Tag Archives: Review

Review: BlueHolme

Product Summery:
Name: BlueHolme Journeymanne
Publisher: DREAMSCAPE DESIGN
Author: Michael Thomas
Line: OSR/Basic D&D
Cost: $9.99 for PDF
Pages: 118

Someone may have finally come up with a retro clone of Basic D&D that does not piss me off. In the past, these things have stuck very close to the original rules, even to the point of including stupid and outdated rules, like the race as class nonsense I have complained about in the past. The author of BlueHolme seems to have come to his senses and left that shit out and that is why I shelled out the $10 to get the expanded version of the rules, even though I can get other retro clones that are 90% identical to these rules for free.

Like all retro clones, BlueHolmes set out to re-imagine a specific game from a bygone era. In this case it was the Blue Box D&D Basic Set from 1977 written by J. Eric Holmes, thus the name BlueHolme. The writer originally put out the BlueHolme Prentice rules, which like the game it is based on, only went to third level.In that book he used public domain art from various sources, which gave the book an interesting vibe. Recently he decided to expand the rules to 20th level and get some original art done for the expanded book. He ran a kickstarter and raise a nice chunk of change to commission this art and the end product was the Journeymanne rule book.

What did I liked; the book does a very good job of re-imaging the game it was based on. Quick easy to build characters with very little crunch to get in the way. Classes are limited to the 4 base classes, Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User and Thief. Here is the interesting part, there is no limitation. on races the player may choose from.

Page 5: Just about any being detailed in Part 6: Creatures is suitable for use as a player character with a little work by the referee,

So yes, the player can play a small dragon or a giant beetle if they so desire. I felt this was an interesting twist on the game, something not really done in the past that sets this game apart.

Things I did not like; I think my problem with this game are really problems with the Original D&D, so I would like to be clear about it. This is not a modern game and falls into many of the same traps that old school games fall into. Unbalanced classes, wonky rules, too much hand waving of rules and terrible scaling at high levels. Of course there will those who say, this is what makes these games so much fun to play. But I think there are some areas with these OSR games that are ripe for improvement.

For instance the “All weapons to 1d6 damage” rule, okay I get it, its simple and straight forward. The problem is there is no reason to ever use anything other than a dagger, it does 1d6 damage just like a long sword, my character can carry 25 of them and I can throw them as well as use them in melee. This is something I would house rule, small weapons do 1d4 damage (dagger, dart, short sword, hand axe), medium weapons do 1d6 (long sword, mace, battle axe), large weapons do 1d8 damage (two handed sword, great axe, pole arms). Or even if you wanted to stick with the 1d6, you could do, 1d6-2 for small, 1d6 for medium and 1d6+2 for large. This gives fighters a reason to use a two handed sword other than “Its cool” or “I am a barbarian so…”.

Over all, I liked the game, I think it is well written and accomplishes what it set out to do. I doubt I will ever play it, I think if I were inclined to play this sort of game, I would simply run the Original D&D in some form. However if you are not interested in scouring ebay for copies of the original, but want to play a game approximating it, then this is definitely the game for you.

Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set

Product Summery:
Name: Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Author: Sean Punch
Line: GURPS
Cost: $50/$35 for PDF
Pages: 474 (Spread across multiple books)
Webpage: http://www.sjgames.com/dungeonfantasy/

When the Kickstarter for this product was announced I was pretty excited. GURPS is one of two games I truly love, the other being HackMaster (also known as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition). DFRPG came about as a reaction to the Old School Renaissance in gaming. the OSR was a movement of gamers who felt the old ways were the best ways, they wanted to bring back the simple games of their youth where kicking down doors, killing monsters and collecting treasure was a way of life. DFRPG sought to simplify GURPS so it could be used for this genre. DFRPG was a big hit for Steve Jackson games, the line was PDF only, but since it required GURPS Character book, it helped to sell many of those. The Kickstarter campaign was an effort to bring DFRPG to the print world as a starter set not just for DFRPG but for GURPS in general. The boxed set is not due for at least another month, but this week in celebration of GenCon 50, they released the PDF’s to the Kickstarter backers and I have now had a chance to look at the game.

There is a lot of new art here, which is good, Steve Jackson games is notorious for reusing art. Thankfully they went with a two column format rather than the three column they used in GURPS Characters and Campaigns, this is much easier to read. They also used an orange colored font to highlight options and such, which I think added clarity and readability to the document. The game is well written and I think easy to understand.

I have always liked the GURPS game mechanic, at least in theory I like it. All resolution die rolls are done by rolling three six sided dice, trying to roll under your target number, whether that is an attribute or a skill level. This puts all resolutions rolls on a nice bell curve instead of a flat 1 in 20 type roll. I also like the customization options available for building characters, players can literally build anything they have points for. Of course the problem with that is too many options and a scaling problem. Like all point based systems it is very easy to fall into one of two traps, either your points are spread too thin and the character is really not very good at anything in particular or the character is spectacularly skilled in one or two areas and utterly incompetent at anything else. There also tended to be a lot of character overlap in skills and characters stepping on each other niches.

