GeekDad Raising Geek Generation 2.0 Fri, 27 Mar 2015 11:30:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Celebrate a Decade of ‘Doctor Who’ with This Beautiful Fan Film Fri, 27 Mar 2015 11:30:41 +0000 On March 26, 2005, "Rose" first appeared on televisions across the UK, and 'Doctor Who' was reborn. Christopher Eccleston was the Ninth Doctor, Billie Piper was his companion Rose Tyler, and the rest is history... or the future... eh, it's all wibbly wobbly timey wimey, isn't it? Continue reading

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On March 26, 2005, “Rose” first appeared on televisions across the UK, and Doctor Who was reborn. Christopher Eccleston was the Ninth Doctor, Billie Piper was his companion Rose Tyler, and the rest is history… or the future… eh, it’s all wibbly wobbly timey wimey, isn’t it?

To celebrate the anniversary of “Nu Who,” spend a few minutes with this beautiful fan film. There are no real spoilers here–just some of the best moments and lines of dialogue from the past ten years and the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors.

This might also be a good time to shamelessly plug GeekDad’s Doctor Who Rewind series, in which we watch through the entire classic run of the show… from two very different perspectives. Catch up here.

Happy Anniversary, Doctor!

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There’s a Vulcan in My Tolkien Fri, 27 Mar 2015 11:00:07 +0000 Last month I found myself spiraling down an internet hobbit hole. Leonard Nimoy had passed (LLAP), and I was surfing the web reminiscing about a man that was aptly described in a tweet as "every geek's grandfather." But what does this have to do with hobbits? Continue reading

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A Vulcan in my Tolkien

Last month I found myself spiraling down an internet hobbit hole. Leonard Nimoy had passed (LLAP), and I was surfing the web reminiscing about a man that was aptly described in a tweet as “every geek’s grandfather.”

It was a tragic loss. The older I get, the more impact these deaths seem to have. I grew up with Spock, watching reruns of the original Trek after school, and the string of movies inspired by a relentless fanbase for a show which lasted all of three seasons. Star Trek was a seminal moment in fandom, and Spock was its poster child.

But what does this have to do with hobbits?

Lord of the Rings is equally seminal in the different corners of geekery. Not a fantasy book is written that doesn’t owe Tolkien a debt. Dungeons & Dragons, the founding father of every RPG on the market today, originally lifted great swaths of material from Tolkien’s work.

And these two universes collide in the most spectacular way.

Many geeks have seen this video–Leonard Nimoy swimming in hippie chicks as he belts out an ode to Bilbo Baggins. It was on this little gem where I landed during my YouTube-lit vigil, and where I fell down the hobbit hole.

I couldn’t shake the awe, as a writer, of how Tolkien’s influence had bled into other media, and I wanted to find out just how far that influence extended.

Saying goodbye to Leonard Nimoy with one last viewing of that damn tear-inducing warp core scene from Wrath of Khan (sorry Abrams, you can’t measure up to that), I took up a forgotten gift card from Christmas and started following the lembas bread crumbs to see what other Tolkien inspired music I could find.

As I tumbled deeper and deeper into that hobbit hole, I began to wonder if I instead hadn’t stepped off a crumbling bridge with a Balrog. One song after another and there was no end in sight. My holdover iTunes gift card was reaching its limit.

The thing that amazed me most was the sheer breadth of music. I’d heard of some of the rock and metal influenced by Tolkien–Rush, Styx, Zeppelin–but Jazz? New Age? Trippy psychedelic instrumentals? There was even a Spanish band called Nazgul whose music is described as Symphonic Black Metal. Everything from single songs to entire albums devoted to Tolkien’s prose. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Ballad of Bilbo Baggins

The song that got me started on this quest: Leonard Nimoy singing about “the bravest little hobbit of them all.”

“The Ballad Of Bilbo Baggins” by Leonard Nimoy from Sydney Urshan on Vimeo.

The Pimp, the Bitch, and the Magic Beans

This one goes off the rails. Like way off. Warp Factor ten through the Shire with a hookah packed full of something other than Pipeweed. The extremely mental gollum impression that picks up about mid song is A-mazing. Yes, as the title indicates, this song is highly offensive. It is also now on my iPod.

In the House of Tom Bombadil

My son plays mandolin, and this song features some killer mandolin riffs. I can count the number of country songs I have on my iPod on one hand, though I do question iTunes classification. Bluegrass, maybe folk, or Americana, but maybe I’m splitting hobbit hairs.

Led Zeppelin

Zeppelin’s penchant for nonsense lyrics and Middle Earth name-dropping is well known. From the overtly Tolkien inspired “Battle of Evermore” to the less obvious references to “the west” in “Stairway to Heaven,” Plant makes it clear that when he named his dog Strider this was no accident.

My favorite is “Ramble On,” a song ostensibly about a girl, until we get about 2:50 in and find out that he met his girl “in the darkest depths of Mordor” and that Gollum “crept up and slipped away with her.”

John Sangster Orchestra

As bizarre as Nuclear Rabbit’s take on Middle Earth is or as instantly classic as Zeppelin’s rock-driven homages, this is probably the most utterly unexpected. In 1975, Sangster, an Australian jazz musician, released the first of a three volume collection titled, The Lord of the Rings.

The issue isn’t the quality, this is masterful jazz, the issue is the tone. My favorite, “The Ride of the Rohirrim,” evokes images of those fearless horsemen riding across a barren landscape to defeat an army of swing dancing orcs with their deadly jazz hands.

When I’d exhausted the gift card, I went back to the first song on the list: Nimoy’s “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” and was reminded about the sad event that had started this little sonic adventure. But here I was, mourning the death of a sci-fi icon in 2015 while listening to classic and contemporary music inspired by a holy tome of geekery written sixty years ago.

Old geeks don’t die. They just look to the west and ramble on.

For anyone curious, here’s a track list which represents a small piece of what I found. Many of the following songs are from entire albums devoted to Tolkien’s work :

Name Artist Album Genre
“Lothlorien” Argent Ring of Hands Rock
“Battle At Helm’s Deep” Attcker Battle At Helm’s Deep Rock
“Den Gamla Skogen – Tom Bombadil” Bo Hansson Sagan Om Ringen (Lord of the Rings) Alternative
“TOLKIEN (The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings)” Brobdingnagian Bards Memories of Middle Earth New Age
“Lothlórien” Enya Shepherd Moons Pop
“Feanor” Galadhrim Galadhrim Singer/Songwriter
“In Safety at Elrond’s House” Gandalf Visions 2001 Pop
“Stagnation” Genesis Trespass Rock
“Mithrandir (This Fading Age)” Glass Hammer The Middle Earth Album Rock
“Journey In the Dark (The Mines Fo Moria-The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm)” Johan De Meij Symphony No. 1 The Lord of the Rings Instrumental
“The Ride of the Rohirrim” John Sangster Orchestra & John Sangster The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 1 Jazz
“Helm’s Deep” Jonathan Peters Symphony No. 1 “Journey of the Ring” New Age
“The Battle of Evermore” Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin IV (Remastered) Rock
“Misty Mountain Hop” Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin IV (Remastered) Rock
“Ramble On” Led Zeppelin Mothership (Remastered) Rock
“Stairway to Heaven” Led Zeppelin Mothership (Remastered) Rock
“Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” Leonard Nimoy Spaced Out – The Best of Leonard Nimoy & William Shatner Spoken Word
“Warriors of Night (Original Mix)” Nazgul Lord of Darkness Electronic
“In the House of Tom Bombadil” Nickel Creek Nickel Creek Country
“The Pimp, the Bitch & the Magic Beans” Nuclear Rabbit Intestinal Fortitude Alternative
“Saruman’s Wish” Orange Goblin Frequencies from Planet Ten Rock
“Ring Thing” Pearls Before Swine Balaklava (1968) Rock
“Rivendell” Rush Fly By Night (Remastered) Rock
“Shadows” Sabaton Metalizer Rock
“Songs of the Quendi Medley” Sally Oldfield Mirrors: The Bronze Anthology Rock
“Lords of the Ring” Styx Pieces of Eight Rock
“Ent’s Marching Song” The Tolkien Ensemble The Best of the Tolkien Ensemble – The Load of the Rings Pop
“We Must Join With Him” Unleashed Midvinterblot Death Metal/Black Metal

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Another New Lego Spin-off Announced: ‘The Billion Brick Race’ Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:30:10 +0000 Warner Bros. just announced another new Lego spin-off movie--'The Billion Brick Race.' This movie is in addition to the other three spin-offs already announced--'Ninjago' in 2016, 'The Lego Batman Movie' in 2017, and 'The Lego Movie 2' in 2018. Continue reading

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legomovieWarner Bros. just announced another new Lego spin-off movie–The Billion Brick Race. This movie is in addition to the other three spin-offs already announced–Ninjago in 2016, The Lego Batman Movie in 2017, and The Lego Movie 2 in 2018.

Normally when I hear of so many franchise spin-offs I tend to groan and tune-out, but our family loved The Lego Movie so much and there are so many flavors of Lego that I’m optimistic that all of these spin-offs will be different enough to not feel worn out.

Couple that with the hiring of Jason Segel and Drew Pearce to write and co-direct the new film and I’m sold. I am big fans of both of these guys and can’t wait to see what they do with the franchise. No details have yet been released on what the story will be about.

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Daily #DadJoke for March 27, 2015 Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:00:06 +0000 Why does a chicken coop have only two doors? Continue reading

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Daily #DadJoke for March 27, 2015:

20150327Why does a chicken coop have only two doors?

If it had four doors, it would be a chicken sedan.

Have a great joke that you would like to see in print (complete with a “submitted by your name here” shout-out)? Send it in to GeekDadJokes!

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‘Final Fantasy Record Keeper’ Hits North America Thu, 26 Mar 2015 15:00:23 +0000 A quick look at 'Final Fantasy Record Keeper,' which hits North America app stores today. Continue reading

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Final Fantasy Record Keeper. Photo via 360 Public Relations

Final Fantasy Record Keeper. Photo via 360 Public Relations

If you’re like most gamers of parenting age, you’ve played at least one Final Fantasy game. And if you’re like most Final Fantasy players, you have fond memories of classic scenes from the games. But who wants to dust off their original Playstation to relive them?

Mobile-games giant DeNA has a better idea. They’ve paired up with Square Enix to produce the free-to-play game Final Fantasy Record Keeper on iOS and Android. The game’s been out since September in Japan, but hits North America today. It is a devoted homage to and celebration of one of the most enduring franchises in videogame history.

The story is straightforward: You are an apprentice watching over the history of the Final Fantasy universe, the memory of which keeps peace and order alive in the kingdom. But the records underlying that memory are beginning to fade, and chaos is beginning to reign. It’s up to you to save the kingdom by revisiting those records, which Final Fantasy fans will recognize as the series’ most iconic moments, and fighting the monsters and bosses all over again.

Don’t worry: You’re not going it alone. You’ll assemble a party of up to five members, and that party will comprise some of the most legendary figures of the Final Fantasy series. When I played the demo, my roster included a Black Mage, Cloud, and more. (Players who play the game in the first week will unlock Final Fantasy X favorite Tidus.) You set up your party and equip it before entering each “record,” or dungeon. Hardcore players can hand-tune their party; casual players can let the computer optimize for them.

The battle system is the Active Time Battle mechanic that originated in the early days of the franchise. Once your gauge is full, you can act. But the world doesn’t stop while the bar is filling and you’re pondering what to do. Monsters are free to attack you, and you have to act quickly when the gauge is full. Defeated monsters give you gold, weapons, healing potions, and orbs that can be used to craft new abilities. As you move through an area, you gain the ability to use special massive-damage abilities. It’s been a long time since I played a Final Fantasy game, so the crew at DeNA helped me out for my demo, though it was still hard to keep track of everything going on. The tutorial, however, which I went through after DeNA later sent me an access code, will give beginners the basics. Any Final Fantasy fan will be instantly at home.

Photo via 360 Public Relations

Photo via 360 Public Relations

The fight-scene graphics deliberately evoke the early sprites of the series, even when you’re visiting a record from, say, Final Fantasy X. This can be a bit jarring when you see rendered artwork as a reward for finishing a sprite-based battle, but obviously an iPad is not a PS3. The music for each story will be the familiar music of that particular game.

Anyone familiar with free-to-play games will recognize some of the tactics to get your dollars and cents. In order to enter a battle, you need to have stamina, and stamina refills daily. You can, of course, buy more. But you can also get more — and increase your maximum — by defeating monsters. In-App Purchases will also get you special gear. Iconic gear paired with iconic characters within the particular Final Fantasy story they came from (e.g., the Buster Sword held by Cloud in a Final Fantasy VII story) will net massive rewards for you and your team. Weekly events will keep you coming back for more and will net you new stories and other unlocks.

If you’re a Final Fantasy fan, this game will bring a smile to your face and a wistful sigh to your lips as you remember gaming days gone by. But even I, for whom Final Fantasy is a distant memory, enjoyed the frantic battle pace and the sense of a larger universe underlying the game.

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‘Super Mario amiibos’ Get Daughter Approved Thu, 26 Mar 2015 14:28:59 +0000 Having been slower to warm to amiibos than my sons (she's not a big Super Smash Bros. fan) I got my daughter to test out the new Super Mario amiibos. I think they won her over. Continue reading

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Having been slower to warm to amiibos than my sons (she’s not a big Super Smash Bros. fan) I got my daughter to test out the new Super Mario amiibos. I think they won her over.

While we had the cameras rolling she also picked out her favorite amiibos to date:

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10 Reasons Your Family Should Be Playing ‘Hearthstone’ Thu, 26 Mar 2015 13:00:10 +0000 'Hearthstone' is a fun game for your whole family. If you're not already playing, here's ten reasons why you should start. Continue reading

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Banner for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Blizzard is soon releasing the newest Hearthstone expansion: Blackrock Mountain.

For those of you living under a rock this last year, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a digital collectible card game (CCG) from Blizzard. Free-to-play, your account gives you a large number of free cards from the start. You build decks by choosing a hero class, each of which bring their own unique cards and abilities to the game, and selecting 30 cards from your collection of minions, spells, and weapons.

Playing the game earns you gold, which you can use to buy packs of cards to add to your collection or to play in The Arena, a closed format where you draft a deck of cards and play against other Arena players. Of course, it wouldn’t be a collectible card game if there wasn’t a rarity system. Players can look forward to all the card-collecting fun of a CCG with rarities matching the same nomenclature from World of Warcraft.

Having recently hit its first birthday, Hearthstone is continuing to grow, adding more features and content in the form of cards and single-player adventures. Due to its ladder system, it’s always a good time to start playing. So, what’s so great about the game?

It’s Free!
Sure it’s free, but is it free free? Yes, it really is free. If you’ve had bad experiences with the free-to-play model in the past you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. Hearthstone allows you to purchase additional packs of cards using in-game gold you earn just by completing quests, such as winning two matches as a Warrior or Mage. A new quest is given daily, encouraging you to play a little every day to keep that gold coming in. To really stretch your fun, instead of buying packs with gold, purchase Arena runs. The prize always includes a pack of cards no matter your results, and if you get just a few wins you’ll actually be ahead on the gold you paid for your entry fee. Even the single-player adventures that Blizzard released can be purchased with in-game gold, and at a reasonable price point.

It’s Not Pay-to-Win
Free-to-play often also means pay-to-win. Blizzard has set up Hearthstone competition as a ladder. The upshot here is that you advance as high as your cards, deck, and ability take you until you hit a roughly 50% success rate. Even very good players will hit a point where they lose about as many games as they win with a given deck. Irrespective of this built-in-balance, the starting cards are quite competitive as shown when players have used the free cards to advance to the Legend ranks.

The card "Seal of Light" from Hearthstone.

Flavor text: “The walrus of Light restores EIGHT Health.”

It’s Fun!
Whether you enjoy the experience of theorycrafting to build your decks or just take one from the net and enjoy the competition of a single match, Hearthstone is a blast. Finely balanced, matches often come down to a single card, and small mistakes can have a large impact.

Collecting cards comes with all the normal fun of a CCG. Pack openings have an accompanying animation that builds excitement, with the in-game narrator gleefully yelling out “Epic” and “Legendary” when you find exceptional cards. Shiny cards give extra flair with animated art to pimp out your deck. Don’t like what you have? You can disenchant cards for another in-game commodity called “dust” and craft the cards you really want.

The game also has a clear sense of humor, making jokes in the cards’ flavor text with pop culture references and World of Warcraft in-jokes further adding to the hijinks. The animation and sounds are also a delight with many stand-out characters having highly distinctive attack cries that never get old.

It’s CCG Methadone for Magic: The Gathering Addicts
It would be an exaggeration to say that Hearthstone has the same depth that Magic has established in the CCG arena. But it scratches many of the right itches without requiring you to keep up with an expensive metagame. Not being burdened by mana or physical cards has also allowed the game to explore new creative space that Magic veterans may find refreshing. Continuing status effects, cards that transform, and not having to keep physical tokens on cards every time you buff them are huge boons to the game experience, allowing for a game that is satisfyingly deep while providing streamlined play.

