Okay, okay. I admit. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve been gone. Sadly in absentia. So what have I been doing with myself in the months of resounding silence between the last Ridiculous Rumination and now?
Well, I’ve been contributing to a new website about video games. It doesn’t offer news or reviews as those things are very well covered elsewhere. It’s just about the experience of playing games and why they… oh hell why don’t you just go and see for yourself?
Don’t forget to bookmark it. Great things are afoot…
What on earth possessed me to get a dice game? Those of you who’ve read some of my previous posts will know that dice and I simply don’t get along. From Necromunda to Risk to Snakes and bloody Ladders, dice love to troll me to the maximum possible extent. It must, therefore, have been a moment of true madness when I picked up Elder Sign, an Arkham Horror offshoot from Fantasy Flight that is played with cards and dice. Dice! What was I thinking? Well, as you’ll no doubt be aware I’m a fan of the Lovecraftian mythos. I’m also a big fan of Fantasy Flight’s take on it via Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness. It seems like a logical step to grab another Lovecraftian game, right? …Right?
Elder Sign is a co-operative game for one to eight players in which you take the part of an investigator attempting to stop a Great Old One – a horribly powerful creature from another dimension – from breaking in to our world. You do this by collecting spells, items and clues, by defeating monsters and by searching for the mythical Elder Signs which will allow you to seal away the Great Old One for good. So far, so Arkham Horror. Indeed, if you’ve played Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness you’ll instantly recognise the playable characters and their accompanying artwork. You’ll also be familiar with the notion that each of them has a stamina and a sanity rating.
Where Elder Sign begins to differ from its big brother is that it’s a much more focused setting.
Pre-revolutionary Cuba! An interesting place, it would seem. When you mention the country the first thing that pops in to your mind is the name Fidel Castro, but what about before? What about that fascinating period between independence from Spain and the adoption of communism? My historical knowledge concerning that part of the world isn’t great but I recently played a board game that made me want to change all that. Isn’t that marvellous? A board game that is essentially moving little pieces of wood around on beautifully painted pieces of cardboard kindled an interest in history. It was released in 2007, it’s published by Rio Grande Games and it’s called Cuba.
In my previous entry I mentioned that I would be having a board game weekend. I have a lot to show and tell from those two days, but I think Cuba was the biggest surprise. I had never heard of it, and when the board was unfolded and the pieces distributed I raised my eyebrow in suspicion. There’s a lot going on on that there board.
As confusing as it appears initially, there’s no denying that the board is decked in lush, rich colours and this extends to all of the cards and components and even to the game’s box. “A game of cigars, rum and power,” the tagline proclaims, and that summary certainly matches the game’s wonderful visual aesthetic. As the owner of the game remarked, there’s generally no excuse for producing an ugly title these days, but Cuba possess a unique and stand-out feel.
Promising to be even darker and more intense than that time you put too much Aluminium foil in the Hydrochloric acid during Chemistry class, Fantasy Flight’s Forbidden Alchemy should be with us in the next few days. An expansion for that Really Good Thing(tm), Mansions of Madness, it adds four new investigators, two new monsters and three new stories for you to play through. There are a number of interesting mechanics being introduced, including the fact that failing the alchemy puzzles causes your character to draw a side effect card that could result in horrible mutations and other grizzly things. There’s also the possibility of travelling through time to both the past and future during the course of one of the stories. Fascinating, Captain.
Sadly, one of the new investigators is Dexter Bloody Drake, so he can sod off – but one of them is a favourite from Arkham Horror, the stern and effective Carolyn Fern, who can hold on-the-spot interventions during the course of a game to stop her fellow investigators from doing involuntary things. Even more tragic than the presence of Dexter Drake is the absence of the delightful Mandy Thompson, who we can only hope will be added in an upcoming expansion.
Soon, my dear. Soon (we hope).
I won’t get to try Forbidden Alchemy until after Christmas, but you can bet there’ll be a full review up once I get my trembling mitts on it.
In other board-gaming news, I’m happy to report that I’ll be having a bit of a board game bonanza with a few friends over the weekend where we’ll be playing a number of titles both new and old. This means that there will be reviews and battle reports to go up. There are a few I’ll be playing for the first time, including Greek Mythological war ‘em-up Cyclades, and I’ll be combining Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop (uNF) for the first time, as I look at Blood Bowl the card game and Death Angel. I’m looking forward to telling you, my cherished reader, all about them.
Shakespeare would be proud. The story begins with two noble houses feuding in the depths of a magnificently rich and terminally corrupt renaissance Italy. Its hero is young, handsome, charming and more than a little naïve. There’s love, betrayal, murder and revenge. Of course, when you start adding in the Templar conspiracies, the mysteries of humanity’s origin and the imminent threat to the safety of the Earth in 2012 there are quite a few divergences from the Bard’s well known classics. Still, he knew a good story when he saw one, which is why he may well have approved of Assassin’s Creed 2.
Now here’s the part where I alienate hardcore fans of the series by saying that I never actually finished Assassin’s Creed. It’s true. I never did. It was the game I got free with my PS3 way back when, and while I was initially wowed by what I still consider to be exceptional visuals the gameplay left me feeling cold. It was the repetition that killed it for me. Oh really? Another pickpocket mission? O…okay. I guess. Eavesdropping? So I just sit on this bench here? Cool. Um…
It just didn’t work for me. There was also the fact that the main character, Altaïr, rubbed me up the wrong way with his deadpan smarm. While I’m having a bash I also have to mention the horrendous sound design – with the people around you layering repetitive dialogue on top of one another and causing it to be amplified in a manner that made me reach wide-eyed for the mute button in some cases. Anyway, the point is I didn’t like it, and that’s why it’s taken me so many years to get around to the sequel. Thanks to a free month with Lovefilm I rented it on a whim and I have to say that was one of the best whims I’ve acted on in a long time. Normally my whims have something to do with alcohol and end up with hangovers and regret, so this one was a real winner.
When I put the disc in to my Xbox it was with a weird kind of trepidation. Firstly, it didn’t feel quite right playing Deus Ex on a console. It felt somehow treacherous, like I was being unfaithful to the game’s roots just through the medium I had to to run it on. Beggars can’t be choosers, however, and it was only by a friend’s generosity that I was able to sample DE:HR in the first place. Worry mired my every thought as I booted it up, though. As you’ll realise from my previous article I’m a huge fan of the original and after the cheese before bedtime nightmare that was Invisible War I was worried that this would be another stain on the memory of a classic.
Then that title music started playing.
Sometimes backlash is a terrible thing. Don’t get me wrong here: I’m all for reasoned argument. You certainly won’t find me blithely accepting that something is good just because everyone else says so. The kind of backlash I’m talking about, however, is rarely reasoned and certainly not the curtain-walled bastion of choice it claims to be. You see, once in a while a Really Good Thing(tm) is produced. People look at the Really Good Thing(tm) and say, “My goodness. That’s a really good thing.” They might even buy it. They may tell other people about it. They could well go to an internet forum and write about it. Others look at the Really Good Thing(tm). They may agree with the first group of people. Sure enough, there are criticisms. Nothing is perfect, right? But still, when all’s said and done, it’s a Really Good Thing(tm). A generally positive consensus is reached. Heads are nodded in satisfaction.
But as that positivity is snowballing the backlash is waiting. It rears it’s ugly head and stares grumpily at the positivity. The kind of backlash I’m talking about hates positivity. It cannot abide it. With one powerful leap of totally unjustified criticisms and needlessly aggressive arguments, the blacklash lands with clawed feet directly on the snowball of positivity, crushing it out of existence. The backlash, satisfied in it’s mission to reduce every opinion to mediocrity, slinks away with a self-satisfied smirk. Later that night it cries itself to sleep in it’s cave.
Why am I going on at such length about this kind of backlash? Well today I’m going to talk about Mansions of Madness. And Mansions of Madness is a Really Good Thing(tm).
I thought I would post a few photos of my Abaddon the Despoiler and his Chaos Terminator bodyguard. I painted these way back in 1996 when the first Codex: Chaos came out, so don’t be too harsh on them. I never finished the bases properly either, a bad habit which I should probably rectify now that I have the materials.
I always thought these guys looked so bad-ass. It was a simple paint job – not much more than a metallic silver drybrush over chaos black, but it worked.
I used a transfer for the Black Legion emblem on his shoulder pad there. There’s no way I’d have the skill to paint something that intricate, either now or in 1996. You can see this poor bloke has been through a lot in the intervening years. Some of the paint on his combi-flamer is chipped. I left all of my minatures at home when I went to uni, but since then they’ve been through several house moves and no matter how well you pack them there’s always a bit of damage. Nonetheless, he still looks pretty cool.
This guy was my favourite. The twin-linked autocannon was brutally primitive and just looked wicked.
Sorry this is really blurry. I’m trying to get better with this camera. Quite an imposing force though! I’d always feared Space Marine Terminators when I played against them and it was great to finally have an answer for them, albeit a slightly more primitive, much more evil version!
A couple of weeks ago, a friend suggested that I download the free to play MOBA game, League of Legends. For those unacquainted with the term, MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, which is a wonderfully vague term for what is essentially a hero based tower defence game. The genre sprang from Defence of the Ancients (or DoTA), a modification for Warcraft 3 that came out donkey’s years ago and is still going strong.
In League of Legends, you pick one of a growing number of Heroes to be your avatar in the coming conflict and join a team of four others. From a top-down RTS perspective, the five of you must then destroy the enemy nexus. Of course, the five opposing heroes will be doing their best to destroy you and yours. The nexus spawns wave after wave of minions that process automatically down one of three lanes, fighting one another and being blasted by the various towers that dot the landscape.
You earn gold and experience points by killing minions, creeps and enemy Heroes, as well as destroying their towers. With the experience, you can purchase new skills, and you can use the gold to buy a plethora of magical items that enhance your heroes abilities. So far, so addictive. The problem with League of Legends, as with any MOBA game, is the rabidly hostile community.
People are very particular about how the game should be played, and tend to get rather upset when things aren’t going their way.
I’m sure you’ll agree that there are few pursuits finer than purposefully annoying other human beings on the internet. That’s why we’ll all be mortified by the changes made to Diablo’s gameplay in it’s latest iteration. Trolls everywhere are sat glumly beneath their bridges, unconsciously gnawing on their fists in absent anxiety while previously terrorised players are free to march on unmolested.
I freely admit that one of my favourite pastimes in Diablo 2 was stealing all of the gold and items. It was particularly easy for me since I tended to favour the melee classes, and therefore I was simply closer to the stuff that was dying. I took it as both my right and reward for playing a class that was inherently weaker than the overpowered Bow-azons and map nuking Sorceresses that were doing all the work behind me.
Sadly, in Diablo 3, I will be afforded no such glee because in the name of ‘enhancing the co-operative experience’ all items and gold are individually instanced. In other words, if you see gold or an item drop on your screen you are the only one who can see it, and therefore no-one else can pick it up. This is great news for my wife, who used to pull her hair out when I hoovered up every single gold piece and magic trinket, even if it wasn’t an item for my class.
Her: BUT YOU CAN’T EVEN USE THAT STAFF!!! :’(
Me: I dunno, I might need to sell it for gold. >)
Her: *runs in to my room and beats me with a slipper*
To add insult to injury, the gentleman’s sport of Shrine-jacking has also been nerfed in to non-existence. For those unfamiliar with Diablo, there are various shrines dotted about the map which confer bonuses to the first person who touches them. At the same time as I was stealing all the gold and items, I also liked to charge headlong at each and every shrine as soon as I saw it, even if another player was closer, to ensure that it was only me myself and I that benefited from the buff. It was another small victory.
In Diablo 3, however, shrines now confer their bonus to everyone in the party, no matter who touched it. Now I shall be forced to ignore them with aloof disdain, and bear the flowery co-op granted, totally unearned buffs they grant grudgingly.
How dare you make changes that will bring more enjoyment and harmony to the game, Blizzard?
How dare you?
For those interested in watching a bit of Diablo 3 Beta footage; one of my favourite Starcraft 2 casters, Husky, has put some up on his channel and I’ve embedded the first video below the ‘read more’ section for your convenience. It looks rather good to say the least.