It's time to get your hero on!  The Champions of Zeta City have an opening, so you can make it onto the team by earning enough fame to prove your worth by taking on a big villain, plus their henchmen and underlings.  Other wannabe heroes have the same idea, but you can prove your worth by outdoing them (or attacking them).  This is the world of Heroes Wanted, a card/board game from Action Phase Games that has the silliest heroes and villains outside of The Tick -- and some very good gameplay too.

Each player assembles their hero by combining a card from the A deck (the top half, which gives a type of hero (Vigilante, Cosmic, Tech, or Mutant) and superpower) and from the B deck (with a more ongoing ability).  Players can go for straight ability (like Danger Blade), silliness (Brunch Giraffe), or a mix of the two (like American Weevil).  Players also get a random quirk, which gives them 10 fame but goes down 2 fame each time they don't do what the quirk says (like consoling another hero who rests, or posing heroically after damaging a bad guy).  Players get a Hero Bonus area, which gives benefits when they complete Headlines.  Finally, the heroes get four basic action cards, one Superpower action card, and one Hero Type card.
Villains are assembled by combining A and B cards  -- so far, I've faced the Mama Twins, Unstoppable Jock, and the dreaded Cat Taco -- and the villain usually has 15 hit points per player.   The scenario (four come in the basic game) includes: spaces for the Villain (plus their movement), underlings, and henchmen; special rules, from throwing out trash to secret doors; Headlines that give players fame when accomplished; and when the villain escape if not knocked out.  Once that's all set up, it's time to play!

Starting with the first hero (which can change during the game) and going clockwise, each player can play one action card.  These are usually a movement or attack, but they can sometimes do other things, like make a player the first hero or let them get a card from their discards.  Players can knock out an underling for 4 damage (and earn 1 fame) or henchman for 5 damage (and get 2 fame), or damage the villain (earning half the hit point damage at the end of the game, plus a bonus for knocking them out or doing the most damage to them).  Players can also attack other players.  If a player meets a headline requirement (like knocking out three henchmen or earning 10 fame), the players get a bonus from their Hero Bonus card.  And since players can't use cards in their discard pile, they can choose to rest, doing nothing but getting all their cards back.

Of course, villains get to attack back!  The main villain does an amount of damage determined by their A and B cards; in addition, heroes take 1 damage from each adjacent underline and 2 damage from each adjacent Henchman.  Players can discard cards equal to or greater than the damage to avoid being injured.  If a player can't, they spend the next turn doing nothing (and getting all their cards back) and get an injury token, which adds 1 to future damage and costs them 2 fame at the end of the game.

There is so much I like about Heroes Wanted.  The game has an absolutely terrific sense of humor, from the hero and villain combos to the flavor text ("Giraffes are the nunchucks of the animal kingdoms) and scenarios (where you stop villains from jaywalking or selling bootleg dvds).  The gameplay is also quite effective, as you have to decide when and who to attack, when to holds cards back to defend with, what headlines to grab, and what you'll do to win.  (I learned early on that knocking out the villain doesn't guarantee victory.)  The tokens are designed perfectly to see exactly what's on the board: Underlings are small and gray, henchmen are bigger and tan, and the villain is the biggest and black.  The Extra, Extra expansion gives many more hero and villain cards, and future expansions should provide new scenarios as well.  Heroes Wanted is perfect for folks what want to play something that's both thoughtful and amusing.  Trust me: I was DJ Worm.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



When I firsr heard about Regular Show Fluxx, it seemed both surprising and logical: The show seemed a bit too currently popular compared to other Looney Labs licenses, but the silly and surreal nature of the show certainly lends itself to the combinations and silliness of the Fluxx games.

Regular Show Fluxx mixes the standard Fluxx rules with the characters and stuff from Regular Show.  Players put down Keepers, New Rules, and Goals, hoping that their Keepers will match a goal.  They can also play actions and may have to play Creepers, which keep that person from winning (unless the Creeper is part of a goal).  Rule-wise, there's not much new here.

 What is present is a very strong feel of Regular Show.  Keepers include almost all of the main characters from the show (though due to the time of making the show, Margaret is here and CJ isn't), plus things like the Eggscellent Hat, Video Games, and Soda.  Players can play the Death Punch of Death, Rock-Paper-Scissors Showdown (which makes two players have a 3-round R-P-S challenge, where the winner gets all of the loser's cards), and Step Off!  And the new rule "Yeahuh!" makes players use Mordecai's catchphrase whenever they play a Keeper, or another player gets that Keeper.  Some cards also have small pictures of the Regular Show cast commenting on the card.
Regular Show Fluxx isn't new in terms of rules or gameplay, but it's the closest anyone will come to entering the world of Regular Show.  This game is fun, funny, and terrific for anyone who's a fan of Regular Show.  Yeahuh!
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Are the universal languages of the world food and love?  They are in The Hundred-Foot Journey, a movie that mixes the delights of cooking with the breaking down of barriers.
As a young boy in India, Hassan has a love and appreciation for food.  Learning to cook from his mother, he became skilled at combining foods and spices into great combinations.  But when political uprisings led to an attack that destroyed the family restaurant and killed his mother, Hassan (Manish Dayal) and his family moved: first to England, and then (when the foods in England weren't flavorful enough) to France.  There, Papa (Om Puri) decides that they'll open an Indian restaurant for the locals, who don't like Indian food because they've never had it.
Unfortunately, the new restaurant is right across the street from the restaurant of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proud and stubborn owner of a upscale French restaurant which has one coveted Michelin star -- and she wants two, then three.  Madame Mallory finds the new restaurant beneath her, and soon she and Papa are in a virtual duel, as they each interfere with the other's place of business (leading to numerous complaints to the poor mayor of the town).   And Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) is both a romantic interest of, and competitor for, Hassan: She helps the family out initially and gives Hassan books on French cooking, but she's a sous chef working for Madame Mallory.  What will Hassan do between his pushy father, condescending rival restaurant owner, and beautiful French woman?
The Hundred-Foot Journey is an enjoyable movie.  The film celebrates the preparation and consumption of food the way other films feature their sweeping landscapes and impressive special effects.  Manish Dayal makes the perfect leading man for this sort of film: He's both handsome and sweet, intelligent and humble, and talented while conflicted.  Om Puri and Helen Mirren are excellent together, providing comedy in their stubbornness while not letting the characters become one-dimensional or foolish.  The story is fairly predictable, and after some violence about halfway through much of the film's tension just vanishes.  But The Hundred-Foot Journey is a feel-good movie that is funny and truly revels in its culinary creations.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



For several years, Sports Illustrated followed its no-sports, all-swimwear Swimsuit Issues with hardcover portfolios collecting photos that didn't make it into that year's issue.  These seemed to stop with the 2011 issue -- until now!  And to tide sports, er, sexy women in bikini fans over until the October 28th release of the hardcover portfolio book, a preview hit the magazine stands with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2014 Extra: Idyllic Shores.
Idyllic Shores has photos that somehow didn't make it into the 2014 Swimsuit Issue, featuring nineteen models from that issue.  Each model gets eight pages of photos (except Kate Upton, who got ten pages), along with the names of the photographer and location, plus a few comments about the model.
As always, the photos are absolutely beautiful.: not just the models, but also the stunning locations.  This makes it easy to forgive them when the actual swimsuits are barely in the photos.
Loathe as I am to find fault with a collection of beauties wearing swimsuits or less, there are two slight problems with Idyllic Shores.  The first is that Sports Illustrated could and should have given a lot more pages to each model.  The second is that the first problem may be solved in the upcoming portfolio book (with about 50 more pages), but that book would effectively replace this magazine.  But while this may not be as many pages as the original or the upcoming, it's still quite lovely to look at.  To quote Troy McClure from The Simpsons, "If that's what they cut out, what they leave in must be pure gold!"  And these cut-outs are  pretty close to gold themselves.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Sometimes plenty of drama and discovery happen during the regular course of growing up.  Writer/director Richard Linklater explores this with surprising verisimilitude in Boyhood, a movie that was shot over twelve years with the same cast.

Boyhood is mainly the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), who go from 6 to 18 during the course of the movie.  They're raised by their single mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who's trying to balance raising them, working, and going to college.  Their dad Mason Sr. is the "fun" parent who takes his kids camping and to baseball games; he also never seems to have a steady job.  And along the way Mason and Samantha grow and deal with everything from friends to romance to adolescent philosophy ("what is it all about?) to moving repeatedly, whether due to work or Olivia's unfortunate tendency to get involved with abusive, alcoholic men.  Some things are serious (like deciding what direction their lives will take), some are comic (Mason Sr. having the "sex talk" with Samantha), and some seem critical (losing friends, dating) but are quickly forgotten.
There's no grand drama or conflict in Boyhood, just the regular course of a boy and his family exploring who they are (while avoiding homework -- a consistent feature through all ages) and what they'll become.  As such, Boyhood has a quiet magic to it, a very genuine feeling of real life without any contrived situations or forced drama.   The cast is very good (especially Patricia Arquette, as the mother who knows the doesn't have all the answers but struggles on anyway) and Linklater's direction has a tremendous feeling of naturalness.  The movie is a little long -- at several points near the end I was ready for things to wrap up, but it kept going -- but Boyhood is a very, very nice exception to the standard movie drama by focusing not on effects or drama, but on the complexity of everyday life.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Math and planning are frequent companions in games, and they're the very heart of Quartile.  This game from SimplyFun Games is easy to learn and progressively more challenging to play.
Much like Dominoes, Quartile is about placing and matching tiles.  But Quartile takes planning a step further.  Each square tile has a number in the center and 1-7 dots on each side of the square tile.  Players start with four tiles in hand, and a face-down tile in the middle whose sides can be considered any number.  On a player's turn, they place a tile on the board, making sure all the numbers on their tile match up with any tiles that new tile is touching.  The player then scores the points on the middle of the tile, multiplied by how many other tiles their tile is touching.  They then draw a replacement tile, and then the next player goes.  When all the tiles have been picked and played, the player with the most points wins.

I like Quartile.  There's not a lot of depth to the rules, but planning is a large factor: You can score a lot more points by planning two or three placements ahead, preparing a spot where your placed tile can score double or triple points.  (Of course, an opponent's placement can ruin this for you.)  It's always easy to find a spot to match up one side of a tile, but the multiple-side placements are where the scoring opportunities are.  The production values are also excellent, with a fine wooden box and red-brown wooden tiles.  Quartile is a good, quick, simple game that may not be the headliner of a game night but will be a fun part of one.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Rifftrax Live!: Godzilla

1998's Godzilla movie was so reviled, many fans still refer to its title creature as GINO, meaning "Godzilla in Name Only."  So between this awfulness and this year's Godzilla movie, it's no surprise that the Rifftrax trio of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett managed to make a successful Kickstarter campaign to riff on the 1998 movie.  And so we had Rifftrax Live!: Godzilla in movie theaters last night.
I hadn't seen this Godzilla before, and I hadn't missed anything: the incoherent plot, the terrible acting, and the giant lizard that changes size as the script dictates.  Fortunately, the problems that cause regular viewers so much pain only provide fuel for the Rifftrax comedy.  They had lots of material, from cracks about New York (thanks largely to Hank Azaria's thick Brooklyn accent) to Matthew Broderick's varied career to the title creature's ability to avoid massive amounts of firepower by ducking.  (Sadly, due to the length of the feature there were no short features before the main event.)
I share the riffers' surprise that the original movie made $380 million -- but at least it led to Rifftrax Live!: Godzilla.  I leave it up to the cinematic philosophers to decide if that made it all worth it; at least it made for an entertaining evening.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



