Tastier than a slice of pie, it’s Bolt Thrower time again. I’ve got one more review to shoehorn in over on NHS, and then hopefully we can take a short break from these.
So the big feature this week is, finally, my review of Fantasy Flight Games’ Dune reprint, Rex. Now I have to admit that I’ve never been as keen on Dune as many of you. It’s good, pretty much unique, and has set the standard by which integrating theme and mechanics should be measure for the past thirty years, but I found its brand of byzantine negotiation and paranoia somewhat off-putting. I’d rather play, say, Twilight Imperium 3 if I wanted something in the epic DOAM line. And what Fantasy Flight have done with the game is made it more accessible: it’s faster playing, slightly less neurotic and has the focus on its clever mechanics rather than inter-player diplomatic agreements. But, gamers of the future who settle for Rex will have missed that superb lesson in conveying a theme through mechanics alone, without the usual reams of supporting text that seems to be required nowadays. On balance, I’d call it a draw between the two.
Been reading a lot of Gerald Durrell. I have no idea how well known he is in the states, but he’s long been a favourite author of mine. A naturalist, he chronicled his expeditions around the world to study and collect animals in a long series of fluently written books which offer by turns fascinating insights into biology and genuinely hysterical anecdotes. There are very few books that can make me cry with laughter, and Gerald Durrell is the only author who’s been able to do it consistently. I polished off his two books chronicling his childhood on the Greek island of Corfu, My Family and Other Animals and Birds, Beasts and Relatives and laughed like a drain much of the way through. Relaxing bedtime reading, it isn’t. They’re his most popular books but not, I think, his best. I like the ones with the focus more squarely on animals, but then again as a former biologist myself I may be slightly biased.
Finished Gears of War on Xbox 360. I had been playing on hardcore, but I gave up on the finale of the penultimate act as playing it over and over had become more frustrating than fun, which kind of defeats the point of gaming. And on casual, the final boss at the end of act five wasn’t all that bad. I’ve tried to get into Fable 2 but, much as I loved the original, it’s just not doing it for me. And all the other games at the top of my to-play list - Arkham Asylum, Red Dead Redemption, Dark Souls and The Witcher 2 - are still too expensive second hand to feel like bothering with. I tried Bastion, which seemed like great fun, but the text was unreadable on my SD TV so I had to give that up too.
So, thank God for Summoner Wars on iOS. It’s a great implementation of a fun game, although I can’t join the chorus of excessive hyperbole that’s been pumped out about it since the launch debacle was sorted out. I haven’t actually played the board game, so I got my eye in with a few games against the AI, then a few games online against you fine people, and now I’ve started tinkering with the decks, although there’s a lot less interest in doing that than there is in a full-blown LCG. But it’s got a great balance of strategy, randomness, immersion and speed and its structure makes it fantastic for iOS play.
Also grimly plugging away at Ticket to Ride pocket, trying to get the 240 point and 15 ticket achievements. I think I know how to do it now, and I’ve come close, but so far no cigar.
A while ago we had a rap thread on the forums here, and a couple of you posted Aesop Rock songs. I liked them, so I got on Spotify and listened to some more. And then suddenly last week I had a massive Aesop Rock explosion and spent virtually the whole week listening to Labor Days and None Shall Pass on endless repeat.
As ever with hip-hop it’s the production that clinches it. Aesop chooses some interesting stuff to rap about, walking a really nice line of social commentary between the tiresome bombast of gangsta and the self-consciously politicised material that dominates in underground hip-hop, but his actual rapping is fairly pedestrian. The production, on the other hand, from long time collaborator Blockhead, is absolutely superb. Blockhead is the only hip-hop producer I know of who’s released solo material without any vocals at all, and while those tracks aren’t as good as the material he’s done with Aesop, it points to the strength of his production that the music alone is enough to carry an album.
Favourite track so far is Battery with its exhilarating saxophone samples. But there’s a couple of albums I haven’t heard yet. And the Fast Cars, Danger, Fire & Knives EP is growing on me. Aesop Rock stands a good chance of becoming my favourite hip-hop act ever.
Matt is on holiday next week, so he'll be busy enjoying all the lovely endless rain of the English summer rather than writing columns. So no article for the 23rd I'm afraid. Normal service will be resumed afterwards, assumning that whatever gets put in my place isn't so brilliant that you'll never want to hear from me again.