End of Days

That title has a little more of an air of finality than I may actually intend.  But I’m not entirely sure what I intend, so I guess that title is as good as any.

When I started this blog, the idea was to keep the writing muscles limber.  And I do so over the course of a thousand or so posts, some good, some okay, but all trying to be a little bit of myself bled out onto the internet.

Lately I’m starting to feel like I don’t need to bleed as much anymore.  Or that I don’t want to.  All I know is it’s become something I feel like I have to do rather than something I want to do.  And that’s a point beyond which it’s rarely good to continue anything.

I don’t want to say I’m calling it quits.  But I am taking a break.  Maybe I’ll find the drive to start this up again after a while.  Maybe I will, but without the looming obligation of “Daily” hanging over it, posting only when I feel like I have something to say.  Or maybe I’ll let this be the capstone on the whole thing, and try to put this energy into other pursuits.

Whatever the case, thanks for coming along for the ride.  While I’ve done this primarily for myself, the support and comments I’ve received have meant a lot, and if some of my words made someone smile or think, then this whole thing has been worth it.

Since this may be just a pause and not an ending, I won’t say goodbye.  I’ll just say until we meet again.

Thanks,

Richard

Board Minutes for 5/16/14

meepleSome of the most famous last words ever uttered by gamers are, “Let’s play a quick game of …”  Because inevitably, whatever game is chosen ends up not being quick at all.  It will expand beyond the expected time.  Which causes a cascade, because other players will start their own “quick” game while this first game finishes, and that game will go longer than expected, so when the first game finishes, its players will move on to another, and so the two groups never meet.  Of course, the alternative is to sit around waiting until every possible player has arrived, but who knows how long that will take?  Besides, we’re there to game, not stare at each other.  So it’s probably best just to never refer to a game as “quick” anymore.  It’s just a game.  However long it takes.

Cosmic Encounter ($46.18 on Amazon) — This is an update of a classic board game from way back in 1977.  Long considered a staple of the hobby, the game was revived by Fantasy Flight in 2008.  While ostensibly the game is about encountering and conquering other alien civilizations, it’s really about ruining friendships.  See, each time a player attacks another player, both sides have the option of inviting allies.  Of course, who you’d want to help could change at any given time, so the person whose defense you leapt to a few turns ago could now be someone you want to stab in the back.  Each player also has access to the special power of the alien race they’re playing, offering plenty more opportunities to screw with everyone else.  Shared victories are possible, so you have to weigh your desire to win alone against the real possibility everyone will gang up to destroy you in order to prevent it.  The game we played featured multiple near-wins, several betrayals, numerous hands thrown in the air in disbelief, and a whole lot of fun.  Even if I did want to murder someone at least three times during the course of the game.

Terra Mystica ($61.99 on Amazon) — This is probably the current favorite of my gaming group.  Like Cosmic Encounter, each player has a different race with different abilities with which they attempt to build towns on a shared map.  This requires the careful management of multiple resources, such as workers, money, priests, and magical power.  There are numerous ways to score points in this game, be it specific racial abilities, instant bonuses, end game bonuses, and manipulation of various cults.  There are a hell of a lot of moving pieces here, so much so that I was hopelessly lost in my first game.  But all those pieces work together really well, so that once you have some experience, the game is a marvel of design.  Except for me this evening, when I was sure I’d completely botched it.  I was down on myself after misreading my race’s ability, resulting in a first-turn strategy that didn’t score me anything.  But I kept plugging away and ended up in third place, only five points behind the eventual winner.  This is one of those games that invites multiple replays because of the sheer variety of combinations; you can play dozens of games and never get the same mix of races.  Which is probably why we’re so obsessed with it.  We want to try all the races, find the one we “get” the best, and see what we can do with it.

It’s not a quick game either, so sorry if you have to wait while we finish.

What I’d Watch 5/16/14: Godz and Monsters

godzilla2012_postermilliondollararm_posterPoor Jon Hamm.  For years he had the misfortune of his performance as Don Draper on Mad Men go head to head with the juggernaut that was Bryan Cranston’s Walter White at the Emmy Awards.  And now he’s facing off against another Cranston-led behemoth that’s likely going to slap his nice little baseball movie to hell and gone.  On the bright side, he still looks like Jon Hamm, so I’m not exactly going to be losing a lot of sleep over this for him.

I’m sure Million Dollar Arm is a perfectly pleasant bit of inspirational fluff.  I’m sure Disney knew people would be looking for a low-key alternative to all the bombast on screens right now.  I’m sure many talented people put a lot of effort and care into the film, and fully believe they’ve created something worthwhile.

And I’m sure it’s going to get absolutely destroyed by the towering majesty that is Godzilla.

When I saw that there’d be screenings of Godzilla as early as 7:00 on Thursday, there was no way I was waiting until the weekend to see it.  Clearly the couple of hundred people crammed into the IMAX theater last night had the same idea.  What we saw was spectacle done right, doled out in small doses until we were ready for the main course.  Too many blockbusters just hammer away with set piece after set piece, with no sense for building tension or pacing their thrills.  It’s all a breathless rush that too often reaches its climax long before the story does.  Godzilla director Gareth Edwards knows what Steven Spielberg does:  the long slow climb up the roller coaster hill is just as important a part of the ride as the drop.

That’s not to say that the film is boring until Edwards unleashes the monster mayhem.  He’s just smart with it.  The first few monster battles are glimpsed, here on a TV news report, there as a shelter door closes.  It’s a kind of striptease, really, offering a tantalizing flash of what we came for, but not giving away the whole show right off the bat.  The result was an audience absolutely ravenous for what Edwards provides in the film’s final third, a thunderous panorama of might and destruction where every move from Godzilla elicited cheers because we were finally rewarded for our patience.

Edwards also does some impressive things with the idea of scale here.  Locations very often dwarf the humans who inhabit them.  Small objects and animals are placed in the foreground, seemingly looming over the background.  Giant monsters are first seen on small screens.  The large is made small and the small is made large.  We’re being primed for adjusting our perceptions, for changing our preconceived notions of size and scope.  So once the monsters are in the same frame as the humans, they become truly monstrous.  We’re constantly shown humans in the foreground with the monsters as backdrop, where we’ve become used to seeing skyscrapers and mountains.  The effect is both exhilarating and humbling; here there most definitely be dragons.

Edwards even manages to do some interesting things with the visual effects.  There’s a definite air of “man-in-suit” to the way Godzilla and his foes move, with none of the slick, computerized gloss prevalent in too many FX spectacles these days.  This gives the monsters a real sense of presence and weight, while also keeping them engaging; they feel like living creatures instead of pixels.  In other places, Edwards allows his CGI buildings and vehicles to have an almost toy-like look.  Not necessarily fake, but highly evocative of the glory days of Toho model-making, when rank after rank of miniature tanks rolled into battle.  This is effects as craft, not technique.

I could quibble that, like nearly every Godzilla film before it, the human scenes slow things down just a bit, but everyone seems to have honed in on the spirit of things, and so the film never completely drags.  Besides, the absolute childlike glee with which Edwards stages his monsters would make them a tough act to follow for even the most scenery-chewing cast.  That glee is appropriate, because it was as children that most of us who love Godzilla came to do so.  He was a case not only of how the very small tend to be fascinated by the very large, he was a monster who fought other monsters, who kept the bad things away.  We could be scared of him yet also root for him.  Edwards acknowledges this in a scene where a little boy watches one of Godzilla’s first battles on TV in wide-eyed rapture, his only words an awed, “Look, Mommy, dinosaurs!”  We in the audience knew exactly how he felt.

In the Road

At first, it looked like a car had simply stalled in the center turn lane, just an inconvenience on my drive home.  Then I saw another, at an angle to the first, and it became clear there’d been some kind of accident.  I sighed at the nuisance.

Then I saw the group of people huddled over something in the road between the two cars.  And the debris scattered around it.

And I found myself feeling guilty I’d assumed another human being was an “it.”

I wove my way around the accident, slowing down to make sure I didn’t endanger anyone else.  And I thought I heard someone yell, “Move!”  It unnerved me a bit; I wasn’t trying to gawk, I was trying to be careful.  But could I hold that against them?  They were likely under a lot more stress than I was.  I was driving away, safe and sound.  They were standing over … well, I had no idea what.

The scene faded in my rear view mirror, and then all the things I should have done flooded into me.  I should have asked if anyone needed help.  I should have called 911.  I should have done something more.  But what could I have done that the crowd behind me hadn’t done already?  And did I want to do it for the sake of the person in the road, or for my own conscience?

Of course, I could have not been bothered by this at all.  I could have rolled my eyes at the delay, barely spared a glance for what was going on, and continued on into the night.  So I guess there’s that.

I hope that person is all right.  I hope the panic of that scene was just momentary.  I hope I saw a pause, not an ending.

And I hope someone spares the same thoughts if that’s ever me lying there.

Board Minutes for 5/13/14

meepleI’m afraid I’m going to have to be a bit of a tease about the first game I played this evening.  See, it’s out of print, so if you want to play it, you’re going to have to find someone who owns it or, if you’re lucky enough to have obsessed gamer friends like I do, someone who got a hold of the print and play files and made their own copy.  This happens a lot more often than you’d think, and very often with the full blessing of the game designers, who often use it as a way to playtest and promote their games.  It’s a common reward tier for a lot of Kickstarter campaigns for board games too, as well as a way for foreign games that have yet to find an American publisher to gain a foothold and maybe make their way to a stateside release.  Add this to the inherently fiddly nature of a lot of board gamers, who love to modify and upgrade their games and components, and print and play is a pretty vibrant part of the hobby.  I’ve even seen some finished print and play games that rival the eventual published versions, with how much time and effort was put into the print part.  Anything to get to the play part.

manilaManila — When this was described to me as a wagering game, it didn’t stir a lot of interest.  I’m not much for gambling, primarily because I’m not very good at it; you want to earn a decent living, play some poker with me.  I also can’t bluff to save my life, so much of the appeal of gambling is lost on me.  But my friend Lionel was really excited about this, and had done a lot of work printing out the components, so I gave it a try.  The game consists of a series of rounds in which players take turns spending money on various spaces on the board that can either earn them more money or improve their chances of doing so.  There are three boats full of goods moving up a river, and the players are both investing in the goods on the boats and wagering on whether they’ll complete the journey — thereby selling the goods aboard them, making good on the investment — or end up damaged from the rapids.  There’s also wagering on who gets to go first each round, and since this offers numerous advantages such as deciding which goods are being shipped and having first choice of spaces on the board to claim, this can be hotly contested.  Once the value of any one good reaches the top of its track, the game ends, and the player with the most money wins.

We ended up playing this twice, so saying we liked it was a bit of an understatement.  It’s not a deep game, even with there being some math involved in figuring out what move will give you the best return on your investment.  But boy is there a lot of player interaction, especially when you end up taking the space someone else was about to pin their entire turn on.  There are also spaces that allow you to move the boats forward or backward in addition to the die rolls that move them, and figuring out who might be doing what — and making them wonder what you might be doing — gives the game a ton of replayability.  The two games we played unfolded in completely different fashions — the first with money being kept relatively close to the chest, the second more free-spending — and saw two completely different orders of finish.  We could have easily played this all night had time allowed, my initial reluctance towards it gone.  Hopefully there’s enough interest to get someone’s attention and get this published again.  Sadly though, the designer, Franz-Benno Delonge, passed away in 2007, making a revival somewhat unlikely.

pic1766481_tBang! The Dice Game ($15.07 on Amazon) — This is the dice version of a card game that I have to admit is not one of my favorites.  It’s the kind of game that can last sixty of the most excruciating minutes of your life or be over before you’ve even settled down to play it.  In both versions, one player is revealed as the sheriff of a Wild West town, with the other players’ roles hidden.  There are two outlaws who win if the sheriff is killed, a deputy who wins along with the sheriff if the outlaws are killed, and a renegade who wins if they’re the last one standing.  Of course, you don’t necessarily want to go gunning for the sheriff right away, since that’ll tip everyone off as to who you are.  So you try to mask your intentions until the right moment, which can lead to games dragging on and on and on, an ordeal if you’re eliminated early on.  But if the bad guys get the right combos of cards,  the sheriff dies almost immediately and you’ve barely gotten the chance to play.

The dice game does speed things up considerably.  It uses a Yahtzee-like re-roll mechanic with specialized dice that allow you to shoot, heal, or, if you roll poorly, blow yourself up.  But the two games we played again underlined my issues with the core of Bang!.  The first game was an enjoyable back and forth thirty minutes or so.  The second saw the dice fall just the right way and the sheriff dead after just three turns around the table.  I think part of my disconnect here is how the odds seem so stacked against the sheriff.  There are two players who win by killing him, and the deputy has very limited means of assisting him.  If he uses his heals to take care of the sheriff, the deputy will die, leaving the sheriff on his own.  If he keeps himself alive, the sheriff is in danger of being killed.  And in either case, the deputy is likely not shooting the bad guys, leaving them free to do what they want.  The renegade has some incentive to kill the outlaws, since he needs to be the last one alive and loses if the outlaws kill the sheriff.  But he’s on his own, and can’t simply start shooting everybody or his role is a dead giveaway.  Maybe I just can’t wrap my head around the strategy, but it just feels like the outlaws should just start blasting away at the sheriff with everything they’ve got, and they’ll likely kill him before the deputy and renegade can do anything about it.

The fact that I was the sheriff in the second game had absolutely nothing to do with my feelings on this matter.  I swear.

Starstruck

I looked at her, standing there, bathed in light.  She’d emerged from the darkness, her arrival not unexpected.  But it was the way in which she’d appeared that caught the breath.  Sudden, striking, beautiful.

I almost didn’t dare approach her.  I didn’t feel worthy enough to stand in her presence.  But she drew me forward despite my reservations.

I couldn’t speak.  Words seemed too cheap for the moment.  So I looked at her.

We’d never met, though I knew her well.  Always glimpsed from afar, now she was close enough to touch, though she remained just out of reach.  For why should such meager hands touch one who had touched the sky?

So I looked at her.  Wide-eyed, a child at Christmas.  I took pictures, poor substitutes for the reality, but soon all I would have left of the moment.

There before me was hope and dream made reality, a culmination to an epic journey that ended too soon.  One day others may soar as she did, but never with that line, that grace.

Then the moment came when we had to part.  Though we’d shared the room with hundreds, still I felt she spoke to me.

“Remember.”

And I will.  Until I look at her again.

IMAG0493

What I’d Watch 5/9/14

This is a total make-a-grab weekend.  You put a movie here, you’re hoping to catch the viewers who have already seem Amazing Spider-Man 2 and make some cash before Godzilla bows next week.  You’re content to finish second to Spidey, but would be ecstatic if you beat it.  Essentially, it’s a week of lowered expectations, so that you hopefully end up pleasantly surprised.  At least on the business side of things; none of this has anything to do with quality.

legendsofoz_posterI think the time has come to just leave Oz alone.  Let’s admit 1939’s The Wizard of Oz has rendered the property untouchable in the minds of the public and let that film stand as the final say on the matter.  Yes, we might miss out on some bold new vision that’s actually worth something, but it will at least spare us from things like Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.  Or, as I call it, These Performers Have Mortgage Payments Due.  Because I look at the cast and you can’t tell me there’s a single one of them who thought, “This is a story that deserves to be told.”  They got a nice fat check for a few days in front of a microphone without having to be in costume or on location, and we got what looks like another tedious attempt to capture something magical.  Dorothy should have stayed in Kansas.

townies_posterThere was a time when Seth Rogen would have been playing Zac Effron’s role in Neighbors.  And it’s a time not all that long ago; it was last year in This Is the End.  But here Rogen is the straight-laced husband and father and Effron is the hell raiser.  And it might actually be a smart move.  Even Rogen himself made fun of his stoner image on his recent Saturday Night Live gig.  He can’t play that card forever.  So it might be time to start trying something new before people lose interest in that shtick.  Whether audiences are ready to pay to see Rogen be the straight guy remains to be seen, as is if this is really a truly straight guy role for him.  Some are predicting Neighbors might actually take the weekend from Spider-Man 2, which might be more a factor of general opinion of that film than of Neighbors‘ strength.  But if Rogen can debut at #1, that’s a very good sign for this stage of his career.

But really, I’m just marking time until Godzilla comes out.  Can it be the 16th already?  I’ve seen nothing to give me even the slightest pause about this film.  Which I know is a recipe for disappointment, but I’ll take this level of excitement any day over the collective shrug I’ve had over the releases since Winter Soldier.  Go go Godzilla.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 257 other followers

%d bloggers like this: