Along with Dave Trampier, there is one other TITAN of the old school D&D art, and that is the incredible Russ Nicholson, who brought to life the entirety of the Fiend Folio as well as gobs of other art for games throughout his career. While the original Monster Manual’s art was a huge inspiration, the Fiend Folio took both the monster designs and art to a new level.
Unlike Trampier, who quit doing any art in the early 80’s (and missed the MTG cash cow that he would have fit into perfectly), Russ kept on doing art for OSR modules, DCC and other games his entire career. RIP Russ!
We used to LAN a lot, like once a month. Now it’s once per year only BUT there are some advantages in comparison:
There is more alcohol than everyone can consume during the weekend
Food is in abundance beyond imagining
Instead of a flop house style weekend with everyone sleeping on the floor under their computers, it’s in a real house with actual real rooms.
Weed items are effectively legal and plentiful, but no one smokes
We started out with some various board games, but when everyone was in attendance we threw down the 2nd annual 7-man Talisman game which was, again, EPIC. Last year I had taken tooooo many mg in gummies so I was fucked up and just wanted to lie on the couch hence was quite glad when my character was killed off. This year I was BEER fueled and tried to go for the win, but my only claim to fame was killing off the hated PROPHETESS before she could bust out onto the scene and become unstoppable.
In the end, the Vampiress racked up the kills and destroyed everyone. I’m not sure anyone even went to the middle region, let alone the center. This is a very fun way to play with lots of players who don’t mind getting eliminated (to go play other stuff together after). It is very random though, but buy the Talisman ticket, take the fucnk ride.
We didn’t get many other board games except a good round of Dungeon Degenerates which degenerated into a TOTAL PARTY KILL about half way through the adventure. We were up against 6 monsters and didn’t use some of the items that could have put us in the W column, totally underestimating the enemies and getting destroyed. Great game and one that should get some more plays. The psychedelic board is a world of wonders.
The LAN type games were again dominated by Counter Strike and CSGO as it should be. We had old ass laptops and that’s about all they could run, so we took advantage of having 7 of them and had a blast co-op vs the bots with bots added (manually) every time we won a round until it was a proverbial SWARM. I preferred the CSGo with the more refined weapons and physics (let alone the graphics). Even on these old laptops, that ran just fine.
We did play QUAKE which was eye-bleedingly awesome but my skills at least were real rusty compared to other people (if they had skills in the first place that is). My loss at Q3A though was real bad. The verdict was that I had played too much Virtua Fighter and not enough Quake over the last year. My issue is I have to keep my skills up for VF because I have punk kids that I play in that, not so much with Quake.
For console stuff, we got in some great sessions of Tobal 2, always an amazing game to play and re-learn. It still holds up after all these years and for me at least, blows Tekken away. In Virtua Fighter 5 though, as noted above, I ran the jewels on the other players just from often playing and having timing down. It’s the anti-button masher, so you have to know when it’s your turn and not your turn or you get transanaled. I’m not sure the other players had all that much fun getting beatdowns when I chose random characters… We did get some DOA for the fanservice boob bounces and while DOA 6 is fun, it’s just so much slop compared to VF. Next year I want to have some type of fighting game tournament with something just stupid nuts like My Hero One Justice or Brawlhalla.
Keneda brought some chicken fight game that could handle 4 players + but I think I was drunk when we started and just threw the controller down and yelled at the TV and left to go play Donkey Kong in the basement region. I got some folks to play Dragon’s Crown and you just really cannot appreciate the largest breasts in a video game without actually seeing them in motion. It’s a great game, but I’m not sure even those sweet lovin thighs or sorceress’s breasts could hold people’s attention away from Counterstrike.
Despite the fact that after a series of 60-70 degree days there was a massive snowstorm and only Matt and I got out of there in time, I believe in my heart it was a successful OLD PERSON LAN.
EVO Japan had some great choices for games this year.
Here is an amazing King of Fighters final where Kyo just wrecks. Other than B.Jenet and Kyo, I really don’t like any of the other characters from the final match but in KOF casual, there are so many to choose from, it doesn’t even matter.
