Thursday, 9 December 2021

Alrightgames: Carcassonne – Inns & Cathedrals

Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals (Die Erweiterung)

2002 / Tile placement board game expansion / 2-6 players / Germany

****

My most extravagant individual indulgence since Atmosfear, I was initially annoyed at how mandatory this add-on was widely considered to be, and the idea that I'd be stuck with an incomplete game without it. But looking into it, I had to grudgingly concur. (Anyway, if all games conveniently included their expansions from the start, it wouldn't be so easy to work around my £20 limit).

It's a little on the puny side, but the new additions integrate seamlessly (which is more than can be said for most of the other weird expansions) and the new mechanics add more options and a little devious strategy to what was basically a precocious kids' game. As an optimistic dad, it's nice to have optional difficulty settings.

This was all clear to me before I bought it, so I could either continue to waste time every day on consumer research in the tireless quest to save a few pounds at some point in the future, or I could mix it in from the start and stop trying to appease myself with cheap tat in the meantime.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Alrightgames: Carcassonne – The Labyrinth

Carcassonne: The Labyrinth

2016 / Tile placement board game mini expansion / 2+ players / Germany

**

Expansions don't come more mini than this: a fanciful way for one lucky player to connect four roads into one that helps to balance that underpowered feature in the base game and to menace grand infrastructure projects in larger expansions.

But let's face it, I bought it because it looks pretty and because a single-tile expansion is the cheapest path to indulgent satisfaction for the search-by-price-lowest-to-highest collector, even if their plan to flip a spare and make it even cheaper was neutralised by eBay fees.

I stopped buying myself biscuits and other unnecessary consumables when I started getting silly with expansions. These snacks are better for my teeth.

Sunday, 5 December 2021

Babyliography XVII

Nick Sharratt, Elephant Wellyphant

2007 / Library book / 24 pages / UK

**

She doesn't have the vocabulary to get the puns and its novelty subversions failed to blow her tiny mind. I can't remember if it had flaps and things – if not, dock a point.


Marion Billet, Listen to the Baby Animals

2017 / Library book / 14 pages / France

***

I'd managed to avoid noisy books until now, thanks to them tending to be checked out of the library, but these authentic field recordings were less annoying than tinny nursery rhymes or character voices or something. I'm just surprised she only wanted to go two rounds before moving on, but they had others.


Marion Billet, Listen to the Carnival of the Animals

2020 / Library book / 14 pages / France

***

This musical interpretation of animals' personalities for toddlers would be a bit disappointing if you thought you were getting more nature sounds, but as someone who loves the mimicry of 'A Lark Ascending' and Beethoven's Sixth (not so much Rimsky-Korsakov's, mind), I appreciated it. We'll be on Bowie's 'Peter and the Wolf' in no time.


Eric Hill, Spot Goes to the Circus

1986 / Library book / 24 pages / UK

***

This old-school tyke hasn't caught on like the Mr. Men, but she still picked him off the shelf, maybe recognising him from that story she always skips in the treasuries. This was a more entertaining escapade than most at least, complete with inappropriately death-defying stunts.


Lucy Cousins, Little Fish and Mummy

2019 / Library book / 22 pages / UK

*

I wonder if Lucy Cousins actually wrote these rhymes or they just had a ghostwriter come up with something adequate while they literally copy-pasted all the same images from the first book in different configurations. Lazy cash-in crap, but that's educational in itself.

Friday, 3 December 2021

Alrightreads: Nonomninovember

Robert Sheckley, Immortality, Inc.

1959 / Audiobook / 152 pages / USA

****

This is why we can't have nice things. More cynically satirical than Philip K. Dick, this tale of reluctant and unhinged undead is still comfortingly straight compared to his other novels.

 
Michael Moorcock, The Eternal Champion

1962/70 / Audiobook / 484 pages / UK

**

A favourite writer of my favourite writers, I've wanted to crack open Moorcock for a while, but bloodthirsty sci-fantasy just isn't my thing, as my lack of Warhammer probably attests. Maybe he wrote some funny ones?


Rob Grant, Colony

2000 / Ebook / 288 pages / UK

***

I'd unfairly dismissed the ex-Red Dwarf writer's subsequent sci-fi comedy project in the past due to idiotic fan entitlement and what might have been a bad audiobook abridgement, but reappraisal of Backwards made me want to give it a proper try. It was funny after all, if more sadistic than strictly necessary.


Philip Pullman, The Collectors

2015 / Ebook / 24 pages / UK

****

The best and most tangential entry in the His Dark Materials miscellany, which turns out to be ripe for expansion after all, as long as he's the one doing it.


Philip Pullman, Serpentine

2020 / Ebook / 67 pages / UK

***

An insubstantial interlude to perk us up between publications or if you're just desperate for more. I'll read them all.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

On the Omnibuses: November

Various, The World Treasury of Science Fiction

Brian Aldiss, A Kind of Artistry (1962) ***

Fascinating first contact collapses into Game of Thrones shite.

Philip K. Dick, Second Variety (1953) ***

I still haven't properly cracked open his short fiction, but this cautionary technofear parable didn't feel like the one you'd highlight for your anthology, outside of its ongoing prescience.

Keith Roberts, Weihnachtsabend (1972) **

Enough with Nazis already.

Robert Bloch, I Do Not Love Thee, Doctor Fell (1955) **

Lame satire building to an inevitable twist. Is this the best he's got?

Samuel R. Delany, Aye, & Gomorrah... (1967) **

I don't really get the New Wave.

Stanislaw Lem, How Erg the Self-Inducting Slew a Paleface (1977) ***

A welcome second helping of electro fairy tale nonsense.

Joanna Russ, Nobody's Home (1972) **

Disconcerting utopia.

GĂ©rard Klein, Party Line (1973) ****

Life hands you an indecisive cheat mode.

Lewis Padgett, The Proud Robot (1943) ****

Adventures of a noir Dirk Gently and his vain can opener.

Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore, Vintage Season (1946) ***

Connoisseur voyeurs.

Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, The Way to Amalteia (1984) ****

Humbled space survival. Let's just stay at home.



Terry Pratchett, The Rincewind Trilogy

Interesting Times (1994) ****

The first Rincewind book I've really enjoyed, and one of the better Discworlds generally, this might be down to Terry P's writing maturing, its take on Chinese alt-history and notions of civilisation and revolution being more interesting than the customary stock fantasy adventures, or even just the glut of puns.



Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions

In Praise of Darkness (1969) **

Ageing introspection. No fun at all.

Brodie's Report (1970) *

A conscious regression to the humdrum biographies of his earliest writing, because that's what we read Borges for. Labyrinths is all the abridged bibliography you need.



A. A. Milne, Best-Loved Winnie-the-Pooh Stories

Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees (1926) ****

A private story from father to son, made public to shame other parents into raising our game. Properly funny too, I should have been reading these instead of Noddy.

Pooh Goes Visiting and Pooh and Piglet Nearly Catch a Woozle (1926) ***

More logical, less substantial and down-to-earth vignettes after the flight of fancy, the animation adaptation is more notable for upsetting my toddler.

Piglet Meets a Heffalump (1926) ****

Infectious incompetent optimism.

Eeyore Has a Birthday (1926) **

A last-minute turnaround doesn't keep this from being generally depressing.

Kanga and Baby Roo Come to the Forest (1926) ***

A kidnapping farce is successfully executed, but the mother doesn't really mind.

An Expotition to the North Pole (1926) ****

Improv epic.

Piglet Is Entirely Surrounded by Water (1926) ****

Self-explanatory.

Christopher Robin Gives a Party (1926) ***

A sweet wrap-up.

Monday, 29 November 2021

Babyliography XVI

Mark Sperring and Maddie Frost, The Littlest Things Give the Loveliest Hugs

2018 / Library book / 32 pages / UK/USA

*

I normally pick out the library books and only have myself to blame, but this was a rare request when it caught her eye. I got sick of the sickly rhymes and switched to widlife identification as it went along.


Judith Kerr, Mog and Barnaby

1991 / Library book / 24 pages / Germany

***

This bandwagon-jumping latecomer would have been easier to follow a year ago than her vintage storybook, but she always liked the baby one. The flap gimmick's integrated well and means it can avoid the pseudo comic panels of some of the books.


Unknown, Baby Touch and Feel Llama

2021 / Library book / 14 pages / UK

**

I normally try to give her something a bit more advanced or entertaining (the name of this blog series seems inappropriate now), but this was one of the few that was accessible when we crashed a scheduled activity session. It revised her counting and added a more obscure character to the bestiary that she'll probably forget.


Steve Smallman and Bruno Robert, Eat Your Veggies, Goldilocks

2014 / Library book / 24 pages / UK/France

*

Subverting her expectations to preach healthy eating in an unhelpful and unsatisfying way. I don't get it. She always related more to Baby Bear anyway.


Lynley Dodd, Slinky Malinki, Early Bird

2014 / Library book / 30 pages / New Zealand

**

Depressingly relatable.


Saturday, 27 November 2021

Alrightgames: Star Realms – Crisis – Events

Star Realms: Crisis – Events

2014 / Deckbuilding card game expansion / 2+ players / USA

***

Completing my overcomplication of Star Realms (cross my heart, hope for authority to be reduced to zero – the boxes are full now, anyway*), these random interruptions are even less popular than Gambits and Missions among serious players. I took that as a recommendation that they'd be fun for our casual games.

A better thematic detour than the Heroes, I like the introduction of space as a chaotic background character that dispenses random rewards and punishments. What I don't like is that they only bothered to come up with eight of them, with repetition.

I wasn't all that excited to buy these, but I did so on the understanding that they'll be the final frill. In an alternate universe (frankly a more credible one), I'm childless with an official Star Realms® Universal Storage Box™ ever expanding into samey frontiers, but I'm happier over here.

* Unless I make room by putting player three and four's superfluous starter cards into storage, but hopefully that won't occur to me.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Alrightgames: Star Realms – United – Missions

Star Realms: United – Missions

2016 / Deckbuilding card game expansion / 2-4 players / USA

***

After snapping out of the nefarious seduction into collecting more variations on the same spaceships forever, there were still a couple of remaining expansions that I craved to customise and enhance the gameplay experience, so I gave myself permission to get those out of the way before deleting the time-wasting bookmarks and saved searches I no longer had a need for, like a reformed alcoholic pouring the muck down the bog, or an irredeemable nerd approaching 40 denying himself more spaceship cards.

These side quests are kind of like the Trading Posts in Cities of Splendor (my board game EXP has levelled up modestly this year) and should provide nice diversions and rewards in every game. They're also a new way to win occasionally and a new source of stress and uncertainty, which is always welcome. It's Star Realms for collectors, not fighters.

It only gets a middling rating because they could've included more than just the 12 inevitable mission briefs (Scenarios had 20 cards) or added value to this flimsy pack in some other way (Gambit had the ships and bosses), but that's what the other three quarters of this particular expansion sequence were for. I've already got two core sets stretching the boxes with ships and outposts in a comprehensive range of colours and values, I don't need any more.

Especially when there's so much Carcassonne to buy!!!!!

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Babyliography XV

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, The Gruffalo Puppet Book

2016 / Library book / 10 pages / UK

**

This was my first run-in with the chap too, so this was a plush gateway for both of us. She was amused by the novelty for a few rounds, but when I suggested trying one of his other books without the interactive gimmick, she wasn't interested.


Yasmeen Ismail and Jenni Desmond, Joy

2019 / Library book / 32 pages / Ireland/UK

**

A bouncy, lively, annoying rhyme with a pause in the middle where the kitty generously gets hurt so you can catch your breath. Cute, but she prefers the Boo Boo Song.


Amy Sky Koster, Olaf's Frozen Adventure

2017 / Library book / 32 pages / USA

*

I related to her excitement at seeing a familiar character bursting out from the library stacks and braced myself for her first lame franchising disappointment. I felt borderline abusive reading the story aloud, but you can't let them squint through bubblewrap forever. It's only in writing this that I learned it wasn't just some stocking-filling fluff, but the storybook of an actual animated film that many parents have to sit through. There but for the grace of God.


Lucy Cousins, Good Morning, Maisy: Jigsaw Puzzle Book

2004 / Jigsaw board book / 16 pages / UK

**

She does all of her jigsaw books twice a day, so this was some cheap, dependable variety. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt that some of the compositions with their identical poses and almost blank pieces are deliberately challenging rather than careless.


Rod Campbell, Little Mouse

2019 / Library book / 16 pages / UK

**

I don't know whether he's really continuing to churn these out or switched to ghostwriter-artists at some point, but we shouldn't keep falling for it either way. Admittedly, we didn't get the full interactive experience, since more heavy-handed readers broke most of the tabs.

Sunday, 21 November 2021

Alrightgames: Carcassonne – The River

Carcassonne: The River

2001 / Tile placement board game mini expansion / 2+ players / Germany

***

Expanding Carcassonne by popping out further, slightly differentiated tiles feels even more decadent than buying card game booster packs. This mini starter takes care of itself by being included as standard in the base game nowadays, like a crafty heroin dealer giving you your first fix for free.

It's more variety for the map, and a nice teaser before the main feature, so I'll probably always include it, even if you're basically doing the same thing every time and the need for fussy restrictions to avoid tripping over itself is a foreboding preview of expansions to come.