Monday, 28 March 2016

Total Cults Total Tabletop - Pandemic


Overview

Pandemic is a fast-moving and addictive game that sees you working for the Centre of Disease Control to curb a global outbreak of four nasty and contagious diseases. Taking on specific roles (scientist, researcher, medic, etc) your team work together moving around the World map board curing diseases as infections spreads and the planet races towards extinction!

Table Play

The map is split into four coloured sections each with a number of cities in them. There are four diseases each with a colour that matches the areas of the map. Diseases are represented by cubes, and each of the major cities can hold up to three disease cubes. The game starts with nine of the cities in varying states of contagion. Each turn you can perform four actions which can include moving, removing cubes, building research centres, etc. You can then draw 2 cards from the draw deck which will normally give you cards that match cities by their name and the colour of the area they are found. If you get five cards of the same colour you can cure that disease. At the end of the round you draw from the infection deck and the cities you draw receive more cubes. It is basically a case of managing the diseases on the board while anticipating what cities will then become infected. Cure all four diseases and you win!


Above the Table

Since the game is entirely co-operative there is no scheming against each other and that's a good thing as when things get fraught you'll rely on your friends. And boy to do things get fraught. Aside from the ongoing infections you have the constant threat of drawing an epidemic card which throws already drawn infection cards back into the infection deck. That means those cities already infected get hit again. Once a city hits three cubes an infection causes an outbreak and the surrounding cities get infected. You'll be collectively shitting bricks as the cubes pile up and since there are more ways to lose than win (running out of coloured cubes, drawing the last card or the outbreak tracker reaching the end all finishes the game in favour of the disease) team strategy is vital. If anything the only arguments that will break out are where people aren't pulling their weight!

Craft

Counters are traditional plastic pins, the artwork is functional and designed to mimic digital maps and scientific graphs rather than evocative depictions of the end of the World. The board is sturdy, the design clear (the board has the basic rules and areas for decks included on it) and the little coloured cubes are difficult not to play with. In fact, running your fingers through these little piles of plastic is actually quite therapeutic despite them representing hundreds of thousands of human lives lost. Essentially the game pieces are designed with clarity and functionality in mind rather than appealing to collectors.


Experience Level

Pandemic is a little more complex then your average family board game but by no means hard work. Once you get your head around the many actions and stages of play you'll find it quick and easy to play through. The game also has various levels of difficulty built in (the harder you want it to be the more epidemic cards you can shuffle into the deck).

Overall

Pandemic is relatively cheap (£20 - £25) for an advanced tabletop game and since the complexity is only moderate it works as a great introductory game. If you want to try before you buy there is an online version that works fantastically with tablets for a fraction of the price. The game is tough to beat and encourages a "let's play one more" mindset for those that really want to crack it. In fact I don't think I've ever sat and played it just once. This, the in-built difficulty scale and the numerous expansions (that add extra rules, diseases, a competitive mode and, in the case of Pandemic Legacy, a developing episode-based narrative) this is a game you won't get bored of quickly. Pandemic is a fast-moving, relatively straight forward and endlessly rewarding game and a great introduction into the wider world of tabletop gaming. Watching the World choke and die has never been so much fun.



Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Welcome to Total Cults Total Tabletop!


Over the last few years tabletop gaming has matured. Card and Board games are no longer just the Ker-Plunks and Mouse Traps brought in for the last day of school but complex and immersive narratives. Part role-play and part counters and dice table play these games can put players directly in a world not by surrounding them with photo-real environments but by forcing them to strategise, plot and problem solve in the same way the characters would need to. Complex gaming has always been available as anyone who has killed hours over Risk or got caught up in the Games Workshop explosion of the 90s will attest to, but in recent years the draw of these expansive and expensive games has grown to the point that they are readily available in high-street shops.

Why? well, these games tap into the growth of 'nerd' culture as mainstream, meaning a generation brought up on Transformers, Star Wars and Superheroes can delve into equally evocative worlds. The games are beautifully constructed using quality materials and stunning artwork and feel like they are luxury items produced for adults and collectors. They are social, and not in a way that involves swearing at Americans over a headset. These games can form the centrepieces of entire evenings with close friends who like to share a glass of wine and some Kettle Chips over some political manoeuvrings in Westeros. The growth of these games is sustainable because they can't easily be pirated and as such don't depreciate. If you want to buy a copy of Heroquest it's going to cost you the same as it did in the 90s.

As a keen (but by no means expert) tabletop player I thought I'd use this as a platform to try and turn the unfamiliar onto gaming, to help those at a similar level as me navigate through the incredible amount of choice available and to give those higher level hardcore gamers someone to bully over their mis-understanding of rules. These recommendations will be broken down into the following sections:

Overview

This section will cover some of the key objectives, basic rules and the story and/or mythology that surrounds the game. It should give you a good idea of the genre you are going to immerse yourself in and what kinds of general activities you'll be getting up to.

Table Play

This section is concerned with what is happening in front of you. What pieces do you need to move? How many cards will you need in front of you? Do you roll dice?

Above the Table

While your hands are busy with the above you may need to keep your eye on the person next to you. Most games will ask you to either co-operate and strategise as a team or to screw over other players to win. Basically, this section will try to determine whether the game will end in an argument.

Craft

One of the big draws of these games is what you get in the box. This section will talk about art, tactile materials and figures.

Experience Level

As fun as some of these games can be some of them can take a little while to get the hang of. This section should help determine whether you're ready to play or whether you might need to work up to it.

Overall

A summary that alongside my final recommendation will mention price, availability and expansions.


As always comments, corrections, counter-points and recommendations are always welcome in the sections below. Good gaming!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

OSS 117: Lost in Rio (Michel Hazanavicius, 2009)


Of the all the things to get lost in translation comedy is possibly the most common. A change of language can alter rhythm and delivery while obscure cultural references can render moments devoid of context. As such, taking a punt on a full-on French comedy is a little less sure-fire than that of another genre. Thankfully, this is not something I'll worry about in the future as OSS 117: Lost in Rio is an all-timer.

The sequel to the 2006 Cairo, Nest of Spies, Lost in Rio is a sixties spy spoof that sees Jean Dujardin's OSS 117 track down stolen microfilms from a Nazi agent. OSS 117 is not unlike Ron Burgandy; a brash, vein and borderline racist alpha male at odds with a changing world. This, alongside the sixties spy setting might start to conjure Austin Powers-like imagery but unlike its English speaking peers this movie is a little more measured.

Rather than throw up a load of sixties spy tropes because they are antiquated or nostalgic, Lost in Rio works very hard to create an authentic sixties spy film. The fashions, cinematography, film stock and music are not used as the subject of amusement but are instead used to create humour. There are a couple gags constructed and delivered via use of split screen, for instance, showing us there are smarts behinds the decision to use this technique rather than asking us to laugh at the technique itself.



Even the style of humour isn't too dissimilar from the wry self awareness of the '66 Batman or Flint movies. What it is able to do is bolster that wryness with some ever-so-slightly racier sex references while using hindsight to throw a more contemporary perspective on race, gender and social trends. A good example of this is the scene where OSS 117, every bit the conservative Connery-esque spy, sits around a campfire trying to convince a hippy commune they've got it all wrong before suddenly tripping balls on LSD and finding himself deep in the midst of an orgy. None of this is particularly anachronistic, yet it merely allows the inclusion of a social dialogue already present in that era in a film that would have never gone to those places.


If you're not already aware Dujardin is nothing short of brilliant. Not only does he fit the sixties super-spy model perfectly he is willing and able to expose and draw humour from the character's problematic ideologies. Able to play over the top in downbeat moments (such as trying to convince a gathering of Nazi's to love their fellow man while dressed as Robin Hood) and deadpan in silly moments (like trying to gut and cook a giant crocodile to prove a point). Dujardin can switch from genuinely cool to absurd, charming to charmless and sometimes even do them both at the same time.



And this is how I feel about the film itself. It is a movie that has its cake and eats it over and over. It works as both an earnest post-war spy adventure and post-modern comedy. The movie's finale, a standoff on the arms of the Christ the Redeemer statue, is expensive and spectacular while remaining delightfully silly. So perfectly judged was this film it had me in the palm of its hand. So much so a throwaway gag where OSS 117 takes a poorly composed selfie got the biggest laugh out of me despite being a joke I'm sure most people won't even register.


This is a movie that hasn't become culturally relevant simply because it was made in a non-English speaking country. So let me assure you it is safe to put all those doubts aside. This is a movie that will compete with, and in many cases best, most mainstream US and UK comedy movies. Lost in Rio has shot up on my list of favourite comedies and its predecessor, Cairo, Nest of Spies, has shot to my list of must see movies. It's a delight, check it out now!