History is often distorted by the lens of emotion or forgetfulness -- but booze'll do the job too.  Drunk History takes the webseries of inebriated teachers of history to Comedy Central, where it works quite simple.
The format for Drunk History is pretty simple.  Each episode focuses on three events that happened in a particular city of state.  Host/creator Derek Waters meets someone (often a comic, sometimes an actor), shares drinks with them, and listens to them relate a historical tale from that area.  In addition, actors in period costumes act out the story, lip-syncing the storyteller's dialogue exactly -- including curses, mistakes, and distractions.  Some of the actors have included: Adam Scott as John Wilkes Booth, Fred Willard as Deep Throat, Jack Black as Elvis Presley, and Winona Ryder and John Cena as people from the Salem Witch trians (shown below), and many others.
Drunk History is often pretty silly -- but it's also pretty funny.  The recreations are quite amusing, and it's fun to hear history from the mouths of people trying not to fall on the floor or mess up their words.  There are no worries about dull, dry history lessons with Drunk History.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel's latest superhero movie, is both predictable and fun.  It takes a bunch of hardened adversaries who turn out to have hearts of gold, a failure of the past made up for in the present, and lots of former enemies rallying together.
At the start of the movie (1988), young Peter Quill runs out of the hospital after his mother dies (and he was too scared to take her hand before the passed away) and he is promptly abducted by aliens.  Jump to the present, and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a criminal, heartbreaker, and scam artist in outer space.  He calls himself "Star Lord" (though he's the only one who does), hoping to build a reputation; and his most prized possession is the Walkman and tape he had when he was abducted.  And his latest job -- getting and delivering a mysterious orb -- had everyone after him.

This is where the plot gets complicated.  Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a Kree fanatic, has promised to give the orb to Thanos (Josh Brolin) and in exchange Thanos will destroy the planet Xandar, home of the Nova Corps.  Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is Thanos' adopted daughter who wants to get the orb -- but to keep it away from Thanos; her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) suspects betrayal , and will engage in some of that herself.  Since Peter didn't deliver the orb like his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) wanted, Yondu puts a bounty out on Quill.  This leads to his running into two unique bounty hunters: Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a cybernetic raccoon who's gun-crazy, inventive with electronics, and acerbic; and Groot (Vin Diesel), a large humanoid tree who only says "I am Groot."  And soon enough Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot meet up with Drax the Destroyer (former wrestler Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronan and who only wants to kill him in return.  Oh. and the Nova Corps wants to arrest Peter.  And the orb turns out to contain an extraordinary power.

As I stated earlier, the movie is predictable -- the stars go from bickering and fighting to bonding and friendship; the bad guys get more and more evil -- but the borderline silliness makes the film enjoyable.  Chris Pratt is pretty funny as the action hero who knows he's not trustworthy, Bradley Cooper practically steals the movie with Rocket's one-liners and bad behavior, and Vin Diesel manages to put a lot of emotion into his character's only three words.  Dave Bautista gets a lot of mileage of both Drax's action and his taking everything literally.  Zoe Saldana is given less comic material, but she kicks a lot of ass as the martial arts expert.  There's also plenty of action -- from a high-tech jailbreak to shoot-outs to an epic battle to save a planet -- and the special effects are terrific, from making Rocket and Groot almost believable to the alien worlds and weaponry.  Guardians of the Galaxy may be goofy, but it's also very funny and often pretty exciting.

I'm not sure how Guardians of the Galaxy will fit into the new Marvel movie universe (though Thanos was part of The Avengers, and there are hints the Guardians sequel could have them on Earth) but it works pretty well as a summer blockbuster.  It's dopey and effects-heavy, but it's helped tremendously by a nice mix of comedy and action, plus a terrific cast.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



What would a desperate man do for money?  This is hardly a new theme for movies, but it's tackled with brutal simplicity in Cheap Thrills, a brutal, often funny movie about those need money playing games to entertain those who have it.

Craig Daniels (Pat Healy) is a family man -- wife, young daughter -- who wanted to be a writer but would up as an auto mechanic.  Craig and his family are facing eviction, but while he's hoping to get a raise, he winds up downsized instead.  Craig heads out to a bar to drown his sorrows, and he runs into Vince (Ethan Embry), an old friend Craig hasn't seen in five years.  Vince works as the muscle for bookies and knows something about violence and people who are desperate.

Their salvation or damnation comes from Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), a married couple out celebrating Violet's birthday.  Colin is a loud, obnoxious hedonist, snorting coke and doing whatever he wants; Violet is withdrawn, barely noticing anything except when she's taking pictures of whatever interests her.  And while they're making bets with each other, they quickly decide to include Craig and Vince in their games.  The bets start relatively small, but soon grow into hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  They also grow more disgusting and dangerous, illegal and violent.  And as the night becomes morning and the booze and drugs flow, things between Craig and Vince become more strained and they compete for the money they both urgently need.

Cheap Thrills could almost be a play, with its focus almost entirely on the four main characters.  It could also have wound up as a simplified "the rich are bad, the struggling are good" polemic.  Instead, the movie occupies the space between horror and drama as we see two different people in need gradually devolving as they start turning on each other as they keep doing whatever they have to for that money Colin casually tosses around as his whims hit him.  The cast is quite good (especially Koechner, stepping out of his usual comic roles to deliver some real menace), the action remains tight, and the movie manages to be suspenseful and entertaining.  Cheap Thrills doesn't have the most original premise, but it delivers its good with some bloody gut-punches.  (DVD extras include commentaries and making-of features.)

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Nick Cutter, THE TROOP

Mix isolation, paranoia, storms, inhuman creatures, desperation, and lots of gore, and you have The Troop by Nick Cutter.  This novel combines all of the aforementioned elements of horror into a pretty effective tale of survival and breaking down.

The setup is pretty straightforward.  Scoutmaster Tim Riggs has brought five teen Venture Scouts -- Kent, Max, Ephraim, Newton, and Shelley -- to an isolated island for the weekend.  The only way to communicate with the mainland is through a radio, and even with a storm approaching Tim doesn't anticipate and problems and looks forward to a calm weekend, followed by their pickup by boat Monday morning.

Enter the mysterious, deadly stranger.  The mysterious man is perpetually hungry (in a pre-story tabloid article, he's described as devouring four Hungry Man Breakfast platters -- and the napkins), amazingly emaciated, and suffering from a disease that "If this gets out, it'll make Typhoid Mary look like Mary Poppins."  Soon everyone is trapped on the island with no way to communicate with the mainland, the disease (and its gruesome cause) is spreading, and order is breaking down.

And there's a reason Cutter included a quote from The Lord of the Flies in the novel's opening: The kids all have their issues.  Kent is a bully who pretty much dominates and challenges everything because of his size.  Max is thoughtful and friends with Ephraim, but Ephraim has trouble controlling his rage.  Newton is an overweight nerd who's very smart and a magnet for the other boys' abuse.  And Shelley seems quiet and withdrawn at first, but it's soon apparent he's a sadistic sociopath who sees their dire situation as an opportunity for cruel and deadly fun with his Scoutmaster and fellow Scouts.  And as adult control soon vanishes and the boys become more scared and desperate, rules of society and the Venture Scouts soon fray and vanish.

The Troop is pretty effective.  While the scenario is like a "create the ideal situation for isolation" exercise,
Cutter does a good job drawing out the characters' personalities and weaknesses; this lets us follow their progress and the situation worsens.  Cutter also interrupts the action on the island with fake items -- from interviews with the disease's creator to a GQ article about what happened on the island -- that do everything from give us disgusting examples of what the disease did to test animals to foreshadow how many people survived on the island.  And while there are plenty of gruesome events (including one near the end that seems to violate the rules the novel set up for the disease), the most harrowing moment is a seemingly small event that reminds us that these Scouts are still just kids.

The Troop can revel in its shock factor somewhat often, but it is still pretty suspenseful and scary.  Just don't read it too soon before or after eating.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



What happens when you combine some of DC's biggest heroes and a siege game?  In this case you get Justice League: Axis of Villains, which fails to capture the spirit or uniqueness of the characters.

Players can be Batman, Superman, Green Lantern or the Flash.  They're on the Justice League Satellite, which is surrounded by eight sides.  Each hero has five Arch Villains.  If the players clear the board of all villains, they win!  If the villains destroy the four parts of the Satellite, the players lose.

Gameplay is very similar to Castle Panic.  Each turn a player rolls a 6-sided die (Control Die) and an 8-sided die (Number Die).  Some rolls move the villains on the section indicated on the Control Die one or two spaces closer to the Satellite.  (If a villain lands on a Hot Spot, they flip a Villain Card, which can do anything from bring defeated villains back to bringing out an Ultra Villain.)  Some put an Arch Villain into play at the section of the Control Die.  If a villain makes it to the Satellite, they destroy a section, and if all four sections are destroyed the game ends; if a Ultra Villain makes it to the Satellite the players lose immediately.  And if the JL symbol comes up, the players cam move their hero that many spaces -- usually to battle the villains!
Combat is pretty simple.   A hero can play a Power Card before combat to use a power or get an advantage.  Then the player rolls two 10-sided dice against their own Arch Villains, or one 10-sided die against another villain; if another hero is on the same space, they can roll dice as well.  If the dice results are higher than the villain's points, the heroes win and remove the villain from the board (plus get a Power card); if it's a tie, nothing happens; and if the results are less than the villain, the hero(es) get moved to the Satellite.

Justice League: Axis of Villains is disappointing.  The heroes' powers aren't that impressive (usually involving moving around the board), and since they need Power Cards to use, they can't be used that much.  The game doesn't even try to balance the difference in power between Batman's villains and the others (Superman has problems defeating Two-Face?  Really?) and it can be frustrating to roll the dice over and over and over before finally being able to move one's hero.  There are several good superhero-based games out there, but I can't add Justice League: Axis of Villains to that fun group.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch



 If the movie Sex Tape had been made in the 1980s, the stars would be scrambling to retrieve a raunchy vhs tape they accidentally sent to the wrong place and people.  Since it's 2014, this movie has the stars racing to destroy iPads and dealing with the Cloud and YouPorn, but still getting into lots of wacky hijinks.  Well, maybe not that wacky...

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) are a happily married couple who wonder what happened to their sex life.  In flashbacks, we see that they couldn't keep their hands (or other body parts) off each other.  But following pregnancy, marriage, and then a second child, they can't even manage to schedule intimacy.  Things are otherwise good -- one child is graduating from 5th grade soon, Annie is on the verge of selling her Mommy blog to a family-friendly company, and Jay is a radio or music producer who is so successful he gives away his old iPads t friends -- but they wonder what happened to their wild younger selves.  One night when the kids are at Annie's mother's overnight, Annie has an idea (along with lots of tequila): They'll film themselves performing every position featured in The Joy of Sex!

 The next morning, Annie asks Jay to delete their sex "tape."  Jay keeps forgetting -- and when he uses a syncing app to send out his playlists, he accidentally sends their sex video to everyone with his old iPads.  Annie is worried that Hank (Rob Lowe), the wholesome president of the company, might not buy her blog if he sees the video.  Jay wonders who sent the mysterious tweet about their video.  And married friends Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Elle Kemper) wing up tagging along on the quest to get back and destroy the iPads with the video.  Unless it wound up on YouPorn...
Apart from a lot of cursing, Sex Tape isn't nearly as wild or insane as it should have been to be a really funny comedy.  Instead of running all over to get the offending iPads back, almost all the action happens in Hank's mansion.  It's funny to see that the straight-laced Hank has a private wild side, but it's a single joke that gets old pretty fast.  Jason Segel feels like he's mugging for the camera more than acting, Cameron Diaz isn't that funny (except when hyper from cocaine), and Rob Corddry is pretty much wasted.  The movie isn't daring enough when it comes to porn or adult entertainment (even with a cameo by Jack Black as the owner of YouPorn), it doesn't make a lot of sense plotwise (from bringing the kids on their search to a premature balcony dive), and it's not that funny.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch


"Weird Al" Yankovic, MANDATORY FUN

Have you imagined Lorde singing about tinfoil, or Pharrell listing ways to be obnoxious?  Probably not -- but "Weird Al" Yankovic has, and he offers up his traditional mix of song parodies and original comedy on his new album Mandatory Fun.  And, also traditional for "Weird Al," it's funny as hell.

While "Weird Al" is best known for parody, he does terrific original creations about half the time, and that's true on Mandatory Fun.  "Sports Song" is every sports fan's us-versus-them anthem (literally, since it never specified the team -- or even the sport -- being discussed).  "Lame Claim to Fame" is a listing of pathetic encounters with celebrities, while "Mine Own Eyes" are bizarre things the singer has seen.  "Mission Statement" puts together enough corporate jargon for a year of Dilbert strips in one upbeat pop song.  "First World Problems" has people who have it really well finding things to complain about (and sounds remarkably like the Pixies). " And the album ends with the pseudo-epic romance tune "Jackson Park Express," where people sitting across from each other on a bus try to read each other's facial expressions.  ("I arched my eyebrow ever-so-slightly, which was my way of asking/'Do you want my old Hewlett-Packard printer?'")  While some of these were one-joke lists, most of these songs are pretty amusing.

And "Weird Al" really excels at mimicking and twisting popular songs.  He turns Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" into a home-fixing song ("Handy"), makes Imagine Dragon's "Radioactive" into the lazy "Inactive" ("I'm waking up in Cheeto dust/my belly's covered with pizza crust"), and Robin Thicke's raunchy "Blurred Lines" into a critique of grammar and spelling (shown below).  And numerous current songs get polka-ized into the "NOW That's What I Call Polka" medley.  These really sound close to the originals, while making them so amusing it's impossible to listen to the original songs the same ways again.

Mandatory Fun may not be mandatory, but it sure is fun.  This album is pretty consistent and quite amusing too.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



So, what happens when you mix the sanity-blasting horrors of H.P. Lovecraft with the rules of Twilight Creations' long-running Zombies!!! game?  You get Cthulhu!!! Hastur la Vista, Baby!  Sadly, the game has less of the Evil Dead-type attitude you'd expect from the title and more of the problems from its progenitor game.

Cthulhu!!! is a competitive-cooperative game set in Kingsport, Massachusetts, where the players control heroes trying to stop the cultists and byakhee from summoning the King in Yellow.  Each turn players do the following: play an Automatic event card (if they have one); draw and place a map tile (stocking it with, as appropriate, bullets, hearts, cultists, and byakhee); fighting any cultists or byakhee on their space; draw back up to three event cards; roll a die and move that many spaces plus their health; roll a die and move that many cultists two spaces each; move all byakhee to an adjacent tile; and discard one event card if they want.  Players can also play one event card each turn.

Players win mainly through combat.  Players start with three hearts, three bullets, and five sanity.  When a player meets a cultist, the player has to roll a 4-6 to defeat them.  If the player wins, they get a random relic card.  If the player loses, they can spend bullets to increase their roll, or lose a health and roll again, or run away.  The monstrous byakhee are a bit different.  When a player encounters one, the player has to roll 3-6 or lose one sanity.  To defeat a byakhee, a player needs to roll 5-6 -- but if the player wins, they get two relics!  And if a player loses all their health or sanity, they start over with one less sanity than they had before; and if their starting sanity is zero, they're out of the game.

 There's also a new way to win (and lose) in Cthulhu!!! : sanctifying Ritual Sites.  When these tiles are drawn, they have eight cultists and one byakhee on them (and these foes can never leave the tile).  If a player kills the last cultist/byakhee on the tile and discards one of each of the five relics (Amulet, Dagger, Idol, Space Mead, Tome) , that player scores the Ritual Site; and if three Ritual Sites are sanctified, the players win!  Each player then scores points for the relics they have (double the number for each type, then subtract one), plus 12 points for each Ritual Site.  But if a player loses all their health on a Ritual Site, it goes to the enemies; and if three Ritual Sites are lost, the cultists have summoned the King in Yellow and the winner is then the hero to die last.
There is plenty to like and dislike in Cthulhu!!!  The game does work sanity checks into the mix somewhat well, the event cards have an appropriate amount of over-the-top horror to them, and the goal of using relics to stop evil fits the theme better than the run-to-the-helicopter goal of Zombies!!! would.  Unfortunately, like Zombies!!! the action in Cthulhu!!! can get repetitive very quickly, and once a lot of tiles are on the board it's easy to keep moving the cultists along the same unused tiles (forming what a player called "the cultist conga line").  Cthulhu!!! Hastur La Vista, Baby! is a decent entry into the Lovecraft-inspired game genre, but it's only decent.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch