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Itch.io Indie bundle for Palestinian Aid, Part 3

Wyldvir (standalone ttrpg) - A relatively rules-light system where everyone has a small amount of elemental wild magic (based on their race and home city) and wizards can have more. It supports combat, but clearly isn’t designed around it—even the monster descriptions indicate you’re supposed to wear them out and tame them, not hurt them. Mostly, the core book needs more to it—more worldbuilding, a significantly bigger wild surge table, more skills and examples of play; etc. The experience system is based on increasing your die size for an ability after you roll it a certain number of times, which invites min/maxing and (more irritatingly) doesn’t include a tally area on the character sheet. (I think, if I ran this, I’d use a version of the Call of Cthulhu XP system, where you check off an ability when you use it, and at the end of each session you can roll to try to raise everything you used.) Also, I’m irritated that the quickstart couldn’t come up with the name “Electromancy” and used “Lightning based magic.” That said, the system is pretty simple and I may try to make this a one-night test game.

Solipstry (standalone ttrpg) - Billed as “A new approach to table-top RPGs”, this is basically D&D 3E with the numbers changed around, a bunch of things renamed (“Talents” instead of Feats, “Abilities” instead of spells), and a skill-based advancement system rather than classes and levels. I could dig into the mechanical crunch, but it’s 100 pages of complications and individual rules and I have no reason to believe it will actually be better than D&D, Pathfinder, or any of the other things it’s aping. It’s intended as an “open system”, so there’s a 5-page sample scenario, but no worldbuilding, no bestiary and no internal lore.

Next Horizon (standalone ttrpg) - This one is billed as “low-stakes fantasy roleplaying”, and that isn’t a bad description. It’s only 20 pages and the rules are fairly light and straightforward, and the booklet includes some random generation material for exploration. I don’t think there’s anything here that makes it really stand out from the pack, but there’s also nothing about it that I find particularly offensive.

TIME KNIFE (TROIKA! supplement) - I don’t know the TROIKA! System at all, but this freaky and semi-random dungeon module could be fairly easily converted to most other adventuring systems, and I suspect I’ll try using it at some point.

Iera Entera Alpha (minimalist ttrpg) - This is another one with potential, because it’s got a great hook: There are god-beasts roaming the world and terrorizing the people, and you want to cook them. The sessions are described in “recipes” and the hunting stage is called “ingredient prep.” The system is simple but strategic, because you never aim to roll high or low, you’re actually aiming as be as close to the target number as possible, and each of your stats is a number of d6s you roll. So a target number of 20 is a hard roll with four dice and impossible otherwise, but a target number of 4 is nearly impossible with four dice and pretty easy with your 1-die dump stat. (If another player helps you, their dice roll can add or subtract from yours!) I think this has potential as a one-shot using one of the three sample recipes provided.

Word Forward (Puzzle, PC game) – You get a 5x5 grid of letters, like a Boggle board, and need to clear them by making words using connecting tiles, but the tiles disappear after a single use. There are power-ups you can use to reshuffle the board, replace single letters, or destroy a single tile; but even with them this game is REALLY hard. You need to be extremely strategic because it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of solutions for the levels and it’s very easy to get trapped with only separated letters or two-letter words available.

Staxter (Puzzle/Casual, PC game) - A combination/variation of Columns and Yoshi; you get two-picture blocks that you need to drop and make matches, and you get points from sandwiching the flowers between the four colored “friends” and making them disappear. Play the levels first, they function as a tutorial and gradually introduce the buds, power-ups and potential for chains. This is a fun little casual game.

Pikuniku (Puzzle Platformer, PC game) - A exploration platformer that you play as a little ball with legs who can, predictably, roll and kick. It’s unclear what’s part of the main quest and what’s a side quest, and there isn’t really much narrative thrust; the game is clearly about exploration (and guesswork). I found baby birds and played hide-and-seek with a rock whose tea party I ruined, which game me enough apples to goes through an actual dungeon, but the Beast Mask from that didn’t get me any closer to fixing a bridge I broke. There’s a fair amount of game here and I’m not sure how extensively I feel like playing it, but it’s cute.

Mending Wall (Casual, PC game) - You play as two neighbors, each who has six pieces of stone wall to maintain. You need to type keys that correspond to each stone to move them around and fix things, while periodically sending them inside to rest. The goal is to keep the fence standing for as long as possible. This didn’t win me.

