Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Stargate Universe Review


"What if you took Stargate and made it darker, sexier and edgier?", said no fan ever. This show swiped the best of BGS and mashed it up with some great music, in front of a gate. It probably wasn't very good material for Stargate fans. 

But it was a really good show. I'd give it 4 of 5 stars. 

The actors were top notch, the pacing slower, the sense of discover was put at the forefront. Probably too much at the forefront. They wiped their butts with whatever Stargate had established. 

But it was good TV and science fiction. They stole a couple of key concepts from the series that came before it and ran like hell with them. The communication stones from the original show were placed front and center in the plot. These devices popped up in Season 8 of Stargate. "Citizen Joe" was probably meant to be a "cheap, one off " episode to save on cast and film costs, but it was frakking brilliant.  SGU took that simple idea and made the speculative science fiction and flipped it towards contemplative. What does it mean to be "someone" if you can trade places? 

Like that one episode of Stargate, SGU tries to get into the head of the watcher by leaning on the contemplative. Some of the time, it worked. There were a lot of misses, but you could see the direction the show was taking. 

The show has many callbacks to some hard sci-fi, stuff so hard that it often isn't recognised as sci-fi at all. My personal favorite episode was "Trial and Error" which is a close crib of The Defence of Duffer's Drift. Capt Young experiences a series of dreams where the ship comes under attack. These dreams are the Destiny's attempts to communicate with the crew directly to determine their capabilities. It doesn't work well because as a program, the ship was expecting a commander to have all the answers, not to be the head of a team that creates answers on the fly. Young was exposed to his own failings and it became personal. Very personal. 

Another episode zig-zagged from high action romps back to the speculative. In Season One the episode "Time", the crew finds a Keno camera which recorded their deaths in an alternative universe which provides some answers to their current situation, again ask "who are you, if it's not really you?" 

Much of this show asks the question, "What does it mean to be x?". While Stargate was probably not the best vehicle for this contemplative study, it was very engrossing. 


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Simutronics Gemstone IV F2P Review Part 1

Gemstone IV by Simutronics is an ancient MMO. I've tried to review it a couple of times, but each time out, I failed to capture the essence or appeal of the game. At age 23, the game has changed both a lot and very little in its life. 

This time, I'm taking a different tact. I will be reviewing this from the perspective of a new player in 2021 as a Free to Play player. It it a value investment in time? We'll see shortly. 

I have also decided to break this review up into many pieces, between 3-5. This is part one for character creation and first experiences. 

Title: Gemstone IV (GSIV)
Publisher: Simutonics
Platform: Windows, Mac, Others
Year: 1988

Gemstone IV is a text based open sandbox high fantasy gamed based in the world of Elanthia. It is heavy on the role play as much as the rolling of dice. In fact, there is a criterial that you not break character in game. In recent years, this standard has slacked off a bit but it is there. 

At first glance, it appears to be a clone of D&D, but that's not a fair assessment. It was based off of Rolemaster by Iron Crown Enterprises, the Shadow World campaign setting in particular. Although the contract lapsed decades ago, if you've played Rolemaster, you'll feel it's impact in the current game. 

Step one of the Mangler

Characters are generated in a system called "the Character Manager" or "The Mangler" by players. It's a points buy system. First you select a gender and move on to a class. There are 10 classes. 

Ten is a lot, so let's break them down to function. Melee based characters are the Monk, the Rogue and the Warrior. Spellslingers are Clerics, Empaths, Sorcerers and Wizards. Then there is a hybrid of the two in the form of Bards, Paladins and Rangers. Whole books have probably been written on these 10 types, so I am going to skip it until the next post. 

Once you have a class, you pick a culture and race. Just like D&D, you have elves, humans and dwarves plus 10 others. There is a mechanical advantage to picking a race as giantkin are strong, dwarves hardy, elves dexterous and so on. Other races are a little more complicated.  

Virtually all characters races have a selection of cultures to choose from. Unfortunately, a new player does not know any of this background, therefore can't sanely pick a culture.

Mechanically speaking, culture doesn't really matter at all. But it does matter when you interact with others. 

Up until recently, there was an imposed system of racial tolerances build right in. That, for the most part has been kick to the dust bin post 2020. 



Next up is a textual description of you character. You looks, for a text based game. Mechanically, this does nothing, but remember anyone who types "LOOK at" you will see this text. 

Next up are attributes. Again, there are 10 attributes ranked 1-100. You can't have an attribute under 20 and only one over 90. Race adds or subtracts from these limits. Note that two of the stats below are in red. That is your class's prime requisites, which general receive a bonus of 5-10. As you progress through the game, your stats go up. 

You could do a lot of research on what your scores should be, or you can hit the Auto button to have the game assign them for you. New characters get 5 chances to reset their skills in the first 30 days or 20th level. Yes, some people get hooked and can get a fifth of a way through the game in 30 days. 


Next are your skills. There are dozens of them. 


And like your attributes, there is an auto-generate button. The autogenerate button does build a playable character but after level 20, you'll see problems with these builds. 


Finally. It's time to name your character. Remember what I mentioned about staying in character, this is your first chance to blow it. They won't let you in with a name like "Ford Prefect" or "Yo Mamma" or "Dethsl4y3r". Deathslayer might have gotten a pass in the 1990s, so you've missed your chance. Don't do it now. 

And we're in! 


GSIV has many towns and nations. As a F2P account, you can random land in one of 3: Icemule Trace, Ta'Vaalor and Wehnimer's Landing. As a historical note, Wehnimer's Landing was the first city in the game and is the most populous in terms of players running around. Icemule Trace has an arctic theme, Ta'Vaalor is elven and the Landing is a human centric colonial boomtown.  

As you can see from the image above, you start of in a place. Each location in the game has a description and is generally called "a room" by players even though they might represent open spaces like a courtyard or a path by a stream. 

Also, each new character has a chance to experience an automated quest based on their class. These are called Sprite Quests and there are 5 of them. You can only do one and it will raise you from level 0 to 1 or 2 by the end. 

Loot and Prizes! In your first moments in the game, you will realize that you have some equipment. Clothes, weapons or a runestaff, armor, backpack, etc. You will also owe about 1000 silver to the town you are in. Typically, by the end of the Sprite Quest, this will be paid off. 

During your adventures with the Sprite, you will notice there are lot of key places in your town to explore and make use of. As a F2P character, you can keep a modest bank account in one town and one town only. Consider this choice carefully because if you move towns, you won't have the bank at your disposal. 

Next time we'll look at the various character choices and different play areas available. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Review - The Winds of Mars by H. M. Hoover

Title: The Winds of Mars
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1995
Pages: 192* pages
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Helen Hoover was born in 1935, in Ohio. Her family home's basement that was dug back when Thomas Jefferson was president. From that humble beginning, she hopped from Los Angeles to New York City to finally land in Virginia. From 1973 to 1995, she wrote 16 published books. 

Mary Helen Hoover moves closer to home in this novel. As the name says, it takes place on Mars. Additionally, the story seems to set itself in a reasonable close time period to now. Say 200-400 years in the future. 

Annalyn Court is the daughter of the President of Mars, a man she has never met. She has been raised to take her appointed place in the elite upper class of Martian citizens. The question is, does she want that? 

The answer is not very clear. Starting with Court's earliest memories and progressing into young womanhood, she carves a path against her planned fate. Adventure and horror await and she clashes those who would make the average Martian subservient to the immortal upper class. 

This is one of my least favorite of Hoover books. First, it delves into YA horror and shock. Second, it has slightly dated itself through no fault of Hoover's. The fact is, Mars is now well known territory and her outdated information is rather glaring. There are fights, gunfire and bombings which is atypical for Hoover but handled very well when compared to most YA books about war. People die. Important people die. It's rough for a Young Adult title but nothing compared to the crap that is put out today. 

All of this running against some very child-like scenarios and characters. One of the standout characters in the book has a punny name: Hector Protector. He is the droid bodyguard of Annalyn Court. Almost three decades ago, such things were probably innovative; but now "Hector Protect Her" doesn't stand the test of time. It seems like a very fairytale addition to a book about a young woman coming of age and into her own on her own. It doesn't make sense. 

I happen to love the character Hector, but my daughter declare that he sucked. If only he had his own book because he is conceptually interesting but misplaced in a story about a woman growing up. It cuts the ending off at the knees. 

It is a quick and enjoyable read and available at Amazon. 

* Amazon lists this book at 126 pages but it seems to be more like 200. 



Or you could get this book as a part of one the Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans. Kindle Unlimited Memberships offer access to 1 million book titles like The Winds of Mars, or current magazines and Audible Narration for your books. Best yet, it offers a 30 day trial so you can test it out before you buy.

Review - Invasion of Theed Boxed Set

Happy Star Wars Day! 

Title: Invasion of Theed Boxed Set
Design: Bill Slavicsek
Year: 2000
Pages: 2 32 page booklets, and 16 page character sheets folio.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Theed is the capital of Naboo and this adventure runs contemporaneously with the end of the film, The Phantom Menace. The party of up to 8 players fights to help the Queen free Naboo from the threat of the Sith Lord.

This set is a modification of the rules that appear in Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars: Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook. These "simplifed" rules cut out everything not necessary to run the adventure. It is heavily combat orientated, but other non-combat situations are addressed in a limited fashion. Characters star at level one and have the potential to level up several times during play. 

This set features 2 game booklets, one for the rules and second is the module. Players are given gloriously detailed 2 page character sheets which also include activity prompts and a rule guide focused on their particular character. There are 2 maps plus 2 sheets of tokens. 0

The adaption of the 200+ page d20 ruleset from the core book to simplified adventure game is more than adequate. As a fighting system, it is rock solid. Many items are pre calculated, such as experience. This takes a load off the Gamemaster and places it on the characters. Everything runs extremely smoothly. 

Being an introductory set, there will be situations the players could ask about that is not included. A season GM would have immediate answers but a newbie would invoke "That not possible" for these few situations. 

Being run alongside the events of The Phantom Menace, the players will notice that they don't really meet too many of the characters in the film and definitely don't interact with them in any meaningful way. It seems their insertion into the game was driven by IP consultants trying to sandwich in all of the content from the movie. 

If you look at the cover of the boxed set, you can see that the artists were free of this concept. Not a single major character is featured there. But the created characters fit wonderfully with the theme of the film, like a second batch of heroes in this titanic battle. The premade characters sheets include a very minimal backstory, usually only to account for their abilities such as being a soldier or Jedi. They can be made into whatever the player has in mind for their character. 

Lost on the back page of one of the booklets is a one page character sheet. This is a nice addition as it allows someone to roll a completely new character for the set. 

There are only two flaws to this set. First, major film characters are shoehorned into the end of the adventure in a way that can never be canon breaking, which will give the players a sense of being rooked in victory. 

The other flaw is only apparent if you have the Core rules. Scale is reduced to "squares" in this boxed which convert to a standard 2 meters in the core rules. So, when switching from this set to the main rules and back, invariably new players will screw up ranges by a factor of two. This isn't too bad, in my opinion. The Core set lists unrealistically low ranges for virtually every weapon. The idea that an energy rifle only covers "40 meters" or "20 squares" is somewhat ludicus. Forget the scale and just have fun. No one will notice. 
 
All and all this is a great introduction to Star Wars and d20. 

Sadly this set is out of print and not available in pdf. You can pick up a used copy at Amazon and full retail price, which is a shame. 


Monday, May 3, 2021

Review - The Rains of Eridan by H. M. Hoover

Title: The Rains of Eridan
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1977
Pages: 292 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eridan is an old world. Dry and slow under the heat of the little sun. Humanity reached out to it via their corporate sector explorers, founding three bases on the planet. As the story begins, a sort of madness takes them. The teams become obsessed with collecting strange crystals found out in the wilderness. 

Theodora (Theo) Leslie was equally obsessed, but with life not rock. As a biologist, she secreted herself away in the mountain wilds to explore and document all these new forms of life. 

Until death arrived. A mutiny broke out and the conspirators decided that Theo's forward base was a perfect place to dump the bodies. Theo rescues a young woman from the targeted kills and being a run for safety and sanity while searching for the cause of this plague of violence. 

The Rains of Eridan is a shift in focus for H. M. Hoover. These characters are heavily weaponized and Theo as an adult in charge of a young survivor introduces the maturity of love and compassion that does not come out in her other works. Hardly a romance novel, Hoover explores the different ways that people interact and come to care for one another on many different levels. The love story in this novel is multifaceted and pleasantly surprising. 

Of course, being who she is, Hoover only allows one love story to end within the pages of the book, allowing the others to persist in the reader's memories and questions. Many of her works seem to end before the end comes allowing the reader's imagination to take flight after the work is over. It's actually a wonderful thing to have open questions at the end of the reading.

The weaponization of the characters plays out in grim violence, which is delicately handled in this young adult book. The devices and scenarios are creatively but never come down to the insanity of technobabble. 

An artist like Hoover opens doors as the reader progresses through her works, but never opens the pandora's box of over the top creations.   



Or you could get this book as a part of one the Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans. Kindle Unlimited Memberships offer access to 1 million book titles like The Rains of Eridan, or current magazines and Audible Narration for your books. Best yet, it offers a 30 day trial so you can test it out before you buy.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Review - The Lost Star by H. M. Hoover

Title: The Lost Star
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1979
Pages: 160 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

H. M. Hoover spent a lot of her time traveling from city to city in search of something. She apparently found it Virgina, where she settled down to write. Billed as a "young adult writer", her works are short and simple, and eye opening because they often feature worldviews and perspectives which could only those of a child. Exploration of the novel situations and realizations of discovery from the lens of the child's eye are her thing. 

Lian is a 15 year child of brilliant astronomers on expedition to Balthor. Her parents are researching a star projected to go nova, which gives Lian itchy feet. A voluntary supply run ends in a crash, and Lian finds herself in world much larger than she new existed. Rescued by archaeologists investigating ancient structures and strange creatures, Lian opens their eyes to incredible discoveries. 

As her discoveries mount, she enters a strange exchange with a machine-creature called The Counter and wild animals dubbed "Lumpies". The two are related. And her discoveries are all civilization altering, not just for humans but for other races on the expedition. Differences breed mistrust, but also kindness and compassion. 

Join Lian, Cuddles and Scotty on this wonderful adventure.

If you don't have a Kindle to read, why not pick one up? 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Book Review - Another Heaven, Another Earth by H. M. Hoover

Title: Another Heaven, Another Earth
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1981
Pages: 224 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Helen Hoover was born in 1935, in Ohio. Her family home's basement that was dug back when Thomas Jefferson was president. From that humble beginning, she hopped from Los Angeles to New York City to finally land in Virginia. From 1973 to 1995, she wrote 16 published books. 

Another Heaven, Another Earth takes place on Xilan, a planet far from Earth. The crew of the Kekelu find it to be an idyllic place for potential colonization. Except for one problem. The colonists of Xilan had been there for over 500 years. Alerted by The Cube, a centuries old device of unknown origin, the healer Gareth stumbles on to the Kekelu's survey teams throwing their corporate colony venture into chaos. 

The crew of the Kekule struggle to discover the source of Gareth's people, research their devolved technology and question how they came to be abandoned while fighting disease and infection brought on by this unusual first contact situation. 

Gareth's people are revolted by the spacemen's attitude of superiority and treatment of the "primitives", seeing themselves not being "devolved" but survivors and masters of their world. Families struggled against the challenges of a new world while retaining what knowledge they could of the past.   

Hoover pulls no punches with this classic story of first contact while successfully weaving a story that resists time by resisting the typical technobabble of the 1980s. Due to this lack of technobabble, aside from the one mention of film, the book avoids all the tropes that would date it. 

While written for the young adult audience, it is wonderful story for people of all ages. 

Pick up a digital copy at Amazon.com. 

Or try it for free with a Kindle Unlimited Plan. See the link below for plan details.
Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans
Or you could get this book as a part of one the Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans. Kindle Unlimited Memberships offer access to 1 million book titles like Another Heaven, Another Earth, or current magazines and Audible Narration for your books. Best yet, it offers a 30 day trial so you can test it out before you buy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Post 1000ish: Review of Myst

Title: Myst
Publisher: Broderbund
Developers: Cyan, Inc.
Author: Rand and Robyn Miller
Year: 1993
OS: Macintosh

I lucked out in having a computer or two since 1980. I purchased a Timex Sinclair with the 8 k extended memory for the outrageous price of $126.00. It was so expensive at the time, I financed it and made 12 payments of $12.25.16.6% interest! Not bad for a kid financed entirely shoveling snow and mowing lawns. I needed mom's help. Every month I gave her $12.25 in cash and she wrote a check for me.  

With everything going into the basic cost of the computer, I had to beg my parents to buy me software. A lot of times, I had to settle for going to the library for books on programing and a blank tape for storage. In 1981, the film War Games sparked my imagination as to what computers could be.  

A little over a decade later, I discovered a game that embraced both limitations and imagination to amazing effect. 

Myst.

You're the protagonist in a story that isn't told but shown. The limits of the then modern day Macintosh allowed for spectacular images, but only just an image. One at a time. Plus a bit of sound. To do this, the Rand Brothers tweaked the hell out of their hardware and software, even stripping down the color palettes to capitalize on the Mac's meager specs. Better than everything else on the market but still limited to handful of hertz and less than a half dozen megs of RAM.  

Gorgeous images told the story of a family shattered by envy, power and pride. Using the linking books, you search for the pages that will restore Sirrus, Achenar, and Atrus, whoever they might be. Catherine, the wife of Atrus and the mother of Achenar and Sirrus appears only via a note. You have no idea what is happening and what needs to be done. Your quest takes you to different worlds called "Ages" to recover the pages. 

Each Age, named Selenitic, Stoneship, Mechanical, and Channelwood contains puzzles to be solved. The mechanic of the game required at least two puzzles, one to progress in the game and a second so you may return to Myst Island. Travel between Ages required a book written to describe that age. Open the book and see the Age. Touch the page and enter the Age. To return, you need to find the linking book hidden within the Age. Ingenious.   

Game mechanics were limited to clicks. Nothing else. Move? Click. Actions? Click. 

Pure and simple. Easy? Hell, no. 

While the execution is simple, the hardware had just enough umph for a wonderful musical score plus tiny postage stamp size videos, which when they appeared were like magic. Puzzles were challenging but not insane or click-hell. 

The requirements of the game also allowed for very creative storytelling. There is no clock, no death, no violence, and no enemies. Yet the nature of the game caused tension. This is the fusion of art and storytelling at it's finest.  

This 28 year old game was the reason I started blogging. I wanted to make a fan site for this game. You'll notice there are no stars assigned to this review. How could I assign stars to something that provoked 10 plus years of work, hundreds of posts exploring the nature of play and entertainment. 


As a corollary to this review, gave my oldest son Paul a set of hardcover Myst novels I obtained from Amazon. As former library books, they were cheap. But my son claimed that made them more special. 

"These books have passed through many hands. They were loved my many people and loved by me." He was 10 and that was more eloquent that I could be. And it was true. 
 

For his 11th birthday, he asked for Amazon gift cards. 

"I want some books. I need books." 

So, his grandparents, aunt and godmother, and my wife and I gave him Amazon gift cards. And he got the books he loved so much. 

He ordered a complete set of Myst soft covered books. When I questioned this purchase he explained, "The little books are Linking Books. You need them both to succeed." 

To say that this one game has shaped many parts of my life would be an understatement. 

The world of Myst has expanded greatly, but these links are a start if you are interested. 

Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages
of MYST and Beyond from
DriveThruRPG


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

New Mutants - Review

Title: The New Mutants (2020)
Publisher: 20th Century Studios
Year: 2020
Rating: 2 of 5 stars.

I've been a long time fan of The New Mutants. The idea of seeing the characters come to life on the big screen got me really excited. 

Until I saw it. This damn film has been to Limbo more times than Illyana has. It was not worth the wait, it seems to suffer from some sort of technovirus in addition to many questionable story and plot choices. 

Here is the run down of the character's names and powers: 

Rahne Sinclair, aka Wolfsbane. A mutant that can take the form of a wolf or a transitional human/wolf form. She has all of the sense of wolves plus more strength and perhaps a healing factor. 

Sam Guthrie, Cannonball. Can generate thrust anywhere on his body to propel himself through the air. While thrusting, he is impervious to anything. He does not have a healing factor. 

Roberto "Bobby" da Costa, Sunspot. Bobby has the ability to absorb sunlight and use it to empower himself with great strength, invulnerability and flames. 

Danielle "Dani" Moonstar, Mirage. Dami has the ability to project people's greatest fears and make them real. Historically, she not good at nicknames. Not only has her character changed her own code name in the comics several times, she doesn't even use other people's code names. A rare inversion of the "movie stars have no comic book codenames" trope. 

And finally, Illyana Rasputin. Magik. Oh, boy. She's a sorceress with a magic sword, the ability to teleport, partial body armor, a tail, and a baby dragon. 

There are only three other characters, Dani's dad, the Demon Bear and the evil doctor Dr. Cecilia Reyes who can make force shields.   

The film does a variable job at depicting the character's powers on a budget. The effects were on-par with Ready Player One which is not a complement. Ready Player One was a massive mashup of decades worth of video game art which works in that film. It isn't great for other film types like The New Mutants.  

The whole premise of the movie didn't make sense. The kiddos are trapped or staying a hospital for mutants. The hospital had a staff of one, Dr. Reyes. 

Now, I've had a bit of experience working with kids and young adults. The first rule of these sorts of operations are two deep leadership. If you are not using two deep leadership, you're an imbecile. Dr. Reyes is an imbecile, she's trying keep the kiddos in the hospital all alone. Sam, Bobby and Rahne have given themselves over to the idea of staying. That kind of works. Dani is uncertain as to what is happening, leaving her open to staying or escaping as the chance presents. That doesn't go well at all. 

The final character, Illyana has something else going on. She's a mass murderer and can teleport. Why is she still here, if not to kill everyone else in the film? And she definitely hates everyone, in a nasty, condescending, racist way.  

As far depicting superpowers, they did a good job for a few of the characters. Sam's blasting ability was a great special effect. Dani and Rahne power's appear reasonable well done, magic and werewolves are classic B-movie fodder. They couldn't have done this poorly if they had tried. I think they tried. Bobby's abilities were just ho-hum. Illyana's powers come off as a cheap video game most of the time for no good reason. 

Magik has the most wide ranging abilities, each with a vast scope. But they attempted to confine her character in tight spaces, like either Nightcrawler in the Oval Office or Captain America in the elevator. It was not a good choice because she has a massive frickin' sword. It looks like she can't fit in those spaces. When she gets out the open, they do a far better job at displaying her powers but by that time they had already decided on the video game style which wasn't applicable to the filming process.

Far too much time was spent on Rahne, who is a the most likeable character in the film but not the protagonist. They were one step away from having "The Wolfsbane Movie" and failed to make it. That would have been better than this, even if it was called, "A Werewolf in Starbucks". 

My favorite bit was everytime Sam used his powers. He displays these brilliant blue/orange shimmery flames like charcoal on the grill which is an amazing play on his character. Sam comes from a mining family, so the reflection of coal in his powers is pure awesome. 

Magik was shown trying to knock the Demon Bear into Limbo. It made perfect sense since she couldn't win in straight combat, but this tactic was negated by the strange video game special effects. It was kind of hard to tell that was her intent rather than random flashy scenery. The Demon Bear was awesome and terrifying, but the viewer shouldn't be rooting for the villain. 

All and all, I give it one and half stars of five. (EDIT -- On rewatching, I've decided that Rahne and Sam merit a star on their own, so two-ish stars) Maybe you should read my 5 star review of Dungeons and Dragons (2000) to evaluate how not good this was.  

Now showing on HBOMax, but you could wait a bit longer. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Game Review - Home Worlds

Title: Home Worlds
Publisher: Looney Labs
Designer: John Cooper
Artist:  OTHER Studio
Year: 2020
Pages: 32
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first page of the instruction sheet sums it up: "What Chess is to medieval warfare, Homeworlds is to Star Trek and Star Wars." 

Yup. 

This game is fascinating. You're off to fight an interstellar war against an opponent, manage resources, planets and ships with just 4 types of game pieces. Insane, but it works. This is one of many games by Looney Labs which use the Looney Pyramids. The game includes 36 pyramids of differing sizes and colors, a board for the bank, the rule book and a token to indicate which player's turn it is. 

Star Systems are indicated by an upright pyramid. Ships are indicated by a pyramid lying on it's side, your ships a;ways point away from you. Enemy ships point towards you. When a system is explored, a new upright pyramid is placed from the bank. When all ships leave a system, that planet is placed back in the bank. 

Movement is simple. You can only move to stars of different sizes. Stars of the same size are not connected and travel is blocked. A binary star, two stars in one system is connected to stars that do not match either of the two star sizes. 

Each player picks a color and builds their home world with a binary star and one large ship. The colors you choose at the start of the game controls your choices later on, so choose carefully. All of a sudden, your opening choices create puzzles to be solved by you. Color and size of the play pieces represent different options and limitations. 

Players choose from a Basic Action, a Sacrifice action which puts a pyramid back in the bank or a "pass". Passing your turn isn't optimal at the start but I am told that no action might be the best option later in the game. There is a forced action called a Catastrophe when the players place 4 of the same color pieces in the same star system. 

Each color means something: 

Green=Build
Red=Fight
Yellow=Move
Blue=Trade


Pretty simple? No. 

Size also determines what each piece can do. It all gets very complex very fast. 

These simple rules create a very rich system of game play. One of the nicer aspects of the game is it assumes loopholes in the rules will allow a player to create actual logical loops in play which may seem like cheating, but are merely built in options which may or may not be useful based on the pieces in play. This also makes the bank behave as a "third actor" in a two person game. What is in the bank creates or limits options. 

There are 3 win options, destroy all of your enemy's ships, destroy his or her home world or force your opponent into causing a Catastrophe in their home system. There are also a draw  and deadlock conditions which result in a tie. 

I've only played 10 or 20 times and not always to completion, but the rule set is so ingenious, it keeps pulling me back for more. I really want to master this system and Home Worlds. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Jendart - The Not Review

I've mention how many times I've been sucked into a document because of the artwork. Simon Miles, Todd Leback, and now jendart

Screencap of the artist on Jendart.com

Jenna Lauren Drummond did the cover art for several of Todd Leback's books. And I really love this style of work. It turns out that this doesn't seem to be the style that appears on jendart.com. There is a lot to love over on that website. Go ahead and check it out. Personally, I like the frogmen and the sci-fi stuff. The frogman is insanely animated, but the sci-fi collection is just poses. Nice to see both fluid action and static poses.  

Let me talk about why I love the covers of Todd Laback's series of books, since this style doesn't seem to feature on Jedart.com. 

It's the floating angles and the capture of the hex crawl ideal. The first product I saw was Hexcrawl Basics. I just love that this image is a map and landscape from the air. It's not avant garde or experimental or any other fancy thing, it's simply perfect for the book title. Everything you would wonder about "Hexcrawl Basics" is summarized in the image. Click the link to check it out on DriveThruRPG. There are interesting locals like the focal point keep and the walled town, plain areas and the sky above it all, with no edge to world as everything fades at the horizon. 

That is pretty much "Hexcrawl Basics" in a nutshell. 

The next title is "Filling in the Blanks" and I am sure you can see why I mentioning this one. I'm going to do a review and I want to get my admiration of the cover out of my brain before diving into this book. 

This image I like for a completely different reason. It reminds me of the comic book artist, Pablo Raimondi. Back in the 1990s, he had a quick, savage style which he lent to the covers of X-Factor. He went for impossible angles and clear cut actions. 

Jendart's handling of the image captures nearly everything from the Hexcrawl Basics title while also embracing whimsy. I love the viewing angle above the characters in the foreground. While it isn't a one for one match with Pablo Raimondi's cover art, I can see that sort of see the "capture the moment" aspect in it. Even though we can't see the heroes' faces, there is a clear sense of wonder in their poses. 

Edit - My apologies, I keep editing this post when I recall something that stood out to me. Expect that to happen a lot. We all have deal with crap like that. 

EDIT 2: I have been misspelling the name of the Jendart website in maybe 3-5 posts. I am so sorry and embarrassed. Because of the way blogger works, this mistake shall ever be memorized in the links which cannot be changed. Ugh. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Review - The Seventh Decimate

Title: The Seventh Decimate
Author: Stephen R. Donaldson
Pages: 319
Year: 2017
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Donaldson is known for his use of obscure words and bleak stories where characters confront and cross their self created moral event horizons in support of a wide and wild ranging story. The Seventh Decimate is clearly born of this style of storytelling, but nicely reverses itself so as to place the reader at a distance from the main characters. The use of this "observation mode" narration is effective and engrossing as the reader can understand the main antagonist's point of view without having to buy into it. Additionally, the prose lacks those obscure words and heavy sentence structures Donaldson is so well know for using. This makes for a quick read.  

This book describes the war between the magic using Amikans and the gun toting Bellegerian forces. There is no lead up to this juxtaposition of genres, Donaldson just lays it out there for the reader. The plight of both kingdoms are presented in the Bellegerian Prince's point of view. The Prince, a simple man, lacks many of the horrible traits of Thomas Covenant and he is a transparent character for the reader to study. Oddly, this level of transparency makes the Prince an ideal, if unlikely, hero to carry the story to completion. Being that this is Donaldson, there are many "What the Hell, Hero?" moments in this story, but none of them are surprising or horrifying which is a heavy shift in style for the author. There is nothing terribly inexplicable in the Prince's actions, he is flawed and simple but never works in a way to sabotage the story for the sake of a twist. And there are many twists.  

The final chapter is rather disappointing as a singular book, the cliffhanger ending is great for a series but may put off the casual reader who was expecting some sort of solid end point. However, that end IS exactly as you would expect which is very pleasing. 

I can't wait to read the next book, The War Within. All links will take you Amazon.com to check out the series. \

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Review: Dungeons and Dragons Film (2000) Review

Title: Dungeons and Dragons
Publisher: New Line Cinema
Year: 2000
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. 

Am I insane? 5 stars for the 2000 Dungeons and Dragons movie? Yes, I am but it isn't a factor here.  

We have a film starring Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, Zoe McLellan, Kristen Wilson, Lee Arenberg, Bruce Payne and the Original GQ Smoothy Jeremy Irons. They tried to work with all kinds of Intellectual Properties from the game and it's a dud. 

Well. That has to be some sort of record. How could you fail with that much background information and those actors? Easily, apparently. 

But why would I give it 5 stars? 

It's funny really. It's like someone at New Line Cinema sat down at a table and said, "Gee, let's throw some money at a long list of actors who probably aren't filming something today and we'll see what happens. We can fix a lot of stuff with edits and in post." Looking at the list of people involved with this project, they could have picked worse people. Hell, some of them I like a lot. Actors, directors, writers and so on. When it comes to the actors, I am sure they went out of their way trying to make an excellent movie and I am positive it was perfect. 

What they missed was a quality Dungeon Master. You know, someone who could come up with an engrossing story and snappy delivery. Something that makes the players want to come back for more. 

If only that they hired an actual DM to actually, you know, produce something. Instead, what we got was Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, Zoe McLellan, Kristen Wilson, Lee Arenberg, Bruce Payne and Jeremy Irons all in a room, picking their character sheets and paychecks off the commissary table and trying to work out their motivation in all of this over some dicey ham salad sandwiches. 

The result is laughly bad. How could they pick out 8 people with actual 18+ charisma scores and botch a movie? 

Well... they didn't. The result is exactly like if you sat down with Justin, Marlon, Thora and the gang and tried to play D&D for the first time. I can't tell you how many horrible campaigns I've put stellar players through and this movie captures this process perfectly. This film is a perfect rendition of every noob mistake made by a rookie DM. 

5 of 5 stars. 

"I know Mr. Irons. You ARE charismatic. You just rolled a one, that's all. It happens..."

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Review: Dark Forces

Title: Dark Forces
Publisher: LucasArts
Year: 1995
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, memories. In Dark Forces, you control Kyle Katarn on his mission to recover the Death Star Plans and save the rebellion from the Evil Empire. 

Oh, but there's more... Kyle discovers a secret base on the Arc Hammer, ready to pump out a new weapon system, the Dark Troopers. This is one of the first times Star Wars fans access the universe via a character who does not have the Force and does not pilot a cool ship. Han Solo and Wedge, Kyle is not.

The game plays out like a cross between The Mandalorian and Doom. Considering how the 1990's were, that should be no surprise. It was refreshing not to see Sith and Jedi gumming up a straight shooter game along with the idea that the Cool Ship was merely a vehicle within the story, not the main character like TIE and X-Wing.

Kyle does a cool ship, but it's not an item you use on your missions. It carries you from and to each mission via screen cuts. The Moldy Crow is epic looking and seems to be the look Bungie was going for in Destiny with the Guardian's ships. 

This game is very similar to Doom in it's execution, but has some notable differences. Like Doom, Kyle Katarn  is armed with an array of weapons, each one except fists needing ammunition. These weapons can strafe and have two modes of file. 

They are: 

1 Fist
2 Bryar Blaster Pistol
3 E-11 blaster rifle
4 Thermal Detonator
5 Imperial Repeater Gun
6 Jeron Fusion Cutter
7 I.M. Mine
8 Packered Mortar Gun
9 Stouker Concussion Rifle
10 Assault Cannon

In addition to these weapons, Katarn has a collection of items which are helpful. Headlamps and Infrared googles, a breathing mask, ice cleats, and medi packs are all necessary to complete the game. Kyle will also need batteries, power ups and extra lives to make it to the end. 

Unlike Doom, the player is able to look up and down, move vertically and maps simulate different elevations. There are jumping puzzles, mazes, environmental hazards to stymie the player. It has three levels of difficulty to assist the new player get into the game. 

Mission 1: The Death Star Plans: Operation Skyhook – Secret Base
Mission 2: After the Massacre – Talay (Tak Base)
Mission 3: The Subterranean Hideout – Anoat City
Mission 4: Imperial Weapons Research Facility – Research Facility
Mission 5: The Blood Moon – Gromas Mines
Mission 6: Crix Madin’s Fate – Detention Center
Mission 7: Deadly Cargo – Ramsees Hed
Mission 8: Ice Station Beta – Robotics Facility
Mission 9: The Death Mark – Nar Shaddaa
Mission 10: Jabba’s Revenge – Jabba’s Ship
Mission 11: The Imperial Mask – Imperial City
Mission 12: Smuggler’s Hijack – Fuel Station
Mission 13: The Stowaway – The Executor
Mission 14: The Dark Awakening – The Arc Hammer

Gamer Walkthroughs is an excellent resource I wish I had back in 1995. Each mission has specific win parameters, so you need to hunt for solutions and solve puzzles. If all the Storm Troopers are not enough for you, you'll fight Boba Fett, a Kell Dragon with no weapons and finally, face off against the terrifying Dark Trooper. 


While no longer canonical Star Wars, it's nice to see some of these scenarios come to life via The Mandalorian.  

The audio track was excellent, the music virtually lifted from the movies. The use of stereo sound was terrifying, you hear things coming from the proper direction with headphones. The first time a Dark Trooper attacks, you know it's badassed just by the sound of it's footsteps. 

The AI is sort of lack luster and the missions are designed Doom style meaning you don't sneak or bypass enemies. It's straight up blast and kill session even though you have a story and mission parameters. 

Performance was iffy if I remember correctly. 4 MB was not enough for you to get the full effect. It's even choppy on my Sawtooth, which has more than enough horse power for 1990 games. 

All and all, I give this game 4 stars. Go check out the videos at Gamer Walkrhrough for a feel of the game. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Review: SimEarth

Title: SimEarth: The Living Planet
Publisher: Maxis
Author: Will Wright
Year: 1990
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sim Earth is a fantastic game by Will Wright, creator of the Sims and Spore. SimEarth was released by Maxis in 1990. As a 31 year old game, it's rough but lovable. It is based on the Gaia model and runs amazingly well on G3 Mac under OS 9. 

The purpose of the game or simulation is to use energy and feedback loops to advance your chosen lifeform to the highest level of technology possible. It's easier said than done, but well worth the effort. You are pitted against not only your own created mishaps, but random events such as weather, cooling, warming, etc. It's a great primer on what it takes to make a planet full of life. Events are predictable, but not repetitive. 

Earth isn't the only planet you can work with, the game includes scenarios for Mars and Venus. These are breathtakingly difficult. A simplified model called Daisy World highlights the power of the sun on Earth's environment. While it is meant to be a simulator type game, it dives into science fiction with some of the devices and creatures that appear. 

Each world scenario is broken down into the world map which is initially populated with land forms. As time goes on, the landforms morph under the energy of the sun and tectonic forces. Sooner, rather than later, life will emerge. There are dozens of Taxa of life, all of which are on equal footing to evolve and become intelligent. These taxa and landforms are all right out of your Earth and Biology text books from high school, they feel familiar. You can use the magnifying glass to observe their description and current state. As creatures become intelligent, you can guide them through different levels of Civilization with the goal of getting them to colonize other planets. 

SimEarth is educational in it's whimsy. You can bring back the Trichordates, a species of life with tri-radial symmetry. Or create Carniferns, man eating plants or even robotic life. All of these achievements have to be done between ice ages and hot, dry epochs. The game includes several scenarios which pose questions as to what hardships life can overcome with guidance or the limits of science. Terraform Mars and Venus, anyone? 

Time flies when you're creating life.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Shout Out!

My White Box review got a nice shout out from Jeremy "frothsof" Smith on the Humpday RPG show

Now I have to back and relisten to the show. It also makes me want to dust off the cobwebs on my podcast and the list of podcasts I share. I feel like it can and should do better.  

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Review - X-Wing Miniature Game

Title: X-Wing Miniature Game
Credits: A Game by Jay Little
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 2014? 
Pages: 24, 16 and 4 page booklets
Number of players: 2*
Rating: ★★★★★

I picked this game up for my son a few years back and we played it a lot. My son has his X-Wing and TIE models on a shelf in his room. I started this post at 4:45 am, which is why you won't see images of those parts in this review. I'll see what I can do when my son and our sun gets up. 

As I understand it, this system is full of power creep which really doesn't effect the gameplay of this set. This is also the first edition rules, which is different than what is currently on the market. So on to the game review. 

This version of X-Wing was produced for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had to guess at the date because there isn't one on the box. The box is solid, it will hold up well on the shelf. Inside are 3 booklets, totalling 44 pages of information for game play. The graphics are incredible and a valued addition to the game as they present gameplay information, not random photos from a at the time unreleased movie. It's a good thing the box is as sturdy as it is, it's loaded with parts. 3 painted models, cards, dice, tokens, templates, etc. It's a lot of parts, but nothing extraneous. 

The first play guide has you in the seat of your beloved X-Wing or TIE fighter and blowing the snot out of your enemy in minutes. The instructional method is a familiar one: learn the basics as you play, add more rules, play again, then master the all rules and go crazy with new adventures. 

The first session can be played in 10-30 minutes as you learn the rules. Its really nice. My first impression of the game was that it was a copy of Top Gun**. There are some similarities, both where made for a movie, both had some cool tokens and a move, react, shoot, repeat method of play. But that is where it ends. 

There is one thing missing from the box that sets this game apart from the others: A Game Board. There isn't one. Players are told to find a good sized table, lay down some felt or a black table cloth and have at it. Sure, you can buy one but the rules clearly state it isn't necessary. Movement templates guide the ships, unlocking them from the play space. The lack of a board is actually a strength. Not having a grid or hexes to lock your pieces down gives the game the same fluid dynamic of Star Wars space combat. You feel like you're in the cockpit. 

This game brings back a lot of memories in one tiny box. I have already mentioned that it felt a bit like a better planned out version of a Top Gun** Movie game from the late 80s, which was an apparent skin of the Aerotech game (which is available via the Battletech Compendium at DriveThru. It has the movement guides like the turn keys of Car Wars. Combat is handled with dice where each player rolls dice at the same time like Risk, with the twist that the defender's dice eliminates the attacker's damage. There is a I-go-you-go approach to terrain, which is a hell of an old school call out to games like WRG. And it's Star Wars themed. 

First edition games may seem rough, but this one isn't. Gameplay and rules are tight, with carefully considered options. Gameplay pops and snaps into place naturally, it's like something from the Spice Mines of Kessel. And since it's a vehicle for selling models as add-ons, it very successful at that. 

*While intended as a two player game, there are 3 models which could be divided among 3 players. For complex missions, one could add a game host. My initial playthrough was with 3 young children each having a model and myself acting as a gamehost, so 4 people can be involved. Whatever you do, it just works out. 



** I wish I could point you to the Top Gun game I had back in the 80s/90s, but I have never seen one except the one I bought from the shelf of my local Hobby Shop back when the movie was hot. Since I lost my copy, I don't even have a picture. It was pretty cool at the time, coming with about a dozen tiny plastic airplane tokens. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

#TBT - Star Viking Game Review

Title: Star Viking
Credits:
   Designer: Arnold Hendrick
   Graphics Design: David Helber and Arnold Hendrick
   Cover Painting: Bob Depew
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 1981
Pages: 24
Number of players: 2*
Rating: ★★★★


Star Viking places two players head to head for the survival of civilization. Well, one of you will defend the Federation civilization, the other will try to destroy it. The Star Viking boxed included a rules booklet, two dice, a folded sheet of 154 die-cut cardboard counters (each 1⁄2” square), and a sheet of 12 map tiles, each representing a star system.

Game procedure is easy, but as with all simple things can result in hideously complex results. The players are at cross purposes from the start. The Viking player selects his or her forces while the Federation arrays the map tiles and his or her defenses. Turns are divided into strategic and tactical moves. Tactical moves are only required when both players are in the same place.

The map tiles are divided into sectors, with large cities representing more than one sector while sleepy moons are one sector. These sectors are equivalent to a hex. Some sectors are vacuum, while others are in an atmosphere. They are either contiguous or connected by an orbit line.

There are 20+ units available to the players, each one having a tech level. The sector's tech level determines if a unit can be placed there. For example, a sector with B tech level can support B and C type units. 

Each turn is divided in three, Strategic Segment, Tactical Segment and Politics and Economic Segment. Strategic is for moving vast distances, tactical is for combat and Politics and Economics represents responses such as building new ships or plundering.

One interesting twist on this game is, players purchase victory points to win. There are automatic victory conditions, if the Vikings sack the capital or one player accumulates twice as many victory points as his or her opponent via purchasing on or after the 7th round. If the game lasts all 12 rounds, then the player with the most victory points wins.

*This tiny set of rules has multiple expansions presented right in this set. The first variant is to play as a solitaire game. It suggests automatic movement by die roll, but doesn't include any tables. You are to make them yourself. The second is to use two hostile Viking players for a 3 way game. This requires having 2 boxed sets, which is easy to do since you can print them yourself. The third is to merely extend the number of rounds to 20, 30 or more.

There is exactly one errata, this was a very well produced game from the get-go and still provides hours of entertainment 30+ years later.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Review - World Builder by Silicon Beach Software

Publisher: Silicon Beach Software
Author: W. B. Appleton and Charlie Jackson
Year: 1986
Pages: 87 pages
Overall Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Ok, now I'm reviewing software. It's ok, we'll get through it. 

World Builder is a 35 year old program for creating games. It was issued on a single floppy disk, with a manual for Macintosh computers by Silicon Beach Software. It was useable on System 3 and higher, but a System 7 or 9 needed a free update to 32 bit. Prior to it's release the code had been used to create the game Enchanted Scepters. 

The package promises to get you coding to create you own games. Did it deliver? Hell, yes. It wouldn't build Doom or any other real time first person shoot, but it could certainly handle round based games. It was really meant to create IF games like Zork or other Infocom style games and did so very well.

The manual is a gem without the software as it is applicable to many of the core ideas behind programing. The manual suggests 4 steps to creation, design, populate, design characters and play. It's a little more complicated than that, but that complexity are just details of creation. 

The software has a couple of windows and concepts the user needs to master and that framework of 4 steps makes it easy. 

First, every world must contain scenes. Think of them as a stage for the story. Scenes are hardcoded with some basic concepts like a name,  travel functions, a drawn image, text to display and of course code. You draw static items that appear in the scene like walls, floor, lights, etc. These can provide hints as to what the player should do there. Next, you describe the scene with text. A graphical interface allows the builder to assign valid direction to move and text to appear when an invalid  choice is made. 
It will work on OS 9.2 with the 
32 bit version.

Scenes can be connected like a map, or disconnected like a schematic. You need both most of the time. One great feature is the Scene Code which is specific to each scene. This can be used to create functional interactions, such as sit, stand, or turn on the lights. There is a customizable menu so the Builder can give the players hints or ideas of what needs to be done in a specific room. 

Let jump ahead to designing characters. Every game requires a Player, so this is the one character you need to build. The code refers to the main character as Player@. He or she has attributes that any gamer would relate to, Physical or Spiritual Strength, Hit Points or health, etc. All characters have this abilities. A graphical interface walks the build through the creation process including such things as automatic responses to specific events like combat or other actions. It is fairly robust. Statistics carry through scenes and can be modified by them. 

For example, a character could be give a great fighting skill in the character builder, but have those abilities modified by events or circumstances in the scene such as deep water or darkness. It's a very powerful engine. 

Having mentioned that all characters have the same stats, World Builder does not have the best combat system. The problem is the random number generator. It's a random value between 1 and 256. That is so unlike a percent or a die roll it is hard to predict what the outcome will be without some fine tuning. 

While this may seem odd or difficult, populating the world will clarify this. Being called "Populating", you'd think this part would be about characters. It is and it is not. 

Games come down to a practical point of what is the conflict and what are the barriers. A conflict is something general: a battle of disimular viewpoints. That makes a conflict and the resolution comes when one of those viewpoints is allowed to extend to it's logical conclusion. It could be a defeat or a victory or perhaps even a merger. Conflict is complicated.  

A barrier is something that must be overcome by a set of conditions. It less complicated than the conflict itself. 

Was Smaug there for Bilbo to wrestle to the ground and defeat? Nope.Not that sort of conflict. But Smaug is defeated.  So technically, Smaug is a barrier. The defeat of Smaug requires a certain set of conditions, such as the bird pointing out the chink in his underbelly, Bilbo frustrating the dragon and Bard lying in wait for Smaug with a special arrow. 

So, Bilbo is a character. But Bard, the bird and Smaug and even the arrow are not characters. They are Objects@ (in World Builder terms) or tools to gain a resolution. 

World Builder teaches that difference in the course of programing your own adventure. Populating means creating Objects@ and Characters@ and integrating them with game world you creating. That's a powerful idea that transcends the software itself and is relatable to other outlets like gaming. 

Pulling the tangent back from those high concept, this software is excellent at it's given purpose: World Building. It contains everything you need to get started, the code engine, the drawing software, import tools, sounds and sound creation, plus a means to distribute your product as a stand alone application. 

It really is quiet amazing. 

If you have the hardware, you can download it for free from various abandonware websites. It should be noted that this is not your typical abandonware because at the time that it was remastered for 32 bit and color, it was also released as a free download. It's only a quirk of time that prevents the author from hosting the software themselves as they had in the past. 

If you don't have the hardware, the 87 page manual is an excellent primer into code and game design. Give it a look. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Review - Hexcrawl Basics by Todd Leback

Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback (Link to Patreon)
Artists, Interior: Bruno Balixa, Dean Spencer, Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games, Jack Holliday, Matt Forsyth, Matthew Richmond
Cover Art: Jen Drummond
Year: 2019
Pages: 24 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars


My first 3 reviews were on a single series of novels. I most recently reviewed How to Hexcrawl. I like the idea of series reviews or fits, but for awhile I'll be limiting myself to pairs of related titles. These are not comparisons, but singular reviews. 

Here is my usual warning, this book is written for OSE but it is easily adaptable and applicable to other systems with little to no modification. If you had a dungeon and you moved the characters outside, this book would be of use to you. 

This title starts with a definition of a hexcrawl, which is a very economical start. This is one of many books on the subject by the author, every concept is very tight owing to Mr. Leback's great experience on the subject. The first section covers the hex and the player's purpose in these hexes and the process to be followed. Artwork is used not only as mere art, but Worldographer maps exemplify what the author spells out. Todd Leback's use of art is excellent. 

Chapter two and three cover features and lairs found in hexes and subhexes plus random encounters. The next two sections cover procedural events, weather and getting lost, which are big part of the hexcrawl experience. 

The final chapter is an extended example of the hexcrawl process in action. It nicely loops back to the beginning of the book and marches the reader all the way to the end without missing a beat. I suppose that the book could have been written without this extended section, but would be a lesser work. The example perfects this book. 

Three caveats about this book. The artwork is very nice but does not print well on plain paper. The only way to get a nice copy of this book is to print on extreme quality on great paper. It is totally worth it, take the effort and time to do it right.  

Second, there is a small link to Mr. Leback's Patreon. Blink and you'll miss it, so I have placed it here. I normally don't do that, but the link to Populated Hex was almost too unobtrusive. (EDIT - There is also a Kickstarter coming soon. I've never gone in on a Kickstarter, but this might be the one to start with.)

I was tempted to make this a 4.5 of 5 starts but the example and the excellent artwork kicks it up one more level. Especially if you print it nicely. I was drawn to this title and series by the cover art, which I love.