You sank my Barnestorming #13!
On the Table
This week at Cracked LCD I’ve reviewed Battleship: Galaxies. Prepare for disappointment.
It’s not a bad game. It’s actually a pretty fun one, and it’s built on a stunningly editorial design that works in some rather unexpected detail like boarding parties, personalities, and distinguishing ships by class and experience levels. Unfortunately, what was cut turns out to be the more important stuff like firing arcs, hit locations, facing, energy distribution, and other elements that really kind of define the tactical space combat genre. It’s not hard to figure out why all of that kind of stuff was cut given that it’s those sorts of things that bloat rulebooks and Galaxies is intended to be a product that straddles the mass and hobby markets. But some things wouldn’t have been that hard to implement in a one or two page advanced rule set.
The only people I can see this game really appealing to as-is are those who have no experience with better tactical space combat games, children, and people that want to spend a lot of time and energy continuing the development of this game with modifications, variants, and homebrew add-ons. I don’t have the time or inclination for all of that, and I don’t buy a $70 game that’s a fixer-upper out of the box.
It looks great of course, and I defy anyone to see it set up on a table and not immediately want to play it. There’s some really nice things about it, but as a whole it’s a letdown and I’d recommend that interested parties wait and see on it. Expansions may help, but there’s got to be some advanced rules or something to make it worthwhile.
I’ve played a bunch of new-ish stuff lately other than Galaxies, too…most of which will turn up in full reviews but in brief:
Small World Underground is more Small World with a couple of new features like Popular Places and relics- definitely a must-have if your group plays a lot of Small World. It’s a full game on its own and it can also function as a big expansion for the rest of the line.
Ascending Empires really is a cross between a finger-flicking game and Master of Orion. It’s really neat. I got completely destroyed because I couldn’t keep up with the pace of it and my flicking skills are terrible. Frank took over like 2/3rds of the map in our game on his custom board, that had a strange leathery look to it that kind of creeped me out.
Barons is interesting, a simple-ish card game that feels like a cross between Irondale and Glory to Rome. I was totally lost for the first half of the game, but once I started seeing the combinations and how to plan the layout it made sense.
K2 was pretty decent- it seems really easy at first but man, it gets grueling toward the end. One of my guys died, the other petered out one step away from the summit before the game ended. There’s a couple of silly gamey elements like the highest player having to reduce their cards by taking a token, but it’s got a nice old style European game feeling. It looks great too.
Next week’s review will either be Underground or a two-fer for the new AEG expansions, Thornwood Siege for Thunderstone and Martial Law for Nightfall.
On the Consoles
Bastion may be one of the best games of the year. It’s the first of XBLA’s “Summer of Arcade” titles and it’s going to be a tough act to follow. I’ve only played about two hours of it but I’m kind of blown away. It’s definitely a homage to the SNES-style action-RPG (think A Link to the Past or Secret of Mana), but it’s in no way old fashioned or kludgy. It’s very modern, highly stylized, and it has a very unique approach to telling its story with a narrator that describes what “The Kid” is doing in the game along with suggestive monologues that give background to the setting and events of the game. It’s exceptionally well-written with some surprisingly smart word-play- “what do you say to a man who’s seen too much?” I really have no idea what it’s actually about so far, but as more pieces fit in, it’s becoming more and more compelling.
Gameplay is typical action RPG, but there’s lots of VERY different weapons that each have upgrade paths. Abilities are boosted by plugging in certain spirits (as in booze) at a distillery in to ten slots, with experience levels unlocking new slots. At a shrine you can install idols that increase the difficulty of the game to increase the XP distribution. There are levels for each weapon to test your skill and offer prizes. Apparently there’s a new game plus, and I can see where you’d want to play it since there’s so much to see and do in it.
This is smart, smart stuff. It brings forward a lot of classic design elements but it’s not idiotically retro or atavistic. Nor is it full of throwback references or wink-wink jokes about old school games. I’ll likely review it at NoHS next week, if I can beat it before Catherine gets here.
I also reviewed Warhammer 40k: Kill Team. If you like 40k, there are much worse ways to spend $10.
On the Phone
Another dead week on the App Store…I’ve played a lot of Kard Kombat though, it’s fun. It’s really simplistic though, and I actually found myself going back to Orions 2 to get into the depth that game offers with very similar play. But KK is good for a little five minute match…the AI sucks, I’ve been completely running the table against “Expert” level. There’s a couple of combos in my card set that just can’t be beat, and direct damage is almost always the way to go.
On the Screen
Doubled down this week and watched the Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World. I had not seen it since I saw it in the theater, and I absolutely hated it. Watching it again with no expectations to enjoy it whatsoever, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it even though it is really bad. It’s a total mess. Whereas the first film had a lot of heart and felt really focused, the second feels slapped together and scattershot with something like 30 characters running from the dinos…and then there’s that gymnast girl. What the hell were they thinking? On top of it all, you’ve got Jeff Goldblum delivering one of the most “what the fuck am I doing here”performances in the history of cinema and Julianne Moore, who at the time was really more of an indie actress. And Peter Stromare and Vince Vaughn. What a weird cast.
Anyway, I really liked that the film had a higher than usual quotient of Spielbergian Moments of Unexpected Brutality and the dinos looked just as great as in the first movie. I like all the terribly cheap looking custom dinosaur hunting vehicles, and I love the paleontology in-joke of having a Robert Bakker-like character get eaten by a T-Rex. Then there’s that whole mini-Kaiju stompin’ scene in San Francisco at the end.
It’s bad. Really bad. But it’s fun and strangely watchable as a B-grade dinosaur adventure. I’m going to watch the third one this week. Never seen it.
I’ve also got 13 Assassins and Black Swan sitting by the PS3 so I’ll try to get to those too.
I may as well change the name of this section because it’s where I’m listening to just about everything these days.
I decided this week that I wanted to revisit the entire Swans catalog since I saw that they’re coming to town again. I was at their “final” show in 1997 here in Atlanta and it was one of the most intense, incredible live performances I’ve ever seen. Young Miss Barnes will be here a few weeks before the show, so I won’t get to go. But by gum, I can listen to all of their records at least.
Some background- Swans were a NYC act lead by Michael Gira that were mostly lumped in with the No Wave scene. Yet they really didn’t get into that whole James Chance/DNA skronk-jazz disco thing and they also didn’t approximate anything like what post-punk acts like Sonic Youth were doing at the time either. Those bands were all very downtown, Swans were very sewers underneath downtown. Their original sound was a devastatingly brutal, single-minded slow-motion crunch-scrape that wasn’t so much industrial as it was foetidly organic, with bass and drum throbs, metal percussion, pulverizing single guitar chords, and Gira’s painful bellowing about filth, cops, bodies, money, raping slaves, and other sunny day topics.
Listening to the early records- “Filth”, “Body to Body”, “Holy Money”, “Greed”, “Cop”, “Young God”, and so on- one thing that’s really striking is how much Godflesh completely ripped off the early Swans sound. I could play some of this stuff to a diehard Godflesh fan and say it was early demos and they’d believe me. You can definitely hear where this stuff influenced English grindcore- Napalm Death’s “From Enslavement to Obliteration” for example definitely has a Swans-like element.
What’s also striking is how grueling it is to listen to all of these records and nothing else for a week. I have to say that this was one of the most exhausting weeks of music appreciation I’ve ever experienced. This is not summertime barbecue music, and if your idea of music is that it should be about fun, love, and happiness…never listen to this stuff. It’s harsh, hugely inaccessible, and it makes calling bands like Metallica “heavy” or Tool “dark” a joke. This is dead serious, dead dark, and dead heavy music. But it’s not heavy metal at all. It’s barely even “rock” by any definition.
But then there’s 1987’s “Children of God”. Gira started singing in this Cash-like baritone rather than shouting and he was joined by the female performer Jarboe, and the malicious approach of the past albums gave way to gentler sounds including some awkwardly beautiful folky passages and some stunningly sophisticated and complex songwriting. The old ways are still there- opening track “New Mind” is just as relentless and muscular as anything on the older records- but the record is definitely a turning point for the band. It’s also one of the best albums of the 1980s.
I’m building up to listening to Swans’ latest release, which is the only record of theirs I’ve never heard before. I can’t wait to hear what the track “You People Make Me Fucking Sick” sounds like.
No more, bye.