alobear (alobear) wrote,

A Mountain of Reviews

Last weekend, I went to an excellent gaming event in Chester. It was very successful - I played five games that were completely new to me and enjoyed them all, two other fun games I’d only played once before, and also introduced ten people to one of my current favourite games, Kodama.

Trans Europa is a train game a little bit like Ticket To Ride. You are given destination cards and have to connect up those points on the board. However, the track is mostly communal, so in its simplest form the game doesn’t last very long and isn’t particularly challenging. It can become more complex if you include the player-specific pieces of track, which can be used to block other players from parts of routes and makes the whole thing much more strategic. I enjoyed playing, and it’s a good time filler, but not a game I intend to pursue frequently.

Eketorp is a game about Vikings, and thus involves a lot of fighting. You have six meeples and have to decide in secret each turn whether you’re going to keep them home to protect your camp, send them out to collect bricks to build your walls, or attack other players’ camps and steal their bricks. Once everyone has decided, the placements are revealed and all the Vikings take their places on the map. Then it’s a case of combat being resolved in each space until each remaining Viking can take what he came for. It’s quite simple in terms of mechanics, but hugely fun and quite in depth in terms of strategy. I did quite well, and would love to play again.

Paperback is a game I recently acquired, which is a cross between Dominion and Scrabble. The game mechanic is identical to Dominion, but the cards you buy have letters on them, and you have to make a word with the letters in your hand each turn to create your supply of money to purchase more cards. It has a lot of expansions that could make the game more complicated, and I’m keen to get to grips with it enough to try them all out. It was fun to play and I’m looking forward to exploring its possibilities more.

The longest and most complicated game I played all weekend was Terraforming Mars. This is a resource collection game, which involves building oceans, green spaces and cities on Mars in order to gain points in terraforming ability. I got the hang of it quite quickly, and didn’t do too badly. It had a lot of different aspects, and was very involving, but not so complicated as to put me off. I’d happily play again, and would be interested to see if I could improve my play.

On the last morning, I played a short game called Medieval Academy. This involved playing cards to move a marker up various tracks, which resulted in different effects at different points of the game. It was another one where the mechanic was very simple but the strategy quite involved. I enjoyed it, and it’s certainly a good one to fill an otherwise empty hour or so, but not something I’m keen enough to purchase.

I was also introduced to a mobile phone game called Alphabear, which I have been playing most days since. You collect different weird bears by completing levels that involve creating anagrams from ranges of available letters. The longer you leave letters unused on the board, the more likely they are to change into rocks and block your progress. It’s fun, but I’m quite glad there’s an in-game mechanic that prevents you playing more than a couple of levels at a time, unless you pay to get additional access.

Other media consumed is as follows:

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson:

This book is about the far future, where mankind has spread out and colonised the rest of the solar system. It’s partially about the rise of AI, partially about the environmental issues involved in terraforming other planets, partially about interplanetary politics, but mostly about inner conflict and self-imposed barriers to relationships with others.

It has an intriguing and emotive main plot, interspersed with amusing and informative exposition sections in the form of extracts from documents, which provide a lot of detail about the future-set universe.

One of the quotes on the back sums it up better than I could: “Blends mystery and suspense with lyrical evocation of a complex future.”

Oddly, for me, I was more interested in the world-building than the character interactions and I loved all the descriptions of the landscapes, asteroid habitats and planetscapes. A lot of the narrative is really beautiful and vividly realised, but there’s also an engaging plot involving complex characters.

The narrative rule-breaking of using large chunks of exposition and a great deal of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ might put some people off, but I loved those sections and felt they worked really effectively in conveying the in depth information required to understand the complexities of the plot.

About a hundred pages from the end, it felt as though the main plot was only really just getting going, so the conclusion felt a bit abrupt and a bit convenient in some place, and a bit unresolved in others. However, it very satisfyingly fulfilled the development requirements of the central relationship, which was the main focus of the story, so everything else was incidental.

And interesting, challenging, impressive work of science fiction, which defies expectation but proves extremely immersive.

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan:

This is the second in the Lady Trent series and I very much enjoyed listening to it. It had adventure, intrigue, excitement and great characters, as with the previous volume. However, this one avoided an annoying ending, and also explored some more interesting aspects of gender roles and sexuality, which proved quite provocative, considering the faux-Victoria setting. This was quite refreshing and unexpected, and added an extra dimension to the storytelling. I’m very much looking forward to listening to the rest of this series, which is also aided by an excellent narrator.

We All Begin As Strangers by Harriet Cummings:

I picked this book up at Chipping Norton Literary Festival because it had an intriguing premise. It’s set in a small village in middle England in the 1980s, where someone is breaking into people’s houses but not taking anything. It’s well written and engaging, but had a few off-putting features. There were some details that were confusing (what must have been a typo on the dates on a gravestone, which meant the mother of a 27 year old would only have been 36 when she died), and some actions that were difficult to visualise, both of which jarred me out of the narrative and interrupted the flow of the story. I also thought connection to the characters was hampered by having each section from the point of view of a different character. If the POV strands had been interwoven throughout the book, that would have been fine, but have 100 pages or so with one character and then 100 pages or so with another prevented me from really feeling connected to the people involved, as each one would almost disappear from the narrative when it switched to the next one. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, and they all seemed rather miserable. However, the narrative did keep me engaged and I felt it came to a very satisfying conclusion, with important lessons being learned.


I came across this TV show when looking up Best Drama lists on the internet and I’m so glad I did. It only has 30 episodes, spread across four seasons, but I found it quite overwhelmingly affecting and very compelling. It’s about a man who was convicted of raping and killing his girlfriend at the age of eighteen, and who is let out of prison after nearly 20 years on death row. There is uncertainty throughout as to whether he committed the crime or not, but that’s not really what the show is about. What it really focuses on is his difficulties in relating to life outside prison, the effects of his time there, and how his family and other members of the community react to his release. It’s masterfully written and extremely well acted, especially on the part of the main actor, Aiden Young.

The pacing is glacial, but so effectively wrought as to be almost painfully immersive. I was completely gripped and very emotionally involved throughout, to the extent that I almost didn’t want to watch the last episode, as I didn’t want there to be no more left to watch. I was also a bit worried that it wouldn’t come to a satisfactory conclusion, but I had nothing to fear on that count. It does leave some things unexplained and open-ended, but deliberately so, and I felt the emotional journey embarked upon was completed and very effectively so. This is a really wonderful show, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes emotionally involving drama, and doesn’t require fast-paced action and explosions to enjoy a TV show.

Most important takeaway (if this was too long to read) - watch Rectify, it's amazing!
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