Fallen, at last!

Hey folks,
Following my first game with Fallen last week, I felt like I had to come here and share my thoughts with the world. I’ve already talked about this once on a game day, but now that I’ve had a chance to play with it, and see how the game actually works, I feel the need to spread the word once again!

Fallen

This originally appeared on boardgamegeek.

This is a card-based dungeon crawl game that launched on kickstarter almost two years ago now, although it only made it into my hot little hands at the beginning of this year. It’s a game that I had been very excited to take delivery of, as it had really captured my imagination back in the day. However, the long kickstarter wait dulled that somewhat, and by the time I actually got it, my enthusiasm had somewhat cooled. Hence why it took over three months to actually make time for a game.

Having now played a game, I can’t begin to praise this enough (nor berate myself for having taken so long to get round to it!) It’s a fantastic experience, and one that I can recommend to anyone who has a love of a wide variety of games.

Fallen

The game pits a hero against a dungeon lord in a classic choose your own adventure style of dungeon crawl. I wouldn’t say you have to be a fan of that genre to enjoy this game, however, as the choices you make feel much more like a RPG than an adventure book. Over the course of your turn, the dungeon lord will read a short amount of story text aloud from one of the three Story cards that make up the adventure, and offer you a choice.

Once you’ve made that choice, more story is followed by an attribute test of some sort called a Challenge, which can also involve drawing Treasure cards (for the hero) or Omen cards (for the dungeon lord), which will beef up your character in the usual boardgame manner. The winner will gain XP, which can be used to upgrade skills (for the hero) or creatures (for the dungeon lord), and also access to rewards in the shape of drawing cards, dealing wounds, and charging your character’s special Ultimate ability (more shortly).

Creatures, you say?

Fallen

While the hero follows the traditional model of being equipped with weapons, armour and items, and training in certain skills, the dungeon lord attacks through his (or her) minion creatures, which I thought a really awesome thematic idea – in the game, the hero is delving through a dungeon to fight its lord, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t be fighting that lord all the way through, right? It just felt like you are actually moving through the events of the story rather than merely pitting attribute-to-attribute.

Fallen

Skills come in three different types, each of three levels, and the hero uses his (or her) XP to purchase higher-level skills that will grant you more dice to roll and specific effects to buff your character. Creatures can essentially be levelled-up, wherein they are replaced with more powerful creatures that grant the dungeon lord more dice to roll as well as more powerful abilities to trigger when they are used. Something I liked about these abilities is they often trigger on a win or a loss, so it’s not that you can just let your opponent win because even the loser gets the chance to draw a reward: you can often find yourself agonizing over whether to use a weapon (as the hero) to tip the balance in your favour.

Fallen

During a challenge, you will always roll at least two dice, and the one who rolled the most swords wins. However, there are ways and means to add more dice to your pool – creatures bolster the dungeon lord, and weapons and skills do this for the hero. You also have a deck of 20 power cards, half of which are specific to your character. You need to pay for these, using Fortune that is only recharged at the very end of the Story card, so when to use this can be crucial. Some of them can also be really powerful, so there’s a strong strategic element involved here – especially as, in the game I played, the dungeon lord can force a lot of discards to the hero, making it unwise to hold on to them.

Fallen

While the dungeon lord has his own power cards, he also has the deck of Omen cards that act as something of a cross between Power and Treasure cards (though more like the former). I really like the card back to this deck, it feels really classic-fantasy:

Fallen

Finally, each character has an Ultimate ability, which needs to be charged before use. While a hero will usually have an innate ability with certain attributes – and buff these with skills and weapons – and the dungeon lord relies on his minion creatures, using your Ultimate ability can increase your dice pool at a critical moment, but can sometimes take a while before you can re-charge it. More strategy!

Fallen

Something that I really like with about all of this is the Shadow Track. Six cards arranged in a vertical column from Brilliant to Night, which alter the flow of the game depending on how dark it is in the dungeon. A lot of effects can depend on this, predominantly the Ultimate ability of your character, which is affected by the dark in terms of which dice (and how many) you roll for it. One of the rewards you can receive for winning a challenge is to move the track one step, so you can pull it in whichever direction may be more favourable to you. It really makes for an atmospheric experience, and in my game I pretty much let it run down to Night as the end game approached for the thematic implications.

So what happens at the end game?

Fallen

Once three Story cards have resolved (each has four challenges on, so it can take a fair amount of time to get through), the Final Battle begins. As an interesting twist, it’s now the hero’s turn to read aloud the adventure, as he (or she) battles the dungeon lord in his (or her) lair! The Final Battle cards are basically challenges much like the Story cards, though don’t necessarily follow on from each other based on the hero’s choice of action – a ‘battle begins’ card is read aloud first, then the cards resolve, then a ‘conclusion’ is read to end the game. The first person to succeed at three Final Battle challenges is the winner.

Fallen

Fallen
This game could so easily be reduced to ‘roll attribute dice, determine winner, draw reward, repeat at least fourteen more times’, but it really transcends this in my view to be a truly amazing game experience. The artwork on all the cards is just beautiful, and the stories can be truly immersive when you embrace the role-playing aspect of being your character.

All through this review, I’ve been struggling to think of something bad to say, as I don’t want to appear gushing, but there’s really very little that I can say against this thing. The cards are a little too smooth, and slide around all over the table if you’re not careful? It’s seriously just an amazing experience, with both sides quite evenly matched (the Final Battle in my game came to hinge on one card, as we each won two). There’s nothing that seems ridiculous/overpowered or anything like that. It’s just a tremendous game!

One of the kickstarter stretch goals was a multi-player expansion, which is apparently in development. It sounds interesting, as it possibly changes the entire nature of the game – obviously, tweaks would be needed if you have up to three heroes going against the lone dungeon lord, but rather than just an alternate set of rules, it looks like almost a whole new game, which intrigues me.

Something that I want to address is the nature of the kickstarter campaign. As I said at the beginning, I have everything currently available for this game due to the fact that I caught the kickstarter. A lot of people have missed out, and as a result they have slightly less than the backers, who have almost another game’s worth of content. There are nine sets of exclusive Story Cards, three new heroes and three new dungeon lords, along with a small pack of more Final Battle cards. While I don’t believe that any of these are integral to anybody’s enjoyment of the game – while I played against one of these dungeon lords (not the chap used in the pictures here, incidentally), only one weapon card I saw was ks exclusive, everything else in my game was base-game content and was fantastic – I fully understand the completionist mentality, which has driven me to throw money away at ebay in the past. I’m obviously glad to have this content, but I don’t agree it should be kept as kickstarter exclusive content, as I don’t believe gaming should be such an elitist hobby in this manner. I would really like the designers to be able to make this content available, perhaps as a webstore-exclusive thing. It’s a thorny issue, as I discovered when I started a topic on this a while back, but I would much rather see the game designer be able to make money off content that must have required a considerable investment of resource, rather than have so much one-time-deal stuff they can’t use ever again. No doubt so much ks exclusive content helped their campaign at the time, but it seems to foster an attitude of wanting to avoid this game at retail among a lot of people who, like me, are of the all-or-nothing mentality.

But I’ll get off my soapbox now!

Expansions have already been announced, hopefully coming out this summer, and they look pretty awesome already. Cursed Sands is the big one here, with really interesting new characters and new quirks to the flow of the game. Definitely looking forward to seeing these!

This game is such a massively enjoyable experience, I really do urge you to get yourselves a copy, which I think is currently only available direct from the company. But hey, you can get yourself an awesome game while supporting the publisher directly! Win, win!

I think I’ve prattled on enough about this now, so I’ll stop. Bravo if you actually read all of that, anyway! Some brief take-aways from this review are that the game is awesome, super thematic and wonderfully balanced, and while I don’t agree with the way the kickstarter has excluded so much content from so many people, the retail version of this game is so awesome that you really shouldn’t let it stand in your way of what is, ultimately, a really fantastic game!

Ten out of ten, Watchtower Games!

Ruins and Games

Hey everybody!

It’s the last day of another week off work, sadly, though this one didn’t go quite according to plan – I was supposed to be going to Milan, but as it turned out that didn’t happen. Milan, in case you’re interested, is a pretty great city to visit – you can check out my photos of a previous trip in one of my first blogs here!

It’s been a good week regardless, as I’ve celebrated my one-year anniversary of being here on WordPress and haranguing you all with nonsense. The festivities were centred on Indiana Jones, as I explored anew one of the great movie franchises, and managed to squeeze in a look at one of my favourite boardgames, Fortune & Glory! If you haven’t already, make sure you check that one out, as it’s a lot of fun!

Games haven’t featured as much as I thought they would, actually – I think I’ve been too annoyed at the change in plans to relax enough. I did have a game night on Friday though, where we tried out a couple of new ones (games I have had for months, but just not played yet – it happens a lot). This coming Tuesday, you can expect a blog on one of these two; it’s a game that has been mentioned on here quite a lot, actually – the game of Fallen!

I’ve largely spent the week split between my two great passions, heritage-hunting and Star Wars. I managed to get two ruins in during the awesome weather we had mid-week: Stokesay Castle, and Witley Court!

Stokesay Castle is off the A49 in south Shropshire, and has long been a favourite of mine. I think the intimate feel of the place really plays a big part of this – it’s essentially the fortified manor house of a fourteenth-century wool merchant, so while it is a defensible structure, it’s not a castle in the sense of a military fortress such as Caernarfon, for instance. Instead, we get the rooms of medieval domesticity such as the solar and bedchambers, and it’s all really nice.

By contrast, Witley Court is the shell of a country house, which was a centre of the Victorian country house party circuit before the disastrous fire of 1937 gutted the place. I first visited the ruin three years ago, after a day spent in the Hereford and Worcester area, and it quickly became my very favourite place in England. I haven’t been able to make it back until this week, but it was great to be there again, I have to say!

It’s now quite famous for the restored fountain, which fires hourly during the day. As I got there, it was still going, but I hung about until the noon extravaganza too, and it was funny to see the amount of people who emerged from the ruins to witness the spectacle shortly before 12…

Driving often gives me a headache, and driving in the sun is not much fun for me, so I didn’t manage to get anywhere else. That said, I did manage to read some pretty awesome Star Wars bits and pieces – some of the very early newspaper comic strips (check them out here and here), and the new Heir to the Jedi, which I reviewed on Friday. For a quick recommendation, I definitely suggest you check out Heir to the Jedi, as it’s a really awesome book! It’s part of the new continuity of course, which alone had given me pause before I read it, but as it happens it’s pretty contiguous with the EU that I know and love. Well worth checking out, though! I’ve since moved on to reading another Luke story, Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, which I’ll doubtless be entertaining you with just as soon as it’s finished, though this is one that I have read before, so I can recommend it to you now, anyway 🙂

Also on the subject of Star Wars, I had the chance to try the new Armada game at the local games shop on Friday, and that’ll be written up in blog form soon no doubt. It was pretty good, too, though I’ll save my thoughts for the blog itself. But this brings me back to the subject of boardgames, and while I haven’t played many this week, there’s still plenty of excitement here!

new games

I’d gone to the local shop to pick up some stuff, and got caught up in the Armada thing, but yeah: new Lord of the Rings box, and new Necron stuff! The Treason of Saruman is a new Saga expansion for the game, and follows the first half of The Two Towers. As such, there’s a new Fellowship hero, Aragorn! I’m quite excited, anyway, because I now have ten more Saga expansion quests to play through in my ongoing project, having now had Fog on the Barrow-downs as well, though I haven’t gotten around to any more plays yet. Soon, however…

Following the game of Warhammer 40k the other week, even though I don’t know when I’d be playing next – if at all, to be honest – I’m feeling vaguely more interested in what I’m actually modelling and painting now, beyond the way something looks. Buying the Doom Scythe was largely the result of a gameplay idea rather than wanting to build and paint one – these ships act as tanks for the Necrons, as they can transport up to 15 models, so following that game, where I could see how useful transport vehicles can be, I decided to get one. It doesn’t look too bad to build, either.

This week hasn’t been without its painting endeavours, either, as I’ve been working on three Tomb Blades – the jetbikes of the Necron army!

What fiddly models. In order to paint them, I assembled the main bike and the rider separately, but that meant I couldn’t attach the arms or hands to the rider, in case I did so at a pose that would ultimately be impossible to fit him in there. The rider is also hooked up to the bike itself, with two very small, very thin tubing-bits, and even using tweezers to put them in, I had a hard time getting them in the right place. Urgh! But they’re all (reasonably) assembled now, with all of the base coats (and some highlighting of the buttons under the riders’ hands, for instance), so it’s time for phase two of this operation. Though I’m not sure when that’ll be… They look really great as models, however, and I’m looking forward to having them finished!

I particularly like the look of my Necron vehicles so far, I think the green and the silver looks quite effective as-is, and doubt I’ll be doing anything more to it. However, when I shared a picture of the Command Barge on facebook, someone made the comment about it looks like a Hasbro toy that way. I’m pretty sure it was meant to be insulting, though given how successful Hasbro are as a company, maybe there’s a complement in there? I don’t know. At any rate, I’m not really wanting to do anything to change it right now, so will just carry on!

