By now you’ve probably heard about Specimen, our board game which pits a space freighter crew against a genetically modified super-monster. If you haven’t: it’s a two-player game, and one of the twists is that the monster changes with each game because players can custom-build their “specimen” from over 20 different attributes.
As we were playtesting and demo-ing the game around the Midwest, people would ask if we were going to make Specimen into a movie. Never say never, we said, though it’s probably a long way off. But we got to thinking: how would such a movie play out? With so many different possible monsters, which one would we feature? Would the crew survive? How many? Would we follow the tried-and-true “final girl” model of so many horror films and watch Whitaker become the last person standing?
We decided that the way to find the answers to those questions was to let the game decide. So we assembled seven of the best Specimen players we know, ranked them and built brackets. We invited some of our cast members to participate, as well as some of our more outstanding playtesters. The last two players’ game would determine the official, canonical sequence of events in the world of Specimen. Whenever possible, we’ve been playing these games at Geek Bar Beta in Chicago.
Here are the brackets for the first round, which we played last week. Eric Van Tassell was given a bye in the first round, for no real reason other than an eighth player wasn’t available.
The first round is now complete. We had three really good games. Only one of the top seeds advanced. In the first game, Jodi Brown (playing the Specimen) narrowly defeated Alex Hunt. The second game saw Amy Hopkins (playing the Specimen) win on the fifteenth and final turn by blowing up the ship against Lonnie Harris. The last game had Ele Matelan (playing the Crew) defeating Alan Vuchichevich’s collapsible spine Specimen.
We’re now ready for Round Two. Here’s the bracket as it stands (and yes, we’re about a week behind):
What do you think will happen? Send your predictions to email@example.com.
As 2014 draws to a close, you’re no doubt inundated with “Best of” and “Worst of” lists all over the place. Try as we might, we couldn’t resist the urge to try a couple of those ourselves to see what the fuss is about. So, we sat down with our good friends Eric Van Tassell and Ele Matelan (both of Specimen fame, among other things) to list our top genre movies and television shows of the year. We had a couple of great in-depth chats and the results are here in our two bonus year-end podcasts!
Best Genre TV shows of 2014 Podcast
Best Genre movies of 2014 Podcast
And of course, everyone’s got an opinion, so let us know yours! Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop a note on our Facebook page!
Our new sounds for this month are tied in with a common horror trope: trapping the demon in a circle of enchanted flame. The binding ceremony usually involves drawing symbols on the floor in blood or salt, and setting the circle on fire once the demon steps inside.
Our Demon Fire soundpack comes in three varieties; the differentiating factor is the ignition source for the flame. ‘Cause, let’s face it – you don’t want your players asking, “hey, if we’re in a medieval setting, why am I using a Zippo to light this fire?” Or alternately, in a modern game, “where the heck did I get a torch?”
And in addition, each download comes with a ten-minute loop of magic flame with no ignition sound, so if you just want continuous fire, you can do that too at no extra charge!
Of course, these fire sounds don’t have to be used exclusively to depict demon traps. Really, you could use them for just about anything your players feel like setting on fire. And if your players are like ours, that’s a lot of things!
The daemon has walked right into your carefully-laid trap; directly into the center of the circle of blood sigils on the stone floor. In the dim light of this dank dungeon, it was easy to conceal it with some hastily-arranged dirt and pieces of rat dung. You touch your torch to the edge of the circle, and the floor erupts in a magical flame.
Now, daemon, we will talk.
This effect is the sound of a torch igniting a magic flame that burns for ten minutes.
You have the demon right where you want it. It’s just walked right into the center of the circle of blood sigils you painted on the floor. Before it knows what’s happening, you light a stick match and touch it to the blood. The circle erupts in a magical flame that spreads out to both sides and surrounds the demon in a second.
Shall we begin our conversation, hellspawn?
This effect is the sound of a wooden stick match igniting a magic flame that burns for ten minutes.
You’ve got the demon right where you want him. The smug sonofabitch just walked right into the center of the circle of blood sigils you hid under the throw rug. You smile, just a little, and spark up the chrome lighter in your hand. You throw it to the floor, and the circle erupts in a magical flame. Now old blackeyes there is trapped until you say so.
Before I gank you, you’re gonna spill, buttwipe.
This effect is the sound of a modern lighter igniting a magic flame that burns for ten minutes.
Demon Flame Loop
Now that the demon is trapped within the blood circle, the flame will continue to burn and he won’t be able to leave. This ten-minute loop of magic demon fire will allow you to question him all you like.
We’re tremendously excited to announce that we’ve set up all 122 cards for the game as a Print-on-Demand product, available from DriveThruRPG.com. Now instead of printing out, cutting out and pasting together all those cards, you can have a professionally printed deck delivered straight to your mailbox (You will still need to print out and assemble the map, counters and screen, but this does save you an awful lot of work).
I may have mentioned it before, but we’ve started a monthly podcast to talk about sound effects stuff, genre stuff, movies, etc. And we also talk a lot about our new board game. This month we continue a conversation we started last month with Eric Van Tassell and Alan Vuchichevich, who are two of the actors in the game. They’ve also done loads of playtesting on Specimen and have some great insights on how to play the Specimen and how to play the crew. You can get all of our podcasts at toxicbagpodcast.wordpress.com/ or through iTunes.
We’ve created a site specifically for our new board game, Specimen. There you’ll find articles about how to play the game; good strategies for playing the crew or the monster; videos about different strategy cards and the development of the game; and selected game images. There are also some downloads of living rules and (soon) other goodies, as well as an exploration of the world in which Specimen takes place.
Visit the site at https://specimengame.wordpress.com/
“I think people over here, they’re far too down on American history: ‘Oh, well, we have no history because we’re such a young country.’ But that’s not true at all. It’s such a rich history that you guys have. And now we’re utterly bastardizing it.” – Tom Mison, actor, Sleepy Hollow
In between the new season of Walking Dead and the amazing formerly-lost-forever Doctor Who episodes, I’ve been taking a look at some of the new TV shows that premiered this fall. One of them is Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. The show is pretty astounding, mainly in its ability to unabashedly borrow from so many iconic TV series and still attempt to be unique and new. It has the believer/skeptic dynamic of The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully front and center (with Orlando Jones standing in for Mitch Pileggi’s Walter Skinner). It has a Holmes/Watson vibe going on, complete with Tom Mison as a low-rent Benedict Cumberbatch clone. It trots out the same “Book of Revelations Is Actually Happening” storyline we saw in Season 5 of Supernatural. And so on. The storyline about Abbie and Jenny, two sisters who are traumatized at a young age by experiencing a supernatural event and wind up on completely different life paths as a result, and then come back together as adults to chase/face their demons, is in many ways a cooler setup for a show than the time-displaced Ichabod Crane, and I kinda wish I could watch that show instead. Wait, I already do, but it’s about two brothers named Winchester…
But none of those things are the thing that really bugs me about Sleepy Hollow.* Here’s the thing that really bugs me: Ichabod Crane.
Crane is, in this incarnation of the tale, a man who was born in England in the 18th century, educated at Oxford and part of George Washington’s Colonial army – specifically, the “fighting supernatural baddies” part of Washington’s army. And I understand why the show’s creators needed him to be something other than the slightly conceited, fraidy-cat small-town schoolteacher from Washington Irving’s short story, because that guy would never have been able to be the heroic center of a supernatural adventure show set in the 21st century. It’s that first bit that gives me pause: Born. In. England. In Irving’s story, Ichabod Crane was a native of Connecticut. Born after the Revolutionary War, so he’s American, whereas even if Tom Mison’s quarter-century-older Crane had been born in America he would’ve been a British citizen.
Why is this a big deal? I hear you cry.
It’s a big deal because of the place “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” holds in the history of the United States of America. Irving wrote his tale at a time when the USA was a very young country, which had yet to be taken entirely seriously by the superpowers of the time (whether we’re taken entirely seriously now is a discussion outside the scope of this post). In terms of art, music, and literature, countries like England, France and Spain were decades or centuries ahead of us. The U.S. had no literary canon, no folkloric tradition; in 1819 we hadn’t had much time to develop any. Washington Irving was the guy who gave Americans our first taste of having a national mythology and authors we could call our own. As such, it’s probably no accident that Ichabod Crane was an American by birth – he was, after all, one of the nation’s very first fictional protagonists. Why in the world would you make him French, or German, or – heaven forfend – English?
People argue about whether Batman should be played by a Welshman, or whether they should ever cast an American to play James Bond. This is different. This is like rewriting Bond as a CIA agent, born in Louisville, Kentucky, or better yet, making King Arthur a Saxon.
I don’t think that would go over so well.
Note: my complaint is concerned with literary tradition. It starts and ends there. It’s not about nationalism or politics. Please keep those aspects out of any comments you decide to post, and please do not attempt to ascribe any political motivations to me or my little essay. Thank you.
*Though the fact that we’re what, five episodes in and Ichabod is still wearing 18th century clothes kinda drives me up a wall. Abbie even told him to start wearing contemporary clothes. Come on!