A Tribute to F:ATties- Barnestorming #32
On the Table
Geoff Englestein is not only the designer of Z-Man Games’ The Ares Project, he’s also a F:ATtie in good standing so he’s our first honoree in our Tribute to F:ATies. I think he’s on that Dice Tower program too. And holy crap, his game (that he designed with his son Brian) is actually damn good. In fact, I think it may be the sleeper of the year. Effectively, it’s a card game with a couple of piles of chits that manages to comprehensively model an RTS video game. The rules aren’t very difficult, but there are four unique factions and several layers at work including dice-based combat between A LOT of different possible unit types and a worker placement mechanic, at least for two of the factions- the hardy Terrans and the rock-worshipping Khoum. Out of the other two, one is a colony of space ants that have an evolution/mutation thing going on and the other is a giant robot that functions kind of like one of the Gammarauders.
The design is actually kind of nuts. It isn’t really like anything else out there, it feels at once like one of the more maverick 1980s wargames but also progressive and very modern. It also requires five rulebooks to function completely.
Unfortunately, it’s a terribly ugly looking game with some of dullest graphic design I’ve ever seen. But still, it’s a surprisingly good and possibly even great game that deserves more attention than it’s gotten after its showing at the summer and fall conventions. It’s a smart design, and one that again evidences Zev’s impeccable taste as a games producer.
At Swamp Castle this week, we played a couple of Frank Branham games. One was Meltdown 2020, which is very much a Survive-style game where you’re trying to evacuate people from the vicinity of exploding nuclear reactors and cart them to an airport via car, minivan, or helicopter. It’s a fun game because it handles the horror of nuclear catastrophe with a light touch and probably some kind of political agenda, but it’s not as good as Survive for a number of reasons. It doesn’t feel as vicious, and the possible blocking feels more accidental than willful.
I have no fucking clue who Lord Butterchip Rumpleminze is or the significance of Shankletwink the Protomage is in the Terry Pratchett books, but Ankh-Morpork was actually really good. It’s a really tightly designed area control game with very tight resource and unit budgets (it is Martin Wallace, after all) but it’s driven by some Dominion-influenced cards that allow for multiple actions and chaining effects for combos. It looks awesome, too. But I really don’t know the theme at all. But I do know now what it must be like to play Dune or BSG without any knowledge the source material. Of course Frank had the Cadillac edition with resin pieces and whatnot.
We finished up with Poseidon’s Kingdom, which is one of the most inscrutable and weirdly complicated games I’ve ever played. I don’t even know where to begin with this game. It’s equal parts Fucking Reef Encounter, Troyes, Fragor’s ant game, and an Etsy vendor specializing in Fimo sculptures of goofy sea creatures. For half the game I had absolutely no clue what the hell was going on. For the other half I had absolutely no clue why were still playing the game. I kept looking longingly at the Lupin III and Lamborghinin games, which Frank cruelly witheld from us. Burn in fire.
Finally, for the second part of my Tribute to F:ATties, here’s a huzzah for EvilGit for trading me Claustrophobia. I played a couple of solo rounds last night and I think I actually underrated the game in my review of it nearly two years ago. This is really a great game. Getting the expansion tomorrow.
Oh, and Frank dropped a bombshell on me. Metro 2033 board game coming early 2012.
On the Consoles
Dark Souls. See you in January.
On the Phone
Infinity Blade II is really, really, really good. The improvements over the first one are minor but significant. The structure is more complex even though it still has that repeating “Groundhog Day” thing going on. There’s more of a story involved too, which is more of a science fiction thing. I think. The combat is still just as awesome, combining Punch-Out!!! with QTEs and an almost rhythm game flow. The new gems that buff your equipment add some nice inventory management/optimization, and the selection of sword/shield, heavy, or dual wielding gives you three very different fighting styles. The production quality is through the roof, and I think it may be the very best console-style game on the platform. It works because it completely stays within what works best on IOS, and it wouldn’t work elsewhere.
On the Screen
A bunch of worthless shit. I somehow watched most of Predators, the recent Robert Rodriguez-produced entry in a franchise that isn’t nearly as interesting as some folks make it out to be. I thought the movie was borderline unwatchable. The casting was horrendous- Adrien Brody doesn’t make for a good tough guy and at this point casting Danny Trejo as anything other than a joke at this point is, well, a joke. I sat through like 45 minutes of a complete rip-off of Lost- completely with a mysterious, non-English speaking Asian- before a Predator was even shown. And then it just got WORSE. One thing that really stood out in this picture was how utterly shitty the prop guns looked. Seriously, could they not just swing for a couple of Airsoft guns rather than make these silly looking fakes? The whole thing looked and felt like any number of amateur movies some guy makes out in his backyard.
On a more “litrachooya” scale, I also watched Never Let Me Go, which was also borderline unwatchable. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more boring movie in my entire life. A bunch of English teens and young adults talking softly in soft lighting about how their organs are going to be harvested (“donated”) and they’ll die (“complete”). The book won a bunch of awards from high-minded people who read novels instead of books and probably refuse to call this story science fiction, which it is. But the movie…good god, I’d rather watch the Republican debates.
For redemption’s sake, I watched the great documentary Burden of Dreams, about Werner Herzog’s filming of Fitzcarraldo. It’s heartbreaking to watch because people that make movies today aren’t nearly as passionate, ambitious, or dangerous as Herzog was when he was in his prime. An amazing documentary about an amazing film. The behind the scenes footage of Kinksi is awesome, and listening to Herzog literally saying that he wants to put 60 people’s lives on the line to move this boat up a mountain is just insane.
Finally, we come to our third F:ATtie who gets their name in lights in this installment of Barnestorming. It’s Raiken, better known as Brady Sadler. He’s mostly a lurker but a longtime member here that also happens to work at Fantasy Flight along with his brother Adam, who is the man responsible for designing the Descent 2nd edition. Adam and Brady are also in a band, and Brady sent me a message asking if I wanted to check out their band.
Now, usually that’s about as advisable as asking me if I want to hear about your D&D character. And seeing as their band is very D&D influenced- they’re very much an epic fantasy power metal band and Brady specifically thanks his bandmates for bringing his D&D campaigns to life- this could have all gone terribly, terribly wrong.
But the brothers Sadler (Brady on drums and Adam on bass) along with no less than six other metal warriors are Lorenguard and their just-released record is “Eve of Corruption- The Days of Astastia Part One”. It’s just about as “gamer” as rock n’ roll gets, and there are even Fantasy Flight-quality illustrations of the bands in character with cool fantasy hero names in the linear notes. It’s also a concept album that ties into Brady’s upcoming fantasy novel and the lyrics are very narrative-driven.
The record really kind of took me by surprise. As far as power metal goes, I’m not nearly as invested in the genre as I am in black metal or old-school bullet belt thrash but I do appreciate some of the better acts in the genre (Gamma Ray in particular). But I found Lorenguard to actually be some of the best power metal I’ve heard to date, and I would rather listen to this record over anything from Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, Kamelot, or other high profile acts doing the whole post-Maiden/post-Helloween epic, conceptual fantasy metal thing.
What struck me most about the record is the quality of the songwriting- there are some _killer_ hooks and despite the complexity of the music there are plenty of memorable, “hell yeah” moments where performance, production, lyrics, and passion come together. The first three tracks in particular are just outstanding, with “Eve of Corruption” serving almost as a kind of anthemic overture for the rest of the record, followed by the thrilling thrasher “Upon the Burning Isles” and the folk-influenced “Greenstone” that has the best chorus in the set. The remaining seven tracks rock pretty hard too, with a nice variety of textures, tempos, and classic metal moves ranging from proggy keys to King Diamond-like wails.
Above all, I found the record to be a very fun listen and even though it’s the kind of thing that could drift way to far into po-faced seriousness and silliness, it doesn’t. I think there’s an authenticity here in terms of the fantasy content that isn’t very common in these kinds of bands. These guys are singing and playing songs about fantasy that they’re invested in and you get a sense that there’s a unity in the story they want to tell. It’s not just window dressing or empty Tolkien-worship. Some of this does, I think, have to do with there being active gamers in the band that are involved in this kind of storytelling and narrative in board game and RPG mediums.
The enthusiasm these folks have for barding it up about Astasia, Lockrian, and the Burning One is infectious. It’s a fun record that sounds gigantic and heartfelt, with a tremendous widescreen aesthetic that doesn’t sound at all like a self-produced debut record. Given some exposure and airtime, I think Lorenguard could emerge as one of the top bands in the power metal scene. This is great, modern heavy metal, and if the power metal genre in particular butters your bread then you’ve got to pick this record up.
There are a couple of ways to hear/buy the record if you're interested- Lorenguard.com is a good place to start.
Next week- a Double Dungeon Dive Double Feature.