Thursday, June 28, 2018

Its Not for you! - a look at rebooting your childhood.

There are a lot of 80s cartoons being rebooted of late.  Voltron started a while back.  We have new TMNT ( again) new Thundercats, and new She-Ra cartoons all premiering later this year or next year.  They all appear to be drastic departures from the versions so many of us grew up with, so its understandable that some of my fellow 80s kids have a hard time with this change.  I did too for a long time, but in this post I want to to talk about how I became OK with the reboots and my new philosophy on Life, the Universe, and Cartoons.

Much of my life has been inundated with thinking about the things I loved as a child.  The cartoons, movies, and toys of the 80s are all such a huge part of what I loved about growing up.  They were important to me.  I have fond memories of lounging around and watching the mid afternoon cartoons on my families woodgrain TV with very persnickety tuners.  These cartoons were how the kids of the day formed a lot of their social interactions.  It was the water cooler talk of Kindergarten and first graders.  

Of course, watching the cartoons led to buying the toys and playing with those.  The characters and the franchises were on the screens as well as down the toy aisle.  I saw some of these characters more than I did some of my family members.  You form connections unwittingly to these characters and franchises. 

And this is where fandom gets tricky - you see, we love these things.  We have supported these things for years - often when no one else did, we support them so much that we often feel like they belong to us, That we own them, and that the franchise owes us something for our support.  We compare everything to that original version that we saw as kids.  If it does't touch that nostalgia space in us -  it sucks and had destroyed our childhood ( one of the worst phrases in this whole debate of reboots - also something a reboot can't actually do). It’s broken and it doesn’t deserve to exist.  It is worth less than the value we have put on it in our minds.

But here is the thing-  we don’t own it -  and honestly what we think doesn’t matter.  Let’s be real for a minute .  The original Thundercats is excruciating to watch.  The remake in 2012 - was good - but kids (still the target audience) - didn’t like it.  So honestly what do we know anyway.  Its important to accept these shows aren’t made for us -  but - it’s still there and they represent a new way for us to interact with the franchise.  These new shows are for our kids.  It provides a new way for our kids to interact with the franchises we loved when we were kids.  It is a way for us to connect.  Our kids will love these -  this will be their Thundercats or Ninja Turtles, or She-Ra.

The same ultimately goes for movies -  for all of you who are disheartened about the direction of the new Star Wars trilogy. Luke Skywalker was your hero - he was mine -  but it doesn’t mean he should be redirected in a saintlike stature - because our kids don’t have the co. Action to him.  Like it or not these new movies aren’t for us.  Once again they are for our kids - and those who did not grow up with warn out VHS copies of the movies.

It took me a long time for me to get to this place in my life.  I was there, specifically with Doctor Who.  Weathering the wilderness years between the classic and new series was hard.  When I came out of the other side of it- it did feel like I was owed something.  and in a way that I was superior.  that I knew what was better for the series.  As it turns out I didn't, and the BBC still owns it.  Do I think they have made some odd choices - yes I do.  do I think the show will go on. . . Yes I do.  Do I still watch every single episode. . . Yes I do.  You see that show - isn't made for me any more.  it is made for a different audience, but it is still mine to support if I choose to.  So, Bring on Jodi Whittaker and here is to her being the best Doctor yet!

Now don't get me wrong, we are all entitled to our opinion.  you are perfectly fine to not like something.  You should be proud of the things you don't like and you should be able to vocalize why you don't like it.  That is what fandom is about.  In the end though - say your peace and let those who like it like it.  If you are able support it, because of what it was.remember most of those who are making these things now are like us.  They grew up with it and are putting that lense on it as they are creating it.

Ultimately it is time for us 80s kids to appreciate that we have grown up and that we are no longer the audience for these cartoons - That these new versions are being made for someone else.  You should watch these shows in support of what they once were and what they will be for the next generation.  We owe them that support.  Buy the toys for the kids in your life - and remember what it was like when your parents or loved ones bought them for you.  Remember that feeling and be happy that you can share it with your kids.  This will create the next generation of creators, animators, comic makers, and generally good people!

You can view images, trailers, or intros for some of the upcoming reboots below:
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The new She-Ra upcoming from Netflix coming later this year!

(P.S. I'm secretly looking forward to all of these reboots - and the action figures that will come with them!)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Gateway Role Playing Board Games

I have a fascination with late 80s and early 90s gateway board games.  That's what I call them at least.  These were games that took on tenets of  of role playing games without actually being role playing games.  It was a way for the mass market Toy companies cash in on the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy role playing games without gaining as much of the Ire from the Satanic Panic backlash that Dungeons and Dragons (and the company that made it, TSR) had felt during the 80s.

These Games were were typically board games in which players took on the role of a character (or took a role in the game) often these were cooperative games, and sometimes they even had a "game master" to play the bad guys in the game.  Typically these were Dungeon Crawl games, meaning the players were exploring dungeons or castles.  The dice were typically more akin to the polyhedral dice used in Role Playing games at the time than other board games.  Sometimes the dice were 6 sided but they had special symbols.  The games also made use of miniatures as pieces. Not only were the players pieces represented by these, but so were the monsters and villains that they would fight.  If anyone had glanced into a game store and seen miniature games being played before, these games  would have felt similar to that experience.  It was an easy way to experience something with a low buy in price.

These games also had fun components and looked complicated.  While these games may have acted as a gateway to Role Playing and other thematic gaming experiences.  They were also designed to combat the perceived immersion that video games were providing.  That was definitely a factor in the development of these games as well. 

The games I am going to talk about here, are mostly fantasy themed.  In some cases it felt like the company was more interested in selling the theme than they were a game.  Most of these games had boxes with paintings of warriors and wizards fighting dragons and other monsters.  Right out of the gate they conjured images of heroic quests and mighty fantasy heroes.  All of that was right on the cover.  It was the promise of adventure.  But it was still confined to the bounds of a board game!

The front box art for HeroQuest - Image taken from


The first of these games I am going to look at is probably the most popular and sought after.  HeroQuest was a collaboration between  Milton Bradley and British game company Games Workshop.   The game focused on 4 generic heroes (Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf, and Wizard) as they traversed dungeons and fought monsters (such as orcs, Goblins, and Gargoyles)  placed by Zargon (played by the another player)

The game is played on a board with castle or dungeon rooms.  Zargon (the game master) places furniture, doors and other provided objects around according to previously laid out  maps provided in the book.  The players then move around the grid on the board into and out of rooms fighting monsters and finding treasure. 

HeroQuest made use of special dice with Skulls and Shields printed on them.  These were used by all of the players to make their attacks and to defend against other attacks.  To hit, you were looking for skulls, and to defend you were looking for shields.

The HeroQuest setting was loosely based on that of the Warhammer property that Games Workshop produced.  The grim world of that dark fantasy worked translated well into the game.  The most specific tie to the setting were the Chaos Warriors that served as monsters in the game.

This game was a lot of kids first experience with fantasy gaming.  I have heard more than one story  of kids getting their start with RPGs with this game.  Which makes sense as it could be purchased at retail and there was no need to go into a specialty store to purchase the game.

The game was also expandable as there were expansions released with more miniatures and new adventures to be added to the game.  This was a fairly new concept to big box store games, and was pulled directly from the hobby gaming and RPG model.  It created more playability and replay ability of the game.

Check out the amazing commercial that was inundating kids on Saturday morning!  What kid wouldn't want to take a crack at this game! 


Milton Bradley and Games Workshop had another collaboration called Battle Masters which was a skirmish game made for a mass market.  This game more closely resembled WarHammer in terms of set up, and theme.  It was less role playing but maintained the thematic piece to connect to the modern RPGs of the time.
Once HeroQuest ceased publication games workshop continued the game with "Advanced HeroQuest" it was a similar concept but with a more complex set up and rule system.  More recently they brought a similar system and game back with Warhammer quest.

