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It’s weird being a parent as your child grows and begins exploring the world without you.  More and more, my children watch shows and read books I haven’t read.  Our worlds are diverging.  So one does what one can — we watch cheesy television with them, and we read what they’re reading.

In the case of the latter, I guess I’m raising a kid with good taste…

Sidekicks by Dan SantatSidekicks by Dan Santat

Sidekicks is a graphic novel about an aging superhero, Captain Amazing, who’s feeling the endless creep of years sneaking up on him.  He decides it’s time to get a sidekick, and that’s when we learn that his pets, the real protagonists of the story, have been yearning to team up with him forever.  There’s an indestructible dog, a static-energy cat, and a hamster with no appreciable superpowers.  And an iguana. A few thoughts:

  • This comic has a really positive message — it encourages us to think about all our gifts, and the way that understanding them as part of our whole selves gives us an advantage far exceeding that of the person who excels at one thing alone.
  • The hamster/iguana team-up is fantastic. They’re both brave and eminently vulnerable, fighting in a world fraught with danger.
  • Captain Amazing’s tale of aging and teamwork cuts strikingly close to the bone for me, a father watching his children grow up and acquire their own interests that diverge from mine, and at the same time, want to do all the things I do.

It’s a cute and fulfilling comic.  Well worth the twenty five minutes it will take you to read.  According to the school librarian’s notes in the inside cover, you will also earn “4 points” for reading it.  So there’s that.

My kickstarter continues on – 13 days left!

If you haven’t seen my Kickstarter project for the card and dice game I developed with some friends, what are you doing?  Get on over there! 😀  I kid.  But I don’t kid.

Update 7 art

Anyhow, we posted another update today highlighting the voting developments and pointing to a mention of the game on a Welsh newsletter for Geeks and Geekery.

If you haven’t seen it yet, please do check out CROMLECH. It’s fun and cool and I’d like to make it.

Tweets from 2015-10-25 to 2015-10-31

The Osiris Ritual

The Osiris RitualThe Osiris Ritual (A Newbury and Hobbes Investigation)
by George Mann

Sir Maurice Newbury and Valerie Hobbes are back in another rollicking steampunk adventure in George Mann’s The Osiris Ritual.  Like the previous book, The Affinity Bridge, there’s plenty of great action and adventure and nobility and constrained behavior and running around London.  The characters of the two protagonists develop a bit more thoroughly in this one, though they end up spending much of the novel investigating two separate cases and worrying about the other.  A few more thoughts:

  • Mann really excels at gruesome description.  In the first book, it was automata — in this one it’s a rotting cyborg.  Gross and awesome.
  • The fight scenes in the novel are where it’s at.  Great action!
  • Alas, the relationship tension feels a bit tacked on to me.  But I don’t generally enjoy that part of these kinds of stories anyway.  Thoughts about feelings? GROSS.

A nice romp.  If you liked the first one, you’ll like this one.  If you didn’t read The Affinity Bridge, I think you could enjoy this just fine as well.


Recent gaming: A mini-review of Elder Sign

#WhatDidYouPlayMondays #GameLog for 12 October to 28 October 2015

Stealing an idea from Rolfe for a bit of blogging content, here’s my next play log.

Card or Party Games: Quiddler, Two Rooms and a Boom (2 plays)

Board Games: Epic Resort, Galaxy Trucker, Elder Sign (Gates of Arkham), Battleship, Tash-Kalar,  Between Two Cities (2 plays), Last Will

Unrecorded plays: We’re in the midst of our Kickstarter for Cromlech, a card and dice game of magical battle.  I’ve decided I won’t be recording plays of that game until I have a production copy in my hand.  Until then, prototype plays don’t count.  That said, I’ve played a bunch of games of Cromlech, of course.

Mini-review of a game

Gates of Arkham

Elder Sign: Gates of Arkham

Fantasy Flight’s dice game of Cthulhu investigation, Elder Sign is a favorite of mine.  It has the excitement and surprise of dice-rolling, the collaborative element that keeps my son satisified, and is hard enough that you don’t win every time.  So I’ve picked up both expansions for the game.  The first–unseen forces–added a bit to the game and made it a little harder, but overall was just “more of the same.”  But the second one is a different monster altogether.

Here’s a quick primer in Elder Sign. The players are supernatural investigators, working to stop the creeping horror of an Ancient One from rising up and destroying the world.  Players do this by visiting adventure location cards and rolling dice, matching required symbol combinations through a selective dice mechanism familiar to players of Yahztee or King of Tokyo.  The game is chock-a-block with cards and tokens that help players do better in their rolls.  Succeeding becomes a process of balancing the end goal (of getting “Elder Signs”) with the need to keep characters in health and equipment.  There is an end stage where the Ancient One awakens. It is possible to win the game after this point, but rare.

Gates of Arkham reconfigures the original game, providing all new location cards, heroes, monsters, and mechanisms that map, essentially, a second game onto the architecture of the original Elder Sign.  This change is a welcome one, providing a variety of new challenges and differences that provide replayability for the whole system and also provide new challenges for players who have figured out how to game their way through the original game.


  • The game adds challenges by making players go to locations blind — traveling there and only THEN finding out what they have to face. Thematically, this works very well to raise the tension.
  • The new gate mechanisms are a great way to force players to deal with the other world cards which could, much of the time, be ignored in the old setup.
  • Gates is much harder than the original Elder Sign.  I subscribe to the idea that you should lose cooperative games at least as often as you win them, and this ramps up the difficulty again.


  • There’s a lot going on in The Gates of Arkham.  There are new event cards, two secret societies, gates, a different way to buy bonuses, and a bunch of new icons on the cards.  Experienced Elder Sign players should be able to pick it up relatively quickly, but a new player would likely find a few games of the original more rewarding than trying to jump right into the deep end.
  • We’ve discovered through a couple disastrous mix-in sessions that the new characters and Ancient Ones are well-balanced with one another, but far over-power the characters from the original game and first expansion.  Thus, one is really handicapped if one tries to use a character from the original game in the Gates of Arkham. Likewise, an Ancient One from the Gates expansion brought into the original game would be unbeatable.
  • Like the original, Gates suffers from the momentum problem. Namely, if you’re doing well, your character can stay flush in equipment and re-rolls, and finish lots of adventures. If you’re not, it becomes ever-harder to solve adventures and get caught up.  I suppose this is thematic, but it can be despiriting, especially if you have two players doing drastically differently.  (Our house rule to solve this is that players can, before another player’s turn, give any of their items to other players.)

Overall, Elder Sign remains a favorite for me.  It’s got a healthy dose of luck, along with some tactical strategy, and the theme is involving and entertaining.  It’s fun to play with the kids, or even by myself.

Tweets from 2015-10-18 to 2015-10-24

In which I lecture about zombies at the Indian Trails Library

I have a lecture today at 1.30pm in Wheeling, IL, at the Indian Trails Public Library District. Come join us!

Zombies 101

Zombies 101

Grade 6 and up. Zombie Research Society Expert and Columbia College Chicago Professor, Brendan Riley explains everything you need to know about zombies. He explores the history of zombies and the philosophy behind the desire for human brains! Limit 100. Tickets distributed 30 minutes prior to program

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead Wake by Erik LarsenDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
by Erik Larsen; narrated by Scott Brick

When the Lusitania steamed into the waters off Britain in 1915, everyone on board knew the Germans had threatened the ship. But the convergence of politics, military action, timing, and fate made the attack on the ship a startling and gripping event, one that would draw the United States into war–albeit a full two years later.  A few thoughts:

  • Erik Larsen weaves his usual trick here, building the narrative from three primary tracks — the people aboard the ship, the people aboard the U-Boat, and the British government,  The resulting network of elements and ideas works very well, creating an intense, moving story.
  • Larson rather nonchalantly shares the fact that the Lusitania was carrying thousands of rounds of rifle ammunition and some other key munitions components.  Apparently, this wasn’t a violation of neutrality.  He doesn’t even touch on the common ideas of “conspiracy” that the Lusitania was carrying huge stockpiles of weapons.
  • The sinking scenes in the book are among the most harrowing sea tales I’ve read.  All those Titanic films I’ve seen gave me lots of visual imagery to accompany the tale Larsen tells.  Of course, his accounts of what happened are all based on accounts from survivors of the wreck.  Amazing.
  • There’s plenty of blame for the sinking to go around — particularly for the British government, which knew about the u-boat and let the Lusitania sail blithely on anyway. Larsen doesn’t come out and say it, but he strongly implies that certain forces in the Admiralty saw the sinking of the Lusitania as a way to draw the U.S. in to help the British cause.  And it turned out to be.

Overall, an excellent book.  On par with In the the Garden of the Beast.  The audio book was narrated by my favorite golden-voiced reader, the incomparable Scott Brick.  He’s the best.

Well worth a read.

Tweets from 2015-10-11 to 2015-10-17

Recent gaming 5 – 11 October

#WhatDidYouPlayMondays #GameLog for 5 October to 11 October 2015

Stealing an idea from Rolfe for a bit of blogging content, here’s this week’s playlog.

