Archive for Reviews

Bundle Reviews part 6: Hex Kit and Airships: Conquer the Skies

Two from  the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality because I feel like doing some but I’m FREAKING exhausted!

Hex Kit: Hex Mapping tool for table top RPGs

This is a quick and dirty tool for bashing out hex maps for gaming. It comes with a black and white brush set, and several extra sets are available.

I actually bought this tool a few weeks before I got this bundle, along with several add-on packs. This bundle also includes at least one add-on that I didn’t have which I’ll get to in a few hundred reviews… yeesh…

Here is a map that took me a few minutes to create.

We have some woods, we have some water, and we have an old ruined tower. This is all I need to bash together a 3 hour game. This is a neat tool for either creating maps of various sizes for your campaign, or just noodling around and drawing inspiration from the result. The existing sets can be used for your own game, and if you have minimal graphics skills it wouldn’t be hard to put together a set you could use for games you plan to sell.

A neat piece of software I plan to play with a lot.

Airships: Conquer the Skies: Design & fight with steampunk airships

They had me at airships…

This game is really good fun!

It feels like a game that would have been really ambitious on the Commodore 64, but far smoother than it could have been back then. I jumped into the 9 tutorials and then played out the test battle to qualify for the regular game. Here is the ship I designed for that final battle… The HMS Phalanx.

She boasts an impressive amount of cannons, but despite two lift chambers she was limited to relatively low altitude. I probably added far more armor than was called for. Her cannons also ate through the quite limited ammunition stores very quickly, so I was not prepared for a long battle. But against the airship Scoundrel I was able to prevail, losing only a couple crew and my bottom fin.

I will be revisiting this game, I can see losing a long weekend or two designing airships and battling it out in the skies.

OK! only 1720 games to go!

Bundle Reviews part 4: Oikospiel and Beacon

A quick 2 from  the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality 

I’m a bit exhausted, so I’m just going to take a look at Oikospiel and Beacon.

Oikospiel: A dog opera in five acts

Um…

I mean…

Huh…

This is sort of a game, sort of an electronic acid nightmare opera. It is unspeakably weird and for a moment or two I thought it was either causing my computer permanent damage or had triggered a stroke.

I kind of love it.

This is experimental on a scale that is barely recognizable as a game. It reminds me of the weirder end of the CD-Rom book/game/experiences of the late 1980s or early 1990s. But turned up to 11 and spiked directly into your spinal column.

Yeah.

Beacon: Sci-fi Action Roguelite. Collect DNA from enemies and mutate yourself to victory!

A isometric view shooty exploration game with a healthy dose of body horror as you attempt to augment yourself and mutate wildly.

I don’t love the feel and complexity of the controls. It feels a little like the game is fighting me and it’s not pleasant.

The graphics and audio are great, but I’m probably not spending a lot of time on this one.

More soon!

Bundle Reviews part 3: Walden through Lenna’s Inception

A quick 3 more items from from  the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality 

Walden, a game, A Mortician’s Tale, and Lenna’s Inception.

Walden, a game: Experience Henry David Thoreau’s life in Walden Woods.

This seemed like a neat idea. Wander around the woods near Walden pond and learn about the story and the time period and what living there must be like…

Not well executed. Terrible movement, nasty low frame rate when it had no excuse to be that low, and uncertain controls made everything a chore. Good idea, but very rough in execution.

A Mortician’s Tale: A story-driven death positive video game where you play as a mortician tasked with running a funeral home.

This is a VERY short game. It takes about an hour. It’s also not much of a game really.

With a very intriguing topic, this one starts off strong, but then immediately becomes extremely repetitive, with what would be game play basically just being a series of tasks you are prompted to do. There is one moment in the entire thing that asks you to make a choice, and the end result is pretty moot.

This is a story with some interactive elements that could have been a very interesting game if developed further. All the elements intrigue, but none is explored much and then suddenly it’s over. It did make me tear up a couple times, but on the whole the rote performance of tasks with no chance to effect the story or fail makes this not a great game to explore some really deep experiences.

Lenna’s Inception: Procedurally generated Gameboy-style action-adventure game

This is a pretty intriguing Zelda-like game of exploration, monster fighting, and saving the world… but with a lot of twists that reward you and tease you for knowing the games it draws inspiration from.

This is a game where I wish the whole procedurally generated thing had been left out and someone had designed interesting levels… but it’s fun, engaging, and a really neat twist on a classic. I’ll be playing a bit more of this one.

So two misses, but a hit in these three.

This whole project is becoming daunting. I looked ahead, intending to just review the interesting looking ones… But they all look so interesting! This might take a while, but I’ll get as deep as my attention span allows!

Bundle Reviews part 2: A Short Hike through Art Sqool

A few more items from from  the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality 

I’m still just going down the list so today I’m looking at:

A Short Hike, Gladiabots, Lancer Core Book, MewnBase, and Art Sqool.

A Short Hike: A game about climbing a mountain to get better cell reception.

This game is pure joy. It was very hard to stop playing and I have a couple things to do, but it’s cute, fun, and movement is really nice. I never feel like I am fighting this game to do something, and as simple as the story is, it did make me tear up at one point. This is a game for people who want to hike, climb, and soar through the air. It’s not going to have much for people who want hard challenges.

Gladiabots: A robot strategy programming game.

Low poly robots, lots of exciting lines and overlays and lovely glowing blues, it looks exciting!

It’s not really exciting.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and very interesting. You pick your robot types then program them with a series of connected customized command and decision modules then they fight all on their own with no further input from you.

This is not a game of piloting a robot and going pew pew at other robots, it’s a game of strategic setup and programming where the actual battle is against other players programmed robots. The battle itself is sort of an afterthought, the winner and loser are decided before you really see anything, then the battle is downloaded so you can watch it play out. You get no say once the match starts.

This is a game for someone who is totally fine with 12 to 18 tutorials before you know enough to start playing. I got through them, had one match I lost really badly, and put this one back on the imaginary shelf. It’s neat, and I wouldn’t mind exploring it more, but with 1731 more things to look at, this one is not grabbing me and demanding my attention.

Lancer Core Book: This is a tabletop RPG of spaceship, big robots, and swashbuckly action.

I backed this game on Kickstarter and am still waiting for the printed book, but for now the 1st edition PDF has been released. I have been avoiding reading too deeply into it until the bok comes and I can give it proper attention, but I’ll skim in a little now.

Giant Robot RPGs are in a bit of a slow spot right now. With the painful failure of the Mekton reboot, and everything Battletech related being in a sort of wait-and-see mode until the full rulebook actually hits shelves it’s been a while since we could properly stomp our way through city-scapes throwing multiple block long punches and raining missiles like hailstones. Yes there have been a few games that touch on it, but nothing really big has captured this once fertile market in a while.

A lot of people are hoping Lancer is the next big thing.

In overall look Lancer is very pretty. The art and layout give me a very late 1990s to 2000s feel, but turned up a bit. There is a slight lack of cohesion in that the multiple artists styles don’t really mesh into each others as much as some modern games try to do, but it is better than many of the most beloved games managed back when this sort of game was king, and the quality is overall much higher.

There is a LOT of system in this book.

Mecha based games kind of beg for detailed tactical systems that specifically address as much as possible. Exact ranges and ratings and math matters in a very technical game, and this is no exeption. In the 432 pages of this core book, we don’t get to the world, plot, or story until page 334. Flavor text and images sell you on what kind of game this is going to be throughout, but in a world with FATE, Mothership, and Savage Worlds, and where even Dungeons & Dragons has their core system down to about 180 pages this is a bit of a beast!

Now, the very heart of the system behind Lancer is pretty sleek. The four or five pages explaining the basic concepts gives me a pretty good idea what this is going to look like in use… And I’m not sure I am in love.

