Sunday, June 16, 2013

Announcement - New Digs

Short Version:

I am moving.

Long Version:

I have been writing Drake's Flames since 2007, and have not updated the way the site looks in years. In terms of the internet, that's like still using a rotary phone (ask your mom if you don't know what that is). So I was overdue for an upgrade.

And you know what? Blogger sucks if you want to track stats, earn good site listings, or maximize your SEO. Those are terms I learned in the last year or so, and it turns out they're pretty important. For one thing, people send more free games to reviewers with better viewing stats.

So I'm off to a new spot. I'll probably never post at this site again, but I have set up an RSS feed through feedburner at the new place. The new place is swanky - featured articles, categories, contact page, and all kinds of other cool crap. It might take you a little bit to get used to it, and I'm so sorry but I can't figure out how to transfer your RSS feed from this site to my new site.

I think you'll like the new place. I will put up a welcome post at my new site, so you can all comment on how sexy it is and tell me how much better a human being I am for designing it. I'm still working out a couple kinks, but I'm done with Blogger so for better or worse, we're live at the new site.

The address, in case I didn't just mention it (although I just did) is:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Movie Review - Warm Bodies

If you were going to mix two stories, a zombie movie and Romeo and Juliet would probably not be your first pick. But somebody went and did that, and it works ridiculously well. In fact, it goes together so well that unless somebody points out what's happening, you could miss the fact that you're watching a mash-up movie.

Warm Bodies tells the story of two star-crossed lovers with a wall between them. Literally, there's a giant wall meant to keep out the zombies. Julia lives on one side of it, because she's not a zombie, and R (that's as much of his name as he can remember) lives on the other side, because he is a zombie. Their two families - living humans and people who eat living humans - don't really get along. It seems like they are always fighting. One guy eats another guy's spleen, then the dead guy's cousin gets angry and shoots the first guy's brother in the face, and crazy feuds get started. And then, in the middle of all the mayhem, two young kids fall in love.

When that happens in Renaissance Italy, it's a classic tale of love and loss. When it happens in a zombie apocalypse, it's Warm Bodies, and it's campy and violent and entertaining as hell. It's the zombie version of Twilight, which is almost as improbable as the zombie version of Romeo and Juliet. It's also a lot more fun than, 'wherefore art thou Romeo.'

Warm Bodies looks like it should be a comedy. A zombie falls for a human girl and then they have wacky escapades in the airport - that's a recipe for some dark humor. If you saw the trailers, you know there are at least a few moderately funny parts, like when R tells Julia to be dead, and then she overdoes it, and he grunts at her, 'too much.'

However, despite appearances, and the fact that a zombie love story is so ridiculous that it seems completely impossible, Warm Bodies is actually a fairly intriguing tale. It's full of romance and drama, action and tension. As Julia awakens feelings within R, he begins to return from his zombified state, becoming human again - and his brain-eating family doesn't think that's a good idea.

If you're looking for a 'pure' zombie movie, you are obviously in the wrong place. It starts off with some pretty basic zombie stuff - shambling hordes, eating brains, and head shots - but then zombies start moving faster, and some turn into terrifyingly fast monsters who rip off their own skins, and the zombies talk to each other in short sentences. And, you know, they turn back into people.

But breaking all the rules is the only way Warm Bodies ever could have worked. After all, a romance where a brainless, rotting monster has a romantic affair with a beautiful girl coasts a line between being silly and horrifyingly distasteful. So instead of having his skin hanging and guts dangling, R has some varicose veins in his neck and wacky eyeballs. These zombies are not as gross as the zombies you're used to seeing, and that's OK in this case because that's how the story works.

And the story is actually quite good. When we realized halfway through that we were watching a Romeo and Juliet movie (watch for the balcony scene), I was suddenly a great deal more interested. I started getting a little nervous about the ending, because let's face it, Shakespeare's version doesn't have what would normally be called a happy ending. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say that it is executed very well. Get it? Executed?

If Warm Bodies were just a zombie movie, it would still be pretty decent. It takes the traditional Romero zombie and flips it around a little to tell an interesting tale. Happily, though, it doesn't stop there, because layering classic Shakespeare over the top just makes it more intriguing. Yes, it's a little bit teen-romance. No, the acting is not incredible. But it's fun and campy and violent and exciting, and includes more than a couple cool surprises. I enjoyed it, and not just because I have a teenage daughter who loves any movie about young people in love.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Party Game Review - Word Whimsy

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the creators of Apples to Apples should be incredibly proud. Their stupid game has been copied so many times that it's starting to look like a good idea. It's been corrupted and twisted and abused so that it's almost difficult to recognize the original concept, but at the core, it's still pretty basic - one player chooses answers submitted by everyone else using no criteria whatsoever, and nobody really cares who wins.

The extreme version of the Apples to Apples concept is Cards Against Humanity, which relies largely on the strength of disgusting references to twisted sex acts and racism to amuse the players. For some people, this is absolutely hilarious; for others, it's too offensive to be funny. I'm on the 'hilarious' end of the spectrum, but not everyone is. And honestly, once you've seen the Pac-Man card, and the one about Glenn Beck getting badly wounded on a curtain hook, you will have just about run out of reasons to play Cards Against Humanity, and you will need something else.

The new game you want is Word Whimsy. If you like your answers to be in questionable taste, but you're not hoping for incestuous gay jokes, this one will get the job done. And the best thing is that, for the most part, the level of offense is up to the players. If you don't want to get 'Naked ninja sex' as an answer, just don't play with your Uncle Larry who actually would like to have naked ninja sex.

The reason this works is because Word Whimsy takes the Apples to Apples format and adds something that should have been in there from the start - multiple word answers. You'll get cards with words on them, just like in the other games, but instead of just slapping one down, you'll actually combine up to seven different cards. When the question is 'When the aliens come, I will show them my…', you can answer 'Majestic African children,' or you can keep it simple and just say, 'wiener.' Because yes, that is an option.

This card-combining element means nearly anyone can be funny, and now you have so much more control over the tone of your answers. No more complaining that you don't have any good cards. You've got seven, and you can use as many as you want. There are lots and lots of words on these cards, and they include such choice selections as 'sexy' and 'turd.' Those are two words that should never be used together, but the point is, you could. You should not, but you could.

Not only that, but as long as you can shuffle your cards (which could be a challenge, because there are hundreds of them), you never have to get bored with the same answers all the time. You could play for years before anyone ever has the cards in their hand to put together, 'dancing fuzzy bears,' and then it could be years before anyone has that combination again. Unlike nearly every other game in this vein, Word Whimsy can be played a hell of a lot before it gets repetitive.

Another nice thing about Word Whimsy is that everyone who plays gets a score. You give the most points to your favorite, but then you run them down the list, with your least favorite only getting one point. This is nice, because I don't know how many times I was forced to choose between 'demon weasel beast' and 'dirty humpers,' as answers to 'a movie I would definitely want to watch,' and was able to give them both a hearty recommendation.

As with nearly any of the games spawned by Apples to Apples, the point is rarely to win. I think scoring is only included so that everyone tries their hardest to be as funny as possible. I don't even remember who won Word Whimsy when we played it, because it was so fun that nobody cared. Our bellies were cramped and our faces were sore from laughing, our eyes were watering, and one of us had water come out of his nose (though the nose thing was just because he had a cold). I heartily disliked Apples to Apples, tolerated Big Bang Theory Party Game, and was amused by Cards Against Humanity, but Word Whimsy is the first one of these games that I actually said, 'man, we should play this more often.'

If you've been looking for the Apples to Apples clone that was worth keeping around the house, you can stop the search. Word Whimsy is funny and smart, avoids the trap of being constantly repetitive, and is colorful without being deliberately offensive. Basically, Word Whimsy is the game Apples to Apples should have been.


3-7 players

Tons of options
Card combinations make the game funnier
Far more replayable than any other A2A clone

The little card holders don't always hold cards very well

Not only is Word Whimsy a blast, it's cheap, too. If you go to Coolstuff you can preorder it for less than the cost of a loaded pizza.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bored Game Review - Dragon Rage

I think Lewis Pulsipher must have a time machine that has transported his mind to 1974 and somehow left his body here with us. That's the only way I can explain making a game like Dragon Rage and then being so proud of it that you turn it into a career teaching other people how to make games as boring as Dragon Rage. Please note that I am not making this up - Lew Pulsipher teaches college courses in board game design. I guess it's proof of that old adage, 'those who can't do, teach.'

Dragon Rage is one of those archaic games that comes with cardboard squares and hexes with numbers on them so you can call them out in the rules. In the game, a couple dragons attack a city and try to wreck it while the people in the city kill the piss out of them. It's dry and boring and unattractive, and includes - I am not exaggerating here - more than 50 pages of rules. This is an outdated gaming model. For the sake of comparison, when most gamers gave up these boring kinds of games, The Beejees were still popular.

The game has virtually nothing working for it. There are multiple scenarios, so you can try one where giants attack the city or humans attack the orc town, but in every case you could be playing something fun instead. Wargames have come a long way since 1982, but this game has not. Look at Conflict of Heroes - that game uses cardboard squares, and it's a blast because it is updated and relevant. Dragon Rage, by comparison, was a boring game the first time it was printed, when I was in high school, and it is still boring today.

Turns are lopsided. The dragon turn takes maybe two minutes, as you move your two counters, perform a couple attacks, and call it a day. The city dwellers, on the other hand, take very long. They move their 15 or so guys, counting off road spaces and maneuvering around towers and walls, and then roll dice a dozen times. If you're playing the dragons, this is tedious. If you're playing the humans, it's still tedious because you are unfortunately still playing Dragon Rage.

If you're going to make a game where dragons fly into cities and burn stuff, and you're not making this game in 1977, you are virtually obligated to include plastic. I could have tolerated Dragon Rage if it looked cool. It could have had plastic dragons and plastic soldiers and a plastic wizard. Would it cost more? Of course! Would I buy it just for the plastic? Yes, unless it had Lew Pulsipher's name on it.

If Dragon Rage had simply been a boring, unappealing box full of dead-weight cardboard, I would have been content to pan it and walk away. But fortunately for me (and it is fortunate because of how much I love to mock), the worst thing about Dragon Rage is not even the game. The worst thing about Dragon Rage is that it opens with a full-page Ode to Doctor Lewis Pulsipher, written by… Doctor Lewis Pulsipher.

Rarely in my life do I have an opportunity to see such a self-aggrandizing pile of tripe as the first page of the Dragon Rage rules. This is a full page detailing the life and accomplishments of the guy who made this boring-ass game, including his bragging about having made another game I never had any desire to play, and how he now teaches college classes about making games. Obviously, teaching classes about making games does not make a person an expert in making games. Also, the college in question is not actually named. It is my theory that this is because Doctor Lewis Pulsipher teaches game design classes at Bumstick Vocational Junior College in Backwater Spitbucket, Virginia. And if I taught there, I would not brag about it, either.

I am staggered by the sheer arrogance and self-importance required to produce a piece as thoroughly irrelevant and pointless as the first page of this rulebook (which, incidentally, includes a portrait of the man, so that if you meet him in person you can drop to one knee). Reiner Knizia could get away with this. I like to mock Reiner for making games I don't like, but honestly, the German doctor is a bad-ass, even if many of his games blow goats. And Reiner never felt the need to include a retarded fluff piece in one of his games. Maybe because if you have to tell people how awesome you are, then you clearly are not.

So don't buy Dragon Rage. Stay far, far away from it. If you see people playing it, make the sign of the cross and move quickly away before you get some on you. I'm not even going to offer you my copy of the game. Instead, I am going to wrap it in chains, drive a stake through the box and bury it face-down in consecrated ground. (It's not really that bad. It's just really boring. But I have been looking for a good excuse to make that game-killing joke.) And if you ever meet Lewis Pulsipher and forget to call him 'Doctor,' don't worry. He'll remind you.


2 players

Uses ink

Boring, unattractive, bulky, and slow. The game is also bad.
Also, not fun at all

I think it goes without saying that I am not going to link you to where you could buy this god-awful game. Instead, here is a photo of Lew Pulsipher, so you can either point and laugh or go out of your way to avoid him.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Board Game Review - Princes of the Dragon Throne

Deckbuilding games have come a long way. We started with Dominion (and other games that lead to that, but this isn't a full-on history lesson), had Arctic Scavengers and Nightfall and Puzzle Strike, and now we're starting to see games where building your deck is part of the game, but not the game itself. City of Remnants, for instance, capitalizes on a deckbuilding element without making it the focus, and now Princes of the Dragon Throne dials it up even further, by having deckbuilding be a minor part of a major game.

It's a funny phenomenon, though, when you look at it. If, like me, you've played dozens of deckbuilding games and watched the evolution of the genre, new ideas are interesting for the spin they place on an old idea. On the other hand, if you haven't ever played one, the concept can be bewildering, and jumping in on a game like Princes of the Dragon Throne is diving right into the deep end. Because on top of having to figure out that you've got your own deck and discard pile and shuffling and building, you're also trying to figure out how to best use your supporters to secure seats for your dragon lords as you gain favor in the merchant guild and earn the resources you need to feed the dragons you send out to let you build your deck. If you're a rookie gamer, this can be a giant circle of confusion.

However, if you like your games to present a challenge, if you like to see old ideas mixed into new concepts, if you like a little strategic planning with a dose of friend-screwage, you're going to like Princes of the Dragon Throne. It combines deckbuilding like you haven't seen before with area control and resource management. If you really prefer your games to come with some bloodshed and a lot of dice, forget it, but if you're a Euro nerd who gets wood for complex game mechanics, this one is going to make you take a cold shower.

There are so many layers to Princes of the Dragon Throne that your first play is going to be like opening up your birthday present and finding a well-dressed hooker, and then peeling off the expensive dress to find a vinyl catsuit, and then getting her out of that to discover amazing lingerie, and then getting that off to discover - well, if you don't know what you find when you get a hot woman naked, I would simply hate to spoil the surprise. This metaphor may have been overplayed, come to think of it. I probably should have gone with the Shrek onion, but you know what? I like gorgeous hookers, and I don't like peeling onions.

Anyway, there's a lot going on in Princes of the Dragon Throne. You're balancing the purchase of dragon cards with citizen cards, and you may need them to place your guys on the map, and you may need them to buy guys in the first place. You might be placing your supporters to get the favor of the particular guilds, but you may also be grabbing the guilds to gain access to the dragon lords. You might even be trying to gain a foothold in the orc realms, and not even care about the dragon lords or the merchant card, but you're just trying to stop one guy from running away with the kingdom. Not that you really know what any of that means, but my point is, there's a lot happening.

This is a lot of game. Princes of the Dragon Throne is not for new gamers, and it's not going to be a big sell with your typical blood-and-guts Ameritrasher. You don't get to kill people, which is a bummer, because you would think with all these dragons someone would at least get lit on fire. You definitely have to think about what you're doing, and if you're lost, you're doomed. But if you can strap on your big-boy britches and settle in to a mighty man-sized meal of a game, one with beautiful art and massive depth and a progressing game that builds to a climactic finish, you should seriously check this out.

One final note: This is a Game Salute game that is currently in a Kickstarter. If what I've said so far sounds fun to you, go support it, but don't get the upgraded kit with the 'better' meeples. They look cool enough, but they actually make the middle of the board more confusing and cluttered. I'm all for sexier game pieces, but not when they make the game harder to play. This one is virtually guaranteed to fund eight ways from Sunday, and that's great because it's a cool game, but don't fall under the spell of the unneeded upgrades.


2-4 players

Cool new twist on deckbuilding
Exceptional depth
Lots of interaction, especially near the end of the game
Great art

Feels too big with fewer players
Very European in flavor
Rather complex

If you like Euro games where the theme makes itself known and there's plenty of interaction, check out Princes of the Dragon Throne on Kickstarter:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Board Game Review - Cinque Terre

I might as well get these Rio Grande reviews out of the way. There's one more to discuss, and then I can get back to not playing European games unless they come out of France (French people make awesome games with dead bodies and demons and naked chicks - all things I readily endorse in my games).

So the last of these dead-fish Euro games that Rio Grande sent me is called Cinque Terre. In English, this means Heavy Poop, or literally 'sinking turd.' The game is called that because if you drop it in the toilet, it will fall to the bottom, and you will be glad and want to flush it…

Wait, sorry, I'm being handed an updated memo. It seems Heavy Poop was a bit of a prank by the boys in tech support. Cinque Terre is about five villages. Ha! Good one, tech guys!

OK, so there are these five villages on the coast of Italy, and they are freaking beautiful. They're built in terraces, almost inaccessible by car or plane, with stunning geography, picturesque vistas and charming architecture. These five villages are famous for being almost completely unspoiled by corporate intrusions like Exxon and Starbucks, and are thus quite the tourist attraction.

And according to Rio Grande, they're also really into fruit. Because in Cinque Terre, a game about five amazing locations that are almost lost to time, you're going to sell fruit out of a motorized wagon. If that sounds like a grievous waste of a perfectly wonderful theme, then I think you and I are on the same page.

Still, reading the rules, I was kind of looking forward to playing this game. It seems like a quaint thing where you harvest fruit and sell it in the various villages, taking advantage of increased demand and specific fruit orders. Unfortunately, it's not that. Unfortunately, it's actually just work.

Cinque Terre - a game supposedly about five of the most beautiful and charming locations in the northern hemisphere - is a logistics exercise. The way you win this game is by carefully planning ahead, making the most efficient plans and thinking six steps ahead. I like games with some planning. I don't like games where planning IS the game.

Here's a little of the nitty-gritty, so you can understand what I'm talking about when I say this is basically like having a job as the dispatcher at a trucking company. On your turn, you can travel from one location to the next, harvest specific types of fruit with specific cards, then sell specific fruit in specific villages to fulfill specific fruit orders. And all the time you're doing this, you will absolutely, under no circumstances at all, interact with the other people who are playing this game with you. It's not even fair to call the other players your opponents, because nobody is actually opposing you.

I wanted to like Cinque Terre. I did some homework, looking up the region online, reading about how it's hard to get to these villages and looking at photos that made me want to give up my day job and move to Italy. If the region had featured in the theme in any way, I might have loved it. But there's no reason this stretch of beautiful coastline has to be the least bit involved in this game. You could make the same exact game about shuttling farm animals around small towns to enter them into livestock contests.

I don't need another game about picking up wooden cubes and taking them other places. Unless people are going to shoot at my car as I hustle fruit across enemy lines, this game is going to be so ludicrously dull that I would rather just balance the checkbook. It's about the same amount of work either way, but at least keeping up with my finances will be good for something. And neither thing is fun.

That does it for the Rio Grande games, and I'm glad. I won't be asking them for any more games, because even if they don't hate me all the way to Hell and back for panning the crap out of every review copy they sent me, I don't actually want to play their games. I know they sent me three under-performers, and I know they do have some games that are better, but I can't be bothered to care. I want death tolls and hookers, and until Rio Grande decides to make some games for immature grown men, I think I can stick with Asmodee.


A game named after a really beautiful part of the world
Some decent production value

The beautiful part of the world does not feature in the game in any way
The decent production value is mostly just lots of wooden cubes
The game is a boring logistics exercise
I would rather mow the lawn

Don't bother playing Cinque Terre. Instead, look at these amazing pictures and tell me you don't want to move to Italy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Board Game Review - Spin Monkeys

When I started Drake's Flames, Rio Grande used to send me a lot of games. Then they stopped, mostly because I was rather disparaging of one of their games. Then, several years later, I asked them for a particular game and they sent me three other games instead. This was my chance to make good, to get back in with one of the biggest game companies in the world so I could get free games from them again!

Well, so much for that. I got three games from Rio Grande, and all of them suck. Someone probably thinks some of these are OK, but not me. Because, as I may have just said, I think they suck. I don't think I'll probably even bother to ask for more games. It's reasonably safe to assume that I am burning that bridge once and for all.

Of the three games I recently got, Cavemen was the best of the batch, and it just had some major balance flaws and some questionable art. But the second one, the one I'm about to review, is really stupid. It's called Spin Monkeys, and instead of being a cutthroat game about managing public relations for out-of-control rockstars and politicians who are cheating on their wives, it's about actual monkeys. Which is doubly sad, because on top of being disappointed that the theme is dumb, now I totally want to play that game about the PR guys.

But alas, I'm stuck with the game that actually exists. In Spin Monkeys, you're each playing a monkey who has come out of the jungle and invaded the carnival. The bumper cars are all set up, and to sweeten the deal, someone has put fruit all over the floor. So naturally, you (being the monkeys) jump into your bumper cars and drive hell-bent for leather to pick up as much fruit as you can. Because that happens.

You play Spin Monkeys by choosing cards that tell you which direction you will head on your turn. If you want to play a sharp left, you play the 90 degree card. Or go the other way with the 270 degree card. Or don't bother planning at all, because someone is going to run into you anyway and you're going to get sent spinning in a random direction and it won't really matter what you played.

Once you get moving, you get to pick up every piece of fruit you can drive over, and then eat it real fast. You can tell that you are eating the fruit because if you grab a banana, you leave the peel behind. That would only happen if you are eating the banana, not just collecting it. This is important for two reasons. First, it's important because if you hit a banana peel, you go spinning in a random direction. Second, it's important because other monkeys can steal your fruit.

If you're squeamish, you may want to stop reading now. Because what I figured out was that if the fruit is being consumed, and if other monkeys can steal your fruit, then what they are actually swiping from you is fruit you have already eaten. Which means they are stealing your poop. It also means you have a wildly accelerated metabolism, because you're able to pass a banana in less time than it takes to say, 'pass a banana.' These are incontinent monkeys, and so what they steal from each other is even more unappealing.

I grant you that you do not have to sign off on the poop-eating monkeys to play Spin Monkeys. It is, in my opinion, the only explanation that makes sense, but you could just pretend the monkeys are peeling the bananas, throwing the peels and then stashing the fruit. I suppose that is also an option. But since I did not like Spin Monkeys, I am sticking with the excrement theory.

Scatological humor aside, Spin Monkeys is just a random act of chaos. Your decisions don't matter, because random elements will alter the outcome regardless of how well you plan ahead. You'll be hit by an opponent, spin out of control, then bounce into a banana peel and wind up stuck in a corner like that kid from Blair Witch. Planning is pointless. Strategy is essentially impossible.

Spin Monkeys is still better than Robo Rally, because you only have to plan one card at a time, but that's not high praise because I absolutely hate Robo Rally. On the other hand, Spin Monkeys doesn't force as much intellect. For one thing, you'll figure out early on that it's meaningless to try very hard, and you'll decide that you may as well smoke that bowl now, because you'll play just as well stoned.

If I were a fan of unbridled chaos in my board games, I might like Spin Monkeys. If I loved goofy themes and poop jokes… no, wait, I do love goofy themes and poop jokes. If Spin Monkeys made me think a little more and rewarded me for playing better, I would probably be a huge fan, primarily because of the goofy theme and poop jokes. Sadly, it's essentially purely randomized absurdity, and that's only fun when they do it on Jackass. Mostly because it's not happening to me.


2-6 players

Goofy theme and poop jokes

Utter chaos
No good reason to plan ahead
Rather plain art

I can't imagine why you would want to buy this game, but in case you do, you can find a copy here:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Card Game Review - The Valkyrie Incident

In 1984, on a secret military base in Gun Barrel City, Texas, a crack team of scientists stumbled across a psychotically insane death's-head hawkmoth. As part of a program to develop a super-soldier capable of killing hundreds of unmarried anime fans, they cross-bred the killer moth with a large group of swimsuit models (this group is known in the scientific community as a 'night club' of girls) and armed them with explosives and super-powered robots. These Valkyrie warriors refused to follow the protocols assigned to them, however, and rebelled against their male masters. They blew up the world governments and took over, creating a dystopic alternate future in which giant robots and attractive women rule the planet, but fight each other all the time.

Happily, Professor X was able to communicate to Wolverine through a time breach and they managed to fix the mistake, so in our timeline, everything is pretty much hunky-dory. But in the alternate future, those giant robots and their sexy dame owners are routinely trying to shoot each other full of holes. And it's so cool that John Clowdus made a game about it.

The Valkyrie Incident is a card game about this wildly cool alternate future. You'll do a little recruiting, trying to capture the best cards to fight your battles, and then you'll fight with the cards you've recruited. It's a combination of deckbuilding and area control, with a healthy dose of messing with your opponent. It's only for two players, and it plays in a hurry, so you can try it twice if you didn't like it the first time.

But you'll probably like it the first time. The Valkyrie Incident is pretty cool. The deckbuilding is clever, full of nifty combos that score you lots of cards, and the fighting part is a tricky exchange of blasting your opponents and grabbing up land. It's got enough depth to keep you coming back for more, just to see what combinations you can build. Play a card that lets you slap down a card and blow up another card? Sure. But how about killing off the last three cards of your enemy's deck, and then following it up with a card that lets both players draw - but only you get cards because you just screwed your opponent out of her whole deck? Yeah. That's awesome. And mean. And awesome.

One great element of The Valkyrie Incident is that you're not focusing on just one part of the game. You don't recruit just to win fights, and you don't hurry through the fighting to get to the deckbuilding. Both parts are a big deal, because in the end, you win by having the best bunch of cards. Winning fights is important, but so is recruiting the right sexy soldiers and giant robots.

The art in The Valkyrie Incident is outstanding. I know some people don't love John Ariosa's sketchy style, but I thought it brought this game to life. The robots were bad-ass, and the death's-head chicks were tough, and the explosions were nice and toasty. There's not a lot of smokin' side-boob or anything - the art is pretty tasteful, for being a game about hot women with guns - but everything still looked rambunctious and exciting.

Now, I do have a major complaint with The Valkyrie Incident, and you'll have to decide if this is a deal-breaker for you. This game is a new direction for Small Box Games, in that instead of a small box, you get no box at all. Or bag. Or, for that matter, rules. You have to download the rules and find your own storage, because when you buy The Valkyrie Incident, you literally get just the cards.

I know the box might seem superfluous to some, but I don't just have card boxes sitting around my house to store decks of loose cards. I suppose I should buy a deck box to hold these cards, but then I kind of think maybe the company that sold me the game should sell me a box to hold it. I'm all for cutting costs, but there's a point where this is just silly.

If you can get past the complete lack of any sort of storage for the cards, The Valkyrie Incident is an engaging and clever two-player game with lots of violence and head-to-head competition. The art is great and you can finish inside half an hour, so it's also perfect to play with your buddy before the other two guys show up for your poker night.


2 players

Cool art
Great combination of deckbuilding and conflict
Lots of tricky combos and smart planning

No box

You can get The Valkyrie Incident from Small Box Games. No word yet on whether they will be changing the name to 'No Box Games.'

Monday, May 27, 2013

Board Game Review - Viticulture

Every now and then, when I read the rules for a game, I get a pretty good idea how the review is going to go. Like, when I read the rules for Viticulture, I was thinking, 'I am going to be talking about how charming and relaxing and family-friendly this game is.' I always play the game before I decide for sure, but I am usually pretty close.

In this case, though, I was wrong. I was thinking Viticulture, a game about making wine in Tuscany, was going to be light and cute and jovial. I guess I was looking at the subject matter more than the game itself. I mean, if you see a game about growing grapes to make a nice pinot in the hills of Central Italy, you're thinking it will probably be long on charm and short on tension, right? Not too competitive, just easy-going and mellow.

So, so wrong. Viticulture is wildly competitive. There's so much you can do to screw your opponents that winning can be a matter of stopping the other players from doing what they need to do. It's important to manage your own resources to get ahead; it's more important to deny your friends the chance to do the same.

What I thought was going to be a rose-colored sunset game of picking grapes and swishing wine in my mouth before spitting it into a bucket turned out to be pretty ruthless. It really comes down to the limited actions. In a two-player game, only one person can plant grapes in any given year. Same with harvesting grapes, or crushing them into wine, or selling wine to people who want to buy wine, or training a new worker for next year, or any of the many other things that you need to do to win this game.

And that makes Viticulture a very competitive game. Sometimes you'll harvest before you're ready because you need to make sure you can beat your friends to the opportunity. You might grab a spot when you don't need it just to keep an opponent from getting to it first. It's fun, if you're in the mood for some cutthroat strategy, but it's not the relaxing charm I thought it was going to be.

Which, to be honest, disappointed me. The art in Viticulture is so beautiful that it made me want to quit my day job and move to Italy to make wine. It can take a couple minutes to understand all your options, but a surface look at the game makes it seem like everyone will leave smiling and relaxed. The only way you'll all be smiling and relaxed after this game about making wine is if you each actually drink a whole bottle while you're playing. I wanted to drop into the theme of this game like falling slowly into a warm bath, but while there's a great, competitive game here, it just doesn't match the theme.

Sometimes, the rules don't even make sense with the theme. When you can't harvest your grapes because your friends beat you to it, it's hard to see how that works, thematically. I mean, you've got a worker ready to go pluck grapes all day, and he's looking forward to it because you've been telling him since July that he was going to pick grapes. And then he goes out to the field, and you have to send your foreman running after him, and the foreman goes, 'Stop! Ernesto! You can't pick those grapes!' And Ernesto says, 'Why not?' And the foreman explains, 'Because two other vineyards a long ways from here already picked their grapes.' And then Ernesto says, 'Eff this. I'm moving to Napa Valley. You people are idiots.'

The thing about Viticulture is that it's a very fun game. It doesn't really do anything Agricola didn't pretty much cover, but it's a tense, competitive game, even if you can't send ninjas to the other vineyards to burn down their tasting rooms. The problem is that it doesn't look like it should be tense and competitive, it looks like it should be relaxing and charming, and the theme doesn't go with the mechanics. The theme is great. The game is great. But the theme goes with the game like peanut butter and ranch dressing. Both are awesome, but they're not exactly a perfect match.

Still, though, there's a lot to love about Viticulture. It's strategic and relentless and fun, with great art and beautiful design. There are wooden counters for everything, custom cut to be trellises and wine cellars and bottles of cabernet sauvignon. Everything about the game oozes charm, and so I'm very excited to see the next game from this publisher, Euphoria. That game is on Kickstarter right now, and I'm hoping to land a review copy of that when it comes out, because if Viticulture is any indication, these cats know how to make games.


2-6 players

Great strategy and planning
Tense and competitive
Beautiful art and amazing production values
Very charming theme

Mechanics don't seem to go very well with the theme

You can score a copy of Viticulture right here, and also see what a beautiful game it is:

And while you're at it, check out Euphoria. If it's half as good as it looks, it's going to be awesome.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Board Game Review - Panic on Wall Street

There are all kinds of board games. You've got your dexterity games, which generally mean you have to flick a piece of wood with your middle finger in an attempt to put out your brother's eye. You've got your abstract games, which are almost always made out of wood and have no theme at all and tend to only accommodate two people. You've got your card games that play like board games, and board games that play like card games, and strategy games and party games and train games and kids games and stupid games that you wish your mom would lose so you could play something else when you visit for Thanksgiving.

But until now, I had never played a yelling game. The Resistance has a tendency to create some yelling situations, but it's not technically about the yelling, it's more about the deceiving your friends, who then yell at you for lying to them. Panic on Wall Street, on the other hand, is all about yelling.

It's a pretty basic idea. You take a good-sized group and split it in half. Then you make half those people stock-brokers, and give them companies whose stock needs sold, and the other half are investors. The game has two winners, the best broker and the best investor. And there is a ton of yelling.

How you play is, you flip over a timer, and then you all start yelling. "I will sell this green for twenty!" you will yell. And "Yellow for thirty! Yellow for thirty! Yellow for thirty!" And "I'll give you fifteen for blue!" And "Shut up you slackwit asshats, I'm trying to watch television!" You won't be yelling the last one. That will come from anyone in the same building.

This yelling segment of the game is called the negotiation. There are other parts of the game, namely the parts where you try to get everyone to quiet down so you can figure out how much money they made, but the yelling part is the fun part. As long as you like yelling. If yelling very loudly and very often makes you uncomfortable, or if you like to relax and not get wound up trying to sell stock to your friends, you are unlikely to enjoy Panic on Wall Street. Me, I like yelling very loudly and very often, so I thought this was a hoot.

Once you finish the part of the game where you're not yelling, you will auction off more companies (this may involve some yelling) and then the next round begins. In the next round, just to mix it up and try for some variety, there will be a lot of yelling. Because it's basically the same thing again.

I did enjoy the vigorous and extremely noisy game of negotiation and yelling that we played. Unfortunately, I'm not likely to play it many more times. For one thing, you need a decent-sized crowd. There are rules for playing with three, but it wouldn't be the same game. To truly experience Panic on Wall Street, you need lots of people for maximum yelling. And it's rare for me to have eight other people willing to play a yelling game.

In fact, that's the second barrier that will stop me from playing Panic on Wall Street again - most of my gamer friends are not going to want to be involved in a yelling game. We usually get together, drink a few beers, crack wise, laugh, and play games that don't have overly complicated rules. The rules for Panic on Wall Street are easy, but it's very loud and not at all conducive to a relaxing evening. It's conducive to lots of high-energy yelling and possibly stress migraines.

 So will you like Panic on Wall Street? That depends. Do you know five or six other people who like to yell at each other? If so, you will like it. If you only like to play games with your wife over a glass of wine, you will absolutely not like Panic on Wall Street. Or pretty much any other yelling game, although I don't know of any other yelling games.


3-11 players

Hilariously fun if you like yelling
High-energy negotiation and some smart money management
Neat pieces that make you feel like a stock-broker

Boy, is there a lot of yelling
Only a good game with a whole bunch of people

Whew, this is a good price on this game. If your pile of games is missing a yelling game, and you need to fill in that hole, you can get it right here:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

TV Review - Defiance

Usually, if I'm reviewing a TV show, it's because I loved it and I want other people to enjoy it. Tonight, unfortunately, that is not the case. Tonight's review is a caution sign, a warning. Tonight, I watch bad TV so you don't have to.

I probably should have known going in that Defiance was going to be lame. It looked like it had promise in the ads, but then again, if I had been watching, I probably would have noticed the cheesy costumes, or the video game tie-in, or the fact that they played that wretched Imagine Dragons song non-stop during the TV spots. But I didn't. I saw space aliens on television and I wanted to watch it.

Defiance tells the story of a world destroyed by intergalactic war. Or, more accurately, it tells how aliens came to Earth and wrecked the piss out of it, then when they moved in, they broke everything and then somehow lost the ability to move back out again. So it's essentially post-apocalypse with aliens.

But these are not very alien aliens. They have taken a page out of Star Trek's book and made all the aliens just basically people with bad make-up. These aliens are so similar that they can get all Barry-White-Get-It-On with each other and with humans. Although so far, it looks like the only species interested in scoring a little extra-planar booty is the human race. The white-haired albinos don't seem interested in getting jiggy with the forehead-bone people. Humans, being a randy lot, will pretty much hook up with any of them.

Let's say you decide there's a good reason there are eight alien races on the same planet and they are all so similar as to be sexually compatible. Maybe you just give the uncreative assholes who made the show a pass and go on to see if there are exciting alien stories to be had. And then you will find out that no, there are no good stories, just mile after mile of blatant plot holes and logical inconsistencies.

Good sci-fi shows (as opposed to good SyFy shows, which would seem to be an oxymoron) often have lots of mysteries that unravel as you watch. Defiance tries to have a good mystery, but sadly, the mystery is so lame that I don't care. The mystery might be capable of saving the show if the show itself weren't so horrible. Or if there were enough good actors for it to be worth saving.

There are actually a few decent actors on Defiance. That chick who is in Warehouse 13 as HG Wells, and in the second season of Spartacus as a woman who has a lot of sex, is on this show. Unfortunately, her makeup is so unsettlingly bad that despite her being frequently close to nude, it's tough to watch her. So when the scene flips over to the lead character, you'll be grateful for the respite, especially because this actor is cool enough that if they had made him the mercenary bad-ass on Revolution instead of whatever daytime soap opera star they have in the job now, I might have actually believed that he had, at one time, killed a bunch of people.

Sadly, there are also the bad actors, and they're hard to avoid. Acting while wearing five pounds of rubber prosthetics on your face must be hard, because the sidekick girl seems to be incapable of facial expression. The albino husband is such a bad actor that he almost makes the guy who plays the son seem acceptable. He is not, by the way. The albino son is the worst actor on the show, and this is a show with a lot of bad actors, so that means he is a very bad actor.

But this is SyFy, so bad acting and cheap makeup is just about what we expect. We can overlook those factors if we can find something cool about the show. Cool tech, spaceship battles, exciting alien throwdowns, or plausible plot lines - any of those would make this a watchable show. If it had them. It does not.

I did give Defiance a decent shot. I watched the first four episodes. Now that I am writing this review, I can gladly go about not watching any more, and go back to trying to figure out how to get caught up on Falling Skies, which my wife insists got a lot better after the pilot, though I have a hard time believing that because the pilot was so dreadfully dull.

I just want someone to make something as good as Firefly, but until sci-fi writers realize that great characters make the show, not face putty and computer-generated spaceships, I guess I'll just have to watch Star Wars again on Blu-Ray.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Card Game Review - Cavemen: The Quest for Fire

One of two things has recently occurred. One, Rio Grande Games forgot who I was. That, or they have forgiven me for my trespasses. Either way, they recently decided to up and send me some review copies. Only instead of sending me the game I was hoping to review, they sent games that haven't really grabbed the attention of the gaming populace at large. The theory being, I suppose, that a little more press would help push a few more of these games off the shelf.

Cavemen: The Quest for Fire was the first one I've played. And I hate to say it, but I think I can see why it hasn't been the surprise hit of 2013. It's not a bad game, precisely, but it's also not one I'm itching to play again. Plus the art looks like a junior-high kid made it out of Playdoh.

The object of Cavemen is to be the first player to invent fire. If you are, the game ends immediately, which I suppose means that technically, you would be the only player to invent fire, not the first, as 'first' suggests that there might be a second. And there's not, because the game is over after the first one. So I'm screwing this up already.

In order to invent fire, you have to improve the size of your gang of pipe-hitting cave-dwelling gangsters. Some of them will hunt for you, some will scout. Some will find food. Others will just do lots of thinking - and the thinkers are the ones you need to win, so they probably ought to get a raise.

The problem is, getting a bigger tribe is tricky. You need to feed them all, which means you have to either waste time running around after nuts and berries or you have to hunt dinosaurs. Yes, you hunt dinosaurs. Because whoever made this game was evidently one of those nutty goofballs who thinks the world is 1500 years old and cavemen had dinosaurs for pets. I like to call those people Flinststones paleontologists. Maybe they just wish they could have had a dopey pet dinosaur who thought he was a dog. Whatever, it's ridiculous, because dinosaurs were all dead way before cavemen came along, but we can overlook it because this is a card game, not a scientific debate.

So you'll hunt dinosaurs to harvest food and teeth, and you'll bid teeth against the other tribes to grab the conch shell, and then you'll be the only one allowed to talk at the beach meetings until Piggy gets chased across the island and beaten to death before the crazy kids set the trees on fire. Wait, no, wrong conch.

Oh, right, you'll bid teeth to grab the conch and get first pick of the cards that come up. You'll have first access to the best dinosaurs, the smartest cavemen, and the most thrilling inventions. Not only that, but you'll be able to go twice when everyone else only goes once, so having the conch is really pretty awesome. In fact, it's so good to have the conch that this is my first complaint about this Cavemen game (outside the cavemen hunting dinosaurs thing, and that's mostly just my personal pet peeve about people who let their religion replace their common sense).

 See, it's so important to have the conch that it will almost always go to the guy who can bid the most teeth. And then that person will have the pick of the cards that come up, and he will probably decide to do whatever gets him the most teeth so that he can have the conch next turn. And then he'll still get another turn, so using his turn to make sure he gets first choice next turn is actually a good tactical decision. And that means that you stand a very real chance of having one person control the entire game while everyone else just throws up their hands and is bored. And that is one hell of a complaint.

But that's only my first complaint. The second complaint is that there are too many cavemen. Sure, it's a game about cavemen, and so there should be a lot of them, but there should also be enough caves and dinosaurs and inventions and stuff. If you can grab all the caves and keep the other players from getting their hands on them - which you can do if you can control the conch the whole game - you can effectively remove any chance at all that they might have to build a bigger tribe. Once again, one guy runs the game and everyone else sits there irritated.

The problem is, and the thing that really made me upset about the horrible balance issues in this game, is that the basics of this game are a good idea. The implementation is horribly flawed, to the point that I hope to never play Cavemen again, but the idea here is brilliant. Honestly, I think that if you just have the conch pass to the left every time, with no bidding anywhere, you would have a pretty decent game. But I don't know because I'm not testing it because right now I'm kind of irritated. Plus there's that Flintstones thing and the Super Sculpey art.

OK, that's it. That's all my complaints. I actually think Cavemen is a pretty cool game, but it has a couple things in it that just plain ruin it for me. The conch bidding and the unbalanced card counts make this cool little game into a mistake, but if you really want to play this one, just house-rule it a little and you might end up liking it.

Not me, though. I'm not playing this again. Which probably means I'm not getting any more games from Rio Grande.


2-5 players

Neat concepts - shared resource pool, tribe management
Fun core game

Conch bidding lets one player run the whole game
Card imbalances can ruin the game completely
Art is just plain not very good

Bad news: Cavemen is kind of broken. Good news: It's very affordable.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Excellent Idea Review - Fantasy Gaming Figures

Last weekend, I wrote about Galaxy Defenders, and explained that I will only review your Kickstarter game if I am really impressed. And then, to prove that I am a lying bag of koala poop, I went on to review nothing but Kickstarter stuff all week long (though to be fair, the DrunkQuest game is actually a game, which you can buy now, and I just referred to the Kickstarter expansion).

This is relevant because tonight I am reviewing yet another Kickstarter thing, but this time, my money is where my mouth is. Before I wrote this review, I went and backed this Kickstarter, because I really want the figures they're selling. Plus they're cheap! Mine were like half a buck each!

In all fairness, they're cheap because they're laser-cut out of wood. These are fantasy gaming figures (tough to call them miniatures when they are more like silhouettes that stand up). Only they are cut out of wood like the little wooden men you find in every boring game that German people ever made about farming.

These flat wooden dungeon meeples elevate wooden game pieces to an art form. These puppies are awesome. I conned the guy who makes these figures into sending me a bunch from a game he already did, and I love 'em. I only got a dozen, and I really wish he had sent me many, many more, but at the same time, I did just buy like 150 figures, and I got them stupid cheap. So I'm probably set either way.

Here's how this works. The base set of wooden fantasy figures comes with 30 different figures, all painted in different colors so they're easy to tell apart on the table. There's a knight and a wizard, a thief and an archer, plus a few other heroes, plus some we'll get if enough of you agree that these things are great and go promise to give this dude some money. You also get scads of monsters - spider, rat, goblin, orc, troll, skeleton, and a whole bunch of others. But just one of each, so if you need a horde of kobolds, you will need to buy a metric buttload.

"But!" you cry, "I don't need six knights just so I can have six kobolds!" And no, you don't! That's the beauty! For 20 bucks more, you can just get a monster pack that has three each of the monsters you're likely to need more than once. Three zombies, three kobolds, three spiders, three rats - you get the idea. Need more than that? Buy more than one set!

Oh, and there's a dragon. No, strike that, there are TWO dragons. And if you get the figures from Dungeon Heroes (the ones I have) you will have three dragons! I think you would have to agree, that's pretty cool. Even if you don't ever need a dragon, they're like handguns - better to have one and not need it that need one and not have it. Except that I don't have a handgun, so I just have to stick with giant reptiles.

So we've gotten this far and you're reading along at home (or, more likely, from your desk at work) and you're saying, 'But Matt! I want regular old miniatures with sculpted faces and tiny brittle swords and for some reason all the girls are half-naked when they're supposed to kill things for a living!" And this brings me to a great excuse for me to explain exactly why you definitely need to buy these fantastic wooden figures. I present my reason with a sample scenario.

You are the DM. Your friends have just entered the lair of the goblin king, and you have thrown down a great map that you painstakingly built in Photoshop knowing full well you would use it for ten minutes and then throw it away. The heroes have lovingly painted miniatures, except for the one stoner who never bothered to buy a good figure, so his paladin is represented by a miniature depicting a disproportionately well-endowed woman in a bikini. And she is all gray, because he does not paint.

YOU: "Before you is the lair of the goblin king! He leaps up and directs his goblin minions to attack, then releases his pet mustard jellies as his shaman summons a small horde of giant wasps!"

GARY: "I cast silence on the shaman!"

YOU: "Oh, sorry, that's the warg rider. The roll of pennies is the shaman."

RALPH: "I throw a bottle of flaming oil at the mustard jellies!"

YOU: "Wait, no, those are goblins. This poker chip is one mustard jelly, and the river troll mini is the other one."

BETTY: "I scream a battle cry and charge the river troll!"

YOU: "No, there's no river troll. I just don't have a miniature for the jelly."

BETTY: "So what is the braineater with the squid head doing here?"

YOU: "He's a goblin."

BETTY: "And the salt shaker?"

YOU: "Sorry, that's leftover from breakfast. I had eggs."

See how confusing that is? It sucks. Why bother having miniatures at all if you have to substitute all the time? You could use paper standups, except then there is always at least one person at the table looking at the pieces from the side and he can't tell what any of them are supposed to be. Or you could try to buy enough figures that you've got enough for every situation - and that will cost you two thousand dollars and you will spend the rest of 2013 and most of 2014 painting them so that the table is not full of gray metal, except that you want to play before you're done so you wind up with big battles involving three painted figures and ten ugly gray lumps.

These wooden figures are colorful. They are expressive. They are FUN. That's actually the most important thing - they're fun. And you can substitute at will, because they already assume a level of imagination. You won't get people asking you if that orc is really carrying a crossbow just because you ran out of orcs holding spears. You won't have to put a saber-toothed tiger on the table and tell your friends it's a dire wolf. People will ask for descriptions, and have to use their imaginations to improve the scene in front of them, and yet it will still look like a battle and it will still be fun. And since you don't have to use a dildo as a purple worm any more, the table will look consistent.

Now, I want you all to head over and pledge to buy some of these fantastic miniatures, and there are two reasons for that. First, I want this to succeed, because I think it's a great idea. And second, I have a stake in this now. If we can hit some of the stretch goals, I can get even more figures! And by God I want them!

Get over here and throw your money at this guy:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Silly Card Game Review - Princess Bride: Prepare to Die!

It seems silly to be writing a review of a game that is basically two cards that you put together to make something kind of dumb, but Game Salute has been very good to me and Dan Yarrington is a bad-ass (and he's the head dude at Game Salute). So I'm mentioning their Kickstarter promotion for Prepare to Die, because I've seen the cards and they're funny.

The game is essentially a gimmick - take the greatest line from Princess Bride and substitute other funny stuff. Like this:

Hello! My name is Arnold Schwartzenegger. You collapsed my souffle. Prepare to die.

That's it. That's the game. In fact, the rules for this game are so short, they printed them on three of the cards. And in case that sounds like a lot of rules, that covers three different ways to play the game. So it's not very many rules.

Really, though, the rules are that you're going to combine a person with a thing that person did, and pretend that's a good reason to kill them. Then laugh.

Game Salute sent me a few of the cards for this game. They're clever, and some are even funny. I have to be honest, I wouldn't buy this game, because it's almost completely pointless, but I also have to admit that I laughed when we were coming up with some rather silly combinations.

A few more samples:

Hello! My name is Harriet Tubman. You branded my stallion. Prepare to die.

Hello! My name is Nikola Tesla. You drank my milkshake. Prepare to die.

OK, two samples.

I don't think I need to keep going. Either you want to play this game or you don't. If this sounds like fun to you, check out the Kickstarter and buy yourself a copy:


Monday, May 13, 2013

Drinking Game Review - DrunkQuest

As a younger man, I was something of an aficionado in the world of drinking games. Or, it might be more accurate to say, I was really good at drinking, games or not. Or, if we're being completely honest, I was drunk a lot, and sometimes we played games.

Through my extensive experience with drinking and the occasionally associated games, I have determined that one important factor in drinking games is the ability to play them while absolutely thunderballed. You should be able to explain the rules of your drinking game in two sentences or less:

If I can bounce this quarter and get it in that shot glass, you have to drink. Otherwise, I have to drink.

We'll deal cards until someone gets a queen, and then that person has to come up with a category. The first person who can't name a thing in that category has to drink.

Every time a TV reporter places unnecessary emphasis on a Hispanic name, we all drink.

If you put a drink in my hand, I will drink it.

I was especially good at the last one, but all of these drinking games shared a common characteristic - they were an entertaining way to get drunk. The best thing about a drinking game is that nobody actually loses - the goal of the game is to get drunk, and so the only loser is the guy sipping a glass of water. That dork has to drive us all home afterward.

DrunkQuest is an attempt to reinvent the drinking game and make it actually competitive, instead of just a convenient way to become inebriated. Unlike most drinking games, which are open-ended and are only done after everyone stops playing, DrunkQuest invites players to try to level up their heroes before everyone else.

DrunkQuest presents a fantasy game where monsters appear, and in order to defeat the monsters, players must drink. For example, a monster might require a player to take six drinks in order to kill it, and then the player would be awarded five treasure cards and a level. The first player to get six levels is the winner, and probably also the drunkest.

However, there are a few considerations that make DrunkQuest slightly questionable as a drinking game. For starters, the treasure cards you can play on your turn have lots of words on them, and as anyone who has tried to program their iPad while blitzed can tell you, it is not easy to read when you're very drunk. At one party, I changed the same tape four times and still ended up listening to Joshua Tree every time because I couldn't tell if I was holding U2 or The Police (and yes, this was so long ago that we had tapes. And listened to U2.).

For another thing, DrunkQuest has lots of stuff to track. You've got a realm ability that might let you drink less, and a hero ability that could add drinks to monsters your opponents have to fight. Some cards might specify that they affect other cards, but only specific kinds of cards, forcing you to re-read carefully and make sure you're playing correctly. Which is great when you're all sober, but not as awesome if you're trashed.

If DrunkQuest were just a game that you didn't play while drinking, it would be on the light side. But I'm not sure I want to play a drinking game with four pages of rules, even four light pages of rules. If you can't sum up your game in a paragraph, I will be too besotted to comprehend it while in my cups.

On the other hand, DrunkQuest actually tells us how much drink is in a drink, and says that a 12-oz beer has 24 drinks inside. That is not much drinking. Following these suggestions, we played a game of DrunkQuest, and at the end, one of us had consumed two beers, one had sipped his way through just one, and the last was kind of a girly-man who had managed to win the game after consuming less than half a beer. So sure, this might be a drinking game, but you're in more danger of having to urinate a lot than you are of being unable to drive. Play with hard liquor if you've got a tolerance, or if you want the art to get blurry before the game is over.

Speaking of the art, it's very attractive. The cards are large, so you can handle them easily while intoxicated, and the pictures are simple and pleasing to the eye. Of course, if you decide to play this game with Johnny Walker Black instead of Pabst Blue Ribbon, you won't be able to see the art when the game ends, so that may be irrelevant.

I could go either way on DrunkQuest. On the one hand, DrunkQuest doesn't get me drunk, and it's a little weak as a regular game. But then, it could also be a nice balancing point between normal games and the full-on drunk-express games I played in college.

It's sort of unimportant what I think of DrunkQuest, personally. I'm a grown man now, and I only drink on two occasions any more. I like to have a nice imported stout when I'm eating a good meal, and I drink lots of whiskey on holidays so that I can tolerate family time. Other than that, I don't drink much, so DrunkQuest doesn't appeal to me, personally. I don't generally like being ripped, mostly because it just means I am about to take a nap.

However, if you're younger than me (or just more prone to alcohol in general), you might get a real kick out of DrunkQuest. And if you might dig this game, you can also check out the expansion they're selling on Kickstarter right now. Personally, I can't think of a reason I need an expansion for a drinking game, but then, I don't play drinking games any more. If I did, this entire idea might make more sense to me.


2-6 potential drunkards

A fun way to get a headstart on your hangover
Neat art
Amusing cards
Attractive design

Four pages of rules in a drinking game is three-and-a-half too many
Not intended for play by the seriously intoxicated

You can go here to learn more about DrunkQuest:

And you can go here to see about the expansion:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Board Game Review - Galaxy Defenders

I love playing games that have come from foreign lands and been translated into English, mostly because the rulebooks tend to be very amusing. I've seen strange phrasing that sounded like references to blowjobs. I've seen words that are absolutely not in the English language. And Galaxy Defenders, a tactical co-op that is currently on Kickstarter, provided me with the option to see game rules that use unintentional stand-in profanity. Watch, I'll show you what I mean.

In Galaxy Defenders, you'll each play a GD agent sent to defeat aliens. The game plays out on a tactical hex grid and uses card-based AI to tell the aliens what to do when they get to go. Kill enough aliens, and you can earn some GD wings, which will let you improve your character and call for more resources from your GD headquarters.

Right now, you can't actually buy Galaxy Defenders. It's only available on Kickstarter, and it's not even in a published enough state that my review copy looks like a game. It's definitely a prototype. The hex pieces are square, for one thing. But I could mostly tell what it's going to look like when it's an actual game, and it's going to be a hoot. The GD art is comic-book cool, and it's all over the place. The maps are really excellent, because they're both easy to read and full of fun details. Like if you're playing in the desert outside Area 51, the sand might be hiding half of a flying saucer, or a road sign warning drivers of possible alien activity. It's fun and quite functional.

The game itself is fun, as long as you're ready for a tactical cooperative game with a few tweaky rules and some exciting violence. It's not made by Fantasy Flight Games, but it sure seems like it could be, with all the GD miniatures and cardboard GD tokens and thick-ass GD rulebook. There are a whole bunch of GD minis in the box (the exact count being undetermined and waiting for stretch goals and add-on orders), and they're really fun. They are, however, rather large - if you were thinking of porting the figures to another game, think again. They call them 32mm heroic scale, but they look more like they could be fighting against the plastic toy soldiers you picked up at the dollar store, in terms of size. In terms of detail and what-not, the one GD miniature I got with my review copy looks sweet. If I end up really loving this game, I'll probably paint them.

One thing to keep in mind is that my review of Galaxy Defenders might not be completely accurate when you actually get your game. If you could read the GD rules in Italian, they're done, but the translation is rough. I mean like 40-grit toilet paper rough. I am virtually certain we did something wrong at some point. The basics aren't going to change - it will be fast and action-packed and explodey (explodey being a word that is not a word, but someone used it on the Internet and so I did, too). But I can't tell you how refined and clean it will be until I actually see the finished game.

The neat thing I found playing Galaxy Defenders is that it might not reinvent any part of the cooperative board game market, but what it does, it does well. Turns are fast. Violence is a matter of a few die rolls leading to dead bodies. Aliens spawn, move and fight in a hurry, and most of the complication results from stuff that's added on to the GD basics, like searching stashes to find alien artifacts and trading it for goodies from your GD headquarters.

I would really love to comment on the production value of the GD miniatures, the plastic they used, the art on the GD cards or the design of the GD rules, but as I mentioned, my copy of this game is a rough prototype, and while I can tell it will look cool, it's impossible to be perfectly clear as to how pretty it will be in the end. But if you check out the Kickstarter page, and then consider that this is the company responsible for the War of the Rings reprint, I think you can probably assume it will be fairly sexy.

I know I swore off reviewing Kickstarter prototypes, and that moratorium is still mostly in place. But two things made me decide to make an exception for Galaxy Defenders. First, the miniatures look cool and the game looked fun. Second, the publisher is established and has some big titles, so I felt confident they could turn out something impressive. I guess that I can revise my solid boycott of Kickstarter review copies - if you want me to review your Kickstarter prototype, you can email me, but it better be God-damned impressive.


1-5 players

Fast cooperative tactical game
Bitchin' miniatures
Cool art
Fun and exciting

I don't really know. I haven't seen the whole game.

If you would like to find out more about Galaxy Defenders, you can check out the Kickstarter page here:

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Movie Review - Gangster Squad

I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of mob movies. Scorsese movies in particular, but really, pretty much anything where organized criminals shoot each other in the face. But even with an exceptionally wide tolerance for error when it comes to movies about mobsters, I wasn't sure I wanted to see Gangster Squad. Mostly because it was called Gangster Squad.

Would you be as excited to see Jurassic Park if it were called Dinosaur Island? How much anticipation could you have mustered for Star Wars if it had been called Space Battles? If The Godfather had been Mob Boss, would it have been as well received? Those are all rhetorical - no need to come up with an answer in your head. The point is, the movie needed a better name. It sounded cheesy.

We watched it anyway, despite the silly title. I watched it because A) it had gangsters and tommy guns, and B) it had Emma Stone, and she makes my pants fit tighter. I wasn't expecting it to be great, and it delivered pretty much exactly what I expected, except it surprised me because I ended up enjoying it despite its ridiculous parts. Though I think I liked it because it had gangsters and Emma Stone, not because it was a good movie.

Gangster Squad takes place in Los Angeles in the late 40s, during the same time period as that boring LA Noir cop game. A shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later cop forms his own squad of undercover cops to take down Mickey Cohen, the mobster running most of the Los Angeles crime racket. This loose cannon copper gets a bunch of sidekicks, like the cowboy gunslinger who never misses and the playboy kid and the smart guy who is good at fixing things. It's like a pitch for a comic-book movie:

"A hard-boiled cop. A gunslinger. An angry young man. Together, they are the Gangster Squad. They fight crime."

Come to think of it, this movie could have been a comic book, but only if it were published by Marvel, and probably only in that era when Batman got all dark and everybody started reading Punisher. It's a ham-fisted, over-the-top story full of big action scenes and characters who can be summed up in a sentence. There are car chases and gun fights, fisticuffs and jail breaks. It's riddled with more cliches than there are bullet holes in the side of a rum runner's Packard.

If you're trying to decide if you might like Gangster Squad, ask yourself if you liked The Untouchables. This movie wanted to be that movie, with lots of big-name stars, occasionally cheesy dialog, and deaths meant to make the viewer upset. However, unlike that classic, Gangster Squad left me completely uncaring when people died, not particularly invested in the defeat of the villainous mobster, and definitely not quoting any cool lines. Remember this exchange?

'You got 'im?'
'I got 'im.'
'Take 'im.'


'Where's Nitti?'
'He's in the car.'

Well, if you do, hang onto that, because you're not going to find anything that memorable in Gangster Squad.

But maybe the creators of the movie didn't want you to remember it. At least, they didn't want you to remember it long enough to check up on Wikipedia, because there's virtually no historical accuracy to be had. I was wondering if they were going to pull a Tarantino and kill Mickey Cohen, because they were so far off actual events that they could have gone any direction they wanted.

So it sounds like I didn't like Gangster Squad, but I really did. The writing may have been poor, but the acting was actually pretty good. Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, and Ryan Gosling are pretty big hitters, and they can do a lot with a crappy script. Plus it had Emma Stone, who could lisp her way through a Sunday-morning Bible reading and still give me a stiffy. The production was excellent - gun battles were thrilling, car chases were exciting, fisticuffs were brutal, and jail breaks were intense. Costumes were immaculate and sets were great. If there had been compelling dialog and a clever story, this would have been an incredible movie.

Instead it was just a really fun gangster movie that you only need to watch once (unless you're developing a thoroughly inappropriate fascination for Emma Stone). It wasn't smart or tightly scripted. It wasn't restrained or introspective. It was just a high-octane go-cart race of a gangster movie, and if you can just strap in and hang on and not look for the serious parts, you might enjoy Gangster Squad, stupid title and all.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Card Game Review - Cards Against Humanity

I played a horrible game this weekend, one that has me questioning my moral compass. And not even questioning whether my moral compass is having trouble pointing due north; after playing Cards Against Humanity this weekend, I'm not entirely certain I have a moral compass at all.

I do, however, have a fully functional funny bone, because while I may have suggested that I think about Auschwitz while making love to my wife, I laughed about it for a very long time. I laughed until my eyes were watering. I laughed until I couldn't breathe.

Our group actually played Card Against Humanity twice this weekend, but I passed on the first game because someone told me it was like Apples to Apples but for horrible people. And I absolutely despise Apples to Apples. That is such a pathetically stupid game that it calls into doubt the sentience of any human being who likes to play it. So when I heard Cards Against Humanity described as an Apples to Apples clone, I was out. And then as I was sitting on the couch catching up on emails and overhearing the game underway, I was disappointed I had missed it.

The thing is, Cards Against Humanity really is just an Apples to Apples clone. But the designers of the clone were not willing to just put a zany twist on a boring classic. They wanted to kick it up a notch, to make Cards Against Humanity a truly horrible exercise in word association. So instead of having cards that say stuff like 'penguin' or 'bomb' or 'Apples to Apples is boring,' their cards have answers like 'African children' and 'pooping back and forth.' I am not sure what pooping back and forth is, because I am a little scared to look that up in Google, but it is a good indicator of the caliber of card you'll find.

The questions, the ones that you're answering with your cards, are set up to allow you to make the answers even more disturbing and hilarious. A highlight of the game was when one friend was judging 'I've got 99 problems but a [BLANK] ain't one.' The answer he chose was 'an erection lasting longer than four hours.' And the person who gave him that card? His wife.

There were several other exceptionally memorable combinations in our game of Cards Against Humanity. I'm not going to go into all of them because they're not as funny if you're not all sitting around the table, laughing hysterically while you're grossed out and horribly offended. After a point, it's almost a contest to see who can come up with the most deviant combinations of cards. References to pornographic acts, religious bigotry and criminal proclivities will have you all falling down laughing. Some of them will be so offensive that you will start to wonder about the caliber of friends you have - but you will be laughing so hard, you may also question your own morality.

It should be stated clearly here that Cards Against Humanity is not a game for children. It's not even a game for adults with weak stomachs. There are cards with outright profanity, and those are the tame ones. Some of the sex acts described on these cards will have to be explained to people who don't watch a lot of porn. The cards you play will haunt you for weeks, but the haunting will be relatively benign because it will take the form of inside jokes your group of friends trots out every thirty minutes for the next six months. The game will make you wonder if you're going to Hell, but it will make you laugh so hard you won't care.


Players: It's a party game. Don't try to play it with two other people. That's stupid.

Hilariously stupid and offensive

Hilariously stupid and offensive

There are three ways to get Cards Against Humanity:

1. Go to their site, download it, and print one.

2. Go to their site, pay $25 for it, and they will send you one.

3. Find someone who owns it and steal it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Barely a Game Review - Rumble in the House and or Dungeon

I'm reviewing two games at the same time tonight, but they're basically the same game twice, so I think that's OK. For that matter, there's so little to either one that they barely deserve a review at all. In fact, by the time you finish reading this review, you could have read the rules for either game and set up to play. Read this review twice, and you could have played the whole game. The games in these boxes are barely games at all.

Interestingly enough, the Rumble games feature one of my favorite game mechanics - the hidden identity. I love the feinting and bluffing and guessing that comes with games where you're trying to figure out who is working for the resistance and who is a toaster. But those games (the ones I like) have other stuff, ways to throw opponents off the scent or provide perfectly viable excuses to lie.

The Rumble games do make an interesting experiment, I suppose. What happens when you strip a game down to its absolute minimum? In this case, you have a hidden identity and twelve pieces on the board, and at regular intervals, you get to kill people. The trick is to survive the longest by getting your opponents to kill someone else.

That is it. That is the sum total of the game. Well, Rumble in the Dungeon adds this thing where you win if you can get the treasure chest off the board, but nobody is going to let you do that so it's kind of a moot issue. You move, you stab, you die, and three minutes later the game is over.

I'm actually a little offended that Rumble in the House and/or Dungeon exist at all. They are only barely games. They are a half-step above the drinking game where you draw cards off a deck and do a shot when you draw a face card. They are just lazy, and rely on a fun idea to make up for the fact that there is no real game to play.

The thing that really chaps my ass is how much fun these games could be if there were more to them. If characters had special powers that you could exploit on your turn, even if they were not your characters, there would be more play options. If the games provided more ways to guess who was controlling which character, that would add some interesting elements. But as they are, there's a bare-bones idea and no meat.

The Rumble games look to me like a designer was having a talk with another game designer and he farted, and it reminded him of something he left on the counter at home, which made him check his phone to see what time it was, and then the other guy said, 'what about a game where you don't know who the other people are?' and the first guy said, 'yeah, sure, I gotta get my wife to DVR the game.' They're afterthoughts, half-conceived notions, only the slightest excuse for ideas. So much more was possible, but instead the Rumble games are tiny square boxes of missed opportunity.


2-6 players

Hidden identity

There isn't enough here to define a 'con', per se

If you want a game that barely constitutes a game at all, you can find the Rumble games at Game Salute. I don't have a link because I'm posting this bitch on an iPad. Look it up, lazy ass.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Announcement - Esoteric Order of Gamers

Many of you are probably aware of Universal Head. In case you're not, let me set the record straight - his screen name is NOT a reference to one-size-fits-all fellatio. He's Australian. I'm not even sure they call it that there.

Universal Head is my favorite Australian, a guy who tirelessly goes through crappy, poorly written rules and turns out hundreds of summaries that are both easier to understand and better laid out than the originals. He's a mad genius of making games easier to play. I couldn't tell you how many of his outstanding player aids I've printed out when I just couldn't understand the 46 pages of rules that were in whatever monstrosity of a game got delivered to my house.

The purpose of this post, however, is not to just tell you that Universal Head is a handy guy to have around, or to disabuse you as to the somewhat ribald nature of his screen name. The purpose of this post is to let you know that Universal Head has a new website, one that I heartily endorse because it is awesome and very useful.

For a long time, Universal Head has run Headless Hollow, a blog where he talks about... whatever crosses his mind, apparently. His most recent post is about the death of the lead singer of the Divinyls, a band I couldn't be bothered to appreciate in high school because I was too busy listening to whatever musicians offended my parents the most. He's a crazy good writer, but apparently he wanted something a little more focused, a little more useful, a better resource for people looking for the fantastic game aids he churns out like butter.

The new site is called the Esoteric Order of Gamers. There's this one page that's a bit of an introduction, and it tells you that you found the site because you were invited, and it's an exclusive club or something. And then he emailed me yesterday to ask me to tell you about it, so I guess you're all invited, even if the only games you play are Scrabble and Super Mario Brothers.

I checked it out at some length yesterday, and man, it's awesome. For starters, he's got all the game aids he's done, and they're all organized, and you can sort by genre or just see all 200 or so and find the one you need alphabetically. So that freaking awesome.

Plus he's got kind of a blog thing, only it's sort of below the fold so you might miss it. But Universal Head is a bad-ass writer with a serious gift for the written word, so make sure you scroll down so you can see it (and then tell him he ought to rearrange those parts so they're easier to find). The articles are really good, and he's got a sort of Kickstarter roundup - an idea I am pretty sure I'm going to steal.

Anyway, enough jibber jabber. Run over and check it out. Universal Head is wicked awesome, his site is full of cool stuff, and he probably writes better than I do, without having to resort to jokes about oral sex. He's right here:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Movie Review - Django Unchained

If you read this blog often enough to know much about me at all, it should require almost no effort to figure out if I liked Django Unchained. If you know me at all, you probably would guess that when Quentin Tarantino makes a western about a black bounty hunter who kills, like, everybody, I would like that movie. And if you did guess that, you would be right.

However, it might come as a surprise that despite enjoying the ever-loving bear crap out of Django Unchained, I have many complaints. If there's a warp in the space-time continuum that makes Quentin Tarantino actually read this review, I hope he can take it with a grain of salt, because I'm about to say some things about the man that might make him not like me very much.

Django Unchained is exceptionally violent. And I love that. I mean, that's a reason to watch all by itself. A guy gets his head caved in with a hammer. A man is shot while carrying a bag of dynamite and explodes. There's so much fake blood that they had to have cases of it shipped in from Mexico (I made that up). And yet, despite all this graphic murder, we were laughing the entire time because the violence was so exceptionally absurd.

For instance, in one scene, a man is shot in the head with a rifle while he is lying on the ground. The blood from the wound flies five feet into the air as if thrown from a paint bucket. Apparently the man was storing gunpowder in his head.

Another time, a woman is shot with a revolver fired by a man standing on the floor above her. She flies away at an angle perpendicular to the shot, lifted off her feet as if shot in the groin with a cannon strategically located in the hallway opposite her. It was like watching a cartoon.

So the violence was just silly, and the movie was almost three hours long. This could have been a 90-minute movie. Two hours, max. But it's Tarantino, and the man just does not know how to edit himself. Seriously, man, cut something. The dialog is not that riveting.

Also, does Samuel L. Jackson have a clause in his contract that says that at some point in the movie, he must be allowed to use profanity that came into vogue in the 1960s? Actually, no, hold on - that part was pretty awesome. Jackson is like the Chik-Fil-A of the f-bomb - he didn't invent it, he just made it awesome.

Now, I want to emphasize that overall, Django Unchained was an absolute blast. It was incredibly fun to watch. I loved most of it. But this is not the Quentin Tarantino that made me a rabid fan with quick wit, tight plots and amazing dialog. This is sloppy and self-indulgent. It's what a great artist makes when there's nobody around to tell him which parts of his art suck.

Django Unchained had dialog to rival True Romance - it just had too much of it. It had some of the mad-cap violence that surprised you in Pulp Fiction - but too often, it was stupid and campy. It had the superb acting you saw in Reservoir Dogs - but like every other movie since Reservoir Dogs, it also had to have a part for Quentin Tarantino, and I'm sorry to let you in on this little secret, boss, but you are a VERY BAD ACTOR.

I referenced True Romance, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs because those are Tarantino's best films. He has been completely unable to re-bottle that lightning (though he came close with Jackie Brown, only that was actually an Elmore Leonard book adapted for screen, so it was kind of a gimme). You see the same things in every one of the movies that he makes these days - too long, crap editing, poor timing, and silly bloodshed.

But this time, it works. Django Unchained still suffers from all the same patented Tarantino flaws, but in this particular instance, it's a hoot. The campy violence is hilarious fun. The dialog (even though it's a bit gassy) is outstanding. The acting (with some notable exceptions) is as good as it ever gets. The plot is fun. And when Django kills everyone and then makes his horse do a moonwalk, you know you've just seen what it looks like when Quentin Tarantino makes a western.