The Dork Den Blog
For all your comic and board game review needs.
When Jeff Lemire began his work on Old Man Logan, Marvel fans were graced with one of the grittiest, most stylish comic books of the modern world, especially by Marvel standards. Every once in a while the company really puts out something great, and for the more violent and dark friendly fans of the company, both Wolverine and Jeff Lemire were wonderful choices in providing that style of read. For a couple of years Old Man Logan took on a life of its own. It was basically an elseworld story, truly focusing in on itself and telling its own thing slightly adjacent to any major events happening within the Marvel continuity, and while I think the comic book really fell off when Lemire moved onto other projects there was really a golden period of that series that I believe will go down in history. Naturally, as Marvel does, the milking of the Old Man concept ensued, and we got Old Man Hawkeye, which I didn’t read, and now Old Man Quinn. It’s not to say these comic books weren’t good. I think Hawkeye was fairly well received but I’m skeptical after the utter success that was the Logan comic. Quill is a weird choice for this line of storytelling, and that’s what pulled me toward this comic where Hawkeye otherwise hadn’t.
Old Man Quill #1 seems to pick up in modern day (though I’m not caught up with current GotG antics). Quill is the Emperor of Spartax, a storyline Marvel really seems to be riding-or-dying with for a while now. The Guardians are essentially disbanded, and its Star Lord’s duty to protect his planet and save his people, primarily from the Church of Truth, a tyrannical intergalactic religious organization run by a bunch of evil psychopaths. Until recently, Quill was able to hold off these fanatics and protect the planet, until he’s eventually outsmarted and accidentally allows the utter destruction of Spartax and its people by focusing all his forces on one side of the planet, leaving the other exposed for complete annihilation. Upon suffering this utter defeat, Quill becomes nearly inconsolable, hellbent on living out his days on his ship hovering above his failure of a planet. Years later however, when a much older Guardians of the Galaxy arrive at his ship in order to pull him out of his drunken slump, they recruit him to re-complete the Guardians and take down the Church once and for all.
Quill isn’t nearly as stylized or intelligently written as Old Man Logan’s first issue and setup, that much is pretty clear throughout reading the comic book, but there is a few things to appreciate here. Once again readers are giving a sort of elseworld story. Regardless of its role in the continuity, Old Man Quill takes place isolated entirely from the main storylines of the Marvel comic book world and I think in both DC and Marvel comics that’s always refreshing. Seeing an old Guardians of the Galaxy comprised entirely of Guardians every reader at this point is going to know and love was really cool. They’re not as quick and quirky in their old age. They’re slower, more serious, and angry with the galaxy and that makes for an interesting dynamic you’d probably otherwise not see when it comes to The GotG’s borderline requirement to never take itself too seriously, especially when thinking about the movies. This comic does feel a little bit read-before, albeit enjoying the older versions of the characters. This just feel like a regular old ‘meh’ Marvel comic. I certainly think there’s room to grow there, there’s no doubt, but as I feared, I think the age of the Old Man concept’s glory days have come and passed.
Whirlygigs? Don’t tell me…
I said don’t tell ffffFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU
Gizmos is a two to four player, engine building game about… building engines, really. You start with a board listing the types of cards and one starting card that lets you draw an energy sphere blindly out of the thingamajig they all go in. From there you can file away cards from the board (only one, unless upgrades improve this capacity) or build cards that give you more and better abilities if you take the action associated with them on your turn. Those abilities are File, Pick, Build, or Research.
File and Build are obvious; Pick is choosing one of the energy spheres in the thingamajig chute; and Research is drawing cards equal to your research level from one deck, choosing one, then either filing it or building it right away. What’s important about these, especially as the game goes on, is not so much the abilities but the chance to trigger all the gizmo cards underneath the ability you used that turn. The right engine with the right energy can take two black and build them into a card that takes four yellow to make, all on one turn.
The balancing point is that the game ends when someone has sixteen cards in their play area. Is it better to balance your cards in each category, so you get a decent benefit no matter what ability you use? Or should you pile them in one or two abilities and find a way to lean heavily on those all game? This depends on what’s available, especially at the start, and understanding how to build an efficient engine early. Whatever that engine can build, you run with to the greatest extent possible, and hopefully that’s enough to carry the game.
What all of that means, to the engine-building veterans out there, is that the game becomes substantially easier once you know what’s available or likely to be available for you to build. Watching a bunch of people try to figure out what they’re looking at and how it fits together on the fly is almost painful next to that one person who knows exactly what cards they’re looking for and how to best fit everything together. The game is fine when everyone knows what they’re doing or no one knows what they’re doing, but a mixed group is going to create a pretty imbalanced experience.
One thing I still haven’t figured out is the reason for building the thingamajig for the energy spheres. Did they see Potion Explosion and decide it was a fun concept to swipe? There isn’t much reason to limit the energy that can be taken with the Pick action. It’s not uncommon for it to be loaded up with two colors. Although it doesn’t happen often, someone’s engine can get throttled by not having access to the energy colors they need. Did it need this element of randomness to keep the game from playing the same way all the time? Gizmos is pretty good, it doesn’t seem like it should need that. It mostly seems like they felt the need to put something “cool” in the box.
Short version: If you like engine building games and you’re willing to play a couple of rounds to learn what’s available, you’ll have a good time with Gizmos. You might even like the thingamajig more than I do.(4.1 / 5)
It’s been a couple of weeks since I covered the Age of the Republic comic book of the week. Maybe I’ve just gotten so used to seeing them on the shelf that the break weeks are throwing me off. I’ve really been enjoying this anthology run so far, and I think Marvel has some really good things going for their one-shot comic books with their slower paced style and surprisingly thought provoking character pieces. This is not what I would have expected out of a prequel comic series, but it’s truly what the prequel stories needed: real story telling. It’s an awesome universe with some badly written characters, and any lore support it gets is a major win for me.
This week continues with Anakin Skywalker, perhaps the most controversial character in the entire series, and the first character in this anthology series not almost universally loved by fans (Jango might come close). Maul, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon: these are all well crafted characters in their own respects. Anakin is not. Anakin sucks, plain and simple. The Clone Wars cartoon gave him some redemption by making him a less hateable character while not completely overhauling his personality. Take away his extremely whiny tendencies and his exposition-heavy emotions and you at least have something to work with. Anakin #1 is heavily influenced by the Clone Wars Anakin Skywalker. Slightly more relatable, honorable, and not afraid to do what he believes is right at any cost. Despite orders from higher ups among the Republic Attack Cruiser, the young Jedi sets out to save a group of people likely caught in a ‘necessary’ crossfire that would serve as a win for the Republic. Though it was deemed a lose-one-save-a-million situation, Anakin isn’t having any of it and the comic primarily follows him setting out to extract these potential losses before things go down. We’re given some pretty interesting inner monologue, and Skywalker is faced with his slavery-ridden childhood in unexpected circumstances, all the while hoping he doesn’t manage to prove the militaristic mentality of the Republic forces correct all along.
This is perhaps the most action packed of the Age of the Republic comic books to come out so far. It’s a little disappointing to see the more philosophical take on Star Wars characters break pattern here, but there’s still some cool things worth reading here, and that’s not to take away from the action, which is completely fine. The colorist uses a lot of cool backdrops throughout the comic book. Anakin is often times doing morally righteous things and looking out for the little guy in this story, and yet almost every time he has a moment of heroism, he’s accompanied by a very sith-like dark red background. I thought that was a really neat and thoughtful touch, and was one of the very first things I noticed about the comic. Otherwise, there’s nothing to really criticize or praise here. The comic book is decent, and it does a respectable job of handling an otherwise easy-to-hate character from the prequels. They probably should have just skipped this one for the anthology anyway. Oh well.
In light of all the Star Wars comics I’ve been reviewing as of late, I figure now is as good a time as ever during a week break between comics to review something outside the realm of both Marvel and Star Wars and, once again, check out what Image has to offer in regard to its few new series. A few weeks ago I had heard about an upcoming comic called Oliver – a fresh idea from writer Gary Whitta, writer of greats like Rogue One and The Book of Eli. These movies are favorites of mine, and on top of that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Whitta on various podcasts and other nerd outlets the past few years. He’s really a man of a people, and a super nerd just like the rest of us, so I always try to put some time aside to enjoy what he has to offer. He seems to be working on everything across the board these days. Whether comics, novels, movies or video games, no medium seems to stop Whitta from putting pen to paper and writing a pretty sick story, so I have high hopes for Oliver and its ever popular writer. Oliver may not exactly be the genre for me, but that wasn’t going to stop me from checking it out.
The comic Oliver is a twist on the Charles Dickens’ character Oliver Twist, and it’s a big twist. Set in the distant post-apocalyptic future, the famous orphan spends his days as a superhero fighting for the liberation of England, which has since been seeped in division. Raised in a society of similarly faced men bred in labs years ago originally make for war, Oliver is an outlier: a natural born boy, which is unheard of within this group of people. Despite many’s protest, Oliver is permitted to live and grow among them, but there’s something different about him. He grows exceptionally fast, and he’s exceptionally athletic. Only a few years from his birth he has the look and the maturity of a preteen boy, and before long he begins to wonder about his family, and his origins, something kept quite mysterious to both Oliver himself and the comic’s readers. While the man that raised him chooses for now to keep Oliver in the dark about his true nature, he knows it won’t be long before the full truth will have to be revealed.
One thing to note first about Oliver, is that its setting and its visuals are really cool. Post-apocalyptic settings aren’t often found outside the realm of America, so seeing a completely desolate London, England is awesome, and due to Whitta’s English background and work on Book of Eli, you can really tell he knows what he wants when showing the massive landscapes and barren shots he asks his artist to provide. Conceptually, the story is solid, though it’s difficult to say where it’s going or what it’s trying to do with only 1 issue. Oliver is basically a non-character so far. He says very little in this issue, and although we establish he has a bit of a rebellious and adventurous nature about him, he just doesn’t seem all that interesting in this issue. Additionally, I’m just not sure what this issue has to do with Oliver Twist other than the characters likeness I guess? There’s a couple cool Charles Dickens quotes throughout, and it starts in a neat Dickens-esque way, but I haven’t seen any Oliver Twist moments that make me go “Hey that’s like the book, but post-apocalyptic!”. Maybe I’m missing something. Either way, I’m sure there’s more to come, and I think a lot of people are going to dig this comic. Whitta is the lord of fan service and giving people what they want to see, so I would suggest not fretting. At least yet.(4 / 5)
You dirty rat! You actual dirty rat! Wash your fur, you’re disgusting!
Goodcritters is a pseudo-bluffing game very much in the spirit of Cash ‘N’ Guns, but without the nerf guns and with slightly fuzzier gangsters. Each round there’s a boss and a selection of loot set to be passed out among the criminals, and victory depends on your nerve, your ability to figure out what your opponents are doing, and how well you can maximize your take on every round. How the looting works is how the two games most differ.
One player starts as the boss. A number of loot cards are drawn equal to the number of players plus two, as opposed to the flat eight per round of Cash ‘N’ Guns. (There’s a larger deck of loot cards with a Fuzz card slipped into the bottom third, so the end of the game is harder to predict.) Rather than players trying to brave their way into the heist so they can split the loot, the boss hands out the loot herself. The players get a vote, though; if more people vote no than yes, the loot is put back in the center and the next person becomes boss, passing out the same loot however he sees fit.
Of course, nothing’s ever as simple as a vote.
After the loot is distributed, everyone gets an action. Voting yes or no are only two of the options. The others are to rob another player; guard against a robbery; or skim money off the top of the deck. Skimming only works if you’re the first person to do it, which makes it great for the boss and a more chancy proposition the farther down the line you are. Robbery can only be done if you put your threat token in front of somebody else, which means if you do try and rob someone everyone knows who it will be already. It also means that if no one is threatening you, there’s no need to guard yourself.
Therefore, if you’re the boss, passing out the loot isn’t a simple matter of making enough people happy with the split to keep you in charge. It’s also a question of not giving people a reason to vote against you. Since not everyone has to use their threat token, the game ends up leaning more towards the politics of getting people to do what you want rather than calling their bluffs when guns are pointed at you, and the money split is a major part of that.
There are optional rules that involve bribes and payoffs, and each loot card as a type of loot attached to it (jewelry, paintings, etc.) which are currently irrelevant but should be put to use in future expansions. However, none of this affects the main drawback of the game: no catch-up mechanism. Not every game needs one, but it’s pretty important in a game with a light tone that’s designed to be an enjoyable experience.
For example, in Cash ‘N’ Guns, it can be difficult to make up ground if you’re behind, but you do have an option—stand up and take part in every heist no matter how many guns are pointed at you. No, it may not work, but you can at least try. It’s possible that other players were constantly throwing bullets at you, so that you never had a chance, but in most circumstances falling behind happens because you sit out a heist when the people threatening you were bluffing. Even if your decisions made perfect sense, at least it was your decisions that created the situation.
In Goodcritters, unless you’re the boss, you have no control over the loot split. You can’t make anybody give you anything. You can rob people, but that only gets you one random card from their stash (if they don’t guard against it and rob from you instead). You can vote no, but even if it works, you don’t make up any ground, you just stop everyone else from getting their loot. The balancing factor is supposed to be that if you’re a good boss, you can keep the troops happy while also making more profit for yourself than you’re giving to them, and it’s better for the boss to give you money if you’re behind because you’ll vote for them while also being less of a threat. In theory, that should work, and with a group that knows how to play, it probably does. However, if everyone’s just chucking loot splits in a way that will get them votes, it may keep going to the same people. If you’re not among them, it leaves you pretty helpless, as you don’t have the tools to do much about it.
There’s also the question of what they plan to do with the loot types. In theory, there are ways to do set collection that function as a way to have fewer cards but more value, which may go a long way towards fixing the catch-up problem. But selling the game with aspects that don’t come into play right away—especially when they’re so prominently featured on the website—is some shenanigan behavior. When whatever expansion makes use of the loot types comes out, this game might be great. Not giving us that game is not OK.
(3.3 / 5)