Sunday, June 16, 2013

Announcement - New Digs

Short Version:

I am moving.

Long Version:

I have been writing Drake's Flames since 2007, and have not updated the way the site looks in years. In terms of the internet, that's like still using a rotary phone (ask your mom if you don't know what that is). So I was overdue for an upgrade.

And you know what? Blogger sucks if you want to track stats, earn good site listings, or maximize your SEO. Those are terms I learned in the last year or so, and it turns out they're pretty important. For one thing, people send more free games to reviewers with better viewing stats.

So I'm off to a new spot. I'll probably never post at this site again, but I have set up an RSS feed through feedburner at the new place. The new place is swanky - featured articles, categories, contact page, and all kinds of other cool crap. It might take you a little bit to get used to it, and I'm so sorry but I can't figure out how to transfer your RSS feed from this site to my new site.

I think you'll like the new place. I will put up a welcome post at my new site, so you can all comment on how sexy it is and tell me how much better a human being I am for designing it. I'm still working out a couple kinks, but I'm done with Blogger so for better or worse, we're live at the new site.

The address, in case I didn't just mention it (although I just did) is:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Movie Review - Warm Bodies

If you were going to mix two stories, a zombie movie and Romeo and Juliet would probably not be your first pick. But somebody went and did that, and it works ridiculously well. In fact, it goes together so well that unless somebody points out what's happening, you could miss the fact that you're watching a mash-up movie.

Warm Bodies tells the story of two star-crossed lovers with a wall between them. Literally, there's a giant wall meant to keep out the zombies. Julia lives on one side of it, because she's not a zombie, and R (that's as much of his name as he can remember) lives on the other side, because he is a zombie. Their two families - living humans and people who eat living humans - don't really get along. It seems like they are always fighting. One guy eats another guy's spleen, then the dead guy's cousin gets angry and shoots the first guy's brother in the face, and crazy feuds get started. And then, in the middle of all the mayhem, two young kids fall in love.

When that happens in Renaissance Italy, it's a classic tale of love and loss. When it happens in a zombie apocalypse, it's Warm Bodies, and it's campy and violent and entertaining as hell. It's the zombie version of Twilight, which is almost as improbable as the zombie version of Romeo and Juliet. It's also a lot more fun than, 'wherefore art thou Romeo.'

Warm Bodies looks like it should be a comedy. A zombie falls for a human girl and then they have wacky escapades in the airport - that's a recipe for some dark humor. If you saw the trailers, you know there are at least a few moderately funny parts, like when R tells Julia to be dead, and then she overdoes it, and he grunts at her, 'too much.'

However, despite appearances, and the fact that a zombie love story is so ridiculous that it seems completely impossible, Warm Bodies is actually a fairly intriguing tale. It's full of romance and drama, action and tension. As Julia awakens feelings within R, he begins to return from his zombified state, becoming human again - and his brain-eating family doesn't think that's a good idea.

If you're looking for a 'pure' zombie movie, you are obviously in the wrong place. It starts off with some pretty basic zombie stuff - shambling hordes, eating brains, and head shots - but then zombies start moving faster, and some turn into terrifyingly fast monsters who rip off their own skins, and the zombies talk to each other in short sentences. And, you know, they turn back into people.

But breaking all the rules is the only way Warm Bodies ever could have worked. After all, a romance where a brainless, rotting monster has a romantic affair with a beautiful girl coasts a line between being silly and horrifyingly distasteful. So instead of having his skin hanging and guts dangling, R has some varicose veins in his neck and wacky eyeballs. These zombies are not as gross as the zombies you're used to seeing, and that's OK in this case because that's how the story works.

And the story is actually quite good. When we realized halfway through that we were watching a Romeo and Juliet movie (watch for the balcony scene), I was suddenly a great deal more interested. I started getting a little nervous about the ending, because let's face it, Shakespeare's version doesn't have what would normally be called a happy ending. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say that it is executed very well. Get it? Executed?

