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Casual Saturdays: Why You Should Read the Ender’s Game Comic Book October 4, 2008

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First off, the details: Ender’s Game is one of the most beloved science-fiction novels of our time. Written by Orson Scott Card and first published as a novel in 1985, Ender’s Game tells the story of a future in which we have been attacked by an alien race known as the Formics (often called “Buggers” for their insect-like appearance). While we defeated the first wave of their ships, the leaders of Earth knew that they would return in decades with a full attack force. So, they have begun to take the brightest children on Earth, and train them in a Battle School. Ender is one of these children, and perhaps the brightest of them all, but can he find a way to stop the Buggers, when no one else has? Ender’s Game: Battle School will be a comic book mini-series from Marvel Comics. Issue #1 goes on sale on Wednesday October 8th. Sellouts may occur, so you may want to pick up your copy soon. To find a comic book store need you, call 1-888-COMICBOOK

For those who’ve read the novel, but don’t normally read comics: If you’ve read the novel, I’m assuming you’ve liked it. (And if you didn’t, there’s something wrong with you.) Surely you’ve heard that an Ender’s Game movie is in the works, but currently, not too much is occurring, because filmmakers are having a hard time transitioning it from book to movie. Since comics are essentially half-way in between books and movies, a successful comic book could show Hollywood that Ender’s Game can indeed be translated to the visual medium. So, if nothing else, reading the comic may be supporting the development of the movie.

Of course, that is not the only nor the best reason to read the comic book. The primary reason, is simply that it will be an adaptation of one of sci-fi’s best novels. If you would go to see the Ender’s Game movie, why wouldn’t you read the comic book? Like a movie, the comic will help bring the novel to life by adding visuals and “sound effects.” Of course, you may also be persuaded to read it from the praise that Orson Scott Card (who is not writing the comic) has given it here.

For those who read comics, but haven’t read the novel: first off, shame on you! You consider yourself a sci-fi fan, and you haven’t read Ender’s Game? Well, here’s your chance to find out why this book is so highly regarded. If you’re like me when it comes to comics, and usually enjoy traditional superhero tales best, you’ll be glad to learn that there is much to appreciate in the story of Ender’s Game. No, there aren’t any characters in capes and tights running around trying to stop a super-villain from destroying the city, but many similar elements can be found.

Ender is an outcast amongst his peers, and doesn’t really want to participate in “saving the world,” he just wants to grow up like a normal kid. He lives in a future where the Earth was devastated by Formic attacks, and all the world has been united in preparing to defeat the Formics when they return. In Battle School, he overcomes great odds to quickly rise as one of the best students. And for those who enjoy a little “secret identity” intrigue, there is the Earth-side story (assuming they keep this plot thread in the comic) of “Locke and Demosthenes” and how they use their “abilities” to help change the world.

For those who’ve read the novel and read comics: If you aren’t already planning on reading this, you need to take a moment right now and ask yourself why.



Now this is just getting ridiculous! September 24, 2008

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I feel like a broken record: once again, nothing new to review. 😦 However, I CAN guarantee a review tomorrow because I am heading out to my local comic shop to pick up Avengers: The Initiative today. (This is the first time ever that I’ve been glad that you can’t subscribe to this title!)

Be back tomorrow!


Casual Saturdays: My Spicy Chili Recipe September 20, 2008

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Today I thought I’d share my own award winning (fine print: this won the award for spiciest chili at a chili cook-off using the “even spicier” variant recipe mentioned at the bottom of the recipe) Spicy Chili Recipe. Enjoy!

Staples’ Spicy Chili

• 1 lb ground beef
• ¼ cup dehydrated onions or fresh chopped onions
• 2 16 oz cans pinto beans
• 1 16 oz can red beans
• 1 16 oz can kidney beans
• 1 16 oz can diced tomatoes or petite diced tomatoes
• ½ package of chili seasoning
• 3 cups tomato sauce
• 1 cup water
• ½ tsp salt
• ¼ – ½ tsp pepper
• ½ tsp seasoned salt
• ½ tsp ground chipotle chili pepper
• ½ tsp ground cumin
• ½ tbsp ground cayenne pepper
• Optional: grated cheese
• Optional: crackers

Brown the beef and onions, afterwards, rinse the mixture in a colander. Next, rinse all of the beans in a colander. Thoroughly mix all ingredients in a large saucepan or crock pot. If in a saucepan, cook covered 20 – 30 min on medium heat. If in a crock pot, slow cook for several hours, exact time varying depending on temperature. Serve hot, add cheese and/or crackers to individual bowls as desired. For even spicier chili, use 1 tsp of chipotle chili pepper and 1 tbsp of cayenne pepper. For meatier chili, use 1 ½ pounds of ground beef.


Yarr! It Be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! September 19, 2008

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Ahoy me mateys! Unfortunately those scallywags at Marvel Subscriptions be delaying me shipment once more, so there’ll be no review today! Arr! However, this be yer reminder to talk like a pirate all day long, or ye shall be forced to walk the plank! If ye be not back tomorrow for Casual Saturdays, ye’ll be given the black spot!

-Captain LOTRBeard

Don’t look at me! September 18, 2008

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Still no comics in the mail! Hey, it’s not my fault! Unfortunately, I’m out of recent reviews of mine to link to at WCBR. So until my postal carrier delivers me some comic book goodness, there are still plenty of great reviews not written by me (this, perhaps, is what makes them so great 😉 ) at Weekly Comic Book Review.

Here’s hoping there’s a review tomorrow! (And you guys probably aren’t going to be too happy when I say that there will be no “Casual Saturdays” this week either! Oops! Cat’s out of the bag now! Gosh, what a lazy week!)


Casual Saturdays: Why You Should Get Facebook September 13, 2008

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When I first heard about Facebook, I thought it was stupid. A place where you could go online, and become “friends” with people that you already knew, and send mindless applications back and forth? Sounded like the ultimate immature middle-schooler’s internet haven. Then my younger sister got one. She went on about how useful it was, the fun she had, and the ability it gave her to actually get to know her friends better. I scoffed, why do you need a website to get to know your friends, shouldn’t you do that just by hanging out? Nonetheless, my sister continued to try to convince me to get one, and I just ignored her. Even my mother was against Facebook. She didn’t think it was “safe” for people to have their own internet page where they could put personal information and photos of themselves “for the world to see.” She thought it was the stalker’s internet haven.

Of course, sisters have a way of influencing people. When my aunt got one (my mother’s younger sister), she finally talked my mom into getting one. At work, I had numerous friends telling me I needed to get one. “Nah, I don’t need some stupid internet page to know I have friends, what’s the point?” When it reached the point that almost everyone I knew (even my bosses and some of my church leaders) had one, I finally caved in to “peer pressure.” “Well, I’ll start one, and if I think it’s stupid, I’ll just stop using it,” I thought.

To make an already long story short, I quickly saw how wrong I was. Sure, Facebook does have stupid applications and quizzes that were probably meant to appeal to immature middle-schoolers, but chain letter emails of the same ilk also exist, that doesn’t stop you from using email, you just simply ignore them, the same case happens here. Besides, I soon saw the possible benefits of Facebook outweighed any annoyances.

Facebook really does help you to connect with your friends better. When I graduated high school two years ago, I wondered how I would be able to keep up with all the various paths my friends took. Through Facebook, I have been able to reconnect with almost all of them (including two friends that I’ve been trying to track down since graduation, but haven’t been able to). Facebook acts like a little personal newspaper, as you update pictures and events about what’s going on in your life, your friends can keep up with what you are doing, and you can comment to them about it. Facebook even sends you reminders when friends have birthdays coming up.

I also discovered that not all applications were “stupid,” many are fun, and serve as more ways to express yourself and get to know each other. I realize this is a crazy world we live in where we can socialize more often sitting in front of a computer than in front of that person, but where can you seriously find all of your friends in one place? Besides, most of the people I “socialize” with on Facebook are people I don’t see very often, and I’m grateful that this is able to bring us together.

But what about the security factor? Facebook has easy to use and understand security features, you can pick exactly who can look at your information. For me, I have it set that only people who are my friends can look at any of my personal info, and the beneficial part is that you get to choose your friends, and you can delete people from you friend list at any time. As long as you are careful what you post, and what your security features are, there is nothing to worry about.

Facebook helps parents. Parents, if you get a Facebook, and become “friends” with your children, you can look and see what they are doing just as easily as any of their friends can. You can see exactly who their friends are. If nothing else, Facebook can also serve as a great “parental guidance” tool.

