Explosion High Issue One!

If your sidekick is slacking, your alien hero’s awful or your deity’s down in the dumps, you can always send them to Explosion High to learn how to be a superhero!

The school’s got a beautiful jungle campus surrounded by lasers, dinosaurs and laser dinosaurs, but don’t worry, the forcefield around the campus works 90% of the time!

Professor Explosion’s strict courses involve training students in skills needed for both your hero and secret identities, punctuated with deadly traps to keep students on their toes!

Kid, Trouble, Dawn, Mercury, The Mighty Z, Knight Lite and Skyshark are some of the newest students in Explosion High! and possibly the best, if they survive the first day!

Split into three stories, Explosion High follows our doomed students:

The Exploding Race literally drops the characters into the action and blows them up! Kid, Skyshark and Mercury have to pass the final test, fleeing through the jungle to the campus, being chased by dinosaurs. Art by Norrie Millar and colours by Faye Stacey.

Bad Guy follows Trouble, Knight Lite and Dawn as they’re late, lost and surrounded. Can they survive each other, let alone the dinosaur jungle? Art by Debora Lancianese.

The Faulty Stars brings the surviving cast members together and drops an alien into the mix, as we finally see our team! Art by Mike Armstrong, colours by Debora Lancianese!

The stories are written by me, lettered by Rob Jones, edited by Matt Hardy and there’s even an epilogue with my previous collaborator on Blob Detective and Tales from the Quarantine, the wonderful Russell Mark Olson.

If you like the X-Men, Venture Bros and Clone High, then this is the place for you. It’s some high energy superhero nonsense, able to be both brightly coloured fun despite all the deadliness.

Digital Copies

There are a few different places you can pick up Explosion High at the moment.

ComicHaus is a kind of ‘Netflix for indie comics’, where you can subscribe to get access to anything from their library with a subscription fee (or a free trial if you just want to check it out for this). As well as Explosion High, there’s work from Mad Robot Comics and the regular creators we team up with.

Itch.io is a digital platform for creative indie content. That includes video games, RPGs, prose and comics. I’ve put up Explosion High up on there as I’m curious to see how comics do on that platform, and I know creators generally get a better cut, even if it’s not the most searchable platform. If you go here, you’ll get the comic in PDF.

DriveThruComics is a digital storefront similar to Itch, but with better search functionality and a lot more content already on there, so it’s swings and roundabouts as far as what’s better. Again, you can get a PDF copy here.

I’m also proud to say that I’m the first of the Mad Robot Comics empire to be on BuySmallPress with Explosion High, so you can get it there, too!

Physical Copies

Mad Robot Comics are currently seeking distribution through Diamond, who have had what could be called ‘a year’ for the last two years. I used to spend hours every month putting through orders with them back in my comic shop days, so it’d be interesting actually listing a comic through them. That’s a little while off, though.

Speaking of my comic book days, I’ve been selling physical copies through Dave’s Comics in Brighton, my alma mater and one of my favourite places. There are limited supplies there, so if you’re in the city, pick one up ASAP.

Similarly, my current home away from home is the Dice Saloon, where I professionally GM indie RPGs every other week. They also have a limited supply of the comic, so you can pick them up there.

Finally, follow the Mad Robot Comics Twitter account as the Magnificent Matthew Hardy (Cyberarchy, Cadavers, Vehicle-Kill) and Awesome Ash Deadman (Murder Most Mundane, Saxon’s Second Hand Books) are currently attending comic conventions on the Mad Robot Comics stall. They’ve been to several last year and depending on how everything goes with the pandemic, hopefully they’ll be back out in 2022 and I’ll be joining them in the future to shill all our comics.

The amazing pin-up by Gustaffo Vargas!

The Kickstarter and The Future

Explosion High Issue One’s Kickstarter is done. Everything’s been shipped out apart from a couple of physical copies which people have not given me addresses for. I’ll be checking in every few months to see if they’ve finally updated their details, but I figure at this point I’m calling it done.

I need to start sending copies to reviewers, as I want not only to get this issue into more hands, but to get more eyes on issue two.

Speaking of which, I am planning to have issue two out on some crowdfunding platform this year, although I’ve got a lot of things to consider with that at the moment. I have most of the original art team returning and a pair of more tightly-connected stories going from a dorm party to gym class.

The annotated script reward level was a joy, but it was incredibly labour intensive, so I’m thinking I’ll create one annotated script, scan it and then have a less limited tier where I’ll vandalise one part of each annotation in a unique way. That was more people will get to see the tangents I go on both in the script and annotations, the pictures I put in, and any puzzles, tears, burns and cut-out sections. I’ve also put in a couple of spots where people can back and have themselves as superhero students, probably not surviving Explosion High.

During CabinCon, a mini-convention with friends, I wrote the script for a 16-page ‘zine style comic which I’m also hoping to find an artist for an get up on Kickstarter next year after the EH2 project. It’s somehow even scrappier and weirder than Explosion High, a kind of cross between Masters of the Universe, Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, Adventure Time and Yor: Hunter from the Future. I’ll share more noise about that when I can.

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Casual Trek

The cover for our podcast

I’ve been in a Star Trek mood for a little while and it’s not gone away. I’m a fan, but not a massive fan. During lockdown I started a rewatch of Deep Space NIne and after running Modiphius’ Dishonored RPG I started reading up on their Star Trek one. I think that in that time and even now, I needed a glimpse of something a touch utopian.

Starfleet… they’re not a perfect organisation, but they’re generally on the right track. While there are some bad seeds, the group as a whole are pretty good. It feels like there’s a split of turbo nerds and swashbuckling idiots in Starfleet. People who love examining rocks and people punching and/or sleeping with anything they find in space. That combination seems to work out for them as a whole.

I’ve run RPGs set in the Star Trek universe a few times and once had a couple of massive bin bags of Star Trek VHS tapes thanks to a friend. They were mostly unlabelled tapes taken from the television, so I watched and filed most of them before eventually getting them disposed of because VHS tapes weren’t a thing anymore.

A video case for The Cage, the first of the Star Trek pilots.

Anyway, podcasts… I’m a fan of podcasts like Battle of the Atom, BatChat with Matt and Will, and the podcast within the War Rocket Ajax podcast, Every Story Ever. They cover a few comics in each episode, ranking them on a big list from best to worst. I found BatChat when I was playing Arkham City, and I started looking for a Star Trek equivalent. There wasn’t one, and the idea of making my own version game into my head.

Enter Miles.

We were part of the same writing group who met every November for NaNoWriMo, and would keep meeting up even when the other people dwindled away. Every Sunday we’d write, chat about things and write some more. Miles moved to Wisconsin to be with his love, and we fell out of contact. He visited Brighton once after, we got chatting like old times and each realised the other religiously listened to Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men. From that point, we would regularly chatter on Facebook Messenger about comics and general other things.

I told Miles about my idea to make a Star Trek podcast, and the bastard called me on it.

I appeared on the Who Dares Rolls podcast, but I literally just showed up, spoke into a Rock Band mic (later a fancy gamer headset from my brother) and that was all the experience I had.

The challenge was set, and I figured I’d try it and pretty much learn as I went.

An advert for Star Trek: The Next Generation’s pilot on Videocassette

Miles and I recorded a test episode, calibrating our tastes in which Star Trek series we liked more than others, our own experiences of the shows and our favourite characters. I used that to try out Audacity and learn how to edit. It worked, so we came up with more of a plan for episode one, and even more of one for episodes two onwards. I’ve edited the first three episodes and the fifth’s been recorded. You’ll hear our test episode as a bit of bonus content between episodes two and three.

This Monday, you’ll get to hear our first episode, “Flat Galaxy Theory”, where we watch the first three pilot episodes from Star Trek series, discuss them and put them on a big list of best to worst. We’re both fans of Star Trek, but it’s not our biggest fandom, so as folks who think Star Trek’s “Pretty decent”, we should be the objective authority about whether or not any given episode of Star Trek is better than the last.

Episode one’s cover. Surprisingly I made no Singing Ringing Tree references when talking about The Cage

You can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify and probably a number of other podcatchers. If you do that, then on Monday morning at 11am, you’ll get an episode of our podcast, followed by another every fortnight.

This podcast is part of the Nerd & Tie Network, and you can find the official announcement along with some of those podcatcher links here.

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Amphigorey (Graphic Novel Quest)

By Edward Gorey

We got a couple of the small Edward Gorey books in at Dave’s Comics when I was working there. I immediately enjoyed the Gashleycrumb Tinies and when Amphigorey came in, I picked it up right away.

The one time Nick Cave came into the comic shop, we ended up talking about ceilings and about Edward Gorey’s work as he was unsurprisingly, a fan.

The Plot

It’s difficult to really get into the plot, as this is a collection of several morbid short stories, illustrated two to a page, sometimes with a caption, but sometimes the images just stand on their own.

The stories are all entertainingly creepy. The Gashleycrumb Tinies is a rhyming A-Z of infant death, although they’re often teased at in the images and all adorably dark. The Bug Book is a weird, colourful change from the black and white the rest has. The Willowdale Handcar is a fun journey which goes past a number of odd locations as we follow a trio on a handcar. The Doubtful Guest is kind of adorable, but also a little unpleasant.

They’re best taken one at a time and digested in that fashion rather than binged. I know I’ve raced through it before and aside from a couple, they didn’t all sink in so much.

Is it any good?

Yes, it’s very good. If there are still the individual volumes, you might want to check those out instead, but this is a fantastic collection and a good book to dip into from time to time.

Am I keeping it?

Yes, and I’m annoyed I can’t find my copy of the second volume.

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Alias Ultimate Collection Vol 1 (Graphic Novel Quest)

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Michael Gaydos, Colours by Matt Hollingsworth and Letters by Richard Starkings

Marvel Comics went hard when they decided to launch their ‘Max’ line of Comics Codeless ‘mature readers’ comics. They also tapped Brian Michael Bendis who most people might have known from Ultimate Spider-Man, but also had a background in crime comics (more on those later this year).

Alias may have the same name as the spy show which came out the same year, but it’s a totally different story. Handily, a lot of you will know the basics from the Jessica Jones television show which aired a few years ago, although this is a lot closer to the Marvel Universe than that show, it’s also a bit similar to DC’s Chase, which was one of my motivations for buying the series when it first came out.

This is literally the start of Marvel’s mature readers ‘Max’ line. They really start as they mean to go on.

The Plot

Jessica Jones was an Avenger for an incredibly short time. That’s okay, they’ve had tons of members who no one remembers. Did you know they had Gilgamesh from the Eternals on their roster? Or that Mr Fantastic was an Avenger briefly? I only did because they were in an Inferno tie-in.

Anyway, Jessica was an Avenger and then *something* happened, which is alluded to but not discussed openly in this volume. We get two stories and several hints about Jessica’s life both as the super-powered Jewel, and as a post-heroic private detective.

A memento from Jessica’s brief stint as an Avenger.

The first story arc has Jessica hired to spy on someone and getting some footage of Captain America with them, shortly before their death. She has to navigate a superhero community which she ditched and suspicious motivations from her employer.

The second story has Jessica searching for Rick Jones, the constant sidekick to Captain America, Hulk and the Avengers as a while. He’s apparently married, mooching off folks and now vanished.

I enjoyed the Jessica Jones show, but I did wish there were some cases which weren’t all tied back to her origin and her superhero times. I can understand how it would be impossible for an MCU to have all the appearances of Captain America, Captain Marvel and many other heroes whose names don’t begin with Captain.

Some classic Bendis patter

Is it any good?

There are valid criticisms for his style, but I’m a sucker for a Bendis page. This is a good book, although it is only half of the comic, all of which I still have in floppies. Gaydos’ art definitely feels of the era and you wouldn’t recognise Jessica if you’d only seen the television show, but it’s still a classic.

Rick Jones, who I was confused by after reading the Peter David Captain Marvel. There is a reason for his presence here, though.

Am I keeping it?

This one’s difficult. I am definitely keeping it in some form. I’ve got the whole thing in individual issues and while I’d like a collection of it, the hardcover version I’ve got is very out of print, so I’d need to either get rid of the collection and replace it with modern softcovers which collect the whole thing, or stick with the individual issues.

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Akiko Volumes 1-7 & Flights of Fancy and Amelia Cole (Graphic Novel Quest)

Akiko Volumes 1-7 & Flights of Fancy

By Mark Crilley

The Plot

Akiko is a human girl who one day gets an invite to the planet Smoo, a slightly squished-looking planet. She’s sent to save the young Prince Froptoppit due to what seems like an administrative error but is actually an attempt to get the pair to meet as the prince fancies her.

On this journey, her companions include Spuckler Boach, a messy rogue, Gax, a loyal robot who keeps losing parts, Mr Beeba, a pompous academic and Poog, a floating orb with eyes and a mouth who few can understand. They’re a brilliant, messy cast, often clashing with each other but at their best when they’re working together.

The ‘working together’ thing doesn’t happen often.

Smoo and the other worlds are all brilliantly weird, illustrated gorgeously by Crilley and explained to Akiko who acts as our viewpoint for the stories. It feels like a precursor to things like Adventure Time, as a heroic, chaotic mess which works well for children and adults.

Volumes 1-3: The Menace of Alia Rellapor

Folks, I’ve done the bad thing and I have Akiko volumes from two different runs. Volume One is from the pocket book versions which are roughly manga-sized, then the rest is from the regular-sized run. This is because the pocket book version contained the original “On the Planet Smoo” comic as well.

Akiko’s returned to the planet Smoo as Prince Froptopit’s actually been kidnapped this time. The quest goes through all sorts of wonderful, strange places and a motorway service station in the middle of a bridge. This feels like the series proper, where the original strip was a proof of design. It’s the longest story, stretching over three volumes. There are a few twists which are guessable, such as the identity of the evil Alia Rellapor, but it still throws in some fun surprises and incredible visuals. If you had to only read one Akiko story, this is definitely the one to go with.

Volume 4: The Story Tree

The next volume is a series of short stories from the cast, including Beeba meeting some religious zealot fanboys of an old novel, potential romance for Spuckler, a congregation of weird robots with Gax and even a brief interlude from Poog which is as odd an nonverbal as you’d expect from the singing, floating head.

Volume 5: Bornstone’s Elixir

Beeba’s mentor is dying and only a mythical elixir could help him. The mentor doesn’t want this to happen, but Beeba gets the band back together regardless. There’s an upside down floating city in here, and that’s just the place they set off on their quest from.

The city’s upside down, but everyone else is the regular way up.

Volume 6: Stranded in Kimura/Moonshopping

This volume’s split into a couple of shorter arcs. Stranded in Kimura takes us out of Akiko’s head and into a human who ends up looking after Akiko and the aliens as they land on Earth and don’t have a way back off. The change of perspective is really interesting and Akiko’s worldliness from her previous adventures makes her seem alien.

Moonshopping is back to the usual affairs as Smoo needs a new moon and the aliens are sent into another dimension to try and get one. It’s somehow weirder than the usual Smoovian stories, including this awesome-looking guy who has a pad for a head.

Volume 7: The Battle of Boach’s Keep

A curious end for the main stories, this one has Spuckler selling his family’s falling down farm to a corporation, then waging a one-man war against them when he realises what he’s done. Akiko’s story is separate from Spuckler’s for the majority, but both are dealing with GothTek, a giant corporations somewhat like if Amazon became The Empire from Star Wars. More so than they already have.

While GothTek are far from innocent here, a real focus is on Spuckler’s personal state as he loses more and more in order to grasp onto land which he did sell. It’s a sad story, but still manages to end in a satisfying manner.

Flights of Fancy

The final volume of Akiko contains small strips contained in the back matter of the individual Akiko issues, and a new one, as well. They vary in length and style, but there are some fun little tidbits including a few fourth wall breaks which work well with the sprawling chaos of the first few strips as they interweave with each other.

Is it any good?

Yes, very good. As a GM of roleplaying games I can see where I took some influences for the landscape as far back as the days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Things like the upside down city and living castle are great visuals. During the ongoing unprecedented times, I finally got round to watching most of Adventure Time and it’s got that same kind of sensibility to it. Even though it’s very much an ‘all ages’ joint, it’s definitely worth the time of kids and adults alike.

Am I keeping it?

Yes, although I’ve made a note to see whether or not I can find any other version of it, given the mismatched copies I’ve got of the series. Despite the size difference, I might keep the smaller first volume on the shelf with the larger ones, as that might get me reading it more often.

Amelia Cole and The Unknown World

Written by Adam P Knave and DJ Kirkbride

Drawn by Nick Brokenshire

Lettered by Rachel Deering

I’m pretty sure I heard about this on the War Rocket Ajax podcast. It’s a Monkey Brain comic, which released digitally first. I read a few series that way, but I fell off pretty quickly when Apple stopped letting me buy comics directly through the ComiXology app. I’ve since got more used to using the browser to buy and app to read, but I basically just lost momentum.

Plot

Amelia Cole is a magician who lives between a world of magic and a world of mundanity, but she finds herself stuck in a world which does a bit of both. Normal humans are second class citizens, with the police and a hooded vigilante looking after anyone magical.

Amelia’s got ties to this world beyond just accidentally ending up here. She also makes a golem out of tools and replaces her wand with a hammer. The series is brightly made, fairly chill in its world despite the darker tones of it all. Even though stylistically it doesn’t look like a Ghibli movie, it has that tone of a beautiful world that’s kind of sad and dangerous, with a lot more going on under the hood.

Lemmy’s a good golem.

Is it any good?

Yeah. The story’s fairly simple but the world’s great, even the supporting characters are fun, the art’s lively and engaging.

Am I keeping it?

Probably, yes. I like it, but I’m not in a massive rush to continue with the books yet. I think I’m a few volumes behind but I’ve no idea how long it went on for or whether it even ended.

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100 Bullets Volumes 1-13 (Graphic Novel Quest)

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by Eduardo Risso, Colours by Patricia Mulvihill, Letters by Clem Robins and Covers by Dave Johnson

The Agents Shepherd and Graves

I didn’t get into Vertigo when it first came out as a line within Detective Comics Comics. Instead, I started with Preacher and Transmetropolitan which were long-running Vertigo series which had a beginning, middle and end. As someone who mostly reads cape comics which are an eternal soap opera, there’s something quite satisfying when I stray from that genre when a series actually ends.

100 Bullets was a crime comic I bounced off initially, despite the great concept. I’ll admit it’s mainly because of the art. Again, I was used to cape comics and there was a stylistic flourish which I found a bit ugly. Still, I peservered and despite not caring for it at first, Risso’s art really grew on me.

Things don’t end well for a lot of characters in this series.

It’s a crime comic I was getting into a little after I’d started watching shows like The Wire and Oz, so it goes in that kind of bucket in my head. It has some fascinating morality plays, although reading it again in 2022 makes me wonder whether there was research by Azzarello, whether he spoke to people of other cultures when writing extremely stereotypical sounding dialogue for them. It comes across more potentially cringey than racist but then I’m a Southern English fop, so I’m probably not the person to judge it for appropriateness.

The Plot

The first meeting of Graves and someone for his ‘game’ in the series.

100 Bullets is primarily a question of morality, shown in different ways. The main one is a question easily pitched to the audience themselves.

An old man appears one day with a briefcase. He explains to you that there was a point in your life where things went wrong. Your life was ruined in some way, and it’s all attributable to one person. The briefcase has a photo of them, proof, a gun and one hundred bullets. They’re not traceable, if you’re caught with them then the police will throw you back out on the street.

The man, Graves, doesn’t tell you to kill the person who did this, but the implication is there. The temptation.

This isn’t even the main story for this issue, but there’s always something going on with Graves.

For the first half of the story, it’s mostly contained in vignettes of one to five issues, so you normally get a couple per volume. Graves’ game has been going on for a while, but we first see him deliver the case to Dizzy Cordova, fresh out of prison and armed with the knowledge of the two policemen who were the murderers of her husband and child.

Dizzy doesn’t just dive into things; instead she goes to the police, she sees old friends, she really goes over it before finally fighting both the officers and a surprise culprit.

The story moves on, although Dizzy returns later. We see people given this information who dive right into their murder, who fail incredibly, or are in the background while other plots are going on. Graves keeps at this game, even while there are other people like Agent Shepherd, who seems to be following him.

Even when you get a one-off story of a person being armed, there seems to be some kind of connective tissue behind it all. To quote Lester Freamon from The Wire, “All the pieces matter.”

Our first close-up appearance of Lono.

The Real Plot… spoilers

100 Bullets is a story about a criminal organisation. No, THE criminal organisation. The Trust are an ancient order of thirteen families who carved up America between them. They were policed by a group called The Minutemen, who were the biggest, baddest murderers, activated when a house made moves against another. Traitors would be dealt with swiftly, brutally.

Agent Graves acted as the leader of the Minutemen who have charming names like The Monster, The Saint, The Bastard and so on. The Trust waged a war on the Minutemen who responded in kind, then went to ground. Hypnotic triggers were put in most of them and they were sent out to live their lives until they see or hear the word, “Croatoa”, apparently a victim of ancient Minutemen.

The first time we see the trigger word used, it’s an amazing impact, just to show how big an epiphany it causes.

The word wakes them up and a bloodbath often ensues. Sometimes it works in their favour, sometimes it doesn’t. Most of these characters are sent on their path by Graves, hoping that his game will have a way to reactivate them, even though not everyone will survive them. He even has a couple of new potential Minutemen like Dizzy and Loop, the son of an old Minuteman.

The game’s not the only thing on the table though. Some houses in The Trust are using the lack of policing to close ranks, killing and absorbing other houses. Agent Shepherd has mercurial interests, seeming to be helping both The Trust and Graves. Lono, a former Minuteman who wasn’t there during one of their massive moves against The Trust which solidified the war between them is a beast of a man. He’s an evil Wolverine, a Lu Bu, a voracious and compelling monster who seems near invincible, making his encounters with the far too mortal Minutemen terrifying.

The volumes I bought were of various sizes, collecting specific story arcs up until the final four volumes which are all neatly of similar length as it’s all one story by that point. The games are over and no one’s making it out alive.

Another Minuteman stumbling closer to the truth.

Is it any good?

Yes, although that is with an a couple of criticisms.

It can get a little busy, story-wise when it’s still playing keep-away with what Graves and Shepherd are up to, and their loyalties. The obfuscation can make things a bit tricky to keep track of, but that’s a problem that sorts itself out as time goes on and the cast get whittled down.

The other point of confusion is the nicknames the cast have. That most of them are amoral stubbly white guys of roughly the same build and the nicknames are kind of generic doesn’t help. It feels a bit like a Three Jokers problem, as most of them could be, “The Bastard” or “The Point Man”. Again, between body count and the fact the nicknames are more historical aspects of the characters means that it’s a problem that sorts itself out.

My final issue is the dialogue. It might be that Brian Azzarello did a lot of research and hopefully he did. I know he’s been praised for his dialogue and the specificity. He uses a Tarantinoian amount of the N word and goes all over the place with crudeness. It just made me cringe a bit and ponder the level of research Azzarello did while I was reading the series.

This is a horrible, seedy world where pretty much everyone’s up to no good. The background characters are as likely to be up to something as our protagonists. Risso draws a vibrant, lively world which is as colourful as it is shady. Some standout moments include Lono’s introduction in the background of an early story as he fights a helicopter on a clear blue day, all while our protagonist and antagonist don’t notice, or the sight of a tiger which feels almost supernatural compared to the street level everything else has here.

Good news, the tiger survives.

Am I keeping it?

