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Tag Archive: Wizards of the Coast


Hasbro has big plans for New York Toy Fair 2019 this weekend, and already has released marketing information for two new Stranger Things tie-in games with a retro theme.  Trivial Pursuit fans who’ve been waiting for some new trivia questions will get their wish and more in an updated version of the popular 1980s board game.  And the in-universe Dungeons & Dragons references from the kids in Stranger Things will spill into the real world with a tie-in edition to reel in new roleplay gamers.  Both of these are now available for pre-order for the first time at online pop culture collectible store Entertainment Earth.

Up first is the Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set from Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast.  New as well as seasoned D&D players can experience the D&D adventure Stranger Things character Mike Wheeler created for his friends in the series.  Will you be Will the Wise or Dustin the Dwarf?  The set includes a Stranger Things Adventure book, Rulebook, five Stranger Things character sheets, six dice, a painted Demogorgon figure, and a paintable Demogorgon figure (and take a look at the nicely distressed box design).  Find out more and pre-order the game for only $24.99 now here at Entertainment Earth.

It doesn’t matter how many editions you already own of Trivial Pursuit (the original, the 1980s, the 1990s, the Millennium edition, etc.), this new version is unlike any other edition of the game.  The Stranger Things Back to the 80s Trivial Pursuit Game features 1,500 trivia questions from six categories: Movies, TV, Music, Famous People and Events, Trends, Tech and Fun, and a new one:  Stranger Things. The familiar board game also includes Portal Spaces–land on one of these and you have to flip a section of the board over and send all players to the Upside Down, where wedges can be lost.  As always, the first player to collect six wedges wins.  At a pre-order price of $19.99 here at Entertainment Earth, this game is hard to beat.

Here are several images of the games, courtesy of the first distributor marketing the games, Entertainment Earth:

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Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here, and the Best in Television 2018 here.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year’s Best in Print:

Best Read, Best Sci-fi Read – The Synapse Sequence by Daniel Godfrey (Titan Books).  The Synapse Sequence is one of those standout reads that reflects why we all flock to the latest new book in the first place.  The detective mystery, the future mind travel tech, the twists, and the successful use of multiple perspectives made this one of the most engaging sci-fi reads since Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.  Honorable mention: Solo: A Star Wars Story novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).

Best Retro Read – Killing Town by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime).  The lost, first Mike Hammer novel released for the 100th anniversary of Mickey Spillane’s birth was gold for noir crime fans.  This first Hammer story introduced an origin for a character that had never been released, in fact never finished, but Spillane’s late career partner on his work made a seamless read.  This was the event of the year for the genre, and a fun ride for his famous character.  Honorable mention: Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake.

Best Tie-In Book – Solo: A Star Wars Story–Expanded Edition novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).  Not since Donald Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back had we encountered a Star Wars story as engaging as this one.  Lafferty took the final film version and Lawrence and Jon Kasdan’s script to weave together something fuller than the film on-screen.  Surprises and details moviegoers may have overlooked were revealed, and characters were introduced that didn’t make the final film cut.  Better yet, the writing itself was exciting.  We read more franchise tie-ins than ever before this year, and many were great reads, but this book had it all.  Honorable Mention: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove (Titan).

Best Genre Non-fiction – Hitchcock’s Heroines by Caroline Young (Insight Editions).  A compelling look at the director and his relationship with the leading women in his films, this new work on Hitchcock was filled with information diehard fans of Hitchcock will not have seen before.  Young incorporated behind-the-scenes images, costume sketches, and a detailed history of the circumstances behind key films of the master of suspense and his work with some of Hollywood’s finest performers.

There’s much more of our selections for 2018’s Best in Print to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As a high schooler who wasn’t a gamer, I watched my friends with their stack of books and wondered why the books looked so… corporate.  I knew enough about the basics of Dungeons & Dragons, and knew the focus on role-playing and imagination, and couldn’t see why players didn’t use some kind of fantasy covers, like poster art from Dragonslayer or The Dark Crystal.  Wandering a Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstore more than 15 years ago, I thought the faux leather and metal locks-and-hinge look from the 3.5 Edition was what I had expected for an in-universe look of a game that was about bringing players inside a new world.  Wizards of the Coast stepped into a different flavor of that theme with its variant series of books for the 5th Edition, and the result has been pretty stunning.

The variants Wizards of the Coast chose were created by Hydro74.  That’s the alias of artist Joshua M. Smith, whose artwork often reflects a unique style that pulls together the bright-on-black contrasts of 1970s black velvet posters, magical stylized creatures, and eye-popping foil-embossed, metallic inks.  In a series where magic is key, the selection of Hydro74 for the 5th Edition special variant covers was a great choice.

Wizards of the Coast has been slowly releasing the variants beginning late 2016 with Hydro74 covers on special editions of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and continuing with Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, this year’s history of D&D: Art & Arcana, and a stylized D&D ampersand dragon used for other covers and poster art that began as a cover for Dragon+ magazine in 2015.  But now the publisher has created a one-stop ultimate collection of special covers for the key 5th Edition books released before the other Hydro74 covers became the theme, in the Special Edition Core Rulebooks Gift Set.  The set includes Hydro74 cover versions for the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Monster Manual, and the Player’s Handbook, and a sturdy storage box and screen–both decorated with shiny red and gold embossed dragon imagery.  If you haven’t picked up the core rulebooks for the 5th Edition yet and you’ve been thinking about diving in, this is the place to start.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The classic wartime strategy board game is back, but this time with the strangest update yet.  It’s Axis & Allies & Zombies.  Just released, the game is playable as a standalone game featuring a 1941 scenario, and if you’re a fan of the original and think you’ve exhausted all the scenarios under past editions, you’ll love the included new rule modifications for the 1942 Edition of Axis & Allies.  It’s a great way to reinvigorate your game play (even if zombies aren’t your thing).  Why?  At its core, Axis & Allies is a heavily dice-driven game.  The update really offers some random changes in circumstances thrown at you as you defend the Americans, the Soviets, the British, the Germans, or the Japanese, in an alternate universe battle to win World War II (we reviewed the new Axis & Allies 1942 Edition last year here at borg).  If you love the zombie genre, even better, as no other game will give you this kind of real-world zombie battle, outside maybe your town’s annual zombie run.

Everything you need to play the game under the 1941 Zombie rules–the standalone game–are included in Axis & Allies & Zombies.  Blood-spattered money (Industrial Production Credits), a stained deluxe game board, six new zombie game dice, ghostly zombie characters, new zombie control markers, a set of 60 zombies (plus an 86-card expansion deck for the 1942 Edition), and all the game pieces from the original game are included here.  A big difference is this game can be played on a standard card table as opposed to the 1942 game board which requires far more space to play–this edition of the game includes a smaller game board than the original, but it still has plenty of room for play.

Zombies are created whenever a nation’s infantry unit is destroyed or via a directive from a zombie card drawn during each turn.  Every zombie gets to attack in each round.  Even neutral territories have gameplay–as a “Desperate Times” zombie card may indicate zombie infiltration via those locations, unlike their lack of utility in the classic game.  Optional play of “Desperate Measures” rules can result in good or bad actions, like the ability to use newly conceived anti-zombie technology.  And don’t expect an air attack by zombies.  Why?  Zombies can’t fly airplanes (of course!).  You also can’t deny the cool factor of another new feature–Chainsaw Tanks.

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Wizards of the Coast has two new books available just in time for Christmas gameplay.  Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica is the first time Dungeons & Dragons has formally issued a crossover with the realms of Magic: The Gathering Ravnica, first introduced in 2005 in Magic: The Gathering’s Ravnica: City of Guilds and again in 2012 in Return to Ravnica, is a vast plane and a diverse cityscape, where ten guilds battle for power, wealth, and influence.

The sourcebook includes detailed chapters on the ten guilds:  Azorius Senate, Boros Legion, Cult of Rakdos, Golgari Swarm, Gruul Clans, House Dimir, Izzet League, Orzhov Syndicate, Selesnya Conclave, Simic Combine, and sections on Creating Adventures, Treasures, and Friends and Foes.  Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica includes a key focus on the Tenth District of the city, which includes adventure opportunities for all ten guilds.  It boasts six new playable species, plus a new cleric domain, a new druid circle, backgrounds, and an expansive bestiary.

The second year-end release, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage serves as part two of the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure (reviewed here).  The Waterdeep saga continues where Dragon Heist ended, taking characters beyond the fifth level all the way to 20th level should they explore the entirety of Halaster’s home.  Players will find a tavern called the Yawning Portal in the city of Waterdeep, named after a pit in its common room.  Not explored in Tales from the Yawning Portal, at the bottom of the pit is a dungeon known as Undermountain, the domain of the mad wizard Halaster Blackcloak.  It is here where monsters, traps, and mysteries abound in 23 dungeons, along with the refuge of Skullport.  You’ll also find Stardock, the asteroid that orbits Toril, and new magical items like the Dodecahedron of Doom, plus Halaster and eleven other monsters not included in the Monster Manual.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re not a player of Dungeons & Dragons, a new journey through the hills and valleys of the roleplay game that started it all will get you up to speed quickly.  Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a comprehensive, authoritative, and licensed look back at nearly 50 years of gaming, storytelling, and artwork.  If you grew up with the game you are certain to find both nostalgia and page-after-page of new information in its more than 700 color images from the past, images of heroes and villains, monsters and other creatures, that brought in some 40 million players over the years.  Boasting some 10-15 million active players today, D&D now features the results of writers/D&D celebrity fans Michael Witwer (D&D historian), Kyle Newman (director of the movie Fanboys), Jon Peterson (game historian) and Sam Witwer (actor, Being Human, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) pulling together published images and source art from each edition of D&D’s core books, supplements, and modules, magazines, advertisements, tie-in products, sketches, and draft rules.  Their sources include the archives at Wizards of the Coast, private collectors, and more than 40 designers and artists from every era of the game’s history.  Released in two editions, fans old and new can choose from the standard 448-page hardcover alone or a special edition Hydro74-designed boxed set with some intriguing extras.  You’ll find a 14-page preview below courtesy of publisher Ten Speed Press.

This… treatise… this behemoth of a book is smartly designed so readers can approach it for a quick burst of throwback fun or a detailed dive behind the creation and many changes of the game and the companies behind it.  You can find a side-by-side evolution and comparison of monsters and other characters, soak in old maps and character sheets, and compare the covers and key art across all editions.  Possibly the best contribution is comparative images showing specific pop culture sources for many of the designs that made it into the early books and supplements, everything from Frank Frazetta Conan the Barbarian paintings to panels of comic book art from Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales.

From Guidon GamesChainmail to TSR to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro and the latest 5th Edition rule books, the D&D story is one of corporate takeovers, failures, successes and strategies, all to survive and ultimately consolidate with games including Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, World of Warcraft, and the entire Milton Bradley tabletop game catalog, all under one umbrella.  It all started with creators Gary Gygax and David Arneson, and their efforts to build on miniature figure battle games from centuries past, and modern rules for gaming that had a historic source:  sci-fi/fantasy author H.G. Wells first penned a gaming rulebook for miniatures titled Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books, an influential book inspiring gaming to this day.  The founders would pull in amateur artists and eventually professional artists, sprouting from a small headquarters in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, ultimately the source of Gen Con, the gaming convention that has been tied to D&D since the beginning.

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Review by Art Schmidt

Dungeons & Dragons continues to enjoy an increased popularity among gamers and folks open to roleplaying experiences, and continuing the excellent line of campaign adventures is the latest offering, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. This is an excellent 224-page book and contains a large fold-out map of the massive city of Waterdeep in the back.  The folks at Wizards of the Coast have listened to their community of players and dungeon masters, who have lamented past maps, which provided the DM with a numbered and heavily marked map–not that useful for players as it displayed all areas of interest.  The map in Dragon Heist is two-sided: one side marked and numbered for use by the person running the campaign, and the flip side unmarked and for use with the players.  Huzzah!

Waterdeep has always been the “City of Splendors,” once the most important and influential city in the Forgotten Realms, the imaginary world where the adventures of the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons all take place (but not for long!).  The adventure Dragon Heist takes players from 1st to 5th level during a heavily investigative and dynamic mystery involving a missing treasure and evil villains who want to beat the players (and everyone else) to the prize.  Unlike other adventures, Dragon Heist contains multiple paths to progress through the story, depending on the dungeon master’s choice of villain to pit the characters against.

This latest “season” adventure was announced during the live streaming weekend event The Stream of Many Eyes where several actors and D&D aficionados along with the Wizards of the Coast staff and some high-profile game streamers all played several games of D&D and discussed the new campaign book and associated gaming paraphernalia.  Joe Manganiello (Rampage, Magic Mike XXL, True Blood), Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil, True Blood, The Punisher), Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo, Bosch, Twin Peaks (2017)), Ashley Johnson (Blindspot, Teen Titans Go!, Marvel’s The Avengers) and Matthew Mercer (Critical Role, Attack on Titan, Overwatch) were just some of the celebrities involved in the three-day extravaganza.

