Friday, January 29, 2010

Announcement - Gamer's Help Haiti

The earthquake in Haiti is a tremendous tragedy, and I know a mix of survivor guilt and philanthropic spirit is driving a lot of people to donate money to help out. You can dump a couple bucks when you're buying your groceries, or text some places to drop a few dollars, or even just find online charities and send them money, straight-up.

But the coolest way to help out that I've found so far is at In case you're not familiar with this site, it's a place where you can go to buy downloadable game stuff. There are big publishers uploading their source books, paper model companies gouging you for dungeon floors, small-press guys trying to scratch out a little profit with games you never even knew existed, and mile after mile of short, worthless PDF files with virtually no useful content.

And until the end of January, DriveThruRPG is going to let you download more than a thousand dollars of games, adventures, stock art, maps, paper models and lots more for nearly nothing. Just hop over there, donate twenty bucks, and they'll give you download access to a treasure trove of free crap that will make your head spin. Your twenty clams will go to Doctors Without Borders, so it's not like they're actually planning on sending a bunch of nerds down there to see if the Haitian survivors would benefit from lightning bolt spells and healing potions.

Here are a few highlights, to whet your whistle:

The Serenity RPG. If you ever wanted to play a gorram Browncoat smuggler in Joss Whedon's fantastic sci-fi-meets-Old-West 'verse, now's your chance. I only saw the base game, but then, I've just started opening up all the files I got to look at them, so there may be more. But even if there isn't, that's pretty bitchin'.

Wormhole. The funny thing about WorldWorks Games' big space table-top game is that I think the guy who owns that company is something of a wormhole. But even though I sincerely dislike the man, nobody can claim his stuff isn't gorgeous. He's talented, even if he does have all the business ethics of a used-car salesman in a plaid sports coat. And this space battle game isn't the only thing he donated to the Haiti Relief fund - there's a cool dungeon tile set, some interesting dioramas, and a couple other things, too. If you ever wanted to check out WorldWorks Games without having to actually put money in their pockets, now's your chance.

Fat Dragon Stuff. Where WorldWorks Games makes me want to take a shower after I visit their site, Fat Dragon is the cat's pajamas. They also have a lot of cool paper model stuff, including an awesome 3-D inn where you can start every adventure off right - by meeting a mysterious old man. Plus there are some cool dungeon tiles, and they make a lot more dungeon tiles to go with the set you can download. I would donate $20 if the Fat Dragon stuff was the only thing in the package.

For the Love of Dungeons. This just caught my eye, and I think it's really cool. Basically, this little PDF is a collection of dungeon maps with short descriptors. That's about it. But these dungeons are pretty cool, and you could probably use them all, sooner or later, to house a collection of ugly monsters that some heroes can burglarize at swordpoint.

Music. There's a decent-sized handful of MP3 files in this collection. I don't know that I would play them at parties, or anything, but some of them make pretty cool background music. I'm listening to one right now called Vampire Castle, and it would make great music to have running in the background while you investigated some scary tomb, unless you really were in a scary tomb, and then you should probably unplug your iPod and pay attention.

There's so much more in this download package that I can't even begin to sum it up. There are models of spaceships, prestige classes, plants and veggies, even a book of dumb tables (I'm not making that up). It's an amazing collection of downloadable stuff, and while I'm usually very out on the whole idea of PDF stuff, even I couldn't pass this up. It helps that I was planning on donating to the Haiti thing anyway, but this way, you get a double whammy - you can feel less guilty and tell people that you donated, thus making you feel better about yourself, and you can score a pile of gaming crap so huge that it will take you a couple days to download it all.

If you want to help out in Haiti and score some sweet swag for it, go here and get loose with your wallet - but do it soon, because the offer ends at the end of January:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Board Game Review - Rush N Crush

Here's a quick riddle - what's better than a racing game?

The answer is: a racing game with guns.

That's not very funny, I know. Sorry about that. If it bothers you that I wasn't funny just then, let me know and I'll tell a joke about a retarded kid or a slutty woman. Those seem to go over pretty well.

But seriously, folks, I'm here all week. Tip your waitress.

Rush N Crush did not impress me when I was setting it up out of the box. You get these teeny tiny racecars that tend to fall apart and that are really hard to pick up. Plus they don't look like racecars, they look like what you might expect to see if you could zoom way close on a nanobot that was built to give you a colonoscopy. And while the rules look really nice, there are a lot of little confusing discs, and I gotta tell you, I wasn't sure what to do with them all.

ButI always say that if you send me your game, I'll review it, so we put it together and gave it a shot. I have to say that, after my initial impression, I was pretty darn surprised.

Comparisons to Formula D are going to be inevitable, so I'm just going to get that out of the way and drop the two games side by side here. Formula D lets you roll a special die based on your gear; Rush N Crush sets your speed at a specific number, and you roll the dice to determine how many times you can change lanes. The faster you're going, the worse your chances of getting enough lane changes to negotiate a tricky curve. Formula D penalizes too much speed by making you slow down in the corners. Rush N Crush penalizes too much speed by making you slam into a brick wall so hard that your ass goes through your forehead.

Now, before I sound like I'm bashing Formula D, I should be clear that I most certainly am not. I still adore Formula D. I love the madcap racing, pushing your luck, planning a technical maneuver around a tricky 3-point corner and probably destroying your tires and flipping your car into the stands like one of those horrible videos you see on YouTube that disgusts you to the point that you can only watch it five more times before forwarding it to all your friends.

It's just that there is room in my heart to love two fantastic racing games. Like I tell my kids, I love you both just as much, I just love you different. They never believe me, of course, because they're teenagers and thus genetically wired to assume I am an idiot. Happily, Formula D is a game, not an infuriating teenager, and thus loves me unconditionally (or would, if it was a dog and not a board game).

Rush N Crush sacrifices almost none of the technical aspects of Formula D while adding a great moving combat element. I haven't tried playing it without the machine guns and flamethrowers, but I can still tell that the racing aspect of the game is really great. Other racing games I have played that included guns had a sort of ten-second survival rule - if you could be the last man standing after the flag dropped, you could drive to the finish line like a half-blind grandmother on Sunday afternoon, because those first ten seconds were pure mayhem, and everything after that was one guy puttering toward the finish line on three wheels and a dragging tailpipe.

Instead, Rush N Crush has a near-perfect balance between combat and tactical racing skill. You have points you can spend to make up for driving poorly, but these will run out fast if you rely on them too heavily, so you have to drive really well or you'll wind up a smoldering heap of twisted metal. Punch it at the wrong time, and you might use up your steering computer and piledrive a cement wall at 250 miles an hour. But if you let an opponent fly past you, you might never be able to catch up, even if you can shoot at him after he gets in front of your car. The timing works out great - towards the end of the race, every move becomes more important, and if you do blow up, it will probably be within sight of the finish line.

Part of this is achieved because the guns, while deadly, are not overpowering. If you pull right up on an opponent's tail and let fly some hot lead, you can probably give him a little something for him to remember you by, but you're going to have to do that a few times if you want to see him blow up. And you have to be careful, because he might be dropping mines as he moves, and you could just as easily lose a fender to his claymore as he could lose a hubcap to your hood-mounted gatling gun.

As the race progresses, players will start to either fall back (because they're too scared to push their cars) or fall apart (because they pushed their cars too hard and ended up bouncing off a couple walls like a sugar-crazed first-grader at Chuck E Cheese). Still, there are plenty of resources you can exploit to reduce damage, so you'll probably make it pretty far before you have to start worrying that the next wreck is your last.

As you approach the end of the race, though, things start to go bad. Your engine has been running hot for so long that it's about to melt. Between bouncing off walls, flying over mines and soaking up bullets, your engine is basically held in place by the battery cable and the paper label on your radiator cap. You've exhausted all your turbo, burned out your brakes, and fried your steering computer. But you can't slow down - there's another car right on your ass, and if he passes, he'll probably rip your doors off with a rotary saw blade. So you slam the throttle wide open, pray for a miracle, and watch your heat monitor spike past 'overheat' and into 'nuclear meltdown'.

I can get a bit of an adrenaline rush playing Formula D. I love to take my chances with a higher gear to see if I can keep my speed up coming out of a technical hairpin. I love to push it just a little farther than anyone else, and gamble everything on a couple tricky die rolls. But any kind of accelerated heart rate I might get from Formula D is nothing compared to the frenetic, violent, intense rush of trying to finish a race with one point of armor and one point of heat before you're scrap metal. The pacing is brilliant, the driving is technical, and the violence is satisfying yet restrained enough to let you enjoy the whole game. The more people you put on this crazy course, the more the bullets will fly, but since the racing part of the game is nearly exciting enough with the gunfire, you could play with just two and have a great time.

One of my chief complaints with Formula D is that you're going to end up driving the same course over and over, because there just aren't that many tracks (unless you pick up boards from Formula De, which is a great idea, but they aren't nearly as pretty as the reprint). Rush N Crush addresses that issue with track tiles. Eight to ten of these track tiles go together to make your race arena, complete with collapsed containment walls, concrete blockades and frightening turns. You could use just four or five and make a circuit race, or use them all to see if anyone can survive long enough to finish the race. You can use the standard eight for the most well-rounded game, but I look forward to seeing what kinds of crazy races I can make with all the stuff in the box.

I still am not crazy about the cars in Rush N Crush, and will probably buy some very tiny futuristic car models from somewhere to convert them. God knows they'll be more interesting that way. But the car pawns are the only complaint I can really find about Rush N Crush, and that complaint is meaningless compared to the pure jet fuel kick-ass of the rest of the game.

So now, instead of pushing a Formula D racing car to the edge before I pit stop, I'll be piloting a death machine around a futuristic gladiator race, dodging bullets and slinging fireballs, narrowly avoiding rockslides and land mines, and barreling toward the finish line like a cross between an out-of-control freight train and Haley's comet. I can feel this game on so many levels that I can't help but look forward to playing it a whole hell of a lot more.


High adrenaline combat racing
Great combat that doesn't sacrifice great racing
Excellent pacing and nail-biting decisions
Luck plays a part without running the game

The little cars could be better

If you like racing games with bullets in them (and you totally should), you owe yourself a copy of Rush N Crush. It's more fun than is decent. And if you want to buy a copy of Rush N Crush, you can get it at Dogstar Games, where you'll save a bundle on the game and get a good deal on shipping, to boot. While you're there, tell 'em I sent you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Board Game Review - Talisman 4th Edition

I'm a little surprised at myself that I even played Talisman again. After I played the third edition, I swore I would rather scrub grout than play any version of the game. But then I wound up with a copy of the Black Industries edition, and since so many people insisted that the new one was better, I thought it had to be worth one more try.

They were right - fourth edition is better. But I'm still not sure I would call this a great game.

