Archive for January 2017

Scythe

Last year at GenCon, One of the hot board games that you could see being played at almost every hotel was Scythe. I noticed it being played a lot and stopped at one game when I noticed that one of the miniatures on the board had a big bear on it. There were mechs that had a very steampunk vibe with a blend of eastern-block Russian styling. I was intrigued but had already spent way too much to be able to plunk down the amount that the game cost.

I have now had the chance to play the game a couple of times and am regretting not picking up the game back at GenCon. It is fun and engrossing with many permutations that the game can take.

The premise of the game is that you are one of five factions that is vying for power in an alternate 1920’s Eastern Europa. A long war has just ended with the closing of The Factory which had created the war machines that had devastated the countryside. You now strive to seize territory and win the hearts of your people and reign supreme by gathering the most treasure.

I love the premise. The game pieces go to great lengths to be evocative of the feeling that this background presents. There are player mats that provide pictures of each faction’s leader. They are presented in a setting depicting both the leader, the mechs of that faction, and the terrain in that home territory. The encounter cards have artwork that provides a story and then the choices that you make are drawn from this story allowing you to choose an option that either wins you the hearts and minds of your people or a path to power at all costs.

The production values on the game are fantastic! Yes, it has wooden meeples. They are the workers that you come to expect from this type of game. The wooden pieces also are buildings, recruits, and markers

The heroes of Scythe.

that are moved about based on the choices you make as a player.The pieces shine in the mechs and the heroes. Each faction has it’s own type of mech that are rendered in plastic and definitely worth painting. The faction’s mechs are designed to be distinct and match up with the illustrations on the cards and game boards. The heroes are also made of plastic and are each unique. Each leader matches the picture on the faction board and has the signature animal with them. I am particularly enamored with the Polania faction as it is the one that has the big bear but each faction leader piece is well done.

The board itself is also gorgeous. It is a map of Eastern Europa divided into hexes. Having done some mapping in prior work, I appreciate well-done cartography. The artwork on the map is also top notch like every other piece of art that is found throughout the game.

The rules of the game are fairly simple to understand but allow for multiple paths to victory. It is very much an engine building game. You begin slowly working your way to building up supplies and taking territories while setting a plan in motion to get to the end game. Much like chess, Scythe requires you to think several moves ahead of the game as well as ahead of the other players. It also allows for flexibility so that if you make a mistake it is not crippling.

I also like that it allows for play for one to five players right out of the box. It is nice to see a game with this type of production values ensure that you can play it with so few people.

My only complaint is more an observation. Scythe has a lot of fiddly bits that have to be put in place to play the game. There are lots of bits that are in motion throughout the game and then have to be cleaned up once completed. I like a tactile game that requires a lot of fiddly bits but the setup and teardown of the game can be a bit off-putting.

Scythe is an excellent game. The background of the game is interesting, the artwork evocative, and game playing engrossing. The way that factions and playmats are distributed make it so that scythe has a large amount of replayability. It does come with a hefty price tag but the amount of detail put into this game makes the price tag acceptable. I, myself, am waiting for the game to come back in stock at my local game store.

Four bear paws out of four for Scythe! If you are a board game fan, this is a game that you definitely need to add to your library.

I bearly recommend it!

Green Lanterns No 15: A Day in the Life

I love Green Lantern.

The idea of the emotional spectrum that has a ring attached to each emotion resonates deeply with me. Way back in 2012-2013 I wrote about some personal change through the lens of the emotional spectrum.

That is how much I love Green Lantern and the other lantern corps that originate with the pages of his comic.

DC Comics has undergone another reboot entitle DC Rebirth. The titles of the DC Universe take up after the events of the Darkseid War and begin to patch together the storylines that have been present in the New 52 and things that had gone on before Flashpoint. In Green Lanterns we get too follow Simon and Jessica, the two new guardians of the earth and it’s space quadrant.

A Day in the life is a great jumping on point for this these two characters as well as a wonderful story in and of itself.

First off, I love stories about heroes that are a slice of life for them. These take the time to show us these characters both in their ordinary guises and highlight their own personal struggles that continue despite the harrowing adventures they undertake.

