Board Game Review: Marvel Legendary – The Fantastic Four Expansion

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This is the second expansion to the deck building game from Marvel, Legendary. In this review I won’t be going over how to play the game, if you want that then go check out my review of the base game and first expansion here. This new expansion brings four new schemes, five new heroes and two new villains and villain groups to the mix. There are also a few new concepts it introduces, and it’ll be interesting to see if they’re used again in future expansions. As with the core game it’s designed by Devin Low and published by Upper Deck.

The Schemes: 

I love having more schemes, they add a lot of flavour to the game and some of them are crazy. One of the crazier ones in this expansion is ‘Pull Reality into the Negative Zone,’ which switches recruit and attack on twists 2,4,6 and 8. This makes the game far more strategic because you have to plan for the switch, and in the first game I played of this I found it very difficult to have a balanced deck. ‘Flood the Planet with Melted Glaciers’ is a tense one as you have to KO heroes from the HQ with a cost equal to or less than the number of twists that have already appeared. In ‘Bathe the Earth in Cosmic Rays’ you have to KO a hero from your hand and then replace it with a hero of the same or lower cost from the HQ. This doesn’t sound too bad, but sometimes there aren’t any heroes with a matching cost, and that can be very frustrating. Lastly there’s ‘Invincible Force Field’ where the twists become a force field and you have to spend an extra recruit point or attack point in order to battle the mastermind.

Of these the negative zone one is my favourite because it’s so crazy and it can really wreck your plans. The others are fun too, and the force field can quickly become annoying.

The Villains (and groups):

Mole Man – Mole Man has an attack of eight, but this can quickly increase when members of his Subterranea villain group escape, which happens whenever a masterstrike occurs. He’s not the toughest but he can be frustrating, especially when combined with the force field scheme. His power will quickly increase. The Subterranea group are standard, although they have a new keyword – burrow – which is something I’ll get to a little later.

Galactus – I’m sure this is the one that gets you drooling. With a massive attack of 20 Galactus poses a huge threat, especially when combined with his heavy-hitting villain group the Heralds of Galactus. As difficult as Apocalypse and his Horsemen are I think this combination are able to rival them especially because on each masterstrike Galactus destroys a city space, which makes it more likely that a villain can escape and if the city gets destroyed completely then you’ve lost the game. I’ve only fought him a few times but I’ve yet to beat Galactus. Your jaw may have dropped when reading that it requires an attack of 20 to defeat Galactus, but there is a way to reduce the power of him and his Heralds with Cosmic Threat, which like burrow I will detail below.

The Heroes:

The Fantasic Four are joined by the Silver Surfer and as a unit they’re very recruit focused. This took me by surprise at first and it does require a little more thought than usual to try and get enough attack in your hand so that you can actually fight people, otherwise you end up with a lot of recruit and the city can fill up pretty quickly. However, the cards have a new keyword – focus – where you can spend recruit points for other effects, so that’s quite cool. I love Mr. Fantastic because he had a lot of ‘draw extra card’ cards. The Invisible Woman is decent and The Human Torch is quite powerful. SIlver Surfer is cool and if you get enough focus he has a card that can generate 9 attack! The Thing is by far my favourite though, just for his rare card, which gives a bonus attack for every other strength hero you’ve played that turn. I can’t imagine how powerful a deck with him, Hulk and Colossus would be!

As a unit though I did find it quite tough sometimes to find the balance between recruit and attack, because it can be tempting just to get more and more recruit. I think they sync well together though, and my impressions are that they’d be good support players when paired with other heroes. They’ll always guarantee you a lot of recruit and you can focus this to draw extra cards or KO cards, or rescue bystanders. It makes the whole thing more versatile and gives you a ton of new options.

New Concepts:

Burrow – This one is pretty simple and it’s only the Subterranea villains that can use the ability. All it means is that if you fight them anywhere other than the streets they will burrow to the streets. So you’ll still do the fight effect and rescue any bystanders they had, but you will not get to place them in your victory pile, but will have to fight them again. Once they are in the streets they can be defeated and if the streets is already occupied (or destroyed) then you can simply defeat them like usual.

