My metal band would be called "Henry Seviin Tudor"

Here, I focus on board games I am playing, board games I want, game design ideas, and any general cultural tidbits that come to mind.

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The Downfall of "Blink"

Sean Franco
United States
Hammond
Louisiana
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This has probably been a long time coming from me, so I hope it sounds as good now as it has in my head for the past couple weeks.

"Blink" isn't that good.

I mean, it's good. It's very good, especially compared to what Moffat has provided us with for the past (I'll go ahead and say it) four years. I will say directly that he has not written anything better than it since he wrote it. But "Blink" isn't all it's been built up to be.

I see there being two principle reasons that "Blink" has been a hit, as well as one minor reason. However, I only think the last is legitimate, but I'll go over all of them in order.

First, the Weeping Angels are supposed to be scary. And they are. Or, rather, they are startling the first time you see them. But in "Blink," they aren't properly scary. The two victims we see wind up extremely happy, married to people they would have otherwise never would have met and generally pretty chill about the whole thing. The Angels sent them back in time, to "live to death," and live they did.

So it's hard to see them as evil. Annoying, yes. Probably better if they weren't around, yes. Playing matchmaker through time, yes. But not evil. They do startle, though. From a direction standpoint, they work great on the screen and do lots to keep the pulse up. But they don't work as actual evil guys.

You know who does? The Silents. The Silents are pretty much the same as the Angels, except evil. I've said it before on this very blog:

logopolys wrote:
Imagine an alien. That alien is potentially all around the planet, but no one would really believe that there was a threat if you told them about it. This alien is tremendously powerful, can kill you quickly, or can simply choose to manipulate your life the way it wants to. The only advantage you have over this alien is that when you look at them directly, they lose part of their power over you. Now, who am I describing: the Silents or the Weeping Angels?

As far as a redo goes, the Silents are kinda crap compared to the Angels, as their intro story was just written much more badly. This leads me to my next point.

Second, "Blink" is clever. For three years, that was Moffat's schtick on Doctor Who. He was the clever guy with the clever stories. He wasn't very clever after "Blink" (because really, "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" is just a rehash of his first three stories, with the god-awful inclusion of River Song), but he was very clever during it. How can it be a problem that he was clever, you might be asking yourself.

That's all there is in that story. There's the clever bits. The Doctor talks to me from the telly: clever. The Doctor talks to me with the same bit of conversation twice: clever. The Doctor tricks the all-powerful aliens without ever being there: clever. Sally creates her own past from her future: clever. Each other these alone is the amount of clever that you'd find in your standard episode of Who, but together, it drives out any other defining feature of the story.

Where's the intrigue? The extended action beats? The inevitably-but-not-necessarily-pathos-driven character drama? Moffat wrote a clever piece, and that was it. It works against "Blink" in the long run, because "Gridlock," "Smith and Jones," and "Utopia" were just more fun for their running time, and that's just in that same season.

Finally, the Doctor isn't there.

Yep. Out of the Angels, the clever script, and the absent lead, it's the absent lead that actually makes this good instead of over-estimated. The Doctor being gone adds to this episode, not because you get to see him operate from a (temporal) distance, but because Sally Sparrow is at risk. Sally is someone we as an audience were not committed to, so the writer can get away with killing her. The Doctor and companion-midseason are pretty much invincible, but Sally and Larry are prime killing material.

That's the only reason it's scary. That's the only reason we develop pathos so quickly. Sally is set up to die, not to be the surviving hero, simply because the Doctor is not there. What drives the story is that we see Sally having the same chances as we would, and all of us would probably die. And we all would. Really. The young cop didn't have a chance, but Sally-bleeding-Sparrow does? The standout thing about her (apart from the ontological paradox) is that she channels Neil Gaiman with her "sad is happy for deep people" line. And she falls in love with the geek, making her a bit of a Mary Sue in the process. (And trust me, making someone an audience equivalent and a Mary Sue at the same time is impressive.)

And that's it. "Blink" is good because Sally ought to die through most of it. Not the clever script. Not the scary Angels. Just the actual risk of a main character.

It's a bit of a golden calf, really.
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Tue Oct 16, 2012 11:27 pm
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The Dark Knight Rises (and other Batman thoughts) [spoiler-free]

Sean Franco
United States
Hammond
Louisiana
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Some random thoughts that have been circling my head since last night...


So we went to see The Dark Knight Rises last night. Spoiler-free, it was good. It was very good. I liked it more than The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man. Was it better than The Dark Knight? This was a question asked a few times last night. I'm going to come out and say no, but more because TDK was just that good and less because of any fault of TDKR. I will say that TDKR is a damn sight better than X3 or Spider-Man 3... so there's that simple hurdle to jump.


Thoughts about villains in The Dark Knight Trilogy:

BB: Ra's al Ghul is the primary antagonist here. There's something slightly unrealistic about the scope of his plan, like Nazis trying to settle the moon. There's also something fairly terrifying about the chance that said plan might actually succeed, like Nazis trying to settle the moon.

TDK: The Joker straddles the worlds of criminals and domestic terrorists. The two worlds simply feed into each other, with the goal never being power or money, but chaos. Well, chaos and having fun spreading chaos. That's probably the truly villainous thing about the Joker: he's just having fun when he does what he does.

TDKR: Bane is an out-and-out domestic terrorist with the face of a social revolutionary. It's like Occupy Wall Street had enough intensity of violence to plan 9/11. The Joker may have wanted to push people to evil, but Bane wanted to just destroy all of them. The Joker wanted to create chaos, but Bane wanted to create palpable despair. It's not the wanton destruction that drives the terror Bane causes; it's the deception.


Weird conversation from the drive home:

When examining the Joker from The Dark Knight, the closest comparison I can come up with is John Doe from Se7en. Neither of them are trying less to gain power, wealth, or notoriety. Instead, they both are about sending a message. They both even say it in their respective films, several times. The desired impacts of their respective plans are comparable, despite the actual meanings involved ("All of us can be evil, and you should get used to that" v. "All of us are evil, and I am God's way of you noticing that".)

When you think about it, Se7en is the Batman movie if Batman never existed and there was no hero to save the city. Also, Morgan Freeman is in both.
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Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:04 pm
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My recent and accidental splurge with deck-building

Sean Franco
United States
Hammond
Louisiana
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Like many people, I encountered Dominion soon after its release. Like many of those people, I was astounded at the simplicity but ingenuity of the game. Like everyone, I awaited the mechanic to become exploited but everyone else. And lo, it came to pass that such a thing totally happened. In the mean time, I acquired Dominion, as well as Seaside, Intrigue, and Prosperity.

And then the new games came out, and I was not very interested. Thunderstone had a theme I enjoyed, but it was clear that I would either be collecting it or Dominion with my budget, so I opted for the more streamlined game. I played Ascension on the iOS and could not have been more underwhelmed by the lack of construction strategy. Nightfall looked like it had some clever elements, but every good thing I heard about the game was matched with a negative.


And so forth. Each new deck builder came out, I'd look it over, and I'd decide that there wasn't a huge amount that I cared about investing in.

Core Worlds and Eminent Domain changed that. Both of them looked intriguing (for very different reasons; that's another post I've got in me somewhere). More importantly, both of them used deck building to make a game that wasn't about deck building. (This isn't actually new or exclusive, but it's generally been done with boards. A Few Acres of Snow and Mage Knight worked with this mechanic. StarCraft did it before Dominion was even out.) Plus, I'm a sucker for a sci-fi empire-building 4x-or-psuedo-4x games, and the fact that it was fast and pick-up (being a card game and all) as well as deck building (which still intrigued me) was a plus for both of these titles.

In the end, I settled on buying just one of these, and I bought Core Worlds. It came in, and I loved it. I played it six times the first weekend I had it. Then Tanga did their one day sale which was too good to pass up, and I wound up with Eminent Domain. I was happy with my purchase, and happy that I could get both for fairly cheaply.

Being the mild Terrinoth fan that I am, I was interested in Rune Age the moment it was announced. Terrinoth card game? Corey Konieczka design? Deck building? I knew I wanted to at least keep an eye on it. Then budget troubles came, and I lost track of a lot of games.

But this weekend, I stopped by Target with a $20 gift card someone game me. (Why someone would think I'm the Target kind of shopper, I'll never know...) I knew they had some board games, so I thought I'd check them out, intending to get something casual like Blokus, or Travel Blokus. However, I noticed a FFG logo immediately. Lord of the Rings? In a Target? And hidden behind that even was Rune Age, for only $29. I jumped on it, and played it no less than eight times this weekend. (We started with the co-op scenario, and kept playing until we beat it. Then we tried the other three scenarios.) The game really is good, ingeniously eliminating actions and buys by instead giving you virtually no draw- or deck-cycling-power.


And lo, it came to pass that I somehow wound up with three new deck building games in the space of about three weeks, with the intention of buying no more than one. I am very pleased with all of my purchases, and I'm glad that none of them actually feel like Dominion. I fully expect expansions for all of them, and fully intend to buy said expansions.

And on purpose, this time.
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Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:36 pm
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Review: [6.3] The Curse of the Black Spot

Sean Franco
United States
Hammond
Louisiana
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Before I jump into this week's episode, I want to make a quick addendum to last week's post on Day of the Moon. Specifically, I want to look at the way the Doctor stunningly defeated the Silents. There are two things which have been bothering me about that.

First, the Doctor has his whole plan worked out before the episode starts. Essentially, we're watching forty-five minutes of very minor things falling into place before the plan goes off. This forty-five minutes is padded with "scary" scenes at the orphanage and bizarre things happening to Amy, which will hopefully pay off later down the line. If they don't, then oh well.

Second, the Doctor (using a Silent proxy) orders half of humanity to kill the Silents. This strikes me as wrong for several reasons. One, he's not leading a revolution anymore (if he ever was); he's duping people into killing. Two, did the Doctor really not consider the traumatic implications of what he was ordering? For the next several years, possibly decades, people are killing monsters and then feeling at unease for not understanding why they suddenly feel guilty or have blood on their clothes. No wonder the UNIT soldiers all look uneasy when Liz Shaw shows up for her first interview. For the past several months, they've had discharged firearms without any memory of firing them. The Doctor essentially screws over the entire world by dropping emotional and damaging baggage galore on everyone. You hero, you.


But, onto this week's show. "The Curse of the Black Spot" [1] is an interesting and passable adventure. The idea of the alien spaceship is well executed, but the implications of the story are less impressive. Specifically, we'll look at the role of monsters, the role of Rory, and the lack of anything at stake.

The monster was a very intriguing idea in this episode. An omnipresent siren who could charm anyone wounded, turn red and throw people, and generally be untouchable is a fascinating monster. The same thing with the added bonus of being a generally benevolent nurse is still somewhat fascinating, but no longer a monster. This leads me to believe that Doctor Who is generally not interested in producing actual monsters anymore [2]. Doctor Who is more interested in producing tidy little ideas that no one sees coming, but hidden under the archetypes of monsters.

This problem goes back to series one. "The Unquiet Dead" was either a story about zombies or ghosts; it was hard to tell, and even harder to pin down after it was revealed that the Gelth were just aliens. Fast-foreword a year, and we have a very good werewolf story, apart from the fact that the werewolf tells Rose that he's just an alien. A year later, we have witches, except they're not witches but in fact aliens called Carrionites. There were supposedly vampires in Venice, except there were no vampires in Venice. The Siren is a perfectly good monster, until we find out that it's not a monster. In fact, the Siren is more like some really nifty software, which is an idea worth exploring and one of the reasons this story works to a certain extent. But there is no monster [3]. Is that really a problem? It's hard to say. Doctor Who has taken on Earth's hard mythology and left it in the land of myth before. Hell, there are three separate explanations for Atlantis sinking [4]. Doctor Who has also played with traditional archetypes before on several occasions [3 again]. I just don't like feeling that there has been a bait-and-switch.

However, moving on to Rory, I feel like I know exactly what I'm going to get each week. So far this series, he's been someone to talk to ("The Impossible Astronaut"), someone I kinda forgot about ("Day of the Moon"), and the damsel in distress ("The Curse of the Black Spot"). I choose the word damsel carefully, not out of any disrespect for Arthur Darvill, but based on the facts presented. He's first presented as a nurse (which isn't inherently feminine, but is counterpointed by the fact that a Doctor is always around) that the Doctor can't believe is dating Amy; he practically pushes her to the more masculine Jeff (ah, you'd forgotten all of that from "The Eleventh Hour," didn't you?) When he marries Amy, the Doctor observes that Rory will take Amy's last name rather than the traditional reverse of that situation.

Constantly, Rory and Amy are given gender-reversed roles when dealing with each other, and this week's story sells it even more. Rory drowns (helpless and unable to swim) and must be saved by Amy, who is almost certainly less qualified than the Doctor but still has to take the proactive masculine role, because that is how their relationship is defined [5]. Consequently, I never actually wonder what will happen to Amy anymore, certainly not when Rory's around. Rory won't protect her, but instead will take the fall for her.

Finally, I want to look at an idea that plays off of the first point a little bit. Specifically, nothing really seems to be at stake anymore in Doctor Who. Last week, I wasn't concerned for the Doctor or River Song at all, since I'd already seen them both die. But it really goes beyond that, and I'll go ahead and put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Steven Moffat.

Remember back in 2005, when at the end of "The Doctor Dances," the ninth Doctor is able to say with joy that everyone lives? He does that because at least one person dies in every previous story, for forty-two years [6]. This happens because the Doctor is able to reverse an accident that happened in a situation without an antagonist force (apart from unseen Nazis, but they're barely in the story). That's a single perfect victory for a Doctor that's already on the ropes after killing his entire race. It's good for him.

But then River blatantly steals his line in "Forest of the Dead," after almost everyone (including her) has in fact died. Why would Moffat write this in? It's so clearly false, and undermines the importance of River's final sacrifice [7]. Moffat is, for some reason, afraid to kill in his stories. Madame de Pompadour was destined to die because history already tells us she dies. Everyone who dies in "Blink" does so after living rewarding lives with happy families. I can't remember if anyone died in "The Eleventh Hour," but it set a tone for the rest of the series. Bracewell should have died, but the Doctor tells him to go on a date instead. People die in "Amy's Choice," before we find out that it's all a dream. "A Christmas Carol" is about people not dying and just hanging out instead [8].

Between no one at real risk of dying (point three) and no real monsters (point one), we find "The Curse of the Black Spot." Everyone lives, even the people who "die" before the story properly starts. The monster is dealt with, because it's just a friendly computer. The pirates become space pirates, which is cool in its own way. (How much do you want to bet that they all come back by the end of the next series? It's virtually guaranteed [9].) When no one dies, no one is ultimately threatened, the monster checks your temperature for you, and everyone ends up with kick-ass toys at the end... is it really still Doctor Who?

See you next week, Who fans!!



======================================

The footnotes:

[1] I'll get this out of the way now: yes, you changed one word of the subtitle of a famous Johnny Depp film which is also about pirates. I really wonder which was conceived first here, the title or the story.

[2] Unless Agatha Christie is (for some reason) around.

[3] Rethinking this, I tried to come up with a reasonable example in classic Who and realized that the mummies in "Pyramids of Mars" are actually robots instead of mummies, fulfilling the general conditions of monsters not being real monsters. However, I'm willing to forgive that one because the titles implies that there are Pyramids on Mars; from moment one, you should know something is up. Unless the mummies were in fact undead and shrouded Ice Warriors. Which would be awesome. (Other classic Who examples would include Yeti being robots and Dæmons being aliens.)

[4] For those playing at home, "The Underwater Menace," "The Dæmons," and "The Time Monster."

[5] I don't want anyone to think that I'm a misogynist here. I've had two years of graduate English shoving Judith Butler, Gayle Rubin, and Laura Mulvey in my face; I've been trained to read male and female characters this way. I'd much rather pull out some Edward Said, Walter Benjamin, or Marshall McLuhan, but they've not really applied yet.

[6] Not strictly true, I guess, if you count "The Edge of Destruction," or whatever we're calling it this week. However, if you say the slightly more clunky "at least one non-regular character dies in every previous story, for forty-two years," then we've hit upon the spirit of what I'm saying.

[7] A gimmick which has bugged me every since, as it means that Moffat will never (and can never) kill River off, since he's already done it. As someone who is irritated by her character, I dream for the day that she meets the Doctor... 'cause then she's gone.

[8] The larger message isn't that Stephan Moffat doesn't kill. He kills at least one random character in "The Impossible Astronaut." However, he makes an active and vocal point to not kill.

[9] The same way that Jenny was "guaranteed" to come back. That's why I'm not actually betting.
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Mon May 9, 2011 9:22 pm
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Classifying our games by genre: A mix-up of Elegance, Drama, and Realism

Sean Franco
United States
Hammond
Louisiana
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The Set-Up

There was an interesting comment made some four years ago that was recently brought to my attention which claimed that The Ameritrash 'Core Priority' is Drama, The Eurogame 'Core Priority' is Elegance, The Wargame 'Core Priority' is Realism. I found this to be a very fascinating concept, both for the way it really did break down the cores of these genres and the way that games could be measured by these rubrics.

What I found even more intriguing was the idea that we could measure all games by these core values, not just those associated with the relevant genre. How often have we argued whether or not Chaos in the Old World was Ameritrash or Euro? Is Twilight Struggle a wargame or Euro? What I am presenting here is not an answer for those questions, nor does it presuppose that an answer is needed or even exists. What I am presenting is a visual representation of what certain games offer of certain core values, and by proxy who they might appeal to.

The Disclaimer

If you really want to complain about how I scored things or the significance of these scores, feel free to. This is how I see these games, but it's truly a subjective measure. Further discussion on the matter will help develop and clarify concepts.


Modern Art



Modern Art is a classic Euro title from Knizia himself. The rules are simple and clever, scoring an 8 out of 10 on my scale. The auctions offer a minimal amount of drama, scoring a 4 out of 10. The way that trends offer bigger payouts I found to be a reasonable stab at realism, scoring a 5 out of 10. This gives of an area of a decent size, but one clearly skewed for the Eurogamer.

Caylus



And now, one of the scorned titles of the Ameritrash gamers, Caylus. I rather like this game with two or three players, so I wanted to look at it as well. Every piece of this game works together so neatly, so elegance gets a 9. However, there's never really any doubt about what's going to happen or what a set of optimal moves are, so drama scores only a 1. Realism actually does a little better, since it is a reasonable idea to stimulate the local economy to fund and facilitate federal building projects, so we score a 3 here. Our total area is much smaller than with Modern Art, and clearly only appealing to Eurogamers.

Power Grid



And now Power Grid, a nice and meaty Euro which is highly regarded and fairly popular. The game play is nice and tight, scoring a 9. However, unlike Caylus, the game play remains tense to the end, so drama scores an 8. Finally, the three different market systems (auctions for the power plants, supply/demand for the fuel, and physical geographical costs for the cities) create a realistic feel that some other Euros lack; here, Power Grid gets a 6. By looking at total area here, it's easy to see why Power Grid might get such mass appeal.

Fury of Dracula



Entering the realm of classic Ameritrash, we examine Fury of Dracula. This is where rule sets become slightly fiddly and not every rule is intuitive, hence an elegance score of 3. However, the narrative of the game is exciting, and every player will tense when Dracula's trail is stumbled upon. Drama receives a strong 8. The game doesn't well simulate the real world (you traveled how far by carriage in one day?) or capture the true logic or narrative of its source material, so realism get a 2. This is a game Ameritrash players should love, but it might not have a wide appeal beyond.

Castle Ravenloft



On the flip side, last year's Dungeons and Dragons title got a lot of buzz and has already spawned two sequels. Its quick and simple game play helped (9), but its tendency to constantly leave heroes near death didn't hurt either (9). However, I still hear some people complain about its scripted and programmed monsters and horribly illogical random encounters (4). Regardless, the total area for Castle Ravenloft should explain its popularity.

StarCraft



A new classic of the Ameritrash genre, StarCraft took Dudes-on-a-Map game play to a new level. It had a slightly complex rule set, but a clever one regardless. I scored this as a 3. The dramatic value is intense, though. There is no way to turtle in this game, and you only survive by constant attacking. Finally, I see a 10 in drama. By keeping very close to its source material (the closest measure of realism I could figure in a game about humans fighting bugs fighting psychic paladins in space), the game gets a 5. The game should have a massive appeal with the Ameritrash lot; I believe it actually does, as well.

Go



I felt the need to throw in an abstract at this point and see how it did. What better abstract than Go? With pretty much only two or three rules but limitless strategy, I feel safe saying there is a perfect elegance score. Also, ask anyone who's played an exciting and well-matched Go game. It's brilliant, so there's a perfect drama score as well. However, there's no attempt at a theme, and there's nothing to pretend to be real about, so the perfect abstract appropriately gets a 0 in realism. Interestingly, though, there's no real reason for wargamers to dislike this game at all.

Brandywine



I wanted to look at a classic counter-pushing war game, so I chose Brandywine. The map and counter strengths are meticulously researched I'm sure, so there's a 9 for realism. The game is quite tense as well, as a proper war game should be, so I gave it an 8 for drama. The rules and game play are somewhat dry and fiddly, though, so only a 2 for elegance.

Twilight Struggle



The current rankings king here, Twilight Struggle has been a hit for a long time. It's simple to learn but complex to master game play hooks players and keeps them, so there's an 8. The narrative is strong and tense all the way through: 9. The basic game play is based on the admittedly disproved domino theory of political science, so Twilight Struggle gets a 4 here. Some might want a high score for realism since the rules and theme are integrated so well, but I see that more as elegance than realism. Regardless, the appeal is obvious from the overall size of the above graph.

1870



On a whim, I decided to end with a train game. Clever but fiddly rules that are hard to immerse yourself in yield an elegance of 3. The drama of buying stock and laying track just does not deliver a tense narrative, so only a 2. However, stock buying and company management are cleverly represented, with some period detail: 7. Do train games appeal to wargamers?

Wrap Up

What I've basically done is come up with some rash assessments and thrown them together graphically. I don't see myself as a Eurogamer or an Ameritrash gamer or a wargamer, so I pretend that I maintained some objectivity above. I also assume that some kind of high appeal on two or three of three axes would imply high appeal to most gamers.

However...

I am interested in what you have to say about my scoring, the conclusions that may be drawn from any such scoring, and your scores for these and other games that might interest you. If you'd like my original blank graph, it's here. Or, frankly, make a nicer looking one if you'd like; I'm no graphic designer.
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Wed May 4, 2011 7:11 am
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Review: [6.1/6.2] The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon

Sean Franco
United States
Hammond
Louisiana
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I wanted to use this blog to review Doctor Who episodes as they come out, but I delayed the start of it for a week to allow for the two-part series opener.

