Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Timekiller Review - Going Back To School

Going back to school when you're a full-grown adult with a day job and teenagers is just about as much of a headache as you probably think it is.

I've been a graphic designer for almost 15 years, and I am damned good at it. I specialize in print design, from catalogs and postcards to packaging and brochures. I like to say that I make art that people throw away. I have a few decent freelance clients, and make a little bit on the side now and then, but I want to do a lot more. The problem is, the market for print design is on a downswing. Catalogs are being published electronically. Postcard mailers are being replaced by email blasts. If I want to stay relevant, I need to learn me some web design.

So I've gone back to school, and while I love learning new stuff, it's a whole lot of headache.

For instance, it's tough to get student loans when you're in night school. I had loans, grants and scholarships for my bachelor's degree, plus I lived at home and waited tables. I would say I paid for school myself, but that would be a load of crap. Uncle Sam paid for most of it. But this time around, the bill is all mine.

Plus it's amazing how much work it is just to learn things. I'm not even talking about the time (though I will in a minute). I'm just referring to how much of my brain is taken up with things like CSS syntax and user-side script calls and dehydrogenated lithium byproducts (I made up that last one. I'm pretty sure I made up the second one, too. But CSS syntax really is beating my brain into submission). My head is tired from trying to remember a hundred new values for HTML attributes, and it's making it tough to remember to brush my teeth before I go to work.

And every time I learn one new thing, I discover another half a dozen I'll have to learn next. I finally manage to figure out how to use embedded stylesheets, and then I realize that I really ought to master WordPress and social media feeds. Once I get those down, I'll have to figure out v-cards and Google Analytics. I suspect this is what a web designer sees when he looks at print design. "What do you mean, I have to include a SWOP3 color profile with my collected document? And what the hell is proportional lining?" I know that stuff. But web stuff makes my head hurt.

But the very worst thing about going back to school is the time sink. I can't believe how much free time I had before. I have to write schedules for when I'm goofing off. I spend so much time reading school books and sitting in class that when I actually have time to do something I enjoy, I have to budget my time like a single mother with a welfare check.

It's not as bad as it sounds, though. I actually really love learning new things. I have been experimenting with web sites in ways that amaze myself (though they probably look totally amateur to anyone who can do it for a living). Some of the stuff I've learned recently is like upgrading my Crayolas from the 16 colors to the 64 with a sharpener in the side of the box. My head is spinning with the possibilities.

And even better, I've already got my first client. It's a really small gig, one that any seasoned web designer could do in his sleep, but it's still pretty awesome to know that I can actually apply what I've learned in a real, tangible way, and make a little scratch at it. I may not have as much time for stuff like playing games and eating healthy meals and sleeping, but it is exciting to consider the possibilities for the future.

If you've got something you really wish you could do, and you can break off a few nights a week and a couple thousand bucks, going back to school can be pretty awesome.

You know, once you're done.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Video Game Review - Borderlands 2

I was going to review the Schlock Mercenary board game tonight, but I can't because I haven't played it. I meant to play it last week, and then I didn't, because I was playing Borderlands 2. Then I was totally planning on making time to play it this afternoon, but unfortunately, I used up my whole day playing Borderlands 2. In fact, since I bought Borderlands 2, I have had almost no free time. I seem to be incapable of doing anything else. It's just so damned fun.

Borderlands 2 is a shooter, one of those games where you only see the end of your gun and bad guys are all over the place and you kill them. And I'm not entirely sure why I'm so hooked on it, because I get totally bored by most shooting games. I'm not even intending to play Halo 4, the Medal of Honor games actively offend me, and I don't intend to even sample the next Bioshock retread. The idea is sound, and I generally like the action part of the equation, but first-person shooters are so ubiquitous that I don't pay them much attention any more.

So why am I addicted to Borderlands 2? Why is it taking up all my time, so that I can't seem to get anything else accomplished? What is so damned fun about this particular shooter, when I am so bored by shooters in general?

There are a few reasons. It's funny. The setting is a riot. The story is interesting, with amusing characters and diabolical villains and tough heroes. There are varying missions, thrilling treasure hunts, and entertaining minigames. There's a tangible improvement system that gives the gives the game a sense of being a role-playing game. And best of all, the co-op game is awesome.

Borderlands 2 is (unsurprisingly) the sequel to Borderlands, which pretty much has all the same stuff - humor, action, story, and great co-op. Like the original, it takes place on the planet of Pandora, a far-off toilet of a planet overrun with bandits and mean critters and diabolical corporate soldiers. You can pick from a diverse cast of characters - the ninja, the siren, the commando or the gunzerker, plus the $10 DLC mechromancer. Each plays very differently, with bonuses for particular weapons and kick-ass special abilities, like capturing enemies in bubbles of pure energy or deploying automatic turret guns to cover you while you reload.

So you pick a badass killer, you start hunting for the mystical vault, and then you dive head-first into an orgy of off-center humor and deadly opponents. There are scags and bullymongs, varkids and spiderants, bandits and robots. Some run right at you, swinging for the fences. Others throw rocks or fire shotguns. Still others wrap you in webs or cover you with gooey acid. There are lots of different enemies, and even more guns.

Yeah, guns. From Maliwan's fire-spitting sniper rifles to Jakob's devastating rocket launchers, you'll find hundreds of guns. Some will suck, and you'll sell them for pocket money. Some will be so impressive that you'll have a new favorite. A huge part of the fun is looking for the rarest and most powerful guns, comparing your SMGs to find the best fire rate, reload speed, magazine size and damage rating. Basically, there's a huge variety of great loot, and finding it sometimes more fun than actually using it.

As you improve, you'll get better guns, not to mention getting a lot better at a lot of things. You'll regenerate health when your shields are full, or light people on fire when you punch them, or reload your guns whenever you kill a bandit. This is an over-the-top game, and you play over-the-top heroes. And if you're lucky, you'll play it with someone else.

Borderlands 2 has possibly the best couch co-op I've ever played in a shooting game. My wife and I are loving it. You can drive while your partner shoots. You can heal each other when you get shot down. You can share ammo and money and loot and experience. You'll snipe from above while your partner goes in close with a 12-gauge. You can catch your enemies in a crossfire. And you can do it all without having to get online, because this game works great when you're both on the same TV.

In fact, I think the main reason I'm addicted to Borderlands 2 is because it gives me something genuinely fun to do with my wife. She's got the mechromancer and I've got the commando. She drives better than I do, and I shoot the rockets like they were on a wire. We laugh at the jokes and swear when we get killed, and spend hour after hour blasting the piss out Hyperion security droids and mutated super-bugs.

So while I really did mean to play that Schlock Mercenary game - it looks like a lot of fun - I don't feel bad at all. I am having a ludicrously good time, spending time with my wife, and irritating my teenage kids enough that they go hang out with friends instead of watching television all night. It's a win-win-win. It's Borderlands 2, and it's even better than the first one.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Comic Book Review - Transmetropolitan

Transmetropolitan sounds like it could be really gay. And not 'gay' the way we say it when we mean something is lame, but 'gay' the way we say it when we're describing a guy who likes to wear hot pants and mesh shirts. The title alone threw me. I knew nothing about the book at all, but passed on it when I first saw it on Comixology because I thought it sounded queer as a three-dollar bill.

Then my friend, out of the blue, recommended it. He didn't provide any more information, but just mentioning it was enough to at least make me check into it. And it turns out, this has nothing to do with men wearing eyeliner, outside of the occasional character who might be a man wearing eyeliner. It's actually a sci-fi book about a newspaper reporter in the future we all thought we were going to see when I was in college.

Spider Jerusalem is an anti-social guerilla journalist with lots of tattoos and some rather trippy spectacles. He reports on the group of silly bastards who inject alien DNA to perform plastic surgery that would make Michael Jackson look like a normal human being. Then he writes about the cops who are looking for any excuse they can find to kill those goofy lunatics. He pisses off everyone who matters and uses an illegal weapon to give the president of the United States a bad case of irritable bowel syndrome (literally - he doesn't kill him, or anything, he just makes him have to poop).

As you read through Transmetropolitan, a few things might pop out at you. First, this is not a 'story' book. You're not following the adventures of a man on a mission. You're not seeing recurring villains, spandex uniforms or super powers. You're not reading an unfolding, continuing saga. What you see in Transmetropolitan is razor-sharp wit and brutal satire, with a giant side helping of social commentary.

See, Spider Jerusalem is not just some beat-tromping cub reporter. He's one of the most famous men in The City, a celebrity against his own will whose powerful writing exposes corruption and greed and stupidity and injustice. Spider is willing and able to dish out violence to get to the truth, and he has virtually no qualms about laying down a beating or a casual shooting if it gets him his story.

Spider is an interesting, if bizarre character. He is best described as mentally unstable, or if you're feeling unforgiving, outright psychotic. He adopts a defective cat that has two faces and owns a vending machine with a drug addiction. He has a spider tattooed on his head and will happily put out a cigarette in a man's eye. He values nothing so much as digging through to the truth, except possibly inflating his oversized ego (which is largely compensating for an enormous amount of self-loathing).

Speaking of profanity, which we were not, Transmetropolitan was published under Vertigo, the sub-species of DC that they opened so they could use grown-up words and occasional boobies. Spider is fond of his f-bombs, and his stories sometimes take him into the company of ladies of low moral virtue. This is not a comic book for your kiddies, unless you're that strain of parent who doesn't pay attention to what his children are reading.

However, even without the harsh language, bloody brawls or bared nipples, Transmetropolitan is still not intended for immature audiences. The subject matter sets it off - it's raw and smart and satirical, and if you're reading to see how Superman beats up Doc Ock (hint: he has to use fuchsia kryptonite), you're going to be very disappointed. The book addresses bigger concepts than you might be used to seeing - consumerism, class struggle, religion, and drugs all get the Spider Jerusalem treatment. The result is a series of powerful statements that are even more potent if you're clever enough to see the underlying contempt that Warren Ellis has for a whole lot of things we take for granted.

Speaking of Warren Ellis, which we actually were, this dude can write. He's not just entertaining. He's got chops that make Tarantino look like a high-school kid with a Trapper Keeper full of stuff he copied off the bathroom wall at a truck stop. His dialog is sometimes so intense and rapid-fire that it's difficult to read it without hearing it in your head. You'll want to stop and back up to read it again, because you'll miss nuances in the flood of brilliance. The City is suffering an information overload, and sometimes the words are just background decor - but they're never unimportant.

The art is the same way. Darick Robertson's pencils are overflowing with detail, to the point of distraction, and that's obviously deliberate. When you read Transmetropolitan, you'll want to go slow, to absorb all the chaos, the bag ladies in the alleys, the body-modders behind the traffic jams, the ludicrous billboards and flashy street signs. The City feels like a huge, ugly, angry place, the kind of place where humanity is lost because there's just too much humanity. The writing is intense and intelligent, but the art is what makes the book complete. A lesser illustrator would have allowed Transmetropolitan to be related through the dialog, but Robertson makes every panel pull you deeper into this mess of a metropolis.

Transmetropolitan is angry and funny and bitingly smart. The maturity of the writing is staggering - even without the cussing and nekkid chicks, it's firmly targeting intelligent adults. The art is amazing. All things considered, I'm not sure how the hell I missed this gem. If you like your science fiction with a side of vitriol, you'll love it. If you just want to see Wolverine wear tights and say 'bub' a lot, don't bother.

I found Transmetropolitan on Comixology, but I figure you can find it almost anywhere, if you look around.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Updated Game Review - Glory to Rome

Cambridge Games Factory is kind of an interesting little game company. For a publisher with such a small library, they have some surprisingly good games,especially considering the fact that their art has traditionally been gleaned largely from bad clip art collections that were overused in 1997. The jewel in their crown is a smart, engaging game called Glory to Rome, a game that was actually less fun because of horrible design and hideous art. It's actually very impressive that a game this unsightly grew such a loyal fanbase.

And that loyal fanbase has been amply rewarded. Last week, Cambridge Games sent a candy bar to every person at BGG who ever got really angry at people who pointed out how ugly Glory to Rome was. If you didn't get yours, don't write to CGF. Send an email to Octavian at BGG and demand your candy. Throw in some harsh language. He responds well to that.

As an additional reward, Cambridge Games also went back to the visual drawing board and completely reworked everything about Glory to Rome that didn't work. There's new art, a new design, and it's all printed on really nice linen cards with giant playing boards. It even comes in an actual box, as opposed to the crappy plastic clamshell they used to use,which was probably leftover when a manufacturer of feminine hygiene products went belly up.

And the result is pure dead sexy. The box is larger, mostly black, and features an imperious Roman eagle. Every card now has original art that, unlike the original, does not interfere with the way the card works. The different ways you can play each card are obvious and easy to see, with clear color differentiation and big symbols where they need to have big symbols. Not only is this an exceptionally attractive game (and not just compared to the original, which was seriously coyote ugly, but it's objectively attractive), the new design makes the game easier to learn and easier to play.

Speaking of play, the graphics aren't the only thing that got attention. The rules to Glory to Rome worked great already, but there were some people who wanted to see a little more throat cutting. Cambridge heard those people and added a few cards to the new game. These cards are clearly designed to make Glory to Rome far more interactive and bloody, and the best part is, if you liked the old game, you don't have to play with the new, blood-in-the-water rules. The cards that you remove, and the ones that replace them, are clearly marked and easy to find, so it's simple to just swap 'em out and play the way you like.

There's no point in rewriting a full review of Glory to Rome. I already reviewed it once, and I loved it. Basically, this new version is great, and a massive improvement over the original. I still kind of wish they had nabbed the art off the Italian version, but this does look really, really good, so I can't really complain. And neither should you, if you want your candy bar.


2-4 players

Looks amazing
Far better material for the cards
New rules options allows for more spirited game play

Still pretty Euro

Still might be a little unbalancing at points, if you're a sissy

Noble Knight Games is sold out of the Black Box Glory to Rome, but if you watch for it, they'll probably get more.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Event Review - Bed & Breakfast

I've been married a while now. It's eighteen years this coming Saturday, and we wanted to spend the night at a bed & breakfast nearby. The problem was that there was a huge wedding party at the place we wanted to go, so we went a week early. Which was last night.

In case you're completely unaware of, well, anything, a bed & breakfast is like a hotel, except usually they're just somebody's house and they let you sleep upstairs. Breakfast is generally assumed to be included (thus the name), and it's better than when you stay at the Motel 6 and they have gross donuts in the lobby. The rooms are more luxuriously appointed, and the idea is that your stay feels more personalized.

Other than that, though, you're pretty much just in a hotel.

We've actually been staying at bed & breakfast places for a while. We've checked out a few, from the place way out in the middle of No Place, Texas to the gated compound in the middle of the big city. We have started to figure out the things about a B&B that make it really appealing, and the things that make you just kind of wish you had stayed at the Hilton.
There are lots of features you might want out of a good B&B. The bed is important - it needs to be big and comfy, because let's face it, that's in the name. If the bed sucks, you're just showing up for breakfast. You're there because you need some time away from the kids, the pets, the bill collectors, the probation officers, and the in-laws (you may not have all those things. I'm just covering the bases) and your escape should include a really good night's sleep.

Another important reason you go to a B&B is for the surroundings. The place we went last night is in the middle of the city, which we chose because we wanted to be close to our home, and because we wanted to be able to just run out real quick and grab dinner so that we could bring it back and watch a movie while we ate. The whole area is gated and fenced, so you've got some real privacy, and it was ridiculously quiet, especially considering we were in the middle of the city.

Usually, though, we prefer to make the two-hour drive to the place out in the boonies, where we can go hiking before dinner, hit the outdoor hot tub after dinner, and watch the sun come up from the spacious front porch before breakfast. This particularly awesome B&B has a llama that will follow you around when you go for a walk on the trails. It's incredibly cool to be trailed by a 7-foot-tall herbivore while you're on a nature walk.

You also want to consider the space you get. At last night's spot, we had a whole cottage, including a spacious dining room table which we used to play Glory to Rome and Mice & Mystics (yes, we're nerds - we went on our anniversary vacation and played games). At our preferred, country spot, the room doesn't have a table - just a bed and a bathtub - but there's a lovely common room where you can go downstairs and chat with the other people staying there.

Another neat feature of many B&B's is the communal breakfast. This is where they go, 'breakfast is at eight,' and everyone shows up, and you eat whatever they bring out and talk with the other guests before you all leave and never see each other again. There's a down-homey sense of community and, I don't know, humanity that feels like a lost art. This is another thing about staying in a B&B that makes it better than a hotel - in a hotel, if anyone talks to you in the lobby, you duck your head and put your hand on your pocket to make sure they don't steal your wallet.

Probably the thing that sets a B&B apart from a regular hotel more than anything else is the personal touch. There's no concierge or guest services attendant. There's just the lady that owns the house, and she'll see if she's got any aspirin, but would Tylenol be OK? If you forget your razor at a hotel, they can probably give you a cheap disposable. At a B&B, they'll tell you where to find the convenience store, and say hi to Jerome while you're in there, he's a friend of the family. Get sick at a hotel, they'll send room service with some Imodium. Get sick at a B&B, the guy who runs the place will whip you up some chicken soup and see if you need extra pillows, and here's a quilt my grandmother made, and should I call the family doctor?

I really like taking my wife to B&B's. We always have fun, and usually come back very relaxed and happy. Then we walk through the door and find out the cat pooped on the landing, the kids spilled orange soda on the kitchen floor and there's a roach stuck in the puddle, and they ate all the Pop-Tarts while we were gone.

So happy anniversary to me!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

TV Show Review - Revolution

The best TV shows have a message, a statement that gives you something to ponder, a lesson to teach. And sometimes, even bad TV has a message. Like Revolution, in which the message is 'only attractive people will survive the apocalypse. And they will have regular access to hot showers.'

Revolution looked really cool in the trailers. All the electricity fails at the same time, and the United States is thrown into complete anarchy. One man knows why the lights went out, but he is apparently not in much of a mood to do anything about it. Another man is a douchebag who has established a really mean government and runs around killing people. And in the middle of it all, there's a pretty girl who has a crosssbow and hardly ever bothers to use it.

The story is even really fun. See, the dickbag president guy outlaws guns so that only he will have them, so everyone has bows and swords. It's all swashbuckley, because the heroes have to get into swordfights and shoot arrows instead of just blasting everybody with firearms. The first episode has this really cool fight in a hotel where the lead bad-ass guy beats the stuffing out of, like, a dozen guys. And totally kills most of them.

There are all the elements of a classic Sunday matinee pulp serial. There's a rebellion against the bastards in the militia. There's a murdered father and a kidnapped brother. There's a lost uncle with a secret past. There's even a nerd, although that's not particularly Zorro-ish.

In fact, although I'm going to spend the last half of this review saying bad things about Revolution, I really am enjoying it. I love how they show nature recapturing the wilds of our nation. The action scenes are pretty exciting. The bad guys are despicable and the good guys are properly heroic, and while the show tends to be a little predictable, it's a fun ride.

OK, now the bad stuff. For starters, it's on NBC. I honestly don't know what possessed me to watch a show on a major network, especially a serial, because they all get cancelled before they can finish the story (except for Lost, which should be a good sign, because Revolution is also a JJ Abrams story). And networks refuse to hire any actors or actresses who couldn't quit their day jobs and be underwear models, so everybody on the show is absurdly, unbelievably good-looking.

When you're watching Revolution, you may be reminded of another apocalyptic show that's a hell of a lot of fun - The Walking Dead. And if you happen to be watching both shows, you'll see where Revolution makes all the mistakes that Walking Dead avoids. The characters in Revolution are ridiculously attractive, and always very clean. They also never get scarred - sure, they are terrifically violent, perpetually getting into knife fights or fisticuffs, and yet they all manage to avoid taking shots to the face. They also have no problem finding hair gel.

The story is equally sanitized. Moral dilemmas are few and far between. Good guys will always save the bad guys when they're hanging from the edge of the cliff. The heroes are very heroic. The bad guys are mustache-twirling madmen. Deaths are profound and, among people with lots of lines, very rare. Seriously, it's like the writers are actively avoiding watching The Walking Dead, for fear it would give them any good ideas.

So Revolution is five or six episodes along - enough to make an informed decision about whether it's watchable - and I am rolling my eyes in disbelief at least once a week. Sometimes more. So why am I still watching it? Simple - I have too much free time.

No, that's not it. I mean, I do have too much free time, and  should really finish painting all these Warhammer Quest figures (the insurance gave me money for a replacement copy, but I couldn't find one that was painted). But I could watch something else, something smart and deep. But I watch Revolution because it's fun. That's it.

Yes, I can see all the stupid parts. Yes, the logical inconsistencies are almost painful. Yes, it's as shallow as a fourth-grader telling fart jokes. But sometimes, when my family is sitting around the living room eating take-out, it's fun to dial up some kid-friendly entertainment and let my mind take a vacation for an hour. Or really, more like 42 minutes - I DVR everything and just zip through the commercials.

Besides, not everything can be The Walking Dead. Can you imagine trying to eat a plate of chicken fried rice while you were watching decaying people chewing chunks out of people who get to bathe once a year? Sometimes, it's OK for television to be dumb, if it's fun. You won't find yourself at the edge of your seat when you watch Revolution. You won't wonder if the hero girl is going to get killed. You won't go to work the next day and excitedly ask your co-worker, 'so, did you see it last night?' because it will promptly leave your head the next time you see strawberry taffy. You'll have fun for as long as it takes to get to the end credits, and maybe be reminded of watching old Three Musketeers serials while you mowed through a bucket of popcorn.

If you want to get caught up on Revolution, you can probably find the first several episodes on Hulu or OnDemand, or maybe even at the NBC website. It's still in the first season, so you can't find it on Netflix or anything. It's worth your time, if you have too much time in the first place.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Board Game Review - Wizard Kings

I have to do penance. Horrible, painful penance. Because I have done the thing that makes reviewers everywhere look like greedy douchebags - I asked for a game, got it in the mail, and never reviewed it. For, like, eight years or something. To express my shame, I will force myself to live with pygmy goats and eat only frozen waffles.

Eight years ago (give or take two or three) I requested a copy of Columbia Games' Wizard Kings. It looks cool, with a built-in fog-of-war element made possible by hidden blocks and a fantasy theme and geomorphic boards, and so I was thrilled when they sent it to me. Not thrilled enough to play it, I guess, because not only did I forget to review the game, I forgot I ever got one. I was reminded when, in a fit of unjustifiable stupidity, I asked for a copy - again. This was six months ago, and they reminded me that they had already sent me the game. So I went to look for the review, and it's not there. I never wrote it.

So I bought another one. And I have to say, I kind of wish I hadn't asked for it eight years ago. After receiving a review copy, then not writing about it, then forgetting I ever got it, I really want to write a positive review to make up for all that. But I can't, because I really don't like this game at all. I feel so bad that I'm going to have to wear a hairnet made of stinging earwigs.

Wizard Kings really does look like it has a lot of potential. It comes with seven different armies in one box, and after you finish putting stickers on all the blocks, you could play all kinds of battles with them. There are four different maps in the box, so you can build all different kinds of islands to fight over, and the rules are relatively uncomplicated.

When you start playing, it keeps looking cool. You're trying to take cities from your enemies so that you can win, and there's a lot of maneuvering and positioning and timing your attacks for maximum potency. There are stacking limits and movement limits and special terrain effects, and this makes for a pretty cool setup.

Until you get in a fight. It's all downhill after that.

This seems like it should be pretty cool. You set up, take turns whacking each other with sharp sticks, rolling dice and counting your dead. Only the odds of hitting each other is so ridiculously low with so many of the units in the game that you're practically sitting there watching the dice flip you the bird. We seriously had fight after fight where nobody ever got hurt and then someone had to go home because Mom was calling them for dinner. It was incredibly frustrating - you send a big stack of warriors into the woods to bust a cap into some enemy ass, and then you just take turns rolling dice and cussing.

The thing is, this dice thing is the only problem I have with the game. The maps work great. They could be prettier, but they work great. The blocks are awesome, because you can track unit strength just by turning the block. You can cast spells and shoot fireballs, raise skeletons and summon orcs, and do it all on a blood-soaked field... except that hardly anyone actually gets killed, so the only blood on the field happened when the amazon charmer cuts her legs shaving.

It's really not as bad as I'm making it sound. We did have casualties, every now and then. Not a lot, or anything, and not nearly enough to be satisfying, but once or twice, somebody did die. It just wasn't enough to make the game fun. You maneuver and position and wait for the right moment to strike, then realize that your entire battle plan was based on a bunch of guys who couldn't hit ground if they fell off the roof.

I'm actually kind of considering giving Wizard Kings another try, but just adding one to the combat value for every unit. This would make battles go crazy fast, and probably give too much advantage to the faster guys, but it would at least make the fights end in a body count. Plus, maybe then I would like the game, and I could come out here and go, 'Hey, it turns out, I don't actually mind this game!' And then I could take all the carpet tacks out of my pillow case.


2-7 players (yes, really!)

Cool maps that can be combined to make neat battlegrounds
Clever use of blocks means you can track changing stats without any kind of accounting
Mostly a pretty good game

Any pros are completely negated by the dice mechanic that ends in pacifism

If you want to give this one a whirl, you can get it from Columbia Game:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Movie Review - Seven Psychopaths

Being a huge fan of crime movies, especially the quirky kind made popular by True Romance and Pulp Fiction, I ignored my rule about not going to the movies to go catch the new crime-almost-a-comedy Seven Psychopaths. I mean, I went to the first show of the day on a Sunday, when most people in Texas are in church and the hoodlums who ruin movies are still in bed, but the point is, it had to be a pretty big deal to get me into a theater at all.

Seven Psychopaths is not a comedy, but it's got lots of moments that will make you laugh. It's not a thriller, but it has lots of excitement. It's not a date movie - and thank God, there are no lame-ass romantic entanglements or love triangles. Yeah, it's definitely not a date movie. I did take my wife, but I took my son, too, so it wasn't a date.

This off-kilter movie about stupid criminals and angry murderers features a Hollywood screenwriter with writer's block, a couple of dog kidnappers who make their money cashing in on reward money, and an especially deranged mob boss who loves his dog, but hates his girlfriend. The setup might seem like black comedy, but unlike other campy films that laugh at dead bodies, Seven Psychopaths is a smart, engaging film with a point much deeper than tasteless humor.

But that's not to say the movie isn't funny. Christopher Walken is routinely hilarious. Sam Rockwell steals every scene, and you'll want to laugh at nearly every single thing he says. Woody Harrelson, playing a remorselessly murderous bastard, will make you laugh all the way through the film. Even Colin Farrel, who I really don't tend to like, is funny and entertaining. But like I said, even with all the jokes, Seven Psychopaths is not a comedy.

Some movies have gimmicks. Memento, for instance, relied on telling the story backwards. Pulp Fiction tells its story out of order, focusing on a single character for a spell and then moving on to another, but with the stories all out of order. Seven Psychopaths features what could be mistaken for using a gimmick, but it's not really. It juxtaposes a screenplay about seven psychos with a story about killers, and uses both to weave a layered story that comes at you in pieces.

This fake movie vs. real movie back-and-forth crosses over between the 'real world' of the movie you're watching and the make-believe story being written by the main protagonist. The fake story features several characters who never make it into the actual events, but the real tale also has several people who don't make the leap to fiction. However, while the fake movie might be fun to watch, it's not there purely for its entertainment factor. It's there to make a point, to make you think, and to present a mutable backdrop that changes to reflect the mindsets of its collaborating writers. You find out more about the real characters from the stories they tell than you ever get watching their actual lives.

I saw Seven Psychopaths this morning, and had to think about it all day before I could write this review. There's a great deal of hidden meaning and subtle commentary - so much, in fact, that I know damned well I didn't get it all. There were some points about linear, predictable Hollywood film-making (a point driven home when the previews featured a basic revenge fantasy movie with that bald guy from Snatch). There were some thought-provoking comments on the value of revenge, some commentary on our societal desire to see people being brutally slain, and no small amount of discussion on what it means to be a friend.

I don't want to make it sound like Seven Psychopaths is a movie you can only enjoy if you're some kind of Harvard film school snob. Taken purely at face value, this is an entertaining, chaotic adventure with an ending you won't see coming. And not like an Alfred Hitchcock 'holy crap why I didn't I see that' ending, more of a 'real life doesn't wrap itself up in a bow' ending. There's dark humor doled out by the bucketload, plus shootings and explosions and sex. Without having to dive into the deeper meaning of the film, you can enjoy Seven Psychopaths as a wacky crime movie with lots of over-the-top characters and dialog so tight you could bounce a quarter off it.

Comparisons to Pulp Fiction are going to be almost unavoidable. Seven Pyschopaths has some amazing dialog, so tight Tarantino could have written it before he started believing all his own press and not letting anyone edit his movies. It has the same kind of surprising moments (well, there are no bizarre basements under the pawn shop, but there are surprises). It has the same irreverence for human life, brought into stark contrast with the unconditional love for a pet. But while I did think Seven Psychopaths was an excellent movie, and I intend to buy the DVD when it's out, this is not Pulp Fiction. Hell, even Tarantino can't bottle that lightning again, no matter how hard he keeps trying.

There are some pacing issues, for instance. The first two-thirds of the film are crisp and fast and demented, and then there's a lengthy lull near the end when you may be watching impatiently to get to the part where something happens again. We go from a raucous series of senseless murders (and a few that make sense) to an oddly elongated campfire in the desert.

OK, actually, that's about it. That's the only flaw I found. A couple scenes at the end of the movie kind of threw off the timing, but not only was that part of the movie necessary for the deeper meaning of the tale, but it's really not as bad as it could have been. The acting is exceptional, the story is bizarre and engaging, the dialog is hilarious and impeccably timed. If Pulp Fiction is the perfect 10 of quirky crime movies (and in my opinion, it is), Seven Psychopaths is a solid 9.75. I haven't seen a movie I enjoyed this much in a long time, and I loved the layers of story being told. The gimmick wasn't a gimmick at all, and it worked perfectly to serve up the deeper points without having to bludgeon us with them.

Now, fair warning - don't take your kids to see this movie, unless your kids are older. There's toe-curling profanity, messy murders, and more than one scene with boobs in it. Not only that, but I don't think there's a snowball's chance in Hell that any kid who hasn't digested Fight Club is going to understand any of the deeper meaning in Seven Psychopaths. That's fine, though. This is a movie designed for adults, not meant to appeal to the immature. It's got an entertaining surface story combined with some very funny moments and an undercurrent of deep thoughts. If you liked Pulp Fiction, you're going to like Seven Psychopaths.

Friday, October 12, 2012

TV Show Review - Oz

In my constant attempt to write about things that are absolutely not games, here's a review of an old TV show that you can't get on Netflix and won't see on regular cable. It's one of the first original series that HBO rolled out, and they're incredibly protective of their stuff. Apparently, they feel that if you get to see a man's johnson during the show, they're not inclined to let you get it for a nine-buck-a-month Netflix membership.

Oz was a cool show about life in a prison. Well, maybe 'cool' is the wrong word. 'Depressing' might be a better descriptor. This prison was apparently run by shrub-brained bobble-heads, because they were constantly allowing the inmates to kill each other and get high as balls. It was the blueprint for what would become the typical HBO drama - huge cast, lots of different story threads, and an endless parade of needless nudity.

The story of Oz follows a handful of inmates, guards and administrators who deal with life in the day-to-day doldrums of a maximum security penitentiary. There are drug dealers and murderers, priests and prostitutes, and even a few nerds. They are not so much characters, however, as they are tools used to tell a story and evoke emotion.

It's pretty obvious, when you're watching Oz, that the writers were going for a modern-day Shakespearean tragedy. It becomes especially obvious when the inmates put on a production of Macbeth. The show has three goals - to tell a compelling tale, to get you invested in the characters, and to appeal to people who want to see blood and naked people.

I'll start with that last one. If you want to see an incredible number of stabbings interspersed with full frontal male nudity, Oz can sure deliver. I mean, there are lots and lots of moments when I wanted to cover my eyes. Sometimes at the violence, sometimes at the dick parade. I'm not squeamish about either, but sometimes it's just more than you need. Some of those deaths were incredibly gruesome, and I could live the rest of my life without ever again having to see the privates of the guy who does Mayhem in those insurance commercials. You'll be lucky if you don't develop a bit of a complex watching Oz - apparently, they only hired well-hung actors.

As far as the characters, they were very well-realized. From the poor sap who is doing time for a DUI-turned-manslaughter to the Irish gangster with a talent for survival, the characters in Oz are a varied and entertaining bunch of people to watch. The only problem is, you start to root for some of these guys, but being a tragedy, nobody gets a happy ending (except in prison terms - there's enough disgusting sex that you know a lot of these dudes had a 'happy ending').

In fact, this ties into the next point. I know the show is going for tragedy, and it accomplishes that in spades, but after watching six seasons of Oz, your psyche is going to need a break. I know bad things can happen to people, and I know prison isn't exactly a Caribbean resort spa, but it's amazing how horrible things get for these people. So many people are so badly hurt that it becomes difficult to care what happens. I mean, I want to hope Beecher can find peace and freedom, but come on! How much bad crap can happen to one guy?

All that said, Oz does a remarkable job of telling a story. In the course of six seasons, the show spins a yarn of greed and hope and morality and the flaws of the human condition. It's aggressively intelligent with a powerful undertow of subtext. It even ends with a visual metaphor that manages to put a final punctuation on the story without a heavy-handed attempt to wrap up all the loose ends.

However, while the story itself may have been well-executed, Oz obviously has its flaws. As one of HBO's flagship original series, there were too many mistakes in theme, timing, and character development. They were going for Shakespeare, but they missed the mark. Even Shakespeare knew that sometimes, the audience wants to see a good guy win, at least every now and then. In order to weave their tale of corruption and darkness, the writers sacrificed believability and they opted to deny any real relief from the relentless oppression.

I did enjoy Oz, and I'm glad I watched the whole series. I wish they had made a few minor changes, and having done a little homework, I know that it was not even remotely realistic. Prison is not a pleasant place to spend your afternoons, but I think even a Russian gulag is run better than this. But for all the depression and pain, there's an entertaining story, one that will make you think. And more importantly, it will make you redouble your efforts to avoid becoming a resident at your local correctional facility. Because DAMN, prison sucks. Even in real life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Card Game Review - You Are The Maniac

Today's review is more of a precautionary tale, a sort of How Not To Kickstarter. Unfortunately, given the number of people who are willing to throw money at anything that passes by like a rich kid in a titty bar, this precautionary tale is likely to send the wrong message, because this one is probably going to reach its goal and thereby bring into existence yet another crappy game.

The people creating You Are The MANIAC! (the emphasis, in this case, being absolutely not mine) are doing everything right. If I were going to run a Kickstarter promo to sell a game, I would hire these guys to be in charge. They're showing spiffy art, sending regular press releases, and advertising in all the right places. They did, unfortunately, neglect one thing - they didn't make a good game.

The idea of the game is that you're all horror-movie serial killers, and you're competing to kill the best victims. Harlots and bimbos are worth the most, while cops and well-meaning parents are worth the least. You have weapons and masks and dirty tricks that you can use to make sure you wind up with a better selection of dead bodies than your friends.

Theoretically, this doesn't sound entirely bad. It sounds like bad-taste fun, and I can get behind that. But it falls apart when you play it, because when you play it you realize that someone made a game about killing teenagers in horror movies and they made into a freaking EURO (this time, the emphasis is mine). It's a set-collection game with some minor card play. Worse yet, it's a game with limited interaction, very few real decisions, and too much dorky art.

Yeah, dorky art. The stuff they're showing on the website is A-Game material, but that's not what's on all the cards. Mostly, the pictures of victims are Poser models with a cheesy Photoshop filter. Sometimes that works. Mostly it doesn't. In the case of the fat guy in the jacuzzi with his pants off, it seriously, emphatically doesn't work. Also, most of the athletes look like they would be more comfortable in a pride parade than a spooky cabin. If these football players are chasing tail, it's just an attempt to cover up the fact that they're really in love with the towel boy.

On your turn, you play a card and capture a victim. The cards don't do a whole lot, and it's usually pretty obvious which card would be your best bet. In most cases, you want to play the card that will actually have some effect, as opposed to the ones that won't really do you any good at all. There's no hand management, no sacrificing cards for future effect, no planning ahead or tense decisions.

Then you have weapons and masks, the defining characteristics of the horror movie killer. These identifying traits do... nothing. They add points, and that's it. You don't combine them to make yourself more dangerous. You don't have specific victims who can be more easily defeated with a fireman's axe. Even better, you can swap them out as you play, so you might start off with a hockey mask and a machete and finish the game with a bread knife and a pair of grandma's bifocals. Not real butch there, Freddy.

I would keep writing about all the ways YOU are the MaNiAc!!11! doesn't work (OK, yes, those emphases were mine), but the fact is, it doesn't have enough things working to be a game with multiple things that don't work. It's barely a game at all. It's not fun, it's not interesting, and it's not pretty. If I were stoned all the time and spent my weekends digesting old 70's slasher flicks, I might get a kick out of the game, but I'm not, and I thought it sucked.

I did get an interesting piece of news today, in the form of one of those press releases I discussed earlier. It seems the designers of the game, having read a few pieces of feedback, are changing how the game works. So now I'm reviewing a game that doesn't exist yet in a form that will be changing. If you gave money to this game already, you're not getting what you thought you were getting. And if you're about to give them money now, you don't actually have any idea what you're getting, because they're changing it from the way it is now.

I almost didn't write this review at all. When I read that the game was being changed from the game I played, I almost said, 'well, then, what's the freaking point?' But I wanted to see if there's anything I could do to prevent other people from throwing money at this Kickstarter. For that matter, stop throwing your money at games where you have no idea what you're getting. Quit funding these half-assed productions that could never get published if they had to sell them to actual publishers.

I'm through reviewing Kickstarter games. If your game has not been published, don't send me an unfinished prototype and ask me to take it for a spin. I don't want to play any more vaporware games, no more ill-conceived notions, no more brain farts on cardboard. You Are The Maniac has shown me one thing I needed to know - life is too short to play games this bad.


An interesting and entertaining theme
A couple decent pieces of art

A whole lot of crappy pieces of art
An uninteresting and bland game

I'm not linking you to the Kickstarter. Hunt for it, if you're just dying to see the game, but I won't be responsible for driving any more traffic.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bakery Review - Sugar Deaux Bakery

Yeah, you read that right. I'm reviewing a bakery. I told you I was going to review some crazy stuff, and you were all like, 'hey, man, it's cool, we'll read it,' and I was all like, 'man, I'm warning ya, it'll be crazy!' and you were all like, 'naw, dawg, it be cool,' and then I was all like, 'fo shizzle my nizzle' and then we all decided to quit talking like white kids who let their pants hang too low because they think they're black.

My friend called me last night to ask me if I would help out his friend who has a bakery and is trying to get it a little face-time. My first instinct was to say, 'are you high? A bakery?' and then he said, 'I will bring you some baked goods,' and I immediately agreed. For a box full of delicious baked desserts, I would review a plastic dog whistle.

When it comes to baked desserts, I'm somewhere between a connoisseur and a rabid fan. So when that box of delicious treats arrived, it didn't take me many bites to realize that I really loved the cupcakes. The strawberry cupcake was amazing, and there was a huge cinnamon cupcake decorated up like a king cake (you know, Mardi Gras? Comes with a plastic baby inside, and the guy who gets the baby is the king for next year, by which we mean that next year he has to buy the cake? Yeah, that). That huge cupcake was also super tasty. I'm writing this review and kind of salivating a little, but I'm not too concerned because I still have a couple more cupcakes downstairs.

This bakery, the Sugar Deaux Bakery, does baked treats really well - better than you can get at the grocery store, for sure - and they also do some stunning wedding cakes. They are going for a sort of Texas-meets-Louisiana thing, and also sell pralines and chocolate-filled croissants. Also chocolate-covered pretzels, which were good, but I wouldn't go to Plano for pretzels.

If you want to see some pictures of the cool stuff the Sugar Deaux Bakery can make for you, just visit their site. Of course, if you do, you will have to see a website that was apparently designed by the owner's 12-year-old nephew who just finished a book about how to build a gaudy Angelfire page. But ignore the horrible design and poorly shot photography. Seriously, the food is very good. The website is not representative of the quality of the baked treats. It's like opposite day.

Now, this still seems kind of insane, reviewing a bakery. I mean, it's not like my Finnish audience is over on the other side of the Atlantic going, 'man, next time I'm in Plano, I totally have to stop by this Sugar Deaux place!' You're not coming to Texas for the express purpose of getting a strawberry cupcake. Hell, I'm not even going to drive to Plano unless someone I know needs a wedding cake, because no cupcake is worth the 90-minute round trip. But there's a bigger reason I'm telling you about the Sugar Deaux Bakery

The folks who run the bakery are parents of three sons. And the reason they're trying to make a run at the bakery is to raise money for their sick boys. Out of three kids, two are medical train wrecks, diagnosed with the kinds of illnesses that sound like they were invented by Doc Savage in a fight against underworld ape-men. 'Monk! We only have minutes to adjust the Central Hypoventilation Syndrome before we're overrun! Tell Patty to prep the Spinal Muscular Atrophy!'

So these people are trying to raise money, not just to take care of their kids, but to find cures for their incredibly horrible maladies. And that's why I agreed to review a bakery. Well, that and free cupcakes. That, and the dad is a cop, and I hope some day he can get me out of a speeding ticket.

So here's the part where you can do something if you're not in Dallas. If you go to the bakery's website, they also have a link to the site they're trying to use to raise research money. It's another incredibly professional affair, and when I say 'incredibly professional', I mean 'this is why Geocities died.' But it's a mix of brave and gut-wrenching and sad and uplifting, which is the kind of emotional cocktail I like to chase with hard liquor and Quaaludes. And they've got a donate button where you can throw a couple bucks to help kids who get messed-up diseases that I can't pronounce or even begin to understand.

Am I about to turn into some kind of soft-headed crybaby, telling you about whatever charity wants your money and then playing 'Arms of an Angel' and making you look at very sad kittens? No, no I am not. However, if you know of a charity that could use some exposure, and they are willing to hand-deliver a box full of delicious baked goods that I can share with my whole family, I may be willing to consider your plea. It does help if we're already friends, and you can personally vouch for the people running the donation site.

One more thing - if you are going to ask me to review your random storefront, pay a rodeo clown ten bucks to design you a site that doesn't play really loud New Orleans street music when I get there. Although if you give me fantastic strawberry cupcakes, I'll overlook it.

Turn down your speakers and check out the Sugar Deaux Bakery at:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Expansion Review - Dungeon Command: Tyranny of Goblins

Tonight's review feels a little like I'm cheating. There are probably a dozen games ahead of Dungeon Command in my pile of stuff that I'm supposed to review, but when it comes down to it, I don't want to play those. I want to play Dungeon Command again. So when the Tyranny of Goblins set arrived, all the other stuff got pushed to the back of the list so I could send my evil hordes out to take on the heroes of Cormyr.

Having already thoroughly enjoyed the original Dungeon Command sets, I really wasn't worried about the goblins. Heck, I was really looking forward to them. But as is the case with almost any expansion release, there was always the possibility that they would either be too powerful or too weak. Too strong is how these things usually go, as new powers and new units are introduced to an existing game, but every now and then, the new stuff just isn't up to competing with the old stuff.

So I played the goblins, and my wife played the heroes. And I got my ass kicked so badly that I have to write this review standing up.

It might seem like I'm about to complain about the goblins being underpowered, but let me clear that up right now. My wife played very well, and I made mistakes. I should have sent my weaker units to gather treasure, rather than charging them into the fight. I should have played a little more defensively, and built up my forces before I sent them running across the field like a third-grader fielding a kickball. I can't even blame it on the dice, because the game doesn't have any dice. I lost because I sucked and my wife played really smart.

In fact, if anything, my loss illustrated how well balanced the new set is. If I had won with as many mistakes as I made, the goblins would have been a total train wreck. They do have some incredibly powerful units, but everyone else has those, too. They also have some really weak guys, but everybody else also has punk-ass cannon fodder. There are some incredibly cool examples of units working together - the wolf is twice as dangerous next to a goblin cutter, and the hobgoblin sorcerer is especially impressive if you keep him in the background. The strength of your team is not in how big they are, but in how you use them. You know, like a penis.

Happily, not all your fighters are goblins. Sure, you've got a good handful of goblins, but you've also got a hobgoblins and bugbears, a wolf, a troll and a huge burly demon. Yeah, that's right, the goblins have a demon. Like the other two sets, using these pieces appropriately is the key to winning the game. Your bugbear berserker is a bad-ass, but all by himself, he's cannon fodder. Manage your territory, though, and you'll be able to control the battlefield and continually flummox your opponent (and who doesn't like to hand out some good flummoxing?).

The order cards you get are also really handy, though unlike the drow or hero sets, it can be really hard to get extra cards. That's one strength the original sets have that the goblins lack, but the order cards you can get tend to be pretty darn cool. You can run faster, hit harder, and stand longer. I think my favorite was the dodge card, 'mortal wound,' which ignores the heaviest, most brutal attack - but then your guy dies at the end of your next turn, so you better make that next turn count. This was one part I did right - after my berserker was tag-teamed by some pipe-hitting heroes who should have cut him down in his prime, he managed to get one more turn. I like to imagine the looks on the faces of the ranger and cleric when the bugbear looked at the hole in his chest and started grinning. Then he killed them. Then he died.

I kind of wonder if anyone is buying these sets just to use them to play D&D. If they are, I think they're not doing too bad. The game is great, and you get 12 painted miniatures for 40 bucks. That's just over three bucks a figure, and you get a pretty decent variety. No, there are no orcs, but I'm not even sure those guys are evil any more. I think they've been turned into a goofy Games Workshop sideshow.

I still have kind of a beef with the format of Dungeon Command. We were discussing as we played how much we wish we could just buy some cards, or a few new figures, so that we could fine-tune our armies a little. It's great to get this balanced army that's ready to go, right out of the box, but I desperately want to mix it up. Of course, that's easier to do now that I have three different sets. It would be easier if I had some smaller sets, is all I'm saying.

A nice thing about the Tyranny of Goblins set for Dungeon Command is that it's not hard to figure out if you want it. If you like Dungeon Command, and want to see more variety, get the goblins. If you're buying a couple sets to try it out, the only question is whether you like goblins more than dark elves (or both more than heroes). There are no balance issues to mess it up and no difficult decisions that you'll regret later. Goblins are fun, and so are drow, and so are heroes. Buy the ones you like, or just try the game with one set, or go for broke and get them all. All I can really tell you is that the game is a blast, and now you can add goblins, and if that's not enough for you, then I'm sure there's an exhaustive but wordy summary on BGG somewhere that you can read if you're already bored with folding socks and watering the grass.


Lots of new cool figures
A new faction with new possible play styles
Adds one more piece of awesome to a game that was already pretty darn awesome

Same as before - I wish they had boosters

Did I say 12 minis for 40 bucks? Not if you're shopping at Noble Knight.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Comic Book Review - The Sixth Gun

I don't know how I lived without an iPad before I bought one. It does all this totally cool stuff, almost acts like a laptop without weighing me down, and it has this awesome thing where I can buy comic books cheap and have them with me wherever I go.

Now, before I tell you about the totally awesome comic I'm reading now, I should mention that I have pretty much sworn off comics altogether. I started reading Spider-Man when I was 16, and was a serious comic nerd from then on. I read Punisher and Spawn and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, back when the turtles were actually bad-ass killers and not dorky Saturday-morning cartoons who ate too much pizza and said, 'cowabunga!' But then, about 1998, I just kind of gave 'em up. The costumes were stupid. The stories were endlessly recycled. Timelines were impossibly convoluted. Superheroes were just lame.

I still love comic books, but now I'm a lot pickier. If you've got a super-powered crime-fighter wearing brightly colored underoos, count on me to take a pass. But the medium is still incredibly fun, and so I still read comics now and then. I just don't buy them in paper form any more. And I avoid superheroes.

The Sixth Gun has no superheroes. Instead, it has gunslingers in the Old West, but this is no rehashed Jonah Hex. The Sixth Gun is about a handful of people who are staving off the end of the world by preventing the forces of darkness from controlling all six of the most dangerous weapons the world has ever known. There are ghosts and dark magic, monsters and demons, and to make it extra awesome, brothels and gunfights. It's like if Harry Potter starred in a John Wayne movie, but without all the teenage whining.

Too many comic books depend on fight scenes and cool powers to drive a tale. Some of the better ones land on a compelling story, but pay too little attention to the characters. The best ones, like The Walking Dead and The Sixth Gun, weave as excellent a yarn as any Dickens novel, by building an interesting world with believable characters and a suspenseful plot. From Gord Cantrell, the escaped slave with talents in the dark arts, to Drake Sinclair, the pitiless gunslinger with questionable motives, even the heroes are flawed enough to be interesting.  Becky Montcrief, a young woman thrust unwillingly into the middle of the struggle when she comes into possession of the most dangerous of the guns, is a likable and brave character who refuses to be controlled. Yet she is still given to occasional weakness, and is no more a saint than - well, than anyone you know. Compared to Superman, the world's most boring hero, these characters are so interesting that you could almost watch them doing the laundry (mostly because if they're doing laundry, it's probably because they have to wash bloodstains out of their long johns).

The story in The Sixth Gun would be thrilling even without these well-developed characters. The collection of arcane weapons carried by some of the most evil men on Earth are primed to release untold darkness and end the world - or remake it, depending on who you're asking. That's where the story starts - but after 18 issues (which is as many as I've read so far), the story continues to twist and turn, and shows no sign of slowing down or losing my interest.

And the art! If you read enough superhero comics, you get used to a pretty boring, redundant, generic style. Sure, now and then someone is really impressive, but for the most part, the best comic book artists are indistinguishable from each other. This is not the case in The Sixth Gun, which balances out a horrific story with a clean, crisp, detailed look that borders on being cartoony. It's not Japanese-inspired crap, either - it's unique and exceptional, and you'll want to read the book just to look at the pictures.

One of the greatest strengths of comic books is the ability to tell a story with just the art. So many comics miss this aspect, and plug in copious dialog just to tell you what you should be seeing. The Sixth Gun, on the other hand, takes full advantage of the medium. It spares no detail, relaying incredible scenes without getting cluttered, and often going full pages without any written words at all. Those pages still manage to convey sadness and rage, loss and betrayal, without being the kind of thing that you just skip past to get to the part where someone gets punched in the eye.

I'm not sure exactly how many issues of The Sixth Gun are available at this point, because I just have the first three trades. But I do know that there's more story in 18 issues than you'll usually see in twice as many pages about costumed crimefighters, and better yet, no gaudy color schemes. It's not far enough along that you won't be able to get whatever has been created to date, and it's so good that when you finish, you can go back to the start and read it all again.

I don't read many comic books any more, even with Comixology on my iPad. I'm picky as hell, and rather hard to please, and so when I find a story as outstanding as The Sixth Gun, I feel a need to crow about it. If supernatural gunfights in the streets of old New Orleans sound like fun, you should definitely consider flipping through The Sixth Gun.