Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Official Starships Collection Issues 36 and 37: Long Term Cannon Fodder and Andorian Greys

The Oberth Class probably has one of the worst service records in Starfleet.

Alongside the Miranda Class it turned up in bits, in rocks or in the sights of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey pretty often and one of the only times it survived was when it showed up three seconds before the credits rolled on Star Trek: Generations.

Opening the usual parcel did show that mine was in it's "pre-annihilation" state without a single piece hanging off. Mega. Love it.

It is, to mis-quote sports fans, a starship of two (distinct) halves. The saucer/primary hull is very heavy, very detailed and decalled up as the first of the Oberth Class ships to grace the screen, the USS Grissom. I would have been disgruntled if it has been marked up as anything else since this is the vessel that made the class famous. Not bad for a model that was only there to get blown up by Kruge. 

That heavy primary hull is of course the big metally piece of this release and is a big contrast against the very light and surprisingly flimsy tubular secondary hull. The aztec paint detail and markings are excellent but I was very aware of its fragility from the second it came out of the box. Around that same issue is the stand fitting itself. Very tight it is but it has been noted to be causing some scratching to the paintwork if you attempt to remove it.

So let's weigh (!) this up a bit more. The Oberth Class is one of the most seen starships of all time, appearing in movies, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine in various states so it's nice to see her at in her prime and the model belays that perfectly. The joint lines are virtually invisible here, well hidden by the position of the warp nacelles and their connection to both hulls and therefore keeping all those glaring gaps well out of sight. For note, unusually there are no transparent plastic sections, even on the microscopic impulse engine at the rear of the primary hull.

One of the other great things about the Oberth Class USS Grissom is it's size. With the Runabout recently, this new vessel benefits from the wonders of "big scale", allowing a much better level of depth to admire. The surface lines are much more defined with the detail sweeping across both hulls fluidly. Yes, it is obvious which parts are made of which material but there is a good level of consistency across the whole ship when it comes to their detailing. 

Two things however have let me down a little with the ship however. One is that the alignment of the window "lighting" on the saucer piece is out of alignment with the window slots (that's not hand-finished) and that on mine the tail of the secondary hull is slightly chaffed, Mind, these are minor points when you take into account the classic design and the overall result which has allowed Eaglemoss the chance to apply larger decals for once and cover every surface accurately. The design itself isn't one of my ultimate favourites however this is a top class replica.

The issue 36 magazine follows standard procedure with overall details on the class with a chunk of photos from its movie and episodic appearances including as the USS Cochrane and the USS Pegasus and briefly (very briefly) covers the building and filming of the original model. Apart from the model though all the CGI stuff on the cover and inside the mag is Pegasus. Nice but a bit odd as the model is Grissom.

Anyway, it does include a great visual comparison between the study and filming models used for The Search for Spock. Sandwiched between those two sections is a great little read on the production of that third Star Trek movie installment - designs that would last for many years after. Due to page constrictions it's not indepth but the photos are good to see and provide some insight into the development process.

Issue 37 returns us once more to the seemingly bottomless mine of ships that come from the four seasons of Enterprise. This is the eighth release from the show and the third in the last four. Issue 39 will also be an Enterprise ship in the form of the Romulan Drone which does provide a sense of Archer-era saturation. Nevertheless it's another solid release if substantially plastic. 

That is the biggest criticism I can launch at the streamlined Andorian ship that actually looks like a ship - it has wings and everything - is that it's about 92% plastic and 8% metal.

Those flashy little metallic wings are that 8% but on the counterside it does have more clear transparent plastic sections if that's what suspends your starship and the hull detail in comparison to the plan views is incredibly subtle with two-tone silver all over. Comparing the model to the pictures in the mag and to a selection of Enterprise screenshots it does appear very accurate to the "real thing" and one more chalked up success for the show. There do seem to be a lot more recessed and embossed details across the ships but there have been more of these that have been light on the metalwork.

The Andorian Battle Cruiser is indeed very light but the lack of metal hasn't detracted from the work that has gone into its making. Indeed there have been rumblings about the drop in quality recently which really shocked me as there have been some brilliant models in the last few months - the Prometheus, the Jem'Hadar fighter, the Runabout to name a few. I would even go as far as to say the quality has improved since there were some proper shoddy releases in the early days where they weren't totally screen accurate or there were some very shoddily constructed ships just to keep up with the unexpected demand.

