More games with Marvel Champions

I’ve been playing quite a lot of Marvel Champions since finally picking up the core set, and I’ve really been enjoying it! I’ve had maybe half a dozen games now, using all of the core heroes with all of the core Aspects in one form or another, predominantly against Rhino as the villain, although I have also tried my hand with Klaw for some variety. I’ve also been taking a look at the player cards provided in the box, and have done some small-scale deck modification, as far as can be done with the contents of one core set, and it’s been a lot of fun to try new things out.

Marvel Champions

Victory has not come easy, or often, which I think is an intriguing aspect of the game. It can sometimes be frustrating as I try to do stuff but it just doesn’t work out for me. However, the game isn’t particularly long, and whereas with something like Lord of the Rings, where there is probably as much set-up time, but it becomes a real grind to finish, which can sometimes be frustrating if you become location-locked or something, with Marvel Champions it seems that you realise that it’s almost over – and then it is. There’s no real hanging about, waiting for the inevitable end.

One game that I played, using Black Panther in a Leadership deck, was over in about 3 rounds, as I just had no way to deal with the 3-4 threat being added to the scheme, whereas the next one went on for a long time as I was able to get some momentum and heal up despite a lot of damage coming my way. That was really good, as it allowed me to explore quite a lot of the game, including the first time I got to see my Nemesis shuffled into the deck! Not that this is cause for celebration, of course!

Deckbuilding
Now, I’m not an expert with the game, so I don’t intend this to be some kind of guide for the uninitiated (as I’m pretty much only an acolyte, myself!) but let’s talk about how the deckbuilding works here. In Marvel Champions, you play a hero who comes with 15 of their “signature” cards, a bit like in Arkham Horror LCG but obviously on a bigger scale. There are four Aspects to the game, like Arkham classes or Lord of the Rings spheres, and you can only choose from one of the four to build your deck. Later expansions seem to have heroes who break away from this more, but on the whole, you’ll only be able to play with Justice, Leadership, Protection or Aggression cards. There are also Basic cards which can go into any deck. The 15 cards must always be included, then you can only include three copies of a card unless it is Unique, in which case you can only include one. Other cards will also have restrictions, such as “max 2 per deck”.

I find it really fascinating, because no hero is tied in to any specific Aspect. Of course, there will be Aspects to which heroes will lean, as shown by their 15 cards, but you could theoretically build a Hulk Leadership deck, for example. The core set suggests Aspects for each of the five heroes included, but I’ve switched it up a bit by using Black Panther for Leadership rather than his suggested Protection (he is a king, after all). Moving between Aspects could be as straightforward as taking out the Black Panther cards and swapping them for the Spider-Man cards, for example, and suddenly I have Spider-Man built for leading, and Black Panther could go off with a Justice deck.

Now, this is very basic of course, and naturally there will be cards in the 15 hero cards that would lead you on to a specific Aspect, either to bolster what is already there, or to shore up any weaknesses. I played a game with Captain Marvel and the suggested pre-built Aggression deck, and between having her own aggressive cards and those from the Aspect, I actually scored my first victory for the game! However, due to her having a lot of good cards that deal damage, it could lead her to Justice for the ability to remove threat while punching the villain, or (as I currently have her built) Protection, to heal up.

It is very interesting when you start to think about how the game would work with more than one hero, though. The different Aspects clearly work together to form a cohesive whole, and I think it’s a good thing that you can’t really build multi-class decks to dilute these effects – the best you can do is go to the opposite of your hero’s 15 cards, and try to multi-class it that way. However, victory isn’t always going to be easy, as I’ve seen with Spider-Man in a Justice deck. He can theoretically deal a lot of damage, and has the thwart shenanigans of Justice, yet each time I just lose whenever I play him!

Moving On
Going all-in with a game is always pretty exciting, but it does mean that you might be left with content that you just never get round to using. I think I may have mentioned this a while ago, when talking about big deliveries of Kickstarter games being an Event – it’s exciting, for sure, but daunting as well. I know from my experience with Arkham Horror, too. I collected everything when it came out, but didn’t really “properly” start playing until the winter of 2020, so was confronted with about 4 cycles of stuff! I don’t really want to be in the same position this time around, and indeed, it’s something that I’ve been kinda exploring with the Star Wars LCG as I’ve been trying to play that in order, to limit myself a bit.

Marvel Champions has expanded with roughly a big box expansion, four hero packs, and one scenario pack per wave, although the first and the next waves will contain six hero packs. We currently have 22 hero packs out there, spread across four full cycles of this formula. That’s a lot of stuff to play with, of course, but in looking through it, I’m getting more and more itchy palms, wanting more cards!

Now, I really like the fact that you can pick up a hero pack, and there will be a pre-built deck in there, along with one or two other cards that you can use for other aspects, or to tweak the one you have. It means that you don’t need to buy everything released in each wave, but instead you can just pick up a pack if you like, say, Thor, and you can shuffle up and play. Even if you don’t like Thor, you could still pick up that pack for a slew of new Aggression cards that you can use with your hero of choice. There will always be some cases, where you might want a Justice card that means you’re buying a pack like Thor to get it, for instance, but I don’t think that’s something that happens very often. On the whole, I think packaging the game like this is great, because it allows for much more casual gamers to pick it up and play, without spending a whole night evaluating cards to build a deck. Given Marvel’s mass-appeal, this is something the game clearly needed to have, and I think it’s something they tried to do with the Star Wars game by making deck building a decision about “which ten objectives do you want?”, but taken to the next level.

The campaign boxes come with five new scenarios, with new villains to fight, and two hero decks to use that have a thematic link. So for example, I really like the X-Men when it comes to Marvel, and could feasibly hold off buying any of the other things and get myself the new box when it comes out (sometime soon, I believe). I don’t need to worry too much about the other boxes or packs, because they might not be heroes I’m interested in.

That said, I have found myself looking at the first wave products, and I have bitten the bullet and asked my local games shop to get me the Captain America hero pack, and the Green Goblin scenario pack. I do like Captain America, and I am currently planning to get the Rise of Red Skull box at some point soon. I think that should give me a good spread of cards, along with the Ms Marvel hero deck, which I’m mainly planning to pick up for the Protection cards she has. I genuinely am a fan of X-Men, by the way, so I am seriously considering getting the new expansion, but I want to take this slow, and only buy stuff that I then play with. So I don’t want to pick up a whole bunch of new stuff only to find myself in the position where I’m not getting to enjoy the game.

It is interesting to me, though, how I seem to have quickly grasped the game, and so developed something of a need for greater card variety. I’m by no means bored, but I find myself wishing I could do other things when playing, and I think this is strongly shown with the Ms Marvel Protection cards. From looking at what the pack contains, there seems to be a fair number of cards that I like the sound of, and would work quite well in the sort of deck I’m thinking about.

As I said last time, I am definitely a happy sausage with this game, and I’m really surprised how long it has taken me to give in and get myself a copy!

Marvel Champions: it begins…

Last week, I started down the road of a brand new game, finally picking up a box of Marvel Champions. It’s almost three years old now, and has up until very recently just passed me by! After musing on it for a couple of days though, I decided that it was going to be worthwhile to pick up a copy – especially as my wife and I have recently been catching up with Phase Four of all the Marvel stuff on Disney+.

I’d decided that I was going to treat this as much as I could as a blind-buy, making no prior effort to learn how it plays or read up on any of the rules, instead going old-school and actually reading the rule book to learn how it plays. Novel, huh?

So, I excitedly picked up the core set (and £30 worth of sleeves), and set about learning the ropes.

