Saturday, 26 September 2015

Simple Originality: The Official Starships Collection Issues 56 and 57

The question as to whether the earlier than usual delivery is an apology for last month's delay was quickly forgotten when I cut open this month's package.

Continuing the First Contact fleet releases we have the Saber Class USS Yeager. One of the smallest Starfleet vessels even seen with a crew of just 40, it's one of those ships that fans have been waiting for. Coming just a month after the Steamrunner Class release we didn't have to wait long to add another to the group.

I'm still a bigger fan of the chunky Steamrunner ahead of this month's Yeager but that doesn't mean this one is a poor result. A purposely compact design from Alex Jaeger, the light cruiser does away with struts, connecting pylons and neck sections, bringing the main components of the "expected" Starfleet design into a much smaller package that delivers a far smaller profile.

Clipping onto the stand from the rear of the primary hull, it's a solid grip and a stable stand. For once the pedestal didn't want to fall off every time I moved her around to take another photo angle, I think that may well be a first especially as both this and the following issue's model stands were solid from out-of-the-box.

Aside from the upper hull which is of a metal construction, the rest of the ship is moulded in plastic and marvellously detailed. Given that the Yeager is a small ship to begin with does mean we get a close-up on a lot of piping and hardware that's exposed on the hull as well as the usual lifeboat hatches and windows. Sore point but every single one of the painted windows was a mile off the hull "dip" it was supposed to correspond to. I'd love to understand why this happens every single time and is yet to be corrected at the factory.

Anyway, a plethora of hull-work dominates the central section from the unusually placed bridge at the front of the primary hull all the way to the stumpy rear and shows just how much effort has gone into recreating that screen model. Just ahead of that bridge is the recessed pit with the two shuttlebay doors. Sadly even with the larger scale for this small ship it seems that numbering the doors as per the magazine cover just wasn't something the factory could manage nor are they coloured differently to the rest of the hull.

The two-tone grey aztec paintwork is one of the more intricate we've seen too; less blocky, thinner and a lot more varied. The replication of the screen ship is exemplary with something at every point that is worth taking some time to examine, even if it's down to the shape of the phaser banks, the fleet pennant or the tiny "United Federation of Planets" script on the side of the ship.

The underside of the Yeager is as good. The aztec pattern fully wraps around along with the window and lifeboat hatches and we get to examine the triangular-shaped deflector dish. Now everything we see of this in the magazine has it fully "bronzed" however for some reason it's painted blue around the centre with a translucent blob at the core again in blue. This does hark back to the blue for warp, yellow for impulse of the movie Enterprise but does go against all the material we're given alongside the finished ship.

Talking of finish (OK that was a pretty rubbish segue), it's another winner for Eaglemoss with my Saber Class showing no bendy joints, hull gaps or glue splodges. Double score for the fact the nacelles line up which is something WizKids could learn from on their Attack Wing line. The engines themselves are semi-encased in that slimline primary hull but do have the benefit of the translucent blue venting, the red bussard collectors and a lot of finishing fins and panelling. I kinda get upset now if I don't see those translucent features on the models, especially the Federation ones. 

Don't go expecting the same treatment for the impulse engines which are sadly just painted on red lines at the rear of the main hull - so insignificant I actually forgot about them until I was asked the question what they looked like on Instagram. We do also get the port/starboard red/green lights but the crimson illumination to the rear of the bridge stack - and visible in the magazine - is absent.

Now we have the Akira, the Steamrunner and the Saber Classes ticked off it's just issue 61's Norway Class to complete the awesome foursome. Now according to Ben Robinson that's his least favourite but given the previous two and now the Yeager, I don't think we're going to be upset in the slightest. This mini-collection originally designed by Alex Jaeger has been a highlight of a damn good series that even now is just getting better each month. Yes, there are blips (more on that in a bit) but overall I remain very impressed - just need to get their customer service a little tighter on a few points but otherwise good work.

Of course with this model there's the customary magazine which has it's usual spread of movie screencaps and CGI creations for us all to examine and compare extensively with the model now sitting just to your right hand side. We get an overview of the ship features as well as key engagements which saw the class on the front lines against the Borg and the Dominion as well as being glimpsed in Voyager a couple of times. Oddly when you get to the onscreen section the fact that the class did appear in that later series is overlooked.

Being an Alex Jaeger design means that the central piece of the magazine is devoted to the creation of this ship with the a smattering of initial sketches. The shame is that this section is fairly short, probably given to the fact we've already had two First Contact ships which will have eaten up most of the film background material on the battle scene. Instead a third section runs over the thought process behind the assembly sequence for the Borg Queen. I wouldn't go as far as the article says that it's the most memorable shot in the history of Star Trek but it's still an impressive sequence nonetheless. 

Detailing the changes that took place to make the Queen's arrival real is a good read if something that most long-term fans will be more than familiar with from 20 years ago. Giving six pages over to this article is good use of space but as we've seen it does slip away from the ship and betray the fact there isn't a lot to talk about it.

As to those onscreen appearances, I'd have just left it at First Contact. Trouble is that with it being a background addition a lot of the shots from the film here are slightly blurred. Annoying to say the least but there is the benefit of some good CGI close-ups to counter your disappointment.

OK - now if you'll think back to last month at this halfway point in the review I basically said that it was pointless saying much about the D'Kyr Type because the Steamrunner had utterly blown my mind (or words to that effect). This month though I have to admit that the second ship is just as good if not better than the heavily detailed Saber Class USS Yeager.

From my interview with Ben a while ago we covered the point that he was concerned about the simplicity of the ships from The Original Series. Around the Romulan Bird-of-Prey there was also an issue with the paint scheme making it look too much like a kid's toy.

To some degree that may well be unavoidable because of that simplicity but let me tell you, those fears are unfounded and in comparison to the slight stumbles of the 50th issue USS Enterprise we have a beautiful model here.

Saying that whoever put mine together managed to trail two blobs of glue onto the outer hull, one on the starboard engine decal and failed to get the port side rear section to fit properly. Thanks for that, but aside from these "minor" assembly troubles, she's magnificent and looks great in the rear-mount stand which slides smoothly around the back of the hull and around the stabilising fin. For note it's not a tight fit either and won't mark the hull as we've seen on a few other models recently such as the original USS Enterprise from issue 50 and I think the Runabout from the mid-30's.

That 1960's simplicity works extremely well (I emphasise extremely). All we have in the way of modelled-in features on the light grey hull are the porthole and sensor grid markings (that's what the plan says but I think they're just more portholes) on the top and along the leading edge plus the forward-facing rectangular opening for the plasma torpedo launcher. There are some raised points where the sections clip together which are more pronounced than the screen version but given the basic nature of the ship, probably unavoidable. 

The impulse engine markings on the rear don't precisely match to their recesses but they are closer than those on the Saber Class. To the back is the ramrod straight stablising fin and that's all you have. As to decals, the upper hull rear and the supporting warp/engine struts carry a golden waved effect to give the impression of bird's wings.

The precisely parallel engines (apparently this thing didn't have warp - or did it?) do have blue translucent caps and silver exhausts as well as a bit more "bird" decalling. Question though because in the episode those caps are clear and on previous models they've been red. I've even seen green and yellow when trying to find a definitive answer. If we got from the original though they should be clear,  maybe even translucent white as per the model features in the Wah Chang article. It's a real headscratcher as to why they went blue and it's sure to be a point of much debate when it lands properly in about three weeks from writing date. 

Truly the plain design could well have come off as tacky and poorly conceived but from what I understand there is a little graining in the paint which lifts it from being a bland finish to give it something that is more screen-accurate.

OK, so to the big finish with the classic Romulan ship and we have to flip her over to see the full effect. The legendary Bird-of-Prey is truly a work of art as far as this collection goes and fills the metallic under-section (again a first to have the bottom section in metal) I think I might have commented somewhere else that it's the best bottom in the series. As with the top though there's no weathering, clever hull colouring or anything blindingly technical. The bird is in gold, orange and silver, no shades, nothing just block colours but it's ever so effective and must have been a nightmare to get right when applying since it appears to be one single continuous piece from nacelle to nacelle. 

Also worth a note on the lower side of the hull are the three circle features which indicate landing gear of some form - might be a first for the collection to have that so obviously detailed but with the basic level of surface details it's nice to have a few diversions to break up the grey (although given that there's a massive bird on the bottom they probably wouldn't have been missed too much if omitted).

To the magazine and as expected it's all about Balance of Terror since that was the only episode the model was filmed for. As you discover the subsequent appearance in The Deadly Years was just reused footage and the model was "unavailable" (potentially destroyed) by the time of season three's The Enterprise Incident. Eaglemoss have included some nice new passes of the ship as well as a shot from the remastered version of The Enteprise Incident which did include a Bird-of-Prey instead of a third Romulan-owned D-7.

The plan views provide a nice weathered impression of the ship with their standard minimalist annotations but seriously we're all going to flick past that to get to the story behind the Wah Chang model. The opening pic here of the Bird-of-Prey unpainted pre-filming is one I've never seen and is a real "wow" moment for the collection. The article does manage to cover, in four pages, Chang's brilliance and design talent from the tricorder to the Tribble, the communicator and the Gorn to name a few and such a tragedy that he was never properly recognised. The note that the Bird-of-Prey model may no longer exist is probably the biggest prop loss in the franchise history.

Closing out the issue before the customary onscreen appearances we have a section adding to the Romulan history series that has been popping up in the magazine since issue four and the Warbird from The Next Generation. This time it's a pre-Picard lesson touching on what led to the Romulan separation, the war with Earth (which we were robbed on seeing in Enterprise), their later alliance with the Klingons and finally their isolation which would end with their reappearance in The Neutral Zone at the end of The Next Generation's first season. Good piece to read and nicely broken down into easy chunk which is an excellent reminder and a perfect way for new fans to get a grip on their Romulan politics!

But why would I say that this is better than the detailed CGI example we have in the USS Yeager? Well because frankly the team have nailed a classic design absolutely perfectly and kept it basic. There's been no playing around and we have what we saw even down to that toning of the paint to make it look like the ship we saw on screen - not the CGI version from the remastered - the original Balance of Terror season one cruiser. 

The fact my hull doesn't sit right bugs me to hell BUT I still revel in the result and I'm now looking forward to seeing the Klingon D-7, the Botany Bay and hopefully a classic Tholian down the line. Admittedly we know the Antares is a remastered ship also featured in The Animated Series but I think we'll be impressed by the end result and it does give a nod to a series this collection has so far avoided.

Next month we have the first Borg ship since (gasp) issue 10 with the one-shot Borg Tactical Cube from Voyager's Unimatrix Zero. Ben dropped a recent shot of this on his Twitter page (here it is) and I'm really looking forward to it's arrival. Second up in October we'll also have the USS Relativity also from Voyager so a bumper month for fans of Janeway and co. Don't be put off though as October 15 is now slated for the release of the USS Kelvin special edition costing £20.99. We've seen a few shots before but a couple that Ben posted out on Twitter this week also highlighted that there's some really neat weathering on the hull which I hadn't spotted before. Again I'm really looking forward to this one as the detail is coming across as some of the best in the series.

So what did you think to this month's double? Is the Yeager better than the Bird-of-Prey or is it a classic winner?

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Thursday, 24 September 2015

Keeping it Fluid: Star Trek Attack Wing Wave 18

After the mixed bag of key races we received last month, September has introduced some really interesting dynamics to the Attack Wing mix.

I'll be honest, one of those evaded me until I sat down and read the cards properly but y'know what? This is a pretty neat trio and a lot better than I expected.

Box number one opens up to give us the USS Phoenix. A simple redress (physically) of the USS Sutherland OP prize from a while back which left me a bit grumbly because the flippin' sensor pod is wrong (OK, I'll stop going on about this now Instagram followers!). But hey, as I always say it's about the cards not the model...Honest.

The model itself is decent enough and is following the more recent trend to render Federation starships in silver rather than paint them up in a light blue wash. It works a lot better and the hull detail really does stand out. However, my saucer is out of kilter with the rest of the ship and sits at a slight angle to the right (check my video for a better look). The warp engines also seem to point in different directions to each other. Both of those issues do detract from the overall effect with clean painting, saucer detail of phaser strips and lifeboat hatches and a degree of "dirty" weathering. In comparison to the Enterprise-D model, the saucer is slightly larger and is a much better finish than the starter pack vessel.

Featured in the fourth season episode of The Next Generation, entitled The Wounded, the Phoenix was our first look at a new ship class since the Galaxy Class Enterprise in the pilot of the show. What we got was a mega kit-bash from the behind the scenes team that became a bit of a favourite over time. Here in Attack Wing her stats do place her firmly middle of the road. Only a couple less than the Enterprise-D and two more than the Defiant. Packing four dice in attack, one in defence, four hull and four shields at least you have something to work with if a little poor defensibly. The Phoenix can carry two additional crew and weapon upgrades and a single tech upgrade when maxed out. Her maneuverability, giving you virtually every turn in ranges one to three plus a four ahead, is complimented with the unique ship ability to change your maneuver after selecting it on the dial but before moving. However, it can only be for one at the same speed (ie a three turn to a three straight) and does incur the penalty of an auxiliary power token, Does mean you could get yourself out of trouble if you're running a high captain skill and can see what everyone else does before you do.

Captaining the Phoenix is Benjamin Maxwell. A commander with a skill of six and an SP of four. Aligning with his love of kicking enemy ass, Maxwell offers the chance to re-roll one of your dice when making an attack with your secondary weapon. (Admiral) Haden is your alternative named captain (the pack of course comes with Generic Captain too for zero cost and no ability) with this expansion and his upgrade is similar to the Flanking Attack we saw with the Vrax in Wave 17 in that you can hit a ship that doesn't have you in it's forward firing arc, gain one attack and lose one defence die that round. Certainly the benefit of sticking him as an admiral will be huge and I can see this ability getting a lot of use across the board.

The solus Elite Action here is Prefix Code. A true classic from The Wrath of Khan it allows the player to disable two shields on an enemy ship in range one to two. It does cost you an auxiliary power token but it could let you get through to those important hull points and get rid of your opponent a little bit sooner.

In the weapons cards this time there is the obligatory Photon Torpedoes this time using the time token feature to re-enable the secondary weapon and Quantum Torpedoes. The former will convert a Battle Stations result into a critical hit while the more expensive Quantum option will add a damage point on as long as you hit your opponent. Both roll with five attack dice and work at the two to three range. Pretty standard so far on the weapons but the two cards that spice things up here are the Arsenal and Aft Torpedo Launcher upgrades. With Arsenal you add two further weapon slots to the ship plus the card takes one of your time tokens when you are re-enabling meaning you can "reload" one full turn faster. Very nice, reusable and only four Squadron Points. The rear firing arc is missing from the Phoenix which makes the Aft Torpedo Launcher useful straight away BUT the big piece is that if you couple it with Photon Torpedoes you're only restriction to firing it is not within the forward firing arc. This upgrade will go in any of your slots on the ship and certainly adds a new flavour to the ship. Imagine coupling this with Haden's ability to target a ship that doesn't have you in its forward firing arc - you could potentially end up rolling six in attack.

Moving on to the tech here and there's just one addition to the game in the form of High Energy Sensor Sweep. Disabling an active shield on your ship allows you to perform a free Scan action and combining it with the high offensive capabilities of the Phoenix will make this a hard ship to take on since it'll help reduce the opposition's chances of deflecting your firepower.

Let's not forget our two crew possibilities with the Phoenix either with Terry and Elizabeth Lense. Neither actually served on the Phoenix nor was either even in The Wounded but hey, who cares... Lense costs just one point to remove a disabled token from one of your crew or tech upgrades (but not weapons which is odd considering the offensive capabilities being pushed here) and replace it with time tokens. She is a discard but not a great cost to do so. Terry on the other hand is a four point throwaway to disable two shields and repair one hull. While it might take off a critical damage action, I'm not sure if I'd rather have two shields instead and last a little longer.

Finally alongside the standard Additional Rules cards the mission this time is The Wounded and sees the Phoenix taking out a series of Cardassian outposts before the Enterprise shows up (eight turns to do it) while avoiding obliteration from the Dominion floozies. 

So to the second ship and while you might think that the Phoenix is offensive, the Bioship Beta is very offensive. Attack Wing players tend to grump a lot about the Borg and their super-abilities which make them nigh-on invincible however Species 8472 are perhaps another matter entirely. This second retail version of the vessel from Scorpion slams a huge six for attack, two for defence with five hull and six shields. It might not pack a rear or 360 degree firing arc but it's an absolute beast topping out at 38 points just for the ship itself.

You also have the benefit of Regenerate amongst your standard actions which allows the player to top up your hull points one per round. She also carries three tech slots and two weapon slots and the unique ability to cancel one damage result during combat at the cost of receiving an auxiliary power token. Once again this shows how difficult it may well be to take this vessel out of the game given its properties.

The Bioship tops out at four but gives you every maneuver forward at two and three but there's no tight right and left at speed one plus there's an all important 180 turn at three. As to the generic bioship, you'll lose a weapon slot and a shield to reduce the cost to 36.

