Our first book review: The Wizard and the White House

the-wizard-and-the-white-houseWhat happens when the President of the United States wakes up one day without a mouth?

That’s the premise of The Wizard and the White House, a science fiction novel by Mike Maggio. Sam Sheikh recently read the novel and shares his review on Ares Online:

“Satire has long been used to mask biting social commentary. The works of Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain spring to mind. Science fiction/fantasy, a more recent genre, has been used to the same effect as well.

So it was with great interest and high expectations that I read The Wizard and the White House by Mike Maggio….”

Read the rest here!

Girls Got Game Contest Winner

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-any-chance-image6429881The Envelope Please

We’ve had a chance to evaluate the submissions for our Girls Got Game design contest.

There was concern that we would receive enough designs to make the contest viable, but a couple slipped in during the final hours to make this effort a success. In hindsight, extending the deadline was less of a good move and more of a necessity.

We thank everyone who participated and encourage everyone to submit additional designs on our next contest. All designs, including those that did not win, were worthy efforts and show potential for future greatness.

 

 

The Rule of Two

Two designs stood out. Each has strong points that helped it rise above the other designs. While we don’t really evaluate design submissions on the basis of their art, these two designs also had some interesting and solid craft in the aesthetics and ergonomics departments.

Tile Set 3x3 +die facesA State of Emergency

Roxanne Clark submitted Island Emergency,  a one-to-four player game of survivor rescue after a natural disaster devastates an island chain.

Movement is based upon prevailing winds (which would make a bit more sense with balloons rather than helicopters) and is reminiscent of the old Parker Brothers game Smess. Players move their helicopter around a grid to rescue the most humans as they emerge from the ruins of their storm-ravaged huts.

Strategy hinges on play of Chaos cards, used to influence winds and survivor locations; Event cards, used either to provide a life-line for survivors too remote to rescue right away or sabotage a survivor group for the remaining players; and movement.

Island Emergency is a solid design that, with a bit of development, would make a good family game that plays fast and works well with older children and young teens.

The design includes a twist by way of including dragon and UFO markers for players to use instead of rescue helicopters. The dragon doesn’t rescue survivors, but eats them instead. The UFO also doesn’t rescue them, but instead takes them aboard for…um…whatever it is that UFOs do to taken humans. Neither of these change how the game is played, but do add a bit of flavor.

As a card-and-tile game, Island Emergency is not well-suited to appear in Ares Magazine currently. We may have the means to produce a card-and-tile insert to replace our normal map-and-counter designs. Aligning one’s design to our magazine’s game format is not a requirement of the contest.

MapMozart, Anyone?

Caroline Berg submitted The Magic Flute, a two-player game based heavily on Mozart’s titular songspiel.

Each player is represented by Sarastro or the Queen of the Night, and vie for the attention/custody of their daughter Pamina.

Players play cards to adjust the position of the three characters on the map. Victory is achieved by coaxing Pamina to one’s base (the Temple of the Sun for Sarastro or the Castle of the Moon for the Queen), or by moving one’s own piece to the Tower of Wisdom.

We really enjoyed the graphic design ideas Ms. Berg used in the design. The Dao-like map would lay the groundwork for an excellent final treatment, as would the card designs.

 

CardsIf we evaluated game submissions on their graphic delivery, The Magic Flute would set a very high bar to meet.

The game has a low strategic ceiling — strategy is limited to play of a single card from a hand of three. The most common cards allow the player to move one piece on the board one space. Some cards have special effects, but cards don’t really interact with each other or allow a player to build some sort of effect engine. In that sense, The Magic Flute is best suited for younger players.

As a card game, The Magic Flute is also not well suited to our magazine’s game format. As previously mentioned, that is not a requirement of winning the contest, but for now, at least, The Magic Flute won’t appear in Ares.

 

 

The Envelope Please

So who wins?

Easy.

They both do.

We like what both designers accomplished so much we will be sending each a check for the First Prize amount. Wooo!

289 Grams — The Most Beautiful Number in the World

Ares02Hobby

289 Grams?
Who wrote Little Women?
Charlie Gordon?
What do these questions have in common?

No useful commonality, but 289 grams is a very big deal to us. 289 grams is the approximate mass of Ares Magazine Issue #02, and that means that we can slide the hobby edition of the magazine just under the weight limit for regular USPS Bulk Rate shipping. This means that we can ship our commitments for more like $800 rather than $3,500. And that makes us very, very happy.

We were afraid that the magazine sample we were sent would not have the same mass, opacity, brilliance, or texture as the actual production run. We were concerned that changing paper stock would make a material difference in the tactical and/or visual quality of the magazine. Both fears are now abated. Issue #02 looks and feels even better than Issue #01 — and that’s a big deal.

Why? Based upon our Reader Response Cards, our audience rated the layout, art, and feel of Ares Magazine Issue #01 96 points out of a possible 100.

Ninety-freaking-six! One reader wrote, “Wow. Just, wow.”

No kidding.

There is no way we’re going to risk that. Apparently, we hit the nail as squarely on the head as is possible with a system in which humans are involved.

Issue #01 included a Reader Response card that asked readers to rate each article, interview, and story. The card also asked for ratings for the magazine’s art & layout and the War of the Worlds game.

We’ve not planned to make these responses public. Responses are, by their nature, the alleged opinions of a subset of our reader’s who may not represent the broader set of all readers’ opinions. That said, the data received are useful, and can help us improve the magazine by flagging items that responding readers want us to believe they love or hate.

So what did we learn? One thing we learned is that the story that our Executive Editor just flat hated (but I really liked) tied for the lead in terms of readers’ favorite stories in the issue. Um, we also learned that the story that I flat hated (that she really liked) also tied for the lead in terms of reader’s favorite stories in the issue.

What that means is that she and I will be very careful to avoid killing stories the other has faith in.

Also, we noticed that the location within the magazine appears to have a strong influence on how well readers respond to it. I refuse to give away nature the observation, at least until I can corroborate it with a few more issues. That said, the data suggest that a story may rate better if located in some areas of the magazine than others. Strange. True?

One item received a “one” (out of a possible five). Apparently, that reader responds poorly to creepy dolls. For the sake of that reader, it’s okay. We all respond poorly to creepy dolls.

Two items received a single “two” each — one for the interview with Bruce Cordell and one for the science article Linked In. Honestly, I’ve never been much for interviews. I do like science articles with a bit of depth. The vision I laid out for Ares includes a strong effort on our part to have exactly one of each per issue, because I did not want my preferences to omit content that a broad readership would appreciate. So it seems that it may be true that some folks are not partial to interviews while others are not partial to harder science. Or maybe the subject matter (Bruce Cordell or some of the potential impacts of the “singularity”) was not to those folks’ respective tastes.

Every other item in the magazine scored at least a “three” from every reader who sent in a card. When averaged, readers rated the fiction as a whole just under 80 points (a few scoring around 70 points and a few scoring around 90). The War of the Worlds game scored 82 points.

I like to think that these ratings are probably pretty good — the War of the Worlds game is rated 7.95/10 at the Board Game Geek website as of this writing. The difference between the BGG and Response Card ratings is less than the margin of error, given the sample sizes.

We are assembling Hobby Editions of Issue #02 as I type this. We should start shipping Monday, barring any misfortunes.

I can’t wait to see the next set of response cards.

Ares Magazine FAQ

Ares02Cover

Ares Issue #02 Cover

Every morning I check my eMail box. Experience has taught me that this is a mistake. A better course of action is to burn my house down and run off to live in the woods. Perhaps I am too old to change my ways. So I check my eMail.

I receive several hundred eMail messages each day. Some are ads. Some are status reports. Most are questions from folks who need information too specialized for Google. I thought I would take this opportunity to answer some of the more common ones, here.

How do we gather our fiction?

We are not currently accepting fiction submissions. We accumulated a few hundred more stories than we had the capacity to properly evaluate, and we’re still paying a price for not closing the spigot sooner. There are still dozens of unread stories in the pool, but we get through another pile of them every week. We will open the spigot again. We’ll notify everyone right here before and as it happens. My wild guess as to when is 4Q15.

The process is pretty simple. Authors submit their short stories to our story database. Authors learn that we are accepting fiction when we post notices here and on a number of internet science fiction author forums.

Elsewhere on this website is a link to our submission guidelines. This document describes terms of publishing, acceptable genres, desired story length, etc. If you ever wish Ares to publish one of your stories, find and peruse this document.

How do we select our fiction?

The fiction is read by one or two members of a small group of slush readers. Before issue #01, we were flying a bit by the seat of our collective pants. We had no way of knowing how many stories we would get and how many of those would be good.

Being a practical (read pessimistic) fellow, I expected that we would receive very few stories, and the quality would be generally very poor. Fortunately, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

I originally asked the slush readers to give each story a typical through F letter grade, and figured we would publish As, Bs, and some Cs. We received so many stories (600?) so quickly, and the fiction quality was so high, that publishing Cs is out of the question and publishing Bs is unnecessary. We can screen out all of the B through F graded stories and still fill issue 03 through issue 06.

Early on, we committed to some authors who submitted B-graded stories that we would publish their work. We honor that commitment, but as those stories hit the press, only A-graded stories remain in the pool. This means that the general fiction quality in the magazine improves with each issue.

The goal is that, in a few more issues, we will be publishing only A-grade stories.

What percentage of stories make the cut?

Last time we assessed our acceptance rate, we were running at about 7%. We reject 93% of submitted stories.

What kinds of things typically prevent Ares from accepting a story?

Genre is critical, but doesn’t account for many rejections. The story must, must, must adhere to our stated genre list. We are a science fiction magazine. We publish science fiction. Alternate history, like steam punk, and fantasy have a place at the Ares table. Most other subject matters do not.

Punctuation and language use kill a lot of stories. We are not your copy editors. We will fix a couple of casual errors in a story, but we don’t have the time copy edit each accepted submission. Why would we? We have more quality fiction that we can easily manage. That, and the author should have already taken this step. Modern word processing applications have very solid spelling, punctuation, and grammar tools. Use them. If you can’t be bothered to do the copy editing, neither can we.

Stories must have plots. The story should set a scene, carry characters from point A to point B in an interesting fashion, and conclude with some sort of reveal or climax that pays off for the reader. We receive some very inventive stories that are composed with extraordinary care and creativity, but may lack a strong plot line or any sort of denouement that wraps up all of the loose ends.

This last story killer is a tough one to describe. We discourage authors from using story mechanics that are egregiously controversial.

What does that mean? Does Ares shrink from controversy?

We encourage controversy. We encourage avant garde approaches to subject matter and execution. What will kill a story for us is an author delving into one or more of the following excesses:

  • Graphic or unnecessary depictions of sadism
  • Celebration of broadly perceived enemies of polite society, such as terrorists, racists, etc.
  • Precise and complete recipes for dangerous behaviors, such as bomb making

There are probably dozens of possible bullet points here, but we hope you grok where the lines are, why they’re drawn, and how to avoid them. Does that character really have to drop an F-bomb or an N-bomb every third word? To paint a picture of some group as evil, do the members really have to eat live kittens? Seriously?

None of this means that your story can’t have a depiction of a sadistic act or a racist or a recipe for a dangerous behavior.

Don’t be too graphic. A little description gives the reader’s imagination all the tools it needs to build the scene. Silence of the Lambs — good. Human Centipede — bad.

Be careful elevating disrespectful characters and groups. It can be done, but use a deft touch. Gran Torino — good. Triumph of the Will — bad.

Typing all of this out was a bit cathartic, and hopefully provides you with a better framework as to what goes on behind the scenes here.

Thanks for hanging out. I’ll probably gin up another one of these soon.

It’s all About the Tracking Number

…and I received the tracking number for the remaining components of Ares Issue #2 this morning.

The shipper promises deliver by COB Thursday. Good luck squeezing a promise out of me, but if we receive the materials in good order on Thursday, we will unpack and assemble the magazines this weekend and expect to deliver them to the post office next Monday.

Sweet.

Girls Got Game Design Contest nearing deadline!

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-any-chance-image6429881Only 10 days left to finish and submit your design for our current design contest. The winner will receive $200 – and if we decide to publish your design in a future issue of Ares Magazine, we’ll throw an extra $1000. Otherwise, your design is yours to shop around or publish yourself.

Are we looking for any game design? Well, there are a few rules. Every submission should align with Ares’ preferred genres, like science fiction and fantasy.

If you haven’t submitted a design yet, now’s your chance!