with some treasures and companions, but not with the three “heavenly jewels” needed for victory in the expert game. I’m holding off on the advanced game until I score an expert win.

The rules for the various modes of the game are all written quite clearly. The basic game includes a very detailed example of play that was not part of the “Tomb of the Four Kings” rules, and goes a long way toward eliminating any ambiguities in the rules. It gives the reader a very clear idea of game play. An assortment of reference tables and blank recording forms are present for copying and play convenience.

All of the trumps and court cards of the Lowes/Vandel Labyrinth of Souls deck are reproduced at or near full size in black and white throughout the book and especially in the “Arcana” section of the text. These seem to constitute a pretty passable deck, and the designs of the “extra arcana” are certainly interesting, but they just don’t “grab” me aesthetically or symbolically. I have been using the Luis Royo “Dark Tarot” to play the Labyrinth game, and I’m liking it a lot for that purpose. I have not handled a production copy of the Lowes/Vandel deck itself, and I’m unlikely to acquire one. I do like and recommend the rule book and the game, and I would be interested to see other artists’ realizations of the “extra arcana” invented by Lowes. [via]

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls by Matthew Lowes, has arrived at the Reading Room, fulfilling part of my support for the successful crowdfunding campaign.

Matthew Lowes Dungeon Solitaire

You can check out some rules and downloads for this and other games for free.

Dungeon Solitaire is a narrative fantasy card game. With each turn you defeat monsters, disarm traps, open doors, and explore mazes as you delve the depths of a dark dungeon. The original game, Tomb of Four Kings, used a standard deck of playing cards, and is still available free on my website.

Now the game is being expanded to use a 78 card tarot deck, plus up to 12 additional cards used in an advanced version of the game. And these new rules will be paired with a custom illustrated dungeon-themed tarot deck exclusively created for the Labyrinth of Souls.

Vault of Adepts

Vault of Adepts by Jordon Stratford’s Laudanum Studios is a crowdfunding effort to create a game which is described as “Penny Dreadful meets Arkham Horror in this pen and paper RPG of secret societies in 1900 London. Occult schemes in the age of absinthe.”

“VAULT OF ADEPTS is a pen and paper Role Playing Game of secret societies set in 1900 London. These occult Lodges attracted the elite of London society — poets and politicians, actors and heiresses, alchemists and aristocrats scheming against a backdrop of cut glass, in the age of absinthe.

You play one of these eccentric characters, choose a faction and an agenda — do you want to proceed through the mystic Grades to achieve enlightenment? To take over? To destroy from within? – and speed from location to location to secure ancient knowledge, spread rumours, and foil your opponent’s efforts.

A séance gone horribly wrong. A gentleman approached after a Mason’s meeting with an inquiry if he’d be interested in something more…unconventional. A book dealer looking over an incoming tome, and knowing more than he lets on. Somewhere in London, between Scotland Yard and the Blind Beggar, is the key to someone’s lifelong obsession. Seek it out. But will you use it, sell it, or destroy it?”

Laudanum Studios Vault of Adepts 1900

The Case of Steve Jackson Games, or how Discordianism helped the U.S. Secret Service inspire the birth of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Case of Steve Jackson Games, or how Discordianism helped the U.S. Secret Service inspire the birth of the Electronic Frontier Foundation is a draft excerpt from the forthcoming Chasing Eris by Brenton Clutterbuck over at the Historia Discordia blog.

“March 1, 1990: Steve Jackson Games is unexpectedly raided by members of the United States Secret Service, accompanied by Austin police and at least one civilian expert from ‘the phone company.’ The Steve Jackson Games webpage says agents cut locks, tore open boxes, and forced open footlockers. They confiscated four computers containing GURPS Cyberpunk files, two printers, and other hardware and files.

Steve Jackson Games was told they would get their computers back ‘tomorrow.’ In later statements, a judge said that the Secret Service could have duplicated the material they needed in between a couple of hours and eight days. Rather than the next day as promised, or eight days, the majority of confiscated material wasn’t returned for a whole four months. The majority of the GURPS Cyberpunk manual had to be reconstructed from snippets, planning and memory. Steve Jackson Games was impacted by the raid, and had to lay off nearly half their staff. Later, Judge Sam Sparks would seek to dispute the assertion that Steve Jackson Games had been nearly bankrupted by the raid.

Why did Secret Service agents target Steve Jackson Games?

The key was Loyd Blankenship. Agent Timothy Golden had based the raid of Steve Jackson Games on the fact that Loyd Blankenship was working there, ran a bulletin board system popular with hackers from his home, and also ran a completely separate BBS at Steve Jackson Games.

In response to the Steve Jackson Games case and other similar cases, John Gilmour, John Perry Barlow, and Mitch Kapor founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1990. They would later, in 1993, support Steve Jackson Games in a legal battle seeking damages from the Secret Service.” [via]

Eminent Victorian Chess Players

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies by Tim Harding.

Tim Harding Eminent Victorian Chess Players

This book took me approximately forever to read. The prose style is clear and accessible; there’s just so very much information, and I was trying to appreciate it all at one go, interminably extended, as it turned out. Even so, I have not yet not much explored the appendices (of which the most entertaining promises to be Appendix VI on “The Career of Mephisto,” a chess pseudo-automaton sometimes operated by the player Isidor Gunsberg). Each biography contains an assortment of chess games actually played by the player under study, usually with annotations. I am a mediocre player myself, though I enjoy the game, and working through even a quarter to a third of these, as I think I did, hugely added to the time that I spent with this book. Beyond the diagrams for games, the book is extensively illustrated in black and white with photo and sketch portraits, and reproductions of primary documents.

Eminent Victorian Chess Players embraces a wealth of detail. The editorial apparatus is bracingly thorough, including multiple indices. The included games are all indexed by opening! The ten players treated are Evans, Staunton, Loewenthal, Bird, Skipworth, Steinitz, Blackburne, Zuckertort, Burn, and Gunsberg. Each of the biographies is a considerable work, reflecting extensive research. Although providing ample biographical context in each case, these are accounts of the men as players, teachers, and organizers of chess, with details on their other employment and their family lives all as a background to their chess accomplishments. Author Harding presumes the reader’s knowledge and appreciation of the 20th-century game, and in the course of these biographies he provides many perspectives on the 19th-century chess milieu, with some intimations of how it differed from what came later. In particular, he traces the development of a British chess culture over the period studied.

The volume is a significant work of chess history, exhibiting at every turn the fruits of original research. I would recommend it without reservation to those with an interest in this particular field. [via]


The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Faustus the card game

Faustus is “a fiendishly tactical card game of temptation and demonology for three to six sorcerers” from Talking Skull, designed by Nimrod Jones and art by George C Contronis.

Faustus the card game from Talking Skull

Doctor Faustus made a pact with the demon, Mephistopheles, to have power over all demons and so become the most powerful magician of all time. You, too, have entered into such a pact, but can you really control what you have unleashed or will they take control of you?

Secrets are power and temptation! Battle with other magicians to ensure that you, and only you, escape the price for such power: Damnation!

Faustus is a game of secrets and temptation. In this game for 3 to 6 players, you take on the role of a magician summoning demons onto yourself and casting them at other magicians whilst tempting them with your hidden secrets. But only one can escape damnation. Only one! One goes free else all are damned!

This card game, designed by Nimrod Jones with stunningly atmospheric art by George C. Cotronis, is the flagship game for Talking Skull, due for release in October via our print partners, Chronicle City.

With two versions of the game and optional rules, this game can be played by both novice and experienced gamers. In the Basic version of the game all that matters on the demons are the numbers; keep your numbers low and doom the rest. In the Advanced game you experience the full power of the demons under your command with each of the 40 Demons offering a unique power that is yours to command while they are in bound to your Pact.

Read about the development process of this game in The Road to Faustus.” [via]

Faustus the card game preview deck

Ghouls of the Miskatonic

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ghouls of the Miskatonic: Book One of The Dark Waters Trilogy by Graham McNeill, from Fantasy Flight Games:

Graham McNeill's Ghouls of the Miskatonic from Fantasy Flight Games


McNeill’s Ghouls of the Miskatonic is the first book in a trilogy premised on the “Arkham Horror” Lovecraftian gaming franchise. Derlethian might be a better adjective, in that both the typical gaming dynamic and the flavor of this book are closer to a Derleth pastiche like The Trail of Cthulhu than they are to HPL’s own Yog-Sothothery.

I haven’t played Arkham Horror itself, but I have played the lighter-weight spinoff Elder Sign, which I find quite enjoyable. Two of the characters available to players in Elder Sign are featured in Ghouls of the Miskatonic (Amanda Sharpe and Kate Winthrop), and these two—and probably others—are also Arkham Horror characters. I was a little surprised at the extent to which my interest in these characters was enhanced by prior game play. The novel also makes reference to Miskatonic University personalities established in the literary originals of the “Mythos”: Henry Armitage, Laban Shrewsbury, and others.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic is set in Arkham, Massachusetts, in 1926. That places it in the year following the main events described in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (but before the narrator’s discovery of them). McNeill puts a lot of emphasis on Prohibition and other features of 1920s America that aren’t as evident in the “native” accounts of Lovecraft and his peers. Some of this works well. There is an occasional clinker in diction or dialect, and although anachronisms are mostly kept at bay, the assumed co-ed character of Miskatonic is a little off-kilter, as other reviewers have noted.

The story starts off from every which way; at least half a dozen seemingly independent plot strands are brought together over the course of twenty chapters. In the process, the extremely diverse cast of heroes are brought into social relation with each other as well, so that by the book’s conclusion there is a little band of defenders: three students, an anthropologist, a scholar of ancient religion, a journalist, a photographer, a Pinkerton, and a hoodlum. As the first volume of the “Dark Waters Trilogy,” I actually had to wonder if this wasn’t programmed by McNeill on the model of The Fellowship of the Ring!

The narrative is all provided in a pulpy third-person omniscient style, and while the characters’ feelings are described extensively enough, there’s not much to draw the reader in to share those feelings. A good helping of graphic violence is available, for the benefit of those who are drawn to the combat element in the games, I suppose. The cover of the book is both attractive and a clinically accurate depiction of the scene described on page 200. The volume does provide a plot resolution, while leaving a few key questions unanswered, allowing the demand for a sequel to be posed in the epilogue. It was a fast read, and I’ve already acquired the second book—though I’m not too proud to admit that a contributing motive for the latter was to secure the proof of purchase that will entitle me to a promotional component to be added to my copy of the Elder Sign game. [via]



The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Commentary (ΜϜ) on ΚΕΦΑΛΗ ΜϜ Buttons and Rosettes in Liber CCCXXXIII, The Book of Lies by Aleister Crowley.

“The fact remains that in vice, as in everything else, some things satiate, others refresh. Any game in which perfection is easily attained soon ceases to amuse, although in the beginning its fascination is so violent.

Witness the tremendous, but transitory, vogue of ping-pong and diabolo. Those games in which perfection is impossible never cease to attract.” [via, see, see]