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Geektasm

August 15th, 2009 No comments

Yesterday marked the high water mark of my geek year: my annual road trip to Gen Con Indianapolis. This gamer gathering has come a long way since I attended my first one at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside back in 1978. These days it’s one-quarter trade show, one-quarter bazaar, one-quarter costume show and one-quarter your mother’s basement.

While costumes aren’t as much of a focus there as they are at such geek gathering as the San Diego Comic Con, there were certainly enough on display. Though in some cases I wasn’t entirely sure they were costumes; a lot of folks came as “Woman Wearing Plaid Skirt Over Leggings with Skanky Top and Tattoos Covering the Rest.” I think that’s an anime character. To be sure, there were also a bunch of recognizable anime characters, as well as a smattering of superheroes, video game personalities, generic fantasy get-ups (think cloaks and/or pointy ears) and, for some reason, a guy wearing a business suit and ski mask.

I only took one costume photo, of a woman dressed as DC Comics’ mistress of magic, Zatanna. I’ll let you guess why.

Stenhsif raeppa!

I also saw far too many corsets. One example of extreme corsetting had her breasts pushed out so far that they resembled fleshy platters. Seriously, I think she had a spread of cheese and crackers up there. It looked neither comfortable nor in any way sexy.

The costumes were not my reason for being there, though. Neither were the game sessions. I can play games at home. No, I go to Gen Con for the shopping!

My first stop was the Fantasy Flight Games booth, with the express purpose of purchasing a pre-release copy of the “Pegasus” expansion for the Battlestar Galactica boardgame. They must’ve been able to see it in my eyes, as they handed me a copy without my even asking. I also snagged their Bag of Cthulhus, because, hey, bag of Cthulhus!

Really, Fantasy Flight seems to be the centerpiece of the Gen Con dealers’ room these days. Their space was huge, packed high with stacks of colorful, expensive boardgames, and buzzing with demonstration tables. Meanwhile, Wizards of the Coast, makers of Dungeons & Dragons, might as well have put up a sign saying “We don’t really care anymore.” While they weren’t stuck in a corner as they were last year, they had only a few, sparsely-attended demo tables. Furthermore, even though there are several new D&D products coming to stores any moment now, they only brought a small supply that sold out right away. It’s strange to think that D&D used to be the wheel around which all of Gen Con revolved.

In the background you can see monsters from the new Empire of the Apes and Ubercorp factions.With my one “gotta” purchase out of the way, I started making the rounds. Privateer Press didn’t have any new Monsterpocalypse promotional figures this year, but I bought the strategy guide and map pack for the latest expansion of their giant monsters wargame. They did have a nifty diorama of MonPoc figures, including some of the new factions that will debut this fall. I’m especially looking forward to the Tritons (subs and sea monsters) and the Empire of the Apes (gorillas with jet packs!).

I always buy at least one game without a prior demonstration, and this year it was The Isle of Doctor Necreaux from Alderac. I’m not really a fan of “cooperative” games (ones in which the players team up to defeat the game’s mechanics), but I am a fan of pulp sci-fi.

Alderac also had a really slick-looking Raiders of the Lost Ark pastiche called The Adventurers, with a group of pulp heroes invading a trap-infested labyrinth. I didn’t watch the demo long enough to get a sense of the gameplay, but it’s definitely on my radar when it hits retail.

Another game that piqued my interest, if not my wallet, was Shootin’ Ladders: Frag Fest, which is a videogame-inspired battle royale played out on a Chutes and Ladders board. The same company, Smirk and Dagger, previously released a similarly-ultraviolent version of Candy Land called Run For Your Life, Candyman! It was the end of the day and I was down to just the last of my food money, so I left it for another day.

The only other complete game I purchased was Vapor’s Gambit, a “hoverboard racing” challenge. I gather that it’s not very good, as Troll & Toad was clearing out a huge stack of them for a buck apiece. But, as my wife has pointed out, I would take a piece of shit* if they were giving it away for free. For a buck, it was worth it for the pieces.

Mostly I go to Gen Con for the individual miniatures, random bargains and odd gamer paraphenalia. I didn’t buy as many dice as usual, but I did get a “carved,” Cthulhu-themed 20-sided die, as well as a giant, inflatable 20-sider. Then there was the plush baby Adipose from Doctor Who. (The Adipose are aliens composed entirely of fat collected from unsuspecting human donors, but they sure are cute!)

I ran into several gamers I know, including my good friend (and former Urbana-ite) Chris Dinkins. We met over a bin of D&D miniatures, and he helped me dig through the heap to find several _______ figures (name withheld because my gamer group will have to fight them one day soon). Chris and I had a nice, long chat.

All in all, it was a good trip. People didn’t seem too cranky, and I found the aisles easy enough to navigate once I ditched the ridiculously-large Fantasy Flight Games sack. (Still, people, leave your babies at home!) I only got into one potential scuffle, with an overzealous convention volunteer who kept insisting that I go all the way around the auction area to the official exit when I was standing five feet from my checked backpack. It was the only game I actually played yesterday, but I am pleased to say that I won that round.

*Correction: Vic tells me that what she actually says is that I would take a hot turd if it was free.

They Had A Plan

March 22nd, 2009 No comments

Massive spoilers for the series finale of Battlestar Galactica immediately follow. 

I can’t say that they didn’t warn us. The answer had been in plain view the entire time. Despite all of the speculation and rationalization about the seemingly miraculous events dogging the fleeing Colonials–implanted chips, shared mental projections and unrevealed Cylon/human hybrids–the truth was that it was God all along. (Though we now know that it doesn’t like that name.)

And it’s funny that we expected something else. It’s not like Battlestar Galactica hasn’t worn its spirituality on its sleeve from the start. The ties between the original series and the Mormon faith have been well documented. One of its best-regarded episodes, “War of the Gods,” was not at all coy about injecting literal angels and devils into the space-based shenanigans. Heck, an unproduced script for the Galactica: 1980 follow-up went so far as to have Starbuck assumed into the heavenly domain of the “ship of lights.”

So, really, why were we surprised that “Head Six” wasn’t lying about being God’s messenger? Or that there really was some sort of divine force egging the pudding? 

For myself, it’s at least in part because I reject the idea of an activist God in my own life. I’m willing to concede the possibility of a creator, but I’ve seen nothing in my time on this world that allows me to believe that it takes any interest in our earthbound affairs.

And even though I don’t believe that science and religion are competing teams in a zero-sum game, I come down firmly on the side of science, which doesn’t simply throw up its hands when it encounters a mystery and declare that “God did it.”

Yet, while I was still holding out hope in the final hour for a solid, rational explanation of Starbuck’s seeming death and resurrection, I can’t say that I’m all that bothered by the lack of one. In our world, “God did it” is the ultimate cop-out. But in a fictional world in which inexplicable, miraculous events are a regular occurrence, I find it more palatable. I didn’t complain about the presence of the supernatural in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. so why here?

Besides, the modern Galactica, unlike the original series, remained a tiny bit coy about it. Saying that “it doesn’t like that name” offered a back door to other, semi-rational explanations involving super-evolved aliens and such. Producer Ronald D. Moore’s other major sci-fi series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine posited that the only difference between Captain Sisko’s “wormhole aliens” and the “prophets” of Bajoran spiritualism was a matter of perspective.

So, leaving God-or-It aside for the moment, what about the rest of the finale? I certainly don’t want to overlook the tremendous kick-assitude of the first hour, from the toe-to-toe slugout between the Galactica and the Cylon Colony ship to the brutal brawl of old-school Centurions and their modern counterparts. The sight of the battlestar ramming through the colony’s bulkhead will stick with me, as will the scenes of Galactican marines and Centurions working side by side. Whatever cost-cutting the production might have had to do to save up for this special-effects blow-out, it was worth it.

And while the one big surprise reveal–that the previously-seen, nuclear-ravaged Earth of the Colonials’ quest was not in fact our world–took me a few moments to grasp, I have to say that it makes a lot of sense. The Earth we visited at midseason left too many questions; it appeared to be our own future, yet it was colonized by Cylons who were fully aware of their machine origins. The conceit of the refugees finding our planet and renaming it Earth was fitting. First, it acknowledges that it really didn’t matter whether they ever found the “real” Earth; the only reason that Roslin and Adama brought up the legend in the first place was to give hope to the fleet. Second, it pays off the link between the Galacticans and us that’s inherent in the premise. There’s no point in using the name Earth unless we’re meant to be involved in the story.

I’m not entirely sure that I bought the notion of the Colonials abandoning their technology (even medicine?) to go native. Furthermore, having them settle down in Earth’s prehistory drew an unfortunate parallel to the hapless Golgafrinchams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and made me wonder whether the real villain was in fact a giant, mutant star-goat. Yet it too paid off a core concept from the original series’ opening narration:

There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. That they may have been the architects of the great pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive somewhere beyond the heavens…

In the “reimagined” Galactica, Admiral Adama may not have built the pyramids or sunk beneath the waves with Atlantis, but it’s fun to think that the Colonials’ legends became part of our own collective consciousness. If you really want to get silly about it, perhaps they informed a certain cheesy ’70s TV show.*

All of this talk about the grand plot arc has made me overlook the most important part of the series: the characters. And while the finale may have gone on for fifteen minutes too long, it did allow us–as with the film version of Return of the King–to take our time winding down and to find out where the paths of the people with whom we spent the last five years took them. Whatever I may feel about certain aspects of the storyline, I felt that in the end the characters were believable: human in their foibles, yet capable of great strength. Here too there were a bunch of good moments, including Tyrol’s enraged attack on Tory, Adama and Roslin’s final Raptor flight and pretty much everything involving Baltar.

I’m glad that everything turned out more or less okay for the surviving Colonials. They finally had one good day, even if they never made it to the Puppy Planet.

Though it’s gonna suck when they realize they’re out of toilet paper.

*For a time, I began to think that the cycle of civilizations being slaughtered by their own creations (“all this has happened before; all this will happen again”) might imply that the original series itself was part of the same continuity. I also thought that Dirk Benedict would turn out to be Starbuck’s dad. So I guess I’m not so clever.

All Dolled Up, No Place To Go

March 5th, 2009 No comments

Let’s catch up with some recent televised sci-fi!

Lost: I called it. And I was so intent on skipping through what I thought was still the “previously on” portion of last night’s show that I didn’t realize I had called it until I read this morning’s reviews. I had been saying to Vic that one of the time-hops Our Heroes have been taking through the Island’s past just had to take them to the era in which the freaky, four-toed foot was a freaky, four-toed statue. And that’s exactly what happened in the first minute of Wednesday’s episode. We didn’t get to see its face, which makes me think it must be someone we know, probably the long-lived Richard Alpert given all the Egyptian symbolism and Sawyer’s crack about Alpert’s “eyeliner.”

Battlestar Galactica: Another bit that I called some time ago was that it was significant that the known Cylon model numbers skipped over seven. As we’ve recently learned, there was indeed a Number Seven named Daniel, supposedly dead but probably not. Which brings us to last Friday’s episode, which at least added credence to the theory that Daniel may ultimately be the series’ puppet-master. Furthermore, it suggested that Starbuck, while not a true Cylon, may instead be Daniel’s offspring. But did we have to learn that through a half-hour of piano-playing? Come on, folks, four episodes left!

Terminator – The Sarah Conner Chronicles: I keep meaning to blog about this show, which I’ve been following since it premiered last year. I’m swimming upstream compared to the majority of geekdom in that I hated Terminator 2 and quite enjoyed the third film in the series, which remembered that Sarah Conner’s mission wasn’t to prevent the creation of Skynet, but rather to protect and train her son John to win the coming war with the machines. So, why have I enjoyed this show, which seems hell-bent on erasing the latter film from continuity?

One reason is that Lena Headley’s Sarah Conner is a much more relatable person that the angry, crazy hellion that Linda Hamilton portrayed in T2. While she bears the emotional scars of her life on the run, she’s not bat-shit nuts. 

I also like the way that the idea of a temporal war is being played out, with both sides sending troops into the past to secure objectives in their future present. There’s even an instance in which two time-tripping characters learn that they–despite having shared an intimate relationship during the machine war–are from different future realities. It’s a much better handling of the idea than Star Trek: Enterprise managed during its own temporal conflict storyline.

That’s all cool, but I’ll admit that the story arc has been meandering too much as of late. Shirley Manson, formerly of the rock band Garbage, is playing a liquid-metal Terminator. She’s not much of an actress, but she’s an intriguing presence. And there’s some question as to what her character’s agenda might be. While she seems to be trying to bring about Skynet, it almost seems that she’s trying to birth a kinder, gentler computer. Which would be interesting, except that we’re six episodes from what may well be the series finale, and we haven’t come any closer to finding out what she’s up to. She hasn’t even met our heroes. 

Allegedly, that’s about to change, according to this trailer for the rest of the season.

Dollhouse: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Whedonite. I even bought 17 issues of a crappy Angel comic because it had the imprimatur of a Joss Whedon-approved plotline. So, why did it take me about three weeks to even begin watching the episodes I’d recorded?

Now that I’ve seen the first couple of shows, I think that I know. I agree with Time’s TV critic James Poniewozik that the core concept is deeply flawed. The central character, Echo, is literally a blank slate onto which amalgams of other people’s experiences are overwritten. The idea is that it’s supposed to be a showcase for the dubious acting chops of Eliza Dushku, but it also means that there’s nothing there for the viewer to latch onto.

Why should we care what happens to Echo? Aside from a couple of brief scenes of her previous existence as a woman named Caroline, she has no personality other than the one she’s been given for the current assignment. And how should we feel about a person who would give herself over to a company which will literally take five years of her life and whore her out to anyone with a million bucks in their wallet? (The “whore” thing is not even remotely a metaphor; in the two episodes I’ve seen, she’s been on three assignments that involved her being programmed to be the perfect lover for her client.)

Doubly disappointing is the lack of Whedon’s trademark banter. Perhaps that’s because there are only two likable characters on the series–Echo’s handler and the cop who’s out to expose the Dollhouse–and they’re unlikely to spend much time together. 

It’s not a total train-wreck–there are hints that the concept will open up as Echo begins to remember her past life–but I think that it would play much better as a mini-series than an open-ended weekly. And, given the crappy ratings the thing has been getting, it may get just that chance!

They Has A Flavor

February 27th, 2009 No comments

Here’s one that cracked me up: 20 proposed endings to Battlestar Galactica, most of which involve horrible death. I especially enjoyed #11, which once and for all explains the difference between humans and Cylons.

You Can’t Do That On Television

February 26th, 2009 No comments

As Battlestar Galactica approaches its endgame, I’ve had cause to think back to a simpler time when Cylons were just stuntment in shiny suits and in no way resembled Tricia Helfer.

It may seem absurd now, but back in the day (1978) the original Galactica series was seen as a pretty big deal. Aside from a couple of delightfully dreadful imported sci-fi flicks–Japan’s Message from Space and Italy’s Star Crash–it was the first true response to the genre-busting Star Wars. At a time before VCRs, when the best Star Wars home viewing experience one could hope for was an eight-minute Super 8 film compilation, the thought of a big-budget space combat show being beamed into one’s household every week was pretty damned exciting.

Midway through its first and only season, though, I found myself understating: “This could be a whole lot better.” For me, the problem wasn’t just the obvious stuff like the monkey in the robot dog suit. I was bothered not only by the frequently-recycled special effects but by the plots lifted wholesale from other movies, among them Shane and The Guns of Navarone. And I began to think the thing that so many fanboys before or since have thought about their own particular obsessions: “I could make this better.”

So I began to think of changes both large and small that I would make to Galactica if I had the chance to start it over. Some were admittedly superficial. I wanted the Viper space fighters to have guns that fired backwards; why allow a Cylon raider to sneak into your “six” unchallenged? Some were in the interest of better storytelling. I wanted to go back to the original premise of the Cylons being lizard-like aliens before ABC’s Network Standards and Practices division decreed that such a kid-friendly series should instead use robots for its cannon fodder. Robots, I thought, were much less interesting than thinking, feeling opponents. 

But what really influenced me more than anything was a Japanese animated series that aired briefly on weekday afternoons before being shunted off to the hell of early morning TV: Star Blazers (aka Space Cruiser Yamato). In some ways, Yamato was Galactica, only the Japanese did it first. For that matter, Yamato predates Star Wars itself by several years, which, given George Lucas’ attraction to Japanese culture, should be food for thought.

