Saturday, April 06, 2019

Frankenstein: A New Version of It's Alive from Invedars

Hey guys. News about the game formerly known as It's Alive.

After the first prototypes, two editions of It's Alive from Reiver Games, and two versions of Hanukkah themed versions called Candle Quest by Victory Point Games and on The Game Crafter (still available), the game has been picked up by Invedars, returning to its original Frankenstein theme.

The new version is called Frankenstein and it looks amazing. New artwork, and a figurine and a new events expansion for Kickstarter backers.



The project is up on Kickstarter and reached its goal in only 24 hours. It is now many times above its goal.

They have already sent prototypes to reviewers for new reviews, for example:


Follow Invedars and progress about the game on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Movie Reviews: Captain Marvel, Green Book, Juliet, Naked, Colette, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Aquaman, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Mary Poppins Returns, Like Father

See all of my movie reviews.

Captain Marvel - It's not the toxic male mob intent on trashing this movie because it features strong women characters (some of color, no less) that gets me. It's the well-meaning but clueless regular men (and women) who don't get that a female superhero movie doesn't have to a) be exactly like a male superhero movie or b) feature a woman who has to listen to, love, or get saved or supported by a man.

"Vers" is a Kree, a humanoid with a past that she remembers in glimpses in her dreams. She is fighting as an elite Kree warrior against the "terrorist" shape-shifting Krulls, and told by her mentor and the world's AI that they gave her her special powers (shooting energy blasts from her hands and other things, that other Krees don't have) and will take it away if she can't control it. During a mission she is kidnapped by Krulls and crash lands in 1990s Earth, where she discovers many secrets about the past and the war she is fighting. Eventually she turns into Captain Marvel; this is late in the movie but not a big spoiler.

The naysayers who say that Brie Larson doesn't exhibit enough emotion didn't watch the movie. Okay, maybe she doesn't play CM as a vulnerable helpless naif, or make us feel her struggles too much, but she exhibits fear, doubt, confusion, happiness, joy, anger, and everything in between. She's just freakin' strong and powerful, she's generally in control, and she's angry. Captain Marvel has nothing to prove after being lied to and finally regurgitating the lies. She spent six years in a civilization that treats men and women equally and she doesn't know anything about being a second class citizen. She is a powerhouse and a warrior. And so, in a more human way, is her female friend Lashana Lynch, a pilot who skillfully flies a rescue mission and shoots down enemy ships.

The naysayers who claim that CM doesn't learn or grow also didn't watch the movie. Okay, the turning points were sometimes a tad rushed, but it's a Marvel movie; for crying out loud. Compared to other Marvel movies, this was Shakespeare. Everything about her confusion, her gradual uncovering of the truth, and her turning points are well presented in the movie and make sense. (How she got her powers - and lived - doesn't make sense, but then neither do any of the other Marvel superhero origin stories.)

One way to analyze if the movie works is to ask if the movie would still be good if the sexes were swapped. The answer is hell yes. But it's far better to have women as the lead characters, because so few movies like this do. It's high time that girls had some uncompromising, independent, unsexualized, strong role models.

Everyone involved in this movie did a great job. It has the most real character development and character relations I've seen in a Marvel movie since Iron Man. Within the context of Marvel, the plot flows seamlessly into the rest of the MCU (without the hanging threads that Wonder Woman left in the DCU, for example). CM is a real superhero, like Superman. A fun watch. Ben Mandelsohn also bring fun to most scenes he is in as one of the Skrulls.

Green Book - Based on a true story of a low-class Italian bouncer who drives a black, fancy piano virtuoso across the deep south in 1962. Mahershala Ali plays the somewhat ridiculous Doctor Donald Shirley who is invited as guest of honor in places where he is typically not allowed to sleep or eat. Viggo Mortensen is nearly unrecognizable as his driver, who starts off as a crude racist but ends up ... well, you'll have to see.

The story is okay, the acting and everything else is good. The movie creates a relatively safe space to encounter racism, with only a little violence and general racism. It's more a road movie and a culture class of refined vs uncouth. I don't know that the movie deserved an Oscar for best picture, but it was solid enough, if a tad predictable in some places.

The ending scene is unbelievable as Hollywood movies tend to be.

Juliet, Naked - A very good romantic comedy. Duncan (Chris O'Dowd) is a fanatic blogger who obsessively tracks information about one musician, Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who disappeared many years ago. Duncan is more interested in his hobby than his girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne), who ends up in contact with Tucker behind Duncan's back.

Like in many romantic comedies, it's hard to figure out how the girl ended up with the guy in the first place. Not that Duncan is horrible, but he's not a great match for Annie. The scenery is a small pretty, port town in England crossed with some scenes in London hospitals and studios. The movie is mostly laid back.

It's sweet and calm, with an original screenplay that goes in a familiar rom-com direction with some original, unexpected confrontations along the way. Well worth a watch.

Colette - Keira Knightley plays the eponymous writer in a now-familiar story of a woman writing under her man's name, who takes the credit, until she has had enough of that, thank you.

Keira is a firehouse in some movies (Pirates of the Caribbean, Begin Again) and out of place in others (Pride and Prejudice, The Imitation Game). Here she is closer to the latter, unfortunately, unable to give the role the kind of gravitas that would make a more interesting picture. Her character is too straightforward. The plot is too straightforward. Colette's lesbian encounters were not scandalous at the time, because no one knew about them, and they are not scandalous to us today, so that part of the plot doesn't really add much substance to the movie.

It's not bad, and it doesn't drag, but it wasn't very memorable.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - Actually a good movie. The critics somewhat miss the mark here. They didn't like that this was an interim chapter of a movie that sets up the next one(s). In this regard, it's something like HP 5 or 6, but without the tournament or shock ending. Basically, if there had been a shock ending, the critics would have been mollified. The problem is that we're not invested in the characters, so that kind of an ending wasn't really possible.

Queenie, Jacob, Newt, and Tina, as well as a host of other characters, all congregate in Paris (and some other places) to chase after the smarmy Grindelwald, who is assembling an army to attack muggles, and the reborn Credence who has some kind of part to play. Dumbledore is also involved in some short scenes that don't give us much information.

They abandoned sense regarding Queenie's character and reduced her to a plot point "good witch turns bad" using the flimsiest of plot elements: they shoehorned Jacob back into the movie as another plot element. That part was kind of a mess, which I bet JKR could have done much better in book form than it ended up being on screen. As for Newt and Tina, yeah, it's a little hard to figure out why Newt is the hero handing this mission, instead of a pack of competent, trained aurors, but whatever. I also give "whatevers" to a few of the other random plot elements.

It's still pretty fun, pretty magical, mostly makes sense, is well-paced, has some clever and thrilling moments, and takes its time doing world-building ...something which other directors could learn from (*cough* new Star Wars *cough* all comic book movies *cough*). I'm not saying I'm going to run out and see it again in the theater, but I'll happily watch it again when I re-watch the whole FBaWTFT series.

Aquaman - Actually ... meh. Lots of men with irrelevant supporting women. That's par for the course, mostly, but the men are not interesting. They yell, pose, and fight. The spectacle and effects are pretty and overwhelming sometimes, but it all comes to a lot of posing and fighting, and nothing interesting in the way of plot or characters.

Queen of Atlantis runs away, or gets washed away, and meets a human who runs a lighthouse. They have a baby, Aquaman, who grows up (in too-little screen time) who goes to claim his crown in the sea. To do this he has to find a magic trident, while being pursued by a human in a magic suit who is upset that Aquaman didn't save his criminal father from dying, as well as the current lord of Atlantis who wants to kill all the humans for dumping garbage in the ocean.

On the one hand, it's nice when the bad guys have reasonable motivations (taken too far). On the other hand, do we really want to be rooting FOR dumping in the ocean? Or oppression of black people around the world (Black Panther)? Or overpopulation (Avengers Infinity War)?

Visually beautiful, frenetic, and kind of insane is the best that can be said about it. It's like Thor underwater, with a laser light show. Not on my list of great comic movies.

Ralph Breaks the Internet - Ralph and Princess Vanellope are video game characters, as you know from the last outing of this franchise. They get sucked into the Internet, and try to find a (real world physical) component to fix Vanellope's arcade game (and then the money to buy the component), and then they get into fights and races with hot gaming chicks and computer viruses.

It mostly makes sense if you don't think about any of it too hard (take one small aspect of a real world concept, pretend that it makes sense for a video game character to deal with or manifest, repeat ad nauseum). It's entertaining. It tries hard to have relatable characters, but they are just flat pixels on which to give a few life lessons and say jokes. The room full of hip Disney princesses was fun, but I couldn't help feeling that even this scene could have been better. Actually, just following a bunch of updated, feminist Disney princesses, free from the constraints of their movie plots, would make a great movie.

It tries hard, but ultimately it's just okay.

Mary Poppins Returns - Emily Blunt makes a nice Mary Poppins. She lacks (deliberately) some of the warmth and sentimentality that Julie Andrews had in the original, but makes up for it with a no-nonsense strictness and charm that gives her a more otherworldly, appealing magical quality. Lin-Manuel Miranda is good as the sidekick with an accent almost as bad as Van Dyke's was.

In this story, The Banks children are grown up with children of their own. They are facing financial problems that will cause them to have to leave their house. If only that lost bank deed with the proper signature would turn up to save the day. In the meantime, where is light-heartedness and fun to be found any more?

It's hard to judge this kind of thing as an adult with grown children. The original Mary Poppins was not one of my favorites: I loved the songs, but the movie was mysterious and dragged on on occasion (what the heck was that whole plot about women's votes? (I asked as a child)). This movie was at least as good, with inventive animated sequences and songs that pay homage to the original without duplicating it or being too "modern". On the other hand, maybe modern songs would have been a better idea for modern kids, like in The Greatest Showman?

I liked it.

Like Father - Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer play their charming selves in this so-so romantic comedy without the romance; is there a genre for parent-child relationship movies?

Rachel (Kristen) is an overworking always-on-the-phone bride who is left at the altar by her fiance for bringing her phone with her to the altar. Her estranged father (Kelsey) who left when she was five showed up to the wedding and then again a few nights later. They get drunk and end up on the cruise she was supposed to have gone on with her ex-fiance. They fight, they try to bond, they fight, they bond.

It's all predictable, down to the expected karaoke scene, the just-when-it-looks-like-everything-is-going-well-they-fight fight, and the last minute change of heart. Kristen and Kelsey carry the movie with their talents, and the usual assortment of nice location shots and the not-too-odd irrelevant cruise guests along for backdrop. No surprises makes it a little dull, but there is nothing very wrong with the movie and there are some laughs.

Friday, March 08, 2019

No News is No News

A year ago my manager at work started a game hour on Thursdays for our small group of 5. Between the 2 of us we brought in new games every week for several months that could be played for 5 non-gamers. My manager up and left us last week, but I hope to continue the gaming. Only now we are going to get between 7 and 10 each week. Which makes it more challenging, unless I just bring in 2 copies of Codenames (1 Hebrew and 1 English) each week. That will be the default option.

Meanwhile I haven't touched my book. But I went to South Africa and came back. Pictures on Facebook. I usually tell a travelogue on my blog, and I may still do that. I didn't play much on the trip.



There is something to say about my game It's Alive, which I will say when I can say it.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Status

Too long without a post.

Hopefully this  won't be the last post on the blog. I am still in draft three of a book, and don't seem to be getting much writing done or even seeing many movie. Distractions and all.

I still have an unfinished story. An unfinished book of parsha shiurim. Several half-baked and nearly baked game designs on the shelf.

However, I am still employed, having a social life, going on a vacation next month. My daughter is married and thriving, my son is thriving, too. Which is all good.

Still have weekly game nights and still get new games occasionally. I just got Concordia, Sushi Go Party, and I am expecting Gentes Deluxe and Haithabu. I am expecting a few thousand new Magic cards soon.

I and my boss have been playing games with three non-gamer coworkers at work every Thursday. It's been half a year, and, aside from Codenames, we have rarely repeated any games. Looks like we may start soon.

The magic of games, those little points, seem insignificant, but it's astonishing how they take a play activity and make people focus on a goal, a start, and an end. It's almost hard to understand why, but it must have something to do with: not only feeling great when you succeed, but wanting others to have a chance to feel great, too. If it didn't, the whole concept of multiplayer games would just fall apart. As long as we still play games together, I think humanity still has hope.

Peace.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

This guide includes games for young and old, for every sex, generation, temperament, and culture.

Whatever you do, and whatever you celebrate, there is no better way to spend a Christmas, Hanukkah, or what have you than together with friends, family, and neighbors with a warm cup of (fair trade) cocoa and a stack of casual board and/or card games.

Remember that the most valuable gift you can give is time. Don't just give your loved ones a game; play it with them. Find or start a local game group and join or form a community.

I hope you enjoy the guide. Remember: the holidays are not only for sharing the warmth with family and friends, but also for sharing with those who have no one else to share with them. Give to your local shelters, hospitals, and so on, because that's the gift that keeps on giving.
Antike II: Ages 8+, 2 to 6 players

Risk is a long game of laying low, with player elimination and just too much in the luck department; this game (and its predecessor but very rare and expensive Antike) is the perfect evolution to, and replacement for, Risk.

It plays quicker, there's dice-less conflict, no one gets to lay low watching while others fight, and - excepting truly poor play - everyone has a chance for most of the game. There's also a lot more to the game than just conflict, but the rules are short and elegant.

Other alternatives for the Risk players are Antike Duellum (for two players) and Risk Legacy (an odd game in which moves that you make in one game affect the next game).
Azul is a new game with gorgeous components and simple game play: take all of the tiles of one color from one mat or from the center and try to fit them into the right rows at the right time.

Easy enough. The tricky part is scoring rows and columns of connected tiles. This new version, Azul Stained Glass, ups the fun by eliminating a few rules and adding a half dozen additional tactical options without adding much more complexity.

Simple to explain and easy to get going, and it looks so nice.
Backgammon: Ages 6+, 2 players

Backgammon is a classic game that can be enjoyed by children and parents alike. While there is a large amount of luck in the game, there are also many meaningful decisions, which makes this a good stepping stone to future games with more challenge, such as Checkers or Chess.
Blokus, Blokus Trigon, Blokus Duo: Ages 8+, 4 players (Blokus), 2-4 players (Blokus Trigon), or 2 players (Blokus Duo)

Blokus, Blokus Trigon, and Blokus Duo are abstract games with very simple rules. Each round you take a piece and place it on the board such that it touches any previous pieces you have played, but only corner to corner. It can touch other players' pieces along corners or sides.

The rules are easy, the components are beautiful, and it's fun.
Boggle: Ages 8+, 2 to 10 players

Boggle is a word game, whose simple rules - find all the words you can within three minutes - make it a game that is both fun and quick. Adults can play with kids by restricting the adults to have to find words of four or five letters.

The pictured version is a little quieter and less bulky than the old boxy version, and comes with a built-in electronic timer.
Candle Quest: Ages 6+, 2 to 4 players

A little plug for my own game. This is a simple set-collection auction game with a Hanukkah theme. It fits in well with the other games on the list: easy to learn, quick to play, lots of replayability. The theme makes it appropriate for all ages, and there's nothing overtly Jewish about it, other than that it's a menorah, so anyone should feel comfortable playing it.

Of course, I may be biased, since I designed it.
Carcassonne, variants, and expansions: Ages 10+, 2 to 5 players

Carcassonne is a bit more complex than some of the other games here, but the beautiful pieces and the fun game play are worth the time to learn. Pick a piece from the pile, rotate and place it so that it fits on the board (like dominoes), and then optionally place one of your pieces on that tile. There are several ways to score, some of which occur during the game and some of which only at the end of the game.

There are some more rules than that, but not too many more. The game play is engaging enough to make you want to play it more than once in a single sitting.

There are dozens of versions to the game, and some of the versions have several expansions.
Catan: Ages 8+, 3 to 4 players

This game, formerly known as The Settlers of Catan, and Ticket to Ride, are the perfect adult games for beginning gamers.

All you need to do is collect ten points through building settlements and cities, connecting roads, adding developments and trading with your fellow players. A unique board that changes each time you play, constant interaction even when it's not your turn, and a great balance of luck versus strategy makes this The Game to acquire if you still think that board games are only for kids.
Chess / Xiangqi / Shogi: Ages 6+, 2 players

These three games, Chess, XiangQi (Chinese Chess), and Shogi (Japanese Chess), are all top-tier 2-player games that can occupy a curious mind for an entire lifetime. They also have wide followings, so learning the game is learning a language that will admit you to a culture of fellow players around the world.

Board and piece prices range from inexpensive to very expensive, and Chess pieces come in many different themes.
Chinese Checkers: Ages 6+, 2 to 6 players

Another great abstract, and a pretty one if you find one with nice marbles. The rules are simple: move or jump your pieces from one side to the other. Finding chains of jumps is a thrill for all ages.
Carrom / Crokinole / Nok-Hockey / Air Hockey / Billiards / Foosball, etc.: Ages 6+, 2 players

Carrom is the most played tabletop game in India. Like Billiards, the object is to knock pieces off the table area, which you do by flicking wooden disks with your fingers. Crokinole is another classic finger flicking game, as is a racing game called Pitchcar. I finally picked up Crokinole for myself this year, and it is a constant hit with my nephews and their friends.

All kinetic tabletop games, from snooker to billiards to foosball, are loved by players of all ages.
Cards: Ages 3+, 1 to any number of players

Decks of cards, whether they are the well known Western type with 52 cards in 4 suits, or special European or Asian decks, are a great starting point for any number of wonderful games, including Bridge, Hearts, Skat, Cribbage, Pinochle, Oh Hell, Bullsh*t, Durak, President, Spades, Solitaire, and many others.

Check out Pagat.com for the rules to these games and to thousands of others.
Codenames: Ages 10+, 4-10 players

Codenames is a new, fun game that uses words in an unusual way. Two teams, the clue givers alternate trying to give one word clues that match as many of their team's cards as possible. You must find a word that matches multiple other words, but not any of your opponent's words or the assassin's word. It's mindbending, and the game is infinitely replayable.

A great game for non-gamers and gamers alike.
Some people like the pictures version or the new two-player version.
Dixit: Ages 10+, 3-6 (12) players

Dixit is an incredible game, especially for non-gamers. It is loved as a creative exercise: pick a card and give a word, phrase, song, dance, or any other clue to describe it, but not too perfectly. The other players try to play cards that also match your clue. You only get points if some people guess which was your card and some people don't.

The fun is in the creativity of the clues, and I've yet to see a game where even the most stodgy non-gamer doesn't have fun.

There are now several expansions, which are all good. This game, like many others, was inspired by Apples to Apples, another nifty game for the casual non-gamers who walk among us.
Froggy Boogie: Ages 3-9, 2 to 4 players

Froggy Boogie is a brilliant game to frustrate grownups and please younger children. All you have to do is remember where the picture of the fly is, under the left eye or the right eye? The dice have only colors - no counting necessary. It's a perfect first game.
Go / Pente: Ages 6+, 2 players

Beyond Chess, Checkers, or XiangQi is the absolute perfect game of Go (aka Weiqi); it's so popular, there are twenty-four hour television stations dedicated to it, an anime series based on it, and it's considered one of the four arts of the Chinese scholar.

It really is that good, and the rules are easy, too. Best of all, a built-in handicap system allows two people of any skill levels to enjoy a challenging game against each other.

You should play with the nicest board you can afford.

Pente, a game of getting five stones in a row, can be played on the same board. The rules are just as easy as Go, and while the game has much less depth, it is also a little less intimidating to new players.
Jungle Speed: Ages 8+, 3 to 8 players

There are several games of speed reaction / pattern recognition on the market; I chose this one because of the components. Players flip cards in turn and grab for the totem in the middle as soon as two matching cards are revealed. Don't play with friends who have sharp nails or finger jewelry.
Magic the Gathering: Ages 8+, 2 players

After two decades, Magic is still The Bomb when it comes to collectible card games, although Yu-Gi-Oh sells more cards. These are not easy games to learn, but quick start guides can get you off the ground fairly quickly, and then you have months and years of challenging game play ahead of you.

Don't get sucked into having to buy endless amounts of boosters; to play the game outside of a tournament, you only need a few hundred common cards which can be picked up for a penny each on various sites.
Mancala: Ages 5+, 2 players

This is widely known around the world under various names (e.g. Oware), and the national game of many African countries.

The rules are easy: pick up all the seeds in one of your bowls and place one in each bowl around the table. If you land on an empty space on your side, you win the seed and any seeds opposite.

There are a few more rules, but that's about it. It takes a few games to get up to speed; early victories tend to be lopsided. Once you get the hang of it, you can play several, quick, challenging games in succession.
Memory: Ages 3 to 12, 2 to 5 players

This is a first game for kids and adults, and a great game for it, because kids get the hang of it very quickly and adults find it a real challenge without having to pretend. All you need are one or two decks of cards, but an infinite number of these games are sold with various different pictures and themes.

You can play with more than 5 players, but I wouldn't recommend it.
Nefarious: Ages 8+, 2 to 6 players

This is a game of mad scientists that is great for 2 to 6 players, and doesn't sacrifice speed with more players. Each round, you select one of four actions. collect money from any neighbors who selected actions that your minions are invested in, perform your action, and then check to see if you won. The actions are: invest minions, play cards, take cards, or take money.

The cards are fun and the game is quick and replayable, because, in each game, you play with some random twists that make that game's experience unique.
No Thanks: Ages 7+, 3 to 5 players

This is an easy to learn and addictive little card game. A card is flipped up, and you either take the card and any tokens on it or place one of your tokens on it and pass it to the next player. Cards are bad, and tokens are good. But runs of cards only penalize you for the lowest valued card.

A simple and fun game.
Pandemic / Pandemic Legacy

Cooperative games used to be either very boring, very childish, or very hippy. A new breed of cooperative games are nail-bitingly challenging and fun.

Pandemic is a cooperative game of saving the world from disease. Other cooperative games include Lord of the Rings, Shadows Over Camelot, and the much simpler Forbidden Island.

The new Pandemic Legacy (like Risk Legacy, mentioned above), is a version that plays out: each time you play the world is permanently changed with stickers and torn cards; after dozens of plays, the game is over.
Poker: Ages 6+, 2 to any number of players

Playing for money is not a good habit, but a nice set of poker chips and some decks of cards is a great way to spend an evening. There are countless poker games, too.
Scrabble: Ages 8+, 2 (or 2 to 4) players.

Scrabble purists will tell you that you should only play with 2 players and a Chess clock, but for casual purposes it can be played with up to four. It is The word game, and for a good reason.

My favorite way to play is to ditch the board and just play Anagrams: turn over tiles, and first to call a word gets it. A similar, recommended game is Bananagrams, where players race to create their own crossword boards.
Set: Ages 6+, 2 to 10 players

Those who don't have it won't enjoy it. For those who do, it hits just the right spot in the brain. All you have to do is call out matches when you see them, but the matches have to match or not match in all four characteristics.
Stratego: Ages 6 to 15, 2 players

By the time I was in my teens, I had outgrown this, but it remains a seminal game for early players, a great introductory war game with all the basic elements: strategy, tactics, and bluffing. Avoid the electronic ones; they break and they're noisy.
Splendor: Ages 8+, 2 to 5 players

The new game on this list, this is a little resource management game of taking jewels and buying trade routes (i.e. cards). The components and decisions are few and pretty, and there are a few options for strategy, but they are well balanced, making this a tight game every time.

Very simple to understand, challenging to win.
Sushi Go Party - This is a lighter, friendlier version of a game I dropped from this list (7 Wonders).

Sushi Go is a drafting game: everyone has a hand of cards. Pick one to play and pass the rest. Repeat until the game is over. At the end of each round and at the end of the game, score some of your cards based on the combinations you acquired and played during the round(s).

The party box gives you enough decks to play thousands of times with different combinations, keeping the challenge ever fresh. 7 Wonders has more complex scoring, busier cards, and an historical theme, but it's pretty much the same concept.
Ticket To Ride: Ages 8+, 2 to 5 players

Many of my fellow bloggers think that this, rather than Catan, is The Game. I used to disagree, but I think I have come around. New players will find this a great intro game, with lots of choices and great game play.

There are several editions of the game, and the 1910 expansion is recommended.
Tichu: Ages 8+, 4 players

A partnership "ladder" game, similar to the game President (sometimes known by its crude name). It's similar, but the addition of a few special cards, a partnership, and passing elevate this to a perfect game for two couples. This is THE card game in gamer circles, and it's not at all complicated.
Time's Up: Ages 8+, 4 to 10 players

This consistently ranks as the number one party game on all of my fellow bloggers' lists. It's the number one ranked party game on Board Game Geek. Which says something.

It plays a lot like the parlor game Celebrities.
Uno: Ages 6 to 12, 2 to 8 players

This could be a child's second game, after Memory, and before moving on to real games. There's not much in the way of thinking involved, but its simple rules, portability, and quick play make it an ideal game for younger kids in almost any situation.

Just be sure to move up to better games when the kids are ready.
Wits and Wagers / Balderdash: Ages 8+, 4+ players

These are party trivia games where knowledge of trivia is not so important. The question is asked, and each player writes down an answer. These are revealed and players then bid on the answers they think are best. The winning answer, and the winning bids, all score points.

Wits and Wagers does this in the form of a poker game setting, while Balderdash requires you to make up funny possible answers. Both have won awards and acclaim as an order of magnitude better than you-know-which famous trivia game.
Zooloretto: Ages 8+, 2 to 5 players

Winner of dozens of awards, Zooloretto is a cute game for kids and decent game for adults. Simply take the animals as they are revealed from the deck and try to fit them into your zoo without overcrowding.

A few extra rules and some clever mechanisms makes the game enjoyable for all ages.


Enjoy,
Yehuda

Monday, October 15, 2018

Movie Reviews: A Star is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, Christopher Robin, Eighth Grade, First Man

See all of my movie reviews.

A Star is Born (2018) - Bradley Cooper directs, writes, and stars in this third (at least) remake of the 1937 story. He is joined by the captivating and talented Lady Gaga. I assume you know the story, so here be general spoilers.

The original story is about a talented man whose best days are behind him. He is on the way out, but he finds and starts the career of the young woman. They fall in love. He is depressed, not only because he is no longer wanted, and is an alcoholic, but because he can't take the idea of a youngster and a woman besting him. Meanwhile, out of love - or maybe out of what is expected of a woman - she is on the verge of giving up her career because she thinks she can save him if they live a normal life. He overhears this and decides to end his life, either because he has finally reached bottom or so as not to allow her to give up her dreams for him.

This remake downplays the parts that make it seem like it is natural for her to give up her stardom for his sake. He has a drug and alcohol problem. She doesn't consider giving up her career, although she makes an attempt to get him booked on her tour, threatening to not do her tour if he is not allowed to join her. Her manager is a creep who flat out tells him that he is in her way, which leads him to end his life; this is far more sinister than having him overhear a conversation he should not have heard.

This is a pretty good movie, with good original music. Everyone gives a solid performance, and most of the camera work and directing is excellent (I had one or two minor quibbles, nothing major). The leads have good chemistry, and Lady Gaga's singing can blow you away; I suppose some will complain that no one can sing like Barbra Streisand in the second remake from 1976, but that movie wasn't as good as this one.

It is emotionally draining, however, if you have a hard time watching someone resort to suicide (not graphic, but the scene is long) or a woman having to deal with a lover who is an alcoholic and drug addict. Just so you know.

Bohemian Rhapsody - A biopic of Freddie Mercury of Queen, and also the story of Queen, from its founding until Live Aid. The main plot elements are Freddie vs his girlfriend Mary (as he comes to realize he is gay), Freddie vs his manager, Freddy vs some boyfriends and the swinging 80's lifestyle, Freddy vs his family and his traditional background, Freddy vs his contracting AIDS (only superficially covered), and Freddy vs his band-mates.

If you love Queens's music, of course you will love the movie. If you hate Queen's music ... what's wrong with you? Some of their songs, like We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions, seem like they were chiseled out of music itself. On its own merits, Rami Malek does a great job as Freddy, and Lucy Boynton as Mary and Gwilym Lee as Brian May also shine, as does the rest of the cast. The plot is captivating, since Freddy seems equal parts genius arranger and singer, but also self-destructive and helpless. Mary, if you believe the movie, is the one who drags him back into sanity, even while she is kept apart from him due to his sexuality.

As an ending to the movie, Live Aid, while a lovely concert, doesn't really answer all of the questions. If you know the real story, you know that a lot of the early days are skipped over or compressed (they went through a bunch of bass guitarists and their first album was not a great success), Live Aid was a phenomenal triumph, and the story continues to the early 90's. So threads are left dangling.

But it doesn't matter. Good performances and great music, an interesting portrait of a tormented genius. Not the best movie ever made, but worth watching.

Christopher Robin - Ewan McGregor plays a grown up Christopher Robin, famous son of A. A. Milne, who works as an efficiency expert in London and who is tasked with firing a bunch of people unless he can figure out a way to save their jobs. He runs into Pooh Bear who needs Christopher Robin to help him find more honey in the 100 acre woods. CR tries to make sense of this, and they go on several adventures. Everyone learns something by the end of the movie.

The closest analogy here would be Hook (Robin Williams). It's an okay movie, though rather childish and cliche. Kids will probably enjoy it. I got a bit bored.

It's a little odd to see this movie after last' year's Goodbye Christopher Robin, which painted a rather grimmer picture of CR's relationship to his father's stories.

Eighth Grade - A good but intense look at a high school girl (Elsie Fisher) who spends all of her time, and tries to find all of her validation, on social media. Her real life, unfortunately, doesn't conform to her expectations from her virtual one. Not only does she have low self-esteem and low popularity and fall for the wrong boy, she also runs head on into a few moments of real danger and harassment that up the significance of what happens in real life.

Josh Hamilton plays her single father, desperately trying to help and support her while she fights to keep him out. It's not an easy movie to watch, but it's a fairly good one.

First Man - A biopic of Neil Armstrong, and also the story of the mission to land a man on the moon. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, in which the focus on one character made the story interesting, I wan't as happy here. Neil has a few problems with his wife and kids, but not really; I'm pretty sure most of the problems were invented by the screenwriters. The conflict with his wife was not believably portrayed. Meanwhile, all the parts about the moon landing were fascinating, but they were not the main focus of the movie.

The movie makes several other mistakes. Instead of a grand story of triumphs and tragedies (i/e, what really happened), the story concentrates solely on a series of tragedies (real ones). I guess that's the screenwriter's way of ratcheting up the tension, but it a) makes the story very narrow and small, making it more like a Marvel movie than a real story, and b) it makes it unrealistic: why would anyone continue with a program that fails so tragically and continuously over and over, killing people each time? Of course, that wasn't the real or entire story. But we don't get to hear the real or entire story.

The worst parts for me were a) the long sequences of shaking cameras that simulated the shaking rockets and flights. One such sequence of reasonable length in a movie is great. This movie does this at least three times, for 20 minutes each time. At some point it moves from being a good simulation to being distracting and unwatchable. Enough already. 2) About sixty percent of the movie is a closeup of someone's face. This is the same mistake used in Jackie. Again: a few face closeups are great but 60% of the screen-time spent on face closeups is not, It's just pretentious, distancing, and annoying. Which is a crying shame, because the cinematography of the other 40% is beautiful.

Aside from all that was bad about the movie, the movie did everything else  well: well acted, well scored, well paced, and an important piece of history. For what its worth, my fellow movie-goers (friends) liked the movie.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Movie Reviews: Crazy Rich Asians, Destination Wedding, I Feel Pretty, The Wife, Won't You Be My Neighbor

See all of my movie reviews.

Crazy Rich Asians: This was surprisingly good, considering the trailers. Not great, but good. it's about an American Chinese economics professor who goes to meet her boyfriend's Chinese family in Singapore. She soon discovers that his family is very, very rich, and that his mother doesn't think an American Chinese woman belongs in the family.

From the trailer, I expected this to be stupid, marketed only on the basis of having an all-Asian cast of comedians. Thankfully, this was not the case. I guess because a) trailers are often put together by idiots, and b) it came from a rather decent novel, which I have not yet read.

Like Me Before You, I am now interested in reading the novel. This movie is a little Jane Austeny - nowhere on that caliber - but interesting, with characters and confrontations that seem to have something to say. It works, I feel, almost in spite of itself. It looks like the director/screenwriter tried to cut it down to something resembling a Me Before You, but couldn't quite cut everything.

There are throwaway characters who I suspect have far more dept and character in the book; here they are stand-up comics doing two or three minutes of material. And there is a plot so tired and retread as to make any tension non-existent. But ... but the main characters have something to them, and they do a few things that make you feel that the plot is more than just something on which to hang comedy. I suspect that the book highlights these parts and makes them more prominent.

It is well acted, other than some of the comedy bits which seem out of place. There are scenes of sumptuous foods and wealth, as one would expect from the title. And a few too many party scenes. But fun and - nearly - satisfying. As for the fact that it had an all-Asian cast, well, duh. Like Black Panther, this doesn't prove anything. Any idiot already knew that an ethnic cast could lead a movie that contains ethnic story overtones and interactions. Any idiot should also know that the same people could be main characters in any, generic movie, but apparently there are a lot of people who are not yet as smart as just any idiots.

Destination Wedding: This was a surprisingly great movie. Lindsay (Winona Ryder) and Frank (Keanu Reeves) are the ex-fiance and the estranged brother of a guy getting married. They don't want to be there, don't like the groom, don't like the bride, or the place, or the airline, or the food, or each other, or themselves. And so they snark and insult their way through 90 minutes of screen-time. Literally no one else in the movie talks: it's just Lindsay and Frank. They are both so vile and bitter that even the usual rom-com tropes are subverted: they know that they should end up together, but they refuse to allow it to happen.

This movie follows in the tradition of the Before series of movies, as well as other heavy dialog movies. It's not quite as good as a Before movie, which had a more wide-ranging series of discussions and characters who were a little (a lot) less jaded. The movie is smart with snarky dialog and has some interesting things to say about relationships, self-worth, decency, obligation, and so forth. It's often very funny. I had a blast and really want to see it again.

Yes, they are miserable. Unlike the real misery that repelled me in movies like Logan and Three Billboards, these guys are funny-miserable, so it's fun to watch.

I Feel Pretty: This movie has a great message, or it pretends to, anyway: don't let what you look like rob you of your confidence. And Amy Schumer has certainly been known to be funny ... sometimes, and in small doses. This one is a disaster.

The movie has no artistry: Amy's character is supposed to feel bad about her looks, so she writes ten scenes in a row with her looking in a mirror with disappointment and people insulting her looks in various ways. It's so straightforward and artless that it is painful to watch. Compare this to the exact same message that Anne Hathaway conveys in The Devil Wears Prada and you see what I mean: Anne's lack of self-worth derives from the story around it and the occasional barbs thrown at her in passing, not ten flat scenes of "you're ugly". And let's not forget that Amy is not unattractive; she is a plus size, but she is not a flat blob and she is also perky and white with good skin. So the premise is a stretch.

Amy wakes up after a head injury believing that she is now beautiful (although her body hasn't changed, and no one else knows what she is talking about), and with her new head injury she confidently strides her way into the job and relationship she wants, while everyone else looks on in a) disbelief, b) with amusement, or c) with respect at her confidence based on nothing outwardly visible.

Her head injury also, apparently, causes her to become completely social unaware of what everyone else thinks, says, or does, causes her to steamroll over every conversation without listening to anyone, causes her to be cruel to everyone else, and somehow causes everyone else to respect her, despite the fact that she is still a complete klutz and idiot. One scene of this is tolerable; the same scene of her talking over people and insulting them, over and over and over and over and over is wearying, and eventually very very unfunny.

What's worse is that the entire point of the movie is that what's inside counts, not what's outside, but she ends up working for and being spokesman for a beauty company, which defeats the entire damn point. Crassness is one thing, artless is another. I really tried, but I couldn't tolerate more than half of the movie.

The Wife: A decent but not not great movie with great acting and an unambitious and uncomplicated fictional plot. Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce star as Joan and Joe Castleman. They, their son, and a nosy, persistent journalist travel to Sweden so that Joe can get the Nobel prize for literature, The son is behaving like a spoiled teenager (he is supposed to be in his thirties) and the journalist is writing a book about Joe and suggesting some possible problems with his past.

It doesn't descend into something deep, dark, and criminal, like an action thriller. It's just a question of authorship, validity, and respect. This movie is reminiscent of the far superior Big Eyes, a true story that made it quite clear early on that a supposed genius was passing his wife's art off as his own. This movie, entirely fiction, gives us the revelation further into the movie, and handles it badly. The movie doesn't have anything new or interesting to say and also doesn't maintain much tension, other than who will get mad at whom, when, and how much. It is an acting exercise, which is a waste of time, since neither Close nor Pryce need to prove how well they can act.

Admittedly, if Big Eyes didn't exist, I might give this more of a break. As it is, I can't recommend it, but lovers of the actors or of acting scenes will enjoy it. It's really not all that bad. My particular non-enjoyment comes from the son, who is just too miserable throughout the movie, and the odious behavior of one of the other main characters, which drove me to distraction.

Won't You Be My Neighbor: Growing up I didn't like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood too much, since it was slow, the production was rather low, and puppets on television didn't excite me. As an adult, I have watched videos of Fred Rogers, including his speech defending public television and some of his great moments (such as telling a room full of celebrities to think about, in total silence, who got them to where they are today, and so forth). These videos move me. I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for the man. Nevertheless, I'm sure there were many others like me who could not connect to the messages he tried to convey in his TV series, for the reasons that I mentioned.

This biopic movie covers many major stories and facts about him and his philosophy, with only a small amount of material not related to his TV program. I doubt that anyone who never saw the TV show will be interested in it. It is a paean to a simple, slow goodness that seems to be fading away ... that I suspect will always seem to be fading away. There will always be a few great, lovely people with simple messages who lead wholesome lives, even while most of us are consumed by the latest glitz, glamour, gossip, guns, or sensationalist brawls that pass for entertainment or debate. I think it is great to be reminded about better values, at least once in a while. Of course, if we go right back to the guns and brawls, it doesn't come to much.

As a movie, it was okay. It is riveting if you find his personality riveting. Not much, otherwise.