8.21.2014

QUARTILE

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

8.15.2014

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

8.09.2014

DRUNK HISTORY

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

8.02.2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

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


7.30.2014

CHEAP THRILLS dvd

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

7.27.2014

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

7.25.2014

JUSTICE LEAGUE: AXIS OF VILLAINS

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

7.17.2014

SEX TAPE

 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

7.15.2014

"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

7.13.2014

CTHULHU!!! HASTUR LA VISTA, BABY!

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

7.11.2014

RIFFTRAX: SHARKNADO

The Rifftrax trio of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett seem to do their best with the worst -- cracking their best jokes and making their oddest observations when given truly terrible movies -- and Sharknado provides them with plenty of comedy fodder.  Rifftrax Live!: Sharknado has the MST3K veterans tackling last year's biggest "so bad it's good" Syfy Channel original movie -- with terrific results.
Before jumping into the fun of killer sharks thrown about by a killer tornado, the evening featured the short "Springs" (where a man's wish summons a springy demon who makes life hell by removing all springs from the universe), a preview of the next Rifftrax Live! event: 1998's Godzilla, and some pre-movie fake items (MOVIE MISTAKES: Megan Fox as April O'Neil) and songs about sharks.  And after that fun, we got to all enjoy some comedy professionals mocking a movie with washed-up actors (plenty of jokes about Ian Ziering's Beverly Hills 90210 days and Tara Reid's, well, everything), horrible editing (rainy to sunny changes all the time, and different beaches treated like they're one place), and idiotic plot (not the least of which is stopping a tornado by throwing explosives into it).
Someone thought riffing on Sharknado was too easy -- but that's part of the fun!  The stars didn't have as much to do with Night of the Living Dead because that movie is so good, but an abundance of quality slowing them down wasn't a factor here.  There's an Australian-sounding Tasmanian, characters who forget characters killed in front of them seconds later, bizarre writing (when Ian shouts at someone in the middle of the ocean "Get out of the water!" the Riffers add, "Levitate or something!"), and Tara Reid's attempts at... acting?   Sure, some of the jokes can be juvenile, but Rifftrax Live! Sharknado made something good out of a Syfy Channel original movie -- and that's not something you can say too often.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.30.2014

MUNCHKIN LEGENDS

The Munchkin line of games began as a spoof of spoof of power gamers and the sword and sorcery/D&D genre.  Since then, Steve Jackson Games has expanded the line to cover different genres, along with expansions for most of these games.  So which genre to go with for retail stores?  The well known, apparently: Munchkin Legends utilizes well-known characters and items from ancient mythology and current urban legends -- and returns to the sword and sorcery genre in the process.

Originally released exclusively to Target (disclaimer: I work for Target -- even on hot days), Munchkin Legends wraps the old in their new.  The rules are the same as the original Munchkin: Players equip themselves with various items (with a limit of one set of headgear, two hands' worth of Items, one set of armor, one set of footgear), become different classes (Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Wizard) and races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, or the default of Human), and kick down doors to fight monsters, get hit by Curses, or collect cards.  Killing monsters gives players levels and treasures if the player wins; if the monster wins, players run away or suffer Bad Stuff, ranging from losing items to dying.  Other players can interfere with combat, help someone win combat (usually if offered some of the treasure in return; and with only one player able to help, bidding frequently happens), or interfere and then offer to help!  And whoever reaches level 10 first wins!

I wasn't thrilled that Munchkin Legends has the same rules and classes as the original Munchkin.   Fortunately, Munchkin Legends has the same terrific sense of humor as the best of the Munchkin games.  While other games have included Loki, Minotaur and the Kraken, it's safe to say that none have a Boogie Man that's a werewolf in disco clothing.  Or Bermuda Shorts of Invulnerability, a Viking Duck, Achilles' Heels, Johnny Zucchiniseed, Flying Monkeys (wearing helmets and jet packs), or a card that makes players shout "Ra!  Ra!  Ra!"  And more current legends are here as well, like Bloody Mary, Slender Man, and Candy and Cola.


Munchkin Legends could have used more originality with the rules, but those rules work well -- and the game's extremely funny.  This game has moved fro a Target exclusive to the friendly local gaming store (FLGS), and Munchkin Legends will appeal to fans of ancient and current mythologies.  Or those who just want to laugh while screwing over their friends on the way to level 10.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.25.2014

SENTINELS OF THE MULTIVERSE

For some reason, superheroes and gaming often have problems working together.  Numerous Marvel and DC games have come and gone, never quite working.  Sentinels of the Multiverse from Greater than Games manages to succeed by adapting some comic book archetypes and cooperative play into a fun-filled card battle of good versus dastardly evil.

