A new year a new format!
I vow that at least one month this year I will actually get my Geek out on the last day of the month!
The last week has been really busy as I’ve been working on an RPG (more of that later), and so something had to give. Otherwise I was all set to get this out on the 31st, and then move on to hit my Arkham review… But, best laid plans of mice and men, eh. Anyway, it’s a long one this month, so let’s crack on…
Early this month we finally took the time to visit Ludlow castle, I mean, we only live half hour or so away and haven’t gotten around to it in the 5 years we’ve lived here!
It was a great time to choose as Ludlow is fairly quiet at this time of year – as opposed to absolutely crammed during there summer months, when we avoid the place like the plague. It meant that other than another half dozen families, we had the castle all to ourselves – or so we thought!
It happens to us all the time; the place can be barren of life until we get there, then everyone else seems to want to occupy the exact same space as us! Now, anyone who knows anything about visiting castles will know about the stairs – they are a pain to navigate, and intentionally so. The tight, twisting climb you have to make up very steep and well worn steps is hazardous at best, but you can guarantee that you’ll meet someone coming the other way at roughly the half way point, and you can guarantee they’ll have another fifty people crammed in behind them!
Every castle we’ve ever visited has been the same; they really need to work out a system of only up’s or down’s at once – but anyway, I digress.
Ludlow castle is still in pretty good order considering it’s been around since circa 1075, and was founded by Walter De Lacy who came over to England with the Norman Conquest. It is possibly one of the first stone castles ever built in England, and has undergone numerous developments and restorations in its past, finally coming into the ownership of the Earl of Powys.
It has quite a history, being involved in the War of the Roses as well as the English Civil War, and if you’re ever in the area it is certainly worth checking out.
Arkham Horror (Third Edition) – This has been the main game I’ve played this month, and I’ve just started writing a review, so I don’t want to say too much about it.
Having never played the preceding editions I had no preconceived ideas about what to expect, other than the latest rendition shared similarities with both Eldritch Horror and Arkham Horror the Card Game, both of which are amongst my favourite games.
I’ve really enjoyed playing it, though it does have a few annoying features, but more of that in my review. If you want to know a bit more about the game then take a peek at my Unboxing post.
SteamRollers – A roll and write game about trains, what more could you ask for!
I’ve been playing this one solo, but I think it could turn out to be a family favourite once we find the time to sit down together and play it. It’s really easy to learn and quick to set up as well as play, and it gets the old grey matter ticking along nicely as you plan your routes out on your very own sheet.
The idea is simple – construct your routes to deliver goods from one town to the other – scoring more points if the route passes through other towns and cities on its journey. The difficulty is, everyone else is trying to do the same thing as you, and there is only so much cargo to deliver!
The first game I played I got trounced by the AI! But I learnt the lessons well, and by the third game I was moving up the levels, though the games were all pretty tight and down to the wire – highly enjoyable!
Tiny Epic Galaxies – Another game I’ve been playing solo this month, and one that I’m struggling to beat.
This is a small box game in the ‘Tiny Epic’ series from Gamelyn Games, which sees the players trying to colonies planets and advance their influence and power. It features some pretty neat game mechanisms, such as being able to follow another player’s action (providing you have enough influence), and similar to Steamrollers it’s got a quick set up and play time.
I have enjoyed the half dozen plus games I’ve played of it so far, but I’ve been struggling to work out a set tactic to beat the AI with – so far I’ve managed to overcome the beginner level but not the easy one! I get the impression that you have to be reactive to the AI rather than work on your own strategy, especially as you’re reliant on dice rolls, but with a few more games under my belt things may become more apparent.
Magic the gathering – Once more this month I have been head to head with my daughter, and we played some really tense and exciting games, the majority of which ended up quite close.
We played 5 games, and I kept solely to a deck I’d built myself, ‘Monster Magic,’ which is a combination of green creatures and red sorceries and instants. It works pretty efficiently; I’m usually able to get lots of creatures out in quick succession, or at least fend of the opposition with sorceries that deal damage until I can.
Yasmin used three different decks – Goblins, which is a pre-built ‘duel’ deck; ‘Flying Fury’ a deck she put together herself and is has white flying creatures backed up with black sorceries/instants; ‘Living Dead’ another deck she built – this one is an all black deck featuring undead creatures and magic that mostly seems to return them from the graveyard back to her hand.
In the end I came out the victor, 4-1, with all but 2 games going close to the wire. Her ‘Flying Fury’ deck really needs more work, but at the moment she doesn’t have the cards to improve it, but the idea behind it is pretty strong. Her ‘Living dead’ deck is a different proposition, and after she annihilated me with her first attempt I just managed to extract my revenge before we had to call time.
We have a lot of fun with Magic, and it’s good to see Yasmin creating her own decks, though it is something we usually do together. We have one deck, which still needs to be named, that so far is unbeaten in at least a dozen games and it’s got to the point where nobody wants to use it just in case they lose!
Mansions of Madness – We purchased the downloadable content ‘Altered Fates’ in the hope that it was going to be better than the last one, ‘Dark Reflections,’ which was far to easy and not worth the price tag. We were not to be disappointed; this scenario introduces a new twist – the investigators get split up into two different timelines, and you have to work together to figure things out. Once again, it isn’t the most difficult of scenarios, but the story is great and very immersive. I say it’s not difficult, but we did lose!
We sent the wrong people through the ‘portal’ and into the future, a mistake we won’t make a second time, we were then overwhelmed by monsters that we were totally unprepared to deal with. Having played it through once I think it will be fairly straightforward the next time, unless the game twists things around, that is!
I don’t usually get to see much at the cinema, or the pictures as it was called back when… But my daughter wanted to see Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse for her birthday, and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that now, could I?
Firstly, I was impressed by the animation, especially how they managed to capture the feel of a comic strip by using a lot of pixelated shots, similar to how the old comics used to be printed (Dot-matrix kind of thing). This sparked a feeling of nostalgia, as did the portrayal of the original Peter Parker, just how I remember him from the 1981 TV series.
Though I enjoyed it overall, I felt it was a film of two halves. The first part, up to and including the introduction of Spider-Gwen, was excellent. The way Miles handled his newfound talents, and the way it introduced the alternative, down on his luck, Spider-man was engrossing, well paced, and built the plot extremely well. I especially liked the guest appearance of Stan Lee!
The second half though, for me, was a little disappointing. I didn’t like the inclusion of Spider-Ham or Peni Parker, surely there were better characters to choose from than those, though Spider-ham does add a modicum of humour, Peni Parker’s inclusion added nothing to the film.
The final fight scene, where they battle the forces of evil within the particle accelerator, drags on too long, and with things like buses floating through the air I just felt it became ungrounded and a confusing.
- Would I pay to see it again – No.
- Would I buy it on DVD – Maybe. (Only because I’m starting to gather a collection of Marvel films!)
- Would I watch it again free – Yes.
Moving on to something a little different – Shetland!
Shetland is a crime drama TV series based in the… wait for it… Shetland Isles, and stars Douglas Henshall in the main role of Detective Inspector Perez.
I gave the box set, which included the first three series’, as a present to my wife, who is an avid ‘Vera’ fan, for Christmas, as they’re both based upon the books by Ann Cleeves. I new nothing at all about the program, but took the gamble and got it anyway. So, how did it turn out?
The first thing I noticed was that the majority of the cast are born and bread Scot’s, excellent, no false accents here! The next thing was that the quality of the acting and production knocks the socks off many other comparable TV series’, including the wife’s beloved Vera.
Finally, the writing is really, really, good, especially from series three on, where it breaks away from the actual books and develops some deep, intertwining plots that will keep you in suspense throughout the entire series.
The bonus is that my wife has thoroughly enjoyed watching it, and we’ve just received series four through the post, so that’s a couple of evenings taken care of this week!
Henshall won a BAFTA Scotland award for best actor and the program received the award for best TV drama, both well deserved.
My Water Cultists are finished, other than varnish and basing, as are the Fire Cultists and Hobgoblins. I’m particularly pleased with how the Fire Cultists have come out, I wanted a glow at the edges of each armour segment to make it appear that underneath was all hot and burning up, I’m not sure it quite looks that way, but I’m pleased with it anyway!
With the Hobgoblins I just went for a really quick paint job, just to see if I could do a reasonable job in a short space of time. In the end it took me about an hour and a half to paint the three up, including drying time.
I’ve also started to prep all the Star Wars Legion miniatures that come in the core box, and the AT-RT expansion I have. As I intend to paint them straight away I’ve been assembling and prepping for paint at the same time, hence it’s taken me about two hours to put about half the figures together (about 15 miniatures or so).
As far as mould lines are concerned they’ve done a pretty good job, hiding most of them in with the detailing of the miniature, so there hasn’t been too much work to do there. Unfortunately, I’ve had lots of gaps to fill during the assembly. It’s been a little disappointing on just how poorly some of them they fit together, and pretty much every figure has had to have gaps filled with putty.
Really though, it’s no big deal, just time consuming. I probably won’t wait until they’re all painted before I play the game though, otherwise it might be another 6 months before I get it to the table!
Between the sheets!
This is an insight into what I’ve been reading this month; I mean, what else did you think it would be about?
I’ve revisited the Alien Trilogy this month, reading all three books in as many weeks, but then they are an extremely easy read.
I remember Alien the movie hitting the screen in 1979, and was severely disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to see it (I was only 9!), and when I eventually did, it was nowhere near as scary as I’d been led to believe! Though it still, it remains a film worth mentioning, even today, when it comes to classic sci-fi/horror.
Aliens was altogether a different kettle of fish, and in directors cut, remains one of my all time favourite films. Lots of action, with a building tension as the team slowly gets whittled down, and a reasonably good plot, but the thing that made it for me was the cinematography, which I though was excellent.
Alien 3, where Ripley ends up crash landing on a prison planet, is a poor follow up to Aliens, and one that I have only watched once, which was more than enough – Sorry, but it just didn’t work for me – the plot, along with the poor continuity from the previous films – I just felt underwhelmed by it all.
I bet you’re wondering why I’m going on about the films when it’s the books I’ve read? Well, that’s because the books are as close to the films as I think you will ever find; pretty much word for word.
The books, written by Alan Dean Foster, are movie novelisations, and that’s why they are so faithful to the films. The first one, Alien, I would say is on a par with the film. The version I have, which is a 1994 reprint of the original 1979 first edition, is still filled with typos and other errors, especially with the paragraphing. At the time he wrote this, Foster is still finding his feet as an author, and it is interesting to follow his development through the series of books, each one more accomplished than the last.
The second book, Aliens, falls short of the visual impact the film makes, but that is probably to be expected when you take into account just how good the film was. It’s still an enjoyable read though, and once you’ve picked it up you won’t want to put it down again.
Finally, the last in the trilogy, but not the last overall (There are four more movie adaptations, two of which are written by Foster), Alien 3 – this one I found better than the film. I think the characters are portrayed better in words than they were in pictures. Their motives, emotions, and thoughts come across in the book, where they were lacking in the film. On the whole I enjoyed the book, though it will always be a tad disappointing following on from Aliens.
Once I’d put those to bed I started on a non-fiction title – Who Dares Wins: The story of the SAS 1950-1982, by Tony Geraghty.
I can’t remember how I came by this, probably from a charity shop, which is where a lot of my books come from, but it was sat on my shelf and I’m pretty sure I haven’t read it before. (Or maybe I have, that’s the good thing about having the memory of a goldfish; every time’s the first time!)
I’m roughly half way through its 426 pages, and I nearly didn’t get that far. The Introduction and first 40 odd pages I found to be very hard going, but after that it’s as if the author has been changed for a more exciting version, and the book really gets going.
There’s a lot of political information contained within, and a lot of it was quite eye opening for someone of my age, mainly concerning how much the world changed in the period covered at the start of the book – up to the 1970’s. Countries that no longer exist or have totally changed their borders, as well as their affiliations, and It becomes clear how the British Empire slowly dwindled away in the middle east and what was termed, ‘the third world’.
The commitment of the Special Forces was vast, virtually non-stop during this period – Malaya, Borneo, Aden, Oman, etc., and the range of tasking the SAS were carrying out is astounding.
If you have an interest in the SAS this will make a good read, especially regarding how they were used for political gain, whether carrying out ‘Heart and Souls’ missions deep in guerrilla territory, training local forces, or carrying out missions deep within enemy territory, it’s all covered in detail here.
Snodcon 2019 is almost upon us, or at least 20 or so of us, and it’s all come along quite quickly. So quickly in fact, I’ve had to pull my finger out in creating an RPG for the organiser and his family to play.
I’d volunteered to give them a taste of role-playing as they had very little experience with it and wanted to give it a go. Now, rather than use a ready-made, tried and tested system, I decided to put together my own, and write an adventure to go with it – Daft or what?
There is a little method behind my madness – using a system I’m familiar with (bearing in mind I haven’t GM’d a game for some considerable time), would have meant taking time at the con to run through rules, create characters, and finally get to adventuring. Taking into consideration we’ll only play one session – there’s going to be far too many other games we’ll be wanting to play – I didn’t see the point going through all this.
The idea for the system I’m going to use came from watching an episode of Tabletop, with Wil Wheaton, where they played a game of Dread. Dread incorporates the game ‘Jenga’, and uses it whenever the players are faced with carrying out a skill test or trial. I though this was a great idea to use for a one-off RPG, using very little other rules and the GM controlling the flow of the game.
Here’s a basic overview of how I’ll use it:
- Each time the players attempt to do something other than basic tasks they will have to draw and replace a number of bricks.
- Tasks are rated as average, difficult and extremely difficult, drawing 1,2, or 3 bricks respectively.
- Task difficulty is offset by skills the character has that may be relevant to the task in hand.
- An example of this would be – Picking a lock, which may be a difficult task (2 bricks). The character only has a hatpin to use, but does have lockpicking level 1. So the player draws and replaces 1 brick.
- When, and if, the tower collapses it is a critical fail, and something bad happens, either to the character or the group. They only get three towers, so they have to look after them, as the fail condition will get more extreme each time, especially as I will make a few modifications to the re-built tower. I’ll mention here that the result of a collapsing tower may not necessarily be applied at the exact time of the failure, but could unravel as a consequence of that failure. Using the above example – The character attempts to pick the lock but causes the tower to collapse. The GM could just say at this point that they can’t open the door. Maybe in a few rounds time a fire occurs, and the players find themselves really needing to get through that door! The idea is to keep building suspense.
- Players will also be allowed to partially attempt a task. For example – A test requires 3 bricks to be drawn and replaced, but after the first 2 the tower is really unstable, so they declare they don’t want to attempt the last brick. The GM can then make the decision whether to award a partial pass or a partial failure, this will really come down to story telling, but shouldn’t penalise the players too much, but neither should it encourage them to keep drawing fewer bricks.
- At any time a player may declare they are seeking inspiration, and draw and replace a brick. Basically it’s the character seeking ideas from his surroundings or maybe some spiritual guidance, and the GM can lead the players as he sees fit.
For character creation I have kept it simple, and the characters have all been created through e-mail, here’s the idea:
- Each character has the following stats – Strength, Constitution, Agility, Intelligence, Common Sense, and gift of the gab. As there are two children playing, and I wanted the players to play a character of their own rough age, I added an extra stat for kids only – The joy of Youth!
- Adults had 12 points to assign to these, minimum of 1 and maximum of 3. Whereas the children only had 10, but they get the bonus of the Joy of Life Skill, which automatically gets 6 points. This skill represents a child’s naivety about the dangers they face, and the ability to have no fear regarding some things they have never encountered before. These points can be used to offset skill tests.
- The players then select their skills and have points to distribute around them. Adults 25 and children 15 points. The skills they choose can have either 1,2, or 3 points awarded to it.
As for the actual adventure, well, I can’t go into too much detail here, as I don’t want to give too much away. I will say that it is set in Victorian London, about the 1890’s, and… that’s about it!
I’ll cover everything once we’ve played the game; I just hope things go the way I envision them. To say I’m a little rusty at GM’ing is an understatement to say the least, and on top of that, the system I’m using relies on building tension as the scenario progresses. The finale should occur with the players on their third and final tower, the slightest breath may make it fall, and the story should be high paced with high stakes… we shall see!
Finally in this section I thought I’d mention that I’m still waiting for my Kicksarters to come to fruition.
I backed Time of Legend: Joan of Arc, which they hoped would be hitting delivery just after Christmas, but delays have occurred and with Chinese New Year bearing down, it will put things back to around March.
I also backed UBoot, and I had hoped against hope that this would be here in time to take it to Snodcon. I think the game should land on my doormat around late February/early March, so just a little too late, but the App, which it is dependant upon, may be a little later in completion.
I’m also a late pledger of the 7th Continent. I knew this would be hitting delivery sometime this quarter, and again, it will probably be March’ish. Really looking forward to this one, but then I am the other two as well!
I was going to do unboxing posts on all the games I received for Christmas, but other than Arkham Horror, I felt the content of such a post would be pretty short as they’re fairly light on components; even Start Wars: Legion wouldn’t have had a great deal of content, as all the miniatures require assembly. So I though I’d just share the pictures with you here…
Click on the images to expand.
Unboxing Tiny Epic Galaxies
Unboxing Scythe – Invaders from Afar
Unboxing Star Wars: Legion
Unboxing Star Wars: Legion AT-RT Unit Expansion
Also In Pictures…
Arkham Horror Third Edition
Mansions of Madness
Tiny Epic Galaxies
Well, that’s it for January but here’s an inkling of what to expect in February…
- Arkham Horror 3rd Edition review – I’m working on that now.
- Snodcon 2019 – What went on in a small cottage in Snowdonia!
- I’ll be trying something new with an ‘adventurer report’, a bit like a battle report, but adventuring instead!
- And I’ll probably mention how the RPG went down at Snodcon all in a post of it’s own.