It’s Digital
No organizers. No binders. No reams of cards flooding the recycling bin. Just fast searching, sorting, and deck building. Being digital also means that Blizzard can nerf cards that escape their testing and come to dominate the metagame, offering a refund in dust to affected players.

Play Anywhere
Despite its pleasing art, animations, and interface, Hearthstone doesn’t require a beefy PC – it would be difficult to have a computer in your household for browsing the web that couldn’t play it. Moreover, the game runs on iOS and Android tablets, meaning you can play on your bed, couch, or even in the bathroom.

The card Darkbomb from Hearthstone.

An appropriate card to drop, depending on where you’re playing.

It Has a Vibrant Community
With Blizzard declaring over 20 million players as far back as September 2014 there is always someone to play, no matter the time of day. Many players stream their games, giving you the chance to learn how to play from Legend-caliber players. If you’re interested in even more competitive play, there is a Hearthstone world championship in the works. And if you just want to see how your buddies are doing, Blizzard has recently added the ability to watch people on your friends list play the game from their perspective, in real-time.

No In-Game Chat
This may not seem like a great idea at first glance, but my experience with League of Legends has taught me otherwise. Blizzard has kept interaction with opponents to a handful of pre-canned statements, eliminating the vitriol evident in many online games. The worst a player can do to you here is to say “Thank you” or “Sorry” repeatedly, and even that can be squelched if it gets on your nerves, leaving you free to concentrate on the game and enjoy the strategy.

In-game shot of Hearthstone with opponent saying "I am sorry" unnecessarily.

Don’t hesitate to squelch your opponent if they are repeatedly showing you bad manners (known as BM).

Blizzard Has Parental Controls
Blizzard supports accounts for your children, allowing you to set play-time limits, schedules, and restrictions on in-game purchases. This is a big step up from games that require you to lie about the age of your children just so they can play with their own account. And with the limitation on in-game chatting you don’t need to worry about someone vomiting verbal poison on your eight-year-old.

There’s a Lot Here for Kids
As games for children go, you could do a lot worse than Hearthstone. There’s strategy, the creative process of deck building, and math (counting damage to determine if you have “lethal” is not usually trivial). Other benefits include AI opponents for when they’re learning, a non-toxic play environment online, and, because it’s a free game, you don’t have to shell out for additional copies for each member of your family. You can even challenge players on your friends list, allowing you to play with your junior geeks.

Wait, you’re still reading? Why aren’t you playing Hearthstone right now?

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GameStorm 17 Recap Thu, 26 Mar 2015 11:30:13 +0000 Last weekend I attended GameStorm, a local gaming convention here in the Portland/Vancouver area. Here's a recap of some of the games I played and a little about the experience. Continue reading

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Gamestorm Garage

Gamestorm’s open gaming and much of the scheduled gaming took place in the converted parking garage. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Last weekend I attended GameStorm, a local gaming convention here in the Portland/Vancouver area. It’s held at the Vancouver Hilton and one of the features is 24/7 open gaming throughout the whole weekend. While I didn’t stay to play games overnight, I did get a lot of gaming in over the weekend. Here’s a recap of some of the games I played and a little about the experience.

This year, due to a double-booking error at the hotel, some of the ballrooms normally used by GameStorm were unavailable on Thursday, so instead they were given the use of the parking garage. A lot of attendees (including myself) were a bit concerned about this: what was it going to be like? Was it going to be cold? Dingy? I figured that if it was too horrid, I’d just camp out and have my own BasementCon.

Gamestorm Garage

The garage before the crowds arrived on Thursday. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

As it turns out, the garage was pretty great. They put down carpet, covered the pillars, hung curtains and strung up lights. If you were in the middle of the room, you could barely tell you were in a garage unless you looked up–but who does that during a gaming convention anyway? It was pretty comfortable and well-lit, and actually felt less noisy than previous years in the ballrooms.

The only downside was that it was pretty inconvenient getting between the garage and the first floor. The stairs to the first floor went to an exterior exit-only door, and the elevator closer to the first floor bathrooms kept breaking down over the weekend. From inside, if you didn’t want to wait for the elevator, you had to take the stairs up to the first floor, then go down the fire stairs to the basement. Stopping for a bathroom break would take ten minutes just for transit time.

There were other events on the first and second floor, too: a small dealers’ room had some booths for a local game store, custom dice, RPGs, and more. Most of the RPGs were also spread out on these two floors, and there was one room reserved for various panels (and a Doubleclicks concert) throughout the weekend. But when I go to GameStorm, it’s all about playing games–I camped out most of the weekend down in the garage and just played as many games as I could.

Day One:

I arrived at the Hilton on Thursday right about noon and got checked in. Then I went to check the garage, and found a dad sitting down to play Machi Koro with his two sons. I wasn’t quite ready to play just yet because I needed to eat lunch, but I did get a chance to teach them how to play. It included the Harbor expansion, which I got recently and have really enjoyed. More on that one soon!

Knot Dice

Knot Dice by Matthew O’Malley, coming soon to Kickstarter. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After my brown-bag lunch, I kicked off my gaming with a couple rounds of Knot Dice by Matthew O’Malley. Knot Dice are beautiful green dice with Celtic knot patterns on them, and they’ll be on Kickstarter soon. There are a couple different games you can play with them–some cooperative, some competitive, and even a real-time game. If you like custom dice, these are really gorgeous, though because of the nature of them you can’t use them as substitutes for most of your other games. There will be more games for the dice by other designers, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else there is.

Pandemic: The Cure

Pandemic: The Cure. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Tessa van Boxtel from Board Game Duel brought her copy of Pandemic: The Cure, which I’d never played before. We had a five-player game, and I enjoyed it. It’s an interesting system, with dice rolls taking the place of drawing infection cards–it means that you can’t predict the coming infections each time an epidemic happens. The roles are all familiar from the original game, though tweaked to work with this system. I do miss the map a little, but it’s one I’d definitely be interested in trying some more.

I’d signed up to try Terra Mystica, but unfortunately they’d started playing already so it’ll have to stay on my “to play” list a little longer.

After this I played a couple games that I forgot to take pictures of: Splendor, which was at the top of several lists for 2014–we checked it out of the GameStorm library. I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it. It’s an abstract set-collection sort of game, and from what I can tell it seems like what people really love about it are the heavy plastic chips. I actually got a copy for myself through a math trade, so I can try it some more–but so far mostly what I’ve learned is that I’m really bad at it.

I also played a couple games of Star Realms, which is a really great space-themed deck-building game. It’s an interesting model that’s more a la carte: you can get enough cards for two players for only $15, or get two sets to play up to four players. The expansions are generally small packs that are fairly inexpensive, and you can upgrade from the tuckbox to a nicer two-part box for $20. It’s a fast-playing spaceship combat, and we played with the Gambit expansion. I still haven’t played it with more than 2 players, but I do enjoy it quite a bit.

Vikings of Dragonia

Vikings of Dragonia, another upcoming Kickstarter. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

We followed this up with another prototype for an upcoming Kickstarter: Vikings of Dragonia. You play as Vikings, traveling across the seas to claim islands. Each island you occupy will earn income, but is also worth points … until you lose control of them. Meanwhile, there’s a dragon who can fly around and attack you, or at least prevent you from earning income if it’s nearby. I did get a couple rules wrong, so I’ll have to give this one another shot sometime before the Kickstarter launches in May.

Best Treehouse Ever

Best Treehouse Ever with Leana Galiel of Elbowfish Games and Tessa Van Boxtel of Board Game Duel. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Then I played a round of Best Treehouse Ever, a cute card-drafting game that’s on Kickstarter right now! You draft rooms, add them to your treehouse while keeping your tree balanced, and then manipulate the scoring so that your treehouse is worth the most points. It’s a lot of fun and I played it more than once this weekend–you can read my full review of it here.

Another one that missed its photo opp: Between Two Cities, which wrapped up its own Kickstarter last week. I brought my review prototype because it’s a great game for a wide range of players, and we had a good time with it. Missed the Kickstarter? You still have time to place a pre-order.

Samurai Spirit

Protecting the villagers in Samurai Spirit. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I’ve got a review copy of Samurai Spirit, a cooperative game by Antoine Bauza inspired by the film Seven Samurai. It’s an interesting game about trying to manage your risks–if you take two wounds, you’ll unleash your animal spirit and become stronger, but two more wounds after that and you’ll die and everyone loses. Turn into an animal too soon, and you may die. Avoid taking wounds and stay in your human form, and the village may burn down. We actually managed to win the second time around … though I learned on Sunday (on my third play of the game this weekend) that I’d been cheating on one of the rules. So we’ll call it a win with an asterisk. Watch for a full review of this one soon.

Isle of Trains

Isle of Trains–do you? Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I’d brought along my set of all six Dice Hate Me “Rabbit” Games–small card games from the Kickstarter project. I’d backed the project but hadn’t played any of them, and I figured this would be a good weekend to give them a shot. I only got two of them to the table this weekend. First up was Isle of Trains, by Dan Keltner and Seth Jaffee. You spend your cards to build a train, which can then be loaded with cargo, which in turn is used to fulfill contracts. You’ll get points for the trains, cargo, and contracts at the end of the game. As you can see from the photo above, my train (bottom right) is really not doing so well–I invested early in a better locomotive, but then couldn’t afford to build anything else for a while. It’s a much heftier game than I had expected, and I’m going to need to try it again now that I know what I’m doing. Fun fact: I’d heard there was an error on one of the cards and I tweeted to find out what it was, and then Seth Jaffee himself showed up at our table to answer us. That’s some great service right there.

Roll for the Galaxy

Roll for the Galaxy. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Next up was Roll for the Galaxy–it’s a dice version of Race for the Galaxy, which I’ve played a couple times before but have never really gotten into. It’s an interesting trend, taking games and making dice-based versions of them (like Pandemic: The Cure) and it’s always fun to see how they make the transition. Roll for the Galaxy is about colonizing planets, developing technology, and using these to score points through producing and trading. I enjoyed it even though I lost and definitely needed a better strategy.

Another game I’d signed up to play was A Study in Emerald, a cooperative deck-building game based on the short story of the same name by Neil Gaiman. It had a small print run and is now really hard to find–but unfortunately I was number 12 on the list and the game only goes up to five players. Enough people showed up to play, so I’ll have to try again some other time. That, or pay an exorbitant price on eBay for a copy for myself.

Emperor's New Clothes

Emperor’s New Clothes with (left to right) Seth Jaffee, Michael Mindes, and Jonathan Hager. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I finished out Day One with my own game, Emperor’s New Clothes. Michael Mindes (of Tasty Minstrel Games) and Seth Jaffee had expressed some interest in trying it out, so I got out my deluxe copy (complete with custom PennyGems) and we had a fun time with it. Mindes was one of the guests of honor at GameStorm and I got to hang out and play several games with him over the course of the weekend. My personal triumph was finally getting him to smile that first day–he seems pretty picky about games (a good quality in a publisher, I would guess) but I think he saw something in Emperor’s New Clothes. (Enough so that we played it again later in the weekend.)

Day One: Elapsed time, roughly 12 hours. Games played: 12 different titles.

Day Two:

After a rough night in which a smoke detector started complaining about low batteries in the middle of the night, thus setting off the house alarm, thus triggering a phone call from the alarm company, thus waking up my daughter … I got back to Gamestorm about 9 and dove back in.

Pie Factory

Time to get to work at the Pie Factory. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

First game of the day: Pie Factory, another Rabbit title from Dice Hate Me Games. You pull ingredients off the conveyor belt, make them into pies, and then box them up and sell them. Fancier pies bring in a better price, but take longer to make–and the player turn order is determined by how long your pie-making takes. This one is a bit lighter than Isle of Trains–fun, but not quite as deep.


Paperback: deck-building with words! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Next up was Paperback, a deck-building game by Tim Fowers that I describe as Dominion meets Scrabble. Your deck is made up of letters and letter pairs; you spell words with the cards in your hand to earn money to buy new letters. Many of the cards have special abilities, too, that may let you draw more cards, earn more money, or even interfere with other players. I’d written up the game when it was on Kickstarter, and the finished product turned out quite nicely. I ended up playing this twice over the weekend. (You can buy a copy directly from Tim Fowers’ website, or if you back his current Kickstarter for Burgle Bros., you can add on a copy of Paperback for $25.)


AquaSphere: watch out for those Octopods! They’re cute, but deadly … at least to your score. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I finally made it to a game that I signed up for: AquaSphere. It’s a game by Stefan Feld, known for a particular style of games that tend to melt your brain a little. It was brought to the US by Tasty Minstrel Games through a successful Kickstarter campaign last summer, and I figured this would be a good chance to learn it without having to muddle through the whole rulebook myself. The players are scientists on an underwater research station, programming bots to do various tasks like launching submarines and capturing the meddlesome Octopods. There’s a whole lot going on in this game and it can feel a bit overwhelming at first, but I liked it. I’m hoping to get my copy to the table again soon so I can write a full review, but since it’s a longer game (about two hours when I played) it’ll depend on having the right group for it.

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories. My record so far is -15 points. Yes, that’s negative. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If you like really hard cooperative games, Ghost Stories may be the game for you. Another one by Antoine Bauza, this game starts off looking pretty easy. You flip over a ghost card, add it to a board, and then take turns trying to clear out the ghosts before they take over the village in the center. But pretty soon you start getting overrun, losing your qi, and the next thing you know the village has been lost before you’ve even gotten to Wu-Feng, the big bad boss. At least, that’s how it generally goes when I’ve played it. One of these days, though, I’m going to prevail. Maybe.


Michael Mindes (left) may look bored, but he’s actually quietly plotting our downfall in Homesteaders. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Homesteaders is the first title that Tasty Minstrel Games published, and it’s out of print now. Michael Mindes and I joined in a game that was just setting up. It’s pretty cool: you build up your town, hire workers to work in the places you’ve built, and bid for the privilege of building various types of buildings. It’s another game with a lot going on, but it’s excellent once you learn how it works. (Mindes beat us all pretty handily–apparently he has a really good track record with Homesteaders.)


[redacted] – a game of espionage. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I wrote about [redacted] when it was on Kickstarter, but hadn’t gotten to play my finished copy yet. It’s a pretty fascinating spy-themed game with a lot of hidden information. When you peek at somebody’s cards to figure out their loyalty, it’s never guaranteed that you’ll get the right card–but even more importantly, that player doesn’t know which card you saw. The tricky thing about the game is that, even though there are modes for playing from 2 to 6 players, the ideal way to learn the game is with 4 players before you move on to the variants. Now that we kind of know what’s going on, we’ll need to give it another shot; a few of the spies spent much of the game, trapped in the basement in the dark.


Harbour. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Time for another small game: Harbour, another game funded last year on Kickstarter by Tasty Minstrel Games. (My original review is here.) It’s another game by Scott Almes–think of it as Tiny Epic Le Havre. You send your one worker to various buildings around this little portside town to collect resources, manipulate the market, and buy buildings. It’s a clever game that’s very compact but has a lot going on. We played the easy version without the special player powers, but I’d love to try those next.

Alien Frontiers

Alien Frontiers. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I finished up the second day with a 2-player game of Alien Frontiers. It’s been a while since I’d played it, and a friend of mine had been itching to play it. We hadn’t read the rules for any of the expansions yet, so we just went with the base game, though his copy had the fancy little colonies, which were fun. It’s a worker-placement game, except that your workers are dice, and you have to get the right numbers or combinations to place them in various locations. Honestly, I’d forgotten how cutthroat the game could get, but I enjoyed crushing my opponent with superior alien technology. If you’re looking for a copy, there are just a couple hours left on the Alien Frontiers Big Box Kickstarter: get the whole shebang for $125.

Day Two: Elapsed time, roughly 15 hours. Games played: 8 different titles.

Day Three

I got back to GameStorm around 9 again on Saturday, ready to play some more. My first game was another round of Paperback–I bumped into a couple who only had a free hour and were puzzling over the rules to [redacted], but realized they probably didn’t have time to learn and play it just then.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms

Getting pwned by the Order of Gamelyn in Tiny Epic Kingdoms. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Then I broke out Tiny Epic Kingdoms, another Kickstarter success I’d reviewed and backed. It’s a 4X game: explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. You take on various fantasy races, each with its own special abilities, and try to score the most points through various means. What’s interesting is the way that you can try lots of different things to score points: build up your tower, advance your magic skill, or just expand into lots of territories. With so many races to choose from, there’s a lot of replay value. But I gotta say, the Order of Gamelyn (named after the publisher, Gamelyn Games), seems a bit overpowered. I need a rematch.

