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Top 10 Lesser Known Twilight Zone Episodes

Twilight Zone has a welcomed place in public conscious, standing as a classic example of science fiction. A quick Google search will return the usually top episodes; “Time Enough at Last”, “To Serve Man”, and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” topping many best episode lists with good reason. Instead here is a list of ten, lesser known, but exceptionally good episodes that don’t get as much attention as they should. While some of the better known episodes such as “Time Enough at Last” have ideas that have become cliché in modern media, the ones on this list are are much more fresh and deserve more acknowledgment than what they typically get on most top episode lists on the internet. Some have interesting ideas about time travel and culture, others are ethical and morality tales. But all of them are still great to watch. Today the Twilight Zone can be found on the internet readily enough on Netflix, Hulu, and the CBS website. For those wanting to take a journey back to the Twilight Zone, I’d recommend these few lesser known episodes. Maybe you’ll find a few you’ve never seen before.



10)The Rip Van Winkle CaperCBS_TWILIGHT_ZONE_The Rip Van Winkle CaperA scientist lacking morals comes up with an idea for a heist. Steal a gold shipment and lay low for a while. But for this scientist he uses cryogenic freezing to ensure that they stay a sleep long enough for society to forget about the crime. Then they live life as wealthy free men and get away with the heist of a century. What the scientist’s clever idea didn’t account for is the unknown variables of his amoral accomplices. Having an intellectual man in cahoots with lowlife thugs is an interesting idea that is given a great sci fi twist.



9)Walking Distance

twilightzone_Walking Distance
There comes a time in everyone’s life where you longingly look to your childhood and wish somehow you could return to the innocence and joy of it. Perhaps giving up the toil and problems of mature, grown up life. This is a story about a man who realizes this as he walks back into his past, walking a few miles to his home town from where his car breaks down. He finds his family but soon realizes this world has no place for him, he doesn’t belong. Returning to the present he matures with the understanding that you can never go back.



8)It’s a Good Life

Twilight Zone It’s a Good Life
This one works like a thought experiment. What would things be like if some whimsical kid was given godlike power? Chaos and fear is the fabric that this world is made of as a young boy gets everything his heart’s desire, except for one thing, willingly obedience of adults. For that he uses fear as the adults try to keep up appearances of joy that masks the fear in the hearts of the victims of this powerful child.



7)Death ship

Twilight Zone Death ship
An Earth spaceship enters orbit on a distant world on a mission of exploration. Seeing the forbidding image of a crashed ship just like their own on the view screen, they throw caution to the wind and land on the surface to investigate. With no other Earth ships in that sector, this crashed ship could be some image of a possible future of the crew’s demise. Every step is second guessed and the Captain (Jack Klugman) relentlessly pursues the answers. But in an odd twist of circumstance, his virtue of drive and determination turns against them all, putting them in a kind of purgatory where there is no escape.



6)Long Distance Call

twilight zone Long Distance Call
One of the few episodes to be shot on video tape instead of film to save money, this one has the side effect of a look of realism. It looks and feels more modern as it resembles much later news broadcasts. However the plot is much darker than other episodes that usually make lists. It’s about a grandmother who dies but has an exceptionally strong link to her grandson. She continues to stay in contact with the boy from the afterlife, not stopping at instigating the boy’s suicide to have him come closer to her if he should die as a consequence. Probably the most disturbing Twilight Zone episode



 

5)Escape Clause

Twilight Zone Escape Clause
This is a simple story that feels like a stage drama. A truly horrible man makes a deal with the devil for immortality. There are no tricks or strings attached as Walter Bedeker (David Wayne) learns that not only he is immortal but invulnerable as well. No stubbed toes or loss of limbs to worry about. The deal is legitimate, no tricks from the devil. He soon starts about setting up horrific accidents that he walks away from unscathed and threatens to sue people, claiming that they are responsible. His wife, growing worried about him complains, Walter tires of her and pushes her out the window, you see an invincible man needn’t fear any consequences. This story’s draw isn’t so much the plot but more of a character piece with some great acting in an interesting situation.



 

4)The Midnight Sun

Twilight Zone the-midnight-sun-03
Especially poignant in an age of global warming, Norma (Lois Nettleton) lives on a world where the Earth’s orbit has shifted ever so slightly and the temperature of the Earth steadily increasing, slowly baking everyone alive. Just imagine seeing a lobster being boiled alive, slowly and inevitably being tortured to death. There are some stunning visuals as you see Norma’s painting start to melt while she loses it and screams.

Twilight Zone The Midnight Sun Paint Melt Gif

Death by sudden global warming is horrific but its her scream at the end that will get you. This is a tale about how delicate our climate is and much we depend on its delicate balance. Way ahead of its time.

Twilight Zone The Midnight Sun Thermostat

 



3) Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room

Twilight Zone Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room

Much like many small time college plays this one is a character piece, with just only two actors in a small squalid hotel room as the only set. Jackie Rhoades plays a small wormy man, Joe Mantell, who has been forced to kill an innocent man. A gangster knows that Joe is weak and bullies him into doing the murder to mask the blame of the crime. If he doesn’t kill the victim the gangster will kill Joe, he is too weak willed to stand up to him. Spending the night in a hotel room before the murder Joe is faced with the only person that can stand up to the gangster, the man in the mirror.

Twilight Zone Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room 2

The actor plays two roles arguing with himself, using some clever special effects and great acting to convince the audience of the turmoil inside of Joe. This is story about an internal struggle about strength and courage and is something that a lot of people can identify with.

It is also of some note that this episode bore some influence on the films Taxi Driver and Dirty Harry who both had characters talking to themselves in the mirror saying “You Talking To me?” Afterall, everyone can identify with Joe arguing with himself in the mirror, trying to remake himself into a better person, reaching deep down inside to find courage. Who hasn’t tried this at some point in their life?



2) The Lonely

twilight-zone-the-lonely
A criminal is abandoned on a barren asteroid in a futuristic society who has opted for outer space isolation instead of execution. Taking pity on the convict, one of the deliverymen smuggles a large box to the marooned prisoner. In it, the convict finds an android woman, a companion. An idea that is popular with a lot of sci fi stories, it considers the idea of machines replacing humans, and possibly the need for companionship as well, swapping warmth and affection with diodes and circuitry. Despite the convict’s repulsion of an artificial companion, his dire loneliness compels him otherwise.



1)The Obsolete Man

Twilight Zone The Obsolete Man
By far my favorite Twilight Zone episode, but not appearing on many top ten lists. Starring the incredible Burgess Meredith as a bookworm man cleverly named Romney Wordsworth. In a totalitarian future where thoughts are controlled and written word as well, Wordsworth rebels by having some contraband, he has been hording books. He tries no subterfuge about this and is quickly caught by the state police who put him on trial for his crime of simply loving literature. In an odd peculiarity of the society, perhaps call it over confidence, the accused is allowed to choose his form of execution. The meek Wordsworth turns this into one last opportunity to embarrass the state. Along with excellent character acting this episode it has some great visuals and an excellent climax.

Twilight Zone The Obsolete Man Gif

I know a lot of people rank Meredith’s other episode, “Time Enough at Last”, as better and perhaps it is, but “The Obsolete Man” is still my favorite. Partly because love of literature isn’t seen as negatively like in “Time Enough.” Instead it’s seen as a strength, strong enough to stand against the state. Showing that the written word is stronger than actions, ideas stronger than brute force. The bookworm doesn’t conquer the state in the end but the state doesn’t win either.

What do you think of my list? What other Twilight Zone episodes would make yours? Comment below with your favorite Twilight Zone episodes.

Top 10 Lesser Known Twilight Zone Episodes

Top 10 My Little Pony Episodes

If you don’t know me, I’m an avid My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fan. Like I collect the figures. Of all kinds. Folks, there’s ponies everywhere.

But I digress. The show turned out to be quite amazing. I was skeptical at first, however, once I actually watched it, I realized it was an empowering story featuring a multitude of characters where everyone had some representation. Creator Lauren Faust not only improved upon the preexisting material, but she created something new for everyone.  What may even be the most important part is the show hit both the female and male demographic, proving that a show doesn’t have to be gender specific for a group of people to enjoy it.

If you haven’t seen My Little Pony, these are my favorite episodes and the ones I recommend you start with (the show is mainly episodic, but there is some continuation, so once you start, you may find it necessary to continue on).

Top 10 My Little Pony Episodes

10. The Cutie Mark Chronicles (Season 1, episode 23) *essential Cutie Mark Crusaders episode*

My Little Pony

 

The Cutie Mark Crusaders embark on a journey throughout Ponyville, determined to learn how their mentors, Fluttershy, Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Rarity, all got their cutie marks. The episode is an adorable tribute to fate and whether or not we believe that the friends we have were always supposed to be there. It’s also on of the first episodes to dive into the Mane 6’s past, making it a must-see considering it is continually referenced throughout the rest of My Little Pony.

9. Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 (season 2, episode 15) *essential Applejack episode*

My Little Pony - Applejack

The Flim Flam brothers head to Ponyville with this monstrous cider making machine in order to take all the cider business from the Apple family. These two end up making the whole Apple clan dig in and work together to keep their farm and business. The brothers were so popular that they brought them back for another episode of their wacky scams in season 4.

8. Suited for Success (season 1, episode 14) *essential Rarity episode*

My Little Pony - Rarity

Rarity goes all out for her friends, preparing ball gowns for everyone in honor of the upcoming Grand Galloping Gala. Her friends, however, feel the gowns could be just 20% more awesome. Rarity works herself to the bone making these gowns every bit of what her friends want, sacrificing her originality and some sanity too. This episode shows the end to which Rarity would go to for her friends, making it one of her best episodes.

7. Keep Calm and Flutter On (Season 3, episode 10) *Essential Fluttershy episode*

My Little Pony - Fluttershy and Discord

Fluttershy is a gentle soul which is why Princess Celestia taps her when she wants to reform Discord. When the other ponies want to use the Elements of Harmony against Discord to turn him back into stone, Fluttershy maintains his redemption is possible. She holds her ground against her best friends and convinces Discord he has a friend in her.

6. It’s about Time (Season 2, episode 20) *Essential Twilight Sparkle episode*

My Little Pony - Twilight Sparkle

Twilight Sparkle appears to herself 3 days in the past in a crazed effort to warn her. But she can’t get it out because past Twilight is obsessed with why she’s disheveled, how she can time travel, just what is going on. This episode is classic Twilight; she’s intelligent, but also so headstrong that she creates the inevitable instead of avoiding it. It’s also one of the best examples of time travel I’ve ever seen on screen.

5. May the Best Pet Win (season 2, episode 10) *Essential Rainbow Dash episode*

My Little Pony - Rainbow Dash

Rainbow is feeling just a little left out that she’s the only one without a pet in her group. So what does she do? The only logical Rainbow Dash thing to do! She holds a multi-event competition, testing all possible pets from an eagle to a flamingo. Her hardcore personality won’t accept anything less than the best but she’s caught unaware when the least obvious competitor wins out.

4. Pinkie Pride (Season 4, episode 12) *Essential Pinkie Pie episode*

My Little Pony - Pinkie Pie

While Pinkie has some great episodes throughout the series, this one wins out for being the one where she meets her match: Cheese Sandwich (played by the glorious Weird Al Yankovic). He’s a traveling party pony that can lift pony spirits better than anyone else, much to Pinkie’s chagrine. It takes a lesson in jealousy and acceptance for Pinkie to finally befriend what was at first her adversary.

3. Three’s a Crowd (season 4, episode 11) *Essential Discord episode*

My Little Pony - Discord

This episode makes me laugh so much. Why? Because it’s hilarious watching Twilight get thrown off her game. And Discord lives for that. While Twilight just wants a girls day with her sister in law, Princess Cadence, Discord is busy spreading the exasperation in Ponyville with his “blue flu.” His constant tormenting of the Mane 6 eventually ends up ruining Twilight’s day but she does get the better end of the stick in the end, so it’s not all bad for Twilight.

2. Slice of Life (season 5, episode 9 or episode 100) *Essential Equestria episode*

My Little Pony

One of the most eventful and enjoyable episodes to date, this one focuses on all of Ponyville readying themselves for a wedding, with the Mane 6 off fighting a Bugbear in the background. We see favorite B, C, and D characters get up in front for a change, truly proving that there’s a story for everyone. This is your chance to hear certain ponies speak for the first time (Timeturner or Dr. Hooves), catch returns of characters that have been forgotten (Steven Magnet), and reconnect with the world around the Mane 6.

1. Power Ponies (Season 4, episode 6) *Essential Spike episode*

My Little Pony - Spike

When you think of Spike centric episodes, this one doesn’t usually come to mind, because it really does feature the Mane 6 as well. However, when Spike’s comic book takes the seven of them inside its world, he’s forced to take the position of sidekick (one he previously hated) and realize its just as important as any other hero role. The appeal of this episode out ranks any other for several reasons. The ponies represent some of the best comic book superheroes out there. The Mane-iac is a well developed, creative villain that they should definitely bring back. The story itself is tightly written and one of the most entertaining in the series.

There you have it. The essential My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Go watch these on Netflix now. It’ll take 5ish hours of your time. You won’t be bored. There will be at least a few of these that you like. You won’t regret it.

Have you seen My Little Pony? Comment with the episodes in your Top List!

Top 10 My Little Pony Episodes

Top 10 Lightsaber Hilts in Star Wars Movies and TV

“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster, an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.” Obi-Wan Kenobi introducing Luke Skywalker to his father’s lightsaber.

This quote has stood with Star Wars fans ever since the first movie premiered in 1977 and we saw a lightsaber for the first time. From that day forward every kid and a lot of adults wanted a lightsaber of their own. To this day, that testament remains the same. Now of course in this day and age we can’t have a real one, at least not yet. But what I love most about the lightsabers in the Star Wars movies and TV shows are how unique every single one of them is. That comes down to the hilt design more so than the color of the blade. Each hilt of a lightsaber is unique and built by hand by the various Jedi or Sith that wield them, or is passed down from person to person. This is my top 10 list of my favorite lightsaber hilts from the movies and Clone Wars/Rebels animated series.

Number 10 Lightsaber Hilt

Mace Windu’s HiltScreen Shot 2016-01-13 at 4.36.04 PM

This purple-bladed saber was used by the second greatest Jedi on the Jedi Counsel. This sleek and elegant blade was plated with chrome and gold finishes to represent his senior status on the Jedi Counsel. A thinner hilt than some, but it suited Mace well with his style of fighting called Form VII or also known as Vaapad. He sadly lost it, along with his life while dueling Darth Sidious.

Number 9 Lightsaber Hilt

Sidious's hiltDarth Sidious’s Hilts

Little is known about these hilts created by the famed Sith Lord. But what is known is that both of them were constructed while he was still an apprentice to Darth Plagueis out of a nearly indestructible metal. These are also the same blades that killed his former master in his sleep. Most people did not know he created two hilts and was trained in fighting with two lightsabers at once, as seen in Star Wars: The Clone Wars when he fights Darth Maul and his brother Savage Opress.

Number 8 Lightsaber Hilt

Lukes lightsaberLuke Skywalker’s second lightsaber

This famous hilt was constructed after Luke lost his first lightsaber (his father’s before him) to a duel with Darth Vader on Cloud City in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. This particular hilt is reminiscent of Obi-Wan’s third lightsaber that Kenobi constructed during the beginning of the Clone Wars in honor of his late mentor. It now emitted a green blade instead of a light blue, and was used by Luke throughout him teaching a new generation of Jedi, until Ben Solo betrayed him and became Kylo Ren which forced Luke into exile. Little is known what happened to his lightsaber after these events, but it is believed that when he went into exile, he threw away his hilt to forget his past.

Number 7 Lightsaber Hilt

Savage Opress LightsaberSavage Opress’s Hilt

Following in is brother Darth Maul’s footsteps, Savage wielded a duel saber staff during the final years of the Clone Wars. This staff was much thicker than Maul’s to accommodate the new Zabrak’s enhanced skills and size thanks to the Nightsisters. With this lightsaber he killed many Jedi and practically anyone who got in his way. He would also use the hooks on both ends to impale his enemies before igniting his blade and running them through.

Number 6 Lightsaber Hilt

Askoha RebelsAshoka Tano’s second lightsabers

These two lightsaber hilts replaced the ones Ashoka used before leaving the Jedi Order during the Clone Wars. Thin and curved in design, Ashoka used these during her adventures with the Rebel fighters as they fought against the might of the Empire. Her blade color switched from green to a pure white, symbolizing her non-affiliation to the Jedi. Ashoka most notably used these lightsabers to take on two Inquisitors, The Seventh Sister and The Fifth Brother respectively. Although Tano left the order when she was still in training as Anakin’s Padawan, she showed exceptional skill and control while fighting the two Dark Side users.

Number 5 Lightsaber Hilt

Dooku's hiltCount Dooku’s Hilt

This curved hilt was used by Darth Sidious’s second apprentice Count Dooku. Dooku not only had a curved hilt during his apprenticeship with Sidious, but while he was also a member of the Jedi Order. Dooku favored the design over a traditional hilt because of his title and strength as a duelist. He dueled and killed many Jedi with this blade until his demise at the hands of Anakin Skywalker on board General Grievous command ship during the Battle of Coruscant. It is presumed that the hilt was destroyed along with the ship as it broke apart during the battle.

Number 4 Lightsaber Hilt

Darth Maul's SaberDarth Maul’s Hilt

Used by the Sith Lord Darth Maul during the occupation of Naboo, this uniquely designed hilt was actually two separate lightsaber hilts constructed into one long staff. Darth Maul was a force to be reckoned with when he was dueling someone because not only of the twin blades but because of his furry behind each strike to an enemy. Eventually it was cut in half, along with Maul by Obi-Wan Kenobi after the death of his master at the hands of Maul. Darth Maul survived however, and continued to use the severed half of his original blade during the Clone Wars and to duel against his former master on the planet Mandalore.

Number 3 Lightsaber Hilt

Rebel's Inquisitors Inquisitor’s ringed Hilt

Much like Darth Maul and Savage Opress before them, the Inquisitors used duel bladed lightsabers to hunt down remaining Jedi Knights during the years following the formation of the Empire. The one difference when comparing the hilts are that these were one spinning rings that could spin clockwise and counter clockwise depending on how the user wanted it. Very fast and hard to use, the Inquisitors were trained on how to use the ringed blades to not only fight, but to intimidate their enemies as well, making them feared across the galaxy to all who came across them.

Number 2 Lightsaber Hilt

Luke's hiltAnakin Skywalkers Hilt

Possibly one of the most famous hilts within the Jedi Order was used by Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. This hilt was silver in color with black finishes and a bright blue blade. After the fall of Anakin to the dark side, it was taken by his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi and eventually given to Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker, and from Luke it was passed onto a young force-sensitive girl by the name of Rey 30 years after the Battle of Endor. While this hilt won many battles during the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, along saving countless numbers of people, it was also used for terrible deeds. Most notably during the Jedi purge and attack on the Jedi Temple at the end of the Clone Wars, where it was used to slaughter countless Jedi and younglings.

Number 1 Lightsaber Hilt

Asajj VentressAsajj Ventress’s twin Hilts

These twin curved blades belonged to Count Dooku’s most trusted assassin and Dark Side user Asajj Ventress. This former Nightsister and Sith warrior acquired them from Count Dooku as a gift after she showed him her skills in a fighting arena. These blades, however, belonged to Dooku’s first apprentice before her, Komari Vosa, and when her death came at the hands of Bounty Hunter Jango Fett, Dooku kept them until he found a new apprentice to use them. Asajj was extremely skilled in using two sabers at once in either separate forms or formed together in a saber staff., she battled numerous Jedi, most notably Kenobi and Skywalker, and killed countless Padawans and Jedi Knights. What was most unique about these hilts is that at any moment during a battle, Ventress could attach them to form a saber staff to duel her enemies much like Darth Maul. Her’s however, was much harder to handle because of the curved shape. Eventually these hilts made there way to the fallen Jedi Barriss Offee when she stole them from Asajj to try and set her and Ashoka Tano up for sabotage and murder.

Did your favorite lightsaber make the cut? Sound off bellow with what your favorite lightsabers are.

Top 10 Lightsaber Hilts in Star Wars Movies and TV

Top 12 Most Anticipated Board Games of 2016

As an avid board game enthusiast, part of the fun of this hobby is looking forward to the new and exciting games coming out soon. 2015 was a strong year for board games, and so far what little news we have from 2016 appears to be shaping up to be another exciting year. Already there are more than 150 board games that have been announced for release during 2016 with varying degrees of information available about those games at this point. Most of the board games announced look mediocre or don’t appeal to my taste, but some have me just waiting to pre-order as soon as it becomes available.

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Before I begin my list, I should say that this list doesn’t represent the games I think will be the best this year. Some of the best board games that will come out this year won’t be announced until much later in the year. The games in this list merely represent the games I’m the most excited about. Some, I’m sure, will turn out great, others have the promise of being great, and it’s almost certain at least one of these will flop, but I’m dying to learn more about them anyway. Since this is going to be a long article, I’m going to list out my board games first, and if you’d like to see what they’re about, keep reading or just skip to the one’s you’re interested in.

Here’s the TL;DR Board Game list:

12) Apex Theropod Deck Building Game by Die-Hard Games
11) (Tied) Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past by IDW Games
10) (Tied) Legendary Encounters: Firefly and Legendary Encounters: Big Trouble in Little China by Upper Deck Entertainment
9) Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks by Gale Force Nine
8) The Networks by Formal Ferret Games
7) Campaign Trail by Cosmic Wombat Games
6) Victorian Masterminds by Space Cowboys
5) Star Wars: Rebellion by Fantasy Flight Games
4) Chronicles: Origins by Artana
3) Scythe by Stonemaier Games
2) SeaFall by Plaid Hat Games
1) Untitled Star Trek Game by Gale Force Nine

Intrigued? Keep reading, and I’ll give you my take on the most exciting games set to be released in 2016.

12)  Apex Theropod Deck Building Game by Die-Hard Games

Apex Board Game Image

The Apex Theropod Deck Building Game is a deck-building game where each player takes on the role of a dinosaur species brood mother.  As the game progresses, you use dinosaurs from your clan to hunt for food along a rotating game trail, which you use to feed new dinosaurs that can be added to your brood, or to unlock new evolutions that give your species certain powers.  Each species of dinosaur includes a custom deck of cards with very distinct playing styles that fit the type of species you are playing.  For example, Raptors need to focus on ambushing and attacking in packs, whereas Tyrannosaurus can scavenge dinosaurs that were killed by other predators in the game trail.  Occasionally, a more powerful dinosaur shows up in the game trail to challenge your brood for dominance.  The game ends when the world is destroyed by a massive meteor strike, and the player who managed to hunt the most game, including bosses, wins.

This pick is a little bit of a cheat.  The first Kickstarter edition of this game was released early in 2015, and while I played it a lot, there were some flaws.  Some dinosaur species were unbalanced, and it was a little too easy to end up in a ‘death spiral’ where your deck becomes so clogged by wounds that you can never recover.  That said, the play was really thematic, and the card artwork was amazing.  Last summer, Herschel Hoffmeyer, the game designer and artist, announced that he was releasing what amounts to a second edition of the game, even though it’s not called such.  He took a lot of the feedback, fixed some of the balance issues, and the new version of the game is set to be released in late January or February.  The game looks even better, and if you like deck-building games, this one is worth your time.

11)  Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past by IDW Games

idw

This will be the first of two ‘ties’, but it’ll make sense why I’m ranking them this way.  Last year, board games saw a glut of campaign style games, some of which were great, many of which were not.  Very few had licenses on par with Back to the Future and TMNT.  IDW is a company mostly known for their comic book lines, but in the last few years has ventured into board games.  They’ve put out a few decent games, including Machi Koro and Yedo, but they’ve been focusing recently on licensed properties, including The Godfather, X-Files, and Orphan Black.  All of those games have been largely disappointing.

