March has been a strange month. The individual days have shot by; no sooner has the day started it seemed to come to and end, but the actual month has dragged by so slowly, and looking back, I’ve actually achieved quite a lot, just not in the world of geekiness!
Even the weather has been a bit odd – one day 16 degrees, clear blue sky and I’m out wearing a t-shirt, the next, 8 degrees and it’s snowing – who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Well, here’s a round up of my month, padded out with other things away from the world of geek culture, otherwise it would be a very short post this month!
We’ve not ventured anywhere special as a family this month; other things have taken precedence, like car hunting!
We’re at that point with our current car, a Toyota Rav 4, where we either trade it in whilst it’s still worth a fair bit, or keep it forever and run it into the ground. We really wanted another 4-wheel drive, but since we bought the last one the market has changed, mainly down to the manufacturers shying away from diesel engines.
Take the current crop of Toyotas for example – other than the Hilux they no longer supply cars with diesel engines and have taken the route of turning everything into hybrids. Now don’t get me wrong, hybrids have their place in our society, just not where I live!
I drove a hybrid courtesy car just a few weeks ago, a Yaris with a 1.5 litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor. It was okay whilst in the city centre, and was actually quite pleasant to drive. It performed okay on the country roads on the way home too but then we reached the Shropshire hills where I live, and some of them are a 12% gradient, and these proved a bit of an issue!
It was so underpowered it was embarrassing. Crawling up the hills like I was dragging a 40-ton truck behind me – at one point I thought a cyclist was going to overtake! Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly, but it was a real effort, and one that a standard 1.5 litre petrol engine would have coped with fairly easy.
The issue has been realised by Toyota, as I was speaking to their sales rep, and they have had to increase the size of the engines on the new Rav 4 All Wheel Drive hybrids, to 2.5 litres, all in order to carry all that extra weight and power the ancillaries. This has, obviously, pushed the price up, and pushed it past anything that we could ever afford.
Even their CH-R, which is a standard petrol 4 wheel drive, was out of reach of our budget.
There are few other manufacturers who produce 4-wheel drive SUV’s, even in standard diesel form, that fall within our price range. We looked at the Suzuki Vitara and S-Cross, both of which were ok, but not wholly to our liking.
We had a good look at the Ford Ecosport, which we quite liked, that is until we tried to open the boot! It opens outwards, like a door, which is so unpractical in this day and age – you’d have to always pull forwards into a parking bay, so you could guarantee opening the boot, and, more importantly, what are you going to shelter under when your trying to change your boots in the rain!
We wanted to look at the Seat range, but found that the local dealer had closed down and the next nearest was about 40miles away, so that ruled that out. We were then pretty much out of ideas as far as a 4×4 was concerned and resigned ourselves to keeping the one we’d got.
But then, The Grand Tour came up with the answer – Jeremy Clarkson did a comical piece featuring the Citroen C3 Aircross, which is a small, two-wheel drive SUV, but features something called Grip-Control. He was quite impressed by the abilities of the C3, and so were we, so I did a little more research.
Clarkson also wrote an article on the C3 Aircross for the Sunday Times, in which he drove it across snowy fields where the, “…drifts were deep enough to drown Richard Hammond,” and he summed up by saying, “It is far and away the best off-roader I’ve driven.”
So, we took ourselves off to Citroen to take a gander. We liked the look of the car, a little quirky but full of character, and we liked the inside too. We thought this could be the one, but then I glanced across the showroom to see its big brother, the new C5 Aircross. Sauntering casually across, I made for the drivers side and got in. Wow, Citroen have done a great job with the design of this car. The seats are possibly the most comfortable car seats that I’ve ever sat on. The interior is very light and airy, and the whole thing just felt like a really nice place to be.
It’s full of tech as well, far too much to list here, and it also has a new hydro-suspension, which is a blast to their past, but this time it works. So, we took it for a test drive. If you’re in the market for a sporty SUV, where you can throw it around the corners and accelerate the kids to school at Mach 1, then this isn’t going to be for you. But, if you want to be propelled along in a world of quiet comfort, then this ticks all the boxes.
In the end we managed to get a very agreeable price for one, complete with Grip-Control for those snowy winters, and now just have to wait for it to be made and delivered – about 10 weeks!
Well, that took up the majority of our free time over March, but now on to other things…
I’ve only actually played two different games this month – Tiny Epic galaxies and U-Boot. This is mainly due to the fact that U-Boot has taken residence on my games table, and looks like it may stay there for a couple more weeks yet.
So, it must be good then, yes? Well, let’s just say that at this point, the jury is still out. The main reason I say this is because the game is currently being played with an early release version of the app, and it is likely to have several revisions come the full release.
I really believe that this game has bags of potential, but in its current guise it just doesn’t hit the mark. As is often the case with large crowd-funded games, I feel the game has been rushed out to keep the backers happy, when realistically it could have done with another month or so of refinement.
That’s all I’m going to say about it here; I will be reviewing the game as soon as the app has been finalised and the rules errata sorted out.
The only other game I managed to play this month was Tiny Epic Galaxies, as it’s a nice small game that can be set up and played in a relatively small play area. I played several games solo; I needed to ensure I’d got things clear in my head before I wrote my review.
As a solo game I doubt if it will see much more play-time from me, I can beat it constantly on every level bar the Epic one, and it has just become a, ‘go through the motions,’ kind of puzzle now. I will be keeping the game, however, as it really comes alive when played with others; I just wish I could get the rest of the family to show a little more interest in it – it really isn’t their type of game.
I almost forgot – I did get a game of D&D: Temple of Elemental Evil in, right at the start of the month – it seems such a long time ago now. I usually play this with my Daughter, Yasmin, we’ve progressed roughly half way through the campaign, and I was just playing it through solo to refresh myself with it in order to write a review, but I ended up doing something a little different, and turned it into my ‘Adventurer’s Tale‘ post.
It took a few turns for me to remember just how brutal the game can be if you don’t use the right strategy. You have to advance around the dungeon at a fair lick, spawning monster after monster so you can gain experience points, which are used to negate the often-deadly encounter cards.
I had some really good feedback about that post, especially on BGG, so I plan to continue the campaign playing a scenario every month – providing of course, that the characters survive!
I’ve finally bitten the bullet and gone and bought an airbrush – I only wish now that I’d done so months ago!
I did a little research and finally went for a, ‘Neo for Iwata’ airbrush, which is aimed at the first time user, and has excellent feedback across the Internet. I paired this up with a Floureon AS18-2 compressor, very much a budget buy, but again had excellent reviews.
I have to say that I couldn’t be happier with both these purchases. The compressor is quiet, small enough to fit on the desk next to me, and has so far performed seamlessly.
The airbrush oozes quality, as you’d expect from a name like Iwata. It is really well put together giving a nice solid feel in the hand. The two cup sizes are handy, especially when priming a large amount of figures, and I found the control of paint to be precise, though I’m still finding my feet in how best to apply it – close to, or further away?
Needless to say, I didn’t buy it until I’d already hand primed the majority of my Star Wars: Legion Stormtroopers, but it took only moments to finish the rest of them off with the airbrush.
I’ve now progressed all the Stormtroopers to the point of weathering, basing and varnishing, and I’m going to leave them now until the other figures are at the same point. To be honest I never want to see another Stormtrooper again! I haven’t really enjoyed painting them – so much white – and I had to do a lot of touching up. Still, in the end it sort of came together and I’m relatively pleased with the results.
The rebels are all assembled, as is Luke Skywalker, and I’ve primed them black with a zenithal highlight of white – something I was unable to do without an airbrush. Luke was primed grey, then I highlighted with a lighter tone, and again with white, as he’s a leader I’ll be paying a little more attention to him than the rest of the rebel units.
I’m slowly putting together a Citadel to Vallejo conversion chart; checking off the colours as I use them. There is an official conversion chart available from Vallejo, but even this has a few colours that bear no resemblance to their suggested alternative – for example: I wanted an alternative to Citadel’s Stormvermin Fur, and looking at Vallejo’s chart it states Heavy Charcoal. Now, Stormvermin is a medium grey, whilst Charcoal is almost black! So, at the moment I’ve been using Heavy Bluegrey, which is close but still not perfect as it’s a shade lighter than Stormvermin.
I don’t mind using colours that are slightly different, it brings a little variation to things, but when the suggested alternative is nowhere near, then it makes you wonder if people actually check these things before going to print.
Series 6 of Endeavour has come to a close and in the end it turned out quite good, despite my reservations after the first couple of episodes. And the good news is, they’ve announced a 7th series is in the offering, so I’ll look forward to that – I just hope Morse loses that moustache!
Another series to finish this month was Shetland, and this has been an excellent watch. I hate watching good programs like this as they are broadcast; I’d much rather get them on DVD so I can watch the episodes back to back and not have to wait a week.
The interplay between the characters, intertwined with the plot, has been excellent, and I can’t wait for the next series.
With both the above drawing to a close, my wife trawled through Amazon Prime to see what to watch next, and came up with Jack Taylor!
Now this came as something of a surprise to me, as it’s far more violent than what she would normally watch. After 6 episodes I would say that I’m enjoying it more than she is, though she seems willing enough to continue through to the end.
Based in Ireland, the lead character is played by Iain Glen, who’s actually Scottish! The program isn’t as grounded in reality as much as in Endeavour or Shetland, but it does have some good plots and a sense of humour.
