Bolt Thrower #25: A Distant Plain, too many iOS reviews to read in one go

Bolt Thrower #25: A Distant Plain, too many iOS reviews to read in one go Hot

MattDP     
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bolt-throwerDoes a spear travelling at terminal velocities toward an unsuspecting target make any noise if there's no-one around to hear it? And if there's no one around to hear it, how can there even be a target? Those are just two of the questions that won't get answered in todays pre-festing Bolt Thrower.

Board Games

Last week I got the pleasure of reviewing A Distant Plain on Shut Up & Sit Down. It was the first game in the COIN series I'd played, and I had mixed feelings about the system: while it's full of intreresting strategy and detail, it's head-breakingly hard to do well and sometimes makes you feel like an accountant with all the tallies going up and down. It sometimes feels a bit too much like hard work, basically. 

But on the other hand, its evocation of the politics of modern Afghanistan is jaw-dropping. It deserves plaudits for tackling such a hot subject without flinching and with so many shades of realistic moral complexity. There's a particularly wonderful jealous co-dependency between the Afghan government and coalition players which is pretty much unique.

You'll notice that I haven't done an awards column this year. That's partly because I'd have struggled to find five games that I was really impressed by: two of my favourites this year have been re-prints. I have enjoyed some wargames but they've tended to be extensions or expansions of existing rules sets, which isn't quite the same. I haven't played a couple of games I'd have like to, mind, such as Pathfinder and Space Cadets: Dice Duel (I have now played Robinson Crusoe) - so maybe there's hope of an early 2014 rally.

But also, to be honest with y'all, I'm finding it increasingly hard to find time to blog in the wealth of other stuff I have to get done. I'm sorry I've been less attentive of F:AT than I would have liked, but life is the way it is and other things have to come first and I don't see them letting up any time soon. But I'll still be here, just less regularly than I used to be.

Films

I finally got around to upgrading to a new HD set. It's lovely. And as a result I've been watching way more films than usual lately.

The one I enjoyed most was Prometheus. After watching it I was amazed by the confused reaction to the film from much of the internet. Yes, there were plot hole and yes, there were points that were never explained but most of them were quite easily filled from the imagination and intuitition and it seemed a coherent and satisfying whole to me. And it was gruesome, scary, stylish and unusually intelligent for big-budget sci-fi horror.

Pacific Rim, by contrast, was unusually dumb for big-budget sci-fi. It was big, brash and fun, and I enjoyed it, but it was also incredibly shallow and predictable. Del Torro has made so many nearly-great films that it's getting a bit frustrating.

Mary & Max is a peculiar Australian claymation film for adults about two lonely, damaged people in Australia and America who end up as accident penfriends. It's beautifully produced and shot, stuff with pathos and wound through with a thick vein of black comedy. But while there's much to admire in it, I found it incredibly bleak and depressing.

I also watched a couple of Johnny Depp films. What's Eating Gilbert Grape was critically acclaimed, and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas was not, but I hated them both. The former, while graced with an astonishing performance from a young Leonardo di Caprio, was excessively slow-burning and the latter was such a pathetic, gurning send-up of Thompson's incendary, angry novel that it made me cross.

iOS

Gaming recently has been all about the iOS, mainly due to a slew of reviews I had to push out for other sites. We'll wind through these quickly. Before I wrote most of these I did another top board games for iOS list, which is a bit of a shame because at least one of these releases would have made it into the list in place of Stone Age.

Pathogen is a surprisingly good and stylish abstract. Really not my usual cup of tea at all, but a combination of presentation, accessibility and top use of the digital platform drew me in.

Civil War 2: 1862 is a competently delivered but soulless and slightly repetitive strategy game. It's super-cheap but there's so many great strategy titles on iPad that you're better off spending a little more. 

Lords of Waterdeep is a faultless translation of the original and you should go buy it now. It's probably the best thing Playdek have done to date.

Razzia is a very slick implementation of its source game, but whenever I played it, I kind of found myself wishing I was playing Ra instead.

Quarriors is pretty weak. It's functional, in the sense you can play against the AI or other people via hotseat or online, so I can't slate it hard. But everything else about it, from the AI to the UI, reeks of lazy, sloppy coding and corner cutting.

Pixellated adventure Legend of Equip Pants is free and very funny and worth a bit of your time Platformer.Nightmare: Malaria is free and for charity so that probably is too.

I really liked the iOS version of Space Hulk. I thought the graphics and sound really added to the experience, and the campaign really hooked me in. It's just a shame it was obsviously such a rushed PC port and so little thought was given to the touchscreen UI.

Gun Dogs is a new gamebook, graced with illustrations by industry legend Gary Chalk.It's very much a by-the-numbers affair for the genre (pun intended) but it's got enough energy and quality art to make it worthwhile.

Drive on Moscow is stupendously good. It keep everything that made Battle of the Bulge so special, but the new scenario looks and feels qualitatively different and poses lots of interesting strategic and historical questions.

Tiny Games is what you need for the family this Christmas. You tell it where you are, what mood you're in and how many peopel want to play and it suggests a super-simple real-life game to play. Most of them are amazingly good fun. Oh, and you get a sub-set of the games free so you should definately, definately try it.

MULE Returns is awful, but you probably knew that.

Music

Is anyone still here after that cascade of links? Blimey, you've got a stronger stomach than me.

I haven't been fixated on any particular band or style of late. At the moment I'm listening to TV on the Radio, a band I really ought to listen to more but never seem to be in the right mood for.

But it's Christmas, and that means we ought to talk about Christmas Music. I have a little playlist of favourites I drag out this time of year, in defiance of all the awful shit you're bombarded with in shopping centers. It's mainly singles and mainly not on Spotify so I can't give you a big playlist and instead will point you toward to examples of that rarest of things: festive long players that are worth your time.

The first is appropriately entitled Christmas and is from Minnesota band Low. It might be the most Christmassy feeling record ever, full of bells and bright eyed childhood nostalgia without ever feeling cloying. The highlight is the magical Just Like Christmas, which is notable for being the best Christmas song that barely mentions Christmas.

The second, highlighting a more alternative approach to Christmas music, is Christmas Thanks for Nothing from lo-fi UK band Slow Club. It's a little uneven at times, although the slightly dischordant rendition of Silent Night is excellent. But the standout title is the finale, Christmas TV, a quiet and wonderfull uplifting evocation of seasonal love.

Have a good holiday, everyone. And I'll see you all in the new year.

Bolt Thrower #25: A Distant Plain, too many iOS reviews to read in one go There Will Be Games
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