It's hash time! Bully beef and yorkshire puddings.
So you might remember my last Shut Up & Sit Down column ended with a cliffhanger about the relevance of card-driven wargames? Well the thrilling conclusion is here and it also kind of includes a review of Twilight Struggle. If you want the spoilers, Quintin & I agreed that card driven games were great for high-level games that included a lot of politics, but perhaps less so for closer scale boots on the ground combat simulations. And Twilight Struggle is superb and everyone should play it all of the time for ever more. But you all probably knew that bit already, seeing as it's my favourite game and I never shut up about how great it is.
To my surprise, the comments thread underneath kind of turned into a debate on the whole feeling versus mechanics thing in board game reviews. My stuff for SU&SD is deliberately super-light on mechanical detail and I like it that way. The idea is not to scare people off complicated-sounding games but as I've always said, if I wanted a rules-rewrite I just go read the rulebook and not a review. I want to capture how games feel to play, why they're exciting, and offer an opinion - something that's too often relegated to a few throwaway lines at the end of the review. Anyway, read the comments: they're interesting.
I played a lot of Card Hunter, which is brilliant. I really got in to the whole meta-plot thing with fledgling GM Gary with his hopeless crush on Karen the pizza girl, and familial battles with his arrogant big brother Melvin. It's wonderfully compelling because it's the teenage years of probably every gamer, ever, writ large and stuffed with added jokes yet handled with charming sensitivity. The actual game is pretty fun too. I got my party up to about level ten and have stopped for now only because I have an enormous library of unplayed Steam games clamouring for time. Don't but put off by the free to play thing: revel in it. Find out how great it is then pass the developers a bit of money. They did a great job, and they deserve to eat.
Out of all those unplayed Steam games I chose, for no real reason, Mark of the Ninja. Now here's a thing: I don't like 3D stealth games. But I love Mark of the Ninja. I love the way the 2D platform style does away with the annoyances of the genre, such as never really knowing when you're properly hidden and when you're about to be discovered. In this game not only is it all crystal clear but the title encourages you to mess with the mechanic by throwing things to make noise and distract attention. The whole thing has an astonishing sandbox feel about it, with no "right" way of getting past any given situation. A roster of moves and equipment gives you incredible leesway to invent your own answers. Totally compelling.
In keeping with my reputation as the biggest whore in games writing, I'm on pocketgamer now. Ages ago I wrote them a feature about starter iOS board games and I didn't actually realise they'd published it. I've now followed it up with another list piece about graphically intensive games to test the new iPhone 5S.
I got to review the Chainsaw Warrior app for Gamezebo. I thought the original game was awful: no strategy, too much overhead and didn't even evoke it's tired theme. But it's amazing how much the game is improved by a shorter play time and farming all the fiddle-factor out to the microprocessor. I found it surprisingly fun, although just recycling the art and presentation from the board game with virtually no added sound and graphics is pretty cheap.
There's also this odd little gizmo called Dice+ that I took for a spin and reviewed. It's a rubbery cube that talks to your mobile device through bluetooth, so you can play digital board games with an actual electronic dice to throw. The possibilities in this are really intriguing: it generates random colours as well as numbers, and a couple of the included games showcase how this combination of numbers and colours on the one hand, and a sepeate physical object to manipulate on the other, can bring something new to the genre. Sadly, all the other games on offer are rubbish. But it's early days yet: worth keeping an eye on this one.
Finished the last Hunger Games book. I was advised on the last thread not to bother which, on the whole, is sound advice. The final book wastes all the carefully accumulated suspension of disbelief with a very silly plot and does nothing to advance the characters along the way. I did think it wound up the love triangle in satisfying fashion, but that was about it. After a steady diet of junk, I thought I'd tackle something a bit more substantial after, so I picked up Aldous Huxley's history of the Loudon possessions, the Devils of Loudon. It's an odd, uneven book which features meticulously researched history bought vividly, almost painfully, to life, rubbing up with some turgid, incomprehensible explorations of theology and philosophy. But the good outweighs the bad.
In this whole time I've managed to watch one bit of TV worthy of note: the season finale of Doctor Who. It was a thrilling ride but I'm beginning to tire of almost every Who episode boiling down to Deus Ex Machina explanations and plot devices.
In spite of the fact I'm not watching much TV, I've resumed my quest to find a good HDTV set to replace my old cathode ray box. And the more I see of them, the more I'm perplexed why anyone buys them. Even at the high end, LCD seems to have noticable pixellation, and Plasmas seem to have noticable posterisation. Not to mention jaggies, motion artefacts and various other undesirables. I'm beginning to think it's due to input quality - that there just isn't enough TV transmitted in quality HD signal in this country. In which case, why don't more people stick with CRT? I'd love to see my Xbox 360 games in their full glory, but it's not worth effectively downgrading my TV viewing quality in exchange.
This week, I have been mostly being underwhelmed by critically acclaimed albums.
First up is the Chvrches record. It was enjoyable enough, a definate keeper, but I had a hard time understanding why it's been all over the internet like a veneral disease. The fourth track, Lies, in incredible but mostly it just made me want to listen to Little Boots or Robyn or Purtiy Ring instead.
The other was Kendrick Lamar's 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city which topped a lot of end of year polls last year. I listened to it around that time and was totally underwheled, but for some reason I felt compelled to give it another chance. It's far more uneven than the Chvrches album. I generally prefer East Coast rap with its harder beats, sparser samples and more political content than the West Coast version, and some of the tracks here are typical of the worst excesses of that style, with Kendrick slobbering lazily over sluggish G-Funk. But some of the material is brilliant. In particular I was blown away by The Art of Peer Pressure, a song of astonishing pathos. It really conjures the tragedy of youth wilfully wasted in the pursuit of dubious and fleeting pleasure, and almost brings a lump to my throat - the first rap track ever, I think, to do so.