Saturday, October 22, 2016

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Bones Fly Demon Miniature Reaper

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Bones Fly Demon Miniature Reaper by Reaper
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Chasme Sculpt, October 22, 2016
Continuing my plan to paint demons as colorfully as possible, I decided the fly demon should be bright blue. The demon is clearly patterned after the chasme, who has gradually changed from a cartoony-looking fly-man to a fly with human-like arms. This has carried over to D&D miniatures, which waffles between portraying a chasme as a drab gray fly monster with closed wings to a bright blue critter with transparent wings. I don't like either of them -- Reaper's fly demon is much better.

I used a mix of blues and purples as the base, a blue shade, bright yellow for the eyes, and a blue drybrush. The base has some interesting detail as well, including bits and pieces of skulls. Overall, a great sculpt.

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Nanoc, Spearmaster

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Nanoc, Spearmaster by Reaper
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Inuit-style warrior, October 22, 2016
This review is from: Nanoc, Spearmaster (Toy)
As we were leading up to the session with ice hunters in the Sea of Moving Ice scenario from Rise of Tiamat, I realized I didn't have any miniatures that fit the bill. To my surprise, there are almost NO miniatures that fit the bill. Inuit-style miniatures are very hard to find. Nanoc is the best of the bunch.

This miniature doubled for the warrior, Orcaheart. Orcaheart is a tough fighter type, and Nonoc looks the part. He doesn't just wield a spear, he has two massive walrus tusks strapped to his back for some reason. He looks angry, which is just how a guy with two walrus tusks strapped to his back should look.

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: The Stag Lord - Reaper Pathfinder Miniature 60073

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

The Stag Lord - Reaper Pathfinder Miniature 60073 by Reaper
3.0 out of 5 stars Wait for the Bonesium version, October 22, 2016
I needed a miniature for the ice hunter tribe's chieftain, Barking Seal, in the Sea of Moving Ice scenario from Rise of Tiamat. He's not quite ice chieftain material -- he doesn't believe in wearing a lot of clothes -- but I thought he made for an intimidating figure.

Putting him together was a different story. He doesn't really have a face, just a bone mask that glues onto the top of his head, then the horns have to be glued to that. The horns came off several times, and the glue ended up making the few facial features he had a blurry mess.

Still, he LOOKS cool. He would be awesome in Bonesium.

Michael J. Tresca gave 2 stars to: Dark Heaven Anushka Female Fighter RPR 03061

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Dark Heaven Anushka Female Fighter RPR 03061 by Reaper
2.0 out of 5 stars She may fall over any minute, October 22, 2016
I needed a miniature for a generic member of the ice hunter tribe that appeared in in the Sea of Moving Ice scenario from Rise of Tiamat. Anushka is probably the most Yupik-looking of the miniatures. That's one of the miniature's few redeeming traits.

Anushka has a Russian-sounding name so presumably she's Yupik, not Inuit. That explains the curiously out of place axe she's wielding. But really her biggest problem is she's boring. She's listed as a "female fighter" but she's just leaning forward on her axe at an almost impossible angle such that it looks like she'll fall over at any minute. Unlike the other miniatures from Reaper set in cold regions, at least this one required no assembly (it's all one piece) and therefore easier to paint.

Michael J. Tresca gave 2 stars to: Nadezhda the White, Ice Witch Miniature

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Nadezhda the White, Ice Witch Miniature by Reaper
2.0 out of 5 stars Impractical, October 22, 2016
I needed a miniature for the ice hunter tribe's shaman, Bonecarver, in the Sea of Moving Ice scenario from Rise of Tiamat. As frost-dwelling cultures go, this is a terrible example.

Beyond the fact that Nadezhda appears to be wearing a midriff-bearing top, she's a pain to put together. There are several bone decorations in her hair that were impossible to glue on right. Her staff is weak and prone to snapping. The whole thing is too delicate to use with any confidence.