In Sentinels of the Multiverse, players select their heroes (each with hit points, a power and deck of cards), villain (with hit points, special victory conditions and deck of cards), and environment (deck of cards).  The players win by reducing the villain down to zero hit points, while the villain can win by either fulfilling their specific victory conditions or reducing all heroes to zero hit points.

Gameplay consists of the Villain Turn, Hero Turns, and Environment turn.  During the Villain Turn any card effects that happen at the start of the villain turn are resolved.  Next, the top card of the villain deck is played (one-shots occur and then go in the discard pile, while ongoing and equipment cards stay in play).  Finally anything that happens at the end of the villain turn occurs.

 If the villain hasn't won. it's time for the Hero Turns!  Each hero can play a card (like the villains, a one-shot, ongoing, or equipment card), use a power (either on their character card or from a card in play), and then draw a card.  If a hero doesn't use any powers, they can draw two cards.   And when the heroes are done, it's the Environment Turn, when an environment card is drawn and played,then all environment cards are resolved (usually affecting hero and villain cards together).  Then the turn cycle begins again.

Sentinels of the  Multiverse does just about everything right.  First, the core game comes with tremendous variety: Players can select from ten heroes, four villains, and four environments.  (The box is also big enough to hold this set and two expansions.)  While the heroes aren't original -- scientist with super speed?  Not the Flash, but Tachyon; finding a staff that gives the powers of a god?  Not Thor, but Ra; -- they each have their own unique abilities that make them useful in different ways.  And when a hero is eliminated, on their turns they can use one of their three powers on the back of their hero card, so a player who would otherwise be out of the game is still playing -- and contributing to victory.

The villains are also archetypes, but with their own challenges.  Players can battle the deranged scientist Baron Blade, the conquering alien Grand Warlorl Voss, the "superhumans first!" leader Citizen Dawn, or the self-aware robot Omnitron.  And most villains gain a new ability when reduced to zero hit points.  For example, Baron Blade starts as the "Terralunar Impulsion Beam Inventor," and if he gets 15 cards in his discard pile he's crashed the moon into the Earth, winning the game!  (It doesn't help that he also starts with the Mobile Defense Platform, which must be destroyed before Baron Blade can take damage.)  If he's defeated, Baron Blade's card flips: Now he's the "Vengeful Mad Scientist" blasting the hero with the highest hit points each villain turn!

There's also substantial strategy involved in each game.  Players have to deal with the main villain, their villain cards (that almost always damage the hero), and those environment cards (deciding whether they should be gotten rid of so they don't damage the heroes, or kept around so the villain cards take damage).  Many cards let heroes protect their comrades, but sometimes damaging themselves in the process.  And it can be tough deciding whether to deal with the main villain or their villain cards -- and the wrong choice can lead to defeat.

Finally, Sentinels of the Multiverse looks and feels like a comic book.  Not only does that artwork feel like it's from a comic, but the cards have flavor text from fictional comic books, like Freedom Five Annual #5, Baptism by Fire #1, and Science and Progress One-Shot.  There are also brief biographies for all the heroes and villains too!

Sentinels of the Multiverse is very challenging, and it's also very fun.  This is a terrific game for players who want to feel what it's like as superheroes, working together against a very difficult enemy.  To victory!

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

6.17.2014

Tim Hanley, WONDER WOMAN UNBOUND

Wonder Woman occupies a unique place in the comic book universe.  She is one of D.C. Comics' "Big Three" characters (along with Batman and Superman), instantly recognizable, and a unique character (as opposed to a female version of a male character).  At the same time, her comic and character have struggled in a male-dominated genre, there is a definite kinky aspect to her character, and she's undergone numerous changed through the years.  Tim Hanley examines Wonder Woman, the world's influence on her, and her influence on the world in his book Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine.

Hanley examines Wonder Woman through the Golden, Silver, and Modern Ages of comic books.  For the Golden Age, he focuses on William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who envisioned Wonder Woman as inspiring young girls, as well as a way of "preparing" the world for a matriarchy based on female superiority; he also worked some of his bondage fantasies into the character as well.  The Silver Age saw Marston's successor Robert Kanigher taking the character in a more sexist direction,  Wonder Woman lose her powers to become a "mod" woman of the 1960s, and then regain her abilities in no small part to Gloria Steinem.  And the modern era was largely a muddled mess of different tries at increasing her popularity and sales.

Wonder Woman Unbound is an excellent history of Wonder Woman because it goes beyond the character to look at the world around the character -- from other comic books to World War II to the rise of feminism -- and how those affected the character.  Hanley provides a combination of facts (often supplemented by bar graphs showing various percentages that illustrate his point), opinion (his section on the recent Wonder Woman is called "the Mundane Modern Age"), small but effective humor, and a very good ability to relate the times and the character together.  There were a few times I disagreed with his downplaying evidence that went against his conclusions, but Wonder Woman Unbound is a fascinating and intelligent examination of Wonder Woman -- how she affected the world that affected her.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch