Gems and jewelry await!  In Splendor from Days of Wonder, 2-4 players collect gems, create jewelry, use discounts, attract merchants, and score points to get 15 or more points and win the game.

The play area is set up with cards.  There are four rows of development cards placed horizontally: a row from level 1 (cheapest to buy, fewest rewards), a row from level 2 (more expensive, more valuable) and a row from level 3 (the most expensive and valuable).  Several nobles, equal to the number of players plus one, go at the top of the cards.

On a player's turn, they take one of four actions.  They can take three gems -- emerald (green), sapphire (blue), ruby (red), diamond (white), onyx (black) -- of different colors.  They can take two gems of the same color, as long as there are least four gems available before the player takes two.  A player can reserve a development card, taking it from the play area and putting it in their hand; they also get a gold (yellow) token; players can only have a maximum of three cards in their hand, and they can only be gotten rid of by purchasing them.  And if a player has more than ten gems and gold at the end of their hand, they have to return gems until they have ten.

Players can purchase a development card, from the middle of the table or from their hand.  Development cards have a cost, in gems, on the bottom left of the card.  Players can pay the listed cost of the card.  Gold can be used in place of any single gem, and bonus from previously purchased cards can be subtracted from the cost of the development card.  When a development card is purchased, a replacement is drawn, if possible, from the deck in its row.

The top right of each development card shows its reward: points, bonuses, or both.  Points are added up to victory.  Bonuses show a gem color, and it's subtracted from future development card purchases.  Bonuses are cumulative with multiple development cards, so as more and more development cards are purchased future purchases become much cheaper -- and it's often possible to buy development cards for free.

Finally there are the nobles.  If a player's bonuses equal or exceed the quality and type of bonuses shown on the noble tile at the end of their turn, one noble goes to that player and adds their point value to the player's points.

When a player reaches 15 points, the game almost ends.  Every other player then gets one final turn, and after everyone takes their final turn the player with the most points wins!

Splendor is a fun and competitive game of strategy.  While the game starts off slow, as players rely solely on their gems and gold to buy development cards, once players start accumulating bonuses there's a snowballing effect of discounts, making cards easier and easier to obtain.  Initially players have to decide between development cards that give points or bonuses, but later on players will aim for those cards that give both.  The strategy isn't deep (though inevitably someone will buy development cards right before someone else would have) but Splendor is light and enjoyable.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Plenty of comedies revolve around characters thinking a real situation is fake -- and seeing how long the movie can draw that out.  This takes up the early portion of Game Night, a movie where friends' gathering to play assorted games spirals out of control.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a happily married couple who seem obsessed with playing games, either with or against each other, and with their friends: married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury); Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who always seems to bring brainless bimbos to game night; and Sarah (Sharon Horgan), an Irish coworker of Ryan who he brought as a ringer.  Max also has issues with his older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who seems more successful and better liked that Max.  Max and Annie also want to avoid letting their creepy next-door-neighbor police officer Gary (Jesse Plemons) worm his way into their game night.
Brooks takes control of game night, and he has everyone over to his house for a murder-mystery type game: Someone will be kidnapped, and whoever finds the kidnapped person first gets a cool car.  Soon enough, masked men seem to beat up and kidnap Brooks -- and the game is on!  Max and Annie trace Brooks' cell phone to find him.  Ryan and Sarah go to the company Brooks employed to find out the last clue.  And Kevin and Michelle are locked in a room by Max and Annie and have to escape -- while bickering over what celebrity Michelle slept with.
Max and Annie find Brooks, and they think the game is over and they won the car.  But it turns out that Brooks is a smuggler, and his kidnapping was real.  Brooks promised to deliver a Faberge egg to a criminal known as the Bulgarian, and soon the friends are all working together to get and deliver the egg, save Brooks, and keep the police from getting involved.

Game Night is a decent comedy that's slightly uneven.  Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are very good as the couple who go quite a while thinking all the craziness is just part of a game, and Jesse Plemons is nicely weird as the just-off neighbor, and the rest of the cast is decent.  Some of the humor works fine (amateurs removing a bullet, getting blood off of a white dog) and some falls flat (the shift to borderline action movie).  Game Night is okay, though better than most movies based on actual games (and probably the ones coming soon).

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Like it or not, soccer (henceforth referred to as "football") has never really caught on here in the United States.  So when a kid's comedy largely revolves around football humor (even the title refers to early Manchester football fans), it can fall flat.  This is a problem for the Aardman Studios' stop-motion animated comedy Early Man.