It’s a pretty fun idea and it adds something to the game, but I’m not sure it’s all that annoying. In most of the games I’ve played we’ve gotten to a point where the city is mostly empty, so we just tend to leave a villain in the streets and then if a Subterranea villain enters the city we can just pick them off. I might try a variant where the villain will actually oust a villain in the streets, so they burrow no matter what. This could lead to a more challenging game and see more villains escape.

Cosmic Threat – This one is a little more complicated. Basically it means that the type of card you play have the ability to reduce the power of Galactus and his Heralds. His Heralds are each vulnerable to one type of card, so for example if you fought Morg you can reduce his power with instinct cards. Each card will reduce the villain by three, so if you had three instinct cards then you could defeat Morg without spending any attack points. Galactus is vulnerable to all types of cards, but you can only use one type per turn, and if you do defeat Galactus you cannot use Cosmic Threat more than once a turn.

I like Cosmic Threat and it certainly adds a new dimension to the game, but it does make the game a little more complicated when trying to keep all the numbers straight in your head, especially since there are so many things you can focus as well.

Focus – This is the big one and it’s the word that finds itself on a lot of cards. If a card has focus then it will show you how many recruit points you can focus. You can spend as many recruit points as you want and you can do the effect more than once a turn, so if a card said focus 2 recruit points to draw an extra card with your new hand, you could focus 6 points to draw three cards. I love that it gives you more variety and there are plenty of different things you can do with recruit points, and you can understand why the team are so recruit heavy.

Final Opinion:

More Legendary is always good and I like that the designer keeps putting in more new concepts. I am a little worried that these are going to be almost one hit wonders though and I hope that these aren’t the only villains to use burrow, for example. I imagine with a Guardians of the Galaxy expansion Cosmic Threat should make another appearance. I think the schemes are fun, and Galactus is a brutal villains. His masterstrike is insane and it makes games so tense. As a whole though I would have preferred some more attack in the cards. I understand they wanted focus to be a viable option but I do think the hero cards are skewed a little too much towards recruitment. I’m eager to see how they work in conjunction with other heroes because I have a feeling they will be more potent at supporting more attack-minded characters.

I do like the focus concept though, because sometimes I do find that either I can’t afford any heroes in the HQ or there isn’t anyone that I want to recruit, so focus gives me something else. But that, combined with Cosmic Threat does increase the numbers you have to keep track of and there’s a little more number crunching. It’s nothing too drastic or advanced but you do have to work out whether you need to focus to get more attack etc.

Overall though it’s a solid expansion and I’m glad to have more things to play with. Galactus is definitely a tough test and although I have a few negative things to say about it those are really nitpicks. I still think it’s incredibly fun and this fits in well with the rest of the game. Oh, and just to finish off, I have heard some negative things about the artwork but I didn’t have a problem with it, although one of the Mr. Fantastic Cards features Juggernaut prominently, and that makes me look twice sometimes.

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Game Review – Star Trek: The Original Series Deck Building Game

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Star Trek: The Original Series Deck Building Game was designed by Alex Bykov and published by Bandai. It’s for 2-4 players and plays in about an hour. I’m going to be giving a general overview of the rules here but I’m not going to go over everything, this is more for my opinion rather than a guide on how to play. For those of you unfamiliar with deck building games, the mechanic is that you start with some basic cards in your hand and you can use them to buy more powerful cards. As you go through your deck the new cards get shuffled in and you can draw them. 

First of all I want to talk about something. Look at this box size. Maybe you can’t tell the scale from the picture but it’s fairly big. Now look at what you get inside. 

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Some cards, dice, and a whooooooooooooole lot of empty space. Maybe they’re trying to be meta and it’s representative of space…the final frontier…but I doubt it. I get that these boxes are made with expansions in mind, but I think you have to be dedicated to an expansion for this to be worthwhile, and it doesn’t look like any expansions are forthcoming. It annoys me. But now, onto the review.

I’m a huge Trekkie. Star Trek is my favourite thing ever so when I saw this game it was almost an insta-buy for me straight away, but I did the diligent thing and checked for reviews but there weren’t too many out there. So the questions are – will this game satisfy a Trekkie’s need? and Will non-Trek fans enjoy this game?

The point of the game is simple, to get the most points. You get points for completing missions (which are based on the episodes). Here’s an example of a mission card. 

