Archive for August, 2009

31
Aug
09

It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home…

I’m not going to review Inglourious Basterds. I’m just going to tell you to see it.

Today’s post is going to be on “Tales of the Arabian Nights”, a board game reprint from Z-Man games. The original was quite popular as far as I’ve heard, but I never played it. This version is an expanded and improved version.

The game is a “storytelling game”. There is a winner at the end of the game, but it’s more about the ride and the story than anything else. It’s a board game though, with rules… there’s no roleplay or larping involved, don’t you worry. Think of it like a gigantic choose your own adventure game.

You pick one of several classic arabian nights characters (I went for Aladdin in our game) and you pick a set of skills, then you wander around the land and achieve quests and have adventures, hoping to pick up destiny and story points along the way.

The adventures are randomized in all kinds of weird ways, but you’re presented with an encounter, such as “diseased hag” or “vengeful prince”. From there, you must choose a reaction from a set of possible things you can do. You pick one, and then flip in a gigantic book to find out what happens (again, think choose your own adventure, or a better version of the encounters from Arkham Horror).

This moves along at a really good pace though, and the book is pretty well written. The style is supposed to imitate the old 1001 nights stories, as well as some of the situations and cliches involved with them. It has over 2000 possible paragraphs that each have slightly different responses to each possible situation.

All kinds of wacky things can happen to you. In our game, one character got lost in the desert, then wounded, and then grief stricken. Another player became the Vizier, but then got his sex changed when he pissed off a genie. I stole a ring from an old lady and managed to get a pet monkey that was really a genie in disguise (very appropriate for Aladdin).

The events and so on can be quite random, but it’s not a game that is meant to be played with any serious strategy in mind. It seems like it will be a great game for joking around while playing, and telling stories. Quite often, the bad things that can happen to you will give you just as many story points as the good things, just with other negative effects tacked on.

So, it’s unlike anything else in my game collection… which is enough to justify it for me. With all the randomizing factors and the sheer volume of encounters, I don’t think it will get old anytime soon. It was a huge hit during my first play of it, even with the occasional rules question or two… I can’t wait to play it again.

Perhaps I’m biased just because I got a pet one eyed monkey though…

24
Aug
09

Evil Genius is such a dumb game.

Woo let’s get the mineshaft back to meaningless video game rants. I’ve been playing a game called Evil Genius recently. The premise is a bit like the old Dungeon Keeper games. You play as one of those Bond villain types with a ridiculous island lair and a group of henchmen and minions and whatnot. You need to organize evil deeds all over the world while making sure that secret agents (and tourists as well) don’t stumble on your hidden base.

This is TOTALLY my kind of game… in theory. I like strategy management type stuff, but at a certain distance. I don’t like Sim City quite as much as something like Stronghold or Tropico. What it comes down to is how close I feel to the little people. I like games with bustle, where I can watch my little people running around the streets, grabbing things and doing their job and being all helpful. I kind of enjoy the “evil lord looking down on his kingdom” type feel, even in games where it’s not encouraged, but in this game it is encouraged so it should be great.

I’ve done a bad job at hiding that Evil Genius disappointed me, but where exactly did it go wrong? Well… for starters, you really only manage one screen. You manage your island in a great amount of detail. When you conduct evil deeds around the world (often with silly villainy goals like kidnapping maids or stealing monuments), you move minions onto a risk style world map where they just sit there until you later receive a message saying you won or failed.

This is more or less the same set up as Tropico 2, where you run an island and only do a little bit of strategizing about what happens outside it, but what happens outside it deeply affects it. Thing is, Tropico offers a waaaay higher amount of customization and makes more sense thematically. In Tropico 2 you’re running an island full of pirates and their captives. You load up the ships with guns and whatnot and make sure the island has lots of booze and women for when the pirates come home. You aren’t the captain of the individual ships, you’re the pirate dude that runs the island. In Evil Genius, you’re the genius! You should have something more to do with the plotting and executing the plans other than just sending x amount of minions to a certain location.

The game also features the idea that the more you’re successful, the more your “notoriety” increases. As secret agents discover things and get away, your “heat” increases. Eventually, this means more and more agents show up on your island. This can be either extremely time consuming if you’re good and extremely frustrating if you’re bad. I set up fancy poison gas chambers rigged to pressure plates in my front hallway and INEVITABLY the agents would touch the pressure plates and the gas chamber would lower over my dumb minions instead. They quite often sabotage your stuff, and it is often very expensive to replace. The speed at which resources can be gathered seems rather slow as well. I spent several hours just kind of treading water, spending all my money on just holding the status quo and not making any advancements.

Then the game introduces super agents, which are spoofs of various action stars that show up from time to time. They cannot be killed until a very specific point in the game’s “narrative”. Until then, you either have to keep them busy using some silly exploit, or just endure them until they get bored and leave. Thing is, the better you do… the more of these guys that show up. It’s a horrible feeling.

I know somewhere in this review I probably accidentally made this game sound good. It happens all the time with this game. I bet I sound pretty petty. Until you actually play this game though, you have no way of knowing how frustrating and uninteresting it can get.

Maybe I can still get into the henchmen’s union though…

20
Aug
09

District 9 – A mineshaft review

Okay okay.. so I took a break from the mineshaft for about 8 posts. I was falling behind on my backlog of posts and I got lazy… I do apologize, but now I’m back on track! So, my return to the mineshaft will be met with a District 9 review!

Warning : This review contains spoilers worse than the portrayal of Nigerians in this movie.

Now, District 9 is a solid movie. Due to so many summer movies completely sucking, it may still be one of the top summer movies of the year. I found it quite an entertaining “ride”, as critics say. I wasn’t really going to go after it until I saw that public opinion on this movie is COMPLETELY out of control and I feel like it’s my duty to pop up and point a thing or two out.

Good things?

The Special Effects are excellent… and I rarely say that. I’m more inclined to appreciate the special effects in something like Terminator 2 or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but the CG effects in this movie are pretty excellent. When you consider that this movie has a small fraction of the budget of most effect heavy movies, it gets even more impressive.

The guy who plays Wickus does a great job. In fact, Wickus is a pretty good character all around. He’s a bit of an ass… and a bit stupid at times, but he’s somehow sympathetic. He’s one of the more interesting action stars in recent memory.

The bad? Oh here we go…

The documentary style filming at the beginning of the film is really interesting, which is probably why it was awkwardly dropped after 15 minutes. I thought this part of the film was really cool and did a great job of “world building” and making the concept behind the film seem really convincing. It also did a great job of building tension when some of the interviews imply things that are about to unfold. Then all of a sudden in the middle of the documentary style filming, we are shown shots from other angles that obviously couldn’t be filmed by news crews or film makers. It’s completely jarring. Imagine The Blair Witch Project, but every now and then they cut away to a helicopter shot to show the witch’s position relative to the campers.

Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Diary Of the Dead, [rec], and Cloverfield, but documentaries carry with them inherent questions about who is filming them, why, and what their agenda consists of. This movie pays no attention to any of that. In fact, we don’t even get to see the documentary style cameras in the wide shots. Eventually they drop the style completely and go for a traditional hollywood film. Which brings me in to my next point.

It’s TOTALLY a traditional hollywood film. Don’t buy all the marketing about how it’s a first time director and how it’s completely different from anything you’ve ever seen. This movie reaches a point around the middle where it’s everything you’ve ever seen. It becomes any sort of “government project gone wrong” movie… following in the footsteps of The Incredible Hulk, or X-Men Origins : Wolverine. It becomes completely predictable, and extremely cliched. Sure, it tries to snap back into the artsy documentary stuff at the end, but the bulk of this movie is a big dumb action movie. There’s nothing wrong with a big dumb action movie, but this film seems to revel in its action and gore while pretending to be subtle. Once again, master of the transition… this leads me right in…

The “clever social commentary” makes George Romero look subtle. I was worried going in that there would be too much preachy social commentary and too little attention to story. I found the commentary that was there was completely obvious… and it didn’t seem to go into much depth. I think maybe the movie is afraid to delve into the issues it wants to present. When the action really picks up, the movie abandons its ambitions for satire altogether. This movie will not generate intriguing debate about Africa afterwards, you will be talking about the alien battlemech instead.

The “villain” soldier guy sucked balls. Okay this is a minor complaint, but still. The best this movie has to throw in Wickus’ way is this bald soldier guy who only seems to be the bad guy because he miraculously survives every scene he’s in. Over the course of the film we see Wickus take down huge amounts of soldiers. The idea that this one guy could pose any threat to him is a bit of a stretch.

Overall, this movie is a very small film that collided with a very big film. It’s no surprise that the big film won, leaving bits of small film blood left all over the screen, suggesting that there once was more there.

I’ll end this review on that quippy note. District 9 fans, I urge you to disagree with me and write a comment or two. 🙂