Admittedly on the Andorian ship we have here the blue engine segments in the pods aren't split in two and the red impulse segments are a wee bit large but the finish is clean, the paint textured and there aren't any pieces falling off. I would also note that on both ships the stand fitting is perfect - and this has also been improving since the early days. Remember the non-stick Romulan D'deridex Class or, as I found out, the incredible falling Miranda Class that I did have on my work desk but had to remove since it fell out every time you nudged the surface.

OK - a brief sojourn into the literary quarter of this release. The Battle Cruiser is very conspicuous and the info within is about at the same level giving very little insight inside the ship. We didn't get much of a look round one of these in Enterprise so much of the info is reliant on the dialogue within episodes that featured it and discusses, on the whole, defence and engine capabilities. 

The views, as you would expect and I certainly have, still lack any level of decent detail for the discerning fan but at least we have a well presented narrative on the return of the Andorians to the Star Trek universe and their sporadic appearances since the classic Journey to Babel. If it hadn't been for one Jeffrey Combs they might have only come back for a single episode but since he's so damn good and made Shran his own, we got more and more of the blue-skinned race.

Trading off space from the designing section was a good choice here although most of the space is taken up with John Eaves sketches. Actually I don;t care because they're always great to see and understand where your favourite ships came from.

Neither the Oberth or Kumari Class ships from this month are high-profile classic designs but they have still come out at a high level of quality. When there is a dud I can assure you it will be highlighted but for December, these have been two very understated models which deserve just a fraction more of the limelight.

In other news we have the Delta Flyer to look forward to in January as issue 38 followed by the Romulan Drone in issue 39. Recently we've also been blessed with the first issue cover pics for the USS Pasteur and the Species 8472 Bio-ship which I've included for reference below.

Included with the magazines this month was also the flyer for the limited edition binder. Perfect for holding those special editions that get pushed out every time you hit a 16th issue, rumour is that demand is already outstripping supply on these so get it while you can.

You can get your collection off to a start now by following our link to the left. The Official Starships Collection releases a new addition every fortnight.

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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Final Five for Three?

So that whole hashtag campaign to get Jonathan Frakes in the director's seat for Star Trek 3 seems to have amounted to nothing.

Frakes apparently wanted to direct the third movie from the alternative universe. To be fair, I would want to direct it but no-one got round to asking me. I can see what and why fans wanted the former Enterprise first officer to get the gig but the studio stood firm and while the publicity won't have done them any harm, they seem to have chosen another path.

Thing is the #bringinriker campaign didn't even see the seasoned director make the supposed final five.. Not only did Frakes not make the list but neither did rumoured Shaun of the Dead helmer Edgar Wright who was right in centre frame less than four weeks ago. God bless social media.

For those who haven't see the list, it supposedly contains Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), Justin Lin (Fast & Furious), and Duncan Jones (Source Code). OK, so actually the last one has already been fairly vocal in ruling himself out because he has other personal projects he wants to focus on and complete in the next few years which really leave four. I guess if we wait a few more weeks someone will leak the proper list and if we're really lucky, the whole script. Do I actually believe this is the list? Not a jot to be honest. Hey, all rumours are good rumours in the media frenzy.

So where am I going here? Well I think that the choice to ignore the Frakes campaign is a bold and sensible move on the part of Paramount. His record is excellent and certainly when it comes to Star Trek he took charge on the brilliant First Contact but we seem to ignore that he also ran the show on Insurrection (bit harsh as I like it) and Thunderbirds. If the script is total guff it doesn't matter who directs it - my near-three year old son might as well have a go - because there's only so much a director can do if he's handed a story that doesn't work. Insurrection is a good example of that. Frakes does a solid job and makes it look great but the story is still average, two-part episode fare. 

Look at Nemesis. John Lagan admitted he was a massive Star Trek fan (and it overpowered him) as is Robert Orci and,  by association so is Jonathan Frakes.  Does over familiarity cause an issue?  I think so. JJ might not have dealt what we expected but at least his Star Trek was fresh and unhindered by the previous 40-odd years. I suspect Frakes could be too attached to the vision of the Prime Universe and cause more issues with what is allegedly an already unwieldy project. Get some fresh eyes and a fresh perspective which will move Trek forward and avoid stagnation. We love Frakes but I'm,  for one,  happy he's not on the list and fans haven't been listened to in this case. 

Having Frakes on board would, for the older fans be great, the comfortable duvet of familiarity, the comfort blanket of the 90's Star Trek but that can't happen. A new director may better understand the way to gel the new and original more than Abrams and will have Orci on hand as producer (he'll have the time since he's also dropped involvement with Power Rangers) but if that story isn't sorted then it's a losing battle from the beginning. However, with all the media furore around the production and it's still 18 months from release, it's sure to be a big summer blockbuster if only for people wanting to see what the result is of all this turmoil.  

