Come on in for Next of Ken, where all I can say is...."DAMN YOU, MICHAEL BAY!!!!"
Screams break the silence Waking from the dead of night
We went and saw Transformers: The Dark of the Moon over the holiday weekend. I really wanted to see X-Men: First Class, but the showtimes didn't line up for when we needed to be back home.
Looking back--as hopefully we're talking the end of the Transformers "trilogy"--it's shocking just how little progress has been made in the quality of these movies. As in, it's the exact same level of quality as the first two. Almost exactly. That alone should tell you whether you need to go and see this one.
Here's some of the highlights...many of which you've probably come to expect from these movies:
- An overly convoluted and poorly explained plot that crumbles under the slightest scrutiny (and in this case, contradicts the plots of the first two movies, an amazing feat).
- A lot of needless human bullshit in a movie about giant robots. Seriously, it's about giant robots beating the hell out of each other.
- A almost fetish-level depiction of the military. I swear, Michael Bay must get erections looking at pictures of machine guns.
- The movie overstays its welcome by half an hour, at least. The movie is over 2 and a half hours long. Seriously. I'll bet Michael Bay really thinks he just made an epic worthy of the Lord of the Rings saga.
- Characters yelling and screaming things like "RUN!" and "GO! GO! GO!", meant to substitute for drama and excitement
- Shit happening for seemingly no reason; Autobots and Decepticons appearing and disappearing whenever convenient to the current scene
- Gratuitous slow-motion shots
- Characters that are somehow less than two-dimensional
- Not enough of what you paid for--Optimus Prime kicking ass--though he gets some cool moments
- Speaking of Prime, he's no longer a noble warrior, but a bloodthirsty murderer, at one point shouting, "Kill them all!!!"
The movie has crazy pacing issues, too. Like wasting ten-fifteen minutes on a useless subplot about Sam getting a job, being interviewed by none other than John Malkovich, hamming it up desperately. You've got an action climax that lasts 45 minutes, but there's a lull in the middle of the movie that is completely, deathly dull. You've got plot holes that you could drive a truck through. You've got Francis McDormand--Academy and Tony-award winning actress--somehow roped into this (I'm assuming large amounts of $$$ involved.)
Look, I'm a sucker. I know this. I was crazy to expect the movies to somehow improve, for Bay to maybe listen to some of the criticisms and make these movies better. Then again, he's probably rolling naked in $100 bills and snorting cocaine off an insanely expensive hooker's stomach, so I'm sure he gives a rat's ass about my opinion about any of his movies.
I feel exactly like I did about the second movie--turned my brain off, enjoyed it for what it was, wished it were much better, and never really needing to sit through the whole thing ever again.
So whatever your opinion was of the first two Transformers movies, that's pretty much going to be your opinion--and my recommendation to you--for this one. Me? I'm hoping for a reboot in five years or so. Please?
I did see the trailer for the newest Mission: Impossible movie. This one sort of snuck up on me. Will this be the one that gets people over the fact that Tom Cruise is batshit insane? The jury's out, but the trailer itself looks pretty good. Check it out:
Forever in love you're on the run
I managed to get in quite a bit of gaming over the past week, holiday weekends are freaking awesome that way. Here are the highlights:
Kintei-Go: I'll start off with one that's a bit obscure, and that's the Shuffleboard-esque Kineti-Go (). I got this one in a trade late last year and had been waiting until I picked up some shuffleboard powder before giving it a go.
It's this huge wooden board where players take turns using magnetized shooter and pucks, sliding their pieces down the board and trying to land in one of the six scoring zones along the sides of the board. There's a catch, of course; the board has magnets all along the path that repulse the pucks at certain points, and the pucks are naturally repel each other as well.
What happens is that usually your shots will veer and bounce in unexpected directions, and it could take quite some time to master shooting accurately.
I'm not a huge dexterity game fan, far from it...mostly because I suck at them. I like Crokinole well enough, probably because it's best played with a liberal dosing of beer. Kineti-Go though is a winner as well, mostly because of how great of a family game it is. And, it could easily be played with a liberal dosing of beer.
Here's a video of the game in action:
My kids had a blast playing this. They loved watching the weird shots, and it was impossible to predict how their pucks would go. They'd cheer when they bounced daddy's pieces out of the 3 point zone, and groan when the puck would take an odd bounce and end up coming right back down the causeway to them.
One thing that wasn't a blast though--shuffleboard powder. Somehow, we managed to get that stuff everywhere--on the floor, in the chairs, on the couch, in the kitchen...so I've got to think of a better system to avoid that whole situation. We ended up boxing it up again for now, until I can get a stand for setting it up outside.
