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Sunday
Apr102011

Atlanta Nights: The Best Worst Novel Ever Written (On Purpose)

Does everyone out there know the story of one of the greatest hoaxes of the publishing industry?  In a nutshell, it was an attempt to reveal the fraudulent practices of one of the top Vanity Press publishers.  A group of mostly sf writers wanted to show that this particular publisher, which claimed to be very discriminating, would in fact publish absolute rubbish.  So, they set our to write the worst novel that could possibly be written.  The result: Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea (you'd think they'd been suspicious with the author's name).  I became aware of it because Allen Steele, one of my favorite writers, was invovled with its Frankensteinesque creation.  The complete history can be found here.

If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor.  Do it.  It's bad.  Very bad.  And very funny.  The team goes out of their way to break every convention of writing. 

Well, the big news is that Atlanta Nights may become a film?  Is this a hoax?  Don't know, because the place I read about it was over at Writer Beware, which is a site dedicated to helping new writers not be scammed by so-called legitimate publishers.  If it's for real, I'm not sure it will work.  Part of the novel's charm is the horrendous writing, and that could not be translated to film.  On the other hand, it can't be any worse than a lot of stuff pouring out of Hollywood these days.

Anyway, read it.  I'm sure you can find a copy online somewhere, but I urge you to purchase it.  The paperback is available through Amazon and Lulu has it for download.  Every dime received from this glorious wretchedness goes to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Medical Fund.

Sunday
Apr102011

Quite Quotable

"One human being is no human being."

 

One, George Alec Effinger

Thursday
Apr072011

Bill & Ted - A Most Triumphant Return?

MTV News has reported that a draft script for a new sequel to the 1989 cult classic Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, is 6 weeks away from completion, according to an interview with Keanu Reeves. The writers of the original screenplay are tackling the script, and it sounds like Reeves is spearheading the project.

With Alex Winters (Bill), and Keanu Reeves (Ted), both in their late 40's, the new script purportedly revolves around a plot where Bill & Ted, as grown adults, have not accomplished the earth saving deeds that were prophesied about them.

With the audience of the original Bill & Ted over 20 years older now, many who have cast childhood dreams by the wayside, there is a lot of opportunity to build a story that will resonate with them - just as the original Bill & Ted spoke to the teenaged slacker in the same generation. 

So, cheer up Keanu, I'm looking forward to hearing more about the project.

Party on dudes!

Wednesday
Apr062011

The Adventurers - A Review

 

My youngest son is enamored with the press your luck style card game Incan Gold, a game that carries the theme of exploring an ancient temple full of traps and treasures. He revels in collecting treasure, and relishes when others are caught inside the temple and have to forfeit all of their loot.

I have slowly been trying to introduce him to the board game hobby; So, when he recently asked me if there were any other games that had a treasure hunting theme, I was excited to search for a game with a bit more complexity, but a similar feel to Incan Gold.  The game I chose to bring home was The Adventurers, designed by Guillaume Blossier and Frederic Henry, and published by Alderac Entertainment Group.

Alderac Entertainment Group, or AEG, has been an active publisher of Collectible Card Games and Roleplaying Games for over 15 years with the successful Legend of the Five Rings line of products. When it comes to board games, however, AEG is a relative newcomer. AEG announced their entry into board games only two short years ago, in 2009, but did so with a bang. The 2009 line-up consisted of no fewer than 10 titles, including some of the year's most well received games. Since then, AEG has been steadily making a name for itself as one of today's premier designer board and card game publishers.

The Adventurers was one of the titles released in AEG's original 2009 line-up, and while I may be a little late to the party picking it up, it fits the bill perfectly for my current requirement: A family friendly press your luck treasure hunting adventure in an ancient temple, with plenty of perilous traps.

The Game:

The first thing you will notice when you open The Adventurers is the production value. This game is beautiful, with colorful artwork, and wonderfully detailed components. If any game will tempt you to paint your components, this is definitely one of them.

The Adventurers comes with a beautifully illustrated game board that depicts the interior of "The Temple of Chac", a trap laden ruin devoted to the ancient Mayan rain god. The temple is made up of several areas in which the players must search for treasure and avoid traps - but this is usually much easier said than done.

Each player chooses two of the twelve adventurers to explore the temple. The adventurers are represented by a detailed plastic miniature, along with a card that depicts his caricature and displays his special ability. On the back of the character card is a table that the player will use to determine his adventurer's weight and movement. Only one character is ever active at one time, so the back of the inactive character is placed face down, and is used as a player aid.

Upon entering the temple, the entrance is sealed, and the adventurers must make their way to the only exit at the opposite side of the board. Unfortunately, as soon as the adventurers enter, a giant boulder, a la Indiana Jones, begins it's inevitable march towards the exit, slowly gaining speed until it reaches top velocity. If the boulder gets to the exit before the players, the temple is sealed closed, and the adventurers will be trapped inside the temple forever, destined to become part of the decor.

The boulder that moves across the board serves as both timer and trap, and is one of the setpiece components of the game. A large molded plastic piece that dominates the board, it is a constant reminder to the players that the time in the temple is limited. The boulder is one of the many parts of the game that come together to really solidify the theme of the game, and helps to draw players in. A cardboard token moving along a track on the board could have served the same purpose, but wouldn't be nearly as immersive, or fun.

The boulder isn't the only trap that the adventurers need to worry about. The first room that they encounter is one of discovery and danger. Called the "Wall Room", players can search for treasures and learn about traps that they will encounter later in the game. But, if they spend too long there, they will learn the hard way why it is called the "Wall Room". At the end of each round, three cards are drawn that determine how the large plastic walls will move. If an adventurer is still in the room when the walls come together, he will meet his untimely fate as a human pancake.

If the adventurers make it out of the wall room, they will turn the corner to reveal a giant pool of lava. Floating upon the lava are 14 stepping stones, each with a unique glyph depicted on it. These stepping stones are represented by thick, double sided cardboard tokens. The glyphs on the tokens are fairly complex, and many are similar in appearance, but none exactly the same. This is important to note, because four of these stepping stones are booby trapped. If an adventurer steps onto a trapped stone, he will end up taking a deadly swim in the sea of lava. But, the adventurers aren't completely in the dark when it comes to choosing a path across the lava. Back in the wall room, the adventurers were given the option to learn about the traps by using actions to take a peek at the glyphs that appear on the trapped tiles.  If they can remember these glyphs, without confusing them with others, they can make it across the lava safely, and pick up some treasures along the way.

But what challenges are in store for our intrepid adventurers next? What obstacles will they have to overcome to prevail, and exit the temple with the most treasure? Will the adventurers live to see another day? Find out the answer to these exciting questions, and more, after this short discussion about actions!

At some point in the game,  the adventurers will have probably picked up a good share of treasure. This can be both a blessing and a curse, because the more treasure a player has, the greater the load he carries. Many actions in The Adventurers are dependent on this idea of "load".  While having a lot of treasure when you escape the temple is good, having too much treasure may mean that you will never make it to the end at all.

Like most press your luck style games, there is a random element to The Adventurers. This randomness is achieved through the use of five, six sided dice. These dice are rolled and compared to the character's load to determine the number of actions a character can take per turn, as well as how successful he is avoiding certain traps in the game.

At the beginning of a turn, the current start player rolls 5 dice. All players then compare their load to the number on each die. For each die that is showing a number equal to, or greater than the character's load, he gets an action. This means each adventurer will get somewhere between 0 and 5 actions.

This is where the tables on the back of the character cards come into play. The character card is placed over the player aid, and is slid to mark the load, and number of actions available to the adventurer. As the player takes actions, he slides the card to reflect the reduced number of actions available.

With the giant boulder barreling towards him, an adventurer might want to drop some treasures to reduce his load. Discarding treasure cards is a free action that players can take each round before the dice are rolled. Deciding when to drop some treasure can make the difference between life and death in the Temple of Chac.

Dice are also used at certain spots on the game board where a player can try to acquire a high valued artifact. These "alcoves" require the player to roll 5 dice, and get certain combinations of numbers in order to successfully take the treasure. If the correct numbers don't come up the first time, the player can use another action to re-roll any of the dice. He may continue doing this until he is out of actions.  If he runs out of actions, however, he will have to start all over at the beginning of his next turn with all 5 dice, if he wishes to grab the treasure.

It's also worth mentioning that each character has one of 6 special abilities that he may use once during the game. Most of these abilities will help him overcome a particular type of obstacle, and can help the player decide how he should traverse the temple.

If a player happens to die, he can bring his second character into the game. This seems more of a way to avoid player elimination than a balanced mechanic. Once the second character is brought into the game, he is at a severe disadvantage, and doesn't have much opportunity to collect treasure.

The Saga Continues!

Now, back to our daring adventurers! Having escaped the lava, they will have some tough decisions to make: They can enter the underground river, to search for more treasures, but risk getting swept into the deadly waterfall at the end; They can choose to cross the rotten bridge, which may collapse if they are carrying too much weight; Even still, they can chose to go the long way, stopping to try for the high valued treasure in the hidden alcove, at the risk of being crushed by the unstoppable boulder.

Whichever way they chose, there are risks to be had. If a player is too greedy, he may find himself at the bottom of a ravine, drown in an underground lake, crushed by a boulder, or trapped for the rest of his short life in the temple. If he ignores the treasure, and takes the safest path, he may exit the temple alive, but find that he has gained only the ridicule of his fellow adventurers who have become unspeakably wealthy from their priceless finds in the temple.

The Verdict:

The Adventurers is a great press your luck game that really succeeds in fully immersing the players in it's well crafted theme. It is easy to put yourself in the shoes of a movie archaeologist turned adventurer, and live out some of your childhood fantasies for 45 minutes. The tension and near-miss encounters keep you at the edge of your seat, and the highs and lows of making or missing that critical die roll make it exciting till the very end.

Although the instructions state that the game is for 2-6 players, I'm not sure that I would play it with less than 4 people. With a lot of people playing, there is a lot of tension and excitement, with less players, that feeling tends to dwindle away.  Players tend to take more risks with a higher player count as there is more competition for the treasures. The few times that I've played The Adventurers with only 3 players, it really seemed to fall flat, and I can only imagine that a 2 player game would be even less compelling.

The Adventurers is not a heavy game by any stretch of the imagination, but it offers a bit more complexity, and interesting choices over a simpler game such as Incan Gold. The fact that it isn't a brain burning experience makes it a great family game, or light game to play as filler or with non-gaming friends.  I don't think I'll find myself pulling out The Adventurers when I want a meaty "gamer's game" experience, but it is a lot of fun, and I see myself playing it many more times in the future.

As long as The Adventurers is played casually, I see it having staying power. Played too seriously however, it begins to show some weaknesses. First of all, due to the way that the traps on the lava field are selected, someone who has memorized all of the glyphs would have an unfair advantage during the first half of the game. Second, there are only a handful of obstacles that the players encounter. After a while, these could start to feel a bit stale. Finally, The Adventurers has a great deal of randomness built into the gameplay, which can be a turn-off for some players who prefer their games to be based entirely on skill.

As a light family game, however, The Adventurers shines. It is full of theme, has a wonderful tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and only gets better the more people who play.  The randomness of the game works as an equalizer, and can allow people of different skill levels to all have a great time, which can be an advantage when playing with younger children. If you enjoy the adventure theme, and have a group of people with the same mindset who like to have fun, I don't think you could go wrong with giving The Adventurers a try.


Sunday
Apr032011

A Look at HBO's 15-Minute Game of Thrones Preview

 

Ok, tonight was the night that HBO dropped a 15 minutes preview of The Game of Thrones.  After years of anticipation, we are finally on the brink of the series premier, and I am not sure that the preview helped my eagerness.  First off, here is a link, watch it for yourself, then we will discuss it rather briefly.

Preview here!

First and foremost let’s get the obvious out of the way, it was 14 minutes, HBO lied. More importantly, though, it seems they nailed the essence of the series at least from what small amount we were privy to.  The Haunted Forest seemed vast and certainly spooky.  I really liked the way the prologue was handled; Royce came off just as unlikeable as he did in the book, and the scene was well done overall.  The chase through the woods was intense, and it all ended in violence.

The scene at Winterfell had almost all made it into previoius previews to a certain extent, but one thing is clear to me, they will not be afraid to add new scenes to the story.  In this little clip though you get a lot of the story's setup out of the way:  Cat does not love Jon, Arya and Sansa are very different, and all of the sons are very respectful of their honorable father. Everything though was not all doom and gloom as there was a nice bit with Arya outshooting Bran at the end of the scene.

Then, finally, the execution of Will.  This scene is from the book, unlike the previous, but it was altered to a degree.   Will was much more vocal for his televised execution than he was in the book, which took away one of the more eerie elements in that particular scene.  The fact that he was speechless added to the horror he had witnessed previously.  Theon also didn’t punt the head but there will be plenty of time to show his annoying attributes throughout the series.

All in all, I give it an A plus.  It was a total success in that they certainly gave the potential subscribers a peak in on what the show is going to be like.  They gave the fans that have been waiting just enough to wet their appetite and, most importantly, HBO displayed their respect for the source material, something all the fans can take heart in.