Flashback Weekend 2017

August 14, 2017

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer! We’ve been busy at the Toxic Bag campus, working on several projects. But we did take a weekend off to enjoy our love of horror movies at Flashback Weekend 2017.

Date: August 4 – 6, 2017
Location: Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel
Guests for the show:

Robert Englund – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Lance Henriksen – Aliens, The Terminator
Sean Patrick Flanery – Boondock Saints
David Della Rocco – Boondock Saints
Heather Langenkamp – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Ronee Blakley – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Amanda Wyss – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
William Forsythe – The Devil’s Rejects
Nancy Loomis – Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980)
Victoria Price – Daughter of Vincent Price
Felissa Rose – Sleepaway Camp
Paula Shaw – Freddie vs Jason
Cerina Vincent – Cabin Fever
Ken Foree – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

And a bunch more…

As you can see, this year was a celebration of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with a bunch of actors from all the installments present. For me, it was all about the original Nightmare and Nancy Loomis. I broke out my movie posters and set out for a long day of waiting in line!

First up, was Freddie Krueger, himself, Robert Englund. Since he was the headliner for the show, he had huge lines of people to get his autograph. I waited about 3 and half hours in two separate chunks to meet him! With so many people, there was not a lot of time for chit-chat, but Mr. Englund was very pleasant and engaging. Plus, in addition to his signature, he drew a really cool picture on my poster as well!

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Robert Englund starting to draw a cool pic on my poster.

Next up was Ronee Blakely. When she saw the drawing the Robert did, she said that she could try and do one as well but she’s not much of an artist. To prove her point, she then showed me a sheet of paper that she had made some doodle attempts on. We commiserated on the fact that neither of us can draw a lick!

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Ronee Blakley signs my poster.

Next was Nancy herself, Heather Langenkamp. She was friendly and upbeat and came right out from her table to shake my hand! Very cool!

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It’s Nancy! The delightful Heather Langenkamp!

The last original cast member at the show was Amanda Wyss. As we were walking up to her, we went over some of the great films she’s been in besides Nightmare. Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Better Off Dead, and of course, Silverado. Joe and I debated asking her to sign my poster with a movie quote from Better Off Dead, or Fast Times. I ultimately decided to go with Nightmare.

Amanda was amazing! She answered my questions on her films and even asked us a bunch as well. It was fascinating to hear how uncomfortable the body bag scene was for her, not being able to breathe or see!

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“It’s just a dream!”

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the amazing Amanda Wyss!

Last but not least, was Nancy Loomis. Nancy was a John Carpenter player, appearing as Annie in the original Halloween and Sandy in The Fog. It was very cool to actually meet one of the actors from one of my all time favorite films! She told several great stories about working with Janet Leigh, and if she ever saw Adrienne Barbeau while shooting the Fog. (They never appear on screen together!) Nancy now teaches acting in California.

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Nancy Loomis signing The Fog.

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And then Halloween!

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OMG! It’s Annie! Hey Jerk! Speed Kills!!!

All in all, an amazing show! Can’t wait for next year! What are the chances we can get a “Return of the Living Dead” Reunion???

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TOTAL RECALL

August 16, 2012

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

Directed by Len Wiesman

The Review

Total Recall, which I will simply refer to as TR, is a remake of the 1990 Schwarzenegger action flick. This is another attempt to bring Phillip K. Dick‘s classic 1966 short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale to the big screen. Sci-Fi fandom owes a lot to Phillip K. Dick. In addition to this story he also gave us Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which became Blade Runner) and Minority Report. This version is closer to the Dick story (at least this time it’s set entirely on Earth) than the 1990 version, but its still not very close.

TR is set in a standard dystopian sci-fi world. In the near future, the earth has been virtually destroyed by a chemical war. The only habitable places left are The United Federation (England) and the Colony (Australia.) The two places are connected by a gigantic underground train that travels straight through the Earth’s core. I laughed out loud when I read that bit of exposition, since I’m pretty sure that the pressure and temperature at the Earth’s core would be a little bit too extreme for train travel. But it was a movie, so I went with it. There’s a rebellion of sorts going on, with a small group of terrorists blowing up stuff to strike at the heartless United Federation and its evil President Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).

The story concerns Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell,) a man who lives a fairly mundane life. He works at an android assembly plant in the Colony all day and at night goes home to his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale)in a shoebox of an apartment.  Doug is a troubled guy. He keeps having recurring dreams of escaping from some sort of prison with a hottie resistance fighter named Melina (Jessica Biel.) I must confess that I too have recurring dreams of Jessica Biel, so it’s entirely possible that I might also be some sort of super spy.

Doug feels that his life is missing something, so he visits Rekal Incorporated, a company that offers implanted memories.  After perusing the menu, he decides to have a secret agent memory implanted. As the procedure is starting, McClane (John Cho) detects some other planted memories already in Doug’s head. Convinced that he is a Government agent, McClane halts the procedure and wants him thrown out. Suddenly the building is filled with Soldiers. The Rekal staff is gunned down, leaving just Quaid. In a blink of an eye, he kills every soldier in the room and escapes. Returning home he finds that his entire life is actually a fake memory that has been implanted in his head. Even his wife Lori is not what she seems. She is actually another government agent that has been assigned to be his wife. Following her orders, she then tries to kill him and forces him to flee.

The rest of the film shows Quaid on the run desperately trying to discover exactly who he is. Along the way he meets up with the real Melina and finds out that he has a cell phone implanted in his hand. There’s a really cool Hover car chase, lots of gun play and explosions aplenty as the plot begins to unfold. I particularly love bits where Quaid gets a message from his old self. The idea of watching yourself say and act like a complete stranger is compelling and a little bit creepy. The age old question of “am I a good person deep down, or am I rotten” is one we can all relate to. And of course, you have to be prepared for the answer, no matter how ugly it may be. I always go back to a line form Minority Report (another Dick story, as mentioned earlier) when Gideon tells Anderton “Careful Chief, you go digging up the past, all you get is dirty.”

One of the ideas from the original story that I really love is the question of what’s real and what isn’t.  Dick had fun playing with the reader on whether Quail (the name of his main character) is really a spy or it’s just the implanted memories. TR tries to explore that concept, but it’s very overhanded and clumsy. I also love the idea of Quaid trying to discover who he really is. That journey of discovery has plenty of ore to mine. Farrell is a good enough actor to handle it, but the script pretty much pushes all of the “Who am I, and am I gonna like me when I find out” stuff aside and concentrates on the large CGI booms.

Overall TR was pretty good. The film makers didn’t really do any cinematic trailblazing. But they cover the old familiar sci-fi ground well. The gem of this film for me is Kate Beckinsale. Most people know her from the awesomely bad Underworld franchise. I think she’s actually a pretty good actor, and she shows it here. She takes a standard villain part and makes it fun. The screen lights up every time she’s on it and she’s physical enough that you believe that she could kill you in multiple ways.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Shadow Run seems to be a perfect fit for this setting, although a modern day Call of Cthulhu would work just as well. You could have two character sheets for each character that has had their memories altered. Then you can spring the new sheet with the ‘real’ character at just the right moment. If your players are up for it, they can have a lot of fun playing a different version of themselves. When you add in just the right amount of swat teams, firefights, and huge government conspiracies, you’ve got yourself an enjoyable evening of gaming!

There were a couple of nods to the original Schwartz version. The traveling women at the security check-in “Two Weeks!” makes a fun appearance and Quaid has a quick throw away line “I always wanted to go to Mars” when he is at Rekall. But that one could also be a nod to the actual Dick story as well. All of the crowd shots of the Colony brought to mind the scenes of LA 2019 from Blade Runner.

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

The Specimen project moving on. You guys have been asking a lot of questions about the game and how it works. So, I decided to give you guys more of a feel for what this game is about, Enjoy! – Steve

Toxic Bag: Tell us about the new look for Specimen.

Steve:  I have always conceived of the game as a film. I was actually imagining scenes from an imaginary sci-fi film as I was coming up with the game events.  So I decided early on that instead of having artwork done for the events and characters,  I wanted  live actors posed with costumes and props.  Once playtesting had progressed to a point that I was happy with the game design, Joe and I hired a costume director, a photographer, and six actors, and started building props. The end result was a nine-hour photo shoot that produced some amazing pictures.  Joe and I are now in the process of manipulating the photos and we hope to start releasing them in the next few weeks.  I’m very excited about how they’re coming out! Now if I can only find a place to store that flamethrower  prop…

The Crew of the TCS Brown searches for the Specimen

Toxic Bag: How long does it generally take to play Specimen?

Steve:  It was really important to me to make a game that can be played in one sitting. So far in play testing we’ve found that the game can be played as quickly as two hours, but three and a half hours seems to be the norm.

Toxic Bag: Is this a two-player game only? Can more than two people play?

Steve: I’ve been asked that question a lot during our open play tests. The current version of the game is for two players. I’ve explored optional rules that would make the game for 8 players (one person would control each crew member and the monster.) The biggest obstacles are distributing the cards and the fragile nature of the crew.  I haven’t worked out a system that would give every crewmember a card or two to play each turn that I like. Also, crewmembers die very easily, and I’m not sure how excited I would be if my character died 15 minutes into a 3 and half hour game…

Toxic Bag: Could you compare this game to some of the other Card-driven games on the market?

Steve: I would say that Specimen uses a hybrid version of the CDG game systems that are out there. The biggest difference is game scale. Most of the other CDG games that I have seen are historical/strategic games that cover an entire campaign or war involving millions of men and equipment. Specimen focuses on the events taking place on one spaceship. There are seven astronauts and one monster. That’s it.

Since there are no reinforcements, each side has to be very careful not to waste the crew’s lives or Specimen’s wounds. I think that this limitation makes the game more intense in the mid to late stages. The players have to decide whether to play OPS and move or have an event happen. And that decision gets tougher when either the Crew is split up and alone or the Specimen only has one or two wounds left.

Toxic Bag: Please explain the Specimen attributes for us as well as how a player ‘builds’ their monster.

Steve: The current version of the game has 24 attributes to choose from. The Attributes can be broken down into three categories: offensive, defensive and special. Offensive attributes can be anything from a spikey tail (which gives a bonus die in combat) to razor-sharp talons (a +1drm for combat rolls). Defensive attributes help the monster negate the Crew attacks. Things like an armored exoskeleton (a -1drm for Crew combat rolls) to toxic blood (if wounded, there is a chance that the creature’s blood will get on the Crew and potentially kill them! The Special attributes are just that; special.  Faster evolution (the monster gets bigger, quicker) and embryo implanter (the monster can reproduce!) are just a couple of examples.

Each attribute also has a point cost associated to it of zero to three points. The Specimen player has three points to spend on attributes and must take three attributes. So, whichever trio of cards they take, the total point cost can’t be more than three.

The rule of thumb is the higher the cost, the better the attribute. However, you can build a very nasty creature with three 0 or 1 point attributes.

Toxic Bag: I see that some of the crewmembers are officers. How does rank affect the game?

Steve:  I wanted to make the crew makeup realistic. So it was obvious that there’d be a Captain of the ship. After that, I decided to have a first and second officer. One of my goals was to make this game have a horror flavor to it, and so rank only really enters play later in the game when the monster attacks. As the crew dwindles, the chances increase that the survivors will panic when the monster attacks. Having an officer present helps the rest of the Crew with their panic checks. ‘Course, that means you have to keep the officers alive too. (Laughs)

Toxic Bag: This is a CDG, so how important is hand management?

Steve: Like any CDG, there are certain cards that really should be played as the event. Specimen is no different. Crew events like the flamethrowers and the trackers are really important events and skipping them can be adverse to the Crew’s health. As for the monster, not playing the Air vent movement event really puts the monster in a bad spot. But for the most part, I tried to design the card events as things that you want to have happen, but you could probably win without. That’s where hand management comes in. Holding a card or two, waiting hand after hand to draw that one specific card to work out a sequence is not a winning strategy. You have to play the hand you’re dealt, not the hand you wanted.

Toxic Bag: How do you see the strategy challenge for a player in Specimen?

Steve: Both sides face big challenges in the game. The Crew holds the advantage in the early turns, but they have several choices facing them. Do they hunt down the monster while it’s tiny and weak or do they fix the ship so they don’t explode? Maybe they split up (always a great idea in horror!) and try to do both?  The monster has to be careful in the beginning, this is when it is at its weakest. During the middle turns, things even out as the Monster evolves and gets stronger, and the Crew fatalities start to increase. The situation flips during the later turns when the monster has the advantage. But the Crew isn’t totally helpless, as they will be better armed (guns and flamethrowers) and can always abandon the ship.

Location: ICON
Date: 9/11/11

Result: Minor Crew Victory

Current Tally:
22 Games
15 Space Monster Victories
7 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

Note – Italics indicate that a card was played as an event.

As Turn 1 began, the Space Monster moved to Cargo Hold One and successfully damaged it. The Captain moved to the Computer Room and Science Officer Cinder moved to the Infirmary. Cinder then discovered that the monster had a chameleon ability (One of the Monster Attributes). The Monster then emitted an EMP (another Monster attribute) which shut down all of the lights, monitors and the ship’s computer for the rest of the turn. Alarmed by this, the Crew decided to attempt to fix the ship and began moving to the damaged sections. The monster appeared in Corridor Two and attacked Second Officer Palance. Palance wounded the monster on the first combat roll, but was killed when the monster emitted a sonic screech (the third and final attribute of this monster). Both player decks would expand to 40 cards during the end phase.

(Crew Player Larry Haskell rolls the dice for the combat in Corridor Two.)

Turn 2 started with the Crew arming themselves with guns. Next, they discovered that the Monster was using the vents to move around the ship. They quickly decided to hunt down and kill the monster immediately. The Monster avoided detection and managed to heal its wound. The Crew finally located the monster and attacked. During the melee, Britt was wounded and the Monster managed to get away.

At the beginning of turn 3, Navigator Hamm and Executive Officer Abel moved to the Bridge and began plotting the ship’s exact position. This would take the entire turn. The rest of the Crew headed towards the damaged sections. The Monster now attempted to evolve, but was unsuccessful. Cinder and SISTER turned up something useful to use against the Monster, resulting in the Monster losing a card from next turn’s hand. The Engine room suddenly lost pressure, making it uninhabitable for the rest of the turn. The Crew finished out the turn by quickly constructing a couple of electrical prods to combat the monster.

Turn 4 began with a bang as the cargo in both holds exploded. The Crew headed to the damaged sections to attempt repairs. Just then, the Captain and Science Officer Cinder moved to the Infirmary to look at something interesting. They would be forced to spend the rest of the turn there. The rest of the crew reached the damaged areas and managed to repair the damage in Cargo Hold One. New damage was detected in the Crew Mess. The Crew responded by splitting up again. The Monster appeared in the Cargo Hold Two and wounded Chief Engineer Milton before he was able to escape. The Monster again emitted an EMP, shutting down the ship’s system’s for the turn. During the End Phase, the Monster evolved to Stage One.

(Monster Player Derek Rompot indicates which Section new damage has been detected in.)

Turn 5 started with the Monster quickly evolving to Stage Two. To negate the monster’s sonic screech attack, three of the surviving Crew members put on EVA suits. New damage was detected in Corridor One. The Crew decided that in order to better fight the monster they would split into two teams. But this idea was immediately negated when they started bickering and fighting and not trusting each other. New damage was detected in the Escape Pod. The Crew was able to repair the damage in Corridor One.

At the beginning of Turn 6, the Crew moved to the Bridge and held a burial in Space for Palance. This forced the Crew player to randomly discard a card from his hand. The monster became distracted by the lights on a control panel and had to randomly discard a card. The Captain came up with a plan to deal with the situation and the Crew went into action. The Captain then attempted to activate the SISTER computer to gain an extra card for next turn’s hand. But SISTER was unable to elaborate. The monster attacked and killed Science Officer Cinder in the Crew mess.

(A mid-game look at the game board.)

Turn 7 began with the five surviving Crew members suddenly developing suspended animation sickness, resulting in all of their Crew cards being flipped to the wounded side for this turn. First aid was applied to Milton and Britt, so they would be back to full strength once the animation sickness wore off at the end of turn. The monster attempted to damage the ship while the Crew succeeded in repairing the damage in Cargo Hold Two. Knowing that the monster was going to become more powerful as the game progressed, the Crew constructed two incinerators to help fight it.

In Turn 8, machines repaired the damage in the Escape Pod. But just as that was taken care of, new damage was detected on the Bridge. The Crew spent the rest of the turn attempting to repair the damage, and one of the incinerators ran out of fuel and was removed from play. The Monster evolved to Stage Three at the end of turn.

Turn 9 began with Milton and Britt refusing to work unless they got some more money. The Captain went into the vents to try to force the monster out of the ship. His attempt failed, and he was killed at the third junction. Hamm was told to go take care of something by herself in Corridor One. The Monster appeared out of the shadows there and killed the hapless navigator. Now only three crew members were left alive.

(Larry reacts to the Captain’s death at the Third Junction of the air vent system)

Turn 10 started with Milton and Britt again refusing to work. Machines repaired the damage to the Bridge. The Monster attacked again and killed Engineer Milton. The two survivors, Abel and Britt, quickly moved to the Bridge to plot their next move.

Turn 11 began with action as the Monster managed to get into the Bridge undetected and kill Britt in the ensuing battle. Abel, armed with both pistols, managed to inflict three wounds and drive off the monster. But the respite was only temporary as the Monster again attacked. Abel’s aim was true, and he killed the Monster. The game had ended in a Minor Crew Victory.

(Derrek congratulates Larry on an exciting victory for the Crew.)

Lessons Learned:
Another exciting game, this one ending with the Crew winning! We got to see the Sonic Screech and the EMP attributes used together. They could be a deadly combination. The EMP will have to be tweaked. One suggestion by the players was to have a recharge roll during the end phase to see if the EMP is available again after it has been fired. I like that idea, and will put it into play for the next batch of playtesting. I was glad to see the Crew win a game, but they still need help to give them more of a shot!

Location: ICON

Date: 9/10/11

Result: Major Space Monster Victory

Current Tally:
21 Games
15 Space Monster Victories
6 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

Note – Italics indicate that a card was played as an event.

Turn 1 saw the engineers, Milton and Britt, complaining about their contract and refusing to work, while the rest of the Crew moved to normal duty stations. The Monster unsuccessfully attempted to evolve and the Crew decided to build the motion trackers. The monster moved about the ship and unsuccessfully attempted to damage it. The end of the turn saw machines repair the damaged cargo hold.

Turn 2 had new damage detected in Corridor One. Both engineers moved to the damaged section, but were unable to repair it. The rest of the Crew built the high-strength nets.

(Paul Hassebrook plays a card as the Crew player)

At the beginning of turn 3, the Monster damaged the now-vacant Engine Room, and Cinder discovered that the Monster was going to be harder to kill (One of the Monster Attributes). The Crew then constructed the electrical prods; Britt was told to go to corridor one to take care of something. All by himself, Britt was attacked and killed by the monster. While the rest of the Crew attempted to find it, the Monster again tried to evolve, but failed. The end of this turn would see the player decks expand to 40 cards.

Turn 4 began with the Crew learning that the Monster was strong and smart and out to kill them. This resulted in the Monster drawing an extra card for its next hand. Realizing this, the Crew decided to construct 2 incinerators. Both Cargo Holds suddenly exploded, causing light damage in each. Machines quickly repaired one of the holds. The Monster appeared in the Crew Mess and although it received a wound, it killed Navigator Hamm. The Captain came up with a plan and the Crew attempted to find the monster. The Monster evolved to Stage One at the end of the turn.

(Paul reacts to Hamm’s death in the Crew Mess)

Turn 5 had the Crew arguing amongst themselves, costing them a card for next turn’s hand. Cinder and SISTER then turned up something useful to use against the Monster, resulting in the Monster losing a card from next turn’s hand. Smith, the ship’s cat, got loose, making it more difficult for the Crew to track the Monster. The rest of the turn saw the Crew trying to repair the damaged sections and the Monster healing its wound.

Turn 6 saw the Captain activate SISTER and ask for advice, gaining an extra die in combat. The lights on C deck suddenly went out, making it much harder for the Crew to search.

Turn 7 began with the Crew discovering that the Monster was using the vents to move around the ship more quickly. New Damage was detected in the Engine Room, but was quickly repaired by machine. Engineer Milton was attacked by the Space Monster in Corridor Two. When the rest of the Crew got there…he was gone. The rest of the Crew spent the rest of the turn trying to fix the damaged sections.

Turn 8 had the Monster appear out of the shadows and attack the Crew. Although wounded twice, it succeeded in killing the Captain and Executive Officer Abel, the latter by emitting a sonic screech (one of the Monster Attributes). To protect themselves from this new deadly attack, the rest of the Crew donned EVA suits. The Monster evolved to Stage Two at the end of turn.

Turn 9 began with the Monster quickly evolving to Stage Three. The surviving Crew members quickly assembled on the Bridge and decided that they were gonna kill the Monster, rather than attempt to abandon the ship. The Airlock depressurized, making it inaccessible for the turn. The highly evolved Monster attacked and killed Cinder on the bridge. This left Palance alone to fight the Monster.

(Shane Beddingfield surveys the game board and his cards as he contemplates the Monster’s next move. Designer Steve Baldwin watches in the background)

Turn 10 saw Palance decide to make a last stand in the Computer room. She activated SISTER and would receive an extra card for the next turn…assuming there would be one. The Monster didn’t attack and instead attempted to damage the ship.

Turn 11 had the Monster attack Palance in the Computer Room. In the first two rounds of Combat, Palance succeeded in wounding the Monster. With only one wound left, the Monster attacked again and succeeded. With her dying breath, Palance fired a harpoon gun. If it hit (by rolling a 1), the Monster would be killed, resulting in a draw. But the die came up with a 4. Palance was dead, and the Monster had won the game.

