Aliens

The One With CATTLE

The One With CATTLE
Kaiju Curry House

 
 
00:00 / 56:37
 
1X
 

Episode 14

Hi there Kaiju Curry House fans. Episode 14 is now available for you to listen to, “The One With CATTLE” can be downloaded and/or stream through your service provider of choice. This marks the first episode recorded in the same room, rather than over Skype!

You might have seen the poll on the UK Kaiju Fans Facebook page where a poll was created for our listeners to vote on what film we should watch and discuss in our next episode, the winner was Godzilla: Final Wars. A film which I was extremely hyped for back in 2004 and will defend to this day as good fun, though it seems not everyone shares my optimistic view. Have a listen to see what the other hosts thought.

Why is this called The One With CATTLE I hear you ask? Well, it turns out that aliens have invaded Earth and want to use us as cattle, and this is pointed out more than once. You could make a drinking game out of it (drinking lemonade of course).

Did Final Wars deliver? Let us know your thoughts!

Further info

As you (may or may not) know we have created this podcast not only because it’s fun for us to talk kaiju, but also because we want to engage with like minded people. So don’t be shy and feel free to get in touch!

If you’re just discovering us, Kaiju Curry House is a new podcast series under the Heroes Podcast Network umbrella.

Comment below or hit us up @UKKaiju on Twitter!

Where to get more

Don’t forget to subscribe to the show now on Spotify and Spreaker! The links are below!

Stop by our Patreon to see what kinds of cool perks you can get for being one of our contributors: patreon.com/HeroesPodcasts

Not ready for that kind of commitment? No problem! Buy us a coffee over at ko-fi.com/heroespodcasts because every dollar truly does help.

Kaiju Curry House Podcast Credits

A Heroes Podcast Network Production

Hosts: Paul Williams | Joe McIntee | Alex James

Executive Producer: Derreck Mayer

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/kaiju-curry-house/id1459048709

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Social Media: @UKKaiju | @HeroesPodcasts

SH S5E18: Best Practical Effects in Film

Visual and special effects in a movie can make or break it. A movie with solid acting that looks terrible might one day become a cult classic, but most of the time, if there’s bad special effects, people are turned off. This week, we take a look at our favorite practical effects in film. What are practical effects? These are special effects created with real, physical objects and no CGI or animation. Practical effects include puppets, robots, scale models, giant moving sets, prosthetics, and more.

What are some of your favorite practical effects? Did we miss anything you think deserved to be on our lists? We want to know!

Comment below or hit us up @HeroesPodcasts on Twitter or Facebook!

Go to Screen-Heroes.com right now to subscribe to us on iTunes and drop us a review. If you do, we’ll be sure to give you a shout-out in a future episode!

Want to join the conversation? Join us live every Tuesday night at 9PM EST on Twitch to chat with us! We’ll answer questions and note comments live on the broadcast! Follow at: twitch.tv/heroespodcasts

Subscribe to Screen Heroes! The links to iTunes, Blog Talk Radio, Spreaker, Google Play, and Feedburner are below!

Stop by our Patreon to see what kinds of cool perks you can get for being one of our contributors: patreon.com/HeroesPodcasts

Not ready for that kind of commitment? No problem! Buy us a coffee over at ko-fi.com/heroespodcasts because every dollar truly does help.

Prefer to watch the episode? Catch the Twitch broadcast right here:

Screen Heroes Podcast Credits

A Heroes Podcast Network Production

Hosts
Derreck Mayer
Rae Stewart
Ryan Couture

Executive Producer & Editor
Derreck Mayer

Music
Flying Killer Robots

iTunes
Screen-Heroes.com

Blog Talk Radio
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/screenheroes

Spreaker
https://www.spreaker.com/show/screen-heroes

Google Play
https://play.google.com/music/listen#/ps/Iwvfusxqyignwamadhc3viav4qy

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@HeroesPodcasts

SH S5E18: Best Practical Effects in Film

SH S3E06: Best Sci-Fi Movies

Science fiction is a genre we truly love. From Star Wars to Star Trek, from Terminator and Alien to iRobot and Armageddon. The sci-fi genre has given us some amazing movies, some we love to laugh at, and others that probably should just stay locked away. This week, we bring what we believe to be the Top 5 Best Sci-Fi movies. That’s right, three different Top 5 Sci-Fi movie lists. We try to be objective and keep emotions out of the decisions.

Be sure to head over to our Facebook page at let us know which sci-fi movies you think should have made the list and which of ours don’t belong.

Also, go to Screen-Heroes.com right now to subscribe to us on iTunes and drop us a review. If you do, we’ll be sure to give you a shout-out in a future episode!

Want to join the conversation? Join us live every Tuesday night at 9PM EST on Twitch to chat with us! We’ll answer questions and note comments live on the broadcast! Follow at: twitch.tv/heroespodcasts

Don’t forget to subscribe to Screen Heroes! The links to iTunes, Google Play, and Feedburner are below!

Also, stop by our Patreon to see what kinds of cool perks you can get for being one of our contributors: patreon.com/HeroesPodcasts

Top 5 Sci-Fi Movies Podcast Credits

Hosts
Derreck Mayer
Rachel Stewart
Ryan Couture

Executive Producer
Derreck Mayer

Editor
Derreck Mayer

Music
Michael Wallace (Flying Killer Robots)

Google Play Subscription Link
https://play.google.com/music/listen#/ps/Iwvfusxqyignwamadhc3viav4qy

iTunes Subscription Link
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/screen-heroes-grid-dailys/id1071922623

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http://feeds.feedburner.com/griddaily/screenheroes

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twitch.tv/heroespodcasts
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SH S3E06: Best Sci-Fi Movies

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 2

Welcome back to my review of the Top 10 Board Games of 2015.  In this article, I’ll be presenting my Top 5 games released during 2015.  You can read the first part of this article covering Games 6-10 and a few honorable mentions here.

That said, let’s pick back up with the:

Top 10 Best Board Games of 2015

5.  Baseball Highlights: 2045 by Eagle-Gryphon Games

BaseballHighlightsBaseball Highlights: 2045 is a game for two or more players that is supposed to play like watching the SportsCenter highlights of a series of baseball games. You start out with a generic team made up of rookies and a few veteran players of three types: naturals, cyborgs, and robots. Each type of character has a set of strengths, for instance robots tend to generate a lot of hits, naturals are better defensively and draw more fan support, and cyborgs tend to make the best pitchers. Each team has a deck of fifteen cards representing their roster, and only six players will play in each particular outing. Players score a certain amount of revenue based on who played that game which they use to draft new players from the market. In order to place a new player card in your deck, you demote one of the current players from your roster to the minor leagues, ensuring you never exceed your 15-card roster. Single games take maybe five minutes, and most plays typically have you playing several games to start customizing your roster, then playing out a championship series.

I’m not a huge fan of baseball, but this game is just fantastic. The back and forth between players is really exciting, and even though you only get six players per game, the timing of when to play them is really important. Where this game really shines is in it’s ability to stage tournaments. The base game comes with the ability to play four different teams, but new expansion team decks were released that allow you to expand the tournament out and accommodate a lot of players (up to 16 teams) that would make for an incredible larger bracket. There’s so many different strategies you can take as you build out your team: You can sign a bunch of robots to generate runs, but not a lot of fan support; you can build a heavy defensive team to shut down other players; you can try to build a team that generates a lot of fan support to try and recruit a few really powerful hitters; or you can try and sign a bunch of players that try to combo off each other. I love playing this game, and have to say it’s probably the best sports-themed game I’ve ever played.

4.  Specter Ops by Plaid Hat Games

SpecterOpsSpecter Ops is a 1-vs-All game where one player takes on the role of a secret agent trying to infiltrate and sabotage a Raxxon Corporation facility, while the other players play Raxxon Hunters dispatched to chase the agent down and take him out before he can complete his mission and escape. This is a hidden movement game, where the Agent records his movement secretly on a sheet of paper and is only visible to the Hunters when he enters their direct line of sight on the board. The Agent has to sabotage three key mission objectives and escape before either the Hunters can do enough damage to him or reinforcements arrive to pin him in after 40 turns. Each Hunter has a couple of abilities that allow them to narrow in on the location of the Agent, while the Agent is given a couple of limited use pieces of equipment to help them against the Hunters. It makes for a tense game of cat and mouse that’s fast paced and exciting the entire time.

I love this game. I believe this is the best hidden-movement game out there (though I concede there’s a case to be made for Fury of Dracula, which takes twice as long to play as Specter Ops). The variety of Hunters and Agents allows for a lot of replayability. With all the movement recorded on paper, there’s this great moment when the game ends, win or lose, when you can replay the entire mission and relive exactly where the agent was the entire time. There is an additional play mode when you play with five players (Four Hunters and the Agent), where one of the Hunters is secretly a traitor working with the Agent. The rules for this mode are a little clumsy, and I would strongly recommend not attempting this unless every Hunter has played before, but it definitely creates a different experience when you can no longer trust that the information coming from the other Hunters is truthful. I think I prefer playing the ‘standard’ play mode to this variant, but the way it takes a 1-vs-All game and makes it more of a team game is very interesting. All in all, this is a fantastic game, great design, great theme, and one I’m always excited to play.

