Beighton’s Shipyard’s short USEME Starship Battles review

In the inky stellar darkness….

Mark over at Beighton’s Shipyard blog has posted a short review of a wargaming title I partially authored a couple of years ago along with Omer Golan Joel.  Its the sixth in the USEME series and its a set of rules for simple and fast fleet scale starship battles in miniature.

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I have to say he did a grand job.  Its not a simulation set of complex rules, it was never meant to be.  Its fast and fun and with enough variety and bolt on mechanics to be adaptable to most settings.  I have used it myself several times for everything from dogfights with five a side fighters to a whole fleet of dreadnoughts in the dark and also with Eli Ardnt’s fleet scale mecha for a special robotech style struggle.

Check it out!

Also if you are wondering what ‘The Big Mac’ is…well I know, I wrote it, but you will have to read it to find out!

GBS

Ex-Heroes 1 by Peter Clines – Book Review

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Superheroes and Zombies in the same place!  Awesome!  Why did no one else think of this?

That is how Peter Clines first book in his Ex-Heroes series was described on the book jacket and it grabbed my attention.  I am not a true fan of the risen dead or of caped crusaders but putting them into one pulp style story really appealed to me.  I am not alone.  The internet is full of glowing reviews of this book which, as normal for me, I only read after finishing the book which I did this week.

The concept behind Ex-Heroes is brilliant in its simplicity. It can be summed up as: superheroes surviving in post-apocalyptic zombie infested Los Angeles. Traditional shuffle and eat brains types.   It’s been two years since the plague of the undead has spread across the globe, killing basically everyone and resulting in the collapse of civilization. In that time a fortress has been established on the premises of an old film studio and the survivors exisit. The heroes, under the command of ‘Stealth’, go out on scavenging runs to keep the Mount supplied. Zombies, or ex-humans as they’re called, are an ever-present danger but deep in the city stirs a greater threat to the residents of the Mount.

What is a superhero novel without heroes.  I will not go into details but characters such as Stealth, Might Dragon, Zzzap, Gorgon and so on can all be linked to more famous versions of themselves.  The setting makes for another great point. The ‘Moun’t is a clever construction, making use of the natural fortifications of a film studio and augmenting them further for defensibility. The best part of L.A. is all the pop culture references from Doctor Who to It’s A Wonderful Life. The regular humans compare ex-celebrities they have killed, injecting some levity.

Ex-Heroes is told in past and present tense, in first- and third-person respectively. The past tense comes from multiple first-person perspectives, in some cases detailing the origins of the heroes and in others detailing the early stages of the zombie outbreak. The first-person past tense is much stronger than the third-person present tense, infusing the heroes with a sense of individuality. The plot is lean and fast paced. The action is over the top, just as you would hope for when you pit super powered vigilantes against the carnivorous Undead. There is plenty of carnage to go around in any case. The ex-virus, from its the origin to the symptoms – the virus does not kill you; but it does revive you.

This is a superb pulp novel and I have already got my hands on the second one (there are four in total at the moment) as I want to see where it goes.  Its a fun read and if you like those genre’s go and get it!

On a side note I think that adapting USEME Zombie Dawn to this setting would be fairly easy.  Working up some rules mechanics for the super heroes and also the effects of this.

Top Marks!

GBS

Pacific Rim – Review

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Pacific Rim Poster!

Two weeks ago I got the chance to be treated to a showing of Pacific Rim at the Odeon Kilmarnock.  It has taken me some time to get around to posting this review of the film basically because I have been mired in the shallows of the summer school holidays, birthdays, house guests and other things which have slowed me right down on non-essentials (see I do this blogging lark out of love not money!).  But now here we are and the film is still very much on at the cinema so its still relevant.  A full 3D experience in a modern and this time fully functioning cinema (my experience last year with Dredd was interrupted by technical problems in the same cinema)…how was it?

As normal I tried to avoid trailers, adverts and especially reviews of the movie before going and in this I was successful.  Aside from a TV spot and the basic idea I knew nothing and went into it with an open mind.  A mind that was frankly very excited to see the film since I really like giant robots, giant monsters and the whole anime roots and premise of Pacific Rim.  I also really like the films of Guillermo del Toro too and Hellboy as well.  So my mind was looking for comparisons for Pacific Rim and while some people have used Transformers and the 1990’s version of Godzilla they are wrong the true father of Pacific Rim is the seminal Robot Jox from the 1980’s (which you should watch if you like mecha) and it delivered big style.

The giant robots and the monsters were superbly rendered on screen and the action set pieces were at times really tense and nail biting too.  Characters are often a let down in summer blockbusters but not in this case as the cast played off each other brilliantly.  From the names of the ‘Jagers’ to the names of the pilots there was a tongue in cheek humour.  The film had heart and drive while dropping the nod to its source material.  At no point in the cinema did I feel bored or did my attention wander from the screen and while you could have written the ending on a postcard and mailed it from minute one of the performance it did not matter.  In short it is a very good film in its own right before you get to the genre and in terms of the genre it is one of the finest of its kind ever filmed.  Go and see it!

In terms of wargaming there is plenty of scope for giant robots in scales such as 15mm with 1/100th and 1/72nd plastic kits…heck even a few 1/60th if you want really big.  Gives me ideas!

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Pacific Rim Movie book and Pacific Rim Year Zero book

Finally I got a package this morning ordered just after seeing the movie containing the two books that go along with the Pacific Rim film.  Excellent!  Once time allows I will read them and hopefully post a wee look at each of them.

Go see the film!

GBS

Kingdom of Heaven – Movie Making Book Review

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Get yer books only a Pound, only a Pound!

Taking a stroll through a local pound shop a couple of months back with a good friend I stopped in front of the ‘all books £1.00’ display and among the tacky crap (who wants a PJ and Duncan 1993 fan sticker book honestly!) I spotted a pile of thick glossy movie tie in books.  Ah ha, I thought and had a dig through.  While most were for chick flicks and kids movies there was one that caught my eye.  The Kingdom of Heaven story behind the film and the making of the movie introduced by Ridley Scott.

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Costumes used in the film

In its pages there are three main parts.  The Introduction, the Kingdoms of the Holy Lands (Part 1) and Swords and Stones (Part 2).  The introduction by Ridley Scott discusses the notion for the movie while part one has sections firstly on the history of the actual Crusades then their leaders followed by how you dramatise such stories and then lastly choosing the cast for the film.  It is the second part that most interests me with sections on computer graphics, scene setting, costumes (see above), weapons, artillery, heraldry and more with plenty of images to go along with the descriptions.

For one pound I just snapped it up!

Books like this are always useful.  I might get something out of it for historical wargaming or even ideas for science fiction or fantasy too.  As for the movie to go with it…it left me cold I seem to remember.

GBS

Despicable Me 2 – Early Screening!

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The Thinker, the Poet and the Warrior enjoy a treat!

Last Saturday I took the family to Ayr to see an advance screening of the brand new animated movie Despicable Me 2.  A week before the actual release I saw a chance for an early summer treat and took it.  I expected the cinema to be full as it was only going to be shown twice for one day.  But in reality it was nearly empty…perhaps the frankly insane pricing of the tickets put people off.  Let’s just say I could have bought nearly a dozen copies of the first film on DVD for the same price (or a couple of hundred 15mm miniatures).  Note this was a standard price, not inflated for the advance screenings.  So how was the film?

Actually it was really, really good.  I enjoyed the first Despicable Me movie a lot and this one continued the story and the level of fun and comedy with no let up.  It reminded me a lot of a 1970’s James Bond film with the gadgets, gags and honesty that is missing from such live action films now.  In fact the trailer for the upcoming Monsters University made me think of an 1980’s Police Academy type film.  Perhaps its a pattern…

If you enjoyed the first one or you have small children and can stand the price then its well worth seeing, five stars!

GBS

p.s. click on the links in this post.  Both official websites have a lot of them and my children enjoyed looking at them both.

Highlander the Search for Vengeance – Review

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Its been a while since my last review of any film or especially my second great love (after wargaming and well my wife, so make it third great love!) anime from the far east.  So last night I perused my pile of unwatched anime and foreign language films on DVD and selected one.  You might remember I picked up a pile in HMW back in February this year and only now are they reaching the top of the list to watch in the free time I have.  I had planned on keeping Highlander the Search for Vengeance for watching with a friend but Friday night found me alone after being ditched by all and the sundry too; so mate less watching alone it was!  So was it any good?