DFRPG solves this problem by reducing options down to a manageable level and takes a step further by using character templates. The templates emulate the character classes of Dungeon & Dragons, Fighter, Thief, Cleric, and Magic User. Once you have chosen your template there are customization options. This speeds up character creation, makes sure everyone has a niche to follow, while still providing for character development beyond the character niche as the game progresses. The author of DFRPG did a good job of distilling GURPS down to a good workable set of rules, slightly more complicated than GURPS Lite, but no where near and complex as the full system.

DFRPG does not as of yet have a true setting beyond the dungeon crawl trope. This is not really a problem as I think it lends itself well to sandbox games or even adapting something like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. The game really does have an old school feel to it. Personally when I get around to running this next year, I will be using the Castle Defiant sandbox I wrote about several months ago, although if I were going to run a lengthy campaign, I would have to develop and alternate reality Yrth where Clerical magic is a thing and pagan gods roamed the world. Frankly I am not even sure setting is even necessary for this type of game, just start everyone in a tavern and move on from there.

Overall, I am very happy with this product. I will be even happier when I have the box set in my hands. If you are looking for an easy introduction to GURPS or you are an old school gamer looking for something that feels like it was written in 1985 but plays like a modern game, this is the product for you. On the other hand if you are looking for a new GURPS source book with detailed background information or a generic game where you can dump cyborgs into King Arthur’s Court, you are going to be very disappointed.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 4
Game Mechanic: 4
Setting: 3
Overall: 3.66666666667

Review: Black Mirror

I just finished watching the first two episodes of Black Mirror. This is some seriously dark shit. If you are depressed or thinking about suicide, do not watch this show. The writers of this show are literally holding a mirror up to our modern society and showing us the worst aspects of ourselves. These guys are not showing us a dystopian future, they are showing us as we are living now. Certainly they are taking things to extremes and certainly they are putting a science fiction vainer on it, but it is none the less our modern society with the nice facade stripped away.

Review: Adventures in Middle Earth

aimeProduct Summery:
Name: Adventures in Middle Earth
Publisher: Cubical 7
Author: Staff
Line: 5E
Cost: $40/$20 for PDF
Pages: 224
Webpage: http://cubicle7.co.uk/our-games/adventures-in-middle-earth/

Frankly this was a bit of a disappointment to me, however this was probably due to my own inflated expectations. Cubical 7 previous attempt at Middle Earth gaming, The One Ring, was really really good. There was nice art, good layout, interesting game design. The whole thing came together as a top notch product. So my expectations were that the conversion of the One Ring to the 5E rule set would be just as well put together, unfortunately this was not the case.

First off, I did not like the cover art, I get what they were trying to do, but the picture just does not inspire me at all, it is flat and bland. The interior art is pretty much everything we saw in the One Ring, there may be some new pieces in there, but I have not done a side by side comparison to know for sure. So while I like the style of the art and it is very good, it does have the “Haven’t we been here before” vibe, so it again fails to inspire.

The game mechanic is a heavily modified version Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. The classes are different, the races are different, and they have added some new mechanics to make the game flow more or less the same way The One Ring does. My problem here is, if you are familiar with D&D 5E, this game will be easy to make sense of. If you are coming in from another game, never having played D&D 5E, you will find this game confusing. For instance there was no effort to provide a way to generate attributes, nor do they have any real explanation for the attributes or how they affect the game. This game assumes previous knowledge of D&D 5E and if you do not have it, this will come off as an incomplete game to you.

Finally, what can you say about the setting, it is Lord of the Rings, it is the Hobbit, it is well J.R.R. Tolkien. Cubical 7 does an good job of translating Tolkien’s work to a gaming setting, from the class descriptions to the flavor text, this is the best part of the book.

Overall, this is not a bad product, but it is not a great one either. If you plan to use it, you will also need D&D 5E, although the free download from Wizards of the Coast, would fill in the gaps well enough to play. Perhaps as they release more products for the line I will become more enamored with it. Hopefully they will not just recycle all of the old One Ring stuff and they will produce some original content for this title.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 2
Game Mechanic: 2
Setting: 5
Overall: 3

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Last night we played our first game of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Some things went well and some things did not. Most of the things that did not go well were centered around the Roll20.net 5E character sheet, getting it to work properly and understanding what it was doing when buttons were pressed. This is not the fault of 5E at all, but rather a combination of old people and technology. Over all my first impressions are a tentative “This should work well for us”. Because several of my players decided to generate their characters at the game, rather than on their own time, there was really only enough time for a single encounter with 4 goblins and these observations are based solely on this encounter.

  • The Good: Combat seemed to flow smoothly, the unified dice mechanic worked well making it easy to see who hits and who didn’t. That is after we figured out what Roll20.net was doing.
  • The Bad: We had two PC’s go down during the fight, I am not sure I like the death rules. Maybe it is just because I am use to using negative hit points and this save vs death thing seems counter intuitive.
  • The Ugly: 1st level PC’s are WAY too fragile. Two characters were nearly killed by goblins with one hit. This was not a terribly dangerous encounter, but I can see how this could easily have turned into a TPK.

The oddest thing about the game last night was the Tiefling Rogue with a Dwarven last name, I am sure there is an entertaining story there somewhere.

Review: Mr Robot

In theory, I should love this TV show, Mr Robot is a techno thriller borderline Cyberpunk story. It is about the main character raging against the evil mega corporation with plenty of liberal politics slathered in. I do not love this TV show, I do not even like it.

The pacing of this show is terrible, the character development and plot move in extreme slow motion. The show seems to be constantly on the verge of doing something, but never delivers. The music is a plodding strum that does nothing to enhance the experience. Even the parts that are suppose to be fast paced and exciting are nothing of the sort. During episode three, they did threaten the protagonist Elliot with some character development and GASP! even some human emotion, but alas, by the end of the episode he was right back to where he was at the beginning of episode two.

The characters in Mr Robot are even worse than the “FUCKING DO SOMETHING PLEASE!” pace of the show. The primary character is obviously suppose to be emotionally dysfunctional and distant. The problem is the actor, Rami Malek, is not good enough at his craft to pull this off. Instead of getting an interesting character with problems, we get a stone faced idiot staring at the world with dead uncomprehending eyes. With only one exception, every other character is completely boring, two dimensional and the female characters are the worst. The one exception is Christian Slater, who is not a great actor, but when he shares the screen with anybody else, he cannot help but dominate and shine, by virtue of being the only competent actor on the show. The problem is his character Mr Robot is unlikable and generally just a prick who needs to have his ass kicked.

I have watched the three episodes I give every new show that shows promise and this one failed to deliver on almost every level. If you are looking for a great techno thriller watch Person of Interest instead. Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson are good actors who know how to pull off “Emotionally Broken” and still be likable and interesting. The show is fast paced and fun to watch and even the minor characters get their chance to shine and do interesting things.

Review: Roll20.net

For those of you who do not know what Roll20.net is, in short it is a website that provides services for people who wish to play pencil and paper role playing games online. It provides the three things needed for this function, Chat, Mapping and Die rolling. Roll20.net is certainly not the first group to do something like this, there are in fact at least a dozen virtual table top programs available for playing online each with thier own advantages and disadvantages. If you are not sure why someone would want to play Dungeons & Dragons like this, you can read this post I did a few years ago.

http://carnifex.org/wordpress/?p=76

This last September we switched from OpenRPG/Traipse to Roll20.net for a number of reasons. OpenRPG had once again fallen into a state were no one was updating it, particularly the server software was in a poor state and it was getting harder to maintain. On top of that there were several long term issues with the software like “Fog of War” never worked right and stability problems. Roll20.net had been on my radar for a while, we even tried once about a year ago, but found it wanting in several areas. However, it was time change. I was tired of suffering in silence about software that was going nowhere. While Roll20.net was not perfect, at least it is under active development and is being improved all the time.

Pros: Image handling and fog of war and head and shoulders above OpenRPG. Mapping is flexible and once you get down layering and mini management things get wonderfully easy. For instance I can link a mini to a character sheet, so the PC’s Hit Points and Armor class are available by simply clicking on the mini. It also lets you mark mini’s in interesting ways. Roll20.net not only has integrated chat, but audio and video as well, it also supports Google Hangouts.

Cons: Roll20.net has come a long ways in the last couple of years, but there are still some problems. Characters sheets are a pain in the ass. There is no easy way to create your own and the stock ones are hit or miss on quality. Character sheets are starting to become interactive with chat, but they are still a long way from usable in that way. It is difficult to change games without setting up a whole new campaign, which seems overkill for a one off game. If you change the campaign settings from HackMaster to GURPS, Roll20.net will convert all the existing character sheets to GURPS, which really screws them up. My suggestion is to have a campaign for each game you want to play, or have a throw away campaign where no one cares if they can not maintain characters sheets.

Overall Roll20.net is very usable, though it does take getting use to. I went ahead and started paying them a couple bucks a month to support their operation. In exchange I get some mildly amusing features, the most important of which is 1 GB of storage for maps and minis and I no longer have to suffer advertisements. I would very much recommend Roll20.net to anyone looking for a replacement to OpenRPG, Battlegrounds, FantasyGrounds, ScreenMonkey and any of the other myriad attempts at building tools to play online.

Review: Dungeon World

 

downloadProduct Summery:
Name: Dungeon World
Publisher: Sage Kobolds
Author: Sage Latorra and Adam Koebel
Line: Dungeon World
Cost: $25/$10 for PDF
Pages: 408
Webpage: http://www.dungeon-world.com/

Today  I used the $10 gift certificate I got buying my D&D 5E Dungeon masters Guide to buy a hard copy of Dungeon World.  I have owned the PDF for a while now but I decided it was a good enough game that I should especially since it only cost me $15 instead of its regular $25.

Game mechanic wise, this is a pretty simple system, most resolutions are done by rolling 2d6 and adding any applicable modifiers from attributes, ie, an attack roll is 2d6+Str bonus. Roll a 10 or better is a successful roll, a roll of 7-9 is successful, but with consequences, rolling 6 or less is unsuccessful. Generating a character is straight forward and can be done in under 15 minutes, even by someone who has never played the game. The one thing I did not care for was the “Everyone assigns the same set of numbers to their attributes” rule, while this makes things easy, it is also a one way street to cookie cutter characters. There is an alternative to roll 3d6 for each stat, but I would have preferred a simple point buy and if I ever run this game, I will house rule this.

The layout of the book does leave a bit to be desired, there are a lot of pages that are half blank for no particular reason. The art in the book ranges from mediocre to meh, nothing particularly inspires me to play the game. The paper and the binding feels cheap and I doubt the book would last a year of real use. Having said that, the book is well written and easy to understand with lots of examples. I could probably hand this to a complete novice and have them playing in an hour with very little problem.

Overall, this is a pretty good product, I would love to see a players book printed for like $5, maybe do it in comic book format. I suspect this game would play very fast and smooth, setting up a game would be seriously easy, monster stat blocks are ridiculously simple. I would say, go and grab the PDF, for $10 it is a steal and well worth it. If you want the printed version, I would definitely go to Amazon where you can get it for $18, because $25 is a tab too much.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 3
Game Mechanic: 4
Setting: N/A
Overall: 3.5

D&D 5th Edition, 1st Impressions

Product Summery:
Name: Dungeons & Dragons – Basic Rules
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Author: Mike Mearls and WotC Staff
Line: Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition
Cost: Free
Pages: 110 pages
Webpage: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/basicrules

For the holiday weekend, Wizard of the Coast (WotC) released the basic characters generation rules for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (5E). While I did download the play test kit for 5E, I have to say I never really looked at it since I really never had any intention of playing it. However, I have never been able to resist buying a new edition of D&D and I am especially attracted to free products. I downloaded this and printed it out to get a better feel for the product.

The layout is acceptable for a modern role playing game (RPG) product. The first thing of note is there is no art to speak of, this makes the product come off as rather bland, however, it is a free product whose reason for existence is to sell other products. The idea is they want the Dungeon Master (DM) to purchase the starter set, which will be available on July 15th 2014, then his players can simply download this product and they can as a group play until the hard bound books start appearing in August.

This new edition appears to me to be a throw back to the 3rd edition of the game. The 4th edition was designed more or less to emulate video games such as World of Warcraft and was very combat centric, which is fine if you like that sort of game, I do not care for this type of play as you can see from my review of that product. Additionally, this game feels a lot like Castles and Crusades (C&C), a game based of the d20/OGL mechanic made by Troll Lord Games. This game seems to take the best parts of C&C but leave off the irritating Siege Engine game mechanic that added almost nothing to game that could not have been solved with the standard d20+bonus vs Difficulty Rating.

One of the things I like best is the idea of Backgrounds, this is sort of reminiscent of the 2E Class Kit idea. Basically, you get to choose a Background which helps crystallize the characters and gives them useful skills and proficiencies. Backgrounds are not limited to particular classes, so you can be a Magic User with a Soldier Background who served in the city watch before going to school and becoming a spell caster, or a Thief-Acolyte who served as a spy for the church. WotC also went back to the Vancian spell system, with some slight changes. For instance a Magic user may now wear armor as long as they drop a proficiency slot on armor. They may also cast Cantrips at will, including Ray of Frost which does 1d8 damage, without burning a spell slot to memorize. This adds a great amount of flexibility to the Magic User without over powering them.

Overall, the game is much more like 3E or Pathfinder than it is like 4E, which is a good thing. WotC also threw in some 2E ideas and some ideas from other games, all seems to have melded into a workable system, this is probably what 3E should have looked like to begin with. I am not a big fan of the d20 mechanic, however as time has went by, I have grown to not hate it and with the improvements to the system, I think I could live with this system as is. I have ordered the Starter set on Amazon and I look forward to reading it and possibly running a game for group later in the summer.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 3
Game Mechanic: 3
Setting: N/A
Overall: 3

Oh John Ringo, No

I just finished reading Live Free or Die: Troy Rising by John Ringo. I would like to first say, John Ringo is a passably good writer, he can develop a decent plot and has an interesting sense of humor. The big problem with this book is the heavy handed right wing political agenda and Mary Sue central character. Don’t get me wrong, neither of these things is a necessarily a deal breaker, after all I have read and enjoyed the majority of Heinlein’s work. The problem is Heinlein was a better writer and knew how to convey an idea without shoving it down your throat. I was half way through my second reading of Star Ship Troopers before I realized the government of earth was not a real democracy, but rather a military dictatorship, where only those who served in the military were allowed to vote.

The Good: The book has a neat premise and a pretty good plot. I especially love the proto Death Star.

The Bad: Tyler Vernon, the main character, can do no wrong, he is the smartest, richest most excellent man in the universe. he is also boring and two dimensional, there is no other significant characters in the book.

The Ugly: When the aliens attack earth, they use biological weapons designed to kill everyone except blondes and makes blonde women go into heat on a regular basis and capable of multiple birth. Further, when the aliens start bombing from orbit they target all the big cities in blue states, I am pretty sure Dallas and Houston survived the bombing. Essentially, he killed off most of the non-white people in the world, turned all the blonde women into baby making machines and eliminated all the liberal strongholds in the country. Then Tyler Vernon commented while it was really horrible all these people died, it was really a good thing because it would help the economy.

Review: Monsters! Monsters!

Product Summery:
Name: Monsters! Monsters!
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
Author: Ken St. Andre
Line: Tunnels & Trolls
Cost: $14.95 (PDF $7.50)
Pages: 40 pages
Webpage: http://www.flyingbuffalo.com/mm.htm

Monsters! Monsters! was one of those games I really wanted to play back in the day, but for whatever reason, we never got around to it. The premise of the game is, the monsters in the dungeons get tired of having their homes continually raided by adventuring parties and they strike out to raid towns and such occupied by humans, elves, dwarves and hobbit. I have also heard of this game being played in the context of the monsters deciding they want to be heroes, because well heroes get all the good loot, all the pretty girls and get invited to all the best parties.

First let me say, from a nostalgic point of view, this book is great. The writing style is light and irreverent, as was common at the time this was originally published.The art is crude, it is about the same quality as your standard teenager van mural. This was very much a product of its time, however, by modern standards, this books appearance and layout are crude and unprofessional, art ranges from bad to worse. If someone released this product today, they would be laughed out of the business.

I like the Tunnels & Trolls game mechanic, characters are easy to generate, combat is quick and simple and you only have to use 6 sided dice, which may or may not be a good thing. I am told in the 7th edition of the game, there is a skill system in place, but none of that is here. This book is pretty much a verbatim reprint of the book that came out in 1976 and the rules are based on T&T 4th edition. You start out by rolling 3d6 for each attribute, Strength, IQ, Luck, Constitution, Dexterity and Charisma. You then draw from a standard 52 card deck and the card you get determines what type of monster you are. An Ace of Spades will make you Dragon, while a Seven of Diamonds will make you a Giant Slug. You then modify your attributes according to your race, the Dragon gets to multiply his Strength by 25, while the Giant Slug only gets to multiply his by 2 and because he has no arms, his Dexterity is limited to 3. I suspect if this game were going to be played by the book, it would take considerable amount of player buy in.

My original copy of this game has went missing along with a couple of hundred odd issues of the Dragon magazine and 10,000 Magic cards. So I was happy to hear Flying Buffalo reprinted this last year for Gen Con. The old geezer in me is happy to it reprinted exactly as I remember it when I was teenager. The modern gamer in me cringes as what passed for Tier 2 RPG back in the day. This is on my list of things to play this year, I might make Bruce run this for me so I can play a Kobold named Mog who wants to be a Paladin.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 1
Game Mechanic: 3
Setting: 5
Overall: 3

Two Reviews

The Lost Fleet Series by Jack Campbell: It normally takes me seven to ten days to read a book, I know, I know, I am a fairly slow reader. However, I have plowed through the first three books of this series in the last week. Campbell builds an interesting universe where humanity has been engaged in a galactic war with itself for more than a century and due to staggering losses, the war has degenerated into horrible stale mate with the two sides throwing cheap ships with raw crews at each other in near one for one exchanges. The main character John “Black Jack” Geary is an interesting characterization of a man out of time. Although some times it feels like a cross between between Andromeda and Idiocracy, over all it is an excellent read.

Legion of SuperHeroes/Star Trek crossover: When this first came out, I avoided it like the plague, I figured there was no way this was going end well. So by the time the 3rd issue was out, I started reading some reviews of it saying it was turning out pretty good. So I went to my friendly neighborhood comic shop and picked up the first three issues. All I can say about this is, it really sucks ass far worse than I originally thought. Whoever thought this was a good idea needs to fired from IDW and DC Comics. Seriously, I knew who the villain was by page twelve of issue 1, the plot is not only predicable, it is BORING and predictable. The characterizations of the Legion is completely two dimensional and the Enterprise crew is presented in extremely cliched manner and is almost a parody. Please do not waste your money on this crap.

Review: Kindle Fire

I was going to wait on buying a Kindle Fire. First I wanted to let them work the early bugs out and second I wanted to wait for a 10 inch screen. I changed my mind because I got to handle one personally the other day, I discovered Best Buy had them in stock and besides my Birthday and Christmas are not that far off.

First off, the Fire is not an iPad killer, what it does do is fill a niche, The Fire will heavily appeal to people who feel $499 is too much for a tablet. and I am one of those people. My problem with tablets is they tend to be content delivery systems rather than general purpose computing devices. This is why I still use a netbook, creation of even a basic blog post is difficult at best using a tablet. However, for light web browsing, checking email, reading the odd ebook and such, tablets do fine.

The Fire delivers on its promise to deliver Amazon content and it does so very well. I thought the 7 inch screen would be cramped, but Amazon did a good job with the UI and everything is easy to find and manage. The absence of a home button seems to have flustered a few people, but it did not particularly bother me, the soft buttons work fine once you get use to taping the touch screen in the right spots. Once I logged into my Amazon account I was able to access all my Amazon content such as my kindle books, Prime Videos and MP3’s. It was a snap to purchase and download new content. Amazon also gave me the choice to keep the content in the cloud or download it the Fire, which was a nice touch. I was pleasantly surprised by the battery life, once I had it charged, it held up pretty well to PezWitch and I fiddling with it all day and well into the night.

There were a couple things I didn’t like. First, the page flipping seems a bit sluggish, this is not a show stopper, but it is disappointing that something as simple as turning pages on an ebook would be so obviously flawed. Second, the Fire suffered from the same problems all LCD screen suffer from, which is, in bright light they are difficult to read and are not terribly good for reading for long periods of time. I also found the device to be a bit heavy in my hand after I had been reading for a while. For these reasons I will not be giving up my old e-Ink Kindle any time soon.

Overall, I am pleased with this purchase. If you have been wanting a tablet but didn’t want to pay the Apple Tax, here is your chance. The few small gripes I have with it are easily out weighed by the fine design and excellent price. It is not going to replace my laptop, nor is it going to replace my e-Ink Kindle, but it will replace my smart phone as my many tasks.

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a rags to riches story set in a near future dystopian America. The basis of the story is the world is in extreme decay, human civilization in decline, the only escape most people have from their bleak lives is the OASIS, a huge virtual reality where most people spend their days. When the creator of OASIS dies, he leaves his huge fortune to anyone who can solve his three puzzles. Wade Watts is a poor chubby little boy living in a trailer park who solves the first puzzle and it launches him into the adventure of a lifetime.

Cline writes very well and I really enjoyed his characterizations. I completely understood why Wade Watts was in love with the primary female character Art3mis, because I had a crush on her myself by the middle of the book and Wade Watts was a likeable character who I readily identified with. The book is full of 1980’s nostalgia and trivia because James Halliday, then inventor of OASIS, grew up in the 80’s and his puzzles involved 80’s movies references, video games and music. Because I myself am a child of the 80’s, this made the book all that much more fun to read. This book is the best book I have read all year, it is fast, fun and intelligently written. I highly recommend it to anyone.

Review: Justice League #1

I have two opposing opinions of this book. On the one hand, it is a slick well drawn comic and a decent relaunch of the entire DC Universe. On the other hand Geoff Johns characterization of Green Lantern is way off the mark.

Geoff Johns, the writer, started the story at the very beginning, the first meeting of various heroes and the building blocks of the team to come later. What this particular issue is less a Justice League story and more like a Brave and Bold issue featuring a Batman/Green Lantern team up. Batman’s character is pretty much the same Batman we have known since the 1980’s. He is smart, driven and competent, if not slightly insane.  The art is fantastic, I have always liked Jim Lee, his art style is a bit cluttered and overly stylized, but is otherwise really good.He does his best work on action scenes and we get some of his best work here.

Now onto my grip with this comic. I hated the characterization of Hal Jordan. He is basically written as an incompetent fool with a powerful weapon. This harkens back to Frank Miller’s odious “All-Star Batman and Robin” comic where Green Lantern has his ass kicked by Robin. Seriously, even without the ring, Hal Jordan is a military man, a test pilot, a man who can hold his own. There is no reason to write him as if he were a 17 year with his first car, which is how he came off. There is plenty of ways to create friction between Batman and Green Lantern, after all, Batman’s primary weapon is fear, which is entirely useless against Green Lantern. Even Superman can be intimidated, but this tactic simply does not work against Hal Jordan, so Batman would have to learn to deal with him differently. None of this is approached, instead, Batman bullies Green Lantern and Green Lantern acts like a teenager, in many respects they are almost ignoring each other.

I was also a bit concerned about Superman lashing out at Green Lantern, while GL was acting particularly smug, Superman, even a young Superman, would have been far more level headed and inclined to give him a chance to explain himself. Instead, Superman acts petulant, a very un-Superman like quality. So while I liked the art and the story was sound, I felt charactization was lacking and Johns could have spent more time getting a feel for the iconic Hal Jordan instead of trying to go for laughs between he and Batman. On my normal scale of 1 to 5, I am giving this book a tentative 2, if the next couple of issues shape up and and give us better characters, I will forgive this lapse.

Review: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition

Product Summery:
Name: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Author: Staff writers
Line: Dungeons and Dragons
Cost: $19.99
Pages: 32 page Players book and 64 page Dungeon Masters Guide
Webpage: http://www.wizards.com/DnD/Product.aspx?x=dnd/products/dndacc/244660000

At some point Wizards of the Coast decided Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) should be more like World of Warcraft (WoW) and less like D&D. Gone are the days of memorizing or praying for spells, weapon specialization and the old niches of Cleric, Fighter, Magic User and Thief. All spells and class abilities have been transformed into cool powerz which can be used at will, per encounter or per day. The niches have been replaced with Defender, Striker, Leader and Controller. None of these niches is filled by and particular class, although some classes are better one niche over the others. This new way of looking at the game makes the game look and feel more like WoW and less like D&D as I said earlier.

This last weekend I played in a D&D demo and finally got to see how the game played in real time. Unfortunately, it is just about as bad as I thought it would be. While the players and the GM were good and I did enjoy the game, from a game mechanic perspective, D&D 4E is a very flat game as far as RPG’s go. I would probably rate better as skirmish based board game, but that is not what it is. Each of the classes did not really have their own “Thing” they could do that no one else could do. Everyone was nearly perfectly balanced and everyone could pretty much do everyone elses job, nearly as well as they could. For example, we had a Wizard running around picking pockets, in spite of the fact that he had no real training in doing so.

Over all, if you are playing D&D3E, I suggest either sticking with it or moving to Pathfinder, if you are playing an older game, like AD&D1/2E, stick with what you have. I see no compelling reason to move to this game. It is shallow, boring and uninteresting.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 3
Game Mechanic: 1
Setting: N/A
Overall: 2

Review – DC Retroactive: Green Lantern

Okay, DC Retroactive: Green Lantern has been the comic book I have been waiting for all summer. It brings back Mike Grell and Dennis O’Neil to produce a new Green Lantern/Green Arrow story, hearkening back to the good old days of the 1970’s. I have blogged previously that I did not care for the previous instalments of the DC Retroactive series. Really though, there was no way this one could miss. Mike Grell is the best comic book artist in the history of comic books. Dennis O’Neil is the defining story writer of DC comics in the 1970’s and was responsible for the 2nd wind given to the Silver age in mid 70’s.

I have only two gripes with the book, both are fairly minor. First, the story separated Green Lantern (GL) and Green Arrow (GA) into to separate stories and they did not come together until the last pages of the story. I think the best GL/GA stories of the 70’s were those in which they were featured together and I think O’Neil missed the chance to write a great buddy story and replace the generally horrible Justice League: Cry for Justice as the most recent expression of the GL/GA relationship. My second complaint is the GA plot was closer to the GA of the 1980’s rather than the GA of the 70’s.

Beyond those two points, the writing and art of the first story were good. This is neither Grell or O’Neil’s finest work, the Grell art is far better than the O’Neil writing. By today’s standard, O’Neils story is weak, but by the standards of the time and in context of the the 70’s, the story accomplished what it was suppose to, which was show the characters as they were in the 1970’s. I especially enjoyed the panels where GL uses his ring to make a giant can opener and a tennis racket, in classic GL form in the 1970’s. The backup story was reprinted from Green Lantern #76 which was the beginning of the classic run by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams that ended abruptly with issue #89. The only issue that might have been a better pick was Green Lantern #85, the issue were GA finds out his side kick Speedy is a heroine addict. This was a good read, I enjoyed it all the way to the end, turned it over and read it again.

Review: The Crown Conspiracy

If you are looking for a fun lite read this summer I highly recommend The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan. This book breaks the trend in modern writing of building a dark setting and torturing characters until they become nearly as bad as the villains they oppose. Instead follows two happy go lucky thieves, Royce Melborne and Hadrian Blackwater, as they frolic though the adventure. The story is a fast and easy read read full of adventure, heroic deeds, interesting plot twists and good characterization. The story reminds me of the  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series by Fritz Leiber. My only real criticism of the story is Royce and Hadrian do trend a bit towards Mary Sue characters, they tend to be just a bit too lucky and while everyone else in the book makes mistakes, these two only make one and that mistake gets them involved in the plot. This however does not distract from the over all story and the characters are fun. The best compliment I can pay to this book is, I wish my D&D games were like this

Review: Green Lantern

I went to see the Green Lantern movie this afternoon. Green Lantern is by far my favorite comic book character and has always embodied what I like most about comic books. Because of this, there really was no way I was going to be happy with this movie. As I had stated in earlier posts, my expectations for this movie were low. I did not care for many of the design decisions and I felt Ryan Reynolds was not a good choice for Hal Jordan.

With all of that said, Green Lantern was not a bad movie. In other reviews, critics complained the CGI costume and the CGI background were difficult to watch and produced this surreal look of Reynolds head floating around a CGI universe. Although the CGI costume was a bit cheesy, they did a pretty good job translating it from four color art to the big screen, unlike some other attempts. The other effects were perfectly fine and well done. My only real issue was making the main villain of the movie Parallax, an amorphous cloud. This didn’t really work for Galactus in the 2nd Fantastic Four movie and was only slightly better here.

Overall the script was decent, the actors did well and the actions scenes were good. Frankly I am not sure why this movie was panned. I think it was better than all of the X-men movies, at least as good as Batman Begins and definitely better than the first Ironman movie. Green Lantern had some week spots, but as far as I can tell this was a pretty decent superhero movie and did a passable job with the Hal Jordan/Green Lantern character and story. Go see the movie, you won’t regret it.

Review: Tron – Legacy

Normally I try to add some substance to these reviews, but Tron – Legacy was entirely “Meh”. While it did not suck, it was also not exceptional in any way. Don’t bother buying it unless you already have the original and are a completest of some kind. It is probably worth rotating through Netflix, but honestly, there is no hurry.

Review: Shadow of the Vampire

I really wanted to like this movie. It had a very novel approach to the vampire story. Shadow of the Vampire is a fictionalized account of the making of the 1922 film Nosferatu. In this movie, the leading actor, Max Schreck actually is a vampire the director hired to pretend he is an actor hired to play the vampire Count Orlok. Sadly, the movie is way too slow moving, this became apparent in the opening credits and continued throughout the movie. The acting is wooden, the cinematography is murky, the script is broken and uneven. The best part of the movie is when we get to see Catherine McCormacks tits when she is writhing on the bed after having taken some unnamed narcotic and unfortunately we have to wait through most of the movie for that. If you have this on your Netflix list, remove it, the movie is really not worth seeing. Instead get the 1979 remake of Nosferatu with Klaus Kinski, it is a well made, intelligent movie well worth seeing.

Review: Your Highness

Anyone who has played a D&D game with or as 15 year olds, has probably experienced a similar lowbrow humor which was prevalent in Your Highness. If you are not a fan of stoner jokes or penis jokes, you should probably stay away from this movie. There are some genuinely funny moments in the movie, unfortunately, there are not enough of them to carry the movie and unfortunately too many of the jokes were simply crude and unfunny. There are some decent action scenes, but again, as with the humor, there are just not enough of them.

I am not a big fan of Natlie Portman, she is not a particularly good actress and her performance here was dull and uninteresting even by her normal standard. I can usually forgive a poor casting choice, bad acting, or a poorly executed script as long as the actors seem to understand they are making a bad movie and seem to be having some fun with it. Portman looks as though she is doing someone she doesn’t like a favor by appearing in this movie. As for the others, Danny McBride and James Franco do passable work, although their comedic timing could have been better. I am a fan of Zooey Deschanel, she is a character actor who does a pretty good deadpan, unfortunately she does not particularly shine in this movie. The best lines of the movie go to Justin Theroux as Leezar the evil wizard villain.

So, if you have a couple hours to burn with nothing better to do, go a head and catch the movie, or better yet, wait 6 months for the DVD, have some friends over, smoke some weed and watch the movie, you will probably get a few laughs out of it.

Review: Roku

For those of you who don’t know, the Roku is a small little box designed to stream internet video from sources like Netflix and Hulu. Previously to get these services to my TV set I had an old laptop hooked up to my TV set through S-Video, needless to say, this was a bit of a pain to deal with. The idea behind the Roku, is to make this as easy to do as using a Tivo or other DVR device. I went ahead and bought the top of the line Roku, although my TV can not take full advantage it, figuring at some point I will be replacing my 5 year old big screen rear projection TV.

My first thought when I picked up the Roku, was the extreme small size of the device, it is a mere 5x5x2 inches and weighs less than my Kindle. When I plugged it into the TV and turned it on I had to go through a short set up to get it connected to my wireless network and link the device to my Roku account. Once that was done, I had to link my device to my Netflix and Hulu accounts, which was pretty easy. After that I was able to stream all the content I use to run through my WII and that old laptop. The biggest advantage being a remote control instead of a trackpad/keyboard of the laptop or the wanky WII remote. Additionally, it was pretty easy to get YouTube access on the Roku, through a third party app channel.

I think this little box could theoretically replace cable TV. Right now I pay about $25 a month for basic cable, which gives me about 20 channels, of which I consistently watch three. My Netflix account costs me $9.99 a month, Hulu Plus costs me $7.99 per month. The big problem of course is there is no CBS content on Hulu, so I can not get shows like The Big Bang Theory. Of course even those shows eventually makes it to DVD and I can cycle it through Netflix as a DVD rather than streaming. Another nice feature of streaming video is I am not tied to my TV set, because I can stream both Netflix and Hulu to my computers as well, something that is a pain in the ass for broadcast or even cable TV.

While the Roku is neat little contraption which makes watching Internet streams easier to deal with and I think it is an evolutionary step in watching TV, I do not think this will have the impact the Tivo had. The functionality of the Tivo was so powerful the cable companies had to integrate DVR functionality into their cable boxes where they retained control of the content. The Roku on the other hand simply makes something that is mildly annoying much easier to do.

If you already use Netflix and Hulu, the Roku is a nice way to access that content and I highly recommend it. On the other hand if you are a traditional TV watcher, stick with your Tivo or whatever DVR you are using, unless you are looking to cut your cable bill..

Review: The Green Hornet

I was not going to write a review of this movie, not because I didn’t like it, but rather simply because it was not what it could have been. First, don’t waste your money on seeing the 3D version, the 3D simply does not add anything to the movie. Before this movie was released, my expectations were extremely low. Seth Rogan is a mildly amusing comedic actor and I have enjoyed some of his previous work, but I felt he was miscast in this roll and the fact that he was one of the writers didn’t help much either.

After I saw it I changed my mind, as io9 said, the Green Hornet is basically a watchable stoner movie. Okay, its not an academy award winner with a deep and memorable script and dedicated inspiring actors, but what it is, is a fun romp, a nice blend between a comedy, an action adventure and a Bro movie. Rogan and Chou play off each other very well, Chou is an excellent straight man to Rogans goofball. Unfortunately for her, Cameron Diaz comes off as the third wheel in this movie. Diaz has mediocre screen presence and when she is paired with other actors with the same problem, she does well, but when put on stage with someone like Rogan, she fades into the background. Fortunately for her, the movie was not about her character. In this team, her character is the sidekick to the Green Hornet/Kato partnership.

This is one of those movies that has a good amount of cheesy fun, so ignore the bad reviews this movie is getting and go see it anyway. Unless you are very serious person who only goes to see very serious movies, you will enjoy it.

Review: Jennifer Government

Jennifer Government starts out as standard dystopian future fare, where the corporations have taken over to the point where people take their employers company name as their last name and being unemployed makes you a non-person in almost every regard. The book is well written and there are a few scenes in the book which are genuinely funny and/or exciting. While the book is a good read, there is very little here that is new or fresh, John Nike is a stock Mega Corp Villain who will do anything to make a profit, including murder and kidnapping. Jennifer Government is a basic tough chic who will stop at nothing to bring John Nike down. Reading other reviews of the book, some readers have complained the book pokes fun at libertarian political thought, I am not so sure. Yes, the antagonist was a greedy bastard, but the other corporate tools eventually drew the moral line and cut John Nike loose. The implication being the corporations ultimately didn’t need the Government to force them to do the right thing, they did it by themselves. If you like near future soft SciFi, this is a decent read.