What's more fun than a shark tank? Barnestorming #16
In my Kidneys
Bear with me, this is the first Barnestorming I’ve written while under the influence of prescription drugs. I never take medicine for anything, opting for natural and homeopathic remedies…but I’m contending with a 4mm kidney stone that’s taking the scenic route out. Tuesday night I started feeling sore on my flank and within an hour I almost couldn’t walk. It was so painful I threw up. So I had to wake up my wife and River to take me to the emergency room- the first time I’ve been to one in literally 20 years. CAT scan showed the offending object. Now I’m just waiting, hopped up on oxycodone.
On the Table
Chaostle is one of my favorite games of the year. It’s tacky, overproduced, and in bad taste in almost every way imaginable, but it’s so, so good. It’s a middle finger to all of this talk of “sophisticated” games and “elegant” mechanics. It’s just good old fashioned roll-and-move fun. It’s not a stupid design at all, however. In fact, I think there are some quite smart things about it like keying events to the die rolls rather than spaces on the board (other than the magical healing frog). The multiple paths are cool, the skills are fun…and it does all of this without any cards, heart counters, or reference sheets required. All you need is your character card and some pegs to track upgrades and health. I can’t wait for an expansion. Review is at Gameshark.com.
While convalescing last night, I put in something like eight games of Rune Age. I have very mixed feelings about it. There are definitely some great things about it, but it also feels like an overcomplicated, “kitchen sink” design that pretty much draws on all of the other deckbuilders. There’s mechanics and ideas pulled from pretty much all of them, just slyly repackaged and recontextualized. There’s elements of everything from Thunderstone to Ascension to Nightfall in there.
It does play well- at least in the competitive scenarios. The co-op and solo games kind of suck. I’ve decided that I do not like the scenario card concept. It’s limiting and restrictive, and it practically makes the game require expansions to increase replay value. Other deckbuilders organically generate the “scenario” through the cards available. Rune Age only has three common cards you can buy in each, and all of this promise of “narrative” deckbuilding is smoke and mirrors. It’s just as abstract as the other games. It just has more flavor text.
I dunno, it’s a hard call. I like the three resources, I like some of the combos (although they’re very scripted and sort of hard-coded into the racial cards), and the PVP is nice. But there’s so much clutter to the design, like having cards wounded, destroyed, or discarded, three kinds of combat, cards that have limited use in co-op or solo play…I’m going to play it a bunch more before I review it. I actually think it feels more complete than most of FFG’s more recent games and it’s reasonably priced, so there are positives.
On the Consoles
Not much shaking on the consoles this week, just waiting for El Shaddai to hit next week so I can write it up. I’ve been tearing it up on Halo: Reach matchmaking. Lately I’ve really gotten into Team SWAT- no shields, no sensors, no grenades. All DMRs and magnums. It’s a very skill-oriented mode, quite rewarding when you do well.
On the Phone
Big Kard Kombat update this week that adds a bunch of new cards and four new mages. I bought it, even though I’m barely through the second tower campaign.
A couple of interesting games hit the App Store last night. One is Anomaly: Target Earth. It’s sort of a Tower Defense in reverse- you’re the creeps. It has some very interesting concepts- you set up your convoy formation before the mission, then you plot its course in a Rainbow Six-like screen that you can alter over the course of the level. You trigger powers like repairs and smoke screens to guard your guys by tapping an area and it creates zones of effect. I’ve just played the first few levels but it’s looking really, really good.
Also Zen Wars. It’s Rampart. Not “like” Rampart, it’s Rampart. Albeit with a cartoony art style. It plays pretty well although the controls on the iPhone screen aren’t the best, and it follows the exact Rampart model. Fire cannons at interlopers, then rebuild walls with Tetris-like random pieces. And it’s all timed. The guys that did Legendary Wars did this, so it’s polished and well-implemented. There’s multiplayer but I haven’t tried it.
On the Screen
I watched an utterly amazing Japanese horror/ghost film this week- House. It’s a Criterion Collection blu-ray of a 1977 picture. It’s an absolutely insane story about these girls with names like Gorgeous, Kung Fu, and Fantasy that go to this house that more or less eats young, unwed girls. But it’s not “J-Horror” at all. It’s almost more of a kid’s film.
The director was a commercial director and a visual artist hired on to make something like Jaws. He consulted his young daughter, who gave him all of these horror scenarios. The result is that the film looks, plays, and feels like a horror story a child would write, it’s very much from a kid’s perspective. This makes it very unique, surreal, and sometimes completely illogical. Assailants include a piano, firewood, and a stack of futons.
I think every in-camera special effect trick available in 1977 was used in making the film. Chromakey tinkering, Technicolor manipulation, puppets, superimposition, painted backgrounds, trick lighting, hand-drawn animation, stop motion…it’s all very psychedelic, artificial, and unreal. There’s no other film I’ve ever seen that has a look like this, and some of it is completely off the rails.
It’s easy to dismiss as just a weirdo cult film, but it’s really quite well made. Everything about it is highly stylized, including the acting. The girls in it are all non-actors, and it imparts this real sense of naivete and clumsy energy that’s strangely infectious.
It’s been a long time since I’ve really listened to Front 242. A couple of months ago, my friend Billy Motion and I were talking about the old EBM scene and he claimed that 242 wouldn’t hold up well today. I went back via Spotify and listened primarily to “Geography”, “Official Version”, and “Front by Front” and I think he’s dead wrong.
Front 242, far above most of their peers, really had a sense for writing good songs and capturing a futuristic atmosphere tinged with a militant style. Acts like Front Line Assembly didn’t have half the programming and hook-writing chops of 242. “Headhunter”, “Masterhit”, and “Quite Unusual” is all the proof you need. “Headhunter” remains the definitive EBM song and I don’t know if there’s another song ever written that more perfectly captures the Cyberpunk ethos. Listening to these records made me want to play Netrunner.
I really like the old records too though- “U-Men”, “Operating Tracks”, “Special Forces”, and so on. They’re dated, but in a good way.
I saw 242 twice, once in the early 1990s on the “Up Evil” tour and later on in ’98 on the “Reboot” tour where they foolishly Prodigy-ed up all of their songs. Neither show was really the 242 I wanted to see, I wanted them to be wearing the goggles and umpire vests like they did in the early 1980s, with camoflauge netting draped over the synths.
Time for pills. See ya.