These guys are still selling boards, sometimes packaged with stands, on Ebay. Their prices have come down from when they first were published. It's a decently-priced alternative to more expensive dexterity games, and kids are going to be all over this one. Mine are already asking to play it again, so I'm going to have to figure out the powder thing pretty quickly.
Earth Reborn: My brother and I managed to play through Scenario 1 for Earth Reborn. All I can say at this point is...wow.
The rules look overwhelming when you first try to dive in, but the game's scenarios take this into account and gently teach you the game bit by bit.
I took the role of Frank Einstein, who turns against his Salemite masters and attempts to rescue Lt. Vasquez from her cell. Problem is, he starts the scenario locked in a cell, as Jeff Deeler suspects the creature had been falling for her.
Seriously folks, the first scenario alone had more story and narrative than pretty much any other miniatures skirmish game I've ever played. Jeff was on the toilet when he heard the crash of Frank's cell door, and the monster was loose. Jeff tried to engage him head on, inflicting a couple of minor wounds, before he got his head smashed against the wall.
The zombies outside were drawn to the noise, including Jack Saw. They tore the front door off and were shambling inside. Frank noticed one shuffling toward one of the cells, and made his way there--only to find it empty. (Vasquez's location is a secret from the NORAD player.) His second guess was better, as he opened her cell door as the zombies started to surround him. Vasquez was able to disentagle herself and run for the door. Jack Saw was waiting and took a vicious swipe at her, injuring her badly. All thoughts of continuing the fight were gone, but thankfully she only had to escape off the map, which she did by sprinting the next turn.
Frank was still inside the complex, so his fate is unknown.
It was a great game. Lesser games would have contented themselves to be pretty much everything that Earth Reborn is in its first scenario. An interesting combat system that takes facing into account, a cool order system that lets you combine what you want to do, it's really, really good.
Being taught the game in pieces is brilliant. The character cards were initially busy and alien to me, but now I recognize defense, health, the close combat values and facings, and CP bonuses and limits.
We could've probably started at a later scenario, but I wanted to drink in the experience and start slowly, and I'm glad I did. This is a freaking excellent game, folks. If you can still find deals on it out there, jump on it. It's an orgy of plastic and cardboard with a brilliant system underneath, and I'm just scratching the surface. When someone mentioned that other companies might have been content to release this game as a base game with three or four expansions, they weren't kidding. There's a lot of stuff here, and the stuff that I've seen so far is excellent.
Cyclades: Jeremy and I then dug into a quick game of 2-player Cyclades. I like Cyclades--it's fast-playing, gorgeously produced (when you say Asmodee, you might as well say, "Insanely well-produced"), and just the right depth for what it's trying to be.
What it's not, though, is a terrific two-player game.
I think that Cyclades has the potential to truly end several turns before it actually does, at least for two players. Because of the zero-sum nature of the game as a two-player contest, as one player grows stronger, the other must naturally grow weaker.
My brother and I traded a few battles early, and I seemed to have an advantage. Then, he was able to start boosting himself economically with Apollo, and I miscalculated one turn and he was able to take my juicy three-point island (2 natural, +1 from Apollo.) From there he was earning over twice the money that I was. I tried to ensure that he had to overpay for certain roles I knew he wanted, and I was able to get a large fleet, only to have the Kraken turn up. I had no way to outbid him there, so he sank my fleet for a few measly coins.
Sad part was, he had no Metropolises and I had one at this point. But all he had to do was outbid me for Ares, stifle my military growth, and drive me from the game that way, but that would've taken forever. Frustrated, I conceded rather than ride that death spiral.
I was thinking later how I should've holed up on one island and used Apollo to boost my gold, and wait for my brother to start spending money on buildings. But like I said, all he had to do was bid on Ares and my troops were forever stunted.
I think Cyclades is a great, fun game--but I think that it is truthfully meant to be a multi-player game. It's an unfortunate consequence of two-player games in general sometimes. Once one is down, the other can pounce at will, and there's little incentive not to. With multiple players, if you pounce on another player too aggressively, you leave your flank open for another foe, so you have to temper your attack.
It has fantastic bits, a cool theme, awesome miniatures (the monster miniatures are top-notch), has plenty of conflict with dice-rolling, and is a case of a DoaM game playing quickly even with multiple players. Yeah, there's Euro elements in the bidding and building; but as the buildings have generally military uses, and bidding power often comes through military conquest, I think that's acceptable for a game like this.
Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League: We capped the game night by squeezing in Perry Rhodan. This is one that came recommended from a few users on the Fort, and I had tossed it in a large order several months ago.
Advertised by fans as "Merchant of Venus Light", the game has two players using their spaceships to deliver goods back and forth between planets, trying to score points and be the first to 70. Along the way, you can drop off passengers, purchase technology to make your ship better, and try to maximize the efficiency of your routes.
It's a nice, compact 2-player box. It's a little weird to see the Z-Man logo on a small Kosmos square box.
My brother took this one as well, racing to 70 before I could catch him.
What did I think of this one? Eh...it's kinda okay, I guess, but it really is an optimization exercise. There are a handful of cards that can affect your opponent, but for the most part you are just trying to be more efficient than your foe, making for less interaction that I'd like.
Purchasing technology is cool, because you have to make a choice. These tech boosts cost you points, and the more tech you have, the more points it will set you back to get more tech. These include allowing you to fly farther, warp between planets, make deliveries from orbit (saving you movement points), and so on.
I'm pretty sure I bought tech and didn't get my full use out of it, and I think that mostly cost me the game.
It's pretty harmless, and I like the theme, but unless I dig in later and find a whole lot more game here, it's not one that is going to come out all that often. It's a decent filler with a cool theme, and that might be enough to carry it for some folks. I'd recommend trying before you buy.
4th of July Gaming: On the 4th of July itself, we went for a cookout at my grandmother's. After eating burgers, brats, and veggie skewers, we got in our usual standbys of Rook and The Great Dalmuti.
I was late joining in Dalmuti, but managed to translate a Great Peon into one spot removed from Lesser Dalmuti, where I stayed for the next couple of hands before some folks had to leave. From there, we transferred to Rook.
Despite the wealth of trick-taking games I've played in recent months, I'm not sure that I've found one I like as much as Rook. I know that there's a healthy dose of nostalgia there, as I've played it a ton with my dad over the years, but there is something in the familiar simplicity of Rook that will keep it coming back to our table time and time again. My wife and I took both sets, with her bailing me out more than once.
We also squeezed in a game that Jeremy had played during Trashfest with Loter, a game called "Conspiracy." This is an older Milton Bradley game, where players take the role of heads of state (London, Washington, Peking, and Moscow) and have $10,000 to invest to get the spies (with names like "Mrs. Bea Havin", "Ahmed Car", and "Peking Tom") to do theirbidding, moving the top secret suitcase from the center of the board back to their headquarters.
You have a sheet to keep track of your investments, and on your turn, you can either move one of the spies on the board, or invest in one spy. To invest, you simply write down the amount you want to invest in that spy; limit one spy per investment action.
If you move a spy, any other player may challenge your action. If they do, they announce an amount up to the total they have invested in the same spy. If you have at least that much, you can respond, "Covered!" If they can't overcome your amount of investment, then their challenge is unsuccessful, the spy takes his action, and the challenging player loses their next turn. However, if they're successful, you have to move the spy back, and effectively lose your own turn.
So players take turns putting money in these spies pockets, all trying to get the briefcase moved back to their headquarters. But if you invest too much in one spy, there is a risk--another spy can assasinate a spy on the same space, for $1,000. This is an action that can be challenged like any other, but this time you need enough money on the spy pulling the trigger to stop them.
It's pretty evocative of the whole nefarious spy game, where spies pocket your money, only for you to find at a key moment that one of your enemies has made them a better offer.
We had a particularly bloody game, where SIX of the eight spies ended up dead. I was lucky enough to have a decent amount of money on one of the two remaining spies and waltzed the document back into my HQ for the win.
It's great, especially for an older game. It's all about bad accents, bluffing, and feints and counterfeints. We brought the southern belle accents from Trashfest into this one, waving the air from the vapors and declaring, "Covered! COOOOVERED! Covered and smothered!" when someone would try to challenge a spy that was solidly in our pockets.
The plastic spy pieces are busts that are humorously two-faced--both for theme, and visibility. Seriously, you can't trust any of these guys. It might be tricky to get folks used to the idea that they don't control any of the spies...my son asked more than once when we were teaching him, "Which spy is mine?"
You can find copies of this really cheaply online. It's a rare case of a fun mass-market title, and if you've got a group of four gamers of like-minds, you're going to have a blast with this one.
That's going to do it for this week's edition. As always, feedback and comments are welcome. Till then, I'll see ya in seven.
Ken is a member of the Fortress: Ameritrash staff.