End of the Year Roundup

Man, what a freaking year!

Cirsova saw its traffic almost double for the year.  I’ve built a respectable collection of pulp magazines and sci-fi paperbacks and had plenty to blog about.  This year saw the launch of two new series, board gaming and Short Reviews, both of which have been incredibly popular, and I’ve been invited to do guest blogging on war games.  Cirsova had an interview with Agness Kaku and a guest post from Matthew Ryan.  Cirsova was featured multiple times on Dyvers’ Best Reads.  Cirsova is well on its way to having its own semi-pro sci-fi zine with some truly amazing contributors.  AND Cirsova got named the number 1 gaming blog of 2015!

I’ll pour out a virtual 40 for the homies who have gone away, stopped blogging or moved to other websites.  Also, I never realized how much I’d miss the RPGBA until it was gone.

Tonight, my dad & I take on Malta.  Over the weekend, I finish Karl Gallagher’s Torchship.  It’s amazing.  Buy it.  BUY IT!!!!!!!

An awesome dude from BGG sent me rules for Flat Top (the copy I bought was missing the rules!), so I may get to try that one out after all.

So, I guess this is a good time to do a “Best of 2015” round-up.  If I wanted to show people what Cirsova was all about in 2015 in just five posts (a difficult feat!), I’d have to go with these:






Here’s a bonus.  I only did about three of these really image-heavy posts (the others featuring the ‘Batman in Peril’ covers and the ‘Female characters re-imagined’) but this was probably my favorite,.


Short Reviews – The Sword of Johnny Damokles, Hugh Frazier Parker

The Sword of Johnny Damokles originally appeared in the March 1943 issue of Planet Stories.  The version reviewed was the reprint featured in the Fall 1953 issue of Tops in Science Fiction.

A tribe of evil Neptunian lizard men have stolen a copy of Mein Kampf and used it as a blue print to unite the other tribes of evil Neptunian lizard men to launch a war against Earth.  Only Ti, the brave spaceman, and Johnny Damokles, the charming Greek space cook, can stop them!

Seriously?  You need more than that?

Okay, I’ll talk about the two most interesting aspects of this story.  First of all, it’s worth noting that this piece was written mid-war; Greece had completely fallen to the Germans just two years earlier. Secondly, in the distance future portrayed in the story, out of all of the people in the human solar empire, only the Greeks managed to retain their unique cultural identity.

Of course, this means that Johnny Damokles comes off at first as a caricature of the fat clumsy Greek (“Why you a make the fun of the Greeks?  She are a great peoples!”), but he eventually wins over Ti by showing himself to be both brave and clever, willing to fight and brave death against tyranny to prove the worth of Greece’s greatest legacies of philosophy, freedom and individuality.

At least according to ISFDB, Hugh Frazier Parker never had any other stories published, which is a damn shame.

What IS science fiction?

Recently, Black Gate wrote a retro review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and it was a fair review of a beloved 30+ year old sci-fi flick, obligatory remarks about Shatner and Montalban’s hammy acting and all. One part stuck out for me though:

“But while it features all of Star Trek‘s usual array of SF trappings you could make the argument that at the heart of things Wrath is not really a science fiction story at all — which might be beside the point. It could probably have worked just as well with Khan the pirate being marooned on a remote island in the Caribbean or Khan the ex-con getting out of prison and seeking vengeance on the person who put him there. It’s all about the revenge, after all.”

It’s pointing out the obvious, what we all (or most people who’ve watched Trek) have known. How many Trek stories can this be said of? How many are naval engagements, colonial encounters, or even fairytale flights of fancy with some machine or superalien in the role of Mab & Oberon? So why point it out?

I wonder what constitutes a sci-fi story. About how many seminal works of science fiction could one say that it “is not really a science fiction story at all”?

While Lengeman may be making an innocuous point here, the “not sci-fi” or “not serious sci-fi” trope has long been an issue in fandom, whether it’s the ghettoization of retail shelves following the Fantasy market being broken off or alleged marginalization of women writers for not writing hard enough sci-fi. It’s not new. But really, why point out that Star Trek whatever is “not really a science fiction story” unless you are going to present a clear definition of what a sci-fi story is?

Sci-fi is more a combination of setting and aesthetic than story. In fact, I would go so far as to posit that there is no such thing as a “sci-fi story”.

Short Review up later today.

Wow, what a weekend!

Hope everyone had a great Christmas.  Mine was pretty alright.  I got a nice stack of Batman comics for Christmas, which I’m happy about, but the real coup was the Dying Earth omnibus that my mom got me.  I’ll be getting to that as soon as I finish Karl Gallagher’s Torchship.

The art for issue # 1 of Cirsova is done.


Art by Jabari Weathers for Schuyler Hernstrom’s The Gift of the Ob-Men

As soon as the final scan is done, I’ll knock out cover layout then launch the Kickstarter.  I’ll announce advertising rates next week.

Finished playing Air Assault on Crete and will be starting the mini-game Invasion of Malta this week.  After part 1 of Air Assault goes live, I’ll hopefully be able to shift back to a more regular schedule for my wargaming posts.  Trying to move this series to a weekly blog series where I’m not the only blogger and have no way of knowing when my post will go live makes it hard to coordinate my content.  I’d planned to do part 1s over there and subsequent parts over here, but I think creating original content for a new series will make things less confusing.  So I’ll be keeping my own weekly wargaming series here while I figure out something new for Wargame Wednesdays next year.

The new Medicide album, Supernova Black, is pretty much ready to go.  I’m just waiting for Sid to send out early ‘promo’ copies he’d already promised people before I flip the switch to set it live.  This is probably our best album yet and we’re both super proud of it.  It’ll finally be out in the new year.

Last, but definitely not least, Cirsova was named the number 1 gaming blog of 2015 by Jeffro Johnson, which is a pretty big deal!  Thanks, Jeffro! I’m in there with some pretty remarkable company.

The Empire Strikes Back is a Terrible Sequel and Obi-Wan Kenobi is the Worst Dude in the Galaxy

I ended up getting enough spoilers for the Force Awakens that I was not so interested as to beg my family to put off seeing it a few days while I was out of town.  I’ll probably end up seeing it the way I saw Attack of the Clones – via the Red Letter Media Review.  But when I was still thinking I might see it over the holidays, I went back and rewatched the original trilogy*; there are some things that really stick out like a sore thumb!

Before you get too mad, re-read the title.  Note that I don’t say it’s a terrible movie, but a terrible sequel.  Okay, so why do I say Empire is a terrible sequel?  Because in the context of what we know about Star Wars from a New Hope, it barely makes any sense.  I’ll get to the gaping plot holes in a minute, but let’s start with the biggest problem: George Lucas’ twist that he knew was coming all along but really didn’t which retroactively makes Star Wars make less sense.

Empire begins with Vader looking for Skywalker.  He’s all “Growl, I sense young Skywalker is with the rebels!  Moogah boogah!”  All of a sudden, Vader knows who Luke is and is looking for him.  In New Hope, Vader didn’t know him from Adam, and there was no indication that he actually realized who was flying the X-wing that blew up the Death Star.  He merely notes that the force was strong with this one, the way the Red Baron might’ve remarked upon the skills of a pilot who dodged his shots in a WW1 movie, but that wasn’t any indication that he even knew that it was the same kid who’d shown up with Ben Kenobi.  If anything, Vader should’ve been holding his grudge for Solo.  Vader sensed Kenobi on the Death Star without a whiff of Luke in New Hope.  In Empire, Vader is like a bloodhound with an old sock.

As Jeffro has pointed out, making Vader Luke’s father makes Obi Wan Kenobi a liar; this is a big deal, but I’ll tackle it after a few plot holes.  The telescoping of time in Empire muddles a lot of things.  We never really get a good idea of how long Luke trains with Yoda.  Is it a day?  A long weekend?  Because we don’t know the distances between Bespin, Hoth and Dagobah, we can’t really say how the characters get places and when.  Though hyperdrive is often referred to as Light Speed in the Star Wars universe, it’s pretty clear that it’s faster-than-light.  How does Vader reach Cloud City before the Millennium Falcon?  Does Boba Fett relay the Falcon’s warp coordinates so that the imperial fleet can re-route and somehow get their first?  Why did they even need to hire Boba Fett, he doesn’t even do anything!?  Why do so many Star Wars fanboys obsess over a background character who dies like a bitch in Jedi?  Anyway, somehow, a single-occupant fighter manages to get from a backwater swamp planet to Bespin in like a day because Luke’s spider-sense was tingling.  The time thing would not be so jarring if I wasn’t constantly reminded of the fact that the entirety of Star Wars: TIE Fighter takes place between the evacuation of Hoth and the order to build a second Death Star.

The iconic light saber fight between Vader and Skywalker introduced one of the many elements that would eventually make the Star Wars universe completely terrible: using the force to throw garbage at each other during a sword fight.  How did I forget about that?

Also, they really dropped the ball on that whole “no, there is another” reveal.  Nothing in Jedi indicates that Leia would’ve been able to stop the trio of evil Luke, Vader and Palpatine.  But that’s on Jedi, not Empire.

Really, though, this post is about Obi Wan Kenobi, so let’s move on to him.


You may have thought the Star Wars Saga is about Anakin or Luke or the Skywalker Family.  You’d be wrong.  Star Wars is about Obi Wan Kenobi the way that the Tale of Heike is about Taira no Ason Kiyomori: it is the chronicle of the destructive and lingering ripples, even beyond his death, of one man’s dedicated craptacularness.  Obi Wan Kenobi is a terrible person and this is the tragic story of the ruination of all he touches.

When we’re first introduced to Obi Wan Kenobi, he is the whimsical moral center and sage of a fairly rote bildungsroman who guides the youth on his path to manhood.  But that’s all tossed out and retconned, largely by Empire and Jedi, but even moreso by the prequels.

Obi Wan tells Luke Vader killed his father.  Empire makes him a liar, and Jedi shows him refusing to own it.  Far worse than the midiclorians is Ghostbi Wan in Jedi coming up with a simpering justification filled with moral relativism as to why he lied.  He doesn’t say “Look, Luke, I lied, I’m sorry” but “In a way I was kind of telling you the truth.”  The one thing that the prequels succeed at is justifying this by showing Obi Wan Kenobi to be a horrible person.

Even though Yoda doesn’t call him on it, Obi Wan lies about being trained by him RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM!  We never see Kenobi under the tutelage of Yoda but under some mysterious shmuck who would use his Jedi powers to con merchants and cheat at games of chance.  Obi Wan spends most of the prequels being an angry and jealous asshole.  We can conclude that he was lying even about ever being Anakin’s friend in New Hope based on what we see in the prequels.  The events in the life of Luke Skywalker are set in motion by an elderly Obi Wan Kenobi who clearly sees an opportunity to get back at Anakin AND drag his kids into it.  “Strike me down and I shall become more powerful than you can imagine.”  He’s martyred himself in front of Vader’s kid; Skywalker doesn’t know what a shitty dude Kenobi is, so naturally it will polarize him against Vader.  I’m also pretty sure that Yoda didn’t want Luke to know about his sister because it would lead Vader to her; hardly seems a coincidence to me that Kenobi lets it slip RIGHT AFTER YODA DIES!  Kenobi, knowing that Luke’s sister is alive, is going to make sure that Vader and Palpatine have leverage against Luke.  What a guy!

Obi Wan as the overarching villain of the Star Wars saga may sound like some “Ron: the Deatheater” shit, but go back, watch the movies and think about it: IT MAKES TOO MUCH SENSE!  The problem is that it’s ENTIRELY ACCIDENTAL!  You know you’ve made a huge mistake when the character you’ve tried to make the moral anchor of your story is so wafflingly written that his being a villain is more than just plausible.

Anyway, big announcements and reveals tomorrow.

*:VHS Original edition.

Dem cheekbones…


Dem cheekbones!


…and dem legs!

…are a part of Appendix N.

Hatari reminds one that just as pulp adventures were essentially “romances” for boys and young men, there was once such a thing as romantic comedies for men. Not sex and obscenity-filled slacker stoner comedies where fat guys get high, waste their time at dead end jobs and get girls way out of their league to sleep with them on their ‘awe-gee-shucks’ idiot charm alone, but stories about real men bonding and having adventures doing exciting and dangerous jobs and finding love in unlikely places, like the African Savanna.

Red Buttons’ character Pockets steals the show, and, for those of us who will never be as manly as John Wayne, he gives a window into this world. Yet even as the lovable doofus, he wipes the floor with rom-com protagonists of today. He’s not a cashier or a bus boy or a drug dealer; he drives the truck that John Wayne snares African big game from! Even the quirky ‘losers’ were more aspiration in those days! Red Buttons may get friendzoned by the gorgeous Elsa Martinelli, but he beats out the German and the Frenchman to win the heart of a doll-faced Michele Girardon.

Leigh Brackett really knows how to write quirky old comedy bits, and Hawks times them perfectly:

As much as I like some of the older comedies, a lot of them would let something like this go on for 3 or 4 times as long.

The only real downside is that for a movie so content to take its time, the ending feels a little rushed.  Still, this is one worth watching over and over for great bits between Elsa and Red, like this one. 

Ironically, I think there was probably more chemistry between these two than between Martinelli and Wayne.

Short Reviews will resume after Christmas, probably with “The Sword of Johnny Damocles”.  In the meantime, I’m going to be wracking my brain for the name of the micro that I played nearly a year ago that had to have almost certainly been inspired by, if not, based on Berserker.  How many times can Fred Saberhagen tell a variation on “humans outwit and defeat supermassive AI warships bent on stamping out all life in the cosmos” and keep it interesting?  At least 11.

Raging out about Saboteur

Saboteur is a poorly designed game that is gaining exasperating popularity in my gaming group.

It is a card-based tunnel game where the goal is to lay down various tunnel tiles in a mine to reach a nugget of gold.  Sounds fun, right?  Wrong!  At least to me.

Why do I say that this is a poorly designed game?  Saboteur is nominally co-operative in nature; players are working together to reach the gold.  The problems are two-fold, but primarily concern scoring: no matter the contributions the player makes, whomever reaches the ore first gets first pick from a bunch of treasure cards (ranging from 1-3 points) drawn.  The player will obviously take the treasure with the most points, so after it’s passed on past the second player, the other non-saboteur players are left with next to nothing for their efforts.

The biggest problem is the Saboteurs.  It is almost impossible for the Saboteurs to win.  Their goal is to delay the game long enough that all players run out of cards before anyone reaches the gold; their reward is a 3 point card each.  If the non-Saboteurs win, the Saboteurs get nothing.  In a game with as many as six players, there may be only 1 saboteur, who will essentially be screwed because reaching the gold in this game is such a goddamn cakewalk.

I have NEVER seen the saboteurs win fairly.  At times I have played as a saboteur even when I was not one to test the game’s balance.  Once in an 8 player game I helped the saboteurs (essentially making it 4 saboteurs and 4 miners) and they still lost.  Recently in a 6 player game, I helped the saboteurs and they won; this is the ONLY time I have ever played this game in which the saboteurs won a round (and I’ve played 9 or 12 rounds of this over the course of 3 or 4 games now).

I have been given some shit for ‘playing it wrong’, being compared to one of our group who will often play hidden roll games wrong or strangely just to troll people, but I defend myself as someone who is interested in game design trying to test aspects of this game. If it really takes a person playing for the wrong side to give the saboteurs an even break, there is something seriously wrong with the game.

I can’t tell yet if scoring is entirely arbitrary or if there is a strategy that does not require a non-saboteur from screwing over other players in supposedly co-operative play to make the best of the treasure haul for the winning side.  So far when I have played, anyone who has been a saboteur has lost and badly (since being a saboteur means no points when everyone else wins) and the game is almost always won by the person who reaches the gold in the first round so long as they are not ever a saboteur in a subsequent rounds.

I think that the Saboteurs might have a better chance if the game ended when the draw deck was gone than when all playable cards in hand are exhausted, but that doesn’t fix the scoring problem.  I really thing that points, the treasure deck and scoring mechanism in general for this game is a huge mistake.  Better it be like Resistance or Avalon in which one side either wins or it doesn’t.

Frankly, there’s nothing worse than co-operative games that ALSO include scoring or win conditions for individual players.  It just breaks any enjoyment of the game for me because those two concepts are so antithetical to one another; it’s like that moment in Castle Panic when you realize that letting the monsters reach the castle and kill everyone inside will make you the winner so there’s no reason keep fighting monsters.  THERE SHOULD ALWAYS BE A REASON TO KEEP FIGHTING MONSTERS!

Saboteur is a broken f-ed up game, and I don’t think I can get anyone on-board enough to try to ‘fix’ it, even if the fix is to just throw out the treasure deck.  Honestly, I don’t think it’s worth fixing, so really I’m just going to hope that it stops being the popular go-to game for semi-large groups.