Dragon Heist is the first in a set of two hardcover adventures, the second being Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (available November 13, 2018).  It follows the adventurers as they perform a favor for famous explorer, raconteur, and part-time scoundrel Volothamp Geddarm.  The favor nets them a base of operations in the middle of Waterdeep, and from there things escalate as the characters are caught up in a grand mystery concerning the whereabouts of a lost treasure hoard of golden coins (called “dragons,” hence the name of the adventure).  The characters investigate some mysterious happenings and eventually can discover the whereabouts of the hoard and must battle other interested parties to try to claim it.


The adventure takes a cue from the previous hardcover campaign Storm King’s Thunder, offering dungeon masters four alternate ways to run the adventure for their groups.  This choice comes in the form of four different villains which the party is pitted against in their race to discover what is going on in Waterdeep and eventually recovering the hoard of gold dragons.  Each villain is assigned a season (winter, spring, summer or fall) and this choice dictates not only the time of year in which the adventure takes place, and the main villain, but the order in which various locations around the city are visited while in search of the clues. Continue reading


By Art Schmidt

Once upon a time, there was a book called The Cave of Time, which was the first Choose Your Own Adventure book written by Edward Packer in 1979.  In this book, the idea of a fictional story and a fast-paced action adventure game were married into an experience which placed the actions of the story, and therefore the outcome, into the reader’s hands.  Every couple of pages would present the reader with a situation and then a choice: if you turn right, go to Page 29, if you turn left, go to Page 32.  Once you turned to that page, the story continued based upon your choice.  The Cave of Time was the first of its kind, and quickly led to nearly two hundred books of its type being published by Bantam Books for almost twenty years.  Subsequently additional books (and reprints) have been issued and continue to come out every few years, including The Magic of the Unicorn published just last year.

The folks who created the original Dungeons and Dragons product back in the 1970s, TSR Hobbies, Inc., quickly saw the potential of this creative type of book, and published their own choose-your-own-adventure books under the heading Endless Quest books starting in 1982.  Dungeon of Dread was a much longer and detailed novel than the original Choose Your Own Adventure books, twice as many pages and a more detailed story and background for the protagonist whose persona the reader undertook.  The books were popular, and TSR published three dozen over a five-year period.  The Endless Quest books were republished years later, and some more titles added, but with the surge of video games and other cheap, immersive entertainment, the books lost their charm for the fantasy gaming public and went out of print.  Other books were added in the 1990s but were largely out of print until this year.

   

Wizards of the Coast (who purchased the Dungeons and Dragons gaming brand in the 1990s) has revived the Endless Quest line of books and has licensed Candlewick Press to publish four new books based in the world of the Forgotten Realms, available today.  All four are written by Matt Forbeck, an award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author and game designer, whose credits include the Rogue One junior novel, the Magic: The Gathering comics, and Captain America: The Ultimate Guide to the First Avenger.  Unlike the previous books of the 1980s and 1990s, these books are each based on one of the four core character classes from the Dungeons and Dragons game: cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard.  Written in the second person, the novels focus on characters who are nameless but of specific race and gender.

In Escape the Underdark the reader plays a human fighter, and the story follows the Out of the Abyss hardcover adventure from the Rage of Demons storyline from the Dungeons and Dragons season three. The main character begins the story unarmed and enslaved by the evil drow elves of the dreaded underdark, the vast underground world which exists just below the surface of the Forgotten Realms world.  As the publisher describes the novel: “You awaken in an underground cell, stripped of your armor and your sword.  Your fellow prisoners inform you that you’re trapped in the Underdark, soon to be taken to the great drow city of Menzoberranzan and sold off as a slave.  But word is that demons are stirring in the underworld’s depth…”
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For fans of the classic monsters or younger players getting their first look at gameplay, a new coloring book is coming from Wizards of the Coast.  Dungeons & Dragons Adventures Outlined is arriving in game stores exclusively this weekend, and it’s arriving everywhere else later this month.

Look for 44 images to color in this 88-page book with artwork by subway graffiti artist-turned commercial and gallery artist Todd James.  The style of the artwork is very whimsical and feels like an exhibition of D&D as seen in street graffiti art.  Each image is accompanied by explanatory text about the creature featured by Magic: The Gathering card writer-turned D&D writer Adam Lee.  The cover image is a good representation of the pages found inside.

So get ready to revisit–or meet for the first time–characters like the beholder Grizzlax, blink dogs, dracoliches, the frost giant Blort, Saucy Jack, Mad Maud, a gibbering mouther, King Gluurbleblurb, mind flayers, owlbears, Mahadi Salimpurr, and Kronor the Brave.  Plus three images stretch over two pages.  Don’t expect a lot of detail, but for fans of Todd James’ art style this will be a must for pulling out the crayon or marker box.

Wizards of the Coast has plenty more coming for D&D players this year.  Here are some highlights:

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Review by Art Schmidt

This week the team over at Wizards of the Coast that produced the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is coming out with the newest addition to the line of hardcover books which make up the rules and playable content for the game.  Fifth Edition is by far the most popular and widely-played edition of the grandfather of all role-playing games for the last few decades and may be the most popular edition ever.  This newest book is titled Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, and its primary function is to provide nearly 150 new monsters for use in the game’s adventures, but the book itself is so much more than that.  Previous editions have focused their monster books on stuffing as many creatures into them as possible.  The more monsters, the more players will find the book useful, and (presumably) the more copies will sell.  What the current team has excelled at is deviating away from that “more stats are better” mentality, and instead focuses on the “why” of the monsters instead of the “how many”.  And Wizards of the Coast continues to pull this off beautifully in Tome of Foes.

Whereas previous D&D editions would have had the Monster Manual, and then Monster Manual II, followed by Monster Manual III, etc., 5th Edition has the requisite Monster Manual (reviewed here) but then wowed fans with Volo’s Guide to Monsters (reviewed here).  Essentially a book full of monsters, Volo’s deviated from previous norms and expectations in that it provided a wealth of information (re: text) about the monsters, their origins, histories, societies, clans and behaviors rather than just their hit points and ever-more-creative ways to wreck a party of characters.  And people bought in, big time.  The stories behind why mind flayers eat brains and how they manage to have a functioning society, or about the different kinds of giants and how drastically different their societies were and how they view their own roles amongst giants and their gods, were fascinating, and provided many a DM (and player) ideas for running their campaigns and players.

Limited edition, alternate-art cover by Vance Kelly.

At its core Tome of Foes still is a book full of monsters, but the background information it provides is just as deep and satisfying as that found in Volo’s.  The chapters on The Blood War and the Elves are especially valuable in providing players with more sparks for their imagination.  There are many new player options available in Tome of Foes in the form of playable races and sub-races.  Of particular note are the new options for tieflings (a playable race from the Player’s Handbook) and the gith (a D&D favorite dating all the way back to the 1st Edition Fiend Folio).  The gith are a race with two sub-races who roam the Astral plane with their silver swords, marauding and fighting each other in an endless conflict that sometimes spills over into the players’ world.  Tieflings currently have only one race option in the Player’s Handbook, as compared to other playable races such as elves, dwarves, and halflings, who each have two or more sub-race alternatives to customize their characters.  In the Player’s Handbook all tieflings are described as being infused with the essence of Asmodeus, the ruler of the Nine Hells in D&D lore, and they have one set of abilities for their race.  In Tome of Foes tieflings are provided with eight other alternatives, one for each of the rules of the eight layers of Hell that are ruled in Asmodeus’ name (he himself rules the bottom-most, or ninth layer of the Nine Hells).  These options provide a wide range of play for tiefling characters, specifically different stat modifiers and innate spellcasting abilities.

For the gith, the playable race is an interesting addition to the game, with two sub-races, the githzerai and the githyanki, the two original 1st Edition races of gith.  The gith are structured as other races, with a major and minor stat bonus (depending on sub-race chosen), additional abilities, alignment tendencies (though again, as with all previous 5th Edition publications, no restrictions or mandates), and of course, psionics.  As with previous psionic abilities, these are spellcasting abilities with a “psionics” attribute, which allows for casting without components.  In other words, a mental method of casting.  Although many players continue to clamor for a psionics mechanic in this edition, it seems as though the designers are sticking to their guns: psionics is just spellcasting without mumbling, hand-waving, and balls of bat guano.  And in the current version of the game, which nicely balances a wealth of meaningful character-building choices with rules mechanics that are easily accessible to the game-playing public at-large, this seems a wise choice.

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