How Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 Reminded Me I Suck At Building Decks

This week, Wizards of the Coast will release the latest core set to the Magic The Gathering Card Game, aptly titled "Magic 2014 core set". To prepare players for this release, a couple of weeks ago, they released the latest edition of "Duels of the Planeswalkers", their video game adaptation of the card game. How does this game stack up to the previous editions? Well, I received a review copy of the Steam version of this game, which I will gladly talk about past the break.

I mentioned that I got the steam version of this game, and I'd hate to start off with a frustration, but I want to quickly get it out of the way. The game is available for several different platforms such as Xbox, Playstation, Steam, iOS, and even Android this time around. As they add more and more platforms, I always struggle with figuring out which edition to buy. Usually I end up picking up the platform I think ill get more playtime on. Last year, I was grateful that I bought the iOS version, as I got so much farther in the game than ever before due to playing small games while on the couch. However, I always seem to get the Steam version as well, and it always annoys the crap out of me that the different platforms do not "sync" with each other, unlocking content and decks with other copies of the game. I would pay much more money buying the game on multiple platforms to play it wherever I want if I knew that I could continue the progress I made on my Xbox or iPad. This is just a small frustration that I have had on the series from the get go, and 2014 does nothing to change it.

Most of the game plays out like the previous editions: you select one of a variety of decks and play through a campaign against other "Planeswalkers". As you progress, other game types unlock, such as harder versions of the people you have beaten previously. Not only that, you can modify these decks with cards that you get from winning in the campaign; and even use these decks against your friends in the Multiplayer mode. The other games did a fabulous job of all of this and Magic 2014 carries on the torch in these regards extremely well.

For this iteration though, one of the big draws is that of the "Sealed Deck" mode. In this mode, you are given 6 "booster packs" filled with various cards and are tasked with creating your own custom 40-card deck. You then can use this in a similar campaign mode, which can earn you further booster packs, or against your friends. It is in this mode that this game shines over the previous versions, as a common complaint against the Duel of the Planeswalkers games was that deck customization was very much downplayed. This version has an entire game mode designed to appeal to those who want to build their own deck from the ground up. If you have no idea how to do that, the game can either auto-build you a deck with the cards available, or provide hints to you as you go along in the building process.

I enjoyed the previous iterations of Duels of the Planeswalkers, and I REALLY like this new version. One of my weaknesses in Magic (the physical version) is that I don't do a very good job of building my own decks. Magic 2014 shined a bright light on this fact when I tried out the new Sealed Deck mode myself. I did a horrible job at it. I went through all the cards, tried to come up with a theme to build my deck around, and managed to put together some cards that really made me feel confident in it. I had an idea that it might not go so smoothly, but I thought the good cards I put in would balance out the risky ones. Boy what I wrong. The first game I played I was ripped a new one, and I'm not even playing on the highest difficulty. The second game started off equally as horrible to the point where I gave up knowing how the game was going to play out. It might sound like this would affect my opinion of the game, but actually I am really glad this feature is available. Previously, I'd have to wait until a tournament to test my deck building skills and see how I'm improved. Now I have an easy environment for me to experiment with, adjusting and perfecting my deck building skills which should help me out in the physical game. Not only that, but I can access this anytime I have some spare time to sit down in front of the computer, giving me lots of potential practice time.

So if you have any interest in Magic at all; from having played the game in the past, currently playing it, or have been curious as to what this game is about, I highly suggest that you pick up this game. I'm sure that you will have lots of fun and develop a new love for the card game.

 

5 People That Should Not See World War Z

After the different approach that I took to the Man of Steel review, I thought I would continue that trend by talking about other movies as I see them. This review is a little late, but after the break we will talk about World War Z, the recent movie based off of the book by Max Brooks.

1) People who hate Zombies

This one is obvious, but I felt like we should go ahead and get this out of the way: World War Z is a zombie movie. In it, Brad Pitt's character and his family suddenly find themselves in the middle of a zombie outbreak. They have to fight their way to survival, and then Brad Pitt gets tasked by the governments remaining to figure out what the heck is going on. If that bit alone turns you off, you might want to skip the rest of the review and the movie as well.

2) People upset that the movie is different than the book

Disclaimer: I have not read the book. My wife has read most of it so any comparisons are based on what she has read.

When this movie first came out, all I heard on the Internet were people talking about how the movie didnt match the book. This is true, but from what I've been told, it would have been hard to make a mass-market movie based on the content in the book. If you were one of the people ticked off at this notion, don't bother seeing the movie. One way or another, your pre-determined mind will find a way to hate it. Now, if you have read the book and are fairly open minded, go see the movie. You'll be pretty well entertained and will spot tons of references that the oblivious person next to you won't get. It's like watching a comic book movie: it's not always the same story you read, but there will be tidbits and Easter eggs that only you will pick up.

3) People that couldn't stomach The Walking Dead (also, small children)

This movie is intense. It's rated PG-13, but there some R rated horror movies that are not as freaky as this movie. Unlike the walking dead, there isn't as much graphic detail shown, but what is shown and the shots used will scare the pants off of people who aren't as tolerant of horror movies (i.e. me). Do not bring small children to this movie, as you won't be able to get them to sleep anytime soon. Shoot, I'm 27 and I wanted to wait a couple of hours before going to bed to put some space between myself and the movie.

4) People that don't want to rethink their zombie escape plans

On long car rides, or anytime that we want to kill a few minutes, my wife and I will talk about our plans for surviving the zombie apocalypse. We've thought up scenarios to protect our house, places to avoid if we get caught away from home, etc. Part of the reason I was creeped out was the way they shot the zombies and tried to scare the audience. The other reason was because I knew my wife and I were going to have scrap most of those plans and start over. The way that the movie presents the zombie apocalypse makes you realize more that in an outbreak, you have 2 things to fend off: zombies and other people trying to survive. It brings a whole new perspective to the zombie genre.

5) People that hate a good movie

Hey what do you know? The same people that were on my Man of Steel review. I really liked this movie. As I said above, it brings something new to the zombie genre and I really appreciated that. It is definitely a movie that I will be thinking about for awhile.

Are you one of these people? If not, go check out the movie and let me know what you think.

5 People That Should Not See Man of Steel

This weekend, the latest movie entry into the Superman mythos, Man of Steel, opens in theaters. I was fortunate enough to see an early sneak preview of the movie last Sunday. Among other things, I came away from the movie thinking that there are going to be certain people who don't like this movie. Read onwards to find out which people those are.

1) People Expecting This To Be The Christopher Reeves Superman movies

For me, when I get to thinking about what Batman is, I always think of the Batman portrayed in "Batman: The Animated Series". That was "my" Batman - what I base all other portrayals of Batman against. For some people, probably a good many people, the Christopher Reeves movies are "their" Superman. Therefore, I would imagine that there is a decent number of people that are going to see this movie hoping that it will be like the Superman movies that they remember. Those people will probably be disappointed. Times have changed, and Man of Steel reflects that change. While the core character and what he stands for are similar in both movies, the overall tone and feel of the movies is very different than the tone of the 70s movies.

2) People Expecting This To Be The Dark Knight

Having directed The Dark Knight trilogy, many people seeing Christopher Nolan's name on the Man of Steel movie poster may be concerned that this movie attempts to "Batman-ify" Superman. I can see how someone could think that - Superman movies havent done very well recently, but the Batman movies have, so lets just put some of those appealing Batman aspects into this Superman movie. However, Christopher Nolan and Zack Synder did not do that. The tone and universe may have a similar feel to The Dark Knight, which is the way it should be since both movies take place in the same universe, but Superman shines like a beacon, being the man of hope when the world plunges into darkness. What you end up with is a movie that shows how a man like Superman can exist in the same world as Christain Bale's Batman (by the way, in one of the space shots, look at a nearby satellite for a small Easter egg).

3) People Taking Small Children

Typically, for big comic book movies, Ashley and I are of the belief that we should watch the movie first, then take Chloe to it later. This way, we know what's coming and we can shield her from any scenes we feel are too young for her. Most of these movies she really wants to see, yet most are rated PG-13, and this way she can still see the movie with me still holding on to some sense of "good parenting". For Man of Steel, we thought about bringing her along with us for this one time - I mean it's Superman, how bad could it be? I'm glad we decided not to bring her, because I don't know if she's ready to see the movie. As I alluded to above, this movie gets pretty dark. In order to bring out the best traits in a character, you need a villain who is really good at the opposite. In Man of Steel, General Zod is a dark, evil man who will stomp on anyone who gets in his way or who he deems "inferior". This works in the sense that it lets Superman's goodness shine, but the result is a few intense scenes that I believe might be rough for some small kids watching the film.

