Thursday, 20 April 2017

Preparing for the UK Games Expo

It’s that time of year again, and Chris and I are both getting ready for the UK Games Expo happening in Birmingham from the 2nd to 4th of June. We’ve been picking over the list of exhibitors and it’s another bumper crop of interesting people to talk to and games to scout out.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

[review] Gangs of Commorragh

By the Emperor what the hell is this. I bought a new Games Workshop game?!

Yes I did, and it is good.



Gangs of Commorragh is a reasonably priced boxed game for 2 players, where gangs consisting of murderous Dark Eldar screech about the skies of the torture empire of Commorragh, deep in the Eldar Webway. Within the game are enough miniatures to represent 2 gangs of Dark Eldar - a gang of Hellions who ride on skyboards and wield hellglaives, and a gang of Reavers who ride about on jetbikes bearing protruding blades. There are enough models for 10 of the former and 6 of the latter. That means there are an excess of models for the basic game, but extras that are ideal when playing the game as a campaign. In the box are also plenty of card counters, and some card terrain that represent the tips of the spires that thrust into the skies above the nightmare city of the Dark Eldar.




Now we know what is in the box, what is the game? Essentially what we have is the long overdue idea of gaming overfiend, Andy Chambers, that is in the same vein as Necromunda, Gorkamorka and Mordheim, and the forthcoming Shadow War. The game has far more in common with Gorkamorka of course. The Dark Eldar gangs fight it out for supremacy and glory and that all important money, diving about the gaming table on their vehicles. Much like Gorkamorka, or even Battlefleet Gothic, the skyboards and jetbikes must move a minimum distance, and get to turn up to a certain amount depending on the vehicle. Skyboards are slower than bikes, but have a shorter minimum move, but are also able to make a tighter turn. Bikes when shot at though are much tougher to kill than skyboard riders. And of course the riders of these vehicles have unique manoeuvres they may take advantage of. Bikes can ride past, raking their enemy with their protruding blades, or engage a white knuckle turbo boost to escape their enemies. Skyboards can make dead stops, hurl chains to drag their opponents of course, and use chains to hook onto spires and swoop about them.

So essentially movement is rather simple, and their are options to allow for some cinematic and tactical movement options. But is that it?

Hardly.





Gangs of Commorragh at the heart of it uses a novel movement turn sequence. At the start of the turn, hunters and prey and denoted. Each hunter and their associated prey are within 18 inches of each other, and such that the front arc of the hunter is facing the rear arc of the prey. These pairs of hunters and prey are marked and then movement begins. Hunters can also be prey to another hunter. Having rolled off in the case of both players having hunters, the winner moves one of their models that is a prey, performing any manoeuvres they like if they pass a skill test (get lower than rider's Pilot Skill + the vehicle's Agility rating). In response any hunters of that model then activate and give chase as best as they can. The movement of a hunter can of course trigger the movement of another model that is the hunter of them - leading to some interesting chases as models tail each other. Once a player has performed their prey movement, and all movement responses have happened, then the other player does the same with a prey model of theirs that has yet to move.

Once hunters and prey have moved, having rolled off, players take it in turns to each move their remaining models.

The next phase combat. Again players take it turns, having rolled off to find out who goes first. Much like Battlefleet Gothic, the ease of hitting a target depends on the relative motion of attacker to defender. So a target moving away or towards you is easier to hit than one rushing past you. But, things get a bit more involved than that. If the target you are attacking is your prey, it is much easier to hit them. In response a model can jink, making it harder for them to hit, but at the expense of not being able to attack. However, models designated as hunters can't jink - they are too preoccupied with keeping their target in their cross hairs.

Shooting is as simple again, where you roll to beat the target's Agility (or Agility + Pilot values in the case they jink). If hit, each weapon has a "kill value" you roll to beat. If you do, the enemy model is take out of the game. If you fail, a wound is dealt, which diminished the models Agility, and also makes future rolls to kill easier. Furthermore Hellions on the skyboards are easier to kill.

In the game there are a multitude of weapons to use. Reavers are armed with splinter pistols, and able to fire in all directions with those weapons, and the bikes have front arc firing splinter rifles, or can be mounted with other weapons such as a heat lance, blaster, and also further equipment to aid them like caltrops. Bikes are thus able to fire at long range, race past and rake the enemy, and use further equipment to hinder those that chase them. Comparatively Hellions skyboards have fixed armaments, but a skilled Hellion can have grenade launchers on their skyboard. But skilled Hellions can carry different close combat weapons, replacing their hellglaive with a power sword, stunclaw, or agoniser whip, and a splinter pistol. Thus Hellions are much more restricted in their weapon ranges though are much more agile on the table.





And that is really it in total. The game has rules for a campaign, though simpler than those of Gorkamorka and Necromunda, and that rely on dividing your gang up to gain greater amounts of loot. This means that when gangs come into conflict, there is much more diversity in which gang members, and how big those groups are, that fight. Of course there can be times when entire gangs fight each other. This should help stop one gang by luck always overpowering others in a campaign.

So in conclusion, having only played the basic game, it is a simple and quick to learn game, but has some deep tactics, without being cluttered on the table like X-Wing. The game also features cinematic combat, with the Hellions reminiscent of the Green Goblin, and the jetbikes being much like the hoverbikes from Star Wars. The combination of bikes streaking about and Hellions swooping about makes the chase of hunter and prey dynamic and cunning as you lure your enemy into the sights of your gang.

What is missing though? Well gangs can consist of Hellions and Reavers, but in White Dwarf there are already rules for the mysterious Harlequins.Though, it would be excellent to play defend the base games, or like Gorkamorka, use the concept of the rolling road and have one gang protect a skimmer, while the other attacks, and the spires of Commorragh move along the board to represent motion (and things that have to be dodged out the way of).

Finally for the price, you are getting the Hellions and Reavers at a serious discount.




Monday, 13 March 2017

Network Zero Watchlist #2: Girl House

Welcome to Network Zero Watchlist - a (hopefully) regular diary of every horror movie we've suffered through for better or worse. First watches, rewatches, timely revisitations of old favourites, anything goes.

[contains spoilers]

The movie opens with blurry webcam footage sex, then a quote from Ted Bundy on the dangers of pornography. We're then introduced to 'Loverboy,' a pudgy young kid getting chased and mocked by two girls around his age. One of them is mini Catwoman from Fox's Gotham. She pretends she's going to kiss him, and instead pulls down his pants, promising she'll show him hers if he shows her his. He does, and she and her friend laugh at his tiny penis, which is pretty much what pre-teens tend to do.

When Catwoman rides home on her bike, angry Loverboy intercepts her on a bridge and sends her flying face first onto a grid, smushing up her face and breaking bones in the process. This is alright, obviously, because she made fun of him. He throws her shiny bike into the river below. She begs for him to help her, but he coldly kicks her off the bridge to her death. Again, it's fine, because she's a bully and a cocktease. This might be a slut-shaming MRA manifesto for the decades, but we'll see.

In the present day (because you know Loverboy's all grown up now), struggling college student Kylie begins to tiptoe into the world of camgirling, despite the side-eye from her roommate. Undeterred, she decides to join a house (GIRL HOUSE) filled with gorgeous women who are under surveillance all day via webcam, offering punters a more intimate experience rather than simple porn. (Note: nonchalant breasts and bonus lesbians!)

Kylie's sexy-cam debut is popular around the world. Especially with adult Loverboy, who is watching from his torture dungeon, or something.
There's some more nakedness and then the real stalking starts. Loverboy touches the screen like I do when I see a newborn kitten, though probably with less maternal intention. Is that a sex doll he has in his basement? A corpse? Spoiler: it's actually a murder mask. Remember, it's okay to be a nutcase if girls don't like you.

While Loverboy is creepy as fuck, he's also kind of presented as a tragic figure. His chats sound suspiciously like Nice Guy rhetoric. He just wants to be loved. When he goes to work (he's an IT guy) and ogles one of the women in the office, she calls him out on his behaviour. He looks like he's going to cry, then indulges a fantasy of striking her over the head with a crowbar. You know, just another day on the job for a Nice Guy.

