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Category: Con Culture


Review by C.J. Bunce

Axis & Allies is a classic wartime strategy board game that you’ve likely encountered either yourself or found a good friend playing over the years.  First released in 1981 by Nova Game Designs it has continued to be re-released from the likes of Milton Bradley, and it currently is a game produced by Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill under the Hasbro umbrella of companies.  Thirty-six years after its release it remains a fun and competitive game in various versions of play with a loyal following, continuing to be the focus of tournaments at Gen Con and other venues throughout the year.  This month Wizards of the Coast is releasing an updated edition of the game celebrating the 50th anniversary of Avalon Hill.  The company had tapped Axis & Allies original game designer and creator Larry Harris to take another look at the game and develop a special anniversary edition with updated features and gameplay.  The result is the Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition, a giant, beautifully designed edition featuring plenty of extras, including two completely different games in one box as compared to the classic standard edition–one with a scenario beginning in the Spring of 1941 (the Axis attack) and the other beginning in the Spring of 1942 (from the traditional version of the game).  The detail and complex strategy allow for an unlimited level of historicity depending on the desires of the players.  The out-of-the-box version will test players’ skill in planning, including short-term battle tactics and long-term strategy, and as with the original game there’s also room for luck to have a hand in the outcome.

The Anniversary Edition, originally released in limited quantities in 2008 and out of print since, includes more than 650 game pieces, including some updated sculpts of tokens compared to the standard edition.  It’s housed in a deluxe sturdy box that features a gorgeous painting when the eight game piece boxes are housed together.  The gameboard is a whopping 24 x 46 inches.  Recommended for players 12 and up, 2-6 can play, each representing one or more of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom for the Allies, or Germany, Japan, or Italy for the Axis.  As compared to the standard edition Italy is feature of the Anniversary Edition, which balances out the board 3 to 3 (allowing for more players than prior editions).  As with Italy during the real war, the prospects of a single player representing Italy winning the game in a six player game will be a real challenge, but we figured a cunning or lucky player may be able to make it work.  China also has a different configuration in this edition, allowing for further twists to the game depending on how it is used to manipulate the balance of power across the board.  The key update for 2017 is an updated rulebook correcting past errors.

You really get your money’s worth with the giant board, extra features, and 650+ playing pieces in the Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition.

We set aside an afternoon to try it: my friend (who is a regular gamer, but hasn’t played Axis & Allies in years) and I (new to wargame/combat board games) made it through two complete rounds in 6.5 hours, but that time included initial board set-up (punching out pieces, etc.) and reading instructions.  Those familiar with the standard game will have no problem completing 4-6 rounds in this time, which appears to be the norm for a complete game.  The winner of the game is the first to capture a set number of major city capitals.  Each side starts with a designated number of cities (based on which scenario you play) and players decide in advance whether 13, 15, or all 18 capitals is the goal, which may shorten or extend the time of gameplay.  Paper money is used as IPCs or “industrial production certificates” and each of the six major countries is paid each round to represent a rough correlation of the actual military spending during the war.  We played the Spring of 1941 scenario and this meant Germany was powerful with Japan in a good position to strike, but the United Kingdom is entrenched upfront by design as a military stronghold with resources that, along with the resources of the United States, kept the balance in favor of the Allies for the first round.

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Kansas City Comic Con 2017 wrapped after three days yesterday, full of great opportunities to meet comic book and other genre creators, celebrities, and participate in all sorts of activities from how-to classes on cosplay armor building to LEGO building, and several panels covering a variety of topics.  For regular convention attendees the best part is the ability to see friends you’ve known for sometimes decades, and forging new bonds with other like-minded, positive and fun people.

What came as a surprise for many this year was the enormous participation of attendees in their favorite cosplay.  On Saturday the open areas of the convention floor were often so filled with cosplayers and others getting photographs that you could hardly move through without bumping into someone.  That’s a pretty great feat, because Bartle Hall in downtown Kansas City is a major sized venue.

So let’s take a look at a few of the hundreds of great characters found at this year’s show:

   

To my left above is one of the first people to create Obi-Wan Kenobi as designed by Mike Mayhew in Star Wars Issue #15, written by Jason Aaron.  He really nailed the look with the great backback, rifle, and goggles.  This wins my “I am definitely going to borrow this idea” award.  This is the version Sideshow is expected to release in 1:6 scale in late 2018:

Here is Jennifer and Nicholas Forrestal with their Morticia and Gomez Addams from The Addams Family:

  

And a great Uncle Fester was on-hand as well.  The best ad lib physical humor award goes to Kevin Dilmore for his quick rendition of Thing.

I was surprised by all the Rogue One cosplayers that Elizabeth Bunce (as Jyn Erso in Imperial disguise) and I (as the Blue Squadron X-Wing pilot general) were able to get some photos with, including our boss, Mon Mothma:

… and a soldier from the Battle of Scarif (where we both met our doom):

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Kansas City Comic Con 2017 has been an event full of fun for both visitors and the creative guests the attendees came to meet.  One of the show highlights was a Green Arrow Quiver/Sounds of Violence reunion of writer Kevin Smith and artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks.  The trio delved into the impetus for bringing Oliver Queen/Green Arrow back from the dead back in early 2001 after the character had been killed off and replaced with Connor Hawke as the Green Arrow for a generation of readers.  “I was a big fan of the character going back to the day.  I loved Grell’s Longbow Hunters and I loved the book that followed Longbow Hunters.  It was like a Vertigo book, but wasn’t technically a Vertigo book, but it was very grown-up.”  When Smith was visiting the DC Comics offices discussing a Superman screenplay back around 1996, Smith said he popped his head into Green Arrow editor Darren Vincenzo’s office and said, “Hey, man, if you ever want to put Green Arrow in the Top 10, let me write the book.  I think I got a story.”  A year later when Smith was working on Daredevil, Vincenzo recalled the conversation and asked if Smith was serious about Green Arrow. 

Smith, Hester, and Parks had each worked with editor Bob Schreck, who had just moved to DC from Oni Press, where Schreck had been co-founder.  Schreck wanted Smith for the Green Arrow project idea and asked who he’d like for his artistic team, and Smith suggested Hester and Parks in part because of their work on Swamp Thing.  “I fell in love with it deeply,” Smith said.  The team was solidified and they moved forward with the project.  “Having these two dudes enabled me to go where I wanted to go,” Smith added.  Already established artists at the time with a catalog of works, Hester and Parks expressed gratitude to Smith for selecting them for the project and Smith said the collaboration with Hester and Parks on the project helped cement his position in the comic book industry as a creator who is now regularly tapped for insight into the comics industry in documentaries on comics, among other things.  “The only reason I get to be in that stuff is because I have credibility in the comic book community because of stuff like Quiver.  Quiver was the one particularly,” Smith said, further noting the book won national awards.

And speaking of Mike Grell, Grell was also a guest at KCCC this year. Always great for a conversation, Grell was busy working on sketch commissions for attendees this weekend.

Smith also discussed working with Dynamite Comics to bring together later projects with Phil Hester and artist Jonathan Lau on Green Hornet and The Bionic Man.  Hester said there was much back and forth communication in creating the story, and Smith emphasized the collaborative effort, “I used to be a guy that was like ‘oh, I just want to write it myself–I don’t want any input.  And then one day you work with people who add something, and then it’s ‘God, that’s incredible!'”  He used as examples contributions from Chris Rock in his film Dogma and Will Ferrell in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back–both actors who made contributions to the script but didn’t ask for or want any writing creditsand creator David Mandel in the animated Clerks.  When fans reference great lines that Smith didn’t write he said he makes sure to credit the writer.  “It’s important for collaborators to cite those people who are your collaborators.”  The panel was hosted by the Worst Comics Podcast Ever’s Jerry McMullen (shown above after the panel with Hester, Parks, and Smith).

Lee Meriwether and Doug Jones at KCCC 2017.

In the celebrity autograph area at KCCC 2017, a reunion and momentous meet-up involved actress Lee Meriwether and actor Doug Jones.  Both Meriwether and Jones worked together on the film The Ultimate Legacy, which also starred Raquel Welch and Brian Dennehy.  Meriwether and Jones are unique in that they represent contemporaries in acting but also represent bookends of a sort for the 51-year Star Trek franchise.  In addition to her many famous roles in series like Barnaby Jones, All My Children, and Batman, Meriwether played the character Losira in the original Star Trek series episode, “That Which Survives.”  Jones, an actor who has performed both as creature characters where he is often unrecognizable–a Lon Chaney of today as one fan referred to him–as well as more standard roles, has performed in more than 150 films and TV series (from one of the creepy Gentlemen in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Hush” to the creature in next month’s new Guillermo del Toro release The Shape of Water).  Plus Jones has appeared in 100 commercials, including as the classic McDonald’s moon-shaped mascot “Mac Tonight.”  And Jones currently plays the alien leading character Lieutenant Saru on this year’s latest Star Trek incarnation, Star Trek Discovery.

Gary Fisher and his family meet attendees at KCCC 2017.