Species 8472 bring a generic zero point costing captain option to the table as always but their main pilot carries a skill of eight and lets you re-roll one of your blank results during combat. Fortunately there's no need to disable the card to use this ability and should the Bioship this pilot is on be destroyed (bear with me here) you can jump ship and put him onto another craft in your fleet. This is very similar (if not identical) to the ability carried by the Borg Queen.

The Species 8472 Elite Action in the expansion this time is Telepathy and allows you to change your maneuver before you move. It's a hefty cost of four points for a one shot discard and with the power of the ship anyway it might not be necessary. You can use your points more effectively elsewhere.

We have two weapon upgrades to discuss this time and it's good that neither involves the word "torpedo". The less horrific Biological Weapon does bear a pic of Harry Kim gungified and also reduces your attack role from six to five but if it hits you not only score the usual damage but you get to discard a crew upgrade for each Battle Stations result you roll (max of two). It does cost six points to tack onto your ship. I do like it but nowhere near as much as the stupidly powerful eight dice attack of Energy Blast which only has the spending of a target lock as it's sole condition. A one hit wonder it's a heavy priced discard at eight points but hey, if you're up against it this is going to make a big difference and really nails home the fact that you want to be taking these guys into battle if you know you're facing off against Borg.

In line with the significant three tech slots, Bioship Beta's expansion packs in four options;  Electrodynamic Fluid gives you the option for multiple use either to be disabled and allow a sensor echo side-slip action or be discarded and perform a second maneuver with a top speed of three. Nice to have the options and goes with the flexibility of the ship to go wherever it wants. Costing an equal five points is Biological Technology and activating this provides the chance to gain more attack or defence dice by spending mission tokens that you place on the card once per round. Basically it's a weapons recharge allowing you the occasional extra bit of "umph" to make a crucial attack. Imagine using this in conjunction with Energy Blast....

Both of those upgrades cost a steady five points while Fluidic Space and Biogenic Field cost six. Very similar to features we've seen on the Krenim Timeship and the USS Dauntless, Fluidic Space allows you to remove your ship from the playing field and place it back anywhere in the game outside of ranges one and two of any other ship. One note here is that it doesn't say to remove any tokens you might have attached to the ship as it does on other ships that can perform a similar move. It is of course a discard given the huge benefit it could bring.

The Biogenic Field on the other hand is something you can keep using as it provides an additional defence dice to the ship and three if it's the Borg taking pot-shots.If you are attacked by an enemy upgrade it even provides the chance to defend and roll a Battle Stations result to counter it. Again you get to use three dice against the overpowered cyborgs.

I have to say that the mission with the Bioship is superb. Placing a one-on-one scenario with Species 8472 already without shields and suffering one hull damage is a really good twist to the usual format and means the enemy player stands something of a chance at winning. It also offers an unusual away team opportunity I've not seen thought out in this way allowing you to win the game off-ship. Good thinking outside the box Wizkids, I hope we see more of these in the future.

So to the final ship of Wave 18 and most likely the smallest playing piece to be released to date (I suspect the Delta Flyer will be marginally bigger); Quark's Treasure. It's an utter curve ball of a ship and I wouldn't be throwing it straight into combat before completely understanding some facts about this minute expansion.

Two points is the standard across attack, defence, hull and shields here with just two crew and a single tech upgrade meaning you're not going to be putting this Ferengi shuttle on the frontline of your offensive anytime soon. The generic shuttle option will drop a shield point and a crew slot for 14 points.

Costing 16 points the shuttle will bookend two more powerful ships and only has the Scan and Evade options in it's actions bar. However, there's no penalties for any crew or tech upgrades you place onboard which makes up for something. In fact the unique action box for Quark's Treasure has a second feature letting you ignore the auxiliary power token requirements on both the Docking and Launching actions included with the ship. Unsurprisingly she's not a fast mover with a full range of maneuvers at speeds one and two but only a forward step at three. I wouldn't think you'll be letting her stray too far from the main fleet - if at all.

For such a teeny tiny ship you get a silly three choices for captain (plus Generic Ferengi zero pointer) with Brunt your strongest candidate for the top job with a Captain Skill of four. Instead of allowing you to change your attack results during combat, Brunt makes the opposing ship re-roll one of its attack dice. Plus Brunt will allow you to use the Grand Nagus Elite Action even though he doesn't have the Elite Action emblem on his card. For reference the Grand Nagus card is a brilliant fleet action allowing all Ferengi ships in range one to three to immediately perform an additional green maneuver. If ever there was a typically Ferengi action in the game apart from nicking stuff, being slimy has to be a close second.  

Quark, on the other hand to Brunt, does carry the emblem but only has a skill of three. He's also a bit of a sacrificial lamb, as he stops a ship at ranges one or two from attacking you at the cost of tossing all your upgrades overboard and means you can't attack or, in fact do anything apart from move.

Zek is your third captain who can also double up as an admiral for your Ferengi fleet. Skilled at two, Zek is a bit of a feeble card, only letting you disable an upgrade on a ship at range one at the cost of disabling one of your own upgrades. Potentially it's one that might be of more use as the admiral action than a captain given that trouble could be elsewhere. 

Rom and Nog make up the Ferengi contingent for the expansion with Odo as a random Independent crewmember. I would have liked him to have been dual faction with the Bajorans especially with his ability to copy a crew upgrade from another ship at range one to three even down to whether it has to be disabled or discarded. It's a clever twist and in keeping with the character. Rom too keeps with his screen persona allowing you to repair up to two shield tokens as an action. Joy of joys too because there's no need to keep re-enabling this card or discard after a single use. Have to say this does make Quark's Treasure a much more playable ship since there are a lot of upgrades here to keep it hanging around in the game. Nog is also pretty useful even if it is a discard to force an opponent to roll two less die in attack. Only a cost of three points though and again another way to ensure the survival of the ship.

Inversion Wave is the first of two tech upgrades on offer. While it's not quite as forgiving as Fluidic Space, it does allow a total free move to any point within a radius of three at the cost of any active tokens and you do receive an auxiliary power token and have to discard on use. Certainly all the quirky upgrades with the shuttle make her a very unique playing piece. How appealing these choices will be to players more accustomed to Romulans or Klingons I'm not certain but at the least it's keeping Attack Wing fresh after 18 waves of expansions.

Cargo Hold only costs a point and adds two crew (and/or?) tech upgrades to the shuttle. I say and/or simply because it doesn't specify if they can be mixed or it has to be two of each only. For one point this is a good choice to add on since it will give you an additional four points to spend on extras. As with Cryogenic Stasis on the IKS T'ong last month though it, again, doesn't identify if it's a combined total of four points or four points for each upgrade. Being as it's a shuttle I would tend to lean towards the former.

Now you might have noticed that we've not mentioned the second Elite Action entitled Smugglers up to now so here it is. Somewhat wordy in its description, the card costs the same as Grand Nagus at five points and lets you steal a tech or weapon upgrade from a ship within a maximum range of three. However, the big twist is that it also plays into the use of the shuttle rules which are part of this pack.

As I said at the beginning of the piece, there's some new bits in this month's selection and the shuttle rules are the biggest thing by a mile. As with the new Borg rules, shuttles can only attack at range two and can be active or inactive. They also can't be equipped with a weapon upgrade costing more than three points if allowed and can only be included in a fleet where there is a ship with a hull value higher than four.

In reference to being "inactive", this is when the shuttle is docked with another craft. Yes, that's correct you can dock 'em. When docked they are removed from the board with all the upgrades and captain card placed under the docking ship's card and that ship in turn receiving an auxiliary power token. To dock the shuttle has to overlap the docking ship on it's move rather than the other way around otherwise it receives damage. Being docked also means you can swap upgrades between the two ships as an action during the game.

When launched each craft receives another auxiliary power token and the shuttle is placed within range one of the docking ship during the planning phase. It can then move about as normal. What isn't specified is whether the shuttle can only dock with the "Capital Ship" recognised by it's hull being greater than four. As I noted, the Smugglers card does include reference to the docking action as you can use the shuttle to steal upgrades however it can't use them and has to exchange them with the docking ship which can use them. 

How this new feature will play out and what use it will be should be fun to discover. I think you could use the shuttle to dive out and perform scavenging missions while your other ships tackle the battle side of the game and distract from your plundering actions. Can't wait to try it.

The final mission of Wave 18, called Smugglers, recreates the Little Green Men episode from Deep Space Nine as Quark, with Rom, attempts to deliver Nog to Starfleet Academy on Earth but also has a sideline to transfer some kemocite to a docking ship. Playing to the episode there's also a possibility of sabotage going on aboard the Quark's Treasure which affects the maneuvering of the ship and utilises Rom to cancel the effect. Ultimately the goal of the Ferengi player is to deliver both Nog and the kemocite while evading a patrolling Federation starship. Yet another nicely thought out scenario to complete the wave. Double points to WizKids.

OK so overall I think Wave 18 has to be one of my favourites to date. Each ship is distinct, each ship has some really great features and there's nothing anywhere near as precisely situational as we saw with Wave 17's trio. Here we have two extremely offensive ships with the Phoenix and the Bioship, both playing to very aggressive tendencies which will probably satisfy my thirst for obliteration and going out in a blaze of glory. Quark's Treasure is much more subtle and a playing piece that I think will take a while for players to master and understand how to use effectively. 

Perhaps she's something more useful in bigger games with four or more ships in your fleet where different plays might allow her a bit more running freedom. As I said I think she'll be good for quick runs out to steal upgrades but will need to have some serious protection which I believe you might be able to get from the recent Kreechta Marauder to divert fire - if not I'd perhaps look at the Ning'Tao for some of Kor's more suicidal actions that would benefit the shuttle.

Have you invested in Wave 18? What are the key pieces here and have you got any tips to use them well? Let me know!

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Sunday, 20 September 2015

Experiencing a Crisis of Consciousness

Dave Galanter's latest foray into The Original Series plays heavily with Vulcan history which in turn puts Spock centre-stage. Beware SPOILERS

For the most part Galanter's novel is entertaining and sets out to explore the boundaries set by the Prime Directive. Imagine if you will that the author is prodding at it with a stick to see what happens. Indeed at the core is a traditional conflict between two species. The formerly indigenous Kenisians and the people who settled on their deserted home planet many years after they had vacated it, the Maabas. Given that this was going to be a diplomatic novel I wasn't too fussed to start reading but it's got a lot more facets below the surface.

For one the Kenisians are pretty multi-faceted themselves or more precisely consist of multiple personalities residing within each individual. It is reminiscent of the Trill but in that with that race at some point the symbiont will die. Here personalities are added to the next individual and so on and so on meaning that the more experienced members of the Kenisians have over 400 predecessors within them. Oh and they happen  to be related to the Vulcans which adds a further spin to the encounter and also allows us to revisit - in some depth - the concept of katra which came to the fore back in The Search for Spock.

Now the Maabas on the other hand are pretty boring. Their main problem is establishing a community on the wrong planet and then attempting to gain admission to the United Federation of Planets just as the Kenisians return to claim their home world; how typical.  True to form to "help"  the situation is the Maabas Federation ambassador who actually seems like she knows what she's doing for once. I know, hard to believe and I had to cover check a few times to make sure that I was reading a Star Trek novel.

While this isn't an action-adventure story, Galanter has steered away from the stereotypes you would associate with a Star Trek tale. Having a likeable and engaging ambassadorial character is a major step and changing the parameters around the planetary conflict scenario really does work here. Instead of it being a simple return-and-invade scenario, Dave Galanter has pulled in aspects which only fall into place once you understand both the oppressed and the oppressor.

I think its safe to say that the author has done an OK job but it is one of those books that may well be easily forgotten in the midst of long-awaited Deep Space Nine novel Sacraments of Fire,  the very popular continuation of the Voyager saga in Atonement and all that just off the back of the superb The Fall arc which is having repercussions right across the 24th Century literary universe in virtually every sense possible.

Y'see the trouble with the novels focusing on The Original Series is that they have nowhere to go. There can't be any main character deaths, there can't be any huge revelations to change the character of the leads because it has to all fit within the framework between Where No Man Has Gone Before and The Motion Picture. Each ends up being standalone and has to reach a certain point by its conclusion. Maybe I'm being cynical but there's really only so much more that can be done with this section of the franchise? Not that I'm saying Galanter has written a duffer by any stretch of the imagination. It's well thought out, nicely paced and has some entertaining twists and a conclusion that, while inevitable, doesn't take a straight path.

Crisis of Consciousness also splits the familiar Kirk/Spock partnership right from the start, placing the captain heading towards a conflict with a mysterious third party and Spock into the clutches of the Kenisians who are leaning on him to provide them with a super-weapon using a substance called na'hubris which is found within the mines of a nearby minefield (obviously). Placing Kirk and Spock apart works to spice up the narrative and while we know they will never kill either it's about how they deal with their individual situations. Removing the logic from one situation and the emotion from the other as always helps to emphasise the need for each in the partnership (but not so much the requirement of McCoy here I thought). Galanter's choice to focus more on a limited set of characters works much better allowing them to express themselves much more and definitely allows the guest cast to shine more effectively. 

Relegating the likes of Chekov and Uhura to background characters actually works really well for once and while they do assist within the story they don't take away from the pace of the book and Galanter even manages to find time to add in Carolyn Palamas, last seen in Who Mourns for Adonais? as a key part of the team involved with this adventure. Certainly it could have been anyone in this position but the author gives a good nod to continuity without going over the top which is one of the things that always bugs me to death when it comes to novels from The Original Series. Mr Galanter has managed to rein in the chance to over-reference and kept focused on the job in hand. I might start doing a "Khan Kount" to see how many episode references get chucked into these books in the future.

The Kenisian Zhartan is the most interesting of the guest characters here. Exploring her character(s) expands the race and also how their minds work being bombarded by numerous personalities all the time vying for control and attention. Exploring Zhartan is key to the understanding of the Kenisian people and provides some of the more nail-biting moments as we come to realise how much conflict is actually going on within each of these people - some parts agree with the decision to attack the Maabas and others are vehemently against such actions. Pippenge, the ambassador who is assisting Spock

One of the twists within the story did remind me slightly of Savage Trade which we've also recently reviewed since the actual enemy here isn't what we're led to believe in some degree. However, this doesn't take away from Crisis of Consciousness. I'll be honest I started reading this expecting to dislike it and give it a pasting. Instead I've come away pleased to have read it and actually having found it a pleasant experience. While not a novel which will be regarded as one of the greats, it's still a solid read that will entertain.

Crisis of Consciousness is available now from Simon & Schuster priced £7.99 ISBN 9781476782607.

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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Character Traits: Star Trek Timelines

Star Trek Timelines is getting me far, far too excited thanks to the constant stream of information we're receiving.

Over successive weeks we've been treated to the reveal of the Constellation Class ship, a Ferengi Marauder, more recently we've been privy to detailed information on a handful of playable characters as well as an insight into the demo from Las Vegas and much to my satisfaction, the Defiant.

The ship reveals have gone a long way to illustrating the care and attention the designers have gone to in recreating the iconic vessels and the very feel of the fabric of the Star Trek universe. The way they move, act, go to warp and appear is very appreciative of the franchise and I like the respect this shows from Disruptor Beam. I thoroughly recommend and direct you to their YouTube channel (it's not SKoST but hey, they're trying(!)) to keep up to date with what's happening and any big reveals.

Going back a little, I did mention those announced characters. Skipping through the ton of comments on Facebook it's apparent that virtually every character ever seen in Star Trek will be available (except the Wadi if you can) and in from different points in the show. At the moment we've only got a smattering of indications plus a few snap-shots of development. 

I was very fortunate to get the chance to find out more about this highly-anticipated game from Rich Gallup, exec producer for Timelines; "Right now we're preparing for Beta to invite people with a fresh set of eyes to check we're making the right decisions or tell us about stuff before launch about things we need to fix. We've been playing this game for over a year and Las Vegas was great to allow fans to see it for five minutes but now we want people to play it for hours and tell us what it's like."

Rich grew up watching The Next Generation with his family right through, dabbled with Deep Space Nine and Voyager but since working on Timelines he's re-watched the whole of The Original SeriesThe Next GenerationDeep Space NineVoyager and is currently about 12 episodes into Enterprise. "It's been great revisiting stuff that I knew, episodes that were familiar and I'm getting back up to speed on stuff I thought I knew and learning new bits on the way. Now I'm a part of the Star Trek community I was hesitant because there's this stereotype that if you love Star Trek you know the name of every single episode, every single ship and every single character but when you meet up with the people you're making this game for you realise that a lot of them had a favourite show they loved and are familiar with the rest."

As exec producer, Rich Gallup is making sure things are getting done, priority setting and people managing. "Jon Radoff is directing the game and guiding us towards a certain vision," said Rich, "making sure what he wants is what we're making and I make sure the team have the freedom to explore that vision and make sure that they're all OK!"

Each of your characters will have at least one of the core skills; Command, Diplomacy, Science, Security, Engineering or Medical which can be levelled up and will differ between characters ie. Spock is likely to be a better scientist than Malcolm Reed. Your traits and combination of characters will then affect the outcome of the missions you place them into meaning that a diplomatic situation will benefit more from having Picard manage it than sending in Worf.

The first character we saw in any detail was Captain Janeway and my impressions of the game did go up because Timelines will offer three different versions of the Voyager captain. There's Starfleet uniform Janeway, Die Hard/Macrocosm Janeway replete with phaser rifle and finally Queen Arachnia Janeway from Bride of Chaotica!. What a selection - and fortunately we've been spared Fair Haven Janeway or Victorian novel Janeway ( we would welcome Admiral Janeway!)

Each version of the captain will have its own attributes and differences making each a unique character within the game that will change outcomes dependant on which you choose or get landed with depending on your preferences.

We also got a snap of Kruge who will be turning up here and marks our only full Klingon reveal to date. While I might bemoan Wizkids for not offering him and his Bird-of-Prey as an expansion pack in Attack Wing, here we'll get the chance to add the Genesis-obsessed power-hungry commander to our ranks. Lots of honour and combat bonuses I would think with this one. The artwork does capture a really impressive likeness although I'm a bit confused by the need for him to be running so energetically and I would have liked to see him in that weighty Klingon overcoat barking into a communicator - but who knows, that may very well be a variant in the future!

One of the biggies we were shown was the action-posed Captain Kirk. A character that is as essential to this game as anti-matter is to a warp core, there will be three versions of the Enterprise captain at launch. I can only think there will be one in his movie monster maroon and another in a selected getup from The Original Series

Specialising in Command, Diplomacy and Security, Kirk is said to be an "essential" character in the game which will mean he'll cost an arm, a leg and a starship to buy and add to your crew. Apparently having him lead an away team will add in bonuses as I suspect placing him in the command chair will also do. Comparing this to the more simply imagined Trexels, you can see there is a lot more depth to the Timelines experience. Characters will be a lot more unique visually and statistically helped particularly by the greater range of skill sets available for the developers to tweak on each person - and each iteration of that person!

As a spin on that I suggested it could get more interesting when it gets to nine versions of a character but that might/might never happen (delete as applicable) however Rich and I did a mini-challenge to see if we could work out nine distinct Kirk' we did...
  1. Yellow shirt Kirk
  2. Green shirt Kirk (season one)
  3. Where No Man Has Gone Before Kirk (with phaser rifle)
  4. Season two green wraparound shirt Kirk
  5. Medical bay Kirk kicking that wall monitor device
  6. San Francisco Star Trek IV Kirk
  7. V'Ger away team Kirk
  8. The Wrath of Khan bloodied uniform Kirk
  9. Rura Penthe Kirk from The Undiscovered Country
While that was a mental minute and we could have included a ton more, Rich was clear to note that some characters may have one iteration, others perhaps three and maybe some more but it will depend on who they are. According to a reply I had from Mr Gallup on Twitter we're going to attempt 10 Picard's next time (!).

Certainly when we talk about character variants, one of the biggest has to be Spock. The Timelines blog has indicated we will get several versions of the Spock character including his later ambassador role but the one we were privvy to here is skilled as though he's just setting out on the five year mission with Kirk et al. Very, very exciting to see this reveal since Nimoy is foremost in a lot of fans thoughts given his recent passing.

Seven of Nine wearing her blue attire from the later seasons of Voyager also popped up in previews and what we do know about her abilities is that she will be skilled in Sciences and Engineering while she'll be prone to "ignore irrelevancies" which sounds very close to her on-screen character. But just who is responsible for these great images we're seeing?

Well his name is Mike Gardner, "We keep feeding him more and more and more characters and each one if better than the last." noted Rich, "It's been fun challenging him as we're making hundreds of these characters so how do you make each one distinct? The character and the costume is one thing but how do you give them personality and how do you make sure they're not all using the exact same pose? That was a lot easier to do when we were getting started but now we're so far into the game it's amazing to see the stuff he's coming up with!"

We even had two Quark's and two Sulus, notching up different attributes for both characters. While their "generic" versions are pretty cool I was far more impressed and genuinely surprised by the announcement of Naked Time Sulu with his fencing sword and Klingon Quark from Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places. "Everyone needs to have shirtless Sulu!" noted Rich, revealing that the design team, led by David Heron as the main designer, are the ones coming up with the character variants along with Tim Crosby and Jessica Sliwinski. I did ask if there might be a Mirror Sulu and a USS Excelsior captain Sulu to which there wasn't a 'No' but neither was there a 'Yes'!

Uhura has also been granted two versions in the opening salvos of Timelines with a classic look (as a lieutenant) and also one that fans will instantly remember from The Search for Spock where she's faced with putting "Mr Adventure" in the closet. Again the graphics are just sublime and the chosen quotes work exceptionally well with the images. The movie-era Uhura also gives us our first look at how the team have recreated the jacket-style uniform. I've swung the pic in later so you can take a look but I think it looks really good as does the Type II phaser - yep, even got the right weapon type for the right movie. OK Clive, stop fanboying out over this stuff. Now....

"It's a tricky balance because up front you need all the characters everyone loves. we'll have most of those but we do need some back for post-launch content. Then we have the skills and traits which we build onto the core characters. Then we look beyond those and look at what we need. Using variants means we can fill those holes and make sure each character feels distinct. The trait system means that there might be a mission where you need a Ferengi mixing it up in a fight which would be the Klingon version of Quark. We discussed a second Quark and who that second Quark was going to be."

Rich asked me if there was another version of Quark I could have suggested and with a quick head-scratch I was a bit stumped on the spot however I did state that it was best Timelines avoided the Profit and Lace variant. I have begged for it to be struck. "I did suggest to David that it could have been a little different and gone to Kahless Quark," added Rich, "as in the episode there's a moment where Quark and his love re-enact the great Klingon myth and he's dressed as Kahless. There is the possibility that that might come in later!"

The more I see of this game, the more I'm desperate for Autumn (Fall) to get here and this to be released. As a Star Trek game it looks stunning but the real test will be in the gameplay, how your characters work together and how they affect the path you choose to take on missions. Timelines certainly is promising a lot - locations, ships, duty stations, away missions, a plethora of characters I can only begin to imagine, individual stats...and that's just off the top of my head. I would think that there's a heck of a lot more we're not being told with this drip-fed info keeping us from asking some of the more in-depth questions!

But hey, that's not all. Heading to the Las Vegas convention the Timelines team managed to acquire the services of one John de Lancie to help them promote the soon-to-be-released game and showcase their ship battles element. 

The first mission we've seen is the one demoed at Las Vegas and featuring the vocal tones of De Lancie and opens with Q greeting you at the anomaly which bleeds all the timelines into one thanks to the intervention of some pesky Romulans. As a starting level it'll be very hard to get yourself killed but choosing the wrong option could well make your game end in tears, "As you progress you will need to level up and if you're attempting a level where you're not powerful enough you'll lose and have to do it again."

Later into the demo the player heads up against the Mirror Universe Worf so instead of matching wits with Q and the Romulans there might well be more fisticuffs in that part! Given that a lot of mobile/Facebook games only tend to focus on a single factor be it characters or ships, the combination of the two is a master-stroke. It could also have been very dangerous to tackle so many different parts of the Star Trek universe but the initial vids we're seeing offer evidence contrary to that possibility.

"Each ship has different stations and you can assign different crew to them," continued Rich, "These show up as actions in your action bar and determine how your ship acts. The best way to upgrade your ship will be to upgrade your crew and slot them into the appropriate spot."

The latest reveal of the USS Defiant was, well, revealing, showing us the detail the team have gone into ensuring that she has her trademark pulse phase cannons plus that all important cloaking device. From the video on their channel it's apparent that the team have made sure they are giving fans what they want - even down to the correct number of photon torpedo launchers and colour of the phaser beams. What all the gubbins around the screen represent I can't say but finding out is going to be a lot of fun! The Defiant is my favourite ship from the franchise so to see her so painstakingly recreated here is brilliant to see. Also a cool touch that she's the only one in her class with the cloaking ability if we go by the comments from the Facebook page. Again, it's all about that essential attention to detail which is keeping me hooked.

One thing that fans and followers of Timelines have picked up on was a one-off joke that you could assign Locutus of Borg to Ten-Forward. I can assure you this is still possible, heck you could make Martok your Chief Medical Officer (one-eyed or Changeling version?!).

Martok is one of my favourites but I also can't wait to see what they do with Sisko. "David Heron our chief designer is a big Deep Space Nine fan," said Rich, "so you can be assured that every main character is well represented in our launch package."

Reaction has been really good to the game so far, "People love it to the point that makes me nervous!" joked Rich, "We have a vision to achieve and it's been great to show people early versions of the game. I think they can see the promise of it and really hope they love it as much when we show the final version! Hopefully what they picture  is what we picture. We hope we have good game-play and a variety of game-play and a ton of Star Trek for all fans."

"All our testing has been on mobile devices as that's our lead platform but we will be porting it onto the web in some way; definitely Facebook. Game of Thrones Ascent started as a Facebook game and we ported it over to mobile and found that both player bases are equally competitive and viable. It has been as challenging as other projects," continued Rich, "but we won't know if all the work has paid off until we reach Beta (testing) and more people have played the game."

In comparison to Timelines I've felt that Alien Domain or Trexels have focused on one aspect of the Star Trek universe be it space combat or away missions but here in this game there is a serious mix of a lot of elements. "A lot of that came from John Radoff," explained Rich, "He wanted this game to look absolutely gorgeous and he wanted to be able to explore 3D space. That led us down the path to make sure the game looks as good as it does. In terms of the game-play that was through a development project and we wanted to be very true and authentic to the original material. 

"We wanted impressive ship battles but we also wanted other methods for solving problems because Star Trek isn't just about space combat. That's why we have conflicts which is a much more abstract/choose-your-own-adventure style where you can choose to resolve matters with a combination of individuals through a series of trials. We tried a lot of different game-play systems and variations for types of skills and we felt that that was spreading us very thin. Eventually it led us to the current system which ties it all together."

Rich noted that players will want to replay missions again and again to open up different paths determined by which crew members they assign to which challenge and therefore open up more parts of the game tree. "We always wanted a lot of options," verified Rich, "because we know that the Star Trek fan-base is incredibly diverse and we want to make sure that everyone can not only find their favourite characters but can also resolve situations in a way that they would prefer."

There will be a lot of scenarios available at launch with more to come later; "This won't be a game you can complete in half an hour," reassured the exec producer, "We want you to be playing it for hours and hours and as soon as possible we will release new content. For example, Game of Thrones Ascent has been out for two and a half years and we're been releasing new quest content every week. We know how to produce good content consistently. I can't say how much there will be for Star Trek or how often because Timelines plays very differently."

What about Rich's biggest success and at the opposite end, his biggest challenge? Is there something that's been keeping him awake at night? Causing hot sweats (OK I took that to an extreme)?, "It's making a game that Star Trek fans love because we're approaching 50 years of it being around and we've only been making this game for less than two. We've been trusted by our friends at CBS and challenged by the community to make something that is worth their time, love and attention. It's a little terrifying but I think we've been the team to take it on and from the reaction we're proving that we can be trusted to make the next great Star Trek game."

BIG thanks to Rich Gallup and the team at Disruptor Beam for their help with this article and for all the images used.

Are you as excited as I apparently am over Timelines? Which character are you most anticipating? Which ship?

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