I Had That! #48: Fotonovels

In the constant quest to relive one’s favorite TV shows and movies before the advent of DVDs or even VCRs in great numbers, the fotonovel was essential. These were fumetti-style comic book adaptations where, instead of artwork, stills from the films were used. Here’s how the above Buck Rogers fotonovel looked on the inside:

Do they even bother to make these anymore? I know they finally did ones for the original Star Wars trilogy a few years ago, but I don’t know that I’ve seen any others. (Apparently there was also one for The Blair Witch Project. Was the reader advised to shake the book around as he read?)

I had a bunch of these. Looking at a list of them, these are the ones I know I had:

Alien – talked about here.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
The Champ – yeah, I have no idea. But I distinctly remember it. Maybe I borrowed it from someone?
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Grease – And not only did they include the raunchy lyrics, there were even lines not in the movie, such as Rizzo telling Kenickie, “Keep a cool tool, fool. I’m wise to the rise in your Levi’s”
The Lord of the Rings – The animated Bakshi movie, which I was fascinated by, but not enough to read the actual books.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – I think. I’m not 100% sure on this one.
Battlestar Galactica
Mork and Mindy
Star Blazers – I have the first three volumes of, I think, six. And I love them and have wanted to for ages to get the remainders, but for a long time they were crazy expensive. I haven’t checked in a while.
Star Trek: Metamorphosis – I found this at a used book shop, which explains why I have a random episode and not, say, The Trouble With Tribbles, which I would totally have instead (I did have the “Making of” book about that, which I loved.)

They really should make these again. They were a lot of fun.

When did I get it? Various times in the early 80s.

Do I still have it? I still have those three Star Blazers volumes. I also have the Star Wars ones I mentioned. None of the others.

Posted in Comics | Tagged

The Movies-To-Watch List: Ministry of Fear (1944)

Remember the Movies-To-Watch list? Almost a year ago I made a list of ten movies I wanted to see before the end of the year. Well, I failed. For most people, knocking out ten movies is at most the work of a month or so, but for me, a whole year couldn’t do it, with the effort petering out as early as June, sort of. But I am undaunted, and I will not only finish the 2014 list, but I’m going to think of a 2015 list as well.

I actually watched Ministry of Fear right at the tail-end of 2014, but haven’t talked about it until now. It’s a Fritz Lang happening from 1944 about an everyday guy caught up unwittingly in a network of spies.

Honestly, this one didn’t really wow me. This plot, where a schmoe accidentally stumbles into espionage is something that has now been done a million times, and once you’ve seen North by Northwest and Foul Play it’s going to take a lot to make an impression. Since I can’t really say much towards any of the technical aspects of film, because that sort of thing is lost on me, all I have is plot and character. The plot is not only familiar, it’s kind of wacky. The way Ray Milland gets involved is, frankly, absurd, and some of the “twists” along the way (the spy leader is pretty much obvious the moment the character walks on screen) are likewise artificial and goofy. I will say that there is an interesting touch where Milland’s character may or may not have killed his wife, and in really crazy bit with a seance, but neither of those things goes much of anywhere. After M, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, and Metropolis, this one’s kind of a disappointment as far as wanting a really stellar movie goes. Still, it was a fun enough time.

Posted in Movies | Tagged

The Vic Vipers of Catan

Vic Viper using bits (settlements, cities, roads) from The Settlers of Catan.

Posted in Images | Tagged ,

I Had That! #47: Enemy Visitor Action Figure

V, for “Visitor”, not “Vendetta”, was an odd sort of thing to me. On the one hand, I eagerly watched the original miniseries in 1983 and enjoyed it. I bought the novelization of the miniseries and its East Coast Crisis companion book. I wrote a program for my VIC-20 to display the visitors’ symbol, a variant on a swastika. But when the TV series began, I didn’t really bother.

Part of this was the usual reason I didn’t bother with TV shows. The only color TV was in the den, so watching anything meant first wresting control from anyone else in the family, none of whom were much interested in science fiction, but even if I gained control I’d be sharing the room with people who would happily go on about how stupid what I was watching was and have no problem talking loudly on the phone while it was on and whatnot. The alternative was watching on the black-and-white TV in my parents’ bedroom, and that didn’t excite me. (Doctor Who escaped this by being on at 10:30 PM on Saturday nights, when everyone else had gone to bed.)

So although I was intrigued by the concepts in “V”, I didn’t really pursue it much.

