The Dork Den Blog

For all your comic and board game review needs.

Oliver #1

Oliver #1

  In light of all the Star Wars comics I’ve been reviewing as of late, I figure now is as good a time as ever during a week break between comics to review something outside the realm of both Marvel and Star Wars and, once again, check out what Image has to offer in regard to its few new series. A few weeks ago I had heard about an upcoming comic called Oliver – a fresh idea from writer Gary Whitta, writer of greats like Rogue One and The Book of Eli. These movies are favorites of mine, and on top of that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Whitta on various podcasts and other nerd outlets the past few years. He’s really a man of a people, and a super nerd just like the rest of us, so I always try to put some time aside to enjoy what he has to offer. He seems to be working on everything across the board these days. Whether comics, novels, movies or video games, no medium seems to stop Whitta from putting pen to paper and writing a pretty sick story, so I have high hopes for Oliver and its ever popular writer. Oliver may not exactly be the genre for me, but that wasn’t going to stop me from checking it out.

  The comic Oliver is a twist on the Charles Dickens’ character Oliver Twist, and it’s a big twist. Set in the distant post-apocalyptic future, the famous orphan spends his days as a superhero fighting for the liberation of England, which has since been seeped in division. Raised in a society of similarly faced men bred in labs years ago originally make for war, Oliver is an outlier: a natural born boy, which is unheard of within this group of people. Despite many’s protest, Oliver is permitted to live and grow among them, but there’s something different about him. He grows exceptionally fast, and he’s exceptionally athletic. Only a few years from his birth he has the look and the maturity of a preteen boy, and before long he begins to wonder about his family, and his origins, something kept quite mysterious to both Oliver himself and the comic’s readers. While the man that raised him chooses for now to keep Oliver in the dark about his true nature, he knows it won’t be long before the full truth will have to be revealed.

One thing to note first about Oliver, is that its setting and its visuals are really cool. Post-apocalyptic settings aren’t often found outside the realm of America, so seeing a completely desolate London, England is awesome, and due to Whitta’s English background and work on Book of Eli, you can really tell he knows what he wants when showing the massive landscapes and barren shots he asks his artist to provide. Conceptually, the story is solid, though it’s difficult to say where it’s going or what it’s trying to do with only 1 issue. Oliver is basically a non-character so far. He says very little in this issue, and although we establish he has a bit of a rebellious and adventurous nature about him, he just doesn’t seem all that interesting in this issue. Additionally, I’m just not sure what this issue has to do with Oliver Twist other than the characters likeness I guess? There’s a couple cool Charles Dickens quotes throughout, and it starts in a neat Dickens-esque way, but I haven’t seen any Oliver Twist moments that make me go “Hey that’s like the book, but post-apocalyptic!”. Maybe I’m missing something. Either way, I’m sure there’s more to come, and I think a lot of people are going to dig this comic. Whitta is the lord of fan service and giving people what they want to see, so I would suggest not fretting. At least yet.

(4 / 5)
Goodcritters

Goodcritters

You dirty rat! You actual dirty rat! Wash your fur, you’re disgusting!

Goodcritters is a pseudo-bluffing game very much in the spirit of Cash ‘N’ Guns, but without the nerf guns and with slightly fuzzier gangsters. Each round there’s a boss and a selection of loot set to be passed out among the criminals, and victory depends on your nerve, your ability to figure out what your opponents are doing, and how well you can maximize your take on every round. How the looting works is how the two games most differ.

One player starts as the boss. A number of loot cards are drawn equal to the number of players plus two, as opposed to the flat eight per round of Cash ‘N’ Guns. (There’s a larger deck of loot cards with a Fuzz card slipped into the bottom third, so the end of the game is harder to predict.) Rather than players trying to brave their way into the heist so they can split the loot, the boss hands out the loot herself. The players get a vote, though; if more people vote no than yes, the loot is put back in the center and the next person becomes boss, passing out the same loot however he sees fit.

Of course, nothing’s ever as simple as a vote.

After the loot is distributed, everyone gets an action. Voting yes or no are only two of the options. The others are to rob another player; guard against a robbery; or skim money off the top of the deck. Skimming only works if you’re the first person to do it, which makes it great for the boss and a more chancy proposition the farther down the line you are. Robbery can only be done if you put your threat token in front of somebody else, which means if you do try and rob someone everyone knows who it will be already. It also means that if no one is threatening you, there’s no need to guard yourself.

Therefore, if you’re the boss, passing out the loot isn’t a simple matter of making enough people happy with the split to keep you in charge. It’s also a question of not giving people a reason to vote against you. Since not everyone has to use their threat token, the game ends up leaning more towards the politics of getting people to do what you want rather than calling their bluffs when guns are pointed at you, and the money split is a major part of that.

There are optional rules that involve bribes and payoffs, and each loot card as a type of loot attached to it (jewelry, paintings, etc.) which are currently irrelevant but should be put to use in future expansions. However, none of this affects the main drawback of the game: no catch-up mechanism. Not every game needs one, but it’s pretty important in a game with a light tone that’s designed to be an enjoyable experience.

For example, in Cash ‘N’ Guns, it can be difficult to make up ground if you’re behind, but you do have an option—stand up and take part in every heist no matter how many guns are pointed at you. No, it may not work, but you can at least try. It’s possible that other players were constantly throwing bullets at you, so that you never had a chance, but in most circumstances falling behind happens because you sit out a heist when the people threatening you were bluffing. Even if your decisions made perfect sense, at least it was your decisions that created the situation.

In Goodcritters, unless you’re the boss, you have no control over the loot split. You can’t make anybody give you anything. You can rob people, but that only gets you one random card from their stash (if they don’t guard against it and rob from you instead). You can vote no, but even if it works, you don’t make up any ground, you just stop everyone else from getting their loot. The balancing factor is supposed to be that if you’re a good boss, you can keep the troops happy while also making more profit for yourself than you’re giving to them, and it’s better for the boss to give you money if you’re behind because you’ll vote for them while also being less of a threat. In theory, that should work, and with a group that knows how to play, it probably does. However, if everyone’s just chucking loot splits in a way that will get them votes, it may keep going to the same people. If you’re not among them, it leaves you pretty helpless, as you don’t have the tools to do much about it.

There’s also the question of what they plan to do with the loot types. In theory, there are ways to do set collection that function as a way to have fewer cards but more value, which may go a long way towards fixing the catch-up problem. But selling the game with aspects that don’t come into play right away—especially when they’re so prominently featured on the website—is some shenanigan behavior. When whatever expansion makes use of the loot types comes out, this game might be great. Not giving us that game is not OK.

(3.3 / 5)

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)

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