The Makers of the Catan Series Closing Shop

A sad end to a great era.

The makers of “Settlers of Catan” are closing their doors. It won’t meant the end of Catan, as another company is picking up the rights to it, but it is still an ending for Mayfair Games.

This hits close to home for me, as Settlers of Catan was one of the first non-traditional board games I’d gotten into. Before it, I didn’t play too many board games other than the usual suspects (Clue, Monopoly, Life, etc). I had one friend I played Axis & Allies with every now and then when we were over at his house, but after a point we shifted over to playing StarCraft or Rome: Total War together and that sort of fell by the wayside. I’m not sure why, because Axis & Allies is a lot of fun. Although, it does take awhile to set up. Much easier to just load up a video game, right?

Anyway, it’s sad to see, but it does serve as a reminder that I’ve got some great board games I need to break out with friends in the coming days and weeks. I think I’ll start reviewing some of them, as well. Things like Arkham Horror and a new acquisition I haven’t even unboxed yet: Descent – Journeys in the Dark. More than just reviews of them, it’ll be more like after action reports, because my friends and I get into some stupid crap that can be pretty funny.

 

Anime Review: GAMERS!

A series of unfortunate (But hilarious) misunderstandings. 4.75/5.0

My wife and I have been on an anime comedy kick of late. I’d like to get her into the new(er) Star Blazers anime, but she’s been in the mood for more lighthearted shows, so our newest foray has been into the Funimation dub of “GAMERS!” (The sub is available for free on Crunchyroll) a show that’s a cross between a romantic comedy and a tribute to video games and the many reasons why people love them.

The lead protagonist is a soft-spoken, socially awkward boy named Keita and his encounter with Tendou, the school’s blonde bombshell who’s way out of his league except for one shared passion: their love of video games. Tendou secretly runs the school’s game club and invites Keita to join an elite group of high-end, tournament-winning gamers. His response leads to a chain of events that ultimately devolves into a love dodecahedron where he and all his new friends have no idea what’s going on, who’s dating who, who likes who, or what the ultimate outcome will be. One of the funniest parts about it is how clueless Keita is regarding Tendou’s feelings. She’s head-over-heels for him, but he can’t see it, and she worries she’s out of his league. We’re only six episodes into a twelve episode season, but already it’s one of my favorite shows from last year.

And the video game references used range anywhere from old school RPGs and platformers to fairly recent entries like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. That alone got me interested, but the strange relationship web is what’s keeping our interest. The characters are funny, the situations are even funnier, and we’re loving every minute of it.

Give it a try if you’ve got some time to kill! I haven’t seen the Japanese version yet, but the English version has been spot on. Funimation has been putting out a lot of great stuff over the last few years, and we’re glad to see that trend continue. 4.75/5.0.

Audiobook Review: “Son of the Black Sword”

A bloody, action-filled coming-of-age story. 4.75/5.0

“Coming-of-age” isn’t something you typically think of when you learn that the protagonist of a tale is in his 30’s, but that’s the conclusion I came to by the time I finished Larry Correia’s Son of the Black Sword by Baen Books. This is a coming-of-age tale or, if that term doesn’t sit right, a tale of awakening, where the hero must come to terms with his true destiny. And it is anything but what he wants for himself

Our hero, the badass warrior known as BlackHearted Ashok is the strongest of a small order of battle-hardened, magically enhanced warrior monks in a fantasy world that takes a lot of cues from India, China, and even the United States gets an appreciative nod when the concept of freedom and the bearing of arms is brought in rather early, and only reinforced with additional characters much later in the story. He has come a long way by the time the book opens, having spent two decades fighting in service of the law that rules over all that’s left of mankind, or most of what’s left (We quickly learn that some resist and that some are above the law). He’s at the top of his profession, a fantasy equivalent of the judges in the Judge Dredd series. He wields an ancient and rare Ancestor Blade, a sentient weapon that will only respond to its wielder and no other. After several scenes and flashbacks of Ashok’s life and deeds, he learns of a grave truth about his heritage that will change everything, for himself, for his Ancestor Blade, and for the nation that he serves.

Along the way we meet several very interesting characters, from a brother warrior whose family lost its own Ancestor Blade to a house warrior-turned-prison-warden who takes a keen interest in besting Ashok to restore his fallen reputation, to a librarian woman in the capital city’s famed archives. If anything, I wished the book had spent more time following some of these side characters more, as many of the story threads involving them weren’t pursued fully. Now, I know that’s because there’s going to be a book two, but still! No, that silly complaint aside, the book was very well paced and did a good job of bouncing back and forth between the cast at appropriate points. We also get some glimpses into the main villain(s) every now and then, and I can’t wait for both to get theirs.

I only listened to it a couple weeks ago, and already I can’t wait for the sequel. I knew this was going to happen, which is why I waited so long before finally giving it a read. Larry, you can’t get this done soon enough! 4.75/5.0

If you own the Kindle version of Son of the Black Sword, it greatly cuts down on the price of the Audiobook. That is what I did. If you’d like to purchase it or other books from Amazon, I’d appreciate if you used the affiliate link here or in the image above: Son of the Black Sword. It helps keep the site running, and it keeps me stocked in audiobooks for more reviews. It is appreciated!

Publisher of Sha’Daa Series Radio Interview!

Just a quick post today. Michael Hanson, creator and editor of the Sha’Daa series of dark fantasy / horror short story anthologies is going to be interviewed on a talk radio station out of New Jersey tomorrow at 7:35 AM, EST. He’ll be interviewed by Bert Baron of WCTC 1450. Never listened to the station, but I don’t live in New Jersey so that might explain why! I’ll be tuning in tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to hear what Mr. Hanson has to say about the upcoming Sha’Daa anthology coming out at the end of March. My short story “Bag of Tricks” will be one of the stories featured in there, along with a couple others I have read from good friends of mine.

 

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Successful Launch

Not a long post today. Meetings at the day job kept me busy for quite awhile. Not a complaint, just a statement of fact. Lots of good stuff on the horizon both for the company and for the writing, so it’s all good. I’ll keep the post short with just a mention of something I find cool: rocket launches. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the Space Shuttle, the Soyuz rockets. All of it’s cool to me, and it’s really cool to see private firms like SpaceX taking a greater part in the space race. Part of me wishes NASA was still in the game of sending astronauts into space on their own rockets, and that same part hopes they get back into it with the Space Launch System or something similar. Then again, part of me also hopes that the private sector keeps on keepin’ on and starts for-profit space travel sometime in the near future. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy might just be the ticket, especially with its reusable boosters:

Here’s to more successes in the realm of space exploration and commerce!

Anime Review: Konosuba 1 & 2

If you like it when your sides hurt, this show is for you. 4.5/5.0

When season one of Konosuba ended, my wife and I were excited to see a second season was already in the works! It’s taken us a bit of time, but we’ve finished with season two, and we’re hoping for a third to come, a third that seems highly likely if rumors are true.

If you haven’t seen season one yet, I won’t be throwing any spoilers in this post. To sum it up, the story is about a Japanese teenager named Kazuma who dies in a rather silly way and gets the chance to be reincarnated in another world as himself (Same age and everything) and with one item or skill of his choosing. The goddess Aqua, who greets him on the other side with mockery and derision, learns the hard way that Kazuma is, if nothing else, rather vindictive. He chooses her as his “item” and both of them are thrust into a fantasy world oppressed by an as-yet-unseen demon king, with the mission of defeating him if either want to go back to their respective worlds. They then add two new members to their party, and hijkinks ensue (  Hijinks ensue. (Hi-jinks? High jinks? It’s an odd word).

Behold, the face of a masochist!

Season one was hilarious, and season two is just as good. The humor is mostly a result of the interactions between the four main characters as they attempt to accomplish whatever quest they’re dealing with in that particular episode or episodes. Kazuma’s party couldn’t be more different. Kazuma is more-or-less the straight man for the show, though he has his moments. Aqua is an amazing healer, but she’s dumb as a box of rocks and always ending up in debt. Megumin is a magician obsessed with only the most powerful spell in her discipline (Think Meteo in the Final Fantasy universe). And Darkness the Paladin is a bit too interested in being a damage sponge, to the point that she’s useless with her sword.

There’s almost always a complication, and those complications are almost always caused by one or more of the team members. For instance, a recurring issue for Kazuma is a rival hero who came to the world much like him, only he chose some mystical, legendary sword for slaying evil. When the two end up facing off against each other, Kazuma steals the sword with his special ability and then sells it. Funny at the time, but there are several instances throughout the show where that hero and his sword would have come in handy, but now Kazuma and his party of misfits are on their own. And then there’s a general of the demon king’s army who sets up shop in a nearby castle and is content to leave the heroes’ city alone until a certain explosion-obsessed magician decides to go and blow his castle up. Every day. For weeks:

For those seeking a good laugh, this show has it all. I will warn that there is also a fair amount of fan service in it, especially with Darkness’s character. Lots of bounciness and some “might-as-well-be-naked” moments. Even then, it’s done in a way that parodies other shows.

New Month, New Work Routine

All right, so we’re a few days into the month already, but today’s the beginning of a brand new work routine. My day job has officially gone full-time, and while this may sound like it could put a damper on writing, it could actually help. My schedule will be a steady 40-hour week from here on, and that little bit of rigidity will allow for a better writing routine. 7:00 AM – 3:00 PM, then writing until close to bed time. Before I would have some weeks that were 30 hours of work with a lot of time for writing followed by other weeks that would be 60+ with little to no time for writing.

The goals for the next few months are set, and all that’s left is to get to it. I’m not sure if any of you struggle with setting – and then following through on – goals, but for me those first couple weeks are the worst. If I can stay on task, then the routine will become a habit, and once a habit’s established… Well, it’ll be a lot harder to break.

For any who are wondering, the goal for February is to write the rough draft of the first Necrolopolis book. It’s a tall order, but I’ve got most of the critical scenes planned out, as well as the main and supporting cast. Some of the minor scenes and characters are hazy, but that could prove to make things a bit more fun and allow for a little bit of discovery in the drafting process. Again, as long as the core plot points are maintained and hit, I can be flexible with some of the in-between stuff.

And for those wishing to do better with their own goal planning, an article I just came across today is timely, to say the least: “Effective Goal Setting: Practical advice for setting, measuring, and hitting your goals.” One of the main keys is focusing on smaller goals. This allows you to see more immediate results, even if the overall goal is a long-haul one. For my particular goal this month, that’ll be mostly word count goals. Each day, write X-amount of words. It seems like common sense, but for me it really does help. So, set some goals, and keep at it!

Movie Review: Cardcaptor Sakura – The Sealed Card

A fantastic bridge between the old series and the new. 4.5/5.0

The last couple years have been great for theater-going anime fans, at least in the United States. Last year we saw, in no particular order, Sailor Moon R’s re-release, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, Your Name, lots of good stuff. And this year, we’ve already seen two films in theaters: Fandango’s release of “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” and now Crunchyroll’s release of “Cardcaptor Sakura – The Sealed Card.” It is being shown in theaters around the country for one more day, 02/04/18.

This is actually the second Cardcaptor film, but it serves as the closure of the original series. In it, Sakura has one last challenge to face as the cards she spent the entire series capturing are disappearing, and she has to figure out why. And once she discovers who – or what – is doing it, it’s time to fight and the whole city is at stake.

For a film released in 2000 it holds up really well. The animation quality and production values are top-notch. It was released in its original Japanese language, and from what I could tell the translation held up well. I’m no expert, but I’ve listened to enough subtitled anime to know when something sounds a little off.

The movie itself is paced well. We’re treated to introductions for most of the main and supporting cast early on, we learn that Sakura’s personal goal is to someday admit her feelings for a special someone in her life (Hint, it’s the guy next to her in the video down below), but things quickly get derailed as a new enemy appears that she and all her friends spend the rest of the movie battling. It’s funny, it’s action-packed in the latter-half, and watching Sakura master her feelings will make anyone who’s gone through a similar romantic journey just a bit nostalgic. It’s recommended, even as a stand-alone feature. Though, you’ll be a little lost just in the beginning as there are a lot of inside jokes and quirks that you won’t fully appreciate unless you’ve seen at least some of the series.

“How many versions of our show are there?”

This is being shown to celebrate the launch of the new Cardcaptor Sakura series, “Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card.” We’ve seen the first two episodes of it, and we love it. I may do a review of it once we’re a few more episodes in, but so far it’s as good as the original. And, if you haven’t seen the original and like magical girl shows, Crunchyroll has both the subbed and dubbed versions.

 

To sum it up, we loved it! 4.5/5.0. I only docked a half point because I wish the final battle had been a little more involved. The way it ended was satisfying, but abrupt. Still, it has me even more excited for the rest of the series. And for the experience of seeing it in theaters, we give that a 10/5. Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Fathom have been doing a lot of great things for us anime fans! Looking forward to more coming out.

Audiobook Review: “A Man in the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts”

If you’re the least bit interested in the space program – especially NASA’s early years – then you’ll love “A Man in the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts” by Andrew Chaikin. The audio book comes in at exactly 23 hours, and covers the Apollo program from the Apollo 1 disaster all the way through the final Apollo 17 mission

Part biography, part debriefing, Mr. Chaikin skillfully weaves interesting character portraits and anecdotes of the astronauts with the missions themselves. I loved getting to know more about each astronaut and his reasons for joining the space program. Some wanted a challenge, something even more exciting than being a test pilot, which most of the early astronauts were. Some like Jim Lovell had always dreamed of exploring space and landing on the Moon, and that makes his Apollo 13 mission all the more tragic. Twice he got to fly around the Moon – first on 8 and then on 13 – but he never got to set foot on it. And there was at least one who just thought it sounded like a decent job and he was going to be the best astronaut he could be, though I forget which one that was.

While all of it is worth listening to, the first half is by far the most exciting. Book-ended by two disasters – Apollo 1 and 13 – the meat of the first half is a triumph of firsts. The first Lunar orbit, Apollo 8, was a race against the Soviets. Apollo 9 was the first time a Saturn V rocket carried both the Command Module and the Lunar Module, and this was the first time the docking procedure would be performed. And the main event, the first landing with Apollo 11, was a near disaster when Neil Armstrong missed his landing zone and had to improvise to avoid boulders and craters with his delicate lander.

The latter half of the book has more of a focus on the scientific achievements of the Apollo program, and they are quite extensive, especially from a geological standpoint. Apollo 15’s discovery of the Genesis Rock is one such achievement that stands out in my mind, along with the many health and mechanical challenges faced on that mission, the first of the J-Missions (The longer stays on the Lunar surface). The book doesn’t delve into too much of the nitty-gritty details of the science, which may or may not be a turn-off for some. As someone who is more interested in the people, it was a relief for me. There’s a reason I don’t really enjoy techno-thrillers, except in rare cases.

The narrator, Bronson Pinchot, does an excellent job of bringing the story and people in it to life. I don’t know if Bronson himself is much into NASA’s history and space travel, but he could’ve fooled me with his performance. Some of the astronauts – from Buzz Aldrin’s awe-inspired description of the Moon as “Magnificent desolation” to Pete Conrad’s lighthearted first words as he followed in Neil and Buzz’s footsteps onto the surface – are delivered with quite the range of emotions. I’ve listened to him read David B. Coe’s “His Father’s Eyes” and he did a great job there, too, so it’s no surprise he’d deliver well here.

In all, I loved this book and can’t wait to read more about the space program. Between this and the Jim Baen Memorial Award book from Baen, I haven’t been this interested in space travel since Space Camp back in 5th grade, and that’s saying a lot!

I bought this with my own, hard-earned Audible Credits. If you’d like to purchase it or other books from Amazon, I’d appreciate if you used the affiliate link here or in the image above: “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts.” It helps keep the site running, and it keeps me stocked in audio books for more reviews. It is appreciated!

Getting Ready for the New Year

Woah, the new year is almost here! When did that happen? They need to put that on a calendar or something. Wait a second…

Our pastor began his sermon today with an acknowledgement of the year ending and how his e-mail inbox is getting flooded with “Start the year with a new workout/diet/financial planning/whatever” advertisements. If he’s like me, he’s been deleting them every time they pop up, but they do have an effect, at least on me. While I have no desire to buy into some fad program, I do want to take the time to figure out what went right and wrong over 2017, and how I can do better in 2018.

If you’re like me, it’s very easy to get sidetracked, even with a New Year mindset. “This week I really need to get this written or that finished up, but I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday and my car needs to go in the shop on Thursday, and so-and-so is coming over Friday…” Looking back on my goals for 2017, I can see every single instance of where I let my plan get derailed. And, with rare exception, they were “good” excuses: things that needed to get done, or people I needed to visit or spend time with for whatever reason.

The problem is: there will always be good and valid reasons to not write or work on whatever side project you have going on. You – and I – have to work past that. The writers and entrepreneurs who go from “want-to-be” to “presently-am” are the ones who carve out the necessary time to get done the things they need to get done. Larry Correia, for instance, wrote his first book while he was laid off and between jobs, then once he was working again he wrote late into the night, slept the minimum number of hours he needed to function at his daytime job, then got done what he needed to do. Even after he was making enough that he could quit his day job, he kept at it until he was successful enough to have first Sunday off, then Saturday. That’s where I’d like to be in a few years, but I’m not going to get anywhere unless I carve out the time now and finish what needs doing. And the same applies to you in whatever endeavor you’ve got going.

I recently started following retired Navy SEAL Brandon Webb and his SOFREP TV channel on YouTube, and one of his videos was an hour-long discussion on New Year’s Resolutions and how goal-setting can really improve one’s success rate for the year. It’s long, but worth listening to if you have the time. I’m blessed with a day job that allows me to listen to audiobooks and podcasts and whatever else I want to while I’m working. If you are so blessed, then enjoy:

At the very beginning of the video, he recommends coming up with a list of goals, broken down by personal, professional, and friends/family goals. I won’t go into all my goals, but below are a few:

Personal:

  • Personal fitness – get into an exercise routine that keeps me in shape and doesn’t take up too much of my day.
  • Bible reading – get one of Audible’s versions of the Bible (The KJV) and listen at least an hour per day.
  • Audiobooks – one per week, reviews and posted on site (Semi-professional, but also personal)

Professional:

  • Daytime work – complete XX hours per week.
  • Novel writing – write four books.
  • Short story writing – write four short stories.
  • Blog posts/reviews – five posts per week.

Anyway, just some food for thought as the new year begins! Now, back to making some black-eyed peas. It’s a bit of a tradition where I come from, for good luck or some-such. I eat it because it tastes good, and this particular recipe from Carnal Dish is a bit of work, but well worth it.