This V toy (one that really weakens the “it’s not a doll, it’s an action figure!” debate) was itself kind of a cheat. I didn’t get him in 1984, when he came out, but a couple years later, when he was on deep clearance at Lionel Playworld. Seriously, I remember paying very very little for him and them having a crate of them. He’s a neat toy. The head comes off to reveal the lizard face, the tongue comes out, the sunglasses get lost, the uniform is well made, and he’s pretty large, meaning he’s out of scale with pretty much any other toy, so there isn’t much you can do with him.

What I did with him was take the fake human head off and put it on this vinyl Godzilla figure I had:

The result was named “Kenzilla” after Barbie’s boyfriend. Kenzilla came to college with me in 1986. The rest of the V figure stayed home.

When did I get it? They came out in 1984 and I probably got mine in 1986.

Do I still have it? Not the figure, not the head, not the vinyl Godzilla. I honestly thought I still had the latter.

Posted in Toys | Tagged , ,

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie

This week the world was horrified when gunmen burst into the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 11 people, including four of the cartoonists. Charlie Hebdo had previously been a target of violence by people who claimed to be Muslim fundamentalists, as they were known for doing things like putting out covers like this:


“The Koran is shit…it doesn’t stop bullets”

People who were rightly outraged by this crime stood up to denounce the perpetrators (and, as usual, the entire religion they were a part of and anyone who shared the same race as the people in the area where that religion was born) and show support for the murdered cartoonists. Satire, they shouted, is free speech, and killing people who say things you don’t like is vile. Vive Charlie Hebdo! Je Suis Charlie!”

Well they’re right, of course. Satire is a potent weapon against tyranny and injustice, often used to bring about social change. The French especially have a long tradition of this art. Satire’s job is to mock, and to respond with guns is to admit defeat and show how potent it is.

In the case of Charlie Hebdo, though, things are a little muddy. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I don’t support radical Islam or murdering cartoonists. (I don’t support much of any religion, to be honest, or any murder.) The victims are clearly victims, not perpetrators. But that doesn’t make them spotless heroes or noble martyrs.

Defenders of Charlie Hebdo and its ilk will point out that it was an “equal-opportunity offender”, mocking Islam, Judaism, and Christianity alike. I was told of how much they had mocked French racism. But, as author Saladin Ahmed said on Twitter, “In an unequal world, satire that ‘mocks everyone equally’ ends up serving the powerful.”

Folks may claim that it’s “not PC” to make fun of “radical Islam”, but that’s wholly untrue. Radical Islam and “jihadists” are one of the few groups you can have a field day on, as far as the majority is concerned. Especially in Europe, where nationalistic racism is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, fueled by concern over immigrants, usually Muslim ones. Mocking Islam is a clear case of “punching down”, of targeting a hated subgroup while the audience applauds. It’s not brave or noble, even if there’s a chance the target will strike back. That Charlie Hebdo also had covers rudely mocking Christianity doesn’t make the “Muslim” caricatures (all big noses, beards, and turbans) any less troublesome. If a comedian makes fun of spoiled white people and then goes off on a Mexican with a “wetback stealing hubcaps” gag, it doesn’t even out.

It’s especially problematic when “radical Islam” is to Muslims what “thugs” are to black people. In 2015 we still hear people saying, with deep sincerity, “Oh I don’t hate black people, only n—–s” like that somehow makes a difference. Lampooning the bomb-throwing fanatic carries little heft when, for much of the audience, he’s just a stand-in for any Muslim.

I grew up on my dad’s copies of Mad magazine from the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Similarly, Mad claimed that no one was safe from its biting satire, and for the most part they were correct. But anyone can tell you, the “satire” reserved for, say, gay folks, wasn’t exactly biting or incisive, it was just plain reactionary faggot-bashing. You can’t argue that in those decades gays had a position of power and needed to be taken down a peg. Is this cartoon not bigoted, because it also supports native Americans and blacks?


Mad #145, Sept ‘71, from “Greeting Cards For The
Sexual Revolution” — “To A Gay Liberationist” (source)

Good satire isn’t easy. Your target needs to be large enough to require it, which means it’s usually well-insulated. It’s always David vs. Goliath, and you have to have just the right stone and aim just right or else the target won’t even care. Bad satire throws a bunch of stones at Goliath and hopes one hits. Worse satire just throws stones at regular Philistines because they’re easier to hit and everyone hates them anyway.

“I may not agree with what you say,” Voltaire didn’t say, “But I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Is free speech valuable? Yes. Is it worth protecting? By all means. But defending your right to it does not mean defending your ideology. Being murdered for your free speech doesn’t make the content of your speech noble.

There are people calling for — demanding — that the images which offended the gunmen be widely circulated and posted everywhere as a show of solidarity for free speech and a middle finger against “radical Islam”. Somehow, reposting juvenile caricatures will unite all of us against the tyranny of, according to the French man-on-the-street reaction, mosques and kebab shops. There’s something troubling about insisting that countries with a non-Muslim majority disseminate anti-Muslim images “for freedom”, especially when there’s the added insistance that the Muslim countries do so as well, to prove they’re good sports and not one of the “bad” ones.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was cowardly and abhorrent. The victims should still be alive, should still be free to do whatever cartooning they want. They are not responsible for what happened. That doesn’t make what they did noble and praiseworthy, however. I’ll stand for free speech. I’ll stand for satire. I’ll stand for not killing people. I’ll stand for innocent victims. I won’t stand for bigotry and bullying.

Posted in Politics | Tagged ,

The Takahashi Job

Everyone, without exception, loves a good heist story. Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, that moment in Die Hard when you find out what’s really going on. Heists are great because you get to see an elaborate plan take shape and then go into action.

Pal Ziah Grace loves a good heist story, and was talking on Twitter one day about the idea of a heist story taking place within the genre trappings of a different kind of story. Like, say, a heist being planned in the midst of a romantic comedy, or a sword-and-sandals Egyptian thing where someone’s going after the Pharaoh’s tomb. He decided to put this chatter into action and called for contributions for a digital comics heist anthology called Steal the Show.

I came up with a pitch and sent it his way, and he liked it. But I didn’t have an artist for it. I worked on the first draft of the short script (it’s about five pages) and thought about who I could ask that might be a good fit for it. Suddenly it dawned on me: DAVE H.

You may remember Dave Hotstream from Space Cabby Meets Travis Bickle or The Living Lighthouse. He’s got a solid, affable style that I thought would go a long way towards selling my script, and I think he’s hilarious and deserves more notice. I asked him if he was interested, and he agreed!

I worked on the script over Christmas and sent him the final “working” script. (I haven’t done this before but I assume that as the art gets fleshed out changes to the script will be made to emphasize both.) I got back some character sketches from Dave and I am so stoked.

LOOK AT THESE

WHAT’S THIS? SOME MORE? WELL, OKAY!

We’re still in the early stages so I’m not going to say too much more, but I’ll keep you posted on future developments. In the meantime, you can also check out Dave’s Tumblr, where he’s also drawing and writing an epic fantasy saga.

Posted in Comics | Tagged , ,

What I Liked in 2014

I was going to do a recap of movies, videogames, blah blah but I don’t feel like writing it and you don’t feel like reading it. Plus, I have new stuff I want to get to. So here are the things I really liked from 2014.

These are things I liked during the year. Click on them if you want more details.

THESE MOVIES

THESE VIDEOGAMES

THESE TV SHOWS

THESE COMIC BOOKS

THESE LEGO THINGS

THIS DOG

Posted in Comics, Lego, Movies, TV, Videogames | Tagged

Top 10 12 New (to Me) Boardgames of 2014

(Previous Notable Games: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.)

After swearing last year that I had played too much junk, too many games that weren’t worth playing once, much less twice, and that I’d put an end to it, I broke my previous record and played 100 New to Me Games in 2014. While I admit that towards the end I kind of leaned into that number, it’s a dubious achievement.

Now, part of that was that this year, in addition to Unity Games and Trashfest, I also attended ConnCon and Gen Con, and all of those upped my number, but still, the majority of the new to me stuff was from my regular old gaming.

Of those 100 new-to-me games, I played 37 of them more than once. This doesn’t necessarily imply they were the ones I liked, as there were some in there I didn’t care for. Of the remaining 63, there were ten that I’m really looking forward to playing again: Akrotiri, Battle for Souls, Cockroach Poker, Gang of Four, Ground Floor, Hyperborea, Origin, Rails of New England, Sail to India, Zeppelin Attack. More to the point, to those 37 new-to-me games I played more than once, you only need to add 12 more games played more than once that weren’t new to me. The majority of games I played total were only played once.

At one point last year I decided to give Kickstarter a whirl and backed some boardgames. I received them all this year, and of the seven, only two or three are keepers. For the record, I played (and bought) some games this year that started their lives as Kickstarters, and which I liked a bunch, but I played far more KS-originated games that I’m glad weren’t backed with my own money.

The upshot of this is that I’ll probably be doing less overall gaming in the upcoming year. I just don’t have an interest in the latest procedural drudgery simulation from Europe or the latest worker placement metal coins thing from Kickstarter. I’d rather my yearly total of games played were only 20 games I really enjoyed instead of 200 games I didn’t care about. I’d rather spend my time doing something else.

