You leave my ring out of this…

Forging my own ring

Really, Turbine! Don’t you tell me what to do with my ring!

How rude!

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World War Z Review

WWZ

World War Z is, in case you have magically missed out on all the hype, a zombie apocalypse movie which begins in the contemporary USA but then goes globetrotting. It’s about as “based on” Max Brooks’ 2006 novel as U-571 was “based on” genuine historical events, so bear that in mind if you enjoyed the book.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a UN Investigator who seems better at staying alive than every soldier he meets. He’s kind of like a Mother Teresa figure, sowing destruction in his wake through sheer coincidence yet remaining largely unharmed. He’s coerced out of retirement because apparently nobody but a retired diplomat is fit for the job. We see how much of a big goddamn hero he is when he’s the only person who can drive fast in gridlocked traffic, and when he saves his wife from the Obligatory Rape Threat even though a few minutes before she’d shown herself to be pretty quick-thinking and badass. Tragically for Gerry the younger of his two daughters seems to be completely stupid, and many of his close encounters of the Zombie Kind are entirely thanks to Little Miss Derpface.

Alas a great deal of the plot requires stupidity from everyone in it. This is one of my no-no’s with storytelling, and World War Z hits it frequently. Gerry’s youngest is a moron, so Action Happens, because Gerry himself is bright enough to get out of Action’s goddamn way. Other survivors they encounter are morons, which mires Gerry further in set pieces which wouldn’t occur if people were as smart as they initially appeared to be. Of outstanding stupidity is the moment which leads to this:

WWZWall

But the stupidity doesn’t stop. Scientists Gerry meets who are ostensibly very bright turn out to actually be deeply intellectually hampered. Soldiers actually seem to fare pretty well on the brains scale in this film, but I imagine that’s only because if a Blockbuster attempts to show American soldiers in any light other than massive heroes right now, it’ll go down about as well booking Gary Glitter for a children’s birthday party.

Gone is the novel’s commentary on US isolationism, government ineptitude and wealth-driven corruption. Perhaps that’ll come in the sequel since, in the movie’s defence, the book is set ten years after the war, whereas the film is set during the outbreak of the virus. Sequel? Why, yes. World War Z has already grossed so highly that a sequel’s been ordered. People will probably pay to go and see it.

Unless you’re really keen on seeing the visual effects on a big screen, I’d save this one until it’s cheaper to watch. It’s not bad, and you probably won’t feel like you wasted your money, but that’s largely because bugger all else is on right now.

WWZWHO

Verdict: 6/10.

Entertaining, spectacular, forgettable.

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Dragon’s Maze Mini-League Adventure

Teysa1[1]

The recent trip to Texas was centred around visiting a friend, so Mr. Troo and I took a Dragon’s Maze booster box with us and spent a fortnight engaged in an impromptu mini-league. Here’s how it worked:

  • Each player took one third of the booster box.
  • For the first three rounds we opened six of our boosters and built a 40-card deck.
  • Each subsequent three rounds, we opened one additional booster.

This went pretty well for me from the very start, as I was able to riff off these guys:

DGM Battering Krasis DGM Trostani's Summoner

Opening three Battering Krasis and two Trostani’s Summoner within my first six boosters was a boon, but I didn’t have enough Green and White to go full Selesnya, so I splashed Black and included a few Orzhov staples such as a couple of Tithe Drinkers.

This was working reasonably well for me, but wasn’t especially reliable. My saving grace in the early stages was that both Shannon and Mr. Troo had pulled even less cohesive colours than I had, and were struggling to pull together remotely reliable decks.

As the league progressed and more boosters were opened, I lucked out and pulled even more Orzhov cards while my opponents were pulling more assorted random gibberish. Ultimately my deck looked like this:

3x Tithe Drinker
Sin Collector
Maw of the Obzedat
3x Rakdos Drake
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Pontiff of Blight
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts
Bane Alley Blackguard
Boros Mastiff
2x Crypt Incursion
2x Far/Away
Alive/Well
Profit/Loss
2x Debt to the Deathless
2x Riot Control
Godless Shrine

Pretty soon my star players had shifted to these guys:

DGM Pontiff of Blight DGM Teysa

I was able to extort myself alive long enough to pull one or the other, after which extorting my opponents to death or becoming relatively unassailable shifted control of the board in my favour. My two main problems were when Mr. Troo pulled two Mirko Vosks, and Shannon pulled a Master of Cruelties. Mr. Troo was pretty capable of grinding me to death if he played a Mirko successfully, so the sight of that Dimir critter usually put the game on a short, sharp countdown. It was the appearance of Mirko that made me include the Rakdos Drakes in the end, avoiding unleashing them so that I had flying blockers that could buy me an extra turn each.

All in all I pulled some amazing cards to build a robust Orzhov deck around, as I already have some bloody good Orzhov cards sitting about, so I’ll tinker with a deck list and test that puppy out!

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The Trouble with The Lack of Tribbles…

4130737-high-doctor-who-series-7b[1]

Before disappearing off to Texas, I wrote an article for SFX, which you can find here.

It largely deals with the attempts to turn episodic-format shows into serialised dramas, and focusses on Doctor Who and Star Trek as its main examples.

Enjoy! :D

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Star Trek Into Darkness Review

Poster Collection

This is a damn fine film. You should watch it.

Oh, what, you wanted more than that? Well, see, the Americans don’t have it yet, and in spite of IMDB’s epic spoiler I’m actually trying not to contribute to a Stateside Fan Meltdown. So, no spoilers.

Poster 2

Into Darkness continues the alternative universe introduced by Star Trek in 2009. I think it’s safe to say that if you had a problem with this “reboot”, then you probably aren’t going to be a big fan of Into Darkness either. But I loved Star Trek, and I bloody loved this film too.

Things I like about it:

  • James T. Kirk is very intelligent. It’s becoming clear exactly how he makes it as Starfleet’s youngest ever captain.
  • Kirk’s influence on Spock’s personality is starting to show itself.
  • The film is littered with references and plot hooks from all of Trek canon, not just TOS.
  • At heart, this film is all about morality – very much a part of Roddenberry’s original vision.
  • There’s not a dud bit of acting or casting anywhere.
  • The score, as with the first film, is superb.
  • Visual effects? Perfect.
  • It’s two hours long, but you won’t notice the time pass.
  • Chekov’s face when he’s told to put a red shirt on.

Hangar Bay

Things I’m a little less sure about:

  • I think some plot points were glossed over too quickly and could have used just a couple more lines of dialogue to explain to viewers less familiar with Trek canon.
  • A certain blonde’s boobage felt a little gratuitous.
  • It wasn’t as tightly plotted as the 2009 film.
  • The 3D doesn’t really do much for it other than some spear-throwing at the start of the film.

Enterprise Falling

Obviously it wouldn’t be a Star Trek film without the Enterprise getting shot to shit.

Away Team

And Benedict Cumberbatch? Not stunt casting, I promise you. Look at this man. This man wants you dead:

Poster 1

Verdict: 9/10.

It falls short of a perfect 10 due to a couple of tiny niggles, but I’ll take 9/10 any day!

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Hey, Troo, come back!

IMG_20120226_150939 copy

It’s been so long, the cat died!*

Like, seriously, where’ve you been?

All my bad, folks. I took on some freelance work that took me a hell of a time to complete, so I haven’t had the time for either gaming or blogging. But the job’s done now, so I’m back.

I’ve also decided to broaden the scope of this blog to cover other things – film, TV, comics, that kind of stuff. This is because if I don’t have time for gaming it’s usually because I’m watching things or reading instead, so why not include ‘em? Don’t worry, it’ll stay nerdy. I won’t dive off into the murky world of Rom Coms (*shudder*).

*Don’t worry. The cat didn’t really die.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Review

X-Wing Minis

Once upon a time there was a tabletop skirmish game called Wings of War X-Wing Miniatures. Ha! Only joking, but I bet that’s what you were thinking!

