Crusaders & Orks Group Shots

I had had some fun tonight playing around with minis, terrain, photography, and editing. The first photo is a group of stalwart Crusaders from Reaper’s Warlord line, led by Lord Ironraven.

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The wife gets photography credit for this one.  🙂

 

And one of Duke Gerard. Because, Duke Gerard.

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In the grim, dark future of the 41st millennium, there is only war. And photo ops.

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Star Wars: Spiritual Successor – Part 1

That summer introduced me to what was to become my first true boardgame love and, sadly, one of my shortest. It first came to my attention from a TV commercial heralding its release, in what was probably the final instance of my first hearing about a new product from someplace other than the Internet. A game where you could control the most iconic characters from the Star Wars films and have them battle it out? Detailed components and cards that you used to manage your characters’ stats and abilities?? Star Wars miniatures?!? Yes, please! I speak of course, of Star Wars: Imperial Assault Epic Duels. One 30-second commercial was all it took; I decided then and there that I wanted that game. A quick trip to the mall, and it was mine. This was also one of the last times in my life I deliberately went to the mall to purchase anything. Again, I have the Internet for that now.

I remember the feeling of getting home that day, anxious to try out my new game. I was able to tear my best friend away from Dark Age of Camelot (a popular MMORPG at the time, before the coming of WoW) and convince him and my girlfriend to try it out with me. I don’t remember exactly how those first few games went – who played which characters (I think my best friend chose Mace Windu for the first game and I chose Darth Maul or Vader), who won, or even if anyone else besides me even enjoyed the game, but I thought it was great! We played it a few more times that summer, but the demands of school, work, and other social activities, not to mention a painful breakup with aforementioned girlfriend eventually pushed Epic Duels into a drawer somewhere, and I never played it again. (College was a great experience for me, but those years remain an anomaly in the sense of hardly doing anything gaming-related during that time).

Somewhere along the line, I misplaced my copy of Epic Duels, possibly during one my moves during college. I occasionally wondered where it was, but didn’t give it much thought for a year or so, again with school, work, and non-gaming-related social life occupying practically all of my time. Sometime in 2004, on a random trip to a mall (seriously though, I rarely go to malls anymore), I saw a stack of them at a Kay B Toy Store on clearance for five bucks each. In what has become one of the only moments of my life that I wish I could go back and change, I decided not to buy one – or twenty; new copies of Epic Duels go for $150+ these days when you can find one. I briefly considered getting one but decided that while I had fun with it, I just didn’t have much time for games with everything else I had going on. Again, it was a strange time in my life.

As the years went on, I came to regret my decision that day. The popularity of Epic Duels had grown to achieve cult status, and I chided myself numerous times for not plunking down a measly five bucks for a game that I had remembered as bringing me so much enjoyment during the brief time that I had played it. But that was back in the days before being introduced to hobbyist board games; back then, Axis & Allies was the pinnacle of my boardgaming experience, and vanilla RISK would usually be the game of choice on those rare occasions when my friends and I would choose to play a board game. We eventually graduated to Axis and Allies: Pacific when one of my friends acquired a copy, and it saw its fair share of plays; it’s probably obvious that the concept of “deep” boardgames existing that were about anything other than “dudes on a map” fighting each other for world domination, one parcel at a time, was completely foreign to us.

Better games have come and gone since then. Nowadays, I could justify dropping $150 on a copy of a long-lost game if I really wanted to get it, but at this point, I suspect my response at being reunited with Epic Duels would be similar to how I felt about finally getting a chance to play Space Hulk over a decade since first seeing those awesome pictures on the Hirst Arts website: a decent game, but not one I want to spend much time with when there are so many better options available. No, better to let my memories of playing Epic Duels remain fond ones rather than risk disappointment by coming back to it so many years later.

I realize I could have gotten into WOTC’s Star Wars miniatures game if I wanted to find something to fill the gap left by Epic Duels, but for various reasons, I never did. A big reason was that while the paint jobs on the Epic Duels minis were about the level of quality that one would expect from mass-produced prepaints (that is to say, mediocre), the entire package was a one-time $20 purchase, and everything there was to get was included in the box. A starter set for WOTC’s game was probably around the same range – with an unlimited amount that you could spend afterwards building your collection. I’m not knocking it for those who enjoy the chase and the collecting aspect, and it’s possible the game was even pretty good in its own right, but I wasn’t enthused at the prospect of easily spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a collection of low-quality miniatures.

The popularity of Star Wars continues to grow, and there are few places where this juggernaut IP doesn’t have a presence, board games and miniatures games being no exception. I enjoy the pace and thrilling dogfights of X-Wing Miniatures. I’m looking forward to getting into Armada and engaging in fleet-level space battles between Rebels and Imperials. And it appears that Fantasy Flight will soon have another winner on their hands with Star Wars: Rebellion, in which players participate in the events set during the timeline of the original trilogy, in a similar epic storytelling vein as Twilight Imperium and War of the Ring.