Yes, and I’m keeping these volumes. I know there are thicker ‘complete’ versions which turn the thirteen volumes into five, but I think I prefer them this way, contained in the different arcs and mostly given a name referential to the number of the volume. While I’m likely to read the whole run, these specific break points are all great for the flow of the story.

One of The Trust, too powerful and too confident in his victory over the Minutemen.
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52 Volumes 1-4 (Graphic Novel Quest)

The massive cast of B to Z-listers.

Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka & Mark Waid

Layouts by Keith Giffen

Art by Joe Bennet, Chris Batista, Eddy Barrows, Todd Nanci, Rudy Jose, Jack Jadson, Derick Robertson, Ken Lashley, Phil Jimenez, Dan Jorgensen, Justiano, Mike McKone, Jamal Igle and Dale Eaglesham.

When I was a kid, I loved the Superman movie, Batman ‘89 and the DC Super Powers toys, but it was more passing than my love of Marvel. Part of the blame there’s probably because of the Marvel Secret Wars UK reprints. As a teenager, I read a bunch of Batman at sleepovers at a friend’s, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. My friend Adam and I bought a ton of Legion of Super-Heroes and New Warriors comics as they were generally in cheap boxes, and something new to get into.

I came into DC around the time of Infinite Crisis, which I’ll have some words about later on in Graphic Novel Quest. It’s a weird start point, but a perfect platform to launch into 52.

Infinite Crisis temporarily took Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman off the table, then fast forwarded all of DC’s comics for a year. Back then, I was only getting Legion of Super-Heroes, but this was a great jumping on point for me. 52 was a weekly comic which showed what happened in a year without the major trinity. It was supposed to be a tour of the world, but it became a lot more by focusing on a few specific storylines.

A fantastic dump of references to events in 52, beyond it and a few things which didn’t end up happening, either.

The Plot

It’s a tricky one to summarise. Basically we go week by week, issue by issue for a whole year, shown here in four collected volumes. You have a few different character arcs which often intersect and start or end at different points.

Steel has a story where he’s relating to the average Metropolitan on the street and trying to get his niece to understand how to be a hero. She wants a shortcut which leads her to Lex Luthor, fresh from another round of ‘I didn’t do all those crimes, it was an evil imposter’ and now he’s trying to make his own supermen. He’s still obsessed with Superman and the new hero, Supernova. Steel uncovers the truth behind the heroes, most of whom Luthor kills just to mess with Supernova, and the pair get in a massive fight leading to Luthor again going down, but blaming everything on a weird shapeshifter.

Lex Luthor with a symbolic empty S shield, representing his lack of any values.

Renee Montoya gets a mostly great story taking her from ruinous alcoholism to becoming the new Question. She goes on a tour with the old Question, finding out information about the Crime Bible and reuniting with her ex-girlfriend, Kate Kane, aka Batwoman. The old Question’s an irritating mentor, as you’d expect, but also priming Renee to replace him as he’s dying from lung cancer.

I like the old Question, but the Renee Montoya Question’s fantastic.

The story collides with a few others, most notably Black Adam’s, and hits a dramatic peak when Renee’s dragging a dying Question through the snow, trying to find Nanda Parbat despite having no real direction, no supplies and no hope. It’s such a low point for someone whose story’s been little other than that, but she takes the moment, becomes the Question and kicks some arse in a way which makes you know this was a Greg Rucka favourite.

I loved the JLI era, having gone back to it after loving Keith Giffen’s Legion of Super-Heroes (turns out, they’re very different, but still good). Booster Gold is one of the surviving remnants of that era who hasn’t been killed or made evil and then killed. He gets a ton of sponsorships, acts like a tool and gets a resentment of the new hero, Supernova. He ends up dying and being barely remembered.

A depowered Clark Kent flings himself out of a window in order to get an interview with Supernova

Only he doesn’t. The cover of volume four spoils this, but Booster’s floating sidekick isn’t who we thought and has been infested with something awful. Booster goes into hiding by faking his death using his corpse from the future. He and his present day ancestor have been Supernova all along, to help figure out what’s going on and buy time.

This is why I lent this out to friends one at a time, so they didn’t see this cover.

Ralph Dibny’s story is one I always forget in this series. His wife died in Identity Crisis (more on that later in the year). He’s trying to find a way to resurrect her, going from hard time to hard time, including a horrifying moment with a cult trying to resurrect Connor Kent and a wicker Sue Dibny who actually starts moving. The story floats about, not really doing anything, until a denouement which reveals his floating sidekick isn’t who we thought. He dies at the end, but he goes out a hero, even if it’s all picking at the Identity Crisis scab a bit.

Ralph takes Jean Loring back in time to witness her murder of Sue Dibny, accidentally knocking a vase, fixing one stray plot element of Identity Crisis.

Will Magnus shows up, along with a ton of mad scientists of various obscurity. They get up to shenanigans and create an apocalyptic Four Horsemen, before colliding with Black Adam in a disastrous manner. This feels like Grant Morrison and/or Mark Waid had fun plumbing the DC continuity depths.

The mad scientists celebrate Thanksgiving.

Black Adam goes through a rough time. He starts as a kind of super-dictator, learns to love by getting a girlfriend who calls him on his crap, gets powers and helps guide him towards being decent. Her brother also gets powers and a giant crocodile sidekick. After all this growth, everything goes awry, the crocodile turns out to be one of the horsemen, kills the brother, kills Black Adam’s now-wife and leads into World War III. He rips a lot of people apart and the comic takes so much joy in the violence, it has the stink of Geoff Johns all over it.

The post Identity Crisis to Early New 52 era was full of all of this kind of stuff, to diminishing returns.

Adam Strange, Animal Man and Starfire are lost in space, travelling home. This is another storyline I generally forget about. They meet up with Lobo who’s a pacifist now, and encounter some cosmic zombies.

Is it good?

Mostly. There’s a lot of good, a lot of nostalgia, but also a few things which have aged badly. The adolescent ultraviolence of DC around this era would eventually require the reboot of The New 52 and still continue for a few years after. As I said, the stench of Geoffrey Johns is throughout this book and it’s only got worse with age. I fear for when I reach the Green Lantern series by him.

Am I Keeping It?

Yeah. There’s more good than bad. It’s quite a journey and there’s a lot to love here both from the story and my own nostalgia.

Everyone fights Black Adam

40oz Comics Collection

40oz Comics is a tiny volume, packed with stuff.

I also read the 40oz Comics Collection, which collects several Jim Mahfood zines. I love his art style and sense of humour. I know he still works now, but he feels like a very specific point in time for me; specifically my comic shop days, listening to Pharcyde and Quannum in the office while sorting out standing orders. There’s not much story here, a lot of sketch comedy and stoner humour, but it’s entertaining and makes me want to make zines.

Poor zombies…
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Graphic Novel Quest 2022

The start of a new quest!

Last year I played every board game in my collection. It was a lot, especially as I didn’t take the task seriously in the first half of the year and then way too seriously later on. It hit the stamina of my beloved and my lodger pretty hard, and I had to get them trying some terrible, terrible games which are now out of my collection, on their way out or in one case going to a recycling bank.

This year I decided to take on a similar challenge, but one where I’d end up only causing myself harm by going through an arbitrary checklist of things I enjoy or have previously enjoyed.

This time I’m going to read every graphic novel I own in the house. I’ve got two and a half long bookshelves in my living room with graphic novels, but also several pods in a kallax shelving unit in the workroom and a number on a bookshelf and various piles in my bedroom as well. I decided this quest last year, but I only counted how many I’ve got in the gap between Christmas and New Year. What I mean by this is that I’ve got three hundred and sixty six graphic novels to read, there will be more I’ve forgotten or will find in the house, and I should have checked this before deciding to do this and now I’ve told enough people that I feel I ought to crack on.

A few rules and exceptions

I’ve already removed some graphic novels from the collection prior to 2022 if I knew I was going to get rid of them, and more will go on the ‘cull’ pile, probably ending up in local charity shops.

