Tabletop Game Review: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (Part II – Game Mechanics and Conclusion)

The first part of this review of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar explained in some detail the game’s setup, army composition and terrain rules; this second article will explain the full turn sequence (accounting for two of the four pages of game rules). As a system it aims to be simple, efficient and quick to play; it achieves all of these aims inconsistently, although there are a number of good ideas to be found within it. Conceptually the shift in focus from ranked troops and formation movement to a freer, less regimented system is not unreasonable; a number of good alternative rule sets for blocks of troops in this fashion exist, considered to be of a generally higher quality than Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle eighth edition. However, even when considered as its own thing, not as a follow-up to a previous system it does not aim to emulate, I am unconvinced that Age of Sigmar is a particularly good streamlined fantasy game.

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Tabletop Game Review: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (Part I – Launch Events, Game Concepts & Setup)

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is effectively the ninth edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles ruleset by Games Workshop, one of their two flagship products (the other being Warhammer 40,000, released in its seventh edition in 2014. Released in July 2015, it marks a significant change in focus both for the game compared to other editions (dispensing with the hallmark emphasis on ranked formation and unit maneuver in favour of an open formation, skirmish-like system more comparable to GW’s previous Lord of the Rings miniatures game, or Privateer Press’ Warmachine system) and Games Workshop as a company; rather than releasing a premium-priced hardback rulebook and supplementary premium-priced army lists, Age of Sigmar offers a free online rulebook, a full ruleset printed in the weekly White Dwarf magazine and full online army lists for all factions at no cost. The entire focus of army lists has changed from these books to unit cards with vital statistics and special rules listed – a design used to great effect in Warmachine, Malifaux and numerous other games.

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“Horse and Rider Are One” in Super Robot Anime and Rahxephon

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Episode 25 of Rahxephon begins with Ayato having “become” the Rahxephon, its true form being a giant version of him with design elements of the machine itself attached. This is, one could argue, the “mid-season upgrade” of the machine, its point where its true power is unlocked for the final battle – and there is definitely a final battle at hand, with the Mu controlling earth, TERRA in ruins, Narai-Kanai destroyed and the moments of love-confession and resolution passed. Rahxephon has toyed with becoming a super-robot anime at times, but never committed; some combination of events has always subverted or prevented action catharsis. In a way this is the ultimate in the robot representing the pilot – Ayato has never been particularly comfortable in his identity or at home in this unusual world, and TERRA has never really understood what it is doing – and so the “message” being pressed home is that there cannot ever be proper catharsis. When he tries to be decisive, he misunderstands the situation. When he vacillates, people die.

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Short Story – “Thanks.”

This is a story following on from the short series of tropical-set military mecha pieces I wrote a while ago. It is, I suppose, the inevitable next part of the archetypal story progression – the protagonist has a first encounter with the military, ends up alongside them, the super-prototype or charismatic ace is introduced – and then the enemy are humanised and given a perspective character.

This is that character’s story. While talking with a friend recently the subject of conversation turned to Code Geass and the terror in the characters the Lancelot and Guren – both sides’ most powerful weapons – caused in their enemies. I liked that aspect of the series, even if its impact felt lessened by later plot developments – for those early episodes one unit with capabilities most others did not was enough to psychologically turn the tide of the battle even if it offered only a limited material advantage.

I ran with that in this story in a slightly different direction – what if, rather than the effect of a new enemy ace arriving being mad suicidal glory-seeking, it was a more defensive, evasive response? Would there be the usual protagonist-driven carnage against an enemy less interested in attacking than defending? And, what would a putative ace think about this?

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Super Fanicom Super Fanzine issue 1! Joy!

Originally posted on Super Fanicom BS-X:

Super Fanicom has a fanzine now! Holy crap!

I was trying to think of a hot summer jam to get this party started, but realized there’s nothing better for the occasion than the Gatchaman CROWDS OP:

Now let that run while you party with us. Imagine balloons or swimming pools filled with champaigne and lonely people — whatever gets your party brain to throbbing.

Here’s the whole story. Back in 2013 Cuchlann had the opportunity to work on old, early 20th century fanzines (sf/f stuff). It was fascinating because they’re basically exactly the same as what we’re doing here online. Between blog posts and comment threads, all the content was there, duplicated in letters pages and articles and editorials. Pontifus, meanwhile, was considering ways to write online without, you know, writing online — that is, without the baggage that blog posts have. These two threads of thought came together delightfully. 

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Short Story – Achelois

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This story came from an idea that was initially something else. I was trying to write a super-robot story that had a professional woman pilot, someone in the mold of Cima Garahau or Haman Karn (both, notably, villains – but both good examples of the mature, skilled and powerful woman I meant – maybe the hero equivalent is Miria Jenius), in the lead. Someone who would pilot in “sensible” clothes rather than whatever the hell the woman pilots of Godannar or Gravion wear. Someone ultimately a bit like Mako Mori from Pacific Rim, a super robot pilot who is a woman rather than the archetypal “woman robot pilot” of anime.

