Sharing The Love: Board Games

My wife and I are spending New Year’s Eve at home — not (just) due to the pandemic, but because we’re at that age when going to bed at a reasonable hour is far more enticing than staying up stupidly late. There will be lots of food, lots of booze, a cozy fire, and board games galore.

We used to play a lot of video games together, but video game producers seem to hate the idea of two people sitting on a couch in the same room and playing a game together, so we’ve gravitated toward board and card games because we enjoy the personal interactive quality of them — and we cannot wait until it’s safe enough to have a decent sized group of friends over for a proper game day!

But for now, we’ll have to content ourselves with our various two-player games, and as a public service, here are the games we’ve been playing heavily over the course of 2021.

Arkham Horror – Third Edition (Fantasy Flight Games)

The second edition of Arkham Horror was my gateway to modern board games. Sure, it was bloated, complicated, and had some wonky game mechanics, but I was instantly hooked and it’s still one of my favorites. I was admittedly unhappy that the third edition deviated so far from the game I knew and loved, but I’ve come to enjoy 3E for what it is. It’s a longer game, and more story-driven than its predecessor, but it’s cooperative and has a lot of replay value, especially as you add expansions.

Elder Sign (Fantasy Flight Games)

Another of FFG’s Lovecraftian games, this one is a little faster paced, and the base game is challenging but not frustrating (you need to go to some of the expansions for that). I generally am not a big fan of heavily dice-based games, but this is one of our regular go-to games. For a longer experience, try playing this marathon style: keep going until your characters are devoured or until you defeat every ancient evil.

The Big Book of Madness (Iello Games)

I stumbled across this one at my comic book shop (That’s Entertainment in Worcester, MA) and it was a very happy discovery. Players take on the roles of students at a school for elemental magic, who are fighting to hold back monsters being unleashed by a book of evil magic. Players have to coordinate their spellcasting to defeat the monsters, avoid curses that drive them insane, and prepare for the final battle to decide who wins. Takes a game or two to get used to the mechanics and develop your strategy, but after you get into a groove, the game moves nicely.

Note: the Iello website is currently down for an overhaul, so look for this in stores.

Here to Slay (Unstable Games)

We got this for Christmas and it became an instant favorite after one game. It’s a fantasy card game in which players develop adventuring parties to hunt and kill monsters, but the characters are all cute animals. Aside from being freaking adorable, the game is easy to set up, easy to learn, and you can get a few rounds into an hour. Nice, light, fun, and did I mention FREAKING ADORABLE?

Marvel United – X-Men (CMON Games)

Each game sets up a randomized board with different perks and pitfalls, and each hero has their own powers that influence game play as the X-Men try to defeat Magneto, Sabertooth, Mystique, and the Juggernaut. I took a chance and backed this on Kickstarter earlier this year. I’ve already received the base game, and am now awaiting the expansions I also backed, which stand to give the game a ton of replay value as it adds new heroes and villains galore. There’s also a main Marvel Universe version, which I plan to pick up.

Horrified – American Monsters (Ravensburger)

I was already a huge fan of the original Horrified, which is based on the Universal Monster movies, but when I heard they were releasing a version using American cryptids, my response was something along the lines of “You son of a bitch. I’m in!” The base mechanics are the same, so if you know the original game you can jump right in to American Monsters (or vice-versa), but the particulars of defeating the monsters are different, so between that and the new theme, it’s a satisfying new experience.

Note: the company is currently not selling directly from its website in the interests of supporting its retail partners, so look for it in stores.

Fast Five With Matt Adams

Happy Friday Jr., everyone! Here we are with the next in a series of quickie interviews with the authors of the Indie Superhero StoryBundle, and today the spotlight shines on Matt Adams. Yoiks! And away!

Crimsonstreak 1) It’s high-concept pitch time. In 20 words or fewer, what is your book about?

Super-speedster escapes prison to find supervillain father in control, enlists help of superhero-to-be and snarky butler to set things right.

2) Why did you decide to tackle a superhero story as a prose novel rather than as a traditional comic book/graphic novel?

When I read comics, I tend to read collected editions because I like to have the full story. In a sense, I, Crimsonstreak is a collected edition in novel form. I’ve always loved comic art and style, but I wanted to dig a little more into a superhero’s mind. A novel, I thought, gave me the best chance to do that.

The book is told entirely in first-person through Crimsonstreak’s perspective. Since he’s a super- speedster, his mind is always going. He can take the time to make an observation and can’t stop relating circumstances to something he saw in a movie or TV show.

You make a tradeoff when you go the prose route for a superhero story: you lose the art and the dynamic visuals. On the other hand, you give readers the opportunity to get a little closer to your heroes and villains, something you don’t always get in the comic book format.

Author Matt Adams.
Author Matt Adams.

3) One of the notable earmarks of our current Indie Superhero StoryBundle is that “indie” part. Are you an independent author by choice? And what are the big pros and cons of life as an indie author?

My book was released from a small press called Candlemark & Gleam. I always saw I, Crimsonstreak as kind of a “starter” novel for me. The main novel is relatively short compared to some of my other books and special appendices in the back flesh out the rest of the story and the world.

I didn’t know if a major publisher would be interested in the novel given that Soon I Will Be Invincible had been released some years before. I considered going “full indie” and self-publishing the book, but I didn’t feel like I was quite ready to go that route.

Crimsonstreak needed some editing and guidance, and I feel like my small publisher really helped me craft it into a better novel.

Obviously, when you go small press, you’re kind of in that “nether realm” between indie and traditional publishing. You do a lot of your own marketing and spend time setting up book signings and that type of thing. You split revenue with your publisher, although print royalties are higher than what you’d get with a larger publisher. Ebook royalties are higher than traditional pub, but lower than self-pub.

You get some of the benefits of going “full indie” in that you help forge the direction of the book design and that sort of thing. You get a little bit of the traditional publisher world in that you don’t pay for cover design or editing.

Small press really is a balance between self-publishing and working with more traditional publishing.

4) Superheroes are well-established archetypes, and their stories have their own sensibilities and internal logic. How did you play with or subvert the tropes of superhero fiction in your story?

Generally speaking, every superhero story owes a debt to Marvel or DC. I mean, you can’t wrap your head around superhero comics without thinking about Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. At the same time, the genre is really flexible. You can have a Batman comic that’s more of a detective story. A revenge fantasy with the Punisher. A supernatural tale with Ghost Rider. Allegorical social commentary with the X-Men. Cosmic sci-fi with Green Lantern. Spy thrillers with the Black Widow. It’s not all just POW-BIFF-BANG!

So, yeah, my book has Batman-type character called the Crusading Comet. He’s a rich guy with gadgets and gizmos—the real “professional” crimefighter with ridiculous acronyms on his signature tech and a snarky butler named Mortimer P. Willoughby, who’s a smart-aleck version of Alfred Pennyworth. The hero also pays tribute to The Phantom in that there have been several Crusading Comets, with the mantle passed down from father to son over the years.

I have a lot of fun with the Comet (and Mortimer). They don’t really think much of Crimsonstreak, whose superspeed was genetically inherited and not really “earned” in their estimation. And it’s often Mortimer, the prim and proper butler, who gets the team out of jams most of the time.

We’re used to seeing traditional comic book heroes make all the right decisions and save the day on their own, but Crimsonstreak makes plenty of mistakes. In fact, he often makes things worse and digs himself a deeper and deeper hole. He’s imperfect.

Also, much of the action in the book takes place in the Midwest, an alternate version of Indianapolis, Indiana, to be precise. Most of your big-time superhero stories take place in much larger cities (especially New York, the nexus of 95% of all superhero shenanigans), so placing the action in the Midwest, where we live life at a slower pace, was a way to subvert that.

5) Beginnings, middles, and ends. What is your favorite/the easiest part of a story to write and which is the hardest/least favorite?

Let’s just say The Dreaded Middle and I aren’t on really good terms. I start each novel I write with a “road map” that includes a clearly defined start and end with a few key “beats” and subplots ironed out as well.

Still, I get bogged down in the middle, which becomes a poorly paced, cluttered mess no matter how much I try to outline things. However, we all know first drafts absolutely stink, and I manage to fix this mess during revisions.

I’m much more confident in where I start the story and where I end it. It’s just that gooey middle that traps me. I will say this has gotten better over the years as I’ve written more books, but it’s always in the back of my mind.

Cover Me!

The end of the novel creation process is somehow the most anxious, maybe because all the work on my end is done, and I’m left waiting for others to do their jobs — necessary, since my editor Tori and my cover artist Tricia have those…oh, what are they called again? Oh, yeah: lives. They have lives.

