Saturday 11 November 2023

Clandestine to the Core: Section 31 Starbase; Eaglemoss Official Discovery Starships Collection

The home of the secretive Section 31, the former penal facility's origins fitted right in with its use in Discovery.

A little more squat than the spired Starbase One, this was another of the structures featured in Discovery's heralded second season and featured heavily in the conflict with Control.

Following a similar construction trend to the Starbase the lower base and the underside of the landing platforms are metal in construction adding a good bit of weight and stability to the model.

That said, it's actually a much more intricate piece than the Starbase. The lower section has an open area as a docking bay with a substantial weathering effect, rising up through a scaffold-esque structure into the main body of the station. The wear and tear effect on the model surface is even better than that on Starbase 1 hammering home that this is a really old piece of technology left out in space. The unevenness of the finish on that lower connecting stump is impressive too given how it forms around the supporting framework. You can see the rust and degradation almost as if its real.

The stand actually holds the station on the underneath of the two asymmetrical landing pads (which, as is noted in the magazine don't actually make much sense!). They do add an element of functionality to the tower and are just as weathered and battered as the pieces that lie directly beneath them.

The rib cage elements that then encase the central core seem to be slotted as a single piece down onto the body and there's a certain fragility to their form even though there's never a doubt to their sturdiness. These are again beautifully rendered with a fantastic ridged detail and markings which were almost indistinguishable onscreen but help bring this piece to life immediately. 

The central core continues the worn grid pattern that defined the lower support section rising up to another, smaller rib cage that circles the top, seeming to protect what you would assume is the command unit. There's also a piping element that sits to the rear and runs vertically almost mirroring a spine holding the ribs of the Section 31 base in place. 

It's a most unusual structure, emanating feelings of brutalism and a stark contrast to the more impressive and perhaps positive showmanship of the Starbase 1 spire. If I'm absolutely honest I'm not a huge fan of these two as starbase models and the designs leave me a little cold when compared to the classic nature of Spacedock or Regula One for example. 

However this is a striking, well presented and superbly finished replica that does just about Feverything right from the colours and subdued three tone hues that add to its ominous nature right to the way in which it is finely balanced both in terms of weight and plastic/metal ratio. 

I also love that asymmetrical nature which is almost never present in starbase design. There are lumps and bumps, structures that dominate to one side and give it a real one-off look. Its repurposed nature is something only seen here and this also marks a rare opportunity to look at what the Federation's prison system may have looked like. 

The magazine covers a very brief review of Control's actions in the season including its takeover of this very station before we embark on a good run of diagrams and drawings about its concept. This was a strangely long process but one that seems to have been very satisfying by its end even if the station would eventually be destroyed.

A completists model if ever and definitely one that will appeal to Discovery fans because of its utter uniqueness. Not one I would choose to stick out on display but one that would create a few talking points in a Star Trek conversation if nothing else.

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Friday 10 November 2023

All About the Base - Starbase 1; Eaglemoss Official Discovery Starships Collection

An absolute behemoth of a model, Starbase One needs a tall shelf.

A stunning construction, the circular base and spire mark a truly amazing piece of design work that, even in this very small scale, is conveyed exceptionally. 

Perfectly docked in the cup-like stand, this is impressively stable and at every point the detail is just extraordinary. The whole structure is covered in white dots denoting windows and providing that essential concept of scale. In-universe this dwarfs just about everything and was featured in Discovery's superb second season before it made the 1000 year jump.

Every piece has a layered feel to it with the lower elements jutting out past the hold of the stand. There's some lovely weathered/hatched effect work on the hull detail here which only appears at this lower point. Above this, the structure widens out into the larger docking ring marked with a series of eight arms to welcome ships. Again the edges of the ring are dotted with clusters of windows and an excellent, textured upper surface that not only provides a three-dimensional feel to the ring but also has some very well created weathering. This worn effect adds to the aging on the towering station.

The docking ring and lower section add even more stability to the structure here as the large metal elements to which the plastic buttresses and tower are then attached. That choice makes the model atouch better since the ring section has that ridged effect in play.

Visually it's one of the most striking of all the starbase/station products that Eaglemoss made. That huge spire section, which dominates two thirds of the model, is just as well weathered as the upper portion of the docking ring and fortunately it's not just a simple copy and repeat pattern as you take a look around the structure.

The striking tower leads up to what can only be described as a mast marking its highest point. The pictures and images of the base from Discovery don't really allow for an indepth look at the structure although it does give an idea of the scale thanks to the array of docked starships we see there. Even then the size of this as a model is pretty overwhelming and there are only a few other pieces in the collection that come anywhere near. Those are probably the Sarcophagus Ship and the Section 31 starbase. Potentially the Jupiter Station creeps into this "supersize" category but nothing seems to do it quite so eye-catchingly as Starbase One.

Build quality is also pretty decent. There are some evident seams around the edges of the docking ring but those are fairly minor. The central core of the station appears almost one single element although on a closer inspection you can make out the odd joint line and in some places a touch of digital decal sticking.

It really is an impressive piece that might actually be too big to sit on some shelves due to its radius and height. At best this has to be about a foot from mast top to the bottom and then there's the additional height of the stand to contend with. 

In the box we also have the standard Discovery magazine which, in this case, directs readers attention to the design of Starbase One as well as its role within the second season of the show. The magazine contains a series of excellent concept work on what the exterior and interior could have looked like including the multiple environments that would have been contained given its gigantic proportions.

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Go It Alone: Modiphius' Captain's Log

The RPG has had a resurgence of huge proportions in the last decade with multiple franchises taking it away from the original Dungeons and Dragons concept.

Modiphius themselves launched the Star Trek Adventures version several years ago, expanding it with different quadrants of the galaxy, starship handbooks, campaigns and even a Lower Decks sourcebook. However, finding a group to explore the universe of Star Trek with is not always the easiest as I can attest myself.

Which is where Captain's Log fills conspicuous gap. Designed from the ground upwards as a single player game, the newest volume on the ever-expanding Modiphius shelf (probably need a second one) provides that single player model with a full walkthrough of just how to bring solo Trek to life.

Hardbacked with your choice of generational covers from TOS to Voyager and through to Discovery, Captain's Log starts with the basics and work upwards. If you've never RPG'd before then don't worry because everything is accounted for as you enter this new adventure.

At 300+ pages that might seem daunting but I decided to go from that opening page right through and work it as a true newbie. It was a great decision because a lot of things became very clear very quickly.

If you are familiar with Adventures then there might seem to be a lot of repetition at the start covering the galaxy and just how Star Trek itself works. It's an entertaining read but you have to ask who would be reading this and attempting missions if they were not already fairly familiar with the workings of the Gene Roddenberry sandbox. In some respects this does help to put a stamp on just what universe you are playing in and how to proceed in character. For example, it wouldn't be fitting for Starfleet to jump into a situation all phasers blazing. Instead you're more inclined to try a calmer approach but what that is can be up to you or guided through the step by steps of Captain's Log.

As I dived further into the workings of the game it became more apparent that while Adventures builds conversation and the group experience of completing missions, Captain's Log works incredibly differently. The easiest way to explain it is that by the end of each story you have effectively written an episode of Star Trek.

Captain's Log travels a path more aligned to personal creative writing. Initially you can use the' various matrices contained in the book to build a character and provide the details to mould the concept for an episode. You will still be left to fill in a lot of the actual narrative detail yourself and that's more than half the fun. Captain's Log is there to inspire and drive the imagination in new directions that might be well outside your creative zone. 

The book does offer two choices in setting up your playing character: either fully developed or with a lot to fill in as the voyages continue. Neither is a "preferred" route and that's down to where you want to start and see the narrative branch. Some features are defined by the race but again you can expand and develop these as you go. In regards to starships, there's a vast range to choose from just in the book with every time period of Star Trek history covered and each class having its own nuances.

The book ultimately offers structure and a way to record missions (PDF is great as you can download and print but a notebook will also suffice) which are key especially if you've never really written anything before. Captain's Log suggests a three act structure to your story with buid up, a peak and then a finale with each split into scenes which you can then track through logs. It also provides a good way to develop character abilities and divert the narrative off in ways that you might not consider. In a story you might just resolve an issue straight away or have a clear plan of where an event will go but with Captain's Log there is a huge element of the unpredictable. What if you roll on your piloting skill and a manoeuvre doesn't work? What if you choose to test your character in a diplomatic setting and they aren't able to settle a dispute between two warring races?

Captain's Log makes you think outside your storytelling comfort zone. The chapters provide guides and examples of how to weave together the story and will even point players towards die rolls and options that can add more spark to the story. 

Success can also build Momentum which helps to develop stats and upgrade your character so they become more qualified in skill areas. The game truly is about individual development and I've found this useful in two ways while utilising the features it explains. One was that this offered something where I would be forced to look for a resolution and try it. If that didn't work then I might have to rely on another facet of my created character to succeed. Secondly while writing Trek stories it's prodded me to attempt different things and even turn to the book and its appendices to spin the tale in a different and unexpected way.

The fact that Captain's Log has provided that kind of dual flexibility in my writing has actually made it a useful investment. Just rolling a d20 die on a choice might not be the finite decision but it has pointed me into other opportunities while in the game itself I've found that sticking with the rolls has forced my hand at several junctures.

The detail and thinking here is phenomenal. A lot of it is based on the original Adventures but there really is a page to turn to if you need some assistance. Want to make a planet or a new race? There's a matrix to create their names. Need a non-playing character or a space-borne entity? That's in there too. Whatever help you need to start building your own narrative, it's right in there.

Captain's Log is a game both for seasoned adventurers and newcomers thanks to its extensive introduction and universe coverage. If you're not able to get out for that group meet or just fancy an evening of personal career advancement then there's something in here for you.

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Sunday 5 November 2023

Very Short Treks: Very Short Patience?

The 50th anniversary of Star Trek's original Animated Series should be a time for celebration.

It was the first spin off from Star Trek, coming four years after the cancellation of the show and return the majority of the classic cast to their roles albeit vocally.

So what better way to honour those memories with the arrival of five mini-episodes in the same visual style as the Filmation series. Not only that but Trek alumni including Doug Jones, Ethan Peck, Gates McFadden and Jonathan Frakes have lent their voices to the shorts.

Imagined from the mind of Casper Kelly, the non-canon stories are shall we say distinct in their vision. Opening with Skin a Cat, the story here openly tackles the limits of political correctness, Holiday Party has Spock introducing a cringe-worthy blooper reel aboard Pike's Strange New Worlds USS Enterprise and Worst Contact places Riker and Dr Crusher into a rather sickly encounter with a recently warp capable race.

Sounds good? In principle the idea of these Very Short Treks seemed perfect but each week has brought disappointment and dismay. Each has utterly missed the mark and thank goodness for the non-canon safety net.

Take Skin a Cat. Including the vocals of Ethan Peck as Spock, everything the captain says manages to offend someone on the bridge and creates a new and (even for Star Trek) far-fetched bats-arse alien race purely as a punchline. Initially the "cat" reference offends the (brilliant to see) M'Ress before each line angers the Ass Face, Screwhead and Knickersonian bridge crew. Yes, seriously. It's that kind of comedy level.

Those things might be dealt with in the first 90 seconds before the ship captain realises a politically correct way to save his vessel from Klingon attack but these totally override the twist completely. I had to rewatch it just to be reminded of what happened for the closing 90 seconds for that reason.

Holiday Party is a slight improvement with at least the imagining of the SNW crew in this 70s animation style as well as Bruce Horak taking a turn as Hemmer and Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura.  Spock's misunderstanding of humour and the probably outdated concept of a blooper make for uneasy and uneven viewing. Spock saying "fart"? Why not here. More accurately... why? This isn't the way to nod to the past and at just over three minutes it's still too long.

The bloopers chosen are themselves somewhat grim with disembowelling to ice that proverbial cake. Worst Contact draws level with the snotty, hygiene unaware species coming off as annoying clown parodies. McFadden and Frakes deliver the dialogue as best they can and easily have the stronger lines and verbal relationship but the jokes just fall flat and firmly in the territory of "gross". Walls covered with boogers, microwaved rotting fish and eyeball licking are the orders of business for these aliens and certainly not for Starfleet.

Ok, so there are underlying "serious" issues in here. Political correctness, appreciation of humour and acceptance and understanding of different peoples and customs but they get lost under the bizarre way in which the animated skits have been written. I find American humour an acquired taste and for me a lot of Trek's humour can be miss rather than hit however this has gone very far of the mark in almost every sense.

The visuals and music cues are perfect however and truly reflect the nature of that series' style and essence. At times the Animated Series could be off the wall but it felt right for the show and the time as well as pushing the limits of Star Trek as restricted by a live action budget and era.

The shots of the SNW and TNG Enterprises are lovingly created as are the visuals of characters such as Riker, Saru and Spock but the parts are far off making a greater sum. We still have Holograms, All the Way Down and Walk, Don't Run still to go and I'm not holding out for a massive change in tone. These are shorts worth checking out for the visual style and then probably only the once. The tragedy is they just emphasise how great a loss it is that Prodigy failed to get its second season on Paramount.

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Friday 3 November 2023

Away Once More

Away Missions has been a bit of a hit with me personally. 

Opening that core set and then trying out the Borg and Federation packs was one thing before twisting Dad’s arm to dip into the Romulan and Klingon expansions. 

They were a big success and the great thing is that they aren’t a one off. November will see the introduction of ten more characters spread across two new packs.

Opening up some Federation options is the Captain Picard set which also includes Beverly, Geordi, Deanna and Wesley. Produced in GFN's unique sculpted style, each of these characters also brings a unique action which might determine just who is on your team. There’s also nothing to limit the size of your party apart from the cramped quarters of the board so why not mix and match a four or five person team from the selection available across this and the core box? For example, Shelby provides more of an advantage against the Borg but against the Romulans or Klingons you might want to swap her out for La Forge or Picard.

In terms of the captain he does have the bonus plus that his specialisations have a "+2" feature doubling the amount of additional dice that can be used on skill tests that suit his abilities. So far this is the only character that has that feature and was hinted at in the core rule book.

Certainly the pack allows for a lot more breathing room and different ways to aim for that points victory. The box includes a ‘starter’ deck of Mission and Support cards as well as a further expansion on those once players are comfortable with the new setup and two new Core Missions. Those card sets are tweaked more to the five characters in the pack but through mix and match your team will be unique and aligned to maximise on those points. One thing that Attack Wing does that this doesn't and in some regards should is to stop factions fielding the same character. For example, should Federation players be allowed to play Picard if Locutus is in play? 

Ok, minor point but one of those challenges that other games avoid and thus remain as near to canon as gamingly possible. More on that in a sec.

The House of Duras set which brings into play the infamous sisters and oft forgotten Toral alongside two additional guards. As with the Captain Picard set, this Klingon crew pack in a series of unique features and cards to stretch their muscles as well as new Poisoned, Illicit Explosives and Intel tokens. The leaning of the Klingons is still more towards Honourable Combat but the House if Duras does include some slight nods towards their more duplicitous nature and Romulan associations. Indeed, one of the guards is actually unable to acquire Honour.

Again there's the chance to mix this pack up with the Gowron pack from Wave 1 although whether you'd want to place the Klingon Chancellor in the same team as his mortal enemies is another matter for players and fans to muse over. 

The original Klingon pack emphasised the more cutthroat aspects of the Empire and here
there seems to be more skullduggery at play. Indeed, the cards include features specific to the Duras sisters, additional attack abilities and also some that are reliant on the new Treachery skill which is present in four of the five Klingons here. If you read into the pack it's an interesting twist in that some of the goals will point this crew towards (re)gaining Honour versus the use of aforementioned Treachery.  It's also a nice mirror to the more "pure" Klingons of the Gowron set and linking parts of those two together could play out a rather mixed faction.

Over all, a cracking pair of additions for players and it just leaves you wanting to see more expansions, more twists to the dynamics of the characters. Personally I'm holding out for a DS9 pack. I would suggest it just being Sisko with the skills of "Badass" and "Prophet". What else would you need?

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Tuesday 24 October 2023

Infinite Possibilities

Paradox Interactive have an illustrious history when it comes to simulation management with winners such as Cities: Skylines and Stellaris under their belt.

2023 adds one more to their repertoire with Star Trek: Infinite. Stellaris fans will recognise it instantly since it is, for the most part, a reskin of that well-played PC game.

Platers choose their initial power from the Federation, Klingons, Romulans and Cardassians before embarking on a galactic expansion. The ultimate aim is to either win on a points victory by the mid-27th Century or manage to absorb different civilisations through diplomacy or conquest. If you're also familiar with the long-running mobile game Fleet Command then this is similar but on steroids and without the need to wait days to complete upgrades or fork out continuously for more parts. Ok, there may not (at launch date) be as many ship or recognisable character options available but I suspect there's more satisfying results in the gameplay.

Just to take the Federation as the example here, players start off with a series of worlds and can then expand through exploring with science vessels and building starbases, mining stations, observation posts and research facilities to build up abilities and resources. Starbases allow for the building of fleets and through research paths you can be commanding fleets of Galaxy Class vessels to defend your borders.

So as you make your way into the game it’s important to build up those resources be they minerals, energy, dilithium or even experience to help progress a growing civilisation. Players can send out colony ships to settle new worlds but be careful what you find as some of them may be more inclined to join with an opposing power than settle for the welcoming arms of the Federation. Don't get hung up on the map being canon-accurate either as it will naturally change a lot over the course of the game and races will not necessarily spawn their societies in the same parts of the galaxy as they did in a previous game. It does mean you can't anticipate where to head out and survey and adds back in the mystery with every new game.

Players will also be joined by a series of familiar faces including Picard, Riker, Sloan, Data and Janeway but these are little more than images of the characters with them adding little to the gameplay. Indeed, the only two that do offer some additional features are Picard and Janeway who are essential to the completion of the Borg mission strand.

The main Mission Tree does divert your empire off into different paths and the benefit of repeat playing is finding out just where these can take you. Do you track a journey where the actions of Section 31 are prioritised or do you tread a more peaceful and open adventure? The choice is yours. 

One of the benefits of the Federation Mission Tree is ticking off the tasks to unlock the USS Enterprise-D and her crew which in turn leads to the Enterprise-E. Deep Space Nine can be acquired if players can bring Bajor into the Federation too.

It’s definitely a game that takes a lot of trial and error with some goals becoming out of reach if certain characters die or territory is lost. Take too long on searching the galaxy for example and Picard may have aged himself out of contention to encounter the Borg. 

The space combat sequences are very basic if truth be told and more of the gameplay is to be found in scrolling through your planets for potential upgrades of populace resettlement to a more successful colony. Keeping your people happy and occupied makes for a more content Federation and at the same time assists in helping you look like a good place to live. Be careful not to overexpand though as it will stretch resources so players might want to wait before adding another couple of starbase. Perhaps open dialogue with the Bolians or Trill and bring them aboard to stabilise your stats otherwise the Cardassians or Klingons might see territory ripe for the invading.

If you’re looking for a first person, action adventure Trek then this is absolutely not going to tick a single box. This is all about planning, patience and tactics. When to expand and where, what travel lines you can open up and how you can link the different parts of the Federation together for the benefit and security of all. 

I can guarantee that if you are into that management style game then be prepared to sink a fair few hours into it. Yes, there are ‘issues’ with the timeline in that uniforms don’t change depending on the century or that you could be using Excelsior class when you'd be lucky not to be retiring a Constitution III Class. Really the size of the ship is more of a guide to how advanced your civilisation has become and the calendar sort of becomes irrelevant in terms of "factual" Star Trek history. It actually becomes more of a reminder of just how long you have until that peace accord wears off and you can get attacked again. You will inevitably go through a lot of planetary governors, scientists, admirals, spies and generals all of which cost resources to purchase. Repeated plays (and regular saves!) will help you hone skills and also utilise parts of the game you may never have touched before. 

If you've never played Stellaris then Infinite might seem overwhelming initially and the tour at the start is frankly atrocious. I dived in, paddled a bit and took some risks on my first game just to see how the whole thing worked. It was well worth it and on the restart I scored a win with the Federation although slightly hollow as the Cardassians invaded Earth and Vulcan at the exact same time I integrated the final society.

Expansions seem to be a possibility too and even with the initial game there are two options, the slightly more expensive offering a Klingon voice pack and the California Class among other titillating extras. 

I'm not a huge PC gamer and have only Cities: Skylines as experience when it comes to Paradox Interactive but in terms of this one I'm hooked in if only to try all of the scenarios and outcomes. I'm even invested in seeing where I can shave down time or put more effort into one direction than another just to see if the end result is more favourable. If you want something that will make you think, has decent enough graphics and sets itself in the Star Trek universe then this is well worth the price at under £30 and will provide hours of thought and gameplay. Just be prepared for the mental onslaught at the beginning and you'll be fine.

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Friday 20 October 2023

Shuttle Run: Lower Decks Yosemite

The go-to shuttle for Lower Decks, the Yosemite is yet ANOTHER of the lost models Eaglemoss teased but never released.

Now in the hands - and warehouses - of Master Replicas this is only the fourth craft to be boxed and shipped (four as both the Titan and Cerritos received mid and XL editions).

A classic boxy design, there are immediate echoes of the Galileo from The Original Series which are much more evident when you get to see this one up close. There's also the callback to the TNG shuttle windows with the drop edge around the name, that lovely drop forward window but sadly no blast shield!

There is tragically one huge, almost gut-wrenching error on this one. Possibly the biggest mistake in Eaglemoss history and you have to wonder if this is one of the reasons it never made it to the website. The registry is wrong. Apparently - and I can’t confirm this - there are two versions. One with the 75567 number and this one with 77567. However, if we move past a decal which can be corrected, this is still a pretty fine model from Lower Decks.

The Yosemite is superbly detailed aside from this with prominent yet simple panelling across its hull. Minus point though since the panel lines are decals and when you’re up close it’s very evident that not all of them fully line up with the recesses in the bodywork. 

It’s also in a plain white colour, avoiding the standard live action aztecing which potentially adds to that visual blockiness. The windows are indeed blacked out to avoid having to detail the interior and Eaglemoss have finished it off with a simple yellow stripe and bold, blocked colour again for the impulse engines and bay door to the rear. 

For the engines the bussard collectors and end tips are coloured plastic although there are translucent elements for the warp grilles and a further stripe of yellow to finish off. Simplicity works perfectly here with the Yosemite coming out as a real winner thanks to the minimalistic animated realisation. Ok, the registry is annoying but I have to let it go given the circumstances of its release however the fact that these models have been found and made available more than counters it.

Stand positioning is very stable with the Yosemite sitting on a flat clear plastic "holder" plugged into the standard black base. As one of the few main line shuttles it is massively off scale from every other ship yet it's just one of those that deserves to be out on a shelf thanks to its rare nature.

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