Of course all these suggestions could be a brilliant bit of misdirection by Paramount/Bad Robot to get us off the scent and then we'll find out that Frakes has been helming for about six weeks. If this is the case, you can say you heard about it here first. 

One thing I don't agree with is the rumour that the film-makers are envisaging that the franchise can survive without catering for the original fans. That rumour does seem utterly, UTTERLY ridiculous as these are the core who provide a sizeable portion of the viewing market and constitute the majority who are buying the DVDs, blu-rays and other assorted merchandising before, during and after release. The average filmgoer will more than likely know that the third reboot movie marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek unless they live under a massive rock but they aren't going to be doing much more than seeing the cinematic 3D experience. We're not saying that you have to retreat back to familiar ground but there has to be some tip of the hat to the original show. You owe it for giving you a box office success and also to me as I have hugely overused "seem", "apparently" and "supposed" far too much in this article.

The other rumour about the studio wanting Star Trek 3 to be more like Guardians of the Galaxy nearly made me cry. Jeez people, let Star Trek be Star Trek!!! Update and reboot yes, make it more accessible to a new fanbase; yes but don't plagurise others work. Let Star Trek be Star Trek and let Marvel do what Marvel do. I get that you want to replicate it's success and you do have Zoe Saldana but let that be as close as it gets please. I can't and don't want to imagine Kirk whacking on his mixtape of Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill as he blows up a squadron of D-4s. Star Trek doesn't need that kind of edge,  more action less thinking. It has its own identity and doesn't need to copy another for success. 

What's you take on the web of movements and words around the Star Trek 3 production? Still care...? Drop your thoughts below!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Seekers 2: And Now the Continuation

A starship down and a seemingly malevolent alien race are in control of a planet.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that might be a great tag line to introduce a standalone novel but in this case it's a description of how the second Seekers story kicks off. 

Dropping the reader right into the middle of the story will be of no issue to those who have (sensibly) tackled Seekers 1 however for those of us that haven't it's more than a little challenging.

There is a brief recollection within the first chapter of Point of Divergence (the subtitle for the second book) as to the events that immediately preceded this release but they are pretty sparce and it's not as accessible as I found The Fall could be if you weren't reading them in a linear fashion. However I doubt that with Seekers you'd be reading the second book if you hadn't touched the first.

Anyway, let's tackle this story and see where it takes us. As with every one of our book reviews we do like to note that there may be SPOILERS ahead so if you are worried we'll give something away, click onto one of our other articles and enjoy.

Seekers 2 is a direct sequel, launching the reader back into a tense confrontation between the Klingons, led by Kang, the Federation and an evolving people known as The Changed. These Changed - and one in particular - are fairly hostile towards outsiders and aren't concerned with differentiating a Klingon from a human as we come to find out fairly soon. It's a conflict with two fronts actually as we have the surface activity involving all three parties around the crashed hull of Captain Terrell's USS Sagittarius and then the stand off between Kang and the USS Endeavour in orbit above. 

For new readers there are a lot of characters to get acquainted to fairly briskly although anyone who has made it through book one will have no trouble identifying the leads here. My issue is that they all seem very average with no-one particularly standing out or making a mark and that's a shame since the grounding of Point of Divergence is perfect, relating back to The Paradise Syndrome and the Preservers as well as exploring their legacy and secrets. But I couldn't get excited. Sorry.

You see this series (which will be receiving at least a third book in 2015) just doesn't seem to deliver the suspense and excitement factor I've felt with other recent Star Trek literary releases. It's good but standard fayre that seems to be trailing off the backend of the very successful and well regarded Vanguard series. Perhaps the hype for these books has overshadowed their purpose but that doesn't mean that authors Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore haven't done a good job because they have. This is solid and well written with solid and well written characters in a solid and well written environment however the spark just doesn't seem to eminate from the page and this really does take a long time to get anywhere. If there's one thing I can say it's that while the first book provided a great cliffhanger to draw readers back for a second helping it's continuing story has echoes of one of The Next Generation's less successful two-parters - the second round never quite lives up to the work put into the first slice.

In fact I found the first half of this book a slog. Nothing really happens once the Tomol known as Nimur completes her/its transformation into one of the Changed (close to the opening) and sets about making sure her brethren also take the evolutionary leap they have been restrained and nigh on forced to avoid for centuries by the Preservers through a life-ending ritual. That alone is a great draw as a plot point not dissimilar to Logan's Run in it's conception but when the bulk of the book is drawn into an almost cat and mouse chase sequence across the planet with the Sagittarius in the middle effecting repairs it gets a bit repetitive. 

Captain Khatami and the Endeavour are there for plot exposition, revealing the machinations of the Preservers and their relationship with the trampled Tomol but offer little heroics. Khatami herself bounces between the planet and her ship and while we might have expected the crew of the Enterprise to knuckle down and find a solution quick time, the Starfleet crew here seem to take a while going round the planets to come up with something feasible - and that's after a considerable amount of time with characters chatting about their observations of the Tomol or Kang trying to guess what's going on just about anywhere.and repair his own damaged vessel.

Luckily there is a turn of events but it could have come earlier in the book when the Tomol/Changed finally arrive at the Sagittarius but as a new reader to the series I wasn't gripped. The key character here is, of course, Terrell and we all know that he's destined for more wriggly things in The Wrath of Khan which totally detracts from any sense of forboding that could have been created here. Had this been another captain, another name and character specifically for this series then we might have cared as we would have come to know them in the course of one and a half novels. Given it's Terrell you can't take the danger seriously and that's where this whole series might fall down. The premise is good, the idea is good but one captain just lets the realism slip because of our knowledge of the "future".

The Tomol themselves, complete with morphing ability that makes them sound uncannily like the Hulk at some points and Superman at others aren't evil but driven to eradicate all that isn't pure from their home and cause some damage along the way to make the outsiders pay for apparently stunting their growth - in other words thinking the Starfleet crews are their former "jaliers", the Preservers aka the Shenai. Point of Divergence does get very wrapped up in the whole situation with what is causing the change and genomes, DNA and all sorts of biological tech get blasted in to help explain the challenge but I wasn't sure how this would work out and what the point was when the mission seems to be to ensure the Sagittarius crew are rescued. Ok, so it's a reaction to make sure the Tomol/Changed remain on the planet as they can become airbourne but these abilities seem to hinder the plot and make the apparent adversary a super-race and therefore seemingly unstoppable by any normal convention which is equivalent to writing yourself into a very tight corner.

I do feel for the authors of this second book and also for David Mack who wrote the first book. Perhaps my view on the series would be different had I chosen to read and review the first chunk of the tale but sadly that wasn't possible on this occasion but it does go to prove how sometimes just picking up a book from a series can make it incredibly inaccessible. As I'd missed a lot of character build-up and establishment in Seekers 1 I did find all of the characters distant and perhaps a little one dimensional. I didn't understand who they really were because those following the story already knew that and for me not engaging in that formation of a narrative relationship and believing in the characters absolutely shut down my engagement with this book. Had I got to know the crews in the first place I may well have approached this novel much more openly and positively but as it stands, as a standalone, I felt it doesn't hit the mark.

For all of you thinking of reading Seekers you absolutely HAVE to read book one otherwise book two will be a waste of your time and money. I just hope that having taken the time to dabble with the second book I might stand a chance of understanding book three next year. That and I'll have to grab a copy of book one.

Following the Seekers saga? Do you think we're right? Let's discuss!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Mind Over Matter: Dream on Data

"Data...sometimes a cake is just a cake..." 

Season seven's Phantasms is among my favourite The Next Generation episodes ever. I spent a whole weekend in my teens transcribing the script from VHS volume 79 and typing it up. In some respects it makes Schisms look like a trip out to the seaside for utter weirdness yet it has me enthralled thanks to its unique plot and imagery. Then real shame is that the basis for the story is only explored in two episodes of The Next Generation and tragically never gets any more airtime due to the demise of Data in Nemesis

I guess it was one if those things that really would need it's own episode to talk about and I guess coming up with plots surrounding a dream programme aren't the easiest of things to come up with. This breakthrough in Data's programming was unleashed about half a season earlier in Birthright, Part I which I now think is a great little story. While the plot around the activation of the dream programme is only explored in the first part, it's one of the strongest indicators that Data is capable of becoming so much more and gets to keep an improvement for once rather than having it bestowed as a thank you or stolen from him. 

Now, Phantasms. I would absolutely love to wax lyrical over this one... Oh go on then, I will. Twenty years since it first aired (Really?! That long?) it's one of those classic The Next Generation moments for me. As an immediate successor to Birthright, Part I,  it does the story of Data's dreams the justice they were ill-afforded and ignored by the concluding part of the sixth season instalment. Brandon Braga is of course the man behind the script while Patrick Stewart held the directorial reins for the episode. This could easily have mutated into a schmaltzy "Data-learns" story as he comes to terms with his dreams and what they mean it goes as opposite in direction as possible. 

While saving the ship from some slug-like hitchhikers, we gain a troubling entrance into Data's psyche. Perhaps placing it against the recent emotions he experienced due to Lore in Decent would be as justified as relating it back to the more understandable visions that were realised in Birthright. There it was about Soong as creator, forging Data using his own hands and then letting him loose to explore and evolve. It was evidence that Data could make significant jumps in his understanding and abilities but there is a far more poignant moment in the sequel of Phantasms. When I rewatched it I still got the tingle of amazement that this line made it into the final version. When Data awakes from his second dream sequence he speaks to Geordi in engineering and starts to say that when he woke up he..... And never finishes the sentence. 

Is it that eventually the emotion chip he finally receives in Generations (and conveniently turned on and off for First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis) would not have been required? Was Soong's surprise in his appearance to Data in Birthright to do not only with the fact that his ultimate creation had managed to access such a deeply ingrained programme that he knew it could lead to self-development of emotions without external assistance? For me it's one of the most jaw-dropping cast off lines of the entire series, even more "argh" inducing than the Picard/Crusher romance that never quite happened. Had we explored the dreams of the android some more would this have been an eventual outcome?

The benefit of hindsight, hmm? I actually think we'd never get an answer to that unfinished question and it's important to remain on target here. Phantasms perhaps highlights how far Data has come since the beginning of The Next Generation while perhaps showing that he still has a great distance still to complete. His dreams bleed into reality and while it eventually becomes clear that there is a purpose to his "waking dream state" which reveals the existence of the creatures feeding on cellular peptides, it genuinely emotes some of the most chilling sensations I've ever felt within an episode of the series, specifically the sequence with Troi in the turbolift which was originally trimmed by the BBC when they first aired the episode. While Data is able to dream and thus be a step nearer to his goal of becoming human he still has the ability to turn it on and off at his will - there is still that last hurdle to overcome where it will "play" automatically rather than being instigated when desired. While the Troi incident is naturally chilling, the reminder of the dream sequence which repeats itself through the story is as bizarrely imagined as it is apparently logical by the tale's end and it would be more than criminal to avoid at least one reference to the "Troi Cake". All signs of consumption - and did you notice that the slice Worf is eating is cut into the Starfleet delta shape?

Anyway, let's look more like at what these stories say about Data. I actually think that the dream programme is far darker than we sense here. I I personally don't think Data really understands the power of the visions even when realises the significance of the visions at the conclusion of Phantasms which ultimately leads to the salvation of the Enterprise crew. In fact it could be seen that this addition is a weakness. I look at it this way, not only does he oversleep but there is the attack on Troi to consider. In Birthright, Data is wiling to effectively self harm to experience the programme again and becomes fanatic to the point of obsession with recreating images from the initial vision. While he might see it as some kind of Holmesian mystery to solve there is genuine danger to reach that goal and learn what it might all mean. It is perhaps more of a lost opportunity in Phantasms to push Data to yet another level that would be artificially provided in GenerationsMaybe this belays that Data's personal evolution is not finite and that he simply does not understand how the dream programme could aid the ongoing development of his humanity even when there is moment that could define his future and is (almost) missed. 

While the choice of location for both of Data's dream experiences are firmly on the Enterprise (budget limitations i expect) is limited his dreams relate firmly to his past with fantastical embellishments - Riker's straw, Soong as a blacksmith. This latter vision has a thread carried into the sequel with the workmen i dressed in equally period garb. Interesting that such a futuristic being as Data would hark back to such an age - maybe hints of his preference for the odd Sherlock Holmes mystery coming through his android subconscious here! The very unsophisticated look of the workmen as well as Dr Freud's involvement perhaps are even further suggestions that Data's dreams and possibly his evolution are still in their infancy - he has yet to evolve to a more high-tech age and is still regarded by his now-deceased creator as a child in so many ways. 

While the workmen and Freud, like all the aspects of the dream are in some way symbolic, they are the most memorable aspects of the story. Where else would you find three manual labourers attempting to dismantle a plasma conduit in the office of a famed psychologist in the dream of an android lieutenant commander on a starship (souonds even more bizarre when you read it back). The addition of that emotion chip back in Brothers might have been a bit early given some of Data's nuances over the later seasons (particularly when fed emotions from that very chip in Descent).