A Day in the life is no different. The issue opens up with panels of Jessica waking up in the morning. The text on the page is Jessica telling the audience what, on most days, is the greatest battle she faces. Jessica suffers from Anxiety. Each day she faces the thought that she can not handle the day and why get out of bed anyway. We follow jessica throughout the day as she meets with her partner Simon, whom works with her to fulfill her potential as a Green Lantern as well as learn more about himself in the process. We get to watch as she struggles with the responsibilities of wearing the ring while struggling to fight off an anxiety attack throughout the day.

There is a poignant moment where Jessica is not able to push off an attack any longer. In the middle of a battle with a lame villain, she freezes and Simon keeps her safe and cleans up the villain. He allows his ignorance to show by stating that he thought Jessica was getting better. She calls him on this ignorance and points out that it never gets better. It is something that she will struggle with indefinitely and flies off.

Jessica realizes that she lost control and stormed off. So, she takes the time to do the things that will make the next battle a little bit easier. We watch as she works through these steps and shows us how they are her armor for the coming battle.

In the end, She faces another morning and another battle and is able to get out of bed and face the day as a Green Lantern. We even get to see Simon show up to apologize for his lack of understanding of how things worked and continue to provide her support as she continues her fight.

This issue provides so much that I want out of a comic that it makes my heart ache. We get to see my favorite thing in the DC Universe taking a stand to give us a diverse title in almost every way. We get to see two people take up the ring that are not often presented in the Corps. On top of this we get to see one of these heroes struggle with a mental illness and have it treated with a modicum of grace that is unusual in comics. All of this excellent story telling is graced by beautiful artworks that just draws one deeper into the story.

Humphries and Mendonca have done good work on issue 15.

If you have not given Green Lanterns a try. This is a great issue to jump in. It gives a great picture of these two heroes while also highlighting the issues surrounding those that struggle with mental illness. A definite four bear paws out of four on issue 15 of Green Lanterns.

I bearly recommend it!

I know that is cheesy but I don’t care!

The Grim Company

I stumbled upon Luke Scull’s The Grim Company completely by accident. A friend I had met at GenCon two year’s back was talking about books he enjoyed on Facebook. One of the books he mentioned was The Grim Company. his description of the book made it sound interesting. I respected his taste in media so I thought I would give it a shot.

I was not disappointed.

The Grim Company falls into the category of Grimdark fantasy. The heroes of this genre are no shining stars that are held up as role models to the populace. Victories are few and far between and come at great cost. My initial experience with the genre was with Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire and I was looking forward to trying more in this vein.

From my previous posts, you should know I am a sucker for any story that involves the gods. The Grim Company takes place in a world where the gods were destroyed by mage-lords. They killed the gods and in so doing, broke the world. The remaining mage lords squabble to control the remaining magic in a world that is slowly dying.

I was all in from that point on.

The Grim Company follows several threads.

There is Davarus cole, a young man with ideas about what it means to be a hero. His head is filled with romantic ideas of becoming a hero to his city yet lacks the steel necessary to do what is truly necessary. Brodar Kayne is an aging barbarian from the north. He is fleeing a past that haunts him still and struggling with a sense of honor that could easily get him killed. Eremul is a mage that has been maimed. He is the only mage remaining in a city that killed all mages that were not sworn to the mage lord. The price for this survival was his legs and his dignity. Barandas is the high augmentor and lead servitor of Salazar, the mage lord. He believes himself to be a good and just man but that to be good, one must be strong and do what other men will not. Last but not least is Ylandris, sorceress of the High Fangs. She lives in the land that Brodar has fled and seeks a path to power for herself so that she will no longer be powerless.

 

As I worked through the Grim Company, I had a niggling doubt that this many characters would become unwieldy or cumbersome. Scull proved my doubts unnecessary as he weaves the various stories of these  characters together deftly. Each change of point of view builds upon the last so that the layers of grit, grime, and heartache prepare you for whatever comes next. Scull also masterfully maintains the tension throughout The Grim Company. As we follow each character, their story and personality become clearer. There history grows heavier and heavier with each revelation. Each step forward in their adventure is fought for with blood, sweat, and agony. Scull takes the time to give both the characters and the reader time to come up for air and see the light that is still present in the world. It may not be bright, shining like the sun but it is still light.

These characters that Scull has created are magnificent. Each one is fleshed out as we push forward on this marathon to the crescendo. Davarus is a good example of this craftsmanship. He is the quintessential fantasy hero in that he wants to save the world so that he will bathed in admiration. Scull highlights the shallowness of this idea and the narcissism of Davarus as he pursues this dream. The journey of Davarus as he learns more about himself, being a hero, and the nature of the world is both hard to watch and inspiring at the same time. Scull doesn’t sugarcoat the process of redemption and recovery and shows both the pain and the pleasure inherent in the process.

