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Everything that sucks! And some things that don't.

Nuggets of wisdom amidst incoherent ramblings. You're welcome.

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Quite impressive

Christian Heckmann
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This one's not gonna be all that talky, because blogging via smartphone is a real pain in the proverbial arse, but I thought to myself that my loyal readers (both of you) deserve a little status update. And images speak louder than words anyway. Or something like that. So here's some impressions.









That's the front of our lodgings (complete with a table fit for gaming), a view from the terrace, "our" infinity pool plus me trying my hardest to make the picture not look staged. So have a nice evening (or morning or afternoon or whatever time it is where you reside) and see you a week from now.

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Sat Aug 11, 2018 7:05 pm
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Top Five Thursday: The "boring standard lists"-roundup, mechanic edition

Christian Heckmann
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So when I started out with this format, I said that I'd focus on incredibly stupid, completely useless top-lists. Whether I have adhered to that rule up until now is debatable, but now is the time that I deffinitely stray from the path I myself have laid out. Kind of. Sort of. Because today, I present you with the...

Top Five Thursday: The "boring stadard lists"-roundup, mechanic edition


It's not that I'm running out of ideas already, no, I just thought to myself that perhaps I should sprinkle one of these into the usual fare. A list of lists, five run-of-the-mill topics that you get a dime a dozen on the Geek or on Youtube or wherever you consume your board game media. Today I'm breaking down five board game mechanics and my favorite games employing those. Or let me specify, my favorite games mainly employing those. Almost every game out there is a conglomerate of different mechanics but you can usually discern the one that builds the backbone of the whole experience, so I'm trying to focus on those (which might be completely subjective and considered totally wrong by some of you). On a sidenote, trying to make a list for Set Collection following this philosophy is incredibly hard. I mean, sure, there's some form or other of set collection in almost any game out there, but games that are based on that mechanic? So that's why you won't see that one on today's list. What you ARE gonna find are the following five game mechanics (in no particular order) and their respective best games:


#5: Tile Placement Games



#5: Viceroy. Yeah, rather card-laying then tile-laying, but I think it counts. Viceroy is a great, absorbing spatial puzzle of your own making with loads of cool multi-purpose-cards with neat artwork to incorporate into your pyramid.
#4: Isle Of Skye: Vom Häuptling zum König. This one isn't as straightforward, with that added market phase, but the main game is a very neat tile-laying-affair that usually leaves you with a cool visual effect once it's done. Haven't played the expansion yet, perhaps I should do so, soon.
#3: Habitats. I really like how the tile-selection works in this one. The central market is so incredibly intuitive and navigating it efficiently is a lot of fun. Also the first edition ceramic pawns are very cool. Just a pleasant, easy-going, cool game that's usually over quicker than anyone involved would like to.
#2: Neuroshima Hex. Is it a wargame? Is it a competitive puzzle? Is it a programming game? Perhaps all of those, but it's mainly a tile-placement-game. And an incredibly cool one on top, with loads of very different factions, quick gameplay and loads of opportunities for clever moves. I usually gravitate towards the app-version, because it's a tremendous help when bookkeeping is concerned, but this is a great game either way.
And #1: Die Schlösser des König Ludwig. Just a beautiful, incredibly fun game that creates lasting memories each and every time it is played. Simply looking at the finished castles once the game is over fuels your fantasy. Also always over way too fast.


#4: Worker Placement Games



#5: Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem. It's hard to single out the defining mechanic of this game. Is it area control? Is it trading and negotiation? Is it worker placement? I guess it's all of those, but when you get down to it, this rather unique brand of worker placement is what drives the action in this game. And some action it is. Great theme that really comes through, incredibly tense gameplay and loads of opportunities to screw with the other players at the table. The open trading is just the icing on the cake. A very, very cool, underappreciated game.
#4: Stone Age. Say what you will, I really love the mixture of dice rolling, set collection and worker placement present in this older little gem (even though the dice don't always roll my way). The pretty components aren't half bad either. Too bad about the dice-cup.
#3: Alien Frontiers. I really need to play this one more often. I love dice allocation and this one is the very best at that. Just a fun, incredibly clever game that can sadly drag a bit if you're playing it with lots of AP-prone players, but if the game works, it works miracles.
#2: Tribun: Primus Inter Pares. This one really grew on me over the years. When I first played it, I found the interconnected layers of different forms of set collection really cool but all in all found it too basic, but given time, I have begun to really appreciate the straightforward nature of the game. The worker placement aspect is just so much fun with real turn-angst, so even more props for great interaction. Very cool game.
And #1: Lords of Waterdeep. What I love about Lords of Waterdeep is the ease of play. It has like three rules or so and can be explained in five minutes. Yet it is a real bonanza of opportunities to make clever plays. Yeah, the theme is a bit thin, but it works if you get down to it and it gives purpose to all of the proceedings in the game. And when you get down to it, it's just so quick, fun and cathartic if you pull off a cool combo or something like this. I'm also not one of those saying that this game NEEDS the expansion. Sure, Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport is cool, but I'd also happily play just the base game any day of the week.


#3: Press Your Luck Games



#5: Port Royal. After I played Port Royal for the first time, I was like "Yeah, that's neat, but not that spectacular". But before I knew it, I had played it a dozen times or so. Yes, it isn't the most grandiose game out there, but something has to be said about a game that you can whip out, explain and play in... I don't know, fifteen minutes or so and that in this short timeframe contains multiple paths to victory and some real decissions.
#4: Die Abenteurer: Der Tempel des Chac. This one suffers a bit from its sameness. A modular board would have helped quite a bit. Or perhaps I just need to finally get my hands on its successor and play that one to shake up the formula from time to time. Anyway, Die Abenteurer: Der Tempel des Chac is a gorgeous, fun, very cool game. Period.
#3: CV. I think this one is my favorite Yahtzee-variant. It's not perfect (the frowny-faces can really mess you up if you're unlucky) but the cool theme and fun artwork and the lasting stories of how you lived your life this time make it incredibly worthwhile.
#2: Tiny Epic Quest. Sadly, this game is kind of lacking in the theme-department. It looks so cool but in the end, it's not the fun, flavorful, adventurous romp that the components promise. No, it's a game of logistics, efficiency and a bit of luck. And as far as those go, it's really, really good. So yeah, even though I had been expecting something different, I really like this game. Also the ITEMeeples are cool, no matter how gimmicky they are.
And #1: Bloodborne: The Card Game. Yes, I'm kind of obsessed with this game at the moment. But it is just so incredibly fun. Cool theme, cool artwork, incredibly neat abilities on pretty much all cards that come in this small box, interesting decisions, you name it, this game has it. Some people called Android: Infiltration the "gamers version" of Diamant, but I think this one is more deserving of that title.


#2: Deck Building Games



#5: Tyrants of the Underdark. It might be a shallow summer-blockbuster of a board game, but the moment to moment gameplay is oh so fun, with neat combo-effects and generally incredibly powerful card effects left and right. It isn't the most balanced or sophisticated game out there, but boy does it bring joy to the table. If the box were just a bit smaller...
#4: Arctic Scavengers. One of the earlier Dominion-knockoffs and in my opinion the most successful one. It managed to keep the general structure introduced by its inspiration but managed to tack on a real sense of purpose, a real game that didn't need the huge variability that other games in that category boast.
#3: Star Realms. I'm not playing Star Realms that often anymore, but that is mostly because I have played so much of it when it came out. Mostly the app-version (at my most insane, I was playing something like twenty to thirty online games simultaneously), but also the analogue thing. It still is a great game, taking all of the joy of two-player card-duelling-games and transplanting it into a deck building framework that makes it easy to pick up and play, without falling prey to power-creep and the likes. I never really got into any of the offshoots, but the original Star Realms is still a very cool game.
#2: Klong! (also perhaps Klong! Im! All!). I like dungeon delving in general. And sure, the theme perhaps isn't integral to the Klong!-experience, but it does help quite a bit. The original game is just a quick and easy, fun, cool adventure romp and the Klong! Im! All!-version is a more involved yet also quite rewarding space-reimplementation that is equally as fun. I wonder how much better both of those will be with expansions, but the base games are already pretty cool.
And #1: A Study in Emerald. I think, Martin Wallace neither truly understands nor is really interested in the intricacies of deck building. Which lends his deck building games a pretty idiosyncratic veneer. A Study in Emerald is easily his best one, a completely insane mishmash of different mechanics and play-styles that make for an incredibly intriguing yet undeniably fragile game-experience. I don't know why the game needed to be a deck builder in the first place, yet for some strange reason, it works incredibly well. A good game of A Study in Emerald is more fun than should be legally permissible.


And #1: Area Control Games



#5: Clockwork Wars. How did this marvelous gem of a game go by the board so wantonly? Hassan Lopez has crafted an incredibly taxing and stressful yet undeniably fun and fulfilling dudes-on-a-map-game with loads of clever twists to the formula. Not one I can play all the time (and it also comes in an impractically large box) but I'm very glad to own this one and am looking forward quite a bit to Hassan's next game.
#4: Nexus Ops. Man is this game great. Quick, easy, intuitive, with cool miniatures and loads of dice-rolling fun. It's perhaps a it early to call this one a "classic that has stood the test of time" but yeah, it's great fun and I can't help but wonder why there aren't more games of its ilk out there.
#3: Gleichgewicht des Schreckens. I don't play Twilight Struggle that often because it can be incredibly long and sometimes it devolves into a nerve-racking tug of war that isn't as fun, but when the game unfold its whole potential, man is it a tense and fun affair.
#2: Der Herr des Eisgartens. I'm usually not that big a fan of really heavy games, but this one is an exception, because its weight stems more from its depth and less from its complexity. Der Herr des Eisgartens is an incredibly mean yet undeniably clever game with its blend of worker placement/programming-mechanics driving the area control game. It's a tense, tight game where every decission could spell desaster for you, but usually there's no one to blame for this but you yourself. It's great. A thinking person's area control game, if you will, with beautiful components on top. If you don't own it yet, change that!
And #1: Scythe. Once again, it's hard to find that one defining mechanic that defines Scythe, but when you break it down, the area control aspect is usually the one that determines how well you do in the game. Yet unlike so many other games out there, it's less of a militaristic area control game. Efficiency is important, as well as the threat of what you could be doing to your opponents. A cautious tip-toeing around each other, until it turns into something more conventional once the climax of the game draws near. I love it. It has so much room for clever tactics and overall strategy. And pulling off a win in Scythe is always rewarding and always deserved. Each and every game of Scythe that I have played, the ultimate winner could point toward why they made it, why they prevailed while others didn't. It's also a very attractive game with an ingenious turn-structure and little downtime. I need to get this game back into regular rotation soon. If it just came in a smaller box...


