Hello, and welcome to the first "official" installment of my not-yet-titled weekly column. Today's contents: Thoughts on The Cape's cancellation and genre TV in general, and mini-reviews/sessions of Famiglia, Dungeonquest 3rd Edition, and Steam
He got a runnin' start and bless his heart, he headed for the ground
Summer Glau, who you may remember as one of the
earliest stars of the Fortress: Ameritrash blog
To the surprise of no one, NBC cancelled the cheesy comic-book actioner "The Cape" earlier this month. "The Cape" told the story of a cop who discovered corruption in the ranks, and was framed as a serial killer by the very people he was investigating. Thought dead, he was taken in by a circus criminal gang, who trained him and gave him the titular cape that he then used to fight crime and hopefully clear his name, reuniting him with his family.
I will freely admit that The Cape was not what anyone would call good television. It was corny, and often took nonsensical narrative leaps. It also had a bad habit of rushing through its storylines--the two-hour pilot alone had enough stuff crammed into it to last at least three or four episodes. Still, I am a sucker for genre TV, particularly on a network channel, and it's always great to see Keith David hamming it up anywhere he can. (In this show he was Max Milini, leader of The Circus of Crime, who inexplicably trained and helped The Cape. He is so fantastic in the role, I wish they'd give Max and his crew their own show. Seriously.) I also dug the work of James Frain as main villain Peter Fleming/Chess, who also chewed up his fair bit of scenery. He was great in ABC's Invasion too as a similar heavy, I think the guy is just made to play a slimy villain.
The writing is similarly on the wall for ABC's "No Ordinary Family", which is to The Fantastic Four as The Cape is to Batman. It's a similarly corny show but with a family-bent, and while it is also not terrific television, it's enjoyable, and Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz make a great on-screen couple.
I don't know why I support genre television the way I do, considering it is so often doomed. Barnes would probably be all over my shit for watching this stuff, for supporting crap in any form. But I see things differently. You see, when folks don't watch genre TV--even when it's crap--the message the networks get isn't "this show was crap." They get the message, "we shouldn't bother with genre TV, it's crap." For me, I'll take a hundred Capes and No Ordinary Families instead of just one more rancid reality show.
For the ten of you left who were watching the show, the final episode will not be airing on TV and will be available online at NBC.com. So it looks like the Heroes-inspired charge is already over, so we'll now return you to "reality stars" who have no reason to be on TV whatsoever yet...there they are.
Oh, and the Summer Glau curse continues. Homegirl can NOT catch a break.
So I...I glower and plot, I will wreck you
This Friday brings the release of Zak Snyder's Sucker Punch, the first movie in several months I am genuinely excited about. (Well, sure, there was Tron: Legacy, but the less said about that, the better.)
I have deliberately remained spoiler-free about this one, only watching a couple of the trailers. From what I've gathered, a girl is locked away in an asylum for the insane, seemingly unjustly. From there, she teams up with some gal pals, and then...all reality comes unhinged as there are dragons, samurais, mechs, soldiers, machine guns, and a post-apocalypic hyper-realized World War I battlefield. Yeah, color me beyond intrigued. I know that Snyder has a really bad habit of emphasizing style over substance, but I thoroughly enjoyed both 300 and Watchmen, so I'm game. More than one gamer has mentioned the thematic link to Heroscape...I don't know if Snyder is a gamer, but a lot of the elements of a typical game of 'scape are definitely there.
Me? I'm hoping for an enjoyable popcorn geek romp, so let's see if it delivers. If you haven't already seen the trailer, check it out here:
The song in the second half of the trailer is "Panic Switch" by Silversun Pickups...
killer song, great album, and a total cheat on their part to get me to see the movie.
And now, what they allegedly pay me for
Hey hey, this is a boardgaming blog, let's talk some boardgames, shall we? First up, some from-the-hip impressions about some games I've gotten to play recently.
Astute readers may remember that a couple of months ago I tried Valley Games' Days of Steam (check out the review here). I had been itching to try something in the train game genre, and I probably unfairly judged Days of Steam based on that desire to get into a heavier pick-up-and-deliver game. My wife really liked Days of Steam though and through subsequent playings demonstrated the game had a nice cutthroat element lurking underneath its harmless-looking exterior, so we're definitely keeping it around. But my thirst for a "true" train game persisted.
I ultimately went with Steam, based on nothing more than the fact I wanted to support Martin Wallace in the whole "Who Owns Age of Steam?" debacle, and hey, I like Mayfair Games as a company, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say about Winsome. Just personal preference folks...move along.
I'm not going to dig deep into explaining the mechanics, but we did get this to the table and although I horribly, horribly mangled a couple of rules--like allowing waaaay more deliveries than we should--I really, really enjoyed it. The double-sided board is genius and takes care of some of the scaling problems with differing numbers of players right out of the box. The bits are sturdy, and yeah it's a bummer there's no plastic trains, but let's face it...the plastic trains aren't fooling anyone when you're playing a game like this.
I know that there are folks who collect and own dozens of train games, but I'm sated. Steam strikes the right balance of forgiving gameplay and tough choices, and while some of the hardcore Age of Steam fans bemoan some of the rules changes made to make the game easier, I prefer to play the other players, not get punished by the game system.
So hey, I dig it. If you're a train game neophyte like me, and want to dabble, this is a damned good place to start.
Dungeonquest: 3rd Edition
So I was still getting back to full speed when this released last year, and I never really got to offer my thoughts on it.
The first time I got to play Dungeonquest was back in early '09 at Atlanta Gamefest, where Barnes, Robert Martin, my brother and I braved the keep on a sadistic quest. It had long been a game that I'd wanted to try, but being OOP as it was then, it was hideously expensive to acquire, and those who did want to part with it typically had pretty ravaged copies.
The gameplay lived up to the hype. We were wandering through a dungeon that wanted to kill us. Monsters, traps, dead ends, revolving passages, secret doors, and just in general Bad Shit happening at every turn. The game maliciously trapped me between a revolving chamber and a dead-end passage. I've heard the survival rate is something akin to 15%, and I believe it.
It was a no-brainer for me when the reprint was announced...I knew I would be getting this one. Through a generous trade on BGG not long after, it was MINE! Bwahahahahaha. (Those who cackle with glee at the prospect of playing this game are sadistic individuals.)
I'll say this--Fantasy Flight Games production-wise knocked this out of the park. Sturdy tiles, great art, cool miniatures, and tons upon tons of cards. There were those who quibbled with the re-branding of the game to Terrinoth, but to me that's pretty much a non-issue...who gives a crap what world this is set in, really?
I've since played it a couple of times and it lives up to its predecessor. I've been on the receiving end of lethal dragon's rage, first card pull, both games, the odds of which are...I don't know, but the game's got it in for me, man.
To show the game's evil sense of humor, our seven year-old had been asking to play this for a couple of weeks, and we'd joked that you could die on your first tile, bottomless pit-style. So guess what happens to the poor guy...his first tile pull, bottomless pit, failed roll, g'night. The poor guy was pretty sad, so we let him be the "monster commander", and told him he haunted the hallways of the Keep forever more. That seemed to cheer him up.
Of course, you can't talk about this reprint without talking about the new card combat. The first game I played with my brother, we used the card combat. Personally, I think taken by itself, the card combat is great. There's reading of your opponent, and also trying to maneuver your way into landing devastating deathblows on your foe. There's plenty of special powers and back and forth cardplay. It's really pretty awesome. Thing is, when you start playing this little subgame, the entire Dungeonquest game grinds to a halt while you resolve this.
We also felt that it was something of a waste of time, as you could play a brilliant five-minute combat, outthinking your opponent, slapping down a key card that devastates them...then draw a tile next turn, roll one die, and you're dead. It made no sense. Yet...I have to admit, there's an entire game here that could be broken out on its own as maybe "Dungeonquest: The Duel Card Game." Put some cards in a box and some character sheets with certain powers, and sell it for $20. It would totally work.
However, on our second game, we used the variant posted on Fantasy Flight Games' website that brought the game more inline with the classic RPS, quick-playing combat of old, and while I did miss the flavor of the prolonged combats, it made the game sail right along.
My wife almost...*almost* survived this one. She was the last one alive, plowing toward the exit, surviving the Catacombs...and one square..ONE square before the exit...dead end. With no time left, the sun set, and the Keep claimed another four victims. It was glorious.
(Big thanks to Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games, who sent a review copy my way.)
I like Friedemann Friese. He's one of those designers that has a distinct style and a crazy sense of humor; watch or read an interview with the "green-haired wonder" and that much is plainly obvious. Power Grid is a favorite of mine against all odds--I generally despise heavy Euros, but there's something about PG's mechanics and theme that just works for me.
I probably would have overlooked this one had I not gotten a review copy, but I'm glad I didn't. Famiglia is an abstract card game with a mobster theme, as both players are using the cards in their hand to recruit members of various gangs on display in the center of the table. Each player has a pre-set hand of four cards, one 0-value each of the four mobster families. To claim a mobster, you have to have a matching set of the two mobsters of value one less than the one you're claiming. You can claim 0-value mobsters for free, but to claim a 1-value, you need two 0-values of the same color, and so on. You put one of the cards you used to claim them in play in front of you, and take the other card played plus the recruited card and add it to your hand.
Each family has something unique to them in the form of special powers. Cards already in play only have their scoring value, but cards in hand can be used to do certain things. The Mercenaries (Green) can be used as wilds of value one less than their printed value--so a Green 2 can act as any other color's 0 or 1. The Accountants (Blue) allow you to play them, bounce cards in play back to your hand up to their value minus one, and then put that many other cards from your hand back in play--great for getting multiple uses out of certain cards' powers. The Brutes (Yellow) have the ability to lower the value of any card on display by a given amount, allowing you to claim them as though they were a lower-valued card. And the Famiglia (Red) are simply worth more points than their counterparts but have no other special powers.
Players take turns playing cards and claiming family members until they've burned through the deck twice, and then the game ends and scores are tallied.
The box art is meant to look like a cigar box, and the size is the same of most small card games of this ilk, such as Fairy Tale or Bottle Imp. The cards are oversized, which is a bummer because you can't sleeve them, but the extra space is used to great effect for some pretty funny artwork, another trademark of a lot of Friese's games. There are tons of in-jokes in the artwork and the names of the cards themselves, and many of the cards form images if put together. Lots of the family members have more than a passing resemblance to certain characters in popular culture, and you'll likely come up with nicknames for them really quickly--we already have Ed Norton (American History X-style), Brando (obvious), The Dude, and Mr. Burns.
The cards are of sturdy quality, but one small complaint is that once you've opened the box, the cards don't really fit back in perfectly, so the box lid doesn't go all the way back down. It's kind of weird how they missed this, but it's a small complaint.
What's cool is that the game allows you to make spectacularly bad choices, to the point where you'll be crippled and unable to claim anything by the end of the game. Yeah, I know this totally runs counter to my thoughts on Age of Steam above, but the difference here is you're only sitting down for a 20-minute (if that) two-player card game. So if you play badly, there are no Euro-style catch-up mechanics to help you. And in your first few games, you will very likely make some bad choices, and at the end, you'll see your mistakes and play better the next time. You'll learn how to pull off some cool tricks, like smashing down some cards to get them on the cheap with The Brutes, using an Accountant to bounce those Brutes back, and using them again to climb a different branch. It's fun, and using your powers wisely is definitely the key.
We've played it a bunch, and after showing it to some folks at work, one of them ordered a copy for themselves, where they've been playing it on breaks. It's pretty addictive, affordably cheap, and a great, quick, two-player filler where you actually feel like you've made decisions that matter to your success. It's not one of my top 10 games, but it's definitely a keeper.
Better not violate the camp, get shot down by chance
So that's going to do it for this week's installment. Readers from last week may note that this column has very little of the content advertised from last week, and I'm going to refrain from doing teasers until I get my column flow organized and better planned. Until then, feel free to leave comments below, or send them to my Trashmail inbox. See ya in seven.