Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Hero of Waterloo, part II plus Hermitage

Last Sunday we went to the Hermitage in Amsterdam to watch the Van Gogh collection that’s temporarily housed there, as well as a nice collection of impressionist and contemporary paintings.

In the museum shop I picked up a book by Michel Didier, De Ridder en de grootvorstin. Kunst en leven van Willem II en Anna Paulowna. This can be loosely translated as The knight and the Grand Duchess. Art and Life of … The book looks at this couple mainly from an art historical viewpoint, but includes a lot of biography. The advantage is that this also brings a lot of illustrations.

Willem was rarely out of uniform, nor were his sons

For me the interesting bits were how Willem’s actions at Quatre Bras and Waterloo were remembered in Dutch (and foreign) art. It’s not my style of poetry or painting, and its purpose didn’t lend itself well to better characterisations of the man. But it illustrates well how Willem's military successes (deserved or not) served the nation building and legitimacy of the Orange monarchy. 

Didier is not too sure on military details, as even I could spot. It is unlikely that Willem would have received his honours for the battle of Nivelles already in 1814. Willem’s tactical abilities are not questioned but his bravery is highlighted.

The book also glosses lightly over the darker side of Willem’s life, the many scandals, affairs and schemes and his political failures. I think this book (and publisher, from the other books it publishes) is aimed at the loyal monarchist crowd and therefor not too critical. What does get a fair amount of attention is the difficult relationship with Willem’s father and other family relations, as well as dynastic concerns.

So not much to recommend it to military historians, unless you have a particular interest in the artistic expressions rendered in tribute or in commission of Willem. Or if you are a loyal monarchist, of course.

Of course, this book was in the shop because of the link between the Netherlands and Russia, as the Hermitage's home is in Petersburg. 

A interesting combination of two great artists:Van Gogh's 'copy' of a woodprint by Hiroshige

The Van Gogh collection is amazing and charts Vincent’s progression as an artist in detail. From his peasant painter period to impressionism to expressionism, continuously learning and adapting his style. And all this in the span of only 10 years. He must have been an exceptionally driven person.

It's hard to capture the mastery of this painting, as the picture of a postcard dulls the colours, but you can see how the strokework emphasises the lightfall

We also enjoyed the exhibition on the impressionists. I enjoyed how the exhibition opposed the impressionist with the established art from the Academie Francaise and how the impressionist were forced to create their own parallel network of exhibitions. I found it telling to see that many of the impressionist, such as Renoir, still attempted to gain access to the Academie, and thus to the galleries and collectors.

The exhibition really mixed impressionism, conventional artists and contemporary event very well. You get this view from the perspective of Russian art collectors that have wound up in the Hermitage collection.

If you're in Amsterdam in the coming months, I highly recommend you add this to your programme.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bert en Bart

These are two of the funniest kids’ books I’ve read as an adult. Bert and Bart are the prototype Ameritrash bad boys, only interested in transforming every/any artefact into a weapon to recreate their fantasy battles. In this case against aliens.

Bert and Bart Save the World. Now with extra aliens!

The real opponent in these books is their mother Viola, a treehugging fairy that just wants everything to be nice. So in the first book she removes their weapons and forces them into a regime of art and treehugging, with limited success.

Hug the tree and like it!

This leaves earth defenceless at the arrival of the aliens whose desire to destroy earth is only limited by their fear of Bert and Bart´s deadly weapons. Bert and Bart have to improvise to save the world.

The great thing about these books is the seamless match between text and illustrations. The deadpan conversations between Bert and Bart are matched by sullen, confused, bemused and bored expressions. Not easy to pull off.

Well, you asked us to draw fairies...

In the second book Bert and Bart face the terrible doctor Dwangman, avowed ´brainpresser´ and champion of science, who is enlisted by their mother to get them to pursue physical activity rather than reading their zombie comics.

Bert And Bart And The Kiss Of The Zombie. Contains Over 46 Zombies!

