Rely on Your Friends to Escape the Dark Castle

Sunday, February 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Escape from the Dark Castle Gen Con-small

Even kids love board games at Gen Con

I’ve been slowly tracking down the board games that caught my eye at Gen Con last summer. (And to do that, they really had to be something. I wandered a gigantic Exhibit Hall filled with hundreds and hundreds of booths, thousands of new games, and tens of thousands of attendees, and it took three full days to do a complete circuit.) There was no time to investigate anything in real detail, so if it looked good I snapped a quick pic and moved on.

For the past few months I’ve been sifting through those photos, and three weeks ago I came across the one above, of one of the glass cases scattered around the exhibit floor. The first thing that caught my eye was the cute kid — he sure looks like he was having fun. But the second thing was the game in the case: Escape the Dark Castle. The custom dice and oversized cards looked interesting, but most intriguing of all was the cover art, reminiscent of the British Fighting Fantasy game books of the early 80s.

It didn’t take long to find out that Escape the Dark Castle was the debut release from Themeborne in the UK. It was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign in June 2017, and shipped more or less on time in 2018. Themeborne followed up with a second campaign to fund three expansion packs a year later. A little research uncovered some great reviews (at sites like Coop Board Games and Brawlin’ Brothers), but by then I’d already ordered a copy.

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Goth Chick News: The Fireball Makes Our Feet Hurt Less, or 2020 Show Coverage

Thursday, January 16th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Goth Chick Press Pass

As the winter doldrums settle over the offices of Black Gate, exacerbating the fug which permanently hangs over the men’s WC, the only remedy is to start thinking about all our upcoming events.

Black Gate photog Chris Z and I will once again be crisscrossing the Midwest seeking out new authors, indie filmmakers and the purveyors of the strange and unusual; partially for our own amusement, but mostly for yours. I mean, let’s be honest, once we’ve downed our customary pre-show Fireball shots, pretty much everything is funny. But I am always careful to get a good night’s sleep before telling you about all we saw, to ensure what I share is interesting, if not hilarious, once we’ve sobered up.

So, without further ado, here is the 2020 lineup. Most of these shows are open to the public and many do a wider national tour, so if you’re interested, be sure to click the link to see if a similar event is coming to a city near you.

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Desperate Heroes in the Oldest City in the World: The City of Kings by Frank West

Thursday, January 9th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The City of Kings at Gen Con 2019

My trip to Gen Con this year was a little overwhelming, to be honest. I’d been invited as a guest to the Writer’s Symposium, and I had a fairly packed schedule of panels and presentations. But I did find the time to wander the enormous — and I do mean enormous — Exhibit Hall, jammed end to end with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of booths, all packed with vendors selling games. It was too much to take in all at once, so I learned to snap a photo or two every time I saw something interesting. I brought home plenty of treasures, but there was no way I could afford (or carry!) even a fraction of the items that caught my eye. So in the five months since I’ve returned from Indianapolis I’ve slowly been sifting through hundreds and hundreds of photos, trying to make sense of it all, and occasionally ordering a game or two that I find irresistible.

This has been a fun process of discovery, actually. Just this week, based on my photos and a small amount of internet research, I took a chance on The City of Kings, an ambitious Kickstarter-funded game designed by Frank West, and I’m enormously glad I did. The display at Gen Con was one of the more impressive sights in the hall — the massive game box comes absolutely packed with content, weighing in at nearly 8 pounds — but I didn’t get the chance to spend much more than 60 seconds in the booth. But of the hundreds of titles I saw, it was one of a handful that really stuck in my mind, and when I had a few extra dollars after Christmas I splurged on the core set.

The City of Kings is a fully cooperative fantasy adventure board game, meaning you and up to three friends must work together. You play the surviving leaders in the oldest city in the world, faced with the nearly-impossible task of overcoming the armies of Vesh over a series of seven stories and twelve scenarios. Each story offers different challenges and objectives. The game is playable with 1-4 players (yes, it has a solitaire option); story games run from 90-180 minutes, and the simpler scenarios 45-90 minutes.

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Goth Chick News: Finishing Out “The Season” at the Holiday Horror Con

Thursday, December 5th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Holiday Horror Con 2019-small

Last week I told you about how BG reader R.K. Robinson gave me a bit of grief for writing about Halloween in March. The fact this column is entitled Goth Chick News aside, I couldn’t help but drag him into the coverage of what is normally the last show of “the season.” Days of the Dead used to be where our road-tripping to various horror-related events ended for the year, and we settled into a long winter of Netflicking and reading before picking it all up again at the Halloween Attractions Association show in March; which is where RK came in.

However, this year BG photog Chris Z and I got an offer we could not refuse; not the least of which because it provided a perfect opportunity to offer RK a further extension of the Halloween season. That and because covering a show of this type the weekend after Thanksgiving when the Christmas décor is dripping from everywhere was just too appealing.

Enter the Holiday Horror Con.

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Jim Baen, Warren C. Norwood, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019 | Posted by Pierce Watters

Pierce Watters, Anne McCaffrey, Warren Norwood, and Linda Sanders 1978-small

Pierce Watters, Anne McCaffrey, Warren Norwood, and Linda Sanders (1978)

I got an Advance Review Copy of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at Worldcon ’81 (in Denver).

Jim Baen was handing them out at the Simon & Schuster suite. I was working for Ace, sharing my room with Warren C. Norwood, budding author, and one hell of a good friend. A great drinking buddy, too. The night before, Warren and I spent too much time in the SFWA suite and its free beer.

We saw William F. Wu and James Patrick Kelly. Kelly, Wu, and I, all three of us 1974 Clarion East graduates, were there.

I don’t quite remember how we acquired the copies of the book, but I remember Baen’s grinning face in there somewhere.

I like to call that the night Warren and Pierce almost fell out of a hotel window. Don’t try this if your hotel is higher than the first story. If the curtains in your room somehow come loose and now reside on the hotel room floor, leave them there.

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The Chinese WorldCon Bid for 2023 and the Chengdu Conference of 2019

Saturday, November 30th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

The 5th International SF Conference in Chengdu 2019-small

I’ve blogged about some of my authorly visits to China, like my first trip to the 4th International SF Conference in Chengdu in 2017, a trip to study a high-tech company for a commissioned story, and the 2nd Asia-Pacific SF Conference in Beijing in 2019. Both government and private sector are investing in the creative side of the scifi industry, especially writers and editors, in a strategic way to develop the kind of home-grown creative talent that will feed China’s growing movie, TV and game industries. One of the ways they’re doing this is to send their own people to WorldCons, and another is to bring foreign writers and editors to China. A third is that Chengdu, a major SF city, is bidding for the 2023 WorldCon.

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Goth Chick News: It’s Not Over Yet! Days of the Dead Lurches into Chicago

Thursday, November 28th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Days of the Dead 2019

I will start this week’s article with a shout out to Black Gate reader R.K. Robinson who posted “It’s only March!” on my coverage of the Haunted Association and Attractions show. Apparently, he is genuinely unaware that “the season” begins with the HAA which often happens in February (it was late this year) and generally goes all the way into November, ending with Days of the Dead. However, in honor of R.K., Black Gate photog Chris Z and I have accepted an invitation to cover the Holiday Horror Con taking place this weekend outside of Chicago, officially extending “the season” into December.

Next week our Holiday Horror Con coverage will be dedicated to R.K.

But this week we’re talking Days of the Dead (or DotD for you cool kids) and the fabulous event that it was last weekend.

DotD is a horror and pop culture convention with annual stops in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Charlotte, wrapping up its tour in Chicago. Due to its increasing popularity, the 2019 event here was moved to a bigger hotel venue then in the past, and from the looks of it, probably needs to upsize again next year. As always, DotD attracted an impressive list of celebrity guests including Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws), Steve Guttenberg (Cocoon, Police Academy) and Michael Biehn (Aliens, Terminator) among many others. Additionally, there were over 100, horror-themed vendors selling everything from jewelry to movie memorabilia. What is especially wonderful about DotD in Chicago is the amount of material we always get from meeting indie filmmakers, new artists and aspiring writers.

That, and the opportunity to do a bit of holiday shopping…

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Gaming at the End Times: Degenesis

Saturday, November 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Sample page from Degenesis: In the Blood adventure book

Gen Con 2019 was a journey of discovery for me. Well, more like a long painful marathon where discovery whacked me in the head with a club every few feet.

Over the course of three days I walked the floor of the massive Exhibit Hall, taking a picture with my iPhone every time I came across a booth I found interesting. I took hundreds of photos every one of those three days, and I doubt I could write up every one the interesting games I came across if I devoted the rest of my life to it. But I can talk about the highlights. So yeah. Let’s do that.

Gen Con this year seemed to be all about the board games. Titles like Raccoon Tycoon from Forbidden Games, mechanical monster game The Boldest from Stronghold Games, and the forest warfare simulator Root by Leder Games all captured my attention, but after trudging past five hundred new board games, I got kind of numb to them. New role playing releases were thinner on the ground, but the ones I did come across were very high quality, and perhaps none more so than Degenesis from Berlin development shop Six More Vodka.

Degenesis is set in a devastated Europe and North Africa, 500 years after a major asteroid impact completely reset human civilization. An alien something buried in the asteroid has begun to infect terrestrial flora and fauna, giving rise to horrific mutations. New cultures have emerged and given birth to 13 powerful cults that partner, war, and trade with each other. So far half a dozen core books and sourcebooks have been released, and they are gorgeously illustrated and beautiful in design and production.

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Writing is an Evolutionary Act

Sunday, October 27th, 2019 | Posted by James Van Pelt

Clarkesworld 157 October 2019-small Asimov's Science Fiction July 1986 Analog-science-fiction-and-fact-december-2016-small

Covers by Beeple, Gary Freeman and Vincent Di Fate

I had an interesting conversation with a newish writer at MileHiCon last weekend. She said that she’d been submitting to small markets until she was “good enough for the biggies.” She meant Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s, and a couple of others. She said, “I figure you only have two or three chances with those editors before they start tossing your manuscript back because they recognize your name.”

I told her about a panel I attended at WorldCon a while ago where Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt were discussing the same issue. Stanley said he’d been receiving manuscripts from the same author for years without buying one. “But he improved steadily. His last ones were close, and then he quit sending me stuff. I was looking forward to buying one of his pieces.”

Gardner perked up and said, “That sounds familiar. Was it…” and he whispered a name in Stan’s ear. Stan nodded.

“His last story barely missed with me!”

Both editors looked a little sad. “I wonder what happened to him?” Gardner added.

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Goth Chick News: Beating You to Halloween… Literally

Thursday, October 24th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist



Every year around the time of my favorite holiday season, reports make the news about “extreme” haunted attractions. This sort of thing is so far beyond your local Jaycee’s haunted house that putting them in the same category is just this side of dangerous.

Why, you ask?

Because around 10 years ago, someone decided jump scares and fake blood was no longer doing the trick when it came to getting one’s heart and adrenaline racing. Actually, the original someone’s were the proprietors of Blackout who launched their sadomasochistic experience in 2009 immediately attracting a very enthusiastic fanbase. For $50 and your signature on a waiver, you embarked on an hour-long odyssey which required a “safe word” in case you had enough of being screamed at, choked, blasted with a fire hose, and having all five of your rational senses otherwise assaulted.

I remain conflicted about what to think of this whole thing, mainly because getting scared — whether at the movies or attending an October event — is generally a safe version of escapism. I mean, the chance of zombies actually chasing you is relatively low in real life.


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