An episode never goes by without Jack getting seven bells kicked out of him, or seeing him attend a funeral or two, but it flows at a fast rate and throws up a few unexpected twists.
One thing I really dislike though, and it happens in other programs too, is that they’ve just changed the actress who plays Kate, a Guarda who aids Jack in his investigations. I’d rather they just got rid of the character and introduced a new one, especially as the new actress is nothing like the one she replaced, either in looks or the way she portrays the character.
It’s like having someone else come along and take over your character in D&D – no matter what they do, it’s just not going to be the same character. Another comparison is when you read a book, let’s say Lord of the rings, and you form a clear picture in your head of the characters. Then, they make the film, and some of the characters are totally different to how you imagined them – it can ruin things for you – can’t it Sean? (As much as I like Sean Bean, he would never have been on my list to play Boromir!)
Between The Sheets!
This appears to have been a month for reading, as I’ve ploughed my way through 5 books and am half way through a sixth – I have no idea how I’ve managed it!
Runaway Jury by John Grisham was first, and the story follows a young couple trying to influence the jury in a major civil action against a tobacco company. Which way are they trying to swing it? That question is played upon for a major proportion of the book, only becoming clear as they draw the trial to a close.
I love Grisham’s writing style; his books contain a lot of factual procedures and true to life law and crime interplay, he also adds suspense and characters with a real depth, whilst still keeping the story fast paced, easy to read, and doesn’t baffle one with unidentifiable legal terms. As always, this one was an excellent read.
I followed this with another of Grisham’s books, this time it was his first attempt at non-fiction with, An Innocent Man: Murder and injustice in a small town.
I think I read this cover-to-cover in about three days, it was so engrossing. It tells the story of the arrest and conviction of two men, one of which was sentenced to death, for the brutal murder of a young cocktail waitress. Anyone who reads this will be amazed at the backhanded way the law enforcement agencies handled the investigation, blatantly missing vital evidence, and pursing two innocent men on a pure hunch.
I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to anyone who enjoys true-crime stories. The story flows along at a pace, and you find yourself lying in bed, well past midnight, saying, ‘…just one more chapter!’
Next up was M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) written by Richard Hooker, which is the pen name for H. Richard Hornberger. The book planted the seed from which a film and TV series grew. Apparently the book is an amalgamation of characters that the Author, ‘…knew, met casually, worked with, or heard about,’ and they are a crazy bunch!
The humour isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, and it takes a chapter or two to get into it, but stick to it until the end and you’ll be rewarded with an intense tale of life as frontline surgeon.
633 Squadron was next, by Frederick E. Smith, and of all the books I’ve read this month this has been my least favourite. That’s no great slur on the book; it’s just that the others have been very good indeed. This one, however, I found it just never got going – the main event of the book, Operation Vesuvius, comes as a bit of an anti-climax, and whilst the characters are developed during the story, you never really form an attachment to any of them. Before you know it the book is over and you’re left thinking where the actual story was!
The Night of The Generals was the surprise of the bunch. Written by Hans Hellmut Kirst, it follows three Generals who, may or may not, be involved in a savage murder… or three!
I really enjoyed this, especially the way the author kept dangling suggestive motives in front of you for each of the three suspects, and it is written with a constant hint of Kirst’s sense of humour hidden just under the surface, which made me smile.
The story itself may not appeal to everyone, as the murders are viscous sexual assaults, but it never gets too graphical, and on the whole is toned down, as the plot really doesn’t need it.
It was a great read with convincing characters for the period, all of which have a great depth to them, which is almost casually built up by the author – excellent.
I’m onto another true story now, Ill Met By Moonlight, and am half way through. I’ll let you know what I think next time…
Looking back at what I’ve written I can see where most of the time went now, reading books!
I’ve started to think about the UK Games Expo, and what I’m going to be looking for. I want to increase me Star Wars: Legion armies, so I’ll be looking to pick up a few expansions, though they’ve just released a new core box, which may be worth taking a gander at.
I also want to get my hands on Chronicles of Crime; I think it will be something to get my wife’s interest sparked, and I like they way the cases open up as you play – interviewing suspects, finding more evidence then going to pester them again about it – a bit like watching the old TV series Columbo!
The only other thing I’ve currently got my eye on is the upcoming Fantasy Flight Games release, Lord of The Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth, which, in the vein of Mansions Of Madness, plays using an app.
That reminds me, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, has now become an option for me now that they have released an app, which plays the part of the Overlord, making it a viable solo game. I’m also sure that this will get Yasmin wanting to play too, as she loves MofM!
Not much else to add this month – there’s a possibility some kickstarters may turn up during April, Joan of Arc and The 7th Continent, but I’m not holding my breath. If they do I’ll put together an unboxing post.
So, that’s it for another monthly round up – Thanks for reading…