Emma has a ton of graphic novels. I’m not reading hers even though a couple ended up on my shelves. She’s a massive Vertigo person and while I’ve got some Preacher-era books, I’ve not read most of the early Vertigo titles. If I somehow end up doing well with this, I might finally get round to reading all of Sandman, which I’ve not done before.

My brother brought down a few graphic novels to try and get the lodger to read. They ended up on my shelves, but they’re his and are exempt from this challenge.

I’m missing some graphic novels in runs of a series, and if they’re mid-way, I’ll end up filling them in before I get to them. The main example is my Walking Dead collection, which is inexplicably missing volume twenty-five. I have no idea how I missed that then they were coming out. There are some I stop abruptly with, either as that version went out of print, I got board, I started collecting individual comics or some other reason. Part of the reason I’m doing this is to see what to keep, what to ditch and what to mark for completion.

I’m not going to read any X-Men collections, as I’m already doing another weird ritual thing by reading an issue of X-Men a day ever since I turned 40, then posting my findings on Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve not added any manga. Maybe that’ll be next year’s challenge.

I’ve listed everything in alphabetical order and that’ll be my guiding direction for what to read next, but it’s not law, so I might skip ahead or pick a smaller volume if I need something portable for a trip or holiday.

Finally, this may change depending on my patience, stamina and time, but I’ll try and write a little something about them.

My most recently bought graphic novel, mid-read on a train.

Lists

There are some graphic novels which are glorious one-offs like I Kill Giants and All-Star Superman. There are some which went on forever, and here are a few I’m going to encounter soon:

  • 100 Bullets – I’ve cooled on Brian Azzarello, but I loved his crime drama with the compelling hook that people are delivered 100 untraceable bullets and a photo of the person who ruined their life, then set loose. It goes way beyond that, but it’s a fantastic hook.
  • Akiko – An adorable science fiction series with an entertainingly weird cast. It’s been so long since I read any of these, I forgot there were so many volumes.
  • Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis & Jonathan Hickman – I loved the Avengers Disassembled/New Avengers era. It looks a little old now with the weirdly shiny effects on everyone and some of Bendis’ dialogue, but it’s still a time I loved. Then Jonathan Hickman came along and wrote what I think is still my favourite Avengers run.
  • Batman: Knightfall – This is only three volumes, but they’re the thickest graphic novels I’ve got. They’re classics from my childhood and the last time I read them, I realised how different my sequential art reading comprehension was after decades of more decompressed storytelling.
  • Fables: Deluxe Edition – A series about fairytale people living in New York, starting with a murder mystery and meandering along from there. I enjoyed it, especially Mark Buckingham’s art in the early run. The hardcovers I bought felt like they were stalling by including absolutely everything, and my enthusiasm wore out. Like so many series, I might pick it back up after reading this.
  • Freakangels – Ugh, this is going to be one of many difficult Warren Ellis reads. A post apocalyptic webseries about psychic cooler-than-thou youths.
  • Invincible – I have two thirds of the series in hardcover. I enjoyed it, then it went on too long. The problem with making a superhero series where everything changes and sticks is that Robert Kirkman’s not great at either sticking to that rule or keeping things interesting for a long time. It might get better, hell, I might read this and feel that I was too harsh in this judgement.
  • JSA – This is a fractured run as I have a lot of these issues in ‘floppies’. I was converting them, I found a few cheap volumes and then cooled on Geoff Johns.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes Archives – I’ve got a gap in this collection which won’t be filled due to rarity, but these are some lovely hardbacks putting together the earliest appearances of the far future superheroes.
  • Morning Glories – A deadly school with weird goings on. As a fan of Lost style mysteries, and a writer of my own deadly school, I knew I had to check this out.
  • Preacher – I used to buy myself a volume of Preacher as a treat when I worked Christmas Eve at Dave’s Comics. It’s a modern (for the 90’s) Western and a story about a literal search for god. Gloriously violent, vulgar and sacrilegious, it wasn’t without heart and I have no idea how well it’s aged.
  • Thieves & Kings – Half-comic and half-prose, this is a fantasy series which I really love and it’s always a surprise how it’s never really got any attention from anyone.
  • Transmetropolitan – Another Warren Ellis series, this time about a bitter journalist in a cyberpunk future which always feels like it’s probably too close to ours.
  • The Walking Dead – A fast read, despite being the longest series in this collection by a long way. The challenge the author set himself was to write an ongoing zombie narrative where so many end quickly and either unrealistically positive or a real downer. I got bored with the constant miserablism of the television show ages ago, but the series kept me entertained until it ended.

Predictions

I’ll get rid of less graphic novels than I intended.

I’ll feel embarrassed about some of my earliest blog posts being so favourable towards Identity Crisis.

There’ll be some lukewarm takes about Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.

All-Star Superman and I Kill Giants will make me cry again.

I’ll get Batman fatigue, and conversely I’ll feel like I want more Superman in my collection, but not Death of Superman.

So, with all that out of the way, let Graphic Novel Quest 2022 commence!

My Legion Archives and Walking Dead, taken when I was working out my graphic novel spreadsheet.
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A Fool’s Errand: Board Game Quest 2021 Ends

Here we are, the end of Board Game Quest 2021. I’m writing most of this before the end of Board Game Quest, so I don’t know whether I’ll have made it at this point.

Where I’m at, there are three more board games left to play and eleven days left, but those include Christmas, New Year’s Eve. My beloved is away for Christmas to visit her family, providing things aren’t entirely locked down. Both she and my lodger are tired of this. There have been a lot of games to play, and we’ve barely looked back at any of our favourites. I’m already working out a list of games to take to our friends, The Milehams, once I’m done with this. We’re working on the motto of, “More plays of fewer games” for next year, to allow some system mastery of favourites like Root, Scythe and Oath. It’ll also mean going through some of the campaign games.

So, to go back to the start, let’s remind ourselves about the initial challenge.

I had to play every game in my collection in a year, with a few caveats.

* The game had to be playable, which meant that Survivor and Cards Against Humanity ended (more on that later).

  • The game had to be playable, which meant that Survivor and Cards Against Humanity weren’t playable (more on that later)
  • The game didn’t have to be a campaign game, which meant that Gen7, Betrayal Legacy and my many unfinished campaign games were out, as we’ve been locked down so long and weren’t likely to be able to get back to any campaigns anytime soon.
  • Anything in my ‘to sell’ pile was disqualified. Most of these were either played this year or put in the pile before 2021, like Brighton Monopoly and Heroclix. I’ve sold a few now, and hopefully will get more sold soon. I think I’ve had one game which went on this pile without being played this year. Again, more on that later.
  • Finally, if I found a game in the house, it would get added to the list. I had a lot more games than I thought. This meant that a lot of traditional games ended up on the pile. I didn’t include traditional card games, as a deck of cards can probably provide a year’s worth of cards by itself, but it meant Ludo, Scrabble, Tell Me, even Tic Tac Toe were all added to the pile.

CabinCon

After two years away, the peacocks now ruled CabinCon House.

My friends from the internet hold a mini-convention every year (barring 2020) where we meet up for a week and play tabletop games. It’s fantastic, and this year it felt a bit odd, having not seen each other in a while, having to get tested for Covid ahead of time and meeting in the cold of November instead of May.

Between us, I think there were 24 or 25 games from my list which were in attendance, so I knew I’d get a few done. I played more games than this (30 in total), but I’m only mentioning the ones from Board Game Quest here.

Hanabi

My first game was actually one I didn’t have on my list of games I thought were going to be at CabinCon. As we entered, I saw a game going on and managed to dive in after a round. This is a really tense game about making a lovely firework display. You play with your cards facing everyone else and get clues about what you’ve got. Hopefully you can use those to play the fireworks in order, without everything going awry. We were so close with this one, but while our display was pretty, it wasn’t perfect.

Such tension!

Two Rooms and a Boom

One of the biggest challenges for this year has been games with a large player count. This was the worst for that, needing at least six players. Even worse, it had some black marks on it after a couple of incidents. One CabinConner taught it in my stead years ago in a fashion so bad that it put a lot of people off. Also having it as a kick-off ritual was a nice idea, but some people chafed against the idea of not playing anything until we had enough players for Two Rooms and a Boom.

Despite all this, I managed to rustle up initially a group of six, then it expanded to more and more until I had enough for a full session instead of one with limited roles.

The game has two rooms with a connecting central area, and two teams. Blue team had a president and red team has a bomber. Blue Team want to end the five rounds with the bomb and president in different rooms. Red Team want them in the same room. Each round, someone will run the room and send out people, and there are no restrictions about sharing your card. Nice, simple, but it gets amazing when you add weird roles. We did a test run which was fine, but the game glowed when there were almost all weird roles like an angel and devil who could only tell the truth and lie, respectively. There was a medic who the president had to reveal himself to and an engineer for the bomber, to force them both to have to trust someone.

This was a tense thing to get going, but a real joy to play for the first time in several years.

Dom as The Seeker, trying to spot anyone’s cards

Love Letter Premium

The large version of Love Letter could have been played with two or more players, but the differences only appear at five or more. This is a really fun variant on the normal game, including a lot of other ways to score points, letting you nominate someone you reckon will win a point and sharing their victory. It’s a bit of a longer game, but the expanded rules and the large tarot-sized cards made it a joy. It was nice seeing another group playing it later in the con, too.

Giant Love Letter cards and big wooden hearts make this a truly premium version of Love Letter

Skull

A fantastic pub game, allegedly made by the Hell’s Angels back in the day. You have three flower cards and one skull card, then you use them to gamble on how many you can turn over before hitting a skull. There are some amazing bluffing moments and incredible tension for something so simple. The game’s beautiful, too, even though I do have to remind people not to use them as coasters.

Don’t Get Got!

Much earlier this year, Sam from the CabinConners offered up a copy of Don’t Get Got, a kind of meta game you play while playing other games or just having an amount of time with other people, like at a party. I asked him for it, and he delivered it here. We also played a game of Don’t Get Got, which at least evened it out on this list.

You have a wallet filled with tiny cards telling you to do things, like get someone to argue with you about the colour of something, or to say something. I scored nothing as people were way too accommodating with my constant attempts to mess up and get corrected during a long game of Tapestry. It was tense trying to predict what actions people were doing which might ‘get’ you and avoiding them, and hilarious hearing the noises when someone else got got elsewhere in the house.

Bärenpark

This was a game I was saving until late in the year as it’s one of my favourites. It’s a game about placing tiles with different types of bears, or general theme park elements like paths, toilets or snack shops. You fill in tiles with these bears and place statues when you complete one. It’s easy to teach, has a few extra elements like achievements that you can play with, and has an adorable theme.

It’s a game which takes half an hour or so as well, so it’s perfect if you’ve got a little time, but not enough for a full-sized board game.

My final park

Fog of Love

This is technically a two-player game, but we’ve been loving playing it as a team game with two pairs of people running the brains of a dysfunctional couple in a romantic comedy. You create a character with a job, various needs to be satisfied in life, and the opposite player picks what their character found attractive about your character.

You play through several acts of increasing intensity, so we had our butcher’s brutal directness soften over time, but our IT guy partner couldn’t quite adapt to that. We had several rapid changes of romantic destiny we were aiming for and ended up alone, unhappy and with a child.

Our characters, just before we made a LOT of bad relationship decisions.

A Game About Wee Whimsical Creatures and Trying to Identify Them After Someone Makes Noises

This was a Kickstarter arrival just in time for CabinCon. It felt like a perfect game for our “Talking Bullshit Night”.

In this game, you line up some monsters, all adorably drawn by Benz. One player picks which one they’re making the noise of and folks need to guess which one it is. Short, sweet and it got some people in the other game room concerned about the noises being made, which was an added bonus.

Some of the creatures, as well as our scores and a whisky & coke to help with the monster noises.

Tapestry

I’m going back and adding this in, as Emma bought me Tapestry for Christmas, but I’m counting this one as it was played here. By Stonemeier Gamesm who brought us Scythe, this is a civilisation builder, but it’s fairly quick and chilled. It made for a good morning game in CabinCon.

You have a civilisation with a specific ruleset and a capital city on a nine by nine grid with a few spots filled in. You advance science, technology, military or exploration, or if you can’t then you advance to the next age of your civilisation and generate your resources.

It’s deceptively simple for something with so many pieces and sub-systems. It also creates some interesting issues with different levels of progress, leading to a civilisation with credit cards and space travel but no concept of writing yet.

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game

Another big game which was going to be tricky to get to the table given the player count. Luckily it’s a CabinCon staple. We rustled up some folks and managed to get a game sorted.

Based on the reboot of the television show, you’re trying to get to Earth while keeping your populace alive, safe from killing each other and your ship free from explosions or hostile robots. The problem is that some of you will be traitors; hidden robots trying to do the opposite, even if it looks like they might be helpful to begin with. I’ve already played Unfathomable which might just beat it slightly, game-wise, but only barely.

Decrypto

This is a game I love the look of and have owned for a while, but for some reason I just bounce off the rulebook. Luckily Ben Hendy (formerly of Who Dares Rolls), was on hand and a good teacher. Emma and I teamed up with him, trying to guess a code from four different words, but doing our best to make sure the other team didn’t figure out the words we had. It led to some amazing and baffling word choices, and will definitely be one to bring out for future game nights.

Ladies & Gentlemen

We only had enough players for two teams, but this was still good fun. In Ladies & Gentlemen, players are paired up into groups of a lady and a gentlemen. Hence the name.

The ladies play a card and deck-manipulation game, trying to arrange items in a shop, then reserve cards before others can. If nothing’s bought from their own shop, they can get the item in their ‘window’ for half price, but they risk other players wanting that item, too.

The gentlemen play a tile flipping game where they frantically rummage around a bunch of tiles looking for items to trade shares in. It’s a frenzied mess and good fun watching the chaos ensue.

Emma was the gentleman and after some teaching problems with the lady side in a previous game, found that role way more enjoyable. Personally I’m good with either of the roles.

The lady’s side of the board.

The Resistance: Avalon

I’ve played Quest already, but this is the classic version. It’s still good fun and a bit of a longer game. You’re going on missions for King Arthur, but some of you are secretly evil. Our missions included things like taking recycling out and trying to get some chocolates for Guinevere after making too much loud noise with all the recycling.

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A Fool’s Errand, Nearing the End

I was doing quarterly reports for my Board Game Quest 2021, to put together all the games I’ve played and quick reactions to how I’ve found them. This time I’m splitting the last quarter into two, in order to make things a bit more palatable as I’ve got a lot of games to play and CabinCon to deal with. CabinCon’s a gathering of over twenty friends of mine from the internet as we play board games for several days in a fancy house in Derbyshire. That managed to get several games played, although as of writing, there’s still a lot to go.

October

No Thanks!

No Thanks falls in with Six Nimmt in being incredibly themeless but great fun anyway. Similar to Six Nimmt, you have numbered cards and you’re trying to collect as few as possible, including the ability to stack cards in sequences if you get them. If you don’t want a card, you pay a token and say, “No Thanks!” But if you have no tokens, you have to keep the card. It’s really simple and can become devastatingly cutthroat. Is it worth taking a card knowing that it’ll stop an opponent from merging two of their sets of numbers? Are you going to send a card you want around the table to harvest points as people reject it, then take it once they’ve spent their coins? Brutal.

Fantastic Storytelling

I’m a fan of Mike Jeavons, one of the survivors of That Guy With The Glasses who currently reviews items from weird infomercials and undergoes weeks on diets of varying levels of difficulty.

The start of a story I needed to make longer and weirder.

He created a ‘talking bullshit’ type game called Fantastic Storytelling. It has players draw a story card which gives them a structure, then you need to turn those cards into a working sentence using what’s in your hand. If you’re feeling daring, you can add more cards from decks of characters, locations and things in order to earn more points, but it can get really risky when you have very specific connector cards.