If Warm Bodies were just a zombie movie, it would still be pretty decent. It takes the traditional Romero zombie and flips it around a little to tell an interesting tale. Happily, though, it doesn't stop there, because layering classic Shakespeare over the top just makes it more intriguing. Yes, it's a little bit teen-romance. No, the acting is not incredible. But it's fun and campy and violent and exciting, and includes more than a couple cool surprises. I enjoyed it, and not just because I have a teenage daughter who loves any movie about young people in love.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Party Game Review - Word Whimsy

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the creators of Apples to Apples should be incredibly proud. Their stupid game has been copied so many times that it's starting to look like a good idea. It's been corrupted and twisted and abused so that it's almost difficult to recognize the original concept, but at the core, it's still pretty basic - one player chooses answers submitted by everyone else using no criteria whatsoever, and nobody really cares who wins.

The extreme version of the Apples to Apples concept is Cards Against Humanity, which relies largely on the strength of disgusting references to twisted sex acts and racism to amuse the players. For some people, this is absolutely hilarious; for others, it's too offensive to be funny. I'm on the 'hilarious' end of the spectrum, but not everyone is. And honestly, once you've seen the Pac-Man card, and the one about Glenn Beck getting badly wounded on a curtain hook, you will have just about run out of reasons to play Cards Against Humanity, and you will need something else.

The new game you want is Word Whimsy. If you like your answers to be in questionable taste, but you're not hoping for incestuous gay jokes, this one will get the job done. And the best thing is that, for the most part, the level of offense is up to the players. If you don't want to get 'Naked ninja sex' as an answer, just don't play with your Uncle Larry who actually would like to have naked ninja sex.

The reason this works is because Word Whimsy takes the Apples to Apples format and adds something that should have been in there from the start - multiple word answers. You'll get cards with words on them, just like in the other games, but instead of just slapping one down, you'll actually combine up to seven different cards. When the question is 'When the aliens come, I will show them my…', you can answer 'Majestic African children,' or you can keep it simple and just say, 'wiener.' Because yes, that is an option.

This card-combining element means nearly anyone can be funny, and now you have so much more control over the tone of your answers. No more complaining that you don't have any good cards. You've got seven, and you can use as many as you want. There are lots and lots of words on these cards, and they include such choice selections as 'sexy' and 'turd.' Those are two words that should never be used together, but the point is, you could. You should not, but you could.

Not only that, but as long as you can shuffle your cards (which could be a challenge, because there are hundreds of them), you never have to get bored with the same answers all the time. You could play for years before anyone ever has the cards in their hand to put together, 'dancing fuzzy bears,' and then it could be years before anyone has that combination again. Unlike nearly every other game in this vein, Word Whimsy can be played a hell of a lot before it gets repetitive.

Another nice thing about Word Whimsy is that everyone who plays gets a score. You give the most points to your favorite, but then you run them down the list, with your least favorite only getting one point. This is nice, because I don't know how many times I was forced to choose between 'demon weasel beast' and 'dirty humpers,' as answers to 'a movie I would definitely want to watch,' and was able to give them both a hearty recommendation.

As with nearly any of the games spawned by Apples to Apples, the point is rarely to win. I think scoring is only included so that everyone tries their hardest to be as funny as possible. I don't even remember who won Word Whimsy when we played it, because it was so fun that nobody cared. Our bellies were cramped and our faces were sore from laughing, our eyes were watering, and one of us had water come out of his nose (though the nose thing was just because he had a cold). I heartily disliked Apples to Apples, tolerated Big Bang Theory Party Game, and was amused by Cards Against Humanity, but Word Whimsy is the first one of these games that I actually said, 'man, we should play this more often.'

If you've been looking for the Apples to Apples clone that was worth keeping around the house, you can stop the search. Word Whimsy is funny and smart, avoids the trap of being constantly repetitive, and is colorful without being deliberately offensive. Basically, Word Whimsy is the game Apples to Apples should have been.


3-7 players

Tons of options
Card combinations make the game funnier
Far more replayable than any other A2A clone

The little card holders don't always hold cards very well

Not only is Word Whimsy a blast, it's cheap, too. If you go to Coolstuff you can preorder it for less than the cost of a loaded pizza.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bored Game Review - Dragon Rage

I think Lewis Pulsipher must have a time machine that has transported his mind to 1974 and somehow left his body here with us. That's the only way I can explain making a game like Dragon Rage and then being so proud of it that you turn it into a career teaching other people how to make games as boring as Dragon Rage. Please note that I am not making this up - Lew Pulsipher teaches college courses in board game design. I guess it's proof of that old adage, 'those who can't do, teach.'

Dragon Rage is one of those archaic games that comes with cardboard squares and hexes with numbers on them so you can call them out in the rules. In the game, a couple dragons attack a city and try to wreck it while the people in the city kill the piss out of them. It's dry and boring and unattractive, and includes - I am not exaggerating here - more than 50 pages of rules. This is an outdated gaming model. For the sake of comparison, when most gamers gave up these boring kinds of games, The Beejees were still popular.

The game has virtually nothing working for it. There are multiple scenarios, so you can try one where giants attack the city or humans attack the orc town, but in every case you could be playing something fun instead. Wargames have come a long way since 1982, but this game has not. Look at Conflict of Heroes - that game uses cardboard squares, and it's a blast because it is updated and relevant. Dragon Rage, by comparison, was a boring game the first time it was printed, when I was in high school, and it is still boring today.

Turns are lopsided. The dragon turn takes maybe two minutes, as you move your two counters, perform a couple attacks, and call it a day. The city dwellers, on the other hand, take very long. They move their 15 or so guys, counting off road spaces and maneuvering around towers and walls, and then roll dice a dozen times. If you're playing the dragons, this is tedious. If you're playing the humans, it's still tedious because you are unfortunately still playing Dragon Rage.

If you're going to make a game where dragons fly into cities and burn stuff, and you're not making this game in 1977, you are virtually obligated to include plastic. I could have tolerated Dragon Rage if it looked cool. It could have had plastic dragons and plastic soldiers and a plastic wizard. Would it cost more? Of course! Would I buy it just for the plastic? Yes, unless it had Lew Pulsipher's name on it.

If Dragon Rage had simply been a boring, unappealing box full of dead-weight cardboard, I would have been content to pan it and walk away. But fortunately for me (and it is fortunate because of how much I love to mock), the worst thing about Dragon Rage is not even the game. The worst thing about Dragon Rage is that it opens with a full-page Ode to Doctor Lewis Pulsipher, written by… Doctor Lewis Pulsipher.

Rarely in my life do I have an opportunity to see such a self-aggrandizing pile of tripe as the first page of the Dragon Rage rules. This is a full page detailing the life and accomplishments of the guy who made this boring-ass game, including his bragging about having made another game I never had any desire to play, and how he now teaches college classes about making games. Obviously, teaching classes about making games does not make a person an expert in making games. Also, the college in question is not actually named. It is my theory that this is because Doctor Lewis Pulsipher teaches game design classes at Bumstick Vocational Junior College in Backwater Spitbucket, Virginia. And if I taught there, I would not brag about it, either.

I am staggered by the sheer arrogance and self-importance required to produce a piece as thoroughly irrelevant and pointless as the first page of this rulebook (which, incidentally, includes a portrait of the man, so that if you meet him in person you can drop to one knee). Reiner Knizia could get away with this. I like to mock Reiner for making games I don't like, but honestly, the German doctor is a bad-ass, even if many of his games blow goats. And Reiner never felt the need to include a retarded fluff piece in one of his games. Maybe because if you have to tell people how awesome you are, then you clearly are not.

So don't buy Dragon Rage. Stay far, far away from it. If you see people playing it, make the sign of the cross and move quickly away before you get some on you. I'm not even going to offer you my copy of the game. Instead, I am going to wrap it in chains, drive a stake through the box and bury it face-down in consecrated ground. (It's not really that bad. It's just really boring. But I have been looking for a good excuse to make that game-killing joke.) And if you ever meet Lewis Pulsipher and forget to call him 'Doctor,' don't worry. He'll remind you.


2 players

Uses ink

Boring, unattractive, bulky, and slow. The game is also bad.
Also, not fun at all

I think it goes without saying that I am not going to link you to where you could buy this god-awful game. Instead, here is a photo of Lew Pulsipher, so you can either point and laugh or go out of your way to avoid him.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Board Game Review - Princes of the Dragon Throne

Deckbuilding games have come a long way. We started with Dominion (and other games that lead to that, but this isn't a full-on history lesson), had Arctic Scavengers and Nightfall and Puzzle Strike, and now we're starting to see games where building your deck is part of the game, but not the game itself. City of Remnants, for instance, capitalizes on a deckbuilding element without making it the focus, and now Princes of the Dragon Throne dials it up even further, by having deckbuilding be a minor part of a major game.

It's a funny phenomenon, though, when you look at it. If, like me, you've played dozens of deckbuilding games and watched the evolution of the genre, new ideas are interesting for the spin they place on an old idea. On the other hand, if you haven't ever played one, the concept can be bewildering, and jumping in on a game like Princes of the Dragon Throne is diving right into the deep end. Because on top of having to figure out that you've got your own deck and discard pile and shuffling and building, you're also trying to figure out how to best use your supporters to secure seats for your dragon lords as you gain favor in the merchant guild and earn the resources you need to feed the dragons you send out to let you build your deck. If you're a rookie gamer, this can be a giant circle of confusion.

However, if you like your games to present a challenge, if you like to see old ideas mixed into new concepts, if you like a little strategic planning with a dose of friend-screwage, you're going to like Princes of the Dragon Throne. It combines deckbuilding like you haven't seen before with area control and resource management. If you really prefer your games to come with some bloodshed and a lot of dice, forget it, but if you're a Euro nerd who gets wood for complex game mechanics, this one is going to make you take a cold shower.

There are so many layers to Princes of the Dragon Throne that your first play is going to be like opening up your birthday present and finding a well-dressed hooker, and then peeling off the expensive dress to find a vinyl catsuit, and then getting her out of that to discover amazing lingerie, and then getting that off to discover - well, if you don't know what you find when you get a hot woman naked, I would simply hate to spoil the surprise. This metaphor may have been overplayed, come to think of it. I probably should have gone with the Shrek onion, but you know what? I like gorgeous hookers, and I don't like peeling onions.

Anyway, there's a lot going on in Princes of the Dragon Throne. You're balancing the purchase of dragon cards with citizen cards, and you may need them to place your guys on the map, and you may need them to buy guys in the first place. You might be placing your supporters to get the favor of the particular guilds, but you may also be grabbing the guilds to gain access to the dragon lords. You might even be trying to gain a foothold in the orc realms, and not even care about the dragon lords or the merchant card, but you're just trying to stop one guy from running away with the kingdom. Not that you really know what any of that means, but my point is, there's a lot happening.

This is a lot of game. Princes of the Dragon Throne is not for new gamers, and it's not going to be a big sell with your typical blood-and-guts Ameritrasher. You don't get to kill people, which is a bummer, because you would think with all these dragons someone would at least get lit on fire. You definitely have to think about what you're doing, and if you're lost, you're doomed. But if you can strap on your big-boy britches and settle in to a mighty man-sized meal of a game, one with beautiful art and massive depth and a progressing game that builds to a climactic finish, you should seriously check this out.

One final note: This is a Game Salute game that is currently in a Kickstarter. If what I've said so far sounds fun to you, go support it, but don't get the upgraded kit with the 'better' meeples. They look cool enough, but they actually make the middle of the board more confusing and cluttered. I'm all for sexier game pieces, but not when they make the game harder to play. This one is virtually guaranteed to fund eight ways from Sunday, and that's great because it's a cool game, but don't fall under the spell of the unneeded upgrades.


2-4 players

Cool new twist on deckbuilding
Exceptional depth
Lots of interaction, especially near the end of the game
Great art

Feels too big with fewer players
Very European in flavor
Rather complex

If you like Euro games where the theme makes itself known and there's plenty of interaction, check out Princes of the Dragon Throne on Kickstarter:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Board Game Review - Cinque Terre

I might as well get these Rio Grande reviews out of the way. There's one more to discuss, and then I can get back to not playing European games unless they come out of France (French people make awesome games with dead bodies and demons and naked chicks - all things I readily endorse in my games).

So the last of these dead-fish Euro games that Rio Grande sent me is called Cinque Terre. In English, this means Heavy Poop, or literally 'sinking turd.' The game is called that because if you drop it in the toilet, it will fall to the bottom, and you will be glad and want to flush it…

Wait, sorry, I'm being handed an updated memo. It seems Heavy Poop was a bit of a prank by the boys in tech support. Cinque Terre is about five villages. Ha! Good one, tech guys!

OK, so there are these five villages on the coast of Italy, and they are freaking beautiful. They're built in terraces, almost inaccessible by car or plane, with stunning geography, picturesque vistas and charming architecture. These five villages are famous for being almost completely unspoiled by corporate intrusions like Exxon and Starbucks, and are thus quite the tourist attraction.

And according to Rio Grande, they're also really into fruit. Because in Cinque Terre, a game about five amazing locations that are almost lost to time, you're going to sell fruit out of a motorized wagon. If that sounds like a grievous waste of a perfectly wonderful theme, then I think you and I are on the same page.

Still, reading the rules, I was kind of looking forward to playing this game. It seems like a quaint thing where you harvest fruit and sell it in the various villages, taking advantage of increased demand and specific fruit orders. Unfortunately, it's not that. Unfortunately, it's actually just work.

Cinque Terre - a game supposedly about five of the most beautiful and charming locations in the northern hemisphere - is a logistics exercise. The way you win this game is by carefully planning ahead, making the most efficient plans and thinking six steps ahead. I like games with some planning. I don't like games where planning IS the game.

Here's a little of the nitty-gritty, so you can understand what I'm talking about when I say this is basically like having a job as the dispatcher at a trucking company. On your turn, you can travel from one location to the next, harvest specific types of fruit with specific cards, then sell specific fruit in specific villages to fulfill specific fruit orders. And all the time you're doing this, you will absolutely, under no circumstances at all, interact with the other people who are playing this game with you. It's not even fair to call the other players your opponents, because nobody is actually opposing you.

I wanted to like Cinque Terre. I did some homework, looking up the region online, reading about how it's hard to get to these villages and looking at photos that made me want to give up my day job and move to Italy. If the region had featured in the theme in any way, I might have loved it. But there's no reason this stretch of beautiful coastline has to be the least bit involved in this game. You could make the same exact game about shuttling farm animals around small towns to enter them into livestock contests.

I don't need another game about picking up wooden cubes and taking them other places. Unless people are going to shoot at my car as I hustle fruit across enemy lines, this game is going to be so ludicrously dull that I would rather just balance the checkbook. It's about the same amount of work either way, but at least keeping up with my finances will be good for something. And neither thing is fun.

That does it for the Rio Grande games, and I'm glad. I won't be asking them for any more games, because even if they don't hate me all the way to Hell and back for panning the crap out of every review copy they sent me, I don't actually want to play their games. I know they sent me three under-performers, and I know they do have some games that are better, but I can't be bothered to care. I want death tolls and hookers, and until Rio Grande decides to make some games for immature grown men, I think I can stick with Asmodee.


A game named after a really beautiful part of the world
Some decent production value

The beautiful part of the world does not feature in the game in any way
The decent production value is mostly just lots of wooden cubes
The game is a boring logistics exercise
I would rather mow the lawn

Don't bother playing Cinque Terre. Instead, look at these amazing pictures and tell me you don't want to move to Italy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Board Game Review - Spin Monkeys

When I started Drake's Flames, Rio Grande used to send me a lot of games. Then they stopped, mostly because I was rather disparaging of one of their games. Then, several years later, I asked them for a particular game and they sent me three other games instead. This was my chance to make good, to get back in with one of the biggest game companies in the world so I could get free games from them again!

