Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

 

Hopefully you read the One-Hour Review of The Strange so you’re all caught up on the player side of things. If not, we’ll give you a chance to get it together. Caught up? Alright!

This time, we’re looking at things from the GM perspective: the latter parts of The Strange core book that deal with the stuff you need to run a game of The Strange. In my experience with Numenera, it’s hard with this system to get players to take on the role of “sole determiners of rolls” in the game (being the only ones rolling dice) so I’m hoping for some information included in that. Also, creatures in Numenera are often pretty focused in their abilities and maneuvers. This is great when those maneuvers are evocative and not so much when they are repetitive.

Lastly, the setting of The Strange is dominated by three worlds: Earth, Ardeyn, and Ruk. They seem cool and interesting, but I’ve been promised “Worlds teeming with life, with discovery, with incredible treasures, and with sudden death.” I want to make sure there’s enough in these three worlds to keep my players occupied and, more importantly, that these aren’t the only kids on the block to contend with or it’ll be more Forgotten Realms than Sliders.

And with that, we’re off! Read the rest of this entry »

Beneath the orbits and atoms of our natural universe lies a network of dark energy. Those who have learned to access and navigate this chaotic sea have discovered an almost endless set of “recursions” in the shoals of our Earth: Worlds with their own laws of reality, reflected from human experience or imagination, given form in the swirling Chaosphere of the Strange. Worlds teeming with life, with discovery, with incredible treasures, and with sudden death.

Worlds sometimes jealous of our own.

-From Monte Cook Games

Readers of the site might remember my review of Numenera, the first game published with the Cypher System. You might also recall that some of us here at Castles & Cooks backed the Kickstarter campaign for The Strange back in the fall of last year. All this is to say that this review will be my first hour with the book but that I know something about it already.

This game is even more of a chance for Monte Cook to show off what remains of Planescape than Numenera was. Earth in this setting is surrounded by a mysterious alien data network that can create other dimensions, and those with “the spark” are able to transfer between these dimensions (called recursions) to defend the Earth from nefarious plane-hoppers and primordial evils out to destroy it. Sound familiar?

Like Numenera, characters in The Strange are constructed with the following formula: “I am an adjective noun who verbs.” The nouns (or Character Types) in The Strange are vectors, paradoxes, and spinners rather than the glaives, nanos, and jacks of Numenera with a similar spread of specialties. Your Character Descriptor (the “adjective” part) remains with your character (so that you’re always “Clever” or “Stealthy”) but the Character Focus (the “verb” part) switches with each recursion as characters create an appropriate body for themselves that blends in with the locals and follows the recursion’s laws (some recursions have magic, some have bioengineering, etc). Your focus then changes with each jump allowing you to try new options all the time. Personally, I’m very excited to see how this plays out because it seems like such a natural fit for the Cypher System.

Alright, so that’s what I know so far. Let’s crack open this pdf and see how it ticks!

Read the rest of this entry »

If you ever had grand ideas about working in a kitchen or becoming a chef you should probably abandon them. Though many books have exposed the arduous process of becoming a chef, rarely have we seen the sheer weight of the obligations, routine and pressure to perform laid so bare before us.

Such is the accomplishment of Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line, the first book by Michael Gibney. Gibney is the former executive chef at Tavern on the Green. He’s worked for a who’s who of prestigeous restaurants including: Per Se, Le Bernardin, Bouley, Ducasse, wd~50, and Momofuku.

That accumulated wealth of top level culinary experience lends itself to the exacting tone and beat of his walk through a day in the life of a sous chef. Events others might simply omit or gloss over are meticulously retold, and at times you almost assume that he had videotaped his time in the kitchen with his near perfect recall. This book will probably leave you  to conclude – as I did – the following: the job of being a chef is impossible. It can’t be done and to harbor any dreams or delusions about becoming a rockstar chef is a fool’s errand. And yet, people do it.

It is that exacting detail that is the true brilliance of this book. The intricate, painstaking, sensual anecdotes that Gibney gives us to place us firmly in the “you” role of the sous chef. The book is written in 2nd person, forcing the reader to inhabit the character of a sous chef working the line on a 300 hundred cover (300 guest) night at a 90 seat Manhattan restaurant.

The book begins with a map displaying the layout of the restaurant kitchen. Though Gibney later explains that each restaurant kitchen is unique in terms of size, shape, and overall design; that many factors and stations are universal. From studying the map we learn about “the pass” – the area all food travels through between cooking and plating for service, the various food stations and prep areas, as well as walk ins, loading docks, offices and locker rooms.

The crucial factor is that we learn more than just that these places exist. We learn both their importance and their physical location, how one relates to the other to create the unique eco-system that allows a kitchen staff to thrive. Gibney isn’t satisfied to simply give us an annotated map. The book begins with “you”, the sous chef, arriving at an empty restaurant and walking his way through the entire kitchen, preparing for the day: checking the inventory, cleanliness, and state of his world; while pondering the physical and mental strain that is to come. This kind of exposition might seem…odd…boring even, but Gibney’s lively prose and description makes the journey through a deserted restaurant absolutely sing. Read the rest of this entry »

Everyone is always trying to slay the dragon. I don’t really mean that figuratively, though it certainly works. I mean literally. Look through the fantasy genre and see how many characters define their very existence by the struggle to hunt down and kill one (or more) of those winged beasts (of varying colors). Games are no different. So, what if a game turned that idea on its head and let you play as the dragon. Would you be interested? Of course.

Suggested Ages: 8+
Suggested Players: 2 to 4 players
Playing time: 20 to 40 minutes
Contents: 95 playing cards, rulebook, Kickstarter exclusive: Unicorn promo action cards.
Retail price: $20, available on Amazon.

Enter Dragon’s Hoard, the Kickstarter funded card game that places you firmly in the role of a fire breathing, gold hording, winged beast out to claim all the lavish treasures and sheep (dragons gotta eat) in the land. Read the rest of this entry »

I like quirky cookbooks. Sure, having a copy of the Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking is nice, but otherwise I need the book to be a hyper-specific cuisine study or a unique approach to cooking for me to really care about recipes I could probably otherwise Google. So finding a cookbook that eschews text in favor of nearly entirely relying on pictures as a way to teach people to cook certainly grabbed my attention.

Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat is a minimalist cookbook from author Katie Shelley, who approaches cooking as a free form expression of individuality. In fact, she includes a brief forward to that effect informing readers that what follows are not “precise culinary blueprints” but are meant to inspire “experimentation, improvisation and play in the kitchen.” Read the rest of this entry »

I’m a big fan of  games that take the dungeon delving pleasures of D&D and distill it down into a simple form that lets me get that RPG fix when I only have a few free minutes. All the better when I’m on the go.

There are plenty of mobile games that scratch that itch, but not many tabletop games, as most of them have long setup, game times or require many players. So when Dungeon Roll popped up on Kickstarter, with promises of fast dungeon delving game play, a solitaire component, and a fantastic price point; I couldn’t resist becoming a backer.

Suggested ages: 8 and up
Number of players: 1 – 4 players
Playing time: 10 – 30 minutes
Contents: Core Game 7 white party dice, 7 black dungeon dice, 1 10-sided level die, 36 treasure tokens, 24 experience tokens, 8 hero cards, 4 player aid cards, 1 rulebook and 1 book of heroes. Kickstarter Bonuses included: Dragon’s Lair card, Graveyard card, Expansion pack 1 – with 8 additional heroes, kickstarter exclusive character – Guild Leader, 1 additional white party die (for Guild Leader), 2 additional black dungeon dice, and a mimic box variant container.
Retail price: $19.95 – available on Amazon. Read the rest of this entry »


If you think back to your strongest memories, how many of them are connected to food? That’s the essential question behind Lucy Knisley’s memoir Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. The book chronicles Knisley’s life and travels, with food and cooking interwoven at every step along the way. Whether it is remembrances of her mother’s amazing cooking and the experiences of being around professional kitchens, farmers markets and catering jobs, or discovering amazing cuisine  while traveling with her dad.