HeroQuest is still one of the most sought after games of this era.  The game is often found going for over $100.  It is a desirable piece for the collection, especially for those who want to relive the experience of their gaming hay day.

Dragon Strike

Dragon Strike Bx Art - Image from
Dragon Strike is a little more on the nose.  This game came out in 1993 and was TSRs attempt to bring people into the hobby (read bring people into playing Dungeons and Dragons).  It was designed as an entry level game to get a younger audience interested into Fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons.  TSR had the full force of its machine behind this game.  First, the game was packaged with a VHS that boasts that it is made in "Hyper Reality", which basically means they hired some oiled up "actors" and set them up on a green screen and put some animation behind them.  This was meant to demonstrate how a game of dragonstrike should run, and how the roles of the characters could be taken on.  TSR also employed marvel comics to create a one issue comic to promote the game.  Also the adverts for the game were extensive in the nerd culture of the time, including in comics etc. . .   And don't forget the obligatory Saturday morning cartoon commercial.

Of course like all great obscure videos you can find the "Hyper Reality" video on youtube now for your enjoyment

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Marvel Comics Dragon Strike one shot issue 

The setup is not unlike HeroQuest.  The players take on the role of a Warrior, a Wizard, an Elf, a Thief, or a Dwarf as they take on monsters on boards that are set up by a player who plays the role of the dungeon master and controls the monsters of the game. These monsters include Dragons, A Scorpion Monster, Skeletons, and orcs.  The setup and feel is very reminiscent of HeroQuest - with the biggest difference being that there is a timer for the game.  After a number of rounds the Dragon will fly in and attack the players.  This helps speed the game along for the players.

This game mechanics was an extremely simplified version of the basic Dungeons and Dragons rules.  It used a D12, D10 and D8 that were color coded.  Each characters card had a different colored die next to the different abilities,  When the player wanted to use that ability, they simply had to find the die that corresponded to the color next to that ability.

Thematically it was very generic fantasy - The video that is included leads off with a very medieval esq castle with a jolly king having a feast.  It is not really an established Dungeons and Dragons.  Actually that is one of the odd things about this game.  They game is very obviously an entry point into D and D, but the game is called Dragon Strike.  No where on the cover of the box do the words "Dungeons and Dragons" appear.  The only thing that connect the two products is the dragon in the logo is the same dragon that was appearing on the basic D and D sets at the time.  At the bottom of the box it actually said it was part of "the Adventurevision Game Series," which doesn't appear to have actually become a thing after this, but this kind of thing was not uncommon for TSR at the time.


While this is a game that I have pined after ever since I remember seeing the commercials on TV, I can't say the game itself has left much of a legacy.  It was mildly successful and a few years after HeroQuest, so it is not remembered quite so fondly.  Of the four games I am talking about in this post this is the one you find most inexpensively.  Of course Dungeons and Dragons and the TSR properties have a huge legacy- this is a product that is part of that family, so the legacy is pretty astounding if you include that. 

Key to the Kingdom

Key to the Kingdom Box Art - Image taken from
When Golden puts out a fantasy themed game you know there is something to the fantasy trend.  Yes that "Golden" the same company that put out golden books.  That is who put out "Key to the Kingdom." in 1990.  While still very much a fantasy game that could lead to role playing it takes a slightly different track.  There are fewer miniatures, actually just identical player pieces and a "Demon King" miniature.  The game is also competitive as opposed to the collaborative play of the other games. Key to the Kingdom uses 8 sided dice, and the players have equipment cards that they will used to defeat monsters or traps that they meet along the way.  While we are discussing "The Way" the pieces are move around on a board that appears to be something out of a traditional board game.  There are squares and players move their piece along the paths not unlike you would in candy land.  Then it gets interesting.

There are 6 parts of the board.  there are the front two panels, then it opens out into 4 more panels.  The board opens as players move their characters to one of two portals.  Characters who have not reached the portal have 3 turns to do so.   It is a fascinating point of game play.  It literally turns the game upside down.  This throws kinks into the other players plans, as you are all looking to find the Key to the Kingdom, but you still have to escape the board with the key before you win. 

