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Ian O'Rourke
United Kingdom
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Fly Solo: Rebel...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

The fifth mission in the Imperial Assault campaign was another great experience, albeit it came after our first game of Star Trek Catan and it's epic dilithium shortage (all three dilithium planets were set at 2,3 and 4 stalling the whole game).

I have to admit, I thought I had this one in the bag. It was an escort mission and traditionally the heroes have been terrible at them, losing out in both Homecoming (similar to this mission but escaping with Luke) and Target of Opportunity. I also had a significant amount of units, some funky upgrades, the threat had gone to 4 per round and I had some interesting agenda cards. I was seriously thinking that with a 3-1 win ration I may have pulled ahead a bit and another victory would have presented a serious leap.

It didn't work out like that as the heroes opened the door to free Hans Solo during round three and then a literal mad dash for the entrance took place and the Rebels pulled it off. Despite the ridiculous amount of units on the map, the efficient and headlong dash meant that all the event driven units found it hard to catch up and were perpetually chasing. There was figures the heroes had to pass but the luck of the dice was with them. Like all the story missions so far, this one ended the same way, a singular exchange in the penultimate round. The newly arrived, elite Trandoshan mercenaries made a brutal attack on Han Solo knowing, next round, he'd make a dash for the exit and escape. Han got a 'total dodge' result for one of the attacks and that was what won the game. Great stuff.

The mission was significantly different in two ways: there was no win conditions based on a round limit or wounding the heroes or both. Effectively there is a time limit as the threat rises and I can bring more units in and that will slowly punish the players. Players didn't have to worry about being wounded as much as it meant I didn't win anything by damaging them half way, the only way damage could significantly help me was to force a character to retreat. This created the interesting strategy of trying to keep Jyn on the run by punishing her continuously? The white defence die proved to be very weak as a defence unless you get the 'total dodge' result a lot. This means Jyn can be whittled down by continuous tasks, while it is much harder with Gaarkhan because of his better defence dice and his ability to use strain to directly Recover:2.

I finally did take out Jyn in the penultimate round with IG-88. There wasn't much point in that, but I did take her out.

I know I shouldn't think this way, as the Imperial player I should be looking to crush the Rebel players at every opportunity. I was playing hard and expected to win, but I was also glad the Rebels won as I wasn't sure about a 4-1 win ratio. It has altered the playing field a bit as the Rebels got some good gear and class abilities this time around. I sense they got a very big speed bump. Jyn got a couple of interesting class abilities and an awesome Tier II blaster pistol. I forget Gaarkhan's abilities but they are concentrated on his rage and being hit for 3+ damge (and he fiendish ability to Recover: 2 with a 1 strain. Yeah, that ability is really annoying).

It was a really enjoyable game and I'm really looking forward to the next one.

In terms of rules we did go in doing some things differently. We became aware that we could move diagonally in a few edge cases that we thought wasn't allowed, specifically 'around' impassable walls and terrain. In some situations this zigzagging can mean you dance between enemies and impassable terrain to avoid using extra movement points. I'm also wanting to get some forced missions into the campaign, both because it increases the mission count and also because there is some cool rewards in them. They come from Agenda Cards purchased with influence but they've not 'dropped' yet. I need to check if I should be putting used Agenda Cards back into the Agenda Deck as putting them back doesn't slowly increase the likelihood that forced missions will 'drop'.

We really are enjoying the Sunday boardgames. I'll be certainly expanding the collection at some point.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 02/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
Target of Opportunity: Imperial...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

We’ve only done one side mission so far and this one represented the second. We felt the first one was a bit mixed as the Imperials won it quite quickly, it was certainly didn’t come down to a single die roll in the penultimate round like the two story missions have. Sadly, this side mission played out in a similar way.

It became obvious at the start of the penultimate round that the heroes could not win. They’d lost a saboteur, had only just got the one remaining saboteur to the data core door and he was unlikely to get through it unless he had some very lucky rolls (and that’s ignoring the triggered spawn of the Imperial Guards on getting the door open). They had killed every Imperial unit on the map, but they just weren’t going to get through that door in time. I can only assume they needed to be more aggressive with the saboteurs to get them to the door much quicker? Like the last side mission, it was the tactics and survivability of the key allies that foiled the heroes (they have to do key tasks and they have to survive or survive long enough).

Basically, both the side missions so far have been ‘escort missions’, and they’ve had less of an edge of your seat feeling.

I have a number of class abilities building up which is changing the nature of the game. A class ability that can attach to troopers giving them +2 health and a defence re-roll per turn. This provides a Stormtrooper deployment with a good boost to survivability. I also had an agenda card that allowed a Stormtrooper deployment to fire twice like the rebel heroes, which is powerful but events conspired for it not to get used to the max. The threat of three per round also kept a regular reinforcement of Stormtroopers (thus keeping that agenda card in play) but the heroes still took them all out.

Similarly, Gaarkhan has a set of fancy arm grieves that allow him to stun. This is very useful in a game that relies so much on the action economy, especially in these missions with round time limits. Stunning a typically deployed unit means they can't attack in order to remove the stun. This means they can’t damage which in turn means they can’t bring a hero closer to wounding and wounding the heroes has been a key victory condition in most missions so far.

We’re also starting to understand the dynamics of the dice. I am really liking the dice. They serve to obfuscate odds in the first instance, but they are quite rich and dynamic when you start to figure them out. As an example, the red dice has no lightning results on it or, more importantly, any numbers. So if you have two dice in your attack and one is the red dice it’s not going contribute to your accuracy or allow you to use funky abilities, but you will cause some damage. We found this with the Saboteurs, which had dice that resulted in a potentially high, but very low accuracy attack! Similarly, the white defence dice is a bit all or nothing, as it’s all about the clear (no result for the hero) or the cross hatch result (supreme dodge).

A couple of things might have played into the loss. Gaarkhan was played in a wounded state the whole game as he forgot to overturn it from the previous mission. The primary result of this was he moved slower for the whole of the game. It was also ruled that a hero had to open the door to free the sabueters rather than them becoming active as soon as the door was unlocked (via a terminal on the other side of the map). Harsh? It was more confusing. The unlocked and opened 'states' seemed to be quite distinct and the ally units specifically only activated on opening and all text around opening assumed a player actively opening it. The sabeuters would have been out earlier if they could have worked out on dealing with the terminal (but still may have died in the corridor).

The mission was substantially more of a grind it out kill fest than the previous missions. A lot of the units started close together and there was a long corridor that the saboteurs had to make their way down. It felt more claustrophobic due to the smaller rooms and the relatively long corridor. It was such off a kill fest that the players killed all the Imperial units on the board. Possibly this was the mistake? They should have rushed the Saboteurs even if they meant they only survived long enough to get to the door and blast it open? It was a very tough door that did them in.