But enough of the downer stuff. Let’s talk about the high point, the things I discovered and really like. The 10 best new-to-me games of 2014. Oops, there are 12. Well that’s a good thing, right?

Imperial Settlers – One of my all-time favorite games is The New Era, but it’s a tough game to teach and it goes a little long, so it’s hard to get it played. When I heard that Imperial Settlers was essentially the New Era engine simplified and streamlined, I jumped at the chance. The game is a gem, playing much more quickly and easily than its ancestor, but also with a flavor of its own. And it has a charming, affable look to it that hides its often brutal nature. The only issue I have with it is that I’d still rather play The New Era. Imperial Settlers is a keeper for now, and I think expansions are going to really make it shine, but my heart still belongs to The New Era. I wrote about Imperial Settlers here.

Battle Merchants – Battle Merchants started its life as a Kickstarter, and it’s one of the few games I’m sorry I didn’t back, not for any exclusive stuff, but because it’s the kind of thing I’d love to be able to say I helped support. I discovered it at Gen Con, unfortunately after my bags were full, but I immediately placed an order for it upon my return. I love the theme, where a bunch of fantasy races are having a war and you don’t care who wins, so long as they buy your weapons. It’s not groundbreaking but it’s a great idea done well and I’ve enjoyed all my plays of it. It deserves more attention, and I wrote about it here

Kolejka – Kolejka is a marvel of form and function. It’s intended to simulate going shopping in Communist Poland, an activity that consisted largely of standing in lines, jostling for position in line, and hoping to god the store will actually open and have merchandise — any merchandise. The game’s look and feel drives this point home both in its artwork and components (and the rulebook, which also tells more about the conditions of the time). More than that, though, it’s a fun take-that game, and the emphasis on theme helps greatly. Boardgames that try to teach people about something other than famous battles seldom do a good job of either teaching or being enjoyable, but Kolejka is the rare exception that does both. I wrote about it here.

Marrying Mr. Darcy – This is the only game I backed on Kickstarter that made it on the list (though I also liked Coin Age and Pairs). Marrying Mr. Darcy is exactly what I want out of such a project: a fun, inexpensive game by a new designer with an unusual theme. And it is a hoot. Hardcore gamers will hate it; it’s incredibly random and luck-filled, and one of the heroines may be unbalanced. But if you don’t have fun slap-fighting and trash-talking your rivals with this then I don’t know why you play games in the first place. It’s what is often called derisively an “experience game” in which the play session is what you’re there for, not necessarily the game itself. But I play games for a fun experience; if I want to challenge my brain I can do a Kakuro puzzle. Marrying Mr. Darcy is everything I want more of in boardgames. I wrote about it here.

Pax Porfiriana – Phil Eklund makes heavy, meaty games that by god are going to use every inch of the research he did on the topic. I’ve only played a couple of them, and honestly the ones I’ve played haven’t grabbed me — except for this one. It’s about the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the rule of the dictator Porfirio Díaz and honestly, I don’t know much more about it now than I did before I played the game. What I do know about it is that it’s a tight tableau-building game, and I like those a bunch. You are a rival to Díaz and are hoping to overthrow him with whatever resources you can tilt to your side. There are a ton of cards, but you only use some of them, so each game can have significant differences. It’s got a terrible rulebook and the design is hideous, but once you get past both this is a great game that unfortunately I think is nearly impossible to get one’s hands on.

Pandemic: The Cure – Pandemic was my Game of the Year in 2008 and it’s still a favorite, though it doesn’t get as much play as I’d like. This dice version of Pandemic takes all of the fun and tension of that game and translates it seamlessly into a different format, making it even more accessible and quick-playing than before, though with an added element of unpredictability (which can be mitigated through good play). I wasn’t sure I needed a dice version of Pandemic until I played it, and it immediately went on my wish list. I got a copy for Christmas and a bunch of casual game players played it over and over, determined to finally save the world. I still like the original, but this is a great alternative.

Thunder Alley – For as long as I’ve been playing boardgames, the champion of racing games has been Formula De. And I like it a bunch. However, I’ve hardly played it. It’s big, it’s super long, and there’s a lot of downtime. Thunder Alley is poised to take down the champion. It’s not only leaner and meaner, it also has more engaging play. Each player controls a team of cars, and the emphasis is on drafting and positioning instead of pure speed. It’s the opposite of a cooperative game, a parasitic one, where you’re trying to take advantage of what the other players are doing to help you out. It’s exciting and a lot of fun and I wish I’d played more of it last year.