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Everyone’s favourite episode – Spock’s Brain. Sorry for the poor picture quality by the way, but as you can see there’s a fair amount of stuff written on the cards, and this is one of the problems with the game, which I’ll get to later. The number in the bottom left corner is how many points the mission is worth. The typical game goes up to 300 points, but really you can adjust this to however long you want to play. The blue box has a ‘flip’ effect, which is something that happens as you turn the card over. The main text has the goal (what you need to complete the mission) and then the reward. This type is an event, which means that if you are unable to complete it on your turn you have to pay a penalty, which is known as a ‘fail’ condition. Non-event missions will remain in play for other plays to complete, if you are unable to complete it on your turn. You also get secret missions at the start of the game which you can work towards. 

But what will you use to complete these missions? Well, you have equipment like tricorders and phases, maneuvers such as a Vulcan mind-meld or energize, and characters like Lt. Kyle, Number One, Spock, and the man himself Captain James T. Kirk.

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The number in the Enterprise symbol at the top is the cost of the card. In the black box you have the effect of the card once you play him, and at the bottom you have the card’s statistics (speed, attack, diplomacy and shield). You’ll use these stats to complete missions (for example you may have a mission that requires 5 speed and 3 diplomacy). And as you can see from this picture you can stack the cards to easily see how much of each you currently have. Once you complete a mission you add it to your victory pile and then apply the rewards and any other effects. The play area will look something like this –

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On the top left is the mission deck. On your turn you have an explore action which you’ll use to flip over a card and see what mission you have. In the middle are the cards available to buy. As well as an explore action you have a search action, which you can use to replace a card in starbase with one from the deck, located at the top of the picture. To the right are the basic characters that you will be using to buy cards; ensigns, lieutenants and commanders. You’ll always start the game with a number of ensigns and lieutenants but will be able to upgrade them. 

There’s also one aspect of the game that I haven’t mentioned and that is the ship battles. Each player has a ship (and the dice that come with the game are used to track hit points). When you battle you’ll add crew and other cards to your ship and the loser will have to discard his whole hand and not draw a new hand until the beginning of his next turn. And that’s pretty much the game. 

So first off I want to say that as a Trekkie I really love the theme here, The photos on the cards are great and I love that they’ve used more than just the popular characters. Seeing Pike, Kyle, Bailey, Trelane, Kang, Kor, Palmer, Abraham Lincoln etc is awesome and I like being reminded of the show, and this is helped by having the missions be based on the episodes. It also gives me a kick when I manage to get one of the hero characters, and I’m determined to keep playing this until I get Kirk, Spock and Bones into my hand. But then there’s the game play. 

There’s actually a lot I like about this as well. I love that with your starting hand you can actually do stuff. You can’t do anything major, but most of the cards are still useful. For example, one card lets you upgrade a basic character that costs up to two more. Another card lets you discard as many cards as you want and draw that many extra. The ensigns and lieutenants all have effects when you complete missions as well, and this is something that I wish more deck-building games would do because usually your starting cards are pretty much useless. I’m not saying you’ll want to keep an ensign over another type of card, but at least he’s not just dead weight. It gives you a lot more variety of options, and they have stats on them as well, so they can actually help you complete missions. 

Speaking of stats, I mentioned it before but I love how you can line up the cards to see what stats you have. It’s such a simple thing but it makes such a difference. It’s streamlined and focused and it just makes things easier to see at a glance. 

However, there are a few problems. Firstly, the rulebook. It’s pretty bad. It’s not very well laid out and I had to consult online resources to clear up a few queries. It feels like it was slapped together at the last minute and it leaves a lot of things unclear. Secondly, the text on the cards. There is a lot of it and much of it is confusing, so again you’ll probably have to consult online resources or make up clarifications yourself. It takes a few plays to get everything straightened out and I think if you’re coming into this as a Trekkie first and foremost without being much of a gamer you’ll have a hard time picking things up. Thirdly, the ship battles are just…I’m not even sure what’s going on with those to be honest. It’s kind of cool and you can pretend you doing war games like in The Ultimate Computer, but it seems like much ado about nothing. The end result is that one player has to discard his hand, and ultimately it just doesn’t matter that much. Maybe it’s different in a three or four player game but I’ve only played it two player. 

