Theseus: The Dark Orbit makes being trapped and making horrible choices a blast.
Reiner Knizia, in his recent interview with Michael Barnes and Steve Weeks, said that he seeks to make games that give you only positive choices. His games, he posited, featured only a number of options that you really want to do. He contrasted that with games where you have to choose between bad options, suggesting that they aren't much fun.
Well, Theseus: The Dark Orbit is that type of negative choice game. I think it's a great counterpoint to that interview: Dr. Knizia's statement is about his preference in game design, not a universal rule that positive choice games are always better or more fun. The Theseus engine revolves around a simple Mancala movement system along with card effects that escalate how dangerous individual rooms or pawns are. But the entire game is predicated around locking your opponent down, forcing her into bad choices. Go into this room and get torched by an ambush from a prepared position. Move that pawn and you'll end up in a room with two land mines. Move that third pawn and end up in a space where it can be shot at the next turn by a bunch of aliens who fill up the room. Or, if you're skillful, wriggle out by setting up a situation where your pawns can move to a safe zone and breath a huge sigh of relief.
Theseus makes your own movement the most powerless, stressful part of the game, which is a bold choice. Most games make the player's pawns their avatar, or at least the proactive stage of the player's plan. Instead, the empowerment in the game revolves around your card play taken at the end of the turn. Those cards alter rooms and, ideally, force your opponent's moves into a few dangerous deterministic channels. Your own units don't really get more powerful, beyond a single upgrade. The offensive part of the game is all about setting the perfect trap and giving your opponent only terrible choices. And it is glorious fun.
I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a bit of a Tolkien nerd. Not so much of a Tolkien nerd that I have researched extensively what a greater obsessive once described to me as "the external textual history" or to have learned to speak or write in Elvish, but enough of one to know that there's more than one Elvish language, and to be aware that that's not the sort of titbit which goes down well in polite conversation. But here, in the midst of people who pin their fan badges to any number of sci-fi TV shows, obscure pulp literature or horribly addictive MMORPGs, I can make that admission without discomfort.
One of my favorite things to do is have friends over for an evening of socializing. Whether it’s for a social gathering with copious amounts booze, or a low key game night, I love to play host and let people have a good time. My specialty is hosting horror movie nights. Here are my top ten tips for pulling off a successful movie night:
So Trashfest Northeast 2015 has come and gone. This is my second time experiencing this annual shindig and I’d like to share some of my experiences with the rest of you. Rather than give you a blow by blow description of all the games I played, I’m just going to provide some overall highlights. I’d like to try and give you an idea of what it’s like to experience Trashfest.
Well it’s been a while since I did one of these, but I noticed that they have an understandable habit of generating recommendations for me to check out. After all, if I’m going to paste my taste up on a public billboard somewhere it’s inevitable that people who agree with me will urge me to take a look at other films or books that they’ve enjoyed, and that those who disagree with me will urge me to perhaps have another look at something else by a favoured author or director they love and I don’t in order to help teach me the error of my ways. Indeed I’ve collected so many of these recommendations that I thought I’d devote a whole trashy old shorts piece to feeding back on what I thought of your suggestions and to heap praise on those whose taste has proved excellent, and to heap curses on those who’ve had me wasting my time with rubbish. And it’s rubbish that we’re going to start with, in more ways than one.
Matt? Didn't he actually used to write opinion pieces around here?
Well yes. But there's only so many times one can make the same argument, so until I either have another interesting idea (which is rare, what with my brain constantly being invaded by thoughts of armadillos) or riled enough about something else enough to want to write some withering deconstruction of it I guess I'm stuck doing reviews, and you're stuck reading them. Besides, when I have something I want to review I find the review half-writes itself and then sits in my head like a big, gloating toad, firing off all my synapses and preventing me from working or sleeping until I can expunge it somehow. And writing it down turns out to be an excellent method of expungement. Is that actually a word? Does anyone care? Ah well, at least we've got something a bit different for you this week - some trash culture reviews.
None of this stuff is new. In fact most of it is quite old so you might well have come across it already. But I've got to ditch the toads somehow, so since there's quite a few of them and they're old (did I mention they were old?) I thought I'd so some quickfire one-paragraph reviews. We've got two books, two films and two XBox (no, not 360: these are old, remember? But both are available for PC) games to get through so let's get on with it. Then we can all go back to drinking beer and smoking crack.
I've subtitled this one "The Ameritrash Review of Books" because for various reasons I've been doing a lot of reading lately and spending very little time watching films or playing video games. Well, I have been playing Fable a lot but I already reviewed that and besides, the weight of critical opinion suggests that I'm the only person in the universe who thinks Fable is worth multiple play-throughs. So books it is.
I don’t have any premium film channels on my satellite package. I don’t go to the cinema any more. I’ve run out of space for DVDs on my shelves and have no way currently of playing digital media direct to my old cathode ray set. So the upshot is that I’ve finally run out of films to watch, which is no bad thing as it turns out there’s been a ton of quality TV on recently so that’s the focus of this weeks trash culture slot.
I don’t seem to do much of these any more. I kind of got out of the habit when I had a small baby in the house and there really was no time to watch TV or read books but now that the small baby has grown into a slightly larger baby and seems to have discovered some of the merits of actually sleeping some of the time. Also I’m not sure how much people like me doing short reviews of older material that most people are familiar with. But now I have a bit more space I’ve actually built up a backlog of stuff to cover so let’s make a start: and if you don’t find my coverage of old books and films useful or interesting be sure to tell me so that I can save us all some time and not bother to go over what’s left after we’re done here.
This documentary by a Ami Horowitz is about just how fucked up the U.N. is. That's not really a shocker if you even payed an iota of attention to the "Oil for Food" scandal that came to light after the fall of Saddam Husein and if you didn't then you are unlikely to watch a movie of this sort to begin with. With that premiss in mind, Ami goes about showing some outrageous examples of bureaucratic idiocy and mind boggling corruption. I should have felt outraged, I guess, but understanding that ALL large bureaucracies are the same in this regard from the U.N. to the Church to the Government to any other you care to name, I just shook my head in resignation. The one part where he describes an event during the Rowandian Genocide of the 90's where UN Peacekeepers left hundreds of refugees to get slaughtered did rouse my anger. The one argument defenders of the UN will use is that they do large amounts of humanitarian work and Horowitz gives them credit for that right up front. On the whole, I found it a bit of a snoozer. Horowitz comes across as arrogant more often then funny though he does have a couple of good burns in there.
It is currently on demand for $7. Give it a few months and it will probably show up on Netflix
There is a retro feel to War Horse. The bonding of a boy and an animal, the human like intelligence displayed by the creature, and how it can feel and express emotions are all straight out of a 1960's Disney movie. The saturated colors and almost too perfect sets and settings bring to mind the great technicolor epics of the 30's and 40's. This story follows the adventures of a horse named Joey as it experiences The Great War in Europe and provides a link between the several vignettes featuring the people that are in possession of the horse at any particular time. The brief windows into various people's lives and how the war is affecting them are the best part of the movie. I found the parts more focused on the horse to be a bit hoakey. This is a pleasant movie to watch. I can overlook certain points with great quantities of obvious CGI. I can overlook things that fly in the face of logic like having an army camp without sentries or scouts and whose only defense is a straight line of machine guns positioned to fire into the camp. I can even forgive the last 10 minutes of the film which should have ended with the reuniting of the boy and the horse but didn't. What I cannot overlook is that this movie was nominated for "Best Picture". It's a decent film, no question,but Best Picture? No way.
Now showing on Showtime and Showtime On-demand
When I first walked out of thetheater after watching Where the Wild Things Are, I thought I didn’t like it. Hate might be too strong a word, but I was definitely not pleased. Yet I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since…
Thor opened in theaters this last month, and while the general census on it was positive, it was mixed nonetheless. I ended up seeing it twice. I was on the fence about it the first time around, but really enjoyed it the second. It's a fun movie, exceptionally well-cast, and only dragged down by being heavier on the drama than you'd like it to be. The one thing everyone seems to be able to agree on is that this movie could have easily been alot worse. That seems appropriate, as the same is true for the god of thunder in comics.
Long ago people would gather around campfires to hear stories told by bards and poets. Stan Lee would have fit right in. He could talk about how he chose which pair of socks to wear and I'd be enthralled. He is that good. And that's where this documentary really shines. When it's Stan talking about the early days of working at Timely comics and later at Marvel. It begins to break down a little when it glosses over the collapse of comics in the 80's, the lousy quality of the early Marvel superhero TV shows, movies, and cartoons, and the current business fronted by Lee, Pow Entertainment. There is plenty of commentary by big names in the comics industry such as John Romita Sr. and Ralph Macchio to name a few and these are interesting and insightful. There is also a lot of commentary by Hollywood actors and actresses that appeared in Marvel movies and this is less compelling. I don't think I'm far wrong when I say that Kirsten Dunst, while very attractive, could probably fill the Grand Canyon with what she doesn't know about comics. This was obviously made by people who are big fans of Stan and what he accomplished. It wants to show him in a good light and it does. He comes across as supremely likeable, smart, funny, and driven. A guy who LOVES comics, constantly gives credit to his co-creators, artists and writers, and has a deep appreciation and respect for the fans. This isn't an expose seeking out dark and nasty secrets. It's a love letter to a man whose work has touched millions.
Netflix Status: Currently Streaming
Something a little different this week, a video game review. I am not a big video gamer anymore. There was a time when I was in front of a playstation or Xbox for 2-3 hours a day on average, but those days are behind me. While I still own a lot of that stuff, my video gaming now is limited to about an hour a week, usually a short session on the wii. It is pretty rare for me to buy a game, and even more rare for me to be excited enough to write a review of a game.
I purchased World of Goo and I have been addicted since Friday. The gameplay is very original, but if I had to categorize it, I would call it one part lemmings and one part Jenga with a healthy dose of physics. It is available through the wii's online shop for $15. Google tells me the PC version is available for $20. Both are excellent prices for this independently published gem. I haven't been this excited about a puzzle game since Katamari Damacy, and this is far less likely to make your thumbs fall off.
So many super hero movies get released these days that they mush into one big blur. Usually they range from absolute crap (Hang your heads in shame, Green Hornet and Hulk) to the mildly entertaining but utterly forgettable (Hi there Thor, we see you hiding in the corner). However there are a select few that rise above. The ones that place priority on story and character before super powers and special effects and yet still maintain a level of excitement and action (Please put your hands together for Superman and The Dark Knight). Into this latter category belongs X-Men First Class. Rather than devoting 30 minutes of the movie to an origin story that has little or nothing to do with the rest of the plot, X-men First Class is all origin story. That is a good thing for it is cohesive from beginning to end. And it is a good story, devoting as much time and energy to allowing us to understand the motivations of Magneto, Xavier and even Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club as it does to fight scenes and explosions. Even the second tier characters such as Banshee and Havoc get a decent amount of attention. Ok, I admit that Beast looks ridiculous in the final scenes but hey give them some cred for having attempted his appearance with practical effects rather than CGI. Also, seeing January Jones dressed up as the White Queen makes up for it...a lot. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique is great. I think that girl has real super star quality and Michael Fassbender as Magneto just rocks. He really steals the show.
Netflix Status: DVD only but is on HBO on demand.
So it's the Monday before Christmas and I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that in all likelihood this column is going to attract a whole lot less readers than is usual. In light of this I thought it sensible to do something fast and furious and - for those of you who are acutally reading - appropriate for the run-up to Yule. No matter if it's a bit crappy, as these sorts of things tend to be, as hardly anoyone is going to be reading it, OK? OK? Well, alright then, I'm actually doing things this way because I'm lazy. So sue me. But here are my top tips for your entertainment picks for a truly Ameritrash Christmas.
I first came across Zalgo early last week whilst browsing my favourite humour site b3ta. A little delving later and I found myself hooked on a small but intriguing internet phenomenon. It seemed like the sort of material that the audeince here would appreciate, so I thought I'd collect some of my favourite examples together for you in one thread. Besides which I didn't have a proper article lined up in time for this week and this represents a great stopgap for the lazy - none of the cartoons in this thread are my own work. I'd credit the true authors if I knew who they were, but mostly these are anonymous.
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