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Barnestorming #879- The Day Board Games Criticism Died, Valkyria Chronicles, Don't Look Now

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fail2 Games criticism?

On the Table

My summer tabletop drought continues- my wife is working some tough jobs including something in LA for Turner Classic Movies so I’m in baby jail. So I thought I’d write a nice big windbag smartypants article. It’s the culmination of a lot of thinking I’ve been doing recently about games criticism, what it means, who cares, and if it’s even really possible. Drake’s article from a couple of weeks ago got me really digging into some thoughts I’ve had for some time about not just the “why” of writing criticism (and not product reviews) about board games, but the “can”.

The brutal truth is that I don’t know if board games criticism is even possible.

The Day Board Games Criticism Died, now at No High Scores.

I finally got Dungeon Command in, so I’ll try to get that played. Looks like fun, I’m always excited when I get a package from WotC.  Mage Wars should be inbound soon.


On the Consoles

Oddly enough, I’m really getting into JRPGs right now. Yeah, I know, right? For some reason, it’s the only thing that’s cranking my video game chain lately. I’ve even started playing *gasp* Final Fantasy XIII.

But mostly, Valkyria Chronicles. HOLY FUCKING SHIT, the game is amazing. I played it for a while when I first got the PS3 and then shelved it, but going back to it I’m just completely blown away by it again. It’s a Japanese SPRG, but it occurs on third-person, real-time battlefield. And you’ve got to line up the headshots. So there’s a very slight action component, and it feels very much like a tabletop miniatures game. The only complaint I have is that the system could actually support a lot more battlefield complexity- suppressing fire, artillery, morale, more armor- than it does. That said, there’s TONS of abilities, traits, weapons, upgrades, and so forth to explore. And it does that X-Com/Jagged Alliance thing where your team are actually people that you start to really care about. And they like/don’t like certain other people on the team, so there’s a sense of personality. Over it all is one of the best art styles I’ve ever seen in a Japanese game- it’s like Miyazaki meets an Osprey book with all the military detail. A masterpiece, definitely check it out if you have a PS3.



I honestly can’t imagine playing another IOS game other than Summoner Wars any time in the near future. I’m not running a ton of games at once so I won’t burn out on it, but it’s definitely on and poppin’. I’m really getting into the Cloaks, running a deck with all the base cards pulled out and replaced by slashers and snipers. Gotta tweak it to put a couple of scrappers back in there though, that’s one of my favorite cards. Love pulling off that “surround the summoner” move.

Tundra Orcs, go to hell.


On Comixology

Holy crap, what a great week for comics. First, Marvel’s Monday sale was the full Guardians of the Galaxy run, probably since they announced the movie at SDCC (along with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, WTF!). Then I wound up reading the first couple of issues Mark Waid’s Daredevil, which just won an Eisner. Holy crap, it’s _great_, especially the first issue. It kicks off with this kind of breathless superhero action sequence that is COMPLETELY anti-post-Frank Miller Daredevil. It’s _funny_. It’s light. And it’s joyful instead of dour and depressing. The idea is that Matt Murdock has decided to chin up and actually live again after years and years of darkness, and it’s like the sunshine after a rainy day. And in a good way, not a superficial, silly one. I’m totally loving the book, and I’ve not really liked Daredevil all that much since the ‘80s. That panel is Matt and Foggy walking through NYC, while Matt explains how he "sees" New York. Hardly the dingy hell-pit you usually see in a Daredevil book.

I also picked up more of Scott Snyder’s American Vampire books, and they’re great too- particularly the new Lord of Nightmares mini that’s going on right now. It goes into a part of vampire lore that it probably didn’t need to touch on, but it does and it’s actually pretty awesome. Stephen King’s backup stories in the main run are really good too- vampire western? Yes, please.

The other Scott Snyder I read this week was “Black Mirror”, from Detective Comics.  A _great_ Batman story, with the Dick Grayson Batman and an awesome scene taking place at an underground auction house that specializes in the accoutrements and former belongings of Gotham’s most notorious villains. Snyder really has a handle on how to do the modern gothic thing right.

And speaking of the modern gothic thing, I’m starting on reading Sandman start to finish. It occurred to me that I never really read the full run. I’ve just read the first eight issues and they were great, surprisingly they’ve held up really well and may actually fare better out of the 1990s goth context.

I love that first issue- the only regret I have with it is that I wish that Rick Veitch had drawn it. The thing about Sandman is that I never really felt like it found its artist.

But I’ll comment more once I’m deeper into the run.                                        


On the Screen

Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now turned up on Netflix and I haven’t seen it in a while, so I watched it four times last week.

What an uncomfortably intimate, emotionally raw picture. It speaks in horror/thriller tones with all this talk of apparations, premontions, serial killers, and whatnot, but it’s really about grieving and how a couple deals with the death of a child. Being a dad, I’ve often asked that unaskable question…how do you deal with it when a child dies? The film’s answer is that you don’t. You hide in Venice, get lost in your work, make love like it’s the end of the world, and everything you do is haunted. Until it catches up with you and ends you.

It’s such a stark, chilly movie- definitely one of those that isn’t really very entertaining per se, but its profundity and stirring metaphor are particularly rewarding, provided you can look past Donald Sutherland’s creepy hair.

I think it’d make for an interesting double feature with Von Trier’s Anti-Christ, which bears some thematic similarities although the resolution is far more shocking and wide in scope than Don’t Look Now’s infamous ending. Ain’t giving that one away. But if you’ve never seen it…I’ve said too much.

I’m watching Apocalypse Now…what that means for me is that I will watch it literally every night for about two weeks straight. It’s one of my top five films ever made. It’s one of those that I watch and I can’t believe it really exists.

Also, Space Ghost was on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Mind=blown.


On Spotify

Well, duh. ABBA. I’ve gone back and listened to all the records, but it’s still ABBA Gold that I listen to the most. It’s just a can’t-fail hit parade of classics, and I’ve listened to it so much that I have that thing going on where if I hear those songs out of sequence, it feels weird and wrong.

I did take a little jaunt to listen to “I Know There’s Something Going On” and “One Night in Bangkok”, but obviously that’s not much of a jaunt.

There Will Be Games

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Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

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