Barnestorming- ERP #4- El Grande, Destiny, A Dark Room, Winter Soldier, Electric Avenue

Barnestorming- ERP #4- El Grande, Destiny, A Dark Room, Winter Soldier, Electric Avenue

Michael Barnes     
 
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That's MR. El Grande to you, chief.

On the Table

Alright, let’s do this. ERP #4: El Grande.

I felt like we shouldn’t get any further down ERP memory lane without a Kramer game and especially not without his hands-down best game and one of the best games published in the 1990s. I can’t believe I went through an immature phase where I didn’t like playing this game. WTF was wrong with me.

I really think I was chafing, at the time, against the restrictions the game imposes on the players. Everything is so carefully measured, metered and controlled. Which was in sharp contrast to Arkham Horror, Talisman, Nuclear War, Fury of Dracula, Dungeonquest and so forth that was I playing in the mid-2000s. Not that those games didn’t have restrictions, but they felt more wide-open and accommodating of player-driven narrative and competition. But I was clearly being dumb, because El Grande is one of the most fiercely competitive and really kind of chaotic Eurogames ever made. I love that Kramer brings forward this idea of moving pieces that aren’t yours that he used all the way back in Heimlich & Co. and Wildlife Adventure (not to mention his racing games) into what is essentially a highly formalized Dudes on a Map game.

It’s one of the best there is, bar none.

In other ERP news…Airlines Europe landed and…well, I completely fucked up our first play. Spectacularly.  I was in a hurry to get us going and I misread the actions process. I thought you did all four available actions each turn instead of just ONE. Of course, this made the game feel off. About 1/3 of the way through, close to the second scoring, I realized that I goofed.

Well, the second game was much better, at least! This may be my favorite Alan Moon design. Reports that it’s kind of a cross between Acquire and Ticket to Ride are more or less on the money, but it’s more interesting than TTR, more complex than Acquire. It’s definitely a rails game (but with cool planes), you get stock in companies and try to make them more valuable while maintaining a majority share in time for the scoring. Super simple, really- I like games where you do just one action every turn. Except when I don’t read that right and do every action every turn. Wah wah.

Really liked the one game of El Capitan I played, but I really, really wish that the reprint had kept the modern business theme. The Renaissance trading thing actually kind of creates a dissonance in the game- I couldn’t really work out the rules until I read the Tycoon ones, and then it made sense! Buying “shipping routes”  and “warehouses” didn’t work for me, but buying plane tickets and hotels did.  But the mechanics are good (Kramer+area control is usually a safe bet) and I like the economics a lot. Money is points, you have to spend money to make money, and there’s loans that can totally cripple you…that you have no choice but to take out. Played with three, really want to give it a shot with five.

More Castle Panic. I got the kids to play sort of a jimmied up “kid’s” version with no fancy monsters, no fancy cards. It mostly worked, but they still can’t quite grasp the “you are not a color” concept that I guess is genetically hard-coded into everyone. I’ve been soloing it too…and although I like it better with Wizard’s Tower, it still feels somewhat screwy. It’s never really difficult, and I’m generally losing for stupid reasons- like not being able to pull that barbarian or another card that can hit something in the castle. Really kind of torn on it…like it, but kind of don’t. Both.

Through the Desert is here, traded Deadwood for it. Didn’t have to pay $199.99 for it after all.

A buddy of mine came over last night and he was looking at the game shelf and he said “why haven’t you ever shown me Battleball?” Good question, because this guy really loves football and Blood Bowl. So we played a couple of games of it…damn, what a fun game. I was thinking the other day how I wish there was a simpler, more accessible Blood Bowl/Dreadzone/Kaosball/etc…well, this is it. It has two big flaws- it is a little rules-light for a sports game and all there is for it is in the box- no extra teams or anything. Which is really a shame, this game deserved some support. I had also forgotten that it was another great Stephen Baker design.

Review copies are pretty dried up right now, and there’s not much out I’m really all that interested in anyway.  Buonocore politely declined my request for Panamax.  Said something like it wasn’t really my style. Guess he hasn’t been following the ERP’s rise to dominance here at F:AT. It looks really cool, I might take a chance on it. Impulse is coming from Asmadi, may get a Battle Merchants from Minion.  Heroes Wanted is completely out of stock at the publisher. I think I might pick up Five Tribes on my dime, it looks pretty good.

On the Consoles

Destiny, blah blah blah. Well, here’s the deal. I’m still actually going through content that I already played through two, three and even four times in the so it’s hard to say at this point where it’s going. It’s really kind of disappointing to have to go back through the early stages again, especially since very little is different from the pre-release version. It definitely feels like a next-generation successor to Halo in almost every way, but I do think they left behind one of the key things that I love about Halo- the sense that you can play the game however you want. As a single-player story, optional challenges, various multiplayer modes, giant maps with vehicles, objectives, slayer matches, whatever. It feels very much like the game is trying to steer you into playing with friends, which is probably great if you have a bunch of friends to play the game with but I don’t.

I think it’s terrifyingly innovative in how it’s set up and structured, sort of falling between an MMORPG, a FPS and an ARPG. I love that there aren’t really “game mode” menus and you are always in-game. The mechanics are spotless,  Bungie’s experience in tuning Halo really shows. The firefights can get quite intense in the way that Halo used to. Visually, the game is arresting and the production design is stunning. But there is almost nothing beneath the veneer. It all feels strangely empty and not just because the setting is really bare beyond the visuals. I shouldn’t find a secret cave, explore it, and find that there’s nothing there. If there’s going to be loot, it shouldn’t drop in such a way that I can’t even see it. Not that there’s much loot anyway, and most of the weapon/armor choices are pretty much made for you based on class, level or money.

In the Beta, I felt like I was playing a game with enormous potential. In the final version, I feel like I’m still playing that same game because effectively, it is exactly the same with no sense of there being anything but unfulfilled potential. There still aren’t any other vehicles other than the speeder bikes. The storyline, such as it is, doesn’t have any kind of epic set-pieces like Halo games had. I’m grateful that they completely skipped all of the atrocious writing that was in Halo, but it is funny how the game actually needs characters like Master Chief, Cortana and 343 Guilty Spark. The Dinklage-ghost (which is actually rather like Cursor from Tron) just doesn’t cut it.

I think this game is going to be HUGELY divisive. It is a complete and utter disappointment in a lot of ways, even coming from the Beta. But you can see where they are pushing some boundaries and trying to sort out what a “next generation” FPS is going to look like. It’s clear that they aren’t there, but the core FPS gameplay is top-notch. And it’s also thankfully free of the kind of hateful, negative bloodlust that sours so many games in the genre- it still has that kind of cavalier, schoolyard attitude about guns and shooting that Halo always did.

I dunno, all in all, I wish I had Gamefly’d it and bought the new version of Diablo III instead.

On IOS

Oh man. If A Dark Room were just a LITTLE more developed and refined, it could be one of the best games available on the platform. I do not want to go into too much detail because I think that discovering what the game is about and what the story seems to be is part of what makes it great. It’s kind of a text adventure that starts out in a dark room. You start a fire that you’ve got to keep stoked or your screen goes dark. Other people come to the fire and eventually you can start ordering them to gather wood to build huts. More people come, and you can start hunting for food. That’s about all you need to know because from there on out anything said about what goes on in the game should be regarded as a spoiler.

The writing is really lean in almost a Cormac McCarthy sense- minimal words. But it’s hugely atmospheric because of that. Unfortunately, the game becomes quite repetitive after a couple of hours and tapping on “stoke fire” and “gather wood” get pretty old. There’s not really any kind of failure other than setbacks.

Overall, it’s pretty great and it’s a nice five-minute-at-a-time game. The kind of thing you check on throughout the day to do a couple of things and put it up.

On the Screen

I finally saw Captain America: The Winter Solider. As has already been widely discussed, it’s pretty great and I would place it right at the very top of the Marvel movie pile. The writers DEFINITELY went in the right direction with it, crafting a very “now” espionage thriller with plenty of grounding in the real world- including some outstanding actual fighting and stuntwork.  Long shots of action across big, real environments. Loved it. Like The Dark Knight, it seems like the impetus was to make a good movie first, a good comic book movie second.

And…they also made something very close to a Metal Gear Solid movie.

It didn’t dawn on me until the scene with Arnim Zola (great!) that these writers HAVE to have been influenced by Kojima. The plot is straight out of a MGS game (albeit much less labyrinthine, as is the combination of real-world military concepts/imagery and slightly more sci-fi (and absurd) material. Right down the line, the characters could have all been pulled from a MGS game as much as from the original Captain America comics. Once Falcon showed up with his experimental wing suit, that and all of the conspiracy stuff, secret algorithms, everything with the Winter Soldier and so forth made me really sense how much MGS influenced this story.

I was somewhat disappointed that the Winter Soldier part of the story was really minor, given that it’s the subtitle of the film.  They should have saved that for the next film. There really wasn’t a whole lot of Brubaker’s story there apart from the high points. So we didn’t get to the REALLY cool stuff about that story, which it seems is going to follow in the next film. That said, the Winter Soldier was really well done, and without spoiling it the actor is just right for the role- love that innocent, soft face contrasting with the cyborg arm. Very interested in seeing how they handle the more tragic aspects of that character and what happens after he’s defeated.

Batroc was a great addition, very cool to see a little Savate action. Really well done fight. Somehow they stuffed this film with villains and got away with it. Robert Redford added a nice touch of class and looped the film back to the political/espionage films of the 1970s

Falcon was TERRIFIC. I loved how the film set up his friendship with Cap right away and in an easy, honest way. Don’t know if he could carry a film on his own, but he’s a great partner for Cap. I was a little less impressed with Black Widow this time out- she was written too glib and there were a few too many unrequited googly eyes moments with Cap.

And Crossbones! WTF!? I had no idea he was in it…well, at least kind of. Guess we’ll see him more in Cap 3, and with Agent 13 in the mix…I think I know what’s gonna happen…could be really awesome.

LOVED the Smithsonian exhibit, what a cool way to do a little back-pedaling exposition…and even cooler when Cap lifts his old uniform from it.

Final word on the film-the aging Jenny Agutter transforming into Scarlett Johansson. I really don’t even know what to say about that. The male mind reels. So utterly confused.

More Simpsons. I’m drowning in Simpsons episodes, and TONS of them I’ve never seen since I stopped watching regularly in 2000. I can’t believe I have like 14 years of this show to catch up on…and I had already watched 11 years of it! As we’ve talked about, it seems like the really bad years (other than the first season and part of the second) are 2000-2006. When I see those “originally aired on” dates…I’m tempted to just skip them. Watched one of those last night, “Jazzy and the Pussycats” where Bart becomes a master Jazz drummer. It wasn’t _awful_, but I think I only laughed one time and at a silly Ralph Wiggum bit at that.

The Israel episode was pretty great though…Homer’s Carolina Panthers credit card…hilarious.

On Spotify

Still plying the riches of the Clash “Sound System”  box set. I’d definitely rank The Clash as one of my top three favorite bands of all time. Probably top two- it’s hard to unseat Joy Division/New Order, but they certainly make a play for it.

What I’ve really been hitting a lot is their reggae. The Clash did something really smart with reggae (and rap) for that matter. They didn’t try to emulate the ethnic or cultural elements. They played reggae like an English punk band. But as you go through the catalog, it almost becomes laughable to call them a punk band anyway. Sure, anything off the first two records is bona fide punk but what about all of the dub, NYC disco, rockabilly, R&B, rap, etc…I think that’s what I love about The Clash more than anything. They loved _music_ with a punk rock passion and approach and wanted to bring that ethos and energy into areas beyond the usual rock n’ roll standard.

Remembering that “Police on My Back”, one of their best covers, is an old Eddy Grant number I went off to listen to “Electric Avenue” a couple of times. GOD I LOVE THAT SONG.

I’m venturing out into post-Clash territory this week. It’s odd, but I’ve never really listened to much Big Audio Dynamite, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Havana 3AM, Carbon/Silicon, The Good the Bad and the Queen, etc. I think I’m going to hit BAD first- it’ll be interesting to hear how “Rush” and “The Globe” have held up…from what I recall, those tracks sound so very 1991. But I also remember them sounding quite a lot like The Clash.

And I’ve never actually listened to Cut the Crap. Spotify has it, so I’m going to have to finally take a listen.

Barnestorming- ERP #4- El Grande, Destiny, A Dark Room, Winter Soldier, Electric Avenue There Will Be Games
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