Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Twilight - the Awakening by Stephen Gilbert

I have recently become very good friends with Stephen Gilbert, an author, games designer and zombie fanatic. Inspired by my blog, he got in touch with me to chat about all things to do with zombies. He is planning on running his own zombie apocalypse campaign using 15mm scale figures. Hopefully, when he's ready he'll chronicle it in his own blog. As we got chatting I learned that he had written a zombie novel, which was published in 2009. The novel is called Twilight - the Awakening and was going to be the start of  a series of zombie apocalypse novels. Originally, it was supposed to be a promotional novel for Hasslefree Miniatures' range of contemporary adventurers and zombies. Many of the characters in the book are named after some of the Hasslefree adventurers and you may recognise their names. However, HF pulled the plug on the project and refused to pay Stephen for his work. So, Stephen went ahead and found someone else to publish his novel.
Two things about the novel greatly embarrass Stephen and I do apologise to him for mentioning them. First up, he was in such a hurry to get the book published that he neglected to proofread it properly. I won't say there are a lot of spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in the book because there aren't. However, there are enough that they do become noticeable. Secondly, it is an unfortunate coincidence that Stephenie Meyer brought out her Twilight novel just before Stephen and now the word "Twilight" has become synonymous with sparkly vampires and hunky werewolves much loved by hordes of teenage girls.
So, on to the plot of Stephen's novel. It is set in the near future in England. The hero of the story is a former school teacher, Ray Matsuyama Timoshenko, who is based on Hasslefree's figure of Ray, aka their version of Shaun of the Dead. Ray is in a loveless marriage and has one daughter with whom he has an on/off relationship. He finds solace in alcohol and in the arms of another woman, Geraldine Fletcher, who is also going through a bad marriage. They often meet up in a local hotel run by Madge and Gerald Patterson. All four become good friends and it is during a stay at the hotel for Ray and Geraldine that the zombie apocalypse begins. What caused 95% of the world's population to die and reanimate as flesh eating zombies was a rogue asteroid that broke up high above our planet. Microscopic particles from the asteroid entered our atmosphere and affected the vast majority of the population. A lucky few proved to be immune to the space virus but there seemed to be no logical pattern or reason why so few people were immune.
I won't spoil the plot of the novel by saying who lives and who dies but Ray ends up leading a ragtag assortment of survivors looking for shelter and safety. One other drastic consequence of the asteroid breaking up was that it knocked the earth a few degrees of its axis and very swiftly the weather turned into a nuclear winter. Now the few remaining humans left alive not only have to deal with the undead menace but lethally cold weather. Things look very grim for Ray and his friends.
I enjoyed this novel a lot. Knowing who most of the characters were from their Hasslefree Miniatures counterparts helped me to picture them in my mind's eye and that was a big help. It is a hard hitting novel and many of the small band of survivors meet untimely and horrific endings. You can tell that this was meant to be part one of an ongoing series but Stephen has admitted that it seems unlikely that he'll write any more novels in this series. With a page count of 239 pages and a large typeface this is a book you can read very quickly. But it did keep me entertained from start to finish.
Alas, it is hard to ignore the typos but I respect Stephen for admitting they are entirely his fault. Also, it was just bad luck that the other Twilight novel turned out to be such a smash hit. The book is published by Lulu Marketing and can be found here - http://www.lulu.com/shop/stephen-gilbert/twilight-the-awakening/paperback/product-5242789.html for £8.73. I received my copy within three days of ordering it. It is a worthy addition to any zombie fan's book collection and I'll give it a 7 out of 10 rating.

NOTE. My proposed meeting with my girlfriend did not go as planned. At the last minute she was refused entry to her flight by customs officials for what has to be the craziest and most draconian of reasons. She is a Russian citizen and in order to leave Russia a citizen must be able to show customs officials that they have enough funds to live on £60 per day. This money doesn't have to be spent abroad, it just has to be shown at the customs check in. Marina planned to spend 20 days with me, which meant she had to show the customs officials £1,200. This she did not have as I told her because she'd be living with me she wouldn't need to pay for food, drink and accommodation. All she needed to bring was some money for personal spending. How little we knew! To think that the authorities can dictate how much money a person must take abroad is just beyond comprehension! Suffice to say, we are heartbroken but also extremely angry at her treatment. The one good thing to come out of this sorry situation is that it has served to strengthen our love.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Zombicide Season 2 Survivors and Zombivors 05

I continue my review of Zombicide season 2 survivors and zombivors with another four characters. Three of these guys are based on characters from films - The Big Lebowski (Ross and Gary) and Zombieland (Ralph), whilst one is from the TV series, The Big Bang Theory (Will).
