Totoro!

Hey everybody!

It’s time to dial the cuteness factor up to eleven – I watched my first Studio Ghibli film in years last night: My Neighbour Totoro!

My Neighbour Totoro

This is a 1988 film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, one of the co-founders of the famous anime studio. It tells the tale of two girls and their adventures with friendly wood spirits in postwar Japan, and is just absolutely adorable!

Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe move to the country with their father, a college professor, while their mother recovers from an unspecified illness at a local hospital. While Satsuki is off in school, Mei has a bit of an adventure when she follows a pair of bunny-like creatures from the house into the woods, where she finds the massive Totoro – unfairly called a “troll” in the dubbed film, but he’s nothing like the trolls of the Western world.

The film follows the two girls as they go about their lives with these wood spirits nearby, until news comes from the hospital that their mother has taken a turn for the worse. Mei is upset, and Satsuki lashes out at her, which prompts the toddler to, well, toddle off. The community comes together trying to find her, and Satsuki eventually finds her sister with the help of Totoro and his creepy giant cat-bus. Well, I thought it was creepy, with the forced grin and all, but anyway. All is soon put right, and during the end credits we see the family reunited once again, so all ends happily.

My Neighbour Totoro

I loved this film! I first saw a Studio Ghibli film back in 2008 or 2009, but after maybe half a dozen of them, I hadn’t watched one since. My Neighbour Totoro is therefore the first such film I’ve watched in about six years – now there’s a thought! While I was watching it, somewhere within me a jaded, cynical voice was decrying this would be a 90-minute parade of cute that I really don’t go in for, but within minutes I was just along for the ride, enjoying the sense of wonder that the film manages to evoke. My need for a Totoro plushie increased tenfold as the film wore on.

As we follow Mei through the looking glass, something that came over quite strongly to me was that sense of adventure I’d have as a kid, where I was more interested in seeing where a path went, or “what would happen if…”, than I was in staying clean (and, possibly, safe!) It’s something that we don’t really see anymore, which has been described as a sign of the times as kids don’t generally go off and have adventures like this. Shame, really.

This is a truly delightful film, with an adorable quotient that manages to beat back any cynicism without the overriding waves of cute that, in my experience, often marks out Disney. That, and the strong sense of nostalgia for ‘a simpler time’, contribute to make it one of the best films I’ve watched this year. Definitely worth the watch!

Feel the Wrath…

Hey everybody,
It’s time for another game day blog! Today’s will be a little short, but nevertheless awesome, as we delve once more into the dungeon, and face the Wrath of Ashardalon!

Wrath of Ashardalon

The second of the D&D Adventure System games, the rules are basically the same as those for Legend of Drizzt, which featured on my blog during my D&D week earlier in the year. You play an adventure as outlined in the adventure book, laying tiles as you explore the dungeon, and overcoming the fearsome enemies that live there. And my goodness, there are enemies!

Wrath of Ashardalon

This is perhaps my favourite box of the three games, simply because it has some wonderful miniatures for you to battle – least of all, the Beholder! Classic D&D monster. Ashardalon himself is also an impressive miniature there, and there are some truly horrible things like the formless Gibbering Mouthers, or the tentacled Grell. Wonderful stuff!

Wrath of Ashardalon

The dungeon itself feels more like an actual building this time, rather than the caverns of the Underdark, and instead of mushroom clusters to place the monsters, we have scorch marks. Fitting, given there’s a massive dragon down there! There are also doors on some tiles, as shown on the Vault above for instance, which need to be opened to continue the adventure.

Wrath of Ashardalon

Something more unique to this box, however, are the Chamber tiles, which are laid down all at once when instructed by the adventure. So you’ll draw the entrance tile, which has a black arrow as shown above so you’re having an Encounter there as well as facing a fairly closely-placed monster, then you set out the remaining tiles of the chamber to create a fairly wide space. Which is usually then filled with monsters. Yay.

Wrath of Ashardalon

The game is one of my all-time favourites, and was actually the first Adventure System game I bought. There’s not a lot to say beyond what has already been said for Legend of Drizzt, if I’m honest, but this is a truly great experience, and for me as a non-D&D RPG player (sigh), it feels generic enough that you can break it out whenever you like, rather than the more focused Drizzt or Ravenloft (still haven’t got Elemental Evil yet!)

At any rate, it’s highly recommended!

More Drizzt! More games! Just, more!

Hey everybody!
The last week or so has been filled with lots of awesome, predominantly from getting back to the amazing Legend of Drizzt series!

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Moving on to #Drizzt book 8! #D&D #novels

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I finally got back to this series, after a nearly two-year hiatus, back in March, when I read the end of book 6, and moved onto book 7, The Legacy. That was a really great read, you can see more on that here, but I didn’t move on to the next one until now. I don’t actually remember if there was a reason, but anyway. Spoilers incoming! Starless Night picks up the story of Drizzt and his friends in the wake of Wulfgar’s death, and begins as Drizzt decides to return to Menzoberranzan, to avoid any further drow incursions into Mithral Hall. Little does he know that Matron Baenre plots the destruction of the dwarven kingdom no matter what, of course, as we saw briefly in the last book. Catti-brie discovers Drizzt has gone and, determined not to see another of her friends needlessly die, heads off in pursuit. The two eventually meet up in the Underdark, and manage to escape the Baenre compound with the help of none other than Artemis Entreri, though their hearts are heavy with the knowledge that the drow are amassing for war against the dwarves.

While I enjoyed The Legacy, after all that time spent on the surface, I loved Starless Night. It is perhaps a little formulaic at parts, but as always with these Drizzt books, the execution is just amazing. Salvatore continues to develop the Underdark beyond what we have already seen from the Dark Elf trilogy, this time particularly as we get to see more inside House Baenre, the first house of Menzoberranzan. The Matron Mother is just as cruel and twisted as you’d expect, as are some of her children. Most interesting among them are Dantrag, the weapons master who wields a sentient sword. It was a shame that he didn’t make it through the book, but I suppose there’s little else you could do with a character like that. Triel Baenre, the mistress mother of Arach-Tinilith, is another intriguing character, and her scenes with the flamboyant mercenary Jarlaxle were always fun to read. Jarlaxle has a prominent role to play here as well, which serves to deepen his character.

The whole story was pretty great, with a terrific sense of foreboding, or “things are about to happen tonight”. Weirdly, I kept feeling a comparison with the finale to the third Harry Potter book, with that sense of wheels being in motion and whatnot. It was a great read, and I’ve since propelled myself into the ninth book, Siege of Darkness, which has been excellent so far – look out for that one to grace this blog very soon!

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The Beetroot Beefburgers, man they were good…

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Saturday was, of course, Independence Day, so to celebrate(?), I made burgers and watched American Dad. Not just any burgers, however! I came across a recipe somewhere for beetroot beefburgers and, being a lover of beetroot, had to give it a try! On reflection, I probably used too much, so they were a tad dry, but overall they were really good, and I will definitely be trying these again! Grating beetroot into the minced beef left my kitchen looking something like a crime scene, but even so! Very simple to make, just grate the beets into the beef (I used three with 200g of mince, one might be a better idea), mix in an egg, and away we go!

Marvellous!

Despite having multiple projects on the go already, this weekend also saw me make up some more Necron Immortals, along with Trazyn the Infinite. I’ve been slowly getting back into painting, as I’ve been trying to finish off the Canoptek Wraiths I started over a month ago. I’ve not gotten very far, unfortunately, but that seems to be the story of my life where big stuff is concerned – bigger than your average foot soldier, that is. I’ve had four Tomb Blades awaiting their finishing touches for ages now, as well. As I seem to be better at getting the smaller guys finished, I thought I’d make up some more, get them done, and then (hopefully!) get back into the swing of things that way. Miniatures painting is something that I really enjoy, after all, but has felt more akin to a drudgery of late.

Immortals

Trazyn the Infinite is perhaps the most hilarious of the special character models, with his backstory of wanting to preserve everything in the universe in his own collection. If I remember rightly, he has some weird ability that allows you to replace him with any other member of the unit he’s attached to when in combat, due to some kind of phase-shifting technology. He seems interesting, but more than that, I enjoy the special models for the fact that I can paint them with different colour schemes and such. That said, I’m considering doing something different with the Immortals this time, as well – the new golden paints coming out soon look very interesting, after all, so I think I might try something more special with these guys…

Immortals

This week has been pretty good for games, of course. Along with the announcements of new cycles for both Android Netrunner and Star Wars, we’ve had a new data pack for Netrunner as well as the inaugural pack in the Angmar Awakened cycle for Lord of the Rings! There’s an interesting day/night mechanic in this one, and I cannot wait to try it out, but feel like I need to first play through the Lost Realm box. I’ve got all the quests sleeved now, anyway, so I’m ready to go on that front. No doubt there’ll be some posts here where I bemoan my performance…

I actually got a few games of Netrunner in at the local store again last week, with my tried and trusted Shaper deck, and lost both. But they were fantastic losses, so I can’t complain! Very thematic, so definitely lots of fun. I feel like I want to try out new decks now, however, as I spent one night reorganising my entire Netrunner collection. I usually keep LCGs in their expansion boxes, as it’s convenient and I like the packaging, but now FFG has moved to this horrible plastic nonsense, I’ve decided to change that, and have instead gone for keeping the entire cardpool in both core set boxes (I’m one of these who bought two core sets). So far it works, but I foresee a time very soon where I’m going to run out of space there, as well! Hm. At any rate, going through that reorganisation, and seeing the entire card pool for each faction all at once, has really opened up my eyes to the deckbuilding possibilities in the game, so I’m keen to explore with that, rather than continually playing my one Shaper deck.

We’ll see just how splendidly that works out, anyway…

A New Age

Yes folks, the New Age is upon us!

Age of Sigmar

Back in September last year, the Old World of Warhammer was shaken up with the End Times, which brought back Nagash and saw the destruction of the cities and peoples of the Empire by the forces of Chaos, headed by Archaon the Everchosen. The End Times extravaganza finished in March, with Chaos triumphant, and – officially, at least – Warhammer Fantasy Battles seemed finished. What could happen next?

The internets was rife with rumours of 9th edition long before the cataclysmic events of End Times: Archaon, of course, but as things began to solidify, this Age of Sigmar thing turned into a completely new game. Rage-quitters abound, but now, it seems like everyone was just a little bit wrong.

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#AgeOfSigmar #Warhammer

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I was lucky enough to grab this yesterday, and have been perusing it over breakfast this morning. I have to say, things look pretty exciting for Warhammer right now! Seems like a whole new world is being created, and it looks infinitely expandable. Don’t just rush out to pick up this week’s White Dwarf for the free miniature stuck to the cover – read it, and you’ll see what I mean. Very exciting things look to be on the horizon, I must say.

Reading the lore, I was struck by two things. First was the futility of Chaos. It’s something similar to what seems to be the Tyranid problem – when a destructive force has destroyed everything else, what will it do next? It always feels like something that hasn’t really been thought out properly. Also, Sigmar seems like a bit of a jerk. Having brought peace to the new realms he discovered, as soon as Chaos finds them he basically bolts the door and leaves everyone to it.

Luckily, he manages to maintain his heroic-legendary status when he brings forth his Stormcast Eternals, the wonderfully golden guys resplendent on the cover of this week’s White Dwarf. The battle that follows is interestingly referred to as the first chapter, so I’m wondering what happens next…

There are also three new paints coming next week, including a brighter base gold called Retributor Armour. Always nice to have more options!

New Cycle Stuff!

Have you guys seen the awesome pair of news articles FFG put up on Wednesday?

For Star Wars LCG, we have the excitement of the new Endor cycle! I haven’t played this game even a sixteenth as much as I should, but I still get excited for the new releases. New cards called Missions have made it into the game, which kinda fill the slot that a lot of people expected Objectives to actually fill when the game came out. A Mission card looks like an Objective, but is shuffled into your main deck; during the game, you can pay its cost to put it under your opponent’s control, and when you have destroyed it, you can trigger a pretty powerful effect, as well as counting it as a destroyed Objective for your victory condition etc.

The new Han Solo card seems to reflect what seems to be another aspect of the cycle, mixing up the whole engaging-objectives thing. A new Fate card also goes with this. Seems interesting, and something I always like seeing in LCG cycles, how new expansions bring new ways to play the game. I’m pretty excited to see where all this could go, I must say.

The other thing going for it, of course, is the way the cycle is set to explore Return of the Jedi, which was my favourite Star Wars movie growing up, and remains popular with me for a lot of reasons regardless.

Android Netrunner fan? Cycle five is going to start at the end of the year, the Mumbad Cycle!

The previous SanSan cycle took us to California, but we’re now off to the Indian Union to see what’s going on in southern Asia during the cyberpunk future. Turns out, quite a lot! Something that I’m really intrigued by is the Consumer-Grade Hardware available for the Runner, which messes with the deckbuilding by allowing for up to six copies of these cards in your deck, rather than the usual three-card limit. Pretty interesting. The Corp gets new Alliance cards, that force certain deckbuilding decisions in order to negate any influence cost they carry. Not being a Corp player, I’m not entirely sure how much of a draw this will be, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens with this, in any case!

What with the Angmar Awakened cycle just starting with The Wastes of Eriador, all in all this is a very exciting time to be a fan of Living Card Games!

Playtesting

Last year saw some fairly interesting experiences for me – not least among them, I started this blog of course! – but I thought I’d regale you all with some thoughts on my experiences as a playtester.

I don’t know how much of this is common practice, and how much is peculiar to my own experience, but anyhow. I was initially approached via boardgamegeek as to whether I’d be interested in beta-testing a specific upcoming expansion for a game, which really excited me so, following the NDA documentation going through, I was sent some material in the post that had a large “BETA” watermark across it all. The fairly loose instructions given to me were to basically play it as much as possible, and let the designers know how my sessions went, if there were anything untoward in the game experience such as broken combinations or the like. It all went pretty well, and no sooner had that finished, than I was asked to do some more. I don’t know if I had proven to be particularly useful as a beta-tester, but I leapt at the chance!

So a similar scenario occurred, whereby another package in the post was followed by another round of gaming, followed by more write-ups and such. It’s worth mentioning that the beta-test material was of a really good standard: all the artwork was in place, and so forth. So part of my feedback was focused there, also. At any rate, I was then asked if I would like to take part in a third beta-test, but also if I’d like to take part in formal playtesting of a still-in-development expansion. The latter sounded fantastic, so I bit the guy’s hand off and signed myself up!

I was invited to a private google group, where I had access to a series of pdf files. These were the development-stage cards that had no artwork or fancy formatting – they were basically words typed into a space large enough to fit on a standard playing card when printed off and cut out. We were instructed to do so, and put them in card sleeves to make things easier to play. And then we were asked to play as much as possible, and come back to the group as often as possible with feedback.

I’m still technically under NDA, so can’t tell you what it was I was involved with, but I will say it involved nine individual games, released as a small box and then a cycle of six packs. Long-time readers of this blog will likely have an idea of what I’m talking about, I imagine! I’m saying this because it’s fairly relevant to some thoughts I’ll get to shortly. Anyway. That’s nine individual games that needed to be played as regularly as possible, but as they were in something of a state of flux, I’d also have to check into the group every day to check that I was still using the most up-to-date version of the cards, or else I might find a problem that had already been corrected by a new version. Some of these things entered a version 4 or 5, I seem to remember.

So for about three months, I played. What had once been my favourite card game was becoming more of a chore than a pleasure, reduced to nuts-and-bolts gaming rather than any sort of creative, adventure storytelling. It got old really quickly, and when the playtest was done, I didn’t touch the game for months.

I suppose this is the danger inherent in turning something you love into a job. Obviously, playtesting this game wasn’t full-time work for me, but it began to feel like I had to play this game, whether I wanted to or not, much in the same way that I feel I have to go to work, whether I want to or not. A sense of obligation arose, and it became a task to complete rather than a wondrous feeling of escapism. I love playing tabletop games, but while many people seem to think of it as a dream come true, I would never opt to actually work in that field for this precise reason.

Something else happened that I didn’t quite expect; I lost all enthusiasm for the expansion cycle when it came time for its official announcement. Don’t get me wrong, it was a little thrilling to see some of the amazing artwork on the cards I’d last seen as text-only black-and-white pieces of paper stuck inside card sleeves. But I found that I wasn’t really interested as I had been for previous expansions. I know what all of the cards will be in this expansion, so it holds no surprises for me, whereas previously I’d enjoyed the speculation as to what would be coming up next, what twists and turns the designers will have put into it. Part of me evenĀ feels a little annoyed that I did it now, as I know what to expect for the next year of releases.

I do actually still love this game, and I’m returning to the state where I once more think of it as my favourite card game. It’s been a good ten months or so since the playtesting period ended, and I’ve tried hard to forget what happens during this cycle, but I don’t feel the same level of excitement as I have previously. It remains a great game, but having seen up the magician’s sleeve, as it were, I don’t think I would ever opt to be a playtester again.

Have you ever playtested a game? What did you think of the experience?