This is a fantasy trope that is not often picked up on for board games.  the idea of planes, or dimension travel.  It is worked right into the mechanics, an it is exciting!

This game is hard pin down.  It walks a line of traditional board game and thematic fantasy game.  There are elements of role playing like equipment management and fighting monsters, but it doesn't feel as ingrained on the experience as some of the others do.  Still this is a game that I hear people talk about how it was their first experience with fantasy gaming and later got them excited about trying RPGs.  It is also a great example of fun thematic game design.


Dark World

Dark World Box Art - Image taken from
Dark World was put out in the US by Mattel in 1992.  It seems like a direct response to the success of Heroquest.  It feels as if tries very hard to be more than HeroQuest in a set of overproduced components. This game continues the thematic journey of dungeon crawler complete with a girded dungeon board, hero and monstrous miniatures, and dice with odd symbols on them.  Similar to hero quest and dragon strike one player, called the "Evil Lord" plays the role of the monsters.  That part is simple, but this game offers an oddity.  It is extremely overproduced.

The game is full of moving parts.  There are physical walls that are propped up on the board that are complete with hinged doors and secret passage ways.  There are treasure chests that open to reveal weapons than can be added to the hands of the players miniatures to increase their ability.  The end of the board represents the throne of the evil lord where he waits for the intrepid adventurers ready to attack.  Speaking of heroes, their hit points are kept very similarly to how heroclix work.  The base of the miniature twists to act as a counter for hit points.  One of the strangest components of the game is a piece that sets up initiative order.  It is a plastic sword with 4 colored beads inside.  you shake it - then resolve turn order by moving the characters based on the order in which the beads line up in the sword.  It is innovative for sure, if not a little odd.  Under all of the moving parts however are extremely simple mechanics that do not benefit from the extra plastic included with the game.  The characters move very linearly around that girded board.   Once doors are open they are open and have no game effect.  While it looks great it doesn't seem to add to the mechanics.

There is, however something to be said about immersion, and the immersion factor of the production of this game.  These days it is nothing for D&D players to spend thousands of dollars on Dwarven Forge components to create the very experience that this game created out of the box.  So, it is relevant to the conversations.  Like the other games Dark World offered many a kid in the 90s an exciting entry point into role playing games.  It had all of the thematic action that a 90s kid could want.  In a very elaborate package.

There were several expansions put out for this game over the next few years.  While the game now has a cult following it did not have the popularity of staying power that heroquest has had.  The pure amount of components made it slightly more difficult to allow it to stay together, so now finding complete copies is harder.  It was a game that tried very hard - and it shows with the sheer amount of components.             

Other Thematic Games 

Image taken from
This era was rife with the big companies putting out very thematic games.  While the games above were all firmly rooted in fantasy themes, there were other themes that were jumped on as well.  All of these could easily have led to more in depth gaming.

I mentioned Battle Masters above, this game was all in fantasy war gaming.  It was a great way to get your feet wet into that style of game.  It was also very large and took up a lot of floor space as it had a 5ft X 5ft battle grid to lay out.

Image taken from
Omega Virus was a sci-fi themed game that dealt with a space station that was taken over by a bad mouthed computer virus.  this was in the hay day of electronic games.  There was a base in the center that codes would be typed into and the virus would talk to you and tell you what is happening as you entered different rooms of the space station.  it was a little component heavy with key cards and droids, but for the most part it was quite fun.

Image taken from

Space Crusade was another games workshop property that Milton Bradley brought to market.  This time they were bring the world of warhammer 40K to a broader audience.  This did not last quite as long as the HeroQuest success, but all the same it was a fin gateway into another type of gaming.

Image taken from

HeroScape is a game that came out a little later.  It ihit in the early 2000s.  It was highly produced with interlocking terain and was more of a skirmish game than a RPG.  It was produced by MB and it had a very similar dice system to heroquest.  I always felt it a kind of a distant cousin to that game.  It lasted for about 8 years on the shelves to varying success with lots of expansions and new master sets available. 

These kinds of games still come around from time to time, but most of them are now produced by companies that produce specialized games, and there are fewer thematic games sold at the big box stores (although that is beginning to change as the game specialized game industry begins to become more mainstream).  Games like Decent by Fantasy Flight games seem like a direct relation to these games.  These newer games owe a lot to these games that made their way into the game aisle back int he 90s.  

These 90s gateway games informed a generation who would later become gamers.  They would inspired them to continue telling stories, and to find the next game when they outgrew this one.  They would lead these gamers to find Dungeons and Dragons, or WarHammer or the Star Wars RPG or some other game that would lead them to the next.  It is an important part of the history of the hobby, and are still really fun to play now if you can find them!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tom Baker and the Mortality of Heroes

When I was young the Doctor was my hero.  Not just any Doctor but Tom Baker as the Doctor. There was something soothing about his melodic tones.  Something that reminded me that everything would be all right.  He was in the universe defeating the monsters and the injustice so that I didn't have to.  He inspired me to be strange and goofy if I wanted to, but also reminded me that I could be serious too.  He convinced me that I should keep full pockets of trinkets because you never know when you might need one of them.  He taught me how to make an entrance at the most inopportune time.  He taught me there was a time to fight for what you believe in, but also to make the best decisions I could while doing it.  He taught me all of that in season 12.
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The Fourth Doctor - Image Copyright BBC

Tom Baker defined the role of the Doctor in my mind when I was very young.  He defined it in season 12. That is a near perfect season of the show.  For me it is what I judge all other seasons against, and to be honest, all other actors who are in the role.

Last night I had the opportunity to watch the Directors Cut of "Genesis of the Daleks" at my local theater.  The cut was put together in 1975 and it is rough, the edits seem hastily put together, incidental music is cut off, and the story is mostly able to be followed.  That said it did take a story that is nearly 3 hours long and condense it down to 90 minutes, which is no simple feat.  Its not perfect, but it was super fun to see it on a big screen.  Its great that we live in a time that you can go to a theater and see a 43 year old Doctor Who serial presented in a way that hadn't been seen in some time.

The thing that has been bothering me though, is an interview with Tom Baker at the end of the production.  We get the opportunity to see Tom be candid about the show, people involved in it, and more importantly, his mortality.

Tom drives home many of the answers to the interviewers questions with fun anecdotes from when he got the job and how the people around him reacted.  He looks back at how much life he had - how exciting it was to be him at that very moment.  He also mentioned mistakes he made toward the end of his tenure as the Doctor.  It is clear he has thought a lot about his time on the show quite a lot over the last 43 years.

And that brings me to his thoughts on his own mortality.  This is hard to watch.  Tom is well into his 80s at this point, so he is not young.  He knows this.  It seems to be a part of his whole being when he speaks.  It feels like he is jumping back in to the Doctor Who world long enough to get his feet wet and to enjoy some of that youthful exuberance that he once had.  He has been pounding out the Audio Adventures with Big Finish over the last several years, and of course he made that beloved appearance in the day of the Doctor -

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Tom Baker as The Fourth Doctor in the recent
release of Shada- Image Copyright BBC
Taking a step back and thinking about a much younger version of myself watching and re watching VHS tapes that were recorded off of our local PBS station.  I watched Tom Baker story after story, week after week,  fight tyranny and stand of what what was right.  I realized then (and now) that these are stories, but it doesn't change the fact that it is difficult watching this fictionalized hero that walks in eternity age. and watch him be tragically aware of this own mortality.

Tom Baker defines so much of my character.  The time I spent watching his adventures as a child and into adulthood is immeasurable.  I was inspired by him.  I continue to be a fan of Doctor Who, in no small part, because of his contribution to the show.  So much of what I latched on to comes from him.

Don't get me wrong, I think we have a lot more Tom Baker to come. But it is difficult to watch your childhood hero be so aware of his mortality, but I know there is a small part of me that is so heavily inspired by the man.  I will always appreciate him for that!