Just to take a few moments to indulge in Phantasms it is more unusual when you look at the structure of the story. The Data plot is also aligned with a faulty warp core, the Annual Starfleet Admirals' Banquet and a love-struck young ensign in Engineering. It's packed to the saucer section with great moments which all intertwine into one strand at some point along the way whether we realised it or not. Data's dreams act as the core to the narrative with all these elements packed around it seemingly separate but yet all fundamental to the solution - even if that solution is keeping the captain busy for a few minutes elsewhere.

While the dream in Birthright is all about expression and growth, the second tale of Data's mental state is much darker and unnerving as a whole. Birthright is more open and inviting to Data, making him want to explore the possibilities buried within his cranium but that's totally flipped by the surrealism and haunting melodies that are played throughout Phantasms.  You're never quite sure what the visions mean right up to the close of either installment and it's the deciphering of the experience which helps us to not only, perhaps, get to grips with the story but also understand how Data deals with a new experience, function or program. How we would have seen this expanded further we will never know. Interestingly after Phantasms there is only one more throwaway reference to Data's dreams in a single line at the end of Masks near the middle of the season. 

Not only that, but while it's one of my favourite episodes I would really like to find out how the cellular peptide eating critters manifested themselves into Data's dreams in the first place. Maybe it was one of the great misfires of the latter years of The Next Generation alongside the cringe-worthy Force of Nature's warp five speed limit. I think an even more mind-bending third story would have been necessary to top these two pieces. Data as a bird and Troi as a cake? Surely Picard as the White Rabbit had to be the logical next step?

Friday, 12 December 2014

Formation of the Fleet: Welcome to Attack Wing

I failed at Star Trek Online. I hate parting with money for a supposedly "free" game which takes ages to get anywhere, uses a ton of disk space and relies heavily on "pew-pew" tactics.

OK, I applaud that actual Star Trek cast from The Next Generation and Voyager are getting involved with the storylines but it all ends up in the same shooty actions and I became fairly bored pretty quickly. Sorry Online but you failed to ignite my passions for online gaming in every aspect. Deleted. I won't be going back.

Which led me into looking for something else to float my Star Trek gaming boat and I ended up going back to something that I'd sniffed around a while ago; Star Trek Attack Wing. A few people might scoff and suggest I've just exchanged pew-pew on the laptop for pew-pew on the tabletop but hear me out and then you can fire all the shots you want across my bow.

Back in t'day I wasn't adverse to a bit of roleplay gaming from the likes of Games Workshop but with the passing of time these things get boxed and stored in the loft. Attack Wing does have similar attributes, a free-playing game area of any size (be realistic though), free movement, a ton of features for each ship and that all important range ruler.

I've toyed with the idea for a while and then with some birthday money I took the plunge and purchased the Starter Pack. I got a good deal on it so I recommend hunting around and even managed to add in the USS Voyager expansion for not much more than the set would have cost me on its own at full retail price.

For a starter box it's packed solid with everything you'll need to get running the first part of your likely-to-expand-rapidly fleet. There's the Galaxy Class USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D, a Klingon Vor'Cha Attack Cruiser and a D'deridex Class Romulan Warbird which means two or three player games can be run from day one of your gaming investment. Besides the ships the box contains one Rules of Play book (including some very useful introductory game steps), a chunk of push-out tokens and a couple of decks of cards.

The ship models are very basically detailed and scanning over the internet a fair few people have pimped them up to their full, correct visual specification. The promo images for the ships do make them out to be vastly more detailed than they are so just be aware before you buy. However, that taken into account, it's behind the scenes and at the edge of the board that the real magic happens. Each ship gets attached to its own little base carrying a firing arc and basic stats as well as its own captain token before being placed into the gaming arena ready to start.

Let's look at the pile of tokens first though. We're already mentioned the range ruler, there are several different movement pieces and then you're into more interesting territory with Captain tokens, ones for mission objectives, others for disabling ship features, others for indicating raised or lowered shields, whether you're using auxiliary power...there seems to be a token for just about every eventuality within the Star Trek starship realm here which makes every encounter unique and more about playing your cards right. The movement dial (pictured) is a clever little device to make sure no-one tries to cheat and avoid conflict. Forunately movement isn't as super easy as selecting a number and direction on the wheel. Each ship has movement limitations that can affect its actions and some move in different ways to others. for example the red right angle with the 3 here means that the Enterprise would be on auxiliary power and lose the chance to use an action in this round. It's a beautiful idea well executed. One other thing to note is that the Captain tokens are horribly tight to fit into the base of your starship. They do get bent quickly as the card is thicker than the gap into which it fits so you might want to either photocopy or hunt some spares out on eBay.

The cards are just as important, perhaps moreso tactically, as your movement and choice of when to attack. Each round of the game takes four stages - Planning, Activation, Combat and End - everyone plans, everyone chooses where they're going and then enters the third phase which is where the cards come into play.

Each player can choose a certain number of ships upgrades (not including their captain card) which will allow them to do certain things during play - maybe once or sometimes repeatedly. It could be allowing a secondary weapon to fire twice, firing a more powerful weapon, cancelling any previous round effects, enhancing shields - you get the general picture.

So how does it play once you've popped all the tokens from their card mounts, set your ship up and established who's commanding the Galaxy Class Enterprise and who gets the Klingons and Romulans? 

At first it's best to follow the guide and try the introductory game. I played my step-daughter and got a whooping with the D'deridex Class Warbird. Shields were down and there was no going back. However once you step past the very basic starter game it gets a lot more interesting. More factors come into play, you appreciate the maneuverability of each ship (which can be significantly different) and just what can push it to breaking point. Shields and hull damage become a lot more significant as damage cards get dealt with successful hits through your defensive grid take an effect on your ship's abilities.

The selection of your crew and therefore your upgrades becomes pretty important and as I get further into playing and collecting my fleet I'm sure it'll become more evident that certain abilities are better against certain opponents. I'm thinking of going for pure Starfleet versus Klingons however I know that there are a couple of ships outside that remit that look rather tasty. The Galaxy Class ship doesn't have to be the Enterprise either given that there's a blank card to which you can assign your own standard - USS SKoST perhaps?

As to the upgrades, each ship has different strengths and weaknesses at this level too with certain crew providing unique features which do have some relevance to their position on the ship. Geordi's are more inclined to propulsion while Riker's have a line into command. Then there's getting to grips with firing arcs and weapon power depending on your target distance and all sorts of bits I probably haven't tackled. Out of the box you don't get to play as a full fleet due to the number of ships but you can see from these three that selecting the right ones will be key to your successes. I think from conversations I've had with another recent disciple of Attack Wing who's purchased the Breen warship that it has some kind of super weapony thing. I suspect that Chang's Bird-of-Prey has the ability to fire while cloaked. It's on the To Buy list of course.

Attack Wing has been out for a while now with the current expansion wave into its ninth cycle with one a month, containing three new ships, planned right up until at least June 2015. This month saw the arrival of Wave 10 including the Vidiian starship, the Regent's ship from the Mirror Universe and the Cardassian Hideki Class squadron. So far I've only acquired the Starter Set and one USS Voyager. If you're wondering why I've not mentioned that one, I want to talk about it separately so that's my next piece on Attack Wing sorted. I've grabbed an image here which also shows Wave 11 which adds the Federation fighters, Romulan drone from Enterprise and the Krenim warship from Voyager.

For this time though let's round off the discussion on the Starter Set. It's a good deal and means that from the off you're able to play with a maximum of of three players. I get that there's some similarity to Star Trek Online here in the fact it's space combat however at least I can sit and face the person I'm playing and have a chat at the same time rather than facing a computer screen for another ten hours.The in-game variations are endless through the ship upgrades (choose your crew carefully) and the captain as well as in your choice of ship - or ships because your fleet will be growing. 

Next time I want to talk about the Voyager expansion pack and it's impact on the starter set and also it's unique features which make it one of the stand out add-ons...

Started on Attack Wing? How are you finding the game and what are your ships of choice? Let us know which ones to watch out for below!

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Sunday, 7 December 2014

Funko Goes Next

When Entertainment Earth's email landed this week I almost didn't read it.

Glad I did though as they anounced the latest Funko Star Trek figures which are slated for a March 2015 release and I for one can't wait.

Already we have the original crew with an Orion Slave Girl, a Klingon and an Andorian (no Khan?) but from next year you'll be able to step into The Next Generation era with the Picard crew and they are simply brilliant.

Picard, Riker, Data, Geordi, Worf and Troi all receive their very own vinyl figures but at the moment there's no Dr Crusher or Wesley which we think should be a special double-pack. Clad in their third season uniform variations (Troi in her season four and onwards grey onsie) from the show these are just begging you to part with some cash and can be pre-ordered now. La Forge and Troi are actually my favourites here as they do offer something a little varied in style. But for me it's the non-crew additions to this release which really excite my Trekdar.

First up there's the armour clad Klingon with a Worf-like countenance (if a bit more grey in the beard) holding his bat'leth and ready to do some honoury stuff.

However, all of the above are eclipsed by the Must Buy Locutus (or Lo-CUTE-us) of Borg. Trekdom everywhere probably skipped a heartbeat when they saw this one. The outfit is superbly screen accurate including that "red dot" laser and the armature piece. This one could be the best recreation in the Star Trek vinyl figures range to date - sold out on preorders? Probably. We've included some large images of the announced range below for you to enjoy. I have to ask if we'll see a Romulan soon in this range as I suspect a Ferengi and a Cardassian will be staples of the Deep Space Nine release that would be the obvious choice next (Garak please!). 

The new The Next Generation range are available for pre-order now from Entertainment Earth HERE. Go on, order the set.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Trek Three Seeks Alternative Direction

Orci Out.

According to a few sites (Entertainment Weekly, Deadline, Slashfilm, TrekMovie....etc etc etc) he has left the building and that this is music to fans ears but I'm not so sure.

Orci's career has had a fair few twists over the last few years; helping to revitalise the Star Trek franchise being (to us) the most important, turned down the high profile Mighty Morphin Power Rangers reboot to stay with the USS Enterprise and stopped working with Alec Kurtzman on movie projects which made it clear he had very easily made his bed.

At the moment there hasn't been any reason forthcoming for his lightning-quick departure from the project slated for a 2016 release but why would fans, as suggested elsewhere,  be rejoicing at this news?

It might be through dissatisfaction with the way in which Abrams and those associated have taken the franchise since it's 2009 return to cinemas, choosing to slide into an alternative universe and take some, erm, liberties with the source material. The 2013 sequel wasn't exactly what a lot of people were hoping for with its retreading of the Khan story but having Orci step down might initially seem great news but it does suggest there's more going on behind the scenes than we are being told. From what we can gather it appears that the production is in some of Development Hell with the team working on it being let go last month as issues over the screenplay continued to rage (more on that in a bit).

Loosing a director and someone who has been onboard since the reboot launched under Abrams  throws everything into the air once again since it can't be too long until shooting is due to begin. It doesn't fill me with faith that the vision for the third movie is in steady hands ar any level. Orci had, at the least, some idea of where the new take on the franchise was going and that could (for better or worse) be lost in the ether. Is it that perhaps with Abrams departure/defection over to the Dark Side activate alarms that Star Trek isn't the hot property that it was seen as five years ago? One to step away from now it's lost it's figurehead and chosen another path because he openly admits he prefers Star Wars? All I can say is that I hope it's his own choice and not a big kick out of the door.

Doesn't fill you with hope for the future of the movie series though and I seem to recall Robert Orci wanted the director's chair for Star Trek 3 when JJ vacated it so either he's been forced to go or there's greener grass somewhere else (the Dark Side perhaps with his former master?). Rumour is that there would have been some time travel element to Orci's third take in order to bring Shatner and Pine together (possibly) as the Vulcans attempt to change history and restore Vulcan to the timeline (Dark Horizons) however I was more inclined to believe stories of the Klingon war. If it is the case that they are looking to edge into temporal territory is this some sort of admission that blowing up Vulcan, while visually stunning and a proper mid-digit salute to the Prime Universe - was something of a short-sighted error?

For now we can only speculate over the news which broke yesterday. Edgar Wright, who visited the set of Star Trek Into Darkness and got to direct a teeny tiny piece of it is being touted as the potential replacement. When I heard this I was filled with excitement but then does he have a good enough understanding of the franchise? His directorial credits are immense including the brilliant series Spaced as well as turns with reboot Scotty actor Simon Pegg in the Cornetto trilogy (most recently The World's End). You can't deny he has the talent but would he be a good fit for such a high profile movie. I remain unsure even though I was impressed with Scott Pilgrim Versus the World however that's not even in the same high stakes league in my eyes.

If Orci has been forced out it's a shame for the writer/director although in a few weeks or months we'll be rejoicing or berating the choice of his replacement and in a year and a bit we'll get to see just what their labours have produced - and rejoice or berate that as well.

For now there's a vacant chair and a ticking clock. Star Trek 3 has to - HAS TO - be ready for 2016. I suspect a replacement will be rapidly placed to ensure this happens.

Which side do you ally to? Happy he's gone or concerned where the franchise could now go? Let us know below.