Kevin C. Wong

February 2023

Tabletop Game - Naval Battles (2004) [/]

Naval Battles (not sure that's the exact name) is an old game that Dave S has a copy of and we've played a fair amount. Very simple WW2 naval combat and not actually all that interesting.

Dan Verssen made Modern Naval Battles (1989) which takes the concept and adds more complexity while moving it to modern naval units of the time. Naval Battles (2004) is another Dan Verssen design and brings it back to WW2 though not sure how the rules differ.

Each player creates their fleet with points (we played a three player game and I was Japan while the other two were Germany and USA). Then you put out your fleet in three lines. Draw five cards. On each turn you lay out your cards for attack then the defender(s) can play defense cards then resolve your attacks and draw back to five.

Most ships have guns of 5" to 18" caliber. You have ammo cards of different caliber so to attack you play an ammo card on a ship that fire that caliber. The ammo cards also say from which row you can fire from and which enemy rows you can hit. Smaller calibers you have to fire from your front row to hit front row enemy ships. Bigger calibers can fire from front two rows to hit front two rows. Third row can't fire and can't be targeted by guns. If a gun is not defended against via a card then it automatically hits and does the indicated damage on the ammo card.

Many ships have torpedoes and submarines have torpedoes too. For ships only front line can fire on front line. Submarines start out submerged and can't be attacked except by depth charge. Surface a submarine to fire a torpedo on any ship in any rank (one way to target that aircraft carrier in the back rank) but afterwards the submarine can be attacked by anyone until your next turn when you can submerge it again. Torpedoes are d6 roll to hit and any hit sinks the target. Since it's a d6 roll ships and submarines can have torpedo modifiers for better or worse torpedo platforms.

Aircraft carriers have one aircraft attack which they use for free each turn. They can target any ship and it's a d6 hit sinks target. But the farther back the target is the harder the to hit number (which is printed on the CV card so different carriers have different skills), if there is a defending CV it gets a roll to disrupt one air attack, and the target might have an AA modifier. Some action cards represent land-based aircraft that gives you one to three air attacks.

Besides ammo, torpedo and aircraft cards the action deck has various defense cards (e.g. negate any damage or cause a small gun (11" or less) to miss). There are reinforcement cards to bring in 5 or so points of ships (though that could mean more points for other players). There is a card to camouflage your fleet so you can't attack or be attacked for a turn.

Our player game was fairly fun with a bit of ganging up on the leader. You score points for sinking a ship (so kill stealing is a thing) and 15 points win the game. Losing all ships for a range of calibers is pretty rough and no CV when other players have CVs is also rough. But that also points to targeting strategies so that's nice.

Compared to the old Naval battles the 2004 version is better while still not being too complicated and giving the feel of WW2 naval combat. Still mostly a beer and pretzels game but entertaining nonetheless.

Spot Reviews 02/24/23

Sunny Select Sesame Hamburger Rolls [/] These are Lucky store-brand buns. A bit small, a bit light, but cheap. Would not recommend.

Restaurant - Amakai Japanese Cuisine, San Jose [/] Kind of a small place, not really set up for parties larger than four. I had chicken katsu. Sophia wanted plain rolls (not saucy ones) so we got spicy tuna roll (spicy all right) and salmon mango. Everything was ok but on a busy Friday night sushi was a 40 min wait hence why I had chicken katsu.

Netflix Movie - Operation Mincemeat (2022) [-] British WW2 drama about how Operation Mincemeat was developed. Mincemeat was a disinformation plan to convince the Germans Sicily was not an invasion target. Colin Firth plays Ewen Montagu who is one of the two officers in charge of the operation and two hazards are that his brother is a communist sympathizer and might be feeding them information and he's a married man (though apparently marriage is on the rocks) possibly getting romantically involved with one of his subordinates, Jean (Kelly Macdonald)... Watched an hour, it's kind of boring.

Movie - Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) [/]

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is the third Ant-Man film. This is the first movie of Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase Five where Phase 1 to 3 were The Infinity Saga and Phase 4 to 6 are The Multiverse Saga. In this film Scott "Ant-Man" Lang (Paul Rudd), daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), Hope "Wasp" van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) are sucked into the Quantum Realm where they find themselves separated in a strange land.

Scott and Cassie run into a group of refugees hiding from the Conqueror. They almost make friends when Scott mentions the two are looking for Janet. Meanwhile Janet sort of takes over the other group as she reveals the backstory of what happened during her thirty years here. The main thing being that she encountered Kang (Jonathan Majors), a time traveler exiled to the Quantum Realm. She helped him fix his ship so they could both escape but then discovered he intended to conquer the multiverse and raze any universes that defied him, so she disabled his ship and fled to form a resistance until she was rescued.

Scott and Cassie are captured by Kang who gets Scott to go fetch his ships power core stuck in a quantum nexus. Then there's a bit of a betrayal. Hope rescues Scott. The group rallies the free peoples to attack Kang's fortress where he is amassing an army to invade the human world. Huge fight scene where Kang is narrowly defeated and the humans return to their world...

Kind of like the last Dr Strange movie this one has lots of alien vistas and rich colors. The story is fine though we only get a bit of new characters and little development for Hope and Hank. Jonathan Majors is really good as Kang, almost reasonable until you cross his dark side. It does feel more like a setup movie than a movie about Ant-Man and family. Overall I was entertained but not one of the best MCU experiences.

RPG - Bunkers & Badasses (2021) [/]

Bunkers & Badasses is a light, D&D-like table-top role-playing game based on the fictional game that Tiny Tina runs in the Borderlands computer game. I played a session during DunDraCon and the scenario was set in a dusty town in Banshee so no fantasy elements.

Your character has a class, an archetype, and a background. The class is the core and is based on one of the Borderlands character types, I was an Assassin. This gave me an Action Skill: Deception where I can do an action to cloak and create a decoy hologram until my next attack, which if it hits upgrades hits to crits (not quite that impressive because sniper rifles tend to get only one hit).

My archetype was Deadeye which gave me a feat: Line of Sight (+1 Search checks with sniper rifle equipped).
My background was Blade which gave me The Blade (you inherited a legendary sword, stats included).

You have four statistics: Accuracy, Damage, Speed, Mastery which seem to be from 0 to 6+ even numbers. These stat values derive modifiers of (stat value divided by 2). So my Accuracy of 6 means I have a +3 modifier.

There are six checks: Interact, Talk, Insight, Sneak, Search, Traverse. Each has a statistic modifier and a miscellaneous modifier to get the total modifier.

You have four skills each with three levels. At start you get one skill point so one check. I did Head Shot (+2 crit damage per skill level). The skills are individual to each PC and I'm not sure where they come from (class must be it but maybe archetype and background too).

Checks are 1d20 + check modifier. If you declare an outlandish action you get to roll the Badass Die which is a big d20 with 3 1's and 3 20's. Rolling the Badass Die gives you a badass point with another one if you succeeded. Badass points can be spent on any check, including other PC's checks, to give them +1 modifier per point spent. (Conversely GM gets mayhem points or something that can be spent to introduce new enemies or obstacles.)

I had Health 16 and Shields 15 (recharge 5). Health varies and at 0 you are out. I think everyone started with the basic Shields 15 which, if you are not damaged in a turn, recharge 5 points. You can also have grenades and potions and weapons.

Each weapon is a card which gives you the stats (attacks and damage). There is a to-hit table so depending on your roll the higher you roll the more hits you get in terms of normal hits and crits. Normal hits roll the damage die and crits roll d12 damage. Weapons can have elemental effects -- I had a sniper rifle that did electrical (2x damage versus shields) and corrosive (2x damage versus flesh) so very good except versus armor. There is no ammo and instead if you fumble you're out of ammo and have to spend an action to reload.

Combat is the basic move+action system though you can do an extra action but the GM gets a mayhem point. The deluxe RPG comes with figures and battle map (it's just a blank grid map) so combat can get fairly tactical.

Our session had a lot of talking and interacting at a bar with a small bar fight then a big fight at the end. It's a simple d20-like system and if you're given a character sheet where you have only the choice of where to put that one skill point then it's easy to pick up and start. Seems like an ok rpg (and the rulebook includes three adventures) especially if you liked the Tiny Tina DLCs.

Spot Reviews 02/17/23

Dr. Praeger's Organic California Veggie Burger [+] For veggie burgers these are pretty good. "Carrots, peas, zucchini, onion and spinach are just a few of the veggies in this classic plant-based veggie burger..." You fry it six minutes per side. It's a bit fragile but if you're careful the burger stays intact and since it's fried it tastes fairly good.

Movie - Hyena Road (2015) [/] This is a Canadian film about a Canadian unit serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Their main assignment is to make sure the Hyena road is built and to do that they have to befriend the locals and deal with Taliban insurgents. Our hero Warrant Officer Ryan Sanders (Rossif Sutherland) leads his sniper team on missions to protect the road while secretly romancing Captain Jennifer Bowman (Christine Horne) who I guess is his mission operator. The main plot becomes trying to befriend The Wolf (Aqqalu Meekis), a retired and still legendary Afghan who fought the Soviets and is no friend of the Taliban. Military Intelligence officer Captain Pete Mitchell (Paul Gross) recruits Sanders to help him find and talk to the Wolf... Small budget with some good action scenes. Not especially gripping though; took me a few sessions to watch it all the way through.

Netflix Movie - Blade of the 47 Ronin (2022) [-] A sequel to the Keanu Reeves movie though wasn't really necessary. Rebellious girl Luna (Anna Akana) is the last descendant that can wield the magic katana to kill the Big Bad. Three female samurai are tasked with protecting her... It's got a made-for-tv low budget quality so unfortunately the action is not really cool.

Apple TV+ - Mythic Quest s3 (2022) [/]

Mythic Quest is a half hour workplace comedy set at a small game software company devoted to their massively-multiplayer online game Mythic Quest. It's one of those comedies where it's mostly about how the zany characters interact with each other. Season one and two sort of themed about the difficulties of creating new content to maintain player base and how influencers can kill your numbers.

At the end of season two Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney), creator of Mythic Quest and founder of the studio, and Rachel (Ashly Burch), lead developer, get bored with their job and decide to leave and form a new game studio. In this season Ian and Rachel create a new game, try to get funding, lose their focus and have to pivot while very slowly maybe there's a relationship developing between them. Meanwhile back in the old studio David Brittlesbee (David Hornsby) is now the head and his big project is the Mythic Quest movie while the game itself is slowly losing numbers.

I feel the first season or so was very good. Season two maybe it got a bit old hence the big change in season three (and season two ended at a good point should the series had been cancelled). Season three the changes are maybe not enough to bring it back to season one freshness but at least it's a different look at game studio antics. I guess since they knew the show was renewed for season three and four at the same time they could do a two-phase story so season three ends in a bit of a surprise turn. Maybe with season four these two seasons will be better.

Anyways, not trying to be too negative. I guess I feel this series would have been better as a one-season and done story rather than a multi-year.

Podcast - Between Two Cairns (2021) [/]

Between Two Cairns is mainly a table-top RPG product review podcast, with RPG advice thrown in. Hosts Yochai Gal (Cairn RPG) and Brad Kerr are published indie RPG authors so they bring that perspective into their product reviews. For the most part they review OSR and indie RPG adventures and supplements.

I draw comparisons with the similar Fear of a Black Dragon which I love and also reviews OSR (and old RPG) products. BTC reviews one product per week so frequently it's a read-through review rather than a played-session review (FBD does once a month and usually one or both hosts have run the adventure). Both sites review interesting products so they don't waste reviews by reviewing trash.

BTC is a lot more nitpicky and it seems their idea of good reviewing means pointing out any flaws in a product (even if it's just poor art, bad editing, and/or bad organization). FBD sometimes points out flaws of a product but tends to concentrate on the good points and the innovations. In general this means that if it's reviewed in FBD it must be good whereas BTC may be not so even when reviewing the same products. BTC does love physical books though and really likes nice printed stuff (for example, books printed on special paper or unusual formats).

I will keep listening to Between Two Cairns inasmuch as they review stuff I'd be interested in playing or running so it's good for discoverability.

Spot Reviews 02/10/23

Novel - The Missing and the Lost (2018) [+] This story (about 100 pages if it were a normal mass market paperback) is set in the third setting of The Yellow King RPG. The world went mad in the 1850's and now a hundred years later America is recovering after toppling the emperors that had ruled with iron hands for decades. A former resistance cell, now civilians, realize a former regime officer is on the loose and wanting to reactivates gates to Carcosa. They have to stop him but can they deal with his magic and a possible traitor in the government? It's a first-person story and fairly engaging. Since it's fairly short the plot moves along fairly quickly and a has an RPG players' ending (i.e. a clever trick that short circuits the final battle).

Movie - I, Robot (2004) [/] Rewatched this action/mystery movie recently. Even though not really based on any specific Isaac Asimov robot story it still has that ethos where robots are the bright future except for what happens when their programming takes a weird turn. I still like the movie and I had forgotten about the plot twist so that was fun. With Will Smith as homicide detective Del Spooner (new character) and Bridget Moynahan playing Dr. Susan Calvin (who was in the robot stories).

Trader Joe's Chunky Guacamole (Made with Greek Yogurt) [-] This tastes exactly how it's titled, like guacamole with a slightly-sour yogurt. Not really that appealing to be honest. Good consistency though, creamy and not thick.

Apple TV+ Series - See (2019) [+]

I finished watching the third and last season of See, a post-apocalyptic science fiction drama on Apple TV+ that ran three seasons at eight episodes per season.

Humanity lost the ability of sight (all at once, gradually, not sure though probably happened fairly quickly) and civilization fell. The series is set probably a couple hundred years later in the Eastern United States (some of the names are corruptions of old names like Alkenny for Alleghany). Baba Voss (Jason Momoa) is leader of the Alkenny, a small mountain tribe. He and his wife Maghra (Hera Hilmar) have a terrible secret: their two children, Kofun (Archie Madekwe) and Haniwa (Nesta Cooper), are sighted and sighted people are treated like witches to be hunted down and burned.

Their peaceful existence is shattered when the Payan Army arrives, the Payans being the neighboring kingdom. Witchfinder Tamacti Jun (Christian Camargo) leads his forces and they've come for the witches living with the Alkenny. The tribe fights back but is forced to flee and season one is mostly Baba, Maghra and their children fleeing from Tamacti Jun while Queen Sibeth (Sylvia Hoeks) of Paya deals with an insurrection from her nobles.

Season two turns it around as Maghra becomes Queen of the Payans but now the Trivantes, a much bigger kingdom, threatens to conquer the Payan Kingdom and it turns out the Trivantian general Edo Voss (Dave Bautista) is both Baba's brother who hates Baba and secretly uses sighted assets.

Season three continues that line. Edo was defeated but his lieutenant Tormada (David Hewlett) gains control of Edo's faction and with a fearsome new weapon (bombs) he plans to conquer Paya himself and eventually allies with former Queen Sibeth and her small following.

It's a low-tech series. It does the blindness part fairly well and seems sort of realistic though the fight scenes are a bit cinematic. It's quite bloody and graphic though it kind of limits it to three or four episodes each season. The overall story is ok and each main character has their arc. Ending is fitting and leaves a few questions open for a subsequent series should there be one, even a series that is set a generation later.

Overall a pretty good series.

[Previous review after watching season one.]

Apple Arcade Games

Apple Arcade - Bleak Sword (2019) [+] Arcade low-bit-graphics fighting game. You are a warrior with a sword and shield making his way to fight the Big Bad (who wields the Bleak Sword). Each level you fight opponents in a small arena blocking, dodging, and attacking. Works well with touch and controller. I like the retro graphics.

Apple Arcade - Agent Intercept (2019) [/] You are a secret agent driving an experimental supercar in this arcade driving game with a sort of Spy Hunter feel. Use boost and crash into cars, shoot them with rockets, avoid enemy attacks. A god controller game.

Apple Arcade - Nightmare Farm (2019) [-] I guess a farming simulator: plant crops and get produce, then use the produce to buy stuff and so on up the chain. I'm not familiar with this genre and the help hints are all cartoons no text and I couldn't figure out how to play the game. Nice graphics though.

Spot Reviews 02/03/23

Trader Joe's Organic Chunky Homestyle Guacamole [/] This is ok guacamole. Very thick which means lots of avocado but too thick for my tastes.

Podcast - Here's the Catch (2019) [/] "The Athletic's David Lombardi, Matt Barrows and former 49ers defensive end Dennis Brown come with a weekly podcast covering the San Francisco 49ers, featuring regular guests and hard-hitting analysis." It's a bit sports talk sort of podcast, not high on technical analysis. Lombardi and Barrows are reporters and having Brown there is a good contrast. I listened to the first dozen episodes (they started with the start of the 2019 season when the 49ers eventually went to the Super Bowl) and this season starting from a couple games before the playoffs. Interesting conversation, though I still prefer Candlestick Chronicles because I feel the two hosts there are bit more everyman.

TV Series - Night Court #1.1/#1.2 (2023) [-] This is a revival/sequel to the original sitcom that aired in the mid-80's. Judge Abby Stone (Melissa Rauch) is assigned to the Night Court, where her father Harry used to work. Her public defender quits so she recruits former district attorney and her father's friend Dan Fielding (John Larroquette) to fill in. It's sort of the same formula as before, a bunch of zany characters bouncing off each other (though I don't think there is a "straight man" for them to contrast with, which I think Christine Sullivan was in the original series) and judge Stone getting to the humanity behind the cases. It's still a good concept but sitcoms are tough to pull off nowadays and the jokes here are really bad.

Anime - Cinderella Nine (2019) [+]

Cinderella Nine was apparently a mobile game (which I can't find so I suppose it died) which spawned this 12-episode anime series about a group of girls in a mostly female high school (though I think they only show male students once when they mention it used to be an all female-high school so boys are new) who decided to form a hardball baseball club.

Tsubasa (Nozomi Nishida) is the leader. She played in a mostly boys team and they won the junior league Japanese championship last summer. Now she just wants to play more baseball so is willing to start a new club in that pursuit.

Tomoe ( (Honoka Inoue) is Tusabasa's best friend who joins the team but has little skill. Eventually there is a dramatic showdown because Tsubasa doesn't push her best friend to be the best she can be.

Ryō (Reina Kondō) wants to be a pro hardball player and her team lost to Tsubasa's team in the championship. At first hostile to Tsubasa but is won over because Tsubasa is genuinely enthusiastic and supportive of everyone on the team.

Yūki (Saki Minami) tall shy girl who joins the team with Akane (Yumiri Hanamori), a short shy girl. They kind of go in opposite trajectories because turns out Yūki has a good left-handed pitch but Akane try as she might is only a middling outfielder and gets relegated to backup.

There are other girls who join the team as the series progresses, mostly unfamiliar with hardball but willing to try it out. There are three games depicted: an exhibition match with another relatively new-to-hardball school but with more experienced players, another exhibition match against the top school's third stringers, and then to the national tournament where they play the first school in a rematch for real this time.

The hardball play is good, showing off strategies. The characters are good and it's all wholesome. Animation is pretty good too. This series reminds me of Princess Nine which I also loved.