Strap on in for a big ol' dose of Next of Ken, where this week I'll be talking about movies The Thing, Kick-Ass, and Drive; Gaming Bites including quickie thoughts on Battleship Galaxies, 7 Wonders, and Animal Upon Animal; and I dish out a review of the excellent new BattleCON: War of Indines. Join us, won't you?
Whatever Tomorrow Brings, I'll Be There
Managed to get a few movies watched lately--it always feels good to get a few movies out of the mental "to watch" queue.
First up is the Ryan Gosling vehicle (haw!) Drive. The ads would lead you to believe that this was a balls-to-the-wall actioner, kind of Fast and the Furious without midgets or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Instead, it's a very deliberately paced film that's much more "art house actioner" than anything else. Whole scenes seem to drift by with little to no dialogue. It does serve to make the surprising amount of violence more shocking as it is delivered in unexpectedly staccato bursts.
It is so clinically cool and distanced that it feels more like more of a product rather than an organic story you want to be a part of or involved in. The ultra-violence really is the only thing that will rope you in with any sort of emotional reaction. There is one scene--the elevator--which is one of the better scenes I can remember from any movie in quite a while, from start to finish.
I can't say I enjoyed it as any sort of visceral thrill ride, but I did appreciate it as a film, and it definitely had its moments of very cool, very stylish brilliance. The glacial pacing will definitely put off anyone expecting what the trailers promised, that's for sure.
(Is there a pool for how many movies Gosling will appear in over the next two years? I imagine it's quite a lot.)
Next up, I finally, FINALLY sat down to watch Kick-Ass, which I've owned for quite awhile but just never got around to. In stark contrast to Drive, this is flash n' trash stuffed with pop-culture and action sequences that can cause someone with ADHD to go, "whoa, slow down there buddy."
I liked it but it was certainly junk food, though junk food with plenty of wit. It's a frenetic 2000's homage to some of the themes of Watchmen, just with a lot more dick jokes. And considering that Dr. Manhattan walked around with is big blue junk swinging the whole time, that's sayin' something.
Hit Girl really carries the movie with her bloody murderous sprees and a fouler mouth than that kid from Robocop 2. Anybody remember that kid? And holy shit, Nic Cage is in a movie I don't hate on sight. That's pretty much a modern miracle.
It teeters on hipster douchebag on occasion, but it really is a fun movie. The cinematic equivalent of cotton candy, basically.
Last up, seeing as how I'd been all in a The Thing mood after acquiring Mark Chaplin's PnP The Thing card game, I Redboxed the prequel (also creatively titled The Thing.) This is the story of what happened to that Norwegian research team, before Kurt Russell and company's Anarctic misadventures.
It was basically what all remakes have become--slick, well produced but without a genuine soul, and completely predictable. There was not a single twist or "Thing Out" that wasn't telegraphed from a mile away. None of the main characters were really allowed to develop much personality beyond Ramona and the asshole team leader (I guess the scriptwriter said, "Fuck 'em, they're Norwegians.")
It's serviceable, but utterly needless. My brother put it best when he said, "I don't need a movie to tell me what happened to them--the original already told me."
There are a few cute touches showing why certain specific things were how they were in the original movie. At one point, Ramona (I'm calling her Ramona, the movie didn't make a big deal out of who she really was) tells another character to leave an axe buried in the wall. It's an ax you see in the other film. Why does she tell him to leave it? Beats me. She might as well have winked at the camera and said, "Leave that there, it's supposed to be there for the next movie."
It did leave me thinking about CGI versus practical effects. 1982's The Thing had probably some of the most disturbing practical effects of that era. The new movie has what many would consider "superior" effects in every way, but they're empty, weightless. It makes me wonder though, are we as older movie watchers pointlessly clinging to that stuff?
Seriously, what do we always say? "Man, that CGI shit looks so fake." Yeah, like rubber masks, stop motion, and animatronic puppets looked so much more "real", right? Like we can't spot those special effects a mile away either. Don't get me wrong, I agree with the sentiment--CGI often takes me right out of the movie, especially if done poorly. But why? There's no rational reason for it that I can put my finger on.
I guess it goes back to "weightlessness." I think that's something that they still get wrong. Take The Things in the new movie. They're large, hideous beasts with teeth and tentacles and gooey ripped flesh. And then they jump effortlessly through the air with no feeling of weight behind them whatsoever.
Meh. I don't know why it is the way it is...I think we're all just getting old and grumpy.
I'll Make a Path 'Til the Rainbow's End
Some quick thoughts about a few games I've played lately. My brother and I squeezed in a game of Battleship Galaxies recently. I know there has been considerable backlash against it, and the best I can figure is that it's a combination of everyone wanting this game to replace every light spaceship combat game they owned, the hype that was building before it came out, and the price point itself setting certain expectations.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a supremely terrific awesome "best game ever." That's the trap we all fall into. We play a game and immediately want to toss it into one of two buckets--"THIS IS THE BEST GAME EVER" and "THIS GAME SUCKS MONKEY NUTS."
Battleship Galaxies is definitely what I'd consider Perfectly Acceptable Gaming. You roll some dice, you draw some cards, you make pew pew noises with your ships, you blow stuff up. And it looks really nice the whole time it's on your table. At this point, I'm either talking about this game or some kinky sexual roleplaying thing. I'll leave you to judge.
The "to hit" system tying it back to the original Battleship is cute, but somehow it ends up feeling off when you're actually trying to score hits. Like the range of hit values is out of scale somehow between the large and small ships. I konw that we spent many turns missing shots when we wanted more carnage.
It really is a fantastic looking game though. Could it have used firing arcs, facing, that sort of thing? Sure. Could it use an expansion? Oh, most definitely. Should you buy it at MSRP? Absolutely not. But at a discount? Worth a look. It's no Heroscape, but it's fun enough for what it is. I look forward to playing some more scenarios.
We also played some 7 Wonders at lunch and I think I've finally managed to make my peace with that game. It's not a civ game. Anyone who still clings to that is full of bullshit. What it is though is a drafting game with a very specific technology tree.
Part of the reason I looked down on it a little bit originally was the crowd that was hyping it up prior to the game's release. Yes, this makes me a total hypocrite as I've said the same thing about folks who hate deckbuilders on sight. It's a harmless, fluffy card game with a light dusting of civ theme.
I think I'm able to make more peace with it because fans of 7 Wonders are a pretty relaxed crew, far from the obnoxious raving fanboys who want to tell you that Race for the Galaxy is deeper than Chess. "Sure thing, giant beer!"
7 Wonders is still far from perfect. You are often very much beholden to the draw. The interaction is minimal--in a six-player game, those guys across the table might as well not even be there, more or less as you can't affect them in any way. And unlike Fairy Tale where you only have to play 60% of what you draft, there is very little room for hate drafting in 7 Wonders.
Because of all this, I'd consider scores within 5-7 points of each other to be tied. A lot of games are going to be decided by a lucky draw throwing someone a chunk of points, or you not getting your hands on what you need first.
I hope they find a way to continue to make the game more interactive. You've got military, and there are some of the Leaders that can also have an impact on the players beside you.
The game has sold a billion copies it seems, so I don't doubt there are plenty of expansions on the way. We'll just have to see where they take it. Just don't buy into the "30-minute civ" game bullshit, and you'll be fine. It's actually a fun time-waster--but like Battleship Galaxies, you have to look at it in the right light.
Last up for the kiddos is Animal Upon Animal. You may remember I reviewed the two-player German "Tier Auf Tier: Das Duel", which is part of this same series.
A genetic experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong
I'm just going to tell you, your kids are going to LOVE this game. Each player (up to four) has a stash of oddly shaped animals. On your turn, you have to roll a die. Either a number will come up, meaning you have to stack that many of your animals on the central pile, or a special side will come up. These sides involve either forcing another player to play an animal in your stead, or allowing you to place an animal to expand the base.
If, while stacking, you knock over the animals, you have to choose two of them to keep and put the rest back in the box. The object is to be the first to get rid of all your animals.
It is goofy fun, and kids will have a blast with this, especially if you're a little challenged in the dexterity department (or are good at faking like you are.) Kids will giggle like mad when daddy knocks over the giant stack of animals. I'm pretty clumsy anyway, so those giggles are geniune, and earned.
The game is like twenty bucks on Amazon. Toss in "The Best of Anthrax" CD or something and get free shipping. If you've been looking for a good game for the kids, this one's a keeper. I haven't tested it to see how it holds up as a drinking game for adults--something the best kids games always double up as--but as a great way to entertain your kids for an evening, it works great.
Cursed By My Imagination, Teaming with Echoes of Situations
You probably read Mike Barnes' review of BattleCON: War of Indines recently; if not, go ahead, I'll wait here while you check that out.
BattleCON is another entry in the suddenly burgeoning "fighting card game" category. Because of this, it's going to draw immediate comparisons to both Flash Duel and Yomi from Sirlin Games. Heck, you look at the player board and it's a 2-d row of spaces; the gameplay itself involves trying to get a read on what your opponent is going to do and choose your moves accordingly. On paper, just based on that description, you'd think that this felt exactly like Flash Duel with Yomi's reading tacked on.
You'd be wrong, of course. BattleCON manages to take the same theme, a similar notion of the board with spacing, and the act of simultaneous attack choices, and make it feel nothing like either of those games that came before it. That, to me, is pretty amazing.
Players choose one of 18 characters (yes, 18--with 3 more if you buy it from Level 99 Games webstore.) Each one has radically different playstyles and feels. Seriously, it's like every character has a mini-game that they're playing that just so happens to dovetail nicely into their performance in the fight.
A lot of abilities boil down to the use of tokens, most of them character specific. Khadath Ahemusei has a Gate Token that he moves around the battlefield, that will slow down his opponent...and if playing the Advanced game, he tries to lure them into for his Overdrive move. Magdelina Larington starts off weak, but by executing certain moves can increase her level until she is a walking tank.
It's pretty incredible that each character feels absolutely nothing like any of the other characters. One match, you'll be bouncing and teleporting around the board, then the next you'll be playing Cadenza, who absorbs his opponent's worst punishment and just keeps coming. Plus, with Cadenza he has a Grapnel move that pulls opponents in close--I challenge you not to say "GET OVER HERE!" when you pull that one off.
The way that characters do battle is also very unique. Rather than having just a handful of moves, you have at your disposal a selection of Base and Style cards. They're essentially left and right-side portions that, when played together, form an attack. This will create move names such as "Sweeping Strike" and, uh, "Priestess Grasp" (though you'll go to hell for doing that last one.) Each card will have values and modifiers to one of three stats, determining the range, damage, and priority of the attack. Priority is your speed, so the faster attacks go first. If you're hit before you can attack, you'll be stunned, but there are special powers such as Stun Guard and Soak to allow you to retaliate without being stunned.
Unlike Yomi, you're not drawing from a deck of cards. You have all of your Bases and Styles available to you from beginning. You'll have two discard piles where each pair will cycle through before returning to your hand, meaning that everything has a two-turn "cool down" period for attacks.
You don't get to just move you character, you always move as a result of the cards that you play. Here's where the real reading skill comes in. If you don't anticipate your opponent's move, you may find they'll play a speedy move, pop you in the face, then flitter back harmlessly away as your devastating face-melting punch nabs nothing but air. You also need to keep an eye on what they're doing in relation to their special powers, and another eye on the clock, as each match has a time limit and some characters would like nothing better than to stall until that point.
With such a diverse mix of characters, you really do get a massive diversity of play and you should be able to easily find a character that matches your playing style. Want to litter the battlefield with Monsters who can control the battlefield and channel your attacks? Go with promo character Danny. Want to recklessly get in an opponent's face and gamble you'll land the big move? Hikaru Sorayama is perfect for that.
If I do have any complaints, they all pertain to a few physical production issues. First up, I love the artwork on the box, but it's too small. Seriously, if you want to store it in a way that won't have you sifting through tokens for five minutes every time you want to play, and especially if you want to sleeve and bag everything, the box won't cut it. I can almost make it work, but the act of getting it all back in the box every time means that it's just as much work. So I'm going to have to go to a hobby store and find a suitable box so I can keep the character cards and their tokens in their own bags and just toss 'em in the box.
I know that publishers need to save some money on packaging. But you gotta give me some room to store everything! Fantasy Flight Games doesn't even make a token effort to provide actual inserts anymore, but they do give me a whole lotta space to keep my stuff. BattleCON doesn't need an FFG square-box, but it could certainly stand to be in a box even just twice the size it is now (which is not big, believe me.) It's not as bad as Sentinels of the Multiverse's completely non-functional box, but still.
Also, the character stands for the cardboard stand-ups are pretty shitty. You remember how tight the fit was for the doors/stands in Fantasy Flight's DOOM? You'll be wishing for half that luxury here. I made one half-assed attempt to pry open these stands and said, "screw it" and ordred a cheap pack of FFG's plastic stands, which work PERFECTLY.
Seriously though, I'm bummed about the box. It has the game's excellent artwork all around the outside, and chibi versions of the characters on the bottom part of the box. It's gonna suck not being able to port the game around in that box.
Back to the positives, the game really is pretty damned amazing. The artwork is really well done, and is more inspired by something like Guilty Gear than Street Fighter. For the price, you're getting a suprisingly large number of cards (over 200.) Playing the game is great as you're taking part in a cerebral cat-n-mouse dance, feinting, dashing, trying to land your power move and not get caught flat-footed and fireballed out of existence.
And if the base game isn't enough fun, that's where things get really crazy. The game also includes 5 double-sided "stage" cards, which gives a match a specific setting and along with that new rules. One stage has you trying to knock your opponents off the edge, Smash Brothers style; another has a moving burst of energy, very much like duking it out in the reactor core in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. You've also got a tag mode for up to four players, just like the VS. games where when one fighter gets in trouble, another can tag in to take the fight to his opponent. Then there's two-on-two team battles, and on top of that, two "boss" sets of cards where multiple players can take on one ultra-jacked version of one of the game's many characters.
Seriously, yes, all this for 40 bucks MSRP. Unreal.
Now, I know that seeing as I'm a big-time Yomi fan, you'd want to know how I'd compare the two games. Which is better? Right now, it's too close to call. I can't deny that the wealth of characters and options in BattleCON is incredible. But, Yomi at its heart is the more pure "reading" game for predicting your opponent's moves. Also, again, despite the similar theme and surface commonalities in gameplay, they really do feel like radically different games. If you're a fighting game fan, there's no reason not to own both. BattleCON definitely has an edge in price, though. I think that BattleCON on the front-end is not quite as accessible as you will really be stumbling through those first few turns just trying to get used to the flow of gameplay. It will take even longer than that to learn how to use each character--I strongly recommend you check the back of the rulebook where it classifies each character by difficulty to play. Start with the easier ones and work your way up.
BattleCON was a big-time surprise for me, and it's great to see these smaller publishers continue to step up to the plate and bring out these excellent games. I know I'm biased and play a lot of 2-player card games; I'm also a fighting game nut. Even so, I'm unabashedly giving a big-time thumbs up to BattleCON: War of Indines, and look forward to more coming out of this system, and this designer . And as a fan of these types of games? It's nice to finally have some truly great ones to choose from (No, thank you, Mortal Kombat CCG, you can go now.)
And that's going to do it for this week's double-stuffed catch-up episode of Next of Ken! Of course, if I keep covering all these fighting games, I should change the name to "Next of Hadoken." (See what I did there? See?) Anyway, until next time, I'll see ya in seven. For real this time.
Ken is a weekly columnist for Fortress: Ameritrash and a member of our staff. When he's not knee deep in playing games for review, he's most likely opening the boxes and getting high off of the plastic vapours.
Click here for more articles by Ken.