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There Will Be Games

Zendikar novel

I'm a massive Magic: The Gathering fan, so I was pumped when the new Zendikar: In The Teeth Of Akoum novel came out - Zendikar is one of my favourite Magic settings because it's like Avatar only GOOD. Pretty much the world of Zendikar is James Cameron's Avatar designed by somebody who didn't need 3D effects to sell an idea. The Zendikar: In The Teeth Of Akoum novel on the other hand, it's pretty strange for me to read a novel set in the Magic universe, because I was a pre-Planeswalker player and it appears Wizards of the Coast are trying to market Planeswalkers as star characters of novels and in some cases comics.

The problem with this isn't so much that Planeswalkers are bad as a new type of legendary character - but it's that more importance is given to the characters who are ultra-rare Mythic cards rather than what could have been a more compelling look at how smaller scale soldiers muster forces for skirmishes that decide the fate of a region in a world like Zendikar.

The upside to this is that the Planeswalkers - although I've never got one in a booster pack or even used one in a game that I would have bought as a single - are kind of interesting characters who function as world hoppers that decide the fate of the Planes they set foot in. Zendikar: In The Teeth Of Akoum also gives you a pretty sinister if vague point of view of how disturbing the Kor really are in terms of them being quite unconventional for traditional White Colour creatures. They're pretty much described in the same light as the tribal people in Peter Jackson's King Kong remake, and I had no idea they spoke in sign language going from the cards in my Kor deck. I'll never look the same way at my Kor Sanctifiers again, I'll tell you that much. Some things related to female Kor customs you can't un-read...

Licensed novelisations of board and tabletop games are a fascinating thing to behold, but they're not a new thing. Games Workshop's The Black Library has been selling Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 branded novels written by a lot of writers for beer money for years. But why do these books exist? Well it's quite simple really - tabletop gamers are the kind of people usually already indoctrinated into genre fiction - and licensed novels for Warhammer 40,000 and Magic: The Gathering give the game companies a chance to expand the lore a bit more, much like the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels work. They're tie-in novels to some of the more popular tabletop games - you wouldn't get this for a board game like Talisman but you're likely to see one for something like Blood Bowl for example instead of say, Monopoly or a Eurogame like Samurai which are much more rooted in gameplay mechanics instead of lore.

Yeah, some of them are pretty badly written *cough* Dungeons and Dragons novels *cough* but so far I reckon the more recent Magic: The Gathering novels and a lot of the Warhammer 40,000 novels are ripping reads. That's the thing - in some ways the novels based on CCGs and tabletop miniatures wargames are more successful in quality because the writer actually has to imagine the motivations of a soldier like a Space Marine or a wizard as powerful as a Planeswalker. Dungeons and Dragons novels in my experience when I tried to read the ones in my school library came off as being like Dungeons and Dragons stripped of its core elements of interactivity in making your own stories.

I also bought The Purifying Fire, another Magic novel based around Chandra - another of the more popular Planeswalker who got her own manga series in Japan based on this novel as an adaptation of the core story. And in that I'm not surprised - the Japanese are well known for reading what are called "light novels" - that is to say novels written for young people that read very quickly and are very genre based - some of them like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya got anime and manga adaptations. So while I'm surprised that Chandra is now a manga character to the Japanese I am not surprised at all she got her own manga based on a novel because the Japanese younger generation are used to reading light genre fiction that to us would seem akin to... Warhammer 40,000 fluff only more anime like really.

There Will Be Games
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