The Dork Den Blog

For all your comic and board game review needs.

When in Rome

When in Rome

If there’s a potential issue with any trivia game, it’s the possibility of seeing a question twice. The Internet is full of trivia. So running a trivia game through Amazon’s Alexa service has to be perfect, right?

Quoth the Internet: LOL

When In Rome is, if nothing else, a clever little idea. Once computer/phone apps started becoming integrated with board games, it was only a matter of time until online services were used to expand the possibility even further. When In Rome lays a map of the world in front of you; you pick a city in which to start, then answer a trivia question about that city to make a friend. If you make a friend, the other player can’t (two players or teams max), because apparently there are only twenty people in Alexa’s world. You can normally only travel to a city connected to the one you’re in, but having friends lets you chain moves together, because the world is a mosh pit and we’re all just crowd surfing on it.

In every city, you have a choice between an easier, three-point question of a random category, or a harder, five-point question in a different category. All questions are about the city you’re in. Between the points for answering questions correctly and for picking up special souvenirs that pop up from time to time for bonuses, you play through either nine rounds or when three souvenirs total are collected (the latter is much more likely). Highest score wins.

I’m not going to say you can’t have fun playing When In Rome. It’s possible. But that sentence alone should tell you where this review is going.

The tricky thing about a review is that I’m not sure if it’s trying to do too much or not enough. That shouldn’t generally be a point of confusion about anything. But this is a game where they hired twenty different voice actors to play the friends in each city and ask the questions related to that city. Considering this is the first real Alexa-based board game, nobody would have expected them to go so far in their efforts, so it was really an above-and-beyond decision. However, using voice actors dramatically limits the number of different questions that can be asked. This thing is connected to the Internet, but in the first two games I played, I got the same question both times I ended up in San Francisco. That’s beyond unacceptable for a trivia game, and the way the voice acting is used isn’t even that good (between the actors and Alexa, there’s often too much of a gap between questions).

Worse yet—and that first problem is pretty bad—they put all this time into the aesthetics but couldn’t even figure out a good way to make the souvenir system work. First, when a souvenir pops up, it’s in a randomly generated location. Fine. These locations seem to always be relatively equidistant between the two players. That’s reasonable; it would be pretty jacked up if one player could move one space to the souvenir city while the other had to move five, giving the first one several chances before their opponent had one. But the souvenir can pop IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROUND.

Here’s how a round works: a challenge for both players is put forth. Sometimes they need to come the closest to a percentage-based statistic (ie. guess what percentage out of 100, closest wins); sometimes the players alternate answering different questions until one of them gets one right. The winner of the challenge makes the first move that round. If there’s no souvenir and no reason to go any particular direction, then going first doesn’t matter.

The only real advantage to going first is if it gets you to a city with a souvenir sooner. Therefore, giving a potential disadvantage to someone for winning the right to go first (you don’t get a choice) is completely bonkers. The fact they didn’t realize this tells me we’re talking about a bunch of programmers who never made a game and thought they could do something cool with Alexa. They apparently nailed it with a game called Beasts of Balance a couple years ago; the ball got dropped in every conceivable way here.

It shows. Play this game if someone else has it or you find it in a thrift shop for a buck, just so you can see the problems and dream about what could have been if they hired anybody who knew what the hell they were doing with this, or even just some competent game testers. They’re in London, they should have asked Shut Up and Sit Down to do it.

(1.5 / 5)

Adventures of the Super Sons #1

Adventures of the Super Sons #1

Super Sons is incredible, and if you think otherwise you’re wrong. Tomasi has created and continues to improve on his best work in his entire career, and that’s really saying something. I love everything this man writes, but Super Sons is a total treasure, and that’s why when the original Super Sons comic book was canceled by DC Comics I nearly had a mental breakdown. Unbeknownst to the fans, despite Super Son’s numbers, the 16 issue comic book run would come to and end and return a few months later as Adventures of the Super Sons. I have no idea why they made this change, and everything here seems like a direct continuation of the Super Sons story. Perhaps Tomasi had to put the comic book on hiatus for a short while and DC would rather rebrand and renumber than break their monthly schedule? Perhaps Tomasi still has something different in mind for the comic book he couldn’t originally do under the last comic’s title. It’s a bit of a mystery, and Tomasi was pretty quiet about the whole ordeal, say for thanking all his fans for all the support and clearing up some of the outrage behind Super Sons’ sudden and unexpected cancellation. Despite the rebranding, I’m 110% on board, and excited to read more.

Banter between Damian and Jonathan has never been better, and as they stop an animated golden statue of Superman from rampaging across Metropolis, they have to make sure to get to school in time before they’re late. Luckily they have a little bit of leniency with it being the last day of the school year. Despite being a little cruel since summer is wrapping up and everyone in the real world is started to head back to school, the Super Sons are planning out their summer vacation for 3 months full of Superhero badassery. With their underwater base fully functional once more, having been severely damaged toward the end of the Super Sons run, and the rest of the Justice League busy with bigger problems, the Sons are out to clean up the streets. Under the nose of the League however  there appears to be some alien invaders, though it’s unclear whether they’re from a different planet, or a different time. To both super’s surprise, the dastardly gang of new villains look an awful lot like Batman and Superman villains in kid form. Joker Jr. and Kid Deadshot, just to name a couple. They know way more about the 2 kids than they should, and it appears they know and have harnessed their weaknesses as well.

Super Sons in all its light heartedness is a wonderfully written and executed comic book through and through. It’s funny, action packed, entertaining, and the Damian Jonathan combo has a seemingly unlimited amount of chemistry. Like I’ve mentioned before, the reason why Superman and Batman work so well is their polar opposite personalities. They fill each others negative spaces really well. The super sons work very similarly, but in a much more comical and campy way, and with Tomasi at the helm it makes for a near perfect duo. As long as these two characters can work off of eachother, story and setting simply doesn’t matter. Tomasi can run any weird and wacky entertaining story arch because it’s not what you’re reading the comic book for, it’s just gravy on top. Super Sons is just as good as it’s ever been, and that’s all you can ask for. Anything better would simply be unrealistic.

 

(5 / 5)

 

Batman #50

Batman #50

The big Tom King event has finally come to its long awaited climax, the wedding is upon us, Batman 50 is here. There has been so much buildup and anticipation for this comic book it’s actually mind blowing. I’ll give it to Tom King, It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much mainstream hype and knowledge about this storyline specifically and it’s really been making some waves in the comic book world. Like King’s run or not, it’s been a very vital and risky project that will go down in Batman’s history as a very memorable run. 50 marks King’s halfway point, but this issue really is the peak of the story so far and the foundation for a bigger and better journey to come. Controversy abound, #50 is a big hefty issue that will leave you struggling to decide whether you love it or hate it.

Wedding Day is here. Not particularly planned, moreso a last minute decision. Unable to wait anymore, the two crime fighting lovers make their plans to have a very low brow wedding away from all the spectators and family, and before long the day quickly approaches. The reality our heroes must face however, is that their lives are far more complicated than the average everyday human. Perhaps marriage is the best thing for them. Perhaps if they marry they settle down and become the perfect, happily-ever-after couple and put their crime fighting days behind them. Perhaps they could continue their lives bringing down the evils of Gotham together, perfectly married and perfectly kick-ass. Perhaps these ideas are unrealistic. As the day draws nearer, they both must decide what’s best for them, and despite how deeply they’re in love with each other, one of them might break.

Batman #50, regardless of how the reader feels about the conclusion and the story in general, is an amazing issue for a couple of reasons. Every other page includes 2 pieces of art different from the main artist. Art drawn by previous artists of Batman’s many, many runs over the years. From Greg Capullo to Frank Miller tons of art styles come together in collaboration to not only make an amazing comic book but an amazing tribute to Batman over the past 80 years of his existence. It’s truly a family reunion of sorts, and it’s something that by no means had to happen. Tom King simply decided it was a great idea, and here we are with one of the coolest collabs I’ve ever seen in all of comic books. Batman #50 is a true celebration of Batman as a character and the love between Bruce and Selina. It’s also an awesome emotional storypiece. Half of the comic is told in letter form, each page alternating between reading through a letter written by Bruce to Selina and a letter written by Selina to Bruce. Both declaring their love, one declaring their doubts. It’s beautifully well paced and executed. King understands how to write Batman from an emotional standpoint, but where he really shines is writing Selina Kyle, a very powerful, independant, intelligent, but damaged person who struggles to make a decision between their love or the rest of the world. Perhaps Tom King’s run of Batman has had some major low points for me, and for the past 50 issues it’s been a consistent love hate relationship. Proper action seems few and far between at times. Sometimes writing just goes a bit too psychological and methodical for how I think Batman should be written, but when King succeeds, he succeeds big, and I think Batman #50 is an awesome work of art.

 

(5 / 5)

Villainous

Villainous

Oh god. Disney IP at work. This can’t possibly be good.

Right?

Villainous is a game where up to six players take on the roles of some of Disney’s most nefarious villains: Maleficent, Jafar, Captain Hook, The Queen of Hearts, Ursula, or Prince John (animal version). Each player has a board with four sections full of actions they can take on their turns, a deck of cards, and a second deck of Fate cards to throw them off track, but that’s largely where the similarities between the characters end.

In keeping with the small but growing trend towards asymmetrical gaming, Villainous offers a different win condition for each character, a different deck of cards with different items and abilities, different Fate cards (which reflect that character’s nemeses—Captain Hook has all the children from Peter Pan, for example)—and different sets of actions on each of their four board sections. In fact, not all characters have access to all four sections on their boards at the start of the game, or at any point—Ursula constantly has one end of the board or the other locked off.

Each turn, the player takes their very well-made pawn and moves it to a board section other than the one they were just on (think Scythe). They then perform all the actions on that section. This can be partially thwarted by their enemies; one action is to play a Fate card off someone else’s deck, which can be used to cover the top two actions on one section of that player’s board. These heroes can’t be defeated unless the player puts minions on, or moves them to, the same space with power equal to or greater than the hero’s. Items can be attached to minions to make them stronger, but the same goes for the heroes. It’s a take-that mechanic without the rage inducement; rarely does a player not have any board options without all of the actions on it available unless they’re winning handily and everyone is coming after them, in which case, hey, be a better villain.

For a deck-based game, the balance between when people reach their win conditions is pretty remarkable. This isn’t to say that everyone gets there at about the same time, but rather that everyone has a win condition other players can see coming. Whoever’s closest to winning can get slowed down, but not to a degree that effectively stops them from being able to win unless they get dogpiled hard (which is itself just a strategy that hands the game to someone else). It could have been successful with any theme; the game is strong.

But beyond that, Villainous has more flavor than atomic wings. All the minions, heroes, items, abilities, and everything else associated with each villain is spot on. The game even allows for some seriously messed up situations; for example, Jafar can hypnotize Aladdin and make him kill Jasmine. If you don’t think that’s great—not the domestic violence aspect, but the sheer evil in the act of making it happen and the fact you can get so dark—this game might not appeal to you as much as others.

It’s a really good game, though. Play it. You want to be bad. You do. You doooooo.

(4.2 / 5)
Justice League Dark #1

Justice League Dark #1

Apparently it’s the year of returning characters. Both Marvel and DC seem to be on their classic reintroduction and renumbering methods in order to pull in alienated fans (Marvel a little more egregious than DC) but these last few efforts at reintroducing teams and forgotten heroes / villains on DC’s part, to be fair, has actually been a lot of fun. Characters like Plastic Man, Booster Gold and Hawkman are characters that had a fundamental spot in the pre-New 52 era of DC comics and to see them coming back slowly into the spotlight is a welcomed change to the otherwise safe but stale main line of heroes. Batman / Superman / Wonder Woman and the rest of the league are great characters, I like them all, but they only go so far in entertainment value. DC Universe is massive in scale, and they’re finally showing that again for the first time since 2011. Justice League Dark is another addition to that growing gallery. In the beginning of the New 52, JL Dark had a healthy run unlike some of the other mentioned titles, but it quickly became somewhat bland. While we had some great, well-known characters like Constantine, the New 52 roster was quickly replaced by new and less interesting weirdos of the DC universe. This new JL Dark looks promising, bringing some much needed attention to the dark and mysterious underbelly of the DC Comics world with a roster of fan favorites.

Magic is all out of whack and the entire magic community of the DC Universe is feeling its effects. Zatanna’s magic shows are going all wrong, Constantine is lying low, Swamp Thing is in despair and much of the rest of the magic world has gone into hiding. After the events of No Justice, Wonder Woman is tasked with creating and leading a magic focused department of the Justice League. While WW isn’t exactly the most textbook Magic user on the League, her time on her home island Themyscira and history with the Greek Pantheon provide more experience than any other league member. Still, Wonder Woman doesn’t exactly fit into the Magic side of the world. It’s dark, mysterious and things aren’t quite so black and white as truth and justice. Wonder Woman is a paragon of light, and that alienates her. That, along with the unanswered going-ons with Magic in general makes things a little difficult for Diana. The Magic world isn’t exactly friendly with each other, though with a great evil force descending upon them in the near future, Wonder Woman will have to find a way to band these old allies together again and reform the Justice League Dark

Tynion IV is writing this comic, which is a good and a bad thing. His story writing and his big scale tendencies make for really exciting and intense comic books. But Tynion is most well known for writing big event style comics. Metal, Batman Eternal, Zero Year, etc. So JL Dark quickly feels perhaps too big for its britches. It’s extremely dialogue heavy, and we’re quickly thrown into a storyline that’s world ending in size. It’s a little jarring from what you would expect of Justice League Dark, which usually deals with the shadows and the terrors underneath your bed. I’m not saying the writing is bad, it’s actually quite good, but I’m concerned of the direction this comic is immediately going in, and how much staying power it has if it goes huge from the very beginning. Tynion’s work on Constantine does show that he knows the Magic world of the DC Universe, and his style and finesse with these kind of darker characters shows pretty well in this first issue. Wonder Woman is a great paragon to balance everything out, and I think she’s a really intelligent aspect that will bring an awesome spin on the otherwise bleak comic. Not to say the comic shouldn’t be bleak, it should, that’s what JL: Dark is, but we’re quickly finding a strong balance with WW and I really enjoy it.

Dark has great writing and beautiful art, to be expected, though its story starts out huge with questionable room to grow. Hopefully Tynion can pull through and deliver a team comic with some staying power.

(4.5 / 5)

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