I would put the complexity of Lancer at about the same as Pathfinder or slightly higher. This is a little beyond what I tend to like these days, a little more thinking and math behind every die roll than I would prefer. I’ll have to dive deeper to see how it all comes together.

Lancer feels like a bit of a throwback to the way we made games about 20 years ago… but a throwback made by people who really understood what was great about those games and wanted to bring some of it back. I will have to take some time with this to see where my sensibilities fit in these days. I am very excited for the printed book. It was due much earlier in the year, but as such things can go, and with the added excitement of the apocalypse happening, it should exist… soon.

Mewnbase: A survival/resource management/base building/etc game of keeping a moonbase from dying… with cats.

So this game lets you customize your cat a little…. I named mine Mr Piddles and gave his spacesuit a green visor. Then after a very brief tutorial you are left to your own devices.

It’s a little bit like a 2d minecraft in space but with less robust building… I have played a few games along these lines, one or two really fun ones on the ipad, and I don’t mind them at all. I’m setting this one aside for now, perhaps some day we will find out what became of Mr Piddles though.

Art Sqool: A game about art and making art and art school.

This game looks deeply weird… I’m into that.

It seems to be a musical?

Okay… so you are Froshmin, an art student being taught by an AI neural net. You are given assignments then set loose in the world to find pigments, brushes, tools, and to draw something which the AI then judges before sending you back out…

The graphics are state of the art Amiga demo disk 3d, the controls are hot garbage… moving around is actively unpleasant, and the music is… really neat!. Game play is confusing and little or no guidance is given on why you are graded high or low.

I think with the proper pharmaceuticals or perhaps a well placed head wound this game could be very interesting. I am shoving it back in the sack possibly never to be seen again. I wish I had the soundtrack though.

10 down, 1731+ to go. Have a Nice Day Everybody!

A few reviews coming!

Happy Trilobite

So a bit ago I bought into the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality for a few bucks, it goes to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund split 50/50 and looked like it had some interesting games I would not mind checking out.

Then it was suddenly 1741 games and counting… It is a mix of tabletop games, video games, game creation tools, and who knows what else! For the $10 I gave ($5 minimum) I already have spotted three tabletop games I backed on Kickstarter for between $10 and $40 each. There is a tremendous value in here, but 1741! This is going to be a project to just look through and decide which ones I have time to even look at!

To motivate myself I am going to review them. This might take a while and I am not likely to get to all of them. It’s possible they might add more games faster than I can get through the list! But what the hell, let’s see how many I can do!

July Zine-O-Matic

Yeah, it’s been a while… again. Sorry!

So Zines.

When I was going to downtown Berkeley between five and seven days a week I used to stop in at Pegasus every few days and grab a zine. Occasionally I would trade them with other weirdos and on occasion have been known to make little mini pamphlet zines.

“Wait!” you demand “A what?” or if you are a bit hip “They still make those? What is this 1994?”

Yes, they do, and no it is no longer 1994, you can put down the Prodigy CD and put on some sensible pants.

A Zine, in short, is a little home-made magazine. It’s a little cheap (usually) slice of someones life and worldview and I love them. If you really want to go deep down that rabbit hole I recommend This Book and This One Too. Also go Here and Here, I’ll wait, I have a couple of things I need to get done anyway.

Back? Great!

So I have been missing my constant fix of little chunks of peoples worlds. There are things to recommend about Bloomington Indiana, but the independent book stores are pretty thin on the ground. I could buy lots of them on Etsy, but it’s not the same as walking in and grabbing the first few zines that catch my eye with no idea what might actually be in them.

Enter Zine-O-Matic.

You give them money every month, they grab a handful of zines and send them to you. It sounded up my alley so I plopped down my dollars and waited.

With Blinding speed my package arrived. Inside were a postcard, two stickers, and six zines. I got the “Super Mondo Size” subscription so with shipping it’s about $22 a month, And I do not feel like I overpaid.

The postcard is pleasantly macabre in a surreal sort of way, and reminds me that I should start sending postcards to people.

The first sticker is of cats in clothes… which cats HATE! It has a puzzle piece on the back of the same image like my Star Wars collectible cards had in the late 70s.

I have no idea what is going on here… It has a sort of David Bowie filtered through a Love and Rockets fever dream sort of thing going on.

The first Zine I opened was Flash by Amara Leipzig. It’s a comic zine about a guy who wants to be hit by lightning. It’s clean and expressive art and the zine is very well put together with the title on translucent paper over the cover image.

Tasteful Insect Nudes by Mullet Turtle Comics is a tiny little book with pictures of bugs and their somewhat playmate-like bios.

It wasn’t immediately obvious what this zine was called… or which way was up or which side was the front. I thought it was called “For Rectal use Only” at first because there is a sticker on it bearing that warning… but it turns out it is issue 3 of KJC by Kevin Uehlein and D.W.  It is a screaming mix of psychedelic art and comics. It is a mix of black and white, color, and a couple transparent pages and makes no immediate sense nor does it need to.

Field Notes on the American Sasquatch is about 22 pages of what looks like hand typed text with a few illustrations about the life of the American Sasquatch. I am going to try to get this into the hands of Aaron Akagi who obviously needs it… It is plain black and white copy-paper either made on a dirty library copy machine or skillfully made to look like it was.

The picture can’t quite show you the title of this zine because it is in braille on a black cover. The title is actually Soliloquy by Bast Armannsson and it is a zine about communication. It includes a Braille card as well as information about Braille, Tap Code, Morse Code, American Sign Language, and Binary. This is an absolute gem packed with interesting and potentially useful information and extremely well designed and executed. It would be my absolute favorite of the bunch if it were not for the next (and last) zine…

Imaginary Homework by Theo Ellsworth.  This zine is a series of surreal homework assignments illustrated in a sort of cartoony techno-mayan sort of way. This zine is so far up my alley that I am afraid it might be about to mug me. I’m super into it.

So all in all I am hugely satisfied with this experience and will continue my subscription with Zine-O-Matic (who have not paid me anything or given me free stuffs for this enthusiastic endorsement… though I am not adverse…)

I’ll keep reviewing my treasures as they come in, and maybe soon I’ll make a few more of my own.

Movie Monday 002: Message From Space

It has been a tiring week, but I did not want to go two weeks without making a review, so…

This week: Message From Space

Toei And then United Artists: 1978

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Message_from_Space

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078435/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl

An ambitious and expensive Japanese movie imported to the US in the wake of Star Wars. The US movie industry was unprepared to supply the publics renewed hunger for sci-fi so they were buying up foreign films.

This movie was bought for a reported 1 million dollars. It probably made about $28 from my dad taking me to see it a couple times. He will remember it as the schlock Japanese sci fi movie with the space ships that were sailing ships with engines on the back. I remember it for the heroes ship with the fantastic fold out fighter bays (that was undoubtedly millennium falcon inspired).

I built a couple models of the ship and the fighters and always lusted after the die cast toys that now go for hundreds of dollars on ebay. I would love to have the model of the main good guys ship again. http://www.fantastic-plastic.com/STARSHIP%20LIABE%20PAGE.htm

This movie is the story of a ragtag group of unlikely heroes summoned by mystical space walnuts to save the planet Julucia from the evil Gavanas.

The plot is moderately ludicrous, the acting amusingly painful (even taking dubbing into account), and the action is very dated. The effects are actually rather good for the time (even if they are used to often ridiculous effect) , and the Star Wars influence on the models and props gives them a refreshing sense of reality.

Message From Space is a movie that is fun despite itself. It is enjoyable for the campiness of it, but it’s also just fun to watch. I loved it as a kid because I had no taste and would pretty much watch anything with a robot in it… I find I love it now for a mixture of the nostalgia and a genuine appreciation for what they were trying to do.

And the ships really are cool.

Characters: D6 : Uninspired archetypes with dubious motivations. Totally useful for space swashbuckling or other slightly silly settings. The enemies are evil for the sake of evil with gratuitous chrome and horned helmets and capes.

Soundtrack: D6 : Nothing special, a mix of 1960s sci-themes and Star Wars inspired orchestral bits. There is a CD out there and it could be fun to have’ but not worth much effort.

Plot: D8 : Ludicrous and clumsy (it is never a good sign when the narrator has to explain what is happening)… But also amusing and pretty well paced out. Not a bad model for gathering together characters and getting them to the action in a somewhat less than serious setting.

Tech/magic/maguffins: D8 : Remarkably fun space ships, swords in space, and tying all the characters together with mysterious seeds that could do just about anything the plot needed them to do at any given moment.

Settings: D6 : A series of locations barely connected to one another in any logical way. Some of them could be lifted for encounters, but I would not recommend using them all in the same plot.

Suggested system: FATE, Savage Worlds, the old D6 Star Wars, Battlestations.

Movie Monday 001: I Married a Monster From Outer Space!

And now it is time for the Movie Mondays to begin.

In these articles I will be delving into the b grade movie archives looking for hidden gems and moments of brilliance In a sea of barely adequate muck. I will be reviewing these films for how fun (or painful) they are, and also how useful they are to mine for games or writing purposes.

Ratings are in dice. From D4 to D20… Because that is how I roll! (I have lost my old icons so there won’t be any yet. Just text. I’ll fix that later if I feel like it.)

This week: I Married a Monster From Outer Space

Paramount 1958

Although the stand alone DVD seems to be out of print it is unlikely that you will have much difficulty finding a copy. In fact, if you are in the habit of buying those “20 sci-fi blockbusters” sets that can usually be found in the bargain bin by the register for $10 or less, you probably already own at least one copy of this film. I am pretty sure I have at least three.

I Married a Monster From Outer Space was not well received in 1958 and has been largely ignored ever since, which is a shame as it turns out to be a surprisingly good film.

The story features newly married Marge Farrell who, soon after her marriage, finds that her husband Bill is not at all himself. He is losing his affection for his wife and seems to have taken up cruelty to animals as a side hobby. Soon she finds out that Bill is not the only man in town who has changed and must figure out who she can trust to fight this menace from space.

A lurid title as well as its posters and other promotional materials point to this movie as the love child of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Mars Needs Women! And this is actually pretty much where the movie starts.

Surprisingly good cinematography and well above average special effects are balanced by solid B grade dialogue and one dimensional stereotypes… But about a third of the way to halfway through the movie it shifts a bit and becomes something a bit more than its parts would suggest.

Hidden inside of well worn tropes and off the shelf characters is an actual science fiction story and a take on the body snatchers concept with more bite than most.

I enjoyed this movie on a level I was not expecting to and while I would not recommend it as an entry into the classic sci-fi genre… I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Oh yeah, and the cars are gorgeous!

Characters: D6 : mostly cookie cutter, but fun for bit parts. The strong female lead for the time is remarkable, as is a particularly creepy policeman.

Soundtrack: D8 : Good solid classic sci-fi mood music. The soundtrack is available in a limited edition cd http://www.kritzerland.com/monster_atomic.htm and if anyone wants to send me a copy I will do a happy dance. I might film said happy dance.

Plot: D8 : a very well worn path, but with some twists to the story worth paying attention to.

Tech/magic/maguffins: D6 : Not much. Ray guns, a space ship you don’t see a lot of and a few bits of alien gear with antennas. It’s saving grace in this category is a somewhat creepy take on the tech behind body snatching.

Settings: D4 : A poorly defined small town USA with not a lot to look at or think about.

Suggested system: gurps atomic horror, call of Cthulhu, or Cthulhu dark.

Overall: D10 : A fun movie a bit of a step outside its place and time. Well worth watching.

Fiancé summary: “Fish egg goo is gross.”