Virtua Fighter @ EVO
VF is the best fighting game there is, but it hasn’t had a new version since Virtua Fighter 5 in 2005!!!! (updated for PS4/PS5 with new graphics a few years ago). The fact that this game is at EVO is simply another testament to how good it is.
This is a LOOONG video, but if you are interested in solid English commentary and some awesome matchups, with a bit of a surprise victor, give it a watch.
Samurai Shodown (2019)
This is SUPER long and has only Japanese commentary. but it’s a good view into the current meta of Samsho as there are very few characters that make it to this level. Charlotte, Shiki, Baiken (from Guilty Gear), Genjiro, Yoshitora, Rimruru (bleh) at the top and Basara, Hibiki (from Last Blade), Warden and Cham Cham here and there. Baiken was selected by the winner last year, so in the final it would have been great to see Shiki take her down.
Next year will see Tekken 8 and Streetfighter 6 for sure so likely at least one of these games will be dropped from the roster to make room. EVO USA is in August, so we shall see what goes down there (only KOF XV from the above list is included).
Oh boy, this game is a doooooozy! While waiting for the kickstarter to arrive, which could take until Summer due to the distribution company going out of business (Funagain), I set all my search triggers to see if anyone was selling a copy and was able to pick one up and get it shipped a few weeks back.
I can’t say yet if Stationfall is good, I can’t say if it will stand up to a bunch of drunken oafs for the 2+ hour play time, but I can give a take on what I think this is about and why I think this will be HATED by some, and really up other people’s alley: this game is a CHAOS GENERATOR.
The Ecklunds, designers of Pax Porfiriana, Bios Megafauna, Greenland, ET AL., have this concept of the achterbahn in many of their games, which means ‘roller coaster’ in German. It signifies that when you start play, you’re not just building an engine or fighting other players, you are doing those things while the game itself is taking you on a wild ass ride. Sometimes you have an easy time, like in Greenland when you don’t have many cards move to the cold side during the game, or an absolutely brutal time, when in Pax Porfiriana you get two Bear events in the first turn and everyone sits in Recession for the whole game trying to claw their way enough funds just to buy a ranch, let alone other political machinations! You’ll notice that the Pax Porfiriana clones and similar games from other designers (namely Cole Wherle, Jon Manker) completely avoid having the achterbahn in the game, keeping the randomness down to the order that the cards come out or are played by players rather than the game itself causing massive shifts that people have to deal with. Tableau and Ops games like Pax Viking, Reign of Witches, Oath and Pax Pamir appeal to gamers that want more control over what they are doing themselves and directly to each other, and less or no interference from the game, pushing them much closer to engine builders such as Viticulture or Euphoria.
Stationfall represents, in the body of work so far from both Ecklunds, the purest expression of achterbahn yet as it begins as a literal ride on a space station station down from orbit to break up into pieces in Earth’s atmosphere, and it does this with NO event cards. The entire game state, that changes with every player’s turn, can work for or against the player based on their goals, and the moment the players start interacting with the Station’s systems and items, everything goes completely insane. That said, the rollercoaster aspects are generated FROM the players themselves and not an event deck, but the butterfly effect from a single turn on the board state can throw plans and even the station itself into complete chaos. On the first turn it’s possible that the Project X experiment is released, power is shut down and the antimatter decays (meaning the station explodes in 4 minutes instead of 13). All of these things have to be mitigated in order to be successful and that’s something a lot of players are going to hate, and many, like me, are going to love.
I’ve had one play with humans and two solo practice plays. As this isn’t a review (people should play games shorter than 2 hours at least 5-10 times before reviewing them), I’m not going to go into how the game works all that much, nor whether I think this game is good for more than a play or two for lols, but more about what the hell you actually do.
First, players must realize that they are a conspiracy and not (at first) a single character. What this really means is that at the start of the game, before your conspiracy starts to run dry on influence, you can control the actions of any other character in the game– including those of other players (until they reveal themselves). The game is NOT like Battlestar Galactica / Unfathomable or any other type of deduction game where deduction of who is who matters a ton to gameplay. It’s important, but not core to the game. The core gameplay is using the characters on the board to get the shit done you need to fulfill your conspiracy’s objectives as quickly as possible.