Not pictured: a friend of mine had picked up Legendary, the cooperative Marvel-themed deck-building game, and I mentioned that it really helps to have several people sort out the cards the first time you open up the box. So we did that, and then played. We went for the easiest Mastermind, Red Skull, and won, though there was a tense moment in the middle when it seemed like we were going to get overrun. The scheme we played was “replace the world’s leaders with Killbots,” which was pretty entertaining. The Marvel-based one seems to be easier than the Alien-themed Legendary Encounters, but I still enjoy it.

play Seven7s with Levi Mote of Bonsai Games, Tessa Van Boxtel of Board Game Duel. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

play Seven7s with Levi Mote of Bonsai Games, Tessa Van Boxtel of Board Game Duel. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I’d taken along several of the demo prototypes I had for current and recent Kickstarter games, and we played a round of Seven7s. I’m still impressed with how clever the game is–at first glance it seems like it’s just random, but then you realize how the cards work together and how you can manipulate your score (or your opponents’) with carefully chosen moves. You’ll have to wait a while for a finished copy, though, since the Kickstarter just closed recently.

Then we had another round of Emperor’s New Clothes–Michael Mindes wanted to show a friend of his, and this time we had a lot of players. It definitely gets pretty chaotic when you have so many people but it’s still fun. I don’t even remember who won, but that’s not really the point.

About this time I managed to get upstairs and tracked down Mike Selinker, because I’d heard he had some info about his new/old adventure card game. There were three tables of people playtesting an upcoming Pathfinder Adventure Card Game set, but I found Selinker playing another upcoming game, Epic vs. Awesome. His company, Lone Shark Games, has worked with other publishers in the past, but announced last week that it’s going to start publishing some of its own titles. Among them are a few party games like Epic vs. Awesome, which challenges players to come up with the most epic or awesome answer based on some criteria set by the cards. It’s a little bit Apples to Apples, a little bit Scattergories.

What I really wanted to hear about, though, was Apocrypha. It’s Selinker’s adventure card game–originally known as Saints, it eventually became the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. But Selinker had created his own world for Saints, a dark urban fantasy, and still wanted to create that game. I got to see some of the artwork and a little bit of how the game will work–there are some similarities to PACG but also some significant differences, and I’m eager to try it when it’s ready. I’m hoping to have more details on this soon, but expect a Kickstarter launch this year.

Glen More

Going round and round in Glen More. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Glen More is an older game that my friend Rael brought with him. It’s a tile-laying game, of sorts–each player builds their own little village. The trick, though, is how you acquire those tiles. They’re placed in a ring on this center board, and the last player in line gets to move to any tile and collect it. If they’re still in last place, they get to keep going–kind of like Tokaido. Placing a tile lets you activate the ones around it, gaining you resources that are then spent to build other tiles. Unfortunately, this one is hard to find now.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms

Designer Isaias Vallejo teaches a game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Isaias Vallejo, designer of Sunrise City and Valeria: Card Kingdom, came to GameStorm to run demos of Valeria throughout the weekend, and I was excited to meet him in person. I’m a fan of both of his games and enjoyed getting to play a game with him. You can read my full review of Valeria here–the Kickstarter campaign hit funding over the weekend and is working on stretch goals now. It’s such a good game.

Shadows of Brimstone

Shadows of Brimstone. Looks like we found all the monsters… Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I ended Saturday with Shadows of Brimstone, a massive game from Flying Frog Productions. It’s probably the priciest thing I’ve backed on Kickstarter myself, and the first time I’ve tried painting any miniatures–though so far I’ve only gotten four of the heroes, and none of the monsters yet. I figured GameStorm was a good opportunity to get out something long and involved. But I hadn’t quite realized how long and involved. The first two times I’d played Shadows of Brimstone, it had been closer to an hour and a half–we got lucky the first time because we found the clues early, and the second time we all got knocked out so the scenario ended. This time, we had to delve deep into the mines to find our objective, and the game took about four hours, going well past midnight. But it was a blast, and I really want to play it some more. I also want to finish painting up my miniatures.

Day Three: Elapsed time, roughly 18 hours. Games played: 8 different titles.

Day 4

The last day of GameStorm was a little shorter–for one thing, I slept in and didn’t get there until after 11, and the garage gaming room was scheduled to close at 4. I didn’t find out until later that there was still gaming on the first floor open the rest of the evening, but I’d already arranged to head home.

100 AD

A prototype of 100 AD by Jim Pinto, a game based on the Roman Senate. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

My first stop, though, was to the Dealers’ Room. I hadn’t spent much time there, but I’d been told to check out a couple of prototypes there. One I can’t tell you about yet (it’s still waiting on a contract), but the other I tried was 100 AD, designed by Jim Pinto. It’s based on the Roman Senate, and you’re trying to gain influence over senators, various factions, and even the emperor himself. You can pull a lot of fun shenanigans, at the cost of corruption points. You lose points for having too much corruption, but you may be able to take some powerful actions that will gain points in other ways. I really enjoyed this one–expect a full review when it hits Kickstarter later this year.

I followed that with another round of Best Treehouse Ever and then Samurai Spirit (we lost in Round Two). And then, for the last game of the convention, I broke out Legendary Encounters. We played the setup based on the second movie, Aliens, and though we managed to accomplish our first objective, we got hit hard during the second objective. Face-huggers everywhere. I think three of us got hit by them in a single round, and though we did manage to prevent them from turning into chestbursters, we wound up with too many other aliens. First we lost our medic, and it spiraled downhill from there pretty quickly.

Day Four: Elapsed time, 5 hours. Games played: 5 different titles.

All in all, a pretty good weekend of gaming. As always, there were lots of things I missed.  Keith Baker was there running demos of his upcoming role-playing game, Phoenix, and I didn’t attend any panels. This year I also didn’t spend any time in the Game Lab playing prototypes since I had so many of my own to review, but it’s another great way to try out lots of prototypes, give feedback to the designers, and win some prizes while you’re at it.

I didn’t run any scheduled games myself, though I did spend much of the weekend teaching games that I want to review (or just ones that I own), so maybe next year I’ll see if I can get myself organized in time to run some scheduled games. Maybe I can set up a “play games with GeekDad” table?

You can register for Gamestorm 18 already–the earlier you register, the lower the price. Currently memberships are on sale for $25 for a weekend pass.

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9 Things Parents Should Know About ‘Home’ Thu, 26 Mar 2015 11:00:51 +0000 It's a post-apocalyptic movie for kids! Find out what you should know before you take your family to see it. Continue reading

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Screencap from the trailer.

Screencap from the trailer.

Home is a Dreamworks film about an alien named Oh who is on the run from his own people. Oh meets up with Tip, a adventurous girl who leads him on a journey to ultimately save the world. I’ve seen some describe this movie as post-apocalyptic, and in a sense that’s true, but without all the anarchy that usually accompanies that sort of movie.

1. Will I like it?

I expect you will be entertained and laugh at the jokes. I do not expect the subtle lessons of this movie to change your world, and there are a few annoying bits, but overall it is fun, funny, and a good message. The lead characters are exactly what you would expect from Jim Parsons (Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, of course) and Rihanna. Tip, Rihanna’s character, is fun, sassy, and strong. I’m sure some people will take offense, but she’s not a bad role model for young girls.

2. Will the kids like it?

Most definitely. Both of my kids put this on the same or similar level as How to Train Your Dragon, but I wouldn’t go that far. We saw the early red carpet event in Plano, Texas, last week and the audience was about half full of kids. The buzz as we left the theater was positive with many kids excitedly trading their favorite scenes.

3. How is the acting?

Decent. All of the actors, save Rihanna, have some experience, and that carries through to the characters. Surprisingly, Rihanna did a great job considering she has only had a handful of acting roles. I’ve not seen her in any of those roles so I didn’t know what to expect.

4. How is Sheldon as the alien Oh?

Jim Parsons, aka Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, does a great job as Oh. His personality comes through nicely and his attention to Oh’s odd grammar and misuse of words leads to many funny scenes. You can get a taste of the grammar in the trailer below, but it is only a teasing of the real thing. I can’t imaging how hard it was to learn the lines and deliver them with a straight face.

5. Did someone say strong female lead?

Gratuity, or Tippy as her mom calls her, is the star of the show. She really takes charge and pushes Oh out of his comfort zone by encouraging him to face his fears. Fear and cowardice are things that Oh’s culture revere and it takes some effort to change his views.

6. What about the sound track?

Rihanna did the entire soundtrack, and I think it was nice. Like all good soundtracks it stayed out of the way except when needed. Some of Rihanna’s pop songs come on the radio throughout the movie, but they are mixed in well, and certainly fit. Her music is not my normal listening choice, but it isn’t offensive and fits the characters of the movies well.

7. Just how PG is it?

I’d say it’s just barley PG. There is some violence, but without spoilers I can’t say much more. Let’s just say there aren’t any of the things that normally make a movie of this type PG-13.

