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StoicCynic "Steve" (London, UK)

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Z-Man Games Lords of Scotland Card Game
Z-Man Games Lords of Scotland Card Game
Price: £15.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Clash of Clans..., 8 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In this card game you are trying to build up a set of "Followers" to fight the other Lords. You start with a hand of five cards showing "recruits" from various Scottish clans. Each card has a strength from 1 to 12. One card per player is also dealt face-up to the table at the start of each round: these are the "Supporters" which may be claimed at the end of the round, for points. On your turn, you take a card from a central pool of five, some of which are face-up, others of which may be face-down OR you play a card in front of you, either face-up or face-down - these are your Followers for this skirmish. If you choose to play the Follower face-up, and no one has a card of the same clan* with the same or lower value, you can trigger a special power shown on the card (all the clans have their own unique power). Once five rounds of this have happened, any face down Followers are turned face-up, and everyone checks to see how strong their army is by comparing with the other players' armies total strength - armies of 2 or more cards, and from only one clan double their strength. Then, in order of highest to lowest strength, each player may have the opportunity to take one of the "Supporter" cards and add it to their score pile - here the strength on the card represents Victory Points. If no-one is at 40 or more VPs, you do it all again, otherwise the person with the most VPs wins.

This is a game that will appeal to people who like player interaction, I think: there is a LOT of scope for "take that!" play - some of the powers (swap your Follower with another players, for example, or simply kill another player's Follower) can really ruin your day :-) . It takes a little while to grasp some of the interactions of the card powers (and to remember the rule about how they're triggered) but once you've got that, it plays quite smoothly. I liked it quite a bit, but I would not play it with people who have a short temper... :p

* In a 4-5 player game - in 2-3 player, the trigger is that no other card of any clan with a lower value is face-up.

ADC Blackfire Entertainment "English/German" West of Africa Board Game
ADC Blackfire Entertainment "English/German" West of Africa Board Game
Price: £31.90

4.0 out of 5 stars They got their name from the dogs there, you know..., 8 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
West of Africa: …are the Canary Islands, which this game is about. More specifically, it’s about the re-settlement of those islands after they were discovered, then ignored due to their lack of strategic importance and resources, until the Spanish decided to give them another go in the 15th and 16th Centuries, as a direct result of which we now have all-inclusive winter sun holidays, with as much local beer, spirits and paella as the average tourist can guzzle. But I digress. WoA is about the earlier, only *slightly* more turbulent times (have you ever been to Playa de las Americas?) during the Spanish colonisation, settlement and development. The rather lovely game board depicts all seven Canarian islands, connected by sea routes, and each island has spaces showing either various goods that can be cultivated, places for settlements (little wooden houses) to be built, or both, and in some cases, both on the same space, plus one or more moorings for ships. Players have three workers, a nice little ship, some goods markers and a set of action cards, and these cards are the heart of the game. After placing workers on two start locations on the board, and some cubes on the VP/player order/gold tracks (the latter on 15 gold), players start each round by simultaneously and secretly selecting one to five cards from their set of thirteen. Picking one to four cards is free, but if you pick five, you’ll need to pay four gold (moving your marker back on the gold track) when it’s your turn to take your actions. Gold is important, by the way, not just because it lets you pay for stuff, but also because your position on the gold track breaks ties for certain important parts of the game.

Now here comes the first interesting bit: each card you pick has a number from 0-8 (and a special -4 card, more on that in a bit). More powerful cards have higher numbers, so choosing them means you may end up going later in the turn than others, and that can be crucial. Once players have picked their cards, and before the actions they’ve chosen are revealed, each player adds up the total of all the numbers on their chosen cards and announces it. The round then proceeds with the player who had the lowest value going first, then the next lowest, and so on. The -4 card is handy for having a better chance at going first, but when you use it, there’s a twist: it must then be passed to the player on your left, and they can use it on a subsequent turn (but pass it on again if they do).

So, once player order is established, each player in turn reveals and resolves all their action cards. The cards either show an action or an island. Certain actions require at least one island card to be played with them, but those island cards can be used for multiple actions. In a similar way, more than one action can be used on the same island, so you can create interesting combos of actions across islands.

The first couple of action cards we’ll discuss move workers and ships, and these don’t need an island card to be played. The workers/ships move along the sea routes shown on the board from island to island. Workers left at an island can reduce the costs of cultivating goods, but can also assist in helping a player gain control of an island (I’ll come back to that), as can your ship, and ships can transport goods between the warehouses of the islands. You’ll want to do that because the gold you get from selling a good depends on the island you sell it on, not what it is, and the further East an island is the more money you get for selling there. If a ship ends its movement at an island where there’s no free mooring place, the player displaces the ship (or one of the ships) already there to the next free mooring in the direction in which they were travelling

The action cards that require islands to be played with them are Cultivate Goods, where you place goods tokens on the matching spaces on the chosen island at a cost of 3 gold each, reduced by the number of workers you have on the island; Sell Goods, where goods in the warehouse of the chosen island are sold for the value in gold indicated on the warehouse; and Found Settlement , where you place a settlement on the chosen island, on one or more of the settlement spaces mentioned earlier, paying varying amounts of gold for each one built – players building early will take the cheapest spots. Placing a settlement immediately scores 3 points per settlement, and this is a very good way of getting ahead on the VP track, but there’s a limited number of spaces on the islands, and a limited number of settlements, both per turn (6, in a 4/5 player game), and in the whole game (20 in total) – so, just like an Lidl special offer, when they’re gone, they’re gone .

To do that last action, you have to be the “Alcalde” (or mayor) of the island concerned, and this is where the control of islands comes in. At the end of each round, three things happen: 1 VP is given to the two players furthest ahead on the gold track; all cultivated goods are moved to the warehouse on their island; and the Alcalde for each island is decided from west to east. You have to have the highest “influence” to become the Alcalde: 1 point per good in the island’s warehouse, 2 points per worker you have there, and 2 points if your ship is moored there. Position on the gold track breaks ties for influence. Once this’s all been determined, each player receives a token for the island(s) where they are Alcalde, and gets 1 VP for each token. Perhaps more importantly, they can then build settlements on the island(s) where they are Alcalde on their next turn.

Rinse and repeat until someone gets 25 VPs, and/or the last settlement goes on the board, one more full round is played, leftover gold is exchanged for VPs at a ratio of 10:1, and we have a winner.

I really rather liked this one. Simultaneous selection of cards means little downtime, I always felt like I had something useful to do (except when I picked the wrong…bloody…card, and so couldn’t execute an action), and there’s bags of player interaction: it’s a nightmare when your carefully constructed plans come to naught as someone sneaks in ahead of you in player order, kicks your ship of the island where you were planning to become Alcalde, and then builds settlements there. Those were*my* flipping settlements, I tell you! Mine! I'd recommend this for those looking to go beyond the basics of modern board games, without too much complexity.

Snug Baby Monitor for Smartphones and Tablets - Wifi Camera with free App for Baby and Pet Dog (Appple iOS and Android)
Snug Baby Monitor for Smartphones and Tablets - Wifi Camera with free App for Baby and Pet Dog (Appple iOS and Android)
Offered by iHeadphones ltd
Price: £109.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to set up, 13 Oct. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Does everything I would expect of it and much more. Easy to set up, but with a lot of depth in the configuration for things like alarms, email alerts, recording to SD card and even FTP uploading.

Edited 15/10 - so, now I have FTP uploading set up, uploading every minute to a FileZilla FTP server on my PC - makes for a very amusing time-lapse movie of our new puppy fidgeting all over her playpen overnight :) Enabling alerting is trivially easy. I wish more products delivered the value for money this one does.

Only Lovers Left Alive [DVD] [2014]
Only Lovers Left Alive [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Tilda Swinton
Price: £5.87

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit dull, really, 17 Sept. 2014
A bit dull, really. Some mildly entertaining dialogue at a couple of points, but the practicalities of the vampire's lives had not been thought through very well, and when one finds oneself musing on such matters while the picture's still running, it's not a good sign. The performances are first-rate, as one might expect from such a cast, but they couldn't save it from being dragged down by the leaden weight of Mr. Jarmusch's obsession with "cool".

The Settlers of Catan Board Game - discontinued by manufacturer
The Settlers of Catan Board Game - discontinued by manufacturer
Offered by Adam's Retail
Price: £74.62

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather dated, and luck-heavy, 21 Jun. 2013
Settlers was a revelation when it first came out. Now, many far better games have surpassed it. I've not played with any of the expansions (though I rather think that board games shouldn't need expansions to improve them), but the base game is pretty luck-heavy. Whilst players may not be eliminated from the game before the end, it's perfectly possible - and not uncommon, if playing with experienced players - to spend three or four consecutive rounds with nothing much to do if the dice go against you, and if this does happen, you can find yourself pretty much out of contention.

Fun for a while, but I'd look at things like 7 Wonders, Fresco, or Ticket to Ride before going with Settlers...