Several things have changed from third edition to fourth. The most obvious would be the character selection. (Well, maybe not the most obvious - the art in third edition looks like it was created by a pimply 15-year-old who spent all his time drawing skulls all over his mother's photo albums, and the art in fourth edition is brilliant. But I'll get to that.) Instead of a bunch of stock Warhammer characters played with sculpts that were leftover after they made Warhammer Quest, fourth edition has a whole bunch of human characters, just a couple monsters, one elf and one dwarf. Now the characters make a lot more sense, which is nice because I found it questionable that a skaven would be as competitive as a dwarven berserker.

The new special powers also feel like they're good for something, which is another edge over fourth edition. The prophetess has a great ability where she can have a little control over what she encounters when she draws a card, the minstrel can charm an animal companion, and the sorceress can steal followers from the other players. None of the characters feels as completely useless as a few of the guys in third edition, which is especially good if you're drawing your characters at random.

Fighting stuff hasn't changed, but the stuff you fight has. There are a lot more non-combat encounters in the adventure deck now, which kind of sucks if you're trying to kill stuff so you can get enough power to win the game, but is kind of cool if you just want to wander around a rectangular world and meet weird things. But seriously, this is also an improvement, because some of those nonviolent cards will help you get powered up even better than killing things (although wholesale slaughter is still a viable option).

The end game is completely different. Where third edition has you flipping over cards and throwing away your crap on the way to fight the big bad guy, the new one has a series of difficult encounters that are likely to slow you way down if you're not completely ready. And once you get to the very middle, you don't have a one-round bruhaha for all the marbles - you have to use the crown of command to kill everyone else, and if you roll as badly as I did, this can take a while.

In fact, the end of the game is arguably the best improvement over third edition (unless you count the teen-angst skateboard art). Because you need some time to kill everybody, there's a point in the game where one guy gets close to the front doors of the inner region, and suddenly everyone scrambles to get there, too. It's not like third edition, where the barbarian gets to the middle and two minutes later you're putting away the game. Instead, there's an sudden, intense competition to scramble over each other in a mad attempt to save yourself from oblivion. The guy who gets to the crown first has an edge, but it's not ironclad - in fact, there's every possibility that the first character to the crown still might not win.

But possibly the most important change, in my opinion, is that the game no longer looks like an 80's metal band album cover. The art in this edition is gorgeous and evocative. Where third edition makes you wonder if the art was created by a half-sober tattoo artist, fourth edition makes you want to play just because it's so damned good-looking. The characters are on cardboard standups instead of plastic miniatures, but I actually prefer that because that means they're in color. I don't have time to paint every plastic figure that ever came with a board game, so even when I'm playing games I really love, I frown at the fact that everyone is gray.

Now, several things have not changed. You still have virtually no control over where you land. You still have almost no control over winning or losing fights. You still have a country shaped like a double bed, and you still have the same thoroughly arbitrary paths to victory. The basic flaws of third edition are still here - a remarkable lack of meaningful decisions being one of them, and a game that seems to be ruled by the dice rather than your ability to outplay your opponents. If you're a snobby game nerd who thinks the best player has to win every time, you're going to hate Talisman, no matter what edition you're playing. But if you want a meandering adventure game with some cool interaction and gorgeous art, you might really dig the hell out of the new Talisman.

Now that I've played a version of Talisman that wasn't totally lame, I can see why people over the age of ten would actually want to play it. I can't say that it will be my first pick - I've got like twenty or thirty games I like better - but for an evening of light, adventurous gaming entertainment, I'll drag it out now and then. I wouldn't play third edition if you held an acetylene torch to my feet (unless you light it, then I'll play anything you want), but this new Talisman might just hit my table again.


Really nice art
New rules add a few more interesting decisions
Better characters and fewer wasted turns

Still almost all luck
Still a lot like Candyland with magic swords
All things considered, Runebound is still way more fun

I don't know if the Fantasy Flight version of Talisman is the same as the Black Industries version, but whatever, Dogstar's got it anyway. If you want a light fantasy adventure game, you could do a lot worse:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Board Game Review - The Adventurers

Sometimes I don't feel like playing a smart game. Sometimes I want to drink half a case of beer, suck on a cheap cigar and play a fun game that requires virtually no effort on my part and yet still results in a good time. That's not easy to find - most games I usually enjoy require considerable mental effort, and most games that don't require mental acuity are too shallow to be remotely interesting. It's like choosing between a brainy chick and a hot girl who just lays there. Both have something going for them - the smart girl is easily the best company, and the boring bimbo might be willing to do something questionable while you run a camera. But if you're really looking to just get loaded and shake the rafters, you need a bimbo with a lot of energy. In game terms, you want The Adventurers.

The theme of The Adventurers is great. You're a bunch of rival tomb robbers and explorers who are about to enter the Temple of Chac and steal as many artifacts as you can carry. The only thing is, the temple has more booby traps than a Viet Cong rat tunnel, so every move could be your last. Walls smash in, floors disappear to drop you into lava, a rushing river sends weak swimmers over steep underground waterfalls, and the whole time a giant boulder is rolling toward you. The adventurer who survives with the most treasure wins - but the key is surviving, and that can be downright tricky.

Each segment of the game has different mechanics simulating the traps and hazards that could end your adventurer's career. You might have to move slowly while walls close in on you so that you can buy enough time to remember where the traps are hidden over the lava pool. You may have to pick a lock while the boulder rumbles steadily closer. You may have to fight the current to grab treasure in the river, or tiptoe gingerly over the weak bridge, careful not to break the boards and fall into the chasm below.

All of these dangerous situations can be easily avoided, if you just run fast enough. The problem is, you're not there on a Boy Scout field trip. You're there to get paid. So you'll grab various artifacts and treasures as you run, but the more you have, the slower you move. Try to carry too many treasures, and you might find yourself flattened by the boulder like a Tom & Jerry cartoon.

Everything in the game happens very fast, which is nice because a game this shallow should definitely go quickly. Individual turns will take less than a minute each, and you'll be able to finish the whole game in half an hour. With all the excitement and risk-taking and impending doom, that half hour will feel like five minutes, unless you're completely sober, in which case you'll have fun, but be ready to stop when it's over.

To improve the enjoyment factor, the pieces in The Adventurers are great. There are different miniatures for each character, and you can even buy yourself a set of prepainted figures (if you feel like paying for them). The art is comical and brilliantly entertaining, and the various pieces - from the bridge and the boulder to the collapsing walls and trap tiles - are detailed and really nice.

Now, there are a few reasons why The Adventurers is not the best pick for a group of Mensa members at an annual brainy conference. For one thing, it's not particularly deep. You run, you grab treasure, you dive in the water (or not) and you try to get out alive. Dice will mostly determine your fate, though bad decisions will definitely get you dead.

Another problem is that the game is going to get really old, really fast, because it's always a run through the exact same ruined temple. You'll never see different traps, or even the same traps in a different order. Play it two or three times, and you'll know exactly when to glance at the glyph tiles, just when to pick a lock, and the best time to try for the big treasure at the end. It's going to run out of replay value after three or four games, and that's a shame, because it is a lot of fun for those first few plays.

You don't have to be drinking to really enjoy The Adventurers, but after some experimentation, I've found that alcohol definitely makes the game more enjoyable, in much the same way that beer goggles will allow you to better enjoy the enthusiastic-but-stupid barfly. I don't know that I would directly compare The Adventurers to sex, but if I did, it would be meaningless and fleeting, but really exciting while it was going on, and might leave you with some amazing stories to recall fifteen years later with your drinking buddies.


Really great components
Fast and action-packed
Exciting and easy to play

No depth, tons of luck
Intensely repetitive - not much replay value

By now, you know the drill - Dogstar Games has The Adventurers, and if you're going to buy it, I'm asking you to buy it from them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Card Game Review - Through the Ages

When I was a kid, I used to read a comic book about a team of endurance racers who would take turns driving dune buggies through rough terrain. I don't remember the name of it, and the only character I remember was the Mexican stereotype who was always hollering in Spanish - 'Madre de Dios! The steering wheel, she is like a demon in my hands!'

The only reason this comes to my mind tonight is because I recently played Through the Ages, and it reminded me of that comic book. Because at the end of the race, every one of those drivers had a sore butt from bouncing across the desert, and at the end of Through the Ages, my ass had fallen asleep from sitting in one place for way, way too long.

This classic card game is a lot like playing one of those dull, repetitive video games where you're trying to get enough wood farmed to build a temple so that you can keep your people happy so that they'll work hard enough to build a barracks so that you can turn your people into soldiers to protect your other people so they can farm more wood. Only in Through the Ages, you don't just have to start with a little outpost and turn it into a thriving village. You have to start with a handful of Greek farmers with bronze swords and take them all the way up to driving tanks and launching nukes.

The game is actually pretty damned fun, which is why we finished it at all. Usually, by hour five, someone in our group is ready to go. We did have to take a break halfway through, but that was mostly because I needed nicotine, badly. We really didn't notice the passing time, except for the fact that the fabric from the chairs started to mold into our skin, and we were a little worried that we would have to get some kind of surgical procedure to remove our flesh from the seats. But the game was fun enough that we stuck it out and saw it through to the end.

There's something really satisfying about taking a scrappy little group of farmers and turning them into a warfaring society. And because there are so many things going on at any time, and so many directions you can go, there's massive opportunity to diversify your civilization in different directions. One player might become a military juggernaut, while another focuses on scientific progress and yet another creates a deeply religious society full of philosophers and poets. No particular strategy is more viable than any other - that war machine might not have time to build the Great Wall, but it might also have the power to roll over and break yours before you can finish it. The philosophers might heighten culture (which is the most basic barometer for winning the game), but they might also fall too far behind and get lost in the shuffle when the scientists of the rival nation invent space travel and leave them all behind.

Part of what makes Through the Ages enjoyable enough that you can stand to finish a game this long is that every turn is intensely critical. You've got just a handful of actions every turn, and you have to use them for a wide variety of things. You need food, so you need farmers, and you need metal, so you need mines. But you need scientific progress to learn new forms of agriculture, and you need temples to keep the people happy enough to keep working. Spend all your time hiring workers for the iron mines, and you'll never have time to finish those hanging gardens. It's kind of like my life - if I spend a day working on one project, three more fall behind. And God help me if I get sick.

The game has a sort of natural timer in the cards. Every turn, some cards will disappear and others will take their place. When you run out of cards from the first age, you start using the second, and when you run out of the second, you start in on the third. When the third age ends, the game is over and everyone can call their wives and say they're on the way home, please don't make me sleep on the couch, I'm sorry I missed dinner.

I have to say, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this game a whole lot. The art for Through the Ages is really dry. Almost painfully dry. It gets the job done well enough, so that I know what any particular card is supposed to do, but it's just really boring. But then, this isn't a game that's supposed to appeal to the brain-candy part of your inner gamer. Through the Ages is designed to appeal to the part of your brain that gets a kick out of solving geometry proofs and analyzing iambic pentameter. You can't play this one drunk. You probably shouldn't even play this game if you're eating sugary snacks.

The rulebook for Through the Ages does try to take it a little easy on you. There are three breakdowns - the basic game, where you learn the fundamental pieces, the advanced game, where you incorporate more of the player interaction and get to see some more interesting cultures, and the full game, which takes you all the way up to current events. The basic game takes a couple hours, the advanced game takes five or six, and I have no idea how long the full game takes, because frankly, I don't have that kind of time.

And I regret to announce that I won't ever know how long the full game takes to play, because I don't ever intend to play Through the Ages again. It was very fun, and I had a very good time, but I'm not in college any more and I just can't devote that much time to anything that doesn't earn money. If you've got tons of free time and an exceptional attention span, Through the Ages might be just the game you're looking to play. But if you have a kid who needs to get to a soccer game, a dishwasher that needs a new pump, a car that needs an oil change and a house that won't clean itself, you might be better off playing one of those video games - you know, where you can save after an hour and do something else.


Every decision counts
Very minimal luck
The better player will win, just about every time
A really brilliant game

Incredibly drab
Takes so long, you'll wonder if it was originally meant to be played in real time

If you've got the mental stamina for a powerhouse marathon of a game, Through the Ages is an incredible amount of fun. And if you're going to buy Through the Ages, I would appreciate it if you got it from Dogstar Games, because without them, this site would wind up being all about irritating people I met at the gas station.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Movie Review - The Book of Eli

I am either slow in the head or a glutton for punishment. I know better than to go to a movie theater. I've had decent luck the last couple times, but that just can't hold. Sooner or later, things will go poorly. It's unavoidable, really - even if the last thing you see before the movie starts is the PSA that says, 'turn off your phone, don't talk in the movie, and for God's sake, take the baby outside', some jackhole feels like God himself came down and told him that he was the exception.

Going to see The Book of Eli this weekend, I ran afoul of every kind of irritating person you can meet at a theater. The person behind me and to the left felt compelled to tell the actors when they had done something egregious. 'Oh no you didn't!' is a little redundant when A) he very obviously did, and B) HE CAN'T HEAR YOU, STUPID!! The rest of us, though - we hear you just fine.

Of course, that's not the end of the offenders. We had the pinhead who thinks that since he brought a woman with him, he should be allowed to talk to her through the entire film, and wants to fight if you ask him to simmer down now. We had the ignorant bastard whose cell phone rang during the movie - twice. And we had the ultimate what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you throwback retard, who goes to see a movie rated for adults with a child under a year old.

And yet I still loved the movie.

For one thing, I don't think I've ever seen a Denzel Washington film where I thought he didn't deliver an amazing performance, and The Book of Eli is no exception. He is, in my opinion, better than usual - and that's saying something. Whether he's cutting through bad guys with his machete or bartering for a repair on his iPod, he is just plain fun to watch. Add in Gary Oldman and Ray Stevenson (who portrayed Titus Pullo in Rome), and you've got enough genius acting power to light up a small town.

The story is related brilliantly through the washed-out colors and bleak lighting, and it has a basic underlying plot that will get you thinking about the role of religion in society. It wasn't heavy-handed, but there was a fascinating exploration of the power of faith that didn't flinch from making a pretty bold statement about religion, society and war.

Of course, any decent post-apocalyptic movie should have some quality violence, and The Book of Eli delivers in spades. Some of the fighting is so visceral and raw that it could be a little disturbing (which is one reason you don't take a toddler). It's uncompromising, exciting, and powerful, and it has the coolest hand-chopping-off you've ever seen. It's not gratuitously brutal, but it's hardcore and fast and super freaking cool.

The post-apocalyptic movie is one of my favorite genres, from Mad Max and Escape From New York to Omega Man and 28 Days Later. So when I say that The Book of Eli is easily the best post-apocalyptic move I've seen, I do have some frame of reference (though my judgment may be questionable since I liked Waterworld). Beyond a cool story and exciting violence and amazing performances, there's a depth to Book of Eli that you never see in this genre. Usually you see a bunch of survivors who kill each other, some hero who sticks up for some underdogs or just wreaks a little vengeance, and lots of people with bad teeth. The Book of Eli uses the genre to tell a tale and make a point in ways that practically reinvent the entire after-the-war film concept.

I heartily recommend seeing The Book of Eli, and be prepared for some 'Holy Crap!' twists that will set you on your heels and make you want to watch it all over again. I just really suggest that if you're going to see it, you rent it, unless you want to spend two hours listening to crying babies and belligerent chatterboxes that won't stop talking until you offer to cave in their faces with a rubber mallet.

Not that I've done that.


Really smart story with tight, well-delivered dialog
Magnificent bloodshed
Great style really delivers on the theme
Extremely thought-provoking

Theaters are full of stupid people who should not be allowed to breed

Friday, January 15, 2010

Card Game Review - Dominion: Seaside

By the power vested in me by, I hereby declare the third week of every year to be Dominion week. During this holiday week, all federal employees shall be expected to show up to work, just like normal, and mail had better run or I'm going to be pissed. The holiday will be observed by me talking about Dominion all week, unless my pipes freeze over the weekend and instead I talk about how much it sucks to do your own plumbing.

To commemorate the final day of Dominion week, I declare that Dominion: Seaside is 100% kick-ass. Unlike either the original Dominion or Dominion: Intrigue, Seaside is not a stand-alone game, and yet if you observe Dominion week, you are morally obligated to rush right out and buy Seaside immediately, unless you already have it. If you do already own Seaside, and you intend to observe Dominion week, you must play a game of Dominion using the brilliant cards from Seaside.

As a duly-self-elected representative for gamers who like Dominion, it is my duty to inform the citizens of this relatively mediocre gaming blog that Seaside is the best set yet, even eclipsing the original Dominion in the sheer amount of awesome in the box. The newest kind of card is the duration card, which has an effect both on the turn it is played and on the next turn as well.

These duration cards alter the game in ways never before seen, by allowing players to plan ahead for turns to come before they even have cards in hand. In fact, the tactician allows you to completely forfeit your current turn in order to have an absolutely amazing turn next time. It is difficult to overstate the brilliance in the new layers of planning and strategy now available to the players of the great game of Dominion, but it should be sufficient to say that if you can't decide between Intrigue and Seaside, eat ramen noodles for a week and buy them both.

Seaside also includes other cards that allow you to plan for the future, beyond the general theme of stacking your deck to maximize your spending power. The native village allows you to set cards aside, so that you can use them on a future turn, when you might really need them. Combined with a scout (one of my favorite cards from Intrigue) and a throne room (the most powerful card that does nothing in the original set), the native village is an incredible resource that really allows the skilled player to have the cards he needs, right when he needs them.

Another great development in Seaside is that finally, a consistent theme is presented, better than ever before (not that there was a particularly high bar set in the first place). Now, using the treasure map, you can strike it incredibly rich, and fill your deck with gold - if you can just find the other half of the map. You can use the pirate ship to steal treasures from the other players and make yourself richer. You can set up at the wharf to take on extra cards for next turn, or stash your victory cards on a deserted island, and then come back to get them when the game is over. More than either of the previous Dominion releases, Seaside actually feels a little bit like what it's supposed to represent.

And to make Seaside even more better than Intrigue (and yes, I know 'more better' is grammatically hosed. It's just that I don't care), the art is far better. It seems the folks at Rio Grande heard the complaints of the gamers who thought the harem in Intrigue looked like it was drawn by the guy who does Calvin & Hobbes. The cards are pretty again, and some of them are gorgeous. Like I said with Intrigue, I would play this game to death if it had no art at all, but it's still nicer to look at pretty art instead of something that looks like it was created by Napoleon Dynamite if he was sleepwalking while having a nightmare.

But the best thing about Seaside is how perfectly it meshes with the first two releases. There are so many great combinations possible now - you can pirate-ship your opponents to devalue their gardens, or use the wharf and the salvager to make yours more potent. Use the lookout to combat the witch, or add the sea hag to the witch to drop scores into the negatives. Use explorers to get treasure that the adventurer can find. Use the embargo to stop a run on the duke, or lighthouse to supplement the moat. There's so much more to Dominion when you have all three sets that I can't see owning one and not the others, unless you don't like it and have been trying to trade it away. And if that's the case, then you totally suck at celebrating Dominion week.


Duration cards add a whole new layer of strategy and planning
Great art
So many new ways to play - you could play your whole life and never see the same game twice
The coolest metal money I've ever seen in a board game

Not a whole game - you'll need either Intrigue or the original Dominion (but you should get them all anyway)

Dogstar Games carries Seaside, which is super convenient because they have the other two. And since you wouldn't be reading about any Dominion games, or for that matter, a whole lot of other games, I think you should get the games from them. And since Dominion is such an awesome game, I think you should get them all.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Card Game Review - Dominion: Intrigue

I've already said that Dominion was an awesome game, and since I reviewed it, it has only gotten better. My wife and daughter both like it, so I find myself able to play six or seven games a week. I think it's safe to say that Dominion is a game that I won't be trading away any time soon.

So if a little is good (and it is, most definitely, good), a lot must be better. That was my thinking when I picked up Dominion: Intrigue, and I'm delighted to announce that I was right. Double the cards, you double the fun. In fact, I would say that Intrigue makes Dominion more than twice as fun. In case you're not picking up the vibe here, I'm definitely recommending it.

Intrigue is a complete game in a box. Everything you need to play Dominion is here - treasures, victory cards, curses, and a whole bunch of action cards. So you don't need the original Dominion to enjoy Intrigue - it's a heaping spoonful of awesome right out of the shrink wrap.

In fact, there are more than enough cards here to play Intrigue all by itself for a real long time. Some of the new action cards are just plain fun, like the bridge that makes everything cheaper AND gives you extra buys, or the secret chamber that lets you rearrange your cards when someone plays an attack card. There are a bunch more, and I don't have the slightest inclination to describe them all, but suffice to say that there's more than enough to have tons of repeat play value.

And as if that weren't enough, a new kind of card makes an appearance - the combination victory card. My favorite, given my love of loose women, is the harem, which gives you both victory points and treasure, so that you're not stuck with a damned green card taking up space in your deck the whole game. There are more, too - the great hall that lets you dump it out of your hand and get a replacement, or the nobles that let you choose between more actions and more cards.

But like I said, this is even better with the original game. The secret chamber is a great defense against the thief, but it doesn't stop the torturer, so you'll want a moat. And a throne room with a saboteur is just plain nasty. There aren't enough cheap multiple-action cards to please me, so I really like to roll in some villages to help out with the masquerade. Both Dominion and Intrigue are amazing games alone, but combined, they're the cat's pajamas.

The only thing that puzzles me is why they hired their artists at a school for special-needs kids. Some of the art is embarrassingly bad. The shanty town looks like it was drawn by an animator from the Simpsons, and the scout looks like Stephen Hawking drew it with a crayon in his mouth. I almost don't want to introduce new gamers to Dominion using Intrigue because they're likely to laugh me out of the room.

So, OK, the art on many cards is complete ass. I don't care. It's not like I'm playing Dominion for the pretty pictures. They could take the art off every card, and it would still be one of my favorite games ever. Intrigue is every bit as awesome as the original Dominion, and together they make for an absolutely outstanding game.

If you like Dominion and don't own Intrigue, you should make it your next game purchase. It's an absolutely fantastic game that makes an already fantastic game more than twice as fantastic. And that's an awful lot of fantastic.


All by itself, a great damned game
So many new combinations and strategies to master
Exponentially more replay value
Takes a really awesome game and makes it more than twice as awesome

Art drawn by retarded kids with cerebral palsy

Dogstar Games carries Dominion: Intrigue. If you like the original, you owe it to yourself to run over there and pick it up:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Activity Review - Home Repairs

There's an old country song with a lyric somewhere in there that goes, 'if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.' This song was running through my head all weekend (or at least, this line - I don't actually listen to country music, and have no idea how the rest of the song goes).

North Texas was recently slapped with what the news calls 'arctic conditions', and what the rest of the country calls 'time to put on a sweater.' For three days, the temperature was well below freezing, and we even had a little ice one morning. To say that North Texas is ill-prepared for cold weather is an understatement. We're ill-prepared for any temperature that requires a jacket. When there's ice on the overpasses, schools close down for the day and people burn down their houses for heat.

While we did not burn down our house, there were times when we were considering it. The first night that the temperature dove, our furnace quit working. We woke up to a house that was holding at a not-very-comfortable 45 degrees, and the house only got colder until the furnace guy finally came out (the next day) and fixed our heater. And while the furnace was failing to heat our home, the cold seeped right up into the pipes and froze everything solid. We did manage to keep running water in the bathroom, but every other pipe was blocked up. It took until Saturday to get the water running again, and that's when we found out how bad the damage really was.

As soon as the cold water started running again, we could hear the rumbling sound of a burst pipe. Since people in North Texas are effectively retarded when it comes to protecting our homes from deep freezes, we're fairly familiar with the sound, and we know what to do. The first step is to turn off the water to the house, which involves running out to the curb with a metal doodad and digging in frozen mud to find the shut-off valve, then cursing because you just dug in frozen mud and don't have any running water to wash your hands.

The broken pipe was underneath the kitchen sink, below the floorboards. There's not enough clearance underneath there for me to slide my fat ass up to it through the crawl space, so the only solution was to cut through the flooring under the sink. This was accomplished with a Dremel rotary tool using cutting bits so dull that it took nearly an hour and a half to cut a hole large enough to fit one arm. Then, once I could see the pipe below, I had to ask my son to turn on the water while I watched the pipe, so I could spot the leak. Predictably enough, this resulted in me being shot in the face with a jet of icy water - but I was able to spot the leak.

Then I had to go to the hardware store. This part is my least favorite, because I have to wander around the plumbing section trying to look even a little bit like my job does not involve sitting at a desk and making catalogs on a computer. When asking for help, I try to use technical phrases like, 'half-inch copper pipe' and 'elbow joint' and 'you know, that metal thingy that patches the gap.' I always end up spending more than I need to spend because I don't want to come back, and I always end up coming back because I always buy the wrong thing. In this case, however, I did buy the right thing but still had to go back. If you're ever trying to fix copper pipes, I can't recommend the Sharkbite push-fit fittings highly enough. Rather than having to mess with pressure fittings and wrenches (neither of which was going to be manageable when I could only reach the broken pipe with one hand), I simply cut the pipe using my little red pipe cutter and slapped the Sharkbite over both ends.

And that's when we found the second leak, which was right underneath the kitchen floor. Since there was still not enough clearance to get there through the crawl space, I was left with two options. I could call a plumber, or I could use my circular saw to cut a two-foot square hole directly into the floor of the house. Obviously, the sensible thing to do would be to call a professional, and not carve up the hardwoods in the kitchen.

The circular saw did a fine job, though I did wind up with a lot of sawdust underneath the refrigerator. Once I removed the floorboards and the subfloor, I could see the broken pipe quite clearly. A second trip to the hardware store and a second Sharkbite fitting, and that leak was patched as well.

And that's when we found the third leak. The pipe had broken inside the wall, behind the load-bearing beam that kept the back of the house from sliding into the yard. Cutting out the beam was not an option, unless I decided it was time to file a claim on my homeowner's insurance and spend a few weeks in a hotel. My options were to either destroy my house to fix a pipe, or give up and call a plumber.

I went with option three. Yet another trip to the hardware store (by now the employees were calling me by name) got me ten feet of copper pipe and a Sharkbite fitting that made a sharp corner. I replaced every damned inch of pipe between the cold water feed and the faucet, and now water in my house runs just fine.

Now the only thing left is to put my house back together. Enough plumbing, now I have to do carpentry.


Buying a house lets you find out how much stuff you never knew you could do
Great sense of accomplishment when you avoid having to pay a plumber

Entire weekend shot to hell
Bruises, scrapes, cuts and muscle soreness
Spending three days covered in grime because you don't have running water

Friday, January 8, 2010

Board Game Review - Dracula

Good two-player games are hard to find. There are lots of games that say they're for 2-4 players, but what they mean is that you should find four players, because the two-player version blows goats. And then there are two-player games that are decent two-player games, but you have to each build an army that will cost you a couple mortgage payments from collectible pieces that you'll use six times and then store in a box for the next ten years until you find them in the attic one day and try to sell them, only to find out that since the game is dead, the entire collection is worth less than the eBay fees.

But my wife likes to play games with me, and she likes to try new stuff, so I'm constantly on the lookout for a decent game we can play while the kids tie up the television with Mythbusters and Miley Cyrus videos. I got Dracula, and was thinking that it might be just the thing that my wife and I could enjoy for a quick game before she went to bed and I ended up playing Dragon Age until I fell asleep in the living room.

Sadly, Dracula is not a good two-player game, so that didn't work out at all.

In Dracula, each player is trying to find the five things that the other player is trying to keep from them. There's a grid of twelve houses, and each player puts six of their supply cards out, and you shuffle them together and hide them face down. Then Van Helsing and Dracula take turns walking around and looking at the cards. If the card is a woman, Dracula can eat her. If it's a coffin, Van Helsing can break it. When one of them gets five of the things they want, that guy wins.

To make things a little more interesting, Van Helsing and Dracula have both called in some backup. Van Helsing has nerdy guys with stakes who will try to spike the bloodsucking bastard, and Dracula has hot vamp chicks who will try to get Van Helsing's pants off before he can chop off their heads (this is why Dracula will always be cooler than Van Helsing - one is an ugly old guy wtih a chip on his shoulder, and the other scores an undending supply of freaky tail).

There are also barriers that the two foes move around the tiny little village (which is apparently the village of the damned, because out of twelve spaces, something like half of them could contain either fanged hotties or empty coffins, and half of the rest probably have half-naked dames waiting to get ravished by Transylvania's answer to Rico Suave). These barriers are virtually worthless, unfortunately, but they can slow down your opponent a little, so there's a marginal amount of strategy in where you place them.

Both players use action cards to move around, and these action cards might have special abilities, which is the only reason why the two players have even vaguely dissimilar powers. In terms of game balance, this works out, but if you're trying to get to the theme, don't bother. In fact, if Van Helsing and Dracula show up at the same house, there's no fight. They just show each other their leftover supply cards like lawyers at a discovery hearing. Yeah, these guys hate each other enough to want to kill each other, but if they could just sit down in arbitration, maybe they could work out their differences without having to go to court.

What ends up happening is that the entire game sort of devolves into a two-player game of Memory. Every turn you want to see cards that aren't yours - after all, there's not much point in Dracula visiting his imported undead booty call, except for some possible undead lovin'. And why Van Helsing would want to spend some quality time with his dorky assistants is beyond me - even if he were gay, those guys don't want to get busy with any old dude with that much unruly face hair. So you both sort of trip around this tiny village, visiting houses and looking for the cards you need to make the game end, thus allowing you to put it away and just go to bed already.

I can't honestly say that there's no game here. There is a kind of cat-and-mouse thing working, only you're both cats and mice at the same time. If you like games where you have to remember lots of stuff, you might like Dracula. I don't like to play games that rely on my ability to remember twelve different cards at a time, so Dracula isn't my bag. Plus so much of the game just seems almost predestined - you'll move as far as you can afford, check inside a house, and repeat until someone makes it stop.

I'm glad I didn't pay for Dracula, and I'm really glad my wife likes Dominion as much as she does. Because this way I don't feel the least bit of seller's remorse when I get rid of Dracula, and we still have an awesome game to play in the evenings when we don't feel like watching whatever latest TV show has us roped in.


Fairly nice pieces and a cool wooden Dracula
Slightly interesting twist on Memory

Not enough decisions to be interesting
I don't like Memory
Dracula looks like a gay singer in an 80's hair band

Probably there's somebody who likes Dracula. I don't, but someone probably does, and it's not so bad that I feel a need to link you to a picture of vomit or something. But then, it's dumb enough that I can't recommend you buy a copy, so I'm not going to link you to a store where you can waste your money, either. Instead, here's a cool picture of Dracula:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I Suck

I have narcolepsy without cataplexy, which means that I start dreaming before I'm all the way asleep. Usually that means I sleep like crap, because my REM cycle is all screwed up. Sometimes those dreams (hallucinations, really) keep me from falling asleep, and leave me with some powerful insomnia.

Some of those insomnia nights mean I get absolutely no sleep at all. I mean, I pull an all-nighter whether I want it or not. That happens about twice a year, and it sucks, but I go home after work, go to bed, and I'm usually right as rain the next day.

But sometimes, every three to five years or so, the insomnia runs for a few nights in a row, and that's when it gets bad. I mean, I'm not sure I'm not hallucinating about actually writing this right now. And when it gets this bad, if I can't get some decent shut-eye, I start to exhibit symptoms of what some worthless Navy doctors called petite mal epilepsy, right before they gave me an honorable discharge and sent me packing. My body just says, 'look, bitch, if you're not going to let me shut down for a while, I'll do it myself.'

This would be one of those times. In the last 90 or so hours, I've been asleep for eight of them. In case you suck at math (and I do, especially when I'm so tired I can't walk a straight line), that means I've had a combined one full night of sleep in the last three. I'm effectively worthless at nearly any task, though I'm still going to work because what the hell, I'm awake anyway. The seizures haven't started yet, but they're not far off.

So tonight, I'm getting hopped up on over-the-counter sleep aids and going to bed. I hope to get about ten hours of sleep. But that means I'm not writing a review tonight, because it would be totally lame, and I would forget what game I had played before I got to the end of the review (I've already dozed off three times writing this lame-ass excuse).

Seriously, I'm still doing this. I'm still updating, and I'm still playing some of the worst games small press publishers can crap out, and I'm still just as cranky as ever (right now, more than normal). I know it's been a week since I wrote anything, but I'll have something Friday.