Saturday, 30 November 2013

'Kings of Air and Steam' - a Steampunk Pick up and Deliver Game

I haven't posted anything about board gaming for a while, so here's a review of a game I played last week.

Kings of Air and Steam is a pick up and deliver that first appeared on Kickstarter, which I played at my board gaming club last week. It has a steampunk type them - you use airships to travel around the world picking up resources from factories, transporting them from factories to depots. The depots are on rail lines which allow you to ship resources to cities where they are in demand.

I've not played many pick up and deliver games before, so I don't know whether this is a common approach, but each round has give movement phases in it. At the start of the round, each player secretly plans out his moves in advance. This takes a lot of thinking, as while the first move or two might be quite easy, the later moves are much more problematic. Why? Well by the time you get to the later moves in the round, there's a good chance that other players have already beaten you to a factory and stolen the goods from under your nose, forcing a quick rethink (the pre-planned moves you made at the start of the round dictate how many spaces you have to move in that movement phase, but not in what direction, so allows limited last minute changes of plan). That's just the basic rules of course, there's lots more too it than that, and multiple routes to winning, but that's the gist. Once you get the basics of movement etc you really get into the game very quickly.

The board is hexed based and really beautiful. The pieces are good quality, including chunky plastic airships. Overall a very good build quality.

The game took about 90-120 minutes with four players, and everyone was playing for the first time (although the Neil whose game it was had read through the rules a couple of times and is very good at explaining games even when he hasn't played before. I'd definitely play this again, and give it 8.5/10. It's ranked 835 on BoardGameGeek which to me seems a bit harsh, I'd definitely rate this higher than that. Of course I haven't played many pick up and deliver games before, there may be much better ones out there which is why this hasn't got as good a rating. If anyone's got any recommendations for better Pick up and Deliver games, do let me know!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

'Proxima' by Stephen Baxter

I discovered this book in my local library shortly after reading a couple of favourable reviews so had to pick it up. I used to read a lot of Stephen Baxter's books, and was particularly fond of his Xeelee series, but some of his later books I wasn't as keen on so not read any of his for a few years. This caught my eye because it is proper science fiction set in the future (he's written quite a few quasi-historical sf novels which I'm not always as keen on).

There are two plots two the book. The main one is about a small group of colonists who are basically deported from the solar system and abandoned on a world around the giant star Proxima Centauri as part of a hands off colonization effort (the authorities hope they'll breed and develop a colony outpost without them having to do anything much). The second plot is set in the Solar System and is about a futuristic Cold War between the Chinese and the United Nations. There are colonies on Mars, Mercury, the moon and one or two asteroids so it is not just about Earth. Oh and its the late 22nd century just in case you were wondering.

One of the really interesting things about this book is the colony planet Per Ardua, as it is christened, around Proxima Centauri. This is a so called 'exo-planet' similar to one of the hundreds that astronomers have discovered over the last few years. It is much larger than Earth, the planet is stationery around its star so one side is in permanent daylight, the other in permanent night. The topography, terrain and climate of the planet is very different from Earth - it shows Stephen Baxter's creative imagination as well as his scientific background.

I really enjoyed this book and it felt like Stephen Baxter is back to his best. It is imaginative, but plausible. The world of Per Ardua, and the general setup in the solar system is very interesting and well conceived. The plot is good, and the characters are decent too.

After reading, I skimmed through a few of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It generally gets favourable opinion, but with a few criticisms. I thought I'd give my take on these.

Blurb doesn't match the book - apparently there were some problems with an initial description, but my copy was fine. It did talk about billion year old secrets and galactic threats, though all you get of these is hints towards the end. I guess this will be picked up in book 2.

Too much like a Dan Dare comic strip - I don't see the problem with this. Yes it has some action in it, but this is well balanced by the other elements in what is a really well rounded novel.

