Alphabet of Entertainment: C is for Cosmic Encounter

So, yeah… C is next, I guess. I feel that we are really learning with this series.

Board Games: Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter is, plainly and frankly, the best game I have ever played. I love it. Is it balanced? Hell no! Is it always fair? Nope! Can it be frustrating? Of course it can! The game itself – the core rules – are quite simple. You are trying to establish colonies on other planets, usually by force. You do this by declaring your attack, pledging up to four of your ships plus any ships from players who agree to help you, and adding the value written on the attack card you choose to play. This total number is compared to the enemy’s total of ships, allied ships and attack card and the winner is the player with the highest total. There are other considerations such as reinforcements and negotiations, but really that is the core of the game.

What adds a layer of complexity are races. There are a lot of different races to go in this game and each one breaks the game in a different way. The Loser changes the scoring system, meaning that lowest score wins instead of highest. The Macron may, during an attack, count one of his ships as equal to four of the enemy’s. If the Spiff loses by a certain amount, they may crash land on the target planet and establish a colony anyway.

With well over 150 races and countless possible combinations, the game is guaranteed to present fresh challenges for a long time. It just feels like a solid formula, well-executed. The closest I have found to a ‘perfect’ game.

Honourable Mention: Cards Against Humanity lives up to the description on the box. It really is a card game for terrible people. As far as gameplay goes, there is not much to it and it is not, technically speaking, a good game, but I’ve always said that the real appeal of tabletop gaming is the social aspect, and Cards Against Humanity certainly facilitates that!

Television: Castle

Castle

As a huge fan of Nathan Fillion ever since his role on Two Guys and a Girl, his appearances on Buffy and his wonderful performance on Firefly, Castle was really a no-brainer for me. I was not going to miss this one! The titular character, Richard Castle, is a crime writer who, in researching a new series of novels, begins shadowing NYPD detective Kate Beckett on her cases – much to her initial annoyance. The show features two strong central characters and a small supporting cast who are also very engaging.

As expected, Fillion steals the show with his easy charm and you just get swept up in his character. The writers do a good job of making this millionaire author who has lived something of a playboy lifestyle somehow relatable and charming. The dialogue and humour is sharp and the storylines are mostly tight with a few good twists thrown in to keep the suspense going. A definite winner in my book.

Honourable Mention: (The) Colbert Report loses out to castle mainly because it has been discontinued. Colbert did his entire talkshow in character as an alternative version of himself, portraying an over-the-top right wing pundit. The show was absolute comedy gold and will be very much missed as Colbert moves on to more mainstream presenting duties.

Videogames: Caesar III

Caesar III

Caesar III was released in 1998 and it is still one of the finest city building games I have encountered. The only games in this genre that surpass it are the games that were released afterwards by the same company, using the same formula with some refinement. Although skinned differently, these games were actually the same game with minor (and a couple of major) improvements. The game is isometric and sprite-based with a simple interface and decent music. Gameplay-wise, the game is actually quite challenging, even from the get-go.

You begin your city by building a few modest homes, some farms, a granary and a market. You then add law enforcement, fire control and maintenance before branching out into providing religious facilities, healthcare facilities, industry, commerce, entertainment, cosmetic decor, education, administrative buildings and a military – though unlike many strategy games, the military is not a major feature of the game. Despite providing all of these services to your citizens, they still regularly ask, “But what had Rome done for us?” Depending on the answer, you can see the homes in your city evolve or devolve in response to the facilities and supplies they gain access to, allowing more residents to move in and more tax revenue to be generated.

As the city grows, there is more and more to manage and the game becomes quite complex. You need to stay on top of things or the house of cards that you have built can quickly fall apart. For example, were you to export too much of your wheat in pursuit of profit, you may have a shortage of food. Your houses will quickly degrade, lowering your population and leaving many job unfilled, making it all the harder to get back on top of food production, further hurting your population and exacerbating your problem.

Podcasts: Chain-Attack

Chain Attack Logo

I am not really the biggest fan of battle reports. Unless done in a particularly novel way, they can be dreadfully dull and offer little real entertainment for all but the more diehard fanatic of the specific game being played. That said, it works – at least in this case. The hosts have a very natural dynamic and take their time to clearly explain everything they do. They also include images of each turn on the webpage to provide visual assistance to anyone who is struggling to visualise the board.

They not only give a clear report of what happened in the game of Warmachine/Hordes, but are able to use the copious notes they take during the game to give an insight into why a specific move is made and the impact, positive or negative, that the move had on the game. The range of Warcasters and Warlocks used and the way they match up and compare these characters gives a really good overview of each character and some of the options at their disposal.

This podcast is one of the factors that has re-enthused me about Warmahordes and has me keen to paint up my two-player starter set for Hordes. The Chain-Attack team are a couple hundred episodes in and the formula is still working.

Films: (The) Cabin in the Woods

Cabin in the Woods

Horror films have never really been my thing. A couple of them genuinely scare me and a lot of them genuinely bore me. I knew I was going to give Cabin in the Woods a chance when I heard that it was by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse. I knew it was going to be different.

The films sees a group of college students planning to spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods (OMG, that is totally the name of the film!) whilst beneath them, in a hidden facility, a group of engineers/scientists/sadists plan to perform a mysterious ritual. The cabin, it turns out, is some sort of elaborate device designed to send a variety of monsters after the teenagers with the goal of sacrificing them to some strange power, thereby saving the human race once again. It is established that this is a recurring event and that there are similar setups all over the world.

The film is very good and I particularly like the performances of Fran Kranz and Bradley Whitford. I’m not keen on saying much more about what happens, as I’d hate to spoil it for you. Go and watch it. Now, please. Go on.

Watch it and then come back next week. We’ll be on D by then.

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