July 24th, 2005


(no subject)

Hooray for a completely lazy Sunday of doing nothing but entertainments.

In movies there was the anime movie "The Cat Returns" and the Tim Burton vehicle "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", and in board-games, some provided by a guest (a guest? In this house? We'll have none of that!), there was Starfarers of Catan, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Atta Ants, Bottle Imp and Pueblo.

Since Mr Wonka is the most likely to be a point of common experience, I'll start with that. It wasn't nearly as bad as I expected - much less Tim Burtony than Big Fish, and, surprisingly, also less Tim Burtony than Batman Begins, even though Batman Begins didn't have anything to do with Tim Burton. Depp seemed a bit wasted, in both senses. The same part could have been played the same way by a non-actor such as Jim Carrey or that similar guy who's in lots of moves that are called The Something. I was a bit bemused that I'd heard "more true to the book" of it, since it didn't even have Charlie fucking up. The pre-chocolate-factory part was dragged out terribly - that's the only place where Tim Burton's heavy hand really showed. Surprisingly, it was Danny Elfman who sinned the most, by putting bloody Edward Scissorhands music into scenes that should have been tuned as dramatic epic vistas of activity. Spooky suburbia-graveyard music does not fit onto a bridge past a chocolate waterfall, Danny (Though I expect this was Burton's fault too, really). I realise I've just said a lot of mean things about the movie, and I'd like to say something nice about it now since it wasn't really bad, but unfortunately there were no specific outstanding things that I can say nice things about. It was just pretty decent apart from all those horrible things. Oh, and the oompa-loompa songs. And the atrocious ending with the fucking narrator explaining what you just saw and heard in case you don't understand events that aren't described aloud. God, describing the movie is almost enough to make me change my mind about it being okay.

On a happier note, The Cat Returns is excellent. By many of the same people as the much more well-known Spirited Away, the animation may be a little cruder, the story a bit less surreal, but it is also more entertaining and coherent. Annoyingly, I don't want to describe the aspect of it I especially liked because, unlike most spoilers, it actually would spoil an entertaining surprise to do so. So instead I'll draw attention to a similar but less spoilery aspect - the main character remains pleasingly true-to-character throughout her surreal adventures. For example, on fleeing along a path made of thousands of crows in flight, she is concerned enough to ask the crow leader whether it hurts them to be walked on. The only deviation from her polite and helpful behaviour is in her comically out-of-character disdain for the wellbeing of the comic-relief sidekick. But he's comic-relief, so she doesn't have to be concerned for him. It's a shame not to mention the spoilery aspects of the plot, but really, it would be much better seen fresh. The thing that really made the movie for me was to have my usual forlorn hope that a movie would do something awesome with a setting, something that movies would never do, and then to have the movie surprise me by doing it exactly as I wanted.

Being briefer for the games, I'll not describe the game-mechanics much since the links above will do that more than adequately; I'll just stick to my impressions of the games. Bottle Imp drives like this ('eeeh eeeh eeeh'), but Pueblo drives like this ('awww hawww'). But anyway. Reviews.

Starfarers of Catan is a long long game, quite a bit longer than Settlers of Catan, but probably also sufficiently more interesting to merit it. Seems a bit overcomplicated at first, but soon settles out. Has a comical plastic toy spaceship for each player that's actually an integral part of the game. Has the same somewhat disappointing end as Settlers, where the winning player goes "oh, that means I win" and all the other players go "oh, so it does", and everyone is a bit surprised and wonders what to do now.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a bit weird, being a pseudo-cooperative game where at some turning point one of the players becomes evil, and then, eh, the story resolves somehow but nobody really wins or loses and it all seems to have been largely resolved by chance and a bit pointless. In the same way as a game of Dungeons and Dragons played from the old basic rulebook with an inflexible gamesmaster, but in a Lovecraftian setting. While playing it seems interesting enough, but in retrospect it doesn't really seem worth playing a second time.

Atta Ants seemed a bit pointless and uninteresting at first, but reasonable and interesting strategies revealed themselves as the game went on. We seemed to have a bit of a tricky awkward game as our first game, since the starting layout was unusually clustered with spiders and leaves, rather than them being added in as the board expands - we had 3 spiders in the first 8 tiles, another one in the first extra tile, and then none added for the rest of the game. The vaguely ant-like behaviour the game mechanics and strategies lead to are quite pleasing, and it seems to work nicely as an elegant only-slightly-random game, with three players. I'm not at all convinced it would be sufficiently complex with two players unless they play in two player-roles each, but we haven't tried it.

Bottle Imp is a trick-taking card game. It seemed alright, but not very skilful - the main goal is to make sure someone else ends with the imp, the other goal is to take as many tricks as you can, which feels a bit bland. There's nothing really in the way of a bidding phase, so the skill aspect of judging the quality of your hand versus the probable quality of the hands of others (present in most trick-taking games) is missing. If it was a short game that'd probably be fine, but it's multiple rounds, providing plenty of time in which to feel a bit superfluous. The cards pretty much might as well just play themselves. I could be wrong, though, there might be some more subtle strategy I'm missing, having only played 3 hands before we got bored and decided to eat soup instead.

Pueblo is one of the most critically acclaimed games, I believe. It's a nice tactile game, and reasonably balanced provided you play with the "bid for play order" rules rather than the terribly biasing "youngest player goes first". Doesn't take too long, looks nice, has just the right amount of direct foiling of opposition plans, with three players. Seems a bit shallow with only two, and I feel it would be too uncontrolled with four.

So, overall, pretty good. None of these things sucked. And we also inflicted the key moments of David Hasselhoff's performance in Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical on our guest, thus ensuring he will never return... TO SANITY.