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

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Iron Buffalo Coffee Review and a Swag Plug

I had a chance to stop into Iron Buffalo Gaming yesterday and picked up a bag of fresh ground coffee. The place was rockin' at 4 in the afternoon. 

Anyway, Iron Buffalo Gaming has a coffee "problem". Well, not a real problem, but a strong sense of good coffee. They had the coffee bar open and it smelled wonderful. They are also able to do many other styles of drinks, such as an oatmeal latte.

They have a slot on their website for ordering coffee, but right now they are not in stock. I'll update when it becomes available. 

I was in a hurry, so I didn't have time to hang out and have a cup. That and they have a mask policy in place, so I had to take mine home. William, the owner ground it on the spot so it was totally fresh. Not that it would be old or stale being made over at Tipico Coffee on Elmwood Avenue here in Buffalo, NY. You can't get fresher coffee than that. 

This brew is a light roast. 

My son and I had a cup after dinner and it was great. While advertised as a light roast, it is full-bodied with a delicate persimmon overtone. I love saying "PERSIMMON", I've always wanted to say that. 

As promised, I have some swag to share, too.

A few months ago, I started offering some small items on Red Bubble, including these great coffee mugs. They are typical mugs that are perfect for relaxing with a good coffee. They are 11 ounces or 325 ml. which is just the right size for quality coffee. None of the wacky, "Venti® Americano, Starbucks Coffee" crap. 

You don't need 20 oz. of good coffee to be satisfied. I have this hysterical Starbucks monolog about "a venti what?" that I do when I go to Starbucks. It hinges on venti is Italian for 20 but Italians have been on the metric system for ages, so I want "venti litri di caffè americano". 

Enough joking, on to the commercials! 

These two mugs are available for a little over $16 on Redbubble.com, but if you order two the price drops to a smidgen over $13 each. I have both white and black available. The design is called "Rockets into Adventure". You are probably familiar with this design from my Pandemic Disaster posts. 

The black cup is pictured to the left, with the bag of coffee and a small hint to my next review. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Review - Iron Buffalo Gaming. A game store with a coffee problem.

Name: Iron Buffalo Gaming (and Coffee!) 
Location: 656 Millersport Highway, Amherst, NY 14226
Phone: (716) 541-0336
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ironbuffalogaming
Website: https://www.ironbuffalogaming.com/

Coffee and games are two of my favorite things and Iron Buffalo has them both. I love this shop and not for the excellent coffee smell that permeates everything. We have some great gaming shops in the area but this one is my favorite for the coffee connection. 

Iron Buffalo has a great assortment of games, D&D, OSE, X-Wing plus paints, dice, and other gaming supplies. The last time I was in there, it was the height of COVID and there was no coffee. Local places have been taking a pounding from this crap. 

I somehow managed to not take any pictures when I last visited, which I really regret. The inside of the building is wonderfully laid out, with everything having its place. It is so easy to find what you need. I am planning a trip tomorrow or the next day, so maybe I'll not forget myself and take a picture or two. 



I hear scheduled events will return Friday, March 18th, so check them out on the web or their Facebook page. As I understand it, Iron Buffalo still has a facemask policy, so be prepared. If you follow them on Facebook, you'll get status updates which include event scheduling, new products, and other fun stuff happening there. 

One of the things that blew me away was they had an actual copy of Old School Essentials' Rules Tome. My wife gifted it to me for Christmas. This is one of the reasons you need to shop locally for things, whether it's a shop like Iron Buffalo or your local shop. It keeps the chain intact. A little shop investing in a tiny book floats at least two different companies and keeps the industry going. And it's more than "going" if a non-gamer like my wife can pick out a great game at a local shop, sight unseen from my dinner time blatherings.  

If you are in the Western New York Area, you have to check this shop out. 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

The Inaugural 2022 Post

Welcome to 2022! The year of Time Runner and Soylent Green. 

As promised, I will continue to do science fiction and fantasy book reviews. Last year I was heavy on the sci-fi so this year I hope to swing the other direction into fantasy. 

It's January 2nd and I have already burned most of a $75.00 B&N gift card and a good chunk of another gift card. And read a book, Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds. I have a couple of other books lined up for review this year, classics like Fritz Leiber's Swords Against Deviltry and a newer title, After Dark by Michael and Shell DiBaggio. I also have Aurora Rising, Permafrost, The Winds of Gath for my Traveller friends and Sanctuary for you murderous thieves lurking out there. 


Lastly, I have picked up about 7 game titles from Noble Knights and DriveThruRPG to round everything out.

I hope you stay tuned this year. Join me on a year of epic reading. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Review - Lenovo 300e Chromebook

We've got a lot of Chromebooks going on here. This one is my daughter's Lenovo 300e which is ostensibly to be used for school work aSometimes, anyway. Notice the power cord. It typically isn't charged when it needs to be. 

Children...

Here are the stats: 

  • Screen Size: 11.6 inches
  • Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768
  • Processor Model: Intel Celeron 
  • Processor Model Number: N4000
  • Processor Speed (Base): 1.6 GHz
  • Solid State Drive Capacity: 32 gigabytes
  • System Memory (RAM):  4 gigabytes
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon R4
  • Operating System: Chrome
  • Battery Life: (up to) 10 hours
This Chromebooks greatest weakness is its strongest feature: the storage space. Being designed for Education, children should not be saving stuff to the hard drive. The machine is meant for the cloud. And as a cloud-based machine, it does very well. The wi-fi is solid, as is the Bluetooth. 

As a sub $300, sometimes sub $200 machine, it has some lacks which make it a true cloud machine. There is no HDMI or Ethernet port. 

The speakers are mildly ok, which is actually desirable in the classroom. It does have a headphone jack which is the preferred method of listening for students. The stereo headphone jack also has microphone capabilities. The screen has the same performance factors as my HP-14dk1000 laptop in a smaller format, locked in at 1366x768. For schoolwork, this is just fine due to the assumed connectivity issue. Students won't plug into their phones and such for images of high enough resolution to make a difference. 

It has 2 USB A and 2 USB C ports, where one of the USB C ports is used for charging. Battery life is great if your child charges it. It also includes a standard camera and microphone, built-in. They are fine for Zoom or Google Classrooms. The lappy is rounded out with a micro-SD card slot. 

Normally I don't mention the frame or case, but the frame is solid with no flex and the case has a variety of textures for easy gripping. 

Performance is nice for basic Google Drive Work. It will run good-sized videos at a decent rate. At least for 1366x786 resolution.

As an educational laptop, it doesn't have guest mode or other features. It is a managed device. If you purchase one of these "refreshed" or used, it should be unassociated with the school district. If it isn't, I would suggest returning it. School districts have a protocol in place to release products for "refreshed" or "renewed" sales, it's worth money to them. If you find your "renewed" Chromebook has an administrator account, it is probably one of the zillion computers lost or misplaced by a child. It probably won't be worth the effort of "fixing" it even if you find such things to be trivial. 

Try a reputable reseller if at all possible. 




Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Review - Acer CB311-10H Chromebook

I have several Chromebooks to support my websites and my kid's educational needs. I will be looking at the Acer CB311 series of machines, but today I am reviewing the Acer CB311-10H. 

The black CB311 on the left, as compared to another 311 model on the right.


Display size: 11.6 Inches
Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768 Pixels
RAM: 4 GB
Hard Drive: 64 GB SSD
Graphics Coprocessor: Intel UHD Graphics 600
Wireless: ‎802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth

This is a sub-$300 machine, very often coming in at a little over $225 on sale. It's a lightweight machine for basic computing. At 2.42 lbs (1.79 Roman Catholic) the 7.83 x 11.65 x 0.71 inch machine feels solid. It even passes my one-hand carry test, where the machine still responds to the keyboard and trackpad while walking around. It doesn't flex at all. It's a rubberized, bombproof basic. 

The wi-fi is good and it has built-in Bluetooth capabilities. It features two USB ports, a pair of USB C ports, one of which is for charging, a micro-sd card reader, and a headphone jack. There is no large card reader or Ethernet port, which really shouldn't surprise you at this price point. 

The 11.6-inch diagonal screen feels well proportioned to this laptop but is on the small side. The resolution is capped at 1366x786 which isn't horrible on 11.6 inches. It plays video well enough but you can forget about 4k even though the dual processors and graphics card could maybe do it. It is also not a touchscreen, so there is that.  

The standard laptop camera and mic pair are fully functional and work rather well. However, you won't be mixing A/V on this machine without Linux. 

The one kick in the pants right out of the box is the speakers. It has two but they seem very poor on the first boot. Oddly, if you run the update they actually improve. I am not sure why this is, but it was a nice save by Acer. Granted, these are laptop speakers. Don't expect too much. Running Youtube or YouTube Music natively is nice and the machine does an adequate job of audio rendition. It's not like you work in a dance club. 

The other downsides are the lack of a mic jack, HDMI, and the previously mentioned Ethernet port. Well, it was cheap. USB do-dads are an option but I only use an external mic even though the internal mic and camera are nice. 

The CB-311-10H is not a touchscreen unlike other 311 models. 

Additionally, the lappy runs Android Apps and of course has all of the Google Drive features that are standard on modern Chromebooks. I also have Ubuntu 16.04 running in Crouton, so while the 4 GB of memory seems light, it is functional for basic work. 

All and all, this basic sub $300 laptop earns a solid 3 stars. 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Review - In The Hollow Of The Spider Queen

This review needs a little background or perhaps a disclaimer of little background. I picked up this game set off the indy rack at Gather & Game, a local shop. Unbeknownst to me, there is a  whole game system out there called "Powered by the Apocalypse". 

I had zero awareness of this ruleset and at this moment, I can't decide if "In the Hollow of the Spider Queen" or "Powered by the Apocalypse" needs a 5 gold star rating. 

Yes, there are games I simply don't know about thanks to a vibrant OSR and general explosion of gaming systems available. 

Perhaps both need 5 gold stars. By the time I complete my 52 reviews for 2021, I'm sure we will know. 
Title: In the Hollow of the Spider Queen
Rule Set: Powered by the Apocalypse 
Year: 2021
Author: Aaron M. Sturgill
Publisher: Trail of Dice Games
Pages: 60 pages, plus character sheet and 3 color maps. 
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

In the Hollow of the Spider Queen
In the Hollow of the Spider Queen
In the Hollow of the Spider Queen

"In the Hollow of the Spider Queen" is an intriguing concept, just reading the back cover. It is a DM and one-player hexcrawl game based on old-school crawls. 

Whoa. Sign me up.   

Now for the twist, the rules are meant for one referee and one player but are scaleable so that up to 3-5 players can join the fun. 

And there is no need to wait. The set comes with one character sheet and a 3-page explainer of how to create a character. Like D&D, characters have a couple of stats to populate. Your character will have a spread of points that are positive, negative, or neutral. In addition to those, you have Resolve and Hit Points that are modified by two of the stats you previously selected. Gather your gold, pick equipment and answer some questions to start playing. 

This system uses an XP clock that turns lemons into lemonade. If you botch a roll, you fail but also fill a tick of the XP clock. Get four ticks, receive one XP point. XP is used to gain many advantages, so taking a risk is usually always worth it even if you fail your roll. Languages use the same sort of clock to create a dynamic scale of proficiency. 

In the DM's section, we get the core rules plus details on the world or Continent as the author calls it. By the rules, this set is a little more complex than combat. The set has an interesting system of Resolve vs. HP loss, which means that players can be defeated (or not) by something a little more complex than an axe blow to the head. Should the hero die, there are options for continued gameplay. 

The Continent is populated by various races or factions all spelled out on their own page. Each page has a detailed description, a helpful list of names and rumors which apply to the race or faction as a whole. Each page builds on the last to create a great history and background of the world the players will explore. In this case, less is more. 

What is so impressive about this little book is the fact that so much is rammed into 21 pages. There is still half a book to go. 


Page 22 introduces the movement rules. This is a hex crawl, after all. Characters have 3 starting locations. Where your player(s) will go is based on the questions they answered in the creation process. Random encounters are linked to locations, delivering the DM information as they need it. After that, the lands of the Continent are described. Within those descriptions, there are more random Encounter tables paired to locations with the lands. Again, necessary information is provided only when needed. 

To flavor and enhance gameplay, the ruleset comes with 2 Appendices and an index. Indexes seem to be a highly underrated feature in the digital age but are amazing when you have a physical copy. 

I am amazed that for just $16, this book does everything as advertised on the back cover. You can pick up either a physical copy or a digital one at DriveThruRPG for a few bucks less. In looking at the author's website, this is not an either-or proposition. If you find a physical copy, you can request a pdf at the website.  

Friday, November 5, 2021

Live Another Day Or Buy Mac A Drink (Computer Review)

I don't like to do computer reviews on TheseOldGames.com as I already have a website for computers, software, and hardware called unpwnd.com just for that purpose. However, since this is a website for Old Games, sometimes a post about computers comes naturally. 

And this is one of those rare computer-themed posts. To support These Old Games, I maintain a Blueberry Mac iBook released back on July 21st, 1999. This thing is 22 years old and still ticking despite some serious carnage done to it. Here are the specs as they stand today: 

Processor: 1, 300 MHz PowerPC 750 (G3)
FPU: Integrated
Bus Speed: 66 MHz
RAM Type: PC66 SDRAM, 144-pin PC66 SO-DIMM memory modules.
RAM Installed: 64 MB onboard plus one 512 MB module for a total of 576 MB.
RAM Slots: 1
Video Card: ATI Rage Mobility (2X AGP) with 4 MB of SDRAM.
Built-in Display: 12.1" TFT
Resolution: 800x600
Storage: 10 GB internal, 32 GB external plus a secondary 128 GB external drive
Optical: 24X CD-ROM
Modem: 56k v.90 Standard Ethernet: 10/100Base-T
AirPort: 802.11b
USB Ports: 1 (1.1)
Battery Type: 45 W h LiIon
Battery Life: 6 Hours (more with a  RAM disc, like 24 hrs+)
OSes Installed: 9.2.2 and 10.04 Kodiak.
Dimensions: 1.8 x 13.5 x 11.6
Weight: 6.7 lbs (3.04 kg)

I suppose the first question I should answer is, what is the boot time on 20+-year-old computer? About 2 minutes with all of the control panels and extensions turned on. See for yourself by watching the video below. 

With everything turned off, it boots much faster but I virtually never do that. 

So, what do I use this thing for? Gaming, writing, drawing, and CAD. A lot of what you see here and on my other websites is written on this machine. I also listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. 

By way of example, I wrote all of my Traveller posts using this computer, which included some wireframe designs. My first ideations for the Devil Fish freighter started on the Mac and were transferred to another, more modern machine for improvements. All of the writing was done in Word and the basic outline for the ship was done in RayDream Designer 3. 

Long before I used this machine for my websites, I was using a machine very much like it to create whole books. My father's games, like Knight Hack were written on a 512K Mac and then converted several times until they reached their modern form. 

The interesting thing is, when combined with a Linux computer and some PDF software, I can bring my whole DriveThruRPG library with me on the Mac. Yes, that's right. Your modern works can be opened (usually) on a 22-year-old computer. Sometimes it balks, but most of the time it just works. 

Surprisingly, I often don't need to tweak anything in the PDFs for Adobe 3, 4 or 5. I am running a lot of older Adobe software, so if I do encounter a glitch I can usually tweak it via the Mac itself. There are some rare cases where nothing can be done to "fix" or "convert" a file to something the Mac can read. I just deal with it.

I will grant you that images are not so smooth on the iBook due to the 800x600 display. They look like they're printed on canvas. Nothing can be done to fix it, but usually, it isn't a problem worth mentioning. 

So, what can't I do with this 22-year-old machine? I can't print. Using the internet is problematic. There is software that will get me on the web, but it doesn't handle .CSS well. Believe it or not, this machine shows up as a Nokia cellphone in Google Analytics due to the handling of the emulation of the browser. 

This particular iBook has an Airport card. Theoretically, I could connect wirelessly to the internet but I would have to use an old router. As in a router old enough to have security issues, so I don't do it. Part of the process of using this machine is it forces me to create backups. While I am not an insane security nut, I do love my backups. These occur naturally by moving files to my 32 GB USB drive or the 128 GB external drive. 

Ironically, I had been creating DVD backups as a part of this process but they did not survive the house fire which did not consume my Mac, the USB drive, or the external drive despite being dowsed with fire, water, and presumably a massive power surge as the fuse box and wiring burst into flames and failed. The DVDs incinerated, right next to the hardware that didn't. How does that happen?  

To be honest, using the internet on this machine is a poor experience so I try to avoid it. I do have a local copy of Wikipedia on the 128 GB hard drive. I can access it with Netscape Navigator which is totally crazy to see in 2021. My copy of Wikipedia is wildly out of date as it hasn't been updated in years, but it works well enough for basic research. I sometimes connect for games, which seems to be less problematic as they are old enough to not break. 

In my next post for unpwnd.com, which will be written on this Mac, is about loading Linux via Crouton to a Chromebook. 


The great thing about writing on this machine is the intimacy. I don't have updates running, firewalls popping, no Facebook or Mewe starving for my attention. It's just me and the words, not the world. It's really nice to "unplug" without actually unplugging. My first cause for getting into computing decades ago was for problem-solving, speed, and automation. The superiority of a computer over a word processor or typewriter is amazing. The ability to make digital art is complementary to physical production and allows for techniques and ideas that can't be done on paper alone. Add in that an electronic product can be created for sharing or printing is really great. 

To me, this production is what computing is all about and this iBook still produces. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Review - How to Make War By James F. Dunnigan

Title: How to Make War
Year: 1982, 1993, 2003
Author: James F. Dunnigan
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

This review covers one of those things you know, but don't really know. How to Make War by Jim Dunnigan reads like an RPG. James Dunnigan is an author, a military-political analyst, a consultant, and a wargame designer. He designed games for Avalon Hill and founded Simulations Publications Inc.

Despite being both a gamer and historian myself, up until this review I believed that Jim and James Dunnigan were two different people. It explains a lot. 

How to Make War is not a gamebook but a guide to war. While the title is focused on current military affairs, each section is applicable to many different eras of warfare. The intent of the book is education, not practical military knowledge. A quick read-through will greatly enhance the reader's background knowledge of what it takes to produce a war, productive or otherwise. 

Structurally, the book's 29 chapters are divided into 8 parts. Each part covers one major aspect of warfare. In order, they are: 

  1. Ground Combat, 
  2. Air Operations, 
  3. Naval Operations, 
  4. Human Factors, 
  5. Special Weapons, 
  6. Warfare by the Numbers, 
  7. Moving the Goods, 
  8. and Tools of the Trade.
A lot has changed over the years, and the effect of these changes has yet to percolate down to the battlefield level. Mr. Dunnigan takes a shot at predictions of how new technology will change the battlefield while presenting data from past conflicts. Everything is incremental. 

Since the Big One and The Second Big One, wars have become smaller and more politically complex affairs without losing any of their characteristic violence and horror. What changes are the speed and sophistication of the destruction along with the long-lasting effects of these conflicts on humanity. Sadly, Mr. Dunnigan points out that many humans feel that the aversion to war is a lost opportunity to right some sort of wrong. 

While much of the book deals with the hardware of warfare, the important bits are political drives and logistics of the attempt to meet those drives with real-world resources. To paraphrase Mr. Dunnigan, "amateurs think of tactics while professionals think of logistics." Nothing plays out worse than declaring a goal that cannot be obtained. Don't make threats, make promises. 

Mr. Dunnigam walks through the lives of those who will fight and why in addition to the hardware they will use. Starting with the infantry in Part 1, the readers follow the cans and can'ts of each resource available to the would-be warmonger. Aircraft are quick; quicker than a ship but not as quick as a satellite. They land someplace between the two when it comes to delivering hardware, information, and personnel to the front. 

Human factors address by the book covers the reasons people will fight, their leadership, and the intelligence resources available to both. When humans are involved, Murphy's Law rears its ugly head, and whoever considers that fact first has more control over who will be victorious. Additionally, since virtually all armed forces will find themselves at peace most of the time, what do you do with them? 

One of the biggest challenges on the battlefield is the application or refusal to use so-called "special weapons". The chemical, biological, and nuclear crowdpleasers. Yes, they are the big stick but taking out whole environments for weeks, months, or decades at a time might not be the victory one craves. On a more limited front, other special weapons are used to wage war in space. Special forces engage in brief, limited-purpose engagements. Circling back like the last chapter, militaries are able to engage in activities that are just as hostile as any conflict without using arms. Relief operations are a standout feature quelling or fueling the desires of war in an enemy, as is training foreign troops and waving the flag. 

Part Six covers logistics and attrition. Or the real reasons no one attacks without good reason. Part Seven pairs nicely with Part Six as it covers the costs and ability to transport to the tools of war. The final part in this section covers tried and true weapons and considers the untried technology against what the future may bring. It's interesting to see the reality of logistics weighed against the speculation of what may come. 

I've noticed two knocks against this book from other reviews that I completely disagree with: the lack of sources and the American-centric reality it presents. 

This is not a textbook, it is a reflection of the lifetime of study. It's all right in the title "How to Make War". It is a study of why wars happen and why they often fail to result in positive outcomes for both winners and losers. Sources over reflections would make this a textbook. The tact of this book is how costly war is in every term; a textbook on that topic would cause the reader to utterly miss the point of the book. 

The second point, the American-centric aspect is merely a reflection of the United States Budget placing warfare over all other things. Yes, we win wars due to insane spending which has many obvious costs. No, those wars often don't benefit anyone long-term and often have disastrous consequences. Or more humorously, America winning a conflict simply allows the losing side access to Red Dawn on Netflix, resulting in a lot of non-English speakers leaving to say the word: "Wolverines!". And if you think about it, war is about as cute and cuddly as a wolverine in your pants. A circumstance Mr. Dunnigan covers completely. Don't mistake the numbers for the reality of the situation. 

5 gold stars of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Introduction: How to...

If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times. The 1981 Basic Edition of D&D is my edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Before that, I had the 1979 AD&D books which seemed a little opaque to 7 and 8 year old me. But by 9, I could grasp all of the ins and outs of the Moldvay set. 

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)

At 49, I set a challenge of reviewing 52 gaming culture significant titles. I've done novels, movies, game modules, supplements but only a handful of rule sets. The reason is pretty clear, how does one review old or new products which emulate old games? Everyone should know everything about them already. 

A month or so ago, a reader whom I shall call Blackrazor gave me dozens of books to replace the ones I lost. Additionally, he threw in a bunch of things I have never seen. By way of thanks to my readers, I want to review them. 

This loops me back to my original observation that everyone who plays these games should know them. So true. 

Back in February of this year, I reviewed The White Box by Atlas Games. This product isn't a game, it's a developer's tool to create games. In that review, I mentioned that the vast majority of essays written for this title explore the pedagogy of games. Pedagogy is the method and practice of teaching. 

This nicely brings me around to this little piece of artwork: 


The Moldvay version of D&D was meant to teach from the book, as opposed to the methods used in the prior editions. It's a fine distinction, in intent, scope, and for my purposes, a perfect distinction.  

OD&D, Holmes, and AD&D e1 are very fine games, but they were not designed and developed as the Moldvay books were which is very evident in terms of play and players. These three sets were designed with the intention that one person would own the books and that one person would teach the rules. Moldvay on the other hand, explains the rules with an almost boardgame approach so that players pick a role and act on it rather than the exploration of roles (and rules) that older editions supposed. 

It's the method of teaching that changes between editions. Players were always cautioned against reading the DM's material. But in a generic sense, meaning they shouldn't metagame. Knowing the rules was always encouraged, but defining which rules were in play was the purview of the DM. So, when players hit those OD&D-type games, they often knew how to run a game even when in action as a player character, but they learned directly from the person hosting the game. In B/X the rules themselves teach. 

Going forward, I hope to review several B/X sets from the point of view of how the rules convey the pedagogy of the game. 

I have 10 more entries for my 2021 review series, if I could make whole rulesets half of those, I think I will have succeeded in this adventure.  

HP-14dk1000 Laptop Review

Normally I would place hardware reviews over on Unpwnd.com but this one is special. It makes my website and games go. 

This particular HP is only available from Best Buy. At the $299 price point, you know this isn't a gaming machine. 

Here are the stats: 

  • Screen Size: 14 inches
  • Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768 (HD)
  • Processor Model: AMD Athlon Silver 3000 Series
  • Processor Model Number: AMD Athlon Silver 3050U
  • Processor Speed (Base): 2.3 gigahertz
  • Solid State Drive Capacity: 128 gigabytes
  • System Memory (RAM):  4 gigabytes
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home in S Mode
  • Battery Life: (up to) 8 hours
This laptop isn't a powerhouse but is adequate for webwork, minor photo editing, and lightweight games. 

For some buggy reason, Best Buy's spec sheet proactively shoots this laptop in the foot. It is not a 2-in-1, does not have a touch screen, a keyboard backlight, or a voice assistant. In my mind, these missing features actually define a functional laptop, so they aren't really lacking. I expect a phone or a Chromebook to talk back. I expect a drawing surface on a tabby. Not so much on a laptop. Not having these features is a-okay. 

The one stat that jumps out at me is the screen resolution. 1366x768. That is the finest screen of 2002, it's a weak point. In the image below, the desktop looks sharp due to the vibrant colors of the photo. When you go text on white, the weakness of 1366x768 is pretty apparent. 


It does have three other flaws, all of which revolve around the keyboard. The layout is "creative", placing the question mark on the bottom row, arranging the navigation keys vertically down the right-hand side of the keyboard and the trackpad doesn't have much in the way of palm rejection. It's really annoying, like $300 dollars annoying. 


On the plus side, the keyboard is responsive. The boot time is very nice and storage space is more than adequate at 128GB. Four GB of memory is kind of on the low end, but it's enough to run multiple tabs, GIMP, or Inkscape. The trackpad has actual buttons which are nice.  

The port arrangement and loadout are really great. It has 2 USB, 1 USB-C, HDMI, a card slot, and an ethernet port. While these are all pretty standard, but having all of them on a budget frame is surprising. 

A handful of items I missed. This laptop has great speakers for a subpar machine. Streamed movies actually look good on this machine. Neither is "brilliant" but this is more than what $300 should get you. The battery life is a quandary to me. I've had sessions where it pooped out in 3 hours and others that lasted all day long. I suspect that A/V software stresses the poor thing too much and text-only operations don't tax it at all. 

All in all, I give it 2.5 of 5 stars. 

Off the Shelf Review - Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I am a huge fan of Andy Weir, author of the Martian. Project Hail Mary is an excellent science-themed page-turner. 

Title: Project Hail Mary
Year: 2021
Author: Andy Weir
Pages: 476 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meet male, caucasian astronaut. He's adrift in space, destination unknown, mission unknown, name unknown. Weir rapidly builds our hero up in just 2 chapters without annoying the reader with the fact that he has no name or purpose. He also threads the needle with the hero to prove he isn't a recast version of Mark Watney from The Martian. 

Our astronaut is quickly introduced to two different problems. One is immediate, an inflated catheter in his... ah... you know. And the second more distant, an infrared glow around Venus. (Hey, I didn't write it. Well, I did but...) The second becomes the major problem of the story, no matter how immediate the other problem would be. Something is drawing energy from the Sun to the orbit of Venus. The sun isn't dying but the dimming will kill every living thing on Earth. If anyone is to solve this problem, one hell of a Hail Mary is needed. 

Here is our hero and his ship, the Hail Mary. Full of Dr. Grace. 

Weir likes solid science in his science fiction. He uses a couple of handwaves to get our hero into deep space. The major handwave is energy to mass ratios of fuel. Aside from that, I'm sure he took a couple of liberties with biology, but each choice was a smart, calculated one. In this novel, Grace and science are the heroes jointly. 

Weir uses Grace's memory loss as a convenient way to place him where he needs to be and then uses the resulting recovery of memory as excellently timed data dumps for the reader. It is used to great effect to expand the stage of the Hail Mary to a greater cast of characters than just Dr. Grace. The reader moves from the present to the past in a delicate dance of memory vs. discovery where Dr. Grace is first introduced to the world end cataclysm that he must prevent.  

And damn, some of these characters are excellent. Even magnificent. Eva Stratt is the quarterback of Earth's defenses. She is assigned the task of clearing the way for Project Hail Mary's success. Since success is not assured, Stratt operates on the principle that anything short of total annihilation is a path to success. Including a suicide mission to Tau Ceti to find out why this Earthly neighbor isn't dimming when all of the other stars are. And boy, is she a bastard. 

Many of the other characters are charming and likable, even when not compared to Stratt. But none are entirely squeaky clean. Weir builds a cast of believable characters, with very few unnecessary bit characters to muck up the works. Some of the characters are particularly odd, given that they want to go on a suicide mission. And some of that oddly is pretty shocking. But not terrible, in context.  

Dr. Grace encounters both wonders and surprises unimagined by the builders of the Hail Mary and each is used to excellent advantage to progress the story.

As a plot device, all of the science onboard the Hail Mary is off the shelf, except for the technology to place the crew in a coma long enough to survive the trip. That is the one point of failure on the mission. If the crew never emerges from the coma, the mission is a failure. Having no other option, that is deemed an acceptable risk. 

However, there is a sneaky backdoor point of technology failure introduced by the plot. First, none of the technology at Grace's disposal is any smarter than a laptop or more sophisticated than a college chemistry lab.  Dr. Grace isn't an astronaut. He doesn't do checklists or planning because he isn't trained to do so. And pays for it constantly. There is nothing there to warn him of the errors of his ways. 

While this would normally be a plot hole, the fact that Grace pays for his erratic and Rocky behavior every time builds tension and drama, all the way to the climax of the story. And it's a hell of an ending, which parallels Mark Waverly's transition from astronaut to teacher in the Martian.

While Project Hail Mary is a very different read from the Martian, the sense pedigree is there. 

I am slightly annoyed that I paid full price for this book at Barnes and Nobles, but it was a much needed date night.>

Or you can do what I did for Artemis and grab the Audible version. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Review - Dyson's Delves (Part 1)

Today I am taking a look at an older book called Dyson's Delves by Dyson Logos. From the moment I hit buy on DrivethruRPG, I had remorse about not ordering this title in print. It's a good thing I didn't because not many things made their saving throw. C'est la feu. 

DriveThruRPG's excellent library app saved my bacon as I wouldn't be able to keep doing these reviews with quick access to the hundreds of titles I've purchased there. 

Title: Dyson's Delves I 
Rule Set: Any OSR 
Year: 2012
Author: Dyson Logos
Pages: 153 pages
Rating: 5 gold stars of 5 stars

This is one of those titles that shatters my rating scale. I love art and this book has 60+ pages of Dyson's excellent maps, arranged into 5 delve adventures plus 44 blank maps for you to key. Each unkeyed map has a key page for you to fill out and the keys themselves are stylish and match the maps.  

The delves are prekeyed and all of the monsters are thematically grouped like the beasts in Keep on the Borderlands. Dyson doesn't spell it out in the text, but even a cursory look at the critters provides connections that the DM can weave together to fit their own campaign. If you wanted to repeat a particular delve, I suggest rekeying the dungeon using Shane Ward's 10 Monsters idea from the blog, The 3 Toadstools. These delves are cool and repeatable. 

I'm not sure what I like more, the stylish maps or the way this title was put together so that the reader can adapt the work to be their own table. Dyson gives permission to photocopy pages so you can write on them, but if I had this title in print, I would take the other path and write in the book. Yes, it destroys the ability to "start over" but with 5 complete delve adventures plus 44 single-page maps, exactly when will I have the time to just "start over"? 

I'm in full-on heretical mode. The author is wrong, go ahead 'n write in this book. This is basically more than a year of content if you run 1 or 2 maps a week. Date each map as you run through it. When you're all done, either print a new copy from DriveThruRPG or order another book from Lulu. I get nothing for pitching a $20.00 book from Lulu, except the reward of knowing you will have a keepsake worth far more than the multiple purchases or reams of paper you burn to reprint the pdf. It's a kind of a keepsake journal.  

As I mentioned before, I have a copy from DriveThruRPG which is all fine and dandy, but as soon as my house is in order again, I will be ordering a print copy. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Bilingual Bonus Review - Cruce de Río

I only have a few more reviews to hit my goal of 52 for 2021. A few weeks ago a reader gave me a whole set of e5 books. So, e5 it is. One of the best ways to learn a ruleset is actual gameplay. 

Cruce de Río by Sebastián Pérez is a great introductory scenario for D&D e5. 

Title: Cruce de Río 
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2018
Author: Sebastián Pérez
Pages: 10 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, right out of the gate, it's a little much to call this a "module". It's 10 pages. However, Cruce de Río is a gem of a product. The format of this booklet is scaleable, it works for characters between 1st and 6th levels. It verges on being ruleset agnostic because the scenarios spelled out in this book have crystal clear mechanics for several common events that take place in a fantasy setting. 

The gist of it is, the party needs to cross a river. Three possibilities exist: find a ford, find a bridge or make a dangerous attempt at crossing someplace else. Cruce de Río spells out each of these possibilities with great detail and excellent mechanics. These events can be sequential or run as individual events. There is a challenge for each choice and that challenge scales to suit the DM's need. Any one of them could be deadly, but Sr. Pérez spelled out the possible dangers and their outcomes so that each event need not be lethal. That purposeful planning allows a DM to pick which challenge to present meaning you could get several uses out of each. 

Sr. Pérez gives a couple of reasons for a river crossing, all of which are great. But river crossings should be commonplace for your band of plucky adventures. This is straight-up plug-and-play worldbuilding. This could happen in almost any campaign which makes this title so useful. 

There are bits of details and lore buried in the book that can enrich your campaign. For example, the ogre is motivated to take gems over gold because the government doesn't tax them. He is also not terribly inclined to kill the party as he is just doing his job of collecting a toll. 

I love details like this because these are far-reaching for a campaign setting. It says so much with so little. The kingdom has toll roads, the kingdom has the infrastructure, the kingdom employs non-humans, the tax system is a bit exploitable, etc. If you wanted to jump your 6th level party to hexcrawling, this is your entry point. 

Sr. Pérez has also kindly bolded keywords for quick rule lookup. There is also a reference sheet of Monster Manual pages for easy access. When events call for advantage or disadvantage, those are clearly spelled out with good reasons for each. Based on this, I suspect Sr. Pérez is a hiker with actual experience fording rivers. 

All and all, I enjoyed this book greatly, even though I struggle with Spanish. This book is a part of the Before 2020 Bundle over on DriveThruRPG. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

App Review - DriveThruRPG Library

A few posts ago, I mentioned how the cloud saved many of my books in digital form. On logging into DriveThruRPG, I suddenly realized how many books that is. I counted to 100 and stopped. The website will pack up 10 files at a time so downloading them would be laborious. 

I also happened to replace my old Chromebook with a new one that will happily load Android apps, which lead me to the DriveThruRPG Library App in the Google Play Store or their website. It's a game changer and labor saver. 

Although this review is of the Android App, it comes in a variety of flavors including Windows, Mac and iOS

When you open the app, it asks you to log in. After that, it will sync up your purchased items in your library. 


Clicking a name will do one of two things. If it is a single file, it will open it. If there are versions of pdfs or multiple files, it will give you a list.  


The software can open the file one of two ways, in a browser on a Chromebook or within it's own build in pdf viewer. 


The build in PDF viewer is sharp looking an responsive. The main difference between browsing in a browser or dedicated PDF viewer in Android is you loose the ability to print. That was probably a bridge too far for DriveThruRPG to create in their viewer. Other than that one missing feature it's robust, including smooth rendering, table of contents or bookmark views. It's nice. 


All and all, I give it 5 of 5 Stars. 

The only negative I could find was that the storage directory is not easily accessible for file access or manipulation. That isn't really a knock on DriveThru's Library app as this would happen with almost all Android Apps because of the way that a Chromebook emulates the Android Environment. If you want to get at the files directly, open them in the browser and save them to your downloads. The only reason I can think of to do this would be to back them up to media or a different cloud environment. 

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 discovery 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 recognized 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 that 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, June 2, 2021

Podcast Time Crunch: The Best Hour (or longer) Podcasts

I've been listening to podcasts for decades. It started with Astronomy Cast and exploded from there. 

I have a couple categories of podcasts I enjoy. Many are about gaming, but the rest cover science, history, travel and entertainment. 

Current thinking on podcasts is that 15 to 30 minutes is best. I'm inclined to agree, but my habits are not rational. Many of my favorites are all at or over an hour in length. 

Let's start with the shortest, The Dis Unplugged hovers at about an hour. This one is a weekly round table show on all things Walt Disney World. Hosted by Dreams Unlimited Travel, this podcast is definitely an ensemble performance. I love hearing all the different perspectives. It's been going on for years and they have a back catalog of over 1000 episodes. 

The Dreams Unlimited gang has many shows in different travel locations. They cover Universal, Disneyland, Disney World and tangentially, many other places. I tune in for the main show plus The Best and Worst of Walt Disney World and Si, Disney, their Spanish language show. 

SI, Disney isn't a translation of other shows, it has completely different hosts and guests and offers a more global look at the House of Mouse. Most Si, Disney episodes are under an hour but a few make the hour mark. They speak nice and slow which is great for me. My Spanish comprehension skills are years out of date. Unfortunately, it's a Youtube only experience, so I have to plan ahead if I want to listen offline. 
Moving on, The History of English podcast tells the epic story of the English language. It started off at about 45 minutes but now tops out at around an hour and 10 minutes. Kevin Stroud is an excellent host for this history-focused romp through the English language. Mr. Stroud starts off way back in prehistory with a multi-episode arc on Proto-Indo-European languages. Being a history of English, he rapidly blows through Latin, proto-Germanic, and other languages on the way to French, which is how many Latin terms came to the English language. He touches on linguistics, but this commentary runs alongside the history of the people who made English what it is. 

Additionally, he has an audiobook, The History of the Alphabet. You can get it on Youtube Music for free with your monthly subscription or purchase it at retailers like Amazon. 


Froth's Thought Eater podcast was an excellent blogroll of the OSR and D&D world. Sadly, he has his last show in the can. However, he has 200+ episodes in his catalog, so start listening now before he starts recording again. No promises here, but he has the blog at the link above and I wouldn't be surprised if we got a 5-minute update from time to time. 

Jeremy "Froth" Smith's format is around the blogosphere run down on everything happening in the OSR and gaming. It's quite the show. 

(I have to say thank you to Jeremy for all of the times he mentioned my website, These Old Games. Every time made my week... or more. Thank you, again.) 

I've written about Safco Cast, the Traveller game themed show. This baby tops out at 90 minutes and it is excellent. Hosted Jeff Koenig and Bob Loftin, the back and forth chat reminds me of Astronomy Cast's Pamela and Fraser. But that's not all, they do interviews and game recaps. It's awesome!. 

I have to be honest, I suck at Traveller. I don't play it unless I'm a part of group of longtime players. I don't understand one bit of it, but Jeff and Bob make me want to grok it. I sort of get it when listening and incorporating some of the ideas and methods used for the game always seems to improve my D&D campaigns. 

Finally, the big one. 

Mike Rowe's The Way I Heard It started as a short 15 minute, Paul Harvey-style podcast that morphed into so much more. Hovering around the 90-minute mark, the show includes great stories and writing plus interviews on a great number of subjects. In addition to the regular stories and guests, Mike has been reading his autobiography chapter by chapter. 

Tune and engage, it's a lot of fun. 

Soon, I'll be looking at some other, shorter podcasts. 







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.