One of the things that really stands out for me in this book is Eremul. In fantasy of any stripe, a differently-abled character is rare. When they are presented, magic is presented as a way around their difficulties minimizing these problems. Scull doesn’t do this. He shows us the daily difficulties and indignities that Eremul faces. he also shows us both the strengths that are present in the man while not shying away from the flaws. Scull shows us a person, not a caricature or token to be pitied. He is my second favorite character of the book.

I loved the Grim company and getting ready for the last book in the trilogy. If you love grimdark fantasy or are new to the genre, I recommend picking up The Grim Company. The world will capture your attention and the characters will force you to want to know more about them

Four bear paws out of four! I bearly recommend this book!

Three Parts Dead

I’ve had several people I know mention Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Their recommendations have been that it is something that I would enjoy. It took some time before I added it to my Audible playlist and began listening whilst working out.

This book is so good!

I will endeavor to keep this review spoiler-free so that you can enjoy the twists and turns of this excellent story.

The premise of the book is that a god has died. The church has called upon the firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao to resurrect their fallen deity and discover the cause of his death. Tara Abernathy is a young craftswoman who has just been recruited into the firm by her boss, Elayne Kevarian. These two must hit the ground running as the city of Alt Coulumb will cometo a disastrous end if they do not succeed.

This description had me hooked. I am a sucker for a story that involves gods. Three Parts Dead not only involved the death of a god, but his resurrection. I was all in.

Gladstone has created a world that is rich in detail and layered in history. Instead of large patches involving Basil Exposition, He doles out the information through the development of the characters of the story. As we learn more and more about each of the players upon the game field, we learn more about the world that they inhabit. This gives the world of they inhabit a greater level of intimacy. It is one thing to know how the college of craft works and another to learn about these things as they relate to Tara’s struggles with the ever mounting problems of a deicide and keeping her job. I love this as it allows gladstone to show the reader the small ways that this world both reflects our own as well as wildly diverges.

I love the world that he has created. It blends tropes from urban fantasy, steampunk, and epic fantasy into a world that is both understandable and alien at the same time. There are skyscrapers built from steel and glass that tower next to buildings of commensurate size crafter by magic. The streets are packed with carts and carriages but there are trains that zip along elevated tracks and driverless horse and buggies where the horse knows where you want to go. This same city that seems so cosmopolitan still has town criers that spread the news by moving street to street singing about the news from far off places. The news is neither timely or relevant to all involved but the city lacks the capabilities of cities not ran by a church and powered by a god.

One of the things that stands out to me is that Gladstone has created a fantasy story that has strong, well-crafted, female protagonists. Tara, the newest addition to the firm takes responsibility for her own actions and works hard to achieve her goals. All the while we get to watch as she struggles with the choices that have to be made in her chosen profession and watch as she makes the changes that she sees as necessary based on the path that she wishes to be on. Cat provides us with the other side of the coin. She struggles to find her path and meaning in this world. She leans on various things as a way to fill that emptiness in her soul. Her path is treated as just as real and noteworthy as that of Tara and Elayne.

I enjoy how Three Parts Dead takes the time to deal with deeper questions as well. The story follows the investigation of the death of a god. His city is dependent on his existence and without action the city will descend into chaos. As Tara, Elayne, and Cat follow the threads of the story, the questions of the usefulness of gods in the modern world is constantly toyed with. As we follow these characters we watches as they deal with this question as well as that of finding meaning in one’s life, self-determinations, consent, bigotry, and other weighty topics. They are handled in such a manner as to not be preachy and to arise organically from the world in which these characters strive.

I want to go on and on about the magic of this world, how the gods interact with their followers, how Tara and Elayne work together. The problem is that discovering all these things are what makes this such a great book.

So, I will reign in my need to gush and leave you with this. Max Gladstone has created wonderful characters in a fascinating world. The story sucks you in and takes you down a path that leaves you wanting more. You should pick up Three Parts Dead and take the journey with Elayne, Tara, and Cat and discover what happened to the god of Alt Coulumb.

Four bear paws out of four! I bearly recommend this book!

Stiletto

I enjoy urban fantasy that mixes spy tropes with supernatural powers and mysterious phenomena. I will give these types of books a chance whenever possible. Daniel O’Malley provides this in Stiletto.

Stiletto picks up the story of Myfanwy Thomas from the first book in the series, The Rook. Myfanwy has successfully survived the attempt to take over the Checquy, Britain’s covert supernatural ministry. She now must negotiate the merger of the Checquy with their most hated enemy, the Grafters.

Stiletto follows three characters through the story to provide a fresh perspective on this unique world created by O’Malley.

There is Felicity whom is a pawn in a combat operations team. Her power is the ability to extended her awareness into the past or through an object. She has been trained to use her psychometry on behalf of her country as well as to be able to handle herself in a fight. She, like all pawns of the Checquy has been raised to fear and hate the Grafters and wonders when the ball will drop and she will be called on with others to attack their one-time invaders.

Odette is a young Grafter who is a protege of the founder of the group. She is a skilled surgeon, geneticist, and all around scientist. Odette has been enhanced through the science of the Grafters to be an even better surgeon as well as stronger and better able to defend herself via retractable claws that drip poison. Odette has learned to keep herself hidden and adopted a paranoid approach to life as all Grafters are taught that the Checquy will kill them if they are discovered.

This leaves us with Myfanwy. She is a Rook of the Checquy whose power is the ability to control the bodies of anyone within 200 feet of her. Her job entails overseeing the activities of the ministry here at home. This means she is still picking up the pieces of the failed coup and organizing the merger of these two groups that hate each other.

Stiletto has everything I love about urban fantasy. There are strange powers that range from just being able to change how a person smells to being able to throw green flames at an enemy. The Grafters provide the addition of super-science as they have turned the art of alchemy into the science of genetic manipulation and control of the various life forms. They adjust themselve and animals to do things beyond the natural. I particularly like how O’Malley blends in the covert aspects of spy fiction into this world as both the Checquy and the Grafters struggle to keep themselves from the public eye. I especially love how the arm of the Checquy that deals with disinformation is called the liars.

Stiletto has plenty of action and suspense but truly shines in it’s worldbuilding and relationships. O’Malley has created these two organizations and given us a glimpse of why they hate each other so much. Here, he allows these characters to tell us the stories that has kept fear and hatred alive for centuries. We get to know Felicity and Odette as they struggle to go through the day with each other despite having been taught that the other person is the enemy and should be destroyed. As they struggle to get through the days of the negotiations and unravel the mysteries surrounding the threats presented to this union, we get to know two strong and likeable women. O’Malley gives them such life and personality that it is difficult to not like either of them. They are imperfect creatures that struggle with the fear and hatred and provide an excellent reflection of how this happens in reality and the path out of this loop.

O’Malley takes the time in Stiletto to delve more into the world that surrounds these characters. He does so in a fashion that feels less like exposition but adds to the tension that is building in the story. In particular, I like how we get to know more about the critical battle that sets these two organizations at odds. It, like most battles, starts with one man’s desire for more power and control. The Grafters, eager to show off their prowess, comply with the a request for weapons that could improve the standing of their country. The resulting invasion results in atrocities that leave wounds that are never allowed to heal and passed down the generations on both sides. As the story progresses we get to see the consequences of those past actions played out in the present.

I love this book!

It has solid characters that are easy to love. The villains are not cardboard cutouts but fully fleshed individuals with understandable motivations. He populates his world with diverse characters that are flawed yet trying to do better. It is also the second book in the series and I did not feel like I needed to have read the first book to enjoy this one. I would still pick up the first book, The Rook, and read it as it is wonderful as well and will increase you enjoyment of Stiletto.

So, I give Stiletto four bear paw out of four! Definitely worth your time and money. I can not wait for the next installment in the series.

I bearly recommend it!

 

Love is Love

IDW and DC Comics collaborated with many comic creators to produce a graphic novel whose proceeds would go to benefit the victims, survivors, and the families of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando earlier this year.

I tweeted about my strong emotions around this book and Aron from Funnybooks with Aron and Paulie & Ideology of Madness reached out and asked me to do a review for them. Aron along with the folks over at Zero Fortitude gave me my start at writing on the internet and I will be forever grateful to them for giving me the chance to write for them

I said yes, of course.

The episode is out now and you can find it here. Go give it a listen and let me know what you think. Show them some love while there and peruse their backlist of podcast episodes. You will not be disappointed.