Fluxx Roxx!

4 07 2009

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a game review- they’re harder to get around to since I have to find time to get extra people together to play with. Nevertheless, I finally got around to playing Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx, which I’ve had sitting around for way too many months now, convinced it didn’t look interesting. If you’ve been avoiding it for the same reason, I urge you to ignore your suspicions and play Fluxx as soon as possible! It’s quite a fun game, engaging for both non-gamers and hard-core gamers alike.

The basic principle of Fluxx, (as hinted by it’s name,) is that the rules are always changing, or in a state of flux. There are 4 basic types of cards: New Rules, Actions, Keepers, and Goals. The game starts with each player having a hand of 3, and only one basic rule: Draw 1 and Play 1, with new cards on the table replacing anything they contradict. So on my turn, I would draw one card and play one card, which could be a New Rule, Action, Keeper, or Goal. A New Rule might be “Play 2”. So now that the rules are Draw 1, Play 2, I would have to play 1 more card, so that I would have played 2 cards on my turn, satisfying the current rules of the game. An action card might instruct you to do something like taking a card from another player or taking another turn, things of that nature. Keepers are basically just object cards, like a Sandwich, Money, the Sun, Moon, etc, which you simply play in front of you. Having a specified pair of Keepers is the most common way of winning the game, as dictated on Goal cards, which may say something like you win if you have the Sun and Moon in front of you. But as the Goal of the game can literally change on every turn, or even several times within a turn, it can be quite hectic trying to win. With just these basic mechanics, the game could feasibly finish on the very first player’s turn, or last hours, though an average game might be between 20-40 minutes.

As you might imagine, the game can get quite out of control just trying to follow every rule on the table, and it’s quite fun and unpredictable. On the surface, it might seem to be a rather random and fruitless exercise, requiring no amount of real skill. That’s what I first thought as well, which is why it took me so long to finally get around to playing it. But in practice, the game is nevertheless quite engaging and fun for any number and type of gamers. And the best part, which you may have already figured out, is that this is a GREAT gateway game! The basic mechanic of playing a hand of cards which change the basic rules, playing permanent cards in front of you, special cards that have instant effects… sound familiar yet? Magic: the Gathering, anyone?? Maybe it’s just the geek in me, but I think this is a great aspect of Fluxx.

And since we’re talking geek here, I bet you’re really wondering about Zombie Fluxx by now. Well Zombie Fluxx doesn’t disappoint. The basic Fluxx mechanics remain the same, a couple small new rules and card types are added, and all wrapped up in a great, fun, lighthearted Zombie theme, satisfying to you zombie nerds while not being offensive to everyone else. The basic premise of Zombie Fluxx starts with adding a new permanent card type, called Creepers, which generally prevent you from winning, (unlike their counterpart Keepers, which generally help you win.) Most Creepers are Zombies, (though there is a hilarious non-Zombie Creeper card, which I won’t give away here,) and must be played in front of you whenever they’re drawn. (This does not count towards the number of cards you must play on a turn.) Most Goals require you to have no Zombies in front of you to win. Many Action cards help you dispose of Zombies, but the most direct method is by killing them with the new, more weapon-like Keeper cards, like the Shovel, Chainsaw, and Shotgun. Overall, it’s a fantastic expansion. Yes, it can be added to base Fluxx, or played by itself. In fact, in a remarkably generous move by the game publishers, you may even remove the Zombie-themed cards in order to play a regular game of Fluxx without needing to buy the base set.

Both games are published by a small game house called Looney Labs, whose motto is “Smart Games for Smart People.” They’re clearly a nice bunch of people, and they make you happy to support them by playing their games. There are other Fluxx expansions, including a Monty Python set, which look well worth checking out. And the Looney crew have a really complete wiki set up for all their games. Check ’em out!

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Who likes awesome comics? I do! I do!

19 04 2009

After seeing Watchmen this week I was pretty depressed regarding comics place in this world, but then I made a trip to my regular comic shop, (Midtown Comics on 40th & 7th in midtown Manhattan,) and I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl! Comics are a pretty diverse medium and as often as something new or original or interesting comes along, twice as frequently you see nothing but the same old stuff on the stands. But this week, as I’m picking up the next Old Man Logan story, an only mildly interesting Wolverine story set in a bleak future, and the increasingly bad Invincible, I notice a JAMIE DELANO(!) PIRATE(!!!) comic! And a Frank Frazetta WESTERN!!! Holy Crap! And there’s the obligatory Savage Dragon #145 with President Obama on the cover, which turns out to actually be good! And Terry Moore’s Echo just keeps getting better and better! Even Robert Kirkman makes me happy this month with another heart-stopping cliffhanger in The Walking Dead! Man, reading comics this week really rocked. Let me tell you why.

Earlier this year I began reading the collected John Constantine: Hellblazer comics from the late 80’s/early 90s by Jamie Delano. Being a fan of old-school and classic horror literature, (Lovecraft, Poe, Barker, Blackwood,) and it’s rather unique ability to use not-so-subtle metaphor to address our contemporary fears, I was quickly blown away by Delano’s ability in this genre within comics. I’ve also enjoyed Moore’s Swamp Thing, and some of Ennis’ work, but they seemed too quick to get it out of their system and move on to superheroes. Delano seemed ready to really dig into the meaty, messy gristle of modern horror themes in comics. But he hasn’t been a terribly present writer on the comics scene lately, so it was with great excitement that I discovered on the stands his new pirate comic: Rawbone, published by Avatar Press. It has a thrillingly moody wraparound cover of a pirate ship, sailing by a jungle-clad coast with clearly South American pyramid temples jutting up through the treetops. All too often, fringy work like this gets saddled with young, unskilled artists, but flipping through the pages revealed Max Fiumara to be quite a talent. I’ve not been overly wowed by his versatile work with Warren Ellis and on the dragon comic Four Eyes, but this moody stuff seems to be where he can shine, especially coupled with a good colorist. Anyway, when I got the comic home and read Delano’s story of a Cuban pirate witch and her white lesbian lover, full of male frustration and assault and vile rape, with at least three main story acts in just the first issue, and all told in a disgustingly rich flowery language, I knew I couldn’t wait for more. My only regret is discovering that this is merely a 4 issue limited series. It’s thrilling to read something so unique by such a skilled veteran talent. Delano has long understood the comics form and his horror roots are quite evident as he embarks on this incredibly dark pirate story. While it’s not yet apparent whether the tale will incorporate the supernatural, it hardly needs to in order to investigate man’s darker nature.

Next was Frank Frazetta’s Freedom, a western one-shot. I’m not actually sure what Frazetta had to do with this comic other than provide the inspirational cover image, (which is typically luscious,) but the interior art and story, by John Cboins and Mark Kidwell respectively, more than lives up to Frazetta’s reputation. Cboins has a very unique style, very expressionistic, a recent comic art movement I’m also enjoying in the work of Proof‘s Riley Rossmo.
Cboins colors this issue himself in all sepia tones, a trick that could have seemed gimmicky, given the setting, but thankfully is very well done here. The story involves a gunfighter and his dime-novelist bard, and is reasonably light hearted for a western, though prostitutes and death are certainly not absent. It’s so nice to see two negelected genres given such quality treatment in the same month, and even by two different publishers! It makes me yearn for more, but at the same time, I’d hate to see the market inundated by mediocre pirate and western comics, similar to the zombie craze of the last couple years.

Not so unique, but still very satisfying this month were some more mainstream books, starting with Erik Larsen’s long-running Savage Dragon, #145. This issue featured U.S. President Barack Obama on the cover, fist-bumping the title character, and colored in a style like Shepard Fairey’s famous red, white, and blue Obama Hope posters. It’s an obvious cashing in on the moment device, but Obama’s scene within the comic, while brief, actually is WITHIN the story and seems natural, puts our heroes, the Dragon and Obama, on equal footing, and just generally seems great. Quite unlike the pandering, badly drawn, and pointless and out-of-continuity, but much more hyped Spider-Man appearance, which I discussed here. In fact, this is Obama’s second appearance in Larsen’s book; he appeared last year when Dragon first endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency, a move far too political for corporate Marvel to ever consider making with their flagship character, as depressing as that is. I regret not having read Savage Dragon over the years. In fact, back at the founding of Image I didn’t care for Erik Larsen much at all. But over time I’ve picked up an occasional issue and every time I’m very impressed with what he’s done. In a large way I really feel he’s gone on to carry the torch for a lot of what Jack “the King” Kirby did before him. Larsen’s graphic style definitely shares many of Kirby’s traits, from the bold thick use of blacks, to the overly dramatic and energetic shapes exploding off the page. Not to mention Larsen’s style, once a rather slap-dashed mess not overly distinguishable from many of his contemporaries, has over years and years of honing his craft become inimitably his own, not easily reproducible and possessed of incredibly powerful storytelling traits- rather similar to the King’s, if you ask me. Maybe I’ve got to buckle down one of these days and really start reading Savage Dragon.

Finally, also continuing to be exciting this month are Terry Moore’s Echo #10, and Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead #59. If you’re not reading either of these comics, you should be. Echo is a nice chance to see Moore bringing us more of his very fine comics art and storytelling, but with a more sci-fi/superhero twist. The story is kind of The Fugitive crossed with The Incredible Hulk, but with strong women characters thrown in as only Terry Moore knows how. Every issue is a real cliffhanger even though the plotting seems a touch slow at times. Walking Dead, for those of you living under a rock for the last 5 years, is THE post-zombie apocalypse comic to read. Zombie comics are a dime a dozen these days, but none hold a candle to this incredibly well done and intense ongoing storyline of real humans surviving in a dark sad world where the dead walk. Kirkman’s main intent with the series is to focus on the realistic human melodrama that occurs between the characters, with the zombie-riddled world serving mainly as backdrop. It’s an utterly fascinating book, from issue to issue, and though Kirkman suffers from frequent slow pacing and sometimes a sense that nothing is really happening, it’s not nearly as bad as in Invincible, and I’m always chomping at the bit for the next issue of The Walking Dead- especially this month! Man, I can’t wait to see how the characters survive the “zombie stampede!”

All in all, this past month has been a good one for comics. With the economy in arrears as it is, I’m sure I’m not the only comic book reader taking a close look at his pull list and deciding to drop a few books here and there, as well as having a hard time deciding which, if any, new books to pick up. I hope this blog can give you some assistance in these choices.

Until next time,

Peace!

What I’m loving this week:
Echo #10, by Terry Moore
Frank Frazetta’s Freedom one shot
Rawbone #1 (of 4), by Jamie Delano
Savage Dragon #145
The Walking Dead #59
What I’m reading this week:
Invincible Iron Man #10&11
Wolverine #71 “Old Man Logan”
What I’m thinking of dropping next week:
Invincible #60
What I’m dropping this week:
Nothing… yet…

Echo is published by Abstract Studios.
Frank Frazetta’s Freedom, Savage Dragon, and The Walking Dead are published by Image Comics.
Rawbone is published by Avatar Press.