It’s too convoluted a teach to be a pub game, but it’s still entertaining.

Tang Garden

This was a Kickstarter I went heavy on, as I do love a tile-laying game and a pretty theme. Tang Garden’s a game where you’re all gardeners trying to placate specific people as you lay tiles down or decorate them with accessories. The tiles have rocks, water, trees or pathways on, and they need to connect to each other, then get sealed off to score points. Accessories include birds, fish, trees, bridges and gazebos which all score slightly differently. At some point, you will draw a new client and have the choice of keeping your current client who’ll have a special ability, or placing them on the garden to score points for what they’re looking at. It’s a short, beautiful game with several ways of doing well.

With a game this pretty, I’m shocked it’s not talked about more.

Sushi Go Party!

Sushi Go is a card-drafting game, meaning that you each have a hand of cards and on your turn you pick one to play, then pass the rest on. That’s it for the gameplay, but each card has different ways of scoring as the imaginary conveyor belt keeps moving the cards round. Dumplings get more valuable the more you have, tempura is worth points but only as a pair and so on. Sushi Go Party is a larger version of the basic game with a lot of options. I like the variety, although it does make it a little less portable.

Chrononauts & Early American Chrononauts

This was a bit of a cheat, but I don’t care. Chrononauts is a game where you’re a time traveller who’s trying to make history look like their timeline. This means changing key events in time and patching them with new ones, but you all come from different timelines and don’t know what each others’ goals are. You also have other ways of winning as it can be a bit of a mess just getting home. Players draw cards every time they patch the timeline and a hand of ten has you win the game, so bluffing and patching different places in history also might help you win, even if your opponent does their best to reset them to their original state.

This is time, before we messed with it.

Early American Chrononauts is a standalone expansion which can be played with the original, which is what we ended up doing here, making it two games in one! Woo, loopholes!

Boggle

This is my family’s copy of Boggle which is older than I am. It’s not something we played often, as Scrabble was normally preferred. My team at work played a virtual version a few times at the start of the first lockdown, which reminded me how much I enjoyed this game.

I got 15 in three minutes, you’re welcome to try your luck and see what you get.

Suburbia

This is Sim City, but as a board game. Everyone has a hexagonal space with a few city tiles, then tries to buy more and have them combo off each other to generate both people and income. The interesting snuggle is that the more people who are in your city, the more your extra income goes down as you’re having to invest in more infrastructure for them. Every few points, more people arrive and that income track bumps down again. It’s a fun little balancing act between a need for money and to make it good for people, certainly a lot less dry than I make it sound.

This game even looks dry, but I assure you, it’s good fun.

Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension

This is a neat game. You’re all ships trying to fly out of a black hole, drafting cards from stacks of two, where you only know what one of them is. You play the cards to boost away from or towards the nearest ship. There are some neutral ships in space to slingshot off, but each play you make might completely mess with the next person’s plans. It’s a nightmare in a really fun way as everyone bounces back and forth.

I always love when folks can make space look colourful.

Tiny Epic Mechs

I really like the Tiny Epic games, they tend to pack the punch of a much larger board game, and look adorable while doing it. This is an arena battle game where you have little plastic meeples who have slots both for guns and in this game, to clip mech armour round. It’s an arena combat game where you program the actions of your mech on cards, then watch the chaos commence when they all go off simultaneously.

It’s fine. The look of it is the main thing here, with the cute little weapons. I think it doesn’t beat Colt Express as far as these kinds of chaotic programming games, sadly.

Adorable meeples with their weapons ready for action.

Sentinels of the Multiverse

This took way too long to get to the table. Sentinels of the Multiverse is a cooperative superhero card game where every character, villain and environment is a deck. The system’s incredibly simple, but every deck manipulates that basic ruleset to make an incredibly thematic experience.

The super-speedster races through her deck and builds up several small hits into one massive one. Ra summons and uses a fiery staff, Captain Cosmic creates yellow constructs which he can attach to people to help them. It’s all very neat.

A deceptively simple-looking game, but a hell of a battle against a fallen angel.

The game is set in the universe of a comic line which has existed for decades, although even that is fictional. The creators even have a podcast going into the in-comic and out-of-comic history of them, both of which are actually fictional. It’s a level of depth and planning I really like, and the cast have grown on me over the years.

Millennium Blades

Speaking of meta ideas, here’s Millennium Blades.

I used to be heavily into Collectable Card Games like Magic and Pokemon. I still am to a limited level with Arkham Horror and Lord of the Rings, although they’re no longer in randomised packs.

Millennium Blades is a deck-building card game about the experience of collecting CCGs and playing in tournaments. It’s component-heavy, but really good fun. You alternate between turns of purchasing and fighting. The purchasing phase works against the clock and everyone simultaneously buys ‘packs’ (single cards where you don’t know what you’re getting), ‘singles’ (sold cards from other players which are pricy but you can see them) or trades with each other. You’re putting together a collection to sell, a deck for your tournament and accessories to take along there, too. The tournament round is a much simpler affair, where players go round a table playing a card from their hand, adding to their cards and points, but possibly also hindering each other. It’s a really fun experience, even though the set up and tear down are a bit convoluted.

A great game, even with all the excessive amounts of stuff involved.

Coup: Rebellion G54

I’ve covered Coup before. This version is basically like how I described Sushi Go Party. It’s a selection of alternate cards which can be mixed up to make different Coup experiences. I played it a bunch with some friends at work in the Before Times, so we got more used to the small differences in cards, but I’m still keeping my base set as it’s far more portable.

Reference cards for each of the modified roles. Hopefully I’ll play this more often to get a hang of them all.

A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King

A simple tile-sliding game where you move Varys around a set of cartoony tiles of Game of Thrones characters. You’re trying to collect sets of families and score points for a family if you have the most of them. Special cards reward taking the last of a family even if you’re not scoring them, adding a bit of sting to the play. It’s a nice filler.

Cute Thrones.

HMS Dolores

Another small game, this one’s about wreckers who’ve crashed a ship and are dividing out the remains. You use hand signals with the next player in turn order to ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ out who’s getting what. There’s a lot of backstabbing and confusion, which makes for some good fun.

Unfathomable

I love Battlestar Galactica, it’s one of my favourite board games, but it’s hard to recommend as it’s very out of print. I also love the Arkham Files games Fantasy Flight publish, so when I heard about a game which combined the two, I was very excited.

You play the crew of a cruise ship who have suffered some strange events. Fish people are attacking the boat and the person keeping them away has been murdered. Now the ship has to get back to land, unsure who on board is the murderous traitor.

We played a three player game and just from that experience, I think it might be better than BSG. It doesn’t have the expansions and it’s a shorter game, so BSG’s still good if you want an afternoon to mull over traitors and such. The system’s definitely been refined, cards are more flavourful and there are some new uses of the mechanics which really sing. I’ve played it twice now, and am looking forward to trying it again in the future.

A group of deep ones overrun the front of the ship.

Photosynthesis

A neat game about trees. You’re all different types of trees who are sending out seeds, absorbing sunlight and growing. The sun moves, so you can block each other or yourself with any of your trees as they grow. Over time, a tree will get big enough that you decide to have it die, harvest points and start growing another one up. It can get surprisingly competitive as people start blocking each other, trying to strangle out the sunlight points people need to grow their trees.

Secretly a viciously competitive game, despite how pretty it looks.

King of New York

This was a crime of opportunity. Emma and I played Loading Bar’s copy over lunch when we popped by there one weekend. I’ve talked about King of Tokyo before and this is similar, if a little better. New York’s divided into different boroughs for monsters to smash, along with Manhattan which acts as the main area they’re all trying to destroy for points. This time instead of some results on the dice just being points, you have ‘superstar’ points which might mean you’ve got more media attention on you, and buildings to destroy. They turn into army units who arrive to stop you, which can make for tricky conundrums. I was destroyed in this game with some incredibly bad luck and some annoyingly persistent humans.