While we’re on the topic of Warhammer, though…

Assassinorum Execution Force

This has got me pretty excited, I don’t mind telling you! I love co-op games, as I enjoy working together to overcome something horrible. While PvP games can be good, I get tired of the effort that can be involved at times. With co-op, there’s a camaraderie that I feel just can’t be beaten – I mean, I’m friends with people because I like them, not because I want to destroy them! However, the potential for solo play cannot be overlooked, either. So I’ve preordered this from the local shop, and will look forward to getting it put together – if anything like Space Hulk, it should only be seven or eight months before I think about painting it…

Assassinorum Execution Force

Back in the day, part two

Hey everybody!

Last weekend’s look at some of the Classic Star Wars comics was so enjoyable, I thought I’d take a look at some more! Starting where I left off, then, let’s check out Luke’s mission to Fondor!

Classic Star Wars

This is actually a good premise: set against the construction of the Super Star Destroyer Executor at Fondor, Vader attempts to wheedle out some treacherous admirals with the assistance of Admiral Griff, a new recurring Imperial character. Griff’s plan is to test the loyalty of the admirals by suggesting working with the Alliance to sabotage the SSD project, lest Vader’s prestige with the Emperor increase any further. A message is sent to the alliance at Yavin, and Luke volunteers for the mission to get away from Han and Leia, as he feels jealous of the relationship the two are building following Ord Mantell. At Fondor, Luke manages to spy on the project, storing the information in Artoo, then escapes with the help of the transport pilot Tanith Shire. Cue lots of early-80s-style “courtship”, which Luke is a bit taken aback by.

Classic Star Wars

Anyhow, with Vader aware of a strong Force presence, Luke escapes in a barge drone, and crash-lands on Ophideraan, where it transpires Tanith has been sending Imperial barges to crash-land for the Serpent Masters. This whole story is a bit daft, if I’m honest, and it was a bit of a chore to get through at times because of that. Serpent Masters? It’s all a bit too fantastical for Star Wars, in my opinion…

Concurrent with this, Han has dropped Leia off at a planet called Kabal, where she’s trying to recruit more rebels, which seems to be a de facto role for her in most of these early stories. Anyhow, when Luke and Tanith escape Ophideraan, they land – where else? – on Kabal, where Leia sees them kiss goodbye. Oh, these early tales! In the pre-Jedi world, there was so much awkwardness around this triangle!

The Imperials show up, and the rebels escape Kabal only to find themselves in a deadly trap cooked up by an Imperial weapons technician. Some radiation experiment went wrong, and he’s now awaiting death at the hands of a neutron star or somesuch. Again, it’s a pretty weird story, and feels like a filler-story between the main storyline of the ongoing series – such as the newspaper strip can be called a series. Well, anyway…

Classic Star Wars

Again, the rebels are escaping, and they rendezvous with one of Leia’s newly recruited rebels, a reformed pirate chief named Silver Fyre. It soon turns out that Han knows her from his chequered past, although nothing is really made of this beyond the fact that he knows her, and is suspicious of her because of her past conduct. Anyhow, Han loudly talks about the information that is still hidden within Artoo, convinced they’re being bugged, and it turns out that’s right! Some weirdness results, as Silver Fyre and the rebels go on an underwater safari in search for the Demonsquid. Yes, that’s right – it’s like that sequence in The Phantom Menace, only not…

Classic Star Wars

The story carries over into volume two, The Rebel Storm, where the heroes survive the squid, expose a traitor within Silver Fyre’s organisation, and manage to finally get back to their base on Yavin.

Wait, they’re still based out of Yavin IV? Yes, apparently so! The Imperials know they’re there, too, as they have the moon blockaded, and yet nobody seems to have done anything about this situation. Hm. Anyway, the Falcon makes it through the blockade, and is followed by an Imperial craft that crashes into one of the Massassi temples, awakening a Night Beast! First serpent riders, then demon squids, and now this. It’s like D&D, only it’s not…

The Night Beast actually figures really quite nicely into the later stories around the Yavin IV temples, as it seems to be some sort of Force-aware construct/beast, something you could totally imagine Ludo Kressh creating. We also get to learn some of the early lore of the temples, as we’re told the beast is guarding the ruins after its masters left the galaxy – not quite how it was portrayed in Tales of the Jedi, but no matter. Luke manages to convince it to stop its rampage, and all is well in the world once more…

