Come on in for Next of Ken--TV and movie news and reviews, and a bunch of boardgame talk. But not enough Swayze. There can never be too much Swayze.
Here We Are Now, Entertain Us
This week continues the summer movie season with the release of Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides. This is the fourth movie in the bajillion-dollar franchise, but it's somewhat risky as it follows the somewhat bloated At World's End, and also because Will and Elizabeth are no longer part of the story, their adventure having concluded in the third film.
Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow is the main star of the show, and I'm guessing that Depp enjoys the steady (and sizable) paycheck.
My wife has been playing catch-up with the previous movies, and we'll likely finish up watching At World's End tonight. Then we'll sneak off for a weekend show, and if we do, I'll be sure to let you know my thoughts.
It does allow me to segue into one of the funniest things I've seen in months...folks, I give you none other than Michael Bolton, whom you will never see the same way again.
Speaking of catching up, we finally got our cable installed so I've been watching A Game of Thrones. I finished Episode 2 last night, and I've got to say I'm really impressed with the job they've done so far. Sean Bean lends a touch of class to anything he's in, and the rest of the cast does a fine job at bringing their characters to life. Special mention should go to Peter Dinklage, whose portrayal of Tyrion Lannister is probably the most enjoyable of the bunch.
HBO has truly spared no expense, and the set design, costumes, and overall look of the show is fantastic. It isn't quite "movie quality" as advertised, but it is obvious the production was taken seriously. Also, being that the show is on HBO, they can go balls out with whatever blood, gore, and nudity is required for the story. Thank goodness for that, as if this show was on one of the main networks as a mini-series, it would be bastardized beyond belief, stuffed full of commercial breaks, have half the necessary story removed, the cast would be all twenty-something pretty boys, and it would get cancelled halfway through.
Of course, talking about cancellations, most of them are in, and as predicted both The Cape and No Ordinary Family aretoast. More surprising was ABC's announcement that they were cancelling V after two seasons--surprising because ABC let a non-LOST genre show go for two full seasons before pulling the plug. They hyped the shit out of this show, but either there wasn't enough of a following for it, or not enough of a following to maintain whatever twisted, warped sense of "success" that most network TV execs cling to. With TV viewing being as fragmented as it is with competition with Netflix, On Demand, Hulu, and so on, it's as if they're still holding on to what the 'old' definition of success is.
(I'm still pissed at ABC for cancelling Invasion several years ago. Sue me. BRING BACK SHERRIFF TOM UNDERLAY~!)
It's kinda like Hasbro in that sense--Hasbro would consider 100,000 copies of a game sold as not being worth their time, when most publishers and game developers would be ecstatic to see numbers like that. It's really stupid business, because as people get burned on shows they like being cancelled, watching new shows begins to feel like more and more of a waste of time.
Seriously, the networks are reeling and hopefully finally feeling the effects of some of this behavior. Of all the new shows that debuted this year, few of them got to stick around. People just aren't showing up in droves for the new shows, and can you blame them? Why invest in a show that is going to be cancelled in short order due to unrealistic expectations?
MOVIE TRAILER OF THE WEEK:
I have been pretty torn on X-Men: First Class. I like the idea, but I felt burned pretty badly by X-Men Origins: Wolverine, not to mention the overstuffed mess that was X3.
When I first saw still images from the movie, I remained skeptical. The guy playing Xavier just doesn't have the look. After some of the bad CGI in Wolverine, I also was pretty sure that this was going to receive further cut-rate treatment.
The new trailer, though? I gotta admit, I'm turning my opinion on this one too. It looks way better in action than it has on paper so far. Of course, Hollywood excels in the art of great trailers and shitty movies, but I'd be lying if I said anything other than I'll be seeing this one. It hits theaters June 3rd, check out the trailer for yourself:
It's Time to Play The Game
Alright, alright, so let's talk some boardgames. A little short-form train of thought this week, along with a bit longer review to follow and wrap things up.
- I liked Mousquetaires du Roy so much that I went online and ordered the Treville miniature from Ystari's website. Then naturally I scored a copy of Three Musketeers: The Queen's Pendants in trade after folks were talking that one up in my du Roy review. I haven't gotten to play it yet but hot damn, those are some cool miniatures. There's even one for Milady *and* Rochefort.
- I was sent the two new Summoner Wars decks for review--the two factions are Cloaks, and Jungle Elves. Summoner Wars, and by extension Plaid Had Games, has been one of the great success stories of the past couple of years. Long-time Fortress fan Colby Dauch was talking up Summoner Wars prior to its release in 2009, and the finished product delivered.
- Speaking of "We knew them when", I'm planning on getting some catch-up sessions of Cutthroat Caverns in from Smirk & Dagger games. To me, Cutthroat Caverns remains a testament of game design with its innovative blend of cooperative and competitive elements. The only negative I ever saw about the game originally was how fragile it could be if everyone didn't play it "correctly." None of the monsters were so tough that it really felt hopeless even if you were a man down, but more than that it was easy to fall into cooperative groupthink, where not enough backstabbing meant that all players cakewalked through the game and basically someone at random would win in the end.
How are these two thoughts related? Well, they're not the same scale, but you could totally play either game with The Queen's Pendants miniatures...except there's no Treville in TQP. Oops.
"I'm French! Why do you think I
have zis OUTRAGEOUS accent?!"
Still, it looks to be as advertised--old school hack'n'slash adventure fun, with some hidden elements as the Musketeers try to get the Queen her pendants, foiling the plans of Milady and the Cardinal while outdueling Rochefort and a slew of enemies. I'm going to try and get it to the table so I can tell you more about it.
I will say the box is hilariously oversized--it's even larger than the folded board (normally the culprit for too-large boxes.) You could honestly fit both The Queen's Pendants AND Mousquetaires du Roy in there...but I dig the artwork and cool deep red insert for du Roy too much to toss it out.
There's a lot to like about the game. You get all the fun of grid-based unit battling games like Heroscape without all the storage headaches--my starter set, map, and four decks, along with extra dice, all fit in a small shoebox. My Heroscape? Not so much.
It also uses some cool elements from other games, where cards in hand can be stockpiled to pay for other units and spells, and defeated enemies are also added to your spoils so that you can pay for other cards.
It's fast, furious, and confrontational, and these added faction decks do wonders to continually expand the game, but in an affordable, easy-to-acquire format.
The Cloaks are all about control and deception. They stealthily move all around the board with added movement bonuses. Their abilities are all about using superior positioning to achieve tactical advantage, something that is definitely missing from other factions. Take The Thief, for example. If he can successfully navigate his way to the opponent's back row, you get to 'steal' a card from your opponent's hand, putting it in your Magic Pile. It's a refreshing change from most skirmish games, where the two armies charge to the middle and exhange blows until someone falls. Now you've got to worry about this guy getting 'kinged' and robbing you of a key card.
The movement and positioning theme continue with The Jungle Elves, although they play more into a cavalry/archery heme. They have archers who can fire through other units, archers who can rapid-fire their arrows and shoot twice, and a Lioneer who can charge forward 7 clear straight line spaces--getting into the thick of enemy lines quickly. Their champion Makeinda Ru is much more powerful if she stays stationary and attacks, basically like an aimed shot. You're definitely going to be paying more attention to how and when you move, your avenues for charging, and how to string together effective ranged-attack "triangles" on your foes to take them down.
With a deluxe Summoner Wars set (yummy) and Mr. Bistro's Dungeon Run also on the way from Plaid Hat, things are definitely looking up for them. We at the Fortress can say, "We knew them back when!" Congrats to Colby, here's to continued success.
The expansions for the game have been top notch, though. The character-specific powers in Deeper and Darker were much-needed and welcome, and creatures like FEAR would really ramp up the challenge the longer he was allowed to live.
What was a huge boost I think was the addition of Events and Treasures in Relics & Ruin and beyond. The flavor they added is terrific, not to mention the additional risk, reward, and challenges they offer. It's true that some are pretty annoying (there's one forcing you to flip a coin during the encounter every time you attack, possibly taking damage on a Tails--that's a *lot* of coin-flipping) but those just add extra incentive to play those killing blows as quickly as possible.
I haven't had a chance to try the adventure modules yet, as they take longer and require a more experienced group. They are very much like the old Choose-Your-Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy books, but instead of rolling the dice or turning to a certain page to resolve an encounter, you handle these by playing the game. There appear to be special rules and encounters along with powerful boss characters--the latter being particularly welcome, as nothing sucks more than getting to the bottom of the encounter stack only to find some anti-climactic wimpy monster waiting to get his head bashed in.
Even after four years on there's still nothing quite like Cutthroat Caverns. It's affordable, fast-paced, and fun, with you cheering on your fellow players one moment, and the next cursing them as they stab you in the back, tripping you up and forcing you to miss the killing blow and those sweet, sweet presitge points.
Today's Featured Game: Heroes of Graxia
(Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this game.)
I'm probably the biggest deckbuilding fan on this site, so its no surprise I was sent a copy of Heroes of Graxia (Daniel Kroegel, Petroglyph Games, 2-6 players, 30-45 minutes) for review.
Heroes of Graxia is a fantasy-themed deckbuilding game where you take the role of one of six heroes, and from there you recruit an army, buy weapons, and acquire spells in an attempt to slay all the monsters threatening the land...or lay waste to other heroes and their armies who stand in your way of victory.
This is the first deckbuilding game I've played where it feels 'tired' to me. Whereas most of these games have offered something new and inventive, this game feels like bits of Thunderstone, bits of Dominion, and some of AEG's Warlord (which is weird, because AEG doesn't make this game.)
Your hero is like a champion in Warlord, and you'll equip him or her up with spells, swords, and armor, while plopping down heroes and henchmen to boost your forces. Every card doubles as Gold much like Thunderstone, so you can opt to either put your cards into play or discard them for purchasing power.
I do like the 'permanence' of having army units in play. That's the element missing from most of the earliest deckbuilding games--that feeling of those temporal shifts in what you had available to you at any given moment. That and Chaining are my favorite parts of Nightfall, and I do like that here as well.
Instead of having stacks of identical cards to buy from, you shuffle these into their four respective decks, and only four of each are available at any one time. Three of them are Spells, Allies, and Weapons; the fourth is the pile of monsters that must be defeated. The monsters form a line of four, but unlike Thunderstone there is no 'depth' to them--no penalties for fighting a monster farther down the line. Also unlike Thunderstone the defeated monsters do not get shuffled into your deck but are placed in your VP pile, and almost all monsters have what essentially is Thunderstone's "Spoils" mechanic where upon killing a monster you get some benefit, usually a free amount of gold to buy a set amount of cards from the display.
I like the variance that the limited number of revealed cards potentially has in terms of purchasing cards for your deck. In Dominion and other games like it, players often key in on the "best" cards in any given set, buying them almost exclusively while others gather dust. However, you may need some strength boosts and just have to choose from what's face up at that moment. I say "potentially" because honestly there aren't that many differing effects in the game--strength boost, defense/life boost, and dishing out wounds to other characters.
I will say that the game is not without its merits. The game comes in at a nice price, and its hyper-portable. Seriously, compared to your other deckbuilding games, you're going to do a double-take when you see just how compact this is. And there is direct player-on-player combat if you want it. This does bring me to one of the game's biggest negatives, however. The constant math you'll be doing from turn to turn can be extremely frustrating. You need to know, on every turn, how much strength you're wielding, and how strong your opponents all are in case you want to attack them. I've read others suggest that you use d10s to track attack and defense and that sounds like a great idea, but in practice, guess what? Miscounts and mistakes happen--did you remember to adjust your d10s after you played that sword?--so you end up doing the math every turn anyway.
The minis for the game crack me up. The game comes with six colorful decently detailed miniatures...that do pretty much nothing. They stand on your Victory Point pile and remind other players which character you are. I suppose that last point could be pretty handy with a group who plays the game a lot, and could glance around the table at the miniatures to quickly remind themselves who is who.
I know that most of this sounds middling-to-negative, but Heroes of Graxia can be fun for those who aren't already swimming in deckbuilding games. It's derivative and doesn't bring a whole lot new to the format, but its price, portability, and direct player conflict will certainly be appealing to some. Still, deckbuilding games have come a long way and in a burgeoning and crowded field, you really need to stand out to differentiate yourself. I'm already getting that "1995 CCG glut" feeling--it's coming, folks, I can tell--and in comparison, this is much like one of those that came out then, garnered a few fans, and then was quickly forgotten.
I'm hoping for better results with their big-boxed Guardians of Graxia game, which was also sent for review but unplayed as of yet. It appears to have little in common other than setting, being like a grid-based wargame almost, so I think that one has a much better chance of being a stand-out title.
It's So Hard to Say Goodbye
That's gonna do it for this week, folks. Thanks a ton for reading and please feel free to leave feedback and thoughts in the comments section. Until then, I'll see ya in seven.
Ken is a member of the Fortress: Ameritrash staff. Click here for more board game articles by Ken.