Marvel Champions

The game plays a little bit like Lord of the Rings LCG, in that you’re playing against an encounter deck. I mean, you’re technically playing against a villain, who can attack your chosen hero, but the bulk of gameplay interactions seem to come from the encounter deck rather than anything else. The villain is trying to both complete his scheme and eliminate the heroes, while the heroes are trying to defeat the villain and stall his scheme. The core set comes with five heroes and three villains. This is, of course, a living card game, so there are a whole host of cards in the box to bulk this out.

Let’s start with the heroes. There are four spheres (I think they call them Aspects) from which you can choose to play, and each one has a significant bunch of cards here to support that. Each hero comes with fifteen signature cards, which to some extent will dictate the archetype that hero is leaning into, although heroes don’t seem to be tied in to any one Aspect. I have no real idea about how the deck building for Marvel Champions works just yet, because I’m trying to get to grips with how the game plays! But I believe you need to pick all of your cards from one of the four, and can’t mix. I’ll get to this in a future blog, when I have become more familiar with the game…

The villain is represented by a couple of cards, it seems, and similar to Marvel Legendary, you need to fight your way through a couple of iterations of the villain before you win. The villain has a scheme that he is trying to achieve, which seems to be somewhat similar to the quest deck in LotR (though if the scheme deck is completed, the heroes lose here). There is then the encounter deck, which is made up of sub-decks, again very similar to LotR. Here, though, it is less prescriptive, and I think you can choose what sub-decks to include alongside the villain’s main deck. I like this idea a lot, as I’ve read that further expansions have brought more and more of these sub-decks, which can change up how any villain plays.

Marvel Champions

The game round is actually really quite straightforward. You play cards and take actions, then the villain schemes and you draw encounter cards. During the hero phase, you play cards, discarding other cards to pay their cost. I must admit, I struggled with this early on because I didn’t want to discard those cards!! I also made a fairly silly mistake by discarding two of Spider-Man’s web-kick attack cards to play a third copy – the card deals 8 damage to the villain, so it’s pretty good!! Ah well. You can also take actions like attacking, or trying to thwart the villain’s scheme, by removing tokens from it. Hero cards are double-sided, with their alter-ego on the back. The side you end on will determine what the villain does when he activates.

In the villain phase, the villain will start off by adding a token to his scheme, providing a bit of a clock situation. Then, depending on whether you’re in your hero or alter-ego form, he will either attack or scheme. Attacking will deal damage, surprisingly, while scheming adds more tokens to the scheme. After that, you draw an encounter card and deal with that – either a minion, an attachment, a treachery or a side-scheme. Very LotR-like.

Side schemes don’t contribute their own threat level to the main scheme, in the way that Arkham Horror LCG counts the doom out on the table as a whole. That was a bit of a learning point for me during my first game, as I was a little worried that I was about to lose between the two schemes in play. However, side schemes here serve to basically annoy you, collecting threat each round but also contributing problems to you, such as drawing extra encounter cards or adding more threat to the main scheme. They’ll be in play until the heroes are able to thwart those as well, reducing them to 0 threat.

Marvel Champions

My first game was quite a surprise for me, as I was learning the ropes and whatnot. I think the first round had a bit of “is that it?!” to it, as I followed the rulebook to work out what I can do etc. I think it’s one of these games where you need to play it a lot with zero expectations of winning, as you try to get a grip on how your deck works and so on. Trying to evaluate cards for their utility – should I discard x to pay for y? – without really knowing what the game is about is always going to be fraught with analysis paralysis. But that’s okay, because you need to learn just what is going on, what is in your deck, and what you can do as a player. That’s going to take time, but hopefully I’ll be able to play it more and see just what it’s all about.

The other thing, of course, is that I was playing true solo, using Spider-Man against Rhino. There are going to be deficiencies when using just one deck, as you can’t cover every aspect of the game by yourself. I just don’t want to confuse the issue by trying to control two heroes just yet, and I want to get at least a basic understanding of the game before introducing it to Jemma.

The game did seem to be fairly quick to play as well – even my first game, where I was constantly back-and-to between my cards and the rulebook, only took about an hour. It seems like it is designed to be fairly light, fairly no-nonsense, yet still with enough tactical depth that you can really enjoy it as a game. It doesn’t play itself, of course, and you have a lot that you can do, but it doesn’t seem to be the kind of game that will take you a whole day to play. Not even a whole evening, really. Which I guess speaks to the fact it seems to be wanting to attract Marvel fans as well as card game fans.

Marvel Champions

In terms of learning the game by myself, though, it’s been a very interesting experience to go back to learning something by reading through the rulebook, and playing along step-by-step. I think I was strongly reminded of my first game with Rune Age, all those years ago, where I had followed the set-up instructions and it was time for my turn to begin, and I just sat there, not knowing what I’m supposed to do! Game rulebooks have improved since then, of course, and while there can be a lot of bumph to get through, designers are becoming clearer with how the course of a round is explained. I particularly like the fact that FFG have adopted as standard the two-book format of learn to play guides followed by rules references, so that the first book gives you everything you need to actually get going, but then the latter is there to explain some aspects, interactions, or complex cases as they come up.

I was surprised that I’ve been able to learn how to play this purely from reading the rulebook, which I realise is a fairly stupid thing to say because that’s the point of the rulebook, but still! So often these days, we seem to rely on watching videos on YouTube and someone else telling us how to play, someone else telling us how to build a deck and what the best ways of playing a game are. I have really enjoyed going old school on this, and learning to play from the rulebook, and learning how a deck works by actually playing it. It’s been a nice kind of bubble-game, almost, one that I’ve been able to get on with in my own time, and it’s been wonderful as a result!

Overall, I think I’m a very happy sausage with this game.

The Falcon & the Winter Soldier

Hey everybody,
As we attempt to catch up with all of the stuff in Phase Four of the MCU, I thought I’d ramble on here for a bit with some thoughts on it all as we make our way through! For those of you who, like me, have no idea what’s going on, let me present you with a brief introduction to the next Phase, as I have been trying to research it!

Phase Four kicks off The Multiverse Saga, entering a new story following the Infinity Saga that we had been watching between 2008 – 2019. There are naturally a lot of references to the events of Endgame, as we see the fallout from the Snap and whatnot, as the movies and TV series continue the timeline into the post-Avengers era. The exception here though is Black Widow, which takes place shortly after Civil War. Things kick off with WandaVision, set in the weeks following Endgame, and we progress through The Falcon & Winter Soldier, Loki, and other TV series for a total of eight shows, and seven movies. There’s a lot to watch there, for sure!

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a six-part show that was initially released from March 2021, and is set six months after the events of Endgame. Despite being given the mantle of Captain America, Sam Wilson struggles with the idea and eventually decides to give the iconic shield for a government museum centred on the First Avenger. Sam continues his super-heroing as Falcon, and learns of a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers who seem to be trying to recreate life during the Blip. Wilson teams up with Bucky Barnes to try to foil the group, heading to their headquarters in Munich, and are followed by the new Captain America, Johnny Walker, who is keen to work with Sam and Bucky, but they refuse. During the fight in Munich, however, it becomes clear that the Flag Smashers are actually a group of super-soldiers, so Bucky approaches Baron Zemo for intel, breaking him out of prison and travelling to the crime haven of Madripoor to pick up the trail. (Madripoor is a location fairly important within X-Men lore, and marks the first instance where we begin to see the fact Disney now has control over the Mutants following their acquisition of Fox).

There, they discover that the mysterious Power Broker has hired a Dr Nagel to recreate the super soldier serum, but the three are compromised and are able to flee to safety with the help of Sharon Carter, who is a fugitive from the US following the events of Civil War. They find Nagel and learn he has created 20 vials of the serum, which was stolen by the leader of the Flag Smashers, Karli Morgenthau. They head to Latvia to track her down, but the terrorists are actually in Lithuania, attacking the Global Repatriation Council. While in Latvia, however, Bucky is accosted by Ayo, who demands Zemo account for his murder of King T’Chaka. Zemo is able to discover Morgenthau’s location, and the three are joined by Walker who is keen to bring her to justice himself. However, Sam talks to her alone, asking her to end the violence, but a fight ensues due to Walker’s impatience. Zemo destroys most of the serum Morgenthau had, but Walker apprehends him and secretly takes the final vial. Ayo and the Dora Milaje arrive for Zemo, and another fight ensues, during which Walker is humiliated and Zemo escapes. A further fight with the Flag Smashers leads to Morgenthau killing Walker’s partner. It becomes clear that Walker has taken the serum, though, when he pursues one of the super soldiers and kills him with the iconic Captain America shield in front of a horrified crowd, who are all filming him.

Walker is stripped of the mantle of Captain America, though does not take it well. However, he is approached by Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, who recruits him for an unspecified purpose. Bucky tracks down Zemo to Sokovia, where he hands him over to the Dora Milaje, from whom he asks another favour. Sam has returned home to help fix up the family boat, and Bucky delivers to him a briefcase from the Wakandans containing a new wing suit. He and Bucky train, as Sam begins to come round to the idea that Steve Rogers intended for him to take up the mantle of Captain America after all. Receiving intelligence that the Flag Smashers appear to be targeting a GRC conference in New York, Sam heads there with Bucky and Sharon. The Flag Smashers take the GRC hostage, and Walker shows up in an attempt to atone for his discharge from service by taking Morgenthau in. However, he is unable to step up to the plate and it falls to Sam as the new Captain America to rescue the members of the GRC. In the wrap-up, Walker is branded US Patriot by Valentina, again with no real purpose specified. Sharon, who is revealed to be the mysterious Power Broker, kills Morgenthau and is given a pardon by the US government, and reinstated to her former post in the CIA – however, it transpires she intends to use her position to sell government secrets.

I really enjoyed this series, I think it’s a really nice continuation of the Captain America strands from the main movies, while allowing for some of the more quieter moments to develop, similar to what WandaVision gave us. There are plenty of scenes where you could never imagine seeing that amount of character development in a movie, but here it’s really broadened out. Something I particularly liked was seeing Bucky in Wakanda, where he was finally free of the Hydra mind control.

There is no shortage of action, of course, and with the procession of fight after fight after fight, it definitely feels like a six-hour action movie, taking a very different approach to WandaVision’s episodic feel. While I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach, it can feel slightly exhausting overall! But in terms of the epic scope of this storyline, it really brings together everything that we’ve come to expect from the blockbuster movies of the MCU.

The show has a very powerful message as regards having Falcon, a black superhero, take on the role of Captain America, which was surely enhanced at the time it was first shown, given how the world was still in the wake of the George Floyd murder. I’m in no way qualified to talk about these kinds of issues, being British and white, but there is still something really gratifying to me to see these things addressed. I will never understand why people can treat other people differently based on their skin tone, so in general I’m bemused why it should be an issue – we’re all just people, trying to do the best we can, after all – but the fact that it is an issue leads to things like this making me pleased. But let’s not become too political here.

I think the main reason to enjoy this series is seeing how the fallout of the Blip is handled. The fact that half the population of the planet disappeared for five years, then reappeared after those who were left behind had the time to readjust, is really quite a fascinating idea, and while the political ramifications of global repatriation are somewhat secondary (or even tertiary) to the action, it’s nevertheless good to see this kind of story strand being picked up for a backdrop. While Marvel have said their TV shows are intended to spotlight characters who would otherwise not necessarily get their own feature film, they are also being used to explore the wider themes of the MCU that would perhaps otherwise not be seen as massive draws to the action-adventure crowd. We all know how badly viewers reacted to the politics in The Phantom Menace, after all…

However, several story threads seem to have been left hanging at the end of the finale, and despite some initial rumblings about a possible season two, it seems likely that most of these will be taken up in the fourth Captain America film, New World Order, which is set for a May 2024 release. Too long to wait, for me!

December Retrospective

Hey everybody,
It has soon come round, hasn’t it? December has come and gone, and it’s once more time to take a look back at the month and see how much stuff I was able to get through!

It’s been a pretty good month, all told – I suppose the fact that there is usually a fair bit of time off work does help to get things done! I have been quite productive in several respects, though there will be a full-blown hobby retrospective coming later on today, so stay tuned for that!

After getting all of the Genestealer Cultists painted up that I had planned for my first foray, I kept going and got another squad of 10 Neophytes, a Kelermorph and a Locus done, as well as the two familiars! Considering I had first planned this as a 500-point list to get me started back in September, my current fully-painted Cult stands at a little over 1200 points now, so that is very impressive work, I think! Sure, they aren’t going to win any awards for best-painted army, but at least they’re all done, and I have most definitely broken the back of this job now! It seems weird to be talking about a hobby like a job, but having so many Genestealer Cults models built but not painted was turning into something of a nightmare for me, and I suppose a small part of me was wondering if I might end up selling them all off, as I did with the Tau army back in the day.

I’ve not been painting much of my Grey Knights, but I have been playing a lot of games with them! I think I’ve had four games with the Knights of Titan now this month, and it has been really nice to dig into the army and see how it all ticks. True, the first game did end up as almost a complete waste when I basically deployed wrong and felt like I was getting nowhere for the first round and a half! I’ve played a few smaller-scale games though, and it has helped me to somewhat get a better grip with what’s going on. Having an army that acts in every phase does mean there’s a lot going on, and of course my turns are that much longer because of it. At least the psychic phase has been simplified a little in that units now have a set power that they know, and you don’t have to fully kit out the whole army with different powers, and then trying to sequence everything right.

The last game was actually played last night, and in a shocking twist, I won! I think the bulk of the game, for me, was played in the Psychic Phase, with a combination of Smite and some of the offensive witchfire powers such as Vortex of Doom and Purifying Flame really doing work for me. It has been consistently disappointing for me to see how few shots I manage to get through with storm bolters – each squad is making 20 shots when within rapid fire range, but only actually getting 1 wound, maybe 3 wounds if I’m lucky. In fairness, we both rolled really badly last night, and it is always the luck of the draw how these things go. Having been underwhelmed by the Purgation squad in my last game, I went for three Strike squads, a Purifier squad, and was hoping for great things from my Paladin squad – but in the event, the Paladins being dropped in at the end of turn two did very little, so while Teleport Strike might seem like a good idea, I’m really going off the idea of using it as a strategy for now.

I won on points, anyway, managing to Slay the Warlord and score Engage on All Fronts twice (the second time thanks to a very lucky consolidation move from the Chaplain). I really should try and make more of an effort to paint these miniatures, seeing as how I’m playing more games with them, but I’ve found myself more into painting the xenos for the moment, rather than anything else!

This week, I have built up the Tau Pathfinders from the latest Kill Team box, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the army that I used to have. I’m not planning to go all-out with them again, as I found that I burnt out too quickly when I basically bought the whole army in one go, but I have been tempted to get more than just the Pathfinders… time will tell, I guess! But don’t be surprised if I’m suddenly talking about these guys once again on the blog!

My renewed interest in the Tau has in part been down to the miniatures, but also from reading the Dark Coil short stories of Peter Fehevari. A lot of these stories are set around the Damocles Gulf, and feature the Tau in some form or another. I’ve talked about the first three stories that I’ve read here, and I have another blog due out early next month about a few more, which is very exciting as it features one of my favourite stories that I’ve read to date! Stay tuned for that one!

I’ve recently started to read the latest Thrawn trilogy from Tim Zahn though, his Ascendancy trilogy. I’m about 100 pages into book one, Chaos Rising, and I have to say that I’m enjoying it rather a great deal! I can’t say that I was expecting it to be worse or anything, but there is a large part of me that thinks I’d rather he leave Thrawn alone and write about someone or something else, because the character had so much allure when there was mystery surrounding him! Now, we’ve got almost his entire life chronicled, and I’m not entirely sure we needed it! But the novel has been really good, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story takes me! I had the third book for Christmas, too, which was handy!

