It's hip, it's zen, it's late-off-the-presses with Next of Ken. This week, I'll talk about The Hunger Games, review AEG's latest offering Smash Up!, and look back at Yomi and a handful of kids' games. Four out of five dentists agree Next of Ken has little effect on cavities...all the same, join us, won't you?
I Don't Mind Stealing Bread, From the Mouths of Decadence
After seeing The Hunger Games movie a few weeks ago, my wife and I enjoyed the film so much we decided to go ahead and read the books. They're extemely brisk, enjoyable reads, and while the first two were good reads...
Seriously, the third book the author does a 180 and decides she wants to make some sort of statement rather than finish up the book in the same tone as she started in. Seriously, it's a load of shit and it's disappointing. If I knew this was how it would turn out, I'm not sure I'd have bothered--either with the movie, or the novels.
It will be funny to watch how they decide to adapt the third book to the screen. They announced that it was being split in two (a common tactic these days, thanks Harry Potter) but they have two choices: change major chunks of the third book and get a shitstorm from the hardcore fans, or put it up as is and prepare for a shitstorm from the general viewing public.
Either way, I'll have some popcorn, both for the movie as well as the fracas that's sure to ensue.
I would have at one point gladly recommended the movie, but knowing where everything ends up, I'm not sure I'd bother. There is nothing worse than an author who gets a case of the self-important messenger, when they've made their name delivering populist stuff in the first place.
Been awhile since I've done one of these...lately I've been hooked on this Youtube series of videos from Bad Lip Reading, where someone has taken music videos and written entirely new songs with their own lyrics that match up with the original performance.
Here's the first one I came across..."Russian Unicorn", a Bad Lip Reading of Michael Buble. Enjoy.
Smash-Up is the latest offering from AEG, a game that's essentially a walking meme generator--what if Robot Ninjas took on Pirate Wizards? And as befitting a game with a silly theme like that, it's a fast, card-slapping duel that plays tidily in half an hour, where Zombie Dinosaurs will rend flesh, smash bases, and, uh, win some VPs in the process.
The game is billed as the first "Shufflebuilding" game, and what you get in the box are eight factions, including Ninjas, Zombies, Robots, Wizards, Pirates, "Tricksters", Dinosaurs, and Aliens. The game supports up to four players, and each player picks one of these factions; when it gets to the last to choose, that player chooses again and it goes back around until everyone has two factions. You then shuffle 'em up, and you're ready to play. Place the appropriate number of locations in play, and you're off.
Everything centers around the battle for "bases", the central locations on the table where players can deploy their minions. Every base has a value that 'pops' it, and that happens when the combined strengths of all minions equal or exceed this value. There are three values on each base, from left to right--these are the VPs that the first, second, and third player receive when the base pops, based on total strength there.
Minions aren't only good for the strength they contribute to these battles, but most of them have game text that will affect the game. Some will blow up opposing minions, others will shift minions around between the available bases, and all are flavorful of their respective factions. Pirates roam around causing havoc, Ninjas sneak into bases at the last second to steal scoring opportunities, and Zombies keep coming even from the discard pile as they rise, rise, rise from the dead.
I want to mention how smart that the design of these mixed factions are. On almost all cards, rather than say "Take target zombie..." or "Move target Ninja..." they instead most often refer to simply "Minions." (There are exceptions, but this is the general rule.) What this means is instead of it feeling like you're blending two different factions, you've combined the two--so you'll get zombie cards popping pirates out of the discard pile, or Wizard cards empowering you to play more Robot actions. It really opens up the gameplay and does a great job at making you feel like you are playing a hybrid faction rather than just two decks crammed together. It's a simple point, but very well done and a smart choice on their part to design it this way.
At any rate, bases 'pop', points are scored, minions shuffle off to the discard pile (except those that are crafty and move to another location or bounce back to hand), and a new location is revealed. The bases also inject more flavor to the game as each battlefield is a little different. Some reward playing swarms, others punish players for killing off other minions, still others let you summon opponent's dudes over for a big brouhaha--or to pull them away from your REAL target. Most locations reward the first place player the most, but not all--which can result in some hilarious attempts at players trying to stay juuussst under first place, so they can maximize their points.
Speaking of points, once someone's reached 15, it's game over, and their Frankenstein amalgamation of minions have won the day, forever to be proclaimed Robot Dinosaur lords of...something. Who knows, it's fast, furious, and interactive, and the ride getting there is even more fun than the destination.
I can only think of two complaints, really, and they pertain to the physical production. The insert is pretty awesome at first glance, with spots to hold the base game factions and then some (expansions, anyone?) but that all goes to hell if you want to sleeve the cards. I'm a sleever and with all the cramming, slamming, and shuffling these cards will take, I'll want to use sleeves. Only reason that the insert is frustrating in that regard was that if the box was just a tad bigger--this is smaller than the typical AEG square box--then it likely wouldn't have been a problem.
The other, and this is even more minor, is that the game doesn't provide any way to track points. You can get pencil and paper, or do like me and grab some 20-sided dice to keep score. I'm surprised they didn't print a little scoreboard of some kind, especially since the game only goes to 15 points.
But hey, Smash Up is ultimately a light, fun game that doesn't take itself very seriously and is the kind of game that will make you say, "Just one more." The eight factions in different combinations will keep things fresh, and you'll spend time trying to find the ideal combination that matches your preferred play style. Right now I'm a Wizards/Anything kind of guy as I enjoy their card drawing and free actions. My wife played the Pirate Ninjas and they are infuriatingly good at staying mobile and stealing points....arrrgghh, Sensei Blackbeard!
Like card games? Like smashing face? Give Smash Up a try. I dig it, and odds are you will, too.
From a Feint Into a Slip, and Kicking From the Hip
This week's "Ken B. Looks Back" is very timely, as my 11-year old son has been showing more of an interest in my games these days.
I've never been the type to force games on my kids. I like spending time with them, so I usually will play just about anything they ask for. I find the whole notion of "I force fed my six-year old Caylus" fairly detestable actually--these are your kids, not your home-grown gaming partners that you can foist your brown Euros on. Leave them be, man!
In Volume 5 of Next of Ken, I covered Yomi as well as some other kids' games. A few nights ago my son asked me about some of my games on the shelf. He plays a lot of Marvel Vs. Capcom, so I shrugged and asked if he wanted to play Yomi, explaining that it was basically "Street Fighter: The Card Game." His eyes lit up and he nodded approval.
We had a freaking excellent time playing Yomi. It's one of those games that you can teach the basic rules quickly, even if the depth of how to play each character takes a lot of time to get used to.
Though I took it easy on him at first, soon he got a read on me and won several combats in a row. He laughed because suddenly daddy was easy to read! I finally shook off the read and was able to go back on the offensive, but his Argagarg was chipping away at my health with his Hex of Mirkwood. Refusing to play Arg according to type, he was very aggressive, even when he was down to two cards in hand.
Normally a two-card hand means you'd better Block, and soon, so you can get more cards, but he managed to use what he had very unpredictably.
He Powered up for an Ace, and as we were both low on health, I assumed he'd try to prop up his Bubble Shield to eat my life away faster. I figured he thought I was out of Throws at this point. Surprise! My Throw attempt was met with his SUPER ACE side, and he pitched the other card...which was also an Ace. My poor Degrey exploded into pieces in a hail of Blowfish Spikes.
We've played it two or three more times since then, and I think it's become his new favorite game. Which I am of course totally okay with. Hey, I'm no hypocrite--if he said he hated it tomorrow, he'd never have to play it again. But I'm glad he's found a favorite that is also one of mine.
Other games I covered in that column were Fish Eat Fish, which I had pegged as a cutesy game that wasn't great for kids, and I stand by that assessment. It's a cool game of dueling fishes and double-guessing, but unless your kid is an ace bluffer, you'll read them far easier than Jacob did me in Yomi. Sure, you can throw the game, but the best family games are ones you don't have to--those that introduce enough randomness and guesswork that parents end up on the same playing field as their kids.
Tier Auf Tier: Das Duell is the next one, and my twin girls have played that countless times over the past year. They love it. The best part is that they're good enough at it that I don't have to pretend--they can definitely beat me! If you've got young kids, I still recommend this one. It's silly stacking goodness.
Bisikle is a flicky race game that I praised as being an affordable alternative to Pitchcar, and I still feel the same way. We haven't taken it out to play much lately because one of the kids got the Sorry Sliders Cars game, which to be honest is more fun for them. The girls took their stab at Bisikle and it was an hour-long exercise at digging the Z-Ball out from under the couch and the bookcases.
So while I like Bisikle, if you want cheap Pitchcar for kids, get the Sorry Sliders Cars game. Pretty sure it can still be found cheaply, and your kids will love it.
Last is Sole Mio/Mamma Mia!, the duo of memory-based games about making Pizza. This is definitely a winner with the kids, but we haven't played it in awhile. I think it's the small card box getting lost on my shelves, we just don't think to play it as often.
I think we'll play it soon, as a matter of fact. Just making a mental note to myself.
For younger kids, I still think Mamma Mia is the way to go. A bit less complex and easier for kids to recognize the recipe patterns. Kids love pizza, and love games with cool themes....like, say, pizza?
Buy this. It's cheap. Your kids will dig it. (Hard to believe it's from the same guy who went on to design snorefests like Le Havre. Come back, Uwe!)
That's a wrap for this late-arriving edition, folks. So until Wolverine and Raphael team up to take on the bad guys, I'll see you next time.