Sep 282014
 

We have hit a critical period in the online gaming community, which happens to overlap with a similar discussion going on within the internet community and even the world at large. That conversation is about the rights of female gamers and members of online communities to feel safe and comfortable with their fellow gamers. We have increasingly seen “battle lines” drawn, with videos such as the ones by Anita Sarkeesian calling for equal rights to be then viciously attacked online; with female celebrities accounts broken into and nude photos released; and finally with the Emma Watson United Nations address last week calling for men and women to stand up for equality. There has been no better time to examine where we are and where we would like to see our community go. There is a vocal minority of men online who are fighting these changes, and who are feeling attacked in turn, and we need to understand that we are in this together, regardless of sex, and together we can improve and grow this hobby.

The fact of the matter is, roughly half of all gamers and internet users are women (surprise, right?). For so long gaming has been seen as a male-dominated hobby, and maybe in it’s infancy it was, but the facts no longer support a male-dominated scene. In spite of this, many if not most female gamers have given voice to many sexist practices and deep-seated biases still visibly present. This is seen in real life as well, but most acutely from the gaming sector. The anonymity of the internet and most online lobbies creates an atmosphere where it is easy to look down upon, be dismissive, or even angry at, a perceived minority. I think that it is likely a majority of male gamers have witnessed this happening, and would be willing to admit it is a problem and would like to see change, but don’t know what to do or even think it’s being “overblown”. There is also a very vocal group of male gamers who fight against calls for equality, saying it is merely feminist attacks on men, and tend to become increasingly hostile with any and all recommendations for change.

Of course some of what we hear is extreme, from both sides. What should be very clear however, is a majority of female gamers have seen or experienced this sort of behavior, some many times over. I know that I have heard accounts from friends of treatment they have received, or how a specific games portrayal of a female character was poor or even insulting. This is often exacerbated by long-standing sexist practices women start seeing from childhood. Drawing lines in the sand and pointing fingers is simply causing each to grow farther and farther apart. We have to be able to take these accounts seriously, and have to be willing to see what we can do to help fix them. All this takes is respect and understanding, accepting that there could be a problem and be willing to listen to alternatives, and standing up to those who are creating the problems. This can lead to more inclusive, and realistic, gaming experiences and communities, which is in everyone’s interests.

Of course this is all coming at a crucial transitional period for male gamers as well. Our generation has started questioning what traditional ideas of masculinity and “maleness” actually are. Gaming is central to this discussion, as it is only recently becoming more accepted that gaming is a healthy and fulfilling hobby for adults as well as children, while many still scoff at such an idea and look down upon our hobby. With all the changes men are facing, it can be extremely easy to be dismissive when viewing problems faced by women, as we are already defensive about gaming in general. Just remember, we are all facing problems and overcoming hurdles, and we can get through them faster by helping one another with our problems. Gamers have more in common with other gamers, male or female, and we have to understand that fighting amongst ourselves only weakens our position to the “traditional” world view. Gaming moves incredibly fast, and it’s time we agree that there is no place for hatred, bigotry, sexism, racism, or any other -ism in such an important aspect of our lives. For gaming to grow and gain mainstream acceptance, we have to fight against these ideas and fight for equality, for every gamer and every person.

I know for many of you this will be preaching to the choir. For the others, who will be apt to say that I have been “taken in” or am overblowing the issues, please reconsider the accounts of your friends and family, and examine your own behaviour. We can only move forward by admitting that we may have to change and accept other groups, no matter how hard that may seem to be. If men and women together can fight for equality and understand one anothers troubles and differences, we can create a lasting community that is filled with realistic and relatable characters, and maybe learn something about ourselves in the process.

 

Sep 272014
 
HFS

“…if not now, then when?”, asked Emma Watson, in a speech she gave at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City last Saturday. Surely, the quote is one that many of us have heard in our lives, one that is meant to foster courage in the face of fear and uncertainty, to prompt a feeling of personal responsibility when presented with an imposing task. Watson, the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, introduced the quote near the end of her speech, when she admitted that she had been quite nervous prior to her speech.

And why shouldn’t she be nervous? As a graduate of an International Relations program, the prospect of giving a speech at the UN is simultaneously exciting and incredibly intimidating one. But, in such a situation, my nervousness would stem only from the pressure I placed on myself, whereas Watson was likely nervous for additional, more serious reasons. She was introducing a UN campaign called HeForShe - “A Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality,” and if you have already read Mystie’s and/or Cassi’s posts on TLo42, or, really, if you have been following the news at all for the past few weeks, then you know that it is a frightening time for women. Hackers recently stole and released personal, nude photos of several prominent female celebrities; Anita Sarkeesian was forced from her home after receiving death threats for, well, doing nothing wrong at all (I refuse to craft a sentence that even begins to describe a “rationale” for these threats); several of Sarkeesian’s supporters have been similarly targeted. And, of course, this does not even include the sexual abuse and discrimination women continue to experience on a daily basis. Plain and simple, women are, at the very least, not afforded the same opportunities as men anywhere in the world. At worst, they are explicitly denied basic human rights. Sadly, as Watson noted in her speech, “No country in the world can yet say that they achieved gender equality.” Indeed, Watson’s deeds did not go unpunished. She, too, was threatened with a leak of personal nude photos (and, no, the fact that the stunt may have been fake does not diminish the meaning of the underlying threat).

This reality is why another quote Emma Watson used in her speech is so important to me: “Statesman Edmund Burke said all that is need for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.” All I have to do to allow the denial of human rights to women to continue is to do nothing. Combined with her questions of “If not me, then who?” and “If not now, then when?”, the quote has provided an incredibly strong motivator for myself and men around the world to take this opportunity to speak out, stand up, and offer our support in the fight to secure an equal future for men and women alike.

There can no longer be any question as to who this issue affects or involves, either. Watson extended what she called a formal invitation to men to participate in the conversation, explaining that “men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.” And while I’m not personally inclined to complain about the male sex lacking in equality in the face of recent events, I’d be flat-out lying if I said that I hadn’t taken notice of the cultural norms affecting men, as well: we are supposed to be strong – even aggressive – and keep our emotions in check, to mention only a small subset of the cultural pressures men face. And as Watson so rightfully said, this has an immediate consequence of shaping the norms that affect women.

In the past, I struggled with identifying the best way to get involved and show my support for women’s rights, other than to continually try to participate in conversations that make me consider the topic on a regular basis; thanks to my wife and the wonderful friends we have that make up TLo42, these conversations usually crop up often enough to meet that requirement. But I recently realized that the current climate in gaming and the world in general, as caustic as it may be, demands only the simplest action as a first step – and I’ll leave it to Slate writer Phil Plait to put it in words (emphasis mine):

This isn’t about [loathsome knuckle-dragging Men’s Rights Advocates and their ilk]. It’s about women, and men supporting them. It’s about all of us. And doing this isn’t white-knighting, it isn’t mansplaining, and it isn’t weak, or unmanly. It is, quite simply, doing what’s right and standing up for others.

I have no claim to solutions for these problems; I cannot hope to know how to stop the hatred and violence and oppression and othering of women on the Internet and in the world.

But I know how to stand up for my friends. I know how to write, and how to make myself heard. And I can hope that other men will do this as well, because while I don’t know the whole solution, I know a part of it, a significant part of it, is just showing that we are listening, that we care, and we want to help.

And that’s why I stand with Emma Watson.

I, too, intend to do what’s right. I, too, am going to stand up for others. I, too, stand with Emma Watson. And Anita Sarkeesian. And women everywhere. And I stand with the 148, 137 other men who have already visited heforshe.org (at the time of my commitment) and resolved to support them. That’s one of the most beautiful things about HeForShe: it’s so simple. So, my fellow men and boys, make yourself heard, be counted as a HeForShe, as I have:

HeForShe

 

The fight will go on, probably, sadly, for years to come. But this is where we make our initial stand. Click the picture above to head over to heforshe.org. Because, if not you, then who? If not now, then when?

Sep 262014
 

When news first broke of the massive amounts of celebrity nude photos leaked, a friend made an interesting point to me:

If this had happened even just a few years ago, all that would have happened is everyone would have brushed it off. Some would have snached up tabloids in line at the grocery store and really no one would have thought twice about it. Now we’re discussing violation of privacy and women’s rights.