(The final roll for the Harpoon gun. A 1 will kill the monster. Sadly a 4 was the result.)

Lessons Learned:
Another exciting game; this one ending with both players having a chance to win the game. We got to see the Sonic Screech attribute used successfully. The Search mechanic is still not working right. I’m also thinking that the bowels of the ship area – a safe haven for the Monster – will have to be adjusted as well. The Crew player needs something to even the odds. But again, the overall experience was positive!

Location: I-CON

Date: 9/10/11

Result: Major Space Monster Victory

Current Tally:
19 Games
13 Space Monster Victories
6 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

The Space Monster Player (Derek Hurley) chooses the Space Monster Attributes while The Crew player (Matt Aper) looks on.

Turn 1 saw the crew move to normal duty stations and then decide to build motion tracking units to help in finding the monster. The monster moved about the ship and unsuccessfully attempted to damage it. Cargo hold Two was repaired by machine. The Monster revealed one of its attributes by emitting an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) which shut down the electronics of the ship for the turn.

Turn 2 began with Milton and Britt refusing to work unless they got more money. The Captain successfully activated SISTER, resulting in an extra card draw combat at the end of the turn. The Monster attacked Milton in the Engine Room, but only succeeded in wounding him before he was able to run away. This convinced the Crew that weapons would be needed to fight the monster, so high strength nets were hastily constructed. New damage was detected in the Crew Mess, and then both Cargo holds exploded with light damage in both being the result. The Crew began to move to the damaged section. The Monster appeared in Corridor Two and killed Cinder. Despite this loss, the crew, was able to repair the damage in Cargo hold one. New damage was detected in the Crew Mess. The Captain moved to the computer room and again activated SISTER.. The information he received would provide an extra die in any upcoming combat. The monster finished the turn by attempting to evolve, but was unsuccessful. The crew finished out the turn by repairing the damaged Crew Mess. The end of this turn would see the player decks expand to 40 cards.

The Monster began turn 3 by getting wounded in an unsuccessful attack on the Captain in the Crew Mess. Milton was healed with the timely application of first aid. The Monster attempted to damage to ship and failed. During the end phase the Monster evolved to Stage Two. (another Monster Attribute, although the Crew was unaware of this development)

Turn 4 had the Captain spend the entire turn in the Infirmary to study something interesting. The rest of the crew searched for the monster, found it in the Crew Mess, and in the ensuing melee was able to wound it. The Space Monster retreated into the bowels of the ship. The Crew spent the rest of the turn fruitlessly searching for the wounded beast.

The Monster started turn 5 healing one wound while the Crew attempted to locate it. The Monster surprised Engineer Milton in the Engine room and killed him. The Crew then decided to split into two teams to maximize their efforts. The Monster, despite this, was able to avoid detection. At the end of the turn, Palance and Britt located the monster and attacked, and although they succeeded in wounding the monster, both were killed in the battle. Now there were only 3 crew members left, so abandoning the ship became a viable solution.

Turn 6 began with the Engine room suddenly losing pressure. The monster became distracted by the lights on a control panel and had to randomly discard a card. The surviving crew members argued over who was in command, resulting in the random discard of a card from their hand, also. After calming down, the crew constructed 2 high strength nets. The Captain then decided to try to force the monster out of the ship by going into the vents. His attempt failed and he was killed at the third junction.

Turn 7 began with action as the monster attacked the two remaining crew members, seemingly from out of the shadows. Hamm was wounded in this attack, but Abel succeeded in driving the monster off in the second round of combat, inflicting another wound. Abel then went to the computer room and asked SISTER for advice, gaining an extra die in combat at the end of the turn. The Monster evolved to stage three in the end phase.

In turn 8, Hamm became suspicious of Abel’s motives and didn’t trust him. Despite this rift, both survivors decided to kill the monster, rather than abandon the ship. The Monster, with only two wounds left, did not attack the crew, instead attempting to damage the Infirmary…but was unsuccessful.

Turn 9 saw Hamm discovering a secret corporate directive in the ship’s records indicating that one of the Crew was secretly put on board to protect the monster. Abel and Hamm then built incinerators and searched for the monster but were unsuccessful. The monster again tried to damage the ship but was unsuccessful.

Turn 10 opened with Hamm discovering that not only was Abel placed on board to protect the monster, but that he’s also a robot! Hamm decided to make a last stand in the hibernation room. The Robot then attacked Hamm and killed her with an incinerator, ending the game in a major Space Monster Victory.

The game ends with the entire crew wiped out by the Space Monster

Lessons Learned:
We finally got to see the robot show up! The mechanic seemed to work, but it’s hard to know for sure with only one appearance. The Monster is still too hard to locate – searching will have to adjusted. Another Airduct attack almost wins the game for the Crew. The EMP attribute will have to be better defined. As it stands now, it effectively removes the SISTER bonus card draw. Another fun and exciting game, with both players getting a chance to win the game. And we got to see the robot – armed with a flamethrower, no less.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (hereafter referred to as ROTPOTA) is a reboot of the Apes movie series from 1968-1973. Specifically, it is a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and attempts to explain, as Chuck Heston put it in the original Apes, “How in the hell did this upside-down society get started?” In the original, Caesar the talking chimp was introduced to our current time by his backward time traveling parents Cornelius and Zira (In Escape from the Planet of the Apes). ROTPOTA depicts Caesar being accidentally created by well meaning scientist Will Rodman (James Franco –  in a totally forgettable performance) who is working on a cure for alzheimer’s disease. He is developing a virus that attacks the disease and causes the brain to repair itself. One of his test subjects is Caesar’s mom, Bright Eyes. Rodman’s dad (wonderfully played by John Lithgow) suffers from this terrible disease, so Will has extra motivation to find a cure. After the worst progress report meeting in the history of progress report meetings occurs, the testing is shut down and Will is ordered to destroy all of the test monkeys. But once he looks into baby Caesar’s little green eyes (Which indicates that he has got the test virus in him and is uber smart) he can’t bring himself to do it and instead decides to take him home. This act of kindness, as you can imagine, will ultimately have REALLY BAD consequences for the other 6 billion or so folks living on the planet.

We see Caesar (Andy Serkis) quickly grow up and develop sign language skills, and other smarts as Will studies him in secret and continues to develop his cure. Eventually Caesar is discovered and sent to a home for wayward chimps run by John Landon (Brian Cox) and his sadistic son Dodge (Tom Felton). Once there, Caesar experiences the cruelty of man, and begins to plot revolution.

Meanwhile, Will has used his test virus on his dad with spectacular, although temporary results. This convinces his money-driven boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) to begin testing on a new, more powerful strain – even though the effects of this new virus on humans is (John Carpenter music here)…unknown!

And so the stage is set for the apes to start their rise. The final reel is all about the pitched battles between some rather dim humans and Caesar and his simian army.

Overall, this film was a lot better than what I was expecting. The acting was great – not counting Franco. Andy Serkis again delivers an Oscar worthy motion capture performance as Caesar. His work coupled with the impressive CGI work make Caesar a real, believable character. Old pros Lithgow and Cox deliver the goods as well, and Tom Felton has fun as the punk kid who constantly has to prove he’s smarter than his ape charges.

The design was good and the film was well edited to keep the film on a brisk pace. I did have a few issues with the story telling; there were a couple of plot points that weren’t totally believable for me. First and foremost is the battle. I guess the realist in me can’t really envision how a bunch of monkeys armed with sticks and rocks are going to defeat fully armed S.W.A.T. teams with air support. But the movie had so many other positive things going for it that I really didn’t mind.

Being a huge fan of the original Apes film, I wasn’t overly excited about this film. In fact, my fondness towards the original pretty much preordained my dislike for this film. But about 20 minutes in I realized that this wasn’t a remake of my beloved Apes movie; it was really a re-telling of Frankenstein. Once I saw that Wyatt and his producers were really telling us a cautionary tale of man meddling with nature, I was able to relax my protection of the Apes films and just sit back and enjoy the show.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE
This setup is perfect for modern day Call of Cthulhu. Although it would take some extra work on the part of the GM, it would be fun to set in the 1920’s too. I can easily see making your party the group of scientists tampering with forces beyond their control. Maybe bring in a Lovecraftian artifact that will help your players accomplish their goal (albeit with really, really bad consequences, naturally). Or maybe the corporation funding their experiments is really run by the head of some cult (or the actual beastie, itself) and is funding the money to unleash some icky evil on the world. And to keep the party going forward, no matter what dire warnings they come across, you can give each player a secret goal (like fame, helping a dying loved one, boatloads of cash for example) And if you can throw in global apocalypse along the way so much the better!

Fans of the Apes movies should keep their eyes and ears peeled for many references to the original movies that are peppered through out the film. From Caesars mom being called ‘Bright Eyes” (which was Taylor’s nickname in the original) to Tom Felton’s character being named Dodge Landon (a nod to Taylor’s fellow astronauts Dodge and Landon who both meet bad ends in the original) to the quick news footage of the Icarus mission – commanded by George Taylor, lifting off and later on, vanishing. There are a bunch of others, see if you can spot them all.

The whole second virus test was really a big sticking point for me. From a plot perspective it was incredibly dumb, and since the rest of the film was actually quite smart, this made this moment really stick out. First of all, they are using an airborne strain of the virus for testing. Seriously? That seems a bit reckless, and unsafe. Second, all of the scientists administering the test are NOT in full hazmat suits. All they have are little masks that cover their nose and mouth that you would wear if you were varnishing your furniture. Again, seriously? No scientist worth their salt would ever conduct an experiment with an unknown virus under those conditions. As you would imagine, one of them gets his mask knocked off and is exposed to the virus. This brings me to the other thing about this sequence that is dumb. Once Franklin (Tyler Labine) starts getting sick after being exposed (complete with sneezing up blood), does he bother to tell anyone? No, he goes home and hides for several days. Not very scientist-like of him, but since the virus is the mechanism for wiping out humanity, the film makers had to get it out somehow. I just wish they could have come up with a smarter way.

Oh, and don’t forget to stay for the end credits. There is a great sequence that shows exactly how the virus spreads ALL over the world!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

Location: ICON Game Convention
Date: 9/10/11

Result: Major Space Monster Victory

Current Tally:
18 Games
12 Space Monster Victories
6 Crew Victories

Play Tester Game Playing Level: High

We spent a very enjoyable weekend at ICON in Springfield, IL. Got to meet a lot of cool folks, make a few new friends, and get in 5 playtest games of SPACE MONSTER.

(The Prototype Game Board at the beginning of the game. All Seven Astronauts are located in the Hibernation room, while the Monster starts in the bowels of the ship.)

New Damage was detected in Corridor One and the Crew Mess, some of which was quickly repaired by machine. The Crew decided they had to repair the rest of the damage and moved to Cargo Hold Two and succeeded in their efforts. The Monster then began secreting goo (one of the Monster Attributes) while the Crew constructed the high strength nets to finish out the turn.