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Today thousands of sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero fans will converge on Kansas City as Kansas City Comic Con returns to Bartle Hall.  The show again has booked several comic book and fiction writers and artists as well as some great movie and TV guests.  This is the third annual Kansas City Comic Con event and the show boasts one of the largest assemblages of nationally known as well as local writers and artists, with hundreds of creators to be featured.

The star attraction of this year’s show is a reunion of actors from director Richard Donner’s Superman as an early celebration of next year’s 40th anniversary of nearly everyone’s all-time favorite superhero movie and Superman–the late Christopher Reeve.  Film co-star Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) returns to Kansas City, plus several supporting cast members including Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Aaron Smolinski (Baby Clark Kent), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Diane Case (Young Lana Lang), and via SKYPE, a live video appearance by actress Valerie Perrine (Miss Teschmacher).

  

Fans of classic television can meet one of the original actresses who played the Catwoman in the 1960s Batman series, Lee Meriwether, plus Robin himself, Burt Ward.  Star Trek Discovery star Doug Jones, also known for hundreds of roles in films like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, will be making his first appearance in Kansas City.  Disney fans can meet Eva Bella, the actress who voiced the young Elsa, and Livvy Stubenrauch, the actress who voiced the young Anna, in the animated film Frozen.  Stuntman and actor Hamid Thompson (Jurassic World, Spider-man: Homecoming) will be on hand, as well as two Lucasfilm Star Wars animated series voice actors: Tom Kane (Yoda) and David Ankrum (Wedge), plus two of the Power Rangers performers: Karan Ashley (Yellow Power Ranger) and Walter E. Jones (Black Power Ranger).  And convention staples Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes are also returning to Kansas City for the show.

Last minute additions for the show include Colin Cantwell–the concept art designer of the original Star Wars Death Star, X-Wing Fighter, TIE Fighter, and more, and Gary Fisher–that’s right Carrie Fisher’s beloved dog who accompanied her on the PR and convention circuit continues to tour to visit the crowds that became commonplace for him over the past few years.  Nationally known comic book creators featured at KCCC include legendary writer/artist Mike Grell as well as Star Wars writer and Eisner winner Jason Aaron, artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks (along with Kevin Smith this may be the first time all three of the Green Arrow “Quiver” era creators have appeared together at a convention since a San Diego Comic-Con appearance when the book was first released), writer Jai Nitz, authors Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Holly Messinger, Jason Arnett, and Nicholas Forrestal, artist Johnny Desjardins, artist David Finch, artist Mark Sparacio, artist Art Thibert, artist John Davies, writer Frank Tieri, writer James Tynion IV, and comics legend Bob Hall.  But that’s only scratching the surface–check out the full list of national and local creators here.

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Review by Art Schmidt

Wizards of the Coast has been judicious in releasing a measured, steady flow of materials for the 5th Edition of the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game,” Dungeons & Dragons (commonly referred to as “5E” by the roleplaying public-at-large).  WotC releases two adventure campaign books per year, one every six months (give or take), in addition to one rules supplement per year.  Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is the latest offering of new character subclasses, spells, magical items and a meaty section for the Dungeon Master (i.e. the person running the game for all of her players).

Aimed primarily at players who are looking for new classes to play, new spells for their characters to cast, and new ways to define their avatars inside the collaborative storytelling game, Xanathar’s Guide (or XGE, as I’m sure it will be come to be called) hits all of the expected marks.  Drawing on a wealth of material released by the D&D creative team via their popular Unearthed Arcana section of the D&D website and reprinting materials, primarily spells, from the Elemental Evil Player’s Guide, Xanathar’s Guide provides thirty-two (32!) new sub-classes for all of the current class types, including some new sub-classes not previously seen in the Unearthed Arcana material.

Unearthed Arcana was a hardcover book waaaay back in the early first edition of the game.  Similar to Xanathar’s Guide, the original Unearthed Arcana was an expansion of material from the Player’s Handbook, the standard players guide to the character classes and mechanics of the game itself.  This book title has been re-used throughout D&D’s over forty-year history, and its latest incarnation is the online “alternate rules” or playtest material which the D&D Team puts out for players and dungeon masters to use, experiment and, well, play with.  The Team asks for feedback from users on the material, trying to gauge game balance, player likability, and general “fun factor” of this material.  When material is popular, well-balanced, and fits a niche in the player character milieu that the D&D Team feels makes it worthwhile, it’s include in a hardcover book.  Such was the case with the previously released Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for 5E, and it is the case again with Xanathar’s Guide, though on a much bigger scale.

In fact, Xanathar’s Guide re-prints a handful of classes from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide as well, such as the Swashbuckler and the Storm Sorceror.  Ordinarily, one might fault a company for expecting their customers to pay money for a new sourcebook which includes a wealth of material already found in other sources.  And one might be correct.  Except that in the case of D&D, these re-prints make a fair amount of sense.  As far as the Unearthed Arcana material, the subclasses in Xanathar’s represent an updated, tweaked and in many cases streamlined class which is now officially playtested and provided with rules, which will make the material enjoyable and avoid headaches for players and dungeon masters alike.  Also, Unearthed Arcana material is not “legal” for the Adventurer’s League, since it isn’t play-tested, so those players who enjoy organized play have no access to any of those options until they are printed in an official capacity, usually through a hardcover book.

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Mike Mignola’s Hellboy took comic book fans by storm when it arrived in bookstores in 1994.  Since then it’s grown to become a pop culture sensation.  A hit character and supernatural world outside the caped crusaders of comicdom, Hellboy stories earned Dark Horse comics creators a dozen Eisner Awards and inspired numerous tie-ins, from novels, to video games, to animated films and live action feature films.  Next year Stranger Things star David Harbour will don the Hellboy (sawed-off) horns and bring the next live action film to theaters, and fans can hardly wait.  Check out the first marketing photos released of him below.  The film also is set to feature stars like Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim, Brian Gleeson, Sophie Okonedo, and Alistair Petrie.

Dark Horse Comics has let Hellboy branch out beyond the normal comic book tie-in realm.  He’s inspired a draft ale, a wine, and now a very appropriate addition: Hellboy Hell Water Cinnamon Whiskey.  We’ve tried cinnamon whiskey before (umm… you know, at holiday parties and whatnot), but Hellboy’s whiskey is firey red like the man himself (instead of the orange of most brands) and tastes a lot like liquefied Red Hots cinnamon candy with a similar heat.  It also sports a sleek collectible bottle and has some clever in-universe information on the label, “American soldiers discovered Hellboy on December 23rd, 1944, after a Nazi experiment brought him into our world.  Dedicated to the B.P.R.D.”  Best of all, the XXX Distillery made the whiskey “66.6”% Proof, so you know this is 100% Hellboy.

Hellboy Hell Water has a smooth whiskey flavor, but it also packs a bite.  You can find plenty of mixed drink ideas at the distributor’s website, HellboyHellWater.com.  We mixed up a mocha latte 3 to 1 with Hellboy Hell Water to make a strong Mexican style coffee.  With the November chill already laying its stake into your chest you might also try a hot apple cider 3 to 1 parts with Hell Water.  We used a great local maker, Louisburg Cider, and its pulpy quality seemed to blend just right (and it seemed to clear away a Fall head cold, too).  And if cider and coffee aren’t your thing, add a shot to a mug of hot chocolate for some cocoa cheer with an extra kick instead of peppermint schnapps.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Like many of us, astronaut Chris Hadfield sees his life, both on Earth and off-planet, as a series of worst-case scenarios waiting to happen.  In his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, he not only shares his autobiography and pathway to space and afterward, he uses his life to provide a self-help plan for accomplishing your dreams and reaching whatever success you’re after.  Originally issued in hardcover but now available in a paperback edition, Hadfield’s Guide is just what you need to read if you’re in a slump, if you have a goal and can’t figure how to get yourself to attain it, or if you just need a pep talk.

“Most people, including me, tend to applaud the wrong things: the showy, dramatic record-setting sprint rather than the years of dogged preparation or the unwavering grace displayed during a string of losses,” Hadfield says in his book.  And Hadfield takes his errors and his stumbles and displays them for everyone to see so they can use them to learn how to adapt and overcome their own obstacles.  “Sweat the small stuff,” is his mantra, and it’s that attention to detail that he says allowed humans to get to visit outer space in the first place–the required discipline that allows the two other astronauts in your capsule to fully trust you will do your job, and vice versa.  As with astronaut Leland Melvin’s account of his pathway to space (reviewed last month here at borg.com), this meant years of brain work and physical preparation, monotony, and several false defeats and false triumphs before the final ride on that rocket to the stars.  “Since the odds of becoming an astronaut were nonexistent, I knew it would be pretty silly to hang my sense of self-worth on it.  My attitude was more, ‘It’s probably not going to happen, but I should do things that keep me moving in the right direction, just in case — and I should be sure those things interest me, so that whatever happens, I’m happy.'”

Chris Hadfield floating above Earth during a spacewalk.

Colonel Hadfield–who is afraid of heights–always wanted to be an astronaut, at least since he saw Apollo 11 make the first moon shot on television when he was nine years old.  But his path wasn’t easy, especially since Canadians weren’t yet astronauts when he was a kid.  “I wasn’t destined to be an astronaut,” says Hadfield, “I had to turn myself into one.”  He not only had to turn himself into an astronaut, he had to change the perception and rules of those around him as he climbed the ladder to fulfilling his dream.  Along the way that meant diligence, determination, study, practice, repetition, volunteering, and over-achieving to make himself stand out, and sacrificing all his waking hours and much of his family time.

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Anyone still have their original Ben Cooper masks and costumes from the 1970s and 1980s?

That’s The Six Million Dollar Man, Dracula, and the original Darth Vader mask.

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

It’s only two weeks away.  November 10-12, 2017, thousands of sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero fans will converge on Kansas City as Kansas City Comic Con returns to Bartle Hall.  The show again has booked an onslaught of comic book and fiction writers and artists as well as some great movie and TV guests.  Kansas City Comic Con annually boasts one of the largest assemblages of nationally known as well as local writers and artists, with hundreds of creators to be featured.

The star attraction of this year’s show is a reunion of actors from director Richard Donner’s Superman as an early celebration of next year’s 40th anniversary of nearly everyone’s all-time favorite superhero movie and Superman–the late Christopher Reeve.  Film co-star Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) returns to Kansas City, plus several supporting cast members including Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Aaron Smolinski (Baby Clark Kent), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Diane Case (Young Lana Lang), and via SKYPE, a live video appearance by actress Valerie Perrine (Miss Teschmacher).

Fans of classic television can meet one of the original actresses who played the Catwoman in the 1960s Batman series, Lee Meriwether, plus Robin himself, Burt Ward.  Star Trek Discovery star Doug Jones, also known for hundreds of roles in films like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, will be making his first appearance in Kansas City.  Disney fans can meet Eva Bella, the actress who voiced the young Elsa, and Livvy Stubenrauch, the actress who voiced the young Anna, in the animated film Frozen.  Stuntman and actor Hamid Thompson (Jurassic World, Spider-man: Homecoming) will be on hand, as well as two Lucasfilm Star Wars animated series voice actors: Tom Kane (Yoda) and David Ankrum (Wedge), plus two of the Power Rangers performers: Karan Ashley (Yellow Power Ranger) and Walter E. Jones (Black Power Ranger).  And convention staples Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes are also returning to Kansas City for the show.

Original actors from the Batman TV series, Burt Ward’s Robin and Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman.

Nationally known comic book creators featured at KCCC include legendary writer/artist Mike Grell as well as Star Wars writer and Eisner winner Jason Aaron, artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks, writer Jai Nitz, artist Johnny Desjardins, artist David Finch, artist Mark Sparacio, artist Art Thibert, writer Frank Tieri, writer James Tynion IV, and comics legend Bob Hall.  But that’s only scratching the surface–check out the full list of national and local creators here.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The 800-page, two-volume hardcover book set Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie, published last year by Abrams (still in print and available here at Amazon), has been celebrated by fans as one of the best looks behind the scenes of Star Wars ever created.  The exhaustive, comprehensive collection of the concept art Ralph McQuarrie created for the original Star Wars trilogy will enlighten even the biggest fans of the franchise.  You may have known how closely McQuarrie worked with George Lucas to bring Lucas’s story to life visually, but only after stepping scene by scene through these images do you realize that when you close your eyes and think Star Wars, what you’re seeing was drawn or painted by Ralph McQuarrie.

Compiled by Brandon Alinger, Wade Lageose, and David Mandel, Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie takes readers chronologically through the films, and tie-in specials, documenting not only the familiar final visual McQuarrie created, but copies of retained interim designs that McQuarrie painted over.  So if your only familiarity is The Illustrated Star Wars Universe or the original portfolio reprints many of us had as kids, then this monumental volume is for you.  But this book set may not be in most readers’ budgets, listing at $250 and even on sale it can be priced at greater than $150.  Star Wars and Ralph McQuarrie fans now have a second opportunity to obtain a more affordable look at McQuarrie’s artwork.

Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie: 100 Postcards is Abrams’ latest bookshelf keepsake in the style of the successful Star Wars: Frames: 100 Postcards series reviewed previously here at borg.com back in 2015.  Selected from Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie, these panoramic postcards are a celebration of Star Wars as a masterpiece of design and world-building.  The deluxe full-color package also functions as a display frame: the box features a die-cut window, so fans can rotate their favorite production design paintings into view.

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