Articles Trash Culture Bolt Thrower #4: Nexus Ops review, Walking Dead, Trollhunter, Cocteau Twins & PJ Harvey
 

Bolt Thrower #4: Nexus Ops review, Walking Dead, Trollhunter, Cocteau Twins & PJ Harvey Bolt Thrower #4: Nexus Ops review, Walking Dead, Trollhunter, Cocteau Twins & PJ Harvey Hot

bolt-throwerIs it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s a projectile from an ancient siege engine!

Games

The feature this week is a review of the Fantasy Flight Games re-release of Nexus Ops. I’ve always been impressed by the manner in which Nexus Ops managed to cram the entire design history of dudes on a map games into a tiny, manageable and hugely entertaining package, losing nothing but the epic feel of its more unwieldy ancestors. And the FFG reboot gives you all that back of course, plus a wild bunch of very good variants to solve the occasional staleness of the original game. Yeah, so you don’t get the blacklight figures any more but really, how many people regularly used that feature? Yeah, it’s ugly but so was the original. It’s a quality reprint of an excellent game. Quit complaining.

Mobile

I’m going to keep fairly quiet about this as most of my mobile gaming time - a quite indecent chunk of time, in fact - has been poured into a title that I’m going to review as a featured piece next week. I wonder if you can guess what it might be? Hint: it’s not Nightfall.

It isn’t Elder Sign either, which I bought for my Android and have yet to play, being too impatient to sit through video tutorials rather than the sort of click-and-explain tutorial I’ve become used to in these sorts of games. But that’s more of a fault with me than it is with the game.

TV

Finally got round to finishing season 2 of the Walking Dead in a mad rush. I know it’s caught some flack around here but I still absolutely love it. Yes, the zombies were less prominent than in the first season and you know what? I didn’t miss them. Zombies are old hat and when they did pop up, it made them all the more shocking and scary. I applaud the series for bringing a whole variety of important, interesting social and moral issues before an audience - male geeks - who would otherwise never watch a TV show that revolved around interpersonal group dynamics. Of course, it may help that I’ve never read the comic books so I have no preconceptions for someone else’s interpretation to spoil. Looking forward hugely to the next series, although I’m wondering how they’re going to replace the vacuum left by the loss of the central power struggle between Rick and Shane.

Rather amazingly I also found the time to watch a film. Unfortunately I picked the awesome-looking Trollhunter which completely failed to live up to its fantastic premise of real-life Trolls secretly roaming the Norwegian countryside. It wasn’t scary, and the plot was completely nonsensical rubbish from start to finish, issues which between them destroyed any hope of generating sufficient immersion and suspension of disbelief for the film to work. I read after watching it that the lead actor was actually a comedian, which made sense since the high points in the film were all moments of comedy: I particularly enjoyed the scene where the protagonists attempt to lure in a troll by baiting a bridge with three different-sized goats. And it made me wonder why they didn’t simply play the whole thing for laughs: the concept is ridiculous enough and I think it would have made it all an awful lot better.

Books

I warned you I was going to end up writing about coming-of-age fable When God Was a Rabbit, and so here it is and I’ll try not to dwell on it. It’s a two part book about the same character. The first part is about her childhood and is a fable deftly woven, with some wonderfully structured language and evocative metaphors that take you back to the hallowed halls of your own youth as well as some lovely plot hooks at the ends of chapters to desperately leave you wanting just one more page. As magical as this experience is, I can’t agree with other reviewers who’ve claimed it manages to do so through the eyes of a child: it always seems very firmly rooted in the viewpoint of an adult telling stories about their formative days to me. The second part deals with the protagonists adulthood and is solidly written but nowhere near as interesting. I got the feeling the author started to try and be too self-consciously arty and esoteric.

Music

Subconsciously I seem to have moved quite naturally along to re-living the post gothic phase of my twenties when I listened to a lot of indie rock. Two of my all-time favourites artists PJ Harvey and Cocteau Twins have featured heavily.

PJ is the closest thing that modern indie and alternative rock has to David Bowie, a chameleon-like genius who reinvents herself personally and musically for every new album. Unlike Bowie’s pop-influenced dirges however, some of her material is grindingly heavy, aggressive and verges on the unlistenable and it’s a testament to her skill that she can make this stuff palatable to a wider audience. Her latest album Let England Shake is an astonishing, deliberately intellectual examination of British militarism and the first world war. However my favourites are her initial release Dry with its powerful feminist overtones and, slightly shamefully, her semi-disowned mainstream rock effort Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. OK, so I prefer melodic guitars and meditations on humanity to free-associative shouting and dog noises. Sue me.

The Cocteau Twins are an older group who broke up back in 1997 after releasing a long stream of albums and EPs of wildly varying quality. After a slightly screeching initial album with post-punk fingerprints all over it, they veered off madly into a different direction and settled down into a groove of shimmering, ethereal guitars over which vocalist Liz Frasers’ indecipherable glossolalia vocals would soar like an angel. Even if you’ve never heard of the Cocteau Twins you’ve probably heard her unique brand of mouth-music in the vocals to several of the the Elvish segments in the Lord of the Rings films. With song titles like The Itchy Glowblo Blow they were frequently in danger of veering into self-parody territory, but my word, if the high notes in Carloyn's Fingers don’t make your spine tingle every time, you must be dead inside.

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Comments (33)
  • avatarShapeshifter

    Gosh, the Cocteaus...
    When I was a teen I was completely obsessed with their music.
    My first introduction to the unique sound of this band was "Four Calendar Café", one of their most hated albums by hardcore fans of the earlier works.
    At a later stage I discovered "Treasure" and "Blue Bell Knoll".
    I have never been as judgemental as some to later albums. I for one liked "Heaven or Las Vegas" alot.
    But since the admittingly weak last album I have moved onwards to other stuff.
    I still understand why I was so hung up on their sound way back, but the attraction has long faded.
    That said, each time I hear "Ella Megalast burls Forever" (yes, this title was enough to lose all your streetcred in any school all over the world in the 90's) I get goosebumps all over.
    The last minute of that song, with Liz Fraser doing some amazing vocal acrobatics (something I usually hate) while guitars weep like a rainy autumn monday...pure bliss.

    Ok, now that I have admitted my formal fandom to the Cocteaus, I would as well admit that I kinda like the look of the first edition of Nexus ops. I don't agree that it was just as ugly. Not by a mile. It looked like a bright catchy videogame (which I think was the goal of the transparent pieces in flashy colors). The new edition looks dull and muddy and has nothing of the visual clarity of the older edition. But hey, I like to complain monday mornings. Sue me.

  • avatarMattDP  - re:
    Space Ghost wrote:
    Bold Face, FTW.

    Oops. Thanks, really must start checking for that before I post. Fixed now.

    Shapeshifter wrote:
    Gosh, the Cocteaus...

    Oh yes indeed. I'm totally with you on Heaven or Las Vegas by the way, although I must admit that was the album through which I discovered them so I'm probably biased. I also thought Milk & Kisses was pretty good although it clearly broke no new ground whatsoever. Treasure is the best, clearly. Four-Calendar Cafe was just too pop for me though.

    Did you know you can now get their entire collected singles & EPs, many of which were previously long OOP? There's some wonderful stuff in there.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lullabies_to_Violaine

  • avatarMattDP  - Also

    Have you come across the Cocteaus collaboration with composer Harold Budd, The Moon and the Melodies? That's wonderful.

  • avatardragonstout

    Where did PJ Harvey "semi-disown" Stories from the City/Sea?

    Also read your other NHS article, WTF, play Braid. My favorite video game ever, but then, puzzle games are my favorite video game genre, and most people disagree, so take that as you will. Can we at least say, best puzzle game ever?

  • avatarMattDP  - re:
    dragonstout wrote:
    Where did PJ Harvey "semi-disown" Stories from the City/Sea?

    I can't find the original reference, but she stated in a recent interview that it was the least favourite of her albums, and she doesn't listen to it. You can find other snippets and references to this online, such as this Amazon review.

    dragonstout wrote:
    Also read your other NHS article, WTF, play Braid. My favorite video game ever, but then, puzzle games are my favorite video game genre, and most people disagree, so take that as you will. Can we at least say, best puzzle game ever?

    I have nothing on which to play Braid, so I can't. And it may be the best puzzle game ever, but IMO puzzle games suck, so I wouldn't anyway.

  • avatarwice  - re: re:
    MattDP wrote:
    I have nothing on which to play Braid, so I can't. And it may be the best puzzle game ever, but IMO puzzle games suck, so I wouldn't anyway.

    You don't own a PC or a Mac? Seriously?

    BTW, Braid is not really a puzzle game, it's a platformer (like Mario) with some seriously fucked up new ideas (they are mostly about the manipulation of time). It's worth a try, trust me.

  • avatarShapeshifter

    Yes, I got hold of the singles/rare track 2-cd Cocteau Twins compilation.
    What struck me is that they seem to have an uncanny talent for hiding their best tracks on obscure
    B-sides. Even the flawed Four Calendar Café has its best moment on the B-side of a single.

    It reminds me of Bjork who also has some thrilling stuff hidden in obscure pressings.
    Hmmm Bjork, what happened to this Islandic popqueen? Nowdays all she seems to do is put out admittingly original but overall arty farty sonic experiments that seem to be specifically composed for winebars were pseudo-intellectual thirty-somethings gather to talk about the new Haruki Murakami novel.

  • avatarMattDP  - re: re: re:
    wice wrote:
    You don't own a PC or a Mac? Seriously?

    Not that I can game on. It's a long-ish story: I do most of my video gaming after everyone else in the house has gone to bed, and my PC is a bulky desktop which happens to be situated in a room where it's guaranteed to wake everyone up if I start playing games thanks to the squeaky chair and ridiculously loud click keyboard.

  • avatardoubtofbuddha

    See, we took Troll Hunter as a comedy and enjoyed it a bit (my girlfriend bought the DVD). It was a bit understated but we found it funny from beginning to end.

  • avatarSagrilarus

    Part of the point of having the monolith reward you so heavily is to keep everyone in the game from a combat perspective. You can play quietly looking for cheap VPs all you like but if you leave one player on the monolith he's going to rack up some serious power. Those two energizer cards are the game's way of forcing people to the middle and making for bigger battles.

    Not only does that make the game more combative (i.e., "fun") but it also drains materials off of the board so you don't end up with piles of armies staring at each other. The meek shall not inherit in Nexus Ops.

    I still haven't seen the new one in real life.

    S.

  • avatarMattDP  - re:
    doubtofbuddha wrote:
    See, we took Troll Hunter as a comedy and enjoyed it a bit (my girlfriend bought the DVD). It was a bit understated but we found it funny from beginning to end.

    Oh I tried, but too much of it took itself too seriously. Are you seriously going to suggest that the ending sequence - for example - was set up to be funny? Didn't look that way to me. My whole point is that if it had tried for laughs from beginning to end I think it would have worked much better.

    Sagrilarus wrote:
    Part of the point of having the monolith reward you so heavily is to keep everyone in the game from a combat perspective.

    Oh I know that, it's just that two has always seemed to have contributed too much to a rich-get-richer problem (with all those cards, it's harder to knock the holder off the Monolith) while one isn't reward enough to encourage the aggression that the Monolith is supposed to generate. Perhaps the game needs a 1/2 flip counter - 1 on the first round, 2 the next, then 1 again and so on. It's not really that much of a big deal though.

  • avatarColumbob  - re: re:
    MattDP wrote:
    Sagrilarus wrote:
    Part of the point of having the monolith reward you so heavily is to keep everyone in the game from a combat perspective.


    Oh I know that, it's just that two has always seemed to have contributed too much to a rich-get-richer problem (with all those cards, it's harder to knock the holder off the Monolith)

    That's the point though, don't leave the Monolith uncontested; if you do, you're asking for trouble. Just having 1 unit surviving a fight is enough to prevent the king of the hill from getting those cards. 3-way fights on top of the Monolith aren't uncommon and nobody gets the cards until only one player's units are left.

