Fantastic Four Starter Stories

Fantastic Four began the Marvel Age of Comics, but that doesn’t mean that it’s had as much luck with its movies as other Marvel properties. The ugliness brought on by less-than-stellar films and the fallout from contract disputes led to the comic book getting cancelled before 2015’s Fant4stic. The FF’s omission spread to other projects like Marvel: Dice Masters. I’m still waiting for the Fantastic Four set we were supposed to get shortly after launch.

Anyway. With Disney buying out Fox that should all change. Heck, the Fantastic Four comic book was relaunched in August 2018, so positive things have already happened. This is only the beginning.

Your uncle Geekly’s sure Marvel’s first family will make its Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in the not-so-distant future, and it may be a good time to catch up with some of the stories new fans will want to read to get to know Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny better. These are good stories for new fans.

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The Galactus Trilogy Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #48-50 (written by Stan Lee/art by Jack Kirby; 1966)

Uncle Geekly could’ve started with the Fantastic Four’s origin story, and that would be a good enough place to begin, but it’s been covered in film and cartoon a lot. Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #1 is as good as any of the reboots and relaunches, but I talk about origins all the time with these starter stories. Let’s start with something different. Let’s begin with the ultimate in Fantastic Four required reading: Galactus.

First, the Galactus story came out in the middle of Lee and Kirby’s collaboration, so they’re at the height of their storytelling powers. You’ll see more of this in the next entry.

Second, the peerless pair didn’t hit the brakes once after this story got started. Silver Surfer arrives. Uatu warns the family. Galactus looms large above Earth, preparing to eat it. It was loud and bombastic. This story was one of the longest comic book stories at the time. The pacing worked, and it led to comic books adopting longer story arcs.

Finally, the legend of how this story came about is telling of the pair’s storytelling technique and of Galactus. Kirby asked Lee “What if the Fantastic Four met God?” I’m not sure if this conversation ever happened, but presumably Lee responded with a “yes, and.” One would get the ball rolling and the other would always add to original idea, and the original idea of Galactus was an enemy that was above good and evil: a force of nature.

The idea of a villain that was neither good or evil was novel, and “The Galactus Trilogy” remains one of the best Fantastic Four stories.

fantastic_four_this man this monster

This Man, This Monster! Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #51 (written by Stan Lee/art by Jack Kirby; June 1966)

Just in case you missed the details of the last entry and this one, you’ll notice that Galactus was followed up immediately with “This Man, This Monster!.” Like the story it followed, “This Man, This Monster!” introduced more elements to superhero storytelling: focusing on a character’s humanity and interpersonal relationships.

The Thing’s powers are a blessing and a curse and no story by Lee and Kirby does a better job of illustrating that than this one. It’s a single-issue story that explores what happens when Ben Grimm loses his powers and culminates with him making a tragic personal sacrifice. It’s one of Lee and Kirby’s best and shows the pair’s range.

fantastic_four the trial of reed richards

The Trial of Reed Richards Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #262 (story and art by John Byrne; June 1984)

I’m not going to sugar coat this. The 1970s weren’t a good decade for Fantastic Four stories. John Byrne did a lot to reinvent and reinvigorate the team. “The Trial of Reed Richards” represents the best Byrne had to offer.

Reed must stand trial for allowing Galactus to live and devour more planets. This single-issue tale does a great job of exploring morality, catches readers up on what Galactus was doing for the past decade, and questions what the universe would be like without a force of nature that can eat entire planets. Byrne does a great job of defending Galactus’s right to exist.

fantastic_four unthinkable

Fantastic Four: Unthinkable (written by Mark Waid/art by Mike Wieringo; 1998)

I’ve gone long enough without a Doctor Doom story, and that’s because I wanted to wait for the best Doctor Doom story “Unthinkable.”

Waid and Wieringo’s run on Fantastic Four captured the boundary pushing adventures of the FF’s past and is considered one of the best runs on the series. “Unthinkable” does a lot to solidify that claim. Unable to beat Reed as a scientist, Doom turns to the one “science” Reed was never able to comprehend: magic.

“Unthinkable” forced the Fantastic Four, and especially Reed, to stretch their capabilities. Doom reached new levels of villainy here that included dark arcane powers, a suit made of flesh. Despite Reed’s efforts, Doom still magically disfigured Reed and set him on a path that would lead to Ben’s death.

If a reader wants to know the depth of Doom’s hatred for Reed and the rest of the FF, look no further than “Unthinkable.”

fantastic_four hereafter

Fantastic Four: Hereafter (written by Mark Waid/art by Mike Wieringo; 2004)

I did it with Lee and Kirby and here I go again—sort of—with Waid and Wieringo. “Hereafter” follows “Authoritative Action” which happened because of “Unthinkable.” Let’s just say that Reed didn’t handle Ben’s death well, and it led to some ugliness in Latvaria. Reed decides to put his trust in something greater than himself in “Hereafter.” The surviving members of the Fantastic Four storm the gates of Heaven to rescue Ben. This story doesn’t question existence as much as exploring one’s consequences.

Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben don’t save the world in “Hereafter.” They don’t battle a huge villain or overcome a cosmic threat. This story focuses on love, friendship, and hope.

fantastic_four three

Fantastic Four: Three (written by Jonathan Hickman/art by Steve Epting; 2010-2011)

What is with the Fantastic Four and wanting to be a trio? Hickman had a great run with Fantastic Four in the 2000s, and “Three” might be the best of his stories. Annihilus—an often-overlooked FF villain—poses the threat here, but the crux of the story comes in the form of Ben losing his powers and not being able to help his best friend Johnny during an invasion from the Negative Zone.

Johnny gets overrun by the Annihilation Wave as Ben seals the portal from the outside. Ben gets his wish of being normal, but he struggles with losing Johnny. If readers want to learn more about Johnny and Ben’s unique bond, give “Three” a read.

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Fantastic Four: 1234 (written by Grant Morrison/art by Jae Lee; 2011)

Grant Morrison likes to bend reality with his stories, so a Fantastic Four mini-series was inevitable. “1234” splits the family with four individual stories. Each member must suffer through a series of personal misfortunes and many of the team’s greatest enemies make appearances.

All the madness in “1234” leads to the team’s greatest adversary Doctor Doom. “1234” is a great showdown between two of the smartest men in the Marvel Universe. This is a battle of will, wits, and intelligence.

fantastic_faux

Fantastic Faux (written by Matt Fraction/art by Mike Allred; 2012-2014)

It may not look like it, but many heroes have donned the Fantastic Four uniform. The oddest group to wear Fantastic Four tights must be the team of Fantastic Faux.

Following Jonathan Hickman’s great run on Fantastic Four, Fraction took over both Fantastic Four and its sister title FF. The results were the team being sent through space and time, which left a vacancy in the Baxter Building for a substitute team to fill.

Ant-Man, Medusa, She-Hulk, and the newly introduced Ms. Thing (Johnny’s pop-star girlfriend Darla Deering who wore a mechanical Thing suit) were left in charge of the Future Foundation’s group of advanced science students. As Allred and Fraction are wont to do, they dial the sci-fi bizzarroness up to 50. A Voltron-style Doc Doom/Annihilus/Kang mash-up villain named Kang the Annihilating Conqueror, a one-eyed future Johnny, and the odd alien Foundation’s students graced this 16-issue run.

But like most great FF runs, “Fantastic Faux” challenges the idea of family. Not only are we born into a family, we have family that we choose.

That’s my list for readers who are new to Fantastic Four comics. If I didn’t get the list right, I’m sure it’s right in some alternate reality. I’ll have to ask Reed which one or you could let me know in comments.

Getting Started with Area Control or Influence Games

Uncle Geekly ran a search on a popular game type, area control, and found more results than he thought. These games range from simple who controls the most regions to more complex games where area control is an aspect of the game. We’re talking starting area control or the similar mechanism area influence games, so we’ll keep it simple and easy to learn, but most of all, an area control game at its core.

Most area control or influence games employ a great build to the game, where players begin with small gains that they hope to build upon through game play. These games, more than many others, have a natural progression to them, and gamers can see why someone won. Usually, this is a game type for players who like to see the wheels turn or have a little more agency in a game’s outcome.

As usual, good old Geekly has some starter games for someone interested in this gaming genre. Let’s get to some of these smaller games and work our way up to one’s that are more complex.

Hanamikoji

Hanamikoji

We’re starting with an odd choice: Hanamikoji. It’s classified as more area influence as players compete for the attention of geishas. Hanamikoji also happens to be a two-player game, which is a little unusual as well. A group of seven geishas is placed between both players and they range in point value from 2 to 5. The first player to gain the favor of 4 or more geishas or has 11 points or more of geishas wins. This is what makes Hanamikoji area influence instead of area control. One must gain the attention of the most geishas. The game play is fast—a typical game lasts ten to fifteen minutes which is lightning quick for an area control or influence game—and it’s intriguing.

Each player is dealt cards that correspond with each geisha (for example, green twos are used to gain the attention of the green two geisha). They’ll use these cards to gain favor. The players also have four action tokens, and this is where things get interesting. Both players alternate turns using all their actions tokens. One action locks down one card from a player’s hand. A second action removes three cards from play that turn from a player’s hand. The third and fourth actions have some combination of handing your opponent some of your cards and they choose one or two of the cards handed them, and the player using these actions keep the rest. This is an excellent way of mitigating a bad draw. It also makes for a surprising amount of choices for a short and simple game.

