I’m Cuckoo for Co-ops!

8 03 2012

Hey there, you groovy gamers!

Well, last night’s Game Night was another hit, with Fix, Fitz, Stu, Dav, and myself indulging in two games each of the cooperative games Pandemic: On the Brink and Space Alert: Keep the Roommate Awake. The gang all trickled in around six o’clock and we started out with some frosty beverages, idle chatter, and exchanging of library material. Making the rounds this month are: Scott Chantler’s beautiful WWII graphic novel, Two Generals; last year’s best new comic series relaunch, Daredevil #1-9, by Waid, Martin, & Rivera; Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft, & Attila Futaki’s terrifying comic miniseries, Severed #1-7; and two Terry Pratchett Discworld novels: Guards! Guards!, the introduction to his beloved City Watch characters, and his most recent and perhaps last Sam Vimes story, Snuff. After that bit of housekeeping, we got down to business.

The Pale Blue Dot.

First we had another go at Pandemic, with the On the Brink expansion set. After getting trounced twice last time we tried hard to do better this go. The first match we got stomped by 8 disease outbreaks before we even discovered 2 cures. The second round we let Fix play the BioTerrorist, (since Laura wasn’t there,) and that was really fun. We were doing pretty well, and it got right down to the wire. We were accountably just 3 turns from losing by running out of Event Cards when Dav, Fitz, & Stu hit upon an incredibly complex series of moves and card combos which looked like it could win it for us. I could explain it to you but I was apparently distracted by a dog outside the window. He was really cute. The other guys will tell you that this took me out of the game, but we did win after all, for which I’m sure I deserve a fair share of the credit; we were a team after all! It was nice to finally, after all these years, beat Pandemic.

Wait, the game gets HARDER?!?

Can I get visual confirmation on that dog, Lieutenant?

Next we sat down to Space Alert, the game whose object is apparently to explore hostile deep space by yelling at everyone enough to forget what it was you were supposed to be doing in the first place. It was around this time that our roommate, Liz, came home, preparing to study and then go to bed. She graciously assured us she could deal with our raucous ruckus, and even complimented us on our running playback of the Star Trek: The Next Generation’s ambient engine noise. I wonder if she still feels the same way. Last time we played I acted simply as the instructor, but this time around I got to play along with everyone else. I’m still thrilled at how fun this short game is to simply watch, but playing is even more enjoyable. If you’ve ever wanted a realistic game crewing an intergalactic starship- well, you just might be fooled into thinking this game is for you. But if you can occasionally enjoy Galaxy Quest over Star Trek, Starship Troopers over Ender’s Game, or Munchkin over Dungeons & Dragons, then this game is right up your alley. We first played a Simulation round, which we did reasonably well on and didn’t even die. Too bad you’re not supposed to keep score on Simulation Runs. I even managed to get us a couple extra points for visual confirmation! (Otherwise known as looking out the window, which is apparently a running theme tonight. But you do get points for it! Serious!) With our confidence buoyed by the successful Simulation Run, we attempted a real mission. Suffice it to say that it didn’t go as well. For one thing, our ship was overrun by internal threats alone. For another, BOTH our security robot teams LEFT the rooms the evil seeker droid was in in order to defend an empty room. As for myself, I stick with what I know, and so I looked out the window again. There was a dog there! Sirius!… … huh? huh? See what I did there? (Did I say “running theme?” Perhaps I meant running gag.) Anyway, the seeker droid evaded capture, blowing a gaping hole in the side of the ship so big I figured the kamikaze fighter would sail on through it. We had no such luck. Soooo, after that ignominious defeat, we decided to call it a night.

It was a great time had by all, as always, and I can’t wait to do it again. I did just pick up some additional zombie and skeleton miniatures, so maybe another round of Super Epic Zombies Plus is in the cards?


Red Shirts




28 06 2009

Just some quick soundbites this time as I try to ramp up towards a regular posting schedule.

What I’m loving this week:
-Narcopolis #2, by Jamie Delano, published by Avatar Press
Jamie Delano has been a thrilling rediscovery for me in recent months.

Narcopolis, by Jamie Delano

Narcopolis, by Jamie Delano

Narcopolis tells the story of a thought-police cadet, complete with compellingly real Newspeak dialogue. Not a mere aping of or sequel to Orwell, but certainly intentionally building on ideas from 1984, Delano’s comic brings a high, literary sensibility to the comic stands.

-Incognito #4, by Brubaker & Phillips, published by Marvel Comics
This fantastic comic just keeps getting better, with real twists and turns that I truly do NOT expect, and a story told from a truly unique perspective. Brubaker is fast cementing his place in my top five favorite comics writers.

-Olympus #2, by Nathan Edmonson & Christian Ward, published by Image Comics
A well written comic with a story similar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and more of what seems to be the hot new trend in comic art: expressionism! Cool!

-Proof #20, by Grecian, Rossmo, & Casey, published by Image Comics
Speaking of expressionistic comic art, no one’s doing it better right now than Riley Rossmo on Proof. Truly mind-blowing stuff. The great story telling by Alex Grecian makes for a complete package.

See what I mean?

-The Unwritten #2, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint
Wow! ANOTHER literary comic! I’m not sure what I mean when I call a comic literary, (Alan Moore’s been doing it for years,) but I know one when I see it. Or read it, as it were. And this book is it! … leading me to believe we’re seeing a trend in comic writing these days as well, and that’s GREAT news! This book deals with the young man who’s the inspiration for a Harry Potter-esque series of books, but just may be a real life boy-wizard himself, all the while dwelling in the post-narrative world explored by Grant Morrison and Terry Pratchett among others.

What I’m reading this week:
-Ultimatum: Spider-Man Requiem #1, published by Marvel Comics
Meh. Mediocre book. As with many critics and fans, I’m pretty peeved at the pitiful ending of the Ultimate Universe comics. Ultimatum never made sense to me, and the main title book was a piece of crap. Ultimate Spider-Man always remains on my list, however, and managed to showcase possibly the best single issue of its entire run in this stupid crossover story. This requiem issue is supposed to help wrap things up, but really all it does is act as a placeholder while we wait to discover that Spider-Man’s not really dead after all! Eureka! And with really shoddily phoned-in art by Mark Bagley, who I had really been looking forward to seeing again since I never really warmed entirely to Immonen, the Requiem book was pretty lame, though requisite reading.

-The Walking Dead #62, published by Image Comics
As always, compelling, but plodding.

What I’m thinking of dropping:
-Savage Dragon #149, published by Image Comics
Hm. I check this book out every few years, and it always seems immediately interesting again, but then shortly loses that interest. I’ll take a look again in another few years. Here’s to Mr. Larsen for keeping at it though.

What I’m dropping:
-Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #5, published by DC Comics
Mike Kunkel left the book, other than the cover, (or at least he isn’t doing all the issues now,) and his replacement team of Art Balthazar and Franco don’t even come close to capturing the magic he made so exciting and fun.

-The Muppet Show Comic Book #3
-Muppet Robin Hood #1, both published by Disney’s BOOM! KIDS
I reaaaaaaally wanted to like these Muppet comics. I’m a HUGE Muppet fan. But they just aren’t very good. Disney seemed to think it had a Muppet artist, so why bother looking for someone else when they wanted to launch a new book. But while Roger Langridge’s heart is in the right place, I just don’t think he’s a terribly skilled cartoonist, nor does he quite get the Muppets. Likewise with Beedle and Villavert on the Muppet Robin Hood book.  Making this all the more tragic are the ads in the backs of the books for apparently alternate covers by other artists who TOTALLY ROCK! I would LOVE to see some of these artists doing these Muppet books, but that does not seem to be the plan. Sigh…

Just imagine what it could be like…

The Muppet Show Comic #1  alternate cover by Dave Alvarez

The Muppet Show Comic #1 with the AWESOME alternate cover by Dave Alvarez

Thump? Thunk? Thwap? Thud!

