The Dork Den Blog
For all your comic and board game review needs.
It’s December, the holidays are upon us, and with it the most common time for family gatherings in America. Years ago, the only way to deal with Grandpa Michael and Uncle James screaming at each other in the dining room was to hide in the back of the house (kids) or create a state of mind where everything was funny and you wouldn’t remember it tomorrow (adults).
These days, we have healthier forms of entertainment to enjoy: party games! Built for those large family gatherings where half of you play and the other half look on, wondering what they’re watching—and then want to play because they realize how much fun you’re having—you can bust these out anywhere you have the players and leave your grandpa and uncle to their seething rage. (And, for some, you’ll need to leave the kids in the back.)
1. Cards Against Humanity: Everyone’s favorite filthy card game is still drawing attention, both because no one’s come close to improving on the formula, and because they’re back at it with another holiday stunt. This year: selling a pack of cards designed by their writers, and a pack designed by the computer. The writers earn a $5,000 bonus if their pack sells more, and they get fired if the computer wins! (They won’t really get fired. Probably.)
But that’s just the newest expansion. Cards Against Humanity’s core set and myriad other expansion packs are still around and readily available. Although you may have to search online for their more niche card packs, the base game and its core expansions can be found anywhere your favorite board games are sold. (Assuming your favorite board game isn’t Life. I mean, Life? Really?)
2. Monikers: I said no one’s beaten Cards Against Humanity in the filthy card game space, and that’s true, but Monikers is close. It’s structured more like a game; there are three rounds with rules for how each round runs, as opposed to Cards Against Humanity , where there may be more people who don’t even realize there are rules than there are people who have read them. All the cards have something which needs to be guessed and a description of that thing. One person on a team gives clues, and everyone else tries to guess what they’re describing. The first round is easy; all the clue-giver has to avoid is saying any part of the name of the thing they’re describing. They can read the descriptive text on the card verbatim if they want. In the second round, though, clue-givers are limited to a single word, and in the third it’s down to charades. The cards used are the same, though, so if the players can remember the possibilities, it should make things a lot easier… right?
3. Codenames: The quick-classic word-guessing game. For the uninitiated, the original Codenames puts words in a 5×5 square, with a grid assigning some of the words to each team (red and blue), some to a neutral beige color, and one to an assassin. The codemasters need to guide their teams to the words matching their color while avoiding the other team’s words and definitely avoiding the assassin—hit that one and you lose immediately.
If you’re familiar with it, though, keep in mind that several versions of Codenames exist now, including variants for Harry Potter, Marvel, Disney, The Simpsons, and more. Picture-based versions are also common; they work the same way as the base game, except the codemaster guides her team towards a certain picture rather than a word. Regardless of your family, if you have a good number of people (six or more at least, but eight or more preferably), there’s a version of Codenames you can get everyone to enjoy.
4. One Night Games: Although One Night games are a little easier to understand if you’ve played the full size version of Werewolf or similar, breaking out Ultimate Werewolf can be a bit much for a family of relative non-gamers. By all means, bring it along, but show them One Night Werewolf first to see if they’re interested in the concept.
On the other hand, if you know you’ve got some One Night fans in attendance, the series has expanded a fair bit in the last few years. Between the various One Night Werewolf expansions, One Night Alien, One Night Vampire, and even One Night Revolution, there’s more than enough out there to sate the One Night appetites, or to introduce your family and friends to different variants to find out which one they like best.
5. The Resistance: Set in an altogether too real near-future dystopia, The Resistance pits a small group of government spies working together against a larger gang of Resistance operatives who know the spies are around but don’t know who they are. Through deduction based on which players support which other players partaking in missions against the government, and who does or does not sabotage those missions, the Resistance needs to suss out the spies and stop them from bringing down the whole operation.
If that sounds a little heavy for a holiday gathering, it isn’t once the game gets started. The setting lives in the aesthetic of the game, but for the players it’s all, “You’re a spy!” and “No, she’s a spy!” until someone gets figured out, or fools the table, the game ends, and one team gets to laugh and laugh while the other team isn’t all that mad because they lost but they had a lot of fun. The fact this isn’t as readily available as most other popular party games is a crime against gaming, so if you have trouble finding it…
6. Coup: Coup exists in the same universe as The Resistance. Rather than working in teams, every player is out for themselves. There are six roles in the game, and three cards for each role; each player receives two role cards in secret. Each turn, players take actions based on their roles… or at least, the roles they claim to have. The entire game revolves around figuring out when players are bluffing, pulling off your own bluffs at the right times and relying on your roles otherwise, and staying alive until you can knock off everyone else and claim familial victory.
Unlike the other games on the list, which support double-digit players, Coup maxes out at six. Nonetheless, the game goes so quickly (twenty minutes) that players can cycle in and out relatively often, and if you know enough people will be interested, it’s cheap enough that two people owning and bringing copies isn’t unreasonable.
And finally, because everyone knows bringing politics around the holiday table is a terrible, terrible idea…
7. Secret Hitler: What do you do when you have a solid bluffing game on your hands, but there are far too many on the market and you need a way to stand out? Add a dash of Hitler and watch the sales roll in!
Much like The Resistance and many other bluffing games, Secret Hitler is played in teams. Also like the Resistance, the bad guys—that’s the fascists, if there was any confusion on the matter—get to know each other’s identities, but the other team (the liberals) don’t. In this case, the goal is to enact policies for your team, but each side has a secondary win condition once you’re about halfway through: the fascists want to elect Hitler chancellor, and the liberals want to act like time travellers and assassinate him.
Secret plans, lying to your family, and shooting Hitler in the face. What else is Christmas for?
Without further ado, let’s dive into five of the season’s spooky specials.
#1: Mysterium—It's hard to get more Halloween-spirited than diving into
the mystery of an unsolved murder as a psychic detective on Halloween
itself, and that's where you land with Mysterium. Years ago, the Count
of Warwick's manservant was found dead at a party, and the trauma of
the event led the family to leave the region forever. Now it's your
job to figure out what happened and free the ghost once and for all.
Like most good spooky-themed games, Mysterium is cooperative.
It's much creepier working together in the face of an unseen force
than being able to look at your opponent across the table. Unlike
most spooky games, the ghost isn't your enemy here; in fact, the
reason your psychic team is investigating on Halloween is that it's
the day when the mortal and spirit realms touch, and the ghost can
speak to you through visions. Work together with up to five other
detectives and the trouble ghost to suss out the possibilities
and conclude, once and for all, the cast of the Warwick Manor Murder.
#2: Obscurio—If psychic ability isn't enough, and you're angling for
real magical power, Obscurio might put the spark into your table.
There's still a mystery afoot,but it's one you and your friends have
walked into unwittingly—but that's what happens when you try to steal
magical grimoires from mighty sorcerers, kids.
There's a big similarity to Mysterium here, in that the clues you need
to escape the Sorcerer's illusions are handed out in image form by the
Grimoire, which is trying to free itself from the Sorcerer's clutches
just as much as you want to free it (or, you know, "free" it). One major
departure, however, is the presence of a traitor who's fallen to the
Sorcerer's power. It's not enough to share information and make your way out
with the great book; you need to be careful not to let the turncoat ruin your
group's cohesion and leave you lost in the illusory maze forever!
#3: Until Daylight—If you're still not tired of zombies, Until Daylight is
waiting to leap into your loving arms and gnaw on your face. Even if you are
tired of zombies,Until Daylight might be the thing to win you back. Ten waves
of monstrous hordes are coming for your camp when the sun goes down, and if you
want to make it through this nightmarish apocalypse, you can't afford
to lose anyone on your team before dawn.
Apparently based on the notion that Five Minute Dungeon was too relaxed,
Until Daylight gives you varying (let's call them random) timers you use
to search for helpful items before the horde comes. Winning isn't just a
matter of bashing monsters, either; terrible human raiders come for you as
well, and survivors are mixed into the whole mess as well. You have to pull
at least one survivor out of the horde and keep them alive until the end of
the game to win. And if you have more than one? Meat shield!
If you don't mind getting overrun by zombies a few times until you figure out
exactly what it takes to beat them, and you like having a Die of Fate to roll,
Until Daylight awaits you with rigor-mortis extended hands.
#4: Villainous—Our only non-cooperative suggestion, Villainous is less about
things that go bump in the night and more about the greatest nemeses of Disney
lore wanting to go bump on your head. Captain Hook, Jafar, Maleficent, Prince
John, the Queen of Hearts, and Ursula are all on deck (advantage: Hook) to battle
not only each other,but the forces of good that won't leave them alone.
The cleverness of Villainous lies in its different style of gameplay for
each of the characters. You can look at their boards and see similar symbols,
but each villain has their own method of winning, their own set of mechanics,
their own deck of cards, and their own heroes waiting to foil their plans.
Better yet, part of your task is to use the enemies of the other villains against
drawing a bunch of goody-two-shoes out of their personal hero decks to thwart
their neverending schemes.
In the end, sure, you still have to beat a bunch of terrible villains. But if you
ever wanted to hit Peter Pan with a stick while doing it, Villainous might be
your type of game.
#5: Creepy Classic Co-ops—What, you thought we could keep this list down
to five actual games? Impossible! We stashed the perennial favorites together
in order to shine the spotlight on newer games that deserve your attention,
but we can't let Halloween pass without a mention.
If these game series are new to you, give them a look. If you're familiar
with them, remember, there's always something new coming out for you to see.
Werewolf: From Ultimate to One-Week to Werewords, the Werewolf series has
existed in one form or another for over thirty years. It's co-op… mostly;
the villagers are definitely cooperating to ferret out the handful of
werewolves that literally take them apart night after night, and the
werewolves are doing their best to make sure there's no village left by the
end of the game.
Ultimate is the classic game gone big, with dozens of roles to shake
up the strategy game after game. One Night is the quick version; find
the werewolf now before he gets away! Werewords is a Twenty Questions
version of the game, but the werewolf and her eternal nemesis, the Seer,
still have to figure each other out by the end. And 2018's
Werewolf Legacy will help you answer the question, what happens
to this village if we take more than one night of gaming to learn its fate?
Betrayal: One of the first storybook games on the market, Betrayal at House
on the Hill gives you a haunted house, some creepy surroundings, and the ticking
time bomb of knowing one of you will be driven against the others by the powers
at work around you. With dozens of outcomes available, if you ever see the same
story play out twice, you will have gotten your money out of the game multiple
More recently, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate was released for those of a D&D-friendly
persuasion, with characters much more in tune with Dungeons & Dragons lore but
keeping the same core gameplay. Like Werewolf, Betrayal also has a Legacy version
now—who's to say how powerful the evil in the house can become when you watch it
evolve over decades?
Cthulhu: Yep, it's Granddaddy Tentacle ready to sweep you into the ocean and
break the town of Arkham into pieces for the eighty-seven millionth time. If you
like the Cthulhu mythos, there's almost no end to the options available. Want to
battle the Elder Gods in Arkham? Arkham Horror. Prefer traveling the world?
Eldritch Horror. Dice-based? Elder Sign. Small (four-max) card game? Arkham
Horror, The Card Game. Sherlock-style mystery solving? Mythos Tales.
This is not an exhaustive list, either, but it's enough to get any fan
of Lovecraft's work, or anyone even a little interested, into the
game-based use of his lore. Your friendly local game store can help you dig
further into the possibilities if these aren't enough, or if you're a big fan
who already owns all the games on this list.
That'll do it for our Halloween Spooky Special games run down. Take a trip down
to pick up the game that strikes your fancy today, because sales are…
...wait for it…
Comics have been in a bit of a summer lull these past few weeks. Big comic events from DC and Marvel are a bit out of season at the moment, focusing in on a series or two each instead of big universe scale events. Indie companies additionally have just felt a little lackluster with their new releases as of late. As such, I’ve been sort of patiently waiting for the next issue in my subscriptions to drop and that’s never amazing from someone always looking to try new stuff. One shots and limited series do have a tendency to fill that void however and seeing Fearless hit the shelves certainly piqued my interest. “The fiercest ladies of the Marvel Universe Unite!”. Ok, sure, I’m in. I have absolutely no idea what kind of story this is going to bring or how serious it’s going to take itself, I’m just hoping for a fun ride and to see some female superheroes kicking ass.
To my own surprise, Fearless #1 doesn’t really have a cohesive story throughout. It’s in a short story format focusing on a few different heroes across the Marvel universe. Despite the “unite” aspect of the comics advertising, there’s very little uniting happening in this mini series’ first issue. The stories themselves are kind of all over the place in terms of tone and story. The first half or so focuses on Captain Marvel, Invisible Woman and Storm respectively. These stories are a bit more serious, focusing on the difficulties of being a female superhero in the spotlight, and with Captain Marvel specifically, her role as a leader among the superhero world as someone who doesn’t really want to be. Storm’s little comic is about her forceful removal of some deforesters trespassing on government protected grounds, which is interesting enough.
The second half kind of devolves into this strange reality show with a bunch of overly beautiful internet influencers and successful photographers. It’s quirky and reminds me of something I would probably enjoy reading from Image or Boom! Studios, though the story completely fails on the superhero part it was supposed to be delivering on. Which is a bit jarring actually. Jarring to the point where I don’t really understand what they were going for in the context of what the comic was supposed to be. And things only get weirder as it leads into a Jessica Jones short that I’m sure fans of the character who are basically begging for good JJ content weren’t very happy to see. I’ll avoid any major details on that part.
It’s pretty rare that I speak negatively of a comic book I review, and I don’t necessarily want to show this comic book in an all bad light. The first half specifically is at least somewhat enjoyable and has an interesting take on what it means to be both a superhero and a woman in the Marvel world. I would have enjoyed if they’d gone all in on this theme and ran with it, but instead the second half really devolves into something totally different, and I really don’t think it’s good. The short story format of the comic doesn’t really help it either, especially in the way it’s advertised. But a short story comic book is very forgivable if its good. This just falls short of that I think, and that’s super disappointing considering the material they’re working with. There’s totally room in the comic book world for this kind of comic to exist. This just isn’t the way it should be done.
(2.5 / 5)
It’s a bird party! And I am super late to it!
Wingspan is a game about birds, birds, and more birds. Birds in the forest, birds on the plains, and birds near the water. Birds that are smol, and birds that eat the birds that are smol. Feed your birds, play your birds, and watch your birds barely survive in the wild, because “take flight” is both too cliche and too positive for what nature does to things living in it.
It’s simple to play. You have a hand of bird cards and a pile of food. Feed the birds and play their cards. Except… do you have the right food? What kind of nests do the birds make? Can some of your birds help other birds with the same nests? Do your birds want to eat other birds? Can your birds find more food for your other birds to eat? Do your birds do something right now and then just sit there like lazy buggers, or do they keep working as long as you pay attention to their habitat? How many eggs can they take care of? Who wants to eat the eggs? Should you—
The pieces of the game make sense. They’re not hard to learn or use. Making them work together, though, takes some knowledge of what cards you might see, how much food you might need, and so on, and that makes it a trip for first-timers to learn. If everyone’s new, it works out fine. If some people are and some aren’t, the noobs better learn quickly. There is time to suss out a strategy, thankfully, so you aren’t stuck finishing out a game that you’ve started to understand but need a second play to make that understanding work for you. But the learning curve exists.
The actions don’t take much explaining. You can play a bird to any of the areas in which it can live, if you have the food. If you can’t or don’t want to play a bird, you can use an action in a given habitat. Taking an action in the forest gives you food. The plains give you eggs, and the water gives you cards. The more birds you have in the habitat, the more of each of those things you have access to with a single action. Playing towards your specific goal(s)—you start with one and can get more during the game—and the competitive goals for each round (ie. have eggs on the most different birds when the round ends) is important for winning, but if you can find a point combo that doesn’t require those things, it could still be enough. Understanding the game, and not the “meta” strategies or the few things that will actually work amongst knowledgeable players, is how you do well, which is excellent.
Really, it’s so good. It’s hard for a game to make someone (ie. me) go from grouchy and lost to realizing what’s possible to almost winning in a single playthrough, but this one did. It’s very smoothly designed, with a lot of detail about the birds that technically weren’t needed but make the game more engaging for their presence. I usually always want to play something new, but I won’t mind a second go at this one.
(4.4 / 5)
As League of Legends comes up on its 10 year anniversary and still holds the title of most popular MOBA video game on the market, it’s interesting to look back at its history as someone who’s been following it since the beginning. There have been quality improvements all across the board from gameplay reworks to visual updates, but perhaps the largest overhaul in recent memory is their work on game lore. League lore used to be pretty trash-tier to be completely honest with you. Bios on each of their many playable characters were often pretty lacking in both quality and length. Tropes and badly written stories were abundant. However, we’ve seen quite an overhaul in the past few years as characters have gotten more robust, professionally written backstories and lore moments. Music videos, short stories and comics are only some examples and they’re often high quality deals. League’s collaboration with Marvel on this Ashe comic is no joke. It’s being supported heavily by Riot Games (League developer) and is being touted as a long and full comic mini-series. Good comics have come out of this company in the past but a collaboration with Marvel is something exciting for the comic book world and for League in general. Also who better to give it to than Ashe, one of the original and most beloved characters in the League of Legends lineup.
The lore behind Freljord is fairly set in stone in the League of Legends universe. It’s one of the first factions to have existed within canon and has been the location of origin for quite a few of the game’s playable characters. Ashe is the warmother of the factions largest Horde, but her comic takes place long before and when she was much younger. Her mother Grena is the current warmother within this story and Ashe must deal with her own inevitable future as the leader for her people and her mother’s obsessive nature when it comes to destiny and prophecy. The reality of her situation becomes quickly clear as we’re hinted toward Grena’s past of marching members of her people to their deaths on wild goose chases and thirsts for knowledge. However, there’s little doubting both her mother’s skills in battle as well as her tactical ability on the battlefield, so many follow Grena for those reasons and loyalty alone, and while Ashe loves her mother and admires her strength, Ashe’s kinder heart and stronger grip on reality has driven somewhat of a wedge between the two. This first issue sets up an opening for Ashe to evolve as she’s forced to make difficult a myriad decisions.
Before anything with the story it’s worth mentioning that the art for this comic is absolutely gorgeous. I’m unfamiliar with the artist’s (Nina Vakueva) work, and it seems like she’s done little in the mainstream comic world, but I think this is going to be a massive boost for her. This comic looks absolutely incredible. The story of Ashe #1 is interesting enough, albeit a little bland, and sets up a bit of a mystery going forward. I can’t confidently say that if you’re not a League of Legends fan you’ll enjoy this comic book at all. However, I think it at least holds up just looking at the art and the beautiful setting alone. The real treat with League lore is how much better it’s gotten over the years. These characters are interesting and worth investing him into when they previously weren’t. I think Ashe #1 is no exception to that change. While I don’t think that this issue was anything to lose your mind over, I left being okay with more, and that’s a win with comics I think.
(4 / 5)