3.  Legendary Encounters: A Predator Deck Building Game by Upper Deck Entertainment

LegendaryPredatorIf you’ve read some of my earlier articles, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of this game, the Predator franchise, and the Legendary game system. Previous entries in this system, which are set in the Marvel and Aliens universes, are cooperative deck-building games where players recruit heroes or important characters from their respective universes to struggle together to accomplish a get of goals while overcoming wave after wave of enemies along the way. The Predator version of this game allows players to recreate the events of the first two Predator films, which would be enjoyable by itself, assuming you are also a fan of that franchise. Mechanically, I think this is the best implementation of the cooperative Legendary system. Where this game really shines is in the alternate play mode as Predators. The Marvel version attempted to do a semi-cooperative experience where everyone works together but one player does the most good and wins, and that didn’t work at all for me. In this version, they created a truly competitive mode where each Predator is trying to hunt the biggest game, and can scrap with each other along the way, trying to collect the most trophies gathered by killing human characters from the first two Predator films. There’s additionally some expansion cards that allow the Predators to try and hunt Aliens if you also own the Legendary Encounters: Aliens game, which was a major draw for me as well.

This game has everything I want from a good cooperative game. It’s challenging, and forces the players to work together to be successful. It really does a great job of incorporating the story elements from the Predator films. The deck-building aspect of the game is interesting and allows players to specialize and even work together to help other players recruit great cards to their decks. Then you take all those mechanics and flip it around to be a purely competitive game, and it still works perfectly. It should go without saying that the theme of the game is violent, and that theme is reflected in the game art. If that’s something you have a problem with, then I would stick with the Legendary Marvel line, but if you’re a fan of the franchise, or if you enjoy tough cooperative games with strong theme, this gets a solid recommendation from me.

2.  Codenames by CGE

CodenamesCodenames is a party game designed for two teams that draws inspiration from other word games like Taboo or Password. Unlike those games, which typically use time limits to create tension, Codenames places a five by five grid of random words out in front of all the players, then has one member from each team try to give clues to guess which of those 25 words belong to their team. Both clue givers are working off the same grid of words using a clue card that identifies which words within the grid belong to the red team and which belong to the blue team. Some words are ‘unaffiliated’, meaning they just fill up the grid with additional words to be avoided, and one word is the bomb. If any team accidentally guesses the bomb word, they instantly lose that round. Teams alternate giving clues by saying a single word and a number, for example “Fish Three.” This would indicate to my team that I believe three words in the grid of 25 have something to do with fish. They guess a word, one at a time. If they’re correct, you place a card with your team’s color over the word, and they can continue guessing up to the number given in the clue plus one additional guess. This allows you to potentially go back and take another stab at a previous clue you didn’t get right. If the word they guess is unaffiliated or belongs to the other team, you place the appropriate color card, and have to yield play to the other team. And if you guess the bomb word, you lose. The first team to correctly guess all of their words first wins the round.

There’s just nothing quite like Codenames, which feels initially intimidating, but the challenge becomes really rewarding. It works great in just about any group of six or more, though in theory you could play with just four players. This was by far the most requested game by my family this Thanksgiving, appealing to both the gamer and non-gamer. The challenge in the game comes from trying to link as many words as possible in a single clue, as opposed to trying to guess the most words in a minute. You can give clues for a single word, but if you limit yourself too much you can allow the other team to race ahead of you. It’s challenging, but in a good way that leaves you always feeling like you could do better and wanting to try again. This was easily my favorite party game of the year, and for the shear approachability was almost my favorite game released this year.

 1.  Pandemic: Legacy by Z-Man Games

PandemicLegacyThe distinction of favorite game of the year has to belong to Pandemic: Legacy. I’ve been writing a series of playthough articles about my experience with this game, but the short version of my review is that this game is brilliant. It takes the core engine of an already fantastic cooperative game, Pandemic, and adds on top of it a layer of narrative and customization that allows a story to evolve as you play. Pandemic: Legacy tells a story about major disease outbreaks threatening the world that takes place over one calendar year, beginning in January. Each game still operates under the framework of being a standard game of Pandemic, which I won’t try to explain in full here, but is one of the most groundbreaking cooperative games ever designed. Starting with this core system, it then adds unique events and decisions that are revealed piecemeal from a secret deck of cards and multiple hidden compartments, cards, and stickers, that allows (and sometimes forces) players to interact with the game rules and modify elements of the game permanently. This allows a narrative to play out over the course of the year that includes twists and turns, and more than a few surprises. My group at the time of writing this article is currently in the month of November, and the story arc is about to reach its climax. I won’t spoil that here, but every time we sit down to play this game, we’re blown away by how invested in the story we’ve become and always wanting to push farther to see how it will end.

As a hobbyist, I buy a lot of games. This means that I will typically play through a new game a few times, and if it’s a truly great game, it’ll come up in the rotation every couple of months maybe, depending on the mood of my gaming group. The idea of sitting down to play the same game so many times (it takes anywhere from 12-24 plays of Pandemic: Legacy to complete the story line, though I’ve yet to hear of anyone who did it in less than 17) was a little intimidating. My group is sitting currently at 15 games played, and we play two rounds of the game each Friday over lunch. It’s become one of the highlights of my week. Pandemic is a great game, and I would say experience with Pandemic is probably required from at least one player you will be playing with should you decide to try this for yourself, but this just takes that experience to a whole new level. It feels like we’re playing through our own Hollywood blockbuster like Outbreak or Contagion. We’ve spent so much time with our characters that we’ve really become attached. Areas of the world have taken on a life of their own. The experience you have playing this game is only really comparable to playing a great Role Playing Game. The core mechanics of the game start to fade into the background and you find yourself just participating in the story, and trying as hard as you can to succeed in that story. There are moments that have occurred while playing this game that I will never forget. This is the best game released in 2015.

So that’s my list. Did I leave off one of your favorites? Let me know what you think down in the comments below.

Top 10 Board Games of 2015: Part 2

The Magic Circle and the Rise of Modern Board Gaming

Board gaming as a hobby is on the rise, and not just in the United States. Perhaps you’ve barely noticed, wondering why Target or Walmart now has a lot more shelf space devoted to (mostly terrible mass market) games. Perhaps you only play video games and don’t get what all the fuss is about. Perhaps you’ve seen the Wil Wheaton Table Top show on YouTube and wonder how on Earth there can be so many games they play week after week. Perhaps you know someone like me who has a whole closet full of board games of their own and is always proselytizing the hobby. Or perhaps you are already like me, and you don’t wonder why anymore.

Today I want to talk about why we play games and how that relates to why board gaming is on the rise. That’s a pretty abstract concept and one with a lot of room for personal approaches and opinions. We’re going to get a little theoretical and while many of the things I’ll be talking about don’t apply exclusively to board games, my hope is to convince you why so many people are putting down controllers and playing with dice and cardboard instead.

We need to start with some background. When I talk about Modern Board Gaming, I am not referring to many of the games that used to (and in many people’s minds still do) define this hobby. I’m not talking about Monopoly or Scrabble or Sorry or most of the games that many of us played when we were kids. While there’s nothing wrong with those games (except Monopoly, which is a terrible game, but that’s another topic), they just lack something. Playing Scrabble isn’t an experience, it’s a pastime. When my family sat down to play Uno, which we did a lot, it was fun to be together, but aside from the occasional stories of when someone got stuck having to draw a ridiculous amount of cards, playing always felt more like a way to just enjoy spending time together as opposed to playing a great game.

Playing Chun-Li is bad, and you should feel bad...

Playing Chun-Li is bad, and you should feel bad…

As I got older, two games dominated much of my teenage years: RISK and Street Fighter II (for Super Nintendo; it just wasn’t the same experience on Genesis). I had a circle of friends that got together weekly or bi-weekly to play RISK. The games were cutthroat. We had our own set of house rules that had evolved over time, and we loved it. Similarly, many of us really got into playing the Tournament mode in Street Fighter II. Everyone got to pick a character, and we would run through tournaments or call next any chance we could get. That experience also developed it’s own set of house rules (like using Chun-Li was cheap and always a sign of desperation). Trash talking was a requirement at both games.  It occasionally got heated, but we enjoyed playing together and when we weren’t playing, we were talking about things that had happened last time or planning the next time.

The Magic Circle and Gaming

These gaming experiences first introduced me to the game theory concept of the Magic Circle. Johan Huizinga is credited as the originator of this theory. In his work “Home Ludens” in 1955, he describes it like this:

“All play moves and has its being within a playground marked off beforehand materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course… The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function play-grounds, i.e., forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules [apply]. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.”

A much better description of the Magic Circle can be found on the Extra Credits YouTube channel, a fantastic channel focused primarily on video game design.

The key thing to understand about the Magic Circle is the way it enables experiences. We define a space in which we can change the way we act, change who we are, accept that things behave differently than reality, and as long as we agree to commit to that change in reality and are surrounded by others who also agree to that change, we can actually experience what that world is like. It’s what allows us to act like jerks to our friends in a game, then walk away from it without holding on to that anger (which is usually what happens… usually) because those actions took place within the context of a game where such behavior is expected.

This is not an experience you can get playing Monopoly or The Game of Life; you never actually felt like you were going to college or building hotels, those were just actions you took. In my mind, this experience was perfected by video games with the introduction of split-screen multiplayer. When I try to recall the best experiences I’ve ever had playing video games, it’s been when several friends and I have sat down to play Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, or Perfect Dark, or Halo 2 on xBox, or Time Splitters 2 on the PS2 (from which I still have a slightly irrational fear of monkeys). We’re all there, sitting in the same physical space, fighting either against each other or against a horde of Bots (or just one DarkSim in Perfect Dark), peeking at each others screens, laughing, trash-talking and playing round after round after round until my fingers hurt.

Anyone who has played this game remembers that sound and the moment of panic when you try to figure out if you're in first place

Anyone who has played this game remembers that moment of panic when you hear the monkeys coming and scramble to figure out if you’re in first place.

Somewhere this experience went away, replaced with online multiplayer.  There are plenty of reasons for this, and plenty of new experiences to be had, but I don’t think it ever spoke to me the way it has others.  Trash talking with strangers through a headset just isn’t the same as trash talking with my friends in the same room.  For me, the Magic Circle broke. MMOs try to recreate that feeling to an extent with guilds and raids, building player communities and relying on graphics and sounds and animations to create the feeling of immersion.  These types of games can create a great single player experience, but I have never felt like that’s a great shared experience, though I will admit that MMOs in general have never been my thing. I found that what I was missing, and what I was really looking for, was that same sense of shared fun I had while playing those great split-screen games.

That’s when I was introduced to the world of modern board games. Games like Monopoly and RISK dominated the gaming world until the 1990s, which saw the release of two huge games that still resonate strongly: Magic: The Gathering in 1993 and Settlers of Catan (now rebranded to be just Catan) in 1995. These two games would bring a massive influx of new gamers into the hobby, and though it began slowly, the hobby has been growing steadily year after year since. Now, there are thousands of games being released annually, and cultural awareness is beginning to seep into the mainstream. But why? Why is it surging the way that it does?

The chief reason I believe they are surging is because of the experiences modern games create. Gone are the days of having to settle for games that just an OK way to kill a few hours on a rainy day. The last five to ten years have seen a wave of games created that are not just fun to play, but which also create vivid, compelling experiences during play. Game designers today understand the power of the Magic Circle and encourage players to commit to the experience of playing their game and embrace the setting and theme. When you do, you get the emotional payoff you get from truly great entertainment. You get stories that endure, and experiences you are eager to repeat. To demonstrate this, I’m going to give three examples of games released recently that I think really excel in this regard and that I’m always looking forward to playing.

Specter Ops by Plaid Hat Games (2015)

specterops

Specter Ops is a One-vs-All style of game where one player plays an agent trying to infiltrate and sabotage an evil corporation’s facility. The other players at the table play hunters trying to track the agent down and eliminate him before he can complete his mission. The agent’s location is secret as long as he remains out of the direct line of sight of any hunter player, and he records all his moves on a pad of paper with a representation of the board map on it. The agent also has a limited supply of equipment he can use to confuse or escape the hunters while attempting to complete his task. The hunters in turn all have special abilities that help them narrow in on where the agent might be hiding or where he wants to go next.  The agent wins if he can destroy three of the four key objectives spread across the board and escape off the board in 40 turns.  Anything short is a victory for the hunters.

This is basically Metal Gear Solid: the Board Game, except the soldiers hunting you are your best friends. Unlike other hidden movement board games, the hunters from the beginning have a rough idea where the agent is hiding. Games feel incredibly tense, with the agent player always sure he’s about to get caught and the hunter players always afraid they’ve been given the slip. During the hunters turn, they all get to scheme together, out loud, to try and figure out how best to track you down while the agent does his best to keep a poker face on, hoping not to be discovered. When the game is over, regardless of which team wins, you have the ability to replay the agent’s turn and relive the match again, discussing where you made clever moves and just how close the hunters were at various points in the game.  I have yet to introduce anyone to this game that hasn’t immediately wanted to play it again.

Legendary Encounters: Predator by Upper Deck Entertainment (2015)

legendary

The Legendary system is a deck-building system, similar to earlier games like Dominion. Players start with a small deck of cards that gives them a limited amount of combat strength and recruiting power that they will use to buy additional, more powerful cards to add to their deck, which grows in power over time. This game recreates the events of the first two Predator films, allowing players to recruit characters from the movies and try to survive, either as humans trying to outlast the Predators, or as Predators tying to hunt the best game and have the largest trophy collection before the end of the game.  Mechanically, this is one of the strongest deck-building games in print right now.  It should be noted this game is for mature players only. The artwork and theme is definitely inline with the movie in terms of violence portrayed.

There are so many great thematic elements woven into the core mechanics of this game. Having the option to play cooperatively against an increasingly difficult assault of mercenaries and Predator attacks feels very tense. When you win, if you do, it’s incredibly satisfying. The game rewards you for working together as a group, so you feel invested the entire time. Where Legendary Encounters: Predator shines compared to its peers is the option to flip the table and play competitively as Predators. Very few of the rules change, but the feeling of the game shifts dramatically. All the mechanics fit the Predator mythology perfectly. And, in a tidbit I feel was designed to make me personally happy, you can combine this version with the Legendary Encounters: Aliens game to play Predators vs. Aliens. I’ve done it, and while I don’t think it’s actually possible to complete the entire scenario, it’s action-packed and brutally unforgiving, which may sound like a bad thing, but not for this franchise. I found it incredibly enjoyable and thematic, and couldn’t wait to play it again.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game by Plaid Hat Games (2014)

deadofwinter

Plaid Hat Games does a tremendous job designing games with great theming. The easiest way to describe Dead of Winter is to say it’s The Walking Dead set in the arctic north. Dead of Winter is a cooperative game for three to five players with a traitor mechanic, similar to games like the Battlestar Galactica Board Game. This means that while all players are working together to attempt to accomplish a common goal, each player also has a personal goal to achieve that may include betraying the rest of the group to their death and your victory. Each player controls a group of survivors who either perform tasks inside the Colony, the survivor’s arctic headquarters, or venture out to various locations in this abandoned town looking for resources. Each game is scenario-driven, meaning there is a specific objective that has to be met to end the game before a certain time limit has been reached and before the colony’s morale is eradicated. A player only wins if both the story objective was satisfied AND if they completed their own personal objective. This creates situations where even non-betrayer players are forced to sometimes make decisions that benefit themselves at the cost of the colony, and suspicion at the table is ever present.

This game is the clearest example to me of a game that really creates and relies on the Magic Circle to be successful. There are survivor-specific events contained in a Crossroads deck of cards which are assigned each turn that help reinforce the narrative immersion in the setting. The game does such a fantastic job of creating suspicion – even without the presence of a betrayer in the game – that really reflects the game setting well. This element perhaps more than any other is what makes this the most successful zombie game (among the many undead hordes of terrible zombie games) ever made in my opinion.  It’s much more concerned with the interactions between characters and players than with the need to continually fight off the undead, though that threat is always there. This game encourages you to be cagy, to distrust your best friends, to know, in your heart of hearts, that one of your friends has been lying to you the whole game, waiting to betray you at just the right moment and win. And when they pull it off, it’s amazing, and all the mistrust evaporates once the Magic Circle is complete. Even having been betrayed on the cusp of victory, the experience you create stays with you.

This is just a very small sampling of the kinds of games being made today. The world of Modern Board Games is growing all the time and the quality is getting better and better. It costs $13, give or take these days, to go see a great movie. For $50, I can buy a great board game, have the experience of living out my own movie with my friends, and can do it over and over again until I get sick of it, with each experience being unique and memorable.

What games do you like to play with your friends?  Which games help you create the best stories?  Let me know in the comments below.

The Magic Circle and the Rise of Modern Board Gaming

The Trouble with Licensed Games – Part 1

Generally speaking, when we talk about a TV or film franchise being adapted for some other medium, if that IP doesn’t come from a Galaxy Far, Far Away, it’s going to be bad. Game tie-ins have a rather long and mostly dubious history beginning back in the 1950’s when game shows started creating ‘Home Versions’ of their show that people could take home and play themselves. This then expanded into applying a popular IP to classic games, with Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Clue being some of the most prominent examples. Most of us have probably sat through a game of Harry Potter Scene It? or Modern Family: The Board Game or Halo Risk or Friends Clue. That last one isn’t an actual game, but you’ve seen enough of these to believe it. You’ll have to just settle for The Big Bang Theory Clue instead, which does.

Once video games started to gain popularity, the video game tie-ins began to happen. The E.T. game for Atari is the stuff of legends now with it being so bad they just threw it away. Nowadays every summer blockbuster gets a video game tie-in, and they are almost universally reviled. This has proven to be such a trend now even a mediocre adaptation is usually enough to generate sufficient sales to parents eager to let their children sate themselves on whatever the new hotness is to justify their budget.

The Big Bang Theory Clue

Don’t we all want to play that classic game where Raj murders Sheldon with a dog-eared comic in the laundry room?

