The monochrome version makes these orcs even more menacing.

Which interpretation of orcs across all media comes closest to your mental picture as your read Tolkien’s books?

I’m not a fan of Peter Jackson’s orcs and Uruk-hai, especially the Moria scenes in which orcs are climbing down columns and walls like so many spiders. Researching SPI’s board game, War of the Ring, I came across another old favorite, Gondor which was marketed as a companion game. On Boardgamegeek someone took a photo of the rule book with Tim Kirk’s cover art. Upon seeing this forgotten picture I realized why Jackson’s orcs never resonated with me as they never came close to projecting the same level of menace.

Here is Tim Kirk’s original.

When it comes to fantasy miniatures I wouldn’t mind owning some well painted Grenadier orcs, with the old Monster Manual pig snouts.  Just like Jackson’s orcs, the pig snouts do not fit my mental image of orcs but the the early D&D nostalgia is too strong.

In you go to this thread and scroll down until you see the pig faced orc picture from the 4th Edition and prior Monster Manuals Squirrelloid’s post compares different orc interpretations. Disclaimer: I have no clue on what WYSIWYG is!



Last week I was asked if I knew of any games covering the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. Short answer is I never played but a few board games were produced. For computer simulations, I am unaware of any unless someone developed a scenario or mod within a game engine.

For those unfamiliar with this costly and probably futile waste of life this Infogalactic link is good.  Think of the Hürtgen of the northernmost extension of the Ardennes, the same wooded, hilly and hard to transverse terrain that favors the defender.  Instead of overwhelming an overstretched front line as the Germans did just to the south in the Bulge, the Americans kept committing troops against strong defenses.  The only strategic sense I can make of it was Allied acceptance of a costly battle of attrition.

Here are a few Hürtgen based board games found on Boardgamegeek:

SPI’s Hürtgen Forest Approach to the Roer, November 1944 (published 1976).  Battalion / Regiment level simulation.

Critical Hit’s Hürtgen Surprise (2008).  Squad level combat. I’m interested in seeing how the game system handles concealment and strongly fortified positions.

Decision Games’ Hürtgen: Hell’s Forest (2012).  Battalion / Regiment level.  Link to a 11 minute video with an overview of a small scenario.

Critical Hit’s game module (from Advanced Tobruk) ATS Historical Module: Huertgen Hell (2014).

A good rule of thumb, just like “don’t advance on Moscow” is “only bad things can happen in the German forests”.

I can recommend Douglas Nash’s Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp: With the 272nd Volks-Grenadier Division from the Huertgen Forest to the Heart of the Reich. I was looking for more information on the Volks-Grenadiers and this book has the most comprehensive overview I can find.  My blog post, on the VGs, as part of the ongoing Bulge / Battle for St. Vith series kept getting deferred until I found this book.

I recommend the movie, When Trumpets Fade. This link has good info on weapons seen in the film. My knowledge of the fighting in the Hurtgen is limited so don’t know if the film’s action scenes are pure fiction or derived from historical accounts but if you doubt the madness depicted in the film when infantry is ordered to take a bridge in the face of 88’s and impervious armor firing at will from a ridge line remember to read your Paul Fussell.






To supplement my blog post on the Volks-Grenadiers a couple of the weapons mentioned:

Sturmgewehr (Assault Rifle) 44

StG-44 from Infogalactic article

Hitler was opposed to the development of an assault rifle as he was afraid widespread use would cause a strain on ammunition supplies. The original version banned by Hitler was the Maschinenkarabiner 42(H) so the German Army renamed it to the Maschineenpistole 43 (MP 43), started production and tested the first examples on the Eastern Front, where they proved their worth. This version was able to fire single shot or automatic.  Front line troops soon learned that the added firepower was well worth the cost in ammunition and also gave infantry platoons tactical flexibility as the were not wholly dependent on less maneuverable machine guns for firepower. By 1944, its worth proven many times over, Hitler officially authorized the weapon which was renamed to the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44).

The weapon fired 7.92mm rounds from a 419mm barrel with a muzzle velocity of 650m per second at a cyclic rate of fire at 500 rounds per minute. Magazines held 30 rounds.  Effective up to 500 meters, after which stability and accuracy greatly decreased.  The basic issue was 26 assault rifles in each 32 man machine pistol platoon. Each company had three platoons and the third platoon was designated as the infantry platoon and armed with Mauser 98K rifles. This was the official issue though many VG formations only received 50% or less of their allotment of StG-44’s.


Raketenpanzerbüschse (Rocket tank rifle) 54

Not to be confused with the Panzerfaust this weapon was also known as the Panzerschreck (tank terror) and the design was influenced by the American bazooka.  Served by a two man crew the weapon fired a 88mm hollow charge projectile with an effective range of 120 meters.  Allied tank commanders gave great respect to this weapon and eventually learned to call in heavy artillery fire wherever it was suspected this weapon was deployed. The Panzerschreck teams were vulnerable to high explosive fire and the back blast and smoke given off after firing, quickly gave their position away.

In the Campaign Series game system I believe that this AT capability is included in individual platoon’s anti-tank firepower. The VG platoons will knock Allied tanks around if they are allowed to get close and this weapon is one of the main reasons for that high unit value.



As I proceed through the Bulge series of posts I intend to add more details and weapons to this post and also start a dedicated post for the Americans.











Writing (Erindor Press): There’s this thing about new writers. They’re very tentative and they’ve yet to embrace any sense of authority over their writing and choice of career or hobby.

You can tell by the way they interact with other writers, often being deferential in the extreme to those of us who have published something. They eat up advice from everywhere (they’re not necessarily able to decipher between good and bad advice, but that’s a subject for a different article). They’re typically quick to change their opinion about one element of the craft or another based on little more than a tweet from a published author.


RPG (RPG Pundit): I’ve posted previously in this series (on the old blog, but archived here), about some of the misconceptions about how ‘occultism’ is handled in a lot of allegedly-occult RPGs, and how GMs can modify things to more closely model the reality of the occult scene (a reality that is filled with posers, fakers, and lunatics, but also some truly fascinating stuff).  One of the big ones in modern games is about how occult knowledge is somehow rare or very difficult to access (the classic Call of Cthulhu scenario where magical knowledge is only available in the most obscure places), when the fact is that the problem is not access to that knowledge at all, but the ability to differentiate between the useful and the useless.

Read More

The last quarter of the 19th Century saw the several European powers carve up any territory they could annex around the globe. Previously, the Dutch, French, and British Empires would be territory in the Caribbean basin for producing raw materials such as sugar and indigo. There would be some trading posts or ports in the Far East. A few other spots would be held in Africa and Indian Ocean islands for ships to replenish food and water. Even the U.S. got suckered into empire building with the Spanish-American War. An interesting alternate history would be to examine if the Spanish-American War had never happened.

France embarked on an ambitious imperial expansion in the wake of its loss in the Franco-Prussian War. French Naval & Colonial Troops 1872-1914 is an overview of the French Marines in this enterprise. I remember reading about French Marines being the empire builders in Sub-Saharan Africa in Pakenham’s Scramble for Africa.

This Osprey booklet gives some more detail on the French Marines. Rene Chartrand has written over 40 Osprey booklets. Illustrations are by Mark Stacey. The booklet is 48 pages. There are eight color plates of illustrations in addition to the black & white period illustrations contained throughout the booklet.

Chartrand has an introduction on the new French empire. Interesting to find “that proceeds from colonial trade kept rising faster than the metropolitan gross domestic product, creating the wealth associated with “La Belle Epoque,’ and this was seen to justify the investment in a large colonial empire.” Read More

A lot of ink has been spilled on trying to categorize science fiction into hard and soft categories, whether at the Castalia House blog, other online sites, and in print. What quickly emerges is how fluid the definitions are. Hard science fiction may refer, depending on the speaker, to fiction addressing the physical sciences, adhering strictly to the known models of universe, or projecting the consequences of a breakthrough far into the unknown. The argument on whether Jules Verne’s science-influence fantastic voyages count as hard science is now over a hundred years old. Soft science fiction is an even more nebulous term, which may refer to fiction addressing the social sciences, diverging from the known models of the universe through fanciful technologies, or using the milieu of the future. Works such as Poul Anderson’s “Uncleftish Beholding”, which uses the rigor associated with hard science on English language itself, further blend and confuse the boundary between the two types of science fiction.

What usually comes out of these discussions is frustration over the fluidity of the definitions and a growing sense that attempts to divide science fiction into binary categories are futile at best.

Enter Isaac Asimov.

Asimov was a member of many science fiction and writers’ clubs in New York, including the notorious Futurians, a club devoted to social transformations of fandom and society. Eric Raymond explains further:

The first revolt against hard SF came in the early 1950s from a group of young writers centered around Frederik Pohl and the Futurians fan club in New York. The Futurians invented a kind of SF in which science was not at the center, and the transformative change motivating the story was not technological but political or social. Much of their output was sharply satirical in tone, and tended to de-emphasize individual heroism. The Futurian masterpiece was the Frederik Pohl/Cyril Kornbluth collaboration The Space Merchants (1956).

In 1953, to promote the idea of science fiction as social exploration at the height of the Futurian revolt, Asimov penned “Social Science Fiction”, an article of criticism that divided science fiction into three categories. Rather than set the dividing line across academic rigor or scientific discipline, he instead examined how science was used in the story. To Asimov, science played three roles in the genre–as a gadget, the source of an adventure, or the examination of society. Or, as he put it:

Gadget sci-fi: Man invents car, holds lecture on how it works. 

Adventure sci-fi: Man invents car, gets into a car chase with a villain. 

Social sci fi: Man invents car, gets stuck in traffic in the suburbs.

Read More

Viking astronauts, grounded mech pilots, and stranded colonists are featured in this week’s roundup of the newest releases in science fiction.

Alliance Rising (The Hinder Stars #1) C. J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher

For years, the stations of the Hinder Stars, those old stations closest to Sol, have lagged behind the great megastations of the Beyond, like Pell and Cyteen. But new opportunities and fears arise when Alpha station receives news of an incoming ship with no identification. The denizens of Alpha wait anxiously for news about the outsiders, each with their own suspicions about the ship and its origins.

Ross and Fallon, crew members of the Galway, believe the unidentified ship belongs to Pell and has come to investigate another massive ship docked at Alpha, The Rights of Man. Though Rights is under the command of the Earth Company, it is not quite perfected–and its true purpose is shrouded in mystery.

James Robert Neihart, captain of Finity’s End–a huge faster-than-light ship flown by one of the Merchanter Families–has heard whispers of The Rights of Man and wonders at its design and purpose, especially as Sol struggles to rival the progress of the Farther Stars. Now docked at Alpha, he must convince the crews that there is more to The Rights of Man than meets the eye.

Because the reasons behind the creation of The Rights of Man, and its true plans, could change everything–not just for Sol, but for the Hinder Stars and the Beyond itslf.

Arkad’s World – James L. Cambias

Young Arkad is the only human on a distant world, on his own among beings from across the Galaxy. His struggle to survive on the lawless streets of an alien city is disrupted by the arrival of three humans: an eccentric historian named Jacob, a superhuman cyborg girl called Baichi, and a mysterious ex-spy known as Ree. They seek a priceless treasure which might free Earth from alien domination. Arkad risks everything to join them on an incredible quest halfway across the planet. With his help they cross the fantastic landscape, battling pirates, mercenaries, bizarre creatures, vicious bandits and the harsh environment. But the deadliest danger comes from treachery and betrayal within the group as dark secrets and hidden loyalties come to light.

Black Swarm (Rise of the Empire #11) – Ivan Kal

The war for the fate of the galaxy is underway.

The Empire and its allies struggle to find a way to strike back at the Enlightened, who are employing raiding tactics to set the galaxy on fire. And with their new ability to travel through access points, the job of the galactic alliance is that much harder. Meanwhile Adrian, unable to force a confrontation with the three Enlightened turns his eyes to the Custodian, the ancient AI that had until recently kept the Enlightened contained. Now the AI had joined the Enlightened side, allowing them the use of access points. And Adrian worried that the threat of the AI might eclipse even that of the Enlightened.

Tomas moves to keep the galaxy from collapsing, as different star nations reach out seeking help as the Enlightened invade and decimate their systems. Meanwhile the Josanti League, the star nation that had been the primary target of the Enlightened, refuses the galactic alliance’s offer for aid.

Adrian and Tomas have different ideas as to how this war needs to be fought, but there is no more time. The Enlightened have put their plan into motion, and the doomsday clock is ticking.

Conspiracy (Mindspace #2) – A.K. DuBoff

Kira’s greatest opponent may be herself.

Following her exposure to experimental nanotech, Captain Kira Elsar faces an uncertain future. But uncontrollable transformations aren’t her only problem.

A previously undetected alien menace, a race capable of remote telepathic control, is threatening her home system… and the Tararian Guard. With the discovery that a government official in Kira’s home system has been subverted, Kira’s team must get control of the situation before the Elvar Trinary descends into chaos. Read More

If This Be Utopia… by Kris Neville appeared in the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at

Kris Neville’s “If this Be Utopia…” is a classic example of one of those “warning what the future will be like under this or that political system” sci-fi fables.

In a future where everyone lives under a planned economy, tooled by the state for maximum efficiency (one of those each according to their abilities, each according to their needs, but also the luck of the draw type deals), we meet Mr. Morrison, a mid-level social administrator type who’s struggling to keep his head above water, overusing his alcohol ration cards and getting his hands on more illicitly because he needs it just to keep going.

It’s Mr. Morrison’s job to rate the efficiency of those below him—primarily menial labor workers in mines and factories—and report his finding to those above him. The responsibility is taking its toll, and he bemoans that the common laborer, at least, may leave his work behind him at the end of the day, while the office worker and administrator takes his work home, forever unfinished, to weigh on him at all hours until he resumes it the next day. Basically the whole “all classes envy aspects of the other and utopian efficiency is far from idyllic; actually it’s a nightmare” thing.

Read More

I have been following China’s naval ambitions and aggressive sphere-of-influence expansion with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is a return to normalcy as they are a neighborhood powerhouse with which our foreign policy elites are still coming to grips and considers it a strange thing indeed, but on the other, I laugh at the hubris as China’s history is an endless poem of self-defeat then domination by outsiders. A resurgence, only to repeat the cycle again.
Meanwhile, in the USA, we have had a series of nautical incidents which may be a symptom of the abandonment of naval traditions. Performing the tasks required in war and battle, whether the simple act of casting off from a pier or coordinating multiple fleets across hundreds of miles of enemy water, leads to more than theoretical best practices and training-level discoveries as these processes are eventually intertwined with tradition, sometimes in an inexplicable way. What China is doing by the rapid expansion of their fleet without a strong naval tradition is creating a paper dragon to float upon the water. Great Britain, the once-undisputed ruler of the seas on whose empire the sun never set, faced difficulties when it tried to expand the fleet aggressively, its green officers making costly mistakes such as the loss with all hands of four battleships in the Scilly naval disaster of 1707. Now, of course, poor support and disuse has set into the whole of its navy, and its tradition is all but spent. China has no such potent tradition to draw upon, and I shudder to think what will happen if its fleets engage any world power on such tenuous, textbook-only grounds. I am not alone.

Read More

When reading Morgan’s post on J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday I was reminded of an old favorite, SPI’s War of the Ring. Alas, my copy is MIA due to a nomadic life and used copies fetch a pretty price online so I cannot give a detailed game overview.

Basically, it was two games in one.  The main game could be played as a character game only (get the ring to Mt Doom) or the campaign game in which armies were added providing players with a strategic backdrop to the Fellowship’s quest.

This was a board game so the game designer had an issue with the Dark Power player able to see the Fellowship’s counters on the board.  Instead of going with a blind search system like the search for carriers in the old Avalon Hill Midway game the designer created a system in which the Fellowship player placed the character counters face down.  In order to locate the ring bearer, the Dark Power player needed to move units (usually Nazgul but also bands of orcs) to one of the stacks of Fellowship characters and conduct a search.  What made it harder than simply moving towards a stack of counters on the map board was the Dark Power player had to expend valuable Shadow Points in order to do so. If the Fellowship split the party it was that much harder for the Dark Power player to succeed.

Of course, the system could be gamed.  The Dark Power player could keep all the Nazgul waiting at Mt Doom for the ring bearer or the Fellowship Player could “obtain a Cowardly Draw” in the character game by splitting into nine one character stacks and running them in random directions. In house rules were needed. This is a game that would be greatly enhanced by a computer or online version.  God knows who has the game rights now, Hasbro?

Here is an excellent article over at Armchair General Magazine on the history of Middle Earth games.

Read More

Wargame Wednesday will return to the Ardennes next week.

I have been looking for good references on the Volksgrenadiers and discovered one with excellent background info.  As I conduct research new facts emerge. Unlike the scenario’s starting positions, the 106th Infantry Division’s 424th Regiment was deployed on the front line and not in reserve at St. Vith.  Thanks to MacDonald’s book (another recent arrival) I learned of a hole in the American lines that the Germans took advantage of.

New posts since last Wednesday on my blog concerning English oil production during WW2 and Strategy and Tactics magazine back issues.

Zach Wood’s schedule has cleared up and was able to return to posting last week with a well received article on incorporating weather in wargames.  His post this week offers more food for thought.

Zach and I are looking for Castalia House readers to join in and provide different perspectives to Wargame Wednesday.  The majority of my posts are backward looking and I to dive into military history as often as I discuss games.  I have included Zach and my own “official” CH bios below. Our interests may not be yours so here is a chance to add WW content relevant to your tastes and gaming preferences.

If interested, let us know in the comments or e-mail at: scottatcastalia -at- gmail  com with proposed topics or even just your likes and dislikes.

Zachary Wood is an educator, editor, and author with a keen love of analog gaming of all stripes. His love of history and teaching draws him repeatedly to Wargames old and new, though he is morosely searching for like minded friends in the American Southwest with which to actually game again. His focus on Wargame Wednesday is ripping open the hood and talking about mechanics and the translations from real life to a trial on the tabletop, and keeping engagement high.

Scott Cole has been war gaming since early childhood, albeit with many job and life induced sabbaticals.  Most of his game time is allocated to computer game WW2 simulations but he will play a miniatures game of any historical period at the drop of the hat.  Despite not playing board games on a regular basis, Scott has been researching the games played at the dawn of the hobby and the designers behind them. His current focus for Wargame Wednesday is on the past, both studying and posting about older military simulations and history, the more obscure, the better.




RPG (Modiphius): Horrors of the Hyborian Age is the definitive guide to the monstrous creatures inhabiting the dark tombs, ruined cities, forgotten grottos, dense jungles, and sinister forests of Conan’s world. This collection of beasts, monsters, undead, weird races, and mutants are ready to pit their savagery against the swords and bravery of the heroes of the Hyborian Age.

Drawn from the pages of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, this roster also includes creatures and alien horrors from H.P. Lovecraft ’s Cthulhu Mythos, to which Howard inextricably bound his Hyborian Age. Other entries are original, chosen carefully to refl ect the tone and dangers of Conan’s world.


Fiction (Mercatornet): This well-known Lord of the Jungle has many characteristics that any reader would be glad to check off from their favourite hero’s must-have list: strength; courage; resourcefulness; dignity, and nobility. And he uses them all in abundance as he wins his way to the top of the food chain. As well as winning over all who get to know him, he captivates the imagination when he kills lions, out-wits savage cannibals, avoids becoming a human sacrifice, foils the treachery of rogue Russian spies, and, not the least, successfully navigates the complicated reefs of the human heart in search of love.


Writers (DMR Books): Keith Taylor’s birthday has rolled around once again. Keith informed me today that he’s enjoying the anniversary of his nativity in his sunny hometown of Melbourne, Down Under. Rather than reviewing one of Keith’s books–as I did last year--this year I thought I’d apprise the Gentle Readers of the DMR Blog of what Mr. Taylor is working on now and what his fans can look forward to in 2019. Read More