Facebook is the single most useful socializing tool I have found online. When I got a Gmail account, I thought Gmail was the most brilliant and user friendly form of email I’d ever seen. I was an avid Gmail fan who told all of my friends they should get one. Now that I’ve found Facebook, I feel just as strongly. It really does help you connect better with those around you.


Casual Saturdays: More Risky Talk – A Brief Discussion of Strategy September 6, 2008

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I’m not going to pretend to be a RISK expert, but I have noticed a curious strategy among fellow RISK players. Anytime I mention RISK to someone new I meet, if they play it, their reaction is usually along the lines of: “Oh yeah! I love that game! I always go for Australia!” Now, Australia is a very good continent to own: it ensures two extra reinforcements every turn, and is extremely easily defendable because it has only one access point.

However, I’ve noticed that Australia is oftentimes not a good location for your “homeland.” (I’m using the word “homeland” to mean the area you first attempt to take over in the game, and then direct most attacks out from.) Yes, it provides plenty of defence, you can stay holed up there for a long time, and endure through much of the game if you can keep it. However, if you attempt to build Australia as your homeland, there is only one place to move your frontline attacks: into Asia.

Now Asia is huge, and grants seven bonus reinforcements. If you can take and keep Asia, you are probably going to dominate the game. However, most other players will stop what they are doing to ensure that another player does not take Asia for this very reason. I have seen games won where someone’s main goal is to take Asia, but these are rare, and often involve a good deal of luck. In order to move anywhere else on the board, you will have to get there through Asia, and therefore have to keep both your frontline and distant homeland well stocked with troops, and this can often be hard to do.

So, summing up, Australia’s best quality is also its worst: it’s isolated. However, in my opinion, there is a very similar continent which poses much less problems: South America.

South America, like Australia, gives two reinforcements, and is also easily defendable because it has only two access points. However, unlike Australia, from South America, you can easily move to any continent except Australia. South America is connected to North America and Africa. If you can successfully invade from Brazil to North Africa, then you are also connected to Europe. One further invasion (into either Egypt or East Africa) ensures your path to Asia. In other words, South America puts you only one or two territories away from every continent (once again, except Australia). From here, you can use almost any conquering strategy at your disposal.

To clarify, trying to own Australia is certainly not a bad thing. If you have the opportunity to take it, you’d be a fool to pass it up. However, it is not the best place to make as your homeland; rather, it should be more of a side-project. Now, you obviously can’t make South America your homeland in every game. The games that I’ve played involving two players fighting for the same homeland usually end up with one (or both) of those players dying off very quickly. It’s usually better to move away, than to waste a massive amount of troops on a cold war. But, in situations where I can make South America my homeland, I always take them.

Now as I said in the opening, I am no where near to being a RISK expert. But I’ve played my fair share of games. I’m not the world conqueror too often, but I’m rarely the first person to die either. So you may or may not want to take my advice with a grain of salt. This was mainly meant to be me wondering why everyone goes for Australia, when I’ve always thought South America seemed the better choice.

Well, what do you fellow RISK players think?


Review of Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (3.5 stars) September 4, 2008

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Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My original intent was to rent this, and summarily bash it here for its horrible cheesiness which, I thought, the trailers made apparent. Well someone needs to fire their marketing department, because this was much better than it looked to be. Given, it still stars a bunch of young teen superhero children of the original Avengers, but the movie creators were actually able to pull this storyline off fairly well.

In the future, Ultron has killed off all the original Avengers, except for Iron Man, Hulk (though he isn’t discovered until late in the movie), and Thor (who left Earth behind). Before their deaths, the Avengers sent their young children with Iron Man, to be kept hidden away from Ultron. Tony, now the unsuspecting surrogate father must raise these kids. Surprisingly, he does a pretty good job. Twelve years later, these children have mastered their abilities, and after a quick chain of events, are found by Ultron. The rest of the movie is a series of attacks and escapes filled in with story and character development, and along the way we see a few “familiar” faces (though now much aged). There may not have been too much in the way of “Easter Eggs,” but those familiar with Marvel history will probably be able to guess a few plot points faster than the less familiar.

