Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The FLGS, Part1 - The Old Days

There was a discussion topic  on EN World recently about the future of gaming stores and coming out of that I thought it was worth discussing here. I've seen definite changes since I got into this whole thing and I am curious about where things will go next.

When I started getting interested at the end of the 70's I don't recall any dedicated game stores. There were Hobby Shops, usually located in a mall, and they carried a lot of different things (models, model rockets, RC cars, model trains) including those early D&D books and modules. There were also mall toy stores and they too tended to have a grown-up games isle that included D&D and Avalon Hill titles like Panzerblitz and Squad Leader. You could occasionally find game stuff in other places - I bought my first D&D Basic Set at a Kmart - but it was mainly smaller mall type stores in my experience. During this time I moved from Tennessee to Florida and found the same thing there - toy stores and hobby shops were the main venue for finding new games. I also spent time in San Antonio and we soon moved to D/FW. In the early 80's in Texas this was still mostly the same state of affairs but the new wrinkle was that you could find a lot of TSR products in Toys R Us and Target.

Throughout the 80's the mall hobby shop ("Hobbies for Dad and Lad") was my main FLGS though we did start to see comic book shops popping up (Lone Star Comics, Fantastic Worlds, others) in shopping centers and those started to add a game section too. They were still branded as comic book shops but the game angle kept growing. Local comic/sci-fi/fantasy conventions started adding more game events too and that drew the comic book shops in even more. One big difference vs. today was that I never saw people playing in a store in the early days - you might talk to people and hang out for a while, but nobody was playing in the stores and there wasn't space dedicated to it. There were occasional demo days where a company would bring in someone to show a game in the store, but there were not groups of people playing on their own. I remember Yaquinto bringing in a bunch of games to the hobby shop above and getting a lot of interest, but the big showy stuff and tournaments were left for the conventions.

The first game I remember making a splash in local stores was Battletech. It looked like a lot of early anime shows that were getting popular, it was smaller scale but had a lot of visual appeal with stand-up figures (and later miniatures) and the boxed game gave a lot of room to expand by having construction rules in the book. Stores started showing it with demo games in the storeand also started  running tournaments for it at local cons and it was really the first popular "everybody plays that" game that I was aware of, much like X-Wing today.

By the 90's I started to see dedicated game stores opening up (Heroes, Games Plus, Game Chest) and even stores with a more comic book focus (Generation X) started to set aside play space for gamers. In the Time Before Magic this was mainly miniatures games like 40K, Space Marine, Star Fleet Battles, and Battletech. I saw a few RPG's played in a store, but they never seemed to be the bulk of the action. Then in the mid-90's Magic took over, with an assist from Pokemon, and it was card game tournaments, card game new releases, card game expansions, and a lot of the other games were squeezed into a corner or out of the playing space altogether. There might still be a D&D night but it was on a set night when it wouldn't interfere with the new hotness. It makes sense - someone might buy a new D&D book once a month, but kids were in there buying cards damn near every day. I also found that during the 90's most of the mall stores moved out of the malls or just died off, maybe because of the new wave of dedicated game stores.

Game Chest in Valley View Mall - the store has been gone for a few years now and the mall itself isn't far behind ...

The turn of the millennium and the release of D&D 3E was when I saw noticeable jump in the number of RPG's being played at stores. Magic had calmed down a bit, miniatures had a steady place in stores once again, and there was enough interest and excitement to set aside some D&D time. Other games started to creep in too but D&D was the one I saw most, maybe because of the organized play efforts with Living Greyhawk.

That's sort of where I see things today - a mix of dedicated game stores and comic book shops, usually in a shopping center, almost all with some playing space, and for most card games (mainly Magic) are the lifeblood product. It's been a fun run, but what does the future hold?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rifts for Savage Worlds - We have a date!

Two Weeks!

I have to say I'm pretty happy to see that logo and that image combined. I think we will get to pay more attention to the setting with a decent system that's a lot less tied up in mechanics and one that plays a lot faster than what we've had for the last 26 years. It's definitely a chocolate meets peanut butter kind of development for me.

I'm slightly less happy to see that it's another Kickstarter but Pinnacle has delivered on every single one and they've run quite a few these last few years. For some reason I was thinking this would be a traditional release which they still do occasionally. The kickstarter will get plenty of attention and probably let them do more with it than the traditional approach but it means a month of escalating hype and stretch goals and I don't get quite as excited about that as I used to.

Anyway I'll be getting on board for this one and I'm looking forward to seeing what Savage Worlds can do with the Megaverse.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Well, I'm interested ...

...just get it out there!

Random Comic Reviews - Avengers: The Initiative

After the events of Civil War, with all of the heroes being registered, the idea was to have a government-sanctioned team of superheroes in every state.

The first thing that occurred to me: cool idea, right? If you were living in a universe with a bunch of super types running around, why not try to organize them? Seems totally logical to me.

The second thing that occurred to me: We only have 32 NFL teams and they struggle to maintain a pro-level of talent.They do have a much larger roster though. How about the NBA? They have 5 starters plus bench players for a total of 13 or so but there are only 30 NBA teams. So, depending on how common superpowers are in the universe, it might be feasible to have 50 5-10 man teams.

Back to the book: It ran for 35 issues + an annual, so about 3 years from 2007 to 2010.

So what about it? Well, I'll tell you - this is a terrible series. I was thinking we would be seeing the veteran Avengers training up a new generation of heroes - after all it does say "Avengers" in the title and one of them had the cover picture shown above. Nope! The only well-known Avengers in most of the run are Hank Pym in Yellowjacket mode who is in charge of the whole thing and War Machine who drops in for short runs. The main scientific genius in residence is "Baron Von Blitzschlag" a leftover Nazi scientist and also a totally new character made up just for this series who is treated as if he has some widely known history! He's totally not a cliche! The drill instructor is Gauntlet, another new character it appears we are supposed to know though he had all of one appearance before this series starts. So we have a command staff that's largely new characters training a bunch of new heroes, neither of which you probably care about a whole lot before the book begins and unfortunately you probably won't care much more after reading the 36 issues of this series.

Right in the first issue there's a training accident and one of the new recruits gets his head blown off and he's not the type of hero where it's going to grow back. Does everyone admit what happened and clear it up? No, where would the fun be in that? It's covered up by the dirty politician, the uncertain drill sergeant, and the former Nazi. The new recruits don't like it, but hey, they go along with it.

Most of the series is like this - a bad mix of dark and boring centered around a bunch of characters you don't know that well and don't care about all that much. Unimaginative names, unimaginative costumes, and so many new heroes showing up that they have to label them in the panel when they come in - there's not much good here.

One example: Komodo. I think we're supposed to care about her because when she doesn't have her powers turned on she reverts to her human form - and she has no legs. That's different and could be an interesting angle but I thought it wasn't used all that greatly throughout the series. I'll let Spider-man explain:

He's right - her signature power in the book is that she charges in with a team, gets an arm blown off, then complains while it grows back in a panel or three.She has no special skills or knowledge, she just regenerates lost limbs in seconds and doesn't like going back to her human form. Keep in mind this is one of the more interesting recruits. Most of them are even less memorable than she is. Most of them are more like "Armory"

Guess what her power is? She has a really big gun stuck on her arm. An alien gun, one strong enough to take out Ultimo in one shot! Her gun-arm is in the story more than she is and we learn very little about her other than this.

There are various sub plots about Baron Nazi cloning people and feeling all fatherly towards them, and various cover-ups and the resultant guilt that comes from them, but it is nothing special. There's a bunch of follow-up on the New Warriors if you care what happens to them after Civil War.  The series' best moments come when it's part of one of the big events: World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and Siege. There is very little momentum for the series as a standalone book outside of these. Speaking of Secret Invasion ...

One of the new recruits is named "Trauma" and his power is to take the form of an opponent's greatest fear. That's pretty cool as far as a directed shapeshift power goes and they do explore it somewhat before they go off the deep end on his parentage but aside from that ... this Hank Pym is later revealed to be a skrull. The "real" Hank Pym, upon his return, notes that he never set foot in the training camp. So why is skrull-Pym's greatest fear a battered Janet van Dyne? I'm sure the internet had a field day with this kind of thing when it was happening but I wasn't paying attention just then so I'm raising my questions now.

Why would a skrull-Pym need Xanax for somethign he didn't do, as the returned "real" Pym later acknowledges that yes, that was him that did that. So even if the skrull-Pym knows about the history, he didn't do it and wouldn't feel bad if he did! If you're going to claim the glory of "we've been setting it up for a long time" then it seems you should also own up to it when there are holes and it's typical that this book has a big one.

I thought the best issue of the whole series was one where Taskmaster (who becomes the head trainer partway through the run) finds himself getting promoted beyond his comfort zone.

I don't particularly care about Taskmaster but he's been around forever and shown up in a lot of stories so it's interesting to see the world from his point of view as a 3rd-tier mercenary type villain. Especially when he gets bumped up to the big big leagues and realizes he doesn't fit in.

It's probably fitting that the most interesting part of this particular Avengers title is when it gives a villain's point of view.

One other note: You might expect some humor or banter in a modern superhero team book. It's part of what makes the Marvel movies enjoyable, and I've seen it in books in the past, so I was kind of expecting to see some here. Well there's not much - it's all deadly serious. Even with a bunch of f the characters being teenagers with superpowers there's not a lot of lightness. That's another big thing that I felt was a let down here.

Overall I never felt like the series was adding much of anything to the Marvel universe. It introduces a ton of new characters and most of them get lost in the crowd. It does nothing on it's own plot-wise to really stand out. Most team books focus on a team - this one focuses on a hero training camp and once a hero graduates they don't show up as much because they're all scattered around the country to different teams. Even the staff isn't consistent as they are transferred and replaced. Old characters do drop in and out but there's no real ongoing story. Finally, the art styles change dramatically back and forth throughout the run and the series has no real "look" to call its own. I had hoped this would be something new and different and interesting and well, "different" isn't always good.

If you've been wondering about this one, I wouldn't bother reading it as its own story. Read the big events instead and you will hit the high points of the Initiative as part of those.