Monthly Archives: January 2014

Board Game Review: “ROFL!”

I’m not really a Twitter guy. I have one, but I rarely check it unless something out of the ordinary happens. A couple months ago, however, I was on the site posting a link to my latest review when I saw a tweet from John Kovalic pop up. (You know, the guy who does most of the art for the Munchkin games? Never played those? Go fix that!) It seems that he had designed a new party game and was looking for people to play it and write up reviews. Now, I have very few delusions of grandeur, but I figured I’d throw my hat into the ring anyway…and they sent me a copy! It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this up and posting it, mainly because you need at least three people to play, but here it is: John Kovalic’s ROFL!

The goal of the game is to get your message across in as few characters as possible. Yes, it’s a game for people who grew up texting those annoying abbreviated things like “r u hom?” that have destroyed our ability to spell properly. Since I’m a bookworm, I never allowed myself to sink to those depths, which serves as something of a disadvantage now in playing this game but is a trade I will happily make. Game play goes like this: Everyone is out for themselves, unless you manage to make a team thing work. That could be difficult though. One person shows everyone else (without looking himself) a phrase or message that they have to try and communicate with as few characters as possible. Everyone is equipped with a dry-erase board and marker with which to write, and given thirty seconds to work. At the end of the thirty seconds, the writers take turns showing the guesser their boards starting with the person with the fewest characters so that he can try and figure out the message. The messages can be movie titles, quotes, song titles and/or lyrics, common sayings, almost anything. The result is much more fun than I’m making it sound, I promise….

My wife and I both enjoyed it, as did my siblings when we played it at Christmas. My wife took it to school and had the Yearbook class she teaches play it during their party celebrating a deadline they’d met, and I’m told it was “quite a success” with the kids. Will older folks find the same enjoyment? I don’t know. Probably depends on their relationship with their cell phone and the whole texting thing. It’s really ideal for teens and up, as younger kids may have trouble with the concept or some of the references. Some of the cards are mildly ribald, such as asking you to communicate the phrase “Like A Virgin” or “Her Milkshake (Brings All The Boys To The Yard).” Not offensive, I hesitate to even use the word raunchy, but…you may find yourself having an awkward conversation if some of your players are too young.

On the whole, this is an easy game to learn, and very fun. I would recommend dispensing with the timer the first time you play, just so people can learn with less stress, but other than that it works incredibly well out of the box. The boards don’t erase perfectly, so you may need to gently wash them or something eventually, (I haven’t tried yet) and I imagine that the dry-erase pens will need replaced someday, but consumable parts in a board game are nothing new–think of the clue sheets in Clue or the slips of paper in Balderdash–my family ran out of both ages ago. You make do and carry on.

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Review: “Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard” by Kim Newman

Title: Johnny Alucard
Author: Kim Newman (His site here.)
Series: Anno Dracula #4
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Books, 2013

At last! The long awaited final* novel in Kim Newman’s excellent vampire pastiche series is here! And it was superb, let me tell you. Only the original novel was better, in my humble opinion. Maybe it was because I got more of the references this time without resorting to Google, given that I’m not an expert on WWI literature and films or post-WWII Italian cinema whereas this time the action was mostly set in the USA and within the last forty years. Still not really my era (I wouldn’t even have been reading yet when the novel ends), but the setting was still much more familiar than the last couple have been. The format this time was a little different, instead of doing a straightforward novel Mr. Newman has been teasing his fans for the past decade with shorter novellas carrying the story forward. Now they’re finally gathered in one place, ostensibly edited a bit so they fit together better, and with the last couple finally seeing the light of day. Or night, if you’re nosferatu.

In Anno Dracula, that vampire prince forcibly pulled the nosferatu out of the shadows of the world forever when he seduced and married Queen Victoria. London became a veritable safe haven for the undead, and they flocked there from the far corners of the world. Newborn nosferatu swelled in numbers, spurred not only by Dracula himself but by countless other literary and film vampires, from Orlok to Lestat and everyone in between. Eventually Dracula’s reign was ended, and he was forced to flee the country, landing in the Austro-Hungarian Empire where he became a close adviser to the Kaiser. During WWI he engineered a program to transform The Bloody Red Baron and other German flying aces into an unbeatable vampiric air force before being thwarted by the Allies and once again fleeing his pursuers. During Hitler’s purge of all nosferatu whose bloodlines he deemed “tainted,” Dracula forged an uneasy alliance with his former enemies and fomented revolution in Transylvania in order to open up another front against the Axis. For his services, he was given a castle in Italy after the war and forced to quietly accept his exile. In Dracula Cha Cha Cha (1959) Dracula was destroyed on the eve of his wedding, seemingly ending the epic saga of his life and leaving the world to wonder who if anyone would assume his mantle as unofficial (yet undisputed) leader of vampire-kind. Many have tried, and thus far all have failed. Johnny Alucard (as he will come to be known) intends to succeed…but not quite how anyone expects.

Whereas previous entries to the series have focused in tightly on one event or short period of time, Johnny Alucard covers a broad range, tracking the course of Johnny Alucard from 1976 in Transylvania to 1991 in Hollywood. Observe with Kate Reed Francis Ford Coppola’s seemingly-cursed attempts to forge a big-budget Dracula film in a third-world country!** Catch up with Genvieve as she assists Philip Marlowe in rescuing a young girl from the cult of Scientology Immortology! Revisit Penny in New York as she serves as assistant to the infamous artist and vampire Andy Warhol! Watch with the world as Kate Reed enters the besieged Transylvanian embassy, overtaken by terrorists/freedom fighters who want to see Transylvania become a dedicated homeland for the undead! See Orson Welles’ doomed attempts to make his own Dracula film! See the US military’s vampire corps unseat the Ceausescu regime! See the climax of Johnny Alucard’s machinations as the world watches events transpiring at the Concert For Transylvania! Featuring cameos (as well as more substantial roles) from such historical personages as Coppola, Warhol, Welles, and countless Hollywood folk, as well as literary and film characters from “The Dude” to Blade and Hellboy. Like I said above, I really enjoyed this entry in the series, more than any of the two previous sequels. To explain further would be to spoil the overarching plot (all that above was mostly backdrop), and I’ll firmly resist that urge. Just ask yourself, how does Dracula constantly keep coming back in the movies despite being destroyed at the end of each?

CONTENT: R-rated language. Strong violence, vampiric and otherwise. Quite a bit of sexual innuendo (not usually explicit), including prostitution. Drug content, if that offends you. Also…vampires. Some would consider that occultic, although Newman’s vampires have very little magic about them aside from some telepathy and an inexplicable lack of reflection.

*So far, anyway…I’m not convinced we’re done. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking….
**Yes, this replaces Apocalypse Now, complete with all the attendant disasters on set.

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Review: “Star Wars–Dawn Of The Jedi Vol. I: Force Storm” by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema

Title: Force Storm
Story & Script: John Ostrander
Story & Art: Jan Duursema
Series: Star Wars: Dawn Of The Jedi Volume I (Issues #1-5)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2012

This…this is not the Star Wars you grew up with. This is a tale set in the far distant past of the Galaxy Far, Far Away–over twenty-five thousand years before the films, in fact. (For comparison, the earliest stories prior to this series starting happened five thousand years pre-films.) Force-sensitive beings from across the galaxy have been gathered in one place on the planet Tython, and over the course of ten thousand years have colonized the entire system. The Je’daii themselves live on Tython, an unpredictable world rich in the Force but dangerous for those without access to its power. Those without the Force have retreated to the other nearby worlds, but the entire system is cut off from the rest of the galaxy (this is pre-hyperdrive–they’re still playing with that one twenty thousand years later.) Outside the Tython system, the Rakatan Infinite Empire has embarked on it’s conquest of the stars, seeking Force-rich worlds to strip and enslave. Now one of their Force Hounds has had a vision of a world somewhere in the Deep Core, rich in the Force and ripe for the taking…. On Tython, three young Je’daii have a vision of impending darkness that will affect the three of them individually as well as having consequences for the whole planet…. The coming of Xesh the Force Hound will set off a Force Storm of unprecedented fury. Can the Je’daii survive?

So, this is just another era in the Star Wars history, right? Well, yes…but this one brings to the table quite a paradigm shift. Still nearly twenty millennia before the schism that results in the foundation of the Sith order, the Je’daii strive to maintain balance–tipping neither too far into the light or the dark. That’s the biggest difference, but Ostrander and Duursema enjoy pointing out other things that have changed over the millennia, such as Tatooine being at this point in time a “lush” world with blue seas instead of the arrid wasteland Luke Skywalker will eventually grow up in.

I absolutely love Ostrander & Duursema’s Star Wars comics. Legacy was one of my favorites, back when that was running, and I really enjoyed a lot of what they did together on Republic during that book’s run. Compared to Legacy and some of their previous works, this one hasn’t quite hit it’s stride yet. There are just a few too many characters jammed into a bit too short a tale to be fully satisfying, but then again this isn’t the end. There’s two more volumes of this series to go before all is done, plus a tie-in novel and a couple short stories. There’s still time for this to live up to it’s potential, but not a lot. The passing of the Star Wars comic license from Dark Horse to Marvel next year is destined to cut this series short at only three arcs. I’m hoping Ostrander and Duursema follow the license to Marvel as part of that deal, but I fear I’m to be disappointed.

CONTENT: Mild language, as per Star Wars guidelines. Violence, not too disturbing. Some flirting, and some mildly provocative dress on the part of the female characters, but this is a comic book. What else is new?

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