I’ve also been watching more Marvel movies with my wife, as we make our way through Phase Three for the umpteenth time. We did watch Black Widow earlier in the month, out of sequence a bit, and that was pretty good – though I suppose it’s all very much of a muchness with these films at this point! I’d not seen any of the standalone Spider-Man films since he joined the MCU, but we watched Homecoming earlier this week, and I was surprised by how much I did enjoy it! Not being a Spider-Man fan in general, I can’t say that it’s convinced me or anything, but it was definitely a lot more fun than I had been expecting.

The most recent Spidey film seems to be doing alright for itself, too, which is surprising to see in these strange times, but hopefully it means that we are on the way back to normality, or something approaching it!

I think that’s pretty much it for this month, though!

It has been a pretty good year, all told. I mean, I have had a pretty good run with my hobby, and I’ve had some good games, not just Warhammer-related, but also the card games. True, I still haven’t gotten very far with the Innsmouth Conspiracy campaign for Arkham Horror, but there’s time! I feel like January can be a long and drawn out month, so hopefully I’ll be able to get more done there to make the month more palatable! I’m hoping to play a bit more of that game, having spent some time recently sleeving up the Edge of the Earth campaign ready to tackle it soon!

So let’s hope for an exciting January! Have a very happy new year, and I’ll see you all on the other side!

Black Widow (2021)

Yesterday, my wife and I watched the new Black Widow movie, which I have to say, we both really enjoyed! It’s a prequel of sorts, taking place shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and the fracture of the Avengers. It struck me as a little bit odd, coming out now rather than at the time, but this is a film that has been in the works, to some degree, for years.

Here be spoilers…

It’s obviously not an origin movie, as we had a lot of that for Natasha in Age of Ultron, but it still manages to give us a similar sort of feel all the same. We get a short flashback at the very start, where we see Natasha and her family, before flashing forward to the “present day”, and Natasha is out on her own once again. After a run-in with Taskmaster, who (it turns out) is after her for some vials she is unwittingly carrying. The vials came from her “sister”, Yelena Belova, and when the two meet up in Budapest it transpires that the vials contain an antidote to the chemical controls used on the Widows by the Red Room. Natasha, who believed the Red Room destroyed when she and Hawkeye assassinated General Dreykov in Budapest, teams up with Yelena to put an end to Dreykov’s control once and for all.

In order to get to Dreykov, they break out Alexei Shostakov from prison – their “father” and 1980s Soviet super soldier. He guides them to Melina Vostokoff, their “mother”, former Widow herself and currently working for Dreykov as a scientist. Melina alerts the Red Room, and all four are taken prisoner, however it soon transpires that Melina is trying to help Natasha bring Dreykov down. The Red Room is revealed to be a floating facility anchored near St Petersburg. Dreykov reveals that both he and his young daughter survived the bomb attack, although he was forced to use technology to keep her alive as the Taskmaster. Dreykov calls all the Widows to help him take down Natasha, but Yelena has recovered more antidote and deploys it just in time. Melina manages to disable one of the engines keeping the Red Room aloft, though fortunately they are all able to escape, Yelena killing Dreykov in the process.

Everybody goes their separate ways, Natasha heading off to help her fellow Avengers. In the post-credits scene, Yelena visits Natasha’s grave and meets her handler, La Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who tells her the next target is Hawkeye, who she says is to blame for Natasha’s death.

I really liked this, as I said at the start. It is pretty much classic Marvel movie, with plenty of action but also a lot of humour. I think the dynamic of dysfunctional family that is used throughout the latter stages of the film really helps with this, though also having the character of Yelena being a bit sassy and stuff was a nice touch. She has a lot of time with Natasha, of course, and I particularly liked the back-and-forth they have over superhero poses. I believe Yelena is being set up to take over the mantle of Black Window in future MCU outings, starting with Hawkeye. I haven’t yet seen any more series’ since WandaVision back at the start of the year, so I definitely need to catch up here. Especially since we have the magnificent Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the role of the Contessa! That was lovely, I have to say.

David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov was almost light relief really, though the film worked really well having so much light relief – even if some of these moments were coming from a dark place. Rachel Weisz as Melina was also a very solid choice, it was interesting to see her in that kind of mother-figure role, after having been in so many action films herself back in the day. In the middle of all the dark humour though, Scarlett Johansson cuts a much more serious figure, as she takes on her personal crusade against Dreykov in an attempt to free the “enslaved” Widows under his control.

There is of course a lot of action as well, with the destruction of the Red Room at the end reminding me a lot of the helicarrier stuff at the end of Captain America 2 – intentional? I don’t know. The earlier film gave us a lot of Natasha, after all. While Black Widow is less the spy movie that Cap 2 manages to be, and more straightforward revenge flick, we do get some elements of espionage to keep us on our toes.

It was really great to finally be able to sit down and watch a Black Widow solo movie, something that I don’t think I’d been expecting after the bumpy road over the last 16 years of its genesis. While perhaps not as tortured as Spider-Man, this is nevertheless a character who was fought over before coming into the MCU for Iron Man 2 back in 2010. She’s popped up in so many of these films since, with some serious parts to play, that I’m just so thrilled that she finally gets her own movie.

I don’t want to get into the whole “female superhero thing”, because people far more eloquent than I have already discussed such things going back to Captain Marvel and before. But suffice it to say, there really was no need for it to have taken this long for a solo film to be made. Black Widow was established as an Avengers headliner back in 2012, after all. I did kinda like the way she was becoming a bit like Nick Fury though, where she had a significant part to play in any film she was in, but like Hawkeye, she wasn’t destined for her own movie. But as time went on, it kinda went beyond the joke. I mean, she was a huge part of Winter Soldier, after all. However, we’ve got her movie at long last, and it’s great. It still feels a bit odd that it’s essentially out of sequence, being released as the first movie in Phase Four while taking place shortly after the film which launched Phase Three. But I guess that’s just me being weird!

May retrospective

Hey everybody,
Well this has soon come round again, hasn’t it? Doesn’t seem like five minutes since the last retrospective blog, does it now?! I’ve not actually been posting all that much on here throughout May, unfortunately, and I doubt that June will be very busy at all, given that we’re eagerly awaiting the birth of baby number two, but I hope that I’ll be able to do something. At any rate – it’s not the time to look forward right now, it’s time to look back!

May has seen the temporary culmination of my Ossiarch Bonereapers army, with three heroes joining the ranks of the rest of the models that I’ve painted up for the army. Arch-Kavalos Zandtos, Vokmortian, and the Mortisan Soulreaper have been a nice way to finish things off, I think!

I’ve got somewhere in the realm of 1400 points painted up now, which is very exciting, though I do think I need to get more basic troops done before I can call this army done. I’m hoping that the new edition of Age of Sigmar will bring us some more models, as I’d really like to get a unit of those archers, if nothing else!

So the start of the month was almost consumed with Age of Sigmar and getting the Bonereapers into shape. I’ve also got some more games of Warhammer Underworlds in, which has been really nice, including with the original Shadespire set.

It’s been really nice getting to play the game, and I’m hoping that I can pick up some of the Direchasm expansions when the world returns to normal and they’re actually available to buy again… fingers crossed!

It’s not all about the Mortal Realms, though, as I’ve also made a return to the grim darkness of the far future. Specifically, with the Sisters!

Sisters of Battle

It’s been far too long, of course, but I’m really glad to have finally made an effort with these ladies. I’ve gone for a custom scheme, though intend to play them as Order of the Sacred Rose – I’ve written at length on my plans for the army, here and here, so please do check those blogs out!

I very nearly had a game of 40k the other week, though my buddy JP had a drunken night and figuring out the rules for a system we’ve barely played was not to be! I’ve got a game of Necromunda lined up with James next weekend, which should be good because I’ve only ever played it solo up to now! So gaming is slowly coming back on the radar, even if it will be curtailed while I look after a newborn again!


Jemma and I have started to watch the MCU again, working our way through Phase One during May. There’s probably a lot more to talk about with these things, although at the same time I feel like there isn’t really a great deal that I can add that has already been said. Two Iron Man films, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers movie. I do find origin films to get a bit same-y after a while, and this is very true of the MCU, where you get to feel like they’re just giving us yet another superhero who comes into his or her power (actually, I guess they’re just male) and fights the bad guys, gets beaten down, comes back stronger and saves the day.

There is a definite élan to the first Iron Man, which updates the action from Communist China to Afghanistan during the War on Terror superbly well. Indeed, that’s one of the great things we see during the series as a whole, the way that they’re updated and made relevant, almost. For sure, they all exist as pure escapism, and they’re all just great adventures that you can sit back and bask in the effects without needing to really think. But I do find it quite fun to watch the development of Iron Man, the one that started it all.

The Avengers is also an amazing film for the fact it managed to pull together so many A-list stars and not feel like it favoured one too heavily. It was nice that we’d been having hints and shadows of SHIELD since the very beginning, but that film very definitely exists in a SHIELD world. It’s almost ten years old, and I still can’t quite believe they managed to pull it off!

Phase One has got some great stuff in there, though. I think it’s possibly because of the fact that they’re starting off, and so all the big names are being established. Things are definitely getting more niche in some of the post-Infinity Saga stuff that we’re hearing about! There’s a lot to enjoy in this first act, I found myself in particular enjoying Captain America more than I remember, and Jemma was appreciative of Thor as a sort of classic fantasy movie merged with the conspiracy-theory stuff based here on Earth. Things definitely began to get unwieldy after this, although I do think Phase Two managed to keep a fairly decent lid on things until it all seemed to go nuts in Phase Three. But that’ll be for another blog!


Now then. I was up in the attic recently, trying to choose my next book, and I came across a stack of unsorted Magic cards, which seem to have been my last purchase from maybe 12-18 months ago? Feels like it might be longer, though I’m not 100% sure. Anyway, it brought back a lot of memories, and I have been doing a bit of tinkering with some things, in the hope that – as I said before – real-life gaming may well be on the cards once again.

They’re mostly from Ikoria, though some M20 in there as well. I need to get to grips with what I’ve missed since I was last interested in all this stuff. Was it War of the Spark, last time I paid attention? Can’t remember… It’s been a long time, anyway, though seeing these things, and flicking through them, and even the smell – it’s all triggering those fond memories, and it’s got me wanting to build decks again! Let’s hope that it won’t all be for nothing, though…

I think it’s a pretty safe bet that you can expect to see some more Magic blogs here, as I attempt to catch up with what I’ve missed!

January Retrospective

Hey everybody,
January has come and gone, and just like that, 2021 is under way. With the world as it is right now, I thought it’d be nice to have a little retrospective blog at the end of each month, highlighting the things that I have been up to, serving to remind myself (if nobody else) that it is still possible to do cool stuff!

To start with, I’ve done quite a bit of painting this month, between the Dark Eldar Incubi (above), and making a fantastic start with the Ossiarch Bonereapers, my new army for 2021! I’m chronicling the army progress separately of course, and will continue to do so as I get deeper into both the lore and the models! I’m currently working to finish off the Mortek Guard, both to get the basic scheme sorted and because troops can sometimes feel like a chore to get through! Contrast paints have been a real boon here, though, so I’m hoping that I can sail through things fairly quickly.

I’ve already been buying reinforcements, which I should probably try to control myself with, but I do find it hard to do so when I’m so excited for a project!

For 40k, I’ve been thinking back to my Dark Eldar days, especially since we have a codex on the horizon, so that will hopefully be good to get hold of! I’m wanting to get more variety in my lists, so I definitely want to get more wych cult models painted up – I’ve been thinking about this for a while of course, but it’s a definite goal for 2021. Fantasy has certainly come back to the fore for me, though, as I talked about last week, although I’m not sure if I could get as many games in with AoS when everything returns to normal. I guess we’ll have to see!

Warcry has come back on my radar, although it had never really left if I’m honest. Still having only played it once, I’m just in love with the aesthetic of the game, and the feel of the whole thing. I’m not all that interested in the plethora of warbands that have come out for it, but I do have my sights set on getting hold of more of the regular Chaos stuff – including, of course, the new Slaanesh stuff that will hopefully be out soon! I’m not going to go crazy with that, but I am looking forward to getting my hands on some of the Slaanesh mortal stuff for use in Warcry.

From games that I’m not playing to games that I have played, now. This month, I’ve managed to get in some games with both Arkham Horror LCG, and the third edition of the board game that I had for Christmas! Blogs on both events are coming, but let me tell you, the new edition of Arkham Horror is quite good. As for the card game, I’ve started The Circle Undone, and I’m really impressed. It leans heavily on witchcraft and the supernatural, something that doesn’t seem to be as associated with Lovecraft as the cosmic horror, but it’s an absolute delight, and while I’m only on the first mythos pack of the cycle, I’m very impressed! Come back this week for more thoughts there, anyway!

Let’s talk about a different type of witch now…

Disney+ has launched their first MCU tv-series this month, WandaVision, featuring of course Scarlet Witch and Vision. I’d almost forgotten about this, but had been getting increasingly intrigued when friends and fellow bloggers started to talk more about it. I do like Scarlet Witch, as well – House of M is still one of my favourite comic lines – so I’m intrigued by it. I’ve only seen the first episode, but it’s definitely got something going on under the surface there to make us think just what on earth is this all about. It’s a delightful Bewitched-style 1950s American sitcom, on the surface, until the dinner party near the end has us asking deeper questions as to what’s going on. I have no real theories yet, as it’s all a bit too early to say for me, but head here to check out a more detailed discussion!

From television to books, finally! In January, I read the first Darth Bane novel, Path of Destruction. The book, now Legends of course, deals with the early years of the Sith Lord, as he moves from a life of hard labour, through his military service on the side of the Sith in their war against the Jedi, to his awakening in the Force and learning to use his power at the academy on Korriban. The novel ends with the climactic battle of Ruusan, which of course is dealt with in the comic miniseries Jedi vs Sith.

I was disappointed with this book. I’m in a Facebook group where people have given high praise to this trilogy, but I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Putting aside the fact that Darth Bane’s birth name is Des, I think the book fell into the same trap as Tim Zahn’s new canon Thrawn trilogy, showing us an evil genius when he’s at school. There were strong echoes of Kevin J Anderson’s Jedi Academy trilogy as well, which felt a bit banal. The whole thing just seemed so silly, somehow. Set against the backdrop of the war, I thought the best parts were definitely those that showed us the fighting there, although even that got a bit ridiculous after a bit.

This was, of course, part of the problem with the comic book (for me) was a lack of any kind of historical perspective, as we don’t know how the war started, or do we get any context for what’s going on. We’re just plunged into this situation, although it is perhaps good in that the book is definitely better than the comic in that it has more breadth to tell its tale, it still feels like we need more.

I also think it’s worth mentioning that the book didn’t seem to take great pains to distance itself, temporally, from the main movie periods. It takes place a thousand years before A New Hope, yet the tech feels, at best, similar to Phantom Menace era. No effort is really made to do anything more, which is quite sad, really. At least the Tales of the Jedi comic books actually felt like they had ancient tech in comparison!

What I did like was the way the book had me guessing throughout. Bane’s relationship with his fellow student Githany led me to wonder if she would become his famous apprentice, Darth Zannah, but suffice it to say – she doesn’t!

Bane is a big part of Star Wars, created by Lucas during production of Phantom Menace, and while I didn’t exactly enjoy the first book in this trilogy, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and carry on with Rule of Two soon, as I’m really intrigued as to where the story is headed next!

For now, however, I’ve moved back to 40k for something completely different:

Gen Con 2019!

Having somehow missed my annual blog roundup last year, I’m back with a look at the hot new stuff coming out of GenCon 2019 – spoiler alert: some of this stuff is really hot!

There they all go! It’s almost a tradition or something these days to see the geek swarm as the doors open on a Thursday! Wonderful stuff.

Marvel Champions LCG

I want to start with what was, for me, the biggest, most awe-inspiring, and most shocking reveal of the event so far: FFG have got the Marvel license. Well, maybe. I’ve not been able to find any further details on precisely what they can do – I mean, crikey, this announcement just came entirely out of nowhere and I’m still not entirely sure what it means for games. Where does it leave Upper Deck and Marvel Legendary? Hm.

A co-op living card game, to go alongside Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror, is definitely an interesting move. The cards look similar to the heroes in Lord of the Rings, with their attributes running down the left hand side, and abilities down the bottom etc. The villain AI side of things appears a little more like Arkham Horror and the act/agenda mechanic, with a deck that can either attack your hero or work to advance their schemes.

I am particularly impressed with the news that the core set of Marvel Champions actually includes full playsets of all the cards, going against the grain of all previous LCGs. It’s a complaint that I’ve seen since the dawn of time, though, so I suppose it’s good to see the company work out that niggle!

However. I just don’t feel like I’m in the market for another LCG right now, and given that it does feel like an amalgamation of two other games that I already own, play and enjoy does make me think that I’ll likely pass this one over. I enjoy Marvel superheroes for sure, though not nearly as much as I used to enjoy them, and the theme is therefore just not strong enough for me to want to get this for the experience of playing a game in a specific universe.

On the subject of Arkham Horror, though, we’ve got another game set in the Lovecraft universe – Arkham Horror: Final Hour! This seems to be designed as a quicker game than the others in Fantasy Flight’s stable of Arkham Files games, and focused much more on combat than any of their previous games.

I’m not sure about this one, if I’m perfectly honest! There is still the element of investigation and discovery, as we attempt to find the clues to stop the ritual while beating back a tide of endless monsters and gribblies, and there seems to be a lot of interesting stuff going on from the image of the board up there, but there’s just something holding me back. Previous games have almost been built around the narrative and storytelling of the lore, and bringing that to the fore, while this just seems to be a little more on the punch-and-run style. I’ve definitely got my eye on it, and I think I’ll aim to get in a demo at my local store (as well as finding some videos on youtube in the fullness of time!) before making a final decision…

What else have we seen from FFG?

I gave up with Armada almost as quickly as I picked it up, but I saw these being delivered at the local store and had to chuckle to myself. £165 for a “miniature”?! Blimey. Apparently the base is bigger than the deployment zone, which I find silly, but I’m sure for narrative play it is a lot of fun.


Fantasy Flight Games used to be my all-time favourite games company, with amazing games that I used to enjoy playing again and again. I suppose my own life has evolved and I don’t really have the time for huge afternoons with intricate games anymore, though I’ve also noticed that there is a marked reliance on licensed games rather than sticking with their own stuff. I suppose that’s where the mega-bucks lie, and names like Marvel and Star Wars will certainly bring in the $$$. While there is a small part of me that is sorry to see things like Terrinoth go by the wayside, it’s still cool to see the company have a presence on the scene, and they are still producing amazing products, which has always been a hallmark.

However, I just don’t seem to feel the love for these things anymore. I suppose that’s probably because Games Workshop has sort of replaced them in my heart as favourite games company – so let’s take a look at what they’ve got to offer us from GenCon 2019!

Having recently announced my intention to get into Blood Bowl, I’m really impressed with the timing of this! Lizardmen are perhaps my all-time favourite Warhammer Fantasy faction, and I had been hoping I could pick some up to start my fantasy football journey with them, but alas it was not meant to be! I’ll definitely be picking these up though, as I just love them all!

Some of these skinks do look a little bit silly, though I love that dude prancing across the centre with the sun headdress on! What’s not to love!

So the Mirrored City has been shattered by the necroquake, or something, and the various bands of adventurers have made it out to find themselves trapped within a mountain range known as the Beastgrave. Well, something like that… I’ve still never played this game, of course, but I’m not sure that I like the Beastmen warband, as cool as some of the Gor models are, and the updated Wardancers are really quite divisive, aren’t they?!

I can’t decide, so I think I might wait this one out for now.

The manager at my local store is really excited for this one, though I’m not really feeling the love, either! My first thought was, oh it’s X-Wing in the 41st millennium, but I’ve no real idea what to expect here. Much like Adeptus Titanicus, I suppose I just don’t have the pedigree behind me to want this sort of game when it is so out of whack with the rest of Games Workshop’s products. Necromunda, Blood Bowl, and all the others are at least infantry-based miniatures games, and I can get behind them in a way that titan legions or airplane squadrons just don’t excite me as much.


So far, then, I’m not doing so well out of this year’s Gen Con, am I?! Stay tuned as I update this blog over the weekend with more news and opinions – who knows, maybe I’ll find a game that I actually like the look of!!

Catching up with the world

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve caught up with the wider goings-on of the world, it seems, having been focused almost exclusively on the world of Warhammer for quite some time here on this blog, so I thought I’d take some time today to have a look at what else has been going on, and share some musings with you all here! You know you love it.

My mate Tony sent me the trailer for Dark Phoenix last week, which was a total shock as I hadn’t been aware that Fox were continuing their X-Men reboot past Apocalypse. I really like those movies, even if the third one fell a little flat, and the trailer here looks to be along similar lines as the existing trilogy, so I’m really looking forward to this one. Hopefully it’ll continue the theme and be a really classy film, overall. I suppose it can’t be any worse than the last time they tried to do the Dark Phoenix storyline, though…

Looking at some of the info online around the film, it seems like the cosmic elements of the original Dark Phoenix comic book are being introduced in this film, which is an interesting slant. Previous X-Men films have always tried to take a very grounded, real-world approach to things, so it’ll be interesting to see if that can be maintained while also including the Shi’ar. I guess we’ll see in February! While it seems the reception of this trailer hasn’t been particularly stellar, though, I am looking forward to seeing the movie.

I don’t get to read a great deal of comic books these days, though have always been more a DC boy when it comes to the original source material. I think I might try and get into that again once I’ve finished reading the current tome I’m enjoying, the fourth CJ Sansom historical novel Revelation. I’ve been reading those books since Christmas, and they’re really quite enjoyable! If a little weighty…

Anyway!

My wife is a huge Harry Potter fan (I do enjoy the franchise as well, though have always preferred the novels to any attempt at visual media), and has been excitedly talking about the upcoming second Fantastic Beasts film. I did enjoy the first one, I thought it was really interesting to explore the magical world in another locale from a British boarding school, and 1920s New York was a lot of fun. The surprise link to the Gellert Grindelwald storyline was nicely done, and I was somewhat excited at the idea of seeing a series of these films – while I wasn’t a fan of the Harry Potter films themselves, I think that was due to the fact I vastly preferred the books. We watched the trailer for the second film the other day, and it does look like it should be another exciting installment, at any rate!

Of course, there is the whole Nagini casting controversy, and I’m not about to get into that, but suffice it to say, I do feel sometimes that these things get blown too much out of proportion. If the actress cast in the role is happy with the ethnic choices made, then I think she’s better qualified than me to make that sort of judgment. So let’s see how the film turns out when it’s released in November…

The Wilds of Rhovanion

Let’s turn to games now – and I want to start with Lord of the Rings LCG. I’ve often mentioned this game on my blog here as my all-time favourite, and while that accolade hasn’t changed, I haven’t played this game for the longest time. Indeed, I haven’t even caught up with the latest deluxe/cycle yet, still having not properly played the game past The Lost Realm. I really, really love this game though, and the latest preview for the fourth adventure pack in the new cycle has gotten me really keen to get back into it.

