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Jumping the Shark Podcast: Final Collection (#247-#255)

Herein you will find links to every Jumping the Shark video gaming podcast posted in 2016 (newest first), wrapping up with our episode #255 finale. This year, JtS featured the vocal stylings of Todd Brakke (@toddsfoolery), Brandon Cackowski-Schnell (@misterbinky), Holly Green (@winnersusedrugs), and William Abner (@TheAbner). Show production, editing, and summaries alternate between Todd and Brandon.

This, very likely, is my final update of any kind to the NHS page. If I end up posting anything new going forward, the best place to find out about it will be via my Twitter or feed or my archival site at Thanks so much to all of you! —Todd

Episode 255
Released: 5/2/2016
Synopsis: Here we stand, at the end of all things. Or, at least the end of the Jumping the Shark podcast. For our finale, Bill rejoins Brandon, Holly, and Todd as we reminisce and engage in a bit of navel-gazing over our 255 episode run. We also wrap up with much chatter on Fallout 4: Far Harbor, Dark Souls III, Stellaris, Uncharted 4, Homeland, and games criticism in 2016.

Our warmest and sincerest thanks to all of you who have taken this journey with us. Catch ya later on down the trail.

— Bill, Brandon, Holly, and Todd

Episode 254
Released: 5/2/2016
Synopsis: This week Todd spends time with Steve Jackson’s Sorcery, Holly is back from PAX with tales of Lawbreakers and Battleborn, and Brandon is living the sequelized dream with tales of Ratchet & Clank and Bravely Second: End Layer.

Episode 253
Released: 4/3/2016
Synopsis: This week Holly plants many a crop in Stardew Valley, Brandon takes to the streets in The Division, and then he and Todd wrap up with a wholly opinion-netural (like) look at DC Murderverse, or as most know it, Batman v. Superman.

Episode 252
Released: 3/20/2016
Synopsis: This week Holly and Brandon run through the forest primeval in Far Cry: Primal while Todd languishes in pampered luxury in Cities: Skylines. He also drops some knowledge about Kingdom.

Episode 251
Released: 3/6/2016
Synopsis: The Brakke/Cackowski-Schnell Hour of Power returns this week as Todd fights for the future in XCOM 2, Brandon earns his Birthright in Fire Emblem, and there is much exploration of the delicate psyche of the Internet Outrage Machine as it pertains to the women of Ghostbusters, jealousy of all things Australian, and the International Date Line.

Episode 250
Released: 2/21/2016
Synopsis: This week it’s all Firewatch all the time as Holly, Todd and Brandon explore the wild, untamed wilderness of Firewatch. Danger! Mystery! Elks! Lovey-dovey bits! It’s all here and that’s just the intro! (Note: This is a spoiler-cast.)

Episode 249
Released: 2/7/2016
Synopsis: After more than a year away, spent sharing his basketball genius with the youth of America, the self-proclaimed straw that stirs the drink, Bill Abner, is back this week! He and Todd try not to stress out in the Darkest Dungon, Holly hopes Dark Dreams Don’t Die in D4, and Brandon finds Divinity in Original Sin: Enhanced Edition for the PS4. Along the way there’s also some Spelunky, Brandon’s extra special ranking of Assassin’s Creed games, and reflections on game industry burnout.

Episode 248
Released: 1/24/2016
Synopsis: This week Holly tools around in zombie dune buggies in the Dying Light DLC, Todd kills all of his crew members on the way to Mars in Tharsis, and Brandon navigates the rooftops and alleyways of Victorian London in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. They also make a lot of jokes about pee. You can ask, but you really don’t want to know.

Episode 247
Released: 1/10/2016
Synopsis: Holly, Todd, and Brandon ring in the new year by taking a look back at the gaming experiences that shaped our 2015, with a look ahead to what’s on our collective radar in 2016. We wrap-up with a bonus Life is Strange spoiler section with all of Holly’s thoughts about all things Max and Chloe.

A Quick Note from Todd

So, how ya been?

If you’re reading this, you either still have an RSS subscription or you are ridiculously dedicated. Either way, hat tip!

Obviously there done be some tumbleweeds blowing through this here site, along with a couple of rather lengthy outages. If you ventured here and wondered why the site was janky, or flat out missing, I am sorry about that, and about the rather haphazard theme presentation currently in place. (The old one broke with one of the WordPress updates. Brian did his best to provide a quick fix so that at least the old place remains accessible.) I’d say we’re going to get that fixed, but at this point you know as well as I that we’ve largely moved on to Other Things, at least for the time being. That sucks, but this was always an enthusiast endeavor (as opposed to a career), and these things… well, they’re awesome while they last. And damn was this place awesome.

I’ve been poking through the archives this past week and we put up some amazing constant for those few years we were all active and pushing forward. It was a hell of a thing and, while we made our share of mistakes, I’ll never stop missing that time and all that were a part of it. On the bright side of things, all that fantastic content will remain here and in place for the time being. How long, I can’t say. That’s not so much up to me as, at the end of the day, it’s Bill’s domain and he’s the one who gets the bills. I just wouldn’t anticipate a whole lot of new stuff popping in here going forward, occasional podcast roundups notwithstanding. (JtS does continue on with Brandon, Holly, and me.) If any of the gang drops back in and feels differently about their plans for NHS in 2016, I’m sure they’ll post to say so.

In the meantime, I’ve registered a new domain, This isn’t a new venture, or at least it’s not right now. It’s there because I need an online home for all my shit. As I type this, it’s just a re-hash of all my NHS content (with a good chunk of it probably broken in one way or another, given that it’s just a straight import from here), but over the weeks and months ahead I plan to clean that up and build it out as a repository for as much of my written and professional content as I can locate.

Given that all of the pre-NHS outlets I’ve written for through the years have disappeared into the web ether, I need a place I actually own and control and can kinda sorta prove that I’ve been been publishing Things, on and off, for the better part of 20 years. (Not to mention as a way to reference the hundreds of projects I helped publish as an editor for the Pearson Education technology imprint, Que Publishing.) It’s also a place for me to start really mucking around with the nuts and bolts of WordPress, possibly start digging into producing some video, etc. I really don’t know for sure what direction I’ll take it just yet, but as I go forward, if I end up publishing anything new, will either be the home for it or it’ll be a place where I can link to it.

Although this isn’t meant as a goodbye post, I do want to say that I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading the content we’ve posted here as much as I think we all enjoyed bringing it to you. This place had the most amazing audience I’ve ever been a part of (and without question the best collaborators I’ll ever know) and being a part of it will always be a point of pride. I don’t have comments enabled at TF, but if you want to get in touch, please do so any time. You can find me on Twitter @toddsfoolery or via email — Todd at the TF dot com domain. (Or comment here. I’ll keep checking in, but probably won’t post much.)



Bolt Thrower: #2015 Game of the Year

This time last year, I was so tired of the generic nature of most new board games that I’d started to wonder if my favourite hobby had passed its glory days. I’ve never been happier to have been proved wrong. After a couple of years of wretched releases, 2015 has been a stellar time for tabletop gaming.

When there was so much chaff in the machine, I couldn’t bring myself to do much more than pick a top three for my best-of-year posts. Sometimes it was difficult to find even three. This time I’m faced with an embarrassment of riches. I’ve never liked the idea of honouring games by category: it feels artificial. If the two best games this year were both dexterity games (they weren’t) then both deserve a mention.

So here’s what were going to do. I’m going to run through my favourite games of the year and, at the end, pick one for game of the year. But they’re all fantastic. All worthy of your time and money.

Before we get stuck in, I have to admit that there’s one title that ought to be in the running which I haven’t played. That title is Pandemic: Legacy. Not being an enormous fan of the original, I passed on this at first. By the time it became a must-have game and I wanted to review it, everyone else had it already. Hopefully there’ll be time for a review in the new year. I might think that Pandemic is merely average. But since I opened Risk: Legacy this year and it became my sixth-ever top scoring game, I ought to see how the legacy concept works with other systems.

Now, on with the show.

Star Wars: Armada

X-Wing looked fantastic on the table, but it felt more like a crapshoot than a tactical combat game. That’s slowly changing but, however good it gets, it’ll never offer as much game as Armada does. And even with unpainted fighters, Armada still looks the biz when it’s laid out. I was playing in a pub once, and a complete stranger came over and started taking photographs, muttering “that’s mint. That’s fucking mint.”

I’d argue it’s actually more accessible than its older brother due to fewer ships and upgrades and a more predictable play time. So, easy to pick up, fantastic looking, rich and deep to play: what’s not to love? Well, the price, I guess. But you don’t need a lot of ships to build a fun, functional fleet.

Specter Ops

The sorts of games we love are often bloated with rules and components in place of actual theme. Sometimes this works, more often it just gets in the way of enjoyment. Yet when designers try to strip these things away to make shorter, simpler games, often all that’s left is a hollow shell.

Specter Ops is the grandest refutation of that conclusion I’ve ever seen. You can be up and playing in minutes yet you might end up playing for hours and hours over the shelf-life of the game. It’s built taut, asymmetrical and full of cunning deduction on a foundation that looks flimsy, but is rock solid.

Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition

Hidden movement is one of my favourite mechanics, so getting two top titles in one year is a real treat. And with the original Fury being one of my favourite games, it’s no surprise I see 2015 has being an out of the park year for quality.

You’ll need to put in a bit of work to figure this one out, but it does play fast and it’ll reward you a hundredfold. Dense, claustrophobic and slipperier than a box of frogs yet still full of depth and crazy see-saws of fortune. It’ll suck you in and never let you out.


People have been mining the seams of social games and word for so long that it’s rare anything of value turns up. So imagine my surprise when a designer known for mediumweight thematic titles turned up a great title that was novel in both genres.

The best thing about Codenames is its chameleon-like ability to be all things to all people. It works co-operatively or competitively. You can play it hard or for laughs. Teams can play it just as well as individuals. Whichever way up you turn it, it’s still just as much fun.


You’d not think, to look at the box or read the rules, that this is perhaps the deepest game I’ve seen in years. It looks and smells like a negotiation game, and there’s plenty of that to do. Yet underneath are layers and layers of mechanics to puzzle over and perfect.

That it presents such a compelling piece of alternative history too is just the icing on the cake. With such variety and replay value, Churchill would go on my “if you only had 10 games” list without a second thought.

And the winner is …

In keeping with the quality of this year’s games, this is the hardest choice I’ve had to make for some time. So I’m not going to make it: I’m going to let my friends and family do it, without them knowing.

They’ve had a great time with all of the games on my shortlist. But there was one that got asked for over and above the initial wow-factor of any well designed. One that got worked over, worried at, examined in a fierce competition to be the first to be best. One that shut out the world outside more effectively than the rest.

That game is the new edition of The Fury of Dracula.

I had always dreamed that one day, someone might be able to shoehorn the best bits of the two previous editions into one box, but I never really believed it would come true. Yet there it is, a special Christmas present for me. And for all of you, too, if you’re lucky enough to find one under the tree. Have a great solstice.

Cracked LCD- Survive! Space Attack in Review

Survive Space Attack

This one is over at Miniature’s Review Corner– a write-up of Stronghold Games’ latest Survive! title. Having rescued the classic Parker Brothers family game from languishing out of print, Stephen Buonocore and his gang are now moving on to applying the Survive! concept to a new setting. Geoff Englestein (who did the excellent Space Cadets as well as the tragically underplayed Ares Project) and his family have turned in a very respectful update to the original game that adds some fun new elements.

I can’t say that I prefer the setting because I like the old “Escape from Atlantis” business. But the new material works and it is totally in the spirit of the original game. My five year old son LOVES it, he asks to play it every day…so I’d say it’s a great choice for a family/kid-friendly title.

Thrower’s Tallies: Top 5 Horror Board Games


I have an uneasy relationship with horror. Perhaps that’s appropriate. To me, there’s a clear dividing line between the chilling supernatural and gruesome gorefests. I detest the latter, and love the former. To have a book, film or video game slowly convince me there are mysterious shades flitting beyond the veil of night is a special pleasure.

It gets more complicated with board games. You can throw all the gothic trappings you like into a horror game and the result rarely feels like horror. They never make you feel nervous or uncomfortable. After playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent one night I almost threw a fit after finding an unexpected tea towel on the back of the kitchen door. No board game has ever done that to me.

I once sketched out a design to remedy that. It was a co-operative game in which the players had to choose to eliminate one or more of their number in order to win. They weren’t traitors or anything. The idea was to create unease and discomfort in the group by forcing them into unpalatable choices with real-world impact. It never went anywhere because no-one wanted to make those choices. Which illustrates why a genuinely horrible horror board game is likely impossible.

So we’re left with adventure games painted thickly with the red rouge of horror. For all that they’re still obviously card and plastic underneath that doesn’t make them bad games. Here are my five favourites.

#5 Ghost Stories

J-Horror serves up exactly the sort of unearthly shocks that I enjoy most. Other far eastern countries have similar oeuvres of unnatural lore. So it’s a shame that the only quality game so far to try and make use of all that mythology is Ghost Stories.

In many respects, this is just a classic modern co-operative game. Players are faced with a series of awkward least-worst choices to make against the clock. There are few better examples, mechanically speaking, but it’s still a well worn grove.

There are two things that make Ghost Stories stand out from the crowd. One is the amount of variety and resultant replay value. There are a lot of different ghosts to encounter, and different board setups and player powers combine to keep the puzzle fresh. The other is the stellar artwork. Playing the game itself might not scare you. But seeing the various ghastly visages of Wu-Feng as they’re pulled from the bottom of the deck is still worth some delicious chills.

#4 Dead of Winter

Games with hidden traitors make good horror fare, but they always have one slight problem. The players know there’s a cuckoo in their midst, and that takes away the shock of their revelation.

Dead of Winter fixed that by the simple addition of their not always being a traitor. This tiny change can send paranoia levels through the roof as players snipe and bicker about the latest failed survival crisis. Did it fail by accident, by incompetence or by purposeful sabotage?

And all the while the zombies mass at the doors and the snow howls outside the window. Dead of Winter is a rare game that made the environment itself into an enemy. Frostbite can be every bit as deadly as zombie bite.

#3 Last Night on Earth

Here’s another zombie game from the opposite end of that overused genre. This is laugh a minute splatterpunk nonsense. Chainsaws rev, Zombies moan and the players have a cast of characters right out of every B-Movie ever made.

Several scenarios and some fat decks for both the zombie and the hero players make for plenty of variety. What really makes the game hum though is the light dusting of strategy. You can’t search and fight on the same turn. So it’s always a trade off between trimming the undead hoard and finding a bigger gun to do it with.

Good art, great miniatures and unusual movie-still photos on the cards help bring the atmosphere to life. Or perhaps unlife. With lots of dice, lots of surprising card plays and lots of smack talk, it’s the epitome of trash gaming.

#2 Fury of Dracula

Of all the games I’ve ever played, the first edition of this was the closest a game has ever felt to real horror. For the hunters, the original Dracula was an unholy terror at the start of the game. His location unknown he plotted omnipotent and omniscient behind his screen. Early attacks could be deadly. Only by amassing cards and equipment could the fragile mortals hope to best him.

It was too easy for Dracula to win by stalling, however, which made it weaker as a game. The second edition tried to fix that but introduced some needless bloat and broke a bunch of other stuff. Dracula seems a lot less of an immortal horror when he can’t even double back on his own trail without resorting a special power.

I’m writing this having just played my first game of the new third edition. It still has the hated location deck, but there’s a raft of improvements to make Dracula more flexible and powerful. He won. Here’s hoping it’s put the Prince of Darkness back on his throne where he belongs.

#1 Arkham Horror

It’s perhaps odd that my top spot is probably the least horrific game on the whole list. But like we said, real horror games are an impossibility. The Fort’s own Shellie said it best. This isn’t a horror game: it’s an RPG.

I always wanted an RPG with strategy and exploration, narrative and character advancement in one accessible package. It turned out that Arkham Horror was that game, dressed as a horror title. Choices about how to equip, move and build your characters had real consequence. The choose your own adventure location texts made an endlessly variable story generator. And toward the end, tooled up with Shotguns and Elder Signs, you were able to tackle Shoggoths and Dholes.

Because Arkham Horror is such a great RPG, I’ve never felt the need to play Eldritch Horror. It might be faster and more streamlined but it sounds like its lost that adventure feel. And the biggest horror of all might be the amount of time and money I’ve already invested in Arkham. It’s a scary barrier to a potential switch.