What’s changed?

Recently, video games had a really, really tough week. Anita Sarkeesian – creator of the blog Feminist Frequency and a video series called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, released a video discussing the use of of woman–and violence against women–as backgrounds or plot drivers in video games. For this she was was abused online, threatened and forced out of her home by said threats. Along the same lines, many video game developers, writers and various people in the industry were and are facing similar treatment.

But why are we talking about this now?

Haven’t video games have always been like this? Isn’t this what makes media what it is? Why should we change something that has worked for years?

The short answer, of course, is because I think we can do better than that.

There has been a lot of talk about whether Sarkeesian and others were right or wrong in their arguments, whether sexsism in video games or media exists, whether this abuse is a real issue, is being overblown, or worse – threats against these women are being faked. (update, in this case I don’t mean threats like releasing nude photos are faked, because apparently in that case they were, but people expletive twitter attacks were faked or photoshopped.)

Yet the positive side to all this and what’s important and what’s different from those few years ago is that we’re talking about this. People are standing up and saying we can do better than this.

Not only do I feel this is important for the progression of woman in the field of video games or the media, but for the actual mediums as well. It’s easy to make the argument that we get video games that uses classic tropes that are just fine using classic video game tropes. But by thinking outside the box and challenging the status quo, maybe we can get a better video game.

But change is difficult, and to make this change, we’re going to have to go through a lot more push back and a lot more trolls. In an article regarding this topic, in an opinion article by polygon, writer Chris Plante points out:

“One side [of this argument] has folded its arms, slumped its shoulders while pouting like an obstinate child that has learned they are getting a little brother or sister but wants to remain the singular focus of their parents’ affection.”

There will probably always be the argument that this isn’t really an issue. That without these women tropes in video games the storylines wouldn’t be the same (who will the hero save if not the damsel in distress?). That women should just deal with it, because that’s life.

But why not do better? We can say forget that and make a better story line. We can find a better way to promote our case than through the the promise of naked women.

All of this will be better if nothing else because it challenges us to not be lazy. To think outside the box instead of falling back on these tropes because they’ve been done before, because they’re easy.

Whether or not you agree with Anita, Emma Watson or others trying to change things and their opinions, you should be supporting the idea of trying to raise the bar.

In the case of Sarkeesian, it should be important to note that her video isn’t asking much of video games. She’s not saying video games shouldn’t touch these themes or they should stay away from them. She simply asks them to just take a step back and try to look at things a little more critically.

“Now–to be clear–I’m certainly not saying stories seriously examining the issues surrounding domestic or sexual violence are off limits for interactive media. However, if game makers do attempt to address these themes, they need to approach the topic with the subtly, gravity and respect that the subject deserves.”

So join us, let’s give this subject the respect it deserves.

Let’s raise the bar.

Let’s change the conversation.

Sep 222014
 

I was checking all my social media during my lunch today, ’cause that is what you do in 2014 and I came across this in my News Feed.

why would we even be surprised anymore?

why would we even be surprised anymore?

And I got mad. Not just irritated, or slightly perturbed, but enraged. Just yesterday I was sharing the beginning of this story: Emma Watson speaks out at the UN that feminism isn’t a dirty word and it’s for everyone. She has started a campaign entitled “HeForShe” encouraging men to take part of the fight. [It’s getting pretty heavy holding it up by ourselves over here.] I was impressed and proud that Emma had taken and put a very public face on an issue that we have been fighting over here in the Nerd World for way way too long.

And guess what happened. She got the same treatment (albeit fairly mild compared to some) that anyone speaking up against misogyny in gaming has gotten. They couldn’t attack her argument because their logic sounds a little like “Women shouldn’t talk. Just let us covet and hate women as much as we damn well please. Oh, and give us sex when we are nice to you/want it.” So, they attack her personally. For Emma Watson this first threat is to expose her (literally) in a way that makes anyone feel vulnerable. For Anita Sarkeesian (www.feministfrequency.com) it was exposing her in the way of ruining her anonymity on the web by threatening her home and the people she cares about.

And I’m fucking tired of it. I’m taking a stand. The League of 42 is taking a stand. This is no longer an issue that we can sit on the sidelines and let other people fight for us. This is getting to be a “You are with us or against us” issue because sitting around letting anyone attack Emma or Anita is letting them attack us. Letting them beat down the people who are fighting this fight for us.

According to “The Science of Happiness”, it takes 5 positive things to erase 1 negative one in your dealings with people. So, Anita, Emma, here’s hoping that the 5 of us standing with you silences 1 of the trolls you are fighting.

Sep 182014
 

What’s up with Pinny Arcade Pins?

Not much – or at least I thought so, at first.

the newest members of the family

the newest members of the family

Let’s start at the beginning. Penny Arcade Pins are a collectable, tradable item concocted by the creators of PAX itself after Gabe (Mike Krahulik)  discovered the joy of Disney Pin Trading. They’re mostly all done in a similar style-a small metallic pin with a border, sporting the artwork of a video game, person (Penny arcade staff members, developers), random charactertures or the Gabe and Tycho themselves in some sort of weird fashion (this year, 80’s Gabe and Tycho).

So what’s the big deal?

That’s the very question I asked myself the day i picked up my first Pinny. I could never forget the day. I obtained it for free at the Sony booth after trying Infamous: Second Son. I held the piece of metal in my hand, glimmering in the low lights of the Expo hall. I stuck it on my lanyard and thought that was that.

That’s when it began. Every now and again I’d look down at my lanyard, see my prize glimmering so brightly. I liked the looked of it, I really liked the look of it. I tried to put it out of my mind once more.

the INFAMOUS first set ehh

the INFAMOUS first set ehh

When I stopped at the merch booth to grab a tee-shirt I saw another pack of Pinnys. Ones that kind of caught my eye – Behemoth ones, a developer I’m quite fond of. Specifically, the pins are done in the style of BattleBlock Theatre. I can’t get enough of it’s cutesy devilish art, the small beady eyes of the characters who, during the game, bop you on the head and throw you into a pit of spikes for glory. They were, respectively, Hatty Hattington, a viking and Davy Crockett . I bought them, added to my collection.

Something in me changed the moment that happened. Our hands exchanged money and I felt something spark. A need, a drive to find more. I found myself checking out other friends lanyards, looking up what Pinnies would be offered at what Penny Arcades, waiting in the ever long line to trade with Gabe and Tycho’s infinite loot pile.

Now there’s a place for people like me, with forums, trading events, pin quests, a list of pins and more.

I’ve never been much into collectibles. Once you start collecting, things pile up, you start having to make room for it, it seems never ending. At the same time, I can understand the appeal-the satisfaction of finding a really hard to find item. But at the same time, I never found an item I cared enough about to have a ton of it lying around my house.

But it’s different with the Pinnys. I enjoy having a piece of PAX to take home with me every year. Often that comes in the form of a T-Shirt or a Poster. But my wall space runs low and my t-shirt collection grows outside of what I can realistically wear on a day-to-day basis, Pinnys make a great alternative. Pinnys are different. Pins give me the chance to not only take home a piece of PAX, but take home a piece of that art, the love for a game, developer, interest, in a compact and easy to put place.

Sure, I might get pins I don’t care as much about, and they – like any other item, will start piling up. But that has been solved by trading events. People gathering together to exchange items, helping each other find their “unicorn” …pin.

the collection grows...

the collection grows…

No, Pins are different…and judging by the amount of people on the forums, I’m not the only person who feels this way.

So if you see me on the street or bump into me at PAX (see you all next year!), feel free to ask what I’ve got. Check out the full list here.

Happy Hunting!

Sep 022014
 

Well, this is embarrassing…  it turns out that I and the majority of the web pegging YouTube/Google as the probable buyer of Twitch.tv were perhaps a tad premature. Instead, a surprise offer from Amazon came from out of the blue, and they have been officially confirmed by Emmet Shear, CEO of Twitch, as having purchased the company for a cool $970 million . Surprise!

twitchretro2

This is the most recent and most obvious sign of what most feel Amazon is gearing up to do, which is take on Google and Netflix as a global information/content behemoth. Twitch, which didn’t even exist four years ago, has blown up into what has become a lucrative business streaming content from video games and the gaming scene in general. Amazon’s opportunity seemed to come about after Google hesitated on their deal out of fear of antitrust lawsuits (as YouTube fulfills a relatively similar service, albeit recorded).

So now the question will be what this means for Twitch. This is far and away Amazon’s largest purchase to date, which means they regard it as a very important part of their strategy moving forward. The fear with Google being the buyer would be they aggressively shut down anything remotely approaching copyright infringement. As with the last article, Twitch is very borderline as is with this. Streamers make a living posting live video of themselves playing games, which so far most game companies have embraced, even if it could technically be pursued in court, as it also brings great publicity (League of Legends). Furthermore, up until recently, many streamers would play music from their collection or from a separate streaming service while they played. This has more or less been shut-down with recent moves by Twitch. Whether or not this was in order to help facilitate sale is unknown, but as long as the game content remains untouched, this is a reasonable and very prudent move.

twitch-bandwidth-01

Overall, I have to think this will be better for Twitch than if Google had purchased it. Most signs seem to point to Amazon not wanting to limit Twitch in any way, and more or less keep business as usual. However, I think in the next year we will start to see a much wider array of video content available in Twitch, especially with recorded video (as YouTube, now a direct competitor, has been the major place to store these recordings). Amazon most definitely wants to compete with Google to be the end-all be-all of content providers, and Twitch is one of the first and most important foundations to that strategy, so they will be taking extra care to continue providing the same quality of service. Google may not have had quite the same need to do so, as they already control a huge sector of the market.

So just like everyone else, we are waiting to see how this turns out, but I myself have a better feeling about the Amazon purchase than I would have with Google, and it sure seems to set up an interesting clash between two of the biggest names on the web.

 Posted by at 6:28 pm
Feb 112014
 
FTVAnnihilation1

Yesterday, Wizards of the Coast announced From the Vault: Annihilation, an ultra-premium, extremely limited edition print run of Magic: the Gathering cards. FTV: Annihilation includes 15 cards printed with a foiling process unique to FTV products, a spindown D20 with the FTV: Annihilation logo in place of the number 20, and a collector’s guide. Six of the 15 cards have new art commissioned.

The From the Vault printings have become an annual offering, with the last product celebrating 20 years of Magic: the Gathering. That boxed set included Jace the Mind Sculptor, one of the most powerful and sought-after cards in all of Magic. With a set symbol appearing to be destruction of planetary proportions, we can expect to see some of the greatest and most powerful ‘sweepers’ ever printed. Nobody yet knows what the 15 cards are, but what fun would the announcement be without a little speculation?

Wizards included a single piece of teaser art in their press release, and of course they didn’t say what card it was. Magic players are notorious for spinning up rumor mills with their guesses; we were all proven wrong when what players thought was Mother of Runes turned out to be the not-nearly-as-exciting Impulse. So I’ll throw my hat in and say that it’s very likely to be Supreme Verdict, based purely on the similarities between the two arts (which is currently one of the enabling cards of Azorius Control in the Ravnica/Theros constructed environment).

FTVAnnihilation2

That we will see some kind of mass sweeper is basically a given. Wizards themselves stated, “These limited-edition, black-bordered superweapons are legal in many tournament formats. Sweep the battlefield clean with this powerful arsenal and blast the opposition into oblivion.” I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the chase card this time around was ‘Emrakul, the Aeons Torn’. The card includes the keyword Annihilator, which in this case causes your opponent to sacrifice permanents. As if that wasn’t powerful enough, Emrakul also gave its caster an extra turn, regardless of whether or not it is countered.

I don’t know what else we’ll see, but I can tell you that I would love to see any of the following cards reprinted: Liliana of the Veil, Pox, Balance, Decree of Annihilation (And with a name like that, it sounds like virtually a shoo-in!), Pernicious Deed, Smokestack, Jokulhaups, Cataclysm, Armageddon (or Ravages of War, its functional reprint from Portal: Three Kingdoms), Bend or Break, Wildfire, Catastrophe, Damnation, Obliterate, Void, and Worldslayer, .

I would really like to see Maelstrom Pulse and Oblivion Stone reprinted as well, but considering the former was just in Modern Masters while the latter was just in Commander 2013, I don’t think it’s going to happen here. I feel the same way about Nevinyrral’s Disk, but it’s such an iconic card with such a powerful activated ability that I could see a reprint justified on those strengths alone. All Is Dust was just provided as a Grand Prix foil, so I also don’t think it will be reprinted here.

Akroma’s Vengeance will surely not be printed again, as it was just placed in FTV 20. Nothing on the reserved list can be printed either. Wizards tried that with FTV: Relics when they printed Masticore but immediately reversed that policy when they received a public walloping.

And unfortunately, nothing in the file names or meta data from the released images contained any worthwhile information, as far as I could tell.

Wizards’ suggested retail price is $34.99, but odds are you’re never going to actually get one at that price because the secondary market almost always inflates prices to whatever people are willing to pay. FTV: 20 had an MSRP of $39.99 and sold for upwards of $200, almost exclusively on the strength of Jace alone. Even now the FTV Jace, a single card, sells on the secondary market for over $100. Will we see prices similar to FTV 20? Magic’s popularity is growing by leaps and bounds, but the cards themselves will be the biggest indicator of demand. Without knowing what to expect, any speculation is just that: speculation.

From the Vault: Annihilation will be available for sale on August 22, 2014. The original press release can be found on the Mothership here.

For all FTV: Annihilation tweets, wizards suggests using the hashtag #FTVANH. My nerd brain sees: FTV: A New Hope. :/

Jan 072014
 

Wizards of the Coast releases a planeswalker that players have been begging for.

Magic: The Gathering players got a treat this Christmas from the folks over at Wizards of the Coast. Kiora Atua, first seen in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012, is now being printed as the first blue/green aligned planeswalker in Magic’s latest expansion, Born of the Gods, set to arrive in stores Feb 7, 2014. Let’s take a look at the card.

Kiora

Firstly, I want to talk about the art. She herself is a merfolk, perched on the tentacles of some great sea kraken poised to surface at any moment. The whole thing takes on a comic book style, while utilizing ukiyo-e as inspiration for the background. I’ve always been a fan of the ukiyo-e period (search the internet for the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji for reference), and the water instantly reminded me of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. The water in the background also appears to take the shape of a nautilus much like the image she is conjuring in her hand. Lastly, there are humanoid bones floating in the water, possibly the remains of the kraken’s latest meal. I’m a fan. But what gets me really is how Kiora interacts with the game. It seems to me that Kiora would be played not by aggro decks, but by midrange (when playing against control) and by control decks.

Kiora costs 2UG to cast. 4 mana seems to be the standard for planeswalkers, which is actually a good thing when cards like Abrupt Decay are seeing competitive play. The problem is that the four-mana slot is rather full of options, and Kiora is going to compete with cards such as Jace, Architect of Thought and Supreme Verdict, both of which see 4-of play in competitive Azorius control decks. In truth, Kiora will probably not displace either of these cards. She actually synergizes rather will with them, but because space is so limited, I’m assuming Kiora will be played as less than a four-of.

Planeswalkers generally want to have three kinds of different abilities: 1) Protect themselves, 2) provide card advantage, 3) provide an ‘ultimate’ that allows you to win the game. Kiora hits all three of these requirements. Her first ability gives +1 to her loyalty while completely negating the damage a single permanent would deal and/or receive. The important verbiage here is ‘permanent’, not creature. This means that in the standard format she can’t be pinged to death by Chandra, or attacked outright by Mutavault, or lesser-played cards like Haunted Platemail, Ral Zarek, and Gideon. This will hopefully force aggressive players to overcommit their resources to the battlefield which opens up many opportunities for the control player to get n for 1 card advantage.

Kiora’s second ability is what really makes me giddy. Her -1 ability allows you to play an extra land on your turn and draw a card. This is Exploration on steroids. Green is the color of giant beatstick creatures. Blue, to a lesser extent, also gets behemoth monsters of the sea. This is straight up mana acceleration and card advantage in a single ability. There’s a tier two (or maybe even worse) deck out there that utilizes Maze’s End and the gate lands as an uncounterable win condition. Kiora accelerates their ability to have ten of the gate lands out. This could be an interesting way for the deck to speed up its ability to win, although I have doubts that it will be type-2 competitive.

Her third ability, considered her ‘ultimate’, gives you an unremovable and never-ending stream of 9/9 kraken token creatures. Considering that players start at 20 life, and also considering that the shocklands are in standard, it’s very conceivable that a player will hurt themselves at least a few points in the course of the game, meaning a 9/9 will end the game in 2 turns if unblocked. A player would have to win the game within the next turn or start losing creatures very quickly to chump blocks. It would be overkill but totally fun to run Selesnya’s populate ability alongside the ultimate and just amass an entire army of krakens. Alternatively, opponents playing cards like Assemble the Legion really don’t have to worry about the ultimate.

So, individually, the abilities seem strong. Kiora would be an amazing planeswalker if it wasn’t for just one thing – her starting loyalty. A starting loyalty of 2 is a challenge because it opens the door to all kinds of removal that would not ordinarily kill other planeswalkers like Jace and Gideon. But removal pointed at Kiora is still removal not pointed at you, and no matter what you’ll always be able to utilize her first ability to replace the card space she takes up, provided she is not countered. All in all, I think it’s a good card that will probably go on sale at around $25, but will probably settle in the $10-$12 dollar range until a deck comes along that can REALLY abuse her abilities. I personally can’t wait to put her in my Prime Speaker Zegana EDH deck, because I’ll be able to cast her on turn 2 utilizing artifact acceleration like Sol Ring. Because my EDH play group has a bit of a slow start, she’ll be able to ramp up my mana very quickly and let me start doing amazing things very early on. All in all, I am very excited for Kiora, the Crashing Wave  to see print, and I am much more excited for Born of the Gods. The prerelease is on Feb 1st and 2nd, and launches Feb 7th.

Jan 012014
 

Best Tabletop Game

Magic: the Gathering – Commander 2013

Magic: the Gathering is a collectible card game where you take on the persona of a wizard, casting spells and summoning creatures and allies in order to defeat your enemies. One of the most fun casual formats is Commander. Originally known as Elder Dragon Highlander, the format was officially adopted as a sanctioned format by Wizards of the Coast and retitled ‘Commander’. In this format you choose a legendary creature card of your choice to be the general for your 99 deck, which is built using only the colors of your general. Additionally, you can’t play more than a single copy of any one card except for basic lands (also known as Highlander – gee I wonder why?).  Wizards of the Coast created five 100-card three-color decks which consist mostly of cards from older sets, but also contains cards never before printed like the oft-maligned True-Name Nemesis. It’s a powerhouse in older formats, and so you’re likely not going to find the blue black red (also known as Grixis) deck in stock for a while. Like the previous decks Wizards of the Coast has sold, each comes with three generals in regular card size and oversized. It’s a great and VERY cost-effective way to get involved in a seriously fun and amazing game, and the deck builders game some really serious thought to including lots of non-basic lands to help you crush your opponents. The cool part is that there are new magic cards, and commander 2013 is the only way to get them. I have played with and against all five, and they are certainly strong enough to hold their own against more powerful opponents, provided you play your cards strategically. The best thing you can do is play some games to get a feel for the style of the deck then look around the internet for ideas to upgrade.
— Andrew

Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Premium Editions

Wizards of the Coast is finally re-releasing what is, in my opinion, books from the best version of D&D ever released—the beautifully created 3.5 version.
— Matt

Best Board Game

Zombicide 2

My favorite board game and also my favorite Kickstarter project of the year. Zombicide is a well-designed synthesis of board game, RPG, dice game, and miniatures game, pitting players as Survivors against Zombies. The new rules update allows for survivors to turn into zombies called Zombivors when they die. There are a LOT of pieces to the game, and setting up can be a chore but you can expect a game to last from 90 minutes to over 3 hours depending on how well your team can figure out a plan of attack for the included scenarios. The rules were also intimidating at first, but once we got the hang of it we were blasting zombies left and right. Who wouldn’t like finding a gunblade in a pimp mobile just in time to blast zombie brains all over the pavement as they’re chasing you down? The game uses a LOT of miniatures. It can look overwhelming, and it can also be a hassle trying to put them all away. I recommend marking numbers on the rows of the plastic container and the bottoms of the bases so you know exactly where everything goes. It saves a lot of cleanup time.
— Andrew