Review: The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger World

The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger World
The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger World by Robert Kirkman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While there was a lot of monologue in this installment I didn’t feel that it was too much. Most good stories seem to have an ebb and flow between action and exposition and TWD is no exception. I was initially reading the comics a bit ahead if the TV show which was interesting but now that I have fallen really far behind it is still interesting to see how the two stories diverge.

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Review: The Eltingville Club

The Eltingville Club
The Eltingville Club by Evan Dorkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Outstanding work as always. All the great early stuff is still awesome. I really enjoyed the final chapter of the club even if I am embarrassed that it took me two years after publication to finally read it. I still consider myself very lucky to have gotten a signed Milk & Cheese piece of art from Evan himself at one of his last SDCC appearances.

If you like irreverent humor then you will love this book, it really spears the annoying side of geek culture right in the balls.

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Board Game Magic Number Update: April 2017

This is the second belated update about my Magic Number for board games.

Add to List

  • Bought Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn
  • Traded for 7 Wonders: Duel
  • Traded for Lost Cities
  • Bought used copy of Zombicide Season Two: Prison Outbreak

Remove from list

  • Played The Oregon Trail Card Game
  • Played Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn
  • Played The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus
  • Played Alien Frontiers

Net Change: zero
Current Magic Number: 19

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Board Game Magic Number Update: March 2017

As I recently posted I am trying to decrease my board game magic number this year. I started in February at 20 and since the initial post was over two months late this is the first of two belated monthly updates.

Remove from list

  • 3/9 Played Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King

Net Result: -1
Current Magic Number: 19

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Board Gaming Magic Number 2017

I found Ryan Graham’s post on BGG about the Magic Number (a term coined on his Out of Game podcast) quite motivating personally as I have been buying new games faster than I can get them to the table for the past couple of years. In a nutshell your Magic Number (MN) is the number of games that you own and have yet to play.

There are a few exclusions however:

  • Games where you played someone else’s copy instead of your own
  • Expansions (only count base games); I suppose you could include expansions on the list or even have a separate magic number just for expansions
  • Games you picked up to trade away, sell or otherwise have no intention of playing (such as a special collector’s edition)

I like the idea of starting each year with a list of the games that comprise your magic number followed by monthly updates of games played (reducing the number) and games added (increasing the number). While I am a major stats geek I don’t think I will go to the extreme of creating a graph of monthly progress, mostly because I anticipate changes of less than 2-3 games per month.

Below is my personal MN list for 2017 as of March 1st at 20 entries, here is the Geeklist on BGG. I will post live updates in the comments there and add/remove games from the list; I will only be posting monthly updates here.

I am hoping that by quantifying my “excess inventory” if you will that I can at least keep the number stable without having to go on a game buying freeze for the rest of the year. (I had intended to post this here in March but blew it.)

Rick’s Magic Number List February 2017
The Adventurers: the Pyramid of Horus
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
Alien Frontiers
Artifacts, Inc.
Bring Out Yer Dead
Cthulhu Gloom
Dragon Master
Eaten By Zombies!: In Cahoots
Hawken: Real-Time Card Game – Sharpshooter vs. Bruiser
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
The Rivals for Catan
Rivet Wars: Eastern Front
Star Trek Deck Building Game: The Next Generation – The Next Phase
The Swarm
Wings of War: Famous Aces

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Review: Ravished By Reagansaurus

Ravished By Reagansaurus
Ravished By Reagansaurus by Mandy De Sandra
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was expecting more from this book based on the blurb and the cover art but it just didn’t live up to its potential. There were some silly plot choices that just didn’t make sense, even for a bizarro story. There were also too many typos and instances of bad grammar for me to turn a blind eye. I really like the far outside the mainstream story ideas but they don’t excuse poor writing and copy editing; I feel like the author either either decided to forgo the additional cost of a copy editor or she made a poor choice of editors since that many mistakes should not have made it into print.

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Review: Aliens are Real, and I am Pretty

Aliens are Real, and I am Pretty
Aliens are Real, and I am Pretty by Jeff O’Brien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boy was this a fun read! I really like Jeff’s style and this bite-sized morsel delivers. The color covers at the end were a nice surprise too. My favorites were the haiku (or is the plural haikus?), goddamn hilarious.

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Review: Anathem

Anathem by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought the chunky paperback version of this book several years ago but then proceeded to get caught up in reading a high number of lower page count books so it started gathering dust on my (literal) TBR shelf. This year I decided it was high time to finally dive into this beast and it was the best reading decision I have made in a long time.

I think the author could easily have broken this up into two or three volumes which would have the dual benefits of not scaring away people with a nearly 1000 page count and also presumably increasing revenue. I admire Stephenson for not going that way, plus I enjoyed the heft of this sucker in my hands every time I picked it up.

Based on the blurb I wasn’t sure if this was actually a fantasy book or not and it actually took me a bit to figure out that it was not. The end of the blurb foreshadowed a bit plot point that came late in the book but I had forgotten about it by the time I got there so no harm, no foul (at least for someone forgetful like me). Between the blurb and the fact that I loved Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (another giant tome) I was confident that I would like this book, in fact it turns out that I love it!

The book did start off a bit slow but that was due to the immense amount of world-building that is necessary to set up the long game here. It was a bit confusing at first also but it wasn’t very difficult to push through as the story plot picked up fairly quickly. I really enjoyed how many concepts had a different name but were very similar (identical in some cases) to Earth concepts.

The characterization was very well done in my opinion. I had trouble keeping some of the names straight at first but that eventually passed. By the end of the book I felt very invested in not only the main characters that had first appeared at the beginning of the book but also other characters who were introduced later.

I realize that this review has been quite vague but I don’t want to risk spoiling a single thing for anyone. While it can take quite a while to push through over 900 pages it will be well worth the time investment by the time you reach the end. Even the three essays at the end were very enjoyable for me (although people who aren’t so into math and such may not appreciate them as much as I did as they are a bit dry).

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Review: Waters of Death

Waters of Death
Waters of Death by Irving A. Greenfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My wife bought me this book while she was shopping for Make Room! Make Room! and the blurb was interesting enough that I started in on it right away (temporarily putting aside the 981 page monstrosity I was reading). I really like the dystopian setting where the only way to get enough food is to farm the sea and having a lower caste doing the farming puts an interesting sociological twist.

This was published in 1967 and it shows. What I noticed the most was the outdated way in which the female characters were portrayed, it kept reminding me the entire time that the book was as old as I am. At first I thought that the “romantic” sub-plot was irrelevant but I came around later when more of the story had unfolded. Even so I felt that this thread took an implausible turn which earned it ten demerits. (Are demerits even a thing in book reviews?)

The primary plot proceeded along nicely until we actually get out in the field. The scene where we finally get to see what is going on under the surface felt unsatisfying to me, it changed from a plausible set of circumstances where I was eager to find out what was causing the harvest problems to a really lame climactic scene that I felt didn’t tie up the storyline.

I didn’t care for the writing style very much either, the dialogue was often stilted. There was some world building that was delivered as dialog which felt out of place as the character listening to the exposition would have known that information in many cases.

I really wanted to like this since the seed for a great story is there but with the flaws pointed out above I can’t rate it any higher than three stars.

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Review: Neon Trash: Forgotten B-Movies of the ’80s

Neon Trash: Forgotten B-Movies of the '80s
Neon Trash: Forgotten B-Movies of the ’80s by M.P. Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit that the extent of my experience with B movies in the 80s was pretty much from Up All Night on USA (thanks Rhonda Shear). I think I only saw one Troma flick during that time, the first Toxie. Neon Trash made me feel like I missed out on some great stuff. We love to sit around watching really bad movies and most of the ones in this book would fit right in.

Even so many of the reviews were godamn hilarious and I don’t feel like I need to see them. This is a quick read, great for a lazy Sunday. The bonus bio story at the end was fun, too.

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Review: Bolt Action: World War II Wargames Rules: Second Edition

Bolt Action: World War II Wargames Rules: Second Edition
Bolt Action: World War II Wargames Rules: Second Edition by Warlord Games
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not sure whynitbtook me three months to finish this except that it was very slow goingbon the assembly of my Soviet infantry. It will be interesting to finally play Bolt Action as it will be my fist “buckets o’ dice” miniatures game. I am building a mid- to late war Soviet army but the fiddly plastic models have been a real challenge.

This core rule book provides some generic army composition rules for the major powers but you will definitely want at least your Armies Of book if not an additional source book to assemble an interesting histoeic force rather than just a generic force.

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Review: The Runner

The Runner
The Runner by W.J. Davies
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another good story set in the Wool universe. I am impressed at how Hugh Howey has allowed other authors to extend his setting with new stories and characters. I very quickly became invested in Mick and Ace in this story and find myself wanting to continue the series. I have yet to read a story based on Wool that I didn’t like, each one seems to take a slightly different angle and they have all been interesting.

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Review: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Somehow I was unfamiliar with Louie Zamperini and his story until my wife gave me this book as a gift. I am very grateful for that as it has been both educational and emotional. Most of the reading I have done about WWII has been around the western front in Europe but I have been expanding my horizons and this started filling in the gap in the Pacific.

I have always had a place in my heart for POWs but only had a superficial understanding of the suffering endured by them in captivity. I was aware of the brutality that the Japanese disdain created for POWs but didn’t really comprehend on an emotional level exactly what that entailed. This book did a great job of not only relating what happened in the prison camps but also how it could affect a prisoner for a long time after their release. While I was intensely interested in what occurrred in the 1940s reading about the years immediately following Louie’s return to the States is what really drove home the enormity of his burden.

I have read various stories about the folly of upper management due to their disconnectedness from the daily realities of their people but it was very depressing to see that the same thing exists within the military (no doubt continuing to this day). Reading about Louie, Phil and the rest of the crew being assigned to a SAR mission in Green Hornet made me very nervous as well as angry at the despised lieutenant.

While we generally don’t see our currently serving military suffer extended imprisonment this story still affected how I view returning combat veterans with regards to the emotional and spiritual scars they may have suffered while away from home. I wish more people saw the value in learning about the past since it really does impact the present and how we interact with the world around us today.

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Review: The Boys, Volume 3: Good For The Soul

The Boys, Volume 3: Good For The Soul
The Boys, Volume 3: Good For The Soul by Garth Ennis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the times where I read part of a book then put it down because I got distracted by something new and shiny. In this case I read the first third or so and didn’t pick it up again for well over six months. I finally got back to it and was pleasantly surprise at the halfway mark or so to see Wee Hughie visit The Legend and get a history lesson on The Seven and V.A.C./Vought American.

The second half of this book was mostly world building as it tells the reader the story of how supes (i.e. superheroes) came into the world and how much of their obnoxious behavior was hidden behind the smokescreen of their comic books. This collection was published in 2008 and weaves in some recent history in a very intriguing way. The writing was absolutely amazing, it was very emotionally engaging and a bit upsetting because I felt like if we had real supes in our world that some greedy scumbags would have made the same decisions that their counterparts in this book made. The way the back story was so tightly intertwined with real history was outstanding, I was completely drawn in and will definitely read the next volume right away.

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How did I get hooked on Guild Ball?

Guild Ball Banner
In my previous article I explained why I drifted away from Warmachine and Malifaux, my pimary and secondary miniatures games respectively. Now I want to explain why I got hooked on Guild Ball and how I jumped in with both feet without even playing a demo game (a first for me). I had seen talk of Guild Ball on Facebook and sites like Beasts of War but not until long after the Kickstarter project had ended. I liked the idea of a sports game like Blood Bowl and liked the low model count so I read the GB forums and found a lot of things I liked.

  • Skirmish level game. With only six models on the pitch at a time (two more on a tournament roster to allow substitutions between games) and all of them being characters it was the smaller scale I had wanted. Malifauxe started off the same way but there ended up being multi-model “units” and some forces had larger numbers of cheap (points-wise) models so it broke down a bit on that front. Not having units in GB means no repetitive painting of the same model (more or less) ten times.
  • Scoring. One thing that drew me to Malifaux was the use of strategies and schemes. Both players used the same strategy which was worth  some victory points (VP) and each player also selected a couple of hidden schemes independently (also worth VP). This provided for much more variability of play compared to Warmachine which was basically kill the opposing warcaster. Yes WM had scenarios for tournament play but they were only there to encourage players to engage and prevent them from turtling. I don’t know that I ever saw anyone win by scenario points. Guild Ball allows teams to score VP by scoring goals or beating face and any combination of the two.
  • Simple rules. The basic rules are really quite simple: moving, kicking (passing or shooting on goal), attacking and character plays are about it. Influence is used to perform those actions and momentum is generated and spent by various actions.
  • Complex tactics. While the basic rules are easy enough to pick up there is enough complexity in how your players interact to provide plenty of food for thought on the various ways to score VP and prevent your opponent from doing so.

Brewers and Fishermen

  • Lots of factions. With eight factions (guilds) available by the time I jumped in there was plenty of variety. Each guild has a different play style and visual theme. Even better the designers are aware that beyond a certain point (15 models in their opinion) a guild can’t continue to grow without bleeding into what other guilds do. Their plan is to meep adding new guilds instead of just adding models to the initial eight guilds indefinitely.

Butchers Playbook

  • Playbooks. Instead of just looking at the results of an attack roll to determine how many points of damage were inflicted each model has a playbook. Selecting which result you want is a very tactical choice and a lot more interesting than just dealing straight damage all the time.
  • Alternating activations. I learned to like alternating activations in Malifaux, it was a nice break from activating my entire Warmachine army and then watching the other player do the same for 20 minutes. I came to love it in GB since it not only keeps both players engaged but also makes the tactics more interesting as each player must constantly adjust on the fly.

I can’t be the only one who sees things this way as Guild Ball is spreading like wildfire in my area. There are quite a lot of former and current Warmachine/Hordes players among the converts as well.

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