Lastly, the game can feel somewhat formulaic. For example, when you explore it’s more often than not going to be a standard mission, so if you can’t complete it then the player after you will have a chance. This is risky because they’ll have a better chance to prepare for it, like by buying a certain card from starbase, whereas you just have to hope that you’ll be able to complete the mission, so it could get annoying if one player just waits for other players to reveal missions. Sometimes it can feel like you’re just gifting the other player 50 points. This makes the game feel structured because you always want to complete your starting missions first, so it can actually be a long time before the mission deck gets explored, and thus the beginning of the game can feel a little stagnant and dull.

The other thing is that some of the cards are just too useful not to by, like there’s an Energize card that lets you put cards from your discard pile back on top of your deck. This is cool for deck manipulation because I love coming up with those sorts of things, but it can lead to decks feeling very similar game after game, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m saddened that there probably won’t be any expansions. There’s also a tactical scope, which lets you copy the stats of one of the cards in starbase, and there’s no reason for you not to buy that card. So sometimes this can feel like you’re just going through the same cards every time, because they’re the optimal cards to get. 

Overall though I have to say that I do enjoy this game. I like that every card does something, even the basic ones. I love the Star Trek feel brought forth from the cards and pictures, and even though some of the things can be confusing they do start to become clearer as you play it more often. I do think, however, that you have to be a Trekkie gamer to like this. I think if you’re purely a fan of the show and don’t know much about games then you’re going to struggle, and I think a big part of the appeal of the game is the fact that it’s Star Trek. I think a gamer will probably feel that there are plenty of other deck building games to try, but for Trekkies this has something extra that makes up for the negative factors. The design of the cards is great (the box size is not) so I think that if you’re a die-hard Trekkie like me then you won’t regret picking it up, but just be aware that it can be a little difficult to wrap your head around at first. 

Movie Review – The Purge (2013)

In the future there is a thing known as the purge – a day when anything goes…even murder. This lets people purge themselves of their dark desires, and it means that for the rest of the year everything is perfect. In The Purge we focus on a family (Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane) as they lock themselves in their house and try to stay safe during the night.

I was first interested in The Purge because it reminded me of a Star Trek episode, The Return of the Archons, in which a civilisation has certain time periods where they release their darkest impulses in order to maintain civility and control the rest of the time. Sadly, The Purge did not live up to the concept. 

I was hoping that the film would look at what happened during the purge in different areas, and different groups of people because the concept is an interesting one. I thought that it could have talked about the role of crime and morality in our society and what happens in the aftermath of all this stuff. I wanted to explore the darker side of people we think we know, and how things can be lurking beneath the surface. There was a little bit of that towards the end but it wasn’t explored nearly enough for my liking. 

Instead we were given a typical home invasion story that has been seen a hundred times before. It didn’t offer anything new to the genre and felt tired and uninspired. The worst sin of this film is that it’s boring. I don’t mind it when films are bad, as long as they have some redeeming features, but when a film is dull it just seems like a waste of time. There’s no tension, there aren’t any scary parts and there’s no reason for anyone to invest themselves in this film. There isn’t even much gore either. It’s like you know that some really interesting stuff is happening outside and the true horror of the movie is that you’re stuck inside with this boring family while a good film is happening somewhere else. 

I can’t recommend this at all. Hopefully someone else will do something more interesting with the concept. 

Movie Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Last night I went to see a midnight showing of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, preceded by Captain America:The First Avenger. Chris Evans returns as the star-spangled man in this sequel, which sees him trying to adjust to the new world and try and work his way through the shades of grey that are present. Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson reprise their roles as Nick Fury and Black Widow respectively, while Robert Redford plays Alex Pierce and Anthony Mackie is Sam Wilson a.k.a Falcon. There are some other people that pop up but I want this to be as spoiler-free as possible, so I thought I’d list the main players and then the other people might be a nice surprise.

After I watched Captain America: The First Avenger I was even more psyched for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint. It had more of an edge to it than the first one, but it still retained a lot of heart. Steve Rogers is working for S.H.I.E.L.D but he’s becoming jaded as he thinks that they’re compromising freedom, and he wonders whether he and his ideals have a place in the new century. Then a new foe emerges – The Winter Soldier, and as Captain America, Black Widow and Falcon get deeper into the mystery who this man is they realize that more than their lives are at stake.

