Scythe – A Review

One of the nice things about summer that I missed last year because I was stuck in Thailand is coming back to Colorado and hanging out with my family. I get to catch up with everybody and see what they have been doing the last year. What I found out with my family is they all got into the same thing that I did, board games. It was a great way to keep our sanity while being locked away in our homes. But now that things have opened up again, and people are able to visit other people, these games are still there, but instead of playing them with the same people over and over again, we can now share them with other people. It seems like every house I visit from my family, they pull a board game off of the shelf for me to play. Some of these I have had some interaction with because I like to get the app on my tablet to try out games before I go out and buy them. One of these was Scythe published by Stonemaier games. I had heard about this area control game that blends in Eurogame rules to make a truly fun and exciting experience, so the app seemed like the right idea. This was not the way to go about understanding and appreciating the complexities of this game. Some games work better the other way around, play the physical copy first and then when you have trouble finding other people to play with you, then rush off to play a game on the app. I need the physical copy and the slower game play to wrap my head around this game, and when I did, I started to see how great of game Scythe really is.

I will look at this game in this review by looking at the overall theme, the gameplay, the artwork, the interactivity, and the expansions to this game that at the time of this review was sitting at the number 14 spot on Board Game Geek’s top 100 board games of all time.

THEME

The dust has just settled after the horrors that accompanied the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution and Eastern Europe is left in disarray. Factions in the area are trying to rebuild their economy while carving out a part of the landscape that they can call their new country. Each faction has their own leader that has a focus on how going about rebuilding their lives and the lives of all their people, and oh, did I mention that technology had developed enough to include mechs that stand above the landscape to protect and battle other factions if necessary.

It is the weird alternative history that combines a science-fiction fantasy element behind a sense of realism that on paper does not look like it will work, but just like the game where you are forced to balance economic strategy with area control, the blending of these ideas work really well together. It creates an alternative world that is grounded enough in what you already know to keep you buying into the story you will start to play.

Rating – 9

GAMEPLAY

This is not a light game. There are a lot of rules going on as you collect resources to build building, support your mech army and explore the vast landscape of the board. Each faction has their own special ability and various player-boards are distributed to the players that means you will never have the same experience every time you play. The person you are closest to does not necessarily mean that you will encounter them first as you both race to carve out your part of the board because there are tunnels in the middle of the board that allows for easy access to almost any other location on the board, but I do recommend that you spread out as much as you can based on the number of players because if there is somebody off by themselves, they can easily control more of the board. The final point count is not based on money alone as there are points distributed for the amount of goals that have been met, the amount of places occupied at the end of the game, and the amount of resources and money that is in a person’s control. You can have a clear idea about who is in the lead as the game goes on, but there is no way to no for sure until the dust settles. It allows for some competitive game play that extends beyond the niceties of most Eurogames, and adds a little bit more of an edge to the game.

There are many different conditions for victory ranging from releasing all of your workers or mechs, maxing out on either the popularity or power tracks, winning two battles, gaining all your recruits or buildings, or completing you secret mission. The first person to complete six of these missions ends the game, causing everybody to stop what they are doing and count up their points. They can each fight to complete these objectives by placing a person on one of four spots on their board which will allow them to perform one of two combinations of actions that will push them closer to these goals. The only rule is that they can not complete the same action twice in a row.

Each one of these actions helps build an engine that grows in complexity as the game goes on. What starts off as being very simple and boring turns into a trigger that will set a lot of actions into play with the movement from any of the players. Getting to that first objective can take a long time, but once they start getting completed, it becomes a mad dash to be the first to complete six, and the game really speeds up by the end.

Overall, it is thoughtful and engaging. I made a couple of mistakes with my pieces early on, but was able to recover from these mistakes to still be competitive by the end of the game. I instantly finished the first game that I played and wanted to play again to do better based on the mistakes I had made. Not much is left to chance in this game either. Even the battle sequences are based on how many power points you have and how many you want to use to beat the other person. Of course there are a couple of places where a little bit of a gamble takes place, such as when you are first picking your play mat, picking combat cards, and encounter cards, but this is such a minimal part of the game that it will never impact the conclusion of the game. More of it is based on strategy and how you interact with other players. It combines all of the best things from area control games, Eurogames, and abstract strategy games to create a unique gameplay experience that will have you coming back again and again.

