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