Marvel Approaches

So!

First of all, I did not go to Comic Con at San Diego, as I have been working. However, I’ve been waiting to hear if Marvel would be making any announcements about their upcoming Star Wars line, now that there are scant months left before the licence reverts to them.

SDCC revealed some details on three books: a Princess Leia title, a Darth Vader title, and an ongoing series. I must admit, now that we have some details on these things, I am beginning to lose some of my ire about the existing EU being trodden-over!

The Princess Leia story will be written by Mark Waid, and is due out from March 2015. starwars.com has put together a nice little feature with all three of the authors talking about there books, and here’s what Waid had to say about his:

So, our story is about Leia not long after the end of Episode IV deciding, “Well, as the princess, there are still responsibilities that fall to me, like making contact with any stray Alderaanians out there who may not know what happened. It is my job as princess to deliver the bad news. It is my job to bring those who survived by being in other places, together. It is my job to help preserve some sort of cultural heritage of my people, so that everything my planet stood for and everything my people stood for doesn’t get forgotten.” So it’s a five-issue story [arc] that takes her across the galaxy in search of others of her kind to try and pull them together. Of course, some of them are going to be suspect, because they suspect this could be some sort of weird trap by the Empire. Some of them are going to be very angry, as they rightly or wrongly blame the house of Organa for what happened. Obviously, Leia will be traveling as low profile as she possibly can. If and when the Empire gets wind of the fact that Leia is doing is this, they’re going to be very interested themselves in what she’s doing, what she thinks she’s doing, and what information there is to be mined from these people.

Five issues of running around the galaxy trying to find stray Alderaanians, set in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin? Sounds like it could be interesting. I really like the idea of a Leia story, as she seems to have been perhaps unjustly neglected by the Legends stories. There were a few issues of Dark Horse’s Empire series that saw Leia in action, but largely the classic trilogy era was filled with tales of derring-do from Han and Luke, with lots of pilots and soldiers and whatnot. Seeing what Leia gets up to will be really good!

I really hope we see people like Winter and Tycho Celchu brought back into the Canon fold. Something I had often thought about was whether Winter and Leia knew of each other’s survival, and imagined a fun little tale that saw them meeting up under fire with an emotional reunion. Of course, whether Winter will be kept on as a Canon character will remain to be seen, though I hope that most (if not all) of Zahn’s creations will prove to be too good to leave on the scrapheap. We shall see!

Next up, the Vader book will be written by Kieron Gillen, and is due from February. This is what Gillen has to say about his upcoming work:

The high-level concept is that it picks up very shortly after the destruction of the Death Star. Vader is the sole survivor of the greatest military disaster of all time. A disaster he isn’t entirely to blame for, but at least some of the blame is his. He completely let the Rebels escape with the plans. So this kind of comes back to him. So there’s an implied sense that Vader might not be in the Emperor’s best graces at this point in the story.
It’s a story set inside the Empire, but a lot of the driving force is Vader’s own personal choices and the people he keeps around him to achieve his aims. The one problem with doing a book like this is it’s just kind of, Vader plus dudes in uniform plus stormtroopers. It’s very gray, you know? If you move the story into the underworld and [bring in] some of the more colorful characters, you get a much wider tone without undermining Vader.

So, an Empire story, but we’ll be investigating Vader as a much more widely-drawn character, looking not only at his position within the Empire, and specifically how he rose from the debacle at Yavin to head of the Death Squadron, but also at the other aspects of his life, including his relationship with the Emperor and his contacts with the galactic fringe. This should be a really interesting story, I feel, and one that I had hoped we’d see back when Dark Horse launched their Empire storyline with Betrayal. I loved that book, but was a bit miffed when we meandered through generic rebellion stories for the most part. While it’s doubtful we’ll see Grand Moff Trachta, I still look forward to seeing a Vader story with some intrigue and stuff! So that should be interesting, too.

