Kevin C. Wong

August 2022

Movie - Royalteen (2022) [+]

Royalteen is a Norwegian teen romance movie streaming on Netflix. Lena (Ines Høysæter Asserson) is going to a new posh high school, because as we find out later her parents moved the family due to what Lena did in her last school. This is the high school the rich kids attend, including royal family siblings Prince Kalle (Mathias Storhøi) and Princess Margrethe (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osborne).

Lena and Kalle become attracted but hanging out with Kalle's crowd is a bit of a mine field. She's not rich and they are. One girl is jealous of Lena and Margrethe is very suspicious clout chasers. Things heat up for Lena when the group meets one of her former classmates, actually her former friend who Lena betrayed (or they betrayed each other)...

It's a slow developing movie, rather low key. Manages to be charming and it's the girl that has the plot complication problem. Ending is a bit weird, maybe setting up a sequel movie. Or if not you can cut out the last 30 seconds and it's a fine ending.

iOS Game - Out There (2014) [+]

I previously reviewed Out There six years ago. Re-installed it last month and played it a bunch on my iPad and still plays great.

This is a space exploration rogue-like where you start with a small ship far from Earth and a million years in the future and are trying to make it back home. You gather resources (elements) which are used to build, repair and power your ship (you have oxygen, fuel and hull to maintain). It's a balancing act of what to carry since every separate element carried as cargo (at max 20 count) and ship item takes up a space.

You encounter aliens and slowly the galactic tongue. You encounter some special events and slowly learn the background. There are five different endings (besides dying) and with the help of an Out There Wiki I did two objectives and working on my third before I got distracted and never came back.

Moderate replay-ability. After a few tries you can sort of distinguish a good start from a bad one (well, bad ones tend to end quickly). Also once you discover a ship you can use it as your starting ship and some of the ships are quite nice.

It was good to play it again for a few weeks and maybe I'll come back to it and do all the missions one day.

Spot Reviews 08/26/22

Movie - SAS: Rise of the Black Swan (2021) [/] UK action film where SAS soldier Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan) and his fiancée Sophie (Hannah John-Karmen) are held hostage along with the people on a Channel Tunnel train. Grace Lewis (Ruby Rose) leads the mercenary Black Swans, disavowed and burned by the British government after one of their operations went viral on the Internet... An ok action film.

Novel - Red Mars (1992) [/] The first of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. In this book Mars is begin colonized and it's already been a couple decades with several cities settled and more people coming. There are various groups who have different philosophies of what to do about Mars (between just doing more colonization to more exploitation to more conservation) and the conflict escalates into murder... Although interesting it was a bit of a hard read and I'll probably not finish the trilogy.

Super Agent for Safari (2021) [/] Tried this for a bit. It's an extension that automatically fills out web site privacy dialog (toggles for accept/reject advertising cookies, functional cookies, performance cookies, other cookies). For one web site (Pinnacle Entertainment store) it kept showing the dialog then maybe filling it out then closing it, for every page load. Luckily you can turn it off for specific web sites.

TV Show - Inspector Koo (2021) [+]

Inspector Koo is a Korean detective drama with a single storyline. Koo Kyung-yi (Lee Young-ae) is a former police detective who now plays MMO RPGs all the time. Her friend Na Je-hee (Kwak Sun-young), head of an insurance company investigative team, hires Koo as a consultant to investigate a life insurance claim to see if the death was a suicide or not. Instead Koo finds a series of mysterious deaths and starts suspecting a serial killer.

Meanwhile college student Song Yi-kyung (Kim Hye-jun) and her friend Geon-wook (Lee Hong-nae) are busy having fun punishing evil people by arranging clever accidental deaths for them. And later on we learn that Song and Koo met each other on a previous case and perhaps Koo set Song on her murderous path...

This is a 12-episode hour-long drama. It's a bit like Death Note where there is a team trying to find out who the serial killer is but they don't want to accidentally reveal themselves to the killer. There are a couple of plot changes and twists to extend the series, otherwise I feel it could have wrapped up a good story in 6 to 8 episodes.

Still, I did like all 12 episodes. Koo is an interesting character, kind of a Sherlock Holmes who notices everything and is blunt to everyone. I guess that make's Na's team her Watson. Na is the team lead and responsible one. Oh Kyung-soo (Cho Hyun-chul) is the hardworking investigator but lacks imagination. Santa (Baek Sung-chul) is one of Koo's MMO RPG clan mates hired as her assistant and he never talks and is dedicated to Koo and that is a mystery that is never really answered (or maybe it is but it's hard to trust Song on that point).

There is a setup for a second season and I would watch it.

Tiny Epic Dungeons (2021) [+]

Tiny Epic Dungeons is a board game where a group of four adventurers wander into a dungeon to find and defeat the boss. It runs in two phases. Phase 1 the adventurers explore the dungeon (which is up to 7x7 big with the entrance at the center) which is made of random tiles and one of the bottom tiles is the boss lair. Phase 2 starts when an adventurer enters the lair to reveal the boss and then the adventurers have to lure the boss out to specific dungeon tiles before they can defeat it.

There are about a dozen character cards. They have Strength, Agility and Intellect of 1-3 which is the number of (special) dice they roll for checks. They also have a hit point track (to 8) and an energy track (to 5) and a few special powers and/or special rules on their cards. Special powers use energy and you can use 2 energy to modify a skill die after a roll. Adventurers collect items (which can be part of sets) and spells (which use Intellect check and energy to cast).

Dungeon cards can have a trap or an event both of which require a skill check to avoid. Traps can be disarmed with Agility and you get a treasure. Dungeon cards can also have a goblin (there can only be four goblins on the board, a fifth one ends the game), or a mini-boss (there will be # of mini-boss equal to # of adventurers and all mini-bosses have to be killed before the boss lair can be entered), or the boss lair. The boss lair is also it's own area with spaces for players and the spaces have modifiers, mostly bad, though the last space you get back shots and a bonus.

Game timing is done with a torch that burns down one each adventurer turn. Spaces on the torch track can have another goblin appearing at the entrance or all bad guys take their action. Bad guys move and attack (or just one or the other) and do automatic damage. For adventurers combat is roll skill dice and overcome monster defense rating; in the same roll monster die (normal d6) plus monster attack rating minus adventurer defense is damage adventurer takes, uh if monster lived after adventurer attack.

Skill rolls, including combat, use special dice with 1++ 2++ 3++ 4+ 5e 6h. One die is chosen as skill result. Dice with ++ or + can be used to add 2 or 1 to the skill result. Leftover dice with e or h give one Energy or Hit point. You can use 2 Energy to modify a die by one face up or down after the roll.

The game takes a couple of hours the first time and probably faster once you get used to it. We lost the first game though it was fairly close. We activated the boss too soon (there is a separate torch track for phase 2 so could have spent more of phase 1 getting stuff). Also you can get to a point where a couple of adventurers are unconscious, on their turn they can only recover (+3 hp +5 energy), torches tick down then monsters go and knock the adventurers down again so we wasted a turn or two getting out of that.

It is a fun game. Because there are a good number of characters and bosses it has some replay-ability so I guess three or four playings before it gets boring which is good for $35 and all the cards and cardboard components.

Spot Reviews 08/19/22

macOS App - VVV (Virtual Volumes View) (2020) [-] Apple Insider has an article on disk catalogers and they list three. VVV is a free one though it's a basic generic UI not even sure it's Windows. Building a catalog of my Drobo took a few minutes and the file view is about what you'd expect. Search was poor: File Name (equal, starts with, contains), Extension (space-separate extensions to match), Description (equal, starts with, contains). Useful for "does this file exist?" in an offline volume but little else.

Movie - The Matrix Resurrections (2021) [/] This is a sequel to the trilogy and remains in continuity (which is nice to the alternative of a reboot). A bunch of years later Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) find themselves in an advanced simulation run by The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris) who is trying to find a way to harness their power. More action, gunfights and explosions and the storyline avoids jumping the shark.

Podcast - Pushing Cardboard (2021) [/] A tabletop wargaming podcast that so far is ten episodes and mostly listenable. Yet I don't remember his style or what games he likes so maybe it's not that interesting if it doesn't leave an impression on me.

Movie - Gravity (2013) [/]

Gravity is a space disaster film. While working on repairing a satellite astronauts Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), Lt Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), and three other space shuttle crew are caught by thousand-mph speeding debris filled from satellites being destroyed due to a anti-sat test.

Everyone is killed except for Stone and Kowalski who have to make their way to the International Space Station 100 km away and later when that fails a Chinese space station a similar distance away. Unfortunately Dr Stone will be alone for the second half of the movie and since this is her first mission she'll have to improvise and remember her recent training...

I watched Gravity when it first came out in a theater and it was a really good movie. It's still good though not as impressive on my iPad. There are many panoramic space scenes that don't translate well and this is a very visual story. It's not a perfect film but a nice space thriller that's still entertaining.

Apple Arcade - Outlanders (2019) [+]

Outlanders is a village-building game set on an island. You have people (adults and kids) which you assign to tasks (just the adults, kids grow up to become working adults and old adults die). Gather resources, make building, produce items that help you do the next cycle of resources, building, production.

Meanwhile you have to balance the society: keeping people happy (employed, fed, not overworked). Buildings accommodate one to three (usually two) workers and idle works are unhappy (so sometimes I leave buildings around even though no useful work to do because all nearby resources exploited). Meanwhile everyone eats one unit a day and in general they like variety (you can live on mushrooms but it's not a happy time). People going hungry are unhappy and eventually starve.

Happy people make more children and everybody needs to be housed (not having a home is unhappiness). Those children need to be fed and when they grow up in a few days they need to work (aging cycle is greatly sped up otherwise it doesn't make sense in a level that runs for two or three months). Keep your population from exploding beyond your ability to feed, house and employ.

The levels have a variety of objectives. In one your group is shipwrecked, starting with nothing, and have 40 days to survive and build a boat. In another a storm has devastated a big village now you have a bunch of hungry people and need to concentrate on survival. The third or fourth level you are a small religious group building a huge statue -- you have plenty of time but have to keep the population at a dozen or less (in the end, you can go over and some people will die of old age but it's uncertain).

Graphics are simple with a painterly style so it doesn't have much details. You can pan, rotate, zoom to look around (which can get a bit annoying). You can pause the game and still allocate people to buildings, or speed it up to x5 (only) and night time goes at x5 with everybody going to sleep. You can sit back and watch the people moving about working which gives you zen moments but soon you need to get back to managing people.

Overall it's a really nice village building game and the levels are fairly challenging (I usually fail the first time but it's a learning experience, for example my people starved because farms, though they create lots of food, do it at the end of a multi-day cycle and you can starve in between cycles unless you have multiple farms or a great secondary food source).

Spot Reviews 08/12/22

Blog - Teylen's RPG Corner [+] I don't have an opinion on his blog other than his Crowdfunding Collection entries which are weekly to monthly updates of table-top RPG projects. He has it by categories with pictures, short description and links. Tightly focused on the Kickstarter/IndieGoGo sub-topics that I'm interested in. He's been doing it for several years and is very consistent.

Novel - Count Zero (1986) [+] William Gibson's second novel in the Sprawl Trilogy has three plots that intertwine at the end a bit. (1) Corporate merc soldier Turner leads a team to extract a scientist from a megacorp but it's his daughter instead Turner decides to try to protect her from both her parent corp and his employers. (2) First time hacker Bobby Newmark, self-styled "Count Zero", almost dies in his first run but is saved by a mysterious AI and now people are after him wanting to know what he knows. (3) Former art gallery owner Marly Krushkova is hired by the richest man on Earth, Josef Virek, to find the creator of these mysterious art boxes... I read this book after the other two and the connections are kind of loose though there is a bit of an arc but main characters don't recur. It's a good read and foundational for the cyberpunk genre.

TV Show - First Kill #1.1 to #1.3 (2022) [-] High school drama about a Juliette Fairmont (Sarah Catherine Hook), a vampire from a distinguished lineage, becomes infatuated with Calliope Burns (Imani Lewis) who turns out to be a vampire hunter from a family of hunters. They fall in love and have to hide their secret from each other's families... Great concept but definitely aimed at much younger audience than me.

Apple TV+ - Dickinson s2 and s3 (2021) [+]

Dickinson is a half-hour sitcom on Apple TV+ that ran for three seasons. I previously reviewed it for season one and I liked it. Season two and three got even better because they doubled down on the weirdness (including an episode where Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and her sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) time travel to the 1950's).

The show follows Emily Dickinson and her family living in Amherst, Massachusetts. Each episode uses one or two of her poems as a theme and they're read out some time during the episode (Dickinson wrote almost 2k poems but few were published in her lifetime).

The show tackles modern social issues through the faux "modern" Amherst and the last season goes more into it as it takes place a few months into the American Civil War. It's got a pretty quirky style and that's outside the times when Emily is daydreaming (more like hallucinating).

The one thing I learned is that she probably had a love affair of some kind with her lifelong friend Sue (Ella Hunt) before and after Sue marries Emily's brother Austin (Adrian Enscoe). I thought that was made up but apparently probably true based on how Sue was edited out of her collected poems when first published by Lavinia.

The whole cast is great and includes father Edward (Toby Huss) and mother Emily Norcross Dickinson (Jane Krakowski).

It's a much better show than I expected and overall worthwhile watching.

Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series v6 to v8

I've written about the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series before. I recently read the next three published books,

v6 The Maps of the Wilderness (2016) [+]
v7 The Maps of Fredericksburg (2018) [+]
v8 The Maps of the Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign (2020) [/]

All by Bradley M Gottfried. Wilderness was interesting because I knew little about it and it was basically a 2-day battle. The maps are very good at identifying units even though it was a very confusing battle to those involved. Fredericksburg gives a good account of how piecemeal the attacks were and again the maps are quite helpful.

Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign the maps were ok. I think because less and smaller units and lots of skirmishes the detail is often lacking. Still, there is a nice account of Buford's defense at the first day of Gettysburg.

Writing is good enough. Fairly clear and detailing what's going on with some asides but not intended to be scholarly work sans the maps.

Hardcover books with colors maps and quality paper. Definitely still a worthwhile series to continue collecting

Spot Reviews 08/05/22

Apple Arcade - EarthNight (2019) [-] A complicated endless runner where you can double jump, speed up and slow down, dash forward and dash down. Pick up stuff, jump on bad guys, kill a dragon at the end of the level. The view port is kept small so a lot of times you're jumping up or dashing down on faith that there'll be something worthwhile to get which I found frustrating. Also I'm not a fan of endless runners.

Apple Arcade - Don't Bug Me! (2019) [?] Tower defense + FPS non-moving shooting. You're on Mars waiting for rescue meanwhile Martian creatures attack. Collect solar power then build automated defenses. You can also move to a sector and do manual defense where you are behind a gun shooting at incoming Martians. Sort of uninspiring gameplay and I didn't really give it much of a chance hence the ? rating.

Apple Arcade - Atone: Heart of the Elder Tree (2019) [?] Norse themed bardic RPG-sort of game. Nice 8-bit graphics. Wander around talking to people and doing puzzles and battling Guitar Hero style where you have to match the beats of a song (which I'm very bad at by the way). I only played for half an hour so not sure if the story and doing stuff is interesting enough.

And that's all the Apple Arcade games being discontinued.

TV Show - The Book of Boba Fett s1 (2022) [+]

The Book of Boba Fett is a spin-off of The Mandalorian and focuses on Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and right-hand assassin Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) as he tries to fill the power vacuum left by the death of Jabba the Hutt. It's difficult for Fett since he's a bounty hunter and doesn't think like a crime lord, which clashes with the other Hutts, the town mayor, and a semi-rival crime syndicate that decides to declare war on him int he last few episodes of the seven episode first season.

Meanwhile we get several scenes in the first three episodes of how he escaped the big worm he fell into during Return of the Jedi, how a Tuscan clan took him in and taught him their ways, and how he tried to help them and got them all killed instead. There is also one episode just on The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and the time he tries ti visit baby Yoda, an episode that also features Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) but neither Fett nor Shand.

I did like this series. I found The Mandalorian's spaghetti western feel get kind of old and if not for baby Yoda and guest stars I would have written it off. But with Fett we get a more visible character and he has a goal of his own not forced on him like with the Mandalorian. Also it's cool to see Shand be a bad-ass who definitely comes off as more dangerous than Fett.

Whether they can continue doing well in season two remains to be seen but I'm looking forward to it.

Comics - Madame Mirage (2008) [+]

Madame Mirage was a 6-issue limited series comic from Image and published by Top Cow. It's set in its own universe where superhero and villains were all jailed by the government, but mostly it was heroes that turned themselves in most villains just went underground.

Aggressive Solutions International is a corporate consulting firm that uses undercover super villains in various illegal operations. They start to be threatened by the mysterious Madame Mirage, an illusion-based femme fatale-looking heroine who is bent on destroying AGI and if that means killing all its operatives then so be it.

Issue three has a cool plot twist because Madame Mirage is not all as she seems. Eventually the series climaxes with a big showdown between Mirage and the AGI executives she's bent on murdering. And finally a poignant ending as her plot is resolved even though there is no happily ever after for her...

Good art and interesting story with ok characters and I think the story was more about action sequences and Mirage doing the seemingly impossible than it was about deep character motivations. Overall pretty well done and I don't think there were any followup stories so that's it for the character.