Recreation Round Up: Games, Video games, books, movies

With my busy schedule I’m finding it more and more difficult to post about things other than pencils.  I always post about them to update my archive whenever I update my YouTube Channel: Clutch Situation.

But, I also know that many people may come here for thing other than pencils!  So, here’s a roundup of things I’ve also been doing recently with short reflections on each.

Books

I finished Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and would definitely put it at the top of my favorite fantasy books.  That thing is DARK.  Real dark.  I find it particularly gutsy for the time it was published.

Very quickly I read the second book in the Elric saga: Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock.  I especially enjoyed the ending of this one with the discovery of an ancient ancestral culture, threats in a dense jungle on the way there and mystical negotiations with an entity.  Super cool.

I very recently finished Neuromancer by William Gibson and found it to be truly fantastic.  It easily goes into my top five science fiction of all time.  Gritty, realistic, and fantastic characters.  Molly is my new heroine crush.  It is amazing how prophetic, yet also how grounded the work is.

I just started The Great Hunt (Wheel of Time 2) by Robert Jordan.  I am enjoying it much more than Eye of the World.  I think the reason for that is it takes a lot of brain energy to “figure out” the world on the first read of a Wheel of Time book.  Now that I know who the characters are I can concentrate much more easily on the subtle nuances.  I’m already reading it much faster than the first one.

Movies

I’m going to run the gamut of movies here, from frivolous to serious.

Of chief importance is that I recently discovered Ex Machina.  Fabulous film.  True to the genre and focused on one of the core tropes of science fiction:  the nature of identity.  The ending of the film makes it and defines what the film is really all about.  I won’t spoil it here because some readers may not have actually seen it yet, even though we’re two years out.  It wasn’t very mainstream.  But I highly recommend that you go buy a copy if you like science fiction, even if you haven’t seen it yet.

What do I have to say about Captain America: Civil War?  It isn’t the BEST comic book movie by a long stretch.  I do think it is the MOST comic book movie that has been produced.  In terms of art style, action, pacing, etc.  It just feels like a comic book. And I mean that in a good way.  I really enjoyed it. The reveals and ending conversation between Stark and Rogers will be something that fans will talk about for a long time.

I really enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse.  It is a movie clearly made for fans as there are a ton of allusions to past work.  My wife hated it and I can understand why.  If you don’t know the X-men, this movie contains a lot of inside references that you wouldn’t understand.  It may be the most narratively weak of the three recent X-men films, but I still enjoyed.   I will buy it and hide my copy.  j/k

I enjoyed Deadpool.  DC will probably never figure out how to “copy” it’s success and I think that, in of itself, is the problem.  Whoever they have making movies for them is uncreative and unoriginal.  I enjoyed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  At least, as much as I could giving how incredibly depressing and humourless it is.  It is at least four movies crammed into one movie and is the poster child for everything that DC just doesn’t understand about movies.  For my full thoughts, see one of the best Honest Trailers ever made, because it addresses a lot of people find super bizarre and frustrating about it:

I saw Alice Through the Looking Glass at a cheap theatre near where I live.  I don’t own the first one, but I do watch it on TV whenever it was on.  I enjoyed it.  I really liked Sasha Baron Cohen’s Time character.  I think he’s a good “villain” to play counterpoint to the Red Queen.  The movie does a great job of helping us sympathize with both characters.  Anytime you can sympathize with a villain, they are much, much stronger.

On a serious note, my wife and I saw Me Before You. This is a drama (based on a novel) about a woman who becomes the caretaker of a guy with quadriplegia.  The central core of the movie is his decision to undergo physician-assisted suicide, which is a serious issue for many, obviously.  My wife and I have a lot of life experience and are sympathetic to physician-assisted suicide.  I think the movie tackles the difficult issue respectfully (except for one off-putting “joke” at the beginning).  I think that people who oppose physician-assisted suicide are struggling to empathize with the pain of others and should give this one a watch.  If anything, try to see the issue from the other perspective.  Physician-assisted suicide does not glorify death by suicide or promote it, nor does it devalue people with disabilities.  I am a survivor of suicide and I work extensively with people with disabilities and I believe that heavily-consenting choices are an individual’s right.

On to more frivolous movies:  I saw Ghostbusters (2016) two nights ago and really enjoyed it.  I think that the violent detractors of this film fall into two camps:  1) The sexist and 2) The anti-reboot crusaders.  I watched a YouTube video of a comic book nerd who went in convinced she wasn’t going to enjoy the reboot.  Spoiler alert: she didn’t enjoy the reboot!  Look, I get it.  Reboots are nostalgia-based cash grabs.  Hollywood has been doing this for decades.  It isn’t new.  What I found most funny about the video is that she compared recent reboots to their older versions.  The three she picked were RoboCop, Total Recall, and Ghostbusters (1984).  Obviously the RoboCop and Total Recall reboots were terrible.  But, can we just talk about the fact that RoboCop and Total Recall, the originals, aren’t exactly high art in of themselves.  They’re loved, don’t get me wrong.  I own all three of the originals of the listed films.  But RoboCop especially is terrible as a film.  Bad effects, bad acting, one-dimensional narrative.  Yes, there is a “message” about technology and urbanization, but it isn’t well-crafted.  Total Recall, based off of Philip K. Dick’s You Can Remember It Wholesale is a action-oriented reimagining of the original story that Arnold-ized what was a serious story.

So, I get it, you have nostalgia for those films.   But they aren’t, in of themselves, good films.  I just find it a little disingenuous to take popcorn movies you love from the past and treat them as if they are high art compared to popcorn movies of the current times.

So what did I think of Ghostbusters (2016)?  It was funny and I laughed out loud several times.  It wasn’t as funny as the original, but it’s pretty close.  Unlike some, I’m capable of enjoying myself at something when taken as it is, not what I want it to be.  I think I’ve established that on this blog.

There are a few movies to look forward to coming up! Suicide Squad (well, meh), Jason Bourne (they never should have ditched Damon), Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (I like Burton films), Underworld: Blood Wars (? Yikes), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (squeal!).  I’m REALLY anticipating Doctor Strange!  He’s one of my favey secondary characters.

Great trailer.

Video Games

I haven’t played as many video games as of late.  I went full bore into Fire Emblem: Fates when it released and intend to go back to it.  I picked up Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 when school got out and played that for quite some time.  I intend to go back to it.

Yes, I’ve played Pokemon Go!  I think it is great for a whole host of reasons.  Chief among them is the exercise, followed by the opportunity to find and learn about artwork in your community.  I’ve been really bothered by the Candy Crush-loving haters who seem to have decided that exercise and learning about art are (somehow?) bad things.

Tabletop Games

I’ve gotten back into Magic: The Gathering.  I have a few friends that play and they kept asking me to join.  After doing some investigating I really like the direction that Wizards has taken in keeping the game going over the years.  Many interesting formats and products.  I traded in a lot more Star Wars Miniatures on CoolStuffInc.com and got over 400 bucks in store credit!  With it, I purchased several Commander decks, sleeves, singles I liked, and a variety of board games and RPGs that I’ll talk about shortly.

I really like the flavor of the latest block:  eldritch Lovecraftian Horror.  I played the Eldritch Moon pre-release this last Sunday, built a really strong Blue/Black deck with some powerful bombs and managed to go 2-1. At that point, the top four (myself included!) just decided to call it and each split the remaining prize support.  I won 9 boosters!  Legend Comics and Coffee in Omaha not only has really generous prize support but is also positively supporting the game by giving out prizes for each match win, not just overall standing.  This keeps both competitive and casual players in the game because you can go 1-3 and win something.  Smart, and I plan to use this method of prize distribution moving forward in Game Club.

I also picked up XCom: The Board Game, Marvel Legendary, and Twilight Imperium: 3rd Edition with my store credit.  XCom is an awesome game that you can actually play (sadly) solo.  It is tough.  I’ve played it three times and won once.  It is controlled by an app and timed and it is hard enough with no time limit.  I’m not sure when I’m going to get to play the other two, but I hope so soon.

We recently played Dixit with some friends and really enjoyed it.  I recommend it.

I’ve played Star Wars: Rebellion several times since picking it up and really love it.  The length makes it really difficult to get people to play, but I’ve also never not had an enjoyable game of it.  Maybe I can recruit some people soon.

I also picked up the Core book for FFG Star Wars: Age of Rebellion RPG and some dice.  I have no idea when I would be able to play it but sometimes it’s nice just to be able to read an RPG Core Book.

Whew, well, I’m spent.  Clearly I don’t blog as often as I should and maybe I should have split this up into several posts, but this is what I was motivated to do.  If you’d like to hear more, feel free to ask a question in the comments.

Fahrney’s Pens DC

While here in Washington D.C. for the National Education Association Representative Assembly, I had the opportunity to hit up one of the finest pen stores in the US: Fahrney’s Pens.  It’s fancy, and they have great exclusives.  Here are some photos:

I should have taken a photo of the whole store.  It’s one of those luxury shops that has attendants on duty and sets out stuff on velvet cushions.  Nothing is marked. Pretty snooty, but it’s nice that fine pen shops exist.  They’re online: fahrneyspens.com.

I’m sure you’re wondering what I got!  In addition to a present for the wife. (Shhhhhhhh.  Surprise!)

For me?  Fahrney’s exclusive Signature II Series Retro 51 Tornado Pencil with the signers of the Declaration of Independence acid etched.  Beautiful:

Game Club Overday Report

The Overday went off without a hitch yesterday and was by far the fastest feeling one I’ve ever experienced.  I do not regret, in any form, switching it from night to day.

We played Star Wars Rebellion for 9 straight hours at the start.  I did not intend to do that.  I did not expect to do that.  It just happened.  I don’t think there was a single dull moment during that time.  Emily and I had a group of about six kids who either played or just wanted to watch and help with components and they were totally sucked in.

The four player team game is awesome.  Jim and Jack and I played a majority correctly, but I should have been playing the Rebels as if I were two people when we played.  We’re only supposed to do Admiral/General missions on the relevant players turn.  I mention this not as a criticism, but because it opens up this whole other dimension of turn order when you play this way.  If only an Admiral or General is assigned to a mission, they have to go on that person’s turn.  BUT, if you assign both an Admiral AND a General to a mission, you get to choose when to reveal it, during either player’s turn.  You gain flexibility by committing more leaders.

Two different kids and I were the Imps and Emily and Tyler were Rebels for both games.  The first game took four hours and the second five.  I know that seems like a long time to play two games, but we broke for lunch and dinner in the middle of those and there were some serious decision making that happened in both games.  I believe that people who really concentrate and make quick decisions could finish the game in three.  To the photos!

These are all pics of the second game because I was focused on teaching the first game.  Imperials won the first game pretty handly, but when you first learn the game it can be tough to know the timing of Rapid mobilization to move the Rebel Base.  I learned that in future games I need to explain to the Rebel player exactly how the timing on it works.

Starting setup for second game:.

Inline image 1

We played the “advanced” version for both games where the Imperial systems are selected from about eight possible choices and the Rebels from about five possible choices.  Its clear that the designers limited it like this because without restrictions on where the Imps could start it can put the Rebels in an unfair position.  There is variability in which Imperial systems are subjugated and loyal at the start and this can make a huge difference  For example, Imps not starting with Corellia as a system makes a huge difference for the Rebels

Starting non-base setup for the Rebs:.

Inline image 2

We destroyed a system in the first game, but not in the second.  Destroying at least one system is critical for the Imps during a game because it sets the Rebs back one reputation.

Here it it after a few turns.

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Danny and I started by eliminating the lower left region as a possible Base location with a combination of probe cards and conquering Mygeeto and Ord Mantell.  What you see took a lot of setup and missions to do.  Basically:  Move > Subjugate> Rule by Fear.  If you look closely in the upper right, the Rebs were using that time to build a significant presence in the Nal Hutta region.  Spoiler alert: This was a very effective feint.

Right side of board:

Inline image 4

Emily and Tyler dropped a Mon Cal cruiser on Turn 1 or 2 and kicked one of our fleets butts almost immediately.  Danny and I found ourselves needing to take worlds to get our production up.  We were really short on transport capacity in the early and middle game and setting us up for more kept us in the game.

We totally captured Leia and turned her to the dark side.  We did this because, awesome.20160507_151844

We also attempted to capture Obi Wan but the Rebs used Noble Sacrifice to eliminate him from the game instead and gain one Reputation.We had a huge leader advantage at the end of the game 9 to 6.

Inline image 1

After a heavy reconnoiter into the top middle of the galaxy, we eventually got enough probe cards from missions, general turn gains, and logic (by turn 8) to narrow the base location down. They had successfully moved the base earlier in the game (We tightened our grip and they slipped through our fingers.  We were two spaces away when they moved it then, so they weren’t in that big of a danger.  They did it as a feint, and it worked.)

Inline image 2

We swept down into Endor and found the Rebel base.  Our force was only really ground forces, and we conquered the ground but not space.  The Rebel ground structures (Ion Cannons and Shield Generators) are really good when used well.  You need to conquer both Ground and Space to win against the Rebel Base.  They had parked two Mon Cal cruisers in orbit and if you look upper left our fleet was still two spaces away.  So, we conquered ground, but they had a sizeable fleet in orbit.Two turns later we got there with the fleet.  They were really close on a reputation victory and decided that moving it again wasn’t prudent.

Inline image 3

A single Ion Cannon is nasty.  It forces you to role two fewer red dice in space.  The above photo was before their attack back (which was significant).  Danny just happened to get a really good roll for us in our first attack and we had the space cards from Admiral Piett to push it in our favor.We really screwed up this combat at the start and, in retrospect, when I discovered this, I should have just let it go.  Playing it wrong gave the Rebels a huge advantage.  So, I requested we play the whole thing over again, merely because I noticed that the way we played it incorrectly gave the Imperials practically no chance of victory.Of critical importance is the order of combat:  Space>Ground>Space>Ground.  If all space rounds happened before all ground rounds, the single Ion Cannon would have made it impossible for us to achieve victory. The turn order basically rewards you for attacking or defending heavily in both theatres.   With that single Ion Cannon, our Star Destroyer was invalidated the whole combat, not just one or two phases.

The problem with re-playing it is that the Rebels felt like they were cruising for an easy victory and I kinda (unintentionally) snatched that feeling from them.  That was not my goal.When we re-did the battle, Danny rolled really well on space.  Doing a round of ground battle next made a huge difference. We were able to snag the Ion Cannon in ground combat and with the good shake of 11 dice we effectively won the space battle.If we hadn’t won there, the Rebels would have won the game, because they were one Reputation away from victory and were able to play 3 at the end of this round.

I regret replaying the battle because even though we ended up playing correctly, it had an unfair emotional impact on our opponents.  Every single strategic or tactical “error” that the Rebel players made was due to unfamiliarity with the rules.  So, the game ended with me feeling like my knowledge of the rules was an unfair advantage for the Imperial side.  It obviously should not have been and so, in my eyes, Rebels should have won that game no matter what the outcome of that battle. It is a game teacher’s responsibility to create an equitable balance between fun and rules and I failed in that regard. The Rebels in that game played a really strong game and they deserve credit for all the great decisions they made.

I have yet to play a game that wasn’t really close when everyone really understood the rules and gameplay.  There was all sorts of crazy chicanery that occurred on both sides pulling the rug out from opponents.

With another successful Overday under our belts, I’m excited to take a break and return to Game Club next year!