Barnestorming- Reiner Knizia: Master of Theme, Impulse, Destiny, 12 Years a Slave

Barnestorming- Reiner Knizia: Master of Theme, Impulse, Destiny, 12 Years a Slave Hot

Michael Barnes     
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All Hail the Master of Theme.

On the Table

Who’s up for a Thursday Throwdown? Read “Reiner Knizia: Master of Theme” at Nohighscores.com, then come back here to tell me that I’m wrong because the civilizations don’t have names and special powers in T&E or because gamers somehow decided that "theme" just means "characters, settings, and visuals" and that's the way it always has to be.

It’s time for this nonsense about Knizia’s themes being “pasted on” to come to a screeching halt. The sad irony is that most games considered “dripping with theme” are really just “dripping” with pasted on artwork, proper names and other frills to give the appearance that the generic mechanics under the hood mean something.

But the main game on the table right now is Impulse and…well, I’m flummoxed. It’s a brilliant design. You can definitely see the genius in Chudyk’s deconstruction of the space 4x genre into a deck of action cards and a couple of plastic spaceships. It is definitely in line with Innovation in terms of creating a kind of impressionist take on a much larger game concept. Yet it totally feels like T3, Eclipse, etc.

I’m just not sure if I enjoy it. I’m not quite sure where the fun is in it. It’s VERY cold, despite there being direct conflict, lots of interaction, variable turn orders and so forth. Not necessarily because the planets are abstracted to the point of literally just being a circle on a card, more because you are persistently aware of the mechanics. Some of this may have to do with only having played it five times so far with a solo game in there too. Some of it may have to do with the fact that this game is really not like anything else you’ve ever played and it’s virtually impossible to play it without having the rulebook out.

Kind of like an Eklund game in some sense, but Chudyk’s layout and visual design is a million times better. And Impulse is really a pretty easy game when you get through the “otherness” of it. Very fascinated, very intrigued by it…but it may be missing soul.

A few games of Municipium, mentioned briefly in the article above. Wow, I really like that game. Super simple, easy to set up, fairly easy to explain but with a couple of interesting quirks. Pity about the artwork, which is that GOD AWFUL Mike Doyle crap. I actually played a prototype of the game about 10 years ago, back when it was called Adventure League. Which was a much cooler and fun setting than Rome. But it’s a really good game- kind of a Knizia take on area control with a really volatile board state and lots of jostling of position to pull of that one risky play.

I wound up with two copies of Five Tribes inbound (a shipped preorder and notice that DoW was sending me one) so I traded one with the designer of Heroes Wanted for Abyss and a ding-and-dent copy of his game. So score there. In the Shadow of the Emperor is coming too, it was a cool ten dollars. GF9 just rang and said that Blue Sun is on the way as well.

On the Consoles

Looking at the 14 hours of playtime, you would never guess that I had Destiny literally in the car to take to Gamestop no less than three times over the past week. I kept going back to it, putting it back in and getting completely wrapped up in it before some aspect of it put me off. But now, right at the cusp of level 20, I’ve made my decision on it. This is a GREAT game.

If you read the Internet (not recommended), you’ll see that the general consensus seems to be that Destiny is disappointing, that it doesn’t quite blend MMORPG and FPS gameplay well, that the story is terrible and that it’s repetitive.  Yet somehow Borderlands, which matches all of the above statements, is venerated as a high water mark for recent games.

It is definitely a slow-burn, long-tail game. Play even five hours, and you’re not even getting to its best material. You’ve got to earn your way into the endgame. The good news is that it’s not a grind, because the gameplay is uniformly excellent. The missions are pretty much the same thing over and over again, but the truth of it is that missions in FPS games are almost always the same anyway. It’s just that in Destiny it’s more obvious.

Right now, I’m on Mars and I won’t spoil the new baddies that have turned up but let’s just say that any reader of this Web site will find them familiar. They’re really cool. I love that one of my favorite things about Halo- how different races/classes of aliens act differently- was brought forward. I really like the Vex, a horde of robots that march at you like Terminators and freak out when you headshot them.

The strikes are really good- very challenging dungeon missions that you take on with two other players. Yeah, the bosses are bullet-sponges. But there again…you’re playing and FPS. That’s what happens.

Multiplayer has been criticized as barebones, but I’m glad it is. I couldn’t care less about COD leveling systems, cosmetic upgrades, 20 different match types but only three good ones and so forth. I do think it needs to have something like Halo’s BTB games though. I really like the Skirmish mode- three man teams, you have to revive your downed guys. Fast, fun, and it fosters cooperation even without voice comms. Which I just do not do.

It’s unfortunate that the internet decided to dogpile this game. There is nothing that “sucks” about it, it’s as refined, expensive and supremely polished as any AAA game ever made and in some ways more so. But it’s also devilishly experimental in some ways.  I think about half of the design is quite literally the future of console video games. The other half is a mix of legacy elements from the past two generations and some things that are really too tentative or perfunctory to work. Yet.

But yeah, when I’m not playing that, I’ve been playing the new Reaper of Souls add-on for Diablo III. After mentioning it last week, I couldn’t resist picking it up. I even did something I’ve never done, I bought the digital copy off the PS store so that I would always have it. Started a new game using the Crusader, who has some pretty great abilities and uses the new flail weapon class. I don’t like that they took out the ways that you could sort of fine tune the difficulty because I’m finding it a little easy so  far (end of Act I on Hard), but it looks like overall there’s lots of great new content.  I think at this point, Diablo III is better than II and it may be the best H&S game I’ve ever played.

On IOS

Lots of Ticket to Ride. I got really hooked this week on it. The AI is too easy, I’m mostly going for the achievements and high scores which gives the game legs after you’ve stomped the bots into the ground. I like doing ridiculous things like taking every ticket in the first draw. Really digging Europe and Switzerland too, wish they’d do more maps for the iPhone edition. Now I want a physical copy for my kids…we’d have to jimmy up the rules a bit to make it easier for them, but I think they’d dig it.

I picked up Talisman, which just got a universal update. It was quite timely, because I tried to get the Hellfire Club to play Talisman a couple of weeks ago but was rebuffed. So I’ve been wanting to play it, and I don’t really like to solo it. I got everything they had. Unfortunately, it still has that same feeling from the Prolouge, that you’re really missing out on the social aspect. Talisman definitely works best with live, F2F people. Otherwise you start to notice that the mechanics aren’t really very good!

I picked up Heroes of the Revolution too, a game about the Cuban Revolution. It looks really cool, but I feel like it needs an update to clean it up so I haven’t dug in yet.

On the Comics Rack

I tried to read Marvel’s big Summer event, Original Sin. I thought it might be fun with Jason Aaron writing an “all hands” superhero pageant…but MAN, it was awful. Some claptrap about the Watcher getting murdered and having his eyes stolen, then all this weird crap with Nick Fury. Not good at all.

I also read Grant Morrison’s other new book, Annihilator. I don’t know, it has some interesting things going on but I don’t think it’s going to shape up to be essential.

On the Screen

I watched 12 Years a Slave, and it was very good. Acting, production design and so forth was great. Photography was stunning. McQueen’s experience as a visual artist really shows in his compositions. He could very well be a major figure in cinema over the next few years depending on what his next projects are.

The problem is that I don’t know that the film really had anything profound, stirring or particularly novel to say about Northup’s situation or the larger social injustice of slavery. I mean, there’s not much nuance to the subject matter. Slavery was (and is) a human tragedy. That’s really all there is to it, and on that level I don’t think there’s anything in this film that say, Roots didn’t already explore. It was actually quite predictable in terms of what was going to be depicted.

But I do think the film caught a certain element that was unique, an almost Kafkan-like sense of a man caught up by a malignant institution and completely unable to communicate to anyone outside of it. I did also like the deeper exploration of the Epps’ psychologies, the schism around Patsy and Mistress Epp’s constant berating of her husband. That did get into some more “frontier” territory for the slavery film.

Ejifor was great, but he reminds me so much of an actor I used to work with that I would not be surprised if it turned out they were they same person. They aren’t, but they look and act EXACTLY alike.

Oh, and then Brad Pitt shows up as the sympathetic white guy and saves the day. Guess his producer credit bought him that.

On Spotify

Man, “Cut the Crap” is really bad. If you think some of the stuff on “Sandinista!” or “Combat Rock” is bad, you’re in for quite a shock.

Also spent some time with the just-released soundtrack to Beyond the Black Rainbow by Sinoia Caves. It’s really great, if you like anything from John Carpenter’s soundtrack work to Goblin to Tangerine Dream you should check it out. Very eerie, perfectly tuned to the visuals of the film. “Sentionaut” is probably the standout track. It does not have the cool song at the end of the film though, which must not be Sinoia Caves.

Barnestorming- Reiner Knizia: Master of Theme, Impulse, Destiny, 12 Years a Slave There Will Be Games
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