And finally, we have the ongoing series. From the mind of Jason Aaron, the series is set to begin in January next year. Says Aaron:

We wanted this to feel like the movies. We wanted to feel like we were hired to do the direct sequel to the original film. So in terms of look, feel, and tone, that’s what we’re shooting for. It’s very much a team book and we’ve got all the main players here. Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, the droids, and Darth Vader all get big moments in this first arc, and that’s our core cast going forward. I do want to be able to use Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’ve always liked the old Ben Kenobi version of Obi-Wan, so we will see him in some capacity.

I always get worried when people say these sorts of things, as they so very, very rarely deliver. But I’m forcing myself to have an open mind, so we’ll see what happens…

There will be “new stuff”, in terms of the comic universe, but there are also hints that we might be seeing stuff from the upcoming movie, which is an interesting idea. I imagine, though, that we won’t know it at the time. Unfortunately, the question of reviving Legends material was not broached. However, all three of these books will be crossing over at some point – particularly the Vader title with the ongoing series – in true Marvel fashion. That should be good for now, but could prove to be a nightmare in the future (if House of M was anything to go by…)

But still, I feel fairly excited about these upcoming stories now. While it’s a bit difficult, because it’s not going to be the Star Wars that I know and love, I’m still trying to keep an open mind, so have a cautious curiosity about it all…

Just, please, give us Mara Jade back!

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Council of Blood

Hey everyone,
Following the recent few weeks reading Eddings, I’ve returned to my Star Wars reading for a while, and Crimson Empire. I’ve already talked about the first arc in this trilogy at some length, of course, so want to follow that up with some shorter blogs about the other two. Today, then, I present to you: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood!

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Published in 1998-9 as a direct follow-up to the first, we see Kir Kanos continue on his vendetta against the Imperial Ruling Council for their part in the overthrow of the resurrected Emperor. After his defeat of the wannabe Emperor Carnor Jax, Kanos assumed the role of the bounty hunter Kenix Kil to help him move around the galaxy while there is a bounty on his head. Kanos takes jobs for the Hutt, Grappa, while also eliminating members of the Ruling Council.

Crimson Empire II is much more of a political thriller than the first installment. That is to say, it tries to be more of a political thriller. The goings-on of the Ruling Council, as they are whittled down by Kanos in disguise, try to convey the chaos of the wake of Carnor Jax’s death. However, I’ve read it twice now, and it still feels a bit too muddled and such. Once the main story gets going, what feels like a completely unnecessary further plot twist is added that only really serves to confuse the issue, rather than adding another of layer or somesuch.

The Ruling Council is an interesting idea that wasn’t really developed in the first arc, but here is treated like we should all know what it is. Hm. More, there are aliens on the Council – including a Devaronian and a Whiphid – which seems highly incongruous and is not really that satisfactorily explained. However, it is an interesting idea, and I did enjoy seeing it all.

We also get Mirith Sinn again, who is trying to track down Kanos by using the resources of Grappa the Hutt’s organisation. Not entirely sure why, considering she’s a New Republic official, so could surely have stayed where she was? Hm.

The comic introduced Nom Anor, a mysterious cloaked figure who is pulling the strings of the would-be Emperor, Xandel Carivus. Originally, it was intended that this storyline would lead into a crossover storyline between Dark Horse Comics and Bantam Spectra that dealt with the invasion of the known galaxy by a group of Dark-Side Force users who, it was intended, would have been the ancestors of the original Sith. Bantam lost the novel licence to Del Rey, who went with the invasion story but took it in a whole new direction. Nom Anor, however, was kept on as the herald of the invaders, taking on a whole new persona when he returned in 1999’s Vector Prime.

Overall, I like this story, but feel like it could have done with perhaps an extra comic to help smooth the story over. It’s still good, but it doesn’t really come up to the quality of the first one. Definitely worth a look, however!

Gloom

Morning everyone!
Tuesday is game day, of course, and here at spalanz.com I’m going to talk to you all about the card game Gloom from Atlas Games.

Gloom

The game is ten years old this year, and is shortly due to have its second edition printed with new art and errata. However, it’s been a popular game for me for a while now, so let’s take a look in today’s blog!

The game is fairly straightforward. Players control a ‘family’ of five cards (shown below), and the aim is to kill off those family members in the worst way possible – at the end of the game, the person with the lowest score wins. Wonderful stuff!

Gloom

On each turn, a player can play two cards or discard two cards. The cards are all transparent, and consist of modifiers, events, and untimely deaths. Modifiers give your family members a score – the object is to play cards with negative points on yourself, and those with positive points on your opponents:

Gloom

In addition, event cards can alter the course of the game, such as preventing you from playing an untimely death, or removing family members from the game:

Gloom

Finally, untimely deaths kill off your characters. Strategically, you need to kill off your family members as soon as you can, when they have as much of a negative score as you can get. The game ends when one person has killed off all of their family, and points are only scored by family members who are dead.

Gloom

Yes, it is indeed a gloomy game! However, this is really only the basic mechanics of the game. The real fun in Gloom comes from telling stories – just why was Grogar the teddy-bear devoured by weasels? It’s up to you to tell the tale! Take a look as Wil Wheaton & co. have a game:

There are (at the time of writing) four expansions for Gloom, as shown in the picture earlier. Three of these bring new families to the game, as well as new mechanics! We start with Unhappy Homes, which adds the mechanic of Residences to the game.

Gloom Unhappy Homes

Residences are, well, your family’s home, upon which you can play a new type of modifier, Mysteries:

Gloom Unhappy Homes

Mystery cards have a blue text, and can only be played on Residence cards. They add negative points to the Residence, and can bolster your score at the end (though, obviously, you don’t need to kill off the Residence!). They also give you effects similar to Event cards.

Unhappy Homes was followed by Unwelcome Guests, which add another new family as well as the new mechanic of unwelcome guests:

Gloom Uninvited Guests

These chaps start out the game in the centre of the table, and are brought out when specific cards are played – each guest stipulates which type of card they follow, such as “Unhappy Holmes”, who follows Untimely Death cards. This mechanic of “following” a card type means you gain control of the guest when you play its “trigger” card. It basically gives you more people to kill off, so you have the potential to end with a bigger (lower) score at the end.

Unfortunate Expeditions came next, which brought the seventh family to the game, as well as the mechanic of Expeditions:

Gloom Unfortunate Expeditions

Expeditions start the game at the top of the table, and are brought into play when modifiers with the matching expedition symbol in the right corner are played:

Gloom Unfortunate Expeditions

Expeditions offer a universal benefit to all players, but only one such card can be in play at any time, adding another level of depth to the game.

The most recent expansion came out last year, Unquiet Dead. Instead of a new family, Unquiet Dead brings two new mechanics into the game, Stories and Undead. Stories can be claimed as soon as their conditions are met, and can change hands throughout the course of the game. They offer a benefit to your family, provided you can keep hold of them until the end of the game:

Gloom Unquiet Dead

The Undead mechanic provides new modifiers to play on your family members, where they count as both living and dead:

Gloom Unquiet Dead

Undead characters can still have modifiers played on them, but count as dead for purposes for final scoring. Because they cover up your family members, your opponents will always be aware that you have Undead cards in your hand, but anyway…

Finally, for International TableTop Day 2013 a special promo pack was released to be given away at participating events, and included cards with a TableTop theme, including Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day as uninvited guests (though, come on, who wouldn’t want this pair as guests at a game day?!)