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island – Designer Ignacy Trzewiczek’s motto is “boardgames that tell stories” and Robinson Crusoe is a stellar example of that. It’s a cooperative game in which the players need to find food, build shelter, deal with various hazards, keep from losing hope, and, oh by the way, some other goal that must be attained. The game is tough, and every play is full of tension and hard decisions. It’s not quite the usual “whack-a-mole” of many co-ops, as it’s not always clear what needs to be addressed most. The narrative that develops is always interesting, and the number of different scenarios already (including a “campaign” expansion) is staggering. It’s one of the two games on this list I don’t have my own copy of, but I plan on doing something about that.

Nations – If you followed along, Nations took a winding path to this spot. I was very excited about it, then played a game of it that didn’t thrill me, and then a disastrous game that was one of the worst gaming experiences I’ve ever had. After discovering the misery of that session was due to an important missed rule, I tried it again and once I was playing correctly it shot up in my esteem. I still think it favors military too much, but I’ll always say that about civ games (because they usually do). Nations worked hard to earn this spot and I’m glad I gave it the chance to do so. I wrote about it here.

Theseus: The Dark Orbit – It’s been a long time since I played a game that made me say, “Wow, that is not like anything else I’ve played.” In an environment where people get excited about some slight modification to worker placement, a truly unique game is something to be appreciated. These us was like that for me, to the point where it’s hard to describe. It seems like a “dudes-on-a-map” type game, but it’s more puzzly than that, and yet it’s also too sloppy and vicious to be just a thinky beard-scratcher. What it is is a lot of fun. I’ve only played it with two and would like to at least see the chaos that three or four would cause. This one definitely needs to be explored more. I wrote about it here.

Valley of the Kings – This was the New to Me game that got the most plays this year. I was introduced to it by pal Jim and I immediately bought my own copy and taught it to everyone I knew, usually with good results. While another small deckbuilding game got more attention this year elsewhere, this is the one I thought was more interesting and had more staying power. It also puts a new spin on deckbuilding, as getting cards out of your deck is not only important, it’s necessary to win. Deciding when to entomb a valuable yet powerful card is agonizing, and you have to make that decision over and over. Add in the number of cards that screw with opponents and you have a great game that plays well at all player counts. I wrote about it here.

GAME OF THE YEAR

Impulse – In a year with a number of strong contenders, this was not a clear and obvious choice to me until I actually knuckled down and made it. Impulse was the game this year that really impressed me the most. What I liked about it seems to be exactly what other people don’t like about it, unfortunately for it. It looks like it’s going to be a drawn out space conquest game with a lot of long strategy and tug-of-war, but the game is called “Impulse”, people! It’s not that at all, it’s a fast-paced bloody-knuckled sprint. Its stripped-down components and design make for a lean, quick machine that has very little fluff bolted onto it. Every game has been taut and fun, and so far three seems to be the optimum number, but it works fine with two. I’d love to see the chaotic mosh pit that six would be, at least once. Impulse is getting passed over a lot because it’s not what people thought it was, but once you appreciate what it actually is, it’s a delight. I wrote about it here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

This space is usually for things I got to too late in the year to really give some time to and expect to get more play out of.

Hyperborea – An interesting variant on 4x/dudes-on-a-map/deck-building without really being any of those things. I’ve only played it once so far, and with only two players (it seems more suited for more) but what I saw was pretty intriguing and I’d love to play it more.

Akrotiri – This game looked very much like a lot of the same stuff I’m really tired of, and if it had been a four-player game it probably would be. But for some reason I can’t understand, limiting it to two players made it really shine, and I think it would be a good one to have in the two-player rotation.

RETURNING FAVORITES

Ruins – More cards for The New Era? Please and thank you! This small expansion gave us new production, new leaders, and, of course, new icons to figure out! A treat!

When Race for the Galaxy first came out, I tried it and hated it. This year, for a number of reasons, I tried it again…and I really like it. Could I…could I have been wrong?

HEY YOU FORGOT

Dead of Winter, Firefly, Russian Railroads, Machi Koro, and Splendor are all things that are getting a lot of praise this year. I played them but was not wowed by any of them and actively disliked a few of them. I didn’t play Five Tribes, Abyss, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, A Study in Emerald, Camel Up, Tragedy Looper, or Panamax. My biggest disappointment was probably The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade, which I was so looking forward to and wanted to like so much but it just isn’t a good game.

AND FINALLY

The Board Game Ultimatum List and its resolution.

The Sky Above Matt’s Basement was the Color of Television, Tuned to a Dead Channel

Illuminati: Is Controlling the World Just a Thing of the Past?

Kickstarted to the Curb

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged