Friday, 29 October 2021

Three Faction Fleet: Updating Attack Wing Reviews

Deep in the depths of the internet you can still hear them... the lost expansion packs...the last ones roaming free in the wild...

Problem is that most of those aren't exactly super collectible and if you do want one of those rarer than rocking horse doo doo ones you'll be waiting for a delivery from Australia.

Anyway, I've caught three more to fill out the collection this month and all of them are fairly ancient in Attack Wing terms.

The classic Romulan Bird-of-Prey from Balance of Terror (plus the remastered The Enterprise Incident) is a real gem and one I’ve wanted for a while to be able to run TOS themed games with more than just Federation and Klingon ships.

The model itself retains the simple grey paint job of the Wah Chang design plus that stunning bird decal across the bottom. This might be basic, but it’s a nice model that works because there aren’t any complex details. 

So to the cards and the IRW Gal Gath'Thong sports two attack points, two for defence, three hull and two shield points placing as quite a fragile ship if you play it against any of the 24th Century armada. Equipped with Evade, Target Lock, Cloak and Sensor Echo Actions, the Bird of Prey can also add up to two Crew and two Weapon slots. On big benefit here is the ability to fire Plasma Torpedoes while cloaked without the need for a Target Lock. This saves an Action to use for something else (I'd suggest Evade!) while also packing a four dice attack which we will come to shortly.

Movement wise she's not too difficult to swing about with a full set of turns and banks at speed two and three plus a Come About (red) manoeuvre at speed three. Top speed maxes out at fur and you can also bank at speed one. Given the cloaking ability and the use of the torpedoes I think this is well balanced.

If you choose the generic version you'll lose the Unique Action as well as a Shield point and a Weapon slot for a cost of 16 points versus 18 for the named ship.

There's only one named Captain with this expansion in the form of Marc Lenard's Romulan Commander. Costing five points, he does offer up an unusual two Elite Action slots as part of his seven Skill. As an Action the Romulan Commander will allow you to attack first but with the charge of an Auxiliary Power Token. Very costly when it comes to moves since you'll have to perform something at speed one or a straight two to get that removed.

Plasma Torpedoes can be target locked to a target if you don't have the Unique Action of the Gal Gath'Thong and at ranges one and two this can hit an opponent with four attack dice. This costs three points as does Nuclear Warhead. 

The expectation would be for this to provide a kick-ass dice roll of five but instead it launches the Minefield token at the end of the Activation Phase and any ship that runs into it rolls three attack dice and receives Damage or Critical Damage as normal without defending. Brutal and also an ongoing effect, I would want to have both this and the Torpedoes aboard the Bird of Prey given their ferocity and ease of use.

As for Crew the Centurion is oddly cheaper (four points) than the Romulan Officer (five points). However his ability is only to be discarded if another Crew or the Captain were to be removed from play - effectively a sacrificial card if you have something better available not to lose!

The Romulan Officer is also a discard and adds two die to your attack if it is begun while cloaked. A great card to use in conjunction with the Gal Gath'Thong itself and the Torpedoes card however it removes any chance to defend so it might be a final, big offensive move if you do.

As there are two Elite Action slots with the Romulan Commander there are also two Elite Action cards in the pack. The five point Double Back (not a reference to ZZ Top's single) Allows players to perform a one or two reverse move after performing a Sensor Echo at the cost of discarding it. This is a neat chance to get out of trouble especially if you're planning on a big attack.

Decoy (four points) gets discarded along with ne Weapon or Tech upgrade to force an opponent to roll three less attack dice in the round but it has to be played before any rolls have been made. I expected the discard here to be a Crew card which would bring the Centurion into play so having a Tech option on there is odd since this pack doesn't have one. 

The Destroy the Outposts mission recreates the classic Balance of Terror story with the Romulans tasked with destroying two Federation Neutral Zone outposts while all the opposing player needs to do is destroy the Bird of Play. It's a solid one versus one scenario that will really test the pack and see if you can outwit a Starfleet ship.

Now to our second arrival and the Bajoran Interceptor Five. First seen in the capable hands of Kira Nerys in DS9's The Siege, the small fighter is a tiny but well painted up miniature with the panelling distinctly marked up. It's not super pretty however the result and the work on this one are decent enough given the size of the playing piece. In fact it's easily the best looking Bajoran item in the game but that's not saying a lot.

Rocking a less than boot shaking 16 point cost, the Interceptor boasts two Attack, three Defence, three Hull...and no Shields so don't expect to have this one around too long in a game. Operating with the Evade, Target Lock, Scan and Battle Station Actions, the ship also has slots for one Weapon, Crew and Tech upgrade. As for its Unique Action, it's one that will only come into play in very, very specific circumstances. The Interceptor takes no damage overlapping planets, obstacles or ship bases so a great ship to use in tight skirmishes and asteroid fields but not necessarily in lots of open space. Maybe with the Bajorans as a subset of the Federation now, this would be ideal to use as a minor support ship.

