Kevin C. Wong

June 2021

TV Series - For All Mankind s2 (2021) [+]

For All Mankind is an Apple TV+ alternate history series wherein the Soviet Union managed to beat USA to the Moon. Season one was about the early space program and with the Soviet Union maintaining a lead how that NASA, for example creating a women's astronaut program (which I think they did historically) and sending women into space (which they did not historically until much later). Season one covers a few years so we the first Moon bases, one for each side only a few hours from each other.

Season two leaps a decade forward to the mid 1980s. Reagan vs Andropov as the Cold War escalates. Each side still only has one Moon base though much bigger. We don't see the Soviet base but the American one is several modules and maybe a dozen plus personnel.

After the Soviets take over a USA mining site (by simply moving out the American equipment and moving in their own while the Americans were back in their base) the Americans send up armed Marines and take the mining site back by force. There is a shooting incident on the Moon which exacerbates tensions on Earth.

Meanwhile our main characters are a decade older. Edward Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) is head of the astronaut program and says who goes on which mission. Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is returning to Earth after her final Moon mission, ready to take on a new role as assistant head of NASA. Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) has spent a decade trying to deal with PTSD of his last Moon mission. Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) heads NASA ops and tries to make sure the historic handshake in space happens amidst security and political concerns from higher ups.

Actually the series has good character stories to go along with the cool space stuff. With only 10 episodes a season the plot lines move quickly. I'm still not sure if Ronald D Moore can keep the series exciting without it falling off a cliff like what he did with Battlestar Galactica but I am hopeful.

iOS - Star Trek Fleet Command (2018) [+]

Star Trek Fleet Command is a free-to-play 4X game set in the Star Trek Universe, more or less in the post Next Generation movies + Kelvin universe timelines.You start with a base and a ship. Explore star systems. Complete missions you pick up (and some missions affect your faction status: help the Klingons and they like you more but other factions may like you less). Generate and mine resources. Research technology (there are six categories with simple but deep trees). Upgrade your crew, ships and starbase.

There is a whole lot to do in this game and you can pretty much spend your time constantly in the game, at least for the first few days (it can slow down once your build and research queues get stuck with long jobs). You start out as an independent in neutral space with the Federation, Romulan and Klingons a week or two of solid playing away (you have a player level and each system has a level so you can tell how tough it is). The missions are varied and have plot lines with the same characters continuing to ask you to do missions.

On the downside there is a fairly advantageous PvP aspect. Killing ships can get you loot boxes and that includes killing player ships. But also killing player ships captures most of their cargo, if they had any (which means mining ships become targets). You can also attack starbases for experience and probably loot. I leveled up to the PvP part and got attacked a few times when I left my ship idle too long. Once I level up to where people can attack my base I can see sleepless nights and because of that I'm quitting the game after three or four days of play.

The game is almost good enough as a standalone solo game of 4X plus exploration, that's how much effort they put into it. Still, the freemium model and PvP aspects means this is not a game for me.

Spot Reviews 06/25/21

ButtercuP Diner, Walnut Creek - Fried Chicken meal [+] Yeah it's diner fried chicken but it was really good. Half fried chicken with mashed potatoes and squash/zucchini. Fried chicken pieces were big, crispy on the outside and fairly juicy on the inside. Loved it.

Toyota Walnut Creek, Service Department [+] I come here to get my car serviced. It's a dealership so pricey but good job and friendly staff. Waiting area was moved and remodeled so it's more modern setup than 70's style or you can get shuttle service (never used it). I've never had any complaints in 15 years.

Movie - Kim Possible (2019) [/] A live-action film with Sadie Stanley as Kim Possible and Sean Giambrone as her sidekick Ron Stoppable. It's not too bad but I guess a movie-length story is very slow compared to a half-hour episode.

Movie - Speed (1994) [+]

In Speed, LAPD officers Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels) foil the plans of a mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) who then plans his revenge on the two. To do that he places a bomb on a commuter bus that activates once the bus crosses 55 mph and detonates when the bus slows below that speed. Jack manages to put in a bit of a wildcard when he manages to board the bus after a high speed chase. He then has to find a way to save the passengers while plucky passenger Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock) drives the bus after the regular driver is shot.

For the budget there is an awful lot of explosions and car crashes. Jack and Annie have good chemistry and Dennis Hopper is kind of brilliant as a bumbling bomber who turns off the facade when it gets serious.

I recently rewatched this and it holds up as an entertaining low-budget action film from the credits flashing as we go down an elevator shaft to the final kiss between Jack and Annie.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game (2016) [/]

Arkham Horror: The Card Game tries to distill the Arkham Horror board game into a campaign of 1 to 2 hour adventures for up to four people. Each adventure takes place in an area demarcated by location cards with connections. Each card has clues to find and often a special effect (e.g. Arkham University where you can turn in clues for something or vice-versa, I forgot which).

Each character has a custom deck. At start of game you draw five cards which are of various types:

  • Resources - used to pay for other cards
  • Items or Allies - which you pay with resources then go on your player mat
  • Special Actions - which you tend to also pay with resources
  • Drawbacks - each deck has two bad cards which are played when drawn and you usually have to spend time and resources to get rid of them (or live with the negative effects)

A turn consists of:

  • Players move in any order (3 actions: move, play card, fight, search for clues)
  • Players draw 2 cards and get 1 resource
  • Monsters go
  • Each player draws a Mythos card (usually a bad effect, sometimes can be negated with a skill check or resource spend)
  • See if bad storyline advances

There are two storyline decks (usually 3 card each). The bad storyline advances when there are enough Mythos points in play (usually 1 per turn and maybe some on monsters, which you can kill to remove their Mythos points). The good storyline advances usually by spending clue tokens. A bad ending leaves the group with permanent bad effects and it's on to the next scenario. A good ending can have the opposite, though it's more like you don't get bad effects and by the nature of the good ending following scenarios are bit easier.

After an adventure each PC gets experience points which can be spent to upgrade cards or replace cards. In general each character has a limited selection of decks to choose new cards.

I've played this game with my brother using Tabletop Simulator. Even playing on TTS (which is fast for setup/teardown if you have the game pack but slow when the game is being played) a game takes two or three hours. Deck building is particularly slow with TTS.

We found that with two characters (the default with a starter set) it's a tough game. Once we switched to four characters it was more doable even though the difficulty scales. Characters can get stuck where they don't have the right skills to get out of a jam and with three other characters around there's a better chance that help is nearby.

I found this game fairly fun. It has enough RPG elements to make it interesting but not enough to make it engrossing. An adventure plays fast so even if things go horribly wrong it'll be over quick (though you then have subsequent adventures where you are handicapped -- not sure this is better than playing one long game). As usual for FFG production value is great and rules are a little ambiguous.

Overall it's a game worth playing, more so if you are a Call of Cthulhu fan.

(Note: as usual this review is from memory and I'm sure I got many things a bit off and most terms certainly so.)

Spot Reviews 06/18/21

Movie - The Space Between Us (2017) [/] The first boy born on Mars, Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), sneaks off to Earth and with the help of his friend Tulsa (Britt Robertson) searches for his birth father. Meanwhile NASA and the government are after him because his heart will burst if he stays on Earth too long... It's a young adult science fiction romance novel brought to screen. It's an ok story with some good points (I do love when he's truthful yet Tulsa doesn't believe he's from Mars).

Food - Gorton's Crunchy Breaded Fish Fillets [/] These were pretty good. Large enough that it doesn't feel like all you're eating is breading and not dry inside.

Food - Tyson Batter Dipped Chicken Breast Tenders [/] I bought these at the same time as the fish fillets. These are more like chicken fingers. They're ok though not as good as the breaded fish fillets. I was looking for something more like fried chicken and this is the closest I found.

Movie - Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) [+]

Wonder Woman 1984 as the title suggests is set in 1984 which means that Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) has been living in Man's World for seven decades, still undercover helping people. She works at a major museum and makes friends with gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) but Diana is awfully lonely.

Enter Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), evangelical businessman who desperately needs a certain relic to save his business. A relic that the museum has and once he has that relic he starts granting wishes. Barbara fulfills her wish of becoming as good as Diana and unknowingly also means becoming as good as Wonder Woman, turning Barbara into Cheetah. Meanwhile Diana gets her wish as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) reappears in her life inhabiting the body of a man of the same age (only Diana can see it's Steve).

As the world turns into chaos due to Lord's wish granting ability Wonder Woman has to stop him but to do that she must give up her wish and Steve. Can she do it?...

There was something magical about the first film. This sequel is good but not quite as good. Still, the 1980's scenes are fairly nostalgic though more 80's than what I experienced. Overall an entertaining movie.

GURPS World War II Line [/]

I've written about GURPS World War II RPG and three of the nation sourcebooks. Here's an overview of the line:


A good self-contained GURPS RPG including modular vehicle rules and supporting characters from the five major combatants.

Iron Cross - Germany
Dogfaces - United States
All the King's Men - United Kingdom
Red Tide - Soviet Union

128-page sourcebooks concentrating on one nation. Each expands on characters, equipment and vehicles as well as history of that nation during the war. There was never a Japan sourcebook.

Return to Honor - France
Frozen Hell - Finland
Grim Legions - Italy
Michael's Army - Romania
Doomed White Eagle - Poland
Hand of Steel - special forces

32 to 48 page supplements covering minor combatants. Pretty much the same sort of content as the major sourcebooks.

Motor Pool - vehicles

A big book of vehicles from trucks/tanks to fighters/bombers to naval ships. Does not redo the construction rules but does collect the various additions from previous books.

Leyte Gulf - Pacific naval battle
Their Finest Hour - The Battle of Britain

Two smaller supplements each covering a campaign. Mostly history, new character templates plus adventure ideas and PC roles.

Weird War II - ideas book
The Secret of the Gneisenau - adventure

Weird War II is the conspiracy/supernatural/alt-hist WWII book. What if secret societies are behind the various nations? What if vampires and werewolves exist? What if Japan wins the war? This is a book of ideas, mostly incompatible, to be used in adding weirdness to a WWII campaign.

Secret of the Gneisenau is the sole GURPS WWII published adventure and has a magical subplot so ties in with Weird War II.

Overall it's a lot of material and statistics for GURPS 3E and for the most part does not reference other GURPS products. Lack of adventures or campaigns (though lots of adventure and campaign ideas) would make it hard for me to run. So like other GURPS books and lines I probably wouldn't run it without a pool of external adventures I can use.

I'm planning on running this with Twilight: 2000 (not sure which edition yet) in a Twilight: 1945 campaign. That will combine GURPS characters and equipment with a well supported world (there are a heck of a lot of T2K scenarios in my complete run of Challenge magazine).

Spot Reviews 06/11/21

Movie - Redemption (2013) [-] Jason Statham as a down-on-his-luck AWOL ex-Special Forces who lucks into an empty well-to-do fella's apartment. As he starts to turn his life around he finds out his friend was murdered and decides to seek revenge... I watched half an hour but it's a rather plodding movie. I guess it's meant to be more of a drama than an action movie.

Podcast - Girls on Porn (2019) [/] Two women talking about adult videos. Each episode is a different topic with a sampling of top hits on various free porn sites. There is also one longer scene that is critiqued and sometimes there is a guest. I found the style a bit humdrum and only listened to a few episodes.

iOS App - Toast Takeout & Delivery [/] I used it to order Zachary's for pickup and it worked fine. It seems like a fairly typical restaurant ordering/delivery app.

Movie - Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars (2017) [/]

Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars is a sequel to Invasion which I saw a year and a half ago. Both are animated movies continuing the movie franchise history (though after the original movies all subsequent sequels have been fairly small-scoped).

After Invasion, Colonel Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is stuck training Martian recruits on Mars, recruits who are not really into the Bug War, as pretty much all of Mars is not into supporting the Bug War. So when the Bugs attack Mars they are caught unprepared and the whole planet is quickly overrun except for Rico and his team of recruits.

Meanwhile new Sky Marshal Amy Snapp (Emily Neves) wants to sacrifice Mars by exploding a planet cracker bomb that she had previously installed on Mars, just in case. General Carl Jenkins (Justin Doran) had discovered that the Bug attack is part of Snapp's plan and after he's captured it's up to Rico, his recruits and Captain Carmen Ibanez (Luci Christian) on the John A Warden to save Mars...

Dina Meyer returns as Dizzy Flores, though a sort of hallucination of Rico's. The animation is much better than Invasion and the plot feels a bit more epic than all the films since the original. This is a better movie than I expected.

macOS App - Brave (2019) [+]

Brave is a web browser based on Chrome adding privacy and ad-blocking features. Being based on Chrome means it's as good or bad as Chrome rendering web sites and running JavaScript -- which in my experience means it's as resource hungry as Chrome and at times has a hard time keeping up with multiple Twitch streams (half of it is probably that Twitch JS is not efficient).

Ad blocking seems ok and it does block a bunch of trackers. I didn't realize it uses Tor in private windows and I haven't tried that feature (though would conflict if I'm in my work network accessing internal sites, but you can turn it off globally). Being a third party browser I'd trust it more than Chrome to protect my privacy.

There is a Brave Rewards system where they will show you "privacy-respecting ads" which earns you Basic Attention Tokens that can be donated to creators via tipping (or it'll auto calculate and donate for you) or to buy digital goods at the Brave store. The ads are system notifications so could be annoying if you only want important activity reported via system notifications. It's an interesting way to do advertising.

Overall I'd say if you like using Chrome and want more advertising privacy then Brave is the way to go.

Spot Reviews 06/04/21

Podcast - Easy GURPS (2021) [-] What started out as GURPS combat examples turned into GURPS OSR Solo Play sessions neither of which I'm interested in. Strangely the only episode I appreciated is the one where he talks about why he loved FASA's Earthdawn RPG.

Movie - Army of the Dead (2021) [-] Netflix movie. After Las Vegas is cordoned off due to a zombie infection a team of mercs is hired to steal $200M from a casino vault before the US government detonates a nuke to kill all the zombies... Didn't particularly like the style of the film and stopped after half an hour.

iOS App - TikTok [-] On the positive there's a much wider variety of content than I expected. On the other hand is there no mute button? Discoverability is iffy. The additional TOS are pepega. Not an app for boomers.

Movie - Tenet (2020) [+]

Tenet is a science fiction action movie set in the present. An unnamed CIA agent (John David Washington), our Protagonist, is recruited by Tenet, a secretive organization waging a time war against the future. Apparently in the future people develop technology to reverse an object's (or a person's) chronological flow it starts moving backwards through time. Not only can it be used to send objects and information from the future to the present but it allows agents to do ops through history, by working backwards from the end.

The Protagonist is partnered with Neil (Robert Pattinson) and they're tasked with stopping arms dealer Andrea Sator (Kenneth Branagh) from assembling the seven pieces of an artifact that will destroy the world (there is some philosophy about why people in the future would want to destroy the past and why Sator is helping them, but to be frank maybe a bit confusing).

This leads to the typical big-budget action movie sequences except now you have people and objects moving backwards in time to contend with (and as we find out later even Protagonist and Neil going back in time and revisiting the action scenes in a new light). It's both amazingly cool and terribly confusing unless you're paying attention. Meanwhile on a human element the Protagonist falls for Sator's wife Katherine (Elizabeth Debicki) who hates and fears Sator. To stop Sator they need Katherine's help but it may also require sacrificing her...

Tenet is a pretty great movie that uses time travel in a tactical way throughout the movie. There are time travel movies. There are movies that use time travel tactically. But I don't think I've heard of a movie that uses time travel this extensively and especially with things moving backwards in time while the rest of the world is moving forwards.

But even without the extensive time travel I think Tenet would be a perfectly fine action movie. Definitely worth seeing but pay attention please.