Everything that sucks! And some things that don't.

Nuggets of wisdom amidst incoherent ramblings. You're welcome.

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Reviewing... Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels - Season 1

Christian Heckmann
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I should really review something besides a movie or a TV show at some point. Maybe once I'm done reading "Hyperion". We'll see. Anyway... yesterday I watched the final episode of the first season of "Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels". And in order to come to terms with the whole thing myself (in addition to making other people watch the show so that they make a second season because I friggin' want that yesterday!), I thought that I should probably talk about it for a bit. So here we go...

From gallery of Harblnger


First things first: "Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels" is not a continuation of the original show. It might be set in the same universe but I can't be too sure about that because nothing that happened in the previous show is even acknowledged (then again, that show ended some thirty years earlier in-universe and mostly took place on a completely different continent, so that might explain things...). But it also feels very different from the previous show with its American setting, its downplayed supernatural elements and its overt political statements. All things that could be responsible for the rejection that fans of the preceding show have displayed. Which is kind of stupid, if you asked me.

Yes, "Penny Dreadful" was different. And I liked "Penny Dreadful". I especially liked how it straddled the line between relatively high-brow philosophical themes on the one hand and quite explicit sex and violence on the other. Inclining towards the latter far more often, I might add. I really liked it but it arguably was a rather shallow show altogether. "Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels" is far deeper, more complex, with a lot more on its mind and up its sleeve. It juggles a relatively impressive cast of characters, all connected to the central themes of the story in some way or other. And if I'm talking about the "central themes", I'm not talking about the murder mystery that is brought forth in some of the promotional material, kind of treated as an orphan over the course of the next eight episodes and then solved in an accessory sentence during the finale. This show isn't about solving a multiple murder, it's about the history of race relations, the banality of evil and the darkness in everyone, far more than the previous show was.

Due to the ensemble nature of the show, it's a bit hard to pinpoint who exactly are the protagonists of the show, but it's relatively safe to say that everything kind of connects to the Vega-family, citizens of Los Angels with Mexican ancestry, comprised of mother Maria, a devout follower of Santa Muerte, and her four children Raul, a union leader, Tiago, LAPD's first Mexican-American detective, Josefina, who finds spiritual comfort in a rather unlikely place, and Matteo, a rebellious and impulsive young man who gets mixed up with some rather shady sorts. All of them are fascinating characters who, like most of the supporting cast, constantly elude getting any definitive moral lables attached. Sure, they are Nazi-doctors, corrupt councilmen, shady law enforcers, mobsters and literal malevolent supernatural entities. But even the good ones of those have dark sides. And the evil ones are (for the most part) kind of understandable and not just stupidly spiteful. Councilman Townsend, for example, one of the main-antagonists of the season, is an absolute delight and Michael Gladis brings a lot of humanity to this role, so much so that I somtimes had to remind myself that he's collaborating with literal Nazis to incite race riots for his personal gain, because I was getting too sympathetic towards him.

Yes, "Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels" is political. Very political. If that's a problem for you, you don't really understand art and media, do you? Art has always and will always tackle big, controversial ideas. It has actually gotten a lot less political over the course of the past couple of years (which makes the recent rise in "take your politics out of my entertainment"-cries extra-ironic). Which is a shame, because as much as I love hollow spectacle, I'm always in favor of a movie or TV show or book that has something to say. An artist who doesn't shy away from championing an idea. And while John Logan certainly champions the idea that racism is bad, his creation doesn't even have to explicitly say that. It just needs to create a scenario that is not entirely based on true history but inspired by it to a large degree. This is a show that manages to make its point despite the fact that some of the "heroes" do terrible things and some of the "bad-guys" have sympathetic aspects to them.

All of which doesn't mean that I think that the first season of "Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels" is perfect. I enjoyed it immensely, sure, I was anxiously awaiting every new episode, and the final two episodes left me kind of devestated (in a good way). But there are a couple of problems. First of all, as said, the plug for the show goes by the board quite quickly which is a bit weird. Yes, it's replaced with a couple of interesting stories about interesting characters, but I still kind of wished that at the very least the characters pretended in-universe that it was kind of a big deal instead of bringing it up like it was a small nuisance. Secondly, with a cast of characters as large as the show features and as many intersecting plotlines, not everyone gets as much attention as they probably deserved. Also I'm not a hundred percent sure the supernatural elements were necessary. Everything works for now but I dread that a future season might create the impression that racism exists because Natalie Dormer made a couple of people be assholes to each other and that wouldn't be a very good message, would it? Perhaps it won't. There's no way of knowing, for now, the supernatural stuff didn't really "do" anything, we'll have to wait and see. Speaking of which... I'm not a hundred percent sure I'm happy with how the first season ended. I mean, the ending itself was great, the final fifteen minutes or so absolutely haunting, but it's all a bit too open. We don't know whether there will ever be a second season. I sure as hell hope that there will be because I need to know how this continues. But please, Mr. Logan, don't set up something so ambitious if you don't know whether you'll be able to follow up on it.

But yeah, apart from that, it's great. A stellar cast of characters and a great ensemble of actors (I really like Daniel Zovatto, Kerry Bishé and Nathan Lane but it was also a great pleasure to see Amy Madigan in something again, especially since her character here feels very similar to Iris from "Carnivále"), a fantastic art direction and general look as well as some bold and hard-hitting plot developments make this a very worthwhile show. I liked "Watchmen" last year, which did something pretty similar but failed to stick the landing. This might sound controversial, but "Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels" is the superior show. Fight me.
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Today 9:35 am
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Workout by proxy

Christian Heckmann
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Yes, I do work out relatively regularly at the moment. I skipped training the last couple of days, though, so I'm probably in the middle of a downward-spiral again. Ah well, what can you do? This post isn't about that, though, but instead about the game we played on Wednesday right after finishing Evil Dead 2: The Board Game.

Board Game: Magical Athlete


Magical Athlete was a game that I had been itching to try out for quite some time, because it sounded positively stupid. Imagine had peddled around his copy of the game a couple of times but that had never lead to anything substantial. Until last Wednesday. So we set the whole thing up for four players and started the draft. And were immediately baffled by the varrying power-levels of the different characters. Yeah, okay, the market is probably gonna self-regulate more often than not, still, the game is quite weird in that regard. Anyway, after a quick draft, all of us had their five athletes and off we went with the first race. My first character was the Medusa, who causes people who are on the same space as her to lose their next turn. Which seemed a bit hit-and-miss in terms of ability-strength, because it doesn't really help you win the race when you already roll badly. Which I did. The medusa crawled forward at an abysmal pace, rolling one after one after one while the race was decided somewhere else on the board. "No problem", I thought, "That was only the first race, the next ones will be more profitable, I'm gonna easily catch up." Which I didn't. Next up was the Ghoul, who would have been absolutely marvelous for everybody else at the table, except for me, because I continued my string of improbably rolling a one pretty much every time. I came in last again. And wasn't even at risk of being targeted by the Pirate, who was present in the very same race. So next up was the thief, whom I had gotten pretty cheap. Stole a point from A. who had won the first two races. Apart from that, nothing too spectacular happened. I rolled a lot of ones and came in last. So I chose the Necromancer for the penultimate race, not using my ability for the first three turns. And rolling ones on every last one of those. Which was really inconvenient. So since everybody else was already way ahead of me, I was like "Okay, I don't care, I'm gonna use my ability (moving someone else backwards and moving one space ahead at the same time) EVERY! SINGLE! TURN! from now on". So I did... and immediately rolled a five, setting the Amazon back five spaces. "Maybe this thing isn't that cursed after all", I thought to myself, looking at the die. So I tried going forward again. And of course rolled a one. And that was that. I used my ability for the rest of the race. Of course I lost that race again, but that was to be expected. So we entered the final race and I had saved up my best character, the Merchant, for that occasion. Of course Imagine had kept the Philosopher in hand, because he was in the lead at that point and wanted to keep other people from pulling some fancy stuff with their abilities. Whci surprisingly kind of helped me. Yeah, I couldn't switch places with other people all that often. But the threat of doing so helped me gain those precious extra-moves that the Philosopher gives to the characters when he stops them from using their abilities. Even when I was ahead of the pack, I constantly tried to use my ability to trade places with Imagine's biggest competitor, who was quite a bit behind, leading Imagine to forbid me from doing that and sending me forward at the same time. I actually won that race without any real trouble, getting enough points for my trouble to end up finishing third, which was a neat surprise.

From gallery of Harblnger


But of course it ultimately didn't mean that much, because while there's certainly tactical elements present in the game, it is a pretty stupid, random little dice-chucker where victory or defeat mostly hinges on what you roll instead of how well you play. And you know what? That might be enough. Yes, it's no high art, but I found it endlessly entertaining, even while I was losing badly. It might be a bit too long for what it is (and maybe it'd be a possibility to just skip the drafting-phase, deal a hand of five characters to all players, reveal them and then get on with the first race, because it's a stupid, random game anyway, so the possibility to buy cards doesn't add that much to the general proceedings of the game anyway) but apart from that, it is a very enjoyable little thing. I have no idea why nobody ever picked it up for reprints, because there seems to be a certain demand for it and no matter how enjoyable I found it, it's not worth the prices that people are asking for their used copies. But yeah, if you get the chance to try it out and you like chaos in games, give it a whirl. It's quite something.
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Mon Aug 10, 2020 8:38 am
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Top 50 Movies Of All Time, Year Two Edition, #45-41

Christian Heckmann
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Last week, I promised two movies that you probably haven't heard about before for this week's post. Let's see whether I can abide by that promise. Here we go...

#45: Six-String Samurai

From gallery of Harblnger


This is one of the two I was talking about. I mean, it does have a relatively dedicated fanbase. But that fanbase... isn't very large, you know? Anyway, "Six-String Samurai" by Lance Mungia is according to one reviewer on IMDB a very weird mashup of the works of Akira Kurosawa and... Rockabilly. The music, that is. I don't necessarily agree a hundred percent with that but yeah, there's some truth in that description. It's a post-apocalyptic movie that was shot on a shoestring-budget over the course of a couple of weekends (because kid-actor Justin McGuire could only work during those) and it is super-weird. The protagonist is the disheveled guitar-player/samurai Buddy, played by martial artist Jeffrey Falcon, and he's on his way to Lost Vegas to become the new king of the nuclear wasteland that is the United States of America after the death of its former king Elvis. On this journey he befriends a young boy, fights cannibals, mutants, the complete soviet army and even Deat himself. If that piques your interest, go give "Six-String Samurai" a watch. It's a wonderfully offbeat movie that is a bit too silly and cheap in parts to be considered truly great but it is one that I am quite fond of.

#44: The Naked Gun

From gallery of Harblnger


Speaking of silly things, man, Leslie Nielsen was really at the top of his game during the filming of these three movies (and the TV show that predated them). And yeah, I'm doing it again. This entry is representative of not only "The Naked Gun" but also "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear" and "The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult". Because while it's pretty safe to say that the third one is probably the worst of the three, it has some scenes that are so incredibly good that I can't help but love them all. Yeah, sure, their success led to the terrible flood of Friedberg/Selzer-parody-movies but I can't really fault the ZAZ-team or the movies themselves for that, because they did a damn fine job with the trilogy of "Naked Gun"-movies and you can't exactly fault someone for getting ripped off by someone far less talented, can you? Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, the "Naked Gun" movies. Why are they great? Because they are comedies and they are really, really funny. Isn't that enough?

#43: Darkman

From gallery of Harblnger


In case you didn't know, I like Sam Raimi a lot. His early works are great, his forray into the mainstream around the turn of the millennium didn't make him lose his very own quirky style (unlike Peter Jackson for example, who I once considered superior to Raimi but who has really lost his way since after the "Lord of the Rings"-movies) and I'm very interested in seeing what he'll pull off within the confines of the MCU. But one of his very best films is one that I feel isn't talked about enough. Namely "Darkman", the movie Raimi made when he didn't get the rights to "The Shadow". A relatively violent quasi-superhero-movie with some incredibly amazing shots and a really good lead-performance by a young Liam Neeson. Ever wondered why Raimi's "Spider-Man"-movies were quite good? Because he had done this before in the form of "Darkman". If you've never seen the movie, go give it a spin, it's a fantastically fun (and funny), clever, well-made gem of a movie. If you have already seen it... go watch it again. It's cool. The second movie isn't though. Haven't watched the third one yet but I hear that it's even worse.

#42: L'homme du train

From gallery of Harblnger


And here's the second movie you've probably never heard of, "L'homme du train" (that's "Man on the Train" in America and "Das zweite Leben des Monsieur Manesquier", "The second life of monsieur Manesquier", here in Germany) is a 2002 Drama by French director Patrice Leconte and it's about the impromptu friendship between a bank robber and a retired poetry teacher. And that's pretty much it. The story isn't very complicated or full of twists and turns, it's just about those two characters, mesmerizingly played by the super-charming Jean Rochefort and the late great Johnny Hallyday respectively, who have lead very different lives but recognize something very interesting in each other. It's a great Drama full of touching moments and clever insights that also features a lot of humor and never gets bogged down in overblown sentimentality. Leave it to the French to tell a story like this with verve and spunk. There's also an English language remake starring Donald Sutherland and Larry Mullen Jr. which I haven't seen but which apparently isn't very good. Either way, the original is an absolutely marvelous piece of cinema that once upon a time showed me just how beautiful movies can be.

#41: The Lion King

From gallery of Harblnger


You probably know this one, though. Yeah, what can I say? "The Lion King" might be a bit unimaginative (not only because it's heavily inspired by "Hamelt" but also because of the whole "Kimba the white Lion"-thing... look it up) but that doesn't change the fact that it is a darn fine movie, probably the very best of Disney's animation-stuff. It should have probably been a tad longer, its relative brevity clashes a bit with its more epic scope. Then again, the remake was half an hour longer and people don't like that as much as the original, so what do I know? Haven't seen the remake, by the way. Perhaps I should check it out at some point? Anyway, "The Lion King" is a great movie. But you probably knew that as well.

And that's it for this week. Next week: A cult classic, a duo of incredible family-movies, a comic-book-adaptation by a writer and a director who I both dislike quite a bit, an epic movie-trilogy and a semi-forgotten horror-classic that turned forty this year. Check back next week to find out what I'm talking about. Thanks for reading.
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Sun Aug 9, 2020 12:44 pm
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One more for the weekend...

Christian Heckmann
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Just in case you thought that I had already abandoned my music-making endeavors... You're wrong! I'm in the middle of finishing my first album (although I'm not sure that an actual album is still the way to bundle music in this day and age... perhaps I should just throw track after track out there after all?) and have just finished mixing and mastering the second track, called "Ablaze" (it was originally called "Flammend" back when I wrote it six years or so ago). I've also designed a logo that I am kind of sort of happy with.

From gallery of Harblnger


Cool, eh? Anyway, here's the link to the track. Give it a spin. If you want to.
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Sat Aug 8, 2020 12:42 pm
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Join us! If you want to. No hard feelings if you don't...

Christian Heckmann
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Yes, I know, I usually don't write two articles belonging to the same category on two successive days. But here's the thing: I played a lot of stuff lately. Two games that I could cover on Wednesday, three yesterday, today I'm gonna meet up with some more people to play something and D. asked about a TTS-session again yesterday, so if you're reading this, Lockwood's Asylum on Monday? Anyway, here's the first game that hit the table on Wednesday:

Board Game: Evil Dead 2: The Board Game


Evil Dead 2: The Board Game was pretty high on my list of "games that I need to play once this whole Covid-thing is over" and while this whole Covid-thing isn't over yet (numbers seem to be rising again here in Germany but still at a very moderate level), I finally got to play my copy of the thing that finally came out of the ill-fated Evil Dead 2: The Official Board Game-Kickstarter-debacle and Jasco/Lynnvander's valiant salvaging-efforts. We played a four player game which according to the polls here on the Geek is a sensible number of players. Characters present were Ash (of course), Ed (played by me), Bobby Jo and in an unparalleled breach of canon Linda. Which ultimately doesn't matter that much because characters aren't super-varried in this one (they're just a bunch of numbers after all). I decided early in the game to rummage through the bedroom for a bit. Which turned out to be a pretty stupid idea, because there was already a Deadite on the other side of the window, as well as one next door. And both of them decided to come after me and took a hearty bite out of me. Yikes. I fled through the window, picked up an axe that someone seemed to have lost there, then moved onward towards the toolshed, waving at Ash who was busy around these parts while in transit. On the other side of the board, some battles were fought and the first three pages of the necronomicon were used to seal the portal. I found some (as well as some running shoes) in the toolshed, went out back to support Ash with his Deadite-troubles (and was blindsided by another one of those suckers for my troubles but prevailed) and then we jointly came up with an interesting plan. Three pages had been placed at the portal by Bobby Jo. I had one, Linda had one, Ash had two. So we looked at each other and were like "Okay, if all of us are human, we can do this in one turn. We can all go to the portal and place those four pages to win the game". Player order was Ash first, then me, then Linda. And if one of us would have ducked out, the other ones would have found themselves in Deadite-central and might not only be attacked by all of the creeps that hung around there but also potentially turn to the other side shortly before the ritual was completed. Which would have kind of sucked. So there was a moment of tension and mistrust, before Ash went to the portal and placed his pages. So I went to the portal and placed my page as well. And then Linda went to the portal and placed the final page and the portal closed and all was well. That was a bit anticlimactic, I guess.

From gallery of Harblnger


A lot has been said on the boards about Evil Dead 2: The Board Game being too easy to win for the humans. And this one game seemed to prove that. None of us turned out to be a Deadite (although the very next card that would have been drawn from the Corruption-deck would have turned someone into one of those), we stumbled across Necronomicon-pages left and right, no bosses appeared all game long and the Deadite-minions were quite ineffective as well. So that's a shame. Because I generally liked the game quite a bit. It is very light, sure, but it plays super-fast (our complete playthrough took... I don't know, 25 minutes or so), has a nice table-presence (with a few blemishes, more on that in a second), is quite thematic and just feels pleasantly... I don't know, substantial? Weighty? Those aren't really the words that I'm looking for, because as said, this is a silly, light game. What I mean is that the fact that this is a game where you move your miniature around and punch suckers in the face and pick up items and cast spells and stuff makes this just feel... good? Yeah, let's settle on that word. It's just a nice comprehensive package.
And maybe it doesn't matter that the game seems to be too easy for the humans that much. Yes, it would be nice if the balance would be addressed by some rule-change (or if someone prove all of the people that said that the balance is skewed wrong) but if you're coming for a perfectly balanced game-experience, why are you playing something that is called Evil Dead 2: The Board Game? This packs a lot of silly fun into a very manageable playing time. I mean, sure, it could very well last longer than the 25 minutes that it took us. But even then, I don't think that it would outstay its welcome. I found the game fun enough that I would have been quite okay with it taking an hour or so.
There are a couple of problems, though. The space-edges on the outside-part of the board aren't all that easy to make out. Determining which Deadite moves towards which player isn't always as straightforward as I wished it would be (some spaces are closer to each other than common sense would lead you to believe... going through the cabin is surprisingly quick). The characters are - as already implied - disappointingly similar. And I don't know for how many games the general goal will stay interesting. Basically you're just moving around, scavenging tokens, dodging Deadites and delivering them to the portal. I feel like there should be... I don't know, an extra step to all of this. Something to shake up the formula.
But none of those are dealbreakers to me. Look, Evil Dead 2: The Board Game isn't high art. It's probably not gonna be my favorite game of the year. It is kind of spectacular because of the convoluted history behind the game and the fact that it actually exists. And turned out to be a fun, playable affair. And for a game of its length and pace, that might be enough. I for one am kind of itching to play it again soon. And that's always a good sign, isn't it?
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Sat Aug 8, 2020 8:14 am
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That's what a traitor would say...

Christian Heckmann
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I don't like social deduction games for the most part. Half of them are just a couple of random bits thrown into the box to fuel the interpersonal conflicts and stuff. And I'm sorry, but I like a bit more structure to my games. And the other half is overly complicated, overlong stuff that usually turns sour if even one player isn't on the same page as the rest of 'em. Why am I telling you about that? Well, because a couple of days ago, I played two games of The Menace Among Us.

Board Game: The Menace Among Us


The Menace Among Us is the second game by designer Jeff Gum. His first one is called Swarm!: Anti-Body Assault, was released and is a "competitive-cooperative" (probably his words, not mine) sci-fi-game about dealing with alien invaders. The Menace Among Us meanwhile is a semi-cooperative sci-fi-game about dealing with alien invaders. Looks like Jeff has found his niche. Anyway, in The Menace Among Us, four to eight players try to bring the energy-level of their crippled spaceship up to a certain level before oxygen runs out or make oxygen run out before the energy-level is increased up to a certain level, depending on which side you're playing for. It's a pretty intriguing shufflebuilding-game where you have your personal deck comprised of cards from your character (that everybody knows about) and cards from your agenda (which is a secret to everybody else) and you play those cards face-down into a communal pile which is evaluated at the end of every turn. Oxygen and energy levels increase or decrease, wounds are dealt, accusations are thrown around the table, you know how it is. In our first game, I was one of the menaces and tried to keep a low profile. Which worked relatively well. Until I got caught up in a really unnecessary lie and from that point onward just messed up everything I could. Which wasn't a lot. While my co-menace and me managed to drag down one of the crew-members alongside us, we couldn't do anything against the combined power of the three other humans. In our second game, I was the guy who wants to die. Not really. But there's some additional goals for some of the characters and one guy wants to be revealed at the end of the game. You get revealed when you are thrown into the brig or killed. And the guy has a special ability that cancels the first lethal wound he takes, so I was like "Hey guys, if you want to punch someone, why not punch me? I can take it.". Which kind of backfired when the first wound prevented me from speaking. Anyway, I did finally receive my second wound, regain the power to speak and then did a couple of quite clever things. That is until it came down to the wire of voting for one of two players and even though my reasoning was sound, the evil guy had bluffed so well that we picked the other one and lost due to a lack of oxygen. Ah well, what can you do?

From gallery of Harblnger


Okay, good things first... The Menace Among Us is a really quick game. According to the box it takes about forty minutes and that's a very reasonable assessment. And the general rule-framework of the game is quite robust. It's not just one of those all-discussion-social-deductors, there is some real gameplay to be found here with a bit of hand- and resource-management and stuff. The shufflebuilding-aspect is cool. Yes, setup and takedown take a bit longer because of it, but what can you do? It also looks good and even though I can't say that with any form of authority after two games, the balance seems to be okay. Also the fact that there aren't that many different card-types goind around (if I remember correctly, there's a total of 11 different card types) kind of mitigates the randomness a bit, yet since every character has two special abilities, you do feel distinct from the other players. So all of this is good and I do like the game. However, I do have one kind of substantial problem.
Everything in this game is shit.
Well, that escalated quickly, didn't it? Here's what I mean by that: Yeah, sure, there's eleven different kinds of cards and they are divided into three categories (good, neutral and bad) and there's better and worse ones. But even the good ones are kind of bad. Here's "Command". Everybody gets to draw a card. Oh, and you also lose one oxygen. Which is what keeps you alive. Neat? Out of the three positive cards, there's really only one that you can indiscriminately play (the one that increases oxygen by one, which weirdly enough is called "Raise Morale", because apparently increased morale helps when you're suffocating) and half of the "neutral" ones (which are described as "genrally okay to play even for good guys" in the rules) are downright terrible until you have an inkling of what's going on. And if you get wounded, to add insult to injury, you usually get a very weird secondary effect that messes things up quite a bit (even though I have to admit, some of them are pretty funny). Plus the "above deck actions", the ones on your character that you can use instead of drawing or playing cards, often come with really high costs as well, are sometimes weirdly specific and often a real pain in the ass to use efficiently ("Hey, cool, I have an ability where I can cancel the first Backstab-card this turn... but I have to use it before I know whether there will be any backstabbing"). And while all of that works and makes the game what it is... I don't like it. Yeah, that's the whole problem. I don't like games where you're constantly miserable and just barely scraping by and everything seems like a terrible idea. I play board games to have fun and I have fun if I can do cool things and generally feel powerful or resourceful. And The Menace Among Us isn't that kind of game.
But yeah, it does what it does quite well and if you're the type who enjoys these kinds of games, you should probably check it out. You weirdo.
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Fri Aug 7, 2020 11:39 am
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The other Top Five Thursday: Greatest Deadwood-characters

Christian Heckmann
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It's been a while since we've done one of those, eh? So a couple of days ago, I was like "Oh, Deadwood is still on Sky... I wonder whether they finally brought back the movie, too". And lo and behold, they did. So the very next day, I decided to finally watch that, after having thoroughly enjoyed the series a couple of months ago. And it was good. Like... really, really good. Good enough that the final moments made me physically lean forward and go "Okay... AND THEN? WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!?". Anyway, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to go over the...

The other Top Five Thursday: Greatest Deadwood-characters


Which is kind of a hard thing to do, because pretty much every character in the series is utterly fantastic. So narrowing the field down to the five best of 'em was a painstaking process. And... I don't want to say that I'm not content with my choices (because if I weren't, I'd have made different ones), but I wished that they'd be a bit more diverse. Anyway, here's my picks...


#5: Reverend H.W. Smith

From gallery of Harblnger


Albeit Reverend Smith's tenure in Deadwood is a rather short one, his role in the series relatively small and his story ultimately quite tragic, I was delighted every single moment the marvelous Ray McKinnon was on screen during the first season of the show. I was a bit apprehensive at first, because after his first couple of appearances, I was like "Okay, there's definitely something wrong with that guy", but nope (I mean... yep, but in a different way), he is constantly portraied as such a good, honest, upstanding, kind-hearted man and is played with such verve by McKinnon that I couldn't help but kind of adore him.


#4: Al Swearengen

From gallery of Harblnger


Yes, the one and only. Probably at the top of most people's lists. Al Swearengen is a very complex character. Not really a good-guy, not really a bad-guy, he certainly leans more towards the latter, but never in a stupid-evil way but with purpose and determination. He does some horrible things over the course of the series and especially early on, I was a bit taken aback, going "This asshole is the guy everybody's gushing about?". But yeah, he's a great character, very well embodied by the awesome Ian McShane (loads of "son-of"s going around here, eh?). It does help that he has some of the greatest lines of the whole series, though.


#3: Charlie Utter

From gallery of Harblnger


Charlie might have his tougher moments but for most of the series, he just comes across as a teddy bear of a man. Loyal, dependable, maybe a bit simpler than the people he tends to follow (Wild Bill Hickok at first, then Seth Bullock later on) but with a good heart. His relationship with Joanie Stubbs - while a bit different than I had anticipated at first - is really touching and him and Jane Cannary together are always a delight. Yeah, sure, his portrayal isn't all that historically accurate. But I don't care, Charlie as played by Dayton Callie is always a delight.


#2: Doc Amos Cochran

From gallery of Harblnger


Speaking of dubious historical accuracy, oh look, a character that they just made up for the show. Nevertheless Doc Amos Cochran, played by the always dependable Brad Dourif (in a rare good-guy-role), is a fantastic character and one of the main reasons that I enjoyed the series as much as I did. He doesn't get a lot of storylines himself but as the only doctor in the camp, he gets embroiled in almost every other story there is over the course of the show and brings a surprising amount of agency to each of them. He has his quirks (like having been charged with grave robbery seven times) and tends to be quite gruff on the outside (plus Dourif brings a quite surprising intensity to pretty much everything he does) but he is one of the most unquivocally good people in Deadwood, constantly concerned about his patients and willing to go to great lengths to care for their wellbeing. And his arguments with Al are always pure gold.


And #1: Jane Cannary

From gallery of Harblnger


Over the course of three seasons and one movie, I grew to friggin' love that hard-drinking, foul-mouthed human puppy dog that is "Calamity" Jane Cannary. Someone once said that they didn't really understand what "acting" meant until they saw Robin Weigert's performance as Jane and while I wouldn't necessarily subscribe to that, she is absolutely marvelous throughout the show. She also has one of the clearest and best executed character-arcs and (as already mentioned) all of her scenes with Charlie Utter, plus her relationship with Joanie Stubbs are incredibly sweet. And it looks like I'm not the only one who likes her that much, because her... let's say "climactic action" during the finale of the movie was a real standout. So yeah, great performance, great character, gotta love her.

So yeah, only one female character. Sorry. But as mentioned, there's just so many great characters that the likes of Martha Bullock, Jewell, Joanie, Alma, maybe even Trixie had to be relegated to the shortlist, no matter how much I like them. And here's some more random shoutouts to characters that sadly didn't make my Top Five: Seth Bullock (naturally), the severely underutilised Sol Star, Jack Langrishe, Steve the Drunk (even though he is a racist asshole most of the time), Sam Fields, Whitney Ellsworth, Dan and Johnny, Mr. Wu, E.B. Farnum and of course the late Ralph Richeson as the one and only Richardson.
So yeah, that's it for Deadwood. Three great seasons, one great movie, a plethora of awesome characters... Which one did I miss? Which one are your favorites? About which ones was I totally off-base? Feel free to share your sentiments in the comments and thanks for reading.
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Thu Aug 6, 2020 11:43 am
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I'm not locked in here with you...

Christian Heckmann
Germany
Mainz
Rheinland Pfalz
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You're locked in here with me.

Sorry, got carried away for a moment. The story behind how I stumbled across today's game is a bit convoluted so here's the short version: Someone said somewhere that Lockwood's Asylum is the horror-themed duelling-deckbuilder that Terrors of London wished that it would be and since Terrors of London didn't do anything for me, I thought that I should probably check out Lockwood's Asylum. I was almost ready to order a copy of it but then I went "Wait a second, maybe there's a TTS-module". And lo and behold, there was one. I originally intended to ask D. whether he'd be interested in squaring off against me but he was busy, so I plunged head-first into the solo-mode of the game...

Board Game: Lockwood's Asylum


In case you haven't heard of Lockwood's Asylum before, in it you're playing... I don't know, asylum-inmates? Asylum-staff? Visitors? It isn't made very clear who you actually are, so let's just go with "people who are at an asylum". Lockwood's asylum, to be more precise (hence the title). And you're trying to survive the horrors that Dr. Lockwood has conjured up with some tome/created via inhuman experiments/that had been there all along with the help of patients and staff and at the same time make the other people at the asylum explicitly NOT survive the very same horrors. It's complicated and while the theme is layered on pretty thickly, I'm not a hundred percent sure whether any of this makes any kind of sense. Anyway, the solitaire-game changes things up a bit. Instead of buying allies to help yourself and buying monsters to send after your opponents, you're only buying allies and the monsters keep coming. You win if you beat two horrors, especially tough boss monsters, but you have to survive long enough not only for them to show up but beating them afterwards isn't a trivial matter either.
I mean, I was relatively confident that things would turn out well early in the game. The first monsters that appeared seemed daunting but they actually were no match against my team of orderlies and patients, plus a couple of helpfull nurses who diligently joined the fray. I knew that the first horror would appear during the sixth turn, so I hoped that that would be enough time to prepare accordingly. And it kind of was. I managed to overcome all of the previous monsters with relative ease and then launched one massive attack on the horror, destroying it immediately after it had showed its ugly face. One down, one more to go. The second horror proved to be much tougher, though. I was in pretty good shape when it appeared, thanks to a couple of plant-pod-things that were kept in check by my trusted team of gardeners (that's a thing in this game) but the monsters kept piling up, not only in my room (the space in front of the player) but also in my hand. So when the second horror, Patient #502, appeared, I was constantly unable to get enough allies to the table to deal the killing blow. I struggled for a couple of turns (actually for long enough that the third horror appeared as well), but then, I just couldn't do it anymore. There were enough monsters and horrors in front of me to deal a total of 19 damage (you start the game with 20 hitpoints) and I had nobody to defend my sorry self, so that was it, victory for the wretched creatures of Dr. Lockwood.

From gallery of Harblnger


The solitaire-mode of Lockwood's Asylum doesn't really work. I mean... it generally works. You've got a sound game-structure and a clear goal and a couple of relatively understandable rules that tell you how to achieve that goal. But I feel like it doesn't represent the unique selling point of the multiplayer game that well. In case that didn't come across above, there's something quite unusual going on in a game of Lockwood's Asylum. Something that they advertised with on the Kickstarter page. Something that doesn't really happen in a solo-game. See, over the course of a game of Lockwood's Asylum, you're not only building your deck but you're kind of building the deck of your left neighbor as well. If you buy allies, they go into your room. If you buy monsters, they go into the room of your lefthand neighbor. At the end of a player's turn, monsters and allies in their room duke it out. And then afterwards, all of them go onto that player's discard pile. If you draw monsters from your deck, you have to play them to your room (sometimes... the rules are a bit more complicated than that). But if you draw allies from your deck, you need to find a way to get them into your room (there's cards that let you do that). It's a pretty clever and unique system and it doesn't feature all that much in the solitaire version because the monsters from the central deck just keep coming and you can't interact with other players' rooms, because they don't exist. The solo-mode is an enjoyable distraction, sure, but on the one hand, it'll probably turn into a total luckfest by the end (I almost managed to beat the final horror twice but the cards just didn't come out of my deck in the right way), on the other hand, it downplays the most interesting parts of the game.
But man, am I looking forward to playing this thing with two or maybe three players in the near future now. Because to me at the very least, the whole thing feels incredibly fresh and unique. This indirect way of attacking your opponent(s), the multi-purpose-cards and how their different actions fire, the way you need to carefully manage your deck in order to be able to play cards as allies into your rooms, all of this feels unlike anything I have ever played. Plus while the theme doesn't make a lot of sense to me, it is deliciously creepy and grotesque and the artwork is great as well. If there's one thing that I didn't like all that much, it is the relative dearth of different cards. Maybe that's just another problem of the solitaire game, because by using different decks for allies and monsters, it effectively cuts the number of cards you could buy in half. But yeah, after a couple of turns, I feel like I had seen everything that the ally-deck had to offer. Maybe there will be expansions in the future. Maybe me ordering the thing from the publisher will tip the scales further into that direction. We'll see. But I'm pretty sure that I'll fork out the cash for my very own copy of Lockwood's Asylum quite soon.
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Wed Aug 5, 2020 8:24 am
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Germanizing Games - Aufstieg der Kraftarchitekten!

Christian Heckmann
Germany
Mainz
Rheinland Pfalz
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Wow, that kind of sounds like something out of Warhammer 40K if you asked me...

Here's a disclaimer: Even though this series of posts is called "Germanizing Games", unless further reinforced, I don't suggest that all of the games featured on this article have original English titles. "Germanizing" is just a handy word that doesn't one-hundred-percent describe what I am doing here. Also this list isn't meant to be comprehensive when it comes to box cover artwork and it's not supposed to focus on this. Excursions into this subject are to be understood rather as a bonus than the centerpiece of these articles, which is the differences and similarities between English and German titles of board games (no matter which one is the original). That said, I don't own all of the board games out there, I can't double-check everything, I have to work with what the Geek gives me. If there are factual errors in what I write here, I'll be thankful for corrections.

Today's issue of Germanizing Games might be considered a bit of a sham by some because it's not all about the differences between German and English language versions of games, but instead... well... you'll see.

Board Game: Guildhall


Board Game: Guildhall


Okay, let's get started with something rather uncontroversial. Guildhall. German publisher Pegasus didn't touch the main-title of the game, it's still Guildhall over here. They just added a subtitle. "Zünfte & Intrigen". Roughly "Guilds & Intrigues". I guess they did so because when they published the German version, they already knew that there was gonna be a standalone-expansion in the form of Guildhall: Job Faire and therefore wanted to parade the independence of those two products a bit more. And there's nothing wrong with that. Good work, Pegasus. HOWEVER... what's with that cover? You'd think that the original cover would feature enough humanoid figures looking invitingly at the potential buyer for Pegasus' tastes. But for some reason, they scrapped the original cover-layout and used some of the card-artwork to create a new one. Probably because the German version comes in a far smaller (and differently dimensioned) box. And... you know what? I'm not complaining about that either. Because... well, I got to say, the dancer does look quite a bit more inviting on the German cover. Ahem...

Board Game: Kraftwagen


What? Only a single cover up there? Yeah, even when Matthias Cramer's Kraftwagen was released in an English-only edition in 2016, they still stuck with the name. So I thought that I might explain its significance. Which isn't all that exciting. "Kraftwagen" is the German word for *drumroll* "car". No, really. In administrative language at the very least. Literally, it means something like "power vehicle" and isn't used in German all that often (we usually call our cars just "Auto", short for "Automobil"), but in more official capacities, cars are sometimes referred to as "PKW" (or "PKWs", because us Germans have a really hard time pluralizing abbreviations), short for "Personenkraftwagen". And since the theme of the game dates back to a time where language like that was more common than today... You get the point?

Board Game: Cleopatra and the Society of Architects


Board Game: Cleopatra and the Society of Architects


Well, actually none of those covers up there present the original title of the game, because Cleopatra and the Society of Architects is a French game. But the English title is closer to the original. Us Germans, we not only got our very own notation of Queen Cleopatra's name (because we spell her name with an initial K) but also a really throwaway-translation of the rest of the game's title. In pretty much every other language version, the expressive "...and the Society of Architects" was kept. Not in German, though, because over here, the game is called "Kleopatra und die Baumeister". Which translates to something like "Cleopatra and the master-builders". So no society for us Germans. Moreover, the whole thing is made a bit more unclear, because in modern German, there is a certain difference between "Baumeister" (master-builder) and "Architekt" (architect). Historically (at least in the 19th century), "Baumeister" were tasked with architectural duties but usually also had the necessary manpower at their disposal while "Architekten" were only responsible for the planning of structures. It's a bit weird altogether. Days Of Wonder probably didn't call the game "Kleopatra und die Gesellschaft der Architekten" because that would have been too long for the subtitle-bar (yes, I know, that's how us Germans are), but why not call it "Kleopatra und die Architekten"? Beats me... At the very least, we got two more crocodiles out of this.

Board Game: Rise of Augustus


Board Game: Rise of Augustus


Okay, now we finally enter the part of today's post that kind of defies its title full-time. Rise of Augustus. I have no idea what's going on here. BGG lists a total of ten differen versions of the game and I really don't see a pattern in when they are called Rise of Augustus and when they simply go by the name "Augustus". There's a Dutch/English/French/German/Italian-version from 2013 that is called Rise of Augustus but then there's one in the exact same languages, published in the same year, which is called "Augustus". There's an English/French-version that is called Rise of Augustus but then there's an Dutch/French/Italian one from the same friggin' year that's just called "Augustus". What? Why? I don't get it. Fact is, the "German only"-edition from 2013 was called "Augustus", so that's the title that it seems to be primarily known as here in Germany. But they could have probably named it more literally "Aufstieg des Augustus". My head hurts.

Board Game: Arkadia


Board Game: Arkadia


But here we've got the inverse direction, because Rüdiger Dorn's Arkadia is a German game and therefore the German title "Die Baumeister von Arkadia" ("The master-builders of Arkadia"... or is it "The architects of Arkadia"?!?) is the original. I think. So when the game was translated to different languages, it was released as a multilingual edition containing Dutch, English, French, German and Italian rules and in order to make sense to all of these markets, its name was changed to Arkadia. Easy as that. A casualty of the translation was the tagline, "Gründung und Aufbau einer fantastischen Stadt", which translates to something along the lines of "Founding and construction of a fantastic city" (hardly spectacular). On the other hand, what the multilingual version gained instead was the really helpful clarification that no really, this is a board game. And for the German part of the clarification, the guys and girls at Ravensburger were even lazier, not writing "Das Brettspiel", like you'd usually do, but just going with "Das Spiel", "The game". No shit, Sherlock!
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Tue Aug 4, 2020 1:23 pm
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I hear adventure calling

Christian Heckmann
Germany
Mainz
Rheinland Pfalz
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So since nobody wanted to play with me (which is only partially true, because I got some gaming in over the last couple of days), I decided to go on Tabletop Simulator again on Friday and check out the solo variants for some games that I was kind of interested in but not necessarily enough to fork out cash for them sight unseen. The first one of those was...

Board Game: Call to Adventure


Call to Adventure, a card-drafting/rune-casting/set-collection/character-building-game. That didn't sound too bad to me. So I fired up the TTS-module, went over the rules, set the whole thing up for the solo-experience, drew a big bad wolf as my nemesis (kind of unspectacular) and then was off to cast some runes and craft my fantasy-life's story. I turned out to be a lone wanderer of noble origins, destined to become one with nature, which was a weirdly fortunate combination, because the "Noble"-card already completed two thirds of my destiny-goal. Grabbing that third symbol was quite easy, especially since finding a lost child not only gave me that but also awarded me another nature symbol, which was something I decided to collect as well. Things escalated quickly from there. Not only did I feel the urge to adventure but also noticed (a bit late if you asked me) that I was an orphan. In my later life, I was a rebel, forraging for food, which didn't stop me from planning the denfeses of some city (as you do) and then after climbing a colossus for a spell, I started advising the king and then slaughtered a wolf with ease. Doesn't necessarily sound like I became one with nature after all, but I grabbed a lot of points from that card alone, so what do I know? My final score were 38 points, enough to award no experience points to my nemesis, which wouldn't have mattered anyway, because I "rolled" so incredibly well all game long that bad ol' wolfie had zero of those anyway. Victory, I guess?

From gallery of Harblnger


*sigh* I really wanted to like Call to Adventure. Games where you craft life-stories are always something that appeals to me. But there's just not enough game in Call to Adventure to support the theme. Sure, there's the possibility to combo some neat cards into each other, and then reap massive rewards. But there's just far too little going on here to make the whole thing interesting. I mean, you draft a total of nine cards over the course of the game. That's not a lot if you asked me. So you'd better make every single one of those count. And I mean that in two different ways. On the one hand, you'll probably want to take cards that further your goals, because when you only get nine over the course of the game, every one that doesn't hurts. On the other hand, you want to take those that you think you can get with what you have. Some of the difficulty-levels (especially for the higher tiered cards) are pretty tough to beat so you need to be prepared to take them on, because flubbing a roll hurts in a game that is as short and focused as this one. So you don't want to do that. And do you know what all of that leads to? A total disregard for the theme of the game. All the nice pictures and fancy words mean jack when your only concern is matching symbols and numbers to be as efficient as possible. And yeah, sure, the artwork is really nice. Nicer than what CV for example has to offer. But in CV, I know what they were going for while the more artistic pictures in this one often obscure what the hell is actually going on in many of them.
You know what? CV is a very apt comparison to this one. So is Lifestyle. And friggin' Airships. Because at the end of the day, Call to Adventure is nothing but a slightly enhanced version of Airships. You pick a card and you "roll" to find out whether you get it or not. That's all there is to it. And while Airships certainly isn't good, I'd argue that Call to Adventure is even worse, because while it overcomplicates the selection-process (figure out the odds, check cards for matching symbols and useful abilities, pay some experience points for additional runes, cast), it doesn't enhance the outcome in any meaningful way (you just get a card that goes into your display and maybe you'll have an easier time getting something in the future... or maybe not). The amount of work you have to put into this game and what you get out of it just don't match up. This is seriously taxing to play (on a very light level) but ends up being a total luckfest. And I'm sorry, the theme isn't helping.
Bottom line, I really don't like calling things "pretentious", because that's a word that is thrown around far too often without any real regard to context. But it is the first word that comes to mind when I look at Call to Adventure. Just play CV instead, it's superior in pretty much every regard.
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Mon Aug 3, 2020 11:14 am
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