Websling your way into this week's Next of Ken, where I'll be talking the Spider-Man reboot, Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013, and Toy Vault's newest game, Abbie Doobie. Uh...Abaddon. Join us, won't you?
Wealth and Fame, He Ignores, Action is His Reward
Whether fans truly asked for it or not, the reboot of the Spider-man franchise came swinging (HAW!) into theaters last week and did some pretty amazing (DOUBLE HAW!) bank.
My wife and I went and saw it and though it lacked some of the heart and panache of Raimi's first two Spidey flicks, I found myself grudgingly enjoying it. I had to admit to myself that if his were the first Spider-man movie we'd gotten, we'd have all been pretty floored by this. After all, most of us have forgotten that we sat in the darkened theater in 2002 fully expecting Spider-Man to suck sour ass and instead left feeling like a million bucks.
Andrew Garfield plays Peter too much "nervous tic", constantly swinging his head around and twitching his mouth when he talks. He also looks like a hipster douche who would ride his skateboard in the mall on the way to buying up Pac-Man shirts at Hot Topic.
As Spidey though, he honestly does a great job, dropping all of that random head movement and getting in some nice quips ("Oh no! You've discovered my weakness!")
The story itself isn't as clear, getting a little muddled in spots and leaving some fairly rough transitions and character changes. One thing it does get right is the Peter/Uncle Ben relationship, which I felt was better here than in Raimi's film. Of course, I also felt that they handled the death of Uncle Ben (uh, spoiler?) much *worse* than the first movie, making Peter's lack of action less deliberate and pronounced. I have read the opposite opinion online (that the Peter/Uncle Ben stuff was worse, but the death was better) so your mileage may indeed vary.
I know that a reboot wasn't what everyone wanted, but after the remarkably overstuffed and generally shitty Spider-Man 3, where were they going to go? Personally I'm extremelly glad we returned to a Spidey universe where every major villain wasn't already dead and SANDMAN HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH UNCLE BEN'S DEATH...
Anyway, it's a pretty fun time, the only reason anyone would look down on it would be because of Raimi's first two Spider-Man movies. Fair or no, that comparison will always be made. If you want to see it, go catch it before The Dark Knight Rises obliterates it in a few weeks.
But hey, Spidey film maker people? Can we please get a movie where Spider-Man doesn't take his damned mask off in EVERY FRICKIN' SCENE? Please? By the fourth or fifth time he did it, I'm rolling my eyes. Raimi's movies did this too. Please stop?
Winter Nights We Sang in Tune, Played Inside the Months of Moon
I've dug knee-deep into Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 on my PS3 and I am sooo digging it. My brother and I have been battling the old "Magic addict" bug lately, and this really is a pretty good fix.
Right now I'm in campaign mode, and that's the mode that's the heart of unlocking more goodies. You have a very limited selection at first and as you play through the "story" (term used fairly lightly here) you'll defeat progressively more dangerous foes and unlock new cards and decks along the way.
The interface is smooth and polished, and what struck me is how gorgeous a lot of the Magic art is in HD. The loading screens are full-screen HD shots of some of the better art in the game.
As an old Magic player, the only thing I'm not sure I enjoy as much is how limited your deck-tweaking options are. Really digging into the core of a deck and changing it up radically--or even starting from scratch--is what make a lot of Magic players tick. Here, you'll have a selection of extra cards you can unlock for each deck and swap 'em out on a one-for-one basis, but that selection of cards is going to be limited and pre-determined.
Another thing I'm ambivalent towards just yet are the "encounters". I think these are new for this year's version and are basically matches played against a computer foe that plays in a precise pattern. You'll need to find a way to defeat that pattern by playing around it. I think this mode would be cooler if the computer weren't playing decks that are literally all the same of one to three different cards (depending on the encounter.) For instance, one early encounter has the computer playing the same discard card over and over again, and on the fourth turn will play a card that puts a creature from the discard pile into play. That wouldn't be so bad if the computer weren't "cheating" by playing 20 of the same card in its deck. Still, working your way through some of them is enjoyably challenging even if some others will have you wanting to fling your controller at the screen.
The new Planechase multi-player mode is a riot. Planechase is what old-school players called "Chaos Magic", where over-arching random effects would impact the game at various points. Now, this is done through the use of oversized Planar cards that show the world you're in currently, each with their own rules. On your turn if you're not happy with the current world you can roll the Planar die to try and escape, or possibly trigger that Plane's powerful effect--including one that allows you to summon a free 7/7 monster (that's BIG for the unitiated!) It's giggly, random fun that turns the game on its ear and is always good for a laugh.
For purchasers of the game, depending on your platform you can print out a voucher that you can take to your local game store and get a free promotional pack, complete with a Mythic Rare depending on which system you have. Mine's the PS3 so I received a pretty awesome Vampire lord who pumps up all your Vamps for mega damage. He's fetching almost ten bucks on several sites I've seen, so you could basically buy the game, redeem the pack, and post it online for sale and reap most of your money back.
Feed your cardboard crack addiction the virtual way, for a comparitive pittance. Can't beat that. Definitely good times. I'd like to see more deck customization options next year, and for them to take the interesting encounter idea and tweak it some more so it isn't the computer throwing the same card or two at you over and over again. But otherwise I have no complaints--if you dig Magic at all, head over to your favorite game system's online store and check it out.
Reign Upon the Death of Twilight
Like 'mechs? Like 'splosions? Like Richard Borg's Command & Colors? I sure as hell do, so I was pretty excited to try out the newest Borg game Abaddon from Toy Vault.