Rating – 10

ARTWORK

Most of the time the game is made first, and then an artist is hired to add flavor to the game. This is not the case with Scythe. Jamey Steigmaier came across some deiselpunk illustrations by Polish artist Jakub Rozalski in which farmers worked on fields in Eastern Europe with large mechs looming over them in the background. Steigmeaier used the bones of this story world that Rozalski had made to build upon it and develop this game. They work really well together and really help a person to immerse themselves into the landscape and the game. The paintings are combined with chunky resource tokens that depict the different resources that an individual can collect in the game that goes hand in hand with all of the meeples that really add to the landscpe.

If this wasn’t enough, it also comes with plastic minis that are specific for each faction. They are not only given four plastic mechs that will eventually emerge onto the game board. Each collection of mechs is different to highlight the different characteristics of each of the asymmetric player. Each faction is also given a leader which has some of the same qualities as the mechs during gameplay, plus a couple of other abilities that makes them the most important figure in play during the game. Each one of these characters is also unique and they are accompanied by a different animal that also adds to the overall aesthetic of the game.

The player game mats are also of high quality. There are a couple of levels to them which offer the perfect tactile places to put all of your playing pieces. Also as soon as you move them from one place on your player board to another place, it opens up parts of the player board that adds to the complexity of your game play. They are just a wonderfully fun feature to this already amazing game.

If there is any complaint about the artwork, it would have to be with the board. It is a little boring with symbols being used to highlight the different terrains that are available, but I couldn’t see any other way to get around this without making the game even more complicated. This is quickly dismissed as soon as the other pieces are placed on the board to make an exciting explosion of pieces and landscape by the time that last star is placed on the game track.

Rating – 10

INTERACTIVITY

This is a tricky thing, especially when it comes to economic games or Eurogames. These games are designed to be nice, and not cause animosity to happen between players so everybody can walk away feeling nice about the experience, even if they lost. The problem with this kind of game is that you spend so much time playing with your own board that you rarely look over to what you opponent is doing and also spend very little time interacting with them. I think this is a very important part of the reason to play board games, to come together with other individuals and play out a story that everybody can remember fondly.

Scythe has a nice twist to the worker placement Eurogame problem with interactivity. It mixes in this area control element, similar to Risk, but it does not create the animosity or backstabbing that the Parker Brothers classic does. It can be used for victory points and there are ways that you can steal other players’ resources to use to your own advantage, but it is not such a central part of the game that all you are thinking about is how to ruin other players’ chances of winning the game. The battles are not dictated by the chance role of the dice either. You can decide to duck out of a battle or put in everything you got, depending on how important the position of that location is to your overall path to victory. It makes battle cordial, and even if you lose, you do not feel like the whole game is over because you lost this one battle.

If you are also looking for interactivity in your board games, this is one that benefits from more people on the game board. I played with only three players, and the way we were situated around the board, I had a distinct advantage over the other players because neither of them were close enough to me to cause me any alarm; whereas, they were interacting with each other more often throughout the course of the game. I barely won the game, probably due to their proximity to each other, and me being left alone to my own devices. I felt that it would have played a little better with four or more people, and with the expansions, you can have a game up to seven people at one time. At that level, I can see it causing confusion about what is going on around the table at all times, but for a group who is really into the game, it could be a lot of fun.

For the most part, the game has that interactivity that I am looking for, but still holds onto the benefits of its Eurogame roots. It also requires a number of players to find that sweet spot that makes the game the perfect play for everybody involved.

Rating – 8

EXPANSIONS

I will lead off with the caveat that I have not played any of the expansions of this game yet, but I do like to look for those games that allow for complexity to happen to a game in order to keep it fresh and exciting as I continue to play it. There are three expansions available for this game at the writing of this review: Invaders from Afar, The Wind Gambit, and The Rise of Fenris.

Invaders from Afar adds two new factions with their own abilities to play with that would add a new twist to the game, but would not really expand on the gameplay much beyond just giving you new ways to explore for victory.

The Wind Gambit adds airships to the game with their own set of rules. It adds a little more depth to the game that allows for its complexity to add a refreshing renewal of the game for those that are looking for that moment to refresh their love of the game. It also adds resolution models giving another new way to gain that final victory that you are looking for.

The Rise of Fenris adds a campaign mode to the game that would give it more of a story flavor that is completely replay-able. It goes through eight scenarios that can add customization to the game to allow you to play the rules that you enjoy the most.

All three of these add new twists to the game that will have you pulling it out onto your game table again and again at a price that will not break your wallet. It is the kind of expansions that I look for when looking for the initial purchase of the game.

Rating – 9

OVERALL

I can see why this game has been around for as long as it has and maintained its spot among the list of best board games out there. It is thematic enough to get you engrossed in the story with exciting game play that is both strategic and thoughtful. Special intent went into the design of the game to bring people together when they are playing, even though this is what I find to be the weakest element to an all around great game. This is turning into a classic and I can see myself playing this game for many years to come.

RATING – 4.6 stars out of 5

Wingspan versus Everdell

When Covid started and I was stuck inside a lot more, I looked for ways to entertain my wife and myself, and I went back to one of the hobbies that I enjoyed so much in my youth, board games. I did a lot of research to find games that would be fun and had a strong enough theme that would draw my wife into the gameplay. Two names kept popping up, Wingspan and Everdell. Both of them had huge fans and they both seemed to have a little bit of a rivalry going on between them. Any time that you look at Board Game Geek at their ranking, they will be some place in the top twenty and usually right next to each other. Still, I had only money for one of the games, so I went with the cute woodland creatures building a forrest city as opposed to the collection of birds in three different ecosystems. This did not mean that my intrigue for the game that won numerous awards in the years 2019 and 2020 did not still grab my attention, and I always had a desire to play the game. I searched people out who might own the game, but I could only find versions made in Thai because Stonemaier Games believed that nobody in Thailand would want an English version, and considering the amount of reading involved in the game and the fact that I can’t read Thai, I knew I had to wait until I made it back to the United States. Well, after a couple of years waiting, I finally had my chance to play the game, and I can now give a definitive answer as to which game I prefer over the other by looking at their themes, gameplay, art work, interactivity, and expansions.

THEME

Both games have a story to tell, and do a great job of tying their story into their game play. Everdell tells the story of a group of woodland creatures living a year in the meadow underneath the Evertree. They gather their supplies consisting or twigs, pebbles, amber, and berries to carve out their little location in the forest and attract other woodland creatures to live there. Every other player is trying to create their own little town and might take the resources you need or even the building that you want to construct to make the perfect place.

Wingspan tells a similar story, but only involving birds. Instead of woodland creatures building a mythical woodland town, you are an ornithologist attracting various types of birds to your ecosystem that consists of a forest, grasslands, and wetlands. You attract certain birds by collecting food from the bird feeder. Once one bird is in a specific ecosystem, it will lay eggs, collect more food, and attract more birds until you build a thriving bird habitation.

A lot of people I have talked to about Wingspan complain that the theme does not really fit with the game, but I disagree. There were many times while we were playing that I would talk about the food that one of my birds collected, or how my owl could never catch any food, but my hawk was an amazing hunter. I loved how some of the birds worked together to create a complete picture of the ecosystem they lived in. It is there and if you let yourself dive into the theme, you can have a lot with the game.

With that being said Everdell does a better job with theme. It is fun to talk about what kind of town your woodland creatures are creating whether it is designed more for production of resources, or if it caters to the intellectual endeavors of schools and universities. Each town I have created while playing this game has its own flavor and I don’t think I have ever created the same town twice. I also love watching other people’s towns as they are being built, and I did not feel the need to see what other people were doing when I played Wingspan. They both do a great job, but on a whole, I enjoy the story that is created while playing Everdell.

GAMEPLAY

The whole reason to play a game is to immerse yourself in a puzzle and see how well you can operate in that system, and both of these games create a great puzzle with many different ways to victory depending on which route you choose to go down.

Everdell is a worker placement game where you send off you cute woodland characters to collect resources so you can build structures and eventually attract woodland creatures to your town. Each card you play, whether it is a structure or a creature has an ability that helps you build an engine so you can collect more resources and build greater structures. If you don’t like the cards that are in your hand, you can pick from the ones offered in the meadow which are cards available to everybody. There are permanent locations that are always the same every game, but there are other cards that are placed on the board that open up other locations, and allow for each game to be different. You can also collect certain event cards if you meet the requirements to gather them. All of these collect points that at the end of the game you count, and the person with the most points wins.

Wingspan has a similar goal. The one who has the most points wins. The way to obtain the points is a little different though. You are still trying to create an engine, but this one is based on the birds that you place in three different ecosystems: forest, grasslands, or wetlands. Each ecosystem allows your workers do different things. The forest allows you to collect food. The grassland offers you eggs. And the wetlands will get you more bird cards that you can pick from three that are in front of everybody, or you can pick from the large pile of birds at random. Each bird has an ability that is triggered either when you play the bird, play on the ecosystem, or if one of the other player triggers the special ability. Each bird is also worth a certain amount of points, as well as the eggs, food, and other birds they collect along the way.

The engine that Wingspan has is a lot more complicated than the one that Everdell has and there are so many different cards that the possibilities of how to build that engine are endless. The last round of a game of Wingspan fizzles out though as everybody tries to add more eggs because those are guaranteed points and you don’t know what you are going to get if you keep on trying to collect birds. This happens a little bit with Everdell as well, but there are more options to pick from, so the end of the game feels a little more exciting, but the edge goes to Wingspan in this category.

