December 29, 2017

Game Profile: Timeline: Inventions (and the Timeline series)

Not Your Parents’ Board Games
By David Means

Timeline: Inventions
Timeline: Inventions is a card game played using 109 cards. Each card depicts an invention on both sides, with the year in which that invention was created on only one side.

Players take turns placing a card from their hand in a row on the table. After placing the card, the player reveals the date on it. If the card was placed correctly with the date in chronological order with all other cards on the table, the card stays in place; otherwise the card is removed from play and the player takes another card from the deck.

The first player to get rid of all his cards by placing them correctly wins. If multiple players go out in the same round, then everyone else is eliminated from play and each of those players are dealt one more card for another round of play.

If only one player has no cards after a bonus round, he wins; otherwise play continues until a single player goes out. Timeline: Inventions can be combined with any other title in the Timeline series:

Timeline: Discoveries
Timeline: Diversity
Timeline: Historical Events
Timeline: Music & Cinema
Timeline: American History
Timeline: Americana

Editor's note: Since this profile was written in 2016, there appears now to be a Timeline Challenge Board Game that has become available. It may be played on its own, but it also is designed to allow players to incorporate their cards from any of the rest of the Timeline series.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND SERIES: In January 2016, KaCSFFS member (Club Director since April 2017) and notable board game collector David Means gave a presentation to the club about his collection. It was so interesting, I asked for permission to reprint it as a series of posts on this blog. He graciously agreed, and supplied me with his script. I have divided it into several posts and added the illustrations, hyperlinks, embedded videos, etc. as seemed appropriate. --Jan S. Gephardt, Communications Officer 

IMAGES: Many thanks to Vat 19 for the photo of the Timeline: Inventions box with some representative cards from the game, and to Asmodee (the manufacturer) for the photo of the expansion pack boxes. I also want to thank The Board Game Family's review, for the photo of the Timeline Challenge game with all its components laid out.

December 26, 2017

Did you get book gift cards in your stocking?

Did Santa bring you bookstore gift cards?
The Fourth Monday of December fell on Christmas Day this year--and the Kansas City SF&F Literati did not meet. But they WILL on January 22, 2018, at 7:00 p.m. at the Oak Park Mall Barnes & Noble (2nd floor). 

Their January selection is Seeds of Earth, by Michael Cobley. If you have bookstore gift cards burning a hole in your pocket, here's a golden opportunity!

Praise for Seeds of Earth from critics:
"A complex, finely detailed thriller-cum-space opera"

"Proper galaxy-spanning Space Opera ... a worthy addition to the genre"
Iain M. Banks

"After a devastating and unanticipated alien war, Earth sent out colony ships to preserve humanity. The human colony on Darien has coexisted peacefully with the indigenous Uvovo for the past 150 years, but now a power struggle for control of the galaxy threatens the amity. A space opera series opener by the author of the Shadowkings trilogy."
Library Journal

"Seeds of Earth has everything: well-realised extraterrestrials, scheming artificial intelligences, set-piece space battles and bizarre technology from the dawn of the galaxy. The first book of the trilogy is also a convincing portrayal of political machinations and the plight of individuals caught up in events beyond their comprehension."
Eric Brown, The Guardian online

"Seeds of Earth is as powerful as Smoke on the Water, as twisted as Paranoid and as epic as Stairway to Heaven. As a lover of epic fantasy I tell you that is the kind of space opera I want to read. For me it is epic fantasy in future. I recommend it! Give it a go...."
"Edifanob," on Only The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy online

"This is Space Opera in the truest sense: no wonder there is an Iain M. Banks blurb on the cover."
Goodreads contributor

Or you could try this . . . 
Of course, if your friends and relatives don't love you enough to give you book gift cards, or you have other purchases in mind, this might be a good moment to reserve your copy from the library!

Either way, the Kansas City SF&F Literati would love to see you at the book discussion next year!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Seeds of Earth book cover image!

December 19, 2017

Game Profiles: Cooperative Games, and "Pandemic" profile

Not Your Parents’ Board Games
By David Means

Cooperative Games
A relatively new category is that of “cooperative” games. Instead of playing against each other, the players are working together to defeat the game itself, and everyone wins or loses as a team.

Some examples are Pandemic (profiled below), Space Alert, Castle Panic, and The Grizzled.

In Pandemic, several virulent diseases have broken out simultaneously all over the world. The players are a team of medical specialists whose mission is to treat disease hotspots while researching cures for each of the four plagues before they get out of hand.

