Flying Witch Volume 1 Review

I appreciate it when the back cover copy does a great job of summarizing a manga without major spoilers, so I’m going to quote Flying Witch’s here:

“Makoto Kowata, a novice witch, packs up her belongings (including her black cat familiar) and moves in with her distant cousins in rural Aomori Prefecture, in the far north reaches of Japan, to complete her training and become a full-fledged witch.”

 

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The atmosphere of Flying witch strikes me as Someday’s Dreamers meets Yotsuba. It’s an easy going, character centric slice of life story in a world where magic exists and is generally acknowledged (if still somewhat uncommon). It’s a wonderful premise for a light, everyday story to explore.

Flying Witch reasonably successful to that end. I did find this on slow side even for slice of life, but it works overall. The characters aren’t deep yet, but they are diverse and developed enough to start with to be engaging as the status quo is established.

The art style is solid and suitable, although there’s a strange mix of really detailed backgrounds and sparse/no backgrounds in certain panels and close ups. It’s not a huge deal, but the contrast does stick out a bit.

Overall I liked this, and just enough of Makoto and her world are shown here to make me interested in reading more. This volume ends on a high note too, with a fun character introduction that gives a glimpse of a good deal of potential going forward.

 

 

Clay Lord Manga Review

Clay is a young Golem molder who decides to test his meager skills by entering contest with a prestigious prize. But there’s more to Clay and his companions than first appears, and Clay’s skills could draw the wrong kind of attention.

 

I’ll be sharing thoughts on the entire series (volumes 1-3) as a whole here, so will keep it as spoiler free as possible.

 

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Clay Lord is a fun little manga with a good premise and likable characters that elevate it beyond the standard tropes it employs. Clay and his companions are engaging, and get a fair amount of development in the limited time they have.

The small scope is perhaps the series biggest weakness. There was definitely room for a couple more side stories to flesh out the world and characters more as well as allowing the major plot points room to breathe and thus achieve greater impact. This really could have, and probably should have, been at least a couple volumes longer.

That said while the general plot was pretty straightforward (within the trappings of the fantasy world) it was told extremely well with a lot of emotion packed into the short length and several key reveals that continually increased the emotional jeopardy of our lead. The focus is very tightly centered on Clay throughout to the story’s benefit, but the supporting characters were also well defined and important. It’s also a complete story, with major plot points being appropriately tied up and addressed by the end, which is always appreciated.

Overall Clay Lord is a solid, enjoyable series that could have been even better with more to it but also could have been worse in less capable hands.

 

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

During my first trip to Japan I had to travel back during Wrestle Kingdom, so I was extremely excited to actually be able to attend this year. While I generally prefer shows where I can get reasonably close to the ring and really enjoy the benefits of being there live, stadium shows are unique and different experiences in their own right and attending Japan’s biggest wrestling show of the year (at a venue like the Tokyo Dome no less) was definitely a bucket list item for me.

I was happy to have an opportunity to check it off, and had a great time. The atmosphere was unlike any event I’ve been to before and it was a good show with several great highlights.

 

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That said I have to admit I don’t necessarily feel any need to do it again, despite having a lot of fun and enjoying the show. It’s simply too long and the novelty of being at a 27,000 person show won’t be as strong the second time around. As mentioned I enjoy experiencing the energy of live wrestling much closer to the ring. If I have the chance in the future I think I’d rather try to catch their follow up Korukeun Hall show instead next time around.

I’m not going to try to run down or separate thoughts on all 11 matches and do a full review here. My memory’s simply not up to it, and watching from the very top of the Tokyo Dome seats meant I was getting more general impressions than details at certain points anyway.

The pre-show New Japan Rumble was amusing mostly due to the lineup, ranging from Jushin Thunder Liger to Scott Norton to Billy Gunn to Cheeseburger (seriously…). Michael Elgin is extremely over in NJPW, so having him come in and destroy some guys to win it was a good call.

 

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The undercard was the appropriate mix of styles and stories. I don’t recall anything being actively bad, but to be honest I found both Cody Rhodes debut and the ROH title match flat. Both would have benefitted from having Japanese talent involved, although I do acknowledge I’m in the minority of the audience in that Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly in particular is a match I can (and have) see repeatedly in the states. Still, I don’t think it had the impact intended. I understand the benefit to ROH of changing their title at such a big international event, but as one of eight title matches (and one of six title changes) it got lost in the midcard and fell flat. It was also seemed a rather average outing from the two regular opponents to me.

The midcard in general was good but blended together a bit. Standout moments in my memory are a strong finish to the Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice match, and being annoyed with Yano’s antics and thus disappointed when his team won the tag team championship.

 

At an event like this the top of the card is always where the strongest matches belong, and NJPW pulled that off in spades. The top four contests were all singles title matches filled with wrestlers the crowd went wild for.

The IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title match between Kushida (c) and Hiromu Takahashi was good but spotty, with way too many dangerous looking head drops for my tastes. The story here was escalation, and I think they overdid it. Both competitors looked a bit loopy at times, and it was hard to enjoy this while more and more afraid for the wrestlers’ safety the longer this went. The rest of the crowd was hot for it though, so your milage may vary.

I felt the three matches that followed walked the line better, building increasing drama without going overbaord (ok, the main gets more of a pass on that for being the main). Katsuyouri Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto’s NEVER Openweight title match was a tense, hard hitting affair. I’ve heard some comments that it wasn’t the best match the two have had as opponents, but it was the first time I personally was seeing that pairing and I was impressed.

 

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In what I’m sure will be a largely disputed opinion best of the night honors from me go to the semi-main between Tetsuya Naito (c) and Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental title, who built an amazing back and forth struggle from start to finish.  The tension gradually ramped to build to a perfect crescendo. Naito is in such command of his character now and the little touches he brings to his performances are a joy to see. Tanahashi is as always wrestling’s rock star. Definitive win for Naito too, which was 100% the right call.

So of course if Naito vs Tanahashi is my match of the night then (in my opinion) the main event IWGP Heavyweight title match isn’t the the industry redefining match it’s been described as, and certainly not the greatest match of all time. That’s not to take anything away from Kazuchika Okada (c) and Kenny Omega: it was fantastic. It’s just the hyperbole has been out of control regarding this match. The semi main built more smoothly  in my opinion. Here they had a good first half of a match that felt largely unconnected to the phenomenal second half once they really kicked into gear. Again, still excellent though.

 

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Overall

Great show that was just too long for me to enjoy to the fullest extent live. The top of the card hit it out of the park though and reenergized me, and it’ll be easier to watch on replay (with the ability to watch in pieces) anyway. Easy recommendation on the strength of the top 3 matches alone, which are all well worth going out of your way to see.

Top Five “New to Me” Games Mid-2017

As in the past, I’d like to look at some of the best games that I’ve tried for the first time (relatively) recently. Things were even tighter than usual among the new gems I’ve discovered in the past six months, and while I did order this based on my feelings at this exact moment it can really be labeled “too close to call” for me among several of these great games.

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time since my late-2016 list.
  • I’ve tried 10+ new games since then, so as usual it was difficult to narrow this down. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, Mottanai, and The Daedalus Sentence.

 

5. Kabuki

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For a game that’s essentially “memory,” Kabuki is incredibly well designed and addictive. The art design is key, as the mask cards are just different enough to be recognizable and distinct side by side while making it difficult to remember exactly which cards of each color are in each stack. Incredibly easy to learn, and a lot of fun.

Further thoughts here.

 

4. Santorini

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One of the best possible ways to make an excellent abstract is to have simple rules that combine to form deep and compelling gameplay. It is of course easier said than done, and Santorini deserves ample credit for the success it achieves. Add in great theming and production value and special power cards that completely transform the game into something distinctly different but just as compelling and this is definitely a keeper.

Full review.

 

3. Yokohama

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At first glance Yokohama could be a bit overwhelming in terms of the sheer number of components and disparate elements, but it all comes together really well. The basic actions taken each turn are straightforward, but the implications of executing those actions become complex and far reaching. It’s the type of game that could take a few plays to really wrap your head around, but is immediately engaging regardless. This is a game of meaningful choices and immense replayability.

(First impressions review forthcoming.)

 

2. Ars Alchimia

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Ars Alchimia is the crafting side system of rpg video games turned into a board game in a gloriously fun way. If that sentence alone adequately explains why it’s my #2 on this list definitely check it out immediately.  😉

Of course if more info’s needed, there’s my full review.

 

1. Hanamikoji

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The gorgeous little card game called Hanamikoji takes a simple majority collection core concept and builds it into a deceptively deep game through the use of innovative playing actions. The give and take way in which opponents get to play a few select cards from each others hands is wonderfully done and provides and incredible hook for a fantastic game

Full review.

 

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That’s it for now. Continues to be a great time for gaming, and everything here is well worth at least giving a try.

What are everyone else’s new favorites?

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

“I am Groot.

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Here’s the short version: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is great fun. Engaging, largely hilarious, and just plain fun.

Admittedly there are moments when it feels like they’re trying too hard (including occasional instances when the comedy is overdone, forced, and/or uncomfortable), and it doesn’t quite have sense of wonder of first movie since we’ve seen Quill and company before, but overall this was a fantastic ride.

The plot’s a little more focused and the characters are developed well, including nice spotlights on Nebula and Yondu, and a strong debut for newcomer Mantis. Of course as expected the show stealer is Baby Groot, who’s done pitch perfectly to be adorable, funny, and engaging without crossing over into annoyance. The movie’s absolutely BURIED in pop culture references, but it fits with Quill’s character as established in the first movie.

I had a wonderful time with Guardians 2, to the point where I got so caught up in the ride and enjoying the movie’s twists and turns I forgot about a couple things I had predicted would happen in this movie to the point I was surprised when they occurred. Can’t ask for much more than that in terms of immersion.

 

 

Quick Thoughts: Mottainai, Clank, and Dark Tales: Snow White

Some quick impressions on my first experiences with a trio of card based games.

 

Mottainai

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Carl Chudyk has a propensity for creating card games that pack an insane amount of information and functionality onto each card, and after having played Innovation (and Impulse) I would have easily known Mottainai was from the same designer even if not previously informed.

The cards in Mottainai have different functions based on placement around all four sides of each player’s playmat. This leads to a bit of rule overload during initial explanation, but it all fits well once the game gets going and the multiple ways to use each card leads to interesting choices. It felt SLIGHTLY less chaotic than Innovation (during which chains can develop out of the player’s control towards the end), but there is that same feeling of escalation as different types of card abilities become available later in the game. It’s another extremely well designed (and reasonably fun) card game from Chudyk and while I won’t necessarily rush it back to the table I’m interested in playing again at some point.

 

Clank

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Clank is a Dominion style deck builder tied to board actions. Moving, buying items from shop spaces, and fighting monsters all require symbols from your player deck that’s built up Dominion style via buying new cards from a general supply.  The currencies and board elements are well implemented, and the concept of getting into a subterranean cave and back out with treasure is a fun one.

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However in end it’s still a VP game (right down to having a “Province” analogue) and feels a little too much like Dominion for me (which I’ve gotten beyond tired of and don’t really play anymore), even given the unique twists it adds. Something that had a different goal, or at least was farther from Dominion in terms of the deck mechanics, would have been appreciated. The additional elements do elevate it beyond its inspiration though and the plethora of gamers who love Dominion should jump all over this immediately.

 

Dark Tales: Snow White

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I found the Dark Tales base game reasonably enjoyable, but to be honest was rather disappointed with my first experience with the Snow White expansion. The new cards didn’t add much variety of mechanics (some were actually copies of base game cards with different names) and the distribution and way cards interacted seemed really screwed up by the added cards. There is a recommended variant where some of the base cards are removed, but it was presented as something that affected game length and was totally optional (and removing single copies of certain cards shouldn’t help distribution issues anyway).

The other expansions look more interesting and varied, so hopefully this was just a single misstep, but Snow White was a big miss for me and I’m more likely to go back to the base game alone than trying this again.

 

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So two solid games (though one’s not to my personal tastes) and a lackluster expansion this time around. As always your milage may vary.

Star Wars: Scoundrels Review

“It was, Han thought, a good day to make 163 million credits.

It would not be such a good day to walk away empty-handed.

It would be a really bad day to get shot.”

Han Solo’s a smuggler, not a conman. But with a growing bounty on his head and a huge score in front of him, he’ll adapt and lead a team of the very best thieves and grifters… that he could find on short notice.

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Timothy Zahn is my favorite writer, and he shines most brightly when expanding and exploring the Star Wars mythos.  In one of the last novels of the Expanded Universe before Lucsarts was bought by Disney, he presents a tale featuring the seedier element of Star Wars’ rogues gallery as Han, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian try to rescue someones ill-gotten gains from a neigh-impenetrable safe.

The concept Scoundrels was sold on is “Star Wars meets Ocean’s 11,” and it’s not only apt but I honestly felt Zahn was a little too tied to it in parts. I rolled my eyes when I found out Han’s team would actually have 11 members. They are all used well though and beyond the occasional heavy handed references this is a nice blending of heist tropes and sci-fi elements.

There are a lot of moving parts, agendas, and counter agendas that keep the plot compelling and mysterious until the end. Although I felt it didn’t quite come together as smoothly as some of Zahn’s other novels. The time period it’s set in provides advanced context that’s hard to shake, there are a couple of (thankfully minor) “idiot ball” moments, and at a particular part of the story there are some extremely uncomfortable implications that are totally unneeded. By and large though I enjoyed the journey, and while a couple of the multitude of twists had the edge of “trying too hard” most of them were logical, well done, and entertaining. Zahn also expertly weaves in allusions to his other books and characters without making knowledge of such necessary to follow the plot. It’s a nice treat for those who read everything he’s done but is executed in such a way not to turn off or overwhelm new readers.

I’ve read the prequel novella “Winner Lose All” (included at the end of the paperback) before. It’s a fun little story featuring a handful of characters from Scoundrels. The characterizations didn’t quite mesh between the novel and the novella, but they were still recognizable. Even though it takes place before Scoundrels and was released first to drum up interest, I’d say reading it second (as it’s presented here) is the better choice.

Scoundrels is another solid Star Wars adventure from Zahn, despite not reaching the heights of his other forays. Enjoy the ride.