Now, addressing the complaint that this isn’t based off of any comic: personally, that doesn’t bother me at all. True, there are still plenty of classic Marvel sagas that need to be adapted to movie form, but seeing a completely new tale feels somewhat fresh, especially when it’s with new characters. Despite being kids, the stars give us plenty of great characterizations, and humor. The “child element” of this movie didn’t annoy me in the slightest. However, faithful Marvelites may be bothered by one thing: in the movie, it has been changed that Tony Stark was the creator of Ultron. Yes, this is a major change, but since he is still a character in this film, and plays a significant role, it allows us to see how he suffers the consequences, and makes for a much better story (in this particular instance) than if the creator had remained Hank Pym. So I was slightly annoyed at first, but I soon came to realize it was for the best.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but let me confirm now, the cheesiness was kept to a surprising minimum for being marketed as a kid’s movie, in fact this probably had the least cheesiness of any of Marvel’s Animated Features so far (though Dr. Strange remains my favorite to date). While this was intended to bring more kids into the genre, adults who enjoy superhero tales, and don’t mind animated movies should enjoy this. If you’ve seen any of Marvel’s previous animated movies, you should definitely look into this. There’s really not too much to complain about here. Yes, there were one or two lines that could have been omitted, and an occasional instance where the animation was awkward. But overall, this was surprisingly enjoyable.


Happy Labor Day! September 1, 2008

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Sorry, should have mentioned this earlier, I’m taking today off, so this week’s “Flashback” will occur tomorrow.

Have a great Labor Day everyone!


Casual Saturdays: My Official Report on the New Edition of RISK August 30, 2008

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For those who haven’t walked down the board game aisle of your local retail store lately, I’ve got some news for you: there’s a new edition of standard RISK. However, this time they didn’t just update the packaging, to those familiar with comic book terms, you might as well call this the “RISK Reboot.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, RISK 2.0 is here. So what’s different, and what’s the same? Is it still the same game, with only minor changes, or has it become something new altogether? Having played this new RISK thrice now, I hope to detail just this, and comment on which changes are good, and which are not so good.

Major changes:
How to Win

Minor changes:
RISK Cards/Reinforcement Trade-Ins
Location names
Troop pieces
Amount of Players

How to Win: RISK is no longer the game of global domination, but still remains a game of conquest and strategy. Instead of taking over the world to win, you must have control of your capital and accomplish three objectives. However, the rule booklet does contain rules for “an updated version of the classic game of global domination.” You simply maintain Objectives/Rewards, Capitals, and Cities, and just keep playing past the point when someone accomplishes three objectives, until someone conquers the entire map. Of course, RISK purists may simply wish to ignore these three new elements and can easily play “Old-School RISK” with this updated edition. Objective RISK does have two advantages: one, it takes significantly less time to play. So when you and a couple friends want to play RISK, but don’t have 5-7 hours to dedicate to a single game, this is the perfect solution. Two, it actually takes more strategy. Not only do you have to keep yourself defended and your frontline strong, but now you must also figure out ways to accomplish objectives before your opponents, while keeping them from doing so.

Objectives/Rewards: Recent editions of RISK have contained alternate rules for “Mission RISK,” and it is a similar concept here. At the beginning of the game, the objectives are shuffled, and then eight are placed face up on the board. This number is not restocked as the game goes on, so the number of possible achievable objectives diminishes as the game continues. Rewards are also shuffled and placed with objectives at the beginning of the game.

Capitals: Those who have played RISK II (the computer game) may be familiar with the “Capital RISK” variant. Once again, the rules here are similar. At the beginning of the game, each player chooses one territory to serve as their capital. They cannot ever move their capital, so it is wise to pick an easily defendable position. (In other words, don’t stick it in the middle of Asia, unless you plan on losing.) As mentioned earlier, you have to be in control of your capital to you win the game. If someone takes over your capital, you will eventually have to take it back. Even if you are playing the global domination variant, capitals are still important, as some of the objectives involve them. You also get one extra reinforcement each turn for every capital you control (including your own).

Cities: At the beginning of the game, fifteen territories are chosen at random, and a city is placed in each of these territories. When you get reinforcements, you count the amount of territories AND cities that you own, and divide this number by three to get your number of reinforcements. For example, if both John and Ben own twelve territories, and none of John’s territories have a city, while all of Ben’s territories have a city, then John will only get four reinforcements, while Ben will get eight.

RISK Cards/Reinforcement Trade-Ins: Instead of having an infantry, a cavalry, or an artillery on each, cards now have either one star or two. (There are more one-star cards than two-star.) Trading in a certain amount of stars will get you a certain amount of troops. You can now have more than five cards in your hand, but you can only turn in cards at the beginning of your turn (even if you kill one of your opponents) and cannot turn in more than ten stars at once. This, I in my opinion, is the perfect solution to the ascending trade-in/set trade-in problem. Those who thought that ascending trade-in amounts that granted up to sixty troops were too powerful will be pleased to learn that even ten stars only grants one thirty troops, and seeing as how most cards are one star, it will take a lot of “saving” to turn this in. Likewise, those who think getting a maximum of ten troops is too few should be appeased with the new trade-in system. Also, there are no more wild cards.

Location names: To those who have been worrying: don’t worry, the board still has forty two territories located in the same areas, with the same “adjacencies,” sea-line connections, etc. The ONLY thing that has changed on the board is the names of a few locations. Quebec is now Eastern Canada. Ukraine is now Russia. Congo is now Central Africa. And Siam is now Southeast Asia. These have all been done (likely) in the effort to “modernize” the game (which I will discuss later.)

Fortification: This isn’t really an update if you are familiar with the previous edition of RISK. At the end of your turn, you can fortify from any one territory that is “connected” to another. “Connected” is defined as owning every territory in between two territories. For example, if you own Eastern Australia, South Africa, and everywhere in between, you can move men from E. Australia to S. Africa. If an opponent takes the Middle East, and you don’t own any other “connectors” to East Africa, then the furthest west you can move is India.

Troop Pieces: This is yet another thing that will probably serve as an annoyance to “RISK purists,” the pieces are no longer infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Now, there are big arrows and small arrows. Small arrows count as one troop, big as three. At first, I thought this was ridiculous. What happens when you stockpile men in one location? First off, with objectives now taking precedence, it is quite unlikely that you will be stockpiling anywhere (except perhaps your capital). Second, because the pieces are much more compact than previous ones, you can fit much more into one territory. To those who are annoyed by this: remember, the pieces have changed frequently. Originally, they were just colored blocks. Then they became roman numerals identifying their quantity. Then they finally became the pieces we are familiar with. (I’ve actually played with all three versions too.) This is just the next step up the evolutionary ladder. The only time I could see this as being a problem is when you are playing Global Domination. In which case, you may need to start using an unused color if you gain too many men (I’ve had to do that in the “Old RISK” anyway), or you could say from the game start that big arrows are five troops (or whichever amount you choose). Once again, this is probably in attempt to modernize the game. Yes, I enjoyed the Napoleonic flavor of previous editions, but modern can be fun too. I’m neither upset nor excited by this shift in time-setting. I suppose it is all up to personal preference.

Amount of Players: RISK is now for 3-5 players, not 2-6. The board only comes with five troop sets, and no rules are included for “2-Player Neutral Army RISK.” I see this as an improvement. Six player games I’ve participated in rarely turn out to be fun, the board is much too crowded, and one or even two players lose very quickly because they are simply in other people’s way, so everyone stomps over them before they can even begin to set up an adequate frontline or home-front. Having only five troop sets ensures that this doesn’t happen. Likewise, two-player RISK with neutral armies takes way too long. (If you want to play with two players, play Lord of the Rings RISK which, in my opinion, is actually best to play with two. Four can be fun also, just NEVER play LOTR RISK with three players, trust me, it just doesn’t work.)

So there you have it, a fairly detailed description of similarities and differences between this new RISK, and the older editions. For the most part, I like the changes. However, if I could change one thing about this new RISK (or unchange I suppose, depending on how you look at it) I would include rules for the original Global Domination, no Objectives/Capitals/Cities, “Old School” RISK. Yes, I understand, and even approve of the updates they’ve made. But they can’t just overlook the original version that has existed for decades. Hopefully, when the release the next version, they’ll keep these new rules, and include the original rules, just for old times sake. So, knowing everything I know now, would I still have bought this new edition? Most definitely. But I’m also definitely keeping my older board, for those times when I and some friends DO have seven hours to kill, and are in the mood to take over the world.