Last year, Cryptozoic Entertainment released the Ghostbusters game, which primarily used artwork from the IDW Publishing Ghostbusters comics.  Ghostbusters is a game that hits the nostalgia factor hard, and has great miniatures, but the story and gameplay falls flat and feels very repetitive.  Ghostbusters was one of several games to try and add a campaign element to it that just feels underwhelming.  Now IDW is venturing on their own with TMNT and Back to the Future, and while once again the nostalgia factor is high, I’m REALLY nervous.

IDW Publishing has been putting out TMNT comics for a number of years now, which I’ve quite enjoyed.  The new TMNT game appears to let players play as one of the half-shell heroes or as Shredder (which I assume means it’s a 1-vs-All style game as opposed to purely cooperative), and will recreate stories from the comic book arcs of the last four years.  The artwork promises to be great with Kevin Eastman on the project, and the game is being designed by Kevin Wilson, who has done some great games (Descent 2nd Edition, Arkham Horror, and Fury of Dracula), but has also had some misses.  With a summer release, we should get more information soon.

Back to the Future is a more nebulous game right now.  From what we know so far, it’s a card game for 2-4 players that involves traveling back and forth between 1955, 1985, and 2015 to ensure that key events from the movies happen as they are supposed to that plays in about 30 minutes.  Each turn, players take on the role of one of the iconic characters and will be trying to maneuver other characters from the movies to their play areas to trigger key events from the movies.  It adds an interesting ‘ripple’ mechanic, where you bank cards in between the three time periods that represent positive changes that occurred because of how events in the past were changed.  While I’ll have to wait and see as more information comes out, I’m not sure I’m sold on a filler-type version of a Back to the Future game yet, but the idea is interesting.  We’ve yet to see a great game with this license, so maybe this one will be it.

10)  Legendary Encounters: Firefly and Legendary Encounters: Big Trouble in Little China by Upper Deck Entertainment

legendary

The Legendary system is one I have raved about before.  Towards the end of last year, Upper Deck announced there were two different new Legendary Encounters games being planned that would be standalone titles, but both of them had me very intrigued:  Firefly and Big Trouble in Little China.  For those unfamiliar, the Legendary System involved a Deck-Building engine with a story-driven event track of villains/challenges that the players must overcome all while trying to accomplish a set of objectives to complete the story/defeat the villain.  The Alien and Predator versions of the game are among some of my favorite games of all time, so it’s a system I like a lot.

My concern is how these two IPs will fit into that system.  Every variant of the Legendary engine so far has been focused on combat.  This gives me some concerns when it comes to the Firefly license.  The idea of a Firefly game being a cooperative effort I like a lot, but it never felt like combat lay at the heart of the show, so I’m curious/nervous to see what direction they take it in.  Big Trouble in Little China is a fantastic cult classic film (set to be remade soon as well), but my only concern here is the depth of the story.  Marvel Legendary has a billion villains available to play now, Aliens has 4 movies to recreate, Predator only has two, but you can play as either Humans or Predators, which gives effectively 4 scenarios to play (plus the Alien crossover pack which allows you to combine the two games).  Even Firefly could probably pick a couple of episodes to recreate, but there’s just the single story from Big Trouble in Little China, which is my only concern there.  I think the theming would work well in this engine since there is a lot of combat, and bosses along the way to define the story.

So, long story short, I’m excited to see what they do with both games, since both have the potential to be interesting iterations of the Legendary system, but both could just as easily turn out to not work at all.  Both look to be released by GenCon 2016, which will be in early August.

9)  Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks by Gale Force Nine

doctorwho

This has every appearance of being the game that Whovians have been waiting for, though there’s not much more than an initial press release known about the game right now.  The press blurb indicates that the Daleks appear to be waging an all out war across time and space to eliminate the Doctor, and players will step into the role of one of the various incarnations of the Doctor to try and stop their plan to erase the Doctor from history.  Promising miniatures (Dalek miniatures make me want to do a little happy dance by themselves) and interesting game play, I’m actually really excited to see where this game ends up.  Gale Force Nine, unlike IDW or Cryptozoic, has an almost flawless record for licensed IP adaptations.  Their versions of Firefly, Homeland, Sons of Anarchy, and Spartacus are all incredibly thematic, well-designed games that have received a lot of critical praise.  A great property in the hands of a solid company makes me really excited to see where this one goes.

8)  The Networks by Formal Ferret Games

TheNetworks

The Networks is a game released on Kickstarter this past Fall and set to release in June 2016 about running the best TV Network.  Players compete to have the best prime-time lineup and draw the most viewers to their network.  Players must manage their lineup of shows, which may gain or lose viewers as the shows age, and fill those shows with acting talent and advertisements to keep their network in the black.  Many of the cards are very tongue-in-cheek references to existing shows (my favorite being NCISICMBOMGOMG: Scranton), actors or ads, and the humor is one of the elements that really drew me to this game and I think will help it be a hit with a lot of people.

I’ve had a chance to print out a print-and-play copy of this game to try out, and I was surprised to see how strategic the gameplay is.  The humor across all the cards really belies that fact that there’s a lot of competition to get the shows you need.  Money always feels tight, so there’s always a balance to make sure you’re able to take the right actions when you need them.  With a catchup mechanism that feels very fair, special abilities that can be gained through the game, and ways to specialize your network to your advantage, I’ve been very impressed with how solid this game is, and can’t wait to get the real thing in my hands this summer.

7)  Campaign Trail by Cosmic Wombat Games

campaignTrail

Another Kickstarter project, this one is more forward looking.  Campaign Trail ran a campaign this past fall that didn’t fund, and will be relaunching again next month.  Don’t be afraid when I say this is a game about politics, specifically running for President.  There’s actually a lot of game to like here, and while politics is the setting, this game is at its core a fairly competitive area control game, with players vying for influence in key states to make sure they maintain their edge in electoral college votes.  When my Republican candidate runs ads on, say, Gun Control, I don’t have to say what position he takes, just that he’s out campaigning on that issue, which helps avoid the ideological problems many other political games have in forcing players to argue or defend positions that they don’t agree with or (more commonly) that start out of game conflicts at the table.

Each player represents either a Republican, Democratic, or Independent candidate (and when you play with more than three, players form teams of President and Vice President candidates), and while candidates will be running ads and holding debates on a number of pressing topics, players aren’t required to actually espouse or argue a given opinion.    Using one of my favorite mechanics, players have a hand of cards with each card capable of performing most of the 6 actions available each turn.  Some cards are stronger in certain actions such a fundraising or travel, but this gives you a lot of tactical options to respond to what other players are doing.  There’s a really cool scoring track that shows who leads in each state that represents the role that polling plays in an election and gives all players at the table a real-time view of who is in the lead at any given time.  This looks to be a really strong game that fills a theme I think is really underrepresented, and one I can’t wait to back once it becomes available.

6)  Victorian Masterminds by Space Cowboys

While the game title (which is not finalized yet, apparently) doesn’t give you any real idea what the game is about, the setting from the game descriptions is as follows:

“Sherlock Holmes is dead! And with London’s greatest detective out of the way, those with villainous minds decide to wreak as much terror as possible on the populace — and you are one of those dastardly no-goodniks!  In Victorian Masterminds, you use five agents to destroy buildings, kidnap scientists, complete missions, and collect resources in order to assemble your custom death-dealing device. Don’t forget to increase your firepower, too, so that you can then put that device to good use.”

Add to that description that the game is being designed by Eric Lang (Blood Rage, XCOM: The Board Game, and Arcadia Quest among others) and Antoine Bauza (7 Wonders, Ghost Stories, Takenoko, and Tokaido), and you have my attention.  It’s supposed to feature worker placement with different kinds of workers, and will likely be released towards the end of 2016.

If you’re curious to know more, here’s an interview with Eric Lang discussing the prototype at BGG.CON 2015:

5)  Star Wars: Rebellion by Fantasy Flight Games

rebellion1

Reminiscent of the PC Game of the same name released in 1998, Star Wars: Rebellion is a game of galactic conquest for 2-4 players developed by Fantasy Flight Games.  They’ve done pretty amazing work with the Star Wars license, though almost all of that work has been either in card or miniature games.  This appears to be their first ‘pure’ board game effort with the license, and I couldn’t be more excited.  This game appears to be the first to try and take the full galactic view of the conflict, and players will have to manage system morale, ground and space combat, and either find or protect the Rebel Alliance Headquarters to win.

rebellion2

With 170 miniatures, custom dice, cards, and a massive board, it promises to be an engaging experience, though the retail MSRP appears to be set at $100, which is a little steep for my liking.  What remains to be seen is whether the game will be a great game for Star Wars fans, or just a great game period.  With an estimated release in Spring of 2016, Fantasy Flight Games should soon start releasing teaser content to give us a better taste of what this game will involve, so keep an eye out for that in the next few months if this sounds interesting to you.

4)  Chronicles: Origins by Artana

This game is one of the hardest to get my head around, but could end up as one of the most unique gaming experiences of the year, assuming it gets released during 2016.  Set to launch on Kickstarter next month, Chronicles: Origins is the first in a planned series of Chronicle games that attempts to take the Legacy game concept to places it’s never been before.  It seems like the goal of this game is to take the legacy experience you get from playing through a single arc, then apply the concept used in some video game franchises of taking your saved data to inform the next game, except in this case, you’re filling out the breadth of civilization.

Hard to get your head around?  Sure.  This video may help.

I’m really, REALLY excited by the idea of a series of Legacy games all linked together, with the big advantage being that you can change up the game style between Ages.  Really interesting idea, and one I’ve definitely got my eye on.

3)  Scythe by Stonemaier Games

scythe

This is another game that’s a little hard to summarize, so I’ll simply fall back to the Kickstarter video to explain:

Did I mention this game raised $1.8 million on Kickstarter?  It’s fair to say a lot of people are looking forward to this one.  A 4X, alternate history, area control and resource management game with Mechs with beautiful artwork and custom miniature Mechs?  Yeah, I’m pretty excited.  Did I mention Mechs?

2)  SeaFall by Plaid Hat Games

seafall

SeaFall has been seemingly stuck in development hell for a long time now, which proves just how hard it is to actually balance a Legacy style game.  SeaFall is a 4X game (I guess I just really like that genre) set in the age of exploration, where each player plays a world power beginning to establish their naval supremacy.  From the brief game description:

“In SeaFall, the world is starting to claw its way out of a dark age and has begun to rediscover seafaring technology. Players take on the role of a mainland empire that consults with a consortium of advisors to discover new islands, explore those islands, develop trade, send out raiding parties, take part in ship-to-ship combat, and more. As in Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy, co-designed by Rob Daviau, SeaFall evolves as the game is played, setting their grudges into the history of the game and building a different narrative at every table as players open up the world.”

This game has been kept under rather tight wraps as development has progressed.  Unlike Pandemic: Legacy, it would seem that individual games will tend towards 120 minutes instead of 45 – 60 minutes, which I’m totally fine with.  What I’ve been able to see of the game reminds me of the Uncharted Waters video game series for the SNES/Genesis that I spent hours playing when I was younger.  I think a lot of people are eagerly waiting for a release date to be put out there for this one, but all indications are that it will come out this year.

1)  Untitled Star Trek Game by Gale Force Nine

While there’s been a glut of good Star Wars board and video games, there hasn’t been a great Star Trek game in quite a while.  Mayfair’s most recent attempt (Star Trek:  Five Year Mission) was just not good.  I happen to enjoy Star Trek: Fleet Captains a fair amount, though the rules are so dense and the setup time pretty intimidating to the point it almost never hits the table anymore.  The X-Wing Miniatures game is superior in all aspects to WizKids Attack Wing.  That’s why when I heard last month that a new game was being developed, and by Gale Force Nine (see my earlier gushing over them about Doctor Who), my ears perked up.  There are actually two new Trek-themed games coming out: one a reskinning of an existing game called Mage Knight by WizKids, who doesn’t have the best track record in my book, and this game.

