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Tor Books (2001), Edition: First Edition, Mass Market Paperback, 512 pages
Ace (2009), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 576 pages
Bantam Press (2012), Hardcover, 720 pages
by Salt-Man ZWhy throw the insert away? You can bag everything and still stash 'em in the slots easily enough.
I’m not overly familiar with Magic: The Gathering. I know that it’s a fantasy card game in which players battle each other using custom-constructed decks. And it was a big deal back in high school. It originated the term to “tap”, or rotate, a card in play. And it was a huge influence on one of my favorite card games. That’s the extent of my knowledge.
Now, tie-in fiction is a tricky animal: most of it just isn’t that good. I read a lot of Star Wars novels, but I enjoy them because they’re Star Wars, not because they’re necessarily well-written—and if I’m being honest, most of them really aren’t. So I read tie-in fiction primarily because I’m a fan of the larger shared universe it’s set in. But what about when I’m not? Can a favorite author make me care about a franchise I know nothing about?
Well, yes. And no.
From the (minimal) research I did after reading this book, I know that Test of Metal follows up directly on events in Agents of Artifice by Ari Marmell, another book in the Planeswalkers subseries. At the end of that book, the planeswalker (basically a type of wizard who can hop between different dimensions) Jace Beleren killed fellow planeswalker Tezzeret, ostensibly the “bad guy” of that novel. In Test of Metal, Tezzeret is not only resurrected, but is made the main viewpoint character. This is his story.
We start in media res with Tezzeret on an island made entirely of the magical metal, etherium. He is soon confronted by the powerful dragon Nicol Bolas, who, as it turns out, was responsible for recreating Tezzeret and sending him on a quest, of which this metal island is the end. Bolas then proceeds to trawl Tezzeret’s memories; subsequent chapters are the result of this mind-link, where the bulk of the novel’s story plays out in flashback, with Tezzeret as narrator.
Stover has loved playing with viewpoint and linearity in his Acts of Caine novels, and Test of Metal is no different. In addition to most of the chapters being flashbacks and narrated in the first-person by Tezzeret, we get additional first-person perspectives (one chapter each) from the other featured planeswalkers, Jace Beleren and Baltrice. And interspersed between those are the “present” goings-on at the metal island, related in standard third-person, from the POVs of both Tezzeret and Bolas. Alternating between the third- and first-persons is something Stover does extremely well, and its use suits the story perfectly. What I enjoyed perhaps the most, though, was how the book effectively begins at the end of the story. In fact, before I read the final chapter, I flipped back and reread the first chapter and had a couple of those great “Aha!” moments where the puzzle pieces start fitting together. But beyond just the structure of the novel, the story itself makes use of a limited amount of time travel in the form of a type of magic called “clockworking”; there’s a very nonlinear feel to entire book that’s simultaneously refreshing and bewildering, but Stover’s successful in keeping it all tightly under control.
If I had a main complaint, it would be that the story mostly boils down to a fairly-straightforward MacGuffin quest with powerful wizards throwing a bunch of magic at each other. And some of the dialogue is laughably juvenile—though as it more often that not also made me laugh in the good sense, I can overlook any quibbles there. In the end, it’s Stover’s handling of Tezzeret’s character and the internal journey he undertakes that elevate the book above the level of “mere” tie-in fiction. We get a bit of Tezzeret’s backstory, we come to understand his motivations, and watch as he undergoes both physical and internal transformations. He’s a fascinating character: highly intelligent, but not physically or magically overpowering, so he has to rely on his wits to get by. Plus, he’s also a bit of a smartass. Very much in Stover’s wheelhouse.
In fact, I enjoyed reading about Tezzeret so much that I really want to pick up Agents of Artifice just to get the first half (as it were) of the story. But I don’t think I really care enough about the Magic universe to bother doing so. Rather, I think I’ll just savor Stover’s contribution to it.
It’s not great literature, but it’s still better than most tie-in genre fiction deserves to be. It makes you use your brain. And it’s got all the classic Stover touches (warning: violence and strong language), plus plenty of twists and turns and double-, triple-, and quadruple-crosses. It’s great fun, and I’d recommend it to any fan of fantasy. [3.5 out of 5 stars]
by Salt-Man Z
Are Priests of Ra and Ra the same game?
Same general game, mechanics-wise, but the tiles and the ways in which they're scored are completely different.
by Salt-Man ZCongrats on delurking, Mitch, and kudos for your generous offer. I'm another late-to-the-party 7W fan. Count me in!
by Salt-Man ZI hadn't even heard of the game when a friend gave it to me for Christmas a couple years ago. It took me only two reads of the rulebook (one, really, but I reread to make sure) to get a complete understanding of the rules and mechanics. But I didn't "get" the game until my wife and I gave it our first play. It was a total n00b game that went overlong and saw us both playing horribly inefficiently, but we both saw the promise, and were fans from that moment forward. Though my wife's enthusiasm has cooled considerably after so many expansions, it remains one of my favorites.
Forge Books (2008), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 352 pages
Tor Books (2000), Edition: 1st, Mass Market Paperback, 416 pages
by Salt-Man ZLast I knew, they didn't have it in yet; next I hear about it, it's sold out? Bah.
by Salt-Man ZHeck, with two sets of the base game (and differently-colored wooden bits) you can play the Mayfair 2nd edition 8-player "peanut" map.
Ace (2012), Mass Market Paperback, 400 pages
by Salt-Man Z
You need pieces in 6 different colors, so it would be better to have the official expansion. Also the number discs are different in the 5 or 6 player game. But if you are willing to paint two sets of pieces and make your own number discs and find out the tile list for the larger island and the card distribution for more people...oh, probably best to just return one and get the expansion.
Good grief, it's not that hard:
Add 2 of each resource hex and 1 desert
Add 1 of each number disc
Add 1 sheep harbor and 1 3:1 harbor
For the resource cards, add 5 of each resource
For the dev cards, add 6 soldiers and 1 of each other non-VP card
DAW Hardcover (2012), Hardcover, 288 pages
White Wolf Publishing (1997), Paperback, 418 pages
Galaxy Press (CA) (2004), Paperback, 500 pages
by Salt-Man ZI can't recommend Innovation either, though I see why other people enjoy it; for me, there's just way too much stuff you have to account for, and the expansion just exacerbates that problem.
However, I just played Glory to Rome for the first time this weekend—the Cambridge version, two-player—and I absolutely loved it.
Reply to Dominion>General>Re: Best Strategy for Randomizing Kingdom Cards Across Multiple Expansions?
by Salt-Man Z
I used to just shuffle all the blue cards together and pick 10, but I found it meant a lot of cards don't get used at all
This is why I don't shuffle used randomizers back into the randomizer deck until we've gone through all the cards.
Berkley (1996), Paperback, 226 pages
Berkley (1997), Paperback, 10 pages
Berkley (1995), Paperback, 232 pages
Berkley (1996), Edition: Boulevard Edition, September 1996, Paperback, 1 pages
Berkley (1997), Paperback, 240 pages
Berkley (1997), Paperback, 240 pages
Added to Library: Trouble on Cloud City (Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, Book 13) by Kevin J. Anderson
Berkley (1998), Paperback, 224 pages
by Salt-Man ZI had been considering sleeving Dominion some time in the future (when I absolutely had to.)
Then we played through a copy of Mystery Rummy so much that it became necessary to sleeve the cards just to play, because the game is out of print. The sleeves (Mayday premiums) are so obnoxious, I've since changed my mind; I have no plans to sleeve any other game, ever, and the Base Cards expansion announcement makes me feel better about that decision.
by Salt-Man Z
Has anyone really demonstrated this? I've only ever heard it anecdotally, and as I only get to play with regular, non competitive players, I'll never have a chance to explore this myself.
We all seem to be saying the same thing: The default strategy ("Big Money") is beaten by any "good" strategy.
I've played the Big Money strategy twice myself as was quite surprised at the speed of game end and the point spread.
It just sounds like a "good" strategy is being defined as "one that beats Big Money."
by Salt-Man ZIt's criminal that there's not one named reiner yet (or, in a pinch, knizia.)
And what about some love for the dude whose best game held the #1 spot for so long? How about seyfarth? (Or maybe sanjuan?)
And I totally want a server named dxv.
LucasBooks (2012), Hardcover, 256 pages
by Salt-Man ZThe first time we played, we ran out the 10s in a 3-player game (partially thanks to my wife nuking everything.) I don't think we've made it to that Age since.
by Salt-Man ZI was not a TtR fan until I played Nordic.
Reply to Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 - Team Asia & Legendary Asia>General>Re: Compatible with Nordic?
by Salt-Man ZI'm going to guess that India doesn't come with 9 extra trains of the "non-standard" colors (white and purple)? Those who own both Nordic and Marklin will be fine, though.
Tor Fantasy (2010), Edition: First Edition, Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages
Putnam Adult (1997), Hardcover, 127 pages
by Salt-Man Z[unnecessary comment removed]
Welcome to the first annual Salty Awards! I liked how last year’s “Best of 2010″ post turned out, so that’ll pretty much be the template for these awards. The main difference being, I’ve got a shiny new trophy now! Like last year’s Best Ofs, this is stuff that wasn’t necessarily published in 2011, just what I read the past year. And first reads only; re-reads don’t count. (Here’s a link to my 2011 reading list for reference.)
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