My first impressions of "The Impossible Astronaut" were negative. The haphazard and clumsy approaches of series 5 were coming back in force, starting with a sequences of random events which will presumably be explored throughout the upcoming series. This is such a minor quibble, though, so I don't know why it bothers me. Perhaps I don't want to be sold on the idea of Doctor Who when I'm already watching Doctor Who. If someone can give me a really good explanation of how those scenes added to the story at hand, I'll listen [1]. But, as it is right now, I can't see why we couldn't just jump into the story at hand. I felt distracted from the beginning, and that's not a good place to be distracted.

That simple complaint aside, there are three things that I would like to critique. Before that, I'd like to say that I largely enjoyed these two episodes (certainly compared to series 5, at least). Steven Moffat grew some as a writer for his previously weak characters, and Matt Smith and Karen Gillan both played their roles with more self-poise and maturity than before, but more work does need to be done with them both. Arthur Darvill is still, sadly, forgettable for most of the episodes, redeemed only by his discussion with the Doctor about Rome.

But, there are still three big things to discuss: the Silents, Nixon, and the story structure itself.

The Silents come across as truly menacing villains, which they are until some more thought is put into them. They really are tailor-made for the kind of invasion/occupation Moffat envisioned for them [2], and nothing else really would be as successful for this story. This ignores the fact that Moffat already sold us on this exact alien four years ago. That time he called them the Weeping Angels.

Imagine an alien. That alien is potentially all around the planet, but no one would really believe that there was a threat if you told them about it. This alien is tremendously powerful, can kill you quickly, or can simply choose to manipulate your life the way it wants to. The only advantage you have over this alien is that when you look at them directly, they lose part of their power over you. Now, who am I describing: the Silents or the Weeping Angels?

We really have seen this alien threat before. I'll give Moffat some leniency and say that perhaps the Silents still have a role to play in the bigger plot of this seasons, but right now, I find them to be interchangeable for all practical purposes. When I see the bigger plan with them, hopefully they'll get some development as well; an alien with a simple power and an exposition-revealed-threat-to-humanity™ just isn't that interesting. Give us some personality or purpose for a greater plan. Don't give us an alien that can be taken down by a well-timed video of a single sentence.

The depiction of Richard Nixon is probably the worst depiction of a celebrity in Doctor Who yet [3]. I understand that we're dealing with two episodes of television drama, so it that visually and performance-wise, we're not going to get Frank Langella [4]. In this regard, I'll forgive Stuart Milligan's tremendously underwhelming acting. However, Moffat's script treats the character with the same man-on-the-street knowledge of the man which just isn't that tasteful or reliable. He's first mentioned thus:

River Song: President Richard Milhouse Nixon. Vietnam. Watergate. There's some good stuff too.
The Doctor: Not enough.

Already, we see that Nixon will be demonized for a scandal that ended his Presidency, and that the rest of his accomplishments will be written off as "not enough." One gets the impression that Moffat wouldn't have even used that character, except he needed the President during the Moon landings. River's statement also lumps Nixon's actions in Vietnam with Watergate, with Nixon's sins. River's retrospection somehow forgets that Nixon was the President that ultimately ended America's participation in the Vietnam War; Johnson or Kennedy would have been better targets [5].

Nixon's actual character in the show is a buffoon. Every time he meets another American, he acts like a glad-handing politician, not terribly concerned with the alien occupation that has taken place. At the end, he's desperate to know if he'll be remembered. When Dickens asks this in The Unquiet Dead, he's a man coming out of depression, who the Doctor answers out of love and with the knowledge that he would die in a matter of weeks. When Nixon asks this, it cements the idea of the self-centered man, worthless for nothing but a scandal, who the Doctor answers with a smirk and a joke about David Frost. I know that I come off as a Nixon apologetic here, but I think some level of accuracy and respect for the man would have added to the episode. Instead, we're left with Nixon as a punchline.

Finally, the story structure itself bothers me. Part of it is Moffat's insistence to play with the order of time. River's pathos at the end, for example, is completely ineffective. It means she's sadder for the past three years we saw her, but the writer and actress did not know about her sadness then, so her stories and performance do not reflect this new pathos. Additionally, her pathos will get negated by the next time we see her, since she'll still have her kissing-relationship with the Doctor then.

The gap between "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon" is conspicuously awkward by its absence. The most interesting question for me after the first episode was how was the Doctor going to learn about the Silents for long enough to develop a plan? Answer: he does it! Wait... that's not a how... But it doesn't matter. Let's jump ahead to the Doctor and his beard [7] and his unbeatable prison [8] and not deal with the single most interesting question in the whole story.