What we know right now is pretty slim.  Planned to be released in time for the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek during the summer (read GenCon 2016 I would think), this currently untitled game is meant to be a giant 4X style game in the Star Trek Universe.  (I just realized my top 3 games are all 4X style games.  Hmm…)  Rather than play characters, you play as an empire (in what I REALLY hope feels closer to the old Birth of the Federation PC game released nearly 20 years ago) starting at the discovery of warp travel.  The game is currently in alpha testing, and has been kept largely under wraps, so we don’t know a lot yet, but the promise of a good, big, meaty Star Trek game has me the most excited of any game that’s been announced to this point.  Here’s a video from BGG.CON with about as much information as is available yet.

If it’s at GenCon this year, it’ll be my number one acquisition.  I want this to be good so badly, yet I fear for my wallet if it is.

So, that’s my list for the most anticipated board games of 2016.  If something caught your eye here, or there’s something you’re excited for this year, let me know down in the comments below.

Top 12 Most Anticipated Board Games of 2016

Star Wars: A Ranking

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens crushing every box office record in sight, I believe it’s time to set down a ranking of the seven existing Star Wars Saga films before we begin the Star Wars Anthology. I’ll be ranking from worst to best based on my personal opinion. There will be spoilers, so you have been warned. One thing I want to note is that I am ranking these films off of their original theatrical releases. I am NOT including Special Editions or Blu-Rays releases.

7. Star Wars Episode I: A Phantom Menace

Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace poster tall

As the only film left out of the infamous Machete Order, is it any surprise that the first of the Star Wars  prequels would land last on my list? Let’s give the film its due though. The “Duel of Fates” song from legendary composer John Williams was superb and the villain, Darth Maul was intimidating and flat out cool. But a single song cannot save a movie, especially one in a franchise as beloved and successful as the Saga and killing off a brand new and exciting villain so fast is plain disappointing (and yes, I know the character returns in the cartoon). The overall story is boring and unnecessary. Jake Lloyd’s Anakin Skywalker was a cute kid but nothing more and the odd relationship with Padme (Natalie Portman) just did not work for the characters’ ages. Now, the saving grace of Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn was another positive but the character is killed off almost as quickly as his foe, Darth Maul and while Qui-Gon does return in the officially canon TV animated series The Clone Wars, we do not see him again in a Saga film. I think my biggest problems with this film revolved around the style and tone of the movie. Everything is shiny, pretty, and nice. The environment felt too sterile for Star Wars. Sterile is for Star Trek. Star Wars is supposed to be on the frontier of space.

And do I even need to mention the Midi-chlorians? I’m sure glad J.J. Abrams chose not to.

6. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones poster tall

Only slightly better than Episode I, Attack of the Clones speeds things up which makes the relationship between Anakin and Padme less creepy but nonetheless, the movie still falls mostly flat.  While we do get more action and a lot more Jedi fighting with lightsabers, we still get a lot of political talk that slows down the action, again, something for the Trek and not the Wars. The CGI effects in this film are borderline awful. George Lucas used blue screens so much, I seriously doubt that anything in the movie is real at all. The movie is the most forgettable of the franchise, which is why I don’t have much more to say about it. But, since I also don’t have a lot of bad things to say, it does edge out the one with the random and unnecessary podracing (though that did spawn a pretty cool video game for my N64).

5. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith poster tall

Enter emo Anakin. While the Peter Parker in Spiderman 3 became more emo than evil, Anakin did the same but on a significantly more whiny level. Seriously, it got annoying and it got annoying fast. Hayden Christensen’s character was creepy and irritating throughout BUT we get a ton of very important information that leads to the events of the original trilogy. We finally see how everything comes to be, how the Empire is born, so to speak. We also get that intense fight scene between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin. While the end of that fight is pretty messed up, it’s a great fight scene that took better advantage of the CGI technology. The darker tones worked well, especially with the death of Padme and the birth of Vader. Now, I don’t like the whole Frankenstein’s Monster moment but I do appreciate the show of Force power Vader has and how Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) put Anakin back together. I will say that Yoda’s big moment against Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is absolutely epic and fantastic until the actual lightsaber battle starts.

4. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Star Wars Episode VI Revenge of the Jedi poster tall

Ewoks aside, I always loved this film. As a kid, it was my favorite of the Star Wars films mainly because it had more space battles and action. As I grew up, I did notice its short-comings which is why it falls to fourth on my list. The story is a significant rehash of A New Hope which a larger Deathstar (something you only know from material external to the films) but this time is has a shield!  I do enjoy Luke’s story which shows him on his journey to actually giving into the Dark Side for a short time. I am, of course, referring to when he uses the Force to grab his saber from the Emperor’s chair arm. I also like the redemption of Anakin by saving his son, defeating the Emperor, and finally becoming a happy Jedi Force ghost with Obi-Wan and Yoda.

3. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

 

The film that started it all is truly a fantastic one. Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope poster tallA New Hope  is one of my favorite movies of all-time and to this day is still considered one of the most successful by number of tickets sold. The story was new, bright, exciting, and fun. The scenes, alien puppet characters, and practical effects were monumental in enhancing the field of special effects. George Lucas’ accomplishments with this film are unparalleled and the film holds up. I still love watching our young heroes thrust into their perilous journey together, so many one-liners, so many references. There are too many iconic things about this film to put in a ranking article such as this but needless to say, I love this movie through and through even with its dated technical problems.

2. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Yes, I fell into the hype. I was pumped for this film. Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens poster tallIt’s been so long since we had a new Star Wars movie and even longer since we had a new one that truly fit the bill. I was able to attend opening night with several friends. I even made some purchases that my AMC theater had available for the “Galaxy Premier”. Call me a sucker if you want but damn did I have a good time. What a fun and exciting movie. The newest Star Wars film was everything I wanted it to be. Nothing more and nothing less. I left the movie feeling perfectly content. I was happy and had very few complaints. If you’d like my full details and thoughts on the film, please listen to Episode 07 of our podcast series Grid Talk available here and on iTunes here.

1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

The darker, more serious Saga film is still my overall favorite. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back posterThe story is compelling, the action is purposeful, and the practical effects are still great. Our characters are more seasoned and more sure of themselves. Han is quick to fire on Vader which makes Solo even more heroic in the face of danger. And what has ever topped the big reveal of Vader being Luke’s father? We get our introduction to Yoda, the most power of the Jedi. We learn of the Force ghosts with the return of Obi-Wan and the movie ends on an open note with things not going particularly well and Han frozen. The Empire Strikes Back’s job was to take the bright and heroic tale we had already seen and bring it crashing down to reality. Our heroes are not without weakness and are not untouchable. We had no idea if Han Solo was even alive or would ever return and for those who were alive when the film first came out, it was possible he would never return since Harrison Ford wasn’t sure if he’d come back for a third film. Overall, the movie is deeper and more sophisticated than A New Hope without all of the random merchandising issues of Return of the Jedi.

Conclusions and Thoughts

Star Wars The Force Awakens Wide Poster

I love Star Wars, through and through. I am invigorated with the addition of The Force Awakens and cannot wait for Rogue One, the first of the Star Wars Anthology films, let alone Episode VIII which is set to begin production very soon. While I know the prequels have their downsides, they are, for the most part, important to the franchise. They provide characters and context that expand on and enrich the Saga’s universe. With that said, given my reflection here, it might be time to finally get the prequels on Blu-Ray. Right now I’m sitting on a VHS of Episode I, a DVD of Episode III, and I don’t even have Attack of the Clones.

But hey, maybe one day, Disney and FOX can come to some agreement and we can get the theatrical cuts of the original trilogy on Blu-Ray. If that day every comes, I’ll be there.

What about you? How would you rank the seven Star Wars films? Let me know in the comments!

Star Wars: A Ranking

Top 10 Star Wars Video Games

Due to the release of The Force Awakens, I decided to take a look back at the Star Wars video games I had played in my formative years. I believe it can certainly be said that Star Wars video games are some of the greatest and richest parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now Star Wars Legends).



10. Star Wars: Episode 1 RacerStar Wars: Episode I Pod Racer

Many rail on this game as being an example of what was wrong with The Phantom Menace however, I always found the podrace scene to be rather enthralling and intense. Inspired by the chariot race from Ben-Hur, the podrace scene was instantly captivating and spectacular save for the rather bad performance by Jake Lloyd. Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer successfully replicated the fast-paced feel of that scene with its supremely fast gameplay and quick reaction times in order to stay on the track. With a variety of tracks and playable racers, this game marks one of the few racing games I have ever enjoyed.

9. Star Wars: Shadows of the EmpireStar Wars: Shadows of the Empire

Often hailed as the first of the “good” Star Wars games, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire was the game in Lucasfilm’s attempt to cr eate an entire multimedia lineup for a movie that didn’t exist. Following Dash Rendar, a mercenary turned Rebel sympathizer, as he engages in an adventure to save Princess Leia from Prince Xizor, leader of the Black Sun crime syndicate. Featuring more immersive gameplay than any Star Wars game before it, Shadows of the Empire remains a time honored classic.

8. Star Wars: Dark ForcesStar Wars: Dark Forces

Following in the footsteps of Shadows of the Empire, Dark Forces was another early game that sought to set itself apart from the film saga. Set before A New Hope and following Kyle Katarn, a former Imperial-turned-Mercenary, as he embarks on his Rebel-sponsored job of recovering the first Death Star plans. Once complete, Katarn is hired for a second job to uncover the hidden plans to the Dark Trooper project before they can be used to wipe out the Rebel Alliance. Whilst the gameplay is certainly inspired by the Doom franchise, there is enough differences in gameplay, along with an unmistakable Star Wars style, that makes this game still entertaining although immensely difficult.

7. Lego Star Wars: The Complete SagaLego Star Wars: The Complete Saga

While much can be said for Traveller’s Tales’s entire lineup of Lego games, none could surpass the nostalgia and general fun that came with Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. Following fairly closely with the plots of the six main films, Lego Star Wars provided brick building fun along with general entertainment and silly references that would make even the most hardcore fan chuckle.

6. Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds

Taking the engine from Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, Galactic Battlegrounds is the Star Wars RTS to end all. Several attempts at Star Wars RTSs have been made with Empire at War or the much derided Force Commander but none could match up with the simple goodness that appeared in Galactic Battlegrounds. Certainly not the best RTS and certainly no where near the level of Starcraft, Galactic Battlegrounds still provides a good strategy experience to those looking for it.

5. Star Wars: BattlefrontStar Wars: Battlefront

While many point to Battlefront II as thebetter of the two games, I always preferred the first since it was always truer to its premise. Battlefront II introduced too many mechanics I thought betrayed the original idea: lots of normal troops fighting it out on the battlefield. The original Battlefront didn’t feel the need to add pointless space combat or the inclusion of over-powered Jedi to still feel incredibly fun and immersive. While certainly not the best Star Wars game, Battlefront is still one of those games that knew what it was trying to do and accomplished it incredibly well.

4. Star Wars: Rogue SquadronStar Wars: Rogue Squadron

Featuring what I would call the best in Star Wars fighter combat, Rogue Squadron starred Luke as he commanded the titular Rebel fighter unit on several missions against the Empire. While certainly appearing with dated graphics and control scheme, Rogue Squadron still features the most impressive variety of ships which vary in flight and combat abilities. This is also one of the few games to feature an accurate portrayal of using a speeder’s tow cable to take down an AT-AT.

3. Star Wars: Republic CommandoStar Wars: Republic Commando

Possibly the best Star Wars FPS ever made, Republic Commando lets the player take on the role of Delta-38, the leader of a clone commando unit during the Clone Wars. The first mission, taking place during the Battle of Geonosis, follows Delta-38 as he assembles his team and attempts to eliminate high priority targets and silently aid the entirety of the Clone Army in unexpected ways. Featuring a variety of enemy types, weapon types, and the most brilliantly simplified squad combat I’ve ever seen, Republic Commando is an instant favorite for those wanting a more modern and more complex FPS take in the Star Wars universe.

2. Star Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicStar Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Often hailed as one of the greatest Star Wars stories ever told, Knights of the Old Republic presents one of the most expansive and complex storylines not often seen in a Star Wars game, due to their often smaller focus and self-containment. Knights of the Old Republic, however, gives players a look at what the galaxy looked like four thousand years before the films take place with the rise of the Sith Empire and the struggling Old Republic attempting to maintain control over a tense situation. Politics, intense character development and an in-depth look into the nature of The Force are all major aspects of this game and coming from Bioware, the studio that brought us the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, one can expect deep character interaction and a plot on a scale not known in Star Wars at its time. With its turn-based combat, attribute leveling system, and morality infused dialogue, Knights of the Old Republic is a true Star Wars gem and remains one of Bioware’s legacy gems.

1. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi OutcastStar Wars: Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast

The ultimate Star Wars experience. Jedi Outcast, the second sequel to Dark Forces, again features Kyle Katarn, this time as a Jedi, as he attempts to stop the Imperial Remnant from gaining another foothold in the galaxy. Led by Dark Jedi Desann, his apprentice Tavion and Imperial Admiral Galak Fyyar, as the Remnant attempts to create Reborn, Dark Jedi soldiers artificially infused with The Force. The player as Katarn, starts off as a non-Jedi, having given up The Force after the events of Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, but he soon realizes that The Force will be needed to defeat Desann. While certainly dated since its release in 2003, Jedi Outcast features the most immersive and most accurate portrayal of Jedi combat not seen in any game of its time or in any game since (aside from its sequel/spin-off Jedi Academy). As the game progresses, more Force powers become available to the player including neutral powers like jump, push, and speed but also features four powers split between the Light and Dark side with force heal and mind trick belonging to the Light and lightning and grip belonging to the Dark. As the game progresses more, these force powers begin to manifest in stronger forms giving near unlimited power to the player if used wisely. By the end of the game with a full arsenal of weapons, force powers, and lightsaber fighting styles, playing as Katarn feels like the truest form of playing as a Jedi in any game along with a good story and impressive level design that makes this game the best Star Wars game ever made.

Top 10 Star Wars Video Games

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2016

With 2015 coming to a close, we can look back at some amazing films. We finally got a major blockbuster sequel to Jurassic Park. We closed out the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 2 with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. We rebelled against the Capitol with Katniss to close out The Hunger Games. We saw Pixar’s first two-movie year featuring the incredibly emotional Inside Out. We scienced the **** out of things with Matt Damon on Mars and we drove sports cars through buildings in Dubai with a surprisingly well-thought and heartfelt goodbye to Paul Walker. Tom Cruise continued to complete his impossible missions while James Bond dealt with the aftermath of Skyfall. Meanwhile, another Disney animated classic was brought to live action and a February James Bond knockoff film surprised us all and was green-lit for a sequel. Oh and let’s not forget about the galaxy far, far away. 2015 was a big year for films and I’ve barely scratch the surface here but 2016 stands to be even bigger and bolder. So, let’s take a look at my Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2016.

10. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (11/18)

We recently got our first look at the Harry Potter universe film and while it didn’t show much, it did bring a little bit of magic back to us. I’m most excited about this film because I’m curious to see how the magic world is depicted not only in the past (this takes place 70 years before Harry enters Hogwarts) but in North America since the film takes place in New York. The film stars Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Flash (2018)), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, Les Miserables), Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Total Recall), Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy), Jon Voight (Mission: Impossible, Heat), and Samantha Morton (Minority Report, John Carter). Catch the first teaser trailer below.

9. Ghostbusters (7/15)

Who you gonna call? This time, it’s four female heroes in the form of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Our heroes are joined by Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and several original returning cast members including Bill Murray, Signourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd (who also co-wrote the film), and Ernie Hudson. This past week we got our first official look at the women in costume plus four individual character posters spotlighting the tech more than anything. I’m excited that Aykroyd was involved in the writing and I’m excited that so many people are coming back for cameos in the film. This is a good sign to me. Additionally, the woman look the part in the official images we’ve seen. It doesn’t hurt that the tech looks solid too. Check out the character posters below.

Ghostbusters Character Posters Collage

8. Warcraft (6/10)

Blizzard Entertainment has finally made a feature film and it’s not even CGI like their glorious in-game cut scenes. The studio behind such iconic PC games as World of Warcraft, Diablo, Starcraft, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch is finally putting out a Warcraft universe film. The CGI looks awesome. The battles look awesome and hey, when the “for the horde” and “for the alliance” war cries sound, my voice is part of it thanks to my BlizzCon 2014 attendance. But, biases aside, the movie looks really cool. The film stars Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Deja Vu, Precious), Travis Fimmel (Vikings), Daniel Wu (The Man with the Iron Fists), and Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Lone Survivor). Check out the trailer below!

7. Independence Day Resurgence (6/24)

It’s been 20 years and Will Smith’s character died in a experimental plane test but several other major characters from the original sci-fi classic are returning including Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Brent Spiner, and Judd Hirsch. Now yes, Brent’s character died… right? Wrong. Rumor has it, he’s been in a coma of sorts. The returning cast is joined by Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) and William Fichtnet (Armageddon, Black Hawk Down, The Dark Knight), Joey King (Crazy, Stupid, Love., The Conjuring, Oz the Great and Powerful, White House Down), and Maika Monroe (It Follows, The Bling Ring). I’m very excited to see how we adapted the alien technology to advance our own defenses. Sure, some of it looks silly, like an alien ship half the size of Earth entering the atmosphere, but hey… it’s Independence Day! Check out the trailer below.

6. X-Men: Apocalypse (5/27)

I’m a big fan of the X-Men films overall. Sure, X3 was pretty rough and I skipped X-Men Origins: Wolverine due to the low ratings and poor CGI but the first two films, First Class, The Wolverine, and Days of Future Past were pretty solid superhero and action flicks. Well, the story isn’t over yet. The young cast (Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Evan Peters, and Hank McCoy) return with some newcomers to take on the big bad Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac). Now, there’s a few directions this could go but based on the recently released first trailer, it looks like we are getting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse concept with Magneto (Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Angel (Ben Hardy). The trailer looks solid and the style for Storm, Jubilee (Lana Condor), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are fantastic. True, Jennifer Lawrence appears more Raven than Mystique and we didn’t get a glimpse of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine cameo but I have high hopes for this one. Check out the trailer below.

5. Suicide Squad (8/5)

I’m a DC Comics guy. Yes, I love the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Iron Man, The Winter Solider, all fantastic, not to mention the others. But I am first and foremost a DC fan. I love the comic books, cartoons, The CW TV series, you name it. On top of that, I’m a huge Will Smith fan. It’s a great combination. You’ve got a solid cast of Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wallstreet, Focus), Cara Delevingne (Pan, Paper Towns), Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), Jai Courtney (Divergent, Terminator Genisys), Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt, Disturbia), Common (Selma, Now You See Me, Wanted), and yes, Will Smith. Plus, Ben Affleck is reprising his Batman role in this film, making that TWO appearances by the Dark Knight in a motion picture in the same year. Crazy. Also, just try to tell me that Viola Davis is not the perfect casting choice for Amanda Waller. We’ve got a cast photo below but no trailer yet. Of course, this is an August release, so we have a little while to wait.

Suicide Squad - Harley Quinn

4. Star Trek Beyond (7/22)

For those of you who come here often or listen to our podcasts Grid Talk and Screen Heroes, you know I’m a Trekkie. You can find me online @TheStarTrekDude on both Twitter and Facebook. It’s my thing. So, I am excited that Trek is continuing and that we have a movie for the 50th anniversary of the franchise. With that said, Into Darkness is at the bottom of my list. Seriously, I made a list. You can read it here. So, I am looking forward to a new Star Trek film not helmed by J.J. Abrams but instead a new director who is actually a fan of the franchise, Justin Lin. Also, Simon Pegg, an avid Trekkie, co-wrote the script. These are good signs. Additionally, the first trailer showed some solid stuff. I know not everyone is a fan of the action-packed “Sabotage” filled trailer (Simon Pegg is in that group by the way) but look past that and focus on what is being shown. The Enterprise is being destroyed, something that’s very Trek. Second, the uniforms are losing that athletic look and look more like TOS and TNG. Plus, we are on an alien planet with new species and the premise is brand new to Trek. So, let’s watch them seek out new lifeforms and new civilizations while they boldly go where no one has gone before. Oh and Idris Elba as the big bad? Thank you! Trailer below!

3. Captain America: Civil War (5/6)

My friends know I have a problem with the title because this is an MCU film, an Avengers film. It is not a Captain America solo film so the name should reflect that. Yes, Cap is a big focus and he seems to cause the divide directly but just call it Marvel’s Civil War and then I’m happy. Anyway, we’ve been building up to this for a while now. The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron set this stuff up and it’s about time. We also get Black Panther which is very exciting. So what’s not to love about this movie? We get the Avengers battling it out over principle with new comer Black Panther stuck in the middle AND Spider-Man is supposed to show up at some point. There is so much potential here and after Age of Ultron, most of our expectations are a little lower which isn’t bad. Trailer below!

2. Star Wars: Rogue One (12/16)

I mean did you see The Force Awakens yet? No?!? Stop reading and go see it now… I’ll wait. Back? It was awesome, right? So why wouldn’t you want to see another film set in that universe focusing on earlier events less than a year from now? Rogue One is the first of the Star Wars Anthology films and revolves around the group that stole the original Death Star plans. We’ve got a solid cast including Felicity Jones, Alan Tudyk, and Forest Whitaker. We don’t have a ton of information yet but based on how great The Force Awakens was and how much I love this franchise, I can’t wait.

1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (3/25)

Finally, the big one. This film, in my opinion, is the most important on this list because it has so much riding on its shoulders. If this movie fails, the rest of the DCEU tumbles with it which means no Wonder Woman, Justice League, Shazaam, Aquaman, nothing but Suicide Squad since it’s basically done at this point. Now, based on the images, posters, and trailers we’ve seen…. I couldn’t be more confident that this will work. The film looks awesome. The tone is solid, the style of the characters is nothing short of epic. Oh and Wonder Woman is looking like she will steal the show which is something I welcome. Not pumped about this? Check out Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns either in graphic novel or animated film form. In the animated film Peter Weller voices Batman… so that’s cool. While this movie will be different, it borrows a lot of concepts and designs from The Dark Knight Returns. This is hands down, the movie I am most excited about, the most looking forward to, and the one that has the opportunity to disappoint me the most. Good luck to everyone involved! Check out the character posters and trailer below.


Batman v Superman Trinity Posters

 

Honorable Mentions

There’s a few more films that didn’t quite make the cut that I’m still excited about. The next five on my list in alphabetical order are:

Deadpool – February 12th

Doctor Strange – November 4th

Finding Dory – June 17th

The Jungle Book – April 15th

TMNT 2 – June 3rd

What did I leave off the list? What films are you most looking forward to in 2016? Comment below with your thoughts!

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2016

Best Prank Gift Games on Steam

Here’s a list of some of my favorite games to prank gift on Steam, the PC game platform. Sometimes you want to get back at friend who let you die in a co-op mode. Other times it’s a real life friend you want to give a chuckle. The best games tend to be obviously horrible and don’t cost much and sometimes you can find it on a Steam sale very cheap. I buy’em in bulk and dole them out later.

Best Prank Games on Steam



Lovely Weather We’re Having

Lovely Weather We're Having - On Steam
This game takes an interesting idea, and well … fiddles with it and then lets it die. Using your local weather data to affect the game’s environment is a great way for your friends to waste time. Imagine the weather sucking outside so your friend has to stay indoors and play games and then they find this dud waiting for them. On top of all of that, the game is buggy to boot, a decent choice for a prank gift. Check out the game here.



Bad Rats

bad rats - On Steam

Ugliest of all the Prank Games

Ever longed for those awkward days of video games, the ones with the early Playstation, when game makers were way too ambitious with the graphics and didn’t have any of that 8-bit nostalgia going for them? This is that kinda game; however, it is made fairly recently and looks horrible. So much so that the online website Kotaku described it as “putridly awkward.” And it’s a physics puzzle game for some reason. And oh yea it has something to do with rats killing cats or something. I’ve actually never played. I just give it out to friends. At least it’s cheap prank gift. Check out the game here.

