Review: Dominion-Intrigue Wednesday, Feb 17 2010 

For details regarding genre, number of players, and objective see Dominion Review.

While Dominion provides great replay value, the creators have graced us with an expansion.  As indicative of an expansion, Dominon: Intrigue does add more rules for play.  However, unlike most expansions, the changes are much more subtle; not to say that all other expansions are over-the-top and very obvious.  The subtle change? A new card type: combination cards.  These cards are a combination of two other card types, the majority of which are Victory and Action cards; the Harem card is both a Treasure card and an Action card.  While this doesn’t seem big, it does add a great amount.  Now, you can be adding a new action card to your deck that not only gives you the immediate edge with new options, it also gives you victory points to help you win the game.

The other subtle change is the option of cards.  Yes, there are enough cards in Intrigue that you could play it by itself, but I’m refering to the actual abilities of the cards.  The overall theme of the new cards is that of option.  Most of the cards do not have a single set of bonuses or actions to perform.  Rather, most of these cards give you the choice of one bonus or another, or one action or another.  So, the cards give you a flexibility in tactics/strategy beyond their inherent abilities; a flexibility in actual execution.

Finally, as ham-handedly hinted at (yeah, illiteration), Dominion: Intrigue can be played on its own.  Not only can you play it without Dominion, but you can play it without having purchasing Dominion; all of the rules required for play are included with Intrigue.  So, in additional the number of options given by the flood of new cards, the actual ability to have options with many of the cards, but you also have the option of playing Intrigue alone or included with base Dominion.  My conclusion: Intrigue introduces exponentional options to the game and make it that much more interesting/complex without actually making the mechanics more complicated.

As an expansion, what does Intrigue offer in terms of the educational benefit of Dominion?  It reinforces the base lessons, but it also includes the concept of having choices and helps teach you how to decide which options to select.  It teaches you the strength of just having options, but it also helps you develop priorities.  After all, when confronted with an overabundance of options, you have to figure out some way to select one option over another; wherein your priorities need to be clear.

Next-time: Dominion-Seaside


Percy Jackson & the Olympians: Movie Rant Saturday, Feb 13 2010 

This morning (2/12/2010) I caught the first showing of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: the Lightning Thief at my favorite cinema.  Because its the early show, I paid $4.00; my drink and snacks cost more than twice that.  I feel ripped off; I want my $4.00 back, preferably out of director Chris Columbus’s pocket.  Why?  Because the movie was pretty bloody bad that’s why!  Compared to the book, it was deplorable and outright insulting to the audience’s intelligence; on its own, it was just suck.

I had seen the teaser trailers for this movie and didn’t think much of it.  In fact, at first, I thought it was a teaser for the Marvel movie Thor, which wouldn’t be coming out till next year at the earliest; I figured if that was the case, than maybe it was part of a far-reaching marketing campaign, but I digress.  I decided to read the book (not a mistake, as I will explain later) and was very hyped to see it.  After I saw trailers that included elements that were not from the book, I was hesitant but adamant to give this movie its fair shake.  I have been known by many of my friends to have an open-mind, and I take pride in that (one of the few things that I do pride myself on).  However, one can only have an open-mind for so long.

So what makes this movie bad?  That needs two sets of responses: how its bad compared to the book and how it is bad on its own.

First the snobbish comparison of the book.  By the way, I am going to avoid as many spoilers as inhumanly possible as the book is so damn good that I want everyone reading this to read the book.  Anyways, the movie did not get the characters right in their personalities or some of their capabilities; certain characters were artificially combined into other characters and done so without a meaningful purpose or in a well executed manner.  While I FULLY understand the need to cut material out when translating a book into a movie, some vital bits of exposition and explaination are taken right out; while minor elements are over exaggerated and played off as major plot points.  The journey the characters take goes from being a great and fully developed attempt at a classical heroic myth set to the modern world, the movie makes it into a teenage road trip to collect items; GOTTA CATCH’EM ALL!  As with cutting some material out, losing some characters make sense as you won’t have the time to adequately develop them or their purpose isn’t as necessary to the immediate story being presented.  At the same time, WHY ADD POINTLESS CHARACTERS/ENCOUNTERS IN?!  If you wanted to add material from future books, wait for those movies to be made or just hint at them; don’t frakking include them.  I’m not even sure if the director actually had anybody read the book!  I think I could go on until I have an aneurysm, so I will move onto the secondary set of reasons: its just bad by itself.

By itself, the movie is only actually marginally bad; its no Manos: the Hands of Fate.  I must admit, I did not sit through the whole movie; I was pretty disgusted by most of its execution that I left about maybe a half-hour before the movie ended.  The pacing of the movie was far too rushed.  I remember Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (another Chris Columbus film) having an excellent and easy pace to it; you could follow it along and you were gripped by the characters and story enough to patiently follow as the story unfolded.  That being said, this movie moved like it was outrunning a crazed horror movie-esque serial killer.  In the movie, one of the characters is diagnosed with ADHD; by the writing/acting of the movie, they didn’t have ADHD, the movie did!  Some of the movie’s logic was flawed and inconsistent.  Also, due to explanations, some things go unexplained that NEED EXPLAINATION!  (By the way, as I would prefer for you to vote “no” to this movie by not watching it, I don’t care about spoiling the movie for you.)  At the start of the movie, Poseidon, god of the seas, god of horses and earthquakes, comes walking out of the water as a frakking giant (easily 40 or 50 feet tall) and in plain view of at least a single fisherman; and the fisherman just sorta shrugs it off.  Where are the newspaper reports reading, ‘GIANTS WALK AMONG US!’ or whatever?  Where is the sheer mortal terror of seeing something that unbelievable?  Now, in the book, there is an explanation as to why nothing happens and I would accept that explanation in the movie, provided an explanation was given.  Given the importance the role Percy plays in the movie and how important it is that he recieves training for his mighty task (suspension of disbelief turned on, at this point), why was no one paying enough attention to make sure he recieves his almighty important training?!  He just sneaks off after a single night with his wants-to-be-Harry Potter’s lackeys-entourage without so much as a red alert, a single sentry horn being blown, or even a chubby kid who plays by the rules going, “you can’t go out past curfew.”  Oh, a great moment of dumb is when Percy asks why the gods won’t physically visit any of them.  The Hermione responds that it is the law as set down by Zeus, lord of the gods.  Percy’s response?  “Well, that’s stupid!”  Yeah, I agree; what a frigging cop-out.  There is pretty bloody good explanation given in the book; why it wasn’t used, I don’t know; I’m not a director.  Here’s a bit of bad design: the Underworld.  Yeah, they go to Hell, and it is only mildly annoying.  Things seem kinda bad and what drama they try to attribute to it, isn’t done very well; whereas in the book, you get a sense of I-do-not-want-to-be-here.  By the way, I would spoil the names of the characters in the movie to you if they were the characters from the book and not Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I think I have rambled/ranted about long enough.

Next time Mr. Columbus, read the book; not the Cliff Notes.

Update: Posting Schedule Change Tuesday, Feb 2 2010 

Greetings all.  Due to my constant tardiness when it comes to updating reviews and whatnot, I intend to once again change how often I update.  At this time, I will be trying to post reviews every two weeks on Mondays/Tuesdays.

As for explanations behind this, I would rather admit fault on my part and leave it at that.  However, for those whom desire something more in the ways of excuses, here are a few:
-working on my story/book
-I got burned out on posting weekly, but still retained interest to post
-computer monitor burned out (more or less literally) and so had to get a new one
-job hunting

See my next post up around the first week in February.

P.S. Somehow this never posted.  As such, the review is up already.

Review: Dominion Tuesday, Feb 2 2010 

Genre: card game
Number of players: 2-4
Objective: to construct a deck with the most victory points

In terms of card games, Dominion takes a rather interesting/innovating approach.  All card games have essentially the same steps to playing the game: buy the game/collect cards (in the case of collectible card games), build your deck, and then find someone to play against (who most likely has their own deck made).  In Dominion, the game actually stops at step one (picking up the game); the game play is the actual act of constructing your deck.  You construct your deck with three main types of cards: Treasure, Action, and Victory cards.  Treasure cards are your resources to purchasing other cards during the game.  The Action cards are your strategic tools to allow you options during your turn; you play an Action card to garner additional benefits (primarily, draw more cards, be able to play more action cards from your hand, and/or be able to acquire more cards in a single turn).  Finally, Victory cards are your way to win; when the game ends, you tally your victory points on your Victory cards and whoever has the most wins.

The game play goes essentially thusly: play an Action card (when applicable) and follow its instructions, buy cards from the stockpile, and then draw your hand from your deck (reshuffling your discard pile if needed); play continues to the next player and so on.  One of the key elements of the game is the fact that you are continually cycling through your deck by drawing your cards and on your turn playing Action cards, many that allow you to draw additional cards; this allows you to cycle the new Action cards into your hand for use in your next turn.  By the way, to my knowledge this cyclical process is called ‘milling’ and it originates from Magic: the Gathering.  The game ends when one specific type of Victory card or three of the cards from the stock have been completely purchased.  Then, as mentioned a couple times, the player total their victory cards and see who wins.

With the Treasure cards, you learn a different kind of resource management.  Rather than learning how much to commit and balancing out the uses of your resources, you actually have to balance out how many resources you have in your deck to other cards.  Not only do you need to have a good ratio (so that on any given draw, you have Treasure cards to purchase more cards), but you need to also concern yourself with acquiring enough Victory cards so that in the end you can come out ahead.  And you are going to want to pick up Action cards because they allow you to get even more cards or help you mill through your deck or anything else that may help you win, or at least gain an edge over your opponents.  Finally, you need to also construct your deck with Action cards in order to properly gain enough cards to trounce your opponent.  It does end up being a repetitive process, but it is enjoyable, I assure you.

Next time: Dominion-Intrigue (Surprise!! This is a three-part review!)

Recommended Reading Wednesday, Jan 20 2010 

As mentioned, here is a list of reading that I would recommend for all manners of reasons.  This is not a comprehensive list as I tend to find new things that would make the list; and I just plain don’t remember everything that I would recommend in a single sitting.  Anyways, onto the list:

Vampire the Masquerade: Storyteller’s Guide-for any player or GM who wants to develop a stronger story for their games, this is great source.  While it tends to focus on the gothic punk style of the Vampire setting, and has some dark fixations in my opinion, it is a great read for how to add to a story with little details.  Another thing that the book does that I have not seen many others (RPG books) try to do is spell out that as it is your game, “DO WHAT YOU WANT WITH IT!”  You can ignore canon and craft your own history within the setting if you want; you can even ignore the rules and develop your own with the game, so long as you have fun and it fits your story.  The big lesson from this book, take ownership of the games you play: have fun and don’t be afraid to get involved with the game (to a healthy limit, of course).

Vampire the Masquerade: Player’s Handbook-again this book offers a great deal to story/character heavy games.  In this case, it helps the players more so than the GM in developing a better gaming experience within the game.  Confession time: I have not finished reading this book.  However, I am putting this book on the list prematurely because from what I have read, it is really good.  Namely, the section on the Lone Wolf is really good; it teaches players how to avoid creating a character who is two-dimensional and also equips GMs with techniques to help mitigate the presence of the Lone Wolf character and even help make the character more productive and conducive to the story than a simple undefeatable beat-stick.

Dungeons and Dragons: Hero Builder’s Guidebook-out of the Third Edition of DnD comes this FANTASTIC book.  It has no rules in it at all; ZERO!  So what is it, if not a collection of the latest and best new rules?  It is a guide that helps you develop a character from a series of pencil marks on paper.  There is a section on developing a background; another on picking a good name; a section on how to craft your character’s career as an adventurer.  One of my favorite little anecdotes within the book is about how to take a really badly rolled stat and turn it into a compelling angle for role-playing and character development; in essence, giving you ideas to spin unfortunate happenstances into something positive and interesting.

TV is a wiki-format site with many articles on tropes (basically cliches) that permeate throughout literature, movies, video games, you-name-it.  Which article would I recommend?  Any of them!  They are all interesting and written with just the right balance of glib/charm and informative.  They do police themselves just enough to avoid any particular bias; outside the fact that they are all geeks and nerds, and proud of it.  At the same time, they try to keep things informal and avoid excessive editing to avoid coming off as Wikipedia.

Review: Kingsburg Friday, Dec 11 2009 

Genre: board game
Number of players: 2-5
Objective: earn the most victory points by the end of the game

The design of Kingsburg is that of what have labeled as “Euro-games” (obviously short for European games).  What is a Euro-game, you might ask?  Euro-games are games wherein while the objective is still to win out over the other players, the actual means to that goal are not as straight forward.  For example, in Kingsburg, the interaction between players is very limited.  Some Euro-games actually do away with dice altogether.  In other Euro-games, players may have to actually trade or work with one another in order to accomplish victory!   As such, there is a decisive shift in thought from the classical us-vs-them or me-vs-the other players to a more cooperative style of play.  This is not to say that Euro-games lack any competition or drive; just that the players bring those to the game, the game does not impose those aspects.

With that little diatribe out of the way, let’s look at the game.  Rather than simply move about the board doing stuff, you (the player) are land-owners in a medieval world influencing the King’s advisors with your die results.  You can use individual die results to influence individual advisors or you can combine them in order to influence higher result advisors.  The limited interaction among the players mentioned above comes in the form of when an advisor is influenced, no one else can influence that advisor that turn.  Influencing advisors gives players various resources that they can, in turn, use to construct buildings on their lands in order to win the King’s favor (in the form of victory points).  Beyond smoozing advisors every turn, at the end of every year (round), the kingdom is invaded by hostile forces and the players must have troops in order to fend them off.  The King always sends an amount of troops to support the players, but some buildings grant a bonus amount to fighting off the impending hordes; in addition, some advisors bequeath troops.  After fives years, whoever has the most victory points wins.

The game of Kingsburg is designed around medieval royal court.  At the top is the King, with his Queen right beside him.  Below him are all of his courtly advisors, including the Court Jester.  A fantastic detail here is that this is fairly accurate to actual medieval court.  Dismissing the obviously fantastical elements (e.g. hordes of zombies), royal courts did have court Philosophers, Astronomers, and even Wizards; they didn’t always have magical powers, but they were still wizards.  As such, Kingsburg provides plenty of opportunity for historical lessons and explorations.  History aside, Kingsburg delves into resource management and risk management through the use of the dice.  Not only acting as a random element, the dice are being used as a resource for the players to utilize to further their goals.  Players also learn to plan out their moves ahead of time and how to adapt to unfavorable situations (e.g. dice results that mess up the overall or immediate plan).

Next Time: Recommended Readings

Review: Poker; Texas Hold’em Tuesday, Nov 24 2009 

Note: the following is meant to be informative and analytical.  This should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement for gambling or other illegal activities.

Genre: card game
Number of players: minimum of 2 players; typical sizes can vary
Objective: to beat the other players

The above objective sounds vague, because really that is what these games are about: to win against the other players; as simple as that.  How does one win in Poker/Texas Hold’em?  A number of ways exist.  The most obvious is to form the best hand possible, or at least have the best hand compared to the other players.  Other legal means to win is through psychology.  Understanding an opponent’s body language and other tells gives players an edge on how to best manipulate their opponents (e.g. force them to fold).

As implied, Poker and Texas Hold’em are games that best enforce learning about psychology and kinesthetic (body language).  Both allow for a player to gain the best edge over their opponents.  The game can teach one discipline as well.  Not only does one learn the body language of others, but one also learns to conceal their own body language; after all, one does not want to give away too much recklessly.  When playing with chips, one needs to learn how to best manage their resources in order to pace themselves or ensure that they can play as long as they intend.

Next time: Kingsburg.

Will the apologies ever end? Sunday, Nov 22 2009 

Yes, it is time for me to apologize once more for delays in my updates.  This time is far more egregious than my last lapses.  As such, I am going to try and make it up to everyone as best as I can.

What to do?  What to do?  I know!  As a treat for some, I will include a short story of which I composed.  Something different for everyone and possibly giving all of you a glimpse into my creative thoughts.  I hope you enjoy.

In the meanwhile, I will start cranking out the reviews this week.  Thank you for your patience.

Review: Chaos in the Old World Thursday, Oct 29 2009 

Genre: board game
Number of players: three to four players
Objective: to achieve victory through various means

Chaos in the Old World is a new game developed by the innovative game designers at Fantasy Flight Games (FFG); this is a completely original game created by FFG, rather than a redesign of an older edition.  The game is set in the Old World, the fantastical world created and expanded upon by Games Workshop.  It is a rich, albeit grim, foreboding, and gothic setting where war is constant, humanity is scattered and divided, monstrous creatures and demons ravage the world and its people.

In the game, the players take on the roles of the four Chaos gods: Khorne, god of slaughter and war; Tzeetch, god of time and magic; Nurgle, god of pestilence and disease; and Slaanesh, god of dark pleasures and pain.  Unlike most games where there is a single way to win the game, Chaos in the Old World provides several ways to win: players who reaches a victory point threshold first wins, when the Ruination deck runs out the god with the most victory points wins, and through dial advancement; each god has their own best way of achieving victory.  Also, unlike most other board games, there is the possibility that all the players could lose!  The mechanics for victory and general game play are highly interconnected, with strategy and tactics constantly taking shape as the game goes on.

This game encourages players to develop strategies fitting not only their own style, but also that of the style of their chosen gods; for example, a player could choose to rampage and attack all the other players, but only Khorne will truly claim victory through this strategy; likewise, simply spreading your influence to dominate the juiciest provinces can earn you enough victory points to win, but Nurgle is the king of putting figures out on the board for cheap.  Like a miniature game, Chaos in the Old World teaches the players to adapt to changing circumstance. . . or else!  Lastly, this game demands that players remain aware of their opponents.  If one of the players is left alone, that player swiftly gain the advantage needed to win the game.  The corollary to this lesson is that one should not focus exclusively on any one player for too long; this will narrow your vision to the other players enough for them to achieve victory.

Next Week:  Poker/Texas Hold’em

P.S.  apparently, by “later in the day” I meant Thursday.  Sorry for the delay.

Apologies once more Wednesday, Oct 28 2009 

Yeah, I’m late on the posting the latest review due to reasons of work.  If it is any consolation, I will be putting up the review later today.  Thank you for your patience.

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