This week we take a look at some of my favourite media that begins with the letter D.
Video Games: Dungeon Keeper
Dungeon Keeper was the first game I remember getting excited about and saving up for before release. It is also the only game I ever did this for – with the exception of Blizzard games – that did not ultimately disappoint. I had played Theme Park to the point of exhaustion and was very interested in what seemed like a similar management game with a much cooler premise – that of being a dark overlord running a dungeon full of traps and monsters.
The game, originally released in 1997, lets you dig out an underground lair, build rooms such as lairs for your minions and prisons and torture chambers to hold and punish your enemies. You can then recruit a number of creatures including trolls, orcs, warlocks and the fearsome mascot of the game, the Horned Reaper. You can then train your creatures and unleash them against enemy keepers or the local hero population. There is also the option of multiplayer, allowing you to take on actual human players.
The game is just, to me, a perfect thing. Everything is so well thought out and well presented. The gameplay is smooth and fun. There was a sequel which many people prefer, but it never really resonated with me in the way the original did. There are games that I have played more than this, but the fact that I keep coming back to this should show the real affection I have for this game – probably the best video game I have ever played.
Music: Dark Chords on a Big Guitar
Released in 2003, this album by American folk legend, Joan Baez, contains no original songs. Baez has always been good at picking songs by other artists that suit her voice, and this hasn’t changed as she has aged. Many say that she has lost some of her vocal range, but her voice is still powerful with the right choice of song.
The highlight of the album for me is her cover of Steve Earle’s Christmas in Washington. I couldn’t find a particularly good live version of this song, but here is the best that I could find:
As wonderful as the original version of this song was, the heartfelt plea to the great Woody Guthrie comes across so much more effectively from Baez than it does from Steve Earle. She is right person with the right voice to sing this song.
Board Games: Dixit
Difficult choice here! Go heavy with Descent 2 or go light with Dixit? I ended up going with the game that gets the most table-time – even if it is French. Dixit is sublimely simple. You choose a card from a hand of several cards, each of which has a beautiful piece of artwork on it. You then, without revealing your card, give a single word or phrase to describe your card. Everyone else then selects a card from their own hand that best matches your description and, without revealing the card, places it in the middle. All of the selected cards are then shuffled and presented to the players who then bet on which card they believe was the original one. Scoring ensues.
The game is so simple and elegant and is quite different depending on the group with which you play. I have particularly enjoyed playing with an autistic child who identified that the game encourages empathy with the person choosing the phrase – a social skill that he found difficult in other situations.
There are also a number of expansions available, usually consisting of more cards to provide further diversity to your game.
Honourable Mention: Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) is an amazing dungeon-crawl game that was very nearly my pick this week. I have previously written about it at World Hopping.
Television: (The) Daily Show
I love political humour and satire. It’s why I follow Armando Iannucci so closely despite his creation of Alan Partridge – creating Malcolm Tucker makes up for that! It puzzles me that the UK, with a rich tradition of excellent political comedy, does not have a real equivalent to Comedy Central’s Daily Show. The show has been hosted for many years by Jon Stewart, a presenter and comedian whom I have a lot of time for. I can’t say that I agree with all of his political positions, but I really like how he, his writers and his correspondents skewer public figures not just from the realm of politics, but also that of journalism. There have been occasions where I have found myself laughing out loud whilst watching, but the show is also capable of dealing with heavy or serious issues with the gravity they deserve. Thinking about it now, the closest thing we have to The Daily Show is actually the magazine, Private Eye.
The Daily Show will be getting a new host very soon, and Jon Stewart filmed his final episode last week, so I’m not sure how the show will evolve going forward, but I’m willing to give it a chance.
Podcast: Diary of a Cartoonist
Scott Johnson may have started out as a webcartoonist with his comic, Extra Life, but nowadays he is more known for podcasting. Johnson runs the Frogpants Network, an umbrella entity comprising the many podcasts that he produces and presents, as well as some that are merely affiliated with minimal input from Johnson himself. Johnson’s podcasts include a daily morning show, several shows about videogames, a therapy show with a qualified therapist, and other geek-centric topical podcasts.
The guy is quite easy to listen to. He’s enthusiastic and comes across as a genuinely good guy. Diary of a Cartoonist is an irregular show on his network, usually recorded when he is out for a walk and has something to get off his chest. It seems to be a place for him to think out loud about how things are going with work and his family, and there are a lot of reflections about being a husband and father that give a real insight into what makes Scott Johnson tick. I think it’s a very good show and gives a lot of personal context to the other podcasts that Johnson puts out on his network.
That’s all for this week’s letter. See you next time for E.