Sunday, November 9, 2014

Buttermilk Soft Pretzels

Welcome back, guys! Earlier this week, I posted my recipe for potato leek soup and paired it with a delicious buttermilk soft pretzel. The creaminess of the soup with the salty bread was truly amazing! As promised, here is the recipe for the pretzel. Enjoy it with a bowl of soup, some artisan mustard, some jalapeño cheese sauce or just shove it in your face straight from the oven, without ceremony. Good luck resisting...I think I ate two of these before plating it with the soup for the picture.


1 1/2 Cups warm buttermilk (about 110º-115ºF)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
4 Tablespoons Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter, melted
2/3 cup baking soda
Water for boiling
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse Sea Salt or pretzel salt

Step One: Warm buttermilk in a microwave to  110º-115ºF. This should only take about 45 seconds on high, depending on the power of your microwave.

Step Two: In a large bowl, whisk the sugar into the warm buttermilk and then sprinkle the yeast on the surface of the buttermilk/sugar mix. Let stand until the yeast is foamy (usually about 5 minutes). This is a very important step...the foaminess of the yeast will be a sign of the success of your bread or in this case, pretzels. During this step, you are "activating" the yeast. Yeast is what makes bread rise but it won't rise if it isn't activated. And if your buttermilk is too hot, you can kill the yeast. So be careful not to get the buttermilk too hot.

Step Three: Mix together salt and flour in a separate bowl and then add to the buttermilk/yeast cup-by-cup. If using a stand mixer, use the dough hook, otherwise, just use a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula to form a rough dough.

Step Four: Wash your hands and dig in! Knead the dough to form a smooth dough. You can effectively knead your dough in the bowl. If you don't feel you have enough space to form a smooth dough, turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead. 

Step Five: Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil into a bowl and roll the ball of dough in it, coating evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit until doubled in size (about an hour).

Step Six: Divide dough into two balls and roll into ropes on a floured surface. Next, cut ropes into 8 even pieces each (for a total of 16 pieces).

*The surface I am using is a baking mat. This is a silicone sheet that I can roll out, coat with flour and use for working dough. It is a super-useful tool, easy to clean and something you should definitely add to your arsenal! 

Step Seven: Roll the 16 sections into ropes. Try to form the ropes into even strands. The OCD in me likes evenly shaped pretzel twists. If you don't care, then don't worry about it. You might save yourself some sanity. After all, the shape won't effect how delicious the pretzels turn out.

* Cover the pieces with plastic wrap while you're rolling out the ropes. This will prevent the pieces you still need to roll from drying out.

Step Eight: Twist together the ropes to form a make sure to pinch the ends together so they won't separate when boiled and baked. Make sure to cover the twists with plastic wrap while rolling out/twisting the next set. Again, you want to prevent the dough from drying out.

Step Nine: Cover dough twists with plastic wrap and let rise for about 15-20 minutes. 

Step Ten: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Step Eleven: Add about 12 cups water and 2/3 cup baking soda to a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add the pretzel twists, one-by-one, to the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds, flipping over halfway way through with a spoon or spatula and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheets.

Step Twelve: Brush with beaten egg yolk/water mixture and sprinkle with sea salt/pretzel salt.

Step Thirteen: Pre-Heat oven to 450º and bake for 15-20 minutes or until browned. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cook about ten minutes before serving.

Hope you enjoy this recipe! Make sure to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for all the latest 8-Bit Cook news!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Potato Leek Soup

As we have previously established, Fall is here! Time for delicious dishes that warm the belly and the soul. One of my favorite soups is potato leek. There's a pub here in Las Vegas that used to serve the most amazing potato leek soup with Irish soda bread. I would visit with my friends at least once a month and no matter what I ordered, it was always with a side cup of potato leek soup. That pub has since become completely homogenized; their menu filled with more generic fare...stale, boring...more cheeseburgers, less authentic cooking and that soup, a wistful memory. Well...a memory until I decided to just re-create the stuff myself! The results took me right back to that dimly lit pub, the music and best of all, the memories of hanging out with my friends, drinking Guinness and having a laugh. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!


4 Cups Yellow Potatoes (peeled & cubed)
3 Leeks (cleaned and finely chopped)
1/2 White Onion (finely diced)
4 Tbs Butter
2 Cups Water
2 Cups Milk
2 Cups Half & Half
2 Tsp Salt (or to taste)
1 Tsp Ground Pepper
Crumbled Bacon & Parsley to garnish

Recommended extra equipment: Immersion blender.  Immersion blenders are not very expensive and come in extremely handy in the kitchen when making soups, sauces or even if you want to make a quick smoothie or shake without getting out a full-sized blender. They are also easy to use and easy to clean. You can get a good one for around $35. Trust me, it's worth it!

Step One: Prep your veggies! Peel your potatoes and dice them into small cubes. I recommend yellow potatoes because they have a delicious, naturally buttery flavor. They just make better soup. Period. Peel and finely dice your onion. The smaller the pieces, the better. Most importantly, when you're prepping your leeks, peel them apart and wash them throughly! Leeks are layered and lots of dirt likes to hide in those layers. If your leaks aren't clean, you might as well just be making dirt soup. Because the flavor will say the least.

* If you're garnishing with crumbled bacon, don't forget to cook it! Or you can just cheat and use bacon bits.

Step Two: Sauté your onion & leeks! In a skillet, add two tablespoons butter, pinch of salt and sauté leeks until tender (about 5-6 minutes). In a large, deep pot, add 2 tablespoons of butter, pinch of salt and diced onion. Sauté until slightly transparent and tender (about 5 minutes).

Step Three: Add potatoes to onions! Allow the potatoes to cook with the onions for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step Four: Add leeks & water to onions and potatoes! Add cooked leeks and two cups of water. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until potatoes are completely tender.

Step Five: In a separate pot, combine milk and half & half and heat to a slow boil. Stir frequently and be very careful not to scorch the milk mixture.

Step Six: Using an immersion blender, blend the cooked potatoes, onion and leeks until smooth.

Step Seven: Add hot milk and half & half to blended potatoes & leeks. Mix together completely and add remaining salt and pepper. Simmer, UNCOVERED, for about 30 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. I stress "uncovered" because if you cover the soup, the heat combined with the cream could cause it to bubble up and overflow like a volcano of deliciousness. And that is NO FUN to clean off your stove...learn from my mistakes, kids.

Serve it up hot and top it with parsley and bacon! It's delicious with your favorite crusty bread, Irish soda bread or (if you're feeling sassy) a fresh baked soft buttermilk pretzel (recipe coming later this week)!

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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Outbreak Cook: Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Friends


Tonight, on The Walking Dead, our buddies from Terminus met their bloody end. And as I suspected last week, Bob was, indeed, bitten during the mission to the food bank. Bob revealed the bite when he was laugh-crying hysterically as the Termites were munching down on his leg, "Tainted meat!" he shouted.

I can't get into the science of the zombie virus and food contamination but we can talk about the very real biological danger cannibalism presents. Aside from being mortifying and heavy on the "ick" factor, our good friend, Science has proven cannibalism leads to degenerative neurological diseases and ultimately, death. In the 1950's and 60's, a Kuru epidemic swept through a tribe of 8,000 people in Papua New Guinea. 1,000 people died. Scientists attributed the disease to the tribe's regular practice of "ritualistic mortuary cannibalism."

What is Kuru disease? Here's a nice, science-y explanation from "The word kuru means “shaking death” in the Fore language, and describes the characteristic symptoms of the disease. Because it affects mainly the cerebellum, a part of the brain involved in the co-ordination of movement, the first symptoms to manifest themselves in those infected with the disease would typically be an unsteady gait and tremors. As the disease progresses, victims become unable to stand or eat, and eventually die between 6-12 months after the symptoms first appear."

So, why would eating human flesh cause such devastating physiological problems? According to Andy Ellington at the University of Texas at Austin, part of it has to do with these little guys called prions. "Prions are interesting because they’re sort of the exception that proves the rule of DNA. That is, while DNA replicates sequence, prions replicate conformation. Prions are peptides or proteins that assume a particular conformation. When a prion comes in contact with a similar protein that is not shaped the same the prion forces the protein to assume its conformation, and they aggregate together in a tight knit architecture known as an amyloid. This is the same sort of amyloid that occurs in the very similar prion disease Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD) and in Alzheimer’s. So, you can sort of think of prions as the first domino that initiates a cascade of conformational events that leads to a big, tangled mess in your brain. Not good."

Below is a picture of brain tissue on a microscopic scale. The damage is obvious.

Remember several years ago in the UK there was an outbreak of something called "Mad Cow Disease?" Yeah...same thing. In that case, the cows became ill because they were fed OTHER COWS in their feed. And then people became ill and died because those cows were slaughtered and turned into burgers. The cows suffered from the exact same symptoms as the human members of the tribe in Papua New Guinea half-way around the world. 

It would seem nature is sending us a very, very clear message: Cannibalism = bad. So, although Gareth and his crew met a brutal death at the hands of Rick and his group, the Terminus people had already doomed themselves to a much slower, debilitating end. In a way, what Rick did was a mercy. 

So, remember, kids... no matter how bad things get in the zombie apocalypse... just eat a squirrel.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Outbreak Cook: Open A Can Without a Can Opener

I have zero survival skills so I'm fairly certain I wouldn't live through the zombie apocalypse on my own. The one thing I can do is cook and in the event of a zombie outbreak, I'm hoping that skill would be enough to make me valuable to a group. Until that nightmarish day when the dead rise and survivors are on the brink of losing their humanity, I will prepare by honing my skills in the kitchen and doing as much research as possible into survivalist cooking so that I might save the world with campfire cupcakes. I'll be doing a new regular feature on this blog as I do us both a favor (effectively saving your're welcome) by combing the internet and posting a new tip every week for cooking in an apocalypse.



This week, on "The Walking Dead," we saw our group go to a food bank in search of supplies. Naturally, the building was full of walkers and the basement (where the much needed food happened to be) was waist deep in some really nasty water and who-knows-what else. They scuffled, they killed, they got their canned food. But Bob was pulled underwater and emerged in kind of a funny state.  I thought he was bitten. Did anyone else get that impression? Let's discuss in the comments below. that the Terminus crazies have him, he was DEFINITELY bitten. Oh, well...that's what you get for leaving the group to go have a cry in the woods. Poor Bob.



This week's tip: how to open a can without a can opener! Let's face it, you're going to be busy grabbing up provisions, weapons, ammunition and the occasional bottle of booze for a Molotov cocktail (or to simply chug to try to escape from your new, terrifying reality). You might forget to snag a can opener from that previously looted house or department store before running for your life. I found this nifty video on YouTube from Mission Survivor. Check out their website and YouTube channel for more helpful tips and tricks.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Video Game Pick of the Week: Contrast

The official description from the game's website: "CONTRAST is a charming 2D/3D puzzle platformer where you can shift from a fantastic 3D world to a mysterious shadowy universe in 2D in the blink of an eye. Initially scheduled to release on PC, Contrast will also be available on the PlayStation®Network and Xbox LIVE® Arcade in late 2013.In CONTRAST, you will explore a dreamlike, vaudevillian world of the 1920s. In this universe, where the boundaries between showmanship, magic, intrigue and deception are blurred, you play as Dawn, the imaginary friend of a young girl named Didi."

A friend first turned me on to this game on the Xbox 360. The second it loaded, I was completely blown away by everything about it. "Contrast" is a stunning visual treat with a completely immersive environment. The world is rich with some of the most beautiful artwork I have ever seen in a video game and the score is hauntingly beautiful, adding to the environment without being intrusive. The game is challenging and fun as you're forced to come up with new and different ways to traverse the city and complete Didi's tasks.

My only complaint is that "Contrast" is only single-player. Should Compulsion Games decide to put out a sequel, I would love to see it be single-player or co-op. A game this beautiful deserves to be shared with friends!

Check it out on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One!

