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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Part 1)

Spider-Man doesn't like it when you wear a Batman t-shirtLast week, I was in Orlando, Florida visiting Universal Studios. We bought the Wizarding World of Harry Potter package for a 3-day, 3-night super-fun time. And it was! In a follow-up article I might gush about how much fun we had and the great stuff we did. For this edition I’m going to give tips, tricks, and warnings.

Universal Studios is comprised of two theme parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, each of which contain multiple themed areas and require separate admission. The entrance to each park is through CityWalk, an entertainment park (no admission required) comprised mostly of restaurants, a movie theatre, and the Blue Man Group show (tickets required).

For the Harry Potter experience, Islands of Adventure has Hogsmeade and Universal Studios has Diagon Alley. You can have a great wizarding experience in either of these. The differences are not major but Diagon Alley is probably the best, experientially.


The package deals are always the best way to go because a la carte is so much more expensive.

+ Park-to-Park Passes: The pass is good for both parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios). You can ride the Hogwarts Express back and forth between the parks.

- 1 hour early admission: This is a highly promoted benefit that is a crock. Only a few of the popular rides are open before 9:00 a.m. Early admittance lets you in through the Islands of Adventure park entrance only. There you are herded to the back side of the park to Hogsmeade. All rides say they start at 9:00 a.m. but we were able to ride the Hippogriff at 8:30 a.m. I think the main benefit to early admittance is to be able to get in line early for these ridesI think the bigger benefit would be to buy an express pass. These are expensive but, in the busy season, may be worth it.

+ Breakfast at The Three Broomsticks (Hogsmeade) and The Leaky Cauldron (Diagon Alley): A hearty, filling breakfast but the coffee was bad. Good bacon.

+ Hotel stay: Loved our hotel. More below.

+ Trollies: Hitch a ride to the parks and back run every ten minutes. This saves time and the enormous headache of dealing with traffic around the park.

+ Purchases taken to room: Although there are lockers in the park, they are pricey and require you to make multiple long trips back-and-forth to store stuff. If you stay at an on-site hotel, you can have any purchase you make in the park sent back to your hotel. This is a great feature. Anything you buy in the park will make it back to your hotel by midnight the same day so you can use this feature even on your last day in the park if your check out is the next day. We were told by some cashiers in the park that our purchases might not make it to the room until noon the next day. This is not true.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Orlando, FL

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Review: 7 Days to Die (Early Access)

7 Days to Die is a voxel based “survival horde crafting game” with a tower defense feel being developed by The Fun Pimps. Set in a post World War 3 apocalyptic world where a new virus causes dead human beings to return from the dead as zombies, you must gather resources and the knowledge to use them to survive. And right now, it looks to be one of the best, if not the best, zombie genre games ever.

Think survival horror meets Minecraft and you've got a good idea of what this game is like.

If you're like me, you love the zombie genre, but are sick of all the half-assed attempts at zombie survival games out there. Well, be sick no longer, friend. 7 Days to Die is the elixir you've been waiting for!

The first thing you're going to notice when you start up your first single player game or multi-player server is the huge amount of customization available in the setup menus. Whether you want a Walking Dead style game experience, 28 Days Later type, or something in between, it can be done in the setup menus. I assure you though, the first thing you're going to want to do when you start up is to turn the difficulty and zombie spawn rate down.

This game can be very unforgiving at “normal” settings. You've been warned.

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Knowing the Core: Smash Up's Original 8 Factions Explained (Part 1)

Today, I'd like to talk about the Smash Up's Core set's eight factions. There are eight unique groups to select from in the Core set, each with their own gifts and talents. The key to understanding Smash Up is considering what factions would work well together as a team, and I hope that this primer will help. Note that I am far from a tournament player, but I have put in several hours playing the game, so I am not necessarily inexperienced, either. I'll cover four factions this week, and tackle the remaining four the next.

DINOSAURS (with lasers!)

Focus - Power Boosts, Destroying Minions

The 'Saurs are the Core set's heavy group, with a mighty Power 7 King Rex and a plethora of cards that focus on boosting your team's power or destroying your rivals' cards. There's not a ton of nuance to the Dinosaurs; they are pretty much all about dominance.

Key Cards

The 4 War Raptor minions start at a low Power 2, but can gain +1 power per War Raptor in play at one base, making them one of the better common minions in the Core set. Minion King Rex can really shake up your rival player's game plan thanks to its exceptionally high Power 7. Howl and Augmentation actions can quickly boost your overall Power status on a base until the end of a turn.

And lastly, Dinosaurs have two action cards that restrict your opponents from messing with you: Tooth and Claw...and Guns prevents a minion's ability from affecting a designated minion, while Wildlife Preserve grants you immunity from other players' actions on a base. These are useful due to the overwhelming focus on eliminating other player's minions and to boost up your power; you don't want a alien, pirate, or ninja player to mess up your plans!

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Super Bowl Ads - Feminism Made a Difference

The marketing industry understands human nature better than any other and uses that knowledge to make a lot of money. The level of power marketing wields is both perverse and awe inspiring. There is really nothing that marketing cannot convince you of because of their mastery of demographics and the human ego.

The day where marketing’s most elite can show off is Super Bowl Sunday.

During this year’s Super Bowl, retailers were willing to pay as much as 4.5 million dollars for 30 seconds1 of air time and, to be honest, it’s a deal. There is positively no other situation where retailers know they will have the full attention of over 100 million people. In fact, this year set a record for Super Bowl viewers at around 114.8 million.2 That’s a little less than 4 cents per person.3 Four cents!

How marketing chooses to wield their power in our culture is a love-hate relationship for me. They shape our ideals, establish our stereotypes, define what’s cool, and reflect the country's feelings. Their understanding of human nature includes our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Since their job is to sell a product, they’ll use whichever will get us to buy. Even when they appear to be sincere I’m sure there’s a stack of reports somewhere that told them they should be sincere.

So during the Super Bowl, the biggest marketing day of the year in America, what did retailers try to sell us? Besides great humor, I was pleased that not only were the ads promoting positive attitudes, but they also showed an obvious feminist influence.

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Smash Up - A Beginner's Primer

Sometime in 2012, my sister-in-law introduced my wife and I to a new card game. Now, we had never been all that into card-based games before, but she insisted that this one was awesome. She brought it over one night and my wife and I tried it out...and it turns out that she was right. This game was awesome, and I'd like to share that discovery with our Game on Girl readership in a series of articles discussing Alderac Entertainment Group's excellent Smash Up.

Smash Up is the brainchild of Paul Peterson, and utilizes three types of cards in the Core set: Minions, Actions, and Bases. Minions and Actions are the cards the player gets to utilize as they play, and Bases are the cards the player tries to win. The core game has 8 factions (with several expansions adding to the mix, but I'll discuss those in later posts). Each player gets to smash together two factions in order to win the game.

But first, let me break down each type of card in more detail:

MINIONS - Minions are essentially the soldiers in your army. They are the ones which get played on bases in order to score them. Minions have power rankings printed on each card; for example, the header image features three types of minions from three factions, and each has its own number of power. The higher the number, the stronger (and rarer in your deck) it is. Minions also have abilities that can be used when played, and these vary by faction. One minion is played per turn (unless you play a card that lets you play more than one!).

ACTIONS - Actions can also be played once per turn, barring cards that let you do more, and these are oftentimes cards that either boost your team's effectiveness or cripple an opponent's. These too vary by faction.

BASES - Base cards are shuffled and laid out on the table before play begins, and the goal of the game is to score these for Victory Points (VP). Each base has a breaking point, which the cumulative total of the minion cards played there must reach or exceed to score. Bases also have abilities that tend to favor the faction it is derived from. Bases have three tiers of VP that can be rewarded based on each player's total: first place typically gets the most VP, but there are exceptions. Three bases are in play for two players, with the addition of one base per extra player. (Personally, when we play with my sister-in-law, we keep it at three.)

So, the ultimate goal is to combine two factions together that will carry your team over the others, and earn VP scoring bases as effectively as possible. Once a player reaches or surpasses 15 VP, they are the winner!

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