Barnestorming- Hearthstone in Review (again), Temple of Elemental Evil, Age of Ultron, Penny Dreadful

Barnestorming- Hearthstone in Review (again), Temple of Elemental Evil, Age of Ultron, Penny Dreadful Hot

Michael Barnes     
 
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hearthstone

The Game So Nice I Reviewed it Twice.

On the Table

I’m writing about Hearthstone this week because a) I am playing it far more than anything else and b) because it should be regarded as a tabletop design despite occurring on a screen and having some features that would not be possible. And in that regard, it is the best and likely most impactful CCG since Magic. It’s an immaculate design, brilliantly presented and rich with possibilities in terms of the game you might play today and the one you might be playing five years from now. A year or two ago I made some kind of statement to the effect that I was ready for the “next big thing” in tabletop games, and quite frankly I think this is it. Sorry all you folks that must hold physical dice or insist on being able to see a real, physical middle-aged weirdo sitting in front of you. Hearthstone is far more significant than just about any board game we sqwak about being “innovative”. There are more people playing Hearthstone right at this very minute than will likely play a hobby board game all week.

Great, great stuff- and having it available on the phone was the last piece of the puzzle for me. So I decided to review it again, and again it gets the "coveted" No High Scores High Score award.

Temple of Elemental Evil…hoo boy. Yep. This is the one. Changes are actually pretty minor, but they are such that I wish the entire series had them. Traps are WAY better. XP is used strictly for cancelling encounters, you level up between campaigns by paying gold- hitting level 2 is a much bigger deal. Monsters have more variety. There are elemental effects on some of the tiles. Other minor tweaks that make this the most refined and best D&DAS game to date. Haven’t gotten to the town yet  but it looks really cool. Seems like it’s a little harder, maybe it’s just bad luck. Review will be at the Review Corner soon. Probably after I play the full 13 scenario campaign with some pals and likely also solo.

Been playing Fallen- it’s a really cool game but there is, as you might have heard, a possibly serious disconnect between the specific, paragraph-based narrative and some of the mechanics. But it is THE game to get the whole RPG concept right in a more fixed setting. You have, effectively, a DM that reads text and you get a multiple choice decision point. Then you have challenge rolls, where both sides get some set dice and then extra dice added by cards or effects. The narratives branch and develop, and after three story cards are completed you have a kind of final showdown. Which is a little weird, because it’s one of those that has an end game that happens sort of separately and the idea is that what you’ve built up to will determine the outcome. I really like this game so far.

Evolution from good ol’ Dom Crapuchettes is pretty good too, a very nicely done card game that somehow captures most of what you want from an evolution/dinosaur game. Very easy to play, very accessible and fun. The artwork reminds me of school library books from the early 1980s. This is a compliment.

 

On the Consoles

Still on my Bloodborne sabbatical. Should be ending it soon. Gotta get that wrapped up.

With the news coming out about a new Iga Castlevania (see Swordorwhip.com), I decided it was time to get to Aria of Sorrow going. About an hour and a half in, it’s great.  Still not quite to SotN level, but it’s up there. I love everything about those games- the music, the awesome sprite work, the simple RPG mechanics, the goofy stories. Every time I start one up, I feel like I’m right where I need to be.

On IOS

See above.

On the Screen

I managed to see Age of Ultron and I loved it. Complain all you want- it is definitely a sprawling mess of a picture and there are any number of “issues” you can bring up in an incredibly expensive and popular movie of this scope, but the fact is that it was another great Avengers picture and it was pure entertainment from start to finish with LOTS of fodder for the comics fan to enjoy.  I’ve already written about it in the forums, the bottom line is that this is a better, more interesting film than the first and although it’s not quite up to the level of Winter Soldier (which I think may not easily be topped), it’s at least as good as Guardians.

I absolutely loved that it starts right in the middle of an Avengers adventure- no origins, no getting the team back together…they’re doing their thing from the get-go in one of the film’s best action sequences. I also liked some of the subtle references to other work they were doing, like when Sam and Steve mention a child trafficking case they’re working on together. I thought that was really cool…it’s not always GLOBAL THREAT level stuff.

It was also refreshing- after that miserable Batman vs. Superman trailer and all of those angsty 1990s-looking Suicide Squad photos- to see a colorful, fun superhero film where the heroes actually behave like heroes and realize that they have to protect the little guy rather than wallow in self-absorption or intensely focus on defeating a villain. The Avengers save people, they protect people. They aren’t psychopaths, they aren’t “damaged”- regardless of Tony’s PTSD or Bruce’s anger issues.  It’s all very silver age, in a way, and that’s nice to see. Enough with the dark hero crap.

Hawkeye’s twist (no spoilers) really surprised me, it totally gave him a very meaningful place on the team and in the film. Really grounded the whole thing, and it brought a new layer to the character. It made me want a standalone Hawkeye film.

So many leads to the next Marvel films…Klaw is going to be Black Panther’s big bad, I bet, which is really cool. Thor’s storyline obviously prefigures Ragnarok. Needless to say, Tony and Cap are headed for loggerheads. And maybe a New Avengers (West Coast Avengers???) movie at some point. Bring ‘em on, I’m having fun.

I realized while watching it that the Marvel films really are the biggest, longest, most expensive TV series ever made. But more specifically, the kind of narrative in them is 100% indebted to X-Files, which sort of created this idea of an ongoing story wherein serial installments would contain wilfully vague leads to later material. Twin Peaks did this as well, but X-Files is really what popularized this kind of  string’em on writing. And of course, Lost furthered that into this decade. So the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really kind of enabled by audience expectations created by those kinds of TV shows, and more than that audiences are more receptive to this because TV has been regarded as “better” than cinema by a lot of folks for a number years thanks to some very high quality programming. It’s an interesting cultural thing going on there, I think. Effectively, film is learning from TV. Which is sort of a reversal  of how it has usually been.

Speaking of TV, I watched all of Penny Dreadful. Wow, I love this program.

The really neat thing about it is that it is really just a glossed-up, highbrow (?) version of those late-era Universal monster rallies- House of Frankenstein and the like. I had heard it compared to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but those old monster mashes are a much closer comparison. It’s also totally the kind of thing Hammer would make today- maybe not Terence Fisher, but Roy Ward Baker. I love how it pulls in all kinds of Victoriana- Varney the Vampire(!), the quest for the Nile, Jack the Ripper and so forth to create this very specific kind of horror story. I like the mix-up of the characters, I like Mina’s dad being in the story, I like Dorian Gray’s role…and I _love_ that shocker involving Frankenstein’s monster. Eva Green is great, the production is outstanding and it’s just a really fun show if you enjoy proper gothic horror. Some of the gore and violence is over the top, but there again…Hammer would have done it that way too.

Probably a DVD purchase on that one.

On Spotify

Mostly just kid requests…so that means ABBA, Kate Bush, Sparks, The Sweet, The Runaways (they love “Cherry Bomb”), “Godzilla”, “Schools’ Out”, Kraftwerk, the Chordettes (“Lollipop”), Jackson 5 and “Incense and Peppermints”.

Barnestorming- Hearthstone in Review (again), Temple of Elemental Evil, Age of Ultron, Penny Dreadful There Will Be Games
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Posted: 07 May 2015 11:28 by Mad Dog #201982
ChristopherMD's Avatar
You repeated the TOEE paragraph twice.
Posted: 07 May 2015 11:37 by Michael Barnes #201985
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Hang on, I wasn't wearing my Editor in Chief hat...there, it's like it never happened. Except for your post pointing it out!
Posted: 07 May 2015 11:46 by RobertB #201987
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Michael Barnes wrote:
Sorry all you folks that must hold physical dice or insist on being able to see a real, physical middle-aged weirdo sitting in front of you.

One of these days, you too will be a middle-aged weirdo. And everybody's somebody's weirdo. :)

As for Winter Soldier, I think I'm with you on that. For me it's the best MCU movie of the bunch.
Posted: 07 May 2015 11:59 by charlest #201993
charlest's Avatar
I'm still madly in love with Fallen. It's the closest I've come to putting a new design on my top 10 of all time since X-Wing, which did make the cut.

It's not perfect but it's just so damn unique and enjoyable. It's interactive and moves at a quick pace while giving you strong narrative and satisfying feedback. Effortlessly fun and always magical.
Posted: 07 May 2015 12:31 by Michael Barnes #201995
Michael Barnes's Avatar
It really solves that "adversarial DM" problem that games like Descent and Imperial Assault have by making it head-to-head. One hero versus the bad guy. I love how straightforward it is like that, and there's lot of challenging decisions to make.

However, it doesn't quite hang together narratively...much like how in Star Wars LCG you have to work out how a Tauntaun is involved in destroying a Star Destroyer, in Fallen you've got to sort out that the narrative isn't literal. It's strange, it's almost like an aggregate, jumbled storyline. It's modular too, so you might get different non-synergetic segments. I almost wish that they had done it as more of a Gamebook style, where it's fixed narrative with decision points. But that would, obviously, impact replayability.

It's a really interesting game, that's for sure.
Posted: 07 May 2015 12:46 by charlest #201997
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Those aren't really problems in my mind (although I did note them as such in my review), or at least big problems. Rather, the game is putting the onus of mending the seams on the GM, much like Shadows of Malice places the color in the hands of the player.

I described the three story cards as separate acts in the overall story, and when playing I will narrate a brief segue between them. They're not literally meant to follow each other without time passing.

The monsters not meshing with the narrative is more difficult to deal with but anyone who has spent time DMing will easily be able to incorporate the creature into the story. I actually enjoy doing this to some degree. It actually brings a further realization to the whole RPG feeling.
Posted: 07 May 2015 13:04 by Legomancer #201998
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I really WANT to like Hearthstone. I enjoy it well enough when I'm playing it. But I couldn't be less interested in constructing decks, grinding for rares, and being matched up against those who have. My finger has hovered over the delete button several times but each time I think I should keep it. I don't end up deleting it, but nor do I end up playing or wanting to play it.
Posted: 07 May 2015 13:18 by hotseatgames #202000
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I haven't touched Hearthstone since the day I got completely annihilated by a single super rare card.
Posted: 07 May 2015 15:20 by Octavian #202003
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"Sam and Steve mention a child trafficking case they’re working on together"

I thought it was "missing person"....i.e. Bucky....
Posted: 07 May 2015 16:23 by Michael Barnes #202006
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Ha, I didn't even draw that conclusion and then I misremembered it too.
Posted: 08 May 2015 07:43 by Columbob #202041
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Once more, this doesn't appear on the front page.

Can't wait to play ToEE, sounds great. Have you noticed any upgrades to characters re: fifth edition?
Posted: 08 May 2015 08:25 by lfisher #202048
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Did Babylon 5 also inspire that kind of X-Files/Twin Peaks narrative or is that really a different structure?
Posted: 08 May 2015 13:31 by mikecl #202088
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I played both Fallen and TOE this past week. Loved Fallen and TOE is so far making the cut even though I traded away Ravenloft for its uninspired gameplay. The small changes in gameplay may be just enough to put it over the top for me. I wrote up some of my thoughts in the "What Board Games Have You Been Playing" forum. Penny Dreadful was great. Watched the entire first season as it unfolded and loved it. Eva Green is a revelation. I love the twists they've put on the classic horror novels and I'm happy it's being renewed for another season.