Barnestorming- ERP #3: Bohanza, Tonga Bonga, Tower of Babel, Harlock, X

Barnestorming- ERP #3: Bohanza, Tonga Bonga, Tower of Babel, Harlock, X Hot

Michael Barnes     
 
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"This looks f&%king stupid"- my girlfriend back in 1997.

On the Table

Hey, remember when Uwe Rosenberg made games more like Bohnanza and less like Agricola? It was the late 1990s, and “playing a game about bean farming” was pretty darn close to being a meme that captured the idiosyncratic charm and sometimes weirdness of playing German games. And it was a big jump to go from games about fantasy/science fiction subjects to playing something so…agricultural.

Bohnanza is one of the all-time great games, and it’s a shame that Rosenberg hasn’t gone back to the well that produced this classic. I guess he’s making more money appeasing BGG’s demands for more of his resource-swapping engine games, but for me he’ll always be the dude that did one of the very best trading games of all time. It’s the third edition of the Eurogames Reclamation Project: Bohnanza.

Oh boy have I played some great games recently, and not just an EPIC four player Sons of Anarchy Sunday night.

Tonga Bonga rules, and it has made me question why I’ve more or less ignored Stefan Dorra for all of these years. There is actually an element of Intrige in the game, in that you’re positing cash offers for players to contract with you. Tonga Bonga is obviously a nicer, more family friendly experience though. Everybody puts money on a captain and first mate spot on their ship. You roll three D6s (one face is the dreaded vomiting sailor) and put your dice where you like the offer the best, bumping down lower dice and reducing their payouts. Then, everybody moves their ships the sum of the dice, trying to put four camps out on these islands and then get back to Tonga Bonga. About 30 minutes, screwy, and unlike anything else.

Um Reifenbreite is…well, I need to play it some more but Thunder Alley might have been upset in its ‘best racing game ever” bid. There’s a little more detail specific to cycling (terrain, cheating, FALLS) but it has the drafting AND a cool combination of roll-and-move and using limited cards if you choose. Unfortunately, the artwork is horrid and it only supports four. But it is REALLY REALLY GOOD.

Tower of Babel is so hugely underrated I can’t believe it. It’s one of Knizia’s last “gamer’s games”, and it’s one of his leanest and most experimental designs. There is actually a tenuous connection to Tonga Bonga in that players are offering contracts to cooperate. It is not an auction game. There are eight wonders on the board with three chips that show building materials. You choose one and everyone sets up a deal with up to as many cards as the number on the chip shows. You can accept any number of offers until you have as many cards as that number, which may or may not include the building materials required.  Or you can accept only one offer if someone plays a trader card to make their  contract exclusive. Everybody in on the deal puts markers in the space, and the builder gets the chip unless you dealt with a trader. Then they get it and you get extra markers. There’s an incentive to play resources matching the chip, because everyone that isn’t in on the deal gets points as a consolation prize for each matching card.  When all three chips are off of the wonder, it’s built and there’s a majority scoring scheme.

I can see right away why this fumbled in 2005. Nobody getting into Arkham Horror or the other FFG titles that were hot at the time would have given this the time of day, and it was assumed that it was “just another Knizia auction game”. The Eurogamers were beard deep into crap like Goa, and Knizia was becoming viewed as repetitive. But this is one of his more maverick designs, and really isn’t like anything else he ever did. I think it’s amazing, and it gets back to that whole Sid Sackson style of design. Funny enough, there are a bunch of event cards that Hans Im Gluck requested that Knizia add, likely because somebody thought there wasn’t “enough” there. Thing is, there’s A LOT there- but it’s way more subtle and refined than was popular at the time. Or now.

I just got Municipium but I haven’t really dug into it yet, it looks pretty good though. Apart from the ghastly Mike Doyle artwork. Gawd, remember when people thought his stuff looked good?

Also in from the ERP trawl…Colossal Arena, Raj, Amun-Re. Airlines Europe sold out AGAIN before I could get one.

Why the hell did I not own Colossal Arena before?  Makes no sense. I think my original copy was one of the “lost in the fire” games left at AGF.

On the Consoles

Here is why I hate AAA video games. And why I would almost be willing to support legislation to restrict the kinds of violence and violent imagery they show.

Tomb Raider. I have no idea why I continued on with it. I just really wanted to play a game like it, but what I really wanted to play was the ORIGINAL, still great Tomb Raider. But this one was free on PS+, so I figured I’d truck on with it. I did enjoy some aspects of it, the hunting and survival bits were cool and the occasional puzzle-tomb was enjoyable. And just about any game with bow is going to interest me for at least 15 minutes. I love bows.

Anyway, there’s a scene where these giant Daimaijin-like statues, giants, oni or something show up and massacre all of these bad guys. Lara blacks out and wakes up in this room. She’s hanging upside down among all of these skinned corpses. For some reason, she’s still alive, fully clothed and fully skinned. The room is full of dismembered bodies, heads, guts, blood everywhere. It’s supposed to be a horror sequence, but even just ten years ago this kind of grisly display WOULD NOT have been allowed in pretty much any kind of mainstream media. Now, it’s pretty commonplace.

WTF is wrong with gamers, are ISIS and Boko Haram not providing enough slaughterhouse entertainment for them?

And it’s not shocking at all. Which is really kind of sad, because it should be. Even when I was a kid listening to death metal, looking at all of these kinds of grotesque images or watching Lucio Fulci films, I was still shocked by gore and winced at violent images. Now, I shrugged at it all. I understood that there was something very “underground” about Italian gore and Cannibal Corpse record covers, it wasn’t mainstream and it wasn’t the kind of thing that most people would want or be interested in. But here it is in a big budget, AAA video game that I’m sure plenty of 10 year olds played through.

Part of the reason I wasn’t shocked is because by this point in the game, I had shotgunned at least 100 bad guys in their faces, crappy-looking video game blood spraying everywhere. I had put arrows through the faces of tons of guys. I had chopped them with a pick axe. Blown them up. Hunted, trapped and killed people.  And I had seen Lara get strangled, impaled, crushed, dismembered and murdered in death scenes.

What is the point of a graphic scene like that if there is no power to it, if it doesn’t make you scared of violence and death…what’s the point when YOU, THE PLAYER have caused and been subjected to more violent death on screen than the entire contents of this charnel house room, full of skinned bodies and splashing guts? I felt HORRIBLE that this scene only registered with me as “AAA video game violence”. Desensitized? Yep. Disgusted not by the severed heads scattered on the floor, but by the immature intent of the content.

I quit playing the game. That was enough. You can say all you want that video games don’t make people violent, that they don’t cause violent behavior or whatever and that is mostly true. But when games present gory, violent death in such a routine and COMMON way, then there is something psychological going on at the level of the people that design this shit, the people that consume this shit, and the culture that says that this kind of shit is OK to consume in entertainment without any sense of morality, meaning or value- or even a sense of subversion or artistic antagonism, which I think can make gore and violence carry unique and possibly valuable meaning- like Hotline Miami or Cannibal Holocaust.

But no, Tomb Raider asks you to be shocked by images of dismembered bodies after you’ve spent an entire game murdering people ad being murdered. I mean, WTF- Lara Croft in this game is more Rambo (from the FOURTH movie) than the Lara Croft in the original Tomb Raider games. Just because she’s written to simper and wince, to express self-doubt and to gasp occasionally doesn’t make her the “strong female character” that games never can seem to get right anyway.

So back to Nintendo for me, I found a $4 copy of Metroid: Other M so I’m going to give that a second chance.

On the Screen

I watched the Space Pirate Captain Harlock CGI movie on Netflix…well, it wasn’t great. Whoever did the production design miss that one of the coolest things about old Matsumoto anime is that he had AMAZING ship designs. It’s cool that the Arcadia always has all of this smoke billowing out of it (in space) but it looks more like some kind of Giger thing than the space battleship from the old Harlock. They got the Cosmo Dragoons right, at least. The animation is a little over the quality of the cutscenes in a Squaresoft game. Detailed and decent,  but not really very impressive.

Harlock himself is…interesting. There’s a MAJOR change in the character, two actually, that I don’t really care for. One is telegraphed pretty much from the very beginning, the other is something that fundamentally changes the character and motives. Harlock looks amazing, and his first appearance is really well done. Somehow they managed to make Yattaran at least slightly realistic. No Tochiro, no Emeraldas, no cool ass prologue with Phantom F. Harlock in WWII or anything like that.

I dunno, the writing was just really awful in that modern anime  nonsense kind of way. None of the classic Harlock stuff is really there or it’s there because it feels like the writers felt like they had to tip the hat. Because, I guess, it’s kind of a “reboot” or prequel in a way. A resounding meh.

It’s funny, as a kid I watched Harlock and loved it, years later I saw that “Just for Kids” VHS cassette of “Vengeance of the Space Pirate” that shows Harlock getting shot in the face on the cover (again- “Just for Kids”) and picked it up. For a few years, that was the only recorded Harlock I had, until Animego released Arcadia of My Youth. When I got that, I was stunned. I had assumed that Vengeance of the Space Pirate was cobbled together from shows, movies, etc. as it used to be with anime, but it was actually just an 80 minute edit of Arcadia of My Youth. Still probably my favorite non-Miyazaki Japanimation film. Yep, Japanimation.

Watched a couple of episodes of Enterprise, I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone thinks it is so far. But man, are the characters not very likeable. Archer is such an ass. I kind of like that, but it’s already a little tiresome. Dog is a nice touch.

On Spotify

I feel like I don’t like X as much as I’m supposed to. Don’t get me wrong, Los Angeles and Under the Big Black Sun are both AMAZING records…but after that, I’m out. Nothing I’ve heard from their later records comes ANYWHERE near “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline”, “Nausea”, “The Unheard Music” and “White Girl”. I dunno, I have an odd relationship with this band…they are one of the few original LA punk acts that has come through Atlanta many times over the years that I’ve been into music and I’ve never even bothered to go see them.

Barnestorming- ERP #3: Bohanza, Tonga Bonga, Tower of Babel, Harlock, X There Will Be Games
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