This all reaches fever pitch in the way you might expect (though not without the sideline of Kylie's cute boyfriend ready to save the day). Loverboy is no longer interested in the other ladies of the house and only wants Kylie. He goes off the rails. There are murders (choked by a dildo or decapitation? You don't have to choose, we've got both in one scene!) All because Selina Kyle said he had an acorn dick when he was 12.

I assume the moral of this story is not to be a bitch or a slutty slut. Or just a Female in general (one of the other girls actually asphyxiates herself because Loverboy mutilated her face... shallow as she is, being a woman and all). But you'll already know this if you watch the news/television/worldwide media as a whole. We deserve this! Happy Women's History Month!

Verdict: Watchable, yet unimaginative.

Network Zero Score: 2/5

xSam

Thursday, 9 March 2017

What adverts for flats can teach us about writing horror



Hi there, I’ve been looking at finding somewhere to live recently. I noticed that adverts for rental properties tend to follow some of the rules of creating a feeling of horror, so I thought I’d break it down with a nice little article for you all.

Mystery lets the mind conjure up its own details

Lots of adverts for terrible flats feature very few photos of details. In fact, a lack of photos tends to inspire dread. It’s so easy to procure a picture nowadays (thanks to mobile phones) - the only reason you wouldn’t show rooms to people is because they feature non-euclidean geometry that hurts the eyes; that the walls are made of bone and lined with muscle; that strange faces can be seen trapped in the wooden flooring throughout.

Juxtapose the normal with the out of place.

Introducing strange details into an otherwise normal sentence throws off your expectations: why is this toilet listed as a "flushing toilet," why is the view from the window "exciting," how is the property “perfectly quiet?" Why is it important this flat is located between three different graveyards? What does it mean for humans that “no animals have been slaughtered at this flat?"

Things are not as they should be.

Something that appears to be one thing is, in fact, another. By the time you read the description, it’s already too late: the advert for a nice, self-contained, one-bedroom flat is actually a flatshare in a house with 15 other occupants. The “delightful family home” is actually a shed in someone's garden. That taxidermied animal may be dead, but that doesn’t stop it getting out of the case and clawing your door every night.

Present a harmless situation, and then escalate.

Adverts for rentals often show prices that do not at all relate what prospective renters will be required to pay- with hidden admin charges and prices listed as “per person, assuming multiple occupants”. Harmless situations like these cause one to willingly enter a position where they later realise the price is much more formidable and indicative of a greater evil. This kind of situation can work in horror: the things asked of us start small, and build into great obligations. It starts as just one drop of blood, a request for a forgotten secret, a name extracted from your memories. It ends as a body stolen, nightmares unleashed, or destruction of your very soul.

Conclusion

Rental advertisements teach us that vagueness allows the mind to conjure up its own terrors.
They teach us to be wary and unsettled by strange, out of place information in this sea of mystery.
Usurp expectations to create a situation where you begin to doubt the very nature of the universe.
Lure people in with innocent situations which then turn out to be the tip of an iceberg of horror.

Stay spooky!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Network Zero Watchlist #1: The Neon Demon

Welcome to Network Zero Watchlist - a (hopefully) regular diary of every horror movie we've suffered through for better or worse. First watches, rewatches, timely revisitations of old favourites, anything goes. I'm your hostess, Sinister Sam (wait... that's a Muppet). Come up with a name for me. KEEP IT CLEAN.

[contains spoilers]

Our first adventure comes in the form of Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, the much-maligned tale of Tinseltown sleaze. The movie was famously booed at Cannes, so I initially went forward expecting something awful: needless gore, misogyny and violence at the very least. My verdict as the credits rolled: I've seen a lot worse.

Winding Refn is known for his unrelenting style, sometimes over substance - Drive won a bevy of praise, but Only God Forgives was viewed as an exercise in blood-lit drudgery. (I like both films). The Neon Demon is easy to attack for this reason: it's an assault on the eyes, a rabid high-def hallucination, a Tumblr glow aesthetic blog come to life. There is a story, paint-by-numbers as it seems - innocent Jesse (Elle Fanning) is the new girl in Hollywood, looking to make her way in the modelling industry, but there are many enemies and allies ready to prey on her nubile young flesh.

Winding Refn doesn't shy away from gross visuals, but I've found much more offense in movies like Hostel which present artless gore porn for the simple glee of it. Even The Neon Demon's most uncomfortable scenes - a nightmare of sexual assault, the molestation of a corpse - are neither normalized nor eroticized, which is more than I can say for many male-led action films. Jena Malone's treatment of the dead body is supposed to be disturbing, and yet it also doesn't read like a cheap shock tactic. A river of menstrual blood may be slightly too heavy-handed for some, but it's tastefully shot in shadow. You can handle it.

The inclusion of cannibalism was a huge focus for the critics, though it seems like a teddy bears' picnic in comparison to NBC's Hannibal. These bloodthirsty moments only make up a small portion of the story, and are laced with dark humour. The problem might be that Winding Refn isn't skilled at satire - everything looks so serious that this is the message a viewer might receive.

My largest criticism is that the movie often feels a little slow, dragging its feet to some ominous conclusion. The cast is pretty awesome, most notably Abbey Lee Kershaw and Bella Heathcote, who play Jesse's Barbie-doll rivals. Refreshingly, the male characters are a simple backdrop for the women to work against; tools to move the action forward; footnotes.

The music, composed by longtime Winding Refn collaborator Cliff Martinez, is probably the standout feature for those who'd still prefer to leave the film on the shelf. If nothing else, check it out on Spotify and thank me later.

Network Zero Score: 4/5, calm down Cannes.

xSam

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

[actual play] Kingdom Death: Monster - People of the Stars - Lantern Years 21-25 - Ends of Empire



Aido, Anro, Angripede, and their newest arrival in the settlement, a man made of clay, Aura, headed out to hunt, seeking a great lion, the largest possible. They knew that to stalk such a beast they must become its prey. The sounds of the White Lions in heat sent  shiver through them. The very darkness clung to them, a clammy heat that sapped them of strength. And then with luck they found a lion club and slew it, drawing the attention of the largest female lion any of them had faced.


Look at the counters on that beast, but the survivors made short work of it.

The next lantern year approached, and the settlement set to work on the tomb for their Tyrant lord. A massive construction that involved back breaking work. And for this work they were gifted a Hazmat Shield.

Anabraxas, Ammut, Apalala and Anata Deva set out to hunt a Phoenix, intent on slaughtering the creature in order to created a Rainbow Katana. On their journey they encountered a Mask Salesman, and in exchange for a White Lion Mask, Anabraxas sold his name, and became Nemean Orichalcum. Journeying on, they came upon a river of glowing blood, felt time flow backwards and unmake their leather shield, and heard the bellowing of Gorm's laughter. 



That is one dead phoenix as lucky critical hits rend the beast apart.

Another year of back breaking work and the tomb of the Tyrant grew big and grand. But those sent out to fight took the blessing of the Tyrant and prepared to defend the settlement against one of the most brutal foes they had ever faced. The Hand. The luck bestowed by the Tyrant enabled the survivors, all who bore a white aura thanks to benefit of having all affinities enabling iridescent hide armour. But, no matter how hard they fought, and their one opportunity to land significant hits, the Hand brutally killed Anata Deva, Apalala, Anro and Angripede.



The final hunt had come, as the tomb stands complete, and the Tyrant looks upon those who do not bare a constellation, and with a sense of pride these survivors all fell dead. Aida, Aapep, Ammut and Aido headed out on one last hunt, seeking what they could from the Antelope. Along the hunt they easily dealt with the seething mass of ticks. Aapep found on the ground a strange pulsing stone heart. Following the migrating antelope, and following the river they found the beast and battle commenced, with Aida landing a killing blow, slicing the beast's neck open.






Death blow!
Doomsday has arrived, and the Tyrant shifted his form and became the towering Dragon King. His heart pulsed with the heat of a thousand suns. The eerie green glow illuminating the settlement. Aida Hwedo, Aapep, Ammut and Aido Wedo, stood before their lord, ready to perform their duty, to kill a god and in turn ascend to the heavens themselves. Aapep, a master of the spear, bore the celestial spear and hazmat shield, ready to face the behemoth.

Everywhere the monster trampled it turn stone to molten lava, able to send the warrior flying with but a flick of a finger, or sweep of a tail. With careful planning the survivors were able to whittle away the titanic monster. Bearing beacon shield and as much armour as possible the other survivors barely survived the searing nuclear blasts from the beast. But not all could survive, as Aida had his head melted away. Aapep herself was sent hurtling into the heavens only to land with a bone splintering crash. But her shield allowed her to weather the blasts of energy. Time and again the waves of energy were absorbed by the shield. Aapep acted as decoy, but together the hunters slew the dragon.










With the dragon dead, the survivors lifted the body and took it to the tomb, and together ate its heart. They felt a boiling heat within and crumbled to ash, only to rise again.

The End.




So the People of the Stars campaign is an epic way to play through Kingdom Death, punctuated with dramatic battles against the Tyrant himself, and finally with the Dragon King. The main aspect of this campaign that shines through is the focus on making some spic survivors and from them creating bloodlines that means that you can preserve and fast track survivors towards becoming survivors with constellations. I would have loved to have obtained more of the constellations, as I only got Storm three times and the Sculptor once, but those were really strong to have. I can't wait to play this campaign again, and swap out some of the quarries.

Right time for a new campaign.

[review] Guildball - Kickoff!





Guildball's new boxed game, Kickoff!, is both an excellent introduction to the game of Guildball, and also a wonderful self contained game.

The contents of the box are of a high quality, featuring two full teams of single coloured, one piece, plastic miniatures, die cut, thick, card components, mini rulebooks, and a playmat, and of course dice.

Lets start with the minis. They come sat in a vacuum formed holder in their own box. The Brewers team, are in orange, and the Masons in blue. Both teams consist of their season 1 roster, including a team captain, and a mascot. This means there are 12 miniatures in total. The single piece plastics are well made, and perhaps or a better quality than those made by Privateer Press currently. This bodes well given that Guildball is shifting over to this type of plastic in for all future releases. Something that they are also using for their upcoming release, the board game of Dark Souls.

Each miniature of course comes with their associated card that details their stats, abilities and playbook. These have been updated for season 3, with some teams and characters being re-balanced, with an overall improvement in the layout of the cards.

The thick card components are great too. They have a nice non-slip finish, and there are many. Again there are plenty of coloured counters for influence for each of the teams, and coloured tokens for abilities the characters are able to activate. Then there are counters for status effects, like poison, bleed, and knockdown. A useful set of templates, are the measuring templates. There are a good number of these, and they measure a range of distances. Both these and the scatter templates have been printed so there are enough for both players.


The rulebooks included is the full rulebook in a compact form, which is also available for free online. Perhaps it could be produced to a better standard like the mini rulebooks the Privateer Press provides in their boxed games, but still it is a good thing to have. The other books included are overviews on how to use the teams included in the box, and how to expand upon them in future, and a quickstart guide, that goes through a full first turn of the game, demonstrating how everything works.


Finally there is a 3 foot square play mat, that is double sided. The one side is a generic green pitch, which the other side is printed with a thematic field with goal markers for Brewers and Masons. This pitch is marked for 3v3 starter games and of course for larger games.

What was a surprise to me was the quality of this playmat. Rather than just some printed poster, what we get in the box is in fact a fold up card mat. The mat is in fact in two pieces, with when folded out and lain together forms the 3 foot square. Again the finish is tactile and non-slip. To go with the mat there are number of card tokens for terrain.

Overall I was really impressed with the contents of the boxed game, given that it is a great introduction to game, and for the price point, is a great self contained game that is not going to break the bank are require further investment, unlike some of the competitors out there.