A quite worn and occasionally water-stained or sticky copy of King of New York.

Scrabble

Like Boggle, this is an ancient family copy. It feels like the most vanilla opinion ever, but I really enjoy Scrabble, even if I have terrible luck with the letters I draw.

The ancient family copy of Scrabble.

Cthulhu 500

This was a surprise. It was one of the games in my ‘probably going to get rid of’ pile as it’s old and I’ve rarely played it. It turned out to be a really fun, brutal time. You have a racing order in the centre of the table and play cards to try and get up to the front. If you succeed at ‘passing’ the person at the back of the line then you go back there and accumulate a ‘lap’. The thing is, you might also have inter dimensional wheels, a zombie in the pit stop or giant tentacles smashing everything around you.

My weird truck.

Cosmic Encounter

This game is glorious chaos. You play a simple game of landing your ships on other people’s planets using a number game on cards to see which side wins, and alliances to allow a certain level of teamwork and/or kingmaking. The twist is that each player also has an alien race whose powers break the game in some way. If you lose a battle, you win. You can pre-emptively swap number cards. You can send your planets to attack. All kinds of fun things.

We played a short version which reminded us of the fun mechanics but was over way too quickly. I think I’ll stick to full games in the future.

My aliens, looking over the void

Meeple Circus

My coordination may be busted, but I still love games where you stack things. Meeple Circus’ theme is adorable as people create little performances using meeple acrobats, props and even animals. You have two rounds where you acquire more pieces, then a third where everyone watches you not only stack your performance but meet a specific challenge as you do so.

My acrobats in action.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game

This is the board game which got me into the modern era of boardgames. One New Year’s Eve I played a ton of this, then even though I couldn’t find a copy for a year (the UK had its own terrible version), I bought Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and other classics.

One player is one of the villains from seasons one to four along with their minions. The rest divide out Buffy, Oz, Willow and Xander who are good at fights, being a werewolf, magic and calling for help, respectively. There are some fun scenarios and even though it’s roll to move, it feels like a rare good licensed board game from an era where there weren’t many.

You can tell this is from a whole other era of board games.

Disney Villainous

This was another stupid decision of mine while I’m trying not to get all of my board games played. It was in a Cash Converters for £15 and I had to buy it. There’s a Marvel version of this game where you play villains all trying to beat each other to getting their scheme to go off. It kind of feels more fun doing it with classic Disney antagonists.

Emma played Malificent, Saffy was Ursula and I was Captain Hook. You place a really gorgeous playing piece on different action tiles and try to fulfil unique tasks. Emma had to curse each of her locations, Saffy had to kill Triton with his gear and I had to get Peter Pan into play, then fight him on my boat. Unfortunately I had some real problems getting that swine Pan to appear. He was at the bottom of my deck of enemies, so I had to fight a lot of children before I got to him, then it was too late. Blast that boy!

My odd pawn representing Hook, running up and down the board attacking children.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic

We saw a copy of this game in a shop in Edinburgh and Emma ordered a copy, then told me all about the book it came from. It sounds good, but I’ve yet to get round to reading it. This is a game about wandering around, socialising and showing off your magical skills, all while a fairy creature lurks in the background. We lost against the Man with the Thistledown Hair, but went to some very nice parties beforehand, so I think that makes us the real winners.

November

Here we have CabinCon month, so I’ll be cutting this one short. Depending on the scale of the future updates I might have CabinCon as its own entry or to kick off the final part.

Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game

It doesn’t get more Ameritrash than this. Incredibly overproduced yet feeling gloriously cheap at the same time, I kind of love this game. It’s a team-based zombie horror game with a ton of different scenarios. It’s rules-light but exceptions-heavy. The presence of the expansions makes scenarios about hunting for particular items a little trickier, and I’ve never seen a close win on either side.

I think that as much as I enjoy the theme, the schlock and the weird photo art that Flying Frog have in all their games, I’ll stick with A Touch of Evil, which is this but with Hammer/Universal horror and has a co-op mode.

This is an incredibly shiny board.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

A miniature version of the classic Werewolf game, this takes maybe ten minutes. It’s been a while since I played it and was an easy one to get to the table. You have a ‘river’ of three roles and a role card each. In this game we spent a while deliberating over people’s answers about which cards their special roles had and wondered whether there were any wolves among us. It turned out there weren’t as they were both in the river, meaning a rare total victory for all players involved!

Doomtown Reloaded

God I love this game. It’s a new edition of the Doomtown Collectible Card Game which took over from Magic for me back in the day. You have a faction of lawmen, bandits, shamans, drunken kung-fu masters, capitalist mad scientists or weird circus folk and try to get them to rule Gamorra, California.

Movement’s kind of chess-like and while it’s tricky to teach, it makes for a much more thinky game at a higher level than the madness which goes on in the streets. Fights are handled with poker hands, modified by your shooters in each fight.

A hand in Doomtown.

I lost this game thanks to a fantastic gunfight where I’d reduced my opponent down to drawing a normal hand of five cards that they couldn’t modify. I had all my forces there and ready to lay waste, meaning I’d win at the end of the turn. He drew five of a kind straight from the deck, killing my worst murderers. It was wonderful, awful and I lost in a turn after a few attempts at putting contingency plans into place.

A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (Second Edition)

Another fun card game, although I’ve played far fewer games. I played House Tyrell who were using knights, lords, ladies and a love of gardening to take on the Night’s Watch, who were accruing tons of victory points while defending The Wall. Lee put up a great defence, but my armies of gardeners managed to outmanoeuvre his actual armies eventually. It’s far more brutal in two player mode, but it also becomes a much shorter experience which might help getting it to the table more often.

My brutal gardeners.

Tiny Epic Quest

I introduced this to my roleplaying group, The In-Fighters. For a tiny box, it contains so many things. Despite that, it’s a nice and simple dice-rolling game. You each have a couple of adventurers who you send out into the world, using a movement card which dictates how everyone’s travelling for the round. You put people into place in dungeons, fighting goblins or learning spells, then roll dice, trying to advance while also making the world more and more volatile. Do you keep going and hoping to get what you want, or do you rest up and stop suffering any damaging effects from all the magic?

It also has cute little items which you put in the ‘hands’ of your meeples, which are adorable and add to the Legend of Zelda aesthetic.

The lads, all tooled up with sword, shield, pan pipes and a fairy.

Gloom

A fun little competitive storytelling card game. This uses transparent cards for a family under your control, who you modify by placing new cards over them. You’re aiming to make them miserable, then murders them. The problem is, other players might give your characters a lottery win, a lovely date or just a nice breakfast. They might even bring your family members back from the dead.

Even our player who is a bit more shy with these games got into the spirit thanks to the prompts on the cards, leading to some great stories about gangsters baked into their own pies, a dog carrying out property scams and more.

Two of my family, who had a delightfully dreadful time.

Firefly: The Game

Joss Whedon’s become a problematic figure over the years and there are some glaring problems with Firefly like the Confederacy-coded Browncoats and the lack of Chinese people in a Chinese-themed culture. Still, I remember enjoying it when I saw it a decade or more ago. It was neat, although I’ve never been one of those people avidly after its renewal.

Firefly’s a fairly chilled game about people in space flying around and doing jobs of various levels of legality. It feels like a competitive equivalent of Eldritch Horror. It’s fairly Ameritrashy, but still a satisfying gameplay loop. When you’re flying you can ‘burn’ fuel, spending it and risking encounters to get where you want faster. We played the introductory scenario as it had been a while, and I came away thinking that I’d quite like to try it again with some of the other scenarios to see how they feel and to spend more time in the ’verse, building up a crew and doing jobs. This time, playing with only two people lasted about the same time as it took to set up the game given all the components involved.

Our ships, hiding from the law but worryingly close to the Reavers.

Time’s nearly out and things are looking precarious with playing each of the games. With CabinCon, NaNoWriMo and the run up to Christmas, things are going to get more tense. Next time, we’ll see how it ends.

As a bonus for making it all the way through this, a cat in a box.
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