First up is the components--holy crap, this was the first time in awhile I'd been wowed by the amount of plastic in a box. Big, chunky mechs basically come pouring out of the box. You also get over 100 cards and lots of little cardboard chits for tracking various things such as health and status effects.
Each player picks a side and a color, and takes all of those colored crystals. Then, just like most C&C games, you flip to a scenario and set up the battlefield accordingly. Dish out a number of cards as specified, and you're off.
One major difference with this iteration of the system is that instead of having cards that activate troops, you instead use dice (that you need to sticker when you first get the game.) Each facing of the die will have either one of the four different types of units, the Command icon, or a Weapons System icon. The different unit faces allow you to activate that type of unit--you know the drill, move n' shoot. The Weapons System gives you access to a Weapons System card draw, and these are cards you'll need to attack and defend at range. The Command icon is basically a wild card, allowing you to activate any unit you choose, draw a Weapons System card, or use a handful of cards that require the Command die to play.
To attack at range, two things that are definitely different are the need for a Weapons System card, and that you draw line of sight only in straight lines. Yes, I think that's weird too. Once you've attacked though, the defender may also play a Weapons System card in defense. The cards are revealed, and the die that cooresponds to each unit is rolled and added to the value of the card they played. Highest value dishes out damage; double the other unit's total and you'll deal out an additional wound.
Wounds are tracked with small cardboard crystals that stick in the base of each unit, and these serve the double purpose of helping players track which units are theirs--all mechs with red crystal tokens will belong to one player, for example. When dealing damage, you take the tokens from the damage you dished out and stick them in your small cup that looks vaguely like a urine sample container. This is to keep score for scenarios that require it.
That's the core of the system, essentially. You have cards that don't require line-of-sight such as calling in Smart Bombs, and the scenarios and set-ups do vary the experience from game to game.
So let's talk the good first. This is your prototypical AT game, with awesome plastic mechs blasting each other, players slapping down cards with special abilities, rolling dice. It's all here. The action is fast and furious, and the game system itself promotes aggression.
I've read some complaints that the game is too simple for its price, even one person I read online saying its "simpler than Memoir '44." I don't know what version of Memoir '44 they have, but it's clearly different than mine, at least in terms of good ol' vanilla base game Memoir. Sure, the expansions for Memoir have added to the game tremendously, but you factor those in and the price comparison is much different too. The fact that units can battle back makes it feel much less like a moving shooting gallery and more like an interactive battle. Don't get me wrong, I still really like Memoir but Abaddon has several things that compare favorably to the old favorite
The pieces are chunky and nice and beg to be painted by someone far more talented than I. The terrain is a little weird in that each terrain piece is made up of two interlocking cardboard pieces, forming an "X". It does give the board more of a 3-dimensional appearance.
There are sixteen scenarios in the book and the later ones do shake up the gameplay quite a bit. That's always been the strength of many of the Command & Colors games, and that's no different here. The dice activation for me is a plus, as gone completely is the gamey "Right Flank/Left Flank/Middle" activation system. Also, though the dice are random, it's not as easy to find yourself at a loss for things to do, nor get a hand gummed up with cards you can't use efficiently.
That leads me to one of the best parts of the game in how it promotes combined arms, something that a lot of games simply don't do very well. To maximize your activations, you'll need to preserve all your different units. Treat your Infantry like cannon fodder, and sure enough you'll have a turn where you'll roll three Infantry activations with no one to spend them on. The other cool part is that if a unit rolls a "1" in combat, the results of the combat are cancelled and the opposing player draws a "Wild Fire" card. Most of these are malfunctions that can deal damage, make units harder to activate, and so on. Taking a page from the game "Battleball", weaker units roll smaller dice but as such are more likely to cause Wild Fire effects. Also, units that are at close range with an enemy unit aren't allowed to play Weapons System cards against long-range attacks. The combination of these encourages tactics such as moving your Infantry in, tying up the enemy, hopefully causing a little systems havoc with Wild Fire, then while they're tied up your heavy hitters move in and tear them to shreds. Every unit has a chance to shine here, and I really like that, unlike Memoir where once you introduce the Tanks, it seemingly becomes all about the Tanks.
Now for a few negatives. There's no getting around the fact that this sucker carries a high price tag--$80 MSRP. Fact is though the game has a ton of plastic in it, and that costs money these days. Still, I can sympathize with the notion that the game is on the lighter side for that price point.
Personally, the "straight line" firing is also strange to me--it's jarring to be up one square and off another, in plain sight of an enemy, and being unable to shoot them. It's jarring and takes you out of the game, abstracting things into a more chess-like positioning battle.
So Abaddon is pricey, and there are some gamey elements here to replace some of the gaminess that was taken out of the system in other ways. However, if you get past that what you're left with is a fun, light take on the C&C system that has some pretty clever stuff going on under the hood that help the tactics-minded player find a little more depth inside than expected.
I'd like to see better terrain, new units, and even more varied Weapons System cards, so we'll have to see what an expansion holds. I like what the game has to offer, even if I'm not "OMG BLOWN AWAY GAME OF THE YEAR" with it. It has some quirks but is indeed some good shoot 'em up fun. As my younger sons grow into teenagers, it's very likely a good choice for spending an afternoon making things 'splode real good.
Another column in the books, thanks for reading. So until George Romero and Stan Lee realize they're actually brothers separated at birth, I'll see ya in seven.