2 02 2009

If you’re unfamiliar with Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld novels, you may not find this post as immediately compelling, but the game Thud, based on a Discworld book, is interesting and requires no knowledge of the books to enjoy. Also, if you’re not familiar with these books, you should seek to rectify that- they’re easily some of the best fiction to have been written in the last decade. They’re known in this country as humorous fantasy but that’s really selling them short. Yes, the characters include witches and trolls and werewolves, but the novels are far more accurately categorized as contemporary satire, pointing out our foibles ranging from the everyday and commonplace to issues as big as the Iraq war.  Some of the recent editions are even downright somber in tone, though not without the occasional incredibly clever pun. Suffice it to say Pratchett is a master storyteller and everyone owes it to themselves to indulge in his world.

OK, enough with the prologue. Thud, created by Terry Pratchett and Trevor Truran, is an apparently chess-like board game based on the game of the same name which has appeared in multiple Discworld novels, particularly Thud! itself, wherein as you might guess, the game is rather a major plot point. The American edition of the game I acquired is quite nice with well-made and attractive components. There are no silly Discworld logos plastered all over the game. The game is instead presented as it is in the book: as an authentic game crafted within the Discworld itself. The board looks like an old fashioned style chess board, albeit with 8 sides, with worn printing and fleur-de-lis a-plenty. The pieces are made of cast porcelain and painted to both look and feel reasonably as though they were carved from rock. The overall presentation is quite nice and gives the game a respectable character, enhancing the play experience.

The game is packaged with one basic set of rules as well as a minor variation for quicker play. After my initial reading of the rules and first gaming session I’m given to feeling that these rules are a bit flawed, for a few reasons, but most significantly being that the game only ends in a draw, upon which both players must agree. However, there is an active online community of Thud! players and many strategy guides and alternate rules have been developed, leading me to feel that the game will hold up for the persistent player.

A full game of Thud! consists of two rounds, with the players switching roles, playing once each as the trolls and dwarves. The eight-sided game board starts out with the 32 dwarves limning the perimeter and the 8 trolls huddled at the center, surrounding the fixed “Thud-stone” piece, which is merely an obstacle in the standard game rules. The pieces each have two kinds of moves: movement and capture. Dwarves can move like a queen in chess, as far in any direction as they like. However they can only capture a troll by building up a line of dwarves which must be greater than the number of empty squares between the dwarf-line and troll in question. The dwarves then capture said troll by launching their lead dwarf at the troll, knocking it out and then occupying its vacated square. Dwarves can only launch when it results in a capture. Trolls can move like a king in chess, only one square in any direction. However, when they move next to any number of dwarves, they capture all dwarves occupying the 8 squares surrounding that troll. Trolls also have a launching move, called shoving, which they can perform only when it results in a capture. Trolls launch by building a line such that the line is equal to or greater than the number of squares the lead troll is going to traverse in the shove, ultimately landing on a square next to one or more dwarves and capturing them all. So the trolls initially seem far more powerful than the dwarves, despite their lumbering slowness. And indeed they are. It’s up to the dwarf player to group his dwarves into a square or rectangle as quickly as possible, from which position they can begin picking off trolls one by one. The match ends when both players agree to a draw, (or after a predetermined number of moves,) and is scored by the number of pieces left on the board, with the dwarves worth one point each for the dwarf player and the trolls worth 4 points each for the troll player. The players total their scores from both matches, with the player with the most points winning the game.

My friend David and I played our first game together the other day. I started as the dwarves and he as the trolls. Being our first game, we definitely learned alot from each other about how to use the other’s pieces when it came time to switch roles for the second match. Having the trolls for the second round, and strongly suspecting that the dwarves have a steeper learning curve, I managed to score more points in the second match, and ultimately winning the game. David and I both felt the game was an enjoyable two hours spent, but we did find something lacking from the initial experience. I’m sure that with experience the game will become much more fairly balanced and that some of the alternate rule-sets will also be quite entertaining. However, I play quite a lot of games, (and drag David along with me,) and having to devote many hours and several gaming sessions to Thud! just to get it to a well-balanced and fully enjoyable state does not bode well for it’s future presence on the game table in my living room. We’ll undoubtably give it many more tries, as it was an enjoyable game, but it’s my personal preference that a game feel fully rich and realized within the first one or two plays.

Thud is published by The Cunning Artificer.