A review of Peter Newman’s “The Vagrant.”

In a desolate, demon blasted landscape, a lone Seraph night, and his winged, eyed sword, treads the road.  Behind him trails a goat, and hidden under the flaps of his coat nestles a small baby girl.  He finds corrupt and corrupted humans, out and out monsters and demon Lords on his travels.  He eschews companions but where the need greatly outweighs the harm, and where it will aid his quest, he does take on various companions.  A petty criminal named Harm, a raging demon yearning for its lost innocence and humanity called The Hammer, and other more transient helpers, some more ambivalent than others, join the quest.  Their quest is to return the winged and eyed sword to the Seven, the original Seraph rulers.  But what this will mean is uncertain…

Peter Newman has accomplished an incredible feat of world building.  My initial feeling on starting this work was disorientation.  Was this Earth of the far future or a different reality / dimension?  The archetypes are ours (people, Hell, Knights, Demons, Animals etc.), and yet the strangeness, the otherness, is bewildering.  Twin suns in the sky.  A demonic invasion through a huge breach (crack) in the ground that has remained dormant for centuries.  A demonic essence that infects and mutates like radiation.  An ancient order of Seraph Knights that has ruled before the Infernal invasion.  A technology including sky-ships, Centipede tanks, laser lances, all framed in medieval and feudal archetypes.  It is head-spinning stuff.  Then there’s the adventure, the quest, which is more straightforward; lone hero, a man with no name, must deliver a powerful talisman to the high powers to rid the world of a massive evil.  But that itself is spun by the wonderful tricks in the narrative.  The titular, eponymous Vagrant does not speak.  Instead his thoughts are reflected by his expressions, actions and interactions, including with the baby he protects, and with his companions.  And his goat!  How the Vagrant got to this position is told in intervals in a thrilling back-story that begins with the demonic invasion.

Characterisation of subsidiary characters is also very well done.  The baby (Vesper) and the Goat are powerful characters in their own right.  In the audio-book, wonderfully voiced by Jot Davies, Vesper’s infant gurgles and expressions are convincingly done.  Also, the main companion, Harm, is a wonderful piece of character development,  from jittery low-life to a redeemed man both grateful and anxious about the shelf life of his redemption.  Again, Jot Davies’s audio-book narration imbues him with humanity.  Other characters such as snarling demons and Knight Commanders are given a wonderful range of expression.  The monsters are truly alien and frightening.  Shape shifters that feed off souls and clothe themselves in corpses, or inhabit and posses and mutate live bodies, they are a cross between Anime/Manga monsters and HP Lovecraft.  The chief baddies have wonderful names like “The Uncivil.”

The Vagrant himself is a true Knight in that, where he can, he will right wrongs and save lives.  He won’t where it will mean the failure of his mission and where he does have to leave people to die, it is shocking and he is racked with anguish.  He also redeems others and wins followers of the most broken in humanity in a very Christ like way.  Harm vocalises this more than anyone, speaking about how he has been changed and his life give new meaning.  This goodness is set against an  evil that can only consume, corrupt and destroy, not build anything new.  The book portrays good versus evil with a refreshing (take note Game of Thrones) lack of cynicism.

If there are weaknesses, it’s that sometimes the multiple strangeness’s combine to make the action confusing.  Events seem to be heading for an epic conflagration that never quite happens.  Yet.  There is so much here the book could have been much longer.  There seems so much to explore.  I hope there is more from this strange, compelling and yet familiar world.  Very recommended.

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Turn that card and shake that dice. A review of the on-line board gaming platform “Board Game Arena.”

Board Game Arena (BGA) is a website where you can immerse yourselves in board games, from the most ancient classics e.g. Sent, Backgammon,  Checkers, Chess, to very new colourful, creative, endlessly inventive examples of multi-player tabletop game-play e.g. the fantasy world of ‘Seasons’ and ‘Lords of Xidit.’  There are currently 75 different games on offer at BGA.

Games are represented as they would appear if you were sitting around a table, with counters, pieces and boards all lovingly copied for the screen.  One of the biggest blessings is that you don’t have to worry about making a mistake against the rules, or worrying about anyone else doing this, the programme acts as the most reliable impartial referee and enforcer, simply not allowing you with patient messages like “you cannot move your pieces backwards” or “you cannot sweep board and pieces off the table and storm out of the room in a hissy fit.”

Games are categorised under different headings e.g. long, short, abstract, core, casual.  You can choose games you want to be recognised as keen to play by the rest of the BGA community, and they will then ‘suggest’ you to join a table for that game, or you can choose to join a table yourself.

You can play in real time, or turn based.  With the latter you agree the time limit and can play at your own pace.  It’s important, if you join a table, to commit to the game, as quitting half way through is seen as very bad form and you are given a little icon against your name that shows you have done this along with a % of times that it has happened.   The ultimate sanction (short of having your account frozen for e.g. abusive behaviour) is a red thumbs down vote from other players, which can make other players reluctant to play you.  A Green thumbs up approval rating is also invited from other players at the end of each game and is a recognition for good sportsmanship as well as good ability.  You can collect various trophies and badges for number of games played and games won as well as thumbs up to encourage you along.

The site seems reliable and with any site of this nature you will get lags and occasional problems but these are not a major nuisance.   It’s worth it to stop and wonder at the little flags next to players user names denoting their nationality.  How cool it is that you can play these games and chat with a genuinely worldwide community.  And its the community that really makes this site.  It is encouraging, friendly, and surprisingly trolls and temper tantrums seems minimal.  It is refreshing.  There are other similar sites where a mistake from a player or naive game-play will bring out comments like “WTF” and “What is this guy doing?” (I speak from experience) but I have never seen this here.

Going back to the range of games.  As I said you have old classics that bear up very well against other on-line examples of them such as Backgammon and Chess.  You can discover lesser known ancient games like “Senet,” “Kalah” and “Gomoku.”

Gomoku on BGA

“Connect 5” with Gomoku on BGA

Senet on BGA

Ancient Egyptians hardly needed consoles and tablets when they had this…Senet on BGA

Classic card games are also represented such as “Hearts” and “Machiavelli.”  The newest games are a whole world to discover if like me you are new to the world of newer board games.  There are sub genres like ‘worker placement,’ that has gems like “Stone Age,” where you have to distribute your workers and think about distribution of resources strategically to take the lead.

Keeping the pre-historic home fires burning with 'Stone Age' on BGA

Keeping the pre-historic home fires burning with ‘Stone Age’ on BGA

Then there are “programme” games where you determine a coded route in advance to gain resources and achieve objectives, and have to second guess that of your opponents, as well as determine what the best strategic route is.  “Lords of Xidit” is an example of this.

Looks more complicated than it is...honest.  'Lords of Xidit' on BGA

Looks more complicated than it is…honest.
‘Lords of Xidit’ on BGA

There are others, modern suited card trick taking games like “Haggis,” trading and trading card games like “Jaipur.”  There are fantasy, historical, exploration, science fiction, adventure and other themed board games.

With a lot of the newer games there are links to sites and videos explaining the rules and reviewing the games.  Look out for a series called “The Dice Tower” which dies just this.  You can also watch sample games and games in progress.

Taking tricks in 'Haggis' on BGA

Taking tricks in ‘Haggis’ on BGA

There is no charge, and no in game purchases.  You are encouraged to make a contribution, which I did, I was so taken with site I wanted to support it.

The site is a breath and fresh air and a treasury of very rich game-play.  Best of all it is deepingly and winningly fun.  It took me a while to realise that one of the main abbreviated encouragements players give to each other like “gg” (good game) if “hf!” (have fun).  So gg, hf, and see you there!