Classic Star Wars

News soon reaches the rebels that Obi-Wan Kenobi has been seen on Aridus, so Luke heads on over to check it out. This is one of those stories that is actually pretty goofy, and yet has managed to permeate the lore to become more than it actually is. Spoiler alert: it isn’t actually Ben Kenobi returned from the dead, but an actor hired by Vader to lure Luke into a trap. Once this actor sees how much Kenobi meant to Luke, he betrays Vader and let’s Luke escape. Setting aside the fact that Luke has seen Kenobi die, he’s actually quite annoying here anyway – in order to set up the actor’s change of heart, Luke is given lots of “I love you, Ben!” style dialogue, which begins to feel a bit out of character. Yes, Luke thought he was “a great man”, but the way Luke idolizes Kenobi here begins to belittle Luke as a character, like he can’t function without his old mentor. But anyway, it’s not a terrible story, it’s just a little weird.

But weird is par for the course with some of these things! I’ll explore this some more in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say, the early years of Star Wars were replete with this, well, weirdness!

Heir to the Jedi – a review

I can’t really say any better than this, but this book was awesome!

As has been mentioned here before, I’m a pretty slow reader, preferring to savour the experience as I go through the movie-in-my-head. However, this book has changed all that, utterly capturing me, and propelling me through the story right to the end.

Spoilers ahead – you have been warned!

The book is set some time between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, where Luke is still not really much of a Jedi, and is still pretty much the hero of Yavin. Originally planned as the third of a loose trilogy that feature the Big Three prominently in turn, Heir to the Jedi became part of the new canon when all that happened around this time last year, and as such exists outside of Razor’s Edge and Honor Among Thieves.

It’s also told entirely in the first person – Luke, naturally – which makes it the second Star Wars novel ever to use this (after 1998’s I, Jedi). I have to admit, I’m really not a big fan of this device. For starters, as a reader it forces me to follow one person around and, if I don’t like that person, I’m instantly turned off from a book no matter how engaging the story around the narrator may be. I’ve also never felt a sense of excitement coming from reading these things – no matter what happens, there’s a basic meta-assumption made that the narrator survives the events in order to be then relating them to me, the reader. I imagine first-person, present-tense books would be a much better read (and have tried to do this myself a few times), but anyway.

Full disclosure, Luke Skywalker is my all-time favourite Star Wars character from all media, Legends or Canon. So to start with, you can imagine that I’d be fairly invested. However, Kevin Hearne succeeds in making Luke such a likeable person, I feel like I really want to get to know him more – as if I haven’t already from the films. In fact, he makes Luke the kind of person I’d like to hang out with, generally! Far from being the noble hero, he’s just an all-round nice guy!

We get some time with Leia of course, and given the timeframe of the book, there are some confused feelings around that whole issue, though it’s not the hash that is Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Hearne introduces a new character, Nakari Kelen, who evolves into a love interest for Luke entirely naturally, in my opinion, which is a refreshing change from previous stories. Back in the day, the Bantam plan had always involved Luke ending up with Mara Jade, of course, so anyone he met in the meantime (Callista, I’m thinking of you!) never had a shot, and always flitted out of his life by the end of that particular trilogy or whatever. Now that the EU slate has been wiped clean, however, I enjoyed the possibility of seeing more of her – right up until the moment she was killed (I did warn you about the spoilers!)

The reason I’m spoiling this for you here is that it’s an important part of how effective this book is. Nakari is a really, really interesting character, and one that you really care about – partially because we’re seeing her from Luke’s perspective, I suppose – and when she dies, it elicits a really emotional response. I mean, I almost felt a similar sense of personal loss, that she wouldn’t be in any more Star Wars stories, for instance (though she is in a short story from January’s Star Wars Insider). I was really surprised by this, which led me to really appreciate just how effective the writing is – and in turn, just how amazing this book is!

As among the first of “the new batch” of Star Wars novels, I was particularly interested to see what elements of the established lore has been retained, and am pleased to note that the answer to that is: a lot. The Givin feature prominently, and they’re still the mathematicians we know from, for instance, Edge of Victory Rebirth. Admiral Ackbar still has a mistrust of smugglers, and so on. It’s pretty heartening to see the galaxy isn’t irrevocably changed, and I still feel reasonably at home here!

Considering the novel is called Heir to the Jedi, I had expected we’d see Luke begin to use the Force more than we do. He does grow in his ability and his confidence, but it’s not as much as I’d expected going in. It’s a minor quibble, of course – we only really need to see Luke learn some telekinesis, given that’s the only thing we’ve now seen between the Ben tuition and the Yoda tuition. And we get that here, so it’s fine. However, there’s an earlier sequence on Rodia where Luke learns something about his father, and is given a lightsaber, which he tries to figure out how it works, but then packs away and never mentions again. It would have been interesting, perhaps, but in the event it’s not incredibly important.

All in all, this is an awesome book, and I am so glad I bought it in hardcover (another new departure for me!)

Cannot recommend it enough – buy it now!

New Star Wars stuff!

Hey everybody!

After the heady excitement of my Birthday Week, and the exploration of the Indiana Jones franchise, it’s back to Star Wars, my original true love, and some exciting news for gaming, following the Anaheim shenanigans last weekend!

X-Wing Wave 7

Let’s start with Wave 7 for X-Wing! Releases for this game continue apace, as we get new ships for all three of the current factions. The K-Wing makes an appearance for the rebels, something I’ve been particularly pleased about since I’m a big fan of the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy. It also gets a new move, SLAM, which basically allows it to move twice, so long as both movements are at the same speed. The Imperials get the TIE Punisher, though most people will probably know it better as the TIE Interdictor from the Galactic Battlegrounds game. It’s basically an advanced version of the TIE Bomber (from Wave 3), and both this and the K-Wing have some pretty snazzy ordnance they bring to the table. Very useful is the Advanced Ordnance card, which lets you use missiles and bombs twice, so that’ll most likely become a staple!

Scum takes up half of this wave, which makes sense, given they’re still quite far behind the other factions so far. Black Sun’s Kihraxz fighter makes its appearance, which has got me excited to build a Black Sun squadron, and Trandoshan bounty hunter Bossk’s ship Hound’s Tooth rounds out the experience. He has the ability to escape his destroyed ship in the headhunter Nashtah Pup, which is a nice addition – I was surprised at first that we don’t actually get a headhunter model, but it would most likely drive the price of the expansion up to include it and, as was pointed out to me, most Scum players will have Most Wanted anyway.

So it’s a pretty exciting release, and since I’ve started to play this game, I’m really looking forward to it!

X Wing Imperial Raider

Speaking of X-Wing, we’ve also had a more in-depth look at the Imperial Raider, which I feel has been on the horizon for months already!

Announced back in December (I think – it seems longer!), it’s something that I’m pretty excited to get my hands on, even though I don’t foresee any epic play on the cards anytime soon. There are some interesting bits and pieces there, though – and who knows, now that the Imperials have a big ship as well, maybe we’ll see more epic play games…

Imperial Assault reinforcements

More reinforcements have been announced for Imperial Assault, too. As someone mentioned on facebook, this is where the skirmish game really begins, and I can definitely see that. Up to now, we seem to have been having the lieutenant-like expansions similar to the Descent model, which basically replace tokens from the base game with actual miniatures, but with new chaps that we can bring to the table, it begins to feel much more like a miniatures battle game, much like the previous Star Wars Miniatures games from Wizards of the Coast and West End Games. Even though I haven’t been able to play with the base game yet, I’m hoping I can sell the idea to Tony with the skirmish side, then hook him in with the scenario-driven game. We shall see!

Imperial Assault Reinforcements

The miniatures do look great, though I’m not going to paint them – the manager at the local store has done his store copy, and that looks fantastic, but they’re too small and detailed for me!

Again, I’m pretty excited for these guys, even though I’ve yet to play the game. Star Wars Miniatures was one of my favourite games, back in the day – which is surprising, given that it’s got basically no story to it, and you’re just trying to wipe out your opponent before he wipes you out. But I played a lot of that game back in the day, and it’s really exciting to think we might get that sort of experience again, though on a much more sensible scale (as opposed to the blind-buy from Wizards).

And finally…

Making splendid use of my amazon vouchers, I’ve decided to go for the latest novels in hardcover. It seems Del Rey is moving to all their books coming out in hardcover now, so it’ll help to distinguish them from my now-Legends novels.

Adventurous thoughts

Hey everybody!

Birthday week continues here at spalanz.com, and I wanted to talk a little bit about creative writing today. Well, like I said at the top of the week, I was thinking of presenting something of a microcosm of my first year within the week. Indiana Jones is a great theme for this, with the amount of stuff that it has spawned over the years.

A few years ago, I entertained some dreams of adding to that spawn myself!

As a child, I was utterly enraptured by the sense of adventure in the Indy films, and used to try to continue and recapture that adventure long after the credits had rolled. As life wore on, I thought about the possibility of making something of those adventures by writing essentially fan-fiction, an idea that eventually mutated into my own original story idea. Somewhere, I’ve got a lot of stuff written down for an adventure story set in the 1930s and featuring a globe-trotting academic. I’m not entirely sure where, though I am sure that if I found that stuff, I would be fairly unimpressed with it.