Of course doctor Dwangman has scientific evidence that reading is bad for kids and they are forced to exercise. Also, all the zombie comics have been removed from the library. But the librarian has another book left, the zombie destruction manual, which they are allowed to borrow under the condition that they don’t use the spell on page 37. 

Guess what happens...

Bert and Bart set out to use the zombies in an effort to rid themselves of doctor Dwangman.

Obviously the authors are aware that their style of storytelling goes against the educational correctness of more tender hearted parents. The second book has markers on the back denoting violence and zombie guinea pigs in a parody on parental advisory warnings ...

Parental Advisory: 47 zombiers per 100 pages

...and two pages of possible complaints. With the suggestion to send them all to 

Hamsters Suck!

 All in all two great short stories.

BTW, the first book was published as last year's free gift in the Children's Book Week, which made me very proud to live in this wonderful country!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Essen 2012 Project kick off

The loot

So, now to finish the Essen stuff, because you guys must be fed up after 2 weeks.
The only thing left is to inaugurate the Essen 2012 project, that is to play this year's acquisitions before next edition of Spiel.

The objects are, as above: Slavika, Camp Roskilde, Kolejka, Gauntlet of Fools, King of Tokyo, Signum Mortis and the expansion for Lupin the 3rd.

I won't be counting the plays at Spiel, and the two games of Gauntlet with the kids this week. That's confidence for you.

The trickiest one will probably be Signum Mortis. Let's hope the other half of the game does in fact arrive in February.

And if I don't succeed, Erwin has established that I can only play Pokemon TCG at next Spiel and I will to promote it. That should be a nice incentive.

Well, that's Essen 2012 done. Tomorrow we'll resume normal service.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Spiel 2012 - Games played unintended and unfound

 Third and final post in my game by game account of Spiel 2012 

Games I did play without planning to

This is what Castles looks like after some time
Starting off at the wrong foot. Simple tile laying game with complicated tiles. Boring, even as euros go. Don't buy!

Monterey Jack holds his extra dice for an emergency
Elder Sign
Not entirely new, but worth playing anyway. Very tense game, going into an end fight with Nyarlathotep just as we were one elder sign short. We had enough sanity and rerolls left to deal with the ancient one and survive (well.... most of us)

My fledgling faction of merchant, knave and scholar, restricted to the poor peoples´ quarters and the canals

Dominare is one of a range of new games by AEG set in the city of Tempest, remarkably resembling Venice in its great age. It is a pretty sophisticated power game, much more so than we expected. More to it than meets the eye! We were actually disappointed to be asked to make room for another group of players after three rounds. Luckily Andries got his wallet out so we can have the full experience on our next game night.

The leader cards in World Conquerors can be used as generals, generals or as event cards for their effect
World Conquerors
Quick world conquering game in the vein of History of the World, but with even more focus on the leaders.

City of Horror artwork fits well with theme, but gameplay is about moving around, not killing zombies
City of Horror
As the bandwagon of zombie games is filling up like an Indian local train, this is one of less convincing ones. The characters may be fun, some cards as well, but no feel at all of a zombie infestation. Avoid!

Red player has a terrible last turn

This is an abstract wargame with flat out euro mechanics and direct conflict. Not bad, but too abstract for me

Here some swag cards that develop your deck
Eaten by Zombies
An interesting deckbuilder where you try to keep the chasing zombie pack behind you or fight them off. Or at least longer than the other players.

Three role cards of the green faction
Think Werewolves with two opposing sides, and all vampires instead of humans and werewolves. The deduction game is now focussed on killing the enemy player with the highest rank, which isn´t easy. Social and interactive game: pretty good fun. The game is still in preproduction stage, but might be around early next year.

The Infinite City is sprawling
Infinite City
They were selling this at AEG for €3 apiece. A simple tile laying game. Nothing special.

