SPIEL & New Game Round up!

<<Yawns>> Ok, no napping! The past few days have been alternately filled with attempts to ward off whatever early season ailment is trying to latch its sniffles-and-sore-throat-inducing claws into me, then actively undermining these efforts by staying up late to watch the World Series. This whole post-season has been so exciting, but I'm more than a little grateful that the games are all broadcast from the Central and Eastern time zones.

As mentioned on Sunday, nearly every moment not spent glued to my PC/TV/radio/scorecard has been devoted to experiencing the SPIEL gaming convention by digital proxy and weighing the feasibility of learning German. Not only does the event seem to be very well run but, with PAX East badges selling out in a matter of minutes, there may soon be an opening in the annual convention docket.

Those of us who were not amongst those fortunate geeks who attended SPIEL are in luck, as many game developers are taking their wares to the interwebs this week so geeks around the world can partake. The titles below are a sampling of some of the most innovative, engaging, and all-around fun new games potentially grace your table.


2-4 Players, ages 10+

Do you have a competitive streak? Do you relish in the screw-your-neighbor dynamics of Munchkin or Robo Rally? Do you happen to enjoy a bit of planning and strategy with a side of laughter? If you've said yes to any of the above, then you may want to consider adding Thrash-Car to your game library. Players take on the role of the Owner of a team of racing cars, which are then pitted against the vehicles of opposing Owners on your newly-formed professional racing circuit. Use the various cards dealt to you to gain the lead, careen around hairpin turns, or shunt your fellow drivers into the wall!

Solar Flare Games launched the Kickstarter for this combustive competition yesterday. Click here for the full details, gameplay footage, a free copy of the rules, and the opportunity to pick up your own copy for below MSRP.


The Metagame. Discuss.
3-10,000 players, all ages (probably best for 10+)

Back in July, we chatted a bit about some of the best games to play at parties or other get-togethers. The Metagame. Discuss, aims to get itself onto that self-same roster. Actual play is similar to Cards Against Humanity or Snake Oil in that the goal is to make the most compelling argument from the words/phrases that appear on the cards in your hand. The key distinction with Metagame is that players are tasked with making cogent philosophical or generally well-rounded cases in response to either/or question rather than presenting a single idea. A video-game-centric version of this title successfully met its Kickstarter funding goal back in 2011 and now the developers would like this latest edition to encompass all facets of culture.  

Local No. 12 Union of Design & Play also launched their Kickstarter yesterday morning. Visit their page for a pdf of the rules, video interviews with the creators, and full details on the many, many rewards available for backers. 


A full review of this clever, unconventional RPG can be found here. Fresh off of his trip to Essen, creator Joel Sparks has put together a 'greatly expanded' deluxe edition of the game that will potentially become available if their  Kickstarter is successful. Click here to help make that goal a fuzzy, sanity-straining reality!



King's Armory
1-7 Players; ages 13+ (but could feasibly be played with younger gamers)

At first glace, King's Armory seems like a fairly straight-forward premise: a board-ified version of a tower defense video game. While this is an accurate statement, it only describes the foundation of this highly versatile title. After several years of development and a handful of grueling setbacks, Gate Keeper Games has created an offering that blends engaging strategy with an extraordinarily high degree of customization and re-playability. The difficulty, terrain, playtime, and even the size of the player pool can all be changed to suit your needs (accommodating even players that drop out or jump in mid-game). Bonus: Gate Keeper Games has teamed up with a Care and Feeding of Nerds favorite, Level 99 Games, for King's Armory. If the title meets its funding goal, players will be able to utilize characters from BattleCON in King's Armory.

Check out the Kickstarter for King's Armory here. (Bonus: it's EU shipping friendly!)


2-4 Players, ages 12+

Fans of tycoon-style commodity-based strategy games are likely to adore Russian Railroads. The game pits players against one another in a quest to build the most efficient, demographically dominant transit empire. Z-Man games debuted their latest offering at SPIEL and promptly sold out of their stock.

English, French, Dutch, and German language versions of Russian Railroads will be available for sale both online and at your local retailer in the next few weeks.

Happy gaming and happy Halloween!
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This Week in Geekdom



Happy weekend everyone! The past few days have been a marathon of baking, baking, baking, all of which will be translated into a post in the next few days. Those few moments not devoted to kitchen experimentation were spent living vicariously through those lucky nerds who attended the Spiel gaming convention in Essen, Germany. I'm in the process of gathering the con highlights and hope to do a review-in-abstentia as I did back in August with Gen Con.  Man, Spiel looks like all kinds of awesome. Maybe the GIR and I should consider adding it to our annual docket. Hmmm.

Anyhow, less daydreaming and more This Week in Geekdom!

