2019 – Favorite Stuff


2019 marks the end of the amazing career of Alan Moore with his final comic in the Tempest series of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s easy to make fun of the comic industry and the thousands of comics that are well produced but absolute dreck each year and in addition to that, what I think Moore was saying with Tempest is that the characters that people create are more real than reality itself and will continue on long after the society that created them has been destroyed. While everyone knows Watchmen, do check out his run in SWAMP THING, which was my first exposure to his work as a kid. Him quitting makes me feel pretty old.

Anyway, League was a very interesting series. I wish he had one more block of comics that were more the straight story (like the first two volumes) rather than getting super crazy (Tempest, Century and Black Dossier) or speeding through stories (Rose of Berlin, etc.). What I love most throughout League are the thousands of literary and comic references in each series. It’s almost too much to try to follow on your own, which is why the comics are fully annotated here. With Moore done, is there a reason to head to the comic store at this point? Not too much at the moment.


Lighthouse, Godzilla. Pretty much runs the gamut of my tastes right there. Godzilla was campy and awesome and Lighthouse was freak out like A Field in England, Mandy, and Valhalla Rising.

Star Wars 9 was interesting to see how they worked around all the problems handed to them from Episode 8 which, like Song of The South and for the same reasons, Disney should put in the vault. Yet it was not a great film and definitely had the ‘just fucking end it’ feeling. I enjoyed some parts, but it’s not worth watching again. Kylo Ren, the most interesting character played by the best actor in the series, had the weakest arc and stupidest outcome. It’s ok for Jedi, like the samurai and warrior monks that influenced them, to sacrifice themselves in battle! Fucksakes. As mixed as the series was, Adam Driver carried the team all on his own. Anyway, I’m getting pumped for sitting down with the Mandalorian though.

My favorite non-2019 movie this year was the LAST VALLEY. Never heard of it? of course you haven’t, but it’s got Omar Sharif and Michael Caine and set during the 30 years war. Among many excellent scenes, in one they play dice for a woman! 1971 had some awesome films.

I probably should have seen a lot more films this year, but just about everything seemed so boring, it’s more fun watching reviews than the actual films!

Board Games.

Root is my number 1 game for 2019. Played the shit out of it, forced everyone to play (many didn’t need it), ran a tournament at Gamehole con and I’m eagerly awaiting the expansion (though I did the print and play with the moles) which will spark up another frenzy of playing. This has killed so many games in my collection. I know this may sound strange, but it scratches the 40K and WFB itch as well.

Otherwise, my current favorites are the PAX series from Sierra Madre Games. I cannot tell you how much I love Pax Porfiriana– so much so that I haven’t even got around to Pax Pamir. Pax Transhumanity is good, but not compared to the other Pax games that I have (Ren, Pamir, Porf). Right now unfortunately for my gaming group (or fortunately if you also love these games), Pax is what I’m bringing every time.

Boardgames are in a really odd state at this point. There are amazing designs coming out, but there are so many design-by-the-numbers worker placement/engine/point salads games that are really all the same and, in general, super tedious. I don’t want to pick on Stonemier games, but they seem to be the Nickelback of boardgame publishers– just putting out the same thing: “multiplayer” solitaire, puzzle, tableau point salad games with a slapped on theme. I guess this is what people want these days. ZZzzzz…

While I’ve stopped doing boardgame kickstarters for the most part, we’ve had had some good times with Zombicide Invader but not enough to warrant the space it all takes up, so I’m on the fence with that one. My kids seem to prefer Massive Darkness anyway despite the fact that it’s much more complex. I like Invader with the kids because it’s NOT complex and I don’t have to explain tiny details all the time, or we get our ass kicked because they forget everything they have leveled up on their sheets.

I did NOT get in a bunch of games of Hate in 2019, which came out early in the year. I don’t know what to say about that one except that it is an absolute work of art from the rulebooks to the boards and especially the miniatures, which are the best that CMON has come out with by far. Seems like it may be a fun day to do a short campaign with 4-5 people, but hasn’t happened yet.

Video Games.

My game of 2019 goes to Samurai Shodown. I just got it, it came out this Summer and I should have picked it up on day one. My mistake.

The game I spent the most time on this year, which is incredible, was Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Simply an amazing open world game trying to be as historically accurate as possible. I really never expected anything like this to ever be a large, huge budget video game. Play it as soon as you can.

Lastly which is an honorable mention is RAGE 2. While the whole thing didn’t really come together, the shooting parts, as I noted in my review, are SUPERB and it’s a damn fun game with an uninspired story with the most unfortunate part being that the vehicle combat was uninteresting. I had a lot of fun with the game and will probably reinstall when there’s more DLC action.


Well there wasn’t an Aphex Twin record this year, and that’s OK because last year’s Collapse was all we needed for awhile, plus the live shows he has been doing the whole year have been incredible.

In 2019, I’ve been listening to a lot of Hadyn and some other random stuff, but I don’t think I listened to any new albums this year enough to comment. Nothing from Wisp (Dwallicht), Lord Huron, Squarpusher (he did a modern organ music thing that was pretty interesting but not on his own).

That said, I’m going to say my album of the year is Hadyn’s 64th.

This is from ’78, but also very interesting.


Last and probably least are Role Playing Games. This year I pretty much put everything RPG on hold due to other real life stuff. Next year will be better as I’m a community leader in a certain youth paramilitary organization that’s taking up quite a bit of free time but won’t be next Fall. I did get to run DCC and Feng Shui 2 this year and played in a good Call of Cthulhu one shot, but that’s about it. Most of my RPG stuff is gathering dust so I’m probably going to shed a ton of it in 2020. My three favorite RPG’s as of now are Mythras, 13th Age and of course, Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition looks like it will have some awesome adventures coming out, including a redux of the Enemy Within, but after talking to some friends that played it extensively in the last year, the system has a lot of fundamental problems, which is really unfortunate in this day and age and especially after the mess that was 3rd edition by Fantasy Flight.

Obligatory Star Wars post

Because it’s 2018 and I did go see the Last Jedi the first night it came out, just like I have all the movies since Empire Strikes Back, I’m going to write a few paragraphs about it for posterity.  This is mostly I can look back at this post when we are hit with even WORSE cascades of space-piss than this one (the Han Solo movie for example).  There’s a ton on the internet about the film and more and more daily.  Mostly, it’s that this “Star Wars” film has a ruthless misanthropist message, but not in a Sword of Doom type of way, but in an angry, resentful sort of way– the sort of film that would come out after Trump beat a clearly more qualified female candidate for president of the united states.

The space battles looked great, but lacked much of the emotional intensity that Return of the Jedi or a New Hope had.  I get that the ‘bombers’ in the first scene couldn’t ‘drop’ their bombs and that was all stupid.  It was forgivable except that it was a harbinger for things to be stupid later. That said, the film was not as “war-y” as Rogue One, and that was sad.  Rogue One the conflict felt a lot more intense and real, where in the Last Jedi, it felt like a Star Wars animated series episode at times.

The final surprise attack by hyperdriving into the big ship pretty much made it so the Death Star could not have existed for long since the rebels could have constantly sent (unmanned) ships warping inside it.  Of course, the Imperials could have done the same thing to any of the planets that opposed them as well.  There needed to be some technical reason for that to be able to happen– like the means by which the ship was TRACKED in hyperspace (which they made a big deal about but never closed the loop on?!) allowed that ship and that ship alone to teleport inside the other ship. Nothing like this was presented of course and to me that’s a plot hole.

While it may have been inevitable, they handled the legacy characters poorly.  Luke was not portrayed in a way that made sense at all based on the original films.  Leia was force sensitive right? But all she did was save herself?  So Yoda’s statement of “there is another” meant nothing (and yet they will be making an entire movie about the kessel run in contrast).  I don’t care about the new characters EXCEPT in relation to the old.

To echo red letter media: what happened between Return of the Jedi and Force Awakens was that our beloved characters were made out to be miserable the entire time between films, and not just because of the Star Wars Xmas special (which I sat through over the Xmas break unbelievably).

Of the new characters that are worth talking about, Adam Driver was quite good, and frankly his character is the only one I care about at all in these new films on his own.  His scene where he asks the Mary Sue to give up on all the cyclical destruction was the only poignant scene.  Finn was underutilized and pretty much comic relief, though what he ended up doing in the film was not funny at all.

So I’ve used the term a few times already, but certainly, Rei will go down in history as the poster child Mary Sue forever.  In fact, the term Mary Sue may become Rei (like, “rewrite that chapter man, that character is a REI”) or even “Daisy”.  I REALLY thought she would die in this film or get messed up on the level of Luke in the Empire Strikes Back.  The scene where she goes into that hole in the island and just saw herself infinitely in every direction was when the film hit rock bottom for me.  That was the spot for a Lynchian or Tarkovsky-esque coming of age TRIPOUT scene.  Instead, it was fucking meaningless pysse.

My own thoughts on the film is that it essentially projects a message of nihilism: people are ground to dust in a cyclical, unending conflict based on the misery of dualism which reflects in all ways that this is the beginning of unending films based on the same conflict grinding to dust infinite dollars spent by fans, and this fact was obviously felt excruciatingly by the writer.

Based on this film, there is no hope or happiness for people that are force sensitive AND trained in the ways of the force in Disney’s version of Star Wars.  Just the crushing knowledge that with the power comes unending misery, conflict and death. For a film about a pure warrior caste like 13 Assassins, great.  For an order of enlightened space monks?   uhhh?  The capitalistic focus and the misanthropic messages, with no overall controlling story arc for what’s going to happen, would drive any writer to a nihilistic state, and that certainly came out in the film.


Finally got to see Dunkirk last night and it was most excellent (in 70mm no less).  No over dramatizing, nearly zero dialog and a sheer focus on the visuals was how I would describe it.  Also, a patriotic film for the stiff upper lip British.  I don’t have to much to say about it except it was superb and you should go see it.

A key thing for me in the war films is the attempt at historical accuracy in the uniforms, equipment and dialog/actions of the characters.   For example, Americans hit the dirt when they come under fire, whereas Germans and Russians typically did not, they would stand their ground (within reason, they weren’t stupid) and return fire.  Undoubtedly, the Germans likely thought that the Americans were breaking immediately after coming under fire, but were very surprised to find that they were simply hunkered down to assess the situation before getting stuck in.   When you watch war movies and this doesn’t happen, it’s quite off-putting to say the least. I did not have any points in Dunkirk where I was thrown out of the film due to some gross historical inaccuracy.

While not an aviation buff, my favorite parts of Dunkirk were the plane sequences.  Maybe it’s because it’s the only fighting in the film, but I more that they were shot beautifully and as far as I can tell, extremely realistically.

Lastly, let’s talk about what happened.   The Germans came through the Ardennes forest, past the Maginot line and were spewing all across France faster than anyone could have possibly imagined (remember these guys were still thinking WW1 static defense tactics and likely had no idea what Guderian had up his sleeve even after the invasion of Poland).   So they trapped the British and French at Dunkirk, but didn’t send the army in for the final blow to capture the remaining brits/French.  Why did that happen?  Popular opinion was that Hitler was feeling friendly with the British and wanted to come to terms, and this is entirely possible if Hitler had been fighting a war for limited objectives; this would make sense.  That is, the Germans invaded France for the same reasons they did in the Franco-Prussian war– to re-unite what they thought was greater Germany and throw off the yoke of debt for WW1.  Letting the expeditionary force go across the channel in that context would have been fine, as Hitler would have made a separate peace with France, acquired territories that were stripped of Germany after WW1 and everyone could have gone home (and waited for the Russian invasion of Europe most likely).  Yet, Hitler was not fighting a war of limited objectives– he was out to put Germany into a war for all the marbles, of total conquest of Europe.  I do not believe and facts seem to assert as well that he did not hold the leash of the blitzkrieg to make nice with the limeys.  I think two things happened: either the Germans on the ground got nervous (I know this is unimaginable based on what you’ve seen in most war films since WW2, but if you read the direct sources, especially Guderian, this happened a lot) or they ran out of gas for a full assault.  Gas is like a tether for the blitz and if you overstretch it, you end up in fist fights with the enemy while your tanks sit in the mud (see the sequence in Patton) and that may be just what the situation on the ground was: tanks in the mud.

What this leads is to is the question as to the ability of Germany to actually attempt a cross-channel invasion if the British army had survived, or if it had been captured.  Based on Guderian, the frustration of the logistics of that attack may have been the final straw for Hitler to foolishly attack the Soviets (remember, as I said above, it was total war and not for limited objectives), at which point any conflict with England and her allies was simply a side-show to the greater conflict between Germany and Russia.   So it follows that the Dunkirk disaster, a disaster from the the German perspective that is, could have precipitated Hitler’s choice to attack Russia, making Germany’s ultimate defeat assured.  And yes, I believe if the Germans had treated the Ukraine situation very differently than they did (the Ukranians could have been a buffer state between Russia and Europe as the Germans could have come in as liberators), they may have been able to hold off the Soviets enough to start planning another invasion across the channel, but by then the Americans were not just lend-leasing, but actively part of the conflict.


Gencon 2015 summation

Well it was busy and fairly drunk with a lot of Lamentations of the Flame Princess played.  I’m tired as shit this evening on account of steve’s snoring Sunday morning. My god it was like a constant fart noise for 2 hours from his fucking MOUTH.  We should bring a portable CPAP machine to stick on people that fucking snore during gencon– there is SO LITTLE TIME TO SLEEP in the first place.  Since it was all burgers and sugar and beer and lack of sleep I’m going to need that XXXXXXL they are always sold out of.

I liked this year’s con.  I had all the homies there, though so many that I didn’t get to game with all of them unfortunately, but it was great to see Dan at the Cool Mini or Not line 10 minutes into the con.  Overall, it was very crowded, and for sure I want to hit Gameholecon and some of the other mid-west ones as a contrast this year.  I’ve always had a lot of fun at Plattecon and that’s TINY.  The overcrowding filled my fucking 3DS with PALICOS, which can only help the Monster Hunting right?

Lots of ‘news’ this year of you give a flying fuck about this sort of stuff.

First, the Zak S win of ennies for best writing, art, and another one for Red and Pleasant Land. D&D5 won about everything else, because D&D5 is very well designed and the books have top drawer production values.  Apparently, in absentia, the Red and Pleasant Land guy was heckled by people when the win was announced and apparently it was one of the writers on the Marvel Heroic RP game(!?).   Also, read this.   People in gaming, no doubt about it, have the tendency to have a lot of social problems.  GENCON with it’s sights and smells is case in point. When I can watch two fat dudes with pants 10″ too tight with their bone-white bellies hanging OUT below their tshirts by 2-3 inches and not bat and eye (and not have them constantly pointed at and laughed at by others, which would sadly or rightly would be the norm) or have someone who stinks like a cesspool walking around and not be phased (nor have other people make fun of that person openly by throwing soap at them, as would sadly be the norm), gamers are both an accepting and really, really socially struggling group of people.  I won’t say our group isn’t terrible (which you will see from the coming pictures) and since the late 80’s we’ve built up a set of pictures that would send Richard Simmons into a fit.  There was a day where we were playing Legends of the Five Rings or something CCG in about 1995/6 and there was a man that was as wide as three people with dirty sweat pants leaning over a massive FORTRESS EUROPA table.  He farted there with his belly pressed over the table for hours until we couldn’t smell his ass-breath anymore.  We took grainy pictures on a small camera and from that day on, a hobby was born.

Second, Games Workshop was actually at the con this year, and this is the first time I remember them being there for maybe a decade? What I saw on shelves were MASS amounts of boxes of Age of Sigmar all over the con both at the GW booth and retailers.  The amounts of these boxes did not change and I never saw anyone with a box.  I did see people buying shitloads of 40K stuff as normal.  The diorama with minatures was nice looking, but I just can’t get past the shitty rules to even consider it.  AoS might not tank, but certainly it’s core demographic was not at Gencon this year.

Third, Runequest was rolled back into Chaosium announced at the Con, pretty near when we were playing our game with Lawrence Whitaker of Design Mechanism.  I noticed all the RQ guys I saw wearing Chaosium tshirts and was like: huh? However, based on the press release I think this is a good thing for the game, though if you have the big ass beautiful RQ6 book, HANG ON TO IT.  We may not see it’s like again.

Fourth, where was WOTC? There was no TSResque castle that I saw, no D&D booth in the main hall, no MTG lines all over the place.  D&D 5E has taken the reigns and just needs to ride.

Last, was the Ken Whitman drama over the Knights of the Dinner Table live action stuff.  I saw what I think was one of the actors standing around outside a booth wearing a strange red wig for awhile.  I think a core issue there is that, despite the costume, he looked like 15% of the crowd.  Basically this guy was supposed to make some live action Knights of the Dinner table shorts, got kickstarter money and was supposed to have a filming of the shows at Gencon.  Seems normal, but apparently people doubted the films would be done at all, and everything was sketchy as hell.  I’m not seeing any info on what happened, but something to keep tabs on likely here.

While I just went there to game– there was too much internet kerfuffle to not pay just a small bit of attention to this crazy ass stuff.

Here is my fucking loot picture.

Heroes of Normandie, Monster Island, Junta, 2 boxes of EMPIRE OF EVIL, Strangling sea, a custom DM screen and a bunch of EPIC40K Orks!

And… other pictures.

find the gunt.

look1 look2

A “new” 3DS XL and Monster Hunter diatribe

This is going to be my LOOOOONG post for the week.  For my bus ride to work, I got a “NEW” 3DS XL only to play Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Edition.  Now, this is an expensive bit of hardware at 200 bones plus 40 for the game, and I wanted to speak along such lines in case people were interested to see if it was worth it. TL/DR: it is.

This is actually a screen cap from my 3DS!

Many of us do light gaming on our iphones or androids when we are waiting around for other shit to happen.  These mobile games are good, but casual, and frankly, most are a bit on the shite side.  The few that rise to the top like Dream Quest, Ascension and King of Dragon Pass can only be played for so long before burnout sets in.  Even if you check pockettactics.com a lot, you find that despite the THOUSANDS of games on the iphone, so few are any good or worth playing for more than a couple hours.

What’s amazing is that people try to adapt games that need a controller of some kind to the iphone form factor and expect users to use an on-screen pad or joystick plus buttons.  Shamefully, I have bought some of these games: King of Fighters, Monster Hunter 3 and others.  They are not bad games, but they are terrible to control and pretty much useless on the form factor.  You’ll read favorable reviews of these games and the on-screen joypads, but let me tell you when you use the 3DS XL for similar games, the iphone fucking sucks in comparison.

Being Nintendo, the engineering of the 3DS is top-fucking-drawer.  Everything is responsive, button presses are crisp and they added this little NUB in the upper right of the lower piece that can be used to control a camera view in third person 3D games– which is absolutely perfect for games like Monster Hunter (or Dark Souls, or Skyrim, etc.).  I didn’t use this at first and was sort of frustrated, then found it by accident and it was like a completely new experience that blew my ass off the whole bus.

Loading times, the bane of any system, are nearly non-existent on the new 3DS XL, which is not what I expected.  The main issue with Monster Hunter is that you are in relatively small areas, sort of like the original Fable.  The monsters run off and sometimes you fall into another area and you get a loading screen.  If it’s slow, this is extremely frustrating.  On the 3DXL, sometimes I find myself wishing they were slightly longer!  While the game I’ve played on it was fully 3D, it’s not like it is pushing tons of polys, but what it does it does FAST.

Let’s face it, as a geezer I’m not in the demographic to be playing 90% of the 3DS games currently out. I do enjoy a JRPG from time to time, but most of them are real… kiddie.  Yet, most parents aren’t going to buy their kid a 200$ gaming system when those fuckin kids already have an iphone or ipod touch, so I have a feeling that the older generation X people that grew up on NES and SNES ARE the target audience for the new 3DS XL.  For us though, there is only one game out currently, and that’s Monster Hunter 4.  The basic question you have to ask yourself is whether or not Monster Hunter is worth 240$ in cold hard cash as there are, at present, no other games that really pique my interest at all.  Since Nintendo is really it’s own hardware and software shop and don’t let too many people into the party, there’s never going to be a glut of games, but the games they do release, if you are in the target audience, are likely gold stars.  So is MH4U worth it?  Emphatically with about 25 hours into the game, I would say yes.  Given that MH is a way of life in Japan, it doesn’t take long to figure out why it’s such a phenomenon.

MH is a cheeky ARPG game where you play a guy or girl that hunts various large monsters, skins them and make armor and weapons from their bodies (and foods).  Essentially, there is a little exploration, quests, a bunch of item management and then a huge amount of boss battles after boss battles.   These boss battles can take up to an hour to complete so it’s serious business when you start a mission vs a monster (or multiple monsters).  Whats more, it’s local and online multiplayer, so you can hunt monsters together (which I haven’t tried yet).

While this is not going to win any awards in pushing any type of edge for 3D graphics, and is fairly low polly, what the developers and artists DO with those pollys is gorgeous, much like Warcraft 3.  The monsters are beautiful and highly characterized.  The NPC’s you can’t get a really close look at but they look fine and the vistas are absolutely breathtaking in some places.  If you do get the game, remember to look up on ever map!

What hooks you is the armor and weapon sets, which I’ll go into more in the item management area below.  There are hundreds of combinations of armor based on the creatures you destroy and can craft and going from looking like a country bumpkin to a badass motherfucker with mothra wings and chitin legs is a very pleasurable experience.  While stuff like Dark Souls and Skyrim are great RPG’s, they are also fucking dress up your doll games, and MH has that in spades. You like doing that? I do.

I was very much hoping MU was not a God of War/Kratos type game where you just have a wank at how badass you are and can pull any moves your character has at any time and the monsters eventually fall down.  After Dark Souls, those types of games are unplayable to me and luckily, MU is not that shit at all.  MU is a very tactical real time boss fight game that doesn’t eschew the cinematic parts of the fights, but it’s not about that stuff primarily.  You have to really time your attacks, know your (very short) combos and use your items like traps and tranq bombs wisely or you will be chopped meats.  There’s a lot to go into here but the core game is you, in third person view, going up against a monster that is 10X your size in some cases.  You can’t pause, and you can’t use items while your weapons (and sheild if you have one) is out in most cases. You can jump on top of Monsters and hang on (like Dragon’s Dogma), find their weak spots and chop them off (like a tail) and run all over the place climbing up walls, dodging all over. Tactics, movement, placement of attacks all in real time can be quite challenging and fun.

The main adjustment you may have to make as a new player is that it’s not particularly hard, nothing like Dark Souls, but when you go after one of these big beasties, you have to go all in.  You can’t just walk up to it and start whacking away and expect to kill it or even survive.  The game forces you to take a very planned approach to your take down.  Do you need a shock trap? Do you need to paintball it a lot because it runs a lot?  What special damage types or effects does it generate that you need special armor/potions for?  Can you take it alone or do you need help to draw aggro while you climb on it?  Do you have weapons/damage types that can hurt it?    there’s a lot going on with each of the monsters. Some even transform during fights into either a super mode or a weak and running away mode that you have to deal with.  It truly engages the dexterity and the tactical brain in many of the same ways as Dark Souls and it’s FROM ilk.

In addition to the boss monsters, there are mook monsters and gather quests, but they are really easy (so far at least) even the annoying egg gathering quests. Fun filler when you want something not so intense for a bit.  Soon you will be back to take down the big guys though.

Item Management
As a former Diablo 2 Zyel and current Torchlight 2 player, I do enjoy light item management in my games.  I’d say MU leans to the hardcore item management a bit rather than casual.  Armor does a lot, augmenting skills and having slots for some sort of gems that I’m not sure about quite yet.  There are a lot of options for armor and weapons in the game and of course the armor aesthetics are critical.  Killing enough Gore Malgala to have a full set of armor is quite a feat.

Weapons are similar and I would describe your weapons set you choose as your ‘Class.’  So you can switch classes at any time, but then you’re going to need to build a suitable weapon from Monster Parts to match and that can take farming.  From what I’ve seen, many players have their main weapon set that they are best at and a secondary for Multiplayer support or role specific.  There are tons of different weapons in the game, and each type demands a specific style of gameplay.  I run two weapons at once, despite lindybeige, and it’s very unique even beyond just constantly attacking in that you can power up your chi or whatever it is and then go into a sort of super mode and then go into a super mode on top of that if you play it right.  While unique, the weapons are not complex with the exception I think of the Insect weapon where you have a big sword with a bug on it that you can send to attack or gather items from the monsters themselves.


The 3DS XL (new version) is an amazing piece of hardware that I’ve just scratched the surface on in terms of games.  Monster Hunter 4, being THE game for the system above all others is quite simply a reason to buy a 3DS in the first place– likely, you may not need any other game for the system.   The fact that it plays the old DS games like Disgaea and Advanced Wars no problem is another big bonus, because a lot of those games are cheap as shit these days.

The Gaming of 2013

ahhh… the unlucky ’13 year was quite a year for games– or, dare I say, it should have been.  We had some MASSIVE releases last year with the culmination in some cases of decades of work for some development teams.  Yet for all their glory, the massive budget games were not the ones that I played and enjoyed, with a few exceptions.

Let’s run down the releases I got to play. Now I’m an ancient person with familial and work duties so there’s no chance in a given year that I’ll be able to play even close to everything that’s good. I have to make choices– very difficult choices with my budget of TIME.

Here we have the list of stuff I played or was seriously considering in order:
SashawtfAnarchy Reigns: This was the first game I bought in 2013 and it was…not great.  The price tag was good at 25$ or so, but I couldn’t get through the single player and the multiplayer, while interesting, just didn’t hold my attention.  The key issue was the core of the combat system– it just wasn’t all that great.   Compared to the AMAZING Urban Reign for the PS2, which is quite similar, it was a vast disappointment and from the ex-Clover team, that was sad.

Crysis 3: I am a huge Far Cry fan and though it pissed in my mouth with Far Cry 2, I still like the original developers a lot and I picked up the original Crysis and it was great fun. I haven’t bitten on 2 or 3 yet but probably will in the future.  I guess what did it for me was continued play of Battlefield 3.  Crysis 3 just seemed redundant and I didn’t buy it.

Hotline Miami: The first indy game of the year I picked up.  The ad campaign for this one was so incredible it was a must buy.  I never finished it — to be truthful after the school shooting last year I just couldn’t play it anymore– but I got a long way into the game before moving on to other games.  It was awesome.

Hear of the Swarm: Ok, for all it’s polish, Starcraft 2 is not fun for me to play.  The single player is quite boring and the actual storyline EXECUTION is just shit (the ideas are really cool though, just executed poorly and all tongue and cheek with the shitty-accent space rednecks and trying to be serious at the same time plus romance? what a space pissery!), the multiplayer, the meat of the game, feels like a fucking chore to me.  Plus, it’s a terrible annoyance to have to use Blizzard’s version of steam and ALWAYS BE ONLINE.  I figured out finally that as much as I love RTS games and Warcraft 3, I’m just not a Starcraft player so I skipped this one and will likely never play Starcraft 2 in any form again because it’s jsut goddamn tiresome.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger: This was an impulse buy and I didn’t get through it but played it a bit and was impressed. It’s essentially a rail shooter with a CRAZY story integrating with just about every Old West hero in the late era (think Jesse James/Butch Cassidy).  If this is cheap, pick it up, you won’t be disappointed even if you get like 3-4 hours of play only.

The Last of Us: Ok so this was a PS3 exclusive and I had no chance to play it. Apparently this is a great game for the story as it integrates stuff from the hugely influential THE ROAD into a zombie shooter.  I just wanted to note that if this had come out on other consoles, it would have sold a LOT more copies, especially PC.  Plus this has that short lady that’s in all the fucking movies these days that is always talking too much on screen.

Xcom: Enemy Within: This is a follow up to Xcom: Enemy Unknown from 2012 and I just didn’t bother with it despite my love for the first game.  I hope this combat engine sees more life as it’s great. I will pick this up eventually…

Company of Heroes 2: Ok so here is a sequel to one of my favorite RTS games. COH, along with Warcraft 3, redefined what I wanted out of an RTS, and they did it in very different ways.  Unfortunately, the ENTIRE COH team left Relic Games long before COH 2 was started and I read so many bad things about the game that I didn’t pick it up.  The comments from Russians about the game is pretty crazy if you check metacritic– I guess they forgot that Stalin was a murderous dictator that was able to save the country from another murderous dictator?

Rogue Legacy:  While I don’t have a controller to hook up to my PC, I gave this one a shot and it was pretty interesting.  It’s not Battle Block Theater though.. no sir. Hence, I had problems playing it for very long.

Dota 2:  2013 IS the year of DOTA2, hands down.  The game came out of beta and everyone was playing it before, and everyone and their MOTHER is playing it now.  It is the best game of 2013, no question about it.  Obviously it’s a game that doesn’t appeal to everyone and it’s a very very deep rabbit hole to get into (and you have to practice) but I think this was a huge release for the year.  It’s tough to say it was the best when you want to give it to something new– since the game is getting close to 10 years old from it’s first incarnations, but DOTA 2 is by far the most important and best game of 2013.

Saints Row IV: I loved Saint’s Row 3. Loved it and played the shit out of it.  IV is excellent— except I can’t play it anymore.  Whether it’s my configuration (unlikely) or a patch I can’t tell, but the game will no longer run on my computer.   I got 20 hours in and then simply had to stop playing after one of the patches hit. I uninstalled, reinstalled, check the interweb tubes for a solution which ended up being “wait for the next patch” which I don’t even think ever came.  Sad that they didn’t take their PC users seriously this time around.

Diablo 3 (consoles): The monumental failure of a game that is Diablo 3 hit consoles in 2013 and they did a good job. Unfortunately, the game is fundamentally flawed and cannot be ‘fixed’ with the removal of the real money auction house.  This is what happens when you spend 12 years and millions of dollars on what amounts to a PAY TO PLAY iPHONE GAME.

Total War Rome 2: How the mighty have fallen.  This was my fucking BIGGEST disappointment of the year.  I warned my wife and wee children that I would be huddled in the basement for MONTHS on this fucker, but I put in 40 hours of frustration and was done. Rome 1 was my second choice for game of the DECADE from 00 to 10 only second to the almighty Warcraft 3.  What the fuck happened? 1) Too large of a budget  2) Too short of a timeline 3) crappy battle engine.  This series is dead to me.  Shogun 2’s battles sucked despite EVERYTHING else about the game being excellent.  The design choices + the battles being shit tanked this game forever.  Warhammer Fantasy Battle Total War will suck.

Path of Exile:  Another Diablo 3 killer, I did not get a chance to play this and probably won’t.  It’s been on my radar for a long time, but — I just want to keep playing Torchlight 2– like forever.

Battlefield 4:  Why come out so soon?  I still feel like I didn’t have the time to get into BF3 and ALREADY there’s a new BF game out?  And it’s not an offshoot like Bad Company or 2142, it’s the full on thing… why?  I just didn’t want this and saw no reason to buy it.  This does not need to come out every 2 years…

And for all that– it’s still just the year of DOTA 2.



The Aeneid: a not even pseudo-intellectual review

gods are always pretty much naked all the time.

After I finished off the excellent Rubicon (detailing the events and people leading up to the death of the Roman Republic) by Tom Holland, I delved into some pulp stuff for a bit but was itching to complete my reading of Robert Fagles’s Aeneid to tie in the fantasy with the reality.  It was a long haul this one.  I think I started reading it in 2010 got a bit into it and moved on to other things–lots of other things.  Modern translations of the classic trilogy (Iliad, Odyssey and the Roman Aeneid) are amazing compared to the shit we had in the 80’s when I was struggling through some early 1900’s direct translation in High school that had no ear for the words.  The modern translations take a lot of liberties with the text and come out amazingly readable in comparison. I started with Stanley Lombardo’s version of the Iliad years ago and immediately went in for his version of the Odyssey.  Apparently he actually PERFORMS these stories for audiences.  That’s heavy stuff and the lyricism used in actual telling was not lost in his translation.

My dad gave me the Robert Fagles’s version of the Aeneid and I was skeptical at first but it turned out to be an excellent read– though Virgil is much longer winded than Homer I felt.

The plot is this– Troy gets sacked after the Iliad ends (we never get to see the sacking from Homer though) and apparently a bunch of Trojans survive and head out to found a second Troy.  Aeneas is their leadeger and he knows he is destined eventually to found a city in Latinum (Italy).  He fucks around a bit on his boats and ends up in Carthage betrothed to the queen there: Dido.  He’s fucking her all across the palace for months and months and then has a vision of his destiny and clears out that night with his fellow Trojans.  Dido tries to stop him and then kills herself.  There’s some more stuff on boats (sounds like the Odyssey doesn’t it) and Aeneas goes to talk to his dad in the underworld, seeing future Roman leaders in the process (?!).  His dad tells him to go kick ass.  Eventually, the Trojans get to Latinum and the Latins are at first amicable, with the King betrothing his daughter to Aeneas.  Unfortunately the gods all get involved because Juno (Hera) is still fucking raging pissed at the Trojans over the whole golden apple thing that started it all (if you trace it way back, it was the seduction of Atalanta that began this whole bloodfest) and they fuck up the betrothal and everyone starts throwing down.  The rest of the book is the Iliad again with fighting on chariots and 99% of the characters dying in the paragraph that they are introduced.  This is an amazing part of the book with the gods trying to help out their favorites, chicks fighting with bare breasts on chariots, people using magic weapons and armor and a lot of people, surprisingly, getting brained to death by rocks and boulders.  The book ‘The sword decides all” is probably the best in the entire thing with just a massive dust up after an attempt at a peace treaty is fucked up by the gods again.  And the end, like the Iliad, just sort of stops when the main antagonist (Turnus) is killed.  That’s the end. No denouement or anything like that.  Turnus hits the ground and that’s the last paragraph in this giant tome. Amazing.

So how is it?  The Iliad and Aeneid are sort of tied for good reads, while the Odyssey is by far the best because it’s just about this one guy and his desire to get home, and I really felt I could relate to that a ton more than all the hero fighting.  There’s not a lot of confusion in the Odyssey about all these other characters and their motivations as well. You really don’t know what’s going to happen to him in the end– what the COST will be for him to get home and what home is like. Whereas the Aeneid, you know Rome is going to be founded (not by him though) and it’s really just watching Aeneas kick ass to get there and having his friends die. Yet, once he started balling Dido– I was like “Who is this guy?”  The whole Dido distraction doesn’t make as much sense as the Circe one in the Odyssey.  In the Iliad, there is this huge group of Greek heroes that you start to figure out CANNOT BE KILLED and every time they fight they just kill everyone.  Achilles? Ok badass, but there are so many Greek heroes that are made to seem just as powerful, the Iliad seems like an episode of the Superfriends to me.  The verdict?  Don’t bother with the Aeneid if you haven’t read the Iliad.  You could skip the Odyssey, but since it’s the best one you may as well read it before the Aeneid as well.   The Fagles version is excellent and I will likely pick up the Lombardo one for a comparison of the translation.  Don’t mess around with stuff not translated by either of these two. You will die of fucking boredom.

Warhammer Fantasy Battle eighth edition – review: Balance is my New Filth

I promised myself to play Warhammer a full ten times before writing a review of the new edition and it happened, the review, which you are reading, and ten games (fourteen actually).  Finally after months of waiting, I can spout off about how much I love the current edition.  I love it so much I now (shockingly) have three armies for the game.  I wanted to get a second so I could play with people that don’t own anything and I got a deal on a third that I simply could not pass up (my main is Beastmen, second Dark Elves,  and last Chaos). One could say I am all in on this version, so if this review seems a bit of self-justification that’s because it certainly is, gods damn it.  Note, that reviewing a game like Condotierre or King of Tokyo after 10 plays means a few hours of play here and there, reviewing and edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle after fourteen plays means 50+ hours at the table throwing vats worth of dice and probably 30+ more hours teaking an army list or ten, painting and priming and building a rather massive army of toy soldiers (if you can call packs of slavering, rapine goat-men soldiers).

A wave of unpainted goblins assault the partially painted undead and fully painted dwarfs.

To frame this review, I have to relay the shameful nerd path I have traveled in the hobby. It’s not very different than many people who were closeted nerds in their youth during the nerd-harsh 80’s–but I have to say I’ve always played GW’s big games rather casually and vastly preferred the skirmish games to the big fuckall table spreads like the current 40K and WFB. I started playing WFB just after junior highschool, around the same time Warhammer 40K first edition came out.  After saving for and buying the rather expensive 3rd edition hardcover, I dabbled in the game and got a few of the miniature box sets (rudlugs armored orcs, etc) that were around at the time, but never really played a ton because, quite simply, there was no way to afford enough lead to put out a decent sized army like the pretty pictures in the book.  Even in this early time, some of GW’s first plastics had come out, and while a few of the sculpts were OK, they didn’t stand up visually against the lead that was out at the time (this has drastically changed).  We did get in a few games, mostly with our old Grenadier  D&D miniatures (which had also been used for a battle using the ancient and comparatively rubbish TSR Chainmail/Swords and Spells rules) and a handful of citadel chaos warriors.

While Warhammer Fantasy Battle proper was an  unrequited love in High School, both because I was trying to eschew the kids stuff like D&D and gaming altogether (this failed after only a few weeks in 1987 after I found out almost the ENTIRE wrestling team not only had played D&D but wanted to again RIGHT FUCKING NOW!).  I didn’t get into the game hardcore until college when the Realm of Chaos supplement books hit the shelves.  This introduced a variant of play where you start with a small force of maybe 8-12 fighters and then slowly grew a warband as you fight battles against friends min a narrative campaign, eventually to gain daemon-hood from one of the fickle and capricious chaos gods.  We chewed through many weekends (and a lot of class time) grinding through short, decisive skirmish battles in a long campaign where dozens of warbands would be rolled under the dirt and new ones arise.  Notably, only one champion made it to the highest “honor” during the campaign.  The rest either croaked or became slathering, mindless spawn.  Great times, but that’s most of the Warhammer I’ve played, well, until now.

Fourth Edition, the edition rightly-deemed “Herohammer,” really set the bar high for production values and components to help you play. Gone were the big hardcover rulebooks (for a time that is) replaced by a big box with lots of plastic guys and softcover rulebooks, all the templates you need, magic item cards for everything rather than having to dig around in a book for them, and tons and tons of dice.  However, even from cursory plays, it was obvious that the rules were really about decking out a hero that can destroy armies all by themselves and started the system down the path of a highly competitive game that people would focus play at tournaments and leagues of one off games.  Rather than some scenario concocted with what miniatures you have, or a narrative campaign like Chaos Warbands, two guys get together with armies balanced out by points and fighting it out for the win.  This was to be what Warhammer is all about from this point on: single, competitive battles with pre-made armies, usually just a slugathon rather than any type of scenario.   Though I played a few dozen times, the game headed in a direction I didn’t want to go (and I still couldn’t afford to put an army on the table really, deciding to eat, however meagerly, instead).  Yet 4th was the ‘break out’ edition, and tons of people played and love it.  Additional distractions from GW at this time were Epic 40K and Necromunda– along with 3rd edition Blood Bowl, so while I was playing a lot of GW stuff, it wasn’t Warhammer.

I ignored 5th edition (what with Blood Bowl 3rd edition, Necromunda and Mordheim around at the same time, who needed it?).  After Mordheim fizzled out (our campaign went from 22 people to 6 or so in less than a month and that wasn’t due to anything but the rules being not too good), and with the release of Warhammer Fantasty Battle 6th edition I started officially! on my beastman army—and I really did want to play the normal, non-skirmish way that all the other dudes played–actually taking the time to put together a big army rather than a bunch of ragged bands of (unpainted) chaos warriors.  I picked up the main book and the army book for the Beasts and gave a run at painting on a regular schedule, but just couldn’t keep the momentum of painting and buying figs to get enough to the table.  Going from painting a few figs a year to a row of 50+ was quite daunting, especially since I refused to play the game with anything unpainted.

7th edition came so fast due to real life I barely noticed and it seemed only for the hardcore tournament players anyway and really just an update of 6th– and then came 8th in 2010, down from the heights of Nottingham to us gamers, what is, in my humble and rather inexperienced opinion, the best iteration of the game so far with the best production values for books and miniatures I’ve seen out of GW.   At a time in life where I have a couple kids, a pretty demanding job and just general “I have responsibilities now” chaos, I knew it would be a tough row to hoe trying to even find time to paint, let alone play a game– but THIS is the edition to set aside severely limited freetime for.  The hardback book is nothing short of incredible (and shockingly priced at 80$), with absolutely lavish illustration, photography, graphic design and content.  Granted, as a rulebook, it’s a heavy fucker to carry around, but it’s easy to find the pages you need to find via the index– it’s just that well over half the book you will simply not need during any given game as most of the book is not the rules at all, but page upon page of backstory stuff, illustration, and a giant painting showcase.  None of this stuff about the book quality and photography would matter if the rules themselves sucked–but they don’t and here’s why: from 7th to 8th the designers made some fundamental changes to the game, some subtle, some drastic, to make the game flat out more fun.  Now, 6th edition was fun with getting rid of the herohammer a bit, hell 4th was a great time until people were able to ‘break’ the game a few months in– but 8th blows them all away and while the reasons in the rules are below, the core reason is simply this: they let Jervis Johnson all over it and he made it more fun than it’s ever been.

First: any stuff can kill any other stuff.   If GW learned one thing from Rackham’s Confrontation, it’s that it’s important that every model on the table can pose a threat.  This is a huge change from earlier editions.  Essentially, from 4th edtion on, you had stuff on the table that could not be hurt at all by most other stuff on the table.  Picture a bunch of goblins are running around with spears.  We all know goblins are terrible in combat, run away a lot and generally get stomped, eviscerated, eaten, boiled, and basically harvested like bilious green wheat.  However, goblin players bring a lot of goblins to any dust-up, so many that for every 20 or so you mulch, 40 more are there to poke you or net you and scream insults.    In older editions of Warhammer, no matter how many goblins were out there, they were not going to be able to hurt your pimped out dark elf lord on a black dragon– even with the best rolling, they couldn’t touch him.  The lord could fly around without a care in the world if the table was filled with just goblins–essentially they became tar pits that he could get stuck in for a period of time murdering them, but they weren’t dangerous to him or his gods damn dragon at all.  In 8th edition, it’s the dark elf lord that’s afraid of the masses of goblins.  If he doesn’t position and plan right, he has a good chance of getting swarmed and trampled by little green hobnails because GW added this simple rule: a 6 always hits and a 6 always wounds.  That means no matter how badass you are, you have a 3% chance with every attack of having to take an armour save, no matter how high your weapon skill or toughness.  When you are rolling dump-trucks worth of dice, as goblin units are wont to do, that 3% happens a LOT.  Even with a 2+ armor save and a ward save of some kind, death can come quick to the heroes.

Second: charging distance is randomized.  A huge, simple and most welcome change, one that will be with the game probably forever after. Charges are now 2D6+movement.  So dwarves with their short little leggys can charge minimum of 5 inches (their max before was 6) and maximum of 15 inches on boxcars.  In older editions, units had a fixed charge range, usually double their movement.  This meant that people had to be very precise about when they charged and positioned. This took a long time and it wasn’t very fun.  Random charge distance makes things crazy fun.  This was the rule change that when I saw it, I had to buy and play the new edition.  Along with number three below, while the games may not be shorter, you are spending your time on the fun stuff and not the boring stuff.  This is key.

Third: you can measure everything at any time.  Another positive thing about randomizing charges is that it allowed the designers to simply let the players measure every single distance they want at any time.  Want to see how close your archers have to move to be in range of the pumpwagon?  Measure away!  Want to check your distances before declaring a charge?  Well you better!   This just cuts down a lot of the fiddling around with units and positioning stuff and painful guess work.  For measurements before 8th edition, I would set up my armies and then measure out the table– memorizing little landmarks like the side of a bush or a shadow on the table and such so that I knew that from X wall to Y scratch in the table it was 6″, etc.  This was just not that fun and felt beardy as hell when you are placing dice on the table and not moving them to mark off distances…

Fourth: the poor bloody infantry is king.  This is something 40K already had figured out: people like to see big close in dust-ups between big groups of models.  Battles are decided by positioning, tactics, magic usage, dicerolling all as part of getting your best infantry units winning combats against your opponents infantry units.  Games come down to one or two big blocks of guys hacking at each other and that’s why people want to play, so they made it king and called it a day. Sure heroes are important, but they are so much better in the midst of some crazy combat than fighting alone.  Can my 9 minotaurs stomp their way through 60 goblins before being perforated?  Can my horde of bestigor sustain the horrific casualties from the initiative 6 black guard to attack back with their slow but powerful great weapons?   Because infantry fights in huge units in 8th edition and has massive advantages over any unit that is unranked (such as the dread lord on a black dragon listed above), infantry dominates the battlefield: as it should be since the tactics around infantry positioning, movement and when to charge should be the meat of this type of game.  What changed?  Hordes (see below), the fact that the second rank can lend a supporting attack to the front rank fighters, even on the charge the fight is in initiative order and finally, the ranks behind the front can step up where there are fallen to continue the fight ( so no more charging units wiping out front ranks of units with no retaliation that turn).

Fifth: Hordes!  Hordes are units with 10-model frontage.  All this rule allows is another rank to add supporting attacks (so you need a minimum of 30 models to get the most out of a horde formation).  Normally the front rank gets their attacks, plus the second rank can lay in a single supporting attack (with the exception of monstrous infantry that get more).  With a horde, your unit will get two ranks of supporting attacks.  This is a great example of a simple rules change that has massive effects on the game.  The Hordes rule particularly combines with the “any stuff can kill any other stuff” above to help make the game a game of infantry fighting and not ‘my guy on the dragon kills everything without a scratch’ fighting.   You want to throw your Hydras up against a 40+ goblin horde with spears, the outcome is going to be one stone dead hydra while the infantry unit is still probably viable.  Combine an assault by some Dark elf spearmen with the hydra supporting or hitting the flank of the goblins, and you have what the game is all about.

Six (and this is the last one, I promise): Terrain does stuff.  Almost every game of Warhammer 8th will have some crazy-ass magical terrain that has an effect on play, sometimes drastic, sometimes not.  Phantom towers shoot out bolts of lightning into anything nearby, altars give every unit within range blood rage, and mysterious forests have random effects only discovered when entered by troops.  One could say this just adds whimsy and randomness, but it creates a bevy of critical tactical decisions that can be the key to victory.  Unlike mob-swarm 40K, unit placement and movement is everything in WFB, so tactics and placement around terrain that benefits or hurts your army is huge.  The eleventh game I played had a Dwarf Brewhouse right smack in the middle of the table, giving anyone nearby “Stubborn.” Since I was up against Lizardmen who had a unit that was innately Stubborn, fighting around the dwarf brewhouse nullified that advantage because we all had it.

Games Workshop has had almost three decades to work out the kinks with Warhammer Fantasy Battle and with this ruleset, it shows a change in the ideas behind the game moving away from something akin to controlled, balanced play and far more into the fantasy world of Warhammer with all it’s insanity and things getting sucked into the void at the worst times (for you anyway!).   While good tactics, placement and unit counters will win you the day, there is so much randomness in the game , and yet so much focus on having a balanced army, that I can see where it would put people off that are used to older editions.  For me, it all adds up to big death and big fun. This is the best big miniature game out there.


Summer Reading – Cropper’s Cabin

Yes, I know summer is over, but I finished this bad boy just after the solstice so it counts dammit!  Jim Thompson– crime writer, very under-read, if not underrated.  I find while reading his stuff that I have many V-8 head slapping moments of “oh THAT’S where they got that from!”   El Rey from The Getaway is referenced in From Dusk Til Dawn, and the whole “son is the father of the man” thing in Blood Meridian is straight out of The Killer Inside Me (not that Thompson made that up himself).  I’d say No Country for Old Men is almost a homage piece to Thompson’s style.  Though there is no doubt in my mind that McCarthy is the better writer overall, a virtuoso with diverse novels like Suttree and All the Pretty Horses, but for crime novels, Thompson is the best I’ve read, blowing away even Hammett in terms of construction and language.  That said, Cropper’s Cabin is not Thompson’s best, but it is a great fast read delving into the psychology of a kid that is pushed to the absolute brink by those around him, and like a powder keg, the reader is just waiting and waiting for him to implode or explode.  I won’t spoil it, as it has a few twists and turns to get to the inevitable conclusion, but suffice to say it has a pace change in the middle and some horrific revelations.  What I dug most about it was the window into the cropper’s (and their Indian landowner’s) world and lifestyle as a backdrop for the events.  In some of the other crime novels by Thompson, the place and situation don’t matter all that much, but in Cropper’s Cabin, the cultural context is crucial to the story.  I’d put the book slightly above The Getaway due to that book’s almost tacked-on ending (the El Rey bits), but not quite as good as After Dark, My Sweet.  If you’re looking for an intro into Thompson’s work to see if you’ll dig his stuff, Cropper’s Cabin is a good one.  Unfortunately this was last published in ’92 as part of the Black Lizard line of crime stuff so might be tough to find– but with electronic books (bleh!) it’s instantly available.