Come on in for this week's Next of Ken, where I'll be talking about our adventures in seeing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; recent gaming exploits with Nexus Ops, Death Angel, and Fzzzt!; a preview of what's heading to the table soon including Sentinels of the Multiverse and Pantheon; and a discussion about what elements of games appeal directly to me. Join us, won't you?
This is the tale, of Captain Jack Sparrow
Finally got around to seeing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides at the dollar movies this past weekend; yeah, I'm a cheap date, what can I say?
Best I can manage is a "meh, 'sokay"--not sure what anyone would expect from a fourth installment of a franchise, but this wasn't bad by those (albeit flimsy) standards. It's safe to say though that at this point, it's only really for big fans of either the franchise in general or Johnny Depp in particular.
Completely wasted was Ian McShane as Blackbeard, who looked bored and completely lacked any of the menace of either Barbosa or Davy Jones from the previous movies. There was a token effort of giving him powers with a magic rope-manipulating sword (uh...yeah) and the ability to make zombies out of a few of his crewmembers, but that was it. For a couple of bucks, it was enjoyable. But if you're interested in watching it, it's a Redbox for sure.
The funniest things about seeing the movie this past weekend are completely unrelated to the movie itself, though.
First up, there was a group of four people there, completely dressed up in pirate gear and guffawing at pretty much everything Cap'n Jack said. I mean, hey, the last thing any of us should do is make fun of people for their hobbies; if we do, we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves first.
The problem though was this--Pirates 4 is several months old. And on top of that, it's actually been at the dollar movie theater for about a month or so.
I understand dressing up for opening night. Heck, I understand being poor and waiting for it to first open at the dollar theater. But...to randomly show up four weeks into its run...at the dollar theater, no less...dressed in costume? Um...okay.
The other part was after the credits. My wife and I were walking down the steps when it hit me that there had been an after scene in each of these movies. We sat down again and I used my Blackberry to quickly search and see if it had a post-credits scene--check, it certainly did. So we sat, along with what appeared to be 6-8 people near the front.
Suddenly my wife said, "Oh. My. Gosh." I was puzzled, she said, "I'll tell you later." So we watched the after-credits scene and walked out.
She then told me that she realized that the people up near the front were apparently engaged in oral sex with each other. Yep, just right there in the theater.
Now...step back for a minute and think how this looked from their perspective. The credits roll, the pants drop. They see a couple walking down the steps, but they suddenly sit down again, closer to them than before.
The man pulls out his Blackberry and fiddles with it for several seconds. Then, the couple sits and watches the proceedings.
Yep, pretty sure the Front Row Movie Orgy Gang thought that we had a seat, got our jollies watching them, then filmed the whole thing.
But seriously...who does that? Really? Besides Alanis Morissette fans?
"What was the name of that one Johnny Depp movie, eh? Blow?"
The Poker Makes Me Broker Every Saturday Night
Another weekend, another Saturday game day as my brothers and I got in some solid gaming. First up Jeremy and I played Death Angel while we waited for Jarrod to arrive. It had been awhile since I played it and it was Jeremy's first time playing.
I really enjoy the game, but the rulebook for some reason makes the game much more difficult sounding than it is, so it's difficult to get into the rythym of the game. We were sort of stumbling through at first, but then we really got going. I mean, it was a cakewalk. Brother Claudio's Heroic Charge was slaughtering the baddies left and right, and he never failed his roll until near the very end (it's only 1/6 chance he bites the bullet when pulling off that move.)
The final room was the one with the Control Panel that can burn through blip piles, and here's where we later found out we made a rule mistake--we were doing a little congo and having one member from each of our teams activating the panel. A couple of good rolls and those blip piles were gone. It's difficult to say how much this affected things, though. Our first legitimate activation of the Control Panel cleared out 5. We had no 'stealers following us thanks to judicious use of Doors and Brother Claudio's ridiculous ability. Anyway, it was an easy win, but with an asterisk.
Jarrod arrived right about the time we were wrapping up and we dug into Nexus Ops. It was Jarrod's first game, but he caught onto the rules very quickly. It was an extremely bloody game even by Nexus Ops standards, as we all went toe-to-toe.
Jeremy and I got into a big border war that had us constantly reinforcing with Rock Striders; it was a battle that seemingly would not end. We were all at 10 or 11 VPs and searching for that last one. Then, Jarrod left his flank vulnerable, and Jeremy played an Energize card, Force Marched some Dragons over, and easily claimed his last point.
Nexus Ops is awesome, but I think it's at its maximum best when played with 4. With 3, you take your eyes off of either player, and that player profits. Even so, it's a great game.
My wife got home while we were playing Nexus Ops, so when we were done, we drug out Survive! She and I had played it before, but neither of my brothers had. Again, this was a visciously bloody game (the family that slays together stays together?) as we were tossing monsters at each other left and right.
Erica had taken offense to my moving a shark near her, and soon a chain reaction was unleashed where we were killing off each other's pieces with reckless abandon. I think I got the last word when a Sea Serpent cornered a boat with two of her pieces in it and devoured the whole thing.
I should, however, remember at how badly I perform at memory games...I had managed to get several of my dudes off the island, but half of them were the value 1 pieces. So I think with six guys off the island I managed a whopping 11 points. Turns out I placed a couple of high-value dudes on the high ground, and just, y'know, kind of left them there. Seemed like a smart strategy at the time.
Survive! is a game every good AT gamer should own. Stronghold did a fantastic job reprinting this game--it's gorgeous to look at, easy to play, and cutthroat as all get out.
We cooled off with a game of Fzzzt! Fzzzt! (exclamation point theirs) is a very light bidding/pseudo-deckbuilder where cards come off the assembly line, and you use your cards to bid on them. If you win the bid that card gets added to your deck, improving your bidding power.
The cards have VPs on them, and that determines the game winner. There are also Production cards you can bid on that let you match up icons on your robots in sets to earn even more bonus points.
It was a great filler, but I think it has too few turns. I am going to hunt down the 5-6 player expansion, but use it to add two rounds to the game. It's a fun game that would be perfect to play with kids. Some planning, some bidding, some risk-taking, and light deckbuilding, all in like 20 minutes. And it's dirt cheap, too--12 bucks or so on Amazon.
Definitely a nice game day. We played stuff that was all on the lighter side, but sometimes, that's okay too.
I Want to Live Like a Free Roamin' Soul
There are a couple of games I'm getting prepped for hitting the table soon. I just got a review copy of Sentinels of the Multiverse, the new cooperative superhero game from indy company Greater Than Games.
It looks really interesting. There are 10 different heroes, each with their own decks. There are also four different Villains, each with their own decks, and last but not least, there's an Environment deck, that simulates the hazardous environment where the battle is taking place.
Players work together as heroes, trying to pile on the damage to the villain and take him or her down. But from the villain deck, there will be surprises, henchmen, and other devious plans. All the while, the environment is working against you--whether its the ancient defenses of Atlantis or the hostile, unforgiving terrain of Mars, random events will happen that can sway the battle in one direction or another.
The artwork is colorful and, in my opinion, done very well. The hero cards look like thefront covers of comic books, and while several of the heroes are well-know tropes (A Superman clone; a man who can use a mystical staff to turn into a god; a female Batman clone), the art is rich and there is plenty of flavor text humorously attributed to various fictional issues of their respective comic books.
I'm hoping to get this played over the next couple of weeks and give a full review. Right now though, my first blush impression is this...the game looks to provide all the fun team-up, beat-down the villains co-operatively gameplay as the Lord of the Rings LCG, but with less overhead and creaky moving through phases. Sentinels has play a card, use a power, draw a card, next turn. Of course you don't get the deckbuilding experience, so we'll just have to see how this one plays out. Just with fiddling with the cards and reading over the rulebook, I'm inclined to like it so far.