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Bones Babau Miniature Reaper

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Bones Babau Miniature Reaper by Reaper
5.0 out of 5 stars Great sculpt!, October 22, 2016
I'm a big fan of making demons colorful critters, or else why bother painting them? I used the Pathfinder color palette of this critter as inspiration, which is gray with red slime on its limbs. I then washed the whole thing with a red shade, which unfortunately turned the babau demon entirely red. I used a kindleflame dry brush to try to bring out the ribs, but for the most part it just turned the figure bright red.

All that said, I don't mind it. The sculpt is good, and the tail (absent from the Pathfinder version for some reason) is coiled in an interesting way. Sometimes miniatures don't separate out the tail as an interesting part of the form to make it easier to mold. Reaper rarely takes this shortcut, which is why their miniatures are great.

This miniature also has an interesting base with some stone for the demon to clamber upon. I'm not usually a fan of these kinds of bases because it fixes the sculpt in a physical place ,but in this case it's generic enough that you can easily paint it to match the terrain you plan to use it in.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Dragons Love Tacos

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
4.0 out of 5 stars Mmmm, tacos..., October 16, 2016
This review is from: Dragons Love Tacos (Hardcover)
I received a review copy of this book, including an accompanying taco-eating red plush dragon, directly from the publisher. Someone knows my family pretty well, because we love dragons and we love tacos!

My daughter is a big fan of plush critters and I can determine how popular a plush is by whether or not she uses it as a her snuggle-buddy when she goes to sleep. The accompanying Taco Dragon (that's what we call him, I have no idea what his name is) has a taco permanently attached to his claw, some spiky black horns, and is basically not something you'd want to snuggle with unless you relish getting accidentally stabbed in the eye.

The book reminds me of Bad Kitty, in that it frequently addresses the reader to discuss why you shouldn't give dragons anythign spicy to eat. This is an existential dilemma when it comes to tacos, as you might imagine, since tacos can be spicy. The book exhorts the reader at considerably length to never, EVER give dragons anything spicy, even though they do love tacos. I've been there dragons, I've been there.

Of course -- SPOILER ALERT! -- someone doesn't read the fine print on the jar and something terrible happens. Given that this involves dragons and not kittens, you can probably guess what that is. Given that my son has a milk and egg allergy, this can easily be interpreted as an allegory for kids with allergies. Or it could just be about tacos. Mmm, tacos...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: VINTAGE BUILD - The Essential 3-in-1 Muscle Builder - Post Workout BCAA, Creatine Monohydrate, and L-Glutamine (Fresh Berries), 330 Grams, 30 Servings

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

VINTAGE BUILD - The Essential 3-in-1 Muscle Builder - Post Workout BCAA, Creatine Monohydrate, and L-Glutamine (Fresh Berries), 330 Grams, 30 Servings by Old School Labs
5.0 out of 5 stars Just the good stuff, thanks, August 15, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I've been skeptical of these products for awhile now. Sure, it SEEMED like I was able to lift more, but I was mixing a lot of supplements in my morning shake so I didn't think those improvements were thanks to Vintage Build. Then I went off it completely and learned my lesson.

I tried to replace Vintage Build with a BCAA mix that has no creatine in it. I tried, I really did. And the difference was startling. It's one of those things you don't miss until you're back on creatine. My mental clarity went up, my lifting went up (slightly), and I could FEEL it in my muscles. The difference was stark.

It's also has no artificial flavors. For the life of me, I can't understand why so many other mixes have all kinds of junk in them: red dye #5 (who cares what the powder looks like?), artificial flavors that taste like bubbleum (what am I, 12?), and other nonsense. That's why I went with Vintage Build in the first place. These days it seems like soccer moms are most concerned about organic "pure" food, but for some reason that hasn't really hit the supplement world as much as you might think. Any BCAA mix should be free of all that other garbage to dress it up. I'll take the raw stuff thanks, even if it's just white powder and doesn't taste like fake bubblegum.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Star Trek Beyond (BD/DVD/Digital HD Combo) [Blu-ray]

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Star Trek Beyond (BD/DVD/Digital HD Combo) [Blu-ray] Blu-ray ~ Chris Pine
3.0 out of 5 stars Adrift from What's Gone Before, August 3, 2016
Star Trek: Beyond is the latest installment in the rebooted Star Trek alternate reality series, which diverged from the main Star Trek timeline two movies ago. It begins with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) feeling that his life has become rather episodic -- he literally questions the meaning of life in his captain's log -- and then the movie launches proper into what could easily be another episode of the television series.

Star Trek: Beyond wants to have it both ways: it wants the reinforce the gravity of a situation without earning it by actually explaining...anything, really. So we get, in rapid order: an impractical base where giant ships fly through the middle of it with absurdly towering skyscrapers for no reason whatsoever (Bones even rightly calls it a "snowglobe"); a military branch of the Federation we didn't know about; an all-powerful force of robot drones that aren't identified as robot drones until much later in the film; a mysterious life-draining power seemingly unconnected to everything else in the movie except to provide a plot twist; and a universe-destroying device.

Add all this up and you have what amounts to what feels like a crib notes version of Star Trek. Where the last installment adhered so slavishly to the original series that it felt derivative, Beyond just feels like writer Simon Pegg didn't feel like adhering to any of Star Trek's mythology -- because, with the reboot, he doesn't have to. I can forgive the impractical design of the base and the military stuff -- but the robot drones, the life draining power, and the universe-destroying McGuffin could easily have been attributed to other races in the Star Trek universe. Beyond doesn't bother; it just takes place somewhere beyond known space and conveniently has a bad guy with a connection to the Federation who just happens to have not one but two plot-altering devices at his disposal. It's a lot to take.

And that's a shame. On many levels the film hits all the right notes, culminating in an awesome rendition of Sabotage by the Beastie Boys. The execution makes no sense of course and uses a hackneyed trope -- the drones use a hive mind that can be interrupted with a signal, and for some reason that causes them to explode -- but it's such a delight to watch that you forgive Pegg for his flamboyance. There's also a nice callback to the passing of Leonard Nimoy that gives the current-time stream Spock (Zachary Quinto) a reason to consider his life choices.

Beyond feels like a movie making things up as it goes, culminating in an absurd scene where Kirk has to throw four levers at the heart of a space station's ventilation system. It conveniently ignores the ad-hoc transporter trick that the movie used earlier, or the fact that it's a frigging SPACE STATION and should have something more sophisticated than four levers to manage something so critical.

Star Trek is literally and figuratively about world-building. This installment skips all that by taking the characters out of their element so it can play fast and loose with the rules. This is a post-series world unbound by the legacy of the television series and, in my opinion, it's poorer for it.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Suicide Squad Vol. 1

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth (The New 52) by Adam Glass
4.0 out of 5 stars Bad and worse choices have never been so good, June 3, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The first volume of the collected Suicide Squad comics throbs with a grimdark view on the four-color world of DC superheroes. The gloves are off; our anti-heroes are a Dirty Dozen of leftover villains on death row who have bombs in their necks and disavow-able missions. This frees up writer Adam Glass to pretty much do whatever he wants to our protagonists, starting with the worst kinds of torture and spiraling from there.

The squad features Black Spider (DC's murderous version of Spider-Man, apparently), Deadshot (a guy who wears a skintight costume and an impractical mask that doesn't protect him from gas attacks), El Diablo (a gang leader covered in tattoos that unleash fiery blasts), King Shark (a giant, man-eating, humanoid shark), Harley Quinn (a stripperific version of Harley inspired by her video game portrayal), and Voltaic (shoots lightning).

Leading this team is the slimmed down, glammed-up Amanda Waller. Given that Amanda's nickname was "The Wall" the change is disappointing -- Amanda has been replaced with a younger, svelte model type who mostly communicates by threatening to blow the team's heads off. She's low on witty banter and doesn't even get any good one-liners in.

The team's makeup is curious. Deadshot, with the most military experience, makes sense as the leader. King Shark is pure muscle, the tank of the group. El Diablo and Voltaic are blasters, which can come in handy. Black Spider qualifies as the sneaky type, which leaves a question mark over Harley. She's practically impossible to disguise (King Shark is too, but the trade-off is understandable). Her lone contribution is running around with a hugely impractical hammer. And oh yeah, she's nucking futs. But it's clear we're all here for Harley and she gets the best lines.

The characters make for an interesting diversity of opinions. Black Spider mostly just wants to use his ninja skills to kill people. Deadshot is the grizzled veteran complaining about everything and trying to find another angle. El Diablo is a pacifist (at first) and lectures the team on trying to avoid casualties. Harley cracks jokes and has a strange attraction to Deadshot. Voltaic doesn't really have much dialogue (never a good sign). King Shark just likes to eat people.

The team's mission emphasizes how dark things can get in Suicide Squad: Murder civilians, extract babies, do stuff heroes wouldn't do. Several times innocent bystanders ask if these are the good guys, to which the Suicide Squad responds with a resound nope -- often offing the person who asked in the process. But they are, according to Waller's logic, doing the dirty jobs heroes can't do.

The fun thing about Suicide Squad is that anyone can die. That doesn't mean everyone does. In fact, the comic's fresh take on the DC universe will eventually be muddled by comic book logic: plots are introduced and ignored, characters commit unforgivable atrocities and then new writers hope you'll forget them, and artists have difficulty drawing anything that's not a slim, muscular superhero (Waller is an egregious example, but some artists can't drawn King Shark as anything but a muscular guy wearing a shark mask). For the first volume, it all clicks beautifully. Here's hoping the film takes its cue from these fresh-faced days when the Suicide Squad had only bad and worse choices.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Captain America

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Captain America: Civil War (Plus Bonus Features) Amazon Video ~ Chris Evans
4.0 out of 5 stars Sorry Steve..., May 8, 2016
We've finally arrived at the point where supervillains fighting each other isn't nearly as enticing as superheroes, and the matchup between two titans that should never fight -- but that every kid in elementary school bet on who would win -- has finally come to pass. No, not Batman v. Superman -- Captain America: Civil War!

I have only a passing familiarity with the events in the comic series. Suffice it to say it involved Marvel facing the grim realities of superheroing: civilian casualties. In the comic, a bomb was set off in Stamford, CT (somebody in New York didn't like their northern neighbors, I suspect) on live television that precipitates a crackdown on superheroes by the government, with heroes taking sides. On one side is Tony Stark, a human who knows full well the dangers of uncontrolled abilities; on the other is Captain America, who values freedom and choice above all else.

In this third installment of Captain America, the scope has been broadened well beyond the U.S. -- instead, it's a diplomatic catastrophe in Lagos that triggers the Sokovia Accords, a reaction to the massive human casualties inflicted by Ultron in a fictional European country. As U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross so eloquently states, "heroes" like the Hulk are weapons of mass destruction. And oh yeah, nobody knows where Thor or the Hulk are (don't worry, they're just in another movie).

All this adds up to an epic conflict in which everybody's favorite heroes pick sides. This of course encourages the audience to pick sides as well, which requires a lot of exposition. In fact, there are so many characters in this movie that it barely has anything to do with Captain America.

Throughout the movie one thread winds through it all: personal accountability. The film makes a point of showing buildings collapsing from all the other Marvel universe super hero movies, but intentionally leaves out the death toll. Instead, each main character internalizes the damage on a deeply personal level. And almost all of them react with violence.

The special effects are amazing -- the most subtle being a younger Tony Stark -- with the exception of the Iron Man suit itself (sometimes, Stark's head seems to float on the suit's body). This is also the best representation of Spider-Man since Sam Raimi's movie over a decade ago. Too bad Web-Head feels like he was thrown in just to launch another franchise.