  • avatarMattLoter

    Original Nexus Ops is one of the best looking games ever. The ugly new one can eat a sack of dicks. And then barf them up all over itself, no one would notice.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT  - re: re: re: re:
    MattDP wrote:
    wice wrote:
    You don't own a PC or a Mac? Seriously?


    Not that I can game on. It's a long-ish story: I do most of my video gaming after everyone else in the house has gone to bed, and my PC is a bulky desktop which happens to be situated in a room where it's guaranteed to wake everyone up if I start playing games thanks to the squeaky chair and ridiculously loud click keyboard.

    Had I known this previoulsy, I'd have shipped you my old Vaio laptop. I ended up giving it to some kid I didn't know on Heroscapers.com who was heading off to college or some such thing. Shame..I'd rather you have had it.

    And I'm with Loter. I said it before and got lambasted but I'll say it again: The new minis are shite, the new look is shite. The original is awesome.

  • avatarSagrilarus  - re: re: re:
    Columbob wrote:
    Just having 1 unit surviving a fight is enough to prevent the king of the hill from getting those cards. 3-way fights on top of the Monolith aren't uncommon and nobody gets the cards until only one player's units are left.

    Exactly. The Monolith is designed to be a March of Folly, where everyone battles and no one prospers. The lunacy of fighting there is what makes it so integral to the game and so emotionally relevant. If you let someone camp alone up there for even two turns, it's over. You need to have some level of involvement in the monolith or you're a junior player.

    The original version is like the ugliest mutt in the neighborhood. It's homeliness is what makes it so loveable. And I'll tell you what -- you'll never have trouble finding it on your shelf.

    I will give FFG credit though. Their version is not as bold as the original, but by FFG standards it's an artistic standout and I wish they'd go for that kind of thing more often.

    S.

  • avatarJonJacob

    I love how obviously shitty design and look gets a pass once it's older and there is some nostalgia attached to it. The more I look at the original Nexus Ops the more I can tell it's butt ugly. There is some hipster cool to it now that time has passed but it has nothing to do with taste. 80's video game cabinet is now a style with artistic integrity? What a laugh.

    Both games look like shit and that should be clear given time. Right now people make lame excuses for the look of the original and call the FFG mini's "shit" which is so clearly an exaggeration their point gets lost in the shuffle. Those mini's are kick ass, which is cheesy (admittedly), and aimed at 16 year olds. But that's no worse then the sins the orignal commits. The main difference is that the original looks like bad 80's art and the new one is more like bad 90's art. For those of us who lived through both, they're both stupid and tasteless but totally appropriate for a board game.

  • avatarMattDP  - re: re: re: re: re:
    MattLoter wrote:
    Original Nexus Ops is one of the best looking games ever. The ugly new one can eat a sack of dicks. And then barf them up all over itself, no one would notice.

    I disagree totally, but I take my hat off to the original design for making you come up with this awesome metaphor.

    SuperflyTNT wrote:
    Had I known this previoulsy, I'd have shipped you my old Vaio laptop. I ended up giving it to some kid I didn't know on Heroscapers.com who was heading off to college or some such thing. Shame..I'd rather you have had it.

    *weeps quietly into tea*

    JonJacob wrote:
    The main difference is that the original looks like bad 80's art and the new one is more like bad 90's art. For those of us who lived through both, they're both stupid and tasteless but totally appropriate for a board game.

    +1

  • avatarMattLoter

    Come on now JJ, you know I like things garish and neon! Much of my house is decorated like the original Nexus Ops! That game hits all the right boxes for me design wise. And I was boners for it the day it came out.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    JJ, I never heard of Nexus Ops until just a few years ago. Maybe 3-4? I have no nostalgia.

    Well, maybe one thing...they remind me of the time I did some Star Wars LARPing....I wore a glow in the dark condom. :) (zzzzzzow...zzzzzoow....sploosh)

  • avatarSan Il Defanso

    The biggest problem I had with Troll Hunter is that it seemed to think we were more interested in seeing panoramas of the Norwegian countryside. It spent huge stretches just looking at lovely countryside. As Milhouse would say, "When are they going to get to the fireworks factory??"

    And the new Nexus Ops is pretty ugly. So was the old, but I do think there was a bit of self-awareness in it's gaudy design and goofy illustrations. The FFG version just looks all roided up. However, I'm sure that most people's preferences will boil down to which they played first. Still really glad that it's back in print. But it's too bad it's not a 3D monolith anymore.

  • avatardragonstout  - re: re:
    MattDP wrote:
    And it may be the best puzzle game ever, but IMO puzzle games suck, so I wouldn't anyway.

    I think most people feel this way, which is why you see so much backlash against it. Yeah, I don't recommend it if you're not into puzzle games (and by "puzzle game", I don't mean the bullshit definition that encompasses Tetris and other like games).

  • avatarInfinityMax

    Wice is right on about Braid - that is one fantastic game. I mean, utterly fantastic. It twists the platform game on its head and makes you rethink everything about how games work.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    I looked at it and it looked cool. Guess I'll have to check it out now that FPS games are not on my "can do" list anymore.

  • avatarbfkiller

    One thing that bugged me about Braid is how pixel perfect your jumps had to be on later levels. I'd have the puzzle solved but it would take me 20+ tries to get the jump juuuuust right.

    The Walking Dead's second season was much better than the first season. I even liked Drama Farm (though the arguments were getting pretty repetitive by the end). I read the 15 released TPBs of The Walking Dead over the past month (gotta love libraries carrying comics); I'm glad the show diverges so much from the comics. Keeps things fresh and is still able to surpise fans of the comics.

  • avatardragonstout

    bfkiller - agreed. My one, single complaint about Braid would be that there are several puzzles where, even once you figure out HOW to do it, the actual execution requires a lot of time to atually pull off. That said, in my experience almost ALL other puzzle games have this problem way worse: most puzzle games have nearly trivial answers and are all about getting the execution all right, or are about doing trial-and-error to get the right answer (physics puzzle games such as World of Goo are the worst about this).

  • avatarDair

    bfkiller, I agree about enjoying the TV show more because of the divergences. I will say that the comic can go long stretches with no zombie action, just like the show. I agree Matt, that these stretches are what make it good. I enjoy the interaction that takes place because of the zombies quite a bit more than the action that takes place because of said zombies. That never stops the fanboys from bitching in the letter column whenever there were no zombie appearances in two consecutive issues. That is why I don't like fanboys.

  • avatarJackwraith

    I know it seems self-defeating for some, but the point of The Walking Dead in both comic and TV form is not the zombies. It's about the collapse of society and how people deal with a world that no longer has rules but still has overt threats (i.e. not just disease, famine, exposure, etc.) I only read the first collection of the comic (I wasn't that impressed with Kirkman's writing) and have seen both seasons of the show. It's not lights-out good like a Mad Men or a Breaking Bad, but it's decent enough to hold my interest.

    As for Nexus Ops, I'm continually amazed at the people who become to vituperative over the look of a game rather than how it plays. Don't get me wrong: I'm all about theme. A very dear friend of mine recently interrupted my description of Merchants and Marauders with: "I don't give a shit about theme. It's all about the mechanics." I was thisclose from going into a rant about how tasteless Euro-players are willfully blind to the experience of actually playing a game with others, especially those that play multi-solitaire games like Agricola (which she loves), but I restrained myself. That said, it's far more important to me that Nexus Ops be interesting to play than, as JJ said, whether the art is shitty 80s arcade game or shitty 90s arcade game. As I understand it, the FFG version kept the old and introduced new variants, so it seems all good to me. The theme is still present. It just looks different.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Anyone that thinks it doesn't matter what a game looks like is ignorant. It's that blunt. Board games are visual media, and the look and visual style of a game is every bit as important as the mechanics. If someone espouses an opinion that a game would be exactly the same played with everything written on index cards with stick figure art...run away from them. If the game could be exactly the same with everything written on index cards with stick figure art...burn it in a fire.

    The original art in Nexus Ops was totally appropriate to the tone and theme. Is it beautifully executed and technically polished? No. Because that isn't what the game stylistically needs. It needs the day glow figures and arcade cabinet art. Just because it isn't immaculately computer-colored and skillfully drawn doesn't mean that it's less effective or less appropriate. Likewise, the figures. Sure, the FFG sculpts are "better"...but they're also not right for Nexus Ops, which is an established set of aesthetics and qualities.

    The old artwork is a hell of a lot more tasteful than the FFG art. FFG's insistence on overdone, overwrought, and often tasteless kitsch art is starting to wear thin, and with Nexus Ops they just went totally in a wrong direction for the game. Whoever the illustrator was I'm sure had a field day and got to show off their talent, but they apparently didn't bother to take into account those established qualities or what made Nexus Ops such a beloved cult classic.

    Then there's the map tiles, which are just about the worst looking ones I've ever seen.

    But take a look at both games on the shelf. The old one has a unique, fun look. The new one looks just like another FFG title at best, dreary and muddled at worst. Despite the use of pink and purple.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Oh, fun PJ Harvey story. I went to go see her at a small venue here in Atlanta sometime in 1992. I went as much to see her as the opening act- David J from Bauhaus/Love and Rockets. We got there, and PJ Harvey had visa trouble and had to cancel. But David J still went on, playing to literally about 12 people. He didn't bother setting up everything, he just did a little acoustic set and more or less just kind of sat on the stage and hung out with the people that stayed, answering questions, taking requests, and shooting the shit. It was pretty awesome.

    Never did get to see PJ Harvey...

    Cocteau Twins are a band I've always kind of peripherally liked...I'll listen to their records from time to time, but I've never really completely engaged with them. I definitely like their ealier gothy stuff much better than the later pop stuff.

    The whole 4AD thing is really hit or miss for me...there's stuff that I just completely love (Clan of Xymox, Birthday Party, TV on the Radio) but then a bunch of stuff I either despise or are completely indifferent to...that label has never been consistent IMO.

  • avatarBearn

    Someone needs to get in contact with Cameron and get him to license out an "Avatar" art version of Nexus Ops. It would look amazing and they wouldn't even need to change the story or mechanics. :)

    Walking Dead was interesting to me but it held me for about as long as Breaking bad and Mad Men. Still trying to figure out what makes these shows so special. /shrug

  • avatarJackwraith

    Yes, I know that pointless hyperbole is often your style, MB, but exercise a little self-restraint here, OK? No one mentioned stick figures and we're not talking about replacing the weird creatures of Nexus Ops with Meeples. They're different versions of the same weird creatures. It has about as much effect on the game, stylistically, as the new labyrinth boards for Wiz-War. You can use the old school "treasure pile of gold" look or the new vaguely techno look. Other than the different walls and door setup, the difference is meaningless. Same with Nexus Ops, IMO.

    But, again, I'm one of those people who actually like the Rex board, so I'm simply not tied to "the way things used to be" with most of these games. If someone reprinted Dark Tower, I'd be geeked to see the old Brigands appearing with the same music of urgency. But, by the same token, I wouldn't mind it if whoever published it used new and better art, as well. I'm not saying everyone has to like the new version of Nexus Ops. I'm just saying that treating it like it's a crime against nature is ridiculous.

  • avatardoubtofbuddha  - re: re:
    MattDP wrote:

    Oh I tried, but too much of it took itself too seriously. Are you seriously going to suggest that the ending sequence - for example - was set up to be funny? Didn't look that way to me. My whole point is that if it had tried for laughs from beginning to end I think it would have worked much better.

    Maybe dramedy was perhaps a better term, though it seemed to lean on the comedic side a bit more. The ending sequence was mixed in with funny stuff, (like the "Name of Jesus" song he uses to attract the giant troll) and even the bleak ending is immediately countered with the funny press release involving the Norwegian Prime Minister.

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