Taking a unique role within the team, each player must plan their strategy to mesh with their specialists’ strengths in order to conquer the diseases. To successfully cure all four diseases requires that all five team members work together; unfortunately only four are allowed in the game, so every move must be carefully planned out.

The game board depicts several major population centers on Earth. On each turn, a player can travel between cities, treat infected populaces, discover a cure, or build a research station.

A deck of cards provides the players with these abilities, but sprinkled throughout this deck are “Epidemic!” cards that accelerate and intensify the diseases’ activity.

A second, separate deck of cards controls the “normal” spread of the infections. But the diseases are spreading quickly and time is running out. If one or more diseases spreads beyond recovery, or if too much time elapses, the players all lose. If they cure the four diseases, they all win!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND SERIES: In January 2016, KaCSFFS member (Club Director since April 2017) and notable board game collector David Means gave a presentation to the club about his collection. It was so interesting, I asked for permission to reprint it as a series of posts on this blog. He graciously agreed, and supplied me with his script. I have divided it into several posts and added the illustrations, hyperlinks, embedded videos, etc. as seemed appropriate. --Jan S. Gephardt, Communications Officer 

IMAGES: Many thanks to all of the following: 
For SPACE ALERT: Board Game Geek for the cover art, and Czech Games for the photo of the game's components. 
For CASTLE PANIC: Amazon for the box cover photo, and Backyard Game Design's "#GDE Reviews" review of the game, for the photo of the pieces in play. 
For THE GRIZZLED: Board Game Brawl's YouTube review of the game, for the cover box photo, and Board Game Geek for the photo of the components laid out at the 2015 Festival international des jeux Cannes. 
For PANDEMIC: BoardGameGeek for the photo of the starter-box cover, and Board Game Quest's review of the game, for the photo of the game in play.

December 16, 2017

2017: a Year's Collective Reviews from the Kansas City SF&F Literati

Who are the Kansas City SF&F Literati?
They are a KaCSFFS-allied group of book lovers who meet (almost) every Fourth Monday of the Month to discuss a pre-selected book in the science fiction, fantasy, or related speculative genres. All are welcome to attend their meetings at the Oak Park Mall Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Overland Park Kansas, or to participate in discussion follow-ups on the group's Facebook page.

What are collective reviews? 
They are compilations of discussion summaries and participants' comments, taken from posts on the Facebook group and re-formatted into a short review of one or just a few paragraphs.

Why these books? Why now?
Each book reviewed here was a Selection of the Month for the group during 2017. Selections are normally chosen three times each year, in January (spring selections), April (summer selections), and August (fall-winter selections, including the following January).

We're posting them now for two reasons: (1) The group does not meet in December (this month's meeting would have fallen on Christmas Day, when most locals have other things going on!). (2) We hope these reviews may offer you timely ideas for books to give (or avoid giving) as winter holiday gifts!

Our 2017 Book Reviews:
January: Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed
Seven out of the ten who came to the discussion said they'd liked this book, though a couple of them said it didn't leave much of an impression. "One of the things I liked about it, is that the powers were not over the top. They are enhanced, but not super power," on online commenter wrote. "I liked how they spoke their cadence; I kept using my Jewish voice, although they [the characters] are not Jewish," another wrote. "Great book!" a third wrote.

February: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Eight out of fifteen people liked this book, though some had more difficulty with it after they watched to movie while they were reading it. Most seemed to agree with online commenters who wrote, "Finished the book, liked it. Already read second book in series, have hold placed for third book," and "I enjoyed [it] . . . it was a good first YA book in a series."

March: Mr. Adam, by Pat Frank
The group often includes sf from the past for one selection out of the year, but this vintage book from 1946 didn't fare as well with our 2017-era readers (71 years later) as some of the year's other selections: four out of seven said they didn't like it, while only two said they did.

As one online commenter put it, "dragged in the middle, ending was predictable." "Too much telling not enough showing," another wrote. There was some appreciation for the differences in historical period: "I kept hearing the 1940s news voice," one noted. "Is this satire, and [we're] missing out on it?" "Yes," another replied, "he wanted to do a satire on government bureaucracy with a thin veil of SF." But at least one wrote, "I liked the Robots."

April: Updraft, by Fran Wilde
Three out of the six who attended the April discussion said they liked it, while the other three were more indifferent--none came right out and said they didn't like it. "It started real slow," one online commenter said, but also "the premise was intriguing." "We decided the author needed to do more world building," another said.

"I think it might have been the audiobook [that kept] taking me out of the story . . . I actually fell asleep on the last 40 minutes of the book," (ouch!). Another wrote, "I wasn't sure if the main villain was killed or not." Others, however, were more positive: "There is enough to this world that had me intrigued to know more," one wrote. Said another: "I liked it, but definitely agree the author could do more world building. I was confused [about] the conflicts between mother (Trader) and child (now Singer)."

May: Quantum Night, by Robert J. Sawyer 
This selection represents the group's annual preference for choosing a book for the May discussion that was written by the year's ConQuesT Author Guest of Honor--who in 2017 was Robert J. Sawyer. Unfortunately for Mr. Sawyer, however, of the six who started the book, only three liked it, and three were "meh" votes. The comments weren't very encouraging, either, although one did note, "The author clearly has a soul (he drops lots of Star Trek references!)."

"Comically bad in some areas," one commenter said. "Court scene was radically bad; wanted to stop the interrogation since it was flawed: no defense lawyer would allow his witness to proceed while so unprepared," another wrote. A third complained, "Useless side plot (international tensions), or does that happen to make it politically relevant?" Yet another: "The mentor would change personality as needed for the plot."

There was general dislike for the high number of psychopaths in the story: "28% are psychopaths, then how can you get out of the Stone Age? You would struggle at the tribal level. Well written but . . . flawed." "Highly functional psychopaths," another wrote, "don't make the news." "Never discussed psychopaths who weren't dramatic," a third said. "Not just uncaring but evil. Why must the extreme always be so prominent in this story?" "Is it acceptable as a reader to have psychopaths be this prevalent in the society?" another wrote. The narrator, too, took a beating: "When a narrator becomes a psychopath, the narrator then loses his soul," one wrote. "The narrator doesn't suffer as he should have," another said.

June: Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, by Paul Krueger
This selection (humorous/suspenseful urban fantasy--or is it sf?) got much better reactions than the last several books, though far fewer posted comments in all. Of the nine who weighed in on it, only one was a "meh." The others all said they liked it. "The teacher seemed pretty cardboard," one said.

However, most of the commenters were in tune with the one who wrote, "When the pink elephants showed up in the first chapter, I knew I was in for a good time," then added, "I found that this book gave me a respect for the old classic cocktails." Another summed it up: "The idea sounded hokey, but I couldn't put it down! Read in pretty much one sitting. Finished it, liked it."

July: Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente 
Unfortunately, the group was once again less than positive about the July selection.

Eight started the book, three finished, and six said they didn't like it, though a few struggled to find either nice or neutral things to say. "There were pieces that were imaginative and interesting," one commenter said. "I like the fact that we live in a world where this can be published," another said. "This is a novel which really isn't a novel,"a third noted.

Others were less tolerant. "I can count on one hand books I have never finished. This one I hated most," one said. "I have read other things by this author and liked it, but I was disappointed in this one," another commenter said. "The story line is disjointed because it jumps from movie script to different format[s]. The timeline is bad. The ship manifests were worst." "The audiobook is worst because [of] all these timelines," a different commenter said, while a third wrote, "I had the audiobook and was 45 minutes into it, when I had a friend who was driving to pull over [to] the library so I could drop it off and pick up something else to listen to." One commenter congratulated another: "I am impressed that you finished it." "It was a regular slog," another added.

August: Just one Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor 
Of the ten who started this one, nine finished it and they were evenly split between "like" votes and "meh" votes. Many of the less-positive comments regarded the time-travel aspect: "People are dying, historians are not helping? No protection?" one wrote. "Shameless ripoff of TV's Timeless - had enough sense to send muscle," another said. [Editor's note: Timeless first aired in 2016; One Damned Thing was published in 2013. Perhaps the alleged ripoff involved time travel?] "Formulaic: cardboard, obligatory scenes: Let's go see a T-Rex," a third comment read. "Second [book] probably already sold, so too much in 1st book." "Understand it's first novel, give author some slack, but cliche ending--iterations of your past/my future, etc. Too much like magic," another said. At the meeting, the group went into a side-discussion of other approaches to time travel for a while.

The humor drew both positive and negative comments--sometimes in a single comment: "Sometimes, [I] liked the snarkiness, but infuriating-unnecessary snarkiness [was] not too amusing." "Trying to be funny or just poor writing?" another wondered. "Self-depreciating," said one. "Still didn't believe the author was female--main character seemed male but with tits," another remarked.

Yet other comments were more strongly positive: "Hilarious, snarky historian humor," one said. "Read pretty quickly," another added. "Fun, light, moved fast enough that complaints didn't last long," a third said. "I read it. I enjoyed it," a fourth put in. The moderator added, "Many folks would read the next book, since they are light & enjoyable--a winter read."

September: The Outsourcerer's Apprentice, by Tom Holt
Of the eleven who started this one, six liked it, and at least eight read it all the way through. One of the non-finishers "thought it was dragging. There were very funny bits that made me laugh out loud, but . . . lost patience." Another liked and finished it, but agreed it "Did drag a bit at times," which elicited a reply from another, "Ya think?"

One person noted he "thought the plot was there just to pin scenes to." "I enjoyed it, but wouldn't read another in the series," another said. A third noted she was reading it aloud to a friend. "We're enjoying it," she added.

October: Lightless, by C. A. Higgins
Nine out of the ten who started this book had finished it by the time they went to the October meeting. Only two were willing to say they actually liked it, however. Three didn't, and the other five voted "meh." "I liked it as a first novel," one commenter said. "While it was the first book of a trilogy, I am not motivated to read the rest," another said. "I thought this was a book with lost opportunities," the first one added. "There [were] some interesting ideas that didn't go anywhere."

"[The] AI as a child was interesting, but it took too long to get there," one commenter wrote. "This was a 25-page short story that someone added 200 pages to," another said. "This was a police [procedural] wrapped in science fiction." "I was annoyed that I didn't really care who survived," a different commenter said. "Our non-AI protagonist didn't exhibit enough competence to get my sympathy."

Two things stood out as "pet peeves" for several commenters. First: "All the A names were annoying," one said, while another wrote, "[I] wish [they] had a different name for the ships and character names: several started with letter A." The other was calling the government "The System." Two different commenters wrote, "Really?" in response to this.

November: The Clown Service, by Guy Adams
Only four intrepid folk showed up for the November discussion--and their reactions were mixed. At least one had not completed the book by the meeting.

"Popcorn fiction," one said. "Went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. A little slow to start. Seemed derivative." Another said, "Only one person in the department? Really turned off by the book's title — why would it make me want to read the book?" 

Several drew comparisons with Charles Stross's The Laundry Files

However, another person said, "Characters were written well. Curious about the minor characters who encounter main character, give him info, then seem to forget knowing him on next meeting." 

That's it for 2017--but wait! There's MORE!
The cycle starts again on January 22, 2018, with a discussion of Seeds of Earth, by Michael Cobley. Do you have your copy yet? Buy or reserve one soon, so you can join in (whether in the Kansas City area, or from afar via the group's Facebook page)! We hope to see you in January!

IMAGES: The book cover images shown are from earlier posts to this blog. Please follow the links on the month-names for more specific information. 

December 13, 2017

Board Game Profiles: Agricola and Rukshuk

Not Your Parents' Board Games
By David Means

Agricola is a “worker placement” game. As a player you’re a Renaissance-era farmer in a wooden shack with your spouse and little else.

On each turn you get to take only two actions, one for you and one for the spouse, from all the possibilities you’ll find on a farm: collecting clay, wood, or stone; building fences; and so on. You might think about having kids in order to get more work accomplished, but first you need to expand your house. And what are you going to feed all the little rugrats?

Players need to do some of everything on their farm (plowing fields, growing vegetables, raising sheep, pigs, and cattle, building fences, adding on to the house, upgrading the home, building stables, etc.) as opposed to specializing in one or two things, because the final scoring rewards diversity.

The game supports many levels of complexity, mainly through the use (or non-use) of two of its main types of cards, Minor Improvements and Occupations. In the beginner’s version (also called the Family Variant), these cards are not used at all. For advanced play, the game includes three levels of both types of cards; Basic (E-deck), Interactive (I-deck), and Complex (K-deck), and the rulebook encourages players to experiment with the various decks and mixtures thereof. Aftermarket decks such as the Z-Deck and the L-Deck also exist.

Rukshuk is a dexterity game. Players race against the clock to build different Rukshuk rock formations and score as many points as they can.

Each player selects seven game rocks (actually poly-stone shapes) from the pouch. Game rocks are worth different points based on their ‘stack-ability.’ Players score regular and bonus points by using the rocks to build all or part of the Rukshuk formation shown on the game card in sixty seconds or less.

If a player’s Rukshuk formation topples before time expires, he must quickly rebuild it. When time runs out, players tally the points from their formations. Once scores are counted the players select new rocks, turn over the next card and build a new Rukshuk.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND SERIES: In January 2016, KaCSFFS member (Director, as of April, 2017) and notable board game collector David Means gave a presentation to the club about his collection. It was so interesting, I asked for permission to reprint it as a series of posts on this blog. He graciously agreed, and supplied me with his script. I have divided it into several posts and added the illustrations, hyperlinks, embedded videos, etc. as seemed appropriate. --Jan S. Gephardt, Communications Officer 

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia for the photos of the Agricola game box, and also the image of the game being set up. I also want to thank Cision PR Web for the photo of the Rukshuk Game contents, and Saratreetravels, a travel blog, for the photo of Sara and her friend Simone, playing around with Simone's Rukshuk game.

December 09, 2017

Add extra sparkle at KaCSFFS's Annual Holiday Party and Launch Event

What: Monthly KaCSFFS Meeting
When: Saturday, December 16, 2017

  • 6:00 p.m. setup
  • 6:30 brief announcements
  • 7:00 Palookaville Anthology launch with readings

Where: The Writers Place, 3607 Pennsylvania Ave., Kansas City, MO 64111
Food Theme: Winter holiday food

Are you ready to shine?
We'll have the decorations up and the tables ready to fill, but the "sparkle" depends on you! Come prepared to mingle and munch with Kansas City's favorite fun fannish folk. Bring your favorite holiday munchies to share! Some people like to bring small presents or cards to share with other KaXFEN, but that's not required or expected.

As ever, please also bring favorite tabletop games or card games to share--playing times of 2 hours or less work best for meetings.

Special BONUS event! 
Palookaville Launch and Readings
This year's Holiday Party includes a special feature: Our local Pine Float Press provides some extra entertainment with live readings by three authors whose work is featured in their new anthology, Palookaville. What is Palookaville, you may ask?

Palookaville is a blue-collar supervillain antholology set in the shadows of the superheroic world. Second-string criminals, masked mooks and clued-in henchmen leave the stresses of the criminal world behind and live “normal lives” in the sleepy bedroom town of Powell Heights until the outside world muscles its way in. Fortunately, the citizens of Palookaville know all about muscle work.

Palokaville is a wonderfully weird, occasionally violent, often funny, deeply twisted revisionist look at the super hero genre.”
Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Punisher: Naked Kills and Black Panther: Power.

Our Author Guests
A. E. Ash
We're pleased to welcome three authors who will present live readings for the Palookaville

A.E. Ash is a writer, nerd, gamer, mooncalf but not a baker or candlestick maker (and nobody said anything about butcher). She writes speculative poetry and fiction because why not make good use of an over-active imagination? Ash lives in the Midwest with her super-rad husband and her lazy cats who do nothing at all to help her on the path to world domination. You can find her on Twitter at @dogmycatzindeed or on her blog. You can find more of her writing via her Amazon Author Page.

J. R. Boles
J.R. Boles is a speculative fiction author currently hanging her hat in the Heartland. When not writing, she and her husband spend their free time chasing after their fearless daughters and rescue pup. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and American University Washington College of Law. She often hangs out on Twitter at @jrbolesauthor. You can see more of her writing via her Amazon Author Page.

Sean Demory is no stranger to KaCSFFS--he was one of our featured readers in October. He's an author of short fiction and the founder of Pine Float Press. His work has been included on the recommended reading list for Locus Magazine and has received honorable mention in the Best Horror of the Year, a fact that he’ll milk as long as possible. He is currently working on a range of projects that he’ll talk about at length given the least opportunity. Sean lives in Kansas City, Missouri and posts intermittently on Tumblr. His work also is available via Amazon.

KAXFEN who enjoyed Sean Demory's reading at the October meeting should be happy about his rapid return.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Jan S. Gephardt for the photo of the decorated holiday tree at the 2014 Holiday Party and the photo of Sean Demory at the October 2017 KaCSFFS meeting; to Lulu, and Pine Float Press, for the Palookaville cover art; to A. E. Ash's Amazon Author Page for her photo; and to J. R. Boles's Amazon Author Page for her photo.