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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Archive for the ‘Fun Reads’

Review Of Criminal And Fatale

October 09, 2015 By: John Taber Category: Fun Reads, Media Interests

Criminal Front Cover

-== Criminal: The Deluxe Edition Volume 1 ==-

Author: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips and Val Staples Layout: 7.5″ x 11″, 432 pages, hardcover, with a color cover and interior.
Publisher: Marvel
Year Published: 2011

-== What is it? ==-

Criminal is an Eisner and Harvey Award winning crime fiction series from minds of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips. Criminal is part of the Marvel ICON line of products. The Criminal: The Deluxe Edition Volume 1 hardcover collects Criminal Volume 1 issues 1 to 10 and Volume 2 issues 1 to 3. It also has some extras that include covers and sketches. I am reviewing a copy that I bought from my local comic store.

-== What I Like ==-

Wanting to try something new I decided to look into crime graphic novels. After doing some research I quickly discovered that Criminal and Ed Brubaker were at the top of many people’s lists. When I started researching Criminal most people seemed to recommend The Deluxe Edition books. Thus I gave Volume 1 a try. It did not take long for me to discover a new passion. Criminal is crime fiction writing at its very best. Stories ebb and flow but always seem to have a direction. The main characters in each story are broken shells who in the end get smothered by their sins.

The artwork in Criminal is full of shadow and angst. Sean Phillips pen and ink work is particularly good. The coloring is thoughtful and invokes the mood of the piece.

-== What I Don’t Like ==-

Over the course of Volume 1 main characters from one story may appear in a different story. In these cases although the concept is nice these chance encounters sometimes seem forced and can actually distract from my immersion.

Criminal is definitely adult material. Sensitive readers will not appreciate the strong sex, violence, and language.

-== Summary ==-

Since reading Criminal I have read many other crime fiction graphic novels. Watch for some of these in future reviews. After reading many other recommended products I come back to Criminal. Criminal: The Deluxe Edition Volume 1 is the best hard boiled crime fiction graphic novel I have read. Masterful storytelling at the highest level. Pay off your local comic dealer for Criminal then never look back.

I give it 10 out of 10 paws.

On Amazon you can get copies of Criminal: The Deluxe Edition Volume 1 at this URL for $75. I think $75 might be above the cover price so check your local comic dealer first.

Fatale Front Cover

-== Fatale: Book 1: Death Chases Me ==-

Author: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips Layout: 7″ x 10″, 144 pages, softcover, with a color cover and interior.
Publisher: Image Comics
Year Published: 2012

-== What is it? ==-

Fatale tells the story of a cursed protagonist and the people that enter and leave her life over time. The stories remind me of Midas myth in many ways. Stories are mysterious, terrifying, and grounded in a strong noir base. I read copies of all four Fatale trades that I purchased from my friendly local comic book store.

-== What I Like ==-

Fatale has a very different feel from Criminal. The stories have a Lovecraft sensibility that really sucks in the reader. As the stories take place over several generations of time, and not always in chronological order, I found it sometimes hard to follow the main character’s timeline.

The art and color by Phillips are a perfect fit for the hard boiled content. As long as Sean and Ed stick together they will have me entranced.

-== What I Don’t Like ==-

Fatale did not immerse me in its world like Criminal. The stories are good and fun to read but I guess I did not care enough about the side character to get hooked.

Like Criminal, Fatale is a book for adults. If you don’t want the language, drugs, violence, or sex then don’t partake of Fatale.

-== Summary ==-

Fatale is a great read but takes attention to read. It can also get slow at times. Fatale is more proof that Brubaker and Phillips own this type of fiction.

I give it 7 out of 10 paws.

Get the Fatale trades here for roughly $11 each.

Review Of Stone And A Hard Place: Alastair Stone Chronicles Book 1

May 31, 2015 By: John Taber Category: Fun Reads, Media Interests

Stone And A Hard Place

-== What is it? ==-

Stone And A Hard Place is a modern urban fantasy tale of a quirky college professor who is secretly a mystic master. It was published in 2015 by R.L. King (aka Rat) through Magespace Press.

The book has a color cover and an entirely black and white interior. The book is 5.25” x 8” and is 363 pages in length. I am reviewing a print copy that I bought through Amazon.

-== What I Like ==-

My favorite part about the novel is the main character Doctor Alastair Stone. Dr Stone is an intriguing mix of a serious professor of magic and curious young man. Alastair is less Obi Wan and more 10th Doctor Who. His journey through the book takes him past many ups and downs and proves that he is not invincible. He is a careful planner but is willing to step up even though he knows he is far less powerful than his adversary. Dr Stone’s reason for facing these terrible threats, “somebody has to.” Love it. 😀

The way magic is explained in the book is by action. King does not spend tons of time explaining how magic works in her world but instead jumps right in and tackles the story. It is refreshing and allows the reader to focus on the characters and story instead of the “nuts and bolts”.

The antagonists in the story are pretty great. I don’t want to give too much away but the trio that oppose Stone are flawed yet powerful and undisciplined…a dangerous combination. At points I enjoyed reading their thread quite a bit.

The last 60 pages or so of the book ratchet up the tension to a powerful ending. I rarely read novels these days that hook me so hard that I can’t put them down. The end of Stone And A Hard Place did that for me. 🙂

-== What I Don’t Like ==-

I thought the beginning of the book was a bit slow. Some side characters needed to be introduced to the reader so that their importance to Stone was set. Sometimes it felt like they could have used less coverage.

At one point it became clear to me that one of the side characters was definitely going to be a “red shirt” (ala Star Trek). This is to be expected to make a punch to the story but it felt a bit too much like it was on rails.

-== Summary ==-

Rat has provided a great start to what I hope will be a long series of adventures for Dr Stone. A dashing opening act for a charming leading man.

I give it 9 out of 10 paws.

You can buy Stone And A Hard Place from Amazon in digital and hard copy. The hard copy is $14.99 at this URL. The digital copy is on $2.99. What are you waiting for!?! GO BUY IT! 😀

The 2014 Lair Awards

May 21, 2015 By: John Taber Category: Anime Reviews, Fun Reads, Games, Media Interests, Product Reviews

Summary

[ This year the awards are a “bit” late. 🙂 I got busy with my new campaign and blog posts have lapsed. I am hoping to get some reviews in soon. They are stockpiling! 😀 ]

Welcome to the fourth annual Lair Awards! It is again time to pick through the fumbles to uncover some critical hits. This year I will be adding a new category.

Here is how the 2014 Lair Awards will work. There will be five categories: Best Anime, Best Read, Best RPG, Best Board Game, 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 2014 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 2014…period…it does not matter when the product was actually released. 😉

The envelopes please! 😀

Best Anime – No Winner!

This is sad. I did no anime reviews in 2014 at all. I watched several animated features but did not get a chance to review them on the blog. Of the animated series that I watched my favorite was Clone Wars. I watched all seasons and the Lost Missions (i.e. Season 6) with my boys. Great series.

Best Read – Batwoman Volume 1: Hydrology

Batwoman Volume 1I reviewed four exceptional graphic novels in 2014. Two earned 8 paws and two earned 9 paws. The two 9 paw products included Paraiah Missouri and Batwoman Volume 1: Hydrology. I would give the story nod to Pariah but the art nod to Batwoman. I chose Batwoman for the off the charts artwork. The broken panels, the coloring, and the stunning panorama views by J.H. Williams III are just breath taking. Go buy it. 🙂

Best Board Game – Memoir 44

Even though I only did one board game review in 2014 it was a great one. My 9 paw review of Memoir 44 on March 20, 2014 is the most thought out review I have ever done. After playing hundreds of session I had a lot to say but I wanted to say it in a condensed and considerate manner. I consider it one of my best reviews. If you don’t have Memoir 44 you should go buy it.

Best RPG – Hero Kids

Hero Kids CoverI read a lot of RPGs in 2014 but only reviewed around five products. Out of these products two stood out. I really thought the Trail Of Cthulhu Resource Book & Keeper’s Screen and Hero Kids were the standouts. I gave the nod to Hero Kids because of the enjoyment it has brought to me and my kids. Even now the boys beg to continue their Hero Kids adventures. Right now they are going through a kid friendly version of the Temple Of Elemental Evil and having a blast. I will have to write up some of the details from the run and post it to the blog. 😀 (Note that the Hero Kids article about our first session has also brought traffic and comments to my site which I appreciate. 😉 )

Best Session – Session #11 – Daring Tale #6 – The Palladium Peril

I played Daring Tales Of Adventure with my main RPG group in 2014. There were a TON of great sessions to pick but I went with Session #11. Session #11 had our illustrious heroes confronting a fencing master, performing a rescue on a train, and a cliffhanger at the Coliseum in Rome!

Please reply if you have any comments. 🙂

GAME ON! 😀

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! 😀

Comics Review – Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes & Pariah Missouri Book One

September 06, 2014 By: John Taber Category: Fun Reads, Media Interests

Dotter Of Her Father's Eyes

-== Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes ==-

Author: Mary Talbot
Artist: Bryan Talbot
Layout: 6″ x 8 1/2″, 94 pages, hardcover, with a color cover and interior.
Publisher: Dark Horse
Year Published: 2012

-== What is it? ==-

Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes (DOHFE) is the story of Lucia Joyce, the daughter of James Joyce, and Mary Talbot. Mary Talbot is the daughter of a James Joyce scholar and the author. The story switches back and forth comparing and contrasting the lives of these two women. Each story takes place in different times as well.

-== What I Like ==-

The artwork in DOHFE is done in a simple style that reminded me of Maus. The coloring switches between blues for Lucia and browns for Mary. Although the artwork is not detailed it does a great job keeping the focus on the story.

DOHFE is a powerful narrative of growing up under a controlling parent. The graphic novel does a great job following the two women as they try to make their own way in the world. As they work their way into adulthood they encounter many emotional encounters that shape them. The writing in DOHFE is exceptional.

-== What I Don’t Like ==-

The story is definitely stronger if the reader knows at least some basic facts about James Joyce and his works. Those unfamiliar with Joyce can still enjoy the story but it helps to have some background.

The artwork quality can vary. In some areas DOHFE feels “sketchy” instead of crisp and clear.

-== Summary ==-

DOHFE is a very different graphic novel. I think it shows the emotional power that can be carried in the medium. For a price of $11.77 this is a no brainer…go check it out. 😉

I give it 8 out of 10 paws.

Amazon has copies of the graphic novel for $11.77 at this URL.

Pariah Missouri

-== Pariah Missouri ==-

Author: Andres Salazar
Artist: Jose Luis Pescador with coloring by Andres Salazar
Layout: 7″ x 10″, 112 pages, softcover, with a color cover and interior.
Publisher: SE Studios And Decade Brothers Studios
Year Published: 2013

-== What is it? ==-

Pariah Missouri is a wild west tale set in a city that is being infected by evil creatures and men. The first book revolves around a set of characters that are gathered together to fight back against the darkness. I am reading a copy that I purchased through the initial Kickstarter. Pariah Missouri is now released through regular comic distribution channels and can be found or ordered at most comic stores. You can also get copies of book one as part of the Kickstarter for book two.

-== What I Like ==-

The line work in Pariah is wonderful. Pescador has a thin line technique that shows lots of detail without making it feel cluttered. The lines are precise and strong. I particularly like the costume and accessory designs which really fit the wild west setting perfectly.

Salazar does a masterful job on the coloring. The coloring uses watercolor like washes in predominately orange/sepia or blue tones. The coloring really enforces the mood of the story as it moves along. I was particularly entranced by the thought that went into the color choices on each page.

I really enjoyed the characters in Pariah. There is a handsome card sharp leader, a beautiful call girl with a caring heart, a black voodoo practitioner, an Indian bounty hunter, and a crackpot Indian shaman. The group really feels like a well crafted RPG team. 🙂

-== What I Don’t Like ==-

One of my only complaints is with the cover. I really think it could be enhanced so that it really pops when put on the shelf. Maybe a bit more action would also be good.

-== Summary ==-

Pariah Missouri feels like a mashup of the A-Team, Supernatural, and Wild Wild West. The feel is light and fun. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book! 😀 (You can order book one and book two right now through the Kickstarter. Here is a link to that campaign. I was very excited to learn that as part of the Kickstarter for Pariah Book 2 there will be an RPG! Hot darn! See the Kickstarter for details.)

I wanted to send a special thanks to Andres Salazar. When I got book one from the last Kickstarter it was badly creased through the spine. It honestly looked like someone bent if over a curb. Andres sent me a new copy with a nice signature at no cost. Awesome customer support is a good thing. 😉

I give it 9 out of 10 paws.

Right now the only place to get it is through your local comic book store or the Kickstarter for book two. Most friendly local comic stores have it for around $20.