Just Like Old Times?

Prologue

This year was a tough Christmas for Liam.  He discovered the big reveal about the big man.  When he talked with Christine, he said that he already knew a few years ago, but this year it became official when Christine said that he wasn’t going to get Santa presents anymore.  I never grew up with Santa, so I can’t fully sympathize with what he’s going through, so Christine has just continued to deal with the fallout.  In my defense, I did have a couple of ideas to help him.  One, I offered to purchase the gift cards that he didn’t want to give him the cash for his desired “Santa” present, a Gamecube for Pokemon Colosseum.  Also, I suggested that he and I go to the Quarters in Hadley (also, he wanted to buy some books at Barnes and Noble with one of his gift cards) just the two of us to get out of the house and have some guy time together.

Journal

We’ve been to the Quarters at least once before.  I’m pretty sure we were there twice, but I definitely remember one other visit for my birthday a few years ago.  Christine got a Groupon deal and we used it on one of their Super Cereal Saturdays.  They sell it as a way to recapture the magic of cereal and Saturday morning cartoons.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not usually much of a nostalgia guy, but there are some aspects of my youth that I treasure and want to relive.  This is one of the ones that got me big time.

After all, our generation (I know, generations are an idiotic way to define a group of diverse individuals, but bear with me on this one) are the absolute masters of nostalgia, both real and imagined.  Generation X, if you believe in such a for some reason, constantly looks to the past to define their present and future.  Heck, we were the ones who tried to relive Woodstock without ever actually having been there, except through the copies of the record in our parent’s collections.  That might be one of the reasons that I generally push back on nostalgia.  Well, that and the fact that things really weren’t better “back then” by and large.

Make America Great Again, amirite?

I’ve already discussed comic books as one of my nostalgia triggers.  I’m also planning an end of the year extravaganza for the weekend.  So, I suppose something about the end of the year and my looming 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything) birthday have me looking back.  Like comic books, arcades and arcade games hold a special place in my past.  Unlike comic books, which gave me a quiet escape in a fantasy setting from people, the arcade was a social experience for me.

My friend Kevin, who you may know from our lost episode 2 of the now far too long dormant podcast, and I used to spend almost all of our free time and money at the arcade.  I say almost all because the remainder of it was spent at McDonalds or the movie theater.  It started for the two of us with stupidly epic battles on the first Mortal Kombat machine where neither of us knew a damn thing other than the graphics were killer and so was the violence.

We graduated to MKII, then unfortunately, MK3.  All the while, we dabbled with other games like Primal Rage, Virtua Fighter, and Street Fighter.  When one or the other was on a winning streak against other competition, we moved on to single player games like Super Mario Bros and Tetris.  As our sphere of influence grew because mutual friends became more interested in sports than nerdy pursuits, we got together a 4 man group to tackle Gauntlet, X-Men, The Simpsons, and TMNT.

Arcades were big enough to place honorable mention old schoolers in the corner to give us youngsters a history lesson.

When I went off to college, Kevin and I lived together in a tiny apartment above a store that my extended family owned.  When Kevin had to return home, I found myself taking the bus out to the mall to hit up the arcade because I missed having him around.  Even today, the love affair with video games continues.  We sent each other Steam games for Christmas this year.  I chose an old school style D&D dungeon crawler to remind him of the days that we wasted on his old PC playing those games after school.

So, the pull that I felt towards the Quarters every time we drove or rode by on our bikes was real.  Almost every game in there has some memory or another attached to it.  If it doesn’t, then I wanted to try the game and see if I could make it memorable.  Once again, what got me back into the arcade was a promotion.  They offer unlimited tokens on Tuesdays from 5 until closing for 5 dollars.  It isn’t a bad deal either.  As a barcade, they are open until 1 am.  I didn’t think that either of us could make it that far, but we were both still ready to play at 9:00 when I finally decided to play Dad and start the drive home.

When this is one of the faces you see from your teenager and he speaks exclusively in YouTube videos and memes, you just have no idea.

Epilogue

It’s often difficult for parents to know if they are doing right by their kids.  As I’ve discussed with Kevin on more than occasion, you don’t know if you’ve screwed them up until it is too late.  But, I’m positive that this was the right decision.  Liam seemed to have a great time, I had a great time, and he thanked me for taking him out.  That almost never happens voluntarily anymore.

Things get busy (“And the cat’s in the cradle”) and, as our terrible podcast schedule (what podcast schedule?!) shows, we lost track of time.  But, I really have to start making a conscious effort to do these things.  I joke about Liam becoming a teenager, mostly because it is a defense mechanism against facing the reality that he isn’t a “kid” anymore.  He’s growing into the adult that he will someday be.  While I love watching it happen, I also find myself doing what I never thought I would.

I never thought I’d miss the days when…fill in the blank.  But, when I look at Liam now, I don’t see that crazy little boy who changed my life 13 years ago.  I see a young man who is still changing my life, but in vastly different ways.  Every now and then, I have to take a breath, push that pause button, and revel in the silliness of youth.  There will be a time, sooner than I I’d like to admit, that it won’t be there for a few years.

Impressions of Ixalan

Introduction

I was in Wal*Mart with Aiden a couple of weeks ago.  That’s how most middle age dad stories start.  Gone are the days of, “Oh, man, I was so drunk…” or “And that’s when the goat walked by!”  I’m not saying that it is better or worse, just different.  Oh, and much better.  Getting drunk just leads to poor decisions and hangovers and goats stink.

So, Aiden and I were in Wal*Mart for some reason or another.  Who the hell knows at this point?  They put a Wal*Mart in town locally that then donned a cape to become a Super Wal*Mart (which are technically just regular Wal*Marts at this point and the regular Wal*Marts are K*Marts or Ames or some nonsense, I don’t exactly know) a few years ago.  Ever since, because it is so convenient, I find myself at that store at least once a day on average.  That’s not to say that I go there every day, but the days that I do go there, I go multiple times, so it probably totals at least 365.25 times in a year.

Okay, time to get serious about this.  For whatever reason, a couple of weeks ago, I was walking through Wal*Mart with Aiden and I stumbled on the Explorers of Ixalan box set.  With almost no hesitation, I bought it.  We have played the Nicol Bolas Archenemy set (as mentioned in a few articles on the page) a few times and enjoyed it, so I thought it would be good to pick this one up, too.  Due to the craziness of the holidays and end of semester, we haven’t been able to play it, but I have looked through it and will give my impressions of what I know about it so far.

The Good

I texted Chris to tell him that I bought the game.  He responded with, “Never heard of it.”  I explained it a bit to him and said, “I really like what they’re doing with casual Magic.”  It has taken them a while, but it feels like they are finally embracing the casual player in more ways than just, “Hey, look, we have a semi-casual event every week called Friday Night Magic that plays exactly like the professional events, but worse because you haven’t committed your every waking moment to building meta decks.”  Players like me who have absolutely no interest in Standard or Modern and only limited (ha, ha) interest in draft and sealed were left out in the cold.

Cold? Another Shining reference? Nah, the cold never bothered me anyway.

That started to change with some of the prerelease events.  I think they might have listened to some of the players who started to wonder out loud what the audience for prereleases were.  I took my kids a couple of times because I thought they would be less stress and more fun than a typical event (even FNM), but the competition was still fierce and the barrier for entry was still high.  We haven’t been back since, but I’ve watched the events change and they’re making them a bit more varied and noob friendly from what I gather.  Perhaps I’ll attend the next one to see if that’s true.

Aside from that, they have also started to run some new events that introduce players into the game.  They give away a free deck, teach players the fundamentals of the game, and have a much more friendly atmosphere for newer players.  I won’t go out as far as I have in the past to say that they were losing revenue, but both Chris and I (casual players, me much more so than him) were speaking like we’d never play another hand of Magic again.  I doubt that we’re the barometer for that sort of thing, but I did start to wonder out loud if the game was suffering a little bit from ignoring that part of the player base.

What better way to hook ’em than with free? Even Heisenberg knows that.

Well, if recent history is to be believed, they aren’t ignoring us anymore.  The Archenemy game put together 4 decent decks to play against an uber powerful deck in the same way that the WoW TCG had it’s raid decks.  The price point was great for getting as many cards as you did and the game mode itself is fun enough for multiple plays.  Looking at Explorers of Ixalan, it appears as if they were testing the waters with the Archenemy box and that they expanded it with this set.

In addition to the traditional card game, this one has a territory acquisition aspect in the form of cards.  I haven’t looked closely at the cards, but they look to give bonuses like card draw or stats and keywords for your cards.  So, in addition to fending off three other players (since it is a free for all not a 2 headed giant game), you also have to plan your strategy for how to approach the tiles in the game.  Choose carefully and be the first to find the lost city!

The Bad

Personally, I think that this is a great addition and makes this game unique among Magic the Gathering.  I hope that they plan on continuing to do this type of thing, but I’ve been wrong before.  I really liked the Arena of the Planeswalkers game, too, even if the set up was a bit convoluted.  They only made a couple of them and then stopped.  I think it might have just been because the game played too differently from Magic, so Magic fans didn’t like it too much and it was a bit too complicated for non fans to get into the game.

So, while I worry that this might be a one off, I don’t foresee it falling into the same category as the board game.  If that game “suffered” from not being close enough to Magic, this one doesn’t have that problem.  It’s exactly a Magic game with this other piece grafted on top of it.  Still, the possibility exists that this doesn’t sell and that Wizards will kill this arm of Magic before you know it.

I have no idea what the company’s thoughts are on games that don’t provide a return.  I’m sure that Hasbro will be willing to let this division be a loss leader for a while similar to how Disney let Marvel comics division do the same.  However, the mouse has come knocking and there’s a chance that this might end up just being a one off and I’ll have none of this to look forward to ever again.

The Verdict

This looks like a fun way to play Magic the Gathering.  I will get the boys together next week over vacation to play it and then give my actual thoughts about the game.  I don’t think it will happen next week as we are trying to get the podcast up and running again.  If nothing else, it will be an annual tradition to talk about Star Wars.  So, look for my review of Explorers of Ixalan in two weeks.

The State of Comics

Introduction

I guess you could say that I’m concerned about the future of comic books.  Over the last few days, I’ve had two conversations with two different people (Chris and my cousin) about Marvel comics mostly.  Neither conversation was completely out of context, but they were both initiated by me.  I’m not usually one to fall into the trap of nostalgia, but there are a few things from my childhood that trigger it.  As I have recently learned, comics are definitely in that category.

The Good

I mentioned that both conversations revolved around Marvel.  I also wrote that I’m concerned about where comics are going.  So, you can probably deduce that there might not be much in this section about Marvel.  As you’re right, I will start there in an attempt to build some positive capital so that it doesn’t look like I’m piling on later.

First, other than the slightly (but understandable) disappointing ending, Secret Empire was a good story.  Nick Spencer took what could have been a disaster and made it work.  Then, while I didn’t like all of the titles that have come out of Legacy, I did like the idea of tying the past to the present and attempting to build a bridge to the future.

You can see from the cover that they had a slightly darker ending initially. However, apparently due to fan pressure, they succumbed to the obvious. More on that soon.

So, decent stories and characters, what’s the problem?  Patience.  I will get to the bad and ugly (in spite of my promise of possibly doing away with this format) in the net sections.  For now, that is the good of Marvel.  In contrast, DC not only has good stories (better than Marvel some would say), but their cover prices are so much less.  I know that sounds odd when the difference is only one dollar, but a dollar per books adds up.  At the standard prices of 2.99 v. 3.99, you get an extra DC book per $12 spent.  If you were on a $50 a week habit like me, that’s four books a week.

As a result, even if the books are of equal quality, the DC books will have more value.  That point, in fact, came up in my conversation with Chris.  He said how he wasn’t buying Marvel anymore unless they were on clearance.  He then went on to mention that he thought the DC books were of better quality.  I initially agreed and probably still do.

However, the more that i thought about it, the more that I realized that might be a false narrative.  At the least, it is an exaggeration.  Sure, Batman is the best book currently and might be one of the best ever.  Scott Snyder has blown it out of the stratosphere with Metal.  After those and maybe Tom King’s other book, Mr. Miracle, there is a definite drop off in quality.  I sense a turn for the negative here, so let’s trot out that by line.

The Bad

In contrast to the last section, I am going to start out with DC here to keep the thought going and then switch to Marvel, because as it stands, the only ugly is going to be Marvel, so that thread will continue from this section into that one.  I’ve already said that most, if not all, of the DC books have good characters and stories.  Their Rebirth has been a reboot that has worked on so many levels.  However, it hasn’t all been completely positive.  Other than the books mentioned in the last section, there isn’t much that is worth the cover price.  Wonder Woman without Greg Rucka has been quite the drop off.  No other book makes me want to shell out 2.99 for 32 pages worth of entertainment.

I get that creators need to do what they enjoy and I actually like Black Magick very much, but I selfishly want him back on WW.

Well, if there’s nothing in DC that I’m willing to pay 3 dollars for, then there’s certainly nothing that Marvel is putting out right now that I’d pay 4 dollars for.  I liked Secret Empire and was willing to give Legacy a chance.  I liked that, too, and especially liked that it wasn’t a reboot.  However, all of this was secretly while hoping that they might come to their senses and drop their cover prices.  They never did, so I’m officially out again from comic collecting.  I just cannot justify the price for what I’m getting.

The Ugly

So, perhaps I’m part of the problem.  The other major revelation came during the conversation with my cousin.  It actually started while I was talking to Chris, but when combined with the subject matter of the conversation with my cousin, it crystallized into a more solid form.

My cousin and I were talking about the new Star Wars movie (impressions coming in a couple of days), and I said something about Star Wars fans being the worst, but Marvel comic fans giving them a run for their money.  While talking to Chris, I made the point that comic fans have disproportionate power right now.  Star Wars can tell each individual fan to go fly a kite because they’re still going to make a billion dollars on every movie.

The profit margin is so low for comics and the audience is so small that every fan they lose is a huge blow to the bottom line.  I thought that Disney might allow the comics division to be a loss leader because the movies have proven to be a money printing machine.  Perhaps that was true for a while, but there seems to be a turning tide and that they are putting pressure on the comic guys to deliver the goods.

This is how I imagine all the Broflakes who get mad about the changes to the Marvel universe.

The main driver for this train of thought is that they are killing the Guardians of the Galaxy (or that was the chatter a couple of weeks ago) book in January even though it is one of their better movies.  Chris mentioned that Marvel just doesn’t have the talent that DC does and I reiterated my point that they could drop the price, try out some “new” talent, and take a chance.  However, that doesn’t seem to be an option anymore and now they’re stuck with this mess of a situation and no good plan as how to proceed because their fans have dictated so much of their recent plans.

The Verdict

Things don’t look good for comics.  Like I said to my cousin, because he’s not a comics fan, just a fan of the movies, “Who cares, right?”  Well, I care.  Comic books were an outlet for an awkward teenage me and they have been a steady force in my life ever since.  Whenever things start to get a bit too chaotic in the real world, I can pull myself into the pretend world of Gotham or Wakanda and forget about it for an hour or so.  Video games also became that for me, but it’s been harder and harder to sit down to play a video game now that I’m older.

I honestly like what comics are doing now.  I don’t mind the new characters, enjoy most of the events that have happened in my time back in the books.  What I don’t like is the cover price and it isn’t just because it’s prohibitive for me.  I can find ways around that.  It’s also prohibitive to new fans that they are courting with these new characters.  Who is going to take a chance on something that is so obviously and grossly overpriced?  I will be the first to admit that I don’t have answers, but I’m hoping that someone out there with the power to do something will figure it out.

I’m Taking that Candle

Introduction

I know this is late for a preview/impressions post on the new Hearthstone expansion, as it has been out for about a week now.  However, I have yet to actually play a game with any of the cards.  As I said to Chris, I haven’t even opened a single pack from Knights of the Frozen Throne.  I have played through only dungeon runs so far, which gives me almost no indication about the cards.  Nevertheless, I’ve been watching and paying attention to the card reveals and think that I can give a decent impression to my fellow noobs.

Mechanics

I’m not positive if there aren’t usually very many new keywords in each set.  I suppose that I could not be lazy and Google past sets, but then I might actually get a reputation for being a responsible journalist.  Besides, I don’t even have to Google anything because I’m already on Hearthstonepedia (or whatever it’s called) so all I’d have to do is click a few links and I’m not even willing to do that much.

Seriously, have you seen House of Cards? Reporters just end up dead on the front of a subway train!

Recruit – This is the only official keyword that I can see that is new on the cards.  There are a couple of others that show up once or twice or aren’t exactly keywords, per se, that I will review quickly at the end of the section.  However, recruit is the only new bold word on  card text.  On the surface, it seems strong because it takes a card from your deck and puts it onto the battlefield.  Yes, you read that right.  Never change, Blizzard.  Never change.

Spellstone – I wouldn’t necessarily call this a keyword.  It is more of a card type.  Each of the classes have a type of spellstone (only one now, but it’s probably only a matter of time before they introduce more) that does something relevant to the class.  It starts off as a lesser spellstone, but can be upgraded to a spellstone and then further upgraded to a greater spellstone, again through some action that the class usually accomplishes through normal gameplay.  I like the idea of these cards as they really push the narrative of being able to do things online that can’t be done in a traditional card game.

Legendary Weapons – Each class has also been given a new weapon of legendary status.  Just like minions, only one can be included in a deck and they, at least on the surface, promise the same kind of game breaking potential.  As they say, results may vary.

“Bonus effect” isn’t bold, but it does show up on several cards in the set. When you draw the card, you see the bonus effect which, in true Hearthstone fashion, is randomized.
I promised some unique mechanics in the set. As far as I know, this is the only card in the set with “dormant”. It also reads an awful lot like Dark Depths from Magic, though not as reliable…yet. I will say that I’ve been impressed at the Hearthstone team’s ability to make formerly terrible cards not as terrible. So, who knows. Before long, The Darkness could be meta.

Notable Cards

Please understand that this doesn’t mean good, or even necessarily playable cards.  If you want that list, there are a thousand other pages that will give you the best cards, combos, decks, etc.  If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in the wrong place.  I also just mentioned The Darkness and how bad it is, so I’m not going to waste your time with borderline unplayable cards.  However, if you just want a (possibly random) collection of cool and interesting cards, read on!

I like this card because it takes the druid mechanic of choice and expands the possibilities. Very cool design.
Rogue finally gets secrets, something that seems to fit the class more than Paladin. This one is cool because it’s like a delayed shadowstep. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to play around, which defeats the purpose of secrets.
The first card in Hearthstone with “Trample” and it is a situational spell card. Weird, but neat!
There are at least two cards that have this ability only to attack if you have a certain amount of armor. It is a bit of a half measure between the “can’t attack” and normal minions. There are so many applications of this for other classes.
This is an example of them testing the waters with an idea (the mage quest) and then building on it. Admittedly, this is an odd application of the extra turn dynamic, but it shows that they are willing to take chances and experiment.

The Verdict

This set has perhaps the stupidest name for a card game expansion I’ve ever heard.  I honestly thought it was one of Blizzard’s famous April’s Fools Day jokes either very late or a bit early when I first heard the name.  In spite of that, I still logged in and claimed my packs.  I haven’t opened them.  Heck, I haven’t even opened my Frozen Throne packs, as I said earlier.

So, I don’t see this set getting me to play the game any more than I have been playing it to this point, which is only enough to finish a quest or two a day.  What does get me to play more is interesting stuff like the mash up arena mode that they had for Halloween this year.  I played through several of those runs.  Oh, I have also done a few dungeon runs recently, and those have been a fun and interesting experience.  Aside from that, though, I will just have another 50+ packs sitting in my inventory.  Oh well, there’s always Eternal and Magic the Gathering to keep me busy.

Rapid Fire…Special Edition

Hey guys n’ gals! It’s your old buddy, Blond! Usually, my Rapid Fire (Random Thoughts) articles tend to focus on what’s making news in assorted nerd circles. This article will be a little different as it will be about what’s new with me as well as what nerd hobbies I’m into and which ones I’m currently a little “meh” about.

-First things first, as Shawn has mentioned, I’ve semi-successfully started an online business selling Magic the Gathering. One of the things that bothered me about buying boxes of cards is all of the clutter left behind once I parsed out the cards I was excited to include into my decks. One of the closets in my place was essentially packed with boxes and boxes of singles that I didn’t know what to do with. Now that I have an avenue in which to unload my unused singles, I can once again justify buying boxes again. Plus the money I’m making goes towards…

-Comic books. I love ’em. But you already knew that. I briefly considered going the trade paperback route due to the amount of money I was spending each month on them, which was one of the reasons Shawn stopped collecting, But then I figured out that if I just ordered from Midtown Comics (cheap plug.), I never had to pay full cover price again and didn’t have to waste time and gas money driving my LCS hoping that they had my titles in stock (which most of the time they didn’t). I know, I know, I’m supposed to support the little guy, but damn, I was tired of leaving the store disappointed.

-As far as MTG goes, well I would like to play it more than I do but since the frequency of games has decreased with time and the group I played with has lost interest/free time so most of my time with the game is now spent selling it. I’m down to just a few decks at this point, but they’re my favorite ones. Not to worry, I’ve saved the deck lists of the ones I sold and will start to share them with you guys. Even though I don’t play as much, Ixalan still peaked my interest, so clearly the game is not completely dead for me at this point.

-Ok, onto the big non-gaming news, I’m getting married! After 12 long years I broke my bride-to-be’s will and she agreed to marry me. I’m beyond excited for our wedding, and with that in mind, I figure that I’ll test Noob to see if he reads my articles when I actually write them. Shawn has been my best friend, and an honorary brother to me for the last 16 years and I can’t think of anyone else who I would rather have as my best man for the big day. Cue the collective “aww”. Sigh..screw you guys.

That’s all from me, as always thanks for reading!