4) People Who Hate Good 3D

I've heard it explained to me plenty of times that the best 3D is the kind that is not completely obvious to you. Our eyes see in 3D everyday, so if done correctly, good 3D movies would look very natural to us, adding depth to the experience. The preview of Man of Steel we saw was in 3D and this is exactly how I felt watching this movie. There were no cheap gimmicks of objects being thrown at the screen or other effects that other movies use because they are being shot/rendered in 3D. Overall, the 3D felt very natural and did not distract from the movie, which I believe qualifies it as a good usage of the technology.

And Finally....

5) People That Hate A Good Movie

I really liked this movie. Superman has never really been a huge character for me: i consider the other movies to be "alright", I did enjoy "Smallville", but I don't regularly read Superman comics either. While I still prefer the Batman movies, I had fun watching the movie and it did make me want to go to the comic store to look at Superman comics, which for any comic book movie is a good judge of how good it was.

Go see the movie, for most of you out there, you'll enjoy it. If not, comment below and let me know what you thought about it.

 

Board Game Review: Legendary - A Marvel Deck Building Game

As many of you who follow me on twitter may have seen (or read about in a previous article), every Monday night our local gaming store hosts a board game night. For the past couple of months, Chloe and I have been attending each week to try out many new board games. Normally, when I review board games, I try and make a video for you guys so you can see the board and visualize the game. However, I don't have the money to buy every game we play so you are going more blog posts talking about the games we are playing. Whenever I do get around to buying a game, you'll probably see a video review come out of it as well. Some of these are going to be a bit old as I need to get caught up on all the games we've played. Last month, Chloe and I tried out a game that I was very excited to learn to play. That game is "Legendary", the Marvel Comics Deck Building Game by Upper Deck. The idea of mashing up two of my favorite obsessions, board gaming and comic books, seemed too fun to be true. What did I think of the game? Read on to find out!

As I mentioned above, Legendary is a deck building card game. That means your job is to use the cards you start with to gather better cards to improve your deck for later turns. In Legendary, there are two lines of cards in front of you, a line of heroes that you can "buy" and a line of villains that you "defeat". Each line gives you cards that will be used at the game to determine who is the winner. At the same time, however, there is a "mastermind" - a villain with a plot that the players must defeat together or else everyone loses. If that sounds confusing at all, don't worry the game plays pretty well and is easy to pick up. If you've played other deck building games like Dominion, you will quickly catch on to Legendary.

Chloe and I both enjoyed this game. It strays away from other deck building games like Dominion and Ascension by adding in the cooperative gameplay of the players having to work together to defeat enemies to help topple the mastermind. This aspect, combined with villains who are constantly trying to escape, really do a good job of bringing in the superhero feel of Marvel Comics. The people we played with commented that there have been several times they've lost against the board, and they will purposely break out the game to try and defeat that mastermind again.

Yet, the addition of the Mastermind also contributes to the only problem I have with the game, which is it's length. To defeat the Mastermind, you have to kill him like 5 times, and he has a pretty high life value that you have to beat. In the game Chloe and I played, bad luck on the cards that were available really hurt us early in the game which made it hard to build up a good deck that would give us the cards we needed to hurt the Mastermind. Luckily, a couple of the other players we were with managed to hit him in a row a couple of times during the game. This also led to those players winning the game, but by that point it was getting late and I needed to get Chloe home to bed, so I was more relieved that the game was over.

That small bit aside, we did enjoy the game, and it will be added to the list of games that I want to get at some point. If you are a Marvel Comics fan, pick this game up and give it a try. I'm sure that you will find it rather enjoyable. You can even use the affiliate link below to pick up the game cheap at Amazon, which will kick back some money here to the site to help us out!

What deck building games have you played? Let me know in the comments below!

Magic The Gathering Review: "Dragon's Maze: The Secretist" part 3

A few months ago, you'll recall I wrote an article about The Secretist, parts 1 and 2. These two short novellas are the Magic: The Gathering lore novels for the first two Return to Ravnica sets. Last week, I received a copy of the conclusion to the series, Dragon's Maze. I loved the first two parts of this series, but how did the conclusion hold up? Read on to find out!

Dragon's Maze starts out where the previous book, Gatecrash, ended; the planeswalker Jace Beleren was trapped in an inescapable room with vampires about to bare down on him. Of course he manages to get out (by the way, I felt really dumb for not thinking of the obvious way that he could get out of this), and races to put together the final pieces of what the "Implicit Maze" is. Jace has to find out its importance to the ten guilds of Ravinca quickly, as the guilds are assembling their maze runners and preparing to run the maze, regardless of its outcome.

I really enjoyed this story. I sat down Sunday night before bed and started to read this story. Next thing I know, it's late and I've finished the book! It was so compelling that I could not put it down. The book really shows the hatred and disagreements that the ten guilds have for each other. It was building up in the other two books but really comes to a boil here. It begs to wonder how these people haven't killed themselves yet, and as your reading the book it appears as though they just might do it now! The mystery behind the maze unfolds in a way that makes complete sense and shows the great insight and wisdom that the creator had about the guilds when he created it.

With all of the good aspects that I enjoyed about the book, there are a few down points about the ending. First of all, the conclusion of the maze and what it brings about makes sense, but Jace's role in the post-maze Ravnica confuses me a bit. Even Jace brings it up as a question in the book, but it's never really answered other than a simple retort. The other issue I've had is one that went back to the other two stories as well. There is another planeswalker featured in the story, an Izzet Mage known as Ral Zarek. He is this powerful Mage capable of walking to other realities, yet through most of the book he begrudgingly follows orders of his guildmaster. Granted, his guildmaster is a dragon, but I just expected more out of the character and throughout the three stories his role felt very flat.

Regardless of those few little quirks, I still really loved this story. Ever since the beginning, the story drew me in and continued to hold me there until the tale was done. As for the format, I think that Wizards of the Coast's experiment into short novellas for their stories is a good step. For someone like me, who jumped into this storyline part of the way through, it made it really easy to get caught up on the story. If you a fan of Magic: The Gathering, I think you will enjoy the three parts of The Secretist, and I think you should pick them up and read them. Affiliate links for the Kindle versions are below if you wish to help support this site.

  Return to Ravnica: The Secretist, Part One

Gatecrash: The Secretist, Part Two

Dragon's Maze: The Secretist, Part Three

The D20 Experience: What is D&D Anyway?

Ok so I already changed the name of my D&D column, big deal. I think this one sounds much better. After writing last weeks post and doing some reflecting, I realized I may have made a mistake. On this site, I talk a lot about D&D and some of the various D&D products but I failed to realize that some people may not understand what D&D is. Even worse, through all kinds of stereotypes out there, they may have a completely incorrect idea of what the game actually is.

Today, I set out to rectify that mistake. This post shall be my "Beginner's Guide to D&D," if you will. I aim to explain what the game is, some basics on how it is played, and what you can do if you are interested in playing. I think the best way to do this is FAQ style, which shall begin after the break.

What is D&D?

D&D stands for "Dungeons and Dragons", a pen and paper role playing game (RPG) currently produced by Wizards of the Coast (the same people that produce Magic The Gathering). It was created in the 70s by the late Gary Gygax.

What is a Pen and Paper RPG?

"Pen and paper" is just a term used to distinguish RPGs like D&D from those that you can play on your computer. In a pen and paper game, you and some friends gather around a table and play with sheets (of paper) that detail what all the things your particular character can do

FYI - though the term does include the word "pen", I HIGHLY suggest you use a pencil when you play this game. You will be writing and erasing things very much.

So how many people do I need to play D&D?

Technically, you can play with as little as 2 people. As far as the most people that can play, I've played games with up to 11-12 people. Be warned, at those numbers, games quickly devolve into tangents and side conversations. Ideally, 3-6 players is the best number to work around.

Alright, how do I play D&D?

One person in the group is called a "Dungeon Master" or DM for short. Before you play, he has planned out an adventure for you, either entirely of his own design or bought/downloaded a pre-made adventure from a website or a gaming store. This person acts as the storyteller and the referee; setting the scene for the other players and facilitating how they interact in this made up world. The other players each play a unique hero in this world. Some adventures have pre-made characters as well but in most D&D games you create a custom hero using several fantasy races (like human, elf, dwarf, etc) and a class that describes what type of character you play (such as a warrior, a cleric, a wizard or even a thief).

Performing actions in the game (specifically when you are fighting something) typically require to roll a 20 sided dice to see if you succeed/hit. You roll the dice, add any special bonuses your character has (maybe you are an expert swordsman, so it's easier for you to hit), and the DM tells you if you have succeeded or not.

How do I win? How does the DM win?

In D&D there really is no "winning". You role play your character through different encounters and adventures. The game is more about creating an entertaining story than winning. The DM will create obstacles and monsters to challenge you, but if all the other characters get killed he doesn't "win". It just means its time to move to new characters and a new story - or maybe the dead characters continue their adventure in another way (resurrected by a obscure cult? A new journey through the afterlife?)

What do I need to play D&D?

You need other players, for starters. You'll need a sets of different sided dice, which you can usually buy as a pack for a couple of bucks at a comic or gaming shop. Ideally, each person should have their own, but if you are getting started then a couple of sets you can pass around will work. All of the detailed rules on how to play are listed in a book called the "Players Handbook". If you have experienced players in your group, it is not needed but if you are new I recommend picking it up and reading it. It contains everything you need to know to play the game, create a character, etc.

The person who is the DM needs to be very familiar with the rules of the game, and should probably have the other two "core rulebooks" - the Dungeon Masters Guide and the Monster Manual. These books will have information on how to create adventures and combat encounters. Some people also use miniatures and some sort of map or tiles to lay out the land and help everyone visualize things, but these are not required either.

Where can I find people to play D&D with?

If you don't currently have any friends that play D&D, the best thing to do is to find a local gaming or comic shop and see if they run any games. Typically they will have folks that are ready and willing to teach new players how to play. I've also heard of people that use sites like meetup.com to organize D&D groups. Lastly, it might be kind of rough but you can always purchase the three core rulebooks I mentioned above and try and start your own crew! There are plenty of resources online to explain out all of the details, and feel free to email me (chris@ocdcast.com) if you have any questions that don't get answered.

Are you ready to play yet? Have any questions that I didn't answer? Comment below or email me at the address above and ill fill in any gaps I've left.

 

Chronicles of a D20: Meet The Crew

This week, I'm testing out a new series that I'm dubbing (for now) Chronicles of a D20. I've found an awesome D&D group over the past year that gets together most weeks to play. These sessions are filled with all kinds of entertainment and I figured some might enjoy reading of our adventures. Also, for the next few adventures, I will be playing the role of DM, so I can share all kinds of behind the scenes information on our adventures.

Today, I'll start off by describing the group dynamic to the best of my ability by introducing all the players. Now, since I didn't ask permission first, I'm going to strip out their names and just describe them by their class and how they play their characters. Let's get started...

Fire Mage - This is my character (when I'm a player). I play a human wizard who specializes in fire, and by that I mean he's a pyro. If too much discussion is going on during a role-playing moment, or if my character gets bored, he'll just start setting stuff on fire. This has worked against me a few times, as I've accidentally set most of the party on fire multiple times. But, if you need someone to quick set ablaze a group of minions, then I'm your guy.

Other Mage - Another human wizard, only this one has more lightning/ice spells (and isn't a pyro). He started out as an apprentice to a shopkeeper that we ran across. When the town was in trouble, he blew up the shop as a distraction and joined our crew. He is tricky and manipulative like my character, and often times will scheme with him to create all kinds of magical disasters. Sometimes, he and my character will sit back and smoke some pipes while we wait for the rest of the group to sort out situations.

Psion - I'm not kidding you when I say that he's a diva - his race is literally called Deva. Supposedly he's an immortal spirit now walking among our plane as flesh. The more charismatic member of the group, he is typically the one who tries to barter with people or bluff them to suit our needs (or just his). He is also a disciple of Magnar, and wishes to spread the good news to whomever will listen. Who is Magnar? He is basically a person who found enlightenment by setting himself on fire, and the Psion wants others to find the same enlightenment (my character is usually very eager to aide said followers).

Cleric - A gypsy healer, she was frozen in time for a long while and then thawed out by the group and joined with them. Along the way, she has found the descendants of her family, who currently offer us a home base to come back to in between our adventures.

Fighter - A giant who follows the attack first, skip the questions later, he is usually running head strong into a fight, with the rest of us typically trying to catch up. Along the way, he got bit by a werewolf and began to change every now and then. Eventually, we found a group of shifters who helped him control his abilities. Now we occasionally have a giant mindless dog who is easily distracted by a runaway squirrel.

Paladin - Our other noble healer, she is a cat like humanoid who while wearing chainmail is wearing very little of it. I'm not sure what god she serves but one of his commandments must be if youve got it, flaunt it. This works for when we need a guard or anyone else distracted. At the same time, she is most of the group's conscious, usually suggesting we take the moral high ground in a decision.

Warlock - A dragonborn, this warlock typically takes on the role of the leader. This is largely due to the fact that he seems to be the only one who can make sense out of the random personalities in our adventuring crew. He doesn't take any crap, and is fully ready to open a star on top of you if you get in his way.

Ranger - This human is that guy in the group - the one everyone makes fun of for his seemingly bad luck with rolls. It has gotten to the point that many party members will purposefully stay out of his line of sight to keep from accidently getting hit with an arrow. Honestly, I've never seen anyone perform a double attack and roll critical fails both times! His accuracy aside, he often has several ideas for how to approach the fight, giving the rest of us ideas to think about during the combat.

Rogue - One of the more recent additions to our party, this half-orc is not the sneaky sneaky assassin type rogues that you typically find in D&D. No, this rogue is more of the henchman type, always performing acrobatic stunts over enemies to get into a good position to stab them. Can be intimidating, but my character managed to magically persuade him to work for us for free during our first mission (hehehe). I just hope that doesn't come back to hurt me later...

There you have it. Internet, meet the party; party, meet the internet. Every adventuring crew has to have a great name, and we've dubbed ourselves Azrael's Bane, after a baddie that we've stood up against a few times. However, the unofficial name that we've given ourselves is much more fitting:

The Douchebags of Holding.

 


 

 

Book Review: "The Last Threshold" by R.A. Salvatore

In the geeky circles that I frequent, I have heard the name R.A. Salvatore and his reputation for storytelling for years now. Yet, until a few months ago, I had never read any of his work. That changed in February when Wizards of the Coast sent me a review copy of his latest book, "The Last Threshold". "February?" You might be asking, "And you are just reviewing it now?" Yes I am, but let me explain. "The Last Threshold" is part 4 of the "Neverwinter Saga", and I had not read the other three parts. I thought about just reading this book by itself and seeing how it stood on its own, but the OCD part of me simply would not let me jump into the story near the end. I went on Amazon and bought the first three parts of the story and have spent the past few months reading the whole saga. After the break, I'll tell you what I think of the story, and of this book in particular.

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Taking place in the D&D campaign setting of the Forgotten Realms; The Neverwinter Saga continues the story of Salvatore's famous dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden. A few bits and pieces of his history prior to this series are scattered through the four books but Drizzt is a ranger who broke free of the twisted and deceitful ways of his people, the drow, and set out to uphold a more moral code. Prior to the first book in this saga, he had been living and adventuring with the Dwarves up in Icewind Dale, and this series details what happens after he leaves the dwarves to set upon new adventures. In particular, the four stories surround the town of Neverwinter (I bet you never would have guessed that!) and some of the troubles that fall upon that town. The Last Threshold picks up after a couple of the main plot points wrap up in the other three books and grabs a few of the remaining questions from the other books and weaves its own story to conclude the series.

 

Overall, I loved the Neverwinter books. I was blown away by Salvatore's compelling story as I watched it unfold throughout the four books. I am very glad that having not read any of the previous Drizzt books, I could pick up the first book in this series, "Gauntlgrym", and not feel like I was missing part of the story. As I mentioned earlier, bits of Drizzt's previous adventures can be found throughout all four books, but they merely add to the story, helping the reader (especially one who has not read any of the other adventures) understand the motivations of the present characters.

 

Of all the four books, however, I felt as if "The Last Threshold" was a little flat. There were points in the book where I could feel the drama and tension build up - only to reach scenes that resolved the situation in a very non-suspensful manner. This would be only mildly disappointing if it happened only once - but I felt this same situation happen at least one or two more times throughout the book. In fact, the conclusion to the book played out in this manner. There were some suspenseful scenes happening in the last couple of chapters, and as I kept reading I wondered how everything was going to wrap up in time for the book. Instead of a good ending, it felt as if Salvatore still had more to tell, but he reached the end of his alloted pagecount and just needed to wrap up the story really quickly. There were even some big overall questions and themes that ran through the entire book that were not even answered!

 

Doing a bit of research, I found that the first book in the next Forgotten Realms series is being penned by Salvatore and features Drizzt; set to come out this August. I am curious to see if some of the problems I have with this book will be fixed after I read that book. As someone who has not read any of the other series, these issues could simply be hooks that Salvatore uses to get people to continue onward into the next series. We shall have to see. Either way, I definitely recommend that you pick up the four books in the Neverwinter Saga to read. The last one may be a bit lacking, but that's only because it stands in comparison to the three solid books that came before it.

 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

 

D&D Review: "Spell Compendium"

Thanks to the awesome folks at Wizards if the Coast, I have another awesome review copy of a recent D&D product to share my thoughts with you guys today. I have a big connection to this one, and read onwards to discover why....

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I first learned how to play D&D when I was in college, about 8 or 9 years ago at this point (wow, was it really that long ago?). My friends were all into playing the current edition of the game, which at the time was the 3.5 edition. I started off playing a cleric but after hating being the healer in yet *another* game (I played a priest in World of Warcraft then), I quickly switched to being a Sorcerer. In later games, I played an illusionist-type character. Basically, I played lots of magic casting characters, which is why I was thrilled to get a copy of Wizards of the Coast's reprint of the 3.5 edition "Spell Compendium".

The Spell Compendium is an addon guide for 3.5 D&D. It brings together spells published in various places (Dragon magazines, sourcebooks, etc) into one book for easy reference. The compendium includes spells for wizards, clerics, Druids - any class that uses some sort of magic. It does not include the basic spells that are listed in the Players Handbook - this book assumes that you already have that book. When leveling up or creating new characters, the Spell Compedium gives your character more options to choose from, allowing more tailoring and customization of player characters.

The reprinted edition of the Compedium features everything that was in the original printing, combined with a nice new glossy cover. This cover matches the style that Wizards has been using for many of their reprints recently, such as the 3.5 Players Handbook, Monster Manual, etc.

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So what do I think of it? It's a great book, and flipping through the various spells it makes me wish that I had the original printing when we were playing in college. Most of us were broke, so we were limited to just the spells in the Players Handbooks that one or two of us had managed to purchase.

The book retails at $50, so if you've never played 3.5 at all, you probably will not be interested in this book. It is largely marketed towards those that are still playing D&D 3.5, as it includes updated errata that wasnt in the first edition, as well as those people such as myself who played 3.5 in the past and are looking for some nostalgia. For me, personally, after looking through this book I wanted to try and find some of my old 3.5 character sheets to see if they still existed at all.

If you fall into one of these two camps, I recommend picking up a copy. It will either add to your existing game, or perhaps get you interested in trying out 3.5 again. As we are gearing up towards the (rumored) official release of D&DNext sometime next year, I am enjoying going back an experiencing all the history that D&D has through these reprints that Wizards of the Coast is doing.

Question: What edition of D&D did you start out with? If you've never played D&D, why not??

 

Behold: The Con of Awesome

UPDATED: As mentioned in the comments below, Tobias from Mind of the Geek pointed out that the Warhammer 40k demo I witnessed was actually put on by someone from the Beltway Gamers group. I've adjusted the post to reflect this. As I stated last week, last weekend Ashley and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. We went up to DC and spent the weekend relaxing together, enjoying the remaining cherry blossoms, etc. However, Saturday morning she really needed some time alone to work on a paper for one of her classes. It wasn't a problem, though, as I had tickets to AwesomeCon DC, a new comic book and pop culture convention for DC this year. Did the convention live up to its name? Ill spill the beans right after the break.

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I had been hearing a lot about AwesomeCon over the past few months - I've met both of the organizers multiple times over the years. One of them is Steve from Third Eye Comics in Annapolis/Prince Frederick, MD (my favorite comic shops ever), who I've always regarded as the most knowledgable comics guy I've ever known. The other guy Ben started up the Annapolis Comic Con with Steve a couple of years ago - I met Ben at the first one when I bought a table at the show (the first and only time I've ever had a booth at a comic con...so far).

To say that I was pretty pumped at the idea of another comic convention being started up within driving distance would be fairly accurate. I showed up at the con just a few minutes before the con to make sure I got the full experience. For the first 30 minutes, I roamed the con floor checking out all the retailers, artists, guests, etc. For its first year, they really were able to pull out the big guns by having names such as Phil LaMarr, Billy West, and Ernie Hudson at the show. Even on the comics side, big names like Ben Templesmith and Larry Hama were there.

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Due to a couple of reasons I'm not going to go into here, I was a lot more reserved in my buying that I normally am when it comes to conventions. Therefore, I did not spend a whole lot of time out on the "main floor" of the conventions. There were some panels that I wanted to attend, but they didn't start until 12, so I had some time to kill. I decided to go check out one of the other cool things that I wanted to check out: the gaming room. Hosted by the website Mind of the Geek, it was a smaller room next to one of the panel rooms solely devoted to playing various board games. They had a stack of board games that people could check out and play on some of the random tables they had in the room. There were even a couple of people from the website willing to show people how to play these games.

When I walked into the game room, there were already a couple of events beginning. In the middle of the room, a group was getting ready to play Pathfinder; led by a volunteer who appeared to be affiliated with Mind of the Geek but I wasn't positive of that. Up in the front of the room, two people were learning how to play the X-Wing Miniatures Game from Fantast Flight Games. I decided to go and listen to that for awhile, as I've been very interested in that game for a little while. Once I got the basic gameplay down, I moved on towards the back of the room where a massive display of Warhammer 40k was set up.

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Having been in quite a few game/comic/hobby shops in my life, I've known about Warhammer 40K for a long time. Yet, I had never actually seen a game played before. So I walked over to the display and watched as one of the Mind of the Geek guys a representative from the Beltway Gamers group was teaching a random person how to play the game. He had set up the game and had everything that was needed to play; they were simply going through a few rounds battling it out to give the guy a feel for the game. I watched them duke it out for awhile, flipping through the core books that were on display to get a sense for the game. I gotta say, I see why people get into this game. Had I the money and the free time to get into all the painting and creating the landscapes, I could totally see myself getting into the Warhammer gaming. Heck, Ashley's even told me she would enjoy painting the armies and scenery when I showed her some of the pictures I took.

As I was watching the Warhammer demo, people started getting organized for the X-wing miniatures tournament that was being run. However, there did not appear to be that many people participating. Seeing an opportunity here, I walked over to the organizer and asked if there was any problem with me entering even though I had never played before. I knew the basic gameplay and was willing to purchase a core set so I could play. Unfortunately, I found out that the core set does not give you enough miniatures to play in a tournament. But a couple of the more experienced players offered to loan me a couple of ships to fill out my squad so that I could play.

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I quickly rushed back to the main floor of the con and bought a core set from one of the vendors there. Mind of the Geek had some stuff for sale in their room, which I would have purchased to support them had someone in front of me not bought out all of their X-Wing supplies so he could enter as well. I got all of my stuff unboxed and got help setting up my squad. I'm not going to go into a full review of the X-Wing game here because I expect a full video review to come soon, but overall I had a blast playing the game. I lost in the first round of the tournament, but it was anyone's game up until the very end.

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Out of the tournament, I looked at my watch to see I had missed one of the panels I wanted to see and the second one had already started. I decided to go ahead and depart AwesomeCon so that I could go back to celebrating with my wife. For the 3-4 hours that I spent at the con, I had a wonderful time. There wasn't as much for me on the main floor, but the gaming room made the trip completely worth it. My hat's off to the fine folks over at Mind of the Geek and the various gamers that showed up for being the perfect example of what gaming is all about. I'm sad that I missed out on some very interesting panels (including a Futurama panel on Sunday with Billy West and Phil LaMarr), but I had fun hanging out in the game room learning about a couple of new games to geek over. I cannot wait for next year's con, which I hope is even bigger and better than this years. If you are near the DC area, you need to mark your calendars for next year's con - April 19th and 20th!

My Nerdy First Year of Marriage

This is probably going to be a shorter post this week, but I am hitting an important milestone and I definitely wanted to talk about it today.  Past the break, I take a good look back over the past year as I continue to move into a new phase of life.

This weekend is very special for Ashley and myself.  One year ago, we tied the knot and officially became Husband and Wife -- though in our hearts we've been married to each other much longer than that.  Much has happened to us over the past year, sometimes to the point where it surprises me that it's only been one year.  Having married a fellow nerd, I'd like to look back at some of our more nerdy highlights over the past year.

We started off our life together by traveling down to Myrtle Beach, SC for our honeymoon.  We were there only for a couple of days, but I wish we could have stayed there for longer!  We made sure to sprinkle in plenty of nice dinners and being with each other, but we definitely sprinkled in a few nerdy aspects as well.  For instance, we played mini golf at the Dragon's Lair golf course; playing through several medieval themed holes as they spiraled around this castle looking structure.  It was during our honeymoon that I got a glimmer of hope that Ashley would one day play Munchkin with me as we found Munchkin Zombies in a store while we were looking around.  She saw it and mentioned that version she would be more inclined to play than the other sets that I already had; so of course I bought it.  We also stumbled upon this place called "MagiQuest", which ended up being this real-life fantasy game that we very much enjoyed playing.  In it, you create a wand and carry it around waving it at objects to activate items or collect objects that you can use to complete quests (I talked about it in depth on an episode of Relative Dimensions if you are interested).

Ashley and I try and attend Baltimore Comic Con every year, and we attended this year as well.  This year we felt like pros - knowing exactly which booths to hit first and try and make sure to get some good deals.  Ashley managed to find several of the premium World of Warcraft action figures for only $5!  That's a heck of a bargain!  Baltimore wasn't the only convention this past year that we hit, as she went with Chloe and I to the LEGO Kids Fest in Richmond back in February.  We all had a great time looking through the various LEGO brick statues and activities that they had scattered through the convention hall.  I know there will be many more conventions in our future; from Baltimore to Boston (I've got her possibly interested in going with me to PAX East next year) to one day perhaps even San Diego.  I've heard her say a couple of times that she wants to go to San Diego Comic Con one year.  One year, I hope to take her there and explore it together.

One of the passions that I've developed over the past year has been my love for board gaming - and Ashley has done her part to stoke the flame.  I already mentioned up above that she showed some interest in learning Munchkin, one of my favorite games - well later that year she finally broke down and I taught her how to play.  Now, its a game that we can both play with Chloe when we get a chance to sit down and spend some family time together.  She even surprised me one day when I came home from work with a new Munchkin set - Star Munchkin - for no reason at all!  And imagine my happiness when I woke up on Valentine's Day to find a copy of Ticket to Ride waiting for me.

So as you can see, Ashley and I have definitely had our moments of geekiness together this past year.  It has definitely been a wonderful year, and I look forward to sharing many more wonderful years with her!

How Chloe & I Stumbled Upon A New Geeky Tradition

This past Monday, Chloe and I did some geeky bonding by heading to a new store that has recently opened in our area. We weren't sure of what to expect, but we both ended up having a really great time. To be honest, I think I'm seeing the beginnings of a new weekly tradition between the two of us. What did we do? Read past the break to find out.

Recently, I was thrilled to find out that a new gaming store had opened up not too far away from me. Now, I love my "local" comic book store, but while it has a decent selection of board games and gaming supplies, the shop's layout does not lend itself to doing a lot of gaming events. Not to mention, this comic shop is like 30 minutes away from me. These two things don't detract from the fact that its a great store, and I will still frequent when I have some money to catch up on a few comics. However, the great thing about this new gaming store, other than its so close, is the atmosphere around it. The store itself does not have *that* much product, only a couple of bookshelves filled with the more popular board games. The rest of the shop, though, is filled to the brink with tables. You can tell that when the owner set up his shop, he wanted to have a lot of space for people to actually play various games.

For right now, the shop is primarily geared towards Magic the Gathering players. Practically every night of the week, there is some form of Magic tournament being hosted by the store. I've stepped in the store about 3 different times over the past two weeks. Each time that I step in there, there is at least two people playing Magic against each other. But I've had a chance to talk with the owner, and this is just the beginning. He's told me that he's pushing so much Magic right now because that's what the people in my area are really into. Over time, though, he wants to get that consumer base into other board games, and I can tell from just looking around the store that he's not kidding. By one of the sets of tables, there is a small shelf stacked with the more popular "geeky" board games like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Dominion, to name a few. These separate games are open, with the words "STORE DEMO" labeled across them. Anyone can walk off of the street into the store, pick out one of these games, and plop down on a free table and play the game. I haven't been to a lot of stores that solely focus on gaming, but I've never seen a store have demo copies of games for customers to buy. It makes it very appealing to someone like myself who is interested in a new game. I can simply go to the store and try out the game with a few friends. If I like it, then I can go purchase an unopened copy right then and there.

Further extending this idea, I found out by looking at their event calendar that every Monday they are having "Board Gaming Nights". Every Monday, a new board game is featured on their website, and if you show up to the store then, you can sit down and learn to play that specific game. Not only that, but the event is free to everyone! I told Chloe about this and she said we had to go check it out. So this past Monday, we showed up at the store to learn how to play Small World. Its a game that I had seen played before on Wil Wheaton's TableTop, but had never experienced it myself. The game is very much a combination of the classic game Risk with a fantasy motif. In the game, there are several different races such as Amazons, Orcs, Trolls, Skeletons, etc. Each turn, you try and spread out your forces across the map, earning points for all the different spaces you conquer. However, each race/player also has a special ability, which might help you conquer areas quicker, or provide defenses against enemy players. The player with the most points at the end of 8 turns is declared the winner.

This game was a blast! Once I got the gist of the game down, I quickly was able to start forming some sort of strategy; which worked well for me for a large portion of the game. At the beginning, I was slightly worried whether or not Chloe would be able to pick up the game easily, but after 2 turns or so she was doing pretty well for herself. When the game ended and we tallied up the score, it turned out that my "strategy" had worked out to make me the winner! Keep in mind here, I SUCK at strategy games. I refuse to play Risk with my father and brother because they stomp me into the ground so easily. While Chloe did come in last, she was close enough to the other two people playing that had the game kept going for another round or two, she could have easily overtaken them.

At the end of the night, when Chloe and I were helping put away all the gaming pieces, she turns to me and says "So, we're buying this game right?". I just laughed and told her that we couldn't tonight, but that I would keep my eye on it in case I saw any good deals on it come up in the upcoming weeks/months. And as we said goodbye to everyone and headed for the car, she asked me another question that drew a smile from me:

"Can we come back next week?"

You bet we will.

 

D&D Review: "Dungeons of Dread"

Last week, I received a review copy of "Dungeons of Dread"; one of the latest D&D products from Wizards of the Coast.  It is a collection and reprinting of some of the more infamous 1st edition D&D modules  - the S series.  This book contains modules S1 through S4: S1 - Tomb of Horrors

S2 - White Plume Mountain

S3 - Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

S4 - Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

Read onwards to learn more about these adventures and my thoughts on the collection.

 

For the first Origins game festival, Gary Gygax (the creator of D&D) created a new adventure to premiere at that event.    Having heard many players brag about how powerful their characters were, he designed the module to be a real challenge for players.  That module was called the "Tomb of Horrors", and was later released to the general public under the code S1 - starting off the "Special" series.

"Dungeons of Dread" collects "Tomb of Horrors" along with the other 3 S-series modules in a beautiful hard bound book.  Inside, all of the original illustrations and maps have been preserved and reprinted in a black and white format along with the original gameplay text that accompanied them.  The cover harkens back to the design of other 1st edition books, making it clear which version of the game this is for.

Now, I have a confession to make here: I have never played 1st edition D&D.  I did not get into D&D until the 3.5 edition in college.  I have, however, played a bit of the 4th edition revamp of the Tomb of Horrors.  Let me just say that as someone who has both played D&D as a character and run a game as a DM, looking through the original Tomb of Horrors module scares me.  Gary Gygax did not hold back with this adventure, it was very much made to kill player characters.  There are drastic, no holds barred death traps that can be encountered prior to even setting foot in the actual Tomb.

I haven't yet looked through the other adventures in this book as I want to do them justice and take my time reading through all their intricacies.  I have flipped through them a bit and I am pretty excited to see what's in store.  One of the dungeons appears to even take place on a spaceship!  In D&D - a *Fantasy* setting!  But apparently the player characters stumble onto a spaceship filled with aliens and various technology; including some funky looking space weapons.

Who is this book designed for?  Well, primarily, if you ever played the 1st edition version of D&D, then I think you are going to want this book.  I can imagine there will be lots of nostalgia flipping through the pages and reading the different mechanics of each adventure.  Players of later editions, like myself, may find it hard to understand all the instructions and gameplay.  For instance, I've been playing D&D for almost 10 years now across 2 editions and I still have no idea what some of the terms are in this book.  Yet, that difficulty aside, if you are like me and never played 1st edition D&D I think you are *really* going to like this book as it gives you a sense of the history of where this game that we love to play has come from.  All four of these dungeons are considered to be some of the best modules of D&D ever to be written, so it would be wise for modern DM's to take a look through the pages of Dungeons of Dread to try and find out why - and how they can use it to improve upon their own campaigns and storylines.

What editions of D&D have you played?  Let me know in the comments below.

Building A Geek - With LEGO Bricks!

Last week, I talked about one of the ways in the past couple of years that I as a step father have connected with Chloe, my 9 year old daughter.  Specifically, I talked about how I got her into action figures.  This week, I wanted to talk about one of the other geeky toys that I have gotten Chloe into; and a toy that Chloe got me back into.  In case you missed the title of this blog post, I'm talking about LEGO Bricks.  Click onwards to find out more about how I "built" her interest in these awesome building blocks.

I played with LEGO Bricks as a kid - a LOT. Of all the toys that I had growing up, LEGO Bricks were one of my all time favorites. I had a few of the LEGO Star Wars sets when they first came out, but mostly my brother and I just had a large bucket of assorted LEGO Bricks that we would dump out and build the craziest contraptions. There were many times where I would be watching a show on TV, then go into my room when the show was over and build something from the show out of our LEGO Bricks. It would not be a stretch to say that LEGO Bricks helped foster my interest in science and engineering.

Fast forward to when I was 23. Ashley and I had not been together very long, and I was living in a nice apartment with another one of my co-workers. Ashley would come over to the apartment and bring Chloe with her. Being pretty fresh out of college, our apartment was stocked with lots of things that you would expect: video games, comic books, computers, etc. A lot of great things to do with other guys in their 20's; not so many things for a (then) 5 year old to do. I mean, its not like the two of us could sit down to play some Halo, right? I knew that I really wanted to connect with Chloe and have something that she could do at my apartment other than just watching TV, for two reasons. First, I wanted her to enjoy coming over to the apartment, and secondly, I wanted her to enjoy hanging out with me personally. Keep in mind, this is *way* before I got her into action figures.

So, I started thinking of things that I knew that kids enjoyed doing. Specifically, I was thinking of things that kids enjoyed doing that I could enjoy doing as well. For instance, I thought it might look kind of weird to have a bunch of Barbies laying around my apartment. That's when it hit me - LEGO Bricks! I enjoyed playing with them, and I was sure that Chloe would enjoy playing with them as well. I went to Target and picked up a standard bucket of LEGO Bricks. Nothing specific, just a random assortment of bricks; just like I used to have! Having not really bought that many LEGO Bricks with my own money, I was a bit disappointed in how much I got for the money I paid, but I remembered that LEGO Bricks could be a tad expensive. So, I jumped onto eBay and managed to buy a large box filled with random bricks to bolster my collection.

Boy, I hit the jackpot! I brought out those LEGO Bricks and Chloe and I went to town building all sorts of contraptions. I kept the bin of LEGO Bricks at my apartment, so that whenever Ashley brought Chloe over I could pull them out and we would hang out and play together. That common interest was very important to me as a future step father - it was an important "Building Block" (pardon the pun) to building a relationship between Chloe and myself.

Just like the action figures, Chloe and I's interest in LEGO Bricks hasn't gone away yet. We don't buy as many LEGO sets as we would like to have, but whenever we do get a chance to get our hands on some LEGO Bricks, we will break them out and work together to assemble the sets. This past Christmas, Chloe got one of the large LEGO Friends clubhouses from Ashley's family and her and I spent a large portion of Christmas morning putting that thing together. Even with as long as I've been playing with LEGO Bricks, I still think that was the biggest set that I have ever put together. Last month, I took Chloe to the LEGO Kids Fest that I blogged back awhile back, and she had a blast! We spent the day building LEGO Race Cars, looking at the various sculptures spaced around the convention center, and scouring the on-site LEGO store for some cool sets. We even got a chance to sit down and try out Creationary, one of the board games that the LEGO company has released.

Thanks to LEGO Bricks, I was able to connect with Chloe at a young age and have her enjoy spending time with me. I will always be grateful that I had that connection with her from the beginning, and I hope that its something that she will past down to her children (a long LONG time from now).

Did you play with LEGO Bricks as a kid? Do you still play with them now? Let me know in the comments below.

Connecting With Chloe - Through Action Figures

Many of you who read this blog and follow me on various social media outlets know that I have a 9 year old daughter named Chloe.  Technically, she is my stepdaughter, but in my heart I consider her as if she were my biological daughter.  Over the last 4 years, I've had to learn what it means to be a father (most of the time by what not to do) and find ways to connect with this precious child.  One of the big ways that I have done this is by introducing her to some of my geeky habits.  Over a few posts to be sprinkled throughout the next month or so, I am going to share with you how I've managed to do so.  Most of these were mentioned in my "9 geekiest moments with the Cloverfield" post a few months back, but I want to expand and talk about many of those topics with a bit more depth.  This week, I want to start with something that's become almost a holiday with us: Action Figure Fridays.

One of the many perks of my day job is that I have every other Friday off.  On one of these Fridays a couple of years ago, I decided to surprise Chloe and pick her up from school.  My plan was simply to take her to get milkshakes and spend some quality time together.  On the way there, I was listening to a podcast talking about the most recent toy fair, including the action figures that were presented.  This stuck in my brain as I picked up Chloe and took her to Chick-Fil-A; where we sat down and enjoyed our milkshakes.

Looking over and seeing the Target in the same shopping center, I asked Chloe if she wanted to go take a look at some of the toys at Target.  I told her that I would buy her a doll of her choosing and that I would pick out an action figure for myself.  Not surprisingly, she was all for this plan.  We went to Target and she quickly found a Barbie doll that she wanted.  So we walked over to the action figures and I looked through the Marvel figures that were available.  After awhile, I picked one for myself and we started to walk away.  Suddenly, Chloe stopped me and led me back to the Barbie aisle and set her doll back.

"I have a lot of Barbies," she said, "I want to get an action figure!"

I was touched.  So, we went back and she picked out an action figure for herself.  Then, we went home and opened them together.  We had so much fun that we decided that we wanted to make it a regular occurrence. So we began calling my Fridays off "Action Figure Fridays".  I would pick her up from school, and then we would head to a store for some action figures.  Eventually, we switched from going to shops like Walmart and Target to going to the comic book store to get some of the nicer DC Direct figures.  This worked to my advantage, as I could also pick up my comic books at the same time.  Many of the figures that we picked up during this time we would unbox in front of my webcams and talk about them.  You can still watch all of them over at my YouTube channel.

The regular trips to the comic book shop held for a good long while, but as it got closer to my wedding, money started becoming an issue.  I stopped reading comics regularly and we cut back from buying the expensive action figures.  Nowadays, I still pick her up every other Friday, but what we end up shopping for isn't limited to just action figures.  Some days we will buy some LEGO sets, a couple of times we've gotten Skylanders figures, and on one of the more recent Fridays we bought Magic the Gathering booster packs.  To Chloe, it doesn't really matter what we go get, I think she just enjoys the time we spend together, which works for me too.

So for any other dads or future dads that happen to be geeks: if you want a way to share some of those interests with your kids, find a way to incorporate it into stuff they already like.  Chloe loves going shopping (when it's for her), so by getting her various superhero toys/video games/etc, its has had the side effect of getting her more interested in those things.

Do you have any cool suggestions for things to do with little geeks in training?  Leave them in the comments or send me an email at chris@ocdcast.com.