Your Future Self (Puzzle, PC game) - A mindfuck text adventure. You’re told that you’ve been pulled into a time bubble to convince your future self not to kill thousands of people and, in doing so, change the future. This is clearly suspicious from the start and there are layers of lies and secrets. The graphics are irritating (all scanlines and monitor glitches) and the time-loop conversations get irritating, especially if you don’t quite understand the points system. Fortunately, the game only takes about an hour to get through regardless, so those problems are manageable.
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Universal Yums: Greece!

Roasted Garlic Bread Chips – These are sold in the States as “bagel chips”, and I credit the Greeks for acknowledging that they aren’t bagels in any way, just bread with holes in. They’re tasty, though, as little toast crackers with a strong garlic flavor.

Drizzled Milk Chocolate Wafer – This had to live in the fridge after getting a bit melted in the mail. It’s a KitKat bar. Like, not even a “Greek version” with a weird flavor or something. It’s just a KitKat bar.

Paprika & Tomato Potato Chips – I had expected these to be the “pizza” flavor again, but they actually do taste more like tomatoes and paprika! (They’re otherwise normal ridged potato chips.) It’s cool to try a potato chip flavor that’s actually new to me.

Grape Must Mustokouloura Cookie – Pretty good, though I’m not really sure what flavor the grape must was imparting. (Grape juice is also in the ingredients, but this doesn’t taste like grapes at all.) It reminded me of a soft, fat gingerbread. Jethrien likened it to pfeffernusse. Good, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

Pomegranate Jelly Candy – This is a jelly candy in the sense of fruit slices, though the pomegranate flavor seems more like imitation cherry to me. Tasty!

Almond Milk Toffees – Whereas these are super soft toffee, with a mild almond flavor that’s mostly just an accent on the creaminess. Also tasty!

Almond Baklava – While this was insanely sticky (the honey-syrup got all over the inside of the wrapper), it was also shockingly good for shelf-stable packaged baklava.

I think the big question with this entire experiment: If I went to any of these countries, would I be able to find these exact snacks being eaten by the locals?
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Itch.io Indie bundle for Palestinian Aid, Part 2

In which I mostly review tabletop rpgs and supplements. (And a couple of random bookish things mixed in with them.)

Hardcore Gaming 101 Presents: Castlevania - An extremely thorough look at the Castlevania series of games, with the development of characters and game systems across them, version differences, regional differences, and commentary; all clearly written by folks who love the series. (Though my big point of contention is that “hardcore” fans love the high-difficulty games and throw shade at the easier ones; I didn’t develop my real love for the series until the added the rpg elements and dropped the difficulty.) I found this entertaining and it had a bunch of trivia tidbits I didn’t know.

Running Away: a small guide by Neen Lancaster - This is an artsy zine with a series of dreamy, one-age imaginary situations. I found it less meaningful and more up its own ass; or in simpler terms: it does not appeal to me.

Valiant Quest (standalone ttrpg) - Is a fairly classic fantasy rpg and a lot of the book is details of classes, races, abilities and spells. It’s got a very similar overall feel to Dungeons & Dragons, just with a different set of base mechanics and some different flavor text. (You could take any classic D&D adventure and, but swapping out the monster stat blocks, run it under this instead.) The action economy is better than basic D&D, but that’s also because it’s set up the same way Pathfinder 2E is and that’s an easier overall system to pick up if you already know any D&D variant. The elemental affinity system for magic and certain characters is also interesting, but unless you’re trying specifically to run The Dragon Prince on tabletop, it’s not worth the complexity involved.

Doikayt: A Jewish Tabletop Roleplaying Game Anthology - There are some interesting ideas here, some of them more distinctly Jewish, and some a Jewish reflavoring of a more common theme. “Emet” (the Golem game) is likely to be something I'd bolt onto another system that had real rpg mechanics behind it; I like the general flavor to it. I also know where to look to generate a Jewish-flavored medieval town; the world building entry is solid. There are a few cases like “Talmud” where the presentation is cute (if you get the references) but it's unplayable. The rest are pretty much all structured storytelling party games, for when you have a room full of theater kids who happen to be Jewish. If I try any of them, the one I was most interested by was “The Wise Men of Chelm,” because it's about coming up with really goofy ideas to ordinary problems.

Four Elements’ Light (standalone ttrpg) - A ttrpg love letter to the Golden Sun series of video games, which I was immediately skeptical of because the ability-based puzzles and djinn collecting/class upgrading are the things that really stand out in that series. This is a homebrew dungeon crawler/heroic fantasy game that I know I’m never going to attempt playing, because the rules are so complicated that I don’t want to learn and teach them for a one-night session, but also not complicated enough that I can trust they dealt with common situations well. The one thing that I would consider using (in concept if not in exact mechanics) is the djinn mechanic: Like the games, they give you a free spell, then they’re “charged” when you use it, and you can use djinn charges to summon something. This feels like it might work as a hack to D&D 4E, where combats are typically long and tactical—attach encounter powers to djinn, and you can cast a powerful summon spell when you’ve used enough of them. That aside, I think I’d get a better Golden Sun feel from a game where everyone had a selection of cantrips and had to use them to solve problems in creative ways.

Unnatural Watches (D20 supplement) - A collection of anachronistic chronometers for your D20-compatible games. Unfortunately, they’re all presented in a “smug teenager” tone. There are a couple of cute ideas, but this isn’t as clever as the author clearly thinks it is.

Interstellar Errands (Minimalist TTRPG) - A DM-less setup for a single night’s adventure in space; clearly intended to be even more freeform storytelling than Lasers & Feelings. (The line between DM-less game and prompted improv theater game is very thin.) I’m intrigued by the “roll for an outcome and then tell how you got to it” mechanic and may playtest this at some point.

Trusted with Its True Name: LeGuinian Magic (rpg commentary) - This is not a system; this is an idea, barely fleshed out into a blog post. To summarize: Magic needs to require awareness of the world via true names and personal interaction, so you don’t just mechanically summon the rain, you have an awareness of how the rain feels about being summoned and how the landscape reacts to it. Which, sure, that’s a neat little worldbuilding hook for your storytelling fluff and freeform games, but provides nothing mechanical to hang it on. I want someone to give me 10 pages of how you’d apply that to a D&D 5E campaign, including GMing magic as an NPC and impacts on game balance.

The Fane of the Hungry God (D20 supplement) - A standalone dungeon crawl; provides a map with 5 notable locations, stats for 6 monsters, a treasure table and a random encounter table to pad things out. If you need a one-session adventure to thwart That Which Hungers From Below, here you are. Definitely going in my “I need a game but have no plans” pile.

What’s So Cool About Time Loops? (Minimalist TTRPG) - An interesting setup for a single session, and man, I do love me some Groundhog Day loops. The formatting of this is a little gimmicky, the system is a little fast-and-loose, and I honestly think that you need the GM to plan a lot more for a loop plot than this suggests/implies. But I’m going to put it in my list of things to try.

Thrown for a Loop (Minimalist TTRPG) - On the other hand, this is an even rougher system that seems to be specifically want to play a Groundhog Day loop episode of the TV show Eureka. It narrows down to that specific scenario but doesn’t give you nearly enough material to work with in actual gameplay, so you can’t use it as a flexible minimalist game or as a pick-up-and-play module.

Cook & Hero (Minimalist TTRPG) A hack of Honey Heist created as a base to run Bakto’s Terrifying Cuisine. I’ve wanted to run the latter since I got it in the last itch.io bundle, so this is going on the to-play list.

You Have 7 Days (Minimalist TTRPG) - Clearly an attempt to make a tabletop version of The World Ends With You, but it heavily relies on the GM and players being fans of the game (with a thorough knowledge of the terms, scenarios, tropes, etc.) and basically wanting to co-write fanfiction for it. There are no mechanics and everything is arbitrary; this is probably unplayable except to the guy who wrote it.

Queering Spacetime (Card Game) - A game where you play girls with big queer crushes on each other trying to get around the lesbian sheep problem. Mechanically, it’s a flirty discussion version of Guess Who where you try to figure out each others’ traits by answering prompts and planning dates. This game is not For Me, in that the thing I like about meeting and flirting with new people is actually learning real things about them; the end result is worth the process but I don’t feel a need to pretend the process. Also, it irks me that they made an umbrella “queer” game but the characters are mostly afab and all female-of-center presenting. I’m guessing it’s to keep the TERFs away from their wlw target audience; and boys can go play Dream Daddy or something.

Cryptkeeper (Card Game) - A single-player card game about attempting to fix the crypt you accidentally cursed. I’m reminded a bit of Cheapass Games; the premise and the writing is clever, but the game seems middling at best. Winning actually seems to require a level of metagaming/card counting, because you need to have an Ace among your items, then arrange to both draw a 10 (the amulet) and uncover a 10 (the altar) within one turn of each other. I was amused reading this, but I’m unlikely to play it.

Kissing Comrades and Do Something are not games, they are political commentary in short game format. They aren’t “playable” in any real sense. Along the same lines, Alone on a Map is a mild single-player gamification of creating an rpg world map; mostly just some structure if you already like doing that sort of thing.

Overall: I have a new list of minimalist rpgs to playtest at some point and draw bigger conclusions about; we’ll see in the future if any of them work out.
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And the next round of TV shows…

Jupiter's Legacy (Netflix, Season 1) - A knockoff Justice League who all got powers in the 30s are trying to deal with their superpowered children in the modern world. Millar was clearly trying his hand at a generational superhero story that was trying to deconstruct the Silver Age (which, honestly, was done better in a bunch of other places), and then translated it to the screen with middling acting, bad wigs, and more attempted gravitas than it deserved. They also spent way too much time having the same conversation about the Code and skipped over all the actual relationship-building among the younger generation. (Netflix cancelled it after one season, so we’ll never find out what the mastermind’s evil plan was, how Hutch was going to find his father, what happened to Skyfox or Blue Bolt, or if Paragon will ever get laser vision.)

Young Justice: Outsiders (DVD, Season 3) – Important opening point: Though this continues the plot of the previous series (two years later), it is not for kids—it doesn’t have the swearing or sex talk that Harley Quinn does, but the violence is genuinely bloody and they don’t shy away from characters dying. Interestingly, this starts (and ends) with a Markovia plotline featuring Black Lightning and, in fact, sharing a lot of similarities with the last season of Black Lightning that I watched. (To be fair, he’s a founding member of the Outsiders in the comics, along with Geo-Force and Halo, who are quickly introduced.) That’s only a lead-in to a much bigger Apokolips plot, though. They have freakin’ everybody in this show, and it’s always a guess whether a character will randomly appear as an established hero, or if their origin story will get an episode. I was not expecting Cyborg to be one of the new young characters, I’ll admit, and they used a variation of his origin from the Justice League movie. G. Gordon Godfrey, now a clear line to Tucker Carlson (or any other Fox News idiot), is just as relevant as an evil plot to confuse and mislead the populace as he always was. The Doom Patrol Go! parody episode, mostly in Beast Boy’s mind, was a hoot. I loved the recurring appearances of Lucas “Snapper” Carr as the “old man” of the group, having been the very first sidekick to the Justice League. Random trivia: My dad was credited (episode 3.20) with creating both Karen Beecher and Mal Duncan. He didn’t create Mal—Mal predates his time at DC—but he was the first writer to put him in costume. (Season 4 has been announced; there are clearly plenty of hanging threads for it to address. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a time-skip there is this time. And apparently the Legion will be involved!)

What We Do in the Shadows (Hulu, Season 2) – Though the show remains heavily episodic and the characters don’t grow or change much, they do keep some continuity and introduce some worldbuilding. There was clearly a realization that “these guys are dumb and kinda useless” wasn’t enough to drive an ongoing series, so they had to build out the world from there. Guillermo leans into his vampire hunter heritage by killing lots of vampires except the ones he works for and then heavily justifying it. Episode 5 shows us a lot more about what energy vampires are capable of and gives hints to their life cycle. And Episode 6, guest starring Mark Hammill as Jim the Vampire and showing us Laszlo’s alter ego Jackie Daytona was absolutely delightful. Overall, I think the series got stronger and I’ll likely watch season 3 when it comes out.

Love, Death & Robots (Netflix, Season 2) – Another eight shorts by various authors and in various animation styles. Still of varying quality but on the whole pretty decent. (The last two lines of the first episode, “Automated Customer Service,” are what really make it and clearly why they put that first.) I wondered aloud if video game modelers are doing some of the animation work on this, because several of the episodes (the “realistic” ones) really look like a cutscene from a PS4 game.
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Humble Comics Bundle – Hasbro Crossovers

Rick and Morty vs Dungeons and Dragons – I’ve never seen an episode of Rick and Morty (apparently it’s about a nerdy kid and his insane mad scientist grandfather), but I very much appreciated the different approaches they took to skewering D&D over the collection, including heavy references to different editions. I don’t have a particular desire to seek out the cartoon now, but I enjoyed this as a stand-alone.

Star Trek vs Transformers - Specifically, Star Trek: The Animated Series, teaming up with Autobots to stop an alliance of Klingons and Decepticons from destroying the galaxy. Hokey and a bit predictable, but entertaining.

