On boardgames, a random selection

So…it’s been awhile.

In an effort to ‘jump back in’ so to speak I thought I would spend a post away from my usual fare. No movies, television shows, or video games. Today I’m going to talk about board games, a subject too often neglected.

I have mentioned before that I love all kinds of games, board games included. I actually have one or two that I take wherever I go, in case the party winds down and we need something to do. Whilst loading up groceries it occurred to me that I have been toting around four games for a while. I thought today, as a minor means of randomness, I would give a mini review of each product.

 

Betrayal at House on the Hill. I have written about this game before, but it deserves a second look. This is my current favorite board game. Most of the people whom have played it enjoy the experience; the crew at my local library liked it enough to buy a copy and make it a staple of their game days.

In betrayal a game consists of two sections: exploration and the haunt. In the beginning the players work together, exploring the house and gathering weapons and clues. In the second half one of these players will turn traitor and the houses mystical nature will fall upon them. Then it’s time for action, where the traitor tries to murder the players and the players tries to survive.

Survival is determined by which of the 50 random missions to get. Adding to this, Betrayal’s tile-based modular board very nearly ensures that you will never have the same game twice. It’s a fun game, dripping with style and atmosphere. The characters are likable, if not crazy, the scenarios are inventive, and the wealth of quests and random nature make this one of the few high-end games to justify its price.

I take it everywhere I go, and I try to spread the word to everyone.

 

Monopoly. A classic staple of the board game world and how I hate it. The cutthroat atmosphere is almost certain to provoke arguments, and with a smart group of players (or just some really dumb ones) the game can last forever. Perhaps I’m just bitter, this game is popular and well known so it’s possible I just have a bad taste left over from childhood.

I bought this copy because I ran into a friend who had never played Monopoly. I figure everyone deserves the chance to hate their friends, so I bought a copy. We played, there was some antagonism and the game was not finished, but it was mostly an enjoyable experience.

Also, to be fair, Monopoly does feature easy-to-understand rules, and an open-ended and evolving board. It’s a classic for a reason: it’s more complex than a majority of its brethren yet remains simple enough to teach in a night. The version I bought also includes a ‘speed die’ to help speed up the game, a feature I really want to try. It’s also interesting to read the full rules from an adult perspective; the makers of Monopoly are not stupid and know how the game gets played so there is an entire section devoted to shooting down popular house rules such as ‘teaming up’ or ‘free parking gives cash’

I’m not a big fan, but still it is Monopoly and it deserves a spot in my trunk.

 

Bump in the Night. As much as I love Betrayal there still comes the point where you want to try something new. As a fan of co-operative gameplay, a horror theme, and tile based/modular gameplay, I began looking towards “Arkham Horror.” Seeing it listed as a 60 dollar game caused me to stop looking. Instead I picked up this 20 dollar entry.

Bump in the Night has its heart in the right place, but it just never sticks the landing. In this game you play as the ghosts and are annoyed to find that a group of girls have invaded your home. The goal is to use your varied monsters to scare the girls into running away or passing out. It’s an awesome premise, but it soon falls apart.

Firstly, each player is in competition with each other, owning duplicate sets of monsters the focus is not on ‘getting the invaders out’ but instead ‘getting more out than your friends.’ It’s not a deal breaker, but in actual play it lessens the atmosphere. The invaders consist of 20 identical little girls, which seems to fit the atmosphere but then you wonder how so many grade-schoolers got so lost. Using a group of varied NPCs seems a better option, with each character having various phobias and fears.

On the monster side of the deal things are a bit dry. The monsters look cool, but their actual abilities vary little, mostly just in ‘how scary’ they are. To scare a girl out of the house you have to set up a system of monsters and locked doors, so that the girls will run from room to room, encountering new monsters, and will hopefully be lead outside. It’s an interesting mechanic, but it really feels like you are just opening paths for the rats.

It’s a shame really; the game is pretty well made. The board consists of six tiles that, while having to be placed in the same place each time, have two sides to them which gives a decent amount of randomness. I also give full marks for including plastic minis for the girls and the monsters, the game would have worked just as well, and could have been manufactured cheaper, if the pieces had been cardboard, but the plastic really ups the scale of the game. My one complaint, content wise, is that game set up calls for a random number between 1 and 6 to be decided. They do so by having numbers printed at the bottom of the action cards and having you drawn an amount of these and use those numbers for randomization. For a game this well manufactured the inclusion of a simple six-sided die should have been a no-brainer. Granted I have a bajillion D6s laying around, but it’s the oversight I question.

Anyways, Bump in the Night is a beautiful game at an affordable price. It just never nails the atmosphere it was going for and feels more like an inverted game of pac-man. I’d recommend it with the hope that some fans could work up alternate play modes for it.

 

Malarkey. The final game currently in my trunk is a party game, vaguely concerned with trivia. I say vaguely because the trivia included is barely useful to know and serves only to support the real nature of this game: outright lies.

Play begins when one players pulls a trivia card which could be something like, What happens to the holes that get punched out of binder paper? Once the question has been read the player puts the card into one of many identical holders, shuffles them, and hands them out. The players then check their holders to see if they got the correct answer, or nothing. Play continues with each person either: giving the right answer but in their own words, or making up something convincing should they not have the answer. Once everyone has answered players then bet on who had the most convincing answer. Points are awarded for receiving bets or for betting on the right answer.

Sometimes, due to the random dealing, a player who doesn’t have the answer will make up the real answer before the truth holder’s turn. Duplicate answers are not allowed meaning the truth holder must now make up a convincing lie. This is where the game name comes from as it is called ‘pulling a malarkey.’ In this instance the truth holder gains double points, but will lose points if no one votes for him.

It’s a fun game, especially if you have a group of creative individuals who can think on their feet.

 

And that’s what I got in my trunk.

Scream: the whole series

The more I stare at the word ‘scream’ the weirder it looks.

 

Yes it’s time I covered the Scream series. It has its detractors but it was a pretty big deal when it hit and it did chance the face of horror, a face that had become stagnant. Not all of the fallout was pretty but it shook things up and it was none too soon.

I’m not going to hide it, I love the first Scream movie. The actors nailed their parts, the kills were effective, and the score honestly really got to me. I always feel a nice bit of catharsis at the end of the film, and the score really helps with that.

Of course this movie is known for being self-referential and laying out ‘the rules.’ I call BS on that. No one ever claims to be in a movie, or seems to break the fourth wall. It’s really just a matter of of the film allowing these kids to know, and have seen, horror movies before. Think about a vampire movie and eventually someone will have to discover that the creature is a vampire and how to stop it. That would never happen in the real world; we have vampire movies. This is part of my love for Fright Night because it acknowledged that the main characters had seen vampire movies and knew what they were. Same deal here, the teens in Scream have all seen horror movies so they recognize when a slasher starts hitting the streets.

And yes, there is a sequence where a character exposes the ‘rules’ but it’s also shown that these rules don’t apply to what passes for real life in the film. It was a reflection of our culture at the time, we had seen it all and we fall back on what we know when challenged. It reminds me of a time that the owner of a local arcade suggested that he wouldn’t be afraid in a horror movie because he had basically seen them all. It’s a type of insulated arrogance that lacks any real substance. I’ve seen all the Halloween movies but you can bet the last donut that if Myers was walking towards me I’d be terrified. Because that doesn’t happen and my knowledge of movies doesn’t’ exactly translate into a real life and death scenario.

So what was Scream? It was a slick, smart slasher that examined horror set in a world of people who know better. It was plausible, it was fun, and it hit the scene like an atomic bomb.

So it had to have a sequel. Scream 2, which thankfully didn’t have a weird subtitle-y name, is not as good as the first film. It starts off really well, set during opening night of a movie made about the killings from the first movie. It carefully recreates a few moments from the opening of the original while showing us how humans get far too excited about real world tragedy…until it hits them in the face.

It’s a strong opening and it quickly gets us back into this world while still holding onto the subtext of the first film. Unfortunately the rest of the film doesn’t hold up as well. There is too much playing to the ‘rules’ concept and a lot of the situations seem contrived. We get a suspect breakdown via ‘who it would be in a movie’ that seems to be a serious conversation instead of rejected right out and several characters seem to end up in the same building for various non-sensical reasons in time for the big finish.

It’s not all bad though; there is some real suspense about the killer due to a few nicely writer characters. In particular I enjoyed the character of Cotton Weary who comes across as a greedy, selfish bastard who really doesn’t want to hurt anyone…or does he?

To be honest Scream 2 is a good slasher, the pacing is tight, the kills are decent, and it stays interesting. The real problem is it’s a sequel to a great game changer and it just doesn’t hold up.

But it did well, so they gave us Scream 3. This movie is simply not very good. The insistence on movie rules applying to real life in horribly forced in, possibly to lampshade some questionable plot developments. The kills are boring and horribly placed, with much of the movie laboring under the absence of any real action. It also ups the ‘meta’ content by taking place during the filming of a sequel to the fictional movie and thus having a bunch of new characters whose only character traits are that they play versions of the real characters. Toss in random celebrity cameos and a voice changer that can miraculously mimic any voice and you get a poorly written cash in.

The series was dead in the water for a while but recently we finally got Scream 4. And they very nearly pulled off a great movie. But they didn’t.

Scream took the horror genre and twisted it, for the fourth movie to survive it needed to do the same thing. When Scream 4 hit we were in the midst of a huge ‘reboot’ or ‘remake’ craze and it feels like this film really wanted to go for that. A reboot in the notion that the plot is essentially the same as the first film; remake because there is a cast of characters that very much resembles the characters from the first movie. But this time instead of authority figures who don’t know how to handle things we have the original cast back.

This could have been the best way to give the old crew their fade out and build a new set of characters. Simply focus on the new teens and have them dealing with the deaths while around them there are all these famous people who have survived this kind of thing in the past. It would give the old heroes a strong, but supporting, role and allow us new blood and a new direction. A sort of ‘real life reboot’

Unfortunately this movie revolves around the standard heroes and the new guys barely amount to anything. I love Sydney but by this point I tend to not fear for her life. Putting her back in center stage honestly lowered the tension, and keeping the entire group of new teens open to suspicion meant lots of options making it too hard to try and pick a killer. Plus there is one of the dumbest deaths scenes in a slasher ever. In a serious movie it ranks up there with Wile E. Cayote falling from a cliff after running on air for a minute. What’s worse is that it could have been truly horrific, but then the actor speaks.

That said it isn’t a bad movie. I could see where it was trying to go and I border on placing it above part 2, but in the end even though it had its teeth back it still hug it’s hat on the old ways but the point was ‘time has moved on.’ You can see glimpses of what might have been, especially with an awesome dig at all the remakes late in the movie, but in the end we are left with a simple finish and not the grand slam this series deserved.

Scary Movie time, also October.

Halloween creeps upon us and I stand here ready to fulfill my obligation of watching a bunch of scary movies.

Last year I covered what I felt to be the three classic series in modern horror. It was a rough ride but I still feel pride about them.

This year my plans are somewhat less ambitious, but I will still try and get two updates a week up during October.

I plan to cover movies that played a part in revitalizing the horror genre. It’s a loose plan, and some may have problems with my pics, but still I will push on.

This week I will cover a well known series. The next two weeks will be slashers and japanese horror. Torture porn has no place here so expect no Saw.

On the final week I will post reviews for the two films I suggest everyone watch this year, my top pics.

TV I Love: Terriers

In a world where new cop dramas have to be better than any of the many offshoots of the preceding fifty cop dramas and reality TV spreads faster than a zombie outbreak, I stand against the tide. I hear people talk about quality television and how it’s being destroyed by soulless programming. It’s time to bring quality into the light, to spotlight the shows that deserve it. It’s time to talk about TV That I Love.

So yeah, a new segment. TV is an interesting thing, but for all its good it tends to be clogged with garbage and derided by the elite. But there is good on the TV, I can feel it, even if it gets canceled after a small handful of episodes. Those who know me might expect me to start with Firefly but that would be too easy. No, instead I’m going to discuss a recent tragedy: Terriers.

Terriers lasted one season, during which it received substantial acclaim but failed to find an audience. That is industry speak for ‘It was good but no one watched it.’ Part of the problem was likely the ad campaign. The ad campaign was famously aimless enough that the president of FX stepped forward and issued a statement about it. These ads consisted of two guys in an old pick-up truck looking at the screen, a small dog would run by, and then the name of the show popped up.

FX isn’t known for its reality TV but I assumed at the time that it would be a show akin to The Dog Whisperer and quickly wrote it off. Luckily I happen to have a DVR, combined with my dad reading a blurb about it being a detective show (“So it’s like Ace Ventura?” we wondered.) I set about recording this show.

It was a slow burn, and I now know why they had trouble advertising it. Terriers, (which begins each episode with a lazy and somewhat upbeat beach jingle) is a show about a couple of average guys who start an unlicensed (illegal) detective agency as a way to bring in some cash to their aimless lives. This point is somewhat unimportant as it is very character driven and seems to be more about these two guys trying to live good, but average, lives. But the main plot is really important because it accidentally sets everything in motion. You could say, at this point, it sounds directionless but it ended up becoming one of the best scripted pieces of drama I have ever witnessed. And that theme song, sometimes it feels an odd fit, but by the end its meaning sits uncomfortably clear.

So that is everything they needed to show in the trailers. Small wonder that the commercial failed to do it justice.

Honestly they should have shot a few vignettes with the main characters (Justified has had some success with this) and a hooking point. For a show so based on needing you to understand its protagonists it could have been crucial. Said protagonists are Hank Dolworth, an ex-cop and ex-husband, and Britt Pollack, a thief turned good for the love of a woman.

Hank is played by Donal Logue whom you likely know even if you don’t realize it. He was Balder in Max Payne, Quinn in Blade, and several other movies such as The Patriot. Donal portrays Hank as a decent guy, cynical but friendly and possessing the classic detective desire to do good. None of it is overplayed, or hammered in, he feels very much like an average guy you might hang with at the bar. It lends some credible gravity to scenes where he actually wrestles with his conscious and while you hope that he does the right thing, and can understand when he doesn’t you at least understand why.

Pollack is played by Michael Raymond-James whom you probably don’t know. He has done very little, only appearing in True Blood and Black Snake Moan before this. For most of the series he serves as an affable partner to Hank. He is given several chances to shine, and at least twice nearly steal the whole show. Again, these are the guys you would play poker with, or head to the bar to see. They are low key, but likable and it is upon that like that you decide to hang around.

However that low key nature also requires that Terriers be a slow burn. I have a rule with TV shows: they get a set number of episodes to hook me in, 1 to prove concept, 3 to show me something, and 5 to hook me. Terriers, at the beginning, just barely made each of these. Not that it was bad, but it took the time to build a strong framework and while it did so I never noticed the important elements being tossed in.

These elements really begin to kick up as the show carries on. Secondary characters walk in and out and often become a much larger part of the story than you originally thought they would be. A pair of favorites would be Rockmond Dunbar and Donal Logue’s real life sister Karina. Dunbar plays the cop who used to be partnered with Hank, and is still, despite his desire to not be, good friends with him. Karina, playing close to real life, is Hank’s sister and turns in an odd but fun performance. She came close to bringing me out of the show, but again the performances and tone kept me hooked.

I know I keep harping on a couple of elements and seem to be paying pretty vague but it’s how it needs to be. Terriers is that taut drama that really pulls you in, but it needs to be seen to be effective. It proves that TV can be as engaging as film and uses its format to great effect. It is not a simple premise that gets revisited each week, but instead is one very complex tale allowed to expand and be explored.

As of yet it seems to be avoiding DVD but the moment it lands on store shelves I will eagerly buy it and set it on the shelf as one of the finest pieces of fiction ever penned.

A Discussion of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Looking away from the dark, scary hole is a bad idea...

Usually I just talk about the movies here from my own perspective. That’s how this works. But when I watched “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” I was not alone, and the reactions of myself and my girlfriend were very different. With this in mind I must lay out both sets of opinions to give a full view.

First we will talk about me, because I’m writing this.

This movie is a lot like a robot playing the violin. Technically it’s perfect, but not an ounce of soul. The camera work is good, everything looks rich and dark, and it’s a good kind of dark, the spooky kind. The monsters are mostly hinted at and feel pretty creepy. That said I wish they would have kept with the whispering more and less of the generic shrieking, but still they were creepy little buggers.

The acting was very solid. Though it’s hard to see from the trailers but the father here is played by Guy Pierce and it’s awesome to see him back in film. Unfortunately he’s playing the generic haunted house movie father which makes him less likable. He does what he can with the part but in the end it’s a thankless task, but again it’s good to see him again. Katie Holmes felt real good here. I liked her back in the “Disturbing Behavior” day but always felt she stuck out like a bad thumb when hanging around Aaron Eckhart or Christian Bale. Here, in a scary movie setting, she fit right in and I found myself cheering her on. She plays a generic character, as all the characters here are, but she does it well and it’s nice to see her and not hate her.

Also the little girl, played by Bailee Madison, is awesome. She doesn’t exactly act as a kid her age would (case in point, she goes into the dark, scary hole, I’d set it on fire and run) but that’s a script problem and not an actor problem. I found her likable and not at all annoying.

But on the whole this movie had amazing sets, good actors, and apparently a competent man behind the camera…it just felt very generic. It’s worth a watch but it won’t shake your world.

On the other hand…It scared the hell out of my girlfriend. She could barely watch the movie and I thought I was going to have to leave simply to preserve her sanity.

Maybe the movie just failed to faze me and it’s my fault, because at least one person was scared by it. I still think it missed the mark and likely would have been better served by being a horror-comedy like “House” or “Gremlins.” But as a straight up scary movie I can’t help but feel it missed the mark, it’s still good though.

A Discussion of Let the Right One In

Best part of the film, right here.

 

I assume the title was a warning telling me to put something else in the DVD player and not the crap composed on this disk. Alas I actually watched Let the Right One In and I must say I am not impressed with Sweden.

I hate movies that are based on one remarkable trait and then spend forever building up to it as if it’s some kind of awesome mystery. It’s billed as one of the most amazing vampire movies ever, but we spend most of the movie with a psychopath in the making on his slow path to making friends with someone who might be (IS!) a vampire.

And yes, the little albino boy here is a psycho, but worse he’s an ineffective one. Bullied in school he pretends each night of using his knife to eviscerate his classmates while demanding they squeal. But then he gets beat up. But then we get a vamp- no wait, first we get the most useless serial killer ever. But then a vamp- no, idiot towns people…

But then the vampire shows up and we spend a painful bit of film talking about a rubiks cube and then the words “Here, I’ll show you.” And we have to watch an albino teach a vampire how to use a rubiks cube!

I just didn’t care about anyone. I cheered when people died. I get the strong impression that this is the wrong thing to do, I think I’m supposed to have developed a connection to these characters. I’ve heard the two kids had awesome acting skills…but I don’t speak Swedish, and the girls voice was dubbed, so how could I tell?

Occasionally we get a cool bit with the vamp climbing a wall or demonstrating what happens when they aren’t invited in, but mostly it’s a slow moving, uninspired film about buddies bonding…and one of them is a psycho. The other is a vampire.

Perhaps I should give the remake a chance. It’s gotten good press, and I hear a lot of it is shot for shot and it replaces idiot towns people for a cop…you know someone who would investigate the murders that are being committed in the sloppiest ways possible. I may still yet watch that one. And then rant on it…it’s beginning to feel like a vampire month.

A Discussion of Conan

Man, just look at Jason Mamoa up there. He’s got that lion-like mane of hair, those dark eyes, and the build of a panther. Not pictured is the wolfish grin he puts on while slicing people up. The man IS Conan. It’s awesome that they found not just someone to play a perfect Conan but a fan who wants to be the perfect Conan.

Unfortunately he is surrounded by piles and piles of shit.

I had so much hope. This movie was made to show people who Conan really is, they make that clear in the credits with a nice disclamer pointing out that this was based off Conan as conceived by his creator Robert E. Howard. It is not a remake, it is an attempt to get Conan’s name out there and treat the character right. But it is a failure.

Again, I had hope. They show his ‘birth in battle.’ Early on young Conan viciously takes out four picts single-handedly. This is awesome. Later in life after he has freed a bunch of slaves he is asked “How are we to live? You have taken all the weapons and food?” Conan laughs and then takes one of the women too. It seems like someone involved understood that Conan should not be the movie you take your girlfriend to see; it is the movie you see then go home and take your girlfriend.

But then the rest of the film just messes everything up. The plot is inane, once again hinging on a childhood tragedy to motivate Conan. To hell with that! The literary Conan left his home because he was bored and wanted a drink, not due to some sort of injustice done to his people. There are mindless scenes tossed in simply so they can have more flashy fights, not a single thought given to why they are happening. The subtitles keep telling me where each location is, but it never stops to provide space or depth. I know Hyboria and still couldn’t tell you where things were going down at.

Also, I suggest to the scriptwriters that if the entire plot hinges on an evil warlord obtaining a crown of amazing power, that this crown should actually do something other than make the warlord look like he is wearing a stupid hat. Plus, if you are an evil warlord and Conan is balanced upon a disk held in place over a volcano only by a pair of rocks it is best to not jump in after him. You have minions evil warlord man, you throw your minions in until their dead bodies weigh the disk down enough to make it fall.

The second offender was the music. Conan is already attached to one of the best film scores ever, so this movie had an uphill battle to fight. And it lost hard. I found the score to be unremarkable and mostly unremembered. I say ‘mostly’ because I keep thinking of a scene where Conan has to sneak into a secret ceremony but as he breaks a guards neck the music comes charging in behind him. It felt crass and jarred me from the film.

The cinematography was also complete garbage. There was this guy, I don’t know who he was, but he wrapped a chain around his arm and picked up a hammer. The film dedicated roughly eight cuts to these actions. I couldn’t get a grip on where or how the action was taking place. There was a lot of movement and people seemed to be doing stuff of interest but I couldn’t see a bit of it. Also the special effects and gore. There was a lot of gore, and GCI. So…a lot of GCI gore. I’m not squeamish, and there should be a lot of blood in a Conan movie. However there should not be so much that as I leave the theatre and trip I fear hitting the wall because I know my body will immediately drain itself of the red stuff. It was so overblown that at one point a man was hurled into a wall, who he was or why I don’t know, and he didn’t splash blood everywhere and I was taken out of the movie by that.

This movie sucks, but I hope it gets a sequel. I would love for Jason Mamoa to play Conan again, but this time in a good film. It’s somewhat funny. The old movie felt like an actual Robert E. Howard story, it just failed to have a good Conan. To this day I just pretend Arnold was a Nord and enjoy the hell out of that movie. Here we have a great Conan, but a shit movie in all respects. If we could only drop the stupid slaughtered Cimmerian village crap and drop Mamoa into the original movie it would be truly epic.

 

Also, the whole 3D thing…this film went with the ‘horror movie’ 3D with stuff flying at the camera. It’s sad because with the originals sweeping vistas and clear cut cinematography it would probably look great in 3D. But here I’m sure had I actually seen this dreck in 3D I would have had a seizure.