Despite my pessimism, there are the occasionally successful licensed adaptations. I will still gladly stop and play my friend’s arcade cabinet version of Turtles in Time, being a passionate TMNT fan. I have fond memories of the Lord of the Rings movie tie-in games from EA for the Playstation 2 more than a few years ago. The LEGO series of games is also one that comes to mind, but that series has more in common with licensed versions of Monopoly than with a traditional adaptation, taking the very successful LEGO engine and pasting all sorts of different themes on it. LucasArts has made a small mint on successful Star Wars licensed products, but they are more the exception than the rule. This certainly doesn’t stop people from trying. There are definitely passionate communities behind some of these products, and if you can do it right, they will reward you.

I think we can learn a lot by trying to consider why so many licensed games fail. One simple answer is that developers often expect that a game with a strong license and current market relevance will sell, even if it’s bad, so it becomes a rushed attempt to maximize profit before their window of excitement closes. It is nearly impossible to succeed if you don’t try, so lets ignore those for now. What about those games that do try? Why do so many of them still fail?

As a quick case study, let’s look at two recent examples from a single, high profile IP, the Aliens franchise – Aliens: Colonial Marines (2013) and Alien: Isolation (2014). Both games were developed by separate development houses but released by Sega. They provide a good contrast between successful and failed licensed games. Colonial Marines was a technical disaster, universally panned and unintentionally hilarious, but it’s failure goes way beyond bad code and goofy character animations.

AlienGameygif

Get your knees flexin’ and your arms T-Rexin’, and do the Creep.

Alien: Isolation, however, is a fantastic game, critically acclaimed and palpably terrifying. The main difference between the two, aside from a little polishing of code, is the experience players have while playing the game. Alien: Isolation captures the essence of what the Aliens franchise is about: being terrified in the face of the perfect killing machine.   It puts players in that world, not just mechanically but emotionally. If you want to see what a licensed property title can be like done right, go pick this game up from Steam and treat yourself to a few hours in the dark by yourself playing Isolation. There have been many, many attempts to recreate the Aliens experience in video games, and while some of them have not been terrible, Isolation is the first game I have ever played that actually feels like being in an Aliens movie.

Let’s take a look at another massive IP: Star Trek. The Star Trek Universe is abundant with story telling opportunities between mining the existing lore for great content and having such a vast universe capable of encompassing new content. The canon spans decades with compelling settings and conflicts for whichever part of that timeline you happen to enjoy. And there is a committed fan base, eager for good content and willing to pay when they find it. There have been several new fan film projects recently that prove this to be true.

Star Trek Monopoly

To boldly go where no collector has gone before…

There are dozens of licensed Star Trek games, both board games and digital games. A brief browsing through Wikipedia in the board game space shows a pattern typical of many popular licensed properties: The Cash Grab.

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive VCR Board Game
  • Trivial Pursuit: Star Trek Edition
  • Star Trek Scrabble
  • Star Trek Monopoly, featuring numerous editions including the Original Series, The Next Generation, Klingon, and a Continuum Edition covering all 5 TV Series
  • Scene It? Star Trek
  • Star Trek Catan (full disclosure: I own this one, and it’s virtually indistinguishable from standard Catan)

There have also been some attempts to develop serious board games using the Star Trek IP, but most have flopped. There’ve been multiple attempts to build a collectable card game using this license. All have since been discontinued. There was a game called Star Trek: Expeditions designed by acclaimed designer Reiner Knizia (who has designed a number of very popular and well-designed board games) where players assume the role of cast members from the 2009 film. It received middling reviews and has since mostly faded from discussion. There is a miniatures game called Star Trek: Attack Wing, the inferior cousin to a similar Star Wars game, which is producing expansions at a prodigious rate and seems to remain fueled mostly by the collectability of the models rather than the gameplay. My personal favorite, a game called Star Trek: Fleet Captains, gives a fairly time consuming but immersive experience achieved through a tremendous amount of complexity and poorly written rules with players controlling an entire faction, such as the Federation or Romulans, in a game of exploration and conquest. Even that game is much more of a niche offering and is hard to find now.

Star Trek Fleet Captains

A two-player starting setup for Fleet Captains. Nice and simple, right?

The video game side of things doesn’t fare much better. With the exception of Star Trek Online (released in 2010), which saw modest success, before going free-to-play, changed the dynamic of the game, there hasn’t been a good Star Trek video game since maybe 2000. There have been several games released as tie-ins to the new movies as Cash Grab titles, which have almost universally flopped. My favorite Star Trek game is an older title called Birth of the Federation, a classic 4X-style game from 1997 that inevitably bogged down into micromanagement late in the game, but I have spent many enjoyable LAN play sessions with friends over the years, and still have a copy of the game fondly on my game shelf.

Why aren’t they more successful? In some cases, the quality is just inferior, but people buy it anyway because they are fans or collectors (because I gotta have at least one copy of Monopoly, so it might as well be the Collectors Edition Star Wars Episode I Monopoly. It was a gift…). In other cases, the usage of the license makes no sense. At this past GenCon, I had a chance to demo a board game using the Top Gun license which had me initially incredibly excited… only to be massively disappointed in discovering it was a weak party game that mainly involved reading movie quotes from cards. Few things generate as much vitriol as butchering a popular license, which is one of the reasons I think publishers are less prone to take the risk. The Internet can be a scary place for people who make bad games.

In most cases, especially with the more serious attempts, they fail because the creators of the licensed product don’t understand or fail to capture what draws us to that content in the first place. We will come for the license, but only stay for the feeling. This is one thing that the Star Wars IP does so well. Want to feel what it’s like to fly an X-Wing? They have you covered. Want to feel what it’s like to engage in lightsaber duels and crush your enemies with the force? Covered as well. But what does it feel like to do something Star Trek-y? It’s much harder to define, and probably different for each person, which is why capturing that experience is so much harder. It’s one reason I think the Bridge Simulator game Artemis is the best Star Trek game that exists right now, despite not actually being a Star Trek game. Artemis captures what it feels like to work as a crew, to solve problems together, and to recreate the best aspects of that collective experience.

Artemis

A glimpse at some of the different stations in Artemis.

To make a truly great licensed game, you have to tap into what makes that license special.  It’s a lot harder to get right than it seems.  In my next post, I’ll take a look at some examples of licensed games done correctly, and some keys to their success.

Got an example of a licensed game that really hit home for you?  Let me know in the comments below.

The Trouble with Licensed Games – Part 1

Watch All 201 X-Files Episodes Before the New Season

X-Files is returning and Fox recently released a trailer informing us that it will premiere all 201 episodes of The X-Files before the new season begins on January 24. So, if you’re interested in watching the show on TV, then you’re in luck. Of course, you can always buy all nine seasons or stream them on Netflix. Whatever floats your boat.

X-Files: 201 Days of The X-Files Trailer:

https://youtu.be/JoIRNja8pMc

Are you excited for the new X-Files season? Are you going to rewatch all of the episodes? Let us know in the comments.

Watch All 201 X-Files Episodes Before the New Season

James Horner’s Top 5 Musical Scores

James Horner’s prolific work spans over three decades. Choosing five of his works hardly seems fair since he has A LOT to choose from. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather my personal favorites from his works. So, without further ado and in no particular order…

1. An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

I can trace this back to the earliest James Horner score I truly started listening to. Watching this movie, the music stood out to me as a wonderful background template for all of Fievel’s adventures. From the creepy sewer ride to the epic chimes used in the wild west gunfights, this score is a masterful ode to all Westerns that came before.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

I first watched Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan just after seeing Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I was convinced no one could do better than Jerry Goldsmith. I was actually expecting James Horner to use most of Goldsmith’s themes from the original; however, as I watched the vastness of space envelope my television screen, I heard Alexander Courage’s old theme, which I thought was a nice touch. But then! Then I heard Horner’s original theme for the movie. It was perfect! It was not better or worse than Jerry Goldsmith’s theme. It was its very own. This started a trend for Star Trek movies in which different composers would not recycle the themes of previous ones. Rather, they made Trek their own, the most recent being Michael Giacchino for the Abrams-verse films.

3. Aliens

Once again, Horner was taking the reigns of the music from Jerry Goldsmith; however, in this case, Aliens was a completely different movie than Alien. Horner established a sort of slow and oncoming creepiness in his work in this film when it was needed, but during the action sequences, it was off the handle, complete with an epic theme for Ripley’s escape from the alien nest.

4. Clear and Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger represents the last of the Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies and, to many, the last Jack Ryan movie at all. This was a very sincere score which matched the film’s theme of Jack Ryan’s honesty in everything, despite being pressured by the government to do otherwise. In a way, the score perfectly captured the true patriotism of serving your country as well as the hand-in-hand need for integrity.

5. The Rocketeer

If there is one word that can be used to summarize James Horner’s work for The Rocketeer, it would be “flight.” Soaring through the clouds and fighting to take down the diabolical Nazi plan, this score throws all of it together is a delightful mix.

As I said before, this is not an exhaustive list. James Horner has composed many other fantastic scores. Which ones were your favorites? Feel free to mention them in the comments.

 

James Horner’s Top 5 Musical Scores