Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Comic Review - 100 Bullets

I just finished an amazing comic book series. And when I say, 'just finished,' I mean 'half an hour ago.' I've been plowing through it for two months, and finally read the grand finale. And oh, man, was it grand.

The book is called 100 Bullets. Like many of the comics I prefer to read, it's done. The story has been told, and tied off with a bow. In this particular case, the bow is stained with blood, soaked in gasoline, and burned around the edges. This grisly bow wrapped the title three years ago, which meant that I was able to read every issue, in order, in the course of two months. Not bad for a book that ran for ten years.

If you read any of the blurbs about 100 Bullets, they will tell you that it's a story where an old dude gives somebody a briefcase with a gun, 100 bullets and irrefutable proof of the person who wronged them. Oh, and carte blanche. They can kill people like it was free.

So this would seem to be a revenge fantasy comic book, but it's not. There's this facade, this fake front of a story that seems to ask you if you would kill someone if you knew you could get away with it. But it's much more than that. It's an enormous tale spun over 100 issues of grime and grit and wholesale murder. It's a tale of conspiracy and crime, villainy and treachery, with a distinct lack of heroics.

Although if we're being completely fair, the bigger story delivered in 100 Bullets also presents the same sort of moral dilemma as the simple attache case with the gun inside. Because the true masterminds of this international conspiracy act with no sense of remorse or repercussion, the story takes on a sort of double image - you've got Joe Street, getting away with murder, and then you've got the people that gave Joe the gun, and they're acting with just as much impunity.

But, the story goes on to ask, is any act as powerful as murder ever without consequence? Just because you don't wind up in prison, does not mean you got away with it. The measure of your crime might be a cascade of violence, where you become a target because you killed your target, or it might just be having to live with the knowledge that what you did is both irreversible and horribly wrong.

OK, that's enough about the philosophy of 100 Bullets. If it was just a head-twist comic, it wouldn't need to have ten years to tell the story. It could sum it up in one issue. For a comic this good to last this long, it has to have something more - and this one does. Great characters, killer fight scenes, intricate plots, and loads of sexy broads make 100 Bullets one hell of a great crime story.

The characters, in particular, bring this book to life. From the Hispanic ghetto girl who finds out she knows hapkido to the conscienceless Hawaiian killing machine with a perpetual mad-on for the entire world, the people in 100 Bullets are more than just plot devices. You can be just as entertained watching Curtis Hughes reconnect with his long-lost son as you are when Cole Burns shoots up a warehouse full of Russian mobsters. There's plenty of action in 100 Bullets, but the best parts happen when the characters, and not the bullets, take the main stage.

This being a Vertigo comic should be enough of a warning up front, but let me emphasize in case it wasn't clear - this is NOT a comic book for the kids. There are boobs. There are cuss words. There are beheadings and fiery death and people getting their hands blown off. And those aren't even the worst of it. Seriously, do not go into this book with a weak stomach. 100 Bullets throws punches that make Tarantino look like Walt Disney.

Now, you could probably do like I did, and get all 100 issues on Comixology, but in this case, I would recommend checking out the trades. There are 13 of them, and when you read the book, you'll understand why that's a lucky number. If you can get 'em for 15 bucks each, they'll still cost you less than buying them off Comixology. And as an added bonus, when you're done, you can loan them to a friend. Good luck doing that with a digital comic.

This link will send you to Amazon, where you can pick up this fantastic book pretty darn cheap, especially compared to what I paid for it:


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Board Game Review - Descent 2

You should not buy second-edition Descent. I think I can make my case pretty clearly for why you definitely should not get involved with this game.

For starters, Descent 2 is addictive. If you buy Descent 2, you will want to play it. And if you play it, you will not want to stop. You will be sitting in your living room, watching a perfectly good television program, and you will say to your friends, 'I think we should turn off this show and play Descent, because we all know how much we love it.' And do you know what will happen? Your friends will agree. You will never find out if Joey marries Jeannie on the uncharted island. You will only find out if Splig the fat goblin king manages to make off with the shadow binder.

In fact, when you play Descent 2 and discover that it's about as close to a role-playing game that you can come without having to work on a fake English accent and learning to use 'methinks' in a sentence, you may find that you cannot stop thinking about playing this game. When you discover that you can play out exciting stories, even an entire campaign with continuing, improving characters, and never have to do any accounting or erasing on a three-page character sheet, and never have to recalculate move speed in feet per round or carry weight for encumbrance, you may find that you lose your friends because you quit showing up at the Saturday D&D 73.75 Edition sessions.

And it gets worse. Because when you play Descent 2, you will be inclined to spend an awful lot of money. Yes, you can get by with the base game - but you won't want to. You can expand your experience with the Lair of the Wyrm expansion, and then you will want to spend more money. And when you hear that all you need to play with every single monster ever published for this version or the last is a relatively affordable card expansion that restats the monsters for this version of the game, and then when you further learn that you can actually use all those monsters in the base version of the game without having to change anything, you will want to go out and buy every single expansion for the first edition of Descent despite the fact that first edition Descent is Latin for 'look something up.'

You should also avoid supporting a company as diabolical as Fantasy Flight Games. They have created a game that will appeal to you on so many levels - tense adventures, fast gameplay, exciting battles, and thrilling stories - you will be powerless to stop yourself from throwing more money at them. You will want to buy one or two extra sets of dice, so that you don't have to pass the blue die around the table every turn. You will want to get an account at the FFG site so that you can access the quest vault and download more adventures. You will want to spend all your free time creating adventures, or more immediately, playing the crap out of this horrifyingly awesome game. Should you really be giving your money to a company so willing to profit off of your addictive nature? No. You should not.

Some of you may remember first edition Descent. You might laugh at my warning, because you remember how effortlessly you shrugged off the advances of the original game. You may think that you can as easily ignore the second edition, just because you remember the clunky mechanics, the constant puzzle-solving trying to make sure every corner was covered, the endless accounting of gathering and spending evil points (or whatever they were - second edition Descent has made me block out painful memories of the original). But don't be so sure you can resist the siren call of Descent 2. Everything that was wrong with first edition is gone, and everything that was great about it is improved. Descent 2 is better than its predecessor in every insidious way, and you will not laugh off its seductive allure so easily.

You may even decide that you can just dip your toes in the pool, that you can try Descent 2 without becoming hopelessly addicted. Well, heed my warning - just because you finish the main campaign that comes with the base game does not mean this game goes away. Because FFG is supporting your developing habit with a burgeoning online resource where you can try dozens of new quests, your addiction will not end simply because you finish with the quests in the base game. There will be no limit to your new addiction. You will be helpless. Descent 2 will come to your house, open your wallet, spend your money, and then force you to spend every waking moment either playing this incredible game or thinking about the next time you can.

Still not convinced? Heed this last, personal warning - Descent 2 is better than Warhammer Quest. And until I allowed myself to be hooked by this devil in disguise, Warhammer Quest was my favorite game of all time. But now, after my own failure to tear myself from the clutches of Descent 2, I am a victim! I am a slave to my new addiction! I cannot wait to play Descent 2 again, and I have hundreds of dollars of Warhammer Quest stuff that will now be collecting dust!

Please, for the sake of your family, don't play Descent 2. FFG has made a game so habit-forming that it may take professional counseling to turn away from it, and in the meantime, your social life will suffer (at least, your social life outside the people with whom you play Descent 2). Your wallet will suffer (well, only as much as you want it to, because you really can get by with proxies if you get the conversion kit). Your love of other games will suffer (because this one will make other games look like used kitty litter). And most of all, you may find that you don't need to own seven-hundred games, that you only need this one, and then nobody will be impressed at the photographs you take of a bunch of cardboard boxes on the bookshelf in your game room.


2-5 players

None. This game is evil and insidious.

Fixes everything that was wrong with first edition
The closest thing I've seen to an RPG in a board game
Online resources and a conversion kit mean you can play hundreds of hours with just the base game
Beautiful art and fantastic miniatures
Very, very addictive

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Board Game Review - Viva Java

If we were to start listing themes that make me want to play a game, brewing coffee would not be anywhere near the top of the list. It's safe to assume it would be near the bottom. However, for someone, this is a gaming dream come true, so they made it a game and even went so far as to publish it.

Viva Java is one of those European-style games with an unlikely theme that tends to make the top ten lists for Euro nerds. (Seriously? Your number-one game is about farming?) However, despite being a game about going to work, it's still actually a pretty cool game. Not one I will show to my friends who like games where you break things, but one I can show to my friends who like games where you pay your taxes and cook dinner.

Coffee might be the theme of Viva Java, but rationed cooperation is the name of the game. Every turn you'll have to work with one or two other players to decide whether you want to try to score or improve your position, and you can't succeed at anything by yourself (well, theoretically you can, but you probably won't). You'll have to work with the other players if you want to get ahead - but you'll have to be careful about who you help, and when. It's great to get in on that top-selling brew, but if you're scoring points for the guy who is winning the game, it hurts you more than it helps.

One huge upside is that for a game about brewing coffee, Viva Java has a ton of interaction. Like I said, you can't play without working with other people, so unlike nearly every other game where you actually do something to the other people at the table, most of the interaction in Viva Java is nice. Help this guy research coffee growing, and you can earn the right to invest in the brew he makes later. Help the other guy whip up a mad batch of caffeine glory, and the two of you make millions together. Then help the third guy to get the beans he needs to make an even better brew, and you'll win by being the smartest at being nicest.

I don't usually spend a long time talking about the pieces in games, beyond mentioning whether they look good or not. However, Viva Java bears some discussion, because while the graphic design and art are outstanding, there are a lot of things not to like. My main beef is with these (insert favorite profanity) coffee beans. They are tiny, like a quarter-inch across, and they are half-spheres. Which means flip them one way, and they don't stay where you want them, flip them the other way and you can't pick them up. Trying to make these fantastically irritating little half-beads stay put is so difficult that it actually makes it less fun to play the game. I can think of half a dozen better ideas I've seen for markers. These things are infuriating.

And to make matters worse, you have to continually place these miniaturized frustrators on cards - which you then pick up and move all over the place, thereby spilling the 'beans' all over the table and then forgetting where they were supposed to go. The actual physical mechanic of manipulating these cards and beans is like a dexterity game all by itself, but one that if you screw it up, everyone at the table just gets mad at you.

If Viva Java were better, I would be willing to give the horrible little wood irritants a pass, but the game is only above average. One a scale of 19 to 203, Viva Java is better than mediocre and not as impressive as awesome. Granted, I would have liked it better if I could have killed something, but I really did like that a game that makes you play this smart also makes you play nice. Most games that require interaction force you to hurt your opponents; Viva Java rewards you for giving them a leg up. For people who hate to screw your friends (we call these people 'pansies,' but we like them anyway), Viva Java is a cool drink of water.


3-8 players

How many games play 8 players? Yeah, not that many.
Actually a pretty clever game
Almost all the interaction is in the form of helping people
Engaging and attractive graphics

Making coffee is a morning chore, not an idea for gaming

You can only get Viva Java from Game Salute, but if you have enough people to play it, and you like to help more than you like to hurt, you can get it right here (ignore the 'preorder' tag - it's out now):

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Expansion Review - Thunderstone: Root of Corruption

Well, will you look at that - my old man to the rescue. I was all 'man, I haven't written anything tonight' and 'I have stuff to do' and 'man, I am one lazy son of a bitch.' And then I open my email and there it is - a review by my dad!

Still not ready to give it a rest.

We’ve all had that moment when we thought, “Oh, for crying out loud!  Would you give it a rest!”  Most often it’s when someone is droning on and on about a topic you have absolutely no interest in, like the guy who wants to talk without interruption about his fight with his girlfriend.  For gamers, maybe it’s the latest variation of Monopoly (there are HUNDREDS of versions of Monopoly, including pet dog versions, the Simpsons, the gay version, and, well, more than any genuine gamer, who believes one was adequate, wants to ponder).  There are several games that I think publishers should quit trying to wring another nickel out their topic and “give it a rest.”  I was beginning to have some thoughts about this with Thunderstone, and when Root of Corruption arrived at my door I had those vague thoughts waft through my mind.  And then I opened the box.  I just have to hand it to AEG, they continue to come up with great innovations that really work and add more interest and fun to Thunderstone. 

The first thing you see when you open the box is a folded gameboard – it’s big!  My cynical nature was a catalyst for those “oh, no, not a folded-map-that-will-never-lie-flat-on-the-table game mat!”  Visions of SPI.  (When a cat jumps on your game of USN, those folds lead to disaster.)  But go ahead and set that aside and tear the shrink-wrap off the cards.  There are some freakin’ cool cards here!!  And again, the artwork is awesome.  (Not like that sissy artwork in that other deck-building game.)  Do those guys at AEG lose sleep over thinking up new cards?  OF COURSE THEY DO!!  Well, after opening a few of the shrink-wraps, my cynicism was gone.  I was ready to get some friends around the table and get the cards into play.

You can’t hit a homer with every card, and from my old grognard perspective, some of these cards range from silly to down-right stupid, but then I’m an old grognard and not your average Thunderstone player.  (I know some guys will love the Moonclaw hero, but it looks pretty silly to me.)  But for a few exceptions, I really like the majority of the cards in this expansion.  In fact, in most my reviews I only single out a few cards for “honorable mention,” but as I sit here and look at all the cards I’ve set apart for honorable mention, I know I can’t list them all or I’ll lose you before the end of the review.  So I’ll pare it down.  Point is, there are a lot of awesome new cards AND concepts in this box.  So let’s get to the cards:

Treasures: First off, Gold Hammer.  (First thought when I saw the card was “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and if you know what that is, you’re dating yourself.)  Useful in the dungeon and in the village.  Sweet treasure. 
There are two shields you find on the dungeon floor; very useful and you’ll be happy to pick them up. 
Then there’s the Immolation Orb.  It’s kind of like throwing a white phosphorus grenade.  It’ll take out a lot of monsters, but it takes one hero of level 1 with it.  (If you didn’t know, you really can’t throw a wp grenade further than its bursting radius.)  It can be a mixed blessing. 

Spells: Circle of Protection definitely gets honorable mention.  I bet someone really did lose sleep thinking up this card.  It cancels some very bad things that can happen.  Very clever.

Items: LOTS of good stuff here!  To mention just a few: Elven Waybread = Lembas.  About time.
Mind Control: A card that promotes player interaction – not that the other player will appreciate it when you play this card in front of him, but it’s a cool card.  It forces the other player to fight a specific monster.  Play it on your wife in a friendly game, and you could end up on the sofa for the night.
Tincture of Victims: This is a POWERFUL card.  It grants Attack and Strength points, and converts Magic to Physical Attacks.  But it can also add a curse card to your deck.  Well, I like it.

Monsters: Lots of curses comin’ your way!  Djinbound: Not all that powerful, but they’re all a pain to take out. 
Elemental Earth: Level 3 and look it.  Kind of like Thunderstone Panzers.  They hurt you every time.
Royal Guard: For some reason beyond me, they all sap the strength of all heroes taking them on.  I suspect it’s their b.o., but I can’t say with any authority.  I haven’t played them in a game yet, but they might elicit a groan when one is turned up.

And of course, the Heroes: Honormain Gallant: Every time he goes to the village or enters the dungeon, you have to “discard 1 card or destroy a disease.  I’m puzzled.  Does this mean he has tuberculosis (ala Doc Holiday) or that he’s overdosed on vitamins?  He’s not my best friend.
Profaned Acolyte: Whatever this poor sap does, he gets a curse.  Next expansion we need a lucky rabbit’s foot to counteract these curses.
And my favorite in the box – The Silvertongue: He’s kind of weak as a fighter, but he can pull down gold, attack points, strength, and cards.  Every deck needs this guy.

In the box you also get new cards for all the previous “Ambushers.”  Thoughtful of them.

Now about the folded-map-that-will-never-lie-flat-on-the-table.  This is a new “game-mat” for the siege rules that come with Root of Corruption.  In honest fact, you can’t get it to lay flat on the table.  Time to pull out the plexiglass.  If you’ve followed my reviews of previous Thunderstone games, you know that the only one I gave a less-than-enthusiastic review was for Thunderstone Siege.  If it’s a siege, you shouldn’t need light.  But this time I’m more intrigued by these rules.  For one thing, Thunderstone now has a cooperative rules set – how cool is that?!?  If the monsters get inside the walls, they pour in and all the players lose together.  I love this new twist to the game.  And,  what if the monsters are coming in beneath the walls?  It could happen.  Then you need light to fight in the tunnels.  OK, I’m stretching, but I do like the rules here.  Unfortunately, I don’t own a sheet of plexiglass.

And one last work that’s become kind of a trademark of my Thunderstone reviews, when you buy this expansion you get yet another large box that’s three times larger than necessary to hold the new cards.  It’s like AEG doesn’t get it, EVERYONE WHO BUYS THIS EXPANSION ALREADY HAS A WAY BIGGER BOX TO HOLD THESE CARDS!  Well, I’ve been carping about this since my first expansion review and they don’t care.  So now I have to find room to store another Thunderstone box.


Continues to turn out great artwork.
New concepts that really work.
Blends in great with your other Thunderstone Advance cards and game play.

OK, I HAVE to come up with some negatives.  Let me think about this.
The siege mat doesn’t lay flat.
The box (sigh) is way bigger than needed for the cards.  Still.
OH!  I have one honest complaint!  My cards were all curved from side to side, so they don’t stack well in a deck with my other Thunderstone cards.

I found a copy of Root of Corruption at Noble Knight Games. You can probably find it cheaper somewhere else, but it's real easy to get a picture from their site, and like I said in the intro, I'm lazy.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Board Game Review - Wrong Chemistry

There's this wacky little game company in Greece or Istanbul or Constantinople called MAGE Company. They make, well, games, including a Kickstarter they have going for 12 Realms, which I guess is kind of a big deal. And they sent one to me called Wrong Chemistry, though they apparently tied it to the back of a mule which they then guided by remote-control carrot all the way to Texas, because it took months to arrive.

When it did finally show up, the anticipation was killing me. I couldn't wait to play, because I had waited for almost half a year to see this little slice of genius. I'm happy to report that it's not as bad as you might assume a game would be if it came out of Bulgaria. And really, it's not fair to assume that Bulgaria would produce bad games. They have smart people there. They have modern technology like cell phones and remote-control carrots. Why would you just decide Bulgaria makes inadequate games? I'm ashamed of you.

The game itself is astonishingly light, but will still stretch your brain into salt-water taffy. The rules are two pages. And really small. There's this collection of hexes in the middle of the table, and you play a card and try to rearrange the hexes in a limited number of moves to match the image on your card. It's like an IQ test for game nerds. (You remember those grade-school IQ tests, where they made you rearrange blocks to look like stuff? I loved those. But I didn't want to make cats and question marks, I wanted to make robots and dragons. Sue me. I was eight.)

Anyway, the more complicated the card you attempt, the more points you get for it. And since you know what the board looks like at the start of your turn, you can figure out pretty quick if it's possible to create the shape you want. Only the board totally changes every turn, so you can't start planning your turn until your turn actually starts, which means you'll spend two minutes looking at your cards and mentally moving stuff around while your opponents wonder if you've been assimilated by the Borg Collective and your brain has shut down. They can't bitch too much, though, because they do the same thing on their turns.

The fact that the board changes every turn means you can't plan ahead, and honestly, that's the biggest problem I have with the game. You build what you can, expand your spacial recognition skills, maybe put together some clever plays with some of the special cards, and then your turn is over and you can rest your throbbing brain while the other players mess up any chance you might have of building a long-term strategy. Wrong Chemistry poses a fun mental challenge, but my favorite games let me plan for the long game. There is no long game in Wrong Chemistry. You play your hand and you move on.

However, just because the game is essentially new every turn does not mean it isn't a hoot. We played it a bunch of times, and that should be significant if you understand that I only needed to play it once to review it. So we played it once because we had to, and then several more times because it was fun. Planning? No. Fun? You bet.

Of course, I liked those grade-school IQ tests. I also like playing with Legos. I like rearranging things to make other things, and this game directly appeals to the parts of my brain that like building robots when I should be putting together one-way arrows. Wrong Chemistry is one part game, two parts puzzle. If you're hoping for interaction, forget it. If you want to build strategies, you're looking at the wrong game. But if you like brain puzzles and competitive spatial arrangement, Wrong Chemistry is pretty fun.


2-4 players

Cute art
Easy rules
Mentally challenging
Essentially a puzzle competition

No chance of long-term strategy
The parts won't let you build a dragon with a robot penis. But then, neither did those grade-school IQ tests.

 Want more info about Wrong Chemistry? You can get it right here:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cartoon Review - The Avengers

Obviously, I am still a child. Not only do I play with games and toys, but I'm a sucker for a good cartoon. However, being an adult child, I am a little picky. For instance, I don't have the patience to sit through Adventure Time, and although Clone Wars is a cool-looking cartoon, I can't watch it because I know what happens to everybody (and it is not good).

But even with my distaste for superhero comic books, I still find cartoons I can dig. And my current time-eating favorite is The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. It's got all kinds of stuff I don't like - dimensional travel, silly costumes, Kirby-inspired face-masks, and a horrible theme song - but it's also got lots to love.

For instance, this cartoon (unlike the movie) got its background history right. The founding members of the Avengers were Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Wasp and Ant Man. Captain America doesn't come on the scene until the originals find him frozen in ice. The cartoon got this part right.

Another thing that makes Avengers worth watching is the banter. Clearly, this team is built on both the original, Stan Lee creations and the newly minted movie versions. Tony Stark in particular is the cocky, brash genius made interesting in the movies, which we didn't see in the comics until he had been around a while. The dialog between Cap and Stark, between Hulk and Hawkeye, between Wasp and every villain she shoots in the eye, brings dimension to the heroes.

I also like that this team that saves the world on a monthly basis has its share of interpersonal dilemmas. Ant Man leaves, then comes back. Hulk leaves, then comes back. Hawkeye likes Black Widow, then he hates her, then he likes her again. There's a lot of tension between the heroes, which makes for interesting stories even for a comic book that is largely about punching things with magical fists.

But really, all those other things could be merely palatable as long as the story holds up. And while I am tired of time-traveling world conquerors, dimension-tramping frost giants and pseuo-Nazis with magical powers, the stories built on these characters are pretty darn good. The stories build from one episode to the next, culminating in a massive showdown that has been in the works since the first half-hour. If you're even remotely able to find a reason to sit through an invasion by aliens in space spandex who travel through time, The Avengers will have keep you entertained, at least for 18 minutes at a stretch.

Actually, make that 17 minutes. You'll want to fast-forward through the opening music. It is painfully obvious that Danny Elfman was not available to record the theme song, because they apparently had to go with a cheesy boy band that rhymes 'one' with 'won.' As in, 'forever fight as one, until the battle's won.' I could only hear this once, and then I had to fast-forward to guard my sanity.

There are still better cartoons than this one, but The Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes has one thing going for it that makes it attractive to me - it's all on Netflix. Both seasons are right there, so that you never have to wait a week to see if Hulk's super-soldier serum will give him shiny green gonads. Plus there are 26 episodes in each season, for more than 15 hours of campy cartoon fun.

So The Avengers has goofy armor. It has dorky villains pulled right out of 1968. It has the new, racially correct Nick Fury (who I would like a lot less if he were not Samuel L. Jackson). It has a theme song that is very similar to musical torture. But the stories are good, the characters are enjoyable, and the show is fun. If you have a whole bunch of time to kill, you can check it out on Netflix.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Board Game Review - City of Horror

It's time for another zombie game review!

(I wonder if other reviewers get as many requests for zombie game reviews. Does Tom Vasel get hit up to write about zombie games every three weeks? Does that binswanger who does the flashy video reviews get zombie games thrown at him like confetti at a parade? Is it just me, or is everyone getting buried in games about the walking dead? And is there no other theme we can drive into the ground, hopelessly abused, until we're sick of seeing even the fun zombie games? If a zombie game falls in the forest, will it still be a boring, tired theme that desperately needs to be replaced with SOMETHING ELSE?)

The topic of this week's review is a game called City of Horror, in which you and a bunch of friends compete to stay alive while zombies eat almost all of you. It's not a zombie-killing game, or even a zombie-surviving game. It's really a game where you bribe your friends to kill your other friends, strike allegiances and then screw the people who saved you.

It's actually very fun. It didn't have to be a zombie game to be this fun - it could have been outer-space aliens, or parasitic fungus creatures, or fourth-graders on energy drinks (that's a seriously untapped market - if you've ever volunteered in a fourth-grade classroom after recess, when all the kids smell like stale sweat and dirty Twizzlers, and seen them get cranky because they need a nap, you know how terrifying they can be). But it is a zombie game, I think because Nazis as a group are now protected by the ACLU.

Every building has a certain number of spots, and every turn, you have to move one of your people and hope there's room so you don't get stuck in the street with the zombies. You have to scrounge for drugs and food and guns, and you have to share with your friends - but there's never enough to go around, so there will be some politics.

The core mechanic in City of Horror is voting. You vote to see who gets the best stuff, and you vote to see who gets eaten by zombies. The moving part is only there to make sure you don't get too comfy. The actual game play might sound a little like this:

RALPH: Oh, man, zombies are going to eat either my mom or Bob's bookie. Anyone want to team up with me to vote that they eat Bob's bookie?
GERTY: Why would we do that? I hope you both get eaten, because you made me stand outside last turn and my little boy got his arms torn off.
BOB: Ralph, I get two votes. There's no point in voting. You can't win.
RALPH: If I vote for my mom this time, and don't give you any heat, will you help me out when it comes time to eat Gerty's other child?
BOB: No, seriously Ralph, it's a non-issue. I have two votes. You have one. Your mom is dead.
RALPH: Gerty, help me out here. I'll give you this antidote.
GERTY: Ralph, are you high? I'm not in the church. I can't vote.
BOB: Ralph, dude, your mom is toast. Stop flailing.
RALPH: Hey! Debbie! Help me out and vote for Bob's bookie!
DEBBIE: Shut up, you idiot. I'm not even playing. I'm trying to watch Matlock.

The voting phase is all kinds of brutal. There's a ton of choosing who gets to die, and you'll see a lot of arguments that point out how much better someone else is doing, to try to throw your friends under the bus. It all comes down to pointing fingers at each other and hoping you didn't catch the short straw, and that means nice people tend to win this game, mostly because nobody wants to pick on the nice people. I doubt I will ever win this game.

After four turns, the National Guard shows up in helicopters and evacuates everyone who is still alive. Presumably they also shoot all the zombies, but that part is sort of vague. They might buy all the zombies Hostess pies so Spider-Man can web them and hang them up in front of the police station. It really doesn't matter. But it is fun to picture all the zombies getting distracted by apple pies.

(If you don't get the Hostess pie/Spider-Man reference, ask a nerd who read comic books in the 70s.)

City of Horror is an interesting social experiment, if nothing else. It's interesting to wonder if this is how actual live-or-die encounters would go in real life - would your best friend force you out the door to save a crippled old lady? Would he kick you out to save himself? You hope not, but let's face it, you'll never really know. I would sleep with one eye open, if I were you.

If you're a fan of games where social interaction is more important than making the smart play, and you're not tired of zombie games yet, you might really like City of Horror. I had a great time, though I don't see a scenario in which I can ever win the game. I enjoyed the backbiting and deal-making and underhanded politics that went into making sure the toddler on the tricycle died before my jaded businessman. The art is brilliant (it's from Asmodee, so that's a given), and the rules are straightforward and easy to grasp. Which is more than I can say for my aging comic-book references.


3-6 players

Excellent social interaction
Massive body count
Get to know which of your friends are real bastards

Cardboard standup zombies (not that I need any more plastic zombies)
Ye Gods! Not another zombie game!

If you're not tired of the zombie-game craze yet, you can get a copy of City of Horror at Noble Knight Games:


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Game Thing Review - Minigame Library

Oh no! Not another road trip!

Do you love games, and just hate when you have to leave your house and all those wonderful games? Well, we want to introduce you to a wonderful new product, designed just for you! It's the Minigame Library, and you're going to love it!

The Minigame Library delivers magnificent games that you can play any time, whether you're driving down the highway at 70 miles an hour or sleeping in the car while a bear shreds your tent.

(Drake's Flames does not recommend playing games while driving, unless you're on a closed course and you're not at home. It's fine to try stupid stuff you see on TV, as long as you're not at home.)

 Boring night at the in-laws house? Liven up any party with Grimoire Shuffle, a team game for either 4 or 6 players where the board shifts all the time and every player has special moves! Your wife's mom will hate you forever if you don't eat her horrible lasagna, but she'll forgive you when you break out this hilarious game of high-spirited hijinks!

Of course, we couldn't call it a library if we only had one game, so we added Noir, the game of sliding cards and deduction. Two players face off in this hunt to flush out your opponent's secret identity, and the only way you can do it is to slide cards around and see if the other guy says 'yeah, that one is me!' Add another player or two and try a whole different game! Literally, the rules are completely different.

So how much would you pay for a box that had two great games in it? If you said 500 dollars, you're insane! Nobody would pay that! But if you said 100, you're STILL too high! The Minigame Library can be yours for just 60 dollars (plus shipping and handling). Amazing!

Too good to be true? Not yet! Because if you act now, we will also add Infinity Dungeon, a game so stupid that just opening the box will make you a little dumber! It's like a role-playing game that you play with cards, especially because nobody wins! (Technically, the rules say that the person who had the most fun wins. Sadly, that means nobody wins.) You'll cross a dark room full of pit traps using a laser blaster and a pirate ship, and make sure you steal the garden gnome or... There is no or else! Not only is there no reason to try to win this game, there's not actually any reason to play in the first place!

Now how much would you pay? Don't answer yet!

We know how much you love games, so we just kept shoving them in there. For those times when you've got a reasonable good-sized tabletop and half an hour you don't want any more, you can play Master Plan! Become a comic-book villain on a death-race TV game show, and beat your opponents to the trophy while avoiding bombs and pit traps! Yes, we added more pit traps! This game is at least not stupid, though it does get a little slow, but you'll probably love it because it beats the hell out of getting eaten by bears!

All these games can be had for the low, low price of just 60 dollars (plus shipping and handling), but we're not done yet! Call in the next ten minutes and we'll add Blades of Legend, a game designed for people who have a lot more friends than I do! At Drake's Flames, we hope you'll really like Blades of Legend, because we don't have enough gamer friends to play this wild hidden-identity game! And we've been sitting on this review for almost two months as it is, so we're writing it anyway!

What an amazing deal! Act now, and you can get Grimoire Shuffle, Noir, Infinity Dungeon, Master Plan and Blades of Legend for just 60 dollars (plus shipping and handling)! That's five games for the price of one! Or two! Maybe! I mean, they are card games. Those aren't usually sixty. Those are more like 20 or so. So maybe it's five games for the price of three! Yeah, we'll go with that.

But wait! There's more! We've gone flat-out buck-wild crazy, and we're adding one more game! Get your hands on the Minigame Library, and score your own copy of Pixel Tactics! We've saved the best for last, because Pixel Tactics is pretty kick-as! This two-player, head-to-head game of smart plays and smarter plans is the highlight of the Minigame Library, and the best candidate in the box for the game we could sell without all those other games! But you can't get it on its own, so pick up a copy of the Minigame Library and buy five mediocre games and one great game for the price of three decent games!

(Offer not valid in Wisconsin or the Giza Strip. Well, if you want it that bad, maybe they'll ship it to you. I'm just the lawyer. I am also required by law to tell you that some of these games are fun, at least one is too stupid to have ever been printed, and one is downright bad-ass. The idea of putting six games in one box is pretty cool, but it would be even cooler if they were all more awesome. If 99 Designs sells Pixel Tactics by itself, pick it up, because it's pretty wicked. The rest - you could take them or leave them. Especially Infinity Dungeon. Leave that one, for sure.)


2-12 players, depending on the game you choose

Really cool idea, putting six games in one box
Some of the games are actually OK
Nice quality cards and some entertaining art
Pixel Tactics was kind of awesome

Doesn't seem like a great deal when you're selling me games I don't want
Infinity Dungeon is dumber than a bag of hammers

If you want more information on the Minigame Library, check out the 99 Designs site at:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Movie Review - Pitch Perfect

I swear, I have not started playing for the other team. I still dig chicks. But I also loved Pitch Perfect, a movie where a bunch of nerds enter competitions where they sing and don't have any backup music. Again, I am not gay.

 The thing is, Pitch Perfect was freaking hilarious. From the disturbing little Japanese girl who whispers that she starts fires to feel joy to Fat Amy doing horizontal running, the movie is jam-packed with laughs. Every character in the movie has a funny line at some point. The one guy from Workaholics is in there, and he's funny as hell, too. The whole movie is just damned funny.

But there are plenty of comedies out there. You could watch one of those ridiculous Wayans brothers send-ups, if you just want a comedy (and if you can find absolutely nothing else to watch). Pitch Perfect doesn't just make you laugh. It makes you smile.

There are essentially two or three stories running alongside each other. You've got the classic romance - will the guy get the girl? You've got the team battle - can the all-girl singing squad win the national competition? And will the main character, a stand-offish hottie who pushes people away from her, be able to overcome her general mistrust of everybody and make some lasting friends? OK, there's really nothing earth-shaking here, but that's fine. Pitch Perfect is a likeable movie, a fun movie, a smiling movie. It's not a brain-stressing indie film, and you'll smile at the outcome to all these stories, as you watch the lead girl discover herself in the great big world.

I don't think I'm actually selling this very well. Usually, a sing-off in a date movie is the exact opposite of a compelling reason to watch a movie. In fact, until my wife chose this one because it was her birthday, there was no possible way I was going to consider watching Pitch Perfect. Which is why I'm going to have to ask you to trust me. Pitch Perfect is so good, I watched it twice.

I've saved the best part for last - the musical numbers. Let me reiterate that I am not the least bit romantically interested in men. Furthermore, I hate musicals. Why anyone thinks it ever makes sense for a regular conversation to suddenly break into song is beyond me. I heartily dislike Andrew Lloyd Weber, and I have very little patience for most Disney movies. I would rather clip my toenails than watch Glee. Yet I couldn't wait for the singing to start in Pitch Perfect.

This is not a musical. The characters do not start singing unless they have a good reason. Nobody is just walking along, minding their own business, and then they start serenading the birds. The songs happen when they should, and they're amazing (except the ones that are supposed to be boring, and that's OK because they are occasionally punctuated by spontaneous projectile regurgitation). They're incredibly fun because they're original and fresh and upbeat. When the lead character breaks into her solo at the end of the movie, my smile got so big I was afraid my face would get stuck that way and completely ruin my reputation as a grumpy old man.

A funny thing happened to me since I saw Pitch Perfect. I mentioned it to a friend at work - who absolutely loved it, and I was surprised. Then I mentioned it to my best friend, who is a cop and a bad-ass, and he had seen it, and HE loved it. I'm not just blowing smoke up your skirt as a joke - Pitch Perfect really is an exceptionally fun movie, one that will make you laugh and smile and maybe dance a little. I swear.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A List - The Replacements

As lots of people know, I had a house fire a year ago that destroyed every game I owned. It also almost killed my son. Since that time, I've replaced a pretty good number of those games, though happily, I didn't have to replace my son. Do you have any idea how expensive it is to buy a new teenager? Probably not that expensive, actually. Most parents would probably pay me to take their teenage children off their hands.

A few people have asked me what games I replaced, and I thought it would make a handy article, and give me something to write about so I don't have to plow through eight episodes of Band of Brothers just to have a blog post.

1. Warhammer Quest.

Yep, it's still my favorite. The insurance gave me $500 to replace it, and I spent the whole thing. I got the base game in great shape, and it was even unpainted (bonus for me, since I prefer to paint my own minis). The merciful soul who sold the game to me also had a huge mess of extra minis and all the White Dwarf mags that had Warhammer Quest articles, and I got four of the expansion heroes, to boot. I was happy.

2. Heroscape.

My good friend had some extra Scape, and since that's pretty darn close to my favorite of all time, he let me buy it from him cheaper than he should have.

3. Frontiers, Nostra City and Wicked Witches Way.

I lump these all together because they were wicked cheap on Tanga and I got them all at the same time. I love all three of these games, especially Nostra City. When you have a game where you can rat your opponents out to the FBI while you peddle heroin and run whores, it's a winner in my book.

4. That's it.

See, the insurance gave me money for the games, but the repairs on the house went over by almost 20 grand. I wasn't able to buy replacements, because I had to fix my house. So those games are the only ones I was able to buy again. However...

5. Sentinels of the Multiverse.

When the guys at Greater Than Games found out about the fire, they sent me out a copy of the enhanced edition of Sentinels. Holy crapcakes, that's a fun game, and I've been playing the hell out of it. Mad thanks to the Greater Than guys, and also...

6. Super Dungeon Explore.

Same deal with the Cool Mini Or Not marketing dude - he replaced my copy of Super Dungeon Explore, because not only is he awesome, but I can't very well review expansions if I don't have the game.

7. 7 Wonders.

I actually do freelance work for the head marketing guy at Asmodee, and so on top of a bunch of other stuff, he hooked me up with a replacement for 7 Wonders after I helped out at BGG Con.

8. Russian Board Games That Are Actually Card Games.

The Russian guys who make the excellent Potion Making Practice sent me all the games that were lost in the fire, and threw in the expansions. I love those guys.

9. Nightfall.

The guy at AEG is a prince. I ran into him at BGG Con and he said to tell me all the games that I didn't have any more so that he could send me replacements. To be honest, I still haven't taken him up on the offer, because I feel obligated to plow through my current crop of review copies before I go asking for more. But the point is, he's a prince, and I can get Nightfall again when I finally have room in my review schedule.

9. Risk Legacy, Earth Reborn and Race for the Galaxy.

These were gifts from my old man. He's pretty awesome. Seriously. I can't emphasize enough how cool my dad is.

10. Rush N Crush.

My friend John saw a copy of Rush N Crush on sale at GenCon, and when he saw it, he remembered me talking about how much I like it. So he just up and bought it for me. He wouldn't let me pay him back, either.

11. Risk Black Ops.

The best one of all of these is this one right here. This is a bigger collector's item than Warhammer Quest, and I was certain I was never going to see it again. But my friend who worked at Hasbro finagled me a copy, and so I will bear his children,if he asks.

That's it. I would love to show you a long list of stuff, but for one thing, I wouldn't replace a long list of games, and for another thing, the money ran out. There weren't a whole lot of other games I would have bought anyway, and I actually got replacements for more than I thought I would. I'm lucky as hell to have some great friends, and a great dad, and I know some great people in the gaming world. While I would not recommend burning your house down just to find out how lucky you are, I'm not altogether sad it happened. Sure, it put an end to VixenTor Games by destroying all my tools and inventory, but it gave me something more valuable - it let me see how many incredible people I know.

And now I owe all these guys beers. My bar tab is going to murder me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Board Game Review - Chicken Caesar

Yeah, you read the title right. The name of the game is Chicken Caesar. It's a political game. About chickens.

I can only imagine how the idea came to the designer. He and his girl are sitting in a restaurant ordering dinner. Being a man, he is ordering steak, maybe beer, possibly with a huge baked potato. His girl, on the other hand, asks for a salad. 'Chicken Caesar,' she tell the waiter, and the dude has this momentary flash of what he thinks at the time is brilliance. He thinks about it all night, is too distracted to pay attention to his woman, and then ends up sitting up all night making a game about roosters in the Roman senate.

It should go without saying that the theme is a little silly. Various families of chickens scratch and claw to claim the best seats in the senate and establish family legacies. Foxes eat many of these chickens, and when one of them does manage to become Caesar, that poor bastard winds up in the farmer's cook pot. Oh, and they wear togas.

But what is not immediately obvious is that the game is actually very good. This is especially tough to spot when you read the rules, because while they definitely describe how to play, they do a horrible job of telling you what you're actually doing. When you get all the way through the rules, you'll have to go back and read them again to try to understand what the hell you're trying to accomplish.

But once you start playing, and you're all competing for the best gigs in the senate, and you're bribing other players and promising favors and stabbing each other in the back, the goal becomes pretty obvious - reach the top of the food chain in whatever ugly manner makes that possible. And 'food chain' is meant politically, because the top of the real food chain in this game is the fox that makes off with members of the senate almost every turn. There's a significant body count in Chicken Caesar, and every turn you'll be maneuvering and negotiating to keep yourself alive long enough to rule, even if it's just for one turn.

Chicken Caesar is a delightfully social game, one in which the tactics are less important than your ability to coax your opponents into screwing somebody else. You'll maneuver yourself into a position to help out a fellow rooster, then extract a bribe to save his bacon. You'll offer to trade votes - you vote for me, I vote for you - and then you may or may not actually follow through. And even if you do follow through, if you're good, you'll profit a lot more than the guy you help.

And then, if you've got roosters in the right place, you'll kill the bejeezus out of all the others. This part is hilarious fun, because you have to share the chicken-killing power with up to two other people, and they'll have a pretty good idea if you're trying to kill their elected roosters. So you have to play a little nice, throw blame to other players, and ultimately send as many scheming chickens as possible to the belly of the fox.

If you prefer tactical games where you maneuver your troops into position and set up firing solutions, you are not going to love Chicken Caesar. If you like to maximize the efficiency of your gaming engine, this is not the game you want. But if you like to cajole and threaten and promise and betray, then you are definitely going to want to get your hands on this game. It's political fun, better with more players, and the art is fantastic, even if it does feature chickens in Roman robes.


3-6 players

Great visual design
Tons of social interaction
Excellent body count
Rewards scheming and plotting

Not great if you dislike being mean to other players
Thematically silly

You can only get Chicken Caesar from Game Salute, unless you can find it in stores. You can order it here:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Movie Review - Dead Snow

I don't generally have much interest in foreign film, whether it's French arthouse navel-gazing or dubbed Japanese classics. But every now and then, a foreign movie challenges what we expect out of cinema, elevating the art form and raising the bar for filmmaking in general.

Dead Snow is not one of those movies.

Dead Snow is stupid. It should be pretty obvious once I explain the premise - a bunch of med students going to a cabin in the mountains encounter frozen Nazi zombies - but this is a film designed for people who giggle out loud when they see brains fall out of heads. Nazi zombies, as it turns out, are fast and mean and much more dangerous than regular zombies. Mostly because they don't follow any rules, not even the rules set out by the movie itself.

Just so you can get a feel for how stupid this movie really is, here are a few highlights:

- The creepy old man comes to the cabin and tells the kids to be careful, because Nazi zombies are out there. Then he leaves, goes to a deserted part of the mountain, and sets up a tent for the night. Predictably, he is killed by Nazi zombies. Probably because, despite just having told the med students that Nazi zombies made it dangerous to go out at night, he decided to go out at night.

- The creepy old man tells the kids (before he is killed by Nazi zombies) that there were about 300 soldiers, and most of them were killed, but some escaped just to be lost in the snow and turned into Nazi zombies.  So there should be a relatively small number of Nazi zombies, right? No. Apparently they are having Nazi zombie orgies to create more Nazi zombies, because later in the movie, hundreds of Nazi zombies start popping out of the snow like they were shot out of a toaster.

- Sometimes the Nazi zombies are very strong, like when one of them grabs a kid's head, puts its thumbs in the poor boy's eye sockets, and rips the kid's skull in half. That would take some pretty impressive upper-body strength. But other times they are candy-ass Nazi zombies, like when one punches a college kid in the face and barely hurts him at all. Strong enough to pull a skull apart and weak enough to hit like a girl. No wonder they lost whatever battle left them moldering in the snowy mountains of Sweden - they just can't decide whether to be killing machines or ski bunnies.

- The Nazi zombies are killing people from the opening scenes of the film, but at the end, we discover they were just angry because the kids had their gold. Except that the kids did not have their gold when the Nazis started killing them.  Apparently Nazi zombies do not need many excuses to rip heads off college kids.

There are more inconsistencies, plot holes and idiotic moments, but if I tell you about all of them you won't have any reason to see the movie (outside watching a guy rappelling down a mountain using Nazi zombie intestines for rope). If you have a lick of sense, you also don't have a reason to see Dead Snow, but it just might be that you like campy horror movies with ludicrous bloodshed.

If you do enjoy a brainless comedy-horror flick, however, Dead Snow should be on your watchlist. It is intensely idiotic, but it doesn't take itself the least bit seriously, and it contains some rather clever moments. Some of the lines are hilarious, even when you're hearing them in Swedish and reading the translation at the bottom of the screen.

Dead Snow is also a very self-aware movie. The writers know what they are creating, and they want you to know that they know. It follows horror-movie tropes with near-religious fanaticism, acknowledging its roots in dopey slasher flicks. It even has a moment, near the beginning of the film, when the characters are discussing how many stupid horror movies start off with a bunch of kids going up to a remote cabin before they all get horribly murdered. And I love when the one college student, covered in gore and slaying Nazi zombies as fast as he can, screams, 'We should have just gone to the beach like I said!'

I first heard about Dead Snow in a promotional video created by a Swedish pop singer. It was a music video with a perky little blonde who sang a charming tune called, 'My Ass,' in which she extolled the virtues of her shapely backside. Halfway through this nearly pornographic little ditty, the singer pauses while girls carrying large cards reading 'Dead Snow' walk in front of the camera. The song has absolutely nothing to do with Dead Snow, and the promotion was so immensely out of place that I had a very good idea exactly what kind of movie it was. And I was pretty sure it was going to be inane. And I was right.

But it is fun, and the writers know they are making a stupid movie, to the point that they actually bother to reference other stupid movies. Dead Snow is an example of one of those 'so bad it's good' films, the kind you watch with a bunch of other people who are all halfway inebriated and amused by impossible decapitation. Stupid and campy and gory and fun, Dead Snow will entertain even while it lowers your functional IQ.