Monday, January 26, 2015

Santa Came Late.....or Incredibly Early This Year.

So this intro is a late addition to this particular article as it's become one of those posts you keep trying to finish but for whatever reason (usually sleep) ya can't quite wrap up. By this point it's not unlike a frosty marriage. All passion for the subject has been lost, only to be replaced by the ever growing need to get it over with. Of course it also makes for a fine bit of stalling while I work up some potential book and movie reviews, and prep for the new sentai series that I plan on actually keeping up with this year.

Oh, and if you find it out of touch to be writing about something Christmas related this far into the new year, just remember that package was just received a week ago. Santa must be getting slow in his old age.

Frequent visitors may know of my fondness for boardgames even though I rarely cover them. My regular place of study and convo for them is over on If you've never been, it's a damn fine place to throw away an afternoon.... or ten. Every year there are multiple holiday exchanges ranging from regular Secret Santa, Xmas cards, Wargamer Santa, and thrifty Santa. There may be more than that but you get the idea. Being a man with a very light bank-account I only participated in the cards (covered in an earlier post) and thrifty Santa.

There are two key differences between regular and thrifty Santa. Naturally the one is that regular peeps get brand new stuff while thrifters stick to smelly used things. The other difference is much bigger. Due to the lower cost of our games there's a distinct possibility of receiving a gaming mountain from your own personal Santa. True there are some folks who only get one or two nice things but overall it's a very generous group. Even someone with fairly limited cash flow like myself can pull of some pretty impressive work in this regard.

The tricky part was waiting on my own Santa who didn't contact me until two weeks before Christmas. To put that in perspective, my target opened his gifts the following day. Santa's message to me was that he couldn't find anything I wanted so he just bought me something new. In my rash judgment I assumed they'd simply gotten one of the cheaper items off of my list and called it a day. As time would later reveal, they bought me a copy of Black Fleet which is a beautiful and awesome game all around, which made me choke down that seething jealousy at other people's hauls.

Upon arrival I wrote a lengthy and detailed report of my experiences and thanked Santa profusely for their game picking skills, but this triggered something. My Santa seemed to take to my complaints about what a horrid year 2014 had been (thank god it's over) and decided to one up himself. Last Saturday I got a second box that was meant to give me the full thrifty Santa experience so let's look through it shall we?
First thing to note is that Santa had an aim to follow up on his original theme, so there was a plethora of Pirate titles to choose from, starting with three card games.

First up is Pirate Fluxx. In case you've never encountered it, Fluxx is essentially the card based equivalent of Calvinball and if you'd don't know what Calvenball is then what the hell are you doing here? Go catch up on some pop culture. Anywho, the trick to Fluxx is that you start with simple play one/draw one rules and no goal. Then you play cards that create endgame scenarios, or change them, possibly even steeling them. Then you add it keeper items and some versions even have sorts of attack cards. I say versions because not unlike Monopoly, there's a Fluxx for nearly any taste.

Next up is Loot, which I've generally heard good things about. It's sort of a bidding game disguised as pirate ships attacking other vessels. Possibly the most unique feature of the game are the cards that resemble those boardwalk caricature paintings. You know, the kind were someone draws you as a pirate, only now you're head is twice the size of your body and you've developed a rapid onset case of rabies.

Lastly on the card game line up is Splice. Never heard of it before getting this box. It's got a pretty lousy reputation though the rules don't sound all too bad. Plus the cards are really thick & smooth which are just nice to hold. Like the previous two, this one would fair best at a fuller player count which makes for the difficult task of convincing enough people to join in. Think I might have my chance this weekend.
Pirateer is an older title that could be considered as pirate checkers crossed with capture the flag. You've got some very abstract looking game play that's about steeling a treasure off of the main island only to return it to your home port. Messed up part is how bad the rules are. This has one of the worst manuals I've ever encountered. I actually learned more about playing them game from some micro review than the actual instructions. Very interested to see how fun it is as t has a mensa award and lots of people hate it. Which are two things that rarely go together.

Aargh! Is a very simple children’s memory game with some fairly decent components. Nothing much to say there. For an adult, the trick with memory games is to get nice & tipsy first, kinda ups the challenge.

