What's new in tabletop gaming (Indie edition)

Recently, I've found myself playing more games from small, independent game companies and those sold directly from the designers. Here are a few of these offerings currently on my radar, at my painting station, and on my tabletop. If you're looking for game-related gifts for the holidays, consider supporting these talented and hardworking indie creators.

Relicblade: Adventure Battle Game Metal King Studios, $30 (basic hardbound rulebook), 2-4 players, Ages: 10+

Sean Sutter, the mastermind behind Relicblade, was kind enough to send me some of his Relicblade merch earlier this year. Throughout the year, I watched my tabletop gaming friends enthusiastically flinging themselves down the Relicbalde rabbit hole, but I only recently got around to my own swan-dive into these realms. I love games that are largely the vision of a single designer/artist. Kingdom Death Monster always comes to mind. Like that uncompromising vision of a game as a creative platform for an artist's self-expression (Adam Poots in its case), Relicblade is a gaming universe populated by the imagination of artist and designer Sean Sutter. Sean designs the game, does all of the artwork and book design, digitally sculpts the figures--all of it. He also produces videos that chronicle his design and manufacturing process. Looking at his product line, you'd be hard pressed to distinguish Sean's output from any major game publisher. Our modern world of on-demand publishing, small scale manufacturing, digital design and sculpting, 3D printing, and crowdfunding has created the near-ideal conditions for creators like Sean to be able to compete with much larger commercial concerns. Read the rest

YouTuber hires people on Fiverr to paint his minis

One of my favorite new gaming miniature painting channels is Emil Nyström's Age of Squidmar. In just six months of making videos, Emil has already established himself as a content creator to watch. Not only is he a talented miniature painter and painting teacher, he also chooses fun themes for his channel that go beyond things like painting weapons with non-metallic paint, using a wet palette, and model basing (all of which he's covered).

In the above video, Emil ventures onto the online marketplace Fiverr, finds some miniature painters there, and requests that they paint a single Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine. To make the challenge more interesting, he kept his identity secret and sent them a reference model from Golden Demon painter, Antonio Peña, and asked them to paint a Primaris Intercessor in Imperial Fists colors, one of the most difficult Space Marine color schemes in the 40K universe.

He got quotes in response that ranged from $10 ($25 with shipping) to $110. After several painters bailed, he went beyond the confines of Fiverr and commissioned two pro painters, asking for a $40 paint job from one and a $100 job from the other. He ended up commissioning six painters.

The results across the board were pretty decent. Even the $10 jobs were very respectable tabletop quality. The most impressive for the money ($40) was the model seen above. They even painted a display on the Auspex (Space Marine handheld scanner). This painter also did a two-part video of him painting the model. Read the rest

Photographer documents the beautiful, eccentric apartments of New York's historic Chelsea Hotel

Colin Miller spent four years photographing the apartments of New York's bohemian Mecca the Chelsea Hotel. The fruits of his labor have been collected in a new book, Hotel Chelsea: Living in the Last Bohemian Haven, from The Monacelli Press. Miller and writer Ray Mock document the amazing apartments and lives of some two dozen current residents.

In this book, photographer Colin Miller and writer Ray Mock intimately portray the enduring bohemian spirit of the Chelsea Hotel through interviews with nearly two dozen current residents and richly detailed photographs of their unique spaces. As documented in Miller's abundant photographs, these apartments project the quirky decorating sensibilities of urban aesthetes who largely work in film, theater, and the visual arts, resulting in deliriously ornamental spaces with a kitschy edge. Weathering the overall homogenization of New York and the rapid transformation of the hotel itself—amid recent ownership changeovers and tenant lawsuits—residents remain in about seventy apartments while the rest of the units are converted to rentals (and revert to a hotel-stay basis, which had ceased in 2011).

The opening image is of photographer Tony Notarberardino’s Hotel Chelsea bedroom.

More images and details can be found in this New York Times gallery article.

[Photo credit: All photos © Colin Miller/Courtesy of The Monacelli Press. Used with permission.] Read the rest

Legendary music producer Tony Visconti breaks down Bowie's iconic "Space Oddity"

In this video, basically an ad for the upcoming Sony 360 Reality Audio, brilliant record producer and criminally underappreciated bassist, Tony Visconti, listens to the original 1969 mono demo, the '69 studio mix, and his 2019 remastering of David Bowie's breakout track, "Space Oddity." At the end, he listens to the remixed Sony 360 Reality Audio version and talks about how it especially serves the idea behind the song (traveling through space) and that David would've loved this new audio technology.

Tony talks about how incredibly modern and ahead of its time "Space Oddity" was, and how in his 2019 remastering, he remixed it to be fuller, wider, and so that you could hear elements you may not have heard in the original recording. Bringing the kick drum up in the mix, for instance, you realize what a funky track it was, Tony comments. The most interesting moment in the video is when he talks about David, many years later, explaining to him what the song was really about:

David said it was actually a song about isolation and he used the astronaut in space as the metaphor...The song was written in that spirit, being isolated in this little capsule, but seeing the Universe from your window. This is what I'm trying to get across in the mix. You are going to be traveling through this mix. Things will go by you, around you, behind you, in front, come towards you.

Here is the result of Tony's efforts, the 2019 remastering of "Space Oddity" (not the 360 RA mix). Read the rest

Musicians turn Drumpf's Fisher-Price presidential memo into "Morrissey" and "Ramones" tunes

The meme machinery has been working overtime riffing on the Obstructor-in-Chief's latest cartoonish attempt to save himself, his hastily Sharpie'd "I want nothing" memo. First it was the above Ramones-like track. Then came the Morrissey version, courtesy of the awesomely Twitter-handled RuPaul Giamatti:

And another Morrissey version:

And just for the record, mister presidink, it's spelled "Zelensky." It's kind of a good idea to spell the names of other world leaders correctly in your stunt memos.

Update: Awesome emo version. [H/t John Ülaszek]

Read the rest

What's new in tabletop gaming (Halloween edition)

Here is a collection of horrifying games to keep you entertained this Fall.

Call of Cthulhu Starter Set Chaosium, Inc., $21.40 When I got the latest Call of Cthulhu Starter Set from Chaosium, I got all verklempt. After D&D, Call of Cthulhu was the next RPG I moved on to via the original Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. I loved that product, so I had great rushes of nostalgia unboxing this updated version. Mike Mason and Chaosium have done an excellent job creating a gateway, a hell-portal if you will, into the world of Cthulhu-based RPGing at a super affordable price. For under 22 bones, you get three saddle-stitched books, one that's an intro to the world of Cthulhu and includes a solo adventure to teach you the game, a basic rulebook, and a book with three starter adventures. You also get 5 ready-to-play investigators, blank character sheets, player hand-outs, and 6 RPG dice. It feels a little less substantial than the original (which included a thick, 100-page rulebook), but overall, it offers a satisfying and immersive introduction to Cthulhu gaming on the cheap.

Horrified Ravensburger, $35, 1-5 players, Ages 10+ As much as I enjoy the Lovecraft mythos and some of the zombie genre, I have to admit to being both bored and overwhelmed with how dominant these themes have become in the gaming hobby. So, I was thrilled to see Horrified, a cooperative horror strategy game featuring the Universal Studios monsters: Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Frankenstein monster, bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Invisible Man. Read the rest

Pinky and the Brain theme song done by Postmodern Jukebox

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, the music collective known for vintage send-ups of popular songs, has done this wonderful cover of the Pinky and the Brain theme song. It had already won me over before the surprise guests showed up.

Image: YouTube Read the rest

Adam Savage goes behind the scenes at the Smithsonian's Exhibits Central

While Adam Savage was in DC recently for the Apollo 50th Anniversary celebration (and to do the final assembly on the wonderful Project Egress NASA escape hatch project), he visited the Smithsonian's Office of Exhibits Central (OEC). Read the rest

More fun, macabre crafts "From The Mind Of Christine McConnell"

Macabre artist and crafter, Christine McConnell, has a new YouTube series, From The Mind Of Christine McConnell. I felt robbed when her Netflix series, The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, was given the axe after only one six-episode season. I loved this quirky, bizarre genre-buster which mixed equal parts The Addam's Family, Martha Stewart, and The Muppets, with a little Dita von Teese mixed in. Literally. Dita, a friend of Christine's, appeared as a ghost living in Christine's bedroom mirror who dispensed fashion advice.

I have always had a special fondness for offbeat, weird, and tongue-in-cheek crafting shows, like Brini Maxwell, At Home with Amy Sedaris, and Making It with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. McConnell's work is a goth-y twist on such offerings and "From The Mind Of Christine McConnell" is no different.

She has posted two episodes to YouTube so far, one where she converts a musty old pull-out couch into an ornate Edwardian sofa-bed, and one where she constructs a jaw-dropping ginger bread replica of the Winchester Mystery House using a quarter-ton of ginger bread.

Christine has also created a Patreon page to help support her channel. I, for one, will be signing on. Read the rest

The existential endtime pleasures of watching silent restoration videos

It is perhaps in the spirit of our anxious, rickety age that antique tool, machinery, and toy restoration videos are becoming increasingly popular. There is something oddly comforting and therapeutic about seeing the old, the forgotten, the previously reliable (now seized with rust and neglect) being lovingly restored to life.

These videos are simple, quiet (usually with no spoken narrative), and most of the restoration process is carefully shown, from disassembly to cleaning, sanding, repainting to re-assembly and testing. This is a world in which time, Evapo-Rust, a wire wheel, and some rattle-cans of enamel paint can repair the past to near show room luster.

I can't get enough. And for makers, there are lots of great repair and restoration tips embedded in these videos. Here are a few of my favorite channels.

Read the rest

Brian Eno, Roger Eno, and Daniel Lanois discuss the recording of "Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks"

In this new 14-minute mini-doc from Noisey, Brian Eno, his music-therapist brother Roger, and producer/musician Daniel Lanois, discuss their 1983 writing and recording of Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, their soundtrack for the Al Reinert film, For All Mankind. They also talk about the newly remastered Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks – Extended Edition and the 11 additional tracks they created for it.

There is some wonderful stuff in here, like Eno revealing that the country music influences on the record were inspired by him learning that many Apollo astronauts took country with them on their missions. He loved the idea of space frontiersmen carrying the music of an older frontier and decided to try creating a cosmic, psychedelic version of country. He and Roger also talk about how they tried to assume the character of the astronauts as they composed, for example, imagining being Mike Collins staying behind in the command module, and translating that feeling of isolation and awe into music.

There is also a touching moment when Roger chokes up talking about when Armstrong set foot on the moon, and how it seemed that, in a moment, humanity itself had jumped into a different mode, a more hopeful future, and how we now seem to have lost that leap. And that hope.

In case you've forgotten how glorious Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks actually is, here's the remastered version of "An Ending (Ascent)." In the Noisey documentary, Eno reveals that this final version of the track is actually the original piece he was working on played backwards. Read the rest

Tig Notaro flaunts her ignorance of pop culture and celebrity in new Funny or Die series

The wonderful comedienne, Tig Notaro, doesn't watch a lot of TV or films and doesn't really keep up with popular culture. As a result, she doesn't recognize celebrities. She's turned this liability(?) into a fun show, called Under A Rock with Tig Notaro. Well-known celebs come on and she (aided by her announcer, Amazon's Alexa) questions them in an attempt to guess who they are and what they are famous for. I've gotten a big kick out of the first three episodes.

Read the rest

Thinking back on the special magic of Make: and Maker Faire

As you may have heard by now, news began to break Friday night that Maker Media, home to Make: magazine, Maker Faire, and Maker Shed, was folding up their big top and calling it quits (though founder Dale Dougherty has vowed to attempt a resurrection in some form). As the sad news began to thread its way through social media, the sense of shock, grief, and confusion was palpable. As when a beloved artist, entertainer, or other famous figure dies, people began posting pictures of themselves with the deceased, sharing peak experiences at Maker Faire, and sharing stories of the impact that Make:, Maker Faire, and the maker movement has had on their lives. Many of these have been quite inspiring and moving.

As someone who worked with or at Make: since its inception in 2005, my inboxes began filling up with people asking me if I was OK, if they could do anything to help (bring over cake and whiskey?), and they too began pouring out their feelings to me. Several people shared stories on social media and asked me to share some of mine. This made me immediately think of an essay I wrote for my 2014 memoir, Borg Like Me. Called "Make vs. The Blob," in it, I attempted to capture some of the magic and inspired sense of wonder I experienced while working at Maker Media and attending nearly all of the Bay Area, New York, and the two Austin Maker Faires. As part of that piece, I shared three particularly enchanting tableaux from the 2007 Austin Maker Faire. Read the rest

Epic Twitter thread uses classic art to illustrate the everyday sexism that women endure

Writer Nicole Tersigni posted this amazing meme thread on Twitter where she juxtaposed well-known classic art images with the sort of common and clichéd sexism that modern women are all too familiar with.

"Calm down"

"There probably just weren't any qualified women for the job."

