I Had That! #33: Lego Steam Shovel With Carrier

This is the first Lego set I remember having.

I vaguely remember the circumstances surrounding when I got it. I sort of remember being at my grandmother’s (my father’s mother) apartment (condo?) in Baton Rouge. We were there because someone had died, possibly my maternal grandfather. I was five or so at the time, and didn’t really know any of my grandparents, so to keep me occupied and out of the way, this was given to me.

It’s fairly old-school Lego. Minifigs were still a few years away, the wheels are the old metal-pegged ones, and the bulk of the pieces are what we think of as “standard” rectangular bricks, the stuff people who don’t actually buy Lego think aren’t produced any more in favor of box after box of Millennium Falcon cockpits.

Looking at the set on Peeron, it’s clear I couldn’t rebuild it with my current parts, even if I still had the instructions. I don’t have the doors anymore, and while I thought I had that big chunky turntable still, the one I have is white, but the one that came with this set was black. (I have no idea where the white one came from, as looking through the sets that came with one of those reveals only five sets that I know I never had.) I may still have the blue 1×6 brick with the headlights and grill pattern, and I still have the yellow winch. The 1×2 brick with the Lego logo was a favorite for a long time but it’s disappeared. And I still have the weird axle with the long bar on top (it’s split into two pieces in the Peeron list, but here it is assembled).

I would sporadically have Lego sets for the next few years, but Christmas of 1978 would really start me on the path to Lego fandom, and I’ll talk about that later.

When did I get it? This set was released in 1973. I don’t believe we were living in Louisiana yet, and I started first grade there, so I’m thinking I got this in 1973 or maybe early 1974.

Do I still have it? I still have some of the pieces, but not all of them, and I don’t have the instructions.

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I Had That! #32: Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine

A constant theme of my youth was trying out different fandoms. I criticize the nerds of today as being more interested in being into a fandom than in whatever that fandom is about, but I can’t deny that this was me as a kid. I wanted to be into Star Trek, though I didn’t watch a whole lot of Star Trek. I dabbled a very little in comic books. I theoretically liked science fiction. And there was also my Godzilla phase.

I had a model of Godzilla (there was a model-building phase as well) that had glow-in-the-dark pieces. I had a Godzilla jigsaw puzzle (there was a jigsaw puzzle phase). I bought the Marvel Godzilla comics. I loved everything about Godzilla except for actually watching the movies, which were too slow for me. When I was in the drugstore and saw the above cover of Famous Monsters, I couldn’t resist.

It was Godzilla that brought me in, but one inside the rest of the contents were fascinating. I read about all these old black-and-white scary movies, the actors in them, and the weird stuff for sale in the back. The next issue’s cover featured Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and I had seen other Harryhausen movies, so that interested me as well and I got it. After that Star Wars took over the cover spot for a few months and you know how that was.

I would end up buying the magazine sporadically. If you look at the covers here, you can see a parade of things that would have caught my interest, especially the Alien stuff. It was the current movies that kept me buying, but I also dug reading about the classic horror movies discussed within. I of course wouldn’t actually watch any of the movies. Back then, before VCRs even, the best you could hope for was one of them coming on the Sunday Morning Movie, and the few times I watched those they scared the bejeezus out of me (even such later Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder as The Crawling Eye and Fiend Without a Face.) But reading about them was pretty interesting, and I fancied myself a horror movie “fan” based on these articles alone.

Soon, though, I would gravitate away from Famous Monsters and move on to Starlog, which was more my speed, and which I may talk more about later.

When did I get it? July, 1977 is the cover date here. I don’t know how on target those dates are, considering Star Wars doesn’t show up on the cover until two months later, despite premiering in May.

Do I still have it? Not a one of them.

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Deck in a Box

You may, but shouldn’t, remember three years ago when I put a bunch of card games in a box. At the time this seemed like a pretty good idea, but ultimately it had drawbacks. The box was heavy, I didn’t always want to carry 18 card games with me to game day, and most importantly, I had 18 card games in a box that had none of their names on it. So when I was scanning my game shelf I overlooked all of them. Not good.

The other day at Staples I found the perfect solution. Lo!

Sixteen different card games in a nifty plastic arrangement that costs too much but oh well. Now I have the games neatly stored, but also visible and portable. Each of those boxes comes out, so when I want Sticheln I grab Sticheln and not 17 other games with it. The boxes hold a good size deck of cards, rules, and, in the cases of For Sale and Battle Line, other bits. I’ve also labeled each box with the number of players for the game, so I can quickly see which ones play what.

I bought two of them, so 32 of my card games will be neatly stored and accessible. I could probably even double up some of the smaller ones to store more.

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A Tale of Two Deckbuilders: Star Realms and Valley of the Kings

A few months ago a new game took the boardgaming community by surprise. Star Realms originated on Kickstarter, but it was picked up by a small publisher and released to huge success. It was in high demand, selling out soon wherever it was found.

The appeal of Star Realms is that it’s a deckbuilder — a game where you start with a weak initial deck and keep buying cards to add to it and make it stronger — that was small, fast, and inexpensive. For under $20 you got a deck that had you set for two players. Add another deck and now four can play.

The game play is pretty good. You start with a few weak ships that generate trade and attack. The deckbuilding is done Ascension style, where there’s a row of cards you can buy from that is refilled as you go. Cards belong to one of four factions, each of which specializes in one aspect of the game. A card will often get some kind of boost if played with another card from its faction. The goal is to attack the opponent, reducing her Authority (life) down to 0. It’s easy to learn and plays quickly.

The whole thing comes in a small, pocket-sized box. It’s an attractive package, both physically and psychologically, having an entire deckbuilding game of spaceships and starbases and pew-pew-pew packed into a tiny footprint. To add to the appeal, there’s now a digital version on PC, Mac, Android, and iOS, which is free to download and only costs a few bucks to unlock features. (I’m Legomancer on it, feel free to challenge me!) This has increased its appeal even more.

I grabbed Star Realms at Gen Con, where I first played it. Since then, all my plays have been online, but there have been a bunch of them. It’s a fast game, and has a certain “just one more”ness to it. It’s a fun game, and I like it. That said, despite having played a bunch of games online, it was pretty soon that I figured I’d seen everything the game had to offer. While the choices you make in the game aren’t as obvious as they seem (you don’t necessarily want to buy whatever you can afford, for example), they also aren’t terribly subtle. There are some combos to be found, but most of the cards are pretty straightforward, offering you one thing or another. It’s a good game, but it’s still a smallish game with a limited card pool to draw from. Expansions, assuming there are any coming, may help with that, but then the game won’t be pocket-friendly anymore, and that’s part of the appeal.

Meanwhile, AEG, which has put out both microgames and deckbuilders, quietly released Valley of the Kings, which has hardly gotten any hype. Like Star Realms, it’s a deckbuilder in a small box (half the thickness of Star Realms’, but twice the width) with a small price tag. Unlike Star Realms, it plays 2-4 right away. And unlike Star Realms, it’s full of tough, interesting choices.

In VotK, you are preparing your tomb for the afterlife. You’ll be using your cards to buy books and sarcophagi and canopic urns and such to help you enjoy the sweet hereafter. These cards will have powers that increase your money, gain more cards, or screw with your opponents. They’re also worth victory points. However, only the cards you pack away in your tomb will count for victory at the end of the game. You can have the finest collection of god statues the Nile has ever seen, but if they’re not in your tomb they’re not in Valhallankhamun or whatever the Egyptian afterlife is and they score nothing. And if they’re in your tomb, you can’t use them. So at some point you have to start throwing your good cards into your tomb and hope you can do without them. In addition, you can only buy cards from the bottom row of the pyramid arrangement of cards, but then the others crumble down to fill the missing space. So you can see what’s coming up to purchase.

That balance between having powerful cards to play and purchase with and getting those cards into your tomb is tough enough, but you also have to deal with cards that mess with each other’s plans, making you discard or sacrifice cards, give cards to an opponent, or even just removing a card from the pyramid that you know your opponent wants.

I heard about VotK after Gen Con and immediately ordered a copy. Since then I’ve played it several times, usually with two players. Meanwhile, my physical copy of Star Realms languishes. I like Star Realms, I really do, but Valley of the Kings is just a better game. It doesn’t have an online version, and wouldn’t really do asynchronous play well (some cards are played during an opponent’s turn), so I’m cool with playing that one live and Star Realms on the iPad. And VotK plays up to four.

I’m not really trying to pit one against the other here. They’re both good games, each with their own merits, of which I think one has more. I think Star Realms is fine, but I hate seeing Valley of the Kings getting completely ignored when I think it’s doing the better job of the two. It deserves more attention. It deserves your attention. Go check it out.

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Ten Years Ago We Had Bob Drugs, Johnny Cash, and Steve Guns. And Now…

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I Had That! #31: Matchbox and Hot Wheels Cars

Does it count as memories if I had to be reminded of it? The other day I was scrolling through Tumblr when a post featuring a bunch of old Hot Wheels cars when by, and that car up there, the Spoiler Sport, jumped out at me. Yes, I had that car. I loved that car. And this made me realize I had to talk about toy cars.

Before action figures, toy cars of the Matchbox and Hot Wheels varieties were right up there with plastic dinosaurs and army men as essential boy toys. Every kid had tons of these, usually from (as with Tonka trucks collections of other kids who had outgrown them. I’m sure some of these were bought off the rack, but I mostly remember just sort of having them.

I can’t really remember how we played with them, but I know we did. They had adventures, I guess? Memories are faint of all but the cars themselves. Going through wikis of both Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, although “Spoiler Sport” (first produced in 1977) above is Hot Wheels, the rest of the ones I remember were Matchbox. Here are some of my favorites:


Planet Scout (1975)


Blaze Buster (1975)


Cosmobile (1975)


Stretcha Fetcha (1972)

What do those all have in common? They’re all science fictiony. Even the fire truck looks like a spaceship, and in fact I know at the time when I drew spaceships they had that angled nose like the Spoiler Sport. The exception that proves the rule was this one:


Piston Popper (1973)

Which is a “normal” car, but when it rolled the pistons moved up and down and that was pretty cool.

I never, even in my teens, got into cars. Back then, when friends of mine could point out a Dodge or a Ford or whatever, I had no idea how they knew the difference. They all looked alike to me. To this day I realize that if I ever witnessed some kind of getaway I’d be useless to the cops. “What kind of car was it?” “Uhh, a sort of gray one?” Even in the case of distinctive models, such as the Corvette/Trans Am rivalry back then, I had no idea how to choose a side and couldn’t be roused to care. Cars as cars held no interest to me. Thus, while my friends might have grabbed some kind of classic model off the Matchbox shelf, I generally went for whatever had the coolest, most futuristic shape.

When did I get it? 1975-1976 seems to be the right time, but the Spoiler Sport coming out in ’77 messes that up. I imagine we played with them until Star Wars figures arrived on the scene in early ’78.

Do I still have it? No, none of them. No idea what ended up happening to them.

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