Kevin C. Wong

Spot Reviews 11/26/21

Signature Farms Apple Cider With Honey Crisp [/] This is the Safeway house brand apple cider. Last year my local Safeway was selling an Apply Cider from a local farm (I think) and this year it's the same packaging and selling location but now Signature. Could be my imagination but Signature's version is not quite as good (and it feels thinner) even though it is also 100% apples but I guess it's a difference of what type of apples are in the blend.

Movie - The Marksman (2021) [-] A widower rancher on the Arizona-Mexico border rescues a girl wanted by the Cartels and decides to help her get to relatives in Chicago while avoiding a Cartel enforcer and INS. Liam Neeson plays the protagonist with one special skill -- he's a former Marine sniper and served in Vietnam... Kind of a dull film actually.

HBO Series - John Adams #1.01 (2008) [+] HBO miniseries about America's second President, John Adams. Each episode covers a few years time, the first episode being the years before the Declaration of Independence where Adams was a just lawyer who strongly believed in equal fairness under law, a belief that starts putting him at odds with the British home government as it starts to change the laws to its favor... It looks like an excellent series. Unfortunately watching on Xfinity app episode two is unwatchable (basically a slide show with audio) so I stopped.

TV Series - Krypton (2018) [/]

Krypton was a 2-season series on Syfy. The series is based on DC Comics Superman history and is set a couple of generations in the past. Krypton is an advanced-technology but dying world, composed of city-states enclosed in force fields to protect them from the environment (we only see the city of Kandor though I had the impression other cities were also in danger from the environment).

In Kandor the elites rule over the plebs. Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) and his family used to be in the elites until his family was disgraced and now he and his parents live among the poor masses. But things start to change when a mysterious stranger from the future, Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos), from Earth shows up with a mission to save Seg, who turns out to be Kal-El's (aka Superman) grandfather.

This is a sort of a political/action/romance series. Seg is adopted into a noble family after he saves the city ruler. There is a bit of love triangle between Seg, army guild captain Lyta-Zod (Georgina Campbell) and his new family's rising star Nyssa-Vex (Wallis Day). Seg also has to save Kandor from Braniac (Blake Ritson) who is supposed to bottle Kandor city and there's also General Zod (Colin Salmon) from the future here to save Kandor and also take over Krypton...

I remember seeing the description of this series and not being interested mostly because it's not a super-hero show. But the 20 episodes are fairly interesting though wouldn't have been a top show for me. It's cool seeing characters like Zod and Brainiac. Lobo (Emmet J Scanlan) guest stars in season 2 and we also get Doomsday (Staz Nair pre-Doomsday, though Doomsday itself is CGI) as a plot device in season 1 and appearing in season 2.

Tabletop Boardgame - Ultra Tiny Epic Kingdoms (2016) [+]

Ultra Tiny Epic Kingdoms is a small 4X fantasy game.

Each player gets a card with their race which has their individual magic powers. As you level up magic you get special abilities themed to your race and sometimes extra victory point goals. I had the Dark Elves and their magic made them better in forests and at highest level they got extra VP for controlling forests.

You get a kingdom card where you place your armies. The cards differ. Each has about five territories and you can move an army from one territory to an adjacent territory. There is impassable barriers (water and mountains) which can make movement difficult. Movement from one card to another is abstract -- you can move an army from any territory to a border territory of another card (border: next to the edge and not blocked from the edge by water or mountains). Some cards have cities but we didn't see any in our game.

Every player gets a record keeping card to track three resources: food, metal, magic. When you collect resources you get one resource per territory you have an army on (you want to spread armies for maximum resources but a territory can only stack two armies so if you double up nobody else can come into that territory). Kingdom cards have corresponding yellow grain, red hills, green forests for the resources. There is also a ruins territory which can give any resource but doesn't count for endgame VP.

You can only have a max of 9 of any resource and can convert resources but only if you're the active player and that action is available. Concentrating on one resource is not the best strategy as I found out.

There are six different actions. On each player's turn they choose an action and do it, other players can copy the action or collect resources. That action is then used up and once five actions are used up all actions become available again.

Actions

1. Move an army from between territories
2. Move an army from one kingdom card to another card
3. Level up your tower (this is only for VP, no other effects, but it's not linear so at high levels it's game-winning VP)
4. Level up magic. This costs magic equal to new magic level.
5. Expand your army by one. Pay food equal to new number of army units.
6. Exchange one resource for another on a 1:1 basis.

When two armies occupy the same territory they must either fight or ally. Combat is hidden payment of resources and the highest point total wins. Metal counts 2 and Magic counts 1. Your magic abilities can give you bonuses.

Alliance just means armies of both players can cohabitate until the players don't have any shared control of any territories. My brother had a race that got bonuses for alliances. Alliances cost nothing in contract combat seems wasteful unless you can do them on the cheap.

The game is supposed to take about 15 minutes and I can see that with experienced players. You get a lot of flavor of having different factions and the only differentiator for each race is what magic powers you get. The kingdom cards give you a bit of area control which I like. There seems to be multiple ways to win though tower building is a bit overpowering and maybe that will make other players beat on the builder.

Overall this game was quite fun even with one introductory playing with two friends and Christopher Jr (who really wanted to play, didn't pay much attention, but could make the easy game decisions when it was his turn).

Spot Reviews 11/19/21

Trader Joe's Alaskan Sockeye Salmon [-] This is previously frozen wild salmon. Wild salmon has less fat than farm raised. Frozen further degrades it. The result is dry and a bit rough textured salmon if I just bake it like I normally do. This salmon is better for frying.

Movie - Mortal Kombat (2021) [/] Below average MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) turns out to be the last descendant of a legendary ninja and the last hope of saving Earth from the dark forces of Shang Tsung (Chin Han). To do that he must compete and win the Mortal Kombat tournament with his new allies Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang) and Jackson Briggs (Mehcad Brooks)... Not a bad reboot of Mortal Kombat. A bit more serious though still a bit cheesy at times.

Movie - Tag (2018) [-] A group of childhood friends have stayed friends for 20+ years by playing a yearly no-holds-barred game of tag. Now tag master Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is getting married and his four friends think they finally have a chance to tag him. The rest of the film is a bunch of guy hijinks and finally learning that the fun is in the playing not necessarily the winning... It's an ok film but not really my type of story.

Anime - Food Wars #1.01 to #1.04 (2015) [-] Extremely talented teen chef Soma Yukihira (Blake Shepard) is sent to the most prestigious chef academy where his low-class upbringing and brash manners clash with the mostly upper-class students... Interesting how the actions scenes are all about meal preparations but after four episodes I can't stand the main character.

TV Series - Loki s1 (2021) [/]

Loki is a Marvel Cinematic Universe series with 6-hourly episodes. It revolves around Loki (Tom Hiddleston), or at least a Variant of Loki that managed to escape Avengers custody during Avengers: Endgame. This Loki is quickly caught by the Time Variance Authority, i.e. the time police, who stop and destroy any variations to the time line. This means that the MCU has been one timeline with no variations (and I guess the Spider-Man animated movie with all the different versions of Spidey come from different universes, not different timelines).

Anyways, Loki is to be de-rezzed but Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) convinces his supervisor to lend him Loki. There is a super variant out there that's eluded the TVA for years and has recently started hunting TVA teams in the field. And that super variant is another Loki...

Kind of like WandaVision this is a series that has big surprises and twists in every episode. While WandaVision the surprises were in the world that we eventually discover who created, here it's the twists of time and timelines and the secrets of the TVA. I do feel that the last episode or two where we get the final reveal and resolution are a bit anti-climactic. And it definitely sets up a second season with a goal ahead of time (both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier end their season at a point where you don't need a second season).

Overall a good series and if I ranked the three MCU series I've watched on Disney+ it'd be WandaVision, Loki, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

RPG - Mothership: Player's Survival Guide (2018) [+]

Mothership is an OSR science fiction horror RPG that has been inn beta for several years and is finally going to have a first edition boxed set currently on Kickstarter. The Player's Survival Guide is a 44-page digest-sized basic but complete rule system covering character generation, skill resolution, equipment, combat, starship design and starship combat, and experience. It's damned well written, easy to understand with lots of examples. Nice art throughout and good layout.

Character sheet fits on a regular piece of paper and has enough information to create a character right from it. It's a d100 system with four action attributes (Stats: Strength, Speed, Intellect, Combat) and four defensive attributes (Saves: Sanity, Fear, Body, Armor). There are about three dozen skills split into Trained, Expert and Master skills with the latter two types having pre-requisite skills. The skills are laid out in a skill tree so it's easy to see what the pre-reqs are (you only need one of the pre-req skills to get the next tier of skill). You have four Classes (Teamster, Scientist, Android, Marine) which really just provide you with starting Saves and Skill and a special rule for Stress & Panic.

Action resolution is d100 equal to or less than your Stat. If there's an appropriate Skill it adds a bonus (+10%/+15%/+20%) and there can be other modifiers in the -20% to +20% range. Finally, if you have Advantage roll twice and take the best result and if you have Disadvantage roll twice and take the worse result. If you roll double (e.g. 22 or 77) it's and a success it's a Critical Success or if your roll is a failure with doubles it's a Critical Failure. If you're doing opposed rolls then highest rolled number success wins (if you both fail it's just a failure).

The starship design system is simple yet you build a modular ship where modules take up Hull points and at the end you have to calculate how many engines and fuel you need for the ship size. Then you get to draw your ship on a ship form which will help place your characters and see what happens when modules are damaged during ship combat or when a xenomorph is on the loose.

There is very little innovation in the game and I guess the closest is Stress and Panic. You have a Stress score starting at 2. Failing a Save increases Stress (usually by one point) though there are other ways to gain Stress (such as during a Crisis Check where you require several successes to complete an activity and you can re-roll a failure by gaining d10 Stress).

Strangely I thought you could take Stress to reroll any action check which then becomes a resource decision: make an important roll but then have a higher chance of panicking at a bad time? But I think I got this mechanic from Free League Publishing's Alien RPG which also does science fiction horror though in a specific universe.

Critically Failing a Save causes a Panic Check. Panic Checks are 2d10 and if you roll more than your current Stress you are fine. If you roll equal to or less than current Stress you roll on the Panic Effect table (2d10 + current Stress). Really low Panic Effects actually help you out by focusing your mind (you gain Advantage on all rolls for a few minutes). But the effects quickly become with hesitation, mental conditions and even Heart Attack.

If Mothership were my first science fiction RPG I'd be quite happy with it. It's small and complete and still has enough crunch to feel complete. First edition boxed set will add a GM's book and a monster book (and dice).

But Mothership would not be my first science fiction RPG. I think both Traveller and Star Frontiers are better RPGs and a big reason is they have established universes with supplements and adventure modules. Mothership captures a bit of the horror part with fairly low success chances plus the consequences of failure tending to be unforgiving, and with its Stress and Panic rules.

In the end I'm impressed with the system and presentation but at best I think I'd use any Mothership adventures with a different system, maybe grafting the Stress and Panic rules.

Spot Reviews 11/12/21

Blue Diamond Almonds, Lightly Salted [/] I'm not a fan of almonds and plain almonds are not tasty at all. These lightly salted almonds are a little too lightly salted (or my taste buds are off).

Tavern Chat Podcast (2018) [-] I listened to a few recent episodes and not exactly sure what's the focus of this RPG industry podcast. Seems to be news and opinions with a bro attitude. Audio is not great. Kind of found the presentation annoying so that's that.

Movie - Braven (2018) [/] Small logging company owner Joe Braven (Jason Momoa) and his family are attacked in their remote vacation cabin because one of his drivers hid a duffel bag full of drugs there and now drug lord Kassen (Garret Dillahunt) and his men have come to take the drugs... It's a for a well-produced low budget action film.

Documentary Series - Long Way Round (2004) [/] Actors Ewan McGregor and best friend Charley Boorman attempt a motorcycle drive horizontally around the world, from London to eastern Russia then from Alaska to New York. A couple of episodes preparing for the trip: getting sponsors, organizing materials, learning how to deal with possible scenarios like a gang controlling a checkpoint. Then most of the episodes are about the trip: it's the two and a cameraman on three motorcycles plus a support team paralleling them several hours to a day or two away. Finally an episode a year later to reminisce... It's pretty interesting with all the travails they go through and all the people they met and things they do as they stop at various cities.

Movie - Safe (2012) [-] Jason Statham action film where an ex-crooked spec ops who redeems himself by saving a girl (Catherine Chan) being chased by the Triads, Russian mob, and crooked NYPD detectives. Statham has done good action movies but this is not one of them.


TV Series - Ted Lasso s2 (2021) [+]

Ted Lasso season 2 manages to be as good as season 1 while maintaining it's positive and humanist approach. Ted (Jason Sudeikis) maybe fades a little more into the background but he has some deep introspective scenes with team psychologist Sharon (Sarah Niles). We also have a couple of good subplots with the evolving relationship between Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) and even the return of a more self-aware Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) who still loves Keeley. Also like the other subplot between team owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) and evolving star player Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh).

Nathan (Nick Mohammed) makes a slow evolution into resentment, pettiness, and becomes a bad guy for next season. I head some people didn't like it and his turn seems a bit abrupt at the start of the season but we're talking about several months passing between those two episodes and his descent the rest of the episodes seems pretty natural.

Apparently there were 10 episodes layed out and mostly shot when Apple asked for two more episodes. So we get two fairly standalone episodes, the excellent #2.4 Carol of the Bells -- a Christmas episode with heartwarming themes -- and the bit weird #2.9 Beard After Hours where Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) and three recurring pub characters have a wild night out in the city.

I'm looking forward to the third and probably final season and hope it can hit a satisfying ending for the various characters.

Trade Paperback - The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine (2018) [+]

The Uncertainty Machine is a four issue limited series comic book published by Titan Comics. MI5 agent Breen goes rogue and ends up in The Village because he has a vital secret that Number One wants (in this story it's more clear that The Village and the people that run it are not aligned with any government). But in reality Breen is here to find MI5 agent Carey and either rescue his former lover or silence her before she can give up her secrets...

For a four-issue series there are quite a few twists and turns and as is rightly for The Prisoner it's hard to tell who Breen can trust or even if the reader knows what Breen is really up to. The ending is rather interesting as we get to see Number One, the man behind the curtain and it's a bit of a surprise and yet very Prisoner. Overall a pretty good story.

Spot Reviews 11/05/21

Movie - Chaos Walking (2021) [/] A couple centuries in the future Todd (Tom Holland) has grown up on an isolated Earth colony on a far off world. A world where the biosphere causes human males to broadcast their thoughts which means that guys can't hide secrets while women can and for Todd's village caused the men to kill all the women. Into this mix arrives Viola (Daisy Ridley) the sole survivor of a pathfinder team from Earth leading the second wave of colonists. Tom helps Viola flee from his village leader Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) who wants to use Viola to capture the colony ship and take over the planet... An interesting sci fi film with a bit of YA.

Movie - GI Joe: Retaliation (2013) [-] Following from the first film but with pretty much a new cast of Joes. The Joes are framed as terrorists and wiped out by Cobra. The four surviving Joes -- Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (DJ Cotrona), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) -- have to prove their innocence and stop Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), Zartan (Jonathan Pryce), Firefly (Ray Stevenson) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) -- from taking over the world... The first movie was pretty bad, this movie is pretty bad. It feels like a movie with 80's sensibilities (no gore but lots of death) and 90's production values (rather low-tech special effects for a high-tech force like GI Joe).

Trader Joe's Cubano Seasoned Wrap [-] An edible but less than average wrap (this one I may have needed to heat up though). Not sure that it's supposed to be that half of it is pork + pickles and the other half is ham and Swiss cheese or maybe mine was made wrong. Has a tasty mustard sauce.