The Dork Den Blog

For all your comic and board game review needs.

Railroad Ink

Railroad Ink

Choo choo, goes the train. Vroom vroom, goes the car. Rattle rattle, go the dice. Squeak squeak, goes the dry-erase marker. Mailing in the opener, goes the review writer.

That box looks pretty big, but Railroad Ink is a tiny little thing from Horrible Games that is weirdly entertaining if your brain functions like mine. I don’t wish that on anyone, but still, there’s an audience for this.

Each player gets a 7×7 dry erase grid to draw on. The even numbered squares (2, 4, 6) along all four sides have either a highway or a railroad track on their edges. There are four dice rolled each round (seven rounds total) that have highway and/or railroad tracks on them; players all use the same rolls each round, and new roads and tracks being drawn either need to come in from a matching type on the edge or connect to something already on the grid. Each of the tracks coming in also counts as an exit point; your goal is to connect as many of the exit points together as possible, preferably with one set of tracks and roads, no matter how convoluted it may look at the end.

Game boards unfold into the dry erase surface and a small guard that protects some of your drawing surface (it doesn’t need to protect everything; the only useful information would be if opponents could see your whole map clearly) and shows both the possible dice rolls and special tiles you can use once per game. There are six specials in all, of which you can use three total. These are especially important because they’re the only reliable source of stations—black squares that serve as the only way to connect highways and railroad tracks.

There’s no interplay between players, unless you want to talk shit or draw on each other. All you’re trying to do is score the most points via connecting the most exists, having the longest contiguous set of highway and rail lines, and using as many center squares as possible, while having the fewest dangling roads and rails on your grid. It’s basically competitive solitaire, which allows it to function as a single player game, where your goal is to simply do better than you did last time. A common complaint with games is when players don’t get to affect what happens to each other, and if you’re a person who feels that way, this is not going to be for you.

But, if you’re fascinated by games where everyone gets the exact same resources, has to do the best job they can with them, and victory is decided by who plans the best (and gets a little lucky if they take a chance on certain dice rolls hitting), this is a great little game. Once again, the core theme of these reviews comes into play: whether you like it or not, Railroad Ink is doing exactly what it’s trying to do.

(4.5 / 5)

Jango Fett #1

Jango Fett #1

  The Age of Republic anthology series continued yet again this week with Jango Fett #1. There’s a lot of mixed feelings about this character and his counterpart Boba Fett. Despite their lack of decent writing in both of their respective trilogies, the mysterious Mandalorian bounty hunters are really interesting in concept, and any 10 year old Star Wars fan whose imagination expands beyond that of what they see on the screen probably fell in love with the potential that these characters had. While I do think that a bounty hunter movie could work, comics, books and video games are good too, and we’ve seen back in 2002 with the Bounty Hunter game for PS2 that Jango can be a really interesting and badass character (Seriously, it’s a fun game). Exploring the dark underbelly of the Star Wars world during the prequel era away from lightsabers and the Force is a mostly unexplored aspect in today’s canonical Star Wars universe, so I’m excited at the prospect of seeing what Marvel can deliver with a Jango 1 shot. I think out of all of these comics so far in this series, Jango has the largest amount of potential for a good ongoing comic book, and this may be a good place to start.

Jango #1 focuses on the growing relationship between Jango and his clone soon-to-be bounty hunter son Boba. Despite his young age, Jango takes Boba along on a bounty mission, working with a few lesser known hunters on a simple catch and deliver mission. In typical young boy edgelord fashion, Boba complains about the simplicity of their job, wanting to do something harder, have more responsibility, but it’s the fear of the unknown, Jango assures his son, that can cause the most trouble. During their bounty hunt we’re treated to some interesting flashbacks of Jango being recruited to the world of Kamino, where he’ll be compensated heavily for the use of his genetic code in the creation of a massive clone army. We know the rest. Obviously when stuff goes down it doesn’t exactly go according to plan, though Jango’s reputation obviously precedes him and Boba holds his own as well, proving his potential for the road ahead.

The next comic here in the Age of Republic series continues its trend of focusing more on relationships and the emotional side of the Star Wars universe in that of Jango and his son Boba. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting going into this, but I suppose after reading it, it makes plenty sense. I don’t hate Boba, but he’s written as a pretty unlikable character in most of his stories during the Prequel saga despite the writers seemingly trying otherwise. Jango is much softer than you would expect, and that comes with his age and his reputation. This is toward the end of his career whereas as lot of his potential for great stories lie in his earlier days earning his reputation as the best bounty hunter in the Galaxy. But maybe that’s for another time. This comic aligns more closely with what this anthology has been exploring and I wholeheartedly support that even more so than I do a story without young Boba Fett, as much as I would like to see him written way better, or removed from the picture completely. There’s still a decent Bounty Hunter story to be seen here and I think if anything it opens the gate for more to be told. Perhaps there is great potential for a father-son story with these two, but I remain that Jango is best explored as a solo character. The comic is respectable nonetheless.

(3 / 5)
Reef

Reef

There are games which involve underwater life, where you escape big fish with big teeth or spawn salmon or escape from an island which is about to become underwater life, but rarely do you get to be… the plants. And not even the soft green plants, but the rocky crap we step on and it hurts.

Although pretty soon there won’t be any of that either.

Reef is something of a puzzle game. Everyone gets a 4×4 board and four pieces of coral, one of each color, set in the center four squares however you wish. This isn’t done blindly; everything revolves around cards, and you get to see a display of three to choose from right away, as well as having two in your hand, and you can use these to determine good starting positions for your coral.

The cards are key, so here’s how they work: each card has a top and bottom. The top has two pieces of coral, often (but not always) of the same color. When you play a card, you take those two pieces out of the stockpile and place them on your board. You can put them anywhere you want—different spaces, stacked in the same space, stacked on top of other pieces already there, etc. The only rule is that stacks cannot go above four high. Once a stack is four high, it can no longer be changed.

The bottom has a scoring mechanism. This is some pattern the coral must follow to score the points on the card. Only the top-most color on each stack matters for these patterns. Some of them are easy—for example, score one point for each top piece that’s green. Some are more complicated, requiring two different colors diagonal to each other on stacks at least two high. The more complex the pattern, the more point each matching set is worth, but the simpler the pattern, the more times you may be able to score it when you play the card. Therefore, depending on how your board looks, any card may end up being able to score a good chunk of points.

One tricky aspect is that the colors a card lets you play don’t match the colors the card lets you score (apart from a handful that let you score any color). A winning strategy involves playing as many cards as possible that let you score points while also playing corals that will let you score points on a future card. You don’t need to score every card; if you can combo well enough, taking a zero on one card to score ten on another is better than two three-pointers. But comboing off big time isn’t as important as scoring consistently while looking for a big combo. Putting too many resources into setting up a big score will usually leave you behind people who consistently grab points, because if you’re thinking a few cards ahead (no one can take cards out of your hand, so you know what you have), you can always set up good combos.

Basically, it’s not a question of small scores versus one big score. It’s a matter of who can land bigger small scores or more big scores. The game runs for a reasonably high number of rounds, so if you can’t pull anything that nets points right away, you still have time to set up something nice for yourself if you keep an eye out for the right cards. Variance can mess things up, of course, especially in a four-player game, but usually the cards come for you to create some nice scores.

And… that’s pretty much it. It’s a perfectly good game. Like so many games, it will find a niche crowd that adores it, a handful that really don’t like it, and a large majority that find it an acceptable way to spend some gaming time. In theme, it’s fairly unique; in form, it’s reasonably different from most other offerings; yet it doesn’t feel hugely different from a lot of perfectly good games that have crossed the gaming landscape in recent years. It’s a game with a very pretty box designed to draw you into a game that you’ll probably tell your friends is fun. So, if it sounds like a cool concept, by all means pick up a copy. If you’re looking for a game that will blow your hair back with its unique greatness, this isn’t quite it.

(3.9 / 5)

Obi-Wan Kenobi #1

Obi-Wan Kenobi #1

The Age of Republic anthology series continues this week with Obi-Wan and Jango Fett. With 2 character predominantly in the Revenge of the Sith coming out after these two, Marvel appears to be moving through the movies, which is a pretty neat idea. Subsequently, I’ve been really surprised at the direction that these comic books have taken. Where Marvel’s previous mini-series of Star Wars comics have been mostly eye candy, action packed fun, these Age of Republic comics have really taken a slow turn to look at the inner, more spiritual and almost superstitious aspects of the Star Wars universe. Qui-Gon and Maul took deep dives into both the light and the dark sides of the force, offering new insights and aspects of a mostly unexplored but intrinsic part of the lore in this universe. From what I’ve briefly heard, Obi-Wan also is a slower more emotional look at these characters (Obi-Wan and a young Anakin) both as people, and as Jedi. Action takes a backseat here, and that’s a pretty major play for the creative teams here, because I’m not sure that’s what the core audience wants. I’m completely on board though.

  Obi-Wan Kenobi #1 takes place sometime between episode 1 and episode 2. Both Anakin and Obi-Wan are young, and inexperienced in their relationship with each other. Anakin, being the, let’s say angsty, child that he is, hates being stuck at the Jedi Temple learning the ways of the Jedi in a traditional sense. He’s older, and further ahead than all of the students there. In fact, he’s pretty much killing it, and it’s obvious that it’s holding him back. Yoda, as wise and as helpful as always, suggests to Obi-Wan, despite his own doubts about the young padawan, that he bring him along on Obi-Wan’s mission to retrieve a Jedi Holocron that they’d recently learned about hidden away by some civilians on a nearby planet. Although Anakin’s trigger happy nature may get them into some trouble, Obi-Wan realizes he must trust in the young boy, and also trust in his own judgment. Qui-Gon was a different person and a different teacher, and Obi-Wan comes to an understanding with himself that he must teach Anakin in his own way, and he must be taught differently than the typical Jedi padawan, who’s been training since near infancy. Upon arriving to retrieve this old relic of the Jedi Order, the two jedi are confronted by pirates, and despite Anakin’s readiness, is nearly caught in a life-threatening situation. Obi-Wan to the rescue.

This comic was short and sweet without a ton to say. It didn’t have the emotional resonance and the spirituality that Qui-Gon had, and it didn’t have the sleekness that Maul did, but it was a genuinely enjoyable comic about a mostly unexplored period of time in the Star Wars canon. There are 10 years between episode 1 and 2 and there’s a lot of potential there to be utilized. I think this comic book shows that potential, and in it’s very small form delivers on a lot of that. Anakin is young, but not nearly as cocky and sure of himself, albiet still as whiny, as the later movies. Obi-Wan is similar, although a way better character. We mostly know Obi-Wan as the suave snarky Jedi Demi-god. He’s really strong and really smart in the later events of the prequel trilogy. Here, he’s not quite as perfect and that makes for an event better character than he already is. Obi-Wan Kenobi shows that there’s good stories to be told in this time period, but it’s far from the best comic book in this anthology series so far. I still had a good time nonetheless.

3.5/5

Superior Spider-Man #1

Superior Spider-Man #1

DC and Marvel have successfully utilized the concept of a multiverse, the existence of universes in parallel to our universes, for decades now. It’s useful for a multitude of reasons. It allows for slight differences in characters, universal level events that change the continuity of the comic book universe, and crazy elseworld stories. Perhaps most importantly, it means that creative teams can take their ideas and put them to comic book paper without having to worry about continuity and canon. Throwing a story into an alternate universe means unlimited potential. Characters and continuity are a playground for writers, and because the limitations of these universes are a mere shrug, the universe created by a writer can be revisited or completely thrown out without consequence. 2013’s Superior Spider-Man, largely considered to be one of the best Spider-Man stories of all time, is a product of these universal shifts and crazy changes. Now, near 6 years later, Marvel is revisiting the Superior Spider in hopes to tell another successful Superior story. It’s massive shoes to fill, and Marvel’s track record in the past few years will likely make Spider fans a little nervous.

The Superior Spider-Man in 2013 focused on Otto Octavius, better known as the Spider-Man villain Doc Ock. For a bunch of long and complicated comic book reasons, Otto switches bodies with and becomes Peter Parker. Now with memories and morals left over from Parker’s DNA mixed with his own, Otto becomes conflicted with his clashing beliefs and soon after, becomes obsessed with being a better Spider-Man than Parker was. Thus, the Superior Spider-Man was born. The Superior Spider-Man 2019 is a mostly direct continuation of the 2013 series, even though it starts back to #1 (Thanks Marvel). Otto, now going by the alias of Elliot Tolliver, a university professor, seems to have all of his stuff together. He’s by all regards better, stronger and smarter than Peter Parker. Every move is calculated both in battle and his everyday life. Parker’s remnants keep his moral compass from falling apart, and an Otto Octavius unsullied by his claimed influence that the mechanical arms had on him, is a near unstoppable genius. When faced with the scheduling dilemma Peter Parker so famously had: how to balance life with being the Spider-Man, Otto has no problems. He has no divine obligation to protect anyone. He’ll save people when convenient, and Professor when he’s needed. All seems well. Things will finally come to a head however, when he’s recognized as Otto Octavius by someone he hurt during his times as the Octopus. His past seems to be the only thing that can catch up to him, and it finally does. For the first time in the comic, Octavius seems vulnerable, and despite his claim of being a reformed man, he won’t be able to get off so easily. The sudden appearance of Terrax The Tamer, however, an old Fantastic Four villain who looks almost uncomfortably like Darkseid from DC comics, pulls Octavius away from the awkward situation with his accuser, but he won’t be able to run forever, even with those brilliant calculations of his.

It’s difficult to make any quick conclusions about this new comic run, though I’m sure comic book fanatics will have preconceived ideas regardless. The original Superior Spider-Man run was cool for a few different reasons, but one of it’s primary pulls was the ‘reformed’ Otto Octavius’s take on the Spider-Man role. His moral ambiguity and emotion-minimal take on vigilantism draws in similar ways that a character like Batman does, but even more so, Octavius’s evolution from a supervillain to a protector of the people is not only admirable, but the crux of the original run. With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how this team takes an otherwise ‘complete’ Superior Spider-Man and makes a decent story out of it. Octavius’s character is by far the most interesting thing in this first comic, as the story is fairly nonexistent, which is mostly excusable in a first issue comic. The art, not to be ignored, is also very pretty. All-in-all Superior Spider-Man #1 is a solid relaunch of the incredibly popular series, but its shoes obviously remain to be filled. All readers can do now is wait and read, but I think and hope there are good things ahead for this new Superior Spider-Man.

(4 / 5)

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