Seventh Son Mini Review

Jennifer & I enjoyed this one a lot. As fantasy films go, this one is near the top.

Don’t let the simplistic blurb fool you, nor the fact that it casts the guys as heroes and the villain as a woman. Though it begins with the standard fantasy trope of young fellow in the boonies who dreams of being something bigger and is destined to become embroiled in a universal battle of good versus evil (you know, like Star Wars), the story grows smoothly into something deeper and more multifaceted. Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore head a cast that never missteps, the story is solid, and the special effects are unobtrusively excellent, making for an immersive experience.

Sometimes a movie comes along that makes me pine for 1980, when our very first role-play group would be inspired by and chatter about a book or film in the fledgling field of fantasy media. (Back when bookstores stocked fantasy novels at the tail end of the two rows of sci-fi books near the back of the shop.) This is one of those films. Except with 2021 CGI.

It’s also one of the very few movies I’ll definitely watch more than once. Time is precious. This one earns it.

IMDB: Seventh Son

Review – The Road to Ruin – a Zombie Card Game

The Road to Ruin banner image from DriveThruCards

With my study table still cleared off, last night Jennifer sat down with me to play The Road to Ruin, a 1-4 player cooperative scavenger hunt across a zombie-infested cityscape. It’s published by Hero Forge Games.

This little review follows my usual practice of “What’s it about? What’s good about it? What’s bad about it? What’s your recommendation?” learned from Space Gamer magazine in the 80’s.

Overview

We have the DriveThruCards version, which comes as a deck of 122 cards; you supply a pawn or other token for each player, and “dice cards” are included. The Hero Forge website lists that version and a Game Crafter one with tokens and dice.

Game prep consists of laying out the 25 location cards facedown in a grid, with a different layout in each of five scenarios. One location card, the “Safe House,” your starting point, is left face up. Then 18 zombie encounter cards and 6 “Supply Items” are shuffled together, with 1 each dealt to the facedown locations. Each player selects one of the Survivors, a few weapons and items are shared among them, and play begins.

Your goal is to find those Supply Items and return them to the Safe House—the Radio Call scenario being an exception, in which you must find the “Lookout” and “Airport” locations, then find and take the “Radio Transceiver” to the first 5 Supply Items to the second. The rest of the zombies go to a facedown encounter deck.

Play time is listed as 30 minutes, though I think Jenny and I took about twice that.

The Good

The game marvelously captures the theme of things like, “The Walking Dead”: the desperate search for supplies from locale to locale, encountering zombies, while you’re wounded and low on ammunition. This isn’t a game of heroically killing zombies left and right; it’s about desperate survival.

In part, that ambiance is conveyed by the graphic design and mood text, but the mechanics are what seal the deal.

Items are scarce, and when used, many go out of the game permanently. Hand size is limited. The survivors are fragile. And the zombies don’t go away when defeated. Battle at a locale doesn’t discard the zombie card even if you win, it just means you escaped the fight alive. Losing means you escape wounded. Five wounds and you’re dead.

Moving to a locale takes a turn, battling any zombies there. Scavenging the locale takes another turn, battling those zombies again. And the zombie combat levels range from frightening on some cards to truly brutal on others. There are no easy encounters. Combat is a matter of rolling 2d6 and hoping to match the zombie value, with weapons (if you have one) allowing a die to be rerolled. Sometimes weapons break and go out of the game; some weapons require ammunition. Medical supplies are fleeting.

The rules for all of this are simple enough to fit on 7 playing cards, with 4 of those 14 faces devoted to scenario layouts and conditions.

And to top things off, 2 of the cards are deck organizers, making it easy to keep track of which draw and discard decks are which.

The Bad

There’s very little to complain about.

I do wish the rules cards were numbered, to keep them organized and easier to reference.

More importantly, I wish the rules were more careful to use capitalized game terms instead of less specific, lowercase one. The most troublesome example being that the term “supply cards” actually refers to “Supply Item” cards. It wasn’t until after playing a scenario and feeling “That was too easy” that I realized the items even had an identifier in the upper right corner, with most of those being merely descriptive, like the game’s flavor text.

And though the two organizer cards are handy, even handier would have been to label the card backs of each deck with its category.

One weirdness about the game is that while it includes a “dice” deck so you don’t need actual dice, it doesn’t seem aware of the strategic way that can change play, if mostly high numbers have been used so far, making it obvious that combat is about to become deadly, or vice versa. A direction to shuffle those cards after each battle would help.

Finally (though it’s hardly worth noting and has no discernable effect), the threat deck actually consists of 26 cards instead of 25.

The Augury

If you’ve read through this review, it probably means you like zombie games, in which case I predict you’ll enjoy this one a lot.

It’s one of the best I’ve encountered in the genre, fun solo, and even more fun with others.

Highly recommended!

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash
How many times in your life have you heard the words, “Dante’s Inferno”? How many times “Dante’s Paradiso”? I’m guessing the ratio leans heavily toward Inferno.

How familiar with those two works are you? This isn’t a Literature test. I’m just guessing that if you’re familiar with either, it’s probably the Nine Circles of Hell. And I’m willing to bet the Nine Circles of Heaven are a complete mystery.

It’s not just you, Inferno has been the subject of plays, movies, even a video game. By comparison, Paradiso is shunned.

And it’s not just Dante. William Blake said of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of angels and God and at liberty when of Devils and Hell is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

It doesn’t take a poet to realize that writing about hell is easy, “at liberty,” and writing about heaven is difficult, “in fetters.”

I believe there’s a key to human nature and human history in that dichotomy. Our race’s origins are in savagery, “nature red in tooth and claw.” Civilization is something we build despite it. Nobility is something we strive for. We work to be better individuals, we labor at it, because selfishness, fear, and hatred are so easy. We strive to transcend our animal nature.

I’m vegan. I’m not asking you to be. But I’m weary of hearing the line, “It’s only natural for humans to eat meat.” Of course. I know as well as you that for our race, killing and eating other animals is natural. No argument there.

It’s natural.

But is it necessary?

The Death of Dobie


The night before, he staggered to the back of the house, the back bathroom, to lie down on a towel to die. I spent the night on a sleeping bag next to him, dozing, waking to feel if he was still breathing, my hand on his side or in front of his nose.

At daybreak he woke, and I carried him to my recliner, held him in my arms while we slept a few hours. Then he got up, heaved, and staggered back to the towel.

It was Sunday. We tried to keep him going with subcutaneous fluids every two hours, hoping to get him to the vet Monday morning for appetite enhancers to regain his strength. The fluids perked him up each time, but by afternoon I knew it was cruel to bring him back for two hours at a time.

So I held him, weeping, while convincing the family we had to let him go.

The vet had an hour to drive to his office. We were only half that distance away, so we had to wait a half hour before leaving home.

It was a miserable 30 minutes. As his kidneys shut down, he heaved again and again, and I cleaned him up each time. I gave him an injection of muscle relaxer, and then Jennifer drove, while I held him in that towel, and Kate cried in the back seat.

An IV injection. He was gone instantly.

Jen drove back, and I carried him to my study, to prepare for burial. But I could not put him down. The feel of his fur. The softness of his ears. The familiar scent when I buried my nose in the scruff between his shoulders.

Christine brought over a wooden box with hinges, a latch, and bright colors all over. I laid him in, fur wet with tears, on the towel with his favorite stuffed toy, ragged from years of play, and covered him with the tattered Spider-Man blanket he always lay on in my lap. His collar went atop, with one each of the two treats he loved.

Then I went out to dig a hole in the front yard.

I’m 63. The temperature was 89. Christopher allowed me to dig the first foot of hard, dry Nebraska clay, then he let me help him finish it. I lowered the box in, Jen & Kate said their goodbyes and crumbled a clod each, then I shoveled the rest and reset the sod.

Next month we’ll plant a red maple nearby.

Today I went out to sit by the grave with a shot of tequila and tell him thanks for unflaggingly caring for this family, for choosing me as a four-week-old puppy (another story), for having a few annoying habits so I wouldn’t feel like I couldn’t measure up, and for trusting me so utterly.

My grief has shifted a bit, from what I’ve lost, to the grace of letting him go as my final act of love.

That’s the best I can do for now.

Thanks for listening.