The Dork Den Blog

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Fearless #1

Fearless #1

Comics have been in a bit of a summer lull these past few weeks. Big comic events from DC and Marvel are a bit out of season at the moment, focusing in on a series or two each instead of big universe scale events. Indie companies additionally have just felt a little lackluster with their new releases as of late. As such, I’ve been sort of patiently waiting for the next issue in my subscriptions to drop and that’s never amazing from someone always looking to try new stuff. One shots and limited series do have a tendency to fill that void however and seeing Fearless hit the shelves certainly piqued my interest. “The fiercest ladies of the Marvel Universe Unite!”. Ok, sure, I’m in. I have absolutely no idea what kind of story this is going to bring or how serious it’s going to take itself, I’m just hoping for a fun ride and to see some female superheroes kicking ass.

To my own surprise, Fearless #1 doesn’t really have a cohesive story throughout. It’s in a short story format focusing on a few different heroes across the Marvel universe. Despite the “unite” aspect of the comics advertising, there’s very little uniting happening in this mini series’ first issue. The stories themselves are kind of all over the place in terms of tone and story. The first half or so focuses on Captain Marvel, Invisible Woman and Storm respectively. These stories are a bit more serious, focusing on the difficulties of being a female superhero in the spotlight, and with Captain Marvel specifically, her role as a leader among the superhero world as someone who doesn’t really want to be. Storm’s little comic is about her forceful removal of some deforesters trespassing on government protected grounds, which is interesting enough.

The second half kind of devolves into this strange reality show with a bunch of overly beautiful internet influencers and successful photographers. It’s quirky and reminds me of something I would probably enjoy reading from Image or Boom! Studios, though the story completely fails on the superhero part it was supposed to be delivering on. Which is a bit jarring actually. Jarring to the point where I don’t really understand what they were going for in the context of what the comic was supposed to be. And things only get weirder as it leads into a Jessica Jones short that I’m sure fans of the character who are basically begging for good JJ content weren’t very happy to see. I’ll avoid any major details on that part.

It’s pretty rare that I speak negatively of a comic book I review, and I don’t necessarily want to show this comic book in an all bad light. The first half specifically is at least somewhat enjoyable and has an interesting take on what it means to be both a superhero and a woman in the Marvel world. I would have enjoyed if they’d gone all in on this theme and ran with it, but instead the second half really devolves into something totally different, and I really don’t think it’s good. The short story format of the comic doesn’t really help it either, especially in the way it’s advertised. But a short story comic book is very forgivable if its good. This just falls short of that I think, and that’s super disappointing considering the material they’re working with. There’s totally room in the comic book world for this kind of comic to exist. This just isn’t the way it should be done.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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)

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