Next of Ken, Volume 65: Wall of Sound Christmas, Top 10 Christmas Flicks, Shadows Card Game, and Ticket to Ride: Africa!

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Next of Ken, Volume 65: Wall of Sound Christmas, Top 10 Christmas Flicks, Shadows Card Game, and Ticket to Ride: Africa!

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The weather outside is frightful, but Next of Ken?  It's so delightful.  So if you've no place to go....join us, won't you?


I'm a holiday music guy; I know you couldn't tell it by my "Worst Christmas Songs EVER" list, but I pretty much gobble up Christmas music from the moment Thanksgiving is done all the way until midnight on Christmas night.
(See, it's a place of *love* that I wrote that old article from, honest.)
Album A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records cover
This year I've been really digging a lot of Phil Spector's "A Christmas Gift For You".  You've gotta love the fact that even after years upon years of technical advances and all sorts of digital wizardry, the whole "Wall of Sound" remains a dense, full, rich sound, so distinctive, and in the case of Christmas, matches the full bombast of the season.
Just a tidbit for you, the relentless onslaught of "Marshmallow World" by Darlene Love:

10. Gremlins -- Giddy, goofy, gory fun.  Worth it for Phoebe Cates' "Santa in the chimney" story alone.
9.  Die Hard -- I love this movie, but I didn't used to have this on my Christmas list.  I've come around on it lately.
8.  The Nightmare Before Christmas -- A visual feast.  Hey, even does double duty as a Halloween film.
7.  The Santa Clause -- One of only two known decent Tim Allen movies.  For Piers Anthony fans, just consider this as "Riding a Red Sleigh."
6.  A Charlie Brown Christmas -- Crudely drawn, badly voiced, and overly sentimental to some.  Yet its heart prevails and keeps this a yearly viewing classic.
5.  Miracle on 34th Street -- Netflix for some reason only has the 1955 and 1994 versions (boo!)  Accept no substitutes, hunt down a DVD of the 1947 version.  In black and white, please.
4.  National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation -- Hilariously awesome.  Just how much bad shit can happen at Christmas?  Also, this just in--Randy Quaid was at one time a pretty funny guy.
3.  It's a Wonderful Life -- Less than a quarter of the movie takes place at Christmas, but it's an undeniable Christmas classic, so no sense fighting that battle.  Capra and Stewart at their finest.
2.  Scrooged -- A dark horse, often overlooked gem from a bleaker period of Bill Murray's career, Scrooged is bitingly sarcastic and mixes slapstick and Murray's wit to great effect.  "Father Loves Beaver" indeed.
1.  A Christmas Story -- I'll admit, this is veering into overexposure.  But the winkingly deadpan delivery of the narration, the sum of all of Ralphie's adventures, and The Old Man himself make for a can't miss holiday classic.

Every Streetlamp, Seems to Beat a Fatalistic Warning

Shadows Over Camelot Card GameI've always been a fan of Shadows Over Camelot since playing it several years ago.  In a way, it was the advent of the modern vanguard of co-operative games.  Knizia's Lord of the Rings may have set the scene, but it took several years plus the release of Shadows Over Camelot where we saw a true boom.  Now, you can barely swing a cat without hitting a new co-operative game.
When I heard about Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game, I sort of had the same cynical reaction as other folks did..."Isn't Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game just a description for Shadows Over Camelot?!"  I was interested nonetheless because hey, portable quick Shadows on the go--if it turned out well, maybe it had a niche that squeezed in between The Resistance and Shadows itself.  I was hoping that we'd get a stripped down version of the base game.
Turns out, that ain't what we got.
Not at ALL.
Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game is a memory game where you're given what seems like a dozen things to remember.  The reason there are so many is to preserve the traitor element.  Hey, if I screw things up, I've got a bad memory, what can I do?
You've got a central deck, and your choice each turn is basically "Show" or "Go" (think Ra, for example.)  You can either flip a card and add to the stack, or go on the quest that's on top of the stack currently.  Each quest card has a certain value, and what you're trying to do is nail a certain range of values for the quest.
The bad thing is that when you "go on a quest", you evaluate all of them simultaneously.  You're looking to hit a fairly narrow range (most of the time 11-13 total).  So you may have been tracking the Picts and know that it's time to strike, but you've got a couple of undercooked quests in the pile too that because you don't have enough value there, you get black swords.
Pretty straightforward, right?  Not so fast.  There are not only cards of a set value, but wild cards that increase in value the more of them there are in the pile.  Or how about Morgan, who influences the value of multiple quests at once?
What you end up doing is tracking--or trying to, I should say--the values of several quests at once, plus all the cards that influence those quests, plus the value of the particular quest that's face up right now....arghghghghgh.
Yeah, it adds a way for the traitor to mask his presence, but based on my shitty memory, I'm essentially the traitor every game whether I knew it or not.  SoCcard-home picture2There's simply too much to keep up with at once.
On the plus side, it has the Shadows theme, you still have the loyal v. traitor thing going on, and the artwork is great.  But you have to understand up front that what you're getting here is probably the most detail-intensive memory game I've ever seen.  If you're a long-time reader, you know how absolutely pathetic my ability to play memory games is.  Having to hit such a small numeric range on top of all this, spread out over multiple gods.
I suppose there's some fun here if you can let everyone laugh at how badly things go when you inevitably forget half the stuff that's in the pile.  You can also chortle when the traitor wins, but don't feel too awesome about wasn't you, it was the seventeen different things going on in the central pile at once.
The disappointing thing about it is that beyond the theme, traitor, and white sword/black sword scorekeeping, this has very little to do gameplay-wise with its parent game.  Lots of folks are no doubt going to be disappointed BIG time by that.

12 Drummers Drumming Like Olympus on the Serengeti
tt africa boxOn a more positive note, Ticket to Ride just released a new expansion, The Heart of Africa.  This is the third in this new map-only series of globe-trotting expansions that require one of the base games to play.
I wish they'd done this from the start.  One base game, then a series of expansion maps.  Toss in whatever extra bits for each set of new rules, and away you go.
The focus in Heart of Africa is on new terrain cards that can be used to increase the values of your links based on the terrain you connect through.  It adds some cool additional planning and a way to pump up your points in unexpected ways.
The map is viciously tight, so much so that I'm not sold on this being for 5 players.  A little bad luck in the beginning and you're going to be out of the running, locked out of some of the inside routes.
It's unfortunate that unlike the previous two expansions, you're not getting a double-sided map.  Yep, there's only one map included here.  The MSRP is $5 cheaper, but it was really nice getting two maps before.  I think a lot of people would have paid $5 for an extra map on the other side.  At least the map included is a good, competitive map, though.  And it is cheaper than the one before, so that's at least something.
However, for anyone who likes Ticket to Ride, this is again a great way to add variety to your game.  I'm not sure if those who dust off Ticket to Ride for a yearly play are at the point where they need more maps, but if you're a big fan, this is good stuff.  And I think those who play more will like the tightness of the map.
It's funny, to me Ticket to Ride clearly wins the age-old "best gateway game" argument.  Used to be three pillars...Settlers, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride.  Settlers has gameplay length concerns and Carcassonne has the extremely screwed up farmer scoring.  But Ticket to Ride hits that sweet spot where it's just a touch more involved than your typical mass-market game and has a theme that appeals to casual gamers.  I've never had it bomb with a group.
Is it hitting expansion saturation?  Very possibly.  I do like how the expansions are compartmentalized, so instead of dumping out ten expansions' worth of stuff and trying to dig through it all, you just grab the new Africa slim box, the base game box, and you're good to go.

And that's going to do it for this episode!
I'd like to take just a minute to say a few things.  This is likely my last bit of content before the New Year, and I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone Happy Holidays, whatever you celebrate.  It's hard to believe, but in January, this website will be celebrating FIVE FULL YEARS...which is like "infinity" in Internet years.
Through it all, it has been such a pleasure contributing, reading, meeting, and talking with so many great F:AT folks.  I remember thinking last year at Trashfest, "how is it possible we have such a nucleus of awesome people that frequent our site?!"
At any rate, I hope the Holiday season finds you all well, and looking forward to more awesomeness in the New Year.  Thanks again, everybody!

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