The stories themselves would be enough for a tremendous food memoir, but what really elevates the text is that it is presented in a graphic novel format, with Knisley herself providing the artwork. She has a wonderful simple style that exudes warmth, perfectly complements the wit and welcome of her prose and allows her to create wonderful caricatures. If you want to know how good, be sure to check the final few pages of the book, where Knisley has included a few real photographs from growing up and you can see just how closely her drawings match the people in her life. Read the rest of this entry »

Theros is a weird set. Over the last few years, Wizards has really pushed limited formats but that comes at a cost of complexity in cards. But this also means a lot of cards that are only playable in limited and not even something I would consider fringe playable at the kitchen table. Theros’s Voltron-inspired design makes for some odd choices that just don’t seem to quite click just yet but I’m hoping it will come together in the next two sets.

Like all of our Casual & Commander reviews, I will be looking at each card individually and comparing it against all the cards in Magic’s history to see which ones make the cut to the kitchen table and which ones should just be tossed into your Bulk box now. First up is white.

Theros Casual & Commander Review
White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Multicolor, Artifacts & Lands

Battlewise Valor

Simple pump spell with a dash of scry isn’t bad, and the addition of Heroic makes this card a little more exciting than Mighty Leap. But it still isn’t terribly exciting. What a way to begin!

Cavalry Pegasus

As mentioned in our Heroes vs. Monsters review, Cavalry Pegasus is a new human lord… and a flying horse. In limited, this is good but outside of it, eh. Read the rest of this entry »

My love of Duel Decks isn’t a well kept secret. I know, it sounds absurd to say that I love these little pre-constructed decks that draw across the planes of Magic, but I really do love them! With the September releases acting as a preview for the upcoming set, Heroes vs. Monsters is a good, old-fashioned battle of giant creatures. While Sorin vs. Tibalt soured on me as time went on (well, mostly just Tibalt – even I can’t get him to work), Izzet vs. Golgari are both intact in my deck box because they’re so much fun!

Suggested Ages: 13+
Suggested Players: 2 players
Contents:

  • Two ready-to-play 60-card decks
  • Two deck boxes
  • Two creature tokens
  • A strategy insert
  • A Magic “Learn to Play” guide

Retail price: $19.99 available at Amazon.com

Duel Decks is a series of decks that Wizards releases biannually in the spring and fall. In the spring, they are based around a duel of two planeswalkers from the previous block, while in the fall they act as a preview of the upcoming fall release. In the case of Heroes vs. Monsters, both decks are drawing a great amount of inspiration from the upcoming Theros set. Read the rest of this entry »

When I first started playing in D&D, I didn’t start out in a “standard” fantasy setting like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. I started off in the weird, nightmarish, wonderful, though-provoking realms of Planescape, traveling from the City of Doors through portals to all corners of the multiverse. Behind this remarkable setting is a man named Monte Cook who started his own company years ago and created a number of fantastic d20 products like the epic-scaled urban setting of Ptolus and the psionic adventure If Thoughts Could Kill. When Monte joined the development team for D&D Next, I was excited and eager to see what his reunion with Wizards of the Coast would yield. When he left the project suddenly and without much explanation, I was disappointed but curious what else he had planned.

That’s when I started to see teasers for Numenera. It looked strange and confusing and intriguing and bizarre. It looked like everything I loved about Planescape, and every subsequent teaser is even more interesting. Now I have the pdf in front of me and I can’t wait to delve in for my first hour with the book. Come on down the rabbit hole…

Read the rest of this entry »

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