Dug (Eddie Redmayne) has a simple but happy life with his caveman tribe and pet hog Hognob.  They live in a lush valley, hunt rabbits (with limited success), and all have their own quirks.  Dug would rather hunt larger animals, like mammoths, but Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) wants to continue hunting rabbits because that's what they've always done. 
Cultures clash when bronze-armored mammoths invade the valley, driving the caveman out of the valley and into the desolate badlands.  Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) is obsessed with bronze and decided to mine the valley for it, not caring what happens to the cavemen.  When Dug ends up in Lord Nooth's city, Dug learns that Nooth's people are obsessed with "the sacred game" of football -- and Dug realizes that his tribe's cave paintings showed his ancestors playing this game. So Dug challenges Lord Nooth's championship team to a game of football: If Dug's tribe wins they get to live in the valley in peace, but if Lord Nooth's team wins the tribe works in the mines.

This would seem to be an impossible task, considering Dug's tribe has never played football before.  But Dug remains optimistic because their ancestors played.  He also gets help from Goona (Maisie Williams), a football fan from the city who's told she can't play because she's female -- so she plays with the tribe.  And there are a few twists, lots of football jokes, flagrant cheating, and a dinosaur-sized duck.

Early Man is more cute than funny.  The cast is game with their voices, but most of the football jokes just fall flat and there aren't many surprises in the story.  As a result, this movie is another kids' movie that just does the minimum to try and entertain.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch



While Marvel has done amazing work with their shared universe of superheroes, Black Panther brings them into a new area: nation building.  The movie has a mostly African-American cast for its fictional country of Wakanda -- and it works very well.

Things seem to be going well for T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman).  He's become the new ruler of Wakanda, even temporarily giving up his powers to battle a challenger in combat.  His "panther powers" include super strength, speed, reflexes, and healing; and he also has an incredibly tough super-suit.  His young sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is a tech genuis, working in all areas of the country's vibranium-powered technologies.  His ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) is a spy for the country but returns for his coronation.  And his bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira) is one of the nation's most powerful warriors.
Yet T'Challa is uncertain about keeping his country's amazing scientific advances to themselves and maintaining the illusion that they're a poor nation of farmers.  When Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) --a  terrorist with a mechanical arm who stole vibranium from Wakanda, killing many of its people in the process -- surfaces, T'Challa and his allies go to capture him.  But Klaue is working with Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a killer with a mysterious past whose plans would affect both Wakanda and the rest of the world.

Black Panther has plenty of what we've come to expect from Marvel movies -- super-powered folks slugging it out -- but there are also deeper issues, from loyalty to leaders who one disagrees with to isolationism being in opposition to altruism.  Chadwick Boseman brings a regal attitude to the role of T'Challa, making him both more heroic and more conflicted than the standard super hero.  Michael B. Jordan makes his killer sympathetic at times, and the rest of the cast manages both action and humor equally well.  Black Panther is a fine addition to the Marvel cinematic universe.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Growing up on Long Island, New York I was fortunate to be able to travel to the Tower Records store in Manhattan, and later to a much closer store near my home.  I spent plenty of money there -- and saw the store close and the shelves emptied in its last days.  All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records is a talking-heads documentary about the creation, success, and ultimate failure of what could be the most famous music store of all time.

All Things Must Pass spends most of its time on several people who had been with Tower Records from its early days in California in the 1960s -- especially its founder, Russ Solomon.  He had an easygoing way of running the store: People could wear what they wanted, treat the customers how they wanted, and even show up drunk or stoned, as long as they opened the store on time.  The people who stayed got promoted, and as the the stores expanded -- to the east coast, and internationally -- these people often moved on to run other stores.
We also hear from musicians -- Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Sir Elton John -- and David Geffen, all sharing their memories of how great the store was at a time when there was no Internet for music lovers to discover new sounds and connect with fellow fans.  And there's plenty of archival footage of the shoppers in the stores, flipping through actual records.
As for the history of the store, this documentary focuses on the early years and the final ones.  We know that the store was a hit with the hippie generation, and near the end the store suffered not only from Napster but other stores selling CDs, taking on lots of debt, and the failure of some of their expansion stores.  There's a definite bias against the mean, strict financial people closing the stores down that's a sharp contrast to the fun and freedom the employees enjoyed in the store's early days.

Despite the overwhelming positive attitude towards the store -- employees loved working there, musicians loved shopping and visiting there -- All Things Must Pass is a good look at how Tower Records became famous and successful -- and how it all came crashing down.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch