Coming at you like a south-bound freight train, or more probably like a spear fired at considerable velocity from an ancient siege engine, it’s Bolt Thrower #3.
You may recall when I started writing these that I promised they would be fairly widely spaced. That’s still very much my intention but I have a raft of reviews coming up and most of them are going to go on No High Scores for maximum exposure. I feel that’s what the publishers and designers deserve, whether it’s positive or negative coverage. So for a short while you’ll get these fortnightly. And then, I promise, they’ll slow down again.
So the first of those big board game review pieces over on No High Scores was a review of the new edition of Wiz-War from Fantasy Flight Games. When I started writing these Bolt Thrower columns it was pointed out to me that not everyone can get No High Scores at work and so I should provide a precis of the material. In this case, the precis is this: it’s brilliant, go and buy it now. Here endeth the precis.
If you want more, my admiration for the game stems from two particular observations. Firstly the way it manages to cram an entire meta-games worth of negotiation, backstabbing, grudges, alliances, trash-talking and desperate attempts to stop the leader into an hour long game. The second is the hugely creative manner in which you can combine movement through the maze and cards, making each game different and challenging even if ultimately the winner is often determined by luck. There’s very little strategy in Wiz-War, but it seems to me there’s plenty of tactics.
Nearly finished A Place of Greater Safety. It improves a great deal toward the end but it’s still ultimately just too long and sprawling, needing a tighter focus and a bit more material on the wider history. Next up in the reading queue I have When God Was A Rabbit which is unlikely to be of much interest to any of you I should imagine. But It Was A Present So I Must Read It. And that means I’m going to review it, too. Sorry.
In terms of e-books I got American Psycho in a sale for 20p. I almost wish I hadn’t. I’ve found it to be seriously disturbing in parts, yet it's well written enough to compel me to continue with it every time it freaks me out. I can’t work out which is worse: the grotesque, graphic episodes of torture and sexual murder or the fact that cast of characters - who are all Wall Street whiz-kids, the supposed cream of a generation - are so totally, unrelentingly narcissistic, materialistic, empty shells of human beings. Beyond the violence this is a superb, searing satire on neoliberal culture and self-identity and the manner in which the one is corrosive to the other. However, I found that when the torture porn gets too much, it can be skipped and much of the value in the book remains intact, which rather makes me wonder what the point was of including it in the first place. I wish I’d had the foresight to bypass some of the more extreme sequences. Pass the mind bleach, please.
On the iPad I’ve been playing a lot of the mobile version of Dead Space. It’s by far the best implementation of the“complex” shooter model I’ve yet seen on a mobile device. In contrast to every other game of its ilk I’ve tried, they’ve got the control system and cameras pretty much right. There are occasional jitters when the game gets confused by whether you want to aim a weapon, fire it, reload it or open a door, but for the most part it’s smooth. It’s pleasingly atmospheric and challenging, too, with some tough set pieces to battle through. But I’m baffled by the complete lack of back story: nothing is offered for people who haven’t played other Dead Space games. As a result, later on in the game when the plot tries to push a few emotional buttons to get a reaction is just fails, because there’s no emotional investment for the player in the first place. But if you want a competent, difficult, detailed shooter on iOS it’s pretty much the only option.
I also played Triple Town on my Android phone this week. I like it, but I didn’t get the addiction rush that other people have described. It’s a sort of puzzle game where you have to match things in triplicate to get them to upgrade in value, but you don’t know what item you’ll be given next and occasionally you get scarily vicious looking bears who stomp around and get in the way. I don’t really enjoy puzzle games very much so perhaps it’s not surprising that I don’t love it, but it has enough uncertainty about it to keep you on your toes and make it interesting and varied.
I downloaded Army of Frogs when it was free. I played it once and hated it. Tedious un-interactive, uninteresting abstract logic puzzle dressed up with a cutesy nonsensical theme. Deleted.
I seem to have been on a throwback to my teens this week. It started because I queued up some good modern electro-pop for my daughter’s birthday party and then started listening to it myself. British siren Little Boots and her effortlessly sexy and entirely danceable material and Swedish songstress Robyn with her surprisingly thought-provoking take on the genre are way out in front. And if you don’t believe electro-pop can be thoughtful, listen to Robyn’s We Dance To The Beat to change your mind.
Anyway, that inspired me to take a trip down memory lane, to the pop music that was around when I was growing up. At the time I listened to Heavy Metal and only Heavy Metal, and I despised pretty much everything in the charts. But what I’d failed to do was differentiate between the rubbish churned out by entirely commerical writers and producers like Stock, Aiken, Waterman and pop acts that wrote and often produced their own material. On the surface they may sound similar, stuffed with eighties synths and drum machines, but the self-penned stuff is unsurprisingly more personal, more interesting and more enduring. So I had a brief re-appreciation of acts like The Human League and The Pet Shop Boys. But my favourite is, and has always been, Erasure. I’m not entirely sure why that is: to me they seem to incorporate a more diverse range of influences, including techo, prog rock and 70’s funk, leading to a more interesting sound overall, and they do a fair amount of topical material about things like the social cost of neoliberal politics (The Circus) and environmentalism (Chorus) and that certainly helps.
From there I re-lived the next step of my musical history which was from heavy metal to gothic rock. The Sisters of Mercy have featured heavily. Of all the gothic acts of the late 80’s and early 90’s only really the Sisters and the Fields of the Nephilim still sound relatively fresh today. Most of their contemporaries just sound wistful and silly. The Nephilim, as I previously remarked, got away with it because they gave off the sense that they took all the doom, gloom and pagan leanings really very seriously indeed. The Sisters have got away with it for the opposite reason: because they treated it like big joke. And it’s still pretty funny.
I haven’t made a Spotify playlist for any of this, partially because no-one seems to subscribe to the ones I’ve made so far, but largely because much of the content would toe-curlingly embarrassing to yours truly.