Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Hobbit

Peter Jackson and the crew crafted some of the greatest films of all time in his treatment of the Lord of the Rings, bringing Tolkien's tale and world to life for us all. So with the decision to make the hobbit films came much enthusiasm from fans everywhere. So the first of the films to grace our screens is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and while it can be seen in 3D in 48 frames per second quality, I saw it with the family in a very basic 2D cinema.

I admit I had very high expectations and while some of those expectations were met, alas there was much to be confused or disappointed by as well. Maybe the intent was to bind this film into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but in many ways it felt more like rehashing instead. Right from the intro we are presented with a sameness - merging it with the other films so much it all but vanishes. Also, while there are things that must remain from the book, I thought the writers from the LotR films did a super job of changing things from the books to improve the films - here in the Hobbit perhaps they should have done more. Yes, giant Eagles are cool once, certainly twice, here for the third time, not so much without adding something more to their appearance. The method used to intro the film, again was just too much of the same, there must have been another way to bring us into this world again without using the same story telling idea.

[The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey promo imagery vis the official site]

The film suffered from an identity issue, many films mix light hearted even comedic sequences with real drama and action, this creates the places to breathe and gives a beat to a piece of cinema. Here however we don't get this, we get confusion. In the Fellowship of the Ring the happy home of the Hobbits is presented with a real function, to highlight the contrast that is the world of men and the darkness that is coming. This not only gives us the audience a sense of what will be lost if evil prevails, but allows our heroic Hobbits to think back on their happy lives and where there place in the world should be. Alas in The Hobbit movie, we get a watered down version of this followed by the intro of the Dwarves which aren't that contrasted - they are jolly fellows really - even though they are frustrating for Bilbo. They don't seem that hardly done by, the reason for the quest isn't conveyed well enough to us to get behind the group.

The Dwarves are confusing as well, sometimes they possess super-hero-comic like prowess, tossing plates or hordes of goblins around but at other times they are clumsy and helpless as in the second encounter with the warg goblins or against the trolls. This made them hard to bond with, are they silly cartoon characters or are they something we should try to invest in emotionally.

[The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey promo imagery vis the official site]

Splitting up the film as it was with a 'come back for more' ending also made the whole film fall flatter than it might have, as a setup movie there might have been no choice, but we should have had something epic resolved at this mid-point which then leads into an even greater challenge. The action sequences that are the staple of the film are a confusing bunch as well, are we meant to care about these characters, they are often silly with no fear for our heroes. Even the Trolls are amusing rather than dangerous, it feels like Bilbo just needed to pad out the conversation for a few minutes and hey presto the sun comes up and all is well.

That was all a bit ranty, there is quality here of course - the special effects, costumes, attention to world detail and musical score are all gorgeous. While these elements could be what saves the film in my head, they aren't anything new either, matching the wonders from the Lord of the Rings films. The HobbitBlog site has some super production videos that give a glimpse of how vast an undertaking it is to craft a film of this scale and visual quality. In Vid #9 you get a feel for the insane number of talented people all doing their part, even the musicians playing on the soundtrack just play straight off the music - inspired. There are other CG articles of course - this one on herocomplex has some nice visuals of the Goblin King.

There were things I did like of course, Radagast the Brown was great fun with his racing about the forest and slightly disturbed mental state. Even if the film missed the mark on a bunch of things, making cinema on this scale is still remarkable and I hope people keep at it. Final remark, Rivendell feels truly special, magical and remarkable in LotR - mainly because of the reactions of the characters, they imparted that special sense to us, in the Hobbit it was much less so somehow ... oh well.

--- edit ---

Check out the new article on CGSociety on the CG for the film, from teh 48fps, to Gollum and multiple sets.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Descent 2E

Our little 5 human Descent 2E group has played 2 quests now for and I am very excited by the idea of a board game that slots in between the traditional board game and the full role playing experience. Here we have a game which tells a story, at the campaign and quest level and (if the players put some effort in) at the Hero and Monster level. While our games have got bogged down in the intricacies of the movement and action strategies the story that unfolds is very entertaining. The highly thought through strategic playing has made for some marathon sessions for two quests so far. "The Shadow Rune" initial campaign hints at greater things to come for Hero and Overlord alike.

The game balances on a tricky knife's edge with one person (me) being the Overlord while everyone else is playing cooperatively. But so far it has panned out very well, if they don't want the monsters to attack the weaker characters then they should protect them better... People are getting into their characters and our understanding of the rules in improving so the basics impose a little less on the story telling.
The rules are complex and there are plenty of bits we missed, didn't quite get right or seem counter-intuitive which hasn't helped our games being too long. Maybe we will get faster as we go.

The game looks excellent on the table with the map elements, miniatures, tokens and character sheets. The production values are very - check our BGG's image gallery. Here are 4 images of games in play:

[Descent 2E photos of the game in action via BoardGameGeek]

The idea of a board game having a campaign is in itself pretty rare, add to that the clear opportunity for creative roleplay around the actions in the game and things are are looking very exciting for gaming on the tabletop. Having heroes cheer when their mighty hammer caves in the head of an Ettin or cringe in despair as Monsters pummel them with the aid of their unseen overlords magic.
I would have liked a 'flipping over' health and stamina token logic - maybe we can colour one side to achieve this as it would show more clearly what characters have and how close they are to being exhausted or downed.

One thing that Fantasy Flight Games have added for the community (apart from the Lair of Wyrm expansion and the previous edition conversion kit) is the brand spanking new Quest Vault. This online toolset is in open beta and allows the community to create quests for the game with a great looking map and scenario editor. Players can then download the quests with the same look quality as the boxed set and extend the life of the game even more. It may be that I would get greedy and wish for more than 5 spiders or 5 gobbos if I was to generate a new adventure or campaign - token city.

It was a glorious finale to the second quest with chubby Splig taken down 1 square from the exit, a complex game that can deliver a result that close is very clever indeed (even with the rule errors we made). With Splig finding Frederick was the last prisoner the heroes had the upper hand until Splig made a violent dash for the exit. Really looking forward to more now, as well as trying Mouse Guard for a fully coop game of similar type.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Stone Age and more KS Games

Picked up my first 'worker placement' board game to try out this mechanic and it was in the form of Rio Grande's Stone Age (more info on BGG). The family had a great time sending our little crazy haired people out to work collecting food and resources or constructing buildings etc. While there is no direct 'attacking' of other players, you do get in each others way and can stop people from doing things. We certainly enjoyed it enough to play a bunch of games, but I will reserve full judgement for when we have had different groups playing- it certainly looks great on the table and has nice pieces all round (even the stone age dice cup).

[Stone Age in action photo via BoardGameGeek]


Here are two more KickStarter board games that look interesting. First up Pirates vs Dinosaurs which brings together boardgame genius Richard Launius and the gorgeous artwork of Josh Cappel. I like the idea, though KickStarter didnt get them what they need. Then Rivet Wars which will see Ted Terranova's world come to life in a mini powered wargame - but oh so cute.