Periscope Depth

gonna call the president, gonna get myself a private eye

This media blow’s good for either $10 cash or $20 in house credit. Have a shot while you think it over.

Chinese Democracy: Any album 14 years in the making has a certain weight of hype behind it. Chinese Democracy does not live up to that hype. But I still like it. I never counted myself among GnR fans but the mastered versions of “Madagascar” and “I.R.S.” rock out pretty hard. I don’t think drunken frat boys will be singing “Rhiad and the Bedouins” at karaoke twenty years from now, but not every album can be Use Your Illusion.1

Pandemic: I played this at Greg’s on Sunday and had a blast. You and 1 to 3 other players make up a CDC disaster team. Outbreaks of four different diseases – represented by yellow, red, black and blue cubes2 – break out in major cities around the globe. Your task: travel to these cities, quash the outbreaks, and research a cure to put an end to them.

Complications:

  • You draw cards that have city names on them. These cards act as an in-game currency, allowing you to travel across the globe in an instant or research a cure. But the limited number of cards may mean that you can’t get to a critical location at the right moment.

  • Every turn, you flip over two outbreak cards and infect the cities depicted with one disease cube each. If a city already has three disease cubes – or if you flip over an Epidemic – the disease can vector to adjacent cities. This can start a cascading effect that will plague an entire continent.
  • Each player has a special ability that makes one rule of the game easier. The dispatcher can move players between cities instantly; the researcher can hand off cards from her hand; the scientist can research cures cheaply; etc. A lot of the most exciting parts of the game happened between turns, when we coordinated our moves to deliver the right people to the best possible places.

The game immersed us very quickly, from the panicked babbling of four people planning at once to the heavy silence when Bangkok went viral. Good, quick fun.

The Happening: Not sure where all the disappointment came from. I’ve been waiting to see this team-up for a long time and I stayed on the edge of my seat throughout:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGk03Q1nQkM]

… oh, you mean that other Happening. Yeah, that shit sounds awful.

Keep on the Shadowfell: I played this with Jonathan, Dev, Jen, Nathan and Will S. on Wednesday a week. I named my pre-gen dragonborn paladin after a Santana album; he named his tiefling warlock after a Rush song. That’s what D&D’s all about.

Thoughts on the new edition:

  • I can’t imagine playing this game without minis. Tactical movement reigns supreme – a 1-square shift at the right time turns a stand-up fight into a massive beatdown. Being able to catch the right number of targets in a burst, or put a wall at your side to fence in your enemies, makes all the difference.

  • Understanding player roles helps a great deal. We nearly lost our rogue in the first fight because she went toe-to-toe with a couple of minions, instead of ducking and stabbing and gaining sneak attack damage. My paladin soaked a little too much damage in the second fight and quickly hit 0 hp. Know the difference between skirmishers and defenders, and between leaders and controllers, and the odds work in your favor.
  • Playing at 1st level became fun again. Every 1st level character has at least four options to choose from in a round – two at-will powers, one encounter power, one daily power – in addition to just running up and hitting a guy. Options mean tactics, which makes for engaging gameplay.

D&D still runs best at one speed – sword-and-sorcery combat – so I don’t think it will replace every game in my library. But it still does what it does better than any game on the market today.

Deadwood: Oh. So that’s what the fuss was about. S1 spoilers under the cut:

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1 Strictly speaking, only two of them can be.

2 I christened these outbreaks Yellow Fever, Red Death, Black Plague, and Bluemonia.


What a brutal bunch of people in a brutal little town.

I didn’t realize that most of the show’s principals – Seth Bullock, Al Swearingen, George Hearst – existed as people in real life. As such, I had to stop reading things like the actual history of Wild Bill Hickok – who did in fact die in Nuttall and Mann’s saloon in August ’76 – lest reality spoil the series. But I’m sure everything turns out well!

The series doesn’t shy away from the cruel treatment of women, minorities, poor people, weak people or even defenseless strangers. The town occasionally descends to sadistic levels of cruelty – like Cy Tolliver taunting the con-artist Flora, her head still stove in from a beating in the streets, before shooting her point-blank.

The convention that each episode of the show covers a day’s time, rarely more, threw me a little at first. I don’t mind it, if that’s what the director thinks will work, but it makes things feel a little clustered. A deliberate parallel to classical tragedy, perhaps, as Greek plays always took place in the span of exactly one day?

Reading a bit about the series on Wikipedia, I found that my takeaway from the series matched what the producers intended: civilization rises from chaos not through humanity’s nobler ideals but from the same lust, greed and fear that make us savage. Swearingen incorporates the town, appointing Farnum mayor as an afterthought, only in order to protect his ill-gotten holdings. The offices he confers give way to new procedures – as evidenced by Charlie Utter threatening to condemn Nuttall’s saloon for fire code violations – which will slowly ossify into bureaucracy, levy and law.

I’ll add S2 to the queue soonish.

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