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Tag: Review

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

Posted on October 11, 2018  in Books

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Admittedly, this was a slow read for me, mostly because of how dense it is with information about the world and its inhabitants. The story was written at the height of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, but unfortunately much of it is very relevant today, we have a trade war with China brewing and we have a mad king of our own who wants to build a wall between us and our neighbors.

One of the things Le Guin does best is world building and she does not disappoint here. As I was reading about this cold world locked in an ice age, I was reminded of my own childhood growing up in Montana and shivering.

The dual gendered people of this world was an interesting idea that the author put to good use to build interesting characters and highlight the differences between the two races without making them TOO different. I also think this might have been an nuanced way of talking about homosexuality without offending the readers of the time it was written and published. I admit though I may be mistaken, perhaps someone smarter than me can chime in on this subject.

Of course the most interesting character in the book I thought was Estraven, not just for his fall from grace story, but because at the beginning of the book, he almost seems like a throw away character, someone who was present in the first few pages simply to set the stage and I was pleasantly surprised when later in the book he become central to the story.

Overall, good read, although now I have to go back and read the other books in this series, as I did not realize this was #6 in a series when I started it.

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Tag: Review

Review: The Fantasy Trip 3rd Edition

Posted on September 25, 2018  in Role Playing Games

This week Steve Jackson Games released the PDF’s of its newly revised game, The Fantasy Trip. These PDF’s are basically beta releases they put up for downloads for those who backed the Kickstarter campaign. They are collecting feedback to fix any issues before they send it off to the printers. I skimmed through the PDF’s and then printed them out, while I do not mind PDF’s, if I am going to be sitting down and reading a game book(s) from cover to cover, roll up some characters and then write a short adventure, having a printed copy on hand is nice.

 

First a bit of background, back in the late 70’s Steve Jackson (Steve) worked for a company called Metagaming Concepts, they published inexpensive little wargames, that were cheap and quick to play. This is where Ogre got its start. While there, Steve wrote a game called Melee, a nice little game for simulating man to man arena combat, like their other games, it was small, cheap and easy to play. He followed up with Wizard, which simulated magical arena combat. It did not take them long to figure out that this could easily be leveraged into a roleplaying game similar to Dungeons & Dragons, which was growing popularity at the time. Steve then went on to build The Fantasy Trip, which filled in the gaps and added all sorts of new ideas. Jackson at this point became disenchanted with the way things were going at Metagaming and left the company. He took some of the games with him, like Ogre and started his own game company. A few years later, Metagaming went under, Steve tried to negotiate for the game, but the owner Howard Thompson want too much money, so Steve went on to design GURPS. Thirty five years later, after the copyright to his works went unused, he applied to the U.S. Copyright Office to have the rights returned to him and he succeeded. Here we are today with an all new 3rd edition of the game.

 

Between 1978 and 1982, my friends and I use to play a variety of games in our High School Library during lunch hour. There was an early complaint that we were gambling, because we were rolling dice, but one of our mothers came to the school and straightened Principle and the Librarian out. I have no idea what was said, but no school official ever bothered us about it again as long as we did not get noisy. Wizard and Melee were chief among those games because they were fast and easy to play. Although, we never played it specifically as an RPG, surviving gladiators often developed personalities, relationships and drama over time. A winning gladiator always had the option to let the looser live or die. Often times this was a good way to get rid of a particularly annoying rival, but not showing mercy was also good way to not get any yourself, so it was a fine line. Occasionally there would even be interesting dramas and blood feuds, at least one of which lasted a couple of years.

 

Okay, so now onto the review. Frankly, not much has changed from the original version, the mechanics and virtually identical to the original game. The characters have three attributes, Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence. Strength dictated how many hits a character could take before dying, how many spells a wizard could cast and how big of a weapon a character use. Dexterity provided the character with the basic to hit roll, based on three 6 sided dice. Intelligence tells use which spells a wizard can use and how many. As the character received experience points, they could raise these attributes, because of the weird way the rules worked, it was not unusual for a Wizard to have a high Strength, sometimes higher than their Intelligence. It also did not take long for characters to get ridiculously over powered, once a warrior had a Dexterity of 15 or 16 he rarely missed and a wizard with a high Intelligence and a decent Strength could put a dragon on the battle field on the first turn or throw a huge fireball down range making for whoever goes first wins type of game. Reading through the rules, I see very little that would change either of these conditions. In the Labyrinth, which is the book that provides the RPG part of the game, does give players more choices like adding Talents rather than increasing attributes, but it is not really enough to counter balance the game. Having said all of that, the mechanics do work fine for low to medium powered characters, combat is quick and fun, magic has a lot of interesting effects and you can come up with a lot of cool characters to play.

 

The layout, again has changed very little from the original books published way back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The art has changed, primarily because Steve did not get the copyrights to any of the art from the original product. Steve did however have the good sense to hire Liz Danforth, who did much of the art on the original, to be the primary artist on his new revision. If you are an old school gamer and especially if you actually played this game back in the day, you will like this game. In fact from that perspective, you really could not have asked for a better product. Steve did not make any radical changes rules wise, he simply sanded down some of the rough edges and in designing the layout he stuck with what was there rather than going for a more modern slick appeal. If you are a modern gamer, this will probably seem simplistic and amateurish by modern standards and you would be correct about this. Steve has made no announcement about what he is going to do in the future beyond supporting the game with some new adventures next year. I suspect that if the game does well, we can expect a 4th edition with a more modern appeal to it.

 

Overall, I am going to give this 3. Realistically, I should give it a 2 or a 2.5, because the new edition really does not add anything to the hobby and the rules were not particularly ground breaking at the time nor are they especially interesting today. However, being an old school gamer myself and I fully remember what it was like back in the heady days of the golden age, this does have a certain appeal to me and gamers like me. I can certainly see playing a couple of games of Melee or Wizard on one of those game nights where half the players don’t show. It does not happen often, but it does happen occasionally. So I am going to go with a 3 and I hope Steve does something interesting with this in the future.

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Tag: Review

Review: The Fresco by Sheri Tepper

Posted on August 12, 2018  in Books

The FrescoThe Fresco by Sheri S. Tepper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a friend, her first comment about it being “I wouldn’t recommend it to most guys – or to anybody conservative”, and of course my first though was, “Oh this is going to be fun!”. About a quarter of the way through I knew why she was not inclined to recommend it to most guys. Let me get this straight right off the bat, this book is not anti men, but the book does depict a certain types of men in a bad light and if you happen to identify with those archetypes, you are not going to like this book much. If you are not of fan of irony and poetic justice, I would not suggest reading this book. In fact, lets just come right out and say it, if you oppose abortion, you will not be amused by this book.

The story is about earths first contact with aliens, instead of landing on the White House lawn or in Central Park, the aliens contact a rather unremarkable person, Benita Alvarez-Shipton. Benita is married to an alcoholic deadbeat husband who beats her, in spite of this she has worked hard all of her life and tried to support her family in spite of the the hardships imposed by her husband. Benita is a unique character among fictional female protagonists. Most female protagonists in science fiction tend to fall into a couple of categories, women who are thinly veiled men, oversexed killing machines and ice queens. Benita has no special ops training, she is described as mildly good looking and does not seem to have much of a sex life. She is literally from the bottom rung of society, no one cares about her and society often places her husbands well being over hers. She is the epitome of unlikely heroes. What Benita brings to the table is a wisdom born out of having lived a rough life, an intelligence that only someone who has been on the edge of the abyss all of their lives could have. She clever and competent, but not unrealistically so. In the beginning of the book she is shown to be out of her depth, but by the end, she grows into her role.

The plot of the book is a bit off the beaten path as well, when the aliens, the Pistach, come to earth, they are not here as an invasion army, but rather to guide earth into the interstellar community and help them become good neighbors. The aliens start solving problems and making earth a better place, some of the things they do are very colorful and the thought process of the aliens is interesting to read. Of course the Pistach are not the only race with interest in the earth, there is also a group of predators who want to make earth their hunting grounds. These predators have no trouble finding human allies who would rather things stayed the way they are, even if it means sacrificing human beings in the process.

Overall, this is a good read, I enjoyed it start to finish. Yes, the book has a liberal bend to it, but it is no worse than the conservative bend you might find in the John Ringo or Larry Correia book. The book has a solid plot, the storyline is tight, it is well written, and the primary characters are interesting. My only complaint about the book is the author does over use some archetypes, and hits us over the head with those characterizations, but this not a show stopper and certainly does not detract from story. I recommend it to anyone who is tired of standard fair science fiction, and are looking for something different, it even has a happy ending.

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