Following on quite naturally from A, this week sees me get down and dirty with the letter B.
Videogames: Borderlands 2
The first Borderlands game was really good and mixed fast paces action with quick-witted humour and an interesting randomised item system. Borderlands 2 continues this tradition and builds upon it, expanding the previous game in just about every way possible, giving more engaging character interactions, a much wider variety of environments to explore and more outrageous humour. The game was improved immensely by the DLC as well, particularly by the Dungeons and Dragons inspired adventure, Bunkers and Badasses, featuring everyone’s favourite juvenile psychopath, Tiny Tina. The whole thing is brilliant and is replayable with the different classes just so that you can enjoy the humour and charm of the game all over again. It also has one of the best villains I’ve seen for a while in the form of Handsome Jack.
Honourable Mention: Bioshock. It is, like Borderlands, a shooter, but with a very different, much heavier tone. The story is fantastic and the blending of action, story and the exploration of philosophy is unique.
Television: Black Books
Black Books takes place in a book shop of the same name and features the proprietor , Mr. Bernard Black (Dylan Moran), his friend Fran (Tamsin Greig) and his long-suffering employee, Manny (Bill Bailey). Black, despite running his shop, is an antisocial, drunken, spiteful, despressive man who has no time for anyone but his eldest friend (Fran) and is often seen to take his frustrations out on Manny, his employee.
The dialogue in the show is very sharp and it’s not hard to believe that the show is another brainchild of Graham Linehan, known for Father Ted and The I.T. Crowd. My favourite episode is probably the one in which Bernard and Manny, whilst housesitting for a friend, accidently drink some very expensive wine intended for the Pope and must do their best, using the available tasting notes, to create a suitable substitute thst will taste like the original. Hilarity ensues. The show also attracted a lot of really excellent actors to take bit parts and cameos. Simon Pegg, Martin Freeman and Peter Serafinowicz are among these actors. The show, long since finished, is available in its entirety on Netflix.
Music: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Beyond the Palace hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard
Girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors
And the boys try to look so hard
The amusement park rises bold and stark
Kids are huddled on the beach in a mist
I wanna die with you Wendy on the street tonight
In an everlasting kiss
Oh, man! This could the song or the album, I don’t care, they are both brilliant. The song is just perfection, but I can’t play it while I’m driving or I find myself creeping well beyond the speed limit.
As for the album, not only does it have the titular track, but Jungleland? Thunder Road? Backstreets? And those are just the highlights! There are just no bad tracks on this album – something you can rarely say for even the best of Springsteen’s releases. This is one of the best albums I have ever heard and is what affirms my undying love and respect for The Boss. It’s little wonder that this was his breakout album. It is available on Spotify.
Honourable Mention: Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School by Warren Zevon because it has so many of Zevon’s classics in one album, including the titular track, Play It All Night Long, Jeannie Needs a Shooter (with Springsteen), Gorilla You’re a Desperado and Jungle Work. Good stuff!
Podcasts: (The) Bugle
Billed as ‘An Audio Newspaper for a Visual World”, The Bugle is the brainchild of English comedians Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver. The podcast is an irreverent send up of the week’s news and is often filled with puns and profanities in equal measure. The show has a quick pace to it and it pulls zero punches in its skewering of public figures and important events. The update schedule has been less consistent since John Oliver started his HBO talk show, but that only make us appreciate the episodes that they do put out all the more. If you enjoy TV shows like Have I Got News for You and Mock the Week, or radio shows like The News Quiz or The Now Show (The Now Shooooooooow!), then you will probably enjoy The Bugle.
Board Games: Blood Bowl
Blood Bowl is a fantasy football game that I have been playing since I was a child. I always sniff with derision when I hear about my more sport-savvy friends discuss their fantasy football leagues and management games, because quite frankly their games are crap. Their ‘fantasy’ football games don’t even have Orcs. This is one the Games Workshop games that has utterly fallen off the map in terms of official support, but the popularity of the game has not waned. This has seen a huge range of alternative miniatures and boards being produced by smaller companies, usually to a better quality than the now-outdated stuff that Games Workshop produced. For example, here is my Elf team from Grid Iron Miniatures:
The game itself is fast-paced and frantic. The dice add a randomness to the game that ensure that even the most experienced team cannot always count on the perfect execution of their plans. The low model count makes the game accessible in comparison to larger-count miniature games like Warhammer or Warmachine. The game is, as with all good games, quite simple to learn and difficult to master. There are good videogames based on Blood Bowl produced by Cyanide and a more faithful (but less visually stunning) Java version produced by fans.
Honourable Mention: Battlestar Galactica sees the players take on the role of the colonists from the BSG TV show as they try to escape from the Cylons and start a new life on Earth. Good idea in theory, but at least one player is actually a Cylon agent and will act to sabotage the ship and destroy the fleet. It’s always more fun to play as the Cylon.
Next Week: C!