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December recap: we won't go until we get some

Sean Franco
United States
Columbia
Missouri
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Loving you is like loving the dead
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If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
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Microbadge: Ameritrash fanMicrobadge: Karl MarxMicrobadge: Climate change scienceMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGGMicrobadge: Devoted Father
So generally, oof. I've actually not had a bad month. I finished a job, interviewed for a new one, and got hired at the new one (starting in just over a week). We traveled—cautiously—to see family in two states (with rapid Covid tests taken each time before switching houses). We saw lots of family and had some very good visits that were necessary after anxiety from various family incidents. So for me and mine, it's not been bad. But for several others, we're thinking about you and hoping for the best. Omicron seems to have the potential to overwhelm our infrastructure like nothing we've seen in the past year and I know numerous people who ended 2021 with positive cases. The rapid spread has even caused a delay of one month for Geekway Mini Microbadge: Geekway to the West attendee, although part of me is skeptical that it won't be continuously pushed back until cancelled. But enough pessimism; let's do the numbers.

Top 100 Games

I have just posted my third annual Top 100 Games geeklist. There was some fluctuation within it. Six games newly broke into the top 100 (which means six games left), and the top 25 had a shakeup, though the top 10 stayed steady. Anyways, go take a look.

New-to-me Games

Board Game: ICECOOL

ICECOOL
So to start off, I really didn't do a lot of gaming this month, and literally all of it was over three days with my sister, her two kids, and my wife. This was a game I had sent to my nephew for his birthday earlier this year, hoping that it would have a low enough rules overhead that he could play it fairly with his younger sister (who is enthusiastic but not always clear on rules/strategy). I chose it having never played it myself, so I asked about it and we played it. It wasn't bad for a flicking game. I'm not a huge fan of the genre, but this one was pretty neat, and definitely aesthetically pleasing. This ultimately seems like a good gift for a ten-year-old.


Board Game: Qwirkle

Qwirkle
My sister got this as a gift for her kids, so we tried it out with four. She kept saying that it felt like Dominoes to her, but I was getting more Scrabble vibes from how multi-turn setups were important and hitting more than one row/column at a time was essential. This was light enough to teach anyone and interesting enough that I would be willing to play again. The one drawback was when my BIL walked by and commented that all of the tiles looked identical through his color-blindness; I'm not sure how one would fix that, since shapes are the usual fix and shapes are already in critical use in Qwirkle.


Board Game: Harry Potter: Memory Master

Harry Potter: Memory Master
This was another gift from my sister to her kids. It has basically nothing to do with Harry Potter but turned out to be a very intriguing team game, kind of a cross between Hanabi and The Mind. You play with teams of two. There's a deck of cards each with one of six pictures and one of six background colors. Each player gets five cards and has to commit at least some of those ten pieces of information to memory. Then teammates switch hands of cards. Everyone plays one card face down then reveals simultaneously. If the two cards from a team share a picture or color, that team gets a point (or two points if they share both). You play until some team gets twelve points.

So without a predefined strategy ahead of time (which is really against the spirit of the game), you have to figure out what type of card your teammate will play. Should you play for maximum points? Should you play something that's most likely to score? Can you even remember everything left in the first hand of cards you saw? There were some good moments here. This was a fun filler, although I'm not sure how many legs this has. I would play it again at least a couple times, though. (Fun fact: I had to submit this game to the BGG database so that I could log my play of it. Never had to go to such lengths before.)


Board Game: Mazescape Labyrinthos

Mazescape Labyrinthos
This was a gift for my nephew this Christmas. He played through three of the seven levels later that day. It definitely appealed to his love of mazes, puzzles, and feeling clever. And this is definitely a clever game (or maybe not a game but an activity, but I'm not going down that rabbit hole). I watched him play through the levels, then I watched him explain the game to his mom as she played through the first two levels. I played through only the first one myself, but I poked around in the last couple levels since I knew that I would be leaving soon and I wouldn't have a chance to naturally work my way to them. I'm curious how much is different between this box and Mazescape Ariadne.


Other Games

Board Game: Deep Sea Adventure

Deep Sea Adventure
This is one of my wife's favorite games, so we tend to travel with it. Our niece and nephew liked it. My sister did not. She found it morbid and depressing, although she conceded that she may have also soured on it when nearly all of her die rolls moved her to empty Xs, giving her very little agency on how her turns went. So not the rip-roaring success it usually is, but still an experience.


Board Game: Fuji Flush

Fuji Flush
We immediately followed it up with a much lighter card game, and this was generally approved of. There were some conversation with our seven-year-old niece about when you want to join someone's team and when you want to just flush the table, but she caught on pretty quickly. My sister liked this one and wanted to keep it in mind to play with her card-game-playing in-laws.


Board Game: Red7

Red7
This one was such a hit (and quick playing) that we played it thrice in succession. This was the clear favorite of the three for my sister; I might actually have to get her a copy of it. She liked how it was almost a new game at the start of each turn. My wife was invaluable during these sessions, ducking in to discuss playable moves with my niece and nephew so that I could play the game with them.


Acquisitions

Board Game: Faiyum

Faiyum
My wonderful wife gave this to me for Christmas. She found it by sneakily going through my BGG profile, so as a word of advice, keep those wishlists updated. I'm probably only going to get solo games of it soon, but I hope to do so in the next week or so; I'll report back then. I'm thoroughly enamored with the theme and mechanics already though.

Books

Termination Shock was fun, a marked improvement over Stephenson’s previous novel Fall. A lot of this was safe ground for him: exposition dumps full of actual and speculative engineering and technology concepts, analyses of unorthodox combat methods, globe-trotting characters getting pulled into political and firearm battles, and so forth. The easiest analogy for Stephenson fans is that the book draws significantly from the styles and ideas in his previous novels Zodiac, Interface, and Reamde.

The book takes place in the near future, in a world that has already lived through COVID-19, COVID-23, and COVID-27. The climate crisis is significantly worse, with high temperatures than are dangerous to stay outdoors too long in and increasing sea levels. A wildcard Texas billionaire decides unilaterally to initiate a global geoengineering project to slowdown and ultimately neutralize the effects of climate change, though the side effects could result in famine in other parts of the world if not properly calibrated. The book presents geoengineering solutions in opposition to solutions involving ending the causes of climate change, like green energy and ending fossil fuel dependency. The book also warns titularily of termination shock: the concept that ending a counteractive measure could result in a situation worse than the initial state that the counteractive was responding to. In the case of this story, characters speculate on the termination shock of shutting down the geoengineering project (a project which in true Texas fashion involves “the biggest gun in the world”).

My only complaint is minor, namely that I didn’t really know what the plot of the book was going to be until midway through it. The first third of the book is setting up exposition-heavy conference meetings to catch the reader up on ideas, something which Stephenson is pretty good at and which I enjoy reading. After the initial info-dump is finally over, a plot does emerge for the Western characters, although a plot had been running for Sikh characters in Canada and India this whole time. Overall, I found the book to be simultaneously cautionary and optimistic; it wants you to know that there are critical problems ahead but there might be solutions, though controversial and potentially problem-laden themselves. It’s timely and aggressively current, tackling the pandemic, global warming, media disinformation, and even the January 6 incident. This makes me wonder how the book will read in five or ten years, and if things will have actually gotten better by then.

Movies

The Suicide Squad (new-to-me): To say that this is easily one of the best (if not the actual best) of the DCEU movies would be both true and overselling how good this movie actually is. It's certainly miles better than the first movie with the definite article. One of the snap improvements is that the protagonist villains actually acted like villains rather than off-kilter heroes. This change is double-downed upon by the protagonists killing actual people, unlike the how the first movie relied on them killing random shapeless elemental forms; we have a real body count here. There were definitely good moments, like Harley's violent escape from the palace. But overall, when we're looking at this film as the peak of the franchise, you have to really wonder how DC and WB did this whole cinematic universe so badly.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (new-to-me): But moving over from DCEU to MCU, I have to wonder now where this franchise is going. I've wondered this since Endgame, and Shang-Chi did little to answer that question. This was a weird movie, considerate of its cultural source material but also far more interested in its own worldbuilding than its character development. I always like watching Tony Leung in movies, and it was wild to see such blatant and conscious retconning of Iron Man 3 and its take on the Mandarin.

Eyes Wide Shut (new-to-me): Accidentally watched a Christmas movie. This was on my to-watch list for some time and I just now got around to it. Wonderfully directed and acted. None of the story seems as fanciful or unlikely in a post-Epstein/Maxwell world, but I have to wonder what Kubrick wanted to leave behind with this movie. Overall, I loved it.

Venom: There Will Be Carnage (new-to-me): The first Venom was a hard miss for me, and this one wasn't really an improvement. The banter and miscommunications between Brock and the symbiote were tiresome, and their temporary break-up in the second act of the film felt predictably standard, adding nothing to the trope. Carnage was alright, but again not as villainous as the character deserves. All of the actors were pretty solid, far more so than a film like this deserves. I'm intrigued by the mid-credits scene.

The Muppet Christmas Carol: An annual watch, this time with our niece and nephew. This is the best Christmas movie. Michael Caine is a treasure.

Podcasts

Pods were neglected a bit for me this month since I don't really have time or opportunity to listen to them while traveling. But there were some definite winners. The first is a meandering man-on-the-street episode of The Bruenigs, which involved Matt wandering around Washington, DC, observing and commentating on various political actions and interviewing when he could.

Next is Trillbilly Worker's Party and their discussion about the tornadoes that hit their homestate of Kentucky just days earlier. It's always good to hear the local perspective of these events from people you trust.

The Dig had a good look at cryptocurrency and its derivative blockchain fads. The guests make the case against crypto, which I can't argue with, and I appreciated how they went beyond (though acknowledged) the standard environmental argument that I hear.

There was a good domestic and foreign politics roundup on Chapo, looking at the recent big developments of Covid, Biden, Boric, and Putin. They also dove into some great counterfactuals that I really enjoyed.

Finally, the best way to follow the Ghislaine Maxwell trial is TrueAnon and if you can't listen to the whole eighteen-part series, you should listen to the verdict episode.

See you space cowboy...
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Sat Jan 1, 2022 8:05 pm
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November recap: here on in, I shoot without a script

Sean Franco
United States
Columbia
Missouri
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Loving you is like loving the dead
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If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
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Microbadge: Ameritrash fanMicrobadge: Karl MarxMicrobadge: Climate change scienceMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGGMicrobadge: Devoted Father
Things to be thankful for: I got to play games, in the flesh, on three separate occasions this month. This is a high-water mark in the pandemic for me. This December is probably going to have a drop-off again, but it tended to pre-pandemic anyways with holiday travel and festivities. 2022 is already looking optimistic, omicron withstanding, since I’ve already gotten tickets for Geekway Mini Microbadge: Geekway to the West attendee in January. Exciting times ahead. I’ve also had some fun with some holiday baking for Thanksgiving, preparing two pies for the family: a pumpkin pie (with pumpkin I roasted myself two days earlier) and a blackberry/raspberry pie, plus whipped cream from scratch. My pie crusts came out great this year, possibly the best I’ve made. I was also very happy with my pumpkin pie; it was my second time making it, and I was much more confident about my custard and how it set this year. But enough about pastry; let's do the numbers.

New-to-me Games

Board Game: Dead Last

Dead Last
We played this large-group game, the size and style of which feels similar to a social-deduction game. However, there are no pre-determined teams, hidden factions, and permanent alliances. Instead, this Resevoir Dogs-esque game involves scheming and forming coalitions on the fly to kill other players. After all decisions have been made, votes are revealed and whoever gets the most votes is named the target and is eliminated (for just the round). However in a fun twist, everyone who didn’t vote for the targeted player is also eliminated. So not only do you need to not get voted for, but you also need to make sure you’re on the biggest team each time. The targeted player can also ambush the other players, which allows them to survive and kill one player that voted for him, though if you vote Ambush without being the target, you automatically die. After players are eliminated, the survivors lose all hastily forged allegiances and start scheming again, repeating this plotting and voting until 0, 1, or 2 players are left. If it’s 0 players, no one gets points. If it’s 1 player, that player gets a bunch of points. If it’s 2 players, they play a quick Prisoner’s Dilemma mini-game to divvy up some points. After this, everyone comes back to life and a new round begins.

We played with ten players. There was lots of running around the room, flashing voting cards to signal intentions (false or actual), and attempting to always bring down the players leading with points. If you’re killed (especially early), there is some downtime, but not as much as being eliminated early in a long game of Werewolf, and there’s enough important activities going on that you can easily remain engaged even if you can’t participate. Voting is alternatingly tense and hilarious, and you suddenly realize that there was a whole other faction in the room that you never knew existed (and sometime, it’s you they don’t like). Overall, I was pretty happy with the gameplay. The big letdown though was the game length. You play to something like 24 or 25 points (with the potential to get an average of about 8 and a maximum of 20 points in any given successful round). That was way too long. We really liked the first couple of rounds, but it started to drag after the first half hour. Playing to something like 15 or 16 points would have been much more appealing. I was surprised that there wasn’t a way to scale the number of points required for victory to the number of players or some kind of short game/long game preference. So: lot’s of fun for a while, but definitely trim the length.


Board Game: The Science and Seance Society

The Science and Seance Society
I first heard about this game when ICFTT interviewed Daniel Newman. I was intrigued and preordered it immediately. It showed up in February but I didn’t get a chance to play it until this month when I played two sessions of two games each. This is a highly asymmetrical game, with one player playing a card game and the other player playing a dice game. However, there is continuous interaction between the two side, and this is hardly a heads-down affair.

The Science player does the dice game, rolling four d6 each turn, pulled out of a bag to also randomize the three colors that the dice can be. The dice can be played on the five Science gears, which require three dice each in specific combinations of certain colors, values, or other restrictions. The Science player needs to complete all five gears to win, but completed gears will also grant you special abilities until game end. The Seance player does the card game, manipulating a tableau of five tarot cards and managing a hand of cards to do so. Each tarot can be oriented to a white or black side, which respectively have letters from A to E or numbers from 1 to 5. Tarots also have abilities on each side, two of which on the side oriented towards you can be activated each turn. The Seance player’s goal is to create an ordered row of exactly ABCDE or 12345 facing you (the choice of which is determined by the Science player at the start of the game), so the Seance player needs to swap out tarots in their tableau with cards in hand by matching ability icons on at least half of the tarot.

The interaction is largely about resource loss. Science can spend one die each turn to play onto a matching die icon on a tarot. One die facing Seance shuts down that tarot’s ability, and two dice on the same side of a tarot causes that tarot to be discarded from the tableau and randomly replaced from the deck. From the other side, Seance can discard a tarot each turn to remove a matching die from almost anywhere on the board, namely unfinished gears and tableau tarots. These decisions on both sides really restrict how you can both use your finite and randomized resources to best hinder your opponent while completing your own goals, and these decisions are the meatiest and most fun part of the game for me.

Both of my sessions were one game, then switching sides for a second game. The teach just takes a couple minutes, and the games take maybe 15 or 20 minutes each. There was one stunning feature in all four of my games, which I don’t think is significant enough (or that my sample size of games is large enough) to impact my opinion of the game: the Seance player won all four games. However, in all four of these games, the Science player was able to reveal their dice pool and demonstrate that they could have won if they had gotten just one more turn. So on the plus side, I really like how close the games are and how balanced the two sides appear to be. On the negative side, it is worth observing that the Seance gets to play first in each game and apparently won all four of my games because of the fact that they got one extra turn from playing first. I’m sure that this won’t be a problem in the long term, but it was a hell of a coincidence for all four of my games being determined by Seance going first each game. I’m looking forward to playing more, especially as the Science player to get a close win from the other side.


Board Game: Doctor Who: The Card Game

Doctor Who: The Card Game
I’m a huge Doctor Who fan and have been for over three decades, but I was always trepidatious about trying this. First, I’ve yet to find a DW board game I’ve enjoyed. Second, this game seemed a little too light and with its theme pasted on too much for my liking. I actually own a reimplementation of this game, the Classic Series version, which I got as a birthday present a few years ago but never had an appropriate opportunity to break out. Someone else had this new Who-based version and wanted to play it (he was a casual DW fan and more moderate Martin Wallace fan), so I jumped in to at least get an idea of how it worked.

The main mechanism of the game is the dynamic and fluid hands of cards. You start your turn with five cards. You play cards until you have three left. You pass your remaining hand anti-clockwise and then the player clockwise from you takes their turn. You draw two cards from the deck. When the next player finishes their turn, they’ll pass you the remaining three cards from their hand, bring you back up to five. In this way, you’re crafting much of the hand that one of your opponents will be able to use, although sometimes you might notice a card working its way all the way around the table back to you.

So what do you actually do with cards on your turn? There are four main types. Locations are played in front of you and are worth victory points if no opponent is attacking them. Enemies are played on opponents’ locations (with a marker of your player color to show ownership) to steal those victory points if the enemies are still there at the end of the game. Defenders are played on your own locations to combat enemies, preëmptively or reactively, to regain your lost victory points. Support cards give you (usually) one-shot powers to manipulate a couple of cards. So the bulk of the game is playing the enemies and the defenders. Each has restrictions on how they can be placed. Enemies can only be played with the same enemies (Daleks with other Daleks, Cybermen with other Cybermen, &c), while defenders all have to be different (you only have four choices here: the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, and River). Enemies tend to be stronger than defenders, but also more diverse, making it easier to stack different defenders than identical enemies.

It's hard for me to recommend the game. It’s thoroughly okay, with some interesting choices but largely playing the obvious cards each turn and passing the rest. The theme is indeed pasted on, with some of the minimal special text matching well to the characters but much of it somewhat arbitrary. Not only is the theme weakly integrated, but it already had a strike against it from me since it drew much of its art and card names from Series 5 and 6 of new Who, easily my least favorite era of the show with my least favorite characters. There were some cards based on Tennant-era things, but they were minimal. (I did take the opportunity later to peruse my Classic Series version afterwards. The cards appear to all be the same, just renamed and repictured, with some equally arbitrary theming. I’m not immediately put off by the theme of this box, even if its equally weakly implemented. I see myself keeping this for the novelty more than the gameplay.) Finally, the end of the game took far too long. Once some draws a card called “End of Game,” I expect the game to end soon, but there were several more turns after, dragging on the affair while removing agency and decision space, which seems like a real weak way to end things. Obviously, this isn’t a problem if you can sneak in one of the immediate end game triggers (based on having five active enemy attacks or five successfully defended locations, all belonging to the same player). I’m glad I played, and I don’t expect to play again.


Other Games

Board Game: Through the Desert

Through the Desert
I taught this Knizia classic to four new players. I’m a big fan of this game. It’s easy to play. It has lot of direction in case you get lost or overwhelmed. It’s highly interactive. It’s surprisingly easy to score. The little plastic palm trees are cute and the little camels look tasty. (Disclaimer: Do not eat the tasty plastic camels.) I won handily (I think my only win for that day), but everyone enjoyed it.


Board Game: Chinatown

Chinatown
This was the first time I’ve played with the Z-Man edition instead of my own alea copy. I’m not a fan of how classic German games of wood and cardboard somehow keep getting reprinted with plastic bits (see also the FFG reprint of T&E). That said, the rest of the production is nice, and the gameplay as usual is fantastic with fully open-ended negotiation and minimal rules beyond that. I kinda deliberately didn’t fight for some more cutthroat deals and came in fourth out of five.


Board Game: Zendo

Zendo
This was requested by my mystery-loving social-deduction-playing puzzle-solving friend. As a side note, it’s been interesting to see what non-social-deduction games scratch the same sleuthing itch for her, games like Tragedy Looper, Fast Forward: FLEE, and Zendo. I played the master for four games, two easy and two medium, with five students, two of whom unusually had never played the game but had owned a copy for a couple of years. Surprisingly, it was the second easy game that took the longest, but that’s one of the simple joys of the game; it’s great how the simplest patterns can sometimes be the hardest to see.


Board Game: Welcome to Centerville

Welcome to Centerville
This was another requested game, by someone who played only once but wanted to try again. We gathered two more who had never played (although one of those two played Urban Sprawl with me last month). After a quick teach (this is probably the easiest teach of all of Chad’s games), we were off. My legacy was for most vocations, so I leaned into that as much as I could, also grabbing Police & Fire so that I could benefit from hopefully drawing a disaster with all of my vocations. Four disasters went into the bag and none of them were drawn. I also got good luck with park benches, getting four benches by the second scoring. All this being said, I did terribly this time, coming in a hard last, with one of the new players with was least confident about how she was playing winning the game. My other friend with the recent Urban Sprawl experience had an interesting reaction to the game; he said that he felt much more tense playing Welcome to Centerville, like he had far less control over everything and like he was just building a house of cards. To a degree, I understand this, as this is kinda a feature of several dice games. But this is also a fairly light and breezy game for the strategy genre, so it was surprising that he took the game so seriously. Ultimately, he indicated that Welcome to Centerville was good but he preferred Urban Sprawl; I tend to agree.


Board Game: Cosmic Frog

Cosmic Frog
I got another four-player game of this in. I was Massive for the whole game. This was at the start of a meetup when we were uncertain of exactly how many people were coming and when, so I set up a short game. I was unprepared for how short the short game can be; it was quite short. It was only our third go through the action deck, and one splinter strike ended the game by flipping the final three of six fractures all at once. This was especially bad timing for me, as I had a gullet full of high scores while in the aether. I only got 4 points; I calculated that had I gotten just one more turn, I would have been at 21. Of the four of us playing, I would describe three of us as experienced gamers. All three of us set up siphons and basically had nothing else in our vaults yet. The fourth player was uncertain about actions and strategy throughout the game and constructed no siphons; she won the game just by virtue of collecting a large variety and disgorging all of it quickly, avoiding both combat and planning ahead. I’m not disappointed, and if anything I’ve learned more about how the broad strategies can dramatically shift between the short and normal games.


Board Game: Quadropolis

Quadropolis
I’ve not had a chance to play this since pre-pandemic. We did a classic game with four, all basically new to the game. My city maxed out harbors (and actually got an unscorable harbor because I desperately needed an energy in the final round and didn’t have another option) and had zero factories (which might have contributed to my energy shortage). It was a close game; I loss by a single point, but everyone had fun. We then flipped over the city sheets and they went from comfortable to intimidated by the geography of the expert boards. We didn’t play it, but it was fun to discuss how that worked and how it can change the game.


Acquisitions

Board Game: Outpost

Outpost
This was my BGG Secret Santa gift. I had been on the lookout for this game for a while, so I’m pleased with my Santa’s choice. I was hoping to get a play in this month, but the stars didn’t align for me there. I’d like to try again at Geekway Mini next month.


Books

First off, I did finish my annual reread of A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. It’s written as a journal, with one entry for each day in October, so I read it one entry each night every October. I recommend it (though not for another ten months).

I read Thirteen Detectives by G.K. Chesterton. This short story collection features a variety of characters, as indicated by its title. I’ve not read any Chesterton before, but as mystery stories, I was unimpressed. The prose itself was entertaining, but the problems and solutions were frequently lacking. Some of the problems weren’t crimes but just social misunderstandings, which is a strange but not inherently bad construct for a mystery. Often the detective character was arbitrarily introduced midway through the story, as if the story realized that it needed a vehicle to be resolved. But most critically, the solutions proposed in most of these stories do not rule out the obvious or pithy solutions that the non-detective characters initially propose. A fundamental feature of detective fiction is that given the facts presented in the story, the detective’s final solution must be the only possible solution. It may rely on a previously unrevealed fact or an unintuitive combination of previously examined information, but it should not allow any other options. Chesterton’s stories rarely operate with this feature. Once a crime or problem has been revealed, a pithy explanation is sometimes offered. But ultimately, the detective weaves a conjecture that does not absolutely rule out any other possibilities. Due to the brevity of the stories, there’s also rarely substantial resolution after these reveals, so we much take it on faith that Chesterton’s detectives have happened upon the correct combination of events. There were still some stories I enjoyed in this, namely “The White Pillars Murder,” “The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” and “The Donnington Affair.” I’ll probably try some of Chesterton’s novel-length works in the future, despite my experience with this volume.

Next, I read the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. It is an extraordinary work. Going beyond a simple Jack the Ripper slasher plot, this book is a deep examination of history, art, politics, and society. It stands up as a complex and rich story that requires little background knowledge but rewards such understanding with small details and clever associations, comparative in this regard to another of Moore’s masterpieces Watchmen, though based in Victorian London rather than superheroes and comic books. The story is built on a conspiracy theory concerning Jack the Ripper that ties the killings to a rogue Freemason covering up the promiscuities of the royal family, which I believe Moore said was probably an unlikely reality but made for the best narrative. There is a detective element in the tale, but it is overwhelmed by the story of the killer, examining his occult and medical interests that motivate him even more than the orders of the Queen. Campbell’s pen and ink art is perfect for this work, offering simple but expressive panels in a 3x3 frame. I liked how he would make some panels detailed, large, and nuanced, to be examined and considered, while other panels were pithy and light, accelerating the action of reading and driving the story ever forward. Overall, I highly recommend to those interested in either the setting or the medium.

Finally, I read Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny. Damnation Alley is like if Vanishing Point was set in post-nuclear war America and Kowalski was driving from coast to coast in a tank. This is a pithy story that’s all about the execution: the post-apocalyptic setting, each new danger that pops up as he drives through the Alley, the musings of antihero Hell Tanner as he considers his role in a literal and figurative broken world. Tanner departs from Los Angeles, carrying essential medicine to Boston in exchange for a full pardon for his numerous crimes. This narrative is interspersed with vignettes of various residents of Boston as the city dies of a plague and the bells unendingly toll once for each death. This is fast and brutal fiction writing, excellently rendered.

Movies

Dune (new-to-me): This is the first time I went to in the theatre since Star Wars IX, and man was it worth it. The sound design and music alone were worth the theatrical experience. I have a complex relationship with the book Dune; I love large portions of it and I’m disappointed by large portions. I didn’t care for the David Lynch movie and I did really like the board game. All of that said, this feels like the best movie you can make from Dune. The visuals were perfect, the casting was on-point, and the action beats were exactly what I wanted. I’m very much looking forward to Part 2, even though the second half of the book was where I was most disappointed. I’m hopeful.

Sabrina (new-to-me): This was the 1954 version with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. It’s one of my wife’s favorites, so we got it from the library. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen from Billy Wilder and this was no exception. His movies are funny, sad, witty, and dramatic all at once, and this movie is all of that. I think there’s an interesting Marxist film analysis someone could write for this movie, and I would be down to read that as well.

Steel Magnolias (new-to-me): This is another of my wife’s favorites. She says that it was foundational to her growing up. She told me ahead of time she would cry in a couple of place, and sure enough, she did. I don’t blame her. This whole movie is designed to be a gut punch. Basically every scene is constructed to maximize that gut punch when it happens. That might be a cynical reading of the film, but I think it’s hard to argue against.

MASH: I love most Robert Altman movies, but I could never really jive with this one. My wife and I have been watching M*A*S*H episodes a few nights a week, so I decided to revisit this to see if my opinion has changed, as well as to see what my wife thought about it. My opinion didn’t change. The plot barely hangs together, the humor is spiteful, and the football game is objectively jarring and out of place in a war flick. My wife hated it. She found it constantly misogynistic and unsympathetic. I will note that this time through, I had a greater appreciation for the surgical scene (which are much more detailed and bloody than on the TV show) and for Elliott Gould, but neither of these could elevate the film enough for me to really like it. (I’ve read the book as well. I recommend sticking to just the TV show if that’s all you’ve seen.)

Theatre

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Rent: Just like Dune was our first movie in the theatre in almost two years, Rent was our first play in the theatre in almost three years. This was my second time seeing the show live, the first time being the Broadway Tour almost twenty years ago. My wife hadn’t seen it live before, but we’re both big fans of the soundtrack and the 2008 live film. This show was great. Most of the main eight actors were pretty good, and the actors playing Collins and Mark were especially good. We went to the final performance, a Sunday matinee, and you could tell that there was a lot of emotion, especially at the finale and encore. Mizzou Theatre did a great job with the whole production.

Podcasts

I did a binge listen of the full archive for ALAB Series over the past month. I enjoyed the lot of it, but I’ll highlight their episodes (part 1 and part 2) on Alan Dershowitz, especially his conflicts with Norman Finkelstein. (For Finkelstein's perspective, I recommend his interview with TrueAnon: part 1 and part 2.)

American Prestige had a good ep (start at 19:28) looking into how Europe became the dominant colonial power and why Martin Luther was uniquely situated to lead a major movement.

If you want some pods about recent and ongoing criminal litigation, here’s a couple. Bad Faith had a great dissection of the Rittenhouse trial. TrueAnon is on location at the Ghislaine Maxwell trial and putting up daily updates; here's day 1 and day 2.

There was a great pod from The Antifada about memes (in the Dawkins sense, not the cheezburger sense) and how they affect protest and revolution culture. This was a fascinating and approachable overview.

The Dig did a good interview with David Wengrow about the book he wrote with the late David Graeber. It was a great examination of how we look at history and how we should look at history.

Trashfuture did an episode (start at 29:49) about one of my favorite weird demonstrations of oligarchy, the future and futuristic Saudi city of Neom. (If that name rings a bell, there’s a city-building board game of the same name. ) Neom and the Line are both inexplicable and potentially unfinishable urban projects, and it’s wild to hear more about it. (Chapo did an episode earlier this year that’s a good starting point on the topic.)

See you space cowboy...
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Wed Dec 1, 2021 3:00 pm
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October recap: yeah you want to go out 'cause it's raining and blowing

Sean Franco
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Columbia
Missouri
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If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
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Microbadge: Ameritrash fanMicrobadge: Karl MarxMicrobadge: Climate change scienceMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGGMicrobadge: Devoted Father
Slow month for gaming but a bust month for travel and visiting, which is a highlight activity for my 1.5 year old. We did our very first trick-or-treating this past weekend as well; she was a deer. I changed my annual costume from Indifferent Adult™ to the new Casual Parent™. Both look very much like how I generally dress anyways. But enough about outfits; let's do the numbers.

New-to-me Game

Board Game: Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure

Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
I've seen this deck-builder with a board float around at meetups for a while now, but got roped into a game but an enthusiast who had what he described as "all of the content, all of the expansions, all of the bits, all of it." We played with five on the original base game map and to my knowledge no added modules or expansions, although he did show off a lot of it afterwards when I had a better context for how it worked. Overall, I felt underwhelmed by the game. I didn't feel like I had as much control over my deck as many deck-builders, and I didn't feel like the interaction on the board was very interesting. This may be case of just not having a great first game (although I placed well), and I could see this being a game that if I had played it regularly or semi-regularly when it came out, I might have gotten into it more. But as it is, this was just a game that failed to satisfy me as a dungeon game or as a deck-building game. If anything, it just made me want to play Trains, a game with a much more interesting deck/board interaction.


In-person Games

Board Game: Cosmic Frog

Cosmic Frog
Played this trippy brawler again, this time with the full six players. Lots of chaos and fighting this time. I got a couple siphons set up quickly, then started to focus on highlands as much as possible, while fulfilling all four domains for diversity by the end of the game. This was about a 4/2 split of experienced and new players. Both of the new players seemed very enamored with the game, with one of them getting particularly invested in the unusual vault scoring system. Six players did feel like a lot, even though the game didn't last much longer than it had with three or four. Even with keeping the game length down, there was more time (on average) between turns, and that can be a downer. Feeling like four is the sweet spot for this game, but I'm okay with it having the upward flexibility.


Board Game: Magic Maze

Magic Maze
Did three runs of this coöp with five players, starting with the first scenario since we had at least one new player. We made the fatal mistake of saying something like: "This is just a training scenario, it's easy, and we'll definitely succeed." We failed. An interesting part of this as a coöp is how a single player can sink the ship all by themselves if they're the only person that can move, say, west. There is minimal quarter-backing when there's minimal to no talking, and the giant attention pawn just isn't clicking with someone. Five is too many for this, I think; four players is perfect, so that everyone gets an exclusive direction and a special power. I would use this game for team-building if I was ever in charge with that unfortunate task.


Board Game: Urban Sprawl

Urban Sprawl
Continuing the theme, I played my favorite city-building game with probably too many people, the full four. I don't mind this at four, but it has to be four people really invested and experienced with the game. The general sweet spot player count is three, as the optimized intersection of maximal interaction and minimal down time. This was an even split of new and old players, and the experienced player who wasn't me won; I came in a distant second, with the other two distantly behind me. This was largely because of the winner claiming the 3 and 6 prestige rows early, with the rest of us rarely in a good position to challenge him. I held District Attorney through most of the game, and getting elected Union Boss multiple times but never holding the office on my own turn. The game ran long for one of the losing players, which made me feel a little bad, since I was the one who had pushed for the game so hard. I'm still not soured on the game, though. It remains the best city-building game for me by virtue of how the game retains memory of actions through row payouts and through vocations, the combination of the two creating a realistic feeling ecosystem for the players to engage within. Big recommend if you ever get the chance.


Board Game: Red7

Red7
We finished the night with a couple of games of Red7, the second of which produced my only solo win of the month. We played without advanced scoring or actions, my preferred way to play. This did prompt a discussion of if those two optional rules are good or worth it. Obviously, I come down on "no" for both; I enjoy how pithy and direct the game is as is and feel no need to complicate it. I'm curious what others say though.


Books

I reread The Crow Road by Iain Banks. You should reread your favorite book every couple years. It was fantastic, again.

I’ve been listening to a lot of legal podcasts recently and it has put me into the mood to reread The Rainmaker by John Grisham. It’s nice, because the pods are so depressing and this book is fairly light. The Rainmaker is very much a concept novel. It’s a story that asks: what if everything just worked in your favor? You sue a massive insurance company, with perfect facts on your side, a perfect judge on your side, a perfect jury on your side, a perfect scandal that only damns your opponents… Everything just works. The appeal of the book isn’t the realism but the exploration of the how fully beneficial circumstances would actually play out. It’s fast paced, fun, and surprisingly politically sound for being a complete artifact of the 90s. Fun fact: I used to collect Grisham hardcovers in high school. Not sure why still.

I took about a nine-month break since reading book 6 of The Expanse, which is accidentally apt because there’s a three decade break in the narrative between books 6 and 7. Persepolis Rising immediately grabbed my attention by presenting an antagonist force that could not see themselves as evil. Past antagonists have been capitalist oligarchs, corporate henchmen, and desperate guerrillas. This antagonist—the Laconians—is ideologically pure, with a goal not to destroy, exploit, or enslave the other powers of the galaxy, but to benevolently rule them, no matter what their desire is on the subject.

The plot that this necessitated combined with the sudden time jump in narrative created a bizarre but not unsatisfying book. I feel like a lot of character development was skimmed over or left stagnant to allow for the time jump, and several consequences of the jump were immediately negates by other plot needs. But as a whole, the book created what I can only assume is the setup for the conclusion of the series, seeing how there’s only two more books after this one. In this regard, this was a successful antepenultimate novel, though the effectiveness of the final book may lead to a retrospective reassessment.

Tiamat’s Wrath is an odd one by virtue of largely not being about James Holden. Instead, it’s split between the stories of two arguably justifiable wars. First is the Laconians trying to figure out who the hidden massive cosmic enemy that humanity faces by just poking god with a stick. Second is the insurgent underground trying to shake off the yoke of the Laconian Empire. It’s an interesting structure, considering that these two “protagonists” are in direct opposition to each other. There’s also some interesting symmetry with the series as a whole that can be found in this book (as well as the preceding book). But for now, I’m done with The Expanse. Book 9 doesn’t come out until later this month, so I’ll be back for that sometime after that.

Movies

The Fog (new-to-me): I'm a big John Carpenter fan, so I was already on board with whatever was happening here. It turned out to be a cool pirate/ghost/revenge story with a cool backstory and great atmosphere. I'm usually down with seeing Hal Holbrook doing soliloquies, so this worked well for me.

Happy Death Day 2U (new-to-me): I watched the first one last year, so this was a fine time to watch the second. It was surprisingly undisappointing. It didn't play around with the Groundhog Day concept as much as the first one, and generally presented more as a sci-fi story than the horror of the first one. But it still had its clever bits and hit some nice emotional beats. Apparently they're making a third one, and I'm not sure how much more they can squeeze from this concept.

Black Widow (new-to-me): Not a horror film, but when your library holds come in, you watch them. This was a bog standard Marvel film. I had no emotional investment, since I knew that the title character was safe and would be back for movies I've already seen. A friend described this afterwards as the TV movie of the MCU, which is incredibly on point.

Poltergeist (new-to-me): Good creepy vibes. The animated special effects weren't amazing, but all of the practical special effects were really cool. Went into this movie blind, so I didn't expect Coach to be the main character.

Diary of a Madman (new-to-me): Advertised as the most terrifying film ever made. It wasn't, but it was fun. Vincent Price rarely disappoints, and the villain was neat, reminding me of the 90s movie Fallen. The sculptures were cool.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (new-to-me): Slow and flat and grim. I don't know if the actors were instructed to minimize variation and emotion in their roles, but that's what came across. Took about half of the movie for the plot to really start, and the resolution is quite startling. Not sure I'd recommend overall though.

Christine (new-to-me): Again, John Carpenter. It's a silly premise for a story (though blame Stephen King for that), but if you're going to go all-in on the premise, this would be the way to do it. I was more interested in the high school aspects of the film, especially the friendship of Arnie and Dennis. The effects of the car repairing itself were great. Buddy is a loser.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (new-to-me): Like a cross between Sunset Boulevard and Misery. Bette Davis is as always amazing, and Joan Crawford is the solid, stunning balance to Davis's crazy. I liked this.

Suspiria (new-to-me): This was the spaghetti western of horror films. Cool music, intense lighting and colors, crazy visceral plot, and some legit death scenes. I get why this is a classic. Top 3 for this month.

Mandy (new-to-me): Trippy and violent. The first half is pretty slow, but the second half is great. Really interesting fight scenes. Nic Cage is intense; I wouldn't want to imagine anyone else in this role.

Radio Plays

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Doctor Who — The Smugglers: I got more narrated soundtracks in and had a blast with them, starting with this often maligned gem. I'm a big fan of the '60 historicals, and this one was no exception. The plotting, conspiracies, and puzzles of this story kept me fully engaged.

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Doctor Who — The Tenth Planet: Famous for the introduction of the Cybermen and the first regeneration. Both are a bit of a let down. The Cybermen are only in episodes 2 and 4, and the Doctor only does anything of note in episode 2. The Cybermen kinda just defeat themselves for no reason and the Doctor just regenerates for no reason. An interesting story in these regards, I guess.

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Doctor Who — The Power of the Daleks: This story is great because the Doctor tries his damnedest to get no one to trust him at all. It's interesting as a Dalek story, since this is the first one outside of the growing imperialist threat of the Daleks in the galaxy, focusing on a small story of deceit and exploitation. This was good.

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Doctor Who — The Highlanders: Another historical and another romp through a delightful plot. The Doctor goes full disguise-mode here, Polly gets to blackmail people, and Jamie just suddenly shows up to become the best companion in the show's history.

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Doctor Who — The Underwater Menace: This one is bad, but has some surprising good parts. The Atlantean civilization is pretty well developed narratively, there's some actual body horror for Polly, and the Doctor has some great scenes making compelling moral arguments. However, the fish people don't really work (and even less when you see the video) and Professor Zaroff is too zany to ever be, well, menacing.

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Doctor Who — The Moonbase: This is a great Cybermen story, way better than their introduction. I love how they seem to haunt the moonbase, and the infirmary particularly. Really good story with a wholly satisfying resolution.

Podcasts

The Dig did a great interview with Kim Stanley Robinson. (Chapo did one last month also.) I'll admit that I've never read any of his books, but hearing him talk makes me very interested. I'll probably tackle his Mars books early next year.

Having lived in St. Louis for some time, I very much enjoyed TrueAnon's examination of the Busch family, their weird power over the city, and their goofy and macabre scandals.

A new show I've been listening to is TRASHFUTURE, based in the UK but made primarily by American ex-pats. Two standout episodes from them this month are a discussion of the metaverse and its exploitation and a deep dive into the UK's rave culture.

Two good episodes from Bad Faith. The first was an attempt at a good faith conversation concerning Dave Chappelle's latest comedy special. The second was a conversation with a former Finance Minister of Greece concerning utopia and post-capitalism.

Chapo Trap House had a great interview with a Teamster about current union politics, the ongoing movement of strikes, and the upcoming Teamster elections. Highly recommend for those interested in the labor movement.

Finally, The Anitfada had a great interview with Peter Coyote about the creation and early days of the Diggers in San Francisco. This is great context for anyone interested in '60s leftism.

See you space cowboy...
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September recap: got to find a reason why my money's all gone

Sean Franco
United States
Columbia
Missouri
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Loving you is like loving the dead
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If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
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Microbadge: Ameritrash fanMicrobadge: Karl MarxMicrobadge: Climate change scienceMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGGMicrobadge: Devoted Father
This has been a good but busy month for me. I made separate trips to Kansas City and St. Louis on back-to-back weekends, the first to visit my cousin and her family and the second to be a groomsman in a good friend’s wedding. On both of these trips, I managed to do a little bit of gaming. The next weekend, I hosted a game day at my house, which allowed some gaming of some medium-weight titles, which had broadly been seriously lacking in my recent repertoire. The pandemic is far from over, I feel, but I’m finally getting back into the swing of regular gaming again. The next step will be moving back to weekly gaming, although there may be a complication with our previous venue in that regard. But enough about where and when I played; let's do the numbers.

New-to-me Games

Board Game: Clue Jr.: The Case of the Missing Cake

Clue Jr.: The Case of the Missing Cake
I played this with my nieces, ages 6 and 4. This was their game, so I didn’t have to teach it, but I did have to learn it myself because they didn’t know how to teach it. The big picture is that someone ate the cake, and you have to determine who ate the cake, when they ate the cake, and what beverage did they drink to wash down this purloined cake. The suspects carried clues around on the bottom of their pieces regarding who ate the cake and when. There’s also stationary furniture that reveal what drink was drank on the bottom of their pieces. You move around the house, trying to land on special spaces that let you look at the bottom of one of these two types of pieces, recording the clues you find on your detective sheet. Overall, I enjoyed this more than normal Clue. There’s still roll-to-move, but since you can move any character on the board, it feels far more mitigated. There isn’t any player-managed information like in normal Clue or Mystery of the Abbey, but this is for kids, so that isn’t really a strike against this. This was a fun game to play with the kids, and I could see it even being a very light filler in certain groups.


Board Game: Beyond the Sun

Beyond the Sun
A friend brought this over for a game day and taught it to two new players, including me. There’s been a lot of board game media about this one for the past year, so I’ll keep the description very brief. The bulk of the game (and the play area) is an expansive communal tech tree that actually gets drafted and constructed as part of the game. There’s also a minimal point-to-point map of the galaxy, the highlight being four spaces where planet cards get rotated out and replaced as they get colonized. The component highlight of the production is the cubes, which look like dice and almost never function as dice. These cubes, depending on the top face, can function as supply, population, or one of four strengths of space ship. Supply lives on your personal player board, to be manipulated as part of a weird economy (more on this later). Population gets sent to the tech tree, to research and maintain new technologies. Space ships go to the map board, to control (which improves your economy) and ultimately colonize (which really improves your economy and scores you points) the various dynamic planets currently accessible in the galaxy. Turns are a cross between worker placement and action selection (since you have only one worker), the actions increasingly selected from researched techs.

Our game had the random VP goals of researching all level 2 techs and warlord (which meant having 4 strength in three different areas). This was in addition of the standard goals of colonizing four planets and researching a level 4 tech (which no one did in our game). I immediately decided that getting all level 2 techs would be good, since that’s a wide spread of points from the research and exclusive points for me if I did it first. Over the course of the first several turns, I also saw a route through research to become the warlord (also exclusive points), so I went for that as well. This strategy had two major side effects for me. First, since I was banking ships for warlord, I didn’t actually colonize until the second half of the game and ultimately never got the goal to colonize four planets. Second, with all of my cubes dedicated the wide research and superfluous fleets, my cube economy was shot for most of the game, and I struggled to get the new population necessary to achieve both of the goals I wanted. Most worker placement games have a pity space, an action you can do to acquire a specific resource at low quantity, deliberately being a poor return on action investment; hopefully, you’ll never use that space. In BTS, that space gives you a population and an ore, and I went there at least four times, blowing a whole turn to acquire what my automatic production couldn’t.

The cube economy is one of the more interesting yet confounding aspects of this game for me. In order to produce population efficiently (or, in my case, at all), you need to continuously cycle back cubes from other sources, predominantly from the map. The best way to cycle cubes from the map back to your player board is to colonize planets. That will get you victory points, a production bump, probably a one-time effect, and cycle cubes back into your player board. Cubes enter into five different hoppers from right to left as supply, and your production over the course of the game will pull cubes out increasingly from left to right as population or ships. So when my population production stagnated at the first three hoppers (A, B, and C), I emptied those hoppers quickly, especially as those cubes were also departing whenever I built new ships to become the warlord. I’m convinced I didn’t see the cube economy work interestingly for me because of the choices I made, and that alone makes me want to try this game again at some point. There’s some kind of weird interactions with efficiently cycling those cubes through colonization (and probably other methods) that I want to explore because it just doesn’t make sense to me at this point. And I’ve not even gotten into ore (there’s not much to get into; ore is a much simpler though equally vital resource).

The strike against the game for me is the thematic disconnect between the techs on the tech tree. This is probably the most easily anticipated flaw with the game. The most thematic explanation I can come with for a lot of these would be the following example: this simple military tech can lead to this more complicated military tech, which can lead to an even more complicated military tech, that then can culminate with the most complex military tech. That’s not thematically broken, but it’s not very interesting. It also gets complicated with techs that can come from multiple categories combined with techs that require through the tree potentially even more categories. So the tree would allow an ultimately science based tech to be combined with an ultimately economic based tech, leading to an ultimately military based tech. Considering that the techs in each of these categories are also randomly drawn from decks, the thematic disconnect is even more evident. This might be a trivial complaint, since the mechanics are all sound and playable, but the focal point of the game and the physically largest part of the game is the tech tree, and tech trees in other games (including video games) tend to be fairly thematic. This is probably about as thematic as you can get whilst still making the tech tree largely random, but it’s not that satisfying for me.


Board Game: Innovation

Innovation
So it turns out that I have technically played Innovation before, but it was in the form of Innovation Deluxe, although I recall that expansions were not integrated into that play, even if it was three and a half years ago. But this is the first time I’ve played just the basic box, so we’ll call this new. I brought this out at the end of a game day, teaching it to two other players. The core mechanics were easily conveyed, although the expected questions of “I know I need to score but how do I score?” or “How do I actually start a splay?” did come up a couple times. It’s hard sometimes as the teacher to just keep answering “Well, just draw the right random cards” isn’t the response that players want to hear, especially with ten decks of wholly unknown cards to trying to interact with. I did the research and reading before buying the game, so I had faith that leaning hard into tactical plays and just working with what comes up would pay off. Despite my being upfront with this strategy, I was still better prepared in terms of expectations and of gameplay than my opponents. They weren’t floundering in the game; they both got achievements during the game, and we had 4-4-2 achievements when the age achievements ran out (I had also achieved Empire). We needed five to win, and getting any of the other special achievements did seem unattainable. It turned out to actually be unattainable, as we exhausted the Age 10 deck first. Counting up scores, I had 1 more point than the second-place player, so I won. Winning aside, I was having fun throughout the game. My opponents didn’t. One player was frustrated by those expected questions above, essentially being screwed out of the obvious interpretation of the goals by bad random card draws. The other player (second place) didn’t like how you had to “lose” tableau cards whenever you meld new cards on top. I tried to argue that splaying piles would show the retained memory of those cards, but it wasn’t an argument that took. He also found the card draw to be too random. So basically, I had a good time and I’m looking forward to playing again, but I’ll have to do it with different people.


Solo RPGs

RPG Item: Thousand Year Old Vampire

Thousand Year Old Vampire
I played two more sessions of this game on my other blog. I’ve kinda been slow-rolling this game, since I want to do the bulk of it in October, during the spooky season. Overall, the experience is going well. I’ve recovered from a minor breakdown that caused a multi-century nap and I’m back into minor nobility. I’m hoping for some legit tragedy in the near future, but I also want the game to hit one of the built-in endpoints rather than just stopping from lack of skills or resources.


In-person Games

Board Game: The Magic Labyrinth

The Magic Labyrinth
I played this with the same nieces from above. I got this game for my godson a couple years ago, so I was already familiar with the game. I built the maze for us before the game and promptly forgot most of it, which made me an ideal candidate for building the maze. Large parts of this are just a memory game, which works well for the age range of my nieces. The older niece won, with the younger niece and myself both coming just 1 point short. Possibly the most valuable lesson they learned from me in this game is to roll the die in the box lid.


Board Game: Deep Sea Adventure

Deep Sea Adventure
We played this with my cousins, they being new to the game and my wife and I being veterans. Every time I play this game, I know I should play conservatively, since every time I play this game, I drown in at least two of the three rounds. It’s better to be lucky than good, though, and even when I was conservative this time, I still drowned two out of three times. It doesn’t help that my wife, who loves this game, tends to be an agent of chaos, collecting extraneous treasures just to see what happens. We played twice, and I had similar lack of success the second time. It’s a great game, and my family really like it.


Board Game: Dungeon Twister: The Card Game

Dungeon Twister: The Card Game
I’m a huge fan of the original board game version of Dungeon Twister; it’s probably my favorite two-player game, and I have a pile of expansions for it. I’ve been less engaged with the card game, but it’s been a few years since I messed around with it, so I brought it with me when I crashed on my friend’s couch in STL. This is my friend that I play the DT board game with every Geekway, so I pulled it out when we had a couple hours to burn. He was immediately intrigued by the idea, so we ran through the first two scenarios. The teach was fairly simple, since he was a DT veteran. The big functional changes are how you indicate what rooms each character and item are in, what the room capacities are, and how you generate action points each round. The big production changes is how every single component in the box apart from the rulebook is an identically sized card, from the map tiles to the characters to the items to the door statuses to the combat cards to the jump cards to the action wheels to the busted walls to the scenario cards. It’s actually incredibly impressive how Boelinger was able to distill everything to the cards so cleanly.

The first scenario is a simple running/escape game on a 2x2 map. The second scenario introduces combat into a 3x2 map. My friend won the first scenario essentially on a coin flip, since there wasn’t a great way with our respective item placements and map layout to block each other. The second scenario was a tighter game. Both of our Colossuses (Colossi?) were neutralized quickly: mine because he was ambushed next to my friend’s starting line, and his because I dropped it into an edge room in a tile I revealed which he didn’t have a good position to ever rotate. However, my friend was able to team up his Warrior and Backstabber quickly, dispatching character after character of mine, starting with my Colossus. I conceded after it got to the point that I wouldn’t be able to win without killing at least one of his Warrior or Backstabber — and in their situation, I didn’t have a chance.

I enjoyed the card game more this time around, possibly because of the shared experience with my opponent that I had already had with the board game. It’s still a little finicky tracking who and what is where on the map, but I can broadly forgive this because of (again) how impressive that it is that it even works without non-card components to begin with. My friend was also equally pleased with this version of the game, but he made the unusual remark that he would like to play a board game version of it. I responded that we already had, to which he clarified that he like playing with the room-to-room movement of the card game rather than the grid movement of the board game. I appreciate the room-to-room movement, but one of the things I did miss the most was the tactical movement puzzles of the grid movement. I’ve come down on liking both in their respective games. It is worth noting though that if rooms get too crowded, the footprint of the game on the table can grow significantly and suddenly.

It’s also surprising how much value is in the card game box. The game is 128 cards plus a rulebook. You can almost feel that Boelinger wasn’t anticipating being able to print expansions because of how much content is just front-loaded into this box. Consider the core box of the board game: 8 characters and 6 items per team, with 8 map tiles. Contrast the contents of the card game: 25 characters and 13 items per team, with 12 map tiles. He really took advantage of the lower production cost of a card game to cram as much as he could into this box. Right now, I see several copies available on the BGG Market for under $20. You could really do worse if you’re looking for a compact two-player squad combat game.


Board Game: Cosmic Frog

Cosmic Frog
Before we played Beyond the Sun and Innovation at my game day this month, we played two games of Cosmic Frog. These were three-player games, with one of the three being new to the game. The first game saw us collecting three fractures in just the first few turns, half necessary for the game to end. The second game was a little slower, especially since our player new to the game was more experienced and apparently careful this time. Both games were more combat heavy for me than my previous games, partially because I felt like I underused combat in the past and partially because my first game I had the Camouflage frog the whole time, which led me to a general protection from attacks. I also mixed in the Abundant, Harmonious, Quake, and Vortex tiles this time. They add virtually zero rules overhead and just some more interesting moments in the game. Still the best new game I’ve played in the past year, although Innovation might give it a run for its money. I’ve got an out of town game day scheduled next month, and the only game that I know I’m bring at this point is Cosmic Frog.


Books

I didn’t get the reading done I meant to this month, but I did read Lethal White and Troubled Blood, both written pseudonymously by J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith. The first was a reread, in anticipation of the second. These are the fourth and fifth books in the series. I’d read the first three a few times now, so I was comfortable just jumping in here. Lethal White is a book I feel ambivalent about. I very much enjoyed the reread. I had forgotten who the killer was, so I got to enjoy the mystery of it all over again. The case itself and its wide-sweeping cast are all intriguing and interesting — except for the communists. To be fair to Rowling, she doesn’t misrepresent them ideologically, but then she does portray them as social outcasts, all awkward, disreputable, and uncouth. They stand in stark contrast with the upper crust of the novel, all MPs and their rich family members. These characters are probably even more flawed but it doesn’t come across as much since, even in prose, they know how to present themselves. As far as the main characters, Robin has the stronger story than Strike. Strike is restricted to realizing that he’s been too harsh on Robin for the past year, whilst Robin has a compelling story of a disintegrating marriage. Overall, my complaint from my first read — a complete lack of class conflict awareness on Rowling’s part — still stands, but the whole of the book is very good, possibly the best in the series so far.

Troubled Blood is a hefty tome. It’s 40% longer than the previous book and over twice the length of the shortest book of the series. Continuing to check off every variety of murder mystery, Troubled Blood is a cold case of a missing person from forty years previous. Without the immediacy of the crime, their clients have allocated a whole year for the investigation to run. Between this plot setup and the length of the book as a whole, the plot moves along very slowly. Fortunately, Rowling doesn’t spend this time treading water, and there’s plenty of disparate elements of the case for Strike and Robin to investigate, most of which ultimately do contribute to the resolution of the novel with very few red herrings. The ultimate killer did catch me off guard, but in retrospect makes complete sense. Cold cases aren’t generally my preferred subgenre of mystery, but this does work well. As far as the character stories, Strike’s story is fully a downer, focusing on the slow death of his surrogate mother. It’s a well-executed story, but Robin’s again was more interesting to me, focusing jointly on her ongoing divorce and the harassment from a subordinate coworker. Things are neatly set up for the next the book, especially with the personal and professional relationship of Strike and Robin. Looking forward to the inevitable sixth book.

I’ve also preordered Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson from my local independent bookstore. It should be here in November, and I’m very much looking forward to this one.

Movies

Reds (new-to-me): I’ve seen criminally few Warren Beatty films. This three-hour epic about the career of journalist, writer, and labor organizer John Reed is incredibly good. I know that I’m coming in with a bias towards a mainstream work that actually portrays communists both honestly and fairly, but I still thought that it was quite good. Beatty and Diane Keaton both give powerful performances. Jack Nicholson was also quite good, although the O’Neill storyline interested me less. Overall, if you’re interested in the Russian Revolution or the one of the last of the New Hollywood epics, I would heartily recommend.

Podcasts

Several good pods this month. First is a series of pods examining, critiquing, and celebrating the Occupy movement on its tenth anniversary. I would recommend specifically out of these the episodes of Economic Update and The Dig.

Solid episode of Trillbilly Worker’s Party about how big tech like Amazon is essentially considering how to recreate factory towns.

Blowback finished its incredible second season. This season was about the Cuban Revolution and the ongoing economic and military war by the US against Cuba ever since. It’s really good. If you listen to on thing on this list, Blowback should be it.

A couple great episodes of TrueAnon. The first is about Sirhan Sirhan and the assassination of RFK. The second is part 3 of their series on Elon Musk. (Parts 1 and 2 are here.) This final part tracks how Tesla essentially is no longer a car company and instead acts as a tech investment company. Compelling stuff, and thoroughly covered.

Finally, I have been binging the archives of 5-4 and now I’ve finished all of their public episodes. The premise of the show is that the Supreme Court sucks, and the show attempts to justify this thesis by doing case-by-case analyses of rulings they find particularly egregious. One of my favorites that I’ve listened to that also makes a good introduction to the show is their episode on Connick v. Thompson, a case about who is accountable if a prosecution withholds critical evidence that favors a defendant they know is not guilty. (Spoiler: no one is accountable.)

See you space cowboy...
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Fri Oct 1, 2021 3:10 pm
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August recap: hum along with me, along with tv

Sean Franco
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If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
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Another false start for a game day this month. Coördinating five people from three counties isn't an easy task, and we got enough cancels that we decided to postpone it again. But by God: I will do a game day in September. I promise. Which isn't to say, of course, that I've not been busy. I'll talk about it more below, but for now, can I interest you in my new RPG journal? It's been keep me busy for the past week or so. I also have a new microbadge out, if that's your thing:

Microbadge: Conway's Game of Life fan Conway's Game of Life fan

I've been fascinated by this zero-player game and the patterns it can create. The pattern in that microbadge is usually called a glider, due to how it moves itself through a grid. The way it does so requires a little simple but technical teaching that I won't go into here. But enough about what I won't tell you; let's do the numbers.

In-person Games

Board Game: Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
My wife and I decided to have a date-night: put the baby to bed, order out sushi, and play a board game. She left this final decision to me, so I opted for one of my newest acquisitions, which I had only played solo up this point. My wife has never played OG Terraforming, but she loves depictions of technical scientific or historical ideas. (For example: she'll scoff at plenty of my games for being too long or fiddly, but she'll gladly dive into a game of Through the Ages. So go figure.)

Playing multiplayer was an improvement. There was less pressure for me with the time limit removed. Teaching was fairly straightforward, and she was on a roll a few turns in. She never really got into Race for the Galaxy, so simultaneous role-selection was still somewhat new to her. She would get irate (good-naturedly) when we both chose the same role. In the end, she had quite the heat engine going on, but we maxed out temperature fairly quickly. I was going strong on plants and had a goofy microbe combo that I was abusing every time we did actions. I ultimately won, but she was close, and she has since said she wants to try it again.


New-to-me RPGs

RPG Item: Thousand Year Old Vampire

Thousand Year Old Vampire
A friend gifted me with a digital copy of this solo journaling role-playing game. If you've not heard about it yet, you develop a vampire character with a very simple character sheet: some skills (which you devise, not chosen from a list), some resources (like items or maybe even places), and some NPCs. You then start at Prompt 1, which puts you into a situation that you have to explore by writing about it. After, you roll two dice, take the difference, and move forward or backwards that many prompts (usually forward, since it's a d6 taken from a d10). Then there's a new prompt, with a new scenario that you can only unfold by writing more about it.

Each prompt may also instruct you to gain or lose skills, resources, or characters. Losing things isn't actually a bad thing, because you have to explain how this happened, which then gives some depth and stakes to your story. There's no min/maxing in this RPG; I'm not even sure how that would be possible, even if it were somehow in the spirit of the thing. If you're told to lose a skill and you have none, you lose a resource instead, and vice versa. If you have neither to lose, you finally die and the game ends.

The other major mechanic is memory. A summary of your response to each prompt will be recorded on your character sheet as an experience. Each new experience gets slotted into a memory, which can only hold three experiences. You can only have five active memories at a time, so if your five memories are full once it becomes time to remember a new experience, you have to cross out an old memory entirely and start a new one. It is forgotten entirely. As the title implies, you are a vampire of some considerable years and there's only so much of the past you can hold on to.

I'm actually playing my game here on the 'Geek, in the journal linked in my intro. You can read my individual sessions here: 0 1 2 3 4. I'm playing and updating a few times a week, writing two or three prompts each time. My character began as an extremely minor Saxon noble in the 1050s. Since, he has killed his friends, abandoned his dying town, faked being a monk make money trading hagiographical texts, and recently wondered if he's gone mad. I'd tell you his name, but he recently forgot it and I don't know what he'll go by in the future yet.

I'm sure I'm not as monstrous as I could be, but I'm feel like I am developing an interesting arc. Feel free to read along as I post; I'll continue a general update of my sessions here next month.


Acquisitions

Board Game: Innovation

Innovation
I needed to bump up an order a bit for free shipping and found this somewhere in my to-buy list. It was the cheapest game on said list, and I had heard enough great things about it from Christina and Kellen on Board Game Barrage. I'm pretty sure I've also played this in the past at least twice, but those plays were years apart and I'm not sure I remember anything I really did. Anyways, I've read up on the rules and I'm fairly excited about it. I liked Impulse and I love Red7, so I'm ready to get down with some civilization Chudyk.

Books

I read Lanark: A Life in 4 Books by Alasdair Gray. I first heard of it as being a major influence on both Iain Banks and Irvine Welsh; I can completely see the lineage. It is a dense and complex novel. Disturbingly self-aware of its own post-modern structure, the book tells two stories presented both as interconnected and distinct from one another. The first story is that of the title character Lanark, a man with no past living in a dystopian but urban society of bureaucracy, bullying, and irony. This is a story of magical realism, full of contradictions and acceptance thereof. The second story is that of Duncan Thaw, a Glaswegian boy who grew up during WWII and ends up in art school after his exams. This is a story of harsh realism. Thaw accepts that he lacks any aptitude in prestigious trades but wants instead to use modern-style paintings to convey worthwhile truths.

Neither setting is particularly healthy for Lanark or Thaw, and each lacks the emotional capacity to properly deal with their respective failures. This is a book that embraces, analyzes, and ultimately critiques philosophical theory. It has a purpose and ideology for the reader to understand, but it makes no illusion about the potential flaws in that purpose; at one point even, the narrator explicitly tells Lanark that he won’t get a happy ending. Verily, the trickiest book I’ve read in a while. It’ll be living rent-free in my head for a bit.

I read the comic book Doctor Who - Heralds of Destruction by Paul Cornell. This story features the Third Doctor, Jo Grant, the full UNIT cast, and some very unexpected others. I was genuinely surprised and pleased with the characterizations of the regulars. The story, obviously post-The Three Doctors, lays some strong retrospective foreshadowing for the future actions of both the Doctor and Mike Yates. There's some silly stuff about TARDIS technology and masks, but other than that, this is a strong story well realized.

I also reread The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. It's important to freshen up on these things from time to time.

Movies

Grave of the Fireflies: I mostly got it for us from the library because I had wanted to talk about it at one point and realized my wife had never seen this. I hadn't actually seen it in twenty years. We watched it. She cried. I felt empty inside. We both agreed it's an excellent movie. Oof.

Gone Girl: We had seen this in the theatre when it came out, and I had seen it several times since without my wife, so we rewatched together. Still tremendously good. Fincher's direction is a fantastic slow burn. Trent Reznor's soundtrack is, as always, compelling and haunting. Plus, prominent cameos from Dominion and Race for the Galaxy; did Fox have a promotional deal with Rio Grande?

Knives Out: I wanted to rewatch this. I enjoyed it a lot the first time and wanted to see if it stood up to a second viewing, a serious challenge for several mystery stories. It did. This is a whole lot of fun. I understand that Rian Johnson is making a second film with the Benoit Blanc character and I am all on board for it.

Roman Holiday (new-to-me): One of my wife's favorites. I enjoyed this a lot. Gregory Peck has a lot of gruff charisma, and Rome is showcased beautifully. I was expected the cliché ending and I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Bridesmaids (new-to-me): Part of my project to catch up with things that were all a-buzz a few years ago that I missed. This was funny. I doubt I'll ever rewatch it, but it was good at what it was trying to do.

Radio Plays

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Doctor Who — Marco Polo: I got a stack of new narrated soundtracks in and immediately uploaded them to my phone for consumption at work. First up is this epic travel through medieval Cathy. The plot is motivated by little more than having to make the trip, but the journey is the real prize here. Fairly good.

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Doctor Who — The Reign of Terror: Another fun historical. Quite a bit of it takes place in a series of prison cells, but everything outside of that is full of fun intrigue and French Revolution Easter eggs. I had forgotten that the Doctor trades away (but gets back) his magic ring.

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Doctor Who — The Crusade: Finally, a story where everyone gets something to do. The Doctor is in top form here, conning merchants and chamberlains left and right. Plus, Ian gets knighted—I wonder if he was allowed to use the title when they returned to 1965?

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Doctor Who — Galaxy 4: This one was dull. The Drahvins and the the plot are dull, and everyone keeps getting willingly kidnapped because it's more convenient that way. That said, the Rills were pretty cool.

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Doctor Who — The Myth Makers: This was is good in the middle. Episode 1 is too slow and episode 4 is too rushed. It probably doesn't help that the Trojan Horse is one of the most familiar stories, so there was no dramatic tension. Vicki didn't get the best send-off, but Paris was a fun character.

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Doctor Who — Mission to the Unknown & The Daleks' Master Plan: The teaser episode is fun but ultimately doesn’t impact the story it’s supposed to be teasing. The following epic is very good. It’s like The Chase and The Keys of Marinus from previous seasons if both were done right. Moving deaths from Katarina, Vyon, and Sara. Plus, the Christmas episode was a laugh.

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Doctor Who — The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve: This was awesome. Basically a solo Steven story, but the plot twists and conniving characters are very compelling. Great performances from everyone, including William Hartnell as not the Doctor. Big recommend.

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Doctor Who — The Celestial Toymaker: And then this was awful. Just tedious play-throughs of blandly conceived games. The Doctor’s absence hurts this tremendously.

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Doctor Who — The Savages: This was good. The tempo of the story worked, especially in the second half. This was about as generic of a sci-fi setting as possible, but the plot worked well.

Podcasts

Lots of good pods this month. I actually had to limit myself to just five, so I wouldn't double the length of this already longish blog post.

American Prestige is a foreign policy pod. This episode was a good discussion about the international politics around global warming and the latest IPCC Report.

A great Bad Faith discussion from outside of my cultural wheelhouse, which made it doubly fascinating. They essentially broke down how black culture isn't a monolith and how it contains numerous class culture conflicts within itself.

Really fantastic interview on The Dig about white evangelicals and how they've developed into a culture of hostile masculinity. I love how in depth the interviews on The Dig get, so if you want something meaty, this is a big recommend.

A brand new pod is Everybody Loves Communism. It's a reading club pod, tackling foundational and essential leftist texts. This is their first ep, which tackles the beginning of The Communist Manifesto. (Kinda coincidental, because this pod came after my recent reread.)

Finally, my favorite new series remains Trillbilly Worker's Party. Numerous good episodes this month, but I chose this one for the great conversation about a weird Politico article that swings between extreme ideologies in bizarre ways.

See you space cowboy...

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Wed Sep 1, 2021 3:30 pm
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July recap: and you just don't get it, you keep it copacetic

Sean Franco
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If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
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Kinda a mess of a month for me. Lots of visits and traveling (all done safely), followed by me having to cancel an actual in-person meetup just yesterday with the same group that I did my meetup with in June. Fortunately, they still got together, but I acquired a headcold from my daughter (which she got from daycare). Hopefully, I'll be able to reschedule in a couple weeks, but for now, I didn't have the most productive month of gaming, mostly just family friendly titles from our visiting. But enough about my sickly woes; let's do the numbers.

New-to-me Games

Board Game: Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
Despite missing my one planned meetup, I did get to play this newly acquired title, by virtue of its rather simple to execute solo mode. I'm generally a fan of Terraforming Mars, though I never actually bought a copy for myself. No matter where I lived, it seemed like there would always be a dozen people who had copies, and half of them were willing to play it then and now. So I always had a ready fix if I wanted to play the game. I was intrigued by the concept of the card game, especially since the original was already so much of a tableau builder. In that respect, this is nearly identical.

There are two new innovations to this version. The first is the lack of a spatially-relevant board. While there is a board of sorts, it's literally just there to track progression, with no map puzzle to optimize. The second is the action selection system, a system immediately familiar to anyone who has played Race for the Galaxy. I was surprised by how much of an impact this system had on the game, especially with the solo mode. With only twenty-five possible turns (and thus, between twenty-five and fifty possible actions), there was much more of a premium of having fully efficient turns. There was also the added wrinkle of not being able to choose the same action twice in a row. This clashed with the free-form play-till-you're-out feel of the original, but still worked well here.

Honestly, so much of the DNA of games I've already played exists in Ares Expedition. I never really checked the rulebook after my first read-through, and I expect this to be a breeze to teach. The same sorts of interactions and combos are here, as well as the escalating, snowballing income as the game progresses. I don't know if this is the better version of the game, given the many unique subsystems added to the original through expansions. But it feels streamlined, it plays faster, and it's a smaller package overall. Hard to argue with those credentials.


Other Games

Board Game: Fuji Flush

Fuji Flush
We played this a few times with family, including my dad and my nieces. A family favorite.


Board Game: Suspend

Suspend
Also played this one with with Dad. Probably the first dexterity game he's played other than Jenga.


Board Game: Splendor

Splendor
I was visiting friends, waiting for more friends to arrive. Someone suggested Splendor. I've never really been sold on Splendor. The game itself is fine, but it's just not that fun to me. But I was gaming for the company, not the game.


Board Game: High Society

High Society
We played this Knizia classic after, which I enjoyed much more. This was a very tense set of auctions. I managed to not be the poorest, but lost the game on the money tiebreaker. Good fun.


Board Game: No Thanks!

No Thanks!
I played this a couple of times with my sister, my nephew, and my niece. It was new to all of them. We were contending with younger ages, which limited what we could play, but the seven year old understood the rules pretty easily, although not always the strategy.


Board Game: Coloretto

Coloretto
We moved on this this, which went a little better, strategy-wise. Lots of tough decisions, and maximizing three colors is easier than minimizing sets of numbers unless those numbers are sequential and also maximizing chips. So to speak.


Acquisitions

Board Game: SpaceCorp: Ventures

SpaceCorp: Ventures
In addition to Ares Expedition, this expansion came in this month. I'm looking forward to playing this one, even if just solo, but I don't know when I'll have the dedicate time and/or table space to do so soon. But the new boards look great and the rules are pretty simple. SpaceCorp is one of my favorite race/optimization games already, so it's just a matter of time for this one.

Podcasts

Last month, I recommended TrueAnon's episode on Elon Musk. Now part two is out and it's just as good.

Trillbilly Worker's Party is rapidly becoming one of my favorite listens. Their episode this week is a great example why. I always love it when they read Speak Your Piece segments, anonymous reader mail published in their local Kentucky newspaper.

Finally, the NPR podcast On Our Watch finished their (hopefully first of more) season this month. This investigative pod takes advantage of a new-ish California law that allows a state equivalent of FOIA requests concerning police internal affairs inquiries. The subject matter is both shocking and not surprising.

See you space cowboy...
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Sun Aug 1, 2021 6:39 pm
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June recap: a new kind of harvester

Sean Franco
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If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?
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So summer arrives, and with it signs of ambivalence. The pandemic had seemed to have been winding down, but new variants combined with lax attitudes have created numerous spikes, especially locally. This combined with fairly conclusive evidence that the forthcoming climate emergency is no longer forthcoming and is in fact incredibly already here has made this somewhat of a downer month. I did actually get to play some games though, and I'll be seeing family from out of state soon, some of whom are meeting my daughter for the first time, so I try to be optimistic. But enough about the future; let's do the numbers.

Games (including New-to-me)

Board Game: Suspend

Suspend
I had a surprisingly large number of different gaming events this month: two, which was two more than the previous fifteen combined. The first was an overnight wedding shower, primarily without regular gamers. I know what the expectation is though, so I brought a small selection of card, social deduction, and dexterity games. Once we got to the point people wanted to game, I broke out Suspend, which I feel is dollar for dollar one of the better dexterity games you can play. I was a victim of die rolling and never hit all of my colors, but the future groom won, so that’s still a plus.


Board Game: Love Letter: Batman

Love Letter: Batman
There were a lot of comic book fans here (fandom was one of the shower themes, bizarrely), so it wasn’t a hassle getting some people to play the Batman version of Love Letter, which happens to be the only version I have. There’s a higher victory point threshold to winning with the Batman version, since Batman catching villains (the equivalent of Guards correctly naming cards in the original) also scores a point. I had some luck with Batmans (or Batmen, whichever is correct) as well as some luck with Banes, so I managed a close victory.


Board Game: Red7

Red7
This was a slightly trickier sell, but once we got going, it was much loved; we played three times. Like most (all?) Chudyk games, it involves multi-use cards, but once that hurdle was cleared, everyone was thrilled with the cleverness of the game and how many avenues of success do—and sometimes don’t—exist. We only played the basic game, since I don’t care for any of the advanced variants.


Board Game: Secret Hitler

Secret Hitler
Someone else brought this, but I had played it before, so I was roped in to help teach and run the game. I hadn’t played this in a few years. The gameplay hasn’t aged too badly, but I’m not sure the theme has aged as well. I get the whole point of the theme is to be edgy in a flashy way, so I guess that’s a success, but it doesn’t feel entirely right nowadays. We played twice, each with the full ten. First game, I was a liberal; we quickly hit a victory with some very lucky draws. Second game, I was not only a fascist but the titular character, which I had never been before. At one point, a President actually looked at my loyalty card and casually mentioned that I was a liberal. At that point, I had an ally. We were able to get me nominated for Chancellor after the midway point, which was an instant win. So I guess I’ve had that experience now.


Board Game: Codenames

Codenames
As the night wound down, we finished with two games of Codenames. I was a spymaster in the first game to help show how things worked, and a casual guesser in the second game. My team won the first and lost the second. This was a nice, silly, and delirious ending to the evening.


Board Game: Dominant Species: Marine

Dominant Species: Marine (New-to-me)
My second game day was planned a few weeks in advance. Three of my friends from my old STL game group came out to Columbia for an all-day affair. We started with Dominant Species: Marine (DSM). Three of us had experience in the original Dominant Species (DSOG), but one of my friends was completely green. I wound up playing Fish with the special trait Flight. Between Flight and several early Domination actions, I was able to broadly ignore (or at least severely work around) the pawn placement restrictions. That said, it did throw in a couple wrinkles for me, and I could see how it strongly influenced the actions of my opponents. I think that my pawn placement freedom also influenced how quickly we reseeded; the game concluding reseed was only the third in the game, which really impacted our abilities to acquire and spread elements, and where we could compete and score points.

Between the two games, I think I strongly prefer DSOG. One of my favorite aspects of that game was the programming mechanics, which is wholly discarded in DSM. Much is lost without the programming, which I think probably snowballed into several other design choices. In DSOG, all potential actions were possible, providing you got your pawn placed on that action before someone else did. In DSM, with the fluid recall timing, it makes less sense for all actions to be possible. That leads to the terrain tiles and element tiles having an incredibly strong impact on any given situation. It’s very possible that actions that need to be done to best attack the game leader are not possible—and might never be possible.

The special pawns and new version of Domination was an interesting development. It made elements on Earth far less relevant to concentrate on tiles and more relevant to spread out over the whole board. In fact, many of the small rules tweaks discourage concentration of any assets. We had a few interesting fights over special pawns, and I liked how they fed into your final scores. The actual special powers spaces are also an interesting quirk, but sometimes they felt like the rich were getting richer.

I think the biggest strike against DSM (which DSOG avoids) is that there’s no balance between the special traits and food chain position. In DSOG, mammals and insects were on opposite sides of the food chain, but both felt equally viable and powerful. In DSM, the traits don’t feel as equally powerful, and initial turn order doesn’t feel strong enough to counter how good food chain is in DSM. It’s possibly something that four experienced players will be able to mitigate politically, but that seems like a huge onus on the players that was imposed upon the players of DSOG.

Despite my complaints, we all enjoyed the game. I’m happy it’s in my collection, and I really see what Chad Jensen was doing with the design, even if all the gameplay decisions had a weird uncanny valley perspective from someone who has played a lot of DSOG. All else being equal, I’ll probably still choose DSOG, but there’s a place for DSM in my collection.


Board Game: Cosmic Frog

Cosmic Frog (New-to-me)
We then played my most anticipated game of the year. The teach was remarkably quick (and I should get it down even more quickly, now that I know what matters and what to rules to associate). We played a normal length game with no variants. My power was Camouflage, which I was careful to keep all game. (I also drew Whiptongue for a possible starting power, but decided to lean more defensive for a first game.) The winner was the Nimble frog (he was the only other player to keep his power for the whole game).

This game is fantastic. From the theme to the art to the wacky combat to the very sudden spatial puzzle that emerges the first time you need to vomit, everything works. Everyone was having fun the whole time, which doesn’t always happen with free-for-all brawlers. In fact, by the end of the game, all three of my opponents were checking online on where they could buy their own copies.

I was very happy with how scoring worked in this game. Setting up your vault to score well was a puzzle in itself, but then actually executing the scoring at the end of the game was a pleasant and active process. Very often, scoring is just a mindless spreadsheet, but there were interesting ways to try to unpack your vault to maximize points. I was also pleased with how close the scoring was between players; a few more or different actions, and any of us could have won. I feel very comfortable adding all of the tile variants in my next game; none of them will weight down the teach or gameplay at all.


Board Game: Slide Quest

Slide Quest
One of my friends had to leaves, and we were feeling a little burnt out, so we finished on a few lighter games. None of them had played Slide Quest, and that’s worth at least looking at. It’s a silly coöp dexterity game that feels like an old-school video game. It’s best with four players, so my wife joined in. Good fun.


Board Game: Cryptid

Cryptid
We all had experience with Cryptid, so we ended with two games of this, one basic and one advanced. I lost both games. In each game, I had just one opponent’s clue deducted, but I was always a turn or two behind the winner. I’m not actually sure that Cryptid shines with three players; I’ve always enjoyed it more with four or five.


Acquisitions

Board Game: Cradle of Civilization

Cradle of Civilization
I talked about this some last month. This is two games in one box that share a map-board but otherwise play very differently. I'm looking forward to the "From Sumeria to Persia" game, which reimplements History of the World mechanics with some intriguing twists. "Alexander vs. Darius," a two-player wargame, will be a harder sell for me, though only for opportunity. I've just now had what I'd consider a real gaming experience for the first time since March 2020; I expect those to not be consistent as of yet, and even more rare in a two-player situation. Still, the map, card/token art, and rules all look great. I'm proud of my buddies Sean and Danny for the games they made here.

Board Game: 504

504
I know right of the bat that this will be a weird and possibly not beloved game. I'm not even sure I wanted this because I thought it might be good. I just wanted it to see how it works, to explore its many facets, and to mix and match realities to find unexpected payouts. I'm a big Friedemann Friese fan, and this seems like the most Friedemann Friese-ish game possible. I get a kick just flipping the tri-pages of this thing.

Movies

Judas and the Black Messiah (new-to-me): Fantastic movie. I don’t usually see movies about revolutionaries or leftists that really fairly portray their ideologies, just because Hollywood in its DNA has capitalist tendencies. Fred Hampton gets a great portrayal here. Highly recommend.

Another Round (new-to-me): It’s really not that surprising that a movie about controlled self-abuse somehow spirals out of control. Mads Mikkelsen is great here. This is the first thing I’d seen him in using his native Danish. Powerful and dynamic ending.

Promising Young Woman (new-to-me): Strange but compelling movie. It teeters on the edge of violence for most of the film and conveys more threat than it initially seems capable of. All the acting is uncomfortably good, but I’m still not sure if the movie says what it wants to say.

Podcasts

Solid episode of Trillbilly Worker’s Party about, amongst other things, a weird local crisis concerning Columbus Day. A few good laughs in there.

TrueAnon did a few episodes on Elon Musk, the first of which is here. This one delves mostly into his family and their background. Also digging the special theme song Yung Chomsky did for this one.

Finally, a good one from The Antifada that made the surprising argument that we should abolish restaurants. It sounded absurd to me when they first said it, but there's a valid argument by the end that surprised me.

See you space cowboy...
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May recap: so much depends on the weather

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Once again, minimal gaming this month. It was almost zero gaming, but I was invited to a session this past Friday (more on which below). I actually have an in-person day scheduled for the end of June, which I'm incredibly excited about. Hopefully we'll tackle some of the games I talked about last month (Last ish—Smilin' Stan), but I'll be excited for any in-person gaming since early March 2020. But enough about the future; let's do the numbers.

New-to-me Games

Board Game: Troyes

Troyes
I've heard good things about Twa, mostly from Kellen on Board Game Barrage, so I willingly RSVPed to a BGA game with some friends from high school. We played two games consecutively, which was really the way to do it since it was new to all of us and only two of us actually read the rules. I'm counting myself in this number, even though I only skimmed the rules, but I did so after watching a half-hour instruction video.

So this is at its core a dice/worker placement game. It's the style of euro that leaves you desperate for more turns than the game allows, an anxiety exasperated by the fact that the principle action resource—your dice—can be purchased by other players. This means that planning ahead can be exceptionally challenging, since it's possible that no dice of the needed color might be available at all, even if you've been investing in them all game.

All of this I'm on board with; I like mean euros and I like interactive euros. My problem was more that I felt there were too many moving parts in the game. You had to spend dice to get workers to get more dice on future turns. You had to spend dice to move workers onto actions. And you had to spend dice to actually use actions or combat events. The action cards are probably the straw that breaks the camel's back for me. It's just a thing too much to keep track of, especially since they're the inconsistent elements from game to game. Still, I would play this again, to see how I feel when I'm less concerned with how the flow of the game goes. I liked it more than Stone Age, a game with a similar core and a similar one-too-many mechanics.


Games I have preordered

I have a sizeable chunk of games on preorder (sizeable for me, at least), so it seemed like a good time to breeze over them. (Several of these have placeholder cover art.)

Board Game: Mr. President: The American Presidency, 2001-2020

Mr. President: The American Presidency, 2001-2020
The first of several titles from GMT Games to show up on this list. I think I preordered this almost six years ago, but I'm optimistic it will come out within the next year, based on the newsletter updates. I'm intrigued by the solo-only gameplay and the theme is fairly unique. Hopefully soon.

Board Game: Expansion or Extinction

Expansion or Extinction
I'm a sucker for a well-done space empires game, and this being a block wargame pushed it over the edge for me. The prototype images look promising.

Board Game: Mystery Wizard

Mystery Wizard
There's some controversy over whether or not this will ever get published and if GMT is the right company to publish it. Frankly, I like the idea of a wacky-power fantasy brawler, something that sounds like a cross between Wiz-War and Cosmic Encounter. There's also zero cost for keeping my P500 order for it, so patiently I wait.

Board Game: Cradle of Civilization

Cradle of Civilization
This should actually be arriving in the next month or so, according to updates from Compass. Full disclosure: I'm good friends with the designers, Chick brothers Sean and Daniel. But their game looks great, or games rather, as there are two games included that use the same board. One is a two-player head-to-head wargame between Alexander and Darius. The other is a multi-player light civilization game very reminiscent of History of the World.

Board Game: SpaceCorp: Ventures

SpaceCorp: Ventures
GMT just charged me for this, so I expect to get my copy in the next couple weeks. This might actually get some immediate play from me, since the solo game for SpaceCorp was already great and this expansion is supposed to punch it up a notch.

Board Game: Red Flag Over Paris

Red Flag Over Paris
This is venturing outside of my comfort zone a little. There are a ton of light two-player wargames and usually I just gloss over them. The theme here spoke to me, and I liked the preview materials I saw. Plus, we need more games about leftists who aren't Leninists.

Board Game: Border Reivers: Anglo-Scottish Border Raids, 1513-1603

Border Reivers: Anglo-Scottish Border Raids, 1513-1603
Another title that I would probably gloss over if not for the theme. I like how it looks, though, and I wouldn't mind a slightly heavier game for a higher player count that didn't involve plastic spaceships.

From gallery of blinks

Red Dust Rebellion
I'm a big fan of the COIN games I've played, and I said in the past that I would auto-order a game that used the system in a sci-fi setting. Here is that game. Looks like it has a few twists on the standard COIN setup, plus there's Mars. What else could I want?

Board Game: Core Worlds: Empires

Core Worlds: Empires
One of my top two deck-building games is Core Worlds (along with Rune Age). I was excited to hear about a stand-alone worker-placement sequel. I'm especially excited that you can take your endgame state from Core Worlds and use it to uniquely setup a game of Empires.

Board Game: Core Worlds: Nemesis

Core Worlds: Nemesis
I backed Nemesis at the same time as Empires. I like the idea of playing one of my favorite card games with a supported solo mode; hopefully it's more forgiving than the brutal Race for the Galaxy bot.

Board Game: Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
And if I didn't have enough space games that (a) are set on Mars and/or (b) can be soloed, I also ordered this. I actually quite like Terraforming Mars, but even having lived in multiple cities since it came out, I've known multiple people who have owned it and wanted to constantly play it. Having the card-game version will be different enough, I bet. (Also continues the trend of owning games like The Settlers of Catan Card Game but never owning a copy of The Settlers of Catan.)

Board Game: Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre
This is the only game on this list I've already played. The reprint went up on the P500, so I jumped on it. I enjoyed the game quite a bit, and I've become even more interested in the subject matter since I last played.

Board Game: A Gest of Robin Hood: Insurrection in Nottinghamshire

A Gest of Robin Hood: Insurrection in Nottinghamshire
The newest and thus last game on this list. I was already interested in Red Flag Over Paris, so when the same designer says he has a COIN-light game about a character I had been looking for a game about, I didn't have much choice. Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally!

Movies & Television

Wings (new-to-me): I saw this at the library by chance (on the day that we got my one-year-old daughter her very own library card) and grabbed it, knowing only that it was the first Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards. It was pretty good. The airplane dogfights were exciting, that long shot through the cafe would look great in any modern movies, and the ending is just brutal. I wouldn't recommend to everyone, but if you like movies as a medium and art style, you should see this.

Ultraviolet (new-to-me): This is the 1998 British mini-series with Jack Davenport and Idris Elba. It's about secret cops who fight vampires. It also has a very intelligent and clever take on vampires, specifically how they interact with technology and how they might try to exploit science for their own needs. I highly recommend this, especially since it's only an all to brief six episodes.

The Sopranos (new-to-me): Still in season 1, so no spoilers please. I'm highly enjoying this. Probably more developed thoughts as I progress through.

Radio Plays

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Doctor Who — Winter for the Adept: Listened to this at work when the pods ran dry. I've not really listened to any Big Finish plays before. I think I grabbed this one years ago, purely on the strength of Andrew Cartmel being the writer, but never listened until now. I was generally underwhelmed. I'm not a fan of stories that half the characters ultimately have secret identities than nullify what you thought you knew, especially if these secret have bland reveals. That was what much of this story relied on. I think I have one more BF somewhere, so I might try that at some point.

Podcasts

Chapo had a generally quality episode that tackled a number of current events. It's like three weeks old now, so it's already dated, but they were batting 1000 for that whole pod, so it's still worth mentioning.

I listen to some NPR shows with my pods, including Fresh Air. This interview with Barry Jenkins was exceptional. He talks about growing up, being a black director, and his experiences making the new show The Underground Railroad.

See you space cowboy...
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April recap: don't know my name, you know where to find me

Sean Franco
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I am now fully vaccinated. I got my second shot of Pfizer this week. I'm told I need to marinate another two weeks to make sure I'm producing antibodies or something, and then I'm good to go out and lick doorknobs or whatever it was we were doing in February of 2020. I honestly can't remember at this point. But I have an increasing number of friends and family, including board game people, who have completed vaccination. I encourage anyone who hasn't to go do it ASAP; I'd like to go to Geekway next year, and that's probably contingent on covid not being an issue, and that's probably contingent on everyone who can getting their shots.

I'm glad my local gamers are getting their shots, because I hope to be able to do some in-person gaming soon. I actually did zero gaming (online, in-person, or solo) this month. A large part of that was a scheduling and busyness issue, which I hope to rectify this month. It's been well over five years since I went a full month without playing any board games (and easily over eight years if you count MTG games). So instead of recapping what I played (or didn't play, as it is), let's count down the games that I'd acquired since covid began that I can't wait to play with people in person. My new goal is to get all of these played by the end of December of this year; let's do the numbers.

Games I've (somewhat) Recently Acquired That I'm Looking Forward To Playing In Person

Board Game: Dominant Species: Marine

5. Dominant Species: Marine
I'm a huge fan of Dominant Species. It's presently in my top 10 games even. And anything Chad Jensen was an auto-purchase for me (except the war games, but that's largely because I never really had a reliable war game group). So this sadly posthumous publication was easy to buy. I am a little cautious about this. Fully programming turns then fully executing that programming is one of my favorite parts of DS:OG, and the removal of that mechanic is one of the apparent features in DS:M. However, I am looking forward to a whole deck of variable player powers, and the subgames to get the special pawns look like they will be fun. The whole game is a new twist on an old experience that I'll be happy to explore.

Board Game: Power Grid: The Stock Companies

4. Power Grid: The Stock Companies
I'm also a huge fan of Power Grid. I've had some success playing it with my group out here. I also already have three expansion map sets to keep it fresh (France/Italy, China/Korea, and British Isles/Scandinavia) and the frankly fantastic Fabled expansion. So in the very least, this was a solid purchase just for the extra storage box. But also, I've very interested in 18XX-ing my Power Grid games. I'm fully prepared for it to wreck my strategy and style, and I'm looking forward to that.

Board Game: Imperial Struggle

3. Imperial Struggle
This is the game that will probably be hardest to get to the table simply because of its strict player count of only two. I'm hoping I can talk a local friend into learning everything ahead of time so that we can jump right into a session that I already will have had set up; the play time on this one, especially for early plays, is supposed to be no joke. But the time period is of great interest for me, Twilight Struggle is a solid pedigree that I have a lot of experience with, and I've already swapped out my errata components and applied my errata stickers to the board. I'm ready to play—once I find the opponent.

Board Game: Archipelago

2. Archipelago
I've actually already played this one solo, having purchased the solo expansion immediately after getting the base game from my BGG Secret Santa last year. The solo game is really fun, and I should get it to the table again. However, the cripplingly brutal puzzles of the solo gameare supposed to be replaced with deviously brutal diplomacy and negotiation once you go multiplayer. I think this would go down well with my group. I also appreciate that we'll be able to manipulate game length ahead of time so that we can fit it into a single session without a problem as we all learn it.

Board Game: Cosmic Frog

1. Cosmic Frog
There's a very real possibility that I will blindly ignore anyone else's suggestions for what to play first once I have an in-person meetup again and just slam this box onto the table. I'm looking forward to this so much. From the surreal premise to the surreal art to the highly interactive play style, this game is speaking to me so much. Everything about this game is appealing to me, and I have enough gamer friends who are Grateful Dead fans (so to speak) that they will be invested in the cover art alone. On a more serious note, this also seems to be the best implementation of the "you lose a turn" mechanic ever, so I want to see that play out.

Acquisitions

Board Game: High Frontier 4 All: Module 3 – Conflict
Board Game: High Frontier 4 All: 6th Player Component Kit


High Frontier 4 All: Module 3 – Conflict + High Frontier 4 All: 6th Player Component Kit
So my final order from Ion came in and... I'm not really eager anymore? I guess that's one of the dangers of ordering KS games with long lead times, the length of which get compounded by a sudden global pandemic. But in the time since I ordered this expansion—and even in the time since I received my copies of the base game, Terawatt, and Colonization—there's been some controversy concerning Phil Eklund and his statements which (minimally) appear to express or double-down on support of denial of the severity and solutions to covid, the minimization of the racial motivations and impact of the WW2 Jewish holocaust, and the denial of the origins and severe impact of man-made climate change which is still actively warming the planet to unsustainable temperatures. These are amongst several other problematic statements and obstinate rhetorical blind spots.

High Frontier is noticeably absent from the above list of games I'm excited to play with other people. This was a game that I had been planning on introducing to my group out here as an experience, something that you shouldn't be focusing on winning but understanding and inhabiting for the first few plays. Now, I'm not feeling so eager. I might do it still, if people are interested, but I'm less motivated to push it to the table myself. I'm completely unmotivated to purchase any more products that Eklund has had a hand in.

I did get my package in, I opened it, I read through the rules, and I sorted the new components into their appropriate baggies and piles. Even when I do play High Frontier next, it's unlikely to be with the Conflict module for some time, as it appears to severely ramp up the complexity of an already complex game (probably the second most intricate game I own, after Magic Realm). So just getting this in was a tepid experience compared to how I normally receive games.

(I'm happy to engage any conversation that comes up in the comments concerning the recent controversies concerning Phil Eklund, but let's keep it nominally civil at least; there have been some "escalating" debates on the subject elsewhere on this site.)

Movies

I did not choose short movies this month.

Zach Snyder's Justice League (new-to-me): We watched the theatrical Whedon cut when it came out on DVD. It was an underwhelming, bland film then. This new cut was definitely a different experience.

Some random thoughts, lightning round style: That was four hours that could have been three. I did appreciate the extra character development, but a lot of it dragged. The plot didn’t properly begin until the half-hour mark, which is bad. The Joker cameo was disappointing, but the other superhero surprise appearance was cool. Cyborg should have gotten top billing, considering the entire movie is actually just about him. The pacing was all over the place, but probably the worst with the Amazon battles. They straight-up murder Steppenwolf, don’t they, like not even heroic-ish. Everything is boring until Barry Allen shows up but his bants do get a bit old. I guess the scene with Aquaman accidentally sitting on the Lasso of Truth was all Whedon, which is a shame because I kinda liked that bit.

It was okay, I guess. It passed the time, but I also have to wonder if it was worth it re-setting up all the mysterious future plot points when you know WB isn’t going to do a sequel to this particular version. ZSJL will always be a model of potential unrealized.

The Irishman (new-to-me): This was not wasted potential, on the other hand. Sure, I got intimidated when I started the movie and it said 3.5 hours remaining and I wondered if this was the best idea at almost 9 PM. But it really flew by. Scorsese has a gift for not letting you feel time pass. The real gem of this film was Joe Pesci. I was afraid that his top billing would amount to some version of a cameo, like his appearance in The Good Shepherd. But he was a major player without, with all of the presence of his great performances like Goodfellas and My Cousin Vinny. The whole story worked well. The lines were funny, the acting was nuanced, and the violence was stylized—what more could you want?

Books

I reread The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. Just got the sequel so I needed the refresher. This is Stephenson at possibly his most accessible. There is some quantum physics being thrown around, but this isn’t the dense techno-thriller that he’s widely known for. Instead, it’s an epistolary sprawl of witches and time travel, with the best scarification subplot I’ve seen. I enjoyed this a great deal this time through. The sequel is written solely by Stephenson’s coauthor, who I otherwise have no experience with, so I was looking forward to seeing how I liked her writing on its own.

And so far... it's pretty good. Master of the Revels is very much the same really, which makes me wonder who did more of the framework, who did more of the actual writing, and who did more editing and rewrites on the first book. Multi-author books have always vaguely fascinated me in this way. Anyways, I still have the last third of the book to go, so a fuller discussion on that volume next month.

Radio Plays

External image


Doctor Who — The Mind of Evil: Listened to this at work when the pods ran dry. This is one of my favorite Pertwee stories, as well as one of my favorite UNIT stories. Richard Franklin is a little underwhelming with the linking narration, but the bulk of the story translates remarkably well to the audio format. I just wish I had more of these BBC Audio Collection stories; I really enjoy them.

Music

External image


Core / Stone Temple Pilots: I'd been doing a massive binge through my top 100 albums over the past couple months, which was a pretty rewarding experience. But when I was done, Core was what I went back to for a couple more listens. Yeah, it's an alt-rock/grunge album, but it feels more like Zeppelin-era album rock in a lot of ways. Weiland's vocals soar on this record, the music rocks, and the guitar solos really balance out the presence of everything else going on. Try out "Sin" or "Plush."

Podcasts

Two good episodes from Bad Faith. First was an discussion with two public defenders looking at what always goes wrong for defendants in trial situations and why reform isn't a sufficient response. Second was an interview with labor organizer Jane McAlevey, who talked about unions, collective action, and how creating a movement is actually easier than you might think.

Chapo had a good discussion with the hosts of Blowback about their second season, which covers the US's relationship (read: war) with post-revolutionary Cuba. This second season probably won't be out for free until mid-July, so this was a good teaser. (I still recommend the first season of Blowback, which concerns the Iraq War and is fully available right now.)

There was a really nice and interesting documentary episode from Podlitical (normally a weekly discussion show about current Scottish politics and news) about why people don't vote. I particularly liked the interview with the guy who said he couldn't vote for any party since none of them cared about his people, the Travellers or Romani. I have some friends who are Travellers, so that did hit a chord with me.

Finally, if you haven't heard this interview that Dan Thurot (Space-Biff) did with Patrick Rael about slavery and board games, you're missing out. It's a remarkable discussion. (And if you haven't read Professor Rael's essay on Pax Emancipation yet, you really should.)

See you space cowboy...

And happy May Day: C'est la lutte finale / Groupons-nous, et demain / L'Internationale / Sera le genre humain
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March recap: there's no map and there's no clue

Sean Franco
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There are no April Fools in this blog post.

In last month's post, I alluded to some medical issues. These are now all basically resolved, so I feel more comfortable discussing things than I did in those days of uncertainty. After almost a year of constant precautions and safety measures, my daughter (then eleven months) got Covid in the last week of February. Just a couple days later, my wife and I both got it. The good news is that we're all better now.

All of us did a fourteen day quarantine at home, having even less contact than we had been having. For my daughter, there were some slight elevated temperatures but no fevers, as well as a depressed appetite and some congestion that took several days to clear up. I felt fine for the first week, but got hit hard by the equivalent of a really bad flu during the second week. I didn't want to do much of anything, which was a challenge because I was the primary caretaker of our daughter since my wife was still able to work from home as she has been doing. My wife didn't have any flu-like symptoms like I did, but she did almost entirely lose her senses of taste and smell. Her sense of taste came back gradually about a week and a half later, and her sense of smell came back partially at the same time, although it still hasn't fully returned.

I'm happy that we came out of this with as few problems as we did. I know several people had it much worse, and there was a lot of anxiety and concern in early days when we didn't know how bad we might get. But we're past it now. My wife got the vaccine a few days after we were released from isolation. I'm scheduled to get my first shot next week. We're already looking forward to at least a partial return to normalcy, which will hopefully include some safe in-person game by summertime some time. So with that optimism setting the mood, let's do the numbers.

Games

Board Game: Caylus

Caylus
I hadn't gotten a chance to go to any St. Louis Board Gamers virtual meetups in a while, but I made time for myself one Saturday this month. I got put into a breakout room with some others who wanted to do a heavier game, and since all but one person had played Caylus before, we stumbled into that choice. We played on BGA. It has been easily a decade, if not longer, since I've last played Caylus. I remember at the time being adamant to play it with at most three players if I ever played it again, so naturally this was a four player game. It took me a while to get into the swing of things again, but since we didn't have a seasoned veteran hustling us, everyone else was basically working at the same pace. I remembered that building the building that lets you build stone buildings was generally decent at generating VPs, so I did that early on. I also pushed VPs each time on the favor tracks, which I was hitting fairly regularly, since my goal was to get a castle visit every turn, a goal I hit for the entire back half of the game. I won, somewhat to my own amazement. Overall, I think I have the same impression of Caylus as I did when I traded it: it's a really well designed game that hits some unique beats with worker placement, but I'm not sure I've ever interested in suggesting it again. I think part of it is that everyone needs to be on board with the provost meta of that particular session, and if people have problems reading that, someone will tend to exploit things unfairly. That's hardly the game's fault, but it doesn't motivate me to keep trying random games with new people once ever few months or so.


Board Game: Stone Age

Stone Age
After Caylus, the same group wanted to do another worker placement game. This was suggested. I had only played once before, in person some two years ago. I didn't remember liking it much then, but I wasn't going crash this party to a halt. After a quick rules refresh, we jumped in. To spoil the end, I managed a healthy second place out of four. I focused on the agriculture track (which I think I maxed out) and buildings. I only got a couple of the cards, and this was my downfall. I remember it being my downfall in my previous game as well. I just couldn't seem to justify getting the cards when the buildings were more accessible and/or better scoring. I was well ahead of everyone else going into final scoring, but the winner blew past me by scoring their cards. I don't know why hitting the balance of buildings and cards seems so hard for me in this game. I'm also still a little put off by how rigidly mathematical the VPs are assigned by the buildings in Stone Age. Some wacky wiggle room would not be unwelcome, and might make for some more exciting and dramatic plays. The dice rolling is fine in this game, if unexciting. Probably much like Caylus, this isn't a game I'll ever suggest, but I'll go along with it if the whole crowd is there.


Board Game: Dungeon Twister

Dungeon Twister
Late at night one evening, I randomly logged onto BGA and let it pair me with a stranger on BGA. We played this, my favorite two-player game. There were almost immediately some interesting situations. My opponent placed my Troll in a one-square room adjacent to their starting line, apparently not wanting to deal with the combat headache; I opted to take the opportunity and just get a virtually free VP. Both Thieves died very early on in the game. Both Mechanorcs wound up on the gears of rooms in the same number/color pairing. I made some early errors, one involving use of a combat card that I should have saved and a few testing how aggressive my opponent would be (the answer: very aggressive). I somehow wound up healing two of my characters with my Cleric, which is high for me; my mode is probably 0 in base game sessions. Unfortunately, I had to bail out when the score was 4-2 in my favor, as my daughter was waking up, restless and upset in the middle of the night. I was going to concede, but my opponent graciously understood and offered a mutual exit. So thank you, Dungeon Twister comrade—we were having a worthy brawl.


Acquisitions

Board Game: Dominant Species: Marine

Dominant Species: Marine
My P500 order came in, including this game as well as errata components for Imperial Struggle (another game I've not been able to play yet). DSM (as I'll call it) looks fascinating. I'm not sold on losing the programmed worker placement that I loved in Dominant Species, but the Evolution and Trait cards look awesome, and the unique shape of the starting map seems like it has some potential. I have some vaccinated friends who want to come play this, so as soon as it's safe, I'll report back with my thoughts.

Music

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Cure For Pain / Morphine: I've been jamming a lot of whole albums this month, but this was the standout. Every track is a winner here. Pure 90s alternative rock, with the guitars replaced with saxophone. Maybe it had just been a while since I last listed to Morphine, but I was just stunned with how well it all stood up, largely based on the late Sandman's powerful vocals and driving bass. Try out "Mary Won't You Call My Name?" or "Let's Take a Trip Together."

Podcasts

I have a couple of good pods I'd like to share. First is the Chapo review of Louise Linton’s film Me, You, Madness, which delves into the sheer insanity of the premise, execution, and creator's backstory involving this flick. I've yet to see the movie, but I doubt that it will fail to top my expectations after listening to this review, which analyzes both the vacuous nature of the film as well as it's almost accident critique of class politics.

I also stumbled across a new pod still in its genesis called Solidarity Policy Podcast. I've enjoyed what I've heard from it so far, especially this debate between Matt Bruenig and Oren Cass concerning how children should receive benefits from the government. Just a basic read on the two debaters should indicate that I come down on Bruenig's side, but I also think he has some direct policy points that Cass is never able to respond to soundly, largely because they might make him look heartless. Definitely worth the listen.

See you space cowboy...
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Thu Apr 1, 2021 3:10 pm
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