Monday, September 29, 2014

Game Report: Twilight Imperium, 4-Player Session

The Galactic Council convenes.
Game Set Up:

A few weekends ago, four of us got together to play Twilight Imperium.  My friend Joe & I played it a couple times before:  The last time being a 3-player session with Dallas, who couldn't make this time around.  Newcomers to "The Galactic Council" were:  Jason and Ken.

Since our Twilight Triumvirate game, I re-read the rules a third time in order to avoid our previous errors.  But during the set up, Joe discovered we did the Public Objective Cards wrong.  These cards, which help players earn victory points, are suppose to be laid out as they become available due to political action.  The first player who can claim it, along with spending the necessary resources, gets the points.  In our last game, the cards were handed to the player who initiated the political action.

 One of the great features of Twilight Imperium is the random set-up.  From the map, to the Political Action Cards, to the races themselves, it's guaranteed that no two games will be alike.

Our "4-Player Galaxy" looked like this:

Starting forces and initial positions of the four major races.
The major races vying for power this time around were--

The Yssaril Tribes (Joe):

The Federation of Sol (Jason):

The Clan of Saar (me):

The Winnu (Ken):

Conquest of the Galaxy:

Here's a pictorial history of how the Yssaril, Humans, Saar and Winnu carved-up the galaxy among them...

The Winnu invasion force is repulsed at New Albion, while the troops landing on Starpoint succumb to some form of biohazard.

The Yssaril peacefully annexes Garbozia, but the inhabitants of Saudor put up a fight.
While the Yssaril conduct mop-up operations on Saudor, the Saar annex Belatrix and gain control of the trading post Tsion.
Federation troops stumble across a lost colony of Lazax, the former overlords of the galaxy, believed to be extinct.  This discovery gives Federation Councilors a significant amount of clout in the Galactic Council.  
The Yssaril discovered additional wealth on Primor.
Lodor, along with the nearby wormhole is annexed by the Yssaril.
The Federation advances on Tar'Mann.  Meanwhile, the Winnu are still mustering-up a task force to reclaim New Albion and Starpoint.
Vespin-II (I think) is annexed by the Yssaril.
The Winnu finally mobilize and acquire Gral and it's wealth, but discover lethal doses of radiation on Centauri.
The Saar gain new wealth on Hope's End along with the planet's extensive shock troop training facility.
Vega Minor is peacefully annexed by the Federation, but the inhabitants of nearby Vega Major put up a fight.
Vega Major is captured by the Federation.
The Saar advance on Arinam and Meer, but are unable to initiate an invasion due to command & control, as well as logistical issues.  A task force remains on station at Wormhole Alpha, which leads to Lodor--in Yssaril territory.
A Yssaril cruiser enters the Lesab System, and remains in orbit.
A Yssaril carrier group plunges down the Cormund Gravity Rift, to find a hostile reception.
The Federation make another anthropological discovery.  This time a lost colony of Humans.
Thanks to conducting a fighter reconnaissance, the Saar task force directs the bulk of its troops against Meer.  Arinam is annexed without incident, however, Meer proves to be a tough nut to crack.
The entire Saar invasion force is defeated by the Meerians.
While the Saar lick their wounds, the Winnu seize El'Nath, but of course, not without a fight.
Meer is finally subdued by a second Saar invasion force.
Not wanting to provoke the Winnu, the Saar remain at Hope's End, raising shock troops, while the Winnu subdue the Centaurians. 

A Federation dreadnought task force moves out of the Sol System.
Another Sol task force discovers Wellon to be the terminus of Wormhole Beta, the galaxy's shortest--and most useless--wormhole.
The Winnu return to New Albion and Starpoint.  New Albion is invaded while Starpoint is cleansed of bio-toxins.
The Yssaril cede Lesab to the Saar, which is peacefully annexed.
At this point, only Mecatol Rex remained unclaimed. The stage was now set for a galactic-wide conflict.

End Notes:

We had to end our game at this point, which took an hour to set up and five hours to play.  Fighting only occurred between the space-faring races and the indigenous forces resisting invasion.  Although interplanetary war would have broken out if we had the time to play even just one more turn.

Applying the rules properly slowed things down a bit in terms of how many actions a player can take per turn and how much he can produce.  This can be frustrating at times, but it does provide players with a steady game pace, a less cluttered game board, and an increased awareness of using political and economic power to gain victory points.

Twilight Imperium is not for anyone who likes their games fast & bloody.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Social Gathering with Seattle's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers

(Image:  The Seattle Space Needle and Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum)
This past Saturday, I invited myself  was invited to the monthly gathering of the Seattle Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers group (SF2W).  Actually, I've been receiving newsletters for the past several months, but haven't been able to attend until now.

It's an informal group, whose origins date back almost a year ago at the Northwest Bookfest.

The Prime Directive of meetings are social, with no personal business agendas permitted.

One of the members followed-up on a previous suggestion to provide "Hello, My Name Is" name tapes for everyone.  So it was easy for everyone to actually remember each others' names.

However, out of the 10 of us, I only know the full names of the following writers:

Django Wexler, co-founder and meeting coordinator.

Janine Southard, our hostess for the day.

And Casey Blair.

We talked about upcoming conventions, such as next month's Geek Girl Con, various comic cons, writers conferences and even "Outdoor Trek."

While no one made any elevator pitches, folks did talk about their good, bad & ugly experiences with certain websites, on-line stores, e-book pricing and computer programs.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover nearly everyone is involved in some aspect of gaming; whether computer games, boardgames, miniatures, or role playing games (RPGs).

I had an enjoyable time, loved meeting new people, and I look forward to attending future gatherings--with my usual caveat of:  Work schedule permitting.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Buying Board Games Down Under

Dael Kingsmill rants about discusses the problems Australians have when buying boardgames and other merchandise.

I get turned off about on-line purchases when the shipping and handling (S&H) fees are over $15 (US).  I can't imagine contending with the prices our Australian gamer friends deal with.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Program Review: Emma Approved

The folks at Pemberly Digital scored big a couple nights ago at the 4th Annual Streamy Awards, with it's ground-breaking Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LBD).
This vlog version of Pride and Prejudice was my first exposure to the works of Jane Austen
Now my latest video venture into the world of Jane Austin is:  Emma Approved, an adaptation of the novel Emma.
Meet Emma Woodhouse, (played by Joanna Sotomura), lifestyle coach not-so extraordinaire, and her business partner Alex Knightley (played by Brent Bailey).

She's on a quest to "improve the lives of those around her," while he struggles to keep the business afloat.

Yeah, you guessed it, conflict ensues.

(An Emma Approved version of American Gothic?)
Oh, Emma means well, and her grandiose schemes are successful--for the most part.  But, more often than not, Emma leaves hard feelings and heartache in her wake, because she's blind to the obvious.

I enjoyed the series, and from the comments I read on YouTube, the other viewers did too, and looked forward to each new episode.  Emma Approved seemed to be a rebound from Pemberly Digital's LBD spin-off Welcome to Sanditon

However, there's more to these webseries than posting videos on YouTube.  Apparently, Emma Approved didn't work as well as LBD, in part because Emma Approved didn't utilize the full range of transmedia that LBD did.

Other than Facebook, I didn't delve into any other media platforms during my viewing times.  I guess having an "in-character" blog, which includes womens' fashion advice isn't enough anymore.

Well being the Y-Chromosome tainted Luddite that I am, I'm still giving Emma Approved 4 out of 5 stars, or for those who like using the IMDb Scale, 8 out of 10.

I think Emma would approve.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thank You for the 2K Visits!

(Image: The USS Constitution firing a 21-gun salute)

Sometime yesterday, Stern Rake Studio was reached it's 200,000th view.

Thank you for visiting, whether you're a frequent follower, or just passing through.

I appreciate the interest.

Best wishes to all of you.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review--Jurassic Park, Volume 1: Redemption

Jurassic Park Vol. 1: Redemption takes place 13 years after the original Jurassic Park movie.

Tim and Lex Murphy, (the two kids in the movie), are grown up, and are running various remnants of their grandfather's corporation. Lex wants to keep the dinosaur island quarantined. However, Tim enters into a deal with a shady businessman and attempts to clear their grandfather's name--by re-opening a similar park, deep in the heart of Texas.

Predictably, carnage ensues.

Fortunately, Doctors Saddler and Grant show up in the nick of time to help out.

Jurassic Park: Redemption is a valiant attempt an re-igniting interest in the series, long after the last movie was made. Keep in mind, the novel's storyline follows the movies and not Michael Crichton's books.

While I liked seeing all four of the main characters re-united, Jurassic Park: Redemption falls flat in a few key areas.

The artwork is okay at best. I agree with the other commentators, that it's often hard to tell the characters apart. One even said Doctors Saddler and Grant look younger than they did in the original movie.
 (Although both Laura Dern and Sam Neill looked great during last year's media blitz over the release of Jurassic Park 3-D).
The plot seems to be merely an excuse to see dinosaurs go on a rampage--again. Transitions sequences are choppy, or non-existent, making the story even harder to follow.