But when they start wrapping up their respective jobs? Oh, the thrills, the chills, then non-stop excitement!

Getting the cover art is probably my favorite part of the process. That’s when it really starts to feel like I’m creating something real.

AF Cover

When I conceived of the cover for the first novel, Secret Origins, an idea came to mind right away: I wanted to see Carrie, the main character, in front of her school locker, her superhero costume hanging in the background. I felt it nicely suggested the two main elements of the story, and Tricia nailed my concept right off.

Coming up with a concept for book two, Black Magic Women, proved a lot harder. I wanted the same kind of vibe, a cover that hinted at the story, but was not as vague and abstract as novel covers tend to be. I love the comic book cover vibe, and wanted to stick with that, but every concept I thought up simply didn’t work. The images were too weird, or would have made for a crowded, cluttered image.

Flummoxed with that particular approach, I scrapped it in favor of something a bit more iconic. Comic book covers have a lot of classic images that get recycled, homaged, and parodied over and over — the “hero cradles dead comrade against a background of mourning friends” image, as seen on Uncanny X-Men #136 and Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 come to mind — so I thought, why not try for something like that?molly-quinn-superman-unbound-wondercon

Tricia played around with a close-up shot of Carrie pulling open her shirt to reveal her costume underneath, a la Superman, but rejected that right off. “All it was was a boob shot,” she said, and she’s right, as the lovely and talented and delightfully geeky Molly C. Quinn (at right, obviously) demonstrates from a promotional appearance for Superman: Unbound.

Tricia moved on to a more generic, but still dynamic in-flight moment, capturing Carrie as she soars above the city. This was her rough:

AF Cover Draft 1

You know what I really like about this, and it’s a small but significant thing? Carrie’s proportions are realistic. She’s not some skinny, leggy supermodel type; she’s a teenage girl.

Tricia’s plan was to show Carrie soaring over Boston, and that rough with the city backdrop looked like this:

Cover Rough 2

For the next draft, Tricia went back to the main figure, to flesh her out some more.

Cover Rough 2

You can see that in this version, Carrie has a sash around her waist. I asked Tricia to lose that for two reasons: one, it was a little too Captain Marvel-esque, and I didn’t want to draw comparisons (I also did not want to step on Carol Danvers’ fashion toes; the sash is her thing); and two, I refer to Carrie wearing a more practical belt as part of the ensemble, something in which she can keep money and her phone. Besides, I like superhero outfits that embrace practicality. If you were wearing a skintight outfit, you’d want pockets too, right?

Tricia made the tweak, finished the inking, added color, and dropped in the background.

Cover Rough 3

Looking good! The next step was to add the color effects…

final front_nocover

And finally, the text, and voila! Behold, the fully finished cover art for Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00009]


All that’s left now is for Tricia to finish up the back cover, and this baby is DONE!

And Now, For Something Completely Different

This past weekend, Mike the writer took a weekend off to play minion for my wife Veronica, who had a booth at the Rhode Island ComicCon (the third con ever for Storied Threads).

For me, the fun part of working cons is playing “spot the cosplay.” I’ve grown to appreciate how creative and clever some people can be, with their costume choices and in crafting their costumes and props, and I love the costumes that go in wonderfully weird directions — the ones who stand out among the thousands of Adventure Time outfits, Jokers and Harley Quinns, Deadpools, and (yes, I’ll say it) Doctors.

To wit, perhaps my favorite outfit of the show, for the obscurity of it: Captain Chaos, Dom DeLuise‘s alter-ego from The Cannonball Run.


This fellow made the best of a bad leg and went as Professor X from the X-Men, but he went the extra mile and wore a Cerebro rig.

Funny thing is, I don't remember posing for this picture.
Funny thing is, I don’t remember posing for this picture.

This girl wasn’t any specific character, but I loved the steampunk weapons rig. It was extremely well-done.

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An odd but cool crossover: Soundwave (with Laserbeak) and Mr. Freeze.

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Another fun, unusual choice: Dum-Dum Dugan of the Howling Commandos, with, for some reason, the Infinity Gauntlet.

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This girl has a pretty cool (ha, see what I did there?) Jack Frost (from Rise of the Guardians) outfit in general, but I was wowed by the staff, which had a PVC pipe frame, and was then covered in crinkled masking tape for the texture, given a brown base coat, a white and blue frost layer, and then, to finish, more white and blue mixed with glitter.

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