Steve Jackson buckles under the weight of the Ogre DE.
On the Table
More like “in the garage” this week, I wrote up a very not-glowing, very not-ooh and aahing piece about the new Ogre Designer’s Edition. I hate to admit it, but resident F:AT scion of jurisprudence Jeff White is right about this one. It’s just too much. It doesn’t impress me as much as it annoys me. It’s excessive to the point of silliness, big to the point where it starts to actually lose practicality. I’m also pretty disappointed that in terms of quality it’s like a jumbo edition of a mid-1990s Steve Jackson game. And also that there’s none of the original artwork, no historical material, missing units that you have to buy day one DLC counter sheets for, tons of redundancy…yet it’s still Ogre, and it’s still awesome.
Navajo Wars is really, really interesting. Possibly brilliant. I’ve played the tutorial barely got feel for it. I actually did a little better with just jumping into the regular game. The AI system is STUPENDOUSLY cool, if a bit complicated. I would go so far as to say that it may be the best and most sophisticated “cardboard AI” to date. I’ve never played a game with an automated adversary that created a stronger sense of actually playing against opposition that shifts priorities and even changes long-term strategies. The way it works is based on conditional (and sometimes random) shifting of action chits that shuffle through three different columns. Each requires enemy Aps to activate, and it will go through everything it can activate on a turn. Then those cycle down and back into the active counter column. .But they can flip over or counters from a standby column might swap out with the active ones. It’s absolutely fascinating on a mechanical level. The whole game is pretty complicated and quite mechanical, but the level of thoughtful historical detail and storytelling is undoubtedly compelling. And I like that the narrative is the story of a _people_ moreso than storied individuals, governments, religions, or so forth. I’ll be playing this more in the weeks to come, looking forward to digging into it more. This one might be a pretty significant title.
Z-Man kindly sent Tash-Kalar, the new Vlaada game. It is...strange. It reminds me of the kind of quirky, experiemental games that Knizia was doing in the later 1990s and early 2000s that got put into big boxes and were met with mixed reviews because they weren't another E&T or Ra. It's an odd mix of an abstract tile placement game where you're trying to make patterns to summon creatures with Checkers-like jumping and Kinging (unit upgrades). There's maybe some Go and Shogi in it is as well. But it's frivolous and nasty...and completely brain-torching. I think it will definitely be a divisive one...I can see folks REALLY hating it, but I can also see folks really getting into it. More later.
I have a copy of Battle for Souls. I saw the subject matter (angels and demons battling for souls with tons of great public domain art instead of fantasy illustrations) and wanted it. The designer told me that he’s had a number of board game reviewers refuse to look at it because of the heaven/hell subject matter and some nudity on the cards. In one instance, someone balked at the nudity…on a card titled slavery. They didn’t have an issue with slavery. I played a little solo see-about-it last night and it actually looks really interesting. It's another contested location card game and therefore in that whole Schotten-Totten lineage, but there are some neat ideas in how it handles the control angle. One is that you can spend your control points (holy or unholy, depending if you're playing Heaven or Hell) to buy holy relics and intercessions. Another is that you want to try to get control of all three souls in play to get a Reap card and out and clean house. There's also a poker-like system for playing sets of cards that's fun and easy to grasp. Looks promising.
No article next week due to Christmas, but the week after we’ll wrap it up with the GOTY business. Guess the GOTY and the four shortlisters and win a no-prize. Shouldn’t be too hard. Could be one surprise.
On the Consoles
I think A Link Between Worlds might be the best game of 2013. I’m only playing it in small doses, but it is absolutely perfect. It’s exactly what a modern take on A Link to the Past should be.
About 12 hours deep in Xenoblade Chronicles, really liking it this time.
I rented a couple of PS4 games just to knock some of the dust off, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Assassin’s Creed IV. Neither are games that I have any interest whatsoever in, but I wanted to see how they looked. Killzone lasted about 20 minutes before I was bored of following a character around and watching cut scenes. The visuals are pretty much PS3 but with GREAT lighting. I mean, AWESOME lighting. And 1080p, so it looks crisp. But boring as hell. Played multiplayer for about five minutes and realized that I really, really wanted to have nothing to do with it. And I used to really like Killzone.
Assassin’s Creed IV lasted a little longer because it was at least somewhat compelling with the big pirate ship battle at the beginning and some jungle runnin’ around. But I don’t really care to commit to it right now with Xenoblade Chronicles and some other things on the decks. Plus I didn’t play III. Maybe next year sometime when it’s $10 I’ll buy it. Probably around January.
On the Comics Rack
800 pages into Bone now. The transition to more “serious” fantasy hasn’t bothered me as much as I thought it would, it’s still pretty light and it does have a kind of old timey cartoon feel to it regardless of the pretty routine “chosen one” sorts of tropes. Roque Ja is an interesting character, I love how threatening and coy he is. Thorn is definitely doing the whole Aragorn thing. Overall, I’m liking it enough to buy the big book when I’m done.
On the Screen
Lots of holiday specials, of course. Rudolph is playing almost daily, which is great because it’s the best. Badger off, Charlie Brown.
I could really do without Frosty the Snowman though…”happy birthday!” Ugh. I never really liked that one when I was a kid, I always felt like it was tacky and kind of embarrassing.
Rise of the Guardians is on a lot too…I really like that one, holiday/childhood figures as a superhero team protecting children. That’s a cool idea. Santa Claus is awesome in it, a big Cossack dude sleeved out and wielding dual machetes. Easter Bunny is an Aussie ranger-type.
I’ve not really listened to Led Zeppelin much since I was like 13 or 14. But Spotify just got the full catalog, so I’ve been listening to everything. Definitely some great stuff, lots of not so great stuff too.
Here’s my dirty music fan secret. I hate blues. I do not like “bluesy” anything. I do not care a whit about covers of Howlin’ Wolf or Robert Johnson songs. I understand and appreciate the massive importance of blues music. But I would rather not ever hear anything “bluesy” again.
So all of Zeppelin’s more blues-oriented stuff is right out for me, even though blues obviously informs almost everything they do.
So favorites are “Houses of the Holy” (which kind of sounds like Killing Joke in some ways), “In the Evening”, “The Crunge”, “Dy’er Mak’r”, most of the big singles everybody knows…
“Stairway to Heaven”, now that’s a song I can do without ever hearing again.