Sub Terra Boardgame

I was a backer of this game on Kickstarter and am currently awaiting its delivery any day now. It was a fun campaign, and I really like the premise and am a great fan of co-op games. To tide me over, here’s a review from the Dice Tower:

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Review: King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition 4/5 stars

King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition
King of Sartar: Revised and Annotated Edition by Greg Stafford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up a hardback copy at Dragonmeet 2016, naturally getting Jeff to sign it (hopefully one day I’ll get to add Greg’s autograph too!) having recently fallen in love with Glorantha through both reading around the setting and the fantastic games run there by our GM. For those that don’t know Glorantha it is a mythical world created by Greg Stafford and the setting for a number of roleplaying games over the years.

King of Sartar is a fascinating experiment. It isn’t a novel, rather it is a collection of writings from Glorantha – I say from rather than about, as the writings are presented as source materials about the place by its own people, a bit like the source materials that historians in the ‘real world’ might sift through. There are inconsistencies, gaps, and questions left unanswered. In places its deliberately dry, in others it sparkles. As a piece of creative writing, it’s a remarkable work. As a book to simply read through for fun, it hits a different spot than a standard work of literature, its more of an experience than a story. It’s full of the myths and histories of the peoples of Glorantha from creation to the ‘present day’. Unlike many fantasy works, the conflicts aren’t presented as black and white, good and evil, instead we hear from the viewpoints of different factions, making a much more nuanced and satisfying picture, although of course the tendency is still to regard the Lunars as the enemy with the general bias towards the Orlanthi people.

Personally I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and will certainly return to it for the background it gives to this imaginary world. Hopefully, it will also inform future gaming there too.

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Anyone Fancy a Game?

On Sunday night Paul thrust a newspaper cutting into my hand saying he thought it might interest me. In the centre was a photo of a set of bookshelves filled with boardgames, staked from floor to ceiling. Yes, this did interest me! The article was about Draughts Café, one of a number of new cafés recently opened in the country that offer alongside coffee and cake, the opportunity to try out a huge range of games (they for example have over 600). There has been, according to the industry, an increase in the sales of boardgames over the last year, with the suggestion that 20 somethings are turning to them alongside computer games. Apparently, according to the article, these boardgame cafés are not only a great place to try out a new game, but also a great place to go on a date – if you enjoy the same games and can get on even if you lose, then chances are you’re well matched…

As a child I was brought up playing boardgames, it was a regular weekend family activity. At Christmas most years, we got a new game, The London Game, Articulate, Trivial Pursuit and so on. Over University years I didn’t play so often, other than the occasional game of RISK which usually ended for me very quickly in a blaze of glory that was rapidly quelled by those around me. In recent years, however, I have rediscovered the bug, finding that in the meantime a great range of games have been developed on the Continent, offering much more fun and tactical challenge than Ludo and Monopoly. My shelves might not look quite as full as Draughts Café, but they’re getting there!

So what’s behind their recent resurge in popularity? Simple. It’s not just that they fun to play and it’s satisfying to win (not that I do so very often), but boardgaming is a very sociable hobby. In an age when so much of our time is spent in front of screens, or in our cars, or in our homes, boardgames bring us together around a table for an hour or so of face to face time. Priceless. In a fractured world, these are deliberate ways of building community and friendship.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my plan is not to convert the church to boardgaming, as much as I’d love that, but to get us thinking about what we can do to proactively build up our relationships and sense of community. This doesn’t happen on its own, we have to work at it. Only as we grow in our friendships will we learn to trust each other, open our lives to each other, be open to learn from each other and to challenge each other.

Anyone fancy a game?…

Church Newsletter article 22.06.16

Review: The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been introduced to the King in Yellow in a Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game scenario at the wonderful Continuum Con earlier this year I thought I should look up some of the source material behind this part of the Mythos and so when I saw the original book was available for free on the Kindle I downloaded it instantly.

It’s not quite what I expected. The book is a series of short stories, some related with shared characters and themes, others entirely independent. After the first few, most aren’t connected to the King in Yellow specifically (see here for an outline of the included stories and a little more information on the King in Yellow.) The rest are a strange collection of romance, adventure war and observation.

So what did I make of it? Some I adored. Some I’m not sure I got. Some felt clumsy whilst others really well scripted. In the end I’m left wondering whether to give it 1 star or 5 because whatever the quality of the writing, somehow the book has a haunting quality to it which has stayed with me since reading it, a mood, an mystery, something hinted at which is hard to pin down. The best horror in literature or on the screen is always that where little is revealed and detailed but much eluded to. While the King in Yellow didn’t describe what I hoped it might, it has spoken of lots more, just beyond the periphery of my vision, whispering on the edge of my consciousness…

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Review: The Storyteller of Marrakesh

The Storyteller of Marrakesh
The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last week the latest addition to our household arrived, our first Kindle. This was something I’d resisted for some time, despite my geek credentials. I love books, proper books, hold in the hands and smell and savour books with covers and pages, no swiping required. Ereaders were, to my point of view, second class and to be shunned! But then Amazon offered us a coupon with mooney off, and in a moment of weakness I succumbed. Having tried it, I’m a convert! Not a complete convert, you understand, but I’ve come into the light and realised that these are just as valid ways of consuming books, just different. For those who are concerned, I still love ‘proper’ books and haven’t given up on them in the slightest.

So what to read first on our new Kindle. ‘The Storyteller of Marrakesh’ seemed a suitable first choice. This is a delightful read, a rich tapestry of colour and senses, and all about stories and truth – entirely fitting for my first Kindle outing. The storyteller in question is Hassan, who plies his trade in the Jemaa el Fna, the square. The story for this particular night is that of a foreign couple who visit this Moroccan centre to savour the atmosphere only to fall foul of some misfortune. As Hassan skilfully weaves his narrative, others join in, enlarging, dissenting, piecing together the events of that fateful night layer by layer.

I was totally entranced by this novel, both on the level of its narrative, which I found enticing and intriguing, and it’s exploration of the nature of truth and story, and it’s involvement of both teller and audience in shaping and interpreting it. I found the writing successfully conjured up the foreign atmosphere of Morocco and left me wanting to know more.

My favourite quote? As a preacher and rpg-gamer this particular passage caught my attention:

‘A story is like a dance. It takes at least two people to make it come to life, the one who does the telling and the one who does the listening. Sometimes the roles are reversed, and the giver becomes the taker. We both do the talking, we both listen, and even the silences become loaded.’ (Roy-Bhattacharya, Joydeep (2012-03-16). Storyteller of Marrakesh, The (p. 8). Alma Books. Kindle Edition.)

That dance is a very familiar one to me as a story-teller in my own right.

Thank you for the dance ! It was a delightful whirl across the floor. I look forward to another sometime.

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Review: Dead Angels

Dead Angels
Dead Angels by Gunnar Roxen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of Dead Angels for review purposes.

Dead Angel’s is Gunnar Roxen’s second work in the Agency Case Files series of books, following on from The Wyld Hunt. This is set before the first book and is a novella rather than a full novel, and is based upon Lovelace who is also featured in the first book, exploring a case he was involved in before joining the Agency and partnering with Aries.

Like the Wyld Hunt, this is a fast paced investigation novel. A body is found washed up in Victory Docks in this futuristic London. A girl, dressed as an angel. Who is she? How did she end up here? Who is responsible? The story is well told, fleshing out Lovelace a lot more in his own right as it goes. Lovelace is a Pure, a human subspecies, enhanced with a toughened muscle bound figure, decorated with tattoos which tell his life story to those of the same religion. Because of this, and his shark-like teeth and all black eyes, he is regarded with suspicion by other humans, but he is also shunned by those of his own race for his work with the police. Alongside the plot of the investigation, this novella explores the divided loyalties of Lovelace as well as the impact of his faith upon his outlook and work, adding a further layer of depth to the setting beyond that laid down in the first book. There are some well written tender and delicate moments as well in the book, as well as the high powered action and the dark griminess of the setting, providing relief and adding roundedness.

It is a quick and highly enjoyable read, and it is satisfying seeing the setting and characters develop in depth. This is a series I will continue reading.

(Do also see my review on the first book.)

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Review: The Player of Games

The Player of Games
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first of three books I took away on holiday this summer, and my second Iain M. Banks read following Consider Pleabas, the first Culture novel. For some reason I found it hard to get started, it was the same with Consider Pleabas. Maybe it’s the strange names, typical randomly generated names with lots of consonants thrown in, popular in sci-fi and fantasy of a certain ilk, but once going I was thoroughly drawn in and loved every minute. As a gamer myself (boardgame and tabletop rpgs) this sci-fi novel about a gamer playing the ultimate game with high diplomatic stakes was for me as it promised to be, an absorbing and satisfying read. The story was enjoyable, but most fascinating for me was the underlying question being explored, why do we play games and what does how we play say about who we are and what we represent? I will most definitely be picking up the next Culture novel when I can.

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Review: The Wyld Hunt

The Wyld Hunt
The Wyld Hunt by Gunnar Roxen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Disclaimer – I was provided a comp. copy of this ebook for review purposes. I do not have any connection with the author.)

We first meet Agent John Aries, Echo Agent, and his partner, Tarus Arken Karazhja, better known by his nickname ‘Lovelace’, in this the first of the ‘Agency Case Files’, as they investigate the apparent suicide of Massey de Sargon. Set in a future Earth, this sci-fi thriller quickly grows in complication leading to an ever more desperate and far-reaching investigation which takes John and Lovelace to and beyond the limits of their skill and endurance. This is a fast paced and gripping read, one which I am happy to recommend.

In many ways this book reminded me of the highly popular Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, but with a sci-fi setting rather than urban fantasy. The pace, tone and language is very similar, but instead of vampires and werewolves we have Echos and Pures. It feels more pulp than hard sci-fi in its action and the inclusion of supernatural elements and religious backdrop, although the seeing itself is complex and well thought out. Much is left hinted at in this book in both the present and the past and I’ll look forward to this being further developed in later volumes.

The Echos are humans with psychic powers, the ability to call upon the power of The Wyld to manipulate in some way the world around them, each having their own specific area of expertise. This power comes with a sinister twist, the Wyld is carcinogenic, each time they call upon it, they take one step nearer to their death. There is also the risk that they lose their self-control and unleash a devastating blast of power upon the world around them. Despite these drawbacks, use of the Wyld is a constant lure to it’s channellers.

Pures are a human subspecies. Lovelace is enhanced with a massive, toughened build, a mouth full of sharp teeth evolved for tearing and all black eyes, devoid of white. They too have their weaknesses; in Lovelace’s case a sensitivity to bright light and religious compulsion.

The activity in the book is balanced between fast and furious action scenes reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster and political intrigue as the partners find that the case ruins deeper and wider in their society than at first believed with severe ramifications for both of them. The interplay between these two is fun as they are both forced to discover who the other is and if they can trust them.

One of the main issues in the book is that of class. In this futuristic setting, the higher your class the higher you live, literally, with the wealthiest and most successful enjoying better air, space and views, whereas the poorer and lower classes live far below in squalor and darkness; a criminal haven.

This is a very enjoyable read, a fascinating setting with humour, action and interesting characters. It’s not deep hard-core sci-fi, but explores some interesting questions about the forces that drive us, our relationships and commitments. I’m pleased to see a book of this style adopting sci-fi, makes a pleasant change. I’ll be reading more!

As well as reading, one of my hobbies is playing rpg games. As I read this I couldn’t help but feel this would make an excellent setting and often found myself thinking how I would stat up characters and utilise the rich setting. Naturally I was thrilled to discover son after finishing that Chronicle City have produced a such a game, the Broken Shield RPG (http://shop.chroniclecity.co.uk/Broken-Shield-1). I will be checking that out before too long as well.

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Review: The Alchemist’s Revenge

The Alchemist’s Revenge
The Alchemist’s Revenge by Peter Cakebread
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Disclaimer: I was given a complementary copy of the kindle edition for review purposes.)

As a long time roleplayer (of the Dungeons & Dragons variety rather than computer gaming) I was brought up with the understanding that all good quests begin with a group of adventurers being approached by a stranger in a pub with the offer of a reward in return for their service. The Alchemist’s Apprentice begins in a similar fashion with William Pilling coming upon Belinda Stobbard, wife of the late Sir Francis Stobbard, who is in ‘The Throttled Pig’ seeking help. In exchange for coin would he drive a cart and escort her on a journey north? As with all good quests, nothing is quite as it seems, and complications are a plenty. As you might have worked out from the names, this is not set in your traditional quasi-medieval setting for fantasy quests; instead it is set in England during the civil war.It is the story of the coming together of a disparate bunch of characters on a journey to discover the fate of a casualty in the strife, exploring on the way their different motives and beliefs.

The Alchemist’s Revenge is a highly enjoyable romp of a book. It was a quick read, and, to use the oft used cliche but here appropriate, ‘un-put-downable’. The story was fun in its own right, if not overly complex or literary, but the real hero of the piece is without a doubt the setting which I found to be rich in shade and detail. Alongside the basic twists and turns of the plot, you have the additional tension introduced by the various layers of factions and faiths of that time. There are the Royalists and Parliamentarians, the political factions, and the religious divide of Catholic and Protestant. Each of these have their extremists too, driven by their beliefs to desperate measures. Then you have the likes of The Diggers, people seeking a new way of life, tired by the strife that their world has become stuck in. Not all are driven by doctrine and philosophy though, as always there are those whose motivation is greed and wealth. What a wonderful backdrop this setting provides! I can’t help but wonder why more have not exploited it.

This rich context is not enough to satisfy Cakebread, however. Applying a dash of the fantastical he whips up an alternative take on real life. No longer are the combatants armed with merely swords and blackpowder weapons, but the Royalists call upon the power of their philosophers’ stones to summon elementals and other magick, and the Parliamentarians harness the discoveries of science and engineering to devise clockwork automata and warmachines. With these dreadful weapons unleashed against each other the country stands reeling from the bloodshed and in an uneasy state of stalemate. There is so much to intrigue and spark the imagination and plenty hinted at and laid down for future volumes of ‘Companie of Relutant Heroes’ series to explore. I for one will look forward to these works as I can’t help but feel this book only scratches the surface of Peter Cakebread’s creation.

Of course, if like me you are a keen roleplayer, you will be pleased to discover at the back of the book that it is based upon another work by Peter Cakebread along with Ken Walton, the roleplaying game ‘Clockwork and Chivalry’ (C&C). I wish I had read the book before first playing the game as it brilliantly brings it to life. Having read the book I am now better able to grock the setting and what it is capable of. I would recommend it to any players of C&C. Equally, if you can’t wait for the next book, grab some dice and a copy of C&C and make up your own tales in this wonderfully original world.

I’ve awarded this 4 out of 5 stars. If I could I’d have given it 4.5. In the copy I was sent there were a few little typos, and the basic plot is of itself not highly original nor demanding, but the delightful setting by far compensates for this. Wonderful!

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