Each character has a set of victory conditions that allows them to score points at the end of the game. You choose one of these characters to be your main conspirator in the beginning of the game, and one other character to be your enemy/friend depending on if they are naughty or nice. if you fulfill the vp conditions on your character as much as possible, you will likely win. The game is all about who can pull the most points out when Stationfall happens. The victory conditions are wildly different, some hoping to save characters, some hoping to kill them all and blow the station up, and some trying to infect everyone with whatever disease is on the ship, etc. There are robots, people, data and objects that can be characters, so it’s pretty wild. Experienced players can likely deduce who is who after the very first turn, but early days of the game, there’s just no way to tell (except maybe the Engineer or the Daredevil).
Stationfall won’t have a ton of table talk trying to convince people to do things (which is something I thought it might have) until such point as which people have revealed themselves as a certain character– then negotiations can actually work. There is a bribe mechanic, which can score a player some points of they do another players bidding with their main character, but there’s also no reason that other people may want to talk over what might be the ‘best’ course of action for a character for them.
Teaching / game length
This likely should be the first part of this post– teaching this game will take some time and you need to prepare your gamers for it. If they are Viticulture style people, this is going to be a very, very difficult game for them to grasp at first, and you will need to go through not only everything on the ship, but all of the character special powers as well. I don’t have too much advice on this one as I’ve only taught it once, except go through EVERYTHING. Talk about the pieces of the ship, the non grav areas, the dark areas, the loading claw, the powers of the bridge, the anti matter, outside the ship, the mesosphere and all the characters in the game. Once you finish teaching, the game will go surprisingly fast as player’s turns actually do not take very long to complete (unless you are on Table Top Simulator that is)
On the Winning
Victory for a character cannot be determined until Stationfall (however that comes about) but some players will ‘make their points’ early with their main character and use the rest of the turns to mess with other players’ designs. In the one game we played we had a daredevil who did NOT use the project X Death Ray to destroy the escape pods that had made it to the mesosphere, ruining the other player’s chances of winning, but it was certainly a possibility. I think there can be some downtime for players who have made it off the Station and can no longer score points,, but I’ll have to see how that plays out with more plays of the game.
Overall, I think this is a very exciting and completely nuts game that goes against the grain of what’s popular in almost every single way. Since I hate the current trend in boardgames (place workers, point salad) this is very refreshing.
Time marches on my friends. Holy cow, it’s 2023. I am shocked at how quickly the years fly by since about 2008 or so… while I like to think this is due to having unprotected sex and the output of such things, it’s probably just about getting old and so little in each year MATTERS. In 1989, every week was some major life event it seemed like, but now, eh…
That said let’s look at 2022: the YEARS BEST SHIT.
Lots of stuff came out that I have been waiting for, but the big one by Matt Ecklund didn’t get here in time for 2022. I haven’t gotten John Company 2, Bios Mesofauna to the table, so I can’t include them in a best of (yet).
The game of the year for me, despite the fact that the first version of it came out in 2019, is WARCRY. I’ve gotten 10+ games of this over the year and I will call it now as the greatest beer and pretzel miniatures game there is. Most games are 3-4 turns and take about 40 minutes from set up to tear down (or to the next game). I’ve now painted the majority of my terrain and I’m just about to start in on the next box set (Red Harvest) and paint some more Warbands. I’m going to do a big ass review of it and why would people play it vs the also excellent Frostgrave or Necromunda. Warcry has some constraints you have to learn to live with, but once you do, it is just superb and most of all, it makes me laugh when I get my ass kicked most of the time as it’s some crazy ass move or ridiculous roll.
The other game we played a lot of was Spartacus, which was originally released in 2012 (a great year for board games!) and has an updated, non-show-related version. I wish I had known this was THAT good back when it was sitting on shelves, we would have played the crap out of it by now. When you see that tons of people have built custom stadiums for the game, you can probably make some assumptions about the quality of the game.
I read a bunch but I can’t keep up with yearly releases of books, my favorites that I read this year (new, I read books I’ve read over again fairly often), all highly recommended are:
River of Earth – James Still. This is about a poor kid who follows his family around to different mining camps and towns. Doesn’t force the reader to dwell on what the character or author is thinking about situations, it just has the situations. It reminded me a lot of John Gardner’s Nickel Mountain, but not a slog which Nickel Mountain was, a pleasure to read.
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Brilliant, short spy novel by Le Carre. He has an intro where he spells out that ALL of this is fiction and it’s just slightly influenced by his work in the secret service. People accused him of using real situations which he denies, saying his work as a spy was incredibly boring and stupid in contrast. I wanted to start on the George Smiley novels (Tinker Tailor, etc.) and this is the one to get that rolling.
The Passenger/Stella Maris. Feel like thinking about existence and getting sort of depressed but amazed at the same time? Read these. Ostensibly about some mysterious passenger missing on a plane that “crashed” into the ocean, it’s really about the conditions of existence that would allow that to happen or as McCarthy puts it in another novel: the joinery.
I didn’t see much in the theaters in 22. 2022 and this year is really just waiting for DUNE 2 since most of the time instead of going to a movie, I would just watch DUNE again The film of the year is the NORTHMAN, but we all knew that. Viking anti-hero revenge film? Oh yeah.
I liked the Terrifier 2, but it was too long and a couple parts took it too far to really love (which is why the fans love the movies, so I get it).
The Video Games
Elden Ring just blew everything out of the water this year, but there were some incredible games and a few disappointments.
What can I say about Elden Ring that hasn’t been said– it’s Dark Souls writ wide, with all the good and bad that comes with open world. I still haven’t finished the game, but I have played hundreds of hours, played dozens of them with friends and the PVP that comes with it. Overall I think the game is too long and probably should have ended at (spoiler) Margott v2. However, there are some fantastic bosses after that– and the Fire Giant is just incredible (and very hard). One of these weeks I’m going to put a fork in the game, but I just keep playing with my low level characters multiplayer and love it. There are so many builds, so many ridiculous weapons and spells, and with the multiplayer it’s a game we will be playing together for years. Is it as good as Dark Souls 1 or Bloodborne? No, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be an absolutely legendary game. Elden Ring has become the game that everything else will be defined against for a long time.
I only have 12 hours or so into the game at this point, but for me it represents exactly what I love about indy video games– a very simple premise taken to the next level. Vampire Survivors is an anti-bullet hell game, in that you run around and shoot things that come at you (rather than dodging stuff that shoots at you). Running around with the whip on a grassy field at first is very boring, but just give it a chance and you will realize that it becomes like modern art at the end of a level with sprites filling the entire screen and you nailbiting that you’ll survive. This is a 2022 gem and everyone should play it. If you love this, check out RIFT WIZARD that came out in 2021– instant classic and takes the crown of SWORD OF FARGOAL for me.
Disappointment – Victoria 3
I was really looking forward to this game all year, especially after the horrible addiction that I had to Crusader Kings 3 and my love of Machiavelli the Prince, Port Royale and similar economic games. Victory 3 was just very strange to play and figure out, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or what effects my actions actually had. Maybe there’s just too much going on, but one thing I will tell you in the hours I played: I was bored. CK3 set a high bar for strategy games (as well as Stellaris). I will give this another go at some point, but there’s been the call to Crusader Kings 3 again that has made it impossible. Why mange budgets when you can get cheated on by your spouse with your own bastard son of her mother’s!
There’s some great games that I got to play over break, but that’s going to be a separate post.
My record of the year is CYGNI 61 by RTR. I didn’t listen to much else that was new. A new LORN just dropped recently so that will be on the list for 2023.
Stella Maris is the follow up to Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger which I blathered about a few posts ago. It’s a short book and consists, except for the very first page which is an admission letter, of conversations with no exposition or descriptive text between Alicia Western and her shrink. There are no other characters in the story and this will remind people of Sunset Limited, parts of the Stonemason and bits of the Counselor (especially if you read it rather than saw the movie). This is functionally a prequel to the Passenger, but should not be read first. In the Passenger, Alicia is already dead but it’s important to see the effect of her life and death in the Passenger and to those characters before reading Stella Maris.
While this is a very short book, it’s quite dense and I think it’s important to have a good reference to the history of mathematics handy when you read it. Alicia is a mathematical genius on a level where she cannot even explain the problems she is working on to laymen because she cannot fathom why they cannot understand even the basics. There are many references to actual mathmagicians in the book and getting even a cursory understanding of the core problems they were working on will help understand what Alicia is talking about when she references them, and it happens often since she is completely obsessed with math.
One disappointment that people may feel is that the mystery presented in the first novel is not resolved to any normal reader’s satisfaction, but there are pointers in Stella Maris about what could have happened, or rather, the situation in which humanity is in that would allow such a thing to occur. There are science fiction aspects to both of these books, but it’s all held very close to the chest as to whether any of it is real or not. I think it is, as the manifestations of Alicia’s imagination are different from the manifestations that visit her that seem real (the Thalomide Kid and his entourage). The ‘Alicia parts’ of the first book are explained in this one as ramifications of Alicia’s subconscious, driven by her intense and unending focus on mathematics to “peek under the door” of reality, which earns her a glimpse into the horrifying underpinnings of existence itself which is enough for her to quit the study of mathematics entirely and check herself into a mental hospital. This is all complicated by the fact that she is in love with her brother– the core issue that the Passenger is about except on the other side of the equation.
The love story between Bobby and Alicia is a direct analogy to the relationship between physics and mathematics. The age difference, the incestuousness are all messaging around the interplay over time of math and physics.
Both of these books deserve a read, but be prepared, these are not easy stories like The Outer Dark or even Blood Meridian. McCarthy expects a lot out of his readers with these. If anything, Stella Maris is short and I will tell you it’s worth it for the last line of the novel alone.
It had been a spell between Cormac McCarthy novels, with really no indication that he would put out any more work and then bam!, two novels announced to be released just a month apart from each other. I just finished the first one: The Passenger.
I’m not a particularly smart or clever man, prone to what I’ve imagined in my life to be typical GenX mental laziness about things, avoidance of any intellectual nuts that are hard to crack so to speak, so coming at a book like The Passenger is a struggle, probably more than any of McCarthy’s other novels since there is some sort of sub-text I simply cannot grasp quite yet.
The story is about two characters, a brother and sister, who basically share chapters. The sister’s parts are all in italic and seem to be in the past, and the brother’s are more straight forward linear and in normal font. The sister, Alicia, is dealing with what could be described as either manifestations of her imagination or supernatural entities throughout the novel, and the brother, Bobby, has an incident occur at the beginning of the novel that cannot be explained by natural law and what appears to be the fallout from that. Both are the children of a prominent nuclear physicist involved in the creation of the atom bomb and are potentially an experiment of some kind themselves.
The novel begins as what I would call a sci-fi mystery novel. An impossible event happens and the protagonist (Bobby) is the reader’s view into how, what and why of that event as the novel unfolds– except that’s not what happens at all. The novel veers almost entirely away from the initial mystery and settles on a series of conversations between the protagonist and an array of odd characters, slowly allowing the reader to piece together the relationship between Bobby and Alicia, their father and these imaginary constructs/ outworld entities. Except for a few parts, it is a very sad and heavy story, Alicia is found dead in the first few pages and not much goes right for Bobby at all at any point in the novel. It did have me laughing out loud at one section wherein a story is told about a man who could drink a glass of milk with his dick.
I can’t go on with out serious spoilers, but I will say this was tough to get through from about the halfway point to the end and I kept waiting for some sort of major event or confrontation, but it never happens, like the entire second half of the book is a denouement for some climax the reader isn’t in on. For those of you that read The Crossing, this is similar to the characters of Billy Parham and his brother– Billy is the character that has the least interesting story of the two characters, as the brother, who dies, fights as a revolutionary in Mexico. It feels like Alicia, who is dead in ‘real time’ in the novel, is the true protagonist if that makes sense. It’s her internal conflict against whatever it is she’s battling (math?) that is the real crux of the story.