My wife is #TeamStark, but I tried to stay neutral until I saw the film. Civil War doesn't bother making the argument about what the Sokovia Accords mean for superheroes in general, it focuses almost exclusively on the Avengers. It doesn't even share what the rules mean to your average hero on the street. As a result, Cap's decision -- a decision that is based on a much broader argument about superhero rights in the comics -- seems somewhat selfish and petty. Cap may be fighting for freedom, but because Civil War doesn't explain itself much, he just comes off as fighting for himself. I didn't go in favoring Team Stark, but by the end of the film I had to agree with her.

Still, this was a lot of fun. The villain is more evil genius than super villain and he's motivated by surprisingly prosaic circumstances. Although it drags in parts, Civil Wars brings it all back down to one person's grief. And that makes a mediocre popcorn film a great one.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Empire of Imagination

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons by Michael Witwer
4.0 out of 5 stars A fitting tribute to a complicated legacy, March 2, 2016
I first met Gary Gygax at I-CON in the early 90s. His work on Dungeons & Dragons had changed my life. I was so eager to meet him that I had purchased two of his books, Role-Playing Mastery and Master of the Game, in anticipation of getting him to sign them. I was in for a shock.

What I didn't know when I met Gygax was that he had left the company he founded, TSR, in a bitter dispute. It was quite a surprise to the audience when Gygax angrily refused to answer questions about the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I walked away from the encounter with my books unsigned (I was afraid to approach him out of offending him). Thanks to Michael Witwer's Empire of the Imagination, I finally have some closure.

In Empire of the Imagination we see Gygax in his early days as a humble insurance underwriter and passionate gamer and experience his transition to the spiritual leader of a new form of gaming. Gygax experienced several trials in his life, including the death of his friend Don Kaye, his dispute with D&D co-creator Dave Arneson and later TSR president Lorraine Williams, the death of his mother and his difficult divorce. After his divorce, Gygax switched to a hard-partying lifestyle that Witwer implies may have contributed to his ouster from the company. And yet, those efforts yielded the D&D cartoon that we know and love.

In short, Gygax was a human being: passionate, messy, and flawed. Speaking of flaws, Empire of Imagination doesn't delve deep enough. Gygax was a Jehovah's Witness but we're don't get much speculation as to how it influenced D&D -- given that religion was not included in the original Dungeons & Dragons game, it seems likely Gygax's faith had something to do with that decision. The mention of a cocaine habit and wild parties in Hollywood are mentioned only in passing -- I suspect that in order to get access to the Gygax family, there were probably some topics off limits.

It's unfortunate that I only saw a glimpse of Gyax during a tough time. I came to know him better on ENWorld and reconciled my past with his present when I began writing my own history of gaming. Gygax passed before I was able to interview him.

What I didn't realize was just how much of a group effort D&D really was. I had the opportunity to thank the man responsible for the first version of D&D I was exposed to, the Basic version, when I handed my finished book over to Frank Mentzer years later. Despite the focus on Gygax, Witwer's book makes it clear that D&D was truly a group effort. Gygax was to role-playing games what Stan Lee is to comic books: an elder statesman who is part-spokesman/part-raconteur for the hobby he loves so dearly. It's a fitting tribute to a complicated legacy.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth: And Other Pop Culture Correspondences by John Moe
3.0 out of 5 stars The cruelest joke of all..., February 6, 2016
On the one hand, John Moe's book is filled with so many pop culture references that it's surprising it hasn't been written already. On the other hand, it's already been written, just not in book form -- it's called the Internet. Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth would be much better as an instagram feed.

This book is filled with hilarious anecdotes that are hit or miss depending on your familiarity with the subject. Some of the essays are riffs on songs you might not have heard of -- funny to your uncle who's a Bon Jovi fan, not so funny to everyone else -- others are pieces of art unto themselves, scrawled on chalkboards or typed like message boards or written like a Captain's Log. It's a book that's meant to be shared, and in printed form it feels curiously outdated.

The humor ranges from really funny to really uncomfortable to surprisingly prescient. "Minutes from the meeting of Jurassic Park on how to open the facility" is even funnier because the absurdity of trying to reopen the park by a bunch of dinosaurs is just as ridiculous as the most recent installment in the franchise (cue park opening anyway, dinosaurs eat everybody).

"Bulletin Board notice of Muppets not invited to participate in movie and television projects" postulates Muppets that aren't fit for TV -- but now we have the new Muppets show in which they make drink booze and make sex jokes.

"E-mail from Fox Mulder to Dana Scully concerning the lost X-Files" is a rambling diatribe that encapsulates the current series: Mulder revisits the entire mythos of his past, doubts it all, and starts over with an equally ludicrous new set of theories.

"Harper Lee's letters to her editor after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird" is uncomfortably close to the reality of the sequel, "Go Set a Watchman" that casts the original in a controversial new light.

Even "Darth Vader's unsent letters to Luke Skywalker as found in the trash can" echoes Kylo Ren's serious daddy issues with his father. It's funny and sad at the same time.

The rest of the entries are hit-or-miss. Sometimes what's supposed to be funny turns into a horror story: Dora the Explorer's mother and Charlie Brown's teacher are vaguely aware that something is horribly wrong in their own realities. Gilligan's Island is a sad story of a brilliant man driven slowly insane. The Popeye cartoons are a horrible tale of drug abuse and anorexia. The Pac-Man ghosts are trapped in their own special hell. That Home Alone kid is still at home and not doing well at ALL. And the Goofy/Pluto dog conundrum is just wrong on so many levels.

Sometimes, Moe just doesn't know when to stop beating a dead horse: the Superbowl proposals run out of steam fast, Jay Z's 99 problems stop being funny after the first 20, and the 25 rules of Fight Club are 24 too long.

There are moments of brilliance too. The tale of a henchman and his travails as each new employer/villain fails could easily be its own TV show. Gunther's theory about why Friends is so implausible would make a funny comic. The story of how the Batman TV show's theme song was created is a fine example of the frustrations of writing for hire.

For the most part, the song jokes fell flat. You really need to intimately know the lyrics to appreciate the humor, which drags on far too long to make a point. That sums up the book too: it's way too long at nearly 300 pages.

It's a shame. This is a book chock full of humorous anecdotes that would make excellent memes. The cruelest joke of all is that they're all locked in dead tree format.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Press Start to Play (A Vintage original)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Press Start to Play (A Vintage original) by Daniel H. Wilson
3.0 out of 5 stars [insert lame video game reference here], January 30, 2016
I got Press Start to Play as an unsolicited review copy, presumably because I've read and reviewed Ready Player One, and reviewers who actually review anything they receive in the mail are rare these days. Ready Player One felt like crib notes to people who have actually played the games portrayed in the book (the D&D stuff Ernest Cline got wrong really rubbed me the wrong way), so I viewed this collection -- hyped as a spiritual successor to Ready Player One with a foreword by Cline -- with a skeptical eye.

Basically, writing a book about video games is a little bizarre in this day and age. It's a bit like writing a book about conversations over the telephone or about "shows on television." Back when video games were new in the 80s this was a valid excuse for a collection; now it looks like a lame cash grab to capitalize on 80s nostalgia. Okay fine, but are the stories any good? There are 26 of them. Take a deep breath, this will take awhile:

* "God Mode" by Daniel H. Wilson is about technology in gaming, where it's not clear what's real and what isn't. This is a common theme, because when you hit 26 stories about video games there's only so much you can write that has to do with the game. It's a little all over the place and feels disjointed, but the writing works for the story. 3 stars.
* "NPC" by Charles Yu is about the life of a video game character in a first-person shooter. It's about people stuck in routines and personal growth. 4 stars.
* "Respawn" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka is about a man who can jump bodies and, because he can't die, begins to treat violence like a video game. It's certainly interesting and well-written. 4 stars.
* "Desert Walk" by S.R. Mastrantone is a horror story about a video game that nobody can replicate, erases itself afterward, yadda yadda. The good news is it's actually good -- I can remember the plot easily after reading all 26 stories. 5 stars.
* "Rat Catcher's Yellows" by Charlie Jane Andrews is a story about socially-impaired people who dominate in a world of video games and how the two universes begin to blend. It doesn't really go anywhere, but it's very well-written. 4 stars.
* "1Up" by Holly Black is one of my favorites, a form of interactive fiction that is a coded murder mystery. Also, it actually uses video game mechanics (which with IF, can be portrayed in a book). 5 stars.
* "Survival Horror" by Seanan McGuire hits all my pet peeves: co-opting horror like high school shorthand (incubuses are just another race, like cuckoos, natch), Buffy-style chatter without enough character development to make us care, goth-stylings with a heavy dose of humor that's not that funny. I'm sure this is a fun novel, but as a short story it's just...twee. 1 star.
* "REAL" by Djano Wexler is another story about another video game that's secretly another gateway to another dimension with another Big Bad lurking behind it. 2 stars.
* "Outliers" by Nicole Feldringer is The Last Starfighter with an ecological bent and a sinister secret. 3 stars.
* "<end game>" by Chris Avellone is an interesting digression in a hellish, repetitive IF. If you've ever played Zork then you know the feeling. 4 stars.
* "Save Me Plz" by David Barr Kirtley is about a relationship trapped in a game, or is it the other way around? 3 stars.
* "The Relive Box" by T.C. Boyle is about how video games and memories can become an addiction. It's haunting and sad. 5 stars.
* "Roguelike" by Marc Laidlaw is another IF-style story with a touch of humor and a lot of murder. 3 stars.
* "All of the People In Your Party Have Died" by Robin Wasserman asks the question: What if Oregon Trail was real? It's about surviving your own life. 3 stars.
* "RECOIL!" by Micky Neilson is about another video game that's secretly another test that involves another bout of violence. 2 stars.
* "Anda's Game" by Cory Doctorow actually manages to challenge video game tropes without being tangentially about video games, or not about video games at all, or resorting to tired video game tropes. Should you care about social inequality when it affects games too? The answer is worth reading. 5 stars.
* "Coma Kings" by Jessica Barber is about another person in another video game that's much better at gaming than real life and another complicated family relationship. 3 stars.
* "Stats" by Marguerite K. Bennett is about how a video game turns some people into murderers. 2 stars.
* "Please Continue" by Chris Kluwe is a meta-discussion about gaming that uses football parallels (because Kluwe is a former NFL punter). It's confusing at best. 2 stars.
* "Creation Screen" by Rhianna Pratchett is about a video game creator from the view of one of his characters. Interesting stuff, but a little too brief to properly explore the topic. 4 stars.
* "The Fresh Prince of Gamma World" by Austin Grossman is about another romance in another video game universe. 3 stars.
* "Gamer's End" by Yoon Ha Lee is about another video game test that's actually a real life test involving absurd levels of violence. 2 stars.
* "The Clockwork Soldier" by Ken Liu is set in a sci-fi setting but it features an IF as a platform to discuss the legitimacy of artificial intelligence. 4 stars.
* "Killswitch" by Catherynne M. Valente is another video game that deletes itself and has a mystery at its center that nobody can beat. 2 stars.
* "Twarrior" by Andy Weir takes the concept of a Skynet-like computer taking over and actually does something different with it that's surprisingly upbeat -- and yet hilariously true-to-life. 5 stars.
* "Select Character" by Hugh Howey is another video game that's actually a test. The difference is that the test isn't, for once, about violence. 3 stars.

Overall, this is a wildly uneven collection that leans heavily on video game tropes so much that the stories start repeating each other. There's too many stories about too wide a topic, but there are some gems here worth reading. The odds that anyone today has played all the types of video games in this collection are slim, because video games are as varied as movies -- the medium is no longer relevant. The best stories remind you that video games reflect our lives; the worst remind you that even book publishers will prey on our nostalgia for a quick buck.