I also just got finished stickering my Hammer of the Scots. I stupidly, stupidly traded away my copy a couple of years ago--a copy that I had, y'know, stickered myself already. So I get another copy in trade this year, and hey, I get to sticker it all over again!
It's a fun game that I've only ever gotten to play one time, and that was with someone who wasn't clear on all the rules. Now that all the stickers are done, I'm looking forward to playing this again.
Moral of the story--don't trade games unless you are absolutely, positively sure you're done with them. Don't be a dummy like me; I did it with both Hammer of the Scots AND Nexus Ops. Yes, feel free to ridicule me now.
Last on my list is a copy of Pantheon that Jay at Rio Grande Games sent me for review. It's a weird "light civ" game (using the term "civ" very, very loosely) where players use feet meeples (I'm not making this up!) to create the paths of their people over the course of several different civilizations.
Along the way, you'll build monuments, curry the favor of the gods, and, uh, buy wooden feet meeples.
This one looks like a medium-weight Ticket to Ride style game, with a few wacky god powers and things like that. Ticket to Ride has always, always been a big hit with everyone I've played it with; it's yet to be seen if the extra game elements in Pantheon pushes it out of range of those type of gamers, but still remains too light to entice serious gamers, as the theme is definitely pasted on to a large degree.
We've got the B. Brothers' Boardgaming Birthday Bash here in Tennessee on September 24th. If I'm not too busy running around getting folks settled in, I hope to get a metric ton of games played that day. Stay tuned, you know I'll give you all the details.
But I Observe the Inner Qualities to Serve the People Properly
It dawned on me not long ago when trading PMs with a newer member that the Fortress has really, really grown in terms of membership. When I'm in the management console, I see unfamiliar names logged in all the time--which is great (and if you're one of those readers, I hope you'll come out of the lurking shadows and join us in article discussions and on the forums!)
Anyway, for the people who've been reading my stuff since the earliest blog days--or even before that, when I did reviews on Boardgamegeek--you generally have a good idea of the types of games I like. So you can read some of my off-the-cuff opinions and interpret that in such a way whether you'll know if a game is right for you or not.
However, for readers who have joined us along the way, I'm not sure that I've ever truly given a proper frame of reference to the types of games I like and enjoy.
Since you're reading a site devoted to AT, you know that I'm a gamer that often thrives on theme. I used to think that I preferred Euros to not have themes if they were to be pasted on, but I discovered that a good theme can help wash down any mechanic. I would rather see rules that tie in heavily with thematic elements, though. That means that some of my favorite AT games are those that are nearly impossible to retheme, such as Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit and War of the Ring. For Euros, a good theme will reel me in, like in Sylla, a game I tried recently and enjoyed.
In terms of theme, I like all the typical ones you'd expect. Sci-fi, fantasy, zombies, giant robots, terminators riding dinosaurs, that sort of thing. And even though they're played out as hell, I still enjoy an ancient Greek/Roman theme as well. Roma and Cylcades both come to mind in those cases.
One more note on theme--I want my theme to be, "Win." Not "Impress the F'n provost." I have no idea why people would, after a long day of working, would want to come home and play a game where they have to kiss the ass of some in-game boss. The Provost can lick scro for all I care.
I also need a degree of randomness in my games. While most AT games feature randomness as an inherent part of their design, the only type of Euros I enjoy also feature randomness. It's why I can play Agricola with is random distribution of cards in the standard game, but can't even fathom what enjoyment anyone would get out of the "family" version, where all of the randomness is essentially removed.
Dice--oh, how I love dice. I like tossing them, rolling them, waiting on that battle result, hoping to crush my foes or even waiting on a miracle result that will save me from certain doom. I especially like it when dice are used in creative ways; I'm a big fan of Quarriors and I've always enjoyed the innovative dice combat resolution that Descent/Doom features. However, I absolutely despise games that use dice badly. In Risk, one bad roll is no big deal, as you're going to roll the dice up to 100 times a game. However, in games such as Kingsburg and Stone Age, one bad roll is more difficult to mitigate as there are fewer of them. To cap it all off, a bad roll is far more punishing in either of those games than one roll of a pair of snake eyes in Risk. Most Euro designers fail badly when they try to design games with dice, unfortunately.
Cards have become very much en vogue, but as a former hardcore CCG player, I welcome the trend. I'm not as big on card combat resolution unless it's done well, such as in Middle-Earth Quest and Starcraft. But otherwise, I enjoy the options that having a fist-full of cards gives you, and the variance that they bring from game to game.
Speaking of cards, I am also a big fan of cards that can be used for multiple purposes. I think this started for me with Star Wars CCG, which had cards having different uses based on whether they were in hand, in your Force Pile, or drawn for a weapon shot. For this reason, I am naturally a fan of card-driven wargames, though I've only seen fit to play the lighter designs such as Hannibal: Rome Vs Carthage and Twilight Struggle. Euros can do the multiple-use card thing as well; San Juan immediately comes to mind as a game that I enjoy where cards serve different purposes depending on where they are and how they use them.
Because of my affinity for cards, that means I'm a big deckbuilder fan. I've heard the arguments how it isn't the same as CCGs, and I will admit that in terms of depth, the deckbuilding options aren't there yet. But so long as a deckbuilder has a nice amount of direct conflict and tons of options to change up from game to game, I'm all for it. This keeps me playing games such as Nightfall and Puzzle Strike, two of the best in the genre.
Asymmetry is a big deal for me. In my opinion, having asymmetrical sides gives you more game for your buck. If you have a game with four different armies to play, what you have is four different games to explore. Games like Twilight Imperium, Chaos in the Old World, and A Game of Thrones are all enhanced by having different factions to play; sitting down as House Lannister is a radically different game than playing as the frosty Starks. Boom--from a personal perspective, there are five different ways for me to play A Game of Thrones--six if you toss in Clash of Kings.
Conflict. Interaction. I need it in my games. Sure, there are rare exceptions where I'm okay with very subtle interaction (like the aforementioned San Juan), but most of the time I want the option to attack you.
For the most part, I'm not a big into the games where everyone has their own little private board, they play their own game, and at the end they see who did the best. That's the kind of game you could each play at home alone and then phone the others and chuckle at how you milked two extra points through your brilliant play, uninhibited by, y'know, those pesky other players. I think Agricola is the only exception I have to this, and that's because at its heart, Agricola is a fairly thematic game (worker placement cock-blocking aside.) You're not going to catch me playing stuff like Princes of Florence or Goa--forget it, man.
Lastly, I think one of the elements about games that I enjoy is the narrative. A natural progression from start to end, whether that be thecapabilities of your character, or the technology of your army, or the abilities of your cards in play, there should be a flow from beginning to end. Those are the kinds of games that tell a story just by virtue of progression. Theme plays a big part in that, especially where it allows the imagination to close the gaps between what's happening in the game and what that represents in terms of the in-game story.
That's probably why I like sports games so much. Sports games by their very design are thematic as they attempt to depict the actualsporting contest; the level of abstraction differs, but the premise remains.
Sports provide a natural narrative--the first inning of a game is different than the ninth; a flurry of offensive scores puts one side on its heels as it tries to react, and quickly; and there's nothing like the proverbial bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the ninth situation for intense drama. Even a one-sided blowout provides a story of its own.
While there are exceptions to the rules above (and what are rules without exceptions?), and other game elements that I'm not covering in minute detail, that should hopefully convey better my tastes in games, and provide a tint to the game opinions and reviews I'm spouting off weekly.
And that's going to do it for yet another edition. Comments? Feedback? Always welcome. Until then, I'll see ya in seven.