The concern now, albeit I'm not sure it's got out of control yet, is whether too many victories on one side (3-1 at the moment) causes an out levelling effect? In fact, due to time I've not even spent my XP and Influence from this win. I'll need to do that before we start playing again. I think if an out levelling problem occurs, it may be in the next mission as one player is gunning for a particular ability in terms of XP (which he gets less of when he loses) and they didn't spend any money this time.

The next story mission will also be the first story mission that has been branched to because of a loss.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 28/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
A New Threat: Imperial...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

The third mission of the campaign is a story mission: A New Threat. A remote base and secret Imperial experiments being undertaken to deliver a new piece of military hardware. Specifically, a fancy new Imperial AT-ST Walker.

The mission set-up had a few things going for it. The doors didn't open automatically and needed 'damaging down' and interesting things happened each time a door opened. The terminals also couldn't be won just on interacting, attribute rolls had to be made. The map was also a lot bigger with the terminals spread out in three distance corners. Finally, at the end of round five (of seven) the AT-ST appears. A bit like Homecoming, it had a big event-driven reveal.

Have to admit, going into it I didn't think the rebel heroes had a chance. Only two of them. A lot of ground to cover. A number of speed bumps (damaging the doors and the attribute rolls on the terminals). Like last time the key character was Jyn with her incredibly fast movement. If not performing any other action she can move ten squares per activation, potentially twelve if she spends a few strain. Since there are only two characters she activates twice. In short, she can cover the board at a ridiculous pace. The duo adopt the approach of Garrkhan going slower and giving the Imperial forces a kicking, while Jyn goes for speed. In fact, Jyn moves that quick that I left a part of the map a bit exposed allowing her to out position a lot of my forces and dash for the final terminal. It didn’t look like much of a gap until she decided to move through it.

A lot more of the tactics on the cards and the characters abilities are coming into play because both sides are spending experience and money and we're remembering them. Gaarkhan has an excellent 1 XP character ability that allows him to burn strain to heal, this is particularly fiendish as bringing the heroes to a wounded state has been key to an Imperial victory in the majority of missions. Jyn is also using her ability to shoot enemies that activate as an interrupt, which can be really annoying as she can do it twice (once for each activation she has). She can quick shot an activated Stormtrooper and actually take him out. Her Han Solo pistol also throws a few wrinkles as with enough lightning results she can now do +2 damage and +1 damage with a +2 accuracy – which allows for high damage at range.

Like the first story mission, Aftermath, the mission was ridiculously close. It came down to a single set of dice rolls in the penultimate round. It even featured the same character, with Jyn rushing to the final terminal and making an attribute check on her weakest attribute. She made multiple tries, burning an acquired ability, but failed on all accounts. In the proceeding activation it was highly likely I'd wound Gaarkhan bringing the mission to a close. That's what happened. Just like last time, it came down to a single roll being made by Jyn.

Disappointingly, the AT-ST didn't get to move or shoot. It dramatically appeared at the end of round five and then things were over early in round six. This is the second time a 'big reveal' either hasn't got to do much or the mission didn't even get to it. In Home Coming the fact Darth Vader was in the 'hanger' didn't even get revealed.

It is another very tight, efficient tactical experience. It feels like every decision counts and there isn't much room for mistakes. The mission could have literally went either way. It was exciting.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 28/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
And PC Gaming Is...Painfully Back!
Keywords: Video Games.

5 days ago I hit the submit button on an order for a new gaming PC. I’ll suffer for this latter as I’m terrible at spending large sums of money. I procrastinate. I consider. I check what I am buying, repeatedly. If there isn’t a high transaction cost I will create one. Then I finally persuade myself to do it only to go through a period of regret. The regret will happen trice as I feel like I pay for it when I decide to buy and then I get the hit all over again when the credit card comes in.

These things are supposed to be fun, but it usually take me a while to get to that stage!

I've not had a PC remotely capable of playing games since at least September 2009 and then it was stretching the definition since it even had problems running World of Warcraft in crowded places. In truth it was a long time before that with the medium requirements of Warcraft being a 2007 – 2009 blip. Console games were just…easier.

I left PC gaming because I could no longer be arsed with it all. The decoding of network cards. Working out how well the game will run when you buy it. The experience you wanted may not be the experience you get. I'd also say there had been a slow, long attrition of games I liked disappearing. It felt like everything was becoming an FPS and the variety was falling away, so the convenience and big TV play of consoles was better.

Things are changing though. The advent of Kickstarter means that games that were obviously finding a problem being funded by traditional means, can now find a route to market. This means in the last few years we've seen 'dead' genres return: big space simulators and modernised, deep isometric tactical role-playing games. There is also a bit of a return to PC gaming across the family gaming group, no doubt for similar reasons. In short, we seem to be back to a varied gaming environment and this is good.

I was excited about it and it arrived and I remembered why I’d stopped PC Gaming in the first place.

The above was on opening, the below is the day after in better light after I'd cooled down a bit and wanted to document the damage better.

When I finally got to open the box and then the case to fit the SSD I found that the massive cooling contraption had come away from its hinges and fell onto the graphics card and then rattled around in the case during transit (damaging the back fan). The damage can be seen in the above photos and the below video.

I always have problems when I get into PC Gaming. I don’t think have a hassle free PC Gaming purchase…ever. Then when you have one you always seem to be waiting for the blue screens to start, something to be over heating, etc. I know consoles have their problems, but I’ve never had big console problems. They just work and when they do have a problem, such as with my Xbox 360 someone came and collected and a replacement came to me know questions asked. I know, I probably had long stretches of gaming between glitches, but the fact I have this impression speaks to the hassle even if it is exaggerated in my mind.

I now face having this PC returned and then hoping the same problem doesn’t happen again. Eventually when I have a working Gaming PC I am going to try a few things.

There is a new bunch of party-based, tactical isometric role-playing games hitting the PC and I am really intrigued by them. We have Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity and Blackguards. I like the idea of story, a party with a spread of skills and bringing that to tactical combats. I've looked into Divinity: Original Sin the most and it gets really good reviews. I loved Icewindale back in the day and I am hoping these truly updated versions of this genre of game deliver the goods.

I've also missed some MMOs that I'd have liked to give a try, primarily Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2. If I was to be honest Guild Wars 2 is probably a game I really wanted to give a go but it's probably not one I want to give a go now the player-base has matured. I do want to give Star Wars: The Old Republic a go though, ideally to experience the story missions of a few classes. I'd like to think a minimum of two: a rebel and an imperial class, but you never know. I'd like to experience the Imperial Agent, Jedi Guardian and Smuggler classes and stories, but I suspect that may be too much of a long haul. I'd like to leverage the Legacy system, which I think needs two characters to do anything with? I have visions of a Chiss Imperial Agent and then using the Legacy system to create a Chiss Jedi Guardian. We shall see.

Elite. It has to happen doesn't it? I have to admit it is an experiment as there is a chance I'll find it boring, but I want to give it a shot from the point of view of getting in, seeing how it goes, building my financial empire and seeing how the game expands. The game does look glorious, though it's a bit odd you can't have 'flyby' views of your ship and the like, but exiting hyperspace near a sun makes up for it. It all feels a bit Battlestar Galactica in terms of how it realises space. A sort of space opera realism. I'm not sure how I'm going to approach the game yet. A part of me likes the idea of avoiding combat and going for trading, but what I really know is I want an Anaconda! Hopefully, we can get some sort of 'group activities' going but I'm not sure what they would be. The game seems to be setting itself up for it with 'Wingman' functionality already introduced in an update.

I am sure there will be other experiments. There are some military sims I may give a try, both flight simulators and realistic squad tactics. I am sure there are some strategy games out there I am not aware of that might prove interesting. It's a field I'd given up on for a long while so I am a bit behind.

I am hoping it's a return to a new and interesting landscape of gaming or at least a bit more width in terms of variety.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 14/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
Big Games Aren’t All That
Keywords: Video Games; Dragon Age.

Gamers are obsessed with size. I can understand why, there is a belief (which is probably correct but I can’t prove it with figures) that games have gotten considerably shorter as production costs have vastly increased. Therefore gamers love hearing a game is 80 hours long rather than the usual 20 - 30. The trouble is I’m not convinced this makes for better games.

Dragon Age: Inquisition has finally ground down my enthusiasm for the game to the point I can’t continue. In a way I had the same problem with Dragon Age: Origins, it was also too long, but I could turn down the difficulty towards the end and get through the slaughter fest between the point I was ready for the denouncement and the point it finally gave it to me. Dragon Age II I quite liked. I liked the singular location. I liked the framed narrative looking back on events. Okay, you got a lot of environment repetition but I wasn’t overly concerned about this. I didn’t finish it, but I preferred it to what I am being offered in Inquisition. In a way, Dragon Age II felt a bit more like Mass Effect.

Inquisition is just too damned big and not in a good way. Even your base of operations, Skyhold is big, it takes forever to get around. People complain about the lift in the original Mass Effect running around Skyhold is twice as annoying as I remember Mass Effect being. You know something has gone wrong when your base of operations has fast travel points? Epic fail.

Then you have the way the game is constructed which continually opens up vast maps. True, they are pretty vast, which for some people is quite impressive, but I’d rather have something focused, based on a driving narrative to do. Instead you’re given endless, banal quests across these vast landscapes. You also have to open up camps. It just involves a lot of wondering around. Okay, the landscapes are pretty, but this soon gets boring and what the game lacks is interesting adventure environments like a castle, a dungeon, an ancient temples, etc, to do exciting stuff in. It’s just all very banal. There is just very little dramatic excitement.

Possibly, there is a way to avoid all this, some sort of way to do the main quest and avoid this extreme MMO-like banality? I’ve not figured it out yet. This suggests, that if there is, it’s lost on the ‘bigness’ of the game, as I’m not going to bring myself to say epic. It is a bad sign if this is the future of game design and if this is what the wants of gamers has degenerated to: the equivalent of training the mouse by giving it cheese, it’s a sad indictment of the future.

I admit I am the wrong audience. Personally, I want every Bioware game to follow a Mass Effect model rather than a Dragon Age model. Mass Effect always felt more immediate, more character driven, more focused and, while it had side-quests (which included the very epic, personally driven character ones) some sort of combination of it being an FPS and involving whizzing around in a spaceship meant it just all happened faster. Hell, Mass Effect 2 was like a story game character study all mixed up with a Magnificent Seven sort of vibe compared to Dragon Age. It was very clever. I certainly don’t want my Bioware games to be more like Skyrim, which I also couldn’t get into.

I find it increasingly depressing that ‘open world’ is the new hotness. Everything has to pursue it. It feels a bit like when the FPS genre hit the shelves and everything felt like it gravitated to being one of those. I don’t like ‘open worlds’, they lack focus. I don’t want 1001 things to do and it is my choice which incredibly average thing I should do. I want a focused narrative in which I can play a meaningful game with meaningful choices in while still seeing new and exciting vistas. I want Arkham Asylum, not Arkham City. I don’t want to explore a city finding interesting corners, or collecting crap. Arkham Asylum was fantastic, while Arkham City was okay, the greatness that was its predecessor sacrificed on the altar of being ‘longer’ and an ‘open world’.

These things are rarely, truly longer in a good way, they just get filled with busy work and collectable contents that seem to appeal to a gaming mind-set that I abhor. All I can hope is the baffling success of Inquisition does not send a signal to Bioware that they need to pollute Mass Effect with the principles on which it is designed.

I very much doubt I am going to progress much further with Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s really done my head in. If some way to fast tack the core experience of the game presents itself without experiencing scaling issues, etc, then I may try that. Possibly, as I'd then have to get over the fact the characters don't speak as dramatic entities, they are really boring, the setting is banal, the combats are just button mashing, etc, etc. At the moment, I just can’t face it. I fully admit I just don’t get how people can see it as a great game. It’s depressing.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 07/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
When Stark's Toys Go Missing
Keywords: TV.

I love the original Captain America film. It hits all the grand period piece pulp awesome buttons. The whole thing is realised brilliantly. One of those elements is Agent Peggy Carter. I have no idea whether they intended the character to be that strong a part of the film, but she is. She brings romance to the film without it just being romance and adds real value to the overall piece.

The idea of an Agent Carter series was always a good one: Peggy, espionage, Stark, the embryonic Strategic Scientific Reserve, super-technology, the possible birth of Hydra, flashbacks to the war. Rich material. I’ve watched the first two episodes and the series is…competent and interesting, without blowing your mind. It’s certainly has more spark than the first few episodes of Agents of SHIELD which I must admit I tried to watch but soon stopped watching as the only thing it seemed to do well was bland.

Warning: Potential Spoilers.

I like Agent Carter, it is better than Agents of SHIELD at this embryonic point in its run. It hits the ground running with the arrival of Leviathan so it has an impetus to begin with. It certainly has more spark than the opening season of Agents of SHIELD, as the characters are less bland, Atwell is awesome, and the historic setting gives more mystique. It could still be better though.

The second episode does something brilliant, throughout the episode it plays the Captain American radio serial in the background of various scenes. It was an ingenious way to show how times have changed for Peggy, in that the woman in the show is a helpless damsel always being rescued by Captain America. It also potentially shows how the world at large remembers Captain America, as a strange mixture of his ridiculous war bond raising days, the war hero and then back to some ridiculous comic book figure. It certainly shows how easy it is for everyone to see Peggy as the real life damsel in distress to the real Captain America, who now finds herself being told to do the filing.

This could also be one of the series potential faults which it’s going to have to balance well. I have no problem with one of the issues in the show being the position of women in the post-war society after doing the jobs of men for four or five years. They just have to do this right. At the moment there is a bit of a feeling, and only a bit, that it might tread too much into the male agents rubbish and the female agent awesome way of doing things. This is wrong. It will get weak over time. The way they should approach it is purely from Peggy’s perspective and how it does not allow her to realise her potential. They hit upon this with an excellent scene between Peggy and Jarvis on how she’s trying to live up Rogers, and the degree to which they need the support of others and the degree to which Captain America did. This was also a counterpoint to the radio play.

That’s how they should play the social fabric idea and it can be done without making it feel like the males in SSR are like the Keystone Cops.

The action has been pretty good. It’s not reached Alias levels or anything, but the second episode certainly brought things up a level or two with a fight on top of an ice cream truck full of loads of fancy bombs each of which could level a city block. At the minute they just lack a certain spark and sense of danger and visceral reality. It’s a pity.

The parallels with Alias are also interesting in another way: Peggy spends all of her time in the first two episodes not only trying to outdo Leviathan but also the Strategic Scientific Reserve as she’s trying to clear Stark and they are trying to find and bring Stark in for selling his weapons. This creates the dynamic were Peggy is now a ‘an unknown woman’ in the SSR investigation, creating Alias like situations in which she’s working against the organisation she works for to some extent and has to avoid being discovered. It’s also a bit like No Way Out (and I always liked that movie), but not as claustrophobic. This could work well. At the moment there is every chance she could easily be isolated and find herself completely alone and in trouble.

The series is off to a good start. If it stayed exactly like it is it would be a slightly flawed show that would still be worth watching (I guess it would be my Agents of SHIELD). I want it to be more than that though. What it needs to find is the elusive. It needs to scale up a bit and make the stakes feel bigger. This may come in time, as it is only the second episode and we had an overarching story from the get go. It also needs to make the action scenes a bit more visceral. Not necessarily more violent, just give them a bit more weight. The elusive thing is the show needs to better engender the grand, sweeping romance in the piece. I don’t mean actual romance between people, but the romance of the setting, espionage, the pulp devices and the grand, mad plots. It has an edge of the mundane currently, which is the last thing it should engender.

Somehow, and these things are elusive, Agent Carter needs to find that mysterious spark The Rocketeer and Captain America: The First Avenger had. The Joe Johnston factor. At the moment it doesn’t have it, so the overall product feels slightly…false. Interesting, but not living up to its potential.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 06/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
Homecoming: Imperial...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

Homecoming is quite exciting. It seemed to be a 'big play' side mission in that it introduces two major characters from the films and it offers Luke Skywalker as an ally for the rebel side. That seems to be a significant asset for the future? A key one for the Rebels or Imperials to win? Since side missions are selected randomly from a deck it was quite dramatic it appeared so early.

The decision to play a second mission did raise some of the positives and negatives of the game. The positive is clear: the first game was that exciting we wanted to change our plans and run on into the next mission in the campaign. The negative is the game does seem to take a while to set-up, and seemed particularly confusing without it being a clean start. It may be just because it's new, and we still hit new rules, but it did seem a bit of a chore to transition from one mission to the next. We did get slowed down by being confused as to how to handle Luke in the mission, but we were probably overcomplicating it rather than just accepting the obvious.

It was an interesting mission and the lean nature of the game's tactics came into play again, especially since there was no experimental run through like with Aftermath. The key thing is the heroes have to get Luke almost all the way around the outside of the hanger in an anti-clockwise direction so he can interact with a terminal only then can the heroes enter the hanger at which point the second phase begins. The Imperials win by taking out Luke or the Rebels not getting away by the end of round six.

I love the threat system, as it's quite clever. It results in interesting tactical decisions and it is a very simple way of balancing the game. As an example, we queried for a bit what cards I could use for my three open units? Apparently any cards. So I'd choose all red cards, right? Obviously not, since this is only the second mission so threat only goes up by two a round and it ends in round six. So if I went for loads of expensive units I'd never get to deploy them. If this exact same mission came up later when the threat was at 5 per round the situation would be different. Balance. Choices. When do you deploy? Cheaper units earlier or wait around or two for something bigger? Tactical decisions based on the situation. I love how threat works.

The rebels lost in round three, when Luke was taken out

The mission pushes the rebels through a relatively narrow, anti-clockwise channel with a few choke points. The trick of keeping Luke alive throughout the mission seems quite challenging. In the first case there was only two heroes, so they couldn't completely block line of sight with heroes. Possibly the key is to be very aggressive with Luke and hope for good rolls while compensating for damage via using a lightning to heal:2? He is lethal in close combat with a high damaging, pierce:3 attack which is very dangerous. Like Aftermath, going slow certainly isn't an option. The other part of the mission that changes tactics is there is no victory condition on heroes being wounded, suggesting all out aggression being key?

Was it a let down losing or winning in three rounds? Yes and no. It's an interesting mission so seeing it go to the point the heroes entered the hanger would have been good (for reasons I won't reveal due to spoilers). It wasn't in the sense you do end up questioning how it could have went better? What are the tactics that might lead to success? We did discuss how we could just play it on its own in the future if we wanted to play with its tactics a bit. The key thing for me is I think I got a major boon by ensuring they don't have Luke Skywalker to use as an ally from this early point in the campaign.

The players have been ignoring the loot crates. Well, that's not strictly true, they time pressures of the mission means as the choices played out, in both missions, they just never choose to interact with a crate. They had accumulated 500 credits by this point and Jyn Oden purchased probably best tier one weapon in the game, the DL-44 Heavy Blaster. That's pretty powerful in the hands of the fast moving smuggler. Quite scary, in fact.

Regrettably, my agenda card draws were pretty weak so I am heading towards a big spend, card draw allowing in the future.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
Aftermath: Rebel...Victory!
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

We started our Imperial Assault campaign proper today and it was very exciting. We played Aftermath, the first mission, and then Homecoming was drawn as the first side mission. Aftermath is strange in that we'd played it twice already in our initial play test, albeit we weren't playing it with the best use of the rules as we'd blundered into it after finding the tutorial mission to not be a satisfactory experience (we still don't understand how it's not a ridiculously easy Imperial win?).

The tactic the duo has adopted for this has always been the same and it's based on the fact they have Gaarkhan as a tough tank and Jyn Odan as a very fast moving ranged shooter. Jyn Oden can move very fast with a combination of 5 movement points, the ability to use strain (as all characters have), obviously, and then her ability to move one more square when she hits someone! She runs ahead destroying the terminals and she's quite hard to stop.

There was a lot more use of all the possible tools this time, which altered play quite a bit. A more efficient use of strain by the heroes was in operation, both using it and using the results of the dice to reduce it again. Character special abilities were being applied. I also had a card that from my class deck that allowed me to basically have one attack be focused every round and this proved very powerful, especially when combined with the Probe Droid! It also seems to me, as long as you're hitting relatively well and being ignored the Imperia Officer can be focused a lot as well. It also helped we were using threat properly and allowing the Imperial side to redeploy units!

Ultimately, it all came down to one dice roll at the tail end of the 4th round. Jyn Oden was at the final terminal but she didn't have much health. Gaarkhan was still in the first section of the map. An Imperial Officer made a dash to get within shooting range and he took the shot. If he hit Jyn Oden it was likely she'd be wounded and that would lead to an Imperial victory, if she wasn't taking out she would go next and very likely take out the last terminal.


The above was what was rolled. An epic roll on behalf of the Imperial Officer which would take her out unless she got the ultimate dodge result on her white die. She did it. Complete dodge and went on to take out the terminal on her turn. Rebel win. It may not be representative, as we missed out quite a few rules on our two trial attempts at Aftermath, but it always completed on the fourth round, though this one was more exciting.

As with the first two plays, the game remains very lean. It has very little fat in it. Every decision counts and there isn't much room to waste turns. I have no idea if this remains the same over the course of the whole campaign but the early missions have six round victory conditions for the Imperials so a rolling, movement based attack is essential.

I went with the E-Web Engineer when the rebels opened the door. Risky choice. The unit is an absolute beast though, especially when utilised with the class card that makes a unit focused! If you also throw in its ability to heal for 2 with the use of one lightning result it's a great unit. It is heavily disadvantaged by its movement, which is slow and it cannot move and shoot. The fact the game has no facing rules obviously plays to the rapid firing unit as well. In truth, the unit didn't get used that much until Jyn Oden made a run for terminal and it fully unloaded on her ripping her apart which helped bring the game down to the one dice roll not much later.

I like the balance between tactics and the random factor of the dice. You can use good tactics and apply your resources as efficiently as possibly which increases your odds, but the game is never fully in your control as the dice can shift the game quite significantly ensuring you have to adapt. Get a game changing roll only for Jyn Oden to roll the complete dodge, for instance? Fail to take out key units like Probe Droids or successfully doing so, etc.

Anyway, Rebel win but their gear draw wasn't the greatest so they didn't send their cash. They did both go for 1 XP class abilities. I did spend my XP on the ability to do a significant heal on all Stormtroopers adjacent to each other. I left my Influence unspent. That free ability in the Military Might class deck is pretty awesome though, a free focus every round!

The final observation is while it is easy to see Imperial Assault as expensive, and it is, it cost me around £65, it’s also great value for money. Never mind the quality of everything in the box, compare it to a £45 videogame? And that’s after a title has been reduced a bit, they’re more than that new. The winner is quite easily Imperial Assault in a lot of cases. That’s how I am seeing these premium board games, as alternatives to just as expensive, but often full of ‘busy work’ videogames.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/02/2015 Bookmark and Share
The Imperial Assault Play Test
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

We played a test play of Imperial Assault today, and it was great fun. It was very much a test play, I’d read the ‘read this first’ book and we planned to play the tutorial. We ended up playing the tutorial twice and then the first mission in the campaign twice.

The first observation is the game takes a while to set-up and I need to make this more efficient. It took a while to get all the components out and it can take a while to identify the tiles and connect them up. This will be able to be speeded up by getting better bags for all the components and having them all individually bagged. Easily resolved. It does mean if you plan to play multiple missions in one sitting it probably could take 20 minutes to set up the next mission.

We ended up playing the campaign mission because the tutorial didn’t provide a great experience. It uses a reduced, but core to the game set of rules, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the win conditions for the Imperials. We didn’t see how the Imperials couldn’t just rush one of the two terminals and then win in 2-3 turns. Just ignore and rush. There is no way to permanently block movement so it would not have been different if we had four heroes on the board rather than just two (with a bump in Imperial units as the tutorial scales Imperial units while the campaign scales heroes, it seems). The same result every time was guaranteed. Someone on Twitter said the Imperials had no chance in the tutorial, so one of us is doing something wrong (and I fully admit the applying of the rules in a better and better way grew over the four mission attempts).

As you’d imagine the campaign mission was better. The objectives for each side were richer, with the heroes having to destroy four terminals spread across the tiles in six turns and the Imperials having to wound all the heroes (and they are quite tough). Since we had two heroes, they both got legendary cards, bumping health and allowing each of them to activate twice which essentially doubles them up to account for four players not being present. This method of bumping the heroes seemed to work well and made a two player game feel quite cool, with both heroes feeling quite epic. It’d be interesting to see how that compares to four players all activating once and with less health.

In the four attempts at the game a couple of things came across: it’s very tight and claustrophobic. This is a good thing. I’ve played the first edition of Descent and it seemed to take 4-5 hours to finish a mission. Imperial Assault seems to have it down to 60-90 minutes. The maps seems very small, minis can bunch up. At first this felt a bit disappointing. It’s certainly not a game of long range blaster combat. This is initially a bit visually disappointing but you sort of need to reassess your perspective of where the tactics are. It’s tight in the sense, at least in the first campaign mission, you don’t spend any turns figuring out what to do or affording yourself some experimentation. You have to have a clear and aggressive plan and go for it! The heroes can’t be defensive, they have to go in blasters blazing and axes swinging, at least it’s Star Wars in feel. Any wasted turn can put the mission at risk.

It works well.

The game seems so tight the character choice can influence it heavily, especially in a two hero game. In the campaign mission the natural choice of Jyn Odan and Gaarkhan was chosen, providing a good quick and ranged character with a slower and heavy melee one. If the heroes chosen had both been melee, forcing the heroes to have to be in adjacent squares to destroy the terminals, the game would have been significantly different and harder. The tactic with these two heroes was certainly for Gaarkhan to pile in while Jyn Odan dashed around the terminals. It was on the second attempt this was figured out.

It was a test play, the results being that we want to play through the campaign with Jyn Odan and Gaarkhan by starting again even though this would be a third play through of the first campaign mission. Obviously, this is a good sign of how fun the game was. We’re also aware we aren’t maximising the tactics. The game isn’t complicated it’s just there is a lot of it. You get the rhythm of the game quickly and how the dice work, but each character has special abilities. You possibly have cards to use. It’s a bit like Dungeons and Dragons 4E, there is just a lot of stuff to remember to use in the most efficient manner and then ensure you know the rules for each. The applications of each hero and Imperial units powers to maximum efficiency will have a considerable impact on the mission, obviously, such as the ability to wound the heroes more easily.

The plan is to read the larger rulebook, referred to quite a bit during the four tries, and digest the rules in the context of having played the game. Fully understand how to set-up and run a campaign which involves quite a few new cards and things like side missions and agendas which I couldn’t really figure out this time.

Till next time, though there is the threat of Star Trek Catan being purchased off the back off this and giving that a go!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 24/01/2015 Bookmark and Share
You're Using Two Exotic Weapons!
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

I don’t do the Pokemon collecting thing. In fact, games that involve collecting, especially if linked to competitive edge, I avoid like the plague. Destiny is okay though, as I’m not in competition with anyone and the exotic weapons in the game don’t do any more damage than the legendary weapons, they just break the rules around the edges.

So, I was going to keep it simple: one exotic weapon only. I’ve even dropped exotic bounties because of the ridiculous effort it takes to do them and I’ve seen no advantage in having another exotic weapon (as you can only use one at a time). I use an exotic as my primary weapon…done.

I purchased Ice Breaker this morning with my strange coins, which is an exotic sniper rifle. Everyone was just telling me to get it. The Internet was telling me to get it. Apparently, it’s one of the best weapons in the game. These are the strange coins I’ve been holding onto waiting for Xur to sell the exotic chest armour. I’ll need to try and recoup them before next weekend as he’ll probably offer it up now.

It’s a sniper rifle, which hasn’t really featured much in my playstyle so far. I tend to go for an Auto Rifle and Fusion Rifle combination. It works well. The problem with Destiny is switching weapon load outs is a real pain. You have to come out of the game screen and to another menu, meanwhile the game doesn’t stop. Considering how often it’s beneficial to switch between weapon types or weapons doing different damage types this is a major oversight. This is primarily why I try and not switch load outs. You also have to throw in the fact that if I swap to the exotic Sniper Rifle not only do I have to switch my secondary weapon I have to switch my primary out as well to meet the one exotic weapon rule.

Now I’ve used Ice Breaker I can see why people have it. It actually makes the game easier…period.

As you’d expect from a Sniper Rifle, it does what it says on the tin and causes a lot of damage at range especially if you hit enemies in their sensitive spots. This means some content can be done at a distance which makes things a bit easier. The problem in the past has been Sniper Rifles have a very low ammo count and you’re reliant on secondary ammo dropping to reload. This means that the sniping option tends to have to be balanced with the more abundant primary weapon ammo.

The game changer with Ice Breaker is one of its exotic rule breaking perks is it regenerates its own ammo. You don’t have to pick up secondary ammo drops. You never run out of ammo. It takes a while to regenerate but it’s not ridiculously slow and if you’re hitting the sensitive spot of a boss it’s certainly fast enough considering the considerably damage it does. This gun is why you see some players sniping strike bosses from ledges. I’ve done a few strikes with it today and the different tactics it offers are great. Excellent weapon. It just needs to be upgraded!

This tends to mean I have two load outs now: Suros Regime and a legendary Fusion Rifle and then a legendary Auto Rifle and Ice Breaker (Fusion and Sniper rifles take the same slot). I mentally call out for a way to quickly swap between defined load outs via a radial menu every time I play the game.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 17/01/2015 Bookmark and Share
The First in...22+ Years?
Keywords: Board Games; Imperial Assault.

There was a time when I played quite a lot of board games. In fact, as I consider this there might have been two phases of great board game buying, but I’m having trouble pinning down exactly when one of them was.

The first one, well, I think it was the first one, it’s distinct in my mind but it may have overlapped with the second, seemed to involve a lot of those boxed war games you don’t see any longer in stores. We’re talking things like Squad Leader and Flight Leader and a few others my memory is failing me on. Pretty sure we had an attack helicopter one and another designed specific battles in World War II. The Avalon Hill stuff. They had common elements such as very densely written rules, lots of little cardboard counters and many colour, paper mats. Where they really complicated? I have no idea. I think I thought so at the time, but that was back then.

One thing I do know? I am pretty sure these games never actually got played that much. I remember trying Flight Leader a few times. Possibly we just got the counters out.

The second phase was the big phase. This was primarily kicked off by Games Workshop’s board game era. This featured games like Bloodbowl, Talisman, Warrior Knights, Fury of Dracula, Space Hulk, Dungeon Quest. I remember playing Block Mania, but I didn’t own it, the same goes for Space Hulk. Then you can throw in others dredged up from my memory such as Battletech and FASA board games like Interceptor and Centurion with their strange cardboard playing pieces. I also remember quite a bit of Hero Quest. In truth, it was the Games Workshop board games that dominated. We especially played a lot of Talisman and Fury of Dracula. I also remember two Bloodbowl leagues and even a Dungeon Quest league for laughs in college based on treasure retrieved. If I have my timelines right, that was all at least 22 years or so ago and, yes, that was shocking when I worked it out. Now I’ve made my first board game purchase in just as long. I had some Christmas money lying around and decided to take the plunge with Imperial Assault.

The new renaissance in board games has always sat in a strange place with me. I’ve been aware of it. I’ve been intrigued by it. I’ve never gotten involved much. I’ve played one session of Descent (First Edition), I liked it but we didn’t seem to play it again, a couple of games of Arkham Horror (it was okay) and then Super Dungeon Explore and X-Wing (probably more a miniature game, though Imperial Assault is in Fantasy Flight Games miniatures section while Descent is not) at the last Cottage Con. If it hadn’t been for the ‘what to do with this £70 factor’, I may still have not taken the plunge.

Imperial Assault is basically two games. In the first instance it’s a a modern version of games like Space Crusade, Space Hulk and Hero Quest, and on this basis it has its roots in Descent: Second Edition. This is a good thing, in fact it was Descent I was thinking of investing in, but this came along and I decided I’d rather give this a go. New game. New start and all that. It helped the reviews were very positive. The second game is a miniature skirmish game, you can use the rules, floorplans and miniatures to do a skirmish battle and this is probably why it is in miniature section of the site).

The quality of the game is impressive. I’ve always known the quality had gone premium, having seen a few, but it really comes home when you’re unboxing your own game and punching out the components. They’re all thick, solid card and they all popped out easily enough with none of the usual ‘component damage’ of yore. The various tiles for constructing the maps are solid. The miniatures look great as far as I can tell though I’m no expert. While it would have been great for them to pained, as I’ll never do it, I understand this adds considerable cost. The only negative with it all is the front turret gun on the AT-ST Walker was hard to snap in which puts the two guns on the piece at risk of getting damaged. I got away with it damage free, but it was quite a risky manoeuvre.

The various books that come with the game are in glorious colour, covering rules and the campaign. The rules seemed simpler than I was expecting, this suggests they really have streamlined Descent, I remember that as more fiddly. I like the campaign, loads of missions, with branching options as the players fail or succeed. The missions are smaller than I thought they’d be, some have like time limits with quite a low turn count, which gives an indication of length. I’m thinking they might be hanging around an hour? We shall see. This is a good thing really, as when we played Descent it went on for some considerable time (4 – 5 hours I think). If you want to play for a while you can do multiple mission.

The other observation: the board game had an awesome smell, a bit like the crack of new stationary, but bigger. Nice. Weird, but nice.

It took me two weeks to unbox it, now it might take me a while to play it. Currently trying to drum up a bit more interest in the family PS4 lot. Hopefully playing it will be great, though if it is it may well set me off on that tried and tested track back to board games that many a person who has de-prioritised role-playing games tends to take.

And there is also that Star Wars: Armada game that sits looking at me and tempting me. I’ll probably manage to resist that as it is significantly different in how it plays, I suspect it involves more time and money. It is looking very nice though.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 17/01/2015 Bookmark and Share
They Get Gear Right
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

As you can imagine, like with any MMO (and, yes, it is an MMO) there are constant complaints about gear in Destiny. The core complaint has always been about it being at the hands of the random number gods. RNG, it’s now and acronym and a thing. It didn’t seem to be during my entire play history of Warcraft, but now it is.

The strange thing is, despite all these complaints, I think Destiny gets gear right. I’m obviously just playing it ‘wrong’.

In the case of legendary gear equipping up is very predictable. You need so many Vanguard (or the reputation of your choice) ranks and then you can buy gear with marks. You get marks from grinding various bits of content in the game. While grinding this content you also get drops. The drops aren’t the focus, it’s the predictable accumulation of marks. There is no frustration of running something for months and nothing dropping. It’s something every other week or faster. Okay, you now need commendations which means gaining reputation ranks to buy some gear, but generally this comes from doing what you’re doing anyway (and you get reputation ranks a lot quicker in compensation).

Exotics are also…interesting. At first I thought they were just another level of gear that would be rare and be the sort of gear the hardcore paraded around in because they’re doing all the raids. I thought exotics would not be, practically, for me. They’re nothing of the sort, you can even get exotics via a predictable accumulation of strange coins to buy them from a vendor who appears every weekend. Okay, what he is selling is random (allegedly, the other argument they’re a product of Bungie data mining and choosing), but there are exotics available every weekend. They’re not even statistically more powerful than legendries I don’t think, it comes down to how they break the rules. I got Suros Regime this way and I am now just waiting for the Titan chest piece to show up. It will. I’ll have my two exotic pieces. Done.

They’ve also made the exotics unique, they’re not just an extra level of gear. They’re unique in terms of feel, aesthetic and the various ways in which they break the normal rules of the game.

There isn’t that many exotics in Destiny: 38 in total I think, but 18 of those are armour pieces distributed across three classes and then the weapons come in numerous types as well. You can also only use two exotics at any one time: a weapon and an armour piece. Really, you only need two per character, 4-5 at most. I’m sticking with three probably: a main gun, a chest piece and an alternative helmet which has a funky power (blinding in my Ward of Dawn). I may stretch it to an exotic heavy weapon for when I’m using the legendary auto rifle. I love the look of the Suros Regime rifle and I like how it handles. I’d like to keep it over a long period of time. It's perks also work for me, making it a very stable and slower firing weapon. I like using it.

All this tends to mean exotics do feel special, you get attached to the ones you use the most. This brings me to the final thing Destiny gets right. Your exotics are so special they’re not designed to be replaced through gear inflation. That is an amazing decision. When The Dark Below expansion came out it introduced some new exotics, but also allowed you to upgrade existing exotics to the stat ranges of the expansion. Done. Your exotic is a top tier piece of gear again and its integration into the way you play is secured. Brilliant. Think about it? An MMO that allows you to have enduring, upgradable gear? It does do this while maintaining a bit of the grind, as you’re exotic piece comes back stripped of upgrades (like it’s just been purchased or dropped), but it’s still better than having a whole new piece of funky gear forced on you due to gear inflation.

Of course, there was lots of complaining about this. The fact you might have to wait for Xur to stock your upgrade. The fact you would have to level it up again. I take a bottle half full approach and was surprised they didn’t make you hunt down new exotic equipment entirely! I think some people still delude themselves into thinking it’s not an MMO with the usual MMO baggage. It would have been nice for them to auto-upgrade, but that was never going to happen.

In summary, Destiny makes the acquisition of gear predictable, measurable and in no way random. It makes the fancy, exotic gear a choice based on personal criteria and it manages to engender a form of attachment as a result. It allows you to keep the gear as if it is special and part of your identity. As far as I am concerned, that’s a great set of decisions? This is linked to how I play, as I only have one character who will have a maximum of 2 – 4, some people collect them all and they moan they have to upgrade them all again. Guess what? You don’t. You really don’t. Possibly you should reflect on whether you should be moaning about the game or addressing your personal hangups?

Of course, you can ignore that and go hunting for gear through drops. I’m not blind to the fact there are some advantages in that, such as different sets of upgrades on randomly dropped weapons and not all exotics are available for purchase, but don’t pretend for a second that Destiny is a dire, at the altar of RNG game. You always have a very predictable road. You don’t have to put your hand into the fire if it’s too hot.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a typical MMO that begins a new upgrade cycle with every expansion, but that is normal in an MMO.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 10/01/2015 Bookmark and Share
Glorious In Its Illegality
Keywords: Role-Playing Games; Star Wars.
I think about a month ago someone posted a picture on Twitter of a thick, hardback edition of the WEG Star Wars role-playing game. It looked in every way to be a resurrected from the dead re-publishing of the last version of the D6 role-playing game with a bunch of stuff from the supplements thrown in. Occasionally, RPG publishers do this, they pick an old game that went out of print and throw together a super edition, call it something snazzy and charge a fortune for it (sometimes limiting supply).

It appeares this is exactly what has been done, but of course the thorny issue of the Star Wars license is involved and that sits with someone else, so it must have been a ‘fan endeavour’ and illegal. Apparently this is the case, but with a plethora of Star Wars artwork across Star Wars properties it’s easy to make it look gorgeous.

I ran three games the most during my role-playing history: Golden Heroes (1984), WEG Star Wars (1987) and Vampire: The Masquerade (1991) in that order of time, I’m not going to guess volume. A plethora of other games influenced me, but I never ran them (twice in the case of Spirit of the Century): Ghostbusters (1986), Over the Edge (1992), Fengshui (1996), Sorcerer (2002), Primetime Adventures (2004), Spirit of the Century / Fate (2006) and no doubt a few others I’m forgetting.

I also sold a load of role-playing games in 2004. Literally cleared out the collection. I don’t regret this, but there are one or two titles I did miss, the WEG Star Wars rulebooks being one of them.

Looking back on it it’s easy to see why I liked it. It fostered a low role-playing baggage mode of play as well as a big, cinematic action focused playstyle. Why blow up a spaceship when you can blow up a planet it asked? Funnily enough, as I rack my brains it actually has some core similarities to Fate, which isn’t surprising. The Fate idea of everything being a character? It’s similar in WEG Star Wars characters, vehicles and spaceships are all very similar to characters and they engage in conflicts in a similar way. Fate is a bit more literal about it, but it holds true for WEG. It’s a straight roll over system with a dice pool. Fate is similar to this, while not exactly the same. It has a set four dice, but it’s roll over. There is even a way of moderating rolls via hero points, again not exactly the same but it’s still a way for players to influence events (albeit the Fate model is bigger in scope and links to aspects). It even, to some degree, follows the Fate model of having quite a thick rulebook despite the core system being remarkable consistent and simple.

In short, it’s easy to see in WEG Star Wars the embryonic things I would like in Fate. Easy to use. Easy to apply a set of simple tools to resolve situations in the game. Heroic characters with a purpose and big, brash cinematic action as the implied or literal playstyle.

WEG Star Wars isn’t perfect. I tended to think the game edged a bit over the complication barrier as it went through the editions. The original rulebook was a work of beautiful simplicity. It covered the Jedi, but I never fully liked it and I always kept their powers at a low skill level. They got a bit ridiculous in many ways as they gained higher skills. Still, this wasn’t a problem as it was initially a game primarily focused on the Rebellion Era. A simple and effective way of handling the Jedi in the prequels it wasn't. In fact, that’s I’d use WEG Star Wars for, if anything, an Edge of Empire style game that, if featured force users at all, they’d be on the subtle end.

It also feeds into the fact that what small amount of tabletop role-playing thinking I am doing, and it's seriously not much at all, is harking backwards not forwards. Not so much systems, though in the case of WEG Star Wars that links into it, but in terms of approach and philosophy. The Arrow and The Flash TV shows are also an influence. As well as two blogs that went unpublished. Simpler times, etc.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Grand Theft Tourism
Keywords: Video Games; Grand Theft Auto.

I’ve spent the afternoon playing Grand Theft Auto V. Not playing in story mode, but Grand Theft Auto online. I didn’t really do much, it was like grand theft tourism as I bummed around with the more experienced members of the crew while doing a good job of looking like the pervert off of Derek. Despite it being a passive experience, it was awesome.

It’s awesome because Los Santos is brilliantly realised. It comes across as a vibrant, varied, beautiful and rundown place that lives and breathes. The realisation of the city in GTAIV was great, this time on the PS4 it’s just unparalleled. It’s a city in which scenes out of Heat, Gone in Sixty Seconds or the car combat of Bourne play out regularly, but you’re the criminals pulling off the action. You may even being doing less law breaking activities like just parascending off mountains and it’s all good. It’s a far cry from the days of relatively flat graphics and being obsessed with shagging prostitutes in the back of basic representations of cars.

To cut to the chase you create an instance of Los Santos with a specifically created GTA Online character and you do jobs, hang out and do wacky shit in the city and surrounding island, level up, get new stuff due to your enterprising form of criminal capitalism (cars, clothes, weapons and the usual paraphernalia of a cinematic criminal).

I’m glad I saw it through, at one point the whole online experience was frustrating as I had some player in my instance I was doing the tutorial in and he’d obviously figured I needed to get to a certain place so he kept doing a drive by shooting on me. I’m thinking organised team play might be a small percentage of the players in GTA. I guess ganking is written into the DNA? I avoided this problem by creating a private instance of Los Santos for my tutorial and we tend to create friends only instances for our antics.

It’s a bit weird playing a game of violence and crime with brothers, nieces and nephews, but it is fun. It just all looks so damned gorgeous, it’s actually interesting to go all law abiding citizen and just soak in the sights, which I’ve not fully explored yet and probably should do a bit more of.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 28/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Valour, Robocops and Red Tails
Keywords: Film; Film Review.

We have Netflix again due to that time coming around when you need to ring Virgin to stop their prices getting out of control. The usual practice of stiffing the long-term customer while offer new customers get cheaper prices, even after the opening give away has ended. The new deal happens to include Netflix for six months.

Yesterday I binged on it a bit and watched: Act of Valor, Robocop (2014) and Red Tails.

Act of Valour aired at the cinema while I was working out of Crawley, I think. I intended to see it but one thing lead to another and I never got around to it. It was the trailer that sold it as it just looked…gorgeous.

It was a bit of a weird beast as the acting of the central cast, the Navy Seal team, was a bit stilted. Checking up afterwards I learned that the core Seal Team were actually playing themselves! On that basis they didn’t actually do too badly. It starts with the kidnapping of a CIA operative and from there careers into an attempt to stop a terrorist incident on US soil. It is gorgeous, whether it’s a sweaty jungle, a sun soaked drug cartel outpost or a dark tunnel complex. It’s a pretty cool globetrotting action and adventure tale. I really liked it, though I’m probably not revealing anything too shocking when I say the guy whose wife is expecting their first child dies. It’s laid on a bit thick and the whole thing is structured around a voice over of his friend.

Robocop (2014)? It was okay. A bit like the Total Recall re-make. It just happened. It wasn’t bad but neither did it inspire in anyway. It was like a sanitised version of the original. I’m not a fan of gratuitous violence for the sake of it but it always seemed to be the violence of Robocop was part of the natural fabric of the film and linked in with the allegorical elements. Apparently it’s a horrible, crime ridden Detroit but you can’t tell in this film. In the vein of all films these days the new film is a PG-13. The fact Murphy knew who he was from the beginning also didn’t work for me, neither did the fact they humanised him by having his face showing most of the time. Peter Weller managed to act the role with half his face covered and slowly remembered who he was over the course of the film. It seemed more powerful that way. In fact, the best bit of the film was the TV broadcast showing the various robots bringing peace and order to Middle East.

I always liked the trailer for Red Tails but I never saw the film. I guess it hard a bit of a Pearl Harbour feel about it, but it piqued my interest. Now, having watched it, it’s not bad. It’s not Band of Brothers or anything, but it’s…professional. It follows all the usual tropes: the leader suffering with responsibility, the hotshot pilot who never listens and the African pilots having to prove themselves. Still, the fact they were the only pilots willing to give up the ‘glory of kills’ to successfully protect the bombers was cool, doubly so if remotely true. It was nice.

It was Act of Valour that was the best of the three though. I do like that Tom Clancy stuff though, so I may have been biased.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 21/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
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