I have previously played this game with the other half, and she didn’t mind it too much due to the co-op nature of things, so I’m wondering if I might try and re-introduce it at some point soon. Though it would be no big deal if it didn’t go down too well – I absolutely love the original Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, and am fairly chomping at the bit to try my hand at some of those quests once again! I do need to try and catch up with the releases though, and see what I have waiting for me to discover. I feel like the Ered Mithrin cycle may well be the game’s last, in light of how much the e-version of the game is being pushed, so I think it’s something of a priority to get everything before it’s too late!

Arkham Horror LCG

I also tried to introduce the Arkham Horror LCG a short while ago, but that one didn’t go down quite as well. I was also surprised at how much more difficult that game becomes with an additional player in the mix – I do enjoy the universe, for sure, but I think, all things considered, I might leave off with this game when the current cycle ends. I’ve not been good at playing this one, sadly, so while I’ve been buying the new packs as they’ve been released, I actually haven’t played anything beyond the core set. Definitely need to get my act together on that front!!

The Autumn is one of my favourite times of year, not only because the countryside looks great with all the leaf-changes going on, but because I have fond memories of gaming – both with regular tabletop games, and getting into Warhammer 40k. I don’t know if I’ll get to explore anything too intense like that old favourite, Runebound, but I think it’s definitely high-time I looked at something beyond the grim darkness of the 41st millennium.

Heroes of Terrinoth

Speaking of Runebound and the Terrinoth universe, there has been a new preview up for the upcoming Heroes of Terrinoth co-op card game, which continues to excite me! It feels like this game is going to be something of an enjoyable fantasy game, and the fact that it’s co-op should mean it’ll be a lot of fun, so I’m cautiously hopeful it will live up to my expectations. It seems like it should be a nice return to those sorts of hero-driven Terrinoth games like Descent and Runebound, rather than the faction-driven Runewars and Rune Age. Not that those games aren’t a lot of fun, of course, but I do prefer the older style, personally!

When it was originally previewed, I thought it was going to be another LCG, which had initially excited me, but now I’m quite glad we’re not going to be getting that particular model for this one. I think the endless demand for more adventure packs could prove to wear quite thin with this sort of game, as the danger of getting bland, generic quests becomes too real. Lord of the Rings has surprised me in some respect by managing to sustain itself to become the juggernaut of an LCG that it is, though I think that is more due to the fact that it is working within an established lore, rather than anything else. Terrinoth is no Middle Earth, and burnout is a real possibility. I’d also be happy to see one small-box expansion per year for such a smaller-scale card game, depending on how interesting the core set turns out to be. FFG have previously expanded their games unto death, of course, but I do like to think that maybe we could get one game that isn’t expanded for the sake of it. In that respect, their Blood Bowl: Team Manager game was actually really well-implemented…

I’m not sure how much mileage this game will have, and part of me does worry it could tank like FFG’s Warhammer Quest game, but I do find myself hoping that in actual fact we get something that is enjoyable and fun, and it’s another of these games I find myself hoping that I can bring to the table with the other half. I’ve previously bemoaned the fact that boardgames have felt a little like they’re trying to appeal too much to the mass-market, following the board game renaissance and whatnot, but in this instance, I think it might actually be a good thing. I suppose we’ll see when it comes out!

The next expansion to Magic: the Gathering is going to be released on Friday, Guilds of Ravnica, and while I haven’t even had much of a chance to explore M19 yet, I am quite intrigued by some of the cards I’d seen during preview season for the upcoming set. While there isn’t any Rakdos in this set, it does have Dimir, another favourite of the Guilds for me, and I was interested by the fact that I found a lot of the Boros cards to look fun this time around. I’ll most likely be picking up some cards and seeing what can be done with them soon, of course, as I do like to stay somewhat current.

It’s a shame that Magic didn’t go down too well with the other half, as it’s a game that I do enjoy to a fairly large degree, but I think co-op games definitely hold more sway when it comes to gaming with the wife. Which is fine, really, as there are definitely more co-op games I enjoy than competitive ones!

Did you guys realise Spellslingers is back for season 5 already?! I sure didn’t expect to see that come round quite so soon! It’s funny, because I don’t know a lot of these people, but the show is so good that it really doesn’t matter all that much. Sure, it felt better in the early days when he played with people like Rob Simpson, but it’s still so much fun due to Sean being such a great person in general. It’ll be interesting to see how well this collection of guests knows the game, as I always feel those are the better episodes for me. Season 4 had some good content in that regard, so here’s hoping!

On the subject of MtG youtube content, I think I also need to catch up with Game Knights. Another show I sometimes find myself harkening back to “the good old days” when they had their friends on playing genuinely interesting decks rather than the more paid-promotion style things, it’s nevertheless a very entertaining show and I can definitely recommend it still!

But what is one of my blogs if I didn’t talk about Warhammer 40k at least a little bit?! You’ll be pleased to know that I’m progressing fairly well with my Van Saar gang for Necromunda, having been inspired to get going with it following my local GW announcing a specialist games night once more. For a while, none of the specialist games were allowed to be played in-store, for a very odd reason, so I’m glad to see that come back as it means I’ll be able to finally get round to trying the game out! I’ve been buying everything for this game so far, so I’m looking forward to seeing if my purchases have been worthwhile!

While I’ve not been painting a great deal of late, I have been slowly moving back towards my Tau army ideas, primarily following the Kill Team stuff. I’ll be picking up the Tau expansion soon after next weekend, I’m sure, as I’ve been excitedly putting together a Tau list that I want to try out soon. It does include a few Pathfinders, so I want to get round to painting up some of those so that I have the fully-painted team sorted and ready to go, of course!

I’ll probably come back here sometime soon for a proper painting progress catch-up though, so stay tuned for that!!

Catching up with Marvel Star Wars comics

It’s been a while since I last caught up with the Star Wars comics – almost a year, in fact! If you read that linked blog, then you might know the reason for this delay – I’ve been so unimpressed with the ongoing series and its overall lack of meaningful content to the Saga, that I’d effectively given up. Sure, I’ve still been collecting these things monthly, but I just couldn’t bring myself to want to read anything more. However, after feeling a bit at a loss for reading material, and realising just how many comics I have to catch up on, I’ve made a return to the new canon, starting with the Darth Vader series…

When we last caught up with the Dark Lord, it was in the crossover event Vader Down. Almost worryingly, it’s been two years since I read these earlier comics! Just where does the time go?! Anyway. After those events, which saw Doctor Aphra captured by the Rebels and Vader assigned Inspector Thanoth as a liaison with Tagge, Vader is dispatched to the mining world Shu-Torun to resolve some industrial difficulties. Seems a bit weird, sending Vader for such a thing, but then we get a lot of this sort of thing, where the premise is never what it seems, or is merely a backdrop to a wider storyline. The mining conflict on the planet, where several ore barons have rebelled against the Empire’s demand for nigh-impossible quotas, almost becomes a backdrop to seeing Vader in conflict with Doctor Cylo from the earlier issues in the series. I thought it was interesting at first how he seems to be working much better with the various adepts Cylo has created, though that soon dissolves as the twins Morit and Aiolin try to defeat him, and end up seemingly killing each other instead.

The book ends with Thanoth sending a message to Vader, letting him know Aphra has been discovered. While the storyline itself was very much a throwaway one to my mind, it does feel like we might be returning to the wheels-within-wheels that characterised the second arc and Vader Down, which can only be a good thing!

End of Games is the final storyline in the Vader ongoing series, and brings all of the various plot threads nicely together. Vader concludes his vengeance against Cylo, who we learn was responsible for creating the suit that keeps the Dark Lord alive. Cylo almost shuts Vader down, but through the Force, everybody’s favourite bad guy manages to win the day. Triple Zero and Beetee, having recovered Doctor Aphra after her escape from the Rebels, bring her to the Executor, where she basically tells the Emperor everything that Vader has been up to in a bid to win his protection. Far from being annoyed at his apprentice, however, Palpatine applauds Vader’s cunning, and in turn, Vader pushes Aphra out of an airlock. Does she survive? Well, the Aphra ongoing series would be kinda redundant if she didn’t, now, wouldn’t it? Though I think it’s nice that that series was initially untitled in the solicitations in order to keep the suspense.

End of Games is quite a huge finale to the series, and I think it certainly rounds everything off really nicely – while I have found them a little uneven at times, I think overall the Vader series has been really very good – and the art has been just incredible!

I wish I could say I enjoy the Star Wars ongoing series, however! Yoda’s Secret War kinda picks up after Vader Down, in that we start off with Threepio being held by the Empire and boring them all with his incessant jabbering about nothing. Luke is, understandably, distraught at one of his friends being held captive, and decides to just head straight off to rescue him. Along the way, he once more turns to the journal of Obi-Wan, and reads about one of Yoda’s escapades on a world where all the kids are at war, and the adults have retreated inside a mountain that happens to be alive.

Look, this story is very weird, and I think the overall point of it is something to do with not judging things on their first appearance, or something. You know, because Obi-Wan left the journal more to help instruct Luke in the ways of the Force than as a series of bedtime stories about the days of yore. I must say, though, while the ongoing series has just been a letdown for me so far, the Obi-Wan journals have been particularly disappointing, as I don’t feel they really add anything to the story, such as that is.

I think this is becoming a serious issue for me now, that Marvel’s Star Wars comics have consistently failed to provide any kind of proper, cohesive narrative beyond a need to fill another slot in the solicitations every month. We’re not getting anything that is actually important to the storyline, and it’s just driving me nuts wading through these books in the hope that maybe, just maybe, there may be something worth reading. Dark Horse tried to forge a kind of ongoing series in their Empire comic that told significant storylines such as the Grand Moff Trachta plot against the Emperor, or the very human drama of Luke’s reunion with Tank, to say nothing of the Darklighter story arc. And while that series did have odd patches that didn’t feel like they were really more than just throwaway stories, overall the series felt like it was a meaningful part of the Star Wars canon. Seriously, Darklighter is an incredible piece of storytelling, and I can recommend it to anyone. So far, Marvel has just failed to deliver on anything that is anywhere near the same level, and I’m wondering if it’s even worth carrying on with these books now. When you compare something like The Wrong Side of the War to Last Flight of the Harbinger, I’m frankly disgusted the Story Group has let it pass! But I’ve ranted about this before, after all…

That’s a lot of emotive language, for sure, but I just can’t get past the fact that these new stories we’re getting are just meaningless in the wider scope of the Star Wars lore, and I’m just tired of having throwaway story after throwaway story. We need something better, damn it!

After the Vader series had finished, Doctor Aphra clearly made it out alive as she gets her own ongoing series, which is kinda nice to think that a completely new, non-movie character gets this treatment. I’d found her a somewhat difficult character to get my head around, as it’s almost like Han Solo teams up with Darth Vader, it just felt so unlikely, somehow. But through his ongoing series, we learn that Vader really just sees her as a means to an end, in building up his own powerbase away from the Emperor. In a lot of ways, then, it’s a continuation of Vader’s association with the galactic underbelly that had been seen back with the bounty hunters in Empire.

Aphra, the first arc in the series, picks up after End of Games as we follow the doctor on a quest to restore her doctorate credentials after her estranged father has called them into question. He persuades her to help him on a quest to uncover the existence of the Ordu Aspectu sect of the Jedi from thousands of years past. The adventure takes them to Yavin IV, where the Imperials are still sifting through the Rebel base under the command of Captain Tolvan, an interesting new Imperial character who I’m hoping becomes more of a feature, as we really need anchor points in these comics, and this would be a great way to do that!

Aphra and her father eventually find the ruins of the Ordu Aspectu citadel, confirming their existence, but find more than they’d bargained for in the survival of one of the leaders, Rur, in a crystal (that, for some reason, is never referred to as a holocron, but I get the impression it basically is that).

The first arc is heavily influenced by Indiana Jones, from the estranged father, to the double cross at the beginning, right to the ending where the Rur crystal is deposited in a warehouse for safe keeping not unlike the lost Ark. Somehow, though, it doesn’t overly detract from the story, and it was nice to return to Yavin and see what’s up there, so I have high hopes for this series!

This blog is kinda getting long now – not helped by my rambling rant earlier! – so I’ll end it here with the second crossover event, The Screaming Citadel.

Much like Vader Down, we get a standalone issue that introduces the series, followed by alternate books from the ongoing series and its new partner, the Doctor Aphra ongoing series. Aphra teams up with Luke in an attempt to open the Rur crystal, which obviously she didn’t really deposit in that warehouse at the end of her own series. It’s interesting to see Luke quite desperate to follow the Jedi path that Obi-Wan firmly placed him on, but the fact he seemingly never gets very far is a little dull now. I know we can’t have Luke very Jedi-like before Empire, but I think if that must be the case, then they should stop doing these things and instead focus on making him the war hero that he seems to be when we see him as the leader of Rogue Squadron.

Anyway! Aphra and Luke head to Ktath’atn, whose Queen famously grants favours once a year, provided they’re interesting. It turns out the Queen is something of a vampire, and longs to feed on Jedi. Learning of what’s happened, Leia, Han and Sana all head off after them, where we learn that Sana and Aphra have had some kind of relationship in the past. Hm. After some attempts to implant parasites in Luke and Han (who actually does end up infected), the Queen is defeated and Aphra makes it out with her activated Rur crystal. The storyline ends with the Queen’s body being discovered by relic hunters, and the parasite infection continuing…

While it wasn’t as interesting a storyline as Vader Down, it’s still nice to see the characters from the two series crossing over like this every so often. I’m even finding myself warming to Sana this time around, which is a turn-up for the books! The fact that Aphra is here confirmed as gay was an interesting touch, something that first cropped up towards the end of the Aphra storyline, with her attraction to Captain Tolvan. While it has previously felt like Disney has been forcing the issue that there are gay characters in the Star Wars universe now, I think there’s a very good case that Aphra, of all the new characters we’ve seen, needs her sexuality confirmed if they’re to continue playing up the Indiana Jones line.

I thought it was interesting that Triple Zero gives Leia almost a lesson in morality when he calls into question her use of Han and Luke as tools. We’ve previously seen Leia almost as the head of a spec-ops team, but we’ve not had a great deal out of her character-wise so far. It also fits entirely with her persona at this point in the movies, and really gels with how she is in Echo Base.

The story reminded me a lot of the Vector crossover event from Dark Horse, with its emphasis on parasite infestations and Jedi from the distant past. Whether that was intentional or not, who knows, but it is interesting to see potential antecedents for the stories like this.

I can’t talk about these comics without mentioning the artwork, either. This is more often evident in the crossover titles, where the respective teams handle their own issues, leading to two distinct art styles that can often be quite jarring. I much prefer the ongoing series art from Salvador Larroca, who is responsible for most of the Vader series as well – there is a beautiful realism to the art that reminds me of my favourite Star Wars artist Tsuneo Sanda, and I just adore it!

Anyway, there will be a lot of issues from the Star Wars ongoing series to catch up with next, so hopefully there will be something more interesting to read next time I write one of these blogs…!