Review: "Gatecrash, The Secretist Part 2"

Before I start on this post, I realize that a few weeks back I mentioned that I was trying to avoid doing written blog reviews.  What I meant to say was that I am trying to not constrain myself to just writing review posts, I want to make sure that the blog posts I write are constantly entertaining and not pigeon holed into one type of writing.  Having said that, I was recently sent copies of Parts 1 and 2 of The Secretist by Wizards of the Coast, written by Doug Beyer.  The Secretist is the story that accompanies the current Magic: The Gathering set, Return to Ravinca.  If you're a fan of Magic or a big lover of fantasy books, you will want to click past the break for more.

For those of you who may not be that familiar with Magic; it is a collectible card game where you and your opponent take the form of powerful mages called "Planeswalkers" who duel each other.  Each year, Wizards of the Coasts releases a "block" of Magic cards.  This block of cards consists of 3 different sets that are released throughout the year.  Each one of the sets within the same block of cards take place in the same location, sharing a common theme and background story that weaves its way into the various characters, abilities, and flavor text.  This background story is typically expanded upon by a series of novels that are released around the same time as the individual sets.  So each year, a block will contain 3 sets of cards and 3 novels; one to go with each set.  This year, Wizards is experimenting with this formula a bit; releasing 3 shorter novellas throughout the year as ebooks.
The first part, Return to Ravnica, The Secretist Part 1, stars Jace Belerin, a Planeswalker who specializes in mind magic.  Jace has discovered an ancient code within many of the structures located in the world of Ravnica, a world consisting of one giant city rules by ten various guilds.  The code that Jace has discovered is believed to lead to an "Implicit Maze," which at the end of it is rumored to contain some sort of weapon.  In February, the second ebook in the series, Gatecrash, The Secretist Part 2, the discovery and subsequent exploration of the Implicit Maze has caused dissent between the ten guilds, causing their leaders to prepare for all out war.  Jace finds himself in the middle of the guilds' tensions and must find a way to discover what is really inside the Implicit Maze before war tears apart the entire world of Ravnica.
Up until this point, I had never read Magic's background novels.  Each year I see them, and am tempted to read them, but they always get placed low on my to-do list.  When I got the copies of "The Secretist", I was determined to finally get off of my butt and read these Magic stories.  I downloaded both parts for the Kindle app on my iPad and got to reading.  The availability of the stories as ebooks made it so much easier to obtain and read through the stories, and I really enjoyed that.  If Wizards of the Coast were to release all of their Magic stories as ebooks from now on, I could see myself reading more of them.  Especially because I loved this story so much.  The way that the author describes the various people and guilds, most of which are available as different cards in the Magic set, allowed me to get more immersed into the story and location.  The description of the different guilds battling it out is very vivid in its description; you can easily see in your mind the way that the characters cast their spells to attack and defend against their opponents.  I am more of a Science Fiction reader, but I have read a couple of different Fantasy books.  None of them have gone into as detail as these books on the magic and the way that the spells come into reality.  The fact that the card game is called "Magic: The Gathering" probably is a large reason why this is the case.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed these two books, and I am really excited for the final part of the story.  Not only that, but I am excited for the next time that I get to play the Magic card game, as I feel I will have more understanding as to why the cards are the way that they are and why certain mechanics behave in a particular way.  That, of course, is probably Wizards of the Coast's goal in publishing these Magic stories; and for this Magic Block, I feel that they have succeeded.
Gatecrash, The Secretist Part 2, along with the first part of the tale, can be found for $1.99 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.  If you are a big Magic: The Gathering fan, or someone who wants a different sort of fantasy tale, then I highly recommend that you pick up this book.  If you do, let me know what you think and if you are as excited as I am for the final part!

Dungeons & Dragons...& Wikis?

I've been lucky enough to find a good group of people to play D&D with on a regular basis (and by regular I mean just about every week). However, as is common with some gaming groups, it is hard getting the same group of people together every single week. Our group solves the problem by having a large number of people in it - when everyone shows up, there can be like 10-12 people playing! That's quite a lot of people for a single D&D group; which is a good and a bad thing. When everyone shows up, encounters may take awhile and we may not get through much story, but when we have weeks where a couple of people cannot show up, we still typically have enough people that we can still play. Yet, this presents another problem; which I'll talk about along with how one of our members solved it past the break.

With not having the same group of members playing week to week, it can be hard trying to keep everyone informed about what has been happening. If someone can't make it for a couple of weeks in a row (like I have once or twice), they could miss out on a lot of story and not understand where the group is at when they return. This puts a lot of pressure on the DM to try and recap what has happened recently, but people's memories of our "adventures" tend to deteriorate past a week or more.

This is a problem that isn't limited to our group; any gaming group playing through a long storyline in their pen & paper RPGs runs into the issue of trying to recall what happened last time to help get everyone back into the adventure. Back when I was in college, we would be lucky to get everyone together once a month to continue our adventures. Unless the DM still had really good notes from his previous session, it would be hard to recapture all that had taken place; and even if they did recap it, there was bound to be some small details left out that could impact the story later. After college, when I ran a Star Wars RPG group and would use Facebook to organize when and where we would meet, I used the group's Facebook page to post up a summary of what had happened in the previous adventure. This help mitigate this problem to a certain extent, but it just added another task onto myself as the GM (game master) to do in my prep for the next adventure. For those that have never run a game before, let me tell you, there is already a decent amount of work that needs to be done by the GM prior to the gaming.

So, a couple of months ago, one of the guys in our current group came up with a solution to the problem. He had won a free domain name in a contest from a podcast that he listens to and set up the domain name to link to a Wiki that he had started for our group (no, I'm not going to give you the address). On the wiki, there are pages where each of us can create pages for our characters, allowing us to tell our backstories. More importantly, each time we meet, there is a page posted up on the wiki describing what happened during that session. During the actual session, one of us will write down all the important/funny/interesting things that happen during that session on a laptop (or iPad in my case), and then post it to the wiki when they get a free chance. If one of us misses a session, now all we have to do is logon to the wiki and read the synopsis that was posted. Even better, if we get deep into a campaign and forget why we are doing this "quest" in the first place, we can go back a few sessions and remind ourselves of what happened.

This has become a very useful tool for our group over the past few months. It takes some of the load of recapping the previous adventures off of the DM (dungeon master, what game masters are called in D&D). Yeah, it does mean one of us has to sit and type down what happens (and yeah maybe we haven't rotated the job as much as we should), but I think of it as a small price to pay. Plus, as an additional benefit, the fact that other players have been posting their character's backstories made me sit down and actually think about my character and his backstory.

So in conclusion, many props to that guy for getting this all set up for us, and I just wanted to this out there to you other gamers as a suggestion that you could take for your gaming groups as well.

In a related question - what pen and paper games are you guys playing? I've been curious recently to try out some different games besides D&D and would love to hear your suggestions. Comment below or send them to Chris@ocdcast.com.

Break Down Writer's Block - Free Your Mind!

Over the past few months, I've been pretty consistent with having a blog post every week for you guys to read. Last year, when I did my "blog everyday" experiment, I quickly found myself having a hard time coming up with ideas to write about. So now, how do I come up with a new blog post each and every week? This week, I'll share how I've been recently coming up with topics to discuss each week. The ironic part is, I'm writing this post because I couldn't think of anything else to write about this week. Originally, I thought about writing about the PS4 announcement yesterday, but I haven't had enough time to have much of an opinion on it yet. This post is something I've been wanting to write about for awhile, but I've been putting it off for better topics I've had.

If you look at the posts I put up back in July 2012 and compare them to more recent posts, you'll see a difference in the writing. Back in July and again in the November time frame when I decided to try and have one blog post up every week, my mind was stuck in a certain pattern of blog writing. I was writing a lot of "review" posts, reviewing and talking about various movies/comics/games that I had been consuming and letting you guys know what I thought about them. However, when a week comes along where I haven't been playing/reading anything new, that made it pretty hard to try and come up with topics to review. In July, I made up for this by hoping onto Comixology and picking up a comic to quickly read and review, but I don't always have time for that.

I was sitting in front of my computer, having this dilemma with myself over what to write about, when it hit me. As I said, I was stuck in a review blog post mind frame - I never thought about expanding my horizons to other types of blog posts and topics. I forced myself into that mind frame by thinking that those reviews were the reason that people were coming to my website in the first place. Finally, I realized that's not true at all. There are much better websites out there reviewing comics and games and those people do a far better job of it than I could do - mainly because they can do it full time.

People do not come to my website to hear about the latest and greatest reviews; they go to those other websites. People come to this site because they want to hear what *I* have to say. I do not have the time and resources to be a place for people to come to for up-to-date breaking news. What I can do, is provide you guys with something entertaining to read and to add my own unique perspective to what's already out there. I'll still do reviews of various things, but I've starting doing more of that on the OCDtv videos, where you guys can watch me express myself in my words and my body language. Even then, those videos have a large portion of entertainment value to them (at least I hope they do). For these blog posts, each week I try and come up with something interesting that you'll want to click on, you'll want to read, and (hopefully) want to pass on to your friends.

So my advice to anyone else out there who is writing: if you are stuck, open your mind to new possibilities. You might be stuck because you've narrowed your mindset down so far that you've eliminated plenty of great ideas. Also, in the same way that I'll finish up this post, take a cue from your audience as to what they are looking for - you are writing for their eyes anyways.

Am I off base here? Let me know if you guys have ever gotten stuck writing and if so, how have you broken free? Also, what topics have you enjoyed on my site recently, and what would you like to see/read more of?

 

How The Internet Got Me Back Into Hockey

Today, I want to talk about Hockey. Now I know what you're thinking: Chris is talking about sports? Have I fallen into some kind of parallel universe? No, dear reader, I have not gone insane. Before you start questioning my geek cred, bear with me past the break and ill explain everything.

When I was a kid, my family lived within a couple of blocks from the Greensboro Coliseum. There, we had a minor league hockey team called the Greensboro Monarchs. For my dad, brother, and myself; one of our favorite things to do on the weekend was to walk down the road and watch the Monarchs games. Tickets were fairly cheap, as it was just a minor league team, but we still had a blast.

Fast forward to 1997. Due to some deals that had been made, the Monarchs left Greensboro and the "new" NHL team the Carolina Hurricanes was to play its first two seasons in Greensboro while their new arena was built in Raleigh. We (my family) were disappointed that our beloved team had left, yet the very first game that Hurricanes played; we were there rooting from the stands. We didn't go to many games while the Hurricanes were in Greensboro, mostly due to the high ticket prices. Eventually, the Hurricanes left and we got another minor league team that lasted for a few years - at least into my high school years. I have many more hockey memories - from leaving my Eagle Scout ceremony to go to the hockey game to trying to get my college friends to go to a Hurricanes game with me. I even remember being glued to the hotel TV in South Carolina where we were vacationing when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

So as you can see, hockey has been a part of my life for awhile - even longer than some of the geekier things I do. Specifically, it was something all of "the guys" in my family to bond around. See, my dads a big football fan, but I could never really get into it. For some reason though, I really enjoyed watching hockey with him.

Fast forward again to now. For the past few years, I have t paid attention to hockey. I couldn't tell you if the Hurricanes had been in the playoffs or if they had even won a game at all. Last season I thought about paying more attention, but by then it was too late (plus I was kinda busy with this thing called a "wedding" that was coming up). Then, of course, the lock out this season prevented me from seeing any games up until now. There was a lot of talk around the office about the lock out ending, so the idea was planted in my head to start following hockey again.

But wait! Didn't I give up cable years ago? Yes, sadly, I had no way to natively watch hockey on my TV. Not only that, but being in Maryland, the only games that would have been on would be Washington Captials games, a team I didn't care about. Yet, I vaguely remembered an app on my AppleTV that let me watch live games if I paid for a subscription. I did some searching and found out about "NHL GameCenter Live". You pay a flat fee each season (only $49.99 for this shortened season), and you get access to all** the NHL games. I talked with some friends on the internet and some work people and decided to make the leap to purchase the package.

Monday night, the Hurricanes played the New York Islanders, so I flipped on my AppleTV and loaded up the NHL app. After signing in, the app presented me with all the games that were going on that day. Once I picked the game I wanted, it asked me if I wanted to watch the Hurricanes broadcast or the Islanders broadcast. I thought that this was pretty cool - I wasn't sure what I was going to get so I was expecting some generic broadcast that just had the score and a few camera angles. No, the broadcast that I watched was the same broadcast that my dad could have been watching back in North Carolina. Notice I said "could have been watching". Monday, he was out and about, talking with me over the phone. I was letting him know that I was getting back into hockey and that I was currently watching the game. He kept asking me about the game as he drove home, but when he got home Mom was already in the middle of watching something on the tv. So, for the last period of the game, I kept sending him status update texts as teams would score and he would reply back to them, either excited or miffed (depending on who scored). After the game was all said and done (Hurricanes won by the way), we said good night and he mentioned that he had fun talking hockey with me that night. And you know what, I did too!

All in all, I like what the GameCenter Live offers - not only could I have watched the game from my AppleTV, but I can watch games on the Roku boxes I have around the house, the Xbox/Playstation 3, or on one of my iDevices. The only downside to the feature is the all** I mentioned above. You see, due to the stupid cable contracts that are in place, games that are played in your area are "blacked out" from being viewed on the Gamecenter Live. The reasoning is that you can find the game on your local cable provider - which is great and all unless you are like me and do not have cable. This is such a dumb rule - they literally show you the same broadcast that you view on cable, complete with the commercials and everything! So why can't I view it where I want to? For me, this doesn't affect me much as it means I'll just miss when the Hurricanes play the Capitals - but I know plenty of people that would love to use this service but don't because they won't be able to see the games that they want. Stupid cable deals….

Are you a hockey fan? Or, like me, have you found geeky ways to enjoy your non-geeky activities? Let me know below!

 

What Kind Of Geek Am I?

Starting in the next couple of weeks, I am going to be showcasing various geeks on the Internet. It will consist of a written blog post once a month talking with that person about what kind of geek they are. I already have a couple of people lined up, but if you have someone you'd like to read about, email me at chris@ocdcast.com. To read the first post, click onwards past the break.

Before interviewing other people, I figured a good way to start this column off would be to interview myself, talking about my geekiness and letting you guys into my psyche just a bit (be afraid!!). I hope you enjoy it.

When did you first consider yourself a "geek"?

I have been a geek for most of my life. The first traces of geekdom surfaced for me in my elementary school days. Back then, if I wasn't actively involved in anything, you would find me sitting down reading. I never went ANYWHERE without a book of some kind. In fact, when I think about the microscopic amount of reading I do nowadays compared to what I used to read, it's pretty embarrassing.

If you had to pinhole yourself into one label of "geek", what would it be?

Honestly, for the most part I consider myself a "geek of all trades" - I am constantly finding new geeky things for me to obsess over. However, if I had to narrow it down at all, I'm definitely a Gamer Geek - and not just in the video games sense. I love all kinds of games - board games, video games, card games, role playing, etc. I love them even more so if they are something I can play with friends. Single player games are great, but I truly enjoy the social experience that you get when you play games with others.

What is your favorite game (or games) then?

-As far as video games go, it's a toss up between Halo and World of Warcraft. Both of these series I've played for many years now and I always enjoy playing them - usually for different reasons. WoW is great for hanging out with a large group of people and tackling dungeons, raids, or doing battlegrounds with. Halo is good for when you've got a couple of friends over and want to shoot some stuff together (or shoot each other). For board games, it probably won't surprise anyone that my favorite game is Munchkin. I played it a couple of times and college and since then I've amassed a large collection of various Munchkin sets. It's hard to explain why I love it - most likely it's because of the quirky humor than rifts on every aspect of geekdom that I've tried in my life.

Why do you take pride in being a geek?

-For me, I have spent a large portion of my life trying to be 'normal' (what is normal by the way? Who determines what normal is?) - it wasn't until college and afterwards that I realized that my geeky hobbies and obsessions were a part of me and that I should embrace it. Being a unique person is great because it shows other people - especially people like my daughter Chloe - that there's nothing wrong with being different and just because everyone else is doing something and into something, it doesn't mean that you have to be into it as well. Be yourself, don't be everyone else.

What is the weirdest response you've ever gotten from people when they find out how geeky you are?

- For someone who wrote these questions, I had a hard time coming up with an answer to this one. I think the looks and stares you get when dressed up in costume for a comiccon have to be up on top of the list - or the comments on Facebook you get when you post the pictures online to friends and family.

I hope you guys enjoyed learning a bit more about me this week - once again send me feedback and suggestions for other people to interview at chris@ocdcast.com.