Justus Productions

B-Movie Inspirations: The Drift (2016)

This is an award winning UK sci-fi space short film made Backyard Productions UK as part of the “Darkwave universe.”  Set in a world where rare crystals – called Starlight Crystals – make FTL flight possible, it shows that even with a low budget and actors working for free, you can still tell a damn good story.  I write about this because I really feel that this Darkwave setting REALLY needs to be written up as an RPG setting.  Someone really needs to approach these guys with the idea.

As explained the beginning of the film, something called the Darkwave is an event blamed for nearly all the Starlight Crystals not working.  ONly a small percentage of them still work.  This ends up leaving many ships in mid-flight stranded in the middle of space, decades if not centuries away from a colony using sublight engines.  Finally, a sci-fi movie that respects stellar distances.

Only a few fragments of working Starlight crystals exist, so only a few ships can travel limited FTL.  Apparently the distance and speed a crystal can travel is proportional to the size in some way.  Scavenger ships armed with these crystals travel from derelict to derelict – called Drifts – salvaging cargo, rescuing passengers where possible and salvaging crystal fragments.  Some have good intentions while others don’t.  The film introduces a Ministry ship named the Deliverance ( a ship that vaguely looks like the Firefly) and it’s salvage crew of eight scavengers.  The drop out of FTL asleep in hypersleep suits after a 5 month flight, near a couple of Drifts – a cargo ship and a passenger liner – that is apparently near the nebula where the Darkwave originated.

The characters are kind of cliched – hard-ass woman inspired by Ripley from Alien, the wise-cracking American pilot, the by-the-book perfectly British captain, the pair of rough and tumble blue-collar types that are underappreciated and do all the work, a wide-eyed kid who is bound to get in trouble, rookie corporate guy and so on.   Collectively, they come across as a cross between the crew of the Firefly and the crew of the Nostromo with some homages to the marines of the Sulaco.  They come across a starship graveyard of multiple wrecks and other debris.  Their systems apparently detected a crystal fragment and they are after it.

What follows is a series of events that are reminiscent of several claustrophobic space movies like Aliens, Pandorum, and the like.  There are survivors on the ship and they all have a dark story to tell.  It is a mad dash to recover a crystal on the ship that is apparently special.  A mole in the group wants the crystal for their own clandestined purposes while the rest just try to get out.  There are moments you can tell this is a shoe-string budget production while others are top-notch.   The hallways seem thrown together and poorly constructed at times, but the set of the Deliverance is very cool.  Overall, however, the story they tell is compelling and fantastically inspiring.

From an RPG point of view, this movie is more inspiring from a setting point of view than anything else. The story itself is tropey and cliched, but would serve as a great intro adventure into the settings.  This “Ministry” they work for needs to be fleshed out, as does the covert factions within that drove the mole character.  There would need to be an idea of what the universe was like before the Darkwave and what it is now.  Colonies are isolated now, with only a few fragments available to them, perhaps only able to reach out to other nearby systems.  Smaller stellar nations would form, space would factionalize and people would start blaming others for the Darkwave.  Perhaps a whole faith would rise out of the Darkwave, saying that humanity had reached too far.

Youtube is full of short sci-fi and fantasy films, some good and some not so good.  I found this one exceptionally imaginative and inspiring.  I hope I can find the time to flesh out a setting inspired by it.


Hegemonic: Explore Build Fight Plot

From:Minion Games

Reviewed by:W. E. Mitchell

Hegemonic is a new Tabletop 4X game from Minion Games.

Do you long for the seared steak of the harsh vacuum of space to fester in your nostrils as you knock the regolith from your boots? Then it’s time to dust off your bejeweled battle shorts and start shoveling space-coal into your turbo engines. Minion Games’ new tabletop game Hegemonic is a twist on the 4X genre. Once the event horizon of a learning curve is over come, this game offers a fairly fast paced version of eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate.

From the page 2: “It is a momentous time for the galaxy-spanning Post-Human Assembly. Tens of thousands of years have passed since Humanity’s reach permeated resolutely and without conflict across the Milky Way. This era of stability and calm has continued to withstand the ravages of fate and time. But mankind always grows restless.

The Milky Way is full and the time has come to Human up some more galactic real estate. Players assume control of one of several handwavium future people to fulfill the transhumanist congress’ mission to exploit a neighboring galaxy.

Using tactics that would make Frank Herbert weep salty tears of joy into his stillsuit, players must attempt to bring their chosen faction on top in this endeavor. That is, you will once you figure out how to play the game.

First time out of the box and figuring out how to play can be daunting. Take the 45 minute per player estimated and double it for the first play through. Although the authors have included some simplified rules on page 18 of the manual to make starting out a bit less of an asteroid hurtling toward your home planet.

From the page 3: “The object is to have the most victory points (VPs) at the end of the game. VPs are earned over the course of the game by controlling regions of the galaxy and by advancing technologies.

The game is structured in a series of six rounds: Collection, Expansion, three Action Phases, and finally Arbitration.

Players start by setting up the galaxy with the core sector and a number of additional sectors depending on the number of players. This will be the start where players build bases, research technology, construct inter-galactic doom-fleets, and most importantly make money (CAPs). Players must agree on who should start as Arbitrator. Play starts with the Arbitrator who lays down their home sector and play proceeds clockwise. Once all of the home sectors are laid, the phases begin with each player doing the action of the phase in clockwise order starting with the Arbitrator. There is a handy phase tracker to keep track of play as well as a score tracker for each player’s VPs.

Collection – each player collects CAPs.

Expansion – add sector tiles to the board and draw technology cards.

Action Phases – each player plays an action cards and this repeats three times before moving on to the last phase. This is where most of the maneuvering and crushing of weaklings is accomplished. This bit is a little reminiscent of deck building games where cards are drawn, played and recovered in pursuit of specific strategies. What can be accomplished is almost endless with the variety of cards provided.

Arbitration – a new arbitrator is chosen.

This continues until all of the sectors are explored or there is no more sector tiles to play. Whoever has the most VPs wins. Tossing the loser out of the nearest airlock is optional and may result in loss of reputation with the Galactic Police and hurt feelings.

In conclusion, Hegemonic represents a breath of air fresh off the oxygen generators and should appeal to fans of sci-fi and deck building games. The streamlined card system allows for quicker play than a lot of traditional 4X games like Twilight Imperium. If you’re a big 4X fan and would like to get some friends who liked Settlers of Catan into some more complex games, this might be a good game to pick up. The learning curve is very steep, but if one person is knowledgeable enough with the set up it isn’t too hard for novices to pick up. This can be alleviated by the simplified rules provided. Variation on play is high from the different leaders and dynasties available as well as more advanced rules found on page 18 of the manual.

For more details on Minion Games and their new 4X “Hegemonic: Explore Build Fight Plot” check them out at their website http://www.miniongames.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 15

Product Summary

Hegemonic: Explore Build Fight Plot

From: Minion Games

Type of Game: 4X

Game Design by: Oliver Kiley

Graphic Design by: Oliver Kiley and Clay Gardner

Developed by: Eric Jome, Peter Dast, Garrett Dunn, and Kenneth Stuart

Artwork by: Alex Skinner and Honoel A. Ibardolaza

Number of Pages: 20

Game Components Included:1 x Galactic Core Board
9 x Five-Sector Galaxy Boards
90 x Industrial Complexes
18 x Quantum Gate Pairs
54 x Political Embassies
18 x Political Agent Units
72 x Martial Outposts
18 x Fleets Units
1 x Score Track
6 x Score Track Tokens
36 Action Cards
54 Technology Cards
60 Sector Tiles
6 Player Start Sector Tiles
1 Arbiter Token
100 Capacity Tokens
6 Player Boards
Game Components Not Included: Friends and a ravenous appetite for conquest and victory that cannot be slated my Top Ramen and all the tabasco sauce in the galaxy.

