Ice Ribbon 1/3/16 Live Thoughts

January 3, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

I saw more Ice Ribbon than any other company during my trip, and their New Year’s show at the Ice Ribbon Dojo was a great way to wind down my visit (I only had one more show after this).

I love the atmosphere of Ice Ribbon’s dojo shows. It’s a unique venue that lends itself to fun shows. More details on that in my review of the first show I attended there

I was unclear at first about whether pictures were allowed during this show, so didn’t get any during the opening match between 235 and Kyuri. This was short but very good, with both competitors looking the best I’d seen without having a veteran in there to hold things together.

The second match was scheduled to be Miyako Matsumoto and Tsukasa Fujimoto vs Azure Revolution (Risa Sera and Maya Yukihi). I was looking forward to seeing two of my favorites team against an established duo, but it wasn’t to be (and I have no complaints about how things turned out). As the match started Miyako got the mic and apparently had some complaints about teaming with Tsukka. She grabbed Risa and rebooked the match herself through force of will and it became Miyako Matsumoto and Risa Sera vs Tsukasa Fujimoto and Maya Yukihi. Classic Miyako and it led to a ton of amusing moments. Tsukasa’s face when Miyako offered her the traditional pre-match handshake after ditching her was priceless. Tsukka’s incredible in every aspect of pro-wrestling and it was a treat to see her so many times during my trip.

This match had an ongoing stipulation where the ring announcer would state a letter, and pinfalls could only be attempted after a move starting with it. One of the highlights of it was Tsukasa and Maya pulling out Miyako’s own Mama Mia on her, then an irate Miyako retaliating with Super Mama Mia once the letter changed. Miyako was easily one of the most entertaining parts of my trip, as she knows exactly how to work her gimmick for maximum effect and amusement. Her running laps around the ring in excitement as a victory celebration (with Tsukasa trying to trip her on each pass until successful) was magnificent.

The main event was a six-woman tag featuring Hamuko Hoshi, Yuuka, and Maruko Nagasaki vs. Aoi Kizuki, Akane Fujita, and Mochi Miyagi. This was fun, serving to further set up the Butchers’ impending match for Hamuko’s title while allowing the other wrestlers to shine too. It was also a nice spotlight on former champion Aoi Kizuki, which made even more sense looking back after the roundtable.

In addition to the normal discussion of the show and the wrestlers’ upcoming appearances, Aoi Kizuki obviously made some sort of big announcement during the roundtable. I got a translation from Aoi herself after the show that it was her “graduation” from Ice Ribbon and she was going freelance after the 1/9 show. In retrospect there were a lot of little hints, such as her first appearance on a Wave show earlier in the day. Aoi is a favorite of mine and I wish her all the best in this next phase of her career.

I had heard a lot about Ice Ribbon from friends before my trip and it certainly lived up to my expectations. It has a phenomenal roster featuring a mix of veterans and up-and-comers that perform a great variety of match styles.

 

I enjoyed every Ice Ribbon show I attended and the opportunities to meet and support the wrestlers were much appreciated. The photo op with the whole roster is awesome and something I haven’t seen done elsewhere. I highly recommend IR in general, and even more so the opportunity to see them at their home base.

Japan Crate January 2016 Review

January is here and so I begin the year with another box of snacks and treats from Japan.

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As usual Japan Crate includes a booklet / mini-manga that explains what everything is and has various additional content. No DIY kit this month due to shipping issues, so a random surprise item was included in every crate. There were apparently a few big prizes mixed in. I got a squishy toy that looks like a face made of bread (so weird) and some decent chewy strawberry candies. Kudos to Japan Crate for always trying to make up for it when things don’t go quite right.

Now let’s look at the rest.

The Excellent

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I don’t know if I buy the Premium exclusive Gaba Infused Stress Relieving Milk Chocolate‘s extraneous claims, but it’s smooth and delicious chocolate none the less. Sparkling Orange Gummy is a great orange flavored candy, and my favorite snack item this month. Asahi Calpis Gummies capture the taste of the unique drink well, and have a distinct texture.

 

 

The Decent

Fit’s Strawberry & Cream Gum has a decent flavor that lasts a while and comes with a “Where’s Waldo” puzzle on the back. Hello Kitty Strawberry Pretzels and Milk Chocolate Pocky are exactly as would be expected.

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Pokemon Pineapple Candy chews like gum while dissolving to avoid the cultural taboo of removing food from one’s mouth. Love the idea and this was great to try. A different flavor and it would have been fantastic.

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This month’s Premium Crate’s drink is Sukitto Lemon C Drink. A simple, light lemon soda-like drink with vitamin C. Another premium exclusive this month is Pizza Pretz. A bit salty and tomato taste heavy for me, but decent overall.

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JU-C Short Cake are sugary “chip” candies. The short cake flavor included is good. Yam White Chocolates have a fudge-like consistency and are decent, which is a lot more than I expected of that particular combination.

 

 

The Meh

The two possible flavors of Usushi / Ume Potato Chips translate to “light salt” and “plum,” respectively. I got the former, so essentially plain potato chips. They were good for what they were, but anything I feel like I can get at my local US supermarket underwhelms me as a Japan Crate inclusion.

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Conclusion

A little disappointed that the number of Premium exclusive items were reduced, especially since one of them this month was Pretz (which is usually included in the lower tiers). The Gaba Chocolate was great though, so I’ll call it even. I like pocky and pretz, but three types of them and a bag of plain potato chips is not the kind of variety I look for in these crates.

Still, the other items were quite unique and several were unlike anything I’ve had before so even though this was the weakest Japan Crate for me so far I’m still satisfied enough with it.

Ice Ribbon 12/31/15 Live Thoughts

December 31, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

RibbonMania is Ice Ribbon’s big year end show, and one of the events I was most looking forward to. The biggest deals for me were Neko Nitta’s retirement match and ceremony and a tag tittle match involving three of my favorite wrestlers.

In addition to the usual bringing out the roster, the show started with a singing performance by Best Friends that fired up the crowd nicely.

Hiroyo Matsumoto, Makoto and Maruko Nagasaki vs Cherry, Hiroe Nagahama and Mika Iida was a fun opener with some nice six person spots, and an effective way to use numerous non-regular roster members to fill out the card. Yuuka vs Sareee was a nice spotlight on two young wrestlers with a lot of potential. Yuuka in particular really impressed me in her matches during my trip

The second musical performace of the show preceded the next match via Miyako Matsumoto’s band Black DPG. I enjoyed it and being only one song it was effectively just a longer than usual entrance for Miyako.

 Miyako and Jun Kasai vs Antonio Honda and Mochi Miyagi vs GENTARO and Yuji Hino was a great mix of Miyako’s unique and amusing antics and wild brawling. Although being her band remained ringside throughout and it was essentially no DQ they really should have gotten involved at some point.

I was unfamiliar with Buribato (SAKI and MIZUKI) before my trip, but will definitely be keeping an eye on them going forward as they’re great both individually and as a team. Their Number 1 Contendership match here against the likewise impressive Azure Revolution (Maya Yukihi & Risa Sera) was good, but the exchanges seemed awkward when Maya was in the ring and I feel these teams could do much better against each other.

For her last match Neko Nitta chose to team with 235 against Akane Fujita and Kyuri. This was a decent send off for Neko and it was nice to see her highlight the younger talent during her farewell to her short career.

The ceremony was a treat to be at live. I feel honored to have been there to say goodbye and wish her well. More thoughts on that here.   

While Tsukushi vs Ayako Hamada wasn’t quite the blow away encounter I expected, it was still extremely good. Hamada’s shoulder was taped and whether from injury or not it seemed she’s lost a step since I last saw her a couple years ago. No complaints overall though, as she and Tsukushi put on a solid match here regardless.

I consider Tsukasa Fujimoto one of the best wrestlers in the world today and am likewise a huge fan of Misaki Ohata and Arisa Nakajima, so was VERY excited for the Best Friends (Fujimoto and Nakajima) vs Avid Rival (Ohata and Ryo Mizunami) Tag Title Match. It didn’t disappoint, and this is neck and neck with Best Friends vs Jumonji Sisters as my favorite match of my entire trip.

I hadn’t seen Mizunami much before, but she fit in perfectly and this was just fantastic. Neither my memory nor words can do this proper justice. See it yourself if you get a chance.

The main event saw another favorite of mine defending her IcexInfinity Title as Aoi Kizuki (c) faced Hamuko Hoshi. I honestly am pretty “meh” on Hoshi, who had been just ok in previous matches I’d seen and had blown a couple spots I wouldn’t expect from someone of her experience. So I wasn’t thrilled with the outcome here, although with Aoi’s subsequent announcement of going freelance retaining wouldn’t have made sense.

Personal preference aside this match was a good main event. It had an unusual structure as they traded signature moves and attempted finishers early, which made things feel different and intense. Nice trick to use every so often. Hoshi looked like a monster by the end, largely due to throwing a billion lariats that Aoi sold like molten death. I hope we see more of this Hoshi and less of the one I saw on earlier shows as her title reign goes.

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When the biggest criticism I have of a show is that given the talent involved I know a few matches could have been even better I’d say things went well. Overall this was one of the best shows I saw, and a great year end spectacle for IR.

Hostage Negotiator Board Game Review

Hostage Negotiator is the first strictly one player game I’ve bought (although I never play Onirim with more). While the main draw of gaming is generally social interaction and competition, there is room for games that are challenging and fun to play when I can’t get a group together.

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Gameplay

The goal of Hostage Negotiator is to save hostages and capture or eliminate their abductor. Each round you play cards to increase your conversation level (which lets you perform certain actions and/or purchase more powerful cards), attempt rescues, and try to keep the abductor calm and the threat level low.

Almost every card involves a “threat check.” You roll a number of dice based on the current threat level (and modifiers) and resolve things based on the number of successes rolled. The custom dice are numbered as well as having helpful game symbols on them. 5s and 6s are always successes, and 4s can generally be changed to a success by discarding two cards. 1-3 are fails.

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After you’ve played all you can (or choose to) you can buy cards for future “conversations” (rounds). Then a terror card, which represents a key moment between “conversations” and generally escalates the danger is played. If you haven’t satisfied a win or loss condition and the terror deck hasn’t run out you start a new round.

You win when there are no more hostages being held, you’ve rescued at least half of them, and the abductor is captured or eliminated. You lose when over half the hostages are killed, the abductor escapes, or the round after the last terror card is revealed.

General Thoughts

So with die rolls as a central mechanic there is a lot of luck involved, but I feel there really has to be in a one player game to keep things variable and interesting. Hostage Negotiator provides numerous ways to mitigate and manipulate your odds, which is a nice compromise and is where a good deal of the strategy and depth comes from. There is definitely a feel of time pressure as the rounds dwindle and the abductor gets closer and closer to getting away.

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The game comes with three different abductors, each with their own demands and temperament, which encourage different play styles. Terror cards, escape demands, and abductor specific demands are randomly selected for each game. The cards available to the player don’t change, but they are varied and balanced well to give rise to numerous options and strategies. The rulebook even suggests some “career goals” which are decent self-challenges to try as you get better at the base game. This all combines to keep the game fresh. I’ve played over 20 games at this point and none of them have felt the same.

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Which leads to another point: while engaging and deep Hostage Negotiator still lives up to its box advertised 15-30 minutes of play time (sometimes less), making it great to have on hand for small amounts of free time.

And while I haven’t tried any of them yet, there are four expansion packs (so far) which add new abductors, a perfect way to continue to increase the game’s  appeal and longevity.

 

Overall

What started as a curiosity play quickly ended up sucking me in and resulting in a couple of hours passed and a continual compulsion for “one more game.” While I don’t think anything will ever take the place of gaming with an actual human opponent (or teammate), Hostage Negotiator is a fantastic single player experience and an easy recommendation.

 

“You people. If there isn’t a movie about it, it’s not worth knowing, is it?”

Alan-Rickman

I’d love to be able to point to the exact moment Alan Rickman became my favorite actor, but there isn’t one. I loved him as the formidable Hans Gruber in Die Hard when I was in my teens and over time the more I saw him the more impressed I became until he was at the top of the list without me consciously realizing it.

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He’s best known as Serverus Snape from the Harry Potter movies (and was excellent in them),  but it was earlier and smaller movies of his that made the biggest impact on me, often because of his incredible comedic ability. From the dry wit of Metatron in Dogma to the life-worn, frustrated Spock analogue in Galaxy Quest to a wonderfully subdued portrayal of Stephen Spurrier in Bottle Shock Rickman always brought the perfect balance to his characters and made them feel real while making the audience laugh.

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My personal favorite memory of Rickman is being lucky enough to see him live on broadway in Seminar, a fantastic play about a somewhat washed up author teaching a group of wannabe writers a thing or ten. It was an engaging play that provided intriguing characters while giving little glimpses into the process of writing commercially. The entire cast was excellent, but of course Rickman was the centerpiece and he was mesmerizing as expected. It’s a special treat to see great actors perform live, and that performance is one I’ll never forget.

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Rest in Peace Alan. We’ll miss you.

 

Nyah! Saying Goodbye to Neko Nitta

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During my trip to Japan I had the opportunity to finally see Neko Nitta. It was somewhat bittersweet as it was during her final matches before retirement, but I was still happy to wish her well in whatever her future after wrestling holds.

 

I was impressed with all five matches I saw Neko in, and got to see a nice variety from her. From a Triangle Ribbon Title defense at the 1/19 IR dojo show to comedy matches at her and Risa’s events to a hardcore war main eventing her last dojo show to her last match highlighting some of IR’s younger talent, everything was compelling and entertaining. Her ability to adapt such a unique character to numerous different match styles and still make it work perfectly is incredible.

Japanese retirement shows are interesting events, full of ceremony and tradition. I was privileged to be able to attend three such shows while in Japan. Having been lucky enough to meet Neko at a couple of IR shows before Ribbonmania, it was particularly nice to be at her send off.

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While I don’t have the history of watching Neko I have with some of the other wrestlers I’ve said goodbye to in this blog, I am still a big fan and it was an honor to be able to meet her and witness her final matches live.

All the best.

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Quick Thoughts: Automania, Clans, and Codenames

Here are some brief thoughts on a few interesting games I’ve played once or twice so far and enjoyed.

Automania

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Automania is yet another game that looks more daunting than it is. There are a lot of moving parts to reflect changing conditions and provide depth, but the core gameplay is pretty easy to grasp once you start. The different elements are extremely well balanced and make sense thematically. Running a car factory has never been so much fun.

Clans

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Clans is an area control game with a wonderful layer of hidden agendas beneath it. Everybody’s player color is randomly assigned and secret throughout the game. Trying to make moves that advance your color without giving it away (and thus making it easy for everyone to hinder you) adds a great amount of depth. The only real drawback here is the colors chosen aren’t colorblind friendly, which is a shame since no one can really ask for clarification without giving something away.

Codenames

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Codenames sounded like a mild curiosity to me at first, and I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging and fun it turned out to be. The fact that you get to choose how far to press your luck when deciding how many words to try to link with one clue and the ever present instant lose word on the board to be wary of are key in making this a perfectly executed competitive party game.

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Just a quick look at some games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. Hope to be back with more in the not too distant future. 🙂

Ice Ribbon 12/28/15 Live Thoughts

December 28, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan

This was Risa Sera Produce 2 and felt quite different than the other Ice Ribbon shows I’ve been to. All the matches had heavy comedic overtones, but it was done very well and surrounded by excellent action. The main event also got more and more serious and dramatic in tone the longer it went.

Maruko Nagasaki, Tsukasa Fujimoto and Tsukushi vs Akane Fujita, Maya Yukihi and Mochi Miyagi  started the show. The announcers (including retired wrestler Mio Shirai) did live commentary through most of the show, which worked well given the lighter tone. I was a bit lost here, as they was some stipulation affecting when pinfalls could be counted I didn’t follow since I can’t speak Japanese. But it was easy to catch the gist thanks to facial expressions and body language of the wrestlers (particularly Fujimoto). Good action too, making this a strong opener.

Next up was a Cell Phone Destruction Tag Match with Miyako Matsumoto and Neko Nitta vs Hamuko Hoshi and Yuka. Yep, a match where the loser of the fall has their cell phone destroyed. See what I mean about comedic overtones. A second stipulation was added shortly before the show that if the match went to any kind of no contest, it was Risa Sera’s phone that would be destroyed. I had been questioning why the four involved wouldn’t just agree to a double countout or to run out the clock to save their own phones at Risa’s expense, and to my delight the always entertaining Miyako Matsumoto seemed to propose just that to start the match. All four began posing and stretching for a couple of minutes, until Risa came out to plead her case. Again I didn’t catch what was said, but the general effect was turning everyone on Miyako and the match began in earnest.

This was a highly entertaining back and forth match, with a nice underlying story of Miyako increasingly getting on her partner’s nerves and causing Neko grief until the latter breaks up Miyako’s apparent pin victory and feeds her to their opponents.

Injured wrestler Kurumi was brought out with hammers for the destruction ceremony, complete with ten bell salute for Miyako’s phone. Miyako suitably freaked out as her beloved phone was destroyed, including her opponents getting a couple of hammer shots in when Kurumi was finished. Although I generally prefer straight up wrestling, the humorous stuff can be fantastic when done right. It was done perfectly here. Miyako in particular is a master of it.

The main event was a 60-minute Four Seasons Ironman Match featuring Risa Sera. Her opponent changed after each decision, and they all brought some sort of season related weapon with them. This match had everything, including numerous intense brawls through the crowd (and outside the building a couple times).

Risa’s opponents were Tsukushi, Isami Kodaka (twice), Hamuko Hoshi, Yuko Miyamoto (twice), Neko Nitta, Akane Fujita, Tsukasa Fujimoto, and Mochi Miyagi. Weapons ranged from pollen filled balloons to buckets of snow to a barbed wire baseball bat. One of the more amusing sequences was Akane Fujita dumping igakuri all over the ring as her “weapon,” then Tsukasa Fujimoto coming in next with a broom and calmly using it to sweep all the igakuri away before attacking Risa.

The first half or so of the match was heavy comedy, but still emphasized Risa’s resiliency and had good wrestling related spots worked in. As the match went on the live commentary dropped away and things got a lot more serious, leading  to a great finishing sequence with Risa fighting off Isami Kodaka as time wound down.

It’s been an adjustment to me to have some match types where the results aren’t meant to matter, and this was ridiculously lopsided. But it wasn’t meant to be serious until the end, when it became a testament to Risa’s toughness anyway. As a friend told me, “It’s not about the winning and losing, it’s about the journey.” This was a hell of a journey for Risa, and she had numerous bumps and bruises (including a nasty one on the left side of her face) illustrating it.

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Overall this was another fantastic show from Ice Ribbon, and Risa really outdid herself. That the roster can put on numerous shows with such different feeling and atmosphere speaks volumes about the level of talent involved.

 

 

Gatoh Move 12/30/15 and 1/1/16 Live Thoughts

December 30, 2015 and January 1, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

Gatoh Move’s Ichigaya shows are unlike anything I’ve seen before, and a lot of fun. I highly recommend taking advantage of any chance you get to attend one.

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The Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. The crowd is effectively the out of bounds marker and the wrestlers will often use the windowsill to jump off of. It’s a unique format and a great atmosphere. The quality of matches they are able to perform in this environment speaks volumes on the talent of all involved.

Pictures are not allowed during the show but can be taken during the roundtable discussion afterward (during which they hand out tea for everyone).

I was outside the venue looking in through one of the large windows for both shows I attended here, but it was still a good view and a lot of fun.

The 12/30 show opened with Daichi Kazato vs Paksa. It was a solid contest that served as a good example of how the matches were worked with no ring. Hard strikes and careful counter-grappling were the focus.

Next up was a 3-way match featuring “Kokutenshi” Jaki Numazawa vs Antonio Honda vs Sayaka Obihiro. This was a comedy match with specific rule and theme, which was explained ahead of time and helpful translated for us by Honda. There was a box of props off to the side. After every 2-count the winner got to make a joke using the props. Those that the audience applauded received a point. Most points after 15 minutes won. This was extremely absurd and silly, but done well and still entertaining.

The main event was Emi Sakura and Masa Takanashi vs. Kotori and Riho. Great match. They made excellent use of the venue, with whips into the wall between the windows, splashes from the windowsill, etc.

 

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They had some fun recognizing foreigners in the crowd and had Kotori practiced her English with a speech to us at the end of the roundtable portion.

To both open and close the show there’s a song (with dancing) performed by Emi, Riho, Kotori, and Obi. It’s a nice touch that adds to the fun feel of Gatoh Move.

 

SAKI vs Kotori opened the 1/1 show. This is pretty much as good a 7 minute match as you’ll ever see. I was unfamiliar with both wrestlers before my trip but thankfully saw each several times during and they’re both fantastic. They did an amazing job within the constraints of time and venue.

The second match was again comedy based and again involved Antonio Honda and Sayaka Obihiro. This time after a 2-count the winner would essentially play charades to try to get guest judge SAKI to guess a phrase/person/etc from a pre-written batch of them. Honda was once again incredibly kind and helpful to us foreign fans by quickly writing an English translation for us before each attempt. I liked this a little more than the other one. Amusing stuff. This isn’t the type of match I want to see all over cards, but used sparingly and done well (like it was here) comedy matches can be a lot of fun and provide a nice change of pace.

Paksa and Riho vs Emi Sakura and Masa Takanashi was another great main event. I’ll say again how impressed I am with what can be accomplished wrestling-wise in such a small space with no ring. This held its own with some of the best matches I saw my entire trip.

After both shows was an opportunity to buy merchandise and polaroids with the core roster. There was also a special surprise mini-celebration for Antonio Honda’s birthday after the 1/1 show.

To cap things off, for New Year’s there was a signboard passed around during the roundtable that the whole roster signed, then it was given away to the winner of an audience-wide game of rock, paper, scissors. I was lucky enough to win this awesome souvenir (which Emi Sakura added my name to afterwards). 🙂

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I can’t say enough about how unique and fun Gatoh Move’s shows at this venue were. Definitely a highlight of my time in Japan.

Arcade Block December 2015 Review

December 2015’s Arcade Block is here, as always in its awesome retro NES style box.

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The product of the month is a Titans figure set from The Last of Us. I haven’t played it so this does nothing for me, but they look good and will make a nice gift. The Pirate Cats in Space mini-notebook is an amusing novelty.

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Now we get into the stuff that wowed me personally. I’m a huge retro fan and the Space Invaders Tin Bank in the shape of an old style arcade cabinet is exactly the type of thing I love to see in these boxes. The Street Fighter V patch is another nice inclusion.

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The real centerpiece this month though is Classic Console Casino Cards. This is a great deck with the Mario themed Arcade Block logo on the backs, four classic properties chosen for the suits with great art on the ace and face cards, and a fifth classic favorite used for the jokers.

The T-Shirt this month is a nice design for Just Cause 3.

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Conclusion

Arcade Block continues to knock it out of the park month after month both in terms of quality and variety. This easily remains my favorite mystery box.