 The game of Life Pirates of the Carribean is fairly self-explanatory. Like most kids we had a copy of the regular game of Life. Me and my sister used to play against each other all the time, tough I'm not sure way other than it was so much shorter than Monopoly. So this is one of those items that will get pulled out specifically for a nostalgia night with the added flair of us now being able to do some piraty actions instead of just laughing at the poor bastard who got stuck living in the trailer park.
Eventually ol' Saint Nick ran out of high seas adventures and gave me some pure Milton Bradley goodness.

Scotland Yard may have been in some of your childhood collections as it's a fairly popular game. I never knew of until getting into the hobby. Think of it as boardgame hide & seek with more mobility. One player is a master criminal trying to bust outta town while the others try to catch him. Supposedly newer versions and even other games have improved on this style dramatically but this is the classic game of the year version which is nice as I'm aiming for a complete collection of those. Want to note that this is where one of those sleep interruptions happened while writing the post. When I woke up there was some gibberish about adding mushrooms to the game. Can only assume I was hungry.

Screaming Eagles is the game any Top Gun maniac would love. Best as either one on one or teams of two, you use cards to pick movement direction and the number of dice to roll, then you select which type of ammo to fire (from a limited supply) and roll the appropriate number of dice. There's tons of neat little touches to this one which made me want it for a while. Santa really made me happy with this one.

On the surprise front was Battleball. This was from a time when Milton Bradley had been bought by Hasbro but was still producing really excessive games under their proper name before it was totally removed from the gaming scene. Most of my fellow thrifters consider this one a rite of passage but it looks like it deserves more than that reputation. The components are outstanding and the rules are pretty quick & simple. Much as I hate football itself, ya give me some lil robot players and tons of dice & suddenly I'm talking like Madden, boom!

So that was my introduction to the world of Secret Santa. Honestly; I'm looking forward to the next exchange and maybe joining one of the others for fun......employment pending of course. For now I'll be working on some different posts for you folks. Went through another stash of new foods, also reading about slutty German girls and space gladiators. Surely there must be something good to report on there.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In with 2015

And I'm back from an extended holiday hiatus. Actually that's a lie as something would have been posted probably a week ago if not for an incredible urge to hibernate at all hours of the day. It'll come as no surprise if I pass out for a second (yes, second time) while working on this entry.

So what have I been up to lately. Most likely the same things as most of you out there. I've been slowly wrapping up leftovers from the previous year and doing prep work for this shiny new one. While I've known people to struggle with January due to it's nightmarish temperatures and long nights, I see it as the perfect project month. The time that was made for catching up on the pile of books next to your bed or sorting out that mess you call a storage room. Not to mention making plans for everything you hope to accomplish in the months to come. Also been waiting not so patiently for the results of last weeks job interview.

Since we're in the transfer period I figured why not go over the lists. What lists you ask? Why the obsessive notes I keep on every movie, game, book, tv show, purchase, and some accomplishments I make within a year. This has been a thing for a few years now with each one usually having an extra special list. For instance last year I tried to count how many times I took a shit. Couldn't keep accurate records but the estimation is terrifying to say the least. This year I have the much more innocent and mentally sound activity of counting the number of walks. Let's take a look at the numbers shall we?
I ended up watching 164 movies that were new (to me at least). That's around my average as I think the previous year was about 170some. I should note that I also sometimes count movies I've previously “kinda seen.” Ya know the ones I'm talking about. Maybe it was on TV once while you did chores so you didn't actually watch it until now.

Always try to find important older flicks that I've yet to watch. You tend to get some strange experiences as you wonder how one movie ever become important while something much better got more of a meh reaction. For instance, why is The Maltese Falcon a big deal? That was bad, I mean really bad. And the whole nudge nudge wink wink about the villains being gay doesn't really work out so well nowadays. On the Upside, Day of the Dead finally got me into liking more George Romero flicks. For years I've (foolishly) avoided most of them due to my general disdain for Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies. And yes you read that, a horror fanatic who hates Night of the Living Dead, still do in fact. Still truly enjoyed Day of the Dead which led to checking out more of the mans work than ever before......and most of it was good. Not so much with Monkey Shines though.