The initial plan was for this story to have a good chunk of robot action in it – I even sketched a robot, with a suitably silly name – 月騎士ダイルーナ (Moon Knight Dailuna) full of stock Masami Obari-inspired robot ideas like shoulder-cannons, a huge sword, missile launchers on its ankles and so on. My hero would be basically the female counterpoint to Klein Sandman, the super-cool operator and pilot from Gravion. She would be on the run from the evil empire, the equivalent to Duke Fleed from Grendizer.

When I began writing, I found it was far more interesting to explore the hero’s backstory; Achelois (pictured above) turned out to be a character who “lost” the political games that define the scheming super-robot villain hierarchy and changes sides – but whether or not this is a wholly humanitarian, Soldier of Justice style move or simply a pragmatic survival move is left vague. I have plans for writing more in this setting; on Earth, Achelois would assume a secret identity to fight her former comrades – that of a professional, competent businesswoman and socialite, someone phenomenally rich, empowered and independent. This almost felt like a satirical move; the scheming alien general who proved not quite good enough to scheme her way to the top of the evil empire instead excels in the world of corporate capitalism. Whether or not this angle remains, should I write more, is up in the air.


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Video Game Review – Splatoon (Version Reviewed: Wii U)

The idea of making a “family-friendly” arena shooting game in the mold of Unreal Tournament or Quake 3 seems counterintuitive; the draw of such games is fast-paced, “elite” gaming experiences, over-the-top explosive gore and a very macho, tournament-minded attitude. The genre itself embodies the popular perception of e-sports – spectacle, competition and a self-conscious striving for “maturity”, a world of announcers shouting “HEAD SHOT” and “KILLING SPREE” and lightning-reactions to score sniper kills while flying across the map jumping constantly. That, anyway, is the perception of the competitive arena shooter, and a perception that really clouds the wider genre. Nintendo’s Splatoon is, nevertheless, an arena shooter, which has a thriving ranked playlist, and is resolutely family-friendly and positive in its entire presentation. It is, in itself, an excellent game; on a technical level its basic shooting mechanics and movement gimmicks are superbly executed, it has a continually-updated armoury and map list (which is provided via free patches, rather than paid DLC – ensuring no fragmentation of the player base) and a solidly-made single-player campaign.

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Short Story – Contact.

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This is, I guess, the conclusion to the “first two episodes of a mecha anime” story that these pieces – The Circus in the Sky, Time to Get Up and Get It By Your Hands – tell. The stories began with a young boy witnessing a mecha battle above his hometown, helping the downed pilot – written intentionally to evoke Ledo from Suisei no Gargantia and Bernie from War in the Pocket – and joining the military to help defend his hometown. Now, as this introductory-feeling story concludes and some greater plot begins, the phony war that has preoccupied the Pillar of Heaven Army comes to an end and the enemy’s main forces are revealed. This is the part where some catalyst for the development of the story – something like Renton’s fateful dive off a cliff to help the Nirvash in the opening episodes of Eureka Seven – marks the protagonist’s journey beginning for real.

I feel like I want to write more in this setting. The drawing above is the work of an artist I encountered on the online mecha anime community /m/, intended to be a design for the Armours that this story skirts about. It absolutely nails the aesthetic I was hoping for here – a mixture of Eureka Seven, Dragonar and Reconguista in G.


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Where is “The Heroic Legend of Arslan” Going Wrong?

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Although my initial impressions of The Heroic Legend of Arslan were highly positive, enthusiastically pointing to its depiction of the crises of confidence facing an exiled heir to the throne learning the injustices the house he represents has placed its people under, this enthusiasm has waned as the series has settled into its stride. Quite why was initially hard to describe; knowing that Arslan was from the same writer as the superlative Legend of the Galactic Heroes made initial criticisms about the style, narrative voice or aesthetics seem like they were based on placing this new, unrelated series in the shadow of something known to be a standout classic of its genre. Galactic Heroes is a 110 episode minimum OVA from some decades ago, meaning it was made under a very different release pattern and era of animation to a modern-day weekly broadcast television series. Making direct comparisons between things in fundamentally different media in this way is a common misconception among writing about anime, particularly in aesthetic terms; as a result, it took some time to settle into accepting Arslan for what it is, and then in turn discussing what works and does not work within that medium.

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The Beginning of the Last Days of Rahxephon

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Much happens in episode 24 of Rahxephon; the series has built to a climax and now the final act begins in earnest. Episode 23 could be seen as, in effect, the motivating force for this climax – the destruction of the heroes’ base, the loss of a much-loved character – and now, with this episode, the events of the ending begin. Yet it is a subdued episode, a fitting and mature response to the death that defined the one before – and that if anything shows how the series has progressed since Isshiki’s removal from TERRA. The characters are given a chance to grieve for a lost comrade in their own ways, and this is shown to be important. It is a restrained – at first, anyway – response to a heroic sacrifice which sets a very different, more elegaic tone to how the episode proceeds.

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