The latest wargame I've covered on Shut Up & Sit Down is the kickstarter-funded War Stories. I mention that it's a kickstarter project because it's got a lot of the things we've come to associate with kickstarter projects. While it's far from the worst offender, it still has that nagging sense of something not quite finished, not quite complete. And the FAQ document is beginning to build toward epic lengths.
But while there's a fair number of disgruntled backers out there, I think War Stories deserves more patience than some seem prepared to give it. Because it's packed with excellent, unique, inventive ideas and there's nothing else quite like it. It's the fastest, smoothest playing tactical wargame I've ever played. And it has total fog of war, which I had long ago written off as impossible outside of digital ConSims.
So while it has its problems, I think it deserves support. Not least to encourage the designer to keep on tweaking until those ideas come together into a better whole.
Speaking of kickstarter, a friend of mine is running one for his new design. This is his second professional game, and I can assure you there's no sense of half-finishedness about his designs. It's called Pocket Imperium and is very much what it sounds like: a super stripped down 4x game that plays in under an hour.
Hearthstone. So much Hearthstone. Been enjoying the way Gnomes vs Goblins has temporarily upended the meta into a glorious free for all. I'm playing so much Hearthstone it's narrowing the number of other games I'm playing, and making it harder for me to come up with article ideas.
I have, however, found time to get into Portal. It's one of the big gaming franchises I've just never gotten round to playing until now: I don't usually much care for puzzle games so it didn't feel like I was missing out on much. But the first-person perspective and creative ways you can solve some of the levels make it fun. To say nothing of the story and the humour, of course. It's a shame it's so short and there's a sudden difficulty spike at the end.
My 8-year old daughter started playing it. It's great training for other, more reflex-intensive WASD games.
I got struck by a sudden urge to see American Beauty again. What an amazing film, so rich with layers of image and text that it's almost impossible to decode, yet ferociously entertaining for all that. If I enjoyed it as a young man, I think I enjoyed it more now I understand what it's like to be the middle-aged protagonist. One of my top ten films of all time.
Finally got around to watching Django Unchained. Which was 75% awesome and then just trailed off into a feeble ending. Having built up unbearable tension with such patience and skill, why did Tarantino go blow it all for an unnecessary second ending? Sometimes I think big-name directors end up making yards to celluloid masturbation, convinced of their own brilliance. It happened to Peter Jackson. After this and Inglourious Basterds, it looks like it happened to Tarantino, too.
Also caught Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Which was okay, although the opening thirty minutes were so preposterous that I almost gave up there and then. But Andy Serkis pulling an amazing performance as the miming ape saved it.
But it made me wonder: why do studios remake films that are famous for their twist endings? Money is the answer, obviously. But there are so many great old films that might make a cool reboot. Why pick ones like Planet of the Apes or The Wicker Man that rest on classic plot switches that everyone now knows? How can the result ever being much better than a train-wreck?
When I was a student, it seemed that all my friends ever listened to was Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd. The latter became a regular fixture for me, but I never quite embraced Dylan in the same way. I thought he didn't make a single decent album after Highway 61 Revisited.
I could see why he was such a profound influence on music, and why he was so acclaimed. But I always felt his skill was as a lyricist, not a performer. A lot of his words could stand alone as poetry, something you could say about few other musicians, but a lot of his songs sound better covered by other people.
I got a sudden urge to go back through his catalogue and try it again, to see if I could get it this time. So over the course of several days, I queued up his studio albums in chronological order and ran through them again. And you know what? I was right. Highway 61 Revisited was his last good album.
It did leave me with a heightened appreciation of his early music. Freewheelin' and Bringing it all Back home are the highest points, and I've been spinning them a lot. Both albums that have become genre templates in their own right, and incredible achievement for a single artist. But I remain mystified by the appeal of many others. Even Blonde on Blonde. Even Blood on the Tracks. I'd rather go back to Pink Floyd.