Sorry to be throwing you another curve-bolt this week. But I’ve ended up chaining two reviews back to back because I delayed by Dungeon Command review for too long. Apologies - you’ll get some dedicated board game content next week.
I wrote a review of the classic Last Night on Earth for the NoHighScores crowd. I suspect most of you here will have played it extensively but it remains a divisive game and I thought it worth recording my opinions. Which are largely very positive. I think it’s marginally more tactical than its dice-fest reputation suggests and regardless it’s at a time and complexity level and with sufficient narrative potential to make quick fire, lightweight gameplay exciting and fun. And I love the art. So there.
I got to play Notre Dame for the first time last week. I quite enjoyed it although I’m not sure what the replay value is like. But for most of the game all I could hear in my head was Chuck D rapping “Bring the Rats!”
I got to review Mechwarrior for gamezebo which was a nice opportunity. However on my original iPad it was riddled with bugs, crashed constantly and was basically unplayable. I found out later that it’s not iPad 1 compatible. The app store normally prevents you from downloading incompatible material but it seems that doesn’t apply to preview copies. Bit worrying that my not terribly old tablet device is already starting to become redundant.
So I went back to Zombie Highway in search of some casual gaming. It should be renamed Zombie Heroin. That is all.
Been playing lots of Mount & Blade: Warband on the PC as well. It’s an exceptionally odd game: a sort of medieval sandbox world in which you attempt to rise up the feudal hierarchy by currying the favour of nobles with missions for them, stealing territory off rival kingdoms and perhaps eventually setting yourself up as a power in your own right if you’re lucky and skillful. In spite of its primitive graphics and interface (text? text? in 2012?) you have to admire the game for having the balls to implement a realistic and hard-to-master combat model and for the lack of an overarching plot. Instead it’s a true sandbox where you’re genuinely free to become what you like. But it seems to lack variety: whether you’re killing bandits, or outlaws, or errant farmers the model seems very much the same. Perhaps it will bloom into something brilliant eventually but at the moment it belongs in the “missed opportunity” box.
Thought the last Doctor Who episode with the invasion of the cubes was awful. The basic concept was great and the buildup to the little boxes of doom opening was tense but after that point the whole thing just fell apart. They spent so much time setting the scene that the conclusion felt rushed and unsatisfying: right up until the last few minutes in fact I was expecting to discover this was the first of a two-parter. But no. Very disappointed.
I saw the Wuxia film Hero with Jet Li and Maggie Cheung for about the third time. It remains superbly watchable even after repeat viewings have rendered the plot twist meaningless. It features what are probably the finest sword fighting scenes ever committed to celluloid: fluid, graceful, and thrilling. The cinematography is superb, focussing on blocks of colour and stunning shots across the varied Chinese landscape. You could watch it with the sound and subtitles off and it’d still be superb. And, like the best Wuxia material, it has a deeper moral underneath all of the beauty and the action. Some critics apparently accused it of being an apology for Chinese human rights abuse. Personally, I thought it was a more satisfying exploration of Spocks’ sentiment that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.
I’ve just finished the comedy novel A Confederacy of Dunces. Set in early sixties New Orleans it chronicles the struggles of medievalist Ignatius J. Reilly against modernity and the pressing need to work to earn a living. There are very few humorous novels that have made me laugh out loud, there’s something about the medium that invites gentle fun poking over outright mockery, and Confederacy of Dunces is not one of them. But it did make me smile a lot. It’s a clever blend of all sorts of comedy techniques and juxtapositions from simple farce to rather profound intellectual jokes. But the author seems to be more interested in setting up the punchlines than he is in weaving a pleasing narrative, and the plot sometimes drifts somewhat. A good read, but not a book I’m likely to revisit.
So the next on the list was the compilation of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth novels and short stories. I’ve read some of these before, but never in their entirety. I regard Vance as one of the very few fantasy writers to have genuinely escaped from under the shadow of Tolkien. Instead of the feeble attempts at rich background and exposition that most Tolkien copyists feature, a seemingly endless parade of fantasy wonders spring direct from pen to page with nary a verb given to explanation. If you’re used to the usual fare it’s disconcerting at first but after a while you begin to see how it offers a wonderful freedom to explore what fantasy is all about, unfettered imaginings, without the burden of having to try and make things consistent or sensical. Vance’s wondrous creations are ably supported by his extensive vocabulary and bizarre archaic yet dense writing style. It’s superb stuff, and my only disappointment is that the central character in many of the stories, a witty rogue named Cugel, is somewhat too roguish for my tastes. Vance clearly loves him as a character but after he’d sold one companion into slavery, effectively raped another, and sacrificed the lives of nearly 40 people to keep him safe during a dangerous journey, I lost sympathy.
Mumford & Sons have a new album out, Babel. I adore their curious mixture of alternative rock and bluegrass and couldn’t wait to hear it and wasn’t disappointed. It’s a good record and if you’re enjoyed their previous album you’ll enjoy this. The only fly in the ointment is that it’s a bit *too* similar. It’s easy for successful bands to get stuck in creative holding patterns and become irrelevant and I hope it doesn’t happen to this lot.
I’ve also been listening to an awful lot of Pink Floyd. I played the entirety of The Wall for the first time since becoming a parent and found it deeply disturbing. All that responsibility. For a person, a character, a whole human and not just their phyisical wellbeing. It's terrifying.