Dragonstone – A Review/Commentary [Spoilers]

First of all, this post will contain unrestrained SPOILER for Game of Thrones, certainly the first episode of Season 7, but also for other seasons, and the books.

This is going to be a blend of commentary and review, going over my reactions, both positive and negative to Dragonstone, the first episode of Game of Thrones Season 7.

So, without further ado…

I had actually forgotten that they do this cold-opening teaser thing before the opening titles of the first episode of a season, recreating the Prologues that each of the books has.  It’s a nice touch.

I’ll admit, I was fooled at the beginning. Sure, I remember that Walder Frey was dead, but my first thought was that this was some kind of flashback. My warning alarms went off when he signaled the wine to go around, everything about the whole situation just screamed: “I’m getting rid of my underlings.”

And that’s the thing: Walder would certainly be capable of killing off his men like that if he felt it benefitted him.  It wasn’t until the line “Slaughtered your guests after inviting them into your home,” that I gasped and realized it was Arya.

Her lines and the whole scene after removing Walder’s face was just perfect.  Such a great opening scene for a season.

The opening titles are beautiful, as always.  It brought joy to my Northerner’s heart to see the Stark Direwolf back in its proper place in Winterfell, and the addition of Oldtown was very cool.

Okay, yes, a vision of the coming undead army, very creepy, moving on.

Bran comes to Castle Black.  A neat scene, but I have issues with the general direction they’ve taken Bran’s storyline in, and how it deviates from the books, so it’s hard to be excited about this.

Nice to see Jon fitting into his role as King in the North. One of the things I’ve always liked about Jon, particularly in the books, is his keen and straightforward strategic and logistical mind. He understands what needs to be done, and he presents it straightforwardly.

Once again Lyanna Mormont stands up and kicks way more ass than her tiny frame has any business kicking.  What an awesome character. What an awesome character.

If Jon is going to have Sansa up there in the front with him, and with leave to speak in council, the two of them really need to hash out policy ahead of time. It does no good for one’s vassals to see their King and his sister arguing over how to reward loyalty and punish treachery. Yesh, guys.

The mood in that room could have turned ugly, and was going that direction until Jon called up the Umber and Karstark heirs and has them renew their Oaths.  It was a relief to see the obvious approval in the Lords who had been grumbling just a moment ago.

Nice scene of two people who’ve been through their own Hells comparing notes on how to proceed from here.

Nice commentary about Cersei’s ruthlessness.

Speak of the Devil…

Cersei seems not quite a crazy in the show as she became in the books. She just seems… naive maybe, rather than the full-on delusional that I’m used to thinking of her as.

One of the things that had previously occurred to me is that while they may have “won” the War of the Five Kings, the Lannisters actually aren’t in that great a position. Their army was getting soundly beaten by Robb Stark, and they haven’t really had much success in other theaters of war.  They’ve been whittled down, bit by bit, until now- as Jaime points out, they are surrounded on all sides by their enemies.

So, the Greyjoys. Um, no? Honestly, this development doesn’t make much sense to me.  First of all, with a fleet that large off the coast of King’s Landing, why didn’t they just sack the place? I think they vastly outnumber the local crown/Lannister forces, and then they could use the tactics that they’re good at against the coming Targaryen forces, rather than forming a traditional alliance.

And why isn’t this Euron blind in one eye? The Crow’s Eye is a fun character, I love hating him, but we get this wanker instead? He just feels a bit flat to me, in spite of all his attempts at character.

It’s interesting to redirect Euron’s desires to marry Daenerys from the books to Cersei in the show.

So, what about this gift? Tyrion? Makes sense, but how does Euron get to Tyrion? That blasted horn from the books that supposedly let you control dragons? Maybe.

The Citadel.  This is a cool sequence, I love the lighting gadgets, with the mirrors and lenses, very cool.

Okay, yes, it sucks to be an initiate at the Citadel.

I’ll admit to being more than a little disappointed at their choice not to adopt the masks of the Archmaesters, or the specific character of Archmaester Marwyn- though since I googled him to check the spelling of his name, I find that the Archmaester that Sam talks with IS supposed to be Marwyn.  But… but… the glass candle… the occult specialty… the taking sam seriously from the get-go… the realizing that earth-shattering things are afoot… no? We don’t really get any of that, huh? Darn.

I dunno… the book stealing feel a bit cliched to me.

The practice yard, the gathering place of awesome supporting characters.

And Sansa just shuts Littlefinger down.  I approve!