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Monday, October 20, 2014

The Verse: A Firefly Fan Film Q&A With Director Julian Higgins

I am a Browncoat, through and through. If you need to ask "What's a Browncoat?" then stop reading. Stop reading IMMEDIATELY and go binge-watch the Joss Whedon masterpiece "Firefly" and the movie "Serenity" (available on Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime). You will thank me for it me. The only disappointment you might experience is that it ends; it ends way too soon and that might break your heart a little (or a lot, depending on your level of obsession). "Firefly" was a genius mix of sci-fi and western following the rag-tag crew of the firefly class cargo ship, Serenity. Led by Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), we explored the outer reaches of space, smuggled cargo, robbed a train, outran Reavers and the Alliance alike...we laughed, we cried, we misbehaved. The show originally aired on FOX and never really had a fighting chance. The episodes were aired out of order and the show was shuffled from night-to-night with no hope of ever finding a foothold. And then it was gone. But the deed was done and a fandom was born. Here we are, 12 years later, still talking about it.

Recently, a friend sent me the link to a "Firefly" fan film called "The Verse." I clicked the link, not really sure what to expect. I wasn't actually prepared to be blown away by the quality, story and effects. Produced by Loot Crate, "The Verse" follows the crew of the Overland, a Serenity-style transport ship. The characters are fun and interesting and the dialogue perfectly captures the vibe of the original universe, complete with plenty of Chinese swearing and my personal favorite, "gorram." But where this fan film sets itself apart is in the detail. From the original music to the set design, this little film is the perfect tribute to the world we love so much. The film stars Ryan Caldwell (Bret Hunter), Jennifer Wenger (Caroline Stack), Zack Finfrock (Rusty Duvall), Peter Weidman (Travis Sandspur), Tybee Diskin (Maribelle Crawford), Alex Marshall-Brown (Annie Whitehall), Ewan Chung (Jon Zhou), and Vic Mignogna (Commodore Woodruff).

Director and producer Julian Higgins took the time to answer 8 questions about the making of "The Verse" to give us a little more insight into the making of this labor of love. Find Julian on Twitter @JulianHiggins!

Q) First, let me congratulate you on a fantastic short film! You’ve done the Browncoats proud! Loot Crate is an amazing company but seems an unusual choice for a producer. How did the film evolve with Loot Crate as your production partner? 

A) Thank you for the kind words! We've been overwhelmed by the amazing response from the Browncoat community. Loot Crate is an incredibly awesome company that are just huge fans of all things geek and gamer culture. I personally started working with Loot Crate in November of 2013 after my long time collaborator Zack Finfrock, Loot Crate's inhouse artist, invited me to join him and writer/actor Peter Weidman as the main director/editor/co-writer for their monthly web shorts. Monthly, we'll do some fun web short for the community that ties into the theme of Loot Crate that month. I've been doing them since then.

When it became clear that there would be a GALACTIC themed crate that included some amazing Firefly items from Quantum Mechanix, we both immediately had the same thought: We HAVE to make a Firefly short film. Luckily, the owners of Loot Crate, Chris Davis and Matthew Arevalo, were 100% on board. So, the weekend after Comic Con I sat down and came up with the characters, the story and the title. I took those over and pitched them to Peter and Zack, who loved it and we fined tuned the basics. Peter went off and wrote our first draft, and then we all three polished it into the final script. After that, Loot Crate approved it and gave us the creative freedom to go off and create something that would make everyone proud.

One month time in total. August 10th the script was finished, September 10th "The Verse" went live! It really wouldn't have been possible to do without Loot Crate.

Q) One of the many things about the film that was a huge stand-out was the ship, the Overland. The design (inside and out) was the perfect homage to the Serenity without being a carbon copy and the effects were extremely impressive! Can you tell me a little about the design process and how your crew pulled off such shiny boat?

A) Living in Los Angeles, we're incredibly lucky to be in close proximity to a lot of great movie studios and sound stages. One of those is the famous Laurel Canyon Stages, who's Stage B houses a beautiful space ship set. This includes a couple great ship hall ways, two different cockpits and a medical bay. Amazingly enough, this is the exact same space ship set that they filmed as the derelict transport for the Firefly episode "Bushwhacked". Talk about a geek out moment.

Once we secured Laurel Canyon Stages for filming, designing the Overland became a lot clearer. Zack and I worked together using screen captures of that episode and, since we'd be filming on the same sets, decided to use that ship's exterior design as a starting point and inspiration for the Overland. Zack drew up some great concept art sketches of the ships exterior and also an interior layout that would correspond with the sets in a way that makes sense for our film. The 3D model was expertly built by some of the fantastic artists on the "Firefly Online" video game team, and was brought to life by Dastoli Digitial -- our visual effects team. Once we were on set, we added our own Firefly-inspired interior set decoration and detailing created by our production designer Paul Bianchi. He even built our ships engine from scratch, and hand cranked it himself during the scene! All of those pieces come together beautifully and voila: Welcome aboard the Overland!

Q) The music gave me chills. As a massive Firefly fan, I was taken back to the series with that wonderful twangy steel guitar and fiddle. If I’m being honest, I actually got a little misty with nostalgia. So much detail obviously went into the making of The Verse and the score was a subtle, yet vitally important co-star. Was it difficult to capture the feel of the original music?

A) I'm a huge fan of movie and television music. I think Greg Edmonson's Firefly's score is one of those things that elevates the show to another level. It's a beautiful sort of nostalgic, fly-with-the-wind sound that makes the ship feel like a home. Full credit goes to our talented composer Dan Martinez (, who absolutely understood and brought that emotion and sound from the Firefly series to life for our film. Together, we played with the choices about the familiar themes and instruments that inspired thousands of fans to fall in love with the original series. Once we established the sounds needed, Dan did a wonderful job composing the music and adding his own personal artistry to that existing pallet. I especially loved his use of the beautiful live violin, mandolin and guitar. Furthermore, all of that beautiful music was done in less than two weeks! The man is ridiculously good at his craft and was a huge part of what made "The Verse" work.

Q) The original characters of Firefly were so memorable. It’s difficult to watch The Verse without making comparisons to Captain Reynolds, Wash, Jayne, Zoe and Kaylee but you still managed to create a unique crew with their own unique personalities and relationships. During the writing process, what aspects of the story and character development proved most challenging?

A) When you're making a short film, you have an incredibly small amount of time to introduce your characters to the audience in a meaningful way that gives them a chance to know them and fall in love with them. Peter Weidman, one of our co-writers and the actor who played "Yoke" in the film, said it really well: "It's like writing Firefly on fast forward". Introducing and establishing 6 new characters in 15 minutes was by far the biggest challenge. Joss Whedon created a brilliant dynamic between the characters on Firefly. For us, there was definitely inspiration taken from the original series in our writing. The Serenity crew was a family. The Overland crew is a dysfunctional bunch. We wanted fans to quickly recognize the world, and feel like they were back with a new, yet familiar, crew of misfits.

Q) The cast is fantastic. I can honestly say I enjoyed every performance. Was the casting process difficult or were they all as passionate about Firefly as you seem to be?

A) The entire cast and crew were full of Browncoats! That's what made the project so fun: Everyone was a fan of Firefly and couldn't wait to get to work on our own little slice of Joss' world. Zack, Peter and I discussed the characters dynamics and who would work best for what character. Some characters changed from male to female early on. Some roles adjusted for the actors and as the story developed. Ultimately, the final cast was made up mostly of actors and people that I've directed in previous projects of mine. There were also some great actors that I had wanted to chance to work on something with, and who happened to be right for the roles. It all worked out beautifully. By the end of the whole thing, it was great to get to play around with a gang of old friends and make some new ones as well.

Q) Quantum Mechanix, the creators of Firefly Online, are credited as creating some of the original models and props for The Verse. How did they come to be involved?

A) Quantum Mechanix was a humongous help in making "The Verse" a reality. They were an early collaborator, as they were providing some amazing exclusive items in the GALACTIC crate that month. We met Andy Gore, CEO of QMx and executive producer of the "Firefly Online" game, and he was thrilled with our idea and wanted to know how he could help. From there, Andy introduced us to Sean Kennedy, one of his very talented 3D artists from "Firefly Online". We worked together on creating the final design for the Overland using Zack's concept art and designs. Over the following weeks, Sean took the time to build our 3D ship model from scratch and we passed it along to our visual effects team at Dastoli Digital to bring it to life..

Likewise, Andy offered us access to the fantastic "Firefly" props and replicas that QMx creates for use in our film, which helped add an extra layer of authenticity. We are very thankful to have had their help and support, and we're all super excited for the reveal that you will have the opportunity to fly the Overland in "Firefly Online", as well as play an exclusive game mission based on our film's story!

Q) Fandom can be daunting. Every fan has an opinion (usually quite a strong one) and sometimes, it’s not a good one. Was it at all intimidating to create something in a universe so passionately loved?

A) Absolutely! I think if you're making a film based on something that is known and loved, there should be a lot of pressure, in a good way, to make sure you're doing a good job for your fellow fans. You want to make sure that what you're making is connecting to the original material, and that you're working hard to bring that spirit back to life. The overwhelmingly positive response from the fans for this project has been incredibly exciting and humbling. And when you're even getting a loving shout out from Nathan Fillion on Twitter, and executive producer/director Tim Minear on Facebook... What more could you ask for as a cast and crew?

We're just incredibly happy everyone is just as excited as were to bring out something we love as fans, for fellow fans. As the director, I feel lucky to be part of an amazing team of fellow producers, writers, actors and crew that ultimately were what really made this project shine. We all had a lot of fun playing in Joss Whedon's amazing sandbox with "The Verse", and we hope that we get to come back and play again!

Q) What are your current obsessions (ie. Video games, television shows, websites, music, comics….FOOD)?

A) Man, that's a big question! I'll keep it short and give one of each.

Video games: DayZ on PC. Love me some zombie games.
Television Shows: "Comedy Bang Bang" on IFC, my brother Aaron has been working on the show! Ridiculously funny.

Websites: -- Pick some categories for GIFs. Pick music. Instant music video! You will lose a lot of time on this site.
Music: "Guardian's of the Galaxy" soundtrack. All amazing tracks.

Comics: Re-reading the "Serenity" comics.
Food: Trader Joe's Cookie Butter. Seriously, get it.

Thank you, Julian, for taking the time to answer these questions! 


"The Verse" gives us a little taste of what it could be like to bring back "Firefly." Joss Whedon created such a rich and interesting universe that is so full of potential for more characters, more stories and a lot more adventure! Even if the crew of Serenity never graces the screen again, "Firefly" has inspired a generation of filmmakers and provided endless joy to millions of people around the world. So, as long as there are Browncoats, she'll keep flying.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Video Game Pick of the Week: Chariot!

Welcome Back!

Today, I thought I would share with you a fantastic video game that I just discovered on my Xbox One called Chariot. The best part is that Chariot is FREE this month for Xbox Live Gold members! And who doesn't like free?

Chariot is a co-op platformer/puzzle game where you play a blue-haired princess on a quest to deliver your dead king's funeral chariot to his final resting place. Naturally, the ghost of the king accompanies you the entire way providing you with snarky comments and a boatload of criticism. You can play by yourself or with a friend as your faithful fiancé.

The goal of the game is to push, pull, shove, tug and fling the chariot through 25 levels of underground, maze-like catacombs. The environments are gorgeous and magical, fun to traverse and even more fun to conquer! I could probably sit here and talk about the environments all day long. The design is unique but the colors are what pulled me in. The levels are vibrant and bright with just the right mix of fantasy and realistic landscaping. The physics are realistic and provide a genuine challenge. Personally, I love platformers. These games remind me of simpler days when all I had was my trusty Nintendo NES and Super Mario Brothers.

I had a blast playing this game with my friend but it was just as fun playing it alone! So, give it a shot. I dare you not to become immediately addicted!

Chariot is available for Xbox One, PS4, Wii U and Steam.

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