Transformers and Ghostbusters – Apparently this entire thing grew out of a transforming Ecto-1 that was made for a con years ago. In this version of the combined history, Gozer the Gozerian was responsible for the fall of Cybertron, but the Autobots escaped in the Ark and eventually find a Cybertronian signal (Starscream’s ghost) on Earth.

My Little Pony and Transformers (issue #1) - This is a mash-up that very clearly takes the tone of MLP rather than Transformers, because even it its silliest, it was never this level of goofy cartoony. I don’t think that’s bad, though. I can already envision how the rest of the story goes, with the Ponies teaching Megatron the true meaning of friendship after a lot of explosions.

Transformers vs The Terminator (issue #1) - In a ruined future, Skynet is the last bastion of resistance against the Decepticons that have conquered the Earth. A T-800 Terminator is sent back in time to stop them, and he meets up with Sarah Conner just in time to see Mount St. Hilary erupt and wake the Cybertronians from stasis. This is another case where I can tell where the story is going—the Terminator will have to team up with the Autobots (and Sarah Conner) and there might be another round of time-travel shenanigans before it ends.

Jem and the Holograms: Infinite - Rather than being a crossover with any other property, this is a continuation of the 5-volume series and crosses over with an alternate-dimension version of itself. (Not the 80s cartoon version, unfortunately!) It’s a “bad future” version of the world where the secret of Synergy got out and got stolen by JemCorp, who had all of the protagonists killed and used holograms to impersonate them and divide society. (Almost all of the protagonists were killed; in a reversal of the usual trope, the lesbians survived.) The ending is inexplicably pat, with the main antagonists just vanishing. I have to guess there was another volume/spinoff coming that intended to use them.

Revolution: Heroes – A massive crossover event between all the properties IDW was doing ongoing stories with: Transformers, G.I. Joe, MASK, Micronauts, Rom and Action Man. (It clearly takes place after a lot of Transformers events, because Starscream is in charge of Cybertron and the Autobots and Decepticons are all on generally good terms.) The thing is, I only really known anything about the first two properties but all the rest have large casts of characters and interlocking plots. It’s nice that this summarizes tie-in books that aren’t included, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s a mashed-together mess of too many characters and trying to link them all through “ore-13”, which is apparently the name we’re using for raw energon crystals now. It’s also about 80% fight scene by volume.

Revolutionaries (volumes 1-2) - This follows Revolution as an ongoing series featuring a small group of the crossover characters. There are a couple of witty lines, but it remains a bit of a mess, stuffing too many characters that need explanations and flashbacks into an otherwise really thin plot. (The villains have a “Talisman” that can magically hurt Transformers and turn humans into monsters, or something like that. The heroes have to retrieve it.)

Transformers and G.I. Joe: First Strike – This takes place after the events from Revolution and Revolutionaries, though with slightly fewer players in the game. The magical Talisman is used by rogue G.I. Joe characters (including the constantly-presumed-dead original Joe himself) to attack the Transformers and the Joes have to go to Cybertron to rescue them. This spends a lot more time with Transformers I recognize and give a damn about (Damn, but Starscream is entertainingly smug), which is something. The big twist here is that “Kreiger”, the guy who knows so much about the Talisman, is secretly the Visionaries’ wizard Merklynn, and his goal for the entire crossover was to lead into the entertaining (but drastically different from the original cartoons) Transformers vs Visionaries, which I got in a different bundle and reviewed earlier.

This collection also included a fair amount of classic Transformers vs G.I. Joe material, which is very 80s. It also has Rom crossovers, but I have no particular knowledge of that property and don’t really care about it.

Overall: I liked the one-off crossovers between properties I initially cared about. I don’t really care about G.I. Joe, and the mess than was Revolution and its spinoffs…well, it was a mess.
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Itch.io Indie bundle for Palestinian Aid, Part 1

A number of the games “included in this bundle” are, in fact, free-to-play browser games. That feels disingenuous.

Basil goes O.U.T.S.I.D.E. (Platformer, Browser game) – Basil is a little purple man who wakes up in a cave and goes on an adventure that leads to him dying a lot, because touching most things kills him instantly. You have to love wall-jumping and careful platforming, and not care about story or inflicting violence upon your foes.

When it’s safe again (Exploration, Browser game) – A five-minute exploration of little things in someone’s life while they miss their SO during quarantine.