Gloom TableTop

I’ve played a lot of Gloom over the years, and have always enjoyed it for the hilarity of the modifiers that can be played on your characters – who wouldn’t laugh when a character is mauled by manatees?! – but I absolutely love the storytelling aspect of the game. If you can get some friends who enjoy a bit of improv, this game is an absolute blast! The mechanics are straightforward and simple, allowing you to concentrate on enjoying the stories you weave about your unfortunate family, and while I haven’t yet tried it, I imagine playing with all four expansions wouldn’t exactly make the game unwieldy…

In addition to this game, Atlas Games have released a spin-off version, Cthulhu Gloom! Yes, since Lovecraft’s work went out of copyright, there have been all manner of game versions of Cthulhu, and Gloom has not escaped! I intend to look at Cthulhu games as a separate blog, however, but I shall content myself for now by telling you all that Cthulhu Gloom is definitely worth getting as well, incorporating a lot of the elements of the original game into a wonderful eldritch nightmare! Fabulous!

It’s an absolutely wonderful little game, I can heartily recommend you get your paws on it!

Buy it from amazon:
Gloom
Unhappy Homes
Unwelcome Guests
Unfortunate Expeditions
Unquiet Dead

Cthulhu Gloom
Unpleasant Dreams

The Elenium

Well folks, I have finally finished the Elenium trilogy! You may have noticed there has been a marked lack of any novel/comic discussion in the past few weeks? Well, following a recommendation I have been reading David Eddings’ trilogy, and have been utterly blown away!

The Elenium

In case you hadn’t realised yet, I like fantasy. It’s one of the facets of Star Wars that makes it appeal to me so much. But not just that, I like all sorts of fantastical stuff – be it Warhammer or Pathfinder, or anything else really. It’s all about the escapism. But I haven’t really found a fantasy epic that I have massively enjoyed like this since I was in school! It’s all quite marvellous, I have to say.

Set in the fantasy land of Eosia, the trilogy follows the cleric-type character Sparhawk as he returns from exile to discover his Queen has been placed into suspended animation due to a strange illness. Within about 50 pages we’re plunged into a massive intrigue that has kept me turning the pages for the past month, moving from book to book like a man possessed!

I won’t discuss the plot, because there were so many exciting twists and turns that I feel it’s best discovered on its own. However, the style of writing and the story itself are all so wonderful, being a product of the late 80s/early 90s. It’s something that I find quite similar to the Star Wars novels – books from this period tend to be more fantastical and, generally, enjoyable, than the more recent offerings, which present a hard, grittier view of things. The Elenium is what I would describe as low fantasy, as aside from magic and the odd reference to trolls, the protagonists are all humans, and so on. It’s quite similar to A Game of Thrones in this respect, the massive politico-theological conspiracies are more centre-stage than the fantasy, really. However, Eddings’ books are just so much more enjoyable than Martin’s! For a start, Eddings establishes a world without the need for gratuitous violence and the like, and we aren’t subjected to masses of text describing a journey in the manner of Tolkien. Instead, if the plot needs to move characters from one area to another, they just move through the space of a paragraph, rather than the space of a small novel. The pacing therefore is so much more driven, and the sense of urgency that pervades books one and two is really hammered home in that respect.

I feel that a lot of today’s fantasy writers can learn something from Eddings. He builds his world really well, with nicely-defined parameters within which the fantasy works. He handles a large ensemble cast effectively, and while Sparhawk isn’t exactly spared some of the more pet-character-style writing, he is nevertheless a believable chap, and while he clearly leads the ensemble, he never really dominates the others from the storytelling perspective. There are plenty of other interesting characters to enjoy, it isn’t a case of the others are there to make the lead look amazing. His plot is also nicely laid out and executed. As already mentioned, we don’t have chapters and chapters of inconsequential meandering, but instead we move through at a pace guaranteed to tell a good story.

However, it is this pacing that initially threw me with the trilogy. Being more used to modern fantasy, I was completely lost quite early on with The Diamond Throne, where I expected something to happen and it didn’t. The biggest flaw, I felt at the time, was the jarring sensation between chapters 8 and 9 of the first book, where one chapter ends with the ensemble riding into battle, and the next begins with that battle over. I was fully expecting a chapter (at least) where we would have to wade through torrid descriptions of untold brutality, and confusing melees and whatnot, but when we didn’t, I felt cheated. However, as I progressed through the book, I came to realise that, actually, the battle served no purpose in and of itself, but instead was merely to provide a catalyst for a larger plot point. In that sense, then, the battle itself was completely unnecessary to describe, and therefore I got over that sense of having been cheated. I would still, however, have thought perhaps that chapter 8 should not have finished at that precise point, but instead with the knights merely donning their armour and preparing for battle. Ending it with an actual charge still felt a bit abrupt.

Yes, I really am reaching here. This is probably the only thing wrong with the entire trilogy, and even then, the term “wrong” seems a bit excessive!

It’s a really good trilogy, and I can recommend it to anyone!

Buy it from amazon:
The Diamond Throne
The Ruby Knight
The Sapphire Rose

Star Wars Episode VII

Hey everybody!
Seems like it’s been a long time since I talked about Star Wars here. Today, however, I’m going to briefly talk about possibly the biggest news since the mid-90s Prequels announcement, the new sequel trilogy.

There is actually a reason why I haven’t raised this subject since I started this blog three months ago. I’m basically not that excited by it. Yes, that’s right! I am a huge Star Wars fan, but I am not particularly looking forward to seeing this next batch of films. Of course, I’ll be going to see them, possibly even more than once, but I am not fired up with the same enthusiasm that I have been for other projects in the past.

I can’t deny, of course, that part of the reason is due to the decision to eliminate the established Expanded Universe stuff, which I still feel does a great disservice to the talented men and women who kept this franchise alive when it had otherwise died in the mid-80s. However, there is also the fact that I dislike the need to bring back the Big Three – I feel a sequel trilogy would have been a lot better had it just let go of those shackles. Of course, that’s not to say I dislike the Big Three – Luke Skywalker has always been, and will always be, my favourite character in this universe – but I feel that, had the creators struck out in an entirely new direction, it could have been just the breath of fresh air needed following the past couple of decades of storytelling. Remember how fresh Knights of the Old Republic felt? And Legacy? Even the Prequels, to an extent.

There seems to be a disturbing trend in Star Wars, that constant need to emulate rather than innovate. We see stories that harken back to the original trilogy, with tropes and whole arcs trotted out time after time, whereas we could be seeing completely new stuff that could blow our minds in the same way the original film blew minds.

But anyway.

This morning, I came across an article on io9 that showed Mark Hamill resplendent in full beard at the premiere for Guardians of the Galaxy:

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Remarks such as “very Obi-Wan-ish” have of course been made, which leads me more to despair than anything else. The saga already has an Obi-Wan character: his name’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. Why do we need to turn Luke into Obi-Wan? Why doesn’t Luke have any imagination to spend his retirement like Hugh Heffner, maybe? Or anything other than a desert hermit?!?! Jeez.

However, there is one glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, and I must admit that this glimmer is what has both piqued my interest as well as prompted this blog. The rumour mill has of course been working overtime since Disney bought the franchise and announced new films, but something that appears to be holding the most ground at the minute is the idea that the film centres around the search for Luke Skywalker. The idea that, firstly, there is something wrong in the galaxy that requires Luke for resolution, not to mention that Luke is somehow missing, is really very intriguing to me.

It also means, of course, that one of my main gripes about discarding the EU might not be necessary. Episode VII is apparently set roughly 30 years after Return of the Jedi, so 34 years after A New Hope. [SPOILER ALERT] Luke’s wife Mara dies 40 years after A New Hope, but depending on whether they’re going to shift things around in the timeline, it could well be that Luke has retired from public life following this incident? [END SPOILER] I haven’t yet read Crucible, so I don’t know how the now-Legends EU has left the Big Three, but I think that’ll be on my list shortly.

Anyhow. I’m not particularly following the rumours for the new film with any degree of seriousness, so it’s debatable whether there will be more to add here, but you never know – as we get closer to December ’15, I might just see the fanboy within emerge, and might get way over-excited about the whole thing!

We shall see, I guess…

Model madness

The other day I shared a blog about the upcoming Shadows of Brimstone game, which largely consisted of the pdf rulebook of that game. However, for us kickstarter backers of that game, we had a large and involved update about the production, which included the news that the miniature figures will require assembly.

Hm.

I am not very good at crafts, I will freely admit. I love the idea, but I’m just not very good. Maybe the lack of faith in myself isn’t helping, but anyway. I do not relish the task ahead of me – there are reportedly 32 miniature figures per core set, and I am getting two of each core set. More than anything, I’m annoyed that this will not be a game where I can open the box, press out some cardboard tokens, shuffle up a bunch of cards, and then just play it. Suddenly, I have a game that requires assembly, which could take about a day to get done. Valuable gaming time will be lost! Argh.

But today, I had the idea that this could actually be an interesting sort of side-project. So I’m thinking of running a series of sub-blogs with detailed reports on my modelling endeavours as I attempt to assemble the game. Depending on how well it goes, of course, I may even extend the scope of this into painting them, but that will definitely remain to be seen.

In the meantime, I want to practice. Shadows of Brimstone has the potential to become my absolutely favourite game, and I don’t want to hash things up. So in that spirit, I bought a Warhammer thing to essentially practice on. As a prologue to the Brimstone stuff, I’ll be posting blogs showing what I’ve been getting up to with that, as well!

So…yeah… watch this space…

Rebellious thoughts

So yeah, Star Wars Rebels. I’ve not been living under a rock for the past couple of months, honestly. I’ve been intentionally trying to avoid news on this show for the simple fact that I’m just not all that interested. My reasons are myriad and complex, but I’ll try to explain a couple here for you.

First of all, let’s look at the character roster, shall we?
– Hera, the no-nonsense pilot of the crew
– Ezra, the street-smart hero
– Kanan, the cowboy Jedi
– Sabine, the feisty tomboy “explosives artist”
– Zeb, the well-educated alien
– Chopper, the grumpy astromech droid

Of course, all of this could be utterly amazing and whatnot, but it leaves me shaking my head in despair. It’s difficult to articulate why when there is so much vitriol in the way, but I really just hate (yes, hate) what is evidently meant to be a “kewl” collection of characters that we’re all meant to be thrilled about. I feel like they’re trying too hard to make us like the show, if that even makes sense.

I also think the thing about the “well-educated alien” is probably more racist than it should be, but still.

Watching the extended trailer, I see that we have a wonderfully derivative hero in the shape of Ezra, who I imagine will get into all sorts of scrapes and japes but will be simply awesome and claw his way out while we’re supposed to squee with delight. He seems to be strongly modelled on Luke, but without the everyman aspect. Clearly Hera is just a female (and Twi’lek) Han Solo, with Chopper a sort of cross between R2-D2 and the Falcon itself. Kanan will most likely be the “kewl” Qui-Gon-Jinn-esque character, a sort of younger version of original-trilogy Obi-Wan with consequently more awesome action that will make us want to be him when we grow up (no matter our age or gender). Sabine, I imagine, is destined to have a lot of “loner”-type action, meant to draw in any tomboy girls who don’t instantly equate with Hera, who herself seems to occupy something of a Leia position. And Zeb? Well, he’s just a Chewbacca who can speak for himself.

I like Star Wars because it doesn’t “insist upon itself”, to quote Peter Griffin. It knows who its audience is, and it tells a story that audience will equate to with minimal-to-no effort required. It seems, unfortunately, that recent releases have tried too hard to appeal to broader audiences and forced themselves into that general market that the original Star Wars movie never tried to occupy. The result, then, is this sort of junk – “kewl” (I keep using that affectation because it sums up the scorn I feel towards this type of project).

A lot of this could be driven entirely by the feeling that Disney has got rid of a lot of good stories from the accepted timeline in order to replace them with, well, this. Of course, there’s some absolute tosh in amongst those stories, but they aren’t all about Bucky O’Hare’s bounty-hunting cousin! There’s some really good stuff that has been done away with, and we’re left with…Rebels. Hm.