The Dork Den Blog

For all your comic and board game review needs.

Wingspan

Wingspan

It’s a bird party! And I am super late to it!

Wingspan is a game about birds, birds, and more birds. Birds in the forest, birds on the plains, and birds near the water. Birds that are smol, and birds that eat the birds that are smol. Feed your birds, play your birds, and watch your birds barely survive in the wild, because “take flight” is both too cliche and too positive for what nature does to things living in it.

It’s simple to play. You have a hand of bird cards and a pile of food. Feed the birds and play their cards. Except… do you have the right food? What kind of nests do the birds make? Can some of your birds help other birds with the same nests? Do your birds want to eat other birds? Can your birds find more food for your other birds to eat? Do your birds do something right now and then just sit there like lazy buggers, or do they keep working as long as you pay attention to their habitat? How many eggs can they take care of? Who wants to eat the eggs? Should you—

AAAAHHHHH

The pieces of the game make sense. They’re not hard to learn or use. Making them work together, though, takes some knowledge of what cards you might see, how much food you might need, and so on, and that makes it a trip for first-timers to learn. If everyone’s new, it works out fine. If some people are and some aren’t, the noobs better learn quickly. There is time to suss out a strategy, thankfully, so you aren’t stuck finishing out a game that you’ve started to understand but need a second play to make that understanding work for you. But the learning curve exists.

The actions don’t take much explaining. You can play a bird to any of the areas in which it can live, if you have the food. If you can’t or don’t want to play a bird, you can use an action in a given habitat. Taking an action in the forest gives you food. The plains give you eggs, and the water gives you cards. The more birds you have in the habitat, the more of each of those things you have access to with a single action. Playing towards your specific goal(s)—you start with one and can get more during the game—and the competitive goals for each round (ie. have eggs on the most different birds when the round ends) is important for winning, but if you can find a point combo that doesn’t require those things, it could still be enough. Understanding the game, and not the “meta” strategies or the few things that will actually work amongst knowledgeable players, is how you do well, which is excellent.

Really, it’s so good. It’s hard for a game to make someone (ie. me) go from grouchy and lost to realizing what’s possible to almost winning in a single playthrough, but this one did. It’s very smoothly designed, with a lot of detail about the birds that technically weren’t needed but make the game more engaging for their presence. I usually always want to play something new, but I won’t mind a second go at this one.

4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

Ashe #1

Ashe #1

As League of Legends comes up on its 10 year anniversary and still holds the title of most popular MOBA video game on the market, it’s interesting to look back at its history as someone who’s been following it since the beginning. There have been quality improvements all across the board from gameplay reworks to visual updates, but perhaps the largest overhaul in recent memory is their work on game lore. League lore used to be pretty trash-tier to be completely honest with you. Bios on each of their many playable characters were often pretty lacking in both quality and length. Tropes and badly written stories were abundant. However, we’ve seen quite an overhaul in the past few years as characters have gotten more robust, professionally written backstories and lore moments. Music videos, short stories and comics are only some examples and they’re often high quality deals. League’s collaboration with Marvel on this Ashe comic is no joke. It’s being supported heavily by Riot Games (League developer) and is being touted as a long and full comic mini-series. Good comics have come out of this company in the past but a collaboration with Marvel is something exciting for the comic book world and for League in general. Also who better to give it to than Ashe, one of the original and most beloved characters in the League of Legends lineup.

The lore behind Freljord is fairly set in stone in the League of Legends universe. It’s one of the first factions to have existed within canon and has been the location of origin for quite a few of the game’s playable characters. Ashe is the warmother of the factions largest Horde, but her comic takes place long before and when she was much younger. Her mother Grena is the current warmother within this story and Ashe must deal with her own inevitable future as the leader for her people and her mother’s obsessive nature when it comes to destiny and prophecy. The reality of her situation becomes quickly clear as we’re hinted toward Grena’s past of marching members of her people to their deaths on wild goose chases and thirsts for knowledge. However, there’s little doubting both her mother’s skills in battle as well as her tactical ability on the battlefield, so many follow Grena for those reasons and loyalty alone, and while Ashe loves her mother and admires her strength, Ashe’s kinder heart and stronger grip on reality has driven somewhat of a wedge between the two. This first issue sets up an opening for Ashe to evolve as she’s forced to make difficult a myriad decisions. 

Before anything with the story it’s worth mentioning that the art for this comic is absolutely gorgeous. I’m unfamiliar with the artist’s (Nina Vakueva) work, and it seems like she’s done little in the mainstream comic world, but I think this is going to be a massive boost for her. This comic looks absolutely incredible. The story of Ashe #1 is interesting enough, albeit a little bland, and sets up a bit of a mystery going forward. I can’t confidently say that if you’re not a League of Legends fan you’ll enjoy this comic book at all. However, I think it at least holds up just looking at the art and the beautiful setting alone. The real treat with League lore is how much better it’s gotten over the years. These characters are interesting and worth investing him into when they previously weren’t. I think Ashe #1 is no exception to that change. While I don’t think that this issue was anything to lose your mind over, I left being okay with more, and that’s a win with comics I think.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Corinth

Corinth

Corinth is a roll-and-write game about ancient-world trading with people who look friendlier and much, much cleaner than their probable real-world counterparts. Yay washing!

Corinth’s twist on the roll-and-write style of game is this: Each turn, the active player rolls the dice and puts them on a board of goods. There’s a set method to this; the player does not choose where the dice go. Instead, all dice of the highest number rolled go into the gold section at the top, and all dice of the lowest number rolled go into goats, at the bottom. The rest of the dice are likewise sorted by number rolled and placed in ascending order in each of the four goods districts. Each player, starting with the active one, picks a set and marks off a number of goods equal to the number of dice in that section.

This has a couple of effects that go against gamer (or math) reflexes.

  1. Although goats get the lowest dice and gold the highest, goats are not inherently less valuable, because you can as easily have fewer goats available during the course of the game than gold. It’s just a matter of how many dice end up in those sections each turn.
  2. It takes substantially fewer items to collect all the sets of goods in the higher districts, but it’s easy to underestimate how few shots you’ll get at them. To have any dice available in the highest district, all six numbers must be rolled on the nine dice (though up to three extra dice can be unlocked, which increases the odds a bit). This means that not only will it be fairly unusual to hit the highest district, there will rarely be more than two dice available, and if it’s not your turn it’s quite likely someone else will grab them first.

It creates, not a whole new road of thought, but more of an off-ramp on to a highway that leans a little bit away from strategy as we tend to think of it. You roll dice for the whole game, decide what to do with those dice, and the value of the dice never matter. It’s not complicated—once you understand that aspect, the game becomes much clearer—but it requires something different from the player, and that’s pretty cool.

As for the game itself, it plays in a pretty straightforward fashion. You get your goods, or spend your gold and goats on buildings, or move your steward around to get you bonuses. Each section has its own way to score; you also get bonus points if you’re the first to fill all the goods slots in a district, and the game is otherwise balanced enough that someone who locks up multiple bonuses stands a very good chance of winning. In four-player games, it forces people to decide if they’re all going to race for the easier districts or take a shot at picking up the more difficult ones and hope they finish their bonuses by the end of the game.

It’s a clever little game with good artwork and a requirement to think, if not totally outside the box, then over the open flap. 

3.9 out of 5 stars (3.9 / 5)

Tiny Towns

Tiny Towns

I wanted to like this game. I did. I really, really did. It’s adorable city building on a small board with a bunch of cubes and a plethora of building choices with synergy bonuses all over the map. It should be something I would enjoy.

I think I tried to enjoy it with too many people. Which is a fine way to enjoy lots of things, just not this.

Tiny Towns has a simple premise: small critters have started a town, and they need to build it up as much as possible without wasting their resources. Like most small critters, they have no background in urban development, so they haven’t learned how to stockpile everything in one spot and move it from place to place as necessary. They just dump something in each location and stop when the town is full.

The basic mechanic is simple enough. The active player chooses one of the five types of resources. Everyone takes one and puts it on their board. Each type of building has a resource pattern associated with it; once you have that resource pattern laid out on your board, you may construct that building in any of the spaces where those resources were put. This forces you to be extremely careful where you place each cube, since you can’t take anything off the board once it’s placed.

Now imagine playing this with six people, where you only control the selected resource once every six turns. Yeah.

I have not played Tiny Towns with only two (or three) people. I imagine it’s quite a bit like Downforce, in that it has a set of mechanics which work considerably better with a small group. This makes the choice to sell it as a 1-6 player game extremely irritating. The game demands a high degree of intelligent choice in how you place your resources. It’s fine to make you look at your opponents and take their probable choices into account, but when there are too many of them it’s impossible to account for everything that’s going to happen between your current turn and your next one.

That, in turn, makes certain monuments (special structures unique to each person) extremely powerful in large games. Namely, anything that lets you get around the strict placement and building rules is wildly OP. There’s a variant for new players that lets you set two resources aside until you get used to the game; I recommend bigger games be played with that in effect no matter how experienced everyone is.

The rule holds, however: games are judged on how they are out of the box, not fixed by the players.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Superman Year One #1

Superman Year One #1

Before I say anything else, let me just put out that I have no idea what this comic is really about or what its goals are, other than a Supes origin story obviously. I’m reading this solely out of an unavoidable urge to read and review a comic book I have already pre-judged to be garbage. Year One is a new series written by Frank Miller. I really do not like Frank Miller. I only kind of like his older work, and I really don’t like his newer work. His art specifically is criminally bad, and shouldn’t be allowed to be published by anyone with a functioning brain. His writing may have some redeemable qualities but I simply haven’t been impressed with anything he’s done in a long time. But wait, turns out Frank Miller isn’t doing the art for this comic book. Maybe the dream isn’t completely dead. Who better than John Romita Jr. to helm the art on this crazy new Frank Miller comic!? Seriously, if you asked me: “Anthony, if there’s one artist who could compete with Miller’s trash tier art style who would it be?” Well, I’d answer almost immediately James Romita Jr.. Which sicko at DC decided to pair these two together? These are 2 of my least favorite people in the comic book industry today, so what better than to read and review their new comic book about my favorite Superhero? I genuinely find most comic books I read to be at least passable. Some outliers exist here and there but come on. Read my reviews. I’m most often giving comics glowing scores and mentioning why some of the less than great things are balanced by the good. I’m not sure I can deliver that here. There’s a major uphill battle, and I’m not all that interested in winning it, so this comic has a lot to prove. Let’s jump in.

Superman Year One has a lot of storytelling in it, and it’s a very long comic at that. I don’t want to go into heavy detail, so we’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum. First off, this first issue doesn’t really follow the logical “Year One” branding. #1 follows Clark through the first 18 years of his life, from Krypton exploding to his high school graduation and a little beyond. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I think they’re just a little trapped by the Year One labeling which is well known within the DC Comic world. I’m glad Frank Miller decided to not take that labeling too literally, and write the story he wanted to write. The comic is told in a somewhat strange third person classic storytelling type of way. It sometimes feels like a poem or a nursery rhyme like Twas the Night Before Christmas. Also, thoughts and feelings are accessed by the narrator on an individual character basis depending on the situation. The omnipotence of the narration only follows one character at a time which is a little strange. It’s a little hard to explain unless you’ve read the style he’s writing in. This style is particularly strange in the first 1/4th of the comic or so when it focuses on baby Clark Kent. The narration begins very simply and babyish with few words as Clark is learning and absorbing his surroundings with his adoptive family. This narration evolves and grows with Clark as he becomes older, even though the narration doesn’t solely take place within Clark’s mind. It’s very weird but it’s an interesting enough style. 

The beginning chunk of Year One follows Clark through the first few years of his life as he slowly comes into his own.  His adoptive parents can only look on as baby Clark sets the house on fire with his heat vision because his food is too hot, or runs way too fast in front of them, or jumps way too far away from them. It’s fun to see this much younger Superman utilizing his powers. Most origins have Clark developing this stuff much later on. Seeing a baby with god tier strength and super powered reactions to his emotions is pretty clever, and Miller keeps it from being over the top.  

The bulk of the comic focuses on Clark’s high school life. While he’s learned from a young age just how powerful he is, and how careful he needs to be in his everyday life, the high school drama he faces pushes his limits in ways he hasn’t before. So begins an internal struggle with how to properly utilize his powers. A gang of bullies practically run the school, and as they become more and more bold with their antics, Clark becomes more and more unsure how to properly handle the situation. He could easily annihilate these people pretty much by looking in their general direction, but obviously that’s not the Clark Kent thing to do. That’s what makes this character so endearing to me. These conflicts exist to form Clark Kent into Superman. It’s what Zach Snyder tried to show in Man of Steel and it’s what Miller is trying to show here. Superman is overpowered as all Hell. When pushing someone down could literally kill them without much effort Clark has to learn to put serious limitations on himself both physically and emotionally, and I think Miller does a really admirable job showing this aspect of Clark both in these high school situations and throughout the entire comic. 

By the time Clark graduates high school he’s ready to see the world. As his father has encouraged him throughout the comic book to use his powers for the sake of humankind, (a little pointedly at times, perhaps in direct contrast to Snyder’s take on Clark’s dad in Man of Steel) Clark heeds his advice in his own way and enlists himself in the Navy as an attempt to see the oceans of Earth, step one of his master plan to “know his planet”. Why can’t he supersonic fly his way around the world and see the oceans? Well that’s just not emotional enough. We’re given some tear jerking goodbyes from his parents and his girlfriend Lana that are kind of ruined by the weird narration style but well written nonetheless, and Clark begins his life changing journey away from home.

First and foremost, I think that this comic from a story only perspective is beautiful. I really really enjoyed the things that happened in this issue. I think executionally the comic has some faults, and I think specifically with dialogue there are some jarring moments. Additionally as always, Frank Miller’s weird political leanings and opinions rear their ugly head a bit here. I’m all for weird ideas and concepts I don’t really agree with in the content I consume, but it’s a bit too on the nose for me at times. I’ve said the same for things I do agree with. Again the narration style struggles to know exactly what it’s trying to convey at times, but I’ll stop rambling about that specific topic. To my own surprise, I think Miller wrote a really good story from beginning to end with this issue, and it’s by far the most redeeming quality.

The art is kind of difficult to give a clean review of as well. I can say confidently that this is the best Romita Jr. has to offer. Now, is that a compliment or not? I’m not really sure. When Romita isn’t drawing people I think his art is phenomenal. His backdrops and settings look so damn good. When Romita is drawing people they’re hard to look at. That being said, I think it’s easy to get used to in this comic specifically, and certainly not the worst I’ve seen from him. This comic did teach me that Romita can only draw one head size, as we constantly see young teenage Clark with a massive adult sized head on his skinny teenage body throughout the issue. That’s probably a little nitpicky, but my god in some shots it bothered me so badly. I’m stuck wondering what this comic book would have looked like with a different artist on the helm. While I think Romita’s style does cater best to this grainy country setting, I simply don’t like his art, even in this issue where it looks the best that I’ve seen.

While I’m going to reserve my judgments on issues to come in this series (I’m not sure how long it’s going to be), I think this comic book would hail as one of the best origin stories put to comics if it stopped right here and existed as a one off “first 18 years” kind of deal. Again, the story of this comic book is really good, but I’m afraid of where Miller is going to take it from here, and I’m even more afraid of how Romita is going to draw it from here. Year One #1 was slow and emotional and it didn’t care how long it took to tell you a story from beginning to end. It started great and ended beautifully. But alas, all good things must continue until they’re not good anymore. I adore Superman, but I’m just not sure I see myself continuing with this series. I’m simply satisfied with this, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for issues to come, and if they’re praised as much as this one was I might have to read anyway. Props to Miller though. He gets a pass from me on this comic.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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