Guaranteed protection against Vampires, Barnestorming #17.
Well, there it is then. Kidney Stone Crisis '11 is over. Monday evening, after almost a week of abject pain. The damn thing presented itself rather undramatically and without preamble. Looks about like a peppercorn. Hell, maybe it is a peppercorn for all I know. Anyway, fit and working again.
On the Table
I thought Castle Panic was a neat little game back in ’09, I really liked how Fireside Games took it as a mission statement to do easy-to-play, accessible games with a family focus. I also really liked that they brought the tower defense genre to the tabletop in a quite effective way. Their new game is Bloodsuckers, and although I don’t think there’s a whole lot on offer for more serious hobbyists and I’m sort of disappointed that it’s a more conventional “contested locale” card game, it’s pretty decent. And I’m always down for anything where modern vampires meet the business ends of machine guns. It’s fairly inexpensive, and if it turns up at Barnes & Noble like Castle Panic it might find some sales traction. There’s some neat production stuff in the game like a cool easel, but I’m afraid most of you folks won’t find much to recommend it over Omen or similar games. The three to four player option is an essential differentiator, however. Review is at Gameshark.
Still playing an awful lot of both Quarriors and Rune Age. It’s official. Quarriors is Bunco for geeks ™. It’s not a bad game at all, it’s just not a very big one.
Rune Age…good grief. It’s a game that’s easy to get impressed with when you’re first encountering it, but if you peel back some of the great design ideas the game underneath kind of sucks. FFG bombed this one with their kitchen sink approach to design, packing in those four very different scenarios and trying to make it a “one size fits all” package with such a small cardbase. If you’ve got fixed cards in each faction that have special abilties that are either useless or effectively useless because they don’t work in the solo, co-op, or economic gameplay modes, then something has gone wrong. The game feels completely soulless- overdeveloped, overstudied, and overstretched. The Runewars scenario (which is basically the only one that should have been in the box) offers some good PVP play, but when there are no combos to discover and the best you can do in terms of customizing the drafting pool is to to switch out a Dragon for a Demon, limitations become very apparent. Expansions won’t help. I don’t want anything that expands the solo, co-op, or economic games, but because of the nature of the game any expansions will have to suit all of the half-assed gameplay options. I’ll do a proper write up next week, but it’s defintitely going to take a beating. I’m disappointed, because the first plays were promising. There is a good game here, it’s just been…well, FFG’ed to death.
I finally got a copy of Shark thanks to Juniper. Yay!
On the Screen
I’m working on two assignments right now. One is the XBLA title Toy Soldiers: Cold War. It’s pretty great, in some ways better than the first if only because the 1960s-1980s era is more colorful and the gameplay feels slightly more refined even if fairly identical. There are some fun new ideas though like “Barrages” you earn from getting combos. One is the ability to control this Rambo action figure that hollers one-liners while mowing down Commies. It’s fun stuff, one of the best tower defense games out there bar none.
The other is El Shaddai. I don’t know what it is about the Japanese and games where you run in a straight line until you get to an arena area, then you mash a button until everything dies, then you run again. It isn’t particularly “beautiful” at all, in fact it’s mostly been pretty ugly and the taste level is low. The Book of Enoch trappings are perfunctory at best and the gameplay is about as shallow and repetitive as it gets. It feels like the game is really, really pretentious, but then there’s nothing there aesthetically or intellectually to back it up. This is looking like a pretty low score for me unless things change. I’m kind of dreading having to go back downstairs and play it again, if it weren’t for a review I think I’d pack it up to send back to Gamefly.
Those jeans are apparently a Big Deal in Japan. Like that means anything. That's a country that had a national craze over the Gremlins movies like, five years ago.
On the Phone
The best deal on the App Store right now is that you can get id’s Rage HD for free. Which you should. It’s a fun, well-implemented rail shooter with surprisingly good graphics. It’s really a hype-builder for the upcoming full-game release of Rage, but it’s definitely worth $0.