The Pact [DVD]
The Pact [DVD]
Dvd ~ Caity Lotz
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £2.00

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A few diamonds in a lot of rough., 8 Oct. 2012
This review is from: The Pact [DVD] (DVD)
"The Pact" has a few well executed scary moments, but for the most part the underpowered plot, patchy acting, some depressing cliches, and a fatal lack of plausibility (in the non-supernatural stuff, obviously) render it underwhelming.

It's a shame, as the bits that do work, work very well: there's a fair amount of daylight horror, (which I really wish horror directors would essay more often - it can be extremely effective), some well executed fakeout reveals and, joyously, almost no cheap camera-jolt gags (you know, a quick cut to something right in the camera, coupled with a loud noise - ecchh, I hate 'em!). In fact, the camera dwells just long enough on some of the spooky images to make them properly frightening, because they're confusing at first - you don't really know what you're looking at, and you get just enough time for your mind to resolve it before they cut away...very disturbing. Cheap shocks are not the ones that really sustain, and by avoiding that for the most part, the "horror mechanism" of the film - as opposed to the dodgy plot - delivers. The denouement, whilst again unsatisfying, does have a couple of good moments, but - like so many horror films - the desire to leave us with a "twist" cheapens the epilogue.

B for effort, C for attainment.

Mount Royal Chrome Plated Half Hunter Mechanical Pocket Watch B9m
Mount Royal Chrome Plated Half Hunter Mechanical Pocket Watch B9m
Offered by Edmonds Jewellers
Price: £72.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Attractive and robust-seeming watch, 3 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Pleasantly heavy, suggesting robustness of construction. The watch is easy to read through the half-hunter crystal, but also - thanks to the sensible positioning of the hinge in the traditional 9 o'clock position - it can easily be opened one handed to see the full dial (I'll never understand why many modern pocket watches have the hinge at 6 o'clock...anyone out there know?).

It seems very accurate so far, with no time lost, and it runs for about a day and a half without winding. My one minor gripe would be the poor single-albert chain supplied: it's rather weedy, with a wire clasp rather than a parrot or lobster clasp, and for attaching to one's attire only a pocket-clip is supplied, as opposed to a T-bar *and* a pocket clip, which would have satisfied those of us who typically wear pocket watches with a waistcoat. As I say, it's a minor thing though...all in all, a good product.

Drive [DVD]
Drive [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ryan Gosling
Price: £2.73

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mildly diverting, 17 April 2012
This review is from: Drive [DVD] (DVD)
A paean to 80's driving and crime movies, stylistically quite interesting, this film has an economy of style that initially appeals, then is tolerable, then grates.

For me, apart from what I see as an *excessively* parsimonious spareness of plot, the chief problem is the deliberately absented nature of Ryan Gosling's character: he (Driver) lacks sufficient presence to give the film any emotional impact. It's not that he's an unsympathetic protagonist, he simply barely exists, to the point of implausibility. I understand that the absence is intentional (he's a shell of a person looking for a reason to exist, yada, yada, yada), but I think the enforced lack of engagement becomes intrusively contrived after a while. I'd also speculate that the lack of any truthful emotional context may be why the violence - which, I would argue, is not terribly excessive, gory or intense compared to many contemporary crime dramas - has been perceived by some reviewers here as particularly shocking: it does stand out quite starkly against the painfully minimalist landscape in which it's presented.

Finally, even allowing for the fable-like, allegorical nature of the piece, a lot of what takes place is pretty damn implausible. For example, law-enforcement agencies seem entirely and remarkably uninterested in the rather conspicuous criminal antics of Driver and his opponents, well beyond the point to which I could suspend my incredulity.

I suspect teenage boys with a thing for "cool" will love this picture, though. :-P

Oh, and to those looking for some sort of Jason Statham-style, disengage-brain, "ooh-look-at-them-cars-all-explodin'!!" type of picture: look elsewhere...

Sleeping Beauty [DVD]
Sleeping Beauty [DVD]
Dvd ~ Emily Browning
Offered by Rare DVD and Blu Ray
Price: £18.98

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Zzzzzzz...wha? it over?, 17 April 2012
This review is from: Sleeping Beauty [DVD] (DVD)
All the while I was watching this film - and most emphatically upon its conclusion - a quote from that deep and philosophical 80's arthouse movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", with Steve Martin and John Candy, kept running through my head. I feel it's such an ineluctably compelling assessment of "Sleeping Beauty" that I express a slight paraphrase of it here, as my review:

"And by the way, you know, when you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea - have a POINT! It makes it SO much more interesting for the audience".
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 26, 2012 7:44 PM BST

Fallout: New Vegas (Xbox 360)
Fallout: New Vegas (Xbox 360)

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fallen Out Of Favour..., 29 Nov. 2010
I loved Fallout 3 - scratch that, I REALLY loved F3. And I love Las Vegas. Been there several times, it's my kind of holiday town - and I'm not even a gambler. So I really, really wanted to love Fallout: New Vegas. But I couldn't, because, frankly, it's not very good.

Like many other media artifacts, there are two main elements to a computer game: the technical execution, and the artistic content. The first element is a matter of fact: things work how they're supposed to, or they don't. The second element is a matter of opinion, and you, dear reader, may very well not *agree* with my opinion. So I'm going to deal with those two elements seperately - but I have to say that either of them, taken individually, would lead me to the low rating I give the game.

First, the technical execution. Many, MANY other people have pointed out the problems with freezing, with saved games becoming corrupted, and with Bethesda's rather contemptuous "remedy" for the issues. However, I didn't experience the saved game issues, and actually, a freeze every few hours gameplay I can live with - I save frequently anyway - so I won't belabour those points. What *really* hacked me off were the quest bugs: WAY too many times, quests could not be finished, or even *started* in some cases, because of bugs. In one instance a particular story branch of the main quest became impossible for me to choose, because if I continued down it, I got permanently locked out of the most critical area of the map - so there would have been no way to finish the game. I could've gone back and repeated some several hours of gameplay and tried to make different choices, but since the bug was clearly conditional, and since I had no idea either what the conditions were, or at what point in my save history they'd been met, I was simply forced to choose another path - and it wasn't the one I *would* have chosen. That's just not good enough - in fact it's pretty pathetic, for a major game release. Bethesda spokespeople have mumbled stuff about such a complex game being impossible to completely playtest. Folks, if you don't have the time or resources to properly test your game, then don't release it till you do. Last major technical issue is the long, long, *long* loading times for moving between areas, compounded by the fact that the design of the game is such that very often, travelling around for even a trivial quest objective means looking at a load screen for thirty seconds...moving for three seconds to the entrance to another area...looking at a load screen for thirty seconds...moving for ten seconds to the entrance to *another* area...looking at a load screen...finally, we're where we need to be...right...pick up object X...and go ALL the way back through the process to take the object to where it needs to be. When you spend more time in loading screens than in the game world, it's a BIG problem.

Now the content. And *this* is where my real beef lies. I think that Obsidian (and Bethesda) were way too ambitious with this product, particularly given the aggressive release frame they'd set themselves. Sure, on paper the multiple paths through the main story must have looked cool: multiple factions to work with or against, so you have to pick a path to go down, and if you go one way, you'll never know what things you might've done if you'd gone the other way, just like REAL LIFE!

But it's NOT real life.

Until such time as general purpose computers get a lot more powerful than they are now, any computer game is, by necessity, a strongly linear experience. There is a script, but a good game immerses you in a way that helps you to forget the fact that the narrative is on rails. Now, all game developers have limited time and resources, so I would argue that effort put into developing loads of significant quest branches and sub-branches that - depending on their choices - a given player will *never* see is, artistically, a dead-end, and it effectively makes the game smaller in scope. Yes, you could re-play the game multiple times, and make different choices each time, but unless you're an obsessive fan-boy with more time on your hands than is healthy, why *would* you? F3 had a clear narrative, the story flow was for the most part satisfying, it felt like the character went on a genuine journey - and I think it's *because* it's creators accepted that the state of the art meant the choices had to be restricted.

But F:NV tries to open up the options, and because the technology and development resources aren't at a point where it can be truly open ended, instead of giving a richer more immersive game experience, the restrictiveness of the underlying mechanisms end up constantly reminding us that it's a game: "So, you've reached point X supporting faction A?" says the game. "Right, now you have to annihilate faction B. You don't want to do that? It doesn't make sense to you? It would have been impossible to predict you'd be told to do it, and you'd never have gone down the path of supporting faction A if you'd known? Tough! This is how things are in reality: decisions have consequences!" Except...except that's NOT how things are in reality. In reality, you might well now withdraw support from faction A, and adopt some other strategy. But you can't, because the developers haven't accomodated that perfectly reasonable option; and of course, they can't...they can't accomodate everything. The problem is that by trying, and ultimately failing, to significantly broaden the choices in a narratively coherent way, Obsidian have both fatally exposed the man behind the curtain furiously working the dials and knobs, and at the same time given us a confused, confusing, ultimately unsatisfying experience.

Ah well. Next generation of consoles maybe, when we have true game AI, and weall live on the moon in geodesic domes, wearing silver space-suits, and eating pills instead of food...
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 21, 2010 5:18 PM GMT

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