Archive for April, 2017


Les Jeux Nouveaus

Most of my gaming purchases in recent months have been of the board variety and as a consequence, I’ve been replaying a lot of my existing content. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you spent between £20 and £50 on a new Xbone game for example, you want a lot of replay out of it. Even so, I have been hankering after something new to do for a while.

It started with Animation Throwdown – I’ve seen the adverts through Star Trek Timelines and decided to download a copy to my iPad. The goal of the game: trading card battles! It features the shows Family Guy, Futurama, Bob’s Burgers and King of the Hill and each of the shows has character, item or location trading cards with which to do battle. Trading cards can be fused in-battle to produce more powerful weapons with which to fight your opponent and come in varying degrees of availability when it comes to card drops (hint – lots of DLC for purchase)

The game itself has several modes: a quest mode, an arena mode where players do battle but not in real-time (decks are pre-loaded and the computer fights on your behalf), several time-restricted events for rewards and the ability to research new card fusions. In terms of gameplay activity, there’s far less than something like Timelines but the number of cards available (about 400 at time of writing) and the combinations possible keep things novel and interesting. Plus the actual card fights are over fairly quickly so you’re not sucked into a vortex of time when playing. It’s a nice acquisition, lots of fun had and the number of adverts you can watch for rewards (as opposed to spending extortionate amounts of money) help players who don’t necessarily want to or cannot pay-to-win. Unless you’re on a strict data-plan, of course. What I will say is that Animation Throwdown is a massive battery guzzler. If I play for thirty minutes, my iPad’s power will drop by almost 15% compared with similar applications which might drop by 5%.

Game number 2: Fallout Shelter. I only downloaded (for free) this because I wanted the Fallout stickers for iMessage. But I thought I’d give the game a bash and I have been enjoying it. Premise: build your own Vault-Tec vault, stuff it full of settlers and help them deal with the trials and tribulations of the Wasteland. You start each new Vault with a number of settlers and can recruit more either by building a radio station to lure them in, by breeding male/female couples together or from Vault Tec lunch box rewards. They can be trained in each of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats to increase their abilities either farming resources or constructing items more quickly. And they can be sent on quests, either to collect stuff in the Wasteland or to undertake missions for rewards – and there are any number of missions that one can send settlers on.

I’ve been enjoying this for two weeks now and the missions are my favourite part. DLC is much lighter but naturally it is there (no adverts). It’s not really game-breaking DLC, you can buy pets to further enhance stats of settlers, Vault-Tec Lunchboxes for random drops and Mr Handy units who auto-collect resources when assigned to floors. And the sticker pack for iMessage is a cute addition too.

Game 3: Season Pass for Batman: the Telltale Series. So I downloaded Episode 1 for free (this is how they get you) and have to say that the story writing and different take on the Dark Knight was of high calibre. It’s an interactive story book, kinda like a choose-your-own-adventure where you play the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman and interact with a five-part story. Each decision the player makes will have an impact on the storyline and subsequent player choices lead to different results. I would say that compared with the Walking Dead Telltale Series, there’s a lot more action in this game, particularly in the combat scenes. It also helped influence me that the season pass was half price in the Xbone Easter sale.

Game 4: Season Pass for Batman: Arkham Knight. Not played yet but I’ve wanted this for a while. Unlike Fallout 4, I only wanted to buy this in a sale but I’m looking forward to the extra story modes with Robin, Batgirl and Nightwing. The skins and different Batmobiles…meh, can take or leave. I am still in early days of my second Arkham Knight playthrough, will be interesting to muck about with the skins if nowt else.

Game 5: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. An old Xbox 360 game, I was looking for something in the same vein as Wolfenstein: The New Order a while back and thought that this might fill the gap quite nicely. Sorta puts you in the mind of a rail shooter in some ways given the way the game is animated but is more FPS. Cruder than Gun or Red Dead Redemption, it has some RPG type elements but is mostly a shooter through and through. Good voice acting, crude controls – excellent mindless fare. Totally worth playing.

 

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Big Trouble in Little Malta

Nah, that title is totally misleading. But as was frequently referenced in blogs passim, I went to Malta on 26 March to attend an international road safety conference & stakeholder event.  

The first day began in the usual rush; I set my alarm early so there’s plenty of time to get to the airport, I wake up and think “I’ve more time”, get up late, panic and fling myself out the flat door hoping everything is in order. I’d booked myself on an early morning flight y’see as I wanted to get there in good time to see the place. As I’d dithered in the flat and not had time to eat anything, I treated myself to one of the more upmarket restaurants and had an Indian-themed breakfast (special of the day) – very not bad.

I was flying with Air Malta – first time. The plane was delayed in taking off so we missed our slot and therefore were stuck in a long queue of planes flying out. Once we were under way, I enjoyed the view from the window, gawping at the peaks of the Alps popping up above the cloud layer – think I spotted the Matterhorn as I’m familiar with the shape/outline. And then looked at the Mediterranean and the ships travelling about, particularly around Sicily. The descriptions of Sicily from the Michael Corleone interlude in novelisation of the Godfather stuck out in my head and I tried to picture the land below as if it were post-war 1946.

We made it to Malta about ninety minutes late, then the next task was to get to the hotel. I tried to do the right thing and get the bus to Sliema but owing to exiting the airport at the wrong entrance, I missed the X2 by seconds. So I joined the queue for the next one. After waiting two hours for buses that just failed to turn up, I eventually cracked and took a taxi, getting in this rickety cab which I think was brand new in the 1980s. Malta was the first time I’d ever seen wild cacti growing – Prickly Pear. They were festooned in every field and in every garden between the airport at the hotel. 


Finally arrived at the hotel, checked in and took a good look around. Sliema is across a bay from Valletta (the capital) and also overlooks Manoel Island (ex leper hospital, fort and boatyard). Lots of hotels and waterfront eateries, boating activities of all sorts and a shopping centre. After sufficiently cooling off, I enjoyed a stroll along the coast line before finding somewhere to eat and partook of the local brew, Cisk. Wasn’t a bad beer, kinda mild but with more flavour than garbage such as Fosters. Had a ravioli made with local produce – there’s a lot of rabbit served in Maltese dishes but I didn’t partake in that. The bar filled up quickly as Malta was playing Slovakia in football though people were far less excitable than in a UK pub (blessedly).

 

Monday was my day to myself. Hadn’t slept all that well owing to the air conditioning unit which only seemed to pump out hot air regardless of the setting and maintenance not picking up their phone. After breakfast (and this is when I saw that I was the youngest person in the hotel by 20 years excluding staff), I had a kerfuffle over switching my room before deciding to walk to Valletta. A ten minute ferry ride would have deposited me there but I wanted the exercise so strolled all around the harbour for an hour before arriving in the capital. But I’m totally glad I walked. The far end of the Marina you could see rainbow fish swimming in the water and lizards (or salamanders) darting between the rocks. Very few skanky pigeons and gulls but you could see falcons on occasion as well as sparrows by the dozen.

 

Many of the buildings in Malta are made from local materials (i.e. sandstone) which obviously crumbles quite easily and makes the place look more run down than it otherwise in because the interiors are nice, modern and well kept. Streets are about as wide as they need to be so drivers appear to have developed a reasonable etiquette over road use. Bicycle use in Malta wasn’t prevalent at all. But pavements were seldom wider than a meter except in Valletta itself which is almost totally pedestrianised. But boats were everywhere and from the number, it seems that every house has access to even the most basic sloop right the way up to luxury yachts.

 

So Valletta itself: I thought the Parliament building was a library until I saw a sign telling me otherwise. Though I enjoyed looking around at the contrast in architecture. You could tell what was built when Malta was a Crown Colony – the Presidential Palace and square had a distinctly colonial feel to it, right down to the uniforms worn by the guardsmen. And because Brits were the predominant breed of tourist, there were a number of instantly recognisable high-street brands that one could patronise. I did go to Costa a couple of times – the iced drinks were most welcome as the temperatures climbed every day I was there. But resisted the others.

 

Monday was sort of like Sunday in Malta, a lot of shops were shut or had different opening hours. But it also meant that the streets were less crowded (contrast with Tuesday and Wednesday) so getting about was pretty facile. Lunch was a sammich in a local café, dinner was Italian again, asparagus risotto. Also had drinks with a local thanks to the power of the interweb which was a nice change of pace. Alas, I didn’t sleep well again – opened the balcony window only to let in the damn mosquitos.

Tuesday was the day of work, the conference. I got up extra early to ensure I was able to get to Attard which is in the centre of the Island, not far from the former capital of Mdina. Glad I did because navigating the buses was a nightmare. Although I’m glad I did elect to stay away from the hotel where the event was happening – Attard is…if you’ll forgive me…in the middle of nowhere. It was just suburbia with the occasional shop. The hotel was another colonial relic, both inside and out though the gardens were very well kept and the food was excellent. Again the air conditioning struggled, particularly in a room with a couple of hundred people in it. I won’t go into detail over the event – it was…well, it was work. And you can read the Valletta Road Safety Declaration online if you’re really desperate.


Getting back to Sliema: another nightmare in public transport. It was rush hour and every bus was jam packed. I went from one bus stop to the next and in the end, I traipsed back all the way to the hotel where in some places, there was no pavement to walk down. That aside, I got to see stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise have observed and my walk to Valletta the previous day paid off as the road from Attard rejoins the route to Sliema. My vague plan that evening was to go to St Julians up the coast but my feet were aching and I could not be bothered so went to the Tex Mex place up the road which caught my eye earlier – totally glad I did. They had amazing cocktails, a great dinner of quesadillas with again local cheeses and vegetables + an Oreo cheesecake dessert. Decadence all round.

 

Final day: actually slept that night but I think had there been a nuclear blast, I’d have been zonked out right the way through it. My flight home was at 5pm, checkout the hotel was at 11 so had to amuse myself for a few hours. Went back to Valletta by ferry for a couple of hours for some last minute souvenir shopping and to see the old fort at the tip of the island. Then to the shopping centre in Sliema to source some local food and drink to take home. It was wonderfully cool inside, next time I’m pitching a tent and staying in the mall! Very UK-like which was handy.

Once again, the fickleness of Maltese public transport hit me: I turned up to the bus stop about thirty minutes early as I was just done for the day. The bus showed up thirty minutes early (or late) so I jumped on and the journey took longer than the promised 45 minutes (more like double that) which was a bloody good thing. So readers, if you ever find yourself in Malta, take the bus timetables with a fist-full of salt, hire a scooter or walk! Plundered duty free for the usual treats (6 cans of Cisk, Maltese wine + locally made prickly pear jam) before queuing for the plane. 

Flight home was uneventful and I found myself a little bit down at the thought of leaving. I was finally warming up to the country – usual sense of personal caution in accepting something readily – and have decided I’ll go back one day. About the same time of year, I reckon but with more organisation over activities. 


Coming up next: back to the video games and the latest acquisitions…

 

Hallo, 

It’s April and once again, I feel like a little public self-flagellation, fessing up that I’ve not been the best blogger/diarist. Mainly as most of March was “more of the same” rather than something new and different. I wrote the below two paragraphs a couple of weeks back but quickly grew bored and left them to languish in drafts. But I feel I need some filler so here they are in their unmodified and unsexy glory.

The rest of my birthday went by fairly calmly and quietly. Played a couple of games, had a burrito, watched the Changeling (George C Scott) and went to bed. Not exactly a raucous affair but what I wanted in the end. Did a little gaming with Paul and Darren in Brixton the following day and then the main event on Saturday: Eldritch Horror followed by dinner in Belgo’s. We failed at the latter (barely got one mission completed before Nephren-Ka woke up) but had a blast necking fruit flavoured beers and stuffing our faces with fatty foods. They tried to drag me off afterwards but I was struggling to remain awake so had a drink at Retro before succumbing to unconsciousness.

Sadly I was up the next morning rather early owing to the need to get a train down to Cardiff as I was going down there with work. So bleary eyed, I staggered down to Paddington and on to Wales. Like Dublin, the weather was quite nasty (damn the Celtic fringes) for a good chunk of the day and put off any vague sightseeing/entertainment plans. I’ve been to Cardiff twice before but both those trips were just for the day so this was a time to actually have a proper gawp around. Naturally my first stop was the Board Game shop, Rules of Play. It’s sited in an Arcade so not much floor space (probably less than Orc’s Nest) but was very nicely organised and arranged. Couple of Welsh language games in the shop – novel as well as the usual selections. Would go back.

Sorry.

What else then? Had a second trip to Cardiff on 20 March, rain was far worse than the first visit. And I bought the Cthulhu Monster pack for King of Tokyo and the board mat for 7 Wonders. I only wanted one item! Otherwise, March has been a pretty quiet month. For Mr Beer’s Birthday, we went to the “Secret Escape” Room Escape game. It has, I was relieved to discover, nothing to do with that annoying woman on the adverts for the similarly named company. The premise: disappearance on a 1960s/70s film set. We escaped though we did require a lot of help, I think. Some of the clues were quite cryptic and did not flow organically. Still, there was a fair amount of fun had.

Speaking of room escapes, Tuesday night we revisited Time Run as they have a second game added to their repertoire which played differently to the first one. This time we were required collect items in each of the rooms that we were due to escape from to use in the final room. Our score was 97/100 + 13 bonus points so 110/100. Don’t know if it’s the record for the game but it certainly was the best score that day. I shined in the Russia room where there were a lot of problems like “Keep Talking or Everyone Explodes”.

Last night we finally finished Risk Legacy (the usual Wednesday mob) and I unexpectedly won. Everyone had a “last gasp for glory” style run by amassing tonnes of soldiers and going on an all-out attack. Actually, Brendan, Paul and myself did two gasps and mine was the successful one. But it was an epic finish to the game lasting two hours. I’ve had a stinker of a cold this week so was drinking copious amounts of brandy to keep me going. Feel much better today.

I’ll write a separate blog post for my adventures in Malta.