Kickstarter Burnout?

Last week, I read this really insightful article on the place of Kickstarter games in today’s gaming culture, and was inspired to take a look at my own experiences and opinions on the pre-order system for today’s game day blog.

Now, I’m not exactly a kickstarter expert, although I have backed a modest number of such things over the years. A quick look at my boardgamegeek collection shows a total of 5:
Fallen
Ghostbusters
Journey: Wrath of Demons
Lagoon
Shadows of Brimstone

Along with 4 previously owned:
Blood Rage
Draco Magi
Nova Cry
Red Dragon Inn 4
(Additionally, I’ve bought games like Thunderbirds and Xenoshyft: Onslaught after the kickstarter backing period, though both of these games have since been sold on).

I’ve talked about quite a few of these games on my blog over the years, as it happens, and I’m still intending to feature Shadows of Brimstone at some point in the not-too-distant future (maybe when I eventually get everything that I paid for…) Looking at this list, however, after reading the article from The Opinionated Gamers, has made me think about my history with Kickstarter in general, from the heady days of 2013 when I was chomping at the bit for games like Fallen and Shadows of Brimstone. In particular, it’s made me consider how I feel about the system these days.

My brief history
So I actually used Kickstarter originally to support Christopher West, who made a lot of the maps for the Star Wars Miniatures game. I think I bought four of his map packs in total, and they were really nice, solid products that I was happy to include within my game collection. At the time, I wasn’t playing a massive amount of board games, having recently split up from my ex (who had initially introduced me to tabletop games like Carcassonne). I bought the maps, used them a couple of times, then slowly moved away from SWM anyway.

Then, somehow, I discovered Slugfest Games were making a fourth Red Dragon Inn game via Kickstarter, and so returned to the site to check it out. I think I managed to get in at the very end of the campaign, but still got all of the nice exclusive drinks and stuff. Score one for me!

It was RDI4 that seemed to set me off the rails, though, as I would browse KS for other tabletop games similar to those old stalwarts of my collection such as Runebound, and it was with no small measure of excitement that I discovered Fallen. There are a lot of issues with the company here, which I won’t get into now, but Fallen itself is actually a really good game. It has beautiful art, and plays fairly straightforwardly, though is really quite the immersive experience. Definitely a good card game.

Fallen

Over the months, I backed a series of other, progressively bigger games, including the behemoth that is Shadows of Brimstone. I’ve talked about this game extensively on my blog already, though still haven’t managed to do an actual game day blog on it. At any rate, you may already know that I dropped thousands of dollars on the game (I’m actually in it!) and yet, once the core games were delivered, I was distinctly underwhelmed. With the arrival of games like Blood Rage and Journey, I began to re-evaluate my relationship with Kickstarter and, while both these games have incredibly impressive miniatures, I found that there was a distinct lack of something to these games.

The Problem (I think)
The Opinionated Gamers talk about “the chrome” of these games, and the allure of the shiny, and I think this is a very valid point in this situation. A lot of successful games on Kickstarter have a lot of shiny parts. Be it the glossy fantasy art that graces the cards of Fallen, or the intricately sculpted miniatures in Journey, these games have gone all-in on their style. But how is the substance? Is it even there? Shadows of Brimstone uses a fairly simple game engine that Flying Frog Productions have used in pretty much all of their previous games, yet it has elements added on to make it slightly cumbersome. This is a bit of an exception, because by and large you know what you’re getting from FFP. Other games do feel a little bit hit and miss, and I think this could well be due to the home grown nature of Kickstarter games.

Journey Wrath of Demons

Take Journey: Wrath of Demons, for example. This is a co-op game where players have the option during combat of cleansing the soul of their demon opponent. It sounds like a really neat concept, and from what I remember of the couple of games I’ve played, it was quite interesting, but otherwise the game is the standard dungeon-crawl-style of game with an Oriental setting. Xenoshyft: Onslaught is a deck-building game where you buy cards and they go directly into your hand; otherwise, the game plays pretty much like Thunderstone. These games feel a bit like the designers came up with a cool idea during a game of something else, and decided to implement it on their own. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does often feel like, once you’re past that shiny new mechanic, there isn’t really a great deal of substance underneath the game – certainly not enough to compete with those games from established publishers.

The Opinionated Gamers article also mentions playtesting as being more rigorous with established companies, though many Kickstarter games have the promise of “years of development and testing” and the like, and not just those from companies like FFP or CMoN. Being an optimist, I’m inclined to believe them, and I don’t think I’ve yet played a game that doesn’t feel playtested.

Of course, new companies using Kickstarter are – in my experience – more concerned with showing off their beautiful components for their games, and I think this is the major problem with a lot of these games, that they’re all about style over substance. Journey does look beautiful, down to its anatomically-correct bull miniatures, but the gameplay hasn’t been good enough to draw me into playing it any more since September 2015. I haven’t touched Shadows of Brimstone in two years, save to move the box into my closet. Once I’ve seen all of the shiny new stuff, I’m actually quite apathetic towards these games – largely because there isn’t much actual game there.

Ghostbusters board game Cryptozoic

Cryptozoic’s Ghostbusters game was actually pretty decent, with some flavourful mechanics that did actually engage me enough to play a campaign with it, and while I’ve hardly been playing it every weekend, that’s probably more to a shift in my gaming life recently towards fewer large-scale games. Of all of the Kickstarter games that I have, Ghostbusters is probably the only one I find myself wanting to play more of. Though I freely admit that’s probably as much down to my nostalgia for the franchise.

Nowadays
These days, I avoid Kickstarter like the plague. I usually blame my burnout on Shadows of Brimstone, the game that I spent over $2300 on, as the parts that I have so far received, three and a half years after the campaign ended, were distinctly sub-standard. Tony, my regular gaming buddy and the chap who often encouraged my Kickstarter excesses, has completely embraced it and, together with his partner Lee, has backed dozens of projects in recent years. All of these games tend to be miniatures-heavy, though all of them tend to be consigned to the bottom of his pile of games, in favour of stuff like Last Night on Earth and Lords of Waterdeep.

This seems to be the problem with KS games for me. They look amazing, but looks aren’t everything, and I doubt anybody would want to play a dull-as-hell game just because it looks so pretty. There needs to be more than just awesome models to keep you wanting to play it, and even if you feel you need to keep playing it to get your money’s worth (like me and Shadows of Brimstone, for a while!) it’s eventually going to wear on you.

At the top of this post, I mentioned that I previously owned 4 games that I had backed via Kickstarter, and have bought more at retail that I’ve since sold on as well. In addition to this, I’m actually considering off-loading Journey, though I’ll admit that I want to try it again before I do. I think this attitude towards these games does say a lot for my current view, at any rate. There just isn’t enough substance to a lot of these things to make me want to keep them, despite the amount of money I spent in backing them.

I did back the second Ghostbusters game Cryptozoic put out last year, and am cautiously awaiting its delivery, but right now, I think I’m done with Kickstarter. I think I’m just not that interested in pledging my support for a game that is essentially something I already have, just with a couple of minor tweaks and a re-skin. I think I have enough games already, and I’m not really keen on adding more, even if they do come with a myriad of associated micro-expansion “KS Exclusive!” miniatures…

Star Wars at 40!

Star Wars at 40

Unbelievable, really!

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember, and despite the fact that the original trilogy is actually older than I am, it’s still my favourite collection of films. The original, A New Hope, is without a doubt the top of my list, not least because it started it all, but because of the breadth of the hero’s journey that we’re treated to.

There isn’t really a lot that I can say that hasn’t already been said, either on my own blog or elsewhere across the internet, so I thought I’d mark the occasion with a brief nod to some of my past blogs about the franchise, before putting my feet up and watching for the billionth time the movie that started it all…

Star Wars (random musings for May the Fourth)

The Star Wars Special Editions

Ewoks!

The Force Awakens (first impressions review)

Heir to the Empire

Crimson Empire

May the Force be with you!!

Breya 2.0

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and I’m sticking with Magic for the moment, as I’m riding the wave of where my interest lies for the time being. Today, I wanted to talk about my attempts to change up the Breya Commander deck that I picked up a short while ago!

Breya, Etherium Shaper

Breya is an artifact creature who makes thopter tokens on her entry into the battlefield, but her abilities are a bit of a blend of the colours she represents, which does leave her feeling like a bit of a hodge-podge of stuff. That said, having an artifact creature commander does lend itself to artifact tribal, so I’ve tried to go more in that side of things. Because she makes thopters on entry into the battlefield, I thought it might be nice to flicker her in and out, though of course in Commander now you can always have your general available in the Command Zone if need be, so it’s not a huge thing to have to flicker her. I’ve got a number of other creatures who also do things when they enter the battlefield, though, so that the flicker cards shouldn’t be wasted. Something that I do enjoy is the amount of cool Kaladesh cards that are relevant to this deck, namely the Master Trinketeer that gives thopters +1/+1, which should help, and also Padeem, who will give all my artifacts Hexproof. They’ll still die to boardwipes of course, so I probably need to look into making them Indestructible as well, but that’ll be for another day…

Something that has kinda happened to this deck as I evolved it was the addition of quite a number of expensive cards – expensive for me, that is! I’m definitely a budget-focused guy, and if I’m paying more than £5 for one card, it really needs to be a specific card that I’ve wanted. However, I started on the slippery slope by getting a copy of Ashnod’s Altar, which I mentioned back in the original blog post when I picked this deck up, and have kinda gone on from there, really! I’ve never played with Sensei’s Divining Top, but a lot of folks (particularly the Command Zone podcast, which is what got me started on this whole thing!) talk about it being a crucial card, so I eventually bit that bullet and picked up a copy for around £12. I’ve also been adding in a few cards that I’ve luckily had hanging about from various booster pulls and the like, including Ghostly Prison, Serum Visions, Phyrexian Arena… Something that I’d noted about the deck was how exciting it was to have these “classic” cards like Skullclamp, so it’s again keeping in with the theme of the deck there.

However, I’ve decided to make these additions to the deck based on a couple of strong limitations: all the cards must be printed in the “new”, post-M15 Modern card frame; and if anything produces or references colourless mana, it must show the actual colourless mana symbol. Aesthetics are very important to me, and for a format like Commander, which emphasizes self-expression, I think it’s important to let these sorts of things come through. Of course, it’s a limitation in some respects, but there are still a hell of a lot of cards available for the deck to use – for the card frame stipulation, in addition to four blocks (nine individual sets) and two core sets, there have been three Masters sets, three Commander sets, five Duel Decks, and the Duel Decks and Planechase Anthologies. Amonkhet is also now a thing, and I’m evaluating a couple of things (those Monuments, for sure!) to add in, as well. Of course, the colourless mana symbol is more of a sticking-point, as there are a couple of things I’d like to include but have stopped myself doing so, but overall I feel spoilt for choice here anyway, so I’m sure it’s all good!!

As a side note, I’ve also swapped out all of the lands, for land art that I actually prefer. Again, it’s all about the aesthetics. I’ve currently got all of the Ravnica bounce lands in the deck, which originally caused me problems as I didn’t have enough good lands to bounce; I’ve since put in the recent common dual lands to try and get more variety there. However, between these and the tri-lands, the deck can potentially be very slow, as there are lands coming into play tapped, some of which are then bounced back to my hand. I’ve been thinking about swapping out the dual lands for the Khans duals, as I’d at least gain life when they enter the battlefield, but so far haven’t gone in for all that.

There are still plenty of cards that I’m thinking of including, and I’m sure I’ll be adjusting the deck for a long time time come yet, but for now, here’s how my beautiful cyborg commander is looking – enjoy!

Breya, Etherium Shaper

Creatures
Silas Renn, Seeker Adept
Hanna, Ship’s Navigator
Sydri, Galvanic Genius
Padeem, Consul of Innovation
Sharuum the Hegemon
Baleful Strix
Cataclysmic Gearhulk
Chief Engineer
Chief of the Foundry
Combustible Gearhulk
Contraband Kingpin
Enigma Sphinx
Etherium Sculptor
Filigree Angel
Foundry Inspector
Magus of the Wheel
Master of Etherium
Master Trinketeer
Noxious Gearhulk
Psychosis Crawler
Reclusive Artificer
Restoration Gearsmith
Sanctum Gargoyle
Shimmer Myr
Solemn Simulacrum
Soul of New Phyrexia
Sphinx Summoner
Thopter Engineer
Vedalken Engineer
War Priest of Thune
Workshop Assistant

Planeswalker
Kaya, Ghost Assassin
Tezzeret the Seeker

Artifacts
Armillary Sphere
Ashnod’s Altar
Blade of Selves
Commander’s Sphere
Conqueror’s Flail
Cranial Plating
Hero’s Blade
Inventor’s Goggles
Lightning Greaves
Orbs of Warding
Sensei’s Divining Top
Skullclamp
Sol Ring
Swiftfoot Boots
Whispersilk Cloak
Worn Powerstone

Instants & Sorceries
Artificer’s Epiphany
Ghostly Flicker
Trash for Treasure
Whipflare
Serum Visions

Enchantments
Ensoul Artifact
Phyrexian Arena
Ghostly Prison
Pia’s Revolution
Thopter Spy Network
Propaganda
Efficient Construction

Land
3x Plains
3x Mountains
3x Swamps
3x Islands
Arcane Sanctum
Ash Barrens
Azorius Chancery
Boros Garrison
Buried Ruin
Cinder Barrens
Command Tower
Crumbing Necropolis
Dimir Aqueduct
Evolving Wilds
Grand Coliseum
Highland Lake
Holdout Settlement
Inventors’ Fair
Izzet Boilerworks
Meandering River
Mishra’s Factory
Mystic Monastery
Nomad Outpost
Orzhov Basilica
Rakdos Carnarium
Shimmering Grotto
Stone Quarry
Submerged Boneyard
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse

So that’s how it stands right now! Will Hour of Devastation see any changes? How about the upcoming Archenemy decks? I guess we’ll have to see!!

Star Wars new canon musings

Hey everybody!
It’s been a bit of a Star Wars week here at spalanz.com, and today I thought I’d talk about some various musings that I’ve been having about the franchise, with the new books and comics as well as thoughts on the new and up-coming movies… It’s going to be a ramble, but let’s begin!

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
I’m really intrigued about what’s going to happen in this film. Something that I like the idea of is how VII mirrored IV so much, VIII might actually begin by imitating V before vectoring off really onto its own thing. There is a lot of footage in the trailer that shows the Resistance seemingly under attack, and I like the idea that this is an escape sequence much like the Battle of Hoth, where we may see a lot of similar story beats to the earlier movie.

We’ll also have a lot of Rey being trained by Luke and, if VII can be relied upon, Kylo Ren being trained by Snoke, which will somewhat follow the theme of Luke being trained by Yoda. But what else could we see? Some stories have been circulating that speculate the film starts with Leia meeting Snoke in a sort of meeting-of-minds, and she has to be rescued by the Resistance. I suppose the scenes that I thought of as an escape could equally be a rescue.

Leia is said to have an expanded role in VIII, which is excellent because she wasn’t in VII nearly as much as she should have been. But I guess we needed to see the next generation established. The idea that she meets with Snoke could be interesting as, like the rest of the world, I’m deeply intrigued as to who he is and how he fits into the world. I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll reiterate here: I don’t believe Snoke is somebody who we’ve met before, insofar as I don’t think he’s a clone of Palpatine/Anakin/Jar Jar, or whatever. I do think he’s a completely new creation, though he does seem to be known to Leia and Han, given their exchange before Han leaves for Starkiller Base in VII. I’m intrigued as to how he fits into the First Order hierarchy, as I would have expected to have seen him somewhere in Bloodline if he’s a major player. (Well, maybe I did!) Whoever he is, though, it needs to be fully explained in the movies, as the vast majority of moviegoers aren’t following the comics and novels and cartoons and everything else, and Disney knows this. The movies need to be able to stand on their own, and so I’m confident that we’ll be getting a full reveal in either VIII or IX.

Again sticking with the parallels with V, I think the climax will have an “I am your father” style explanation – though obviously, he won’t turn out to be Rey’s father or anything like that…

The mystery of Rey is, I think, perhaps the best thing to be coming out of the sequel trilogy so far. While I know plenty of people are rabidly chomping at the bit for anything, I think it’s being done really well in that I’m intrigued, but I find her interesting enough on her own terms that I don’t need to know who her parents were. Does that make sense? She’s great enough on her own terms, and I love that about her.

The new EU
This brings me on to something in general about the EU right now, though, which is a continuation of something I mentioned the other day. So far, we’ve only had two movies from Disney, but they’ve been movies that tell pretty decent stories, and which have succeeded in drawing me in to the universe they have created. Bear with me here…

The Force Awakens lands us slap-bang in the middle of the galaxy some 30-or-so years after Return of the Jedi, and while the interpersonal story of the main characters plays out pretty much okay, we’re left with so many questions about the state of the universe that we’re now in. Rogue One returned us to a more familiar time period, but has shown that there are so many questions that we thought we knew the answers to, but it turns out we barely scratched the surface there. While it can be irritating to a lore nerd such as myself to suddenly not know where we are in the universe, I’ve noticed that I’m actually starting to pore over all of the stuff that I can get my hands on once again, such as the Visual Dictionaries, and branching out into the YA books that I would usually avoid.

Basically, Disney has made me enthusiastic about Star Wars once again.

There is, however, a “but” coming…
Despite the fact that I’m now really intrigued by the new setting, including that for Rogue One, which has shown us a new way of looking at the time period of the original movie trilogy, I’m finding it difficult to stay enthusiastic about the new EU when I begin to devour the offerings we have that flesh out this landscape.

I’ve been particularly hard on the Aftermath trilogy (you can see exactly how harsh by checking out my blog reviews here, here and here!) However, I’ve been thinking again recently, and I’m fully prepared to completely re-evaluate those opinions in the light of anything we learn at the end of Episode IX. I think it’s very likely that there will be a number of things mentioned in passing during those books that will prove to be important later – not just the interludes, but a lot of the general story will likely make more sense when we’ve seen the whole trajectory of the sequel trilogy.

The rest of the novels that I’ve so far read from the new canon have been very much a mixed bag, with Heir to the Jedi being a particular favourite, but only Bloodline standing out for me as the absolute best and most important of them all so far. I don’t think I’ve read anything from the new canon that has managed to capture the feel of this new, Force-Awakened universe more than this book, and cannot recommend it enough to even the casual fans of the franchise. The others tend to fall into something of a “meh” category of general tie-in fiction that is really neither good nor bad, but overall you’re not missing anything by not reading it. This is in stark contrast to some of the Legends books, which often form important leads-in to films or provide important explanations of plot-points. Maybe the Disney films are too reliant on themselves to tell their story, leading to the novels not having a great deal to cover?

The comics from Marvel have, so far, been the single most consistent let-down in all of this, however. While a lot of my criticisms of the new canon can perhaps be explained away with “well, it’s still early days yet – Dark Horse and Del Rey had years to build up their lore!” (which is, incidentally, true), I feel that Marvel in particular has so far been playing so fast and loose with Star Wars in general, that it’s really wearing me down as a consumer. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve read probably half of the total content they’ve put out, and cannot think of a single issue or series that I can put my finger on and say, “that was great”. The Vader ongoing series was probably the closest we get to that, though I have only read half of it up to this point. The general ongoing series had a fantastic issue #1, and went downhill so quickly it was unbelievable. We’re now being treated to Han and Leia racing around a Star Destroyer as serious wartime adventure, and I just can’t believe they got rid of stuff like The Wrong Side of the War and replaced it with this!

First world problems, for sure, but I think we deserve better stories than this dumbed-down junk. The time period of the original trilogy was a period of civil war, according to the opening crawl of the movie that started it all – how about seeing some actual war stories, rather than this inane rubbish about three people hijacking a Star Destroyer, or the ongoing boredom of Han Solo’s not-wife.

For me, part of the problem with the ongoing series from Marvel is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a plan for the story these books are telling us. The time period between IV and V was always set at three years, in-universe, and was replete with “just another story” about Luke and the gang going up against the Empire, having a series of narrow scrapes, but always winning in the end. Sure, that’s the adventure serial type of story that inspired the movie in the first place. But when you just have endless one-shot storylines that have that “and they all lived to fight another day” ending, it’s kinda pointless. One of the main selling-points for removing the expanded universe as it was, was that they could start to tell more cohesive stories in the EU, but I’ve not yet seen any real evidence of that from Marvel. Yeah, the monthly books have had some nice interlocking connections, but nothing important has happened, and it’s all just much of the same junk that Marvel pumped out in the 80s.

I have been expecting a coherent narrative across the comics that ties in with the films, and any other novels that take place at the same time period. So far, the only consistencies seem to be that Dr Aphra has shown up as Darth Vader’s groupie, and Han Solo’s annoying not-wife seems to have grafted herself on as Leia’s informal attache. We don’t really have a stable of characters that Marvel has created, including villains for the rebels to go up against, so it all feels like so much diaphanous rubbish.

Are you familiar with the Republic ongoing series from Dark Horse, which ran for over 100 issues and spanned the period from Phantom Menace well beyond Revenge of the Sith? The series had a somewhat bumpy beginning as it followed Ki-Adi-Mundi on a variety of throwaway adventures that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, before it introduced the Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos and his erstwhile padawan Aayla Secura. While their adventures were interrupted with other issues, the series really picked up steam when John Ostrander and Jan Duursema were telling the story of these two, and a whole cast of recurring faces began to pepper the pages, to the point where now, if you read the whole lot, you get a wonderfully cohesive narrative arc that actually serves as a counterpoint to the prequel movies themselves.

My point is, Star Wars comics can be better than this! First of all, we don’t need big-name movie characters in Star Wars books in order to make them interesting, not least because those stories tend not to have any real sense of danger to them. We know Leia is always going to survive any and all stories set between A New Hope and The Last Jedi, because she is in those films. Showing Leia at death’s door in the Annual #2 had absolutely no sense of drama to it, because we know she’s fighting fit again in Empire. So why not focus on a larger cast than just the movie three, and put them in danger, instead?

It would take no imagination to come up with stories involving other rebel agents – agents in the mould of Cassian Andor, for instance – who might well serve alongside Luke on a dangerous mission to uncover a supply train that the rebels desperately need – medical supplies, whatever – and then put that rebel agent in the spotlight for the next arc where we follow a commando team on an undercover mission into an Imperial arms depot. Maybe that agent survives, to become a more regular fixture in the ongoing series, or maybe he dies heroically, and his protege makes it back to Yavin with the news, whereupon she can become a more regular character. I came up with that in the about-fifteen seconds it took to type. There are more people in this universe, and more stories to be told, than the adventure of Han and Leia’s race around a Star Destroyer to see who can be called captain of the bloody thing!

I’m beating on the comics quite badly now, and I’m very aware that there are still plenty of these books that I’ve not yet read. I think it would be hilarious if the next arc I pick up is the best thing I’ve read from the new canon since Bloodline

This blog is already getting pretty hefty here, and the tone has been somewhat whiny in parts, so I think it’s time to draw it to a close. In conclusion, then, I think the movies are doing a tremendous job of setting up a new world order, of sorts, and I’m incredibly intrigued by how they’re managing to change the Star Wars universe for the better. The novels have been hit and miss, though everyone should head out and read Bloodline if they haven’t already done so. And while I’ve yet to read a new comic that I like, I remain optimistic that there may be an arc out there that I can finally say, that’s fantastic!

Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below, I’d love to get other peoples’ opinions on this! We’ve been in the new EU for almost three years now, and I’m interested to see what you fine folks make of the state of things!

Star Wars comics catch-up!

Hey everybody!
Continuing the theme from earlier this week and the classic Assault on Hoth, I thought I’d take some time to talk about the quick catch-up I had with the Star Wars ongoing series from Marvel. Despite collecting up issue after issue, I’d not actually read any of the new series for over a year, so it’s time I try and make the long slog to catch up with what’s going on…

Star Wars Rebel Jail

First up, then, we have Rebel Jail, which comprises issues 16-19 of the ongoing series, and is framed by two more stories “from the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi”. Rebel Jail takes up where Vader Down left off, as Leia and Sana (yeah, Han Solo’s not-wife) deposit Doctor Aphra on a secure Alliance jail that is positioned ridiculously close to a sun for security. Only it’s not so secure, as the facility is infiltrated by a mysterious figure who turns out to be the guy sent to infiltrate Coruscant in the first Star Wars Annual, Eneb Ray. Turns out he was trying to make Leia into the leader he believed the Alliance needed, by forcing her to kill the Imperial prisoners held there.

The story was a bit of a let-down, particularly seeing as how it was drawn out over four parts. I did like how the Annual was brought into this universe, as I was beginning to wonder if these things would ever amount to anything, so that was good. (My only previous experience with such things has really been the DC annuals, which tend to be side stories at best). I’m disappointed that Sana Starros is still around, however. The character is constantly made out to be a mercenary and only hanging around because Leia is paying her for her services – but we already have that storyline in Han Solo at this point in the timeline. I would have preferred to see a few more real rebels fleshed out into the background, and maybe even get some folks like Toryn Farr in on the pre-Hoth action, you know? While they could be downright silly at times, Bantam often made an excellent effort to integrate these characters across all points in the timeline, building up a proper stable of characters that all felt part of the mythos. I get that Sana is a scoundrel, and we’re probably expected to respond better to her than a rebel operative, but it just feels a bit redundant somehow.

The two Obi-Wan stories, while nothing particularly special in and of themselves, are still notable for the really cool artwork that show an aging Obi-Wan that is part-way between Ewan MacGregor and Sir Alec Guinness. Issue #15 introduces the Wookiee Bounty Hunter, Black Krrsantan, who has already made an appearance in the Vader ongoing series that took place correspondingly later in the timeline. There was a reference to his being on Tatooine in that story arc that is now resolved here, anyway, and I really had a bit of a thrill from getting that connection! Something that Marvel can never be accused of is bad continuity in major series like these, and their multitude of crossover events show that they are dab hands at placing little tidbits like these across their products, which do help to make the whole thing feel like a cohesive universe. Issue #20 really pulls the two previous Journal entry stories together, as Black Krrsantan faces off against Obi-Wan in the Dune Sea. We also get a fairly surprising insight into the relationship between Obi-Wan and Owen Lars, which I kinda want to see more of. I mean, I get that Owen is hostile to Obi-Wan to protect Luke from him, but I’d like to see how their relationship managed to get to that point, you know? Presumably Owen didn’t go overnight from that final scene of Revenge of the Sith, where he takes delivery of the newborn Luke from Obi-Wan, straight to pounding his fists around and shouting til he’s purple for the crazy old wizard to stay away from his family, you know? Anyway!

Star Wars Last Flight of the Harbinger

The Last Flight of the Harbinger is next on the list, starting with a bit of a prologue as we follow Sergeant Kreel (the Games Master from the Showdown on the Smugglers’ Moon arc) leading an elite group of stormtroopers against the rebels. I don’t actually know if this is meant to replace the notorious 501st regiment “Vader’s Fist”, but it’s certainly built up as an elite group of soldiers who are hard-as-nails, so who knows.

The rebels are attempting to break through the Imperial blockade of the planet Tureen VII, and the only thing big enough to break through with is an Imperial Star Destroyer. Leia, Luke and Han manage to steal the ISD Harbinger, forcing its crew to abandon ship, then pilot the war machine through space and straight at the cordon of the planet. When Imperial High Command hears of this, Vader sends Kreel and his men to recover the ship, which is inexplicably flying at sublight speed across the galaxy. The stormtroopers infiltrate the ship, but cannot re-take the Harbinger before the rebels fly it directly at the Imperial ships above Tureen VII.

While Rebel Jail was a bit drawn-out, this storyline was pretty much one of the worst kinds of goofy story I’ve yet encountered in the new canon. Allow me to ramble for a moment…

First of all, the entire five-issue arc seems to have hinged upon the idea of “Hey, you know what would be cool? If Luke and the gang hijack a Star Destroyer!” So we have a blockade of a planet that is apparently impregnable – the actual cordon, like so many comic-book planetary cordons, is in a ring around the equator, and does not exist in three-dimensional space. You know those blockade runners that are so prevalent in the universe? Why not just use one of them? They have “blockade runner” in their name, they might be built for this very task. Nope, we’ve got half a dozen people stealing a Star Destroyer, and also successfully managing to fly it with that many people, too…

Secondly, Han and Leia have a foot race around the ship to see who will be the captain. It actually features as the cover art for one of the issues, too. I can’t even begin to explain just how inane this event is, so I’ll just leave it there.

The story is also just another one of these throwaway things, which is beginning to irritate me about almost the entire new expanded universe so far. I won’t get into full-blown rant here, because this blog is running kinda long already, but suffice it to say, the only book that seems to be anything more than “just another adventure for Luke and the gang” is the excellent Bloodline. There are just so many books and comics coming out that really seem to have no impact on the greater Star Wars storyline, it’s honestly beginning to depress me as a Star Wars fan, and probably the single biggest reason why I’ve not picked up any of the new comics in over a year.

It’s a similar story with the Star Wars Annual #2, which sees Princess Leia injured during the line of duty on Skorii-Lei, and helped by a new character called Pash Devane. Pash is kinda interesting, as she’s not your usual female comic book character, but rather a heavily-muscled type who was forced out of her career as an engineer when the Empire came, and now survives by doing menial labouring. Pash at first expresses apathy towards the Rebellion as well as the Empire, but we get a typical Leia story that sees the Princess change someone’s mind. It’s the usual kind of throwaway story that I mentioned earlier about these Annuals, but worth mentioning just for the different depiction of females in the universe.

The next arc in the ongoing series is, I believe, a longer Obi-Wan Journal, so I’ll leave that for another time. I’ll be back soon with some more musings on Star Wars comics, catching up with the Vader storyline!

Assault on Hoth!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today we’re going retro, as I showcase one of the classic Star Wars games of the 1980s! Lord Vader may start his landing, because we’re launching an Assault on Hoth!

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

This game hails from 1988, and was one of a quartet of actual boardgames put out by West End Games while they held the Star Wars licence. Much like Escape from the Death Star, I have vivid memories of trying to play this with my brother but, being four years old at the time, the finer nuances of tabletop wargaming were somewhat beyond me…

Reading through the rulebook now, Assault on Hoth is very clearly a tabletop wargame in the mould of such things as Runewars or Battlelore from Fantasy Flight Games, where each player commands an army (in this case, of cardboard stand-ups) and attempts to secure an objective as they each fight over a hex-based map. There are Imperial units, and there are Rebel units, and the Imperials are trying to storm the Rebels and destroy the shield generator, while the Rebels are just trying to escape from the planet.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

The game is played quite simply, in one respect, as activation is taken care of through a deck of Action cards. Over the course of the game, these cards are continually flipped over, and reshuffled, allowing the players to move and/or fire with their units. There are also two Action cards that allow players to draw an Event card; these cards hold the keys to Rebel victory, as there are a number of ‘Transport Away!’ events that, if you accumulate five of them, will win you the game. The other Events are reinforcements for both sides, allowing the war in the tundra to continue.

The Rebel player can also win by wiping out all Imperial units on the board, which I suppose is a useful backup plan, given that you’d otherwise have to just cycle through the Action deck continually, hoping to draw five ‘Transport Away!’ cards.

So, how does combat work? Well, I’m glad you asked.

WEG is of course famous for the Star Wars RPG they published during the 1980s and 90s, which was a d6 system. Most of their other games also leant heavily on the d6, and Assault on Hoth is no different. If an Action card allows you to attack with one of your units, the card will stipulate a Fire Strength, which denotes the amount of Fire Dice you roll. These are specialist d6 dice that feature a Vader helmet on two sides, a lightsaber on another two sides, and blank faces on the remaining two sides. Vader helmets only matter for the Imperial player, and lightsabers only matter for the Rebel player. There is a chart on the board that shows both the Fire Strength of each unit in the game, as well as an armour value for that unit. If the number of successes you rolled on the Fire Dice equals or exceeds the armour of your target, then that unit is destroyed, and removed from the board.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

Something that is interesting here, however, is that range can modify your shots. The board is divided up into hexes and ‘macrohexes’, groups of seven hexes that can affect your ability to fire at targets. Basically, you select your target, then count the number of macrohexes between the two units, and reduce the fire strength by that number. For instance, a Heavy Trooper shooting at a Light Trooper two macrohexes away would have his fire strength of 4 reduced by 2, meaning he would only roll 2 fire dice. This is still possible, as a Light Trooper only has an armour value of 1, but there are times when you cannot roll the number of successes to equal your target’s armour.

Terrain also makes a feature, marked out by dark blue patches of rough rocky trenches and the like. If you fire at a unit that is on rough terrain, the fire strength is also reduced by 1.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

So we’ve got all the classic hallmarks of a tabletop wargame, from terrain and cover to armour modifiers and even specialty dice. There are also cinematic moments, where the Rebels can fire harpoons at Walkers and the like, and the dramatic reveal of the Luke Skywalker Hero card, where the Rebel player can reveal that Luke was riding in one of the five starting snowpeeders, and thereafter use the Force to aid in his attacks.

However, for all that, the game is very straightforward. The rules actually state that ‘Assault on Hoth is not a complicated game’, which is no doubt meant to be in its favour, though I can imagine that some people might be turned off from that. While there can be an incredible depth to playing the game at first, it can also quickly evolve into a much more mundane, waiting game to see whether you pull that fifth ‘Transports Away!’ event card, of if you manage to park your units in the right place on the map to just pick off any Imperials who happen to wander too close to the Shield Generator.

The main thing this game has going for it, almost thirty years after its initial release, is that it is a wonderfully thematic recreation of the first half hour or so of Empire Strikes Back, and can be tremendous fun for the right pair of Star Wars enthusiasts to sit down and battle for an hour or so!

The game is incredibly expensive on ebay right now, and of the four WEG games, I think has always commanded the higher price on the secondary market. While I always thought Star Warriors was the more popular game, clearly Assault on Hoth has got something going for it after all this time!

It’s worth noting that there was an “expansion” for the game that WEG released through their RPG supplements over the years, that used the Assault on Hoth board game to depict the conflict between the role-playing Rebels and the dread Charon in Otherspace II: Invasion. A new deck of Action and Event cards was provided to depict the conflict, essentially providing a new way to play the game.

Star Wars Assault on Hoth

Much like Escape from the Death Star, this game is a classic of Star Wars gaming history, and one that is always of interest for me, despite never figuring out how to play it all those decades ago!

Rogue One, again

Hey everybody!
At the weekend, I finally sat down to give Rogue One a second viewing, having bought the DVD weeks ago but not really being in the mood for it up to now. Well, I have to say, I enjoyed it just as much this time around as I did back in December!

Rogue One

The film actually feels like an expanded universe story, which I thought was a bit weird at first. When Lucas was at the helm of the franchise, he was always very careful with setting and location – I recall an article somewhere back when Attack of the Clones was shooting where this deliberate choice of worlds was discussed, though it’s really quite obvious across all six of his films. In Rogue One, however, we jump around from planet to planet with not so much a careless abandon, but certainly more an eye towards opening up the universe. While Geonosis and Tatooine are both desert worlds, they feel distinctly different because they’re meant to; Jedha (and Jakku, come to think of it) could basically be Tatooine by another name. This is something that the expanded universe did a lot, providing “just another x planet” and the like. I’m not laying this down as a criticism, of course, but more an observation. I love a lot of the old EU after all!

While Scarif was a very interesting location to me, and I wouldn’t be averse to seeing more of it – both before and after the battle there – I think Jedha is by far the more interesting of all the locations we’ve seen so far. I’ve talked about how I feel Disney may be on the verge of declaring the Prequels non-canon before, but I do get a sense that, to show more of Jedha, we’d need to tread on some fairly rocky ground. The location of a Jedi temple there seems to run counter to what we know of the Order from the Prequels – indeed, the fact that there is a buried-treasure-trail of such temples as per The Force Awakens also reinforces this point. But I find it incredibly interesting that such a thing could be, and really want to know more of what was actually involved there. Was it more of a Jedi outpost? Was the Church of the Force a Thing during the Prequel era? Jedi seemed to be nothing more than an elite police force back then, so what would prompt people to worship them, and what was the attitude of Mace Windu et al to this veneration? Or does the Church of the Force not so much worship the Jedi themselves as the idea of the Force, in which case what did they think of the Jedi as people? I so desperately want to know more about this stuff, so I really hope we get these answers!

There is what I think a young adult novel coming out in the next couple of weeks, Guardians of the Whills, which features Chirrut and Baze between their time as Guardians and the arrival of Jyn and Cassian, so hopefully we’ll get some more information from that!

Speaking of Cassian Andor, I mentioned this back in December, but I’m even more curious as to this guy’s back story now. He’s apparently the head of Alliance Intelligence, though having watched the film again, I got the impression he was more a sort of go-to guy to get the Alliance’s dirty work done. This seems to be the feeling from his orders from General Draven, and I quite like the idea that he is more of a mercenary sort. I believe he’s in the other upcoming YA novel, Rebel Rising, which I also have on preorder, so it’ll be interesting to learn more about this guy.

Rogue One

Despite the fact we’re no doubt likely to be inundated with the stuff, I think of all the characters I’m not particularly interested in, Jyn Erso is top of that list. This isn’t meant as a slight on the character, but rather just because I think we learn all that we need to about her from the film, and her story is pretty self-contained there. Of course, I’m braced for plenty of tie-ins to her time with Saw Gerrera, but hopefully they won’t neglect the other stories that could be told around these chaps…

Anyway!

This is already turning into a rambling blog (my specialty), so I’ll wrap it up here. Suffice it to say, I thought the film was just as good the second time around, and even though parts of it were a bit too on-the-nose, I found myself just wrapped up in the magic of it all and enjoying the ride! Interestingly, the CGI Tarkin didn’t seem to be as good this time around, while the CGI Leia looked a lot better on the smaller screen.

I actually started to watch A New Hope immediately after, but actually didn’t see the point after the droids launched in the escape pod. I thought it was interesting because so many people talked about watching them back-to-back in this manner when it was released, as if one would greatly enhance the other, but I actually found that Rogue One, while leading immediately into A New Hope, is self-contained enough that it doesn’t actually demand such a marathon. While this is probably due to the fact that I know A New Hope like the back of my hand, and can thus fill in the entire film from memory, I thought it worth pointing out that, in my view, nothing is gained from watching them both like that.

Anyway! Great film, definitely worth its place in the series.