Carcasonne

Carcassonne

Sometimes the oldies are the goodies. 2000’s Carcassonne—along with El Grande—all but popularized area control games. The two wrinkles Carcassonne adds are tile placement and worker placement. Bear with me as a quickly discuss tile placement; it does factor into area control. Each turn a player draws a land tile and places it adjacent to a tile already in the play area. These tiles will have roads, farms, cities, and/or cloisters depicted on them. When placing a tile, it must match the pre-existing tiles in the play area. Sides of tiles that show a farm can only be placed next to another tile side with a farm. So, random tiles dictate what constitutes an area. This was revolutionary at the time.

Once a tile is placed, the player may place a follower—or worker. Players gain control of areas by placing their workers on these spaces, and these workers can perform several jobs, depending on where they’re placed. Farmers work farms, monks live in cloisters, and so forth. The player with the most followers in an area when it scores gains the most points for that area. The game ends when the last land tile is played, and the player with the most points wins.

This combination of game mechanisms works well. So many other designers have used some combination of worker placement, tile placement, and area control because of how accessible Carcassonne is and these mechanisms’ inherent strategic flexibility. Carcassonne works as a great introductory game for all three game types. I’ll try not to add it to another list. No promises.

smallworldgame

Small World

Sometimes gamers just want to conquer things. Small World takes place in a small world, where zany fantasy characters vie for control. There a lot of bells and whistles added to Small World. Each fantasy race like elves, trolls, and skeletons have their own race power, but each of these fantasy races are given one of 20 unique special powers like flying or ghostly that will make each playthrough different.

The concept is simple enough. When placing creature tokens, players start on the edge of the map. To conquer a land, they must use as many tokens as tokens in an area. If a player has enough tokens, they may conquer an adjacent land using the same method, so it’s likely that players will gain more than one area in a turn. In future turns, a player may choose to put their active race in decline (flipping their tokens upside down) and choose a new race. Players score points each turn for every area their races occupy; that’s for their active race and the race they have in decline.

At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins. That’s a common thread these games and a lot of other area control games share.

Small World does a great job of simulating combat without getting too in the weeds with it. It’s an area control game at its core with some nice window dressing, especially the use of variable player powers. Those race and special powers can be fun. Small World can also be the meanest game on this list. Players must know when to bail on a race and when to keep one. There will be a lot of hostile takeovers. It’s a small world after all.

Final Thoughts

So many of the best games on the market today use area control or area influence: Twilight Struggle, Star Wars: Rebellion, Scythe, Terra Mystica, Blood Rage, Twilight Imperium, and countless others. The games I just mentioned didn’t make this list because they get a little too complicated or they add more elements to the game than just area control.

 

The games I did include in this list will get new board game hobbyists the background they need to take on more complex games. Which games do you like to use as beginner area control games? You could place a worker to claim influence or it might make more sense to leave a comment.

Getting Started with Deck Building Games

I enjoy deck building games a lot. Deck builders are games with simple, identical, starter decks for each player, and players must build and customize their decks over the course of the game.

Deck builders can get convoluted fast and many of them are text heavy—we’re talking levels of text just below War and Peace. There are so many types of deck building games, so many that there are games that fall under pool building (not included here) that use dice and cubes instead of cards, that it can be overwhelming in terms of where to start.

Fortunately, your good old uncle Geekly is here to point you in the direction of less complicated deck builders to get going.

starrealms

Star Realms

I’ve talked about Star Realms in the past—for a full review check it out here—but it’s still one of the better, beginner games for a traditional deck builder. I could’ve gone with the base Dominion game, but I like the theme better with Star Realms, even though the space theme is barely there, and Dominion fans tend to want to add as many expansions as possible. Trust me. There are more expansions for Dominion than leaves on the ground.

Star Realms is balanced. If I’d have one major gripe, it may be that Star Realms is too balanced (the cost of cards are spot on, just buy the most expensive one you can afford each turn), but key elements like buying cards from the supply by paying specific costs for each card, culling (removing weak cards from your deck), forcing another player to discard a card from a future hand, and the concept of building a full deck and drawing a new hand from said deck instead of building a hand are all present in Star Realms.

It also doesn’t hurt that Star Realms has a free to download app.

Steam

Android

iOS

All someone would have to do to learn the basics for a deck building game is to download and play the tutorial. It doesn’t get much easier to learn than that.

CenturySpiceRoad

Century Spice Road

The hottest, newest game on this list may just be one of the least complicated deck building games and has the least text. Century Spice Road also has a couple of stand-alone expansions—games that can be played on their own as full games or that can be added to the original to make different combinations—so look out for Golem Edition and Eastern Wonders. Golems don’t get enough play in games. I may have to drive to the nearest adventurer’s pub and pick up a golem or two.

The base game’s theme isn’t that interesting—tabletop gamers have seen hundreds of spice trading games—but Century Spice Road not only boils down the deck builder to the point where it’s a bit of a hand builder, it adds elements like resource and space management to the genre. It also includes an interesting approach to one of my other favorite mechanisms: card drafting.

Cards in the supply are laid out from left to right, and players add action cards to their hand, starting with the card on the far left. If a player wants to skip a card in the supply, they must place a spice (or cube) on the card(s) skipped. Any player who picks up a card with a spice on it adds that spice to their supply. This simple addition adds so much strategy. Do I want to give my opponent a free spice by skipping a card? An action card I might not otherwise want may have spices I do want. Do those free spices make it worth adding the card to my hand?

All of these elements come together in a satisfying way. No wonder Century Spice Road earned the 2017 Golden Geek for best card game. Note: don’t play with real spices. That gets messy.

PaperbackCardGame

Paperback

I had to include Paperback because it has a great combination: deck building and word game. It’s a game combination that people wouldn’t think would work, but it does. A player can be adept at one of the two game types, and not the other, and still excel.

The same concepts one can find in Star Realms can be found in Paperback. There are more variants to Paperback so replay value is increased, but it’s the combination of deck builder and word game that makes this game sing.

The theme of struggling writers getting their paperback books published—to be fair, this theme may hit closer to home than I’d like to admit—also comes through. Paperback is easily the most thematic game on this list, but it’s not for everyone. If someone is dead set against word games, this game might rub them the wrong way. If someone likes word games or is willing to give a word game a shot, Paperback is excellent.

Final Thoughts

The above games are all great if you’re just getting into tabletop games and wondering how to play deck building games. Star Realms, Century Spice Road, and Paperback have a lot of replay value too.

Know of any other great starter deck builders? Let us know in the comments.

Card Drafting Starter Games

Your uncle Geekly likes card drafting games; they’re one of his favorite game types. I admit that I say this a lot, but I do like a good card drafting game. Card drafting can take many forms and some of the games that use this mechanism can get involved and not very new player friendly.

Fortunately, old Uncle Geekly is here with another group of starter games: card drafting edition.

Okay. I thought that would’ve sounded better than it did. Oh, well. These are the best games to teach someone who’s never played a card drafting game before.

Azul

Azul

Azul is a bit of a cheat. Players aren’t drafting cards, they’re drafting tiles, and that makes sense because the game’s theme is tile laying a Portuguese wall. Oddly enough, Azul has tile laying as a theme, but the tile laying or placement mechanism is downplayed. Anyway, various colored tiles are drawn from a bag and four of them are placed on 7 cardboard discs that are accessible to each player. Players take turns claiming similar tiles on each disc and adding them to their player boards. Each board has the same wall pattern and the player to finish a row of tiles initiates the end of game.

The scoring can get a little fiddly at times, but Azul is a quick game that’s easy to learn, and you’ll see plenty of set collection and chain effects (of which Azul has plenty) crop up in other games on this list and other card drafting games not on this list.

Jaipur

Jaipur

I could’ve gone with Splendor here and most of what I say about Jaipur could apply to Splendor, but Splendor gets too much press and Jaipur doesn’t get enough. Jaipur has a supply or market place with five cards. Players take turns taking cards from the market or swapping 2 to 5 cards between the market and their hand. One can also sell every card of a specific commodity (each card has a different commodity depicted on it) and when they do, they take point chips of the commodity from the bank. As soon as four pools of point chips are depleted, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

Like Azul and Splendor, Jaipur is a quick play. It’s my representative game for the rapid market place games that use card drafting. Unlike Splendor, Jaipur doesn’t have as much of a runaway leader problem and is a little more forgiving on new players. Plus, I really like the camel card addition.

SushiGo

Sushi Go

In many respects, Sushi Go is a simplified 7 Wonders. It’s a simple game of deal so many cards to the players around the table and each player simultaneously picks the card the want to draft. They place the card they want face down on the table and pass their hand to the next player at the table. Once everyone has picked a card, everyone reveals the card they picked, and it adds it to their tableau (or scoring area). The cards have various scoring methods and picking the right combination of scoring method leads to victory.

Sushi Go’s theme is silly, the gameplay is lightning fast, and the rules are easy enough that a 7 or 8-year-old would have no issues playing. If you’re new to tableau building, simultaneous card drafting (and there’s a lot of games that fit this bill besides 7 Wonders), learn Sushi Go before tackling something more complex.

Final Thoughts

Card drafting is one of your uncle Geekly’s favorite gaming types. There are plenty more introductory card drafting games I could’ve included. If you have an issue with any of the games on my list, say JK Geekly twenty-seven times in a mirror and there’s a chance I might appear. Or you could let me know in the comments.