So that's that, 25 games, spread over five different mechanical categories. Do you agree? Do you disagree? What are your favorites in each of those categories? Share your thoughts in the comments and don't forget to tell me how wrong I am for filing this or that game under this or that mechanic. See you next time, when I'll return with a wackier topic. I promise.
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Thu Aug 9, 2018 6:00 am
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Ready for departure

Christian Heckmann
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Sixteen hours from now, K. and I will board our flight to Patras, Greece, where we'll stay until the 17th of August. So you'll have to put up without your daily fix of ETS! until then. Anyway, I thought that I'd share my... let's say "vacation preparations" with you. Luggage-space is limited, so I had to get a bit... creative. Here's our gaming-box for the ten days.







13 games and a handful of Doomtown: Reloaded-decks fit snugly into that one box. Here's all of the now (mostly) empty boxes that I'll have to re-fill once we're back in Germany.



And here's a list of all of the games I brought along:

Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper
The Shipwreck Arcana
Avenue
Dam It!
Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft
Welcome To...
Portal of Heroes
The Builders: Antiquity
Beyond Baker Street
Jäger und Späher
Viceroy
The Ravens of Thri Sahashri
Famiglia

(The last two aren't featured on the picture because due to their size, I just packed them in, box and all.) So there's some more ammunition for my constant box-size-crusade. Anyway, have a good time and we'll see each other again in two weeks time or so. That is, unless you live in Patras and would like to invite K. and me over for a game night or something like this. In that case, drop me a Geekmail, even though we don't have W-Lan in our lodgings, I should be able to check them from time to time.
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Mon Aug 6, 2018 12:57 pm
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Reviewing... Swallow The Sun. Generally.

Christian Heckmann
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Is it as friggin' hot where you live as it is here in Germany at the moment? Today's highest temperature will be 31°C (that's 87.8°F) which in direct comparison to the temperatures of the last few days feels almost cool. So who wants to tell me that global warming isn't really a thing?

Anyway, here's something I wanted to talk about for quite some time. It has nothing to do with board games. And if you're not into Doom/Death Metal that much, you can safely skip it anyway. But it's a very sunny Sunday, I want to push out a few more articles before I'm gone for ten days and this is something I feel invested in. Also the band-name seems appropriate.

I'm of course talking about Finnish Doom/Death-sters Swallow The Sun, founded in 2000 by Juha Raivio, released six (or perhaps eight) albums over the course of their carreer, have been a bit silent since 2015 but that's only understandable, given the circumstances (Juha Raivio's girlfriend and frequent contributor to StS' albums, Aleah Stanbridge, passed away from cancer in 2016).
I started listening to StS in early 2009 after having had them recommended to me for quite some time. I was already a big fan of My Dying Bride back then, also acquainted with bands like Mourning Beloveth, Draconian, Anathema and Paradise Lost, so checking them out seemed like a no-brainer. And... I liked what I heard. Quite a bit, even. The Morning Never Came, their first album from 2003, is a great piece of music and even after all these years, still a regular on my playlists.



It is however a bit shallow, if you asked me. Don't get me wrong, StS have a lot of catchy melodies and strong songs on display, they also know how to tug at the heartstrings, but all in all, I was expecting a bit more gravitas from the whole thing. Most of the aforementioned bands I was regularly listening to at the time (especially the mighty MDB) are incredibly adept at... I don't know, making their music feel weighty and important. While by no means bad, The Morning Never Came feels so much smaller in the grand scheme of things. The following albums didn't really change my mind. Ghosts Of Loss is incredibly boring and certainly the worst thing the Finns have ever done. It shows a bit more love of experimentation and it manages to build on the creepy atmosphere, the guys already had on display on their debut, but as said, it's just boring. Hope is cool. Also a bit more experimental and not all of those experiments work out, but it's a lot better than its predecessor. So yeah, three records in, I was ready to regard Swallow The Sun as a second class band, enjoyable to listen to from time to time but without any real relevance for me.

And then, New Moon happened.



It's hard to pinpoint what exactly changed with the release of that album, the guys incorporated a few Black Metal influences into their style but on the other hand also didn't cheap out on more fragile, more melodic moments. Mind you, those new elements didn't change the original StS-sound in any groundbreaking way, the band is still absolutely recognizable. No, the shift from "pleasant to listen to from time to time" to "absolutely glorious, one of my favorite bands ever" wasn't due to a drastic change in sound, but I think mostly because of an enhanced sense of juxtaposition. My favorite band, My Dying Bride, might be the absolute uncrowned kings of this art, creating some of the most memorable, fragile melodies ever that work even better because of the way they are contrasted with the rather harsh Doom and Death Metal. Swallow The Sun didn't reach those lofty heights with New Moon (and their performance also seems to be a bit wonky from time to time, I remember seeing them live somewhere after New Moon but it was one of the most nondescript, boring shows I have ever attended), but they managed to get my attention. The subsequent release Emerald Forest And The Blackbird solidified the impression. But it wasn't until 2015 that Swallow The Sun outdid themselves.



Are you interested in getting into the band yourself? Look no further than their latest album (actually three albums in one), Songs From The North I, II & III. This box contains two and a half hours of the best music that StS have ever done. The first CD is typical fare for the band, great, emotional metal with a very sinister atmosphere and some incredibly haunting moments, especially the vocals provided by the late Aleah on Heartstrings Shattering. The second CD is completely acoustic and leans more towards Folk Rock and even though this very genre leaves me incredibly cold nine times out of ten, this one is great. Good handicraft, haunting atmosphere, catchy yet weighty. The third CD on the other hand goes full-on Funeral Doom Metal and contains the heaviest, gloomiest, darkest stuff the band has ever done. Certainly not for everybody, but oh boy, do they deliver, if you're into this kind of music. Listening to all three CDs back to back is an incredible trip, an emotional roller coaster ripe with memorable moments that cement Swallow The Sun as one of my favorite bands of all time.

So even if they'd never follow up on this masterpiece (which I doubt, they have already commenced to tour again and are pretty active on social media), people would still hold them in high regard, many years from now. They have left their mark on this very special musical subculture. For me personally, from humble (yet enjoyable) beginnings, they have evolved into one of the bands that quickly pops into my mind if I'm asked what my favorite musical acts are. Good work, guys. Don't let me wait too long for your next outing.
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Sun Aug 5, 2018 11:42 am
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So many new games, so little time...

Christian Heckmann
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When you think about it, in the long run, it was inevitable. Vacation starts next Tuesday, so of course a bunch of very interesting games would come in just before the weekend. Well, also most likely because I ordered them over the course of the last few days. Also the collection reduction is going very well, thanks for asking!



First of all, my pledge-reward for Tsukuyumi: Full Moon Down (including the Tsukuyumi: After the Moonfall) arrived and it looks good. Not great, sadly. Punching and bagging all of the stuff was quite a bit of work but I managed to get everything into one box and am looking forward to trying it out... I don't know, most likely once I'm back from Greece. It boasts a three hour playing time, so bringing it to the meetup on Monday would be a bit of a gamble. Why isn't it looking great, you ask? Well, since I sometimes sell and trade to non-German-speaking countries within the EU, I went for the English language version of the game. The rulebook is mostly comprehensible but it is really, really clunky in parts. Also they forgot to translate a bunch of stuff. Like all of the text on the level-up tokens for the dragons. That's really sloppy, guys. I know that in a project of this magnitude, oversights happen, but come on... Anyway, as said, looks like a good game, I'll happily report back once I got it to the table.

Next up, Demon Worker. Not much to say about this one that I haven't said a few days ago. I'm really looking forward to that one, although I had to print out the English rulebook, because my copy of the game came with two copies of the Japanese one. Anyway, looks really, really good. I think this one will hit the table on Monday.

And then, a delivery from Fantasywelt arrived. As I was browsing my older posts (I do that sometimes), I came across my IJLA for Alba Longa and re-read the designer's comment about his new game Dam It!. I hadn't really investigated that game that much back then, but reading up on it kind of piqued my interest, so I grabbed a copy of it. Already played a game of it against K. yesterday and it seems to be a pretty cool, quick, easy game. It has certainly shades of other games, Morels, Splendor, Century: Spice Road and interestingly enough No Thanks! come to mind, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think we'll bring it along for the holiday.

The other two had been on my want-list for a while but I added them to the shopping basket mainly to save on shipping costs. Odyssey: Wrath of Poseidon is a bit notorious for being overpriced at launch but it cost 13€ now, so that's nice. I like deduction games and this one seems like it could be a good lighter one. And Dungeons & Dragons: Rock Paper Wizard could be a neat party-style game. I don't know yet at which opportunity I'll be able to whip it out, but I'm sure it'll hit the table sooner or later.
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Sat Aug 4, 2018 7:00 am
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Worst. Thing. Ever!

Christian Heckmann
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I've been a regular on the internet for 13+ years now and think that I kind of know what makes people here tick. And I've also seen my fair share of popculture discussions. Especially the ones where the topic is "Worst ... ever". Like in "Worst movie ever", "Worst video game ever", "Worst recipe for gluten free steak marinade ever" or what have you. I'm a regular user (and former staff-member) on a pretty big German video game board and threads like those pop up on a weekly basis there. And they always kind of fascinate me. Because no matter the intentions, they always quickly stray into "complaining about first world problems"-territory, so to speak. You know the drill, someone poses the question, opens up with some little known fare and then, before you know it, some other guy clops into the thread, screams "The Godfather is the worst movie ever" at the top of his lungs and is gone again and it's all downhill from there. And... you know, I'm all for differing opinions and I have often voiced my belief that objectivity is mostly worthless in discussions about art, which video games and movies and music and board games and what have you certainly are (or at the very least "should be"). And therefore I kind of feel bad about thinking to myself that someone who does something like that is oh so very, very wrong. But I do. Sometimes. And sometimes I don't. And that's my dilemma when it comes to those things.

See, on the one hand, whenever someone screams that highly acclaimed stuff like the aforementioned Godfather or Gloomhaven or controversial stuff like Mass Effect 3 or perhaps just mediocre nonsense like the Transformers-movies are the "Worst. Thing. Ever!", I can't help but think something like "Boy, you don't get out much, do you?", because do I know a few stinkers in their respective categories that would certainly blow their minds. I mean, how can The Godfather be considered the worst movie ever, if anything Jochen Taubert has ever done exists? For the uninitiated, Taubert is a German independent director responsible for fare like Piratenmassaker, Exhebitionisten Attacke or Pudelmützen Rambos, "movies" that don't look like anyone involved knew which side of the camera is the one that should be pointed at whatever the "script" (should something like that have been involved at some point) called for at any given day. How can anyone in their right mind call Gloomhaven the worst game ever if there is Oneupmanship: Mine's Bigger? Or Siena? Yes, that one is kind of a pet peeve for me, sue me. How can anyone decry something that is at the very least semi-competently made as the "WORST THING EVER", if amateurish stuff like the aforementioned alternatives subsist? Well, on the other hand, how couldn't they?

I'm kind of torn on this issue. The rational, emotionless part of me fully endorses what I wrote above, insisting that competently made crap or well intentioned crap or what have you can never sink to the depths where the substandard crap resides. Even if the contents is bafflingly bad, a certain degree of craftmanship should be sufficient to save a product from the judgement of "WORST THING EVER", because look at this other dumpster fire of a movie or video game or board game that is equally as bad but doesn't even look as nice. But if that were the truth, big companies like Fantasy Flight or CMON or major motion picture studios or large scale video game publishers wouldn't be able to create the "WORST! THING! EVER!" due to the simple fact that they won't be as incompetent as Jochen Taubert or the Oneupmanship: Mine's Bigger-guy for example. But that puts a lot more emphasis on something that shouldn't really matter that much, the outward appearance, while in most works of art, contents is what should really count.

Because here I am, thinking all rationally and stuff and then violating my own beliefs willy-nilly as well. I'm not gonna bore you with stories about video games or board games or what have you, because I already did so when the latter was concerned and when it comes to the former, if a video game is so incredibly bad, then I'm gonna stop playing it and I'm not gonna judge it any further than that, because I don't feel comfortable completely judging something that I haven't experienced all the way through. So movies, yeah? For a long time, for me, the worst movie ever was The Ghosts Of Edendale, a 2003 horror movie(? because it really isn't) directed by Stefan Avalos, the guy who made The Last Broadcast and therefore kind of invented the found footage genre. It's a really bad movie. Badly acted, confusingly shot, technically inept, boring as hell. I watch it from time to time to rekindle my love for movies by objecting myself to the sheer terror of how wrong things can go and how good even the most basic movie is by direct comparison. But it's not my most loathed movie of all time any more. This honor is due to the one-two-punch of Funny Games (a movie so wrongheaded and insultingly stupid that I can't help but think lesser of director Michael Haneke for deciding to make this movie not only once but twice) and Martyrs (a movie so pointlessly violent and stupid that I almost had to admit to myself, that Haneke might have had a point after all). Those movies are both kind of well-made products (Martyrs has its fair share of incompetence, but Funny Games is technically okay), created with a clear (albeit wrong) vision and a concept that surpasses the usual "I've got a camera, five friends and ten buckets of red paint, let's go to the woods and make a slasher movie". Yet still, they are the worst movies I have ever seen in my life, worse than all of the inept amateur-fare or soulless big-budget spectacles that left me completely cold. They are so incredibly wrong contentwise that the outward polish can't save anything. It's the old "less than the sum of its parts"-principle, where one misstep ruins everything that might have been good at one point.

And I know and accept that people can feel rubbed the wrong way by very different things. Someone might agree with Haneke's (completely idiotic) point of view and therefore accept Funny Games as a good movie for example. On the other hand, someone might find something about Gloomhaven so insulting that no amount of quality can make the game acceptable to them. That's how people are and that's not gonna change. And basically, it doesn't matter anyway. As previously stated trying to push objectivity into a discussion about personal taste is moot, nobody is gonna profit from that and it's gonna inevitably upset someone. Yet we still do it. Here's a good example for such a discussion here on the Geek that took some... interesting turns here and there. And I get how tantalizing it is, how satisfying it can be to figuratively piss on something highly acclaimed that you yourself just don't care about, to take the wind out of the hype-boat's (does something like that exist?) sails and stonewall the hysteric masses. I've been prone to such behavior before as well, but... I guess I just want to say, if you indulge in something like that, be reasonable, please? Is a bit of short-term gloating really worth ruining someone else's fun?

Anyway, those are just a few things I wanted to get off my chest for quite a while. What do you think about the whole conundrum? Do you agree with my above-mentioned dilemma? Where do you stand on this spectrum between rationality and emotionality? Am I completely off base saying that (perceived) objectivity has no place in a discourse about personal taste? Feel free to share your point of view in the comments.
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Fri Aug 3, 2018 1:50 pm
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The other Top Five Thursday: Little known, offbeat movie gems

Christian Heckmann
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Oh, another one of these? Okay.

I like movies. I like 'em big and small, silly and serious, local and foreign, I just love how in direct contrast to books or video games or other narrative media, they can create things that seem real. If you see real people on the silver screen interacting with things that are clearly impossible in our physical reality, that's cool. That's what I love. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm really interested in movies that do things that no one else has done, tread new ground, burst from the confines of mainstream media. And every now and then, I stumble upon something really, really out there. Something that has to be seen to be believed. Here's five of those movies in what I call...

The other Top Five Thursday: Little known, offbeat movie gems


So, yeah, here's five uniquely entertaining, strange movies that you really need to see if you're interested in... something else, I guess. Not ordered in quality but in their obscurity, judging by the votes on IMDB. Without further ado, here we go with...


#5: Dead Heat



So the eighties were a treasure trove of naive action fare, great splatter-horror with practical effects and timeless comedy. Want to see a movie that unites all of these things? Look no further than Mark Goldblatt's Dead Heat, staring Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo. It's a buddy-cop-action-comedy with a zombie-twist. Williams and Piscopo are the local police force's two resident loose-canons which makes for a nice dynamic in itself. But when Williams is killed and subsequently reanimated as a zombie, things take a turn for the really strange. It's a fairly violent movie, filled with bloody shootouts, yet pretty light-hearted at the same time, with great jokes left and right, a great comedic performance by Joe Piscopo and a small role for horror-veteran Vincent Price. Also the effects are really good, especially the part where Williams and Piscopo fight a lot of reanimated meat in a Chinese butchery. If you haven't seen it yet, give it a look, it's really something special.


#4: The High Crusade



The High Crusade is a 1960 sci-fi novel by Poul Anderson about a bunch of medieval English knights winding up in an interstellar war against an alien empire. If that sounds comedic to you, it apparently isn't, but producer Roland Emmerich and directors Klaus Knoesel and Holger Neuhäuser thought that it really should be. So yeah, the movie adaptation is a straight up comedy with protagonist Sir Roger hatching the most outrageous plans to bring the Wegorix-empire to its knees (his fixation on ponies is especially hilarious). It's also quite impressive from a visual point of view. Sure, fans of the original might lament the lack of respect towards the source material, but I personally think it's a hysterical movie with a great Rick Overton as the lead. John Rhys-Davies shows up as well. What's not to like?


#3: The Vampire Happening



I honestly don't remember how I stumbled upon this DVD way back when but it quickly climbed my list of "So weird you have to see it yourself"-movies. Two-times Oscar winner Freddie Francis directed this strange mishmash of tame horror-motifs, loads of bad puns and a general sleazy atmosphere... Well, sleazy for 1971, that is. Yeah, there's some sex and nudity involved but from today's standard, it's all rather conservative. It is however a fascinating time-capsule to see what used to be raunchy back in the day. It's also absolutely friggin' hilarious at times. Yeah, sure, in a "Well that's really stupid"-kind-of-way, but I enjoyed it immensly. If you're into campy, good-natured, stupid fun with a bit of sleaze thrown in the mix, this is a good one.


#2: Operation Dance Sensation



If it came down to overall quality, Operation Dance Sensation would have to take the top spot on this list, because it is just a damn fine film in any regard, but it seems to be known just a bit better than the movie on the top spot, so number two it is for this grandiose sendup of eighties action movie tropes, mixed with the dancing movies of the seventies. So back in Vietnam, special ops guy Jackson fought the American traitors Atlas and Zorc. Now, twenty years later, Atlas and Zorc reappear in Jackson's hometown Neverhorst to open up a mega-disco. Jackson, now a hardened bounty hunter, doesn't trust their intentions and investigates their nefarious schemes. Operation Dance Sensation is batshit crazy from the get-go and shows that brothers Thilo Gosejohann (writer, director and playing Jackson in the movie) and Simon Gosejohann (co-writer, playing Atlas and quite well known as a TV-personality here in Germany) know their eighties actioners as well as their ninja-movies (Atlas' completely inept ninja-army has to be seen...). The script is filled with good-natured allusions to Rambo, Commando, Cobra, for some strange reason even Saving Private Ryan and Re-Animator (in the form of the character Dr. Herbert Ost), yet it never lets things get too silly. Well, actually, it does. Everything about this movie is incredibly silly, but it's just so eager, confident and at the end of the day played so convincingly straight that you can't help but admire the effort put into it. Sure, it was shot on a miniscule budget and the actors are all quite enthusiastic, if not good at what they do. It might be a bit tricky to get your hands on this movie overseas, because while it was widely released here in Germany, I don't think that it had a wide distribution internationally. I'm also not so sure whether it'd work with subtitles or god forbid dubbing, because the amateurishness of the acting is one of the main sources of enjoyment. But if you can somehow get your hands on it, give it a spin, it's a darn fine movie.


And #1: Ancient Warriors



Ancient Warriors is not a good movie. Mostly because its star/producer Franco Columbu was cocksure about making a damn fine movie at all times. See, Columbu is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's old body-building-buddies, also his best-man at his wedding and generally a longstanding companion of the former Governator. So in 2003, he thought to himself, if Arnie can make loads of good movies, why can't I? Well, mostly because Mister Columbu is an absolutely charisma-free zone, an incredibly bad actor, a bit over five feet tall and at time of writing probably in his seventies. So yeah, not the best signs for his starring vehicle Ancient Warriors. Which is basically your run-of-the-mill mercenary-movie, set in Sicilly for some reason or other. Yet somehow, Columbu managed to drag Richard Lynch, one of the Baldwins (Daniel, I believe) and Swiss ex-model Michelle Hunziker into this project and the result is bafflingly incompetent. I mean, it kind of looks like a movie. Not even a half-bad one. But it is so crazily inept at pretty much everything else that you can't help but feel endeared to it. The script is batshit crazy with completely insensitive stereotypes left and right, plot points that make no sense, loads of inane dialogue and some of the flimsiest of excuses for an action scene that I have ever witnessed. That alone would be interesting enough, but Ancient Warriors' insistence that no, it's really a grand, spectacular big-boy action movie makes the thing absolutely hysterical. I pitty everyone who went into this thing expecting something like a real action movie, but as an exercise in collective insanity perpetrated by a completely delusional movie crew, this is as good as it gets. Watch it. Now!


So that was that, I hope that someone will find a bit of merit in this short list here, I'll try to get back to you with another Top Five Thursday a week from now, but since I'll dwell in Greece then, I can't promise anything. So have a good one and see you soon.
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Thu Aug 2, 2018 2:10 pm
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I just learned about... Demon Worker

Christian Heckmann
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Well, "just" might be a bit of an overstatement. I learned about it yesterday, while watching the Dice Tower's Top 10 Worker Placement Games (2018 Edition) and I faintly remember that I might have seen Zee Garcia's video review a few months ago, but I wouldn't confirm that by oath. So, anyway, Demon Worker, right?



Hey look, a game you can actually get RIGHT NOW if you want to. Not another Kickstarter that's gathering funds now and will be delivered somewhere down the line in 2019 or so, not a game that doesn't even have a date for one of those yet. No, surf over to your FOGS of choice (or rather "that one that is selling this obscure little game") and you yourself can play Demon Worker a week or so from now. Isn't that nice?

Well, that depends on whether the game is any good. I just read the rulebook and I'm kind of torn a bit (not that that'd do me any good, since I already ordered the game yesterday...). It sounds really neat. A small-scale worker placement game that can be played in less than an hour with three or four people, packing a whopping 40 unique workers for you to draft and employ. See, that's the USP of the game, you start out with two run-of-the-mill human workers without any special abilities or so and a hand of six demon workers (hence the name) with very unique abilities that you can play over the course of the game and employ in future turns. You mostly do this to gather resources and Evil Points (like victory points, but evil) to fulfil so-called Planning Cards come game end. Sounds neat, right? So what are my concerns?

Well, mostly that there might not be a lot to this game besides the 40 unique workers. The rulebook doesn't make it sound bad or anything, just... really basic. Like you've got a loot of cool and interesting workers to do rather boring stuff. If the game is as quick and as portable as people make it out to be, that's not a big deal if you asked me (yeah, I'm in broken-record-mode again: The shorter a game is, the easier it is for that game to get away with not being great), so yeah, as always, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Not that the opposite would do me any good, as said, I ordered the game yesterday, so I should receive it over the course of the next few days. And you can do that, too! Just in case you're interested, I got mine here in Germany from nicegameshop for 25€ plus shipping. So there you have it!
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Tue Jul 31, 2018 12:01 pm
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Greece... the final frontier?

Christian Heckmann
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Oh, yeah, that might be the perfect opportunity to tell you that a week from now, I'll go on vacation for ten days. K. and I rented a small accomodation on an organic farm near Patras, Greece for ten days, so you'll most likely have to go without your regular ETS!-fix for a little over a week or so, since we won't be having any W-LAN there. I'll try to prepare the Top Five Thursday for that week in advance so that there will at least be something for you, but... yeah, I think I've deserved a bit of peace and quiet.
Anyway, the main topic of today's post are supposed to be some (not so) new arrivals on my shelf. Here they are:



I kind of forgot that I hadn't posted this one yet when I spoke about playing Ethnos quite recently. So... yeah, surprise, I own Ethnos now. Although I'm not sure how long its tenure on my shelf will last, since I wasn't really that impressed with the game. It's by no means bad. It's just not great either.
Santorini was my one and only buy at this year's Amazon Prime Day because it was a pretty good deal. I played the game twice shortly after its release against K.'s father and liked it well enough, so I thought to myself, perhaps it'd be time to finally add it to my collection.
The other three I got in two separate trades. Villages of Valeria looks pretty neat and I got it together with the expansions Villages of Valeria: Events, Villages of Valeria: Monuments and Villages of Valeria: Guild Halls. So yeah, looking forward to trying that one soon. Star Trek: Frontiers wasn't really high on my want-list, I kind of dread having to work my way through the rulebook and then teaching the thing to someone else. K.'s father registered interest, he's a Mage Knight Board Game-veteran and had for quite some time wanted to introduce me to the game (even though I generally have zero interest in it), so perhaps trying it out with him would be a good idea. And Celestia seems kind of neat. I have a vague recollection of having played Cloud 9 at some point in time but I can't for the life of me remember how, when and why. Was there an inofficial Android-app? Anyway, I'm also looking forward to that one. Quick question to anyone who's in the know: I'm planning on buying the Celestia: A Little Help, but I've got the English version of Celestia and while the German version of Celestia: A Little Help is dirt-cheap, getting the English one isn't that easy here in Germany. Is the English version of the base game compatible with the German version of the expansion?
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Mon Jul 30, 2018 1:15 pm
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Reviewing... John Dies At The End. The movie. And the book.

Christian Heckmann
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If ~25 years of active media consumption have taught me anything than that people like what they are familiar with and dislike things that go against what they believe to know. That kind of sounded like political and socilogical commentary. But I just mean vapid entertainment and the adaptation of those things to other media. I've noticed it about myself. Even though I try to keep an open mind, I sometimes have problems adapting to another form of something I already know. If I read the book first, I will draw comparisons when I watch the movie. Also vice versa. In the case of David Wong's John Dies At The End, I watched the movie first (about four times or so), read the book afterwards, then watched the movie again. Now, I feel kind of prepared to talk about both of those things. Simultaneously. Perhaps.





So here's the basic plot-outline for both John Dies At The End: The Book as well as John Dies At The End: The Movie. Two slackers named David and John come in contact with a strange drug called the soy-sauce that not only gives them the powers to travel through time and space but also opens their eyes to all of the strange and unbelievable things that happen around them, like for example an invasion of interdimensional beings under the command of a being called Korrok. So it's basically a story structured after the writing of H.P. Lovecraft but with the twist "What if the investigators were lazy stoner assholes?". Well, the book at least. Hm, perhaps talking about both things simultaneously wasn't the best idea.

Okay, so let's divide those two things up and start with the book. As implied: Lovecraft with social anxiety and sex-jokes. I kind of like Wong's writing, it reminds me of Ben Croshaw (yes, I've read the first two books he wrote and I'm pretty sure that if there's a connection, Croshaw was influenced by Wong's writing, not the other way around) but with a clearer vision and the jokes supporting the narrative instead of the other way round. There's a lot of actually chilling, thought-provoking stuff in this book and most of the quick asides that penetrate narrator David's mind from time to time do ring true. Wong goes into a bit of Chuck Palahniuk-territory there, interposing the plot with the occasional digression that doesn't further the story in any meaningful way but helps fleshing out the characters and for the most part is pretty interesting in itself. It never reaches the depth or elegance of Palahniuk who can bombard you with interesting facts without you noticing a shift in the narrative structure, but it works. There's also a lot of jokes. Some fall flat, sure, but the frequency of the ones that stick the landing is admirable. I wasn't incredibly wowed by the book but that's mostly because I watched the film prior to reading it and was therefore prepared for the most insane stuff that happens (even though the book has a few interesting revelations itself) but it's nevertheless a good read. Snappy dialogue helps overcome the rather meandering narrative and when things come together in the end, they come together in a really satisfying way.

So... the movie, eh? It stays pretty faithful to the book while changing just enough to adhere to the limitations of its medium. See, the book is only around 460 pages long, but it is actually comprised of three intertwining stories, which would be a bit problematic for a single movie. So director and screenwriter Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm- and Bubba Ho-Tep-fame) circumvents this problem by picking up the main-beats of all three stories and blending them together into one. That way, some of the revelations lose a bit of weight (Korrok is mentioned early on in the movie but then all but vanishes from the narrative, whereas the book manages to have him appear far more present) and the end may feel a bit rushed, but for the most part, this approach works very well. Some interesting stuff landed on the cutting-room-floor that way but those were mostly things that'd be hard to convey in a visual medium like film.

Sadly, all of this kind of costs the movie a bit of substance. As said, there are some moments of true, existential dread in the book, the three stories taking place over the course of more than a year help lend gravitas to the proceedings, whereas the movie's story is rushed to two days. It's still a fun ride, chock-full of crazy characters and cool happenings, and some of the more poignant observations have luckily made it unchanged to the big screen, but the whole thing can't feel as big and important as the book made it out to be. The book also helps the character of the titular John quite a bit. Rob Mayes' performance in the movie is really good and fun to watch but he has a lot more depth in the book, conveying a lot better why David likes and relies on him so much. The one thing the movie has going for it compared to the book is the character of David. Well... kind of. See, in the book, David is - pardon my french - a real arsehole, so much even, that the second book, This Book Is Full Of Spiders, opens with him telling the reader not to go back and read the first book, so that they can have a clean start. Yes, that shows that David's character was planned that way on Wong's behalf and his... faults are kind of integral to the story and make him kind of relatable. But he pales so much next to the awesome John that you can't help but wonder how much better the whole thing could have been, if the narrator wouldn't have been such a dick. Chase Williamson isn't the greatest actor on the planet but he lends a certain humanity to David in the movie, while not comming across as bad as he was in the book and that fits the fun ride that the movie is quite well.

So when all is said and done, what's better? Book or movie? As previously said, I'm tainted by having watched the movie before reading the book and therefore wasn't surprised by the wackier stuff anymore. I was however amazed at how well the horror-parts worked. If you're looking for a blend of existential, cosmic horror with some more often than not rather inappropriate (but nonetheless kind of hilarious) humor, the book might be worth your while. It's well written, energetic, funny, dreadful and clever, all at the same time. If you're rather interested in spending a hundred minutes with a fast-paced action-comedy with some sci-fi and horror-motifs thrown in the mix, the movie might be more to your liking. Both of those are well worth experiencing.
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Sun Jul 29, 2018 7:00 am
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