The monsters slowly converge on the main city

Legends of Andor

I had been skeptical of this attempt by a major German company to move into fantasy adventure questing territory. It is definitely aimed at taking players by the hand in the first scenario, and the characters are generic: magician, dwarf, elf, fighter. I haven't seen enough of the game to see what really drives the story forward, but it is certainly not an outright failure. Time will tell.

Not at the show or couldn't find

Didn't make it to Essen

Weren´t where I expected them

Dixit 3
Sold out, but this will come to local shops soon enough

Not at the Asmodee-Gameworks booth. Could probably have found somewhere else it if I´d looked harder.

The Pioneer Card Game: Chapter resourcesThere was a lot of stuff at the supposed stand, but nobody could tell me anything about the game.

Amundsen: Kappløpet til Sydpolen
Not as Roll to the South Pole either.

Risk Legacy
I want to give this to a friend of mine who is a bit of a fan and has played it a lot. No English version left, but German versions available.

If you haven´t already, go and see my post on the games I only looked at

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Spiel 2012 - Games played as intended or ignored

Second post in my game by game account of Spiel 2012

Games I played as intended

Five heroes and their weapons

Gauntlet of Fools
The boasting is really just a bidding mechanism, but I think it is a cool way to get the kids to gaming. Bought. 

Moogre not hitting much, bloobs all round, the army moves in

Moongha Invaders: Mad Scientists and Atomic Monsters Attack the Earth!
This is a game that seems to work, although it is not that cool that everybody has the same monster. Difficult to say whether it is better than Monsters Menace America. Maybe with the new artwork in the Kickstarter. 

The blue hero almost deciding the game there. Almost.

Metro 2033
Played and enjoyed. See my more extensive first impressions. Very good value for money!

The King doing what he does best

King of Tokyo: Power Up!
Played the basic game a few times and enjoyed it a lot. Bit of a hit with all four of us. Bought. Expansion a bit overpriced maybe.

Metalheads not attracting the cool chicks just yet

Camp Roskilde
The game is really simple, but works. The components are good quality but that probably doesn't fully justify the price tag (even including the dice game) if you don't like going to festivals yourself. Bought.

Games I didn't look at

Smash Up
Couldn´t be bothered in the end

Rome & Carthage
Couldn´t be bothered in the end

War of the Ring: Lords of Middle Earth
This is an expansion to WOTR 2nd edition, which I don't have (nor covet).

Didn´t get round to it

The Convoy
It´s two player. Unlikely to get played

Didn´t dare to get it after bing bummed out on 51st State  
Evolution: Time to Fly
Since I don´t own the basic game and the owner wasn´t interested

If you haven´t already, go and see my post on the games I only looked at

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Spiel 2012 - Games I looked at

Here's my game by game report on Spiel 2012. So I had these lists with games I thought might be interesting. Those that followed my tweets will know that there were a few hickups, but I did get a look at most of the games.

Let's start out with the games I only had time to look at. Tomorrow we'll look at games I played but that were not on my list and the games that didn't make it to the show, or I couldn't find otherwise. And after that we look at the games I played that were on my list and a few games that I decided not to spend precious time on for whatever reason.

Games I only had time to look at

Mister Ecklund explaining the rules to Pax Porfiriana
Pax Porfiriana
I had been afraid that this would be a monster game, but it seems manageable. Lots of historical feel to it. Rob bought this one

Existenz new basic game contents
Existenz has been changed from a ccg to a lcg plus boardgame, now in one basic game.

 Exodus: this is a tech tree, plus home planet
Game by the makers of Warriors & Traders, marketed as Twilight Imperium Light 

Not as much as Clash of Cultures, but still enough bits in Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island 
I'm a bit worn out with coops, although this one might be a better one in the genre. 

Loads of stuff in Clash of Cultures
Clash of Cultures
This has a bit of a buzz and it looks pretty good, but I didn't get a chance to try. Z-Man has moved into a bigger hall by the way, so they seem to have made it to the mainstream (or think they have a good chance getting there)

Winter Tales
This game looks beautiful, but I couldn´t figure out what the storytelling element would be, or how it would affect the game. Didn´t get a chance to play, so must wait

Oh no... INVASION!!!
So deterministic that I couldn't see what meaningful choices players have. Mediocre artwork, but it fits the theme

A Hooyah mission card and rulebook
Hooyah: Navy Seals Card Game
Looked very euro. Not the feel of a special operation

The countdown clock is at the top of the table

Countdown: Special Ops
Only a prototype version was played at the booth and it looked very euro. Not the feel of a special operation

The picture doesn't do justice to the artwork
Mythic Battles
Looked great, but it really is a two player game and as such I didn't think it would get much play

Nice arabic artwork
Worker placement in the medieval Middle East. Gain resources to trade to gain the Sultan's favour

Had a quick look, but decided that tactical combat board wargaming wasn't going to played. 

Oh man... those sculpts
Looked the beautiful components, browsed the rulebook but couldn't get a spot to try and moved on. I'll probably buy this at some point.

Very quick look in passing. Looked a lot like Ruthenia (sse blow), but my friends told me it had a quirky combat mechanism and I sped on.

Vlad, Prince of Wallachia: abstract board, but AT mindset. Conquer the castle or kill your opponents

I Am Vlad: Prince Of Wallachia
I guess I'm mostly put off by the chess like board and a fear that this game could be long. 

Iron Sky: The Board Game
I played the demo last year at Essen and this wasn't very convincing so I threw a quick glance in passing but didn't try. 

Looks great, but not enough game in there to justify €30
1984: Animal Farm
The theme is brilliant of course, and the artwork does a good job of reinforcing it but there isn't much in mechanics and a lot of negotiation in the game

Even the box breathes theme

I'm so happy with the theme that I needed little effort to be converted. The game artwork is spot-on and there's a lot of love in the production, including an introduction to shopping in Communist Poland. Bought

The monsters

At the reasonable price bought untried, but it looks like it will do nicely. Artwork is very good and Polish mythology is an added boon. Bought

Board for the Stonehenge scenario

Lupin the Third: The Expansion #1
Bought it straight away. Two new scenario boards plus equipment and lots of new character cards.

Samurai Sword
Didn't look very good or feel very different from Bang! How often did I play Bang!? Maybe start with that first then.

Divided Republic
Went to the booth twice, but found the game abandoned on both occassions. Found out the price and then decided not to bother. Looks sort of ok though 

Yup, Hajo Peters is making only a hundred

Signum Mortis. Gangs of Rome
This is me taking a leap into the dark as I bought half a game on my memory of how it was explained last year. But to head a gang during Sulla´s proscriptions and try to rob and murder as many senators as possible before the situation settles is just hugely attractive. Counters and rules to follow by February.

Nice components, including a block of match reports

Helvetia Cup
A pretty fantasy football game probably alike Bloodbowl. Nice minis but I have no clue on the rules.

The Democracy demo
Democracy: Majority Rules
This looks like a very interesting model of modern politics including bureaucrats, voters and the justice system among others influencing the lawmakers. Every player also has a political philosophy: change, conservatism, regulation or liberty and centrist. It is running on Kickstarter until November 6th. Seemed like a complex game and it might try to do too much at the expense of a game. So check the rules before you commit!

Examples of event cards

I had a pretty thorough explanation of this game which made me feel bad for not buying it, also because I think it is a decent game with a few interesting tweaks (like debt cards becoming dead weight in your hand). The components were pretty good too. It is a conquest game with castles, priests, spies, knights and nobles as units. The rules are pretty simple but the event cards add the spice.

Great poses

Freebooters Fate Cultist faction miniatures
I passed by the Freebooters Miniatures stand to say hello on behalf of the Frontline Gamer, and they gladly showed me their new miniatures.

Good sculpts, but see above

The Wolsung steam punk miniature skirmish game
I liked the Wolsung setting straight when I encountered the Wolsung boardgame, itself totally missing the point because the machines you build don´t get to fight. So to hear there´s a miniature game made me jump an inch. They are pretty good sculpts, but not cheap.The artwork awesome as always.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Spiel day 3 - Mostly a Metro 2033 review

After two days at the Essen show itself (see day 1 and day 2, our third day was about going home. However we always make a stop at Hünxe Raststätte for a few hours of gaming our new stuff. This year we brought Metro 2033 to the table, based on the novels of a postapocalyptic society in the Moscow underground stations.
Game board at start

A pretty hefty game despite its very reasonable price (€25) and its components. There's a board of the Moscow underground system, decks of equipment, monsters and missions and a big bag of counters. And of course six hero miniatures.
The game is straight up strategic confrontation, giving the players and army to expand your territory with and a hero to fulfill missions, attack other heroes and also expand. The missions and equipment help to beef up your hero.
The economic engine revolves around three resources: pigs (food), ammo and mushrooms (tech). These combined allow you to build armies, buy equipment or take over neutral stations after you conquer them. Especially later in the game, when you expand your number of stations and your army size, that pigs become the deciding resource. My ability to harvest 6 pigs in the penultimate round was instrumental in my victory because all opponents had to scale down their army by the last round.
Midway through the game. All factions expanding rapidly
You can fight with your army or your hero and they follow the same combat system (ie your well equiped hero can be as strong as your army, which makes sense in a first person shooter world). A simple set of tactical cards gives you the chance to get bonusses on your strength, which sometimes allows weaker sides to win. It is a bit slow though.

When you're not fighting your opponents, you fight against monsters when attacking neutral stations and when the game shows attacks on your stations. The monsters become tougher in the second half of the game. 

The game evolves through three stages: a slow opening phase, as players develop their heroes and army, a fast middle phase in which the players profit from their developments and then a tough third phase in which the players confront bigger monsters and each other.

While better (or luckier) players rapidly outdistance the other players in the middle phase, they are slowed down in the end phase and most players have a reasonable chance of winning this way. Which was my luck, because I had fallen behind badly by losing two stations to monster attacks. With the lead players holding each other back and being unlucky to lose in combat, my bigger resource base made the difference.


Last phase: attacking opponents and the central area of the board

Player interaction is considerable, especially later in the game when it becomes necessary to attack each other. During the game, you interact through the laws which are voted every three turns. You also interact indirectly by taking the neutral side in battles, thus allowing you to screw up your opponents.

At this point there's little I can say about replay value, but there are six different factions and heroes each with different characteristics. I played with the 4th Reik faction (you can guess) who automatically win tied battles and the hero that allows you to gain extra resources. That proved a very worthwhile combination in a strategy focussing on my army rather than my hero actions. So I think you should be able to explore the options for some time.

In all this is a very decent game, with above average artwork and components that fit the theme. It feels a bit long although I think experienced players can finish it in 2 to 2.5 hours. So far it appears pretty balanced, but maybe that's a player dynamic. The drawing of tactical cards can influence the outcome of crucial battles, thus creating epic stories. I'd say it offers a lot of fun to those who like this kind of theme.

King of Tokyo: showing what King Kong could have done if he could fly

And finally we had another game of King of Tokyo finished that session off. I bought Fly as special action, which allowed me to negate damage by paying 2 energy. This is interesting enough, but more so when there are few opponents left, because the fewer the attacks, the easier it is to keep doing this.

So I hopped into Tokyo when I had the chance and despite not having enouhg energy in the first two rounds I had just enough lives left to continue. With Rob already out and Andries following soon after, Gerard faced an uphill task, because attacking wasn't very useful, and he wasn't scoring many point himself.

He managed to oust me from Tokyo once by special action, but had to let me back in because he was running out of lives himself. From then on it was plain sailing to victory. Hurray!

I think we can conclude that King of Tokyo, due to its ease of play and full on confrontation was a big hit.