In its English-dubbed form, Star Blazers told the serialized story of a literal space battleship–the World War II-era Yamato–pulled from the sea bed, outfitted with an interstellar drive, and rechristened the Argo. It was humanity’s last hope of saving planet Earth from constant nuclear bombardment by the alien Gamilons, set off on a long voyage in search of the “Cosmo DNA” device that would remove the radioactivity and restore the environment.

One of the things I liked most about Star Blazers–aside from the numerous space battles–was its even-handed treatment of its villains. An early episode featured the crew of the Argo meeting a wounded Gamilon soldier face to face for the first time and realizing that their enemies had their own hopes and fears. Even their dreaded leader Desslok was an honorable figure who later became one of the Argo’s staunchest allies.

Another thing that pulled me in was the serialized story. Now, Galactica also had a story progression of sorts, but not so obvious as the one seen here, with its one-year timeline and frequently referenced doomsday countdown. (Each episode ended with a subtitle declaring, “The Argo has only X days left!”) Season-long story arcs were unknown on American TV at the time.

What I wanted to see from Galactica was even more ambitious, something akin to what eventually happened with Babylon 5: the multi-year story arc. Knowing full well that Galactica would probably wind up like Gilligan’s Island, with the entire premise negated if they ever reached “home,” I tried to think beyond that. And I came up with my own five-year plan:

  • Year One: The Colonials flee from the pursuing Cylons. (Pretty much what we actually got in that first and only season.)
  • Year Two: The Galactica escapes the Cylon sphere of influence and has various unrelated adventures in space.
  • Year Three: The Galactica reaches Earth, and has to build up its defenses against a presumed Cylon offensive. (Kinda like Galactica: 1980, only not lame.)
  • Year Four: Cylons launch wave after wave of attacks against the Colonials’ new home, and are finally repelled.
  • Year Five: Emboldened, the Galactica makes a perilous voyage back and strikes to eliminate the Cylon threat once and for all.

Oddly enough, I never had the opportunity to put my plan into action. But in 1986, I spent several months interning at Stephen J. Cannell Productions in Hollywood, fresh out of college with intentions of being a network TV writer. This was back when Cannell was at its peak, producing The A-Team as one of a half-dozen series. (Most of which were cancelled by the time my internship was up, which is one reason I never became established in Hollywood.) I was assigned to hang out with one of their producers, and one day I told him that what I really wanted to do if I had the chance was to remake Galactica and do it right.

I don’t recall the exact response, but it was something akin to “Why would you want to do that? Who would want to see a remake of a failed TV show?”

Hmm. Times change, don’t they? And Universal is apparently talking to original series producer Glen Larson about another Galactica reboot, this time a theatrical film.

Wonder if the Vipers will shoot backwards this time.

How Awesome Is This?

February 9th, 2009 No comments

Really, how awesome is this scene from last Friday’s Battlestar Galactica, in which Mary McDonnell’s President Roslin faces down Tom Zarek, leader of the coup against the Colonial fleet?

 

Frakkin’ awesome.

Oh, and I love the irony of Richard Hatch, the star of the original Galactica and the guy who tried to launch his own sequel series before being pre-empted by the folks who actually owned the rights, attempting to literally take control of the new show.

The Felgercarb Hits The Fan

February 2nd, 2009 No comments

I’ve been remiss in not giving the final half-season of Battlestar Galactica its due. As I’ve suggested before, giving the series an end date has been a good thing. No more pointless episodes about Romo Lampkin’s ghost cat or how Apollo got his tattoos. Okay, that second one was from Lost, but you get the idea. With only seven episodes to go, every moment is important, and no character has script immunity. While Roslin was in the “next week” trailer and presumably survives the attack ordered upon her by Gaeta, and Tigh ain’t goin’ anywhere until the writers pay off the revelation that his wife was the final Cylon, it feels like anything could happen at this point. And that’s what made last Friday’s episode–the first half of a two-parter regarding a full-blown insurrection aboard the Galactica–that much more harrowing.

Admittedly, I was bit frustrated with “The Oath” at first, as it was the second episode in a row not to answer of the major, nagging questions still in need of a reply, but I ultimately realized that it wasn’t only necessary, but perfectly timed. The revelation that the long-sought-after Earth was a radioactive wasteland (spoiler alert, but Jesus, it’s been about a year since that one aired) should have repercussions that extend beyond an episode or two.  And Tom Zarek–the former revolutionary who became Laura Roslin’s vice-president–would have been a disappointment if he hadn’t tried to assume total control of the fleet as some point. 

What’s clear to me is that even though there are perfectly legitimate reasons to question recent decisions by Roslin and Adama–especially his cooperation with the “rebel” Cylons and his insistence on installing Cylon engine technology aboard the Colonial ships–Zarek doesn’t care about any of that. He just sees an opportunity to get what he’s always wanted: the ability to personally shape humanity’s destiny. And for most of his collaborators, it’s really more about settling scores rather than building a coherent, new power structure or a plan for the future.   

One really does have to wonder what Joe Colonial makes of all this. As viewers, we’re privy to a lot of privileged information that even Our Heroes don’t know. We have every reason to believe that the rebel Cylons are sincere about seeking an alliance with the humans, and that “Final Five” Cylons such as Tigh and Tyrol remain loyal to their Admiral. But all Joe Colonial probably knows is that not only have the people who butchered 99.999999999% of humanity been secretly living among the refugees, but that both the Admiral and the President’s own personal aides were Cylons. And now the Galactica’s not answering phone calls, there’s a lot of gunfire, and the President is fleeing toward the Cylon Base Ship.

Categories: Sci-Fi Tags: ,

If Only I’d Brought My Bag Of Holding

August 17th, 2008 No comments

Friday, my peeps and I made the annual pilgrimage to the Mecca that is Gen Con Indianapolis, one of the biggest gaming conventions in the U.S. This time out I was flush with eBay cash and loaded for werebear.

Arriving about forty minutes before the dealers’ hall opened, we were dismayed to find that all of the lockers were either long since taken or jammed so full of quarters that they no longer operated. I would eventually come to regret that situation.

When the doors opened, I made an immediate beeline toward the Wizards of the Coast booth with the intention of getting one of the Heroscape promotional figures. I’ve been collecting that particular game since its inception and have all of the previous Gen Con promos, one of which now goes for three figures on eBay.

However, I soon learned that Hasbro/WOTC had decided that they would only issue 250 Heroscape figures per day at their booth. This for a convention which attracts upwards of 25,000 souls. Within five minutes of the hall’s opening, they had completely run out.

I was furious. I despise arbitrary limits that result in “haves” and “have-nots,” especially when such limits are conspicuously short of the likely demand. (Also, when I’m one of the “have-nots.”) As I mentioned, Hasbro’s been giving away similar promos for several years, and as long as one made the effort to arrive in the first hour or two there was no trouble getting one. This year, someone clearly decided that the best way to generate interest in what is admittedly a waning game franchise was to ensure that 99% of attendees went away unhappy. Never mind that this is probably WOTC’s biggest trade event, or that the cheap, plastic figures likely cost pennies apiece to produce.

Seriously, if this cost even a dime, I’d be amazed.

Backed up by a couple of fellow Heroscape fans who clearly believed I was going to get results, I began working through the WOTC employees unlucky enough to get in my way until I reached Toby. He was a genuinely nice guy who pointed out that they also had 250 figures per day at the Heroscape tourney in Exhibit Hall F. If they couldn’t help us, he probably could if I stopped back after lunch. It took a while to find Hall F, and still longer to find someone who knew what we were talking about, but we eventually prevailed. And Toby later delivered on his promise by getting an extra figure for my friend Brian.

In the end, I was still kinda pissed at WOTC, and didn’t come back to their booth until much later in the day. Ironically, one of the main things I’d been looking forward to at this year’s convention was the chance to get fired up about their new 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons releases. But honestly, the WOTC booth seemed rather low-key in comparison to previous years: there were fewer games being demo’ed, and they’d stopped their traditional giveaway in which attendees rolled a giant 20-sided die in hopes of winning one of a huge stack of prizes. Now, I can understand why the booth for Wizkids Games (a competitor which makes Heroclix, etc.) was similarly low-key; they had no new product to show and rumor has it that they just laid off a whole bunch of staff. But WOTC is fat, sassy and just coming off a hugely successful relaunch of D&D, so where was the hype?

