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Category: Con Culture


As we inch closer to Christmas, Hasbro Gaming is making its latest effort to breathe new life into its classic board games.  The new idea is mash-ups of classics, combining two games into one, which should tap into the nostalgia of long-time players.  The game company is taking its recently developed game Speak Out and its famous acquired Parker Brothers inventory Monopoly, Clue, Taboo, and Scrabble, and combining them with its celebrated former Milton Bradley games Candy Land, Connect Four, Guess Who?, Jenga, and Twister.  The result:  Hasbro Mash-Ups, some strange combinations, but new twists for family game night, all at less than $21 each retail price.

The best bet looks to be Monopoly Jenga.  This game adds some additional strategy to the wooden block game where players remove a piece of the tower one by one until the tower collapses.  The Monopoly twist is adding color-coded Monopoly properties as blocks: Railroads, Free Parking, Chance and Community Chest cards, and a Go to Jail block.  The goal?  Collect the most properties, property sets, and railroad blocks without making the tower fall.

 

The strangest is Hasbro’s Taboo Speak Out.  There’s something really creepy about a family game with mouthpieces, and the box cover art doesn’t help much.

 

Perfect for ventriloquists, but a problem for everyone else, the speaking barriers are the key twist to the fun classic Taboo game.  The rules are simple:  Give clues to get teammates to say the Taboo word on the card, without using any of the five forbidden words, all while wearing a Speak Out game mouthpiece.  Easy peasy, right?  Maybe not.

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Sometimes the marketeers get everything exactly right (one of our favorites is still that Coma ad pack we received 7 years ago).  And that goes for a new roleplaying game from Wendy’s.  Yep, that’s right, a fully fleshed-out roleplaying game from everyone’s favorite fast food restaurant that serves Frostys.  And best of all, it’s free (you can download the entire 97-page rulebook and campaign guide below).  Not only is it capitalizing (“capital” as in in-your-face, unapologetic commercialism) on the recent wave of interest in Dungeons & Dragons that was re-kindled by Stranger Things, the new roleplaying game Feast of Legends will probably divert at least a few groups of Wednesday night gamers to join in on a fun (and humorous) new adventure.

Feast of Legends is another good introduction to roleplaying games and springboard to the real deal.  It includes a Rule Book and Game Master’s Guide with five campaigns to be led by your designated Game Master: Take on The Queen’s Quest, Trouble at Frosty Canyon, Lighting of the Bacon Beacon, The Biggie Vale, and The Deep Freeze, plus there’s a chapter on expansion play.  Make your own character, join one of the 14 orders, or use pre-designed character sheets via a “quick start guide” to get on your way, with instructions on how to do so.  This isn’t your typical throwaway giveaway.  Players have five levels to achieve, and the book has all of the details on gameplay, adventuring, and yes, you will use food, specifically Wendy’s menu items, cleverly incorporated along the way.  One of the underlying themes is Wendy’s advertising fresh meat over frozen, so a key villain here is the Ice Jester–a not-so-subtle jab at Ronald McDonald.  His lair?  A playhouse with tunnels and a colorful ball pit.  Brilliant!  Constable Von Freeze steps in for Mayor McCheese…  Beware the Mimic Meal…  Can you help Queen Wendy, by sneaking into the Deep Freeze and stop the Ice Jester before he can march on Freshtovia and start a new Frozen Age?

Although we wish we could credit by name the Wendy’s inside marketing team that wrote these rules, a big shout-out is owed to Alex Lopez for illustrations that mash-up the visual style from both classic RPG and Wendy’s iconography.  Neither Lopez nor mapmaker Collin Fogel appear to have created illustrations before for D&D producer Wizards of the Coast, but this rule book should help them get their foot in the door (if D&D is really their thing).

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No other subject rips conversations apart like it.  It sets brother against brother, spouse against spouse.   What can you say about Pumpkin Spice that hasn’t already been said?  It may be the elephant in the room at your house, but here we’re goin’ to throw all our cards on the table.  It’s everywhere, so why not embrace it?  (Unless you hate it).  You can’t love pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and shun the same flavor dripped into your coffee, or muffin, or yogurt, or cereal.  (Right?)  So like the “Big G” Monster Cereals, the arrival of the most sought-after of spices is in full swing (they’re back, too, all again except for Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy).  We first saw the flavor of pumpkin spice in grocery stores beginning way back on August 18.  But now you don’t need to be a spice smuggler to find it.  The flavor has done more than infuse itself into a few coffee shops.  And it’s now taken over pretty much every aisle of the store.

Often labeled “with pumpkin” or “pumpkin-flavored” or “limited time only” in marketing materials–presumably to ward off buyers offended by the PS banner–the “sans spice” labeling will not fool us.  Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice and maybe some actual pumpkin or just a flavoring added in, is mixed-together-magic.  We’re going to tell you it’s okay to climb aboard and enjoy the ride.  (Or don’t).

We finally decided to track everything we see this year.  And here’s what we found, some new, some you may have seen before:

Just try to tell us these Toll House Baking Truffles wouldn’t make for an amazing cookie.

Pumpkin Spice Life.  What more can you say?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A book released this month from Pavilion Books will have kids of all ages creating their own board games about anything they can imagine.  Kevan Davis and Viviane Schwarz’s new oversized hardcover book Board Games to Create and Play has everything anyone from kids to adults can use to learn about the mechanics of what makes board games work.  And it has 58 templates of 19 sample boards, cut-out cards and tokens, and 40 rule sets to get players to draw up new games on their own.

Beginning with pull-out sample games, readers will quickly learn the building blocks to make a great game.  Using the principles of Snakes and Ladders aka Chutes and Ladders as a starting point, readers can grab a pen and start marking up the game, filling in blank spaces with their own themes, goals, challenges, barricades, and rules.  You can incorporate dice or cards, or not, and use any kind of object for tokens or design something for each game.  Whether you prefer Sorry or Clue, Monopoly, Life, Parcheesi or Payday, or combine rules and technical difficulty to make your own role play board, the sky is the limit.

If you think the artwork in the preview below looks a bit basic, that’s the point–you’re not limited by your own artistic skill.  This is about being creative, using your imagination to create that game that has yet to be invented, but using the game prompts–in essence story prompts–to get you started.  And the education on gaming maneuvers, sequences, planning, and strategy is surprisingly insightful.  Even experienced game creators are bound to learn something here.  The writers explain components of rules, like burning fuel, action cards, non-player pawns, using money, hidden treasures, running fights, movement tokens, and out-of-time rules.  It also has a handy theme generator and sample mash-ups of rules to begin with.

Here is a seven-page preview of Board Games to Create and Play, courtesy of Pavilion Books:

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Happy October!

Your annual list of scary, ghostly, spooky, creepy, slashery, and generally monstrous films is back.  The goal?  Not to miss your favorite Halloween movies in October, and maybe find some new favorites.  You’ll be able to find many staples of the holiday season.  Below we’ve provided hundreds of movies scheduled to air–hundreds to choose from with a mix of classics and modern.  Syfy′s “31 Days of Halloween” is back, along with Freeform′s “31 Nights of Halloween” (which continues to be a dozen or so movies played over and over all month, with some kind of world record to be set with its too-many-to-count airings of Hocus Pocus).  As always AMC doesn’t kick in with its “Fear Fest” until October 14, and as with last year you can get caught up on The Walking Dead, and The Terror all airing throughout the entire month (you’ll have to check the AMC website for the last week of the month, as they don’t release their listings this far in advance).  Best of all, TCM hosts Godzilla with 17 movies airing Fridays in October, and 41 horror classics on Thursdays–really your best bet for the season.  You’ll find this year another Stephen King movie marathon, some Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Vincent Price, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Kruger.  Disney channel will be releasing its listings for Monstober later in the month so you may want to check the Disney website for updates.

We’ve bolded some of our recommendations and asterisked other notable events in October.  If you missed last year’s new Halloween movie with Jamie Lee Curtis, find it streaming on Vudu and other services–it’s not to be missed (and you can catch all the past entries in the series on AMC).  Also, if you missed Netflix’s latest seasons of Stranger Things or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, now’s a great time to catch up.  And with showings of both Predator and Hellboy movies, you might as well catch the new releases on Vudu, The Predator and Hellboy (2019).

All month long on streaming services and premium channels like Netflix and Starz you can watch horror movies including The Sixth Sense, The Lost Boys, The Boy, Cloverfield, Coraline, Children of the Corn, Cult of Chucky, Van Helsing, John Carpenter’s The Thing, They Live, and Ghosts of Mars, Young Frankenstein, Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, Underworld: Blood Wars, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Zombieland, Life, Scream, Amityville: The Awakening, Sleepy Hollow, Hollow Man, The Craft, and many more, plus series like The Twilight Zone, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Requiem, Bates Motel, and The Frankenstein Chronicles.  If all else fails, you can find your favorite ghost story or other horror classic on Vudu and Amazon Prime, where you can buy or rent recommendations like The Fog (both versions), The Birds, The Shining, Orphan, Let Me In, The Others, The Woman in Black, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Ring, Grimm, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (all these are highly recommended, and you can catch many of these airing this month, too).  Need more recommendations?  Check our past recommendation lists here.

So take notes and put your watch list into your DVR now so you don’t miss anything, especially useful for many of the marathons, which often play in reverse order (?!).  All times listed are Central Time:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new cookbook has the recipes to get you through your travels wherever you are in the ‘Verse.  Firefly: The Big Damn Cookbook pulls together foods seen throughout the series and some just inspired by it with lots of good in-universe commentary from Mal Reynolds and his crew.  I’ve been a fan of the sci-fi series since the San Diego Comic-Con 10th anniversary reunion (discussed here), and have reviewed every tie-in from the series released so far here at borg.  Banter of the crew is a great feature of many of the Firefly books published in the past ten years, and author Chelsea Monroe-Cassel gets all the characters right in her latest cookbook.  Firefly: The Big Damn Cookbook is now available for all Browncoats from Titan Books–you can take a look at a preview of recipes below courtesy of Titan Books, and order a copy here at Amazon.

Among all the tie-ins, this is the first foray into the food of the series.  A great focus is placed on the types of meals that make sense in the ‘Verse for a ship’s crew, as well as Joss Whedon’s incorporation of a future filled with Asian influences.  Five-spice is a common seasoning incorporated into the recipes, along with ginger and soy sauce, and that simplicity of nomadic life that underscored the travels of Serenity come through, too, with everyday ingredients, like honey for a sweetener, and white sauce, brown sauce, and biscuits a key component.  You’ll find foods discussed on the series by the crew of Serenity, other foods tangentially seen on screen, with some added in a creative way to fill in the blanks in between.  The author includes appropriate specs for meals with simple ingredients but also some dishes from more extravagant fare (like you might find at a formal shindig on Persephone).  The only way to tell if a cookbook is good is to dig right in.  So I tested four of the recipes that appealed to me the most on paper.

First I made Simon’s Eggy Oat Mush from the Recipes for Shipboard Living section.  This turned out to be a hearty breakfast concoction, a savory oatmeal cooked with veggies, egg, and garlic.  The egg brings the flavors all together and it will fill you up for the day.  It had a unique flavor profile for anyone only accustomed to oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon or other sweeteners–different enough that you could see being stuck on a ship and coming up with this as a staple.  It took only 15 minutes to prepare, and would also make a good dinner side dish.

The prep for River’s Meat Pie could hardly have been simpler.  This recipe was in the Recipes from the Core Worlds–Underbelly section (as opposed to an “upper crust” item).  The result was a tasty dish, highlighted by the right amount of fennel, onion, and garlic, and a perfect pastry dough crust (pictured above, top).  I halved the cookbook recipe and it made four perfect hand pies, great for carrying to lunch any day of the week (think Hostess fruit pies, but savory).  The crust was well-suited for a hand pie, sturdy enough to hold everything in, yet nice and flaky.

Next up was the Blue Sun Canned Peach Cobbler:

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Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jeff Lynne is back with a new album, and if his first track is any indication, this is going to be big for fans of classic rock.  The band is Jeff Lynne’s ELO and the album is From Out of Nowhere and you can listen to the first track released from the album below.  With the original ELO (the Electric Light Orchestra) Lynne and ELO gained fame for the rock anthem Don’t Bring Me Down in the 1970s, with hits Strange Magic, Evil Woman, Mr. Blue Sky, Livin’ Thing, Xanadu, All Over the World, I’m Alive, and Last Train to London (and more) before Lynne turned his attention to becoming a successful studio producer.  He has co-produced big albums, including George Harrison’s comeback album Cloud Nine, co-writing albums with Harrison that led to the formation of rock supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, featuring Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Harrison, and Lynne.  He then co-produced Petty’s mega-hit album Full Moon Fever followed by Into the Great Wide Open, followed by records by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and more, working on albums for Joe Cocker, Aerosmith, Joe Walsh, and Brian Wilson.  If anyone knows how to put out a good album, it’s Jeff Lynne.

Have a listen and see if you agree:  The first song available for free from the new album, to be released November 1 (available today for pre-order on CD here, vinyl here, and digital/streaming here) is the title track From Out of Nowhere And it sounds just like an original Traveling Wilburys song.  His influence and long-time partnership with The Beatles is obvious.  I’d swear I can hear George Harrison echoing Lynne’s vocals, and my mind’s eye sees Tom Petty playing rhythm guitar with him on the stage.  It has the classic ELO sound but that’s probably thanks to Lynne’s unmistakably familiar voice and rhythms.  With all his work with The Beatles (minus John Lennon), with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty, you could run this track on any of the albums Lynne produced with his peers and it would fit right in.  This song is classic Jeff Lynne.

Here’s the title track from Jeff Lynne’s ELO album From Out of Nowhere:

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It’s a big week for Dungeons & Dragons players.  This Tuesday is the release date for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, the eagerly-awaited next adventure in the Fifth Edition of Wizards of the Coast’s original roleplaying game.  One city has fallen into hell, and it’s up to players to see that Baldur’s Gate does not meet the same fate.  The game takes players from levels 1 to 13 as they journey through Baldur’s Gate and into Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells.

And the biggest feature that fans have been waiting for is here: Infernal Machines, making this new journey a mash-up of dark fantasy and Mad Max.  The machines are battle-ready vehicles, which you can build and customize as your characters enter the Blood War.

Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus is a thick 256 pages, with an exhaustive, detailed history of Baldur’s Gate (popularized in the video game of the same name) taking up the first quarter of the book.  Look for lots of new creatures, several interesting NPCs, a pronunciation guide, and even a new lettering script to adapt for your own designed supplemental materials.

 

This new D&D volume features extensive artwork, and attractive maps by Dyson Logos, Mike Schley, and Jared Blando, including a giant double-sided foldout map.  You’ll also find a unique appendix featuring concept art sketches, designs, and characters, providing a peek behind the scenes at Wizards of the Coast.  Note: There’s even a disclaimer for anyone wary of the darker nature of this adventure.  The short version?  It’s all for fun (but you already know that).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve ever wanted to start playing Dungeons & Dragons, but didn’t have anyone around that knew how to play, Wizards of the Coast has released a new boxed set with everything you need to get started.  Expanding on its earlier D&D Starter Kit, the all-new D&D Essentials Kit includes all of the components to get started on an adventure out of the box, with hours of adventuring for 2-6 players.  Unlike with the Starter Kit, the Essentials Kit skips ahead from pre-generated characters allowing for building your own characters, with four races: dwarf, elf, halfling, and human, and five classes: bard, cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard.  This alone keeps this new set ahead of the Starter Kit.  But what else?

First, Wizards of the Coast has whittled down the three rulebooks into a single, easy-to-read, 64-page D&D Essentials Rulebook The Rulebook is for all potential players to read, and it includes the rudimentary steps missing from prior iterations–here are not only the rules and parameters for moving through a game but what each step is for, why it matters, and how it fits into the larger gameplay–a great addition for anyone who doesn’t think they learn as fast and are afraid to ask questions.  The next component is the adventure book, Dragon of the Icespire Peak, tailored specifically for first-time players, with the potential for characters to reach six levels.  Note: This takes place in the same region as The Lost Mine of Phandelver, which was included in the D&D Starter Kit, so both adventures can be played together.  This time players have several smaller adventures, so it frees up gameplay for those without time for a single six-hour session.

Expanding on the elements of the D&D Starter Kit are several extras in the D&D Essentials Kit For anyone who doesn’t have a large group to play with, you now have one-on-one rules for only two players, a Dungeon Master and single player.  Along with the two books, inside the sturdy storage box is a set of 11 red translucent polyhedral dice, and a handy box for cards and dice.  A cardboard Dungeon Master’s screen with fantasy artwork by Grzegorz Rutkowski is a nice touch, plus a large, foldout, full-color, two-sided map of Phandalin (also found in Acquisitions Incorporated) and Sword Coast is there to enhance gameplay.  The box also includes six blank double-sided character sheets, nine Initiative cards, nine Quest cards, 36 Magic Item cards, nine starter Sidekick Character cards, 14 Condition cards, three Combat cards, and a Magic Charm card–these will help keep beginners on track.  Finally, the box includes a sheet with codes for continuing gameplay online with D&D Beyond, with three added adventures: Storm Lord’s Wrath (for 7th level characters), Sleeping Dragon’s Wake (for 9th level characters), and Divine Contention (for 11th level characters).

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Following the designs created under Daniel Falconer, art director and senior concept designer for Weta Workshop, the famed creation house of all things forged and fantastical, is releasing a new line of statues and replicas from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, similar in style, look, and feel to Weta’s highly collected products from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Many of these items will not be released until next year, but online collectible store Entertainment Earth is taking pre-orders now.  The statues and replicas are every bit the quality you’d expect from the company, known for matching the items seen on the screen with the products it delivers to the public.

First out will be four 1:6 statues, including Rian and Hup, both by Weta Workshop sculptor Steven Saunders.  Maudra Fara’s eyepatched companion Baffi the Fizzgig was created by Weta Workshop sculptor Jane Wenley.  The vile Skeksis Emperor is as creepily real, as sinister, and scary, as anything we’ve seen from Weta.  This statue is by Weta Workshop sculptor Hao Wang, and includes all four arms, plus a metal prosthesis for his rotting nose!  If you’re interested, you’ll want to pre-order the Skeksis Emperor now here at Entertainment Earth, as it will be limited to only 400 units worldwide.  The intricacy on this piece is unparalleled, and it will no doubt go down as one of Weta’s finest high-end statues.

 

A 1:1 scale prop replica of the Essence vial is crafted from glass and resin, with LED lighting to replicate the radiant essence seen on screen (operated via battery).  The Dark Crystal necklace is based on 3D scans provided by Netflix, shaped to be an exact replica of the Crystal seen on screen, its draconic claw is inspired by the Skeksis clasp system in the Castle of the Crystal.  It is a resin pendant complete with gunmetal-plated brass claw, includes a 20-inch stainless steel chain, and is encased in a gift box.

Find more information and learn how to pre-order any now from Entertainment Earth at the links above. Check out several high quality images below, courtesy of Weta Workshop:

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