8. How’s the 3D?

Great. Since Home was rendered, getting the 3D right is a little easier than with film. The director did a great job of making sure your eye follows the focus of the film. A common issue with 3D films is they focus pull you into a dead end, or pan too fast to keep up, but there is none of that here. My wife even enjoyed the movie in 3D and it can occasionally give her a headache.

9. When is the best time for a bathroom break?

Anytime if you keep it short, but if you go when you see the “purring” scene from the trailer you won’t miss much. There’s a second chance in the middle of the Atlantic if you hurry, but don’t be too long or you’ll miss some stuff.

Check out the trailer below. Home hits the theaters this Friday, March 27, 2015.

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Same Geek Channel Review: ‘Flash’ Episode 116 “Rogue Time” Thu, 26 Mar 2015 10:30:06 +0000 We all knew this week was going to be a reset but who knew that reset would be so anti-climatic? Continue reading

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The dysfunctional duo! Source: CW.

The dysfunctional duo!
Source: CW.

Mordechai: My favorite Stargate SG-1 episode was the time-loop episode “Window of Opportunity“, so I set myself up to enjoy this. The bits with Barry remembering things before they happened were solid, but I was honestly tickled pink when Wells realized what happened right away. The time travel lecture was perfect. In fact, every time travel conversation between the two this episode is like a tifle – rich, layered, and delicious.

Corrina: I hated the lecture. Time will find a way to reassert itself? What kind of science is that? I wanted a real science lecture about how time is fluid and a fourth dimension and how that fluidity plays into what literally knits together the world, and maybe a time travel version of “for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” which is sorta what happened except it was all “Look out, Barry, time’s waiting to get you back.”

That makes Time sound like a sentient being. No one knows exactly what time is, so i was ready to accept a comic book science explanation but instead, well, Time’s just like the bully you shouldn’t have messed with.

Time totally took his lunch money that one time. Source: CW.

Time totally took his lunch money that one time.
Source: CW.

I don’t need real science but what about something like “particles being tossed around, etc., forces others to rush in, and then…” But while you can guarantee a reaction, how do you know it’s negative? Why would it be negative, if you’ve caused damage to the timestream? It would be random, yes? Or it would create a new pattern, like spilling milk does.

But I know why they did this. It’s all leading toward “you can’t save your mom, Barry.”

"Seriously, don't even bother." Source: CW.

“Seriously, don’t even bother.”
Source: CW.

Mordechai: See, for me the great bit was that we knew every single one of Wells’s answers were self-serving; he didn’t care about Barry’s timeline, just his own. So everything he says is suspect. But Barry just eats it up.

And of course, Barry doesn’t listen and goes to chase after the bad guy, hoping to save Captain Singh’s life. Wells lectures Barry again about not messing with the timeline. Which seems odd, considering his own actions. Was Cisco always fated to die? Was Stagg?

Corrina: Maybe Wells’ timeline is broken, which is why he can’t get back. But, see, I don’t get why *Time* needs Cisco to die? Not very sporting of Time, is it? Now I’m picturing the Time Trapper, purple hooded robe and all, manipulating everything at the Dawn of Time just to screw with people’s heads.

DC's Time Trapper. Now, I can believe this guy wants to mess with Barry. copyright DC Comics.

DC’s Time Trapper. Now, I can believe this guy wants to mess with Barry. copyright DC Comics.

Mordechai: Oh no, I mean Wells’s “don’t change anything” attitude is bunk, compared to his actions.

Back to the show, oh look, Captain Cold and Heatwave are in this episode. Because why not try to takeover a city that has a hero protecting it? Idiots. Oh, and Cold has a sister who they used to snare Cisco, and force him to make them new guns. How? By threatening his brother. Wow, does his brother ever have a punchable face.

And really cold hands. What? Too soon? Source: CW.

And really cold hands.
What? Too soon?
Source: CW.

Corrina: If Cisco can whip up those weapons like that, why hasn’t he put on a costume yet? He’s the superhero junkie. What did that gold gun do? Use alchemy to convert something to real gold? Or is it gold glue that somehow sticks? Again, we didn’t get a comic book science explanation for it!

Mordechai: And why the heck do they need to rob anyone?!

Corrina: However, I always enjoy the Cisco parts and I liked the bits with him and his too-pretty brother.

Mordechai: I enjoyed watching Barry running in a Cosmic treadmill like setting. Nothing happens, of course, because it can’t be that simple.Then we see Joe show up and remind us that hey, this guy’s a detective, he picks up on clues and stuff.

Run, creepy man, RUN! Source: CW

Run, creepy man, RUN!
Source: CW

Corrina: The overall problem with this episode is that what happened last week is far more interesting than anything that happened this week. Swapping out Spartacus for three villains with a lame plan didn’t work for me. Also, if Joe is a detective, why isn’t he looking for Cisco and his brother? Or why isn’t Barry investigating every place in Central City that might be their hideout? He can do that, and I’m sure he could search the whole city in less than an hour.

Mordechai: Because Barry is terrible at using his speed, basically.

Linda and Barry break up. I’m both glad to see this annoying story line go, and sad because it means we’ll see less of Linda, if not her vanish altogether. Malese Jow has brought a bit of relative emotional maturity to the show, and has solid chemistry with both Gustin and Patton. Hope we see her around.

That's some great breakup face, right there. Source: CW.

That’s some great breakup face, right there.
Source: CW.

Corrina: If the women isn’t part of a romance plot, she’s not around anymore, right? So I have no hopes of seeing Linda again. But I’m glad to see her out of this horrible subplot.

Speaking of emotional maturity, Barry jumps right back on the creepy train by seriously strolling right over to Iris after being dumped and starts straight-up hitting on her. Sorry, I know she said she had feelings for him last episode, but the thing is – that hasn’t happened anymore. And even if it had, there’s still the small matter of Eddie.

Corrina: I’ll give Barry that one. He hasn’t time traveled before, and she did just kiss him, which he’s been creepily waiting his entire adult life for. So, I understand why he tried. On some level, I was so upset that they waved away the kiss and declaration of love because if they kept it, then we could  move forward from this idiotic back and forth. I’m so done with that.

Iris wants you to take her with you. Source: CW.

As is Iris. Source: CW.

Mordechai: But this scene is a bit more important because last episode, when Barry talked to the reporter who was going to expose Wells, he knew Barry’s name. Now he doesn’t. Which makes me wonder: when Barry runs back in time and Cisco starts talking to him, why isn’t there a second Barry on the line? What if there  is a second Barry running around, i?

Corrina: Because Time has to make things worse, remember the Time Trapper, purple robe and hood, evil cackling?

Back to Cisco being in peril. I’m still stuck on whatever the gold stuff was and how Cisco made it up on the fly. You’d think after being clocked by Pied Piper a few episodes ago that he’d have some sort of secret cool weapon up his sleeve to take on supervillains.

Seriously, what ARE you? Source: CW.

Seriously, what ARE you?
Source: CW.

Mordechai: And then we cut back to Barry being creepy as hell, with Candice Patton nailing the utterly creeped out reaction. The lady can act, people. Blame the writers for Iris.

Seriously, Iris right about “it’s not fair that you keep making me the bad guy who keeps telling you no.” That entire scene nails Barry’s treatment (and the show’s, to an extent) or Iris as an object he “deserves”. In fact, it does it so well that it may well be lampshading.

Retraining orders, Iris. They're a thing. Source: CW.

Retraining orders, Iris. They’re a thing.
Source: CW.

Corrina: Whatever it is, I think we’re meant to feel bad for Barry but I feel bad for Eddie. What I’m supposed to feel about Iris, I don’t know, because she just exists as a toy for them to fight over. At least Joe’s advice was good.

Everyone on the show should listen to Joe. Wait, he’s the one last week who wouldn’t tell his daughter a crazed supervillain wanted to kill her. Nevermind.

Mordechai: Thankfully, Captain Cold attacks a casino, so we can move the episode away from the dragging relationship nonsense. Oh, and now Lisa has a gun that shoots gold. That’s going to do wonders for the economy. I guess she’s more Goldface (classic Green Lantern foe who was eventually shifted to The Flash comic) than she is The Golden Glider (her original, kinda sexist, comic book identity). Barry grabs them right away, but they threaten Cisco…which makes zero sense. Barry’s so fast that he could defeat them and still rescue Cisco in no time. He outran a lightning bolt last week, you guys! I guess he’s just not a fast thinker.

Corrina: Again, search Central City. Find Cisco and his brother. Free them. Grab the weapons. Total time elapsed: 30 minutes.

