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Back to the Ghost Archipelago with the HAWKs

Like many good adventures, my journey to game with the HAWKs required multiple thwarted attempts, unexpected detours, near misses, hasty fallback plans, and the lugging of heavy equipment.

For months now I had been trying to make it up to Aberdeen, Maryland where the HAWKs game club meets every other Friday in a community room of a local church. Each time I thought I could make the roughly 60 mile journey from my home in Silver Spring, something unexpected—poor weather, accident-snarled highways, flu—would derail the plan month after month.

Even last night's trek felt harder than such a relatively short jaunt should. The plan was to meet HAWK Eric Schlegel and his brother Kurt at Eric's place for pizza at 5:30 and then head over to the game scheduled to start at 7:00 (Eric lives a mere five minutes from their gaming spot). Earlier that day Google Maps indicated the trip was a hair over an hour in normal traffic. I left at 3:45. Two hours and fifteen minutes and two unplanned re-routings later I was pulling up at Eric's place. By that point I had made a quick detour through a drive-thru for a burger because it became quickly clear that I was going to be too late to share in the pizza. Upon arriving, Eric and I scurried straight away to the game room, and I began to help HAWKs founding member Chris Palmer unload miniatures and terrain from his car into the community building.

Other HAWKs began to filter in, many of whom I recognized from my time at their recent con, Barrage (recap), as well as from Fall In (recap) and Historicon (recap). Tables were set up for the two games planned for the evening. One involved a battle between the French Foreign Legion and some Bedouins, circa 1910, in a scenario called "March or Die" organized and run by Bill Molyneaux.

I, however, was there to play in another one of Chris Palmer and Eric Hogge's bloody games of Ghost Archipelago.

The jungle battlefield where six of us fought and vied for treasure was quickly assembled from scratch-built terrain from the collections of Chris, Don, and Eric (I believe).

I brought my own figures but didn't have time before the game on Friday to assemble my crew's stats. Fortunately, Chris and Don had some pre-made crews, and I chose the Vikings for my warband, which matched up well enough with the miniatures I had brought to play the game. I tried to bring some recently painted minis I hadn't had a chance to put on any table yet, and it was fun to see them in action.

The scenario was straightforward: grab as much treasure as one can find scattered amongst the jungle and its ruins while stopping your opponents from making off with a larger haul than you. My opponents included Chris Palmer, Eric Schlegel, John Miller, Geoff Graff, and Don Hogge.

My crew of Vikings about to go on the prowl in the Ghost Archipelago looking for loot.

My Heritor is the blonde-tressed she-devil in the far back. One of her lieutenants in the Not-Conan figure, with a dwarven axemen and an archer filling out this little grouping.

My Warden is casting the spell in the back of the ranks, with a black-cowled lieutenant in front of him. The swordsman and dwarf crossbower round out the front rank.

I picked this figure of a hearty character carrying a treasure chest in the hope he would bring me some luck (the whole point was to find and carry treasure off the table, after all).

So...first a word about Don Hogge. He's a really disagreeable man, ruthless and bloodthirsty in a way I had never encountered in all of my years of gaming. In his very first move of the game he decided to single me out and kill my Warden with three of his archers. It was a truly cold welcome from a group of fellas I had thought I would enjoy gaming with. It was quite the wake up call.

Hogge's killer elf archers.

Despite the cover offered up by some brambles, my Warden lay dead before getting through the first round of the game.

Oh...okay, okay...I jest!

Yes, Don did, indeed, make a pin cushion out of my Warden and sent him to an early grave, but I completely deserved it for making such a silly move with such an important character. I've never had another player apologize to me so many times while in the process of killing off one of my characters in a game (despite the fact that that is exactly what Don was supposed to do to my character). It all gave us a great story right off the bat and a fun recurring joke to circle back to for the rest of the game (as you can see, I'm still milking it). Don couldn't have been a nicer guy to game with: I was rolling so poorly at one point last night that Don even offered to let me use his dice instead. In my next game of Ghost Archipelago, I do hope to have a Warden live long enough to actually cast a spell.

Worthy adversaries to a man. (left-to-right: Eric, Geoff, and Chris)

John's dwarves marching off into battle, mostly against Eric's crew.

Chris and Don's corner of "paradise."

Dwarves with crossbows...John's formidable gang of thugs.
(left to right) Don, me, John, Eric, and Geoff. (photo: Chris Palmer)

John's dwarves sneaking along the backside of the temple trying to make off with one of the treasures.

Some of Geoff's goons. I didn't like them.

Lots of the treasure could be found in the bottom of pools and ponds, making them extra hazardous to retrieve, especially if you were wearing heavy armor.

The first two of eventually five figures that would die fighting over this particular treasure chest. The game ended with nobody claiming ownership of it.

My Not-Conan guards this treasure in the bushes until the moment is right to pick it up and sprint out of the jungle. Just have to wait for John's dwarven crossbowers to get distracted.

My dwarf hiding in the brush, giving cover to my crew by taking pot shots at whoever was in range.

Eric's Beast Warden summoned a screaming monkey to harass the dwarves. Wargame axiom: Every battle is better with screaming monkeys.

A scene from a skirmish between Chris and Don. Can you guess who I was rooting for?

Don's gnarly knuckled hand of doom moving a figure into position to cause somebody else some woe for a change.

A couple of Chris's cool looking pirates. I think the burly guy was in my crew when I played at Barrage.

This watery beast appeared half way through the game. He seems to be sniffing the corpse of one my crewmen killed by Geoff moments earlier.

Some of Geoff's crew rushing to the pool for some treasure.

One of Geoff's crew standing atop the stone outcropping about to climb back down the other side with the treasure he found sitting up there. He'll have to scurry fast to avoid the skeleton climbing up the rockface on the far side.

I'm sorry, but it strains all credulity to think this lithesome beauty would ever agree to be a part of Geoff's crew.

This temple has the amazing ability of luring treasure hunters to their death.  I've played two games now in which this structure figures prominently, and it has marked the site of more bloodshed than nearly the rest of the game's casualties combined.

A wandering goblinoid creature that popped up part way through the game to chase and annoy those of us trying to claim the island's treasures. Love this paint job by Don Hogge.

This piece of terrain by Chris Palmer really gave the game an epic quality, one might go so far as to say Homeric even.

I knew my chest carrying figure was going to pay off!

"Here they come for our treasure, little man...steady...steady..."

My Heritor gives chase to some of Geoff's scoundrels, but they're too cowardly to put that treasure down and fight me.

Another one of my treasures Geoff stole.

So that sea serpent did kill my archer in the last turn when I strayed too close to his pool. At that point I didn't care. I just hoped to kill Geoff's men.

This was near the end of a really enjoyable game. (near left, clockwise: Eric, Geoff, Chris, Don, and John)

Despite my early embarrassing setback, I did manage to get two treasure off the board and was about to snatch a third. This, however, would not have even put me in striking distance of Chris or Geoff. I'm not sure I recollect correctly now (there was much back-and-forth about points scored), but I believe the game might have ended in a dead tie between Geoff and Chris, which seems hardly fair because Geoff was a rank coward. (Just kidding...I'm merely sore because Geoff made off with so much of the treasure in the middle of the board I was hoping to retrieve. Geoff, like all of the HAWKs I've played with, is extremely easy going and affable.)

March or Die!

While I didn't get to play in the other game taking place that night across the room, it seemed like its large number of participants were enjoying themselves. Well, maybe not those playing the French Foreign Legionnaires, who I hear were driven entirely from the board.

A table mere moments before the game begins...

David "Zeb" Cook in the red shirt.

I found it to be quite a lovely coincidence that literally two days before this game night the birthday present I had bought for myself had arrived in the mail: The boxed D&D Expert Set with rule book and module (Isle of Dread) written by none other than David Cook (read my short post for my history with that boxed set).

I was especially happy to see Cook show up because I happened to have hauled a number of copies of my books, Lost Art of Ray Willner: Robin Hood and Lost Art of Matt Baker: Canteen Kate, to give away to anybody who showed up that night and wanted one. I'm hoping if Zeb took one of my books that they give him a little bit of enjoyment in return for all of the good memories he helped create for  me in my youth playing through D&D modules he penned. (For more on my publishing company devoted to golden age illustration and comic art, visit the Lost Art Books website.)

Read more about this book at the Lost Art Books website.

Read more about this book at the Lost Art Books website.

Closing Thoughts and Parting Shots

After having tried for many months to make it to one of the HAWKs regular gatherings, I was glad it finally came to pass. The experience only reinforced my already strong impression of what a welcoming, warm group of gamers they are to play with. Everybody in the Ghost Archipelago game was somebody I would readily sit down at a table with again, no matter the game, and I hope I have many more opportunities to do so. Maybe I'll even convince some of them to come down to play in one of my Second Saturday Scrum Club gatherings!

Thanks again, fellas!


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