I bought some IOS games this week for the first time in ages. Defender of the Crown seemed like it would be a fun blast-from-the-past…it wasn’t. In fact, I can’t believe I used to think that game was good. Majesty fares much better on IOS, I really liked the PC game but I am disappointed that they “cuted” up the graphics somewhat, the interface is WAY small for the phone, and the tax collector no longer says “tax collector” in an incredibly smarmy voice. But it’s Majesty, no doubt. I also picked up Palm Heroes 2, which is Heroes of Might and Magic for the iPhone. Not “like” or “inspired by” Heroes of Might Magic. It _is_ HoMM. Damn close to HoMM2. Even text boxes like “A group of goblins seeking greater glory wishes to join you” are EXACTLY the same. I’m surprised there isn’t a C&D letter on a desk somewhere over this.
On the Screen
Caught up with two from the 2010 backlog. Tron: Legacy and True Grit.
Black Barney said Tron: Legacy sucked, blah blah blah. But that guy is wrong about EVERYTHING, it could have something to do with his status as a Canadian, I don't know.
I loved it. It wasn’t a great film, it wasn’t as iconic as the first one, and the story actually makes the concept make even less sense, but it lookedamazing, had some INCREDIBLY great costuming and art direction, and plenty of Tron pRon. And Daft Punk. My favorite moment of the entire film is in the End of Line club when Rinzler and the gang bust looking to scrap. Fight breaks out and there’s discs flying all over the place. Daft Punk, the DJs in the club, look at each other as if to say “we've got the right cut for this” and they put on “Derezzed”, the best song on the score. Awesome. I smiled through the entire film. Lots of fun for the Tron fan. Minor detail I loved- in Flynn’s arcade, above all the din of the machines…”prepare to qualify”. That brought back memories.
True Grit was likewise just a fun, effortless movie made by folks doing what they do best. It’s still second shelf Coen Brothers and it’s impossible to watch without the specter of John Wayne hanging over it, but it’s a massively entertaining, laid back picture with stupendous writing (love the highly stylized dialogue), acting, and camerawork (Roger Deakins is the best in the business). I found that it was genuinely funny and I loved how organic it felt, like Cogburn just sort of opening up to Mattie out on the trail unprompted, as if he’s been waiting for somebody just to listen to him talk. I did think the somber music was a miss, it was a little too Assassination of Jesse James for the picture.
I sent a request for a copy of Barons to Cambridge Game Works a couple of weeks ago and their responder asked “hey, did you get Cracked LCD from the Ladytron song?” That’s the first time anyone has asked me that, I think. The answer, of course, is yes. I’ve been digging into their records and in particular their recently released 00-10 collection. I can’t believe this band is a decade old. I saw a comment one of the writers at Pitchfork.com (I know, I know) made about them, that there’s a reason you still hear about Ladytron but not about Fischerspooner, Peaches, Miss Kittin, or any of those other early 00s synthpop/electroclash acts. And there’s a reason Brian Eno claims that they’re his favorite current band.
I adore Ladytron, and I think they’re probably my favorite English pop act of the decade. I liked but didn’t love their first album “604”, which I thought was a little too sterile and soft for my tastes. But I still used songs off it for some film projects and I did like the singles from it quite a lot (“Playgirl”, “He Took Her to a Movie”, “Commodore Rock”). But “Light & Magic” found them welding that ultra-chic runway synthpop sound to something closer to shoegaze, sounding closer to Curve or even My Bloody Valentine but still with big dance beats and that cool, Kraftwerkian sense of detatchment sold by the female singers.
“Witching Hour” was another quantum leap in their style. With this record, which I think is hands down their best, they brought in this epic, widescreen style not unlike M83 but much more rock oriented and propulsive. Add in some tasteful goth aspirations, more guitars, and a sense of drama and you’ve got a killer record. If you listen to just one Ladytron song, make it “Destroy Everything You Touch”. It hasn’t been since the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” that synthpop has gotten that super over-heated sense of melodrama and theater quite right. Every song on the record is a winner.
The more recent “Velocifero” has some great material on it too, this time the big addition is this vaguely Lee Hazlewoodian, “desert” sound. There’s a definite twang to “Ghosts” and “Versus”, and the record is at once even darker and more rock than even “Witching Hour”. Highly recommended, but the others should come first. New LP this year, there are a couple singles from it on Spotify. "Ace of Hz" bodes well.
Next week, our baby girl arrives. Now THAT’s Barnestorming.