Retail Price: $79.99(US)

Retail Price: $124.23 (Can)

Number of Players: 2-6

Player Ages: 13 years old up to so old that stars cannot number your years

Play Time: 45 minutes per player (double that if you’re learning the game)

Item Number: MNI HG100

Email:Contact Page through Company Website

Website: http://www.miniongames.com/

Reviewed by: W. E. Mitchell

B-Movie Inspirations: The Colony (2013)

Browsing NetFlix again, I found a new sleeper sci-fi/post-apocalypse movie called The Colony.  Starring some of my favorites like Bill Paxton and Laurence Fishburne, this movie had a great look, a great background but a fairly predictable and straightforward plot.  It has some good concepts and execution wasn’t bad but for such an epic setting, it was a tad disappointing in story.  But there is some inspiration in it.

The Colony takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a second ice age has enveloped the world.  According to wikipedia – “By 2045, humans have built weather machines to control the warming climate due to climate change and global warming. The machines break down when one day it begins to snow and doesn’t stop. ”  That is not quite the vibe I got though and this is where my first inspiration came from.  What if these weather machines were more the cause than the solution?  Humanity’s own hubris thinking they could solve “global climate change” made it worse.  This is the perspective I approached it while watching it and is a common theme in many of my RPG campaigns.

The surviving humans live in colonies of underground compounds, where ever they can find them.  Each are referenced simply as colonies, Colony 5 and 7 being the primary bunkers we see in the movie.  Each deal with the issues you would expect in a frozen post apocalypse – food, water and disease.  The colonies stay in contact via radio and Colony 7 in particular has the luxury of satellite connections which is commonly used to search for survivors as well as thaw.

The movie spends a good amount of time introducing the characters and establishing the social environment that the survivors are in.  As you can imagine, it is pretty harsh.  Anyone that is sick is quarantined until they get better. If they don’t get better, they are banished into the cold.  Colony 7 is “ruled” by two former soldiers – one somewhat more nurturing and cerebral than the other.  Paxton plays the harsh and hard-nosed leader (Mason) while Fishburne plays the opposite type of leader (Briggs).   Briggs is officially in charge and the only thing that keeps Mason at bay.  Of course, you get the feeling that things are going to change soon and the beast that Mason is will be released.

That moment comes when they lose contact with Colony 5.  For some odd reason, Briggs volunteers himself and two others to go check it out.  Apparently it is within reasonable walking distance.  Personally, I would have said “Oh well” and stayed home.  But I hate snow.  The trek takes two days.  Passing over an old bridge, they use a grounded helicopter as shelter at the halfway point.  The tension in the movie begins to build from this point because my mind was going all over the place imagining what could be waiting for them?  Aliens?  Mutants?  Alien Mutants?  The possibilities were endless.

Going into the movie not knowing the nature of it, as I said above, I imagined all kinds of possibilities.  Unfortunately, they never fulfilled by wildest hopes.  They kept it more conventional and grounded, as well as gritty and somewhat gorey.  Simply put, Colony 5 was attacked by cannibals – savage, teeth sharpening, cold-adapted humans that have gone insane from eating human flesh.  Colony 5 is their new slaughter house as they feast on raw flesh.

Briggs and his team barely escape, losing the youngest in their group as they try.  The savage cannibals give chase until the two survivors make a stand at the bridge, where Briggs sacrifices himself by using dynamite to collapse the bridge just as the group of savages are trying to cross.  Sam makes his way back to his own colony feeling like the cannibals were defeated.  He of course arrives to find Mason ruling over the colony like a tyrant and things don’t look good.  However, all hell breaks lose when they realize that somehow, some cannibals survived, including the vicious leader who was at the center of the blast on the bridge (It could happen!).  The assault on Colony 7 begins and chaos ensues.

From an RPG game master perspective, this movie is more about atmosphere than story.  The story is not original, but not bad.  This would be a great movie to watch, however, if you are creating an ice age apocalypse setting.  It gives you ideas on the various things that could happen, things a survivor would have to deal with and the general feel of the movie was inspiring in itself.

The plot is nothing special, as I said, but the savage cannibals could be something else.  I was rather uninspired by them because I find the old trope of “no monster is any worse than the ones inside ourselves.”  But a GM could relate the bad guy back to the mysterious ice age.  Maybe it was alien terraforming and they finally get to meet the aliens.  Maybe the aliens did not expect survivors.    All kinds of possibilities there.

Overall I like the movie more because of production value than story.  They successfully created a ice age apocalypse on a fairly small budget.  I recommend it if you like that kind of movie.