X-Wing Miniatures has superficial similarities to the much-loved Wings of War – you have a little craft and you fly it around the table. And that’s where the similarity ends. If you’re familiar with WoW, some of the key differences are:

  • The pilot you pair with your ship makes a huge difference to what that ship is capable of
  • Combat is made more complex with various upgrades and options
  • Moves are planned one turn at a time, and templates are used to execute the moves
  • Squads are built on point values, and planning your squad can take quite some time

It’s easy to play a quick skirmish that takes less than 15 minutes, but there is a lot of inbuilt flexibility that will allow the game to scale upwards as more miniatures are released.

2013-03-09 17.43.04 copy

As for all the bits in the box? Well, Fantasy Flight, so excellent quality. Cardboard is rugged and thick, dice are included, the rule booklet is nicely written and illustrated, and the miniatures are awfully cute.

2013-03-09 17.46.46 copy

When later reviews come, they will have more models, and less of the shed and television. Hopefully.

2013-03-09 17.50.51 copy

Verdict: 7/10.

This could be my new go-to filler game. We’ll need more minis available before it becomes something you can spend 2-3 hours at, though.

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Kromlech Orc Juggernaut Mecha-Armour

Today’s post is a collaboration with a good friend of mine, Stephen Hurley. Steve’s been playing Dem Orksies in 40K ever since dey was just Space Orks, and has been pestering Arthur over at Kromlech.eu for a heavier version of his Clanking Destroyer for customers to use as Mega Armoured Nobz. Apparently Arthur has endured said pestering for about three years now, but no more will he need to, because Kromlech have released the “Orc Juggernaut Mecha-Armour”.

And, oh, what a thing of beauty it is.

Naturally Steve had to order some, and plumped for the squad deal: three minis for $54.99USD. Ordering them on day of release, they arrived five days later.

Straight out of the box, the minis look stunning. The quality of the sculpt is outstanding, and the casting is near-flawless. In total there were only five tiny bubbles from the moulding across all parts. Considering how many little details are in the sculpts, this is far superior to Games Workshop’s record with Finecast.

Orcs

The models fit together seamlessly, although poseability is somewhat limited. If you want these Orcs in any poses other than you see in the video you’ll need to be comfortable with minor conversion work. There are also only enough components to make one set of three models. While the pieces are interchangeable, it would have been nice to have a few additional arms or weapon options available.

Still, they are considerably larger and more detailed than the Citadel Mega Armour Nob models. Their heavy and crude appearance fits the Orkish mentality perfectly.

DSC03240

We love these models, and I can’t wait for Steve to get on and paint them!

Overall: 9/10! A few options would have been ideal, but other than that, these are brilliant, and well worth the money!

Kromlech’s website has recently endured a Hacker attack, so if you want to get your hands on these, use their eBay store instead.

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An Open Letter to Hasbro

Discord

Dear Hasbro,

You own companies which make some fantastic games, as do you yourself. You have fingers in multiple entertainment pies, and some people are perhaps unaware of exactly how versatile your portfolio of revenue streams actually is. And I realise that you are a business, and as such it is your job to generate profit.

I’m forced to ask, then, whether shutting down your own fans is contributing to that profit.

Let’s talk about Shards of Equestria. This was, for those who don’t know, a Magic: the Gathering / My Little Pony fan project which had a significant amount of time invested into it. It was fun. People love MLP! People love Magic! Combining the two actually took a great deal of thought and playtesting, but eventually the work was done, and the cards made available for people to download and print.

What’s that, you say? A Cease and Desist letter?

I’m not going to rail and whine. Both MtG and My Little Pony are Hasbro’s copyrights. But nobody was making money from Shards of Equestria, and no funds were being diverted away from Hasbro products – in fact, many Pony fans here went so far as to say that Shards of Equestria got them into Magic: the Gathering.

That’s right. This fan project brought you new customers. Perhaps not many, but those people have friends, and we know how Magic spreads. And those new customers weren’t all in one place, so that’s several new customers with several non-intersecting groups of friends who discovered your games through the love and hard work of fans. Quick. Better shut it down.

And so the world turns, and we come on to Cockatrice. From cockatrice.de:

I have received a letter from a law firm representing Hasbro Germany, expressing a strong feeling of dislike for our project, backed up with legal claims. Regardless of whether the claims they are making are factually correct or not, I have agreed to shut down the project in its current form. As soon as this is completely sorted out, development work will be put into keeping alive the code base in such a way that it can be used for other purposes.

I deeply appreciate all the support from the community and hope to see all of you again soon. I will keep you posted if there are any news.

2013/02/27
Max-Wilhelm Bruker <brukie@gmx.net>

Forum thread

If readers weren’t aware, Cockatrice was a fan-made, free product which – in a rudimentary fashion – allowed them to play Magic online with anyone, anywhere, without paying a penny for either the platform or the cards. This is a little more touchy: I would say there’s a very valid argument that this poses a genuine risk to profit, as if people can play for free why would they pay?

Let’s face it, this is about MtG Online, a platform which is barely above Cockatrice in any technological sense – oh, other than the back-end for handling the money, of course. That part’s extremely robust. But the part where MTGO actually works? Not so much! Let’s check out MTGO’s top recent bugs:

  • Gloom Surgeon cannot be removed. It will mill its controller because the game refuses to take it off the Battlefield.
  • Pillar of Flame and Annihilating Fire kill creatures, but do not exile them.
  • Sculpting Steel copying an artifact which is not in play and isn’t the target.
  • “Commander Removed from Play” – and staying there!

I have no doubt that there are people who play Magic on Cockatrice and don’t spend money on cards. I also have very little doubt that with Cockatrice unavailable, they won’t suddenly be rushing forth to spend money on either MTGO or booster packs: they will simply stop playing and find something else that’s free.

I have no doubt that some people on Cockatrice spend a great deal of money on cards, and will continue to do so with or without Cockatrice, but that Cockatrice enabled them to test their decks against friends and strangers alike without needing to drive an hour to get to their nearest game store / clum / FNM. Those people are the players who don’t grasp – quite rightly – why they should be forced to pay twice to own the same cards.

Perhaps some small percentage of Cockatrice players will shrug and think to themselves “Well, all right. I better subscribe to MTGO!” But I genuinely doubt this.

Most people I know – both personally and virtually – used Cockatrice to test deck ideas before investing in the cards. Will we rush forth and buy a booster crate or complete playsets for every set now so that we can experiment at home? No, that isn’t going to happen. If we could afford to drop four thousand dollars a year into a card game, we’d also be playing MTGO already. I myself have to drive at least half an hour to get to other MtG players, and while Americans might wonder what the deal is with that, for us Brits an hour out of our day lost to driving is a waste of time. Being able to play with those same people while I dink around with deck-building ideas saves me:

  • An hour
  • A quarter of a tank of fuel (that would be about $25 – I’ve seen your fuel costs, America, and I don’t share them)
  • However much it would cost to buy my latest crazy deck only to realise how bad it is after three matches

It’s no idle threat when I say that the removal of Cockatrice may well mean that I cannot play Magic any more. I can’t afford it. I’m a writer, and I need to eat, so while until now I’ve been ready to place eBay bids on cards which I have tried, tested, and know that I want to have, I am not in a position to buy endless boosters in the hope of a playset, and I am not in a position to buy playsets only to find they don’t quite interact with other cards in the way that I had envisioned.

And let’s look at this from yet another perspective: Cockatrice wasn’t only for Magic. It supported a variety of CCGs, of which Magic was only one, and yet you, Hasbro, are the only company to issue a Cease and Desist. Perhaps it’s because those companies do not have comparable online offerings, and perhaps it’s because those companies do not see Cockatrice as a threat. It is, after all, free marketing; a tool your existing customer base can use to draw new customers toward your product. “Try it online for free, and if you like it, let’s go to a Friday Night Magic!”

So, we come to the crux of this letter: Yes, these properties are legally yours. That was never in dispute. Yes, you are well within your rights to defend your properties. And, yes, I doubt that losing one Magic player who never attended a PTQ let alone a GP is hardly going to make you lose any sleep.

All I can really do is ask you, please, to consider whether what you do attracts customers, or turns them away. What you do to retain short-term profitability may be harming your brand’s image in the long run.

It may not, of course. Grand Prix and Pro-Tour events are getting larger by the year. The money is certainly there. Perhaps one lone customer having to step away from a game she not only enjoys but is actually getting quite good at just doesn’t matter.

Yours Sincerely,

Troo.

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