Mordechai: But hey, Eddie punches Barry!

Do it again! Do it AGAIN! Source: CW.

Do it again! Do it AGAIN!
Source: CW.

Corrina: Should I be rooting for Barry to get punched? I don’t think I’m supposed to be doing that.

Mordechai: Pft. CSI-boy has had that coming. You know what though? Joe coming to speak to Iris about it is another boundary thing. Pick up a phone, people.

But Wells and Cisco’s heartfelt chat in the same place he killed Cisco last week? Well done. Great acting there.

Corrina: Can this show be about Cisco? Ah, forget it. That would probably mean he’s be a main character and have stupid romantic subplots and forget the abilities that he has. Nevermind.

Mordechai: He’s already forgotten. FFS, they put him with tech. This is a man who built a time-viewer. He should be able to do something. But hey, we finally get a fight scene…sorta. STOP TALKING!

“I could speed you to my own private prison where you’ll never see the light of day.” – This. THIS is why you’re creepy, Barry. Also? Less talk, more doing. The new status quo of the show? Barry now has a deal with Cold to let him go free and commit crimes in exchange for his just not killing anyone. This is terrible.

Corrina: Isn’t Caitlin good with computers? If not, can’t Barry just give Felicity a call to root out Cold’s little internet time bomb? Because that’s a dumb threat to someone who can summon a superhacker in about 2 minutes. I know, Felicity is on Arrow. But, hey, they put them in the same universe.

It's too bad he doesn't have a supporting cast of geniuses right? Source: CW.

It’s too bad he doesn’t have a supporting cast of geniuses right?
Source: CW.

Mordechai: Caitlin meanwhile, shows her usefulness by meeting with Iris and Eddie and explaining that Barry has “lightning psychosis”, and that’s why he’s behaving so innapropriatly. Really? Still, it does solve one issue with the show – why does no one notice that Barry is at STAR labs constantly?

Corrina: Why does no one figure out Barry is the Flash, especially as he seems connected with STAR Labs? Wouldn’t someone at least suspect?

Even Caitlin is smug about how stupid everyone on this show is. Source: CW.

Even Caitlin is smug about how stupid everyone on this show is.
Source: CW.

Letting Heatwave and Cold and Gold Sister run around free is so stupid. I rolled my eyes. I guess we’re supposed to think Barry had no choice but surely since these guys are murderers, saving potential victim’s lives is more important than saving his secret ID?

Mordechai: It really comes down to Barry being crazy selfish. Cold and Heatwave are kinda nuts, and should not be trusted. It’s not like Joe and Iris aren’t already in danger, man.

Oh and hey, remember the reporter who was going to out Wells? Even though he never had a chance to tell anyone in this timeline about the drive, the Reverse-Flash knows…and now he has it.

Corrina: That reporter isn’t good at off-site back-up, is he? I mean, you could fry my computer memory all you want but if I had my notes in an encrypted file on a secure site that’s the high security equivalent of Dropbox, that wouldn’t destroy them, would it?

That I know more about how to make sure evil Reverse Flashes don’t destroy all evidence than the reporter on the show is…not good.

And what if he has paper files somewhere? But I guess he doesn’t.

Mordechai: Seriously. Get Google Drive, reporter dude.

But we end with Barry finally suspecting Wells of being sinister, and Cisco still alive, so there’s that.

Next week should be a treat, with Mark Hamill. Here’s hoping for a greater focus on the crime fighting than the star-crossed lovers.

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Daily #DadJoke for March 26, 2015 Thu, 26 Mar 2015 10:00:13 +0000 I slept like a log last night... Continue reading

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Daily #DadJoke for March 26, 2015:

20150326I slept like a log last night.

That’s right… I woke up with my feet in the fireplace again.

Have a great joke that you would like to see in print (complete with a “submitted by your name here” shout-out)? Send it in to GeekDadJokes!

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The Theme from ‘Firefly’ Sung A Capella by the Cast of ‘The Flash’ Wed, 25 Mar 2015 20:18:33 +0000 Who knew Cisco could sing? Continue reading

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Actor and singer Jesse L. Martin, who plays Detective West on The Flash currently has a Kickstarter campaign going for his musical short film, The Letter Carrier, which he is making with a couple other members of the show’s cast; Rick Cosnett (Eddie Thawne) and Carlos Valdes (Cisco Ramon). The campaign recently received a sizable pledge by Joss Whedon, and in gratitude the actors recorded this very soul-stirring version of The Ballad of Serenity, also known as the theme song from Whedon’s beloved Firefly. So when do we get the all-musical episode of The Flash?

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‘TIE Fighter’ — The Bar Has Been Set for Star Wars Animated Fan Films Wed, 25 Mar 2015 14:39:28 +0000 Behold: 'TIE Fighter.' A short animated fan film created by Paul Johnson over four years, 'TIE Fighter' is the animated version of Star Wars we never knew we wanted. Continue reading

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And it’s going to take a LOT to top this.

Behold: TIE Fighter. A short animated fan film created by Paul Johnson over four years, TIE Fighter is the animated version of Star Wars we never knew we wanted.

The short focuses on an elite squadron of TIE fighter pilots as they wage a battle against those upstart Rebels. And the entire thing is done in the style of intricately detailed, over-the-top ’80s Japanese animation.

It is glorious.

Racking up more than a million views in the first day of its release, TIE Fighter is all at once a callback to the 1994 Lucasfilm game of the same name, an homage to ’80s Japanese animation, an ode to the Empire, and a kick-ass 7 1/2 minutes.

My favorite part is Johnson’s disclaimer on the film’s YouTube page: “Don’t support me on Patreon, because I don’t have one! And don’t donate to my Kickstarter, because I don’t have one of those either. Instead, if you enjoyed this, give someone at your workplace, uni, school or whatever a random bar of chocolate or can or Coke or something. Seriously, it’ll probably make their day. That would totally make my day.”

How refreshing. Well done, Mr. Johnson. Well done.


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Bricks vs. Sticks Wed, 25 Mar 2015 14:00:40 +0000 The Lego brick may reign supreme in geeky pop culture, but, for kinetic creativity, K'NEX is still king. Continue reading

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Image courtesy

Image courtesy

One of the great things about being a GeekDad is being able to expose my children to the interesting, the esoteric, and the odd. And while I love sharing my personal interests with my kids, it is sometimes hard to reconcile that they are not simply small versions of myself–that listening to NPR, Robert Johnson, and The Clash in the car doesn’t preclude them walking in the door one day asking me to download Kesha or Justin Bieber (two bullets we have thus far dodged), or, as in my case, that one would end up preferring K’NEX to Lego.

Growing up, I was a Lego kid. Sure, I had Lincoln Logs, but after the house, barn, fence, jail, and really tall tower that collapsed every time someone walked by, there wasn’t a whole lot left to do with them. I even dabbled a bit in Tinker Toys and erector sets belonging to my little brothers, but I always came back to that giant tub of Legos*, handed down and added to over the years.

So, when my son started asking for K’NEX sets, I was surprised at how much fun they were. Once I got over everything being wireframe, I started to see the attraction. There was much more movement, more engineering and physics, than sticking bricks together. How do you build an eight-legged creature that doesn’t pop legs off when you move it? Sure, that tower looks fine now, but when you add a fulcrum and turn it into a trebuchet, you have to widen the base and add in more cross-supports. Or, in the case of his newest sets, take into account the force of a small plumber driving in circles.

We were super excited when the Mario Kart K’NEX sets were first released. A quick glance at my son’s room, and you’d understand why. The two main themes of his room are Mario and K’NEX. Mario wall decals, posters, toys, and games littered his walls and shelves, and scattered across his floor like a dungeon full of Koopa Troopas are a half-dozen kinetic K’NEX sculptures in various stages of construction and operation. Unfortunately, while these Mario Kart kits are fun to build, when it comes to actual playability, they combine the difficulty of keeping the K’NEX from falling apart with the vapidity of watching cars go around in circles.

Like most building toys, though, the key to enjoying the kit is to recognize it is a module for creativity, not a standalone toy; enjoy the fun of construction, and then use it as a part of a whole, combined with other Mario Kart kits, the big bucket of K’NEX pieces, Mario chess pieces, Hot Wheels, building blocks, and whatever else is lying around. His latest acquisition was the Mario & Yoshi vs Stone Bowser Building Set. From the pictures, it appears Bowser needs a few more weapons at his disposal. I’m thinking an Ewok-style Swinging Log of Death, which, come to think of it, would be a good use for those Lincoln Logs.


* Sorry, the only way the Lego company is going to get me to stop calling them Legos is to invent time travel and threaten 6-year-old me with sticking together all my thin flat pieces unless I agree to call them Lego bricks.

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New ‘Blade Runner’ Trailer for Theatrical Re-Release Wed, 25 Mar 2015 13:30:07 +0000 Beginning April 3, the British Film Institute will be releasing 'Blade Runner: The Final Cut' in select theaters throughout the United Kingdom. But you can enjoy the new trailer for the film right now. Continue reading

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Blade Runner Poster

Image: Warner Bros.

Beginning April 3, the British Film Institute will be releasing Blade Runner: The Final Cut in select theaters throughout the United Kingdom. Blade Runner was originally released in 1982 to mediocre reviews. Over the years, however, the film has had great impact on science fiction and its initial detraction has seen a dramatic reversal.

Much of the lore behind the film revolves around the fact that since 1982 there have been seven different versions–and Blade Runner: The Final Cut is the latest of these. It was released in 2007 for the film’s 25th anniversary as director Ridley Scott‘s definitive vision of the film. At the time, though, it only saw a very limited theatrical release.

So if you live in the UK (or will be visiting between April 3 and May 9), this is a great chance to see this seminal science fiction masterpiece on the big screen. But those of us outside of the UK can still enjoy the brand new trailer that BFI has released to promote Blade Runner‘s theatrical run.

The 90-second trailer, which has been approved by Ridley Scott, shows flashes of some of the film’s most iconic moments set to Vangelis’ original score, and it’s pretty fantastic. Blade Runner is one of my favorite films, and, although it’s been a few years since I’ve seen it, watching this trailer really made me want to see it again.

Roy Batty, Blade runner

Image: Warner Bros.

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Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: ‘Best Treehouse Ever’ Wed, 25 Mar 2015 13:00:30 +0000 Spring is almost here, and it's time to build a treehouse. But not just any treehouse. The 'Best Treehouse Ever.' This simple card game from Green Couch Games will let you and your friends and family build treehouses with things like hot tubs, game rooms, and hot dog stands. Continue reading

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Best Treehouse Ever

Spring is almost here, and it’s time to build a treehouse. But not just any treehouse. The Best Treehouse Ever. This simple card game from Green Couch Games will let you and your friends and family build treehouses with things like hot tubs, game rooms, and hot dog stands.

At a glance: Best Treehouse Ever is for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about half an hour to play. It’s currently on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $16 (plus shipping) for a copy of the game, and an estimated delivery date of November 2015. I’ve played the game with much younger kids, though with some parental assistance.

New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.

Best Treehouse Ever components

Best Treehouse Ever components. Not pictured: eight wooden player tokens. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu


  • 72 Treehouse Room cards
  • 4 Starting Tree cards
  • 8 wooden player tokens
  • 3 Scoring Track cards
  • 6 Round Scoring cards
  • 4 Game Changer cards

I received a prototype copy with mostly finished artwork but the component quality wasn’t final. The campaign has already funded and unlocked linen finish cards, and there are additional stretch goals to unlock some hidden goal cards and additional room illustrations. This last stretch goal won’t change the gameplay but will just add variety to the look of the game.

Best Treehouse Ever rooms

A sample of some of the rooms you can build onto your treehouse. I’m a sucker for the board game room, of course. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The artwork on the cards, by Adam McIver, is really great. There are six categories of rooms: activity, education, outdoor, water, entertainment, and food; within each category there are several different rooms, though the differences are cosmetic and don’t affect gameplay.

The scoring track is made up of three cards and you’ll have a little wooden pawns to move along the track. It’s pretty tiny, and I found it was easy to bump the cards, but it works all right.

How to Play

You can download the rules PDF or even a free Print and Play to try it out before you pledge.

The goal of the game is to score the most points after three “weeks” (rounds) of building.

Everyone gets a starting tree card, a wooden token, and a hand of 6 room cards. The Round Scoring cards and the Game Changer cards are placed in the center of the table. You place your starting tree in front of you, with the wooden token on the center circle. This token represents the balance of your tree. Note: be sure to allow plenty of room above your starting tree card, because you’ll be building up and out from there!

Best Treehouse Ever

This shows you the layout after the first round, except nobody’s going to have room to build now.

Each “week” or round will be five days. You pick one card that you want to build and then pass the rest of your cards to the player next to you. Once everyone has chosen, the rooms are revealed and added to the treehouse.

Staying balanced: If the new room is left of the center line, then you move your balance token to the left; if it’s to the right, you move the token to the right. If you build directly above the center trunk, then it doesn’t move. If you’re supposed to move the token and you can’t because it’s already all the way to the side, then you can’t build a room there.

Staying connected: The rooms in your treehouse have to stay connected by color. So if you’re adding a room and that color is already in your treehouse, the new room has to touch the matching color already there. If you build above a particular color so that you can’t connect to it anymore, then you can’t add any more of that color to your treehouse.

Optional discard: If you can’t or don’t want to build any of the rooms in your hand, you still pick one, and then when everyone reveals their cards, you just discard it instead.

After 5 turns, the round ends–everyone discards the last card from their hands, and there’s a scoring round.

Best Treehouse Ever scoring

Scoring cards and Game Changer cards. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Starting with the first player (the oldest player in the first round, and then the player with the most points in subsequent rounds), each player chooses one of the Game Changer cards and takes it. Then, in reverse order, each player places a Game Changer card on one of the six scoring cards. The default score for a room type is 1 point. Two of the Game Changer cards will make rooms count double, and two will make the rooms score nothing. So you might try to double the red activity rooms if you have a lot of them, but somebody else might sneak in and make them worth nothing. Then, each player scores points based on how many rooms of each color they have in their treehouse.

For younger players, you can play without the Game Changer cards. Each player will choose one of the scoring cards to activate, and then those cards will score 1 point per room for all players. The unchosen cards do not activate.

The game lasts for three rounds, so by the end you’ll have up to 15 cards in your treehouse if you didn’t discard any.

After the last scoring round, there’s a game-end bonus. For each type of room, the player with the most rooms will score 1 point per room. In case of a tie for most rooms, nobody gets a bonus.

Whoever has the highest score wins!

Best Treehouse Ever

Playing Best Treehouse Ever at Gamestorm. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

Scott Almes, the designer of Best Treehouse Ever, is well-known in the Kickstarter board game world for his Tiny Epic series: Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Tiny Epic Defenders, and Tiny Epic Galaxies, plus a few others like (somewhat tiny) Harbour and the decidedly not-tiny Kings of Air and Steam. But this may be his first game that I would describe as “adorable.” (Tiny Adorable Treehouse?)

I’ve played Best Treehouse Ever with adults and kids, and it’s a fun little game that’s quick to teach. Like any building-type game, it’s always fun to look at the end result and see what you’ve got. I’m a sucker for the library and board game room myself, but there are so many fun rooms to throw into your treehouse.

The trickiest part to learn is the balance token–it’s easy to forget to do it entirely. Also, there’s a (mistaken) tendency to move the token to the far side of wherever you played your last card, rather than moving it one step in that direction. But it does make sense thematically–if you put too many rooms on one side, your tree will tip over, so you have to keep things relatively balanced.

Best Treehouse Ever

My growing treehouse, partway through week 2. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

What really makes the game, though, is the scoring. Although you can use the scoring rules for younger players, I think the Game Changers are what really make the game fascinating and they add a nice strategic element to the game beyond just finding the best place to put rooms. You don’t know for sure which rooms are going to score double and which ones are going to score nothing until the Game Changer cards are placed–all you know is the turn order when you’ll get to draw and play a card. So you can decide if you want to press your luck by adding lots of one color, or pick several colors and hope you can score with at least some of them.

Even picking which Game Changer card to take can be an interesting choice. If you’re going first, you’ll get to take a card but you’ll play it last. If you’re worried that somebody will make your best room type worth nothing, maybe you better take one of the “no score” cards so there are fewer of them to go around. Going last means you may not have a choice of which Game Changer card to take, but you get the first chance to decide where it goes. It really serves as a nice catchup mechanic that doesn’t feel like an obvious catchup mechanic to younger players.

Best Treehouse Ever

Everyone is proud of their finished treehouses! (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

At first glance I thought Best Treehouse Ever was going to be a pretty simple game that only my kids would enjoy, but with the Game Changer cards it definitely works for adults. It’s still a light, casual game, but I like that there’s some substance to it.

If you like card drafting (see also: Sushi Go), this is another cute game that’ll be fun for both your kids and your adult gamer friends. Even if you don’t win, you’ll have fun putting together a crazy treehouse anyway.

For more information, check out the Kickstarter page.

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