"Thanks, I'm gay now" by Norman Rockwell.

"Let me explain your lived experience to you."

See the entire thread here. Read the rest

Kevin Kelly, Adam Savage, Norm Chan discuss continuous learning, knowledge sharing, and how tools open up possibilities

I love it when really smart people, especially those well-versed in science, technology, and DIY, sit down and ramble on about whatever's currently tickling their proverbial fancies. In this video, Adam and Norm from Tested.com chat with the always-informative Kevin Kelly. While the conversation is free-ranging, there is a loose theme about learning-on-demand, knowledge sharing, and the power of tools to inspire possibilities.

Here are a few useful take-aways from the discussion:

Being your own signal-to-noise ratio – Kevin and Adam chuckle over instances of searching on a subject online and mainly scooping up what they’ve written about that subject. E.g. Kevin looking up “superorganism” for a talk he was giving and finding out that the Wikipedia definition was taken from him. Adam talks about the joys of lifelong curiosity and the time that Richard Feynman and Danny Hillis were trying to have dinner together but got sidetracked when the two of them became fixated on the physics of breaking dry spaghetti (i.e., how the pieces never break cleanly in two; there's are always multiple fractures). BTW: You can find out more about this here. To learn more about a product your are interested in, search for the highest price of that object on eBay to find out the broad landscape of the object, from the most expensive, feature-rich, highest quality expressions of it, on down. Use the Incognito Mode on Google to experience something you are searching for without your previous interactions influencing the search algorithms. The trio talks about how great it would be if YouTube’s algorithms were better at taking you to new places with suggested videos (rather than the same “murder’s row” of channels that you already know about). Read the rest

Stephen Colbert plays D&D with Matt Mercer for Red Nose Day

There are so many things to love about Stephen Colbert. For me, his unapologetic nerdiness is high on that list. His obviously large and tender heart is, too. These two impulses come together in this Critcal Role video, done as a fundraiser for Red Nose Day, dedicated to the fight against childhood poverty in America.

In the 52-minute one-on-one D&D adventure, Matt Mercer does a masterful job of taking Stephen, as the half-elf bard, Capo, and his bee sidekick, Eric, on a harrowing adventure in search of the Crimson Sphere of Generosity.

Besides the fun D&D adventure and the do-gooder intent of the episode, we also get to see Stephen play D&D for the first time in some 30 years. His joy and sense of wonder are palpable. He even has to stop to tell Matt how much he's freaking out as childhood memories of playing with friends overwhelm him. "I can feel the chest hairs growing as we speak," he jokes. At one point, Stephen laughs at one of Matt's colorful descriptions of a gory encounter with an undead beast. "I haven't heard the word ichor in over 30 years."

We also learn more about the origins of Stephen's gaming past. He was a Metamorphosis Alpha player before D&D and he got in on D&D early. He even says that he went to GenCon the year that the first AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide was released. And he admits that he still has his friend's copy (they got switched at the con) which was signed by Gary Gygax. Read the rest

What's new in tabletop gaming (April 2019 edition)

Battletech: A Game of Armored Combat BattleTech Beginner Box Catalyst Games, $60 (core set), $20 (Beginner's Box)

Catalyst Games was kind enough to send me a bundle o' new BattleTech goodies. They sent the new BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat (the core game), the BattleTech Beginner Box, the BattleMech Manual, and the Map Pack expansion.

The Beginner Box is positioned as a convenient and cheap way of getting people into the game at a third the price of the new core box. In the Beginner Box, you get 2 Mech miniatures and 8 cardboard standee Mechs. The stater rules are somewhat streamlined with no heat management/Heat Phase, no Internal Structure Diagram (ISD), and no torso movement. All of the movement and attack modifiers are retained from the original game. The rules still have those clunky and crunchy old-school mechanics under the hood, but like OGRE and Car Wars, for those of us with fond memories of this game, however cumbersome, that's maybe now part of its old-school charm.

The hardbound Mech Manual is lovely, well-designed, and laid out for easy reference. The Core Box comes with 8 beautifully sculpted Mech miniatures, a 56-page rule book, a 16-page Universe Primer, Pilot stat cards, a pad of Mech record sheets, two terrain maps, dice, and additional standees and terrain markers. The core system does retain the ISD, heat manangement, and torso movement rules. Both boxed sets also include novellas, which is kind of a nice way of immersing oneself, especially newbies, in the BattleTech universe before play. Read the rest

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