Walkerwall (Puzzle Platformer, Browser game) – A minimalist puzzle-platformer; you can slide around corners and change gravity by doing do, and there are pickups you can only retrieve while gravity is going a certain way. Many points for cleverness; I haven’t seen anything quite like this before. But it also can be hard to grok because of that.

Tetrible (Puzzle, Browser game) – What if Tetris, but the floor is lava and the tetrad stack is constantly sinking into them? This is neat, and it changes the dynamic of Tetris because you need to be mindful of both building too high and falling too low—you need to make a thin stack and build out from it to score lines, and do that again and again repeatedly because your wide stack will end up in the lava.

Glitch Dungeon (Puzzle Platformer, Browser game) – A curious puzzle platformer where you eventually learn 4 spells and can switch between them each granting you a different power: Ignoring gravity, jumping high, being invincible, and climbing walls. (They’re color-coded and change the dungeon tiles when in use.) I got stuck on a puzzle room and frustrated, but I thought it was a cool concept.

Light Borrower (Puzzle, PC game) – This I really enjoyed. In an underground bunker called Haven, where the prophet Charlie led his followers before the End, Rachel is undergoing a coming-of-age ritual by solving lots of light-based spinning-wheel puzzles. The draw is the puzzles, but the story bits, told in notes, are interesting also. It took me an hour to get 34% and see the first ending; I may go back for more.

Worldcraft (Puzzle, Browser game) – A short but clever game of matching up lines, which is an abstraction of organizing planets and stars.

MineFinitum (Puzzle, Browser game) – It’s Minesweeper, but it scrolls forever as you solve chunks of it. It doesn’t keep score and there’s no penalty for misses. It’s very zen.

Pixels Out of Space (Platformer, Browser game) – A very Game Boy-style platform-and-shoot game, but the gimmick is that different areas change to different colors, causing environmental effects. (The sharply limited ammo, while appropriate to a “horror” game, doesn’t actually make this more fun.) I think I would need save states to get through it without getting too frustrated, but points for cleverness.

The Majesty of Colors (Puzzle, PC game) – I played this years ago, back when it was a Flash game. It’s a fun little thought-experiment game, where you awaken as a tentacle monster in the ocean and become fascinated by the strange things above you. It’s short, and the only real trick to it is finding the five endings.

Pleasant Dreams: The Welcoming Play of Kirby’s Dream Land by Joel Couture – Couture clearly has a very most favorite game from his childhood, and wants to tell you in excessive detail why that is. To save you 90 pages: It’s because it’s very good at being its own tutorial and isn’t very hard. This deserved to be a blog post, not a book.

Radiant Chaotic Sorcerer (D&D 5E class variant) – This is really delightful: For the player who thinks a Wild Mage is too controlled, they randomly cast random spells. When you attempt to cast a spell, it’s randomly rolled (with a chance of a wild surge). When you do anything else that requires a roll, there’s a 1/10 chance you’ll cast a random spell instead. After 15th level, you counterattack anyone who hits you with a random spell. This is wonderful one-shot bait and I want to use it.

The Book of Common Games by Kyle Latino – Less games and more a mix of meditative thought experiments and commentary on hobbies. What are hobbies, really, than ridiculous games we play over time? I don’t think I’m really the kind of person to attempt any of these, but I can imagine there are people who would.

Overall: Light Borrower was a lot of fun, and the Radiant Chaotic Sorcerer will appear in a game at some point. There were a few other clever ideas in things I tried, but those two stood out.
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Humble Comics Bundle – Back to the 80s with IDW

Ghostbusters (volumes 1-4) – The classic characters, another few years down the line from the second movie, and periodically referencing the events of the video game. Interestingly, the art style is neither based on the cartoon series (which doesn’t seem to be in continuity) nor on any kind of realism. They introduce a love interest for Janine who, amusingly, is drawn like the cartoon version of Egon. The first volume revolves around a third servant of Gozer who is intent on making Ray choose a new form (instead of the Marshmallow Man) so that Gozer can properly return. The second volume features a buildup of Walter Peck as an antagonist again, which doesn’t really pan out. The third volume features a road trip across America with stops at various haunted locations. The fourth introduces the “Ghost Smashers” as antagonists, clearly loosely based on the female Ghostbusters team from the reboot movie, but with a new character as their driving force and no real personality behind them. It’s cute and the dialogue is snappy, but there isn’t actually much new or special about it and the actual stories are pretty forgettable.