As for the fresh crop of flicks made for 2014....well, a lot of em fucking sucked donkey balls. So far I have yet to find one I feel confident in calling my favorite of the year. Sure I really liked some of them. Captain America was sweet, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was wicked, and man it was great to see Godzilla back in action. I suppose my issue is that I expected those all to be good and they were. There's very rarely that element of surprise where you watch something and it just wows you out of the blue. I've got a list of leftovers to work my through as I continue to look for the best. Anyone got any suggestions for me?
I read far less than usual last year. Only about two dozen books....well one was a short story, but it was a thick and wordy one so just let it count. Not sure if there's any particular reason for that though I'd like to blame it ever so slightly on my novel work. Looking through the list, my slowest months for reading were the months when I was most involved with my own writing. There's a cliché that a good writer needs to read a lot, which really just means they need immense amounts of free time and very few other interests.

Out of everything I did read, the two that stand out most are Flatland by Edwin Abot and Feast (AKA Ritual) by Graham Masterton. I've been a slowly growing Masterson fan since I first saw The Manitou of which his book was much better and significantly more gory. While this one had a weak story and a lame ending, the overall theme of an auto-cannibalism cult made for some of the grossest shit I've ever read. Naturally it was tons of fun. Flatland on the other hand was something that actually made you feel smart just by reading it. The strange combination of gemometry, social commentary, and religious subtext makes for something incredibly unique. It's free on kindle as well so you should totally get it ASAP. Then you can tell your friends you're reading a book where the main character is a literal square.

2015 is already off to a fine start in this camp, think I'm on my fourth book of the year already. By this point it's a necessity as I've a surplus of goofball titles to wrap up and distribute to thrift stores and the like. Plus I'm on a crusade to catch up on missing volumes of Blade of the Immortal in anticipation of the last one finally coming out! Don't be surprised if you find at least one entry on the subject.

I finished more seasons of television last year than any I've ever listed before, a big plump 20 (maybe that's where the book time disappeared). It would have been less than previous years (and nothing will ever beat my biblical childhood binges) but there's a big spike thanks to a summer cram session of Trailer Park Boys and Bates Motel.

This year should be a bit more balanced as I'll likely need a breather after a packed spring line-up of around a dozen shows. Haven't had a season that plump since before I went to college. Bless you CW for your vast offering of genre shows featuring pretty people with pretty problems.

Games were also in shorter supply last year with only 9 played to completion. Almost made it to ten but laziness toppled my urge to finish Lords of Shadow. I was very happy to finally get around to playing Kirby's Epic Yarn. That thing's just smiles pressed onto a disc. Also spent plenty of time on the high seas thanks to both Assassin's Creed Black Flag and Rogue. Not to mention I nabbed Liberation HD during the holiday sales. I guess what I'm saying is a lot of my gaming hours were spent hiding in bushes.

Without a doubt my big game from Last year was Lightning Returns. There's a certain popularity to mocking Final Fantasy these days but I can't help but pity those fools who miss out on great gaming experiences just cause what? They need to feel superior to it or something? As someone who spends tons of time with the franchise I'll admit to flaws and failings, but this was one of the most unique RPGs I've played in some time. While the pacing was a tad off and the story could be stunted by the free-roaming nature of the game, few stories have a wrap-up this grand. Seriously, this is one of the top game endings I've ever witnessed for both a single title and a series. I love the depiction of god as something not truly god or evil, but so separate from us that it lacks understanding. I should honestly do an article on the XIII trilogy sometime though I doubt it'll net me many readers. Maybe make it part of a feature whenever XV decides to show up.

Never got around to covering my Christmas presents. It was a fairly small haul this year though not lacking in quality items. It's one of those years where a lot of it transformed into something else. A check became a vehicle payment. Gift card beget Cowboy Bebop on blu-ray. A nice boardgame that had almost zero chance of being played was altered to a gift card which subsequently became another boardgame that will get plenty of play time. One thing that didn't change at all was the Vincent Price collection on blu-ray. Outstanding item by the way. Of course while shopping for the family I also nabbed a couple items for myself. Frankly I find it a nice touch to get a gift for oneself. If only to claim that little greedy beast within. Also got a damn fine game through my secret Santa with more on the way (I sense an update). When all was said and done, my stash looked something like this.
Wow; still awake. I'd like to say that I'll make it through the rest of the day but let's be honest. I'll probably be facedown in a pool of droll with the next forty minutes. So far 2015 is off to a pretty good start. I've got a lot of work to do, but don't you good readers worry, cosmicsparky is gonna keep on trucking. I hope to make the site a lil bigger, a lil better, and bring you all some good updates on a more stable basis. For now though, I gotta take some pics for this piece and get it posted. Best luck in the new year everybody!