So many options for great Star Wars games, yet none of them provides the same experience as the game that I got back in the summer of 2002. I had thought that Epic Duels was my last hope for a skirmish-level miniatures game pitting iconic Star Wars characters against each other. But I have realized that there is another…

Star Wars Ring Theory & Rey’s Lineage

I came across a couple of interesting Star Wars-related essays recently.

The idea of Star Wars as an example of the ring structure of storytelling has been around for awhile. It’ll be interesting to see if the model can still be applied once the third trilogy is complete. The only comment I’ll make about applying this model of storytelling to Star Wars is that if it’s true, it’s an example of superior technical skill combined with mediocre storytelling (which pretty much describes the prequels on an individual level as well).

The other essay is about a theory which has a shelf-life that’s likely set to expire somewhere near the beginning of Episode VIII when the big mystery of Episode VII is resolved: Rey is not Luke’s daughter, but is actually the granddaughter of Obi Wan. I have to admit, there are some good arguments here for why this is actually the case, and there are some really compelling thematic elements that this would create which the author describes.

Some Thoughts on Episode VII

A Few Thoughts on Episode VII

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

I think it’s fair to say that The Force Awakens is probably the best Star Wars movie we could have hoped to see from JJ Abrams. That is, it’s a competent, entertaining film that plays it safe, hitting familiar beats intended to please fans, while managing to avoid committing any grievous errors. However, the cost of playing it safe is that it doesn’t take any real risks, doesn’t add anything truly new to the saga. There’s a fine line between parallel storytelling and merely retreading old ground that has already been explored in a previous film or six.

At times this is taken to an extreme; there’s something deeply disappointing about finding out that after everything that they’ve been through, Han and Chewie are basically back to where they started in A New Hope. The First Order is essentially a fledgling version of the Empire, just with marginally different uniforms. Even their leader, seen only as a giant-sized hologram (or perhaps he is actually giant-sized – that would be different!) shares many similarities with the Emperor, both visually and in his role in the story. This time around, instead of a Death Star, we have… a Starkiller. As the film explains, there’s really no comparison between the two; you see, the Starkiller is much, MUCH bigger than a Death Star. Like, forget moons, this thing’s as big as an entire planet even! Oh, and it’s so enormously powerful that it can blow up FIVE planets at once. Let’s see your puny little Death Star do THAT! Even Kylo Ren, who begins as a powerful, intimidating presence, falls victim to retreading and more or less degenerates into a petulant brat with anger-management issues by the end of the movie, evoking the worst characteristics of his grandfather. And by “worst characteristics” I don’t mean moral failings that help create a compelling villain who we can empathize with on some level; I mean characteristics that make us want to roll our eyes. Perhaps this was Abrams throwing a bone to the people out there who genuinely enjoy the prequels and the spectacle of an angst-ridden Anakin Skywalker.

“Virtuoso” is the word that comes to mind for a one-word description of JJ Abrams as a director; there is no doubt that he possesses a high degree of technical ability and talent. And while I don’t think any of his work is bad, I have never experienced any of it as rising above the level of technical excellence to qualify as a true artistic achievement, or which at least manages to be profound on some level. It’s the difference between a twelve-year-old hitting the correct buttons to bang out “Through the Fire and Flames” on Guitar Hero and Herman Li and Sam Totman pouring their hearts into shredding their solos.

With The Force Awakens, Abrams seems to be taking a page from his second movie from that other immensely popular sci-fi series. The Kirk-Kahn story arc was fantastic; what could possibly have been gained by trying to retell it in a slightly different way – furthermore, retelling it without the strength of the existing relationship between Kirk and Kahn providing backstory and depth for The Wrath of Khan? Seriously, if you’re going to reboot the original Star Trek with a new continuity and timeline, why squander the opportunity to go in new directions and tell new stories? I can’t help but wonder if some of this is what was going on in The Force Awakens; homages are fine, even expected even in a movie like this, but for the love of the Force, give us something more interesting than a lightsaber with a cross-guard.

I realize that my opinion of The Force Awakens is probably coming across as overly negative. While I did find some of callbacks and references to the previous movies to be too much at times, the truth is that I actually did quite enjoy it and I think that it’s a pretty good movie overall – good, not great, but not just good in comparison to the prequels, but pretty good judged on its own merits. I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan, but any criticism I have of this film is based on a love for Star Wars and a desire to see future movies be great movies.

Perhaps this is what the saga needed at this point: a well-made, entertaining, movie that showed, after the disappointment of the prequels, that it’s still possible to make a Star Wars that’s fun and which recaptures some of the excitement and adventure of the originals; a movie to restore the faith of the die-hard fans, and have a broad enough appeal for those who aren’t die-hard fans, setting up for a glorious second act from Rian Johnson, with some people speculating that Episode VIII will be the Empire Strikes Back of this new trilogy. If this was one of the driving intents behind The Force Awakens, then it meant this film would have to play it safe, hitting the notes that fans were expecting, but not venturing too far into unknown territory. At the risk of damning with faint praise, if this is indeed the case, then there was perhaps no better director for this film than JJ Abrams.