Hasbro is releasing a Stranger Things-themed Dungeons & Dragons starter set to help you kill time before the Netflix drops the third season.
Right now, you can pre-order Hasbro Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set for $25. In addition to all of the necessities you’ll need to start (a rule book, dice, character sheets, etc.), you can also look forward to the “Hunt for the Thessalhydra,” the scenario dreamt up by Mike Wheeler and played during the show’s first episode.
This kind of crossover is the type of thing you kind of knew was bound to happen (seeing as Stranger Things ostensibly brought D&D back into the mainstream) but you’re still stoked when it does.
Stranger Things fans and D&D enthusiasts can all share in the terror of facing the Demogorgon when the set arrives in May.
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.
Even awkwardly tripping and stumbling on a throw rug would look super cool when played back in slow motion, as YouTube channels like The Slow Mo Guys have shown us time and time again. But with Hasbro’s new The Slow-Motion Race Game players don’t need a $100,000 high-speed camera to create a slow-motion effect; just lots of patience, steady pacing, and a willingness to potentially embarrass themselves.
The Slow-Motion Race Game is yet another party-focused title designed to provide more entertainment for spectators than those who are actually competing. It’s played using a pair of headbands that have been outfitted with buttons, speakers, flashing lights, and motion-sensors which facilitate the unique gameplay.
A stretchable strap ensures the headbands will easily fit even the largest of heads, but the compartments that house the batteries (two x AAAs) and electronics aren’t exactly tiny. I don’t expect to find bleeding-edge technologies in a $20 (available in early August) party game, and the headbands are comfortable enough given you’re not wearing them for hours on end, but I do wonder why Hasbro didn’t develop The Slow-Motion Race Game as an app given we’re all carrying smartphones with essentially the same technology already built-in.
Playing the game is simple enough; two competitors each strap on a headband and when they’re ready to race, they simultaneously push a button on their heads which starts a beeping four-second countdown. When the countdown is done, it’s off to the races as each player tries to be the first to reach a prestigious cardboard trophy, which the game’s instruction manual conveniently origamies into. During the race an inspirational song plays (strongly influenced by Vangelis’ theme to Chariots of Fire) followed by cheering when the first player to reach the trophy hits the button on their headset again to end the race.
But a mad dash isn’t the key to victory here. The motion sensors in the headbands severely limit how quickly a player can move. If you’ve ever pantomimed a crash in slow motion or staged slo-mo fisticuffs, then you’re already well-versed in the tactics needed to win. If a player moves too fast, a buzzer sounds and a light atop their headband turns red, requiring them to stop moving altogether for a few seconds which gives the other player an advantage for a few seconds.
Playing is equal parts fun and frustrating, as the motion sensors in the headband seem to be only looking for sudden, jarring movements. Walking too quickly will set off the penalty alarm, but so will accidentally putting a foot down with too much of a thud, or making a sudden quick jerk of your head. There will be lots of, “aw, come on!” moments during a race, but there’s also some fun to be had in trying to figure out how to beat those motion sensors. I was able to make long smooth strides by sliding my feet across the floor with outstretched legs without getting nabbed for speeding, but pushing your luck is always a gamble given the risk of penalty. There’s definitely $20 worth of fun to be had with The Slow-Motion Race Game, and not just for kids.
The Unofficial Persona 5 Phan-Game (UP5P) is a short game, taking around 30 minutes to complete. It’s pretty small in scale; you can play solo or co-op with a friend, and it’s only played using a few decks of cards and some tokens.
Don’t expect lavish miniatures or a huge, vibrant board to play on, because this is a fan-made effort that you can print-and-play at home, not a major publisher’s flagship title. But what little UP5P is built on looks amazing, using official art and graphic design where possible and taking advantage of wonderfully-illustrated fan tributes elsewhere to fill in the gaps.
Rather than try to replicate the flow of the entire video game, UP5P smartly breaks its focus down to an assault on a single palace, giving players one calendar month to defeat one of a choice of bosses including Kamoshida, Okumura and Madarame.
You get to choose one Phantom Thief to play as (even Akechi makes the roster), and then in very Persona fashion you have to make some hard choices, because each turn—represented by a day of the month—you can only do one thing. Players can go recruit confidants (like Shinya, Miishima and Iwai) to gain perks, go to school to increase social stats, explore locations around them or make a run on the palace, defeating shadows in combat and trying to reach the boss.
This recreates the exact same stresses as Atlus’ game. How do you best invest the time given to you? If you spend too long getting ready you might not clear the palace in time, but if you rush the palace unprepared you might screw things up.
Most things that need settling are handled via dice, which you roll to both recruit confidants and defeat shadows. And boy, the shadows, they’re so good. A ton of the game’s enemies have been recreated here, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
The way you tackle them again closely mirrors the video game’s approach. Your daily activities can bolster the amount of HP, SP and ammo that you take into the palace, and fighting shadows depletes your stock of each, so you can’t just spam combat and breeze through the game.
The thematic and mechanical tributes even extend to the bosses, who use existing shadow cards and combat modifiers to copy the weaknesses and attack patterns of their video game likenesses.
I don’t know if there’s much to recommend here to anyone not familiar with Persona 5, because that’s…kinda the point here? From the theme to your strategies to the contrasting emotions of never-ending stress and pleasure, UP5P does a tremendous job of making its tabletop experience feel a lot like the digital one. In isolation those rules and mechanics are still a lot of fun, but the real joy here is in seeing how they apply in relation to what you already know and love from Persona 5.
If you want to try it out yourself, here’s the best news: being an unofficial fan project it’s obviously free to play, irrespective of how good it is and how professional it looks. You’ll find links here to either download a print-and-play version for yourself (or even build a copy from a professional site) or, if you’d prefer to play digitally, it’s also available on Tabletop Simulator.
Earlier this month, I went to Norway to live out my bizarre lifelong dream of turning a birthday in the Arctic Circle. I did a ton of cool stuff—drove a dogsled, met some awesome people, jumped in a very cold sea, and ate a reindeer hotdog (it was delicious). I also went to a polar exploration museum, where, in addition to seeing some cool boats and historic artifacts, I saw a bunch of games.
I’ve written before about my obsession with polar exploration, especially my fascination with the day-to-day life of these heroic (and often ill-fated) expeditions. On my trip to Norway, I spent a couple days in Oslo, where the one thing I was determined to do was go to the Fram Museum. The Fram Museum is a museum about Norway’s polar explorers that houses two historic boats: the Fram, a boat that sailed to the Arctic and Antarctica, and the Gjoa, which was the first boat to navigate the Northwest Passage. The locals I met seemed charmed by my intense desire to see a museum that they probably all got dragged to as kids, but I couldn’t believe I got to go on boats that Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen had actually stood on. I spent hours nerding out intensely over all the fascinating things the museum had to offer, but in particular the games.
In Farthest North, his account of the 1893-96 Fram expedition, Nansen writes that the crew had “relaxation in the shape of cards, chess, dominoes, halma, music, and story-telling—how should any one be ill?” Though you would think polar explorers were constantly fighting for their survival, many of these journeys involved copious amount of downtime. Scheduled entertainment was as important to keeping sailors healthy as good food and warm clothes. “[A]bout half-past seven or eight cards or other games were brought out, and we played well on into the night, seated in groups round the saloon table,” Nansen explains of their schedule. Later in the book he praises the “constant gaiety” present in the saloon where the men relaxed, and I spent a long time standing in the Fram’s saloon trying to imagine what it would have felt like to try to focus on games while undertaking such a dangerous journey. The Fram Museum had a checkers board at which Nansen’s men might have played some of the games he writes about.
Another popular game on the Fram was darts, and a display at the museum showed one dartboard that it said was a Christmas present one crewmember was very excited to receive. In Farthest North, Nansen writes, “Shooting with darts at a target for cigarettes has been the great excitement of the day. Darts and target are Johansen’s Christmas present from [his fiancee] Miss Fougner.”
I was fascinated by how many holes were in this dartboard, how clearly well-used it was. I couldn’t imagine playing darts could be the most exciting thing to happen in a day when you’re trapped in the Arctic ice—it seems both frivolous and amazing. In my daily life, even as a games journalist, it can be hard to find time for games. At other times, even though it’s my job, it can feel wasteful to play games when there’s so much else I think I should be doing. Looking at the games onboard the Fram and reading about the role of games in Nansen’s expedition was a surprisingly moving reminder of how important it is to make time for play and the positive effects it can have. It was exciting to think about how much joy something as simple as a Christmas present that could be played together with friends could mean to people in extreme situations.
Scheduling time for games was important to many expeditions to both the North and South Poles. In South, Ernest Shackleton writes of his 1914-17 South Pole schedule,
The routine here is as follows: Four of us, myself, Stevens, Richards, and Spencer-Smith, have breakfast at 7 a.m. The others are called at 9 a.m., and their breakfast is served. Then the table is cleared, the floor is swept, and the ordinary work of the day is commenced. At 1 p.m. we have what we call ‘a counter lunch,’ that is, cold food and cocoa. We work from 2 p.m. till 5 p.m. After 5 p.m. people can do what they like. Dinner is at 7. The men play games, read, write up diaries.
Some individuals had a regular programme which they adhered to strictly. For instance, one member, directly the rest of the staff had gone to bed, cleared the small table in front of the stove, spread a rug on it and settled down to a complicated game of patience, having first armed himself with a supply of coffee against the wiles of the drowsy god. After the regulation number of games had been played…
After dinner had been cleared away, some men sat on at the table occupied with books and games. Others dispersed to various jobs. In the matter of games it was noticeable that one would have its vogue and yield place to another without any apparent reason. For a few weeks it might be chess, which would then yield its place to draughts and backgammon, and again come into favour.
All of these people made special time for games in their lives, no matter what was going on. I brought my Switch with me on my trip to Norway, and as I was packing I thought about how frivolous it felt to make space for it in my luggage. Why would I want to play games when there would be so many new things to explore? But when I thought about polar boats making room in their limited holds for entertainment, or about expedition leaders holding back games so they could surprise people on special occasions, I saw my own decision to bring my Switch in a different light.
In addition to games from the expeditions themselves, the Fram Museum also had a board game about the race to the North Pole. In my polar obsession, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to track down board games and other entertainment that came out of what’s called “the heroic age” of polar exploration. I’ve long been curious about how cultures reinterpreted these wild stories into play, and how games might have let people at the time take part, in some small way, in the feats they were reading about in the news.
Other games were produced during the “heroic age” about polar explorers, including ones about Shackleton and one, pictured below, about SA Andree, who tried to sail a balloon over the North Pole in 1897. The Fram Museum had some boots recovered from the Andree crash site that I couldn’t stop staring at. I’ve been trying to track down the Andree game ever since seeing a picture of it on the internet, and it was fascinating to me to compare the material fallout of his tragic expedition with how game designers had imagined it would play out.
Seeing all the games at the Fram Museum helped me put my own ideas about play and pleasure into a new context. Things like games or snacks, the stuff we write about every day at this site, played such a vital role in the historic events I love reading about. Though the age of polar exploration feels so far removed from the realities of my daily life, learning about the games polar explorers played makes it seem a little more real.