Card Games: Dead Man’s Draw, Quiddler, Machi Koro, Space Hulk: Death Angel
Board Game: Between Two Cities, Forbidden Desert

I’ll post a mini review of one game each week after the report above.

Machi Koro

Machi Koro

Machi Koro

In Machi Koro, you play the mayor of a Japanese town, eager to raise the profile of your city.  You start each turn by rolling a die. If the result matches the number on one of your cards, that card’s bonus occurs (for example, the bakery gives you one coin if you roll a 2 or 3).  Some blue cards also trigger when anyone rolls the number (you start with one wheat field that pays one coin on a roll of 1).  Then you can buy one card from the market.  These cards expand the numbers that trigger bonuses for you.  You get special bonuses if you build the four things everyone wants: a train station, a shopping mall, a television station, and a stadium. Once you build all four of these, you win.

This very light card game is an amusing diversion — it is a great filler or an opening game where people want to chat while they play. Alas, without the expansions, it isn’t very deep. And the expansions are punishingly expensive for the content they add (I haven’t played them, though). I do like the art, though, and the game is fun, so I may get an expansion at some point.

But there’s a lot of luck here. That also may be augmented by the generally “care bear” approach I take as a player.  I don’t usually buy the “6” cards, which have aggressive ‘take that’ elements, and I only buy the red cards to keep others from getting too many of them. I suppose it could be a different game with players who’re aggressively going after one another.  I should try playing it that way.

All in all, I enjoy Machi Koro and won’t be getting rid of it any time soon, but I’d urge you to play it before you buy it.  If you do decide to buy, be sure to seek out the deluxe version ($40 on Amazon right now), which comes with both the Harbor and Millionaire’s Row expansions, which together cost $30 on Amazon right now.  I’d hope to see these drop in price a bit, but I lament they won’t.

Tweets from 2015-10-04 to 2015-10-10

Tweets from 2015-09-27 to 2015-10-03

Tweets from 2015-09-20 to 2015-09-26

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian
by Andy Weir

We read this book for my SF group this month in anticipation of the film being released soon.  Amazing!

Through a cascading set of mishaps, Mark Whatney is left for dead on Mars by his fellow astronauts. This novel tells the exciting and harrowing tale of attempt to survive.  A few thoughts:

  • While I didn’t find this particularly difficult to read, many of my SF group expressed befuddlement at much of the science in the novel. It is a very “hard” SF book, meaning that it spends a lot of time on technical details.
  • The storytelling is terse and straightforward, which lends a lot to the drama of the moment — things unfold very quickly, but always told in the past tense (as they’re being written by Whatney in his mission log / journal).
  • I love the interplay of Whatney on the planet, the astronauts in the ship flying back from Mars, and the ground control folks.  Excellent.
  • My only complaint about the book is that there are a few too many near misses – it feels a bit contrived in that regard.  But like JAWS getting blown up by an air tank, it works because the story has you from go.
  • Books and stories to consider alongside this one: Robinson Crusoe, Apollo 13, Survivor.

Overall, an excellent, very good book.  If you can get over the technospeak, this is a book for you.


The Manhattan Projects

The Manhattan Projects, Vol 1-5
written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Nick Pitarra

The Manhattan Projects

The Manhattan Projects

In the 1940s, the United States wrangled many of its best scientific minds together into the Manhattan Project, a military research group with the aim of creating the Atom bomb.  Hickman and Pitarra’s comic asks the simple question: what if the members of the Manhattan Project were power-mad psychopaths dedicated to megalomaniacal development of unethical and monstrous super-technologies?

The comic series takes a series of historical figures from the middle of the 20th century and reimagines them in a world reminiscent of Garth Ennis’ The Boys, where the good guys are only marginally better than the bad guys, and all of them do reprehensible things.  Only this time, it’s Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer.  A few thoughts:

  • Einstein is the most satisfying character, still somewhat admirable but much more practical and terrible than the sainted version of him we remember from Meg Ryan movies.
  • The heart of the government, particularly its Presidents, festers with corruption and incompetence, in this comic. It reminds me a bit of writing from Ellis, Ennis, or Chaykin. Not a comic for people who dislike iconoclasts.
  • My favorite part of the comic is the idea that the U.S. and Russian scientists bond together to use their joint powers to try and run the world secretly.  Also, Laika is a talking dog, in love with Uri Gregarin.

The series has a delightful chaos to it, suited perfectly to Pitarra’s scratchy (almost filthy) art style. It’s science as science adventure.  Worth a read, but gruesome and dark and funny.