My second stop was the Privateer Press booth, which had a sneak preview of their upcoming Monsterpocalypse game. It’s a collectible miniatures game about giant monsters thrashing a city, so it might as well have had “Designed Expressly for David Thiel” on the packaging. I wound up buying a bunch of packs, and I really hope that I can encourage one of the local game stores in Champaign/Urbana to support it when it officially arrives this October. Good fucking luck on that, I know.

Another early release was Fantasy Flight’s Battlestar Galactica boardgame, a semi-cooperative challenge in which the players are in charge of the human fleet fleeing toward the planet Earth. However, one or more of them is secretly a Cylon working against them. In light of the locker situation, I’d resolved not to buy much heavy stuff early in the day, but it was clear this one was going to sell out fast. Into the bag it went!

One that I did wait to buy until near the end of the day was E.T.I.: Estimated Time to Invasion, a surprisingly well-produced small press boardgame in which the players run companies researching high-tech projects in anticipation of staving off an alien attack. Like the aforementioned Galactica game, one of them is secretly an alien prepping for the invasion. It looks like a lot of fun!

Like many geek conventions, Gen Con has expanded well beyond its original mandate, and so I found that while there were a few folks dressed as wizards or the inevitable Imperial Stormtroopers, there were dozens, possibly hundreds, of anime-inspired costumes. At least, I think that’s what they were. I recognized a guy dressed as the main character from Trigun, but I’m not sure who all the women in punky schoolgirl outfits were supposed to be. What I do know is that when you’re tottering around on 10-inch heels while falling out of a tight, red dress, you’ve pretty much passed out of the land of animation and into whoredom.

As the gaming industry has matured, so have the services that have sprung up around it. Case in point: Geek Chic, a company displaying a colossal, wooden gaming table (called, without any hint of irony, the “Sultan”) featuring dozens of built-in storage compartments.

That’s right: $9,650. The booth guy promised me that this is an heirloom-quality piece of furniture that would not live in my basement. (In fact, their slogan is “Emerge ex Hypogaeo,” which allegedly translates to “Come Out of the Basement.”) I assured him that if I did buy one, it would still very much wind up in the basement. (After Vic bashed me in the head with one of its hard rock sugar maple and black walnut drawers, that is.)

I usually don’t buy many games on first sight at Gen Con (or many games at all, to be honest) but I picked up a few on spec this year. One was Yetisburg, a card game which won me over with its theme of the American Civil War being fought with the aid of yetis and mastodons. Love the rulebook, which includes new yeti-centric lyrics for “Dixie,” plus a pitch-perfect parody of the infamous Sullivan Ballou letter featured in Ken Burns’ TV documentary. (“I write with trembling lips that Johnny Reb has ‘skunk apes’ of his own…”)

I also bought Humans!!!, which appears to be a clever inversion of Twilight Creations’ popular Zombies!!! games, and Vineta, in which the players are angry gods out to sink an island civilization. I would’ve felt a whole lot better about that last one if it hadn’t turned out that Brian had also bought it, rendering my copy about as useful as a third nipple on a dude. (Or a second one, come to think of it.) Not his fault; just after I purchased it I’d thought “This seems like the sort of thing Brian would buy.” Ah well, it’s a handsome-looking game anyway.

By the end of the day my bag became ridiculously heavy and awkward to maneuver through the crowded hall, and I was thoroughly fried by the time we trooped back to the car. Still, I had a good time on Friday, and spent most of Saturday reading the rulebooks of my new acquisitions. Can’t wait to play!

Kick Ass!

April 7th, 2008 No comments

Nothing much to say about the following except that the season premiere of Battlestar Galactica continued the series’ tradition of ass-kicking space battles. Here’s a six-minute clip of the Battle of the Ionian Nebula, as the Galactica faces down an overwhelming Cylon force.

Battlestar Wholactica!

April 4th, 2008 No comments

Battlestar Galactica Season Four: tonight!
Doctor Who Season Four: tomorrow!
(Not that any of us over in the U.S. have any way of seeing the latter, no sir.)