ARTWORK

I know that a game should not be dependent on the artwork, but a lot of publishers have upped their game in recent years in this area, and both of these games are great examples of what a game can look like. Everdell’s box just draws you over and makes you want to open it up to see what it inside. It does not disappoint. The little forest that is created with the three dimensional Evertree looming over the board makes it even more exciting to play. The resources are a tactile experience you will never forget. I have not met one person yet who hasn’t touched one of the berries yet and exclaimed, Oh! They’re squishy. All of this is enhanced with the cards, each with it own masterpiece or either a woodland creature or the structure they would live in on it. The only complaint I have about the cards is that the print on them is a little small, making it difficult to read sometimes, but this a minor flaw that a pair of good reading glasses can fix.

Wingspan also has an impressive collection of cards. Each card has a different picture of a bird on it with informative bits about where the bird comes from, its wingspan, and an interesting fact about each of them. Each player is given their own board with a nice landscape painted on it, but it looks a little boring until the cards get played on it as well as the eggs. Then it starts to look impressive. The food is not as exciting as they are punched out circles of cardboard, but the special dice that come with the game are fun. And if that wasn’t fun enough, the three dimensional bird-feeder that you use to roll the dice adds a lot to the aesthetics of the game.

Though both games are pretty to look at, I hear more about the artwork with Everdell than I do with Wingspan. I know it is the most subjective thing with this review, but I have to agree with those people that are drawn more to Everdell. I love the artwork, and would even love to have some of the paintings framed and placed on my wall. And I didn’t even talk about how great the meeples are that come with the game. This one easily goes to Everdell.

INTERACTIVITY

One of the reasons that I got back into board games after being away from them for so long is because it gave me an opportunity to interact with my wife in a different way when we were stuck in the house for so long without any contact from other people. When Covid restrictions loosened and things opened up again, I also wanted to have a great excuse to have my friends back over to my house to play some games. I was a little nervous when I started looking at both of these games because Euro-games are not known for their interactivity. Players can be off doing their own thing without others worrying about what is going on in their individual boards.

I would have to say that this was my biggest complaint with Wingspan. I never looked over at other players’ boards and there were only a couple of ways that we could interact with each other. The biggest way that you can mess with other players is with the bird-feeder. You can take something that they might want, but that only happened a couple of times during the course of the game. Though I find this to be a disadvantage, some people might like this because it will make the game more friendly. You are not going to worry too much if you are hurting your friends’ feelings by doing something mean.

This kind of friendliness is also there in Everdell. There are enough spots to place your workers, especially early in the game, that you will not interfere much in other players’ plans. When the game builds and you collect more workers, then things start to get a little more crowded, and the jostling for position becomes a little more intense, but for the most part, it is still a friendly game. I think they found a sweet spot in their interactivity here though that places this as one of the more enjoyable Eurogames that I have ever played, and Everdell wins this category because of this.

EXPANSIONS

When a game is new and shiny, I always want to pull it out to play it again and again, and ignore the other, older games that I have collected. The publishers know this and want to make sure that you are always pulling their games off of the shelf to play, so they add expansions to add new twists on an old game to make it feel new again. Both Wingspan and Everdell know this, and have periodically added expansions to their games. Wingspan has added bird sets with European birds and Oceania birds. The expansions add a new collection of cards with birds from these areas in the world as well as the nectar resource to add a new dynamic to the game. The cards are worth it because they add new skills to the engine and create new combinations that make the game fresh.

Everdell also has added three expansions with the fourth coming out soon. Each one of them connects to the board to allow it to spread out on the table even more, making it really important that you have a big table if you wish to play with these. Each of the three adds a new dimension to the game with Pearlbrook adding a new worker with a special ability, Spirecrest making the change of seasons move in the game more exciting, and Bellfaire adding some asymmetric gameplay for each one of the woodland creatures that you can play. They recommend that you only play one of the expansions at a time, but this is a suggestion, and it makes for a really intense gaming experience.

All of the expansions make both games fresh, but the gameplay really changes with Everdell making it almost a new game with each expansion you add. Not all expansions are equal for this game with Spirecrest being the best of all of them. It does get a little pricey, but Everdell’s expansions are worth it.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

I know this review lends itself to saying that Everdell is a better game, and I do think it is. It is harder to find, and Wingspan seems to have made it all the way to the shelves of Targets as well as your local game stores. Even though I do think Everdell is a better game, it only barely edges out Wingspan in each of these categories. The ideal would be to have both games in your collection because they are both different enough and easy enough to learn that anybody can pick them up and play instantly. Both of them do take at least two play throughs before you can really wrap you head around the engine, but if you can only afford one and both of them are in front of you, I would go with Everdell.

Dri-Dock, A Review – Koh Lipe, Thailand

It is a common sight to see people walking around the island of Koh Lipe with either scuba diving gear, or on a lesser note, snorkeling equipment. The island sits right next to a huge corral reef, and there are amazing spots to go check out the fish and what else might be hiding in between the nooks and crannies underneath its sea. We were able to go just off shore from our hotel to see some amazing sights, but yesterday we took a trip to another island to check out the reef in all of its majesty.

In anticipation of this event, I made an impulse buy on Walking Street, a phone case that claimed that I would be able to take pictures underwater up to 30 meters down by a company called Dri-Dock. Considering I was only going snorkeling, this seemed like the perfect thing to take out on this trip. I took my purchase back to my hotel and tested it out in the little bay just a few steps away from reception.

First of all, it did keep my phone dry. In fact, it did a really good job of this. I was impressed by the way the slip of plastic would seal up and prevent any form of moisture from getting through. And when it was above water, it did a great job of taking pictures. It did not look like the phone was in any case whatsoever, and the pictures turning out as great as the normally would.

But when I tried to take underwater pictures, it did not work as well. Now, keep in mind that my phone is an iPhone6 and I know that the technology has gotten better over the years since I bought it, so some modern phones might have a better ability to take these pictures. But I would press the button on numerous occasions, and sometimes it would click, and sometimes it would take a burst of photos sometimes up to 275 of them, or it would just not work at all.

When there were no fish in the picture, it did much better, but that is not why I wanted this addition in the first place. This corral reef had some amazing fish swimming around it and I would have loved to have gotten a couple of pictures of some of them. If I did get a picture of a fish, it was too blurry to really see what it was, and I just had to settle of photos of the underwater landscape.

I can’t complain too much though because I was able to get a couple of great pictures that I would have never gotten otherwise. It did do a good job of keeping my phone dry, and I only spent twelve dollars to have this ability. Overall, it was worth the purchase.

I don’t plan on going snorkeling again anytime soon, but I will use the Dri-Dock bag again on one of my many adventures on a kayak or out on sea. It will give me the piece of mind of have been looking for when I go out on these adventures and I worry about taking my phone with me. Now, I can get those shots that I have always hoped of getting. I just wish it worked a little better underwater.

The Sushi Attraction

One of my favorite things about getting out of the house and traveling is trying amazing food from all around the world. There are some really great places to eat in my neighborhood, but there is something special about trying places in other neighborhoods and countries. Heading to downtown Bangkok gives me this opportunity to try other worldly cuisine. Of course, there are many Thai restaurants downtown, but I probably have the better examples in my neighborhood that is not toned down to meet the tastebuds of millions of tourists who visit this city every year. Rather, I like to look for the other world cuisines that are not as present in my neighborhood, and one of the types of foods I always look for is a good sushi restaurant.

This is something that is harder to find in Southeast Asia than you would think. There are a couple of places I have found outside of Japan that are able to do this dish well, and one of the better ones happens to be off of the Phrom Phong BTS station down Soi 39. It is a small place with only six tables, but it does a great job of getting fresh fish and creating artistic bites to eat. It is by far the best sushi restaurant I have found in Bangkok so far. It does not rival the places that fill up during lunch time in Japan, but it would do really well in that country and hold its own against the people that created this cuisine in the first place.

My favorite part of eating sushi, besides the taste, is the presentation. I am not one of those people that take pictures of their food very often, and maybe I should be better at doing that considering I write a blog about my travels around the world. I know that people want to see those pictures, but usually when I go out to a restaurant, I am so excited to eat that when my food comes, I forget to pull out my phone and take a picture. But when I ate at Masu Maki, it was really easy to remember that this was something that I should do. They did such a beautiful job of presentation that I had to take a picture in order to remember it. I won’t give you the picture of what it looks like after I have finished because it isn’t as pretty, but when this gets placed in front of you, it is easy to get excited by what you are about to eat.

It is a great place to eat sushi in Bangkok, and if you have any other suggestions, please let me know because I love to find hidden gems like Masu Maki, especially when it comes to sushi.

The God Organ by Anthony J. Melchiorri

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The God Organ gets a strong eight out of ten.

When I picked up this novel, it was marketed under dystopian literature, and I expected to see a bleak landscape with no hope for its characters that mirrored the problems seen in the United States today. What I got instead was a pleasant surprise. Anthony J. Melchiorri tell the story of a great mystery wrapped around the development of a new medical marvel, the God Organ.

The year is 2064, and LyfeGen, a biomedical company, has developed the Sustain, termed by some the God Organ. This medical marvel allows the person who has it implanted into their body the benefit of no longer suffering from heart attacks or strokes. It also offers the bearer a more youthful appearance for the rest of their lives which also gets extended because of this device. Preston Carter enjoys the benefits from his creation both financially, as well as physically because he was one of the first people to have this invention implanted in his body. This is until he falls victim to a stroke that sets into motion a series of events that questions the integrity of this miracle device.

Anthony J. Melchiorri does a wonderful job of bringing to light some of the modern problems facing the Unites States such as the ever-growing division between the classes, and the disadvantage this puts on the poorer members of society as they not only struggle with making financial ends meet, but also with their inability to get the medical attention that they need. Add to this the fact that the jobs usually held by the masses are being taken over by automated machines, making it even more difficult to find anything worth a person’s time and effort, except for those who have the luxury of some of the more prestigious positions. He also brings up issues with the power of religion over certain people as it takes on issues that it perceives to be against their beliefs, and the declining power of print media as fewer people read it and more of it is written by algorithms. These are real issues and Melchiorri handles them well.

The most surprising part of this novel is the way that it was written. It has lots of strong characters that at first don’t seem to have any connection with one another but in the end blend together very nicely. Each character has their own problems and their own flaws which makes none of them the perfect person and also makes them very realistic. He also doesn’t write his story as an overdone representation of what the world will look like in the year 2064. Instead, he shows what life will be like at that time making strong predictions based on the direction that society is headed in. It is refreshing to see a science fiction novel written this way.

But because of the way it is written, I think calling it science fiction is a mistake. The story has more of a feel of a mystery or a thriller, and fans of that genre would really love this story. I don’t believe the hardcore science fiction fan will like this story as much even though there is a lot there to make it worthy of that genre. It definitely keeps the reader engaged with the twists and turns that only a good mystery can take.

The Woodman: Book One. The Roads of Hell by G. H. Bright

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In a post-apocalyptic world, who can you trust? The question of what any stranger is getting out of the starting a relationship with you and whether or not if these motives are really worthy enough to commit yourself to their company always pop up. Sometimes you might have to give up something small, but there is a good chance that their reasons might be something dangerous and could lead to potential pain and suffering on your part. Therefore, you want to be careful. That is until you meet the legendary Woodman. He has proclaimed to uphold justice and seek to help those in need. Rumors of him have spread throughout the forests of Southern England, and if you meet him, you better hope that you are on the side of good because he is not a person whose bad side you want to be on.

This is the hero of G. H. Bright’s first installment of The Woodman series, The Roads of Hell. He will remind you of the concept of Batman in the recent movies featuring this superhero. The Woodman is not a single person, but an idea that can be passed down from one to another in order make sure that justice is served in a violent world.

The world of the novel has become a dramatically different place after a man was allowed to get on a plane from Africa with the Ebola virus. The disease quickly spread, and soon many people died. Of course there were those who were able to survive for various reasons, but this was the minority. Without all of those people around to maintain the infrastructure of the world, transportation and communication as now known by modern society became non-existence. Mankind was forced to live in another dark ages where the strong ruled and the weak got preyed upon. This is the world that the Woodman now lives in.

He tries to keep safe the little corner that he inhabits as he also protects the only haven that he knows about, Coast Town. The town is under the threat of a vicious criminal, the Black Pope, and his band of knights. They have raided the local museum and used the medieval armor they found there as their new uniforms. They travel the countryside making slaves out of anyone they come across, and threatening everyone with the guns that they carry. It turns into an epic battle to save the innocence of this small town from the obvious threat of evil that is brought there by the Black Pope.

The set up to this story creates a very entertaining ride with some wonderful characters. The Black Pope plays out as one of the most memorable villains in recent memory, and the demonic landscape left behind after the epidemic is not your typical post-apocalyptic wasteland. G. H. Bright introduces us to a vivid world of what it would be like if we had to take a step back from out modern conveniences.

There are a couple of problems with the overall book. The story continues long after the climax which leave the reader feeling as if things were drug out a little too long. These story lines could have started the second book instead of finishing off the first one. It just seemed to be placed there as a marketing ploy to leave you with a cliffhanger so you would go out and purchase the next installment. I don’t think G. H. Bright needed to do this though. He could have let the story end after the climax, and it would have been entertaining enough that I would have wanted to get the next book anyway. Even with this flaw, it was still a fun read and definitely worth your time.

For this reason I give The Woodman: Book One. The Roads of Hell a seven out of ten.

Johnny 12 Steps: Organized Crime Trilogy: Part 1 by Nick Tory

Johnny 12 Steps

This book deserves a strong 8 out of 10. I might even go as far as to give it a 9.

I decided one night to sit down and read Nick Tory’s first installment of his Johnny 12 Steps: Organized Crime Trilogy and instantly fell in love with the main character. Here is a man that is so clueless about what is going on around him that he can’t see how much his “Best Friend” hates him, how much the girl of his dreams despises him, and how little he knows about the twelve step program that he tries to make it through in twelve days in order to make his life better and quit his past habits of fighting and gambling. He could be one of the best unreliable narrators ever written, and because of this you will spend your time laughing with the adventures that he finds himself in. It makes this story a truly pleasurable read.

Johnny Tee finds himself trying to save the mom of the girl he has instantly fallen in love with from the clutches of a mobster who has kidnapped her so she can eventually pay off her dead husband’s debt. Johnny isn’t as suave as he thinks he is as he plans, and bungles his way through his rescue mission. Along the way he employs the help of his “Friend” who spend more time desperately trying to get rid of Johnny rather than helping him. He also gets help from a fingerless, toeless bum who has ties with the head mobster and can get Johnny into position to save the day. Of course, whatever the intended outcome of Johnny’s plan is, it always turns out much worse than he could have ever thought or imagined.

Like stated earlier, this book was a fun read, and would be great for any high school boy who struggles with reading and wants to have a great adventure. The problem that I had with the book was the fact that it was incredibly short. When I stated earlier that I sat down in one evening and read the whole book, this is not exaggerated. I would classify this book more as a novella and less a novel. It was still enjoyable, but when I finished the story I was left wondering if there wasn’t supposed to be more to it. And of course there is. Nick Tory has written three other installments in the Johnny Tee story. Of course, if I find myself with a free afternoon again, I might install the next one on my Kindle and read it, but I would rather settle myself into a much larger adventure. I know that it sounds petty that my one complaint was that the story was too short, but I do feel that if it was a little bit longer and still just as enjoyable, I would have given it the 9 that I believe that it deserves.

Simple by Dena Nicotra

Simple

I would give Simple by Dena Nicotra a 9 out of 10.

Lee finds herself running for her life, not because of anything that she has ever done, but because this is the world she now lives in. She, like the rest of society, used to be a simpler life. Simps had been created to make things easier for us. They were androids designed to take over the tedious, menial tasks that caused us so much pain in the past. Without these chores hanging over our heads anymore, we could now engage ourselves in more worthy pursuits. But things could not remain this way for ever, and a computer virus introduced to the world turned all of the simps against humanity. Instead of being there to serve us, they were now looking to wipe out our existence. Because of this, Lee spends her days scrounging for food and avoiding running into anything that might give away her location. She won’t even try to make contact with potential humans because she believes this will only lead to more heartache. But how can we really live our lives without any other human contact, and is there a greater danger if we never trust anybody ever again?

Dena Nicotra has written a wonderfully entertaining story with many dynamic characters. They blend very nicely together to create a realistic world in this post-apocalyptic vision that she has created. There is also a lot of action throughout the whole story that should appeal to any teenager. It starts right at the beginning with Lee’s first contact with a human that leads to the two of them running away and trying to find a spot where they can be safe. This leads to a series of fights and places where they hide out while more people join their group. It all builds up to a huge finale that the reader will never expect coming.

Even though, Dena has written a very entertaining story, she has also explored some great ideas along the way. This makes this book just not a story but a piece of literature worthy of being read and studied. She asks the reader the importance of trust in one another, and whether we really need other people in order to survive. She also explores our dependence on technology and whether this great thing makes our lives easier, or if it will eventually lead us to a place where we cannot live without it. Lastly, she look at the idea of what is reality. Can we live our lives hooked up to a constant stream of entertainment, or do we need to live out lives in the world that we have created for ourselves? Is there a middle ground that we can find in which we can enjoy both of the advantages that living these lifestyles can give us?

Dena Nicotra’s story is a great piece of literature that looks at our society today while entertaining the reader along the way. It also ends leaving the story open for a sequel, and it is my hope that she continues it further, so I can see her explore the profound ideas she has presented in this novel more.

The Emerald of Phaunos

The Emerald of Phanous

I would give Scott L. Collins’s Scepter: The Emerald of Phaunos an 8 out of 10.

Daniel and his brother, Aidan, along with their friends Olivia and Lilly set out on their quest to bring the Scepter back together by finding its four missing jewels. They travel to the land of the tree people to find the first jewel, the Emerald of Phaunos. Along the way, they make some new friends, revisit old ones, and say goodbye to others, but the whole way there they experience the adventure of a lifetime. They travel over adverse weather settings while being chased by a pack of blood thirsty hybrids of humans and werewolves called diegylis. These are King Argyle’s most ruthless creations, and he is not holding back anything when he attempts to bring down these rebels who threaten the existence of his dictatorship.

The action in this installment is more exciting than the first book. I could feel the pressure of the group as they tried to overcome all of their obstacles. In fact, there are very few places in this book where the action slows down which made it a fun read. Middle school students who enjoy fantasy stories should find this to be one of their favorites.

Also, the major complaint that I had about the first book was addressed in the second one. The bad guys are no longer faceless drones that the reader can’t build any feelings about. For the first time I was able to see King Argyle, and understand why there are so many citizens of his lands that are afraid of him. I was also able to see his most diabolical creation, the diegylis. This group of creatures can be controlled by their leader, Fracik, but there are many times where they let their bloodlust take over and they lose control of their inhibitions as they destroy anything that comes in their path.

Fracik would have to be the most interesting character of the whole story so far. The reader gets some insight into his past before he became this hideous creature. It is this life that he is forced to leave behind that creates a wonderful conflict that is enjoyable for the reader to follow. He struggles with his loyalty to his master and a life he longs to live again. I am really interested to see where Scott Collins will take this in the future. I have my suspicions, but I won’t ruin the future of this story by telling you what I think right now. But I suspect that Scott Collins has a big surprise in store for the readers in the future books of this series.

Middle school readers should connect nicely with the main group of the kids, but it is a little hard to take as an adult reader. They get along a little too well, and seem like caricatures of real people. At times while reading the book, I felt like I was watching a group of good friends gathered around a table  in a basement while they played an adventure for Dungeons and Dragons. It is probably my only complaint with this book, but it is easy to overlook because the adventure Scott Collins created made reading so much fun.

I look forward to the third book, and this would be a great addition to any middle school’s library. If you happen to fall in this age group I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of the whole story so far so you are ready for the next installment.

Blott by Daniel Parsons

Blott

Blott by Daniel Parsons deserves a solid 8 out of 10.

Parsons tells the story of a young boy, Blott, who has lived in an isolated village his whole life. No one is allowed to leave, and for the most part everybody is content to stay where they are until a drought causes severe hunger amongst the villagers. Blott takes it upon himself to travel to the outskirts of the village where the white plains begin with the hope that he will be able to find food. While he is there, he unleashes a power that he has kept hidden from the villagers for years because if he did reveal this power, they would not understand and make him an outcast. The villagers might be right about Blott’s special ability because with it, Blott lets loose a pack of cat-like creatures that begin to terrorize the villagers. It takes Blott on a journey to discover himself in order to find the right thing to do in the end.

Daniel Parsons has blended elements of fantasy in a landscape that reminds the reader of an old west showdown. He has also developed a bunch of rich characters to populate this landscape and by doing so he has been able to delve deep into some interesting ideas: the origins of evil, the journey for self-discovery, and the importance of taking risks. I could see the small secluded town that he had created, and realized quite quickly the extent of the whole world he has made even though he does not supply the reader with a map to the white plains and what might lie beyond them. It adds to the isolation that the villagers feel and lets the reader empathize with them.

The creatures that Daniel Parsons has created to inhabit this world are also original. He doesn’t take from old mythology to create a new one for himself. Instead, he creates a whole new class of creatures that the reader can see as they terrorize the townspeople. They aren’t overboard either, but just the right amount of dangerous to add a realistic element to this fantasy.

Parsons also does a great job of giving the reader some closure in the opening novel. Too often when new writers write a series, they believe that they need to create a huge cliff-hanger that leaves the reader with too many unanswered questions and doesn’t give the first story any sense that it has ended. I do believe that it is important to have some unanswered questions at the end of the first installment of a series to keep the reader interested, but it should also be able to stand on its own. Daniel Parsons definitely leaves the reader with a cliff-hanger in the epilogue of this book, but if you did not read that you would feel satisfied with the story where it had left off. Of course, with the rich characters and the original landscape that he has created, it will be hard for a reader not to feel excited for the release of the next installment, and Parsons left just enough unanswered questions to have this feeling linger. He walked this difficult tightrope very nicely, and he has to be commended for it.

Overall, Blott was a fun story to read with just the right amount of action, and I can’t wait for the sequel to come out so I can continue to follow the adventures of Blott.