I AM BACK, and have not rested upon my laurels but labored and learned, like Hercules and like Smartcules, his buff cousin who wears glasses and learns by punching. We installed a new floor in our spare room! It was very difficult, but allow me to give you a piece of advice: if you ever have an idea that you think is too stupid to work, try it anyway, because while doing this we hit a catastrophic, project-ending problem and the solution that worked, the spaghetti that stuck to the wall before we gave up and spent thousands more dollars we hadn’t budgeted for, was “what if we picked up the entire floor in one piece and moved it”. Believe in your stupid ideas, they are powerful because they’re too dumb to know they shouldn’t work.
Here’s what I got up to during November besides reading comics!
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Holy shit, what a game, you guys.
This isn’t the kind of card game I’m usually into–I’ll take a Slay The Spire or Griftlands or Dicey Dungeons (shut up, dice and cards are the same thing)–but I’d heard too many people with too diverse tastes unanimously praise this and whoa, doctor were they right.
The gameplay loop is simple: every turn you accrue energy, use it to play cards with point values and abilities (Add Another Copy Of This Card To Your Hand, +6 Power To The Location To The Right, +2 For Every Other Card At This Location, etc.) into one of three locations which may also have abilities or modifiers; whoever controls the most locations by having the highest point-total at them at the end of the match wins, and the winner gets a wagered number of Cubes, which raise your rank and, as money will do, can’t buy you friends but does get you a better class of enemy.
The strategy can get surprisingly deep and would’ve still made this a must-play all on its own, but it’s the aftermath that hooks you like a cenobite hooks an unwary jaded billionaire: as you play the game, you’re assigned randomly-generated Missions that have discrete parameters like ‘Play 10 2-Cost Cards’ or ‘Win A Location With Only One Card’, or ‘Win 5 Matches’, which you chip away at cumulatively; as you complete these, they reward you with Credits and/or Boosters, both of which are necessary to upgrade your cards. The upgrades have I think six??? levels, but interestingly they offer no mechanical benefit and are purely aesthetic, BUT as you achieve them, it increases your overall collector level, which gives you free cards and more upgrade resources at regular intervals. It’s an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop that rewards smart, goal-oriented play and lets you keep using your favorite cards and strategies because the upgrades are only aesthetic, so you won’t wind up with the equivalent of a Keyblade that you love but really should’ve swapped out after Agrabah.
There’s a lot more to it and I know I don’t understand it 100% yet, but if any of this pinged your interest you have no reason not to check it out because it’s FREE, and yes, you can pay human money to buy all the resources you want (I myself bought the Season Pass and a thing of Gold one time) but it’s absolutely possible to play it at full strength without spending a dime, albeit at a slower pace.
[UPDATE: since beginning this article I’ve picked it up before going to bed and ended up accidentally playing until midnight TWICE, send help]
Pokémon Scarlet & Violet
And on the other end of the spectrum, we have the most absolutely broken, janky-ass game that’s ever made me love it. Come on down to Paldea, we got:
The gameplay itself is actually a fantastic improvement on series formula and is simply chocka with quality-of-life and anti-frustration features like all trainer-battles being optional and quittable, your storage-Box is accessible from the field, wild Pokémon are visible from the field and so avoidable, you can edit nicknames and re-learn forgotten moves at any time, and there’s a Let’s Go Mode that allows you to basically shoot your lead critter at wild mon in the field for only a fraction of the EXP, but without needing to have a full battle about it. It’s such a shame that the thing runs like a millipede with vertigo and toe-cramps, jagging and crashing and the faith-destroying horrors above; it’s like having an extremely sexy car with all the Blueteeth and bum-toasters and Giancarlo Esposito-voice GPS, but it randomly stalls on the highway, bursts into snakes in the Wendy’s drive-through, and farts up your garage.
That said, I’m still having a ball playing it, because we don’t come to Pokémon for technical excellence, we come to it for the joy of catching our favorite monstros; for my part, I’m thanking Arceus that Mareep is in this version because that means I get to play Pokémon the way I lke best: raising an Ampharos, pumping it full of every supplement and Rare Candy I can find, and soloing it until it can Thunderpunch your god to death.
If This Book Exists,
You’re In The Wrong Universe,
By Jason Pargin/David Wong
A spookytime book to read to my wife at bedtime!
Every one of the John Dies At The End books (this one is billed as A John, Dave, And Amy Novel, but we’ve discussed my feelings on bland series nomenclature before) has a central theme and a general flavor of horror-fiction:
- John Dies At The End is straight Lovecraftian cosmic whatnot with dick jokes and dealt with Ship-of-Theseus identity questions more than a decade before Vision did. Also: a freezer full of meat assembles itself into a construct con carne and fights a priest with a ghost-finding TV show over the phone.
- This Book Is Full Of Spiders (Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It) emphasizes that paranoia, mistrust, and groupthink are more dangerous to humanity than any outside threat, and was a then-fresh and still VERY upsetting take on parasitic body horror and zombie apocalypse
- What The Hell Did I just Read: A Novel Of Cosmic Horror dealt with its visceral, squamous version of the fae changeling story, the fallibility of memory, the incompetence and human failings of organizations from FEMA to a timeline-monitoring agency, and the dog-stealing cryptic known only as BATMANTIS???
Every book also hits hard on the practical realities of poverty and how it makes literally every other part of life harder, from eating healthily to mental health to relationships to sleep; if they weren’t as absolutely bonkers fun and hilarious and smart as they are, they’d be real bummers.
So this one starts out with an egg-toy that hatches into a Beanie Baby if you feed it through its app, only it starts asking a girl for teeth and hair and eyeballs; three guesses what the theme is this time around:
It’s not subtle! It’s not supposed to be! But there’s also a group of incel chuds trying to use the eggs to break free of the simulation they think they’re trapped in, and a book with a hole in it leading to somewhere…else??? And that’s just in the first quarter! These books are rad and I recommend them, with the small caveat that the first two do contain some uh, very circa-2009 language, such as “ret*rded” being used as an insult, that the author has thankfully intentionally grown out of since.
Star Trek: Lower Decks
I would consider myself a fairly high-level Star Trek nerd; I own a bust of Picard, my profile picture at work was Worf in his white tuxedo until I realized I was doing digital blackface, I’ve written a Barbershop song called Qapla’ My Coney Island Klingon, and I’ve actually watched Voyager. But I hadn’t seen any Lower Decks, primarily due to its Rick And Morty-ass mien and its level of memetic oversaturation.
But since quitting Twitter at the Dawn of the Age of Muskrat I have, to my shame, been Booking a lot more Face, prominent among its few redeeming features being some truly excellent meme groups, such as Rancho Relaxo, Arrested Development Bluthposting, homestar runner crapposting™, Seinfeld SoupPosting and, in this case, Shaxsposting, which is particularly wholesome and filled with good-hearted people adding ‘baby bear’ to Uncle Iroh quotes. But eventually we ran out of half-hour shows to watch at the end of the night, I ran out of reasons not to try it, and I will spend the rest of my days preaching the Word of Lower Decks to all who will hear it, because behind the comedic lens, razor sharp writing and absolutely stellar performances lies maybe the truest, purest Star Trek series ever made; it is consistently, belligerently optimistic and believes in hope and peace while also being able to see the flaws in the Federation and the problems with implementing its philosophies and policies, thus marrying the two main perspectives present across most of the franchise’s incarnations. It’s also constantly in conversation with every other Trek, referencing the Gorn and Salt Vampires one episode, having Tom Paris visit the next, then a Quark’s franchise location, regular appearances from Riker and Troi, and doubtless references to Enterprise and Disco that I’m not catching; it’s what my pals Adam and Ben over at The Greatest Generation and Greatest Trek call “Star Trek as a place”, and it’s a place tha has never felt more living, breathing, and real.
Also guys it is funny as hell, is written by scripters at the top of their games, and frequently features A-list guest stars who not only have fun relationships with the main cast but also fit so naturally into the show that almost any one of them could permanently join and it would only bring benefit. If you’ve been curious but unable to bring yourself to pull the trigger and give LD a try, consider this your Sign From Sto’Vo’Kor.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Lemme just leave this right here–
So look: Obviously, I won’t pretend for a moment that T’Challa, Wakanda, Chadwick, or any of it mean as much to me, a mere honky, as to any number of people who finally saw themselves and their histories reflected in them after being told their entire lives that they weren’t worth acknowledging. That said, I am but a man with a man’s wiggly heart, and that heart fucking lost it when it realized that T’Challa’s friends and family eulogizing their fallen king were also real human beings mourning their actual beloved friend who had gone from them. Fuck.
Movie’s pretty good! Especially when you consider that it was never supposed to happen, was made during a pandemic, and was rewritten from the ground up a number of times by the Coogler’s own admission; it’s a little unevenly cooked, a little long, and there are clearly elements left over from other versions of the story that don’t quite mesh with each other, but it’s also an extremely thoughtful meditation on grief, deciding who we want to be when we can’t be who we were, and how other people who are struggling aren’t the enemy, be it to cope with the loss of a loved one or to fight off an oppressor who denies your right to exist.
I would recommend seeing it in the theater if you specifically want to support black filmmakers with your dollar and share it with other people who are also there to communally experience a loss and a healing, and/or have a tiny freakout about Riri Williams like the guy sitting closest to me did, but as a movie to watch, in and of itself, I don’t think it necessarily demands the big screen and you’d be fine watching it at home. I don’t know exactly how to feel about rooting for and financially supporting a vocal antivaxer (I mean I do know: it feels bad), but it’s a resource conservation and allocation game, and I’d rather support a bunch of people, even if one of them is actively contributing to the ongoing, horrific public health disaster around us. Also, I mean, you can support marginalized creators without necessarily agreeing with them about everything, although “do vaccines work and are they safe” isn’t really a thing there’s a lot of room to “disagree” about. Whatever, go see the movie, nerds, it’ll make you give a shit about Namor (y’know, the Sub-Mariner) for the first time in your life.
They’re fucken yummy, and good when you realize your blood sugar is perilously low because you’ve been working on your blog and forgot to eat. Go eat ’em.
So that was me in the turkey-month. What about you all? Which children’s toy did you feed human body parts to? What made you cry in public around strangers? How many hours have YOU spent playing Marvel Snap between starting this article and finishing it? Lemme know in the comments! Until next time, be good to yourselves, be good to each other, I beg you as a healthcare worker to wear your goddamned masks, and I’ll se you when it’s time to feed the thing in the egg! Pick a favorite lung before then!