Sun Tzu- "Tastes Great". King Chu "Less Filling.
On the Table
“I’m looking for a really good two player game with simple rules, some depth, plays in about 30 minutes, a lot of replayability, looks good…”
Sun Tzu, the game formerly known as Dynasties, is where you need to go. It’s a very good two player DoaM with a card-based unit placement/displacement mechanic. The old game was good in 2005, but I think it’s even better in 2014 especially with the great production that Matagot/Asmodee has afforded it. I never really expected to play the game again and it was something of a surprise to see it back, but I’m glad it’s here again and I’ve got it on my shelf of great two player games probably for good. Review here.
Imperial Assault arrived with not much more fanfare than the familar "thunk" of UPS leaving a box last night. And my knee-jerk verdict after less than 24 hours of ownership? “Well, there it is then."
I had two buddies set up to come over but one flaked out so it was just me and Jamie. We busted it open and flipped through the four (!) books, pawed over the minis and so forth for about 20 minutes. Then spent about 20 minutes setting up the TINY tutorial, that was really just a “how do I move figure” thing. Thanks. Not worth sorting out map tile 27b from 15a, which looks very close to 34b which you need three of but you can’t really tell where they go on the diagram.
The campaign looks incredibly involved and dare I say it…overly complicated. To the point where I might be asking “why not just play the RPG” so that you get an actual story beyond “we flipped a switch, got a new piece of equipment, and the Imperial player read a little paragraph. I actually sorted out all of the campaign materials and put them in a big baggie. I dunno. It looks like you really can’t just jump in and play a scenario, I might be wrong but it looks like it is specifically designed for campaign play. Which is a big, big, big mistake IMO.
But there is the Skirmish game, which is what Jamie and I went for after that dumb tutorial. It is not seamless. There are card effects (like double attacks) that suddenly just don’t exist in the skirmish game. And all of the strain mechanic is gutted, even though things still reference strain. I thought it would be more or less the full rules but with head-to-head play and squad building. It kind of is, but there are some omissions. No crates? Really?
So Jamie took Vader, some stormtroopers and the Royal Guard. I had Luke, Hanna Solo, Random Imperial Dude, ersatz Chewbacca, and the horned force user lady. We did the first skirmish map, which has a T-16 in the middle that you’re supposed to fight over. Needless to say, we dubbed the mission “Get to za Hoppa!”
It wound up with a couple of things going on- wookiee and rebel dude got into a firefight in a hallway with some stormtroopers holding down a terminal (it gives you an extra command card if you control it). Luke ran to the T-16, tangling with the other contingent of Stormtroopers and the Guard. They killed him. Roll credits. At the other terminal, Hanna Solo ran for it with Jedi lady for back up. But Jamie sent Vader that way, which was actually pretty dramatic and cool if only because it’s Vader. Hanna ran for it, and it turned out with the Jedi lady battling it out with Vader over the Terminal. Hanna Solo ran to support Luke. You play to 40 points, tabulating the value of the cards you down and the objective (each of the 4 T-16 spaces are worth 2 points per round unless you activate them, then they are worth 5). Jamie won pretty handily once he was in place. The wookiee charged but got completely destroyed. It was pretty sad.
Overall, my first impression is that it’s decent. I’m not blown away by it, and overall it feels oddly unremarkable. The problem is that there have been so many games like this lately, including some really good ones, that Imperial Assault just doesn’t have anything that makes me say “wow, this is a great game” other than the SW license, and even then I think I might rather play Epic Duels or even X-Wing. I actually thought at one point during the game that I really wished that we had played Claustrophobia instead. Or Dungeon Command. Or that Imperial Assault was based on Gears of War instead of Descent.
I never played 2nd edition Descent so I can’t really comment there, but versus 1st edition Descent it doesn’t really feel that much less clunky. That may be different in campaign games and scenarios, we’ll see. The campaign mechanics for continuity might be brilliant. But the boots-on-the-ground gameplay is...shockingly workmanlike. If it weren't SW, I don't know that I would really care that much about it.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter what I think because people will flip their shit over it and I’m sure there will be groups that just dive right into a campaign game for months. The reality of it is that I feel disappointed with it after X-Wing, which came out and became THE light miniatures game. Imperial Assault feels like another miniatures skirmish/dungeon crawl among the recent slew of games attempting to simulate the Games Workshop games of the 80s and 90s. But with SW characters. Which does count for a lot, but I have to say that the core mechanics are just not that impressive to me. But it is a first impression, I’m looking forward to playing more and seeing if it sustains interest.
We also squeezed in a two player game of Temporum, which RGG sent me. Hats off to Jay and company for putting “Made in the USA” right there on the box. Great to see that, especially after FFG’s massive box of China. This is Donald X.’s new game and…I think it may be really good. But it will be one of those that most people ignore. The idea is cool- you move through timestreams, changing history to try to take over time periods. It’s HUGELY variable, every game has ten different ages/card effects. Only thing is that two players…not so much. Definitely a 4-5 player game. More later.
I really like Fantastiqa- the old fashioned, NOT Tolkien fantasy is oddly refreshing. It’s a game about fairies and witches and billy goats with whimsical quests like cleaning out stables or winning a hissing contest. Yes, it is a deckbuilder, but it’s really different. There’s travel, an almost Pokemon-like quality of subduing creatures, and some smart mechanics that let you do things like shuffle by spending a token or saving cards from hand to hand so you can fulfill quests. It’s very light, unusually narrative and it doesn’t feel redundant with some of the other games in the genre. Very nice. Might have to check out the expansions.
On the Consoles
Nintendo does it again. Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker is so freakin’ good. It’s an easy going puzzle-platformer that is almost ridiculously charming. It’s based on the Captain Toad levels from SMW3D but expanded a bit to stretch that concept out over some 70+ levels. My kids LOVE it- there’s no jumping, very few instant fail states, and they get the logic of the puzzles. For adult players, there are additional challenges and harder secrets to find. Great game, and it’s only $40 retail. Unlike the slew of broken, barely functional and buggy AAA releases lately…it works PERFECTLY without even a day one patch.
Looking at this pretty neat little game called Ancient Legacy. It looks like a Game Boy game- black LCD. But it plays like Talisman…but I think I like it better than IOS Talisman! You pick a character and do a roll and move thing…but then go into these sub-boards that have specific quests on them. You also have to build outposts and markets. The style is really cool, very psychedelic, Moorcock-like fantasy. Weird spacey soundtrack. Well worth a dollar.
I also tried to get back into Wayward Souls, I still do not really like that game and don’t understand why it was such a big deal.
On the Screen
Man, Ascension was AWFUL! It was supposed to be SyFy’s big return to “hard” science fiction, but it was just soapy, sexed-up bullshit with horrid acting and writing. This is not too far of an exaggeration “Well, we are on a spaceship that is in space, so therefore we do not have the kinds of things that they have on earth since we are on a spaceship that is in space. Woe is us. In space. The “sixties never ended” vibe on the ship would be cool, except that nothing really looks like the sixties. And note to the producers- “Rocket Man” was written in 1972, a good ten years after the period you’re aiming for. The “big reveal” at the end was so freaking cheese, and it’s not a “big reveal” anyway since that exact same plot twist has been used like a hundred times at this point with a couple of variations. About 20 minutes into the show, I thought “hmm, I bet…” and I was right.
Not as bad as The Strain, but I think I’ll skip the rest of this one.
I liked 47 Ronin probably more than I ought to. If you go into it expecting Cushingura, something of Kurosawa quality, or a serious treatment of the story then you’ll hate it. But if you go into it expecting something along the lines of Krull or Beastmaster, you might wind up like me, liking it despite itself. It is pretty bad, but it has this weird 1980s fantasy vibe to it…like this whole scene where they have to go to the Tengu to get these magic Tengu swords…and there’s like this crazy trial where they can’t draw their swords or the weirdo bird-people will kill them. That is just like something from a fantasy film circa 1982 that you go back to school and talk about. And then swords are like these ridiculous WHITE ones. File it all under a guilty pleasure. But it is pretty bad. I don’t think there are ever actually 47 ronin in their group.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was pretty good overall but oddly not as striking as Rise was. Apes looked great, Caesar was great, etc. but for some reason it just didn’t have the impact I hoped it would. I did think it was pretty awesome that the kid gave Maurice the baboon a copy of Charles Burns’ Black Hole, which I guess was like the last graphic novel on earth or something. “Hey, ultra-smart monkey…have this comic about this weird sex disease mutating kids in the 1970s, it represents the best of humanity”.
Watched Guardians of the Galaxy some more, of course. There really is some lazy writing in it, if you get too critical. Why was the orb just sitting there unguarded in these ruins on Morag, and why did Thanos need somebody to just walk in and pick it up for him. It’s almost like saying “Ronan, I will destroy an entire civilization for you if you will go pick me up a loaf of bread”.
But there is also some good writing in it too. I love how Drax turns out to be almost a metaphor for the downer, dark strain of negative science fiction. Rocket just calls him to the carpet on his whole anger/vengeance kick after the disaster where he calls Ronan and jeopardizes everything they’re fighting for. And then he lightens up and makes friends.
I’ve been listening to D’angelo’s new record, Black Messiah, almost non-stop since it came out. Yesterday. It’s DAMN good. Old fashioned soul music definitely more in line with Marvin and Sly than anything passing for R&B these days. Warm, analog production with lots of real playing. Some dark, abrasive elements that further distance it from the mainstream. Some very Prince-ly bits that are actually more Prince-ly than most of Prince’s recent output. I liked his first two records and I personally sold something like 200 copies of “Voodoo” myself, it came out back when I managed a record store. But damn, 14 years…thing is, it was worth the wait for him to do another really good (maybe great) album rather than to watch him slide into mediocrity over a decade and a half.