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 2014 Gift Guide

December 05, 2014 By: John Taber Category: Anime Reviews, Fun Reads, Games, Media Interests, Product Reviews

Welcome to the third 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

This might be the first year where there are NO RPG products at all on my actual wish list so instead I will pick something that I added after I mailed it out. ;)

Book Of Cairn Front CoverThe Book of Cairn by SoulJar Games
The Book of Cairn, or Cairn, is an small publisher RPG where the players take on the roles of intelligent animals. After researching it and talking to some folks who have played it I think it would be a great game to start playing with my kids. We are outgrowing Hero Kids and this one seems like it might be a great next step. It is also only $10 for the PDF on DriveThruRPG. Here is the description on RPGGeek:

A long time ago, humans walked the face of the world, but were destroyed for their arrogance and hubris. The Bright Ones lifted up the simple animals of forest and field, giving them the ability to think, build, and stand on their own two feet. In order to keep the newly Favored animals from making the same mistakes the humans did, The Bright Ones gave them the Compact — a book telling them how to live together in harmony.

Those who engage in dark deeds or refuse the ways of Harmony eventually become Dire — sinister, twisted versions of themselves, acting out of greed, vengeance, or selfishness. You must protect the town of Cairn and help it survive the winter. But beware! For you can become Dire, too.
Can you stop the Witch before she curses all the berries of the forest? Will you find the source of corruption withering Farmer Cottonstar’s fields? What of the growing threat of otters and moles working outside the town? Using a system of adventure seeds and story paths, you become the heroes of Cairn. The town survives or thrives based on your actions. And with 20 species and 20 professions, you can play almost any critter you can think of.
The Cairn RPG is a fantasy role-playing game where even the smallest creatures can have the biggest adventures.

7 Wonders by Asmodee
7 Wonders is a card management game where player build up powerful empires. It has so many award that they stretch off the page on RPGGeek. Maybe the biggest award of the list is a 2011 Spiel des Jahres Kennerspiel Game of the Year Nominee. Amazon sells the game for $32. Here is a description from the RPGGeek listing:

You are the leader of one of the 7 great cities of the Ancient World. Gather resources, develop commercial routes, and affirm your military supremacy. Build your city and erect an architectural wonder which will transcend future times.

7 Wonders lasts three ages. In each age, players receive seven cards from a particular deck, choose one of those cards, then pass the remainder to an adjacent player. Players reveal their cards simultaneously, paying resources if needed or collecting resources or interacting with other players in various ways. (Players have individual boards with special powers on which to organize their cards, and the boards are double-sided). Each player then chooses another card from the deck they were passed, and the process repeats until players have six cards in play from that age. After three ages, the game ends.

In essence, 7 Wonders is a card development game. Some cards have immediate effects, while others provide bonuses or upgrades later in the game. Some cards provide discounts on future purchases. Some provide military strength to overpower your neighbors and others give nothing but victory points. Each card is played immediately after being drafted, so you’ll know which cards your neighbor is receiving and how his choices might affect what you’ve already built up. Cards are passed left-right-left over the three ages, so you need to keep an eye on the neighbors in both directions.
Though the box of earlier editions is listed as being for 3–7 players, there is an official 2-player variant included in the instructions.

Grave Of The FireFlies by Section 23
Grave Of The FireFlies is the story of two orphans after the firebombing of Tokyo during WWII. It is massively rate on Amazon.com with 834 reviews and a 4.7 out of 5 rating. Here is a description of it from the Amazon listing ($20) that I like:

Isao Takahata’s powerful antiwar film has been praised by critics wherever it has been screened around the world. When their mother is killed in the firebombing of Tokyo near the end of World War II, teenage Seita and his little sister Setsuko are left on their own: their father is away, serving in the Imperial Navy. The two children initially stay with an aunt, but she has little affection for them and resents the time and money they require. The two children set up housekeeping in a cave by a stream, but their meager resources are quickly exhausted, and Seita is reduced to stealing to feed his sister. Despite his efforts, she succumbs to malnutrition. Seita painfully makes his way back to the crowded city, where he quietly dies in a crowded railway station. The strength of the film lies in Takahata’s evenhanded portrayal of the characters. A sympathetic doctor, the greedy aunt, the disinterested cousins all know there is little they can do for Seita and Setsuko. Their resources, like their country’s, are already overtaxed: anything they spare endangers their own survival. As in Barefoot Gen, no mention is made of Japan’s role in the war as an aggressor; but the depiction of the needless suffering endured by its victims transcends national and ideological boundaries. Takahata’s extraordinary film suggests a flower on the grave of countless children who, like Seika and Setsuko, died needlessly in wars they neither fought nor understood. (Unrated: suitable for ages 12 and older, violence, emotionally intense material)

100 Bullets: The Deluxe Edition Book Three by Vertigo
Last year I got Book Two as a gift and loved it so this year I have Book Three on my list. In an earlier blog post I reviewed 100 Bullets Deluxe Edition Book One. 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 $33.

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.

FATE Core Front CoverFATE Core by Evil Hat Productions
FATE Core is a rules light RPG that packs a big punch. It has so many great concepts that even if the game is not played it is worth a read. Also like all Evil Hat products the production quality is very high. For a $17 price tag at Amazon this is a little gem. Go buy it.

Formula D by Asmodee
Formula D is one of the big hits on the board gaming front at my house this year. The simple gameplay allows the boys to play that game at a very high-level right out of the gate. We now have some of the expansion tracks and can’t wait to get more. Wonderful auto racing fun that scales up to 10 players! Amazon has it for $40.

Star Wars: Clone Wars: Season 1 by Warner Home Video
Being such a huge science fiction and Star Wars geek I started watching Clone Wars when it first came out. The first season has ups and downs but in this set are some fantastic episodes. So many fun characters are addressed in this series. Stick with it through Season 2 and things get even better. You can get Season 1 on Amazon for $32.

Pariah MissouriPariah Missouri by Decade Brothers Studios
Andres Salazar and Jose Luis Pescador have a hit with this small press gem. Pariah is a wild west tale set in a city that is being overrun by evil. Only a group of brave men and women will be able to fight back against the menace that growing in Pariah. The artwork is fresh, the coloring is superb, and the story is led by a team of great characters. Here is a link to my glowing review of the book. There is also a Pariah RPG setting book in the works where I contributed the Hero conversions and helped with an initial editing pass. You can get Pariah from your local comic store or PariahMissouri.com.

Merry Christmas everyone! :D

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