If you are familiar with McCarthy and his books, definitely give this one a go, it reminded me most of Suttree and a bit of The Crossing, but also the Three Body Problem if you are familiar with Cixin Liu’s work. If the Passenger would be your first exposure to McCarthy, read at least one other first, notably either The Outer Dark or No Country for Old Men.
His next novel, Stella Marris came out about a week ago and focuses more on the character of Alicia and continues the story.
O’Neill was (as a kid) and is (as an adult) one of my favorite comic artists. His work on Marshall Law was absolutely brilliant and all of his work on the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen puts him into the comic legend category. Marshall Law got me through some tough times as a teenager (as well as Marvel’s Epic magazine an ROM if you can believe that) so I have a soft spot for everything O’Neill. If you haven’t read the League comic, I cannot recommend those enough– just make sure to start with Volume 1, then 2, then the Black Dossier and move on from there to Century: don’t skip around or start with River of Ghosts or something like that.
Here is a random sample of his work (trying to go chronologically at least).
Wow, time flies. These buff, ridiculously colored and named action figures absolutely captured my imagination when they came out and I collected quite a few of them along with the repainted GI Joe tiger (Battlecat), Castle Greyskull (nowhere near as cool as the box OR the prototype used for the commercials) and a bunch of the early wave figures (pre-snakemen/horde/She-Ra) as a kid and constantly played with them for years. I could only bring a few toys with me on a cross-country train trip when I was 11 and it was Skeletor, Man-at-Arms, He-Man and Beastman FTW.
I loved the little comic books that came with the figures, and my personal canon for how He-man got his powers is contained in the first little book that came with him. He was a savage man in the jungle that saves a hot green chick from a giant hydra monster. She gives him the Battle Ram, Shield and Chest ‘armor’ that acts as a force shield and increases his strength and sends him forth to go kick some ass!
The old cartoon was like a painful parody for me, having played with Skeletor, Merman, Beastman, He-Man, TriKlops, Trapjaw, Man-E-Faces, and Man at Arms for more afternoons and weekends with friends and my brother than I can possibly remember. Together we created sword and sorcery adventures and back stories for these guys expanded from the little books which were blown to shit by the rather silly cartoon show. It never grew on me since, but the 2002-2004 show was absolutely baller in comparison.
Fast forward quite a few years and Mattel has created what I believe to be the absolute best relaunch of action figures in history: the MOTU ORIGINS line. While I have my beaten and mostly broken figures from the 80’s, these new figures are better in every single way, tough, solid colors, very well articulated. It’s been a guilty indulgence to collect some of them at first and then– I just went and bought just about everything. Luckily I have a son just a bit older than when they first came out who plays with them sometimes: an easy excuse to by more and slip them into stockings and Xmas gifts. I also buy a bunch to donate to toy drives around Christmas because holy shit— any kid that gets these for Xmas of a certain age is going to be totally fucking stoked.
Figure wise, everything is top drawer, and they really tried to capture the spirit of the older figures and create the new, far better, articulated versions. What’s more, they can all be taken apart and rejiggered into new monstrosities. He-man head swapping is a must as the stock head isn’t the CONAN head from the original figure but a more cartoony one (that looks great, it’s just not exactly He-man to me).
My favorites are Merman (powerlord version), He-Man himself, pre-Skull Skeletor, and, very unexpectedly, ORKO. The Orko figure is just brilliant and super cool to look at. He was my most hated character in the show… so that says something as to how good this figure is.
There was, of course, trouble with acquiring some of the core figures and I still do not have Trapjaw or Triklops as they were part of a ‘missing wave’ of figures between Walmart’s exclusive rights for the first waves and the rest of the stores getting their waves. Sad because those were two of my favorite figures.
The line now is getting into eras of He-man when I was in late Jr High and high school and just didn’t follow, but I’m looking forward to some of the stuff (Skeletor’s rotating attack vehicle and some of the super cheesy She-Ra figures) and I’ll keep using the excuse of having a kid that likes to play with them as long as I can!