The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickstarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.
The inaugural issue of Parallel Worlds magazine was published in September 2019. It contains no gaming content as such, but rather discusses and aspects of not just the hobby, but different hobbies—board games, roleplaying games, computer games, and more. Unlike later issues, for example, Parallel Worlds #21 and Parallel Worlds #22, this first issue is very much about games, and that is not necessarily a bad thing if something interesting is said about them. Unfortunately, that is not always the case in Parallel Worlds #01, but the issue contains some interesting articles and they do possess a degree of brevity which makes the issue as a whole a quick read. Of course, Parallel Worlds #01 is readily available in print, but all of the issues of Parallel Worlds, published by Parallel Publishing can also be purchased in digital format, because it is very much not back in the day of classic White Dwarf, but here and now.
Parallel Worlds #01 opens with an interview with Isaac Childres, the designer of Gloomhaven, one of biggest—quite literally—boardgames published in the last few years. It is quite a lengthy piece and nicely captures the designer’s enthusiasm for creating and playing games. What is interesting in the piece is the discussion of the influences upon the design, which include Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition, and it includes a range of illustrations which should intrigue the reader to take a closer look at Gloomhaven. The other board game-focused piece in the issue is ‘Tiny Epic Mechs’, part of the magazine’s ‘Tabletop Games’ series of articles. Christopher Jarvis’ article is actually a review of the arena-set game of ’mech combat published by Gamelyn Games as part of its Tiny Epic series, which packages big games in small boxes and thus delivers greater game play than their size readily suggests. In comparison to the other games in the line, and there are plenty of them, Tiny Epic Mechs, is short and punchy in its game play and does not necessarily lend itself to telling an epic story. Nevertheless, the review is informative and again, should point the reader in the direction of the line.
Unfortunately, these decent articles are followed by a pair of frustratingly bad and unhelpful articles, both by Connor Eddles. In ‘Box Full of Knives: Why Dungeons & Dragons needs to step away from its wargaming roots’ he complains that Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition is a ‘box full of knives’, that its mechanics are too focused on delivered the means to kill things and take their loot and not enough on providing the tools to provide stories. There is some validity to the argument, but the author completely ignores how far Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition has come in supporting both roleplaying and storytelling in its rules in comparison to the Dungeons & Dragons of 1974 and even the Dungeons & Dragons of the year 2000. Likewise, he complains that Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition has too many rules and not enough tools, and again, he ignores how far the game has come. Admittedly, in either case, it is not as far as other roleplaying games, but the shift is there. Further, he ignores the then reality of the situation with regard to Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and Wizards of the Coast, that in 2019, there was no real possibility of the world’s premier roleplaying game necessarily going in the direction he wants. Despite stating that a proper critique of the system that is Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition requires the reader to go back and look at where it all began, he completely fails to do so. Similarly, whilst stating that, “This article may look like yet another hit-piece on the 5th Edition of D&D (often referred to as ‘5e’) but accusation would only be half correct.”, never fully addresses the other half that is not a ‘hit-piece’, never really offers concrete or helpful solutions, and ultimately the piece reads like a wishful whinge that Dungeons & Dragons was different.
‘Call of Cthulhu – Intermediate Frustration: The Call of Cthulhu Starter Set’ is not so much a review of the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set, as a review of Connor Eddles’ experience of running it and his impression of it. The review is profoundly uninformative and unhelpful. It does not tell the reader what is in the starter set and it does not give any context to what is in the starter set and it ignores who the starter set is for, instead complaining that its cover is reminiscent of Scooby Doo, that one of the pre-generated Investigators has a silly name, and that adventures are written in what is to him a heavy style that he does not use. Of these three issues, he has a point about the silly name—Nevada Jones—for the pre-generated Investigator, but of the other two, they are dubious points upon which to base a whole review, and whilst the author is entitled to his opinion, the result, as in his previous article, is unbalanced and uninteresting.
The coverage of Lovecraft continues with ‘H.P. Lovecraft, 100 Years On’ by Ben Potts, but not before Allen Stroud fills up two pages with a ‘Mini of the Month’ which looks at a thirty-year old miniature of an elf from Grenadier. Despite needing an edit, Ben Potts’ article is balanced and interesting, serving as decent introduction to the author, his works and his failings, and gives both context to his writings and his influence. Especially if the reader knows nothing about H.P. Lovecraft.
Allen Stroud’s ‘UK Games Expo 2019’ takes the reader on a guided tour of the United Kingdom’s biggest gaming convention. It captures the scale of the event, highlighting the number of attendees, the breadth of stalls and exhibitors present, and the array of events staged across the weekend. Supported by numerous photographs, the article brings the event to life and really makes the reader want to attend. This of course, was pre-pandemic, and so they would have been unable to until UK Games Expo came back in a much-reduced capacity in 2021. Hopefully, it will return in 2022 and be as good as this article describes it was in 2019.
‘Call of Demons’ by Allen Stroud both continues the issue’s Lovecraftian theme and presages the issue’s coverage of video games. It brings the horror of the Mythos to a virtual world in a short and enjoyable piece of would-be military action. The first of the articles on video games is both the longest in the issue and the longest. Tom Grundy’s ‘Promising the Stars: The three biggest space games of the 2010s’ examines the promise and expectations of the three big, spacefaring computer games of the tweenies. These are Elite Dangerous, No Man’s Sky, and Star Citizen, and all three are explored in some depth and detail, looking at their high points and their low, and seeing whether they have delivered. The truth is that none of them quite have, and they remain in various states of playability, from the complete No Man’s Sky to the yet to be fulfilled Star Citizen. The author makes the case for each one and again makes the reader want to investigate more. Perhaps the article could have suggested the ways in which to do so, but otherwise, this is an enjoyable article.
The second article about video games in Parallel Worlds #01 is by Thomas Turnbull-Ross. ‘Two Knights & their Hollow Souls’ is a comparison of two games, Dark Souls and Hollow Knight, drawing together the similarities of their worlds, their lead characters, and their game play. It is not quite as interesting as the previous article, but nevertheless, a good read. Rounding out the issue is Allen Stroud’s ‘Review: Blood of an Exile’, a decent review of the first book in the fantasy trilogy by Brian Naslund.
Physically, Parallel Worlds #01 is printed in full colour, on very sturdy paper, which gives it a high-quality feel. It does suffer from a lot of white space and one or two of the articles do feel stretched out.
Apart from the misinformative misfires from Connor Eddles, Parallel Worlds #01 is a solid, first issue. It sets out what its aims are, that of the exploration of the parallel worlds of our imagination, and then takes the reader there in a range of mostly informative and interesting articles.