Turn two began with the Monster unsuccessfully attempting to damage the ship and the Crew constructing the electrical prods. The Corridor One Section doors suddenly became jammed trapping Milton and Britt inside. Palance moved to the Computer room and successfully activated SISTER to gain a bonus card for next turn. Milton and Britt, trapped in Corridor One, announced that they weren’t gonna work anymore until they got more money. The rest of the Crew spent the rest of turn fruitlessly searching for the Monster.

The Cargo in Cargo Hold 1 and 2 exploded, nearly killing Cinder to start Turn three with a bang.  Automated repair quickly repaired one of the holds. The Crew then decided that the damage was too severe to repair in Space. The turn ended with the Crew still unable to locate the elusive Monster. During the end phase the Monster evolved to Stage One due to a Monster Attribute.

Turn Four began with the Space Monster quickly evolving to Stage Two, an ominous sign for the Crew. The Crew again continued their efforts to find the monster and Palance again activated SISTER to earn the extra card. The mascot got loose and the Captain and Cinder went to the Infirmary to discuss an interesting discovery. This discovery led to the Crew learning about the Space Monster’s ability to evolve more quickly.

Cinder and Hamm spent the entire fifth turn on the bridge to plot the ship’s current position. New damage was detected in multiple sections. The turn ended with Milton being killed by a surprisingly large and powerful creature. With the first crew player killed, the player decks would expand to 40 cards at the the end of this turn.

The Monster appeared out of the shadows and killed Palance and Britt in quick succession. The Crew, finally becoming aware of the seriousness of the situation, opened the weapons locker and armed themselves. The Monster attacked the Captain but was fought off when the Captain overloaded his electrical prod and wounded the monster.

The four remaining crew members located the monster and attacked it. The Captain was killed in the attack. The Space Monster healed its wound, making the Crew’s chances even worse. The end of the turn saw the Monster evolving to stage three.

The Monster evolved to stage four but was quickly distracted by the flashing lights of a control panel and was unable to attack anyone this turn.

Abel was killed in a savage attack from the now fully mature monster. Cinder and Hamm, realizing that their chances of surviving were slim, decided to attempt to force the monster out the airlock. Cinder almost succeeded, falling short on the final roll and dying in the air ducts.

(Mikel Frost attempts the final roll in the Airlock attack. Success will eject the monster into space and win the game. Failure will result in Science Officer Cinder’s death.)

(Mikel’s reaction to coming up short on the final roll.)

Turn ten began with Hamm, all alone, deciding to make a last stand in Corridor One. The Monster attacked and killed the panicked and defenseless Hamm, ending the game.

LESSONS LEARNED:
The Monster still appears to be too powerful. How can we tone it down enough to give the Crew a fighting chance, yet still retain the horror flavor? The search mechanism also needs to be tweaked. It’s still just blind luck for the Crew, and that is not enough. Still, this was a fun and exciting game, with the overmatched crew almost winning with the airduct attack on Turn 9. We will see how the rest of the weekend’s games go…

Directed by Marcus Nispel

 

 

 

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Conan the Barbarian (hereafter referred to as CTB) is a reboot of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick. This time around Jason Momoa gets to play the Mullet that became a king by his own hand. Joining him for the CGI ride is Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rosie McGowan, and even a badly done narration bit by Morgan Freeman. The story begins with our Cimmerian being born in the middle of a battle. This apparently means that Conan is going to be a warrior. We see this confirmed in the very next scene as the now 9-year old Conan single-handedly kills a gaggle of Road Warrior extras, all while holding an egg in his mouth. (I am NOT making that up. There is a reason for it, it’s kind of a stupid one, but there is one.) At this point Khalar Zim (Stephen Lang) shows up. He’s looking (in LOTR fashion) for a missing piece of an ancient snake mask that the opening narration was kind enough to tell us about. A long time ago, this mask was apparently broken and hidden to stop anybody from possessing it and taking over the world. (Is it just me or doesn’t it seem like the ancient world was chock full of artifacts that would either destroy or enslave the world?) Khalar and his witch daughter Marique (an eyebrowless Rosie McGowan) kill Conan’s dad, find the mask piece, and then leave our little barbarian to burn to death. Which we all know is a classic super villain mistake, since Conan escapes and lives to fight another day.

From there the film jumps to a grown-up Conan (Momoa) moving from one mindless CGI filled battle scene after another until he bumps into Khalar and his crew. Which was confusing to me, since he had the full mask, yet somehow 15 years had passed and the new dark age had not started. Apparently he’s now looking for the last descendant of some ancient blood line to resurrect his dead wife. I’m not really sure, the plot silliness had gotten so bad that I had kind of lost interest by this point. Suffice it to say that Conan hacks and slashes his way through the rest of the film.

This film was basically a mess. An expensive mess, but a mess. Costumes and props were standard but uninspired – straight out of the Fantasy movie playbook. Like any fantasy film today, there is a lot of CGI and some of it was actually pretty good. My real problem was the sound design. Now, it could have been the sound system in the theater, but the sound design was horrible. The mix was so bad that unless a character was shouting, every line of dialog was unintelligible. For example, in the scene where Tamara (Rachel Nichols) tells Conan her name, the mix was so bad and mushy, I had no idea what it was until the end credits.

The other thing about this film that disappointed me is that it quickly became apparent that the film makers had little or no knowledge of the Conan character from the Robert E. Howard stories. Basically, they got that he was a pirate (which he was in several stories) but that’s about it. Everything else in the stories that made Conan who he was, was gone.
One thing that always sticks with me from the Arnold flick was Conan’s search for the answer to the riddle of steel. Thulsa Doom ultimately provides Conan with the answer when he tells him, “Steel isn’t strong, flesh is stronger. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?” If we change steel to CGI and flesh to character, plot and heart, we get to the main problem that besets all fantasy/sci-fi/horror films of today. What does state of the art CGI get you if there is no high quality character development, plot and heart (what I would call direction and production) to control it and make it meaningful? The answer is, alas, nothing but a wasted 113 minutes of your life – like you get with this film.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Obviously the Conan system is the way to go for this, with Dungeons and Dragons being a close second. You would have to work a lot on the plot to make it into a workable scenario. But the basic elements are all there. I could see a lot of potential for a campaign with your party trying to collect the various pieces of the mask before Khalar does. Each mask piece would be a different adventure. You can even have the mask pieces try to influence the party and get each of them to want to possess it. Now we’re talking! Party strife and conflict is always fun!

 

 

 

The best scene for me is when Khalar and Marique unleash several sand demons against Conan. The ensuing fight scene pitting Conan against warriors made of animated sand was pretty cool. Of course, the film makers didn’t take it as far as they should have. When it started, I thought they were copying the classic skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts. But instead of defining how many sand warriors were animated, they just had them (or maybe just one) jumping out of the sand periodically. Again, I enjoyed the scene, but it could have been done sooo much better.

If you really want to see a good Conan flick, I suggest you skip this mess and just pop in the DVD of the Arnold flick. Even after all this time, it still hacks quite a slash!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

MOVIE REVIEW – CENTURION

August 16, 2011

Centurion

Directed by Neil Marshall

 

 

 

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Another review of a film from last year. But I will start doing some more current flicks soon, promise! Centurion (hereafter referred to as Centurion) is set in Britain during Roman rule in the second century. It concerns a band of Roman soldiers, led by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender as the Title guy) and their attempts to reach friendly territory after surviving a bloody ambush where their entire legion gets wiped out by the Picts.  The Roman Governor (Paul Freeman) has grown weary of the never ending Vietnam-like quagmire that Rome is caught up in Britain, and has ordered General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West and what a great character name!) to lead his entire Ninth legion northward to kill the Pict king Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) and end the war in glorious Roman triumph. Of course, once the Romans get out into the country, the scout Etain (Olga Kurylenko) quickly leads them into the previously mentioned bloody ambush and the chances of Roman Triumph are greatly diminished.

The film now goes into Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid mode with Dias and his small band being pursued all over England by Etain and a mounted group of Picts. (Think LeFors, but hotter) Along the way, they run across Arianne (Imogen Poots), a super hottie Pictish woman who shelters and feeds the fleeing men in her big, empty house. Arianne apparently lives alone; there’s not a man in sight, because…apparently that’s how just super hottie Pictish women roll.

After Dias and Arianne exchange the customary Davy Jones twinkle eyes, the Romans decide to to make a last stand at a nearby abandoned Roman outpost.

This film actually has a pretty good look to it. The design of the film is well thought out and there were some bucks spent in both real stuff and CGI. The sound design was average. Nothing jumped out at me as glaringly wrong (no sync issues, or bad ADR) but nothing jumped out at me as exceptional. The costumes and sets are both good. The actors try hard, and most do well; it’s too bad they are handcuffed by a such a weak story. Besides the story, a couple of things raised major red flags for me. First and foremost is the character of Etain. She is completely and utterly unbelievable. From the moment the Governor introduces her to General Virilus, all she does is stare killer daggers at every Roman in the tent and is basically making the slashed throat sign to all of them, all the time. Yet they trust her implicitly and follow her into the abattoir without a second thought. I must point out, however, that despite her homicidal anti-Roman tendencies, in many ways she is the perfect woman. Beautiful, scantily clad…mute. (A cookie to anyone who can name the movie that quote is from!) Second is the politically correct casting. Our Roman survivors are, because of today’s day and age, a nice ethnically diverse group. In addition to several Romans we get a Nubian (“What’s a Nubian?”) and a Syrian thrown in the mix. The third thing is the anachronisms that pop up through out the film. For example, Dias, in bad narration style, says this about Arianne “Is she angel, or demon?” Really Dias? You’re a Roman – in fact you’re a Roman before the conversion to Christianity. Your religious beliefs don’t include such concepts as angels and demons. Those are more of Christian ideas. I know it’s only one line, but things like that are all it takes to push a film into crapsville.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Here is a perfect setting for Dungeons and Dragons. You can have a big set piece battle to start, and then get into the role-playing. Or just start with the aftermath of the ambush. The only thing missing is magic. The film itself has no magical items, spells, or magicians. The film makers do suggest that Etain might be using magic to help in her tracking (we see her taking ashes of the dead and boiling them in kettles and stuff) but they don’t follow through with that idea. So, some magic would have to be added in. If a chase adventure doesn’t sound exciting enough, you can always add in some other goals for the party to try an achieve. If I were running it, I would split the party in two and let one group take on the roles of Etain and the Picts, and let the players match wits against each other. You can always keep the Roman Army in  your back pocket as the cavalry coming over the hill, if you need to.

 

 

 

Look for Noel Clarke as the Nubian runner Macros. A lot of you will recognize him as Mickey The Idiot from Doctor Who. While I’m glad to see the actor get out and do other projects, I did find him a bit distracting. Once I saw him, I started looking for Rory, the plastic Roman (Arthur Darvill) to show up….

‘Course, what do I know? Now if you will excuse me, I’ve going out to find me a super hottie Pictish woman…

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.