Games

Europe was the place to be for games this week. While Essen had board and table top games covered, London took on video games as it played host to the 31st annual Golden Joystick awards. Read here for a full list of the winners.

Speaking of Europe, we're approaching the final countdown to the release of the next generation of gaming consoles. On top of the forthcoming PS4 and Xbox One, we're also being buffeted with news about new tablets and smartphones. In the midst of this growing din, one author asks the question that's sat in the back of many a mind: Can Nintendo survive all this innovation?

 If you are one of those console gamers who is impatiently awaiting the release of the PlayStation 4, a little note. The system will require a patch as soon as its turned on. This system update will allegedly allow for a myriad of additional functionality and will coincide with Sony's release of its second screen PlayStation app for mobile gaming devices. The app and patch is slated to be ready to download on November 13th in the United States and November 22nd in Europe (patch will be compatible for both Android and iOS).

Science/Technology

What happens if you challenge a White Hat hacker to take a peek at your digital life? This. This happens.

Did you ever wonder if Siri or a similar smartphone technology actually possesses some tenets of free will? You are not alone. Here's what happened when an iPhone was subjected to a Turing Test.

Physicists may be 'that' much closer to being able to describe how time is formed. Turns out it may 'emerge' from a state of quantum entanglement. These are the first experimental results that point to the origins of this phenomenon.

We've encountered our share of viral things during the course of our internet travels (how else would we know what the Fox says?). While the propagation of information is well documented, it's not clear why some things have such immediate appeal and why other ideas/products go seemingly unnoticed. Researchers at Hangzhou Normal University sought to get to the root of this trend. These are their findings about the so-called 'dark corners' of the internet.

We've talked a bit about humanity's impending quest to journey to Mars and the litany of issues that will have to be overcome before any of us sets foot on the Red Planet. One of these is the detrimental effects spaceflight has on the eyes. Yeah, we probably need to get on that. 

Need a microscope for your home lab, but don't want to pay a fortune? For $10 USD you can transform your smartphone into a fully functional microscope with both photo and video functionality. <runs out to purchase>

Though scientists agree that it's almost certain that the dinosaurs were killed off as the result of an asteroid impact, researchers believe that they may not have been the only creatures to fall victim to the collision. This Plos One-published study indicates that the impact may have been an extinction event for prehistoric bees and many of the plants that depended on pollination from them.

Comics

Superman has gotten a lot of press as part of his 75th birthday celebrations, but not everyone is willing to gush over the most famous of Kryptonians. Check out this list of the 10 most questionable courses of action taken by the Man of Steel.

Fans of Tony Stark got a bit of a surprise on Wednesday. In Iron Man #17 readers got an unexpected, and somewhat intricate glimpse into the Stark family history. Click here for the full review, including the big reveal (SPOILERS).


Using comic books as a plot source for a movie or TV show is now so common that we almost don't give it a second thought, but here are 6 instances of such inspiration/transference that may have slipped under the collective radar.

On the subject of inspiration, hopefully organizers of comic-related conventions and trade shows will take note of this brilliant event. Take a peek at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, the most integrated, holistic such celebration that comic art may have ever seen.

General Awesomeness

Happy belated birthday to Princess Leia! Carrie Fisher turned 57 this past Monday. In celebration, here is the 1983 Rolling Stone issue commemorating the release of Return of the Jedi.

As always, best wishes for a wonderful week ahead!
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This Week in Geekdom



Hey everybody, hope you're all having a great weekend thus far. The past few weekends have gone by just way, way too fast and it feels like Halloween is right here, staring us all in the face. Can you tell I'm making almost-last-minute tweeks to my Mara Jade costume? It's almost done, as is the latest round of kitchen experimentation which, if all goes well, will be the focus of its own post in the very near future. In the meantime, on to the Week in Geekdom!


Science/Technology

Back on October 10th, the Cassini spacecraft took 36 shots of the planet Saturn with its highly specialized camera array. An intrepid Croatian software developer took those 36 images and wove them together in a single uber-high-resolution still. Check out the stunning results here.

We've talked quite a bit about the brilliance that is 3D printing in past posts and it seems like other organizations are catching on to the potential applications of the technology to non-terrestrial ventures. On Tuesday the European Space Agency announced its plans for what it's calling the Amaze Project. Said Project aims to coordinate the efforts of 28 different institutions to produce reactors, rockets, and other highly nuanced pieces using 3D printing. 

Ever wondered just how possible it is to be buried in space? Turns out there are enough such services that you can comparison shop for ways to get your remains into orbit.

Comics

Speaking of recurring topics on This Week in Geekdom, the celebrations for Superman's 75th birthday continued on Tuesday with the release of this animated short. The video is the joint effort of 300 and Man of Steel director Zack Snyder and DC artist Bruce Timm. If you're one for hyper-engaged viewing, DC put together this list of 75 annotations to accompany the short.

 
What's better than free comics? How about free comics that directly benefit organizations that work to fight and prevent the spread of malaria. This past Thursday Neil Gaiman released a digital anthology, Lost Tales, completely for free via internet publisher/distributor Sequential. For everyone that downloads the (free) Sequential app and gets a (also free) copy of Lost Tales, the publisher will donate 50 cents (USD) to anti-malaria charities. Note: currently only available for iOS devices.

Games

Fans of Kerbal Space Program got what they've been patiently waiting the better part of a year for: a campaign mode. This great synopsis breaks down the host of (free) changes and upgrades made to the game that NASA engineers have not stopped raving about.

As we approach the holiday season, we also inch closer to the end of the current era of gaming consoles and brace for a future filled with xbox one and PS4. In tribute to this transition, here is a list of current era games that deserve a nod, as they will likely become casualties of the technology shift.

Blizzard brought its legal batting average back up to somewhere near 0.500 this week when it won its case against World of Warcraft bot creator Ceiling Fan Software. Sorry WoW-ers, looks like you'll have to farm your own gold and xp for the time being.

General Awesomeness

Elon Musk took one step closer to becoming Hank Scorpio/Tony Stark/a Bond villain this week when he bought this 1977 Lotus Espirit which doubles as a personal submarine.

The anticipation swirling around the 50th anniversary special for Dr. Who is rapidly approaching fever pitch levels. The BBC has taken pity on those eagerly awaiting Whovians and put together this teaser trailer to tide everyone over until December.

As always, best wishes for an awesome week ahead!
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Movie Review: Gravity

Ah, it's one of those signs of the shift in season. In place of fun popcorn fodder we now have a cavalcade of serious dramas to remind everyone that winter (and Oscar season) is coming and one of the early frontrunners in that parenthetical race is Gravity. The hype surrounding this film is dizzying in itself and that buzz is omnipresent in just about every form of media but, if you can, you're better off trying to block out as much of it as possible. Why? Because limiting your expectations for this film (or, arguably, any film) will increase the likelihood of your viewing experience being fun or at least entertaining.


Essentially you don't have to end up like me, who totally bought into the hypnotic narrative of the movie being a cinematic tour de force, a visual entity crafted with such skill and care it that would require audiences to recalibrate how films should be viewed. Spoiler Alert: Gravity is not this. Yes, yes. I'm fully aware this was my own fault and take responsibility for that. However, I refuse to allow that any personal disappointments color what is supposed to be at least a semi-objective analysis for your benefit.  

Gravity is a tale of disaster and the resulting attempts by the protagonists to survive in the harshest of harsh environs: the vacuum of space. Those unfortunate individuals marooned and adrift in Earth's thermosphere are veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and civilian medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). Dr. Stone is a mission specialist trying to make her way through a series of repairs to the Hubble telescope while commanding officer Kowalski flits about his spacewalking constituents with the help of a thruster pack. While he revels in what we learn are supposed to be the last moments of his final mission for NASA, Stone grits her teeth and battles nausea. Tragedy unfolds in short order as a Russian missile strike on a defunct communications satellite begins a chain reaction amongst a mass of other spaceborne debris, sending the latter cascading towards the shuttle Explorer and her crew. The resulting damage is catastrophic and leaves Stone and Kowalski with dwindling oxygen and only a few long-shot options to even hope to make it back to Earth in one piece.

The premise is fascinating and legitimately terrifying; watching this movie may shore up any misgivings you may have had about travelling to space. What detracts from the film's incomparable luster, which we'll get to in a minute, is the combination of a trite narrative, blaring gaps in logic, and the continuous, needless use of cringe-inducing tropes. Yes, we get a 'the fuel gauge only registers as empty when it's tapped on' and a 'here, let me try to discern my own fate with a game of eenie-meanie-miney-moe.' There's a point where Dr. Stone blithely ignores a (very beautifully rendered) fire then, minutes later, seems perplexed as to why her vessel is engulfed in flame. You'd expect and likely be willing to overlook these eye-roll inducing moments were Gravity billed as a brainless action flick, but they actively undercut the tone of a film that takes itself so seriously.


In terms of the rendering of the few characters that populate Gravity, it's very clear that Bullock is pulling her A-game, but Clooney gives a performance so muted that it borders being one-dimensional. The purpose of his character is clear, but it's interesting to think about what the film would have been like without him, focusing instead on just Bullock. In that vein, the narrative has the same hackneyed feel as some of the interactions described earlier. It's a fairly clear case of 'less would have been more'. Dr. Stone discloses a handful of details about her life before she was launched into orbit, all of which are meant to draw the audience to her character and form a caricature of the sort of life that most people would want to run from. The thing is that viewers would care about her just by virtue of what she's going through. The idea that ingenuity, will, and luck might give this woman even the barest of chances for survival is enormously engaging. We don't need more than that.    
  
So Gravity isn't going to upend the movie industry with its storytelling, but that doesn't mean that the film isn't pioneering in other ways. From a sheer visual standpoint it is awesome in the very literal sense of the word. The combination of masterful cinematography and director Alfonso CuarĂ³n's trademark elongated takes will have you agog. The influences of Kubrick are interwoven throughout the first half of the film in such a way that will elicit smiles from fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you partake of the film in IMAX 3D, which you definitely should, it is as close an approximation as you're likely to get to being in space. It is perhaps the single finest use of 3D technology to have graced the screen to date. The instances where the effect comes into play seem organic and add markedly to the overall viewing experience. The application of digital interfaces (every time you see the actors spacewalking) is nearly seamless and there are more than a few instances during which you'll ask yourself how the shots were done. It is brilliantly immersive and completely unlike any other movie going experience you could have at present. 

The film also manages to get some the science correct as well. It was refreshing to see the vacuum of space actually be depicted as frictionless and momentum being applied accurately in a weightless state. The phenomenon at the center of the drama, Kessler syndrome, is a real and very possible occurrence. Conversely, there are a handful of instances where the science is absurdly wrong and, those these are mercifully few and far between, they unfortunately occur at key junctures in the story.

Whether the spectacle of the visuals have sufficient allure to overcome the ham-handedness and make paying to see the movie worthwhile is ultimately up to you. With a run time of only 91 minutes, it's over before the narrative can grate on you overmuch.

Final Grade
Visual Effects: A
Story: F
Average: C/C-
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This Week in Geekdom


Hi guys! Hope you're all having great weekends thus far, particularly if you're part of that conclave of fortunates who are presently enjoying the last day of NYCCC (and hopefully didn't have your Twitter account hacked while attending). With only two or so weeks remaining until Halloween, those precious few minutes not spent at work or composing posts have been spent putting the finishing touches on this year's costume (the Mara Jade outfit I put together back in May, but ended up having to shelve due to 100+ degree heat). It'll be great to finally get to wear the costume, but a huge part of me is impatiently craning around the holiday in order to look ahead to the 2014 convention season. There are presently four costumes set for next year's docket and that lineup is likely going to expand as events get added. Just typing that last sentence made me break into an enormous grin. Can't wait. Anyhow, back to the Week in Geekdom!

Science/Technology

Nobel week is always exciting, and this year's cohort of laureates were an especially illustrious bunch. Catch up on the awards and the works that merited them here.

Love it or loathe it, the ubiquitous application of the hashtag as psuedo-punctuation is likely to retain that widespread usage in the near future. Ever wonder who to blame for first came up with the concept? The Wall Street Journal can sate your curiosity.

Speaking of idle musings, have you wondered just how Yahoo manages to remain at least somewhat viable (or, at least, alive on the interwebs) in the face of overwhelming competition? Turns out it's the favorite website of Japan. This interesting study and accompanying infographic depicts the most popular websites in each country.

The latest edition of Science details the discovery of a 'reset button' for the body's internal clock by a team of researchers at Kyoto University. This new information may lead to enhanced treatments for sleep disorders or give us a better way to get a handle on jet lag.

A cadre of students from Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) got their hands on a 3D printer earlier this week and what do you think they printed? If you guessed 'fully functional rocket' you'd be correct. Check out the video of the test of said rocket here.

What does the Bible have to do with hackers being able to guess your passwords? More than you might think.

One is indeed the loneliest number for this free-floating, sunless 'rogue planet' discovered earlier this week by researchers at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. 

After more than ten years of work, the crew at Dolk Station have produced an anime model that they hope will revolutionize manga. With over 80 moveable parts and countless stunning details, they may have succeeded in their quest.  

Games

If you've attempted to play Grand Theft Auto Online at any point since its launch earlier this month, then you're likely already well aware of the numerous glitches that have plagued the game almost since its inception. Well, Rockstar Games, not wanting to follow the example set by some of its AAA brethren, would like to try to make it up to you by giving you free money. Ok, not physical cash, but two installments of $250,000 to your in-game account if you were one of those intrepid souls who tried to soldier through the rocky outset.

Books/TV

If you're a member of the grumbling masses anxiously waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish the sixth installment of a Song of Ice and Fire series then you may wish to avoid this article. The man doesn't seem to be doing much in the way of writing the book, but he is doing quite a few nifty things with his time.

There's playing with Legos, there's building with Legos, and there's making absurdly detailed and beautiful works of art with Legos. Take a peek at this gallery of entries in that last category.  The images are just a sampling from the book Beautiful Lego, available now via No Starch Press.

As always, best wishes for an awesome week ahead!

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