Roll up, ladies and gentlemen! Queue right here for your literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be skewered by a shot from the most famous siege engine in Imperial Rome! That’s right, it’s time for Bolt Thrower #2.
Fond as they are of their boardgames over at NoHighScores, I’m not sure there’s ever been much written about wargames over there so I thought I’d educate their readership on the finer points of Panzer-pushing, including why the genre is so bafflingly resistant to modernisation, and why it is when designers to break the mold the games are often of startling quality. I’ve also taken the opportunity to lay down four games that I feel are both newbie-friendly and yet epitomise the cutting edge of wargame design. No doubt some of you, especially the wargamers amongst you, many of whom have a much wider range of experience in the genre than I do, will disagree with my picks, so get on the thread and let everyone know about it.
At the moment I’m one half of the way through the enormous French Revolution yarn A Place of Greater Safety. The author won the famous Booker Prize for another of her historical novels, but this one actually had better reviews on Amazon so I was expecting great things. I have not, as yet, discovered them. It’s certainly not a bad book by any stretch, but it has this bizarre focus on the intimate details of the lives of three figures at the forefront of the revolution, so close and personal that it neglects to talk about a lot of the wider history. So if you don’t know some of the history, you’ll frequently be left wondering what on earth some of the characters are talking about, and if you do then it ruins much of the suspense. The author also seems to be infuriatingly fond of implicating things rather than stating them directly, which exacerbates the problem. Interesting, well-written and often entertaining, but not a book I can imagine reading more than once.
I also got lucky and caught the e-book Codex Nekromantica on one day when it happened to be free. It’s a fun read, a kind of Pratchett-esque take on Lovecraft that focuses squarely on laughs over the depth of imagination, character and cunning metaphors that you get with the real Pratchett. Good job too, as while the author clearly has a talent for fast-moving plots and humorous similes, originality and character aren’t really his strong points and he’s self aware enough to know it, and clever enough to turn it to his advantage by poking ironic fun at his own stereotypes. And as it turns out it’s ideal material to read in the dark while waiting for toddlers to go sleep, so it gave me a lot of pleasure right up until the ending, which was rubbish, leaving a variety of important plot points forgotten and entirely unresolved.
I’ve finally discovered the joys of Ascendancy on iOS. It does work exceptionally well on that platform and the app is highly recommended by me and about anyone else that’s ever used it. But I found it had a smaller life span for me than many others: got burned out on it after a couple of weeks. I haven’t bothered with Return of the Fallen. Deckbuilders just aren’t my thing I guess.
On the other hand I played all the way through Everlands on my Android phone (it’s also on iOS) and wanted more. Everlands is actually a board game, just one that only exists on mobile devices. While it ostensibly has a theme of animals trying to save one another from an infection of evilness, it’s actually pretty abstract. You play on an empty hex grid, choosing and placing one piece per turn from a selection of units that have attack and hit point values, arrows to indicate which hex sides they attack from, and a special power. When you place a unit it takes damage equal to the attack value of adjacent enemy pieces which can attack across the relevant hex sides and if it survives it attacks back. Any piece that accumulates more damage than its hit points gets flipped to the opposing side. And you’re playing to have the most pieces on the board. It’s a bit like Neuroshima Hex only cuter, slightly simpler, slightly deeper and a lot more fun. It would make a great 2-player board game and I’ll eat my hat if someone hasn’t already thought about licencing it as a physical product. For a dollar, it’s pretty much a must-have in my book.
If you’ve been following the forums, you’ll have noticed that this week F:AT’s been on a massive hip-hop and rap trip. Everyone’s been pitching in and suggesting their favourite tracks and in the interests of enjoying it all myself at minimum effort, I compiled the lot into a Spotify playlist. Where I couldn’t find the suggested track by a given artist, I just substituted the most popular instead, so that’ll be why certain picks didn’t make the list.
And man, I have to say you lot have good taste in rap (except for whoever posted Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac). Here in the UK we just don’t get the exposure to some of the more inventive underground stuff you’ve been posting so that’s been a real eye-opener, especially Aesop Rock and Clipse both new to me and both great. So far the collective favourite album - with three different tracks recommended by three different users (including me) - is the MF DOOM and Madlib collaboration Madvillainy. And with good reason too: critically acclaimed, cryptic, funky, experimental and in my top three rap albums of all time.
I can’t say I’m a huge hip-hop fan - I still don’t like the majority of it that I hear. But I’ve long been of the opinion that what makes the difference between good rap and bad rap is not the rapping at all but the quality of the production. The very best rappers are extremely skillful, but I don’t think the majority - even the majority with record deals - do anything particularly special. But a quality producer, laying down some deep, hollow beats and scarred soul samples can create an atmosphere that’s at once funky and terrifying and so good that almost anyone rapping would sound good laid over the top. Hearing all your picks, and listening to you talk about some of your favourite producers: Madlib, RZA, Blockhead and others has only re-enforced my belief.