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Attack on Titan Part I - First Thoughts

Okay.  Had to drive three hours to watch this movie at a theater in the state of Kentucky, not because I wanted to necessarily.  I had to.  It's called having an eleven-year-old child who loves to watch anime and read manga.  You can no doubt guess her favorite - watch the trailer here.

I will say that I could have said no, but having watched the anime myself, I was curious.  My initial reaction about twenty minutes in - "Man, this movie's brutal."  Forty minutes in - "Geesh, this thing's brutal."  At the end - "Wow, that was brutal."  On average, I thought the movie was brutal.

Is that good?  Well, it was very true to the anime (I can't speak for the manga) in that there were lots of people devoured, ripped apart, and squashed like bugs.  At times, blood poured down on hapless citizens by the buckets full.  Over the top?  Perhaps, but I have no way of determining the reality of the situation.  I will say that the blood-rain created a quite appropriate mood of sheer terror and hopeless caused by the munching Titans.  I felt it more effective than the anime.  The titans themselves were more bizarre looking - quite unnerving at times.

Another strong suit for the movie was the setting itself.  Unlike the anime, the movie never lets us see outside the walls (in part I at least), so what you see is the only world these poor characters have known.  And it is much more squalid and lived in as opposed to the neat Renaissance-ish look of the anime.  The wall too is ugly and looks hastily built.  The coolest part to me, though, was the glimpses of relics from the past.  There is a helicopter on a platform near the top of the wall, and there's an old bomb casing.  They even mention nuking the titans in the great war before humanity fell.  

The other bit I like was the characters of Hange Zoe and Sasha.  They were straight out of the anime and a delight to see.  The other characters were there for the most part, some were dropped, some composited due to time restraints.  Armin was pulled off well enough, I thought, though my little anime-lover thought he looked too old.  And he wasn't blonde.  Mikasa and Eren were nice, too, though even I wasn't thrilled with how their backstories were changed.  Fan favorite Levi, you might have heard, has been replaced.  I wasn't thrilled by his replacement.  Instead of an air of detachment and confidence, this guy was a jerk.

My biggest beek agains the film is the CGI.  It was like Syfy channel effects for most of the movie.  At times, it did interfere with my susupension of disbelief (as much as you can have, anyway, with a bunch of giant things running around eating people).

Overall, I liked it.  I was entertained.  I've seen lots better and lots worse.  I think if you're familiar with the story at all, you'll want to check it out.  I've already bought tickets for Part II because I am curious to see how they finish out the story.

Have you seen it?  Let us hear what you thought.



Titan Comics to release Independence Day comic



With the possibly better-late-than-never sequel to the blockbuster Independence Day coming next summer, it only makes sense to launch a comic book that bridges the gap between the first film and the upcoming sequal.  Titan Comics has announced it is doing just that.

Titan describes the comic as a "psychological prison drama set after the events of the first film."  Okay then.  As long as it has the rampant jingoism and misunderstanding of how computers work from the original film, I'm all in.

I'll update you guys on this one as I get more information, and I'll certainly be reviewing this one when it releases at an unnamed future time.


Review: Reiner Knizia's Icarus from Victory Point Games


In their own words:  “Bluffing, guile and strategy abound as you ask the most relevant question: How high can you fly?”—back of Icarus box. 


Components:  126 high-quality cards—I can’t say enough about the raise in production quality at VPG in recent years; 30 double-sided Feather tokens; 1 game mat—I’d like to have a sturdier board than this.  1 bid value marker


Game Play:  This game is basically the pub game Liar’s Dice done with cards instead of dice.  Players draw a hand of cards from seven decks (with different color card backs) to form a hand, and a “Daedalus” hand is drawn in secret and removed from play to make card counting harder.  One player looks at his hand, chooses a color and estimates how many points he thinks (or maybe just pretends to think) are in one of the colors, marking his bid on the game mat.  It will sometimes make sense to “lie” by making a bid that isn’t really likely given the card in the player’s hand.  The next player in line can offer a challenge or raise the bid (optionally discarding a card and drawing a replacement and changing the color if he wants).  When a bid is challenged, all players reveal what card of that color they are holding.  The numbers are totaled and the loser of the challenge takes a negative-score token.  The game continues until one player has taken four tokens. At that point, the player with the highest score wins.  The game becomes a little dance of drawing, bluffing and guessing based on what you have in your hand and what you think the other players have. 



My Take:  Before getting on with the review, it is only fair that I cop to something: I absolutely love Liar’s Dice, especially as tweaked from its parlor game origins by Richard Borg.  His version (also called Call My Bluff) won the prestigious Spiel Des Jahres (Germany’s Game of the Year) in 1994 and I think it was a worthy winner.  Because of my love for Liar’s Dice, I’ve played a lot of “Liar’s Dice, but with cards!” games over the years, but they have all fallen flat for me.  Truthfully, I have no interest in replacing Liar’s Dice with “Liar’s Cards.”  The basic game of Icarus is mostly that, so I had some fear that this would be one of those “one play and done” games for me.  Luckily, I discovered a bit of magic in the game’s box. That magic comes from the game’s variant rules in the form of Flight cards.


Flight cards are a deck of cards that the players can draw from during their card step by revealing one of their number cards face up in front of them (making it impossible for that player to bluff in that particular color).  Having your card in front of you for all to see is a huge disadvantage, but many of the Flight cards do things that are worth that concession—like allow the player to move a bid lower, skip having to bid or challenge, or look at the undrawn cards in an Icarus stack.


These Flight cards add just enough spice and variety to up the game’s “fun factor” to the point that I might sometimes choose it over Liar’s Dice.  It actually reminds me of the relationship between two other Knizia designs:   Schotten-totten and Battle Line.  Schotten-totten was a solid but dry 3-card poker variant, but when the Tactics cards were added to it for GMT’s Battle Line, it became a lot more fun because players could no longer rely on simple card counting to determine what play to make.  The Flight cards do the same thing in Icarus, and I’m glad Victory Point Games came up with the variant.  I’m pretty sure I’ll never play the game again without them.  That “vanilla” version of the game isn’t bad, mind you, it just isn’t particularly fun.


I subject my game group to a lot of new games that I need to play in order to review.  After I’m satisfied I can review them, most of them don’t see the table again unless I bring them up.  It is perhaps telling that while I had a group playing games for review tonight, the guys forming another table came up and asked if I had brought Icarus.


Review Score: 3.5/5—Good!  


Review: Biergarten (Steamboat Gothic Studio)

Review: Biergarten, designed by Andrew Sallwasser

In their own words: “Biergarten is a game of comfortable atmospheres, Alpine heritage, and cold bier. It's designed as a quick game for a relaxing afternoon”


Components: 54 Cards, 4 player tokens, a scoreboard, rulebook.

Cards are high-quality and attractive. The should hold up to repeated play without getting marked.

The tokens sent with the prototype just didn't fit on the scoreboard, so we used a notepad.

Game Play: Biergarten is essentially a “tile-laying” game with the tiles in this case being poker-sized cards. Each player is given a starting card that represents the center of his Biergarten. The middle of each side of the card has a symbol with two of the game's four colors. Player choose from three face-up cards a card to place to expand their biergarten. The card doesn't have to match the colors of the cards it is played next to, but scoring points requires matching colors. Players score one point for each set of linked colors and three bonus points for having all four colors paired at least once in their garden.

Note how ugly and low-scoring my biergarten is compared to Warren's in the first image :(


Other than color patches, some cards also have walls along one or more of the four edges. This means that those edges can't be matched to another card for points, but if a player can form a continuous series of walls around the edge of his biergarten (completely enclosing it), that player earns six bonus points and has a really good shot at winning the game. After playing their card each turn, players can swap two or move one of the cards on the board. Doing so can break up matches or create new ones. If this happens, the player's score is adjusted. A scoreboard is provided to keep a current snapshot of each player's score obvious to the players.

Once a player crosses the ten point line, each other player has one final turn to add to his biergarten as normal. When that turn is finished, the player with the highest score wins.

My Take: I just returned from a family vacation with my extended family during which I played mostly traditional card games (Spades and Hearts to be exact). Those are games that can be played while chatting and relaxing by the pool or in the hotel room late at night. They have some strategy but don't necessarily require a player's full attention at all times. Some people call these beer and pretzels games, but we've always called them shmoozing games after the yiddish word for small talk (and sometime kvetching games for when people use their downtime to complain about all that is wrong with their lives). Biergarten is the tile-laying equivalent of these games—simple, fun, and relaxing. The player interaction is almost non-existent, so their isn't any conflict to spoil the mood. Gameplay consists mostly of playing (and sometimes moving) the card that makes the most sense at that moment. It is vastly more tactical than strategic, and it works well for a wide range of age groups and tastes.


My main complaint about the game is the same complaint I have about all of the games that use cards as tiles: it would be better with square tiles that could be rotated for more options. Still, a deck of cards is infinitely more portable than a box of tiles, and the game would likely not cause much of a fuss if brought out at a bar or restaurant for play while waiting on food and drink to arrive.


Biergarten is a quick, light game that is pefect as a simple opener or quick closer for a game night or for pulling out with non-gamers who might balk at more complex games.


Review Score: 3/5


Review: Bountytown (Victory Point Games)

Review: Bountytown from Victory Point Games

Designed by: Kyle Van Winkle  Michael Huven-Moore

In their own words:  “three to six players take on the roles of unique characters in the Wild West, dueling bounties and each other in a race to build up the most Renown in Bountytown.”

Components: Around 150 cards of various sizes and 15 character standees.  The cards are high-quality and shuffle well.  The standees are well-printed with great art design.  They would work better if the two parts are glued together, but then they wouldn’t fit in the box, so they are a bit fiddly.  That said, they are attractive on the table and a vast improvement both aesthetically and in their usability over plastic pawns.

Game Play: Before play begins, players set up a semi-random group of locations to represent Bountytown for that game.  They then randomly choose the bounties for the game and shuffle a game-ending Train card into the last five cards of the Bounty Deck.  During the game, players move their tokens around the town either to use a location’s special function or to hunt down a bounty (or, occasionally another player). 

When the player attempts to capture a bounty, the game becomes a one-hand game of poker.  Using the cards in hand (and, for some characters, extra cards drawn for the fight), a player attempts to put together his or her best poker hand.  The bounty’s best hand is then formed by drawing cards, adding the cards printed on the bounty, and putting together the highest ranked hand possible. (Note: the deck uses five rather than four suits.  The fifth suit is “coins” which are also used to buy items.  Deciding whether to use coins in the poker hand can be difficult if a cool, but expensive, item is on the board.) If the player has the better hand, they capture the bounty which earns them renown. 

Bounties that haven’t been turned over to the sheriff are not safe as any other player with less renown can come to that player’s location and initiate a duel, which works much like the duel with bounties, but involves a match between the two players and the bounty.  If the attacker wins the duel, he or she steals the bounty; if the defender wins the duel, he or she keeps the bounty, but if the outlaw wins the hand, he escapes.

In both types of duels, players who lose gain Wound cards which take up slots in the player’s hands and limit the player’s ability to put together winning hands in the future.

The locations can affect duels in various ways or provide other benefits, some of which are ongoing and others which take an action.  The three non-random locations are particularly useful.  The Sheriff’s Office provides a place for the players to “turn in” their bounties, locking the points in permanently and protecting them from loss from a duel.  Doc’s allows players to ditch Wound cards that can clutter up their hand, and The General Store sells one-use items that can help a player win duels, capture bounties, and other good stuff.

A bounty that is captured or escapes is replaced from the Bounty deck.  When the Train card is flipped up, the game is over.  The player with the highest renown wins.

My Take: I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Bountytown so far.  The game’s mechanics fit well with its theme, and, though it isn’t unique to this game, the poker hand as resolution mechanic has long been one of my favorites and it has been put to good use here. 

Not everything works as well as I’d like.  I was excited about the ability to engage in player-vs-player duels, but I think the three-way nature of the duel (including the outlaw as a participant) discourages much of that happening.  Theme-wise, I love the idea of the outlaw escaping because the bounty hunters were infighting, but the risk of that escape happening had us wary about risking a battle unless our hands were nigh unbeatable.

I will also say that I was a bit bothered by the game flipping the hand rankings so two pairs was better than three of a kind.  I lost a couple of duels to this, and it made evaluating my hands before a discard-and-draw counter-intuitive and generally harder than it should be. 

We found the character abilities to be pretty balanced in our games, but we haven’t played with enough combinations to really know how that will turn out in the long run.  The fact that there is so much left to see with the game is probably is greatest strength.  There are characters we haven’t used after three games, bounties we haven’t captured, locations we haven’t visited (and maybe even items we haven’t bought, but I’m not sure about that).  Just the variety in locations alters player strategy from game to game and makes every game feel unique.

The theme is one that goes over well with my group, but also works with non-gamers and younger family members.  Overall, I’m completely pleased with this game and fully expect it to make my most-played-games list this year.


Review Score: 4/5 (Very Good)