Jem and the Holograms (volume 1) – A reboot of the original 80s material with the usual Netflix-style modern twists. I have to imagine it would be better as a cartoon, given that a massive splash-page spread each issue is dedicated to a musical number. I remember always being vaguely disappointed (though I didn’t watch very much of the original cartoon) that Jem wasn’t doing anything superhero-ish, given she had a superhero power set and a secret identity. This is similar; it’s all about the rival band drama and teen romance plotlines with minor sci-fi hologram stuff. It does, however, have explicitly queer characters, as opposed to the original which was just heavily gay-coded.

Back to the Future (volumes 1-3) – The first volume is a grand collection of short stories showing snippets of things that weren’t in the movies but could have been squeezed in here or there. The second volume is a single story, with a series of adventures featuring Doc (between Marty leaving the old west and him arriving with the flying steam train) and Marty (from 1986, six months after the third movie) bouncing around 1986 and ridiculous sci-fi 2035 and revisiting old tropes while they try not to create a paradox. In the third volume, Marty finally addresses the fact that his memories don’t actually match up to the world that he lives in, and that the Marty of that world disappeared into 1955 and never returned. Fortunately for lazy writers who don’t actually like making definitive statements, a rival mad scientist comes along and steals the Flux Capacitor and starts causing changes to history, so Marty can fight some robot duplicates of himself and come to grips with his situation without actually getting any real explanations of it.

Back to the Future: Citizen Brown - Based on the Telltale game and in an alternate history from the other comics. This stands alone and also honestly holds together as a single narrative much better than the other comics, wrapping up everything it starts in a nice big timey-whimey package. (It’s a goddamn time-travel mess with characters constantly messing up history and going back to try to fix their mistakes, and that fits the tone of BttF really well!) I hadn’t realized, but Bob Gale, one of the original writers from the movie, was the writer on all of these BttF comics and the game this was based on. (And has a bunch of other Marvel credits to his name, as well.) Nice that he’s still getting work!

My Little Pony Friendship is Magic (volumes 1-2) – Everypony is being replaced by pod ponies! Queen Chrysalis and her shapeshifting shadowy minions have returned and have kidnapped the three little sister ponies, so the Mane Six must go on an adventure to defeat her and rescue them. The climax kinda falls flat, as it’s overwrought and overdone power-of-friendship that I suspect they do a lot; but the adventure getting there is cute. (The second volume then features the return of Nightmare Moon and a journey to the moon to deal with it.) I maintain my stance that this series was clever and fun but not worth the massive reaction it garnered.

Star Trek Classics (volume 5) – The “Who Killed Captain Kirk?” arc from the DC-published comics. Very Peter David, full of puns and references that would fly over your head if you didn't get them. (Including a veritable storm of puns when Spock encounters a group of philosophers in a hallucination of Dante’s Inferno.) There’s a weird formatting issue with the name “Captain Zair” in word balloons, and I’m wondering if it changed from the original printing, but I can’t find anything about it online. I was pretty certain I had read this before, and sure enough, I have the 1993 trade paperback, which has the same weird formatting. I don’t have the original 1988 pamphlets, so I’ll still have to wonder what was up.

Clue: The Graphic Novel - Clearly doing its best to be a modern take and not the slightest bit related to the movie; this manages to make Mr. Green (an i-banker and pharma bro) the most odious of the bunch. The fourth wall is a gentle suggestion at best to Upton, the butler who narrates throughout, and the twists of the mystery actually do manage to come together. A fun standalone story.

This bundle also had a Highlander book I didn’t really care about, and some Transformers Classics that I might eventually check out when I’m next in a Transformers mood.

Overall: There’s some fun stuff here, a mix of new material and reprints; and a mix of new and old authors. If you’re already a fan of one of these properties, you might enjoy the new material.
Beowulf

Final Fantasy 5 Advance (Custom Classes hack) (GBA Emulator)

Something’s gone wrong with the elemental crystals (again) and this time they shatter, but grant four warriors power through the remaining shards. Those warriors are tasked with saving two worlds from an evil sealed by the previous generation of heroes.

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Overall: FF5 is a solid entry in Final Fantasy canon and I understand why some people really love it, but I don’t have the affection for it that I have for the games I played when I was younger. This hack adds variety but removes focus (and prevents you from easily being overpowered in the endgame), which means it’s an interesting change of pace but not necessarily an improvement and certainly not a replacement.
Beowulf

Universal Yums: South Korea!