I begin with Ross Goodman the warehouse manager, who is obviously based on John Goodman's character, Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski. Ross is more than he appears. He left the army twenty years ago with scars and PTSD but believed he had moved on. Now that the zombie apocalypse is here his soldier's instincts have come roaring back along with his tactical awareness and skill with weapons. Now if he would just put down his bowling ball... Survivor Ross is armed with a .44 Magnum revolver and a bowling ball, which he keeps in a shoulder bag. Note that he comes with a unique equipment card for his bowling ball, which can inflict a massive 3 points of damage! Zombivor Ross is armed with a .38 revolver. He starts the game with the +1 die: Ranged skill, which gives him an extra die to roll for all Ranged Weapon Attacks.
Next up is Gary Bridges the miniature sculptor, and he is based on Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski as played by Jeff Bridges in the film, The Big Lebowski. Note that in the descriptive text about him on the back of the survivors and zombivors boxed set he comes in, he is called Mike. Clearly some confusion here. On his character record card he is called Gary. Being obsessed with his sculpting work, he never noticed when his wife left and took their daughter with her or even the arrival of the zombie apocalypse. That was until he wandered outside and joined a small group of survivors, who find it odd that he quite readily accepts that zombies are "finally" running around. Survivor and zombivor Gary/Mike are each armed with a double-barreled sawn-off shotgun. Note that survivor Gary/Mike has a  torch tucked into his belt. He starts the game with the Slippery skill, which means he does not have to spend extra actions when he performs a Move action through a Zone occupied by zombies.
Moving on, we come to Will Wolowitz the game designer, who is based on Simon Maxwell Helberg's character, Howard Joel Wolowitz in The Big Bang Theory TV series. Will served his stint at a video game design company as a noob trainee, spending more time carrying coffee than programming. After three difficult years, he finally got a full time job and his own noob trainee. Only his passion for video games - and above all, zombie video games - gave him the will to endure this. Now that the zombies have come for real, everything is perfect. Survivor Will is armed with his unique comet launcher. Just like Ross's bowling ball, this weapon comes with its own stat card and it is a mighty powerful weapon. It will kill ALL zombies in a single Zone at a range of 2 to 3 Zones. And, yes, that does include Abomination zombies! Zombivor Will is armed with a hunting rifle with scope sight. Will starts the game with the +1 Damage: Ranged skill, which gives him a +1 bonus to the damage of all Ranged Weapon attacks.
Finally, is Ralph Wood the cowboy and he is based on Woody Harrelson's character, Tallahassee in the film, Zombieland. After a successful investment, Ralph earned enough money to buy a quiet ranch and retire. When he heard zombies had come from the city to invade the country, he fortified his house and armed his family to face anything. Later, he decided to return to the city to help his friends there. The situation is even worse then expected but, so far, wilderness lessons apply very well to urban survival. Survivor Ralph is armed with a hunting rifle with fitted scope sight, whilst zombivor Ralph carries a baseball bat. Ralph's starting skill is Steady Hand. which allows him to ignore allied characters when making a Ranged Attack or driving a car through a Zone.
As always these are nicely sculpted figures although I'm not too happy with my paint work on Ross and Gary/Mike. They're adequate I suppose, but once I get my eyesight fully restored I'll probably redo them. Oddly enough, I painted Will and Ralph at the same time and I'm much happier with them. Ross and Will are unique in Zombicide due to them having their own personal weapon cards. Mind you, once they get mixed in with the other decks anyone could find and use them. Both weapons are extremely powerful and are able to take out a zombie abomination, which makes them well worth owning. Who'd have thought a bowling ball could wreak such carnage!

NOTE. I'll be taking a short break from all hobby related activities for the next three weeks as I'll be spending my time entertaining my beautiful new girlfriend. I'll try to keep up with your blogs but I hope you'll understand if I don't leave a comment. I haven't had a proper holiday this century so this is long overdue. Take care and have fun. I know I will!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Zombicide Season 2 Survivors and Zombivors 04

Here are another batch of Zombicide season 2 survivors and zombivors. These figures are based on starring characters from two well known films - Shaun of the Dead (an obvious choice) and The Silence of the Lambs.
I'll kick off with Fred Pegg, whom we all know as the eponymous Shaun from Shaun of the Dead, as played by actor, Simon Pegg. However, in Zombicide, Fred was a Wall Street trader. He was a mathematical genius with intuition and an aggressive instinct. When the zombies came, he was the first on the trading floor to understand what was going on and what he needed to do. Fred was the only one to get out alive and being a natural predator at heart he feels his life now has real meaning. Both survivor and zombivor Fred are armed with a cricket bat. Fred starts the game with the Reaper: Combat skill, which is used when he assigns hits while resolving a Combat Action (Melee or Ranged). One of his hits can freely kill an additional identical zombie in the same Zone. Only a single additional zombie can be killed per action when using this skill.
Shaun without Ed is like fish without chips so here we have Chuck Woodhead, who is clearly modelled on Ed played by Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead. In Zombicide, Chuck is disparagingly referred to as a momma's boy. Living in his parent's basement, this 30+ man child's lack of real world experience hasn't been much of a disadvantage because civilisation has gone tits up. Armed with his knowledge of zombie survival lore gleaned from video games and the Internet, Chuck is an unlikely chubby ally - and possible food source if things get desperate! Survivor Chuck is armed with a double-barreled sawn-off shotgun and a frying pan. Zombivor Chuck has acquired a pair of gunblades - large calibre pistols with underslung blades - very rare weapons. Chuck's starting skill is Low Profile, which prevents him from being the target of allied Ranged Attacks and car attacks ignore him.
Next, we come to Achille Hopkins, a serial killer who is clearly based on Hannibal Lector as played by Anthony Hopkins in the 1991 film, The Silence of the Lambs. Achille is every bit as insane and demented as Hannibal. He would be a danger to every survivor if he hadn't changed his mind when the apocalypse came and he decided to focus his murderous instinct on zombies. he finds being surrounded by potential victims that are actively hunting him terribly exciting. As a survivor, Achille is armed with a nightstick and a .44 Magnum revolver. Zombivor Achille retains the nightstick but has lost the revolver. Achille starts the game with the Zombie Link skill, which allows him one extra turn each time an extra activation card is drawn from the zombie deck. He plays before the extra activated zombies.
Finally, is FBI agent Helen Foster, a dead ringer for Jodie Foster's character, Clarice Starling from the film, The Silence of the Lambs. Helen's inquisitive nature and logical mind led her into investigations and she became a terror to the nation's organised crime syndicates. She finally managed to anger the wrong people and she was under investigation for trumped up corruption charges when the zombies rose. The game had changed but Helen found her skills and experience still applied. She finds it refreshing not having to wait for a warrant before breaking into wherever she needs to go. Survivor Helen is armed with twin 9mm pistols but zombivor Helen is only armed with one 9mm pistol. Helen starts the game with the Starts With a Flashlight skill, which is self-explanatory
Fred and Helen were part of the free stretch goals offered during the season 2 promotion. Achilles and Chuck come from the third boxed set - Survivors and Zombivors. These are all iconic characters and it is hard to shake off the fact that they are not meant to be exact copies of their film counterparts. I can understand why Guillotine Games have had to change the names of them but I wonder how many players adopt the figure's Zombicide names or use their film character's names instead. Chuck, Achille and Helen are virtual clones of their film characters in everything but name. Fred at least has been given a different background but he is still a trader at the end of the day. Also, I suspect that if you choose one of these figures, you'd have to choose the other from the same film. They are pretty much double acts who should be kept together.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Zombicide Season 2 Survivors and Zombivors 03

The six Zombicide season 2 survivors and their zombivor versions that I'm reviewing this time all came from the Prison Outbreak expansion set. This set introduced Berserker Zombies to the game.
The figures shown below are all original characters and are not based on characters from film or TV. As always, they are only known by their first names in the game (with one exception), so I have come up with surnames for them all.
First up is Belle Parker the Parkour specialist. I called her Parker because it is the closest name to Parkour. For those of you who have never heard of Parkour, it is a holistic training discipline using movement that developed from military training. Practitioners aim to get from A to B in the most efficient way possible.They do this using only their bodies and their surroundings to propel themselves. Furthermore, they try to maintain as much momentum as is possible in a safe manner. Parkour can include obstacle courses, running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, rolling, quadrupedal movement, and the like, depending on what movement is deemed most suitable for the given situation. Belle is the daughter of a former drill instructor and she uses the city as her obstacle course. Survivor Belle is armed with a katana and wakizashi, whilst zombivor Belle is armed with twin axes. She starts the game with the +1 Free Move Action skill, which is self explanatory. 
Next up is Grindlock the heavy metal headbanger. No one knows his real name. For him, heavy metal is not just a musical style, it's a way of life and it's the path Grindlock chose. When the zombies came for him, he moshed them like moths, grabbed a chainsaw and went out to face doomsday with  a smirk on his face. Suffice to say, both survivor Grindlock and zombivor Grindlock are armed with a chainsaw each. Grindlock starts the game with the Taunt skill, which counts as free action, allowing him to select any Zone he can see. All zombies in that Zone gain an extra activation as they try to reach him. They ignore all other Survivors: they do not attack them and cross the Zone they stand in if needed to reach the taunting survivor.
The guy in the green T-shirt is Joshua Harris. Joshua is well versed in zombie lore, having read many books about them, watched many zombie movies and played lots of zombie video games. When the apocalypse came he vowed to save as many people as he could. He joined a group of survivors and his mission in life  is to protect them all. Survivor Joshua is armed with a pump-action shotgun. Zombivor Joshua is armed with a katana and wakizashi. He starts the game with the Lifesaver skill, which he can use as a free action  once during his turn. He can select a zone containing at least one zombie at Range 1 from him. All friendly survivors in the selected Zone can be dragged to his Zone without penalty. This does not count as a Move action. A survivor can chose to be saved or not, depending on the controlling player's wishes.
Next to Joshua is Kim Nakamura who used to work in an underground casino. She was noted for her incredible luck and she could earn in one night what most folk could earn in ten years. She already led a dangerous life before the zombies came and for her the  apocalypse is just a new game of cards. Survivor Kim is armed with twin hammers. Zombivor Kim is armed with a pair of 9mm Uzi sub-machine guns. Kim starts the game with  the Lucky skill, which allows her to re-roll all the dice of any one action she takes. This skill stacks with other skills or equipment cards that also allow re-rolls.
Skinhead Shannon Flynn is a woman of action. Gang wars, police, militia, the army, she had it all but never found a fight that could engage her body and soul. Back in civilian life, Shannon was looking for a job when the zombies came and gave her life real meaning. She now has many causes to fight for - survival, protecting untrained people and exterminating zombies with extreme prejudice. As a survivor she is armed with twin double-barreled sawn-off shotguns and as a zombivor she is armed with twin .44 Magnum revolvers. Shannon starts the game with the Point Blank skill which allows her to shoot at any target she chooses at Range 0. Obviously her weapon has to do enough damage to kill any zombie she chooses.
Last of all is Hal Watts the family man. Oddly enough, in Zombicide he is known by his surname, Watts. I decided to call him Hal. After a tumultuous youth, Watts decided to lead a normal life with a casual job, a wife, two kids and a Jack Russell. It almost worked. Ten years later he was fired by his company as part of a cost cutting exercise. His life spiraled downwards but the zombie apocalypse saved his life. He sent his family away from the dangerous city they lived in and armed himself with his old baseball bat, ready to kill as  many zombies as he could. Survivor Watts is armed with  a spiked baseball bat. So too is zombivor Watts but he has also gained a .44 Magnum revolver. Watts starts the game with the Starts With a Baseball Bat skill, which is self explanatory.
I always like to see a 50/50 split between males and females in a game and it's great to see that the females are every bit as tough as the males. There seems to be a good mix of characters here with some very useful starting skills. Once again, I have not used any of these characters in a game - something I must remedy soon. As usual, the sculpting of the figures is very good and I'm hard pressed to pick one as my favourite figure.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Zombicide Season 2 Survivors and Zombivors 02

I'll be spending the next few weeks reviewing my Zombicide season 2 survivors and zombivors. Here are four of each. These were all part of the stretch goals for season 2 and each pair was packaged in a separate box. What distinguishes these from the previous survivors and zombivors I have reviewed is that these are all based on characters from film and TV, but given different names to avoid copyright problems. Even so, they are very recognisable. Note that all the characters are known only by their first names. I have come up with their surnames, usually based on the surname of the actor/actress playing that particular character.
First up is Adriana Knowles, who is based on Beyonce Knowles as Foxxy Cleopatra in the film, Austin Powers: Goldmember. Adriana worked as a shop-girl during the day and sang in a chorus at night. She dreamed of fame but once the dead began returning to life her dreams were shattered forever. Survivor Adriana is armed with a katana and a one-handed axe. Zombivor Adriana has lost her katana but kept the one-handed axe. Adriana starts the game with the Loud skill, which allows her to make more noise in the Zone she uses this skill in than any other Zone on the board. At first this may seem like more of a disadvantage but as zombies are attracted by noise it can be useful to lure them away from other potential targets or to shepherd them to a desired location.
Next in line is Dakota Anderson, based on Pamela Anderson as Barbara "Barb Wire" Kopetski from the film Barb Wire. With her stunning looks and wits, Dakota could have lived a comfortable life but she chose a life of crime. She did time for everything from robbery to car theft. The zombie apocalypse helped ensure her escape from prison and she is determined to turn her life round and start afresh. Survivor Dakota is armed with a double-barrelled sawn-off shotgun, whilst zombivor Dakota is armed with two double-barrelled sawn-off shotguns. Dakota begins the game with the Taunt skill, which counts as free action, allowing her to select any Zone she can see. All zombies in that Zone gain an extra activation as they try to reach her. They ignore all other Survivors, making this a useful skill if used correctly.
Moving on, we have Lea Stone, based on Emma Stone as Wichita in the film, Zombieland. Lea is a headstrong and resourceful teenager who has been forced to accept that life can be easier when you have friends you can rely on. Lately, she has found she is afraid to be left alone. As a survivor, Lea carries a pump-action shotgun. Zombivor Lea is armed with a .44 Magnum Revolver. Lea starts off with the Slippery skill, which means she does not have to spend extra actions when performing a Move action through a Zone containing zombies.
Last in line is Rick Statham, based on Jason Statham as Chev Chelios in the film, Crank. Rick is a stuntman, who was recovering from a chest injury in hospital when the zombies came and got most of his friends. He is wary of others but realises he will need help in order to survive the zombie apocalypse. As a survivor, Rick is armed with a pump-action shotgun. As a zombivor, he is armed with a pair of 9mm pistols. Rick's starting skill is Steady Hand, which allows him to ignore allied survivors when making a Ranged Weapon attack or driving a car through a Zone. Normally, when making a Ranged Weapon attack, survivors are the first target priority. I know, it does not make sense, but that is the way the game plays and it forces you to think tactically when moving and shooting.
Adriana looks like she has just stepped out of a 1970's blaxploitation movie. Dakota is showing a LOT of underboob and if she attempts any physical activity she's going to show a whole lot more of her boobs. Lea is my favourite figure out of this group of four. Her mini skirt is so short it could be classed as a belt! Note how it has ridden up to expose her backside on her Zombivor version. She obviously doesn't care! Rick is such a cool figure and can become a serious hard ass, once he's killed enough zombies.
I have not used any of these characters in a game but Lea and Rick seem more useful than Adriana and Dakota. But I guess a lot can depend on circumstances. Look out for more Zombicide season 2 survivors and zombivors next time.