Friday, 11 October 2019

Magic the Gathering - Throne of Eldraine bundle review

 I bought a Magic the Gathering Throne of Eldraine Bundle on the day of release from my favourite local game store The Dice Cup here in Nottingham, and I'm glad I did so. While so far I'm not finding the Eldraine set as immediately accessible as the Core 2020 set or the brilliant War of the Spark set, I think this one will grow on me. Getting the hang of new mechanics is always a bit of a learning curve at first, but I think the new 'Adventure' mechanic has a ton of potential and adds a lot of value to cards that have it.

So how is the bundle? As with the Core 2020 bundle I bought, this one contains ten booster packs, an oversized spindown counter, a stack of foil lands and regular lands, a foil alternate art card and a sturdy box emblazoned with the main Throne of Eldraine artwork. Let's start with the packaging. The outer sleeve slips off easily once the plastic is pulled away, and once opened out that sleeve features some gorgeous artwork which is very much in keeping with the fairytale theme of this new set.

The storage box is strong and looks fantastic, with the art brightly rendered and looking sumptuous. The spin down life counter looks fantastic with its marbled purple colouring and the Eldraine logo in place of the 20. The back of foil lands and regular lands are a nice touch and there's enough of each to build a two-colour deck from the packs. The alternate art foil card - in my case Piper of the Swarm - looks fabulous when the light catches the reflective eyes and mouth on the art. But the main attraction here is the booster packs themselves, and the sheer joy of opening ten of them in quick succession is a real delight.

While I didn't land any of the major cards of the set, there was a pretty good balance across the ten boosters, and plenty of cards with the Adventure mechanic to get my teeth into. I do like it that the usual token card in the packs is often an Adventure card used to place cards that are using the mechanic on while they're on their 'adventure'. It's a nice touch that can help you keep track of the game. I must say the cards feel ridiculously nice to hold. Whatever Wizards of the Coast have done to the coating is really, really nice.

The bundle works out as good value, although more expensive than the previous bundle I bought (this was £42 while the Core 2020 bundle cost me £35). While the price of boosters has gone up for this set, the bundle is still a worthwhile purchase, reducing the overall price for the boosters and giving you the added bonus of the extra cards, the counter and storage box. Is it perfect? Nearly. I would have liked a foldout deck box in there or a code for a free pack or deck on the Arena online game that has been eating so much of my time in recent months, but I'd still give this a solid 8.5/10.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Where does the time go?

Photo by Simon Harrison
Wait, I haven't posted since MARCH?

Sorry about that. Bit hectic. The last few months have seen some ups, downs, some more ups and some changes.

I wrote a bunch of comic book stories, compiled and have almost completed my tenth book (THE DAMNED LAND AND OTHER APPARITIONS), some new songs, began work on a third feature script for my LA-based collaborator and started developing a script for a short I'll be helping with the production of. Did I mention my podcast here yet? No? Now I have.

On top of this I've continued my adventures in retro video games, tabletop games and being a dad and husband.

The biggest change came in August, when I began my new day gig as Marketing Executive for a fantastic company called webdna. Just so it's clear, the content I post here and on my social media platforms contains my opinions as an individual. This is my playground.

So. It's been a while. I have stuff to talk about. Time to get my geek on again.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Magic the Gathering - Ravnica: War of the Spark trailer

Okay, that was cool. I've been playing a lot of MtG:Arena of late as time to get out to games IRL (either MtG or Warhammer) is scarce at present. As such, Arena and the MtG forums have been a good distraction from one of the worst months I've experienced in a long time.

Featuring a melancholic reworking of Linkin Park's 'In The End'- which is actually pretty solid, considering my abject dislike for many covers of this nature - the fully animated trailer plays like a cut scene from a high-end videogame just as much as it lays the groundwork for the new MtG release. It looks fantastic, and really does get the adrenaline pumping by the end of it. The War of the Spark set includes a very promising selection of new Planeswalkers cards (which have been revealed in a spoiler post on the MtG forums) that will bring some interesting new dynamics to rounds in Arena and in paper form too. The accompanying novel is really tempting as well.

 Speaking of MtG, I shall be joining the ranks of Arena Twitch streamers soon, so keep a look out for news on when I'm going live :)

Tuesday, 5 March 2019


Wow... already? VHS Ate My Brain, which was my 7th book and which also spawned the column in Scream Magazine (which I wrote for a year before leaving – it continues with a different hack at the keyboard), is now five years old. I never once thought that my little book about mad old films on an obsolete format would last this long, but it still sells and I still get the occasional message from across the globe in which another like-minded individual shares memories of their wasted video youth.

This is massively humbling, so thank you from the bottom of my cynical, blackened heart.

The VHS Ate My Brain book has become something of a calling card for me. It's by far my most successful self-published book, to the extent that I really wish I'd had the foresight – and the budget – to give it the edit that it deserved. Reviews often mentioned typos, and I don't blame them.

Back when I was writing it in 2012-2013 I figured it would be my own little keepsake of the scene I'd found myself in. The VHS collectors I was in touch with at the time were almost exclusively in the US, and I felt isolated by that and wanted to stale my claim to a bit of the hobby for myself. I threw it together and put it our there.

I quickly discovered that it wouldn't just be a thing for me to have and file away. It took off, and my inbox was quickly filled with messages and questions. The book's popularity was helped massively by the wonderful cover by Josh Schafer of Lunchmeat, which made it both stick out and look way more professional than I was capable of doing myself. I'm hugely grateful to the book and the VHS community.

Which brings me to some 5th anniversary news.

Work is well underway on a revised edition of VHS Ate My Brain. A brand new chapter is complete and has been added to the text, and the text is being revised in full. A few things are being moved around and the layout is being tweaked, plus additional photos missing from the original version will be included. This revised edition will feature a new cover, as Josh's amazing artwork was for the original and I figure he's way too famous and busy now for another. Plus I'm broke. Sigh. VHS Ate My Brain: Revised Edition will get an official release date soon. Thanks for everything, tapeheads!

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The Weturn of the Wii?

A few months ago, I bought our two young sons a second hand Wii console and some games, with the intention of getting them used to the controls, gestures and concepts of games with wireless controllers before we eventually upgrade them to a Nintendo Switch. The waiting period has been unintentionally extended, as they are both having a blast with the Wii and the stack of games I've picked up. Some games are the typical Wii novelty titles full of mini games, while others star branded characters like Sonic, Mario, Lego Batman, Transformers, Ben 10 and the like.

My wife and I have had a ton of fun reacquainting ourselves with old songs on the Just Dance games, and our bank balance hasn't been harmed by the console or the games, as I picked the console up for £18 from CEX, with the Wii games I bought priced from 50p to £5. The prohibitively expensive prices of Nintendo Swicth games have kept us checking CEX shelves and charity shops for cheap Wii games to maintain the family interest, and during this time I've noticed that we're not alone.

The price of second hand Wii consoles has risen recently (I've seen them selling for £25-£30 for the console and one controller in some electronics/second hand stores), and some games are currently selling for £15-£18 used! It appears that we're not the only family that has bought an older console for the kids (yes, and us) to enjoy, as interest in gaming fun at prices that are manageable in these times of Austerity and national uncertainty. Families with young children, a mortgage, a car and all of the costs that go with those things can't risk spending upwards of £50 for a single game that may not be any good. We want some fun, but it has to be within a price range that won't stop us eating for a week, y'know?

Wii games may be dated by current standards, but they are fresh enough to maintain the interest and don't yet look as old-school as the 16 bit games I play while bathing in nostalgia for my Megadrive days. In addition, the consoles available second hand work fine, even after a decade or so of use, and with so many games available for very little outlay (or games like Super Mario Wii for around £15 – which is still manageable), it's understandable that a reliable old favourite like the Wii may make something of a resurgence.

What made me think about this? It was seeing the ads for the most recent Just Dance before Christmas. This was advertised as being available for the Nintendo Switch, and also the Wii! After all this time, a new Wii gamegetting a release is of note as it shows that people do still use them, and it also shows that games companies are aware that not everyone will have access to the latest console. It makes business sense to have a version available that families can pick up without a massive outlay for a new console. I think that with the Wii, Nintendo hit on something that was so iconic and game-changing (as it were) that whatever followed it wouldn't have quite the same cultural impact.

The Nintendo Switch is fantastic, but I'd say it's yet to reach the same heights as the Wii. I'm reminded of Blu Ray coming along, and while it wiped out HDDVD, regular old DVDs still hang on for dear life as the newer format didn't change the physical disc concept, and also came with a higher price tag for players. It's not a case of 'if it ain't broken, don't fix it', more a case of 'If it ain't broken, we can't afford to upgrade for the hell of it'. So grab your controller and wave it at that screen like it's 2008 all over again.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Kill Team: This Means War!

So, recently I took my freshly built and painted Drukhari Wyches Kill Team over to Warhammer World to play against my good friend Kei and his Adeptus Mechanicus team. It was a lot of fun, even though Kei annihilated my Wyches very quickly indeed, which tells me I need a bit more thought in terms of their tactics and using their skills to their fullest. Of course, this also meant that I would need to take brutal revenge as soon as possible.

Thus I've bought a Deathwatch Kill Team and after an evening of building fun am ready to get painting. Where the Drukhari are about stealth and speed on the table, I think what I need to overcome the followers of the Omnissiah is some brute force and heavy weaponry.

I mean, technically they'd be on the same side, but I'm sure a scenario can be concocted where they can face each other. The set is a joy to build, offering a lot of options in terms of weaponry and characters as well as a wide range of moulded chapter pauldrons.

The option that I'm most excited about is the Black Shield model, which is going to look stunning once painted. The idea of an Adeptus Astartes who has left his chapter behind and has gone into self imposed exile is fascinating, and offers a lot of scope in terms of character.

Another thing I appreciate about this set is the leftover parts, of which there are many, meaning I have the chance for some Deathwatch conversions soon as well. This is a great set, and I'm looking forward to kicking Kei's backside with it next time we hot a Warhammer World table.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Femforce 186 - A Personal Milestone

I've been writing stories for AC Comics' Femforce title since the middle of 2015, and in that time have scripted team stories as well as solo adventures for Stardust, She-Cat, Ms Victory, Tara, Nightveil and my own creation Violet Shadow. It's been an amazing experience so far, with the advice of Mark and Stephanie Heike making the stories the best they could be for the long-running superhero title. This is a comic I read as a teenager and is entwined throughout my life.

In issue 68 in 1993 I had a letter published which mentioned a comic shop I wound up working in for nine years, and while my comic collection fluctuated between then and becoming a writer as an adult (initially a music journalist and film critic with some fiction for fun), the Femforce comics from my teenage years always remained with me. The characters are perfect archetypes of the classic superhero blueprints, and that has always been appealing to me as a fan.

When I had my first script picked up in 2015 ('The Rage of Traxis') I had no idea that I would continue to write story after story for the team, and also no idea just how much I would develop under the guidance of the Heikes.

Femforce issue 186 will be something of a milestone for me as it is the first issue where I have written the main lead story, namely 'March of the Etherium', which introduces brand new adversaries who may well prove to be too powerful to stop. We shall see how they do when the story concludes with its second part soon after!

Knowing there'll be a Femforce comic book with an Andrew Hawnt story at the helm is a delight and an honour, and I can't wait for the next adventure. Incidentally, now is the perfect time to discover my Femforce work as the current Femforce issue 184 features no less than five of my stories across the issue. So what are some of the things I have learned to develop leading up to this point?

- An understanding of movement in comics panels

- Moving a story along using dialogue, thoughts and captions as well as action

- Making sure artists clearly know who is in each panel

- Ensuring that characters don't act in a manner which contradicts their established personalities

- Showing that superhero characters are still people with thoughts and emotions beneath their masks

- How to set stories up and focus on the pace and plot

- Ending stories with a desired atmosphere, be it uplifting, shocking or poignant

There's a lot more, but it's late and I have pages to do. I just wanted to say what a pleasure it is to get to do this, to enjoy the playground that AC have been building since the 1980s. Here's to many more stories to come.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

I Was A Game Snob

Hello 2019! Happy new year and all that. I thought I'd start as I mean to go on and write about something I love - tabletop gaming. It wasn't always that way, though... 

The big hobby interests in my life are by far Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Age of Sigmar, Magic the Gathering and the various things that go hand in hand with those. It wasn't always the case though. For a long time I was a total game snob.

After my early teenage Warhammer days and the MTG phase in my early twenties at the start of the 2000s, I turned away from the things that brought me so much pleasure and fell into the enticingly glamorous embrace of being a musician and DJ.

Gone were my video gaming days when I unplugged my trusty old Sega Mega drive for the last time. Gone were my days being thrilled by tabletop games like Space Hulk, Warhammer 40,000, Space Marine and the like. Gone were the times spent tapping lands and sending cards to do battle against other decks. The thing was, I didn't just stop playing – I actively started to deride what I'd loved. Looking at that period now, I understand that I did that as a defence mechanism as I could no longer afford to indulge in hobbies that cost money or time.

I poured myself into being in bands and buying music to add to my DJ case and told myself I was happy, when I was anything but that. The tumultuous personal events of those years made me bitter and insular, actively shunning pretty much anything involving genuine social interaction. I told myself I didn't want to, when in reality I did and I just couldn't.

At the time I was running a scummy yet expensive home on a paltry wage and felt trapped in a cycle of things being constantly out of my reach. Once the music career went wrong (bands broken and friendships lost or damaged for years to follow), my appreciation for fun stuff returned but the urge to join in didn't. Several years of struggling had left their mark on me.

Eventually, once I'd become a writer and music journalist those things could be pushed aside again as I was busy, but again this wasn't fulfilling. After I left music journalism in 2016 due to family commitments and a day job, I edged back towards my old hobbies one at a time, starting with comics and cult films.

Those served me well, but now I was a dad I wanted something more interactive in order to reclaim some of that enjoyment that I'd denied myself for so long. I saw the snob I'd become, looking down my nose at huge, expansive industries loved by millions, and there came a day where the negativity dropped away and everything came flooding back.

Here I am now, delving ever deeper into Games Workshop lore and games I loved and games I missed and brand new games, playing Magic the Gathering with my sons and other players in person and online, visiting Warhammer World on a regular basis and also relishing retro video games all over again.

What have I learned? I've learned that fun is really, really important to being happy. It's easy to lose yourself in the pace and stresses of life, but there still needs to be some fun along the way. I'm glad I realised that, as I'm having the time of my life. Right now, I'm game for anything.


So yeah, let's get busy, shall we 2019? I have a lot of work to do, and I hope I can offer plenty of fun content soon for you... and for the Emperor!