Finally, the Doctor is faced with several huge questions: Is Amy pregnant? Why can't the TARDIS tell? Who sent the invitations? Why is everyone so nervous about him? His response: let's go much off and have some adventures. These seem like big, world changing questions. I understand that the series has to go on with some other stories, but have it do so with something better than, "I'm the Doctor and I would like to ignore my problems." And frankly, why isn't anyone telling the Doctor about his death? He specifically told Amy in "The Beast Below" not to keep that kind of stuff from him. He, of all people, would be equipped to deal with it. Would future-Doctor really just get them together to fight the Silents, or was there a bigger picture that Amy et al are all missing? I'm sure it's the latter, and I'm sure we won't get an answer until either the series finale or the mid-series finale.

To recap, these episodes were better than last year, they were fun to watch, Moffat writes the same aliens over, Moffat sucks at writing history, and Moffat sucks at story pacing and exposition.

See you next week, Who fans!!



======================================

The footnotes:

[1] Telling me that those scenes are from the next two hundred years of the Doctor's life that we've missed doesn't make sense if they are actually part of the upcoming series; then they'd be from the next few months of the Doctor's life. If those scenes aren't from the upcoming series, then my apologies; I'm wrong.

[2] Even if it is an invasion/occupation, though, it's not a real one. No one knows about it, which either makes it very good or very boring. When will Doctor Who do a full occupation of Earth again? They did it 1964 with the Daleks, but in the new series, they keep giving up on the idea. The Cybermen were only around for a matter of hours in "Doomsday," and all of the events in "The Last of the Time Lords" get reset. Earth never is truly subjugated, and that's a really good story that no one wants to tell.

[3] Dickens is clearly the best, followed by Queen Victoria. Shakespeare was well written and acted, even if his story was less so. The same can be said about Agatha Christie. Finally, Van Gogh was better than Churchill; Nixon is, sadly, on the bottom.

[4] Of course, Frank Langella had several months to develop the character on stage before filming his multiple-award-nominated take of Nixon in Frost/Nixon. Also, look at Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone's Nixon and Philip Baker Hall in Robert Altman's Secret Honor.

[5] Then again, she's just an archeology professor [6], not a history professor. 'Cause that totally makes sense.

[6] And how much are we actually going to make River Song into Bernice Summerfield? I'm sure that Paul Cornell doesn't care, since he thought that "Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone" was (quote) "best... Doctor Who... ever!" I'd rather just have Benny involved as a character at one point. However, Doctor Who has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to shamelessly co-op Virgin NA characters for its own needs, generally as lesser characters. Don't believe me? Watch the end of "The Doctor's Daughter" again (if you can make it to the end). Then read the end of Transit by Ben Aaronovitch. Then tell me that Jenny isn't totally ripping of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. She is.

[7] If you give the man a beard, give the man a beard. Don't throw it into enough scenes that you can put it into the trailers, and then shave it off as soon as possible. That's usually called a stunt, specifically a publicity stunt.

[8] One, was the perfect prison the point of "The Pandorica Opens" and "The Big Bang"? Two, some explanation for how the US government got its hands on some "zero balance dwarf star alloy, the densest material in the universe" would have been nice. How the US government was able to manipulate it into boxes would have been nice. Britain can wave its Torchwood-plot-card in these circumstances, but dropping Area 51 onto a title card and not dealing with the issue doesn't fly.
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Mon May 2, 2011 8:55 pm
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Musings on the P500 and Fantasy Flight (again)

Sean Franco
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Hammond
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I've long been a fan of the concept of the P500 publishing system run over at GMT, but I never really bothered to do anything with it until recently. GMT gave out a promotional coupon on Facebook, so I finally joined their site to use it. I wound up with my own copy of Dominant Species at last, but I decided to actually look into some P500 games since I was there. Dominant Species: The Card Game was immediately added, as was Sun of York and Crown of Roses (my interest in the Wars of the Roses reawakened by my recent purchase of Richard III), as well as a few other games. And I'm just getting started with the P500. It satisfies my need to buy a whole lot of board games at once, while at the same time being kind to my wallet, since I'm not actually paying for a whole lot of board games at once. It's a very happy medium.

It makes me wonder what the business model of GMT is from inside the company, especially relative to their profits. On one hand, they make games that they know that people want to buy, because they won't even make it until enough people pledge to buy it. It means that there are very few secrets or surprises as far as design goes, but they're also hitting a rather niche aspect of an already niche market. There are other publishers putting out primarily content-first simulation wargames, but are there designers out there cackling to themselves as they steal designs?

Fantasy Flight does the complete opposite, virtually. They release very limited information in controlled previews designed to more whet the appetite more than to inform the consumer. Sometimes, they don't even reveal games in development until their imminent release. This model works for them, though; their BGG page describes them as being "the 5th largest publisher of boardgames in the world," so they're doing something right.

Right now, I feel myself being equally willing to buy games from these two companies, but really, why? I buy GMT games because I know I like the complete game I've looked over. I buy FFG games because I know they do bad-ass games, with crazy themes and settings that fascinate me. I can name designers in both companies that I look out for. I can name settings in both companies that I look out for. I can name mechanics and systems in both companies that I look out for. I am satisfied by both companies in the same ways.

But I still want to see more people use the P500 system. Using FFG as an example, since I've already lauded them as a company I already like, would another company do as well with the P500 system? FFG doesn't need it to support themselves, surely; when you're the fifth largest game publisher, your "critical failures" are still probably going to sell well enough to cover costs, something which the P500 was supposedly created to prevent. Regardless of this, does FFG deliver what I want? I certainly want what they often deliver, but that's a little different.

FFG engaging in a P500 system full-on would probably be a bad idea. Even when we see their rules PDFs ahead of time, we're not buy exclusively for game content. We're also buying quality boards, quality art, plastic minis, ten sheets of cardboard punch-outs, and five decks of oddly-sized cards. You can't cover all of that with a P500 system. GMT doesn't even finalize art until they decide they have enough pre-orders to publish.

What FFG could do (and I suspect a lot of people would support me here) is setup a P500-esque system for reprints. Their reprint schedule is seemingly haphazard, and probably based more on game-distributor and -store demands more than customer demands. A pre-order system would help address the voices of the consumer. We already know what the games would look like, what their bits are, and how they play. There would be no foundational development cost. We could just say which games we want to see again, and pledge to buy them.

Maybe I'm just not willing to drop $200 on a copy of Blue Moon at an online store, a game for which I've bought four expansion decks for in the time that I've not been able to purchase the base game because it's out of print. Or maybe FFG is just making enough money under their current business model that they don't need to change up their game. Maybe they loss the license from Kosmos for American printings (although this seems unlikely).

If movie studios used a P500-esque system to make films, would any film ever get made? Probably, but we'd all know the script. We'd all say it sucks before the movie came out. But we like FFG more than that.

Don't be scared, Fantasy Flight. We'll pre-order your reprints.
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Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:32 pm
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Dear FFG: I would like some more 40K (board games) please

Sean Franco
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I'll admit it. I was a little apprehensive when I originally saw that Fantasy Flight had got the license from GW a few years ago to make original Warhammer material. Now, a few years in, I see now at my fears were all for naught. I've always liked FFG, and seeing their treatment of other adapations, why should I have worried? Battlestar Galactica captured all of the paranoia and tension of the show. Anyone who played StarCraft could easily jump into StarCraft: tBG. The same justice is done beautifully when adapting a pre-existing tabletop franchise like Warhammer.

But...

This might be a minor nitpick, but where are my 40K games?

FFG has actually been pumping out a good deal of 40K material, but it's mostly in their RPG department: Rogue Trader, Dark Heresy, Deathwatch, and the new Black Crusade make up not only the bulk of FFG's RPG department, but also their 40K output.

What else is there? Horus Heresy is a fine game, but it's just one. There's Death Angel, but while Death Angel feels like Space Hulk and Space Hulk feels like 40K, the syllogism does not complete. Death Angel does not feel like 40K. (A fine game, mind, but it just feels separate from the mythology.)

Compare this to Warhammer Fantasy's representations at FFG. It's a boardgamer's delight: Invasion, with twenty-odd expansion packs yet; the much lauded Chaos in the Old World, with already announced expansion; and the supposedly upcoming Blood Bowl Team Manager.

The numbers comparison may not seem significant, but look at the variety of topics. WF has a Chaos game where you play a god, a card game where you play major races, and a deck-builder that deals with a slightly tongue-in-cheek spin-off of WF. 40K has a famous battle, one certainly well done, but one that does not represent the wide extent of 40K mythology the way that WF is represented.

Where are my big 40K games? Where are my six-player slugfests, where players can choose from twenty different factions? I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting something more from FFG than more RPG modules. Maybe there's something in the works right now. Maybe they'll spring a big secret on us. But I can just hope and wish for more 40K. I just need to tell them what I want.

I want more 40,000 please.


EDIT: Thank you, Relic. It's a start.
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Sat Apr 16, 2011 10:26 pm
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