The basic kernel of my idea was for a character who wanted to be Indiana Jones, possibly a schoolfriend or somesuch. The idea that this guy who he sat next to in class was off fighting Nazis and unearthing religious artifacts really fired his imagination, so he got together with another guy and they set off to have their own adventure. While George Lucas has described Indy as a guy who’s always getting in over his head, my guy was just inept from the get-go. I think he was fluent in Ancient Greek and Arabic, as he was a scholar of the dark ages and early medieval period, but he wasn’t much good at anything else.

The guy along for the adventure with him was also a medievalist, and had something of a fascination with medieval weaponry. I suppose this was an answer to Indy having a whip – this chap used a flail at one point, and I think I wanted to show him train with tonfa and three-section staff (I don’t remember the actual Chinese name for this). There was also a lady along with them, who was fluent in several languages, and an elder-statesman-like chap who may or may not have been a college professor.

Yeah – a large part of the adventure took place in China.

The story had something to do with breaking into an international gemstone smuggling ring, and trying to prevent the theft of some kind of legendary stone. It might have been my inability to develop this effectively that proved the undoing of this endeavour. Part of the story took place in Africa – I think I originally wanted to involve Egypt, but then felt it was too hackneyed and wanted to move into Nubia or someplace. My intrepid band was foiled at this stage, but decided to forge ahead through India and Nepal and into China, where the final showdown would take place.

For the villain of the piece, I envisaged all sorts of crazy, though I think I eventually settled on a Dutch guy. Diamonds, you know? Anyway.

Along the way there would be boat chases along the Ganges (or similar), airplane chases over the Himalayas, car chases through Peking, and midnight excavations with traps and terrors at every turn. It was going to be awesome.

And yet, it remains unwritten. A loss the world will no doubt have to bear! I think what put me off was The Mummy 3, which I haven’t seen, but which sounded too much like my projected tale, with its oriental setting and whatnot.

However, there were also a number of challenges that I felt insurmountable at the time, foremost among them being how could I write something this close to an adventure classic and still keep it original? A fear of becoming derivative was a constant companion. Another major consideration was whether I was intelligent enough to write it. I mean, it’s a story about a group of highly intelligent academics, and I suppose my constant insecurity led me to believe I couldn’t pull it off convincingly when I wasn’t in that same stratum. The vast majority of my notes for this story were mainly educating myself on things like weaponry and toxicology, for instance, to say nothing of ancient history of Africa and Asia…

I began to think instead of something more fantastical, which I could control – my fantasy story that I talked about some last summer. If I’m making everything up, then it’s much easier to write than having to do all that research – no matter how interesting it was! My fantasy story originally began life in 2006, but soon overtook my adventurer story, though neither has made any real headway!

It’s a series of ideas that have refused to go away, however, and every so often I find myself fondly looking back and thinking I might actually make something of it. I suppose time will only tell on that score…

Anyhow! We’re getting close to the end of Birthday Week now, but I hope to have something faintly interesting for you to end the week with… stay tuned!

The further adventures of Dr Jones!

Hey folks!

I’m continuing the Birthday Week theme today, with a look at the further adventures of Indiana Jones! Yes guys, there’s more to this franchise than some movies! (And, I think, a Disney ride?)

I get really excited when I discovered there were books and comics for a series like this. Last year I discovered comics for Ghostbusters, and was in awe! I discovered Indy books five or six years ago now, and snapped up what were described to be the best – the quartet by Max McCoy.

Indiana Jones

There are a dozen or so novels from Bantam, published during the 90s in the aftermath of Last Crusade, and McCoy wrote the final four. Some of the earlier books are apparently goofy, but these last four are apparently much better.

Well.

I haven’t read any of the earlier ones, but these chaps can be really pretty weird!

A small confession, I’ve only actually read three of the four pictured above, having not made it to Secret of the Sphinx. Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I can’t honestly say that they’re the best books I’ve ever read.

They do have a classic adventure feel to them, and they obviously have the characters that we know and love from the movies. But overall, they just don’t feel like Indiana Jones. There are a lot of moments where Indy is completely out of character, predominantly in terms of speech patterns, that make me wonder what on earth I’m actually reading. A lot of the movie tie-ins that I’ve read in the past have been successful because the characters feel like those from the source material, and speech is a big part of that.

Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone began really promising, with a jungle adventure that serves to explain the remark from Temple of Doom about Indy’s activities in British Honduras. I was enraptured! But it soon fell quite flat, though there was the one saving grace that these books are really easy to read – I’m a slow reader, but I read half of this novel in a day. This book also brings Mussolini’s Fascists to the Indyverse as enemies, and it works pretty well.

The stilted dialogue, often arising out of the apparent need of the author to educate us, has made me think that perhaps these novels are aimed at a much lower age range. Not that I’m a snob or anything, but I sometimes felt I was being talked down to during this book.

My biggest criticism, however, comes from a sort of side-McGuffin. Indy is in British Honduras to retrieve a crystal skull, which he doesn’t realise is cursed. Indy winds up believing said curse, which causes big problems for him throughout the three novels I’ve read. Seriously? What happened to his Raiders attitude, of a lot of hocus pocus and the boogieman? Hm.

Indiana Jones and the Dinosaur Eggs is a bizarre one. Derivative of Temple of Doom, we see Indy head to Outer Mongolia by way of Shanghai, which leads to some gratuitous cameo appearances, but also fails to hit the spot for me. Remember in the second movie, Wu Han dies reminiscing about the many adventures he and Indy have taken? It always felt like they’d been buddies for many years, not the barely two years this novel sets it at. Also, Wu Han is barely in the adventure. But anyway.

Another entirely superfluous cameo comes at the very beginning, where we see Rene Belloq seemingly meeting Indy for the first time also. Some Nazis appear, but the main villains of this piece are Mongolian bandits, which also fell a little flat for me – we have Indy in China around the time of the conflict with Japan, why not investigate that a little? There is a lot of history here that has remained largely ignored by the West, I feel – perhaps because we had a lot going on with the growing Nazi threat in Europe – but it would have been really good to see it explored.

Anyhow, this is followed up by Indiana Jones and the Hollow Earth. I have to admit, while I’m a big history fan, I didn’t really get the reference here – fortunately, all these books have a historical afterword that explains some of the real-life references made, seemingly in keeping with the need to educate. Apparently, a lot of intellectuals thought the Earth was hollow, with substantial space ripe for colonisation under the surface. Hm. It’s a notion that was kind-of explored in my absolute favourite science fiction novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, though I hadn’t realised it had actually been given serious thought until reading this, so I suppose the novel succeeded on that front!

While the other two novels are a bit weird, this one is downright odd. To start with, I don’t feel like it flows very well. The Nazis are the villains of this book, but there is a substantial part in the first half of the novel that feels like it should be a separate adventure, which really damaged the pacing for me. The premise of the novel is that Indy has been given a stone that leading members of the Thule Society are looking for, but after an extended altercation with the Nazis, they disappear from the narrative while Indy goes off on a treasure hunt, to raise the funds to pay Belloq (in another gratuitous cameo) for information as to the whereabouts of the crystal skull from book one. The search for the skull brings about the end game, an Arctic expedition that brings the Nazis back, but by this point there feels like too much going on, and the two strands of Thule Stone and Crystal Skull stories don’t really fit properly.

I suppose, of the three, I feel cheated the most by Hollow Earth, because it could have been so much better than it turned out to be, with the Thule Society references (remember my love of Tannhauser and alternative-history?)

Indiana Jones

But what about the comic-book adventures?

There are quite a few comics for the franchise, from Marvel’s adaptations of the films to Dark Horse’s endeavours of the 1990s. I’ve come quite late to Indy comics, picking up the omnibus when it came out in 2008, and have only actually read one of these stories, the adaptation of the Fate of Atlantis video game.

It’s another strange story, that sees Indy globetrotting in a whole host of contraptions, and while the initial setup looked like it could be going somewhere interesting, it ended up being just a bit weird and goofy again.

So this is something of a theme for the Indy literature out there, really, and leads right into Indy 4, too.

The Indiana Jones films have always taken some mystical object of religious significance, and spun a story around it of adventure and hijinks that has some sort of personal/moral level to it. These stories that I’ve been talking about here have taken a broader approach, by having the mystical object merely a historical artifact of some sort, and use it as an excuse to go on some random adventure almost for the sake of it. Which is partly the problem with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for me. The vital element of any sort of reason for the adventure has been taken away, and we’re left with something that’s just empty.

The stories are pretty good if you just want some escapist adventure to read, and they’re all pretty quick to get through, too. Unfortunately, however, they don’t really feel like Indiana Jones stories! But hey, that’s just my opinion – if you’ve read any, let me know what you think!!