Bad Rats Gif



Barbie Dreamhouse Party

Barbie Dream House - On Steam

Pinkest of Prank Games

The first reflex to give to all of your Black Ops teammates this game isn’t a bad choice. Though it’s usually not on sale, it’s overly pink and girly atmosphere will never let your teammates forget your gesture. Some of the more interesting Steam user tags I’ve seen for this are “Demonic”, “Gun Customization”, “Pyschological Horror” and “Female protagonist”  … naturally. Check out the game here.



The Graveyard

Grave Yard

Most somber of all the Prank Games

Sometimes I like my prank gifts to be summed up in a single sentence. This one would be: “Old lady walks around a grave yard.” That’s it. Judging by the screenshots and the trailer that sums things up succinctly. This is the king of Walking Simulators. Give it to your deep, self-righteously intelligent friends. Tell them to look for the hidden meaning of the game, you know, symbolism and stuff like that. Check out the game here.



Viscera Cleanup Detail

Viscera cleanup detail - On Steam

This is another great game for shooter fans. It has actions scenes with blood, gore, and mayhem. Not that you’ll be participating in any of it, you’ll be cleaing up after everyone else. I hope my shooter fans enjoyed the realistic physics as they put gibs in the trash. Check out the game here.

Viscera cleanup detail



Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015

Shower With Dad - On Steam

Best Prank Gift of All Time

Simply put, this is the best prank gift of all time. With users stating “this game lost me 12 Steam friends in 53 minutes…” and “perfect game to gift to random people.” This is game is perfect for all of your friends, not just the long term Team Fortress friends but even real life friends as well.  Even if you don’t give it away and instead keep it for your self, your friends will be seeing you playing this gem of a game. With an awkward title that is… hard to ignore, what makes this such a great prank gift is not just the title or implied nudity and awkwardness but its price. It usually goes for just twenty five cents when on sale. I usually buy a couple and keep them in my inventory, giving them out to people on servers who irritate me for some reason. Check out the game here.



Goat Simulator

Goat Simulator - On Steam

Goat Prank Games

This is proabably the most classic and best known prank gift. No one actually wants to play a goat, don’t believe the reviews, they’re trying to take advantage of your gulbility. But if you can find a person who’s new to Steam gaming, then throw this at’em. It should at least make them pause and wonder why … Check out the game here.



Confrontation

confrontation - On Steam

Where a lot of prank games are never too serious this game is an honest attempt to make a fun dungeon crawler game. Except that it falls flat on its face due to sub-par graphics, poor game-play, barely functional mechanics, and terrible story. This game deserves its Steam reputation as one of the worst.  I mean even the trailer for it looks bad. Save this one for a birthday to surprise your friends, sneaking it beneath the radar, tricking them into installing it and making them think you care about them. Check out the game here.

confrontation Scene



The Secret of Magic Crystals

Secret of Magic Crystals - On Steam

All I know is, this game has ponies that you groom and train. There is also something about getting special horses like unicorns and stuff. You go about unlocking brushes and other treats. Imagine a horse stable simulator but gone horrible wrong. I usually give this to my online friends who are wound too tight. Pets help with this right? Check out the game here.

Secret of Magic Crystals Horse

Horse Prank Games

Are there any other great Steam prank games out there that I missed? Comment below with your favorite prank games to give out to friends or that annoying online player!

Best Prank Gift Games on Steam

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 2

Welcome back to my review of the Top 10 Board Games of 2015.  In this article, I’ll be presenting my Top 5 games released during 2015.  You can read the first part of this article covering Games 6-10 and a few honorable mentions here.

That said, let’s pick back up with the:

Top 10 Best Board Games of 2015

5.  Baseball Highlights: 2045 by Eagle-Gryphon Games

BaseballHighlightsBaseball Highlights: 2045 is a game for two or more players that is supposed to play like watching the SportsCenter highlights of a series of baseball games. You start out with a generic team made up of rookies and a few veteran players of three types: naturals, cyborgs, and robots. Each type of character has a set of strengths, for instance robots tend to generate a lot of hits, naturals are better defensively and draw more fan support, and cyborgs tend to make the best pitchers. Each team has a deck of fifteen cards representing their roster, and only six players will play in each particular outing. Players score a certain amount of revenue based on who played that game which they use to draft new players from the market. In order to place a new player card in your deck, you demote one of the current players from your roster to the minor leagues, ensuring you never exceed your 15-card roster. Single games take maybe five minutes, and most plays typically have you playing several games to start customizing your roster, then playing out a championship series.

I’m not a huge fan of baseball, but this game is just fantastic. The back and forth between players is really exciting, and even though you only get six players per game, the timing of when to play them is really important. Where this game really shines is in it’s ability to stage tournaments. The base game comes with the ability to play four different teams, but new expansion team decks were released that allow you to expand the tournament out and accommodate a lot of players (up to 16 teams) that would make for an incredible larger bracket. There’s so many different strategies you can take as you build out your team: You can sign a bunch of robots to generate runs, but not a lot of fan support; you can build a heavy defensive team to shut down other players; you can try to build a team that generates a lot of fan support to try and recruit a few really powerful hitters; or you can try and sign a bunch of players that try to combo off each other. I love playing this game, and have to say it’s probably the best sports-themed game I’ve ever played.

4.  Specter Ops by Plaid Hat Games

SpecterOpsSpecter Ops is a 1-vs-All game where one player takes on the role of a secret agent trying to infiltrate and sabotage a Raxxon Corporation facility, while the other players play Raxxon Hunters dispatched to chase the agent down and take him out before he can complete his mission and escape. This is a hidden movement game, where the Agent records his movement secretly on a sheet of paper and is only visible to the Hunters when he enters their direct line of sight on the board. The Agent has to sabotage three key mission objectives and escape before either the Hunters can do enough damage to him or reinforcements arrive to pin him in after 40 turns. Each Hunter has a couple of abilities that allow them to narrow in on the location of the Agent, while the Agent is given a couple of limited use pieces of equipment to help them against the Hunters. It makes for a tense game of cat and mouse that’s fast paced and exciting the entire time.

I love this game. I believe this is the best hidden-movement game out there (though I concede there’s a case to be made for Fury of Dracula, which takes twice as long to play as Specter Ops). The variety of Hunters and Agents allows for a lot of replayability. With all the movement recorded on paper, there’s this great moment when the game ends, win or lose, when you can replay the entire mission and relive exactly where the agent was the entire time. There is an additional play mode when you play with five players (Four Hunters and the Agent), where one of the Hunters is secretly a traitor working with the Agent. The rules for this mode are a little clumsy, and I would strongly recommend not attempting this unless every Hunter has played before, but it definitely creates a different experience when you can no longer trust that the information coming from the other Hunters is truthful. I think I prefer playing the ‘standard’ play mode to this variant, but the way it takes a 1-vs-All game and makes it more of a team game is very interesting. All in all, this is a fantastic game, great design, great theme, and one I’m always excited to play.

3.  Legendary Encounters: A Predator Deck Building Game by Upper Deck Entertainment

LegendaryPredatorIf you’ve read some of my earlier articles, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of this game, the Predator franchise, and the Legendary game system. Previous entries in this system, which are set in the Marvel and Aliens universes, are cooperative deck-building games where players recruit heroes or important characters from their respective universes to struggle together to accomplish a get of goals while overcoming wave after wave of enemies along the way. The Predator version of this game allows players to recreate the events of the first two Predator films, which would be enjoyable by itself, assuming you are also a fan of that franchise. Mechanically, I think this is the best implementation of the cooperative Legendary system. Where this game really shines is in the alternate play mode as Predators. The Marvel version attempted to do a semi-cooperative experience where everyone works together but one player does the most good and wins, and that didn’t work at all for me. In this version, they created a truly competitive mode where each Predator is trying to hunt the biggest game, and can scrap with each other along the way, trying to collect the most trophies gathered by killing human characters from the first two Predator films. There’s additionally some expansion cards that allow the Predators to try and hunt Aliens if you also own the Legendary Encounters: Aliens game, which was a major draw for me as well.

This game has everything I want from a good cooperative game. It’s challenging, and forces the players to work together to be successful. It really does a great job of incorporating the story elements from the Predator films. The deck-building aspect of the game is interesting and allows players to specialize and even work together to help other players recruit great cards to their decks. Then you take all those mechanics and flip it around to be a purely competitive game, and it still works perfectly. It should go without saying that the theme of the game is violent, and that theme is reflected in the game art. If that’s something you have a problem with, then I would stick with the Legendary Marvel line, but if you’re a fan of the franchise, or if you enjoy tough cooperative games with strong theme, this gets a solid recommendation from me.

2.  Codenames by CGE

CodenamesCodenames is a party game designed for two teams that draws inspiration from other word games like Taboo or Password. Unlike those games, which typically use time limits to create tension, Codenames places a five by five grid of random words out in front of all the players, then has one member from each team try to give clues to guess which of those 25 words belong to their team. Both clue givers are working off the same grid of words using a clue card that identifies which words within the grid belong to the red team and which belong to the blue team. Some words are ‘unaffiliated’, meaning they just fill up the grid with additional words to be avoided, and one word is the bomb. If any team accidentally guesses the bomb word, they instantly lose that round. Teams alternate giving clues by saying a single word and a number, for example “Fish Three.” This would indicate to my team that I believe three words in the grid of 25 have something to do with fish. They guess a word, one at a time. If they’re correct, you place a card with your team’s color over the word, and they can continue guessing up to the number given in the clue plus one additional guess. This allows you to potentially go back and take another stab at a previous clue you didn’t get right. If the word they guess is unaffiliated or belongs to the other team, you place the appropriate color card, and have to yield play to the other team. And if you guess the bomb word, you lose. The first team to correctly guess all of their words first wins the round.

There’s just nothing quite like Codenames, which feels initially intimidating, but the challenge becomes really rewarding. It works great in just about any group of six or more, though in theory you could play with just four players. This was by far the most requested game by my family this Thanksgiving, appealing to both the gamer and non-gamer. The challenge in the game comes from trying to link as many words as possible in a single clue, as opposed to trying to guess the most words in a minute. You can give clues for a single word, but if you limit yourself too much you can allow the other team to race ahead of you. It’s challenging, but in a good way that leaves you always feeling like you could do better and wanting to try again. This was easily my favorite party game of the year, and for the shear approachability was almost my favorite game released this year.

 1.  Pandemic: Legacy by Z-Man Games

PandemicLegacyThe distinction of favorite game of the year has to belong to Pandemic: Legacy. I’ve been writing a series of playthough articles about my experience with this game, but the short version of my review is that this game is brilliant. It takes the core engine of an already fantastic cooperative game, Pandemic, and adds on top of it a layer of narrative and customization that allows a story to evolve as you play. Pandemic: Legacy tells a story about major disease outbreaks threatening the world that takes place over one calendar year, beginning in January. Each game still operates under the framework of being a standard game of Pandemic, which I won’t try to explain in full here, but is one of the most groundbreaking cooperative games ever designed. Starting with this core system, it then adds unique events and decisions that are revealed piecemeal from a secret deck of cards and multiple hidden compartments, cards, and stickers, that allows (and sometimes forces) players to interact with the game rules and modify elements of the game permanently. This allows a narrative to play out over the course of the year that includes twists and turns, and more than a few surprises. My group at the time of writing this article is currently in the month of November, and the story arc is about to reach its climax. I won’t spoil that here, but every time we sit down to play this game, we’re blown away by how invested in the story we’ve become and always wanting to push farther to see how it will end.

As a hobbyist, I buy a lot of games. This means that I will typically play through a new game a few times, and if it’s a truly great game, it’ll come up in the rotation every couple of months maybe, depending on the mood of my gaming group. The idea of sitting down to play the same game so many times (it takes anywhere from 12-24 plays of Pandemic: Legacy to complete the story line, though I’ve yet to hear of anyone who did it in less than 17) was a little intimidating. My group is sitting currently at 15 games played, and we play two rounds of the game each Friday over lunch. It’s become one of the highlights of my week. Pandemic is a great game, and I would say experience with Pandemic is probably required from at least one player you will be playing with should you decide to try this for yourself, but this just takes that experience to a whole new level. It feels like we’re playing through our own Hollywood blockbuster like Outbreak or Contagion. We’ve spent so much time with our characters that we’ve really become attached. Areas of the world have taken on a life of their own. The experience you have playing this game is only really comparable to playing a great Role Playing Game. The core mechanics of the game start to fade into the background and you find yourself just participating in the story, and trying as hard as you can to succeed in that story. There are moments that have occurred while playing this game that I will never forget. This is the best game released in 2015.

So that’s my list. Did I leave off one of your favorites? Let me know what you think down in the comments below.

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 2

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 1

During 2015, there were thousands of new Hobby Board Games released (just shy of 3000 according to boardgamegeek.com, the largest index of board games), which doesn’t count expansions to existing games. It’s impossible to keep up with so many board games coming out all the time, either from the ever increasing number of small publishers or the surge of Kickstarter projects, so you have to make something either truly great or truly singular to capture people’s attention today. Some have great names (Assassinorum: Execution Force, I’m looking at you), some make big splashes on Kickstarter (Exploding Kittens, which was better than it has any right to be), and some try to ride the coattails of great IP licences (like the new Star Wars Risk Edition, which is actually nothing like Risk and a surprisingly decent board game).

Each year, there are a handful of board games that stand out from the crowd. With Christmas nearing, I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the Top 10 best board games released in 2015. I’ve had a chance to play each of these games multiple times, and they’re all games I intend to keep in my collection for a long time. With each board game, I’ll give an explanation of the game itself, and why I like it.

Before I do that, however, I want to start with a few honorable mentions. These are games I don’t own and haven’t had a chance to play (though I certainly want to), but each of them possesses something unique that I think makes them stand out from the crowd. In no particular order, here are my honorable mentions:

Honorable Mention:  Elysium by Space Cowboys

ElysiumIn Elysium, two to four players take on the role of a demigod trying to curry the most favor with the Gods on Olympus. Each player is given a set of four colored columns, which form the basic currency of the game. Each of the five game rounds, or epochs, involves recruiting cards and quests, which are separated between a players Domain area that represents the land of the Living, and their Elysium, the land of the Dead. Most of your points are earned based on the cards you are able to move into Elysium. Players compete for the favor of eight gods, though only five are used in any given game, which gives a fair amount of replayability.

If you like games like Seasons or Abyss, you should also enjoy Elysium. The game plays in about 60 minutes, which feels about the right length to get a challenging experience without taking too long to play, though it can be prone to Analysis Paralysis. It’s definitely one to check out if you enjoy Euro-style games.

Honorable Mention:  XCOM: The Board Game by Fantasy Flight Games

XCOMThe XCOM Board Game doesn’t have the frenetic, first-person shooter elements featured in a number of the video game implementations, but does capture the feeling of having to defend the world against an unknown hostile alien force. This is a cooperative game that features a digital companion application that is required to play the game. Lest that put you off, this is probably the best digital element incorporated into any board game to date. The app is more than just narration or instructions, but actually serves to randomize the game and give the aliens an unpredictable A.I. that responds to what the players are doing and how the game is progressing. While the game is capable of being played with one to four players, I would really only consider playing it with a full group of four. This allows each player to take on one of several important roles responsible for making certain key decisions.

There are a couple of reasons I’ve not played this one yet. First, I don’t know someone who owns it. Second, as someone who is not all that well acquainted with the video game franchise, I don’t feel the connection to the franchise to lead me to want to rush out and buy it. Third, the game has a reputation for being very difficult. Some of you might enjoy that, and I certainly don’t mind challenging games, especially cooperative games, but there’s a real-time element that makes the game hard because you will inevitably make bad rushed decisions that add to the difficulty of the game. It’s a game that really requires you to play it multiple times to understand how the game plays before you have a change to be successful. If you’re a fan of the series and willing to run though a few plays that will end badly before you feel like you get it, this one is definitely worth a look.

Honorable Mention:  Mysterium by Asmodee

MysteriumThe easiest way to describe Mysterium is to say that someone took a deck of Dixit cards and made an actual game out of it. That may seem a bit harsh to Dixit fans (I’m not a big Dixit fan myself), but it’s probably more accurate to say that Mysterium is Dixit with theme. In Mysterium, one person plays a murder victim, and the other players are psychic mediums or paranormal investigators who have come to help solve this murder. The victim has a deck of cards much like a standard Dixit deck, and ‘communicates’ with the other players by presenting them cards that represent their dreams. Without any other verbal clues from the victim, the rest of the players are trying to use the clues given to identify the particulars of how the victim died.

I think the main reason I include this board game as an honorable mention is the fact that I don’t really know any other game like this. It’s different and strange, which is usually a selling point for me. The reason I haven’t bought this yet is that this game, more than most others, is very dependent on the group. In the right group, with some ambiance and willingness to dive in, this game can be incredible. In the wrong group, this game can be an exercise in controlled frustration, especially for the victim, who often has to play cards that may not actually have anything to do with the clue he needs them to guess, and has to sit silently and watch while the other plays overanalyze all the wrong details from the card.

So, without further ado, here’s my:

Top 10 Best Board Games of 2015

10.  Apex Theropod Deck-Building Game by Die-Hard Games

ApexThis board game is my sentimental pick, despite it being a relatively obscure game. This game was a Kickstarter project launched by a military veteran that lives in my area, and the artwork to this game drew me in immediately. I would have been happy if all I got was a mediocre game with beautiful art, but I was surprised by how great this game actually is. It’s a deck-building game (similar to games like Dominion and Core Worlds), where you are playing as the brood mother of a particular dinosaur species. You hunt prey that comes out along a cycling game trail, use that prey to feed your babies, and recruit those grown up dinosaurs into your deck. Occasionally a Boss will show up in the game trail that has to be fought off or killed, and the game ends when a giant meteor strikes earth and everyone is rendered extinct.

This game is chocked full of theme, and may be the game I’ve played the most this year. It can play up to 8, though I would never want to play with more than 4 as the playing time increases linearly per player (at about 30 minutes per player), and has a surprising robust single-player mode. It’s tough, but each dinosaur clan has a distinct style of play that takes several plays to figure out and master. There is a chance with some bad card draws early for an incredibly thematic but frustrating ‘death-spiral’ to take place, where your dinosaur gets so messed up and sick from early hunting mistakes that there’s no recovering. I love this game, flaws and all, and when the designer announced he was taking all the feedback and releasing a second edition with refined game play, more player interaction, and more playable dinosaur species, it was a Day 1 Kickstarter purchase from me, as well as several of the people I’ve introduced the game to. I even funded high enough to be allowed to design a card for the new version, which should tell you how much I enjoy this game. It’s really one of the best deck-builders I’ve ever played, and the second edition will be releasing in January/February of next year, so keep an eye out for that one if it sounds interesting to you.

9.  Flick ‘Em Up by Pretzel Games

FlickEmUpI’m not typically a fan of Dexterity Games. For those not familiar with the term, the standard bearer of this genre is Jenga, though the term broadly means any game that has an element of physical interaction (dexterity) required, such as pushing blocks, flicking disks, or throwing pieces. For many of these games, the dexterity element is the game, and the concept of theme doesn’t really apply or is loosely pasted on. This is where Flick ‘Em Up is such an interesting departure.

Flick ‘Em Up is a game that strives to recreate an old-fashioned western shoot out. Players split into two teams of sheriffs and bandits then position their figures in their town ready to go. Players exchange fire by flicking disks at their opponents, with hits registering if you can knock the target figure over. You can also move for better positioning by flicking a rounded disk to maneuver between buildings and behind hay bales or other props. You can move into buildings which grants you cover, but if another person enters that building with you, you engage in a duel, flicking at each other over increasingly shorter distances until one of you emerges victorious and the other is thrown out into the street. It’s brilliant, hilarious fun that works well for a wide variety of age ranges, since flicking is a skill we all suck at.

8.  7 Wonders: Duel by Repos Production

7WondersDuel7 Wonders is a great board game about civilization building that uses card drafting as the primary mechanic. It’s a game that can play anywhere from three to eight players, though I always prefer to play it with the higher player counts. There are two-player rules included with the game, but they’re pretty terrible. Enter 7 Wonders: Duel. This game, designed only for two players, takes the basic concepts of 7 Wonders, and instead of card drafting inserts a game of pyramid solitaire. Unless you’re a big solitaire fan, that probably doesn’t sound very appealing, but they use the mechanic well. Instead of choosing a card from your hand, you can choose from any card uncovered in the pyramid. Some cards start each round face down so you can’t completely predict what cards will be revealed, but there’s a surprising amount of tactical decisions to be made. Add to that major changes to the military and science systems, a changed system for building wonders, and several other system tweaks, and what you have is a really great version of 7 Wonders that feels like the original game, but plays a little faster.

7.  Blood Rage by Cool Mini Or Not

BloodRageThe only board game on this list I don’t own (*yet), Blood Rage was one of the most hyped games coming out of GenCon this year. Thematically, it’s a game about Vikings pillaging the nine Norse realms as Ragnarok begins to destroy the world one realm at a time. Mechanically, this game is a Frankenstein of some of the best elements of other games that works so much better than it has any right to. Take a little card drafting from 7 Wonders, sprinkle in an energy system from Core Worlds, a combat system that’s part Area Control and part Cosmic Encounter, and an empire upgrade system like Eclipse and you get this game that feels familiar and strange at the same time. Oh, and the miniatures. This game features some of the best miniatures of any game I’ve ever seen, which is what you expect from Cool Mini or Not.

I’ve had a chance to play this game a few times now. The theme is strong, and really shines through all the game systems at work here. Blood Rage is unsurprisingly not for the faint of heart. It’s strategic, and brutally punishing of mistakes. Almost every game I’ve played has left someone feeling hard done by. Miscalculations or combat surprises early in a round can severely cripple you for the rest of that round. With only nine territories to compete over, you’ll be fighting multiple times each age, but unlike many direct combat games, winning isn’t everything. In fact, sometimes you’ll send your units deliberately into a fight just so they’ll die and go to Valhalla, since there are several ways to make a glorious death profitable, sometimes even more profitable than winning a fight outright. Then there’s Ragnarok. Each turn, one area on the board is destroyed, and any units in that territory at the time earn glory for their clan simply for having died in Ragnarok. I still don’t feel like I’ve been get my mind around how to win, and I love that.

6.  Tiny Epic Galaxies by Gamelyn Games

TinyEpicGalaxiesThe Tiny Epic series of games has been mostly a dud for me, until Tiny Epic Galaxies, the third in this line of pocket games created by Scott Almes. Tiny Epic Galaxies is a game for one to four players where each player controls a small system of planets and uses ships to try and colonize new systems or raid systems for resources. Actions are determined by dice rolls, and the game rules include a few ways to manipulate dice if you get stuck with an unfavorable roll. There’s two main currencies in the game, energy and culture. Both can be spent in increasing increments to upgrade your empire, but energy can also be spent to take additional rerolls, and culture can be used to copy the actions other players are taking. This leaves you constantly invested while other players are taking their turns, if you have culture to spend. Colonizing new systems earns you points and gives you access to new special powers, and the game ends when the first player reaches 21 points worth of new colonies. Additionally, the game includes rules for an incredibly challenging single player mode, and all of this comes in a box slightly larger than two decks of cards.

The game is surprisingly strategic, and competition over available systems can be incredibly tight, especially when playing with four. There are difficult choices to be made throughout the game, weighing whether to improve your empire, stock up on resources, or push to colonize a system before someone else can steal it. There are also really interesting combos that can be achieved by chaining together actions between systems you control and uncolonized planets. The ability to spend culture to duplicate the actions of other players can be a huge, effectively either giving you additional actions or forcing other players to avoid taking an action they know will benefit you more. The size of the game makes it easy to carry with you just about anywhere, which is awesome for a game with so much depth and replayability. There’s just so much variety in such a small package that I highly recommend it.

This ends Part 1 of my Top 10 Best Board Games of 2015. What did you think of picks 6-10 and my Honorable Mentions? Comment below with your thoughts!

Also, stay tuned for the Top 5 Best Board Games of 2015, coming soon!

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 1

Top 6 Halloween Themed Board Games

Some board games are evergreens, playable all year round. Some games are only playable in certain conditions. Perhaps they have certain player count requirements that are hard to meet, or the style of game only works for certain gamers, or the length is either too long or too short for some people. Some games, like some of the ones I’ll be mentioning below, only come out when the mood is right. Halloween always makes me want to break out games that fit the season.

For me, a great Halloween-themed game needs to explore settings that feature terror or horror as a key element of the experience.  They might involve famous monsters or haunted landscapes, but without question, they need to allow me and my friends to experience something together.

With some good music and a few willing players, you can create your own great Halloween gaming memories. Presented below are my Top 6 recommendations for creating that Halloween theme at your Halloween Game Nights (along with a few alternate choices for the more experienced gamers out there).

 

Top 6 Halloween Board Games

6.  A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game by Flying Frog Productions
The best Dinner Theatre Troop money can provide!

The best Dinner Theatre Troop money can provide!

A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is set in the early 19th century. This game definitely draws upon settings like Sleepy Hollow to create a Gothic horror vibe where witches and vampires and other horrors stalk the night. The players choose to play one of several heroes trying to work together to save the town of Shadowbrook. There is a different play mode that allows you to compete to save the town the best, but you should avoid this like the plague. This game definitely borrows mechanics from other games, some of which do those things better, but the game just has a cheesy charm (the tone of which is set with the artwork, which looks like a dinner theatre troop about to do a murder mystery show) that has yet to really be recreated in any other game. The reality is, there just aren’t any other games that explore this setting, at least that do it well, and this game rewards committing to the silliness.

5.  Last Night on Earth by Flying Frog Productions
Get your B Movie on and get ready to kill some Zombies

Get your B Movie on and get ready to kill some Zombies

You can’t talk Halloween games without mentioning zombies. With the rise of The Walking Dead and zombies generally in pop culture, it’s been a theme that a number of game publishers have approached to cash in on. Very few of them are good, but the few that are can be really good. I chose Last Night on Earth, not because I think it’s the best zombie game, but because I think this game has the best combination of serious and silly from the “B Movie” tradition. The characters are clichés, the scenarios all feel vaguely familiar, but the whole can be richly entertaining. There are some expansions that add good stuff, but the base game contains enough to be entertaining. I also think this is one of the easiest games to jump into for new players, which is always a positive.

Honorable Mentions: Dead of Winter by Plaid Hat Games, City of Horror by Asmodee Editions, Zombicide by Guillotine Games

4.  Werewolf by Andrew Plotkin (Multiple Publishers)
The Ultimate version of Werewolf, capable of up to 75 players (!!!)

The Ultimate version of Werewolf, capable of up to 75 players (!!!)

Werewolf is one of the pioneers of hidden role games. It feels like it’s been around a long time, even though it was created back in 1997 (and the original game it was based on, Mafia, was only developed in 1986). At its core, Werewolf, and all it’s variations, is a team game focused on two sides: villagers trying to survive, and werewolves who are slowly thinning the herd, with a moderator helping enforce the roles and drive the game. The werewolves know who the other werewolves are, but the other villagers have no idea who the werewolves among them are. The goal of the game is for the villagers to try and identify the werewolves and hang them during the day before the werewolves have eaten too many of their number during the night.

This game is a fantastic game for large parties, since it requires typically at least eight people to play. It does require a good moderator, either an experienced player or someone with a touch for the dramatic, especially as more custom roles are added to the game. Done right, Werewolf is a fantastic deduction game that is great for large settings and adds as much Halloween flavor as you bring in to it.

Honorable Mention: One Night Ultimate Werewolf by Bezier Games

3.  Eldritch Horror by Fantasy Flight Games
Eldritch Horror - All the Tentacles you can stand

Eldritch Horror – All the Tentacles you can stand

You can’t very well talk about great Halloween themes without mentioning H.P. Lovecraft. These days, there are lots of games that feature the Cthulu mythos in some form or another, but only a few try to take the theme seriously, and even fewer of those are actually enjoyable to play. In Eldritch Horror, players are working together, racing against time to prevent the advent of one of the Ancient Ones and beat back the waves of horrors beginning to spread across the earth. The game really captures the Lovecraft theme well, and can be very challenging. To me, this game strikes the right balance between immersion and length. While the game is capable of playing up to eight players, I would personally never play it with more than four.

It’s worth giving more than a mere mention to Arkham Horror here, the grandfather of Lovecraft games. None do it bigger, and the expansions add tons of options and elements straight from Lovecraft. Its strength is also its weakness: there are so many expansions and options that no other game rivals it in depth, but that depth comes with an almost exponential increase in complexity. The game, even in it’s base form, is just so long to play that unless you are prepared to commit four to eight hours to it, not to mention the setup time, it’s just not worth the investment. Additionally, most players who have the game and the expansions are really reluctant to play without them, since it’s so hard to get to the table. I’ve never yet seen or played a game that didn’t involve the game stopping multiple times while some arcane rule or another had to be searched out of the right rules booklet. I would almost never consider playing this game with new players. Eldritch Horror gives a similar feel in a shorter playing time, still likely two to three hours, and in my mind is the superior game.

Honorable Mention: Mansions of Madness by Fantasy Flight Games

2.  Fury of Dracula by Fantasy Flight Games
Fury of Dracula, 2nd Edition - One of the best hidden movement games out there

Fury of Dracula, 2nd Edition – One of the best hidden movement games out there

There is no denying the influence of vampires in our society. Bram Stoker’s version of Dracula is far and away the gold standard. This story has been told and retold so many times over the years, and there’s just something compelling about the character of Dracula that draws us back. That’s why Fury of Dracula is my pick for the game that best represents this theme. This game is set in the time frame roughly eight years following the events of Stoker’s novel and features many of the characters from that novel. One player plays Dracula, moving around Europe, trying to expand his following and create more vampires and expand his influence. The players represent those few characters actively trying to stop Dracula before he becomes too powerful. It’s a game of cat and mouse, with Dracula either trying to remain one step ahead of his pursuers or trying to lay traps for them to take them out before they can stop him. I really enjoy hidden movement games, and this is one of the gems of this genre, dripping with theme. It’s been out of print for a while, but is being reprinted next month, and is definitely worth your consideration.

Honorable Mention: Letters from Whitechapel by Fantasy Flight Games (same concept, but detectives chasing Jack the Ripper in London)

1.  Betrayal at House on the Hill by Wizards of the Coast
I have a great idea, guys. Let's split up! What could go wrong?

I have a great idea, guys. Let’s split up! What could go wrong?

This game feels like a movie you’ve seen a hundred times: a band of strangers wanders into a Haunted House and gets stuck. You have a varied cast of clichéd characters, such as teenage babysitter, high school jock, old priest, and creepy little girl, all coming together, though no one knows why. Rather than doing the sensible thing, the strangers begin to split up and explore the house. As they do, mysterious things being to happen, challenging players physically and mentally. Once the game progresses to a certain point, the Haunt begins, which is where this game really excels. While all the players have been working together to this point, you learn that one person in the group has lured everyone here under false pretenses, and their plot to secretly murder the rest of the group is revealed. The game then switches to become a One-v-All game until one side emerges. There are 50 different possible Haunt scenarios that come with the game, and tons more available online to mix things up if that’s not enough. Rich with theme, this game more than any other makes for a fun Halloween experience. It feels like you’re acting out a bad B-Movie the entire time, and the way the game manages to sustain the suspense of what’s really going on is fantastic. This game isn’t perfect, but it is one of a kind. Betrayal at House on the Hill creates fantastic stories, and is my clear number one choice for best Halloween themed game to play.

A house like this just screams "Explore me. No evil murders here."

A house like this just screams “Explore me. No evil murders here.”

So, what do you think? Are there games I left off this list? Are there other games that you only feel like playing at certain times of the year? What’s on your Halloween must play list? Let me know in the comments below.

Top 6 Halloween Themed Board Games

Your Halloween Movie Playlist

Every October, I indulge in some of the best Halloween movies I can find. Some are classics that cross my television despite the season while others remain fall exclusives.  Either way, these movies are all must watch for all spooky evenings. The lists begin after the break below:

main pic

For fun, I’ve broken this down based on multiple genres, so there’s a little something for everyone! On with the show!

Animated

nightmare
1. Nightmare Before Christmas
2. Frankenweenie
3. Corpse Bride
You have to do the Tim Burton claymation trilogy on the same day. It’s just better that way.
4. Paranorman – absolutely adorable
5. Coraline – fun and creepy to the bone

Slasher

Halloween_cover 1. Halloween – an All Hallow’s Eve staple
2. Nightmare on Elm Street – my favorite slasher film
3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre – despite what everyone says, this was not based on true events
4. Scream – don’t have sex
5. Friday the 13th – nothing better than watching Kevin Bacon getting stabbed in the throat

Sci-Fi

Alien_movie_poster 1. Alien – the ultimate chick flick
2. The Thing – one of the dumbest titles in history; one of the scariest films to date
3. Re-Animator – science sex scenes = nightmare fuel
4. The Fly – tasty Jeff Goldb- annnndd he’s gone
5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers – just try to close your eyes and not see Donald Sutherland make that horrible face

Family

4934 1. Hocus Pocus – not Disney’s best horror film, but it’s the best
2. Ghostbusters (both of them) – who ya gonna call? Bill flippin Murray.
3. Beetlejuice – there’s no evidence saying Michael Keaton won’t appear
4. Young Frankenstein – care for a roll in ze hay?
5. Addams Family (both of them)- Gomez and Morticia are easily the best parents ever

Foreign

MV5BMjE1OTY2MTM5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQ5Mjc5MQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_ 1. Let the Right One In – child vampires and puppy love
2. Pan’s Labyrinth – a fantasy horror film where the reality is more horrific than the fantasy
3. The Babadook – sure, let’s make parenting more frightening
4. A Tale of Two Sisters – AMERICA tried to remake this; we failed miserably
5. The Host – not a Korean love story

Adult Comedy

download (1) 1. Dead Snow –Norway fulfills the world’s ultimate fantasy: zombie Nazis
2. Zombieland – this may be Woody Harrelson’s finest role. It is most certainly Jesse Eisenberg’s most tolerable one.
3. Shaun of the Dead – you’ve got red on you
4. Cabin in the Woods – come for Thor, stay for inevitable Sigourney Weaver
5. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil – how I see teenagers everywhere: murderous and stupid

Zombie

download (2)1. Night of the Living Dead – the zombie movie to begin all zombie movies and create a horror god
2. Dawn of the Dead (2004) – if you ever get the chance to shoot a baby zombie, would you really turn it down?
3. 28 Days Later – technically a contagion film, but let’s not mince words here
4. World War Z – watch because you loved the book, then let go of the book
5. Evil Dead (every single one of them) – don’t read the Necronomicon

Monster

werewolf1. American Werewolf in London – leagues better than the little known American Werewolf in Canada
2. Bram Stoker’s Dracula – don’t let Keanu Reeves stop you from watching this
3. Salem’s Lot – no sparkly vampires here
4. The Mist – sogoodsogoodsogoodsogood
5. Jaws – da…dun. da dun. dadundadundadundadun, salsa shark

Ghost 

the-sixth-sense-poster1. The Sixth Sense – everyone has spoiled this for you by now
2. Poltergeist – used real skeletons. Real human skeletons.
3. Paranormal Activity – I will never again recommend shaky cam movies
4. 1408 – Can you really go wrong with John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson?
5. Frighteners – recommended by your Grid boss

The Best of the Best

the-shining-1980-poster1. The Shining – heeeeerrrrreee’sss your chance to fear Jack Nicholson forever
2. Silence of the Lambs – if you watch the sequel, Jodi Foster ages backwards
3. Psycho – Anthony Perkins. Never Vince Vaughn.
4. The Exorcist – so many naughty words
5. The Omen – it’s all for you, Damien

 

Did you like what you see? Plan on watching any of these before Halloween?  What did we miss?  Let us know in the comments!

Your Halloween Movie Playlist