October 25th, 2002

Giant robots on the tabletop: a new obsession?

A recent purchase at this year's Octocon was a starter set for the new tabletop gaming edition of the classic Battletech, Mechwarrior: Dark Age. I've been a fan of Battletech for some time, owning the original wargame, the RPG extension, a set or so of the collectable card game and a pile of novels.

Using a variant of the WizKids Games Clix system, armies are assembled by buying packs of pre-painted miniatures containing a random assortment of units (which can include limited edition miniatures with useful skills and weaponry). Games are played using units selected by points value, and tend to be run at a skirmish level with 100 to 300 point squads. You can create squads that mix mechs, armour and ground forces. All have good points, and bad points, and the simple rules and the Clix bases make keeping track of a unit's status easy - and the game fast.

It's an interesting approach, taking the collectable card game model and applying it to miniatures. But then, those of us who aren't jaq don't really have the painting skills to go down the traditional wargaming route... Certainly I'm happy enough to occasionally buy a booster set to increase my resources, and to improve my choice of units for any scenario. That and hopefully pick up a useful unique or two...
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The Friday Afternoon "Going Home" Review: Bundori

I first picked up one of Laura Joh Rowland's novels in a bookstore in Amsterdam. marypcb and I had gone over to meet up with rowanf, and we'd been talking (as we often do) about books. I can't remember if rowanf actually recommended this series to me, but I like to think she did...

Bundori is the second novel in the series, set some time after Sano Ichiro has entered the Shogun's service in Edo. As chief investigator, his role is to solve disturbing and unusual crimes, however his rapid rise and obvious integrity have offended the Shogun's chamberlain Yanagisawa, and his position is nowhere near as secure as he thinks. But now a serial killer is stalking the streets of Edo, mounting his victims' heads in the traditional manner as "bundori": traditional samurai war trophies. It's a tricky mystery to solve, as in Yanagisawa our hero has a powerful enemy, who will stop at nothing to destroy any man he considers a rival.

The hunt for the killer takes us around the winding streets of Edo, and introduces several characters who will be additional members of Rowland's cast in future novels. These include Sano's future wife, and the man who will become the Lewis to his Morse. We also get to see events that shape Sano's character, events that will echo down the series. As you can tell from these reviews, I've not been reading them in any particular order, as for one thing they've been quite hard to find here in the UK, but it's good to see that they do work well as standalone stories - often a failing with long running series in any genre.

This is a complex and engaging mystery, with a powerful and dramatic resolution. An interesting episode in the life of a well-constructed hero in what is a very alien land to 21st century westerners.
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