Okay, I had seen people on the internet bitching about the Ed Sheeran cameo, but I am so out of touch with modern music that if I hadn’t seen screen caps accompanying said bitching, I wouldn’t have had any idea who he was.  So I take the scene for what it is

So I take the scene for what it is, and what I think it is is a beautiful scene where Arya learns that not all Lannister soldiers are bloodthirsty monsters.  It’s an important thing for her to learn, and I’m interested to see what impact it has on her development.

The Hound does such a good job that the Brotherhood comes off as his entourage more than anything else.

Still, it’s interesting to see that hanging out with two Stark girls has been to enhance the development of the Hound’s conscience.

Though I will say that the Hound fire-gazing is a bit of a weird development.

I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that the knife that Sam sees an illustration of in this book is the knife that was used to try to kill Bran.

Okay, “mountain” of obsidian under Dragonstone.  That’s neat and makes some sense.

Oh, hi Jorah.  Comfy?

Okay, so Daeny leading this fleet of ships looks badass.  No doubts there.

But here’s my question: why is Dragonstone abandoned?

In the books, Stannis left behind a garrison force, and the Lannisters have been trying to siege it without much success (and in fact, Sir Loras Tyrell is severely wounded in the attempt).

If Stannis left it completely abandoned as we’ve been told earlier in this episode, why didn’t the Lannisters just send a detachment to hold it? Or they Greyjoys when they were there? Jaime tells Cersei that Daenerys will most likely land there, and it seems like they’ve had plenty of time to gets some men there to make that inconvenient.

Nope, apparently, she just gets to walk in and take over. Because manning an incredibly defensible fortress with, from what we can see, one narrow causeway for an access point- instead of just letting invaders take it over- is outside the grasp of both Cersei and Jaime’s strategic minds.

I’m calling foul on just how easy that was.

All in all, I think this season, even more than the last one, shows signs that they’re not longer adapting Martin’s material, and making it up as they go along.  As twisted and indirect as Martin’s plot threads may be, they always feel to flow naturally to me. This, on the other hand, sometimes feels forced and awkward.

That said, though, it was still a very enjoyable show, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

CJPSR

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New Fiction From Staff

Hi there, everyone.

In the past, I’ve posted some of my fiction works here on the Tramp’s blog, for example Recruiting, part 1.  I’ve gotten good feedback on it, as well as on the articles I’ve written for the store (which is most of them), so I’ve decided to try my hand at something new.

I now have a Patreon page.

Patreon is a platform that allows an artist, like a writer, to be directly funded by their audience.

So, if you’ve enjoyed my writing, please have a look here at my page.  Have a look at the free samples that are available, like this one.

Thank you for your time.

-Christopher J.P.S. Roberts

Unboxing and Review: Kylo Ren Force FX Lightsaber

I would like to start off by saying how happy I am to see Force FX products readily available in Canada again.  It seems that our market just hasn’t been a priority for Hasbro the way it was for Master Replicas.  But that’s another matter.

So, here’s the box:

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It’s… well, it’s a box.  It’s long, and it’s wide, but it’s nice art.  I don’t really have much to say about it, so…

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The empty space is unfortunate, and ties into my one complaint about the product, but more on that later.  The up-side here is that the packaging is simple.  A few foam bars to remove, and you pull the saber up and out.

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The cover on the three blades slide away easily, leaving you with the saber itself.

This saber does come with an interestingly designed display stand- very minimal and basic in appearance.

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The stand can be displayed either, as above, as this sort of cradle that the saber just rests on, or it can be flipped over and become:

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This looks kind of cool, in that the saber balances and almost hovers, but it does break the immersion of saying “this is a lightsaber.”

Okay, now a minor downside.  Batteries are not included.  The battery port, however, is interesting.  Force FX sabers have always hidden access to the battery compartment in interesting ways, and this is now exception.

A tool is required to gain access, but it’s not a screwdriver, nor any kind of key… you need a coin.

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I used a nickel, and was easily able to unscrew the end of the saber, and expose the battery pack.

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So, with the batteries installed, and the pack replaced, the cap screwed back in, you’re done.  It’s a very straightforward product.

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With the unboxing complete, I will give a short list of pros and cons.

PRO:
-Metal hilt.  This gives a certain degree of authenticity of the feeling of holding the thing.
-Sounds.  The sound effects are amazing.  The raw growl as you activate the saber is beautiful.
-Swing and clash sensitivity.  Swooshes every time you swing it, and doesn’t take a very strong hit to register the clash and product the sound.

CON:
-Blades are not removable.  This is pretty big for me.  If the crossguard blades could be removed, they could have cut down significantly on the width of the packaging.  It also means that you can’t carry the saber without visible blades.  It also means…
-No belt clip.  As the blades cannot be removed, it makes sense for the saber to not have a belt clip, but I love the ability to remove the blade from the other Force FX sabers, and wear them as a costume accessory.  Not an option here.

RATING:
Over all, a good product that produces the feel that you want.
4/5

Leia, Warrior Princess

It has taken me a bit to digest my reaction to the passing of Carrie Fisher, and while I’ve seen some beautiful tributes on Facebook, I wanted to speak to my personal impressions and reactions.

Princess Leia was a first for me, and eye-opener, a paradigm shifter, and while Carrie did not write the role, I am certain that her portrayal did more than its fair share to ensure the character took hold.  She also came to open my eyes on a more personal level, but more on that later.

Princess Leia is a badass.  It really is that simple.  In the space fairy tale that is Star Wars Episode IV, she took the image of the imprisoned princess, and spun it into something wonderful.

We all know the image of the princess as the damsel in distress, the weak and helpless girl that sits imprisoned in the tower until the heroic knight comes to save her.  Well, that ain’t Leia.

The first time we see Leia, she’s slipping who-knows-what into a droid, but then she takes out one of the troopers searching for her.  True, she gets stunned, but the next time we see her, she’s back on her feet and defiant as hell.  Face to face with Vader, who is already a big scary villain who we’ve seen committing casual murder, she doesn’t flinch or balk.

She stands up to Vader more, and we’re told she’s resistant to the Empire’s horrible torture probe.  She’s brought before Tarken, and she lips off to him constantly.  Then they threaten to blow up her whole home planet, and she’s scared (because she’s not a monster), but she still doesn’t give them what they want- she lies about it.

They blow up her planet, and I’m sure she shed her share of tears, but when we next see her, is she a wibbling wreck?  Nope, she’s chill in her cell, and cracks a joke at Luke in his ill-fitting armor.  Once out of the cell, she grabs a gun and takes charge, immediately butting heads with the loose cannon rogue.  But it’s not a spoiled princess trying to boss people around, like we see in so many tales, it’s a confidence that is obviously born from helping to lead the Rebellion.  She’s accustomed to having her orders followed because she’s usually right.

When she meets up with the Rebels, and Alderaan is mentioned, what does she say?  “We have no time for our sorrows.”  We’ve got stuff to get done.
Damn.

She may not participate in the assault on the Death Star, but she is just as instrumental in its destruction as Luke.

I had never before seen a female character in an adventure story, especially not one carrying a royal title, be anything more than an object of desire- and while she certainly is that for both of her male companions, she’s the crusader in the group.  The Rebellion is the object of her desire.

She took that unflinching attitude, and it was present in the rest of her life.  Carrie was a young star in 70’s and 80’s Hollywood, and that came with its dangers.  I’m sure I don’t have to make a list of young stars who spiraled down into drugs, alcohol, depression- sometimes to their deaths.  Carrie fell into some of those pits, and her mental health issues didn’t help.  But she clawed herself back out of it.  It wasn’t neat, and it wasn’t pretty, and I heard some very un-complimentary things said about her over the years.

But then I happened to see a documentary that she made about what it’s like to grow up a young star, the child of established Hollywood personalities.  It was another eye-opening experience, and it was my first real insight into how fame can destroy people.  At the end of the film, she showed a very zoomed in view of a toddler playing in a yard.  Then the camera zoomed back, and Carrie was sitting there, and she said “This is the closest I will any camera to come to my daughter,” and I remember feeling this swell of “hell yes, you go girl!” because she was doing her best to break the cycle.

Carrie Fisher, like Leia, was a warrior, and I will cherish the battles she fought both on the screen and off of it.

-Christopher J.P.S. Roberts

Factions of Westeros Part 2

Yesterday I posted an introduction to the (alphabetically) first four Factions of the 2nd Edition of the Game of Thrones LCG.  Today continues with the remaining four.  If what you read interests of intrigues, feel free to come down to our second Learn To Play event!

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Night’s Watch

Those who are familiar with the setting will know that the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch guards the Wall against threats from beyond.  It is appropriate, then, that defense is the specialty of the Night’s Watch.

Just look at this combo:

So not only have you got a buff to all your characters, you’ve got a great bonus for completing the Challenges phase without losing an Unopposed Challenge, and a high strength defender to help you do that.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that the Watch can’t strike back.

Jon Snow will happily throw his strength into any attacking challenge, while Ghost will occupy someone for the entire phase.  And that’s just an example.

The Watch is also interesting in that it includes Traits for each of the three divisions, Builders, Rangers, and Stewards, and has some card mechanics that interact with them.

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This creates the potential for a pretty versatile play experience within the broad framework of the faction.

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Stark

Potentially one of the most straightforward of Factions, Starks are also developing some mechanics that make them a little less direct.

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I figured I’d get old Ned out of the way first off.  Let’s face it, anyone who wants to play Stark wants to know how awesome this guys is, and he’s pretty awesome.  Good strength, Renown, and he just keeps getting back up as long as you’re being attacked.  So sure, if you’re going first, smack someone with him, he’ll just get up for the counter attack.

What else do Stark fans love?

Direwolves.  And they’re no slouches.  Big scary monsters who aren’t just a threat in Military Challenges thanks to cards like Like Warm Rain, and Grey Wind’s habit of just straight up eating small characters.

But there’s more to the House of Stark than violence.

Characters like Catelyn and Sansa can do their part to make sure that you don’t get knifed in the back, and gain power (and victory) through some less conventional means.

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Tyrell

The members of House Tyrell and known for working well together, and this stands true in the cards as well.

Look at these two 4 gold gets you 6 strength, 2 icons each, and standing defenders.  Oh, but it doesn’t stop there.

So Loras, the Knight of Flowers is attacking by himself to limit defenders.  Sure, but someone like Lord Stark up above could take him on his own… until his sister Margaery steps in to help, adding her strength to the challenge without participating.

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And then you’ve got guys like Randyll Tarly here.  After Margaery, or some other card, boost his strength, he gets back up to trouble your foes again.

Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork.

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Targaryen

Last, but not least, the fire and blood of House Targaryen.  Less of a House in the traditional sense, more like a collection of allies.

Here’s the only two characters (so far, anyway) who bear the name Targaryen, and as you can see, one of them isn’t much direct threat.  The rest of the characters are split between the allies these two (though really Daenerys) have collected, including:

Dragons.  Mmm-hmm.  Dragons.  Note how all three provide a bonus to Stormborn characters.  Take a look up at Daenerys.  She’s the only one so far.  But we’re not done yet!

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Behold the most versatile kill card in the game at present.  One gold, kneel a character with a cost as low as 2, and for 3 gold worth of resources, you just killed a 6 gold cost Jon Snow.  Or any number of other characters.

But I said there were other allies, didn’t I?  Here’s a sample:

With friends like these, who needs family?

 

Well, there you have it, my introduction to the remaining Factions of A Game of Thrones.  I certainly hope you’ll consider joining us on Thursdays.  We hope to have a league going soon.

Come and play the only game that matters, the Games of Thrones, where you win or you die; there is no middle ground!

Factions of Westeros Part 1

I would call last week’s Learn-To-Play Night for the 2nd Edition of the Game of Thrones LCG a success, and in the spirit of providing more people exposure to the game an its concepts, I thought it might be helpful to provide an introduction to the eight factions of 2nd edition, their themes, strengths, and weaknesses.

I will be providing this list in alphabetical order- this isn’t a review, or a countdown of my favorites.

I will also make this as spoiler-free as possible.

So, without further ado, the first four…

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Baratheon

At the end of the day, Power is the name of the game in A Game of Thrones.  There are only two ways to win a one-on-one game: have your opponent deck out, or collect your 15 Power tokens.  Given how relatively little draw power GoT has compared to other card games, you’re much better off trying for the 15 power.

House Baratheon are the undisputed masters of collecting, defending, and manipulating Power.  The majority of Baratheon characters carry a Power Challenge Icon, thus enabling them to attack and defend in Power challenges, and cards like The Red Keep and Kingswood give you an edge over the competition.

And while you thus acquire and defend your power, cards like Tobho Mott’s Armory and Chamber of the Painted Table give you significant incentive to invest in the dominance phase.  Throw in The Iron Throne, and watch your Power grow.

On to…

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Greyjoy

Hailing from the Iron Islands, the Ironborn of House Greyjoy are fierce raiders, partly inspired by the Vikings of our own history.  Gameplay under House Greyjoy emphasizes striking quickly, and striking hard.

Cards like Ahead of the Tide will help you win Initiative, while Iron Fleet Scout and Raiding Longship help you capitalize on it.

Raiding Longship, when used on a single defender, also makes the challenge effectively Unopposed, well then… see what Loot, Asha Greyjoy (Yara, for you HBO folks), and Theon  Greyjoy can do for you:

 

Add to that a host of cards that buff strength, remove defender, and the like, and you’ve got one brutal and efficient fighting force.

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Lannister

Anyone who is at all familiar with any incarnation of this series will be unsurprised to hear that the Lannisters are very good at collecting gold.  What’s impressive are the variety of things they can do with that gold.

Military Challenges getting you down?  Bring out Ser Jaime Lannister or Ser Gregor Clegane.

Need to drain your opponent’s hand a little faster?  Here come Cersei and Tyrion…

Or maybe you just want a giant hammer to pound your enemies with?  Well, here he is…

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Take up the Lannister banner, and throw money at your problems until they go away.

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Martel

The Martels often seem like foreigners compared to the rest of Westeros.  Their homeland, Dorne, is far to the south, desert-like, and (from the books) they’re also of different ethnic stock.  It seems only fitting that their playstyle should be different- and it is.

Normally, you want to will Challenges- how else do you win the game, right?  Well, the Martels might make you re-think that strategy.

When the Martels start reacting to losing a challenge, the pain begins.  Ghaston Grey launches people back into your hand, Caleotte robs them of their icons, Sunspear raises their claim for counter attack, Unbowed robs your opponent of options, and Vengeance of Elia flips claim to the winner.  It’s horrible.

House Martel requires a unique playstyle where you lose a little, only to come back and counter hard, gaining the power you need to win before you opponent fully understand why they haven’t won already.

It is exactly the sort of knife-out-of-nowhere tactics that the Dornish love to employ.

And that is where we draw to a close!  Half the Factions down, four more to go tomorrow!  Hope you’ve enjoyed the read, and I hope even more that you’ll consider trying the game!

 

7th Sea – Rapiers and Sorcery

The Three Musketeers.  Zorro.  The Princess Bride.  Rob Roy.  Cutthroat Island.  Pirates of the Caribbean.

If any of those titles make you smile, I have a game you need to play: 7th Sea.

7th Sea is a tabletop rpg.  For those of you who aren’t already in the scene who may be reading this, that means that it’s a form of collaborative storytelling.  Each player creates a character and uses the mechanics of the game to interact with its setting by describing your character’s words and actions.  Conflict resolution is handled through the rolling of dice using statistics and rules presented by the game.  It can be a very rich and rewarding experience, inspiring the mind and providing comedy and drama to match any novel or film.

For those of you who may be asking “is it like D&D?” I will respond: yes and certainly not.  It is like D&D in that there are character sheets, dice, and people describing their characters actions, but the similarities really end there.

Where D&D worlds are generally Mid-to-High Fantasy worlds that generally resemble medieval Europe and take at least some inspiration from Tolkien, 7th Sea is a Mid-Fantasy world very strongly based on Age of Enlightenment Europe, the 17th Century specifically.

You will not generally find armored knights on horseback, or robed and bearded wizards, but you will find pirates, duelists, and people with strange powers to twist fate or tear holes in reality.

7th Sea presents a vast world where a variety of adventures await: join the king’s guard and protect the innocent, defend the people against corrupt officials, rescue your true love, defend your honor, seek treasure, or sail the high seas plundering your weasely black guts out.  Explore arcane ruins that would make Indiana Jones or Lara Croft second-guess themselves, or navigate the spider’s web of nobility to court favor and win riches and power.

By now I hope you are asking “WHERE CAN I GET THIS AMAZING GAME??”

Sadly, 7th Sea went out of print in 2004.  “But Chris, then why are you making me fall in love with it?”

Because a Second Edition is coming!  John Wick, one of the creators behind the original game, has a Kickstarter campaign underway to bring 7th Sea back to life even more glorious and beautiful than it was before.

If you’re interested to know more (and you should be), check out the campaign page HERE.
Edit: oh, and I forgot to mention, this Kickstarter has been breaking records all over the place.  It has the record for the RPG with the most first-day funding, and highest funding total EVER!

Now, for those of you who might say “But it’ll be months before any books are printed, and I wanna play now!” I will grant your wish!

Well, not right now… but soon!

I have access to the Quick Start guide an introductory adventure, and I am willing to run through it with interested players.

I’m planning on Tuesday evenings at Tramp’s (the host blog here), but if that doesn’t work, please contact us for the possibility of an alternate.

Just comment below if you wish to register for one of the events!  Each session is limited to 5 players, so register early!  Games will begin at 5:00pm sharp, and go until 8:00pm.

Cast off, me hearty’s, destiny await!