Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012's Virtually Impossible 'Things To Do' List

Hello, Fellow Passengers of Terra Firma!

I had a pretty decent 2011.  I published my poetry, knocked out my first novel, did numerous readings in the city, cobbled together some fun videos and got involved in several movies which were shot right here in Halifax.

But this is still just the beginning.  People say that you're more likely to follow through with plans if you write them down, so here goes.  It's:


(1)  Try Voice Acting Work  I've spent enough time around actors this past year to realize that I'm not really all that interested in what they do.  Yes, it's kinda trippy to see yourself in a film (I turned up like a bad penny several times in Bag of Bones) but I really don't have any desire to feature prominently in a production.

Seem to me that you've always got to be somewhat self-conscious as an actor.  Not egotistical, but just aware of your own appearance constantly.  Will that coffee stain my teeth?  How disastrous was my last haircut?  Why don't I own more clothing besides Chucks, cargo shorts and black t-shirts with pithy sayings on them?  Do my eyeglasses really scream mid-2000's?

I wouldn't mind acting in a coupla indie student films just to say that I did it, but my true passion is in the auditory realm.  I did a voice acting class in the Spring of 2011 and I really dug it.  One assignment was to create three original characters with accompanying scripts.  The next day I walked into class with seven.

And here's a small sampling of this through the miracle of "Klick-4-Sound" techmology...

When I sat down to write copy of these characters I had to consciously stop myself at seven.  I'm convinced that I could come up with at least fifty distinct characters, accents, impersonations and voices.  So my immediate goal in the month of January is do a video featuring these characters for my You Tube channel.

Which brings me to...

(2) Keep Cranking Out Videos   I'm really encouraged by the success of my inaugural board game vid, which you can conveniently watch right here.   I'd like to feature a new board game every month, pop out a few more travel vids and also a do a couple that showcase my oddball characters, bizarre accents and decidedly warped sense of humor.  hopefully someone will notice this one day and give me a job.

(3) Get A Film Crew Gig  Although I'm not particularly keen on being in front of a camera I'd love to do technical or behind the scenes stuff.  Recently I had a chance to work on a short indie horror film called Hatchet doing background but serving as a sound and lighting assistant.  I was there for every aspect of the production and the entire process was completely fascinating to me.

I also discovered that IATSE (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) can sometimes have their resources strained when several productions come into town all at once.  I've been told that non-union folks can sometimes get work when this happens, assuming that you have some experience and are willing to work your ass off. 

Or at least that's the theory.  If you keep watching this space, I guess you'll find out soon enough...    

(4) Make My Book Available For Kobo Readers  At first I was just gonna file this under the broader heading below but this particularly stubborn bugaboo has me resorting to self-flagellation (and I ain't talkin' 'bout the fun kind, yo).  On two previous attempts I've tried and failed to overcome Word to ePub issues which is keeping the Kobo version of my book in limbo.  This is really starting to piss me off since I've had several people request the book in this format. 

Although the e-book industry has exploded, the process of getting your humble Word document stripped of invisible, malicious coding so that it looks presentable on a Kindle, Nook, Kobo or similarly miraculous Star Trek-ian device still seems to be in its infancy.  I'll prolly end up paying someone else to do this, 'cuz frankly, I'm completely stumped.  Just when I think I've got it fixed I bring it up on my Kobo emulator and it still looks like boiled baboon ass.

I really want to get this done ASAP 'cuz I wanna play around with the pricing for the ebook version of the novel.   Halp!  I is apparently stoopid.  Anybody? 

(5) Continue To Shine A Spotlight On Volume One  This means monthly readings, seeking more media opportunities, possibly organizing a formal book launch and starting an ongoing campaign to harass traditional publishers.  I still have four direct contacts that I intend to pester next month and I'm also hoping to sell the book (and prints of the cover art) directly to folks at our fabulous new Halifax Seaport Farmers Market as part of a local artist collective.

Yes, I know I'm not a farmer but I'm hoping that my words will be planted like seeds in the fertile fields of some potential reader's imagination.  Or, at the very least, they'll serve as a cheap bit of fertilizer to spread out all over your own creative lawn to hopefully inspire your own growth as a writer.

I'm honestly not sure if that metaphor worked, but, hey...successful produce analogies are so few and far between these days.      

(6) Begin Work In Earnest On Volume Two  I'm already half way through the first chapter of Volume Two in the ongoing DeathQuest Saga.  I've gotten a really interesting hook on the protagonist and I'm excited by what I've written thus far.  I'm hoping to complete a new chapter every week and get it done considerably quicker then its predecessor.

Yes, I know what people say about the best laid plans and their tendency to go awry.  But I reason that if I  commit to the same schedule that has seen me produce one hundred and fifty seven blog entries to date and almost sixty reviews thus far on my entertainment site, I should be able to pull it off.

Which allows me to segue into:

(7) Continue To Crank Out Blog Entries And Reviews   I'm still committed to four Emblogification Capture Device entries and a minimum of six reviews on Entertainment Tourette's per month.   Wish me luck, folks.  I'm sure these commitments will not, I repeat, will not result in a crippling bout of alcoholism.

(8) Clean House  I've always been a collector and this character flaw was exacerbated while i worked at a succession of detestable jobs.   I used to buy random stuff for the exact same reason most depressed people do: for that momentary pick-me-up that only retail therapy can provide.

Added to this are all the things well-intentioned people buy for me just because they know that I'm into it.  For example the arrested development man-child in me absolutely loves original trilogy Star Wars action figures and vehicles but I hate anything to do with the prequels or childish stuff like Lego.

Hey, look, there are different tiers of childishness, okay?   

My own rampant consumerism (and contributions from well-meaning friends and family, bless their generous hearts) have resulted in a room that looks like a comic book shop run by an particularly disorganized lunatic:

Now, since I left my last wretched gig I've barely felt the need to buy indiscriminate stuff and it feels great.  The only thing that could be even better is purging some of this future landfill, hopefully giving it a good home where someone will really appreciate it.  Hopefully I'll be able to accomplish this task via a three-pronged campaign involving local flea markets, Kijiji and Ebay.

So I'm hoping to set up a little cottage industry to pare down some of the crap that I own.  If I were to hazard a guess as to what I'll end up turfing, it'll probably include a slew of unwanted board games, DVDs, video gamez and CDs that I can no longer justify keeping under my own roof.  Needless to say, there will likely be a disproportionate amount of discarded merchandise bearing the words Episode I-III, Clones, Sith and Menaces that are Phantasmal.  F#@$, what was I thinking?

P.S. If you see me at a swap meet/flea market/community hootenanny sometime this year, please don't automatically assume that I'm suddenly on the skids.  And please try to avoid the temptation of lumping me in with the sort of people who think they're gonna get rich by selling "collectible" Burger King glasses, pieces of driftwood with googly-eyed sea shells glued onto them or painted Mrs. Butterworth containers.

(9) Travel Again  Life is nothing if not ironic.  I loathed my last formal job but at least it gave me enough scratch to travel.  Now I have all the time in the world to go where ever I want, but not enough inbound cheddar to justify going.

I have to find a way to reconcile these two things in 2012.  I went to Scotland and Ireland in 2008 and London in 2009 but I haven't gone anywhere since.  Well, I went to Toronto last May, but, let's face it kids...that really doesn't count.

(10) Find A Steady Source Of Income That Won't Inspire Thoughts of Suicide  As awesome as 
my current creative freedom is, it ain't exactly conjuring up thoughts of early retirement.

Ergo, I'm gonna hafta come up with a supplemental gig.  Preferably one which won't assimilate my entire life.  Something that will still allow me to accomplish a fraction of what I've listed above.

I'd also like to avoid work environments where I'm tasked to sell something that I don't believe in nor care about.  Naturally, I'd like to find something that involves writing, editing, training, research, communication or marketing.  I'd like to avoid the plague houses (I.E. call centers) altogether as well as any place that would routinely ask me to take a verbal bullet from customers because of something that my employer deliberately did just to save a coupla bucks.

There you go!  I'm not asking for too much, am I?  Well, yes, I guess I am...

Viewed collectively, I'm sure accomplishing all of these goals in 2012 is next to impossible.  But if there's anything I learned from my past sales jobs, is that everyone needs something to strive for. 

Hell, even if I manage to check off a few of these, I'll be happy.   In my current situation, 2012 is virtually rife with limitless, unpredictable and downright giddy possibilities...

EPIC TUNEZ   Hopefully I won't end up like the sad sacks described in this under-rated, rarely heard early Nirvana gem:

EPIC TUNEZ II  ♪ ♫ "It's always better on holiday. / So much better on holiday. / That's why we go to work. / When we need the money!"   ♪ ♫

FAIL  I've been to a few flea markets that have made me want to flee and then be de-flead.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Spirit(s)

Feliz Navidad, X-Mas Peeps!

As someone who's incessantly accused of overt hum-buggery (?) I feel that I must defend my festive reputation.

So, here it is, folks:


(10) Life-Threatening Weather  I'm a bit of a snowstorm masochist, which is totally left over from growing up in Stephenville, Newfoundland.  At the risk of evoking charges of blow-hardery with such phrases as "BACK IN MY DAY..." I do have to make the claim that Old Man Winter seems to have gotten a helluva lot more pussified over the years.

Age may be clouding my memory a bit, but when I was a kid it would usually start snowing around the first of November and not let up until around May 23'rd (if it was a good year).

During this time you'd also get about three or four rip-roaring storms that would last for days, barricade you indoors and then threaten to trigger a veritable rash of Donner Party re-enactments.

Even now I can't resist the urge to don johns that are long (try saying that five times real fast), strap on my boots, en-parka-nate myself and then venture out for a long walk during white-out conditions.  Let me tell, Holiday shoppers, if you actually make it back alive from such a harrowing expedition you'll never again feel guilt over staying indoors until the second week of June.    

This one dove-tails nicely with...

(9)  Outdoor Shenanigans  As I get older and my circulatory system begins to approximate that of an eighty year old shut-in, I'm becoming increasingly unlikely to take advantage of this one.

But if you can force yourself to go outside for some skating, skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, or even just marinating in a snowbank while wearing a ski-do suit, you'll regress back to fuzzy childhood Christmas memories faster then William Hurt goes feral in Altered States.

Bonus points if you linger outdoors long enough to flirt with Mr. Hypothermia, make it back to your heated womb-like home and get pulled back from the brink of death with the timely administration of six gallons of stout, marshmallow-infused hot chocolate.  Regardless of your denomination, nothing will get you praising Sweet Baby Jesus quicker then a near-death sub-zero experience ...

(8) Tempting The Collapse Of Your Local Church Down On Top Of Your Head  Look, I've been accused of making Bill Maher look like Pat Buchanan but there's still something uniquely magical about being guilted into going to church once a year.  I don't know if it's the aroma of self-righteousness or incense, but when you're interred in a large, spartan, echoey chamber being bored into the preliminary stages of Alzheimer's you're quickly reminded of the true "Reazon for Da Seazon", yo.  Also, occasionally you can luck out and score a talented choir who, if they have any skillz whatsoever, can really raise the hair on the back of your neck.    

Which bring me to...

(7) Christmas Carols That Don't Suck.  I really 'effin despise cutesy contemporary X-mas caterwauling.  As far as I'm concerned "I Saw Mommy Knobbing Santa Claus", "The Little Drummer Nerd" and "Jingle Bell C@*k" are all auditory death.

I much prefer olde skool Holiday tunez.  And by olde skool I mean friggin' Medieval.  Frankly, you just can't top A-list material like "Silent Night, "O Holy Night" or "Good King Wenceslas".

Testify for me, York Minster Choir!  

Not bad, huh?  I have to admit that "Oliver Reed's" shout-out at the 1:56 mark kinda scared the poop out of me.  Overall, though, I think it was worth the little falsetto kid sacrificing his testicles, don'tcha think?   

Honestly, I have no friggin' clue who this Wenceslas cat was and/or what part of the world he was supposedly king of.  And frankly the song's lyrics are more incomprehensible then Pearl Jam's "Yellow Ledbetter", but, hey, it's still a bitchin' tune.

Speakin' of "kings"...

(6) ♪♫ Blue x 4 Christmas ♪♫  Y'know, they say that the world is divided into Elvis people or Beatles people.  I firmly place myself in the latter camp, but damned if this melodic tune doesn't have me reaching for the spiced eggnog and pondering a Holiday-themed suicide note.

Damn my parents for their overt brain-washery!  They played the ever-lovin' shirt out of this album when I was a kid and now that I'm home I'll prolly hear it another ho-ho-ho-jillion times.  Well, at least it's a better heavy rotation option then that godawful new Coldplay track.

(5) You're Supposed To Cut Up Not Across, Right?  Like I said before, most "contemporary" X-Mas songs blow reindeer d!@%, but there are a few notable exceptions.  Notably this 1987 remake by these four, young, enterprising lads from Dublin called "You Two".

Keep your eye on these guys, I really think they're gonna go places...

Cripes, why are all the Christmas songs I like depressing as s#!*?   WARNING: Every one of these tracks should be chased with a handful of Xanax...

(4)  "I Am The Ghost Of Christmas...yada, yada, yada"  I absolutely lurves Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  Although I must shamefully confess that I've never read the original novella (but I did read the crap outta David Copperfield), I've seen a slew of cinematic and T.V. movie iterations produced over the past sixty or seventy years.

I love the classic Albert Finney version, the extra-grumpy George C. Scott television movie, The Muppet Christmas Carol and the Disney adaptation starring Scrooge McDuck (man, talk about casting to type, huh?).

Here's one of my favorites, which is surprisingly bittersweet and unnerving for what's supposed to be a vapid sitcom.

(3) The Ballad of Max The Indomitable   Now, I'm talkin' about the classic Boris Karloff narrated, Chuck Jones animated How The Grinch Stole Christmas from 1966.  

So many memorable moments: Roast Beast, Who Hash, Max's martyrdom, the Grinch's prototypical and gleefully evil expressions, his snake-like method of locomotion and his triumphant redemption.

Honestly, if this nasty green bastard can come back from the brink of Bloefeld-level super-villainy, there's still hope for all of us, n'est pas?

Oh, and for the love of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (what?), don't wean your kids on that execrable Jim Carrey abomination from 2000.  Y'know, I'm talkin' about that crass piece of cinematic "product" which featured a marketing tie-in with Visa, A.K.A. "The Official Card of Whoville".

Wow, way to miss the entire f@#$%^& point, you greedy jack-holes!

(2)  Good, Grief  Nothing actimivates my feelings of Christmas nirvana quite like watching this poor, bald-headed manic depressive go through the motions every year.  Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown features a strong anti-corporate message, vintage animation,  authentic voice work from actual kids and a groovy jazz soundtrack to boot.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the anachronistic presence of characters like Peppermint Patty (who I suspect was probably evicted from Occupy Minneapolis last month), this perennial favorite seems even more timeless, important and relevant every year.

I can't help but crack up every time Snoopy goes spastic on top of Schroeder's piano and then slinks off under his withering glare.  Or when the pint-sized musician treats Lucy to a virtuoso performance which culminates with a one-fingered toy piano rendition of "Jingle Bells".

And again, although I'm just two steps away from official "heathen" status, I still well up like a sniffly little b!%$^ whenever Linus takes the stage to deliver his "true meaning of Christmas" speech.  By the time the kids transmute an alder branch into a Douglass Fir using Snoopy's Christmas lights and then start crooning "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" I get messier then Chris Crocker talking about Brittney Spears.

(1) Christmas "Spirits" (Fo' Reals, Yo!)  I.E. Guinness beer, Gabbiano Chianti and/or copious amounts of El Kapitan.

EPIC  I could never conceive of having the time to do this within my own lifetime, but kudos to people who do...

FAIL  Proving democracy still works:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Top Five Signs...

...That Your Plane Is Definitely Bound For Newfoundland:
  1. You notice a disproportionate amount of passengers sporting mesh "Arctic Cat" ball caps, post-Movember expired mustaches and seven-month-along maternity beer guts. 
  2. Despite how smooth the flight is, several travelers maintain white-knuckled grips on the armrests of their chairs or are tapping out an incessant Morse Code S.O.S. of barely restrained terror with their cowboy-booted feet.
  3. There are more gold chains present then at an A3C Festival.   
  4. Aerial manoeuvres more ambitious then a 10 degree roll are accompanied by charming homilies of panic such as "Holy f#@$!!!" or "Jesus Christ, I don't know 'bout 'dis!"
  5. After realizing that the flight desk has only called rows twenty and higher to board, a passenger turns to his buddy and says "Oh, we're not s'posed to get on 'er yet, brud!  Gives us time fer anudder beer, 'dough, ay, bye?!"
EPIC:  Okay, so we might not be too keen on air travel, but we're quick to help those who are...

FAIL: Hey, at least we don't act like this jack-hole...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

That's How I Roll - Part IV - "Gamers Log, Supplemental"

Greetings, Dice-Chuckers n' Card Floppaz!

Last year I wrote a three-part series about boardgames, summarized conveniently for your perusal below:

Part I - The Early Years       Part II - Revelations and Reminders      Part III - "GAME ON!"

Honestly, I really owe my beloved hobby an update.  Since my last segment posted in July 2010, I've played well over fifty new board games!  Some real gems have come to my attention, an example of a "Strategy Game" I referenced last time out has since blossomed into its own category and I even omitted an entire sub-genre.  BOOOOOO!   I know; I am teh suck.

But I'm here to make amends!  So, without any further ado, here's what's new in the exciting and dynamic realm of board-gamery...


Here's an entire classification that could arguably fall under the heading of "Party Games", but your physical interaction with them makes them distinct.  Basically, Dexterity Games are to Board Games like the Kinect is to X-Box.

I really don't know how I could have possibly neglected this, since one of the first games I ever played was Table Top Rod Hockey.    

Me and my Dad used to have epic matches of this, with Mom acting as official puck-dropper and the family dog as our sole spectator.  Our first dog, a Westie named Frosty, used to force an unconventional stoppage in play ever once and awhile by snatching  the puck off the ice and dashing away with it.

One day after pulling this little stunt of his, we caught up to him but noticed that there was no puck.  The next day, while Dad was cleaning up the back lawn, he asked me if I wanted my puck back.

Hmmmm, maybe that's why I blocked this category out of my mind.

Stiga, a company based in Sweden (where table top hockey isn't just a game, it's a way of life) makes a version that puts the press-board and enstickerfied flat plastic players of yesteryear to shame.  Thanks to Stiga, we're now spoiled with 3-D players, slick surfaces, official NHL teams, no dead spots, puck ejectors and smooth as silk gameplay.

For being a super-fun game that held my interest since childhood, Table Top Rod Hockey easily earns six pips outta six!             

A more recent Dexterity Game discovery for me is Tumblin-Dice.  Let me tell you, folks, no dyed-in-the-wool board gamer can resist the allure of tossin' some bones around, so this entry really takes that predisposition and runs with it!

Players get a set of four colored dice to roll down the board, which is marked with multipliers on the lower tiers.  The goal is to try and have the score of your four dice be higher then your opponent's.  This involves making sure each toss goes far enough to score but doesn't go off the board.

Here's another great example of a game that takes only about two seconds to set up, explain and get into.  Heck, even my parents, who can scarcely tolerate the same stuff I'm into, absolutely love this game.  And, hey, who the hell doesn't mind rollin' dice, Vegas-style, bay-bee!  Even the Rolling Stones do!  

Tumblin-Dice scores a solid five pips outta six!  

I gotta highlight one more from this category, if only to compensate for its shameful omission last year.  So here's another great pick:

Roadzters is a car-racing game in which players are invited to get their flick on (read that carefully, please!).  Players actually use their fingers to flick the unpredictable ZBall™ around an AFX-style race car track.  If you manage to keep the wonky little thing on the road, you can advance your little race car up to the point where the ball stopped moving.  Whoever crosses the finish line first wins!

This game is more fun then anything deserves to be.  It's also a helluva lot harder then it sounds, with half the track devoid of guard rails and rife with optional over-passes, tunnels and Dukes of Hazzard-style jumps.  Naturally, whenever you land an amazing shot, there's often much rejoicing and high-fiveage.

For pure, unadulterated, child-like whimsy, Roadzters rates a huge five pips outta six!

Here are two more suggestions from this mindlessly fun category:


For the record, some of the categories I presented in Part III were criminally broad.  For example, I chucked about a million different game mechanics all under the banner of STRATEGY GAMES.  Now, admittedly this kept things simple, but it also short-sold a lot of innovative distinctions.

For example, the game Dominion, which was first published only three short years ago, has since spawned an entire category known as DECK-BUILDING GAMES.
In the same way that role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons grew out of the war-gaming hobby, Dominion sprang from the collectible card gaming phenomenon, first popularized by Magic: The Gathering.  In Magic, players choose from over thirteen-thousand different types of cards (spells, monsters, conditions) in order to compose their own unique decks, which they then use to try and beat the tar out of similarly-armed opponents.  Deck-building games have actually created an experience centered around the in-game act of customizing a deck of cards!

Although Dominion was the prototype for this sort of game, the theme feels completely tacked on.  You're supposed to be a rich monarch who's attempting to construct your titular holdings, slowly drafting cards into your deck to help generate money and victory points more efficiently.      

Unfortunately, you never have anything laid out in front of you, so you never really feel as if you're building anything save a giant stack of cards.  Instead of displaying some grand new addition to your fiefdom on the table, every turn you just buy or upgrade a higher denomination of coin, pick a card that gives you more resources or snag a few more victory points.  Then you just shuffle these cards back into your deck as if nothing really happened.  Don't get me wrong; it's still an extremely fun and original concept and since your victory point count is always kept secret within your own deck, the final winner can often come as a total surprise.

For coming up with an entirely new game type and inspiring a host of pretenders, Dominion scores a respectable four pips outta five!  

Although Dominion was the innovator, I'm actually more predisposed to the MARK II Deck Building incarnations, notably Thunderstone

Although this is essentially the same game as Dominion, as soon as you add the dungeon exploration theme, suddenly I'm no longer distracted by the clunk of the engine under the hood.  Instead I'm left with the illusion of a true game experience.  I guess it's because Thunderstone does away with cards that abstractly improve your turn efficiency in lieu of things you can relate to: such as torches, swords, armor and goons..hired goons.  You then send your heavily-laden champions deep into the bowels of a dungeon to get them to fight creepy monsters and salvage victory points on your behalf.  Now doesn't that sound more fun?

For taking the original concept and making me love it more, Thunderstone rates five pips outta six!     

Also worth mentioning is Quarriors!, which substitutes dice for cards.  Once in play, these dice then fight for you just like the monsters from Magic: the Gathering

And there's also Rune Age, the scenario-based, potentially co-operative experience set in Fantasy Flight's fictional world of Terrinoth:  

I also did a bit of a disservice with the equally vague FAMILY GAME category.  Cripes, "FAMILY GAME"...what the hell was I thinking?  Sounds like I was on the verge of recommending that antiquated yawn-fest Monopoly!

Let's face it, "Family Games" don't even really exist.  It's a complete misnomer.  It's like calling something a "Tribal Game" or a "Workplace Game".     

My next recommendation is a perfect example.  Based on my previously-established definition of a "Family Game" ("quick n' easy...appeals to a broad audience...has a bit of theme to give people something to relate to...doesn't attempt to simulate anything") then this thing technically qualifies.  And what says "Family Game" more then taking on the persona of a ruthless Tarantino-esque bank robber, handing out foam handguns and then pointing them at your kid sister in a Mexican standoff bonding moment?  Well, that's exactly what you do in the hilarious Ca$h n' Gun$:

In Ca$h n' Gun$, you play one of several gang members who have just pulled off a daring bank heist.  Naturally a bit of a "debate" breaks out as to how the money should be split (why this wasn't determined  ahead of time escapes me).  Players secretly choose one card out a limited "rock/paper/scissors"-style hand and places it face down on the table.  Then everyone gets a chance to simultaneously point their gun at any one opponent.

Everyone being targeted can either back down (taking a penalty), fast-talk their way out of it or "stick to their guns".  The cards are then revealed to find out who was bluffing and who just got ventilated.  The spoils for that round are then divided amongst those crooks left standing.

Described in such a manner, Ca$h n' Gun$ sounds unconscionably violent, but it's really not!  Gérard Mathieu's whimsical artwork gives you goofy shades of Sergio Aragonés and Mad Magazine.  The tokens representing banknotes, wounds and "shame" are delightfully cheesy.  And last but not least the day-glo orange hand guns pardon you somewhat for holding one to your baby-momma's cranium gangsta-style, yo!

So, as you can see, Ca$h n' Gun$ is really a NEGOTIATION/BLUFFING game.  And for being a particularly clever one, it rates a solid four pips outta five!

Even my classification of  THEMATIC GAMES is a bit of a cock-up.  After all, describing something as "thematic" is like describing a sculpture as "dignified".  It's very nebulous and does nothing to quantify what rules mechanics are being used or what the game's focus is.

Here's an example of what I'm on about:

Yes, DungeonQuest is very "thematic" but it's better classified as a DUNGEON CRAWL.  Why?  Because, like Deck-Building, this is a category all untoward itself.

This particular game was first published back in the mid-Eighties.  At the time I was living in a small town and it was often nigh-impossible to hear about such things, let alone procure them.  Then, when I was around sixteen or so, I tragically concluded that I was "too cool" for board games and missed out on a lot of classic titles.  Mercifully, publishing giant Fantasy Flight acquired to right to this after it went out of print and republished it just last year.  As soon as I saw it on the shelf of my local FLGS ("Friendly Local Game Store", BTW!) I was all over it like David Hasselhoff on a floorburger.  

The Dungeon Crawl sub-genre of thematic adventure games was an attempt by designers to try and replicate a Dungeons & Dragons session without all the time and foundation work required of a Dungeon Master.  So, basically, DungeonQuest is a pre-fab, olde skool, 80's era D&D adventure in a box.  

And when I say olde skool 80's era D&D adventure, I'm also talking about the masochistic difficulty level.  It's kinda like a cardboard version of the video game Dark Souls.  Players chose from one of six archetypal fantasy characters and then send them into the equivalent of a burning house packed with explosives.  During this home invasion there's a constant threat of being attacked by escaped  mental patients as you try and make your way towards the bedroom where you intend to steal ten dollars from the wallet of a lightly-dozing Cain Velasquez.

You make your way through the dungeon by literally picking a direction and revealing a random tile.  That random tile could be an empty room, a bottomless pit filled with spikes, or a Demon's green room.  Your character's stats give you a chance to avoid these things, but I've also seen people killed outright on their very first turn!    

I've been told that the game's survival rate is approximately 14%, and I believe it.  In the three games I've played, I've only witnessed one character crawl out of the dungeon alive.

And that's really a part of the fun.  It's an excuse to sit around and laugh at the misfortune of your opponents.  Although DungeonQuest is so luck-based you could actually have a debate as to whether or not its even a game, the sado-masochistic fourteen year old D&D nerd in me is still totally in love with it.

Five irrational pips outta six!            

Realizing just how many time-strapped, nostalgic former orc-slayers there are out there, Wizards of the Coast produced three board games based on their Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons property.  So far, I've only played these two:

DungeonQuest is to Dark Souls like Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon are to Gauntlet.  Again, players pick a fantasy avatar and set them loose in an underground maze that you construct as you play.  All the while you're constantly being assailed by monsters, traps and other horrible threats that inexorably chip away at your mortality.

Although the components are gorgeous, the pre-programed monster A.I. is inspired and you can fly through a scenario in about an hour, these game desperately need more chrome.  It was as if Wizards didn't want to risk alienating the average knuckle-dragger and refused to make it even vaguely complicated.  Every turn is the same thing: you try and kill something, you move to an unexplored edge of the map, you put down a new tile and then you typically get auto-ganked by some new monster and/or threat.  It boils the once-rich experience of role-playing down to a bunch of stats on a card and constant random rolls.  There's really isn't any exploration or adventure to speak of.

For being a pallid, anemic version of my childhood memories, Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon rate a mere three pips out of six...

Descent has a lot more of the depth missing from the two previous entries.

Although it boasts a lot more character customization and advancement, but I'm just not a very big fan of Fantasy Flight's "Terrinoth" setting.  This is probably due to the fact that, in their quest to create "cool" characters, even their supposed heroes look like Sauron's cabana-boy:

The game also suffers from having to saddle one of the players as the evil Overlord (although this role is actually relished by one particularly sadistic member of our gaming group) and it can sometime take five or six hours to play through a complete scenario.  But it least it's not like Ravenloft or Ashardalon: the Dungeon Crawl equivalent of a Kardashian, I.E. pretty but hopelessly vapid.    

Five pips outta six!

Alright, I got just one more left before I take off.  This is another one I would have lumped into the amorphous catch-all description of Thematic Games, but in reality it's SPACE EXPLORATION/ADVENTURE.   Which is exactly what you'd expect from a game called Star Trek: Fleet Captains.

Now, I used to prefer Star Wars to Star Trek, but that way back before George Lucas irreparably f#@$ed-up his galaxy far, far away.  But even back when I was watching the Original Series with Kirk, Spock and Bones and the movies that followed, I was always intrigued by Gene Roddenberry's vision for space exploration.

I really dug the concept of different classes of ships, each one customized with refits and staffed by unique crew-members all with special talents.  I loved when these vessels moved into the unknown to encounter alien planets, binary suns, wormholes and nebulae.  I jazzed (?) over all the competing alien races who were vying for influence across the galaxy.  And I was thrilled by all the scary, weird and unexpected challenges that came part and parcel along with venturing out towards the limits of space.

I'd explain what it's like to play a game of Star Trek: Fleet Captains, but frankly, I've already described it by talking about the premise.  I was so interested in playing a game like this that I was willing to invent it.  Mercifully, the good folks at WizKids have come along and spared me a tremendous amount of work.

In Star Trek: Fleet Captains, one player takes the role of the noble, goody-two-shoes Federation and the second player assumes the role of the sneaky, battle-hungry Klingons.  At the start of the game, they conscript a small fleet of ships and set forth to explore a randomly-generated concealed area of space.  All the while they have to contend with random events (and each other) as they attempt to complete missions for Victory Points. Typically the player who gets to ten Veeps first is the winner.

Although confusion and debate can occasionally arise from creative card plays and some of the components are totally clown-shoes (like the paper coaster location tiles), the game succeeds admirably in bringing the Star Trek universe to light.  The awesome miniatures included in the game all represent "famous" ships of the line, so you could conceivably get Sisko's U.S.S. Defiant from Deep Space Nine tangling with the I.K.S. Gr'oth.  
Although the Star Trek theme is pretty much incidental for me, the game itself tells a compelling narrative, evokes memories from the show and scratches my itch for a space exploration game.  It easily deserves five pips outta six!


On the next episode of "That's How I Roll!":
  • Games that give you a God complex as you put your minions to work.
  • The dice keep a-rollin'! 
  • The grade-school card game War gets a makeover.
  • Y'Arrrrr: The Boardgame
  • Finally!  A socially acceptable excuse to randomly scream "RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!!"
  • Finally!  A socially acceptable excuse to randomly scream "DIE, YOU STINKIN' TOASTER!!!"
EPIC:  So impressed was I with Star Trek Fleet Captains, that I composed the following video love letter to the game:

FAIL: Hey, let's face it folks, they can't all be diamonds.  Here's my review of Camelot:

"Tonight we tried playing the truly execrable 'Camelot'.  Thank God Andrew didn’t spend much money on this piece of poo.  The 'Lightning System'™ might be good for people with attention deficit disorder who want the board game equivalent of  paint-brushing each other while sitting around table, but for a old school war gamer like myself who’s a bit  of a rules lawyer, this can't even be considered a real game. 

How the f#@% do you keep your opponents honest when everyone is simultaneously moving s#!^ around and  attacking stuff?  This is complete and total anarchy, and this is coming from someone who likes 'RoboRally', so it’s not that I don’t dig chaos in a board game.

It was so bad we didn’t even continue past the first few 'turns'.   

Seriously, this game is a total joke.  If Andrew forces me to play it again I’m totally gonna punch him in the dick-hole."