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Gen Con 2018 games wrap-up part 2 August 8, 2018

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Friday – 7:00-11:00 p.m. – Mistborn: House War

cover-cfg-13001-mistborn-house-war-retail-500x750I’ve been eyeing this game for a few years, because Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is one of my all-time favourite book series. In this game based on said series, players take the role of the noble houses, gaining resources and solving problems in the Final Empire and trying to curry the most favour with the Lord Ruler – or, based on how the game progresses, the most disgrace.

I went into this game open-minded and very curious, but I wasn’t crazy about the theme of the game, since I was, essentially, playing as the villains from the books. The game play, however, turned out to be extremely compelling. This is particularly interesting in my case, because I don’t generally care for games in which one has to stab one’s friends in the back. However, the way Mistborn played, with equal parts working together with and against the other players, made it very interesting. The game wasn’t super complicated and there was almost no luck involved (no dice to curse me, huzzah!) which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Plus, the fact that maxing out the Unrest slider on the board means the player with the least favour wins adds a very interesting element to the game. Overall, this was a very fun game and I ended up picking up a copy.

Saturday – 7:00-10:00 – CATaclysm the Board Game

Shiraz Sheikh and Brent Logan Kickstarted CATaclysm the RPG last year, a game in which humans are gone and cats have evolved into the adventurous heroes, with oversized rats being their primary opponents. What my husband and I played was a prototype of an RPG-in-a-box version of CATaclysm, which the game creators plan to Kickstart later this year. I didn’t know this much going into it; we saw a listing for a cooperative miniatures game starring cats and decided to go for it.

Simply put, this was easily our favourite game of Gen Con. The game play was fantastic, the theme was just the right balance between silly and actually quite sensible (the heroes, being cats, take damage if they stay in water, except the Maine Coon, of course), and the 3D printed minis and prototype board, cards, and pieces were of excellent quality, not to mention adorable. Shiraz also did a fantastic job explaining the rules clearly and concisely, giving us just enough detail to get the gist of the game without bogging us down with unnecessary information, simplifying game play for the sake of the demo, and letting us mostly work it out ourselves while still being on hand to answer questions, clarify rules, and occasionally make suggestions. I also really like the fact that the enemies are all AI-controlled, so no one has to play against everyone else in the group.

I absolutely loved this game and am seriously looking forward to October, when they plan to Kickstart the game. I highly, highly recommend this game for fans of the RPG-in-a-box style.

And that’s a wrap! It doesn’t sound like much compared to last year, but I got in just the right amount of games for me, more actual board/table top games than I took in last year, and really enjoyed what I did play. It was a great weekend.


Three months’ reading June 16, 2009

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… has not equated to much, in my case.

Farthing, Jo Walton – Now over halfway through the ebooks offered in Tor.com‘s pre-launch promotion last year, I reached this alternate history novel taking place in a mid-20th century in which the second World War resolves in a truce with Germany, not victory for the Allies.  The story is a murder mystery surrounding a group of British politicians instrumental to the peace terms with the the Third Reich, along with the London detective who investigates the case.

This book very nearly lost me right after the first chapter, as it set up the main character and narrator for half the novel, an obnoxiously vain and self-centered upperclasswoman, despite her claims and – admittedly – desires not to be.  There was enough of interest to keep me reading, and the first chapter was the worst of it, but I didn’t really enjoy reading most of the novel.  I can appreciate the thought that went into the setting and such, but the story and particularly the characters failed to captivate.  Also, though I hesitate to fault the author this, the writing was almost painfully British, really shoving it down my throat in what seemed to me an equivalent to a flag-waving, gun-toting American saying “y’all” all the time.

It wasn’t a badly written novel, per se, but it certainly wasn’t to my taste and wasn’t what I was looking for in a story, and I wouldn’t recommend it as such.

The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson – Earlier this year, I read Mistborn by this same author, the free ebook of which I also received in the above-mentioned promotion from Tor.com, and I loved it so much that I had to pick up this sequel, and second in the Mistborn trilogy.  Continuing where the first book left off, this book concerns Vin and company’s struggles to continue in the aftermath of the Final Empire, something that is made particularly difficult in the face of the nightly mists turning deadly and multiple besieging armies coming down upon them.

I had high expectations for this book after reading Mistborn, and it did not disappoint.  The story was woven remarkably, the tension and action were amazing, I got to see new sides of characters I had already grown to know and love through the first book, and it was so exciting and unpredictable that at times, I really had a hard time putting it down.  As a writer myself, I can only imagine the amount of preparation it must have taken to weave together every aspect of this novel to make it what it is, and I could go on for pages about everything Sanderson did right here.  I honestly cannot praise this book enough and there is nothing about it that I think could be improved upon.  Like Mistborn, this book is without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read, and I recommend it first and foremost to anyone who enjoys reading fiction.

That said, if you plan to read The Well of Ascension, read Mistborn first.  In fact, if you have any intention of reading Mistborn, don’t even read the blurb on the back of The Well of Ascension, as it gives away the entire ending to the first book.  Sanderson did an effective job of making this novel self-contained, as was his intention in an interview I read with him, but of course, all the surprises of Mistborn are given away in short order in the second book, and Mistborn was every bit as amazing as this one, perhaps more so when you have both books leading up to a singular conclusion.  Find an ebook, check the library, borrow from a friend, but seriously, read these books.

Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan, William E. Deal – I don’t normally read nonfiction, but I came across this title when I was trying to find a good resource on the topic some few weeks ago and ordered it in to my local library.  As the title suggests, it’s a general guide to the various aspects of life in Japan from 1185-1868, commonly known as the Medieval and early modern periods.

I found this to be a very useful resource with great information on the subject.  It’s more or less an introduction to the topic, without going overly into detail regarding any particular matter, but it provides an excellent basic view of life in Japan and covers every aspect of life that I can think of, including history, warrior culture, demographics, religion, daily life, art and architecture, and more.  The information provided was easily palatable without being dumbed down and each topic was covered pretty evenly.  In addition to the information the book itself provided, each chapter ended with a list of recommended reading for more information on the subject, though some listings I found confusing – occasionally there would be nothing but a date – and along with a bibliography at the end of the book, there was a list of museums outside Japan with notable Japanese collections.

I found this book both very helpful for my own research and a very interesting read on its own merit, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about the subject or even those with a casual interest in it.  In fact, reading it has me interested in some other books listed on the back cover in the Handbook to Life series, such as those on ancient Rome, Aztec, and Renaissance.

Book review backlog January 29, 2009

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I’ve been putting off my latest book reviews because I’m afraid they won’t sound very professional.  But, this is my blog and I never made any claims that my reviews are professional or enlightened, it’s just my opinions of the books I read.  Hopefully, further book reviews will be more positive than they have been, because as of this year, I’m not going to continue reading books that utterly fail to captivate me when I have so many more to read as it is.

That said, I’ve read a few since I last shared any.

Soul, Tobsha Learner – Still working my way through the backlog of free ebooks from Tor.com before the website opened.  This is a dual story about a geneticist struggling through a new study and coming to grips with her husband suddenly leaving her, and her great-grandmother’s rise in Victorian England from rural Ireland to fashionable London as she catches the fancy of an ex-soldier turned scientist.

To start with, for anyone who might be tempted to pick up this book, I would like to point out that this was published by the wrong company.  There is nothing fantasy about this book.  It is a modern-day and historical fiction, and further, it reads more like literary fiction than nearly all of the genre books I’ve read – never mind the reading guide at the end.

Aside from that, the story/stories in this novel are interesting.  The characters are well portrayed, and I did find myself wondering what was going to happen next.  However, the recurring theme of loneliness was something of a detriment to the book’s enjoyment.  Every major character went through some period of loneliness through the book, in a way that was well written, but depressing to the point of annoying, and it honestly put me in a bad mood at times while I was reading it.  Kudos to the author for making me feel along with the characters, for really making me appreciate the injustice of it all as I got each character’s different perspective, but it was frustrating to read.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it’s not one I would recommend.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens – I’d never read this classic before and decided the season was right a little over a month ago.  This is the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on the night before Christmas, when he’s visited by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come and is convinced to change his ways.

It’s a classic story, of course, and it reads like classic British literature, and not necessarily in a good way.  The writing is very dry – there was an obnoxious passage on the first page about the author’s opinion of the phrase “dead as a doornail” – and I found Scrooge’s change a little too willing for the way he was set up in the beginning.  As a classic, of course, I can appreciate it, but that’s about all I can say for it.

Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson – Another one from the Tor.com library, this was the first book I picked up when I got tired of the book I had been reading.  It’s a little difficult to summarize, as it’s a complex story and even more detailed world, and it’s hard to know what to say without giving away too much from the book.  This is the story of a group of Allomancers, mages who use the power of various metals to give them enhanced abilities, in their attempts to overthrow the unbeatable Final Empire and take down its immortal Lord Ruler.

For the incredibly rich setting the author has portrayed, the world is overly exaggerated to a point that would be childish if it had not been handled so delicately.  The Final Empire consists of two kinds of people, the lower-class skaa that have no more privileges than slaves – perhaps fewer, for how poorly they are treated – and that infinitesimal fraction of the population that is lucky enough to be nobles, who treat the skaa badly even as property.  The skaa have been so downtrodden for so long that for 90% of them, escape or rebellion isn’t even a possibility.  The author treads a thin line in a world consisting only of the utterly hopeless and the utterly complacent, but he does so as expertly as a tightrope walker by focusing on the only characters who are truly likable in this world.

They are the driving force of the story, the force that really sweeps the reader into this rich, yet bleak world.  The dialogue is excellent, the characters are delightfully engaging, and some very troubled characters are portrayed very believably.  The plot to overthrow the Final Empire is complex and well thought out and, without giving anything away, the author shapes events and brings things together in the only possible way the climax of the story could have worked.  Mysteries are presented and solved clear through to the end of the story, the action is engaging, surprises and twists constantly kept me on my toes, and the way everything came together was nothing short of brilliant.

In a word, this book is phenomenal.  Even this early in, I can say with confidence that this book will undoubtedly make my top five books I read this year – unless, of course, it’s surpassed by the next two books in the trilogy.  I am really looking forward to reading the second book in the trilogy, and this first book is one of my highest recommended reads of all time.  Read this book.  I’m serious.

Fool Moon, Jim Butcher – In this second book in the Dresden Files, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional practicing wizard – and one of few others, if any, in the entire U.S. – is called upon by the Chicago police department to investigate a grisly series of murders with a lupine connection, and the twists unfold as the mystery deepens.

This book is written much the same way as Storm Front, the first book of the Dresden Files, a book I thoroughly enjoyed – with one difference.  The beginning of Fool Moon, at least, is a lot more serious than Storm Front.  The drama and darkness of the story was always there, but what made Storm Front so endearing and so entertaining was the humor woven throughout.  That humor is a little more absent in Fool Moon, and it makes the book tip a little too far into angst territory, and makes it a little more standard fantasy, an affliction Storm Front successfully avoided.  There was also a lot more death in this book, which kind of desensitized me to it, something I didn’t think was necessary or helpful to the story.

That said, it was still an entertaining read, and there were still the lines that made me crack up to read, and the danger and action and story were, for the most part, well portrayed.  It wasn’t as good as the first book, but it was a satisfactory continuation to the series, and I’m looking forward to reading more.  As the book I’m currently reading is the third in the Dresden Files, that review could come soon.

Old Man’s War, John Scalzi – The latest of my free ebooks from Tor – but an early one in the promotion, if memory serves me right – the title of this story is more literal than one would think, as it follows the journey of a seventy-five-year-old man as he signs up for the interstellar military, one that recruits exclusively from his age group to protect a cut off planet Earth from hostile alien races it has not yet seen.

It’s a bizarre tale and more than a little unpleasant at times, but it drew me in immediately.  The banter between characters is easily the prime highlight of this novel, clever, amusing – sometimes downright hilarious – and simply a delight to read.  The pacing of the story fits with the action very well, too; in the first part of the novel, the writing/narration really gives a sense that the narrator, and other characters, are elderly people, making the book a nice, easy read to start.  In the second part of the novel, when they are made fit for combat again, the pacing picks up with it, in a very natural way, and the depiction of characters who had lived long, full lives in which they had little else to expect but death suddenly given a chance to be at their prime again was, although graphic at times, believable and very well handled.

At just about 300 pages, it’s a short and fast-paced read all told, something that, after the hefty 650 pages of Mistborn, was a refreshing escape.  It was certainly an enjoyable read and comes with my recommendation.