'The bad guys were paper mache who melted when given a good talking to' - this one they may have a point with, I'm struggling to think of any real bad guys/gals/aliens, and the ones there were did just disappear far too quick. But this didn't seem like a problem at the time, and if anything the environment on Per Ardua was the enemy.

Overall, if you like your science fiction to be plausible with a good plot, great world building & dark hints of cosmic danger, then I really recommend this book. If you enjoyed any of Baxter's early books, you should enjoy this. 9/10.

Friday, 8 November 2013

SF authors anagrams quiz

I tried creating a proper multiple choice quiz earlier on General SF & Fantasy Fiction earlier, and any eagle eyed followers who were on Google Plus over lunchtime (UK time) might have spotted a quiz going up. It was a fine quiz, except for the fact that no matter how well you did, it would give you a score of zero. Ooops. I used a free service called Quizbox and there doesn't appear to be any useful help feature or FAQ that might cover this problem. So I'm going to try again with a different service, or maybe even code it myself. However for now, here's a short anagrams quiz. All of scrambled phrases below are anagrams of well known science fiction and fantasy authors. Feel free to post any answers you get in the comments below. Here goes.

1. Inherent Boiler
2. Biz Filterer
3. A merging terror
4. Character lurk
5. A basin mink
6. Discard off milk
7. A mosaic visa
8. Echoed mist
9. Sulk, alien guru
10. Mad of serenity
11. Rink jolter
12. Hob-nob rib!
13. Filched porker
14. Fancy men farce
15. Insane trophy

Shouldn't be too difficult, I'll post the answers in a day or two.

Shouldn't be too difficult, I'll post the answers in a day or two. In the meantime, if you want more SF quizzing fun, check out my Science Fiction & Fantasy quiz book, available on the Kindle store now.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

'Ships of My Fathers' by Dan Thompson - review

I recently asked over on Google Plus for recommendations for an 'indie' self-published science fiction book to read. I had various suggestions, several of which I intend to have a go at, but the one that most attracted me was this book, 'Ships of My Fathers' by Dan Thompson, which was recommended by Nathan Lowell (who himself is a quite well established self-published author I've now realised, and his books look rather good so you'll be hearing more from me about his books before long I think). Incidentally, the title may seem a bit of a strange one (too many plurals?), but a couple of chapters in and it makes perfect sense! Before I get into the review, my biggest reservation about self published books is the editing - other books I've experienced have been shocking, lots of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors etc. This book has none of those. It reads completely like a book published by a major publisher. Congrats to the author and their copyeditor, you've restored my faith in self-published indie books!

Michael Fletcher worked on his father's starship when, aged 17, he was suddenly orphaned after his father died in an accident. His father left him his starship, but he can't captain it until he's turned 18 and been able to pass his captain's his exam. Unfortunately, he learns that he was adopted, until he turns 18 he is under the guardianship of an Uncle he didn't know he had, and there are family secrets that need to be uncovered...

The story is a relatively simple one of family secrets, space travel and a little bit of piracy. It doesn't bore you with tonnes of descriptions, biographies, historical backplot etc, instead getting right down to the story. One thing I really liked though is that it goes into a lot more detail (without becoming boring) about life on board a starship, how it works and what people's jobs are. There's also quite a bit about how starships travel faster than light - it covers this much better than most sci-fi books which just stick with 'go to warp speed'... I was curious to know more about

The book is approximately 300 pages, and is the first in a planned series. The storyline in this book comes to a satisfactory conclusion so you don't need to read any more books, but there's enough unresolved plot hooks in there to make you want to read more. The quality of the writing (and editing) is very good - the book really flows, and there are no silly errors or clumsy writing to jar you out of the story.

Have now looked at Dan Thompson's other book, 'Beneath the Sky' the story of which is really, really interesting. A generation ship travelling for hundreds of years to the nearest star gets overtaken by a faster than light ship. What will be waiting for them when they reach their destination. Billed as being like the pilgrims on the Mayflower journeying to the new world, only to land in modern day Boston. Definitely high on my to be read list!