Barnestorming #19: Terrinoth Falls.
We got home from the hospital Friday afternoon. Everybody’s doing fine, including Scarlett Maia. The second baby is WAY easier than the first. You know what to expect, and probably more importantly what NOT to do.
River is still highly suspicious of her. I’m taking him down to Dragon Con for a couple of hours on Saturday, mom said it’s OK. If any of you are going to be there, let me know and I'll meet up with you. Probably no gaming, but I can at least sign autographs and pose for pictures with you. I figure I'm about as famous as some of the down-at-heel ex-celebrities there.
I'm back on the payroll at the antiques and collectibles site Worthpoint.com. They've asked me to write a couple of articles a month about board games, specifically more mainstream ones. The first thing my handler asked- "can you do something about Monopoly?" Of course I can, because I don't hate it like everyone else seems to. It's here if you want to read it- bear in mind it's super mainstream, written for people who neither know nor care who Reiner Knizia is.
On the Table
Last week, somebody- maybe it was San il Defanso- mentioned Barnes’ Best. I’m going to get back to it. I’m sorry I’ve left you guys wondering what you should like, I know you are looking to me for guidance and leadership and I don’t blame you, what with my impeccable taste. I’ve not done much editorial/commentary stuff lately because it’s been such a damn good year for releases, and I’ve been more inclined to review than to ramble. But yes, we’ll wrap up the Barnes’ Best series by Christmas time for sure.
But this week, it’s Rune Age on the slab at Gameshark. No, I don’t really like it all that much. I wanted to like it and I played it probably more than I should have for the review, but in the end it’s just such a ramshackle, cobbled together design. Worse, I don’t feel that Corey K. was really all that invested in the design. It feels like a homework assignment, and that assignment was to study other deckbuilding games and make one for FFG. It really isn’t all that novel. There’s bits and pieces from all of the other deckbuilding games with an overlay of FFG’s LCG design template. It’s definitely right-priced and the Runewars scenario is a mostly successful card game abstraction of a Dudes on a Map game, but there’s very little in the game to recommend it over Nightfall, Puzzle Strike, or even Thunderstone. It’s odd- more complex than other deckbuilders, but with fewer cards and much less dynamic play.
I’ve been tinkering with Flatlined Games’ remake of Lew Pulsipher’s Dragon Rage lately. I think it’s kind of awesome, so far. I never played the Dwarfstar original, but I’m really impressed by the combination of simple hex and counter gameplay and a surprising amount of theme. The setup is cool- mythical monsters (not just dragons) lay siege to a town (human on one side of the board, ork on the other). It kind of reminds me of Legend of Robin Hood in a way- it has that level of detail and a similar “cool” factor. One thing I really like is that the counters have new art on one side and the original art on the other. That’s a nice touch. For the record, Flatlined Games has a connection with F:AT- longtime member Eric Hanuise (think Mr. T in a sombrero) is behind the reprint and he did some revision work on it. Looks like he deserves our support.
There’s a horde of things on the way in the next couple of weeks- Gears of War, King of Tokyo, Cave Evil (can not fucking wait for that one), Super Dungeon Explore, Sentinels of the Multiverse…see what I mean? This has been an awesome year in terms of game releases. Lots of interesting titles, almost constantly. And there have been some truly fantastic titles in the mix- this year’s Game of the Year list is going to be very interesting.
On the Consoles
Still going through Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I’m playing on the hardest difficulty setting (“Give Me Deus Ex”) and I’m trying to use deadly force only when absolutely necessary. This means lots of sneaking, hacking, and talking my way into/out of situations. The stealth is really outstanding in the game, it’s the best I’ve seen in a while. And I _love_ the agency the game gives you to sort out your own way through tactical situations. I had one bit last night where I was trying to get into this apartment to grab some evidence of a crooked cop dealing with a street gang and I stupidly went in with only two stun gun charges and I didn’t have any of the energy-refilling bars so I couldn’t use my stealth mode. So I tried a couple of things and wound up alerting the guards in the room and getting myself killed numerous times. But then I grabbed a box, opened the door, and threw it. Dude came out to see, and I did a takedown on him. His buddy came to check on his fallen comrade and I had just enough time to recharge and take him down. Got into the room, hid under a table. Stun gunned the other two guys, and then took the boss out with another takedown. Awesome stuff, but it does have some trial and error to it.
I’ve also been playing some Street Fighter III: First Strike. I never played it before. DAMN, it’s good. I think it may actually be better than IV. The mechanics are more complex and the parrying creates an entirely different set of strategies. The characters are pretty weird apart from the core SF gang, but I am totally into it. I went out and bought another fight pad to play the game. Gamestop had the WWE ones on clearance for $20, so I have one with Hulk Hogan and some new wrestler I have no idea who is on it. Maybe it’s John Cena or something, I dunno.
I just got handed the review for the XBLA title Crimson Alliance. Fantasy dungeon thing. Might be good.
Oh…and next week…Space Marine. Ask Bill Abner to tell you about the Chainsword THQ sent him in the mail..
On the Phone
IOS is kind of on fire right now. I’ve picked up several games in the last week, all of which have been quite good.
Rimelands: Hammer of Thor looks like a Diablo-esque isometric RPG, but it’s really more of a Heroquest-style turn-based game. It’s really freaking good, with a very, very cool dice-based combat system that is, of course, like Heroquest with skulls and shields. Special powers give you rerolls, change die faces, add dice, and so forth. I really dig it, but I hear’ it’s short.
Spy Mouse is one of those games everybody will probably wind up with at some point. It’s cute. It’s a line-drawing stealth game done by Firemint, the folks that did Flight Control.
Quarrel is the unholy cross between Scrabble and Risk. It’s totally a DoaM game. When you attack a territory, however many troops you bring is the number of letters the word you make out of an anagram given to both sides can be. Letters are scored as in Scrabble. Ties are broken by the fastest player to come up worth a word. Dominating the map is the goal. It’s freaking brilliant, and probably the best IOS game of the year. The stronger opponents are really tough, too…but there is no multiplayer, which is kind of a shame.
Jetpack Joyride is worth a look. It’s a endless runner, but this time you’re using a jetpack propelled by downward machine gun fire. It’s pretty fun, one touch controls and lots of items and equipment to buy. It’s done by Halfbrick, perhaps best known for Fruit Ninja. This is way better than Fruit Ninja.
Then there’s Samurai Bloodshow. This is a super cool Plants versus Zombies style TD with artwork that looks like a Japanese painting. The really neat thing though is that it’s kind of a CCG. You have a deck of cards, and you have to play the cards (paid for with gold) onto the board to summon units. You can get more cards by winning or trading with other players…or, I’m sure, IAPs.
And…apparently, King of Dragon Pass is coming to IOS next month. Hot. Damn.
On the Screen
I haven’t watched much this week. Baby time, oddly, doesn’t interfere much with game time but it does seem to waylay movie time at least at this early eat-every-two-hours stage.
I did get in a viewing of Singin’ In the Rain last night, and that’s one of the great films of all time. Always a pleasure. This is one of those movies where if you don’t like it, you don’t really like movies. Great songs, phenomenal dancing (duh, it’s Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen), and some genuinely funny humor. It’s also bitingly satirical and smart…the first time I saw it, I had no idea it was about the transition in Hollywood from silent pictures to the sound era. I figured it was just some silly romantic comedy or something. That’s in there, sure, but there’s definitely some great writing and substance here as well. “Dignity…always dignity”.
I watched half of The Expendables as well. It seems like a great idea on paper and it is cool to see Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger on the screen together…but it comes across about like one of the not-so-good “monster rally” movies of the later Universal era. Jet Li is more or less wasted, Mickey Rourke apparently _is_ wasted, and there are more of those modern wrestlers that I have no idea who are. I was really surprised to see Jason Statham hold his own with the big boys, although the whole “girl trouble” subplot with him has no business in what should have been a balls-out, no girls allowed machofest. It really needed to be way over the top and even trashier than a Cannon film to succeed…it just isn’t. I think Stallone did much better with the Rambo reboot a couple of years ago. I may finish watching it, I dunno.
Every couple of years I get obsessed with “Good Vibrations”. This is one of those times. That song is just mindblowing. It’s got this amazing mixture of REALLY avant-garde stuff backed with pure pop, old fashioned doo-wop, and something pretty god damned close to the whole krautrock “Motorik” sound. And the Theremin. Spotify has lots of Beach Boys stuff, one item is some kind of “Good Vibrations” single that has some really fascinating studio outtakes of the song. On these notes, “Smile” is being released at last in November in a big honkin’ box set. Looking forward to hearing that, even if most of the songs have filtered out into their catalog elsewhere.
But mostly I’ve been listening to Wire, a band that put in the same strata as Joy Division, the Fall, Gang of Four, and other “absolute favorites”. They’re an amazing, sometimes difficult band that always surprises. I’m kind of working backwards through their catalog since I’ve already worn out cassette copies of “Pink Flag”, “Chairs Missing” and “154” back when I picked them up in a Camelot Music clearance bin for fifty cents a piece circa 1992. Before that, I assumed “12XU” was a Minor Threat song.
Their newest album from 2011, “Red Barked Trees” is fucking _incredible_. It’s the best thing I’ve heard all year, and it’s shockingly fresh for a band that’s been playing art punk, post-punk or whatever since 1977. I think it may be there most accessible record to date, but it’s hardly a sell-out or compromise- it’s still bracing, aggressively performed music, but the hooks are incredible and the production superb. Of particular note is a Graham Lewis-sung number called “Bad Worn Thing” that sounds something like Roxy Music crossed with classic Wire. The first line is something about a jam sandwich. This record definitely hearkens back to “A Bell is a Cup Until it is Struck” and other late 1980s Wire cuts, but it’s less abstract and obtuse. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it sounds just as vital and progressive as everything else they’ve ever done.
Finished. Next week, Quarriors. Check the forums for my END OF THE WORLD sale for some stuff I’m ditching in the meantime.