Kingbeast's Lair

Growling about the RPG industry and my gaming life. RPG and anime reviews from a passionate fan. (Formerly John's Hero HQ.)
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The Kingbeast’s Lair 2013 Gift Guide

December 10, 2013 By: John Taber Category: Anime Reviews, Fun Reads, Games, Media Interests, Product Reviews

Welcome to the second annual Kingbeast’s Lair gift guide. Just like last year I will be presenting two lists. One is my personal wish list and the second is a selection of products that I think would make great gifts for that geek in your life. This year I will also add a board game entry to the lineup. The boys and I have played a lot of board games over the last year and I think we have found some winners. So for each selection I will limit myself to one RPG, one board game, one anime series or movie, and one fun read.

My Wish List

For the first time I have more board game entries on my Christmas list than RPG entries…and the only RPG entry is the lowest priority item! GASP! :D

Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide To Campaign Management by Engine PublishingOdyssey Front Cover
Odyssey appears to be the kind of RPG meta-gaming book that I often enjoy. It has a focus for GMs and tends to be broad in scope. In this case it is also written by the fine folks at Gnome Stew including Phil Vecchione. Phil’s book Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide To Session Prep was one of my favorite products of last year so I am hoping that same level of quality coverage will be founds here. You can get copies of Odyssey in softcover format at this URL for $24.95. DriveThruRPG sells copies in PDF format for $11.95 at this URL.

Memoir 44 by Days Of Wonder
As I mentioned earlier this year has seen a ton of board game play at my house and I could not be happier. We have several massive hits around home but probably the biggest is Memoir 44 from Days Of Wonder. The boys and I have collected nearly all of the expansion sets including the massively rare Air Pack and if our Christmas lists get filled then we may have everything. The number one entry on my gift list this year is a second Memoir 44 base set so that we can play Overlord scenarios. The Overlord scenarios use two Memoir 44 boards placed end-to-end to form a really wide battlefield. The boys are really looking forward to giving some of these longer more involved scenarios a try. You can get copies of Memoir 44 at lots of places online and at your FLGS. Here is a link to the Amazon entry where they are selling base sets for $49.48. Expect a longer review of Memoir 44 early next year.

Batman: The Complete Animated Series by DC Comics
I have been a massive fan of this series since it originally aired. Bruce Timm made a name for himself on this series for good reason. The stories are intricate and the animation quality is very high. The voice acting includes consummate professionals in the field. Mark Hammil playing the Joker and Arleen Sorken as Harlequin are off the charts fantastic. I’m such a huge Harley fan. :) This box set includes the entire run of the show on something like 18 discs. Unfortunately I did not get it in the past so it sells for a fortune unless you want to pick up a bootleg copy on eBay.

For some reason this set is HEAVILY bootlegged. If you do an eBay search on the product you find tons of entries with low starting prices. Upon further investigation the sellers have no other sales and often include very strange buying guidelines. For example, they may have no returns allowed or ask to contact the seller to pay offline (i.e. NOT through eBay). Being a savvy eBay buyer the little hairs on the back of my neck start standing at attention. A quick Google search revealed that this product is HEAVILY bootlegged. Here is a fantastic video that I found that shows how to tell if your copy if a forgery.

100 Bullets: The Deluxe Edition Book Two by Vertigo
In an earlier blog post I reviewed 100 Bullets Deluxe Edition Book One. I think this series is really great so I added the second volume to my list. See that review for all the good reasons why this sucker tops my list of fun reads. You can get copies on Amazon at this URL for $32.04.

Wish List For That Special Person In Your Life

Here are just three of the items on my bookshelf that I think would make great gifts. Note that the first two of these entries have not yet been reviewed on Kingbeast’s Lair.

Champions Complete by Hero Game
Hero has finally put out a condensed version of the Hero System 6th Edition rules that is reminiscent of the old big blue book (i.e. BBB). The format and content of this book is truly amazing. Derek Hiemforth really knocked it out of the park with this homerun product. Immediately upon receiving my copy I had it spiral bound so I could open it next to me when I work on adventures. Every gamer and Hero fan should get a copy. You can pickup copies on Amazon for $30.81 at this URL. For a paltry $20 you can get a copy on DriveThruRPG at this URL.

Ticket To Ride by Days Of Wonder
Ticket To Ride is probably the second most played game in my household right now. It is great fun to play and is simple enough for the boys to play along at full speed. It is also my wife Sermin’s favorite game right now…but don’t play with her…she is a Ticket To Ride shark! :D We have the 1910 and Africa expansions but really the base game with 1910 are enough to play for quite some time. One of the best board games I have ever played and the winner of the Spiel des Jahres in 2004. Complete board gaming served up on a golden spike. Amazon has copies for $37.29 at this URL.

Samurai Jack Season 1 by Cartoon NetworkAll-Star Superman
After Batman: The Animated Series my next favorite animated series is Samurai Jack. With Jack Genndy Tartakovsky created a nearly silent hero that speaks volumes with his actions. The series is cinematic in scope and quality. You can read my review of season 1 in my blog post earlier this year. Although maybe not as great as Season 2 this season put Jack on the map. You can get copies for $16.49 on Amazon at this URL.

All-Star Superman by DC Comics
All-Star Superman does something that I didn’t think was possible. It expands the Superman mythos in a glorious display of words and pictures. Anyone even remotely interested in comics will enjoy reading these personal stories that capture what it means to be the Man Of Steel. You can read my review of the first trade at this URL. Copies can be had at Amazon at this URL for $20.78.

Merry Christmas everyone! :D

Review of Memories By Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

July 16, 2013 By: John Taber Category: Anime Reviews, Media Interests

Memories Cover

-== What is it? ==-

Memories is a set of three animated science fiction tales. These three stories are adapted from manga short stories by the legendary writer Katsuhiro Otomo. Katsuhiro Otomo worked on Akira, Robot Carnival, and Steamboy. All three animated yarns total 113 minutes of content. Memories was released in 1995.

There is light violence and adult themes in the stories but overall Memories is pretty tame. Amazon rates the DVD at PG-13 and I think that is accurate.

I purchased the standard edition version of Memories. I will be reviewing that version in this article.

-== What I Like ==-

The first story on Memories is the favorite of many reviewers. Magnetic Rose is the story of a space garbage collection team who gets a distress signal that leads them to a “haunted” residence of a former opera singer. As they search the place they get pulled into the life of the former owner. The story is both creepy and seductive. The artwork is clean and fresh. I give this story an 8 out of 10 paws.

Stink Bomb is the second story. This Memories tale involves an employee who mistakenly takes an experimental drug thinking it is flu medicine. Things go from bad to worse when everyone start dying around him. The protagonist is completely clueless to what is happening which loads the story full of black comedy. The writing is wonderful. The story is funny, charming, and smart. I give this story 9 out of 10 paws.

The final story of Memories, Cannon Fodder, is a gorgeous glimpse into the steampunk aesthetic. The story involves a schoolchild in a city at war with a nebulous foe. His father goes to work each day to work on the cannons. The child’s big dream is being the one who gets to fire the biggest cannon. The artwork is looser than the other stories but it really matches the tale perfectly. Cannon Fodder is not anything like its title…it is top notch. I give this story 8 out of 10 stars.

-== What I Don’t Like ==-

The extra DVD features include trailers and a “making of” piece called “Memories Of Memories“. The extras are not exciting.

-== Summary ==-

Memories is strong collection of science fiction anime tales. At a price point of below $15 this DVD is a real steal. Go make some of your own memories watching anime writer Katsuhiro Otomo at his best.

I give it 8 out of 10 paws.

You can get a copy at Amazon for $14.97 at this URL. Surprisingly RightStuf.com does not have copies of Memories for sale.

Review of Samurai Jack Season 1 By Cartoon Network

June 04, 2013 By: John Taber Category: Anime Reviews, Media Interests

Samurai Jack Season 1

-== What is it? ==-

Samurai Jack Season 1 is an animated TV show about a powerful samurai who gets sent to the future by an evil Chinese devil known as Aku. Season 1 originally aired from August 2001 to November 2001. It was produced by Genndy Tartakovsky.

There is no nudity in the series and no sexual references. Combat involves the destruction of robots and strange beasts only. Fight scenes in Samurai Jack are very violent but they are done in a light cinematic fashion. I would rate the series at 10 years and up.

I purchased the standard edition version of the DVD boxed set. There are XIII episodes that are roughly 22 minutes length. The DVD entry on Amazon says that there is 299 minutes of material in the boxed set.

-== What I Like ==-

Samurai Jack is an iconic cartoon series and one of the things that helped catapult Genndy Tartakovsky into the spotlight of animation greatness. Each episode of the series is presented as a small movie with sweeping cinematic images and fantastic storytelling. Season 1 of Samurai Jack lays the groundwork for the rest of the series.

The individual episodes in season 1 are not as strong as those in season 2 but there are still some standouts that deserve mention. Here are the episodes that I would rank at 8 out of 10 paws or higher.

  • I – 10 out of 10 paws – The main story of Aku and Jack. The training scenes with young Jack are breathtakingly done and capture the attention of the viewer. The artwork style is clean yet fluid. The music is sweeping in scope and really sets the tone for the epic nature of the series.
  • III – 8 out of 10 paws – A very A-Team like episode. The extended fight scene in this ep ebbs and flows through its course.
  • V – 8 out of 10 paws – Astronauts trying to return home. Jack allows them to escape but traps himself in the future.
  • VI – 10 out of 10 paws – A fantastic yarn where Jack meets a strange woman in black who has a prophecy about a gem that can return Jack to the past. The pair travel across the land facing dangers. Wonderful ending. Iconic Jack ep.
  • VII – 10 out of 10 paws – This might be my favorite ep of the first season. It involves a legend of a pool that can grant wishes and three blind kangaroo archers of superior skill. The casual opening is just fantastic. It is a calm before the storm. The way music and sound are used and taken away in this episode is off the charts beautiful. Listen to and watch one of the greatest Jack stories of the entire run.
  • IX – 9 out of 10 paws – In this story Jack visits an underwater city. Fantastic fish creatures and ships. Wonderful plot twist.
  • XI – 9 out of 10 paws – This ep is Jack’s first meeting with the Scotsman. The scene on the bridge is fantastic and wonderfully done. The Scotsman is by far my favorite recurring Samurai Jack character.
  • XII – 9 out of 10 paws – Mobsters who befriend Jack for their own gain. This ep shows the vast range that the design crew was willing to take with the series. From the Scotsman to dog mobsters. Don’t get much better.
  • XIII – 8 out of 10 paws – Nice story of some kids telling fairy takes about Jack and Aku. The ep gets really funny when Aku tells his version of the stories where he is the hero. Classic ep.

There are not a lot of extras with the Season 1 boxed set. The only extra worth commenting about is a “making of” piece. It is nicely done but I would have liked to see a bit more. There are also episode commentaries which vary in relevance.

-== What I Don’t Like ==-

There are a couple of episodes in the first season that are not that strong. I am not fond of ep II where Jack gets his name or ep VIII that really has no plot besides a bunch of bounty hunters trying to kill Jack. Both lack the heart of other episodes in Season 1.

-== Summary ==-

Samurai Jack is one of my favorite animated TV shows of all time. The only animated series that even comes close is Batman: The Animated Series from Bruce Timm. Season 1 of the series is a GREAT collection and is highly recommended. The price point from Amazon is also quite good.

I give it 9 out of 10 paws.

You can get copies of the DVD on Amazon for $15.49 at this URL.

The 2012 Lair Awards

January 18, 2013 By: John Taber Category: Anime Reviews, Fun Reads, Games, Growlings, Media Interests, Product Reviews

Summary

Welcome to the third annual Lair Awards. It is again time to pick through the fumbles to uncover some critical hits. This year I will not be changing the format.

Here is how the 2012 Lair Awards will work. There will be four categories: Best Anime, Best Read, Best RPG, and Best Session. To be eligible for an award the product must have been reviewed in the calendar year by me on the blog. There were a TON of great products released in 2012 but if I did not review them they don’t count. Also note that I often review products that are quite old. A product is eligible for an award if I reviewed it in 2012…period…it does not matter when the product was actually released. ;)

The envelopes please! :D

Best Anime – Samurai Jack Season 2

Picking the winner for this category was difficult. I watched three animated features that I thought were very good. Here is a list of the three that stood out with some comments and links to the detailed reviews. These are presented in alphabetical order.

  • Mushi-Shi – A rare series that merits buzz words like serene, exquisite, and enchanting. A true joy to watch.
  • Patlabor The Movie – Classic giant robot movie with action, investigation, and drama. Off the charts set of extras in the limited edition DVD set.
  • Samurai Jack Season 2 – Season 2 has some of the best episodes in the entire run. The three that really stand out include XVII (The Scotsman), XIX (Lone Wolf And Cub), and XXV (300).

When I was considering these entries I thought about each one then reread my reviews. They all have some amazing content but Samurai Jack Season 2 raises to the top of the pile because of some superior episodes. The Scotsman episode (XVII) is probably my favorite episode of Samurai Jack. Every time I watch it I fight to stay seated on my couch. :D

Best Read – No Winner!

Houston we have a problem! I realized a bit too late the I did not have any print media reviews this year. Wow…this is something that I must address in 2013. I read some wonderful stuff in 2012 that just did not make it to the blog. :(

Best RPG – The Widening Gyre

The award for Best RPG was easy this year. Bill Keyes really hit it out of the industrial park with his steampunk genre book for the Hero System called The Widening Gyre. The amount of coverage and the high quality of the writing make this one a real winner. The Widening Gyre should be considered THE steampunk sourcebook for Hero. (I just heard today that Bill is contemplating a version of The Widening Gyre for Savage Worlds. That would be great. :) )

In this section I also wanted to mention a blog post that I did called One Patron’s Guide To Crowd Sourcing RPGs. I think this is my best blog post on the site for 2012.

Best Session – Spirit Storm Session #34 – Vault Of The Dragon Kings

I had a lot of fun gaming in 2012 and I was able to blog about many of them through the session reports. The sessions that I blogged about in 2012 included Sessions #34-#35 of Spirit Storm and Session #1-#8 of The Armitage Files. After reviewing all of these blog posts I decided the my favorite session was Spirit Storm Session #34 – Vault Of The Dragon Kings. The massive climactic dual between Avatars Of The Great Tree and Sunscratch in Cragspine’s body were just a blast. Every PC really shined in that adventure. Highlights included Cillian taking on his dragon form for the first time, Oren’s crushing blow on Sunscratch’s skull, Bilby’s acrobatic prowess, and Po’s powerful curses.

If I had to pick a second favorite it would be The Armitage Files Session #6 – Travelling Side Show Freaks. The roleplaying and depth of investigation in this session is really wonderful.

Please reply if you have any comments. :)

GAME ON! :D

The Kingbeast’s Lair 2012 Gift Guide

December 13, 2012 By: John Taber Category: Anime Reviews, Fun Reads, Games, Media Interests, Product Reviews

I decided that it might be fun to start a new Christmas tradition at Kingbeast’s Lair. Since this is a time of giving and since I love reading gift lists I thought it might be fun to present a list of the RPG, anime, and fun read related offerings that are currently on my gift list and a list of items that I think would make great gifts for the geek in your life. For each list I will limit myself to one RPG, one anime series or movie, and one fun read.

My Wish List

Here is a brief summary of a few of items on my Christmas list this year. I really hope I get some of these under my tree. If any of my regular players are reading this then I want to remind them how much work I put into running games…I could really use something to keep me motivated…hint hint. :D

Agents Of Oblivion by Reality Blurs
Agents Of Oblivion CoverAgents of Oblivion is a setting for Savage Worlds and True20 by the folks at Reality Blurs. Here is the elevator pitch from their site:

Ready for horror-fueled espionage action? Agents of Oblivion wants you!

Agents of Oblivion is the highly anticipated Savage Worlds setting book we like to call “The Perfect Cocktail of Horror and Espionage”.

The pages within are graced with everything you need to play the style of spy game you want to play from “The Company Line” where every nightmare and conspiracy you can imagine is real and you can wield the powers you need to drive back the darkness to “Spy versus Spy” where you can take things on in a gritty brutal fashion.

Agents Of Oblivions was a nominee for 2012 ENnie Award for Best Supplement. The other things that look interesting to me is that it is run with Savage Worlds, which I have been itching to run, and it features spies and monsters. What is not to love about espionage and horror! :) Here is a link to the product page on the Reality Blurs website. They have copies at Noble Knight Games at this URL for $24.95.

Rin: Daughters Of Mnemosyne Complete Series by FUNimation
Rin is an adult anime series that looks to be full of sex, violence, and mystery. Here is the story blurb from the FUNimation site:

Rin Asogi is an immortal private detective with a thirst for vodka and a talent for attracting things that go bump in the night. In a series of nightmarish vignettes spanning sixty-five years, Rin’s lush body is sadistically pierced, blown up, and mulched to a bloody pulp. The fiend behind her tortured existence is Apos, an eternal being obsessed with sacrificing Rin to Yggdrasil, the tree of all life. While Rin struggles to unravel the secrets of her endless agony, Apos lurks in the shadows, eager to tear into her ripe body and devour the memories of her countless lives. Rin’s no stranger to the realm of the dead, but her next visit could last forever.

I has received some good reviews and the preview material on the FUNimation site looks excellent. Here is a link to the Rin site at FUNimation.com. You can get copies at RightStuf at this URL for $24.99.

Black Fire by Hernan Rodriguez
Black Fire is a very interesting graphic novel published by Archaia. I don’t have any experience with Hernan Rogriguez but I love almost everything that comes out of Archaia and the summary on their site looks really interesting. Here is a synopsis from the Archaia site:

Black Fire is the story of two soldiers in Napoleon’s army retreating from his disastrous campaigns in Russia. Separated from their unit by a Cossack attack, they stumble across an isolated Slavic town, where strange and bizarre doings are afoot. The ancient town is deep, forbidden territory, the prison of a dark monster-god out of Slavic legend and nightmare, which seeks to use the newcomers to escape. This is an historical horror story in the vein of HP Lovecraft and Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Monsters and Napoleon’s soldiers!?! SOLD! Here is a link to the Archaia product site for Black Fire. You can pickup copies on Amazon.com at this URL for $18.96.

Wish List For That Special Person In Your Life

Here are just three of the items on my bookshelf that I think would make great gifts. Note that two of these entries have not yet been reviewed on Kingbeast’s Lair but may be reviewed next year.

Never Unprepared by Engine Publishing
This is a new book full of advice for GMs of any system. Here is the blurb from the product site:

Whether you’re new to game mastering or have been running the same campaign since 1974, Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep will help you prepare for games faster, avoid common pitfalls, and have more fun in the process. To our knowledge, this is the first book entirely devoted to the process of prepping for tabletop RPGs.

Ten years in the making, Never Unprepared is award-winning author Phil Vecchione’s epic rock ballad to game prep. A project manager and veteran game master, he draws on extensive experience to present flexible systems for developing or optimizing your own unique approach to game prep. Phil’s work has previously appeared on GnomeStew.com (silver ENnie Award winner for Best Blog, 2010 and 2011) and in Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters and Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game.

You can pickup copies at Noble Knight Games at this URL for a paltry $17.95.

Mushi-Shi by FUNimation
Mushi-Shi is a wonderful anime series that follows a mushi master known as Ginko. Stories are heart warming and deep. I did a complete review of the series with tons of details at this URL. Highly recommended.

Atomic Robo by Red 5 Comics
Atomic Robo Front CoverAtomic Robo is a light pulpy comic that is a joy to read. The stories are well written and the artwork is just beautiful. Here is a blurb about the first trade paperback:

In 1923, Nikola Tesla’s career is in its twilight… until he unveils a robot with automatic intelligence – ATOMIC ROBO! After decades of dealing with all manner of weirdness, Atomic Robo and the so-called Action Scientists of Tesladyne become the go-to defense force against the unexplained! See ROBO take on Nazis, giant ants, clockwork mummies, walking pyramids, Mars, cyborgs, and his nemesis, Baron von Helsingard, in his first trade paperback graphic novel. This edition collects the hard-to-find, sold-out, debut issues of Atomic Robo #1-6, complete with cover gallery, pin-ups, concept sketches, and bonus stories.

Another cool thing about Atomic Robo is that there will soon be an RPG for the setting produced by the brilliant folks at Evil Hat Games. (Here is a link to the RPG site that you can watch for updates.) You can get copies of Atomic Robo at this URL for $18.95 on Amazon.

Merry Christmas everyone! :D

[FYI. If any of my players are still reading this post I was just kidding...it is a joy running games for you gyus. :) ]