The Dork Den Blog

15
Oct
Banned Book Month



September is banned book month. So we are a month behind but we are celebrating in October with our featured Trade Paperback display. If you were with us last school year you may recognize some of the titles but there are a couple new ones on the display. We are going to share with you why the books are challenged or banned so that you can make an informed decision about picking one or more up.



This One Summer - By Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki


Reason challenged: Sexual content, unsuited to age group


Location of key challenge: Various

This One Summer was named the most challenged book of 2016 in the American Library Association’s annual Top Ten Challenged Books list.


The announcement of the 2014 Caldecott Medal winner and honorees had many people rushing to pick up the books for their library and classroom collections. Graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki broke boundaries by becoming the first graphic novel to make the short list for the Caldecott Medal. Unfortunately, the Caldecott honor yielded an unforeseen negative outcome: Since the announcement of the Caldecott honor, CBLDF has been confidentially involved in monitoring challenges to This One Summer in various communities.




Watchmen - By Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons


Reason challenged: Unsuited to age group


Location of key challenge: Various


As a frequently challenged author (see Neonomicon and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier) and a staunch defender of free speech, Moore has a few choice words for parents who push for literary sanitization rather than simply monitoring what their own children read. In a 1987 interview with The Comics Journal’s Gary Groth on a proposed system of comic book content ratings, Moore opined:

If parents are making the decisions that their children can or cannot read this sort of book in the home, that’s fair enough. The parents can take the consequences of that. It won’t necessarily stop the children reading it, but at least it’s a transaction between the child and the parent and it’s the parent taking responsibility for their children, which is fair enough….They shouldn’t hand over that responsibility to an outside body, and along with it, hand over the responsibility of all those other parents who have been finding it quite easy to take an actual personal interest in what their children are reading and to monitor their reading habits themselves.



Y: The Last Man - By Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra


Reason challenged: Sexual content

Location of key challenge: Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California

In June 2015, Y: The Last Man was one of four graphic novels that a 20-year-old college student and her parents said should be “eradicated from the system” at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California. After completing an English course on graphic novels, Tara Shultz publicly raised objections to PersepolisFun HomeY: The Last Man Vol. 1, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House as “pornography” and “garbage,” saying that Associate Professor Ryan Bartlett “should have stood up the first day of class and warned us.” Crafton Hills administrators responded with a strong statement in support of academic freedom, although President Cheryl Marshall did note that future syllabi for the graphic novel course will include a disclaimer “so students have a better understanding of the course content.” CBLDF joined the National Coalition Against Censorship to protest this attack on academic freedom, and the district backed away from the proposed disclaimer plan.




Sandman - By Neil Gaiman


Reason challenged: Anti-family themes, offensive language, and unsuited for age group


Location of key challenge: Various


In 2003, an unnamed inquirer recalled an experience involving the graphic novel’s suppression at his or her library on Gaiman’s website. In the article “Links and libraries. And… Where’s Waldo?” Gaiman responds to the fan, who, upon finding her library only shelved one volume of the series and refused to purchase more of them for the YA section of the library, asked him how he felt about Sandman being considered “unsuitable for teens” in many libraries:

I suspect that having a reputation as adult material that’s unsuitable for teens will probably do more to get teens to read Sandman than having the books ready and waiting on the YA shelves would ever do.

I’m perfectly happy for Sandman to be on adult shelves. And if they aren’t on any shelves, due to fearful or underbudgeted librarians, there’s always an Interlibrary Loan…



Sidescrollers - By Matthew Loux


Reason challenged: Profanity and sexual references

Location of key challenge: Enfield, Connecticut, public school district


Sidescrollers was chosen as one of the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2008, and was praised by Publishers Weekly as “wholesome…but still entertaining for young teens or those with a sense of humor.” It recounts the adventures of three teenaged slacker geeks who are roused to action when a female friend becomes romantically involved with loutish quarterback Dick. Along the way, the trio engages in mildly vulgar but realistic teenage banter and vandalizes Dick’s car with anatomically correct graffiti.





Saga - By Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples


Reason challenged: Sexual content, anti-family, nudity, offensive language, and unsuited for age group

Location of Challenge: Apple iOS (2013), Oregon (2014)

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples sci-fi epic adventure, Saga, has not only become one of the bestselling and most critically acclaimed comic series since its debut in March 2012, but it has also become one of the most controversial comics, holding the sixth spot on the ALA’s 2014 Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books.




Pride of Baghdad - By Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon


Reason challenged: Sexual content


Location of key challenge: Various

Despite making both ALA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens Top Ten in 2007 and Booklist Editors’ Choice: Adult Books for Young Adults as well as featuring non-human main characters, Pride of Baghdad is frequently challenged for alleged sexually explicit content.




Maus - By Art Spiegelman


Reason challenged: Anti-ethnic and unsuited for age group

Location of key challenge: Pasadena Public Library in Pasadena, California


In a 2012 article on ICv2, Nick Smith of the Pasadena Public Library in Pasadena, California, writes about a challenge to Maus:

In the library world, books are challenged all the time, mostly for making someone uncomfortable with their own view of the world. In our library system, Maus was challenged over its portrayal of the Poles. The challenge was made by a Polish-American who is very proud of his heritage, and who had made other suggestions about adding books on Polish history, for our library’s collection, so it was not out of the blue. The thing is, Maus made him uncomfortable, so he didn’t want other people to read it. That is censorship, as opposed to parental guidance.

In 2015, despite a lack of formal complaints, several major bookstore chains in Russia have begun pulling Maus off shelves and internet sites. The reason: The cover depicts a Nazi swastika. According to a recent law, all Nazi propaganda is forbidden from being displayed in retail shops, including on the cover of a book whose overall message is completely anti-Nazi. It comes as a shock to many that the book would become the victim of a law designed to separate modern Russia from the history of Nazism inflicted upon the world during World War II. Art Spiegelman spoke out about the larger implications of these reactionary efforts to purge a portion of Russian history from the consumer marketplace:

I don’t think Maus was the intended target for this, obviously. But I think [the law] had an intentional effect of squelching freedom of expression in Russia. The whole goal seems to make anybody in the expression business skittish… A tip of the hat for Victory Day and a middle finger for trying to squelch expression.



Ice Haven - By Daniel Clowes


Reason challenged: Profanity, course language, and brief non-sexual nudity

Location of key challenge: A high school in Guilford, Connecticut

Ice Haven is composed of a series of vignettes that describe the life of the small town and its citizens after the disappearance of a local boy.  Recommended for Grade 10 and up by School Library Journal, the book explores the emotional lives of a large cast, including a schoolyard bully, a love-struck teenager, an emotionally troubled child, a frustrated poet and the classmates of the missing boy.  Clowes employs a variety of cartooning styles to render the sensibilities of his different characters, creating a rich, blackly humorous tapestry about the alienation, loneliness, guilt and desire.




The Graveyard Book - By Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell


Reason challenged: Violent imagery

Location of key challenge: Undisclosed

The Graveyard Book is a two-volume graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Newbery Medal-winning prose novel of the same name. Adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell, alongside artists Kevin Nowlan, Tony Harris, Scott Hampton, Galen Showman, Jill Thompson, and Stephen B. Scott, the full-color graphic novel tells the story of Nobody Owens, a boy raised by ghosts, and his adventures through the graveyard where he lives. Publisher’s Weekly called it “a vastly entertaining adaptation…It’s a treasure worth having even if the novel is already on the shelf.”




Drama - By Raina Telgemeier


Reason challenged: Sexual content

Location of key challenge: Chapel Hill Elementary School in Mount Pleasant, Texas

Although most readers of all ages found Drama to be just as endearing and authentic as Telgemeier’s other books Smile and Sisters, a small but vocal minority have objected to the inclusion of two gay characters, one of whom shares a chaste on-stage kiss with another boy. Negative online reader reviews have accused Telgemeier of literally hiding an agenda inside brightly-colored, tween-friendly covers, but in an interview with TeenReadsshe said that while she and her editors at Scholastic were very careful to make the book age-appropriate, they never considered omitting the gay characters because “finding your identity, whether gay or straight, is a huge part of middle school.”




Dragon Ball - By Akira Toriyama


Reason challenged: Violence and nudity

Location of key challenge: All public school libraries in Wicomico County, Maryland


The books were placed under formal review after the parent of a 9-year-old who checked the book Dragon Ball: The Monkey King out of the Pittsville Elementary and Middle School library filed a formal complaint. According to local news outlet WBOC:

There were concerns expressed that the books, which school officials later learned were intended for young adults, depict some violence and show nudity. Because of the concerns, school officials began the process of removing the book from media center shelves for review. “Dragon Ball” series books at Pittsville Elementary and Middle School and Parkside High School were removed from media center shelves for a committee review as required by procedures and policy.



Bone - By Jeff Smith


Reason challenged: Promotion of smoking and drinking

Location of key challenge: Independent School District 196 in Rosemount, Minnesota


In 2010, a Minnesota parent petitioned for the series’ removal from her son’s school library. Ramona DeLay’s son had just graduated the local DARE anti-drug program when she discovered images she believed to be promoting drinking and smoking in the comic her son was reading. A letter from Smith decrying the ban attempt was read aloud at the review committee’s hearing, and the challenge was ultimately rejected by a 10-1 vote, to the praise of Smithand CBLDF.

In 2011 an anonymous submitter from a New Mexico school district told OIF that “a parent from an elementary school complained to a board member about [smoking and drinking in] book #4, The Dragonslayer, and the board member told administration about it.” The entire series was subsequently removed from all classrooms and libraries in the district with no oversight or review process.

In 2012 Bone was relocated from a Texas elementary school to a junior high school in the same district because of another “unsuited for age group” complaint. Finally in 2013 it was challenged twice more in Texas schools, at Colleyville Elementary School in Colleyville and Whitley Road Elementary in Watauga. In the latter case the unidentified complainant said that vol. 2, The Great Cow Race, was “politically, racially, or socially offensive,” while the parent in Colleyville complained of “violence or horror” in the entire series. Both school districts reviewed the books and opted to keep them where they were.

Because of the Texas challenges, Bone came in at #10 on ALA’s list of books frequently challenged in 2013. Smith responded to the inclusion of Bone on the list shortly after ALA announced it in early 2014:

I learned this weekend that Bone has been challenged on the basis of “political viewpoint, racism and violence.” I have no idea what book these people read. After fielding these and other charges for a while now, I’m starting to think such outrageous accusations (really, racism?) say more about the people who make them than about the books themselves.


Blankets - By Craig Thompson


Reason challenged: Obscene images

Location of key challenge: The public library in Marshall, Missouri

Blankets is the semiautobiographical story of Thompson’s upbringing in a religious family, his first love, and how he came to terms with his religious beliefs. The primary narrative in the book describes main character Craig’s relationship with Raina, a young woman he meets at a Christian youth camp. We get glimpses into Craig’s childhood and his relationship with his younger brother through flashbacks, as he wrestles with his views of religion and his relationship with God.

Louise Mills, a resident of Marshall, MO, filed a request with the Marshall Public Library Board of Trustees to have Blankets removed from the shelves because of the allegedly obscene illustrations. She likened the illustrations to pornography and was concerned that the comic art would attract children who would subsequently see the images she alleged were pornographic. Mills also feared that the library would be frequented by the same people who go to porn shops.




Batman:The Killing Joke - By Alan Moore and Brian Boland


Reason challenged: Advocates rape and violence

Location of key challenge: Columbus, Nebraska, Public Library


n May 2013, a patron of the public library in Columbus, Nebraska requestedthat the book be removed from the collection, claiming that it “advocates rape and violence.” Three out of five library board members were present at the meeting where the challenge was considered, and voted unanimously to retain The Killing Joke on shelves. In 2010, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley was similarly challenged and retainedin Canton, Ohio.

The Killing Joke joins WatchmenThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, and Neonomicon on the list of banned/challenged comics by Alan Moore.

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again - By Frank Miller and Lynn Varley


Reason challenged: Sexism, offensive language, and unsuited to age group

Location of key challenge: Stark County District Library in Canton, Ohio

In July 2010, a patron of the Stark County District Library in Canton, Ohio, challenged the inclusion of the collected edition of The Dark Knight Strikes Again in the library’s collection. There is no media coverage of this challenge to be found online, but the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom helpfully provided a few more details from their database. The unknown patron (OIF removes identifying details from challenge information released to the public) complained that the book contained sexism and offensive language and was “unsuited to age group.” Despite the challenge, the library retained the book and now holds two copies, which are shelved in the Teen section.

No stranger to censorship (including from his publisher) and allegations of being a bad influence on young people, Miller is a longtime supporter of the CBLDF. His art and books are frequently included in our donation premiumsand auctions.

So that is why some of the books on the our featured Trade Paperback display were challenged or banned. The information for this article was taken from the Comic Book Defense Legal Defense Fund's website. They offer assistance in keeping these books on library shelves. Their website can be found at http://cbldf.org/ and are dedicated to keeping comics and graphic novels available for all readers. 









12
Oct
Review: Flip Ships



Flip Ships

Dave

Do you want to play Galaga on a table? Do you want it to be harder than actual Galaga? I got something for you.



Flip Ships has the same story as Galaga, Space Invaders, and most of the futuristic bullet hell games in existence: aliens are invading in way bigger numbers than we have and we have to smash them, one and all. You start with two ships but can potentially end up with seven, and the strength of the enemy scales to however many players are in the game (one to four). The enemy is a deck of alien ships and a mothership, all of which have to go down for you to save the world.


So far, so normal. It's how this all plays out that's great.


The aliens go five wide, and you fill the two rows farthest from the atmosphere. They have different stats, including speed, so they drop closer to the planet at different rates. Some move one space at a time, some two; some will advance until they hit a ship in front of them, so they can go from the top all the way to the planet if there's nothing in front of them at the end of the turn. Enemies also have varying levels of power (damage dealt), and a few either take two hits to kill or shield any adjacent ships from damage until the shielding ship is dead. Dead enemy ships go into a discard pile; ships that hit the planet do damage, then get shuffled back into the deck for another turn.


But how do you kill them?!


You flip your ships on them!


Flip Ships is a dexterity game. Your ships are circular tiles that you flip onto the enemy cards. Anything you hit dies (unless it takes two hits or is shielded, which just means hitting again in that round). The mothership is effectively a big box that you need to flip ships into to damage it, which is a height-plus-distance-plus-accuracy test that is incredibly challenging until you find a method for consistently getting the height and distance so you can work on the accuracy. The effect is that there's a really good chance you'll fail to win your first game or two, wiping out the deck but not killing the mothership in time.


At first it might feel like the enemy ships are running you over, because you don't have many ships to throw at them and (depending on the draw) they might start trashing the planet pretty hard. But this is where Flip Ships goes full genius: you add to your available ships as the planet takes more genius. In other words, you gain the strength to fight back just as the situation starts becoming desperate. In a single mechanic, the game adds the right amount of stress and feeling like a hero (because it is a skill-based game).


The skill isn't just limited to the flipping, either. The game has a timer, and where you really see it is when you're down to the last handful of enemies. Once there are six or fewer, you have one round to kill as many as you can, and any left alive kamikaze into the planet for double damage. After that you have one more round to deal whatever damage the mothership can still take, or lose. You can't really control the enemy swarms when double digits are alive, but once they're too few you have to decide which ships to knock out and which to leave, and then do it. And if you've done a reasonably good job, you may want one or two to succeed in their kamikaze runs, since getting the planet low on HP gets you the maximum number of ships for the last run at the mothership.


Of course, you can go after the mothership and kill it before the swarm is dead, but if you can do that you're probably playing hard mode.


If you're a fan of the old school 2D shooters, Flip Ships is about as good as you're going to get for an analog version. It's simple and everything about it works. And if you become incredibly good at the game, you can ramp the mothership all the way up to 20 HP if that's what it takes to create a challenge--the default for a four-player game is six.


It's SO GOOD. PLAY IT.


Score: Forty-three exploded alien spacecraft out of forty-five (let two through in a controlled kamikaze allowance).



10
Oct
Review: Captain Phasma #1



Star Wars: Captain Phasma #1

Review by: Anthony




With the end of the amazing Darth Maul mini series comes 2 more in the already established gallery of Marvel Star Wars comics: Mace Windu and Captain Phasma. While everyone loves the Samuel Jackson super Jedi of Windu, what really has me interested is Phasma, the underappreciated, almost 0 screen time Stormtrooper Captain who didn’t exactly get the love in the Force Awakens she deserved - in fact, it’s become sort of a universal meme how the character who had so much potential to be incredibly cool was thrown away (literally). So, in the wake of the Force Awakens, LucasArts has taken it upon themselves to not only promise much more for Captain Phasma in the next Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but also to release other content about the character as well, including both a novel and a comic book to flesh out and develop the still mysterious Phasma. They both take two different focal points, the Novel dives into Phasma’s origin while the comic attempts to bridge the time between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi as a bit of a redemption tour to fix the mistakes The Force Awakens made with her character. While both are important, it's up to the comic book to bring Phasma back from the brink of joke territory, and reestablish her as a force to be reckoned with.

Phasma #1 picks up directly after her final scene in the Force Awakens where she’s cornered by Han Solo and Finn in Starkiller Base and quickly after thrown into a trash compactor. After quickly escaping by literally melting the walls with one of the many tools at her disposal, Phasma quickly gathers herself and begins her final log on Starkiller Base, explaining her every move as she not only rallies her scattered and panicked troops, but also attempts to hunt down an undercover defector who was crucial in lowering the shields of the planetary based Death Star. Ruthless, relentless, and stoic, Phasma responds and reacts to every minute event in an almost machine-like manner, a tool for the first Order, and a damn good one at that.

One of the big potential flaws of this comic book is overcompensation. This story and this obvious attempt at revitalizing Phasma as a likable character could very easily look like it’s trying too hard to make you forget how badly The Force Awakens burned the character. Luckily, the comic manages to just scrape that line but not completely cross it. If we summarize what we know about Phasma quickly, we know she’s a high up in the First Order, she appears to be very loyal to the evil cause, and regular stormtroopers appear to be intimidated by her command, though not completely fearful of it so we can assume that she’s a strong and unrelenting leader. Captain Phasma #1 takes all of these known traits and runs with them, further developing her character in a way we already understand. It’s basically the equivalent of giving her more screen time. She doesn’t do any crazy stunts or ruthlessly murder people for the shock value, she hunts down a traitor, commands her troops to hold their ground and through and through, is always thinking about the First Order and how she can further their cause, even in a time of crisis and despair. Additionally, the comic is beautifully drawn and skillfully written which believe it or not, mesh together really well to create a comic that exceeded my expectations. Phasma is a total treat that succeeds at both expanding the greatness of the Marvel Star Wars comic line, and improving Phasma as a character, and this is all in just 1 out of 5 issues! :)

9/10



05
Oct
Review: Secrets



A Secret of Epic Proportions


Shhh, I’ve got a secret to share, and it’s for your ears only.  There’s an exciting new board game on the market, and you should pick it up before it’s gone.

Secrets is a new, hidden role deduction game for four to eight players.  In Secrets, each player is assigned to one of three teams (CIA, KGB, and Hippie) at the beginning of the game.  At the start of the game, only two people know which team you are on: you, and the person to your left.  This is where the game starts to get tricky.  Since teams score together, it is hard to know what to do when you don’t know how each other player is affiliated.  Throughout the game, you will have the opportunity to learn other player’s affiliations or to change affiliations (either yours or another players).  At the end of the game, it does not matter what team you started on, but what team you finish with.  Secrets has quite a few strengths, and very little weaknesses.

Strengths:

  • Simplicity:  There are very few components or game state mechanics that you have to keep track of in Secrets.  This simplicity stems from the fact that there is only one action that happens each round.  The current player draws two cards and reveals them to the table.  They then secretly offer one card facedown to another player.  That player can refuse the card and have it go to the person offering it, or they can accept the card.  The card is then put face up in front of the player who received the card.  Each card has a point total, and an effect that the controlling player resolves.  Then play passes clockwise to the next player.

  • Strategy:  The simplicity allows for you to focus most of your efforts on strategy.  Since the game ends when one player has four face-up cards in front of them, you really want to lock in on who is on your team as soon as possible.  This is hard to do, but there are helpful effects on the cards as you play them.

  • Speed:  Secrets has an excellent pace to it.  Taking between 20-30 minutes, Secrets is a quick little game that lets you get in multiple sessions in your game night.

  • Beautiful Pieces:  The art is good, and the team tokens are insanely good quality for this game’s price-point.

Weaknesses:

  • Randomness:  Some card effects move your allegiance tokens around, which can make it difficult to know who is on who’s team, which makes this game not for everyone.


Secrets is a lot of fun, and a great addition to most game nights.  It is quick enough it can be played as both the main event or as a nice pre-game warm-up for a heavier game.  


Rating: 8.5/10



03
Oct
Review: Dark Nights Metal #1



Dark Nights Metal #1

Review by: Anthony


Metal is finally here in its over the top, shiny, 90’s inspired rocking cover that everyone’s been waiting for. The legendary creative team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, known for their 52 insanely good issues of Batman during the New 52 line of DC comics, have finally made their return, and this time their storytelling and art are spanning across the entirety of the DC Universe. Metal promises to not only be life changing for our main characters, but universe and continuity changing as well - bragging crisis level events, and anything in the DC world with that keyword ‘crisis’ has always involved massive changes for the comic book world. With a crazy complex story, a brand new universe in the ever expanding DC multiverse, Scott Snyder’s undeniably good writing ability, and Greg Capullo’s unique and utterly gorgeous art style, it’s difficult for Metal to fail.




For a few years now DC creators have been setting up the Wayne family as a long running, multi-generational entity that have played much larger roles on the world than anyone realizes, even Batman himself. Rather, when you think of large secret organizations like the Illuminati or the conspiracies that exist of the Founding Fathers or other elitist groups of the world, the Wayne family is the epitome of that. For thousands of years the Wayne’s have existed in a state of power, even as far back as the dawn of man. It is hinted quite heavily in this new Metal series that the Waynes were one of the great founding tribes of mankind, a founding tribe lost to history that had a large role to play in the foundation of man and the darknesses that come with it. As Batman dives deep into the mysterious unknown in an attempt to relearn and uncover this lost history, we are exposed to the idea of a Dark Multiverse, a series of universes hidden beneath and in between the 52 known universes that exist in the light. From these universes comes the N’th Metal, a magical metal that defies the laws of science and reality and bestows upon its wielder various and extremely powerful abilities. Carter Hall, otherwise known as Hawkman, has spent thousands of years in his N’th empowered immortality attempting to uncover the truth of this dark multiverse, and such, uncovered a dark and evil power somehow connected back to the Wayne family tribe. Knowing Batman is digging deeper than he should, this Evil power hopes to manipulate the Bat to accidentally uncover the door that exists between their universes and allow the darkness through.

Metal is some large scale stuff, and with Snyder’s brilliance we’re filled in this first issue with story building, enthralling, mysterious comic book reading that will undoubtedly get a ton of readers hyped up for what’s to come. I want to avoid spoilers the best I can, so a lot of details are left out here, half because there’s SO much to this story already. However, don’t be overwhelmed, Metal so far is surprisingly reader friendly, as long as they’re willing to take their time and read every detail presented to them. Comic book stories are often overly complex, obtuse and confusing if you’re not caught up on everything that’s happened, well, ever up to that point. Metal is great in itself, so don’t fret.  There’s so much to appreciate here, and so much to be excited for. Jump on now if you’re interested, these comics are only harder and harder to get right away as more time goes on!

10/10



28
Sep
Review: Delve



Delve

2-4 players

45-60 minutes


Four fantasy races (we'll call sellswords a race. And wraiths, too). One slowly expanding dungeon. A billion bags of gold that mostly aren't worth a damn thing. Treasure chests that sometimes feel worth the effort.




Welcome to Delve.


Delve is Carcassonne meets Above and Below and... anything where you fight people.  Here's the Carcassonne part: a dungeon begins with one tile, and players begin their turns by adding a tile adjacent to any already on the board. If you put a tile down, you have the option of placing one of your five-member team on a piece of that space, be it a room or a corridor. Once a room or corridor is finished, the players with pieces on that room or corridor determine what happens next.


Above and Below analogy: if you're the only player with any team members on the area just completed, you don't automatically get the gold and treasure in the area. A quest card is drawn with a small story and two action options. This is nifty in that you always have to strategize around how many pieces you want in an area; two will beat the vast majority of quest challenges barring terrible rolls, but if you wait to get a second piece down, an opponent can very easily decide to jump in and challenge your ownership of that space.




Generic Fight Stuff analogy: if multiple players have pieces in a completed space, they roll dice appropriate to all of their characters present. Most swords takes all the treasure and half the gold. Next gets half of the remaining gold. If there are a third and fourth player present, they keep getting half of the remaining gold after each take. Apparently dungeon logic in Delve's world demands something be left behind after a fight. But if you have the highest number of coins on the dice, you get a free gold card (or treasure if you get 5+ coins). In this way it's possible to get treasure out of a room that has no treasure for the winner.


Each race (group, whatever) has a slightly different team composition; there are mages, leaders, brutes, and thieves, and each side has two of one of those classes (e.g. wraiths have two mages, one leader, one brute, one thief). Each class rolls the same dice regardless of their team. The teams also have special abilities they can use by spending XP; players receive three XP at the start of the game, with the potential to gain a bit more during the game (or occasionally lose some without spending it).


That's the game. Somehow the designers decided all this complexity warranted a rating of 14+. It wouldn't even be 14+ if there were tits. Eclipse is 14+. Battlestar Galactica is 14+. This can be played effectively by an eight-year-old.


Whatever, right? An age rating doesn't matter. I bring it up, though, because this is a game that very much feels like the designers might have thought there was more game here than is in fact the case. There's a bit of play with deciding what character to place on a given tile, but outside of the obvious placement of mages on rooms with magic pillars, you generally just want to pile strength on strength. Thieves are weaker fighters, but even using kobolds (with two thieves), you need multiple people in a room to have any chance at sneaking an extra treasure out. If you have two or more characters in a room and lose, even an extra treasure is less of a win than a slightly better than usual consolation prize. Losing most of your fights but getting an extra gold card every time is not going to win you the game.


Playing the dice odds doesn't do much for you unless you're the sellswords, who need to decide whether or not to spend an XP for a massive combat boost before rolling. Trying to figure out the chances you'll win a fight only really matters if you're about to finish a room, and trying to decide if you'll beat the quest if you're alone is almost impossible because of the variance in the challenges. You can play a completely reasonable game and just get shell-shocked by a battery of quests nastier than what your opponents get. On the other hand, you do have the option of avoiding quests by getting into fights, so it's not as though you must offer a sacrifice to the mechanic to have a chance.


Delve is not a bad game. The tile placement is very engaging, as long as you're comfortable with the placement rules and the fact you can break them through spending XP. If, by chance, a room explodes in size and you get a giant brawl going, that's pretty fun to watch, and it'll have about as much of an effect on the end result as a giant brawl in a giant, treasure-strewn room should. Learning that taking a room on your own is not free money is important, and adds another layer of 'what do I do here' to the proceedings.


Would play again? Yes. Would play a lot more? Not unless I find some hidden gems in the design that I missed before, and right now I can't imagine what that would be.


Score: Eight shiny but ultimately useless treasures out of eleven



26
Sep
Review: Mister Miracle #1



Mister Miracle #1

Review by: Anthony




With the soon arriving Dark Nights Metal series, DC’s huge universe wide event this year, Mister Miracle is finally making another appearance in the DC comics world - his first in quite a while in his own 12 issue mini series by Tom King. Characters such as Barda, the New Gods, and Darkseid have been taking a back seat it seems in the past couple of years, likely in a lead up to this very event which is continuously foreshadowing universe wide consequences which always brings in these heavy hitter - God level characters, so now the time has come for all of these characters to shine in the spotlight where they previously haven’t, and what better character than Mister Miracle for Tom King to write, about a man that can escape from any situation in an inescapable situation.

Tom King has certainly been making a name for himself in these past couple of years - writing fan favorite and instant comic classic stories like Vision and Omega Men. These comics, and all of King’s work has offered a very different look and take on not only the typical fashion of writing comics, but also on the characters themselves, who are always primarily dealing with something on a psychological level over your typical action or adventure story. Superheroes are often paper thin, and Tom King’s take on every character he writes becomes jam packed with mental flaws and self doubt - often forced to rise above their own self in order to take the day. Additionally, Tom King’s pretty good at absolutely mind screwing their readers - sometimes even sacrificing explanation to purposefully confuse his reader which can often be good, bad or even both. Mister Miracle is the epitome of Tom King’s work, in only 1 issue alone already offering a deep dive into an extremely - almost godlike powerful character able to escape from anything and everything Houdini style. However, with such a strong grasp and control over reality itself nearly to the point of omniscience, what better character for Tom King to fill with self doubt and confusion as he begins to see and hear things which may or may not be real in the face of the strongest threat he’s ever seen. What will happen with the man who can assure his own safety doesn’t feel safe anymore? Tom King is sure to tell you.

Let me make it clear that I’ve had my ups and downs with Mr. King. I have thought on more than one occasion that his work sometimes goes over the top, and too outside the comic book box, though that has never hindered not only my understanding for Tom King's work being beloved, but also my appreciation for what he does in the comic book world. There are a few of these big name psychological comic writers (Jeff Lemire to name one) and they absolutely need to be in the industry to counterbalance the mindless punching and kicking that comic book heroes can often devolve into. While I’ve thought King’s mind-over-matter writing style in his current run on Batman has been somewhat lackluster, his writings on smaller, less well known characters like Vision and the Omega Men have been award-winningly-good. This comic will pull in a niche, but faithful audience who like to see Tom King at his best - and this is among his best work to date, no doubt.


8/10



21
Sep
Review: Pathogenesis



Pathogenesis

1-4 players

30-60 minutes




Outside of a board game store, when people talk about Pandemic, there sometimes comes a realization that you need to specify whether or not you're discussing the tabletop version revolving around the Scooby Gang of anti-infectious disease workers trying to save the world, or the internet version where you are the illness trying to literally end the world through your power, except those jackholes in Greenland always close off the port before you can get over there.


The upshot is, if you fear an imminent apocalypse, go to Greenland. No one's going to nuke it either.


The other upshot (can you have two? I say yea) is that now there's another 'that disease game' for the tabletop surface, which also starts with a 'P' and is not going to make this conversation a whole lot simpler, except the game's only ok (spoiler) and probably no one's going to know what it is in the first place.


Pathogenesis works with 2-4 players, and can be played either cooperatively or competitively, which should be a warning sign right there. In both modes, there's an ephemeral body with three systems for the players' diseases to attack--respiratory, gastrointestinal, and tissue--and the goal for all players is to kill the body by removing point counters from those systems. If that's not done before the immune system deck is drawn through twice, the body lives and all the players lose. The difference between cooperative and competitive is that in competitive, you only need to remove the counters from one system (two if playing 2v2 teams), while in cooperative you need to empty all three systems. Functionally, then, this determines whether or not you care if the other players have highly effective viruses attacking the body; you can leave good cards for other players in cooperative, for example, but you can't directly assist in making their diseases stronger (e.g. by handing them cards).


Other than that, this is a deckbuilding game in the vein of... all of them. Starting decks have ten cards, you draw five per hand, most of the cards help you buy better stuff, and so on. The differences are in how pathogens work. All pathogens have an attack and defense value; attack determines how many point counters are removed from the appropriate system of the body, whereas defense is used to protect the pathogens from attacks by the immune system. The base values of the pathogens aren't enough, though, especially when the second immune system deck gets shuffled in; fortunately, pathogens have nodes for additional abilities (these are the cards purchased from the gene pool), many of which have stat bonuses that help strengthen the pathogen. Therefore, you need enough attack on your pathogens to gather up point counters, but even more you need defense to limit the immune system's chances of wiping them out.




One thing that becomes apparent quickly is that it does very little good, and later on is in fact detrimental, to play weak pathogens without boosts. Once the immune deck comes into play, every pathogen is attacked, which means the immune deck loses cards faster if you have a bunch of pathogens in play. Furthermore, unless the pathogen has an ability that lets it attack before the immune system can react, the immune deck can kill your pathogen before it has any effect at all. At first your weaker pathogens are fine to play because you have to work through a small deck of starter cards in each system before the immune response comes into play, but you need to amp them up fairly quickly or else accept they're going to die and just focus on better, system-specific pathogens you purchase for your deck.


The best part about this game is its scientific validity. Everything works in a logical function and is based on the actual battle between diseases and bodies that our fragile mortal frames deal with constantly. Anyone who's taken high school biology (and didn't routinely skip class to make out behind the bleachers) should recognize how all of this works in at least a conceptual sense. It also mirrors the ramp-up of the immune system against particular diseases, in that the disease has a little bit of time to exist before being recognized as a threat.


But this is a game, and it needs to be best as a game. It's not.


The main issue is the randomness of the immune deck in a competitive game, especially with four players. Immune system responses vary from attaching new types of cells to pathogens that can combo off other immune cards on later turns to cards with a huge attack value almost no pathogen can survive. That's a cool concept, but if someone's 7/7 pathogen draws a combo cell and someone else's 7/7 draws an 8-damage immune card, the first person scores their seven points while the second doesn't, and seven points is over ten percent of the available points for any given system. That's a big advantage to take on one turn, and there's no guarantee the combo cell will blow up the first person's cell on the next turn while the second person's pathogen and its add-ons have to shuffle back through the deck.


There are different ways to set up the game to change game length and difficulty, which is all well and good in theory, but going from a quick game to a normal one only adds four cards to each immune deck, which means twelve more cards overall. Going through that deck twice, depending on how many pathogens people have out, might buy you two extra turns in a four-player game, but even then what you really need is for something to kill the opposing pathogen before that player's lead spirals too far out of control. Playing on hard just changes the odds of killing the body so that somebody wins, without affecting this basic problem of someone getting an unlucky draw and having a long climb back into contention.


'Alright, you picky butthole,' I hear the voices say, 'it has competitive weaknesses. But it's a learning game, so what about cooperative?' And I acknowledge that it's probably cleanest in a cooperative setting. The immune deck runs out faster than you'd expect, so you have to work to ramp up your diseases quickly enough, while also planning with each other who should buy what cards in order to maximize the odds of success. This is also the mode where the other main difference between this and most deckbuilders--the ability to hold cards from turn to turn--comes into play, because waiting until you have a hand that lets you drop a monster pathogen all at once doesn't have many drawbacks in co-op. Because you want to set up pathogens that are likely to survive brute force attacks, the immune combos are also more likely to have an impact here.


However, the immunity randomness strikes again, because success in co-op requires building pathogens with the maximum chance of survival, ie. high defense. There really is no other way to succeed, which means you're taking the gene pool cards and deciding what variation on that defense theme to pursue as opposed to having genuinely different options for attacking the body.


And maybe that's the intent. Maybe that's the most scientifically valid way of showing how diseases attack the body, and the conditions under which they can succeed--the difference between cellulitis and MRSA as displayed through the abstraction of a card game. I really like the idea, and I'm glad this game was made. It just doesn't hold up fun-wise for as many playthroughs as most people are going to want out of their games.


Score: Eighteen dilated pupils out of thirty-four (one guy's all jacked up).



19
Sep
Mech Cadet Yu #1



Mech Cadet Yu #1

Review by: Anthony




Oh man, I have been stoked for this comic book for a couple of months now, and it’s finally here. As a massive fan of the movie The Iron Giant, Mech Cadet Yu showed promise as an adorable and fun loving successor to the concept of Iron Giant - a story about a child and their unexpected bond with a giant, peace loving robot from outer space, and that’s literally what Mech Cadet Yu is in every possible perfect way. And while the overarching theme and idea is something that’s been done more than once before - this comic also brings a ton of new ideas to the table to boot. I went into this comic book with a love for this type of story, but in turn, the highest of expectations, so I really need this one to succeed both personally, and in the comic book mech compendium.

Many years ago the first ever Robo Mech landed on Earth from an unknown world and chose a young boy by the name of Skip Tanaka as its companion. Together they fought to save the world from danger - rescuing countless innocent people and winning the hearts of the nation. Every 4 years after this life-altering event, more Robo Mechs have descended from space and have chosen more young boys and girls to partner with and fight alongside. And such, humans constructed a massive academy around the Mech landing area to train the best and brightest cadets to be hopefully chosen by a Robo Mech every 4th year. The time has come - and while the cadets train on their final day for the moment they’ve been waiting for - Yu works with his mother as a janitor within the Academy, watching from the back as a cadet-hopeful who simply wasn’t lucky enough to be born into this seemingly prestigious upper-class society of world-class cadets. When the Mechs finally land and reach their mechanical hands out to their chosen youngsters, Yu is biking home - angry as his unlucky fate, however, when a silly and adorable Mech lands off course and loses some of its armor, Yu helps to recover it, thus being chosen as an unexpected candidate, therefore claiming the title of Mech Cadet Yu!

Let me just say - this comic book is everything that I hoped for in a first issue. This #1 sets up the story quickly but perfectly by introducing our protagonist to his awesome robo friend and opening up the door for a long running story between two pals. Additionally - we’re introduced to an antagonist of sorts, or perhaps just a jealous rival in a young cadet, unchosen by a mech despite being the very best in her class, who will undoubtedly fight for what she believes she deserves. While it’s somewhat unclear where exactly this comic will go from here, what’s important is that I’m completely and 100% along for the ride. While Mech Cadet Yu is slated for only 4 issues, I’m wildly hopeful that we see more from this creative team and this story - there’s a real treasure here and it should go on as long as possible.



10/10




14
Sep
Review: Eldritch Horror



Eldritch Horror

1-8 players

2-4 hours


No, it's not a new game. You think I'm trying to be competitive with Shut Up & Sit Down or something?




Anyway. CTHULHU SON


Arkham Horror was the original version of this game, released in 2005, where you ran around Arkham to try and stop the invasion of the hentai gods before their squadrons of flying penis monsters took over the city, and from there the world. After a few expansions, some of which turned this reasonably good game into a pile of smoking dog turds (looking at you, Dunwich), a new version was built around the same gameplay concepts--run around, fight off the hordes of waggling dicks, and figure out how to stop the elder god from either spawning or just ending all life on the planet.


This one, Eldritch Horror, worked better from the start just by having your investigators travel all over the world, since it took a stretch of the imagination to think Cthulhu or Azathoth or whoever would dump all their forces into the one city where anyone knew about them and cared enough to fight back. It was also designed to have a more streamlined gameplay process; things happen that involve the alternate dimensions famous in the Cthulhu mythos, but you don't travel there and move according to special rules, nor do different characters move different distances, and everyone has two actions per turn to handle anything they want to do--movement, acquiring items, resting, etc. Also, your stats are your stats; the min-maxing every turn, while sometimes useful, is more number crunching than most people need. Five base stats (which can still go up or down, depending on what happens) is plenty.


When you look at the game, and get used to the turn flow, it seems like it should go much faster than Arkham, which was a major selling point of the game. There are only three turn phases instead of five, there's no monster pile on the side that keeps adding to your odds of being utterly annihilated... there's just less to keep track of in general. Your action options are limited and easy to grasp: move, get a ticket so you can move farther, use your influence to buy stuff, rest to regain health and sanity, or trade with another investigator. (Some cards or investigator abilities add more things you can spend actions on, but those are equally easy to understand.) They even have bank loans available so that if you totally flub your influence roll to buy assets, you can still take on debt to get something, assuming all the risk involved (read: mob hit squads). It's designed better on a core level than Arkham.




And yet... this is still a game where five competent gamers can take three hours to finish, which is not really an improvement. Nor are you getting a ton of turns in during that time, maybe seven or eight total. And five players is not excessive; it plays up to eight, which is not recommended. It's like being used to driving somewhere with your grandma, then getting to ride with your brother, which is a viscerally faster and more exciting trip that fractures quantum mechanics or something because it somehow takes just as long. That's unfortunate, too, because Eldritch Horror probably benefits more from extra investigators in terms of your odds of winning than its predecessor.


If you've never played either of these games, Eldritch Horror is probably the one you'll like more. It's easier to learn and understand, with fewer marginally useful mechanics. There's more story written into the cards, and less of a requirement that you have investigators with the best possible stats for whatever they're trying to do. It is, in short, an improvement in the you would expect a new version of an older game to be. But you do need to expect this game to take a few hours until you're experienced enough to tear through the encounter and mythos phases.


Score: Thirteen detached tentacle suckers laying dead on a cobblestone road out of nineteen.




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