Come on in for your latest dose of Next of Ken, the column that may or may not cure genital warts. This week, I'll talk about Sucker Punch (wait, don't go, I won't talk about it long!) and Game of Thrones' second season, as well as Fantasy Flight Games' Rex: Final Days of an Empire and David Sirlin's new Flash Duel: 2nd Edition. Join us, won't you?
And I Remember How We'd Play Simply Waste the Day Away
I thought I might explain fully about why Next of Ken has been bi-weekly over the past month or so, just so you folks know what's up with me.
In January, my grandfather took a hard fall in our church's parking lot. He was in the hospital for some time and the whole ordeal has taken an extreme toll on him. We are very glad he is finally home. It's weird, he's 83, but this is the first time I have ever seen him *look* his age, if that makes sense. Forever he was more fit than men half his age. I was the first grandchild so I was always his favorite. He is definitely going to have a hard time getting around from now on. But he is still with us, and we are grateful.
The other thing that has monopolized my time--we just bought a new house! We are so excited about our new house! Really nice place in a great neighborhood with plenty of space for everyone. This will be the first house I've ever actually owned, and I'm getting to share it with the woman of my dreams. Now we have like two weeks to pack and move? Yikes!
It was very stressful for awhile because the financing took a long time, and we'd already had one contract extension with the seller while we waited. Meanwhile, the lady who we are renting from juuuuust closed a sale on the house we are in. We ended up closing with six hours to spare, after that we could have been homeless. (Probably not really because we could've likely gotten another extension...but that was not guaranteed!) Scary times.
I know I don't want to finance anything again for a loooooong time. These people now officially know more about us and our finances than anyone on the planet. The paperwork we had to submit...unbelievable. I rate closing a flaccid "7".
A Flag Flying for Losers, Somewhere in the Heavens
I finally got around to watching Sucker Punch. Yeesh. This was pretty much, "I have some incredible video game sequences I'd like to make a movie out of...how can I get hot chicks fighting Nazi Zombies, hot chicks fighting giant demon samurai, and hot chicks fighting robots into the same movie?" The action sequences were the type that if you were playing a video game, you'd be sitting there going, "This is pretty badass." As cinema though, with its whole "this is not nearly as clever as I think it is" narrative, it turns out to just be mushy soup.
Should I be worried about Man of Steel now? Man, I hope not. Though we should probably start the over/under on Slow Motion Sequences that we'll see in the inevitable Superman/Zod throwdown.
Moving on to more positive things, Game of Thrones season 2 is off to a pretty awesome start. I was surprised to see that the show had broken through to much more mainstream attention; it was even mentioned on a local radio station where the hosts were discussing being excited for the season premiere.
They've got a lot to cover for Clash of Kings and I think they'll need to take a few more shortcuts here and there than they did in the first season. After all, Ned was the focus for season 1 and his story dominated most of the book as well, so it was a very easy story to translate. With the second season the number of players has increased dramatically, and giving everyone fair time without shortchanging their coolest moments is going to be quite a task.
What's coolest of all though is that since his Emmy win, Peter Dinklage has top billing for the show. He deserves it as he steals every scene he's in. Most of Tyrion's coolest moments come in Clash of Kings, so it should be fun to go along for the ride with him.
With a Lawful Protector, Let Them Bow to My Will
The long-awaited Dune reskin in the form of Rex: Final Days of an Empire hit the table for us not too long ago. Although we played it four-player, I came away liking what they'd done with the system, but not necessarily loving it wholesale.
Of course, you've got your folks who are bitching about several of the changes, but what I found was that a lot of the changes were neither good nor bad, just...different. Blasting them for being different is a little silly. Some of the changes are even quite good; I like the change in deployment costs, so that action is actually worth having at locations other than strongholds, and what's more it's easier to defend them. The shorter number of turns also makes the game experience more predictable in terms of length--a big plus for certain gamers.
Not all of the changes are for the better. I still have no idea what they were thinking with the map. Yeah, it's functional and admittedly less ugly in person, but it's still a flowchart for a game depicting a battle raging over an entire city. Another bad thing in my eyes is the limitations put on bribing, negotiation, and the trade of information; all are tightly controlled and can only happen when the alliance card is revealed. That's pretty silly, and does a number on some of the factions who thrive on information trade and receiving bribes for that.
The core of the gameplay is intact, and most of what makes Rex enjoyable are the thingsthat made Dune great in the first place. The battle resolution is especially brilliant. It's not a game that gives itself to turtling, and the fluid nature of the board avoids many of the "build-up along the walls" type gameplay present in most Dudes on a Map games.
The only really worrisome thing I see is that by stripping some factions of some of their bread n' butter negotation tactics, coupled with the shorter number of turns and lack of "useless" cards all seem to give a HUGE cashflow to the Lazax. I'm guessing that's just a thing that people have to learn, not to overbid for cards, but you can't compete without them. The fact that they all do something means that you feel more comfortable bidding higher for them. Which lines the Lazax pockets. Since they also have access to uber-units in the form of their Mechs, they can ramp up very quickly. Again, it's probably just a balance/counter-balance thing of coming to grips with the nuances of the different races.
One thing you can never fault FFG for is production quality, and for the most part they have put together a nice game. The board misstep aside, the counters are thick, the cards are of the usual good stock, etc. The battle boards have "clever" little slots for your leader tokens, but in both copies of this game I've handled the fit is much too tight. If you're not careful, you'll rip or fray your leader tokens getting them in and out of their battle board slots.
Also, the bombardment fleet is the epitome of overproduced nonsense. It's the only plastic on the board, towers over everything else, and exists solely to show where the bombing is happening. What's even dumber though is you can't fit the thing back in the box when it's put together. It's either take it apart each time, or carry it in its own little box or something. Someone was definitely asleep at the wheel there.
I came away wanting to play it again, but realizing that the only reason this game needs to exist is because Dune itself is unavailable. If both were on the shelf side by side, no one would likely ever choose Rex. But for those who can't get their hands on the original, this will service nicely enough, until one day the Herbert estate gets its head out of its ass. (Keep dreamin'.)
He'll Save With a Mighty Hand, Every Man, Every Woman
We've been putting the new 2nd edition of Flash Duel through its paces. One thing is for certain, David Sirlin went the extra mile in a HUGE way with this new edition that's roughly the same price as the 1st, but with much more content than before.
First up is the doubling of the number of characters. There are 10 new characters included to bring the total to 20, and none of them feel like rehashes whatsoever. You've got Gwen with her curse that feeds her lots of cards but when she loses, she loses BIG (a time-out loss for her counts as 2 losses. Not good.) Onimaru can summon a Clockwork Soldier that marches behind your opponent, forcing him ever forward. All of the new characters are imbued with their own flavor, which is pretty impressive for a system that is at its heart very, very simple.
The core gameplay of the basic game is not changed at all from 1st edition. Characters move and attack with number cards, dodging until they can land a shot their opponent can't block. Each character's powers serve to lend him or her an advantage and shape their overall playstyle.
That alone might have been enough for a new edition, but there are now several new modes of play. There's a many-versus-one mode where multiple fighters take on the "boss" Master Menelker, not in his human form but instead as a Dragon. He has multiple hit points and devastating powers on his oversized ability cards, allowing him to attack multiple squares at once, force the human players to discard cards, and more.
Whereas this mode can be played with cooperative all-vs-one, there's also a secret traitor mode to take advantage of that craze where one human will turn on the others before the fight is through. Sirlin has discussed having problems with other games of this type in the past, and his solution is certainly unique. At the moment the traitor reveals, they can point to a player. If they can describe exactly what's in that player's hand, that person is immediately eliminated and the traitor can guess another player's hand, until he gets it wrong.
This solves the alpha dog problem; you can't lay out all the cards, tell everyone what you have, and let a dominant player boss everyone around. The moment you turn it into a perfect information game is the moment the traitor can wipe everyone else out. Now you have to be cautious if someone fighting with you asks if you have a card of a certain value; you don't know if they're planning ahead or just cataloging you for the next kill.
I have to give props for the cool new Dashing Block, available in the many-vs-1 battles. It only takes one hit to eliminate someone, but another player can act out of turn, play a card to dash, and then the card(s) needed to block the strike. It's a cool visual to think of as the Deathstrike Dragon moves in for the kill, another fighter swoops in front with a powerful block to save their ally.
There's also some stuff for solo play with "bots" that I haven't really messed with very much--solo gaming is not really my thing. But there's a whole subsystem here of "achievements" where the game tasks you to accomplish certain things against the different bots. I know there are gamers who like to pack solo games for travel, so this might be a good option for taking on the road to stay occupied at the hotel.
I know what you're asking, though--how does this stack up to BattleCON, a game I reviewed several weeks ago? BattleCON is by far the more complex of the two and is no slouch in terms of added features--team play, arenas, "boss" cards, etc. I still maintain however that despite a similarity in theme and appearance, both feel like completely different games. Think of comparing two racing games like Top Race and Formula D, and you will more closely understand what I'm talking about.
Though the "2d fighter" is a fledgling board game genre, it's nice to think that there can already be two excellent games out there. If you are forced to choose between the two, Flash Duel is the more accessible of the two while BattleCON is definitely more of a brain-burner. With Flash Duel, you can learn the system, and then adapt with whatever character you end up with. For BattleCON, learning a new character is not as easily done. BattleCON is deeper, but requires more of a personal investment.
I could see someone who had taken the plunge with the first edition being cheesed off about the new edition, but you can do what I did and just combine the two. Mirror matches of the base game characters, more cards for your own variants or just to have spares. Just take the insert out of the 2nd edition box and everything from both editions fit in there with room to spare.
With multiple gameplay modes, 20 characters, and easy access (a best-of-5 battle will take 15-20 minutes, tops) Flash Duel 2nd Edition is a winner. Game designers take note--*this* is how a Second Edition is done.
And so winds down another scrumptuous episode of Next of Ken. Just to keep you guys and gals updated, I'm going to continue the bi-weekly schedule for the next little while; however, Nate will be filling the opposite Tuesdays with his excellent columns, so you guys won't have to worry--he'll still be bringing you the goods.
I also promise that as soon as we get moved and settled in, I'll be going back to a weekly rotation, so no "Ken's Back" jokes, 'mmmmkay?
Until then, I'll see ya in a fortnight.
Ken is a weekly columnist for Fortress: Ameritrash and a member of our staff. When he's not knee deep in playing games for review, he's most likely opening the boxes and getting high off of the plastic vapours.
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