Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book Review: Hammer & Anvil

(Image from:  Goodreads)
Sometimes all it takes is a few scenes to turn a good book into a great book.

That's the case with Hammer & Anvil, the sequel to Faith & Fire and the subject of my previous book review.

In this story, Miriya and Verity are looking for peace and closure after the events of their initial adventure.  Instead, they find anything but.  Both wind up on the barren rock known as Sanctuary_101, ten years after the massacre at an Adepta Sororitas fortress-convent, in effort to reconsecrate the site.

Or so they're told.

As with all things Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K):  Factions within the Imperium of Man, in this case the Inquisition, the Adeptus Mechanicus, have their own hidden agendas.   Even Canoness Sepherina isn't completely forthcoming about full scope of their mission.

The book starts off as something of a mystery, and on page 55 of this 410 page book, the Sisters of Battle learn it was Necrons who were the mysterious attackers that wiped out their original convent (WH40K's "robot zombies").

(Image by Nicholas Kay)
The mystery continues to unfold, and by page 194 they learned the extent of the Necron threat to the Imperium. Although for WH40K fans who've already read the Fluff, this reveal isn't so revealing. What is finally disclosed on page 259 is the item Canoness Sepharina has been searching for:  An artifact known as the Hammer and Anvil, believed to have been lost in the initial Necron attack. Which makes Hammer & Anvil something of a MacGuffinTitled book.

Even as the Second Battle of Sanctuary-101 got underway, I was about to give Hammer & Anvil a 3-star rating, like it's predecessor.  However, the story took off with a "Hell Yes!" Moment on page 334, where--spoiler alert--a tormented survivor of the original massacre exorcises her personal demon while fighting a Deathmark (an assassin android).

A few more "Hell Yes!" scenes followed close on the heels of the Deathmark's death:  There is something of a "Men of Harlech" scene as the Necrons silently closed-in on the beleaguered Battle Sisters; when the treacherous Techpriest Tegas finds the Hammer and Anvil, hoping it's an ultimate weapon, but turns out to be merely a Memento MacGuffin; and finally the often-overlooked Verity helps bring down the Nemesor leading the current assault.

Among these high points of the last 76 pages are split action scenes of Verity assisting in battle at the fortress-convent, first as a healer, then as a combatant; and Miriya with a commando team infiltrating the Necron lair in Sanctuary-101's moon.

What I also found amusing was how the machine logic of both the Necrons and the techpriests were constantly confounded--and ultimately thwarted--by human illogical behavior and raw emotions.

All this was enough to bump Hammer & Anvil to a 4-star read.  Average reviews on both Amazon.com and Goodreads are almost as good with 3.80 and 3.79-stars, respectively.

While Ciaphas Cain is still my favorite WH40K character, (because he's Harry FlashmanIN SPACE!), Miriya and Verity come in at #2 and #3 for me.

Sisters of Battle Omnibus is due to hit the shelves next month.  This tome will contain "... Faith & Fire and Hammer & Anvil, along with the prose version of the audio drama Red & Black and a new short story 'Heart & Soul', available in print for the first time." 


(Image from Amazon.com)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Game Review: Star Wars Armada--The Corellian Conflict Campaign Game

(Image found on:  Sterling Knight Gamers YouTube video)

What intrigues me most about military history are the campaigns that lead up to the major battles.  I'm fascinated by the hows and whys battles develop more so than the actual blood-letting of combat.

I like campaign games because they force players to think beyond a one-of battle, and inhibits them from going all-out to achieve a single victory.  However, I've experienced mixed results at running and participating in campaign games, as I'm sure many (all?) of my fellow gamers have.  The initial enthusiasm may be high, but it's hard to maintain, which often leads to the campaign fizzling-out.

Still, I love the idea of being involved in such a tabletop venture.  Hey, I can still dream, can't I?

Which is why I snatched the one copy of Star Wars Armada: The Corellian Conflict Campaign Expansion that was sitting on the shelf at The Game Matrix (TGM).

Yes, it was an impulse buy, especially since I have yet to play the core game.

I paid $30 for it at TGM, but the price can vary from $24 at The Miniature Market to a tad over $50 on Amazon.com.

Here's what you get for your money--

--1 x 20-page rulebook
--6 x Fleet Rosters
--2 x Team Rosters (Rebel & Imperial)
--10 x Main Ship ID Tokens
--10 x Ship ID Tokens
--10 x Scarred ("damaged") ID Tokens
--2 x Main Flagship Tokens
--2 x Flagship Tokens
--14 x Squadron ID Tokens
--12 x Scarred Squadron ID Tokens
18 x Veteran Tokens
3 x each Diplomat, Spynet, and Skilled Spacer Tokens
--6 x Obstacles representing asteroids (3), dust fields (2) and a space station
--16 x Squadron Disks to place on the standard fighter squadron stands
--39 x various cards for squadrons, objectives and the space station
--1 x sticker sheet, representing active or destroyed bases and outposts
--and one small, cardstock map representing the Corellian Sector...




Here's what you don't get for your money--

--additional miniatures
--a hefty, mounted map
--counters representing active and destroyed bases and outposts

 Three reviewers on Amazon.com gave The Corellian Campaign a 5-star rating.

But after scrolling through the comments section on various "Unboxing" videos, like Crabbok, YouTube viewers have been less-than kind.  Some even cancelled their pre-orders.

Most gamers have issues with the small size and flimsy map.

My biggest sticking point--is with the stickers.

(Image from:  Boardgame Geek)
The designers' justification for using stickers instead of counters or tokens was "...to create a living record of the ongoing Corellian Conflict," (page 6 sidebar).

And...then what?  Frame and hang the map up in your man-cave?

The sidebar note goes on to say that players can eschew the stickers, which will probably be impossible to remove from the map, and keep track of who controls what via the Team Rosters.

Here's a suggestion:  How about using counters to represent political influence and military control, like other board games do?

To remedy this sticky situation, I intend to paste the stickers on blank boardgame counters, or a matboard, trim the corners, and use them as control tokens for the game. One player used magnets to create re-usable playing pieces.

Arts & Crafts project recommendations aside, since I haven't played Star Wars Armada...

(Image from:  WWPD's "Most Wanted!" Battle Report)

...I've only given The Corellian Conflict rules a cursory glance.

Set-up appears to be in "tic-tac-toe" style.  That is, the Empire initially controls Corellia proper.  Then players alternate placing their base/outpost stickers on planets, keeping in mind some planets provide more resources than others...

(Image from:  The Bell of Lost Souls)
...followed by constructing 400 points worth of starships and fighters.

Despite the above-mentioned shortcomings, I don't regret buying the game.  The artwork is nice.  The cardstock map is no thinner than other non-mounted boards I've seen in larger, more expensive games.  And the actual counters are thick and durable.

So I give The Corellian Conflict Campaign Expansion a conditional 3-star rating.

"Conditional" being based on how I feel about the game after I get a chance to actually play it.

If I ever do.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: Faith & Fire


 One of the more popular factions among Warhammer 40K players, but sporadically supported by Games Workshop, are the Adepta Sororitas (a.k.a. Sisters of Battle), the actual military arm of the Ecclesiarchy.

I stumbled across a copy of Faith and Fire at Half Price Books.

Fire certainly comes into play throughout the novel.  The Sisters of Battle believe that the only good witch/mutant/heretic/traitor is one who's not only dead, but burnt to a crisp.  Meanwhile, their psyker enemies often retaliate with "witch fire."  So in just about every combat scene there's flames, screaming, smoke and burnt-flesh odors.

The story itself revolves around Miriya, a Celestian, and Hospitaller Verity, in their attempt to recapture renegade psyker Torris Vaun.  During their investigation, and the battles they're swept-up in, they uncover a plot by deluded Deacon Viktor LaHayn to restart an Artifact Of Death hoping to revive the comatose God-Emperor of Mankind.

Their Odd Couple partnership resembles the Cop And Scientist team-ups from Holmes & Watson to Scully & Mulder.

I found Faith & Fire to be a predictable, but entertaining story and give it a 3-star rating.  The finale has an element of Deus Ex Machina to it.  However, this can be justified, since the story revolves around the characters' religious zealotry for the God-Emperor.

Readers generally liked Faith & Fire, which has a 3.5-star rating on both Amazon.com and GoodreadsWarhammer 40K fans either loved it, or hated it.  The fans who disliked the book thought the characters were wooden, flat, unremarkable and even unlikable, along with sounding more like men, than women. 

I didn't pay attention to these valid observations, because the characters are members of Imperium's Church Militant.  Their lives revolve around prayers, singing hymns, and incinerating the enemies of the God-Emperor.  This doesn't leave much room for deep character development, or more feminine pursuits, beyond religious fervor.

Faith & Fire does follow the standard story lines of the Warhammer 40K 'verse--

--The heroes demonstrate insight and initiative.
--Which in turn, causes them to run-afoul of their dogmatic superiors.
--The agency the heroes are members of have a hidden agenda.
--Which in turn, runs afoul of one or more other agencies operating on their own agendas.
--There's a conspiracy afoot to take over a planet/star system/quadrant/the entire Imperium.

Despite these standard tropes, I still liked Faith & Fire enough to start reading the sequel,  Hammer & Anvil, right off the bat.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Starfleet Battles Miniatures Collection


(Image:  Title page of Taylor Hord's webcomic)
I got into Star Fleet Battles (SFB) right when it was first published in "pocket games."  I moved on to Federation Commander a few years ago, but still have a lot of SFB stuff, along with other Amarillo Design Bureau (ADB) material.

Like movies, TV shows, books, graphic novels and webcomics, like Star Trek Beta Fleet; game designers utilize tropes--storytelling shorthand--when whipping-up Fluff.

The good folks at ADB have made a great use of such tropes for SFB throughout the years, primarily Space Is An Ocean, to give players a plethora of Standard Sci-Fi Fleets.
   
Despite being a long running tabletop game, the one thing I never bought all these years were ship miniatures, for my own Standard Sci-Fi Fleet.

So when my friend Dan was preparing to move, he offered to sell me his starship collection, I found it impossible to say "no."

Every figure pictured below was painted by Dan.

My contribution to this photo-op was providing the star field mat from Monday Knight Productions.


The United Federation of Planets (the Trope Codifier for--well--The Federation)

(One of the most recognizable starships in sci-fi)
(Image:  A Federation dreadnought escorted by cruisers, a frigate and scout/destroyer)


The Romulan Star Empire (a.k.a Space Romans)
(An uncloaked Warbird/War Eagle)

(The "problem" with this figure is--all the great detail is underneath)
(Another shot of Dan's great detail work)

(A Sparrowhawk modular cruiser)

The Klingon Empire (a.k.a. Proud Warrior Race)
(A dreadnought escorted by a battlecruiser, destroyer and frigate/escort)

(A battlecruiser on patrol)

The Gorn Hegemony (a.k.a. the Reptilians)
(A cruiser on patrol)

The Orion Syndicate (a.k.a. Space Pirates and The Syndicate)
(A Salvage Cruiser trailing two Slavers)

Freighters
(Two small freighters--or maybe even Q-ships)

The Interstellar Concordium (a.k.a. Well Intentioned Extremists)
(A cruiser on a peace enforcement keeping patrol)


The Hydran Kingdom (a.k.a. Starfish Aliens)
(A Ranger Cruiser protecting the Kingdom)


The Andromedan Invaders (a.k.a. The Greys? Or maybe Little Green Men on steroids? Who knows?)
(A Mothership and her Satellite Ships)

Thanks to some comments on Facebook, when I posted this on my Stern Rake Studio, I learned this ship is a Kra'vak crusier from Full Thrust.


The Lyran Empire (a.k.a. Cat Folk)
(A Tiger-class cruiser escorted by two frigates/destroyers)

(A close up of Dan's detail work--this time on top of the ships)



The Kzinti Hegemony   (a.k.a. another breed of Cat Folk)
(Cruisers, destroyers and a frigate escort a tactical tug)

(An CVE--escort carrier being escorted by cruisers, destroyers and a frigate)

(A BCH--heavy battlecruiser, or CVS--strike carrier under escort)

a(A CVA--attack carrier, or SCS--space control ship under escort)

(A strike force launches all its attack shuttles)
In addition being able to unleash a Macross Missile Massacre against their non-feline foes with their drones (missiles), the Kzinti pioneered the use of attack shuttles to provide players with Old School Dogfights.
(A true cat fight--not the titillating kind--is about to ensue)  


Thanks to Dan, I now have at least one ship from nearly every race in the SFB 'verse.


The only vessels I don't have, for now, are Tholians (Insectoid-like Aliens) in which to ensnare trespassers...
(Image from:  Memory Beta--The Tholian Web)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Movie Review: Rogue One--A Star Wars Story

(Image from: geek.com)
Last week, my wife and I managed to get some time off--even on some of the same days.  On one of these "date days" we caught matinee of Rogue One.

To be honest, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this latest Star Wars movie since I wasn't all that crazy about The Force Awakens...


(Image from:  Independent)
...an-n-n-d I just realized I never wrote a movie review for The Force Awakens (8.1 stars out of 10 on IMDb), which we saw about this time last year.

Well, since I'm lazy I want to save blog space, this review by Honest Trailers...


...is funnier than anything I could write nails the good, the bad and the ugly about The Force Awakens.

Okay, now back to Rogue One.

Ever wonder how the Death Star plans ended up in Princess Leia's possession?

Well, Rogue One, which fits right into Episode IV A New Hope...

(Image from:  Muvi Blast)
...is the story of the ragtag bunch of misfits who steal the plans, deliver them to the Rebel Alliance and--Spoiler Alert!--pay for it with their lives.

I loved this movie, and consider it one of the best Star Wars films made to date. 

I'm wondering if I'm just being a fanboy by rushing to give the film a 5-star rating.  (It also received 8.1 out of 10 stars on IMDb).  I'll probably have to watch it a few more times to actually see any plot holes.

While I love the Star Wars franchise overall, it's easy to become cynical about it, especially since it falls into the trope of having the main characters doing everything.

Seriously.  Can't the "...galaxy far, far away..." even in the expanded universe, function without Luke, Liea, Han and Chewie?

Rogue One breaks this pattern.  And this is what I love most about the movie.  Swiping the Death Star plans cost the Rebel Alliance dearly.  It's not just red shirts dying on-screen, but the main characters.  All of them.

Even though this was a story about new characters on a one-way mission, there were plenty of appearances by iconic characters, thanks to cool, but sometimes unsettling CGI.

I'm not merely referring to Grand Moff Tarkin or Princess Liea either.  I got the biggest kick out of recognizing some of the rebel fighter pilots.  I didn't see Porkins, but some fans claim they did.

If you've never seen a Star Wars movie (I know of some people who haven't), then you only need to watch the original, Episode IV: A New Hope to fully appreciate the plot.

I use to love reading movie novelizations, because I'd gain deeper insights into the characters, setting and action.  However, haven't read movie-to-book in ages.

I think Rogue One will be worth reading.

Oh, and I'll probably be purchasing any Rogue One related wargame and role playing game materials once they're published.

(Image from:  comicbook.com)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

RIP Carrie Fisher

(Image from:  Entertainment Weekly)
Yesterday, when I woke up from my nightshift nap, my wife asked me if I heard about Carrie Fisher.
My wife doesn't follow pop-culture and I hadn't gotten around to checking the day's headlines.  So I thought she was referring to Carrie Fisher's hospital stay over the Christmas Weekend.

When I mentioned this, my wife said:  No, she's dead.

The Seattle Times ran this article:  'Star Wars" Actor Carrie Fisher, known for her acerbic comic flair dies at 60.

I'm usually don't go ga-ga over the handful of celebrities I've met, or weepy when the ones I haven't met pass away.  But I must admit Carrie's passing surprised me.  I thought she pulled through, and compared to the average life-span here in America, she died relatively young.
 
Of course, like every other hetero-male fan, I'll always remember her this way:

(Image found on:  Rob.Nu)
Where as Chewbacca will remember this tender moment:

(Image from:  Ink Tank)

Rest in Peace Carrie.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Preventing Being Labelled an "Orphan Series"


The other day, I was trolling the internet for tidbits to add to my post about the TV series Castle that my wife and I just finished binge-watching.

While on the site TV Tropes I came across the term orphaned series.  That is, an abandoned storyline, series, etc.

I'm trying not to have Breakout from Bongolaan fall into this category, which webcomics seem highly susceptible to.  Yes, even mine.

I know I haven't posted anything about the webcomic for several months now.  My wife's nephew has been residing with us for nearly a year as he out processes from the Army.  This is relevant because the room I would use to do my photo shoots is his bedroom.  I hope to resume shooting next year, when my nephew-in-law moves out and the Holidays are over.

No, I'm not going to declare this as my New Year's Resolution, since such promises become orphaned in their own way.

But having physical creative space isn't my only issue.  I was planning on posting pages of Breakout from Bongolaan on to Tumblr, which seems to be a more picture/comic-friendly site than Blogger.  The problem is that I've been using the program Comic Life that converts pictures into a bmp file, which is a format Tumblr won't accept.

So I'm looking into using another comic program.

I've also made a tiny, but I think significant change to this blog.  This started out as a Star Wars Legacy Era Campaign journal.  That is, I'd post about any Star Wars games and role-playing sessions my friends and I'd play.  Unfortunately, the gaming group broke up a while ago.

So I thought I'd expand this blog to cover all types of sci-fi gaming, and decided to change the sub-title to:  Ted Henkle's science fiction gaming blog.

If I think of a catchier subtitle I'll change it.  But until inspiration hits me, I'll keep this boring, yet practical one.

In the meantime, I'll troll TV Tropes' orphaned webcomics list to make sure Breakout from Bongolaan isn't on it.

That is, if TV Tropes even knows this exists.

Thank you for your continued interest and patience.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Star Wars Games at Enfilade 2016

A star-fighter "furball" during the First Day's Star Wars Armada game.
Shortly after my last post on this blog--four months ago--I've been busy with another project.

Our regional gaming group, NHMGS, hosts its annual convention, Enfilade!, every Memorial Day Weekend.  This year, I was asked to be the Event Photographer.  To prepare for this task, I bought a new camera, a XXX, and spent a few weeks getting familiar with it.

I spent the entire three days during the convention prowling the game room floor snapping pictures--
1,163 usable photos to be exact.  Of this grand total, I transferred 923 via Dropbox to our group's Event Coordinator and Website Administrator.

The NHMGS website will be updated shortly and will include the massive gallery of the pictures I took.

But as a "sneak peek" for you readers, here are some sample photos of the Star Wars games played during Enfilade 2016.

Scott hosts a Star Wars Armada game on Day 1 
A traffic jam--IN SPACE!
On Day 2, Chris hosts The Battle of Hoth (As It Should Have Been) game using Star Wars X-Wing.

Imperial fighters and shuttles approach the Rebel Ion Cannon and defensive positions.
The Rebel Ion Cannon is from an vintage Battle of Hoth Playset made by Kenner.
On the last day, Scott hosts a "youngling-friendly" Star Wars Armada game.
Scott instructing a couple of padawans.
The Rebel Fleet closes with their Imperial opponents.