Well, so much for that. I got three games from Rio Grande, and all of them suck. Someone probably thinks some of these are OK, but not me. Because, as I may have just said, I think they suck. I don't think I'll probably even bother to ask for more games. It's reasonably safe to assume that I am burning that bridge once and for all.

Of the three games I recently got, Cavemen was the best of the batch, and it just had some major balance flaws and some questionable art. But the second one, the one I'm about to review, is really stupid. It's called Spin Monkeys, and instead of being a cutthroat game about managing public relations for out-of-control rockstars and politicians who are cheating on their wives, it's about actual monkeys. Which is doubly sad, because on top of being disappointed that the theme is dumb, now I totally want to play that game about the PR guys.

But alas, I'm stuck with the game that actually exists. In Spin Monkeys, you're each playing a monkey who has come out of the jungle and invaded the carnival. The bumper cars are all set up, and to sweeten the deal, someone has put fruit all over the floor. So naturally, you (being the monkeys) jump into your bumper cars and drive hell-bent for leather to pick up as much fruit as you can. Because that happens.

You play Spin Monkeys by choosing cards that tell you which direction you will head on your turn. If you want to play a sharp left, you play the 90 degree card. Or go the other way with the 270 degree card. Or don't bother planning at all, because someone is going to run into you anyway and you're going to get sent spinning in a random direction and it won't really matter what you played.

Once you get moving, you get to pick up every piece of fruit you can drive over, and then eat it real fast. You can tell that you are eating the fruit because if you grab a banana, you leave the peel behind. That would only happen if you are eating the banana, not just collecting it. This is important for two reasons. First, it's important because if you hit a banana peel, you go spinning in a random direction. Second, it's important because other monkeys can steal your fruit.

If you're squeamish, you may want to stop reading now. Because what I figured out was that if the fruit is being consumed, and if other monkeys can steal your fruit, then what they are actually swiping from you is fruit you have already eaten. Which means they are stealing your poop. It also means you have a wildly accelerated metabolism, because you're able to pass a banana in less time than it takes to say, 'pass a banana.' These are incontinent monkeys, and so what they steal from each other is even more unappealing.

I grant you that you do not have to sign off on the poop-eating monkeys to play Spin Monkeys. It is, in my opinion, the only explanation that makes sense, but you could just pretend the monkeys are peeling the bananas, throwing the peels and then stashing the fruit. I suppose that is also an option. But since I did not like Spin Monkeys, I am sticking with the excrement theory.

Scatological humor aside, Spin Monkeys is just a random act of chaos. Your decisions don't matter, because random elements will alter the outcome regardless of how well you plan ahead. You'll be hit by an opponent, spin out of control, then bounce into a banana peel and wind up stuck in a corner like that kid from Blair Witch. Planning is pointless. Strategy is essentially impossible.

Spin Monkeys is still better than Robo Rally, because you only have to plan one card at a time, but that's not high praise because I absolutely hate Robo Rally. On the other hand, Spin Monkeys doesn't force as much intellect. For one thing, you'll figure out early on that it's meaningless to try very hard, and you'll decide that you may as well smoke that bowl now, because you'll play just as well stoned.

If I were a fan of unbridled chaos in my board games, I might like Spin Monkeys. If I loved goofy themes and poop jokes… no, wait, I do love goofy themes and poop jokes. If Spin Monkeys made me think a little more and rewarded me for playing better, I would probably be a huge fan, primarily because of the goofy theme and poop jokes. Sadly, it's essentially purely randomized absurdity, and that's only fun when they do it on Jackass. Mostly because it's not happening to me.


2-6 players

Goofy theme and poop jokes

Utter chaos
No good reason to plan ahead
Rather plain art

I can't imagine why you would want to buy this game, but in case you do, you can find a copy here: