Retirement – Year One

A year ago last week, I retired from working in the world of the Corporate Overlords (early retirement – I’m only 57). My departure letter is still epic and makes me smile. Farewell Letter. I learned a lot about retirement and thought I’d share some tid bits for those of you that might be considering it. 

You need something to do.  Me; I am one of the owners of a small game company and a writer.  Retiring meant that I could focus on doing what I love, writing.  I am cranking the books out as a result and loving it. In many respects, I’m working longer hours now but I only answer to myself.  Our little company, Creative Juggernaut, launched a successful Kickstarter and delivered on it already. 

 A lot of people that retire don’t have something to fill their lives and that is a lot more challenging.  For those folks it is easy to get sucked into watching TV.  You need to dive deep into your hobbies and interests…don’t be a couch potato. It doesn’t matter if it is model trains, playing games, visiting national parks, or working on a book – you need some things to do.   

Time becomes fuzzy.  When you worked, the weekends had meaning.  When you are retired, every day is Saturday.  There are a lot of times I don’t even know what day of the week it is – let alone what number on the calendar.  Most importantly, I don’t care about what day of the week it is.    

Don’t make an unachievable honey-do list.  I had a friend that retired and had a goal of cleaning out his garage.  It hasn’t happened yet.  Look, when you set a big goal, it is easy to blow it off.  You need to have small, achievable goals for home improvement projects.  Break a big task into small ones.  Don’t say you’ll get the whole garage/basement done, settle for one wall or one room.  Make the goals achievable. Do that, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done.  

Continuous learning is important.  When I was at work they made us take classes and I resented most of them.  When you force someone to take a class, it usually is because of some management failure or legal issue.  Outside of work, there were a lot of things I wanted to learn how to do.  So I went to our community college and took a welding class.  I wanted to make some furniture for our new house and wanted that industrial look. It took a while, thanks to Covid, but I finally finished the class.  I found there are discounts if you are over the age of 55 in some instances for classes, so make sure you ask.  I am always looking to keep my mind working by forcing it to learn new things.   

Exercise.  Look, your whole life you said that you simply didn’t have time to work out.  Well, now you can.  Get up and get at it.  I have found that now that I don’t have to fit it into my schedule, I work out longer at the gym and go more often. I feel like I am the only person to come through COVID in better shape than when I started.   

You need some sort of routine.  Humans are creatures of pattern and behavior.  So come up with some sort of schedule for your life, even if it is very basic.  It gives you a reason to get up and some sort of way to measure time.  I have found that even a very basic routine gives my life the structure I was missing from when I was ‘working for the man.’

Spend time with your loved ones.  My wife and I are building a new house.  So, temporarily, we are in an apartment.  It is pretty cramped and you’d think we’d be at each other’s throats, but we are actually having a lot of fun.  We have identified some 20 different restaurants we have never eaten at and are slowly working our way through the list.  Every meal is date-night.  Additionally, thanks to COVID, we watch our grandson every other week while he does virtual schooling.  I have seen more of him and my daughter in the last three months alone than I did in the previous two years.  My grandson and I play Fortnight and have fun together.  (PS.  I recommend video games – they help with concentration, hand-eye coordination, and are a lot of fun.)

I also take the time to call my other relatives. I always felt rushed before retirement, having to squeeze in time for other people.  Not any longer!  I try and connect every few weeks and it is a meaningful discussion.

You won’t miss your friends from work as much as you think. I keep in contact with four people from work, two of which are still imprisoned (working) there. I had to cut off a few ‘friends’ entirely because they posted terrible political posts that I could not tolerate. (I find that I don’t have the need to engage with people about idiotic political stuff like I used to.) I don’t miss work in the least. There are only two people that can tell me what to do, my wife and my dog. When I hear about stuff happening back at work, I find myself satisfied that I made the right decision at the right time. Keep in touch with your real friends from work.

 Feel free to share this with people who are considering retirement.

Transcript of our podcast, Tantamount – Episode 8 – The Phantom of St. E’s

Episode 8

St. Elizabeths – 2019

The following is the transcript of our latest episode on the Freeway Phantom

Hello, this is Blaine Pardoe.  Welcome back to our podcast.  I’m joined, as usual, with my daughter and co-author, Victoria Hester.

Welcome back everyone.  We hope you are all enjoying the Tantamount Podcast.  We certainly are having fun pulling them together.  With this episode is an important one for this case.  We call it the Phantom of St. E’s, but the real meat of what we are going to cover is around the topic of geographic profiling. 

I have to admit, when we started working on the book about the Freeway Phantom, I really only had a bit of surface knowledge about geographic profiling.  I’m not an expert now, but I have read a fantastic textbook on the subject. 

We really didn’t have a choice.  One of our confidential police informants gave us a copy of the geographic profile done of the murders in 2005.  That forced the issue because it was very revealing about potential suspects. Geography plays a key role in these murders.  The killer operated in a relatively small number of neighborhoods.  The roads were important to him and that was where he dumped the remains of his victims. If you analyze the geography, it can really focus on what was important to him, what was his tie to the communities.  And in this case, the geographic profile puts you right on ground zero. 

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  Let’s talk about how geographic profiling works. When I started this I thought it was a matter of drawing circles around the crime scenes and seeing where they interlock.  There is a lot more to it than that.  This is some pretty serious math in play here.  Geographic profiling looks at where the victims resided, where they were last seen – which is where they had contact with their killer, and where their bodies get dumped.  These then factor in along with a variety of other factors including road systems, traffic patterns and volumes at the time of day.  They look at things like the time travel to the crime scene and other criminal theories such as rational choice. 

Geographic profiling is not intended to tell you where the killer lives or works – but that can be a result.  What it does is zero in on what are called Anchor Points. These are places where the serial killer has a special connection of some sort.  Now, in some cases, that can be their home.  Likewise it may be where they work. Many times it is neither.  An Anchor Point is merely a place where the murderer has a high degree of familiarity.  They frequent these spots.  These are often the places where they are most comfortable being. It may not even be where they have ties now, but where they had a strong connection in the past. 

The person that did the Freeway Phantom geographic profile was D. Kim Rossmo, out of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation, at the Texas State University. He was invited to pull it together by Detective Jim Trainum of the Washington DC Metropolitan Police.  It was a technique that was not available to the original investigators in the 1970’s and Trainum hoped that the use of this tool might help him as he reopened the Freeway Phantom murders.

Geospatial intelligence originated out of the research done at Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology in British Columbia, Canada, in 1989.  Dr. Rossmo is a pioneer in this field.  It has helped investigators narrow their search for killers in active investigations.  What I found interesting is that they really refined the formula and the techniques by looking at serial killings that had already been solved.  In the case of the Night Stalker in California, they were able to retro-fit the analysis and it showed the very block that Richard Ramirez lived at when he had been committing the crimes.  Rossmo has also applied this to a number of cold cases. 

I liked the analysis done of Jack the Ripper’s murders. It is so cool to see a technique like this applied to these high-profile unsolved cases. 

I agree!  That was pretty neat.

What is also interesting is that Geographic profiling can’t be used in every case.  You really need a string of connected murders for it to be effective.  Also, you need a certain kind of serial killer.  You need a killer who is not a rover.  If you have a serial killer that, for example, travels the country and kills in a wide spread of geographies over time, the tool’s effectiveness diminishes because that kind of killer does not have relevant anchor point. 

Well, in the case of the Freeway Phantom, we know he operated in a fairly tight area, concentrated on the southeast neighborhoods of DC and just inside Prince George’s County, Maryland. 

True.  I found Dr. Rossmo’s textbook on profiling fascinating to me.  A lot more interesting than the textbooks I read in college.  Not so much the math, but the thinking behind how serial killers operate.

Why don’t you go into that for a minute?  I’m sure the listeners would like it.

Sure.  A serial killer is often a hunter.  There are multiple varieties of how they hunt.  Some lure their victims to their place and kill them there. 

Like Jeffrey Dahlmer. 

Exactly.  Other killers stalk their prey and kill them either where they make contact with them, or take them somewhere else after gaining control of them, then kill them there. 

Then they must dispose of their victims.  Some do that locally, burying them at their house.  Most try and put some distance between the victims and where they were slain.  As you know, some killers use dump sites to dispose of multiple victims, while others spread out where they leave their victims. 

Well, that’s the Freeway Phantom.  We know he took seized his victims, took them somewhere, most likely his house, killed them, then drove their bodies to where he left them.  He started doing a dump site initially.  Carol Spinks and Darlenia Johnson were found in a very small area, less than 15 feet apart.  His other victims were left all Southeast DC and Maryland. 

Right.  Now some of the theories that I found in Dr. Rossmo’s book was that there are zones where a serial killer will and won’t operate.  Think of these as concentric rings and imagine his home or place of work in the center.  The neighborhood around that anchor point is well known to the killer.  He knows the roads, the side streets, traffic, everything.  The problem is he is known there too.  So if he tries to pick up a victim, the people in that center ring may very well know who he is and make him easier to capture.  So a killer is less likely, in most cases, to operate in that center ring around their anchor point. 

The next ring out is where the real hunting for victims takes place.  These are neighborhoods and streets that the serial killer knows very well.  At the same time, he is not known there.  For the most part he’s as stranger there. 

The familiarity with the streets is pretty important.  The killer has to be able to navigate with the victim to wherever he intends to kill them.  To me, it feels like these are the areas where he has spent a lot of time looking for potential victims.  He’s probably even made some trial runs from there back to where he kills them.  If he’s smart, he knows something about the police patrols there too. 

Exactly.  The final outermost circle is huge.  This represents geography were the killer is not likely to operate.  He isn’t familiar with the area, there isn’t that comfort he has.  It’s not his turf.  This area is where the killer is uncomfortable that he can pull off his crime and not get caught. 

I like to think of these as hunting zones.  They factor into the calculations for geographic profiling as well. So as you can see, it’s not as easy as pulling up Google Maps and drawing circles on it.  There’s a lot you have to consider with this kind of profiling. 

For me, as an author, going to some of these neighborhoods some 40 plus years later, it is surreal.  You can cruise the same streets, see the same thing that the killer did.  Sure the cars are smaller and the apartments and homes are different, some better, some worse…but you get a vibe of what it was like for the Phantom roaming, looking for prey. 

Detective Trainum didn’t mess around when he wanted his geographic profiling done.  He had Dr. Rossmo do it.  And while it was done in 2005, the results still should stand as valid.  

I would like to point out that the geographic profile done for the Freeway Phantom cases did NOT include Teara Ann Bryant.  We know that the FBI considered her as part of the Freeway Phantom killings because she is part of their profile of the killer.  When the Washington MPD asked for their geographic profile, they didn’t include her.  Even so, I doubt it would have affected the results greatly.  The location where she disappeared and where her body was found is, as I like to call it, ‘in the zone’ of where the Phantom operated. 

By now you probably want us to cut to the chase, so I will.  Where did the geographic profile say the anchor point for this serial killer was?  St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. 

St. Elizabeth, or St. E’s as a lot of locals call it, is not your typical psychiatric facility in the 1970’s.  It was built around the time of the Civil War. It was huge, a campus really, consisting of many buildings, gardens, etc. Even today, as they tear it down for new homes, it has a creepy-factor about it.  The windows all are barred, the doors and stairs have industrial screening. For decades, this hospital was where the government sent their criminals and citizens that suffered the worst mental conditions. They used shock treatments and experimental medications there.  Those bars on the windows, they are not to keep people out, but keep patients in. 

When we were down there, I have to admit, it gave me an ooky feeling.  I mean this was an anchor point for the killer, a place that he had a special connection to.  When you looked through the chain link fencing that now surrounds the site, it is easy to picture patients peering out of the windows.  Every door has flat faded green mesh or bars.  It was like a prison, but far worse. I would hate to be there at night.  Not because of any fear in the neighborhood, but you can stand there and imagine the sounds that came from those buildings, the muffled screams from padded cells – the cries of the mad in the night.  It really is a place right out of a Hollywood horror film.  

Remember, the first two victims, Spinks and Johnson, they were left on I-295 on the shoulder.  Some 20 feet away was the perimeter fence for St. E’s.  That’s how much this facility was tied to the killer.  You have to wonder, did he wander the grounds there at some point and scope out where he was going to leave his victims years later? 

For me – this profile brings us back to looking at the suspects.  From what we were able to gather through our research and reviewing court records, none of the Green Vega Gang had a significant tie to St. Elizabeths prior to their arrests.  One was sent there after he was arrested for an evaluation, but before, none of them worked there or had been patients there.  That doesn’t rule them out entirely. But the profile essentially is telling us that whoever the killer is, he had a tight bond with that location – and these guys just don’t show that. 

That makes me turn to my favorite suspect, Robert Askins. 

I knew you were going to go there! 

Duh.  The guy spent decades in St. E’s as a patient. That was where he was sentenced after his first murder conviction. Look, there’s a number of suspects that the police looked at, but only one had any connection to St. Elizabeths, and that was Robert Ellwood Askins.    

I felt the same thing when I read the report. However, being impartial, I have to point out that there were thousands of patients that had been in and out of St. E’s.  It is entirely possible that it was a doctor or a worker there.  Remember, that hospital is an anchor point for the killer.  He has some connection there.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a patient.  It could be he had a relative that was a patient and spent a lot of time there visiting.  There’s a lot of scenarios that can be concocted that could link people to St. E’s.

But what do you think?

To me, it’s another nail in the Robert Askins coffin.  It points to him.  However, we are looking at it from the lens of the police and who they had as suspects.  If that is your sample, then it is Askins.  If, however, it was someone that the police didn’t have as a suspect, well, it means it could be thousands of potential individuals. 

Our book presented the information on the geographic profile to the public for the first time. It is an important bit of information.  I only wish the police had released this information earlier themselves.  It may have generated some tips, got people thinking about friends or relatives that had links to St. E’s. 

It still can.  Remember, this is a cold case.  There’s information at the end of each episode if you have any information that might assist authorities in closing these cases.  This little nugget of information might just trigger a thought or memory that can close these cases.

In the next episode of Tantamount – serial killers rarely contact the authorities.  The Freeway Phantom did.  He had one of his victims write a note, a grizzly message that he left on her body.  The note is important because it is the killer speaking directly to the public, and to the authorities.  Please join us for Episode 9, The Voice of the Killer.

The Cuban Missile Crisis – Map of Guantanamo Bay During the Crisis

Gitmo – 1962

I am an author primarily in three genres:  Science Fiction, True Crime, and Military History.  Military History is the fun one since, in many respects, it bleeds into my science fiction writing so heavily.  October always stirs memories for me as a writer.  Some go to the first of the Colonial Park Murders, other thoughts go to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Both tug at me differently, emotionally and otherwise.  A few years ago I wrote a book on the Cuban Missile Crisis – The Fires of October

My approach was different than previous books on the subject.  It focused on the planned invasion of Cuba – Operation Scabbards (Op Plan 316-1-62).  No one had really done a book on the invasion that never happened, so I did break some new ground.  I got a lot of material declassified for the book and found some real surprises in my research. There is little doubt in my mind that if we had invaded Cuba with conventional forces it would have been very costly for the US military. We would have had our own little Vietnam experience in 1962, 90 miles off the Florida Coast. 

The attached map was one we didn’t use fully in the book, but I thought historians out there might like it.  It was drawn up in November of 1962, right on the heels of the crisis, showing Guantanamo Bay.   It is one of the best maps I found of the Bay from the time period.  The letters marked key marshaling points and staging areas.  During the invasion, there would have been a push out from Guantanamo Bay, but the main thrust of the invasion would have been on the north shores of the island. 

As we cross another anniversary of the crisis, I thought folks might enjoy this little graphic tid-bit. 

Wolf’s Dragoons – Examples of the Use of the Word Unity

I really just wrote this up as a chance to show off my new dice puck for Wolf’s Dragoons
Sweet metal dice of doom!

As we approach the era of the ilClan, I thought I’d share a funny little primer I made.  In writing about Wolf’s Dragoons in Divided We Fall, I researched the word ‘unity’ that the Dragoons toss around so casually.  So, for grins, here are the accepted contexts and meanings of the word in use in fiction (totally unauthorized and non-canon):

Dismay                                             For Unity’s sake! 
Curse                                UNITY!
Death of an enemy                                                  Uni-ity!  (read with a little sing-song – ask the guys on WolfNet Radio)
Threat                                                                        We are going to get all-unity on this guys ass. 
Family/Team                                                             Seyla!  Unity!
Acknowledgement of desperate plight                Unity.  Yeah, you bet your ass unity. 
WarningLet’s open a can of unity on these guys.
ExhaustionTired?  Me too.  Unity…
Preparing to rush into battleI’m about to shove a lot of unity down this guy’s throat!
We’re screwedOh – Unity!
Dealing with an idiotThis guy doesn’t get unity. 
Ordering another beerAnother round down here…Unity!!
ConfusionWhat the unity is going on here?
AgreementYou bet your ass unity!
StressWhat in the unity is going on here?
OutsidersYou don’t get unity.  That’s a Dragoon thing.
Let’s kill these guysUNITY!!!
Misuse of the word unityYou don’t know unity the way I know unity. 

Non-Spoiler Review of Icons of War – By Craig A. Reed Jr.

Pew Pew Pew! You missed me, you missed me!

I was honored to have read several drafts of this book and am excited for its release. Icons of War is a book primarily set in the Wars of Reaving, a series of events that has not had a lot of fiction coverage for BattleTech fans. It has made me like the Wars of Reaving much more than I used to. To be honest, I tuned out at Clan Stone Lion.

The story covers a LONG period of time. Craig Reed is emerging as a pretty damn good BattleTech author, and this book cements it. His characters are solid, which is something I really focus on. I think he did a good job of weaving in the myriad of events taking place during the Wars of Reaving without letting that stuff bog down his story. Things like that are tricky in our universe. Some authors struggle with it, Reed does not.

As you can see by the cover, this isn’t your usual fare. This has space and ground battles. And not just a space battle, a VERY cool space battle with a true BattleTech icon. I’m a big believer that certain ships are more than their tonnage and firepower. They are characters themselves. HMS Victory and the USS New Jersey are good examples. Ever watch Star Trek? Duh. The USS Enterprise is a character every bit as much as Captain Kirk. Remember when they blew it up, it hurt like hell.

BattleTech fans have one such ship – McKenna’s Pride. Craig puts his hands on a vessel I got to once, and took the helm like a seasoned author. Space battles are hard to write, but he does so with grace and skill.

This is not retcon, this tells a story that has never been told before.

The ending of this book is fantastic. I won’t ruin it for you, but it is my favorite part of the story. Five out of five stars, easily. Lots of action, a dollop of politics, and space battles…how can you resist?

Terrible Swift Sword – A Game of Summer’s Past

When I was in high school-ish, my first wargame experience was Panzer Blitz followed by Tactics II and Blitzkrieg.  They were great games, especially Panzer Blitz.  The geomorphic maps were a neat concept.  All wargamers have fond memories of those early games they were exposed to.  There was a simplicity that made them playable and fun.  Nothing was as great as pulling off a victory condition in the last turn, let’s face it.  Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat was always a thrill and still is.   

It was struggle to find gamers in an era before the internet.  I found a note at our hobby store about a summer-long game of Terrible Swift Sword.  I had a few issues of Strategy & Tactics, and loved reading their ads about their games – so I knew this one…Gettysburg.  I called the guy running it, whose name I have long forgotten, and went. 

A couple of guys set it up on a ping-pong table and we played every Saturday for two months – hours at a time.  Everyone wanted to play the Confederates, so I got stuck playing the Union (Sickles Corps).  As a side note – someone could earn a PhD studying why gamers pick Confederates and Germany so often in games.  I guess it is that chance to reverse history and everyone loves an underdog.  There were five or six of us playing. We did a thing where the guy playing Meade would hand-write out orders for us, just for a sense of realism.  Of course, being gamers, and me playing Dan Sickles, I took a lot of leeway with those written orders.  I think they stuck me with Sickles out of the thought that, being the youngest guy there, I couldn’t possibly be as stupid as he was in real life. 

I remember that game well.  It was intense and everyone was playing for keeps.  Holding the Devil’s Den was not nearly as costly as trying to take it…I grew to understand how thin your lines can get and why that is bad. The Confederates pushed hard on Day Two and managed to get a foothold on the Union’s high ground, cutting us in two for an hour or two.  It was costly for both sides. 

Every move had risks associated with it.  Every hex could be the one that spelled the difference between retreat and victory.  Those were not cardboard counters taking losses, those were my men.  When the artillery opened up, if the rolls were right, the ranks of infantry were mowed down.  Even opting to do nothing came with consequences.  Gaming is like that, a delightful cocktail of decisions, fate, and destiny.  All throughout the week, between sessions, I contemplated my next moves – thought out the tactics I would employ.  

We are building a house and my game collection is in storage until we move in.  I have a flat box edition of the game but haven’t played it in years.  I was thinking about it in the last few days, breaking it out and setting it up for another run.  I find myself longing for those games of yesteryear and those moments of glory when you outdid the real men on the field of battle. 

I’m sure all of us have similar memories from that period. I will never forget playing that game and how stressful and fun it was at the same time. 

Review of: Honor’s Gauntlet by Bryan Young

A Jade Falcon novel?  Count me in.  I’m not weighing in on their current political slant. I’m looking at this for story potential. No matter how you cut it, the Falcons are ripe for stories given that their leader is bent on victory above all else and sees terror as a ‘soft and cuddly’ way to keep people in-line.  It opens the doors for a lot of great stories about those that follow Malvina Hazen, and those that don’t. 

This is the latter.

It is the story of Archer Pryde, who is not a believer of the Mongol Doctrine.  I won’t ruin the story for you, but a lot of the conflict is him against his enemies and his own leadership.  That alone makes for a good foundation for a character and story.

I liked the story.  It was respectful of the events in The Anvil and other Dark Ages material.  With new authors in the universe, I look to that carefully.  The canon-road is a difficult one to walk.  Archer has a fairly narrow arc for development, which is just fine.  Personally, I think it would have been cool to see an arc for Archer’s commander as well.  We really haven’t gotten a look at how warriors mentally justify some of the war crimes of the Chinngis Khan.  I think that would have been a neat counterpoint to Archer’s journey…but then again, that’s just me and my taste. 

This is not a story of sweeping changes in the universe, but does give us a glimpse into Jade Falcon occupation that frankly, we rarely see. Overall, I enjoyed the story.  It ends on a quasi-cliffhanger.  I recommend reading this story in the coming months…hint, hint.   

Review BattleTech Novel: Grey Watch Protocol by Michael J. Ciaravella

The Northwind Highlanders laddie!

In fairness, my editor gave me a copy of this book upon request but did not ask for a review or attempt to slant my opinion. He knows not to ask for a good review just for the sake of it.

Mike Stackpole first introduced us to the Northwind Highlanders in his Warrior trilogy, with just a few paragraphs really.  I got the write the first two Highlander novels, Highlander Gambit and Impetus of War.  There were some Dark Ages novels as well, but I felt the authors really missed the mark with them as a unit.  As such, I approached this novel with a bit of trepidation.  I was a little surprised that no one asked me to at least read through the manuscript before it went to edit.  But hey, my little ego was a small price to pay.

I knew the story from Shattered Fortress going into this book.  In fact, I indirectly contributed to this novel.  When Phil was writing Shattered Fortress we talked about the unit, and I offered the name, “Grey Watch.”  I also asked one favor, make a Jaffray command it.

This weekend I read the book and I have to say, ‘Kudos’ to Michael Ciaravella.  I think he did something that other authors failed in the Dark Ages, he captured the essence of the Northwind Highlanders.  He expanded on the original story in Shattered Fortress, and did so in a positive way (I won’t ruin it for you.) 

House Liao is coming at Northwind, after the HPG.  The Highlanders, torn and a wee bit bitter about their relationship with the Republic of the Sphere, are not so willing to turn it over.  Out of that comes a mysterious new unit, filled with 3025 awesomeness – the Grey Watch. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, part I of the Highlander Covenant.  The characters are fairly solid.  Most importantly, for me, I felt he was respectful of the work others of us have done on this storied unit.  Plunkett having a bar named after him was heartwarming for me.  The author did his research.  He had to deal with the baggage of the Steel Wolves from the Dark Ages and did so quickly and painlessly, without making us rehash some complicated storylines. 

My only complaint – this book leaves you on a cliffhanger.  I would have preferred to get it all as one big thick book rather than two parts.  That’s just me. 

So, completely biased, I give this five out of five stars.  Now wrap up this story so we can haul ass to Terra!

The End of My Saga with Minuteman Miniatures (Miniature You)

 

IMG_0656
Me as a miniature…at long last! 

Per my blog post from October of 2019, I had some serious issues with this company.  I ordered three minis for my son, grandson and myself on December 28, 2018.  It was supposed to take 6-8 weeks.  They did not respond to emails – a LOT of emails.  So I put up a blog post blasting them:  My original rant on this company

Part of the benefits of being retired is that you have time to follow-up.  My plan was to sue them in small claims court here in Virginia then have some fun pursuing the actual cash.  I continued to email them every so often, none of which were replied to.  Three weeks ago, I Googled them and my blog post was one of the top entries for the company.

So I emailed them again.  Essentially I told them about the bad publicity and that the only way that post was ever coming down was if they gave me a refund or delivered.  Again, no response.

Then this week, a box arrived.  It was sent to our old address, we had moved, but I was about to reroute it with UPS so it was cool.

I have to admit, I was skeptical.  So I opened the box and was surprised.

I had ordered three minis, one of each of us.  I got one of my son and grandson, and three poses of me.  Also, they gave us doubles of each one, which was very sweet.  It is worth noting that my son’s and grandson’s figures were not quite the ones we ordered, but close enough.

The quality is VERY good.  The plastic reminds me of Reaper’s Bones, though these are clearly 3D printed.  The faces, which we had scanned in 2018 at GenCon were dead-on accurate – what they said they would deliver, they did. Of course it took them 581 days to do it!

IMG_0658
My grandson

 

IMG_0657
My son – A Jedi Master

So, ultimately, would I order from these guys again?  No.  Look, if they had responded to any of my emails over the year and a half I might feel differently.  I get the impression that they only replied to be because of my previous blog post.  I will take it down…in 581 days. I have actually put it on my calendar.  That is the level of douchebaggery I am capable of.

For those of you out there who replied to me off-line saying you were waiting, don’t give up hope.  They seem to have our files and are producing miniatures still.  Be persistent and annoying with these guys. Follow-up and pester them.  They are not a complete rip-off, they can and do deliver.  They simply suck at customer service and any hope of meeting a delivery commitment. In my case, they over-delivered.  I don’t know if that was to simply shut me up, or if this is their policy to attempt to make amends.  I hope it is the latter.

CLASH – The Unofficial and Completely Unsanctioned 2020 Presidential Debate Drinking Game – Up On Kickstarter

CLICK HERE to go to CLASH on Kickstarter

Clash

A few years ago my good friend Brent Evans (of Catalyst Game Labs) reached out to me about joining him at a little startup company he wanted to get going – Creative Juggernaut.  Brent and I spent a lot of time talking and realized that we had a pretty cool vision for what a company could do.  We didn’t just want to produce games, we wanted to build IP’s (Intellectual Properties) that spanned RPG’s, tabletop games, comics, fiction, animation, film – the whole shooting match. We are not competing with CGL, we are on very friendly terms with them.  It is all good in the ‘hood.

Just so there’s no confusion, Shock Monkey Games is our games division.  It’s all part of the Creative Juggernaut uber-corp.

So, we started work on a massive project, working late hours and weekends.  It is called Land & Sea.  Along the way, we came up with some cool one-off games as well.  The first of those was Clash, which was a drinking card game for the 2016 election.

We released it just before the first debates and Eric Crew, who is on our team, had copies made for us to share with friends and family.  The response was pretty positive.

Work on Land & Sea continues…the first three massive novels are DONE and we will be Kickstarting those pretty soon. There’s a LOT going on there, including some fantastic miniatures that will be made right here in the USA.

I proposed that we update Clash for the 2020 Presidential Election.  If there was ever a year I wanted to get drunk watching television, it is 2020!  So we did.  We updated the rules, the cards, and decided to launch it as a Kickstarter.

It funded in the first 11 minutes.  Bear in mind we set the bar pretty low because we have already gotten the production work lined up.  After all, the game is done, tested, laid out, ready to rock.  All we need to do is provision it and we are doing that with DriveThruCards.  Our goal is to deliver it a week or two before the first debate.

I know there are a lot of rumors that the debates might not happen, but Clash can be used watching any of the news channels.  Just turn on CNN or Fox News for an hour and start playing – you’ll be hammered by the second commercial break.

The game doesn’t have to be a drinking game.  It can be played just for grins or for pennies or M&M’s.  It DOES force you to pay attention as to what is being said.  In this year in terms of politics, that is going to be a big deal.  Also, we poke fun at both sides of this contest.  We are equal opportunity abusers. With these candidates there is plenty of material to work with.

So, I hope you will join us in the launch of Clash 2020.  Feel free to share this with your networks as well.