Well yes I enjoyed it but it has little resemblance to the seminal film of the 1980’s from which it takes its name.  Its Japanese through and through and made by Yoshiaki Kawajiri of whom I am a big fan but its far from the best anime out there.  The story is fairly thin concerning Colin MacLeod and his quest for vengeance against Roman general Marcus Octavius.  Marcus kills Colin’s life love Moya in the 3rd century AD in Northern England and swearing revenge for this Colin is promptly killed by Marcus but lands up on Celtic holy ground where his immortal resurrection is witnessed by the ghost of a Celtic Seer, Amergan, who then accompanies Colin as he tracks Marcus through the next two millennia.  Colin fails again and again to kill Marcus and the narrative ends up in post-apocalypse New York for a cyberpunk showdown.  I will not spoil the ending.

The best things about this anime are firstly the voice acting which is spot on and secondly the flash back scenes to my beloved Scotland (it is Highlander after all) and to Rome and Japan during the Tokugawa period which are by far the best parts of the animation.  Yoshiaki Kawajiri delivers on his Fist of the North Star style with intense action, over muscled characters, busty women (no gravity in this world!) and so on.  It is far superior to the awful 1990’s Highlander TV series and as far as I know its canon.  I must also mention the music which is really good and sets the scene moving from the ancient world to the near future with ease.

What lets the whole anime down is the repetition of cliché and sequences.  In seems in places that the action set in the past was what the directors and animators wanted to do and the near future material was a ‘do we have to?’ bolt on later.  Its also not classic stagecraft with dialogue that will make you cringe in your seat.

Overall if you are a fan of Highlander at all then seek this out and watch it.  If you like sci-fi like I do then give it a try too.  If you liked  Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s other works then also see it.  For a few pounds give it a try!

It seems not just ‘there can be only one’, there can be many…

GBS

Star Trek into Darkness – Film Review

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See a big cardboard standee…I was there, I was!

I boldly went last Saturday night…to the cinema…to see Star Trek into Darkness.  My recent trips to the cinema have been a sad, sad disappointment really.  Poor equipment, over priced (very), lack luster films and a feeling of regret that I wasted thirty pounds and a rare evening off work on them.  But not this time!  Into Darkness has had mixed reviews which if you have not seen it you should NOT read.  I avoided every ruddy advert, critic and everything else as I really wanted to see this movie and did not want anything spoiling it.  So was it any good?

YES it was.  I really enjoyed it.  The plot was thin in places but hey for a blockbuster it was fine, the 3D effect actually WORKED (that is a first for me).  It was superbly shot and rendered and the action sequences were very good.  Star of the film no doubt was Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, he was excellent as Sherlock and excellent again leaving the other actors way behind.  But for me it was the last thirty minutes of the movie that made it superb and not for anything you would expect.  I have always been a fan of Chris Foss the sci-fi artist and it seemed to me that the film lifted his view of the universe and plonked it down wholesale on the Earth of the future, cars, buildings, fire and rescue vehicles.  From art to a moving reality. Brilliant.

Should you go and see it.  If you want a good film for science fiction fans that is about more than the USS Enterprise then yes.  A die hard Star Trek fan…not so sure.

GBS

Lockout 2012 – Film Review

The French release movie poster in honour of Luc Besson

“I heard you were dead Snake.” ….. “Yeah, I get that a lot”

That classic line from Escape from New York really sums up Lockout.  I had a spare two hours early this morning and I had gotten Lockout a few of weeks ago so I thought I would give it a watch.  Is it a bad film?  No.  Is it a good film.  Not really.  Is it fun?  Well yes.  Let me elaborate.

Luc Besson is a great director who has made some awesome films (I am thinking Fifth Element especially) but I was surprised when I picked this film up and saw that what I assumed was a B-Movie was directed by him.  I was swayed already to give this near future movie a punt as I like Guy Pearce (Time Machine especially) and also Edward Jackson had said to me he liked it.  But when I saw the directors name that sold it.  I watched it without reading any reviews (something I have taken to doing to avoid being prejudice towards a film), but I will give you the plot first before moving on to my opinion on Lockout.

In 2079, CIA agent Snow (Guy Pearce) is arrested for the murder of undercover agent Frank Armstrong who had uncovered evidence of an agent selling state secrets about the space program. Secret Service director Scott Langral (Peter Stormare) threatens to have Snow incarcerated on the maximum security space penitentiary MS One where prisoners are kept in stasis for their sentence. Snow’s agent friend Harry Shaw (Lennie James) tries to locate Snow’s contact Mace who knows where Frank’s briefcase containing the secret information is hidden.

Meanwhile, Emilie Warnock, (Maggie Grace) daughter of US President Warnock, arrives at MS One to investigate claims that stasis might affect prisoners’ minds, leading to psychopathy and dementia. Hydell, a prisoner, is awakened for questioning, but manages to escape. He releases all of the prisoners and starts a riot, led by his brother Alex. Emilie and others are captured. Shaw convinces Langral to send Snow to rescue Emilie rather than risk her life in a siege. Snow is initially reluctant, but agrees after Shaw tells him that Mace is on MS One, and could help Snow prove his innocence. Snow secretly infiltrates MS One. Alex realizes Emilie is the President’s daughter and goes to secure her. Emilie manages to escape with her bodyguard Hock and hide in a secure room. A problem with the oxygen supply however causes Hock to commit suicide to give Emilie more time.

Snow breaks into the room and rescues Emilie. Snow changes Emilie’s hair to conceal her gender and appearance after the prison is alerted to her true identity, allowing them to walk through the prison population. They find Mace, but the stasis has given him dementia and made him incoherent. Snow and Emilie bring Mace with them as they attempt to reach the escape pod. Without the maintenance of the staff, the prison has begun to fall out of its orbit and crashes into the International Space Station. The collision causes a breach and Mace is killed. Snow brings Emilie to the pod but discovers it has only one seat, and that he has been sent there to die. He sends Emilie on her way, but she allows the pod to launch without her, believing that the remaining hostages will be otherwise killed. Hydell contacts Emilie and threatens the hostages unless she reveals her location. When she does so, he kills all of the hostages.

As Snow and Emilie flee, they discover evidence that the prisoners were being illegally used as test subjects. Alex finds the pair and captures Emilie after shooting Snow and leaving him for dead. When Alex learns that Hydell has killed all of the hostages, he beats Hydell and contacts the President threatening to allow Hydell and the prison population to rape Emilie if they are not released. The President refuses to allow a siege and risk Emilie, causing Langral to temporarily relieve him of his command. Langral orders the destruction of MS One. Hydell tries to rape Emilie as promised, but is stopped by Alex. Infuriated he stabs Alex to death. Emilie fights back and Hydell attempts to stab her, but he is incapacitated by Snow. Snow and Emilie flee from the prisoners and Hydell. Meanwhile Langral’s men plant a bomb on the prison. Snow and Emilie use space suits and jump from the ship as it detonates, destroying the prison. The suits allow the pair to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and land safely in New York City.

Snow is arrested. Emilie later realizes that Mace’s seemingly incoherent rambling was the location of and password needed to access Frank’s briefcase. Armed with the briefcase, Snow meets with Shaw. Shaw immediately unlocks it to see the evidence, but finds it empty. Snow notes that he had not given the unlock code to Shaw, and Shaw is revealed as the mole and arrested. Snow is released and his possessions returned, including a lighter given to him by Frank before his death. Snow finds a memory card containing the real secret information hidden within it. Emilie meets Snow and teases him, having learned his first name is Marion. The pair walk away together.

Lockout is a total B-Movie and it shows.  But its a roaring action adventure and a laugh too.  Its been panned by critics and it really went straight to DVD but I liked it.  Agent Snow simply WANTS to be Snake Plissken and takes on the same mantle that in the 1980’s all action heroes had.  Gruff, sarcastic, violent and full of one liners while smoking (when was the last time you saw that in a new movie!) Snow tries his best to channel Snake but never manages it.  Like the shade of a long dead hero he rattles along well enough dispatching the bad guys but never really clicking into place.  Not a reflection of Guy Pearce, he is a fine actor, but more on the movie itself.  Its brainless and lazily directed, it lacks pace and its set pieces are weak as dish water.  Luc Besson either does not care or did this on purpose (why, don’t ask me!).  When Pierce is not on screen the film drops several notches which tells you its a weak movie.  Some of the CGI effects are appallingly bad in places as well.

But!  Its well worth watching and it is free of all the crap that plagues a lot of genre films now.  This movie is out of place in the 21st century, it should be in the 1980’s.  If you want a popcorn film for a weekend that is alpha male to the hilt with a dash of science fiction then Lockout is for you.  If you are a wargamer it also has several set pieces which would work really well in USEME or HOF Fire-Team.  If you want real class go and get Escape from New York!

GBS

A haul of DVD’s for GBS

Today was a good day for shopping.  I don’t mean the kind of shopping where I trail about after my good lady uttering the mantras of ‘that looks good’ and ‘your bum ain’t fat in that’ I mean the kind of shopping where circumstances provide a golden chance to acquire something you want at a great price and without hassle.  Well this happened to me today in Ayr at the local branch of doomed HMV store and also in the mail this morning.  Below you can see a picture of the haul.  Sorry about the lens flare but shrink wrapping does that.  I have listed the titles under the image with links to their IMDB pages if you want to learn more about them.

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Anime, World Cinema and Bargain Bin gold!

This lot cost me just over thirty five pounds sterling including the postage on the Amazon order for Gazariki which was superb.  The others were discounted on the racks, discounted and binned and then with a 25% blue sticker sale on top it was like Christmas at two pounds a pop!

I hope to review each of these films and series in the next couple of months.  If anyone reading wants something put to the top of the que just email me or comment.

GBS

Slaughterloo is Here!

My own copy of Slaughterloo

My own copy of Slaughterloo

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Look at the thickness of that spine!

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Having a flick through the pages.

The day is here (well it was yesterday but I do have to sleep) Slaughterloo Redux is in print, in boxes and being sent out to all those who ordered it from Alternative Armies.  You  can find out all about the book on the website and I will not repeat it here (there is also a folder of free files you can download too) as this is my personal blog and I just want to talk a little about the process of the book and the joy of its publication.

Back in the autumn of 2012 when it became clear that the original print run of Slaughterloo 2nd edition was going to run out the decision was made to update it and put it into one book instead of a boxed set.  The process of making one book out of three was larger than I originally though as not only had it to be combined but it had to be updated.  The rules mechanics did not change but the army lists and statistics tables had to be expanded and tidied up along with more new material added.  On top of this there was a new scenario to write and a new way of writing it (based on the Flintloque 3rd edition model) required.  Page after page all the way up to one hundred and sixty eight pages.  The biggest book I have ever worked on.  The authorship is of course split between myself and Alex Draper but I oversaw the digital layouts and artwork editing myself.  Over a hundred and fifty of Edward Jackson’s great ‘world of valon’ images are in the book and each of them had to be sized and rendered.  Topping out at 175,000 words the editing and proofing took three weeks to complete.  Hundreds of work hours but it was more than worth it as the book is a beautiful object in its own right.

You can see from the pictures in this posting, I wanted to show an actual copy instead of digital copy as normal, the quality of the print work and of the paper stock.  The book has a great weight and is a joy to flick through and read at leisure and that is before you get to the actual game (Alex’s rules are superb!).  You can read it as a reference book too.  In a time when prices go ever up for wargaming material and the content gets ever slimmer and font sizes ever bigger this bad boy gives you the works for just twenty pounds.  I believe in giving people a damn good read as well as a good game to play.

Unfortunately the weather in the UK did delay release and shipping by two weeks and by consequence this posting too.  Obviously I did not see this coming but the company has not had a single grumble never mind complaint about the delay.  Alternative Armies has many loyal gentlemen for customers, let me tell you.   Snow and wind did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm though.  Slaughterloo woohoo!

GBS

p.s. you might now ask how I am going to top this book…well 2013 is a long year and there is plenty of time.  Just you all wait and see.