The generic version loses no Shields but doesn't have Scan or a Crew slot - however it still costs 16 points which makes using the generic version pretty pointless unless you're equipping a fleet of these things.

Nor is it the fastest craft you'll play but it makes up for that with stunning manoeuvrability at speeds one and two with no penalty for Come Abouts. At speed three it can only bank and move forwards so don't expect to get out of anything sticky too quickly.

Building on the close combat and obstacle-friendly nature of the Interceptor, Hazar would be your first Captain option (four points). Skilled to seven and with an Elite Action slot, he forces enemy ships to attack with one less die if your ship is within range one of a planet or an obstacle. This mirrors the Interceptor's better manoeuvrability in atmosphere where it can strike back harder with less consequences.   Option two for Captain is the two point Lenaris Holem. With a skill level of three, Lenaris allows you to re-roll a defence die if you have an Evade token in play. Brilliantly this again builds on the smaller, nippier nature of the Interceptor and makes this pack one that may well be very underrated and under estimated. 

Fitting into the tight second seat for the Bajoran ship can be either Neela (five points) or Anara (three points). Neela is the big attack card of the set. Targeting a ship at range one to three, three dice are rolled and if at least one Critical Damage comes up then the opposing craft receives that result. If the attack works the card is discarded but if not then it's only disabled allowing an odd second shot!

Anara does shore up the defences of this ship. Remember that it's got minimal hull to begin with and ZERO Shields so her ability to repair a Hull point is nigh-on essential to the longevity of the Interceptor. Given it's more about moves, there's only one Weapon upgrade with Phaser Strike which increases your firepower to 3 attack dice. 

It also acts as though your Captain is skilled to ten and works up to range three. Fortunately it's a card which is disabled after use and so can be reused repeatedly. It can only be attached to a ship with a Hull of three or less and costs four points to install. If it's not the Interceptor you fit it to, Phaser Strike costs an additional five points (that's a silly nine!!!)

Over with the Tech, Maneuverability is a hefty five points to purchase which is just to pay off the amount of text on the card. It also explains why there's an additional move template in the pack. If you reveal a one sharp left or right or a Come About, you can implement the new move but it is treated as a Red Maneuver although if it overlaps a planet there are no penalties and you GAIN a die in defence. As with Phaser Strike, the cost is an extra five points if you fit this to anything but an Interceptor. However , what a move to pull off and one that has no downside or need to be disabled or discarded!

Warp Drive Refit is, to be fair, almost as good and costs two points in comparison. If you reveal a three maneuver you can up it to a four. Unsurprisingly it can only be purchased for a ship that doesn't have a four as one of its speeds. 

Finally there's the Elite Action, Militia (three points). A discard, it allows you to place a Battle Station token into play even if the ship already has one in play at the start of Combat. If it's on a Bajoran ship then that craft gains an extra two attack dice on the first attack using this ability. 

The Interceptor pack abilities are surprisingly good and certainly make it useful in close combat and scenarios where obstacles and planets come into play as it will be unheeded by these items. 

As for the mission, Blockade recreates the Bajoran face off with the Romulans as featured in DS9's seventh season Shadows and Symbols. Each player has a maximum point spend of 100 while the Bajorans cannot field a ship with a Hull of greater than three. The Romulan player is tasked with placing three mission tokens (representing Launch Sequencers) onto the Bajoran moon. The Bajorans cannot attack until one of the mission tokens from the Romulans is placed on the moon. Nor can the Romulans attack until they are themselves attacked.

To win, the Bajorans must prevent three sequencers from being placed while the Romulans win by completing the task and then exiting the playing field via their starting spot. Sound easy? You've got eight rounds to do it in!

Third and last for this time is the D'Kyr Vulcan starship. After first acquiring the Ni'Var and then the Vulcan Faction Pack, I've developed quite a liking for this group. The D'Kyr itself is a decent kick-ass ship attacking with three dice, defending with one with five Hull points and four Shields for a cost of 26 points. Now in my opinion that's a decent base to start with only increased by the fact that if you attack from range three with this ship you can add an extra attack die. Why would you not want something that offers exceptional long range?

Coming stocked with the standard Evade, Battle Stations, Target Lock and Scan, the D'Kyr can also include two Tech slots plus a Weapon and a Crew upgrade. This is one decent pack just from the off!

The generic version loses a Shield, a Tech upgrade and the Unique Action for only a two point reduction at 24 points. Where she does fall a little is in the movement ability. Maxing out at speed four, the D'Kyr suffers from red hard left and rights at speeds two and three although it does offer full banking at these speeds plus a one reverse (although that's also red).

The shallow banking can be a challenge if you're looking to spin for a quick attack meaning your aft will be vulnerable as there is no rear firing arc. 

Soval is your top pick for Captain with a skill of seven and costing four points. He can also, as you might expect, field an Elite Action. Soval's ability lets him remove a Scan or Battle Station token from an enemy ship at range one although given the weapon abilities on the D'Kyr it might be wise to use him on another ship in your fleet - maybe a small support ship to cause havoc amongst the lines. This action will incur an Auxiliary Power Token when used however, potentially stilting your moves even more to regain the Action ability.

Tavek is a dull "Add a Crew upgrade" card but only costs two points with a skill of three so nothing much to see here. For your Crew, T'Pol will let you reroll up to two defence die if you have a Scan token in play that will certainly slow down any damage. and costs a mere three points. Muroc is little more expensive at four points and is discarded to activate. 

Targetting a ship at range one or two players roll two attack dice and for every Damage or Critical Damage result you can disable an active Shield and if it's a Cloaked ship then a Damage result flips its token. 

As for Weapons, the D'Kyr comes laden with Photonic Weapon for three points which increases the ship's attack to four at ranges two and three. Acting like a Photon Torpedo, it does require the spending of a Target Lock but can be fired forward or back and even provides a re-roll of one blank result. That's a lot more flexibility than Torpedoes ever provide and it can be reused. Aft Particle Beam is significantly cheaper at just one point and allows for a rear firing attack with three dice. It works at any range and doesn't require the use of a Target Lock which I think makes this a brilliant addition to any Vulcan craft capable of firing backwards.

On the Tech front, the five point Sensor Grid can be discarded to target a friendly ship within range three and both you and the target ship receive a Scan and an Auxiliary Power Token. But what's the point? Well, every cloaked ship within range one or two of your ship must then flip its cloak to the red side, effectively making them a much easier target. Another must have card but only if Cloak is a feature of your opponent!

Auxiliary Control Room costs three points and would work nicely with Sensor Grid seeing as it can be disabled to remove an Auxiliary Power Token at any time (those three key words).  Not much more to say on that as it's useful to keep you in the action and able to perform, well, Actions.

Finally the sole Elite Action is Vulcan High Command. Pumping an extra two Upgrade slots onto your ship (Crew or Tech; your call), it can only be equipped to a Vulcan Captain on a Vulcan ship. If the captain is lost then you have to discard any excess upgrades until it comes within the restrictions of the ship itself. Honest opinion on this; I wouldn't bother. Five points is a lot to add slots on when you're playing points capped games. If you were maxing out a ship then yes, but it's rare that situation would come around.

As a bonus, the D'Kyr comes with a single player scenario in which it must find out what happened to an Earth ship with a Vulcan crewmember and rescue it. On arrival the Vulcans discover that the Suliban are to blame and it's a race to save the Earth ship and get it back to safety with any evidence it might carry. For those of us with few opportunities to play, this is a great chance to be able to test out strategies and dust off a few ships. Well worth an investment!

The D'Kyr is a strong ship especially considering it's from the Enterprise era and outclasses both the Romulan and Bajoran ships here by some distance even before using the upgrades. However, there's something very tempting about pulling out the Gal Gath'Thong for  bit of classic Star Trek battle action. In fact it would go well against the Gorn, Tholians or even a D-7 or NCC-1701 - lots of options for an Original Series face off!

Next up we'll be retro-reviewing the Gor Portas, IRW Haakona and the IKS Somraw...

You can check out all our Attack Wing reviews over on the Gaming Section!

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Thursday, 28 October 2021

First First Contact: Lower Decks S02 E10

With the prospect of a move to another ship, Captain Freeman has one final mission to conduct as commander of the USS Cerritos.

That's to escort Captain Sonya Gomez (Q Who, Samaritan Snare) to first contact in the Laap System. 

While the return of Lycia Naff to voice TNG's Gomez is a big win for the series finale, it still doesn't quite hit the pace of previous entries this year.  The crew's displeasure of Freeman's imminent departure is quite funny with the senior staff all spitting their dummies out but then uniting with the crew when disaster strikes the USS Archimedes captained by Gomez.

Take also the storyline that Tendi thinks she's being transferred and you have a decent enough episode. There are some good references in here to - Captain Styles for one, the appearance of a Captain's Yacht for another. If you want a massive, head explosing one, check out Boimler's passion for Captain Freeman Day (it's really for the kids) or more spectacularly - Cetacean Ops!!! I mean, this is something that's been in Star Trek since the Enterprise-D but has never been seen. Here, thanks to the blank canvas, it's finally onscreen with some very narky and nudity obsessed dolphins.

But again, it doesn't feel overwhelmed by the references as it did at one point mid-season which ultimately failed the show and caused, in my opinion, a slight deterioration in the quality of the stories. The distractions here are minimal and are much more focused on the efforts of the crew to rescue the Archimedes when it is damaged and spinning towards the world that is their heading for first contact.

Plus we do see the indigenous people for once which adds a little element of "realism" and danger to the story. Previously - Generations being a good example - viewers never had the chance to see what was at stake (we never got to see Veridian III).

The mother/daughter dynamic in the show has gone through a big change a well since this point in season one. With the pair now acknowledging each other and working together when they're not falling out, there's a new slant on the stories and a bit more humanising. 

But don't be lured into believing that this episode is going to round events off as No Small Parts did for season one. For Rutherford there's a big reveal around his character and the cyborg implant while the ending leaves a big question mark around someone else.

This season finale does work a lot better than the already great end to season one and the batch feels more complete. The decision to include a cliff-hanger not just seals the deal for another year but confirms that while Lower Decks can be a little crazy, haphazard and certainly off the wall when it comes to Star Trek, it can still pull in the drama and offer up some questions all at the same time.

As for the Sonia Gomez inclusion; it's nice but not overwhelming when it comes to the episode and great to see another figure from the early days of TNG getting a bit more recognition which seems to be another nuance of Lower Decks - giving the lesser elements of the franchise a decent airing (looking at you The Final Frontier).

This might not be the highest point of the second season but it rounds off the year with the level of quality that Lower Decks has, for the most part, maintained since the first episode some three months ago. For now it stands as the jewel in the Kurtzman era crown. Is there anything coming that can surpass it? 

ALSO check out our full set of season one and two reviews HERE!

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Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Star Trek: A Celebration

Following on from the successful Voyager: A Celebration, HeroCollector has gone back to the beginning.

So what can we learn about The Original Series that hasn't been written? Hasn't been said?  More than you might expect.

Taking us right back to the very beginning of the franchise, A Celebration chooses wisely to sprinkle over the origins of the show and heads into much more focused territory. Instead of endless pages narrating that same history over and over we have interviews with key figures from the early days of the show plus retrospectives on some of the less well publicised individuals involved.

For example, several of the Enterprise crew from The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before get their share of the limelight for once and provide new and unexpected accounts of their brief time as part of the galactic franchise.

It's a big indication from the very start that this is not going to try and re-tread already well walked paths but try a new approach and one which is much more personable than we have seen for a good while. The Compendium  is a good book blocked out with episodes and trivia; Roddenberry's The Making of Star Trek with Stephen E Whitfield is incredibly detailed when it comes to production yet here we have something different that slots nicely into the library.

This is about the people who made it happen both on and off the screen whether it's the once-seen and much publicised phaser rifle or Grace Lee Whitney's story in her own words, it's a quality read to absorb.

The variety within this TOS entry is a big factor in its draw. The further in, the further it takes the reader through the three seasons of the show and also into the background of the series. The resources available for this are considerable and looking at the bibliography and thanks, there has been an extensive level of work from Robinson and Spelling to cover TOS from multiple angles. 

So who was responsible for the miniskirt? What about THAT kiss? Who was Gary Seven's cat? Yes, all of these and more are answered to a degree and even now this book highlights just how much has been forgotten, become myth, urban legend or elevated even higher. Does it manage to separate the fact from the science fiction? Maybe.

It is difficult to do something different with such a property as notes but this production does attempt to do just that. It’s not a case of no stone unturned and more of picking that stone up in a different manner and reassessing at another landmark year in its legacy. There's no doubting the work that has gone into A Celebration and even though this is a fresh approach, you do at times still know that history is repeating itself. There are stories you've heard before but somehow in one or two occasions there is a new perspective on the moment.

This is a book though more about how real people made Star Trek work behind the scenes. It does dispense with some of the gripes and negativity that existed around the third season particularly and chooses to focus more on the positives and what each of the "lesser known" personalities brought to the show. We even get to spotlight model work, production, costumes and writers. Maybe all of these could have done with more page space but if you want a real deep dive refer to the books noted above.

A Celebration does, consequently celebrate everything good about those three significant seasons in TV history and some of the ripples that came off it. If not offering 100% new material, Spelling and Robinson have tweaked and polished for something that feels different and would be ever so accessible for new viewers of The Original Series.

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Wednesday, 20 October 2021

One Big Shuttle: Delta Flyer XL


After the amazement of the Enterprise-B I wasn't sure if there was anything else left in the tank but then the Delta Flyer arrived and the whole range of larger scale craft made total sense.

Admittedly Voyager and by proxy the Flyer were never among the most revered of ships in Star Trek but in this case I couldn't say no. Along with the Runabout (up for apologetically late review next), this model exemplifies why the XL line exists and also that there are certain craft which will benefit even more than you expect from an increase in scale.

Featuring in the latter half of Voyager, the super shuttle was something of an enigma when it came to entering and leaving the ship but hey, there was a lot of room in that bay for all the other support craft too, right?

Let's put this one into perspective though. It's a mammoth size craft that packs out its box and has some of the best close-up detail that Eaglemoss has produced to date.  Some of it is more subtle. In some instances the lines almost blend with the paint while, towards the rear in particular, the panelling is very pronounced with the coloured grey/green Borg highlights emphasising the exposed parts. These elements do look a little blotchy on closer inspection and don't quite carry off the vibrant and pulsing nature of the ones onscreen.

What I did notice is slight flaking of the paint around the side windows of the cockpit but aside from that, the finish is pretty good. Eaglemoss have chosen to include translucent bussard collectors and warp grilles on the Delta Flyer although the former do look very plasticky (which they are) and manage to make the join line between the upper and lower hull sections fairly obvious. 

The joint line is clearly shown in the photos here and traces round the engines, skirting onto the upper hull only briefly. The join line underneath isn't as blatant with the underside from the flat end of the nose to the angled rear hatch as a single plastic insert. Big does in this case mean better and highlights the smaller detail such as the impulse engines which gain a it of colour. The forward deflector is tiny and because of a lack of illumination opportunity loses some of its depth.

In reference to the underside, the panelling is strong although the occasional Borg/Starfleet callouts do lack a little definition as on the upper side but what I do like - and is the same on the top - is the ridged effect on the phaser strips. 

The overall effect of the Delta Flyer is fantastic and trounces the original tenfold. The scale lends itself to the smaller ships (Runabout incoming) and with no extraneous parts this one is built to last. Definitely one to display and a ship that deserved the XL treatment to really show off its lines. The only downpoint here is that any of the Borg or exterior "live" sections don't have as strong a presence off the screen since they cannot be animated.

The magazine covers off the design work behind the Flyer with some highly detailed concepts. It's good to see how much made it from design to screen here and again from screen into the model which has to be one of the most accurate. Great to see the final CG also included in here for a proper comparison that highlights that lack of illumination especially around the warp engines. Why the magazine also includes repeat work on the Aeroshuttle - which had its own issue of the original collection - is unnecessary and acts as the in-series apology for the lack of its inclusion for seven seasons. 

Check out all our Starships posts HERE

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Monday, 18 October 2021

Galactic Proportions: USS Enterprise NCC-1701-J XL

 The largest Enterprise never to grace the screen works to a degree as an XL replica.

As with all the preceeding XLs, this started life in the regular size collection but is well known for its fragile nacelles and pylons. As a gigantic starship - that only appeared on a background display - the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-J could do with being an XXL to allow some of the details on the hull to really breath.

The largest ship to date to be sized up, the Enterprise-J model is beautiful but just seems to hit the mark because even this scale doesn't really suit it.

Formed almost entirely in metal, the J looks great and Eaglemoss have tried to push the envelope further with it, raising the window blockings and adding much more surface aztec detailing on the base layer of the elliptical primary hull. The centre marking does look like a sticker and perhaps cheapens the finish over all. Nor do all of the window markings line up with

One issue I have faced with mine is that the hammerhead piece that sweeps out to the front and carries the ship registry is loose ad wobbles a bit. I'm hoping this is limited to just this model and not the whole production run. There are also a couple of surface blemishes on that piece which are noticeable only because it's such a smooth section of the ship.

It's also really hard to properly judge the model versus the "actual" ship since it's only on a LCARS display but it feels as good a reproduction to Doug Drexler's concept as it could be. The usual images of the J do suggest it's darker but that's space for you, after all, it's black.

Tracing back along the hull, the J has a distinct spine that leads back to the warp field generator (blue dot) and then forks out to the warp engines. While the front of this model is sold and metal as indicated, the rear still looks incredibly fragile. The central supporting structure is fully connected into the primary hull but the pylons are still almost non-existent.

Their attachment to the equally threadbare engines is better than on the regular sized edition but the scale again doesn't seem to be super strong. But - the upper sections of the engines are actually a moulded part of the metal frame with translucent warp grilles and bussard collectors attached into them. 

This works 100 times better but it still all looks scarily haphazard. Yes, I know if it was scaled up more we would see that it's probably the chunkiest and most well constructed Enterprise ever but when you shrink it, not everything works perfectly.

However, frustrations of scale aside, this is decently finished aside from the piece of loose bodywork. I can live with that and a blob of glue will no doubt erase the problem completely. The design is revolutionary, very forward thinking although not enough to have detached nacelles (that's not a point to debate here!!!). Lined up with her predecessors you do lose something because of the variances in scale. 

Yes, there are inherent design similarities most directly between the NX-01 and the J and this is a canon Enterprise yet it still feels oddly - and perhaps should - out of place. I kind of like the design and Eaglemoss have done the ship a lot more justice and respect for choosing to upscale her. Maybe the only issue is that at full price there isn't a lot of ship there for your money as you would expect from a C or a D but that's the nature of the game I guess.

There's a good chunk in the magazine covering the design of the Universe Class starship. From initial sketches through to unused concepts, it's followed with a decent write up on Doug Drexler's ship designs. Drexler' work covered here but isn't limited to, the NX-01, Voyager, the Romulan Shuttle and Borg Tactical Cube. The interesting part here is the mix of sketches and early CG work plus some final images from Drexler's work that has been used in the Ships of the Line calendar.

The NCC-1701-J Special Issue is ok at best. Suitably bigger but for a design that was never actually onscreen it's  not one I would have said was a necessity. Aside from one slight build issue this is however a well-constructed replica yet not one of the finest in the XLs.

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

wej Duj: Lower Decks S02 E09

After labelling last week's Lower Decks as a landmark I'll take a second breath in.

This one surpassed it.

The first episode ever to be titled in Klingon (even on screen), wej Duj marked another step outside of the bounds that confine regular series but can be easily accomplished through animation.

Instead of just isolating this week's story to a single spot, the Cerritos, Lower Decks has branched out to show us life on a Klingon vessel and a Vulcan science ship with spectacular results.

But wej Duj is much, much more clever than you initially give it credit because not only does it spike off into different tales but it also ties into established storylines from the series and make a heck of a lot of sense.

What this episode succeeds at doing is expanding the Lower Decks corner of the Star Trek universe. It feels as though the series has become more than just one ship. There's still that nudge and wink formula, the in jokes and action but this episode feels alive with growth and not an over reliance on the background easter eggs. I appreciated the story more, found that I connected with the characters and was more engrossed than before because the important points were kept to the front of the screen and I wasn't trying to focus massively on the backgrounds. This felt like a more rounded entry to the series and one where the main plot captured my attention from the start. Unusually I may have to go back and watch wej Duj a second time to pick up on all the hidden "nods" that I missed on first viewing.

The choice of characters aboard the Klingon and Vulcan ships help make this a top level episode. Aboard the Klingon Bird of Prey Che'Ta' we have aspiring captain Ma'ah who is given all the dog-awful (and I mean that sincerely) tasks on the ship; disposing of the old dead captain and walking the targ being just two. Over on the Vulcan Sh'Vaal, T'Lynn is stepping outside the bounds of logic and starting to do her own thing which is, frustratingly, illogical. 

The story on the Cerritos, focusing on Boimler attempting to find himself a senior officer best friend doesn't seem to be going anywhere however it's more important seeing how the other members of the lead Lower Decks quartet spend their time while waiting for the ship to reach its destination. Over the 12 hour trip T'Ana and Tendi go rock climbing, Rutherford joins Shaxs at a pottery class and Mariner puts in some mum time.  Note the chunk of references to Star Trek V in here - once again seems that McMahan and co really like to nod to that movie!

wej Duj works in not only broadening the vision of the series but also continuing the running Pakled story which seems to be an undercurrent of both seasons one and two. While not an overpowering element of the show it's interesting to see this pop up again and again.

What is also super successful is in the execution of the Vulcan and Klingon scenes. The animation and backgrounds aside, the practicalities aboard the two ships are just as you would hope and expect. Yes, there is a Lower Decks slant in terms of humour but the two craft run almost diametrically opposite to each other; order and chaos if you will; but with both somehow maintaining structure. 

Overall a good episode for the series with lots to get stuck into in terms of characters and stories. Both the lead Klingon (Ma'ah) and lead Vulcan (T'Lynn) thoroughly deserve to turn up again in future episodes and it might even be a suggestion to focus an episode on each of them and away from the Cerritos

Definitely a season highlight and one that didn't overindulge in fan service for the sake of it.  

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Thursday, 14 October 2021

The Kelvin Associates: USS Armstrong, USS Newton and USS Mayflower

Destroyed only minute after they appeared, the Kelvin fleet has made a first appearance in diecast form.

For fans of the 2009 film will recall that the Enterprise was not alone on its mission to evacuate Vulcan but was the only surviving craft.

Over the next few months Eaglemoss will be releasing three Kelvin Timeline starships. The USS Newton and the USS Mayflower will be following with the USS Armstrong hitting the online shop this week. 

Delayed for a month, the Armstrong has a lot of familiar features in place. There's the saucer connected to two nacelles at either edge, no secondary hull and that rollbar carrying weapons or whatever might be needed for the mission. In essence this is a beefed up Miranda Class with a third, longer nacelle planted in the middle of the ship's underside.

As you become aware from the magazine, the metallic finish is to age the ship and ensure that the Enterprise stood out against the rest of the fleet. If the Armstrong is older though, how come its registry number is NCC-1769? Anyhow, numerals aside, this is a decent little model with a fantastic paint finish that reflects a more industrial perception of the universe in the Kelvin Timeline.

The weathered effect on the metal works as well as it has on Shuttles 4 (which we discussed recently) and what I like there is the continued theme across this range of ships. You know where they're from and they all physically and visually link together. Oddly the Enterprise stands out like a sore thumb being shiny white!

But let's stick with the Armstrong here. The registry on the saucer is super legible namely because it's huge. Both the name and number are edged red but overall the detailing on the hull is basic to say the least. You can make out possible phaser emplacements and the RCS thrusters are just about visible but that's it. The bridge module is recognisable but you can see how far they modellers needed to go when they were making the Kelvin fleet since there's not a lot of very intricate detail anywhere. In fact, we know from the magazine that the fleet itself was a mix of bits reworked for the few craft we got to see.

The top of the saucer is rendered in metal with the engines, the ventral saucer section and the rollbar all plastic addons. The engines do have a familiar feel to them as well since they are almost identical to the one found on the USS Kelvin. The third is longer and just a stretched version of the other two. Detail again is sketchy at best but you can make out the exhaust points and the bustard collectors. Sadly the latter are just moulded parts of the ship due to their scale. 

In all honesty though, the Armstrong leaves me a little cold and has also let a tiny bit of concern in as to the quality of the upcoming Newton and Mayflower. It’s an OK model but there have been many far superior replicas done on this scale since day one of the original collection. Even the multiple Miranda variants have been more impressive and this, while it’s a rare chance to see the Kelvin universe fleet, just doesn’t match the Prime Universe quality in any way. I’d be as bold as to say that it shows up just how much of a cut and paste job the other ships in Starfleet were.

The magazine didn’t fair too well with me either. There’s some glossy CG of the Armstrong but under that it’s a recap of the disastrous mission to Vulcan and an extensive (and decent) look through the design process of the Kelvin Starfleet vessels. Reading this does make you look back at the model and perhaps be more harsh towards it but, strangely, my biggest gripe was the use of dark blue font on a black background. With the shrinking of the magazines, the text was already microscopic but now it’s verging on illegible especially the picture captions. Sort it out Eaglemoss!!!

To conclude - a steady and average model backed with an interesting magazine. Not the stuff dreams are made of but an interesting aside if nothing else.

Second in this Kelvin trio is the USS Newton NCC-1727. This is the most diverse of the three ships when it comes to design however the news that they were all effectively variations on one design makes these a bit disappointing upon arrival.

Anyway, the Newton continues the same blotched stained steel paintjob from the Armstrong but you have to look deeper than a couple of shades of grey here. First up she has a semi-circular primary hull connected to both a pair of warp engines on the top and twin secondary hulls below. 

The main hull is cast in metal and carries adequate bridge detail and also phaser emplacements. Everything beyond that primary piece though is in plastic but the painting helps draw all the elements together. The hull colouring really suits these ships and accentuates the already quite deep deflector grid lines curving round the ship. 

On the two warp engines above the primary hull the bussard collectors are a dulled yellow/grey in translucent plastic with the exhaust tips at the other ends recessed in blue, mirroring their onscreen appearance. The joint lines on the tops of the nacelles are strangely raised with the rear tips not quite fully closed. Not the best bit of model work to date by any stretch. The connecting rollbar arm is fairly bland with only the blip of gold paint to help isolate the warp field regulator.

The bottom two attached tubes are a bit more interesting with twin shuttle bay doors at the back and deflector dishes to the front. From memory this is the only ship with such a configuration especially with the double blue dishes facing forward. The joins on these shorter tube sections aren't as noticeable and the "caps" that are provided by the shuttle bay doors certainly help. It's only on a closer look that you realise the split for them is horizontal beneath the doors rather than top to bottom.

To the rear of the structure connecting them back to the main hull you can just make out the red of the impulse drive. It's a narrow slip of paint but nicely touched in.

The USS Newton is a sturdy build with no flex or movement in those rear outslung hulls and engines. The look of it easily makes it the most interesting of the three Kelvin fleet starships.

The 18 page magazine still doesn't clarify what class of ship the Newton is but does revisit the events of Vulcan's destruction and the ship's fleeting involvement before its destruction by the Narada. For anyone who loves John Eaves' work, the second second focuses on concept art for the 2009 movie and ties in well with Shuttle set 4 as well as exploring the aesthetics of such things as the police bike and the Enterprise's dry dock.

Last up in this sequence of bonus editions is the impressively bland USS Mayflower NCC-1621. The easiest way to explain this one would be to remove the rollbar and the middle nacelle, Hey presto, it's the Mayflower.  

There is, sadly, very little to say about it. It is for all intents and purposes the basis for the Armstrong but does benefit from a slightly larger finish. Notable points are that the registry is located in the same place as the USS Kelvin, just behind the bridge and the nacelle design is identical to the other two ships featured here. That said, it's not just a straight reuse on at least one of them since the Newton's engines are longer by a few centimetres. The front and rear caps are the same colours with the engines and the lower saucer insert all in plastic. 

Apart from the thin impulse engine to the rear and some minor greebling on the underside - also identical on the other two ships so you see a pattern - the Mayflower has the distinction of being totally indistinct. Even the Reliant had a rollbar yet this may well class as the dullest Starfleet ship to ever grace a HeroCollector box. I can't even raise an eyebrow in excitement here. 

Its included magazine is a familiar story since it glosses over the details of the fateful rescue mission to Vulcan. The Designing the Mayflower section is, ironically, short and to the point. They needed ships designed, there wasn't a lot of time; hey presto in four paragraphs.

Last up and taking a good chunk of the issue we have an article on the design of Nero's Narada. Given that this will never ever get produced in the collection its a good choice to add in but also fair confirmation that Eaglemoss won't try and replicate the upgraded Romulan mining ship. 

OK. Let's be straight on this trio. The Newton is the outright best of the three because of the variations but overall these are pretty uninspiring and very very completist. The magazines are almost too apologetic in mentioning the speed at which these ships were CG'd for the 2009 reboot and building them for collectors highlights how much CG kitbashing went on to get them ready for the big screen. Even worse? The damn numbering. It makes no sense when it comes to sequence and starship class which was set up Back In the Day. I can't imagine that logical numbering would have gone the way of the dodo in the Kelvin Timeline - 1727 commissioned before 1701? Really?

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Tuesday, 5 October 2021

I, Excretus; Lower Decks S02 E08

I LOVED this one.

Providing a real ensemble performance from both the four main cast members and the senior staff, I, Excretus is one of the finest moments this season has produced to date.

Choosing to head a single storyline really works with the crew of the Cerritos lined up for evaluations at the behest of Shar Yen Yeb who is a Pandronian, the same species as Bem from TAS's episode of the same name. 

The opening skit with the quartet stranded on the satellite sets up the story clearly with the difference in rank and standing highlighted, precisely pinpointing the lower decks expendability in life or death situations.

Allowing Lower Decks to step outside of its own confines, the crew get the chance to step inside personal simulators (mini one-person holodecks) and be assessed. The scores certainly aren't racking up but as the episode progresses we are witness to a succession of famous encounters and moments from the past 55 years. The ensigns y'see re now placed into the positions of the senior officers and vice versa to see how the other half lives and for both it's eye opening.

Rutherford has to perform a life-threatening warp reactor repair (The Wrath of Khan), Tendi
must end a Klingon's life after a crippling injury (TNG's Ethics), Mariner is placed into the Mirror Universe and a Western town while Boimler handles the Borg. In at least three instances (plus the rest of the crew), the results are a disaster but the experience here is phenomenal and steps up the quality of Lower Decks yet another rung.

It's inspired to be able to freely enter all of these classic environments so easily and as part of the plot AND we have a guest voice provided by the Queen herself, Alice Krige. The Borg bits are classic. There's the changing of phaser frequencies (and throwing the weapon when it fails) all backed with the classic orchestral score from The Best of Both Worlds. Amazing.

This episode is again awash with references and while the last couple have been hat-tip light, it's a kick to remind viewers that actually that's one of the key elements that makes Lower Decks work. Yes, some of the situations are ludicrous and the execution of duties by the crew horrendous on virtually every occasion but it's the ability of this show - and the nature of it  - to poke fun at the absurdities of the past five and a half decades that kills it. 

Lower Decks has stomped on the stuffiness and occasional pretentiousness of Star Trek with a firm size 11 this week, even having the "gall" to trek back to the famous Spock death scene from the second movie and fluff the "Steal the ship" piece from The Search for Spock.  Both are executed magnificently and failed perfectly in the most extreme Cerritos way possible - spot on with a script and pacing to match.

Flipping the script, the senior officers realise how poor rations are and also just how much they are kept out of the loop. Initially their time in simpler quarters (a corridor) looks to be a quiet life. That's spat out when they have to stack hexagonal boxes while the rest of the ship deals with Klingons and then the Q - however they aren't involved in any way. Don't worry about it, those crates won't stack themselves.

Bringing the cast all together for one story is another brilliant strike actioned here. There's no inner bickering, no fighting or whining but a crew that is united and working as one for a desired goal. It might not be completely ethical but you can't help but root for the crew to win through in the end.

However, there is one sequence that may or may not have further consequences off screen. One of Mariner's experiences is The Naked Time in which the crew shed their inhibitions as per the classic (and TNG) episodes. Now, Lower Decks has never been for kids (that's Prodigy) but there are definitely a couple of jokes and at least one visual that may have stepped over the line from funny to possibly offensive. Was I personally that bothered? Not really but I'm sure there will be a line of fandom spouting about it "Not being my Star Trek" which is all well and good - so don't watch it.

The episode itself does play like a Greatest Hits collection and nails every one of them absolutely perfectly. To be fair, even that Naked Time sequence was generally hinted at in the episodes but never seen. Here we've just been a little closer to the "action" so to speak.

With the whole crew working as one there is a much more united goal this week although Boimler takes more than just one for the team to ensure that they don't utterly flunk the tests. While returning the Borg Queen it clearly pastiche's First Contact and just a little of the assimilation probes from The Best of Both Worlds with even a sprinkling of early Borg babies and long johns more likely to be seen in Q Who. Visually you have to say that the recreated sequences are perfect with the fun of a Lower Decks episode and a percentage of comedic "What If...?" added to the mix.

I, Excretus is a benchmark for the show, exposing its brilliance and attention to detail as well as the series' ability to make something new from the established every single week. Mariner has mellowed this season. While still occasionally extreme it's now more Boimler's turn to be stretching the boundaries thanks to his numerous and repeatedly mentioned time on the Titan.

Episode eight is, aside from maybe one graphic moment, a superb story that does everything you'd want from Lower Decks. Absurdity, canon nods and a surprise or two that you won't have seen in the trailers. Overall, the best of the season to date.

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