I really loved the political intrigue aspect presented here. It gives a huge insight into the inner workings of S.H.I.E.L.D, who have been an overarching presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Iron Man. I like how their attitude contrasted with Cap’s idealism and what the film did brilliantly was manage this conflict of concepts on the grand scale by exploring matters of surveillance etc, but it was also able to focus on the more intimate and personal core of the film, which was Cap’s battle with The Winter Soldier. The balance between big action set-pieces and character development was handled well so the film satisfies on more than one level.

I thought the story was engrossing and it moved along at a brisk pace. There were a few twists that aren’t particularly shocking, especially if you know the mythology of the comics, but there are some misdirections and the strength of the story and the performances is such that the somewhat predictable path is not a detriment. I do think a couple more risks could have been taken, but overall I’m very happy with how the film left off and I’m wondering what’s next for the Marvel Universe, because it’ll be interesting to see how the events in this film affect other properties.

I was actually surprised at how much this film tied in with The First Avenger, but pleasantly so, and there was one scene in particular that I had been hoping was in Avengers Assemble. It’s only a brief moment but it captures the tragedy of what happened to Steve. The action was brutal and the fight scenes were really well-choreographed, and I’d go so far as to say the hand-to-hand combat in this film is the best we’ve seen in the Marvel movies so far. I loved the uses of the shield, and Black Widow and Falcon had their moments to shine as well.

Black Widow’s performance in this film was very enjoyable. I always felt she was shoehorned into Iron Man 2, but here she plays a role that’s integral to the plot and we get some more insight into her character. I know Scarlett Johansson has been clamoring for a Black Widow solo movie and I think she’d be able to pull it off. Anthony Mackie is a brilliant addition to the cast as well. He brings a lot of humor to the role and fits in with the cast as if he’s always been there. He’s also badass as Falcon and the scenes of him flying provide an extra spark to the action.

Being a Marvel movie there are of course references to other characters that fans will be delighted at. I’m sure there are some that I didn’t pick up on but one name in particular stood out, and I actually almost yelled out in delight when he was mentioned. I was a little surprised that Hawkeye wasn’t mentioned, because the film dealt with S.H.I.E.L.D and obviously he has ties to Black Widow (and I suppose Cap as well since they fought together in Avengers Assemble) so I thought there could have been a line explaining that he was out of the country on a mission or something.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was everything I wanted it to be and more. Great action, real heart, good character dynamics and an intriguing story. I found it very engaging and I was actually so wrapped up in the film I completely forgot about the Stan Lee cameo! It packs a hell of a lot into its running time and I can’t wait to see how they follow up on some of the story elements introduced here.

Movie Review – Last Night (1998)

Last Night is set in Toronto and it follows the interconnected stories of various people in the last six hours of the world. We see how they each deal with the impending apocalypse in different ways. The main cast consists of Sandra Oh, David Cronenberg, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Genevieve Bujold and a few more. 

As much as I love big disaster movies and saving the world from impending destruction, I prefer these movies where we see what people would actually do in the last few hours of the world. The actual cause of the end of the world is never discussed but there are subtle hints and you can piece together an idea of what’s happening, but the focus is on the characters as they come together. Some have a final Christmas as a family, one guy is trying to cross off as many sexual fantasies from his list as he can, and some just want to be alone. 

Last Night is a comedy and there are many funny moments and situations, but there’s a bittersweet undercurrent that is threaded through the film, and really comes out as the end approaches, especially when we witness two friends say goodbye. 

‘See you later.’

‘No, you won’t.’

It’s little moments like these that bring forth the tragedy, and these are sprinkled throughout the film, providing a high sense of drama without any big explosions. The backgrounds can be harrowing and the director manages to sculpt a deep world in a short amount of time. It’s the perfect example of ‘show, don’t tell’. For example, in one scene two characters are walking along the street and in the background we see a building on fire, but nobody even cares. 

It’s quite similar to the Steve Carell and Keira Knightley film Seeking a Friend for the End of World, and I think that film took a few cues from Last Night. The tension ramps up towards the end of the film as we realize we’re witnessing these characters’ last moments, and it makes us think of who we’d want to be with or what we’d want to be doing. Would we want to be with our family or with a large group of people in a park, or just with the person we love? 

This is a really great movie and I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

Movie Review – They Might be Giants (1971)

George C. Scott gives a commanding performance in They Might be Giants, a film about a man, Justin, who, after his wife dies, convinces himself that he is Sherlock Holmes. When his brother attempts to get him committed Holmes is placed under the examination of a Dr. Mildred………Watson, played by Joanne Woodward, and as she spends more time with her patient she gets more involved in his pursuit of the master of crime – Professor Moriarty. 

I did have most of a review written up but it got lost, so here we go for the second time. This film is a comedy but it is also laced with tragedy. It depicts a lot of ordinary people who long for excitement and adventure, much like you and I, I imagine, so when they encounter Holmes they’re swept up in his cause even though they know that he can’t actually be Holmes. Even Dr. Watson gets more and more submerged into the fantasy. I like the question it poses – is it really a bad thing if we reinvent ourselves, after all, isn’t the world a better place for having Holmes? 

However, where there’s a Holmes there must be a Moriarty and Holmes is well aware that taking on the criminal empire of the mastermind is going to lead to an inexorable end. The title refers to Don Quixote, and like him we are engaged in Holmes’ quest and we want him to succeed even though there is no Moriarty. It’s a very meta-film in some ways, as it alludes to concepts of the desire to root for a hero and concepts of justice and morality. There’s plenty of insightful things going on, one of which is when the Westerns end at the cinema Holmes frequents. He saw them as epitomes of justice, so when they end it’s as though he realizes his own end is approaching, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

The ending is beautiful, tragic and very thoughtful. For those wanting a clear conclusion you’re not going to get it. The ending is left to interpretation which could be somewhat jarring at first. However, when I thought back to the picture it actually struck me as perfect, and it made me think about the rest of the film and what it actually meant. There are plenty of layers to uncover and I think it would lend itself to repeated watches. Overall though it’s just an entertaining, endearing film, and I think it taps into an innate desire to be more than we are, and to turn our lives into legends.  

Movie Review – Butterfly on a Wheel (2007)

Butterfly on a Wheel is also known as Shattered, but I prefer the poetic title. Gerard Butler and Maria Bello play Neil and Abby, a happy couple who are enjoying an idyllic life in Chicago. However, their lives are plunged into turmoil when a man called Tom (Pierce Brosnan) claims that he’s abducted their daughter, and he acts as a puppet master as he finds out just how far they’re willing to go to protect their daughter. 

Butterfly on a Wheel is a suspenseful, tense, fast-paced thriller with a captivating story and engaging actors. Butler, Bello and Brosnan play off brilliantly with each other and there’s a nice contrast between the desperate couple and the cool, composed Tom. There’s also some intrigue as they try to find out just who Tom is and why he’s doing this to them, and as a viewer the ultimate reason makes sense and it’s quite a nice development at the end. 

I liked the concept that Tom introduces, as he says that “People say they’ll do anything for their kids, well I’m putting that to the test,” and it’s interesting to see just how far he pushes them and what they’ll do. It’s quite brutal in some aspects and we always get the sense that Tom isn’t quite as in control of his emotions as he seems, and we see Neil and Abby desperately try to find a way to rescue their daughter. 

It’s a solid film that’s exciting and dramatic and I think it’s definitely worth watching.

Movie Review – Trees Lounge (1996)

Steve Buscemi directs, writes and stars in Trees Lounge, a film focusing on a group of people who drink their life away at the Trees Lounge. He’s joined by Carol Kane, Mark Boone Junior, Anthony Lapaglia, Michael Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, and many others, including a cameo from Samuel L. Jackson. 

I’m a big Steve Buscemi fan, I think he brings something to every role he plays and this film is excellent. It’s a real authentic look at some darker aspects of human nature, like sloth and greed, and how we’re victim to our vices. The film has quite a wide range and it’s quite an ensemble picture; any one of the characters could be said to be the ‘main character’ and that their’s is the most important story, although Tommy (Steve Buscemi) is the one around who the film revolves around the most. The script was smart and genuine and all the characters felt like real people, as depressing as that is. 

Rather than having a straightforward plot it’s more of a slice of life film and you get a sense of what happened before the film started and how things are going to carry on. Everyone in the film has their own troubles but Tommy’s are the ones we look at the most. He lost his job as a mechanic, had his girlfriend stolen by his best friend and now is drifting without purpose. And he’s surrounded by people who drown themselves in alcohol, drugs and sex. Some of the characters in the actual lounge only appear briefly but they all provide a reflection of periods of Tommy’s life. This is most obvious with Bill, and we get a sense that his fate is going to be Tommy’s too. 

Tommy’s attitude is one of always looking for a reason to change. It’s a promise without any resolve. The change itself should be the reason, but he’s always looking for an outside influence to promote that change. The irony is that if he did actually change then perhaps he could get what he wanted, but he’s too numbed by life to even consider that. I think it’s a folly that many people can identify with and that gives the film a great deal of emotional weight. Despite its fairly short running time the film has a lot of substance and there’s a lot of things to think about. But I may be giving you the impression that this is quite a bleak, heavy movie, when it fact it moves along at a brisk pace and there are many farcical moments. The humor all comes from the characters and their interactions, and it all feels completely natural. 

I thought the soundtrack was excellent too, and this is a film that you can immerse yourself in for an hour and a half and enjoy spending time with the characters. I think that if you’re a fan of Steve Buscemi then this is a no-brainer must-watch. If you aren’t a fan of Steve Buscemi then you will be after you watch this film. 

Board Game Review – Smash Up

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Smash Up is published by AEG and designed by Paul Peterson. It’s a shuffle-building game in which you choose two factions and try to win victory points by having more power on bases than your opponent(s). It plays 2-4 players. In this review I’m also going to be covering some of the stuff from the Awesome Level 9000 expansion. There have been two further expansions but I have not had a chance to play those. Here are the factions available in the base game: 

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I apologize for the poor picture quality. But from top right to left we have Pirates, Ninjas, Dinosaurs, Aliens, Wizards, Tricksters, Zombies and Robots. At the beginning of the game each player will pick two of these factions (although whenever I play I usually just randomly deal two out to each player) and shuffle them together, so you may get Ninja-Dinosaurs, Alien-Zombies, Robot-Pirates and so on. Each faction has different strengths, for example Dinosaurs are basically just brute force, while Wizards rely on chaining actions, which leads us to how to actually play the game. 

There are two types of cards in every faction – Minions and Actions. On your turn you can always play one minion and one action. You can play them in whatever order you want and you can just play one of them if you want. However, most of the cards all have effects when you play them and some of these will allow you to play more cards. You’ll begin the game with five cards in your turn, and at the end of every turn you will draw two cards. You can have a maximum of ten cards in your hand after you draw these cards, so if you have more than ten you will have to discard cards. You’ll be playing minions (and some actions) on bases. A typical base looks like this:

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The number in the top right is how much power it takes to ‘break’ a base. Each minion has a strength, so the power of all the minions on the base is added up and when it reaches or exceeds that number (in this case 23) the base has broken, and at the end of the current player’s turn it will be scored (this is an important distinction because after a base breaks there is still a chance for certain cards to alter the balance of minions on a base). Once the turn ends players will look at their minions and see who has the most power and then score accordingly. So the player with the most power will get four points, the next most-powerful player will get two and the third will get one. The bases also have some text on them, in this example players can play an extra minion of two or less whenever they play a minion here. Some effects on other bases only apply to the winner of the base. The number of bases in play is dependent on the number of players, and the first player to 15 points is the winner! 

The expansion adds four new factions – Ghosts, Bear Cavalry, Plants and Steampunk, new bases, and victory point tokens.

Firstly I want to talk a bit about the expansion. The base game is really good and really fun, but it does come in a HUGE box. They obviously planned for future expansions. However, I can actually fit everything I have in the expansion box, which is far smaller and fits snugly into my cupboard. The expansion also includes base cards that replace the original base cards, because the text in the original game was rather small. The biggest addition though is the victory point tokens, because they make keeping score much easier and it means you don’t have to keep a pen and paper handy. From now on I will be talking about the base game and the expansion as a whole.

I LOVE Smash Up. The theme is really fun because you can just create so many cool combinations, and the sheer variety means that the games always feel fresh. Each faction has its own strategy so even though the theme seems silly the game itself actually does require some thought and planning as you try to find synergy between the two factions you have picked. There’s a little bit of number-crunching, especially when a base is close to breaking point and you’re trying to work out whether you can sneak past your opponent to steal it from him, or find some way to diminish his power. I think all the factions feel very different but none of them – apart from the Ghosts – are especially difficult to master, although you will have to adjust your style of play. My favourite faction are the aliens because one of their cards gives you a victory point every time you play it, and a lot of their other cards allow you to return minions to your hand, so you can accumulate a few extra points this way (and I just love aliens). 

I love the artwork as well. It fits the tone of the game perfectly and all the iconography is really well-designed and allows you to differentiate between the factions easily. The rules are very simple and it’s easy to teach, although it does take a few plays to get used to what the cards do and remember what cards work best at which times. The game plays quickly though. I usually play this two player, and since I have twelve factions what I usually do is play the best of three games, choosing from the remaining factions as we go. These sessions usually last for around 45 minutes. On your first few plays it may take longer because you’re getting used to the cards, but once you play it more often you’ll be able to play pretty quickly.

 The only negative I have about the game is that you can get bogged down in analysis. ‘If I do this then I can this much strength and play this extra minion, but if I play this one over here then I’ll have a better chance at winning that base,” etc, that kind of thing. This also introduces an element of bluffing to it as well, because once you’re familiar with the cards you’ll know what your opponent’s deck consists of, so you’ll be wondering whether he has a card that can stop you. It’s not a massive problem, but for those prone to analysis  paralysis it could slow the game down for the other players, so I’d advise against them playing the Wizards. I also think the game is best with two players, because you really have that back and forth element. With more players a turn could go around the table and you won’t have a chance to affect things as much. In larger games, especially four player games, it can feel more like damage control sometimes rather than having the opportunity to implement a strategy. 

Overall though I love this game. I think the theme is very silly but when you get to them it’s really clever and it rewards some planning. I like how the game has so much variation with the different combinations of factions and bases and how the basic rules of the game are so simple yet they lead to so many great combos. The other cool thing I meant to mention is that each expansion can be played as a standalone game as well, The base set has the most factions, but you could just get an expansion if you wanted to. I would recommend you get the base game and this expansion though, the text on the base cards weren’t a problem for me but the larger text is helpful. The big plus is the victory point tokens too, it’s only a little thing but it makes so much difference. I do love the new factions as well, except the Ghosts, but I’m trying to find a way to make them work properly. It’s easy to teach, quick to grasp and really fun to play. 

 

 

Movie Review – Best Man Down (2012)

Justin Long and and Jess Weixler play Scott and Kristin, a newlywed couple whose plans for a honeymoon are shattered when the best man Lumpy (Tyler Labine) dies. As they plan his funeral they discover that he had been having a close friendship with a fifteen year old girl, Ramsey (Addison Timlin) and they soon come to realize the depth of his caring nature as they uncover that harsh conditions in which Ramsey is living. 

This is billed as a comedy drama but it’s really not a comedy at all. As an aside, it’s a pet peeve of mine when films are listed as comedies when they blatantly aren’t. There’s nothing in the premise or the actual plot of the movie that’s played for comedic effect. Sure, there are a few amusing moments but in no way should this be classed as a comedy. If you go in expecting it to be a laugh-a-minute thing then you will be disappointed. What you will find, however, is a decent film about sincerity and what truly matters in life. Although Lumpy dies early on, we’re get to know his character through flashbacks and Labine does an excellent job of forming an attachment with the audience even though he doesn’t have much screen time. 

There are a couple of things about the film I didn’t enjoy. Firstly I don’t think that the married couple felt genuine. To me, there never seemed any evidence as to how they got to the stage where the wanted to marry each other. They seemed to always irritate each other and they lied to each other and just seemed to generally aggravate each other. I’m sure there are probably couples like that in real life but there weren’t any moments where I believed they were genuinely in love. Perhaps this isn’t such a big deal because the film isn’t focused on their relationship, but it irked me. 

Secondly, even though it’s only 90 minutes long it does drag in the middle and it feels ponderous. The last fifteen-twenty minutes makes it worthwhile though. However, there’s one scene that ties up the plot, and it feels very out of place because it references a scene from the beginning of the movie that really had no other place. So if you weren’t paying attention you’ll be utterly confused by it. 

All in all it’s decent and there’s a fair amount of substance. I liked Timlin’s performance as Ramsey, especially towards the end, and it’s quite interesting to see the layers of Lumpy peeled away as the film goes on. I wouldn’t say you have to watch this movie, but I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching it.