Since this is the proposed first volume of a series, readers are hoping the quality improves.

Overall, I think the book was okay, probably because I found my copy at a used book store. I'd probably feel less charitable if I paid full price.

Jurassic Park: Redemption has earned just over 2.5 stars on  The two raters who give the book over 2-stars liked it because their young sons loved it.  Adult readers are less than impressed.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Book Review--Trekker Omnibus

I never heard of Trekker until I stumbled across this Omnibus edition. 

This tome contains all the stories, plus artwork of bounty hunter Mercy St. Clair, as she fights not only criminals on the lamb, but the corrupt police and politicians running New Galeph.

These tales aren't all about blasting bad guys. Mercy is a troubled woman, riddled with as much doubt as her body gets riddled with bullets, while seeking to find a balance between her rough profession and her softer personal life. There's a "creation of Mercy St. Clair" chapter that involves a mentor and an old flame.

The stories are well written and well drawn, although most of the images are in black and white.

Speaking of imagery: While athletic and attractive, Mercy isn't a overly-buxom babe in a skimpy costume. Oh sure, there's usually a picture or two in each chapter of Mercy in a nice dress, while out on the town, or even in lingerie; but her trekker (bounty hunter) uniform looks more practical than just about any other comic costume I've seen.

If you like retro-noir sci-fi with flawed female protagonists then Trekker Omnibus will be a good read for you.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Reviews: Fear Agent Vols. # 1 and 2

If you like pulp action with a retro sci-fi feel, then Fear Agent, Volume 1, Re-Ignition is for you!

Down-on-his-luck alien exterminator Heath Hudson, stumbles across a conspiracy to destroy Earth.

He narrowly escapes from a space station overrun by octopoid monsters with Mara, the only survivor of the attack. 

 They zip past the octopoid armada in Heath's rocket ship, but end up crash-landing on a post-apocalyptic planet, where they discover two things:

One:  They've been transported thousands of years back in time. 

Two:  The planet they're marooned on is the homeworld of a race of killer robots, hell-bent on exterminating all life forms in the galaxy. 

So it's "Plan B" for our intrepid couple--stop the robot conquest of the galaxy before it begins.  But after a desperate battle, all seems lost.

In Fear Agent, Vol 2, My War, our hero Heath Hudson rebounds and manages to thwart the evil robot plan. 

However, as with other time-travel stories, the "present" turns out to be worse off than before--on many levels, from personal to planetary.

The octopoids still manage to conquer Earth, while the survivors flee to an overcrowded base on the moon.

My War ends with remnants of the Human Race preparing to launch a search for habitable planets in order to hide from the octopoids--and just about every other race that wants to see humans eradicated from the galaxy.

Several more Fear Agent volumes have been published since Re-Ignition.  For a synopsis on all of them, with plot spoilers, here's the Wikipedia "Cliff Notes." 

Fear Agent Volumes 1 & 2 are a retro-romp across time and space. 

I give both issues 5-stars/two-thumbs-up.  A plot-twist was revealed at the end of My War, that I should have seen coming, but didn't, because I was too mesmerized by the action.  So I made sure I didn't read the Wikipedia synopsis past Volume 2.

There is a scene with hints of sex and nudity, along with some dialogue discussing sex.  Not to mention all the graphic violence of people, aliens and robots being blasted and/or eaten.

So if you're think about getting Fear Agent Volumes 1 & 2, and probably any of the subsequent issues for that matter, as gifts, you may want to consider this "NC-17 or R-Rated" material.

Both volumes averaged 4.5 stars on  I didn't notice any of the plot issues the less-than-four-star raters commented on.  My copies of Re-Ignition and My War had no production flaws either.

I'm hooked and look forward to getting caught-up on Fear Agent!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

YouTube Movie # 32

Well it's a little late in coming, but I finally uploaded the Studio's 32nd YouTube video, Enfilade 2014: The Obscure Movie, in honor of this year's gaming theme:  Obscure Theaters. 

Normally, I try finish my NHMGS Enfilade shows within a few weeks after the convention is over.  But this year I wanted to get The Chronicles of Culhwch y Drewllyd published first, while the SAGA Tournament's events were still fresh on my mind. 

Other "Life getting in the way" issues also delayed production, primarily dealing with a busy Fire Season at work. The season's not over, but the issues have dwindled down enough to give me the spare time to complete the movie.

At least it's in time for the as-yet-to-be-named-theme Enfilade 2015!