Churroz Snack – Bite-sized, churro-shaped fried crackers with cinnamon sugar. (Shockingly close to what they claim to be, actually.) I thought these were really fun. ARR didn’t like them, which I didn’t expect, though I think he was caught off-guard by a cinnamon taste in something chip-like.

Strawberry Gummies – Higher-quality, slightly sour strawberry gummies. Not much else particularly noteworthy about them?

Spicy Chicken Corn Puffs – These are fascinating. They’re corn puffs, just like crunchy Cheetos. But they’re coated with a spicy honey-glaze like Korean fried chicken, and there’s definitely some chicken bullion flavoring in there, too. Jethrien really liked these; ARR declined to try them on spiciness grounds.

Banana Choco Pie – This is a Mallomar variant, with two soft cookies (banana flavored), marshmallow in between, and a thin coating of chocolate on the whole thing. First and foremost, there isn’t enough chocolate; you can’t even taste it. Second, given the lack of structural chocolate, the cookies are too crumbly. And third, the artificial banana flavoring is pretty powerful. I don’t think they were bad, but I don’t think they improved upon a Mallomar in any appreciable way.

Pepero Crunchy – Korean-style pocky, cookie sticks coated in chocolate and, in this case, the little rice crunchies like those in a Nestle Crunch bar. (The cookie stick is actually not very sweet at all and has a mild sesame flavor to it.) I enjoyed this as a variant of pocky.

Sour Grape Chews – The imitation grape flavor in these is stronger and closer to Concord grape than most American imitation grape flavor. (Apparently actual grapes were harmed in making it!) They’re a soft chewy candy similar to a tootsie roll, though the packaging looks like bubble gum and I wasn’t certain until they dissolved that they weren’t gum.

Overall: The fried chicken corn puffs were the winner for most interesting and different, but nothing in this box was bad. I wonder how many of these things (or close variations) I can find at my local 99 Ranch.
Beowulf

Universal Yums: Turkey!

As one of my birthday presents, Jethrien and ARR got me three months of “Universal Yums” boxes, a subscription service that sends themed packaged snacks from different parts of the world. My box of Turkish treats didn’t include Turkish Delight (boo!) but had some interesting options:
Otto Nuts Salted Roasted Chickpeas – Taste shockingly close to roasted peanuts, but the texture is more crumbly after the first bite and reminds me more of halva. I can see how this would be a common snack to cover with various seasonings.

Today Coffee-flavor Snowball – This is very similar to the common American snowball snack cake. It’s a chocolate cake filled with oil-based “cream filling”, covered in frosting and coconut. It might be a bit higher-quality than the American version, but more importantly, it has a really good coffee flavor, and that forgives a lot of sins. This was the winner of the batch.

Ulker Krispi Tirtikli Baharat Spice Chips – Wheat cracker-chips that taste very similar to the American “pizza” flavor used on various chips. (Which, as has been noted, doesn’t particularly taste like pizza.) The bag actually calls it “taco flavor”, but it’s not really that either. Garlic, onion, oregano, vague cheesiness, something kinda tomato-y. Not bad, but you can get the same experience from Pizza-flavored Goldfish crackers.

Tatsan Vanilla Tahini Halva – I object to the “vanilla” on the label, given that it contains no vanilla and doesn’t taste like it. It tastes like sweetened sesame because that’s what it is. This particular halva is a little on the dry side and the texture is a little gluey; it’s clearly the cheap stuff. I’ve been spoiled by high-quality halva (my mother loves it), preferably coated in good chocolate. (I didn’t bother sharing this with the rest of the family; Jethrien thinks halva feels and tastes like sand.)

Mastic Toffees – Mastic, I have learned, tastes like pine sap with a minty overtone. I honestly found it vile and had to spit it out. Jethrien (who also likes gin and other heavily herbal flavors) apparently liked it.

Toffix Melon and Lime Chews – Exactly what it says on the pack; they’re a chewy candy that tastes like melon and lime. Good for clearing the taste of mastic out of your mouth.

Bebeto Sour Watermelon Gummies – Exactly what you’d expect, they taste like watermelon candy and they’re pretty good. They aren’t particularly sour, though. ARR gave these the highest marks.

Lush Mosaic Cocoa Cream Cookies – The “cream” part and the picture on the package imply the filling is gooey; it’s not. These are pretty (with a choco-vanilla swirl pattern on the outside), but taste like any other crunchy butter cookie, with a little chocolate Oreo filling inside.